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, March 01, 2012

Council of Canadians willing to take legal action to defend democratic rights

Ottawa - The Council of Canadians announced today that it is canvassing its members and other Canadians to determine the extent to which the “robo-calls” and other dirty tricks during the May 2011 federal election may have undermined basic democratic principles in ridings across the country.

“We are deeply concerned about the recent media reports that many voters were misled, harassed or otherwise subjected to dirty tricks that may have impaired their ability to freely cast their ballots.  While we applaud the fact that all parties are urging Elections Canada to investigate these serious allegations, we believe the victims here are the electors.  We intend to find out from them the full extent of the nefarious campaigns,” said Garry Neil, Executive Director of the Council of Canadians.

Members of the Council of Canadians are committed to preserving Canadian democracy.  Being able to participate freely in elections is at the very heart of that democracy.  To ensure the widest possible input, the Council is partnering with other social justice groups, including Leadnow and others, and thus the survey questionnaire will be made available to a significant number of Canadians in each of the affected ridings. 

“The Council is committed to ensuring that victims of electoral dirty tricks understand their right to defend their democratic franchise, including by making an application to the Court to have the election in their riding declared null and void under the Canada Elections Act” said Steven Shrybman, a public interest lawyer who is legal counsel to the Council of Canadians in this matter.

“All Canadians should be concerned if the rights of any of them to freely participate in an election have been impaired.  We invite Canadians who were affected by any of these dirty tricks to contact us immediately,” concluded Mr. Neil.

The Council of Canadians is Canada’s largest social justice organization, with 75,000 supporters from coast to coast.

For more information:
Dylan Penner, media officer, Council of Canadians, 613-795-8685,
Twitter: @CouncilOfCDNs, Facebook

Original Article
Author: --

'Free' your scientists, Harper told

A leading international research journal is calling on Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government to "free" federal scientists to speak about their research.

"Canada's generally positive foreign reputation as a progressive, scientific nation masks some startlingly poor behaviour," says an editorial in the British journal Nature this week, which takes issue with the way this country's federal government tightly controls media access to its scientists.

"The way forward is clear: It is time for the Canadian government to set its scientists free."

The editorial says the Harper government's policy directives and emails, which have been obtained by Postmedia News and other Canadian media outlets, "reveal a confused and Byzantine approach to the press, prioritizing message control and showing little understanding of the importance of the free flow of scientific knowledge."

It notes the government's position — "to stick with its restrictive course and ride out all objections" — is coming under increasing pressure as a result of the new scientific integrity policies taking shape in the United States.

Pentagon outsources War on Drugs to Blackwater

For skeptics of how the American government has conducted its so-called War on Drugs, don’t worry, it will soon be out of their hands.

The US Department of Defense has transferred its armed efforts in Latin and Central America in the War on Drugs to Academi, the private military contractors formerly known as Blackwater, reports BBC Spanish. Before they altered their branding to be known as Xe, then most recently Academi, Blackwater underwent immense criticism for a series of scandals involving contract employees executing civilians throughout the Middle East.

That same company that trained contractors to mercilessly slay helpless Iraqis will now be ushering military contractors south of the border to help combat the War on Drugs there, the outlet reports. With the Constitution only legally allowing the Pentagon to get away with so much, the BBC reports that the transition of control to private contractors will allow them to get away with what “US military forces are not allowed or not encouraged to do.”

Women, water and the ugly global crisis we’re not talking about

Imagine you’re a young woman in an urban slum, perhaps Nairobi or Mumbai. You spend several hours each day waiting for water to arrive on a truck. When that truck arrives, the driver charges a price that he alone sets.

You cannot control the price, how full the truck is, how many people are in line, when the truck arrives, or the quality of the water. You are unable to take on a job with fixed hours because you can’t predict these factors with regularity. To make matters worse, you never know the quality of the water coming from the truck, so you filter and treat it as best as you can, but your family often gets sick.

People whose only option is to purchase water from trucks operated by the local “water mafia” pay an average of 5-to-15 times more per liter than people with dedicated municipal connections. It is estimated, according to a 2006 World Bank report, that sub-Saharan Africa loses an estimated 5 percent of its GDP each year due to the water and sanitation crisis, a sum that can exceed all foreign assistance received in the region, according to a report by the United Nations Development Programme. Current investment falls far short of the amount estimated to be required to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MGDs) for water and sanitation globally.

BofA Plans To Charge Customers Unless They Buy More Products, Have Enough Money

(Reuters) - Bank of America Corp is planning to introduce a monthly fee for its customers holding checking accounts unless they agree to bank online, buy more products or maintain certain balances, the Wall Street Journal said.

The report on the new fee initiative at the nation's second-largest bank comes after it had faced a major consumer backlash last year when it disclosed plans for a $5-per-month debit card fee, forcing the bank to drop the plan.

Bank of America pilot programs in Arizona, Georgia and Massachusetts now are experimenting with charging $6 to $9 a month for an "Essentials" account, the paper said.

The options being tested include monthly charges of $9, $12, $15 and $25 but give customers opportunities to avoid the payments by maintaining minimum balances, using a credit card or taking a mortgage with the bank, the Journal said, citing a memo distributed to employees.

Banks, in general, are looking for ways to build revenue lost to new regulations that curb debit card swipe fees.

Bank of America could not immediately be reached for comment outside regular U.S. business hours.

Original Article
Source: Huff
Author: reuters

For America's Least Fortunate, The Grip Of Poverty Spans Generations

PITTSBURGH -- In the basement of Hill House, a community center just outside of this city's bustling downtown, Brooklyn Davis clutches a plastic fork and stabs eagerly at a styrofoam plate piled high with waffles and syrup. He keeps a broad-billed, oversized New York Yankees baseball cap pulled low over his ears, and has a NASCAR jacket -- festooned with the "Army Strong" trademark and corporate logos from Office Depot and Chevrolet and Old Spice -- wrapped around his thin frame.

"I found out I was poor in middle school," Davis says between bites, as he recalls intermittent forays into the drug trade. "I had holes in my shoes and I started getting ripped on. So I just started hitting the block, and I was like 'Man, nobody's going to be bothering me now. I've got money in my pocket.' But I realized that can't go on too long."

Davis is now a Hill House regular, keen to have a chance at breakfast, access to computers and the use of a telephone. The facility is anchored in the historic Hill District, a predominantly black and widely impoverished neighborhood that begins in the shadow of the recently completed Consol Energy Center arena -- the $320 million home to the Pittsburgh Penguins professional hockey team -- and rises eastward along several of the city's steep ridges.

Why Do We Need a Volcker Rule?

As the provisions of the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory law begin to go into effect, federal oversight agencies have issued the first draft of the “Volcker Rule.” Named for former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, the Volcker Rule says that commercial banks shouldn’t be able to make risky bets with federally insured deposits. The Roosevelt Institute’s Mike Konczal talked to The Nation about what the Volcker Rule is and why it’s necessary. Here’s Mike:

The Volcker Rule is best understood as an attempt to update the New Deal–era Glass-Steagall for the twenty-first century. Glass-Steagall called for a complete separation of investment banking—the activities of underwriting and dealing with stocks and debt—from deposit taking. Consistently weakened from the 1980s onward, Glass-Steagall was fully repealed in the late 1990s to allow Citicorp to merge with an insurance company.

The Volcker Rule seeks to keep activities essential to banking within a safety net, while excluding other, riskier, activities from this safety net. There are a variety of special regulations, and protections, banks get, ranging from federal deposit insurance (known as FDIC) to access to the Federal Reserve’s discount borrowing window, designed to keep the system working through panics. Banks currently engage in a wide variety of non-banking activities with safety net protection. For example, they speculate in currencies and run hedge funds and proprietary trading desks for their own benefit. These activities made the financial crisis worse; one estimate has the major Wall Street firms suffering $230 billion dollars in prop trading losses a year into the crisis. And right now, these activities are subsidized by access to the banking safety net.

