Rabble News

Subscribe to Rabble News feed
Updated: 2 hours 4 min ago

Byelections lift NDP while Bernier's success in B.C. race should scare Conservatives

Wed, 2019-02-27 01:01
Karl Nerenberg

The results of the three byelections on Monday, February 25 had good and bad news for all parties.

For the governing Liberals, they won a seat previously held by former NDP leader Tom Mulcair, Outremont in Montreal. The bad news is that the Liberal share of the vote dropped significantly in a seat where they came a very close second in 2015 -- Burnaby South in the British Columbia lower mainland, which NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh won handily.

For the Conservatives, the good news is that they not only held York-Simcoe, north of Toronto, but increased their vote share there, while the Liberals dropped nearly nine per cent vis-a-vis the 2015 election.

The bad news for Andrew Scheer's party is that they lost support in Outremont, relative to the last general election. They came a dismal fifth in the Montreal riding, behind not only the NDP and Bloc Québécois, but also the Greens, which, surprisingly, came in third.

In Burnaby South, the strong showing for Maxime Bernier's People's Party, which won over 10 per cent of the vote, has to worry the Conservative leadership. National polls have the People's Party in the very low single digits; but their unexpected good showing in Burnaby South will unsettle Conservatives, and probably push the official opposition party further to the right, especially on immigration, the environment and social issues.

The Greens did not run a candidate in Burnaby South, as a courtesy to NDP leader Singh, and did not do particularly well in York-Simcoe. However, their strong finish in Outremont, with a great candidate, longtime environmental activist Daniel Green, should encourage them to keep plugging away in Quebec.

The NDP had the most to win and the most to lose on February 25, and on balance the party did better than expected.

Pundits predicted Burnaby South would be a close race; the NDP won by fewer than 600 votes in 2015. This time, however, Jagmeet Singh had a 2,900 vote margin -- although, in proportionate terms, Singh's vote only slightly exceeded the combined Green and NDP vote of last time.

Outremont, despite being the first seat the NDP ever won in a general election in Quebec, did not look good for the NDP going into the byelection. Singh speaks creditable French and has made significant efforts to win over Quebec voters. For instance, he did well when he appeared on the popular Radio-Canada television talk show Tout le monde en parle. But, overall, the NDP leader has had trouble connecting in Quebec. His turban may bother some voters in that province, perhaps more than will admit so publicly. More important, NDPers have not yet been able to find any issue that resonates strongly with Quebec voters.

Some recent polls had the NDP in single digits in Quebec, while showing new life for the previously moribund Bloc Québécois. In that light, the 26 per cent second-place finish in Outremont for NDP candidate Julia Sanchez does not look half bad.

The Outremont riding comprises not only the affluent one-time city of Outremont itself, but the much more working-class neighbourhoods to the east and west, Côte-des-Neiges and Mile End. The riding includes some territory that voted for left-of-centre Québec Solidaire provincially and Mayor Valérie Plante's Projet Montréal at the municipal level. Sanchez seems to have succeeded in holding a lot of that progressive vote for the NDP. That should augur well for prominent NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice, whose predominantly working-class riding is a bit east of Outremont, and for the candidates the NDP selects for the Laurier-Sainte-Marie and Hochelaga ridings, also in centre-east Montreal. The front-bench NDP MPs for those ridings, Hélène Laverdière and Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet, have both announced they will not run next time.

Strong, hard-working candidates and robust policies needed

Julia Sanchez was a strong candidate for the NDP. She had a long and successful career in international development -- most recently as head of the Canadian Council for International Cooperation -- and she worked hard at identifying and getting out her vote. The prevalent pundits' view was that if Sanchez could win at least 20 per cent of the Outremont vote that would be a sign the party was, on the ground, doing a lot better than recent polls indicate. She hit that target with lots of room to spare.

Heading into the general election this October, the lesson from Outremont for the NDP is that the party will need strong candidates, who are willing to work long and hard, if they hope to win seats in Quebec. The coming vote will not likely be a wave election for anyone in that province.

New Democrats still have a handful of visible and hard-working Quebec incumbents, such as Guy Caron, Ruth-Ellen Brosseau, Pierre Nantel, and, of course, Alexandre Boulerice, but a significant number of Quebec NDPers will not run in October. Sanchez's relative success might now facilitate the party's task as it seeks new candidates to run in October.

Of course, for both Quebec and the rest of Canada, the key ingredient for the NDP in the coming general election will be a robust, values-based and ambitious-but-realistic set of policies that will distinguish it from the governing Liberals.

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

Photo: Wayne Polk/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

Jagmeet Singh wins big in Burnaby South, puts fears to rest

Tue, 2019-02-26 21:27
February 26, 2019Jagmeet Singh wins big in Burnaby South, puts fears to restFrom the outset, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh faced questions in his quest for a parliamentary seat in Burnaby South. Results from last night's byelection have addressed those concerns.
Categories: News for progressives

Jagmeet Singh wins big in Burnaby South, puts fears to rest

Tue, 2019-02-26 21:20
ElectionsNDPPolitics in Canada

Jagmeet Singh becomes the next member of Parliament for Burnaby South; Justin Trudeau will welcome a new Liberal MP for Outremont to his caucus; and the Conservative party of Andrew Scheer proved capable of taking over 50 per cent of the vote in the Ontario seat of York Simcoe.

From the outset, Jagmeet Singh faced questions in his quest for a parliamentary seat in Burnaby South. Going into the byelection, Singh was not well known in the country or the riding. Questions had been raised both about his performance as party leader and his ability to win a seat in B.C. -- when his political experience was as a member of the Ontario parliament.

Critics wondered if his campaign would generate enthusiasm among Burnaby New Democrats, and if the party leader could spark the interest in his candidacy needed from party members to elect an outsider to Parliament.

Results from last night's byelection have put those fears to rest. Singh captured a respectable 39 per cent of the vote (the same percentage as the total Liberal vote in the 2015 election) in a very competitive riding, finishing comfortably ahead of Liberal Richard Lee who was second with 26 per cent.

The NDP leader walked the riding, knocking on doors, and talking affordable housing, education, and the environmental consequences of expanding the Trans Mountain pipeline. His warmth and personality connected him to voters.

While Burnaby is NDP-friendly, in 2015, Kennedy Stewart, now the mayor of Vancouver, won the riding for the NDP by only just over 500 votes.

In winning, Singh benefited from the advantage citizens are traditionally willing to give a leader seeking to enter Parliament in a byelection.

The Green Party offered Singh a "leader's courtesy" and did not put up a candidate against Singh. 

The Conservative candidate, lawyer Jay Shin, was endorsed by the Vancouver Sun, and managed a third-place finish, with 23 per cent.

The Outremont riding, won for the NDP by Tom Mulcair in a 2007 byelection and held by him over three subsequent general elections, returned to the Liberal fold. Montreal lawyer Rachel Bendayan, who specializes in international arbitration and transnational litigation (and works in the same firm as Brian Mulroney), handily defeated NDP candidate Julia Sanchez. The Liberal candidate registered 40 per cent to 26 per cent for the NDP standard-bearer, an international-development specialist who was born in Latin America but grew up in the Gaspé region of Quebec.

Voter turnout is generally much lower in a byelection than a general election. The turnout in Outremont was certainly affected by a major storm. The total vote for all candidates (15,055) was close to the level (14,348) reached by Tom Mulcair in his 2008 general election victory.

In the York-Simcoe byelection to replace veteran Conservative Peter Van Loan, Conservative Scot Davidson, owner of the Bonnie Boats marina, garnered 54 per cent of votes cast to win over Liberal Shaun Tanaka, who took second place with 29 per cent. New Democrat Jessa McLean ran highlighting protection of the environment, reducing dependence on fossil fuels, and touting the NDP pledge to bring in pharmacare, but only received 7.5 per cent support.

The three byelections were the first attempt by the People's Party of Canada (PPC) to elect candidates. Maxine Bernier, who justifiably believes that he was cheated out of winning the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada, decided to found the PPC. His party program is right-wing populist and based on his Conservative leadership campaign platform.

In what sends a message to leader Andrew Scheer and his Conservatives, the Burnaby South PPC candidate Laura-Lynn Thompson received 10.6 cent of the vote.

PPC supporters disrupted all-candidate debates in Burnaby South with shouts, bullying, and calls to restrict immigration. Thomson, a former Christian television personality, showed that with a strong, visible local candidate, the PPC could take votes away from the Conservatives. They could become a presence in some ridings that first elected the former Reform Party.

With Justin Trudeau surrounded by controversy, pundits wondered: would Green Party candidates attract disaffected Liberals? In Outremont, the party led by Elizabeth May attracted significant support; at 12.5 per cent Green Party candidate Daniel Green finished just ahead of the Bloc Québécois at 11 per cent.

As the first visible minority leader of a significant Canadian political party, Jagmeet Singh made history Monday night. Commenting on his election to Parliament, he announced his intention to connect with Canadians as never before.

The NDP needs a fresh start. A lot will be asked of the party leader, his advisers, and eventual campaign team.

It was a night to celebrate for all three parties: but the three byelections were only a preliminary warm-up for the general election this coming October 21.

