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 28, 2012

Polarized politics in Canada: divided we stand

MONTREAL - It’s not often Eastern Canadians feel like cheering when a Progressive Conservative government is re-elected in Alberta.

But that’s what happened this week when Premier Alison Redford scored a Hail Mary victory over the right-wing Wildrose Party, which had been widely expected to topple 41 years of Tory rule.

In the end, Albertans were spooked by Wildrose, whose leader, Danielle Smith, cast doubt on climate change, bashed Quebec’s social programs and failed to censure candidates who claimed gays will burn in a lake of fire and that white politicians have a natural advantage over minorities.

Most Alberta Conservative MPs backed Wildrose and were said to be devastated by the outcome, although Prime Minister Stephen Harper remained officially neutral.

But the results came as a relief to many in the rest of the country who worried a U.S. Tea Party-style government would further fragment Canada’s already divided political landscape.

“I think about the rise of the Wildrose Party in Alberta. It seems to me there’s a very outlaw mentality attached to these policies,” said Danielle Lustgarten, 46, a substitute teacher and mother of three who ran unsuccessfully for the NDP in the 2004 federal election in Pierrefonds-Dollard.

Police who lie: National police body says justice system needs to act over lies

The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police says the justice system should report police officers who are found by judges to have lied, misled the court or fabricated evidence.

“If a judge perceives that an officer has not fulfilled his oath of honesty, a judge should report it to a police service. The national association would naturally support mechanisms that would ensure this happens,” said association spokesperson Timothy Smith.

The comments come after a coast-to-coast Toronto Star investigation that found more than 120 police officers have been accused by judges of courtroom deception since 2005. Many of the officers have gone unpunished.

The national chiefs spokesperson said the Star’s series caught the attention of the entire law enforcement community and “the public we serve.”

Police who lie: False testimony often goes unpunished

The issue raised by the Star “runs absolutely counter to why we in policing choose to make a career out of this profession. While we do not feel that this issue is at all prevalent, we recognize that even a single instance can damage the reputation of policing overall.”

Feds Muzzled Me on Free Trade Deal: Minister Bell

The British Columbia government is barred from talking publicly about a proposed free trade agreement between Canada and the European Union, Jobs, Tourism and Innovation Minister Pat Bell told The Tyee this week.

Asked about a recent meeting he attended on the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, Bell said, "Can't make any comment on CETA. We are bound by a confidentiality agreement with the federal government."

He added, "Any provinces participating in those discussions are obligated not to reveal the ongoing communications. Love to do it, but you'd be talking to a new minister if I did."

Both Bell and Premier Christy Clark had previously said there would be public consultations in B.C. on the CETA, but this week Bell said he's totally restricted from outlining the province's positions. "Our options were to sign the non-disclosure agreement or to stay out of the negotiation and I think what we're doing makes the most sense," he said.

The refusal to speak about the CETA came in a week when the federal government is making a push to sell Canadians on the deal. The premier of at least one other province is on record expressing concerns.

Matt Gurney on Ignatieff’s remarks: Quebec will leave when Canada kicks it out

Michael Ignatieff is not entirely right when he claims his now infamous remarks on the inevitability of Quebec’s independence, made during a BBC interview discussing Scotland’s possible exit from the United Kingdom, were taken out of context. He is correct that the sound bites that aroused so much media interest in Canada did not do justice to the full interview. But, in the final analysis, he did indeed say, in clear terms, that Canada and Quebec are essentially two countries, that they have little to say to each other and that Quebec is at a “way station” on its inevitable road to full sovereignty. Ignatieff, a brilliant man whose political instincts remain as faulty as ever, may regret saying what he did, but he did say it.

Separatist politicians welcomed his comments, as it “confirms” that Quebec’s independence is inevitable. Federalist politicians, particularly those unkindly disposed toward the Liberals, slammed Ignatieff, and the party he led for good measure. It was all premised upon the idea, whether sincerely believed by Ignatieff’s critics or not, that his comments may in some way encourage Quebec to leave.

