My final plea to undecided voters in B.C.

9 May 2017 - 12:05pm
May 9, 2017My final plea to undecided voters in B.C.Today B.C. will decide if we want four more years of corruption or a much needed change in government -- please have your voice heard and VOTE.

When your city hates poor and homeless people

9 May 2017 - 8:37am
Scott NeighMay 9, 2017Talking Radical Radio

On this week's episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Stephen Harrison and Ashley Mollison of Victoria, British Columbia. Harrison has been documenting the increasing use of physical measures meant to displace poor and homeless people and Mollison is a community organizer in struggles against displacement.

For those of us who aren't among the targets, it can be difficult to see the extent to which many cities are actively hostile to the presence of certain groups of people. This hostility is often produced by a mix of the physical construction of spaces, policies and practices regulating how space gets used, policing that actively targets poor and racialized people, and at times middle-class political mobilization that invokes buzzwords like "safe" and "clean" and "renewal" to target people who are poor, Indigenous, Black, homeless, or otherwise marginalized. And not only can it be hard for the rest of us to perceive, it can also be hard to fully appreciate how incredibly deliberate this targeting often is -- especially when there is money to be made by taking an area that was once at least somewhat welcoming to poor and homeless people and completely re-making it in order to make money.

Stephen Harrison is, among other things, a writer and researcher, and recently he has been publishing a blog called Needs More Spikes to document the city's increasing use of what's called "defensive architecture" -- that is, elements of built form that are meant to displace, discipline, and regulate poor and homeless people in their use of urban space. Mollison is an organizer with the Alliance Against Displacement -- a group based in Victoria, Vancouver, and the lower mainland of B.C, that organizes with Indigenous and working-class people, particularly people who are poor and homeless. (For a more thorough exploration of the work of Alliance Against Displacement in the mainland context, check out this episode of Talking Radical Radio from December 2016.)

According to today's guests, in the last decade Victoria has become much, much more hostile towards poor and homeless people. There is a housing crisis. Rents are skyrocketing. The shelter system is inadequate. There are bylaws that limit where and when people who have no other place to go can take refuge in public spaces. Police actively target poor and homeless people. A 10-month-long tent city in 2015 and 2016 faced vocal and organized opposition from middle-class residents, and while it ultimately won both legal and political victories that resulted in 147 new units of social housing (in a province that no longer builds social housing), this was implemented by the government in a form that is highly regulated and surveilled and that feels for many residents less like home and more like living in an oppressive institution. And, throughout the city, in many different forms, there is increasing use of defensive architecture -- in large part because policies by the city and the police have aggressively pushed for the inclusion of defenisve architecture.

Harrison and Mollison talk with me about defensive architecture, about the increasingly aggressive displacement faced by poor and homeless people in downtown Victoria, and about some of what is being done to push back against both of those things.

To learn more, check out Needs More Spikes and the Alliance Against Displacement.

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 photo modified for use in this post was taken by Scott Neigh and is used with permission.

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Success for women lies in collaboration, say female labour leaders

8 May 2017 - 10:55am
Meagan Gillmore

The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) elects a new secretary-treasurer at its convention this week. Barb Byers is retiring after three years in the role and decades as a union activist.

Many have praised Byers' work: she's a member of the Order of Canada, and the online Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan describes the former social worker as "one of the most influential women in the Saskatchewan and Canadian labour movement." The accolades are deserved. When Byers was elected president of what is now the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees' Union in 1984, she became the first woman president of a provincial government employees' union in Canada. Her work to address sexism in the workplace laid the foundation for the CLC's efforts to raise awareness about the impact of domestic violence on worker productivity.

Despite this kind of work, women still struggle for recognition in the workforce, and the labour movement.

Tiffany Balducci, an executive board member for CUPE Ontario, got involved in her union right away. On her second day of work at a public library, she attended a union meeting and heard about a vacancy on the executive. She volunteered to join. She "got brought into the fold" fairly quickly -- something she acknowledged "isn't always the case" in unions.

Union structures and hierarchies can be "hard to navigate," said Balducci. Male and female colleagues supported her when she ran for leadership positions, but she has heard from women in other unions that they often struggle to get those roles. Most CUPE members are women. They work in fields like education, child care or health care -- professions largely dominated by women. They see how lack of funds for these services negatively impact women more than they do men, said Balducci. But she sees more women than men attending large union events, she said. When women do speak, men often talk over them.

This may be different from systemic issues like violence in the workplace or pay inequality but "it all adds up," said Balducci.

Byers, who called herself "an unengaged (union) member" before she got involved, said she also saw women struggle to achieve leadership positions, or have their opinions heard and respected.

"We do tend to be more collaborative," Byers said, comparing the ways men and women typically lead. She's seen men dismiss women's contributions in meetings, or claim a woman's idea as their own. Women are more likely to combine toughness with civility and decency, she said. Labour unions, like much of society, tend to encourage loud, aggressive leadership -- something often seen displayed more by men. Many men are able to express themselves without being disrespectful, "but sometimes, our movement hasn't had that history," Byers said.

Women's future success lies in collaboration -- the very thing that helped Byers and Balducci.

"Never be afraid to question," Byers said when asked how she would advise emerging female activists. "But always have sisters around you that can help you with support if you don't get the response that you need."

Balducci makes an effort to do the same, often sending younger members encouraging messages on social media when she hears about their achievements. She's also educating members about what gender equality is and how to achieve it. Balducci facilitates union education courses about gender equality with both women and men. She often asks participants if they would consider themselves feminists. Few do. She then asks who believes women should have the same legal, social and economic rights as men. Everyone agrees with that.

She hopes this makes feminism "not a dirty word anymore."

Balducci doesn't get fazed when people say they never knew about the inequalities women face until taking her course.

"It really gives me hope because people are constantly learning."

Meagan Gillmore is rabble's labour reporter.

Photo: Victoria Pickering/flickr

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It's time for a change in B.C.

7 May 2017 - 5:50pm
May 7, 2017It's time for ethical government in B.C.What will the BC election on May 9 bring? An increase on the 55% of eligible voters who cast ballots last time? An NDP government? A Green surge?

Rally for Rainbow Railroad supports LGBTQ community being targeted in Chechnya

5 May 2017 - 3:55pm
Ryan C. KerrElizabeth Littlejohn

With increasing reports of atrocities being committed against suspected LGBTQ people in Chechnya, Canadian human-rights organization Rainbow Railroad is mobilizing emergency efforts to help get those at risk out of the region.

The Toronto-based charity, which works to provide legal assistance, visas, transportation and other necessities to LGBTQ people in jeopardy is making Chechnya priority number 1. "Since we first received initial reports of gay concentration camps being established in Chechnya, Rainbow Railroad immediately re-classified eastern Europe as a priority region," says executive director Kimahli Powell. "This means we're expanding our on-the-ground contacts as well as increasing our capacity to identify and assess new or alternative safe routes out of Chechnya."

As part of a fundraising and awareness-raising campaign, a rally in support of the Rainbow Railroad occurred on Saturday, April 22 beside the 519 Church Street Community Centre in Toronto. Among those invited to speak was Russian LGBTQ activist, Justin Romanov, who sought asylum in Canada three years ago, after living openly as a gay man in Russia cost him his schooling, employment and repeatedly threatened his life.

