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What happened to Trudeau's promise of democratic government?

Tue, 2019-03-12 20:24
Politics in Canada

Justin Trudeau spoke to the press last week about the fiasco that has enveloped his government following the demotion, then resignation, of former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould from cabinet.

I have "learned some lessons," said the prime minister. He plans to seek outside advice on clarifying relations between political staff and ministers, the concentration of power in his office, and the role that lobbying plays in policy development.

When Brian Mulroney formed his majority government in 1984, he created a highly paid political "chief of staff" position for each minister, someone to give partisan policy advice, short-circuiting the public service.

Mulroney did not have much time for public servants. His campaign promise was to hand out "pink slips and running shoes" to federal government employees.

Every government since Mulroney has used political staff in big roles. Deputy ministers are second-guessed by staffers looking for partisan advantage.

While senior public officials serve the government of the day, political staff serve the minister, and their loyalty is to the party first.

It would be wise of Trudeau to move away from the Mulroney style of partisan government. Political staff should be focused on party business.

Policy development needs to be done with public servants, experts, and the public, not directed from the prime minister's office (PMO) by political staff.

Lobbyists figured out some time ago they should be targeting political staff. The prominence staffers have had in Ottawa has attracted attention from all kinds of industries looking for favourable treatment. 

A key Trudeau aide, Gerald Butts (who resigned in the fallout over the Wilson-Raybould departure) spent hours being lobbied by oil and gas officials, though the Liberals were elected fighting climate change.

Forcing lobbyists to operate openly in the public sphere is a better way to go for any government. Inviting participation in parliamentary committee hearings beats letting political staff interact with the rich and powerful.

The Ottawa parliamentary committee system does run up against excessive partisanship; but it also allows for MPs to become knowledgeable on subjects that affect the daily lives of Canadians. Calling on experts, video conferencing, and online streaming, are all techniques that can build public participation in policy development.

Industries defending pipeline expansion or use of chemical fertilizers should have to make their case in open sessions, also attended by critics. Giving voice and access to critical voices adjusts the balance of political forces at play away from one that favours corporations, as in the lobbying scenario.

In Canada the centralization of power in the hands of the prime minister dates from Pierre Elliott Trudeau and the election of 1968. Journalist Walter Stewart wrote about "the super group" around Pierre Trudeau that was determined to wrestle influence away from the senior public servants who, behind the scenes, made cabinet government work.

Wartime preparation from 1939 to 1945 and postwar planning undertaken in the early 1940s demanded more knowledge, technical skills, and social science than any cabinet could muster. It fell to public servants to take the lead.

Working together to build inter-departmental consensus, senior public servants communicated their agreed proposals to cabinet ministers, whose job was mainly to sell them to the country.

This was the system Pierre Trudeau discovered when he worked at the Privy Council office after the war. It was still operating when he came to Parliament in 1965. Before he became prime minister, Trudeau had concluded it gave elected representatives short shrift, weakening electoral democracy. 

For Pierre Trudeau the elected representatives of the people should do the thinking and the deciding, not the appointed public servants.

In implanting his ideas about proceeding democratically, Trudeau turned to his own thinkers.

Advisers Jim Davey and Marc Lalonde came up with the system of cabinet committees where ministers would hash out what to do, with senior officials providing background and options, and not neatly packaged policies to be adopted. 

The result was to give more power to the centre to make the agenda, choose priorities, and frame discussions. Prime ministerial government was born and remains in place to this day.

Cabinet government -- where ministers take responsibility for their portfolios -- has been correspondingly downgraded.  

Pierre Trudeau thought the Liberal Party could be a privileged vehicle for policy development.

With his longtime associate Gérard Pelletier, Trudeau devised a system of funding social activists so as to bring new voices into public debate.

When those voices, specifically feminist ones, became too critical, their funding was withdrawn by Mulroney and then Chrétien. Stephen Harper pulled the plug on any remaining support for social activists.

As it turned out, prime ministerial government and neoliberalism worked well together, from the time of anti-inflation austerity in the early 1980s, through corporate trade deals, to moving from a social welfare regime to a security state after 2001.

Despite his campaign promises, Justin Trudeau has been unable to abandon centralized power. His chosen style of governance is through emphasizing public relations; it is wearing thin, not just in Canada, but in France, and elsewhere.

Governments today need to engage with the public on issues in a more meaningful fashion than through talking points and message boxes.

Bringing the lobbyists out of the back rooms, giving public servants more responsibility for policy development in the various departments of government, and keeping political staffers from substituting themselves for ministers would be a good start to improving democratic government in Canada.

Duncan Cameron is president emeritus of rabble.ca and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.

Photo: Justin Trudeau/Facebook

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Justin TrudeaudemocracyDuncan CameronMarch 12, 2019Scheer's approach gives Trudeau opening in SNC-Lavalin affairWithout evidence of wrongdoing for personal benefit by the prime minister, it is hard to see why Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer would expect Justin Trudeau to resign.Butts resignation underscores the ongoing power of the PMOJustin Trudeau promised to reverse the trend, starting in his father's time, of centralizing power in the Prime Minister's Office. It does not look like he has lived up to that pledge. How can we counter corporate capture of government?The SNC-Lavalin affair rips the veil off the hidden world of corporate influence on government decision-making.
Categories: News for progressives

Are we seeing a new wave of feminist politicians?

Fri, 2019-03-08 20:48
March 8, 2019A feminist revolution in Canadian politics -- or the same old boys' club?In recent weeks we have seen a confrontation between two visions of politics: one coming from a small male elite and another slowly emerging from centuries of patriarchy and colonialism.
Categories: News for progressives

Canadian media not connecting the dots on femicide

Fri, 2019-03-08 20:36
FeminismMedia Matters

Last month, shortly before midnight, hundreds of thousands of Ontarians were jolted awake by blaring sounds coming from their smart phones or interruptions in their regularly scheduled TV programming.

A little girl, spending the afternoon with her father, had not been returned home on time. Her mother had reason to fear the worst. And, tragically, she had cause.

The Amber Alert for Riya Rajkumar, murdered by her father on her 11th birthday, inspired mainly three reactions. Many people complained on emergency lines and social media about having been disturbed from their slumber. Many other people scolded them for beefing when a little girl's life was at stake. And many others showed up at candlelight vigils for a child clearly caught between warring parents.

Riya's father, injured when arrested, would, within days, die in hospital -- just another murder-suicide statistic in the sad annals of domestic violence.

Unsurprisingly, after the floral and teddy bear tributes were buried under the snow, there were no media stories on how common it is for angry/depressed/jealous/rejected men to not only kill their intimate partners -- women, mostly -- but also to hurt the kids and sometimes even the friends and in-laws and then themselves.

All this, just two weeks after the University of Guelph-based Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability (CFOJA) released its first annual report, #CallItFemicide.

It showed that, on average, one woman or girl is killed in Canada every 2.5 days, that 91 per cent of the accused perpetrators are male, that two-thirds of women and girls are murdered by their intimate partners or male relatives, and that 11 per cent of the accused, all male, commit suicide.

"This is not a new trend," Professor Myrna Dawson, who led the study, told the University of Guelph News. "This report shows that women and girls continue to bear the largest burden of gender-based violence and lethal victimization, which is attributed to the historical and ongoing impacts of entrenched gender stereotypes and inequality."

So, while that report did garner more than 100 one-day-wonder headlines, no news organization linked the research to little Riya's murder. There were no interviews with gender violence experts or family law lawyers. Nor was there any discernible discussion of how children and other family members are at risk when partnerships become violent and, in particular, when women find the courage and support they need to leave.

It was very business as usual to see it disappear in the aftermath of Riya's murder which -- and this may sound cynical -- was the perfect "news hook" for a deep dive into this alarming annual slaughter.

Year after year, journalists don't connect the dots. When a femicide is committed, it's usually reported in the back pages, if at all. And yet, every male victim of a shooting death gets the front-page treatment. (For the record, about one in three women are murdered by a firearm.)

On the upside, earlier this year, the Trudeau government came up with new reforms to the Criminal Code aimed at getting tougher on domestic violence. These would be welcome as a recent study showed that men who kill their partners get shorter sentences than men who kill strangers.

Measures include tougher penalties for repeat offenders and restricted access to bail for repeat offenders. All well and good except that many killers are not repeat offenders. Once is all it takes.

There's even restitution for a victim's moving expenses, temporary housing, food, child care and transportation -- although why a woman might leave clues as to where she has relocated seems like a risky proposition to me.

The bill is currently before the Senate.

