Saturday, December 29, 2012

Question and answer

Sixth Estate and impolitical have both followed up on the Cons' attempts to attack Canada's opposition parties for having the nerve to ask questions of their government by noting that in contrast to the Cons' spin, the UK offers answers to MPs' questions at a hundredth of the cost. But I'll note that there's plenty more worth comparing between the two systems of questions and answers.

Let's compare the answers to written questions provided by the respective governments of Canada and the UK for October 31, 2012.

The Harper Cons answered two questions in the following terms:
Question No. 827--
Mr. Hoang Mai:
With regard to environmental assessment on the proposed new bridge on the St. Lawrence River at Montreal: (a) why was this assessment done using a screening type of assessment rather than a comprehensive study; (b) what type of assessment will this project be subject to, under the new regulations and changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act as proposed in bill C-38; (c) how many comments did Transport Canada receive concerning this project, before the April 4th Transport Canada deadline, in terms of the Draft Environmental Assessment Guidelines under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, (i) how will these comments be assessed by Transport Canada, (ii) will these comments be made public; (d) what specific expertise will the following federal authorities contribute with respect to the environmental assessment, (i) Health Canada, (ii) Parks Canada, (iii) Federal Bridge Corporation Limited/Jacques Cartier and Champlain Bridges Incorporated, (iv) St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation; (e) what are the financial costs of the environmental assessment; (f) is Consortium Dessau Cima+ the only firm in charge of environmental assessment, (i) have they agreed to respect the preliminary timeline of mid-2014, (ii) will the drafting of the reports by all firms be made public soon after this date, (iii) what are the details of the contract, number T8080-110362, reference number 236518; (g) have the responsible authorities delegated the performance of the environmental assessment to any other party and, if so, (i) have the other parties agreed to respect the preliminary timeline of mid-2014, (ii) will the drafting of the reports by all firms be made public soon after this date; (h) what is the government’s policy in the eventuality that the responsible authorities conclude that the project is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects; (i) what are the public consultation processes involved in the environmental assessment and their timelines; (j) have the responsible authorities established a list of main interested parties and, if so, is it public, and, if it is not public, why not; (k) how many public consultations have been organized to listen to local constituents’ concerns, what was discussed, and are reports available; (l) which First Nations were included in the consultation, when, what points in the process what were discussed, and are reports available; and (m) will the official opposition have the opportunity to examine and comment on the environmental assessment according to subsection 18(3) of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act?
Hon. Denis Lebel (Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities and Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, on January 22, 2012, the minister announced the launch of the environmental assessment, which is expected to be completed by December 2013.

The federal government announced on April 23, 2012, that the consortium Dessau/Cima+ of Montreal has been retained to complete the federal environmental assessment for the new bridge for the St. Lawrence. The assessment will include the environmental and technical components required to formulate recommendations to minimize repercussions of the project on the environment and on communities. The public, the local consultative groups, the private sector and the community groups will have an opportunity to participate in the environmental assessment process. 
Question No. 863--
Ms. Marie-Claude Morin:
With regard to Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission decision 2011-291: (a) what measures are in place to guarantee service for the 13,000 households in Quebec that could be deprived of service; (b) how much funding has been allocated to this issue; and (c) in case of loss of service, what is the plan to provide telephone and high-speed Internet services to the affected residents?

Hon. James Moore (Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, with regard to (a), the CRTC can assure Canadians that they will not lose service due to this decision. One of the key policy objectives of the Telecommunications Act is to render reliable and affordable telecommunications services of high quality to all Canadians in both urban and rural areas. This includes the households served by small incumbent telephone companies in Quebec. The CRTC generally has two approaches to achieving this objective.

One approach is to rely on market forces to deliver high-quality service at a reasonable price. Where competition is strong, customers have a choice of service providers and these companies provide customers with innovative new services. In Quebec, wire line services will soon be available from competitive service providers. These will complement advanced wireless and satellite providers that already offer voice and Internet services to rural subscribers in Quebec.

