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.]

Saturday, April 14, 2012

To win, Mulcair needs the full heft of the left

And suddenly the left is on a roll in Canada. Sort of. “Canada’s got a new leader,” an NDP ad says. “Tom Mulcair.” This is not strictly accurate—Canada has the same old leader and merely a new Opposition leader—but never mind.

“We started something special together,” Mulcair says in the ads, eyes glinting. “Now let’s get the job done.”

As if on cue, the polls are lining up to offer a semblance of support for the idea that getting the job done is possible. A Léger poll published April 7 found the NDP at 33 per cent Canada-wide, the Conservatives 32 per cent, and the Liberals down at 19 per cent. That’s an eight-point decline for the Conservatives since last year’s election.

Some 57 per cent of respondents said they’re dissatisfied with the Harper government, compared to 36 per cent who like it. Last month’s federal budget drew more unsatisfied reaction than satisfied, and respondents who associated themselves with “the left” outnumbered those sympathizing with “the right” everywhere except Ontario (where they tied) and the three Prairie provinces.

Olympics 2012: branding 'police' to protect sponsors' exclusive rights

Victoria Pendleton will not be able to tweet about tucking into her Weetabix on the morning of race day, or post a video message to fans from her room in the athletes' village.

Pub landlords will be banned from posting signs reading: "Come and watch the London Games from our big screen!"

Fans in the crowd won't be allowed to upload snippets of the day's action to YouTube – or even, potentially, to post their snaps from inside the Olympic Village on Facebook. And a crack team of branding "police", the Games organisers Locog have acknowledged, will be checking every bathroom in every Olympic venue – with the power to remove or tape over manufacturers' logos even on soap dispensers, wash basins and toilets.

With just a little more than three months to go until the opening of the London 2012 Games, attention is increasingly turning to what many legal experts consider to be the most stringent restrictions ever put in place to protect sponsors' brands and broadcasting rights, affecting every athlete, Olympics ticket holder and business in the UK.

Locog insists the protections were essential to secure the contracts that have paid for the Olympics, but some fear the effect could be to limit the economic benefits to the capital's economy – and set a precedent for major national celebrations in future.

Atlantic fishermen fear Ottawa plans to take away their livelihood

Fishermen in Atlantic Canada fear a federal government initiative to “modernize” the multimillion-dollar industry – the region’s single largest private-sector employer – will push them out of their boats and livelihoods for the benefit of big corporations.

Seafood processers, however, say reforms are long overdue, characterizing the Atlantic fishery as an “EI fishery” designed to maximize employment insurance returns and not market returns.

Even the Conservative government in Newfoundland and Labrador, in its Throne Speech this week, called for a “firm resolve to move forward” with reforms.

In January, the Harper government launched a consultation process and released a discussion paper, The Future of Canada’s Commercial Fisheries, which talks about “modernizing fisheries management” but gives no clue as to what it plans to do.

This has Atlantic fishermen on edge.

“It’s what they are not saying,” said Norma Richardson, president of the Eastern Shore Fishermen’s Protective Association, about the government’s initiative.

Cracks start to show in Quebec’s student solidarity

When 2012 is added to Quebec’s long history of student strikes, they may recall Friday, April 13 as the day a remarkably peaceful and disciplined campaign finally turned.

Whether it veers next week toward victory, surrender, violence or compromise is anyone’s guess.

More than 165,000 Quebec students are striking against Premier Jean Charest’s plan to hike tuition fees by 75 per cent over five years in the biggest and longest student action ever seen in a province known for student activism. A strike most thought would drift toward an quick end is now two months old.

“The strength of the student movement caught everyone off guard. Few saw it coming. The students are well-organized, disciplined, astute and tenacious,” said University of Montreal sociologist Guy Rocher, who has studied student movements since the 1950s.

On Friday, the students may have made their first serious misstep. Around 8 a.m., a couple of hundred students gathered on Montreal’s Mont-Royal Avenue. Instead of marching in front of the bistros and bars along the tony street, as they have done scores of times in dozens of locations, they suddenly descended into a nearby subway station.

Ontario and Quebec gas companies plead guilty to price fixing

Despite the difficulties in detecting and proving gas price fixing, a trend is developing as major gas companies are coming forward and pleading guilty, according to the Competition Bureau.

