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Journalist Paula Simons named to Senate of Canada

Thu, 2018-10-04 12:22
David J. Climenhaga

I imagine most journos working nowadays for the moribund and increasingly far-right Postmedia newspaper chain daydream about making a miraculous escape from their travails -- perhaps a modest Lotto 6/49 win or a generous inheritance from a beloved auntie.

But you have to admit that Paula Simons, until now a city columnist for the Edmonton Journal who didn't have a topical beat so much as a deft ability to swiftly spin a literate and fervent crie de coeur from a current event, has just pulled off the slickest escape from the newspaper nightmare you've ever heard of.

Simons, 54, was named yesterday to the Senate of Canada, which it must be admitted is considerably better than most Canadian lottery prizes and, a case might be made, in some ways even superior to this Friday's $60-million Lotto Max, if slightly less remunerative.

After all, if you're a senator travelling in the United States, even a Canadian one who wasn't actually elected to anything, you can count on double-plus-first-class service from American hoteliers. (I have this on very good authority from, in fact, a member of the Red Chamber, which is so named for the upholstery therein, not the politics of the occupants.)

Moreover, as one of what she once called the "entitled toffs" in the Senate, Simons will have the opportunity to exert some sober second thought on the ill-considered legislation that frequently arrives from the House of Commons (official colour: green). In so doing, she can provide a valuable service to our country.

Even without Simons as a member, in reality the Canadian Senate has a pretty good historical record of doing just that, notwithstanding its well-known lack of democratic legitimacy.

Simons' economical Twitter autobiography says: "Globalist Presstitute. Ball Earther. So buxom, blithe, and debonair." I'm not going to make a case for or against that self-description. However, I'm thinking she might want to recast it that now that she's a member of an august and dignified legislative body and no longer part of the grubby newspaper trade of which she is a veteran of three decades, 23 years at the Journal. However, her Twitter handle -- @paulatics -- is probably still OK in her new role.

Simons' writing is persuasive, passionate and entertaining. Because of that, the silencing of her voice in journalism will be a loss to the commonweal. She is, in my estimation, a genuine progressive -- although as we all do, she has landed on the wrong side of an issue now and then. So her departure will likely leave Postmedia with no progressive voices in Alberta. (This is contingent, of course, on whom they replace her with, but given the corporation's recent track record, it's hard to be optimistic.)

She was always loyal to her newspaper, and frequently complained about bloggers who were, she felt, too hard on it. Well, loyalty is a virtue, so she is forgiven even though mistaken. I promise to take it much easier on the Senate than some writers. This is so even though the original purpose of the body was to look out for the interests of property, as if those with power and wealth didn't have enough advantages already without a whole legislative chamber devoted to placing roadblocks before the popular will.

Simons' appointment yesterday as an Alberta senator -- and that of Dr. Patti Laboucane-Benson, a Metis activist and academic -- may offer some evidence that the role of Parliament's Upper House is changing. The third senator appointed yesterday by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to represent Ontario was Peter Boehm, a former senior federal civil servant and diplomat, for whom it might be harder to make such a case on the basis of his resume.

Given recent experience, some might argue appointing another journalist to the Senate is a recipe for grief.

In fact, however, there have been many journalists in the Senate over the decades, and for the most part they have served Canadians well. I give you, to name some though not all, Laurier Lapierre, Pat Carney, Joan Fraser, Jim Munson, Michael Grattan O'Leary and Richard Doyle.

So, when it comes to assigning the source of ethical lapses, it might be wiser to point to the prime minister who appointed Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin than to the occupation they once practiced.

If there's a complaint to be made about journalists in the Senate, it's that too many of them were political aides first, not that they're ethically unsuitable for a position of trust. This is not the case with Simons. She applied for the job to the Independent Advisory Board for Senate Appointments set up by Trudeau and then left by him to do its work.

Anyway, to Paula Simons: The best of luck in your next endeavour. Never expense your holiday home to the Senate. Indeed, when in doubt, don't file an expense claim at all. And don't volunteer for a charity boxing match with the prime minister, no matter how worthy the cause.

Meanwhile, on the right, the usual stream of Trumpiness

The reaction of most Albertans to yesterday's Senate announcement was generous.

But over at United Conservative Party anti-social-media headquarters, Opposition Leader Jason Kenney continues to direct an unremitting stream of Trumpiness at Trudeau. Naturally, then, he started out with nothing good to say about the Senate appointments of Simons and Laboucane-Benson.

"Justin Trudeau has ignored the democratic choice of Albertans by appointing two unelected people to two Alberta Senate seats today," Kenney grumped, a reference to Alberta's periodic unconstitutional and wasteful "senator in waiting" elections.

As blogger Dave Cournoyer pointed out in a tweeted response to Kenney's churlish complaint, more than 189,000 "senator in waiting" ballots were rejected, spoiled or declined by voters in the 2012 exercise by the provincial Progressive Conservatives led by Premier Alison Redford. Significantly, that compared to a mere 7,822 in the same day's real provincial election.

Why? Cournoyer argued huge numbers of voters considered it a meaningless sideshow. Many, however, may have concluded it was something worse: an expensive attempt to distract voters from the multitude of sins of the then-40-year-old Tory dynasty. Anyway, only third-rate conservative candidates ran even half-hearted campaigns.

As for the Alberta-dominated Conservative federal government in which Kenney played a major role for a decade, it did nothing to change the structure of the Senate, barely even mentioning the topic during its interminable tenure. The provincial legislation under which the Senate elections were held expired in 2016.

After an hour, during which his sour grumbling had an opportunity to curdle in public, the Opposition leader finally got around to half-heartedly congratulating the two "thoughtful" Alberta Senate appointees.

Too late. Damage done.

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

Trudeau to reopen consultations with First Nations on Trans Mountain pipeline

Thu, 2018-10-04 01:44
October 3, 2018Trudeau to reopen consultations with First Nations on Trans Mountain pipelineFederal government appoints former Supreme Court justice to lead the talks on how to accommodate concerns of the affected First Nations.
Categories: News for progressives

Trudeau to reopen consultations with First Nations on Trans Mountain pipeline

Thu, 2018-10-04 01:17
Karl Nerenberg

When the Federal Court of Appeal put a halt to the Trans Mountain pipeline project in September, there was some talk in Ottawa and Edmonton about appealing the decision to the Supreme Court. The Trudeau government has now decided not to follow that course. It will, instead, try to satisfy the court’s requirements so the pipeline can go forward.

The court told the government it had failed to take into account the potentially devastating impact of the project on the coastal environment.

The appeals court judges were baffled that the National Energy Board (NEB) during the assessment process only considered the impact of the pipeline from its source in Alberta to its end at the Pacific coast in Burnaby, B.C. The NEB acted as though what happened after the bitumen was loaded onto tankers was of no consequence or concern.

In fact, the pipeline would mean a considerable increase in tanker traffic in an environmentally sensitive area. The Pacific waters off British Columbia’s lower mainland are – to cite only one worrisome example – home to an endangered population of orca whales.

Late in September, the Trudeau government addressed this issue. It ordered the NEB to extend its purview from land to sea and do a thorough assessment of the impact of increased tanker traffic. The NEB has a little more than five months to complete that job.

The court was also scathing in its appraisal of the way the government conducted the final phase of consultations with Indigenous groups. These were the where-the-rubber-hits-the-road consultations. They took place after the NEB had approved the project in principle.

The purpose of these consultations was to determine, collaboratively with the Indigenous communities, how to build the pipeline while accommodating the concerns of the affected First Nations.

The federal government assigned public servants to conduct the exercise.

According to the court, the bureaucrats misconstrued their brief, which was to come up with a robust action plan. Instead, they told the Indigenous groups that their role was limited to listening and taking notes. They could not, the bureaucrats claimed, commit to any action beyond what the NEB had already decided.

The Federal Court of Appeal said all of that was pure balderdash. The court ruled that the federal government is legally and constitutionally obliged to conduct good-faith negotiations with Indigenous communities. The purpose of those talks would be to determine tangible ways to mitigate the impact of the pipeline project on those communities.

The point of what were called the Phase 3 consultations was not merely to allow the Indigenous people to let off steam, and the role of the bureaucrats representing the federal government was not simply to act as note-takers.

A new process led by an eminent former judge

On Oct. 3, Trudeau’s recently appointed minister of natural resources, Amarjeet Sohi, announced that the government will re-do the Phase 3 consultations. This time, Trudeau’s cabinet will not entrust the entire exercise to federal bureaucrats. The government has asked former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci to lead the talks with First Nations groups.

The Vancouver-born former justice has taken on a number of difficult and delicate tasks since his retirement from the court 14 years ago.

He did an inquiry into the absence of Indigenous people on Ontario juries, in which he ruled that such under-representation was a symptom of a crisis. He studied the cases of torture of Canadian citizen Maher Arar and two others who were detained in Egypt and Syria. And he was involved in the selection of commissioners for the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Now, Iacobucci has the job of finding a way to satisfy both aggrieved and offended Indigenous communities and the federal and Alberta governments anxious to get this pipeline completed as quickly as possible. The federal government has an extra incentive to make this process work. It now owns the pipeline, which it purchased from Texas-based Kinder Morgan for $4 billion.

