News for progressives

A gender budget needs meaningful changes to parental leave and pay equity

Rabble News - Wed, 2018-02-28 05:06
Angella MacEwen

Budget 2018 is being advertised as a truly comprehensive gender budget, with two key pieces of that being use-it-or-lose-it paternity leave, and action on pay equity.

Last year's gender budget implemented the Liberal campaign promise to extend EI parental leave from a total of 12 months to 18 months, despite the fact that the idea was universally panned by feminists, Canada's unions and business groups.

The problem? Other than the fact it doesn't recognize that the primary issue facing parents of young children is the need for a national child-care system, the plan didn't increase the total amount of funding, it simply extended the current allotment over a longer period of time. Instead of getting 55 per cent of your average earnings for 35 weeks of parental benefits, you can choose to get 33 per cent for 61 weeks. If you earn more than the maximum insurable earnings threshold of $51,700, the 35-week maximum benefit is $547/week, and the 61-week maximum benefit is $328/week. The main benefit for parents taking the 18-month leave would be the accompanying change in the duration of job-protected leave, and some parents might have collective agreement top-ups that make the 18-month leave more attractive (although that will likely change rather quickly).

On the whole, an excellent example of how not to do gender budgeting.

So what should we be looking for to make sure that this year's changes to parental leave and pay equity will be meaningful?

Well, for any measure we should be looking for how it will affect differently located women -- women with disabilities, racialized women, women in rural areas, women with different levels of income … you get the idea.

For parental leave specifically, it is useful to look at Quebec's program. Andrea Doucet, Lindsey McKay, and Sophie Mathieu, have found that Quebec's QPIP does a better job of reaching low-income families. There are several features that contribute to this -- lower eligibility requirement ($2,000 of income vs. 600 hours of EI eligible employment), dedicated second-parent leave, and a higher 70 per cent replacement rate for both the dedicated maternity leave and the dedicated second-parent leave, as well as the first seven weeks of parental leave. Any modification of Canada's parental leave program that only does part of this will likely fall short.

On pay equity, many stakeholders are expecting stand-alone legislation to implement proactive pay equity at the federal level. In the budget, we might see set-asides for what this could be expected to cost the federal government as an employer, as well as funding for independent Pay Equity Commission and Hearings Tribunal, and a commitment to funding to support workers' and advocacy groups' access to advice, information, training, and participation in the pay equity process.

Last year I asked how it could be a gender budget without "higher minimum wages, better employment standards enforcement, proactive pay equity legislation, and affordable child care." Those are still the questions I'll be asking this year.

Photo: KMR Photography/flickr

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Categories: News for progressives

Nasra Adem unfurls emotional journey in first book of poetry

Rabble News - Wed, 2018-02-28 03:02
Arts & Culture

When Nasra Adem speaks, they form more than words and sentences. There are entire emotional worlds in the tenor and cadence of their voice. Adem, who lives in Edmonton, identifies as a queer, Muslim multidisciplinary artist.

"My throat is always the first thing to go, when I'm under stress," says Adem in an interview with It goes back to their time as a 16-year-old struggling in Edmonton's school system, dealing with anxiety and ADHD as well as trying to sort out their relationship to their parents and to Islam. It was too much.

"I developed a thyroid condition…and now that I'm investigating dis-ease and the spiritual map of my body, of course, it's the throat chakra! I couldn't express myself in the ways that I needed to."

Needless to say, Adem has come a long way. They have just finished a term as the Youth Poet Laureate of Edmonton, helped launch the Black Arts Matter festival last year (Alberta's first all-Black festival) and is curator of Sister 2 Sister: an artist collective for/by femmes of colour.

Adem is currently the star of an Alberta Treasury Board commercial dedicated to entrepreneurs and, is also an artistic associate at Workshop West Playwright's Theatre in Edmonton.

On March 16, the day they turn 24, Adem launches their first book of poetry, A God Dance in Human Cloth.

Born in Calgary, growing up in Toronto and Ottawa, and then relocating to Edmonton at the age of 12, Adem has had to sort out a lot -- in Ontario, they spent time around a lot of African and Middle-Eastern families but arriving in Edmonton, they felt like an outcast. Eventually, in high school they ended up hanging out with a group of people who were focused on dance. This gave them purpose and focus. They went on to study musical theatre at Grant McEwan College but dropped out to focus on poetry and spoken word.

Adem spoke to in the middle of the second Black Arts Matter Festival in Edmonton. This interview has been condensed and edited.

You had been practicing spoken word and posting videos but then you finally performed in 2013 with I am not a Poet. Can you recall that experience?

It was at the Rouge Lounge and I saw the poster for it. I thought, "Stop talking about doing the thing. Do the thing." I was in a healthy [state of] mind. I invited my two friends from university, my mom was super supportive. I saw the poster and saw it was run by two Black people [poet knowmadic, a.k.a. Ahmed Ali, and Titilope Sonuga]. I thought, What?!!

I was a ball of nerves. I thought maybe I'll forget everything. It was the energy in the room, I sucked it up, and through the poem, I took it all and shared it back at the end. I remember the afterwards mostly. Titi came up and grabbed my shoulders and said: 'You have to slam -- it's spoken word but it's competition. You have to because you're Black and you're a woman!'  I was crying and shaky.

They really helped me. Titi showed me -- this is what you want? Then, this is how you get it. She's amazing. She's now back in Lagos on a TV show, advocating for girls in STEM. Ahmed and his wife are still there every Tuesday night running it, now it's at The Nook. He's doing it out of his own pocket.

You can choose the experiences that you want. I seek the relationships, not the product.

Describe the poetry that's in your book -- is there a focus?