With regard to (b), in areas where there is not enough competition to achieve this objective, the CRTC’s approach is to provide an annual subsidy to incumbent carriers in order to ensure access to telephone services at affordable rates. In 2011, the total amount of subsidy provided to incumbent carriers across Canada was $156 million; $6.5 million of this subsidy went to the small incumbents that provide service in Quebec.

With regard to (c), it should be noted that the CRTC monitors telecommunications markets across Canada, including the Quebec markets in question. The CRTC has broad powers under the Telecommunications Act that can be used as necessary to achieve its policy objectives, which include access to telecommunications services. 
By way of contrast, here are the three first questions and answers from a much longer list of UK questions from the same day:

Northern Ireland


John Woodcock: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what the average time taken by her Department to settle invoices to external suppliers or contractors was in each of the last three financial years. [125307]
Mike Penning: My Department publishes prompt payment statistics in its Annual Report and Accounts each year.
Comparable figures for the Northern Ireland Office as it is now configured are not available following the completion of the devolution of policing and justice functions on 12 April 2010. In 2010-11, the Department paid 97% of suppliers within 10 days; 43% of payments were made within five days. In 2011-12, the Department paid 97% of all suppliers within 10 days, and 30% within five days.

Press: Subscriptions

Jonathan Ashworth: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to which magazines, journals and newspapers her Department subscribes. [125350]
Mike Penning: My Department does not subscribe to any publications but have the following newspapers delivered for which we are billed monthly by the newsagents:

Irish Independent (Monday to Sunday)

Irish Times (Monday to Saturday)

Daily Mail (Monday to Friday)

The Telegraph (Monday to Friday)

Financial Times (Monday to Friday)

The Guardian (Monday to Friday)

The Independent (Monday to Friday)

The Sun (Monday to Friday)

The Times (Monday to Friday)

The Spectator (Monday to Friday)

Belfast Telegraph (Monday to Saturday)

News Letter (Monday to Saturday)

Irish News (Monday to Saturday)

The NI Daily Mirror (Monday to Friday)

The Sunday Life

Communities and Local Government


John Woodcock: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what the average time taken by his Department to settle invoices to external suppliers or contractors was in each of the last three financial years. [125304]
31 Oct 2012 : Column 214W
Brandon Lewis: The following table shows the average time taken by the Department for Communities and Local Government to settle invoices to suppliers during the last three financial years.
Financial year Average time (in days)
2009-10 6.29
2010-11 4.33
2011-12 4.15
The invoices included in the table are for all suppliers as DCLG does not distinguish between supplier types.
Now, I haven't been a regular reader of the UK's questions and answers, and presume that the above examples are in keeping with how questions are normally dealt with. But I've watched Canada's Hansard closely enough to see the sample above as being normal if not downright generous as an example of the Cons' responses (as they're at least relatively free of spin if equally lacking in substance).

So what differences can we see between the two sets of questions and answers?

To start with, Canadian MPs seem to be far more effective at asking detailed questions which would actually tell an important story if a useful answer were provided, with Hoang Mai's question #827 serving as a prime example on that front. And one might see that as a basis to think we'll get good value paying more for answers.

Here's the problem, though: while the questions and answers would seem like an important means of holding the government accountable, they're rather less useful when the answers consist of nothing but boilerplate talking points and PR messages vaguely related to the subject area of the question asked. And that's all the Cons are deigning to provide. 

While Mai's question includes a specific inquiry as to the number of comments received on the St. Lawrence River bridge project, Denis Lebel's answer utterly fails to provide that piece of information which should be readily available - sticking to pointing to the Cons' own press releases as somehow reflecting a full answer.

Likewise, James Moore's answer to question #863 conspicuously ignores Marie-Claude Morin's question as to the amount of funding allocated to services affected by a particular CRTC decision - instead pointing to overall program funding amounts which have nothing at all to do with the question.