For Justin to receive a Canadian visa, his mother was forced to sell her apartment so he could meet the financial requirements of the application process. Now in Canada, he spoke of the situation overseas:

"It's getting worse and worse. In 2012, [the Russian government] created an anti-gay law, but they said OK, you can be gay, you can sleep with other men, but just hide your sexual orientation. Don't say you're gay on social media. Don't dress gay. Don't have long hair. Don't speak gay…Right now, they're arresting people and killing people who've hidden their orientation. One year ago, the Russian government and police weren't trying to arrest gay people who hid their sexual orientation. Right now, in the southern region of Russia they are."

"Today it's going on in Chechnya, tomorrow it's going to be somewhere else. And maybe one day it may come to Canada, this homophobia," said Romanov at the rally.

Rainbow Railroad is working closely with the Russian LGBT Network, an NGO that's been working to raise awareness about the crisis. The network will help identify those who need to be evacuated, and Rainbow Railroad will provide direct travel assistance. It's also calling on the Canadian government to provide emergency visas.

"The situation in Chechnya is part of a global pattern of ongoing state-enabled or state-sanctioned violence against LGBTQ people," Powell says, citing Indonesia, Bangladesh and Gambia as three other perpetrators. "This is why the number of people who reach out to us each year is growing."

Since its founding in 2006, Rainbow Railroad has helped more than 300 LGBTQ people reach safety, but the need always outweighs their resources -- in 2016 alone the group received 600 requests for assistance. The cost of a single case can run into the thousands, as legal fees, travel expenses, visas and more pile up.

You can make a donation to their efforts on the Rainbow Railroad website.

Text by Ryan C. Kerr. Photo series by Elizabeth Littlejohn.


French election speaks to the pointlessness of politics under globalization

5 May 2017 - 12:57pm

My current version of An American in Paris, the MGM musical that won six Oscars in 1951, is Diana Johnstone, a cranky, idiosyncratic expat U.S. journalist who has covered European politics for decades. She makes you rethink.

Sunday's French election, she says, "marks a profound change in European political alignments:" from left versus right, to globalization versus national sovereignty. The old left did have something called internationalism (as in The Internationale) but it was the opposite of current globalization. Now those divisions have grown irrelevant or even reversed.

Here's how rightist Marine Le Pen branded her rival, Emmanuel Macron, who's supposed to be "left" of her, however he styles himself, in Wednesday's TV debate: "the candidate of savage globalization, Uberization, precarity, social cruelty, the war of all against all, economic pillage … the dismemberment of France by great economic interests."

Make a few substitutions and you've also encapsulated Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton.

It's true, globalization and neoliberal economics were constructed by the right in the 1980s. But leftists and liberals, such as Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, clambered on when they saw it might get them elected. With the crash of 2008, some rightists began disembarking but the left's leaders have largely stayed loyal.

There's a mind-bending example of this switch in the London Review of Books: when Cadbury's chocolate moved its plant from England to Poland for the cheaper wages, Poland's very right-wing government absorbed the jobs but continued to denounce and attack the EU anyway, in fiercely nationalist terms.

The "fatal dilemma" of the left, says Johnstone as a leftist, is that it can't be socialist or even social democratic while maintaining its loyalty to Europe since the euro and EU rules make their social policies unachievable.

Then, at her most unsettling, she asks, "whether any genuine political life is possible" under globalization. Why? Because all major choices are left to the "free market" and its enforcers in places such as Brussels.

Le Pen has a perfect populist phrase for this: "The euro is the currency of the rich. The franc is the currency of the people." I shiver when I recall John Turner making the very same point during Canada's free trade debate in 1988. Give up those "economic levers of power" and national independence means little, he warned.

If political acts, like voting, are meaningless under globalization, that makes some sense of the refusal by normally left voters to turn out for Hillary, leading to Trump's victory. The same lassitude could work on Sunday for Le Pen, though everyone (who matters, in their own opinion) says she won't win.

The pointlessness of politics under globalization also opens the door to active promotion of non-democratic forms of government, where people don't need to waste time on meaningless acts like voting. This is the first moment since the 1930s when such thoughts have seemed worth voicing in the West, though Donald Trump is so far the only leader to open that door and appear tempted to walk through. Toward what -- dictatorship? Tyranny? Monarchy?

The people around Trump seem to have a way to deal with those impulses so far: put him in a playpen and let him belch or tweet at will. Meanwhile, the adults in the room -- Spence, McMaster, Tillerson, Haley -- will carry on with the ordinary business of globalization and distract him with an occasional toy.

That sort of thing wouldn't work on Le Pen, who has a relationship to history and reality that Trump lacks. No Leplaypenization of power for her, if she makes it.

If there's any brightness in this reconfigured tableau, it's that neither side inspires grand passion -- certainly not on the left. To Macron's brainless "ni de droit, ni de gauche" -- neither left nor right; protesters chant back, "Ni Marine, ni Macron, ni patrie, ni patron." i.e., neither Le Pen's nostalgic nationalism nor Macron's submission to corporate globalization. (Though if you Google translate it, you'll get, "Neither the navy, nor Macron," which also seems pertinent.)

It's encouraging, too, that the most popular politician in the U.S. is Bernie Sanders, an unrealigned socialist (meaning, for him, a New Deal Democrat) who opposes corporate globalization without being exclusionary, anti-immigrant or racist.

There's also Jean-Luc Melenchon in France, a former socialist party member, who ran well in the run-up vote, and who replaced the Internationale with the Marseillaise at his rallies. One may hope then, tentatively, for a realigned realignment.

This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Photo: Blandine Le Cain/flickr

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french election 2017Marine Le PenEmmanuel MacronneoliberalismEuropean politicsU.S. politicshillary clintonDonald TrumpRick SalutinMay 5, 2017Playing on desperation of the American people is key to Trump's successIn hard times populism, which basically embodies the comprehensible anger of the majority, stands ready, but requires an outlet.Post-politics is alive in France, thanks to the marriage of social democracy and neoliberal economicsOn the economic issues of how wealth is produced and distributed, the social democratic left in the U.K., France and Germany have bought into the "globalization is good" agenda promoted by the right.Trudeau's social media mastermind tours Europe, explains strategyTom Pitfield, a childhood friend of Trudeau's and a former IBM innovation expert, went through a top 10 Buzzfeed-like list of What He Learned from the Election Campaign.

Greens and Liberals play sleazy politics going into B.C. election

5 May 2017 - 9:10am
May 5, 2017As B.C. election approaches, Greens get cozy with Liberals Is the Green Party in a tacit alliance with the Liberal Party of Christy Clark in B.C.'s election? A lot of people in B.C. think so.

As B.C. election approaches, Greens get cozy with Liberals

5 May 2017 - 8:54am
ElectionsPolitics in Canada

Is the Green Party in a tacit alliance with the Liberal Party of Christy Clark in B.C.'s election? A lot of people in B.C. think so and here in Powell River the suspicions have been confirmed by the bizarre hosting of a meet-and-greet with Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver by the Chamber of Commerce. The president of the Chamber is none other than Jack Barr, the fundraising chair for the Liberal candidate, Mathew Wilson (though he claims he only found out about it after the fact). The Chamber has not hosted any other leader -- in fact it virtually has never before expressed a political bias.