"It's Just Not Right": The Failures of Alabama's Self-Deportation Experiment

The Last Saturday of September—game day in Alabama, the Crimson Tide and Tigers both at home—Birmingham seemed to have all but emptied out, fans having bolted west to the big one in Tuscaloosa, or south for the rout in Auburn. I was heading north to the farmland of Cullman County. The vista along I-65 still showed scars from tornadoes—some half a mile wide—that ripped through Alabama in April, part of a storm that carved a path all the way to the Carolinas. You could still see their mark in buzz-cut swaths of hillsides, in piles of pine and scrub oak smeared together on a bluff. Along the shoulder, a few of the slender, towering high-mast poles that light the interstate at night had been snapped in half. One even made for curious disaster art, bent and curved and twisted like a giant Calder sculpture.

Founded by a utopian German émigré who imagined it as "the garden spot of America," Cullman itself is a sundown town with storybook touches: early 20th-century storefronts, the yawp and clatter of a train and boxcars plodding through downtown. On the outskirts, I drove past piles of rock and rubble that flanked incomprehensibly lucky houses the storm had left untouched. Blue tarps covered the rooftops where branches had punched through and now flapped in the breeze like a school-play rendering of the sea.

F-35 Canada: Tories Change Talking Points On Fighter Jet Purchase Ahead Of Allied Meeting

OTTAWA - The Conservative government is sounding decidedly less hawkish on its planned purchase of stealth fighters as it heads into a critical meeting with allies in Washington on the future of the controversial F-35 program.

Despite months of heavy opposition fire, Julian Fantino — the associate defence minister and the government's point man on the troubled fighter file — has stuck faithfully to the Tory script: the costly planes are necessary for the men and women of Canada's military. Period.

That script, however, has been tweaked.

"All I can say, repeatedly, is that we are in fact engaged with all of our partners in this particular issue," Fantino said Wednesday in the House of Commons.

"No contracts have been signed."

Northern Gateway project may drive wedge between provinces

Should B.C. undertake all the risk and bother of getting the oilsands bounty to market while Alberta scoops the billions in benefits?

The question arises as Alberta Premier Alison Redford steps up efforts to promote the oilsands as a national asset, yielding gains for the entire country.

That notion sparked a tiff earlier this week between Redford and Ontario's Dalton McGuinty, who complains the strong petro dollar resulting from a booming oilsands industry is hurting his province's manufacturing sec-tor, making the goods produced more expensive and discouraging export markets.

For B.C., the issue is entirely different, relating mainly to construction and operation of pipelines across the province's turf, and tanker ports to transport the crude to U.S. and Asian markets.

It should be noted that Redford is quite correct; both B.C. and Ontario do benefit substantially from the Alberta resource.

According to the Calgary-based Canadian Energy Research Institute, Ontario is the province that will benefit most, other than Alberta.

Bullying should be a crime: poll

A majority of Canadians believe bullying should be considered a crime, according to an Angus Reid poll released Wednesday, Pink Shirt Day. The poll revealed 65 per cent of respondents believe bullying should be regarded as a criminal activity, even if no physical violence is involved.

Respondents in Quebec and the Atlantic provinces were more likely to identify bullying as a criminal act, with support reaching 78 per cent. In Alberta, 58 per cent of respondents agreed bullying should be a crime.

B.C. had the lowest level of support among all provinces, at 55 per cent. About 20 per cent of Canadians believe bullying should be deemed a crime only when there is physical violence, while six per cent believe bullying is not a crime.

The vast majority of Canadians - 90 per cent - were in favour of a cyber-bullying law similar to one proposed in the United States that would make it a crime to bully some-one online.

According to the anti-bullying Pink Shirt Day campaign website, a child is bullied in Canada every seven seconds. Pink Shirt Day is a nationwide campaign in which young people don pink shirts to send an anti-bullying message. It began in September 2007 at a high school in Cambridge, N.S., when a Grade 9 student was bullied because he wore a pink shirt. The Angus Reid poll was conducted online Feb. 14-15. It involved 1,006 respondents and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 per cent 19 times out of 20.

Original Article
Source: edmonton journal
Author: ---

Soft on cost-cutting

The most worrying part of Kevin Page's report on the cost of changes to Canada's conditional sentencing laws came when he mentioned that no one else had tried to compile the same information.

"We received no data, effectively, from Correctional Services Canada," Page, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, told reporters Tuesday, after the report was released. "What we also found when dealing with these sorts of issues, when we went to Statistics Canada, when we went to the provinces, we didn't get any sense that federal bureaucrats or the government actually had done the costing," he said. "We were going to the original sources of data and we were finding that we were the first people asking these questions."

Given the size of the omnibus crime bill, the immense range of issues it covers, the controversial nature of the contents and the considerable anticipated cost, the possibility that no one had sought to check the figures beforehand is more than a little disconcerting. Especially given that we're talking about a Conservative government in the midst of a major cost-cutting exercise, a looming budget and a pledge to eliminate the federal deficit forthwith.

While the section covering conditional sentencing is only a small part of Bill C-10, it's an important one, and one the Tories haven't hesitated to point to as proof of their intention to get tough on criminals of all sorts. But the figures related by Mr. Page suggest they're flying by the seat of their pants.

Prison spending trumps seniors for Harper government

The Harper government is prioritizing new prison spending over maintaining seniors' retirement benefits, for reasons known only to itself.

It's a puzzling choice. If real benefits were to be achieved as a result of the additional billions being put toward incarceration, the choice would make more sense.

But, as a warning letter last week from a group of U.S. law enforcers advised Canada's senators, there will be no payoff.

This, when Human Resources Minister Diane Finley has just confirmed the upcoming federal budget will outline age-based eligibility delays to Old Age Security, for even the neediest seniors.

Elderly single women likely will bear the brunt of any Conservative move to delay OAS eligibility to 67.

The reason for the adjustment: to ensure declining numbers of working-age people won't be unduly burdened by the needs of an expanding number of retiring boomers.

So should those same younger people be burdened by an ever-larger prisoner population, more than a third of whom are believed mentally impaired, and a disproportionate number of whom are aboriginal?

No one but the PBO seems to care what things really cost

You're going to buy a house. A big house. How much does it cost? You don't know. You didn't ask.

How big will the mortgage be? What about the monthly payments? Can you manage them? What effect will they have on your overall financial situation? You don't know. You don't want to know. And when a guy tells you it's important to figure this stuff out before you sign the papers, and he does some calculations for you, you call him names and tell him to get lost.

You are Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The guy who thinks you should know the cost of the house before you buy it is Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page.

"Every time Parliament is looking at new legislation," Page says, "they should get financial analysis. What is this going to cost? More often than not, they haven't been getting that."

That part of the story is familiar to anyone following the news. The Harper government dislikes sharing information with Parliament and it often resists Parliament's demands that it do so. Even when the information involves spending - and is therefore connected to the financial oversight which is Parliament's most fundamental role - the government stonewalls.

That's notorious and appalling. But a less-familiar part of the story is worse.

Elections Canada best bet to investigate robo-call scandal

MONTREAL—In the matter of the so-called voter suppression scandal, the modest thread that has come to Elections Canada and the RCMP’s attention is ultimately more important than the tapestry of alleged Conservative wrongdoing that the opposition has been busy weaving in the House of Commons.

If there is a maze of Conservative dirty tricks leading to the party’s winning election showing, the best and perhaps only hope to navigate through it may rest with finding the person that is hiding behind the bogus identity of Pierre Poutine (and/or more people like him or her).

