Democracy Gone Astray

Democracy, being a human construct, needs to be thought of as directionality rather than an object. As such, to understand it requires not so much a description of existing structures and/or other related phenomena but a declaration of intentionality.
This blog aims at creating labeled lists of published infringements of such intentionality, of points in time where democracy strays from its intended directionality. In addition to outright infringements, this blog also collects important contemporary information and/or discussions that impact our socio-political landscape.

All the posts here were published in the electronic media – main-stream as well as fringe, and maintain links to the original texts.

[NOTE: Due to changes I haven't caught on time in the blogging software, all of the 'Original Article' links were nullified between September 11, 2012 and December 11, 2012. My apologies.]

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Monster mine plan cuts deep into Ontario farmland

Imagine a hole in the ground, the size of 2,000 football fields and deeper than the gorge at Niagara Falls. Sound a little scary? Now imagine that this gaping hole, at the headwaters of two major river systems in Ontario, isn't subject to an environmental assessment.

Say what?

In Ontario, you need have an environmental assessment done before you can build a house. However, if you want to dig a 200-foot deep, 2,400-acre hole in prime Ontario farmland, you just need to apply to the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources for a license to mine aggregate. In fact, a license to dig the largest limestone quarry in Canada has been applied for in Melancthon Township, a farming community about 1.5 hours north of Toronto. That's potato country, and proposed quarry has some people very concerned.

In 2006, local entrepreneur and Highland Group head John Lowndes began buying up parcels of prime potato land in Melancthon Township. Some local farmers, struggling with increased costs and lower market prices, reluctantly saw selling to The Highland Group as a way out of the economically depressed agricultural sector. As the Highland holdings increased, Lowndes continued to assure people that he would continue potato farming. To be fair, he did just that.

The Highland Group web site boasts that their "locally-based potato farming operation is the largest in Ontario," and local residents assumed that all the Highland Group really wanted to do. Highland's interests, however, aren't confined to growing potatoes.

Backed by a $23 billion U.S.-based hedge fund, Lowndes' Highland Group of Companies are "the largest landowner, taxpayer, employer and private sector donor in (Melancthon)," and they want to mine limestone aggregate -- in a very big way. The proposed U.S.-owned quarry will be the second largest of its kind in North America, with a potential of pulling some $16 billion out of the land that feeds us. At this point, all that's standing in its way are a group of very concerned and determined Ontario voters.

One would think that a project of this magnitude would need some kind of environmental study, but under the Aggregate Resources Act, a limestone quarry doesn't require an environmental impact assessment, even one so massive that they call it a "mega-quarry."

Full Article

Strategic Review: the answer is, we can’t answer

I had an excellent day giving a speech to the Canadian Club of Kingston and chatting with students at Queen’s University. At 12:20 p.m. this email arrived from an official at Media Relations at the department of Public Works and Government Services Canada. It answers, after a fashion, questions I’ve had for a while about many hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of twice-announced cuts to federal spending.

Here’s the email in its entirety:

Hello Paul,
This information is for you follow-up questions you had last evening.
PWGSC has developed implementation plans for the results of our strategic review. Until we communicate these plans to stakeholders and employees, we are not in a position to provide greater details.
Budget 2011 provides a high-level overview of the strategic review decisions.
Maybe I should translate. Public Works knows what it will stop spending on, but it has not told the people who benefited from those programs (or laboured under the yoke of their inefficiency), nor has the department told, um, itself. So it can’t tell me. The bit about “a high-level overview” means the items in Annex 1 of Budget 2011 weren’t supposed to be comprehensible. And on that front, all I can say is, bang-up job, guys, because there’s no way stakeholders and employees will be able to make any sense of the $170-ish million in cumulative savings “described” in Table A1.12 here.

How, for instance, is “Realign programs to gain efficiencies and improve results” different from “Improve efficiency and the delivery of programs and services?” And how are those two different from “Improve use of internal resources and administrative efficiency”? Because they’re three different categories in the PWGSC “high-level overview.”

Full Article
Source: Macleans 

Ford’s Toronto Housing fixer calls for sale of 900 properties across the city

The man brought in by Mayor Rob Ford to clean up Toronto Community Housing wants to sell more than 900 houses to the highest bidder and use the money to fix what he calls a “crisis” at the country’s largest landlord.

Case Ootes, who is set to leave his post next week, expects the sale of the single homes – scattered throughout the city – could raise as much as $400-million dollars. That money could then be used to help tackle a $650-million repair backlog, he said.

Calling the situation a “crisis,” Mr Ootes said if the repair backlog is not addressed, units will continue to be removed from the market because they are not fit to live in. There are 81 single homes that stand empty in TCHC’s portfolio, he said, because they need major work – everything from new heating systems to roofs.