At first glance these two parties make strange bedfellows. The Liberals have an absolutely appalling environmental record and happily take millions of dollars from mining companies, oil giants and the LNG industry.

Progressives are desperate to end the 16-year nightmare of Liberal corruption and rule for the rich. But the Greens are desperate for more seats and steadfastly deny that a vote for Greens could help re-elect the Liberals. The Liberals are an echo chamber on the vote-splitting issue with Wilson's father, former Liberal leader Gordon Wilson, on Facebook dismissing the vote-splitting claim as spurious: "To suggest that voting for a candidate running for the Greens will elect anyone other than that candidate is offensive." 

The Liberal-Green Alliance was wonderfully illustrated in a recent Vancouver Sun group photo of the three party leaders: Christy Clark has a preternaturally large grin on her face while she shakes Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver's hand. NDP Leader John Horgan is left out of the love-fest.

If this seems odd to those outside B.C. it isn't at all strange here -- sleazy, yes, but par for the course for Weaver's Green Party. The Greens are so desperate to get beyond the one seat they have they're happy to make backroom deals with the devil. And the devil will make deals with anyone to stay in power. It reminds me of the federal election when an equally desperate Elizabeth May used phony opinion polls to suggest that the race was between the Greens and the NDP on Vancouver Island. It seems the Greens, both federally and provincially, have a chronic integrity problem.

Though there is no smoking gun -- no actual accord signed between the two parties -- the anecdotal evidence keeps piling up: Andrew Weaver promoting a totally misleading Liberal Party attack on the NDP platform costs; Scott Hamilton, the Liberal candidate for Delta North, signing (illegally) the nomination papers for Jacquie Miller, his Green Party opponent; Christy Clark's press secretary retweeting a prominent Green supporter discussing the Greens' growing popularity; Andrew Weaver promoting a Liberal accusation of sexism against the NDP leader on Twitter (then quickly removing it); a major Liberal donor and owner of the Kingsgate Mall in Vancouver allowing the Green Party to erect a huge sign on its mall property; Andrew Weaver attacking the NDP's Horgan far more than Christy Clark in the TV debate.

While this may look like a case of "an enemy of my enemy is my friend" it is actually much worse. There are also clear hints that the Greens are just as likely to support the Liberals as they are to support the NDP if neither party gets a majority. 

The Green Party's campaign chair, Adam Olsen, reinforced suspicions when he was asked about the possibility of vote-splitting re-electing the Liberals. He told the Vancouver Sun: "I'm not concerned about Christy Clark getting back in." Given the opportunity to backtrack on Olsen's statement by The Tyee columnist Bill Tieleman, the party declined. But this political stance is hardly news for those who actually follow the Green Party's record and its leader's statements -- rather than just assume that the Green brand means progressive and green. Tieleman also asked why Weaver failed to support a sewage treatment plant for Victoria which dumps raw sewage into the ocean and why he similarly refused support for a massive public transit plan sought by the Metro Vancouver Mayor's Council. The answer is simple enough: Weaver is unashamedly pro-business and an advocate of "small government."

Weaver himself has repeatedly left the door open to allowing the Liberals a fifth term. He supported two Liberal Party budgets. He supported the Liberals' run-of-the-river hydro privatization that will keep hydro rates sky-high for the next two decades. He supported the idea of an oil refinery at Kitimat to refine tar sands bitumen -- when most environmentalists are saying we have to keep most of it in the ground.

And just this week he came as close as possible to endorsing Clark when asked in a Global News interview which leader he would be "most comfortable" working with. Weaver would not answer but repeatedly referred to Horgan's temper and how he would have to control it if Weaver was to work with him. And then he praised Clark: "[Y]ou can have a respectful disagreement in a one-on-one conversation and it's not personal." 

All of this is highly reminiscent of the last provincial election when the Greens and Liberals played the same game. The most shameless example of this was a full-page ad for the Greens in the Victoria Times-Colonist -- paid for by the Liberals. This divide-and-conquer strategy has been used in the Legislature ever since the last election, with Clark repeatedly giving kudos to Weaver -- and Weaver gleefully accepting them.

The Weaver Greens are also reminiscent of the former leader of the federal Green Party, Jim Harris. In 2005 I wrote a feature article for The Walrus on the Greens under Harris entitled "Green Party Blues." It revealed a party with policies and a lack of internal democracy more reflective of the Conservatives than any other party. Of course Harris had been in the Conservative Party so it was not at all embarrassing to him. He was confident, as is Weaver, that the Green brand would fool enough people to elect a bunch of MPs. He was wrong. Elizabeth May was confident, too. She was wrong, too.

It seems that people's good instincts can still kick in, in the nick of time -- as they grip the pencil to mark their ballot.

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

Photos: Alexander Pope/flickr, BC Gov Photos/flickr

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2017 B.C. ElectionAndrew Weaverchristy clarkgovernment corruptionJohn HorganBCMurray DobbinMay 5, 2017B.C. Liberals are a rogue government that must be dispatchedThe 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. Dear Christy Clark: We are all LindaClark's rude reaction to a citizen in advance of the election has sparked a social media outpour of #IamLinda.Kinder Morgan's $771,000 donation to B.C. Liberals raises red flags while Premier shifts to damage controlThe B.C. Liberals are under scrutiny for accepting significant donations from lobbyists, including those connected to the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline project, sparking an RCMP investigation.

North Carolina residents fight back against corporate factory hog farms

4 May 2017 - 6:36pm
Anti-RacismFood & HealthUS Politics

There are 10 million people in North Carolina, and nine million hogs. Judging by the smell, the hogs are winning. Or, rather, the giant corporate factory hog farms are. Hogs are the largest agricultural product of the Tarheel State, adding at least $2 billion to the economy there. How the hogs are raised and slaughtered, and how the waste is handled, is making life miserable for many North Carolinians. Billions of gallons of pig feces and urine are collected in lagoons, mixed with blood and rotting pig body parts. To keep these fetid ponds from overflowing, the toxic liquid is pumped skyward with enormous spray devices, aerosolizing the waste, which is carried away by the wind. Neighbours suffer indescribably bad odour and an array of illnesses. The notoriously regressive Republican majority in the North Carolina statehouse has passed a bill -- H.B. 467, Agriculture and Forestry Nuisance Remedies -- to protect the factory hog farming industry from liability, which the state's recently elected Democratic governor has yet to sign -- or veto. In the meantime, impacted communities, mostly African-American, are fighting back.

Naeema Muhammad, organizing co-director for the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network (NCEJN), described the problem on the Democracy Now! news hour:

"The hogs are kept in tin metal housing [with] slats in the floor. Whenever they go to the bathroom or abort baby piglets or whatever, it falls through the slats in the floor, and it's piped out into the open-air lagoon. This urine and fecal matter produces methane, ammonia gases, and so you can smell it ... it smells like rotten eggs, sometimes rotten collard greens -- it's just a terrible smell. And they [local residents] have been forced off of their wells, because they were seeing remnants of the waste in their well waters by the colouring and the odours."

