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Minimum wage in Canada's North

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January 11, 2018Coffee break with George: Minimum wage, Tim Hortons and cost of living in Canada's NorthGeorge Lessard and Victoria Fenner talk about how residents of northern Canada survive on minimum wage (spoiler: Tim Hortons pays more than minimum wage in Yellowknife).
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The good news about the Trump Presidency: stupid can be good!

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The Clarkson Story up until Now and the Uncertain Future of The WTO

Progressive economics forum - Thu, 2018-01-11 05:51

Stephen Clarkson

The following is a contribution in the blog series on the exceptional contribution of Stephen Clarkson to Canada.  Stephen Clarkson died in 2016. The substantial work he undertook on Canada and international trade is particularly relevant today as negotiations on NAFTA and other trade agreements occur.


Stephen Clarkson receiving the Order of Canada


Daniel Drache

Daniel Drache was a long-time colleague and friend of Stephen.  He is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at York University and former Director of the Robarts Centre for Canadian Studies. His work focuses on understanding the changing character of the globalisation narrative in its economic, social and cultural dimensions. He has worked extensively on the WTO’s failed Doha Round with particular focus on TRIPS and public health, food security and nutrition, and poverty eradication. 

The Clarkson Story up until Now and the Uncertain Future of the WTO

Daniel Drache

The Clarkson Gaze

The story so far is about the events roiling the global economy and Stephen’s unique gaze in the way in which he interpreted them. His inexhaustible appetite for research on North America, globalization, political parties, political leaders and, above all, the power dynamics between Uncle Sam and stick figure Johnny Canuck gave him an over-sized palette.[1] He was focused on big ideas, instinctively drawn to the most important: the continuing relevance of sovereignty and state power at a time of interdependence.

In a way that makes history full of surprises, the story until now is that many governments also share a growing scepticism about the effectiveness of the WTO dispute resolution mechanism, a topic which loomed large in Clarkson’s writing and research. In 2014, only seven new cases were filed, a paltry number in a trillion dollar plus commercial world. For the two previous decades, there were 450 cases, the majority were North South and North North. The US, Canada, and the EU were the most litigious, as well as Brazil and India have become  “trade warriors” in defence of their core interests. Most other Global South countries had neither the legal culture nor the money to roll the dice in the WTO trade dispute lottery-like system.

In 1994, when the system was brand new, the number of cases averaged about 40 per year, and, since then, with more than 100 new members the trade gendarme of the world barely averages a baker’s dozen. Where have all disputes gone?

Clarkson was aware that WTO rules are very confrontational and thought-provoking in this regard. The WTO permits states to use protectionist policies not always, but frequentlNumerous experts and scholars believed that globalization had made the world borderless, where people, ideas and commodities all moved across the world with few constraints. Conventional wisdom argued that the once mighty Westphalian state was so porous that it could no longer defend national values and goals.[2] Many scholars embraced the notion that, in an age of global cultural and economic flows, borders were dysfunctional barriers in need of further dismantling. Stephen did not.

Instead his work was a curious hybrid of seeing the world through the eyes of an increasingly bleak dystopia about Canada’s chances of surviving the python-like embrace of market-driven integration. On better days, he became a hard-nosed sceptic about these mega-trade deals when Canada’s policy élites were stumbling over each other to ink new ones, first with Uncle Sam, Mexico and then a whole host of other countries including the EU, China, India, Korea and Israel, to name but the most important. He was arguably the best Canadian researcher at documenting and de-constructing this neo-liberal universe, thereby exposing Canada’s chronic dependent relationship on the US with less and less policy-space to manoeuvre with each passing decade.[3] In his own words,

“With NAFTA and an emboldened WTO, Canadian programs suddenly found themselves subject to invasive WTO commercial norms and export centric policies that marginalized any need for industrial strategies to diversify and build stronger Canadian industries as a buffer zone against the excesses of resource dependency.”

He raged against the Liberal state machine that was always eager to go with the continental flow of power and resources, and he believed that the big red machine of the Liberal Party could be stopped although it was likely not to happen. So, he was a unique figure who had at the very least two voices: a critical observer of the trade governance system and, in moments of lucidity and despair, an advocate of more radical institutional surgery, namely, to sink the investor state dispute settlement provision (ISDS) and, along with it, much of the system of trade governance.

There is much we can learn from the Clarkson gaze about the tightly-written future and the unpredictable wild swings of global dynamics from global economic integration. With hard Brexit, the election of Trump, the cancellation of the TPP and now the unilateral re-opening of NAFTA, we’ve entered a different and dangerous age with less stability than ever. US President Trump has become Canada’s worst nightmare, attacking Canadian dairy and lumber practices, and demanding fundamental change to the NAFTA agreement. All these projects gave Clarkson a vast canvas and focused his attention on the incompatibility between the requirements of these trade agreements and the anxieties that citizen experience about job loss, threats to the environment, and growing inequality. He also worried that the rise of powerful ‘nixers’ in Washington and the corrosive forces of structural adjustment had irreversibly transformed the landscape of international relations from everything that went before.[4]

These tropes are still very much with us today to fix, shrink or sink trade governance.[5] We need to think a lot about fear and anxiety, not only because of the ‘mad king’ Donald in Washington, but because the pillars of trade multilateralism are no longer coherent, even though they continue to be a force to be reckoned with. We will look at two big picture ideas of his. First, what Stephen identified occurring around us is the emergence of a highly flammable situation. When institutions fail to adapt to novel conditions, frequently like these times contagious, dangerous state policies migrate towards the center right and hard right neo-populist end of the spectrum. Secondly, analytically and intellectually he was absorbed by the deteriorating dynamics of the nixer-fixer crisis-fraught binary many states and social movements adopted in the search for options. This geopolitical positioning inevitably led them and him to radically different solutions about the uncertain future of trade governance.

Paralysis, Fear, and Decay

The growing paralysis triggered by polarized conjunctural politics as well as structural stagnation has its convoluted roots in the architecture and agenda of the WTO, which was oversold to governments as a guarantor and regulator of the world trading system.[6] It promised a level playing-field for all and a development accelerator for the Global South plus new market-access and increased competitiveness for industries on both sides of the global divide.

In the Clarkson view of the world, he saw something dramatically askew. The institutional wheels had fallen off these clichéd policies because trade deals had become an omnibus multipronged policy. In the process export-centric mega-deals went far beyond their original mandate. Instead, they became invasive investor-centric agreements that ubiquitously challenged the state’s competence to regulate effectively in the public interest. The predictable result was that governments are facing a backlash and push-back from social movements, non-scripted actors, and highly informed non-governmental organizations.[7]

In a primary sense Clarkson understood that that trade agreements were marketed to largely indifferent and often passive publics because there were no credible alternatives to the widely-subscribed belief that “There is no Alternative” (TINA). Doom and fatalism were the red lines of political discourse that could not be crossed. However, since 2008, (and often before the global financial crisis in the ‘Battle for Seattle’), a Niagara of campaigns, street demonstrations and social media mobilization energized publics, particularly in the EU where, in Germany, Belgium and France, grassroots social movements mobilized hundreds of thousands of protesters against the proposed Canada-EU free-trade agreement (CETA).