That this individual went to great lengths to covertly mislead voters into showing up at non-existent polling stations in the Ontario riding of Guelph is so far one of the few solid elements on offer in this affair.

The fact that he or she used the services of a company that handled some of the phone outreach activities of the Conservative party is the main link between the fraudulent calls and Stephen Harper’s campaign.

But without first-hand testimony, it will be virtually impossible to ascertain whether this link is circumstantial or part of a larger network set up to suppress opposition votes in the last election.

In the absence of such evidence, the picture of a massive electoral fraud that the opposition parties have been drawing amounts more to a creative leap of faith in the Conservatives’ inclination to partisan mischief than to a tightly-knit factual narrative.

Oil sands giants strike information-sharing pact

A dozen oil sands producers, including some of the world's biggest energy producers, have agreed to a broad new information-sharing agreement that sweeps away numerous intellectual property rights in the name of advancing environmental performance in north-eastern Alberta.

The group has formed “Canada's Oil Sands Innovation Alliance,” or COSIA, to spread research and technology development in several key areas of environmental performance. Those areas include greenhouse gases, land disturbance, water, air emissions and management of tailings, the toxic effluent produced by oil sands mines.

It is an “ambitious and perhaps unprecedented sharing of intellectual property around environmental technologies,” said one person familiar with the plans.

The group's members, together, produce the vast majority of crude flowing from the oil sands. They are BP PLC (BP-N47.840.681.44%), Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (CNQ-T37.410.681.85%), Cenovus Energy Inc. (CVE-T38.950.491.27%), ConocoPhillips Co. (COP-N78.221.672.18%), Devon Corp. (DVN-N74.130.821.12%), Imperial Oil Ltd. (IMO-T47.420.130.27%), Nexen Inc. (NXY-T20.570.401.98%), Royal Dutch Shell plc, Statoil ASA, Suncor Energy Inc. (SU-T35.840.220.62%), Teck Resources Ltd. (TCK.B-T39.56-0.06-0.15%) and Total S.A.

The curious case of Saanich-Gulf Islands

The robo-call jury is still out. The story might be overblown. It’s not Robogate unless more evidence is forthcoming.

What fuels suspicion, however, is the trend line of controversial actions and allegations of dirty tricks by this government. That’s why it’s not so easy to believe Conservative protests of innocence in the robo-calling scandal. In the House of Commons on Wednesday, Stephen Harper, a hands-on prime minister with a history of warring with Elections Canada, dismissed the affair as “a smear campaign” by sore losers.

To cast a bit of light, let’s go back to the 2008 election in the closely contested B.C. riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands. The incumbent was the apple-cheeked Conservative Gary Lunn. Midway through that campaign, Julian West, the NDP candidate, dropped out owing to revelations of a public nudity scandal from years earlier. But his withdrawal didn’t come in time to get his name off the ballot.

The federal election was on Oct. 14. At dinnertime on Oct. 13, an automated phone message went out urging constituents, strangely enough, to vote for Mr. West. And it appeared to have some effect: He received 3,667 votes, almost 6 per cent of the total. A poll a few days earlier had showed him at 1 per cent. This was good news for Mr. Lunn. The bulk of those votes might otherwise have gone to the Liberal candidate, who lost to Mr. Lunn by 2,625 votes.

Big Cuts Coming to DFO: Cleary

NDP MP Ryan Cleary is sounding the alarm about big funding cuts coming to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Cleary told VOCM Nightline with Pete Soucy that federal budget estimates show at least $156-million dollars in cuts coming to DFO. He says that represents 8.6 per cent of the total budget.  He says $12-million will be cut to science and sustainable fisheries. Cleary expects the cuts will be even deeper than the estimates when the budget comes down March 29th.

Meantime, in a statement issued this morning a DFO official says the Main Estimates represent a snapshot in time of the government's spending estimates. They say the changes referenced by Cleary can be almost entirely explained by planned sun-setting programs that, should they be renewed, would be in the Budget, not in the Main Estimates.

The revelation of potential deep funding cuts to operating funds within DFO comes as no surprise to the President of the FFAW. Earle McCurdy says regardless, they know cuts are coming in the federal budget. He says it's clear potential cuts would impede the department of doing their core job of science, management and enforcement.

He's concerned cuts will spill over into the policy side, where changes could be made that may be detrimental to the industry, specifically the inshore area. McCurdy fears it will be used as a cover story to try and make the case that those cuts won't be serious, because it's a part of their so-called modernization of the fishery. He says the right place to focus on cuts is the DFO headquarters on Kent Street, not the region's where the real work is done in the department.

Original Article
Source: vocm

Exact cost for stealth fighter still unknown - Defence Department tracks media reports

Defence Department officials recognized months ago that the absence of a single, authoritative cost for each F-35 fighter jet to be purchased was a major communications problem even as they bandied around a range of figures themselves, internal documents show.

This has emerged as opposition parties seized on a warning that Japan may cancel its F-35 order if the price increased and a British minister's admission that his government didn't know how much it would pay for each stealth fighter.

Documents obtained by Postmedia News through access to information show that, since the Conservative government announced in July 2010 that Canada would be purchasing 65 F-35s for $9 billion, plus another $7 billion in maintenance costs, the Defence Department has been tirelessly tracking what the media are writing about the jets. The information, which includes blogs and Twitter, is compiled into reports delivered to senior officials every few weeks.

Immigration overhaul would let employers choose prospects

The Conservative government is poised to overhaul the immigration system to give employers an important role in the selection of new Canadians.

Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said he plans to build a faster, more flexible, just-in-time immigration regime. He’s also going to redesign the points system, on which immigrants are judged, to emphasize language ability and youth.

Fresh off a trip to labour-starved Saskatchewan, Mr. Kenney said in an interview Wednesday that he wants to create a new economic stream for trades people, who currently don’t qualify under Canada’s education-focused federal skilled worker program.

He also said employers will soon be able to hand-pick prospective immigrants and send them to the front of the line for assessment.

“Once people have been identified by employers, if they meet our other standards we would fast-track them into the country,” Mr. Kenney said. “Frankly, the employer knows better than a big bureaucracy whose skills are needed and will be relevant to the Canadian labour market the minute they arrive.”

Parliament ‘starving’ for financial information, budget officer says

OTTAWA — The federal government and its public servants are “starving” Parliament of the routine financial information they need to meet their constitutional responsibility to oversee spending of the public purse, Canada’s parliamentary budget officer says.

Kevin Page told MPs on the Commons government operations and estimates committee Wednesday that it was time they took back control of the public purse by revamping an archaic financial reporting system that only served the interests of the government and the public service.

“Too often, almost as a matter of convention, Parliament is starved of information necessary to perform its fiduciary responsibilities,” Page said. “How often does Parliament see real decision-supporting financial analysis prepared by public servants on procurement or legislation? Almost never. Is it possible to hold the government to account without access to decision-support financial analysis?”

Page was the latest witness in the committee’s review of the complicated way the government keeps its books and manages its spending process. The review, which has the support of all parties, is looking for ways to improve the system so Parliament can fulfill its main job of holding the government to account.

What the election commissioner said

During QP yesterday, Pierre Poilievre stood and relayed a remark of the Commissioner of Canada Elections.
There was no conduct reported that would bring into question the integrity of the election result overall or the result in a particular riding.
That sentence is taken from a memo that was released by Elections Canada, though heavily redacted, through an access to information request. For the record, the full observation reads as follows.
There was no conduct reported that would bring into question the integrity of the election result overall or the result in a particular riding. Although misconduct was reported in several ridings, there is no complaint that it affected the final result. There is some speculation in the media that the dirty tricks may have affected the result in some close contests.