NCEJN, together with the Waterkeeper Alliance and the Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help, filed a complaint with the Environmental Protection Agency. Naeema Muhammad explained: "We joined together and filed a Title VI complaint, under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VI states that governmental agencies cannot do business in a way that intentionally or unintentionally have a disproportionate impact on low-income communities."

The complaint includes research findings from Steve Wing, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of North Carolina's Gillings School of Public Health. Wing was interviewed by Mark Devries, a filmmaker and animal-rights activist. Devries took the first aerial drone footage of North Carolina's factory hog farms, with their expansive reddish-brown waste lagoons. Wing told Devries, "It can, I think, very correctly be called environmental racism or environmental injustice that people of colour, low-income people, bear the brunt of these practices."

In addition to the EPA complaint, impacted residents have filed a series of lawsuits alleging violations of property rights, since people are forced to stay indoors to avoid the smell and the constant clouds of filth raining down. The target of the lawsuits is the largest factory farmer in the state, Murphy-Brown LLC, which is the hog supplier for corporate food giant Smithfield Foods. Smithfield Foods, in turn, is owned by WH Group, a Chinese-owned multinational food corporation listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. These lawsuits are not targeting family farms, but heavily polluting, foreign-owned factory farms.

Will Hendrick, staff attorney with the Waterkeeper Alliance and manager of the organization's North Carolina Pure Farms, Pure Waters campaign, elaborated on Democracy Now!:

"The attempt here is not to drive this industry out of North Carolina. Agriculture has been and will continue to be an important part of our economy. However, no industry is worth the impacts on public health and the environment that we have seen in this industry. And so, the attempt here is not to bleed that industry dry, but instead to make sure that that industry is conducted, that these operations are managing waste, in a way that doesn't harm their neighbours."

Elsie Herring, a resident of Wallace, North Carolina, was interviewed by Devries. She told him: "This is where they spray animal waste on us. This is about eight feet from my mother's house. ... You think it's raining. We don't open the doors up or the windows, but the odour still comes in. It takes your breath away. Then you start gagging. You get headaches."

Despite the enormous impact on so many residents, factory farming has its loyal defenders in the North Carolina Legislature, among them state Rep. Jimmy Dixon. At a hearing on H.B. 467, Dixon, who has received at least $70,000 from factory farm contributors, said "These claims are at best enormous exaggerations and at worst outright lies. Is there some odour? Yes. But I would like you to close your eyes and imagine how ham and sausage and eggs and fried chicken smell."

Something is rotten in North Carolina. Gov. Roy Cooper can't veto the smell, but he can veto this noxious bill.

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: U.S. Department of Agriculture/flickr

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factory farmshog farmingenvironmental racismNorth Carolinaracial injusticeeconomic inequalityAmy GoodmanDenis MoynihanMay 4, 2017North Carolina Republicans provoke political firestorm with attacks on democracy Whereas President Barack Obama is honouring the tradition of the peaceful transfer of power, North Carolina Republicans are taking a different path.Animal rights activists demand an end to farm factory subsidiesOn Monday, animal rights activists gathered at Queen's Park urging the government to put an end to subsidies to the farm factory industry.The basics: What are factory farms and why are they harmful?Twilight Greenaway breaks down what a CAFO is and it's environmental and sociological repercussions and states the onus is on the consumer to buy local, ethical meat.

Writing While Black explores how indie print-culture can galvanize movements for racialized people

4 May 2017 - 9:37am
May 4, 2017Writing While Black explores how zines can galvanize movements for racialized peopleA standout in this year's Mayworks Festival is the workshop Writing while Black which focuses on zine-making as a social justice and political tool used by folks of colour.

Writing While Black explores how zines can galvanize movements for racialized people

4 May 2017 - 9:30am
Tania Ehret

This year marks the 32nd Mayworks Festival of Working People and the Arts: Art Against Precarity, running April 28 to May 7 across various locations in Toronto. The annual multidisciplinary arts festival has been uniting art and labour since 1986. With this year's thematic focus on precarious work -- and how that resonates in both activist and non-profit communities alike in a capitalist system -- Mayworks takes an intersectional approach to creation through various mediums.

Festival Director Amee Lê has been inspired by artists who "are unafraid to create, to challenge and to take up space in a system that marginalizes them by design."

A standout in the festival's program is the workshop Writing while Black -- facilitated by Whitney French, founder of From the Root -- which focuses on zine-making as a social justice and political tool used by folks of colour. The depth of the workshop is vast, incorporating group discussion, hands-on learning, and guided zine-creation for attendees.

Zine-making has the potential to be an equalizing medium. What it lacks in access to power of larger players in media culture, it makes up for in its accessible, loose platform, where anyone with access to paper and a pen has the option of getting involved.

French says that zines, through their very nature, invite intersectionality: "Where else are you going to read a memoir/perzine from a Black queer disabled kid from small-town Ontario who loves video games?"

The workshop demonstrates how zines have the power to redirect the dominant narrative, countering traditional print culture and allowing marginalized voices to be the experts of their own lives, writing and telling these stories on their own terms.

Although excited by the potential of bringing the workshop to new places and a wider audience, French says that one of  "the challenges in bringing this workshop to different spaces is sharing the information but being cautious that the hard work of Black, Indigenous, and people of colour is being appreciated and not simply being consumed.

With that in mind, her main goal is to centre marginalized voices in the workshop, inspiring new work to be born out of this inception.

Although French's work may be represented by a diverse network of events, "spaces like Mayworks -- or conferences that tackle anti-Black racism, or social justice spaces that are in need of methods to circulate their information, or even events held in the living rooms of activists, artists, and healers -- are where the zines truly come to life."

Mayworks Festival is vital in a time when activist burnout, work fatigue and unpaid labour are on the rise. It can provide a hub to connect the need to create and express with the social justice struggles of the day.

As Lê succinctly puts it, "The fight for labour and social justice is long and hard. Artistic endeavours nurture our spirits, liberate our emotions and reinvigorate our sense of purpose."

Mayworks is here to fill that need.

For more information on the Mayworks Festival, click here.

Tania Ehret is rabble's B.C. Outreach Coordinator.

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Inclusion of 1905 act in Constitution means Brad Wall's 'Notwithstanding Clause' gambit is no slam-dunk

4 May 2017 - 12:50am
David J. Climenhaga

If Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall thinks he can just snap his fingers and the Notwithstanding Clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms will make his Catholic school troubles go away, he may need to think again.

In a comment about yesterday's AlbertaPolitics.ca post, prominent Edmonton lawyer Simon Renouf observed that Mr. Wall's talk of using Section 33 of the Charter to override an inconvenient court ruling on how Catholic schools are funded is unlikely to be a definitive solution to the Saskatchewan Party's political problem because Mr. Justice Donald Layh's decision rests on more than just fundamental rights.

"Section 33 of the Charter (the "Notwithstanding Clause") permits a legislature to invoke the provision to allow a legislative provision to stand that would otherwise offend sections 2, and 7-15 of the Charter," Mr. Renouf wrote. Section 2 guarantees Canadians' fundamental freedoms; Sections 7-15 guarantee our legal rights.