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

Photo: Jagmeet Singh/Facebook

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

Jagmeet Singh2019 federal electionbyelectionsDuncan CameronFebruary 26, 2019For Liberals to win in 2019, NDP has to lose The Liberals are in a tight race with the Conservatives. For Trudeau to prevail and form a second consecutive majority government, the NDP must lose seats to Liberals.Jagmeet Singh evokes hope, but must court blue-collar voters and QuebecThe new NDP leader spoke of 'love and courage' in his victory speech after winning in the first ballot.Jagmeet Singh is the self-styled candidate of connections and emotionJagmeet Singh entered the NDP leadership race months after the four other candidates, yet there is polling and anecdotal evidence that he already has higher, and more positive, name recognition.
Categories: News for progressives

Has a UCP candidate voiced what her party really thinks about two-tier health care?

Tue, 2019-02-26 13:29
David J. Climenhaga

If you wonder what the United Conservative Party really thinks about how health care ought to be run in Alberta, perhaps you should ask Miranda Rosin instead of Jason Kenney.

Rosin is the UCP's candidate in the new Banff-Kananaskis riding. Kenney is the party's leader, of course, and as we now know, its Decider as well.

In a Canadian Taxpayers Federation-style stunt last week, Kenney publicly signed a "Public Health Care Guarantee" on a large sheet of plastic saying his party is committed to "maintain a universally accessible, publicly funded health-care system."

Taking the pledge resulted in a certain amount of derision, owing to the fact Kenney's "Grassroots Guarantee," wherein he promised always to listen to what the grassroots members of his party had to say, became defunct the instant it became inconvenient.

By contrast, Rosin is just one of the troops -- who in the UCP are expected to mind their Ps and Qs and do whatever the leader tells them to do.

Her suddenly controversial words were spoken at a UCP nomination-candidates' meeting in Canmore back on October 17, before what was by definition a friendly crowd. Alas for her, one of those ubiquitous smartphone recorders was running somewhere in the room and her words were duly taken down to be used against her.

This is as it should be. No politician of any party should doubt in the early years of the 21st century that a digital recorder is running somewhere in the room, and not just at public meetings. If you're going to run for public office, as the old lawyers' advice goes, you really need to "govern yourself accordingly."

The key part of what Rosin said about health care was this: … "we need to look at a two-tiered system, so that we can get those who have worked hard for their money to get out of the system if they would like to." (Emphasis added.)

When the recording started appearing on social media yesterday morning, tweeted by Banff-Cochrane NDP MLA Cameron Westhead, who is a registered nurse and will be running in the new riding in the fall, the reaction was immediate and harsh. Rosin's remarks and her selection as the UCP's candidate led to the inevitable conclusion that party insiders do in fact want to allow the wealthy to opt out of our public health-care system. What's more, it would seem they don't really put much stock in the idea that not everyone in Alberta who works hard for their money necessarily makes a lot of the stuff.

The second thought may be more offensive, but the policy question is more serious, because as any health-care expert will tell you, that way disaster lies. Whatever Rosin believes, and whatever Kenney really thinks, and whatever the Fraser Institute keeps telling us, the result of allowing the wealthy to opt out or just opt upward for some nice extra fees will result in longer wait times and worse outcomes for the rest of us.

The audio clip in circulation is very short, only seven seconds. However, a longer and more contextual clip of Rosin's response to her questioners, who went on to choose her as their candidate, is no more reassuring.

In the less tightly edited version, she begins by saying that Alberta has "one of the highest funded health cares in Canada, if not the world, and our service is not up to par, we have long wait times, there's so many gaps in the system."

"So," she continues, "I think that there's two big things we need to look at. One of them, we are very bureaucracy run. I think we need to look at reducing our administration so we can get more front-line workers out there."

"But also, I think we need to look at a two-tiered system, so we can get those who work hard for their money to get out of the system if they would like to. To remove* themselves so that we can decrease the wait times for those who are still in the public system. Because this allows those who work for their money and who want to spend it how they can on health care if that's what they need. And it also hopes those who are in the public system get shorter wait times."

(The word marked with an asterisk is almost inaudible. It sounds to me like "remove." Then again, maybe not. Regardless, Rosin's thought is clear.)

It is a common misconception about public health care to conclude that removing some patients from the public system will shorten wait times for the rest.

Experience in Europe and the United States, however, shows that private hospitals and clinics cherry pick the easiest cases, dumping the more complex ones on the public system -- in other words, on taxpayers and the sick themselves.

People who make this argument also act as if physicians are an unlimited resource. As is well understood, however, they are not, and if some of them choose to cherry pick well-off or easy patients, those who remain in the public system will soon be overwhelmed, degrading the public system further. In some cases, fatally so.

It is also worth remembering, when comparing systems, that health care in the United States, which much more closely approaches the pure market ideal espoused by Kenney and his supporters than does Canada's public health insurance, costs taxpayers vastly more and yet still, even with Obamacare, leaves millions uninsured and millions more desperately under-insured.

Finally, it turns out it is utterly false to say as Kenney does, apparently taking his cue from the old Wildrose Party, that management at Alberta Health Services is bureaucratic and inefficient. In fact, it has the lowest health service administrative costs in Canada.

But that Rosin's understanding of health economics is flawed is only a small part of the story here. That her misconceptions pass muster with her constituency association is more troubling, and that they undoubtedly reflect what the party's leadership would like to do is even more so.

She has done us all a service, though, by leaving us a hint of what her party really thinks -- which was certainly not the impression she was aiming for on February 20, when she spoke in a Facebook post about Kenney's public health-care guarantee. "The NDP's vitriolic, fear-mongering attacks that a new UCP government will slash health-care spending and privatize the entire system can officially be put to rest," she said then.

Well, apparently not. Too bad about that old recording!

The UCP all-candidates' meeting was covered by the Rocky Mountain Outlook, a community news site in the area, but for some reason no mention was made in the story of Rosin's newsworthy thoughts on public health care.

Jagmeet Singh victorious in Burnaby South

Jagmeet Singh cruised to victory in the Burnaby South byelection last night, which as noted in this space yesterday is about half the battle for the NDP leader. He still needs to show he can lead the party effectively from the floor of the House of Commons, lest the Orange Wave of 2011 go out with the tide in the fall of 2019.

Arguably, that would be a worse fate for the NDP -- or at least a bigger disappointment -- than seeing a leader falter in a West Coast byelection. And there was a sign last night the tide may indeed be receding, given the Liberal victory in former leader Tom Mulcair's old Quebec riding, Outremont.

In York-Simcoe, north of Toronto, the Conservative candidate won handily.

But despite that victory, the showing by the far-right People's Party of Canada in Burnaby South, with about 10 per cent of the vote to the Conservatives' 22 per cent could be a troubling augury for the Conservatives if Maxime Bernier's Tea Party North maintains that kind of momentum into the fall.

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: Screenshot of UCP video

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

The policy framework for a Canadian Green New Deal exists, what we lack is political will

Tue, 2019-02-26 00:07
February 25, 2019EconomyEnvironmentPolitics in CanadaHow would a Canadian Green New Deal work?The idea of a Green New Deal is championed by grassroots movements on both sides of the Canada/U.S. border. Much of the policy framework has already been outlined. All we need is political will.Climate ChangeGreen New DealCA
Categories: News for progressives

The corporate scandal you won't hear about is the largest procurement project in Canadian history

Fri, 2019-02-22 21:31
February 22, 2019It's taboo to talk about Canada's real corporate scandalWhile the SNC-Lavalin scandal 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

It's taboo to talk about Canada's real corporate scandal

Fri, 2019-02-22 21:25
Politics in Canada

While the SNC-Lavalin scandal has torn another strip off the "sunny ways" prime minister, there's another corporate scandal that makes the financial figures in that case -- mere hundreds of millions of dollars in fraud and bribes -- seem like pocket change. But no major political party will touch it, which speaks to the manner in which an all-party commitment to bedrock Canadian militarism squelches democratic discourse and strangles any opportunity for real economic justice.

The corporate scandal you won't hear about on the campaign trail is the largest procurement project in Canadian history, one that will result in forking over at least $105 billion in corporate welfare to war manufacturers for a completely unnecessary fleet of Canadian warships.

With every political campaign comes the costing question: how will modest investments in daycare, housing and pharmacare be paid for when Canada struggles with debt and deficits? But the question that will not be asked is whether voters want to mortgage their grandchildren's financial future for a project that will line the pockets of Irving Shipyards and the world's largest war profiteer, Lockheed Martin.

On February 8, the Canadian government awarded the design contract for those warships to Lockheed Martin. Even working from the false assumption that these warships are needed -- no logical rationale has been provided -- critics have pointed out that the design proposed by Lockheed Martin has never been built and tested; hence, any real sense of the cost (and such megaprojects have a way becoming sinkholes for billions robbed from the public purse) is conservative at the estimated $105 billion. Once committed, there is no way the government will say no when Lockheed Martin and Irving Shipyards call out for another $10-$30 billion in "unforeseen costs."

In addition, the lives of Canadian sailors (which have never been a concern for those who order them into conflict from their safe bunkers in Ottawa) will be at risk as well. These megaships, with a limited life expectancy of 25 years, will likely be sitting ducks vulnerable to advanced warfare techniques that will be light years ahead of the eventual finished products. Indeed, as former Canadian navy commander Ken Hansen wrote in December 2018, by the time these warships sail the high seas, they will be essentially obsolete against high-tech weapons systems that remain the world's most maddening annual investment.

