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Trudeau aide Gerald Butts pulls rip cord amid SNC-Lavalin allegations

Tue, 2019-02-19 21:35
February 19, 2019Trudeau aide Gerald Butts pulls rip cord amid SNC-Lavalin allegationsDemoting the justice minister turns out to have created a political storm that Gerald Butts -- given that he must have been in on the decision -- has attempted to quell with his resignation.
Categories: News for progressives

Liberals take remedial measures to recover their fortunes ahead of federal election

Tue, 2019-02-19 13:06
David J. Climenhaga

Amid all the hoo-ha emanating from the nation's capital over the partial holiday weekend, the bit that didn't seem to fit was the dispiriting news -- for many Albertans, anyway -- that the federal cabinet won't make a decision until summer at least on whether the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project will proceed.

Local news commentators here in Alberta interpreted this as a stall by the cabinet of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. For once, it's possible there's something to this beyond their habitual anti-Trudeau spin.

But the national news was dominated by the SNC-Lavalin scandal (if a scandal it is), the fallout from the resignation of former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould during the mismanagement of that same affair by the Prime Minister's Office, and the decision by someone, somewhere that the prime minister's principal secretary must fall on his sword to atone.

The biggest headlines of the weekend were devoted to "the bombshell departure," as the CBC put it, of Gerald Butts, the PM's friend and close adviser, who will now depart in partial payment for the embarrassing brouhaha.

My friends of the left and right, not to mention my old pals from the Calgary Herald picket line, will have to forgive me if I say I agree with the basic premise of Conrad Black's rambling column in the National Post Friday. That is, that while the PMO has clearly bungled the SNC-Lavalin affair, the Quebec corporation's business practices abroad don't amount to all that much of a scandal, and if Wilson-Raybould felt she had been demoted for actions as yet unknown when she was shuffled to the associate defence portfolio, that would have been the time for her to quit.

Regardless, what we are now seeing, I strongly suspect, is the lizard brain of Canada's National Governing Party reasserting itself and engaging its primal understanding of the real scandal of this crisis. To wit, that the PMO has fumbled things to the point they can be meaningfully exploited by the ex-Rebel Media twerps who surround Opposition Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer!

So, if I am right, we are about to see the stuff that makes the Liberal Party of Canada the Natural Governing Party. This, it is said here, is where the pipeline "stall" comes in.

I reckon someone in the Liberal Party brain trust -- and I don't use that term sarcastically, for once -- has done the arithmetic and concluded the Trudeau government has gained very little from its co-operation with the Notley government and its heavy investment of political and actual capital in the TMX project.

Indeed, it must by now have concluded the party stands to lose significantly -- and, in the present situation, potentially fatally -- in other regions of the country if this is allowed to continue. Therefore, remedial measures must be taken.

To put this another way, Alberta Opposition Leader Jason Kenney has it precisely backward when he says Premier Rachel Notley's efforts to achieve social licence have been a spectacular failure in getting Alberta the pipeline it demands. In reality, as has been argued here before, it is Notley's social licence effort that has gotten the project closer to completion than anything ever done by Conservatives in Ottawa or Edmonton.

Alas, Kenney may be right insofar as Notley's manifest success has apparently not gotten her as far as she needs to get with her own voters here in Alberta. Indeed, the more she fights for the pipeline, the stronger Kenney seems to get because the file is seen, however wrongfully, by too many voters as a United Conservative Party strength.

That said, Kenney is certainly delighted with this delay, since it means there will likely be no pre-election announcement that all is well on the pipeline-expansion front and he can continue with his claims of NDP-Liberal failure unchallenged except by bloggers with insignificant readerships.

Meanwhile, although the Trudeau government's efforts moved the needle on the popularity of the expansion project elsewhere, going along with Alberta's pipeline crusade has done nothing whatsoever in Alberta for the prime minister.

So, it is said here, realpolitik has finally reasserted itself in the NGP brain and the likely result is that the pipeline expansion will indeed be stalled until after the Alberta election, after which it will be reassessed.

If Premier Notley somehow manages to pull the fat out of the fire and her government is re-elected, it will probably be back on track.

If Trudeau's rival and sworn enemy Kenney wins, as current polling suggests is likely, the best Alberta pipeline advocates can hope for is that the project will eventually proceed well after the fall federal election.

In the event the Liberals win the fall federal election with the help of voters in British Columbia whom Trudeau not long ago seemed willing to alienate and even lose, maybe the TMX project won't be restarted for a very long time. At least, that is, until Kenney has been eliminated as a threat, and possibly even as an annoyance.

If after that, as also seems likely, Democrats recapture the White House, the policies of our large neighbour to the south seem likely to return to cautious efforts to slow global climate change -- more bad news for Alberta's bitumen miners that makes additional pipelines even less likely.

Given that all Alberta oil booms nowadays are principally construction booms, over the longer term, angry war-room rhetoric and protest convoys will make little difference and Alberta will have pissed away a final oil boom before it even started.

Meanwhile, as for SNC-Lavalin, Wilson-Raybould, and all that, as was said of the third-rate burglary attempt at the Watergate Hotel that brought down U.S. President Richard Nixon in 1974, the cover-up is usually worse than the crime.

So, if the thesis of this column is correct, expect revelations soon.

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: Thomas Dimson/Flickr

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Categories: News for progressives

No legal remedy possible for SNC-Lavalin; NDP candidate proposes creative solution

Mon, 2019-02-18 21:31
February 18, 2019No 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.
Categories: News for progressives

No legal remedy possible for SNC-Lavalin; NDP candidate proposes creative solution

Mon, 2019-02-18 04:07
Karl Nerenberg

It now looks highly unlikely that the Trudeau government will be able to spare SNC-Lavalin from prosecution for having violated the federal Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act.

But if the worst were to happen and the company were to face bankruptcy, the NDP's candidate in the February 25 Outremont byelection has some suggestions for an innovative way to save what is good about SNC-Lavalin, while not in any way letting the company off the hook for corrupt practices.

More on that later.

As it stands now, the controversy swirling around former minister Jody Wilson-Raybould's resignation continues unabated.

There are intimations of political interference in a criminal proceeding, and suggestions that the prime minister threw an Indigenous woman minister under the bus because she refused to do the bidding of his politically appointed senior staff.

In that context, new Attorney General David Lametti, a Montreal-area MP, would be taking a huge political risk if he were to now overrule the director of public prosecutions and order a remediation agreement instead of a criminal trial on charges of bribery for the Montreal-based company.

Even if politics were not a consideration, Lametti would almost certainly face significant legal barriers.

Letter of law likely means SNC does not qualify for deferred prosecution

The Liberal government borrowed a page from Stephen Harper when it passed the law allowing for remediation agreements, stealthily, as the very last item in last year's voluminous budget implementation bill

Many speculate that the remediation agreement legislation was intended as a life raft for SNC-Lavalin. However, there are a number of provisions in that hastily drafted legislation which suggest SNC-Lavalin is not an ideal candidate for the special treatment it creates.

For starters, the legislation specifies that if an organization is charged with corrupting foreign officials, which SNC-Lavalin is, the government "must not consider the national economic interest" as a motive for negotiating a remediation agreement.

Aside from economic considerations, what other reasons might there be for giving SNC-Lavalin a break? That is not at all evident.

The legislation also states that before offering a remediation agreement the government must take into account whether or not "the organization -- or any of its representatives -- was previously convicted of an offence or sanctioned by a regulatory body."

