Ho-hum budget delivers little vision or action on agriculture

18 April 2017 - 9:16am
EconomyFood & HealthPolitics in Canada

"Further details of the next agricultural policy framework will be announced over the coming year…" So states the 2017 federal Liberal budget released on March 22.

I had hoped there would be a bit more of an attempt to deal with the pressing issues related to agriculture.

When I came upon this statement on page 108 of the 2017 budget, I couldn't quite believe what I was reading.

Another "stay-tuned" budget, with little commitment and definitely little vision for how the agricultural economy of this country might be best developed in the interests of community, family farmers, climate change and clean food.

Still no policy framework and still no discussion of pressing issues such as retiring farmers, land tenure, preserving the family farm, poor farm incomes, or how best to encourage sustainable agriculture, farm cooperatives, community trusts, financing and micro-loans, etc. Of all the ideas that might be tried, this budget came up shamefully empty.

Beyond mentioning working toward eliminating tariffs, launching initiatives to encourage science and value-added agri-business, the 2017 federal budget was remarkable in its lack of understanding, insight and action.

It is not that the federal government has not received guidance or clear recommendations.

Here is what one of several recommendations from the National Farmers Union submission to the pre-budget consultations of the Finance Committee stated on the most pressing of issues -- intergenerational transfer of family farms:

"The average age of farmers in Canada is rising and the number of farmers under age 35 is falling. We are in the midst of a crisis in inter-generational transfer. There is an urgent need for measures to assist young people to begin and continue farming. Measures to promote sustainable incomes for all farmers will help young people choose farming as an economically viable career. Beginning farmers require mentorship and training, as well as assistance in gaining access to land, especially options for secure land tenure that do not involve crippling debts.

The NFU recommends the federal government develop mechanisms for farm family intergenerational land transfers that do not rely on loans and interest payments. Fiscal measures should be created that would promote community-based financing options and community-owned land trusts and land banks to ensure food production by local farmers. Canada also needs an income-assurance plan for beginning farmers to assist them in becoming established and support their long-term success. A retirement savings program or pension plan specifically designed for farmers would reduce their need to rely on selling land at high prices to fund their retirement."

As noted in other columns I have written, there are many, many ways of implementing these recommendations. These two paragraphs clearly and succinctly sum up what is required. Budget 2017 did not even mention new farmers, but encouraged us to wait until next year for a comprehensive agricultural policy under Growing Forward 2018.


Hearken back to the Alternative Federal Budget 2017 (AFB) published on March 9 by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives for a clear picture of the choices required for food security and sovereignty in Canada. Among its comprehensive economic policies, the AFB 2017 maps out strong policy actions to ensure family farming in Canada gets back on track. It also recognizes the importance of small farms in helping to mitigate climate change, recognizes the need to drastically improve farm incomes, and supports the reestablishment of a strong system of publicly funded research to support family farmers. It also recognizes that there is a crisis in intergenerational land transfer.

Here is a summary from the CCPA's budget publication entitled High Stakes, Clear Choices:

"The average age of Canadian farmers is rising. Older farmers are delaying retirement, while younger people who want to farm are facing barriers that are increasingly difficult to overcome, such as precarious farm income prospects and a fraying rural social fabric. We are in the midst of a crisis in inter-generational transfer. Land is being acquired by farmland investment companies, consolidated into large holdings, and farmed by tenant farmers and hired labour instead of being transferred to younger farm families and new entrants. There is an urgent need for measures to assist young people to begin and continue farming successfully.

  • Create a national agricultural climate change mitigation program to help farmers reduce emissions and make their farms more resilient.
  • Make farm incomes less precarious by rebuilding or repairing the institutions that give farmers more power in the marketplace.
  • Create a new set of mechanisms and training programs to facilitate land transfer to new farmers without requiring them to take on crippling debt."

Add to this context decades of poor farm incomes as illustrated in this graphic blog by researcher Darrin Qualman, "Agribusiness takes all: 90 years of Canadian net farm income," and it is incredible that there are any family farmers left in Canada. The fact that there still are underscores the commitment and stamina and stick-to-it-ness of some. But, of course, low farm incomes have taken a drastic toll on the rural population generally. That includes small businesses located in small centres across the country. Family farmers are suffering, but so is all of rural Canada. Without addressing the issue of the farming population, there is no way to solve the rural crisis more generally.

 In 2018, the Liberal government plans to discuss agriculture and apparently provide a framework for renewal. We'll see. So far, the federal government has simply put a whole new spin on the meaning of the farming phrase "next year country."

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: Adam Scotti/PMO

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At the farm gateBudget 2017agricultural policyCanadian agricultureCanadian Farmersland transferLois RossApril 18, 2017Hungering for commitments on a new Canadian food policyHarvest season may be over in Canada, but for activist farmers the work is never done. As winter approaches, food activists are advocating for long-term policy changes that are increasingly urgent.Liberals' 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."Need for national food policy intensifies as costs soar and food insecurity remainsThere should be no one suffering from food insecurity in a country as rich as Canada, yet this is a big issue. Here is why we need a national food policy that focuses on sustainability.

Liberals follow in Harper Conservatives' footsteps with government by the PMO

18 April 2017 - 8:41am
April 18, 2017Liberals follow in Conservatives' footsteps with government by the PMO Turning Canadian democracy over to the PMO may make it simpler to govern. Watching the Trudeau PMO at work shows it does not improve a government's ability to perform the duties it promised.

Liberals follow in Conservatives' footsteps with government by the PMO

18 April 2017 - 8:34am
Politics in Canada

The prime minister's personal staffers have a partisan mission. Each political cycle ends with an election: the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) is supposed to make sure the government comes out on top.

While Prime Minister Trudeau enjoys personal popularity, his government is exhibiting signs of political amnesia. They keep forgetting why they were elected.

With 18 months in office, on key files the Liberals seem incapable of distinguishing themselves from the previous Harper Conservatives.

It may be reassuring for Justin Trudeau to have his campaign team making policy, but it is not working out well with Chief of Staff Katie Telford and Policy Advisor G.M. (Gerry) Butts running things from the PMO.

How could the Trudeau government introduce a 300-page so-called budget implementation bill, after promising that such Harper-style omnibus legislation would disappear under the Liberals?

It is hardly going to escape parliamentary attention that the omnibus budget bill is a crude attempt by the Liberals to pass legislation without it receiving adequate examination.

The PMO has adopted Harper-like tactics because the opposition have succeeded in shutting down Liberal efforts to move bills through Parliament.

A report by Rachel Aiello in The Hill Times gives details on how Liberals efforts to amend the Standing Rules of Procedure in the House of Commons have evoked opposition ire and led to a freeze on parliamentary business.

The opposition point of view received sympathetic understanding from long-serving Liberal MP Wayne Easter.

When questioned by Rachel Aiello about the Liberal approach to Parliament, the Member from Malpeque, P.E.I., stated:

"This is the House of Commons. It's not the House of Cabinet. It's not the House of the PMO. It's the House of Commons. It's the people's House, and the majority of the people in that House are not members of cabinet."

For Wayne Easter, no changes should be made to parliamentary rules of procedure without support of the main opposition parties.

This is no doubt a lesson Easter, but not the Trudeau PMO, learned from watching the Harper government ignore parliamentary opinion.

The Trudeau Liberal response to parliamentary stalemate is pure political communications strategy 101: change the subject.

To distract attention from what is going wrong in Parliament, the PMO have reached for an old favourite -- marijuana -- the subject that first got Trudeau attention after he won the Liberal leadership four years ago on April 14, 2013 and tabled a Cannabis Act.