Again, even assuming these are needed, what will Canada do after their 25-year life span is over? Spend another $105 billion?

The boondoggle that booted Wilson-Raybould

Canada's warship boondoggles are at the root of the current political crisis swirling around the Liberals. When Trudeau removed Jody Wilson-Raybould from the attorney general's office, he claimed it was a move precipitated by former Treasury Board president Scott Brison's decision to leave politics. But Brison's sudden disappearance from cabinet appears linked to the bizarre case of Vice Admiral Mark Norman, who was arrested by the RCMP for allegedly leaking cabinet secrets related to a Harper-era navy contract that went to Quebec's Davie Shipyards, an Irving Shipyards competitor. It appears that Brison undertook a strenuous campaign to halt the Davie contract on behalf of Irving. He is expected to be called to testify at the Norman trial later this year, but says his resignation has nothing to do with that upcoming court date.

As that court case continues to proceed at a snail's pace, efforts to receive further disclosure will likely unveil even more information about the corporate influence at cabinet level (which is standard practice in Canada, as we have witnessed in cases as diverse as the unending subsidies doled out to tarsands producers and companies like Bombardier, as well as the purchase of a $4.5-billion leaky pipeline last year and the $9.2-billion backstop of the Muskrat Falls megadam).  

While politicians of all stripes will express the usual consternation about corruption in politics, not a soul among them will focus on the new warship scandal. Unfortunately, the addiction to militarism that drives the NDP, the Liberals, the PCs and, in all likelihood, the Greens, will render this a non-issue in 2019 unless we make some noise about it. We saw this addiction in 2015, when Tom Muclair's NDP refused to call for cancellation of the $15-billion Saudi weapons contract. It was a poor decision that prioritized political power games over the lives of Saudi women being tortured in Riyadh prisons and Yemeni children who die at a rate of 10 an hour.

In 2019, there will be no referendum on whether Canadians wish to take on a $105-billion debt that will serve no social purpose whatsoever. Yes, there will be some well-paying jobs in the shipyards, but the majority of the gravy will go to investors in war industries. Imagine that public investment being directed toward renewable energy, clean water in all Indigenous communities, affordable housing, free child care, truly accessible health care, guaranteed annual income support and programs, the arts, tuition, and all the other underfunded programs people need to live decent lives.

Canada's contractor: Unending corruption

Part of the furor over SNC-Lavalin centres around whether a company can be an honest executor of government contracts when it has a high rate of scandal. The Transparency International group reports that even as maligned an institution as the World Bank has banned SNC-Lavalin and its subsidiaries for over 117 instances of corruption. SNC-Lavalin currently claims that it is in pristine shape because the guys involved in defrauding the Libyan people of hundreds of millions of dollars and spending tens of millions on bribes have departed the company. But SNC-Lavalin subsidiaries continue to make the list of banned companies as recently as October 2018, when the World Bank issued a five-year ban to four company branches. In January 2018, an additional five SNC-Lavalin companies were banned when the World Bank found them guilty of fraud and corruption.

But this is the way business has always operated. While SNC-Lavalin was successful in having Canadian law changed to try and protect itself from future prosecutions, the company that has received the Canadian warship design contract -- Lockheed Martin -- is the ultimate master class of corporate corruption.

The U.S. government's Federal Contractor Misconduct Database notes that Lockheed Martin has been found guilty of misconduct in 86 instances since 1995. It's an accepted price of doing business for war industries which can write off their penalties (Lockheed Martin received over $50 billion in U.S. weapons contracts in 2017, while the price for over two decades of bad behaviuor was a paltry $767 million in penalties).

Almost weekly, new misconduct claims arise. Indeed, a mere two weeks ago, Lockheed Martin was subject to a U.S. Justice Department complaint about false claims and kickbacks on a contract to clean up the devastated Hanford nuclear site in Washington State.

For those wondering about the due diligence undertaken by the Canadian government in choosing a company to design Canada's $105-billion warships, it is quite instructive to peruse the readily available public information that Ottawa is quite happy to ignore in plowing ahead. The list of complaints against Lockheed Martin pursued by the U.S. Justice Dept. is massive. It includes failure to pay overtime, falsification of testing records, mismanagement of retirement funds, groundwater contamination, nuclear safety violations at the Oak Ridge plant, contract fraud, deficiencies in radioactive work controls, nuclear waste storage violations, violations of the U.S. Arms Export Control Act and International Traffic in Arms Regulations, the unauthorized export of classified and unclassified technical data, the failure to comply with requirements for safeguarding classified information, false and fraudulent lease claims, age discrimination, producing defective software on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (a project to which Canada has maddeningly contributed over $500 million in corporate welfare), groundwater cleanup violations, Toxic Substances Control Act violations, overbilling and mischarging the government, wrongful deaths, retaliatory firings, PCB contamination, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, National Labor Relations Act violations, sexual and racial discrimination, procurement fraud, unfair business practices, nuclear reactor safety violations, emissions violations, and whistleblower retaliation.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit last September claiming Lockheed Martin "violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits disability discrimination and retaliation for opposing it and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to individuals with disabilities unless it would cause an undue hardship."

Profit from torture and nuclear weapons

Then there's a little matter of torture, in which Lockheed Martin companies were found complicit early on during the so-called war on terror. Aside from the daily business of corruption, what Lockheed Martin actually produces -- the world's most dangerous weapons -- would appear to be in complete contradiction to all the Trudeau/Chrystia Freeland talk of a rules-based order founded on peace and respect.

Lockheed Martin executives have spoken unabashedly in defence of the Saudi regime's appalling human rights record. On June 23, 2016, the European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights, Defenders for Medical Impartiality, and the Arabian Rights Watch Association filed a complaint against the Boeing Company and Lockheed Martin for alleged breaches of OECD guidelines. The companies' products were alleged to have contributed to human rights violations in Yemen by Saudi forces (last August, we learned, without surprise, that the missiles that murdered 40 Yemeni children was made by Lockheed Martin).

Perhaps it is also no accident that the Trudeau government's expressed opposition to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons seems to have been developed in the executive offices of their favoured weapons of mass destruction contractor: Lockheed Martin, which continues to develop the most dangerous nukes the world has ever known. Indeed, the U.S.-based multinational produces the Trident II (D5) nuclear missiles (on average the equivalent of 25 Hiroshima bombs) for U.S. and U.K. arsenals, along with Minuteman III nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles and the new Long Range Stand-Off (LRSO) missile. They are also a primary recipient of the trillion-dollar investment begun by the Obama administration in a new generation of nuclear weapons. 

As Forbes recently reported, "a single D5 equipped with multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles carrying nuclear warheads can destroy a small country such as North Korea. A handful of D5s could collapse the entire electrical grid, transportation network and information infrastructure of even the largest countries. And the Navy has hundreds of D5 missiles."

Addicted to militarism

While Lockheed Martin is quite the loathsome corporate entity, Irving is no lovey-dovey Canadian boy scout in the corporate world, instead acting as a privately held company to squeeze as many dollars out of the public purse as possible. As the National Observer reports, Irving and its subsidiaries "don't have to reveal any financial information to the public -- including how much they receive in government handouts, earn in profits, pay in taxes or invest. They also don't pay out dividends to shareholders -- only members of the Irving family presumably receive the wealth."

It was Irving that Scott Brison went to bat for in closed cabinet sessions that led to the arrest of Mark Norman. Meanwhile, the federal government and Irving teamed up to oppose a trade tribunal complaint that alleged the awarding of the warship contract violated a series of trade rules. In their defence, Canada and Irving argued that the warship contract is exempt from normal trade laws because they have invoked a  "national security exception" to keep the issue beyond the tribunal's jurisdiction.

What happens next is entirely up to everyone who lives in this land known as Canada. Are we willing to face up to how our addiction to militarism kills, whether it's the blood of Yemeni children being murdered with Canadian-made and exported weapons or the frozen bodies on Canadian sidewalks because Ottawa continues to invest the largest amount of discretionary funding into war instead of housing for all?

It's certainly a question that will only be on the table if we place it there.

Matthew Behrens is a freelance writer and social justice advocate who co-ordinates the Homes not Bombs non-violent direct action network. He has worked closely with the targets of Canadian and U.S. 'national security' profiling for many years.

Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

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

militarismTrudeau governmentcorporate corruptionMatthew BehrensFebruary 22, 2019Canada's Saudi weapons sales a moral race to the bottomWith each new reported Saudi atrocity, Canadian leaders dig in their heels and issue earnest statements about "troubling" revelations, and respect for human rights and the rule of law.No legal remedy possible for SNC-Lavalin; NDP candidate proposes creative solutionRecently passed deferred prosecution legislation might not apply to SNC-Lavalin, but the NDP's Julia Sanchez suggests how jobs and expertise could still be protected.Trudeau 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.
Categories: News for progressives

Restaurant lobby is serving baloney with claims of hard times for Alberta restaurants

Fri, 2019-02-22 13:52
David J. Climenhaga

Baloney: a large smoked, seasoned sausage made of various meats.