“I can tell you if this plan is not approved with this path we are on now, the status quo will guarantee more empty houses,” he said.

At a news conference in a building with a 66 per cent vacancy rate, Mr Ootes said TCHC's new board must also look at options for such “outdated and underused buildings,” which he said require either renovation or sale.

As well, he said city and provincial rules need to be changed to give landlords more freedom to manage their assets in order to do the most good. In particular, he pointed to rules that require the province to approve the sale of any unit, and the requirement that every unit that is removed be replaced with another in the same area.

City council is set to appoint a new TCHC board at its regular meeting next week, which will include members of city council, two tenant representatives and seven citizens chosen by a nomination panel. The citizen appointments have not been made public, but will be considered at next week’s council meeting.

Full Article
Source: Globe & Mail  

Windows smashed at anti-police march in Montreal

MONTREAL—Anti-police demonstrators solemnly marched past the site of a tragic shooting where two people — including an innocent bystander — were killed by officers’ bullets.

Then they began smashing windows Wednesday night.

Members of the crowd picked up materials from a construction site and hurled them as projectiles. They pelted bricks and chunks of concrete at about a dozen commercial store windows, attacking businesses like restaurants and coffee shops. Several of the windows shattered.

An outdoor portable toilet was overturned and tossed into the street.

Many of the 200 protestors were dressed head to toe in black or wore black bandanas to conceal their faces, garb commonly worn at rowdy protests. Some later shed their dark clothing to blend back in with the peaceful protestors.

They chanted slogans and held signs denouncing police violence. One giant banner said, “Never again.”

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star 

Tories reject suggestion they misled Parliament on G20 spending

The Conservative government says it “fully accepts” the Auditor General’s findings that greater transparency was needed surrounding the $50 million G8 Legacy fund, but rejects the suggestion that it deliberately misled Parliament to secure the cash.

Now-retired Auditor General Sheila Fraser, in her final report to Parliament tabled Thursday morning, concluded that the Conservatives skirted spending policies and did not clearly identify the nature of funding approvals sought for G8 infrastructure projects.

“The Auditor General does suggest administrative deficiencies surrounding the intake of these projects,” said Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird Thursday, flanked by Treasury Board President Tony Clement, at an Ottawa news conference.

Baird was Infrastructure Minister at the time of the G8 summit and approved the 32 infrastructure projects in Clement’s riding of Parry Sound-Muskoka, where the G8 summit took place in June 2010.

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star 

Alabama Immigration Law Signed By Governor Robert Bentley

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama's governor on Thursday signed a tough new illegal immigration crackdown that contains provisions requiring public schools to determine students' immigration status and making it a crime to knowingly give an illegal immigrant a ride.

The bill also allows police to arrest anyone suspected of being an illegal immigrant if they're stopped for any other reason. Alabama employers also are now required to use a federal system called E-Verify to determine if new workers are in the country legally.

Gov. Robert Bentley said the law is the nation's toughest, and groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Montgomery-based Southern Poverty Law Center agree. The groups say they plan to challenge it.

The legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, Mary Bauer, said Thursday that she expects a lawsuit to be filed before the provisions of law are scheduled to take effect on Sept. 1.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Libya mission has cost Canada $26M

Canada's military mission in Libya has cost $26 million and could more than double if it's extended until the fall, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Wednesday during a NATO summit in Brussels.

The cost covers fuel for Canada's fighter planes and patrol aircraft taking part in the NATO operation, and includes the more than 300 laser-guided bombs Canadian pilots have dropped on targets in Libya from March 19 to June 2, MacKay said at the start of a two-day meeting of alliance defence ministers.

"Together with our international allies, we have steadily and systematically reduced the ability of the Gadhafi regime to threaten his own population with violence," he told a news conference the same day NATO airstrikes rattled the Libyan capital with eight clusters of bombing runs believed to have targeted the outskirts of Tripoli.

The intensity of the attacks suggested a return to the heavy NATO bombardment of the city on Tuesday that hit military installations across the capital and flattened major buildings in leader Moammar Gadhafi's sprawling compound in the centre of the city.

Full Article
Source: CBC 

Spending for summits lacked transparency, auditor general finds in critical report

The government didn’t tell Parliament it was approving $50 million for a G8 legacy fund that doled out cash for projects in cabinet minister Tony Clement's riding based on his advice, according to the auditor general, who could find no paper trail to explain how the projects were chosen.

The findings are contained in the Spring 2011 report written by former auditor general Sheila Fraser who retired on May 30. Acting auditor general John Wiersema presented the report Thursday and said the government didn't follow at least two policies designed to ensure the government is transparent and accountable, and that the report's findings are "troubling."

The report contains highly-anticipated chapters on the costs associated with last summer's G8 and G20 summits in Muskoka and Toronto and covers a number of other audits of government programs and services.

