Who is Andrew Scheer? Stephen Harper with dimples

28 May 2017 - 1:14pm
May 28, 2017Andrew Scheer is Stephen Harper with dimplesThe Conservatives chose Andrew Scheer as a compromise, supposedly inoffensive candidate, as they did Joe Clark in 1976. But Scheer would mean a return to Harper policies Canadians rejected in 2015.

Andrew Scheer is Stephen Harper with dimples

28 May 2017 - 9:37am
Karl Nerenberg

Karl Nerenberg is your reporter on the Hill. Please consider supporting his work with a monthly donation Support Karl on Patreon today for as little as $1 per month!

The Conservatives have chosen a new leader who is well known in Ottawa and among Conservative party insiders. Andrew Scheer was Speaker of the House from 2011 to 2015, the youngest person to ever hold that job. But he is almost unknown in the country.

"Who the f*** is Andrew Scheer?" wrote one Facebooker, after the Conservatives chose the Saskatchewan MP by the narrowest of margins on Saturday night.

Forty-one years ago, when the Progressive Conservatives (as they then called themselves) chose a little-known western MP still in his 30s as their new leader, one headline said: "Joe who?" Back in 1976, the sitting prime minister was also named Trudeau, and the Progressive Conservative leadership race's frontrunner had also been a Quebecker, former provincial Liberal justice minister Claude Wagner.

Wagner was a pro-death-penalty, tough-on-crime lawyer, judge and politician, with a blunt and abrasive manner. His supporters thought he could help the Progressive Conservatives make a breakthrough in Quebec. Others considered him to be too divisive a figure.

There was another Quebecker in that race, Montreal lawyer and business executive Brian Mulroney, who had never run for elected office, and who, in 1976, projected a bit too much big city flash for a good part of the Progressive Conservative base.

Joe Clark was the compromise choice. His main virtue was that while he excited few, he offended even fewer.

Supported by both social conservatives and Red Tories

For his part, Andrew Scheer was up against a Quebecker who advocated two-tier health care and eliminating marketing boards. On top of that, Maxime Bernier's English is less than perfect, and his lifestyle is not one likely to appeal to the family values-espousing social conservatives who still occupy a big place in the current Conservative party. The better-than-expected results for the two social conservatives in the race, Pierre Lemieux and Brad Trost, testify to the continuing influence of social conservatives, a fact that seems to have escaped the notice of most professional observers before Saturday.

Andrew Scheer is a sufficiently nebulous figure to have been able to capture both social conservative support and some of the small contingent of still-extant Red Tories who backed Michael Chong or Lisa Raitt.

Scheer is a family man with five children and a dutiful political wife, a big contrast to the handsome bachelor Bernier who, famously, once dated a one-time biker's moll.

Scheer has not promised to revisit abortion laws, but he has signalled his affinity for social conservatives by proposing a tax break for those who choose home and private schooling. And he does tend to use a lot of coded rhetoric about "respecting parents' choices."

If most of Michael Chong's supporters also opted for Scheer as a second or third choice it was probably because the former speaker might have seemed like a more comfortable choice than hard-right libertarian Bernier. Chong, readers will remember, is the one and only Conservative leadership candidate who unequivocally accepted the science on global warming. His signature policy was a carbon tax, which Chong tried to sell as a market-based tool in the fight against climate change. What did the Chong folks think, then, when one of the few pledges Scheer made in his victory speech was to immediately repeal the Liberal carbon tax? Whatever they thought, they should not have been surprised. Scheer might be a smiling version of Stephen Harper, which is how many in the party see him. But on most key files -- notably the environment and First Nations -- he is pure and unadulterated Harper. 

The entirety of Scheer's stated policy on First Nations is a return to the punitive, Harper-era policy of publishing Indigenous bands' financial statements online. That practice puts the entire responsibility for a broken, dysfunctional funding system -- one which auditor general Sheila Fraser condemned on numerous occasions -- on the shoulders of poor and inadequately resourced First Nations communities.

On climate change, Scheer wants to return to Harper's bogus policy of sector-by-sector regulation, in lockstep with the United States. Given who is in power in the U.S., it is easy to guess how that would work out.

The man they called Joe Who in 1976 went on to win the election three years later. At that point, the Liberals had been continuously in power for more than 15 years, and there was a natural time-for-a-change mood in the country. The economy was also sputtering, never good for a sitting government. Interestingly, Clark's signature policy, and one that got him defeated on a confidence vote in the House, was, in effect, one that we would now call a carbon tax: 81 cents a gallon on gasoline at the pump. Joe Clark's finance minister, John Crosbie, called it "short-term pain for long-term gain."

The tax did not work out politically for the Progressive Conservatives back then, and Andrew Scheer will not likely offer any bold or innovative policies this time round. But Canadians should not be deceived by Scheer's smiling, dimpled countenance. His government would be a sharp right turn, back to everything Canadians rejected about the Harper regime in 2015. 

Photo: British High Commission, Ottawa/flickr

Karl Nerenberg is your reporter on the Hill. Please consider supporting his work with a monthly donation Support Karl on Patreon today for as little as $1 per month!

This weekend in politics: Conservatives get a leader, NDP leadership candidates debate

26 May 2017 - 11:45pm
May 27, 2017Conservatives choose a new leader; NDP hears from all six leadership candidatesIt will be a big weekend in Canadian federal politics. The Conservatives will get a new leader, while the NDP leadership candidates will debate each other in Sudbury.

