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Alberta's top 10 political news stories of 2018: It's not all about that pipeline

Mon, 2018-12-31 22:16
December 31, 2018Politics in CanadaAlberta's top 10 political news stories of 2018: It's not all about that pipelineMars didn't invade Alberta, but orphan wells could end up being bigger than Orson Wells! We need a Green New Deal … or at least a sales tax! Don't hold your breath for either.Alberta politicsAB
Categories: News for progressives

Will 2019 be the year we make America native again?

Mon, 2018-12-31 07:22
December 30, 2018Indigenous RightsUS PoliticsWill 2019 be the year we make America native again?Trump's presidency represents a clear and present danger to Canada, and his disastrous policies have particularly devastating impacts on sovereign Indigenous nations across Turtle Island.Donald TrumpIndigenous rightsCA
Categories: News for progressives

Make a resolution to strengthen Canadian independent media

Sun, 2018-12-30 02:08
rabble staff

Dear readers,

Wow. We’ve reached the end of 2018 (can you believe it?) and big changes lies around the bend!

Be a part of the change and make a resolution for 2019 to support independent media with a donation before December 31!

2019 will be a major election year in Canada, and with your support we will continue to our commitment to provide you with exclusive access to the coverage, debates, and diverse voices that are missing in mainstream coverage, in the lead-up to the various campaign trails. 

As the federal election draws closer, we are confident that we can be a strong independent voice, striving to amplify the voice of progressives all over Canada, as parties begin to gear up, and the race begins.

But independent media is not inevitable. It takes your help. It takes you making a resolution for the New Year to be a part of the commitment to change-making. You’ve already supported rabble just by being a reader or by having been a current or past donor. For that, we thank you. We couldn’t have made it this far without you

If you want us to keep making change, fighting for social justice and if you feel strongly that rabble needs to grow, update our website, keep a watchful eye on the 2019 election trails, and cover the activists and groups fighting for social change across the country, then we urge to join us and do your part. Make your contribution right now.

No amount is too big or too small for 2019. And if you donate now, you'll be glad you did.

Bonus: monthly donors of $5 or more receive an exclusive prize pack of a collection of our ‘best of rabble.ca’ books.

Let’s make 2019 the best year yet together!

Best wishes to you for the new year,

Kim Elliott, Publisher & and all of the rabble.ca staff

Categories: News for progressives

Breach of election rules or "honest oversight" in hidden Alberta campaign donation?

Fri, 2018-12-28 21:54
December 28, 2018Politics in CanadaBreach of election rules or "honest oversight" in hidden Alberta campaign donation?MLA asks Elections Alberta to investigate claim Jason Kenney's UCP leadership campaign 'deliberately hid' donation. Derek Fildebrandt made the accusation in news release.Alberta politicsFreedom Conservative PartyUnited Conservative PartyCA
Categories: News for progressives

Experts give Trudeau government C grade for its action on Rohingya genocide

Tue, 2018-12-25 00:05
December 24, 2018Experts give Trudeau government C grade for its action on Rohingya genocideAlthough Canada was the first country to label the Myanmar crisis a genocide, the Trudeau government’s actions to help the persecuted Rohingya people receive a C grade, says a panel of experts.MyanmarRohingya genocideCA
Categories: News for progressives

Experts give Trudeau government C grade for its action on Rohingya genocide

Mon, 2018-12-24 23:49
Karl Nerenberg

Early in 2018, the Trudeau government promised to take vigorous measures to help the persecuted Rohingya of Myanmar, but an end-of-year report card by a group of experts and advocates gives the government only a mediocre C for its performance.

In October 2017, the prime minister asked former Ontario premier Bob Rae to study the humanitarian crisis facing Myanmar’s Rohingya, with a view to advising the government as to what Canada should do about it. In the latter half of 2017, violence in the southeastern Asian country of Myanmar targeted the Rohingya people, forcing more than half a million people to flee and triggering what has been described as the fastest growing humanitarian crises in the world.

Rae’s report, in March of 2018, underscored the grim reality of the crisis and recommended Canada take a “leadership role … by stepping up humanitarian and development efforts.”

