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Liberals' second budget gets failing grade

22 March 2017 - 10:53pm
March 23, 2017Politics in CanadaLiberals' second budget gets failing gradeThe federal government, says David Macdonald, "took the 2016 budget out and put a new cover on it... Now you have the 2017 budget. They’ve gift wrapped last year’s budget."CA

Chinese railway worker history comes to life in new Canadian children's book

22 March 2017 - 9:50am
Anti-RacismArts & CultureLabour

The old saying is better late than never and that's what playwright George Chiang thought when he finally decided to create the children's book The Railroad Adventures of Chen Sing.

"It was sitting on the shelf, and you know what? I'm not going to live forever," Chiang told me in an interview over Skype from his home in Montreal.

The 68-page colour book just came out in early March and the Montreal-based actor/writer is feeling relieved and a little reticent. The book was almost two decades in the making.

"I waited it out," Chiang said. "I had the idea back in the 1990s but this book by Paul Yee [Ghost Train, 1996] had just come out and won the Governor General's award. No publisher was interested in another Chinese railroad children's book. But that one was just pictures."

Chiang's book concerns a teenage boy who ventures to Canada's West to build the transcontinental railway through the Rockies. There are disasters, encounters with wild animals and friendships that mark Sing's journey. The book is based on the stories told to Chiang by Ike Sing when he was in his 80s, before he passed away in 2003. The stories were about Ike's life and that of his father, Chen.

"This book is important now because it highlights the relationship of the Chinese workers to the Indigenous people," explained Chiang.

"For example, this actually happened: Chen Sing's railroad crew was dying of scurvy but they just didn't know what it was back then. He was dispatched to find help and the natives taught him to make spruce tea, from which they could get vitamin C. They also gave him berries so the crew could eat them right away. The Indigenous people saved their lives."

Chiang and Ike Sing met by accident in Cuba -- the actor was on vacation and so was Sing. They ran into each other twice and it was on the plane back to Canada that the two got talking.

"I realized this guy was a masterful storyteller with a great memory of the past."

Months later, in the fall of 1995, Chiang was at Sing's Cawston, B.C. home and spent more than two weeks recording stories of his life and of his father -- who worked on the railway. Chiang returned the following spring to do more recordings.

"He had so many stories! I had to go because his wife was tired of me," Chiang said laughing.

The playwright had a few publishers interested over the years but things never seemed to gel. In fact, he ended up writing a Chinese opera-musical called The Golden Lotus, which launched in Hong Kong in 2014 to acclaim and nabbed the Hong Kong English Drama Award for "Best Original Work." Chiang told me he's now working on a railroad musical based on Chen Sing.

"I was a history major in university and none of the history I studied was about Asians…when I graduated, I decided I wanted to tell that history in whatever form I could."

Sing's relatives getting older

About four years ago, Chiang decided he needed to make the book -- Sing's relatives, many of whom are elderly, kept asking him if he had something to give them. He enlisted the help of an illustrator, a student at the time, and it took about six months for Jessica Warner to come up with about 80 illustrations. Chiang also had to get back to the "writing" board.

He had written it out as a series of children's books but then compiled and re-wrote it as a "chapter book" and put the stories together. Sing's sole son, Roland, also had a hand in making suggestions -- one of which was to keep as many of the illustrations as possible because he thought they were top quality.

"It's different than an opera because with a book, I have to be careful of grammar -- that was a challenge," revealed Chiang. "Also it's for children aged 7 to 11, so it has to read slower -- I had to cut out a lot of descriptions."

Perhaps the waiting played in Chiang's favour. Chiang had originally envisioned it as an e-book because publishers are reluctant to produce a book with so many illustrations but he found Friesen Press in British Columbia and the author was able to bring the story to life -- as a book you can hold.

The writer -- who had lived in Toronto with his family until last year -- has been invited to the Chen Sing Annual Family Reunion and Picnic in Vancouver in July where he hopes to hold court and hand out some books. More than 200 people attend annually.

"I wrote it for children because I didn't want just one generation to know this story. Good books last from generation to generation," he noted. "So I hope the schools also buy this book so it can be passed to new groups of kids every year."

There are more books in Chiang. He's already working on a second one -- this time about Ike's experiences as a frontiersman in northern B.C.

"It's called 'Ike Sing Speaks' and I have the first draft written [and] the third book will be based on Ike's childhood but it will be fiction. That might be my one novel."

Find the book or e-book online.

June Chua is a Berlin-based journalist who regularly writes about the arts for rabble.ca.

Illustrations by Jessica Warner/The Railroad Adventures of Chen Sing

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Canadian-Chinese communitychinese cultureRailroadchinese labourCanadian Pacific RailwayJune ChuaMarch 22, 2017'They're People Not Terrorists' photo campaign challenges prejudices behind U.S. travel banToronto photographer Adam Zivo is launching a new project to counter hate and prejudice in the wake of the U.S. travel ban that targets people from seven Muslim-majority countries.Instagram project chronicles search for missing and murdered Indigenous women There's another story to the tragic saga of missing and murdered Indigenous women and it's coming to light through an Instagram project created by the National Film Board.New book details experiences of Chinese Head Tax familiesEven now, the Chinese Head Tax and Exclusion Act invoke painful memories of the racist practices of previous Canadian governments that prevented Chinese people from immigrating to Canada.

Yukon First Nations takes territorial government to court

22 March 2017 - 8:55am
March 22, 2017Yukon Supreme Court case will set a key precedent for all First NationsYukon First Nations took the territorial government to court over its betrayal of a commitment to protect the Peel watershed. The case will establish a precedent for many other Indigenous groups.

Students fighting to raise the minimum wage

22 March 2017 - 8:51am
Scott NeighMarch 22, 2017Talking Radical RadioEducationLabour

On this week's episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Jessica Chen and Jermaul Newell. They are students at York University in Toronto and are active with the campus chapter of the Fight for $15 and Fairness, which is working to raise the minimum wage, improve basic employment standards, and build solidarity between students and workers.

The extensive mobilizing by low-wage workers pushing to raise the minimum wage has been one of the most widespread and energetic movements of recent years. It has taken different forms in different jurisdictions, but across North America these campaigns have come together under the common banner of the Fight for $15, which encapsulates the core demand of a raise in the minimum wage to $15/hr. Though the outcomes of these campaigns have also varied from place to place, they have won at least some level of increase in minimum wages in a lot of jurisdictions, and they have won commitments to phase in the full $15/hr amount in more than few.

Though bringing the minimum wage up to more livable levels is the most visible demand in pretty much all of these campaigns, on some level they are also about more than dollars and cents. Whether it is present mainly in the details of the many stories that low-wage workers tell about their lives, or whether it finds expression in concrete demands, all of these campaigns convey a more expansive vision of dignity and a message of solidarity. They are about all of the many ways that low-wage workers get ground down because of how employers are allowed to treat them, and about their growing determination to stand together and get that changed.

Ontario is one of the jurisdictions where demands beyond the minimum wage level have been most clearly articulated, in part because the provincial government has been undertaking its first exhaustive review of the rules around basic employment standards in two decades. In Ontario, the campaign is called the Fight for $15 and Fairness.