Information Commissioner of Canada Suzanne Legault has announced she will not seek a new mandate. In her interview with John Geddes of Maclean's she explained her disappointment with the inaction of the Trudeau government.

Measures to increase government transparency were promised by the Liberals, but have been shelved by the PMO.

The new prime minister had promised that 2015 was the last election that would be held under the old electoral system.

The PMO had the next election in mind when the Liberals decided to bury democratic reform. If you win with first-past-the-post why change it?

As a pattern develops of breaking promises, who is going to believe Trudeau when he promises changes in the next campaign?

The concentration of power in the PMO reached its peak under Stephen Harper when the public service, the media, Parliament, and, indeed, cabinet, were regularly dismissed, ignored, or saw their roles downgraded.

Justin Trudeau has promised to end the era of "prime ministerial government" (inaugurated by his father Pierre Trudeau after the 1968 election). Under a democratic government, the upper reaches of the politically neutral public service are to advise on how to deliver good-quality public services efficiently and cost-effectively.

Deputy ministers, and not just the PMO, have the responsibility to warn ministers off doing things that are difficult to sell to voters and would weaken the standing of the government in the country.

Ministers, not staffers, are supposed to make the decisions, because ministers, not the PMO, carry the can with the public and have to account for the results.

Turning Canadian democracy over to the PMO may make it simpler to govern. Watching the Trudeau PMO at work shows it certainly does not improve a government's ability to perform the duties it promised to undertake on behalf of Canadian citizens.

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

Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

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PMOTrudeau governmentHarper governmentPM chief of staffbuttskatie telfordDuncan CameronApril 18, 2017Trudeau Liberals betray open and fair government pledgesMeaningful changes to parliament are unlikely so long as a party with the support of only 40 percent of voters can form a majority government, and carry on without seeking support across party lines.Justin Trudeau versus Stephen Harper: What's the difference?By 2015, for most Canadians, the Harper government had run out its time. Voters decided to replace it with the Trudeau Liberals. How is that working out?Trudeau's do-nothing approach to electoral reform risks Canada's future The PM's warning that an extremist party could gain some seats in parliament under a proportional system ignores the fact that the extreme right can win a majority under the current system.

When talking guaranteed basic income, let's not forget the need to contest power

14 April 2017 - 9:58am
EconomyLabourPolitics in Canada

Something about the guaranteed basic income program being readied for an Ontario test run -- names vary but it means automatic minimum support for the needy and eventually everyone -- irritates me. And yes, that makes me feel Dickensian: Humbug!

Let me, without much justification, start somewhere else: sexual abuse at universities. In her book, Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus, U.S. academic Laura Kipnis acknowledges the problem -- the plague really -- but deplores the perils of a bureaucratic, judicialized response.

She documents much abuse in the name of dealing with abuse. Yet what most worries her is what a reviewer called a "crisis of agency" among young women. If they leave their protection to recently minted campus officials and offices -- after registering their complaints -- it may reduce them to passive victimhood, awaiting outside rescuers: "There's an excess of masculine power in the world, and women have to be educated to contest it in real time …"

Now agency is agency and passivity is passivity, though they come in many guises. When I organized with a textile union in the 1970s, another organizer reported a young worker's experience of sexual innuendo being spread about her by company stooges. The organizer wanted to go to Ontario's Human Rights Commission. The union leader, a veteran of 1930s vintage, scoffed. He'd seen it often. My fellow organizer felt rebuffed but his point was: workers are going to encounter much worse and must learn to deal with these attacks themselves, to build their strength.

The way that working people -- by which I mean those who depend on jobs to support themselves, versus living off investments, interest, rent etc. -- the way workers found to protect their interests over a period of about 150 years, was by uniting in what were called unions to assert their rights. This was agency.

The counterattack by the owning class in recent decades has been targeted at undermining those unions. It's been the most significant effect of free trade deals. By moving jobs to cheaper markets, such as Mexico or China, employers pressured unions to ratchet down demands and concede gains they'd made. Eventually workers ask, "What do we need these unions for if all they do is cave?" Then along comes Universal B.I., Guaranteed B.I., or some cognate.

The very governments and sectors that imposed and insisted on those debilitating trade deals, now rise up and say: Worry not, we will restore your declining security, which threatens to plunge you into need and onto welfare, with a guaranteed basic income. The one thing you won't get back, it's true, is your sense of agency and power, which you'd achieved to some extent through your unions. But your "basics" will now, through our benevolence, be covered.

The problem with this isn't only the absence of agency and dignity but, as Kipnis says about the abuse of young women: they can't just wait around "for men to reach some new stage of heightened consciousness" because that day may never come.

And what if the owning and renting classes simply view a BI as another source to be scarfed up through higher rents, charges, privatized highways etc., so it ends up merely expanding the gulf between the rich and the rest? (I'm indebted for this argument to economist Michael Hudson.)

Take Kathleen Wynne's privatization of Hydro. Of course electricity costs will rise once the financiers take over, why else would they buy it except to profit as much as they can? So the GBI just gets recycled back up to those who made it necessary in the first place. The inequality gulf worsens and is financed largely by taxes from people who can't ever get ahead of it. Arrggh!

What's the alternative? Not necessarily unions, but agency in some form. Take control of your destiny -- both because it's more fun than the alternative and because you can't trust anyone else to. Organize somehow -- unions, political parties, whatever -- to get a seat at the same table as those guys with the investments and returns have done forever. Charity is always a way to confirm who's on top and who's stuck below -- and a guaranteed BI is essentially charity.

Would I vote for it? Maybe, as a desperate stopgap measure. People have to survive. But I wouldn't stop skulking around, conniving and contriving a way to contest power, not just gratefully accept its ambiguous droppings.

This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Photo: Christopher Andrews/flickr

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guaranteed basic incomeeconomic inequalitywealth distributionPoverty ReductionOntario PoliticsCapitalismRick SalutinApril 14, 2017In times of despair, utopias are preferable to dystopiasDystopias are warnings, utopias are yearnings. They keep chugging ahead into the future, unlike dystopias, which are meant to forewarn but can as easily depress and demobilize.Basic income: The devil is in the detailsBasic income is in the news right now, with governments from Alberta to Quebec in support of the idea. Economist David Macdonald says it's critical to pick the right model to actually reduce poverty.We need to work less to live betterA lot needs to be done to reform our economic systems and to address critical issues like pollution and climate change. Reducing work hours is one way to make substantial gains.

Trudeau to make pot legal while cracking down on impaired drivers and pushers

14 April 2017 - 8:50am
April 14, 2017Trudeau to make pot legal while cracking down on impaired drivers and pushersThe Liberal government finally introduced its pot legalization legislation, which contains many law-and-order measures to placate the many who are concerned about the impact of legal dope.

Alberta's Week in Review: We know where the Wildrosers are, but where's Jason?

14 April 2017 - 1:50am
David J. ClimenhagaApril 14, 2017

When Alberta's Wildrose Opposition MLAs sent out a summary yesterday touting their exploits over the past week, there was nary a word about gay-straight alliances.

This is really odd, because restricting or eliminating the rights of LGBTQ students to safely join GSAs in their schools have been pretty much the only thing their supporters and some of their MLAs have been able to talk about for more than two weeks now!

Ever since March 28, when would be united-right boss Jason Kenney, fresh from his victory in the Progressive Conservative Party's leadership campaign, opined that teachers should be required to inform parents whose children join a GSA at school, the base that both political parties hope to appeal to hasn't been able to leave the topic alone.