Robocalling and the art of finding voters

When Liberal incumbent David McGuinty arrived at the Norquay home while campaigning in Ottawa South during last spring's federal election, he probably had a feeling he wouldn't find much support there.

After all, there was a big Conservative sign out front. But McGuinty went up to the door anyway and asked if there was anyone in the home who might be interested in voting another way.

Susan Norquay told the campaigning candidate: "Well, actually, Mr. McGuinty, my husband's name is Geoff, and I think you probably know him."

Geoff Norquay is, among other things, a former director of research for the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, and has held senior roles for two high-profile Conservatives: Brian Mulroney when he was prime minister and Stephen Harper when he was Opposition leader.

McGuinty (the brother of the Ontario premier), quickly realized that his electoral efforts might better be spent elsewhere and cheerily headed off to find some other voters.

B.C. teachers to start 3-day strike Monday

B.C.'s 41,000 teachers will start a three-day strike on Monday, leaving many parents scrambling to make child-care plans as politicians in Victoria prepare to face off over the government's back-to-work legislation.

Susan Lambert, the B.C. Teachers' Federation president, announced the strike plans on Thursday morning after confirming that 87 per cent of the 32,000 teachers who voted this week, voted yes to a strike.

"We have an LRB [labour relations board] order that says we have a legal right to strike for three days. Monday will be the first day of us exercising that mandate."

Lambert said the vote results showed the members were clearly behind the escalated job action.

"We had a 75 per cent turnout. I think that is a strong mandate."

Lambert said she realized the strike would be a great inconvenience to parents but teachers felt there were too many things wrong with the school system that needed to be fixed.

After meeting developers, Ford claims unanimous support for subways

Mayor Rob Ford is so intent on building subways he is putting all the options on the table, gathering prominent developers to talk about new tolls and fees and even daring to discuss a rebirth of the despised vehicle-registration tax as a way to pay for transit expansion.

With two weeks to go before a key council vote on the future of transit on Sheppard Avenue, the mayor is going full out to keep his campaign commitment to extend the subway east to Scarborough Town Centre. To bolster that stand Wednesday, he took the unusual step of inviting about 20 leading developers to meet over sandwiches in his office. The closed-door meeting included a who’s who of real-estate executives, as well as councillors loyal to the mayor, city managers, the leader of the board of trade and Gordon Chong, the former councillor appointed by Mr. Ford to study his subway plan. While developers were escorted out the back door away from the press, the mayor emerged with his supporters to declare the talks a success.

“Like we’ve always been saying, this is very, very doable and affordable to build the Sheppard subway” Mr. Ford said, describing the hour and a half power lunch as a “great discussion.”

In Ottawa visit, Netanyahu will seek backing for strike on Iran

Stephen Harper is caught between two allies. As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu travels to North America in a high-stakes gambit to find political support for a strike on Iran, Mr. Harper wants to back his Israeli ally without ticking off a bigger one in Washington.

The two prime ministers are planning to stand side by side at a press conference on Friday, where Mr. Netanyahu’s case for war to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons is likely to be the hot topic. Mr. Harper faces a decision about whether to endorse it, or urge restraint.

For the Israeli Prime Minister, it’s a stop on the way to a far more charged meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama, whose administration has urged Mr. Netanyahu to cool the rush to strike Iran. The Israeli leader will look to Mr. Harper, a staunch supporter, for signals of sympathy.

Mr. Netanyahu made the purpose of his trip clear on Monday when he said that in both meetings with Mr. Obama and Mr. Harper, Iran’s nuclear program “will be at the centre of our talks.” Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, citing a senior official, said Mr. Netanyahu will push Mr. Obama to go beyond his line that an attack is “not off the table” and threaten to strike Iran if its nuclear program crosses “red lines.”

As Canadian dollar rose over 10 years, 500,000 factory jobs died

As the loon flies
A study by BMO Nesbitt Burns today marks the 10-year anniversary of the beginning of the Canadian dollar's return to grace from its 62-cent lows, and the impact associated with the rise.

Over the same period, notes deputy chief economist Douglas Porter, almost 500,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost, offset by increases in the nation's resource industries. Canada's current account balance has tipped into deficit and its trade balance has eroded dramatically. And for investors, this "tectonic currency shift has caused an earthquake for relative returns."

Going forward, Mr. Porter and others project the loonie ()will remain strong as the factors buoying the currency persist. Among them are the weakening of the U.S. dollar, strong commodities prices and Canada's fiscal standing.

"It was 10 years ago this quarter that the Canadian dollar finally awoke from a multi-decade period of weakness to find itself at a record low of less than 62 cents (U.S.)," Mr. Porter writes.

"It then proceeded to rocket ahead by more than 70 per cent in less than six years, before wobbling heavily in the ensuing financial crisis and then finally settling back around parity (neatly up 62 per cent from the 62-cent low).

Readers speak out on robo-calls: ‘It definitely changed my vote

Stephen White was on the fence during the last election – should he vote for the New Democrat or the Liberal in his riding? And then he got an automated phone call, allegedly from the Liberal Party, that sealed the deal.

“For me, that was the moment I decided to vote NDP. It definitely changed my vote,” said Mr. White, a 34-year-old in the Eastern Ontario riding of Northumberland–Quinte West. “There was no question in my mind that that’s the reason for voting the way I did.”

As the list of ridings that got misleading robo-calls continues to grow, pundits and the public are questioning whether they had any impact on the electoral result. The Globe and Mail issued a call-out to our readers, asking them to share their stories from last May’s election.

Mr. White, one of the respondents, said he received a “really obnoxious call” around 9 o’clock at night that woke up his 3-year-old toddler and 18-month-old baby.

“It started off with something like, ‘Hi, I’m calling from the Liberal Party’ and basically went on and on, before saying that they were counting on my vote,” he said. “And all I could think was, those arrogant bastards.”

Stephen Harper repeating same old mistakes with tougher pot laws, global group says

OTTAWA—The Global Commission on Drug Policy says it’s “very weird” that Canada is taking a tougher line on marijuana when governments across the globe are reconsidering the war on drugs.

In an open letter Wednesday to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the Brazil-based commission calls on Canada to stop pursuing the “destructive, expensive and ineffective” prohibition of pot.

Louise Arbour, a former Supreme Court of Canada judge, former Brazilian president Fernando Cardoso, former Swiss president Ruth Dreifuss and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson are among the signatories to the letter that warns Canada is repeating “the same grave mistakes as other countries.”

“Building more prisons, tried for decades in the United States under its failed war on drugs, only deepens the drug problem and does not reduce cannabis supply or rates of use,” says the letter. “Instead, North American youth now report easier access to cannabis than to alcohol or tobacco.”

The commission includes an ideological cross-section of world leaders, among them George Shultz, former U.S. secretary of state in the Reagan Republican presidency, former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo and Paul Volker, the former head of the U.S. Federal Reserve.

Arab justice's 'Hatikva' silence was a song of protest

The refusal of Justice Salim Joubran, the first Arab to win a permanent appointment to the Supreme Court, to sing 'Hatikva' was an instructive lesson in Israeli democracy.

It was so moving on Tuesday at the President's Residence and so stately; another celebration of Israeli democracy, which so loves to effusively praise itself. The honorable Supreme Court justices posing for a group photo; the retiring court president taking leave with tears in her eyes; the incoming court president making an emotional speech - everyone complimenting one another, praising one another and lauding our exalted democracy.

And then, suddenly, something went wrong. Who was that man whose lips remained sealed during the singing of "Hatikva?" Why did the words remain stuck in his throat? And how, for God's sake, did he dare?

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Justice Salim Joubran, the first Arab to win a permanent appointment to the Supreme Court, didn't sing about how "the soul of a Jew yearns." Even the words, "We have not lost hope ... to be a free people in our land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem," he refused to sing.

