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.]

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Canada endorsing Monsanto 'suicide seeds'

"Canada is about to launch a devastating kick in the stomach to the world's most vulnerable farmers - the 1.4 billion people who depend on farm saved seed," said ETC Group Executive Director Pat Mooney speaking from Ottawa. "The Canadian government is doing the dirty work for the multinational gene giants and the US government. Even Monsanto wasn't prepared to be this upfront and nasty."

Public outrage greeted "suicide seeds" when they were introduced in 1988. Monsanto, the company which developed the technology, was forced to back down when activists and scientists around the world warned of possible wild crop sterilisation through contamination.

We're concerned that this is an attempt by at least one person within at least one department of the Canadian government to use Canada's political leverage within a relatively unknown scientific and technical committee in order to open the door to Terminator technology's release into the wild.

Fairness and Financial Stability

While Canadians are proud of the critically important international role their central bank governor will play in his role as chair of the Financial Stability Board, they are generally less aware of the organization’s limitations, constraints, and legitimacy issues. In the process of taking the bold action necessary to address the volatility of global finance, Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney should take this opportunity to infuse the governance of this important international financial institution with a Canadian brand of respect for values of inclusiveness and fair play.

The G20 created the Financial Stability Board to replace its precursor, the Financial Stability Forum, at its London meeting in April 2009. This move increased the representative reach of the organization in a manner that mimicked the expansion of the G7 to the G20.

But while the legitimacy as well as the efficacy of the G20 are often questioned and suggestions are made for both its expansion (G31) and contraction (G2), due to its much more technical mandate, we hear too few parallel concerns regarding the FSB.

Revenge of the Technocrats

Three weeks ago, I suggested that democratic politics had reasserted itself in Europe – to the consternation of those who wanted Greece and Italy to fall into line on the policies needed to address the eurozone crisis.

This past week, by contrast, has seen moves to minimize those democratic impulses. On Friday, Italy’s newly appointed prime minister and respected eurocrat, Mario Monti, won a vote of confidence on the composition of his new government in Italy’s lower house of parliament – a government whose cabinet does not include a single elected official.

Monti proposes to double up as Finance Minister, with a plan to balance the budget, stimulate growth, overhaul Italy’s pension system, and fight against decades of tax evasion. It’s an agenda that technocrats have long wanted to pursue, but that democratic politics in Italy had apparently made very difficult.

Ozone gaffe shows Tories favour ‘spin over science,’ Trudeau says

Justin Trudeau figured he’d be made to look the fool but instead it was Environment Minister Peter Kent, who couldn’t answer the simple question as to what is ozone.

And Mr. Trudeau, the Montreal Liberal MP, told The Globe Tuesday he’s “sure now that Minister Kent will deepen his knowledge of his extremely important file.”

“It just worries me that this government consistently prioritizes politics and spin over science and facts,” Mr. Trudeau said. “Canadians deserve better.”

Too tightly scripted and perhaps caught off guard, the Environment Minister stumbled in the Commons Monday when the Montreal Liberal asked him to “explain to the House what ozone is and what is the difference between its impact at low altitude and high altitude?”

Bank Of America Warned By U.S. Regulators It Must Get Stronger

U.S. regulators have informed Bank of America's (BAC.N) board that the company could face public enforcement action if they are not satisfied with recent steps taken to strengthen the bank, the Wall Street Journal said, citing people familiar with the situation.

BofA has been operating under a memorandum of understanding since May 2009. The memorandum, which is not public, identified governance, risk and liquidity management as problems that had to be fixed, the paper said, citing people familiar with the document.

In recent months, regulators met with BofA's board and said they wanted to see more progress on the bank's compliance with the memorandum, the Journal said.

In the absence of progress, the informal order could turn into a formal and public action, which would likely mean intensified scrutiny and greater restrictions, the paper said.

However, the newspaper said that BofA's directors believe the bank has met demands set out in the 2009 document.

Now, "the board's view is it's time to take us out of the penalty box," one person familiar with the situation told the Journal.

Bank of America spokesman Larry Di Rita declined to comment on the Journal report to Reuters.

Source: Huff 

America’s Not Broke: Solving the Debt Crisis By Making Nation More Equitable, Green & Secure

The bipartisan so-called "supercommittee" has failed to reach an agreement on reducing the federal deficit after three months of negotiations over taxes and spending. The full Congress will now have a little over a year to come up with an alternative. A trigger of $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts over 10 years to military and domestic programs takes effect in 2013. “What people need to remember is that we are a rich country and that this crisis is actually an opportunity to harness our abundant resources in ways that will position us better for the future,” says Sarah Anderson, co-author of a new report from the Institute for Policy Studies, “America Isn’t Broke: “How to Pay for the Crisis While Making the Country More Equitable, Green, and Secure.”