It's a lot of reckoning, reconciling. It's about the last three, four years of spiritual and emotional work I've done to find out where that voice went that was swallowed up. What made me, what un-made me. My sexuality, the intimate intersections with growing up in a Muslim household, coming from the places that I come from.

My father's side is very religious, my grandfather is an imam, all my uncles have memorized the Qu'ran. I really loved Islam. As I was coming to my art, it was not a place that supported me so I was very confused and I had crying fits with God: You don't want me to do this?!

Once I started this other thing [dance, poetry], I realized it made me feel the way I had about Islam. Creation is creation. It was before religion.

I was dealing with my anxiety, finding out I had ADHD, the medication made me fat, it really screwed with me. I prayed hard. I embodied that on stage. Spoken word gives you the time to speak, to move the way you say.

The title came from a freestyle I was doing during a photo shoot. It became a caption. I thought yeah, this is kind of how I feel about myself: a God dance in human cloth.

It's about understanding the way I move and flow. The poems are ones I've done over the last three years like, I Am a New Brand of Shiny and Victory -- which is about my name. They are bold affirmations.

The book is closing that chapter of discovery. I have chosen myself in all forms, in all ways.

What did you learn from your tenure as the Youth Poet Laureate?

I had to thank [the title] for giving me legitimacy to the institutions that tried to kick me out!

I left high school early because I was dealing with the thyroid [condition], the medication, my struggle with so many things. I couldn't churn out the numbers or essays that they required, I started failing and skipping classes. And I had been an honour student, I got student leadership awards. The school system doesn't support art. I could see the brand new gym, the money that went into sports and sports teams at school.

Going into the schools, it's incredible. I have a lot of energy and there's this beautiful, visceral feeling of seeing young people see themselves. I walk in there with this fancy title and it's like, "Yo, I gotta be here huh?" There's nothing like watching a bunch of Somali girls, who could be my cousins, really excited when I show up. I see how deeply invested the students are in each other. The solidarity among the students in classrooms is BIG. And I'm chilling with them and bringing my reference points, talking about music and lyrics. Then, we have these natural conversations that occur because you're there and you honour where they are.

The best classrooms are community. There is no power dynamic. I've had the privilege of seeing that happening. The teachers, staff members, principals are raising people's children!

In the end, what do your parents make of this?

I didn't finish that theatre degree and technically, I could go back and my mom always asks if I could. And I think, why?  I'm already doing the things I want to do.

My dad, he's got this magazine with my face on it and a five-page spread about me and he says, "I don't understand why you're doing this." Well, it's not your job to understand. We come from different tool sets.

I'm first generation. I'm coming out of my parents' expectations. I honour their survival but I'm not here to tailor my ideas, the truths of myself to them.

A God Dance in Human Cloth is available for purchase here.  The book launch takes place March 16,  6: 30 p.m., $15, CKUA Performance Space, 9804 Jasper Avenue NW Edmonton. For more info, click here.

June Chua is a Berlin-based journalist who regularly writes about the arts for

Photo: Autumn Beemer Photography

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Canadian poetryCanadian poetsBlack CommunityBlack ArtsJune ChuaFebruary 28, 2018Vivek Shraya and Arsenal Pulp Press launch imprint for young writers of colourArtist and writer Vivek Shraya is partnering with Arsenal Pulp Press to offer a deep mentorship and publication to a writer of Indigenous background or a person of colour who is living in Canada.Mad Room: Black artist lays bare struggle with depression, anxietyTangled Art Gallery in Toronto is opening its first-ever installation, featuring the work of local artist Gloria Swain and focusing on her experience as a Black woman in the mental health system.Finding hope in the poetics and politics of waterRita Wong's poetry collection 'undercurrent' describes the power and sacredness of water and cracks into the language of colonialism and capitalism and offers alternative narratives.
Categories: News for progressives

Mel Watkins writes on the passing of James Laxer

Rabble News - Wed, 2018-02-28 00:54
February 27, 2018NDPMel Watkins: Reflections on Jim LaxerWe met in mid-1969 at a small gathering in Toronto of NDP members. The bond we formed in the time of the Waffle was a defining moment of my life politically, and one of its great joys, personally.NDPjames laxermel watkinsthe waffle
Categories: News for progressives

Trudeau's dance of deception on Indigenous rights

Rabble News - Tue, 2018-02-27 23:44
Pamela Palmater

On Feb. 14, 2018, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his plan to develop a new legislative framework called the "Recognition and Implementation of Rights Framework" intended to recognize Indigenous rights and avoid litigation. This announcement came after the incredible "not guilty" verdict in the Gerald Stanley murder trial -- the farmer who killed Colten Boushie from Red Pheasant First Nation -- and the subsequent nationwide rallies and protests by Indigenous peoples.

There is no doubt that Trudeau was trying to deflect attention from the deep-rooted racism within Canada's justice system -- but also in his own government's failure to take substantive action on any of the injustices facing Indigenous peoples. Despite his many pre- and post-election promises to Indigenous peoples -- Trudeau has been all talk and little action.

Aside from the opportunistic nature of his announcement, it is important to note that this is nothing new. Since his election, Trudeau has made the same core promises to recognize and implement Indigenous rights in a multitude of strategically timed announcements. He campaigned on reviewing and repealing all laws imposed on First Nations by the former Conservative government headed by Stephen Harper. He promised to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), including the provision of free, prior and informed consent, which he confirmed meant a veto for First Nations.