That’s unlikely. But it might — just might — hasten along the day when the Rest of Canada (the ROC, as it’s called) decides to rid itself of Quebec.

Bank CEOs To Tell Fed Regulation Is 'Unrealistic': Report

The banking industry is getting personal in its tireless fight against regulation.

Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase and the industry's regulation-basher in chief, has called for a sit-down next week between the heads of four of the nation's biggest banks -- JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley -- and Federal Reserve Governor Daniel Tarullo, the Wall Street Journal is reporting.

The purpose of this friendly get-together will be to express the banks' displeasure about financial regulation, particularly a Fed plan to limit the banks' exposure to derivatives tied to the credit of foreign governments and other banks.

According to the WSJ:

    bankers will tell regulators that the rule is based on "unrealistic" standards and could foster "potentially destabilizing" market shifts, according to two draft letters reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

In other words: Nice economy you've got there. Shame if anything should happen to it.

FEC Disclosure Loophole Closes On Secret Donors As Court Won't Stay Ruling

WASHINGTON -- A court ruling requiring non-disclosing political groups -- including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity -- to disclose their donors is one step closer to going into effect after a district court refused to stay its ruling in the face of an appeal.

On March 30, a district court ruled in Van Hollen v. Federal Election Commission (FEC) that a loophole in FEC rules that allowed certain independent group campaign efforts to keep private the names of donors was invalid and needed to be rewritten or reset to the original language.

On Friday, the court not only refused to stay the ruling, as requested by two intervening groups that are appealing the case, the Center for Individual Freedom and the Hispanic Leadership Fund, but the court also found that its ruling invalidated the FEC loophole, which required it to be immediately closed, resetting to the original language in the McCain-Feingold campaign reform law, known officially as the Bi-Partisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA).

District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson wrote, "Prior to the promulgation of the regulation that was struck down, there was a valid regulation in effect implementing the BCRA's disclosure requirement. ... In light of the Court's ruling, that regulation now governs the disclosures required under the BCRA."

That language in the McCain-Feingold law required groups spending money on electioneering communications -- certain campaign ads running 30 days before a primary election and 60 days before a general election-- to disclose all donors giving $1,000 or more.

Student Loan Interest Rate Bill That Cuts Health Care Program Passes House

WASHINGTON -- The House of Representatives advanced a bill Friday that funds cheaper student loans by cutting a preventive health care program -- sparking a heated battle in which House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) accused Democrats of manufacturing a war on women.

The House passed the bill by a vote of 215 to 195, with 30 Republicans bucking their party to oppose the bill, and 13 Democrats voting in favor. Democrats might have blocked the measure if they had stayed together. The interest rate for federally subsidized student loans is scheduled to jump from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent for some 7.4 million students on July 1 if Congress does not act.

Republicans had voted earlier in the week for a budget that allowed the rate to go up, but under public pressure offered a plan Wednesday to preserve the rate by cutting the Prevention and Public Health Fund created in President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act. Republicans say the move would save $6 billion.

Calling the health program -- which aims to lower health care costs by encouraging prevention -- a "slush fund," Boehner said its funding should be used to help students instead.

Foxconn Workers Protest Wages, Threaten To Jump Off Roof

TAIPEI, April 27 (Reuters) - Workers at a Chinese factory owned by Foxconn, Apple Inc's main manufacturer, threatened to jump off the roof of a building in a protest over wages just a month after the two firms announced a landmark agreement on improving working conditions.

The protest happened in the central city of Wuhan at one of Foxconn's plants. The company employ some 1.2 million workers in China assembling iPhones and iPads, among other products.

It involved some 200 workers, the Hong-Kong based activist group Information Centre for Human Rights said.

A spokesman for Hon Hai Precision Industry, the listed unit of the Foxconn group, said the protest concerned workplace adjustments and involved workers new to the plant. He said it was not a strike.

"The dispute has already been settled after some negotiations involving the human resources and legal departments as well as the local government," the Taipei-based spokesman, Simon Tsing, said.

Foxconn, China's largest private-sector employer, and Apple agreed to tackle violations of working conditions and improve working environments.