Robo-call furor focuses attention on massive Tory database

How much does Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party know about you?

Attention is focusing on the massive database of Canadian voters called the Constituency Information Management System (CIMS), which was created and expanded under Mr. Harper’s leadership of the Conservative Party. Critics of the Tories claim the database must have been used by the as-yet-unknown people behind alleged 2011 campaign calls aimed at annoying and misleading opposition party supporters.

But former Conservative campaign manager Tom Flanagan, described by a Tory campaign veteran as “the godfather of CIMS,” says his cherished database is getting a bad rap.

“It’s completely non-sinister,” said Mr. Flanagan, who explained the uses and limits of a database that is now nearly 10 years old.

Tories lose control of agenda as they try to ride out robo-call storm

Earlier this week, International Trade Minister Ed Fast met with his provincial counterparts to showcase the broad national support for a proposed Canada-European free-trade agreement. But it received barely a mention in the press.

The robo-call affair has sucked up so much political oxygen that virtually nothing else that is happening with the federal government is being noticed. The unveiling of the budget date, Wednesday: a second-tier story; new commitments to improve aboriginal education, an also-ran.

This is the political price that Stephen Harper is paying for his strategy of trying to ride out the controversy over automated calls that aimed to deceive voters during the last federal election.

Politically, it may be the best tactic for the Tories to take. But it means that the government has lost all ability to dictate the agenda. Conservatives are passionate about controlling the message; for now, at least, the message controls them.

Harper's "I Know Nothing" Sgt. Schultz Routine isn't Flying

Stephen Harper stood in the House of Commons today and said emphatically that the Conservative Party was not behind the Robocalls. Well, if not them, then who did?

If the Conservatives are so adamant that they have done nothing wrong, Harper should be the first on his feet to call a full judicial inquiry into allegations of electoral fraud. The Sergeant Schultz -- "I know nothing" -- routine just isn't good enough.

There are deeply troubling questions that require answers. For example, who owns these firms? What are their ties to the Conservative Party? Do any senior members of the Conservative Party or their fundraising arms have any financial interests in these firms? What specific instructions were the firms given and who gave them? If they were freelancing on these calls and other dirty tricks, how will they be held accountable? Did these firms sub-contract to call centers in the United States, Singapore, India, and elsewhere? What role did third party actors play? Where did they get their financing? Who ultimately wrote the cheques, and what ties, if any, do they have with the Conservative Party?

If there's nothing to hide, let's open this up to public scrutiny so that we can restore confidence in our electoral system.

Assets in the dirt

The people of Ontario have taken two weeks of being kicked in the assets following the release of bank economist Don Drummond’s report on government overspending.

The document is one-third wake-up call (we’re spending a lot of money very inefficiently), one-third call to arms for some bold eco-economic thinking and one-third shock therapy designed to scramble the brain with despair caused by an absolute lack of alternatives.

Welcome to Ontario’s version of the revolution of falling expectations. If you buy his assumption that there is no more money coming from growth based on new industries or sales opportunities, you have no choice but to buy the math. Rejoice –  you have no choice. That’s why the opening chapter features “strong fiscal action” rather than strong political leadership.

The pillars of Ontario’s industrial economy of the past century have crumbled, Drummond tells us. The World Trade Organization killed managed trade deals like the Auto Pact. The rest of the manufacturing sector went south looking for cheap labour. And the rising Canadian dollar killed off the remainder – once-competitive export sales that thrived when the dollar was cheaper.

The Rob and Doug show

The morning after the night before, which is to say barely 24 hours after Rob Ford offed TTC chief general manager Gary Webster, the city awoke Thursday, February 23, to news of another coup orchestrated by the brothers Ford – this one to control the airwaves.

Mayor Rob and Councillor Doug were announced as the new hosts of The City, Newstalk 1010’s call-in show. See ya later, Josh Matlow. Don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out.

Torontonians were also treated Thursday in the Globe to a front-page shot of the mayor and an op-ed piece inside extolling the virtues of subways and a plan to pay for them using parking fees. The guy who promised to build subways without a cent of taxpayers’ money now wants taxpayers to pay for it. Horrors.

Note to Ford Notion: it would take 25 years’ worth of parking fees to raise the billions the mayor needs to finance his subway scheme.

But back to that Newstalk business. I’m no communist, but seems to me the mayor is taking a page out of Che’s revolutionary handbook on how to win over the masses. Or is it the CIA’s?

Republican Congressional Candidate Says 'Holocaust Never Happened'

A congressional candidate running as a Republican in the upcoming Illinois primary says the “Holocaust never happened.”

Arthur Jones, 64, a Lyons, IL, insurance salesman who organizes family-friendly, neo-Nazi events around Adolf Hitler’s birthday, hopes to be the Republican candidate chosen to run against Democratic Congressman Dan Lipinski in Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District.

“As far as I’m concerned, the Holocaust is nothing more than an international extortion racket by the Jews,” Jones said. “It’s the blackest lie in history. Millions of dollars are being made by Jews telling this tale of woe and misfortune in books, movies, plays and TV.

"The more survivors, the more lies that are told."

A member of the Nationalist Socialist Party in his younger days, Jones took part in the Nazis’ march on Chicago’s Marquette Park in 1978. While he doesn’t deny nor repudiate his “past affiliations,” he says he votes Republican “90 percent of the time.”

JPMorgan Chase Now Prefers Customers With $100,000 Or More

If you've got less than a hundred grand in the bank, JPMorgan Chase is just not that into you.

At a presentation to investors this week, JPMorgan executives said they saw only a "limited opportunity to deepen relationships" with those customers who have less than $100,000 in their names, according to a recent report from Bloomberg.

On the other hand, the bank sees a "significant opportunity to deepen affluent relationships," so if you're sitting on six figures or more, you need not worry about feeling the love.

We know what you're thinking: Is this just a way for CEO Jamie Dimon, who got a compensation package of $23 million in 2011, to meet and mingle with fellow one-percenters? (Dimon really hates it when the press talks about things like his $23 million pay package, but sometimes you just have to go ahead and mention Jamie Dimon's $23 million pay package.)

Occupy Wall Street Protests ALEC In What Activists Call Largest Coordinated Occupy Event This Year

NEW YORK -- In cities around the country today, hundreds of Occupy protestors gathered for what the movement described in a release as its "largest coordinated action this year."

Since a wave of nationwide evictions effectively ended the movement's tent-city phase three months ago, Occupy activists have been trying to regain momentum. It's unclear whether today's event lived up to those expectations, but its organizers presented it as an important step forward.

In Washington, D.C., police arrested between eight and 12 people outside the headquarters of agriculture company Monsanto, according to protesters. In California, protestors blocked the entrance to three Walmart distribution centers. In New York, about 100 people demonstrated outside of Pfizer and gathered in Bryant Park for a talk by journalist Matt Taibbi. There were smaller demonstrations in cities from Albany, N.Y., to Tulsa, Okla.

A hundred people doesn't approach the movement's turnouts at its height between September and November, but the New York event differed from earlier protests in several ways that could prove important for the movement's future.

Keystone Pipeline: Bill Clinton Puts In Good Word, But Wife To Decide Fate

WASHINGTON - Former U.S. president Bill Clinton has thrown his support behind TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline, the controversial project whose ultimate fate is in the hands of his wife.

Clinton, the keynote speaker at the Department of Energy's conference for clean-technology startup companies, wondered aloud on Wednesday why TransCanada didn't originally propose to build the pipeline around the environmentally sensitive Ogallala aquifer in Nebraska.

"One of the most amazing things to me about this Keystone pipeline deal is that they ever filed that route in the first place, since they could have gone around the Nebraska Sand Hills and avoided most of the dangers, no matter how imagined, to the Ogallala with a different route," he said at the event in Maryland.

