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.]

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Anti-oilsands measures threaten energy security, Oliver says

There is plenty of oil sands oil for all buyers and it's not dirtier than any other type of oil, Canada's Natural Resources Minister told delegates at the International Energy Forum in Kuwait.

Tuesday at the general assembly of the IEF, Joe Oliver described Canada as an important contributor to world energy security. He also defended Alberta bitumen against the European Commission's Fuel Quality Directive, which would assign the resource a higher greenhouse gas value than conventional types of oil.

"Any policies that discriminate against oilsands will impede the free flow of global oil supplies and are detrimental to overall energy security," he told the conference.

Oliver reinforced this point in meetings he had with EU ministers from Germany, France, the U.K., Poland and Belgium. He outlined the Canadian position in a letter that will eventually be sent to all EU environment and energy ministers.

In F-35 reversal, Harper admits he was wrong

For any government, retreat is embarrassing. For Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, it is near-unthinkable.

So the fact that Ottawa is publicly backtracking on plans to buy 65 state-of-the-art F-35 fighter planes is a sign of how truly bad the original decision must have been.

Harper left it to junior defence minister Julian Fantino to mumble his way through the about-face Tuesday.

It’s never been entirely clear what prompted Canada to choose Lockheed Martin’s unproved and uncosted F-35 as a replacement for its aging fleet of CF-18s.

That the F-35 is the only so-called stealth aircraft on the market presumably wowed Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government, which in 2002 first involved Canada in the deal. Stealth aircraft have an advantage in shooting wars since they are better at avoiding detection.

Cost of royal military moniker? Six months later, it’s still ‘priceless’

One access-to-information request to determine how much it cost Canadian taxpayers to rechristen the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Royal Canadian Navy: $5.

The value of the move, in the words of Defence Minister Peter MacKay: “Priceless.”

Even so, seven months after Ottawa announced plans to change the names of the military's air and maritime divisions , the Defence Department says it still needs more time before it can reveal how much public money has been spent on the move.

Last September, in response to an access-to-information request, the department said it would need 130 additional days to respond.

The department now says it must consult with the Privy Council Office, the bureaucratic arm of the Prime Minister's Office, about possible cabinet confidentiality issues before disclosing how much it has cost to add the royal moniker.

Tory operatives, to the brainstormery!

It’s early days, but the ongoing robocalls scandal has already delivered a bunch of surprises. For instance, it turns out some people still answer their home phones. I’m as shocked as you are.

Anyway, what’s important is that the Conservatives had nothing to do with misleading phone calls meant to lure Liberal and NDP voters from their proper polling stations. NOTHING AT ALL. Conservatives love democracy. They’re always talking about its origins as the coming together of two Greek words: “kratos” meaning “power,” and “demos” meaning “gimme.”

Sure, Stephen Harper prorogued Parliament to avoid an election and, sure, his party admitted lying to constituents in Montreal so they’d think their Liberal MP had quit and, yes, Conservatives confessed to violating election finance rules in the 2006 campaign but, on the other hand, awkward silence.

Canadian professors threaten censure over Balsillie deal

Canada’s professors’ union will consider issuing a formal “censure” —academic boycott — of York University, the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University over joint programs it feels are dangerously cozy with a think tank run by BlackBerry co-founder Jim Balsillie.

The Canadian Association of University Teachers will vote in April on whether to give the three universities a six-month ultimatum to change agreements they have signed with Balsillie’s Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) to remove any say the Waterloo-based think tank may have over academic matters — or it will impose “censure” in November, which would discourage academics from working or meeting at those schools.

The move was prompted by a $60-million deal York signed recently with CIGI to launch an international law program with 10 research chairs (experts) and some 20 PhD students. The deal gives CIGI two spots on a five-person steering committee that would advise on hiring and research — but as of Friday, that deal has been changed to remove any veto power the committee has over hiring.

Despite the fresh amendment — which York vice-president Patrick Monahan said provides binding protection to academic freedom that has been signed by both sides — the professors’ association is against CIGI being on any academic committee at all.

NDP says leaked documents show feds abandoning fresh water oversight

OTTAWA - The federal NDP says it has obtained leaked documents showing the Conservatives are poised to strip the Fisheries Act of habitat-protection provisions — a change that would dramatically reduce Ottawa's power to oversee fresh water.