Source: Democracy Now! 

Reporter Greg Palast Exposes How U.S. “Vulture” Funds Make Millions By Exploiting African Nations

American "vulture" investors, including a top funder of the Republican Party, have demanded that African nations pay over half a billion dollars for old debts – for which the investors paid only a few million. One New York vulture speculator, Peter Grossman of FG Capital Management, is demanding $100 million from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Is he collecting a legitimate debt from the Congo — or is the vulture’s claim based on a stolen security? Greg Palast reports from the Congo, Bosnia and New York in the joint investigation by the BBC, the Guardian and Democracy Now!

Source: Democracy Now! 

Stimulus program failed to measure job-creation, auditor finds

Ottawa failed to measure how many jobs it created through its multi-billion stimulus programs, the federal spending watchdog says, but the Conservatives otherwise emerge relatively unscathed from a detailed audit of their Economic Action Plan.

Interim Auditor-General John Wiersema released an audit report Tuesday that focused on three stimulus programs with a combined budget of $7-billion.

The audit focused on how federal officials monitored the Economic Action Plan (EAP) projects in terms of progress on construction and spending. Auditors did not look at the merits of the projects or how they impacted the Canadian economy.

“For the three specific programs we audited, the government was diligent in monitoring the progress of projects and their spending,” said Mr. Wiersema in a statement.

Religious Lobbying Groups Have Dramatically Increased In Washington: Study

With heated nation-wide arguments in recent years over issues ranging from same-sex marriage to abortion rights, it's no secret that religious organizations play a significant role in influencing the nation's policies.

Now, a new study shows just how big and expansive the "religious lobby" has become.

According to a study released Monday by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life, religious lobbying and religion-related advocacy organizations have grown fivefold, from less than 40 in 1970 to more than 200 today. The organizations, which range from the influential United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to smaller Hindu and Sikh organizations, together spend $390 million per year advocating on about 300 domestic and international issues, from bioethics and moral issues to economic and poverty concerns.

Lobbying for the Faithful: Religious Advocacy Groups in Washington, D.C. looked at 212 religion-related organizations that work in the nation's capital and collectively employ 1,000 people in the Washington, D.C. area. The study used tax and nonprofit filings by the organizations, some of which are registered as lobbying groups and others which do broader advocacy efforts, to come to its findings.

'Lawful Access' Online Spying Law Could Kill Small Internet Providers In Canada, Industry Group Says

The controversial online spying laws Ottawa has promised to reintroduce in Parliament could force independent Internet service providers to shut down, an industry advocacy group says.

The Canadian Network Operators’ Consortium, a trade group composed of 25 small and mid-sized ISPs, says the “lawful access” legislation the Conservative government has promised could put Internet providers out of business with its requirement that they retrofit their networks so that law enforcement can monitor communications in real time.

The Conservatives introduced a set of three bills in the last Parliament that would vastly expand the ability of law enforcement to gather information online. One provision would force Internet providers to hand over subscriber information -- such as names, email addresses and phone numbers -- without a warrant.

Why I Feel Bad for the Pepper-Spraying Policeman, Lt. John Pike

A regular guy named John Pike has become the new face of evil among people following the Occupy protests around the country. The UC Davis police officer's matter-of-fact pepper spraying of seated, obviously peaceful students has provoked justifiable outrage. James Fallows summed up the situation with his usual precise moral compass. "This is what happens when authority is unaccountable and has lost any sense of human connection to a subject population," he wrote. "That's what I think here."

Many are calling for Pike's firing, or worse. He certainly doesn't present a sympathetic figure. What kind of person could do this?

First-nations youth inhabit two different spheres

Children who live on native reserves often have their feet in two worlds when it comes to education and many are unprepared to sacrifice one for the other.

That’s one of the messages that has been delivered repeatedly to a panel on first-nations learning that was struck a year ago by the federal government and the Assembly of First Nations.

The panel holds its final roundtable in Ottawa on Tuesday and Kenzie Wilson will be one of the participants. The 13-year-old who loves racing sled dogs across the ice near her home in Cross Lake in northern Manitoba says she wants to be a fighter pilot when she grows up. That means she has a lot of years of formal education ahead of her.