Needless to say, that consistent obfuscation is in stark contrast to the UK's responses, which consist of little more than facts generally responsive to the questions asked. And the difference signals the utter breakdown in accountable government in Canada under the Harper Cons.

We should expect any remotely competent government to ensure that questions can be answered without too much cost or difficulty - whether a question originates within a federal department, or from an MP. And the UK example shows it's entirely possible to get that done.

But the Cons have apparently decided that their interest in limiting the flow of potentially useful information to opposition parties outweighs any sense that a government should actually inform elected representatives about its actions. 

In pursuing that strategy, they first decided that it's easier to not answer questions than to actually address them. And to add insult to injury, they're now trying to claim it's the opposition parties' fault that the Cons can't cut and paste unresponsive content from their own press releases for an average cost of less than $4,000 per question.

The key takeaway is then that the Cons are both inefficient and ineffective in answering simple and direct questions which are intended to hold them to account. And that should serve as yet more evidence that the Cons are in fact far more interested in making sure government doesn't work than in operating it with even the bare pretense of competence.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Lana Payne discusses the contrast between Theresa Spence's selfless efforts to improve the lives of First Nations citizens, and Stephen Harper's callous indifference:
Is a hunger strike the answer? I honestly do not know, but then I have not known Chief Spence’s anguish. After all, she says her act is not about “anger, it is about pain.”

But I do so worry about this brave woman who starves herself while waiting for a meeting with the prime minister. I worry because Stephen Harper is a very stubborn man.

And Chief Spence is asking him, for once, to govern with his heart. I fear, and so want to be proven wrong, that this is not possible for this prime minister.

As I write this, Chief Theresa Spence had spent 15 days, including Christmas Day, on a hunger strike. By the time you read this, more days will have passed.

It is impossible not to compare the differences between this woman and the man she is trying to meet. She inspires hope. He trades in fear. She unites, while he divides.

And yet, this prime minister may have finally met his match. A match made out of desperation, hope, courage and a whole lot of heart.
- Meanwhile, Sixth Estate offers a much-needed primer on the relationship between First Nations and the government of Canada:
(S)ince aboriginal peoples had pre-existing sovereignty over the land, that sovereignty must be extinguished and the land formally ceded to the government of Canada by means of treaties. That’s not their law, or a made-up modern myth: it’s our law. In the Western legal tradition, cession must occur either by formal agreement or by military conquest. Conquest didn’t happen in Canada, and it has been a war crime since 1945, so that option’s out. The only alternative is treaty. This principle was established as legal precedent in Canada by the British after the Seven Years’ War, and it has at least in theory applied ever since.

To that end, and leaving aside some fairly huge additional complications, there are basically two types of First Nations in Canada: ones that have ceded their territory to Canada by means of a treaty, and ones who have not done so. In the latter case, which covers most of British Columbia, for instance, technically “Canadian” society is an extra-legal occupation of aboriginal land. Of course, recognizing this, the First Nations have little incentive to settle for relatively low compensation (the way bands on the Plains did), and the federal government has little incentive to agree to high compensation now, as opposed to kicking the can down the road. As a result, the treaty process is basically a quagmire.

In Ontario and on the Prairies, though, land treaties were signed. The Attawapiskat Cree’s relationship with the Crown was laid out in Treaty Nine. That treaty states, among other things, that in exchange for surrendering all lands, the “Indians” will have continuing hunting, trapping, and fishing rights; that they will have reserves equal in size to 128 acres per capita; that they get $4 each per year in perpetuity; and that the cost of all aboriginal education will be covered by the government. There is no promise to provide healthcare in the written text of the treaty, but it was probably guaranteed verbally, and in any event by the time Treaty Nine was signed the federal government had already agreed to cover the medical costs of all aboriginal people living on reserves as a matter of course.