In Ontario, the Ford regime has put women at greater risk by not only disbanding the Liberals' expert panel to end violence against women but also cutting back on funding for shelters and other resources. At the same time, it has eliminated or repealed mechanisms that would keep women and children out of poverty, mechanisms such as the basic income pilot program, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs legislation, and the increased minimum wage.

This March 8 brings us another yet another International Women's Day, the 110th iteration of a day marking women's suffrage and rights. We can expect some tweets from our politicians and not much more, although a girl can hope.

The theme this year is #BalanceforBetter -- which sounds like a high-fibre cereal.

Unfortunately, the lack of incisive, comprehensive coverage of the murders of women and girls remains difficult to swallow.

Antonia Zerbisias, former CBC-TV journalist and Toronto Star columnist, writes about society, media and politics.

Photo: Megara Tegal/Flickr

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violencefemicidecanadian mediaAntonia ZerbisiasBroadsidesMarch 8, 2019Antonia Zerbisias: How #BeenRapedNeverReported became a movementWhen Antonia Zerbisias tweeted support for the women accusing Jian Ghomeshi of sexual assault by revealing her own experience with sexual assault, she was not aware it would create a movement.Canada ignores national security threat posed by violence against womenAccording to a new report, male violence against women has claimed the lives of at least 10,495 women and girls in Canada since 1961, an average of 184 femicides per year.A video game involving sexual assault that strives to heal, not triggerJean Leggett is a feminist and CEO of One More Story Games, a combination of story and video game. She talks about their newest game and creating games which are a positive space for women.
Categories: News for progressives

A feminist revolution in Canadian politics -- or the same old boys' club?

Fri, 2019-03-08 20:03
FeminismPolitics in Canada

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was elected in 2015 promising sunny ways (even though sunny ways had already been used by a previous prime minister, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, in a different context, on different issues).

To the journalist who asked him, "Why a gender-balanced government?" Trudeau candidly replied, "Because it's 2015." That reply charmed the country and the world -- from young feminist actress Emma Watson to U.S. feminist website Jezebel.

Many times over the last four years, Trudeau branded himself a feminist and a strong believer in the efforts of reconciliation between Indigenous peoples and the rest of Canada. It is ironic to see today how these two self-described attributes have come back to haunt him and show us that state politics in Canada are still being done in the same old way as the sunny ways of Sir Wilfrid Laurier. In other words, the same opaque politics run by a small male elite. The presence of women and Indigenous people in the cabinet isn't necessarily a badge of honour or a guarantee of a "feminist" policy. Neither is it a pass for the implementation of Truth and Reconciliation recommendations, especially when the real strings of power are still held and controlled behind the scenes by white male politicians and strategists.

Over the last three weeks, we have seen a confrontation between two visions of politics. One is made and run through a well-established political strategist from the old school. Think of Gerald Butts, Trudeau's former adviser, who in a previous life was strategist and adviser to Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, versus another type of politics slowly emerging from centuries of patriarchy and colonialism and struggling to see the light in the dark corridors of Ottawa.

I don't want to put former attorney general and justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould on a pedestal. She made decisions that I didn't agree with and she didn't show particular courage when dealing with some complex cases. For instance, in the case of Hassan Diab, the Canadian citizen unjustly extradited to France by Canada, despite credible revelations by a CBC investigation pointing to the role of justice department officials in his ordeal, she merely ordered a judiciary review rather than calling a public inquiry as demanded by many rights groups. 

More recently, the justice department's decision to arrest Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, doing the Trump administration's dirty work, has put Canada in a bad position with China, politically and commercially. Wilson-Raybould shouldn't have accepted the politically motivated demand from her U.S. counterpart, even if Trudeau repeated many times that the decision wasn't political interference.

And when Wilson-Raybould tweeted that "Canada can and must do better" about the acquittal of Gerald Stanley, a white farmer accused of the murder of Colten Boushie, an Indigenous young man, a storm followed her public remark and many Canadians wrote to her, accusing her of being biased.

Maybe that incident taught her to keep quiet, but not for so long. The case of SNC-Lavalin seems to be the straw that broke the camel's back. Her reaction, beyond an obvious sense of being demoted and humiliated by a self-identified "feminist" prime minister, might have also been derived from a decision where personal political calculations coincided with a genuine sense of injustice because of the way she was treated as an Indigenous woman. But what made her resignation a feminist political act is the resignation of her colleague ("accused" by some of being her friend, as if friendship was a sin for women in politics), Jane Philpott, then minister of the treasury board. Philpott could have decided to stay. She had an excellent record as a minister. She was loved by her constituents. Her gesture was a purely feminist political move.

It is interesting to see how the self-branded slogan of "feminist prime minister" is coming back to bite Prime Minister Trudeau's leadership. And the two individuals gnawing at his feminist image are real feminists who decided that they cannot be idle any more.

In the U.S., many observers believe that change to the Trump administration is coming from women politicians. Not only they are culturally diverse, they are unapologetically progressive, forceful and radical.

I wonder if Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott are the first crack from which a new wave of feminist politicians could emerge, one that would bring to politics what has been so far lacking: integrity and transparency and, yes -- why not real friendship?

Monia Mazigh was born and raised in Tunisia and immigrated to Canada in 1991. Mazigh was catapulted onto the public stage in 2002 when her husband, Maher Arar, was deported to Syria where he was tortured and held without charge for over a year. She campaigned tirelessly for his release. Mazigh holds a PhD in finance from McGill University. In 2008, she published a memoir, Hope and Despair, about her pursuit of justice, and recently, a novel about Muslim women, Mirrors and Mirages. You can follow her on Twitter @MoniaMazigh or on her blog www.moniamazigh.com

Photo: Jody Wilson-Raybould/Facebook

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Justin TrudeauJane PhilpottJody Wilson-RaybouldMonia MazighMarch 8, 2019What misogyny looks like when you wear a hijabThe dehumanization of Muslim women is ingrained in people's imagination. And the common, simplistic and wrong perception that the hijab is a symbol of oppression is still alive and thriving.Liberal talking points on Wilson-Raybould do not make senseLiberals say the former justice minister should have complained or quit months ago. The House justice committee met in an emergency sitting to discuss the Wilson-Raybould affair.Wilson-Raybould's testimony was not about the 'rule of law'Wilson-Raybould's take on the SNC-Lavalin affair reminds us of deep political double standards and Canada's flagrant disregard of Indigenous sovereignty.
Categories: News for progressives

UCP candidate who played role in Kamikaze Campaign forced to walk the plank

Fri, 2019-03-08 14:05
David J. Climenhaga

Another United Conservative Party candidate has been sent packing for being neither "forthright" nor "forthcoming" with party Leader Jason Kenney. Leastways, that's the UCP's story, and they're stickin' to it.

Randy Kerr, recently chosen as UCP candidate in the Calgary-Beddington riding and a prominent figure in the party's rapidly metastasizing "Kamikaze Campaign" embarrassment, was given his walking papers on Wednesday.

A statement emailed to media that evening by UCP Executive Director Janice Harrington said that "in the last 48-hours, new information has come to our attention indicating Mr. Kerr was not forthright in responding to the Party's inquiries regarding his financial contribution to the Jeff Callaway Leadership campaign."

Callaway is alleged to have conducted a mysteriously funded UCP campaign in 2017 designed not to win, but to take down Kenney's principal rival to lead the then-new party, former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, while allowing Kenney to keep his paws clean.

"To be clear," Harrington's statement continued, gingerly skirting dangerous ground for the UCP, "the Party is not making any allegations against Mr. Kerr regarding the legitimacy of his contribution to the Callaway Leadership, nor against Mr. Callaway or his Campaign. This is not the Party's rule to judge, and the Party does not in any way oversee financial contributions to leadership campaigns."

"However," she said, "it is our conclusion that Mr. Kerr was not sufficiently forthcoming with the Party's earlier inquiries, and for that, he has been removed as a candidate." (Emphasis added.)

As my blogging colleague Dave Cournoyer, the first commentator to spot this story breaking Wednesday night, observed, it's not entirely clear what the UCP had in mind when it said Kerr was insufficiently forthright, seeing as he reported his $4,000 donation ages ago to Elections Alberta as required by law.

Lack of forthrightness, though, is a complaint that has proved useful to the UCP before Kerr's troubles came to light. Derek Fildebrandt, once a rising star in the UCP and now leader of the Freedom Conservative Party, was similarly characterized after a series of politically embarrassing events led to his dismissal from the caucus.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Bob Wanner gave the UCP a gentle tap on the wrist, telling the party that letting its staffers make surreptitious video recordings of dissident Independent Prab Gill was "unbecoming for those who work in the office of a Member and is not in keeping with the dignity of the institution."