However, he went on, "I very much doubt that the Saskatchewan government can use the Notwithstanding Clause to save its scheme of public funding for non-Catholic students to attend Catholic schools as the court also found that this funding offends section 17(2) of the Saskatchewan Act, which amends s. 93 of the Constitution Act, 1867 to allow for funded Catholic schools, for Catholics."

"The Notwithstanding Clause could not affect this finding, as it applies only to certain sections of the Charter, and not to the Saskatchewan Act," Mr. Renouf concluded.

Now, I'm no lawyer, but Mr. Renouf is a fine one, so this is a very interesting observation. The media has portrayed Mr. Wall's vow to have his Saskatchewan Party majority invoke Section 33 as a slam-dunk play that will sideline Justice Layh's ruling that that Saskatchewan's government may no longer legally fund non-Catholic students in Catholic schools.

But the Notwithstanding Clause is powerless against provisions in the 1905 Saskatchewan Act, which since 1982 has been entrenched in Canada's complicated Constitution.

And there it is, near the end of Justice Layh's April 20 ruling, apparently missed by all the great minds of the media: "Section 17(2) of the Saskatchewan Act, which provides constitutional protection against discrimination in the distribution of moneys payable to any class of school, only protects separate schools to the extent they admit students of the minority faith."

So while the Saskatchewan Legislature can use Section 33 to evade the effect of the decision to uphold legal and fundamental rights, which the ruling also does, it cannot touch the Saskatchewan Act.

As an important aside, according to Peter Hogg's Constitutional Law of Canada, which its publisher describes as "the definitive work on Canadian constitutional law," once the Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba Acts were incorporated into the Constitution in 1982 they could only be amended using the amending procedures set out in the Constitution Act, 1982.

Perhaps more politically troublesome for Mr. Wall is the notion that the Saskatchewan Legislature could amend the denominational school rights provision in the Saskatchewan Act through a bilateral amendment between the province and Parliament, as permitted by Section 43 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

The problem facing the Wall government here is that it has already argued in court that it was forced to provide per-student funding under the terms set out in the Saskatchewan Act and the judge ruled the opposite. So ask yourself, in 2017, can either the Saskatchewan government or the Parliament of Canada pass a law requiring a province to fund non-Catholic students attending a Catholic school?

Given all this, in the short term it looks very much as if the Saskatchewan government will need to be in court appealing the ruling if Mr. Wall hopes to keep it from taking effect at the end of June 2018.

I am sure Saskatchewan, like every other Canadian province, employs very good lawyers to advise it in situations like this, so it seems highly unlikely Mr. Wall did not know about the problem with the Saskatchewan Act when he began to bluster about using the Notwithstanding Clause.

From over here in Alberta, this seems to lend credibility to the suggestion by Saskatchewan NDP Education Critic Carla Beck that Mr. Wall is merely using such talk to distract from other issues, including funding cuts to schools.

Photo: DanielPaquet/Wikimedia Commons

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RCMP admit they are using invasive surveillance devices to spy on cellphones. What now?

3 May 2017 - 8:47am
May 3, 2017The RCMP's admission that it spies on our cellphones is long overdue, but leaves important questions unansweredAfter years of obfuscation, the RCMP have admitted they are using invasive surveillance devices known as IMSI-catchers or Stingrays to spy on Canadians' cellphones.

The RCMP's admission that it spies on our cellphones is long overdue, but leaves important questions unanswered

3 May 2017 - 8:42am
Civil Liberties WatchTechnology

Finally. After years of obfuscation, the RCMP have admitted they are using invasive surveillance devices known as IMSI-catchers or Stingrays to spy on Canadians' cellphones. The admission came early last month, seemingly prompted by revelations from CBC News that Stingray devices had been in use in downtown Ottawa, and at the international airport in Montréal.

In those instances, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale issued a strong denial that Canadian agencies, such as the RCMP or CSIS, were involved, but the controversy brought a great deal of public attention to the RCMP's own use of Stingray devices.

Stingrays are deeply problematic for a number of reasons. About the size of a small suitcase, they operate by mimicking a wireless tower, tricking all cellphones within a radius of up to 2 kilometres into switching their connection to the Stingray. Once that connection is made, instead of targeting just a single device, Stingrays indiscriminately vacuum up sensitive personal information from all devices within range.

This means that Stingrays are essentially a tool of mass surveillance. There's no need to be a target of a police investigation to have the security of your private information compromised -- you just need to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And when you consider just how many cellphones are located within a 2-kilometre radius of, say, a downtown Toronto intersection, that gives some indication of just how many Canadians have likely been impacted.

Secondly, Stingrays are capable of collecting information on everything from your location to details of every call, email and text you make. They are even capable of listening in and recording the content of cellphone calls. Nor should we be reassured by the RCMP's statement that they only use Stingrays to collect location and device identification metadata -- as Brenda McPhail of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association points out, "Metadata includes location information. That is intimately personal. The fact that they only collect metadata doesn't let them off the hook."

For those of us working in the field of digital privacy, the RCMP's belated admission that it has deployed Stingrays dozens of times in recent years did not exactly come as a surprise -- especially after Motherboard and VICE News obtained over 3,000 pages of court documents revealing how the devices were being used, and how few safeguards were involved. Despite media reports such as this, the RCMP has clearly spent years trying to hide its use of Stingrays from the Canadian public, even dropping serious criminal charges to avoid revealing this information.

Hopefully, the RCMP's long overdue statement will finally prompt the informed democratic debate Canadians deserve about whether the use of these surveillance devices can ever be justified and, if so, what safeguards are necessary to protect the privacy of the law-abiding public.

Unfortunately, the RCMP left many important questions unanswered. Why not tell us how many innocent Canadians have had their private information compromised over the past 10 years? Or let us know whether Stingrays have ever been used to monitor a political protest? And why did the RCMP wait until just a few weeks ago before applying for permission from Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Canada to use the devices?

Last but far from least, the fact that the use of Stingrays can apparently be authorized based merely on suspicion of wrongdoing is hugely worrying -- surely a much higher standard of evidence should be required, given the serious privacy implications for the general public?

It's clear we deserve answers to all these questions from Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale. Canadians should keep up the pressure on the government by supporting our 48,000-strong campaign at StopStingrays.org

David Christopher is communications manager for OpenMedia, a community-based organization that works to keep the Internet open, affordable, and surveillance-free.

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Digital Freedom Updatedigital privacyStingrayselectronic surveillancecellphonesRCMPDavid ChristopherDigital Freedom UpdateMay 3, 2017What the heck is a Stingray? And what does it have to do with my privacy? A growing concern in the privacy world, the surveillance device nicknamed a "Stingray" is an invasive technology that threatens to undermine the privacy of anyone with a cell phone.Vancouver police won't say if they can spy on cellphonesThe Vancouver police refuses to confirm or deny that they have the StingRay, a surveillance device that mimics a cellphone tower to gain access to all cellphones in the area. New report reveals potential extent of invasive Stingray phone surveillance in CanadaWe're calling on Public Safety Minister Goodale to address this blatant violation of Canadians' Charter rights in the government

Trudeau's social media mastermind tours Europe, explains strategy

2 May 2017 - 11:38am
May 2, 2017Trudeau's social media mastermind tours Europe, explains strategyTom Pitfield, a childhood friend of Trudeau's and a former IBM innovation expert, went through a top 10 Buzzfeed-like list of What He Learned from the Election Campaign.