Toronto’s surplus makes Rob Ford a happy man

Toronto’s 2011 year-end surplus is a whopping $292-million – $138-million more than city staff forecast when council signed off on this year’s contentious budget, The Globe and Mail has learned.

The final figures for 2011 are expected to be released Monday. Mayor Rob Ford hinted at the positive news in a rare thank-you e-mail to all city staff late Friday.

“I want to take this opportunity to thank each of you for your extremely hard work and dedication to getting our City’s finances back on track,” Mr. Ford wrote in the e-mail, a copy of which was obtained by The Globe.

“The 2011 year-end financials that will become public on Monday make it crystal clear that your hard work has paid off to benefit all who live and do business in this great city,” the e-mail continues. “The hundreds of millions of dollars in permanent and sustainable savings that were realized in the 2012 Budget is a direct result of your tireless efforts throughout 2011 to contain costs while providing quality benefits to the residents of Toronto.”

The e-mail, which was distributed by the city’s strategic communications department at 5:10 p.m., doesn’t specify the size of the 2011 surplus.

Dalai Lama In Ottawa: Stephen Harper Risks Angering China By Meeting With Exiled Tibetan Leader

OTTAWA - The Harper government firmly aligned itself Friday with one of China's sworn enemies — the Dalai Lama, who thanked the world for its support of Tibetan Buddhists under siege.

His voice resonating through Ottawa's historic, high-ceilinged conference centre that was once the capital's main train station, the charismatic, orange-robed Tibetan holy leader said his "ancient nation, with ancient culture, is in danger of dying."

"As fellow human brothers, sisters really showing us your solidarity, and you really want to do something, I very much appreciate," the Dalai Lama said, leaning over his dais to address the Sixth World Parliamentarians' Convention on Tibet.

The gathering included parliamentarians from around the world, including MPs from Canada's three main federal parties. They were discussing the dire and deteriorating situation of the Tibetans, who have witnessed the self immolation of more than three dozen monks over the last year to protest China's oppression.

The Conservatives have grand trade ambitions with China, which considers the Dalai Lama a dangerous separatist. But several Tory caucus members were on hand to lend support to the Tibetan cause, including Sen. Consiglio Di Nino, who heads the Canadian parliament's Friends of Tibet group.

Dalai Lama: Canada doesn't belong to political parties

The world belongs to its people, not political parties, the Dalai Lama said at a press conference Friday in Ottawa, where he is attending an international conference on Tibet.

As he motioned to the many MPs in attendance, he said the same applies to countries, whether it's Tibet or Canada.

"I always believe the world belongs to humanity," he said. "Canada belongs to the Canadian people, not your party or other parties."

At the conference the Dalai Lama met with a group of Tibetan exiles and their international supporters. Guests included actor Richard Gere and U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

The Dalai Lama also spoke of his retirement from politics, saying he has resigned from political life. He remains Tibet's spiritual leader and says he now focuses on two major goals: promoting human values that will create greater happiness in the world and the promotion of religious harmony.

"Now I have more time to commit to these two feats," he said.

He also spoke of his confidence in the next generation of Tibetans to carry on his life's political work -- freeing Tibet from Chinese rule.

Taxing Ontario’s rich and the menace of creeping Nazism

Jim Doak is a man with a mission, a money manager in Toronto anxious to share with the world his strong views on taxing the rich. Last week, on both CTV and in the National Post, he explained that the Ontario NDP’s demand for higher taxes on the rich was “ethnic cleansing,” since it would “force a defined group, in this case those with annual incomes over $500,000, to emigrate”.

It so happens that in one of my present lives, I both write and teach about genocide. I can report that many scholars see ethnic cleansing – in the Balkans in the 1990s, for example – as barely a step short of genocide itself, which is of course considered the crime of crimes. So this is heavy stuff Mr. Doak is laying on us.

But he had hardly begun.

His target was a new tax the NDP was able to force on Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty this week. In order to avoid an election, the Liberal Leader agreed to impose a 2 per cent surtax on the 23,000 Ontarians who declare earnings of more than $500,000 a year.