I'll say!

As noted here yesterday, the UCP has now moved on to other ways of trying to get Gill to stop talking about the party's electoral shenanigans, explicitly threatening to sue him for defamation for what he recently told the RCMP.

Political observers in Alberta are intensely interested in what Election Commissioner Lorne Gibson might have to say, and when, about his investigations into these developments.

So long, Karen McPherson

Speaking of Calgary-Beddington, Karen McPherson, the Calgary-MacKay-Nose Hill New Democrat who quit the NDP Caucus in 2017, sat as an Independent for a spell, and then joined the Alberta Party, has changed her mind about seeking another term in that redrawn riding.

She had been nominated to run for the Alberta Party in Calgary-Beddington before she changed her mind.

Despite a lengthy statement published on Facebook, McPherson was not completely clear about the reasons for her change of heart. But it almost made one wonder if she wasn't comfortable with the idea of abetting a vote split that would help the UCP end the progressive policies of her former colleagues in the NDP.

At any rate, McPherson's valedictory message made reference to the fact Alberta "doesn't need to be made great 'again.'" Sounds like acknowledgement that Kenney's planned program is worthy of Donald Trump.

Supply shrinks, prices rise. Who knew?

Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. said yesterday Alberta's supply management program for crude oil supplies is working so well it won't be needed much longer.

"The Canadian oil market was very rocky in the fourth quarter with dysfunctional marketplace dynamics driving historically high differentials for both heavy and light oil in Canada," Executive Vice-Chair Steve Laut said during a telephonic dog-and-pony show for the business press. "The first quarter of 2019 is a completely different story," he continued. "With curtailments imposed by the Alberta government, market order has been established."

So when supplies shrink, it turns out that prices rise! Who knew?

Thank you, Premier Rachel Notley, for this teaching moment.

Same stuff; different domain

That new "think-tank" founded by a group of Canadian Taxpayers Federation staffers and officers has gone live.

Looking as if it's generously financed by someone, the SecondStreet.org website appears to be devoted entirely to attacks on Canada's public health-care system and paeans to the wonderful work done by private, for-profit clinics.

At a glance, at least four of the new organization's six directors are former or current CTF directors, two of whom remain on the CTF board.

The four staff members listed are former CTF president Troy Lanigan, former CTF Alberta director Colin Craig, former Fraser Institute spin doctor Mark Milke, and Melanie Harvie, who also remains that CTF's executive VP.

Well, the CTF can hardly deny it's part of the right-wing coalition against Canadian public health care, something to think about when you read CTF claims on any topic regurgitated as authoritative by mainstream media.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Toronto Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Photo: Facebook

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Categories: News for progressives

Without more information, SNC-Lavalin affair is mere spectacle

Fri, 2019-03-08 00:49
Susan Wright

Albertans' concerns over allegations of impropriety surrounding Jason Kenney winning the leadership of the UCP have been swamped by accusations that Justin Trudeau violated the rule of law in his dealings with Jody Wilson-Raybould over the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.

SNC is charged with bribing Libyan officials between 2001 and 2011 to win lucrative contracts. The SNC executives involved are no longer with the company. SNC has implemented new ethics and compliance rules to prevent this illegal conduct in the future and it's going to be punished one way or another so it's been lobbying hard for a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) to avoid going to court.

Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Kathleen Roussel decided against a DPA. Jody Wilson-Raybould supported the DPP's decision and the prime minister, his staff in the prime minister's office, and others were not happy about it.

Wilson-Raybould was shuffled out of justice into veterans affairs and quit cabinet. Last week she appeared before a parliamentary justice committee to explain what happened. She acquitted herself well.

At the end of her testimony she said, "I imagine Canadians now fully understand that in my view these events constituted pressure to intervene in a matter, and that this pressure -- or political interference -- to intervene was not appropriate."

Actually no, as much as this Canadian respects Wilson-Raybould, I do not fully understand her view. Here's why.

The testimony

Wilson-Raybould's testimony is clear on the facts. She wears two hats. She's the justice minister (a political role) and the attorney general (a non-political role). The prosecution of SNC falls under her responsibility as AG, which requires her to make decisions in a non-partisan, objective way, free from political influence.

As attorney general Wilson-Raybould has prosecutorial discretion. She can issue directives to the prosecutor on specific prosecutions or take over the prosecution altogether as long as she gives notice she's doing so in the Canada Gazette. In other words, it is perfectly legal for Wilson-Raybould to tell the prosecutor how to prosecute SNC -- whether to go with a DPA or go to court.

Wilson-Raybould confirmed it's OK for cabinet ministers to draw the AG's attention to important public policy considerations relevant to her decision on how a prosecution will proceed, but she can't let such considerations influence her decision. In other words, it was OK for the PM, finance minister and others to raise the economic implications of a conviction in the SNC case.

She said the PM, staff at the PMO and others were not happy with her decision to support the prosecutor's decision to take SNC to court and over the course of four months contacted her and/or her staff 20 times to discuss other "solutions."

Wilson-Raybould says these contacts amounted to undue pressure and were inappropriate.

The prime minister and Wilson-Raybould agree that the PM did not direct Wilson-Raybould to change her mind on SNC, leaving the decision up to her. They agree there was significant contact between Wilson-Raybould and/or her staff and other cabinet ministers, their staff and the PMO, but they disagree on the characterization of this contact. Was it the regular contact between members of cabinet and their staff on a difficult file or was it undue pressure and inappropriate?

The PM's staff, the clerk of the Privy Council, the finance minister and his staff suggested the following solutions:

  • Wilson-Raybould could talk to the prosecutor about her decision not to offer a DPA.
  • A member of Wilson-Raybould's staff could "reach out" to the department of public prosecutions to discuss the prosecutor's decision.
  • Wilson-Raybould (in her capacity as attorney general) or the prosecutor could hire external counsel, a retired Supreme Court judge for example, to review the prosecutor's decision not to offer a DPA.

Wilson-Raybould offered her own solution. She said SNC could send her a letter and she'd forward it directly to the prosecutor. It's unclear what she expected the prosecutor to do with it.

The first two suggestions are silly given Wilson-Raybould's position she wasn't going to change her mind and intervene to make the prosecutor offer SNC a DPA. However, this rationale undermines Wilson-Raybould's own solution that SNC could send her a letter and she'd forward it to the prosecutor. All three suggestions create the impression she might reverse her position when it's clear she won't.

The solution of an external legal opinion from a retired judge makes sense given the legislation was new and there was no precedent governing how the DPA process should work. However, Wilson-Raybould rejected it as being inappropriate. She didn't say why, but some legal experts have suggested a second opinion would undermine the rule of law by allowing someone (who?) to do an end run around the AG.

This is puzzling. Lawyers working for corporations retain outside counsel for a second opinion when they face issues that could seriously harm the company if they get the law wrong. Bringing in outside counsel is not an abdication of legal responsibility or a sign of incompetence. A second opinion provides "air cover" for a legal decision that will be unpopular with senior management and if it turns out the company lawyers were overly cautious, they can change their advice.

It's unclear why Wilson-Raybould rejected the opportunity to test prosecutor's decision with outside counsel -- if the opinion supported her position she'd be vindicated; if it came to a different conclusion, she could have ignored it or revised her position. In either case it would have put an end (temporarily) to the pressure she was under from the PMO and others.

Violation of the rule of law?   

Canadians will never fully understand what happened here.

We'll never know why the prosecutor refused to offer a DPA to SNC.  We'll never know whether 20 phone calls and meetings over four months with Wilson-Raybould and/or her staff created "undue" pressure or was normal interaction on a ground-breaking issue. We'll never know why Wilson-Raybould rejected the offer of an external legal opinion from a retired Supreme Court judge. We'll never know why she resigned as veterans affairs minister -- she said she'd resign immediately if her successor in justice agreed to a DPA; he didn't but she resigned anyway.

All we know is Wilson-Raybould characterized the pressure as "inappropriate" but not illegal.

We also know opportunistic politicians are twisting Wilson-Raybould's testimony to allege the PM tried to get Wilson-Raybould to betray her duty to uphold the law. This is nonsense because she would have upheld the law whether she supported the prosecutor's decision or decided to intervene and take over the prosecution. She had the legal authority to do both.

Meanwhile conspiracy theories abound.

The normally level-headed Elizabeth May is asking whether we should be concerned that SNC's counsel is former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci, the same Frank Iacobucci who is leading the consultation process between the government and Indigenous peoples for the Trans Mountain pipeline.

Online conspiracy theorists speculate this is an effort to replace Trudeau with Chrystia Freeland in order to deliver Canada into the hands of her "good friend" George Soros.