After he was elected he reconfirmed that his government would renew the nation-to-nation relationship based on rights recognition. However, his mandate letters to his cabinet tended to focus more on specific social programs than any rights-based agenda. Despite these very telling mandate letters, Trudeau managed to maintain the fanfare around his government's commitments at the Assembly of First Nations' (AFN) Chiefs in Assembly meetings in 2015 and 2016. With very similar impassioned speeches, he re-announced his government's commitment to repeal all of Harper's laws, review all Canadian laws to ensure their compliance with section 35 Aboriginal and treaty rights and implement UNDRIP.

However, year after year, he has not taken any substantive steps in this direction. Therefore, when yet another announcement was made in June 2017, this time about a Memorandum of Understanding between the AFN and Canada, there was some expectation of concrete deliverables. Like all other announcements to date, the pomp and circumstance celebrating the MOU overshadowed the fact that the only hard commitment in the MOU was to meet with the AFN three times a year to talk.

This is the well-choreographed dance used by Trudeau to make Canadians and Indigenous peoples believe that he is making great strides, "absolutely historic" advancements, or engaging in a "fundamental rethink" of the relationship with Indigenous peoples. Sadly, the AFN has become a willing partner in this deception. Had the AFN been doing its job, it would have advised First Nations not to count on the speeches and announcements, but to force hard commitments on paper. It should have been concerned that Trudeau's legislative framework idea is yet another federal government idea, much like the creation of two Indian Affairs departments -- neither of which was requested or developed by First Nations.

We know from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and the most recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission report that every time Canada imposes solutions on us -- our lives get much worse. This announcement is no exception. Despite trying to distance himself from his father's legacy, Justin Trudeau is covertly trying to do what his father Pierre Trudeau tried to do directly.

In 1969, then Liberal prime minister Pierre Trudeau, together with his Minister of Indian Affairs, Jean Chretien, released the 1969 White Paper on Indian Policy. The goal was to repeal the Indian Act, dissolve Indian Affairs, eliminate Indian status, and get rid of reserves and treaties.

There was tremendous opposition to this plan by First Nations, including protests and several official responses, including Citizens Plus -- dubbed the Red Paper -- from First Nations in Alberta and Wahbung: Our Tomorrows from First Nations in Manitoba. In both of these responses, First Nations said they did not want the Indian Act repealed and that any amendments had to be done with their consent. They also said that their separate status as Indians and treaty beneficiaries were to stay. Most importantly, they reconfirmed what First Nations have long said: that they need their lands, resources and jurisdictions recognized so they can rebuild their Nations. Trudeau abandoned the 1969 White Paper, but subsequent governments have never stopped trying to fulfil its objectives.

Now, Justin Trudeau, who did not consult with First Nations nationally, has made unilateral decisions about Indigenous peoples, including changing the name of the department, creating two new departments, limiting nation-to-nation relations to meetings with the AFN and a new legislative framework to limit Indigenous rights. We know that this legislation will limit rights because of the code words used by Trudeau during his announcement. His focus on "certainty" is a Justice Canada word used to extinguish Indigenous rights and title. His comment that this process is not about getting back what was lost -- is code for no return of lands and resources or compensation for the loss of use or benefit.

Trudeau's confirmation that no amendments would be made to the Constitution means that no substantive recognition of Indigenous jurisdiction will be made. Finally, his focus on doing this to avoid the courts is another way of saying that he doesn't want any more court cases upholding our rights to land and our right to decide what happens on our lands. Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould made it very clear that free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) in UNDRIP "does not equate to a veto" -- a stark contrast from Trudeau's promise that FPIC "absolutely" equates to a veto.

Trudeau's dance of deception has the potential to gut Indigenous rights, treaties, title and jurisdiction in Canada, especially if he is permitted to ride the pomp and circumstance of these carefully worded, flowery announcements to royal assent before the next election -- as he promised. Conflict is coming and the true test of reconciliation will be over our right to say no.

This article was originally published in Lawyer's Daily on February 26, 2018.

Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

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Categories: News for progressives

“Nationalism versus Continentalism: Clarksonian Perspectives”

Progressive economics forum - Tue, 2018-02-27 23:18


 Greg Inwood

This is a contribution from Greg Inwood for the series commemorating the work of Stephen Clarkson who died in 2016.

Greg Inwood is a Profesor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration, and a member of the Yeates School of Graduate Studies at Ryerson University.  He is the author of Understanding Canadian Public Administration and The Politics and Legacy of the Macdonald Royal Commission.  He is the recipient of the Donald Smiley Prize in 2006 for the best book published on government and politics in Canada.

This tribute to Stephen Clarkson begins with his personal connection, where Stephen, in very Clarksonian style, dismissed Greg’s choice of thesis topic as ‘boring.’

Stephen Clarkson

Nationalism versus Continentalism:  Clarksonian Perspectives

by Greg Inwood

In perhaps my first encounter with Stephen Clarkson in the Fall of 1986, we were seated beside each other at a seminar in the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto where I had just arrived as a graduate student undertaking a PhD. We struck up a conversation, and he asked what I was planning to write my PhD dissertation on. I was still undecided, but told him someone suggested that I might write a biographical study of the constitutional expert Eugene Forsey. Stephen looked at me and quickly and emphatically pronounced on the idea: “how boring,” he said, rather to my surprise. He then suggested that there was a dissertation just waiting to be written on the recently-completed Macdonald Royal Commission.[1] I looked at him and thought – but did not have the temerity to say out loud – “how boring.” But Stephen was persuasive, and the idea percolated in my mind. The Commission’s signature recommendation had been that Canada enter into a free trade agreement with the United States, an ideas taken up with alacrity by the Mulroney government, and central to the great free trade debate just beginning to unfold across Canada in the run-up to the 1988 election. In the end I undertook a dissertation on that very subject focusing on the debate between nationalists and continentalists. I did so under the guidance par excellence of Stephen Clarkson, whose expert combination of laissez faire and active interventionism as dissertation supervisor proved to be the perfect formula for success.[2]

The other significant early encounter with Stephen was in a graduate course he co-taught with Mel Watkins called Canadian Political Economy. After having taken legions of political science courses, I had finally discovered that there were scholars and a literature which I had previously assumed what political science was all about. Their course had an immense impact on me, as did working as Stephen’s TA for his undergraduate course on Canadian political economy.