"The extra cost of (rerouting the pipeline) is infinitesimal compared to the revenue that will be generated over a long period of time," he added.

"So, I think we should embrace it and develop a stakeholder-driven system of high standards for doing the work."

Commons Carnival: Low & behold

AFTER years of minority rule, restoring stability and improving civility were at the heart of the case for electing a majority government in Ottawa. Less than a year later, the government may be more cohesive, so to speak, but the atmosphere in the Commons is no less corrosive.

Monday was nothing short of spectacular in this regard. The so-called "robocall" scandal dominated the day.

Investigations by major national newspapers point to an effort by Conservative-affiliated agents to confuse or harass voters of different stripes during the last election in a few dozen ridings. While this has poisoned the debate in the Commons, the perpetrators were ham-fisted if their purpose was to skew the outcome of the May 2011 vote. The primary targets of the allegedly fraudulent calls weren’t swing ridings, but those in which the Tories either had few prospects or were sure to win handily.

Elections Canada won't probe 'annoying' calls, ex-MP told

OTTAWA — Elections Canada said last week it cannot investigate political calls that are "annoying, repetitive or (of) a partisan nature" unless there are signs of intimidation or "false pretence," raising questions about how far the agency will go to probe the robocalls scandal.

The office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections, which is in charge of enforcing the Elections Act, wrote to former MP Joe Volpe's lawyer, Antonio Pascale, to say it was "concluding further inquiry" into mysterious harassment calls received by Volpe supporters during the last election.

Volpe's lawyer wrote to Elections Canada on April 15, 2011, to complain that for the previous 10 days constituents in the riding were receiving calls "from persons falsely identifying themselves as calling from the Joe Volpe campaign."

The email from Elections Canada suggests such calls are not forbidden by the act.

"The act does not prohibit or regulate the use of telephone solicitations for a particular candidate or party, or the content of a call unless actual intimidation or false pretence can be shown," the email said.

Weaver study offers fossil fuels warning

It was inevitable that climate change deniers and some oil industry promoters would misinterpret a study by scientist Andrew Weaver before reading beyond the headlines. A letter in the Calgary Herald actually claimed that "Weaver's revelation … raises even more skepticism about the entire science behind global warming."

The writer went on to argue that the report by University of Victoria climate scientist Weaver and PhD student Neil Swart is an "awakening for David Suzuki and his environmental followers."

It's typical of the nonsense people who understand science have to put up with every day. The study, published in Nature, says the opposite. 

Weaver and Swart set out to answer a simple question: "How much global warming would occur if we completely burned a variety of fossil fuel resources?" Their conclusion that burning all the coal or all the gas from the entire world's resource bases would raise global average temperatures more than burning all the Alberta tar sands reserves is hardly a surprise. 

What is surprising is their finding that emissions from burning all the economically viable oil from the tar sands would only contribute to a 0.03°C rise in world temperatures, and burning the entire tar sands oil in place would add 0.36° C. That may not seem like much, but we need to put it in context. 

The medical politics blocking CCSVI trials

Legislation launched by individual MPs—known as private member’s bills—rarely pass into law. So you have to wonder why Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq expended so much energy trying to quash Liberal MP Kirsty Duncan’s Bill C-280, which called for “a national strategy” for chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency, or CCSVI. (Duncan’s bill was defeated by six votes on Wednesday night.) Duncan, the MP for Etobicoke North, has long been a tireless advocate for scientific research into CCSVI, the condition identified by Italian vascular specialist Paolo Zamboni, who linked extracranial venous blockages to multiple sclerosis; Zamboni posited restoring blood flow with a balloon angioplasty relieved MS symptoms—and even arrested progression of the degenerative disease in some cases. Duncan’s bill had called for phase II clinical trials and follow-up care for the thousands of Canadians who have traveled for CCSVI treatment overseas.

The health minister’s aggressive opposition of the bill ramped up considerably in recent weeks. On Feb. 10, hours after a documentary about CCSVI on the CBC’s Nature of Things presented data showing one-third of MS patients significantly improve after CCSVI treatment, one-third show moderate improvement and one-third show no-to-little improvement, Aglukkaq and the MS Society of Canada convened an information meeting for MPs on Feb. 13. Given that Duncan had scheduled an informational breakfast for MPs with scientists advocating CCSVI on Feb. 14, the move appeared to be a preemptive strike. Then, on February 17, the health minister sent a letter to MPs critiquing Duncan’s bill that contended CCSVI science is “indefinite.” Duncan, who holds a Ph.D. in medical geography, posted a rebuttal on her website, which of course went viral: the MP accused the federal health minister of “spreading patently false information about the current state of CCSVI research and about venous angioplasty in general.” Even the Canadian Medical Association weighed in at the last minute, sending Duncan a letter that echoed the minister’s objections two days before the vote. The MP countered its claims on her site today.

The Commons: Let us debate that which is unsubstantiated

The Scene. After tracing the necessarily circuitous route to her question, Nycole Turmel was as straightforward as she can be.

“Mr. Speaker, yesterday on CBC, the Prime Minister’s parliamentary secretary said the Conservative party was investigating the allegations of election fraud. An hour later, on Sun TV, he said the Conservatives were not conducting an investigation,” the interim leader of the opposition recounted. “Could the Prime Minister tell us which it is? Are the Conservatives investigating, yes or no?”

Could the Prime Minister? Theoretically speaking, yes. Would he? Practically speaking, no.

“Mr. Speaker, the Conservative party has made available, from the beginning, all information to Elections Canada,” Mr. Harper said. “The Conservative party can say absolutely, definitively, it has no role in any of this.”

On what basis can the government say this? It is difficult to say.

B.C. teachers vote in favour of strike

The majority of teachers across British Columbia are in favour of strike action.

Results released late Wednesday showed that of 32,209 votes cast, 27,946 teachers — or 87 per cent — support escalating their limited job action to a full-scale walkout.

Since September, teachers have been skipping administrative tasks in an attempt to get the province to budge on contract demands. The teachers, who have been without a contract since June, have refused to meet with administrators, supervise recess or fill out report cards.

The teachers federation has asked for a 15 per cent wage increase and improved benefits.

The provincial government says that can't happen under its so-called "net-zero" mandate, in which public-sector workers can't receive pay increases unless the added costs are offset by concessions elsewhere in a contract.

Russian opposition figure may be assassinated, Putin warns ahead of election

MOSCOW—Prime Minister Vladimir Putin strongly warned his opponents against unsanctioned protests after Sunday’s presidential election, in which he is all but certain to regain the presidency.

In a statement reflecting heightening tensions four days before the vote, he also alleged Wednesday that his foes may kill a prominent opposition figure in order to fuel public outrage against the government.

“They are looking among well-known people for a sacrificial victim,” he said, according to Russian news reports. “They could, I’m sorry, knock someone off and then blame the authorities for that.”

Putin criticized the opposition plans for rallies over what it fears will be a fraudulent election, saying Wednesday it is “unacceptable” to prejudge the vote.

“We will respect any viewpoint but are calling on everyone to act within the framework of law and use only legitimate means,” he said at a meeting with his campaign activists.

Unpopular Vladimir Putin still headed for election win in Russia

He swaggered into the political room like a Russian James Bond, the macho man young women yearned for, the steely-eyed stabilizer who could face down terrorists and rampant inflation without pausing for breath.

Now he is ridiculed as another faltering Leonid Brezhnev, the Cold War Soviet leader so uninspired that some were uncertain if he was alive or dead.

For Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, things are rolling backward even as he advances to almost certain victory in Sunday’s presidential poll.