So there you have it. You can’t abolish reserves, or aboriginal welfare programs, unilaterally and without their consent. I’m sorry. It’s out of my hands, and it’s out of your hands. Now, you may feel — as I do — that we should abolish the Indian Act, shut down the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, get rid of reserves, and do any number of other things, and that as long as things like reserves and the Indian Act and Aboriginal Affairs persist in their present form, aboriginal peoples can never be truly free and their status will always be in some sense colonial as a result.

But none of those things can be done unilaterally. Ironically, the people presently braying that we get rid of the Indian Act and “make the Indians” modernize are doing exactly the same thing as the people who passed the Indian Act in the first place: saying that we know what’s best for aboriginal people in this country, and we’re going to provide it for them, whether they want it or not.
- Lisa Johnson gives her take on Simon Enoch's study of corporate power in Saskatchewan:
Mapping Corporate Power in Saskatchewan suggests that Saskatchewan corporate leaders like Paul J. Hill, Bill Doyle, Gavin Semple and others play a prominent role shaping provincial policy. It also connects some dots between these leaders and national corporate advocacy groups such as the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, the C.D. Howe Institute and the Fraser Institute — which, the report says, points to the “growing political clout of Saskatchewan’s corporate leadership beyond the province.”

 Of course, special interest groups have been purchasing access to and influence over public officials long enough for Canadians to know that the political field of play needs to be regulated. Remember that Stephen Harper, at the helm of the business-backed National Citizens Coalition back in 2004, took the federal Liberal government to court in an effort to remove the $150,000 cap super-rich donors had on their gifts to political parties or politicians. The Supreme Court ruled that even if spending limits appeared to violate individual freedoms, it was for good reason. Limits prevent those with the deepest pockets from dominating public discussion and controlling the whole democratic process.

But the lesson is clear. When money talks, the public needs to watch.
- David Olive discusses how the F-35 fiasco makes for a case study in poor decision-making.

- And finally, Ralph Surette highlights the Cons' attempts to import a U.S.-style gun culture to Canada.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Musical interlude

Better than Ezra - Desperately Wanting

New column day

Here, on how Canadians have a far more positive view of protest movements than of the politicians whose actions bring about the need for activism - and how joining movements like Idle No More can ensure we have less to complain about.

For further reading.
- Environics' polling on public support for British Columbia's HST movement, Occupy and the Quebec student strike is discussed here
- In contrast, see Angus Reid's finding that only 27% of respondents respect politicians - and Ipsos Reid's conclusion that only 9% trust them.
- Which makes for just the time to point out that Idle No More is only picking up steam as a movement.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Thursday Night Cat Blogging

Slightly belated thanks to the holidays, but...

Santa Cats

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Ed Broadbent responds to the Fraser Institute's attempts to minimize the importance of growing inequality:
Economists tell us the chances of finding and keeping a good job today depend more than ever on a high level of education and skills required by new technologies in the marketplace and the loss of unskilled jobs to developing countries. But we have largely failed to equip the unemployed and precariously employed with the skills they need to survive in a new economy. Nor have we adequately increased income supports like the Working Income Tax Benefit for those who work hard but still cannot get ahead.

We cannot dismiss growing inequality by pretending, as the Fraser Institute does, that all Canadians are still getting the equal chances that existed a generation ago. Gross income inequalities destroy equality of opportunity, and even the advantages of any rising incomes for the poor can be wiped out by a less progressive system of taxation or cuts in public investment. The gap between the rich and the poor, and the eating away of the middle class, are cementing the privileges of the most affluent and undermining the legitimate hopes of those who want to do much better.

Canadian values demand that we do something about rising inequality before we turn into a winner-take-all society with a permanent underclass. We are in this together, and that means we must once again care and share. 
 - Petti Fong reports on the Cons' choice to allow HD Mining's illegal whims to override a court order when it comes to the disclosure of temporary work permit records, while Dr. Dawg wonders whether this means we're officially granting China extraterritorial rights over Canada.

