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, May 26, 2012

Quebec’s student protests should alarm all Canadian politicians and voters

One theory of the student “strike” that continues this week with massive nightly demonstrations in Montreal – some peaceful, some not – is that it is a “Quebec thing.” Or maybe a French thing, or a francophone thing. In any case, the theory says, it’s not a “Canadian” thing. Hikes to tuition elsewhere in Canada, where fees are generally vastly higher to begin with, might spawn a march or two, but nothing like this. Too great a sense of entitlement, too great a dependence on government (the so-called “Quebec model”), too many Marxist poli-sci professors, something in the water – whatever it is, it is exclusive to one of our founding peoples.

There is certainly much to this. This is by no means Quebec’s first student strike. In an article in La Presse in January, political scientist Benedict Lacoursière counted eight of them since 1968 (this is the ninth), and noted their excellent record of success in avoiding tuition hikes. William Johnson, the political commentator and former president of Alliance Quebec, argued recently that the province’s low tuition has never been “a choice made deliberately by a socially conscious government,” but rather the result of “blackmail on Union Nationale, Liberal and Parti Québécois governments by student action in the streets.”

Global CO2 emissions hit record in 2011 led by China: IEA

CO2 emissions rose by 3.2 percent last year to 31.6 billion metric tons (34.83 billion tons), preliminary estimates from the Paris-based IEA showed.

China, the world's biggest emitter of CO2, made the largest contribution to the global rise, its emissions increasing by 9.3 percent, the body said, driven mainly by higher coal use.

"When I look at this data, the trend is perfectly in line with a temperature increase of 6 degrees Celsius (by 2050), which would have devastating consequences for the planet," Fatih Birol, IEA's chief economist told Reuters.

Oliver ‘supportive’ of Redford's proposed national energy strategy

Federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver likes Alberta’s proposal for a national energy strategy, though he is making an effort not to call it that.

Premier Alison Redford, who has championed the notion since winning her job last fall, met with Mr. Oliver in Edmonton Friday morning. They talked “infrastructure in B.C.” – presumably, the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline – and about her notion of a Canadian energy strategy. He emerged to say much of the work is already under way.

“We of course are entirely supportive of the collaborative approach to energy development, involving the federal government and all the provinces,” Mr. Oliver told reporters. “We’ve avoided the nomenclature because it has a certain sensitivity in some areas.”

The Chinese resource supercycle slows down

In the far corner of the Haidian district near Beijing’s North Fifth Ring Road highway, a young steel salesman, Sun Minglong, sits in the near-deserted storefront office for the Beijing Jicheng Heng Da Gang Tie Ji Tuan steel company.

The company’s warehouse, once brimming with steel building components, is now only one-third full, Mr. Sun laments. Beijing’s construction boom, in full force up until just a few months ago, has geared down sharply. Mr. Sun says sales are so slow these days, he no longer orders new stock unless a buyer requests it.

“The profits in steel are getting really bad now, because Beijing’s housing market is slowing down. Nobody is building any houses because they don’t make money anymore,” Mr. Sun said. “Compared to last year there has been a real decline. Personally, I think it’s going to get worse and worse.”

Canada's mass firing of ocean scientists brings 'silent summer'

Since being hired 13 years ago as a Research Scientist at Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), I have been fortunate to conduct research on such magnificent creatures as killer whales, beluga whales, harbour seals and sea otters. I have visited some of the wildest parts of coastal British Columbia, Arctic Canada and further afield. I have been humbled by the power of Mother Nature as we deployed teams to explore and better understand the lives of creatures beneath the surface of the ocean. I have marveled at the evolutionary adaptations of marine mammals to an existence at the interface of land, sea and atmosphere. And as a scientist, I have come to learn that I possess but rudimentary powers of observation when it comes to the mystery and beauty of a vast ocean. For all of this, I remain eternally grateful.