The fact that the government will re-do the consultations does not mean the First Nations involved have the power to veto the project, however. The purpose of these consultations is not to give a green or red light to the pipeline, but rather to tangibly address the communities’ concerns, assuming the project will go ahead.

The court did not say the government would have to absolutely accede to every single demand of every single Indigenous group.  It only said the government would have to engage in a real consultative process.

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

Photo: Christina Marshall/Leadnow Canada/Flickr

Categories: News for progressives

What is Ford Nation's connection to white nationalists and pro-Israel groups?

Wed, 2018-10-03 21:59
Yves Engler

Pro-Israel politics makes for strange bedfellows.

B'nai Brith and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) must be concerned about the furor over Doug Ford's ties to fringe Toronto mayoral candidate Faith Goldy. Last month the prominent white nationalist participated in a B'nai Brith support rally and the two pro-Israel groups smeared Dimitri Lascaris when he called on them to denounce a racist video made by B'nai Brith supporters and to publicly reject Goldy. And in a twist highlighting the anti-Palestinianism in mainstream Canadian politics, Bernie Farber, a vocal critic of Ford's ties to Goldy, expressed support for the smears on Lascaris.

Last week Goldy was photographed with Ontario's new premier at his Ford Festbarbecue. For three days after the photo emerged Ford refused to distance himself from Goldy. In a bizarre bid to deflect criticism, Ford responded to questions about his support for Goldy by telling the Ontario legislature that an NDP MPP supported the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Goldy is a problem for B'nai Brith and CIJA. They likely would prefer not to criticize someone who is supportive of Israel and popular with their most aggressive Israeli nationalist supporters. But Goldy is toxic to the media and most B'nai Brith and CIJA supporters would probably consider her views distasteful. In April, for instance, Goldy promoted a 1937 book by Romanian fascist leader Corneliu Codreanu titled For My Legionaries, which repeatedly attacks Jews and called for eliminating the "Jewish threat."

More immediately, the attention focused on Goldy should embarrass CIJA and B'nai Brith because the smear campaign against pro-Palestinian lawyer Dimitri Lascaris was motivated in part by his criticism of their refusal to denounce Goldy's attendance at a B'nai Brith support rally. On August 29 the white supremacist mayoral candidate was photographed with individuals counter-protesting a rally opposed to B'nai Brith smearing the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW). In the wake of that protest, B'nai Brith, CIJA, Liberal MP Michael Levitt and others condemned those rallying in support of CUPW. In response, Lascaris repeatedly called on them to distance themselves from two B'nai Brith supporters who produced a post-rally video praising Goldy and calling for the death penalty for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and several Muslim MPs. In one tweet Lascaris wrote: 

"Mary Forrest, one of the B'nai Brith supporters who called for the death penalty to be imposed on Justin Trudeau, Jagmeet Singh and Muslim MPs, poses outside B'nai Brith's office with Faith Goldy, who promoted a fascist book calling for elimination of the 'Jewish menace.'" 

In another he stated: 

"White supremacist Faith Goldy promoted fascist propaganda calling for eliminating 'the Jewish menace.' Goldy was warmly received by B'nai Brith supporters last week. And B'nai Brith expects us to believe it speaks for Canadian Jewry?"

B'nai Brith, CIJA and Levitt refused to disassociate themselves from Goldy or the two B'nai Brith supporters who made death threats against politicians. As I detail here and here, CIJA and B'nai Brith responded to Lascaris's highlighting their dalliance with racist extremists by distorting an innocuous tweet about two anti-Palestinian Liberal MPs and then called on politicians to denounce his "anti-Semitism."

In a double standard, former head of the Canadian Jewish Congress Bernie Farber, who has been widely quoted criticizing Ford's association with Goldy, jumped full throttle into the smear campaign against Lascaris. Farber re-tweeted statements tarring Lascaris by Liberal MP Marco Mendicino and JSpaceCanada, for which he is a spokesperson. Chair of the newly formed Canadian Anti-Hate Network, Farber added a personalized tweet condemning Lascaris' "antisemitism pure and simple."

Lascaris's rationale for pressing B'nai Brith, CIJA and Levitt to disassociate from Goldy was that they aligned with her supporters by attacking those rallying in defence of CUPW. Lascaris should have added Farber to his list of targets. The longtime pro-Israel lobbyist criticized those who rallied in support of CUPW, but remained silent about the racist Goldy-supporting counter-protest.

After the display of solidarity with CUPW, Farber re-tweeted Levitt's criticism of the protest at B'nai Brith's office. He wrote, "I agree with Michael Levitt. I know a number of elderly Holocaust survivors in this neighbourhood who were taken aback perhaps even traumatized by this protest. It saddens me deeply that dialogue is replaced by perceived intimidation." The next day he followed up his those-levelling-smears-are-the-victims tweet with a declaration on the "unsettling demonstration in front of B'nai Brith Canada." In the 400-word statement he ignores the racist, Goldy-aligned Israeli nationalists and repeatedly describes CUPW supporters as "intimidating."

But in reality, it was the counter-rally of B'nai Brith supporters that was threatening. And a self-proclaimed "anti-racist" like Farber should have been "unsettled" by the barrage of Islamophobic comments made by B'nai Brith supporters, not to mention their embrace of Goldy.

For two decades Farber was a leader in the anti-Palestinian movement. Since the Canadian Jewish Congress disbanded in 2011 Farber has worked to redress Islamophobia, but he continues to take his cues from anti-Palestinian groups.

For their part, B'nai Brith and CIJA failed to criticize Ford's ties to Goldy. Only after the premier finally distanced himself from the white nationalist did they tweet about the furor. B'nai Brith and CIJA are wary of challenging Ford partly because many of their supporters are linked to him (a Canadian Jewish News headline noted, "Ontario Tories win big in ridings with large Jewish populations"). Additionally, they support Ford's anti-Palestinian positions. In one of his first moves after being elected, Ford announced that he would seek to ban the annual Al Quds Palestinian solidarity event.

The Ford-Goldy-B'nai Brith-CIJA dalliance highlights the growing links between racist white nationalist, right-wing politics and Israeli nationalist campaigners. It's a relationship that anti-racist Palestinian solidarity activists should expose whenever possible.

Dubbed "Canada's version of Noam Chomsky" (Georgia Straight), “one of the most important voices on the Canadian Left today” (Briarpatch), "in the mould of I. F. Stone" (Globe and Mail), "ever-insightful" (rabble.ca) and a "Leftist gadfly" (Ottawa Citizen), Yves Engler has published nine books.

Photo: Montecruz Foto/Flickr

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Categories: News for progressives

BP offshore drilling threatens Nova Scotia coastal waters

Wed, 2018-10-03 21:14
Brent Patterson

There is a deposit of an estimated eight billion barrels of oil and 120 trillion cubic feet of gas under the ocean floor off Nova Scotia’s coast that should stay where it is.

This past February, defying climate science in favour of corporate profit, the Trudeau government granted BP Canada Energy Group permission to drill up to seven exploratory wells over a three-year period.

In April, the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board then, not surprisingly, approved the drilling of the first exploration well, Aspy D-11.

BP began drilling that well on April 22, Earth Day.

Work on the well was briefly halted on June 22 when the West Aquarius rig spilled about 136,000 litres of synthetic drilling mud about 330 kilometres offshore of Halifax. The petroleum board, again not surprisingly, gave permission to BP to resume drilling on July 22.

BP's plan to extract oil and gas off the coast of Nova Scotia should be considered a climate crime given it would release millions of tonnes of carbon emissions.

Numerous other concerns have been raised, including:

  • BP is responsible for the largest marine oil spill in history, the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, that saw about 4.9 billion barrels of oil spill into the ocean.
  • The waters where BP is drilling (almost three kilometres deep) are twice as deep as where the Gulf of Mexico disaster took place, with more severe tides and weather conditions (waves can reach 10 metres in height during a storm).
  • University of California expert Dr. Robert Bea has concluded that BP failed to properly assess, document and validate the risk of its drilling off the shore of Nova Scotia.
  • The Trudeau government approved BP to drill offshore with a plan to ship a capping stack from Norway that would take 12 to 19 days to arrive when a spill occurs, while it could take 13 to 25 days or longer to cap the well with the device.
  • An oil spill off the coast of Nova Scotia would put at risk the fisheries industry, a sector that employs about 17,538 people, and a spill from a major blowout could reach the fishing grounds of Emerald Bank in just six days.
  • An oil spill would also put at risk Sable Island National Park Reserve, about 48 kilometres away from the drilling site, and the Gully Marine Protected Area, 71 kilometres away, and further put at risk the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale.
  • BP has indicated that in the event of an oil spill it would use Corexit 9500a, a chemical dispersant, that would cause the oil to sink and that critics say could pose human health risks and be toxic to marine life.
  • The Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board is a captured regulatory body, with some of its members coming from the oil industry. One of the federal appointees to the Board, Corrina Bryson, worked for both Shell and Nexen.
  • There were no federal public hearings on the drilling and only minimal "invite-only" provincial consultations.
  • Grassroots treaty rights holders have stated that they were not consulted and that free, prior and informed consent has not been granted as required under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

For detailed information and important updates, please see the Campaign to Protect Offshore Nova Scotia (CPONS) Facebook page and website.

