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Minister who claims to be a friend of labour prepares to force postal workers back to work

Fri, 2018-11-23 21:44
November 23, 2018Minister who claims to be a friend of labour prepares to force postal workers back to workFederal Labour Minister Patty Hadju – who once wrote “healthy labour relations directly contribute to economic growth” – is about to force postal workers back to workCA
Categories: News for progressives

Minister who claims to be a friend of labour prepares to force postal workers back to work

Fri, 2018-11-23 21:40
Karl Nerenberg

On Thursday November 22, federal Labour Minister Patty Hadju introduced a procedural motion in the House of Commons to fast track not-yet-introduced legislation that would force more than 50,000 striking postal workers back to work.

Speaking to reporters, Hadju said that, for now, the Liberal government is “in a place where we still are encouraging the parties to get that negotiated agreement together.”

The government has not shown its hand yet on the back-to-work bill. And postal strikes are, of course, rotating. The mail, including the hundreds of thousands of parcels Canadians order online, is still moving.

Supporters of the striking workers, such as NDP MP Irene Mathyssen, argue that the government has just made a negotiated settlement a whole lot harder. Canada Post management can now stonewall and offer nothing at the bargaining table, while the clock ticks down to back-to-work legislation time – which could come in a matter of days.

The government is acutely aware that the holiday season, so vital to retailers, is upon us. Thousands of businesses that take orders online depend on Canada Post to deliver their product. As the Post Office’s publicity says, its business these days is to “deliver the online world.”

This shift has created new pressures. But is it the only shift involved in this dispute?

In the summer of 2017, Hadju wrote an article for rabble in which she emphasized that she considers herself to be a stalwart friend and supporter of organized labour.

“The labour movement,” she wrote, “is about people who work in Canada, and who deserve to work in fair, safe spaces and earn a decent living.”

Hadju added: “Healthy labour relations directly contribute to economic growth.”

When the Trudeau government talks about growing the middle class, she emphasized, it believes that “unions are critical to helping achieve that goal.”

A constitutional right to strike

Before it takes the final, fateful step of ordering striking workers back on the job, union leaders are doing their best to remind the government that there is now a constitutionally guaranteed right to strike. That is a fact Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his ministers cannot simply ignore.

In January of 2015, in a case pitting public sector unions against the Saskatchewan government, the Supreme Court ruled that the “right to strike is an essential part of a meaningful collective bargaining process in our system of labour relations.”  

The justices cited the right to freedom of association – one of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ four fundamental freedoms – as the basis for ruling that no government legislation may “substantially interfere” with meaningful collective bargaining.

Hadju claims the government has taken that 2015 ruling into account in drafting its back-to-work bill. But she is still keeping the actual content of the bill under wraps, so it is impossible to know how she plans to pull off that neat trick.

What is galling for postal workers is that they believe they have been taking a constructive and positive approach, but face a management team that has long had difficulty treating its unionized works as full partners.

The workers want a raise that will barely keep up with inflation, 2.9 per cent, and equal pay for equal work. As it stands now, rural postal workers -- mostly women -- are paid less than their urban counterparts.

Another of the workers’ demands is the right to turn down overtime, which, if it were accepted, could mean the Post Office might have to hire more workers. Canada Post has moved a bit on that issue, but only to the extent that is has agreed to pay workers a premium for hours worked overtime – a basic benefit other workers gained decades ago.

A profitable corporation

There was a time when the advent of the internet, with e-mail and bill paying online, made the Post Office seem to be something of a dinosaur. But the internet also created an explosion of online commerce, which has generated a huge expansion in Canada Post’s parcel and package business. As a result, the Post Office is not the financial basket case business experts once predicted it would become. It now realizes healthy profits.

The workers believe they deserve their share of those profits, and do not appreciate the government putting its thumb on the scale in the midst of their efforts to get what they see as a fair deal from the employer.

To make matters worse, the threat of back-to-work legislation comes at a point where management was budging at least a bit in the union’s direction. Just days ago, management upped its monetary offer to two per cent, and even indicated an interest in using Post Office facilities to offer financial services – something that has been on the union’s wish list for a number of years.

In fact, if you read what the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) puts out as its long-term ambitions for the Post Office, they are all about making their workplace more environmentally conscious, more relevant to Canadians’ lives and, in general, more up-to-date. 

The union points out that the 6,300 post offices constitute the biggest retail network in the country and proposes that those retail outlets become community hubs, offering postal banking, space for pop-up commerce, charging stations for electric vehicles and services to an aging population.

It’s not up to the union alone to think big for any organization, of course. Indeed, that is normally management’s job. But the fact that CUPW has put out a vision that goes beyond the narrow self-interest of its members should count for something.

Having said that, the immediate challenge is to negotiate a new collective agreement. The sword of Damocles now hangs over those negotiations.

Hadju insists she remains a friend of labour. When postal workers went on strike in June 2011, the newly re-elected Conservative government under Stephen Harper wasted no time in forcing them back to work. The NDP opposition resisted, and so the Conservatives made the House sit and talk all night in order to push through their back-to-work bill, with nary the slightest delay.

The Liberals are different from the Conservatives, Hadju insists.

“Our legislation is very different from the Harper legislation,” she said. “I understand the concerns of workers, and I will tell you right now, the legislation looks very different. It does not mandate a particular outcome.” 

The key question is: What, if anything, is the government telling Canada Post management behind closed doors?

Is the Trudeau team making it clear that, notwithstanding its threat of back-to-work legislation, the government believes the union might have valid and legitimate concerns? Is it encouraging management to work hard to find a reasonable accommodation with the union, now, while there is still time?