Where's the beef?

In an opinion piece in the Calgary Herald last week, Restaurants Canada claimed that "a perfect storm of tax increases and painful policy changes … have worsened conditions for restaurants over the past four years."

This was part of a campaign opposing Alberta's $15-per-hour minimum wage, as well as the NDP government that brought it in, that was being launched by the restaurant industry lobby group. The Toronto-based national organization has registered with Elections Alberta as a third-party advertiser in the upcoming Alberta provincial election.

The op-ed story in the Herald claimed that restaurant owners have few options but to cut staff or raise prices -- "neither being viable solutions for most small businesses."

Opposition Leader Jason Kenney soon jumped aboard, backsliding on a previous pledge he'd made to leave the $15 minimum in place if he were elected, suggesting instead he would reintroduce lower differential minimum wages for young people, liquor servers and the disabled.

As was noted here at the time, this all seemed odd, since a Statistics Canada report last fall indicated that despite the recession, the problems in the oilpatch, and the much-complained-about polices of Premier Rachel Notley's NDP, Alberta's restaurants were breaking records for the volume of their receipts.

"Higher-priced menu items will do little to dissuade Albertans from eating at their favourite restaurants," predicted the economists at ATB Financial, the Edmonton-based banking institution, in an analysis of the StatsCan findings last September.

Well, maybe things have changed since then, a fair-minded person might wonder.

But new numbers are now in and, while things have indeed changed, they've changed for the better from the perspective of the restaurant industry.

Spending in Alberta restaurants set a new record in December, with restaurant and bar receipts rising to $810 million that month. December's total was nearly a full 1 per cent higher than November's, which at $803-million was also an all-time record, the Statistics Canada figures show.

Restaurant and bar receipts for the full year last year in Alberta were up 2.2 per cent over those of 2017.

"Compared to other provinces, Albertans continued to spend the second most on meals and drinks outside the home," ATB Financial said in its latest analysis of the industry's receipts. "The average Albertan spent close to $190 at restaurants or bars in December. British Columbia remains in the Number One spot with spending at $213 per person. The Canadian average was $167."

In the analysis, published yesterday, ATB Financial's economists were careful to note this time that "while it's a good sign that sales reached a new record, this only tells us that revenue is rising. It says nothing about how profitable Alberta's restaurants and bars are after expenses are considered."

But don't forget what they said last fall about the likely continued willingness of Albertans to pay more for food outside the home.

The obvious inference from these facts from Canada's reputable national statistics agency is that the timing of Restaurants Canada's campaign was not dictated by hard times in the Alberta restaurant sector but by political considerations, specifically the hope they can held defeat a government that has made a higher priority of fair treatment for the working poor than profits for the fast-food industry.

Contrary to Restaurants Canada's spin, notwithstanding some higher costs, it seems likely times for Alberta restaurateurs have never been better.

That aroma from the kitchen? Smells like baloney, not beef.

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: Jonas de Carvalho/Wikimedia Commons

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

You can't slash Alberta Health Services' efficient management without hurting front-line care

Fri, 2019-02-22 13:25
David J. Climenhaga

Just a reminder, folks: You can't cut Alberta Health Services management without cutting front-line health care.

One of Opposition Leader Jason Kenney's standard talking points is that he'll never cut front-line health care, only needless, redundant, expensive managers cluttering up the system. And since I'm a good union guy, some readers probably figure I should say much the same thing.

As the United Conservative Party leader put it in a recent press release: "We need to push the resources and decision-making to the greatest extent possible out to where they are used, to the front lines. We need to reduce the massive bureaucracy and administration that has grown in the centre of the system."

The nicest thing that can be said about what Kenney's been saying about health-care management in Alberta is that it's deceptive, certainly intentionally so. A couple of pithy agricultural terms spring to mind.

It's a poorly guarded secret of health care in Canada that most managers in the system do essential work without which front-line health care, like that provided by the Registered Nurses for whom I do my day job, would suffer.

Yes. Some managers are better than others. But if you cut management in the Canadian health-care system too much, the quality and effectiveness of front-line care will get worse.

This is especially true in Alberta, where management ranks at Alberta Health Services (AHS) are quite lean by Canadian standards, Kenney's constant bloviations to the contrary notwithstanding. There is very little to cut.

Keith Gerein, Postmedia's new Edmonton-based political columnist, explained the facts about this in a way that should be helpful to anyone pondering Kenney's call to reallocate funding from AHS's supposedly massive management to the front lines.

Gerein was the Edmonton Journal's health care reporter before taking on duties as a commentator, so he actually knows what he's talking about in this area, which is unusual nowadays in the largely beat-free mainstream media. So he was able to zero in quickly on the sleight of hand used by Kenney to give the impression AHS is over-managed and bloated while pushing the false narrative that big cuts are possible in health care without doing any harm.

"The idea that AHS is plagued with an army of needless paper pushers is a dubious argument trotted out for years by the former Wildrose Party," Gerein explained.

He noted that the respected Canadian Institute for Health Information, whose data Kenney cherry picked for a few areas in which Alberta is underperforming other jurisdictions on wait times, in fact shows Alberta's health-care system has the lowest administrative costs in Canada -- 3.3 per cent of total spending, compared with a national average of 4.5 per cent.

Moreover, Gerein said, the Conference Board of Canada reports that the average ratio among public agencies is one manager for every nine workers. The average AHS manager, by contrast, supervises 31 employees."

In other words, with close to 100,000 employees and province-wide reach to serve a population nearly the size of Norway or Finland, Alberta Health Services is a very big organization. But it is not an organization suffering from inappropriate levels of administration. On the contrary, judging from Canadian norms, its administration may be too small.

If you're looking for the cost outliers in Alberta's health-care system that make it more expensive per-capita than in other provinces, you won't find them in the counter-factual narrative peddled by Kenney.

Alberta's spending is higher than average "almost exclusively for two reasons," according to University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe. Those reasons, Tombe said yesterday in a tweet responding to Kenney's misleading claims, are "(1) physician compensation, and (2) hospital spending, mostly compensation and number/size of rural hospitals."

If you want to analyze Tombe's second point a bit more, consider that salaries in Alberta are also higher than the Canadian average in every other sector of the economy, and remember that both the old Progressive Conservatives and the NDP have kept tiny rural hospitals open all over the province.

This is not a necessarily bad thing. But as a reader pointed out here yesterday, the rural hospitals built throughout Alberta from the 1970s through the 1990s were put there for economic reasons. "They were intended to be anchors to keep people in small towns at a time when rail lines and elevators were closing," wrote Simon Renouf. "The hospital building boom in the '80s and '90s was not for health reasons but rather part of an economic subsidy for rural Alberta."

As the commenter pointed out, such spending reflected a legitimate government priority. But it was not necessarily driven by the health-care needs of Albertans.

This is something rural Albertans should keep in mind if they're hell bent on electing an austerity party but assume the austerity will always take place somewhere else.

Moreover, as Gerein pointed out, the NDP government led by Premier Rachel Notley has had more success controlling health-care costs than past Conservative governments. During the final years of the Tory Dynasty, the government was increasing health-care funding by 6 per cent a year. The NDP has kept increases to half that amount.

Gerein mildly chastised Kenney for his deception, giving him the journalistic equivalent of a tap on the wrist. Arguably, the UCP leader deserved harsher criticism.

Kenney has to know his diagnosis is wrong and the treatment he prescribes would make the patient sicker.

But ideological market fundamentalists like Kenney always play the same game. He doesn't care if his policies make the work of front-line heath-care workers harder or patient outcomes worse. In fact, I'd suggest, that's a feature, not a bug, of his ideological framework.

As we have seen from generations of neoliberal health-care "reformers" in Canada and around the world, the goal is always to create the conditions in which public services are undermined and privatization can be justified, the better to transfer the costs of health care to the people who can least afford it.

If that's what you want, that's what you want. But don't blame health-care managers and administrators. They're not the problem.

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: Royalbroil/Wikimedia Commons

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

Trudeau seriously out of step with Canadian attitudes towards Israel's violations of Palestinian human rights

Fri, 2019-02-22 12:08
Sheryl Nestel

At a Brock University town hall on January 15, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was challenged by an audience member who lauded the PM's apology for Canada's role in turning back Jewish refugees from Nazi persecution during the Second World War, but then went on to dispute the PM's understanding of contemporary anti-Semitism. "I believe, to my consternation," stated the questioner, "that you equated the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement with anti-Semitism. Will you take this opportunity today to retract your condemnation of the BDS movement?" The PM's response appeared to come straight from the playbook of Israel-affiliated lobby groups when he declared that the BDS call is anti-Semitic and that "Canadian values" dictate that it must be opposed. Indeed, even Trudeau's language ("single out Israel," "delegitimize and demonize") directly references Israeli government talking points. Adhering to the "anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism" position of the Israeli government and many pro-Israel Jewish organizations, the PM demonizes and potentially imperils the rights of those who care about and advocate for Palestinian self-determination and an end to violations of the rights of the indigenous population of Palestine.