Shocked Putin greeted with boos and jeers at the big fight

It was not the kind of reception that Vladimir Putin is used to. As the Russian Prime Minister stepped into the ring at Moscow's Olympic Stadium to congratulate Fedor Emelianenko, the winner of a martial arts clash on Sunday evening, boos and whistles rang out in the arena.

A moment of shock flickered across his face as he registered what was happening, before he regained his composure and carried on as normal. Nobody can remember anything like it happening before, and one blogger called it "the end of an era". The frosty reception from thousands of ordinary Russians will raise further alarm that discontent with Russia's ruling elite and Mr Putin himself is growing, ahead of elections in a fortnight's time.

The parliamentary elections on 4 December will set the stage for March presidential elections, in which Mr Putin has said he will stand, ending a four-year break during which he moved to the prime ministerial post but remained the most powerful man in the country. In the absence of a credible opposition and with control of the airwaves, Mr Putin is guaranteed to win, but analysts say his support is sliding, and offer the booing as the latest piece of evidence.

Extent of injuries to children in private jails revealed

Serious injuries or other life-threatening warning signs have been detected on 285 occasions when children have been physically restrained in privately run jails over the past five years, according to Ministry of Justice figures.

The figure reflects the number of "exception reports" submitted by the four privately run secure training centres to the youth justice board since 2006.

The warning signs triggering an exception report include struggling to breathe, nausea, vomiting, limpness and abnormal redness to the face.

Serious injuries are classified as those requiring hospitalisation and include serious cuts, fractures, concussion, loss of consciousness and damage to internal organs.

The MoJ figures, which have been disclosed for the first time, show that there were 61 such exception reports made last year. There have been 29 so far in the first 10 months of this year.

Their disclosure comes as a two-day High Court challenge is due to get underway over the MoJ's refusal to identify and trace hundreds of children who have been unlawfully restrained in the privately run child jails using techniques that have since been banned. Children's rights campaigners believe they should be entitled to compensation.

High executive pay 'corrosive' to the UK economy, report warns

Government action to curb boardroom pay becomes more likely as an influential group with the ear of the business secretary, Vince Cable, publishes proposals to reduce the pay gap.

Warning high pay is "corrosive" to the UK economy, the High Pay Commission calls for greater transparency in the setting of executive pay and says employees should sit on remuneration committees. Its recommendations come in the most comprehensive report yet on the need for action on top salaries.

The report shows executive pay has risen sharply – the pay of the head of Barclays is up nearly 5,000% in 30 years – while average wages have increased just threefold.

The commission was set up by the leftwing pressure group Compass and backed by money from Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. A government source said on Monday, however, that the work was being taken seriously.

‘Standard procedure’ to vet RCMP statements, Tories say

OTTAWA—The Conservative government dismissed questions about new RCMP orders, saying it is “standard procedure” to require federal agencies to vet all public statements with their political bosses.

Instead, the government challenged the integrity of the NDP in the Commons, saying the questions amounted to a “drive-by smear” of the Mounties.

As the Star reported Sunday, a new communications protocol requires the national police force to flag to Public Safety Canada officials anything that might “garner national media attention,” and to get “feedback” and approval before making any public statements.

It specifies that everything from news releases to background information or “media lines and talking points” for spokespersons and senior RCMP members must be vetted.

The NDP slammed the move, saying it amounts to political interference, and called for the protocol to be scrapped.

Bank Lobbying On Track To Reach Record High This Year: Analysis

Big banks are on track to spend a record amount lobbying lawmakers this year.

The five banks that spend the most on lobbying have boosted their lobbying outlays by 12 percent in the first three quarters of 2011, compared to the same period last year, according to an analysis by the Charlotte Observer. Commercial banks comprising the banking industry have spent close to $47 million on lobbying so far this year, compared to $42 million at this time last year, the report finds.

The report comes as lawmakers and federal agencies continue to write hundreds of rules stemming from the Dodd-Frank financial reform act passed in July 2010. The bill, which lawmakers passed in response to the 2008 financial crisis, includes provisions regulating a variety of commercial banking fees, such as overdraft and debit card charges, in addition to rules on certain types of trading and other types of financial activities.

Occupy Wall Street and the Importance of Creative Protest

Perhaps the single biggest factor that helped lead to the Occupy movement’s success in capturing the media and public’s attention has been its creativity. Novel protest strategies have served as OWS’s foundation since its first days. The very idea of occupying, and sleeping in, a park twenty-four hours a day was new and exciting.