Still Clarkson’s dark pessimism about the unstoppable momentum of third-generation trade deals found itself on the right side of history. The future of many trade and investment deals are in limbo because European public opinion is increasingly suspicious and hostile to trade and investment deals. In 2017, the explosive decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) on the EU’s exclusive competence to enter into trade treaties without the approval of national legislatures was dealt a death blow. The Court found that the EU would have to submit ISDS agreements to all 30 national and subnational parties for individual approval.[8] Even critical observers could not have predicted such an outcome. The EU had hoped that the Court would give it exclusive jurisdiction without having to submit a trade treaty for national ratification. Brussel’s expectation was to be able to approve these trade and investment routinely. It did not want a re-occurrence of the Walloons casting a veto that held up the entire CETA ratification process, as it had done in 2016. The CJEU ruled against the EU. In shared jurisdictions with an ISDS provision, individual Member States will be required to give their assent.

One part of the Court’s decision re-inforced the national authority of Member States, but another extended the principle of transnationality. The ECJ gave the EU a green light to take the ISDS clause out of trade and investment treaties and move it into the institutional hands of an International Investment Court which is still to be established.

Stephen would have savoured and probably savaged this landmark decision because the Court not only shrunk the legal authority of the EU’s unilateral power, but it also removed labour, the environment, intellectual property rights, and public procurement as shared competencies that had previously been awarded in an earlier legal judgment. Had these shared competencies remained, it would have made signing new investment deals almost impossible and extremely arduous to negotiate, let alone ratify.

It is not surprising that the CJEU required Brussels to submit ISDS provisions to national governments. India has already imposed legislative restrictions on access to ISDS, Ecuador has withdrawn from 16 of its investment treaties, and South Africa has begun the process of terminating its investment treaties. In 2012, it passed new legislation that gives exclusivity to domestic remedies. Brazil has never signed into law investment-treaty provisions for privatized arbitration.[9]

All these countries are encouraging alternative dispute resolution outlined in “cooperation and investment facilitation” kinds of agreements. All this “nixing and fixing” of state activity would not have been possible without social media and popular mobilization against governments being sued by powerful corporate interests.

Now, the Court of Justice of the European Union has come out against such clauses unless they are submitted to national ratification procedures. Indeed, in the words of Steven Toope, “the world order is shifting”. The WTO will not be “great again” because its relative position in terms of its hard legal power and the political consensus that once made it unchallengeable has dimmed, if not, decayed. What is different is that, with the fragmentation of the global economy, it is also the time – to the surprise of many experts – to negotiate new rules, as we have just seen. For Clarkson he understood that there is no possibility of a new ‘grand social bargain’ to support new rights for citizens and labour but, at the margins, popular forces seem to have gained the capacity to mobilize despite neoliberalism and the politics of austerity.

WTO Marginalization in its Core Competence

Clarkson will be always remembered as a fierce critic of neoliberal embeddedness of the WTO. Perhaps the fact that Canadian governments had so unreservedly embraced its legal elite culture pushed Clarkson to embrace the rhetoric of the anti-globalization movement. Other developments have also cooled the ardour of many governments to put their faith in the efficacy of the crown jewels of the WTO dispute resolution system to protect them from the gale-like force of global competition. One of Clarkson’s persistent themes is that governments have turned away from this mechanism to seek relief for their battered industries from the consequences of structural adjustment triggered by open, highly de-regulated, economies. Increasingly, many countries have preferred to seek redress for trade grievances before national tribunals rather than bring cases to the world trade court of the WTO.

It is worth reminding ourselves that 80 per cent of the WTO membership has never used the dispute resolution panels because the majority of the WTO do not have the experience, the money, and the confidence in the system that is slow, unpredictable, and very costly, with no positive track record of handling, let alone, addressing within the terms of reference of its legal culture, the non-commercial aspects present in every trade dispute. These include food security, the need for state subsidies, the limitations of the principle of non-discrimination for industrial policy, the creation of fair labour standards, and the legal support for sustainable environmental practices – each a hot button issue of our times. Does not the narrowness of the WTO’s legal culture explain why so few Global South countries want to chance addressing more substantive issues through this trade body?

Put another way, there are very few WTO victories for “we the people”. One of the most iconic articles on the WTO’s legal straitjacket is by Joseph Weiler,[10] entitled The Rule of Lawyers and the Ethos of Diplomacy. In it, he warned against the rule of lawyers because the most optimal outcome in most interstate conflicts between governments is the need to find a trade compromise about conflict over a disputed subsidy, stockpiling for food security, incentives to develop local industry rather than an adversarial victory for the strongest state and profit-seeking multinationals.

Weiler predicted that legal principles masquerading as statecraft would eventually erode the underpinnings of its unbalanced legal culture. Weiler’s expectation about the growing illegitimacy of the WTO’s legal culture in the minds of many is dead accurate and has been one of the central factors in sustaining successful mobilization campaigns against third-generation trade and investment deals.

Growing State Scepticism towards the WTO

y when they experience the volatility of global markets endangering employment and entire industries.[11] The WTO gives states the green light to adopt protectionist policies under very restrictive conditions. Countries file complaints against predatory pricing, subsidy abusers and the nuclear “option-of-all-options”, safeguards for reasons of national security to protect the national interest when threatened by global conditions such as employment loss, import surges or the open-ended category, “unfair advantage” of some kind that governments can use to defend the imposition of tariffs or import duties before a national trade tribunal constituted to litigate such claims.

The Clarkson gaze is an excellent guide to what has happened in the last two decades with respect to countries turning their back on the WTO’s legal crown jewel. It is astonishing to realize that the number of anti-dumping petitions has exploded, totalling more than 4,300 compared with about 400 disputes filed with the WTO.[12] If we are looking for examples of de-stabilization, the contracting out of legal ordering to other authorities, surely, this is it. Countries are turning to their national tribunals and trade courts for short-term relief and can impose tariffs or countervailing duties n order to protect their industries under threat.

In the 1970s, voluntary export restraints were used successfully to protect US interests against Japanese auto imports. This strategy gave the US auto industry breathing space to modernize and upgrade. Of course, trade lawyers and economists rail against anti-dumping as going outside the WTO rules and its jurisdiction. What the experts are opposed to are competing national adjudication bodies which they claim are biased and unreliable. But there are many studies that show that, since these national tribunals largely follow the WTO rules of evidence, norms and practices, their win rate – the test for bias for the home team – are within standards of international practice. This parallel system operates – with all its strengths and weaknesses – quite efficiently to defend the “local” from powerful “global” interests.

It did not escape Clarkson’s attention that Washington has its own parallel and highly active dispute system accessible to all Americans industries as well as to groups including unions to demand an investigation into allegedly unfair competition.[13] It can impose tariffs, punishing duties and quotas on foreign imports for short-term, medium-term and long-term periods. A large part of the legislation is discretionary and arbitrary. It can give American industries breathing space and restrict foreign competition. Super 301 is an interim measure that cannot reverse the de-industrialization of American jobs and industries, but it can – and does – provide short-term relief to declining American industries and jobs that are at risk![14]

If we want better outcomes to address real dislocation, we require a body akin to the Court of Justice of the European Union or the European Court of Human Rights with a commitment to balance commercial market-based interests with sovereignty norms and practices that sets the standards for citizen-based rights and obligations. The European Court was set up to rule on individual or state application alleging violations of civil, political and human rights. Individuals can apply directly to it and it is delivered more than 10,000 judgments that require governments to change their laws and administrative practices. Is this the kind of Court needed to replace the creaky outmoded legal culture of the WTO?

