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, September 29, 2012

Energy-saving program shut down too early, millions in rebates never paid out

The final tally is in on the popular eco-energy retrofit program that the Conservative government ended suddenly amid a storm of protest in January.

Throughout the five-year life of the program, which provided rebates for energy-saving home renovations, Ottawa paid $934-million in grants to nearly one in 20 Canadian households, or 640,000 beneficiaries. In its final year, however, the eco-energy program came in under budget, as the government paid out $190-million despite budgeting $400-million for it.

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver – who was slammed by opposition parties for ending the program earlier than planned – declared it a success.

Christy Clark's curious overture to Alberta

As diversionary tactics go, B.C. Premier Christy Clark’s invitation to her Alberta counterpart this week to sit down and discuss their differences over the Northern Gateway pipeline worked brilliantly.

No longer were people talking about the abrupt resignation on Monday of her chief of staff, Ken Boessenkool, over an unspecified indiscretion involving a female political staffer in the B.C. government. But at the same time, it did little to assure Alberta Premier Alison Redford that Ms. Clark has any kind of credible new plan to end the impasse that the two provincial leaders have reached over the pipeline’s future.

Abortion debate: House of Commons vote related to abortion shows Rona Ambrose’s Status of Women post is no longer useful

What’s wrong with this picture?

An abortion-related motion is defeated by more than two to one (203/91) in a House of Commons dominated by the most conservative government in living memory.

Along the way, the most outspoken government defender of a woman’s right to choose to carry a pregnancy to term turns out to be a seventy-something retired male army general.

As government whip, Gordon O’Connor is responsible for making sure that the Prime Minister’s ducks are lined up in the lead-up to a vote. If I was going in battle in Parliament, I would rather have him on my side than just about any other member of Stephen Harper’s cabinet.

Peter MacKay draws his own red lines on Iran

Iran has already crossed several “red lines,” Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Friday.

At a joint news conference at the Pentagon with U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, Mr. MacKay said: “There have been a number of red lines placed already, and Iran has edged closer and stepped over those red lines on a number of occasions.”

CEOs only have eyes for China

East is east and west is west, wrote Rudyard Kipling, and never the twain shall meet.

Clearly dear old Rudyard was never exposed to the Canadian business class hot on the scent of Chinese profits.

The twain appeared to meet with a vengeance at an Ottawa conference put on several days ago by the Canadian Council of Chief Executives on Canada in the Asian century. Clearly Canada’s CEOs never met a Chinese business opportunity they did not want to embrace. And yet these titans of our business world weren’t listening to what was being said at their own conference.

A proud nation no longer

A House of Commons committee warned this week that unless the government starts planning now for 2017, Canada’s 150th birthday party will be a pretty lousy affair. It thinks this would be a shame.

Except what’s to celebrate? Or what will be left to celebrate by the time this desiccated husk of a former nation makes it to 2017?

The committee noted that plans for the successful celebration of Canada’s centennial in 1967 began eight years before the fact. So there’s no time to lose.

What if Nexen coveted CNOOC?

Pretend the Canadian shoe was on Chinese feet. Suppose a big, privately owned Canadian energy company sought to buy a Chinese energy company lock, stock and barrel. It offered a lot of money, perhaps more than the company’s current value, in anticipation of a higher value in the future. It promised to keep in place all of the Chinese employees and executives.

Would the deal happen? Not a chance. China plays by one set of rules, Canada and other open economies by another. Their state-owned companies can buy here and elsewhere, while our private companies can’t buy there in sectors the state considers vital to its future.

Budget watchdog may sue gov’t over lack of information

Fed up with what he calls a lack of transparency about federal budget cuts, parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page says he will give the Conservative government one more chance to explain the cutbacks, or he may sue.

Page told CTV’s Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife late Friday he will send one more letter to the government asking officials to explain billions of dollars in cuts. If he doesn’t get a response, Page said he may consider suing for information.

Opposition demands Tories return donations from fugitive businessman

OTTAWA – The Conservative Party didn’t respond Friday to opposition demands that it return thousands of dollars in donations it has received from fugitive businessman Nathan Jacobson.

For the second week in a row, Conservative MPs declined to answer questions from the Liberals about the money from Jacobson, who pleaded guilty to money-laundering connected to an illegal online pharmacy in San Diego in 2008.