The workers have a right to doubt the responsible ministers, including the pro-union Labour minister, are communicating anything of the sort to Canada Post’s bosses. But perhaps, in the end, Hadju will surprise them and pull through for the 50,000-plus workers and their families.

We’ll all find out soon enough.

Photo: Patty Hadju/Facebook

 

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

In wake of Lac-Mégantic disaster, why are circumstances that led to crash remain essentially unchanged?

Fri, 2018-11-23 00:17
November 22, 2018In wake of Lac-Mégantic disaster, why are circumstances that led to crash remain essentially unchanged?After Lac-Mégantic, we need proper regulation of railways -- and every other aspect of our economy that requires government oversight to protect us from corporations whose only interest is profit.
Categories: News for progressives

Extinction Rebellion for climate justice is organizing in Canada, too

Thu, 2018-11-22 04:10
November 21, 2018Extinction Rebellion for climate justice is organizing in Canada, tooSix thousand Extinction Rebellion activists recently occupied five bridges in London and the rebellion is set to go global in March 2019.
Categories: News for progressives

U.K. faces turmoil as EU negotiators meet Brexit challenge

Wed, 2018-11-21 03:47
November 20, 2018U.K. faces turmoil as EU negotiators meet Brexit challengeOvercoming furious rivals, British Prime Minister Theresa May has convinced her cabinet to support the "soft" Brexit deal with the EU, but the real test will come in a U.K. parliamentary vote.BrexitEuropean Union
Categories: News for progressives

Doug Ford’s government abolishes Ontario Environmental Commission days after it issues scathing report

Tue, 2018-11-20 03:40
November 19, 2018EnvironmentPolitics in CanadaDoug Ford’s government abolishes Ontario Environmental Commission days after it issues scathing reportOntario’s Environmental Commissioner warns of how the province’s lakes and rivers are being polluted. Doug Ford responded two days later by shooting the messenger, and killed the commission.Doug Fordenvironmental commissioner of ontarioON
Categories: News for progressives

Doug Ford’s government abolishes Ontario Environmental Commission days after it issues scathing report

Tue, 2018-11-20 03:34
Karl Nerenberg

On November 13, Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner issued a scorching report warning that while Ontario has “some of the most abundant fresh water in the world,” it is polluting much of it.

The province has done much to make sure drinking water is safe in the wake of the “Walkerton water tragedy” of the 1990s, the report says. However, “nothing comparable has been done to protect the rest of Ontario’s lakes and rivers, many of which are being seriously harmed by pollution.”

Two days later, Ontario’s provincial government under Doug Ford abolished the office of the Environmental Commissioner. It said it was a cost-cutting measure; but as with other similar measures, including the abolition of the child advocate and the commissioner for French-language services, the government could not say how much money it might actually save.

Here, Ford is clearly borrowing from the playbooks of of former prime minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Donald Trump. For Ford, as for Harper and Trump, abolishing independent agencies has little, if anything, to do with saving money. The Ontario Conservative government’s real purpose is to silence independent voices that are not 100-per-cent onside with its agenda.

The Harper government killed the court challenges program, which created something of an even playing field for people and groups who lacked major financial resources but wished to challenge legislation on the basis of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Well-financed corporate interests, notably the tobacco industry, have always had lots of cash to take the government to court. Big tobacco showed as much when it challenged federal plain-packaging legislation on the basis of the Charter’s free speech provisions.

Harper also severely curtailed the public communications and investigative powers of the Chief Electoral Officer, silenced government scientists working on climate change and attacked the charitable status of independent groups that disagreed with his agenda.

As for Ford, he is just getting started. He only took power this past summer.

When Harper and Trump went after scientists and officials whose findings they did not like, they also made their work disappear from public view. Years of research and recommendations simply vanished from the internet.

In case the Ford government tries the same trick, here is where you can still find the most recent full report from the Environmental Commissioner, entitled “Back to Basics.”

Combined runoff of sewage and rainwater is toxic and dangerous

The Environmental Commissioner’s attention to evidence and fact demonstrates why such independent agencies are essential to the formation of sound public policy.

On the water issue, the report goes into considerable detail on local efforts to protect the Ontario watersheds that are the sources of drinking water from contaminants, which range from septic systems to road salt and agricultural run-off.  It notes where communities have taken adequate steps and where there is room for improvement. In the latter category, the report recommends more stringent measures to deal with potential contamination from home heating oil tanks. They are an example of a pollution source that falls between bureaucratic chairs.

As for all of the many thousands of Ontario lakes, streams and rivers that do not directly supply drinking water, the Environmental Commissioner reports that a “sea of pollutants” is harming them.

Sewage, industrial waste, run-off from farms, and spill-over of road waste are “threatening many provincial aquatic ecosystems, impairing Ontarians’ ability to swim and fish, and harming economic activities that rely on clean water.”

The report notes that Ontario’s new Conservative government has identified “protecting and preserving our waterways” as one of its priorities. The commissioner then adds: “They have a lot of work to do.” 

On sewage, for instance, the report tells us that although Ontario municipalities treat about 90 per of the province’s sewage, raw and partially treated sewage still flows into lakes and rivers from many local sewage systems.

The report identifies the villain here as being what it calls “combined sewage outflows.” These outflow systems carry both sewage from toilets and drains and stormwater from rain and snow melt. They are highly toxic, and regularly force authorities to close beaches while making recreational use of rivers, streams and lakes dangerous.