In other words, ensuring that GSAs don't work and can't work has been the No. 1 burning topic for Alberta's right ever since! They've been at it like a dog with a bone. As blogger Dave Cournoyer put it in a post earlier this week, "Alberta's conservatives are obsessed with gay-straight alliances."

Some conservative MLAs, including Opposition Leader Brian Jean, can't seem to leave it alone either, despite the undeniable fact it's a really terrible issue for them with voters.

Kenney, who started it, obviously gets this. He's made himself scarce ever since he put his foot in it -- something you can only get away with if you're not an MLA with an obligation to turn up at the Legislature when it's in session.

Jean has been braver -- or more foolish -- depending on how you see things.

But maybe he has to be. Notwithstanding his past denial, the Wildrose Caucus clearly appears to be badly riven over the GSA issue -- not to mention the question of whether Jean or Kenney should lead a united right-wing Frankenparty.

Earlier this week, several Wildrose MLAs wore "include parents" buttons given to them by a supporter whose Facebook posts on the topic compared contemporary public schools to residential schools used to force First Nations children to assimilate with Euro-Canadian culture and who also seemed to suggest there's a United Nations plot to seize Canadian children from their parents.

At any rate, as Cournoyer pointed out on Tuesday, the Wildrose Leader first took issue with Kenney on April 3 by saying GSA members should not be outed. The next day he flip-flopped, and said maybe parents should be notified. By April 5, he was back to his original position.

Yesterday at the Legislative Building Jean was back at it, giving the impression he's opening the door to repealing or amending the 2015 law that allows students to form GSAs if he and the Wildrosers manage to form a government.

Jean was responding to a reporter's question about the apparent disagreement by one of his MLAs with his last known position on the issue -- claiming that the MLA was just asking constituents for their opinions.

"I'm more than happy to hear all of those opinions because I think with the widest breadth of consultation with Albertans we'll actually be able to get the law right," he told the gathered reporters. "And I think this is a very important issue for many Albertans and I want to make sure we get the law right."

Say what? When the changes that permitted GSAs were introduced by the late Jim Prentice's PC government in 2015, they were supported by all Wildrose MLAs.

NDP Education Minister David Eggen has been trying to enforce the law, which the NDP also supported back in 2015, in the face of resistance by operators of religious schools and home schooling advocates who have been working with the conservative Opposition parties to embarrass the government.

Does Jean's statement yesterday mean the Wildrose Caucus has a plan to repeal or amend the GSA provisions? It sure as heck sounds like it.

The NDP Legislative Caucus called Jean on this, demanding in a news release that "Brian Jean must state his position, not only on outing LGBTQ+ kids, but now also his position on Bill 10." (Emphasis added.)

The circumstances suggest he'll now have to do that, whether he likes it or not. Whatever he says, it'll look like he's changed his position.

Meanwhile, if anyone sees Kenney, please let a responsible grownup know. If he doesn't show up soon, his face is going to have to start appearing on milk cartons!

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

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EducationLGBTIQPolitics in CanadaAlberta politicsAlberta EducationAlberta NDPEducation PolicyWildrose PartyProgressive Conservative PartyJason Kenneyjim prenticeBrian JeanDavid EggenNDP Legislative CaucusDave Cournoyerresidential schoolsUnited NationsGay-Straight AlliancesLGBTQ StudentsLGBTQ Rights

Trump keeps campaign promise to promote unfettered police power

13 April 2017 - 12:51pm
Anti-RacismCivil Liberties WatchUS Politics

As the world focuses on state violence from Syria to Iraq to Yemen to North Korea, the groundwork is being laid in the United States for unchecked state violence at home. Donald Trump is making good on at least one of his many campaign promises: promoting unfettered police power. His point person on these goals, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is leading the Justice Department through a tectonic shift, abandoning Obama-era efforts to protect civil and voting rights, threatening more deportations and resuscitating the decades-old, failed "War on Drugs."

This week, Sessions told the International Association of Chiefs of Police, "Unfortunately, in recent years ... law enforcement as a whole has been unfairly maligned and blamed for the crimes and unacceptable deeds of a few bad actors." Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, said on the Democracy Now! news hour, "What we see with Attorney General Jeff Sessions is an effort to basically take us back in time ... this is a person who's stuck in the '80s, and in some instances, stuck in the '50s."

Ifill continued, "It's a kind of a retro view of law enforcement and policing in which he's attempting to wipe out the last 30 years of progress in this country, to the extent that it's been made -- the last four years, in particular, where we've really been focused on the issue of policing reform." Much of the recent efforts emanate from the summer of civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. There, on Aug. 9, an unarmed African-American teenager, Michael Brown, was shot dead by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, sparking months of protest. By March of 2016, the City of Ferguson and the Justice Department, then under Attorney General Loretta Lynch, entered into a consent decree "with the shared recognition that the ability of a police department to protect the community it serves is only as strong as the relationship it has with that community."

Before long, right-wing groups like The Heritage Foundation began referring to "The Ferguson Effect," claiming that consent decrees or any other type of judicial or civilian oversight of police actually increases crime by tying the hands of law enforcement. This argument has no basis in fact, but, like many of the policies being pursued by the Trump administration, now appears to be guiding official policy.

After the death of another young African-American man, Freddie Gray, who suffered serious spinal-cord injuries while in Baltimore police custody in April 2015, more civil unrest and protest led to another consent decree. Sessions attempted to delay implementation of that agreement, but last week a federal judge dismissed the motion. In a March 31 memorandum, Sessions instructed the Justice Department to review all "existing or contemplated consent decrees," signaling his intention to undermine the more than 100 such accords agreed to under the Obama administration.

"The statute that governs these investigations and consent decrees ... the Law Enforcement Misconduct Statute, 42 U.S.C. 14141 ... was enacted as part of the 1994 crime bill as a result of the Rodney King assault and the acquittal of those officers in the first trial," Ifill explained. "[It] authorizes the attorney general to investigate unconstitutional policing, to engage in these consent decrees. To the extent that he [Sessions] is a law-and-order attorney general, this is a law he's willing to completely ignore."

Norm Stamper knows a thing or two about policing. A 34-year veteran officer, the former Seattle police chief is author of the book To Protect and Serve: How to Fix America's Police. The Seattle Police Department is under a consent decree, and Stamper says it has done wonders to improve the situation there: "There's been a 60 per cent reduction in use of force by Seattle police officers. There has been a dramatic decrease in the use of firearms, Tasers and batons."

Here is the kicker: "Police officers themselves, through the president of the Police Officers' Guild, are saying, 'We're grateful that we're at this stage of our progress.' The crime rate has continued to go down. Officer injuries are either flat or dropping. So there's been no so-called Ferguson effect or de-policing," Stamper says. About Sessions, Stamper says: "He's clearly in lockstep with his boss. ... He is clearly an apologist for the worst kind of policing in this country."

Longtime civil-rights attorney Sherrilyn Ifill sums up, "This is what Attorney General Sessions will unleash ... if we are not vigilant and resistant."

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 publishedNew York Times bestseller Democracy Now!: 20 Years Covering the Movements Changing America.

Photo: Thomas Hawk/flickr

This column was first published on Democracy Now!