The federal government took no steps Tuesday to deny the claim.

The contents of the documents, but not the documents themselves, were widely distributed to media on Tuesday.

The material suggests there are plans to revise the Fisheries Act so that Ottawa would be responsible for fish, but not for their surrounding habitat.

"This is a serious situation and will put Canada back to where we were in the pre-1976 period where Canada had no laws to protect fish habitat and no way to monitor the great industrial expansion that occurred in Canada with the consequential loss of major fish habitat all across Canada," said biologist Otto Langer.

Olympics 2012 security: welcome to lockdown London

London 2012 will see the UK's biggest mobilisation of military and security forces since the second world war and the effects will linger long after the athletes have left

As a metaphor for the London Olympics, it could hardly be more stark. The much-derided "Wenlock" Olympic mascot is now available in London Olympic stores dressed as a Metropolitan police officer. For £10.25 you, too, can own the ultimate symbol of the Games: a member of by far the biggest and most expensive security operation in recent British history packaged as tourist commodity. Eerily, his single panoptic-style eye, peering out from beneath the police helmet, is reminiscent of the all-seeing eye of God so commonly depicted at the top of Enlightenment paintings. In these, God's eye maintained a custodial and omniscient surveillance on His unruly subjects far below on terra firma.

The imminent Olympics will take place in a city still recovering from riots that the Guardian-LSE Reading the Riots project showed were partly fuelled by resentment at their lavish cost. Last week, the UK spending watchdog warned that the overall costs of the Games were set to be at least £11bn – £2 bn over even recently inflated budgets. When major infrastructure projects such as Crossrail, speeded up for the Games, are factored in, the figure may be as high as £24bn, according to Sky News. The estimated cost put forward only seven years ago when the Games were won was £2.37 bn.

Niki Ashton is the brightest light in the NDP leadership race

Niki Ashton, the youngest candidate in the race to become leader of the New Democratic Party, doesn’t have a hope of winning. She probably won’t even get enough votes to affect the outcome.

But it would be a mistake to dismiss the 29-year-old Manitoba MP — as most of the media are doing — as not worth mentioning.

She is smart, feisty, knowledgeable about a wide range of topics and capable of holding her own with more seasoned politicians. She speaks four languages (English, French, Spanish and Greek). She has an MA in international relations and is working toward a PhD in peace and conflict studies. Before winning her seat in Parliament, she was a lecturer at University College of the North in The Pas (630 kilometres north of Winnipeg).

Ashton is not a political rookie. She is now in her second term. And she got elected the hard way. First she defeated New Democrat Bev Desjarlais to win her party’s nomination. Then she went on to beat the incumbent, Liberal MP Tina Keeper, to become the representative for Churchill, which encompasses approximately two-thirds of Manitoba. In 2011, she widened her margin of victory.

The Only Call Harper Should Be Making is a Judicial Inquiry

I have been completely stunned by the Conservatives' reactions to the ever growing robocall election fraud scandal.

With the corruption of Adscam, the Conservatives demanded a judicial inquiry into the financial fraud perpetrated by the Liberal party in Quebec on a daily basis until the Gomery Inquiry was called. And I agreed with them.

In this case of election fraud, the Conservatives are changing their tune daily as Chantal Hébert noted in a recent column. The Conservative twisting and turning appears desperate in the daily changing of response -- and it begins to sound more and more like Watergate every day.

The only acceptable response is: "Election fraud violates our constitutional right to free and fair elections. It violates Canada's election law. It erodes Canadians' faith in our democracy. It is completely unacceptable. Canadians have a right to know exactly what occurred. And only a judicial inquiry with the power to subpoena anyone and compel witnesses to testify will expose what happened."

Seventy-five per cent of Canadians want an Independent judicial inquiry according to a national poll sponsored by the National Post and released on March 12 by Ipsos Reid.

Canadian Environmental Assessment — going, going, gone

Confession: I am a pack rat who rarely throws out files. Last night I found the environmental assessment from the first EA process in which I participated. The Wreck Cove Hydroelectric Project EA was mailed to me on April 28, 1977. So that makes 35 years experience in environmental assessment.