Ontario actually outlawed combined outflow systems in 1985, but 44 municipalities – including the two biggest – Toronto and Ottawa – still use them. The big danger of this system comes when there is heavy rainfall, which can bring on uncontrollable excess flows of pollutants, which “carry toxic pathogens into Ontario’s waterways.”

The commissioner’s report points out that the public does not normally find out about these noxious overflows except when health officials close beaches; and it outlines a long list of recommendations to stop these polluting overflows.

Municipalities can use storage tanks to hold mixed sewage until their plants are able to treat them. They can optimize treatment plant operations to “better manage increased mixed sewage flow” after big rainstorms. And they can use green infrastructure to reduce surface runoff toward streams and rivers.

The report also recommends that the Ontario environment ministry get much tougher with municipalities that fail to act to curtail these dangerous overflows.

“Why,” the report asks, “does the ministry never prosecute municipalities for these overflows?”

The Environmental Commissioner points out that municipalities can legally get a break from their full responsibilities on this score only if they demonstrate they have done due diligence. That is, they have taken “all reasonable steps” to avoid combined sewage overflow.

The 2018 Ontario Environment Commissioner’s recommendations on overflows, and on many other significant issues, are thorough, practical, detailed and well-considered. Instead of reacting to them by promising to take action, the Ford government decided to shoot the messenger and kill the commission.

Photo: Premier of Ontario Photography/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

Big Oil calls for supply management to correct sinking crude prices

Mon, 2018-11-19 21:43
November 19, 2018EconomyPolitics in CanadaBig Oil calls for supply management to correct sinking crude pricesOn Tuesday, the president of Cenovus Energy Inc. called for temporary production cuts across the Canadian oil sector to push prices back up. It's all about supply and demand.
Categories: News for progressives

Amazon headquarters auction another example of corporate welfare

Fri, 2018-11-16 01:33
November 15, 2018Amazon headquarters auction another example of corporate welfareWill Amazon's HQ2 spark a magical, high-tech age, or will it kill small businesses, drive up rents and leave the cadaver of a working-class neighbourhood in its wake?
Categories: News for progressives

Federal review of broadcasting and communications faces stiff headwinds

Thu, 2018-11-15 02:52
November 14, 2018Media MattersPolitics in CanadaFederal review of broadcasting and communications faces stiff headwindsBoth a Senate committee and a government-appointed panel are reviewing the federal Broadcast Act. If the public hearings are any indication, public broadcasting is in for a rough ride.
Categories: News for progressives

Federal review of broadcasting and communications faces stiff headwinds

Thu, 2018-11-15 02:45
Karl Nerenberg

When expert witnesses appeared before a Senate committee in October to discuss changes to communications legislation, they did not expect to field a series of angry attacks on public broadcasting.

That, however, is what happened.

It is a sign that two parallel processes aimed at a long overdue modernization of laws governing the entire spectrum of communications from over-the-air television to the internet could face a rocky road.

Both processes are reviewing the Broadcasting Act and other key pieces of legislation governing communications, but only the Senate Transport and Communications Committee hearings are public.

The other process is behind closed doors.

Last June, the Trudeau government named a seven-member panel of experts to look at how communications legislation could be updated. The group incudes five lawyers and a former Telus corporation vice-president, Janet Yule, who is the chair.  Monique Simard, who was a labour leader in Quebec and once headed the National Film Board’s French language division, is the only member of the panel with hands-on creative experience.

The expert panel and the Senate Committee are both looking at such fundamental and vital issues as net neutrality, consumer rights, support for Canadian content, and the role of news media in supporting democracy and fostering citizenship.

The government recognizes that while new technologies are changing “the way Canadians connect with each other,” the regulatory framework has not kept pace. The Broadcasting Act, for instance, is almost three decades old. Parliament passed it in 1991, when cell phones were in their infancy and the web referred to something spiders create.

Public service mission; need for CBC; Netflix tax

The Senate committee has been hearing witnesses since September. In October, it heard from Marc Raboy, a professor emeritus at McGill University in Montreal, and professor Gregory Taylor of the University of Calgary.

In his opening remarks, Raboy emphasized elements of the current Broadcasting Act that, in his view, the government must not only maintain, but also enhance.

The current act states that broadcasting is essential to Canada’s national identity and sovereignty. That is a principle worth preserving, he said.

The act stipulates that the Canadian broadcasting system constitutes a single system that must be effectively owned and controlled by Canadians. That principle is more valid today then ever.

The most important feature of the existing legislation, in Raboy’s view, is the affirmation that all of Canadian broadcasting is “a public service.”

“Think about communication the way you think about health care or education,” he told the senators. “Those sectors … are made up of a wide range of specific services, some of them entirely publicly funded, some of them profit centres … but they are fundamentally conceived, operated and overseen as public systems.”

In other words, all broadcasters, be they public or private, like all providers of medical services or education, serve the public’s need for information and cultural enlightenment. And, Raboy added, the government should now “explicitly extend” that public service mandate to the rest of the communication sector.

When it was his turn to speak, Taylor burst what he sees as a widespread myth:

“Be wary of any of the ‘end of broadcasting’ rhetoric that can permeate debates such as this. The data simply does not support this position. In fact, I argue the exact opposite: it is the surprising resiliency of broadcasting that is one of the great media stories of the Netflix era.”

To that Taylor added, ominously: “There are concerning ramifications for democracy if the end of broadcasting is made a self-fulfilling prophecy via legislation.”

In support of this view, he cited the leaders’ debate in the 2015 election campaign, which was only carried by small broadcasters, and attracted a meagre audience of 1.5 million.