Unfortunately for SNC-Lavalin, some of its executives have indeed been previously convicted, on more than one occasion.

The remediation agreement legislation also obliges the government to consider "whether the organization has made reparations or taken other measures to remedy the harm caused by the act or omission and to prevent the commission of similar acts or omissions."

SNC-Lavalin claims it has cleaned house, by getting rid of bad apples. But the company has not, as yet, fully and publicly accepted responsibility for having bribed public officials in Libya. In fact, it has not even clearly and unequivocally admitted that the crime occurred.

Saving what's good while not in any way condoning corruption

Having said all that, it is true that there could be real harm to Canada's, and especially Quebec's, economy if the worst were to happen to SNC-Lavalin.

The company -- which is a major, Canadian-owned powerhouse -- could become easy prey for foreign takeover. That prospect worries many, especially in Quebec. Right now, in fact, company executives are actively considering their options, which could include selling off the company piece by piece.

Julia Sanchez, former head of the Canadian Council for International Cooperation, is the NDP's candidate for the February 25 byelection in the Montreal riding of Outremont, formerly held by deposed NDP leader Tom Mulcair. She reports that she has picked up an ambivalent and almost anguished attitude toward SNC-Lavalin on doorsteps in the riding.

Sanchez says voters tell her they do not like the fact that there could have been potential interference in a decision of the attorney general. However, she adds, Outremont voters also appreciate that there might be a rationale for a government decision to support SNC-Lavalin, because it is "too big to fail."

Some people to whom she has spoken, Sanchez reports, express the stronger view that this attack on a Montreal-headquartered company "is an attack on Quebec."

Still, Sanchez emphasizes that "the element which complicates the SNC-Lavalin case is that it is serial corruption, not market forces or downturn in the economy, that has put the company in a bad place."

As to what the Quebec and federal governments should do if SNC-Lavalin's very survival were to be in jeopardy, Sanchez admits it is difficult and complicated, but proposes that there could be a creative, win-win solution.

"I am concerned that the repeated charges of major corruption at SNC indicate a deep-held corporate culture issue and not just some bad apples. I think the government has to keep this in mind in whatever remedies or arrangement it considers to save the company," she says.

She adds that despite the too-big-to-fail argument it would be "irresponsible" for any government to "invest taxpayers' money in a firm that has such a bleak record."

Having firmly drawn that line in the sand, the NDP candidate muses that "there might be an opportunity for thinking creatively about how to preserve some of the strong aspects of this company under a new arrangement that would root out corrupt practices."

The SNC-Lavalin case, in Sanchez's view, could call for governments "to innovate with more cooperative and collaborative models of ownership and management, where accountability is associated with good behaviour and where the bottom line is not solely focused on profits."

It is a tantalizing suggestion, but it is not clear what Sanchez means by "cooperative and collaborative models of ownership."

She seems to be implying a solution that would entail government takeover, but not necessarily traditional nationalization. The model might be a combination of social enterprise and a cooperative or, at least, partly employee-owned corporation.

It is important to note that the Quebec government-owned Caisse de depot et placement, the entity that invests Quebec pension-plan money, holds a major equity position in SNC-Lavalin. In other words, the road to some form of public ownership of the company is already partly paved.

And so, what Sanchez proposes sounds promising, but needs a good deal more meat on the bones. In the SNC-Lavalin case, it is time for all political actors to start thinking creatively, and outside the orthodox, private-enterprise box.

The NDP's candidate in Outremont has at least made a start at that effort.

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

Photo: Julia Sanchez pour Outremont/Facebook

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Categories: News for progressives

Youth climate conference builds momentum around Canadian Green New Deal

Sat, 2019-02-16 10:00
February 15, 2019Youth climate conference builds momentum around Canadian Green New DealSeveral hundred youth from across the country are gathering to scale up the youth movement around climate change ahead of the federal election. On their agenda? Indigenous rights and a Green New Deal.
Categories: News for progressives

Fortuna Silver mine opposed by community of Santa Carina Minas in Oaxaca, Mexico

Sat, 2019-02-16 00:10
Brent Patterson

In November 2018, Peace Brigades International-Canada brought two human rights defenders from Mexico to share their concerns about the intentions and impacts of Vancouver-based Fortuna Silver Mines in the south-eastern state of Oaxaca.

Salvador Martínez Arellanes and Neftalí Reyes Méndez visited Toronto and Ottawa with firsthand information and updates about the concerns being expressed by the residents of Santa Catarina Minas, a community in the Central Valleys Region of Oaxaca.

Martinez Arellanes is an Indigenous leader from Santa Carina Minas, while Reyes Méndez is with the Oaxacan Territorial Defense Collective and EDUCA, a non-governmental organization based in the city of Oaxaca that promotes justice, equality and social participation.

Virry Schaafsma, the Mexico City-based Advocacy Coordinator for Peace Brigades International – Mexico Project, travelled with them to Canada.

Large parts of the territory in Oaxaca have been granted to Fortuna Silver without the consent of local Indigenous and farming communities.

Fortuna Silver holds about 80,000 hectares of concessions in Oaxaca.

The residents of Santa Catarina Minas are aware of the violence Fortuna's operations has brought to the nearby community of San José del Progreso.

Intercontinental Cry has reported, "In January 2012, as opponents of the mine [near San José del Progreso] gathered for a protest in defence of their water resources, a municipal police officer fired into the crowd, killing local resident Bernardo Méndez Vásquez."

It adds, "In March 2012, gunmen opened fire on members of the environmental and human rights group the Coalition of United Peoples of the Ocotlán Valley (CPUVO) as they travelled home from the Oaxaca airport, killing Indigenous Zapotec land defender Bernardo Vasquez Sánchez."

The Zapotecs are Indigenous peoples mostly situated in Oaxaca.

In July 2018, the community of Santa Catarina Minas joined with other communities in the region and decided to form the Assembly of the Central Valleys Against Mining.

The communique from that gathering stated, "In the exercise of our free determination and autonomy, as Zapoteco communities of the Central Valleys, we declare that in our territories, 'any activity whatsoever of mining prospecting, exploration and exploitation is prohibited.'"

The communique also stated, "We declare our commitment to continue defending Mother Earth, caring for and defending water that gives us life, as well as defending all of the natural resources present in our territories."

And it highlighted, "We demand justice for Bernardo Méndez and Bernardo Vásquez, assassinated in 2012 for their work in defence of the territories in San José del Progreso."

Then in October 2018 the community participated in the first "People's Trial against the State and Mining Companies in Oaxaca."

Intercontinental Cry notes, "Speakers at the tribunal event said that Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization requires the consent of Indigenous peoples regarding projects that may affect their communities."

Article 6 of Convention 169 - Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention states, "The consultations carried out in application of this Convention shall be undertaken, in good faith and in a form appropriate to the circumstances, with the objective of achieving agreement or consent to the proposed measures."

Both Canada and Mexico are signatories to Convention 169, but Indigenous communities have stated that they were not consulted about the Mexican government's concession of land to Fortuna Silver Mines on their territories.

The People's Trial called for a state-wide moratorium on mining activities, the cancellation of the 322 concessions granted by the Mexican government to mining companies in the state of Oaxaca (including the one granted to Fortuna Silver near the community of Santa Catarina Minas) and an end to the existing 41 mining projects in Oaxaca (including the Fortuna Silver mine currently operating near the community of San José del Progreso).

