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Taking on the liars and the right wing: our favourite fights from 2018

Mon, 2018-12-24 01:43
December 23, 2018Anti-RacismCivil Liberties WatchElectionsTaking on the liars and the right wingThis year, we stood in solidarity with activists organizing against hate. Check out the Activist Toolkit's favourite fights of 2018.
Categories: News for progressives

New advocacy group calls for Toronto to declare state of emergency on homelessness

Sat, 2018-12-22 01:25
December 21, 2018Politics in CanadaNew advocacy group calls for Toronto to declare state of emergency on homelessnessHomelessness has reached post-apocalyptic levels in the absence of a national housing program.
Categories: News for progressives

Ontario rollbacks to sex-ed curriculum prompt legal challenges

Fri, 2018-12-21 01:28
December 20, 2018Ontario rollback to sex-ed curriculum prompts legal challengesThe Ford government's decision to revert back to the 1998 curriculum has produced considerable backlash from educators, parents, and students -- and has also triggered four separate legal challenges.CA
Categories: News for progressives

Liberals alienate oil workers in Alberta, Bombardier employees in Quebec

Wed, 2018-12-19 21:17
December 19, 2018Liberals alienate oil workers in Alberta, Bombardier employees in QuebecWith what’s being characterized as misplaced aid to Alberta’s oil patch and Via Rail’s decision to buy railcars from Germany, Liberals show how politically fraught world of industrial strategy can be.
Categories: News for progressives

Liberals alienate oil workers in Alberta, Bombardier employees in Quebec

Wed, 2018-12-19 21:11
Karl Nerenberg

Less than a week after the federal government refused to direct government-owned Via Rail to place a billion-dollar order for new rail cars with Quebec-based Bombardier, it announced a multi-year package worth more than $1.5 billion for Alberta’s oil and gas industry. The two decisions show how politically fraught the world of industrial strategy can be.

The Trudeau government’s moves, especially so close together, failed to elicit whoops of joy from its target audience out west and has prompted accusations of failing to protect jobs and create new ones in Quebec towns like La Pocatière, northeast of Quebec City, where Bombardier has a major production facility.

The Crown-owned railway last week announced it is giving its business to the German mega-corporation Siemens.

A good piece of the $1.5 billion in aid to the oil and gas industry announced December 18, will be in the form of loans by two government agencies, Export Development Canada and the Business Development of Bank of Canada, to aid oil patch companies find new markets. But Alberta Premier Rachel Notley points out that finding markets is not the industry’s problem. What hobbles it, she says, is the lack of means – be they pipelines or rail cars – to get product to market.

Oil and gas industry spokespeople add that while they appreciate the government’s solicitude, most companies have not been looking for government handouts. In fact, experts say the $1.5 billion will only really help smaller industry players, who might be having difficulty attracting private capital right now.

Environmentalists have their own reasons to be unhappy about this new financial commitment to oil and gas. When you put it together with the more than $4 billion to buy the Kinder Morgan pipeline, they say, it shows the Trudeau government, despite its brave talk, is moving backwards not forwards to meet Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions targets.

German company to build rail cars for Canada in the U.S.

The Liberal government and Via Rail management both say they could not give any preference to home-grown company, and the jobs it would create, because of trade deals with Europe and the U.S. The winning bidder, Siemens, has offered to consider Canadian sub-contractors for up to 20 per cent of the work on the Via Rail order, but makes no firm commitment. The German company will likely do the lion’s share of the work at its California facility.

Workers in La Pocatière point out that American rules requires 65 per cent of any public transit related manufacturing be done in the U.S. They wonder why Canada cannot do the same.

In Parliament, the NDP echoes that view. New Democratic MPs also say Quebec workers are victims of a bad trade deal – the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement or CETA – that Canada signed with the European Union last year.  When the Siemens deal was announced, the NDP trade critic, Tracey Ramsay, told the House of Commons:

“The Liberal government refused to award a billion-dollar contract to Canada's Bombardier … because they know that using Canadian companies for procurement can get us sued by the EU under the investor-state provisions in CETA. When the Liberals called CETA a gold standard in trade, Canadians had no idea that meant giving away their jobs to foreign companies.”

A collective face palm

There is no way the prime minister and his colleagues can make a silk purse out of this sow’s ear. They can hardly claim it is good thing for the workers of La Pocatière that workers in California will be building railways that will run from Quebec’s capital, through the federal capital to Ontario’s capital and beyond.

The best the Liberals can offer is bland boiler-plate generalities on the long-term value of freer trade and open borders. On December 11, the prime minister put it this way:

“Signing trade deals allows us to access procurement opportunities around the world so that we can see things like Bombardier trains in Africa, in Asia and around the world. We will continue to promote the extraordinary quality of the work that is done by Canadian companies around the world. We know that as we engage in trade we create better opportunities for our workers and for all Canadians.”

The response of NDP parliamentary leader Guy Caron seems, in this case, quite apropos. 

“Mr. Speaker, when the prime minister tries to make us believe that the contract given by VIA Rail for a German company to build trains in the U.S. is the best thing that can happen, we can feel a collective face palm from Canadians …”

And so, as the year comes to an end, the Trudeau government has managed to annoy most Albertans, a good part of the environmental community and a significant group of workers and businesspeople in Quebec. It’s all in a day’s work, perhaps an inevitable consequence of governing such a vast and diverse country.

Karl Nerenberg has been a journalist and filmmaker for more than 25 years. He is rabble's politics reporter.

Photo: Justin Trudeau/Flickr

Help make rabble sustainable. Please consider supporting our work with a monthly donation. Support rabble.ca today for as little as $1 per month!