Back then Environmental Assessment was under a Guidelines Order of the Privy Council, called the Environmental Assessment Review Process. Just how binding this cabinet order was remained an open question until a Federal court case on the Rafferty-Alameda Dams decision. Back in 1988 I had resigned on principle when my boss, the environment minister, signed the permits for the dams, without any environmental review. This caused the landmark Federal Court ruling.

Before my resignation, we had already been working on getting clear and effective environmental assessment law passed. As the Senior Policy Advisor to the Minister, I has steered the white paper through the Privy Council Office to get permission to draft what became the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

I have watched the painstaking process of bringing Canada into the 20th century of environmental law (that’s right, I meant 20th century). CEAA was never the world’s best EA law. It has been riddled with concessions to industry from the get-go.

Environmental assessment report slammed as 'fictitious'

A report from the Commons environment committee has government MPs calling for the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act to be "modernized" and the opposition dismissing the committee's work as a fiction.

The majority opinion made 20 recommendations on how to bring the legislation up to date in the report released Tuesday. The main focus was on reducing overlap between provincial and federal assessments and speeding up the system.

"Quite simply CEAA needs to be modernized. Canada needs an environmental assessment process by which our country's great wealth of natural resources can be sustainably developed in a timely fashion while ensuring our natural heritage is protected," said Michelle Rempel, parliamentary secretary to the Minister of the Environment.

Rempel talked about the need for a "one-project, one-review process." Basically, it is a call to cut down on the regulatory hoops that companies must jump through to get a project up and running.

Study says misleading 'robocalls' may have affected federal election results

A Simon Fraser University economist says that, if allegations of vote-suppression calls in the last federal election are proven true, they may have had a "statistically significant impact on voter turnout and election results."

In an unpublished discussion paper, Prof. Anke Kessler estimates that a decline in voter turnout due to the so-called robocalls would be between 1,000 and 2,500 votes per average riding, or about three percentage points.

Kessler said this would have been enough to make a difference to election results in five ridings alleged to have been hit with misleading robocalls because fewer than 2,500 votes were needed to ensure a Liberal or NDP victory in these contested ridings.

"I'm fairly confident there is a causal effect from reported robocalls onto voter turnout," Kessler told Postmedia News.

U.S. Military Heat Ray Weapon Unveiled

The military is packing a lot more heat.

As in, an ultra-sci-fi sizzler dubbed the Active Denial System, known in comic book parlance as a heat ray.

The military claims the device, mounted on a vehicle as far as a kilometre away, rains non-lethal electromagnetic waves at misbehaving crowds. The payload is apparently so unbearably intense -- the equivalent of standing in front of an open furnace -- crowds reverse course in a hurry.

As the Globe and Mail reports, the military is particularly proud of its latest crowd-busting cannon.

"You're not gonna see it, you're not gonna hear it, you're not gonna smell it: you're gonna feel it," Marine Col. Tracy Taffola told reporters during the system's public unveiling at a U.S. Marines base near Washington, D.C.

Air Canada Back-To-Work Bill To Send Airline, Unions Into Arbitration

OTTAWA - Federal politicians worked late into the night to debate a back-to-work bill to send a pair of Air Canada labour disputes to binding arbitration in order to keep the airline flying.

Bill C-33, which passed 155-124 at about 1:30 a.m. ET Wednesday, covers about 8,600 mechanics, baggage handlers and other ground crew at Air Canada and about 3,000 pilots.

Labour Minister Lisa Raitt had proposed the back-to-work legislation on Monday, saying a work stoppage at Air Canada was something the country could not afford. The government had invoked closure on Tuesday afternoon, setting up the final vote in the House of Commons.

But the union representing the mechanics and other workers said Tuesday that the decision to impose arbitration on its talks with the airline eroded labour rights.

International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers executive Dave Ritchie said the bill would ”poison labour relations across Canada.”

In the French Election, We are All Occupiers Now

France has a long history of exceptionalism. But the manner by which the campaign against the earnings of the rich has been conducted in the current French presidential campaign embellishes the image of uniqueness. In most countries, the backlash against extreme inequality has come from the bottom up, as projected most intensely in the Occupy Movement.