To follow the work of Peace Brigades International-Canada, please see its Twitter feed and Facebook page. To support PBI-Canada's work, including another speaking tour in this country in 2019 with human rights defenders accompanied by PBI, please click here.

Brent Patterson is a political activist and writer.

Photo by Peace Brigades International

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Categories: News for progressives

Long-delayed introduction of pharmacare should be top priority in this election

Fri, 2019-02-15 20:52
Ed Finn

When the government of Saskatchewan pioneered public health care in Canada in 1962, it covered the two main components of such a system: the services of physicians and hospitals. When other provinces, and finally the federal government, later extended medicare to the national level, it was still confined to these two admittedly important but insufficient-on-their-own benefits.

Tommy Douglas, the main proponent of public health care in Canada, always envisioned this two-pronged program as just the first step toward complete health care coverage. His ultimate goal was to have prescription drugs, dental, vision, and other important services added to the system, as they already were in most countries in Europe. If those countries could afford such comprehensive care, he reasoned, so could Canada.

More than half a century later, however, his vision of providing Canadians with all-inclusive health care remains unfulfilled. The biggest gap, of course, is the lack of universal public drug insurance. One in four Canadians has no drug coverage, and thousands are unable to fill prescriptions because they can't afford them. Many of those covered by private insurance plans are beset by rising premiums, deductibles, co-payments, and by fluctuating levels of coverage from province to province.

Dr. Danielle Martin, vice-president of medical affairs at Women's College in Ontario, said she has experienced "many heartbreaking moments" when dealing with families unable to pay for puffers or insulin for their sick children.

The main argument advanced against the adoption of pharmacare in this country is that it would lead to an "unaffordable" increase of costs. This is a specious and unfounded claim. In fact, the reverse is true. Pharmacare would save Canadians and their governments as much as $10 billion a year in the cost of pharmaceuticals.

Look at the evidence

If you think this contention is improbable, you haven't read or heard about an authoritative study conducted eight years ago for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA). Compiled by researchers Marc-André Gagnon and Guillaume Hébert, it utterly demolished the myth that incorporating drug insurance into medicare would deplete government treasuries. On the contrary, it presented solid facts and figures that proved pharmacare would actually lower government costs, as well as improve the health of those in need of prescription drugs. The enormous financial gains to be derived from tapping the bulk purchasing power of all levels of government would, in itself, vastly reduce pharmaceutical expenditures.

So persuasive was this study that it was widely acclaimed by health-care experts in both Canada and the United States.

Marcia Angell, M.D., former editor-in-chief of the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, hailed the study as "a well-done analysis that clearly shows a universal publicly funded prescription drug program to be not only better for Canadians, but cheaper. The only downside is that the pharmaceutical companies might have to trim their obscene profits."

In her last remark she pointedly identified some of the most powerful opponents of a pharmacare plan in Canada.

Economist Robert Evans, an expert on health-care costs at the University of British Columbia, was even blunter. In welcoming the Gagnon-Hébert study, he explained the failure to implement pharmacare: "Big Pharma, private insurance companies, anti-tax ideologues, and apathetic governments have kept this public program of drug cost coverage beyond our reach."

And, sure enough, this 30,000-word study, with its score of informative charts, graphs and tables, was indeed denounced and even ridiculed by the drug and insurance companies, by right-wing commentators and media pundits. The opposition was powerful enough to squash the CCPA study and leave the country devoid of pharmacare ever since.

Provinces vs. Ottawa

A significant positive development, however, was that nearly all the provincial premiers at that time were impressed enough to urge the federal government to add drug coverage to the services provided under public health care. Successive Liberal and Conservative federal governments, however, repeatedly rejected this appeal. Despite the well-founded findings of the Gagnon- Hébert study, they continued to fall back on the mendacious excuse that pharmacare is unaffordable.

But this recalcitrance by the federal government should not have remained a deterrent to the provinces. The premiers should always have kept in mind that medicare originated at the provincial, not federal level -- in Saskatchewan. So could the extension of public health care to include prescription drugs, as well as dental and vision coverage.

What was needed was the emergence of another provincial premier with the courage and foresight of Tommy Douglas. Former Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne actually filled that role a few years ago when she extended pharmaceutical coverage to children and to adults younger than 25. But, after she was displaced by ultra-right-winger Doug Ford in the last provincial election, this promising health-care improvement has been stalled. Given its popularity with Ontario voters -- especially parents of the four million youth now having cost-free access to more than 4,000 prescription drugs -- Ford doesn't dare scrap it. But neither will he ever enhance it, or even prevent its erosion by the private companies and clinics whose growth he so blatantly encourages.

It's up to voters in October  

I had nevertheless anticipated that the extended pharmaceutical system introduced in pre-Ford Ontario would exert pressure on the other provinces to emulate the significant advance made there by Kathleen Wynne. But it seems that Canadians outside Ontario, inexplicably, remain content with the far inferior and much costlier levels of public drug care required for their ailing teenagers and 20-year-olds.

The only hope, then, for the creation of better public health care in Canada rests with the current federal government. It is very likely that the Justin Trudeau-led Liberals will be promising the provision of some form of pharmacare during the upcoming pre-election campaign.

Given the notable promises Trudeau made during the 2015 election campaign that were subsequently broken, it is not easy to count on a promise of pharmacare this time actually being kept. But it appears to be the only hope, however tenuous, that Canada will finally start providing its citizens with the kind of comprehensive health-care coverage that most Europeans have enjoyed for so long.

Much will depend on Canadian voters. If most of them vociferously demand that all the contending candidates and parties make pharmacare an unbreakable priority, it may really come into effect next year. And that breakthrough could soon afterward lead to the addition of dental and vision care, ultimately making Tommy's grand vision a reality.

Well, we can dream, can't we?

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: Airman Valerie Monroy/Wikimedia Commons

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Categories: News for progressives

Women's Memorial March continues to demonstrate resilience and a call for justice

Fri, 2019-02-15 20:18
February 15, 2019Women's Memorial March continues to demonstrate resilience and a call for justiceOn Valentine's Day -- with snow in forecast -- the Downtown Eastside community comes together to honour and grieve the lives of women, missing and taken too soon, and recommit to justice.
Categories: News for progressives

NDP campaign targetting Jason Kenney presumes attack ads work and sometimes they're necessary

Fri, 2019-02-15 14:13
David J. Climenhaga

One of the enduring myths of our era is that Albertans (or Canadians, or whomever) don't like negative political advertising, and therefore that political attack ads won't work here.

Now that Alberta's New Democratic Party has published a website attacking Opposition Leader Jason Kenney's record as a federal Conservative MP, cabinet minster and lifelong social conservative activist, with digital advertising spots on the same theme, we are bound to hear that notion repeated a lot.

"Mr. Kenney has spent his entire public life trying to impose his personal beliefs on people," Transportation Minister and former NDP leader Brian Mason told a news conference called by the party in an Edmonton hotel yesterday afternoon to introduce the website and campaign.

"He has bragged about his work to stop same-sex couples from visiting their dying loved ones in hospital, and he has described his efforts in Ottawa to restrict women's reproductive rights his 'most distinct privilege,'" said Mason.