Up until Occupy, most protests had become exercises in futility. Protesters would show up with their sad, limp carboard signs, march around for a little while—maybe press would show up, but most likely not—and then everyone would go home. Hardly effective stuff.

Even when the protests were massive, say during the lead-up to the Iraq invasion, media had learned to ignore protests as being the hallmark of a bygone era of granola-munching hippies. Whether consciously or unconsciously, the media helped hand protesters loss after loss, perhaps recognizing the fact that protest waged within the perimeters constructed by city officials is completely ineffective.

Demonstrators need a permit to march, and even then must remain on the sidewalk and never disrupt traffic; they need a permit to use a bullhorn, a permit to play music, etc. Protesters, in other words, can protest as long as they never disrupt the normalcy of everyday living, which of course defeats the concept of meaningful protest in the first place.

Why I Got Arrested at Occupy Wall Street

Last Thursday morning, I was arrested along with about thirty other protesters at the corner of Pine and Nassau streets, a block from the New York Stock Exchange. Hundreds of us gathered near Zuccotti Park at 7 am before making our way towards Wall Street, to join up with other marches in front of the exchange for the first in a daylong series of actions.

A police barricade was waiting for us along Pine, as they were at the other intersections surrounding Wall Street that morning. As more and more of us began to fill the intersection and found ourselves unable to move past the heavily reinforced line of metal barricades and helmeted officers, many of us decided to sit down where we were. We chanted, sang “We Shall Overcome,” and demanded our rights to assemble peacefully on putatively public streets. All of a sudden, an order went out among the police on the other side of the barricade, and dozens of them began pushing into our ranks. They forced people backwards with their arms and billyclubs, trying to push us out of the street and onto the sidewalks. Those of us who stayed seated, linked arms, or simply refused to move, were hauled away and cuffed. One of them was Ray Lewis, a retired Philadelphia policeman, dressed for the occasion in full uniform. All told, more than 150 protesters were arrested on the streets around Wall Street that morning.

I drove to Wall Street from Connecticut on Thursday, knowing full well that arrests were likely. I’m an organizer in my hometown of New Haven, had been to Zuccotti Park a few times since the Occupy Wall Street protests began in September, and have been involved in movement activism for a long time before that. But this was the first time in my life that I had been arrested.

The Occupy Movement's Woman Problem

"I'm called 'that white bitch who gets everything she wants' at the GA's," says Elise Whitaker, 21, adopting a bit of a defiant posture. She's been at Occupy LA since the second week of the encampment. A now former-assistant director for indie films, Whitaker is good looking in a vaguely familiar, probably-an-actor kind of way. She looks like just the type who moves to Los Angeles every day to "follow their dreams," but she's sleeping in a tent at City Hall. She tells me she has figured out what she wants to do with her life: activism. This is it for her. She loves this stuff.

It's early November and helicopters are hovering over our heads as the Los Angeles Police Department arrests a guy who is thought to have attempted to light a woman's hair on fire at the camp. He was kicked out and has been causing problems ever since. Nearly 20 police officers are gathered at the corner of the park. This interrupts my conversation with Whitaker and delays her next interview with a YouTube channel called Inside Out News.

During the very first week of the Occupation in LA I noticed that the gender breakdown in its General Assembly (GA) and various committee meetings was roughly the same as the within the U.S. Congress. In other words, about one-fifth of those who were participating in the (small d) democratic part of this Occupy encampment were women. It was the same with the people who slept in the camp.

Pepper-Spraying Occupy: An Assault on Our Democracy

This weekend, while listening to an NPR story about police using tear gas and rubber bullets to break up a demonstration, I was actually surprised when it turned out the newscaster was talking about Tahrir Square -- I had assumed it was about another brutal response to a peaceful protest here at home.

All across the country -- most recently on the campus of UC Davis -- a war is being waged. This isn't a battle over parks and tents and sleeping bags. Though many of our leaders don't seem to realize it, this is a battle about their credibility -- even their legitimacy -- about how they represent us, about whom their real allegiance is to. Their misguided response to the Occupy protests has actually proved the point of the protesters more than any sign or chant could. Sure, you can clear the protesters out from this or that park in the middle of the night, or send in riot-geared police to clear a campus sidewalk, but that doesn't mean you've won. Quite the opposite. As James Fallows writes, "what is going on is a war of ideas, based in turn on moral standing."