“They thought the online audience might pick that up, but YouTube audiences were around 440,000 people,” Taylor added. “To put this into perspective, in the previous election, when Global, CTV and CBC carried the full debates, viewership was around 10 million people.”

The conclusion? “Simply put, the online world has not caught up to the mass viewership of traditional broadcasting.”

Taylor also talked about the availability of the internet in remote and rural areas.

“Despite the repeated announcements by the federal government about rural connectivity, there has been a digital divide that remains persistent in Canada,” he said, adding that market-based solutions, alone, have not worked.

The Calgary professor recommended the federal government revive the department of communications, which it abolished 25 years ago, just as communications technologies were exploding.

Like his McGill colleague, he underscored the need for a vigorous and well-funded public sector in broadcasting.

“The CBC remains key to any future of Canadian media,” he told the committee. “We may incessantly argue about the content, but the centrality of the CBC to the system has not diminished. In fact, it may have intensified in the digital era.”

And finally, to create an even playing field, Taylor advocated that new media should not be given special treatment.

Cable and over-the-air private broadcasters must contribute financially to Canadian content production. Online media, he said, should be subject to the same requirement. His proposal is that the government impose a tax of roughly five per cent on new media distributors, which would be equal to what cable and other traditional distributors pay.

“That would add roughly 50 cents a month to a Netflix bill,” Taylor pointed out, adding, “I do not see this as a major obstacle and it seems fair if legacy media, such as cable, are asked to contribute the same.”

‘CBC is irrelevant to me’

When the time came for questions, a number of the senators – mostly, but not exclusively Conservatives – used the two witnesses as punching bags to attack the very notion of public broadcasting.

Committee chair, Saskatchewan Senator David Tkachuk, did not think Canadian ownership of broadcasting outlets was necessary. His exchange with Raboy went like this:

Tkachuk: What would be the difference if some guy from Boston owned the station rather than some guy from Saskatoon?

Raboy: If some guy from Boston owned the station in Saskatoon, and the CRTC made some kind of ruling that that guy from Boston didn’t like, he might shut down the station.

Tkachuk: Not if he is making money he’s not.

Raboy: He might find that his rate of return would be better to have another station in Indianapolis. In my view, it’s a basic element of sovereignty.

Tkachuk was visibly not convinced.

Nor did the chair agree with Taylor’s emphasis on the need for a strong and well-funded CBC. When the Calgary professor pointed out that CBC, unlike private broadcasters, devotes the majority of its prime time television schedule to Canadian content, Tkachuk suggested nobody he knows watches that content.

“So eyeballs aren’t important?” Tkachuk asked.

Taylor tried to reply, saying, “They’re important. They’re not everything. For example, on the CBC --” at which point the chair interrupted to say, “Really?”

Taylor’s reply was “Yes, really. I do believe that.” But Tkachuk persisted: “So if no one is watching, that’s good?”

Taylor insisted that even if, on a Sunday night, a private network’s dating show might attract bigger audiences, CBC’s broadcast of The Nature of Things is still in the public interest to support the science show.

A few senators agreed with Taylor; a number quite emphatically did not. Nova Scotia Senator Michael MacDonald picked up the chair’s point about the supposed “irrelevance” of the CBC.

“I hardly watch CBC any more,” he said. “Most of the television I watch is stuff I choose to watch … not necessarily the station, but you say CBC is central to the Canadian communication system. I’m not convinced of that. It’s increasingly irrelevant to me, and my children don’t watch it.”

And so it went.

Many senators were hostile to taxing foreign online providers such as Netflix. In fact, some went even further and did not even want the CRTC to have access to such information as how many Netflix subscribers there are in Canada.

When that subject came up, Tkachuk asked, “Why do we care? I have Netflix. Why would you care?”

Taylor’s answer:Because it matters to know about how the overall system operates.”

The reply elicited another scoff from the chair: “They just show old movies and TV shows.”

The professor from Calgary tried to set the record straight by pointing out that Netflix is “now a major producer,” adding, “if they are taking away from Canadian producers, then perhaps they should be paying into Canadian production just as other Canadian providers have to do.”

He did not convince Tkachuk or his allies on the committee.

And, if anyone is under the misapprehension that only Conservatives are hostile to public service broadcasting, they should know that many Liberal politicians express unveiled hostility to the notion of public investment in – or even regulation of – broadcasting. In the case of broadcasting and communications in general, the mantra of “let the market” rule is not exclusive to one party.

The government’s experts panel will deliberate until well into 2019. There is no deadline for the Senate committee to issue a report.

Photo: flickr/Roland Tanglao

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

Ford government fuelling anxiety – and it’s something to worry about

Wed, 2018-11-14 04:36
Yogi Acharya

Like an eerie horoscope that offers a vague premonition of harsher times to come without providing details, Doug Ford’s government last July announced a 100-day review of social assistance in Ontario. Ford launched the review by cutting the scheduled three-per-cent rate-increase to Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program in half, halting nearly 20 other positive changes, and abruptly cancelling the basic income pilot program. This taste of what’s to come filled almost 1 million of Ontario’s poorest people with an unshakeable dread.

The results of the review were expected last week. But just a day before the big reveal, Ford’s social services minister, Lisa Mcleod, announced that the government would not share the results of the review for another two weeks. Doing her part to keep people’s fear intact, she repeated the Ford government’s common refrain that “the best social program is a job.”

Ford and Mcleod relish the absurd statement. Presumably, they also believe that the best medical treatment is to not get sick. The best child-care program is to not have a child.