Just how out of step is Justin Trudeau with the Canadian public's attitudes towards Israel's violations of Palestinian human rights? The PM's most recent attack on the non-violent Palestinian civil society-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement appears to be in direct contradiction to the opinions of the majority of Canadians. The evidence for this claim can be found in two surveys conducted recently by the EKOS polling organization. The first survey, conducted in 2017 and sponsored by Independent Jewish Voices Canada and Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, revealed that 46 per cent of Canadians hold a negative view of the Israeli government. In Trudeau's own Liberal party, the number of those with negative views was a substantial 55 per cent. Nonetheless, Canada's Liberal government continues to demonstrate virtually uncritical support for Israel. They justify their position by claiming that it is necessary to "support Jews and to oppose anti-Semitism." This serves to perpetuate the misconception, encouraged by Israel-aligned Jewish communal organizations such as the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and B'nai Brith Canada, that Jews are ideologically unified in their support for the Jewish state's current political regime. A recently released EKOS survey of Canadian Jews' opinions on Israel, sponsored by Independent Jewish Voices Canada and the United Jewish People's Order, is the first of its kind and demonstrates conclusively that there is no unity among Canadian Jews regarding Israel's policies.

Indeed, the study concludes that Jewish Canadians are deeply divided in their opinions of the Israeli government. More than a third of Canadian Jews (37 per cent) have a negative opinion of the Israeli government, while only half view it positively. In addition, almost one in three Canadian Jews (31 per cent) oppose the military blockade of the Gaza Strip, and nearly half (45 per cent) oppose the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state. Fifty-eight per cent of Canadian Jews do not see criticism of Israel as necessarily anti-Semitic, and 48 per cent believe that charges of anti-Semitism are often used to silence legitimate criticism of the Jewish state. Astonishingly, over a third (36 per cent) of Jews in Canada think that the Palestinian call for a boycott of Israel is reasonable, while 44 per cent oppose Parliamentary condemnation of those who endorse a boycott of Israel. Unlike Prime Minister Trudeau, 28 per cent of Canada's Jews believe it is reasonable to impose sanctions on Israel for its violations of Palestinian human rights.

Clearly, Trudeau does not represent general Canadian public opinion when it comes to Israel/Palestine. Moreover, his opposition to BDS, his support for measures that would censure anti-Zionist expression, and his clear mimicking of Israeli Foreign Ministry language and ideology are unacceptable to significant numbers of Canadian Jews who have parted ways with those in the community who march in lockstep with the Israeli government. Trudeau's position is not only ill-advised, it is dangerous -- dangerous for Palestinians whose situation grows graver by the day, and dangerous for Jews in the current climate of rising anti-Semitism from the right. As Oxford philosophy professor Brian Klug has argued, "When anti-Semitism is everywhere, it is nowhere. And when every anti-Zionist is an anti-Semite, we no longer know how to recognize the real thing -- the concept of anti-Semitism loses its significance." It's time to bring our government's policies on Israel's 51-year occupation into alignment with the decidedly more critical, and ultimately more moral, stance of the Canadian public.

Sheryl Nestel is a retired Lecturer in Sociology (OISE/University of Toronto) and a long-time member of the Steering Committee of Independent Jewish Voices Canada. She lived in Israel from 1974 to 1988.

Photo: Raghd Hamzeh

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

Whose truck is Andrew Scheer riding in?

Fri, 2019-02-22 02:35
David J. Climenhaga

What are we to make, fellow Canadians, of federal Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer's now justly famous Louis Riel Day tweet?

Bear with me while we ponder this. There is a troubling point. It will take us only a moment to get there.

Scheer, who leads the Canadian political party most directly descended from the one responsible for hanging the man who was president of the Provisional Government of Saskatchewan for three months in 1885, tweeted on February 18 that, "as a Canadian politician of Métis background, Louis Riel was the driving force behind the creation of Manitoba as a new Canadian province."

This is even sort of true, in a soaringly idiotic kind of way. If you didn't know better, you might assume it was the work of someone who hadn't read a lot of history -- which can't be reassuring if you're a student contemplating pursuing a degree through the History Department of the University of Ottawa, where Scheer studied for a spell.

At any rate, Scheer's tweeted observation, while unique, is paradoxically not unusual.

Consider the televised commentary the very same day by former MP Peter MacKay, briefly also leader of the same party, although while it was doing business under a slightly different name in the early Zeroes.

Speaking of the resignation that day of Gerald Butts, the prime minister's principal secretary, MacKay similarly opined, "I don't think there's ever been this much power vested in a single non-elected person, certainly in my memory of political history. You have to go back, years and years, perhaps to the Tsar in Russia and Rasputin before you had somebody who wielded so much power, and we know that it didn't end well there."

This prompted a flurry of hilarious tweets in response, many quoting the immortal Boney M hit -- Rah, Rah, Rasputeen, lover of the Russian Queen, that was a cat who really was gone …" -- which has a great beat and lines bad enough for a Conservative Party of Canada press release.

Neither Butts nor Henry Kissinger will likely bother to pick up the phone and complain directly to MacKay, but let's just say he and Scheer demonstrate a similar grasp of political history.

Actually, as an aside, I suspect the Rasputin line was put in MacKay's head a couple of years ago when journalist Marci McDonald described how he was deftly outmanoeuvred by Stephen Harper in the hostile reverse takeover the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, comparing the former Conservative prime minister's adviser Tom Flanagan to … yes, the Russian mystic and Tsar Nicholas's BFF, Grigori Rasputin.

Be that as it may, as MacKay's commentary illustrates, Sheer's breathtaking Riel tweet is part of a pattern -- which, at last, brings us to the point.

We are all familiar with the modern philosopher George Santayana's observation that those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.

But what about those who can't remember the past correctly? One shudders to think what they might be doomed to repeat!

This is a serious matter. After all, Scheer seems to be someone who doesn't quite grasp the historical political antecedents of the "United We Roll" folks he keeps telling us are just ordinary working Canadians who want a pipeline or two, are worried about sinister United Nations plots, and, by the way, happen to blame immigrants for all their economic troubles and want the prime minster tried for treason. He seems to be prepared to do this while posing for photographs in their trucks.

Either that, or he understands who they are perfectly well, as his recycled Rebel Media advisers certainly do, a possibility that is considerably more troubling.

As for the famous aphorism above, speaking of popular music as we were, one can only hope that Scheer thinks the speaker was Carlos Santana.

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: Andrew Scheer/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

Ontario campus radio stations are fighting for their lives

Fri, 2019-02-22 00:51
February 21, 2019Ontario's Student Choice Initiative threatens funding at campus community radio stations A conversation with NCRA executive director Barry Rooke about the potential impact of a new funding formula in Ontario being proposed by the Ford government.
Categories: News for progressives

Angela Davis returns to Birmingham in her struggle for human rights

Fri, 2019-02-22 00:15
Anti-RacismCivil Liberties WatchPolitical Action

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere," Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in his Letter From Birmingham Jail on April 16, 1963. King was arrested there for his role in organizing nonviolent protests against segregation, which were being led by the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. "Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States," King also wrote in that famous letter. Civil-rights campaigners were so frequently targeted with bombs by the Ku Klux Klan that the city was often called "Bombingham." Five months after King's letter, one of those bombs went off at Birmingham's 16th Street Baptist Church, killing four little girls. Today, across the street from that church sits the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI), which for more than a quarter century has educated and inspired millions of visitors.

Last October, the BCRI announced it would bestow its 2018 Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award on Angela Y. Davis, the legendary civil-rights activist, prison abolition advocate and scholar. Angela Davis is a Birmingham native, and grew up amidst segregation. Her neighbourhood suffered so many Klan bombings that it was nicknamed "Dynamite Hill." The daughter of civil-rights activists, she went on to become a prominent member of the Communist Party USA and a leader in the Black Panther Party. As a result, like so many activists in that era (MLK included), she was targeted by the FBI. She was charged as a conspirator in the shooting death of a judge. She faced three death sentences in a trial that became an international cause celebre. She was ultimately acquitted of all the charges.

The BCRI's decision to honour Angela Davis made perfect sense. She has gained renown for her tireless work on behalf of prisoners and to abolish the U.S. prison-industrial complex. Integral to her life's work, she has long expressed unflinching support for the rights of Palestinian people. In a recently published collection of essays and speeches titled Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement, she writes, reflecting on the life of Nelson Mandela and the successful campaign to eliminate South African apartheid, "We are now confronted with the task of assisting our sisters and brothers in Palestine as they battle against Israeli apartheid."

Two months after the BCRI board members announced that she had been granted the Shuttlesworth award, they received a letter from the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center asking them to reconsider the award in part because of Davis' "outspoken support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel." The BCRI board, in a 9-2 vote, rescinded the award. It cancelled the award gala that had been scheduled for Feb. 16.

The response in Birmingham was swift and angry. Birmingham's school board and city council both voted unanimously to show their support for Davis. Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin publicly condemned the decision. A group formed to plan an event to honour Davis on the night of the original gala.

Within days, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute board reversed its decision and asked Angela Davis to accept the award.

Last Friday night, "Angela Solidarity Shabbats" were held in dozens of cities, organized by Jewish Voice for Peace. Jesse Schaffer hosted the celebration in Birmingham.