Along with regular actions in communities across the province -- often anchored by workers centres, labour councils, anti-poverty groups, and other kinds of organizations -- the Fight for $15 and Fairness has also included plenty of campus-based organizing. This is really not surprising: years ago, when it came to grassroots politics, the categories of "student" and "worker" were treated as separate, and the political work done by activists in their respective milieus was often quite distinct. Increasingly today, however, students have no choice but to be waged workers as well. Tuition in Ontario is among the highest in Canada and lots of students can only afford to pay for school, rent, food, and all the rest by working one, two, or even more jobs. And most jobs available to youth pay the minimum wage or only slightly more.

Jessica Chen is a third-year student at York University in Toronto. She works two minimum wage jobs in the service industry, so she has a very personal stake in raising the minimum wage and in improving basic employment standards. Jermaul Newell is a seond-year student at York. He also works for a wage, but in his case it's in a unionized position in the auto sector. This means the issues of the Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign don't impact him directly, but he participates because he believes that solidarity among workers in different situations is crucial to making advances for all working people.

Chen and Newell tell me about the broader Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign and about how it is playing out at York University. In particular, they illustrate very clearly how the campaign as it is happening at York may have begun from the strong hook of the $15/hr wage demand, but has quickly built to a broader vision of better lives for low-wage workers. Yes, like most Fight for $15 and Fairness groups across the province, they are mobilizing to put pressure on the provincial government as we draw closer to the expected summer release of the final report from the employment standards review. But the York group goes even farther: they are part of broader efforts to build alliances between students and workers on the campus. They played a role in supporting the recent strike by food service workers on campus employed by private-sector giant Aramark, who demanded and won a raise to $15/hr. And they see it as essential to talk about how racial justice and economic justice are tied together, and to name and challenge racism as an integral part of building the solidarity necessary to win dignity and better lives for all workers.

You can learn more about the provincial Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign and about the chapter at York University.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow us on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact scottneigh@talkingradical.ca to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

The image modified for use in this post is used by permission of Fight for $15 and Fairness - York University.

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Fight for $15minimum wageemployment standardsprecarious workers

Land for sale! The rise of land speculation in Saskatchewan

21 March 2017 - 9:57am
Food & HealthPolitics in Canada

I remember around 2005, someone who knew that I was originally from Saskatchewan mentioned to me that there was lots of land for sale in Saskatchewan -- and that it might be a good investment. This person happened to be an acquaintance: the parent of one of my son's classmates. He was also in the business of settling bankruptcies. My antenna went up. I had always known that there was speculation on land in Saskatchewan, but that was usually created by larger farmers trying to expand and in so doing, driving up land values. This was different.

What was also new at that time is that the conservative-minded provincial government had changed the laws around ownership of agricultural land. In 2002 it was decided that land could be bought and sold by buyers residing outside Saskatchewan. That law was changed once again in 2015 to close some of the loopholes that allowed investors to acquire farmland -- but much damage had already been done.

That is why the research paper I am about to showcase is so important. It is called "Who is buying the farm?" -- a play on the phrase "to buy the farm," used to call out a death in combat.

In the lead-up to this week's federal budget, the Centre for Policy Alternatives has published an important document chronicling what has been happening to land -- a form of land-grabbing if you will -- in one Prairie province. Authors André Magnan and Annette Desmarais are to be commended for researching a tough subject and ferreting out almost non-existent data.

The paper is about speculation and its impact on huge tracts of prime agricultural land in my home province of Saskatchewan. But the same is likely occurring in other western Prairie provinces.

Since the beginning of the last century, as Canada's breadbasket, Saskatchewan has long been seen as the province that has fed the world. Those of us who follow agriculture know that is not quite how it works (i.e. you can grow the food but it doesn't mean it gets to the hungry), but we also know that access to land is the basis of food security. If family farmers cannot afford to buy land, then stewardship and food production is in jeopardy.

Between 2002 and 2015, I am ashamed to say, it is the Canada Pension Plan Investment Review Board that has become one of the main entities holding huge tracts of land in Saskatchewan.

The research paper opens with some key questions:

"From 2003 onward, non-farm investors began quietly acquiring large tracts of Saskatchewan farmland. In 2014, the sale of some 115,000 acres of farmland from one investor to another sparked a public controversy. Regina-based investment company Assiniboia Capital Corp., which had built up a large portfolio of Saskatchewan farmland, sold its entire holdings to the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, for $128 million. The controversy focused on the role of large, institutional investors in the farmland market. Some political critics and agricultural organizations have asked: is it fair for ordinary farmers to be competing with the Canada Pension Plan, with billions of investment dollars at its disposal, for scarce farmland?"

Here is another sample of what this paper includes:

"Between 2007 and 2014, investors paid, on average, $239/acre over the assessed value (a premium of about 50 per cent) for their farmland purchases. By comparison, non-investor arm's length buyers paid, on average, $96/acre over the assessed value (a premium of 21 per cent). In the booming farmland market of recent years, both farmers and investors have been prepared to pay above assessed value for land that they have acquired. The fact that investors have paid significantly more than other buyers, however, lends support to concerns about the speculative nature of investor activity."

Each page of this tightly written 12-page brief chronicles the rise of land ownership in Saskatchewan for investment purposes. A huge chunk of that investment occurred after the 2008 economic crisis as investors looked for more secure initiatives for their capital. What could be more secure than prime agricultural land? This research provides a solid beginning to inquiries that should be occurring across the country.

It's definitely worth a read. Download it for free from the CCPA website.

Lois Ross is a communications specialist, writer, and editor, living in Ottawa. Her column "At the farm gate" discusses issues that are key to food production here in Canada as well as internationally.

Photo: Jeff/flickr

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land speculationland grabbingCanadian agriculturefarmlandsaskatchewanAt the farm gateLois RossMarch 21, 2017'Gold with yield': A primer on land-grabbingLand use, access to agricultural land, and who stewards land, are key issues in food production. Land-grabbing is a growing concern because it determines not only access but also how land is used.Cut the nonsense: World food policy is an important and growing issueA new edition of the 'No Nonsense Guide to World Food' adds on more "food highlights" that could not have been predicted in 2008.Ethiopian subsistence farmers subject to forced relocationEthiopia boasts one of the strongest economies in Africa. But this comes at a heavy price for the country's farmers.

Your nonsense detector for Budget Day 2017

21 March 2017 - 9:26am
March 21, 2017Your nonsense detector for Budget 2017 The current federal budget process is a textbook example of the propaganda model. On budget day, a nonsense detector comes in handy. Here is Duncan Cameron's.

Your nonsense detector for Budget 2017

21 March 2017 - 9:23am
EconomyPolitics in Canada

When I joined the Department of Finance in Ottawa in 1966, the government budget was run off on a Gestetner duplicating machine in a large room not far from my office.

George was in charge; not many copies were printed. Budget secrecy was a big deal. The budget itself, not so much -- but the 1967 budget included financial planning for the debut of medicare.

Budget day 2017 is a huge media and public relations event, as it has been for many years. In the run up, opinion formation is a priority for big accounting and law firms, banks, and corporate lobby groups who aim to intimidate policymakers.