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Amy GoodmanDenis MoynihanApril 13, 2017U.S. Senate should reject Jeff Sessions again, 30 years laterSen. Sessions has been consistent throughout his career. The Senate Judiciary Committee should be equally consistent and reject Sessions as attorney general.The God that fails: C-51, review committees and the dangers of window dressing Instead of questioning the mandates and core practices of secretive, unaccountable security agencies, efforts are underway to save the system by putting up some nice-looking window dressing.The fight against Trump's dangerous agenda has just begunIn the aftermath of this bitterly fought, often crude, vastly expensive and punishingly long election, two questions dominate: How did this happen, and where do we go from here?

Breaking tradition championed by his father, Trudeau boycotts key UN disarmament initiative

13 April 2017 - 10:54am
Politics in CanadaUS PoliticsWorld

Now that Donald Trump has proven himself presidential by bombing a Syrian airbase, I guess we can all relax.

Of course, there's an off chance that things won't work out well, that the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists will be proven correct in their decision, following Trump's inauguration, to move the Doomsday Clock closer to midnight than it has been since 1953.

Trump appears to have stumbled on the time-honoured technique used by world leaders with flagging approval ratings -- strike a foreign military target, preferably one that won't strike back, at least not right away.

Sadly, our own prime minister has backed Trump's illegal attack on Syria, lending credence to the narrative that the president was deeply moved by the plight of Syrian babies -- as long as those toddlers don't get any ideas about crossing the Atlantic.

Having Trump's back may be Trudeau's idea of putting Canada back on the world stage, but it feels more like a revival of the Harper era.

And while the Trudeau team is very worked up about chemical weapons, they seem strangely unconcerned about nuclear ones.

Indeed, the Trudeau government is breaking a long-standing and worthy Canadian practice by snubbing important new UN negotiations aimed at nuclear disarmament.

The new talks, involving more than 120 nations, have been hailed as the most significant development in nuclear disarmament in two decades. They were launched in New York late last month -- with Canada refusing to participate.

While the media has largely ignored the story, Canada's boycott has prompted condemnation from more than 900 Order of Canada recipients, led by Nobel-laureate John Polanyi and former Canadian Ambassador for Disarmament Douglas Roche, who calls the Trudeau government's stance "astounding" and "a denial of the country's long track record of working constructively for nuclear disarmament."

Ironically, that long record included Pierre Trudeau, who in 1983 showed some outside-the-box thinking and considerable gumption in leading a peace mission to Moscow, Washington and other nuclear capitals, to press for an end to the nuclear arms race.

That moxie doesn't appear to run in the family, even though the world needs it now more than ever, with Trump tweeting about his intention to "greatly strengthen and expand" America's nuclear capability. (Who knows what button he might reach for if he sees more photos of injured babies?)

Even before Trump, the revival of world spending on nuclear arms and the gridlock in disarmament talks led a group of 50 exasperated nations, supported by a worldwide grassroots movement, to push for a new UN initiative aimed at establishing "a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons."

The innovative move won the overwhelming support of 123 out of 193 nations in a UN vote last October.

But the U.S. and the other big nuclear powers rejected the initiative. Washington also pushed its NATO allies to vote no, arguing in a letter that the initiative was "fundamentally at odds with NATO's basic policies …"

Trudeau, showing none of his father's mettle, capitulated to the U.S. pressure, bypassing a chance to step up to the plate on an issue crying out for world leadership.

Worse, by voting no, Trudeau offered up Canada's international prestige to the U.S. boycott of the talks, providing Washington cover for its refusal to come to the table.

Interestingly, the Netherlands, also a NATO ally, is participating in the talks. It turns out the world needs more Holland.

The Trudeau government insists there's no need to participate because, without the nuclear-armed states involved, the talks have no chance of succeeding.

But that's surely the reason to participate; the leaders of nuclear states must be made to feel the sting of global disapproval for forcing us to live in a world on hair-trigger alert, potentially only minutes away from annihilation.

No other issue imperils us all so immediately and profoundly, nor faces such big power resistance. Leaders of nuclear-armed nations want to preserve the status quo, keep the limelight focused elsewhere, with the public lulled into believing there's little immediate danger and no prospect of eliminating nuclear weapons anyway.

The only hope, in the face of media neglect and big power intransigence, is to create a groundswell of humanity clamouring for nuclear leaders to come to the negotiating table. That's no easy task, but having 120 countries already assembled around the table, demanding action, is a good starting point.

So where's Canada -- not at the table, it turns out, but off having a smoke with the big guys.

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

Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

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Who is Trudeau trying to please by keeping Chrystia Freeland in the powerful foreign affairs post?

13 April 2017 - 8:45am
April 13, 2017Trudeau runs risk keeping flawed politician as foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland's well-documented hostility towards Russia raises questions about her suitability for the foreign affairs post. Are we risking a Freeland blunder in a situation that requires nuance?

Trudeau runs risk keeping flawed politician as foreign affairs minister

13 April 2017 - 8:40am
Politics in CanadaWorld

The irrational has begun to dominate our politics as if the American virus has stealthily moved north to infect our national narratives. It reflects itself in various ways but it seems that wars -- old wars, current wars and future wars -- have gripped the minds of our political elite and their courtiers in the media. Most problematic is Chrystia Freeland whose well-documented hostility towards Russia raises questions about her suitability for the foreign affairs post. She got off almost scot-free for blatantly lying about her Nazi grandfather. Justin Trudeau lost his reason regarding the U.S. missile attack on Syria and we were subjected to an extra-heavy dose of non-sense about Vimy Ridge with Trudeau opining that "this was Canada at its best."

Really? That was our best? This grotesque war that sent millions of innocent young men -- from all combatant countries -- to their meaningless deaths is what defined us as a nation? We should obviously mourn the deaths of all those young people forced to sacrifice their lives for nothing. 

But Canada at its best? How about when we finally gave women the vote? Or when we established universal medicare? When we decriminalized abortion? Ended the death penalty? When we refused to get sucked into the Iraq war? When Canada invented UN peacekeeping? Or when we took in Syrian refugees?

As for the mendacious Ms. Freeland, why on earth is she still in one of the most important cabinet posts in the Trudeau government? She got a pass on her grandfather's record with the help of media groupthink along the lines of "we can't blame her for her Nazi grandfather." But no one ever did. Critics blamed her for knowing her grandfather was a Nazi collaborator for two decades and saying nothing, and for never denouncing him (she still hasn't). Critics also blamed her for lying about him -- actually portraying him in her autobiography as almost a freedom fighter: "My maternal grandparents fled western Ukraine after Hitler and Stalin signed their non-aggression pact in 1939. They never dared to go back…"

Well, yes, he did leave Ukraine. Freeland's grandfather Mykhailo Chomiak spent the entire war in Poland editing the Nazi-run newspaper Krakivski Visti (News of Krakow) under the orders of the Nazis' Polish Governor-General Hans Frank, the man who organized the Holocaust in Poland. Chomiak and his family moved into an apartment seized from a Jewish family and ran the newspaper from editorial offices of a former Polish-language Jewish newspaper, Nowy Dziennik, whose editor ended up being murdered at the Belzec concentration camp along with 600,000 other Jews.

Critics also blame Freeland for repeatedly refusing to answer direct questions about her grandfather. Her office gave the Hillary Clinton defence: "People should be questioning where this information comes from, and the motivations behind it." Freeland herself tried to deflect them with references to Russian disinformation: "American officials have publicly said … there were efforts on the Russian side to destabilize Western democracies, and I think it shouldn't come as a surprise if these same efforts were used against Canada." What disinformation would that be? Not, apparently, the crude attempts at whitewashing her grandfather's role in Poland.