Hundreds of thousands of Russians have turned out on city streets to demand that he leave. Once-apolitical yuppies looked up from their iPads and joined the throng. Even older people who were pitched under the avtobus by Boris Yeltsin’s shock-therapy reforms are calling for Putin’s exit.

So why does he rate a healthy 60 per cent in the pre-election polls, on track for another six years in the Kremlin?

Robo-calls could have affected outcomes in some ridings

Anger over alleged election fraud is spreading further afield as ridings with close results and alleged suspicious phone calls targeting voters are shaping up to become potential battlegrounds in the continuing “robo-call” saga.

As political parties continue to name more ridings in which there were reports of voter suppression, an examination of election results in ridings where seats were won by thin margins shows where the alleged dirty tricks campaign may have affected election outcomes.

In six sample ridings — out of the 55 that the Liberals and the NDP say had reports of suspicious or harassing calls during the campaign — most incumbents, nearly all Liberals, lost by thin margins, and in many cases, saw support drop substantially compared to the 2008 general election results.

Although it’s unclear what effect any of the alleged phone calls had on election results, opposition MPs say voters were deterred and are calling for an independent probe into the allegations.

Now Canada Needs Election Outside Observers

For the past decade, the federal government has been underwriting the cost of sending election observers from Canada to more than 40 troubled countries around the world to help them make sure that their elections are as free as possible from fraud, intimidation, ballot-stuffing, voter impersonation, misrepresentation and other abuses.

Canadian observers have joined international efforts to keep elections clean in such places as Ukraine, Congo, Egypt, Russia, Nicaragua, Haiti, Belarus, Sudan, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Mozambique and Georgia (the one in Europe, not the U.S.), among others.

A humble suggestion. Is it not time we invited observers to monitor the honesty of elections in, um, Canada?

Finally, Canada Goes to School on Dutch Disease

A growing political spat between Alberta Premier Alison Redford and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty has highlighted the deleterious impact of fast-growing oil exports on the rest of the Canadian economy.

When Redford, whose party has supported rapid oil sands expansion, recently asked McGuinty to support the petroleum mega-project as a national economic driver, McGuinty refused to do so.

The premier of Canada's manufacturing base then explained that the project had turned the loonie into a petro dollar and thereby undermined the competitiveness of Ontario's economy.

"That has knocked the wind out of Ontario exporters and manufacturing in particular," explained McGuinty.

"The only reason the dollar is high -- it's a petro dollar, right? It's been driven by the global demand for oil and gas to be sourced in Western Canada.

"So if I had my preferences, as to whether we have a rapidly growing oil-and-gas sector in the West or a lower dollar benefiting Ontario, I'll tell you where I'd stand -- with the lower dollar."

Anti-Strike Legislation 'More Political Games': Dix

Education Minister George Abbott brought forward legislation today he said he hopes will prevent a teachers' strike and get negotiators back to the bargaining table with a mediator. Abbott introduced the legislation, promised last week, shortly after the B.C. Labour Relations Board ruled the province's teachers can with two days notice escalate their job action to a three-day walkout.

Premier Christy Clark said she doesn't want B.C. students to miss a single day of school, and they won't have to if the NDP helps speed the bill through the legislature. NDP Leader Adrian Dix accused Clark of playing politics and trying to create a wedge issue.

The LRB ruling, requested Feb. 27 by the BC Teachers' Federation, said that after the initial three-day walkout, teachers can walk out one out of every five instructional days as long as the escalated job action continues. Picket lines, however, are prohibited.

The Board has also ruled the BCTF and the BC Public School Employers Association (BCPSEA) must work with the board to designate "essential service" levels for the BCTF's bargaining unit. Review of the job action will be conducted on a weekly basis by the board starting March 12.

Ex-Bear Stearns CEO: There's 'Not Much' I Would Have Done Differently Before Collapse

The former CEO of one of the Wall Street firms most synonymous with financial collapse says in retrospect that there's "not much" he would've done differently before his firm imploded in 2008.

"You can go back and say, should we have done some things differently leading up to the environment we got in?" Alan Schwartz, the CEO of Bear Stearns during the firm's meltdown in 2008, said in an interview with CNBC. "You know, you can always say that. Hindsight is 20/20."

The first of the large Wall Street firms to go under during the financial crisis, Bear Stearns ran out of cash in mid-March 2008 and was rescued from bankruptcy through a deal involving JPMorgan Chase and the Federal Reserve Board days later. The collapse of the company, one of the biggest underwriters of risky mortgage-backed securities, portended the major Wall Street meltdown that was to come a few short months later.

During the real estate boom, banks started giving out loans to borrowers who normally don’t qualify for them, and sold them to Wall Street firms. The firms in turn created complex securities from these mortgage loans, and sold them to investors.

Kathleen Sebelius Decries 'Cynical Attempt To Roll Back Decades Of Progress In Women's Health'

WASHINGTON -- Minutes after former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney found himself tripped up over whether or not he supported a bill that would allow employers to deny health care coverage over religious or moral objections, the White House exhibited no such vagueness on the issue.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Wednesday evening sent The Huffington Post the following statement on the Blunt Amendment, which is slated to have a vote in the Senate Thursday.
Earlier this month, the Department of Health & Human Services reported that over 20 million American women in private health insurance plans have already gained access to at least one free preventive service because of the health care law. Without financial barriers like co-pays and deductibles, women are better able to access potentially life-saving services, and cancers are caught earlier, chronic diseases are managed and hospitalizations are prevented. A proposal being considered in the Senate this week would allow employers that have no religious affiliation to exclude coverage of any health service, no matter how important, in the health plan they offer to their workers. This proposal isn't limited to contraception nor is it limited to any preventive service. Any employer could restrict access to any service they say they object to. This is dangerous and wrong.
The Obama administration believes that decisions about medical care should be made by a woman and her doctor, not a woman and her boss. We encourage the Senate to reject this cynical attempt to roll back decades of progress in women’s health.

The debate over contraception coverage has managed to remain prominent both on the campaign trail and in Washington D.C. And it stands to reason that Democrats aren't too displeased with that being the case.

This is the second time the Obama administration publicly released a statement on the matter. Meanwhile, party officials were giddy over the Romney campaign's quick walk back of an earlier statement in which he seemingly said he opposed the amendment -- not just because he made an abrupt reversal on the topic, but because he has now publicly come out in favor of an amendment that many voters find objectionable.

Original Article
Source: Huff
Author: Sam Stein

5 More Ridings Report Suspicious Election Calls

An Elections Canada investigation into deliberately misleading robocalls made to voters in the Ontario riding of Guelph has traced the calls to a cellphone with a Quebec area code and registered to an apparently phony name, Pierre Poutine.

But Opposition parties have identified some 46 other ridings so far where they suspect voters received false, misleading or harassing live or automated telephone calls during last spring's election campaign. Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre says the Conservatives have reports of "troubling" phone calls hitting Conservative campaigns in 15 ridings as well, but a party spokesman hasn't responded to a request for the list.

Here's more about the latest complaints in five ridings:

Egmont, P.E.I.

Liberals in the P.E.I. riding of Egmont haven't filed an official complaint yet, but they're revisiting complaints received by Liberal candidate Guy Gallant's office last spring in light of the latest revelations.

The calls were particularly confusing to some voters in the riding because some callers mispronounced Gallant's first name, using the English pronunciation of Guy, rather than the French.

More to managing economy than controlling inflation

Olivier Blanchard’s quiet revolution at the International Monetary Fund marches on.

Mr. Blanchard, chief economist and director of the IMF’s research department, has used his position to force the global policy makers to rethink economic orthodoxy.

He jettisoned the IMF’s doctrinaire notion that emerging markets should simply accept excessive capital inflows, leading to a shift in the IMF’s policy on capital controls, and he controversially suggested that central banks should consider accepting higher inflation to generate economic momentum coming out of the financial crisis.