In France, however, the mantra of "soak the rich" has been taken up by the key contenders in the run-up to the first round of the presidential election on April 22. The mercurial incumbent, Nicolas Sarkozy -- notwithstanding his proclivity for the company of the ultra-wealthy and the famous -- has already announced at the end of January his support for the unilateral imposition of a 0.1 per cent financial transaction tax. And François Fillon, Sarkozy's prime minister, unveiled immediately after the Cannes G20 in November 2011 a new set of surcharges on higher earners intended to balance the impact of austerity measures on the wider population.

At first glance it might not be surprising therefore that Sarkozy's main rival is trying to out-do him by proposing to implement a 75 per cent marginal tax on incomes above one million euros. After all, François Hollande is the candidate from the Socialist party, the traditional left-wing challenger to Sarkozy's conservative UMP party.

Prepare for tough election fight, Alberta Tories told

Alberta's Progressive Conservative party leadership warned its members against "complacency" Tuesday, issuing a newsletter suggesting the party that has been in power since 1971 faces its first real opponent in a generation.

"This will be the most competitive election campaign since 1993," Tory campaign manager Susan Elliott wrote in an email to members. "The PC party faces a well-organized and well-funded competitor. While we have a popular leader who will win many votes for us, we will need to win this campaign 'on the ground.' "

The news item, entitled The Importance of the Ground Game: Getting Ready for a Tough Campaign, landed in Conservative email boxes across the province Tuesday afternoon, hours after the publication of yet another poll showing a narrowing gap between Premier Alison Red-ford's Tories and Danielle Smith's Wildrose Alliance.

"Polls are just snapshots in time, but I think it's true that if you look at the trend of things, the Wildrose has been up and down. They're in the field, they're a competitor. I don't take anybody for granted," Elliott said.

She described "different competitors in different areas," including traditional Liberal and NDP strength in Edmonton, but described Smith's right-wing Wildrose as the Conservatives' "major competitor."

A chance to kick Alison Redford out of office

Alberta is on the verge of a provincial election. Sometime in coming days or weeks, Alison Redford, who has been Tory Premier since last October, is expected to visit Lieutenant-Governor Donald Ethell and ask him to drop the writs unleashing a frenetic 28-day campaign.

Ms. Redford has been Premier for nearly six months without having been elected to the job. She assumed the post after being selected last October by the Progressive Conservatives to succeed the bumbling Ed Stelmach as their leader. With any luck, the left-leaning, autocratically inclined, meddlesome, nanny statist will be ousted on election day.

The Premier doesn't like Albertans much. She thinks we drink too much and are a menace on Alberta's streets and roads. Indeed, in her holier-than-thou mindset, she is sure that any drinking before driving is too much, even just a glass of wine during a restaurant dinner.

Ms. Redford is also convinced that Alberta parents are a hindrance to the teaching of communal values in the classroom. Her Education Minister is pushing amendments to the provincial Education Act that would remove parents as the "primary educators" of their children (with schools as complements to the home), and replace home values with the provisions of the Alberta Human Rights Act.

Robocall affair

SINCE there’s no debate on the matter, Ottawa should waste no time in bringing in required legislation to beef up Elections Canada’s investigative powers and establish new rules for call centres doing election work for political parties.

That’s the logical conclusion after Parliament unambiguously backed — in a 283-0 vote — an NDP non-binding motion Monday evening that called for more scrutiny by Elections Canada over political parties’ activities in the wake of the robocall controversy that has dominated debate in the House of Commons, and in the news, over the last few weeks.

More specifically, the motion’s call for stronger powers for Elections Canada included the right to demand supporting documents from parties for expenses. Telecommunications firms hired to contact voters during a general election would have to register with Elections Canada and identify and verify the identity of their clients.

Elections Canada needs more power to crack down on fraud

Stomachs have been churning in Parliament for weeks as the greasy Pierre Poutine “robocall” scandal plays itself out with all the finesse of a splorch of ketchup on curdled gravy. But finally, MPs have settled on an antacid to put things right. They plan to give Canada’s election watchdog more bite.

Stung by allegations of electoral fraud, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s normally chippy Conservatives have sniffed the political wind, reversed themselves, and agreed to support a sensible motion by the opposition New Democrats to give Elections Canada more tools to monitor political parties and phone companies at election time. The motion won unanimous Commons approval on Monday.