That whitewashing includes efforts to downplay just how pro-Nazi the newspaper was. Yet Krakivski Visti was a vicious propaganda tool fomenting as much hatred of Jews as it could. The writer Juilan Tarnovych wrote a series, "Out of Satan's Claws," in which he referred to Jews as "Yid mobs," "bastards," "rotten scum," "bacillus," "that riffraff -- that nest of crawling kikes," and "a pile of crawling worms." Chomiak himself wrote editorials claiming Poland was "infected by the Jews."

Articles from Chomiak's newspaper can be found in Holocaust museums around the world, such as the one in Los Angeles, California.

Instead of saying (last year), "I am proud to honour [his] memory today," how difficult would it be to distance herself from her grandfather's role?

Perhaps the explanation lies in the fact that Freeland is, like her father and grandfather, a devoted Ukrainian nationalist with a deep-seated hostility towards Russia. Even when she was a journalist with the Financial Times she did not hide her fierce Ukrainian nationalism -- encouraging the Euromaidan rebellion that became a violent coup against Russian-friendly Viktor Yanukovich. Freeland's take? "Their victory will be a victory for us all; their defeat will weaken democracy far from the Euromaidan. We are all Ukrainians now. Let's do what we can … to support them."

The democracy that resulted from the coup was not quite as advertised. Freeland's Nazi ghosts came to life in the new government which was chock-a-block with outright Nazis. The new government had five cabinet members from the Svoboda Party -- proud descendants of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) who fought against the Red Army alongside the Nazis. In 1941 the OUN sent a message to Lvov's Jews in the form of a pamphlet which said: "We will lay your heads at Hitler's feet." The OUN and the SS arrested and executed 4,000 of the city's Jews.

It is rare to see a modern politician so blinded by personal hostility. To place Chrystia Freeland in the position of foreign minister is nothing short of reckless. If her bias was against Luxembourg it would hardly matter. But the world is now closer to a nuclear holocaust than at any time since the Reagan administration. The relationship between the West and Russia is now the most important geopolitical issue on the planet.

How can we trust someone who has shown hostility towards Russia to the extent that Freeland has to lead Canada in navigating these treacherous foreign policy waters? Does her blindness prevent her from imagining the potential for nuclear war? Is she capable of accepting that Russia has legitimate interests? Are we risking a Freeland blunder in a situation that requires nuance?

Regarding Russia the question arises of whether or not the tail is wagging the dog in the Trudeau government. Trudeau pledged in the last election to rebuild relations with Russia. Now Canada is demanding that "Assad must go" (via Freeland) -- pure posturing especially given there is no evidence yet of who used gas against Syrian civilians. Then Trudeau added to the embarrassment by demanding Russia abandon Assad, something everyone knows is not going to happen. But it will add to Putin's paranoia that the West is out to get him.

Someone should ask Trudeau just who he is trying to please by keeping this flawed politician in such a powerful post.

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

Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

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Michael ChomiakChrystia Freelandcanada-russiaNazi GermanyukraineCanadian foreign affairsMurray DobbinApril 13, 2017As NATO war-mongering against Russia intensifies, Canada faces a difficult choiceNATO is requesting that Canada join a 4,000-troop contingent that would form a permanent NATO presence in countries bordering Russia. Will Prime Minister Trudeau make the courageous choice and say no?Chrystia Freeland should not be punished for her grandfather's sins, but for lying to Canadians about themThe fact the Foreign Affairs Minister tried to pass off her grandfather's history, which we now know to be true, as Russian disinformation should concern us all.Why is the Foreign Affairs minister concealing her pro-Nazi lineage?Chrystia Freeland covered up her grandfather's pro-Nazi collaborationist past. How could she imagine the truth would not out?

The Holocaust has nothing to do with abortion

12 April 2017 - 1:19pm
EducationFeminismFood & Health

 A video that compares abortion to the Holocaust was shown in March at a Catholic high school in Red Deer, Alberta, as part of a presentation by the anti-choice group Red Deer and Area Pro Life. Yes, that's right -- women who have abortions are equivalent to genocidal Nazis.

Not only is this comparison denigrating to women, it's a callous and thoughtless exploitation of the Holocaust. Frankly, it's anti-Semitic.

The presentation was recorded by a student during a mandatory Grade 10-12 religion class at the École Secondaire Notre Dame High School. The presenter moralized against abortion and said there's never a good reason for having one, and showed a three-minute video equating Hitler's Nazi Germany and its death camps with abortion -- "The Case Against Abortion, Personhood" -- from the U.S. extremist group Abort73. The video is amateurish, sensationalist, and filled with text (and typos) that make it unwatchable and incomprehensible. Who would think this was appropriate for high school students?

The student sent their recording of the presentation to Alberta's Minister of Education David Eggen, who said that, "Making an assertion between abortion and the Holocaust was quite fundamentally outrageous," and that Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools must investigate. However, a group called Accessing Information Not Myths (AIM) is calling for a province-wide investigation of Alberta's entire sex education curriculum. The Catholic schools are publicly funded after all, and must abide by provincial standards.

The Alberta education system seems to have a long-standing problem when it comes to teaching accurate, non-biased sex education. In 2014, an Alberta mother finally won a multi-year battle to stop the Edmonton School Board from allowing an anti-choice organization to teach sex education in public high schools, whose presentations included medical misinformation on the efficacy of contraception and a dismissal of the needs of LBGT students.

The recent presentation at the Red Deer Catholic School is an even worse repeat of a lesson not learned in Alberta. AIM founder Cristina Stasia said:

"The messaging in the video shown was irresponsible; it was medically inaccurate; it was theological. It was misinformation and it was myths. That's incredibly frustrating because there are resources that provide evidence-based information about abortion and reproductive rights, and none of that was shared with the students."

Previous record of propaganda

The anti-choice movement has been making the offensive claim for decades that abortion is analogous to the Nazi Holocaust. So I was surprised at the choice of videos in Red Deer, because there's at least two other films that try to make the case that Abortion equals Holocaust, and both are much more professionally done -- although equally offensive. One is the "180 Movie," which I had to stop watching after the first five minutes to save myself from throwing up. By all reports though, it's 33 minutes of pure anti-choice inflammatory ignorance. I trust the Anti-Defamation League, which called the film "cynical and perverse" and "one of the most offensive and outrageous abuses of the memory of the Holocaust we have seen in years." Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director and a Holocaust survivor, said:

"No Christian who understands Jewish suffering should resort to inappropriate comparisons to the Holocaust to send a message that abortion is wrong. This was one of the most painful chapters in human history. Must the memory of the 6 million and millions of other victims be continually misused and abused by those with another agenda?"

Another anti-choice propaganda film tries to make the same comparison. Called "Sing a Little Louder" and just 11 minutes long, I did manage to watch this one. The main scene is a cattle-car train filled with Jews on the way to a concentration camp, but the train inexplicably stops outside a Christian church where a service is taking place. Those on the train cry out in despair for help, while the churchgoers listen and do nothing. The priest and the congregation are uncomfortable but ignore the dreadful scene, singing louder to drown out the pitiful cries. When a child goes outside to look at the train, his mother hustles him back inside.

It immediately struck me that this is exactly what anti-choicers do -- they remain silent and turn away when women die from unsafe abortions, or when they are prosecuted and imprisoned for having abortions. At the end of the film, an image of a fetus is displayed without explanation. It made no sense. My main takeaway from the film is that those Jewish people in the cattle car had something in common with women who suffer and die from unsafe abortion -- both were victims of Christian or anti-choice obliviousness.

