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.]

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Canadian government 'knew of plans to dump iron into the Pacific'

As controversy mounts over the Guardian's revelations that an American businessman conducted a massive ocean fertilisation test, dumping around 100 tonnes of iron sulphate off Canada's coast, it has emerged the Canadian government may have known about the geoengineering scheme and not stopped it.

The news combined, with Canadian obstructionism in negotiations over geoengineering at a United Nations biodiversity meeting in Hyderabad, India, has angered international civil society groups, who have announced they are singling out Canada for a recognition of shame at the summit – the Dodo award for actions that harm biodiversity.

Mega-Quarry Pits Taters Versus Craters

A billion tonnes of limestone lie beneath the rural countryside in Melancthon Township, 100 kilometres north of Toronto. A plan to remove it spotlights the challenges faced everywhere when the desire to protect valuable and ever-diminishing farmland clashes with efforts to push industrial development.

The Highland Companies, backed by a $25-billion Boston hedge fund, hopes to blast a big hole in this fertile land to get at a deposit of 400-million-year-old sedimentary rock. The pit would cover more than 930 hectares and be almost 20 storeys deep -- the second-largest quarry operation in North America, and the largest in Canadian history.

The Biggest Threat to Democracy: Politicians or Terrorists?

We take it for granted that we live in a democracy. That label for our political system is, however, no longer accurate. Premier Dalton McGuinty's decision to shut down the Ontario legislature until his successor is chosen (whenever that might be) is further evidence that our democracy is under constant threat, more so in fact by the powerful than by terrorists.

Kenney seeks power to bar people from entering Canada for ‘public-policy considerations’

Anti-Muslim preacher Terry Jones’s attempt to get into Canada demonstrates the need for Ottawa to be given a broad new discretionary power to keep some people out of the country, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney argues.

Mr. Jones, a publicity-seeking provocateur whose Koran-burning demonstrations have sparked violent protests in the Muslim world, was barred from entering Canada last Thursday.

Brooks scrambling to prepare for human cost of beef plant layoffs: mayor

The mayor of the southern Alberta city of Brooks says the community is in turmoil as it prepares for the human cost of troubles at the XL Foods beef plant.

Workers at the plant, which is at the centre of an extensive beef recall and E. coli scare, were laid off again Wednesday as food safety officials prepared to review whether the meat packer can reopen.

"We're in crisis mode," Mayor Martin Shields said Wednesday in an interview with The Canadian Press.

Right-to-Work: The (Ayn?) Rand Formula

There's reluctance among Canadian proponents to call for it by name. But Right-to-Work (longer, harder, without representation or recourse, for less money and fewer sick days or pee breaks) seems to be the flavour du jour amongst… ahem… politicians of a certain age.

(By which I mean the Age of Dickens. Pip-pip, cheerio, y'all.)

There are some folks who think we hit the high-water mark for social progress in the workplace somewhere between Cro-magnon Man and Ward Cleaver. So to bring things back into balance, a few individuals and their well-connected friends are hell-bent on dragging unionized workers -- for their own good, of course -- behind the woodshed to administer a free-market thrashing.

Charitable organizations: A pillar of democracy

While you're reading this, about two million employees are busy trying to make our world a little bit better through their work at Canada's 80,000-plus registered charitable organizations.

Some of these charitable organizations are giants among goodwill agencies. When natural disaster strikes, for instance, Canadians turn to charitable organizations such as the Canadian Red Cross, CARE, Oxfam, or UNICEF.

Canada's charitable organizations reflect the full spectrum of public priorities: environmental protection, education, health care, children's well-being, youth engagement, seniors' supports, poverty reduction, help for the homeless, and more.

Worst grape harvest in half century in Europe leaves some vineyards high and dry

BRUSSELS— Drought, frost and hail have combined to ravage Europe’s wine grape harvest, which in key regions this year will be the smallest in half a century, vintners say.