The Privatized and Secretive Alternative: ISDS

Clarkson understood as well as anyone why trade governance is so dysfunctional at present. Anti-dumping provides an escape hatch against structural adjustment market forces imposed by the neo-liberal global economy. De-globalization paradoxically strengthens and extends neo-liberal norms and practices – often at the local level.  In the Clarkson lexicon it  represents a new and different phenomena in the globalization narrative – namely, the ability of global multinationals to challenge the regulatory sovereignty of nations in the public interest.

The investor state dispute settlement mechanism (ISDS) is highly problematical from a public policy point of view because of the very broad grounds that multinationals have to sue governments, including “fair and equitable treatment”, “expropriation of benefits”, “non-discrimination”, and “national treatment”. All these trade-related doctrines impose a heavy burden on governments to demonstrate that foreign multinationals receive “special consideration” in private courts, which is not available to nationally-domiciled companies.

State investor disputes are always about money and inevitably about environmental standards and review, health services, access to generic drugs, industrial policy, and labour standards. The rules favour investors, as they challenge the sovereignty and authority of democratically-elected governments to reduce their ability to legislate and defend the public interest.

According to the UNCTAD monitor, in 2016, there were 62 new ISDS cases filed, a record high. The 10 year average is a steady 45 filings a year – compared to the 12 complaints cases filed at the WTO. In the most recent 12 year period, there were more than 550 new cases worth hundreds of millions and millions of dollars in awards against governments without including the 50 billion USD award against Russia. Not surprisingly, the most frequent users are from the advanced block of countries. In the Dutch study of Arbitral Awards, multinational corporations are favoured by a ratio of two to one over states in the arbitral win-loss sweepstakes.[15]

These outcomes are critical standard-setters. Most decidedly, they have become a central feature promoting the growth in privatized commercial arbitration. It is safe to conclude that these out-of-public-sight in-camera arbitrations have outpaced and probably outperformed the WTO disputes resolution mechanism body as far as global capital is concerned. The explosive growth in privatized dispute resolution is itself evidence that  Clarkson’s research led him to the conclusion that free trade agreements are about expanding, protecting and prioritizing investment rights for global finance with its own global dispute resolution mechanism – both characteristically non-transparent and invasive of national sovereignty. Global trade politics reinforced Clarkson’s nationalism and made him a strong defender of Canadian sovereignty in a country whose national narrative is weakly and erratically nationalistic. This, too, is part of the story so far in Clarkson’s long view of trade politics.

The Fixers-Nixers Binary and Conundrum

What he understood at a deep level is that at one end of a very long spectrum of conflicting ideas were those who accepted the idea that the system can be reformed; hence, the term “the fixers”. A second group starts at the other end of the spectrum that the mandate of the WTO needs to get back to trade basics, the so-called “shrink it” alternative policy option. Finally, a lot of radical social movements accept as true that the WTO is too flawed to save, hence, they want “to sink it” and replace it with a different kind of global trade governance organization.

Of the three options, the first believes it is possible to find a way to put the WTO back together again like a Humpty-Dumpty character. Some kind of fixing could make its trade and organizational architecture less clumsy, more fleet of foot, transparent, accountable and functional. There are technical fixes such as scrapping its “all or nothing rule” that makes consensus among 160 governments with over 70 per cent from the Global South almost impossible. Before members agree on any new trade round with its dozens of committees, all members have to agree unanimously to it. Effectively, this gives the Global South and the BRIC countries a veto over so-called deal breaking proposals coming from the old coalition, composed of the US, the EU and Japan, a fact that did not escape Clarkson’s acute grasp of the power dynamics that kept the organization deadlocked. But institutional paralysis could not prevent fundamental changes to the global trade agenda and the most important was to expand the rights of global capital to hold governments to account.[16]

The Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren calls the highly contentious investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) the “clause everyone should oppose” , a position he heartily endorsed and that plays a large role in Clarkson’s concept of international political economy, precisely because it diminishes state sovereignty and it enhances multinational power to beat back the regulatory authority of government. Under the ISDS, corporations have sued the Mexican government for over 200 million USD and Canada for 157 million USD. At present, a U.S. company is suing Canada for another 250 million USD over a moratorium on fracking for natural gas, and another firm – suing for more than 100 million USD over the rejection of a mining permit after a Canadian environmental impact assessment proved the project to be detrimental – won its case.

So, removing the ISDS clause, a source of bitter and prolonged controversy, would be an obvious candidate to drop from trade agreements. The EU and recently Canada have gone on record to support the creation of an International Investment Court to address the growing number of investment conflicts that multinationals face. This, too, is a source of controversy, and it may take years before the Court is established and approved by all 27 parliaments.[17]

The Narrow Ledge of Trade Governance

The fact of the matter is that the WTO, since its establishment, is exclusively a producers’ organization for large multinationals and states, not for consumers, not “for the people”. This is why it has such a narrow focus and mandate, an institutional feature that Clarkson pushed to the center of his research analysis. What he documented was that, when commercial interests are found to conflict with environmental protection, access to generic drugs, labour standards, or industrial strategy, global commercial interests inevitably carry the day in the WTO’s court system with its highly constrained legal culture. Why, for instance, is “fair and equitable” treatment of a private investor given the status of a constitutional right when it only serves the needs of special interest groups? It is this threshold test, among others, that is so central to WTO legal culture that requires resetting. Without it how could the WTO have a fresh start with a different purpose and organizational architecture around aims such as egalitarianism, development and other socially progressive goals?

If the governance agenda for negotiating a new trade round is limited to only trade issues, the most contentious part of the agenda – intellectual property rights, investment rights, public procurement, access to generic drugs, food security and environmental sustainability require a different solution, one which does not come through the narrow lens of trade. In the Clarksonian gaze, complex policy issues have to be addressed through a different kind of governance body that is equipped to handle the goals and objectives of a broad-based jurisprudence and the right of individuals in all countries to seek redress and transparent arbitration.

It is not a good idea that we think of this new body as setting hard law legislative standards in many areas at the global level. Instead, what is needed is a legal culture of balanced adjudication and arbitration, a European-style court. This is the high standard to consider. The important corollary is that legal cultures are subject to many constraints and the most important is when global standards are low, no global organization can substitute itself for national decision-making bodies.

At present, in a way few predicted the WTO is in relative decline as a global governance body, marginalized by atrophy and growing irrelevance for many nations in the global South. For experts from the advanced industrial countries it is a mistake to think that international institutions are forever, the ‘eternal, unchanging guardians’ of the world order. The WTO is in a Braudelian “time bubble chamber” unable to adapt to the new set of circumstances after the 2008 financial crisis. Its institutional paralysis, if anything, has deepened in the post-Brexit, post Trump era.  The gravitational shift from trade-focused organization to an investment-centric institution has complicated the incredibly difficult task of building a new consensus.