Within minutes, plenty of people on social media -- not all of them supporters of Kenney's party -- were grumping about the negativity inherent in what the NDP news release called the "detailed and fact-based account of Mr. Kenney's long career as a politician who works against the interests of everyday people, choosing instead to serve anti-abortion activists, anti-LGBTQ groups and other special interests."

You can judge for yourself by visiting TheTruthAboutJasonKenney.ca. There are footnotes -- well, hyperlinks, which are the footnotes of the internet era -- so the NDP can say they've backed up everything they say with verifiable facts.

As to the notion that political attack advertising won't work in Canada because Canadians don't like it, that is far less certain. The record of political negativity, as they say, is ambiguous, but the prevalence of negative advertising in places a lot like our Alberta is not.

According to Oxford Research Encyclopedias, while only 10 per cent of the advertisements aired during the 1960 U.S. presidential campaign went negative, in 2012 only about 14 per cent did not! There's a reason for that and the reason is they work.

In other words, the prevailing wisdom contains a kernel of truth -- most folks don't much like negative political advertising -- but you simply cannot conclude from that they aren't effective. Their prevalence in U.S. politics, their growing influence in Canada, and their arrival in Alberta 11 years ago prove they do.

From Democrat Lyndon Johnson's apocalyptic "Daisy" ad in 1964 attacking Republican Barry Goldwater, to Republican George H.W. Bush's unsavoury "Willie Horton" spot in 1988 attacking Democrat Michael Dukakis, to Conservative Stephen Harper's successful effort in 2009 to plant the thought the brainy Liberal Michael Ignatieff was "just visiting," done right, they get results.

There's another piece of conventional wisdom that attack ads that mock a politician's appearance or circumstances will flop, but those that attack a politician's record are more likely to succeed. Having watched U.S. President Donald Trump's campaign, it's hard to feel confident even that is still true. If that's the case, though, the NDP's Truth-About-Jason campaign is safely on the side of the political angels.

Of course, no matter how good an attack ad is, such campaigns are not a silver bullet that can wipe out a 20 per cent lead in the polls. For that to happen, the leading politician has to meet his or her opponent halfway, as did the hapless B.C. NDP leader Adrian Dix in 2013 when he countered then premier Christy Clark's attack ads with sunshine and bumbling.

Despite Kenney's dismissive response yesterday, I don't think the Alberta NDP can count on the United Conservative Party to stick to the high road the way Dix did in the event the NDP campaign starts to get traction.

The UCP cleverly announced some campaign finance proposals yesterday to distract from Mason's presser. Ideas like a ban on MLAs crossing the floor of the legislature, bound to appeal to the UCP's red-meat Wildrose Party base, are pretty blatantly unconstitutional, but we'll deal with them in more detail another day.

In the meantime, the NDP's duly footnoted truths about Kenney do provide an opportunity for Albertans to compare him less than favourably with Premier Rachel Notley, who personally polls more positively than Kenney does.

"Given that the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour," Mason said yesterday, "Albertans deserve to know these and other truths about Mr. Kenney before they choose their next premier."

"Mr. Kenney cares about privatizing health care, chipping away at women's rights, and giving the richest 1 per cent of Albertans a tax cut they don't need," he said. "Rachel Notley cares about defending our hospitals, diversifying the economy, and treating every Albertan with dignity and respect."

Mason will retire from his long career in Alberta politics after the election expected to be called any day now. If there's any backsplash from the negativity unveiled yesterday, I doubt if the old New Democrat warhorse will much care if any of it lands on him.

Call it the realpolitik of real politics: Attack ads work, and sometimes they're necessary.

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

Photo: David J. Climenhaga

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Categories: News for progressives

Canada talks democracy while U.S. eyes Venezuela's oil

Fri, 2019-02-15 00:10
Politics in CanadaUS PoliticsWorld

Maybe my Spanish isn't good enough, but on a quick read-through of the Venezuelan constitution I couldn't find the section where it specified that Venezuela's president would be chosen by Canada.

I'm sure the section must be in there, however, because Canada exercised that power last week in recognizing Juan Guaido as Venezuela's interim president -- even though the Venezuelan people had chosen Nicolas Maduro in national elections last year.

The Trudeau government, assuming a leadership role as host of the "Lima Group," explained that Maduro is not legitimate because the national elections he won were flawed, allowing the presidency to fall to Guaido, the head of the national assembly.

(Similarly, once it has been established that the 2016 U.S. elections were flawed by Russian meddling, we can expect the Trudeau government to recognize Nancy Pelosi as the legitimate president of the United States.)

The turmoil in Venezuela has faded from the news somewhat this week, but the real action is just beginning. U.S. President Donald Trump has assembled a team of hatchetmen, including war-hawks John Bolton and Elliott Abrams, to work on regime change in Venezuela.

It was this team that set things in motion late last month with a phone call from Vice President Mike Pence to Guaido, pledging U.S. support "if he seized the reins of government," according to the Wall Street Journal.

Canada has called for a peaceful transition. But if the U.S. invades Venezuela to formally install Guaido, Canada will have played its part in teeing things up.

Washington has been focused on regime change in Venezuela since the charismatic Hugo Chavez won the 1998 election with massive support from the nation's poor, and began redirecting the country's oil wealth to health care, education and poverty alleviation. The privileged classes, who had managed the oil industry and siphoned billions out of the country, strongly resisted Chavez and later his successor Maduro.

As tensions escalated in the deeply polarized nation, the Trump administration imposed brutal sanctions that, along with falling world oil prices and economic mismanagement, have devastated the Venezuelan economy. Canada piled on its own sanctions which, while not as broad, lent credence to the idea that Venezuela deserved punishment.

The Trudeau government talks about restoring democracy to Venezuela, hoping to keep the focus off any suspicions that our involvement is helping Washington get control of Venezuela's oil reserves, which happen to be the world's largest.

One problem for Canada in confining the story to this "restoring democracy" narrative is that the Trump administration talks unabashedly about its keenness to open up Venezuela's oil to development by U.S. oil companies, after years of it being under the control of Venezuela's state-owned oil company.

Bolton, Trump's national security adviser, showed this keenness in an interview last week on Fox Business when he said: "It will make a big difference to the United States economically if we could have American oil companies really invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela."

This could amount to "massive opportunities" for U.S. oil companies, said Scott Modell, a CIA agent turned energy analyst, in an interview last week on CBC Radio's As It Happens.

Modell added that Trump is relying on the support of ultra-conservative governments in Argentina and Brazil (both members of the Lima Group) to bring about regime change in Venezuela.

But Canada is useful in a different way. Unlike those notorious right-wing Latin governments, Canada under Justin Trudeau has cultivated an image in the world as a "rule of law" country, with Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland rhapsodizing about a rules-based international order in defiance of Trump's unilateralism.

Her apparent willingness to "defy" Trump only adds to Canada's credibility with many Western nations. No doubt this helped when Trudeau phoned a number of foreign leaders, including those of Ireland and Italy, to line up international support for Guaido.

This Canadian credibility could also provide some cover for Washington if it uses force to install Guaido. After all, it will be installing a regime that has been endorsed by law-abiding Canada.

And so the Trudeau government presents itself as championing international law, in defiance of Trump, even when it's acting as Trump's wingman.

Linda McQuaig is a journalist and author. Her book Shooting the Hippo: Death by Deficit and Other Canadian Myths was among the books selected by the Literary Review of Canada as the "25 most influential Canadian books of the past 25 years." This column originally appeared in the Toronto Star.