Unless we get more information, this hearing is nothing more than political spectacle, bread and circuses that distract Canadians from issues raging in their own backyards.

Susan Wright is a lawyer with over 26 years of experience in oil, natural gas, petrochemicals and pipelines. She believes that engaged citizens can change the world. She writes a political blog called Susan on the Soapbox. The Soapbox received the 2013 Clawbie award for the best legal blog for a non-legal audience.

This post originally appeared on Susan Wright's blog, Susan on the Soapbox. It is reprinted here with permission.

Photo: Jody Wilson-Raybould/Facebook

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Categories: News for progressives

Liberals could have changed the channel and helped Canadians with a pharmacare program

Thu, 2019-03-07 23:59
David J. Climenhaga

When Canadians heard Monday there was to be a big announcement on pharmacare yesterday, many of us concluded Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's shell-shocked strategic brain trust was finally ready to start acting like a Natural Governing Party again, instead of like lemmings racing for a cliff.

It would have been a brilliant strategy to announce a full pharmacare program -- the full-meal deal with no bones tossed to Big Pharma or Big Insurance, which have been begging for a fill-in-the-gaps approach that would keep their expensive and unfair but highly profitable stopgaps in place.

It would have shifted the nation's attention immediately away from the hostile media frenzy the protracted gong show before the House of Commons justice committee has become and turned it toward a popular and much-needed national program on which a party and a prime minister could easily peg a successful re-election campaign.

It would have reminded voters that for all their flaws the Liberals were still basically a progressive political party willing occasionally to do things that are actually in the interests of Canadians, such as creating a national prescription drug plan that would save lives, ensure no one had to choose between life-saving medicine or feeding their kids, and stop the waste of multi-billions of tax dollars to boot.

It would have forced the Conservatives led by Andrew Scheer and in thrall to their cruel utopian market ideology to attack a program that plainly would benefit every single one of us unless we happened to be a Big Pharma or Big Insurance executive. Yes, even screwball market perfectionists would benefit if they had the misfortune to get sick and needed to set aside their ideological pipe dreams to survive.

Instead, we got … recommendations.

Which means, of course, more time for Big Business, their ideological think-tanks and the Conservatives to cook up ways to sabotage this still unrealized national good.

Progressive groups did their best with the interim report of the Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare, which recommended creation of a national pharmaceutical drug agency, a comprehensive evidence-based formulary, and suggested core principles for national pharmacare. Several good-hearted organizations put out news releases calling the development "promising."

But Canadians don't need promises. They need pharmacare. And they need it now.

And so do the Liberals, oddly enough. Desperately so, right now, one would think.

But I guess the party of Justin Trudeau has discovered, as the old stories go, that once you've sold your soul, it's very hard to get it back.

It doesn't have to be too late for Canadians to get a national pharmacare program. The Conservatives will do everything in their power to stop it, of course. The New Democrats are unlikely to get a chance to implement it this time around. But the Liberals still have the power to make it happen.

But the only way to make it happen is to make it happen.

For the moment, however, the race to the cliff apparently continues.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Toronto Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Photo: David J. Climenhaga

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Categories: News for progressives

Using code, Trudeau admits his own errors in Wilson-Raybould affair

Thu, 2019-03-07 21:52
March 7, 2019Using code, Trudeau admits his own errors in Wilson-Raybould affairThe prime minister finally addressed the SNC-Lavalin affair in detail today and and came close to openly admitting that moving Wilson-Raybould out of the justice ministry might have been a mistake.
Categories: News for progressives

Liberals' feminist foreign policy is not compatible with 'business as usual'

Thu, 2019-03-07 21:50
Thomas Woodley

The Trudeau government's emphasis on a feminist foreign policy was first articulated in a speech by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland in June 2016. A year later, the Trudeau government announced its Feminist International Assistance Policy, intended to allocate 15 per cent of Canada's $2.6-billion development assistance to support gender equality, women and girls by 2022.

As International Women's Day 2019 rolls around, pundits continue to debate the effectiveness of Trudeau's vision for international development, whether it has sufficient funding, and whether it is properly conceived. But such considerations may be moot if the government continues a "business as usual" approach in other sectors. 

For example, the Trudeau government has been loath to press Canada's mining industry to higher standards, despite promises to do so prior to the 2015 elections. Yet studies of the oil, gas and mining industries make clear that there is a severe gender bias in the benefits and risks associated with the resource extraction industry around the world.

From Zambia, to Peru, to the Dominican Republic, the negative social impacts of Canada's overseas mining interests disproportionately affect women. So while the jobs and economic benefits of these Canadian operations overseas accrue disproportionately to men, the women in disrupted communities contend with the resulting impact of drug and alcohol abuse, sexual violence and family breakdown.

A similar trend exists in the international garment industry. The collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2013 killed over 1,100 workers, most of them women working in a factory manufacturing clothes for Zara, Walmart and Joe Fresh. While that incident temporarily shined a spotlight on the terrible working conditions for Bangladesh's garment workers, women in the international garment industry -- many working for Canadians companies -- continue to disproportionately face challenges including unsafe working conditions, low wages, and sexual abuse.

Over a year ago, the Trudeau government announced plans to create a Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise, which would investigate accusations of wrongdoing by Canadian mining, energy, and textile companies overseas. To date, apparently no progress has been made in establishing this office. But even if it had been launched, it would hardly compensate for years of lack of government oversight on Canadian businesses operating abroad.

Worse, the Trudeau government has done little to address "business as usual" in the war industry. While the Trudeau government recently budgeted $62 billion in new defence spending for Canada, it failed to add any new funding to its new Feminist International Assistance Policy. Again and again, studies show that women suffer disproportionately from armed conflict, both during and after war. Conflict creates higher levels of violence against women with the breakdown of the rule of law and social structures, the availability of small arms, and the normalization of gender-based violence. 

Of course, Trudeau's failure to cancel its $15-billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia is perhaps the most egregious example of "business as usual." Saudi Arabia is accused of war crimes in a four-year-old war in Yemen which it orchestrated and continues to lead. Three million Yemenis have been forced from their homes and 22 million require life-saving humanitarian assistance. Yet the Trudeau government maintains its arms trade with Saudi Arabia even while there is evidence that Canadian arms have been brought into the Yemeni theatre. 

Canada continues to provide diplomatic cover to Israel too, despite that country's over 50-year-old military occupation of the Palestinian territories. Beyond the day-to-day burden that all Palestinian women under Israeli occupation must bear, the Trudeau government's silence in the high-profile cases of two women is particularly unconscionable. Israel has repeatedly jailed Palestinian lawyer, feminist and human rights activist Khalida Jarrar. Jarrar, who spent much of the last year in Israeli jail, was never charged with a crime but simply held under an "administrative detention" order that was repeatedly renewed. It bears noting that prior to her most recent arrest, Jarrar was leading the Palestinian initiative to take Israel to the International Criminal Court. Canada was also mum in the case of 17-year-old Ahed Tamimi, a Palestinian child who was sentenced to eight months in jail merely for slapping an Israel soldier.

So it does little for the Trudeau government to tout a foreign policy that purports to promote the rights of women, while protecting industries and countries which oppress women wholesale. The challenge is not the lack of funds to implement a feminist humanitarian aid program, but the lack of political will to manage the mining, garment and war industries in a principled way.

As long as the Trudeau government continues to agree to "business as usual" in these massive industries, the world's women and their underfunded Canadian aid package stand hardly a chance.

Thomas Woodley is president of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME), a Canadian non-profit whose mission is to empower Canadians of all backgrounds to promote justice, development and peace in the Middle East.

Photo: Chrystia Freeland/Facebook

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Categories: News for progressives

Using code, Trudeau admits his own errors in Wilson-Raybould affair

Thu, 2019-03-07 21:49
Karl Nerenberg

Prime Minister Trudeau finally addressed the SNC-Lavalin affair in detail at a news conference in Ottawa early on Thursday morning, March 7, and came close to openly admitting that moving Jody Wilson-Raybould out of the justice ministry might have been a mistake.

Reporters for both CTV and CBC grilled the PM on the issue of the former minister's move from justice to veteran's affairs, which seems to have precipitated the entire affair.

They quoted Trudeau's former principal secretary Gerald Butts' testimony to the House of Commons justice committee the previous day. Butts told the committee that when it became necessary to shuffle the cabinet, because of treasury board chair Scott Brison's resignation, Butts, and his boss, Trudeau, decided the best person to take on Brison's role was the treasury board vice-chair, then Indigenous services minister Jane Philpott. They also decided the ideal person to replace Philpott would be the only Indigenous person in the cabinet, Wilson-Raybould.