By eliminating the increase to the minimum wage, taking away sick days and weakening employment protections, the Ford government has made getting decent work even more difficult. If Mcleod thinks earning $14 an hour at a temporary job with no benefits in the midst of a housing crisis is the best social program her government can offer, surely that is cause for grave concern.

Ford and Mcleod have been sparse on details, but their rhetoric makes clear that their brand of social assistance reform will make the system even more restrictive. Forcing people off social assistance and depressing working conditions won’t move people out of poverty, but will make business executives and owners -- the Progressive Conservatives’ bankrolling base -- even richer. A program of tax cuts will allow them to accumulate wealth, while the poorest among us will pay the cost.

Despair is a reasonable response to a bleak situation, but we cannot afford to be consumed by it. The Ford government has a legislative majority but it will be difficult for them to govern with mass opposition in the streets. We can’t allow Ford’s “Open for Business” Ontario to come at the expense of people’s lives.   

Yogi Acharya is an organizer with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty. OCAP is organizing a rally called Stick it to Ford on November 17, at Ford’s business.

Photo: Doug Ford/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

Quebec demonstrations call for action on climate change

Wed, 2018-11-14 00:08
November 13, 2018EnvironmentQuebec demonstrations call for action on climate change More than 50,000 people braved cold and snow to walk the streets of Montreal on November 10 in support of "taking the planet to parliament."Coalition Avenir QuebecenvironmentQC
Categories: News for progressives

Quebec’s new government putting up barriers to cultural diversity and ignoring the environment

Tue, 2018-11-13 00:07
Will Dubitsky

Quebec’s new provincial government, formed for the first time by the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) under the leadership of Premier François Legault, brings with it a new approach that proposes to shift the way the province manages immigration, deals with minority religious groups, represents Montreal and addresses climate change.

These changes were outlined during the campaign.

The shift that has received the most attention so far deals with religious symbols, a matter that Legault said he will handle himself. The new government aims to restrict all public employees in a position of authority – judges, law enforcement officers, correctional employees and teachers – from wearing religious symbols. 

The move is based, Legault has said, on the need to separate religion and the state.

On October 3, new deputy premier Geneviève Guilbault announced that public officials would have a choice of removing their religious symbols or finding another job elsewhere in the public service.

But the current numbers of Quebec judges, police and correctional officers wearing religious symbols is practically nil and there are very few teachers who were such symbols. CAQ has created a problem where there is none, purely for opportunistic electoral reasons to target the xenophobic vote.

For teachers, imagine the implications in schools where some students wear headscarves while teachers who would want to wear the same, cannot. The message here is that it is legitimate to discriminate and have prejudices regarding such "aliens."

The irony is that the Quebec government heavily subsidizes religious private schools where teachers wearing religious symbols would be exempt – because they are not public institutions.

The leader of the opposition at Montreal city hall, Lionel Perez, wears a kippa and, to my knowledge, no one has criticized the neutrality of city council and the sky hasn't fallen. In a meeting with Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, Legault said elected officials would be exempt, a necessary position to avoid a head-on collision with Montreal.

If a public institution is truly secular, it recognizes that a handful of individuals would not get away with imposing their beliefs on Quebec institutions and would, therefore, pose no threat to the neutrality of these institutions. Neutrality also means no discrimination based an individual's private beliefs. In an open letter to Le Devoir, several Quebec jurists have substantiated this.

The likelihood is that the CAQ legislation would be struck down by the courts, to which the government would use the notwithstanding clause.  The litigation will take years, possibly beyond the current government mandate.

Reducing number of immigrants

The new government also wants to reduced the number of immigrants to the province from 52,338 in 2017 to 40,000 a year, a drop of 24 per cent. This would be done, the CAQ argues, to facilitate the integration of immigrants in Quebec, a move the party claims is supported by a majority of Québécois. They also claim 26 per cent of new immigrants end up leaving the province.

Two things are wrong with this line of reasoning.

Quebec has a crisis-level shortage of employees to fill vacant positions.  La Chambre de commerce de Montréal has been vigorously defending an increase in the numbers of immigrants to address this impediment to economic growth. The Chambre wants the quota to be increased to 60,000 immigrants per year.

As for the percentage of immigrants who leave the Québec, it is about the same percentage as those leaving the province of arrival in the rest of Canada.

During the election campaign Legault said new immigrants would be given French language competency evaluations three years after their arrival. Those who fail, would be deported.  The problem is that only the federal government has the authority to deport immigrants.

Legault eventually softened this position, and now suggest those who fail the test would be allowed to remain in Quebec but would lose their selection certificates for which they would have to apply again in order to become citizens.

In promoting these policies, Legault has capitalized on the wide-spread myths among francophone Quebecers that immigrants do not readily learn French. This myth implies that accepting too many immigrants would ultimately shift the linguistic balance in Montreal in favour of English, which, in turn, would threaten French language survival for the entire province.

In making his pitch, Legault noted that 75 per cent of Quebec immigrants establish themselves in Montreal and claimed that 59 per cent of them cannot speak French three years after their arrival.  This is a wilful half-truth.

The stats tell a different story: 90.5 per cent of economic immigrants, 77.1 per cent of family reunification immigrants and 84.3 per cent of refugees are able to speak French 10 years after their respective arrivals.

But facts don’t count when the issue is top priority.  Legault raised the matter of a transfer of authority on immigration at his first public meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Oct. 11 at the Sommet de l'Organisation internationale de la Francophonie. At this meeting, Legault requested a transfer of federal authority for matters concerning immigrant family reunions.

