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.]

Monday, April 02, 2012

Pipeline review set to resume in Bella Bella after first nations protest

The federal review of the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline is set to resume Tuesday after the hearings were abruptly cancelled on the heels of a protest organized by the community school.

Panel members arrived in the remote coastal community on Sunday to find the main street lined with protesters. That evening, officials sent notice to community leaders that the hearings, which were set to run for four days in Bella Bella, would not take place.

An official with the panel blamed “logistical problems” related to how the panel will hear oral traditional knowledge of the Heiltsuk Nation.

But community leaders say the panel was spooked by a peaceful protest featuring schoolchildren, and they are angry that the community hearings have now been trimmed down to just 2 1/2 days.

“The reason we were provided last night, they felt due to the rally that it was not a safe or secure environment,” said the Heiltsuk’s chief councillor, Marilyn Slett.

“We have major concerns about this pipeline project, not having that time is a black mark on them. The children of the Bella Bella have taken an incredible stand, reaching out to the population at large to show their concerns about the supertankers that could be going through our territory.”

Supreme Court OKs Strip Searches Without Suspicion For New Jail Inmates

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court on Monday decided that jails may perform suspicionless strip searches on new inmates regardless of the gravity of their alleged offenses.

In 2005, Albert Florence was riding in the passenger seat as his wife drove him and one of their three children to her mother's house for dinner. A New Jersey state trooper pulled the car over and arrested Florence under a civil contempt order for failure to pay a fine that he had, in fact, paid in full. Over the course of six days, he was taken to two county jails and strip searched upon entry to each, even though there was no reason to suspect that he was carrying any contraband that threatened jailhouse security, let alone that he was guilty of any criminal offense.

During the high court's oral argument in October, Florence’s lawyer, Thomas Goldstein, urged the justices to adopt a "reasonable suspicion" standard for strip searching upon prison intake, a standard that would vindicate his client's constitutional rights and serve to deter similar situations in the future.

The justices rejected that suggestion in a 5-4 decision along ideological lines. The majority held in Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders that a you-can-strip-seach-'em-all rule strikes the better balance between inmates' rights and jailhouse security than case-by-case determinations of suspicion left to the discretion of the intake officers.

Chinese Insider Offers Rare Glimpse of U.S.-China Frictions

BO’AO, China — The senior leadership of the Chinese government increasingly views the competition between the United States and China as a zero-sum game, with China the likely long-range winner if the American economy and domestic political system continue to stumble, according to an influential Chinese policy analyst.

China views the United States as a declining power, but at the same time believes that Washington is trying to fight back to undermine, and even disrupt, the economic and military growth that point to China’s becoming the world’s most powerful country, according to the analyst, Wang Jisi, the co-author of “Addressing U.S.-China Strategic Distrust,” a monograph published this week by the Brookings Institution in Washington and the Institute for International and Strategic Studies at Peking University.

Mr. Wang, who has an insider’s view of Chinese foreign policy from his positions on advisory boards of the Chinese Communist Party and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, contributed an assessment of Chinese policy toward the United States. Kenneth Lieberthal, the director of the John L. Thornton Center for China Studies at Brookings, and a former member of the National Security Council under President Bill Clinton, wrote the appraisal of Washington’s attitude toward China.

In a joint conclusion, the authors say the level of strategic distrust between the two countries has become so corrosive that if not corrected the countries risk becoming open antagonists.

Fertility industry to lose its regulator

It has triggered a boom in risky multiple births, created a generation of children with anonymous sperm-donor parents and spawned an underground trade in semen, eggs and surrogates.

Canada's thriving fertility industry, however, will soon be left with virtually no official oversight, after the government indicated in Thursday's budget there is no point keeping Assisted Human Reproduction Canada open after a 2010 Supreme Court of Canada decision struck down much of the law it was supposed to enforce.

"I think the whole debacle is shocking," said Françoise Baylis, a Dalhousie University bio-ethicist and former member of the agency's board.

"When you have a piece of legislation, you can choose to make it work or not, and I don't see there having been any leadership," she said. "There has been close to 30 years invested in terms of effort, energy and money (on the issue) and it's all for naught."

The problem is not just provincial inaction, she noted. Health Canada has yet to write crucial regulations under parts of the Assisted Human Reproduction Act the court left intact - eight years after the legislation came into force.

Original Article
Source: ottawa citizen
Author: Tom Blackwell

Human harm to oceans could reach $2 trillion a year

A Canadian researcher is at the centre of a provocative new international study that puts an eye-popping price tag on the damage being done to the world's oceans and fisheries - a cost that could reach $2 trillion a year by 2100 - from carbon emissions, over-fertilization, over-fishing and other human impacts.

University of British Columbia fisheries economist Rashid Sumaila, a leading critic of international fishing policies, is co-editor of the 300-page Valuing The Ocean report released last week at the high-profile Planet Under Pressure environmental conference in Britain.

The study, touted as a "unique," monetary assessment of global ocean health and threats, is the latest attempt by ecosystem-conscious scientists to affix financial value to planetary resources taken for granted in traditional models of economic activity.