Categories: News for progressives

Canada on track for record arms sale to Saudi Arabia

Tue, 2018-12-18 23:46
December 18, 2018Canada on track for record arms sale to Saudi ArabiaCanadian rifle and ammunition sales to Saudi Arabia in 2018 is about to hit an all-time record, beating out previous records set in 2017 and 2016 – the same period of the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
Categories: News for progressives

Canada on track for record arms sale to Saudi Arabia

Tue, 2018-12-18 23:37
Ryan Donnelly

Statistics Canada latest trade data releases show that Canada is heading toward a record year in rifle and ammunition exports to Saudi Arabia, despite the kingdom’s continued war in Yemen.

According to the latest numbers as of October of 2018, Canada has exported 21,101 rifles to Saudi Arabia, just behind the 2017 total of 21,778, and ahead of the 2016 total of 19,804. Should November or December repeat the numbers exported in the preceding two months – 4,000 each month – Canada will set a new record in its rifles and ammunitions exports to Saudi Arabia.

This would make the years of 2018, 2017 and 2016 the highest recorded years of rifle and ammunition sales to Saudi Arabia since the data was first tracked in 1989 – years that directly coincide with the beginning of the Saudi-led coalition intervention and subsequent war in Yemen.

Facing one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, 22.2 million people in Yemen are estimated to be facing widespread famine and starvation, with 8.4 million in severe need. A recent international report cites the on-going armed conflict as the primary driver of the humanitarian disaster. The conflict has left more than 2 million people displaced and resulted in 17,000 direct civilian casualties of the fighting. One study estimates that around 85,000 children have starved to death since the conflict began.

As the worldwide chorus of opposition to the war in Yemen grows, the Trudeau administration continues to hold the line that its ministers are pushing for a ceasefire in Yemen and that Canadian arms are not being used in the war. In an exchange in the House of Commons in late November, Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, parliamentary secretary to the minister of Foreign Affairs, stated: “We require and expect that Canadian arms exports are used in a way that fully respects human rights. If there is evidence that Canadians arms are being misused or have been diverted, we will suspend those export permits as we have done in the past.”

Anthony Fenton, a researcher at York University, believes evidence shows that this is not the case.

“So far, what I and others have seen confirmation of in Yemen are three different varieties of the Winnipeg, Manitoba-made sniper rifles produced by PGW Defence Technology Inc. There have been a multitude of sightings of PGW rifles either in Saudi possession in/around Yemen, and/or in the possession of Yemeni rebels who have commandeered them as 'trophies' from Saudi soldiers,” Fenton said.

Global Affairs Canada holds the position that any evidence of Canadian-made rifles being used in Yemen would result in a suspension of export permits to Saudi Arabia.

"Canada remains deeply concerned by the ongoing conflict in Yemen and its humanitarian impact on civilians, particularly women and children, who continue to bear the brunt of the fighting," said John Babcock, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada. "We require and expect that Canadian arms exports are used in a way that fully respects human rights. That's why our government is committed to a stronger and more rigorous arms export system and to the Arms Trade Treaty. Canada does not export items destined for Yemen or that will be used in Yemen due to the impact on regional stability and security. Careful attention is paid to the potential for the diversion of Canadian exports to the conflict in Yemen. If there is evidence that Canadian arms are being misused or have been diverted, Minister Freeland will suspend those export permits while an investigation proceeds, as she has done in the past."

Fenton and other observers note that the major issue with verification lies in the way that the export permits are issued. Right now, the Canadian government contends that the export permits allow them to monitor exported arms use and ensure that Canadian-made weapons are not being used in the vicious war in Yemen.  

However, a recent report by The Guardian showed that there was a widespread lack of transparency with export permits that allowed U.S. and U.K. weapons to end up in the hands of soldiers in Yemen.

In 2016, an image surfaced showing a Houthi rebel holding a Canadian-made PGW rifle. Global Affairs Canada launched an investigation following that revelation. To date, that investigation has never been made public.

Canada is not the only country that has faced criticism over arms exports to Saudi Arabia during the conflict. Denmark, Austria, Holland, Spain and Germany have all heeded calls to stop exporting arms and have since ceased issuing export permits. Last week, the U.S. Senate voted to end American assistance to Saudi Arabia in the war as well.

The Trudeau government has yet to cancel Canadian arms exports even amidst the controversial LAV deal which saw Canada on track to export $15-billion worth of light armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia. This year’s numbers will make Saudi Arabia the second largest importer of Canadian-made rifles behind the United States.

 

Ryan Donnelly is a freelance writer from Southern Ontario with an academic background in Canadian public policy. He's also a former human rights worker and adovcate who has written on issues of Canadian foreign policy.

Photo: flickr/CC2.0

Categories: News for progressives

As holidays approach, a few thoughts about spirituality and religion

Tue, 2018-12-18 02:53
Alex Sangha

As the holiday season is fast approaching, I thought I would put forward my beliefs around religion, spirituality and God.

Many people claim to follow religion and believe in God, so why not discuss and debate these important values and beliefs in our society.

Unfortunately, I believe religion has very little to do with God.  

Some of the key religious figures that many of us believe in, like Jesus, Buddha, Moses or Guru Nanak, all of which just happen to be men, may have had a spiritual experience of some kind. 

Nonetheless, I feel religion is manmade and an instrument of power and social control and ultimately oppression. 

Millions of people have been killed in the name of religion. 

I am sure God would be very disappointed that so many have suffered in his or her name, including gay people.

We are all God’s children and all deserve divine blessings.

Religion has also been a force for good. Ideas such as the golden rule from the Bible, which states that we should treat people how we want to be treated or selfless service, or “seva,” which is a fundamental tenant of Sikhism, are great ideas to ascribe to.

So, what do I believe?

I am convinced that we are essentially walking spirits. We all have spiritual energy within us and we are connected to the spiritual world and the divine.

What is the proof for this?

Well, many people claim to have had a life-after-death experience. They state that they have seen a “light” or a type of spiritual energy. 

Just because science cannot explain these experiences does not mean they are not real or valid.