The current federal budget process is a guide to how the world works today -- it's a textbook example of the propaganda model, with the media playing its assigned role.

On budget day, a nonsense detector comes in handy. Here is mine.

1. When you hear the word "deficit" or "debt" as a reproach, this is a roundabout way of calling for less government. It has little to do with the financial health of Canada. UBC economist (and Liberal adviser) Kevin Milligan has shown that Canadian government has been shrinking in size for the last 25 years.

2. A classic con game has been at work in budget making. Reduce income taxes (Mulroney, 1987); yell about the resulting deficits and cut spending (Chrétien, 1995); reduce income taxes (Chrétien, 2000); reduce taxes and GST (Harper, 2007-08); watch government continue to shrink while unmet needs grow.

3. As with medicare, fulfilling future needs requires planned spending today, not cutbacks and restrictions. Who in their right mind would say we need to spend less on hospital care? Is it so drivers with tax breaks have more money for car repairs instead? What is the point of less money for public transit? Is it so banks can write more car loans? Yet, that is what smaller government arguments amount to: less money being spent on basic human needs and more money for those who already have enough, to increase their personal consumption, bank loans or savings.

4. Government spending needs to be examined. Does it make sense to first buy fighter jets? No. Should we have universal child care now? Yes. Budget day focuses on tax changes instead.

5. Taxes forgiven are also expenditures. Companies can write off investment costs plus interest charges against taxes they owe. The financial impact is the same as if those companies received a cheque from the rest of us. These tax expenditures should be voted upon every year in Parliament, not slipped by us as recurring items.

6. Tax expenditures favour richer individuals. Saving for retirement? You get to shelter income every year from taxes. RRSP contributions provide tax-free compounding of income on investment instruments inside the plan. Contribution limits expand regularly -- the maximum allowed in 2015 was just under $25,000.

7. More budgetary benefits are available to the wealthy than to those in need. Welfare rates in B.C. have been the same for the last nine years: $610 per month for a single person. Such injustices are facilitated by a budget process which keeps income disparity and poverty out of sight.

8. Arguments for abolishing regulations that protect the environment, provide security against financial fraud, protect us from dangerous drugs, contaminated food, and potentially lethal toys for sale to children make no sense and should never be take seriously. However, by saying deregulation is needed for "productivity," attention gets diverted away from health, security and other pressing needs. Deregulation follows.

9. "We need to improve productivity" is an all-purpose excuse for cutting government spending, negotiating trade deals and privatizing public assets. Numbers generated for productivity assume the existing distribution of income is the right one. In fact, inequality -- poor income distribution -- is a problem that needs to be fixed, not accepted as a given. Productivity measurements assume that those who control production have the public interest at heart. In reality, absentee landlords, speculators and hedge funds make very poor owners, and new forms of social ownership are very much needed.

10. There is an Alternative Budget full of sensible policies. It's been produced by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives for 20 years. Alternative Budget 2017 shows how parents could have child care, poverty could be reduced, drugs costs could fall and be covered by public insurance, and quality of life in a host of areas such as recreation, the arts, and education improved. Download it, form a community group to discuss it, and invite your MP to a public meeting to answer for parliamentary inaction on the issues facing Canadians.

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

Photo: KMR Photography/flickr

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Budget 2017economic inequalitywealth distributiondebt reductionCanadian economypublic policyalternative budgetDuncan CameronMarch 21, 2017Liberals tack right, jettison progressive policyTeam Trudeau have decided they have less to fear from the NDP profiting from the Liberal shift to the right, than from disgruntled Ontario Tories getting out in big numbers to vote against them.Progressive budget measures? Thank the CCPAWhat if our finance minister chose Canadian values over the interests of a privileged minority?Is Bill Morneau listening to Canadians? Don't bet on itIf Finance Minister Morneau is serious about tax fairness, Canadians for Tax Fairness say here are three changes he could include in the 2017-18 Budget.

Jason Kenney wins Alberta PC leadership

19 March 2017 - 6:48pm
March 19, 2017Jason Kenney's leadership win ushers in new era of social conservatism for the Alberta PCsKenney's victory as Alberta PC leader marks a new era of social conservatism for the provincial party.

Why wasn't Canada's foreign policy discussed at the NDP debate?

19 March 2017 - 6:05pm
March 19, 2017NDP leadership debate fails to mention Canada's foreign policyA lot was on the table at the party's first leadership debate a week ago. Canada's involvement in international affairs wasn't.

Hope Has Two Daughters: A new book tells story of modern Tunisia

17 March 2017 - 9:16am
March 17, 2017Hope Has Two Daughters: A new book tells story of modern TunisiaPolitical change has gripped Tunisia more than once and a new book by Monia Mazigh tells the tale of a mother and daughter affected by revolutions old and new.

Seeking a brave new model for journalism

17 March 2017 - 9:07am
Media Matters

In a way it's a pity that the crisis of journalism, especially for newspapers, is such an existential one, i.e., will they even survive? Existential crises put off other questions -- how are we doing? How can we improve? Etc. But there you go: To be or not to be. That is the only question.

Journalism's survival is threatened because of the economic model it's based on: ad revenue (plus the selling price of the paper.) It's a strange model. When you buy a book or banana you expect to pay full price. When you bought a paper, you paid a fraction of cost and advertisers picked up the rest.

Yet it was one of history's accidents. If you look at papers from the 1800s, like Toronto's Colonial Advocate, it's solid print: there are no ads. Readers paid full cost.

In the early 1900s, press barons, such as Hearst and Pulitzer, increased ads massively and readers got used to being heavily subsidized. When radio and TV came along, there was no choice: you couldn't sell programs that were on "the air" so ads paid the entire freight.

When the Internet arose 25 years ago, papers could have stuck with a paying model, via paywalls or subscriptions. But by then everyone was used to the "free" model of radio/TV -- and the Internet was on a screen. So the ads on papers' sites were expected to cover their full costs. But behemoths such as Google and Facebook gradually swallowed most ads -- they're now at 80 per cent to 90 per cent -- and papers languish as ad revenues don't suffice.

What's stunning is there was no inherent connection. Ads and news just happened to get welded at the hip. It was a historical accident. There could've been other models: readers could have paid full costs; or public subsidies could have been applied. You'd simply have had to declare journalism an essential national thing, like highways or the armed forces.

In a report titled The Shattered Mirror issued in January, veteran journalist Ed Greenspon confronted the crisis and proposed what look like fairly timid solutions. He doesn't advocate tax tricks to restore the golden age of ad revenues. Instead he suggests levying a charge on ad-heavy Internet platforms like Facebook and Google. This would go into a fund that distributes money to journalistic institutions to help them weather the storm and pay for more actual journalism.

The amounts would be substantial, though nothing like the great old days. It's a bit like funds that support Canadian film production or even Canada Council grants for artists.

Greenspon tries to avoid the odium of hefty government involvement (and the lash of free market zealots) but there's really no way around it: this is about active public policy to save a crucial democratic resource: journalism.