- Meanwhile, Will Campbell notes that civil servants pointed out the weakness of the Cons' voluntary drug shortage reporting long before patients started to suffer from a lack of notice that their medications were disappearing. And Mike de Souza's year-end feature reflects on the Cons' attacks on the environment.

- But let's listen to a couple of voices pointing out that we need to focus on what can be done to improve matters, not merely what isn't being done by our current rulers. Zoe Williams writes that defeatism ultimately helps the right-wing cause by ruling out the possibility of change for the better - and most of her message is readily transferable to the Canadian scene:
On the subject of benefits, can we pause to consider how incredibly low that figure of fraud is? In so many other areas of dishonesty – tax avoidance, expenses claims – the rot is never contained to a small core, it always spreads over time, it becomes peer-normalised and then grows exponentially, until the only people who aren't doing it are cranks. And yet, here we are, with this body of people among whom the number of fraudsters is tiny. On top of the honesty, consider in-work benefits, the number of people doing jobs that won't cover their rent, won't cover their childcare, won't put food on the table without government subsidy – working, in other words, for the sheer joy of work. This is a work ethic to die for.

The housing crisis is not a threat, it's an opportunity. We need more social housing, we need a more vigorous construction industry, and we need things for a government to invest in, rather than rounds of quantitative easing, delivering money into the hands of the top 5% and eroding pension annuities. We could climb out of recession on the back of this "crisis" at the same time as halting the hegemony of the private landlord, which is perverting wage spending-power and intensifying inequality. This is one of the few levers the government could actually pull to influence the economy.

UK education is ranked sixth best in the world, and not because Toby Young has set up a free school. The NHS is amazing: not because it's a socialist project, but because it is mind-blowingly good, and efficient, at what it does.

This government wants to govern a nation of crooks, fighting over the last crust of bread. In fact, we are an honest, industrious people with natural resources coming out of our well-educated, disease-free ears. Happy New Year.
 - And finally, Aaron Genest makes a more general case for basing our attempts to speak out and organize on optimism rather than fear:
I think that we (as campaigners) should be telling people up front that it will be a long haul. Tell them that the issues are complex, that interests for the status quo are well entrenched, and that, despite lots of people and investment, it may take years of continued effort before we see significant progress.  On any issue. This means, of course, that the fear-based approach to galvanizing action will fail.

As well it should.

Making people afraid, whether for good or for evil, is the wrong way to approach change. It makes them reactionary, less likely to recognize positive movement (on either side of an issue), and less likely to be taken seriously. It polarizes a debate. So while fear-based tactics are highly successful in getting people to click a Like button or to donate $10 right now, they harm the long term goal of creating an active, politically astute (populace) willing to have serious policy discussions at every level.

So let’s commit to the long game. Regardless of the issue, its apparent urgency, or the value of winning this particular fight, let’s take a page from Lessig’s #rootstrikers campaign. Always build to the next fight. Engage your supporters at the highest level you can and help them move into a more nuanced role. All the while, build your database, encourage engagement, foster discussion, and be up front about the longevity of the campaign. Frame things in terms of battles, if necessary, but never lose sight that they are only skirmishes in a greater theatre.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

#skndpldr Roundup

Not surprisingly, the last week has been fairly quiet on the Saskatchewan NDP leadership front. But I'll offer comments on a couple of developments I hadn't yet discussed.

To start with, Joe Couture reported on questions about the similarities between Cam Broten's leadership platform and the policy report produced from the process he chaired in advance of the previous election. And while I don't see the issue being quite as serious as both Erin Weir and Ryan Meili make it sound in their quotes within Couture's report, I do think it works to the detriment of Broten's core message.

After all, Broten's campaign theme has revolved around his experience and readiness to lead immediately. And he hasn't hesitated to point to his role in the policy review process in support of that argument.