Jacobson was released by American authorities and the plea deal was sealed, after which he became active in Canadian philanthropic and Conservative political circles, sponsoring charity events and becoming close to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.

Harper to recuse himself from matters dealing with Talisman Energy

OTTAWA — A family connection could force Prime Minister Stephen Harper to step aside from politically-charged decisions involving a looming foreign takeover of an Alberta energy company.

The Prime Minister’s Office confirmed Friday that Harper has consulted with the ethics commissioner over the fact that his younger brother, Grant, works for Talisman Energy, the Calgary-based oil and gas company.

“The Prime Minister has taken steps internally to avoid ever being involved with any matter dealing with Talisman,” said director of communications Andrew MacDougall. “Matters of general application, like tax rates, are of course not relevant here.”

Omar Khadr back in Canada

Guantanamo prisoner Omar Khadr, the Toronto-born detainee whose decade-long case has bitterly divided Canadians, is back home to serve the remainder of his sentence.

As the Toronto Star first reported, the 26-year-old prisoner was flown off the U.S. Naval base by American government aircraft from Cuba’s southeast shore at 4:30 a.m. Saturday.

He arrived at Trenton military airbase almost four hours later, and Public Safety Minister Vic Toews confirmed his arrival at 7:40 a.m. at a later morning news conference in Winnipeg.

Voter suppression revealed: The stealth attack on Canadian democracy

The widespread accounts of electoral fraud and voter suppression in the 2011 federal election are now a major volume in Canadian electoral history (Have some Pierre Poutine, anyone?). The chapters of this tragic farce are being written by various authors, one of whom is the Council of Canadians (chaired nationally by Maude Barlow), which has given its support to a court case challenging the results in seven ridings (Winnipeg South Centre, Elmwood-Transcona, Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar, Nipissing-Timiskaming, Don Valley East, Vancouver Island North, and Yukon) where there were extensive reports of electoral fraud and voter suppression, and in which individual voters filed applications to the Federal Court of Canada to have the election results overturned as a result of these irregularities, and new elections ordered.

Prodding a passive government into caring about the health of Canadians

In the early 1980s a patient who needed surgery at an Ontario hospital very often had to pay an extra fee to the anesthesiologist, even though that same doctor would be paid a negotiated fee by the universal health insurance system, OHIP, the Ontario Health Insurance Plan.

When this writer required emergency surgery in Ottawa during that period, an anesthesiologist bluntly told him: "We run a closed shop, here. If any anesthesiologist wants to practice in this hospital she or he must extra bill. Otherwise we'll see to it that they don't work here."

This practice of extra billing had become very widespread in a number of provinces by 1984, though it seemed obviously unfair to a great many people.

Subsidizing climate chaos: National youth climate convergence calls for an end to polluter payouts

No matter where you sit on the political spectrum, ending fossil fuel subsidies should be a no-brainer. In fact, that's exactly what former conservative cabinet minister David Macdonald called it prior to the release of this year's federal budget.  

When it comes to stopping climate change, or, at the very least, balancing our federal budget, ending the annual $1.4 billion in fossil fuel subsidies is the lowest of the low-hanging fruit. Why is it, then, that as oil companies rake in historic profits and our government slashes the services we depend upon, we're continuing to dish out an annual bonus to big polluters?

Canada's oil industry calls for environmental groups to be disbanded

Canada’s energy industry is calling for government to disband two organizations involved in monitoring and mitigating the environmental impact of the oil sands.

But, in a surprising twist, a leading environmental group is largely backing the call for change by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, which laid out its proposal in a Sept. 7 letter to federal environment minister Peter Kent and Alberta environment and sustainable resource development minister Diana McQueen.

Stephen Harper discusses threats posed by Iran

NEW YORK, N.Y.—The morning after issuing another passionate defence of Israel and sharply rebuking Iran, Prime Minister Stephen Harper sat down Friday with his Israeli counterpart to discuss the “danger the Iranian regime ultimately presents to us all.”

Harper and Benjamin Netanyahu met in a tiny hotel room in midtown Manhattan to delve into the Iranian situation the day after the Israeli prime minister urged the world to draw a “red line” to stop the Iranians from building a nuclear bomb.

Harper and Kenney shameless in accepting international honours

This is the fall fashion week of the undeserved award, the unearned doctorate and the prizes that anyone with people-smarts would know to turn down. But they don’t.

Why? It’s partly what the philosopher Alain de Botton has described as “status anxiety,” the yearning of the social climber combined with terrible insecurity about how one is perceived by everyone else on the ladder.