One year into majority government, Harper's Conservatives seem to have misplaced their hidden agenda

"There is a spirit in this land, the true spirit, the true character of the Canadian people — a compassionate neighbour, a courageous warrior, a confident partner — that's the spirit of the Canada I know. Canadians are proud of that spirit, and they trust us to live by that spirit."

— Stephen Harper victory speech, May 2, 2011.

Quite a night that was. Historic, many have said. But what happened?

For five years after he won the keys to 24 Sussex Dr. in 2006, the narrative of Stephen Harper rested on two pillars. First, he was tactically brilliant, a ruthless and effective political gamesman. Second, he was stridently ideological, champing at the bit to remake Canada in his own image. The "hidden agenda," Harper's critics assured us, would roll back the clock on a host of long-settled social issues — abortion, gay marriage and capital punishment being the Big Three — and impose a wrenching, Mike Harris-style revolution across the land.

But one year after the vote that gave the Conservatives their fabled majority, guess what? Tactical brilliance is missing in action, with the government lurching from one pratfall to the next. And the Faustian hidden agenda? Received wisdom, among Harper haters, is that it's approaching full flower. But if you drill past the surface, you'll find your customary entitlements virtually unchanged. How can this be?

Dalai Lama mocks China’s interest in naming his successor

In the political dispute over the future of Tibet, the reincarnation of a spiritual leader – the Dalai Lama – looms as the focal point of a tug-of-war with Beijing.

Concerned with restraining a nationalist movement by controlling its living symbol, the Communist Party has proclaimed its right to approve the naming of the next incarnation, traditionally identified as a young child after his predecessor’s death.

At 76 years old, the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, counters Beijing’s claims that they have the right to identify his successor with laughter and mocking jest.

“It is quite strange – as non-believers, totally non-believers, atheists – showing interest about reincarnation,” the Dalai Lama said in an interview in Ottawa.

“I jokingly tell them: In order to be involved in my reincarnation, firstly, they should accept Buddhism. Or religion. Or Buddhism. Then they should recognize Chairman Mao Zedong’s reincarnation. Deng Xiaopeng’s reincarnation. Then, they have reason to show some interest about the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation. Otherwise, nonsense!”

China's great leap forward – into the supermarket

Made in China says everything, economically, about the last decade. Sold in China tells you everything about the next.

Recent output figures from China were greeted with concern after the country reported its lowest GDP growth for three years, although, at 8.1%, it's magnificent compared to the UK's double-dip recession. Still, there is much talk among economists about a "hard landing", a "property bubble" and "bankrupt banks".

But there is one key fact to remember about the economy in China. It's that the minimum wage is going up 15% a year, every year, for the next five years. Take a billion workers and give them a 100% pay rise. It changes everything.

Within a generation, China is likely to displace the US as the biggest consumer market in the world. At Tianjin Port, the world's fifth biggest, container ships used to export Chinese goods to the rest of the world but come back empty. Now they return with the finished and semi-finished goods from the rest of the world to satisfy a ravenous consumer appetite.

Hollande and Merkel clash looms over eurozone austerity

Germany and France moved towards a bruising and potentially destabilising showdown over how to tackle the European debt crisis when Chancellor Angela Merkel abruptly dismissed one of François Hollande's central presidential campaign pledges.

As the French Socialist leader extended his poll lead over Nicolas Sarkozy to 10 points on Fridaywith just over a week until the French vote, Merkel declared that his drive to reopen the EU's fiscal pact penalising spendthrift eurozone governments was futile.

"The fiscal pact has been negotiated, it has been signed by 25 government leaders, and has already been ratified by Portugal and Greece. Parliaments all over Europe are about to pass it. Ireland has a referendum on it at the end of May. It cannot be negotiated anew," Merkel told the WAZ media group.

But with governments across Europe falling victim to a backlash against austerity, the policy debate in Europe is shifting from German insistence on austerity towards a greater emphasis on boosting growth and creating jobs.