Philpott cautioned them against moving Wilson-Raybould. She said the then justice minister might believe the move was motivated by her stance on SNC-Lavalin, and would not take that sitting down. Trudeau and Butts ignored that advice. When they told Wilson-Raybould she would move to Indigenous services she shocked them by flatly turning it down, not because of SNC-Lavalin, but because as an Indigenous person who had fought the Indian Act all her life, she did not feel comfortable administering that same act.

Butts told the justice committee his advice to Trudeau was that if he let Wilson-Raybould stay at justice he and the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) would "lose control of cabinet." In Butts' view a prime minister and his personal entourage should be nearly all-powerful. Elected members of Parliament should know their place. When their leader offers them a job, whatever that job, they should gratefully and humbly accept, without complaint or reservation. The corollary to that view is that Jody Wilson-Raybould had to be moved, somewhere, to set an example, pour encourager les autres.

And so, heeding his senior adviser's counsel, Trudeau made an offer to Wilson-Raybould which in his mind she could not refuse: veterans' affairs. The former justice minister was not happy, and pointedly asked if her move was related to SNC-Lavalin. The prime minister assured her it was not, and she reluctantly accepted.

When, not too long after that, Trudeau told reporters the fact that Wilson-Raybould was still in cabinet meant she accepted any decision the new attorney general might take on SNC-Lavalin, Wilson-Raybould resigned from veterans' affairs.

In his news conference on Thursday the prime minister admitted that he now thinks he might have made a mistake in Wilson-Raybould's case. Perhaps it was not such a good idea to move her, just to set some sort of example about how elected politicians must kneel before the (unelected) PMO. Trudeau did not admit his error in so many words, of course. He said there are "lessons to be learned" from this decision and that things "could have been done differently."

The prime minister also came close to admitting that he had made a mistake in repeating the practice of his predecessors, going back to his father's time, of creating a nearly all-powerful secretive, unaccountable and unelected PMO. He promised he would now seek expert advice as to how to change that system. Trudeau did not allude to the fact that he had explicitly promised to roll back and limit the power of the PMO both during the 2015 election campaign and immediately after the election.

It would have been better if, at his news conference on Thursday, the prime minister had been blunt and forthright in acknowledging where he now believes he erred. He chose instead to use coded and politically careful language. We should give him some credit for at least being willing to admit that he now recognizes, to use his favourite expression, he "has lessons to learn."

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

Photo: Justin Trudeau/Facebook

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Categories: News for progressives

A partial list of attacks on women's rights under Doug Ford

Thu, 2019-03-07 18:33
Tina Beier

Since June, Doug Ford's government has taken steps to systematically undermine women's rights. On their own, the funding cuts to the Ontario College of Midwives, clawbacks to raises for early childhood educators, and the reversion to the 1996 sex-ed, would not seem as insidious. But taken together, Ford's government is demonstrating it has an anti-women agenda.

The most obvious attack is the cutting of funding towards the Ontario College of Midwives. On November 8, 2018, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care advised the College that the government would no longer provide it with operational grants, which encompass over one-third of the College's budget.

The College is instrumental in providing midwives with patient safety training. Midwives are a predominantly women-identifying workforce, compared to other primary healthcare providers who also provide low-risk pregnancy, delivery, and post-birth care to women. In 2018, the Association of Ontario Midwives won a landmark pay equity case, which declared that the government's failure to monitor and address the extreme gender wage gap for midwives constituted discrimination. Not only is the Ford government now forcing midwives to pay more to the College through budget cuts, but it is also appealing the decision with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal.

This is not only an attack on a women-led profession, but on pregnant women and trans people who are being denied the prenatal care of their choice. Midwives provide prenatal care and birthing assistance, six weeks of aftercare to ease the burden on new parents, and breastfeeding assistance. Midwives are also often instrumental in detecting medical issues in mother and baby. They are more engaged with parents than the obstetrician-gynecologist, whom parents visit four to six weeks postpartum. Moreover, not all hospitals provide breastfeeding assistance. Approximatley 2.5 per cent of North American women have home births, something only midwives are capable of overseeing.

In Ontario, "there is already far greater demand for services than the province's 956 registered midwives can provide … upward of 25 to 40 per cent of people who want to have a midwife can't currently access a midwife." If the Ford government truly wishes to save money, it should put more emphasis on midwifery, to suggest that women with low-risk pregnancies give birth at home. This could save hospital beds, the cost of drugs, and the time of doctors and nurses. Instead, the government has simply slashed funding for something they don't believe is important -- the lives and careers of women.

In 2016, 96 per centof early childhood educators (ECEs) and ECE assistants in Canada were women. ECEs have specialized training in designing curriculums and assessing children's developmental needs. The Ford government, as of January, is planning on clawing back the $2-hour wage enhancement grant for these workers. ECEs currently make only $15 to $20 an hour. Lowering fees for a profession that is overwhelmingly comprised of women is a direct attack on women in the workforce.

The recently repealed 2015 Sex Ed Curriculum is disastrous for everyone and dangerous for women. Consent is deemed no longer important by the Ford government. This is either negligence or pure disinterest in the safety of women and transgender people. From 2004 to 2014, the numbers for sexual assault have not gone down, where other violent crime has dropped. Eighty seven percent of reported sexual assault victims were women, according to recent numbers. One in four were children under 13. Sexual assault is a major crisis at university campuses in Canada.

In the repealed 2015 Sex Ed Guide, consent was to be discussed from primary school through high school. The Ford government has reverted to a curriculum that doesn't even touch on consent. Similarly, girls will not be taught about the different kinds of sexual activities, various types of contraception, and remediation techniques for accidental pregnancy. Denying youth access to this information is dooming them to make complicated choices out of misinformation, fear, and lack of knowledge.

Rolling back the curriculum also leaves out any information about trans and LGTBQ+ rights. Refusing to normalize non-cis sexual orientations and gender fluidity creates a social environment where these people are more likely to commit suicide, report psychological distress, and self-harm. A sex-ed curriculum that teaches what it means to be gender non-conforming can help to protect young children from guilt, bullying, and suicide.

What's next? Ford gained election momentum appealing to anti-choice groups, so is Mifegymiso soon to be recalled? Will other women-dominated professions have their budgets revoked? Will women's health be further backburnered? Let's hope not. But what can you do to prevent this from happening?

If you are an organization or already active building tools to fight these changes, we can amplify your work and research through the Activist Toolkit. The Toolkit is focused on content collaboration and sharing what you are doing with readers who may be interesed.

As an individual, please do feel free to sign some of the many petitions circulating on Change.org, Care2 Petitions and LeadNow opposing these changes. You can select which topics are important to you and will receive email notifications of petitions you might wish to sign. After you sign one petition, you can select the option to have it automatically fill your data for subsequent petitions, making it a 30-second way to be active.

You can also volunteer. Not all volunteering requires marching, attending events, or even leaving the house! There are many activist websites that require writing or research, which you can do from home. A quick Google search of a topic that you want to get involved with should bring you to a selection of websites. Volunteer Canada and Charity Village are also good places to find volunteer postings.

Another way to help is to donate (money or items) to your local women's shelter or women's activist group. You can also donate to support the research and advocacy work of Ontario-based or national women's advocacy groups who are working on specific issues you care about.

An even easier way to get involved is to monitor the news and send a letter, email and/or phone call to your MPP if you see something concerning. The Greenbelt in Southern Ontario was under threat by Ford's Bill 66, but citizens called their MPPs, signed petitions, and made yard signs to protest it. And it worked!

You can also do simple things, like share articles on your social media to spread the word. You can write letters to your local newspapers. You can attend protests or meet with like-minded people. Whether you join a group or simply sign as many petitions are you can, every bit helps to keep women's rights protected.

Tina Beier is a member and volunteer with Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada.

Image: mollyktadams/Flickr

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Categories: News for progressives

Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission helps those affected by ongoing violence in Colombia

Thu, 2019-03-07 08:03
Brent Patterson

The armed conflict in Colombia, which began in 1964 and continues to this day despite a peace accord, has claimed the lives of more than 220,000 people.

Amnesty International reports that six million people have also been forcibly displaced from their homes as a result of this conflict. They note, "Most of those affected are Indigenous, Afro-descendant and peasant farmer communities whose existence depends on living off their land."

The Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission (CIJP) focuses on supporting Afro-descendant, Indigenous and Mestizo (peoples with mixed Indigenous and European ancestry) communities affected by the conflict, ongoing violence and corporate plunder in Colombia.