Climate change not a top priority

On climate change, the CAQ essentially ignored climate change in its election campaign and proposed the expansion and prolongation of highways, thus contributing to urban sprawl. But in his first speech after his cabinet was sworn in, Legault said he had heard the voices of the electors on the importance of environmental issues. Although, he added the caveat that the CAQ would be pragmatic. 

At this very same event, the new minister of Transport, François Bonnardel, said he has heard the voices of motorists and will respond to their needs. This statement totally discredits Legault’s claim.

Fittingly, Legault and his new Environment minister, Marie-Chantal Chassé, hesitated on a decision to attend the United Nations COP24 climate change conference in Katowice, Poland, December 3-14.  Pressure placed on them to attend by the opposition parties and environmental organizations resulted in a change of position. Now, Chassé will attend, but not the premier.  Legault’s absence represents a departure from past Quebec government delegations to COP meetings.

In addition, Legault does not exclude fracking and opposes a ban on internal-combustion vehicles by a specified deadline, unlike Norway (2025), India (2030) and the Netherlands (2030). An announcement from China on this subject is also expected (probable target 2030). 

The “icing on the cake” on how CAQ views environmental challenges is reflected by the statement of the MNA Nadine Girault, who said a CAQ government would approve a snowmobile trail through Mont-Tremblant provincial park.

The hypocrisy

The crucifix hanging in the National Assembly will remain in place because it is a heritage symbol. Christmas parties and Christmas trees with angels on top will likely be tolerated in government and public work spaces, while public transportation projects, like extending the planned electric train service to the North and South Shores and extending the métro blue line eastwards, are on the long-term horizon, over the next 10 years, after the next election.

Photo: François Legault/Twitter

Will Dubitsky is a resident of Quebec. A former federal government employee who focused on sustainable development policies, legislation, programs and project. He is currently a blogger on global and Canadian green economy matters and active in environmental causes.

 

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Categories: News for progressives

B.C. premier lauds health-care workers as discriminatory labour laws repealed

Mon, 2018-11-12 21:50
November 12, 2018LabourB.C. premier lauds health-care workers as discriminatory labour laws repealedConvention of the Hospital Employees Union celebrated the repeal of regressive health-sector legislation that have been on the books in British Columbia for 16 years.HEUJohn Horgan
Categories: News for progressives

B.C. premier lauds health-care workers as discriminatory labour laws repealed

Mon, 2018-11-12 21:41
Kim Elliott and Tania Ehret

It isn’t every day that a labour convention witnesses history being made – but it happened at the Hospital Employees Union’s convention in downtown Vancouver last week as two regressive Gordon Campbell-era laws that stripped health-care workers of job-security provisions and protection under provincial labour laws were repealed.

In an emotional statement last Friday British Columbia Premier John Horgan explained how, effective early next year, Bill 47, the Health Sector Statutes Repeal Act, will repeal Bills 29 and 94, which date back to 2002.

Bill 29, the Health and Social Services Delivery Improvement Act which was rammed into law over a weekend in January 2002, led to the firing of thousands of health-care workers and the privatized many health-care sector services. The following year, Bill 94, the Health Sector Partnerships Agreement Act, gave home-care operators and their subcontractors the ability to sidestep key provision of the labour code, and avoid restrictions on their ability to contract out care and support services.

As a result of these laws, thousands of health-care workers -- mostly women, many of whom were women of colour -- were fired as health authorities contracted out hospital cleaning, food services and other support services. Thousands more were laid off.

In 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that provisions of Bill 29, including those that nullified job security protection, were unconstitutional, and in so doing established collective bargaining as a charter-protected right for all workers.

In his emotional remarks November 9, Horgan teared up as he described campaigning for political office in 2005, finding HEU couples who had lost their jobs, who had taken a cut to keep their jobs “by a government who did not care.”

“You now have a government that cares,” he concluded.

Horgan shared the story of how former MLAs Joy MacPhail and Jenny Kwan (current MP for Vancouver East) were the two lone MLAs who stood their ground, fighting the legislation over an entire weekend in 2002.

“Had there been proportional representation then, it wouldn’t have been only two strong, passionate women fighting to stop the introduction of discriminatory laws -- there would have been 17 MLAs fighting for your rights,” Horgan explained. “Had proportional representation been in place then, we could have avoided the almost unanimous decision for these bills, with more accurate democratic representation.”

On Thursday, following a live video feed from the B.C. Legislature announcing the new Act, delegates took to the microphones in moving, candid testimony of the hardships they’ve faced following the introduction of bills 29 and 94. They shared personal accounts of losing their jobs with the privatization of services; of losing their homes when workers were forced to take minimum-wage rates in order to keep jobs. The HEU asserts that the repeal of discriminatory health labour laws will also help restore fairness and stability in health care in the province.

The heightened emotions carried into Friday as Horgan, Health Minister Adrian Dix, Mental Health and Addiction Minister Judy Darcy, Deputy Speaker Raj Chohan and Labour Minister Harry Bains joined the HEU convention at the front of the room, accompanied by so many MLAs that Horgan joked they would be going into a caucus meeting following his speech.