As we move into the post-globalization era marked by the renegotiation of the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA),  Brexit, the cancellation of the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal, the reassertion of “America first,” and the revocation of international free trade principles and practices by the current American administration, it is interesting to look at Clarksonian conceptions of nationalism and continentalism as reflected in Stephen’s thinking over the trajectory of his remarkable career.

Stephen began in the 1960s and 1970s with assessments of the ideational ferment of the times and with a normative and theoretical approach that eventually evolved into a sharply tuned analysis of the pragmatic institutional features of free trade and continentalism. Stephen started with assessments of the policies of the Diefenbaker Conservatives, Walter Gordon, the Pearson and Trudeau Liberals, and left nationalist critiques emerging at that time. He posed provocative questions about the extent of Canadian autonomy, for instance in the collection of essays he edited for the University League for Social Reform entitled An Independent Foreign Policy for Canada? (Stephen always pointed out there was a question mark at the end of the book title) (Clarkson 1968). His Canada and the Reagan Challenge (Clarkson 1985) explored the exercise of American approbation toward the nationalist turn in Canadian government policy regarding the National Energy Program and the Foreign Investment Review Agency (and was dedicated, by the way, to the father figure of liberal Canadian nationalism, Walter Gordon). By the 1990s and 2000s, Stephen turned his focus more sharply to the institutional realities of the Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and NAFTA, as well as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the World Trade Organization (WTO), dissecting the meaning of the new supra-constitutional regime and pointing to the legal, institutional and legitimacy limitations of the neoconservative project to make Canada and the world safe for transnational capital.

Underlying Stephen’s work was a normative dimension which reflected the broad currents of nationalism and continentalism in Canadian life. He identified with a value system rooted in nationalism giving top priority to political autonomy, social equality, labour rights, and environmental sustainability; continentalists, on the other hand, he felt saw integration as top priority and prioritized economic growth thereby entrenching reliance on factors beyond national control (Clarkson 2002, 9).

Stephen identified how problematic the gulf in value systems between nationalists and continentalists could be, resulting in a “dialogue of the deaf” (Clarkson 2002, 10). Vilification of each side by the other prevented any meaningful exchange, with continentalists condemning nationalists as either ignorant of elementary economics or outright demagogues, and nationalists condemning continentalists as the forces of evil as represented by transnational corporations and neoconservative apologists. These differing perspectives extended to perceptions of the role of the state, with continentalists believing that “who governs least governs best,” and nationalists preferring an activist state. One of the most intellectually rewarding aspects of being one of Stephen’s students and later his TA was that he brought prominent representatives of both these broad perspectives into his classrooms and seminars to air their views. He even sometimes put them in the same room together. The fireworks were remarkably instructive.

By the late 1980s and early 1990s the battle had tipped appreciably in favour of the continentalists whose ideological predisposition to free markets and neoconservatism had seen them enact a widespread program of not only free trade, but also privatization, deregulation, lower taxes, and greater corporate freedom. These measures, the nationalists felt, were inimical to the public interest while privileging private interests. Stephen looked on many of these developments with some dismay. But he was conscious of the dangers of nostalgia, even as he took the activist, interventionist Keynesian state of Diefenbaker, Pearson and Trudeau the elder as the point of comparison against which to assess the neoconservative era of Mulroney, Chretien and Harper. Still, Stephen’s sympathies were always clear. In 2002 he wrote that after the ratification of the 1989 FTA:

I mentally wore a black armband. I was in mourning for the exuberant, liveable, creative, hopeful Canada that my generation had tried to build and that ‘free’ trade seemed to have condemned to a lingering death. I had shared, and helped articulate in my research, the concerns of the millions who opposed Mulroney’s deal. Deeper integration in the American system, we believed, would doom the efforts of many generations to build a better society on the northern third of the continent. CUFTA signalled the end of Canada as we knew it. It would strike at the heart of the government structures and programs in which we had lodged so much of our shared identity (Clarkson 2002, 14).

But Stephen moved from mourning to critical analysis pretty quickly, and produced a series of important works that took the continentalist policies and placed them under a microscope. If the continentalists were going to make claims about the virtues and values of free trade, Stephen was going to subject each and every claim to careful, thoughtful and precise scrutiny, He produced an analysis of astonishing breadth and depth, consisting of a series of dozens of case studies over a thematic trilogy (Clarkson 2002, 2008, Clarkson and Mildenberger 2011) and several other important books, journal articles, reports, public commentaries and studies.

Stephen often observed that one of the conditioning features of the North American relationship was its asymmetry. There is one hegemon and two peripheral powers. This aspect of realpolitik has come home to roost in the recent statements by the current US administration that it would tear up and renegotiate NAFTA, or perhaps just “tweak” it, before issuing a directive in May 2017 instructing Congress to begin renegotiations on NAFTA’s future. But Stephen frequently signalled the significance of the power imbalance in the trilateral continental partnership that emerged in the latter part of the late 20th and early 21st century.