Illogical rationale for Holocaust analogy

It's illogical to use the genocide of Jews as a rationale to impose suffering and death onto women -- which is what happens when you restrict abortion. Anti-choicers are focused on fetuses, of course, which they think are equivalent in status to born people. In fact, fetuses are not people and cannot have human rights unless pregnant women don't.

The Holocaust is an unparalleled atrocity. It should not be compared to an unrelated ideological cause that seeks to impose forced childbearing (like Hitler did to "Aryan" women, by the way). The analogy is anti-Semitic because it takes advantage of and trivializes the suffering and deaths of real people whose killings were motivated by bigotry and hatred.

There is no plot by the world's women to commit genocide against fetuses. No pregnant person has an abortion because they're prejudiced against fetuses. This is true despite anti-choice laws in the U.S. that ban people of colour from having "race-selective" abortions on the assumption they will be racist against their own ethnicity.

Likewise, the analogy to the Holocaust implies that anti-choice proponents believe that women who have abortions are akin to Nazi murderers. They might claim that it's abortion providers who are guilty while women are blameless, but that means they assume women are coerced victims or incapable of making their own decisions, which is almost as insulting. The misconceptions of most anti-choicers reveal that they don't understand why women have abortions, an ignorance that is rooted in misogyny.

Peoples' reasons for abortion relate to the current circumstances of their lives, most commonly economic or partner issues or bad timing -- but almost all reasons boil down to the desire to be good parents to their existing or future children -- or not to be parents at all. Most women who have abortions already have children. The same person who has an abortion at one point in her life usually also has children at other times. The decision to have an abortion is an exercise of personal responsibility; it's about ensuring their survival and that of their families.

Moreover, women cannot be stopped from having abortions, which is why criminal laws always create a large underground market. Abortion rates are actually higher in countries that ban it, compared to countries with more liberal laws. The main difference between countries that allow abortion and those that don't, is that more women suffer or die in the latter countries, along with their fetuses. Apparently however, that's "pro-life" since the anti-choice movement praises countries that outlaw abortion while ignoring all the clandestine abortions that are still happening. Just like in the "Sing a Little Louder" film, anti-choicers stay silent and do nothing when women (and fetuses) die from unsafe abortion, or suffer complications, or have to travel to another country, or are imprisoned for having an abortion or even a pregnancy complication. Their plight is heartbreaking, which is why I've spent 30 years raising awareness about it and trying to change things.

Catholic schools are publicly funded in Alberta and some other provinces, but definitely should not be, given the indoctrination and lies taught there. Students at religious schools across North America are being subjected to showings of propaganda films like the three I've described. Young women are being given the message that they are Nazis if they require abortion care (since even anti-choice people require abortions.) Shaming and condemning women for their reproductive needs is a terrible oppression of their human dignity and rights, and can cost them their lives. Unfortunately, anti-choice ideologues show little compassion for those who suffer from the criminalization and stigma of abortion. Perhaps this blindness, coupled with their misplaced concern for non-sentient fetuses, has shaped their warped comparison of abortion to the Holocaust.

Joyce Arthur is the founder and Executive Director of Canada's national pro-choice group, the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC), which protects the legal right to abortion on request and works to improve access to quality abortion services.

Image: Denis Bocquet/flickr

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sex educationCatholic schoolabortion rightsreproductive rightsAlberta EducationAnti-Defamation LeagueJoyce ArthurApril 13, 2017Cell phone video of Nazi comparison in Red Deer Catholic high school class on abortion should raise political questionsAlbertans deserve to know what opposition politicians would actually do about such situations in tax-financed schools.Christian doctors angry they can no longer abandon their patients A Christian doctors' group is throwing a tantrum over a new requirement that Ontario physicians must refer patients appropriately when they refuse to provide a health-care service.Empowering girls and young women in Nova ScotiaSusan Brigham and Cassandra McDonald talk about the Girls 2017 Conference happening in Halifax in March.

Holocaust denial is mainstream in Trump's administration

12 April 2017 - 7:46am
April 12, 2017Holocaust denial is mainstream in Trump's administrationSean Spicer reveals a lot about how Trump's team speaks to its base, and promotes their racist agenda.

NDP plan to change funding model for agricultural commissions is unlikely to much help farmers or the government

12 April 2017 - 2:28am
David J. ClimenhagaApril 12, 2017

Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier, flanked by members of Alberta's 13 agricultural commissions, announced legislation yesterday that will allow the organizations to choose which dues check-off model they want to use to charge producers for the services they provide.

At an extremely sparsely attended news conference in the Legislature Building's media room yesterday, Carlier described the changes introduced with Bill 9, the Marketing of Agricultural Products Amendment Act 2017, as "supporting agricultural commissions by giving producers more autonomy to choose which service-charge model works best for their industry."

Boiled down, the amendment means the various check-off commissions -- whose members produce beef, barley, honey, canola, elk, lamb, oats, forage seed, pork, wheat, alfalfa, spuds and peas and beans, the latter two being one category, in case you were counting -- can decide if their dues are refundable or non-refundable.

That's important because under the act with much the same name passed by the Progressive Conservative government of premier Ed Stelmach in 2009, all commission charges were fully refundable if a producer, say a big feedlot that had been paying $2 for every head of cattle that passed through its gates, felt like filing the paperwork. So producers had to pay but, at the end of the year, they had the opportunity to un-pay.

Alberta was the only Canadian province that did things that way, supposedly to let producers express their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with their commission, in which their membership is compulsory if they sell that commodity.

Now -- if the commission can win a plebiscite to go to a non-refundable model, rules to be decided later -- dissatisfied members will in theory have the opportunity to vote in a new executive instead.

But this is the not really end of the story, and what remains is important, even to city folks.

Yes, the government of Premier Rachel Notley is still reeling from Bill 6, the necessary farm safety bill that nevertheless became highly unpopular in rural Alberta in 2015 and 2016. But it’s very hard to see how this bill is going to help either her government or many of the producers who have to pay check-offs to these groups.

For one thing, it seems likely that what Bill 6 will principally accomplish is further entrenching the largest, most powerful farm producers at the head of these organizations. This is especially true among beef farmers (though not necessarily, for reasons noted, beef feedlots).

What's more, since many producers see significant problems with the way elections are conducted by these organizations, the no-refund approach if ratified will mean that producers who are dissatisfied by the work of the commissions will not have a meaningful alternative to pulling their money.

That's also a problem for the government, it's said here, because so many of these commissions now function practically as auxiliaries of the Wildrose Opposition.

So, while I understand why the NDP is anxious to make some friends in the farm community after the Bill 6 debacle, it's extremely unlikely, a few photo opportunities notwithstanding, that Bill 9 is going to do the trick.

Indeed, there's a strong case they risk helping the opposition with this bill, and using check-offs from farmers who support them to do it.

If the commissions' voting structure isn't fixed -- farmers who are members of most commissions have to drive miles to a central town to vote -- this problem is likely to continue, or get worse. A simple postal mail-in ballot, on paper, could do the trick. Instead, one commission is talking about online voting -- not a good solution in an industry that still has members with dial-up Internet connections!

Then there is the matter of what these commissions do beyond politicking, which -- as far as I can see as a city boy with only a little stuff on his boots -- is not very much.

Mainly, they "market" products that, once they've passed the farm gate, have no more connection with the people who actually grew or raised them. That can mean some nice marketing trips to exotic locales for commission staff and leaders. Not so much for many farmers, though.

City folks should also be concerned because some of the commissions -- seemingly entranced by the corporate sectors of their industries -- are also pushing to have genetic material turned over to the private sector, and that means genetically modified food will be on your table sooner than later, whether you like it or not.