The idea, the researchers say, is to have citizens and policymakers experience a kind of sticker shock when "the actual monetary value of the critical ocean services that we stand to lose" is revealed through a scientific-economic calculation.

"By stressing the links between multiple marine stressors and the huge value of the vital services that the ocean provides to humankind," Sumaila told Postmedia News, contributors to the report "hope to help kick-start decisive, integrated action to strengthen ocean governance and management across all scales, from local to global."

Air Canada ground crew launch legal challenge to back-to-work legislation

The union representing Air Canada (AC.B-T0.93-0.01-1.06%)’s ground crew is mounting a legal challenge to Ottawa’s back-to-work legislation.

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers had planned to strike on March 12, but federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt thwarted the job action and then, as a precautionary measure, the government passed back-to-work legislation in mid-March.

Even so, hundreds of IAMAW members staged a 14-hour wildcat strike, disrupting an estimated one-third of Air Canada’s flights on March 23.

Dave Ritchie, the union’s Canadian general vice-president, said in a statement Monday that the Conservative government is denying his members the right to strike while sending the dispute to arbitration. “The government did not allow the free collective bargaining process to run its course,” he said.

Ms. Raitt referred Air Canada’s dispute with the IAMAW and a fight with its pilots to the Canada Industrial Relations Board, effectively making it illegal to have any strike or lockout.

Tibet Self-Immolation Wave Among History's Biggest

BEIJING -- Dozens of Tibetans have set themselves on fire over the past year to protest Chinese rule, sometimes drinking kerosene to make the flames explode from within, in one of the biggest waves of political self-immolations in recent history.

But the stunning protests are going largely unnoticed in the wider world – due in part to a smothering Chinese security crackdown in the region that prevents journalists from covering them.

While a single fruit seller in Tunisia who lit himself on fire in December 2010 is credited with igniting the Arab Spring democracy movement, the Tibetan self-immolations have so far failed to prompt the changes the protesters demand: an end to government interference in their religion and a return of the exiled Dalai Lama.

Still, experts describe self-immolations as, historically, a powerful form of protest, and the ones in Tibet might yet lead to some broader uprising or stir greater international pressure on Beijing.

The Tibetan protesters have burned themselves in market places, main streets, military camps and other symbols of government authority in western China, mostly in a single remote county. Most of the protesters have been members of the Buddhist clergy. The latest were two monks, aged 21 and 22, on Friday.

Bell Seeks Pay-Phone Rate Hike To $1 From 50 Cents

GATINEAU, Que. - Bell Canada and Bell Aliant Inc. want to double the price of a local pay-phone call.

They are asking the CRTC to approve a rate increase that would raise the cost of a cash call to $1 from 50 cents and raise calling card or debit card calls to $2 from $1.

The companies say they need more money to deal with new loonies being brought out by the Royal Canadian Mint.

They say the existing technology won't be able to recognize the new coins.

The application has angered consumer and anti-poverty groups.

They say the increase hurts people who can't afford cellphone or landline service.

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre is urging people to contact the CRTC to oppose the increase.

Three Amigos: Harper, Obama, Calderon Meet At White House In Advance Of Summit Of Americas

WASHINGTON - Stephen Harper got another expression of interest but hasn't yet received a formal invitation to join a new free-trade group of Pacific Rim countries.

The prime minister sat down for three hours today at the White House with President Barack Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderon, and the three leaders emerged singing a song of trilateral harmony.

But the jewel coveted by the Harper Conservatives — a seat at the fledgling Trans-Pacific Partnership — remained elusive.

Obama effectively repeated his coy response from last November: that the United States welcomes Canada's interest in joining.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a proposed tariff-free zone that would include 500 million consumers from nine countries, including Australia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore and Chile.

But Canada's system of supply management in eggs and dairy products is seen as a stumbling block to participation in the new free-trade zone.

Original Article
Source: Huff
Author: Canadian Press

To Fix America's Education Bureaucracy, We Need to Destroy It

America's schools are being crushed under decades of legislative and union mandates. They can never succeed until we cast off the bureaucracy and unleash individual inspiration and willpower.

Schools are human institutions. Their effectiveness depends upon engaging the interest and focus of each student. A good teacher, studies show, can dramatically improve the learning of students. What do great teachers have in common? Nothing, according to studies -- nothing, that is, except a commitment to teaching and a knack for keeping the students engaged (see especially The Moral Life of Schools). Good teachers don't emerge spontaneously, and training and mentoring are indispensable. But ultimately, effective teaching seems to hinge on, more than any other factor, the personality of the teacher. Skilled teachers have a power to engage their students -- with spontaneity, authority, and wit.

Good teachers typically are found in schools with good cultures. Experts say you can tell if a school is effective within five minutes of walking in. Students are orderly and respectful when changing classes; there's a steady hum of activity. Good school culture typically grows out of good leadership. Here as well, there are many variations of success. KIPP schools have a formula that includes, for students, longer hours and strict accountability to core values, and, for teachers, a cooperative role in developing school activities and pedagogy. David Brooks recently described a highly successful school in Brooklyn that abandons the teacher-in-front-of-class model in favor of collaborative learning. Students sit around larger tables trying to solve problems or discuss the task at hand. In every successful school, whatever its theory of education, a good culture sweeps everyone along, as if by a strong tide, towards common goals of discovery and learning.