The bureau, an independent law enforcement agency, said Friday Suncor Energy Products Inc., or Sunoco, has pleaded guilty to adjusting retail gasoline prices during seven months in 2007 in Belleville, Ont.

The company faces a fine of $500,000 from the Ontario Superior Court.

"The fact that price fixing agreements are conducted in secret makes it extremely difficult to detect," said John Pecman, senior deputy commissioner of competition.

But, the bureau uses a variety of investigative tools to help with the detection.

In some of these cases it used its immunity program, which he says is usually the leading tool in investigations, to encourage companies and individuals — or "whistleblowers" — who have engaged in price fixing to bring forward information and evidence.

As an incentive to do so, they receive immunity from prosecution.

Wiretap ruling may undermine security bill

The Supreme Court of Canada's landmark ruling that emergency wiretapping without a warrant is "unconstitutional" - which could pave the way for a new federal law that better safeguards privacy rights - is being used by critics to revive their attacks on the Harper government's controversial Internet surveillance bill.

"It's a huge blow to the Conservative's Internet snooping bill," NDP justice critic Jack Harris told Postmedia News.

"I think we can expect that their legislation will face similar challenges if they put it in place. We can go after criminals aggressively without treating ordinary citizens like criminals."

Bill C-30 would require telecommunications companies to hand over customers' personal information to police without a court order. A spokeswoman for Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said the government will be reviewing the court's decision "carefully to determine next steps," but declined to comment further.

In a unanimous ruling, the country's top court said police have an obligation to "give notice to intercepted parties" in the form of a court-issued warrant; that notice can be issued after the investigation.

Tax fairness no longer a taboo topic

The most striking aspect of Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath’s call to make the rich pay is that she made it at all.

For almost two decades, the very idea of raising personal taxes — on rich or poor — has been politically toxic.

Federally, successive Liberal and Conservative governments tried to outdo one another in tax-cutting.

Former Liberal finance minister Paul Martin is still lionized by his party for gutting the welfare state in the mid-’90s and then slashing taxes to ensure that it could never be reconstituted.

That recipe helped the Liberals win three consecutive elections.

In Ontario during the same period, NDP premier Bob Rae attempted what he called a balanced approach to deficit reduction, one that included tax hikes as well as spending cuts.

His party’s reward was to be turfed from office.

So perhaps it’s no wonder that New Democrats stayed away from personal income taxes after that.

They did argue for higher corporate taxes. But politically, that was easy. Corporations don’t vote.

Canada sees new conservatism

Almost lost in the excitement of an actual competitive election race in Canada is what this particular election really means to the political landscape.

The choice Albertans face between the upstart and inexperienced Wildrose Party versus the rusting Progressive Conservative party quickly has become a battle about what it means to be a conservative in Canada today. And should the recent polls in the race prove accurate, we may have just pushed conservatism in Canada much further to the right.

Before we go too far down that road, however, we should explore a couple of points germane to such a discussion.

First, such philosophical debates are ongoing in political parties. Look no further than the recent machinations in federal NDP and Liberal ranks. In fact, they've been happening in conservative ranks for the past quartercentury. For instance, the demise of federal and provincial PCs, the rise of Reform and the Saskatchewan Party; Stephen Harper's Conservatives, etc.

Second, elections are less about philosophical matters and more about what's important to voters. For Albertans in this case, it's the state of their 41-year-old government.

A Wildrose victory would be good for Alberta, and Canada

In 1971, Peter Lougheed's PCs beat Harry Strom's Social CredIit party, ending a 36-year political dynasty in Alberta. On April 23, political lightning may strike twice in the province, with Danielle Smith's Wildrose party bringing an end to the 41-year-rule of Premier Alison Redford's PCs.

If Wildrose wins - and it seems likely, with a healthy 10 to 14 point lead over the PCs in most polls and Smith's strong performance this week in the leaders' debate - it would be good news for conservatives, Albertans, and Canadians. Smith's libertarian instincts, right of-centre policy proposals, and support for more individual rights and freedoms make an excellent political tonic. It would revitalize Alberta's conservative base, and bring an end to the PC dynasty that has looked weak under the past two premiers, Ed Stelmach and Redford. It would also hopefully produce a successful provincial government that the federal Tories would notice, study, and perhaps emulate.

Less than three years ago, Wildrose was a respectable yet minor player in Alberta politics. Many observers liked the party's populist and conservative positions, but couldn't see how a third party could smash down the powerful PC monolith. Then along came Danielle Smith.