Attacks have even come from Star columnists Chantal Hebert and Paul Wells, wary of political controls. I think this is naïve on their part. Public policy has long been present in this area: advertising deductions, postal subsidies, Canadian content rules, the CBC itself. Journalism's virginity vanished awhile back.

It's also naïve to think advertising didn't wield a heavy hand on its own. During the 1900s in Toronto, papers never covered union drives at Eaton's because it was their biggest daily advertiser. The first nightly news show in the U.S. was Camel News Caravan. Do you really think that had no effect on coverage of lung cancer research? You're always fighting one devil or another.

So I'd prefer not to think of Greenspon as wimping out in the face of Google and Facebook -- though he does call them "monsters," referencing their size, mostly. Other nations, he notes, have successfully levied a charge on them to help keep the journalistic home fires burning. But this limited approach may be far-sighted in spite of itself, since it implies reaching toward a new model of journalism that divorces it from its peculiar dependence on ads.

Whatever that model eventually is, it could hardly be odder than the match between journalism with its solemn civic duties and commitment to truth on one hand, and ads with their crass devotion to piling up profits while manipulating citizens on the other.

Journalism would no longer be -- or at least not primarily -- what a former Globe and Mail publisher defined it as not long ago: a matter of selling readers to advertisers. What brave new world might lie beyond?

This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Photo: UNclimatechange/flickr

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future of journalismCanadian journalismcanadian mediaNewspaper Industryad revenueRick SalutinMarch 17, 2017Karl Kraus: What a century-old literary critic can teach us about journalismToday newspapers aren't the dominant journalistic force they were in Karl Kraus's Vienna. But they can still play a vile or almost angelic role in the grand drama of public life and debate.We no longer trust newspapers and it's their faultMany of us no longer understand what journalists do, or why. In the face of this knowledge, journalists often duck for cover. It's time they faced up to it, for the sake of democracy.The shattered mirrorIf you think news media cost too much, try making decisions in the dark.

U.S. health 'reform' and the Koch-designed Republican Party

16 March 2017 - 11:08am
Food & HealthPolitics in CanadaUS Politics

I recall my frustration years ago watching U.S. television while an "analyst" from the right-wing Cato Institute spewed blatant lies about Canada's public health-care system -- including that all hospitals in Ontario, having run out of money at the end of the year, had completely shut down for the month of December.

This was back in pre-social media days, making it difficult (beyond yelling at the TV) to immediately challenge such a breathless release of alternative facts.

So it was with some pleasure last week that I watched as a Republican congressman tried to insist that Canadians routinely flock to the U.S. for health care, only to have MSNBC host Ali Velshi stop him dead in his tracks.

"Sir, I grew up in Canada," Velshi declared. "I live in Canada. My entire family is in Canada. Nobody I know ever came to the United States for health care. I am sure you have a handful of stories about things like that. It is not actually statistically true."

Whenever Americans start tinkering with their deeply dysfunctional health-care system, we feel the reverberations up here, as right-wing commentators seek to denigrate our system of universal health-care coverage, which they know sets a dangerous example.

With the ruling Republicans now poised to take health-care coverage from 14 million Americans (eventually 24 million) and keep a straight face while insisting this is about increasing their "choice," it's worth reminding ourselves just how merciless, cruel (and stupid) so many of the Trump/Republican solutions truly are.

Health care is a particularly stark example, but it is symptomatic of the Republican keenness to fully embrace the private marketplace, even though that means abandoning vast numbers of their fellow citizens by the side of the road.

Americans have always had more of a taste for unbridled capitalism than Canadians, but today's Republican party is infected by a particularly virulent strain -- a strain that has been nurtured with ample funds from a few dozen billionaires, led by Charles and David Koch, who have a combined fortune of $84.5 billion.

The Koch brothers have long been radical libertarians, far to the right of even radical conservatives like Ronald Reagan.

When David Koch tried his hand at politics in 1980, running for vice-president on the Libertarian Party ticket that called for an end to public schools, social security and taxation, he and his running mate won only 1 per cent of the vote in the Reagan landslide.

Undeterred, the Koch brothers set about to push America, particularly the Republican Party, much farther right. Operating mostly behind the scenes, and driven by an abiding hatred of government and anything that smacked of distributing wealth more broadly, the Kochs invested massively over the next few decades in creating a vast network of think-tanks, academic programs, front groups, political action groups and campaigns, lobbyists and politicians, as New Yorker writer Jane Mayer documents in her powerful book Dark Money.

(Indeed, the "analyst" I heard lying about the shutdown of Ontario hospitals was from the Cato Institute, which Charles Koch established in 1974.)

With the rise of Donald Trump, the media has tended to go along with Trump's suggestion that, unlike other Republican politicians who depend on Koch money, he enjoys a rare independence from the brothers.

Trump's independence may be overstated; his vice president, Mike Pence, has been a major recipient of Koch money and was Charles Koch's first choice for president in 2012. Pence has brought Koch operatives into the White House and shows signs of becoming a Dick Cheney-style puppet master. For that matter, the Kochs are only an impeachment away from having their guy running the free world.

The role of Koch money in shaping Republican politics gets surprisingly little media attention. But it helps explain the otherwise baffling behaviour of Republican politicians scrambling to justify stripping health coverage from their constituents and using the savings to pay for $600 billion worth of tax cuts for the rich. Awkward.

Meanwhile, many Republicans in the "freedom caucus," who've been heavily funded by the Kochs, consider the proposed reform too generous to the disadvantaged.

American commentators talk about how "complicated" reforming health care is. True, if you utterly reject the simple solution that works -- a Canadian-style public system -- it does become awfully complicated devising a solution that pleases the broader American public while also satisfying two radical extremists who together have the world's largest fortune and a deep aversion to sharing.

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

Image: DonkeyHotey/flickr

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universal health careCanadian health careKoch brothersneoliberalismhealth reformU.S. politicswealth distributionLinda McQuaigMarch 16, 2017Increased cuts push Canadian health care toward privatizationIn an age when the rich demand a fast lane to the front of every line, it will require resolve and determination to preserve our medicare system.Trump is lowering the bar for Canada's health-care system tooIt's easy to laugh off the absurdity of Trump and his supporters' sentiments about the Canadian health-care system. But their ridiculousness doesn't make their impact any less dangerous. Trump smears Canadian health care. Here are some facts.Donald Trump accused Hillary Clinton of favouring a Canadian-style health system, which would be 'terrible,' 'horrible.' Or would it?

U.S. prepares to cut humanitarian aid as 20 million people face famine

16 March 2017 - 10:23am
US PoliticsWorld

The world is facing the most serious humanitarian catastrophe since the end of the Second World War. Twenty million people are at risk of starving to death in Yemen, Somalia, Nigeria and South Sudan. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump is responding by slamming the door on refugees and cutting aid funding while proposing a massive expansion of the U.S. military.

"Millions of people are barely surviving in the space between malnutrition and death, vulnerable to diseases and outbreaks, forced to kill their animals for food and eat the grain they saved for next year's seeds," Antonio Guterres, the new United Nations secretary-general, said recently. "These four crises are very different, but they have one thing in common. They are all preventable. They all stem from conflict, which we must do much more to prevent and resolve."