Furthermore, as part of the human experience, we all know that we have a conscious or experience love. Yet, how can we measure or provide proof that we are experiencing these emotions, feelings and thoughts? Again, science cannot fully explain the full breadth of the human condition.

I fundamentally believe that we are spiritual beings that are going through a human experience. 

We are in the physical form for the time being.

However, we are more than our physical bodies. Our bodies just turn to ash and mix with the Earth when we die. 

Our spirit is immortal and never dies and moves onto its next journey with the Supreme Being or the spiritual world or perhaps even reincarnation into a human form again. I am open to all possibilities. 

I am also awestruck by the miracle of creation all around us in nature and in the universe. Everything is so perfectly designed. If we had slightly more oxygen in the atmosphere, we would all be wiped out. 

There is a famous argument supporting a creator. It goes something like this.

If astronauts landed on a distant planet and found a Lamborghini on the beach, what would they think? Did the Lamborghini evolve naturally or did the Lamborghini have a creator?

We all know the answer. Of course, the Lamborghini had a creator.

Nonetheless, even if evolution plays a role in creation, evolution must have been triggered by something and that something could possibly be God. It’s a plausible explanation.

The question of evil.

Many people ask why is there evil in the world if there is a God? This is an excellent question and I feel only God can answer that. I feel one day all our questions will be answered. Some people believe suffering brings us closer to God or is a test. 

Other people believe there is good and evil within each person, as well as society-at-large and the entire universe. If you feed the evil, then the evil comes out. If you feed the good, then the good comes out. This battle between good and evil is a struggle for everyone and constantly playing out in our world.

Why am I so convinced that there is a God?

I find the explanations in the major world religions trying to explain the awesomeness and majesty of our existence, as well as creation and the infinite universe and galaxies that surround us to be horribly insufficient. 

I think future generations will look back and find our religious texts interesting and entertaining, like we enjoy the stories of the ancient Greco-Roman gods.

So, what is the conclusion? 

There are many benefits for being spiritual and believing in God, as opposed to being an atheist or religious. We are one people and one humanity and should seek what unites us and not divides us as a people. That is a fundamental concept of being a spiritual person. I am convinced it can lead to more caring and compassion and concern for each other.

Most importantly, if you are spiritual and believe in God, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. You can go through life feeling that you have hope and are loved and supported by the divine and that you are never alone.  

Alex Sangha is an author, social worker, and human rights activist based in Delta, B.C.  He is the producer of the award-winning documentary My Name Was January. He is the recipient of the Meritorious Service Medal from the Governor General of Canada.

Photo: Image from kohl_photographer via Flickr.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Trudeau government fails to take bold action at COP24 to avoid climate breakdown

Tue, 2018-12-18 00:46
December 17, 2018Trudeau government fails to take bold action at COP24 to avoid climate breakdownAs the United Nations climate conference in Poland comes to a close, Canada fails to increase its ambition to address climate breakdown.CA
Categories: News for progressives

Yellow Vests Canada lacks left-wing populism of gilets jaunes in France

Fri, 2018-12-14 22:59
December 14, 2018Yellow Vests Canada lacks left-wing populism of gilets jaunes in FranceThe Canadian Yellow Vest movement targets the carbon tax and "illegal" immigration, rather than reflecting the anti-austerity demands resonating in France.
Categories: News for progressives

Trudeau wins praise for rolling back Harper-era attacks on right to vote

Fri, 2018-12-14 00:38
December 13, 2018Trudeau wins praise for rolling back Harper-era attacks on right to voteAs Bill C-76 was given Senate approval, progressive groups applauded. The law rolls back the most odious provisions of the Harper government’s Fair Elections Act that encouraged voter suppression.
Categories: News for progressives

Trudeau wins praise for rolling back Harper-era attacks on right to vote

Fri, 2018-12-14 00:23
Karl Nerenberg

It is not often that groups like the Council of Canadians and the Canadian Federation of Students have cause to give enthusiastic and unqualified praise to the Trudeau government. But they did so this week, when Bill C-76, the Liberals’ Elections Modernization Act, passed in the Senate.

Young Canadians and progressive groups like the Council of Canadians have been deeply disappointed by Justin Trudeau’s failure to live up to many of his ambitious democratic reform promises. Notable among those is the solemn promise to replace the first-past-the-post voting system with one that is more representative and equitable.

With C-76, however, the Liberals have more than lived up to at least one big set of promises.

The bill rolls back the most odious provisions of the Harper government’s oxymoronically entitled Fair Elections Act, and brings in other measures to make the electoral process truly fairer and more accessible to all.

The council of Canadians and the student federation are particularly pleased with four of C-76’s provisions.

The bill restores the use of the Voter Information Cards as valid identification for voting. Elections Canada provides a card to all voters.

It reinstates the time-honoured practice of allowing a voter to vouch for another voter by confirming their identity.

It moves the chief electoral enforcement officer, the Commissioner of Elections, out of the federal prosecutor’s office – which reports to the justice minister – back to the non-partisan Elections Canada.

And it abolished restrictions on Elections Canada to engage in public education on the voting process and the right to vote.

U.S. style voter suppression comes north

When Stephen Harper’s Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre introduced his Fair Elections Act early in 2014, he claimed it would get big money out of politics and improve the electoral process.

That was a misstatement of Orwellian proportions

In fact, following the example of their Republican Party friends south of the border, and heeding the advice of U.S.-based conservative consultants, the Harper Conservatives’ aim was to suppress the vote of those unlikely to support them: the young, the poor and Indigenous.

Until 2006, there had been no requirement for voters to provide ID in Canada. The Harper minority government introduced that measure early in its tenure, and Elections Canada decided to allow voters to use voter information cards it sends to everyone on the voters’ list. The Chief Electoral Officer, Marc Mayrand, pointed out that these cards are “the most accurate and widely available government document." In 2014, Harper’s minister decided to ban use of the cards, thus making it harder for people who have no driver’s licence or other ID with street address to vote. More than 4 million adult Canadians do not have driver’s licences.