It slams how the government managed the finances of the back-to-back summit meetings and its overall lack of transparency.

Full Article
Source: CBC 

Annie Jacobsen on New Book, "Area 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base"

Located some 80 miles north of Las Vegas, the secret U.S. military base Area 51 in Nevada was established in the 1950s to build and test hi-tech spy and war planes including the U2, the stealth bomber and surveillance drones. Located inside the Nevada Test and Training Range, Area 51 also played a key role in nuclear weapon tests. For decades, the government denied Area 51 even existed, but in recent years many CIA and military documents have been declassified. We speak with Annie Jacobsen, author of the new book, "Area 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base."

Source: Democracy Now! 

Obama Hides Meeting with Top Bahraini Leader—And Mutes Criticism of Ongoing Crackdown

Amidst an intensifying crackdown on anti-government protesters in the tiny Gulf island kingdom of Bahrain, President Obama met Tuesday with Crown Prince Salman bin Isa al-Khalifa, a visit that was not announced beforehand. We speak with Nabeel Rajab, president of Bahrain’s Center for Human Rights, based in Manama. "On the ground, we don’t see anything, any signal, that makes us optimistic that the government has the willingness to go for a dialogue with the opposition and to listen to the grievances and the demands of the people," says Rajab, noting that soldiers from Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Bahrain continue to arrest protesters and the doctors treating those injured during pro-democracy demonstrations.

Source: Democracy Now! 

Auditor blasts lack of transparency in doling out generous G8 funds

The Conservatives hid their true intentions from Parliament when they funneled $50-million in discretionary spending in the riding of Treasury Board President Tony Clement and shielded the spending from normal checks and balances.

In her final report to Parliament, Auditor-General Sheila Fraser comes down hard on the so-called G8 Legacy Infrastructure Fund, saying the “government was not being transparent about its purpose” as its obtained approval for the funding.

The controversial program was 10 times more generous than similar initiatives tied to previous summits of world leaders in Alberta and Quebec. While $50-million in federal funds were disbursed in Mr. Clement’s riding and surrounding areas, there was not a single civil servant involved in approving the 32 projects. As such, normal rules applying to such federal spending, designed to guarantee transparency and accountability, were not followed.

Full Article
Source: Globe & Mail 

Canada Rejects Kyoto Protocol Extension

BONN, Germany - Canada confirmed on Wednesday that it would not support an extended Kyoto Protocol after 2012, joining Japan and Russia in rejecting a new round of the climate emissions pact.

The current Kyoto Protocol binds only the emissions of industrialized countries from 2008-2012. Poor and emerging economies want to extend the pact, creating a deadlock at U.N. climate talks running from June 6 to 17 in Bonn, Germany.

The confirmation makes it clear Canada is following the line its ruling party pursued ahead of last month's election.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Auditor General G8 G20 Report: Parliament In The Dark About $50-Million Fund; No Documents For 32 Projects In Minister's Muskoka Riding

THE CANADIAN PRESS -- The wording has been softened but the auditor general's verdict remains much the same: the Harper government kept Parliament in the dark about a $50-million G8 fund that sprayed money on dubious projects in a cabinet minister's riding.

The final report on the G8 legacy infrastructure fund concludes that the government "did not clearly or transparently" identify how the money was going to be spent when it sought parliamentary approval for the funding.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Montreal Police Shooting Sparks Angry Protest March

THE CANADIAN PRESS -- MONTREAL - Anti-police demonstrators marched to the site of a tragic shooting Wednesday night where two people, including an innocent bystander, were killed by officers' bullets.

Then they began smashing windows.

Members of the crowd picked up materials from a construction site and hurled them as projectiles.

They pelted bricks and chunks of broken concrete at about a dozen commercial windows, including restaurants and coffee shops. Several of the windows shattered.

An outdoor portable toilet was overturned and tossed into the street. Buildings, streets and at least one onlooker were splattered with pink paint tossed by demonstrators.

Many of the 200 protesters were dressed head to toe in black or wore black bandannas to conceal their faces, garb commonly worn at rowdy protests.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Ottawa embraces higher user fees, holds to no tax hikes

The Conservative government is counting on higher user fees as part of its deficit-fighting plan even as Prime Minister Stephen Harper boasts that he won’t raise taxes.

It’s a distinction that may be lost on many Canadians, but the government is insisting there’s a difference.

Erasing the deficit and cutting taxes were the twin pillars of Mr. Harper’s election campaign and ensuing budget. Now, day by day, new details are beginning to trickle out in terms of the impact this program will have on Canadians.

In a closed-door speech Wednesday afternoon to federal public service executives, Treasury Board President Tony Clement gave his first outline of the government’s strategic and operating review that he will lead this year to find “at least” $4-billion a year in ongoing savings.

The process is a central feature in the government’s plans to erase the deficit by 2015.