The former premier proposed the government commit $600 million over four years to a variety of measures, including “the necessary work on accountability and the gathering of evidence.” In other words, a key part of Canada’s role should be to identify those responsible for the crisis and find ways to hold them to account.

Recognition of genocide, but no effort to pursue civilian leaders

As the year comes to an end, a group that includes human rights institutes at the University of Ottawa and Concordia University, and the Rohingya Human Rights Network, which brings together experts and advocates throughout the country, has evaluated and graded the government’s actions, or lack thereof, subsequent to Rae’s mission.

On the money issue, the group gives Canada a solid B.

The government did not go for Rae’s $600-million suggestion. It did, however, commit half as much, over a shorter period – three years rather than four. The advocates and experts welcome this commitment, but add that had the government gone all the way for the full amount they would have given it an A.

The group did award a grade of A for the initiative Canada’s parliament took in September of 2018, when it voted unanimously to recognize the persecution of the Rohingya as a genocide, and revoked Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s honourary Canadian citizenship.  Canada’s was the first national parliament to officially label the crisis as a genocide.

At the other end of the spectrum, the group is extremely disappointed with Canada’s failure to take concrete measures to “address the source of the crisis, namely an official policy of genocide against the Rohingya people.”  The group notes that “despite a year of calls by the Rohingya Human Rights Network and others for the government to invoke the United Nations Genocide Convention – a treaty that was created for exactly this type of situation – Canada has failed to take any action in this direction …”

In an election year, will the politicians notice?

The Trudeau government earns only middling C grades in two other areas: taking tangible actions to “hold Myanmar’s leaders accountable for crimes against the Rohingya” and “working with other nations and the international community to address the crisis.”

On the accountability front, the Canadian government has focused exclusively on a few leading members of Myanmar’s military, and has applied sanctions to only one of those. It is a mistake, the group argues, to ignore the culpability of the civilian leadership as well.

“It was under the watch of the civilian government,” they point out, “that the mass murders, gang rapes and destruction of Rohingya villages took place. Their actions, or failure to act, created the conditions for the crimes.”

As for rallying others in the world community, the group recognizes that Canada has, in a pro forma way, evoked the Rohingya crisis at meetings of the G-7 and APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation). The group is deeply disappointed, however, that “there is no indication Canada and its allies are in any way involved in a united effort to address the broader issues of the crisis, beyond the humanitarian component and a few avenues for individual accountability.”

Officials at Global Affairs Canada will, no doubt, take note of this report card, which comes from a group of respected and knowledgeable folks.

Elected politicians, on the other hand, are now quite obsessively focused on the looming election, which will take place in October of 2019.

Politicians who worry about being re-elected might not be inclined to publicly agonize over the suffering of people half a continent away. They are more likely to worry about such home turf phenomena as the stubborn resistance of many voters to even modest measures to fight global warming and the brewing backlash against refugees.

The report card from the Rohingya experts and supporters might serve a helpful purpose if it reminds the Liberals that they did make some fairly major rhetorical commitments vis-à-vis the Rohingya, not too long ago. That rhetoric has yet to be fully matched by action.

Photo Credit: Evangelos Petratos, Rakhine, Myanmar/Burma 

Karl Nerenberg has been a journalist and filmmaker for more than 25 years. He is rabble's politics reporter.Photo: Justin Trudeau/Flickr

 

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

Categories: News for progressives

Taking on the liars and the right wing: our favourite fights from 2018

Mon, 2018-12-24 01:43
December 23, 2018Anti-RacismCivil Liberties WatchElectionsTaking on the liars and the right wingThis year, we stood in solidarity with activists organizing against hate. Check out the Activist Toolkit's favourite fights of 2018.
Categories: News for progressives

New advocacy group calls for Toronto to declare state of emergency on homelessness

Sat, 2018-12-22 01:25
December 21, 2018Politics in CanadaNew advocacy group calls for Toronto to declare state of emergency on homelessnessHomelessness has reached post-apocalyptic levels in the absence of a national housing program.
Categories: News for progressives