Historically when a voter – often elderly or poor – lacked proper ID, another qualified voter could sign a declaration vouching for that voter’s identity. The Harper government decided to abolish the practice, much to the chagrin of Elections Canada. In the 2011 election, Mayrand reported, vouching was used more than 120,000 times.

Not long after the 2011 election, Postmedia reporters Stephen Maher and Glen McGregor broke the so-called robo-call scandal.

Political operatives had arranged for computer-generated phone calls to tens of thousands of voters, purporting to come from Elections Canada and telling them, falsely, their polling places had been moved. This was a voter suppression tactic borrowed directly from the U.S. and it severely annoyed the Chief Electoral Officer.

To put a stop once and for all to this dangerous, imported form of electoral abuse, Mayrand recommended the powers of his chief enforcement officer, the Commissioner of Elections, be enhanced. For instance, he proposed that the commissioner have the power to compel witnesses to testify under oath.  

Harper’s government not only ignored the recommendations, it did the exact opposite. It took authority over enforcement away from non-political Elections Canada and gave it to a partisan politician.  Amazingly, Poilievre claimed that Elections Canada could not be a neutral referee because it wore a “team jersey.”

The Harper government was so hostile to Elections Canada that it did not even want the Chief Electoral officer to be able to inform Canadians of suspected fraud, like false robo-calls, or to encourage them to vote. In an unprecedented move, Harper’s minister severely curtailed the right of Chief Electoral Officers to communicate with Canadians. The Fair Elections Act limited Elections Canada’s communications to telling Canadians where and when they could vote -- full stop.

Limits on third-party advertising and extended voting hours

The Trudeau government’s just-passed bill eliminates all of these anti-democratic Harper-era measures.

And it does more.

It limits the election campaign period to 50 days, imposes strict rules on third-party political advertising, gives the power to compel testimony to the chief enforcement officer, and extends voting hours on advanced polling days.

C-76 is a positive response to the multiple howls of outrage Harper’s Fair Elections Act elicited. The Council of Canadians and the Canadian Federation of Students even went to court to get a number of the Harper law’s provisions declared unconstitutional. 

The Achilles heel for Trudeau’s Bill C-76 is that a future government could revive the Harper Conservatives’ attack on the right to vote.

Had Trudeau lived up to his promise to end first-past-the-post, the possibility of hard right leaders winning a majority of seats, when 39 per cent of the electorate ardently supports them but 61 per cent equally ardently opposes them, would be unlikely. 

But Trudeau chose to keep our current system. There will be nothing to stop a future prime minister winning an essentially unearned majority and then taking aim at the voting process once again.

Photo: flickr/ Dennis S. Hurd

 

Karl Nerenberg has been a journalist and filmmaker for more than 25 years. He is rabble's politics reporter.

Help make rabble sustainable. Please consider supporting our work with a monthly donation. Support rabble.ca today for as little as $1 per month!

Categories: News for progressives

Opioid crisis: NDP offers suggestions – decriminalize addiction, sue drug manufacturers

Wed, 2018-12-12 19:59
December 12, 2018Opioid crisis: NDP offers suggestions – decriminalize addiction, sue drug manufacturersThis week, federal political parties debated how to deal with the growing crisis that claims the lives of 8-to-9 people a day in Canada.CA
Categories: News for progressives

Opioid crisis: NDP offers suggestions – decriminalize addiction, sue drug manufacturers

Wed, 2018-12-12 19:50
Karl Nerenberg

The three main federal political parties all agree that Canada is facing a severe opioid crisis. Powerful and easily available drugs like fentanyl killed 8,000 Canadians during the past two and a half years. That’s between eight and nine deaths per day.

Liberals, Conservatives and New Democrats all say this crisis is so severe they want to take a non-partisan approach to fighting it. But when they each elaborate their own approaches to the crisis, as they did during a House of Commons debate on Monday, December 10, big differences emerge.

All party representatives who spoke felt the pain of those thousands of unnecessary deaths, some acutely and personally. But only the NDP offered a coherent series of specific measures to tackle the crisis. That approach would include completely decriminalizing addiction and suing drug manufacturers.

Liberal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas-Taylor agonized that the carnage wrought by opioids keeps her up nights.

“The sad reality is that few Canadians are left untouched by this crisis, from coast to coast to coast,” she said. 

She pointed to its multiple causes: “We know that the over-prescribing of opioids has played a critical role and that toxic, illicit fentanyl continues to permeate our borders.”

Safe injection sites

When it came to solutions, Petitpas-Taylor emphasized that victims must not be blamed.

“The preconceived idea that problematic substance use should be seen as a personal failure is hindering our efforts to help those who need it,” the minister explained.

The government, Petipas-Taylor said, favours a harm-reduction approach. And she spoke at length about one particular harm-reduction tactic, the use of safe injection sites.

The health minister touted the success of the 28 sites that now operate throughout Canada. They received more than 125,000 visits over the past 18 months, and “have reversed over 1,100 overdoses, without a single fatality at any of these sites.”

Notwithstanding the federal government’s own efforts to combat the opioid crisis, the minister also wanted to make it clear that fighting the scourge of opioid drugs is not a burden the federal government should have to bear alone.

In our system, Petitpas-Taylor emphasized, much of the authority and responsibility for dealing with opioids lies with provincial governments. The health minister’s House of Commons colleagues did not need to be reminded that some of those provincial governments, notably that of Doug Ford in Ontario, are, at best, skeptical about safe injection sites.

‘Illegal drug injection sites’

The federal Conservatives tried to straddle both sides of the fence on the issue – upbraiding the government for not doing enough, while intimating they have doubts about measures like safe injection sites.