For years, Smith was well-known in various political and economic circles. When I first met her, she was almost finished her one-year internship at the Fraser Institute. It was pretty clear Smith was an intelligent, talented and extremely affable person. Her love of public policy was evident, her thirst for learning was unquenchable, and her desire to promote smaller government and property rights for all was admirable.

Saving the Conservative Soul

As Harper's toxic rule erodes our democracy, it's time for the right to recall its vintage values.

Many Canadians have mixed feelings as they watch the Conservative Party of Canada stagger from one fiasco to another. Some of us even remember the old fiascos: the proroguings, the stonewalling over the Afghan detainees (with personal abuse heaped on Richard Colvin for alerting us to the problem), and subsidies for Tony Clement's renovation of his riding.

Since they won a majority, of course, the fiascos have grown worse: "with us or with the child pornographers," robocalls, and now the F-35 mess. Our mixed feelings stem from watching the Conservatives fail, while also watching Canadian institutions weaken. Contempt of Parliament has become a condition, not an event. Ministerial responsibility has gone the way of the beaver hat. Environmental assessments are being shortened, the sooner to get pipelines in the ground feeding tankers on the coast.

The public has learned to believe that "All politicians are like that." In a country with democratically-elected representatives, that amounts to saying, "We're all like that."

Smell of rotting fish coming from Ottawa

The Harper government has signalled its intent to assault the structure of the independent East Coast fishery, with the apparent aim of opening it up to more corporate control. Given what’s at stake for Atlantic Canada, it had better be all hands on deck for this fight, as the billion-dollar lobster, crab and shrimp sectors and the coastal economies they support risk being thrown into anarchy.

It has already happened in British Columbia — and else­where — with fishermen, their communities and native bands being gradually squeezed out.

The question is not merely whether the Atlantic fishery needs “reform" — it does, in many particulars. The 33-organization Atlantic fisheries coalition opposing the Harper move acknowledges this, but says progress was being made.

The real problem with any reform is with the government itself. It is devious, secretive, ideology-driven and therefore untrustworthy. We need not refer to the F-35s, the G8 and other scandals on a lengthening list.

The government already has a history in fisheries itself.

Wildrose party stirs up old suggestions of 'firewall' around Alberta

CALGARY — Echoing the famous "firewall" letter of a decade ago, Wildrose party leader Danielle Smith says Alberta would "assert itself" in Canada under her government and have the ear of a sympathetic prime minister in Ottawa.

Among these initiatives, the Wildrose's policy book calls for the creation of an Alberta Pension Plan, which would see the province follow Quebec's lead and withdraw from the Canada Pension Plan.

Rivals contend such talk would turn back the clock and see Alberta become more insular inside Confederation.

But Smith believes such proposals simply reflect the province's size and growing economic clout.

"We are interested in looking at ensuring that Alberta has an opportunity to pursue its full range of options under provincial jurisdiction," Smith told reporters this week.

"Our members are open to the idea of looking at an Alberta Pension Plan and we're going to pursue that — the feasibility of it — to see if it would actually make sense."

A Wildrose government would also do a feasibility study on a provincial police force, said Smith, although the province signed a new deal last year with the RCMP that runs through 2032.

Canada, U.S. alone on Cuba exclusion at Americas summit

CARTAGENA, Colombia — A summit of 33 Western Hemisphere leaders opens Saturday with the United States and Canada standing firm, but alone, against everyone else's insistence that Cuba join future summits.

The Sixth Summit of the Americas has also taken on a somewhat tabloid tinge with 12 U.S. Secret Service agents sent home for alleged misconduct that apparently included days of heavy pre-summit poolside drinking.

U.S. President Barack Obama has been clinging stubbornly to a rejection of Cuban participation in the summits, which everyone but his northern neighbour deems unjust.

"This is the last Summit of the Americas," Bolivia's foreign minister, David Choquehuanca, told The Associated Press, "unless Cuba is allowed to take part."

The fate of the summit's final declaration was thrown into uncertainty Friday as the foreign ministers of Venezuela, Argentina and Uruguay said their presidents wouldn't sign it unless the U.S. and Canada removed their veto of future Cuban participation.

Harper's baseball trip hit taxpayers with $45,000 tab

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Labour Day-weekend trip to Manhattan last fall, which included coveted tickets to a New York Yankees game and a Broadway show, cost Canadian taxpayers at least $45,000, documents reveal.