The Occupy movement has been a test -- a national MRI -- that has allowed us to check-in on the health of our democracy by allowing us to see what's going on underneath the surface of America's power structures. And the results are dire. What the movement, and the response to it, has shown is a government almost completely disconnected from those it purports to represent.

What price the new democracy? Goldman Sachs conquers Europe

The ascension of Mario Monti to the Italian prime ministership is remarkable for more reasons than it is possible to count. By replacing the scandal-surfing Silvio Berlusconi, Italy has dislodged the undislodgeable. By imposing rule by unelected technocrats, it has suspended the normal rules of democracy, and maybe democracy itself. And by putting a senior adviser at Goldman Sachs in charge of a Western nation, it has taken to new heights the political power of an investment bank that you might have thought was prohibitively politically toxic.

This is the most remarkable thing of all: a giant leap forward for, or perhaps even the successful culmination of, the Goldman Sachs Project.

It is not just Mr Monti. The European Central Bank, another crucial player in the sovereign debt drama, is under ex-Goldman management, and the investment bank's alumni hold sway in the corridors of power in almost every European nation, as they have done in the US throughout the financial crisis. Until Wednesday, the International Monetary Fund's European division was also run by a Goldman man, Antonio Borges, who just resigned for personal reasons.

Even before the upheaval in Italy, there was no sign of Goldman Sachs living down its nickname as "the Vampire Squid", and now that its tentacles reach to the top of the eurozone, sceptical voices are raising questions over its influence. The political decisions taken in the coming weeks will determine if the eurozone can and will pay its debts – and Goldman's interests are intricately tied up with the answer to that question.

What if They Declared an Emergency and No One Came?

It's been three weeks since Attawapiskat First Nation took the extraordinary step of declaring a state of emergency. Since then, not a single federal or provincial official has even bothered to visit the community.

No aid agencies have stepped forward. No disaster management teams have offered help.

Meanwhile temperatures have dropped 20 degrees and will likely drop another 20 or 25 degrees further in the coming weeks. For families living in uninsulated tents, makeshift cabins and sheds, the worsening weather poses serious risk.

Two weeks ago I travelled to this community on the James Bay coast to see why conditions had become so extreme that local leaders felt compelled to declare a state of emergency. It was like stepping into a fourth world.

Ford to occupiers: Time’s up

Shortly after an Ontario superior judge upheld the city’s eviction order against Occupy Toronto, Mayor Rob Ford reiterated his demand that protesters leave St. James Park immediately, but would not say what will happen if they refuse to go.

At a morning press conference with city manager Joe Penachetti at city hall, Ford gave no clear picture of how Toronto’s faction of the international Occupy protests will be brought to an end, and repeatedly declined to answer reporter’s questions about the possibility of police action against any activists who don’t leave by 12:01 am Tuesday morning. In a decision announced 9 am Monday morning, Judge David Brown ruled that the city’s pre-existing bylaw against sleeping in the park is enforceable after midnight on Monday, dismissing an appeal launched by Occupy Toronto that argued eviction would violate protesters' Charter rights.

“The city has worked to balance people’s right to protest with public safety,” Ford said. “However, this unauthorized use of the city park has interfered with the rights local residents have to enjoy their park, and has negatively affected businesses in the surrounding area.”

“It is time for this protest to come to an end,” the mayor concluded.

No sanctuary for Occupy

Occupy Toronto had the ground pulled out from under it Monday afternoon when St. James Cathedral issued eviction notices to protesters, scuttling their plans to use church property as a sanctuary and provoking accusations of hypocrisy from protesters who once considered the cathedral a close ally.

Since the city ordered the occupiers to dismantle their camp in St. James Park last week, protesters had been planning to seek refuge in the western part of the property, which is owned by the church but donated for public use in an agreement with the city that stretches back 50 years.

While church leaders have expressed sympathy with the Occupy movement, today they officially withdrew support for the actual camp out. The move comes hours after a judge rejected Occupy Toronto’s request for an injunction against the city’s eviction order, ruling that they have no right to take over public space at the expense of other citizens.

Taylor Chelsea, a protest organizer who had been in talks with the church to broker a compromise, said she felt betrayed the cathedral's leaders.

Prentice brings tough-love message to home of the oilsands

Canada and Alberta should set more stringent environmental targets for the oilsands and diversify energy trade away from the U.S., former environment minister Jim Prentice told the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce on Monday.