But it strikes me as curious that Broten didn't apparently get out in front of inevitable questions about similarities between his platform and issues already discussed by the party - for example, by pointing back to the consultations and votes held in support of the policy review at the time he was unveiling his leadership platform. Which looks in retrospect like both a missed opportunity to speak to one of his own putative strengths, and an obvious source of potential criticism which has now materialized.

The other main development in recent weeks was Ryan Meili's proposal for a provincial Faith and Social Justice Commission - which looks noteworthy both as a means of ensuring ongoing engagement with faith groups who share common goals with the NDP, and for its accompanying statement of support from Lorne Calvert (reflecting a noteworthy step forward in encouraging past party leaders to comment on the party's current direction).

Again, I'd expect the campaigns to be fairly quiet over the next little while. But since the break in the action offers an ideal opportunity to take stock of where the candidates stand, I'll have plenty to add over the next week - so stay tuned.

Wednesday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Wednesday reading.

- Pat Atkinson highlights what should probably be the story of the year for 2012: the continued degradation of Canadian democracy under a government which views Parliament and the public with an alarming degree of contempt:
Harper's Conservatives see Parliament as a nuisance. Committees meet in secret, and opposition MPs aren't to reveal what is learned. And it is clear that most of Parliament's power has been centralized into a prime minister's office that is determined to control governing party MPs and even its cabinet ministers.

Paul Thomas, professor emeritus of politics at the University of Manitoba, describes the power and effectiveness of Canada's Parliament being "at the bottom of the heap."

"It has lost tremendous ground in terms of public support and confidence," he says.

So why should Canadians care about parliamentary democracy and whether the Harper government introduces two several-hundred-page omnibus bills? After all, the prime minister has a mandate from the people of Canada to govern.

But as Canadians we need to remind ourselves that we elect members of Parliament, not a government or, for that matter, a prime minister. We live in a parliamentary democracy which is "a political system in which the supreme power lies in a body of citizens who can elect people to represent them."

Each time precedents, procedures and even laws are tossed out the window by the prime minister in the name of political expediency with little or no debate, it chips away another brick in our democratic foundation.
Democracy in Canada isn't quite what it used to be. Maybe next year we will start to pay attention.
- Meanwhile, David Pugliese reports on the Cons' efforts to hide even previously-available information about a Canadian troop killed by Israeli forces. [Update: And Dr. Dawg points to the report for those all the more curious about it now that it's being suppressed.]

- The Vancouver Sun makes the case to keep the Christmas spirit in mind throughout the year:
Whatever the origins of the current unofficial Boxing Day holiday, it's an opportunity to remember that while Christmas is always accompanied by a lot of natural Canadian generosity, it's needed all year round, not just on a seasonal basis.

It's one thing to make sure the homeless and the marginalized get a Christmas dinner and some festive cheer to mark the annual festival, it's another to make a commitment to keep the giving going at those times when it's still needed but not so high profile.
Whether we're out there today indulging ourselves or taking it easy at home in recovery mode, let's not forget that the spirit of Christmas isn't a momentary affair that ends on Dec. 26 - it actually begins there.
- Meanwhile, Gail Shea thinks Canada's unemployed should be a bit more charitable toward employers who would like to use them on the cheap.

- Finally, the Tyee's Ideas series checks in on the remarkable progress of the Rolling Jubilee:
In November, Perisic and members of Strike Debt launched the Rolling Jubilee, an initiative that buys up debt only to erase it. Described as a bailout for the people, the project uses online donations to purchase debt in secondary markets (where collectors pay pennies on the dollar for loans already charged off by the banks). Instead of employing aggressive bounty hunting tactics, Occupiers forgive the debt.

It's a symbolic gesture, allowing a few Americans struggling with out-of-control medical, credit card and student debt to start fresh. "We're trying to shine a light on the predatory nature of the industry," she says. "At the same time we're trying to shine a light on how the system works." So far nearly $500,000 in donations have rolled in: enough to buy over $9 million in distressed debt.