Photo: Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores del Perú/Wikimedia Commons

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VenezuelaCanadian foreign policyDonald TrumpoilLinda McQuaigFebruary 14, 2019By inflicting sanctions, Canada sides with the bullies against VenezuelaWhat's going on in Venezuela is a bitter class war, with millions of poor people committed to defending a revolution carried out in their name, and Canada taking the side of the wealthy opposition.What the mainstream media doesn’t tell you about VenezuelaFrom a defeated interventionist resolution at the Organization of American States to the fact the Lima Group was established less than two years ago, news surrounding Venezuela is underreported.Has anyone thought about impact regime change in Venezuela will have on Alberta's oilpatch?It's just a matter of supply and demand. A big increase in supply, conveniently located for inexpensive ocean transfer, will depress the price fetched by Alberta oil.
Categories: News for progressives

Support is growing for a Green New Deal

Thu, 2019-02-14 22:25
EnvironmentUS Politics

In recent weeks, a polar vortex blew across the U.S., killing at least 20 people. At the same time, U.S. government scientists reported that 2018 was the fourth-warmest year on record, with the five hottest years occurring in the past five years. A huge hole in one of the largest glaciers in Antarctica is causing accelerated melting there, while across that continent, large lakes of meltwater are bending, buckling and threatening to collapse these vast ice sheets -- all leading to rapidly increasing global sea level rise. Glaciers melting in the Himalayas threaten tens of millions of people downstream with flooding and the disruption of water supplies. As evidence that the planet is experiencing what has been called "the sixth great extinction," a recent review of scientific data concludes that 40 per cent of the world's insects are on the brink of extinction.

President Donald Trump's response? During the polar vortex, he tweeted: "What the hell is going on with Global Waming? (sic) Please come back fast, we need you!" Yet there are signs of hope. Two Democrats, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey, have submitted a resolution to Congress recognizing "the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal." House Resolution 109 had a remarkable 67 co-sponsors in the House, all Democrats, and has been distributed to 11 different House committees for consideration.

"Today is the day that we truly embark on a comprehensive agenda of economic, social and racial justice in the United States of America," Ocasio-Cortez said, announcing the effort. "Climate change and our environmental challenges are one of the biggest existential threats to our way of life, not just as a nation, but as a world."

The Green New Deal is named after the original New Deal, the massive government program launched by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to help the United States recover from the Great Depression. In addition to imposing a slew of regulations to constrain the big banks that were largely responsible for the financial collapse, FDR's New Deal empowered the federal government to directly hire millions of workers to do everything from building roads and bridges to writing poetry. The Social Security system was created to protect the elderly from the ravages of poverty. In the decades since, the New Deal has become synonymous with successful government intervention on a grand scale to solve massive, seemingly intractable problems.

The parallel Senate and House resolutions put forth by Markey and Ocasio-Cortez -- known as "AOC" to her supporters -- are a call to action to Congress to craft laws that implement a true Green New Deal, rapidly shifting the U.S. economy to one that is powered by renewable energy, and to do so in a fair, equitable and just manner.

When asked on 60 Minutes by CNN's Anderson Cooper, "Are you talking about everybody having to drive an electric car," AOC replied: "It's going to require a lot of rapid change that we don't even conceive as possible right now. What is the problem with trying to push our technological capacities to the furthest extent possible?"

Cooper also challenged her on the cost of a Green New Deal, which, in part, AOC would pay for with an increased marginal tax on the super wealthy -- a 70 per cent tax rate on income earned in excess of $10 million, for example. Several national polls suggest strong support for such a tax.

While almost every Democratic presidential hopeful has embraced the Green New Deal, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi casually derided the plan, saying, in response to a reporter's question about its legislative chances: "It will be one of several or maybe many suggestions that we receive. The green dream, or whatever they call it, nobody knows what it is, but they're for it, right?"

After Sen. Markey submitted his Green New Deal resolution, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters, "We're going to be voting on that in the Senate to give everybody an opportunity to go on record." He and the Republican Party are calculating that a vote in favour will politically damage incumbent Democrats come re-election time.

But McConnell is wrong. A majority of Americans believe that climate change is real, poses a threat to humankind, and that something must be done. It is time for the dinosaurs in Congress and the White House to wean themselves off fossil fuels and support the Green New Deal, or face extinction.

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: Senate Democrats/Wikimedia Commons

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Green New DealClimate ChangeAmy GoodmanDenis MoynihanFebruary 14, 2019Ocasio-Cortez dances into U.S. political office with array of progressive policies"If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution," are words attributed to thinker and social-justice activist Emma Goldman. The words were on full display in the U.S. Congress last week.Niki Ashton on the Canadian imperative for progressive internationalismNDP MP Niki Ashton speaks about the importance of linking local Canadian social movements to a bold international vision of solidarity through the budding Progressive International movement.Running out of time, excuses: Activists sound alarm at climate change summit in PolandAmong those gathered at the annual UN climate change summit are two young women, who have decided to devote their lives to reversing humanity's destructive addiction to fossil fuels.
Categories: News for progressives

Youth climate conference builds momentum around Canadian Green New Deal

Thu, 2019-02-14 21:25
Sophia Reuss

Several hundred youth are gathering in Ottawa to kick off a recurring youth climate conference called PowerShift.

This year's event, called "PowerShift: Young and Rising," is a four-day convergence starting February 14 that draws young people from across the country for workshops and keynote lectures by prominent activists like Kanahus Manuel, Harsha Walia, Derek Nepinak, and Romeo Saganash.

Organizers say the aim of the conference is to galvanize youth around the climate change and Indigenous rights movements.

This year's PowerShift comes amid the youth movement that led to the recent launch of the Green New Deal in the U.S. and an upcoming federal election.

"This is a moment to bring youth together and organize them in the leadup to the federal election, to demand much bolder climate action from the federal government and the kind of bold Green New Deal that we're seeing coming out of the U.S.," said Emma Jackson, an organizer with Climate Justice Edmonton and 350 Canada, in an interview with rabble.

Equipping young Canadians with activist toolkits

The first PowerShift conference took place in 2007 in Washington, D.C. Since then, conferences have been held under the PowerShift banner in countries around the world, including Canada.

"A lot has changed since PowerShift started 10 years ago, and we haven't had one [in Canada] in a couple years," said Jennifer Deol, a Steering Committee member of this year's PowerShift, in an interview with rabble.

Deol said at this year's conference, organizers are hoping to attract up to 400 participants for the four days. The Steering Committee focused on centring the voices and participation of Indigenous youth and youth of colour.

"I am excited to learn from and be inspired by incredible young leaders in this work, who are deeply grounded in their fiery pursuit of justice and their faith in creating a better world," said Raagini Appadurai, a PowerShift participant and facilitator. "I think the youth voice is the most powerful tool we have to create the world we want to see."

Organizers set up two "Frontline" funds to offer scholarships for Black and Indigenous people of color (BIPOC) youth travelling to Ottawa, which Deol said had successfully provided funding for 50 youth.

"PowerShift is an opportunity to hear from [frontline activists] and learn from people who've been fighting Trans Mountain, Northern Gateway, and Energy East pipelines, as well as other [extraction] projects that have been going on for years and battles that have been going on for decades," she said.

Deol, who is based in the Okanagan Valley, said that PowerShift represents an opportunity for youth in her community to connect with people from across the country to strategize.