A blend of challenging field work and cutting-edge laboratories has helped me to look into the lives of fish and marine mammals, and the ways in which some of the 25,000 contaminants on the domestic market affect their health. Our research has drawn on the combined expertise of dedicated technicians, biologists, vessel operators and aboriginal colleagues, ultimately leading to scientific publications now available around the world. This is knowledge that informs policies, regulations, and practices that enable us to protect the ocean and its resources, both for today’s users, and for future generations.

Praise Queen Victoria for our right to fish

This past weekend, millions of Canadians cast a fishing line from the banks of rivers, rowed skiffs on lakes and powered vessels a few miles offshore. It was outdoor Canada in all of its magnificence, but few Canadians know that the queen is why we can fish. Even fewer know that our right to fish will be terminated in the Conservative budget bill.

With rare exception, all Canadians can fish in all tidal or navigable waters almost anywhere in Canada. Try that in Scotland and you’ll be prosecuted for trespassing. The minister of fisheries can, of course, close a fishery for conservation reasons, favour aboriginal food fisheries over public fisheries or commercial fisheries over sport fisheries or vice versa. What the minister cannot do is carve a piece off the public fishery for his friends. No minister can refuse a Canadian entrance to a public fishery because they are too old, the wrong race or too poor to have good political connections. The budget bill will change all this.

Romney Argues Big Spending Cuts Would Cause 'Depression,' Contrary To Tea Party Activists

Republican House Speaker John Boehner and GOP Presidential nominee Mitt Romney have, in the course of the past week, pushed starkly different approaches to fiscal policy and economic recovery, a window into a broader rift within the GOP between the Tea Party and less absolutist conservatives.

Boehner, carrying the Tea Party line on spending, recently said that he would insist that the deficit be cut by a dollar for every dollar increase in the debt limit, or else he would refuse to raise it, helping drive the country toward default.

"When the time comes, I will again insist on my simple principle of cuts and reforms greater than the debt limit increase," Boehner said.

Liberals' Targeted Killing Problem

The Associated Press recently reported that White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan is America's new death czar—the individual most responsible for overseeing the Obama administration's targeted killing of suspected terrorists.

There's long been a right-wing meme comparing targeted killing to torture, with the conclusion that torture is obviously less immoral. The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf doesn't make this argument directly, but he alludes to it in his post on Brennan's new authority:

    So to sum up, Barack Obama insists while campaigning that "enhanced-interrogation techniques" are a euphemism for illegal, immoral torture that makes us less rather than more safe from terrorism, and insists that the Bush Administration was imprudent for using those tactics.

    After being elected, Obama forbids those tactics from being used. And he names as a top counterterrorism adviser someone who advocated the tactics he regards as imprudent and immoral -- ultimately entrusting him with more power than anyone else to decide whether various figures should be assassinated by our classified flying robot army.

Why The Media Has the Quebec Protests All Wrong

I've been watching the student protest movement closely from day one. I studied its emergence from a singular tuition hike issue to a movement that has now grown to reflect a deep-seated anger and distrust of the status quo; a movement that's now engulfed the entire province and threatens to topple a government.

More than 100 days into all this and I still have trouble formulating a concise and thorough explanation of what's going on -- for myself and for others. Few people, if any, can claim to have all the answers to this explosion of emotions, this eruption of resentment. This is a generation vexed. They've managed to successfully transfer some of that outrage to older generations.

Jean Charest and the implementation of Bill 78 -- an unnecessarily draconian and arrogant law that temporarily poses serious limitations on the right to protest and assemble (i.e. it becomes illegal for more than 50 people to gather and protest) -- managed to do the rest.

Feds to cut air pollution monitoring team

OTTAWA — The federal government plans to break up a team of Environment Canada smokestack specialists that played a key role working with enforcement officers and industry to crack down on toxic pollution, a Postmedia News investigation has revealed.