Nor does the WTO have the resources to derail China’s well-advanced plans to create a parallel trade and investment global order with 100 or so countries. For the moment, only India and the United States are boycotting the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.(AIIB) To the surprise of few, bilateralism and regionalism are rapidly becoming the twin pillars of the new international order, largely, and surprisingly sponsored by China , through its $2 trillion global infrastructural initiative. And whatever strong doubts you may have about the efficacy of Beijing’s leadership, Chinese multilateralism is patiently waiting in the wings with its alternative institutions. For the moment we have entered a long transition period.

A Sartrian Dilemma: A World without Dominant Agency

In his last writings Stephen understood instinctively that in a multipolar world we cannot speak of a hegemonic order any longer because the world is so fragmented and fissured. Instead, it is more like a Sartrian moment, Huis clos: L’enfer, c’est les autres. But as Clarkson might have asked who exactly are the others?

Isn’t it more precise to say that it is ourselves and our dystopian fatigue who are responsible for the new age of high anxiety in some important way? This is the dilemma of our time which preoccupied Stephen Clarkson in his research and teaching. In an era of authoritarianism versus democracy, we need to rethink and re-engage with a global order that bears very little relationship with the precise rules and governance practices of global multilateralism. In his dystopian gaze,  Clarkson’s large, expansive  and rich narrative left little room for doubt that for him at least, there is no  single scripted or unscripted actor waiting to rescue a deeply troubled global order, today, tomorrow or anytime soon.

[1]    Among his many works are: Uncle Sam and Us: Globalization, Neoconservatism and the Canadian State, 2002, Trudeau and our Times (with Christina McCall),1990 and 1994, The Big Red Machine: How the Liberal Party Dominates Canadian Politics, 2005, Canada and the Reagan Challenge: Crisis in the Canadian-American Relationship, 1985, Does North America Exist?: Governing the Continent after NAFTA and 9/11, 2008, A Perilous Imbalance: The Globalization of Canadian Law and Governance (with Stepan Wood), 2010, Dependent America? How Canada and Mexico Construct US Power (with Matto Mildenberger), 2011.

[2]    Kenichi Ohmae, A Borderless World: Power and Strategy in the Interlinked Economy, HarperCollins 1994; Daniel Drache, Borders Matter: Homeland Security and the Search for North America, Toronto: Fernwood, 2004.

[3]    Clarkson, Uncle Sam and Us, note 1 above.

[4]    Stephen J. Toope, “In a Darkening World, It’s Time Canada Moved beyond Fear”, The Globe and Mail, 24 May 2016.

[5]    Daniel Drache, “The Canada European Free Trade Agreement: Ought we to be Worried?”, Transnational Law Institute, King’s College, London, 2016.

[6]    Dani Rodrik, The Globalization Paradox: Democracy and the Future of the World Economy, New York: Norton, 2011

[7]    Paul Blyth, Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea, 2013

[8]    International Economic Law Blog, Anthea Roberts, A Turning of the Tide Against ISDS? 19 May 2017. Accessed ; Arthur Beasley, “EU Singapore ruling charts possible Brexit path”, The Financial Times, 16 May 2017.

[9]    Roberts, op.cit.

[10]   Joseph H.H. Weiler, accessible at

[11]   See WTO articles, Agreement on Implementation of Article VI of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade 1994 (Anti-Dumping Agreement) and Article XIII. Article 12.

[12]   Daniel Drache & Yin Jiyuan, “A Comparative Analysis Of Unfair Trading Suits By China, India, Canada, The United States And The European Union, 1995 to 2011,” in Daniel Drache and Lesley A. Jacobs eds. International Economic Law and Global Governance Crises and Resilience, Vancouver: UBC Press, forthcoming 2018.

[13]   I.M. Destler, American  Trade Politics, 4th ed. New York:PIIE, 2005.

[14]   Toope, note 5 above.

[15]   Dutch study of ISDS Awards, accessible at

[16]   Ed Broadbent,” Let’s make human rights central to a new NAFTA”, Globe and Mail, May 5, 2017, accessible at, Dani Rodrik, note 6 above, Rorden Wilkinson, What’s Wrong with the WTO and How to Fix it, London, Polity, 2014.

[17]   Anthea Roberts, IELP, 19 May 2017.

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January 10, 2018Politics in Canada'Blockbuster' job creation in Alberta leaves UCP in search of new talking points about 'job killing' carbon levyYou can probably count on the nattering nabobs of neoliberal negativity at the UCP to come up with a new reason that is clearly the NDP's fault to explain why the sky is falling.Alberta politicsUnited Conservative PartyAlberta NDPMonthly Labour ReportAlberta Economy
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'Blockbuster' job creation in Alberta leaves UCP in search of new talking points about 'job killing' carbon levy

Rabble News - Wed, 2018-01-10 13:30
David J. Climenhaga

Now, about that "job killing carbon tax"

According to the Statistics Canada monthly labour report released on Friday, Alberta's provincial economy is surging, with 26,000 new jobs added last month, a high percentage of them long-term, high-quality, permanent jobs to boot.

That's roughly a third of the entire total of new jobs created in all of Canada in December -- "blockbuster" results nationwide, according to The Globe and Mail, which the paper said economics commentators were calling "spectacular," "impressive," and "unbelievable."

Presumably all this makes the blockbuster results for Alberta alone even more spectacular, impressive and unbelievable.

BMO Capital Markets noted in its monthly labour market report that the fourth-quarter job gains were the largest ever in Alberta history. "That has lifted employment back above pre-oil-shock levels," said those wacky socialists at the Bank of Montreal's investment division.

BMO Capital Markets also noted that the impact of the improving economy hereabouts has seen Calgary surge back into its Top Ten city performance ranking, with the big drop in joblessness helping. "For the record, the city was ranked right at rock bottom at the start of 2017."

For heaven's sake, even the Calgary Chamber of Commerce sounded chirpily upbeat about this, with spokesperson Scott Crockatt telling a local newspaper that 40 per cent of the organization's members expect to hire even more people in the next year.

Obviously, it must be the management of the economy by Premier Rachel Notley's NDP government, hey?

That, of course, is pretty much what the government is saying. On Friday, Finance Minister Joe Ceci told the Calgary Herald that the turnaround shows the NDP was on the right track when the government emphasized economic diversification and refused to cut public services in defiance of the Conservative Opposition's knee-jerk demands for fiscal austerity, which really does kill jobs.

Well, don't expect the United Conservative Party and its semi-professional social media army of meme-makers, bots, trolls, and op-ed fabricators to admit anything like that just yet. But while they're praying to the Almighty God of the Market for a timely 11th hour downturn in the economy, they might want to think about recalibrating their talking points.

On Friday, the social media accounts run by the UCP and its finance-law dodging PACs were screeching about an effort to promote an environmental group in Environment Minister Shannon Phillips' Lethbridge riding -- spinning it as an attack on Alberta cattle farmers.

That was pretty weak, but then, so was the tweet that got it all started, which Phillips swiftly repudiated. Regardless, the vegan whoop-de-doo diverted the attention of the media from the promising economic results for a few hours, so I suppose it must be called a limited success from the UCP perspective.