"We spend so much time battling these pipeline projects and fossil fuel extractivist projects that [we] don't have enough opportunities to get together as a collective to skillshare, build networks, think about where we're going, and really amplify what we're doing on a local scale and lift it up to a national scale," she said.

Building out a Green New Deal for Canada

Jackson travelled to the conference from Edmonton with a group of youth activists engaged in progressive organizing against fossil fuel and tar sands expansion projects, like the Trans Mountain pipeline and the Teck Frontier mine.

Citing the youth-led Sunrise Movement's ability to galvanize mass public support for the recently released "Green New Deal" resolution in the U.S., Jackson said that this year's PowerShift will explore building a youth movement around a policy framework for a Canadian Green New Deal.

"If there's anywhere in Canada that needs a just transition that protects workers and upholds Indigenous rights, it's Alberta," Jackson said, pointing to a federal jobs guarantee as a means of transitioning energy and oil sector workers to green jobs while ensuring good jobs for all people.

"In Alberta, we need industry-funded support programs to make sure there's adequate retraining, support for communities, and [that people have the] ability to actually stay in their communities so that they don't have to move for work," she said.

In addition to a federal jobs guarantee, Jackson's vision of a Canadian Green New Deal includes deep investments in already low-carbon sectors of the economy, including rolling out programs like universal child care, free public transit across the country, and a transition to 100 per cent renewable energy "in a way that massively reduces economic inequality and racial injustice."

Jackson is co-facilitating several workshops, which she hopes will help youth participants learn how to build grassroots groups.

"The aim is really to have young people go back to their cities and have the network and supports in place to organize on campuses, in their communities, and reaching out to put demands on people running for office, or even stepping up and running for office themselves," she said.

Developing bold climate policy

Central to organizers' goals, PowerShift, Jackson and Deol both noted, is building a strong youth movement that can effectively target elected officials and translate into progressive electoral gains in the October federal election. "We're making it known that we're watching and we're going to hold our politicians accountable," said Deol.

Youth were the biggest voting block in the last federal election and were largely responsible for buoying Justin Trudeau's campaign.

"But the Liberal government is failing on all fronts," said Jackson. "A government that's willing to spend $4.5 billion on a pipeline is obviously not a government committed to addressing climate change or that's able to get us out of this crisis."

Election campaigns allow organizers to bring new people into the movement and broaden the public's imagination and discourse around policy possibilities.

"We need to [...] start seeing the bold policy we actually want to see being championed by our electoral officials," Jackson said. "There's never been a more important PowerShift than this one."

Sophia Reuss is rabble's Assistant Editor.

Image: PowerShift/Facebook

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Categories: News for progressives

Ironies and lessons in Canada's diplomatic crisis with China

Thu, 2019-02-14 20:34
Politics in CanadaWorld

Politics is often a source of great ironies working themselves out over times, places and personalities. At the moment there is much irony to be found in the crisis in Canada-China relations -- precipitated by the arrest and detainment of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver, and the apparently retaliatory detainment of Canadians Michel Spavor and Michael Kovrig, and arbitrary increase of a 15-year prison term to a death sentence for Canadian Robert Schellenberg in China.

The irony is that it's the China-friendly Liberals who find themselves in this mess and who are hopefully going to learn something from the mess. Liberal governments have for some time displayed a frustrating mixture of realpolitik, naivete, willful blindness, obsequiousness, and Western liberal democratic arrogance when it comes to China. The realpolitik began with Pierre Trudeau's appropriate recognition of "Red China" in 1970.

The lesson to be learned, as Jonathan Manthorpe argues in his recent book, The Claws of the Panda, is that Canada needs a China policy that is "less self-delusional, more courageous, and more intelligent." Not engaging China is not an option. Stephen Harper tried that, and ended up doing photo-ops with pandas.

Some weeks ago there was debate about whether it was appropriate for a Canadian delegation of MPs and senators to visit China under the auspices of the Canada-China Legislative Association, especially given that a Canadian ministerial visit had just been cancelled.

The formation of this group provides an interesting case study in Canada-China relations. In the late 1990s, then prime minister Jean Chrétien was told by the Chinese that they were no longer happy with just having a Canada-China Friendship Group. China wanted parity with the United States. They wanted a full-fledged Canada-China Parliamentary Association, modelled on the longstanding Canada-U.S. Parliamentary Association.

The order went down from Chrétien that such an association should be created. As NDP House Leader at the time, I was invited to an initial meeting at which this was presented as a fait accompli, name and all. When I objected to the idea on the basis that there wasn't anything in China that could properly be called a parliament, with no opposition, no elections, and that it was a one-party state, the objection was greeted with both anger and astonishment. Why be so difficult? How could Canada say no to such a fountain of potential future investment, and wouldn't the Chinese be insulted beyond measure?

Sometime after the first meeting, which ended inconclusively, Minister of International Trade Sergio Marchi announced, while in China, that such a group would be formed. This led to a Reform Party point of privilege. The complaint was that the decision had been announced by a minister before Parliament had actually approved it. In the ensuing debate, only the NDP argued that questions should also be asked about the name of the association. More meetings were held. In the end I suggested asking the Chinese if they would settle for something called the Canada-China Legislative Association. After all, the People's Congress does legislate, even if it is not comparable to a parliament. The reply to this was that the Chinese would never agree.

At the time I had been reading former Governor of Hong Kong Chris Patten, concerning the negotiations he had with China. His view was that one might be surprised at the outcome of standing one's ground on some issues. With this in mind, I encouraged the Liberals in charge of the process to at least give the proposal a try. To this day, the group is called the Canada-China Legislative Association.

The lesson, if there is one, is that in negotiations the Chinese sometimes look for, or accept, solutions to difficult problems that -- it is initially thought -- they might never entertain. Let's hope that there is something like this as the current crisis proceeds. In the meantime, the Liberals continue to be caught between their former attitude towards China and their current focus on not being on the wrong side of the U.S.

Around the same time as the Canada-China Legislative Association was formed, there was an ongoing debate about China's admission to the World Trade Organization (WTO), which eventually happened in December 2001. The NDP saw the admission, with China's record on human rights and labour rights, as something that would worsen the already uneven playing field that workers in Canada and other democracies with strong unions and decent wages face.

Liberals were full of assurances that the more Canada traded with China, the more they would become like us, and that we all needed to be patient and understanding. It didn't seem to occur to them that we might instead become more like them, by further aggravating the race to the bottom that is characteristic of corporate globalization. It was a complicated self-deceiving Western arrogance, an arguably re-colonizing attitude mixed with salivation at the prospect of accessing China as a place to do business. 

When China was a place where Western capitalists could not make money by taking advantage of cheap labour, it was an affront to Western values. When money was to be made, it was a different story.

Bill Blaikie, former MP and MLA, writes on Canadian politics, political parties, and Parliament.

Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

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ChinaCanadian foreign policyLiberal Party of CanadaBill BlaikieFebruary 14, 2019Canada-China relations imperiled as U.S. indicts HuaweiNot only have two Canadians been arrested on suspicion of committing espionage, China has threatened retribution to trade and commerce if Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou is not released.Canada's compliance with Huawei extradition gives support to Trump's international thuggeryBy co-operating with the U.S. request to extradite Chinese executive Meng Wanzhou, Canada is enabling rogue and reckless behaviour by the Trump administration.Trudeau opens himself to political attacks over firing of McCallumAs Parliament resumes, politicians might all want to weigh their words before saying anything that could endanger the three Canadians at the eye of the political and diplomatic Huawei storm.
Categories: News for progressives

Liberal talking points on Wilson-Raybould do not make sense

Thu, 2019-02-14 07:00
February 13, 2019Liberal talking points on Wilson-Raybould do not make senseLiberals say the former justice minister should have complained or quit months ago. The House justice committee met in an emergency sitting to discuss the Wilson-Raybould affair.
Categories: News for progressives

Farmers stand their ground against climate change in Saskatchewan court challenge

Thu, 2019-02-14 00:28
February 13, 2019Farmers stand their ground against climate change in Saskatchewan court challenge Saskatchewan is taking the federal government to court over its mandatory climate change program. The National Farmers Union is among those intervening in the court case this week.
Categories: News for progressives

Protests planned across Canada to demand universal health care access

Mon, 2019-02-11 23:12
February 11, 2019Protests planned across Canada to demand universal health care accessOn February 12, people in 15 cities across the country plan demonstrations to demand health care be made accessible to everyone living in Canada, regardless of immigration status.
Categories: News for progressives

Protests planned across Canada to demand universal health care access

Sat, 2019-02-09 02:26
Sophia ReussTremé Manning-Cere

On February 12, people in 15 cities across the country will be demonstrating to demand that health care be made accessible to everyone living in Canada, regardless of immigration status.

The national day of action, organized by a national coalition of migrant justice groups and spearheaded by OHIP for All, comes as a response to a United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) decision condemning Canada for restricting access to health care on the basis of immigration status. 

The decision, issued in August 2018, gave the Canadian federal government 180 days to respond to the decision and "ensure the right to life extends to reasonably foreseeable threats and life-threatening situations that can result in loss of life."

The 180-day period for response ended February 9.

UN orders Canada to act

The UNHRC based its decision on a case filed by Nell Toussaint in 2014. Toussaint moved to Canada in 1999, and as a result of financial barriers and medical issues, delayed filing her application for permanent residency.

During that time, Toussaint was denied standard-of-care medical services -- like blood tests -- in hospitals because she lacked provincial health care coverage and could not afford the costs out of pocket.

She filed a claim with the UNHRC after being denied health-care coverage under Canada's Interim Federal Health Program.

"Nell Toussaints' case is just a very appalling example of how things can go wrong," Souheil Benslimane, an organizer with the Ottawa Sanctuary Network and a co-organizer of Ottawa's upcoming OHIP for All action, said in a phone interview. "I think that Canada has to move swiftly and answer to the shortcomings of the systems that are in place right now." OHIP for All is a grassroots group of migrant justice activists, community groups, and healthcare professionals.

Benslimane himself is in the process of filing an application for permanent status on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. Benslimane's family members and child are Canadian citizens.

"Part of my activism is to bring these often stigmatized and taboo issues to the forefront of the discourse to break some stereotypes," he said.

Half a million excluded from OHIP

While the provincial health-care systems provide what many believe to be free, universal coverage, "we actually have a system that denies people access to care on the basis of their immigration status," said Ritika Goel, a Toronto-based OHIP for All organizer.

Currently, OHIP, the Ontario Health Insurance Plan, excludes approximately 500,000 people, including recent immigrants still within the three-month waiting period, workers under the federal Temporary Foreign Worker Program, international students and people who have not yet filed a refugee claim or are living with precarious immigration status.

A study from 2012 found that immigration status was the single most important factor impacting an individual's ability to seek out and access health care.

"Folks who are non-status often end up being forced to wait until their illness has progressed significantly before seeking care because of concerns of being detained and deported if they go to a hospital, or of having to pay exorbitant fees for public services," said Samir Shaheen-Hussain, pediatric emergency physician and member of the group organizing the Montreal action, Caring for Social Justice Collective.

Another report, delivered to the Toronto Board of Health and authored by the Medical Officer of Health, concluded that Ontario's health-care system, OHIP, fails to provide access to essential health-care services for uninsured residents.

"We are digging a deeper hole when we are refusing to provide health care for people," said Benslimane.

"Groundswell" of support from medical community

The recent UN decision, and the federal government's subsequent failure to respond, prompted "a groundswell from the health-care community," said Goel.

More than 1,500 individuals and organizations, including the Canadian Medical Association, the Ontario Medical Association, the Ontario Nurses Association, and Amnesty International, have signed on to the OHIP for All coalition, which recently issued a letter calling on the federal government to respect a human right to health care.

"We don't want to live in a country that denies people care, on the basis of immigration status," Goel said.

The actions organized in 15 cities, including Vancouver, Edmonton, Hamilton, Montreal,and Halifax, marks the end of the 180-day period, "to say that we want to see action," Goel said.

While provinces and territories bear the primary responsibility of providing health care, Goel says the OHIP for All campaign wants to reframe health care as a federal election issue.

The Ontario NDP's recent leak of a draft government bill demonstrated Ontario Premier Doug Ford had considered consolidating six provincial health agencies into one "super agency" and slash local health integration networks, a move which the opposition declared would prompt "mass privatization" of health care.

In Quebec, Premier François Legault's party, the Coalition Avenir Québec, has weaponized debate on immigration, Shaheen-Hussain said.

"We have to organize to resist the heightened attacks from such governments that will continue to scapegoat various marginalized populations through the use of divide-and-conquer tactics," he said.

Organizers are calling on the federal government to explore federal mechanisms for ensuring adequate universal access to health care.

Goel says that with a federal election around the corner this fall, "[it] is a great time to be asking candidates that are running in your riding what their stance is, and to let them know that you think that health is a human right and you want to live in a country that truly provides universal health care."

Sophia Reuss is rabble's Assistant Editor. Tremé Manning-Cere is based in Toronto. 

Image: OHIP for All/Facebook

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Categories: News for progressives

Has anyone thought about impact regime change in Venezuela will have on Alberta’s oilpatch?

Fri, 2019-02-08 21:04
February 8, 2019Has anyone thought about impact regime change in Venezuela will have on Alberta’s oilpatch?It's just a matter of supply and demand. A big increase in supply, conveniently located for inexpensive ocean transfer, will depress the price fetched by Alberta oil.
Categories: News for progressives

Has anyone thought about impact regime change in Venezuela will have on Alberta’s oilpatch?

Fri, 2019-02-08 13:53
David J. Climenhaga

In the stampede by Canadian politicians of all ideological stripes to support Venezuela's self-declared "interim president," has anyone given even a nanosecond's thought to the impact the handover of the troubled South American petrostate's government to Juan Guaido would have on Alberta's oilpatch?

It won't be pretty.

The federal government's headlong rush to facilitate regime change in Venezuela is the sort of thing that would normally have Conservative politicians like Alberta Opposition Leader Jason Kenney darkly hinting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is secretly trying to wreck Alberta's oil industry.

Yet, there's not a peep of that in this case, as the Conservative opposition parties in both Ottawa and Edmonton seem to be completely on board with U.S. President Donald Trump's Venezuelan wag-the-dog scheme.

Ditto the NDP. Alberta's New Democratic government seems to have said nothing pro or con. Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh's messaging is so muddled, it's hard to know what the party's policy is, or if it will be the same an hour from now.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, who acts as the Liberal government's spokesperson on this file, sounds persuasive, even if what she says often makes considerably less sense on close examination.