'The Island President': Mohamed Nasheed, Former Maldives Leader, Battles Climate Change

Maldives is going underwater. Literally.

Due to rising sea levels, studies suggest that the country, a chain of nearly 1,200 islands, could be uninhabitable by 2100. What's the leader of the lowest lying country on Earth to do?

If you're former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed, you pull underwater publicity stunts, aim to become the world’s first carbon-neutral country and allow a documentary crew to follow your desperate attempts to salvage a nation.

Despite having recently been ousted from the presidency in an alleged "coup," Nasheed led a fervent fight against man-made climate change while in power. "The Island President," a documentary by filmmaker Jon Shenk, follows Nasheed's first year as president of the Maldives, culminating in the carbon emissions battle at the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit.

Shenk described to The Huffington Post the “wonder of the world” that he found filming in the Maldives. And yet, “you go to the beaches and see that they have to use sandbags to stop the sand eroding. You go to the sea walls and see the water is coming over the walls. It’s a place where climate change is already having an impact.”

Alan Greenspan: Republican Attacks On Ben Bernanke 'Wholly Inappropriate And Destructive'

Former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan says enough with all the attacking of Ben Bernanke.

"Anyone has the right to criticize Federal Reserve policy, but it is wholly inappropriate and destructive to engage in ad hominem attacks," Greenspan told The Financial Times, referring to GOP presidential candidates' bashing of his successor, Ben Bernanke.

Bernanke has led the Fed since 2006, during the financial crisis, recession and recovery. His drastic actions to stimulate the economy -- keeping interest rates near zero and tripling the size of the Fed's balance sheet -- have become a flashpoint in the Republican presidential primary. On top of all that, add to this the irony that Greenspan and Bernanke actually are Republicans.

Ron Paul, a Republican Congressman and presidential candidate, has long called for an end to the Federal Reserve and a return to the gold standard. Once seen as largely outside the mainstream, Paul's views on the Fed have been gaining traction in the Republican discourse.

When he was still in the race, Texas Governor Rick Perry derided Bernanke saying in August that if the Fed chairman "prints more money between now and the election, I don't know what y'all would do to him in Iowa, but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas." He added that printing more money before the election would be "almost treasonous."

Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney has said that if he gets elected he wouldn't let Bernanke stay on as Fed chairman. "I wouldn't keep Bernanke in office. I would choose someone of my own," Romney said in October.

Newt Gingrich expressed similar sentiments: "If they want to really change things, the first person to fire is Bernanke, who is a disastrous chairman of the Federal Reserve," Gingrich said in October.

Original Article
Source: Huff
Author: Bonnie Kavoussi

House GOP Discusses Reviving Earmarks

The huge federal transportation bill was in tatters in early March when Representative Mike Rogers of Alabama posed a heretical idea for breaking through gridlock in the House.

In a closed-door meeting with fellow Republicans, Rogers recommended reviving a proven legislative sweetener that became politically toxic a year ago.

Bring back earmarks, Rogers, who was first elected to Congress in 2002, told his colleagues.

Few members of Congress have been bold enough to use the "e" word since both the House and Senate temporarily banned the practice last year after public outcries about Alaska's "Bridge to Nowhere" and other pork barrel projects.

But as lawmakers wrestle with legislative paralysis, there are signs that earmarks - special interest projects that used to be tacked onto major bills - could make a comeback.

"I just got up ... and did it because I was mad because they were talking about how we can't get 218 votes," Rogers told Reuters, referring to the minimum of 218 votes needed to pass legislation in the 435-member House.

Planned Parenthood Bombed In Wisconsin

A small bomb exploded outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Grand Chute, Wis., on Sunday night, and police are investigating to learn who planted the device.

According to WGBA-TV, police fire crews found the homemade explosive outside a window sill that they believe had set off a small fire, which burned out before fire crews arrived. The building sustained a small amount of damage.

The FBI has joined with the local police department to investigate the bombing. Leonard Peace, a spokesman for the FBI's Milwaukee Division, told The Huffington Post that the agency was notified of the incident on Sunday evening and initiated an investigation on Monday.

"The information that I have is that an unknown suspect placed a device at that location last evening, approximately 7:30 p.m.," Peace said. "The device caused minimal fire damage to the facility. At this point in time, we're reviewing the evidence to determine exactly what type of device it was."

Grand Chute Police Chief Greg Peterson told the Appleton Post Crescent that the bomb was made out of a plastic bottle and chemicals and "included agents of an incendiary quality." He added that he had not heard of any threats to the clinic prior to Sunday's incident.

Pink Slime Economics

The big bad event of last week was, of course, the Supreme Court hearing on health reform. In the course of that hearing it became clear that several of the justices, and possibly a majority, are political creatures pure and simple, willing to embrace any argument, no matter how absurd, that serves the interests of Team Republican.