Documents obtained under Access to Information reveal only some of the trip's cost. They include $34,633 for the use of the Challenger Jet and another $11,026 for the expenses of four staffers who joined the prime minister during the private family trip.

However, government officials have declined to provide CBC News with other costs linked to the trip last September, such as expenses incurred by the prime minister, two more aides and a defence attaché who took part in the three-day excursion.

Costs were not provided related to the RCMP officers who accompanied the prime minister on this personal trip. RCMP officials say the documents detailing those expenses can’t be released because they contain sensitive information that could affect security and the conduct of international affairs. RCMP are required to accompany Harper for security reasons even on personal travels.

Danielle Smith: Is she Alberta's Sarah Palin, or the future of Canada?

When she has a rare moment of leisure, Danielle Smith reads another chunk of a book called Confidence: How Winning Streaks and Losing Streaks Begin and End.

“You can probably see why I’m interested in it,” the Leader of the Wildrose Party says with a laugh.

An entire province gets the point. Ms. Smith is widely thought to be on the verge of unseating the Progressive Conservative regime that first took office only five months after she was born on April 1, 1971. Several polls have shown Wildrose, a party formed just four years ago, to be leading Premier Alison Redford’s PCs by wide margins in southern Alberta and Calgary, and competing with it in Edmonton and the north.

The irony in Ms. Smith’s other literary interest is so obvious that she laughs again when she says: “I’m halfway through a book called Eragon. I like fantasy.”

The prospect of a Wildrose victory does seem fantastical to Albertans who have lived more than a generation with the PCs, an utterly dominant party that has always held large majorities. Only four years ago, on March 3, 2008, former premier Ed Stelmach captured 72 of 83 seats.

Ontario to benefit from redrawing of Canada's riding map

With the federal Electoral Boundaries Commission set to redraw Canada's riding map, Ontarians can expect to send another 15 politicians - including at least one more from Ottawa - to the Hill come the next general election.

The commission announced recently that 10 independent commissions - one for each province - have been created to review Canada's federal electoral districts. As Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon constitute one electoral district each, they don't require these commissions.

Electoral boundary reviews are constitutionally mandated every 10 years to take into account demographic shifts and population changes, but the commission's announcement also follows the House of Commons' approval in December of Bill C-20, the Fair Representation Act.

The legislation allows for increasing the number of MPs to 338 from the current 308. These changes will take effect in the next federal election, slated for October 2015.

Once the maps have been rework, Ontario will have 15 new ridings - an increase to 121 from 106 - while Alberta and British Columbia will each receive an additional six seats. Quebec gets the other three new seats.

The City of Ottawa will likely get at least one of Ontario's new ridings, thanks in large part to its burgeoning population. The question, of course, is where any new Ottawa-area riding will be located.

Tories to push further easing of gun restrictions at little-known committee

OTTAWA — A Conservative MP recently demoted for sleeping on the job is using his new position on a little-known House of Commons committee to loosen Canada's firearms rules.

The ultimate goal, Calgary MP Rob Anders said, is to repeal strict gun control provisions "shoved down our throats" by the Liberal government in the mid-nineties.

An enthusiastic hunter and shooter, Anders was recently moved by his party to the standing joint committee on scrutiny of regulations following a series of gaffes. Formerly a member of the veterans affairs committee, he had branded two veterans' advocates "NDP hacks" after they took issue with his falling asleep at a meeting in Halifax. The move from one committee to the other was broadly viewed as a demotion to a backwater committee.

But Anders said he will use his position on the regulations committee to put the RCMP Canadian Firearms Program — which administers Canada's gun control regime — under the microscope.

"Absolutely, we can use the scrutiny of regulations committee to see where the Canadian Firearms Program has overstepped their bounds," he said.

Anders said he is glad to be joined at committee by Saskatchewan Tory MP Garry Breitkreuz, who for years led the Conservative charge to scrap the long-gun registry.

The CBC: After the cuts, new enemies emerge

The CBC appears to have traded one enemy for a host of others.

For many years, the public broadcaster and its supporters believed Stephen Harper’s government was their only true antagonist, in the way it kept the corporation in the dark about its financial future from one year to the next despite desperate and repeated calls for “stable and secure funding.”