Ontario rollbacks to sex-ed curriculum prompt legal challenges

Fri, 2018-12-21 01:28
December 20, 2018Ontario rollback to sex-ed curriculum prompts legal challengesThe Ford government's decision to revert back to the 1998 curriculum has produced considerable backlash from educators, parents, and students -- and has also triggered four separate legal challenges.CA
Categories: News for progressives

Liberals alienate oil workers in Alberta, Bombardier employees in Quebec

Wed, 2018-12-19 21:17
December 19, 2018Liberals alienate oil workers in Alberta, Bombardier employees in QuebecWith what’s being characterized as misplaced aid to Alberta’s oil patch and Via Rail’s decision to buy railcars from Germany, Liberals show how politically fraught world of industrial strategy can be.
Categories: News for progressives

Liberals alienate oil workers in Alberta, Bombardier employees in Quebec

Wed, 2018-12-19 21:11
Karl Nerenberg

Less than a week after the federal government refused to direct government-owned Via Rail to place a billion-dollar order for new rail cars with Quebec-based Bombardier, it announced a multi-year package worth more than $1.5 billion for Alberta’s oil and gas industry. The two decisions show how politically fraught the world of industrial strategy can be.

The Trudeau government’s moves, especially so close together, failed to elicit whoops of joy from its target audience out west and has prompted accusations of failing to protect jobs and create new ones in Quebec towns like La Pocatière, northeast of Quebec City, where Bombardier has a major production facility.

The Crown-owned railway last week announced it is giving its business to the German mega-corporation Siemens.

A good piece of the $1.5 billion in aid to the oil and gas industry announced December 18, will be in the form of loans by two government agencies, Export Development Canada and the Business Development of Bank of Canada, to aid oil patch companies find new markets. But Alberta Premier Rachel Notley points out that finding markets is not the industry’s problem. What hobbles it, she says, is the lack of means – be they pipelines or rail cars – to get product to market.

Oil and gas industry spokespeople add that while they appreciate the government’s solicitude, most companies have not been looking for government handouts. In fact, experts say the $1.5 billion will only really help smaller industry players, who might be having difficulty attracting private capital right now.

Environmentalists have their own reasons to be unhappy about this new financial commitment to oil and gas. When you put it together with the more than $4 billion to buy the Kinder Morgan pipeline, they say, it shows the Trudeau government, despite its brave talk, is moving backwards not forwards to meet Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions targets.

German company to build rail cars for Canada in the U.S.

The Liberal government and Via Rail management both say they could not give any preference to home-grown company, and the jobs it would create, because of trade deals with Europe and the U.S. The winning bidder, Siemens, has offered to consider Canadian sub-contractors for up to 20 per cent of the work on the Via Rail order, but makes no firm commitment. The German company will likely do the lion’s share of the work at its California facility.

Workers in La Pocatière point out that American rules requires 65 per cent of any public transit related manufacturing be done in the U.S. They wonder why Canada cannot do the same.

In Parliament, the NDP echoes that view. New Democratic MPs also say Quebec workers are victims of a bad trade deal – the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement or CETA – that Canada signed with the European Union last year.  When the Siemens deal was announced, the NDP trade critic, Tracey Ramsay, told the House of Commons:

“The Liberal government refused to award a billion-dollar contract to Canada's Bombardier … because they know that using Canadian companies for procurement can get us sued by the EU under the investor-state provisions in CETA. When the Liberals called CETA a gold standard in trade, Canadians had no idea that meant giving away their jobs to foreign companies.”

A collective face palm

There is no way the prime minister and his colleagues can make a silk purse out of this sow’s ear. They can hardly claim it is good thing for the workers of La Pocatière that workers in California will be building railways that will run from Quebec’s capital, through the federal capital to Ontario’s capital and beyond.

The best the Liberals can offer is bland boiler-plate generalities on the long-term value of freer trade and open borders. On December 11, the prime minister put it this way:

“Signing trade deals allows us to access procurement opportunities around the world so that we can see things like Bombardier trains in Africa, in Asia and around the world. We will continue to promote the extraordinary quality of the work that is done by Canadian companies around the world. We know that as we engage in trade we create better opportunities for our workers and for all Canadians.”

The response of NDP parliamentary leader Guy Caron seems, in this case, quite apropos. 