Alexander Nuttall, the Conservative MP from Barrie, Ont., characterized safe injection facilities as “illegal drug injection sites.” While such sites were going up all over the country, he said, there was “a severe increase in the number of deaths, including a 40-per-cent increase between 2016 and 2017.”

Nuttall did not say whether or not he believed there is a cause-and-effect connection between safe sites and opioid deaths. And otherwise he only differed with the Liberals in urging them to spend more and do more.

“I am a fiscal Conservative. I fight for low taxes.” Nuttall proclaimed. “I have not met a Canadian who has said that providing more rehabilitation, more recovery services, more support and more help for individuals who are fighting these addictions is a bad thing.”

The MP from Barrie member did not, however, say exactly what new measures his party would support.

Corporate responsibility

The New Democrats’ health critic, Vancouver MP Don Davies, was the only speaker to recommend a robust and detailed set of policies.

Davies urged the federal government to declare the opioid crisis constitutes “a national public health emergency.”

He and his party want the government to legalize and fund overdose prevention sites, so they can receive the full measure of resources they need.

Davies and the NDP also advocate for completely decriminalizing addiction. On that score, they recommend that the government consider the example of Portugal.

“In 1999,” Davies told the Commons, “there was a drug crisis in Portugal, related to a cheap toxic heroin supply. Faced with rising harms, the government of Portugal decided to treat substance use as a public health issue, not a criminal one. The crisis in Portugal soon stabilized and the ensuing years saw dramatic drops in problematic drug use, overdose deaths and drug-related crime.”

The health orientation of Portugal’s policy is reflected in its spending choices. Ninety per cent of public money spent fighting drugs in Portugal is focused on health care and just 10 per cent on enforcement. In Canada, despite the Trudeau government’s claim that it is committed to non-punitive harm reduction, the figures are almost reversed: 70 per cent of anti-drug spending is on enforcement.

Finally, while other parties chose to tread gingerly around the issue of corporate responsibility for opioid deaths, Davies did not mince his words.

He pointed to the successful U.S. federal prosecution of at least one drug company and the British Columbia government’s current civil action against manufacturers and distributors of opioid drugs.

“That lawsuit is open to every province and territory and the federal government to join,” Davies pointed out. “If corporate executives minimized or concealed the addictive qualities of prescription opioids in the U.S., it is very possible that they did so in Canada as well.”

The NDP urges the federal government to support B.C.'s lawsuit. In addition, Davies says, the federal government should launch its own investigation to determine if there are grounds for pursuing criminal action under federal law against any drug companies.

Photo: The Javorac/Flickr

 

Karl Nerenberg has been a journalist and filmmaker for more than 25 years. He is rabble's politics reporter.

Help make rabble sustainable. Please consider supporting our work with a monthly donation. Support rabble.ca today for as little as $1 per month!

Categories: News for progressives

Despite back-to-work legislation, picket lines outside Canada Post facilities continue

Wed, 2018-12-12 00:46
December 11, 2018Despite back-to-work legislation, picket lines outside Canada Post facilities continueIn an interview, Halifax-Dartmouth CUPW labour council president Suzanne MacNeil discusses right to bargaining and the ongoing negotiations with Canada Post.Canada Postcupw
Categories: News for progressives

Despite back-to-work legislation, picket lines outside Canada Post facilities continue

Tue, 2018-12-11 23:55
Sophia Reuss

Although rotating strikes have stopped, tensions between postal workers, Canada Post and the federal government continue to be heated as communities and unionists set up picket lines at Canada Post facilities and plants across Canada this week.

Back-to-work legislation introduced by the Trudeau government in late November effectively ended the Canadian Union of Postal Workers’ (CUPW) rotating strikes and forced all workers back to the job, but local activists and union members continue to gathered in solidarity outside sorting facilities and processing centres in various communities across the country organizing picket lines and protests.

On Monday, CUPW released a statement announcing the union will work with Elizabeth MacPherson, the mediator-arbitrator appointed by federal Labour Minister Patty Hajdu.

"However, because of the legislation, we will work with the mediator-arbitrator to attempt to negotiate good collective agreements and avoid arbitration. We believe in our right to free collective bargaining but we will reluctantly participate in this legislated process,” the union said.

In an interview, CUPW Halifax-Dartmouth & District labour council president Suzanne MacNeil addressed the issue of the right to free bargaining and what’s at stake in the Canada Post negotiations:

Question: The Trudeau government passed back-to-work legislation on November 27, bringing an end to the rotating strikes. How did the labour community respond?

Suzanne MacNeil: When we saw the back-to-work legislation that was put forward by this government, we were really worried about the implications. Obviously, (the legislation) has a huge impact on the ability of postal workers to try to shift the tide of events in their favour, but it also shows us that the Trudeau government is very much willing to take their marching orders from the business community and employers.

The labour agenda that the Trudeau government ostensibly has been promoting since they were elected, where the government was trying to demonstrate contrast between themselves and the previous Harper government – well, recent events really showed us that the government is only willing to play ball with us up until a certain point. And when push really comes to shove, and when it comes to who this government is going to side with, they chose the employers.

Trudeau has demonstrated that his government is willing to pass strike-breaking legislation rather than tell the employer: ‘Hey, maybe you should try bargaining in good faith with the workers.' And so with the terms of the legislation, which has imposed some ridiculous fines on many postal workers for continued strike activity, a bunch of us in the rest of the labour movement realized that the postal workers aren’t the only ones who have an interest in depending on the right to strike and the right to free and fair collective bargaining.

With that, we decided that community-led picket lines at Canada Post locations across the country were in order.

Question: What’s the significance of these community pickets?

MacNeil: As folks in the community will have noticed, these pickets aren’t organized by anyone in particular. These are groups of community members, rank-and-file trade unionists and, basically, whoever is free to come out on the night of.

These community pickets in a lot of ways have aesthetically and politically taken on the character of any other picket line.