But while the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s tussles with its government paymasters finally concluded last month after the federal budget outlined a specific financial commitment for the next three years, it suddenly has a clutch of new adversaries in the private sector who are pledging to fight its attempts to become more financially self-sufficient.

And the clashes it endures in that arena will set the tone for the CBC far beyond the next few years, as it faces a life of ever-dwindling government funds and a new media landscape that will reward players who are more nimble than the Corporation is commonly perceived to be.

Last week, on the very day CBC president Hubert Lacroix offered a broad outline of how its $115-million cut over three years would be implemented, private radio broadcasters issued angry denouncements of the corporation’s intention to apply to the federal broadcast regulator for permission to open up its Radio 2 and French-language Espace musique stations to advertisements and sponsorships for the first time since 1974.

Is it time for tougher standards on political marketing and advertising in Canada?

OTTAWA—Last year, about 50 people were riled enough by an “edgy” ad for an Edmonton hair salon to lodge formal complaints with Advertising Standards Canada.

Roughly the same number of people were troubled by political ads they saw in the welter of elections in Canada last year.

Guess which people got results?

The Edmonton hair salon, which had featured a woman with a black eye in its ad, received an official reproach from the ad-standards body.

As for the political ads — no follow-up, just a brief mention in the annual consumer complaints report. Advertising Standards Canada has no say over political ads.

It’s a case of double standards or, more to the point, one standard for the private sector, none for politics.

Canada’s political parties don’t have to adhere to the advertising code that protects Canadians from false, misleading or offensive pitches in the private sector.

Why Stephen Harper’s biggest battles will be with Conservatives

For 10 years, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has dominated the right-hand section of the political arena. Over that period, challenges to his moral authority have been few and far between. That could change if the Wildrose Alliance party succeeds in toppling Alberta’s long-standing Tory dynasty in the April 23 election.

Having taken over the command centre of federal politics, Harper is a top conservative star in his own right. But over the past decade his beacon has also shined brighter because he happened to come to the fore at the very time when the stars of Alberta’s Ralph Klein and Ontario’s Mike Harris — two premiers who used to be the provincial bright lights of the political right — were fading.

If she seizes the Alberta throne from the Tories, Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith will be a force within the conservative movement that Harper will have to reckon with.

The territory she has staked out — to the right of her province’s ruling Progressive Conservatives — is the natural habitat of a sizeable section of Harper’s party base.

A Wildrose Alliance victory on those terms would come at a particularly sensitive time for the federal Conservatives; a moment when their longtime supporters are questioning whether the conquest of federal power has turned out to be a zero-sum game on the policy front.

In Alberta, a debate about everything except the only thing that counts

Nothing matters more to the Alberta economy than oil and gas. Nothing matters more to the Alberta environment than oil and gas, either. You could argue, really, that nothing matters more to Alberta writ large, to its people or its future, than oil and gas and how those resources are developed. These are not particularly right wing or left wing things to say. They’re just facts. But you wouldn’t know anything about oil and gas from having watched Thursday’s leaders’ debate in Edmonton.

By the standards of an Alberta election, Thursday’s event was a lively one. The main candidates, Premier Alison Redford and Wildrose challenger Danielle Smith, sparred gamely, and the also-rans were by turns punchy (Liberal Raj Sherman) and serious (NDP Leader Brian Mason). The four leaders fought over health care, deficits and low-level corruption. They touched on no-meet committees, seniors’ issues and education. They debated everything, really, except the one thing that really matters in Alberta, energy and energy policy.

Over 90 minutes of back and forth, the four all but ignored climate change, upgrading, the local environment, resource royalties or what exactly would happen to their plans if oil prices were to tumble again. They were helped in this by the media panel running the event, which asked, all of no questions that directly pertained to the oil sands or natural gas. (They ignored cities, too, which must have had Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi in a tither).

Conscience rights? If you don't like the law, you can quit

What will Albertans soon possess that Saskatchewanians and British Columbians won’t? No, not just abundant tar sands but “conscience rights.” That’s if the Wildrose Party forms the next government, for “conscience rights” are the brainchild of its leader, Danielle Smith.

As an Ontarian, I take no position on Alberta elections. I do take one on this issue, however. Not all brainchildren deserve to live, and this one of Ms. Smith does not. You’d think that, if anyone would go for this line of patter, I would. Didn’t I recently offer, on this very page, a ringing defence of religious freedom? Isn’t religious freedom also known as “freedom of conscience”? Why, then, quibble with the seemingly synonymous “conscience rights”?