The Tories must now amend the Elections Canada Act within six months to give Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand the power to require political parties to provide “all necessary documents” regarding their expenses. In addition, telecommunications firms that provide voter contact services during campaigns will be required to register with Elections Canada. And such firms will have to register and verify their election clients.

The idea is to bring more transparency to campaigns, and to prevent a repeat of the bogus and harassing phone calls that tainted the 2011 election.

The effect of robocalls

Partisans of all descriptions have not been shy, of late, about speculating about the possible effects of fraudulent phone calls in the 2011 federal election.

Conservative Dean Del Mastro has argued that in 2011, "national voter turnout was up by 900,000. Canadians obviously knew where to vote." Ah-ha - the calls, if they happened, had no effect!

The NDP's Pat Martin has asked of the Conservatives, "Did they really win that last federal election? Or did they achieve their razor-thin majority by cheating?" Ah-ha - the calls, if they happened, stole the election!

As fun as it is to jump to convenient conclusions, the whole exercise has nothing to do with the most fundamental question in the robocalls affair: Are any political operatives, of any party, guilty of unethical or illegal behaviour? If so, that's a serious breach that demands investigation and redress, irrespective of whether those calls ever managed to change a single voter's behaviour. Fraud is fraud, whether or not it has the intended result.

We don't need to ever know whether turnout was affected by fraudulent calls in 2011 to know that fraudulent calls are wrong.

Harper wages 'wars'

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's hostility toward Elections Canada is long-standing and visceral. As Elections Canada starts its investigation into harassing and misleading phone calls in the 2011 election, it's uncertain how confident Canadians can be the Conservatives will co-operate or that Elections Canada can proceed without consequence.

As head of the right-wing National Citizens' Coalition, Harper fought Elections Canada all the way to the Supreme Court over the ban on unlimited third-party election advertising and lost. From today's vantage point, that court case has an eerie if not prophetic title -- Harper vs. Elections Canada.

In 2001, Harper penned a fundraising letter to his members claiming "the Elections Canada jackasses are out of control" for charging a private citizen who transmitted election results in real time. He also called them "the epitome of bureaucratic evil" with "leftist axes to grind," Globe and Mail columnist Lawrence Martin reported earlier this month.

Harper has had two more bouts with the agency since becoming prime minister, accusing it of staging a partisan witch hunt and of being in bed with Liberals and the media. He attacked it for prosecuting the Conservatives for the "in and out" affair, illegally transferring money to 67 local candidates who then transferred it back to be spent on national ads, thus exceeding campaign spending limits. He also attacked it for upholding the law allowing veiled voting.

MacKay defends $800,000 flyover

Peter MacKay is defending the value of a military flyover celebration against NDP claims that the event was Canada’s "Mission Accomplished" moment.

The Nov. 24 ceremony in Ottawa celebrated the end of Canada’s military operations in Libya. It involved hundreds of military personnel and several fighter jets thundering over Parliament Hill.

The Privy Council Office initially approved $396,000 for the celebration but it ended up costing over $800,000, according to documents first obtained by the Ottawa Citizen.

At a defence committee meeting Tuesday, New Democrat David Christopherson accused MacKay of "runaway spending" and asked if it was appropriate to hold such an event while Libya is still in turmoil.

The Hamilton Centre MP from Ontario twice compared the event to U.S. President George W. Bush’s 2003 speech on the end of major American combat operations in Iraq. The speech was given in front of a Mission Accomplished banner that has since become a symbol of hubris and overconfidence.

Canada (and Quebec) Inc. give Mulcair's NDP leadership bid kiss of death

Montréal - André Pratte, head editorialist at La Presse, wrote a piece on March 5, 2012 which caught my attention. It was titled "Mulcair a raison" (Mulcair is right).

I worked for 35 years at La Presse as a journalist writing on world affairs, and I never wasted time reading its editorials (which are signed, unlike English Canadian papers) and which, of necessity, operate within a strictly defined "ideological corridor" that says the Editorial page is the mouthpiece of its owners, the Desmarais family, of Gesca and Power Corporation.