Last Sunday night, in Halifax at the Almon Street mail sorting plant that deals with all of the mail for Nova Scotia, we set up a fairly hard picket. There's video on Facebook that shows pretty clearly what we did. We had our signs, us union activists had our flags, and we set up a line across the exits and entrances and adopted the practice of "nothing in, nothing out" of the plant. This is pretty similar to what’s been going on at these picket lines in locations across Canada.

As far as response from the community, there have been a few people who don't like what we're doing, but, overwhelmingly, the response has been really positive. (At the community picket line,) we’d encounter postal workers who are either leaving their shift or coming to work. They'd see us and a lot of them would be really touched that a lot of folks realized that this postal strike affects far more that postal workers. It goes to really a core issue at what it means to defend public services. So this particular labour dispute and the community pickets have really cemented for us that if we want the really good, really strong worker-centred public services, we have to be willing to stand up and fight for them.

Question: What's at stake for Canada when it comes to the negotiations with Canada Post?

MacNeil: There are a few different dimensions to this whole issue. First and foremost, there are the working conditions that Canada Post workers themselves are dealing with. As folks know, the logistics industry and mail in general is really a key strategic piece of public service in our communities and across the country. Especially with the surge of online shopping.

Far from being the unreliable service that people sometimes say that it is, Canada Post really is a key for linking our communities and making sure that, at the very least, we all have equitable access to this particular service, no matter where we live in Canada.

But I also like to look at things like Friends of Public Services and CUPW's Delivering Community Power campaign. When we think about the climate crisis, which is already underway, Canada Post and our public postal services are really key in terms of thinking about where we need to be building a green infrastructure.

With the postal service, when we can start thinking about the fleet of vehicles that Canada Post owns, we can start thinking about how we could potentially have the largest fleet of green or electric vehicles in Canada. Or, we could start thinking about what's possible if the postal service gets into addressing food security by delivering food to our communities.

The postal service is also a matter of financial security for precariously employed and low-income Canadians. A lot of countries with economies comparable to Canada have a postal banking service in place. In the context where many of our smaller, rural communities are struggling to keep Canada Post branches open, and when we think of growing income inequality and household debt and how many Canadians are falling into the trap of payday-lending schemes because they don't have other financial resources available, that would be a very logical space for a postal banking situation to intervene.

Which is all to say that despite a lot these very fantastic, visionary and innovative videos, Canada Post is not listening to their workers when it comes to all of the ways that Canada Post and the government could be innovating and reforming the postal service. And since Canada Post is unwilling to listen to the workers, the workers themselves are paying the price when it comes to the impact of adjusting for the rate of parcel delivery, for example.

Question: What’s important for Canadians to remember when thinking and talking about the strikes?

MacNeil: One thing that I do see in particular in the mainstream media and in social media is people getting very panicky about this being the holiday season and what’s going to happen to the things that they've ordered online that they're expecting to receive in the mail. And I thought it was really striking when a lot of the postal workers started saying that the number of delayed parcels mean there's an enormous backlog when to them that’s just any given Monday. There have been backlogs of a comparable size several times this year and they haven’t had any issue dealing with them. So the degree to which Canada Post and the Trudeau government have overblown this backlog is really telling of how manipulative they’re willing to be.

And for people worried about the impact of the dispute on service, Canada Post has always negotiated essential servicing. So disability cheques and pension cheques and the like always get delivered.  

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Sophia Reuss is an assistant editor at rabble.ca.

Photo: flickr/Ochinko

 

 

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Categories: News for progressives

Violence, frequency of hate crimes on the rise: What are we going to do about it?

Mon, 2018-12-10 19:30
December 10, 2018Violence, frequency of hate crimes on the rise: What are we going to do about it?Statistics Canada’s recent report on hate crimes illustrates the increase in these racially motivated incidents. The challenge now is to develop an approach to combat this hatred.
Categories: News for progressives

Violence, frequency of hate crimes on the rise: What are we going to do about it?

Mon, 2018-12-10 19:02
Barâa Arar

In late November, Statistics Canada released its latest data on hate crimes. The anecdotal and discrete experiences of many racialized communities were empirically validated. In 2017, hate crimes reached an all time high; I am worried but I am not surprised.

Since the tail end of the Stephen Harper government, as a visible Muslim woman, I felt a growing discomfort with my presence in public spaces. Usually my emotions remained unsubstantiated and since I generally do not want to give in to fear, I brush off many personal racist encounters. But when I hear reports of  women’s hijabs are ripped off, when a swastika is painted on the side of places of worship or when a poster comparing the prophet Mohamed to Hitler appears, my worst suspicions are confirmed.

The StatsCan data demonstrates there has been an increase in the number of hate crimes and their gravity, against Muslim, Jewish and Black communities in the last three years. What the data does not show is how this targeted and racialized violence operates intersectionally. Like I wrote in The Leveller in September, class, gender, immigration status, and race, and other identifiers, work in tandem when it comes to manifestations of discrimination. Anecdotal evidence shows that black Muslim women face violence at the crux of Islamophobia, misogyny and anti-black racism. 

Last year, in the aftermath of the Quebec mosque shooting, Liberal member of Parliament Iqra Khalid tabled M103, a non-binding motion to explore Islamophobia and religion discrimination in Canada. As a result, she received multiple hateful threats, many to her life. The motion, which has no legal clout, rallied hate groups and mobilized fear-driven politics.

Ultimately M103 passed in the House of Commons and the standing committee on Canadian Heritage heard from various faith groups, grassroots organizations and academics on the topics. Many witnesses spoke firmly against racial and ethnic hatred, including anti-black, anti-Indigenous racism, and anti-Semitism. A total of 30 recommendations were made but no pressings actions were demanded of the federal government. The report lightly touched on intersectionality, with witnesses, like activist and professor Dr. Cindy Blackstock emphasizing its importance. Although, recommendation No. 12 acknowledges the adoption of intersectionality in the development of public policy, it does not present it in its recommendations on data collection and reporting of hate crimes.  