“Mr. Speaker, when the prime minister tries to make us believe that the contract given by VIA Rail for a German company to build trains in the U.S. is the best thing that can happen, we can feel a collective face palm from Canadians …”

And so, as the year comes to an end, the Trudeau government has managed to annoy most Albertans, a good part of the environmental community and a significant group of workers and businesspeople in Quebec. It’s all in a day’s work, perhaps an inevitable consequence of governing such a vast and diverse country.

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

Photo: Justin Trudeau/Flickr

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

Categories: News for progressives

Canada on track for record arms sale to Saudi Arabia

Tue, 2018-12-18 23:46
December 18, 2018Canada on track for record arms sale to Saudi ArabiaCanadian rifle and ammunition sales to Saudi Arabia in 2018 is about to hit an all-time record, beating out previous records set in 2017 and 2016 – the same period of the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
Categories: News for progressives

Canada on track for record arms sale to Saudi Arabia

Tue, 2018-12-18 23:37
Ryan Donnelly

Statistics Canada latest trade data releases show that Canada is heading toward a record year in rifle and ammunition exports to Saudi Arabia, despite the kingdom’s continued war in Yemen.

According to the latest numbers as of October of 2018, Canada has exported 21,101 rifles to Saudi Arabia, just behind the 2017 total of 21,778, and ahead of the 2016 total of 19,804. Should November or December repeat the numbers exported in the preceding two months – 4,000 each month – Canada will set a new record in its rifles and ammunitions exports to Saudi Arabia.

This would make the years of 2018, 2017 and 2016 the highest recorded years of rifle and ammunition sales to Saudi Arabia since the data was first tracked in 1989 – years that directly coincide with the beginning of the Saudi-led coalition intervention and subsequent war in Yemen.

Facing one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, 22.2 million people in Yemen are estimated to be facing widespread famine and starvation, with 8.4 million in severe need. A recent international report cites the on-going armed conflict as the primary driver of the humanitarian disaster. The conflict has left more than 2 million people displaced and resulted in 17,000 direct civilian casualties of the fighting. One study estimates that around 85,000 children have starved to death since the conflict began.

As the worldwide chorus of opposition to the war in Yemen grows, the Trudeau administration continues to hold the line that its ministers are pushing for a ceasefire in Yemen and that Canadian arms are not being used in the war. In an exchange in the House of Commons in late November, Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, parliamentary secretary to the minister of Foreign Affairs, stated: “We require and expect that Canadian arms exports are used in a way that fully respects human rights. If there is evidence that Canadians arms are being misused or have been diverted, we will suspend those export permits as we have done in the past.”

Anthony Fenton, a researcher at York University, believes evidence shows that this is not the case.

“So far, what I and others have seen confirmation of in Yemen are three different varieties of the Winnipeg, Manitoba-made sniper rifles produced by PGW Defence Technology Inc. There have been a multitude of sightings of PGW rifles either in Saudi possession in/around Yemen, and/or in the possession of Yemeni rebels who have commandeered them as 'trophies' from Saudi soldiers,” Fenton said.

Global Affairs Canada holds the position that any evidence of Canadian-made rifles being used in Yemen would result in a suspension of export permits to Saudi Arabia.

"Canada remains deeply concerned by the ongoing conflict in Yemen and its humanitarian impact on civilians, particularly women and children, who continue to bear the brunt of the fighting," said John Babcock, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada. "We require and expect that Canadian arms exports are used in a way that fully respects human rights. That's why our government is committed to a stronger and more rigorous arms export system and to the Arms Trade Treaty. Canada does not export items destined for Yemen or that will be used in Yemen due to the impact on regional stability and security. Careful attention is paid to the potential for the diversion of Canadian exports to the conflict in Yemen. If there is evidence that Canadian arms are being misused or have been diverted, Minister Freeland will suspend those export permits while an investigation proceeds, as she has done in the past."

Fenton and other observers note that the major issue with verification lies in the way that the export permits are issued. Right now, the Canadian government contends that the export permits allow them to monitor exported arms use and ensure that Canadian-made weapons are not being used in the vicious war in Yemen.  