While the United Nations scrambles to raise the $5.6 billion needed to avert the worst impacts of these crises, the Trump administration is slashing funding to the U.S. State Department, and, according to a draft executive order obtained by The New York Times, to the United Nations as well. The order as drafted (but not yet officially signed or released) calls for "at least a 40 per cent overall decrease" of U.S. voluntary contributions to UN programs like the World Food Program, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and UNICEF. "This is, frankly, a juvenile attitude unbecoming of the world's only superpower," wrote former George W. Bush State Department official Stewart M. Patrick, now at the Council on Foreign Relations.

While the attitude may be juvenile, its impact on actual juveniles is deadly. Seven million people in Yemen are in danger of starvation, and 2.2 million of those are children. Close to half a million of those children are "severely and acutely malnourished," which means they have already suffered potentially lifelong, developmental damage due to starvation.

Joel Charny, director of the Norwegian Refugee Council USA, said on the Democracy Now! news hour, "If the war continues, people will die from famine. I don't think there's any question about that. We just have to find a way for the war to end." That would start with stopping the arming of Saudi Arabia, which is mercilessly bombing Yemen. Instead, on Tuesday, President Trump met at the White House with Saudi Arabia's Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defense Mohammed bin Salman, where they reportedly discussed resuming sales of precision-guided munitions to the Saudi dictatorship.

Amnesty International urged Trump to block new arms sales, writing, "Arming the Saudi Arabia and Bahrain governments risks complicity with war crimes, and doing so while simultaneously banning travel to the U.S. from Yemen would be even more unconscionable."

The war in Yemen is largely seen as a proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, with the United States, under Obama and now intensified under Trump, arming the Saudis and logistically supporting their bombardment of Yemen. "It needs to be stressed that this is not something that started on January 20," Charny said, referring to Trump's inauguration. "This is something that the U.S. has been driving for some time." In his two terms, President Obama sold a record-breaking $115 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia, suspending sales only after a Saudi jet attacked a Yemeni funeral with back-to-back bombings, killing 140 people and wounding 500.

Millions more face famine and a painful death by starvation in Somalia, South Sudan and Nigeria. In South Sudan, despite oil revenue and fertile cropland, Charny says, "unresolved political conflicts within the South Sudanese ruling class that date all the way back to the '90s, that were covered up during the independence struggle but have since emerged," leading to famine. In northeastern Nigeria, armed conflict between the group Boko Haram and the government make delivering humanitarian aid extremely dangerous. Somalia, where famine threatens populations that are actually reachable by the weak central government and aid agencies, Charny struck a more optimistic note: "If we're able to mobilize food and cash quickly, we can overcome the situation in Somalia ... if we get moving."

Famine in these four countries is avoidable. President Trump should fully fund food shipments -- not arms shipments -- and spearhead much-needed diplomacy to avoid the immense catastrophe of 20 million horrific deaths by starvation.

This is what would make America great.

Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now!, a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,400 stations. She is the co-author, with Denis Moynihan and David Goodman, of the newly published New York Times bestseller Democracy Now!: 20 Years Covering the Movements Changing America.

This column was first published on Democracy Now!

Photo: IRIN Photos/flickr

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B.C. Liberals are a rogue government that must be dispatched

16 March 2017 - 9:48am
March 16, 2017B.C. Liberals are a rogue government that must be dispatched The Liberal government of Christy Clark is not so much a government as it is an anti-government: contemptuous of both the public good and of the citizens it is supposed to be governing for.

B.C. Liberals are a rogue government that must be dispatched

16 March 2017 - 9:44am
ElectionsEnvironmentPolitics in Canada

The experience of anything approaching good government or robust democracy in the province of B.C. is now such a distant memory that the present danger is people's low expectations. The Liberal government of Christy Clark is not so much a government as it is an anti-government: contemptuous of both the public good and of the citizens it is supposed to be governing for.

From reckless and damaging tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations (which leaves a budget shortfall of over $3 billion a year) to the $9-13 billion Site C dam catastrophe, to the financial commitment to an LNG business that the experts say is not viable, the Liberal government is aiming to govern into the future even if it loses the May 9 election. These decisions will financially cripple future governments.

If governments could be charged with criminal negligence, the Christy Clark Liberals would be in the dock.

Let me list the charges. Criminal negligence causing harm to pupils. Criminal negligence causing harm to families on social assistance and those with disabilities. Criminal negligence causing harm to B.C. Ferries. Criminal negligence causing harm to B.C. Hydro, once the pride of the province under governments of all stripes.

The "harm to pupils" should be familiar even to those outside B.C. given that it received national attention when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the Clark government violated the Constitution when it unilaterally gutted the teachers' contract language on class size and composition. That resulted in a whole generation of students -- 15 years' worth -- being denied not only decent class sizes but librarians, specialist teachers and those serving kids with special needs. And the principal reason for this outrage? Christy Clark's personal animosity towards the B.C. Teachers' Federation.

In Christy Clark's world the first will always be first and the last, last. Under the Liberal government, social assistance rates have not been raised in 10 years. That means that you get $610 a month for everything (if you are on disability you get $906). You get more if you have kids but forcing a family to exist on such rates in Vancouver is tantamount to child abuse.

Punishing the poor is hardly new in this neoliberal world but the B.C. Liberals have proven to be not just right wing but spectacularly reckless and incompetent when it comes to public utilities. There are, of course, institutions in B.C. that even the rabid privateers in Clark's political universe didn't dare privatize outright: ICBC (Insurance Corporation of British Columbia -- the public insurance corp.), B.C. Ferries and B.C. Hydro. But even though they couldn't sell off B.C. Ferries they "commercialized" it, turning it into a semi-private corporation with a mandate to make a profit. Even the National Post, in 2014, was left rolling its eyes at the results:

"[B.C. Ferries'] government subsidy has ballooned by more than $20 million a year, fares have risen by as much as 100 per cent, and as per one recent study, the combined effect has sapped an incredible $2.3 billion out of the coastal economy."

But the prize for recklessness would be awarded for what the Liberals have done to B.C. Hydro -- including, most recently, the decision to proceed at record pace with the Site C dam project -- at $9 billion (which will likely become $13 billion) the most expensive public infrastructure project in B.C. history. Flying in the face of withering criticism from a large array of strange bedfellows and experts, Clark is furiously building "facts on the ground" so it can't be stopped.

Among the angry and dumfounded opponents are large industrial users of electricity who in 2014 declared B.C. Hydro "out of control." They will have seen a doubling of electricity costs even before the dam is half built. Some pulp mills have already decided to use natural gas to produce their own -- cheaper -- electricity.

And just this week UNESCO added its voice with a dire warning that if the Canadian government didn't intervene, the negative downstream effects of Site C could result in the giant Wood Buffalo National Park being declared a world heritage site "in danger."

The bizarre 70-year financing of the dam means that it will not be paid for until 2094. In other words, it will be at least two generations before B.C. citizens see any return on "their" investment.

Former B.C. Hydro CEO Marc Eliesen has also denounced the project as irresponsible: "In my view, the directors of B.C. Hydro have abdicated their fiduciary and legislative responsibility. They have allowed primarily the premier and the minister of energy to run B.C. Hydro."