So, for once, I rushed to read the blog, at the end of which I wrote a simple two-sentence comment:

"André Pratte's support for Thomas Mulcair is the kiss of death of Power Corp. and Canada Inc. to his attempt to take over the NDP. And putting up that old liar and war-monger Tony Blair as a model (for Mulcair to follow) is pathetic and anachronistic -- we are in 2012, the old Blair-Bush World Order is teetering, and we now have to deal with the 99%'s challenge to the hegemony of the 1%."

My comment was kept in the queue for hours to be "evaluated" by an administrator -- and then it disappeared!

Democracy and the value of co-operation: An open letter to MEC members

The board of directors of Mountain Equipment Co-op has introduced a Special Resolution, requiring approval by at least 75 per cent of voting members, that seeks to give the board power to choose which candidates appear on the nomination ballot according to criteria that the board itself defines. We are writing on behalf of scores of concerned MEC members across Canada, and we ask that all MEC members please read the following before deciding how to vote.

Why we care

Along with 3.3 million other members, we don't just shop at MEC stores as consumers. When we step through the doors of our local MEC, we aren't just looking for a new backpack, climbing shoes or tent -- we're also there as part owners of the Co-op. And the fact that MEC is a co-op, that it represents a different way of doing business, is a big part of why we support it.

‘Banks are back’ as Wall Street finds new footing

The U.S. banking sector has roared back to life after a checkup by the Federal Reserve cleared most of the country’s biggest financial institutions to start increasing dividends and buying back shares for the first time in years.

Following a nearly five-year freeze on deploying excess capital implemented during the financial crisis, the Fed revealed that most of the 19 banks it ran through rigorous stress tests over the past three months have passed.

Only four financial institutions were told to go back and rework their capital plans.

The moves prompted several of the country’s biggest lenders to raise their dividends to levels reminiscent of the days before the financial crisis hit.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM-N43.25-0.14-0.32%) said it would boost its dividend by 20 per cent and immediately embark on a plan to buy back $15-billion (U.S.) in shares.

Elections Canada sifts through Tory database to identify Pierre Poutine

Elections Canada is combing through internal Conservative Party e-mails and database records as it tries to close in on Guelph robo-call scammer “Pierre Poutine,” sources said.

The election watchdog has gained access to the electronic logs that track who drew down information from the party’s database of voters in the riding of Guelph during the 2011 campaign.

Elections Canada is looking for evidence that the tightly held list was used by one or more political operatives as fodder for robo-calls that directed non-Tory supporters in the Ontario riding to the wrong polling station in the 2011 ballot.

Agency investigators are operating on the assumption that the hunt for the fake-call culprit who hid behind the alias “Pierre Poutine” will lead to the local Tory campaign in Guelph.

The Conservatives keep track of supporters and other voters through a massive database called the constituency information management system (CIMS), which was created and expanded under Stephen Harper’s leadership of the party.

Where's the Family Party?: A tonic for democracy

Robocalls misdirecting Canadians to polling stations. That's the last thing our democracy needs. Canadians have enough difficulty finding the ballot box, with voter turnout rates at around 60 per cent federally, and less than 50 per cent in Ontario's last provincial campaign. This alleged trickery is understandably fuelling even more cynicism among Canadians who are already too apathetic about the political work involved in citizenship.

A new Statistics Canada study con-firms that voter apathy is especially high among Canadians under age 45, and among those with preschool children. Readers of my column will know I believe apathy among these groups is ironic and self-defeating. It is precisely this demographic that suffers a bad generational deal. Incomes have stalled for young families, even though far more young women con-tribute employment income than a generation ago. With stalled house-hold incomes, young Canadians pay far higher housing prices. And UNI-CEF ranks Canada among the worst industrialized countries for investing in the generation raising young kids. What accounts for our poor ranking? It costs parents the equivalent of a second mortgage to share a year at home following the birth of a new baby, and a third mortgage to pay for child care services thereafter.

The crime of voter suppression

Ryan Leef
Member of Parliament for Yukon
Open Letter #11
March 2012

Dear Ryan,
In his book on Conservative philosophy and strategy, Harper's Team, Conservative Tom Flanagan states: "We cannot win by being boy scouts."

That may be true of current Canadian politics. But I am sure you would agree that a good win is a fair win in a fair fight.