However, a recent report by The Guardian showed that there was a widespread lack of transparency with export permits that allowed U.S. and U.K. weapons to end up in the hands of soldiers in Yemen.

In 2016, an image surfaced showing a Houthi rebel holding a Canadian-made PGW rifle. Global Affairs Canada launched an investigation following that revelation. To date, that investigation has never been made public.

Canada is not the only country that has faced criticism over arms exports to Saudi Arabia during the conflict. Denmark, Austria, Holland, Spain and Germany have all heeded calls to stop exporting arms and have since ceased issuing export permits. Last week, the U.S. Senate voted to end American assistance to Saudi Arabia in the war as well.

The Trudeau government has yet to cancel Canadian arms exports even amidst the controversial LAV deal which saw Canada on track to export $15-billion worth of light armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia. This year’s numbers will make Saudi Arabia the second largest importer of Canadian-made rifles behind the United States.

 

Ryan Donnelly is a freelance writer from Southern Ontario with an academic background in Canadian public policy. He's also a former human rights worker and adovcate who has written on issues of Canadian foreign policy.

Photo: flickr/CC2.0

Categories: News for progressives

As holidays approach, a few thoughts about spirituality and religion

Tue, 2018-12-18 02:53
Alex Sangha

As the holiday season is fast approaching, I thought I would put forward my beliefs around religion, spirituality and God.

Many people claim to follow religion and believe in God, so why not discuss and debate these important values and beliefs in our society.

Unfortunately, I believe religion has very little to do with God.  

Some of the key religious figures that many of us believe in, like Jesus, Buddha, Moses or Guru Nanak, all of which just happen to be men, may have had a spiritual experience of some kind. 

Nonetheless, I feel religion is manmade and an instrument of power and social control and ultimately oppression. 

Millions of people have been killed in the name of religion. 

I am sure God would be very disappointed that so many have suffered in his or her name, including gay people.

We are all God’s children and all deserve divine blessings.

Religion has also been a force for good. Ideas such as the golden rule from the Bible, which states that we should treat people how we want to be treated or selfless service, or “seva,” which is a fundamental tenant of Sikhism, are great ideas to ascribe to.

So, what do I believe?

I am convinced that we are essentially walking spirits. We all have spiritual energy within us and we are connected to the spiritual world and the divine.

What is the proof for this?

Well, many people claim to have had a life-after-death experience. They state that they have seen a “light” or a type of spiritual energy. 

Just because science cannot explain these experiences does not mean they are not real or valid.

Furthermore, as part of the human experience, we all know that we have a conscious or experience love. Yet, how can we measure or provide proof that we are experiencing these emotions, feelings and thoughts? Again, science cannot fully explain the full breadth of the human condition.

I fundamentally believe that we are spiritual beings that are going through a human experience. 

We are in the physical form for the time being.

However, we are more than our physical bodies. Our bodies just turn to ash and mix with the Earth when we die. 

Our spirit is immortal and never dies and moves onto its next journey with the Supreme Being or the spiritual world or perhaps even reincarnation into a human form again. I am open to all possibilities. 

I am also awestruck by the miracle of creation all around us in nature and in the universe. Everything is so perfectly designed. If we had slightly more oxygen in the atmosphere, we would all be wiped out. 

There is a famous argument supporting a creator. It goes something like this.

If astronauts landed on a distant planet and found a Lamborghini on the beach, what would they think? Did the Lamborghini evolve naturally or did the Lamborghini have a creator?

We all know the answer. Of course, the Lamborghini had a creator.

Nonetheless, even if evolution plays a role in creation, evolution must have been triggered by something and that something could possibly be God. It’s a plausible explanation.

The question of evil.

Many people ask why is there evil in the world if there is a God? This is an excellent question and I feel only God can answer that. I feel one day all our questions will be answered. Some people believe suffering brings us closer to God or is a test. 

Other people believe there is good and evil within each person, as well as society-at-large and the entire universe. If you feed the evil, then the evil comes out. If you feed the good, then the good comes out. This battle between good and evil is a struggle for everyone and constantly playing out in our world.

Why am I so convinced that there is a God?