But we should not allow events in the court to completely overshadow another, almost equally disturbing spectacle. For on Thursday Republicans in the House of Representatives passed what was surely the most fraudulent budget in American history.

And when I say fraudulent, I mean just that. The trouble with the budget devised by Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, isn’t just its almost inconceivably cruel priorities, the way it slashes taxes for corporations and the rich while drastically cutting food and medical aid to the needy. Even aside from all that, the Ryan budget purports to reduce the deficit — but the alleged deficit reduction depends on the completely unsupported assertion that trillions of dollars in revenue can be found by closing tax loopholes.

And we’re talking about a lot of loophole-closing. As Howard Gleckman of the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center points out, to make his numbers work Mr. Ryan would, by 2022, have to close enough loopholes to yield an extra $700 billion in revenue every year. That’s a lot of money, even in an economy as big as ours. So which specific loopholes has Mr. Ryan, who issued a 98-page manifesto on behalf of his budget, said he would close?

Israeli forces shut down media launch in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- Israeli forces raided the Jerusalem office of a university media institute on Monday, shutting down the launch of an online media network and detaining employees.

Plainclothes police shut down the launch of the Hona al-Quds news site in the al-Khalidiya neighborhood of Jerusalem's Old City, and confiscated equipment and files, network director Harun Abu Arrah told Ma'an.

Two employees -- Adel Ruished and Mohannad Izheman -- were detained, and guests attending the launch were blocked from entering.

Employees were presented with an order signed by the Israeli minister of internal security forbidding the event as a banned initiative of the Palestinian Authority, director of Al-Quds University Institute for Modern Media Lucy Nusseibeh told Ma'an.

The university, which launched Hona al-Quds, has been registered as an independent non-governmental organization with Israeli authorities for decades, Nusseibeh added.

The launch was intended to take place simultaneously with the institute's Ramallah office by Skype.

How a Grassroots Rebellion Won the Nation's Biggest Climate Victory

By most accounts, the summer of 2010—when climate legislation died its slow, agonizing death on Capitol Hill—was not a happy time for environmentalists. So why was Mary Anne Hitt feeling buoyant, even hopeful? Part of the reason, no doubt, were the endorphins of first-time parenthood. Baby Hazel, born in April 2010, was fair like her mother and curly haired like her father. She was also an 11th-generation West Virginian, which perhaps explained her mom's other preoccupation: stopping mountaintop-removal coal mining in Appalachia. Hitt had spent the better part of a decade in Boone, North Carolina, running an organization called Appalachian Voices that sought to end mountaintop removal.

Wading through her backlog of emails after she returned from maternity leave, Hitt was struck by how "defeated and despondent" her fellow environmentalists sounded. She understood why, of course: "We'd just spent a great deal of money, time, and energy trying to pass a climate bill," an effort that had cost mainstream green groups more than $100 million.

But Hitt's emails were telling other stories, too—stories that were not getting her Beltway colleagues' attention. Across the country grassroots activists were defeating plans to build coal-fired power plants, the source of a quarter of America's greenhouse gas emissions. The movement's center of gravity was in the South and Midwest, "places like Oklahoma and South Dakota, not the usual liberal bastions where you'd expect environmental victories," she recalls. (The defeat of the Shady Point II plant in Oklahoma was particularly sweet, coming in the home state of DC's leading climate denier, Sen. James Inhofe.)

At Budget Time, the Poor Get Ignored

In times of budget deficits, austerity frequently becomes the buzzword with cuts to social programs, the civil service, and balancing the budget in strict mathematical terms. The programs often most readily cut are those designed to help the poorest and most vulnerable -- as this group has less resources to organize itself politically and lobby governments.

This tendency is true of governments of various political stripes, the Chretien Liberals abolished Canada's national housing program -- making Canada the only industrialized country without a national public housing program -- in the 1990s while, more recently, the Alward Conservatives here in New Brunswick have been rolling back provisions of the last government's poverty reduction program.

Cutting programs that help the poor may be politically expedient, but it is not morally right, and fiscally can have disastrous consequences.

On the fiscal consequences, not addressing (in particular not solving) the problems around poverty creates more costs for government services -- from health to law enforcement as, for example, those who are homeless and lack proper nutrition are more likely to need healthcare services and, in the case of the latter, more likely to have run-ins with the law. As well, neglecting poverty reduction leaves people out of the province's economic and social life, thus decreasing government tax revenues.

Governments cannot and should not approach fiscal issues by sidelining the poor and vulnerable. In this context, a talk given last week in Fredericton by Tim Richter, president and CEO of the Calgary Homelessness Foundation, is especially pertinent.

Backlog Wipeout Will Close Thousands Of Immigration Applications

More than 280,000 people who have been waiting years for a decision on their immigration files could be soon be chopped from the list as the federal government moves to streamline its immigration practices.

It’s a decision some immigration lawyers are calling a betrayal by the government that they say is changing the rules too late in the game.

“These people have had the rug pulled out from underneath them,” said Montreal-based lawyer David Chalk.

“The government of Canada invited people who had certain qualifications to apply, these people invested time energy and hope."