Dr. Harry Swain, who served as the chair of the Site C Joint Review Panel, broke his silence in 2016, saying the project was not needed now or in the foreseeable future: "You would only want to do that if there were an overwhelming economic case that this was the best and cheapest way, including all external effects, of providing something that the provincial economy absolutely required."

All of this criticism has been tossed aside by the Clark government because of yet another reckless commitment it has made: to the development of a huge liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry in the province supplied by the fracking fields of northeastern B.C. -- the idea being to provide clean Site C electricity to an industry with a huge carbon footprint.

One madness has led to another -- because experts in the field of LNG say it will be years, possibly decades, before anything like the Liberals' plans will play out. Perhaps three or four of the 20 proposed plants envisioned for the B.C. coast are economically viable -- and then only after the huge supply coming on line in the next few years -- increasing world supply by over 50 per cent -- is taken up and prices rise.

Despite the "facts on the ground" both Harry Swain and Former Hydro CEO Eliesen said this week it still makes sense to cancel the project. It would cost at least a couple of billion dollars but that is still cheaper than a potential white elephant with $9 billion in stranded costs -- and huge price increases to pay down the costs.

Regrettably we can't charge this wrecking crew with criminal negligence. But at least on May 9 we can throw them out of office and stop the carnage.

Murray Dobbin has been a journalist, broadcaster, author and social activist for 40 years. He writes rabble's State of the Nation column.

Photo: BC Gov Photos/flickr

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CIA spying and the Theatre of Privacy

15 March 2017 - 9:19am
Arts & CultureCivil Liberties WatchTechnology

So, how gadget paranoid do we need to be given last week's Wikileaks dump about how the CIA is spying on us via our smartphones and TV sets?

Not so much, really.

A lot of the coverage about the Vault 7 data dump was breathless nonsense. You would think by reading the reporting on it that the CIA could peek into popular messaging apps like WhatsApp and the secure Signal chat software. You would think that your Samsung SmartTV was at risk of being turned on remotely so it could act as a hidden microphone for the agency.

If you were paranoid enough, you might even think that means the CIA could hack in-home devices like the Amazon Echo and Siri, or that Google Home could be used to spy as well. Not to mention the webcam on your laptop.

None of that is true. There is, actually, no evidence that the CIA has hacked a Samsung TV. And, what the documents show is that in order to do that, the agency would have to physically plug a USB thumb drive into the TV to potentially compromise it. So, the agency would have to target a specific TV for a specific purpose. Not that they have -- they just want to.

The CIA cannot hack into WhatsApp and Signal. There is no evidence they can. They may be able to compromise a target's phone, but that's often because a target has installed malware or an agent gets physical access to a target's device. And, most of the vulnerabilities the documents claim the CIA can use have already been plugged by smartphone makers. Plus, the tools mentioned are pretty old school and well known to the hacker community. There is nothing bleeding edge or secret to see here.

Devices in your home like the Echo sit in near-sleep mode listening for keywords like "Alexa" before they kick into high gear and reach out to the web to answer your question. If you think Amazon could alter those trigger words to include "bomb," "sex" or "terrorist" then you are disappearing down a paranoid conspiracy rabbit hole there is no escape from.

In short, the concern that our gadgets are open windows into our private lives because of the CIA's software tools is ridiculous.

The average gadget-using human isn't at any significant risk for device invasion. Many of the exploits that could be used require that there is physical contact with your device. In other words, again, these are hands-on exploits aimed at specific users, not you.

No thanks to ill-informed stories about CIA hacks, people are becoming gadget paranoid. But, often that paranoia is demonstrated in what I call the Theatre of Privacy. 

Look around your nearest coffee shop. You'll often see folks with the webcam of their laptop covered with tape or a Band-Aid. But, right beside that laptop is a smartphone sporting a front- and back-facing camera, both of which are wide open to the world. Now, which device is more personal and more likely to be with you in even the most intimate of places? That's Theatre of Privacy. 

It does nothing for a few reasons. First, I couldn't actually find an in-the-wild exploit that can take over a MacBook (which most folks with taped-over laptop webcams are using in my observation). And Windows machine exploits for other operating systems are rare or require that your specific device is physically compromised. Also, most laptops have their "on" light hard-wired to the camera so software can't turn it off. 

Second, someone would have to have those tools and a reason for compromising your device. Like the reality of child abduction, the most likely person to want to have access to your webcam is probably someone you know, not a random stranger. So, again, that person who is known to you would also have to have the tools to access your webcam and a reason to do that. And they risk being arrested if caught. For almost all of us, that reduces the threat to zero. The idea that some random creep is hacking your webcam is more sleepover urban myth than reality.

Third, some modern laptops like the latest MacBook Pros contain webcam and microphone controls within what's called a secure enclave so no hacker could, say, turn on your webcam without the "on" light being lit. Even if it is being accessed, which is really, really unlikely. 

And, if you're blocking your laptop webcam but not your smartphone you actually don't know what you're doing. You're just aping what you see. That's especially true if you're using that same smartphone to take selfies. Really, think about it. You are so concerned about somebody taking convert videos of you that you aim a camera right at yourself over and over, in change rooms, at the beach and in a bathroom mirror. 

Should we have a reasonable concern about our privacy? Sure. Should we be paranoid about hacks and exploits that are as unlikely as your computer turning into a running shoe? No. Should we be more concerned about all this because of the Wikileaks Vault 7? No, again. We've got more important things to be worrying about than a SmartTV watching us. And besides, how interesting would it be to have terabytes of footage featuring slack-jawed viewers sitting in the blue-tinted dark watching Game of Thrones?

Really, if you're truly concerned about privacy, a Band-Aid solution isn't the answer.

Listen to an audio version of this column, read by the author.

Wayne MacPhail has been a print and online journalist for 25 years, and is a long-time writer for rabble.ca on technology and the Internet.

Photo: Vincent Brown/flickr

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online privacyciadigital spyinginternet surveillanceWayne MacPhailMarch 15, 2017Safeguarding our digital security with cardboard doors and paper locks In a rush to create smart homes and make our devices talk to each other, we have allowed a threat into our houses through our cardboard doors and paper locks.Heartbleed: A heartbeat away from the death of securityA hapless programmer's little error has escalated to a cardiac arrest across the Web, has cost billions to fix and has potentially been used by a secretive and near-rogue government agency.The history of the Internet: Military anxiety and a hacker's ethicThe Internet we know today is an unlikely combination of radical philosophy and military surveillance.

Defending Indigenous land in the Far North

15 March 2017 - 8:51am
Scott NeighMarch 15, 2017Talking Radical RadioEnvironmentIndigenous Rights

On this week's episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Bobbi Rose Koe and Chris Rider about the long collaboration between Indigenous nations and conservation groups to protect the Yukon's Peel watershed from industrial development. Along with a lengthy public information and advocacy campaign, in recent years Protect the Peel has also involved a court battle that will reach the Supreme Court of Canada on March 22.

The watershed of the Peel River encompasses an area in the northeastern Yukon that is larger than the province of Nova Scotia. It is one of the largest unroaded natural areas in the world, and is the territory of four First Nations.