This brings me to the subject of the 11th letter: the crime of voter suppression.

The press has been full of stories about illegal and disreputable shenanigans during the 2011 federal election. In close ridings, Liberal or NDP voters received harassing and abusive calls supposedly from the party they normally supported. Devout Jews received calls on the Sabbath. An undisclosed number of late influx unregistered voters in Eglinton-Lawrence, Joe Oliver's riding, were found to contain false or absent addresses although this is a requirement by law. Liberal and NDP voters received robocalls and telemarketing calls that directed voters to fictitious polling stations.

A New Way of Doing Business

The corporate impact that counts is not only economic.

Certified B Corporations harness the power of business for social and environmental good. An initiative of the Pennsylvania-based non-profit B Lab, B Corp certification requires companies to meet rigorous and independent standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. Last month, B Lab and the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing – the B Corp hub in Canada – announced the 39 Founding Canadian B Corps. In this special series, The Mark is excited to feature testimonials from three of these pioneering Canadian B Corps.

Bullfrog Power, Canada’s 100-per-cent green-energy provider, has recently become a founding Canadian B Corporation. For us, becoming a B Corporation is part of being a social enterprise, a new way of doing business that has the potential to have a significant impact on the economy. Social enterprises not only try to earn a profit and be economically sustainable, but also have another bottom line that addresses a social need. In our case, this other bottom line involves the environment, in general, and an increase in the amount of renewable energy in the country, more specifically. While social enterprises are currently few in number, we believe their number will grow as people increasingly recognize that we have to transform business in order to achieve many of the social goals we all share.

Campaign Research lawyer urges Elections Canada to complete inquiry into robocall complaints within six months

PARLIAMENT HILL—A prominent telephone research firm that conducted robocalls and voter contact for some of the closest and most important Conservative candidate campaigns in the federal election last year wants Elections Canada to clear the air, release details about complaints it has received in the three-week controversy over alleged fraudulent calls and complete an investigation within six months.

A lawyer and spokesman with Campaign Research, one of two Conservative-connected firms that worked for Conservative candidate Marty Burke in the Guelph, Ont., riding that is at the centre of the controversy, told The Hill Times the allegations of fraudulent calls targeting Liberal voters has “tainted everyone involved.”

“I just don’t think it’s good for anybody that this drags on,” Aaron Wudrick, general counsel for Campaign Research and a former Conservative campaign organizer, told The Hill Times on Tuesday.

“I expect it will take a while, but I’m hoping not three years or something like that, if it has to be, a few months or six months or something, but it’s in Elections Canada’s hands and I guess we’ll just have to wait,” Mr. Wudrick said.

Voter fraud allegations dog east Toronto riding

A CBC News investigation has uncovered allegations of electoral fraud concentrated in the Tamil community in the east Toronto riding of Scarborough – Rouge River.

The allegations, which span both the federal and provincial ridings, centre largely on what appears to be a lack of oversight surrounding election-day additions to the official voters list.

Only Canadian citizens are legally allowed to vote in Canadian federal and provincial elections, and even people whose names are on the voters list must provide identification before they vote. In a federal election, a person who shows up at a polling station without ID can get a fellow constituent to vouch for them. In Ontario elections, voters without ID are asked to sign a form verifying they live in the riding.

It’s this polling-station process that lacks the most basic oversight, say candidates who spoke to CBC News. And the lack of oversight allows voters to illegally cast ballots in a practice the candidates say was common in Scarborough – Rouge River during last May’s federal election and in October’s provincial election.

From 'total princess' to tree-planting fanatic

Out in a clear-cut, in a soggy graveyard of massacred giants, Charlotte Gill learned everything she needed to know about perseverance, about herself and about the man she would eventually marry.

“You’re so tired, you can’t think anything. You can’t pretend to be nice, if you’re not feeling nice. You can’t pretend to be generous. You’re just nakedly the human being you are,” says the author of the award-winning memoir Eating Dirt: Deep Forests, Big Timber and Life with the Tree-Planting Tribe. “I have seen people fall in love in three hours. I’ve sat in crew trucks and watched two people get in together and talk for two hours on the way home and you can see that they’re having this meaning-of-life conversation, and by the time they get out, something is happening. Tree-planting makes you very open, very porous.”