Thierry Coste, an expert with the European Union farmers’ union, said Wednesday that France’s grape harvest is expected to slump by almost 20 per cent compared with last year. Italy’s grape crop showed a 7 per cent drop — on top of a decline in 2011.

Toronto cabbies: Hundreds on welfare, auditor general finds

Toronto’s auditor general has found that 759 licensed taxi drivers were also social assistance clients in 2011 and 2010.

What isn’t known is whether they had no work, or whether they concealed income from cab driving.

Driver representatives say it’s most likely a shortage of work is causing people to turn to welfare.

New elections commissioner gets substantial bump in salary

OTTAWA — The new Commissioner of Canada Elections could earn more than $1 million over four years under an unusual employment arrangement with Elections Canada.

Yves Côté, who took over the job as elections watchdog this summer, gets a substantial bump in remuneration and will be paid under a contract with the agency instead of being hired on staff.

Mitt Romney Adviser On Lilly Ledbetter Act: 'He Was Opposed To It At The Time'

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- Had Mitt Romney been president in 2009, he would not have signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law, a top adviser to the Republican nominee told The Huffington Post Tuesday night.

Now that the law has been passed, Romney has no plans to get rid of it, that adviser, Ed Gillespie, added. But Romney didn't support it while it made its way through Congress.

Romney’s Seven Biggest Debate Lies

Perhaps the most famous moment to come out of Tuesday night’s presidential town-hall style debate in Hempstead, New York, was when moderator Candy Crowley fact-checked Mitt Romney on the spot on Libya.

But that isn’t the only time the Republican candidate said something completely false—it was perhaps just the most obvious. Here are the seven biggest lies Romney told:

ROMNEY: “We have fewer people working today than we had when the president took office.”

This is flatly false. The Bureau of Labor statistics just revised estimates from March 2011 to March 2012 upwards by 386,000 jobs—meaning that Obama crossed the magic imaginary barrier of net job creation for his term, and has actually created a net positive 125,000 jobs. This is a simple fact. And there have been 868,000 jobs created in the private sector during this time, which have been offset by public sector job losses—something Mitt Romney would like to see continue.

Conservatives Bravely Defend Kids' Right to Junky Lunch

Call it the tater tot rebellion. In 2010, President Obama signed into law the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which modestly increased federal expenditures on school lunches and also overhauled the rules that governed them. No longer would federally subsidized school lunch cafeterias act as a kind of unfettered free-enterprise zone for the food industry's "Dinosaur Shaped Chicken Nuggets" and frozen pizzas. The new rules put limits on calories per meal and mandated that more fruits and vegetables be served. And now, according to media reports (see here and here), students nationwide are organizing strikes and social media campaigns to protest the new rules.

MacKay defends Canadian troops involved in allied Afghan combat posts

OTTAWA - For the second day in row, Defence Minister Peter MacKay fended off Opposition attacks Tuesday over Canadian troops serving in combat roles with allies in Afghanistan.

Fewer than half a dozen members of the military — most of them with the air force — are part of exchange programs with British, Australian and U.S. forces, all of which are still+ engaged in anti-Taliban operations in Kandahar.

Whistleblower forced investigation of TransCanada pipeline

A former TransCanada engineer says he reported its substandard practices to the federal energy regulator because he believed the company’s management, right up to the chief executive officer, refused to act on his complaints.

In an exclusive television interview with CBC News, Evan Vokes said he raised concerns about the competency of some pipeline inspectors and the company’s lack of compliance with welding regulations set by the National Energy Board (NEB), the federal energy industry regulator.

Despite E. coli scandal, it’s business as usual for XL Foods

So that’s it, then?

XL Foods, whose unsanitary, licence-violating practices over five days resulted in at least 15 people being poisoned with E. coli and sparked the largest red-meat recall in Canadian history, plans to be back in the slaughtering business by week’s end and shipping meat to stores again within 10 days.

By all appearances, there will be no fines, no sanctions, no extra scrutiny, no public inquiry.

Don’t we teach our children that, when you screw up, there are consequences?