"My Judaism is directly rooted in social justice," he told us at the Shabbat. "For me, Angela Davis is a direct expression of those values, and she has always understood that our historic struggles are linked, whether it's Palestinians, it's Black folks in the South, Jewish folks -- really, any struggle for justice -- that they're all linked and that we're stronger together."

On Saturday night, more than 3,000 people poured into Birmingham's Boutwell Auditorium for an evening organized by the Birmingham Committee for Truth and Reconciliation. At the event, Davis reflected on how meaningful the Shabbats were to her:

"'Angela, sister, you are welcome in this Shabbat' comes from a slogan that was used on many posters all over the country when I was underground fleeing the FBI. People put up these posters on their doors: 'Angela, sister, you are welcome in this house.'"

The city's first elected African-American mayor, Richard Arrington, Jr., wrapped up the evening, saying, "I am especially proud that in this moment of challenge we ran not in different directions, not venting the anger and the frustration we felt; instead, we ran to one another, linked arms, embraced one another and lifted up a daughter who is celebrated in the world community for her stand on human rights."

Angela Davis says whether or not she returns to accept the Shuttlesworth Award will have to be a community decision. She offered as her final words Saturday night: "Let us use this moment to generate the strength and the enthusiasm and the vision to move forward to a better future for Birmingham, for the country and for the entire world."

Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now!, a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,300 stations. She is the co-author, with Denis Moynihan, of The Silenced Majority, a New York Times bestseller. This column originally appeared on Democracy Now.

Photo: Columbia GSAPP/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!

angela davisactivistsPalestineAmy GoodmanDenis MoynihanFebruary 21, 2019Disruption is Power: Angela Davis at the Canadian Labour Congress ConventionCivil rights activist, educator, and author Angela Davis spoke at the 2017 Canadian Labour Congress Convention. Listen to her keynote address here.Images of Black resistanceJulie Crooks speaks about the photo exhibition "No Justice, No Peace: From Ferguson to Toronto" and about photography as a tool for social change.Grace Lee Boggs: A life of grassroots activism that spanned a centuryGrace Lee Boggs died this week at the age of 100. She was not only a grassroots organizer, but a philosopher, a teacher and a revolutionary.
Categories: News for progressives

Paul Dewar's motto was 'faith is political'

Thu, 2019-02-21 23:03
Dennis Gruending

Paul Dewar, the much loved and respected former Ottawa MP, died of cancer on February 6, 2019. Ten years earlier he spoke at a night class that I taught to middle-aged and older adults. Paul was raised in a political home and his parents were staunch Catholics, although he and his partner Julia Sneyd later attended at a United Church. I posted a piece on my blog in 2009 about Paul's appearance in my class, and am reposting it here.

Faith is political

You cannot be a person of faith without being political, says Paul Dewar, the New Democratic Party MP for Ottawa Centre. In early 2009, Dewar spoke to my Faith and Public Life class at the Ottawa School of Theology and Spirituality. "Faith and politics are congruent and we have no option but to be political if we are going to live the gospel," Dewar said. "We have to constantly question what the Christian message is, and we can never stop trying to change the way things are in society." Dewar added that for him the word "political" includes electoral politics but also transcends it. "Our response to faith must be lived out in community," he insisted. "Faith is something that we must do and not only think about."

Growing up Catholic

Dewar talked about how he grew up in a Catholic household in Ottawa in the post-Vatican II era in the 1960s. "My parents were both deeply involved in their church, and they extended that into the community. Faith, their community, and their attempt to live the gospel were all of one woven cloth." Dewar said that their parish priest, a member of the Basilian Order, was also a valuable member of the community. "He was quiet and intelligent and able to work with others." Through him, Dewar became involved in Alleluia House, a project inspired by Jean Vanier, a place and community for people who were developmentally delayed. "These people were not unusual to me, they were my neighbours," added Dewar.

Dewar said that his parents' participation in the Catholic Family Movement in the 1960s "levered their social action." Initially it was Dewar's father Ken who was the more political member of the family, but it was his mother Marion, a public health nurse, who eventually ran for public office. "She was involved in the church and extended that into the community, and she got into public life in that way." Marion Dewar became the mayor of Ottawa in 1978 and later served as an NDP member of Parliament. "I was raised in the Catholic Church but in the social democratic faith, as well," Dewar related. "But I would say that it was a 75–25 per cent quotient of faith over politics that influenced who I am."

Social democrats

He commented that it was not easy for Catholics of his parents' generation to be social democrats (members of the CCF and later the New Democratic Party) because of opposition from many Catholic bishops. Dewar referred to a book called Catholics and Canadian Socialism, written by former priest and academic Gregory Baum. In it Baum documents how bishops in Quebec and Saskatchewan in the 1930s and '40s forbade Catholics to support the CCF. In their criticism, the bishops failed to draw a distinction between Communism and the democratic socialism of people like J.S. Woodsworth and Tommy Douglas, who were also Protestant ministers.

The bishops' campaign was not entirely successful, Dewar said. "There were Catholic agrarian radicals like Joe Burton in Humboldt, Saskatchewan, who challenged the Church by running for the CCF. We also had Catholic labour people and activists in places such as Antigonish, Nova Scotia, doing the same thing. The bishops neither welcomed nor expected debate on these matters, but some people began to challenge the Church and the Vatican."

As he grew older and attended university, Dewar took a break from the Church. "But it never left me. I kept reading and thinking and questioning." At one point his mother introduced him to the mayor of Managua, and following completion of his first university degree, Dewar spent six months working in Nicaragua. "I was influenced by what I saw happening in the Christian community there. I saw how poor people who had been in a paternalistic relationship with the Church used liberation theology to understand what the gospel was all about. They discovered that social justice and the sharing of resources was what Christ was talking about. I had never seen this manifested to such a degree. It was when I came back from Nicaragua that I came back to the Church."

Discreet faith and politics

Dewar became a teacher and later became involved in his union. He was vice-president of the Ottawa Carleton Elementary School Teachers' Federation and helped establish the Humanity Fund, providing donations to projects in developing countries. He was elected to the House of Commons in 2006, 2008, and for a third term in 2011.

Following his presentation to my class, a student asked him if he talks publicly about his religion in political settings. "Not often," he replied. "I am prepared to talk openly about faith in settings such as this class, but when speaking in a political capacity I am reluctant to do so because I fear I could be misunderstood, and I do not want to use religion to score political points."

Dewar commented that his mother was an example to him in this way, as well. "Many people who attended my mother's funeral and an associated event at Ottawa City Hall were surprised to hear about the depth of her faith. She was profoundly spiritual, but she was also aware of where faith belonged. She did not place her Catholic faith in the forefront in her public life, and she was also very open to all faiths and religions."

In their discreet approach to dealing with the relationship between faith and politics, Dewar and his mother followed the example of Tommy Douglas, a Baptist minister who became a premier. Douglas told interviewer Chris Higginbotham in Regina in 1958 that while he believed in applying religious principles to politics and to government, he was always opposed to using religion as a "gimmick" to gain political support.

Dennis Gruending is an Ottawa-based writer and a former MP. This piece appeared on his Pulpit and Politics blog on February 21, 2019. 

Photo: Phillip Jeffrey/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

Governments should ban auto ads and put warning labels on cars

Thu, 2019-02-21 22:44
EnvironmentFood & Health

Cars are leading sources of carbon emissions and major drivers of climate change. If we collectively want to address climate breakdown, reducing the use of oil for transport is a critical place to start.

Fossil fuel use is having immense negative impacts on our health and well-being. Temperatures in countries such as the U.S. and Australia now range freakishly between -50 and 50 degrees Celsius. Scientists warn that:

"Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are now higher than they have been on Earth for millions of years. Modern humans have only been around for about 200,000 years, so we have no historical or even evolutionary experience of the climate that we are creating."

Yet this is only the tip of the iceberg. The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) notes that fossil fuel pollutants already in the atmosphere "persist for centuries to millennia and will continue to cause further long-term changes in the climate system." Global carbon dioxide emissions hit a record high in 2018.

There are some glimmers of hope for reversing this trend. Progress is being made in the energy sector as renewables like water, wind, and solar power come on line. IPCC scientists foresee a decreasing carbon intensity of the industry and buildings sectors over the next two decades. But they predict that the carbon intensity of transport will be the highest of any sector by 2040 due to its high reliance on oil-based fuels. Transport has witnessed the fastest emissions growth of any sector in the past half-century. Transport emissions currently increase 2.5 per cent annually, year after year.

Canada should lead the way by implementing strong and effective incentives to reduce the use of oil for transport, as it has on another global health crisis: tobacco use.

The Tobacco Act came into effect in 1997. It provides "a legislative response to a national public health problem of substantial and pressing concern… to protect the health of Canadians in light of conclusive evidence implicating tobacco use in the incidence of numerous debilitating and fatal diseases." 

The Act restricts cigarette advertising, bans tobacco company sponsorships of sporting events, and requires warning labels on cigarette packs with messages such as "cigarette addiction affects generations." In 2001 Canada became the first country to put graphic pictorial health warnings -- such as images of cancers and dying smokers -- on cigarette packs. Research proves their effectiveness. In 2007, the Supreme Court unanimously dismissed companies' arguments that health warnings like these violated their right to freedom of expression. 