I find the explanations in the major world religions trying to explain the awesomeness and majesty of our existence, as well as creation and the infinite universe and galaxies that surround us to be horribly insufficient. 

I think future generations will look back and find our religious texts interesting and entertaining, like we enjoy the stories of the ancient Greco-Roman gods.

So, what is the conclusion? 

There are many benefits for being spiritual and believing in God, as opposed to being an atheist or religious. We are one people and one humanity and should seek what unites us and not divides us as a people. That is a fundamental concept of being a spiritual person. I am convinced it can lead to more caring and compassion and concern for each other.

Most importantly, if you are spiritual and believe in God, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. You can go through life feeling that you have hope and are loved and supported by the divine and that you are never alone.  

Alex Sangha is an author, social worker, and human rights activist based in Delta, B.C.  He is the producer of the award-winning documentary My Name Was January. He is the recipient of the Meritorious Service Medal from the Governor General of Canada.

Photo: Image from kohl_photographer via Flickr.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Trudeau government fails to take bold action at COP24 to avoid climate breakdown

Tue, 2018-12-18 00:46
December 17, 2018Trudeau government fails to take bold action at COP24 to avoid climate breakdownAs the United Nations climate conference in Poland comes to a close, Canada fails to increase its ambition to address climate breakdown.CA
Categories: News for progressives

Yellow Vests Canada lacks left-wing populism of gilets jaunes in France

Fri, 2018-12-14 22:59
December 14, 2018Yellow Vests Canada lacks left-wing populism of gilets jaunes in FranceThe Canadian Yellow Vest movement targets the carbon tax and "illegal" immigration, rather than reflecting the anti-austerity demands resonating in France.
Categories: News for progressives

Trudeau wins praise for rolling back Harper-era attacks on right to vote

Fri, 2018-12-14 00:38
December 13, 2018Trudeau wins praise for rolling back Harper-era attacks on right to voteAs Bill C-76 was given Senate approval, progressive groups applauded. The law rolls back the most odious provisions of the Harper government’s Fair Elections Act that encouraged voter suppression.
Categories: News for progressives

Trudeau wins praise for rolling back Harper-era attacks on right to vote

Fri, 2018-12-14 00:23
Karl Nerenberg

It is not often that groups like the Council of Canadians and the Canadian Federation of Students have cause to give enthusiastic and unqualified praise to the Trudeau government. But they did so this week, when Bill C-76, the Liberals’ Elections Modernization Act, passed in the Senate.

Young Canadians and progressive groups like the Council of Canadians have been deeply disappointed by Justin Trudeau’s failure to live up to many of his ambitious democratic reform promises. Notable among those is the solemn promise to replace the first-past-the-post voting system with one that is more representative and equitable.

With C-76, however, the Liberals have more than lived up to at least one big set of promises.

The bill rolls back the most odious provisions of the Harper government’s oxymoronically entitled Fair Elections Act, and brings in other measures to make the electoral process truly fairer and more accessible to all.

The council of Canadians and the student federation are particularly pleased with four of C-76’s provisions.

The bill restores the use of the Voter Information Cards as valid identification for voting. Elections Canada provides a card to all voters.

It reinstates the time-honoured practice of allowing a voter to vouch for another voter by confirming their identity.

It moves the chief electoral enforcement officer, the Commissioner of Elections, out of the federal prosecutor’s office – which reports to the justice minister – back to the non-partisan Elections Canada.

And it abolished restrictions on Elections Canada to engage in public education on the voting process and the right to vote.

U.S. style voter suppression comes north

When Stephen Harper’s Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre introduced his Fair Elections Act early in 2014, he claimed it would get big money out of politics and improve the electoral process.

That was a misstatement of Orwellian proportions

In fact, following the example of their Republican Party friends south of the border, and heeding the advice of U.S.-based conservative consultants, the Harper Conservatives’ aim was to suppress the vote of those unlikely to support them: the young, the poor and Indigenous.

Until 2006, there had been no requirement for voters to provide ID in Canada. The Harper minority government introduced that measure early in its tenure, and Elections Canada decided to allow voters to use voter information cards it sends to everyone on the voters’ list. The Chief Electoral Officer, Marc Mayrand, pointed out that these cards are “the most accurate and widely available government document." In 2014, Harper’s minister decided to ban use of the cards, thus making it harder for people who have no driver’s licence or other ID with street address to vote. More than 4 million adult Canadians do not have driver’s licences.