Stephen noted that from Bush to Obama, successive efforts to institutionalize the relationship and create a form of North American governance were of little interest to the Americans. With virtually no legislative, executive or administrative presence, with an enfeebled and ineffective dispute-settlement regime and therefore no real judicial capacity, NAFTA was an ephemeral institutional reality. The fact that corporate North America felt impelled to create parallel institutions such as the doomed Security and Prosperity Partnership, or promote the annual Leaders’ Summit between the Prime Cinister and the two Presidents, or create the North American Competitiveness Council signalled the institutional shallowness of NAFTA. So too did the ineffectiveness of NAFTA’s North American Commission on Labour Cooperation and the North American Commission on Environmental Cooperation.

This all added up to the observation that essentially, what the Americans want the Americans get. Consider for instance, the power to renegotiate NAFTA. In 2002, Stephen presciently wrote:

The threat of abrogation has a very different weight in the hands of Washington than in those of Ottawa or Mexico City…. Disaster would be the assumed impact on either of the peripheral states should the United States abrogate. Following their virtual complete integration in the continental economy, they would be forced to their knees if Washington threatened to terminate its participation in the agreement… (Clarkson 2002, 41).

I suspect this is an aspect of realpolitik not well understood by the current regime in Ottawa.

Just look at the tremors that shook the Ottawa and the Canadian business establishment when the tweeting president-elect announced in early January 2017 that the major auto companies better produce cars in America or he was going to make them pay heavy border taxes for cars imported from other countries. Or in any of the other examples of Trump shooting off his Twitter, or his appointment of a hard line protectionist as his Trade Representative: In a release issued by the transition team, Trump said Robert Lighthizer will fight for trade deals that “put the American worker first.” These developments are reflective of an earlier crisis in Canadian-American relations which Stephen analyzed – the ascension to power of the Reagan government in 1980 with its own “America first” agenda, and the resulting crisis in the relationship characterized by Reagan’s (and corporate America’s) attack on Trudeau’s nationalist initiatives (Clarkson 1985). One key difference today, however, is that while Reagan eventually succumbed to dementia at the end of his presidency, Trump started his as just plain crazy.

Among Stephen’s insights is that the Americans always set the agenda, and if they permit themselves to be the object of policies dictated by the perimeter (ideas Stephen put forward with Matto Mildenberger in 2011 in Dependant America? – note the question mark again), America nonetheless holds the residual power to alter the trajectory of continental relations more or less at will. Stephen noted that the Canadian government negotiated the original FTA “on its knees” before their American counterparts. And he observed that Canada jumped into NAFTA as a defensive response to an initiative between the Americans and Mexicans, rather than as a strategic approach to national economic development. And if there was the need for any further proof of the American proclivity for pursuing its own self-interest, the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington dispelled any doubts, “promoting an instinctually territorial and autarchic response…” (Clarkson 2008, 369). The failure on the part of Canadian policy makers to appreciate the “America first” position of America is a recurring theme in Canadian-American relations. The continent is a function of American power. Trump is only articulating, in “Make America Great Again” a sentiment that is consistent with the assumption and reality of American predominance in the continent.

In the early 1980s when the Macdonald Royal Commission was being established, it created the largest social science research project in Canadian history. Stephen suggested a paper on the determinate power of the US Congress in setting the course for Canada-US relations. He was turned down, and the inquiry did not even commission a single piece of research dedicated to the Canada-US relationship – remember, this was the important national inquiry whose signature recommendation for free trade with the US, quickly taken up by Mulroney, became the new cornerstone of Canadian economic policy to the present day.

As Stephen contemplated the broad implications of the continentalist era, he asserted the emergence of “supra-constitutionalism” in the relations between Canada, the United States and, once NAFTA was implemented, Mexico. What did this mean? The continental political economy was overseen by a new set of institutional mechanisms articulated through trade agreements. NAFTA, along with the WTO, had “re-constitutionalized” Canada’s legal order. In effect, a new regime of norms, rules, and rights had developed that limited the powers of governments at all levels while also giving foreign corporations a powerful new capacity to challenge domestic regulations (Clarkson and Mildenberger 2011, 263). Stephen, again demonstrating the range of his intellectual curiosity, pursued the political-legal dimension of NAFTA and globalized governance more generally in considerable depth with Stepan Wood in A Perilous Imbalance (Clarkson and Wood 2010).

Stephen’s insight was that the political supra-constitution was underdeveloped even as the economic forces unleashed in free trade arrangements proceeded to integrate the three countries of North America and constrain state power. He wrote that “NAFTA was carefully designed to prevent any form of continental governance from developing” (2002, 41). He extended this line of inquiry as the early 20th century unfolded, asking the provocative question “Does North America Exist?” (Clarkson 2008). Essentially, he argued, NAFTA reconstituted American hegemony. But having drawn this conclusion, he was not yet satisfied – it required further testing. So he assessed the North American relationship from a counterintuitive perspective challenging conventional wisdom in Dependent America? (Clarkson and Mildenberger 2011) by asking to what extent American power was constructed and constrained by its two continental partners. The answer was mixed. In some matters the peripheral countries contributed to America’s hegemony, but in most cases they were constrained by it.

Recent events seem to support the imperative of American hegemony. As the American President castigated his NATO partners, cozied up to the Russians, pulled out of the Paris climate change agreement, the evidence adds up. Even the current President’s apparent on-again-off-again animosity toward NAFTA is a code for “we will do it our way.” So too is the continuous program of trade harassment policies on steel, softwood lumber, the attack on Canadian supply management dairy policies, on wheat and so on.