Citizenship and Immigration Canada said it’s coping with half a decade of application backlogs by focusing efforts on skilled immigrants who can immediately fill holes in the country’s labour market.

The change was proposed in the federal budget, presented by the Conservative government Thursday.

If approved, the department will close files of potential immigrants who applied under the Federal Skilled Worker Program before Feb. 27, 2008 if an immigration officer did not make a decision on their case by the end of March.

Why the 2012 Budget Is the Worst in Canada's History

No doubt the Harper Conservatives are strategic -- even clever. The major national media seems to take the budget as somehow "less" -- less awful, less ruthless, less impact than they had expected. Even changing retirement age from 65 to 67 had lost its shock value with the prime minister's surprise announcement in Davos in January.

For a principled Conservative like Andrew Coyne, the budget failed to meet traditional conservative values. I agree. One of those values was conservation of natural resources.

Killing a deficit is never easy. It involves choices. With our Green Scissors package of proposals, we found lots of places to cut. Cuts to government advertising, the Prime Minister's Office budget, subsidies to fossil fuels, nuclear and biotechnology and many other areas are all areas that could provide serious savings.

The choices made in Paul Martin's time as finance minister were devastating to social services. In recent history, I think most progressive voters would think those were the worst budgets with cuts to health care, downloading to the provinces and so on.

The measure of harm from budgets has become percentage cut in funding. So a six per cent cut in Environment Canada spending or four per cent cut in Parks does not sound like an anti-environmental budget.

Civil Servants Learn Details Of Job Cuts Monday

Thousands of federal public servants in Ottawa and other centres across the country will be entering a new period of anxiety as they start receiving letters this week telling them whether their positions within a certain department will be eliminated.

It's all part of the fallout from last week's federal budget. The Conservative government wants to cut 19,200 public service jobs by 2015.

The notification letters won't translate into lost employment for all who receive them.

"These letters will be informing them that their positions are gone. It does not mean that their jobs are gone, it just means that their positions are no longer there," the CBC's David McKie reported on CBC News Network.

"They will have the next several months, perhaps, to take advantage of what's called a workforce adjustment initiative, and this is an ability to maybe swap jobs with someone who is retiring or taking advantage of a buyout package. They might be able to retrain."

"It's not as if they're going to be shown the door tomorrow," McKie added, noting that the actual layoffs wouldn't take place until the summer.

Ottawa quietly puts rosy spin on Afghanistan

Last Thursday, as the vast majority of the Ottawa press corps submitted themselves to the mandatory pre-budget lockup on Parliament Hill, the government quietly tabled their final report on Canada’s mission in Afghanistan.

If one were wilfully blind, it may be possible to conclude that the timing of this release was just an unfortunate coincidence.

However, the federal budget is always a media feeding frenzy and the Harper Conservatives employ many gurus to orchestrate their public relations campaigns, so it wasn’t an accident that the lifeless cadaver of the Afghanistan fiasco was quietly dumped in the alley as the budget bandwagon made its way down Main Street.

The report paints a rosy picture of Canada’s efforts, achieving a mission "mostly accomplished" result. Given that this is a government report quantifying government achievements, such a positive spin is to be expected.

Yes, Canada did build 52 schools, trained 3,000 teachers, fixed a dam, dug hundreds of kilometres of canals and gave polio eradication the good old college try — but failed to succeed.

Despite these impressive-sounding statistics, it is impossible to hide the fact the international community’s failure to quell the violence in Afghanistan makes all of that progress temporary at best.

In Ontario, ‘have not’ means ‘have a lot’

In his budget speech, Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan asserted – without explanation – that the role of government in Canadian society is “evolving.” But evolution is a slow process; you can’t always tell where it’s taking you. As analyzed by Worthwhile Canadian Initiative, the economics blog with the ironic name, Mr. Duncan’s budget suggests only that the provincial government will slow its spending for the next five years, without any expectation of permanent mutation.

How much will Ontario decelerate spending? After making allowance for inflation (say, 2 per cent) and the increase in population (say, 1.4 per cent), real-dollar per capita spending in the province will decline by $1,000 in the next five years – taken together, a 12-per-cent decrease. In this calculation, the government decreases spending from $8,500 per capita in 2012 to $7,500 in 2017 – at which point, spending converges with revenue. Yet, real-dollar per capita spending remains higher than Ontario’s historic norm.

From the early 1990s through the early 2000s, before the first Dalton McGuinty government in 2003, real-dollar provincial spending ran at roughly $6,000 per capita: $24,000 for every hypothetical family of four. Last year, at $8,500, it reached $34,000 for every hypothetical family of four. This increase, more than 40 per cent in eight years, was responsible for the inevitable deficits of the McGuinty years – leading to an accumulation of debt as reckless as it was relentless.

Independent analysis further eroded with closing of NRTEE

One of the unmistakable signs of poor public policy stewardship and incompetent management is being penny wise and pound-foolish. The latest example is the shuttering of the National Roundtable on Environment and the Economy (NRTEE).

With a miniscule operating budget of $5.5 million, the NRTEE’s tremendous impact has far surpassed its annual appropriation. The NRTEE has been a high-performance, high-value organization that punched far above its weight and the resources assigned to it.