The use of land in the Yukon is currently governed by agreements finalized in the 1990s among most of the First Nations in the territory, the Yukon government, and the government of Canada. These agreements include substantial requirements for consultation with and input from those nations whose territories will be impacted by land use decisions. When the land-use planning process was begun for the Peel watershed in the early 2000s, all of the First Nations in the area plus the conservation groups with which they were working took the position that 100 per cent of the watershed must be protected from industrial development. The process was extensive, lasting seven years, and resulted in a compromise that the First Nations and the conservation groups were not thrilled about but that they accepted: 80 per cent of the watershed would be protected, even from the building of roads, while 20 per cent would be opened for development.

Around the same time as the final report of the land-use planning process was released, however, the territorial government released its own report saying that rather than abide by the seven years of good-faith consultation and negotiation, they had unilaterally decided that they would protect only 30 per cent of the watershed and open the rest up to industry.

Already by this point, for many years Protect the Peel had been a highly effective public education and public pressure campaign. It had succeeded in raising public consciousness in the Yukon about the importance of preserving the watershed and had also made significant strides in connecting with people far beyond the territory. With the government announcement that it intended to open up the majority of the watershed to industry, the First Nations leadership and the conservation organizations decided they had no choice but to build on this public campaign with a robust legal challenge as well.

In 2014, the Yukon Supreme Court delivered a stinging rebuke to the territorial government, which was ordered to abide by the outcome of the land-use planning process with no option for introducing changes that would protect any less than the 80 per cent figure in the original compromise. In 2015, the Yukon government appealed this ruling. While the Yukon Court of Appeal agreed with much of the earlier decision's criticism of the Yukon government's actions, it granted permission to re-boot the land-use planning process to a much earlier stage that would end up allowing the government to force through a major reduction in the percentage of land ultimately protected.

On March 22 of this year, the Supreme Court of Canada will be hearing an appeal by the First Nations and the conservation groups. Though the new Yukon government elected in late 2016 takes a much more pro-conservation stance than its predecessor, the case is continuing, and the court will decide whether or not the government will be bound by the earlier process to fully protect 80 per cent of the watershed. All through the legal process, the public education and advocacy component of Protect the Peel has been continuing, and there will be a series of public events in March in both Whitehorse and Ottawa.

Bobbi Rose Koe is a member of the Tetlit Gwich'in nation who lives in Fort McPherson. She is active in Protect the Peel and is one of the leaders of Youth of the Peel, a group of Indigenous people committed to reconnecting other Indigenous youth with the watershed and teaching them skills. Chris Rider is the executive director of the Yukon chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, or CPAWS, one of the conservation groups active in defending the Peel watershed. They speak with me about the land, about the long public campaign to protect it, and about the legal process that will culminate in the Supreme Court of Canada later this month.

To learn more about the Protect the Peel campaign and the legal battle, click here.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow us on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact scottneigh@talkingradical.ca to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

The image modified for use in this post was taken by Peter Mather for Protect the Peel. Used by permission of Protect the Peel.

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environmentland defenceIndigenousconservationYukon

Julie Hirshey on the Philadelphia Eagles, charity, community engagement and making an impact

15 March 2017 - 8:47am
Face2FaceMarch 15, 2017face2faceArts & Culture

Julie Hirshey and Face2Face host David Peck talk about the Philadelphia Eagles, non-profits, charity, and how we as individuals and community-based organizations can create a more significant impact.

Biography

Julie Hirshey is the Director of Community Relations for the Philadelphia Eagles where she works to execute the team’s mission to serve as proud partners of the Philadelphia community. In this role she leads the team’s efforts to support generations of Eagles fans and works to partner with non-profits throughout the region. Hirshey was instrumental in the creation of the Eagles Care initiative, which focuses on non-profit capacity building. 

Her department also executes public facing corporate social responsibility initiatives such as the team’s Healthy Food Drive and Tackling Breast Cancer. Hirshey also serves as an officer of the Eagles Charitable Foundation, which is a public charity that serves thousands of low-income children in the Greater Philadelphia region every year with a focus on improving health outcomes through vision care and autism research and services.

Prior to joining the Eagles in 2000, Julie worked in the television and business affairs department at the National Hockey League in New York. She received her BSc in Sociology from Boston University where she worked for the Terriers Ice Hockey team.  Julie is a native of the Philadelphia area and comes from a family of long-time Eagles Season Ticket Members.

Find out more about the Philadelphia Eagles Community Outreach.

For more information about my podcasting, writing and public speaking please visit my site here.

With thanks to producer Josh Snethlage and Mixed Media Sound.

Image: Julie Hirshey

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When the celebrated Mr. K. performs his feat on Saturday … what will Brian Jean do?

15 March 2017 - 1:00am
David J. ClimenhagaMarch 15, 2017

Could Wildrose Party Leader Brian Jean beat Progressive Conservative leader-presumptive Jason Kenney for the leadership of Wildrose 2.0, or whatever the new Alberta conservative political entity that emerges after Kenney's expected victory on Saturday is called?

It's an interesting, if unlikely, question.

Just to restate what has been predicted here before:

  1. Kenney will win the PC leadership race on the first ballot this Saturday, then proceed with his planned double-reverse hostile takeover of Alberta's two conservative parties.
  2. Jean will come under enormous pressure from well-heeled and influential Kenney supporters like former Reform Party leader Preston Manning and former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper to make way for the celebrated Mr. K.
  3. Jean will cave.

To add one more essential point -- as explained by political commentator Dave Cournoyer in his Daveberta.ca blog yesterday -- the instant Kenney wins, the venerable Progressive Conservative Party "will become a vassal of the Wildrose Party, which Kenney also seeks to lead into a new conservative party."

Kenney’s campaign against Jean has already begun -- in the open and, quite possibly, covertly too, played out behind the scenes by groups of Kenney's supporters. Kenney backers have already shown themselves on several occasions to be prepared to ignore the PC Party's rules, not to mention the rules of common decency as illustrated by the harassment campaign against former PC leadership candidate Sandra Jansen.

Thanks to Kenney's efforts, or at least those of his supporters, Jansen is now a New Democrat MLA, a turn of events that would have been very hard to see coming even a few months ago.

But suppose, for a moment, that Jean doesn't cave! Then things will get interesting …

One effect of such a contest, I expect, would be to push the combined party much farther right, as the contestants competed for the support of the most extreme and vocal elements of the Wildrose base.

There are days -- there were a couple of them in the Legislature's Question Period last week -- when the former Harper government MP for Fort McMurray Athabasca really doesn't sound like a fellow who is about to throw in the towel and surrender to the former Harper government cabinet minister from Calgary Midnapore who is favoured by the conservative establishment’s heavyweights.

So, if Jean makes a fight of it, could he win?

There was a poll last December by Janet Brown Opinion Research that indicated conservative Albertans are more likely to vote for a united right-wing party led by Jean than one led by Kenney -- so the Wildrose leader would certainly have a legitimate argument to make.

Assuming Albertans still feel the same way, though, the problem for Jean would be that he would have to win a vote by the increasingly radicalized -- and likely by then more radical still -- Wildrose/Conservative membership. They, it is said here, are more likely to plump for Kenney, a fairly extreme social conservative, than the somewhat more moderate Jean.