Link to soundcloud of Horgan’s speech

Photo: Josh Berson

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Categories: News for progressives

Mohamed Harkat should never be deported to torture

Sat, 2018-11-10 03:11
November 9, 2018Mohamed Harkat should never be deported to torture It's been 16 years since Mohamed Harkat was arrested on a secret hearing security certificate. Today he is still threatened with deportation to his native Algeria.
Categories: News for progressives

Puerto Rico’s governor outlines to Canadians how they can profit from Hurricane Maria misfortune

Sat, 2018-11-10 02:54
Rosemary Frei

Puerto Rico “is open for business” after Hurricane Maria last year, declared the Governor of Puerto Rico at a business gathering in Toronto a few days ago.

At the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships’ national conference on November 5, Ricardo Rosselló used the same words for mass privatization of the public domain that are broadcast by Doug Ford’s government in Ontario.

Rosselló said his administration is continuing earlier efforts to aggressively scale back public services on the 9,000-square-kilometre island, rush forward with the largest pipeline of public-private partnerships, known as P3s, in the U.S. and provide huge tax breaks for investors in P3s via mechanisms like ‘opportunity zones’ that will cover 97 per cent of the island. All of this is being primed with up to $140 billion in grants from the U.S. government.

He told the audience -- which included government officials and staff, politicians, lawyers, and representatives of construction companies, financing firms and pension funds from Canada and around the world -- exactly what’s in it for them in the rebuild of everything from schools to airports.

“Government needs to sort of get out of the way, and allow for innovation and the private sector to look for these ideas.... So you have all that with Puerto Rico. And, of course, opportunity zones will give you or an investor in your pocket the highest return on your investment.”

This message was greeted with great enthusiasm by Rosselló’s audience.

Susan Harper, consul-general of Canada in Miami, whose territory includes Puerto Rico, said in her introductory remarks to Rosselló’s speech, “Never has a government had a better opportunity to ensure that a serious crisis does not go to waste.”

And Canada’s minister of Infrastructure and Communities, François-Philippe Champagne, made a point in his opening keynote address at the conference to give Rosselló a warm welcome.

“It’s a great honour, governor, that I have the chance to exchange with you about infrastructure needs,” Champagne said. “Obviously, we have followed as Canadians with much interest, and I would as the international community, (what’s happening) in Puerto Rico. And you probably feel that you’ve got a lot of friends here in this room. And certainly we want to play a role. I think the audience wants to play a role in ensuring a great future for the good people of Puerto Rico.”

This is exactly the problematic paradigm that Naomi Klein describes in ‘The Battle for Paradise: Puerto Rico Takes on the Disaster Capitalists.’

Klein’s analysis describes locals’ efforts to rebuild the island based on their needs and central involvement, rather than those of international big business and finance. The Puerto Rican organizations JunteGente and Professors Self-Assembled in Solidarity Resistance (PAReS) are leading this struggle.

In a news conference after speaking, Rosselló was asked about local resistance.

“I reject the notion that people are against some of these policies,” Rosselló replied. “Listen, some of these policies are transformational, (so) you’re going to get some support and you’re going to get some folks that reject it. But not withstanding, I am very much convinced that the people of Puerto Rico do want to see this change occur, and that they are optimistic about what we can do together.”
He also said his government would try as much as possible to have the reconstruction work be “locally driven” “so that we can drive that capital ($140 billion from the U.S. government) to be used by Puerto Ricans and to stay in Puerto Rico.”

This contrasts with his speech, which brimmed with words like “opportunity” and “incentives,” and emphasized the diminishing size of government and taxes in Puerto Rico.

“There’s going to be an enormous opportunity for anyone who comes to Puerto, either to invest or to be part of the rebuild process as a P3 partner. ... Puerto Rico has the laws that make our island the most competitive jurisdiction in the United States to export services. Or, to export certain goods,” he said in his keynote address.

“We also have the most competitive tax treatment for investors of a certain wealth that decide to move to Puerto Rico.... We’re moving forward a severe reduction in bureaucracy that has hampered economic growth historically within our island, and other efforts that are ongoing, such as tax reform -- to reduce the rates -- as well as incentives... so that we can establish a return on investment for folks ... for investment in certain sectors in Puerto Rico.”

JunteGente’s Manifesto of Emergency and Hope stresses that this approach is being taken at the cost of gross injustices to Puerto Ricans.

“The gigantic crisis we are facing is not Hurricane Maria’s doing, but the result of decades of erroneous public policies and the acts of corrupt politicians who, instead of using the powers delegated upon them to protect the public’s well being, have opted to line their pockets -- all the while benefiting their friends and other major financial interests....

“The disaster capitalist agenda is working against us. If we do not stop the plans of the government, the board, the bondholders, the vultures, and the ultra-rich puertopians, they will sell and hoard everything within their reach, and we will lose the necessary foundations to have the country we want. This is why, in the face of this emergency, we are calling for hope. We are encouraging all to join efforts and resist, so that we can transform our nation. The time is now.”

Photo: Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló speaks to media in Toronto on November 5, 2018, at the 26th Annual CCPPP National Conference on Public-Private Partnerships. Photo: Rosemary Frei

Categories: News for progressives

Trump and new Senate allies threaten Canadian Indigenous communities near Alaska border

Thu, 2018-11-08 23:59
November 8, 2018Trump and new Senate allies threaten Canadian Indigenous communities near Alaska borderThe results of this week’s mid-term elections pose a direct threat to Indigenous communities in Canada’s Northwest Territories. And Norman Snowshoe of Fort McPherson dreads what could be coming.IndigenousKevin Cramer
Categories: News for progressives

Trump and new Senate allies threaten Canadian Indigenous communities near the Alaska border

Thu, 2018-11-08 21:11
Karl Nerenberg

The results of this week’s mid-term elections pose a direct threat to Indigenous communities in Canada’s Northwest Territories. And Norman Snowshoe of Fort McPherson dreads what could be coming.