If he wins the French presidency on 6 May and also secures a parliamentary majority in June, Hollande and his team are committed to not ratifying the EU pact unless it is fine-tuned to include growth-boosting policies. The pact, a new rulebook for the eurozone, can come into force even if France does not ratify it, but this is seen as politically inconceivable.

Barclays investors vent anger over boardroom pay

Shareholders have demonstrated their mounting anger over runaway boardroom pay, delivering a huge protest against Barclays pay policies – including the £17m package for chief executive Bob Diamond.

Nearly a third of shareholders failed to back the remuneration report at a sometimes hostile annual meeting in the Royal Festival Hall, London, where one shareholder warned of the damage to the bank's reputation because of its pay  deals.

Shareholders also handed a severe rebuke to Alison Carnwath, the non-executive director who sanctioned the pay deals. More than one in five investors failed to support the re-election of Carnwath, a veteran of many boardroom battles, to the board – a huge protest given that directors usually expect near-unanimous support for their positions.

The bank's chairman, Marcus Agius, had to ask the assembled shareholders to behave in a "responsible" and "adult" manner after a number of heckles from the floor while Carnwath was attempting to defend the pay policies.

Rupert Murdoch may be a monster but David Cameron and co are far worse

I know we're all ending this week desperate to find common ground with Rupert Murdoch, so I hope to be of assistance. After all, arguably the most striking feature of the News Corp boss's testimony before the Leveson inquiry was his radioactive contempt for the politicians with which he has been so inconveniently saddled. As someone who has long treated a change in government as the shuffling of junior personnel, Murdoch appears to have concluded that you really can't get the staff any more. And as an electorate that has concluded that you really can't get the overlords any more, we might ironically sympathise.

The list of things for which you could blame Rupert is hardly under-aired at present, but only the most piously naive would think self-interested politicking was worthy of a place on it. Blaming Murdoch for attempting to influence policy in his commercial favour is like disagreeing with gravity. He should be expected to behave like a rapacious corporate monster because that is what he is.

Where people have a right to expect far more, however, is from those notionally elected to look after their interests. The trouble with the Christian right is that it tends to be neither, runs a popular diss, and you could say the same for our "political elite". They are as cackiavellian as they are bottom-flight.

Indeed, Murdoch's contempt for politicians seems largely borne of the embarrassing ease with which he is able to persuade them to fawn over him. "I wish they'd leave me alone," he lamented of a succession of prime ministers during last year's select committee testimony.

What the Government Won't Tell You Today About the Canada-EU Trade Agreement

The government is launching an all-out blitz on the proposed Canada - European Union Trade Agreement today with no less than 18 events planned across the country featuring 16 cabinet ministers and parliamentary secretaries.

The speeches will emphasize the benefits of the proposed agreement to many areas of the economy, yet what is most noteworthy is what won't be discussed. Industry Minister Christian Paradis is speaking, but he won't be discussing copyright, patents, pharmaceuticals, or cultural policy as his speech will emphasize the pork industry. Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore won't be talking about culture either as his speech is slated to focus on fish and seafood. And Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq is missing from the slate altogether.

The reason for the omissions are essential to understanding one of the primary sticking points with CETA. While the government says the deal is 75 per cent completed, negotiators have consistently indicated that they left the toughest issues to the end. Those include rules of origin, agriculture, immigration and visa issues, and intellectual property.

Opposition MPs demand separate environment bill

Opposition MPs are angry with the government for proposing major environmental policy changes in the budget implementation bill introduced yesterday and are demanding the proposals be hived off into a separate bill.

Bill C-38, which is more than 400 pages, proposes changes to numerous pieces of legislation, suggests repealing some laws and has other measures to implement what was promised in last month's budget.

A large portion of the bill is dedicated to overhauling how environmental assessments are conducted, changes that were announced by Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver last week; it also aims to repeal the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act.

The Conservatives will be able to use their majority in the House of Commons and the Senate to pass the bill.