Details of the cuts emerged through a series of leaked documents and interviews that revealed members of the Ottawa-based group of scientists were told their current roles would be eliminated over the next year.

Environment Minister Peter Kent declined an interview request from Postmedia News on Friday about cuts in his department, but a spokesman said the department was shifting toward using outside sources of research to avoid "duplication" on information that "already is obtained from credible sources." One month earlier, his office declined to comment about cuts to the team, explaining that it couldn't answer questions because of "privacy" concerns and "consideration" for the department's employees.

Embattled managers at Veterans Affairs received almost $700k in bonuses last year

OTTAWA — The senior managers at Veterans Affairs Canada received almost $700,000 in bonuses and extra pay last year even as their department came under fire for failing to help former soldiers.

The last several years have seen numerous complaints from veterans about poor treatment from the department and breaches of their privacy by Veterans Affairs bureaucrats.

But that didn’t stop the government from paying out in 2011 both bonuses and what is called “At-Risk Pay,” the financial incentives received by managers who achieve results.

The total paid out to the 57 department executives for last year was $696,287, according to government figures. The department doesn’t break down the amount each individual received but if evenly distributed, each manager would have been paid a little more than $12,200.

Eroding tax fairness in B.C. demands tax reform

Most British Columbians would agree that everyone should pay their fair share of taxes. And most assume that the wealthy pay more, not only in straight dollars, but also a higher tax rate as a share of their income.

So most would probably be shocked to learn that, in reality, that is no longer how our provincial tax system works.

A report produced by the CCPA-BC in 2011 examined changes to the provincial tax system between the years 2000 and 2010. It considered the total provincial tax rate for households at different income levels (the actual tax bill as a share of household income for all personal provincial taxes combined -- income, sales, carbon and property taxes, and MSP premiums).

So much for Dutch disease

Federal Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair says he doesn’t regret bringing up the issue of whether Canada suffers from “Dutch disease.” He might be the only one. The newspapers have been so full of this phrase for the last few weeks that the very sight of it must make most of us want to grab and assault the first person we can find named Van Der Whatever.

It would be some comfort if the Dutch disease debate had been handled impeccably in the press, but it hasn’t been. Dutch disease is a theoretical phenomenon in economics that occurs when high prices for raw resources attract capital and labour away from advanced manufacturing, rebalancing an economy in a hard-to-reverse, welfare-diminishing way. If the resource boom is strong enough to jolt the currency upward, that’s a double whammy for the manufacturers, to the degree they are dependent upon exports.

Protesters aren’t Charest’s biggest problem. It's this woman

You could be forgiven for thinking that the almost-nightly riots that have gripped Montreal in the wake of the three-month-old student strike are keeping Jean Charest awake at night. But those rampages are actually helping the Quebec Premier’s dismal poll numbers.

No, the person who is probably giving Mr. Charest cold sweats is Madam Justice France Charbonneau, who is presiding over an inquiry into allegations of corruption involving public contracts. The Charbonneau commission was launched with little fanfare this week because of the all-encompassing effects of the student crisis. While its launch barely registered in the Quebec media, the commission is no doubt on the Premier’s mind as he juggles with upcoming election scenarios.

Let talks roll in CP rail dispute

Lisa Raitt, the federal Minister of Labour, is right to refrain – so far – from intervention in the strike of the unionized workers of Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. The company and the union, the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, should have a reasonable opportunity to negotiate a settlement on their own terms.

But Ms. Raitt’s warning that the government could table legislation as early as Monday (at the moment the House is adjourned until then) is not altogether encouraging. She was too prompt to intervene in labour disputes at Air Canada and Canada Post – matters in which less vital economic interests were at stake.

Don’t bet on the reining in of JPMorgan and its ilk

Thanks to disastrous trades made by “the London Whale,” JPMorgan (JPM-N33.50-0.47-1.38%) lost more than $2-billion (U.S.) and, for a brief, shining moment, CEO Jamie Dimon lost his customary brash arrogance. In a performance worthy of a shamed Japanese executive, he apologized profusely.