Because, by “conscience rights,” Ms. Smith doesn’t mean freedom of conscience. She means the right of a provider of public services to provide those services only selectively. A marriage commissioner, for instance, would be free to decide whether or not to perform a same-sex marriage, a health professional whether or not to perform an abortion, and a pharmacist whether or not to provide contraceptives.

There are some problems with this. The first is that doctors and pharmacists in Alberta already operate under “conscience codes” supervised by their professional associations. These permit them to opt out of the procedures mentioned. For them, “conscience rights” would be mere political grandstanding.

Entry to Canada to cost wealthy foreigners more

The Harper government is shaking up the federal immigrant investor program to ensure the money that wealthy foreigners bring here as a condition of entry is put to work in Canadian companies instead of languishing in bank accounts.

The Conservatives are also expected to at least double the cash that immigrant investors must inject into Canada, to $1.6-million from $800,000. The money is currently given to provincial governments for five years until it’s returned, without interest, to the immigrant.

The government’s game plan is to wring more benefits for Canada from the vast pool of foreign millionaires looking for a safe haven in places such as North America.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney kicked off consultations Friday on reforming the federal immigrant investor program.

“There are literally millions of millionaires around the world who would love to come to Canada and are willing to invest in this country,” he said. “But we’ve been massively under-pricing that program relative to our major competitors like Australia, New Zealand, the United States and the United Kingdom.”

How Rob Ford’s mayoralty has divided the people of Toronto

Fighting the good fight at city hall — against Mayor Rob Ford and Councillor Doug Ford — is giving Joe Mihevc pause.

In an unpublished letter, a kind of therapeutic cri de coeur, Councillor Mihevc admits his pleasure in revealing the mayor’s “gaffes and incompetence.”

But Mihevc, who has a Ph.D. in theology and social ethics, goes on to say that while he believes he and his allies are battling “forces of darkness” — you can imagine his light sabre flashing through council chamber — nothing is ever sharply “clean and unambiguous.” His opponents are not as “evil” as they are publicly presented, and his side is not as “good.”

How does divisiveness at city hall affect the citizens of Toronto, Mihevc asks. How to move to a more co-operative model?

Believing that answers may not be found only in political circles — “the usual suspects” — Mihevc has convened a group of leaders from Toronto’s religious, multicultural and psychotherapy communities to meet on Sunday. He says he hopes the seeds of that conversation will be broadcast from pulpits and in discussion groups across the city.

Anticipating that gathering, the Star talked to an array of Torontonians about the city’s political psychology under Ford, and how the workings of city hall are affecting people’s inner lives.

Innovate or die: How Canada is courting long-term failure

For policy wonks, this season’s equivalent of tween thriller The Hunger Games is a book called Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty. The pundits are giddy about its mixture of deep historical context and forehead-slapping common sense. Authors Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, economists by day, insist that functional political institutions lead to successful economic institutions, and not the other way around.

Antagonizing libertarians, geographical determinists and the Ottawa chapter of Atlas Shrugs Rulz! alike, the authors claim that any smart economic policy will necessarily arise from an inclusive political system, where all is governed by rule of law, property rights are protected and hard work is rewarded by a paycheque subsequently taxed.

So far, a gold star for Canada (and a dunce cap for China) – until we slam into the following statement: “Sustained economic growth requires innovation, and innovation cannot be decoupled from creative destruction, which replaces the old with the new in the economic realm and also destabilizes established power relations in politics.”

Uh-oh. Welcome to the truth north strong and free, gentlemen: That would be the country where the Conservative government has bet the farm – and the factory, and the next-gen Internet start-up – on the fact that the resource-extraction sector, by which I mean Alberta, will power growth for the foreseeable future.

Cuts at Environment Canada mean fewer left to clean up oil-spill mess

The unit at Environment Canada that responds to oil-spill emergencies will be dramatically scaled back and most of its regional offices will be closed to meet the cost-cutting demands of the federal government.

“My entire program, which is about 60 people nationwide, got notices” saying their jobs could be eliminated, one of the employees who works for the Environmental Emergencies Program said Friday. “Everybody in the program is going to be vying for positions because the organization is being cut in half.”

The cuts are part of sweeping reductions to the federal workforce that are being made to help the Conservative government tackle a multibillion-dollar deficit.