Trudeau's social media mastermind tours Europe, explains strategy

2 May 2017 - 11:35am
June Chua

I had an ominous exchange on my way to a presentation in the German capital by Tom Pitfield, the digital mastermind behind Justin Trudeau's success -- as billed by Factory Berlin, a high-tech campus of startups and freelancers.

Picking up a snack at a store nearby, the French clerk shook his head when I asked him about his country's presidential election: "What do you think?" he posed back to me. "It's bad, yes. I believe Le Pen will win."

Why? I queried. "It's just before a Monday bank holiday in France, some people will be away and won't vote [and] others don't want to vote anyways." He was resigned.

The French runoff presidential vote is now between the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and the "newbie" Emmanuel Macron, who's only 39 and has been compared to Trudeau. Macron is seen as a political outsider but is a former investment banker who graduated from the prestigious, elite École nationale d'administration (ENA).

"It's true, the French media have made the same comparisons," Charline Merieau told rabble.ca. "But they don't have the same ideas or the same problems [to tackle]."

The 25-year-old from the Vendée region pointed out that Macron's use of Twitter and his email newsletters are ways for the En Marche leader to explain his platform -- not so much for images of doing yoga or being in the outdoors like Trudeau.

"Macron isn't looking for interaction with the public the way Trudeau did. He's more about his message," said Merieau, who works for a fashion retailer.

Our hubs

I realized after the night was through -- our world really is about contained spaces: physical, mental and digital. The talk was in a high-tech hub. We all exist in cosseted worlds.

Pitfield, a childhood friend of Trudeau's and a former IBM innovation expert, went through a top 10 Buzzfeed-like list of What He Learned from the Election Campaign. He also dropped that he had been in Europe "helping political campaigns in three countries" and was alarmed by the rise of fascist and populist movements -- all using the same tactics on social media.

"I am scared," he revealed. "We do live in echo chambers -- it's not hard. It's how those computer algorithms work."

Calling Trudeau a "Jedi" (i.e. showing a single-minded focus), Pitfield was recruited ahead of time to slowly build the PM's image. The team first identified 40 swing ridings and eventually won 39 of those. Impressive. And how was this done?

Pitfield -- who heads the progressive think-tank Canada 2020 -- and his team used social media to gather information about those voters on Facebook or on their website, realchange.ca, to find out what issues resonated with them the most and then spoke to those issues: environment, jobs, education, economy and immigration.

"You need to engage, have legitimate conversations," emphasized Pitfield. "With explicit consent, we gathered people's personal information [required by Canadian law]…then, we would have honest conversations with them. This helped us immensely."

His team spent two years getting people to "change their minds."

They found out: who to target, what content they liked, how to reach them (i.e. which social media they used and in what form) and most vitally, what would motivate them to vote for Trudeau.

Merieau, who is pro-Macron, said her candidate is using data in a different way. Macron is using information about where his support is weak to get his campaigners out door-to-door and not relying on social media per se to do the persuading.

"We never use this face-to-face stuff in France but that's what Macron is doing."

Countering the echo chamber

Sitting in the audience was the British founder and editor of The Echo Chamber Club -- a weekly newsletter seeking to counter "the opinions of liberal metropolitans."

"Everyone loves him, don't they?" Alice Thwaite stated to me about Trudeau. "He's so good-looking and says all the right things. It's just like Trump really."

Thwaite, 27, is disturbed by the use of advertising tactics which she says is causing a deterioration in politics. Specifically "A/B" testing on campaign messages -- i.e. identifying what headlines would be the most attractive to the public.

"It's how Hilary Clinton's campaign was ruined," she explained. "They used the message 'Vote for me because I'm a woman' and thought that would work. In the end, she sounded so scripted."

According to Thwaite this kind of A/B advertising tactic is about seizing our "monkey brains." A/B methods are about click-through rates, not about actual policy.

"In the American election people were getting farther apart," she said. "They were being told to shut up and what happens? Things go underground…that's what you do, create an enemy and force people into their tribes. It works in digital marketing as well."

Thwaite said last year, she predicted the odds were much greater for Brexit and for a Trump win: "I won a lot of bets."

Whatever the reality, she remains positive: "This is better than it was in [the early 2000s]. People aren't so apathetic anymore. They know they can't coast along. They have to act."

Germany's anti-Trudeau

Perhaps, the turning of the tide is happening in Germany where the anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) has seen its popularity dwindle from rates at 15 per cent last year to about seven to 10 per cent in recent polls. Its leader also recently stepped down amid infighting in the movement.

Who's rising? Martin Schulz, a former head of the European Parliament and now leader of the leftist Social Democratic (SPD) party. Schulz, a bookish man in his 50s, is the opposite of Trudeau. He's not telegenic and doesn't use social media much, but he's now considered a serious contender against "Mutti" -- Mother Merkel as she's called. His party is now neck and neck with Angela Merkel's centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

"He speaks about issues," said Artur Lebedev, a southern German who now lives in Berlin. "He speaks like a normal person and in this way, he is sort of like Trudeau -- the authenticity part."

Lebedev said Merkel seemed wooden in contrast, but then, that's her appeal: "Speaking spontaneously is fine sometimes but also, for me, you might think this politician could be fickle, change their mind once they are in power."

A replay of 2002

Back to France, Sylvan Varlet, a business manager with a video game company, looks to the past.

"It's like 2002 all over again when it was between Jacques Chirac and the father of Marine -- Jean-Marie Le Pen. Everyone had to get behind Chirac and he won by 82 per cent," said Varlet, who also admits Macron has some Trudeau characteristics -- such as the "honest broker" bit.

"[Macron] is really friendly and focused on people as well," said Varlet, originally from the Lyon region.

"I think this time though, Macron might win with about 60 to 70 per cent of the vote, it won't be as high," said the 27-year-old who plans to vote for Macron.

Merieau thinks it might be close: "Compared to 2002, Marine has worked to make the Front Nationale more modern and she has succeeded. There are less people against her."

She fears supporters of the other candidates who "lost" won't vote: "My brother was a supporter of [leftist] Melanchon. He doesn't know how to vote on May 7. Every day I send him reasons to vote for Macron."

Near the end of the session, a Montrealer proclaimed that he'd been living in Berlin for 10 years and he fought to vote in Canada's 2015 election: "I honoured my German roots and flew back to Montreal to vote for Trudeau because I know you have to fight fascists."

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

Photo: World Bank Photo Collection/flickr

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Aspiring to stupid: Conservative Party of Canada does damage to others while also damaging itself

2 May 2017 - 9:33am
Politics in Canada

John Stuart Mill was esteemed as a political economist and philosopher of liberalism. He was also a British MP with a sharp tongue. "I did not mean that Conservatives are generally stupid; I meant, that stupid persons are generally Conservative," he noted in parliamentary debate May 31, 1866.