Cars should also have health warnings: "Use of this product may make the Earth uninhabitable." "Auto exhaust causes respiratory disease, cancer and birth defects." Pictorial warnings could include diseased organs, auto wrecks, parched landscapes and destroyed coastal communities.

Auto advertisements should be banned. Like cigarette ads, they create perverse incentives to engage in dangerous acts such as stunt driving, contributing to fatal collisions. Auto ads tend to be highly misleading. They promise enjoyable driving experiences, higher social status and access to natural settings. But where are the traffic lights and stop signs? The gas-guzzling and fumes? Or choked roadways dominated by strip malls and fast food joints?

Governments issue drivers' licences. They build and maintain roads at public expense and provide billions of dollars in fossil fuel subsidies. They should mitigate the immense harm cars are doing to people and the planet by placing tight legal restrictions on auto industry ads and sponsorships, and putting warning labels on cars.

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: Michael Gil/Wikimedia Commons

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

Climate Changecarscarbon emissionsOle HendricksonFebruary 21, 2019Active transportation is a big part of the climate change solutionOne of the most important things individuals can do to combat climate change is to use alternatives to cars for frequent, shorter trips. Let's weigh the benefits and risks of active transportation.In a world breaking monthly temperature records, advertising cars should be criminalCar advertisers have conquered nearly every sphere of human consciousness. In a world breaking monthly temperature records, they should be illegal.Parents want to reduce their car use, so let's invest in alternatives Given parents' interest in finding alternatives to driving, policy-makers would be wise to build upon this interest and make strategic investments to improve options for transit, cycling and walking.
Categories: News for progressives

Kenney's 'Public Health Guarantee' not worth much, but may be good enough for many voters

Thu, 2019-02-21 13:36
David J. Climenhaga

No one ever said Jason Kenney isn't a shrewd politician who knows how to run a campaign, so give the man some credit for his clever effort yesterday to look strong on a weak file for his party and make the NDP look a little weaker on its strongest.

The United Conservative Party leader looked for all the world the Canadian Taxpayers Federation agitator he used to be as he bent over to sign a "Public Health Guarantee" on a Coroplast sign promising to maintain health-care funding and "a universally accessible, publicly funded health-care system."

One problem with Kenney's guarantees, of course, is that they aren't really worth the plastic sheet they're printed on, as scores of observers were soon pointing out on Twitter.

Who can forget the "Grassroots Guarantee" Kenney signed on another piece of plastic last year? He tossed it over the side the instant party members passed a potentially politically embarrassing policy motion on Gay-Straight Alliances at a UCP policy conference in Red Deer last May.

"I've always been clear that as leader I will consult broadly with Albertans outside of our party to develop a common-sense, mainstream platform to reignite our economy," Kenney said piously at the time, never mind that the motion had been passed by nearly 60 per cent of the voters at the convention.

None of this is now likely to concern the UCP's rank-and-file voters, who will feel reassured by Kenney's latest promise and listen no more to what people like Alberta Health Minister Sarah Hoffman say.

Which brings us to another problem with Kenney's guarantees. It's not always clear what he actually has in mind. Here's Hoffman, from a series of tweets in response to the UCP pledge yesterday:

"Today, he claimed that he would follow through on the UCP's founding convention resolution and that would somehow protect public health care. There's just one problem … that resolution talks about moving to 'privately delivered health services where cost-effective' and to 'give Albertans the choice of privately funded, privately delivered health-care services.' It's clear that with Kenney's plan your quality of health care will depend on how deep your pockets are. This is two-tier, American-style health care."

Of course, Kenney's own experience with private health care may be a positive one. After all, the man apparently lived quite happily in the basement of a private long-term care facility in Calgary!

In addition to committed UCP supporters, an important question is how many undecided voters will be reassured by Kenney's pledge as well. Probably plenty, if they're not paying close attention.

In addition, in light of recent events in Ottawa, it seems unlikely many Conservative supporters will be swayed by Premier Rachel Notley's efforts to look tough on the pipeline file, traditionally seen as a Conservative strength, regardless of objective reality.

If you're unhappy with this assessment, I'm sorry. But it's the way electoral politics work in this province, and have for generations, so yesterday's posturing should come as a surprise to no one.

Answering questions from reporters yesterday, Kenney mused about the benefits of privatization. To some of us, that might undermine the credibility of his public health-care promise. But in some parts of Alberta -- objective reality notwithstanding -- it could create as many friends as enemies to state that "choice and competition can help get better results at lower cost." Of course, when it comes to health care and other essential public services, this is only really true in Ayn Rand novels.

Praising past privatization efforts in Saskatchewan, Kenney claimed that when that province "invited private surgical clinics to bid into the public system to perform surgeries on behalf of the public system" big bucks were saved.

Here in Alberta, of course, we have some experience with that too, during the years of Ralph Klein's premiership when some hospitals were blown to smithereens and a couple of others were sold off to friends of the Conservative government for a song so they could run private surgical clinics that were supposed to save us loads of dough.

Alert readers will recall how, when one of those private clinics doing business in a former public hospital went broke in 2010, the taxpayers of Alberta ended up holding the bag for the Conservatives' ideological dogma and Alberta Health Services got stuck with the job of ensuring that, somehow, the essential hip and knee surgeries it had been hired to perform continued to be available.

That cost a few bucks. But, as they say, it's ancient history now. It's hard to imagine very many Albertans remember the sad story of Networc Health and the Health Resources Centre any more. The ideological fundamentalism that characterized the Klein PCs has only gotten worse and less tethered to reality in Conservative circles in the years since.

So if we elect a UCP government, we'll likely have to learn that lesson all over again and every day in health care will be Groundhog Day.

Kenney admitted to a reporter that his health-care funding pledge also doesn't include increases for inflation or population, so this in effect means he is still proposing cuts to the system. But he can point to the fact the NDP has spent a lot of time and energy "bending the cost curve," as we say nowadays, to assuage this province's mania for austerity and balanced budgets.

The UCP leader promised to commission a "comprehensive performance review of Alberta Health Services" within 30 days of taking office. The goal, he claimed, would be "to reallocate capital significantly away from administration, to delivery of front-line services." This might not be a bad idea if the review were done by someone who didn't see the potential for profit in the UCP's ideological nostrums. That would rule out most of the world's corporate consultants, though.

Interestingly, in his praise for things done in Saskatchewan, and in some cases the NDP officials who did them, Kenney didn't mention one key health-care policy enacted in that province that really did save a lot of money. To wit: closing rural hospitals.

Yes, he lauded former New Democrat finance minister Janice MacKinnon by name for her acceptance of private clinics, but he failed to mention that her signature policy as a member of premier Roy Romanow's cabinet in 1993 was closing 52 small rural hospitals throughout the province.

That saved money, alright. It also infuriated rural Saskatchewan, which has never forgiven the NDP and remains solid Saskatchewan Party territory as a result.

That political reality hasn't stopped MacKinnon from preaching to the Alberta NDP about how they should implement similar deficit-fighting measures here, which must make her the kind of Dipper Kenney can love.

Fortunately for Alberta, the real meaning of that cruel lesson wasn't lost on Alberta's New Democrats, and they ignored her lousy advice.

But what about Kenney? Did he miss that lesson … or did he absorb it? It's too soon to say, but it's something to think about.

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: Twitter

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

Capitalism worst possible economic system for a planet ravaged by climate change

Thu, 2019-02-21 05:03
February 20, 2019Capitalism worst possible economic system for a planet ravaged by climate changeCorporate barbarism has intensified on a colossal scale, to the point of endangering the very sustainability of human life on the planet. The scourges of poverty and inequality run even more rampant.
Categories: News for progressives

Capitalism worst possible economic system for a planet ravaged by climate change

Thu, 2019-02-21 00:03
Ed Finn

            Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,

            Where wealth accumulates, and men decay.

                                    --Oliver Goldsmith.

Twenty years ago, I wrote an op-ed in which I described free-market capitalism as "the most unjust and barbaric economic system ever devised, and one that now oppresses and abuses most of the world's people." I was scorned and vilified by neoliberal pundits, and even chided by some progressives who thought that calling the dominant economic system "barbaric" was going too far.

This is how I responded to my critics at that time:

Look up the word "barbaric" in your dictionary, and you'll find several synonyms, including brutal, cruel, and savage. They all apply to the current capitalist system -- and even more so to its leaders. These suave chief executives don't look or act like Attila the Hun. They dress smartly, talk smoothly, and their table manners are impeccable. But strip away the glossy veneer, and you find the ruthless autocrats beneath the surface.

These modern barbarian chieftains don't personally lead their hordes to invade other countries. They don't physically destroy cultures, openly loot and pillage cities, or brutalize their citizens. But they engage in the equivalent of all these barbaric activities from the seclusion of their boardrooms, sometimes with just a phone call or a tap on a computer key.

Their invasions take the form of "free trade." Their looting and pillaging is done through strip-mining, deforestation, privatization, deregulation, currency speculation, and IMF-enforced repayments of onerous debt-loads.

In the wake of these corporate depredations, billions of people are doomed to poverty, hunger and disease, and many millions to premature death. They are as much the victims of barbarism as were those slaughtered by Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan. The business brigands who plan and direct these pogroms don't have blood on their well-manicured hands, but they make the Goths and Vandals look like teen-aged delinquents.