Historically when a voter – often elderly or poor – lacked proper ID, another qualified voter could sign a declaration vouching for that voter’s identity. The Harper government decided to abolish the practice, much to the chagrin of Elections Canada. In the 2011 election, Mayrand reported, vouching was used more than 120,000 times.

Not long after the 2011 election, Postmedia reporters Stephen Maher and Glen McGregor broke the so-called robo-call scandal.

Political operatives had arranged for computer-generated phone calls to tens of thousands of voters, purporting to come from Elections Canada and telling them, falsely, their polling places had been moved. This was a voter suppression tactic borrowed directly from the U.S. and it severely annoyed the Chief Electoral Officer.

To put a stop once and for all to this dangerous, imported form of electoral abuse, Mayrand recommended the powers of his chief enforcement officer, the Commissioner of Elections, be enhanced. For instance, he proposed that the commissioner have the power to compel witnesses to testify under oath.  

Harper’s government not only ignored the recommendations, it did the exact opposite. It took authority over enforcement away from non-political Elections Canada and gave it to a partisan politician.  Amazingly, Poilievre claimed that Elections Canada could not be a neutral referee because it wore a “team jersey.”

The Harper government was so hostile to Elections Canada that it did not even want the Chief Electoral officer to be able to inform Canadians of suspected fraud, like false robo-calls, or to encourage them to vote. In an unprecedented move, Harper’s minister severely curtailed the right of Chief Electoral Officers to communicate with Canadians. The Fair Elections Act limited Elections Canada’s communications to telling Canadians where and when they could vote -- full stop.

Limits on third-party advertising and extended voting hours

The Trudeau government’s just-passed bill eliminates all of these anti-democratic Harper-era measures.

And it does more.

It limits the election campaign period to 50 days, imposes strict rules on third-party political advertising, gives the power to compel testimony to the chief enforcement officer, and extends voting hours on advanced polling days.

C-76 is a positive response to the multiple howls of outrage Harper’s Fair Elections Act elicited. The Council of Canadians and the Canadian Federation of Students even went to court to get a number of the Harper law’s provisions declared unconstitutional. 

The Achilles heel for Trudeau’s Bill C-76 is that a future government could revive the Harper Conservatives’ attack on the right to vote.

Had Trudeau lived up to his promise to end first-past-the-post, the possibility of hard right leaders winning a majority of seats, when 39 per cent of the electorate ardently supports them but 61 per cent equally ardently opposes them, would be unlikely. 

But Trudeau chose to keep our current system. There will be nothing to stop a future prime minister winning an essentially unearned majority and then taking aim at the voting process once again.

Photo: flickr/ Dennis S. Hurd

 

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

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

Categories: News for progressives

Opioid crisis: NDP offers suggestions – decriminalize addiction, sue drug manufacturers

Wed, 2018-12-12 19:59
December 12, 2018Opioid crisis: NDP offers suggestions – decriminalize addiction, sue drug manufacturersThis week, federal political parties debated how to deal with the growing crisis that claims the lives of 8-to-9 people a day in Canada.CA
Categories: News for progressives

Opioid crisis: NDP offers suggestions – decriminalize addiction, sue drug manufacturers

Wed, 2018-12-12 19:50
Karl Nerenberg

The three main federal political parties all agree that Canada is facing a severe opioid crisis. Powerful and easily available drugs like fentanyl killed 8,000 Canadians during the past two and a half years. That’s between eight and nine deaths per day.

Liberals, Conservatives and New Democrats all say this crisis is so severe they want to take a non-partisan approach to fighting it. But when they each elaborate their own approaches to the crisis, as they did during a House of Commons debate on Monday, December 10, big differences emerge.

All party representatives who spoke felt the pain of those thousands of unnecessary deaths, some acutely and personally. But only the NDP offered a coherent series of specific measures to tackle the crisis. That approach would include completely decriminalizing addiction and suing drug manufacturers.