"It obviously touched a nerve," Perisic says of the Jubilee's eager public response. Combined with donations to Occupy Sandy, another relief-focused branch of Occupy 2.0, donations to the OWS movement in November 2012 outpaced donations for all of 2011. "We've been getting so many emails," she continues. "What's become obvious is that people are really looking for something to plug into. They want to be part of some collective action."

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Tuesday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your Christmas reading.

- Naomi Klein comments on what we should take from the Idle No More movement:
Chief Spence’s hunger is not just speaking to Mr. Harper. It is also speaking to all of us, telling us that the time for bitching and moaning is over. Now is the time to act, to stand strong and unbending for the people, places and principles that we love.

This message is a potent gift. So is the Idle No More movement – its name at once a firm commitment to the future, while at the same time a gentle self-criticism of the past. We did sit idly by, but no more.

The greatest blessing of all, however, is indigenous sovereignty itself. It is the huge stretches of this country that have never been ceded by war or treaty. It is the treaties signed and still recognized by our courts. If Canadians have a chance of stopping Mr. Harper’s planet-trashing plans, it will be because these legally binding rights – backed up by mass movements, court challenges, and direct action will stand in his way. All Canadians should offer our deepest thanks that our indigenous brothers and sisters have protected their land rights for all these generations, refusing to turn them into one-off payments, no matter how badly they were needed. These are the rights Mr. Harper is trying to extinguish now.

During this season of light and magic, something truly magical is spreading. There are round dances by the dollar stores. There are drums drowning out muzak in shopping malls. There are eagle feathers upstaging the fake Santas. The people whose land our founders stole and whose culture they tried to stamp out are rising up, hungry for justice. Canada’s roots are showing. And these roots will make us all stand stronger.
- And Chelsea Vowel highlights the dire straits facing Canadian First Nations which have necessitated the kind of action we're now seeing.

- Jane Miller laments how far too many people have been trained to sneer at the poor. But Jason DeParle notes that the education system which is supposed to give students of all backgrounds a chance to succeed is in fact serving largely to exacerbate existing inequality.

- Finally, David Climenhaga and Ian Welsh both argue that it's long past time to discuss genuinely Christian values at Christmas - with a heavy emphasis on the admonition that "inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me".

Monday, December 24, 2012

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- Michael Harris asks why Stephen Harper is afraid to look Theresa Spence in the eye:
(Harper) believes that the government’s lying about all these things is far less important than the fact that it is the government. Incumbency is a magic potion. Under its influence, people are supposed to swoon. All too often, they do. That’s the way oligarchs think. Richard Nixon put it in a nutshell when he famously said that if the president did it, then it wasn’t a crime.

Stephen Harper has arrived at the exalted position of Tricky Dick. He thinks that the necessity to tell the truth binds other people, not him. He doesn’t adjust to facts, he manufactures them, and when that doesn’t work, he defies them. The F-35 doesn’t just prove his gross incompetence in the expenditure of mountains of tax dollars — it also shows the arrogant belief that he doesn’t have to explain himself to people he believes would be baffled by an elevated game of checkers.
The PM’s view is that you win some, you lose some. Actually, he’s lost quite a few and will probably lose more in 2013 because of the alleged unconstitutionality of much of his justice legislation as contained in poorly-debated omnibus bills. And that is a universe the prime minister is comfortable in — the winner-take-all world of expensive court rulings and a grinding process — life as an elitist joust where he with the longest lance usually prevails.

Which is why Stephen Harper can’t understand Chief Theresa Spence. She is trying to get things done in the old way, using a habit of liberty not well understood by oligarchs or by people who are demoralized by the state of Canadian politics. She is asking for a face-to-face meeting with the man who is supposed to be working for her, for the people, not just his chosen people. She is asking for something Stephen Harper is not much good at giving — personal answers.