In the United Kingdom, an all-party report on Islamophobia proposed a working definition of the term, stating: “Islamophobia is rooted in racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.” It considers, therefore, attacks on those who are, for instance, Arab and not Muslim or Shiks who are attacked on the assumption they are Muslim (data shows both these scenarios occur in Canada). The report complements academic research and community consultations with stories of lived experience, highlighting human voices in a conversation often dominated by statistics.

The report considers the specific nature of gendered Islamophobia and explains the psychological distress female-identifying victims experience following a hate crime. It details how women, in particular, reconsider performing their gender and religion in public spaces after threats to their identity and security. 

At the vigil for the six Muslim murdered men in Quebec City in early 2017, politicians from all parities were eager to engage in the optics of mourning. Yet, neither the prime minister nor the minister of Canadian Heritage, Pablo Rodriguez, has announced concrete steps to prioritize combating racial and religious hatred. An important first step would be for the federal government to designate Jan. 29 a national day of action against hate and intolerance as recommended by more than 100 Canadian organizations. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Islamophobia is real in the aftermath of the mosque shooting, and yet, his government’s actions do not echo to that stand. 

A common and loaded accusation is that these criticisms of Canadian society work against freedom of expression and association. I disagree; advocacy to make our streets, campuses and workplaces safer is a service to all of society. We have countless anecdotal reports along with raw data to show we are failing our must vulnerably systemically and socially. Racialized communities do not have to prove their victimhood or their marginalization. We owe it to our Canadians to develop a robust, intersectional and human-cantered approach to combat gendered and racialized hatred.

 

Barâa Arar is a recent graduate of Carleton University’s College of Humanities with a focus on art, politics and resistance. She is a community organizer, writer and the co- host of The Watering Hole podcast. You can find her at: www.livewellspoken.com

Photo: Coastal Elite/Flickr

 

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Categories: News for progressives

Decline of reading causes decline in thinking, which impairs social and political participation

Sat, 2018-12-08 05:13
Ed Finn

The number of newspaper readers is plunging by the millions in most countries, including Canada and the United States. This decline is driven by the hundreds of metro dailies that have been forced to close, merge or drastically reduce their size or frequency. In Canada, even the big-city papers that still survive, including the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, the Vancouver Sun and the Montreal Gazette, have had their paid circulations -- and thus their editorial staffs -- sharply reduced, some nearly by half. 

This massive loss of readers and revenue has led in Canada to the concentration of media ownership (including TV and radio networks) in the hands of a few large conglomerates. This kind of monopoly leads to a much lower standard of news coverage.

As Dale Eisler at the Johnson Shoyama School School of Public Policy puts it, “They are not terribly interested in news quality because that is not their priority. Newspapers they deem not profitable, or not profitable enough, are simply closed.”

Eisler is concerned that the decline in newspapers seems to be associated with a decline of reading and, therefore, a decline in democracy. He quotes Thomas Jefferson’s famous declaration that, “If I were faced with a choice between government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I would choose the latter.” Eisler fears that, today, two-and-a-half centuries later, “Jefferson’s choice might actually be tested.”

Did illiteracy help Trump win?

That test may actually have occurred during the 2016 presidential election in the United States that was won by Donald Trump. Most of his millions of followers are unlikely to be habitual readers of anything other than the rants of right-wing fanatics on the Internet and, hence, incapable of thinking objectively. Or thinking at all. Hillary Clinton referred to them as “deplorables” – an unfortunate slur that cost her many votes. Had she instead called most of them “deplorably misinformed,” it would have been more accurate and less politically damaging.

Not all of Trump’s supporters lack intelligence. But it’s safe to assume that most of them rarely read a book or even a newspaper. Instead, they derive their “news” and views from right-wing ideological sources that tend to reinforce their ignorance – notably Trump’s own daily outpour of mendacious tweets.

According to an article in Maclean’s magazine by Jonathan Gatehouse, “the United States is being overrun by a wave of anti-science and anti-intellectual thinking.” Polls in the U.S. have found that:

  • Only 28 per cent of Americans read 11 or more books in a year, and 28 per cent proudly admit to not reading even one;
  • 42 per cent still believe that all life on Earth was created by God instead of by evolution;
  • 51 per cent reject the scientific assessment that the universe started with a “big bang” 14 billion years ago and that our planet has existed for more than 4 billion years;
  • only 33 per cent believe scientists are right in declaring that global warming is “man-made,” while the majority regard it as merely a recurring natural development.

These fanatical Trump supporters have failed to enrich their minds with the enlightenment that only reading can furnish. They could be said to have “blank brains” on which the most erroneous and regressive beliefs can be imprinted by right-wing propagandists. 

It may be overly simplistic to attribute Trump’s victory to a decline of reading among American voters, but it can be considered one of the deciding factors.  

From print to digital

Some analysts of the decline in reading take a less gloomy view. They claim that, although fewer people read newspapers, two-thirds or more of them still read books. That view seems to be ratified by the fact that more books are being published today than previously.

But are all these books actually being read?

“Not, in many cases, from cover to cover,” according to Mitchell Stephens, a journalism professor at New York University. He cited a Gallup Poll that found many books were being bought to be consulted, skimmed, displayed to impress friends, or given as gifts, rather than to be thoroughly read. “Many more people say they are currently reading a book, but far fewer can say they have completed a book in the past week,” Stephens observed.

Granted, his op-ed and the poll it cites date back several years, but the detrimental reading trends identified at that time have undoubtedly intensified in recent years -- and this despite the big upsurge in digital communications. Reading computer blogs, e-mails, Facebook gossip, and short “tweets” does not in any way compensate for the decline in reading good books, either fact or fiction. Such hi-tech trivia does not provide the kind of informative reading that engages the mind, the spirit or the imagination.