As went canola -- the oilseed developed with the support of Canadian taxpayers for which growers must now buy genetically modified seed from corporate patent holders -- so may go much else.

Sorry, I don't like annoying agricultural producers any more than the government does, but it would have been smarter and fairer to defund these commissions entirely than to allow them to continue on their current path, especially in a way that likely will strengthen the grip of the people who run them now.

Now, I mentioned that Carlier's news conference was sparsely attended. Regardless of whether or not I'm right about the value to Albertans of the 13 commissions, it's an absolute disgrace that I was literally the only person there with the intention of actually writing about the event. One reporter from an agricultural publication phoned in too.

The members of the Alberta Legislative Press Gallery, who jealously guard their access to politicians in the Legislature, apparently couldn't be bothered!

Agriculture is a $14-billion industry in Alberta if you go by farm gate receipts alone. It may be about all we have left when the second oil price shock hits -- you know, the one that could happen when petroleum demand dips again because of the forecast switch to electric vehicles.

Obviously, agriculture in Alberta deserves serious coverage by people who know what they're talking about.

As yesterday's news conference illustrated, agriculture is another sector of our society and economy that is being failed, and failed badly, by our foundering mainstream media.

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

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Food & HealthPolitics in CanadaAlberta politicsagricultureAlberta NDPWildrose PartyOneil CarlierRachel NotleyAgricultural CommissionsmediaDies Check-OffsBill 6Bill 9Ed StelmachProgressive Conservative PartyMarketing of Agricultural Products Amendment Act 2017

With Trump's attack on Syria, it's bombs away for the U.S., again

11 April 2017 - 9:42am
April 11, 2017It's bombs away for the U.S., againAs a rule, not long after taking office, U.S. presidents authorize overseas bombing. Donald Trump has just attacked Syria and his "global leadership" was met with approval from NATO states.

It's bombs away for the U.S., again

11 April 2017 - 9:39am
US PoliticsWorld

As a rule, not long after taking office, U.S. presidents authorize overseas bombing.

Harry Truman is the prime example, nuclear bombing Japan and razing North Korea.

Nixon devastated Laos, Cambodia and of course Vietnam (3 million dead).

Both Bushes bombed Iraq.

Famously Bill Clinton bombed a medicine factory in Sudan to distract attention from the Monica Lewinsky affair.

Obama sent U.S. bombers to Libya.

Donald Trump has just attacked Syria. His "global leadership" has met with approval from NATO states, Canada included, and Western media.

Left unmentioned was the U.S. violation of the UN Charter obligation to use military force only in self-defence (Article 51) or with approval of the Security Council (Article 42).

With the U.S. exercising its military prerogatives, the Trump gong show got a taste of being treated as a normal presidency by the media and Congress. Any boost to the president's approval ratings are not going to comfort those worried about the use of military force by an unstable personality.

For the Wall Street Journal, Trump has sent a needed message to Russia by bombing a Syrian airbase. The administration has demonstrated the U.S. will deal with Russia from a position of strength.

Trump's bombing foray is about domestic politics. The far-fetched scenario where the U.S. president was elected thanks to Russian hacking of his opponent, where he is obligated to Russian business leaders, and where he is a pawn of Putin the Russian autocrat, had to be laid to rest.

With his bombing of Syria, Trump changes the channel, and shuts up the "progressive" Democrats and compliant media peddling the "Trump is in the Russians' pocket" tag line.

By bombing Syria, Trump also establishes himself with the U.S. Army, Airforce, Navy and Marine Corp, the 17 U.S. intelligence services, and the foreign policy establishment -- the deep state -- who are the source of the " he is beholden to Russia" message and who no president opposes without consequences.

Wanting to deter expanded Russian support for Bashar al-Assad, the murderous Syria dictator, the U.S. foreign policy establishment urged President Obama to act militarily.

By refusing to bomb Syria, Obama sent a message to the deep state: provide me -- as U.S. president -- with something other than a military option.

Under Obama, the U.S. and Russia negotiated a ban on Syria using chemical weapons.

Claiming renewed use of nerve gas against civilians by the Assad regime, in violation of its specific undertakings, Trump agreed to do what Obama had refused to do.

With a swift, unilateral decision to hit a Syrian airforce base, Trump signalled his willingness to allow the deep state to conduct U.S. foreign policy.

U.S. armed forces are on the ground in Syria. Washington directs drone attacks.

In response to a 2011 democratic uprising protesting the dictatorship Assad inherited from his father in 2000 (and plans to pass along to his son), the Syrian president has been butchering his own people. Estimated deaths are over 400,000; registered Syrian refugees total over 5 million.

The abject failure of world institutions, opinion makers, governments, and the international left to come up with a strategy to stop the regime of terror visiting Syria is itself an abomination.

Political paralysis allowed the Russian military to step up its Syrian presence and defend its Mediterranean port facilities on the Syrian coast.

Active participation and support from Iran and Russia have amplified the atrocities committed by Assad.

The U.S. strategy has been to ally itself with Saudi Arabia and Israel, opponents of the Syrian regime, and to arm Islamist military groups who in normal circumstances would be considered "terrorists" by the U.S.

The short-sightedness of U.S. Arms for Jihadists policies is exceeded only by the incompetence of the EU to come up with an alternative strategy to oust Assad.

Faced with his own domestic "Muslim threat" Putin hoped to find an ally in Trump, who had declared himself ready to combat the Islamic State (ISIS) wherever and whenever.

Trump took the precaution of warning Russia (and through them, Assad) of the projected bombing mission, which in the event left a runway intact while taking out some Russian-supplied Syrian jets used to bomb opposition-held areas with little or no regard for civilian casualties.

U.S. bombing pre-empted UN supervised investigations into gas warfare in Syria. Use of chemical weapons by Assad was presumed not demonstrated. Both Russian and Syrian sources rejected the accusation the Syrian government was behind the chemical attacks.

Trump still refuses to admit Syrian refugees displaced by bombing (including now his own) to the U.S.

The U.S. bombing mission has put a temporary halt to a potential Putin-Trump bromance.

The Russians have nixed the Moscow and Washington deal to share Syrian air attack information designed to prevent military incidents.

The U.S. Secretary of State is on his way to Moscow for the usual "frank exchange of views" -- preferable to military exchanges with live ammunition.

The postwar dream of a multilateral world order based on respect for international agreements has co-existed with the reality of U.S. hegemony. Justice, peaceful resolution of disputes, and arms control are secondary to the American agenda, and await a working multilateral alternative to U.S. hegemony.

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

Photo: IS1 Kenneth Moll, USS Cape St. George via Matt Morgan/flickr

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War in SyriaSyriaU.S. foreign policysyria bombingU.S. politicstrump administrationarms controlDuncan CameronApril 11, 2017War's dubious claim of making a homelandThe fog of war obscures the truth from Vimy to Mosul and Allepo.The civil war in Syria: A case study in propagandaThe story we are told about the civil war in Syria is that it's a fight for freedom and democracy against a brutal dictator. Journalist Rick Sterling says this narrative is based on lies and fraud.There are good reasons to question everything we're being told about SyriaThere are no good guys in this war. But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't hear both sides of the story.

Against the global harms caused by Canadian mining

11 April 2017 - 8:59am
Scott NeighApril 11, 2017Talking Radical RadioEnvironmentFood & Health

On this week's episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Jamie Kneen. He is the communications coordinator with MiningWatch Canada, an organization that supports communities in struggles, does research, and works to change policies and laws, all with the aim of challenging, reducing, and preventing the many harms caused around the world by the Canadian mining industry.