Yesterday, UCP internet trolls who hate Justin Trudeau's federal Liberal government as much as they hate Notley's Alberta provincial government were desperately trying to give U.S. President Donald Trump the credit for the good economic news in Canada and Alberta.

This will probably prompt more chortles than agreement, but it's nice for Trump, I suppose, to know that there's still at least one place they love him outside Alabama. … Oh. Wait. They don't even like him as much as they used to in Alabama any more, do they? Whatever. Maybe he can open a golf resort in Cardston!

The upbeat employment numbers from Statscan that had the commentariat so enthusiastic were a definite fly in the ointment for Kenney, the UCP, their media echo chamber and the narrative they've all been busily spinning.

Because whatever the NDP's carbon levy is doing, obviously, it's not killing jobs right now. You could almost make the argument it's doing the opposite. You can try to spin the numbers any way Jason Kenney wants you to, of course, but the apocalyptic sense of the NDP-sponsored End Times the UCP leader has been encouraging us to feel as we await 2019's anticipated provincial election will soon evanesce if positive numbers like these keep piling up.

In politics, you've got to be able to turn on a dime, which UCP spokesthingies fresh from Ontario and B.C. can presumably do with ease. But you can't expect the editors of rural newspapers, or even websites, to be so quick -- so we're bound to see a few more versions of the job-killing carbon tax story like the one published by the Eckville Echo Friday just as the UCP's propaganda boffins were trying to create a distraction from Statscan's disappointingly upbeat figures.

Mind you, Kenney isn't one to let the facts stand in the way of a good story -- like his fanciful claims Alberta's population is declining, which it ain't.

Perhaps next year's planned step up to a $15 minimum wage will do the trick. Whatever it is, you can count on the nattering nabobs of neoliberal negativity at the UCP to come up with a new reason that is clearly the NDP's fault to explain why the sky is not only falling, but will continue to fall, or, failing that, at least will fall soon.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog,

Photo: Kevin Cappis/Wikimedia Commons

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Categories: News for progressives

Syrian War Report – January 9, 2018: Russian Forces Disrupted Drone Attack By Militants On Its Bases On January 8 and 9, government forces re-captured over a dozen villages in southern Idlib, including Zifr Kabir, Zifr Saghir, Harmala, Burtuqanah, Ajjaz and Jahman from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham
Categories: News for progressives

Consumer society no longer serves our needs

Rabble News - Wed, 2018-01-10 06:03
David Suzuki

My parents were born in Vancouver -- Dad in 1909, Mom in 1911 -- and married during the Great Depression. It was a difficult time that shaped their values and outlook, which they drummed into my sisters and me.

"Save some for tomorrow," they often scolded. "Share; don't be greedy." "Help others when they need it because one day you might need to ask for their help." "Live within your means." Their most important was, "You must work hard for the necessities in life, but don't run after money as if having fancy clothes or big cars make you a better or more important person." I think of my parents often during the frenzy of pre- and post-Christmas shopping.

We moved to Ontario after the Second World War. We were destitute. (As Canadians of Japanese descent, we had been treated as enemy aliens and lost everything, including all rights as Canadian citizens.) I needed a coat for the cold eastern winter, so my parents purchased a new one -- a big expense for farm labourers. Unfortunately, I was 11 and going through a growth spurt and quickly outgrew the coat, so it was passed on to my twin sister, Marcia. She wore it for longer but also outgrew it and gave it to our younger sister, Aiko. My parents boasted that the coat was so well made, "it went through three children." It's been a long time since I've heard durability as a positive attribute of a product. In today's fashion-obsessed world, how many children would accept hand-me-downs from siblings?

How did "throw-away," "disposable" and "planned obsolescence" become part of product design and marketing? It was deliberate. Wars are effective at getting economies moving, and the Second World War pulled America out of the Great Depression. By 1945, the American economy was blazing as victory approached.

But how can a war-based economy continue in peacetime? One way is to continue hostilities or their threat. The global costs of armaments and defence still dwarf spending for health care and education. Another way to transform a wartime economy to peacetime is consumption. Adam Smith, the father of modern economics, wrote in 1776, "Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production."

Seized upon by the Council of Economic Advisers to the President under Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s, consumption was promoted as the engine of the economy. Retailing analyst Victor Lebow famously proclaimed in 1955: "Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction and our ego satisfaction in consumption. We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced and discarded at an ever-increasing rate."

Now, we are no longer defined by our societal roles (parents, churchgoers, teachers, doctors, plumbers, etc.) or political status (voters) but as "customers," "shoppers" or "consumers." The media remind us daily of how well we're supporting continued economic growth, using the Dow Jones average, S&P Index, price of gold and dollar's value.

But where is the indication of our real status -- Earthlings -- animals whose very survival and well-being depend on the state of our home, planet Earth? Do we think we can survive without the other animals and plants that share the biosphere? And does our health not reflect the condition of air, water and soil that sustain all life? It's as if they matter only in terms of how much it will cost to maintain or protect them.

Nature, increasingly under pressure from the need for constant economic growth, is often used to spread the consumption message. Nature has long been exploited in commercials -- the lean movement of lions or tigers in car ads, the cuteness of parrots or mice, the strength of crocodiles, etc. But now animals are portrayed to actively recruit consumers. I'm especially nauseated by the shot of a penguin offering a stone to a potential mate being denigrated by another penguin offering a fancy diamond necklace.

How can we have serious discussions about the ecological costs and limits to growth or the need to degrow economies when consumption is seen as the very reason the economy and society exist?

Learn more at

Photo: Brian Talbot/flickr

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Categories: News for progressives

Remembering activist Erica Garner, who worked tirelessly against police brutality

Rabble News - Wed, 2018-01-10 00:50
Anti-RacismUS Politics

Erica Garner has died at the age of 27. The loss of this remarkable young African-American woman is incalculable. She was a tireless activist and a mother of two; her death was attributed to an asthma-induced heart attack four months after the birth of her second child, her son, Eric. Erica, like her son, was named after her father, Eric Garner, whose chokehold death at the hands of the New York Police Department on July 27, 2014, was captured on video and became a flashpoint in the fight against police brutality, further galvanizing the Black Lives Matter movement. Erica worked tirelessly for justice for her father.

"I can't breathe."

Those were the last words of Eric Garner, repeated 11 times on that July afternoon. Two weeks later, Michael Brown would be killed by a white police officer on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests were erupting all over the country. We flew back from Ferguson later that August, in order to cover a major march in Staten Island, with over 1,000 people demanding justice for Eric Garner, the prosecution of Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who was video-recorded by a bystander putting Garner in the chokehold, and an end to the NYPD's systematic brutality that targets communities of color. We first met Erica Garner there, standing at the very spot where her father had been killed.

"My dad was a loving man, he was a humble man, and he was a nice man," Erica told us. "You could never get a 'no' out of him. He did whatever he could for anybody who came around him. Anybody who came around him was touched by his graces. Seeing the videotape, I was very traumatized. I was very horrified. It was horrible. Just seeing my father die on national TV was just horrible. I've got to live with this forever."