Then the crucial question becomes: What happens to the moderate Tory traditionalists who are supporting leadership candidate Richard Starke, who has been from the start Kenney's only serious contender? Do they stay or do they go? If they go … where?

If the Progressive Conservative Party had been serious about conserving its existence, there was a time not so long ago it could have done something about Kenney's campaign to destroy the party and turn it into an auxiliary of the Wildrose. But it's too late now, and the veterinarian from Vermilion will go down to the former Canadian Taxpayers Federation economic snake oil salesman on Saturday despite the distinguished list of former PC MLAs who have lent their 11th hour support to Starke's campaign.

The moneyed backers of Canada's Republicanized conservatives -- especially their two Alberta chapters -- are so sure they can win the next provincial election no matter who leads, they want the more extreme candidate in the hopes Alberta can be a beachhead in the campaign against Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as well as moving Canada's political discourse back toward the far right.

Could Premier Rachel Notley's New Democrats somehow pull the fat from the fryer and get re-elected in 2019?

A new poll by Mainstreet Research, which was being heavily promoted by Postmedia newspapers yesterday, suggests not.

With the NDP's third budget set to be delivered to the Legislature tomorrow, the Mainstreet survey indicated a large majority of Albertans are highly dissatisfied with the way the government is handling the province's anemic economy and its finances.

While Mainstreet President Quito Maggi's commentary about the likely response to the budget was balanced enough, editorials and commentary by the failing Postmedia chain, which nowadays acts as an auxiliary publicity department for the conservative opposition, were positively gleeful.

As for Mainstreet's methodology, though, while I'm no professional pollster and this is just my opinion, I'm convinced that if the company had asked the question a different way, it would have gotten a different answer.

The question asks respondents: "Finance Minister Joe Ceci says the provincial budget will not be back in balance (with revenues meeting or exceeding government spending) until 2023 or 2024. In your opinion is this too fast, too slow or is it about right?"

Now, I thought I'd read somewhere recently that a cardinal rule of polling was never to ask questions in the negative because such questions tend to create confusion about double negatives. This question also seems to encourage a particular response. And what does not balancing a budget too fast mean anyway?

So I have to ask, would Mainstreet have gotten a different answer if, say, it had asked the same question this way: "Finance Minister Joe Ceci says the provincial budget will be back in balance (with revenues meeting or exceeding government spending) by 2023 or 2024. In your opinion is this too fast, too slow or is it about right?"

I say the answer is yes. That answer, however, wouldn't have reinforced Postmedia's partisan narrative.


Bonus Essay Question: Should Alberta be kept sewer-rat free?

Certain conservative politicians who seem to think it's OK for their supporters to insult a woman's appearance or to describe women politicians with what is generally considered to be the most obscene word in the English language, and who associate with groups that promote the idea "feminism is cancer," are wounded and emotional because a woman politician speaking in the provincial Legislature accused them of hanging out with "sewer rats." Discuss.

Please keep your essays to 200 words or fewer and place them in the comments section of this blog. There will be no prize for the winner beyond the approbation of this blog's proprietor.

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

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Politics in CanadaAlberta politicsWildrose PartyProgressive Conservative PartyAlberta NDPBrian JeanJason KenneyRichard StarkeProgressive Conservative Leadership RaceJanet Brown Opinion ResearchCanadian Taxpayers FederationMainstreet Researchpolling

While Russia has never invaded Canada, we once invaded their country

15 March 2017 - 12:56am
Yves EnglerMarch 15, 2017

The corporate media presents Russia as militaristic but ignores Canada’s invasion of that country.

One hundred years ago a popular revolt ousted the Russian monarchy. Enraged at Nicholas II's brutality and the horror of the First World War, protests and strikes swept the capital of Petrograd (Saint Petersburg). Within a week the czar abdicated. Later in the year the Bolsheviks rose to power in large part by committing to withdraw from the war.

The English, French and U.S. responded to the Bolsheviks' rise by supporting the Russian monarchists (the White movement) in their fight to maintain power. Six thousand Canadian troops also invaded. According to Roy Maclaren in Canadians in Russia, 1918 – 1919, Canadian gunners won "a vicious reputation amongst the Bolsheviks for the calm skill with which they used shrapnel as a short-range weapon against foot soldiers."

While a Canadian naval vessel supported the White Russians, Canadian pilots stationed near the Black Sea provided air support.

The war against the Bolsheviks was initially justified as a way to reopen the First World War's eastern front (the Bolsheviks signed a peace treaty with Germany). Canadian troops, however, stayed after the war ended. In fact, 2,700 Canadian troops arrived in the eastern city of Vladivostok on January 5, 1919, two months after the war's conclusion. A total of 3,800 Canadian troops, as well as Royal Northwest Mounted Police and 697 horses, went to Siberia, which the Whites continued to control long after losing Moscow, St. Petersburg and most of the western part of the country.

Ottawa maintained its forces in Russia after the conclusion of the First World War partly to persuade the British that Canada merited inclusion in the Paris peace conference that would divvy up the spoils of the war. Prime Minister Borden wrote:

"We shall stand in an unfortunate position unless we proceed with Siberia expedition. We made definite arrangements with the British government on which they have relied … Canada's present position and prestige would be singularly impaired by deliberate withdrawal."

Ottawa also feared the rise of anti-capitalism. On December 1, 1918, Borden wrote in his diary that he was "struck with the progress of Bolshevism in European countries." For their part, Canadian working-class groups condemned the invasion of Russia as "for the benefit of the capitalist." The president of the B.C. Federation of Labour Joseph Naylor asked, "is it not high time that the workers of the Western world take action similar to that of the Russian Bolsheviki and dispose of their masters as those brave Russians are now doing?"

The allies invaded Russia to defend the status quo, much to the dismay of many Canadians who welcomed the czar's demise and found it difficult to understand why Canada would support Russian reactionaries. Opposition to the intervention was widespread even among soldiers. According to the Toronto Globe, 60-70 per cent of the men sent to Siberia went unwillingly. One artillery section even refused to obey orders.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s western countries worked to isolate Moscow. Canada (and the U.S.) opposed a treaty to guarantee Russia's pre-war frontiers, which England had signed with Moscow. Ottawa recognized the Bolshevik government in 1924 but ties were severed after the British cut off relations in mid-1927. Full diplomatic relations with Moscow would not restart until the late 1930s.

Russophobia has once again gripped the political/media establishment. A number of prominent commentators have defended the grandfather of Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland collaborating with the Nazis on the grounds it was either them or the Russians occupying Ukraine during the Second World War. Freeland herself deflected questions on the matter by saying Moscow may be trying to "destabilize" Canadian democracy while Brigadier General Paul Rutherford warned of Russian cyber warfare. More dangerous, Ottawa is ramping up its military presence on Russia's doorstep (Ukraine, Poland and Latvia) to counter "aggression."

To help clear the thick fog of propaganda it's useful to remember how Canada responded to the fall of Russia's monarchy. While Russia has never invaded Canada, we once invaded their country.

Image: OlestC/flickr

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