That malediction dates back to 1999, but I wouldn't change or take back a word of it today. If anything, corporate barbarism has intensified on a colossal scale, to the point of endangering the very sustainability of human life on the planet. The scourges of poverty and inequality run even more rampant.

'There's no alternative' -- really?

The defenders of this inhumane system argue that the "free market," though admittedly flawed, is still the best way to run the economy. Its publicized faults -- job cuts, outsourcing, tax evasion, financial fraud, recurring meltdowns, and the enshrinement of competition over co-operation -- are all brushed away as unavoidable defects of an otherwise ideal system, one that in any case allegedly has no viable alternative.

"If our economy wasn't run by capitalists," I was often asked, "would you rather have it run by communists?" These critics had either never heard of the democratic socialism that thrives in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland, or choose to dismiss it as an aberration confined to the Scandinavian countries and a few other nations in Europe.

Neoliberal fanatics conveniently overlook the untenability of an economic system that is built on the expectation of infinite growth on a finite planet. Capitalism, of course, could not continue without such a demented and ultimately self-destructive delusion. Left unchecked, it is bound to collapse eventually from the depletion of resources and the devastation of climate change -- perhaps as early as the 2030s, but certainly well before the middle of this century.

In the meantime, reckless economic growth will continue blindly to be pursued and sanctioned, not just by the corporations, but by their subservient governments and mass media propagandists. In this Alice-in-Wonderland world, the unimpeded growth that threatens any semblance of civilization is welcomed while the curbing of growth that is so urgently needed is disdained. So, in effect, perpetual cancerous growth is being treated as the "cure" to the planet's malaise instead of its cause.  

In a rational society, the recurring economic crises triggered by neoliberal capitalism would not just expose its recklessness, but force its abandonment. So would the worsening levels of global poverty and inequality. Instead, as Guardian columnist George Monbiot points out in How Did We Get Into This Mess?, "The greater the failure, the more extreme the ideology becomes. Governments use neoliberal crises as both excuse and opportunity to cut taxes, privatize remaining public services, rip holes in the social safety net, deregulate corporations, and re-regulate citizens."

Profit motive prevails

Secure from government intervention, corporations are left free to generate economic growth and profits by any means they choose. Equally irresponsible governments will cut corporations' taxes, boost their subsidies, and facilitate their ongoing destruction of the ecosphere.

The profit motive drives corporate conduct and sets the priorities. If something can be developed, produced, and sold for a profit, it keeps getting produced and sold, regardless of the ruinous long-term consequences. On the other hand, if something is actually needed to enhance public welfare, but would not be profitable, it doesn't get produced.

Extracting and selling global-warming fossil fuel is profitable.

Pillaging non-renewable resources is profitable.

Deforestation is profitable.

Pollution is profitable.

War is profitable.

Offshore tax havens are profitable.

Poverty and inequality are profitable.

Hooking kids on sugar and their parents on junk food is profitable.

Ill health is profitable.

Pharmaceutical drugs are profitable.

Child labour and slave labour are profitable.

Low wages and high unemployment are profitable.

Unsafe workplaces are profitable.

Purchasing politicians is profitable. Very profitable.

Conversely, anything that would benefit most people, but not make as large a profit as artery-clogging fast food or the latest electronic gadgets, will not be undertaken. Restoring our depleted industrial sector would boost the economy and create more jobs, but not be as profitable as outsourcing jobs to low-wage, low-tax countries. Reducing the high rates of disease caused by poverty and malnutrition would lower health-care costs, but not be as profitable as treating the sick with expensive and often debilitating drugs.

'A rapacious oligarchy'

One of the books that enlightened me when I was compiling my Under Corporate Rule columns in the 1990s was The Next American Nation by Michael Lind, a senior editor of Harper's magazine. His book, published in 1985, shunned euphemisms. He referred to the small group holding most of the money and power in the U.S. at that time as "a rapacious oligarchy." This oligarchy, he said, "supported by the news media (which it largely owns), has waged a war of attrition against the wage-earning majority through regressive taxation and the expatriation of industry through free trade."

Lind listed the four tactics deployed by the American ruling class to maintain and increase its dominance. These were: 1) adopt a "divide-and-rule" strategy that pits various groups against one another in zero-sum struggles for a share of declining wage income; 2) gain complete control of major political parties; 3) withdraw from the rest of society into heavily guarded enclaves; and 4) successfully promote the belief that their oligarchy doesn't really exist.

During the 32 years that have elapsed since Lind exposed the baneful behaviour of the corporate and political oligarchy, all these ruthless corporate strategies have become even more powerful and pervasive. So have their brutal spillover effects of poverty, inequality -- and, critically, climate change.

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

Photo: Rachel Docherty/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

Butts resignation underscores the ongoing power of the PMO

Wed, 2019-02-20 01:22
February 19, 2019Butts 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.
Categories: News for progressives

Butts resignation underscores the ongoing power of the PMO

Wed, 2019-02-20 01:14
Karl Nerenberg

Gerald Butts, Prime Minister Trudeau's longtime friend and closest adviser, has resigned.

Just about every Ottawa insider has commented on this most recent, dramatic development in the Wilson-Raybould/SNC-Lavalin affair. From the tenor of their remarks, it's obvious many of those who commented are intimates of this behind-the-scenes figure who, we are told, wielded enormous power.

To take but one example, the CBC's Neil Macdonald writes that Butts "can be eloquent in person, and loves being the guy who commandeers the discussion with an original take," adding that the prime minister's former principal secretary's favourite dinner table banter was "about wine and literature."

Most Canadians reading those and similar words could be excused for scratching their heads in puzzlement. Butts did have an active social media presence. However, except for an elite group of Ottawa dinner-party denizens, he was otherwise an invisible person.

Unlike cabinet ministers, Butts was not publicly sworn in to his job.

The government did not publish a mandate letter for Butts, as it did for all cabinet ministers. In fact, there is no publicly available job description for the principal secretary or any other staffers in the Prime Minster's Office (PMO).

While Butts frequently dined with members of the Ottawa media elite, he never gave on-the-record media interviews. He was the ultimate backroom operator -- unelected and unaccountable to anyone except his boss.

A PMO with enormous, undefined, unchecked power

The PMO, of which Butts was the senior and most powerful member, is a secretive palace guard. It operates outside public view and scrutiny. PMO staffers are not public servants. They are political appointees, and their role is as much to foster the partisan political interests of their party as it is to coordinate government policy in the public interest.

A number of experts have noted that, since the 1960s, Canadian democracy has degenerated into a kind of executive dictatorship of the PMO. Both Liberal and Conservative elected members of Parliament have frequently complained, in private, about being relegated to the role of trained seals. Their job is to clap when ordered to do so by the PMO.

In the case of Butts, a goodly number of Liberal MPs are quietly cheering at his departure. He was not, it seems, popular with the rank-and-file of Justin Trudeau's elected caucus.

Many jaded Ottawa insiders will tell you there's nothing to see here, that this style of government is all par for the course. Federal governments have operated this way for decades, they say, at least since Justin Trudeau's father's time.

As one insider put it to this writer: "Canada is a diverse country and governing it requires a complex balancing of competing interests. There are some hard decisions that are best taken in private and away from public scrutiny."

There are a great many in Ottawa power circles who find it hard to conceive of running the federal government in any other way. The current prime minister, however, is not one of those. In fact, during the last election campaign, in 2015, Justin Trudeau unequivocally promised to be a very different sort of leader, to govern in a far more collaborative, open and transparent way than did his predecessors.

In an interview with the CBC's Peter Mansbridge during that campaign, Trudeau said:

"One of the things that we've seen throughout the past decades in government is the trend towards more control from the Prime Minister's Office. Actually it can be traced as far back as my father, who kicked it off in the first place."

Mansbridge expressed some surprise that Trudeau was so willing to criticize his father, to which the Liberal leader replied:

"I think I actually quite like the symmetry of me being the one who'd end that. My father had a particular way of doing things; I have a different way, and his was suited to his time and mine is suited to my time … I think we get better public policy when we're done, when it's done openly and transparently [emphasis added]."

Justin Trudeau went on to talk about how he was of a "different generation" and pointed to his policy of "proactive disclosure" of MPs' and senators' expenses as an example of his commitment to transparency.

"I have actually demonstrated an openness and transparency in my approach," he said, "that isn't just a promise, but actually has action to back it up."

Voters, many of whom abandoned the NDP in 2015 because Trudeau's Liberals seemed to embody a more hopeful and positive vision, can judge for themselves whether or not the current prime minister has lived up to his promise to end the secretive and centralized style of government he decried during the election campaign.

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

Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

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

Pages

Contact

Brian Robinson Public Relations
104 Hiawatha Road
Toronto M4L 2X8
(in Cambodia)
+85516445835

Contact 2.0

Skype: bbbrobin
Brian on Facebook
Follow Brian on Twitter

1,000 Apologies, but I had to remove my actual e-mail address from this page. I'm afraid I got pretty tired of the sock puppets offering me free sexual favours. (And NO! I don't know how many of them were Russian, and it won't change my vote, I promise!) So here's one of those crappy contact forms that I really hate. Did I mention I'm sorry?
Contact ME! (or don't)