Photo by Robin Tress

Brent Patterson is a political activist and writer.

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Categories: News for progressives

The new language of resource exploitation

Wed, 2018-10-03 20:56
Mel Watkins

"Staples dependency" we know from Innis onwards. It can mean reliant upon or dependent on the export of staples, and permits a staple theory of linkages as economic theory. It can also mean a resource margin of a more developed imperium. Economic theory is infused with the power relations inherent in "dependency" and is transformed into political economy. In the shifting fashions of scholarship, over time "dependency" came not to be permitted as appropriate political economy. This in turn meant the purging of "nationalism" as a tolerable response at the risk of losing a political edge. But the idea of a "staples trap" implicit in Innis could not be wished away.

Take the phrase "extraction empire." "Empire" takes on a new meaning. On the one hand, it is the terrible colonization within Canada of Indigenous people. Canada as a settler society is exploiter rather than exploited. On the other hand, it is the transformation of resource exploitation at home into resource exploitation abroad. Comparative advantage in trade becomes over time comparative advantage in outward direct investment, notably in mining. Canada becomes an imperium in its own right, though note, this by no means requires it to shed its "dependency" within a larger imperium, such as the United States.

"Extraction" is a potent word that conjures up the wrenching, the wounding of the planet, the violation of nature as technology deeply alters environment. It gives a whole new perception to the staples trap which, in the contemporary case of bitumen, becomes a deadly carbon trap. Governments, national and regional, are sucked into a black hole.

Our old friend "dependency" takes on a stark new dimension. Economics alone exposes economic rents, or surplus, which can be captured by the state and in what would seem like the best of all worlds, can be used to help the poor, creating safety nets and building a welfare state. But the society then becomes massively dependent on the surplus from the revenue resulting from resource exploitation, and dangerously exposed to social breakdown in the event of a plunge in the price of the staple -- as we are presently seeing with respect to oil and Venezuela.

What triggers these ruminations on staples one more time is the appearance of a monumental 800-page book, titled Extraction Empire, published by MIT Press and edited by Pierre Belanger, a landscape architect at Harvard. Full disclosure: the opening essay in the book titled "Unsettling the Mining Frontier" is mine, billed as a foreward. It takes off from Innis's neglected classic Settlement and the Mining Frontier but shows Innis's limitations as a white male with respect to the consequences of staples exploitation for Indigenous people, for women, and for the environment, a.k.a nature.

The book has the revealing subtitle "Undermining the Systems, States and Scales of Canada's Global Resource Empire 2017 to 1217." Counting back 800 years to the Magna Carta, which reified property and distinguished between property rights, to the surfaces of lands and subsurface rights. This was critical to the appropriation of the rights of Indigenous peoples in the so-called New World, who not only failed to make settled use of the surface resources  and certainly had no claim through use to subsurface rights.

Mel Watkins is Professor Emeritus of Economics and Political Science at the University of Toronto. He is Editor Emeritus of This Magazine and a frequent contributor to Peace magazine. This blog was first posted in the Progressive Economcs Forum.

Photo: Anita Gould/Flickr

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Categories: News for progressives

How much would it cost Trudeau to implement the right to water?

Wed, 2018-10-03 19:37
Emma Lui

The 2019 Alternative Federal Budget released last week outlines how much funding the Trudeau government needs to allocate in the 2019 budget -- leading up to the federal election -- to protect drinking water and watersheds.

The water chapter of the Alternative Federal Budget notes:

"Canada must take action to recognize water as a human right, a shared commons and a public trust. The United Nations has declared human rights to water and sanitation in several resolutions as well as in the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Now that Canada has passed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), it must obtain free, prior and informed consent from Indigenous peoples on all laws, projects and policies affecting water."

It calls for adequate funding to:

  • End drinking water advisories in First Nations.
  • Reinstate federal funding for water programs at Environment and Climate Change Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Transport Canada. 
  • Implement a comprehensive action plan to protect the Great Lakes Basin. 
  • Complete watershed mapping and ensure groundwater protection.
  • Create a federal water minister position to co-ordinate the more than 20 departments that set federal policies affecting water.

To learn more about how much funding is needed to implement the human rights to water and sanitation, read the water chapter of the Alternative Federal Budget here.

To read about other topics like the environment and climate change, First Nations, infrastructure and more, click here.

Emma Lui is the Water Campaigner with the Council of Canadians. This article was first posted on the Council of Canadians blog.

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Categories: News for progressives

Quebec's new premier is not a typical right-winger

Wed, 2018-10-03 02:47
October 2, 2018Quebec's new premier is not a typical right-wingerCoalition Avenir Québec leader François Legault swept to power Monday with a convincing majority, leaving the two traditional provincial parties – the PQ and Liberals – shattered.
Categories: News for progressives

Did we really defeat Chapter 11 in NAFTA?

Wed, 2018-10-03 01:10
Brent Patterson

In the recently announced United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump have reportedly agreed to "phase out" the controversial Chapter 11 investor-state dispute settlement provision.

But Brock University political science professor Blayne Haggart suggests that "six-year mandatory review" provision in the USMCA has ominous implications in this regard.

Article 34.7 ( covering review and term extension) of the USMCA states, "No later than the sixth anniversary of the entry into force of this Agreement, the Commission shall meet to conduct a 'joint review' of the operation of the Agreement, review any recommendations for action submitted by a Party, and decide on any appropriate actions."

Haggart argues, "The spectre of this review would likely make Canadian policy-makers hesitant about implementing policies that may upset the United States and thus threaten the entire economic relationship."

He adds, "This effect would be similar to the 'regulatory chill' associated with NAFTA's Chapter 11 investor-state dispute settlement mechanism -- it fuelled governments' reluctance to regulate in some areas due to the fear that a foreign company would sue them for doing so."

There is merit to this argument.

First of all, it's clear that the Trudeau government found the originally proposed five-year "sunset clause" unacceptable because of its impact on investment decisions.

In September 2017, David MacNaughton, the Canadian ambassador to the U.S., commented, "One of reasons you do (a trade agreement) is to create an environment within which business can make investments. (In) many of those investments people will look to 20 years', 25 years' payback. If you have to do it every five years, the pricing of political risk is very high."

MacNaughton's quote implicitly recognizes the threat (intimidation factor) a "six-year mandatory review" would pose to both business and governmental decision-making.

It's also significant that the Trump administration didn't oppose Chapter 11 for the same reasons we did. We are concerned about transnational corporations being able to sue national governments in secretive tribunals for lost future profits relating to public policy, most commonly environmental protection legislation.

Instead, the Trump administration used sovereignty as a key reason to explain their opposition. In June 2017, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told the Senate, "I'm always troubled by the fact that nonelected non-Americans can make the final decision that the United States law is invalid. This is a matter of principle I find offensive."

As such, a mechanism -- like the threat of Article 34.7 -- that could achieve the same end (dominance, corporate-friendly decision-making by governments) without "non-Americans" being involved, would likely suit the purposes of the Trump administration and U.S.-based transnational capital.

Furthermore, let's not forget, if we are to maintain an internationalist perspective, that Chapter 11 still exists as an obstacle for our Mexican allies (and us).

The Washington Post notes, "In the end, Chapter 11 is mostly gone, except for a few key industries, such as oil, that lobbied hard to be able to challenge the Mexican government if it changes the rules and tries to nationalize its energy sector again."

In December 2013, Bloomberg reported that ending Mexico's state ownership of its energy sector could attract $15 billion in foreign investment and increase oil production to as much as four million barrels per day (from the current 2.5 million barrels) and natural gas production to 10.4 cubic billion feet per day (from the current 5.7 billion cubic feet).

To think these carbon emissions won't impact the lives of all of us, and that somehow we've escaped the impacts of Chapter 11, would be detrimental to the kind of trade justice and solidarity movement we need to build on a global scale to challenge transnational capital and their neoliberal governments in Ottawa, Washington, Mexico City and elsewhere.

In the absence of Chapter 11 in NAFTA, Canadian capital, of course, can also utilize the investor-state provision in the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) should public interest legislation in Mexico infringe on its profit-making there.

Certainly the case could be made too that transnational corporations were threatening governments with capital flight, exerting influence through intensive lobbying, and promising lucrative post-political career positions long before Chapter 11 came into force.

Chapter 11 has been a handy tool for transnational capital via NAFTA, but it's not the only instrument at its disposal.

Brent Patterson is a political activist and writer.

Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead/ Wikimedia Commons

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Categories: News for progressives

The good, the bad and the ugly in NAFTA 2.0

Tue, 2018-10-02 20:04
Sujata Dey

At midnight on Sunday, Canada and the U.S. agreed on a new NAFTA deal, one which would now be called the USMCA, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

Here is the good, the bad and the ugly within the agreement.

Good news first
  • No Chapter 11 between the U.S. and Canada

For many years, the Council of Canadians and others have been advocating to get rid of Chapter 11, the investor-state dispute-settlement (ISDS) process. These are the provisions that allow corporations to sue countries over decisions, even if they are made in the public interest. For years, Canada has faced corporate lawsuits that made provinces renounce public auto insurance, accept toxins and pay for refusing dangerous quarries.

Now, at the request of the U.S., there will be no ISDS process between U.S. and Canada. This is a paradigm shift for Canada, which has been actively promoting the mechanism in deals such as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with Europe (CETA) and the new Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP),and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). Canada is the most sued country under ISDS, with 37 cases, mostly by U.S. companies. The U.S. has only faced 21 cases and has never lost one. So the elimination of Chapter 11 will be beneficial to Canada's public interest.

  • No energy proportionality

Energy proportionality, which obliges Canada to export a set amount of energy to the United States, is not in the agreement. However, the agreement does not allow limiting exports or imports. Council of Canadians members are responsible for this victory.

The iffy
  • Culture

Canada said that it has kept its cultural exemption from the original NAFTA despite pressure from the United States to abandon it. This means that Canada can keep cultural protection policies that shield culture from the marketplace and the U.S. mega cultural industries.

While this is true, it has the flaws of the original agreement. Namely, it defines cultural industries in the way that they were defined in the 1990s before Netflix, video games and the online world.

However, the digital trade section of NAFTA disallows restrictions on digital commerce, preventing Canada from enacting future policies that would protect culture in the digital world.

  • Environmental and labour chapters

It is no surprise that "climate change" is not mentioned within U.S. President Donald Trump's new agreement. While there is an environmental chapter, nothing refers to the Paris agreement, so the chapter is relatively weak. The agreement makes some reference to pollution, marine traffic, endangered animals, ozone, etc, but not to global warming.

The labour chapter and the environment chapter both suffer from weak enforcement. While the government will say that it is binding, it is only enforceable in the event that existing laws actually affect investment. There are, though, some interesting demands that Mexico reinforces collective bargaining and increase auto wages. While the labour chapter is lacking, it does reflect the concerted effort of organized labour in the three countries and would be an improvement over the original NAFTA.

  • Water

The Council of Canadians has argued that water should be protected. In the original NAFTA, there was an annex that defined water as a good, which meant if they started, Canada could not limit water exports to the U.S. Moreover, Canada would be bound by proportionality provisions to continue exporting water. In this agreement, there is a side letter on water, but it is very unclear how enforceable that is. And it only applies to natural water, not to bottled water, or any other water that has been made a commodity.

The bad
  • Farmers and BGH milk

The U.S. access will gain 3.59-per-cent access to our supply management system, even more than what we are giving in the CPTPP. This means that combined with the access given in the CPTPP, and CETA, we will have fewer farms. Farmers will have to compete with U.S. milk, which is subsidized and uses bovine growth hormones (BGH) to increase production. BGH is not allowed to be used in Canada due to its health effects.

  • Gender and Indigenous chapters

They aren't there. Goodbye progressive trade! 

  • Drugs and patent prices

Canada and Mexico caved on this. Our patents on biologic drugs will go up to 10 years. Right now, it is eight years. Remember: these are the most expensive drugs on the market and they are vital for arthritis, Crohn's and ulcerative colitis sufferers, among others. It will also make the prices impossible for a public drug system – pharmacare – to bear. Already, increasing biologic patents from five to eight years were estimated to come at a price of $800 million a year. According to the U.S.-based group Public Citizen, for access to medicines, this is the U.S.'s worst free-trade deal. It will also facilitate evergreening, the process of extending patents for new uses of drugs.

  • Regulatory cooperation

The agreement is filled with language about how rules – safety, environmental, food labelling and others – are to be handled, with the idea of "cooperation." It also talks about "risk-based" handling of regulations, which means the onus is on individuals and not on industry to prove harm. Regulatory cooperation allows companies to bypass parliamentary processes and come up with its own rules. It also has administration rules that will facilitate "simpler" rules around things such as building pipelines, and ensuring that public interest rules are harder to maintain and need to be justified.

  • ISDS still exists between the U.S. and Mexico

It is not, however, out of the cards between Mexico and the U.S., but it has been reduced in scope, limiting what kinds of lawsuits qualify, making sure investors really are from the country they say they are, and making sure they go through domestic courts first. Big U.S. Oil, though, made a special push to keep ISDS on state contracts. Mexico has been eagerly reforming its energy contracts and wishes to review them. Government contracts in energy, telecommunications and infrastructure will be subject to ISDS provisions.

Other information

There is a dispute settlement mechanism similar to Chapter 19 and a sunset clause for renewal of the agreement every 16 years. There are also side letters agreeing on the process of getting rid of 232 tariffs on autos. Steel and aluminum tarrifs are not in the agreement.

This is a preliminary analysis. With our allies, we will continue to update you with more information. It is a comprehensive agreement, so it will take some time to understand the larger ramifications.

Sujata Dey is a Trade Campaigner with the Council of Canadians. This article was first posted on the Council of Canadians blog.

Photo: Fee Plumley/Flickr

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Categories: News for progressives

Conservatives would have fought harder to protect Canadian dairy farmers? Don't believe it!

Tue, 2018-10-02 12:42
David J. Climenhaga

A lot of Canada's Conservatives were wearing long faces yesterday about the impact of the freshly inked United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement on this country's dairy industry.

As political sins go, this small hypocrisy is a minor one. Why not let the sitting government take the rap for a treaty with our big, bullying neighbour that is certain to be unpopular with a small but vocal and well-financed group of voters inclined to support Conservatives anyway?

What's more, the current leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada can hardly fail to be mindful of the fact Andrew Scheer became leader last year in large part because he took the side of the dairy lobby against the ideological market-fundamentalism of his rival Maxime Bernier, who for much of the leadership race appeared to be the frontrunner.

Just the same, you shouldn't believe them.

Movement conservatives have been salivating at the prospect of dismantling supply management in dairy, poultry and eggs for decades. Why do you think Bernier came so close to winning the Tory leadership last year? If the USMCA is a step in that direction, they'll struggle to hide their satisfaction that Americans are doing their work for them.

If the worst that happens to Canadian supply-managed agricultural industries is a ban on grated cheese from Canada, they got off very lightly, although it will be galling for them to hear U.S. President Donald Trump boasting that he Made America Grate Again!

Puns aside, even a 3.6-per-cent opening in the market to large-scale American producers has the potential to dramatically impact smaller Canadian dairies, driving down prices paid to producers and pushing some out of business.

This will not be the end of it, either. Canadian market fundamentalists, many still in CPC ranks, will continue beavering away at dismantling supply management. If they can use the USMCA as an excuse, they'll be delighted to do so. If they can also blame the Liberals while shedding crocodile tears for the poor farmers, so much the better.

In the meantime, Cap-C Conservatives led by Scheer will continue to claim that, had they been in power, they would have negotiated a better deal with Trump than the Canadians led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.

How? By kissing Trump's posterior sooner and more passionately? By promising to campaign for him in 2020? (Devin Dreeshen, c'mon down!) By letting their affinity for Trump's policies and prejudices persuade them to roll over on everything, as they advocated pretty much right up until the moment there was a deal?

Under the circumstances, this is probably the best deal that could have been achieved, and it is at least possible that Trudeau's negotiating team -- which included at the advisory level former Opposition leader Rona Ambrose and other Tory heavy hitters -- did better because they stuck to their message than they would have if they'd hurried to sign, as the Opposition demanded.

Mexican auto workers will even be getting a raise to $16 an hour -- above the $15 top Canadian minimum wage that came into effect in Alberta yesterday to the noisy consternation of the local fast-food industry. In the long run, this will be good for Canadian and U.S. autoworkers and their Mexican counterparts alike.

Regardless, it's always easy to say you could have steered a better course when you don't have your hand on the tiller. Canadian Conservatives are masters at this charade.

If you think I'm wrong, remember that it was Conservatives who gave away the Canadian store in the first place with the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement in 1987.

That was when we handed over control of our economy to another country, despite warnings by patriotic Canadians that it would be all but impossible to take it back. And that was what gave an anomalously bad U.S. president such a strong hand when it came to "re-negotiating" CUSFTA's successor agreement, NAFTA.

But as Britain's looming Brexit catastrophe shows, these so-called trade agreements are easier to get into than to get out of.

Even hard-core opponents of globalizing trade treaties would likely have, upon reflection, realized that under the circumstances of 2018 there was not much to be done but negotiate the least awful deal possible.