‘Disturbing’ level of harassment in the federal public service

Nearly one in three federal public servants report they have been harassed at work over the past two years and in at least one government agency that level stands at more than 50 per cent, an analysis by iPolitics reveals.

The analysis of the latest Public Service Employee Survey, conducted in 2011, found that 51 per cent of employees at Indian Oil and Gas Canada said they had experienced harassment on the job — 53 per cent of women and 40 per cent of men. That was a sharp increase from the already high level of 44 per cent reported in the last survey in 2008.

Tory minister's campaign spending records raise questions

New records obtained by CBC News are raising more questions about the election spending of Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Peter Penashue.

Documents in Penashue's Elections Canada file show he and his campaign racked up $24,711 in flights during the 2011 election campaign, but an airline in his riding wrote off most of that amount under an agreement that appears to have been made months after the election was over.

Secret committee meetings harm Canadian democracy, say critics

Increasing use of in camera, confidential meetings in House committees are muffling meaningful debate and obscuring public access to important information, allege opposition MPs and veteran journalists.

House Committees spent 55 per cent of their time in camera in September, according to figures compiled by Canadian political watchdog blogger The Sixth Estate* as part of his Open Government project, an independent, ongoing project to rival that of the majority Conservative government's initiative of the same name.

China Investment Treaty: Expert Sounds Alarms in Letter to Harper

[Editor's note: Gus Van Harten, a global authority on investment trade deals and international arbitration panels, has written a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper urging a full public review of a highly controversial investment and promotion treaty with China, the world's second largest economy. We publish that letter below.

The Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) has profound implications for Canadian labour law, environmental regulations and democratic standards. If enacted by Nov. 1, the trade promotion deal will give unprecedented powers to China's state owned enterprises (SOEs) that are now investing billions in Canada's natural resources. The 41-year-old Osgoode law professor not only teaches investment law but is also the author of Investment Treaty Arbitration and Public Law (Oxford University Press, 2007). Unlike most experts in the field of investment trade deals, Harten makes no income from the lucrative legal work of international trade arbitration. Investment trade lawyers typically make between $1,000 to $2,000 an hour.

Neither the prime minister nor anyone on his behalf had responded to Van Harten's letter as of 4:30 p.m. eastern time, Tuesday, Oct. 16.]

Civilization ends, history begins at Canada’s biggest museum

OTTAWA—Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government has ushered in the end of civilization — at least when it comes to the name of Canada’s largest museum.

The old Museum of Civilization, which sits directly across the river from Parliament Hill, has been renamed as the Canadian Museum of History. And with the new name, the museum also gets a $25-million cash injection and a sharper focus in its job — to take Canadians on a “narrative” tour of the country’s past.

New $20 banknote costs Bank of Canada a pretty penny

OTTAWA — The Bank of Canada spent a sizable sum of taxpayer green to unveil its new green $20 banknote.

Canada’s central bank spent the equivalent of nearly 2,000 new $20 bills — or close to $40,000 in total — to announce the new polymer banknote and display a seven-storey image of it on the Bank of Canada’s headquarters in downtown Ottawa, reveal new documents obtained by Postmedia News under access to information legislation.

Harper won’t honour stance on jumbo omnibus bills, says opposition

OTTAWA — Opposition MPs are calling Prime Minister Stephen Harper a hypocrite and urging him to follow his own advice on curtailing the use of omnibus bills to pass controversial government legislation.

As the Conservative government prepares to table its second sweeping budget implementation bill, MPs debated a Liberal party motion Tuesday that called for a House of Commons committee to examine what “reasonable limits” should be placed on omnibus legislation and for the committee to report back by December.

Scrums: Society of the spectacle

Usually, after the first round of questions, the prime minister busies himself with paperwork.

Question period is something he is present for, but most days it seems Prime Minister Stephen Harper is there only to relive, if for only the first few questions from both opposition parties, the days where he, standing on the other side, would engage in rhetorical battles about the operations of government.