Mr. Dimon’s theatrics were, of course, designed to ward off regulations – known as the Volcker Rule – that would ban banks from making speculative trades using funds plucked from insured depositors’ accounts. A ban on proprietary trading, as it is called, would ensure that the taxpayer would not be left on the hook for trades gone so wrong that they would wreck the bank.

Don’t mess with Atlantic Canada

Am I missing something or has the Harper government placed Atlantic Canada in its cross-hairs? With proposed changes to several key areas of public policy, it’s hard not to think that this region is being singled out for special punishment.

For instance, possible changes to the owner-operator and fleet separation provisions of the fishery are certain to put fishers in Atlantic Canada in a precarious position — most likely seeing their boats and gear eventually bought up by companies and individuals with deeper pockets.

Perhaps the deepest cut of all comes in the form of the newly released adjustments to the Employment Insurance (EI) program, which will surely penalize numerous seasonal workers in this region by trimming benefits to repeat users, imposing stricter rules for eligibility, and by altering the “suitable employment” requirements.

MacKay: EI changes don't target seasonal workers

NEW GLASGOW — Defence Minister Peter MacKay says industry representatives and his Atlantic Canada cabinet colleagues were consulted before reforms to the country’s employment insurance program were made.

He made the comment Friday while in his Central Nova riding.

The decision to make the changes was made because the current program “was failing,” MacKay said.

And the reforms are about connecting people to jobs and ensuring employers “are able to connect with people who genuinely want to get back to work.”

But if MacKay did talk to industry representatives, someone forgot to tell the federal department responsible for the EI changes.

EI changes driven by contempt and ideology

Behind this week’s changes to Canada’s Employment Insurance system lie bone-headed ideology and contempt.

The bone-headed ideology stems from the Conservative government’s primitive, Economics 101 view of the world.

The contempt is that of comfortable, well-heeled politicians who, deep down, assume that those unfortunate enough to have lost their jobs lack moral fibre.

That much is wrong with the Employment Insurance system is well-known. Its biggest failing is that it no longer helps most of the jobless.

Corporations also benefit from seasonal EI

Lost in the debate over Employment Insurance changes were some very astute observations made by Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party: “Most of the forest industries in this country would not be able to have a trained work force that could pick up when they’re ready to come to work, if their employees didn’t find work that was so compelling that they weren’t available,” she said.

“It’s a structural reality of the seasonal industries in this country. If you don’t like it, you can have a conversation about the fact that forestry, fisheries, tourism, mining in some parts of the country are seasonal and that very large corporations benefit from this system…”

As provinces balk at EI changes, Flaherty says let’s talk

The Conservative government says it’s open to changes on Employment Insurance as some provinces warn Ottawa’s reforms fail to consider factors such as aging populations.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty acknowledged Friday that EI is “a very sensitive subject” and promised that any concerns about the new policies will be taken into account before they are put in place.

“We have open debate. We’re having it now about this subject of EI and changes to EI,” Mr. Flaherty told reporters in Oshawa. “It’s a very sensitive subject in some parts of the country and I’m sure the debate will continue about what the definition of suitable employment ought to be, that kind of thing. People can express their views and of course they’ll be taken into consideration.”

The Conservatives tamper with an EI way of life

Employment insurance, or what more properly used to be called unemployment insurance, is only partly about insuring people against temporary loss of work.

In certain parts of Canada and in certain industries, the program is institutionalized, permanent and part of the warp and woof of society.

EI disproportionately favours older workers in rural areas with seasonal industries such as tourism, fishing and lumbering. It functions much less well for young urban and immigrant workers. That’s because those in the older, rural, seasonal category get the minimum number of hours of work and then go on EI, while those in the second are not laid off as frequently.