By that measure, Trudeau and Freeland appear to have succeeded, if only because what we ended up with isn't a catastrophe, a disaster, or even much of a change.

It may be, of course, as many commentators have observed, that all that was really required was a new name that Trump -- in deep trouble with literally half the United States electorate thanks to his latest pick for the U.S. Supreme Court -- could take to voters before next month's mid-term U.S. Congressional elections.

More likely, though, some horse-trading was inevitable because professional negotiators had been given a mandate.

Meanwhile, giving NAFTA 2.0 a new name makes it explicit that Trump has enjoyed a limited success on trade -- which he will, of course, claim to be the greatest trade victory in American history.

As for USMCA, it's not such a bad name for a so-called free trade agreement with the United States, for two reasons:

1. It drops the word "trade," which NAFTA had very little to do with anyway. It will remain a corporate rights deal designed to limit the rights of workers and voters in all North American countries.

2. It implicitly references the threat that lurks behind almost all globalizing trade deals: The United States Marine Corps, commonly known as the USMC.

If it's mildly insulting because it puts Canada behind Mexico in Trump's affections, so be it. Like our dairy farmers, we got off lightly. The day may come soon when it's not so good to be publicly identified as a friend of President Trump.

Canadians would be wise, of course, to try seriously to diversify our trading relationships with the rest of the world.

But with this speed bump on the road to total American domination out of the way, I imagine not much more than lip service will be paid to that worthy goal.

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

Photo: Andrew Scheer/Flickr

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Categories: News for progressives

New NAFTA is a further betrayal of Canada

Tue, 2018-10-02 00:40
October 1, 2018Canada capitulates to Trump on trade with renegotiated NAFTAPierre Trudeau called the original trade deal with the U.S. "a monstrous swindle." The new deal is that, plus a set of unnecessary capitulations to shut up Donald Trump on trade. It won't.
Categories: News for progressives

Canada capitulates to Trump on trade with renegotiated NAFTA

Tue, 2018-10-02 00:33
EconomyPolitics in Canada

The trade deal signed by Canada with the U.S. on Sunday night is called the United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA).

If approved by the U.S. Congress, it will replace NAFTA.

The late Mel Hurtig, a foremost publisher, authored his first book about the 1988 Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (FTA), the trade deal that NAFTA replaced. The Betrayal of Canada was a number 1 bestseller.

The USMCA deal awaits a sequel: The Further Betrayal of Canada.

The outrageous 25 per cent U.S. steel and 10 per cent U.S. aluminium tariffs remain in place, choking Canadian industry. Maybe that is why there is no pretext this time of pretending that a continental economic integration project cooked up in Washington for its benefit should be called a "free trade" agreement.

The U.S. tariffs were applied to protect national security. Canada is a NORAD security partner with the U.S. in joint continental defence and a NATO security partner of the U.S. as well. Despite being inside the joint security perimeter, Canada did not get exempted from the application of these Section 232 national security tariffs. Worse, whenever the U.S. decides to play the national security card, it can do it again. Why sign a trade deal with a country that makes up bogus excuses to move jobs from your country to their country?

On automotive trade Canada was promised a reasonable quota for future exports. Good. But that still leaves other sectors open to U.S. bullying.

In Article 32.10 Canada agreed not to negotiate commercial agreements with non-market countries. That would be China. Should Canada decide to sign a trade agreement with China, the non-market country, it would be booted out of USMCA. For trade expert Peter Clark this amounts to Canada being treated as a vassal state by the U.S.

In the original FTA talks, chief U.S. negotiator Peter Murphy had a handwritten list of issues he wanted discussed that got into the hands of the media. The list included scrutinizing currency rates. Canada resisted.

In the new deal, Chapter 33 is entitled "Macroeconomic Policies and Exchange Rate Matters." From now on Canada gets to sit down with the U.S. whenever they think our dollar is too low and admit to currency manipulation. So much for central bank independence. Macroeconomic policy -- that would be government spending and taxation -- is something Canada now has to co-ordinate with the U.S. as well.

The key instruments of Canadian economic development have been federal Crown corporations. Under this deal in Chapter 22 they become State-Owned Enterprises and their activities are restricted to non-competition with private sector companies. So forget creating a public sector company to build transit vehicles and employ autoworkers. The USMCA text spells out the penalties to be paid for non-compliance -- in other words, for pursuing the public interest as defined by the federal Parliament.

Remember the 2008 collapse of Wall Street and the multi-trillion-dollar bailouts of U.S. banks … but not of clients with mortgages?

Under Chapter 17, the USMCA allows U.S. financial institutions to set up in Canada without receiving "lender of last resort" support from Canada. Who then is going to do the bailouts when the unsupervised U.S. banks go bust again? Under the Basel Accords on banking practices, the U.S. Federal Reserve has to step up in the event of solvency crises, but the host country, Canada, would look after a liquidity crisis.

The false claim of "Canadian cultural exemption" is back. That would be the provision where Canada asserts its right to make investments in cultural industries … and where the U.S. gets to retaliate in kind against any sector it chooses to single out (Article 32.6: 4) if Canada does provide cultural subsidies! Little wonder the federal government has been so reluctant to make any investments in culture.

Canada granted further concessions to U.S. demands on intellectual property rights, which are monopoly rights. Goodbye, Trudeau-promised pharmacare.

In a startling surrender to the extraterritorial application of U.S. law, under Annex 3-B the Liberals will allow Americans to interfere in milk pricing. Trudeau waited until the day before the Quebec election to admit the dairy sector was going to be subject to U.S. demands. The federal government will have to deal with the fallout once the next Quebec government finds out what a Liberal promise to protect dairy farmers amounted to.

Team Trudeau needed a deal because the Business Council of Canada wanted a deal. President John Manley had earlier confided to the Financial Post that anyone who thought Canada was not going to get a worse deal from Trump that it had under NAFTA was delusional. He was previewing what he would accept.

To pre-empt an attack from Conservatives, prominent former ministers James Moore and Rona Ambrose were advisers on the deal. In an attempt to mute the NDP, former party president Brian Topp was invited to take part as well.

The USMCA is being spun in Canada as a tweak to NAFTA. By the time the U.S. implementing legislation gets written up, even the trade policy specialists usually onside are going to be critical of much that is new.

So far not one new positive element has been identified in the USMCA as a benefit for Canada.

Pierre Trudeau called the original FTA with the U.S. "a monstrous swindle." The new deal is that, plus a set of unnecessary capitulations to shut up Donald Trump on trade. It won't.

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

Photo: @WhiteHouse on Twitter/Wikimedia Commons

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NAFTAUSMCAtrade dealsTrudeau governmentDonald TrumpDuncan CameronOctober 1, 2018Our record of Liberal-Conservative governments in CanadaWhether Liberal or Conservative in name, once in government, both parties have regularly adopted each other's main policies.NAFTA 2.0 is no cause for celebrationTrudeau says it's "a good day for Canada," but is that really the case? While the full text of the USMCA needs to be thoroughly analyzed, a preliminary review raises numerous concerns.A renegotiated NAFTA that satisfies Trump would benefit the U.S., but never CanadaInstead of being troubled by Donald Trump's threat to withdraw from NAFTA, Chrystia Freeland should be preparing to withdraw Canada
Categories: News for progressives

If you want to dress up as Thor for Halloween, is making your own costume a copyright violation?

Mon, 2018-10-01 23:14
Civil Liberties WatchPolitics in CanadaTechnology

Halloween is almost upon us and, like every year, people from all ages are gearing up to dress up as their favourite thing or character. While there are some classics -- ghosts, vampires, witches, and punny ones like "cereal" killers -- a lot of us draw directly from popular culture, and that means drawing directly from copyrighted characters. Just as a curiosity: do you think you'd be slapped with a copyright violation notice if you were to reproduce one of these characters' likeness?

It might sound far-fetched, but in the U.S. in 2011 a Halloween costume manufacturer by the name of Underdog Endeavors Inc. was sued by SCG Power Rangers, LLC for the production of Power Ranger costumes. Eventually, the two parties settled, with the costume manufacturer giving up profits obtained from the costume sales. This case has, by far, not been the only one.

In Canada, costume designs are considered to be under copyright. So, mass-producing a costume of Marvel's Thor, for example, without clearing the rights to use the character might not be the best idea. The Copyright Act does contain copyright exceptions for articles that have a "utilitarian function," like clothing -- but there are elements in a costume that might go beyond the clothing function, like Thor's hammer.

The key part here is that, if you are making the costume for your own personal use, you should be OK, as you would likely fall under the "reproduction for private purposes" exception of the Copyright Act. The cases mentioned above infringed copyright laws likely due to the fact that these companies were manufacturing costumes to sell to others without having the rights to reproduce the likeness of the characters -- which is a different case from the DIY Halloween garbs we are talking about here.