The conflict that primarily involved the Colombian government, paramilitary groups associated with the Colombian military and drug cartels, as well as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) has its origins in La Violencia.

La Violencia, which lasted from 1948 to 1958, is the time period when the first paramilitary groups were formed in the conflict between the right-wing Conservative Party (representing landowners) and the Liberal Party (that had turned towards populist policies under Jorge Eliécer Gaitán which helped the poor).

It also has its roots in the United States calling on the Colombian government in the early 1960s to quash remote "self-defence communities" formed by Liberals and communists in the aftermath of La Violencia. Those attacks contributed to the formation of the FARC.

While the Colombian government and the FARC reached a peace agreement in 2016 after 50-plus years of fighting, the armed conflict continues between the government, FARC dissidents, the ELN, the Popular Liberation Army (EPL), and drug cartels such as El Clan del Golfo.

Drug trafficking plays a significant role in the ongoing violence. It is a source of money for both drug cartels and guerilla fighters. The Guardian has reported, "The San Juan and Naya rivers are two of Colombia's main drug-trafficking routes and the communities [deep in the jungle and along that route] are surrounded by armed groups vying for control of their land."

CIJP has accompanied members of the Naya River Basin Community Council and the Wounaan Nonam Indigenous communities who live on the shores of the San Juan River.

The environmental information website Mongabay also points out further complexity in fighting between the neo-paramilitary Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces (AGC) and ELN guerillas over control of land previously held by the FARC. This land is inhabited by six Indigenous communities and 12 collective Afro-Colombian territories.

Mongabay reports, "According to CIPJ, cattle ranchers and palm oil and banana growers have counted on the support of the AGC to intimidate, threaten and kill the community leaders who are defending their land from the expansion of agribusiness and commercial logging interests in the region."

Peace Brigades International-Colombia Project has noted, "CIJP accompanies the Sikuani and Jiw Indigenous communities who are affected by the extensive palm oil plantations in Mapiripan municipality (Meta department), mainly through training workshops on land and human rights."

Furthermore, Amnesty International has pointed out, "Over the years, the Colombian authorities have granted licenses to mining and other companies looking to exploit [the lands that people have been displaced from] and their vast natural resources." Those licences are often granted on Indigenous lands without their right to free, prior and informed consent being respected.

Father Alberto Franco, a leader at the CIJP, has lamented the violence used "to remove poor people from areas to pave the way for development projects."

PBI Colombia notes, "CIJP's members have been the target of many security incidents since 1996, including serious threats to their personal integrity, being followed and subjected to illegal wiretapping and surveillance, assassination plots, kidnapping, and smear campaigns." PBI has accompanied the CIJP since 1994.

The struggle for justice continues in Colombia and the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission plays a significant role in this vital and dangerous work.

Brent Patterson is a political activist and writer.

Photo by Peace Brigades International.

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Categories: News for progressives

A sea of change for Canada's telecom market?

Thu, 2019-03-07 03:13
Marie Aspiazu

Last week the federal government and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) made two exciting announcements for internet and cellphone users in Canada, signalling major progress on issues the OpenMedia community has been working on for years.

On Tuesday, the federal government introduced a new policy direction for the CRTC, whose main focus is to "promote competition, affordability, consumer interests and innovation." Until now, the CRTC has been relying on the 2006 policy direction set by the previous government, which called for a reliance on market forces and telco self-regulation -- something that has clearly not been serving consumers well, as we continue to pay some of the highest prices in the world for our internet services!

Moreover, the new policy direction asks the CRTC to "encourage all forms of competition," which could result in innovative new providers known as Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) finally entering the market. This is critical -- more choice in our cell phone market is our only means to challenge Big Telecom's oligopoly and lower our monthly bills.

After years of frustrating CRTC decisions that favour Big Telecom's interests, this move comes as a refreshing and major step towards shifting the playing field to ensure that people in Canada are put first and have access to more affordable internet and cellphone services.

OpenMedia has been asking for a new policy direction for the CRTC from the government for years. Most recently, we called for it in our submission to the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Acts review, endorsed by almost 10,000 of our community members.

This is a big deal! But the work doesn't end here -- the policy direction is not yet finalized. And even when it is, we'll still need to hold the CRTC accountable at every step of the way to make sure it's making decisions in the public interest, truly meeting its expectations under the new policy direction.

But already, we're seeing the impacts of this strong signal from the government to the CRTC.

On Thursday, (only two days later!) the CRTC announced a review of Canada's mobile services, which we have been expecting since last year when the CRTC last rejected MVNOs. We knew the proceeding was coming -- but we did not realize just how much was on the table, and that innovative new providers like MVNOs are already on the table from the beginning.

As outlined by the CRTC, this proceeding will focus on three main areas:

  • Competition in the retail market;
  • The current wholesale mobile wireless service regulatory framework, with a focus on wholesale MVNO access; and
  • The future of mobile wireless services in Canada, with a focus on reducing barriers to infrastructure deployment.

The first round of this proceeding will be accepting submissions until May 15, 2019, leading up to a public hearing beginning on January 13, 2020. This proceeding is going to take some time, but you can guarantee OpenMedia will be there speaking up for more affordable connectivity throughout Canada, as we always do.

The OpenMedia community has the loudest voice in Canada pushing for the CRTC to open the market for MVNO providers, and after years of pressure the groundwork has finally been laid out. But there's a lot of work ahead of us to actually shape what this looks like in practice, and keep pushing for this to have the true impact on people's daily lives that we know is needed.

Last week's major announcements are a big win, and we want you to know that you played an important role in making this happen. Once again, we want to thank our incredible community for all your hard work, which has helped improve the prospects for the future of Canada's telecom market.

Stay tuned for how you can engage in the next part of the saga by signing up to our mailing list or following us on Facebook and Twitter.

Marie Aspiazu is a Digital Campaigner and Social Media Specialist for OpenMedia, a non-profit organization that works to keep the internet open, affordable, and surveillance-free.

Photo: jbdodane/Flickr

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Categories: News for progressives

Averting layoffs poor excuse for giving SNC-Lavalin a pass

Wed, 2019-03-06 21:34
Ed Finn

Bereft of any valid excuse for pressuring former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to intervene in the crime and corruption charges against SNC-Lavalin, Prime Minister Trudeau, with his aides and cabinet loyalists, have fallen back on the sanctimonious claim that they were only trying to save the threatened jobs of the company's employees.

Once saved from both its financial and law-breaking predicaments, surely SNC-Lavalin would have no reason to lay off workers. That was the Trudeau government's implied assumption. 

It surely knew better.

Hark back to the huge government handout heaped on another big Quebec-based company, Bombardier, a few years ago. Like SNC-Lavalin, the aerospace giant was repeatedly subsidized by the federal government, had the same cozy relationship with the Liberal party, and currently faces similar bid-rigging and corruption charges in the courts of Sweden and Brazil.

In 2017, when Bombardier had another of its perennial profit declines, the Trudeau government came to its rescue with a massive $3.7-billion bailout, allegedly to enable the company to avoid large planned layoffs. A few months later, Bombardier sacked 3,000 of its Canadian workers and gifted its senior executives with a 50 per cent salary raise. 

Financial Post columnist Andrew Coyne's sardonic reaction to Bombardier's blatant misuse of taxpayers' money was to quip that "Bombardier is not in the transportation industry; it's in the government subsidies industry."

The jobs of SNC-Lavalin employees would be no more secure than those of Bombardier if SNC-Lavalin ever decided -- thanks to ongoing government largesse -- that it could get by without them.

Ed Finn grew up in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, where he 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.

Photo: Jeangagnon/Wikimedia Commons

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Categories: News for progressives

Pundits keep scoffing, but the left keeps winning

Wed, 2019-03-06 21:24
March 6, 2019Pundits keep scoffing, but progressive ideas keep winningNDP leader Jagmeet Singh's victory in the Burnaby South byelection last week followed an increasingly familiar pattern in electoral politics.
Categories: News for progressives

How can we counter corporate capture of government?

Wed, 2019-03-06 21:18
Politics in Canada

The SNC-Lavalin affair rips the veil off the hidden world of corporate influence on government decision-making. Ordinary Canadians have been offered a glimpse of the real Canada. 

The power centre in the Government of Canada is not focused on middle-class jobs, reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, or even trade relations with our southern neighbour. 

As Maclean's writer Paul Wells brilliantly describes in a recent article, "all of that was absolutely going on, but it wasn't the whole story…  there was another show going on… somewhere behind bouncers and a rope line you didn't even know were there. "

Frank Iacobucci, one of SNC-Lavalin's defence lawyers, is a former Supreme Court justice. Kevin Lynch, their chairman of the board, is a former clerk of the Privy Council Office, Canada's top civil servant. And SNC's lobbyists have been breezing in and out of the office of the prime minister.