In Mill's day, having opposed the abolition of slavery and the expansion of the electorate, the British Conservative Party was also known as the stupid party.

Recently it lived up to its old moniker by provoking a vote on membership in the European Union and then losing it -- the unnecessary referendum being called for the domestic purpose of blocking the advance of the United Kingdom Independence Party.

In an analysis of the current predicament facing the United States of America, Republican adviser Max Boot observed in the New York Times that the American Republican Party has acquired the title of the stupid party.

First it got stupid, then it got Trump.

As Edmund Fawcett, author of Liberalism: The Life of an Idea, has pointed out, the post-Reagan conservative Republicans were dominated by the religious right and the anti-government fundamentalists, and became unable to face facts and recognize change.

Since 1867 Canadian Conservatives have been pragmatic, following the injunction that a country must have the means to change in order to conserve itself and protect its future.

The Canadian Conservative Party was built on strong institutions. The Anglican Church and its allied Colleges, the military, law, banking and large retail business provided the organizational resources Conservatives could rely on to form government and make policy.

Governing during the 1930s Depression the Conservatives were led by the wealthy and well-connected R.B. Bennett. Though he created the Bank of Canada, the CBC and Canadian National Railways (out of bankrupt endeavours), Bennett found no way to alleviate the plight of farmers, the destitute and the growing out-of-work class.

During the Second World War to demonstrate their willingness to attend to the well-being of their fellow citizens, the Conservatives renamed themselves the Progressive Conservatives.

PC leaders such as Robert Stanfield (1967-76) and Joe Clark (1976-83) had little time for ideology. Their tenures as party leaders were marked by their civility and concern for Canada.

The current Conservative Party of Canada bears less and less resemblance to its forbears.

An important break occurred with the election of Brian Mulroney as leader of the then Progressive Conservatives in 1983. He understood that without support in Quebec, the Conservatives were destined regularly to finish behind the Liberals in the country. 

However, Mulroney consented to continental economic integration with the United States (billed as "free" trade), which gave already dominant American corporate interests an expanded role in Canadian political life, while limiting the constitutional control of public affairs by Parliament and provincial legislatures.

Eventually, hugely unpopular, in 1993 Mulroney resigned, leaving his party with no means of securing public support.

The obliteration of the Progressive Conservatives -- who were reduced to two seats in the 1993 general election -- set the stage for the re-invention of the Canadian Conservatives, first as the Preston Manning Reform Party (a "faux" populist movement), then as the fake Canadian Alliance, and ultimately as the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC), a personal vehicle for the ambitions of Stephen Harper.

The definition of stupid given by economic historian Carlo Cipolla in his work The Basic Laws of Stupidity is an entity that does damage to others while also damaging itself.

With the withdrawal of Kevin O'Leary from the Conservative leadership race -- or O'Lexit -- the CPC avoids doing damage to itself. The question remains, can they make a choice that, unlike the Harper-led party, does not promise damage to others?

The current CPC leadership contest has seen the party grow to just short of 260,000 members. Voting is underway to select one of 13 undistinguished candidates, with Quebec MP and former minister Maxime Bernier holding a temporary lead.

Bernier brings to the race an extreme version of libertarian economics. He would privatize government services, deregulate commerce and industry, and reduce government. By choosing him, the CPC would have difficulty winning an election, which would reduce its chances of doing damage to Canadians.

An intelligent entity is one that makes things better for others while helping itself. Such is the goal of normal political parties. The only Conservative party candidate who seems to understand this is MP Michael Chong. He is given no chance of winning the leadership.

As a result of the voting process that will be concluded on May 27, it is likely the CPC will find itself with a leader unable to match the able performance of interim leader Rona Ambrose, who was ruled out of the race by virtue of having her colleagues declare she was up to the job, which she has done very well.

It's all part of a scenario that is being played out among conservatives in Britain and the U.S.: aspiring to stupid.

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

Photo: Ontario Chamber of Commerce/flickr

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Canadian Conservative PartyStephen HarperBrian MulroneyProgressive ConservativeConservative politics2017 Conservative leadership racepreston manningDuncan CameronMay 2, 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.Conservative leadership race could be decided by dogwhistle politics and wannabe demagoguesJust four of the 14 Conservative leadership candidates could be said to be fit for office. None of them are likely to win, however.13 Conservative leadership candidates show little diversity of opinion in Quebec City debateThe economy, the French language and terrorism were the winners of last night's Conservative Party debate.

Funny … not a peep on the right about Jason Kenney stumping for a Liberal

2 May 2017 - 1:44am
David J. Climenhaga

Back in the days Sandra Jansen was one of the few Progressive Conservatives to have survived the debacle of the May 5, 2015, provincial election, the Calgary-North West MLA was savaged by the right-wing rage machine for daring to express support for Liberal candidates Kent Hehr and Nirmala Naidoo in the October 2015 federal election.

You just don't publicly support a Liberal if you're a Tory in Alberta, she learned, not if you want to avoid a vicious public hazing.

It's been said it wasn't any better behind the closed doors of the PC Caucus where, Alberta political legend has it, interim Leader Ric McIver excoriated her like a schoolgirl in front of her fellow Tory MLAs, demanding that she not even indicate she was stumping for a couple of federal Grits.

Alas for McIver, the former broadcaster is said to have given it back as good as she got it in a caucus session described as profane and angry -- and which may have marked the day the PC members in the Legislature pretty much stopped working as a team.

So isn't it funny how there's been nary a peep of protest from the Usual Suspects on the Alberta Right about newly elected Progressive Conservative Leader Jason Kenney's foray into British Columbia politics where, of all things, he was overheard stumping at a federal Conservative clambake in a chichi Vancouver restaurant for B.C. Premier Christy Clark -- who is, of course, a Liberal.

Not just a Liberal either, but one that dares to set conditions on Alberta's all-party plans for more pipelines to the West Coast.

It would seem that in Alberta conservative circles, what's sauce for the goose may not be sauce for the gander, especially if the gander is the fellow the big money boys in Calgary have chosen to lead Alberta's Conservatives back to the promised land of power.

That certainly wasn't going to be Jansen, who got another lesson in how things really work in Alberta conservative circles when she ran for the PC Party's leadership as a candidate who put the progressive back in Progressive Conservative.

She was soon hounded from the race by Kenney supporters -- the topic of her support for Liberal federal candidates came up again, bien sur! -- and today sits as a New Democrat MLA in Premier Rachel Notley's government.

This week includes anniversaries of Fort Mac Fire and NDP victory

Two important anniversaries in recent Alberta history will occur this week -- and there's always the possibility of another event of historical significance.

Tomorrow is the first anniversary of the day the devastating Fort McMurray Fire swept into the northern oilsands city and began destroying houses -- a disaster that eventually saw virtually the entire population of the city of 90,000 forced to leave and destroyed about 2,400 structures, roughly 15 per cent of the city's housing.