Granted, there are some excellent on-line journals and websites that provide a wide range of reliable information and analysis. But are most adult internet users now confining their scans to slanted partisan blogs that reinforce their prejudices? And, even more worrisome, is the big switch from print to digital driving a concurrent switch from reading to “surfing” among teenagers? There’s ample reason to be concerned about these socially harmful developments.

Reading tweets instead of books

Reading brief blogs, e-mails, Facebook gossip, and “tweets” does not in any way compensate for the decline in reading books, 

For children, the addiction to TV, video games, texting and other digital screens is alarming, especially for those who now seem to have a smartphone permanently attached to their ears.

As David Denby pointed out in an essay in the New Yorker, “millions of (pre-teen) kids have read the Harry Potter books, The Lord of the Rings, and other fantasy novels. But when they become 12 or 13, they often stop reading seriously. The boys veer off into sports or computer games, the girls into friendship in all its wrenching mysteries and satisfactions of favour and exclusion. . . Teenage time on screens has increased to the point where it takes over many young lives altogether.”

Denby warns that, “if the rest of us give up on book-reading without a fight, we will regret it, even be ashamed as the culture hollows out. I will put it tendentiously: Could a country that had widely read Huckleberry Finn have taken Donald J. Trump seriously for a second? Twain’s readers will remember ‘the king’ and ‘the duke.’ They know what a bullying con artist sounds like.”    

Then there is the matter of how someone who is not a committed reader in youth will fare in later years, when entering the workforce.

Jerry Diakiw, a former school board superintendent in Toronto, contends that “engaged reading is the best predictor of who goes to university – regardless of socioeconomic background and parental education – and the best predictor of career options and life incomes.”

He says that regularly reading books, whether fact or fiction, develops adults with better social skills and higher levels of self-esteem.

“The converse, especially for boys who are not engaged readers and spend long hours playing video games, is higher unemployment, dependence on social welfare, anti-social behaviour and increased crime rates.” 

Read to your kids

The greatest boon parents can give their children is to instill in them a love of reading at the earliest age, even before their first birthday. That means reading successively age-appropriate books to them until they become capable of reading on their own.

My mother taught me, and my four siblings, to read at an elementary level before we started kindergarten, and I have no doubt that, without that early pre-school tutoring, we would not have been nearly as successful in our later lives.

That instillation of an early love of reading has continued in the successive Finn families. The latest recipients of this precious gift are my 9-year-old grandson Garrett and granddaughter Heather, 8. My wife Dena and I have enjoyed reading to them as they grew up, and now enjoy the added pleasure of having them read to us.     

On its list of reasons why the reading habit is so important, an

educational agency called ETL notes that reading expands vocabulary, increases the attention span, encourages a thirst for knowledge, prepares children for school and instills a lifelong love of books.

Author Ursula Le Guin, who has also been pondering the lapse in reading, explains in a Harper’s essay the main difference between reading and watching television.

“Once you’ve pressed the TV button, the TV goes on, and on, and on, and all you have to do is sit and stare. But reading is active, an act of attention, of absorbed alertness. . . A book won’t move your eyes for you the way images on a screen can. It won’t move your mind unless you give it your mind, or your heart unless you put your heart into it. It won’t do the work for you. To read a story well is to follow it, to act it, to feel it, to become it – everything short of writing it, in fact. Reading is actual collaboration with the writer’s mind. No wonder not everybody is up to it.”

Keeping the mind active and involved through reading – inquiring, speculating, analyzing, inferring, projecting -- is also believed by many scientists to guard against Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other forms of dementia.

The Nun study

Dr. David Snowdon, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota, was fascinated by the teaching nuns in the School Sisters of Notre Dame, who live much longer than average lives, many remaining active and alert into their 90s and quite a few living more than a century. They remain remarkably free from the degenerative diseases of senility. He visited and interviewed many of them, and was even given permission to dissect their brains after they finally died.

His book, published a few decades ago, is titled Aging with Grace: What the Nun Study teaches us about leading longer, healthier and more meaningful lives.

One of his key findings was that attaining high linguistic ability in early childhood seems to protect against dementia. The nuns had all been taught to read – and to love reading – while still tots. One of Snowdon’s associates in the study, Dr. Susan Kemper, is a psycholinguist with specialized knowledge about the impact of aging on language skills. She measures a person’s “idea density” – the ability to comprehend, interpret, and process written language. The nuns’ cognitive abilities scored at a very high level.

After Dr. Snowdon’s book came out, he and Dr. Kemper were asked by many readers to explain the significance of these findings. Young parents in particular asked, “What does this mean for our children?”

Their answers were prompt and succinct: “It underlines the importance of reading to them. It’s that simple,” said Dr. Snowdon.

“Idea density depends on two essential learned skills: vocabulary and reading comprehension,” said Dr. Kemper. “And the best way to enhance these skills in your children is to start early in their lives to read to them.”

Photo:  Natasia Causse/Flickr

Ed Finn grew up in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, where he became worked as a printer’s apprentice, reporter, columnist, and editor of that city’s daily newspaper, the Western Star. His career as a journalist included 14 years as a labour relations columnist for the Toronto Star. He was part of the world of politics between 1959 and 1962, serving as the first provincial leader of the NDP in Newfoundland. He worked closely with Tommy Douglas for some years and helped defend and promote medicare legislation in Saskatchewan.

 

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Categories: News for progressives

Plan to re-imagine Toronto’s waterfront: How much does public know about it?

Fri, 2018-12-07 22:24
December 7, 2018Plan to re-imagine Toronto’s waterfront: How much does public know about it?A plan to re-imagine a sweeping section of Toronto by Google’s Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto is progressing with a striking lack of transparency -- and growing alarm among observers.
Categories: News for progressives

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