It’s a heart-rending affliction but not when politicians catch it. Then it’s just hilarious. I’m looking at you, “World Statesman of the Year” Stephen Harper and soon-to-be “Doctor” Jason Kenney.

Top Toronto city managers report culture of fear, bullying

Senior city managers at city hall are working in “a culture of fear,” scared for their jobs and reluctant to give honest advice if they believe the Ford administration doesn’t want to hear it, former high-level employees say.

A report from the city’s ombudsman released Thursday revealed the administration has been inappropriately interfering with city staff. Former top-ranking Toronto employees say it goes far beyond interference.

Speaking out for the first time, former managers tell the Star about a toxic work environment, where they felt bullied, threatened and encouraged to keep their mouths shut.

Mayor Rob Ford is no longer a laughing matter, should be recalled

“The sad fact is that, in this town, it’s a whole lot easier to get rid of a broken blender than it is to recall a rogue politician. And that’s not right.’’

That was Rocco Rossi speaking during the last municipal election campaign, before he withdrew from the mayor’s race.

Yet his woefully low polling numbers did receive a significant bump — 10 per cent, according to one telephone survey — when he proposed instituting a recall mechanism for tossing out incompetent or maladroit elected politicians before their term was up.

Feast of Fools -- How American democracy became the property of a commercial oligarchy

A longer version of this essay appears in "Politics," the Fall 2012 issue of Lapham's Quarterly; this slightly shortened version was first posted at the TomDispatch website. 

All power corrupts but some must govern.—John le Carré

The ritual performance of the legend of democracy in the autumn of 2012 promises the conspicuous consumption of $5.8 billion, enough money, thank God, to prove that our flag is still there. Forbidden the use of words apt to depress a Q Score or disturb a Gallup poll, the candidates stand as product placements meant to be seen instead of heard, their quality to be inferred from the cost of their manufacture. The sponsors of the event, generous to a fault but careful to remain anonymous, dress it up with the bursting in air of star-spangled photo ops, abundant assortments of multiflavored sound bites, and the candidates so well-contrived that they can be played for jokes, presented as game-show contestants, or posed as noble knights-at-arms setting forth on vision quests, enduring the trials by klieg light, until on election night they come to judgment before the throne of cameras by whom and for whom they were produced.

Europe’s Austerity Madness

So much for complacency. Just a few days ago, the conventional wisdom was that Europe finally had things under control. The European Central Bank, by promising to buy the bonds of troubled governments if necessary, had soothed markets. All that debtor nations had to do, the story went, was agree to more and deeper austerity — the condition for central bank loans — and all would be well.

 But the purveyors of conventional wisdom forgot that people were involved. Suddenly, Spain and Greece are being racked by strikes and huge demonstrations. The public in these countries is, in effect, saying that it has reached its limit: With unemployment at Great Depression levels and with erstwhile middle-class workers reduced to picking through garbage in search of food, austerity has already gone too far. And this means that there may not be a deal after all.

Justin Trudeau Poll Finds Liberals Would Win With Him As Leader

With Justin Trudeau as leader, the Liberal party would defeat Stephen Harper's Conservatives and win the next election, according to a new poll.

The Liberals would best the Tories with Trudeau at the helm and would return the NDP to third-party status, according to a Forum survey conducted for the National Post (click the link above to read more on the Post's poll).

Those figures present a tantalizing prospect for the Liberals and may help lead to a virtual coronation for Trudeau in the upcoming leadership contest.

Election to Decide Future Interrogation Methods in Terrorism Cases

WASHINGTON — Neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney has said much about torture as part of terrorism investigations during the 2012 general campaign. But the future of American government practices when interrogating high-level terrorism suspects appears likely to turn on the outcome of the election.

 In one of his first acts, President Obama issued an executive order restricting interrogators to a list of nonabusive tactics approved in the Army Field Manual. Even as he embraced a hawkish approach to other counterterrorism issues — like drone strikes, military commissions, indefinite detention and the Patriot Act — Mr. Obama has stuck to that strict no-torture policy.

Inmates Smash Windows At Fraser Valley Prison

Inmates in a cell block at B.C.’s Kent Institution maximum security prison smashed the outside windows of their cells last week and as punishment were denied food and access to showers, CBC News has learned.