“Let me be categoric: neither industry nor the governments of Canada or Alberta can defend themselves in the absence of credible, science-based data that substantiates the fact that we are protecting the environment,” the senior executive vice-president of CIBC said in remarks provided to iPolitics.

Prentice said the absence of that data has left the oilsands vulnerable to criticism, but that investment in more “robust monitoring systems” could help mitigate the image problem.

Putting them in place, he continued, “will allow the industry to get out in front of its critics by setting tougher targets and benchmarks with respect to impacts on water, air and land.”

To that end, Prentice sang the praise of new Alberta premier Allison Redford, citing her recent address to the Economic Club of Canada as an “important new direction for the Government of Alberta”, and quoting from the script.

Quebec's new party is a real threat

Coalition-Avenir-Québec, the new party that is François Legault’s brainchild, is a strange animal. It will have to live with an awful acronym, CAQ, which sounds bad in both official languages. Its members will be “caquistes,” a weird appellation that lends itself to endless French puns, the most popular one being “the caquistes cackle” (“caquètentin French).

This is a party with no real program, practically no members or high-profile supporters, and a distinctly uncharismatic leader – a party whose personality is so vague that it’s been successively qualified as rightist or leftist or appealing to the middle. And finally – and this is a first in Quebec’s past five decades – a party that is neither federalist nor separatist, in other words a party that defines itself in negative terms.

And yet, the polls say that if an election were held today, the CAQ might either form the government or, by stealing a great chunk of the PQ vote, allow Jean Charest’s Liberals to come up the middle and be re-elected for a fourth term.

Charities to pay for trash pickup

Toronto plans to start charging for trash pickup from churches, service agencies, retirement homes and other non-profit organizations that have long received the service for free.

Some 1,100 formerly exempt customers will pay commercial rates phased in over four years, and end up pumping $2.9 million annually into city coffers to recover the cost of collection and disposal.

The news comes as a shock, said John Campey, executive director of Social Planning Toronto.

“There’s been no consultation, no discussion, no sense of what the impact on any of those organizations will be,” Campey said. “It seems they just dreamt this up as a way of making some money.”

On Monday, council’s executive committee chaired by Mayor Rob Ford supported the change without debate in approving a water budget that raises rates by 9 per cent and a trash budget with no rate increase.

Do we need a Canadian CIA?

At a time when Ottawa is instructing federal agencies to trim their budgets, the Conservative government is reportedly contemplating expanding the Canadian Security Intelligence Service's mandate to allow it to engage in intelligence collection abroad, a measure that would signify additional costs and whose returns are by no means certain.

At the heart of the problem lies Section 16 of the CSIS Act, which contains a clause - "within Canada" - that has long cast a shadow on the agency's ability to operate abroad. The government wants to do away with that constraint, arguing that new imperatives, such as international terrorism and Chinese espionage, require that CSIS have the same powers to spy on people abroad as it does within Canada.

Now, it is an ill-kept secret that, thanks to built-in flexibility in the mandate, CSIS is already conducting operations abroad, sometimes in some of the world's most dangerous places. What a revamped mandate would signify is that CSIS would be able to engage in more such activities, or feel less like a criminal when it does so. Arguably, such intensification in espionage abroad would imply additional costs related to training and deployment, among others, which goes counter to the government's budget cuts plan. What this would create, in fact, is justification for CSIS to ask for more money.

Harper delusional if he thinks Northern Gateway's an option

In the wake of Washington's decision to delay TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline, Canada's federal politicians are clamouring now more than ever to ship oil to Asia - but they're ignoring an insurmountable obstacle: British Columbia.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper told reporters on Nov. 13 at the APEC summit that selling energy to Asia is an "important priority" for his government, while Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver added he wants a regulatory decision by early 2013, a year ahead of the current schedule, on Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline to B.C.'s coast.

What you wouldn't know from listening to the Canadian government is that most financial analysts don't bank on Northern Gateway ever being built due to overwhelming First Nations and public opposition in B.C.

If the delay of Keystone XL makes one thing clear it's that projects don't go ahead without social licence. A State Department spokesperson said the decision to delay arose from the growing anti-Keystone revolt in Nebraska that made it difficult to say the pipeline was in the "national interest."

Stand together against the tar-sands scourge

Working in Vancouver for the past several months has allowed me to spend fall in one of the most spectacular cities in the world, amid the natural splendour and wilderness wonder of British Columbia.