We Canadians are a trusting lot. We like to leave it to our governments to do the right thing, so we can get on with looking after our family and friends. We prefer to avert our gaze from corruption.

But the system is showing cracks. The middle class is getting harder to find. Federal and provincial governments are paralyzed by the apocalyptic predictions of climate change scientists. Infected by close ties to the U.S., our officials are acquiring an unhealthy tendency to meddle in the affairs of other nations through sanctions and regime change.

Every few years an election brings new elected officials promising to do politics differently. They ignore their campaign promises of change or just undo a tiny part of what a previous government put in place. Even worse, "populists" get elected with almost no platform or accountability whatever.

The Canadian electorate lapses into slumber. Corporations move in. Behind the scenes, the show goes on.  

We need a new way of doing government. How can we counter corporate capture of government, and reverse the trend of centralizing power in the Prime Minister's Office?

Transparency measures such as lobbying registries are helpful but do not get at the root of the problem. Banning lobbying altogether would only drive it underground. 

The problem is not unique to Canada. A new extensively documented European report details the pernicious influence of corporate lobbying in the banking, gas, pharmaceutical, arms, IT and auto sectors, as well as in taxation and trade policies. It calls on government institutions to end the "privileged access of corporate interests," and to "re-democratize the input process" by seeking "novel ways to gain input from citizens, SMEs [Small and medium-sized enterprises] and other, currently under-represented, interest groups."

How to go about this? Here are some ideas. Identify the big issues that need to be addressed (the UN Sustainable Development Goals are a good framework for this) and create task forces to address these issues. Give them a mandate to interact with each other. Include ordinary citizens as well as "experts." Make sure the "experts" don't all have commercial ties. 

As our Indigenous brothers and sisters say, everything is connected. But Canadians are becoming increasingly disconnected. Discourse has become privileged, polarized and unproductive. 

Let's meet and talk together -- about strengthening democracy and truly doing politics differently.

Ole Hendrickson is a retired forest ecologist and a founding member of the Ottawa River Institute, a non-profit charitable organization based in the Ottawa Valley.

Photo: Tuxyso/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

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SNC-LavalincorporationslobbyingOle HendricksonMarch 6, 2019Charities' right to free speech -- yet another broken election promiseThe Trudeau government has decided to appeal the Ontario Superior Court ruling that would have allowed charities to do their work on behalf of Canadians, free from political harassment. Sordid SNC-Lavalin affair exposes Canada as a plutocracy, not a democracySNC-Lavalin had every reason to expect a rescue from a political party whose election campaigns it had so generously funded, and with whom it had developed such a long and cozy relationship. It's taboo to talk about Canada's real corporate scandalWhile the SNC-Lavalin affair has made headlines, there's another corporate scandal that makes the financial figures in that case seem like pocket change. But no major political party will touch it.
Categories: News for progressives

Pundits keep scoffing, but progressive ideas keep winning

Wed, 2019-03-06 20:41
Alex Cosh

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh's victory in the Burnaby South byelection last week followed an increasingly familiar pattern in electoral politics.

A few months ago, all the talk in the mainstream media was of Singh's inept leadership and a looming disaster for the NDP. Globe and Mail columnist Gary Mason called Singh's leadership a "washout." In the Ottawa Citizen, Andrew McDougall, Stephen Harper's former communications director, chuckled: "Singh features about as regularly as the third-choice goalie on a last-place NHL team" in conversations about the NDP. Liberal campaign strategist Omar Khan said Singh's leadership was "doomed in its infancy," and suggested, "Liberals are praying every night that the NDP doesn't dump him before the election." In the National Post, Rex Murphy described Singh as "natty but ineffectual."

Former NDP leader Tom Mulcair, meanwhile, said it would be "extremely difficult" for Singh to stay on as leader if he lost in Burnaby.

During the byelection, Tory candidate Jay Shin's campaign distributed orange-branded leaflets urging voters to vote Conservative so as to "save the NDP" from Singh.

But despite months of ridicule, dismissiveness and doubt, Singh secured a win and increased the NDP's vote share in Burnaby South by almost four points. Former MP Kennedy Stewart won the riding by just over 500 votes in the 2015 general election.

On the other hand, the Liberal and Conservative parties saw their vote shares dip by eight and 4.5 points respectively.

In his victory speech, Singh said "people should be angry" at "a system that puts more and more wealth in fewer and fewer hands."

The day after his election, he promised to call out the Trudeau government's concern with "helping the wealthy and powerful, whether it's SNC-Lavalin or pharmaceutical companies, or oil and gas."

"We run campaigns in a way where we directly connect with the people, and our offer was better than the other parties," Singh added.

An emerging trend

The NDP leader's byelection victory in Burnaby follows an emerging trend: pundits scoff at and ridicule leaders on the left; then the left wins.

Similar scripts have played out in the U.K. and U.S. in recent years.

Throughout 2016, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn was roundly dismissed as "out of touch" and "incompetent." Former Labour cabinet minister David Miliband called Corbyn "unelectable" and "undesirable." The Independent's Tom Peck said Corbyn would take Labour to "electoral oblivion." Commentator Nick Cohen said Labour would be "slaughtered" at the ballot box. In The Telegraph, Toby Young arrogantly suggested conservatives should buy Labour memberships to vote for Corbyn during the party's leadership race, with the assumption the veteran socialist would be an electoral disaster for the party.

Then came the 2017 snap election. Up until the eleventh hour, everyone from former primer minister Tony Blair to author J.K. Rowling predicted a landslide win for the Tories.

Instead, Conservative leader Theresa May lost her parliamentary majority, while Labour saw its biggest increase in votes since 1945.

In the U.S., top Democrats regularly cast doubt on Democratic Socialist congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's competence as an emerging leader of the left.

One patronizingly asked: "Does she want to be an effective legislator or just continue being a Twitter star?" Oregon congressman Kurt Schrader suggested Ocasio-Cortez "doesn't understand" how Congress works yet. Former Democratic senator Joe Lieberman said: "I certainly hope she's not the future and I don't believe she is."

But the data suggests otherwise. A poll published by The Hill and Harris X found 59 per cent of registered voters support Ocasio-Cortez's 70 per cent top tax-rate proposal. Another poll found 74 per cent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters would vote Ocasio-Cortez for president if they could (she is currently too young to run). The congresswoman also enjoys higher name-recognition and favourability than some Democratic 2020 presidential contenders.

Singh is rarely criticized for being too left-wing in the ways Corbyn and Ocasio-Cortez are, but Singh has shown, like Corbyn and Ocasio-Cortez, he can be a much more effective leader than his critics first predicted.

Organizer and editor Derrick O'Keefe tweeted last week: "Singh hits right themes in his victory speech. Centrism and liberalism can't stop the rise of the far-right; only democratic socialism can."

"The NDP need to go left or go home this year," he added.

With fundraising challenges and modest polling numbers, the federal NDP  has a steep mountain to climb ahead of the general election. But the result in Burnaby South shows naysaying from the pundit class is doing little to dampen the momentum of leftist ideas.

If Singh can harness the same kind of progressive energy stoked by Bernie Sanders, Corbyn and Ocasio-Cortez, there's reason to believe the NDP leader can prove pundits wrong again this fall.

Alex Cosh is a journalist and PhD student based in Powell River, B.C. His work has appeared on PressProgress, Left Foot Forward and in several local publications in B.C.

Photo: Jagmeet Singh/Facebook

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Categories: News for progressives

War is not the way to climate justice

Tue, 2019-03-05 23:34
Brent Patterson

"Once weapons were manufactured to fight wars. Now wars are manufactured to sell weapons," Arundhati Roy once said.

That's important to keep in mind with the CANSEC arms trade show taking place this coming May 29 to 30 at the EY Centre in Ottawa.

CANSEC is an annual "trade show," promoted as "North America's largest tri-lateral defence event," that draws "600 VIPs, generals, top military and government officials," "over 5,000 Government of Canada representatives," and "over 40 delegations from around the world."

Canada is no small player in the weapons trade.

In June 2016, The Globe and Mail reported that Canada was the second-biggest arms dealer to the Middle East and the sixth biggest arms exporter in the world.

In 2017, according to Global Affairs Canada, Canada's exports of "military goods and technology" to other countries amounted to about $1.031 billion.

Our pension dollars are also going into weapons manufacturing.

The Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade (COAT) notes, "The [Canada Pension Plan] is now investing $1.3 billion in 36 of the world's top 100 war industries." It adds that this investment portfolio includes about 30 corporations that have exhibits at the CANSEC arms trade show.

Canada also spends a lot on the military.

In 2017, that spending was $20.6 billion a year and by 2026-27, the Trudeau government wants to increase that to $32.7 billion a year. That's a lot of jet fuel and gas for LAVs and assorted military vehicles.

But significantly, as Vice reported in 2017, "Canada doesn't count greenhouse gas emissions for any overseas operations conducted by its military. That's right, any of them. Army, navy, air force."

And yet the connection to climate breakdown is inescapable.

In December 2015, Newsweek reported, "The Iraq war was responsible for 141m tonnes of carbon releases in its first four years, according to an Oil Change International report. On an annual basis, this was more than the emissions from 139 countries in this period, or about the same as putting an extra 25 million cars on to U.S. roads for a year."

And the Transnational Institute (TNI) has reported, "The U.S. Department of Defense consumed about 117 million barrels of oil in 2011."

It adds, "The military is not just a prolific user of oil, it is one of the central pillars of the global fossil-fuel economy."

A different way forward

The World Economic Forum has noted, "Arms sales of the world's 100 largest arms-producing and military services companies totalled $398.2 billion in 2017." It adds that this "marks the third consecutive year of growth" in arms sales. And TNI notes that overall global military expenditures reached $1.8 trillion in 2014.

The Leap Manifesto calls for "Cuts to military spending."

And the U.K.-based Campaign Against Arms Trade has an "Arms to renewables" campaign that says money now spent on subsidizing the arms industry would be better spent on renewables and that in turn would be better for workers, the economy and world peace.

Imagine if one day we were able to say that the factories that once built weapons for manufactured wars now build solar panels, wind turbines, electric vehicles, and high-speed rail and public transit powered by renewables.

A demonstration that challenges the CANSEC trade show this coming May 29 to 30 in Ottawa will be an opportunity for activists from numerous movements to come together to call for an economy based on green jobs not carbon bombs.

Brent Patterson is a political activist and writer.

Twitter photo by Tim McSorley.

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Categories: News for progressives

The lightness of Andrew Scheer

Tue, 2019-03-05 21:17
March 5, 2019Scheer's approach gives Trudeau opening in SNC-Lavalin affairWithout evidence of wrongdoing for personal benefit by the prime minister, it is hard to see why Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer would expect Justin Trudeau to resign.
Categories: News for progressives

Scheer's approach gives Trudeau opening in SNC-Lavalin affair

Tue, 2019-03-05 21:10
Politics in Canada

Conservative leader of the Official Opposition Andrew Scheer has demanded that Justin Trudeau resign as prime minister.

Trudeau responded by saying that Canadians would have an opportunity to judge his government in the general election this October 21.

Scheer accuses Trudeau of corruption and obstruction of justice; and has written RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki, calling on her to investigate any potential criminal activity.

A group of five former attorneys general (four Conservatives, one NDP) have also written to the RCMP commissioner, pointing to the lobbying efforts made by SNC-Lavalin and the subsequent pressure on the justice minister, who was also the attorney general of Canada, as evidence of interference by the prime minister in an ongoing criminal prosecution.

In his letter Scheer alleges that Trudeau contravened Section 423.1(1) of the Criminal Code "by conduct with the intent to provoke fear in the attorney general." 

Calls for the prime minister to resign are not usually made lightly by any leader of the official opposition. Without evidence of wrongdoing for personal benefit by the prime minister, it is hard to see why Scheer would expect Trudeau to resign. The question of improper political pressure is being looked at by the ethics commissioner.

Testimony before the justice committee of the House of Commons by Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick and former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould revealed a serious clash of wills between Trudeau and Wilson-Raybould about how to deal with corruption charges brought against engineering giant SNC-Lavalin.

After being demoted to Veterans Affairs, Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet February 12 "with a heavy heart." On March 4 her colleague Jane Philpott also resigned, saying, "I have lost confidence in how the government has dealt with this matter," in reference to political pressure brought on the AG and expressing her unwillingness to maintain cabinet solidarity.

Trudeau wanted Wilson-Raybould to consider inviting SNC-Lavalin to submit to a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) that would include acknowledgement of guilt, financial penalties, and require future undertakings to prevent wrongdoings.

The relationship between the AG and the director of public prosecutions (DPP) allows the AG to request the independent DPP to issue an invitation for application of a DPA in place of a costly criminal trial that could take years to complete, with no guarantee of a conviction. 

DPAs are applicable in cases where criminal actions brought against companies such as SNC-Lavalin were deemed likely to cause damage to employees, suppliers, and local communities.

Wilson- Raybould, a former Crown prosecutor, had decided last September that the DPP was right to pursue criminal proceedings against SNC-Lavalin arising from bribery charges in Libya brought by the RCMP that date back to 2015. She was not prepared to go back on her decision despite numerous entreaties to do so. 

In 2012 SNC-Lavalin's Vice-President Construction Riadh Ben Aissa was convicted and imprisoned in Switzerland of fraud, in connection with illegal payments to obtain Libyan contracts. No charges were brought against SNC-Lavalin at that time; indeed, it was considered an injured party.

In 2015, based on leads from the Swiss, SNC-Lavalin was charged by the RCMP with paying $48 million in bribes to the Libyan government between 2001 and 2011, and defrauding Libyan organizations of nearly $130 million.

The controversy surrounding corrupt dealings by SNC-Lavalin has received extensive coverage in the Quebec media since 2012.

The case that shocked Quebec public opinion were kickbacks SNC-Lavalin paid to get the contract to build the $1.4-million McGill University Health Centre (MUHC). In this case seven people were charged in 2012 with receiving $22.5 million in kickbacks, including MUHC CEO Arthur Porter who was accused of taking $11.25 million. Porter fled the country but was arrested in Panama in 2013, where he received treatment for cancer and died in 2015.

In 2008 Porter had been named head of the very sensitive Security Intelligence Review Committee by Stephen Harper.   

The differences between Trudeau and his former justice minister were first announced in February reports published by The Globe and Mail and picked up widely. Wilson-Raybould testified under oath that nothing illegal had transpired in the multiple attempts to get her to bring in an outside expert to examine the DPA as an alternative to criminal action.

The sight of a former minister accusing the prime minister of improper conduct electrified opinion.

Moreover Wilson-Raybould has announced her intention to be a Liberal candidate in the next election.

Former NDP leader Tom Mulcair, now a prominent media commentator, has suggested that Trudeau erred in not publicly making a public case for SNC-Lavalin as a national asset worth preserving. Instead Team Trudeau snuck the DPA legislation into an omnibus budget bill.

With board chair Kevin Lynch, a former deputy minister of finance under Paul Martin and clerk of the Privy Council to Stephen Harper, and with their behind closed doors lobbying, SNC-Lavalin did not do themselves any favours.

All lobbying efforts are public knowledge because they must be registered. Those by SNC-Lavalin mainly served to raise public suspicions about their motives. The efforts to transform the company culture, the rollover of top management, the renewal of the board, have yet to bring about the desired effects of re-making the company image.

The storm of controversy swirling around Trudeau suggests that it would be a mistake for the Liberals to focus their re-election campaign on the leader. Envy breeds hate, goes the Yiddish proverb, and Trudeau was attracting outsized reactions from media figures and opposition politicians even before the resignation of Philpott. 

The Conservatives have opted to create a "culture of contempt" to secure a rejection of the government in October. Trudeau, Quebec, SNC-Lavalin all get painted as corrupt and not worthy.

The Scheer approach gives Trudeau an opening. In Quebec, where the issue matters most, the Liberals become by default the champion of local head offices, jobs, and incomes, regardless of how the SNC-Lavalin corruption case turns out.

Duncan Cameron is president emeritus of rabble.ca and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.

Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

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SNC-LavalinJody Wilson-RaybouldJustin TrudeauDuncan CameronMarch 5, 2019Trudeau aide Gerald Butts pulls rip cord amid SNC-Lavalin allegationsDemoting the justice minister turns out to have created a political storm that Gerald Butts -- given that he must have been in on the decision -- has attempted to quell with his resignation.Trudeau is on the ropes, but can NDP provide a viable, progressive alternative?The Trudeau government betrayed its promise of openness in the SNC-Lavalin affair. Conservatives were worse when in power, but are profiting. What about the NDP?Sordid SNC-Lavalin affair exposes Canada as a plutocracy, not a democracySNC-Lavalin had every reason to expect a rescue from a political party whose election campaigns it had so generously funded, and with whom it had developed such a long and cozy relationship.
Categories: News for progressives

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