Stephen Harper is made to face the farce

The Scene. Two-thirds of the way through Question Period this afternoon, Megan Leslie rose to table a conundrum—to present to the House the foundational dissonance upon which rests so much nonsense. Here was the bare farce, exposed for all to see. After some weeks of merely referring to it, the New Democrats were apparently now prepared to confront it.

“Mr. Speaker, here is what the Prime Minister said in a speech on May 29, 2008 in London, England,” Ms. Leslie prefaced. ” ‘I should mention that while our plan will effectively establish a price on carbon of $65 a ton, growing to that rate over the next decade, our government has opted not to apply carbon taxes.’ ”

Pew Climate Change Poll Reveals That Less Than Half Of Americans Make Anthropogenic Connection

Recent polling conducted by the Pew Research Center suggests that a greater number of people in the U.S. are accepting the reality of climate change. 67 percent of Americans said that there is "solid evidence" that average global temperatures have been rising in recent decades, signaling a gain of four points since last year and 10 points since 2009. Yet only 42 percent say this warming is "mostly caused by human activity," according to Pew.

In a presidential election marked by accusations of "climate silence" and a lack of forthright discussion of what has been called a "planetary emergency," the Pew polling reveals another stark difference between supporters of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

State Department official: Negotiations to extend U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan starting soon

Despite statements by Vice President Joe Biden, the State Department is about to begin formal negotiations over the extension of U.S. troops past 2014, a top State Department official said Tuesday.

 Last week, U.S. and Afghan negotiators met in Kabul to talk about the Bilateral Security Agreement that will govern the extension of U.S. troops past 2014, when President Barack Obama said the combat mission in Afghanistan will end and the U.S. will complete the transition of the entire country to Afghan government control.

Iran Attack Poll Finds Canadians And Americans Don't Agree

Canadians would not support a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s nuclear-enrichment program, according to a new poll. But Americans might.

The poll by Ipsos-Reid, conducted earlier this month in both countries, shows 59 per cent of Canadians would oppose their country participating in such a pre-emptive strike, though 87 per cent nevertheless consider it somewhat or extremely important to deal with the threat. A solution that involves Canada's armed forces, however, is not a popular one.

Nexen CNOOC Deal: Poll Finds 8 In 10 Don't Want Foreign Governments Owning Canadian Resources

Maybe we’re are getting all proud and nationalistic about our oil wealth, or maybe the fear of the big, red Chinese communist bear still resonates in the living rooms of the nation, but whatever the reason, Canadians are solidly opposed to a Chinese takeover of Nexen.

Nearly six in 10 polled by Angus-Reid are against the takeover by the Chinese state-owned oil company, CNOOC, with opposition highest in western Canada.

Budget cuts are hurting bilingualism, official languages watchdog warns

Canada’s languages watchdog is raising the alarm about “a language chill” in the way government budget cuts affect the right to work – and be served – in either French or English.

Official languages commissioner Graham Fraser said Tuesday his office is receiving frequent complaints about the government’s downsizing and its affect on the bilingual nature of work in the federal public service.

Immigration minister to give criteria for denying entry to Canada

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says he'll soon give Parliament more information about a proposed power for the minister to deny people from entering Canada even if they don't have a serious criminal record.

The power is included in Bill C-43, legislation that would give sweeping powers to the minister of immigration. MPs will vote Tuesday night on whether to send the bill to committee for study.

It's Time to Debate Bain Capitalism

Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, the veteran Democratic leader who mentored a young Barack Obama and remains one of the president’s closest allies, was not planning to be at Obama’s side for today’s final round of debate preparation.

Rather, Durban was headed back home to Illinois for a meeting with workers at the Sensata Technologies plant in Freeport, where 170 employees are slated to lose their jobs to outsourcing before the end of the year.

Ontario loses WTO ruling on green energy policies: reports

Ontario has apparently lost a key trade challenge to its green energy policies that force companies to buy equipment from local manufacturers, according to reports out of Europe.

A reputable international trade newsletter said Monday the World Trade Organization has issued a preliminary report that agrees with Japan and the European Union, in their complaint about Ontario’s support for its renewable energy industry.