They come as the government is promoting a plan to transport bitumen from the Alberta oil sands to Asia by tanker – a process that critics say is fraught with the potential for spills.

Katie Terhune, the energy campaign manager with Living Oceans Society, a group that opposes B.C. tanker traffic, called the cuts to the Environmental Emergencies Program “irresponsible and incredibly negligent.”

Political Scientist: Republicans Most Conservative They've Been In 100 Years

When President Obama recently complained to news media executives about their ostensibly even-handed "pox on both of your houses" coverage of the partisan battles in Washington, it might have seemed like, well, a partisan shot from a Democratic president.

After all, his complaint was that the GOP had moved so far right, and intransigently so, that it was wrong to create a false "equivalence" by blaming both parties equally for the Washington gridlock. To a skeptic that comment, coming from a Democrat, sounded suspiciously partisan itself.

But while the president was making the kind of argument you would expect of the nation's top Democrat, he actually had the support of science — well at least political science research that maps that rightward GOP shift.

Keith Poole of the University of Georgia, with his collaborator Howard Rosenthal of New York University, has spent decades charting the ideological shifts and polarization of the political parties in Congress from the 18th century until now to get the view of how the political landscape has changed from 30,000 feet up. What they have found is that the Republican Party is the most conservative it has been a century.

Staff deporting foreigners out of UK 'loutish and aggressive'

The private company hired by the government to deport foreign nationals has decided to place its own guards under surveillance after concluding that some lack respect for ethnic minorities and women and display "loutish" and "aggressive" behaviour.

The damning assessment of the attitudes and conduct of staff working for Reliance is made in an internal company memo, drawn up by senior managers after the company won the Home Office contract to deport foreign prisoners and refused asylum seekers.

The document, one of a number of internal company records leaked to the Guardian, identifies problems "at all levels of the business" and cites poor communication, peer pressure and use of "inappropriate language" by guards empowered to use force to return foreign nationals.

In response, executives at Reliance have decided to recruit a team of covert monitors who will pose as passengers on commercial flights and report back on the performance of guards. They hope the move will quell the growing impression that the deportation system remains in crisis – 18 months after an Angolan man, Jimmy Mubenga, died after being forcibly restrained on a flight from Heathrow.

The Guardian has obtained details of seven further cases of alleged mistreatment of detainees said to have occurred since last May, when Reliance took over the lucrative government removals contract from rival private security firm G4S.

Orwell, Kafka and Ai Weiwei

EARLIER this month, Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei decided to mark the anniversary of the day in April 2011 when he was detained by police, taken to a secret location, held in solitary confinement for 81 days and interrogated, he reckons, about fifty times.

Since his release last June, he has been forbidden to leave Beijing and compelled to ask police for permission whenever he wants to leave the courtyard compound where he lives and works, on the north-eastern edge of the capital. He has also been the subject of intense surveillance. He is certain that his phones and computers are tapped. And he knows of at least 15 police surveillance cameras mounted within 100 metres of his home. Spotting them is easy, as the police have helpfully chosen to decorate each camera with a bright red lantern.

Not unreasonably, Mr Ai thought he was being helpful when he resolved to mark the anniversary by mounting four cameras of his own, covering nearly all his own movements, and streaming the live video footage onto the internet at a website he created, called

“I decided to give this, my privacy, as a gift to the people who care about me as a friend, or any people who have any curiosity about me,” he said while sitting in his garden with The Economist on a pleasant spring afternoon.

Exposed: The reality behind London's 'ethical' Olympics

Investigation reveals that the Adidas kit worn by Team GB athletes is made in abusive sweatshops

Olympic-branded gear – to be worn by British athletes and Games volunteers – is being manufactured for Adidas in sweatshop conditions in Indonesia, making a mockery of claims by London 2012 organisers that this summer's Games will be the most ethical ever.

With just over 100 days to go before the Games begin, an investigation by The Independent has uncovered widespread violations of workers' rights in Indonesia, where nine locally owned and managed factories have been contracted to produce Olympic shoes and clothing for Adidas – the official sportswear partner of London 2012 and of the British team.

While the German company – which unveiled its Stella McCartney-designed kit for British athletes last month – hopes to make £100m from its Olympic lines, the mainly young, female factory employees work up to 65 hours (25 hours more than the standard working week), for desperately low pay. They also endure verbal and physical abuse, they allege, are forced to work overtime, and are punished for not reaching production targets.