Friday marks the second anniversary of the general election that brought the NDP to power under Premier Notley, an astonishing development in a place the prevailing narrative had always insisted was Canada's most-conservative province. Alberta's conservatives, who had run the place for most of the previous 80 years and had apparently concluded they ruled by divine right, have been in a state of sustained and inconsolable fury ever since.

The possible event of historical significance mooted above, is a public gesture symbolizing if not quite delivering union of the province's two principal conservative political parties -- the PCs under Kenney and the Wildrose Party under Opposition Leader Brian Jean -- that Kenney was reportedly dropping broad hints about in Vancouver last weekend.

Not all PCs and Wildrosers may be enthusiastic just yet about the union of their parties’ legislative caucuses, especially if Kenney is in the lead. But there's been a fairly constant buzz for a few days that something may be cooking, possibly along the lines of some sort of mass shift by four or five Wildrosers and/or a similar number of PC MLAs in the Legislature.

Certainly, sooner or later, Kenney is going to want to engineer a grand gesture to demonstrate not only that the right is uniting, but that he's in charge of the union -- an impression Jean, presumably, would very much like to avoid.

Dumpster fire continues to blaze at Edmonton Catholic Schools

Speaking of fires, the dumpster fire that is Edmonton Catholic Schools continued to rage yesterday with the public firing of a trustee as vice-chair and a knuckle-rap for another who dared suggest something was wrong with refusing to let students who have completed their required credits attend a graduation ceremony if they haven't also finished their religion classes.

The Catholic board canned Marilyn Bergstra as vice chair, and rapped Patricia Grell on the knuckles, metaphorically speaking, for "blatant disrespect" and lacking Catholic values. Neither were told in advance what was coming.

Students who opt out of religion classes but complete their required Alberta Education curriculum can receive their diplomas in the mail, thank you very much. Catholic schools all over Alberta, however, continue to court non-Catholic students and the generous per-student grants that come with them.

Bergstra told the CBC she thought she was also in trouble with the majority on the board for calling for medically accurate sex-education and showing sympathy for LGBTQ students.

If this all seems rather unchristian, the constitutional right of Alberta's Catholics to run their own school system is unquestioned. However, if a recent court decision in Saskatchewan is anything to go by, that provincial system's right to expect public funding for non-Catholic students is not nearly as clear.

Faced with a court ruling saying such funding is unconstitutional in his province, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall came up with a plan yesterday to ignore the courts by using use Section 33 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the notorious "Notwithstanding Clause."

It will be very interesting to see how this shakes out. If past experience in Alberta during Ralph Klein's premiership is an indicator, the Saskatchewan Premier's Office might want to hire some thick-skinned temps to man the telephones for the rest of the week.

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

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Outgoing CLC secretary-treasurer Barbara Byers reflects on her work in the labour movement

1 May 2017 - 12:20pm
May 1, 2017'Never confuse decency with weakness': Outgoing CLC secretary-treasurer Barbara Byers advises womenTo celebrate May Day, rabble is focusing on the accomplishments of women in the workplace. We spoke with outgoing CLC secretary-treasurer Barbara Byers about her work as a labour activist.

'Never confuse decency with weakness': Outgoing CLC secretary-treasurer Barbara Byers advises women

1 May 2017 - 12:10pm
Meagan Gillmore

Barbara Byers retires as secretary-treasurer of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) this year after three years in the role. This comes after a career in union activism that began in 1979 when she was a social worker in Saskatchewan. In 1984, Byers was elected president of what is now the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees' Union, the first woman president of a provincial government employees' union. She was president of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour from 1988 to 2002 before moving to the CLC.

To celebrate May Day, rabble wanted to focus on the accomplishments of women in the workplace. Byers spoke to rabble about how she got started in the union movement, struggles she and other women have faced and what she'd like to see happen in the future.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

What first got you involved in unions?

I got involved by accident. I discovered that many of the things the union could do were also things that I was fighting for as a social worker... The union became a vehicle to also do that.

You were the first female president of a provincial government employees' union. What was people's response?

I don't remember a lot of pushback about me being a woman, more me being evaluated on my skills. I don't remember a lot of that, but I certainly know that it was there for some people in all of the positions I've run for, and it continues to be there for women. We've made huge strides, but women's voices are still heard differently. They are still not as valued as they need to be.

Can you givesome examples of ways that women's voices are still heard differently today?

The labour movement is not unlike society generally that when a woman speaks in a meeting, she's not necessarily listened to. If she offers ideas, and a man comes along later and offers the same idea, just in different words, oftentimes he doesn't acknowledge that his idea is building on hers, … Some of the raw sexism that was [present] in my early years is not there; some of it may have gone underground a bit. We should never take away from the incredible work and the incredible advancements that have been made in the last 30 years I've been involved. There have been incredible advances for women. And there have been incredible advances for equity-seeking groups. That doesn't mean that the job is finished yet.

What improvements have you seen?

Statements against harassment started out as statements against sexism. It was considered quite revolutionary in the mid-1980s. … It's almost now part of meeting agendas, so people don't realize there's an actual history there. The number of women in leadership roles has expanded in huge ways. We're not 50-50 yet, but we're very much making advancements.Advancements from women in equity-seeking groups have come along very quickly as well … Cumulatively this movement is a lot different than it was when I started out.

Why is it important to have women in positions of visible leadership?

We need to have women's voices there. Women have a different leadership style. They have a different way of doing things as long as they don't fall into the trap of doing things the way the male leadership has done ... forever. … We do tend to be more collaborative. We can get pretty tough, and we have to be ready to take on a lot of tough issues with governments, with employers and inside our own organizations. One of the things I have used as a bit of a motto is, "Never confuse decency with weakness." Women leaders are strong, they're smart, they're strategic. They have incredible spirit and strength and solidarity and we only get better when all of those skills and attributes are used.

Do you think it should be 50-50 (women's representation in leadership roles)?

I think that would be the goal.

People have said, "Is there major pieces of unfinished business that you're looking back over the 30 years?" In small ways I wanted to make the labour movement … more flexible and family-friendly, life-friendly, but I didn't do the systematic change that needed to be done in terms of the structural change that needed to happen.

Do you have any accomplishments that really stand out to you?

Making sure women's voices were heard, making sure that when one of us went through a door, if I can put it that way, we left the door open for those that are coming behind.

What are the struggles that women need to take on today?

There's still the question of women's voices being heard and respected…and ensuring that the labour movement in general is "life-friendly." You can be an activist, you can be true to the union movement, and you don't have to hand over your life to the movement.

Are there any women throughout history that you've turned to for inspiration?

Every woman I've come into contact with I've learned something from … That's the strength and the beauty of women and feminists and the trade labour movement is that we hear each other and we learn from each other, and we honour that. I certainly do.

What would you say to the young aspiring women activists who are coming up?

Never be afraid to question, but always have sisters around you that can help you with support if you don't get the response that you need. Have that group of women around you that's from diverse communities … Don't give up. Women who went before us didn't give up on equal pay for equal work and then the ones that came after them didn't give up on equal pay for similar work. Women for many, many years are still fighting for equal pay for equal value. That's not one that we're going to give up on, because we're fighting for gender-wage justice.

Meagan Gillmore is rabble's labour reporter.

Photo: UN Women/flickr

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