Sadly, this government has never valued — or welcomed — independent and rigorous fact-based analysis and advice. In fact, it has treated those with the temerity to try with open and visceral contempt.

Created in 1988 by Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, he understood that a growing and prospering economy and environmental sustainability are inseparable ideas. Far from being mutually exclusive, a vigorous economy and environmental sustainability are inextricably linked.

Canada played a leading role in the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio. Mulroney, Jean Chretien and Paul Martin recognized the necessity of bringing together business and environmental stakeholders to provide non-partisan and evidence-based research and advice to policy-makers.

Low-income seniors will pay the price for OAS plan

Canadians wondering why government is making them wait longer to retire won't find the answer in the new federal budget. Instead of a full and rational explanation, there is nothing but a thin repetition of previous assertions.

One thing is clear; the plan to move Old Age Security eligibility from 65 to 67 will have the greatest impact on low-income seniors, just the people such a program should protect.

Delaying OAS eligibility by two years is a double whammy for the poor. Not only will it cost them the $540 a month OAS payment, they will not receive the Guaranteed Income Supplement, a program that exists only to help those with meagre incomes. It provides a further $732 a month.

Without those two sources of income, seniors of limited means will not be able to retire. At best, they will have a full Canada Pension of $986 a month. That's not enough to live on.

The government argues that the long advance notification will allow "ample time to make adjustments" to retirement plans. That's great advice for middle-class people who ought to save for their retirements, but for low income earners, time isn't the problem. It's money. The median income for Canadians is about $29,000. If you only make enough to get by, adding to retirement savings isn't an option.

The Conservatives say we're healthier and living longer, so it makes sense to force a delay in the retirement age. The thinking is that retirement should be a fixed number of years, but one might better argue that work should be a fixed number of years.

When will the red-meat Tories rebel?

Call it the great Budget headfake of 2012.

Signal that you're going to throw the Hail Mary pass, an epochal transformation. Scare the daylights out of the public-service unions. Rattle the opposition parties' cages, leading them to rear up on their hind legs, shake their fists and promise a fight for the ages.

Then deliver a budget that, while it does reiterate some previously announced, common-sense longer-term reforms in immigration, resource development, research and old age security, and while it does proffer some public-service layoffs, is not revolutionary at all. It's rather humdrum. It's downright inoffensive.

Thus, the opposition leaders' imprecations lose their sting. The media responds with a collective shrug. And the mainly centrist, moderately conservative populace, especially in vote-rich Ontario, is reassured that, far from having a dastardly hidden agenda, the Stephen Harper Conservatives are reasonable fellows. Like Goldilocks, they like their porridge neither too cold or too hot, but just right.

Policy-wise, Budget 2012 was a tepid document. The only surprise therein, which wasn't much of a surprise at all, was the slaying of the penny. That, too, was calculated to set just the right tone: A feel-good human-interest headline guaranteed to displease no one, save for a few crackpots and coin fetishists.

How much will you lose from OAS deferral?

Announcing a bad policy 10 years in advance doesn't make it a good policy.

So the fact that the Harper government is giving people at least 10 years to prepare for two years of life without an important source of income, hardly makes it OK -- as so many media commentators have tritely implied. In fact, in this case it makes the policy even more unfair.

Likewise, the fact that many young Canadians seem to have (wrongly) resigned themselves to the fact that public pensions won't be there for them when they retire, hardly eases the pain of this unnecessary, destructive measure. Consider this quote from a Gen X-er (a self-employed marketer ... sigh) in the Hamilton Spectator: "I was pretty sure any government-funded retirement will not exist for my generation." That's a tragic sentiment, both because of its defeatism, and its misplaced lack of confidence in public pensions. Because the clear reality is that it's private individual retirement plans that will not be there for him. Compared to those Ponzi schemes, public pensions are like the Rock of Gibraltor -- especially for precarious workers like our self-employed marketer. If the Conservatives are counting on fatalistic attitudes like that one to allow this policy to sneak through, I hope they're proven wrong, for two reasons: I want the policy to be defeated, but I want young people today to have more faith and hope in the solidarity and cohesiveness of future society.

Can the World Bank Be Transformed?

The election of the next president is important, but so, too, will be fundamental change to the bank's institutional structure and its relationship with the BRICS countries and the Global South.

There are three candidates left standing for the World Bank presidency, including two non-Americans. Now, they are proceeding directly to the final, and nominally “transparent,” step: private interviews with the World Bank executive board.

The choice for president is always important, but even more so this time around. Members of the executive board must ask themselves what sort of World Bank is needed in this post-Washington Consensus, BRICS-ascendant, era. Too big to fail – or even, as now, to atrophy – it is clear that the bank must play a more focused role in fighting for inclusiveness and sustainability in the development process. But what should the board be looking for in an innovative and inspirational leader? Are the old “owners” – the United States and Europeans – and the board itself, really ready for change? Or is all this a charade that will simply return us to business as usual?