NDP finance critic Peggy Nash accused the government in question period of launching a "full frontal assault on environmental protection" in the budget bill. She said the proposed changes will shut citizens out of pipeline project reviews, give the minister sweeping powers to approve projects and exempt many projects from review.

Canadians more polarized than ever, one year after Harper's majority

MONTREAL — It's not often Eastern Canadians feel like cheering when a Progressive Conservative government is re-elected in Alberta.

But that's what happened this week when Premier Alison Redford scored a Hail Mary victory over the right-wing Wildrose Party, which had been widely expected to topple 41 years of Tory rule.

In the end, Albertans were spooked by Wildrose, whose leader, Danielle Smith, cast doubt on climate change, bashed Quebec's social programs and failed to censure candidates who claimed gays will burn in a lake of fire and that white politicians have a natural advantage over minorities.

Most Alberta Conservative MPs backed Wildrose and were said to be devastated by the outcome, although Prime Minister Stephen Harper remained officially neutral.

But the results came as a relief to many in the rest of the country who worried a U.S. Tea Party-style government would further fragment Canada's already divided political landscape.

One year into Prime Minister Stephen Harper's first majority government, Canada seems increasingly split between rival political visions.

Canada-EU free trade: 'Cooking up a deal without much input -- let us see a draft!' say city leaders

It's “the most ambitious plan of its kind in history,” boasts Canada's international trade minister Ed Fast, as Conservative cabinet ministers hit cities across the country today to market Canada's impending free trade deal with Europe. Media declared the push as a "political war."

And yet the public knows almost nothing about the secret negotiations -- except that they are in their final stages, to be completed this year.

A huge swathe of civil society is worried about the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) -- including the New Democrats and Liberals, labour unions, the Council of Canadians, public health activists and environmentalists alike, but also the country's municipalities and generic drug makers.

“Closed-door meetings have created a climate of secrecy in the CETA process,” the NDP said in a statement last month. “Too little public information exists for Canadians and their elected representatives, at all levels of government, to reach informed conclusions on the merits and risks of CETA.”

The CCF, Hitler and history

Twice this week—see here and here—Stephen Harper saw fit to lament that a precursor to the NDP hadn’t supported World War II. A Conservative backbencher, Scott Armstrong, was sent up before QP this morning to directly attack JS Woodsworth and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird then repeated the citation in response to an NDP question about extending this country’s mission in Afghanistan (both Mr. Armstrong and Mr. Baird invoking Hitler by name).

It is true that Mr. Woodsworth, leader at the time of the CCF, the party that would become the NDP some 22 years later, opposed Canada’s involvement in the war. Mr. Woodsworth was a pacifist. But he was also the only member of the CCF to oppose the declaration of war. Indeed, he was the only MP in the entire House of Commons who opposed the motion. Major James Coldwell, who would soon thereafter succeed Mr. Woodsworth as leader of the CCF, supported the declaration. As apparently did a young CCF MP named Tommy Douglas.

Opposition MPs say Vikileaks probe ‘thinly-veiled’ effort by Tories to gain political intelligence

Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro says he has more questions than answers after hearing from the former Liberal staffer who authored the sensational Vikileaks Twitter account, but NDP MP Charlie Angus says the line of questioning taken by Mr. Del Mastro and other Conservatives on the committee was a “thinly-veiled” attempt to gain political intelligence.

“We were told that this was about Mr. Carroll’s use of House resources, but it quickly turned into an attempt to bully him into implicating people, and revealing how information’s passed in the Liberal caucus. I’ve got no need to defend the Liberals, it’s not my job. But, as a Parliamentarian, [such questions] it’s inappropriate,” Mr. Angus (Timmins-James Bay, Ont.) told The Hill Times.

Adam Carroll, formerly a staffer in the Liberal Research Bureau, was the author of the       @Vikileaks30 Twitter account that caught the attention of thousands of followers in late February when he tweeted nasty details from Public Safety Minister Vic Toews’ (Provencher, Man.) 2008 divorce and spending practices in response to the government’s internet surveillance bill. Mr. Carroll resigned on Feb. 27 upon interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae’s (Toronto Centre, Ont.) request.