Erica was a loving daughter forced into the spotlight by tragedy. She led twice-weekly marches from the NYPD police precinct where her father's killers still worked, to the site of his death. She spoke out against police brutality, appeared on panels and on television. Erica Garner, living in one of the roughest housing projects in New York City, became a powerful leader in the national movement to end police brutality.

She elaborated on the Democracy Now! news hour about the toll that a trauma like the killing of a father takes on a family. "When you deal with grief, when you talk about grief and you talk about how regular families deal with it, you know, families have problems, trouble coping with it." She went on, "Mental health is very important. … For families that's put in my position, black families that's on public assistance, that doesn't have the income to get therapy is $300 an hour, and I don't think that's fair, and it's not made for the Black population, because how are we supposed to cope with this if we don't have someone to talk to, someone professionally to talk to?" She ended by saying, "I'm constantly reading articles and doing the research on my dad's case. But I'm not taking care of me."

Early in 2016, she endorsed Bernie Sanders for president, and appeared in a moving television ad: "This is everything I have, my family. Family should be important to everyone. Mostly I like being a mother," Erica says. About her father, she says: "I'm just trying to get the truth out there, to tell his side of the story. He was being the loving, caring man that he was, and he was murdered." Leaked emails later revealed that now-disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein became alarmed at the power of the ad. Weinstein offered to help Hillary Clinton's campaign manager Robby Mook to strategize on how to counter Erica's message.

Erica's power was speaking from her own experience. She even considered running for Congress. While New York City finally paid Eric Garner's family a settlement, Erica continued to fight for the release of the full disciplinary records of Officer Pantaleo, who remains on the New York police force. And to her last breath, Erica also fought for federal civil-rights charges to be brought against Pantaleo and the officers who killed her father.

In her Bernie Sanders ad, Erica said, "I'm never giving up, I'm never going to forget, and I don't want the world to forget what happened to my dad." Now the onus is on all of us never to forget the passion, the commitment, the life, of Erica Garner.

This column was first published on Democracy Now!

Photo: Disney | ABC Television Group/flickr

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Eric GarnerBlack Lives Matterracial justiceU.S. politicsbernie sandersblack activismAmy GoodmanDenis MoynihanJanuary 4, 2018By taking a knee, Kaepernick sparked a movement for justiceMuch like Rosa Parks, Colin Kaepernick sat down and refused to get up. And like Rosa Parks on that Montgomery bus more than 60 years ago, Colin Kaepernick has sparked a movement.Ferguson is everywhere: The protests against impunity are just beginningAnother police killing of an unarmed man of colour. Another grand jury deciding not to indict: Not for murder. Not for manslaughter. Not for assault. Not even for reckless endangerment.Black Lives Matter in Canada too: Inside the movementWhy are Black Lives Matter movements occurring in Toronto and who is leading this movement in Canada? Find this out and more about the future of the movement here.
Categories: News for progressives

The public service has lost a crucial function

Rabble News - Tue, 2018-01-09 22:27
Politics in Canada

This column's topic, civil servants, may sound boring. But really it's about the surprising, almost entertaining incompetence of the Trudeau government.

Picture what they've muffed: the Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women; electoral reform; Bill Morneau's fairness-oriented tax bill. These weren't unpopular, they should've been doable. Yet the first keeps sinking; the second basically vanished; and tax reform limps along, wounded.

Year-end pundits' appraisals laid the blame on problems of "messaging" and communications. Trudeau's people seem to agree. Morneau said, "I've learned from this experience that we have to be very good at communicating to Canadians what it is that we're trying to achieve." I'd call that a delusion.

Why? Because they were already superb messengers before they won power. Trudeau was their message and they communicated him beautifully. When an early initiative, Syrian refugees, hit some bumps, they messaged Trudeau into Pearson airport to greet the arrivals, and smoothed it all out.

The problem is elsewhere, it's governing. That isn't so much a lost art; what's been lost is that there's an art to it at all. The bright-eyed party types, like Gerry Butts (Trudeau's minder) arrive in Ottawa with their candidates. But the civil servants were there all along. They're part of the furniture of government.

There's roughly a zillion things that can go wrong when governments try to change complex societies with new legislation or institutions. It's like opening up someone's chest or cranium; it's best to have advance knowledge and experience. Otherwise you'll probably make a mess. Surgeons can be obnoxious, but you wouldn't like to be operated on without one.

So, for instance, nothing was wrong with Morneau's bill (aside from not touching the megabandits at the top) but no one seemed able to think it through. That's always been the special skill of the loftiest civil servants, mainly deputy ministers.

It was once a prized rank (even assistant DMs were haughty). They gloried in being called mandarins, far above the mob. Ministers could state goals. But their job then was to do and say as their deputies directed, just like in Yes, Minister, and the smart ones (who may've been stupid, it didn't matter if they had good deputies) did so. DMs spent their careers absorbing the potential traps of governing. They were the ones who awoke at night fretting over what might happen. Every difficult project needs someone doing that.

 I'm not saying they were likable, they weren't. They were rivalrous, contemptuous and insufferably arrogant. They were a caste. The last notable wave included Bernie and Sylvia Ostry, who didn't bolt when others headed for the exits in the 1980s. They didn't get rich, as you could in business, but they had power and glory: the glory of serving your country, perhaps even your species! (If that sounds corny, think of Jonas Salk refusing to patent his cure for polio. Glory rules. Mere fame or celebrity is its wan successor.)

Now take my old camp counsellor, Mickey (Marshall) Cohen. He spent 15 years DMing around Ottawa, then leveraged his imposing resumé to move on to O&Y, Molson's and other pastures; like Derek Burney and myriad others. That was in the 1980s -- when government became, as Reagan said, the problem, with business as the solution. Nice to have a theory for going greedy. Public service transformed into merely the minor leagues before you moved up to The Show.

The result was that those overseeing the process kept getting younger and leaving earlier. Since messaging is easier than analyzing, manoeuvring, compromising and finishing, they fiddle with communication until it's time to move along. Every government in Canada has this problem. They try to make do with outside "strategists" but those are just party people waiting to return to power.

The practical problem is the wage gap. DMs make $221,000 to $326,000. As Jennifer Wells reported here, the minimum for Canada's top CEOs is now $5.2 million; the average, $10.4 million. That's 15 to 50 times more, and beyond. When DMs were earning half or even a quarter, they could talk themselves into staying. Now they'd feel like chumps -- encouraged to by our entire culture.

As I say, I won't miss them, though they were fun to talk to, with their cockiness and verbality. The question is what governments can do to replace their crucial function. I'm sure there's a solution, and I hope someone finds it.