The paradox of the Canadian position is that the further we continentalize our political economy, the worse off we get, but the policy response then is to try to get in even deeper. The FTA was a lousy deal – we negotiated on our knees and were kicked in the derriere by the Americans; NAFTA was worse. We insisted on joining those negotiations as a defensive counter to the idea of a spoke-and-hub trade regime dominated by the US, and we were kicked in the gut; and now with Trump, Justin Trudeau and his foreign affairs ministers Chrystia Freeland are engaging in shuttle, email and telephone diplomacy, dispatching their key officials Katie Telford and Gerald Butts to no doubt prostrate themselves to the likes of Steve Bannon (before he was ushered out the White house door) and Gerald Kushner. Trudeau has even enlisted the aid of Brian Mulroney and one of his key FTA negotiators, Derrek Burney, to assist in pleading the Canadian case. These are the same two architects of the failed FTA and NAFTA. Canadians should prepare to get kicked in the head. This trifecta full body assault is the product of 30 years of repeating the same behaviours and expecting different results – the definition of insanity.

Stephen and Matto Mildenberger wrote in 2011 about possible future scenarios for North America. They suggested one path would see the US:

…go beyond its present mild economic nationalism and reinforce its historical proclivity for isolationism. It could become a Lone Ranger vigilante focusing on sealing its borders rather than promoting connections with its periphery…. To the south it could try fortifying its border still further against would-be Mexican workers and narcotics merchants, without paying heed to the economic distress, political chaos, and security bedlam pushing people across the Rio Grande (Clarkson and Mildenberger 2011, 281-2).

These words seem prophetic, but they are more the product of careful and thoughtful analysis that was Stephen’s hallmark.

This does leave us with questions about the current state of Canadian nationalism. In a 1988 essay entitled “Continentalism: The Conceptual Challenge”, Stephen reminded us of Samuel Moffat’s 1907 assertion not that Canadians would one day become American, but that they already were and did not know it. But Moffat also held that the complete political, economic and cultural absorption of Canada into the United States was inhibited by what Moffat called a “spirit of nationality.” This spirit, Stephen said, evolved through the 20th century experiences of two world wars, the flag debate, the patriation of the Constitution and Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the referenda on sovereignty association and other events and episodes in the collective conscious of Canadians.

How persistent and resourceful this “spirit of nationality” remains in the face of 30 years of unrelenting neoconservative attacks on the key structural state-level supports for this spirit is hard to gauge. Like Stephen in 1989, I sometimes find myself figuratively wearing a black arm band to signify my own uncertainty about the continued existence of Canadian autonomy and nationalism under the current conditions. However, to assuage these feelings, I can once again turn to a Clarksonian perspective on future prospects for Canadian nationhood. Stephen made note of a rarely considered dimension of continentalism – namely that the Americans would never stand for annexation of Canada. It would upset the balance of power in the US Congress, he argued, by adding 24 million English speaking Canadians (he assumed Quebec would go its own way) who skew heavily toward the Democrats and for whom state supplied medical care was a core part of their identity. The political headache would be too much to bare.

In such moments, I remind myself that a search for balance infused Stephen’s perspective and work. Nationalists need to articulate and operationalize an approach that begins to rebalance the power of various actors and institutions in the Canadian and continental political economy and that reclaims and reinvigorates a role for the state. I foresee a strategy of quiet, incremental and subtle policy initiatives – nationalism by stealth if you will – that both reflects and supports a paradigmatic shift of the sort which launched the neoconservative continentalist revolution. Eventually, perhaps a new royal commission advocating a “leap of faith” into a more boldly autonomous and outward looking approach connecting Canadian interests to the broader global landscape through carefully constructed economic relations which privilege people, the environment and community over private profit and transnational greed might be the launching point.

As I look back on that fateful day when I first met Stephen, I am certainly thankful that he persuaded me to undertake that dissertation on the Macdonald Royal Commission. I also sometimes wonder if any grad student, bright eyed, bushy-tailed and naïve as I was back then, ever wrote that political biography of Eugene Forsey. If so, I am sure it would have been a thoughtful, careful and insightful piece of work, if indeed a rather boring one. I am glad it wasn’t me, though, because among the many things Stephen helped me to understand, was that the ongoing problematic of nationalism versus continentalism is never boring.



Clarkson, Stephen, ed. 1968. An Independent Foreign Policy for Canada? Toronto: McClelland and Stewart.

Clarkson, Stephen. 1985. Canada and the Reagan Challenge: Crisis and Adjustment 1981-1985. Toronto: Lorimer.

Clarkson, Stephen. 2008. Does North America Exist? Governing the Continent after NAFTA and 9/11. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Clarkson, Stephen. 1993. “Economics: The New Hemispheric Fundamentalism,” in Ricardo Grinspun and Maxwell A. Cameron, The Political Economy of North American Free Trade. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 61-9.

Clarkson, Stephen. 2001. “The Multi-Level State: Canada in the Semi-Periphery of both Continentalism and Globalization.” Review of International Political Economy. 8, 3 (January), 501-27.

Clarkson, Stephen. 2002. Uncle Sam and US: Globalization, Neoconservatism, and the Canadian State. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Clarkson, Stephen and Matto Mildenberger. 2011. Dependent America? How Canada and Mexico Construct U.S. Power. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Clarkson, Stephen and Stepan Wood. 2010. A Perilous Imbalance: The Globalization of Canadian Law and Governance. Vancouver: UBC Press.

[1] Canada. 1985. The Royal Commission on the Economic Union and Development Prospects for Canada.