Chief Spence’s request might be the fatigue of a front-line respondent to the worst poverty in the country. It might be dismay at how Harper’s promise to forge a new relationship with Canada’s aboriginals has utterly failed to materialize. It might be the Harper government’s statutory war on the environment without bothering to get aboriginal approval for profound legislative change. It might be cuts to native health care or the abominable state of reserve education. Whatever it is, it has put Stephen Harper in an unfamiliar place — on the defensive.
- But then, Boris notes that if Harper manages to make matters worse by refusing to meet with Spence, he may only use the resulting popular outcry to consolidate his own power. And the fact that Idle No More is receiving plenty of attention on the world stage might not dissuade him from seeing that as an entirely acceptable outcome.

- Jeremy Nuttall takes a look behind the shadowy mining corporation responsible for deliberately establishing a long-term workforce of "temporary" workers:

"Extensive research by United Steelworkers employing sources in China indicates that while Huiyong does hold investments in mines in Shanxi province and the vice general manager of Huiyong, Ma Zhifu, is also the president of the board of a Shanxi mine, there is no publicly-available evidence that the company actually operates any mines," reads the report.

"The company itself seems to consist of little more than an email address, phone number and street address located in a modest building in a Beijing suburb. It has no obvious website -- none in Chinese, none in English."
Recently The Tyee phoned Huiyong Holding's headquarters in Beijing looking for information about the firm, but was told by a receptionist only the company's head could answer such queries.

The receptionist refused to help The Tyee contact the company head or give the person's name.
- Finally, Cameron Dearlove points out how social determinants of health can be applied in an individual's life. But to me, the most important takeaway from the list is that the determinants themselves aren't of much use unless they're applied on a social level: indeed, a belief that it's enough to personally avoid poverty, low-paying jobs or poor housing may be part of the reason why so many people accept similar problems for others.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sunday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Murray Dobbin connects a pattern of economic trends which has seen more and more wealth concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer people to the elimination of public discussion about work life:
The neo-liberal revolution of the 1980s proposed unfettered capitalism -- privatization, a downsized state, deregulation, free trade, low taxes and last but not least so-called "labour flexibility." That convenient euphemism simply means reducing the power, and independence of labour through cuts to EI and welfare and maintaining high unemployment levels that suppress wages. All of these initiatives were driven by globalization -- the hyper-competition of a voracious capitalism driven by finance capital.

But globalization is in its death throes and national economies are back. Those countries able to take advantage of robust domestic economies will fare better than those still trying to compete in a world of ever-increasing trade which no longer exists. Domestic economies thrive on high wage jobs and citizens who actually have money to spend and savings to fall back on when things get tough. They thrive when workers thrive -- when they feel valued, have enough leisure time to rest between work days, and are able to fully separate work from family life and, of course, when they have access to child care and elder care.
The days of ever-expanding trade are over but suddenly that strong domestic economy -- a safety net at a time of global recession -- has been severely weakened. Corporate CEOs and governments show no sign of having figured this out so the misery is likely to continue. Unions are scarcely any more attuned. Perhaps they should base their organizing and bargaining efforts more on work-life balance issues and demonstrate that they, at least, understand the problem.
- But then, Dr. Dawg notes that another problem has contributed to our continued corporatist drift - and it will take far more discussion about what we can do better (rather than merely what we're trying to preserve) to truly motivate citizens who have tuned out petty squabbles over what slightly different corporate-friendly options are available.

- And Sheila Pratt reports on Environics polling showing both that conservative economic messages have little resonance with the public at large, and that a strong majority of Canadians support protest movements to ensure citizens' needs are better reflected in public policy.

- Meanwhile, Bill Tieleman points out that continued poverty and inequality are antithetical to the spirit that should animate the Christmas season.

- Finally, Susan Delacourt laments the selection of Luka Magnotta as Canada's newsmaker of the year.