This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

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Categories: News for progressives

Finding the answer to a riddle shrouded in a mystery

by Pepe Escobar (cross-posted with the Asia Times by special agreement with the author) The art of the non-deal might be the only way out of the stand-off between the
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Moveable Feast Cafe 2018/01/09 … Open Thread

2018/01/09 12:30:01Welcome to the ‘Moveable Feast Cafe’. The ‘Moveable Feast’ is an open thread where readers can post wide ranging observations, articles, rants, off topic and have animate discussions of
Categories: News for progressives

Afghanistan - U.S. Special Forces Commit Drive-By Murder (Video)

A recent video mashup provided by some U.S. Special Force soldiers in Afghanistan seems to show evidence of a warcrime. A military truck passes a civilian truck on a paved road at normal traveling speed. A soldier fires directly and...
Categories: News for progressives

The traditional party of the workers needs to step up in Ontario

Rabble News - Tue, 2018-01-09 16:44
January 9, 2018LabourWorkers are under attack: Where is the ONDP?Kathleen Wynne has been defending workers' rights during the recent backlash against minimum wage increases. By contrast, Andrea Horwath's NDP have only meekly supported the issue.$15 and fairnessontario labourKathleen Wynneontario ndp
Categories: News for progressives

Tim Hortons brew-haha shows fast-food industry doesn't get PR, economics, or what Canadians think

Rabble News - Tue, 2018-01-09 13:54
David J. Climenhaga

Having quite possibly won the next Ontario general election for Premier Kathleen Wynne and her admittedly long-in-the-tooth Liberal government, the association of perpetually infuriated rogue Tim Hortons franchisees half-heartedly tried to walk back last week's plan to beat the crap out of their employees because the government had raised the minimum wage in the province to $14 an hour.

No, no, the Great White North Franchisee Association said Friday in hopes of getting the dust to settle a little, "Tim Hortons team members should never be used to further an agenda or be treated as just an 'expense.' This is completely unacceptable."

Better late than never to come to this realization, I guess. But the whole brew-haha demonstrates how Canada's fast food industry doesn't really get it about Public Relations best practices, or for that matter Economics 101 and the mood of Canadians.

The threats and complaints about increases in the minimum wage taking place in many provinces are not just an Ontario phenomenon. I expect soon enough we'll be seeing some of the same petty bullying that cropped up among members of the franchisees' group in Ontario -- forcing employees to buy their own uniforms, no more paid breaks, and a spiteful end to insignificant perks like a free cup of crappy coffee at the end of a shift -- here in Alberta.

Still, the Ontario Hortons franchisees' foray from retail coffee and donuts into retail politics was so egregiously ham handed, and Premier Wynn's response to it so defiantly pitch perfect, that the damage they've done to whatever objectives they'd hoped to achieve is probably irreparable -- which, from the perspective of making Canada a better country for its citizens, is a good thing.

Indeed, it took a swift and harsh disavowal of "the actions of a reckless few" by Restaurant Brands International, the Brazilian-owned corporation that franchises the apostrophe-free Tim Hortons brand, to head off what could have turned into a national boycott of the company's hitherto iconic coast-to-coast coffee shops.

The brewing trouble first made the news when a franchise in Cobourg, Ont., owned by the daughter of the late Tim Horton himself and the son of the chain's other founder, sent a letter to its employees telling them they'd be losing paid breaks and other incentives because the government had raised the minimum wage and the corporate head office wouldn't let them raise prices.

"A 9 hour shift will be paid for 8 hours and 20 minutes," the employees were churlishly advised in the letter. They were told they'd have to sign a pledge saying they agreed.

This brain-dead rebellion soon spread to other Ontario franchises, whose owners had apparently concluded this would show Premier Wynne and RBI's head office honchos a thing or two.

Wynne's response took it directly back to one of the Coburg owners, Ron Joyce Jr., who, as the premier reminded Ontarians, is "a man whose family founded the Tim Hortons chain, which was sold for billions of dollars."

"I'll be blunt. It is the act of a bully. If Mr. Joyce wants to pick a fight, I urge him to pick it with me and not those working the pickup window and service counter of his stores." Premier Wynne must have been fighting to suppress a smirk when she said that, whether or not she cared that Joyce didn't personally pocket the $12.5 billion paid for Hortons by its Brazilian owners in 2014. (Dear Old Dad, Ron Sr., it's worth noting, is officially a billionaire.)

Ontarians everywhere -- and lots of Canadians elsewhere too -- muttered, "You go, Premier!"

At this point, I'd bet you the cost an overpriced can of Tim Hortons ground coffee that despite all the grunge thrown at her in the past couple of years, Wynne can cruise to victory on this performance. Just watch, it won't be hard for her to tie the bullying opposition to the minimum-wage increase to the would-be bullies of the Conservative Opposition in Queen's Park.

But if the Ontario Hortons franchisees don't understand the fundamentals of Public Relations -- you know, making it sound as if you're doing it for the people you're trying to persuade, not your own sweet selves -- Canada's small but potent network of AstroTurf organizations that lobby tirelessly against improvements in minimum wages certainly does.

So the good news last week for enemies of the widespread move by provinces toward a $15 minimum wage in Canada was that mainstream media took the lobby's bait on a recent Bank of Canada research note on the impact of higher minimum wages hook, line and sinker.

The actual Bank of Canada note concluded that, for working Canadians, the benefits of increased minimum wages outweigh any depressant effect they might have on job creation. The headlines almost universally concentrated on the depressant effect, and left the impression the note had said a minimum wage increase would cause 60,000 existing jobs to be cut, which it emphatically did not.

"This is not the first time the media have gotten worked up about the wrong numbers," observed Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives analyst Michal Rozworski in a thoughtful commentary on how the note was reported and what it actually said. "This is only one example of a recurring pattern of business-friendly bias in the media."

Here in Alberta, of course, United Conservative Party spinners used their usual pretzel logic to try to twist this technical debate into an attack on unions -- since they've been criticized for advocating policies that would result in the elimination of thousands of actual, existing jobs held by taxpaying Albertans, some of whom are union members.

But the restaurant lobby, as a number of observers noted, has been strangely quiet lately hereabouts.

The explanation for that is probably simple: Canada's professional anti-union, pro-temporary-foreign-worker, anti-minimum-wage lobby -- despite its powerful voice, amplified many times by the friendly media echo chamber noted by Rozworski -- is actually made up of a very small group of people.

This web of anti-union advocacy groups includes the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Restaurants Canada, the Workplace Democracy Institute of Canada, the Merit Contractors Association, "Working Canadians," and the Canadian Labour Watch Association -- often led by the same people in multiple board and executive roles.

With limited human resources, they have to concentrate their fire where the fight is most intense. And with several provinces moving toward a $15 minimum wage at once, that means they are likely experiencing a shortage of qualified and ideologically certified propagandists to carry on the battle.

Right now that's in Ontario. It'll be back to Alberta next fall when the minimum wage here is scheduled by our NDP government to reach $15 and an election will be that much closer. Next, presumably, the campaign will move to provinces like B.C., which have scheduled that benchmark to be reached down the line.

The economics won't change. A $15 minimum wage, especially if it is tied to a cost-of-living index, will benefit working people and society in general in every province.

And the threats, misleading claims and whining -- especially by the fast-food industry -- will never abate, no matter how many times their dire predictions don't come true.