Foxconn: Underage Interns Working At Factory, Apple Supplier Says

BEIJING, China - The company that manufactures Apple's iPhone said Tuesday it found underage interns as young as 14 working at one of its factories in China.

Foxconn Technology Group said the interns were found by a company investigation at its factory in the eastern city of Yantai and were sent back to their schools. China's minimum legal working age is 16.

Loblaw Job Cuts To Affect About 700 Head Office, Administrative Jobs In Toronto

TORONTO - Loblaw Co. Ltd. (TSX:L) is cutting hundreds of mostly head office jobs as Canada's largest supermarket chain continues a makeover aimed at making it more competitive in the increasingly crowded grocery segment.

"We're managing costs where it makes sense by reducing administrative expense," Loblaw president Vicente Trius said in announcing some 700 management and administrative jobs were being trimmed.

Councillor Doug Ford says Mayor's itineraries don't reflect all that he does

Councillor Doug Ford is once again defending how the mayor of Toronto spends his time, saying his brother’s internal itineraries are not an accurate reflection of his long and jam-packed days.

“I’ll tell you right now, every meeting Rob has isn’t on his schedule,” the councillor said. “It’s very simple. He doesn’t want people being harassed with the media and he goes from morning to tonight. He goes to events, he does constituent calls ... I just walked by his office: there’s four constituents in there waiting for him right now.”

B.C. Conservatives mail letters of discipline, expulsion to 15 dissidents

VANCOUVER - The B.C. Conservatives have mailed out letters of expulsion or censure to 15 of its members, created a "unity committee" and now hope to move beyond the internal strife that has plagued the organization, says the party's president.

Following several meetings over the weekend, the party's board announced Monday it had mailed out the letters because of ongoing calls from dissidents for a review of John Cummins' leadership in contravention of a party bylaw.

Federal government poised to bring in second budget bill

OTTAWA — One of the nastiest political brawls of the fall parliamentary sitting is expected to start within days, as the Conservative government has signalled it will table its second budget implementation bill as early as Thursday.

As the government prepares to introduce its next budget bill, it’s also overhauling the senior ranks of the public service in many of its major economic portfolios.

Ottawa’s plan for museums met with skepticism, outrage

Ottawa’s plan to rename the Canadian Museum of Civilization and create a new network of history museums across the country is being met with skepticism in academia and outrage in opposition ranks.

But the federal government said the newly minted Canadian Museum of History will benefit from a fresh influx of cash for a relaunch ahead of the country’s 150th anniversary in 2017, in a bid to showcase an apolitical vision of Canada’s storied past.

Why rush Canada-China investment deal?

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said his government will stay neutral in the debate between B.C. and Alberta over the Northern Gateway pipeline.

To do so, he must put the brakes on the Canada-China investment treaty. The federal government revealed the Canada-China treaty a few weeks ago and is rushing to finalize it. The PM is proceeding without provincial consent, without an opportunity for careful study, and without a serious public debate.

Irving tries to keep contract details secret

OTTAWA — Irving Shipbuilding Inc. is fighting through Canada’s federal court to keep its shipbuilding contract with the government secret.

The federal government has received an access to information request to release the umbrella agreements it signed with Irving and Seaspan Marine, the two main companies pegged to build Canada’s next fleet of ships.

'The system is sick and corrupted': Quebec's political house of cards comes crumbling down

So I guess now we know what former premier Jean Charest was so worried about. Speculation ran rampant this summer that the curious timing of Quebec's provincial election was forced by the fear of what would come out as the Charbonneau commission resumed hearings into corruption in the construction industry in mid-September.

It turns out that pre-election bombshell revelations from the likes of Jacques Duscheneau, who alleged that over 70 per cent of political contributions in Quebec consisted of illegal 'dark money', were simply the tip of the iceberg.