Inmates in the prison's A block broke the windows, prompting prison staff to deny food to the inmates Sept. 20 and denied them showers for four days.

Minneapolis Shooting: Five Dead Including Gunman At Accent Signage Systems

MINNEAPOLIS — A man fired from his job at a Minneapolis sign-making business pulled out a handgun and began shooting up its offices, fatally wounding the owner and four others before turning the gun on himself, police said Friday.

Andrew Engeldinger, 36, injured at least three others in the Thursday attack at Accent Signage Systems, which Police Chief Tim Dolan said lasted no more than 15 minutes. Dolan also said Engeldinger may have chosen to spare some former co-workers.

"It's clear he did walk by some people, very clear," Dolan said.

Mark Warawa's Motion 408 Aimed At Condemning Sex-Selective Abortion

MPs may have voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to shut down discussion on Canada’s abortion laws, but another Conservative backbench MP has found a new way to keep the debate alive.

Langley, B.C. MP Mark Warawa introduced a motion Thursday calling on the House of Commons to condemn discrimination against females via sex-selective pregnancy termination.

"Recent studies have shown that the practice of aborting females in favour of males is happening in Canada,” Warawa said in introducing his bill. “Ninety-two per cent of Canadians believe sex-selective pregnancy termination should be illegal.”

Canada GDP: July 2012 Saw 0.2 Per Cent Jump, Decline In Mining, Oil And Gas

OTTAWA - Canada's economy continues to defy adverse global conditions and the guarded expectations of experts, posting a 0.2 per cent advance in July that got the third quarter off to an encouraging start.

The expansion was double consensus estimates — some economists had thought a negative number was possible — although the shine was dulled somewhat by a downward revision for June to 0.1 per cent from 0.2.

Harper Slags United Nations, Assails Iran While Picking Up World Statesman Award

NEW YORK, N.Y. – Prime Minister Stephen Harper took a swipe at the United Nations and assailed Iran on Thursday as he picked up an international statesman award, suggesting once again that the UN has too often wooed dictators despite their appalling human rights records and sinister aims.

Canadians expect their government officials to endeavour to make decisions “for the wider interests of humanity,” Harper told a reception at the glitzy Waldorf Astoria hotel after receiving his award from the Appeal of Conscience Foundation.

A government on autopilot

In a recent speech to the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, Mr. Flaherty once again reminded Canadian business leaders that the government had done all it could to support economic growth and job creation, and it was now up to the business sector to do its part.

“Our government continues to create the right conditions to enable Canadians and Canadian businesses to feel confident to invest, to create jobs, to participate in the global market place and to grow our economy. But ultimately, it is up to the private sector to take advantage of all these strengths.”

This follows earlier statements by Mr. Flaherty and Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of Canada, exhorting private business to start investing and stop sitting on all that “dead” capital.

Thousands sign petition calling for status of women minister’s job after abortion vote

By going against party wishes and voting to re-evaluate Canadian policy on where personhood begins, Rona Ambrose, minister of state for the status of women, has sparked not only a backlash, but a debate over whether women can both champion women’s rights and yet have nuanced views about abortion.

Ms. Ambrose faced calls for her resignation and a barrage of criticism Thursday after standing up in support of M-312, a private member’s motion that would have struck a committee to study parts of the Criminal Code that establish when a fetus becomes a legal person.

Who’s the man between the prime ministers?

Whatever the relationship between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Nathan Jacobson, the high-flying Canadian businessman now a fugitive from U.S. justice, one thing is certain: they certainly didn’t just run into each other at a “community event” as the PMO claims.

Jacobson had an intimate relationship with several senior Harper cabinet ministers, paid off a CSIS agent while doing business in Russia, and apparently finessed a secret settlement out of the Canadian government under the Liberal administration of Jean Chretien even though the government denied ruining Jacobson’s business interests abroad.

The Learning Revolution

Anka Mulder, president of the OpenCourseWare Consortium, says traditional universities should embrace, rather than fear, the move towards online learning.

Human development has always been driven by knowledge, and by our capacity to impart this knowledge, cumulatively, to succeeding generations. But as the pool of knowledge continually expands, and demand for access to it increases, the traditional means of sharing it are strained.

The Commons: Racists, anarchists, women’s rights and ‘McCarthyite demagoguery’

The Scene. The House had managed just half a dozen rounds this afternoon before the Speaker was first compelled to admonish those in attendance for the noise. Two more questions after that, he was calling for order again.