It’s been a reminder to me of the close partnership Canadians and Americans have forged as neighbours, bound by geography, history and culture reaching back to our national beginnings. Over the generations, these bonds of common experience and identity have combined to create something even more important: the values we share around the need to stand up for the lands we treasure and love.

Today, together, we need to stand up once more, because the lands we treasure and love are imperilled by a threat we must meet as one.

In Alberta’s great boreal forest, one of the last truly wild places on Earth, tar-sands producers have turned an area the size of Chicago into an industrial wasteland and international disgrace.

Where spruce and fir and birch trees once rose and waters ran fresh and clean, tar-sands production has left a lifeless scar visible from outer space, a vast repository of enduring pollution that threatens fish, birds, animals, public health and an entire way of life for native people.

Welcome to Ottawa. Angry government, aimless opposition

OTTAWA—This fall session of Parliament hit the two-month mark on the weekend, two months of majority government, interim leaders and backlogged legislation speeding through the Commons as if on a conveyor belt.

Canadians have never seen a Parliament quite like this one. But after two months, some of the truisms which have emerged are not pretty.

On the government side, we know this: the Conservatives conjure up images of the dog chasing the car. Just as the dog has no idea what to do if it ever catches the car, the Conservatives seem unsure of what do with a majority after years of chasing it.

They are in eternal campaign mode, unable to step back, take a breath and govern like a majority, not a government which steps into the ring each day as if it could be back at the polls within months.

They demonize opponents and mock their adversaries, their partisan elbows as sharp as ever.

The Commons: James Moore’s audition

The Scene. Today, it was James Moore’s turn to pretend to be prime minister.

Unlike most of his recent predecessors, Mr. Harper has never seen fit to name a deputy. He stands alone. And so when he cannot stand or when he chooses not to (at some point he stopped showing up on Mondays), it had typically been the duty of John Baird or Peter Van Loan to stand and mouth the official bromides. Of late though Mr. Harper has chosen to disperse the burden of parliamentary accountability upon no less than five pairs of shoulders: Messrs Baird and Van Loan, Peter MacKay, Jason Kenney and James Moore. Each day the Prime Minister is away, no matter what has been asked or what actually relevant minister might be around to handle the question, it is one of these sturdy men who rises to handle the first questions of the NDP and Liberals.

So today, for instance, it was Mr. Moore’s job to stand and explain the government’s policy on the treatment of water sewage.

“Mr. Speaker, waste water regulations are being put forward and designed to make sure that Canadians have safe water when and where they need it,” he said in response to Nycole Turmel’s lead query. “Those regulations are responsible for the way in which we are doing it. The Leader of the Opposition is right in the sense that these regulations have to be twinned with investment with regard to infrastructure for water. The problem is the NDP has voted against every single dime of new investment that we have made to make sure that water gets to Canadians safely.”

Get ready for the Royal Conservative Mounted Police

Last week, Tonda MacCharles of the Toronto Star received a brown envelope containing a leaked copy of the new Communications Protocol Between the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Public Safety Canada.

The two-page document outlines a new, closer relationship between the Mounties and the government, and raises the worrying possibility that the Tories will rebrand the force as the Royal Conservative Mounted Police.

The Conservatives are trying to change Canada's brand, because the Liberals had been so effective at manipulating the country's image in their bilingual, multicultural, red-tie-wearing ways that the Tories always seemed somehow un-Canadian.

Canada was the only country in the world where the conservative party wasn't the party associated with patriotism, so Stephen Harper's people have worked hard to link the Conservative brand with the flag, the military, the police and the monarchy.

The Liberals did something similar. It's no coincidence that two governors general in a row were visible minority women from the CBC.

The incredibly dull House that Harper built

It’s half an hour before Question Period in the House of Commons, on the day of the vote on the budget bill – the one the opposition parties claim they haven’t had sufficient time to debate. Yet, the chamber is almost empty — 30 MPs out of 308 are scattered around the empty benches and none appears to be listening to Conservative MP Chungsen Leung, who has has misfortune to be speaking to the bill for the government.

It would be fair to say his oration doesn’t match the Gettysburg Address in quality or brevity but it deserves better than the desultory response it receives from the paltry gathering of MPs, most of whom are either too young, callow or silly to sit on their respective parties’ front-bench.

They are here because they have to be — most are on what is known as “house duty,” a rotation designed to ensure the chamber has a quorum of 20 at all times. Most are reading the newspapers or carrying out correspondence and would be anywhere else given half a chance.

Why? Because they know that no one cares about anything that happens inside the House of Commons these days. Interest in and esteem for our most precious of parliamentary institutions is at an all-time low ebb.