Regardless, there's not a word of acknowledgement from Freeland or anyone else that a takeover by a politician who has promised to hand his country's huge oil reserves over to the U.S. petroleum industry might have big implications for Alberta, let alone what to do about them.

Freeland tells Canadian protesters who objected to Ottawa undermining the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro that they enjoy democracy and, "I am sad to say, political protesters in Venezuela do not." Meanwhile, her government takes the fact tens of thousands are demonstrating against the Maduro government in Venezuela as an argument for regime change.

In an interview earlier this week with the CBC's Anna Maria Tremonti, Freeland insisted Canada must help the suffering people of Venezuela, but supported U.S. actions that have denied them food and medicine. U.S. sanctions may not be the principal reason for Venezuela's economic crisis, but they are at least part of the cause of the country's refugee crisis.

Freeland defended Canada as "a rule of law country" in the context of our current disputes with China over the arrest of a Chinese national in Canada at the behest of the United States, but articulately supported the overthrow of the elected president of a foreign country on the grounds his domestic opponents say his election was rigged. She then observed, accurately enough, "If we let it become a law of the jungle kind of world, that is not a good world for Canada."

She told Tremonti: "We need to be working really, really hard to maintain that rules-based international order and to build coalitions of like-minded countries who are going to work to maintain that order." Seconds later she said: "That’s something that we're doing in the Lima group," which is pledged to force out Venezuela's government.

Every word was delivered in tones both confident and reassuring.

Perhaps the explanation for this seeming cognitive dissonance, as Toronto Star columnist Thomas Walkom recently suggested, is that Ottawa doesn't really give a hang about Maduro’s government but is looking for a way to suck up to Trump's.

Regardless, the potential for unintended consequences in Alberta's oilpatch seems to have been ignored completely, if it has even occurred to anyone as a possibility.

The problem for Alberta arises from our man Guaido's promise to end the Maduro government's policy of requiring the national oil company Petroleos de Venezuela to hold a controlling stake in any joint venture with a foreign oil company. That would open the door to heavy U.S. corporate involvement in the vast Venezuelan oil reserves, said to be the largest in the world, and which include oilsands similar in size to Alberta's. That, in turn, would end the United States’ blockade of Venezuelan oil, part of its campaign to topple the Maduro government.

This is potentially serious for Alberta because Venezuela is conveniently located just across the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico near the U.S. refineries along the Gulf Coast of Texas, where most of Alberta’s low-quality bitumen nowadays ends up.

In the simplest terms, one likely effect of this unfolding scenario would be to flood those American refineries with cheap, heavy oil from Venezuela.

After that, it's just a matter of supply and demand. A big increase in supply, conveniently located for inexpensive ocean transfer, will depress the price fetched by Alberta oil, especially low-quality oilsands bitumen.

Given the size of Venezuela's reserves, the low prices could last for a very long time -- possibly until the planet's transition from a fossil fuel economy is complete.

U.S.-owned fossil fuel companies that have resisted building refining capacity in Alberta because they don't want to compete with underused capacity at their Gulf Coast operations will have no problem replacing their Canadian supplies with cheaper Venezuelan crude. They have no loyalty to any jurisdiction, or to any notion of "ethical oil," only to the best price and the best return on investment.

Where will Alberta be then? You’d think that would be a matter of concern for both federal Canadian and Alberta politicians, yet no one who holds office or is likely to appears to have given it a moment's thought.

No doubt about it, Venezuela is a catastrophic mess. But should Canadian governments be advancing a solution to its troubles that may well make things worse and will certainly hurt Alberta's essential oil industry and the Canadians who work in it?

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Categories: News for progressives

The economics of disruption: BlackRock exec discusses winners and losers in technological shift

Fri, 2019-02-08 04:06
Rosemary Frei

There is significant potential to generate profit in the age of disruption. That was the message Mark Wiseman, the chairman of BlackRock Alternative Investors, told the audience at Canadian Club in Toronto on February 2.

"This is a great time to be an investor," Wiseman told Wall Street Journal Canadian correspondent Jacquie McNish in front of several hundred people from the financial sector. "We have to use more technology and we have to learn a lot more and have a view on things we're not used to pricing, like geopolitics and what someone might tweet overnight. But I look at that as an opportunity to actually participate in markets and find a way to generate that all-elusive alpha [high return on investments]."

In 2016, before moving to BlackRock -- which manages $6.4 trillion for institutional investors and very wealthy individuals in more than 100 countries -- Wiseman was president and chief executive officer of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board for four years.

He gave the example of the shift from paper to electronic airline tickets to posit that the general population is the biggest beneficiary of the technological changes and associated job losses rocking the world.

"Airline tickets today are about six per cent cheaper -- adjusted for inflation, etcetera -- than they were 10 years ago. And yet the [profit] margins of the airlines are up. So why is that?

"It's because the system has become more efficient. We have disintermediated the travel agent. You can't even find a travel agent today.

"That entire productivity gain, all of that efficiency -- the winner is the consumer. The consumer has captured the economic rent from that productivity, or most of it. And that's going to happen industry by industry by industry."

He did admit, though, that the vast majority of companies will be mortally wounded in the process.

"In all of these industries that are being disrupted by technology, scale matters. Because you need to be able to spread your cost over a larger and larger base. So Amazon wins. Google wins. Netflix wins. Alibaba wins. Expedia wins. We’ve got to keep in mind that in every single industry that has been disrupted by technology, the winners are the scale players or the very specialized boutiques. So if you’re a retailer, you’d better be Amazon, or you’d better be scented candles from your craft store in Vermont. Everybody in between is going to get squeezed."

The same applies to investing firms -- and also to Canada as a whole.

"One of the biggest things that I discovered from moving to Canada from the U.S. is the definition of scale. This country, unless our businesses expand outside of our borders, we are doomed. Because we don’t have enough scale in this country to compete, and so the Canadian winners have to be global because they have to be able to access the scale of global markets."

What are some of the remedies for this? He and several others created the Century Initiative to push the idea that Canada’s population needs to climb to 100 million by the year 2100.

"We will grow with current immigration levels to about 50 million people in this country by 2050. And then we stop. So unless we address this issue by, among other things, increasing immigration, increasing the ability of women to succeed in the workforce, by creating things like national childcare program, by focusing on our education system, we are going to see that sort of 'barely hanging on middle-power status’ [and] by the time our children are sitting on this stage or sitting in this audience, it'll be a very, very different discussion."

However, not everyone agrees with Wiseman's views.

One of the dissenters is Sam Gindin.

Gindin, who did not attend the Canadian Club event, is a retired union official and academic. He was the Packer Chair in Social Justice at York University in Toronto until 2010. He also has written several books, most recently co-authoring The Contradictions of Pension Fund Capitalism.

In an interview, he said he is tired of the pontification of the powerful and the subsequent fatalistic debates about the ravages of our present economic system.

"All we have left is lamentations about how bad a particular businessman or politician is or whether to choose a future that ranges from bad to horrible -- rather than how we can use technology and our collective potential to construct a radically more meaningful existence than that offered by capitalism."

Photo: Mark Wiseman and Jacquie McNish at the Canadian Club in Toronto. Photo courtesy of Mike Hagarty.

Rosemary Frei is an independent, full-time journalist, videographer and activist focusing on economic and social-justice issues.

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