Full Article
Source: Globe & Mail 

WikiLeaks Haiti: Let Them Live on $3 a Day

Contractors for Fruit of the Loom, Hanes and Levi’s worked in close concert with the US Embassy when they aggressively moved to block a minimum wage increase for Haitian assembly zone workers, the lowest-paid in the hemisphere, according to secret State Department cables.

The factory owners told the Haitian Parliament that they were willing to give workers a 9-cents-per-hour pay increase to 31 cents per hour to make T-shirts, bras and underwear for US clothing giants like Dockers and Nautica.

But the factory owners refused to pay 62 cents per hour, or $5 per day, as a measure unanimously passed by the Haitian Parliament in June 2009 would have mandated. And they had the vigorous backing of the US Agency for International Development and the US Embassy when they took that stand.

To resolve the impasse between the factory owners and Parliament, the State Department urged quick intervention by then Haitian President René Préval.

“A more visible and active engagement by Préval may be critical to resolving the issue of the minimum wage and its protest ‘spin-off’—or risk the political environment spiraling out of control,” argued US Ambassador Janet Sanderson in a June 10, 2009, cable back to Washington.

Two months later Préval negotiated a deal with Parliament to create a two-tiered minimum wage increase—one for the textile industry at about $3 per day and one for all other industrial and commercial sectors at about $5 per day.

Still the US Embassy wasn’t pleased. A deputy chief of mission, David E. Lindwall, said the $5 per day minimum “did not take economic reality into account” but was a populist measure aimed at appealing to “the unemployed and underpaid masses.”

Full Article
Source: The Nation 

Senate page explains her throne speech protest

I am moved by the excitement and energy with which people from all walks of life across this country greeted my action in the Senate.

One person alone cannot accomplish much, but they must at least do what they can. So I held out my “Stop Harper” sign during the throne speech because I felt I had a responsibility to use my position to oppose a government whose values go against the majority of Canadians.

The thousands of positive comments shared online, the printing of “Stop Harper” buttons and stickers and lawn signs, and the many calls for further action convinced me that this is not merely a country of people dissatisfied with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s vision for Canada.

It is a country of people burning with desire for change.

If I was able to do what I did, I know that there are thousands of others capable of equal, or far more courageous, acts.

I think those who reacted with excitement realize that politics should not be left to the politicians, and that democracy is not just about marking a ballot every few years. It is about ensuring, with daily engagement and resistance, that the vision we have for our society is reflected in the decision-making of our government.

Our views are not represented by our political system. How else could we have a government that 60 per cent of the people voted against? A broken system is what has left us with a Conservative government ready to spend billions on fighter jets we don’t need, to pollute the environment we want protected, to degrade a health-care system we want improved, and to cut social programs and public sector jobs we value. As a page, I witnessed one irresponsible bill after another pass through the Senate, and wanted to scream “Stop.”

Such a system leads us to feel isolated, powerless and hopeless — thousands of Canadians made that clear in their responses to my action. We need a reminder that there are alternatives. We need a reminder that we have both the capacity to create change, and an obligation to. If my action has been that reminder, it was a success.

Media and politicians have argued that I tarnished the throne speech, a solemn Canadian tradition. I now believe more in another tradition — the tradition of ordinary people in this country fighting to create a more just and sustainable world, using peaceful direct action and civil disobedience.

On occasion, that tradition has found an inspiring home within Parliament: In 1970, for instance, a group of young women chained themselves to the parliamentary gallery seats to protest the Canadian law that criminalized abortion. Their action won national attention, and helped propel a movement that eventually achieved abortion’s legalization.

Was such an action “appropriate”? Not in the conventional sense. But those women were driven by insights known to every social movement in history: that the ending of injustices or the winning of human rights are never gifts from rulers or from parliaments, but the fruit of struggle and of people power in the streets.

Actions like these provide the answer to the Harper government. When Harper tries to push through policies and legislation that hurt our communities and country, we all need to find our inner activist, and flow into the streets. And what is a stop sign after all, but a nod to the symbol of the street where a people amassed can put the brakes on the Harper government?

I’ve been inspired by Canadians taking action, and inspired too by my peers rising up in North Africa and the Middle East. I am honoured to have since received a message from young activists there, saying that we need not just an Arab spring but a “world spring,” using people power to combat whatever ills exists in each country.

I have been inspired most of all by Asmaa Mahfouz, the 26-year-old woman who issued a video calling for Egyptians to join her in Tahrir Square. People did, and they together made the Egyptian revolution. Her words will always stay with me: “As long as you say there is no hope, then there will be no hope, but if you go and take a stand, then there will be hope.”

Brigette DePape is a recent graduate of the University of Ottawa. She has started a fund to support peaceful direct action and civil disobedience against the Harper agenda:

Source: Toronto Star