This post also appearsnon David Climenhaga's blog,

Photo credit: David Climenhaga

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Categories: News for progressives

Syrian War Report – January 8, 2018: Syrian Army Liberates Large Area, Key Town In Southern Idlib Last weekend, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham’s defense collapsed in southern Idlib. The Syrian Arab Army (SAA), the National Defense Forces (NDF) and the Tiger Forces liberated the important town of
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How Mainstream Media Lose Their Reputation - #Fakenews On Iran And Egypt

The "western" media like to rant against fake news. But they are indeed the biggest provider of such. Yesterday the British news agency Reuters claimed: Iran bans English in primary schools after leader's warning DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran has banned...
Categories: News for progressives

Moving forward while looking back

Rabble News - Mon, 2018-01-08 16:05
January 8, 2018Politics in CanadaLooking forward by looking back, starting with 2008Ten years ago we had a federal election, the great recession and a prorogation crisis. As well, Justin Trudeau won his first election.2008stock market
Categories: News for progressives

Looking forward by looking back, starting with 2008

Rabble News - Mon, 2018-01-08 15:51
Karl Nerenberg

Poet and memoirist Maya Angelou once wrote: “You can’t know where you’re going until you know where you have been.” In that spirit, and while Canadian federal politicians are still far from the capital on their winter break, this writer proposes looking forward to the coming year by looking back a decade -- or two, or three, or more.

When the late 19th century socialist and journalist Edward Bellamy chose “Looking Backward” as the title for his utopian novel, it was because he had his protagonist fall into a deep sleep and then wake up in the future. The novel’s main character then looks backward to his time, a more primitive time more than a century earlier.

Here, in this space, we will look back not from the future but from the present, and we will do so a decade at a time, starting 10 years ago in 2008.

 Harper’s first term was coming to an end -- but who knew?

As the year began, Stephen Harper was quite comfortably in power in Canada.

After winning a minority in 2006, the first prime minister elected as leader of the party that resulted from the merger of the Reform/Canadian-Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives had a caucus full of political rookies, many of them Reform Party populists.

Harper chose to assign most of his senior cabinet posts to folks with political or administrative experience. He called on Mike-Harris-Ontario and Brian-Mulroney-federal Conservatives such as Tony Clement, Jim Flaherty and Rob Nicholson, and MPs who had significant experience managing large organizations, notably Lisa Raitt. The friskier, more ideologically oriented Harper zealots, such as Jason Kenney and Pierre Poilievre, had yet to take centre stage.

At the beginning of the year, we did not know that Harper would precipitate an early election in October, even though his own fixed election law gave him two more years. Harper thought he could take advantage of a Liberal Party that was not hugely enthusiastic about its own leader’s carbon tax policy. The Conservatives had demagogically ridiculed that climate change-fighting proposal as a tax-on-everything. They thought they could ride that ridicule -- paired with vicious personal attacks on Liberal leader Stéphane Dion’s Mr. Bean-like personality -- to a majority. It did not quite work out for Stephen Harper, although he did increase his minority.

The Great Recession

As 2008 got underway we also did not know that before the year was out we would experience the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression. Hardly any respected economists had publicly made that prediction.

It turns out that decades of financial deregulation and benign neglect had given the wolves of Wall Street free rein to indulge in an orgy of greed, which produced such toxic financial instruments as bundled sub-prime mortgages. Wall Street’s speculative house of cards collapsed in the fall of 2008, and the ensuing catastrophe forced the U.S. and other governments to fork over billions of dollars to the very culprits who had caused the crisis. Those massive taxpayer-funded give-aways saved the financial status quo and the obscene profits and executive salaries of the investment banking industry. They did nothing for the hundreds of thousands who lost their homes and livelihoods.

The crisis also produced a new economic policy consensus in the capitalist, developed world. The slavish dedication to balanced budgets at all cost was out; Keynesian stimulus spending was in. An emergency G-20 summit in Washington in November 2008 focused mostly on modernizing and tightening financial regulation, but it also committed all members to “use fiscal measures to stimulate domestic demand to rapid effect”.

Fiscal measures meant government spending to create jobs and growth, a commitment with which Canada enthusiastically agreed. When the time came to actually do something, however, the Harper government welshed on its pledge, blithely indifferent to the severe and growing job losses in the country. Harper’s finance minister, the late Jim Flaherty, produced a fall economic update that, in an act of near-delusional fiscal fantasy, forecast a small surplus. There was to be not a single dollar for infrastructure or any other kind of pump-priming spending. Professionals in the federal finance department invoked their right to non-self-incrimination when asked if they had authored that dishonest travesty.

To add insult to injury, Flaherty slipped in a non-sequitur of a measure to abolish the per capita subsidies to political parties. The Chrétien government had introduced public funding for political parties when it banned corporate and union donations. When he announced his fiscal update, Flaherty poked a stick in the opposition parties’ eyes by declaring that the whole package would be a confidence matter. If the opposition voted down the update the government would fall.

The prorogation crisis

Harper and his team thought they had the opposition on the ropes. They reasoned that the opposition parties -- especially the Liberals, who had lost seats in the October election -- were cowed and dispirited and would not dare vote down a government mere weeks after it had won a convincing victory.

They miscalculated. The Liberals, New Democrats (then led by Jack Layton) and Bloc Québécois were so outraged by the government’s arrogance they announced they would suck it up and vote against the fiscal update. Rather than precipitating another election so soon after the previous one, the Liberals and New Democrats proposed a coalition government, for which the Bloc pledged tacit support.

We have never had coalition government in Canada, with the exception of the Unionist government of Conservatives and break away Liberals during World War I, and the mere idea seemed to scare many Canadians, especially at a time of grave economic uncertainty. 

But Harper was cornered. There seemed to be little he could do to head off defeat.  Then he came up with the clever tactic of proroguing the House (suspending its operation) mere days after it had convened following the election.

Now, if a coalition presented an unknown prospect for Canada, prorogation in such a circumstance had no precedent whatsoever in any parliamentary democracy.

In the end, though, Harper got his way. No governor-general would want to repeat Lord Byng’s gaffe more than seven decades earlier of denying a prime ministerial request. In Byng’s case, he had refused William Lyon Mackenzie King’s demand for dissolution and a new election after King’s Liberals had been defeated in the House. Instead, Byng invited Conservative Arthur Meighen to form a (very short lived) government.  During the election that followed shortly thereafter, King ran against Byng as much as against the Conservative leader, and won a healthy majority.

A temporarily chastened Harper; Trudeau enters the scene

Harper survived his brush with defeat a little more than 10 years ago. When the House returned in 2009, and his government presented a budget, it was chock full of stimulus measures and projected deficits for a number of years into the future. The plan to abolish federal funding for parties disappeared without a trace.

When Harper finally got his majority a little more than two years later, he quickly proceeded to scrap the party subsidies. That, however, was among the least of the outrages Harper’s Conservatives committed to democracy and to sound policy during their majority reign from 2011 to 2015. 

By the way, one the few new Liberal MPs elected in the bruising 2008 election was the member for Papineau riding, a working class and largely francophone area in northeast Montreal, one Justin Trudeau.

The younger Trudeau’s father, Pierre, had represented a rather different Montreal riding, Mount Royal, in the largely English-speaking west end of the city.  Choosing a riding where the Bloc member was well-ensconced, at a time when the Liberals were at a low ebb, was an early sign that the eldest son of the former prime minister was not averse to risk and quite capable of bold choices. 

Photo: Andrew d'Entremeont/Flickr

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