So, again, crafting your own costume -- even if it is emulating a copyrighted character -- is protected by the Copyright Act. And this might sound obvious, but it is one of those provisions we take for granted, and the law can change at any time. In fact, right now the government of Canada is running a consultation to decide on the future of copyright -- and lobbyists are all too eager to tip the rules in their favour. Let's not take the exceptions that allow us to create and craft away for granted. Canada has some of the strongest and more progressive copyright laws in the world, so let's make sure we keep them that way. You can have your say at: LetsTalkCopyright.ca And in the meantime, craft away!

A special thank you to the folks at CIPPIC for reviewing this article and providing their expertise on the accuracy of the legal side of copyright trivia.

Marianela Ramos Capelo is a Design Specialist in the communications team for OpenMedia, a non-profit organization that works to keep the internet open, affordable, and surveillance-free.

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Digital Freedom UpdatecopyrightHalloween costumesintellectual propertyMarianela Ramos CapeloDigital Freedom UpdateOctober 1, 2018Who owns your tattoos? Copyright issues are all around us.Have you ever thought about how nearly every logo, piece of design (yes, including your tattoos), song, and movie has been or is currently under someone else's copyright?Copyright in the new TPP: A milestone or a PR move?In a win for digital rights advocates, the Canadian government took a strong stance on the Intellectual Property (IP) chapter despite strong pressure from other nations to rush through with the deal.Over 55,000 voices are on their way to Minister Freeland’s officeThis week we delivered over 55,000 signatures calling for the protection of our digital rights in the new NAFTA to Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland!
Categories: News for progressives

NAFTA 2.0 is no cause for celebration

Mon, 2018-10-01 21:33
Brent Patterson

While the full text of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) needs to be thoroughly analyzed, a preliminary review raises numerous concerns.

Mainstream media coverage this morning has focused on the implications of the deal on the automotive and dairy markets and to some extent the Chapter 19 dispute settlement provision.

Plainly stated, this agreement will not bring back well-paying jobs for auto workers in Detroit, it will hurt Canadian farmers (given U.S. exports of dairy into this country will increase), and the Chapter 19 dispute settlement provision is still a weak protection against unfairly imposed tariffs.

Furthermore, the key issues of climate change, Indigenous rights, and pharmacare are left unaddressed.

It's not surprising that the words "climate change" do not appear in the text, but that doesn't make that reality any less unacceptable. There is nothing in this agreement that constrains the power of Big Oil or that keeps carbon emissions from exceeding the 1.5 degrees Celsius limit.

Nor do the words "free, prior and informed consent" for Indigenous nations appear in the agreement. This fundamental right is ignored.

And the patents for transnational pharmaceutical corporations will be extended -- for biologics from eight years to 10 years. That means more profit for Big Pharma corporations and higher drug prices for people.

What about specific language?

USMCA's environment chapter states, "Each Party affirms its commitment to implement the multilateral environmental agreements to which it is a party." Given Trump has already announced that the U.S. is withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, and the Trudeau government just bought a carbon-intensive pipeline, these words carry little meaning.

On Indigenous rights, the text states, "The Parties recognize that the environment plays an important role in the economic, social and cultural well-being of Indigenous peoples and local communities, and acknowledge the importance of engaging with such groups in the long-term conservation of our environment." There is no reference to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

On pharmaceuticals with biologics, the text states, "a Party shall ... provide effective market protection ... for a period of at least 10 years from the date of first marketing approval of that product..." This two-year increase will serve only to profit Big Pharma and make pharmacare that much more expensive to implement.

On regulatory cooperation, the agreement says, "The Parties are committed to expanding their cooperative relationship on environmental matters, recognizing it will help them achieve their shared environmental goals and objectives, including the development and improvement of environmental protection, practices, and technologies." Given both Trudeau and Trump support the dangerous practice of offshore oil and gas drilling, this language is pure spin.

This is not the "progressive" trade agreement that the Trudeau government had promised (even if that was also largely spin on its part).

We can celebrate the phasing out of the Chapter 11 investor-state provision, a controversial provision previously defended by Trudeau, and the energy proportionality provision, though the deal reportedly does not allow limiting exports or imports, but these are disciplines that should never have existed in the first place.

And now after months of the Trudeau government stating that it would not negotiate in public, we are left with a finalized text that it has a parliamentary majority, secured with just 39.47 per cent of the popular vote, to pass the USMCA as is.

The people of the United States, Mexico, Canada, Quebec and Indigenous nations have every right to expect better.

Brent Patterson is a political activist and writer.

Photo: Jim Winstead/Flickr

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Categories: News for progressives

Rick Strankman out as UCP candidate, Nate Horner in, deep in Alberta's dinosaur country

Mon, 2018-10-01 11:45
David J. Climenhaga

Even if you're no fan of Rick Strankman, United Conservative Party MLA for Alberta's dinosaur country, you have to feel a little sympathy for the poor guy, skidded from his nomination by a candidate more appealing to party leader Jason Kenney.

Strankman, 65, may not have been the sharpest knife in the UCP's cutlery drawer, but as a Wildrose Party candidate elected to represent the Drumheller-Stettler Riding in 2012 and re-elected under the same party's banner in 2015, he should have been able to expect the nomination again without difficulty. This would normally have been true even after the 2017 double-reverse hostile takeover of the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties that spawned the UCP.

On top of that, Strankman is an official market-fundamentalist hero of Canada's movement conservatives for having been willing to spend time in jail to defy the Canadian Wheat Board and sell his grain illegally in the United States. He was pardoned and praised by no less a conservative avatar than former prime minister Stephen Harper. Naturally, he became the UCP's agriculture critic.

Political sins like his "bring your wife's pie" fundraiser and his comparison of the NDP's carbon levy to genocide barely raised an eyebrow inside UCP circles, and his rural southern Alberta riding is as safe as territory can be for conservative politicians.

But Kenney seems never to have warmed to his MLA's charms and Strankman could match neither the appeal nor the membership-selling skills of Nate Horner, 37, the latest scion of the Horner political clan to spring up in Alberta.

The Canadian Press once described the Horners as "one of the first families of Canadian politics." Jack Horner -- Nate's grandfather -- was a successful Conservative MP from 1958 to 1977, whereupon he crossed the floor of the House of Commons to join the Liberal Cabinet of Pierre Trudeau, where he remained until his voters kicked him out in 1979. (They don't talk much about that in rural Alberta anymore for fear of frightening the children.)

Nate Horner is also a relative for former Alberta deputy premiers Hugh Horner (appointed by Peter Lougheed) and Doug Horner (appointed by Alison Redford). Yet another Horner scion is running for the federal Conservatives in British Columbia. Readers will get the picture.

Unquestionably, Horner will present a more appealing face of "modern" Alberta conservatism than Strankman could have done.

The UCP news release announcing Horner's victory dealt summarily with Strankman in the final paragraph.

"I would also like to thank Rick Strankman for his immense contributions to the conservative movement, from going to jail to protest the unjustness of the Canadian Wheat Board to getting elected to the Alberta Legislature in 2012," Kenney was quoted as saying. "I am looking forward to working with Rick in the Legislature in the coming months and whatever else the future holds. I know I join all Albertans in thanking Rick for his service to our province." (Translation: Now get lost.)

Needless to say, this provides an interesting and ironic contrast to Kenney's views on pipeline opponents who engage in civil disobedience.

According to the incisive political analysts at the CBC, apparently still conditioned to the decades of one-party rule that preceded the election of the Alberta NDP in 2015, this means Strankman "will no longer be an MLA following next year's provincial election."

That may happen, but it actually means no such thing. Strankman still has the option of running as an independent, or he could be a natural fit for the fledgling Freedom Conservative Party led by Strathmore-Brooks MLA Derek Fildebrandt.

Fildebrandt hasn't got back to me yet about whether he'd encourage Strankman to take up the fight with the FCP. But why not? Drumheller-Stettler's not territory likely to be welcoming to the NDP.

Did Tzeporah Berman just spring a trap on Jason Kenney?

In his hasty response to environmentalist Tzeoporah Berman's broadside Saturday, Kenney seems to want us to believe he doesn't give a hang about what the people who run Alberta's powerful fossil fuel industry think.

This will sound improbable to anyone who has followed Kenney's career. Nevertheless, having gone on this long, he may be reluctant to stop treating Berman as an enemy of Alberta's oil sector just because some of the biggest big shots in the industry wanted her in the job he's been screeching about her having once occupied.

By reminding us all of this, Berman seems to have caught the Opposition leader in a bit of a rhetorical trap. Accordingly, he was soon demonstrating the characteristically clever and slippery tactics we have come to associate with him by claiming not to care what the titans of petroleum think.

Not having been involved in picking the members of the Oil Sands Advisory Group, Kenney wrote, "I can't speak to the alleged involvement of those CEOs. … At the same time, I work for the people of Alberta, not a few oil executives." (Emphasis added; chuckles permitted.)

Ergo, while Kenney backhandedly acknowledged the truth of Berman's statement, he's not about to start defending what he's spent months publicly obsessing about "regardless of whether or not some industry players thought it was a wise idea at the time." (Emphasis added again, of course.)