On the eve of the U.S. mid-term elections earlier this week, Norman Snowshoe of Fort McPherson, Northwest Territories, a Gwich’in community north of the Arctic Circle, posted the following on Facebook:

“I’m Canadian. Why am I so interested in U.S. politics? Oh yeah, the fate of Porcupine Caribou lies in the hands of the biggest idiot to ever hit the planet!!”

Fort McPherson lies on the east bank of the lower Peel River, just east of the N.W.T.-Yukon border. At an equivalent degree of latitude in eastern Canada it would be on tree-less tundra. In McPherson, however, you look out to dense forests of spruce, pine, willow and birch.

There are two stores in the town of fewer than a 1,000 people, where you can buy high-priced canned and packaged goods and freezer-burnt fruit and vegetables. Eating “out of the store,” as the locals call it, will not keep a person in good health.

That’s why the local diet consists, in large measure, of what they call country foods: wild cranberries, whitefish and caribou meat, both fresh and dried.

Caribou hunting is a key local activity, and the Gwich’in consume the whole animal, including the head, from which they make a soup.

A day after Norman Snowshoe made that Facebook post, he woke up to learn that U.S. President Donald Trump and many of his newly elected allies – notably, Kevin Cramer, who just defeated Democrat Heidi Heitkamp for a Senate seat in North Dakota – now have the Porcupine caribou firmly in their crosshairs.

Cramer was the author of Trump’s energy policy. Like his president, he does not accept the scientific evidence on climate change and supports a massive increase in drilling for oil and gas. That increase would include drilling on Alaska’s environmentally fragile north slope, which is the calving ground for all of the 200,000 Porcupine caribou.

The health and vitality of Indigenous communities at stake

There used to be great herds of bison in North America, numbering in the millions, but they are all gone now. Elk were once common in both eastern North America and the west, but have been entirely extirpated in the east and significantly reduced in the west.

Today, the caribou is the only wild, herding animal that continues to provide sustenance to thousands of people, and the Porcupine herd is the healthiest of the great caribou herds of northern Canada and Alaska. The Porcupine caribou have not – yet – experienced the decline of other herds, such as the George River of northern Quebec and Labrador, which once numbered in the hundreds of thousands, but now has fewer than 10,000 animals.

The Porcupine herd has a complex, migratory lifecycle.

Each year it moves thousands of kilometres between northwestern Canada and northeastern Alaska. The animals face the challenges of extreme cold, torrential rivers, and a multiplicity of predators, including wolves, grizzly bears and, the most deadly, the huge swarms of mosquitoes that plague the Arctic summer.

The caribou have their babies in a safe, nearly 20-million-acre area of tundra, along the north coast of Alaska. That area has been protected from all development since the early 1960s. It is designated the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and abuts similarly protected Canadian national parks Ivvavik and Vuntut.

There are no roads, nor any oil and gas or other extractive activities in that entire region. Despite intense political and economic pressure to open the resource-rich area to the oil and gas industry, the U.S. Congress and successive presidents have, until now, demurred. In Canada, even Conservatives shy away from suggesting that we allow industrial activity that could destroy a huge caribou herd on which a number of communities depend.    

Caribou are extremely sensitive to human presence and will go to great lengths to avoid roads and other infrastructure, especially while they are calving.

Scientists worry that climate change already poses a threat to the Porcupine herd, via rising sea waters on the north Alaska coast. The major intrusion of seismic blasting, bush roads, heavy equipment, exploration and drilling camps, offshore rigs and everything else associated with the oil and gas industry would, they say, constitute a devastating blow to the herd.

Without the Porcupine caribou, the dozen or so Gwich’in and other Indigenous communities in N.W.T., Yukon and northeastern Alaska would probably suffer from malnutrition.

Communities that are still strong and proudly self-sufficient, balancing land-based, traditional harvesting activities with wage employment, would likely fall apart and suffer the fates of social disintegration that afflict too many Indigenous communities throughout North America.

Trump will be emboldened by new hardliners in the Senate

President George W. Bush, much beholden to oil and gas interests, very much wanted to open up ANWR to oil and gas activities, but hesitated, and could not get Congress to back him. Bush was constrained by the fact that he fancied himself a conservationist and a compassionate conservative, and claimed to have at least some concern for racial minorities and Indigenous peoples.

Trump experiences no such constraints.

He knows what he knows and does not give a whit about what he does not know.  He happily tells anyone who will listen how much he loves coal, and you can bet he loves oil and gas – especially American oil and gas – every bit as much.

In the wake of the midterms, Norman Snowshoe should worry that in the U.S. Senate those who share Trump’s uncompromising, damn-the-torpedoes view have significantly strengthened their hand. The Republicans added to their majority in the U.S. upper house, and most of their new members are, like North Dakota’s Cramer, Trump-style hard liners, especially when it comes to the environment and climate change.

And while Snowshoe might be inclined to take some solace from the result in the U.S. House of Representatives, it could be cold comfort.

The Democrats managed only by the skin of their teeth to take over the House, but they are neither united nor particularly focused on the environment. They won their narrow victory by concentrating on kitchen-table issues such as health care, hardly ever mentioning climate change.

Norman Snowshoe and other Canadians whose lives could be radically and negatively affected by Trump’s policies will have to work hard to make at least some Americans aware of their life-and-death fears. They will need all the friends they can find, both here in Canada and south of the border.

Photo: Norman Snowshoe/ Facebook

 

 

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