Failing grades: The Canadian resource economy -- Part 1

Many Canadians understandably chafe under the designation of "hewers of wood and drawers of water." Yet geography it what it is and our country is blessed with energy resources, minerals, forests, arable land, and fisheries. This richness of natural resources should and does not constrain the developmental vision of Canada. For instance, counter to any expectation or intuition, the Canadian based Cirque du Soleil has become one of the world's foremost exemplars of nouveau cirque, almost single-handedly transforming the fast-vanishing circus tradition from a fading and tawdry showcase to a leading vehicle for the imaginative performing arts -- who would have imagined it? Properly employed natural resources can not only be an enormous asset, but can also pave the way for a robust, diverse, and resilient Canadian economy.

Colorado's working poor: 'Suddenly, I'm living below the poverty line'

The first visit to the food bank is always the hardest. Michelle Venus, 52, cried. "Not while I was there," she said. "But before and after." Four years earlier, she'd been a homeowner in a $75,000 a year job. She'd donated to the food bank's fundraising drives. Now she was there to pick up food she couldn't afford to buy. "It was not what I'd expected for myself or from myself. It was just a really hard day."

Mark Weaver, 54, the former chairman of nearby Loveland chamber of commerce, tried to avoid the gaze of acquaintances he'd met when he attended the food bank's galas. "It was very humiliating," he says. "I used to take clients to their events, and all of a sudden I'm living below the poverty line." He used to earn a six-figure salary plus commission plus benefits, and also chaired the Northern Colorado Legislative Alliance, which lobbied local politicians on behalf of the business community. He made up his mind to go after a friend, a well-paid software engineer who'd also fallen on hard times, told him to: "Get over being proud."

Canadian foreign policy doesn’t align with Quebeckers’ values: Premier Marois

After proclaiming that Quebec should speak in its own voice, Pauline Marois criticized Stephen Harper’s international outlook as foreign to Quebeckers’ values in a speech delivered in Paris to an audience of diplomats, elected officials, and students.

“Quebeckers no longer recognize themselves in Canada’s foreign policy, which has turned its back to a tradition of openness, mediation, and multilateralism,” Ms. Marois said on Tuesday during a half-hour address at the French Institute for International Relations. Ms. Marois said the death of the Kyoto accord on greenhouse gas emissions perfectly symbolizes this: Quebeckers expected more ambitious emission reductions, while Ottawa pressed for more lenient targets.

Don’t curate the peacemaking out of Canadian history

In keeping with their wish to refashion the national consciousness, our arch-conservatives have an eye on museums.

As reported in this newspaper, changes will see the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the largest museum in the land, become a history museum with an emphasis on showcasing our great deeds.

Other museums, according to the report, will be asked to do more to reflect past glories. It’s expected there will be an emphasis on the military and conflicts, such as the War of 1812. In keeping with this, the government has announced it is renaming buildings in Ottawa in honour of 1812 veterans. The monarchy will be given a greater place in museums, as will our sporting heritage, particularly hockey. At hockey games, we’re now expected to stand and cheer thunderously when military personnel are introduced, as though it’s the 1940s.

Unions decry influx of foreign mining workers

A group of labour unions has written to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and B.C. Premier Christy Clark to raise concerns about a pending influx of temporary foreign workers to the B.C. mining sector. The unions say Canadian workers could do the jobs for which foreign workers are being hired.

“We believe this mass importation of labour is completely unnecessary and is simply a strategy to employ lower-paid workers who are compliant with the culture of coal mining in China,” said the October 15 letter from the Bargaining Council of B.C. Building Trades Unions, which represents 15 unions whose members include plumbers, sheet metal workers and others involved in the construction industry.

Canada Puts Spotlight on War of 1812, With U.S. as Villain

DUNVEGAN, Ontario — Although it produced “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the War of 1812 does not get much attention in the United States. In Canada, however, the federal government is devoting surprising attention to the bicentennial of the conflict, which it describes bluntly in a new television commercial as an act of American aggression against Canada.

 Much about the war is fiercely debated by historians but one thing is clear: Canada was not yet a country at the time of the war, which pitted the United States against the British.