Other than the fact the language used sounds remarkably like that of a former Maoist -- "fellow travellers" indeed! -- there's not much else in his retort that's new. Still, it would have been interesting to be a fly on the wall when an oilpatch billionaire like N. Murray Edwards heard himself being described as just "some industry player."

Kenney is a clever old career politician. Still, to wriggle out of this well-sprung trap, he may have to chew off a limb.

How's that Brexit thing working out?

Many readers will recall the June 23, 2016, Brexit referendum night tweet by Mr. Kenney -- then still pondering a run to lead the federal Conservatives and needing to fire up his Old Stock Canadian base.

He tweeted: "Congratulations to the British people on choosing hope over fear by embracing a confident, sovereign future, open to the world!"

So, with six months left before Departure Day, how's that Brexit thing working out?

This just in from the New York Times: "It's looking very grisly."

How grisly?

  • Possible rolling blackouts and even collapse of the energy system in Northern Ireland (the British military may have to redeploy generators from Afghanistan to keep the lights on)
  • The Conservative government has appointed a minister to guarantee food supplies to manage post-Brexit shortages (food rationing?)
  • The government may have to fly planeloads of emergency medical supplies into the country (an insulin shortage is feared)
  • This assumes the planes can fly -- apparently Brexit may ground them, too!
  • Mass return of unemployed Britons who can no longer work in Europe

Brexit is scheduled to happen on March 29, 2019.

Perhaps after that Kenney can lead a campaign to get Canadians to donate food and medicine to post-Brexit Britain. Murray Edwards, nowadays a resident of London, could serve as Kenney's man on the ground.

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

There is no challenge to Canada's bloated war economy

Fri, 2018-09-28 22:25
September 28, 2018'Bombs not homes' defines Trudeau's feminist foreign policyTo distract from the glaring failure to prioritize child care over warfare and housing over drones and new bombers, the Liberals continue to dance about the global stage as self-proclaimed feminists.
Categories: News for progressives

D-J Composites lockout is a refresher on reality of picket lines

Fri, 2018-09-28 21:12
EconomyLabour

Union work stoppages have become quite rare in Canada. In the current decade, strikes and lockouts have accounted for less than one-30th of one per cent of all working time -- down more than 90 per cent from the strike-prone 1970s. The year 2016 set a new postwar low: just 631,870 days lost, breaking the previous record set in 1960 (even though today's work force is more than three times bigger). And more of those disputes these days are lockouts -- when employers stop production until the workers concede -- rather than strikes, when unions take the lead.

Given that context, perhaps it's not surprising many Canadians have forgotten (or never learned) how these things actually work. Someone who chanced upon a rare picket line might think it's just a demonstration: protesters gathering to express an opinion. They have the right to demonstrate, but probably should do it politely.

However, picket lines are not demonstrations. Pickets are a form of economic warfare. It's a process, accepted and protected by the courts and the Charter of Rights, whereby two sides impose costs on each other to compel agreement. The costs to the employer are lost production and profits; the costs to the workers are lost wages. The side that imposes a greater cost of disagreement on the other, while withstanding the costs they incur themselves, is likely to prevail. While not to be taken lightly, occasional work stoppages are a healthy part of normal industrial relations.

A refresher course in the reality of picket lines is now being provided by a small but nasty dispute in Gander, N.L. Thirty-two workers at D-J Composites, an aerospace components manufacturer, were locked out in December, 2016, for rejecting employer demands regarding wages and other contract provisions. The factory was originally built by CHC Helicopter in 1999, supported by provincial subsidies, and was sold in 2012 to new owners headquartered in Kansas (a "right-to-work" state where employers don't have to bother with unions). The Newfoundland labour board has twice found D-J guilty of bad-faith bargaining, but the company is sticking with its demands and the lockout continues. Worse yet, D-J has hired replacement workers to keep some production going. Full disclosure: the locked-out workers belong to Unifor, the union I used to work for.

After 640 days, the employer is clearly hoping the union will just go away. That might work in Kansas, but it won't happen here. New interest was generated this month, when Unifor released a one-minute video identifying some of the replacements ("scabs," in union parlance) who drive through the picket line every day. Much hand-wringing occurred over this supposed "bully" tactic -- although no less an authority than the Supreme Court has confirmed that a picket line is not a private event and people crossing them have no right to anonymity.

Through 640 emotional days, the picket line has remained peaceful: the only injury was a union member hit by a vehicle charging through the line during a snowstorm. But genuine economic violence is being done every day to 32 workers separated from their livelihoods by an aggressive employer. The employer's position is all the stronger when it can hire others to keep working for less -- but no replacement worker should ever think they can participate in that process without facing scrutiny or challenge.

Ironically, Newfoundland Premier Dwight Ball has a promising solution to this mess sitting right on his desk, in the form of recommendations from an Industrial Inquiry Commission convened by the provincial government in 2010 following a long dispute at Vale's nickel operations in Voisey's Bay. Headed by labour lawyer John Roil, and advised by Prof. Gregor Murray, labour-relations specialist at the University of Montreal, the commission recognized the traditional balance of power between employers and workers has been disrupted by the power and flexibility exercised by global corporations. They recommended modernizing labour law to ensure foreign firms understand and respect Canadian practices. They also proposed a fallback mechanism to arbitrate settlements in intractable disputes, so long as certain conditions are met, including failure to bargain in good faith.

Those sensible recommendations were never implemented, but they were tailor-made to prevent long work stoppages such as this one. Prohibiting replacement workers -- especially during management-led lockouts -- would also promote faster settlements; British Columbia and Quebec already do this. In the end, provincial intervention of some kind is essential to end this conflict.

The D-J Composites lockout, while small, is a telling reminder that employers hold the upper hand in most modern industrial disputes -- and Canadian labour law has failed to address this imbalance. Economists and politicians alike bemoan persistently weak wage growth and stagnant household incomes. But this nasty little quarrel reveals exactly why this is happening. Governments across the country, starting with Mr. Ball's, should watch and learn.

Jim Stanford is Harold Innis Industry Professor of Economics at McMaster University. This column originally appeared in The Globe and Mail.

Photo: Library and Archives Canada, e000756740/Wikimedia Commons

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NewfoundlandLabour DisputeslockoutsJim StanfordSeptember 28, 2018Evidence shows: Unions and collective bargaining reduce povertyDifferences in collective bargaining coverage explain about one-third of the differences in relative poverty across most of the industrialized world.Unions, equality and democracyUnions are an important force for a more democratic society. That is why it is disturbing that Canadian conservatives have recently embraced the extreme anti-union agenda of the American right.Despite constant propaganda, the number of workers who wish they had a union is growingDespite the herculean efforts of the North American right, it would seem increasing numbers of workers are doing the math.
Categories: News for progressives

Keeyask Generation Project is another dam problem

Fri, 2018-09-28 18:12
Brent Patterson

The Keeyask Project is a hydro-electric dam project that has been under construction since July 2014 on the Nelson River within Treaty 5 territory in northern Manitoba, about 725 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.

Manitoba Hydro is the majority shareholder in the project with the Tataskweyak Cree Nation, War Lake First Nation, York Factory First Nation, and Fox Lake Cree Nation holding a 25 per cent share in the mega-project.

The Flin Flon Reminder recently reported that "work slated for the project throughout the rest of 2018 includes completion of river diversion and spillway work, powerhouse unit construction and the pouring of more than 100,000 cubic metres of concrete."

The generating station could be operational as early as the fall of 2020.

And even though the four First Nations are partners in the project, major concerns are being raised about the impacts of the dam.

Like the Site C dam in Treaty 8 territory in northern British Columbia or the Muskrat Falls dam that will impact Innu and Inuit territories in Labrador, the Keeyask dam will cost billions of public dollars -- and billions more than originally estimated -- that could otherwise be better invested for the public good.

Keeyask was originally to cost $6.5 billion. The building cost is now estimated to be $8.7 billion, and it could eventually cost $10.5 billion.

Like other dams, it will also flood territory. In this instance, Keeyask will flood about 45 square kilometres of boreal taiga lands.

There are also concerns that once the dam is complete, it will impact Split Lake, a water body 60 kilometres downstream from the project that is already affected by other mega-projects -- the Churchill River Diversion and the Lake Winnipeg Regulation.

APTN has reported, "[Douglas] Kitchekeesik fears once the Keeyask dam is complete it will back water up into Split Lake and further erode the shorelines and impact the fisheries."

The impact of that erosion has already meant that the remains of ancestors (some from 1,900 years ago) have been washing out from the banks of the lake.

And even with a 25 per cent share in the project, the APTN report quotes band councillor Robert Spence stating, "The majority partner, the owner, doesn't even include you on any of the major decision-making that takes place."

Furthermore, APTN quotes Spence as noting that, "Heavy traffic to and from the Keeyask worksite had made [Route 280] impassable for community members, including patients who regularly needed to get to the hospital in Thompson for dialysis treatment and other medical needs."