She is tall and lean and presents an inscrutable calm, watching, listening as a silent witness, and then offering up her story with a gentle generosity. It’s as though she has absorbed the wisdom and demeanour of trees. Self-containment might be one way to describe it. She exudes a graceful patience and a sense of where she is most comfortable, where she belongs and can put down roots. She and her husband Kevin, who now works as a physiotherapist, recently moved to Powell River, 200 kilometres north of their long-time home in Vancouver. “We had lost our connection to being outside,” she says to explain the move. “We had no outlet for the thing that we loved so much.”

Decrying federal ‘bully tactics,’ B.C. natives vow to block pipeline

Ottawa is headed for a legal showdown with British Columbia first nations if it insists on proceeding with the Northern Gateway pipeline, the leader of the Yinka Dene Alliance warns.

Chief Jackie Thomas, of the Saik'uz First Nation, was part of a delegation in Ottawa Tuesday meeting with opposition members of Parliament to build support for their anti-pipeline stand. She said her group will pursue a legal challenge if Ottawa approves the pipeline over their objections.

Along with other first-nation communities, the Dene alliance has taken a firm stand against Enbridge Inc.’s plan to build a crude oil pipeline across their land to transport oil-sands bitumen to the B.C. coast for export to Asia.

“We will defend our rights, no matter what bully tactics the federal government throws at us,” she said. “Our decision has been made: Enbridge will never be allowed in our lands.”

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver has lashed out at opponents to the Gateway pipeline, saying they are undermining the country’s national interest and oppose all resource development.

G20 summit: Cop unmasked as protest couple file suit

It was an image that came to represent just about everything that went wrong with policing during the G20 Summit. One badgeless officer, face covered with a gas mask and visor, apparently kicking a protester in the back at Queen’s Park.

Nearly two years later, Nikos Kapetaneas, the 25-year-old environmentalist pictured in the photograph, body tense and face wincing, finally has the name of the officer: Const. Oliver Simpson — also implicated in the high-profile Adam Nobody case.

Caitlin Morgan claims she was next to her partner Kapetaneas when she was kicked forcefully in the side by the same cop on the Saturday of the June 2010 summit. The couple is suing the Toronto Police Services Board (who employs Toronto Police officers) for negligence, assault and battery, and intimidation. The two separate lawsuits, filed last week in small claims court, seek $25,000 each in damages.

None of the allegations have been proven in court. Police have not yet been served the lawsuit, said the couple’s lawyer Davin Charney.

Dean Del Mastro sent out confusing election day robocalls to his Ontario riding

OTTAWA — The Conservative MP leading his party’s defence against charges of voter suppression sent out two robocalls of his own on election day that left some voters in his Ontario riding confused.

Peterborough, Ont., Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro, who serves as parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister, on Monday repeatedly accused the Liberals of using deceptive robocalls in Guelph, Ont., two days before the May 2, 2011 vote.

But a story from the Peterborough Examiner from last May shows that Del Mastro had admitted he was behind pre-recorded robocalls that the area provincial representative said left his constituents confused.

The messages urging people to go vote were from someone identifying himself only as “Jeff.”

Liberal member of the Ontario legislature Jeff Leal told the paper he had heard complaints from constituents who thought the caller was “an impostor” pretending to be him.

Green Charities Clash With Harper Conservatives

OTTAWA -- The Conservatives have taken their battle with environmentalists to new levels of lunacy, some groups said Tuesday, after a Tory senator suggested they would accept funding from Al Qaeda.

"Let me ask you this, honourable senators: If environmentalists are willing to accept money from Martians, where would they draw the line on where they receive money from? Would they take money from Al Qaeda, the Hamas or the Taliban?," Senator Don Plett, the party's former president, asked in the Senate.

"It's jaw-droopingly bizarre," Devon Page, executive director of EcoJustice told The Huffington Post Canada late Tuesday.

"I have no idea where this comes from. To me this defies reason, logic and all of this is so bizarre I have a hard time responding to it. To me, it's a good example of why we need an elected Senate," he said. "They are being irresponsible, I think they are not representing the Canadian public, I think the Senate is disassociating itself from reasoned debate."