On Wednesday, Mr. Blanchard’s policy revolutionaries struck again. Canadian Jonathan Ostry, the deputy director of the IMF’s research department, led a study that concludes central banks in emerging market economies (EMEs) should expand their inflation-targeting regimes to include a formal commitment to counter exaggerated changes in exchange rates with sterilized currency intervention.

Mayor Rob Ford says developers want subways. But who will pay?

A group of influential Toronto developers will come together early next week to discuss ways it can help Mayor Rob Ford build a subway along Sheppard Ave. But the one option that’s absolutely off the table for them is the thing Ford needs most.

“We will not support increased development charges,” said one prominent developer who, along with about 20 other industry players, gathered for a hastily called lunchtime meeting with the mayor. “The industry supports subways (but) the mayor can not build them on the backs of the development industry and future home buyers.”

The declaration is the latest blow for Ford, who is scrambling to save his subway expansion plan. The mayor has just two weeks to come up with a concrete business plan to build the Sheppard line. On March 15, council will decide on a final strategy for the type of transit it wants along the north Toronto corridor.

Teachers’ unions decry Ontario’s opening offer: no raises, no retirement payouts

Ontario’s public elementary teachers are refusing to bargain with the province after it proposed a zero wage increase as well as an end to retirement payouts of unused sick days.

In the first sign of labour strife that may be on the horizon, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario has taken a tough stance with the government for proposing such cuts, saying it will not participate in talks scheduled for March 5 and 6 in Toronto.

“To say we were insulted is an understatement,” says a memo, obtained by the Star, sent to members of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario from president Sam Hammond.

“We find the tone and, most significantly, the content of the government’s parameters to be offensive to all ETFO members and cannot be a party to what amounts to deep and mean-spirited strips to our collective agreements that would negatively affect every member at every stage of their career.”

The province’s Catholic teachers and public school secondary teachers remain in talks with the province. However, a bargaining bulletin issued Wednesday by Ken Coran, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, called the government proposal “an unprecedented attack on members’ rights” that’s “clearly unacceptable.”

Is Omar Khadr headed to Canada’s ‘Guantanamo North?’

Is Canadian Omar Khadr destined to leave the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to serve the remainder of his sentence in “Guantanamo North?”

A report this week in Montreal’s LaPresse stated that the 25-year-old Toronto-born Khadr will be imprisoned at the vacant Millhaven immigration centre, derisively dubbed “Guantanamo North.”

The $3.2-million, six-bunk facility, was built in 2006 to house non-Canadian terrorism suspects held on controversial national security certificates.

Despite its name, and aside from the isolation, the Millhaven facility is hardly comparable to the Guantanamo cell where Khadr is now — or many of Canada’s federal prisons where he could be held.

As Hassan Almrei, who was held there before a federal court judge dismissed his case, said in a 2007 interview, “I’m lucky to be detained in this country. I’m not denying that. (But) they’re not talking about the colour of the clothes, it’s the principle. The principle of Guantanamo Bay.”

Naomi Klein: 'If You Take Climate Change Seriously, You Have to Throw Out the Free-Market Playbook'

Perhaps one of the most well-known voices for the Left, Canadian Naomi Klein is an activist and author of several nonfiction works critical of consumerism and corporate activity, including the best sellers No Logo (2000) and Shock Doctrine (2007).

In your cover story for the Nation last year, you say that modern environmentalism successfully advances many of the causes dear to the political Left, including redistribution of wealth, higher and more progressive taxes, and greater government intervention and regulation. Please explain.

The piece came out of my interest and my shock at the fact that belief in climate change in the United States has plummeted. If you really drill into the polling data, what you see is that the drop in belief in climate change is really concentrated on the right of the political spectrum. It’s been an extraordinary and unusual shift in belief in a short time. In 2007, 71 percent of Americans believed in climate change and in 2009 only 51 percent believed—and now we’re at 41 percent. So I started researching the denial movement and going to conferences and reading the books, and what’s clear is that, on the right, climate change is seen as a threat to the Right’s worldview, and to the neoliberal economic worldview. It’s seen as a Marxist plot. They accuse climate scientists of being watermelons—green on the outside and red on the inside.

MF Global May Escape Criminal Prosecution

It looks like MF Global might just get away with it. That's because prosecutors are having trouble figuring out what exactly "it" is.

Even as a Chicago grand jury has begun to probe MF Global, it seems increasingly unlikely that federal authorities will bring a criminal case against anyone involved in the firm’s fall, according to the New York Times.

The company lost more than $1 billion in customer funds as it collapsed. Yet investigators are having trouble finding evidence in thousands of documents that MF Global workers intentionally misused the customer money, instead the huge loss was the result of a chaotic environment and a lack of risk control, the NYT reports, citing people close to the investigation.

The company's former CEO Jon Corzine, who resigned after the collapse, shocked those watching the case when he told Congress in December: "I simply do not know where the money is" in reference to the missing customer funds. A variety of clients, including, as the WSJ reported, farmers across the country, were squeezed after the money they invested with MF Global was suddenly gone.

Why Republicans Have Declared War on Sex

At a time when birth control has become so much a part of the fabric of daily life that there are commercials for contraceptives on TV, why have so many Republicans vested their hopes in Rick Santorum? Santorum believes that non-procreative sex is "deeply, morally wrong"; he is so opposed to birth control that he paradoxically blames it for teen pregnancy. Obama -- who believes in infanticide, according to Newt Gingrich -- has become the lightning rod in this newest and possibly the weirdest outbreak in the culture war.

"This was an unexpected gift," Ralph Reed, Chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, said of the controversy set off by Obamacare's family planning policies. But a gift to whom? Santorum decisively lost the Catholic vote in Michigan. You'd think that Evangelicals who wear their religion on their sleeves would be more mindful of seeming Pharisaical; Jesus did not look kindly on hypocrites, after all.

But hypocrisy, it seems to me, is what this is all about -- or to put it more charitably, cognitive dissonance, the feeling of discomfort you get when you try to hold two or more contradictory beliefs in your mind at the same time. Believing that it is intolerable when government intrudes in financial matters but not the most intimate spheres of life can't but chafe the brain; it is mentally and spiritually irritating to listen to the thrice-married Newt Gingrich defend marriage -- or for that matter, warn that America is on the road to becoming "a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists." Mitt Romney has been tasked both to protect the prerogatives of the very rich and to appear "ordinary"; Ron Paul is a libertarian on every issue except reproductive freedom. The pronouncements of people who live in a state of perpetual cognitive dissonance often have a distinctly hysterical edge.

Oklahoma Personhood Bill Ignites Feminist Movement

Oklahoma Sen. Judy McIntyre (D), one of four women in the 48-member state Senate, looked out over a sea of homemade signs at a fetal personhood protest at the state Capitol on Tuesday and spotted one that she wanted to hold herself.

"If I wanted the government in my womb," the sign said in painted blue letters, "I'd fuck a Senator."

At the risk of offending some of her mostly male Republican colleagues, who recently voted to pass a controversial fetal personhood bill, she grabbed the sign and posed with it for photos.

"I was so excited about the fact that the women in Oklahoma have finally begun to wake up and fight for their rights," she told HuffPost. "I saw a sea of signs that caught my eye, but this one in particular -- I loved its offensive language, because it's just as offensive for Republicans of Oklahoma to do what they're doing as it relates to women's bodies. I don't apologize for it."

The "Personhood Act," introduced by Sen. Brian Crain (R), would give legal personhood rights to embryos from the moment of fertilization. A similar measure was rejected in Mississippi, one of the most conservative states in the country, because legal and medical experts raised concerns that the bill could ban some forms of birth control, in vitro fertilization and stem cell research.