Last month, CBC reported, "Workers at a northern Manitoba Hydro construction site known to some as 'Keeyask-atraz' described a prison-like environment plagued by fear, intimidation, drug and alcohol abuse and discrimination, says a 2017 report that was recently made public."

That article adds, "Indigenous employees reported hearing racial slurs and derogatory comments, and complained that they were not given work they were qualified to do."

This follows a recent report from the Manitoba Clean Environment Commission that includes allegations of racism and the sexual abuse of Indigenous women by hydro workers in northern Manitoba dating back to the 1960s.

Then there is the matter of the transmission line.

The 1,384 kilometre Bipole III transmission line is being built from the Keeyask generating station to the Riel Converter Station in the rural municipality of Springfield, which is adjacent to the eastern boundary of Winnipeg.

In January 2015, the Sapotaweyak Cree Nation set up a blockade to stop Manitoba Hydro from clear-cutting a 65-metre-wide path for 250 kilometres through their traditional hunting and gathering territory for the transmission line.

The ancestral lands they sought to protect contain burial grounds and spiritual sites.

The transmission line also infringes on the ancestral lands of Opaskwayak Cree Nation and the Metis people.

Manitoba Metis Federation President David Chartrand has stated, "Keeyask and its related transmission line will affect Metis rights. The Metis have not been taken seriously. We are being told we are a small and inconsequential minority in the Keeyask project area."

While massive hydro-electric dams are often presented as sources of renewable "green" energy, there is a truth -- that includes ecological destruction, violations of Indigenous rights, sexual assault, racism, and billions of dollars of misspent public funds -- beyond that spin that needs to be seen.

Brent Patterson is a political activist and writer.

Twitter photo by @manitobahydro

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Categories: News for progressives

'Bombs not homes' defines Trudeau's feminist foreign policy

Fri, 2018-09-28 02:59
FeminismPolitics in Canada

As Canada's three main political parties prepare for the 2019 election, there is one issue on which they will all agree: there will be no challenge to Canada's bloated war economy.

While right-wing parties will rail against government waste and improper spending (an attack they usually aim at social programs that on the whole function well and would perform even better if properly funded), the federal War Department receives no such criticism, even when its fiscal mismanagement is well documented.

So infused is the myth of Canadian benevolence on the world stage that no one from the NDP, Liberals or Conservatives will raise a scintilla of dissent regarding the already enormous $20-billion annual investment in an organization that regularly produces questionable financial audits, continues to cover up its role in war crimes such as the torture of Afghan detainees, and treats its veterans with a degree of disrespect that is beyond reprehensible.

To date, no one sitting in Parliament has condemned one of the largest impending thefts from the poor ever undertaken by Ottawa: the immoral and wholly unnecessary $60 billion-plus investment in a new generation of warships. The War Department has already spent over $39 million reviewing bids for the warship contracts, and is seeking an additional $54 million to continue doing so, even as it concedes that it does not know how much the warships will eventually cost (an invitation to corporate entities to charge whatever they please since, in the end, they know Ottawa will pony up). The federal government has already been accused of rigging the bids, given that it appears to be favouring a company linked to Irving Shipyards.  

Even assuming such megaprojects are needed -- which they most certainly are not -- the carelessness with which soldiers' lives are treated in the process of procuring war materiel is particularly galling. Indeed, during a dispute heard at a summertime trade tribunal, Canada argued that it has absolutely no obligation to ensure that the equipment it purchases actually works. This dispute was in the context of their admitted failure to test recently purchased search and rescue gear for the military and coast guard. The message to soldiers and sailors is clear: we have no responsibility to ensure you have a safe workplace, and when you do get hurt on the job due to our negligence, you will spend years fighting Veterans Affairs to receive benefits.  

Warfare over child care

To help distract from this glaring failure to prioritize child care over warfare and housing over drones and new bombers, the Liberals continue to dance about the global stage as self-proclaimed feminists, from hosting last weekend's much heralded Montreal gathering of female foreign affairs ministers to the laughable creation of a new ambassador for women, peace and security.

"The new ambassadorial position I announced today is just one step in our ongoing effort to put some meat on the bones of this feminist foreign policy," Chrystia Freeland said proudly, repeating the mantra about how much her government supports women's rights as human rights. Yet Freeland continues to approve weapons sales to the world's most misogynist regimes (USA, Saudi Arabia) and is silent as her own government funds the War Department to the detriment of women.

Indeed, every dollar that goes down the rat hole of militarism is one that could be used to stop the endless murder of women in this land (a woman is now killed every other day in Canada by a man). A coalition of women's shelters released a new report reminding Canadians that:

"Our goal is to see a Canada where every woman living with violence is able to access comparable levels of services and protection, no matter where she lives. Currently, that is not the case.  Canada currently has a federal strategy on Gender Based Violence. Its reach is limited to the areas of responsibility of the federal government and thus does not seek to ensure that women in all areas of the country have access to comparable levels of services and protection."

Among the barriers faced by women are "poor legislative protections, insufficient social and housing supports, inadequate funding and increases, deficient data collection and monitoring, and convoluted and overlapping information." While at the United Nations this week, neither Freeland nor Trudeau addressed why they have failed to implement a UN-mandated national action plan to end violence against women and girls.

While liberal-minded types glowed on Twitter and Facebook about the women's gathering in Montreal, few pointed out that Freeland's Swedish and South African counterparts, for example, oversee weapons exports that regularly keep their respective countries in the top ranks of arms exporters.

Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, said that calling one's foreign policy feminist is a "great step, in that it opens up the space for us to come in with specific demands, like: stop selling weapons to Saudi Arabia or sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons." (Canada refuses to sign the nuclear weapons treaty and continues to stand by its $15-billion weapons sale to the Saudis).

Poverty continues to grow

While the Trudeau-Freeland warfare state continues to grow, Ottawa has also announced a "visionary" strategy to reduce poverty by a few percentage points by 2030 (assuming on their part that is it OK to leave yet another generation suffering from hunger and homelessness for another dozen years). But with this strategy, they announced not a single dime in new spending to achieve this goal. While the funds are clearly available to end poverty in Canada tomorrow, the political will simply is not there.

Despite decades of friendly rhetoric about helping those without money, the rate of poverty in this country has been relatively unchanged for the past half century. As Canada Without Poverty points out, almost five million people in Canada are officially deemed to live in poverty.

In 1971, Ian Adams, William Cameron, Brian Hill and Peter Henz -- all of whom had resigned from a Senate committee tasked with studying poverty when it became clear that senators were not interested in eliminating the causes of poverty -- wrote their own study, The Real Poverty Report. Reminding readers that "to be poor in our society is to suffer the most outrageous kinds of violence perpetrated by human beings on other human beings," they went on to ask a pertinent question, one rarely addressed by those in political life:

"What are the consequences for a society that claims to have a democratic system, enjoys trappings of wealth and economic power spectacularly beyond the reach of most nations in the world, but allows one-fifth of its population to live and die in a cycle of unrelieved misery?"

They were reminded in their study of Jean-Paul Sartre's description of the affluent, one that fits perfectly for the Trudeau Liberals, "who have it in their power to produce alterations for the better but instead work assiduously to perpetuate ancient swindles while professing humane goals." Even in 1971, at a time when Canadian nationalist mythmakers incorrectly labelled Canada a peaceable kingdom, the authors point out that "Canada has over the years allocated more for military expenditure than it has in the area of social welfare."

While the need for an immediate housing investment and income supports is beyond glaring, monies continue to flow elsewhere, especially to the military. The amazing amount of money thrown away includes a top-heavy bureaucracy, with the number of admirals and generals having grown 60 per cent since 2003 (despite the military itself only growing an estimated two per cent during that time period). Current War Department Chief Jonathan Vance is unashamed abut the number of men strutting about Ottawa with the massive fruit salad on their chests, and he actually plans to expand their numbers even more, especially since Ottawa will invest well over $1 billion in a new facility for the War Department to accompany an $800-million building in the former Nortel campus in the city's west end.   

Ultimately, despite the happy smiles and collegial back slapping for good feminist speaking points, the Liberals and their friends across the aisles in Parliament all continue to reign over a society that, in spending far more on war than on social needs, is approaching, as Martin Luther King Jr. repeatedly pointed out, spiritual death. It might be a good idea before volunteering or donating to these political parties to ask whether one really wants to contribute to that spiritual death.

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

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Canadian militarismTrudeau governmentmilitary spendingcanadian militaryMatthew BehrensSeptember 28, 2018Trudeau gaslights Canadian women and ignores their safetyFor a self-proclaimed feminist prime minister, Justin Trudeau has utterly failed in his government's efforts to protect the national security of women.Liberals' new poverty reduction strategy is more PR than strategy The problem with the federal government's new anti-poverty statement is that it includes no new poverty reduction measures.Official rates of employment overlook poorly paid jobs, poverty, inequalityThere are sombre facts and figures available that paint a much darker picture of unemployment in this country than the basic statistics alone.
Categories: News for progressives

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