It should have been obvious then that we would not get through these 45 minutes without someone being accused of McCarthyism.

About halfway through Question Period, the NDP’s Mylene Freeman stood to state her disappointment with a Conservative MP’s recent choice of committee witnesses.*

Troubled times in Northern Ireland

A hundred years ago this week, half a million men and women in Belfast filed into City Hall to sign the Ulster Covenant: an official petition against “Home Rule”—a move toward a self-governing Northern Ireland, independent of Mother England. Enraged loyalists—convinced that Home Rule “would be disastrous”—gathered to defend their “cherished position” in his gracious majesty’s United Kingdom.

This Saturday, thousands of modern-day loyalists will take to Belfast’s crumbling main streets, to commemorate a battle won. Their republican neighbours—who would have rather seen Home Rule carried through a century ago—are already steeling themselves. The capital city is quiet now, but this past summer it hosted a string of ugly demonstrations that saw bricks, bombs and bullets exchanged across sectarian lines—and young riot officers turn water cannons against civilian crowds. With the memory of Northern Ireland’s bloody “Troubles” still fresh, Belfast residents are counting down to the big anniversary with practised wariness.

Trudeau attracting buzz, but Murray, Garneau, LeBlanc, Cauchon and others still exploring options to run for Grit leadership

PARLIAMENT HILL—Despite the wave of publicity over Grit MP Justin Trudeau’s intention to run for the Liberal party leadership with a nationwide campaign team already in place, Liberal MPs say other prospective candidates, including MP Marc Garneau and Martin Cauchon, one of Jean Chrétien’s most influential past Cabinet ministers from Quebec, are either likely to press ahead with their own plans to become candidates or are leaning in that direction.

Also in the wake of news that Mr. Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) is scheduling an announcement of his candidacy on Oct. 2, at an event in his Montreal riding, B.C. MP Joyce Murray (Vancouver Quadra, B.C.) told The Hill Times on Thursday that she is establishing an “exploratory team” to flesh out her own plans to enter the race and is no longer in the “considering” stage.

Air Force's F-35 recommendation was missing key information

The Royal Canadian Air Force trumpeted the F-35 fighter jet to Canada’s defence minister as the best option for the country even though it was missing key information on competing aircraft, according to a Canadian military insider.

Steve Lucas, former Canadian chief of the air staff, acknowledges in an exclusive fifth estate interview, to air tonight, that the military's recommendation in 2006 to their political masters in Ottawa was based on incomplete data.

Tories quietly table Canada-China investment treaty

The Conservative government is poised to adopt a sweeping new investment treaty between Canada and China without a single Parliamentary vote or debate.

The text of the Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement was released for the first time this week and members of Parliament are just starting to work their way through the legal document.

Rob Ford administration ‘compromised’ recruitment for city boards, ombudsman says

Interference from Mayor Rob Ford’s office that “compromised” the process for citizen appointments to 120 city boards and agencies included an attempt to stop staff from targeting “diverse” candidates in recruitment ads.

That’s the conclusion of city ombudsman Fiona Crean in a scathing report released Thursday — the results of which, compiled through dozens of interviews given under oath, were quickly contested by Ford and his allies even as they accepted all four of Crean’s recommendations.

Stephen Harper chooses the Waldorf over the UN in New York

OTTAWA—There’s a couple of ways to get from the Waldorf Astoria on Park Avenue in New York, over to United Nations headquarters on 42nd.

You can use 2nd Avenue, but you might make slightly better time heading along Lexington.

It should take about three minutes, but, you know traffic in midtown Manhattan. Better budget six minutes.

Top Rob Ford aide asked province to help with $2.8M in football field improvements

Earl Provost, one of Mayor Rob Ford’s top advisors, personally urged Queen’s Park to help bankroll $2.8 million in renovations to Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School’s football facilities, the Star has learned.

The unusual appeal for financial help for the football team coached by Ford was made on March 3 — a Saturday — and there was urgency to the request, sources say.

Ottawa keeps ADHD reports secret

Health Canada has detailed records of probes into ADHD drug safety, including fatalities, that it is keeping secret from the public.

Every six months to a year, drug companies submit summaries of side effects suspected to have been caused by their drugs worldwide, information Health Canada says it evaluates.

These summaries, called periodic safety update reports, are not available to the public.

“They may contain personal or confidential business information,” Health Canada said in an email to the Star.