G20 Aftermath: Toronto Police sergeants face charges for unlawful arrests, one for gay slur

A Toronto police sergeant is facing disciplinary action after the province’s police complaints watchdog substantiated allegations that he hurled homophobic and sexist remarks at an independent journalist during the G20 summit in June 2010.

“F---ing dyke.” “Douchebag.”

“We were assuming you are a lady because of your credentials, but how do we know you are a woman? You look like a guy. I will start calling you Mr.”

These are the words Lisa Walter alleges Sgt. Douglas Rose said to her while she was being arrested near Bloor and St. Thomas Sts. on June 27, 2010.

The 48-page report, from the Office of the Independent Police Review Director, found reasonable grounds to believe Rose committed “discreditable conduct” for “profane, abusive or insulting language.”

Quebec Student Protests: It's Not Just About Tuition Anymore As Anger At Bill 78 Spreads

MONTREAL - The unpredictable nightly protests that helped spur a government crackdown have largely been a Montreal-only affair — until now.

Since Premier Jean Charest passed a law last week limiting protests in the province, defiant demonstrations have popped up in cities not known as hotbeds of activism.

Small groups from Granby, south of Montreal, to Jonquiere, north of Quebec City, have joined Montrealers in taking to the streets with pots and pans to protest Bill 178.

Their message is clear: This conflict is not just about tuition anymore.

A day in the life of a city in crisis

MONTREAL—When Montrealers wake up these days, the morning calm of the city streets can make the previous night seem like a distant dream.

Gone are the perpetual facts of life for anyone near the city centre each night: the rumble of low-hovering helicopters, the makeshift barricades, the riot police, the taunts and chants from the tide of thousands of marching protesters.

The suburbs remain quiet. Even the downtown core returns to the regular rhythm of most other urban centres — at least for another 12 hours.

People seeing sensational images from Montreal, now being beamed on newscasts around the world, are witnessing only one small sliver from a day in the life of a city in crisis.

Protest, politics and democracy alive and well in Quebec

MONTREAL—Two young girls stroll along the sidewalk as the clock strikes eight. They each have a pot in one hand, a wooden spoon in the other and they beat them together as if it were the most normal thing in the world.

The sharp clanging noise of their protest takes to the air and spreads down the street. Others answer the call with their own kitchen tools. A man passes on his bicycle, his pot of defiance fastened to the handlebars. At a nearby street corner, another adds to the cacophony with a drum.

Before long, old women are hanging off their balconies and out their windows in support of an uprising that began in February with students against higher tuition fees. Three months on, tens of thousands take to the streets for marathon marches, all the while calling for an end to Quebec Premier Jean Charest’s Liberal government.

Ontario students set to back Quebec counterparts

Students and unions in neighbouring Ontario are gearing up to join their counterparts by protesting their own tuition fees — the highest in Canada.

The groups say they’re not advocating violence, but warn there’s growing unrest among Ontario students who are frustrated with paying sky-high fees for their education.

“We all support the students in Quebec and their demands,” said Sandy Hudson of the Canadian Federation of Students. “And we understand that the best way for us to support students in Quebec is to actually challenge our own government.”

Students are already taking action in Ottawa and Toronto, and there are other groups across the province that are prepared to join the cause, they said. They plan to hold a day of action June 5 with a demonstration in Toronto and other events across the province.

Conservation officials say Mayor Rob Ford shouldn’t be sold parkland

Toronto and Region Conservation Authority officials say the authority’s board shouldn’t allow Mayor Rob Ford to buy the parkland beside his house.

The city’s official plan discourages the sale of parkland, and selling this particular parcel would violate both the TRCA’s valley-and-stream management policies and its mandate to conserve valley corridors, Mike Fenning, senior manager of conservation lands and property services, wrote in a report released Thursday.

“TRCA has consistently recognized that the valleylands within its watersheds are important natural resources and that they should be managed as open space rather than for private development or amenity areas,” Fenning wrote.