[2] The dissertation was transformed into book form, again with Stephen’s help, and published as Gregory J. Inwood. 2005. Continentalizing Canada: The Politics and Legacy of the Macdonald Royal Commission.  Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Categories: News for progressives

Afghanistan ready to play connector role in Eurasian integration

The inauguration of TAPI – the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline – signals Kabul is on-board with the grand project of Eurasian integration by Pepe Escobar (cross-posted with the Asia Times by special
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Syrian War Report – February 27, 2018: Turkey Gains Control Of Border Strip Inside Afrin On February 26, The Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) and the Free Syrian Army linked the TAF-held area in western Aleppo and southwestern Afrin after they had captured the village
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Canadian governments, and not just Liberals, have a history of playing footsie with bad actors

Rabble News - Tue, 2018-02-27 13:31
David J. Climenhaga

The embarrassing case of Jaspal Atwal, the unwanted Mumbai dinner guest, suggests the Trudeau government has a problem with terrorists.

Atwal is the Sikh extremist who served prison time in Canada for attempting to murder a visiting Indian cabinet minister on Vancouver Island in 1986. He was invited to attend a dinner in Mumbai hosted by the Canadian High Commission during the recent Indian visit of our resplendent prime minister, Justin Trudeau.

Atwal was disinvited as soon his history became known, but not before he managed to appear in a photograph with the PM's wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau. Considerable bad press was generated for Trudeau and Canada's Liberal government.

A B.C. Liberal MP has now fallen on his sword, metaphorically speaking, taking responsibility for the blunder. This has persuaded no one, of course, that the blame doesn't belong elsewhere, presumably in the Prime Minister's Office.

This, along with Trudeau's sartorial extravagances, led many pundits to describe his mission to India as a disaster, even a catastrophe. It might be right and just if that were so. But don't count on that being the way it works out.

The fact is, yes, the Trudeau government has a problem with bad actors abroad, including some outright terrorists. But it's not just the Trudeau government.

Recent Canadian governments of both the Liberal and Conservative persuasions have consorted with unsavoury characters, and will continue to do so.

This means that while the Conservative Opposition will understandably try to squeeze some short-term political gain from Trudeau's embarrassment, it and the media are unlikely to dig deeply into why this sort of thing occurs.

Canada's habit of playing footsie with extremists and their supporters happens for two reasons: domestic politics and geopolitics, sometimes a combination of both.   

Geopolitics, in the case of both Liberal and Conservative governments, usually means carrying water for the Republic next door. And the United States has been none too fastidious in the way it distinguishes between the bad terrorists it targets in its so-called Global War on Terror and the "relatively moderate rebels" it arms and supports to help its various geostrategic regime-change projects.

For example, in Syria, where the United States has long desired regime change, it has covertly armed a branch of Al-Qaeda, the organization it accused of attacking the Twin Towers in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001.

Meanwhile, the U.S. relationship with the so-called Islamic State in both Syria and Iraq is murkier, but there's plenty of evidence there is a relationship of some sort. Consider the strangely passive approach the U.S. Air Force took when ISIS could be used to put pressure on the Syrian government, and the USAF's "accidental" bombing of Syrian troops as ISIS fighters waited unmolested nearby to fill the gap. Lately, there are reports defeated ISIS commanders from Iraq are turning up in Afghanistan. If true, they didn't go commercial!

On the domestic political front, meanwhile, Canada is a country of immigrants with multiple large diaspora populations. Whether these Canadians come from European countries like Ireland or Ukraine, or from Asian ones like India, it is inevitable that political conflicts from away will find expression here.

As long as large groups in Canada with ties to their home countries can mobilize blocks of voters in the service of political parties, the temptation for Canadian governments to get too close to extremist factions in those communities will be overpowering.

All we can ask is for our governments and security agencies to deal with them judiciously -- say, by not appointing a foreign minister with strong historical family ties to a foreign government supported by fascist sympathizers engaged in a civil war with their fellow citizens.

This is why, notwithstanding Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer's recent rhetoric about Trudeau's Indian junket, we can expect the Tories not to push too hard.

Cozy relationships with extremist factions in expatriate communities from Punjab, Tamil Sri Lanka, Western Ukraine, Latin America and Iraqi Kurdistan are nothing new for Canadian political parties, or Canadian governments.

Jason Kenney would be the man to ask about how that worked under the Conservatives. After all, the Alberta Opposition Leader was the Harper government's successful point man on wooing immigrant community votes.

Kenney certainly showed up in the Kurdish region of Iraq in 2015 and posed for controversial photos under the Kurds' sunburst flag with his mentor Stephen Harper, then the prime minister. This annoyed the governments of both Iraq and Turkey, the latter our NATO ally.

And who can forget how the National Post, Pravda of the Harper government, functioned as a virtual recruiting agency for Canadian mercenaries to serve the Kurdish cause?

At least in the case of Sikh separatism in India, there are influential and articulate members of both sides of the debate over an independent "Khalistan," so we have a better chance of properly understanding the issue. No one is using "national security" to hide the facts.

But if Indian officials distrust Canada's assurances it has no sympathy with Khalistan, perhaps our military support for the Kurds and our recognition of Kosovo separation from Serbia in 2008 contribute to that. Knee-jerk loyalty to American regime change projects drove both, but they were nevertheless strange policies to be taken up by a country that has its own challenges with national unity.

Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the Atwal embarrassment, Canadian officials were in full damage-control mode, with everyone from the PMO down suggesting the cock-up was someone else's fault.

Former employees and anonymous sources within Canada's security services worked feverishly to insist there was nothing they could have done to prevent the embarrassment. This is baloney, of course.

Still, in terms of the political consequences, it's the PMO that will have to wear the egg on its face.

Given that political reality, others were naturally in full damage-maximization mode.

The Toronto Star gave ample space to Scheer's claim it was "dangerously irresponsible" to suggest Indian officials knowingly allowed Atwal to enter their country after years of banning him. "The implications of saying that elements in the Indian government have played a role in this are profound," he huffed.

But if anything, one imagines, the Indian government is delighted with the short-term advantage it has gained in its dealings with Canada -- a fact that lends credence to our government's leaked damage-control theory.