Days of blindly topping up medicare over

When Canada’s health ministers meet this week, one issue will dominate discussions, at the table, in the corridors and in the media: The 2014 Health Accord.

The meeting in Halifax on Thursday and Friday will be the first formal opportunity for Ottawa, the provinces and territories to feel each other out on this crucial financial and political issue.

There will be a lot of posturing, but this must be a priority for the health ministers because the way we finance health care in Canada is going to change profoundly in the next few years. The transfers from Ottawa to the provinces and territories are just one piece of the puzzle, but an important one, especially politically.

Renegotiating the Canada Health Transfer – the mechanism Ottawa uses to transfer health-care dollars to the provinces – is a golden opportunity to send a message: The days of blindly shovelling money into health care are over.

Results vary as Occupy protesters react to eviction deadlines

While defiant anarchists in Toronto donned chains to fight off eviction, protesters in Vancouver did something entirely different. Tents came down, only to pop up elsewhere, at a sprawling provincially owned complex that includes B.C. court facilities.

By late Monday afternoon, Occupy Vancouver’s five-week old encampment at the Art Gallery had ended in response to a court injunction to leave by 2 p.m. Monday, and more than a score of tents went up at the new Robson Square location.

The quick movement caught authorities off guard, and police did not interfere with the new encampment, now a possible headache for B.C. Premier Christy Clark. Protesters indicated a determination to stay. “We need to bring more tents, so we can hold this place,” one volunteer said to loud cheers.

The move prompted the B.C. government to announce it will seek an injunction on Tuesday to end the new occupation. Attorney General Shirley Bond wasted little time seeking to remove tents from the court entrance, announcing she will ask for remedy shortly after learning of the new Occupy target.

Ford looking for ‘scabs,’ OFL says

Ontario’s top union leader says Mayor Rob Ford has been interviewing prospective replacement staff since September in preparation for a showdown and lockout of thousands of city employees.

Sid Ryan, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, called on the province’s unions to converge on Toronto and stop the Ford administration from hiring so-called “scabs” and beating up the city’s workers in collective bargaining.

“We have an opportunity to send a very strong signal to Rob Ford,” Ryan said in a rousing speech to more than 1,500 union activists at the federation’s biennial convention here.

Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday denied that the mayor had interviewed possible staff to replace employees if the city locked out workers early next year.

“I believe there is nothing to that claim,” said Holyday, chair of the city’s labour relations committee. “I know for a fact that Rob Ford personally hasn’t interviewed anybody.”

The city employs about 24,000 inside and outside members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees whose contracts expire at the end of December. The two sides have made little progress because the city can’t even get the unions to the bargaining table for cost-cutting talks, Holyday said.

In Ontario, real cuts for citizens, tax cuts for companies

Finance Minister Dwight Duncan dropped a bombshell in my column last week when he warned that some ministry budgets will be slashed by one-third — part of the sweeping restraint and restructuring exercise now underway.

The full extent of those cutbacks has largely escaped public notice because they are buried in the deceptively cruel calculus of the coming budget:

To protect health care (allowed to rise 3 per cent) and education (1 per cent), all other departments must take a hit. That’s the only way to bend the cost curve to a 1 per cent overall budget increase, allowing Ontario to wipe out its $16 billion deficit by 2017-18.

“You’re talking about real cuts of upwards of 33 per cent in some ministries,” Duncan told me. “You’re right — some of them are going to be enormously controversial, politically.”

And one controversy begets another.

NDP grill Tories over Suncor’s operations in Syria

OTTAWA—New Democrats want to know why Ottawa’s sanctions against Syria allow Canadian energy giant Suncor to continue operating a $1.2 billion production facility in that country in partnership with a Syrian government-owned company.

Hélène Laverdière, the NDP foreign affairs critic, told the Commons Monday Canadian sanctions against Syria in October were supposed to send a strong message to President Bashar Assad’s regime but didn’t affect Suncor’s activities in that country.

“Will the government make sure that the new sanctions against Syria will stop their friends from doing business . . . while thousands of civilians are being killed,” she asked in question period.

Conservative MP Bob Dechert, parliamentary secretary to the minister of foreign affairs, said Canada “has taken decisive action by imposing sanctions that directly target members of the current Syrian regime and those who provide it with support.

“We are currently working with our allies to bring diplomatic pressure to bear,” Dechert added. “We will be bringing forth further stronger economic sanctions.”