The signals are confusing. U.S. President Barack Obama has cleverly finessed the process, rejecting the conventional wisdom of selecting a banker or a politician. All who feared the new president might be Larry Summers can relax. Instead, Obama nominated Korean-born Jim Young Kim, a university president who co-founded a major health NGO and is a development practitioner. Whether that “concession” truly earns the Americans the almost inevitable coronation remains to be seen.

Let MPs make changes to spending estimates without triggering confidence vote, says former backbencher

MPs should be able to recommend changes to the federal government’s annual spending estimates without triggering a confidence vote or else they will never have any interest in vigorously scrutinizing the billions of dollars Parliament approves every year in one fell swoop, says a former government backbencher.

“The rules are stacked against change and if the Members of Parliament can’t change the estimates then they have no interest in examining the estimates,” former Conservative MP John Williams told The Hill Times last week. “It’s absolutely vital the House of Commons take an active interest in the estimates. This is the fundamental responsibility of the House of Commons.”

Mr. Williams, who served in Parliament from 1993 to 2008, will testify on Monday, April 2, at the House Government Operations and Estimates Committee, which he previously chaired, to discuss how the estimates process can be changed to allow for better accountability.

Mr. Williams, chief executive officer at the Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption, said MPs face a “conundrum” when it comes to the estimates.

‘It’s not a number, that’s 19,000 people’

Federal public sector unions are now moving into high gear to help members deal with the thousands of job cuts in federal departments announced in the budget last week which will cut $5.2-billion annually from departmental spending.

“The most important thing for me is to help the members now in a time of need,” said Gary Corbett, the president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, which represents 57,000 workers across Canada.

“Whatever we need to do to work with the employer to make sure people are gainfully employed, we’ll do that,” he said.

Some 12,000 public servants will be laid off and the remaining 7,000 will be handled by attrition. In total, 19,200 jobs will be eliminated, or 4.8 per cent of the wider public service, which has a population of almost 400,000. Some 600 of the more the than 6,500 executive positions will be cut.

John Gordon, president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, which has more than 170,000 members, said that his union would be delving into departmental numbers in an effort to find out where exactly those jobs will come from.

Toews says feds have no plans to kill Bill C-30

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who has been the source of public attacks since February after he introduced Bill C-30, the controversial internet surveillance bill, and after he called critics of it supporters of child pornographers, says he has no plans to kill the bill, after YouTube video threats were made against him by the group Anonymous.

“I think all Canadians should be concerned by these types of threats posed to our democracy by these online bullies and thugs who are in fact intimidating the democratic process,” Mr. Toews (Provencher, Man.) told the Procedure and House Affairs Committee  on March 27. The committee is investigating House Speaker Andrew Scheer’s (Regina-Qu’Appelle, Sask.) finding of a prima facie breach of privilege against Mr. Toews ability to do his job because of threats made by Anonymous.

Mr. Toews said the recent cyber attacks that caused delays in online voting during the NDP’s recent leadership convention on March 23 and 24 are a prime example of why these sorts of attacks should be a concern to people “of all political backgrounds.”

Mr. Toews said Parliament owes it to the next generation of politicians to look into what can be done to protect Parliamentarians.

Feds want to silence environmental ‘radicals’ in budget cuts, say critics

The federal government, which last week announced it will kill the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, streamline environmental assessments and introduce legislation to speed up approvals of major resource projects, regards environmental advocates as enemies of the state and is using budget cuts and regulatory reforms to silence dissent, say environment advocates.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty (Whitby-Oshawa, Ont.) tabled his $255-billion budget last Thursday showing spending will be reduced by $5.2-billion over the next three years.

In addition to “streamlining” the environmental review process, the federal government will also make significant reductions to the budgets of two departments with central roles in regulating the environmental impacts of large-scale industrial projects.

Environment Canada’s budget will be reduced by $88-million over the next three years, while the Department of Fisheries and Oceans will see its budget cut by $79-million over the same time period. The National Round Table on the Environment, and the Economy, which was a source of comprehensive environmental analysis and gave advice to the government, will be eliminated. The NRTEE’s budget was $5.2-million.

Elections Act ‘should be improved,’ Chief Electoral Officer Mayrand tells House Affairs Committee

Canada’s Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand, who announced last week that Elections Canada will investigate 800 complaints in 200 ridings across the country of voter suppression calls, says he plans to deliver at least two reports to Parliament on the state of Canada’s electoral system in due course, but he didn’t get into specifics about timelines in his appearance before the Procedure and House Affairs Committee last week.

In his opening statement to the committee on March 29, Mr. Mayrand affirmed that Canadians ought to take pride in their country’s electoral system.

“However, recent events and media reports have shaken their confidence and, as I indicated at the outset, the trust of electors and the integrity of the electoral process is an essential aspect of a healthy democracy,” Mr. Mayrand referred to the ongoing “robocalls” scandal that has cast a pall over Canada’s electoral system and raised questions over the competency of Elections Canada in recent weeks.

“If the regime is inadequate and needs to be improved, it is my role to make those changes or recommend legislative amendments. We all have a role in preserving trust in our electoral process,” Mr. Mayrand said.