Liberal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas-Taylor agonized that the carnage wrought by opioids keeps her up nights.

“The sad reality is that few Canadians are left untouched by this crisis, from coast to coast to coast,” she said. 

She pointed to its multiple causes: “We know that the over-prescribing of opioids has played a critical role and that toxic, illicit fentanyl continues to permeate our borders.”

Safe injection sites

When it came to solutions, Petitpas-Taylor emphasized that victims must not be blamed.

“The preconceived idea that problematic substance use should be seen as a personal failure is hindering our efforts to help those who need it,” the minister explained.

The government, Petipas-Taylor said, favours a harm-reduction approach. And she spoke at length about one particular harm-reduction tactic, the use of safe injection sites.

The health minister touted the success of the 28 sites that now operate throughout Canada. They received more than 125,000 visits over the past 18 months, and “have reversed over 1,100 overdoses, without a single fatality at any of these sites.”

Notwithstanding the federal government’s own efforts to combat the opioid crisis, the minister also wanted to make it clear that fighting the scourge of opioid drugs is not a burden the federal government should have to bear alone.

In our system, Petitpas-Taylor emphasized, much of the authority and responsibility for dealing with opioids lies with provincial governments. The health minister’s House of Commons colleagues did not need to be reminded that some of those provincial governments, notably that of Doug Ford in Ontario, are, at best, skeptical about safe injection sites.

‘Illegal drug injection sites’

The federal Conservatives tried to straddle both sides of the fence on the issue – upbraiding the government for not doing enough, while intimating they have doubts about measures like safe injection sites.

Alexander Nuttall, the Conservative MP from Barrie, Ont., characterized safe injection facilities as “illegal drug injection sites.” While such sites were going up all over the country, he said, there was “a severe increase in the number of deaths, including a 40-per-cent increase between 2016 and 2017.”

Nuttall did not say whether or not he believed there is a cause-and-effect connection between safe sites and opioid deaths. And otherwise he only differed with the Liberals in urging them to spend more and do more.

“I am a fiscal Conservative. I fight for low taxes.” Nuttall proclaimed. “I have not met a Canadian who has said that providing more rehabilitation, more recovery services, more support and more help for individuals who are fighting these addictions is a bad thing.”

The MP from Barrie member did not, however, say exactly what new measures his party would support.

Corporate responsibility

The New Democrats’ health critic, Vancouver MP Don Davies, was the only speaker to recommend a robust and detailed set of policies.

Davies urged the federal government to declare the opioid crisis constitutes “a national public health emergency.”

He and his party want the government to legalize and fund overdose prevention sites, so they can receive the full measure of resources they need.

Davies and the NDP also advocate for completely decriminalizing addiction. On that score, they recommend that the government consider the example of Portugal.

“In 1999,” Davies told the Commons, “there was a drug crisis in Portugal, related to a cheap toxic heroin supply. Faced with rising harms, the government of Portugal decided to treat substance use as a public health issue, not a criminal one. The crisis in Portugal soon stabilized and the ensuing years saw dramatic drops in problematic drug use, overdose deaths and drug-related crime.”

The health orientation of Portugal’s policy is reflected in its spending choices. Ninety per cent of public money spent fighting drugs in Portugal is focused on health care and just 10 per cent on enforcement. In Canada, despite the Trudeau government’s claim that it is committed to non-punitive harm reduction, the figures are almost reversed: 70 per cent of anti-drug spending is on enforcement.

Finally, while other parties chose to tread gingerly around the issue of corporate responsibility for opioid deaths, Davies did not mince his words.

He pointed to the successful U.S. federal prosecution of at least one drug company and the British Columbia government’s current civil action against manufacturers and distributors of opioid drugs.

“That lawsuit is open to every province and territory and the federal government to join,” Davies pointed out. “If corporate executives minimized or concealed the addictive qualities of prescription opioids in the U.S., it is very possible that they did so in Canada as well.”

The NDP urges the federal government to support B.C.'s lawsuit. In addition, Davies says, the federal government should launch its own investigation to determine if there are grounds for pursuing criminal action under federal law against any drug companies.

Photo: The Javorac/Flickr

 

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

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