Why is Harper’s team invoking Hitler to debate New Democrats?

The governing Conservatives are digging back into Canadian history to find a line of attack against the opposition New Democrats, who are surging in recent public-opinion polls.

For two days running, the NDP has been accused of being soft on Hitler – even though the party did not exist until 16 years after the Second World War ended.

When Christine Moore, a Quebec New Democrat, asked during Friday’s Question Period in the Commons if the Conservatives are preparing to keep troops in Afghanistan past 2014, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird recalled that the leader of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, a forerunner of the NDP, was reluctant to enter the war against Germany.

“The NDP do not support sending troops abroad for anything,” Mr. Baird replied. “Let us look at what the former leader of the NDP-CCF said. ‘I would ask whether we are to risk the lives of our Canadian sons to prevent the actions of Hitler.’ It was the former leader of the NDP-CCF, J.S. Woodsworth, who said that.”

That came on the heels of Thursday’s Question Period when Prime Minister Stephen Harper said much the same thing.

Spain in ‘crisis of enormous magnitude’ as unemployment rate nears 25%

MADRID—The hole in Spain’s economy is getting deeper.

The government reported Friday that unemployment rose to 24.4 per cent in the first quarter — compared with 22.9 per cent in the fourth quarter — and that more than half of Spaniards under 25 are now without jobs. The bleak employment report came one day after ratings agency Standard & Poor’s downgraded the country’s debt.

The Spanish economy is in recession for the second time in three years as the damage from a housing bust persists. Foreclosures are rising, Spain’s banks are in worse financial shape and the government’s deficit is hitting worrisome levels.

The first-quarter employment data showed that 365,900 people lost their jobs, bringing the number of unemployed Spaniards to 5.6 million. The unemployment rate for people under 25 climbed to 52 per cent, up from 48.5 per cent in the previous quarter.

“The figures are terrible for everyone and terrible for the government,” Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo told Spanish National Radio. “Spain is in a crisis of enormous magnitude.”

The total number of unemployed increased by 729,400 compared with the first quarter of 2011. The National Statistics Institute said Friday that Spain now has 1.7 million households in which no one has work.

ORNGE: Proposed bill would block ombudsman oversight

New legislation to rein in ORNGE would block Ontario’s ombudsman from using his watchdog powers over the scandal-plagued air ambulance agency, the Star has learned.

The minority Liberal government’s proposed Bill 50 also prevents citizens from making freedom-of-information requests about the inner workings at ORNGE, where disgraced former chief executive Dr. Chris Mazza once earned $1.4 million a year.

Opposition parties said Thursday the exclusions make a mockery of talk about bringing more transparency to the air ambulance service, which gets $150 million a year from taxpayers and is under police investigation for financial irregularities.

Giving Ontario Ombudsman André Marin oversight powers would provide citizens with “an independent third party to hear people’s grievances,” said New Democrat health critic France Gélinas.

Aside from financial issues such as executive pay and perks like taxpayer-funded MBA degrees, concerns have been raised in the past about ORNGE’s policies for launching air ambulances in time to make a difference in life-and-death situations like serious car crashes.

The government will have to explain its rationale for keeping Marin out of the picture because he has already probed the land ambulance system, said Progressive Conservative MPP Frank Klees.

Ombudsman Andre Marin slams SIU over pro-police bias in Michael Eligon case

The province’s Special Investigations Unit has suspended one investigator and disciplined two others for their conduct during the investigation of the February police shooting of hospital patient Michael Eligon.

The suspension follows a documentary shot by a French television crew, which shows an SIU forensic investigator in the lab wearing what is believed to be a police ring, a violation of SIU policy because it creates the appearance of a pro-police bias.

Two other investigators were ordered to get counselling from a supervisor after the TV footage appeared to show they were arriving at conclusions about what happened before the interviews were complete.

“I found it quite stunning,” said Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin, who saw the French TV video in his office two weeks ago and brought it to the SIU’s attention.

SIU Director Ian Scott said he suspended the forensic investigator within 24 hours of learning of the video.