Canadian Press reporters get new contract, but it causes ‘quite a bit of ill-feeling, ‘ says Cheadle

After three months of negotiations and with the help of two federal conciliators, The Canadian Press Enterprises and representatives of the Canadian Media Guild reached a new collective agreement last week. The agreement affects the CP’s Parliament Hill bureau.

CP employees are set to see their salaries increase incrementally over the course of a new three-year agreement, ultimately receiving a four per cent increase to their pay.

But in turn, employees will take on a greater share of the cost of health benefits—an estimated $50 to $70 off of each paycheque—as well as the full cost of long-term disability benefits. The deal also maintains the company’s pension payback, but gives them temporary relief on interest payments.

“I’m glad it’s ratified,” said Terry Pedwell, CMG branch president and a veteran reporter in CP’s Hill bureau, who was at the bargaining table. “I know quite a few people were upset about some of the agreement, particularly, pertaining to employee takeover of long-term disability premiums and the short-term give to the company through no interest payments being paid on pension accruals, but it was the best we could come up with in a very difficult situation.”

Neil Campbell, president of operations at Canadian Press Enterprises, who joined the company last May, said during a bargaining process “you expect to come to some sort of compromised position” and said the company is “delighted” with the deal: “It’s a deal that will help us get to where we need to go, which is a financially viable Canadian Press.”

New immigrants are the ‘hidden homeless’

Anthony Rosario, his wife and three adult children shared a two-bedroom apartment in Scarborough when they first came from Bangladesh in 1998.

At times, they also shared their already crowded dwelling with other families, converting available space into bedrooms.

Space was tight but so was their budget, with their $900-a-month rent eating up half the family’s monthly income.

Up until February, Rosario and his wife, Mary, were still sharing their two-bedroom apartment with his son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren.

“It’s tough to live with so many people in so little space, but you are bound to live like this when you don’t have money,” said Rosario, 61, a bakery chef, who two months ago finally moved into a subsidized seniors’ apartment after four years on the waiting list.

But a new study on immigrant housing warns that thousands of newcomers continue to live in “hidden homelessness” — in shared, overcrowded housing — an issue that has grown more acute, especially in Toronto, where affordable rental units are in short supply.

Auditor-General Michael Ferguson prepared to hit high-flying Conservatives

OTTAWA—It’s a safe bet that Jim Flaherty’s first majority budget will be consigned to political afterthought at some point this week.

There will be some bad news delivered to public servants beginning as early as Monday.

Down the road, you will likely see more ads on CBC television and be subjected to ads on its radio service.

Environmentalists who quite rightly shout at the pro-pipeline, opponents be damned, ideology of the Harper government will be labelled at each turn as impediments to jobs and prosperity.

We will learn to live without the penny and OAS changes are too many years, and elections, down the road to spark any real dissent.

But for a frustrated opposition looking to poke holes in Flaherty’s latest effort, a gift that keeps on giving may again be coming from the skies.

The first report from Auditor-General Michael Ferguson is due Tuesday and, unless the Conservatives have done a masterful job of sanitizing a draft which had been circulating through official Ottawa, it is going to heap a bunch more woe on the government’s worst managed file.

In attacking Ontario, Ottawa plays a dangerous game

Jim Flaherty’s relentless criticism of Dalton McGuinty’s government has something to do with politics and personality – Mr. Flaherty has a deep dislike for Grits, especially of the Ontario variety – but a great deal more to do with the fragile psyche of the Ontario voter.

Both the Harper and McGuinty governments are struggling to convince the troubled middle class that they know how to make the province great again. That struggle is all the fiercer because those same voters are responsible for electing both of them.

This dynamic tension lies behind the unofficial campaign of the Finance Minister to undermine Dwight Duncan, his provincial counterpart. And that tension will only increase as the big province struggles to regain its economic footing.

Mr. Flaherty was at it again on Sunday. “It’s not as if Ontario doesn’t have anything going for it – it has lots going for it,” he told CTV’s Question Period. The province’s problem, he said, is that “its government needs to manage its finances better.”

When challenged with Mr. Flaherty’s criticism, Mr. McGuinty took the high road.

Mali coup raises spectre of new rebel-controlled state in Sahara

Separatist rebels have swept across northern Mali, capturing the fabled desert outpost of Timbuktu in a dramatic bid to carve out a vast new Sahara state.

The swift victory by the rebels, an alliance of Tuareg nomads and Islamist fighters, could lead to an unofficial dismemberment of this West African nation. It raises the spectre of a new rebel-controlled state in the Sahara desert, providing a haven for Islamist extremist groups that specialize in kidnapping and drug trafficking.

Mali, long favoured with massive amounts of Canadian aid and business investment, has tumbled into chaos in recent weeks. Even before the latest rebel advances, it was already enduring a military coup, a refugee crisis and a sharp rise in malnutrition because of a severe drought.

The coup leaders, who seized power on March 22 in the capital, Bamako, promised on Sunday that they would restore the constitution and hold elections. But they gave no details of how or when this would happen.

The coup was led by low-ranking military officers in the south, unhappy with the heavy losses by Mali’s army as the rebels advanced. They complained that the government was failing to provide enough equipment and weapons to fight the rebels.