Canada may be a pretty big place in geographical terms, but the country's population and its role in the global economy are quite a bit more modest. Well, that's mostly true. One major exception to this is Canada's mining industry, which even after the purchase of some of the largest Canadian mining companies by corporations based elsewhere in the last 15 years still accounts for something like 60-70 per cent of the total number of mining companies and the total number of mining projects in the world.

Mining, of course, has a much greater impact on the world than simply adding to the bottom line of a company, an industry, or a country. It also frequently causes immense harm -- to ecosystems, to communities, and to human health. The people who live on the land where mining takes place -- who, not infrequently, are that land's rightful Indigenous owners and custodians as well -- and who drink the water and breath the air that are at risk of contamination, quite often object to the mining taking place at all, or insist on greatly strengthened measures to reduce the risk. Yet this concern with life and well-being often points in very different directions than the drive for profit that motivates mining companies and the governments that support them. Again and again, all over the world, mining companies and governments run roughshod over local communities and their concerns, and proceed with mining projects that cause a great deal of harm to ecosystems and to people. Canadian mining companies have earned an awful reputation the world over for disrespecting human rights and the earth.

In this context, a little less than two decades ago, two series of convesrations converged. One was among large and small environmental groups, and a couple of Indigenous groups, in the Canadian context about some recent struggles against mining projects in different parts of the country, and the lack of infrastructure for preserving and sharing lessons, resources, and strategies from those struggles. The other was among international NGOs based in Canada and working primarily in the Americas but also in Asia and West Africa, who regularly encountered communities with concerns about proposed or existing Canadian mining projects in their countries. These NGOs had little expertise in mining issues, but wanted to be able to support communities, or at least point them towards resources. Out of these conversations, stakeholders from environmental, social justice, Indigenous, and labour groups in Canada came together to form a new organization: MiningWatch Canada.

For the last 18 years, MiningWatch Canada has worked with both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communites to "addresses the urgent need for a co-ordinated public interest response to the threats to public health, water and air quality, fish and wildlife habitat, and community interests posed by irresponsible mineral policies and practices in Canada and around the world." This has involved working with communities fighting to prevent, mitigate, or remdiate specific mining projects, particularly in helping them acquire resources and information, and build relationships with other communities engaged in similar struggles. It has involved doing research in a whole host of mining-related issues in a way that centres the wellbeing of communities. And it has involved working for changes to laws, regulations, and policies that govern mining practices and that shape what companies can get away with.

Jamie Kneen speaks with me about the Canadian mining industry, its impacts on the world, and the work of MiningWatch Canada. You can learn more about MiningWatch Canada 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 this post was originally taken by Martin Roell and is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

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Cell phone video of Nazi comparison in Red Deer Catholic high school class on abortion should raise political questions

11 April 2017 - 1:56am
David J. ClimenhagaApril 11, 2017

When the doors were closed and outsiders weren't around, a publicly financed Catholic high school in Red Deer was teaching its students that abortions in Canada are the equivalent of the Holocaust in Nazi Germany.

Needless to say, the shaky video of a video called "The Case Against Abortion, Personhood," recorded on a cell phone by a student and reported yesterday by Global News, has resurrected the controversy about public funding for religious education in Alberta.

According to Global, Alberta Education Minister David Eggen informed Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools about the video "after a student contacted him." Eggen told media interviewers later "there is no place in a publicly funded school for a video comparing the horrors of the Holocaust to abortion."

We only know about this aspect of the education provided by anti-choice activists during a religion class at École Secondaire Notre Dame High School in the Central Alberta city because of the miracle of smart-phone camera technology and the eternally rebellious nature of high school students.

For this we can be grateful as it helps clarify the role activists played on this and other issues by tax-supported religious schools, which is a legitimate part of a broader debate about gay-straight alliances, student human rights and the use of limited tax resources in a secular society.

What we know is that medically inaccurate information and a highly tendentious comparison of abortion and the Holocaust was taught at one Red Deer high school.

What we don't know, however, is just as important:

  • How often is this kind of pernicious propaganda distributed in other publicly financed schools in Alberta?
  • Do our opposition politicians, who have made a big deal about what they see as the value of "choice" in education, think about the appropriateness of the specific message put forward in the movie played to students at École Secondaire Notre Dame?

Cristina Stasia, a University of Alberta gender studies professor and chair of AIM -- Accessing Information not Myths, a group devoted to addressing gaps in Alberta's sexual education curriculum -- told Global such presentations happen all over the province.

Unsurprisingly, an effort appears to be under way to pass the use of the offensive video off as merely a one-time problem with resource material shown by a volunteer instructor from a Red Deer group opposed to women's reproductive rights.

Guy Pelletier, chair of Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools conceded the reference to Nazi Germany was not appropriate, and said the board has had no difficulties in the past with Red Deer and Area Pro Life and that it trusts its school administrators -- points that don't answer the more important question of whether such materials are being used at other schools in the district.

"This wasn't the right video to bring into the school and we'll make sure it doesn’t happen in future presentations," he told a Global interviewer. (Emphasis added.)

The Anti-Defamation League, the U.S.-based international non-governmental organization that opposes anti-Semitism and supports human rights for all groups, describes such comparisons as "appallingly insensitive."

"We are outraged by their attempt to somehow create a moral equivalency between the Nazis' systematic murder of millions of Jews and others during the Holocaust with abortions," the ADL's New Mexico branch said in a news release published in response to a 2013 anti-abortion demonstration in front of an Albuquerque Holocaust museum. "Not only is such an analogy grossly inappropriate, it also trivializes the Holocaust and is deeply offensive to Holocaust survivors and the families of those who perished."

The second question is important because Albertans deserve to know what opposition politicians would actually do about such situations in tax-financed schools, not just what platitudes they would mouth.

Jason Kenney, just elected leader of the Progressive Conservatives, is known to have been a militant anti-abortion activist since he was in his 20s. He vocally supported public financing for religious schools and private schools during his campaign to lead the party.

Given this, he needs to make it clear how he would approach this question, as he has already made it clear how he would deal with students who choose to join a gay-straight alliance in their school.

Other political leaders should be held to the same standard, of course.

As a result of yesterday's revelation, a group called the Alberta Pro-Choice Coalition called in a news release for Alberta Education to develop "an explicit policy for all school boards regarding the vetting of outside agencies presenting curriculum to students."

The policy should ensure information provided by such groups is accurate, evidence-based and free of bias, the group said.

Correction, clarification, or something …

When I last talked about the Alberta Liberal Party leadership race on April Fools Day (by happenstance, not intention) I left readers with the impression Kelly Cundal, then one of two likely candidates for the leadership who had filed nomination papers, wasn't actually going to run.

It turns out, however, that Cundal is running for the party leadership after all, as is David Khan. Both of them are Calgary human rights lawyers, which considerably simplifies the job of describing where they're from and what they do. Both jumped into the race after Nolan Crouse, mayor of St. Albert and up to then the only candidate and presumed automatic choice, quit without explanation two days before nominations closed.

So, it’s official, there is a race -- and here's the proof! It remains to be seen if the contest will generate either heat or light. The party will announce the winner on June 4.

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

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Politics in CanadaAlberta politicsCatholic educationpublic educationAlberta EducationEducation Minister David Eggenabortionreproductive rightsAnti-Defamation LeagueRed Deer and Area Pro Life

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