Regardless, the Star, which seems to have been excluded from the original scoop, quoted the Times of India saying, "Justin Trudeau's visit was a disaster that has little parallel."

The Toronto newspaper, however, omitted to tell its readers that the Times took an optimistic view of the affair, concluding in the same sentence that it "may have provided the opportunity to reset relations between Canada and India."

In terms of realpolitik, it's hard to see much real danger here. The ties between Canada and India are too deep for that.

Embarrassing for the PMO and the security agencies? Certainly, and properly so. The long-term political consequences for Trudeau and the Liberals, though, are unlikely to be serious.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog,

Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

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Categories: News for progressives

Moveable Feast Cafe 2018/02/27 … Open Thread

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Parental Leave and Pay Equity

Progressive economics forum - Tue, 2018-02-27 05:16

Budget 2018 is being advertised as a truly comprehensive gender budget, with two key pieces of that being use-it-or-lose-it paternity leave, and action on pay equity.

Last year’s gender budget implemented the Liberal campaign promise to extend EI parental leave from a total of 12 months to 18 months, despite the fact that the idea was universally panned by feminists, Canada’s unions, and business groups.

The problem? Other than the fact it doesn’t recognize that the primary issue facing parents of young children is the need for a national childcare system, the plan didn’t increase the total amount of funding, it simply extended the current allotment over a longer period of time. Instead of getting 55% of your average earnings for 35 weeks of parental benefits, you can choose to get 33% for 61 weeks. If you earn more than the maximum insurable earnings threshold of $51,700, the 35 week maximum benefit is $547/week, and the 61 week maximum benefit is $328/week. The main benefit for parents taking the 18 month leave would be the accompanying change in the duration of job-protected leave, and some parents might have collective agreement top-ups that make the 18 month leave more attractive (although that will likely change rather quickly).

On the whole, an excellent example of how not to do gender budgeting.

So what should we be looking for to make sure that this year’s changes to parental leave and pay equity will be meaningful?

Well, for any measure we should be looking for how it will affect differently located women – women with disabilities, racialized women, women in rural areas, women with different levels of income … you get the idea.

For parental leave specifically, it is useful to look at Quebec’s program. Andrea Doucet, Lindsey McKay, and Sophie Mathieu, have found that Quebec’s QPIP does a better job of reaching low income families. There are several features that contribute to this – lower eligibility requirement ($2,000 of income vs. 600 hours of EI eligible employment), dedicated second parent leave, and a higher 70% replacement rate for both the dedicated maternity leave & the dedicated second parent leave, as well as the first seven weeks of parental leave. Any modification of Canada’s parental leave program that only does part of this will likely fall short.

On pay equity, many stakeholders are expecting stand-alone legislation to implement proactive pay equity at the federal level. In the budget, we might see set-asides for what this could be expected to cost the federal government as an employer, as well as funding for independent Pay Equity Commission and Hearings Tribunal, and a commitment to funding to support workers’ and advocacy groups’ access to advice, information, training, and participation in the pay equity process.

Last year I asked how it could be a gender budget without “higher minimum wages, better employment standards enforcement, proactive pay equity legislation, and affordable childcare”. Those are still the questions I’ll be asking this year.

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Northern Syria’s leftism explained: a response to Socialist Arab Nationalism

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Who is doing what in Syria, part II: Syria grabs the initiative

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State Department Troll Farm Receives Huge Cash Infusion

The U.S. State Department will increase its online trolling capabilities and up its support for meddling in other countries. The Hill reports: The State Department is launching a $40 million initiative to crack down on foreign propaganda and disinformation amid...
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Syrian War Report – February 26, 2018: Tiger Forces Start Ground Operation In Eastern Ghouta On February 25, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and its allies started a ground phase of their operation against militants in the Eastern Ghouta region, near Damascus. Since the
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James Laxer: 1941-2018

Rabble News - Mon, 2018-02-26 14:44
February 26, 2018Remembering James Laxer, Canadian iconoclastCo-founder of the Waffle, academic, writer and politician, Laxer died on February 23 in Paris. He is remembered here by his son, Michael.james laxerthe waffleNDPsocialism
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Weekly Review And Open Thread 2018-08

Feb 19 - Internet Marketing - Why Is This Smelly Fish Priceless? Automated Twitter accounts, or trolls, repeated a tweet about a MoA piece on Muller's indictment of "Russian trolls". Funny but not really important. There is interesting news though...
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Syria - The UNSC Mandated Ceasefire Will Not Hold

Last night the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2401 demanding a 30 day ceasefire in all of Syria. The text of the adopted resolution does not seem to be available yet. A copy of the original draft resolution is here....
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The White Helmet Singalong

The white Helmet singalong by Banjo Marla h/t: Walid
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Ten proposals from the 2018 Alternative Federal Budget

Progressive economics forum - Sat, 2018-02-24 13:28

I’ve written a blog post about this year’s Alternative Federal Budget (AFB).

Points raised in the blog post include the following:

-This year’s AFB would create 470,000 (full-time equivalent) jobs in its first year alone. By year 2 of the plan, 600,000 new (full-time equivalent) jobs will exist.

-This year’s AFB will also bring in universal pharmacare, address involuntary part-time employment among women, eliminate tuition fees for all post-secondary students in Canada, speed up implementation of the federal carbon tax, and increase the corporate tax rate from 15% to 21%.

-I’m particularly intrigued by the AFB’s poverty reduction measures, which include a sizeable top-up to the GST rebate, a $4 billion annual transfer to the provinces and territories, increases to seniors’ benefits, and $3.5B in new spending for housing.

The full blog post can be found here.

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