Conservatives choose a new leader; NDP hears from all six leadership candidates

26 May 2017 - 5:01pm
Karl Nerenberg

Karl Nerenberg is your reporter on the Hill. Please consider supporting his work with a monthly donation Support Karl on Patreon today for as little as $1 per month!

Canada's Conservatives will choose a new leader this weekend. When not preoccupied with Trump's peregrinations and the terror attack in Manchester, the Canadian media have been paying considerable attention to the Conservatives' choice. They have been much less interested in the next big event on the New Democrats' leadership calendar: a debate, on Sunday, in Sudbury, that will involve all six candidates, including two new ones: Jagmeet Singh and Pat Stogran.

As for the party that now forms the Official Opposition in Ottawa, those who might have taken comfort from the departure of one narcissistic, bullying leadership candidate should take a good look at the remaining 13 and what they stand for. When the narcissist -- Kevin O'Leary, by name -- dropped out, he threw his support behind former Harper cabinet minister and MP for Quebec's Beauce region, Maxime Bernier. Bernier is now considered the front-runner, and while he has a more agreeable personality than the nausea-inducing O'Leary, his proposals are, arguably, more extreme.

There may be some solid economic motives for abolishing Canada's supply management system for agriculture, one of Bernier's signature pledges. Reasonable analysts have pointed out that the net effect of supply management has been that all Canadians, including the poor, pay relatively high prices for eggs and dairy products. What, however, would be the economic, or any other, justification for getting the federal government out of the health-care funding business? Or for abolishing the CBC? That is the sort of fundamentalist, free-marketeer ideology Bernier expounds. It is born of dogma and ideology, not evidence or analysis.

If the Conservatives choose this front-runner, they will not be getting their own version of Donald Trump. But they will be getting something almost as disquieting: their very own Ted Cruz, minus the over-the-top-religiosity. Bernier is a classic government-is-best-which-governs-least neo-conservative. If he ever got into power, watch out. The scorching conflagration Maxime Bernier ignites will make Stephen Harper's slashing and burning seem like a Boy Scout campfire.

Other Conservative leadership options include: Kellie Leitch, a medical doctor who shares many of Donald Trump's ideas on diversity, and who also adamantly wants to get rid of the CBC (a bit of a Conservative hobby horse); a couple of hard-line social conservatives; and a former diplomat, who, as Jason Kenney's successor at the immigration ministry, fully imbibed the Harper Kool-Aid on immigrants and refugees.

There is the sole Red Tory candidate, Michael Chong, who has had the guts to propose a carbon tax to a Conservative Party that walked away from the Kyoto Accord. Chong is also a thoughtful democratic reformer, embraces Canadian diversity, and is fluently bilingual. A number of prominent Conservatives, including a onetime press secretary to Stephen Harper, support Chong. Some environmental activists have even taken out Conservative memberships in order to support him. Still, few political handicappers give Michael Chong a chance.

Lisa Raitt, who was one of the least partisan of Harper's cabinet ministers, sounds like a pragmatic centrist; but, like Chong, does not seem to have much of a chance.

Hard-line neo-cons versus vacuous pragmatists

The two candidates who represent the notionally pragmatic wing of the party whom experts believe are very much in the running are former House Speaker Andrew Scheer and Erin O'Toole, a veteran who rescued the Veterans' Affairs ministry after the crotchety ex-police chief Julian Fantino bombed badly.

Scheer's suite of policy proposals steers clear of anything overtly preposterous. On refugees, for instance, he would return to the Harper-era approach of shunning refugees now in United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) camps and, in the Middle East, handpick Christians and members of other minority groups. It is a mean-spirited idea that ignores the fact that the vast majority of those seeking refuge in that region are Muslims, but, at least, it would not mean totally slamming the door on refugees.

Scheer would balance the budget in two years, which seems fanciful right now -- but, after all, even the NDP proposed balancing the budget during the last election campaign. Scheer wants freer trade, an open door for foreign ownership of Canadian airlines, and an end to "corporate welfare," i.e. industrial subsidies. On the other hand, without irony, he proposes government subsidies for parents who send their kids to independent schools or who home school them.

Like most other Conservatives, Scheer would scrap the Liberal carbon tax, while returning to the Harper strategy of a sector-by-sector approach, in lock step with the Americans. It is a hypocritical, fig leaf of a strategy, quite deliberately designed to achieve nothing. The Trump regime is more honest on its climate change policy. It says, simply, there is no such thing as human-caused global warming. 

Unlike most other Conservative leadership candidates, Scheer has something to say about First Nations. He would restore the Harper government practice of publicly publishing the financial statements of First Nations bands. That's it. Not a word on health, education, natural resources, mega-projects, missing and murdered women and girls, or any of the other issues important to Indigenous Canadians.

Erin O'Toole has a very similar list of proposals to Scheer's, except his tend to be far more vague and platitudinous. To take just example, O'Toole suggests an idea he calls "True North Strong." "From Diefenbaker to Mulroney to Harper," he says. "It has only been Conservative governments that have built, supported and protected our North and its people." That's it. Words to live by. 

Elsewhere, O'Toole evokes "igniting the Indigenous economy" (with no further detail); bringing in something he calls the Great Country Initiative (without saying what he means by that); dragging Canadian health care into the 21st century (again, without a single detail); developing our natural resources; and implementing an entirely undefined prosperity agenda. His whole platform is, indeed, a packet of generalities and rhetorical clichés. His single concrete engagement is to negotiate a free trade agreement with Australia, the U.K. and New Zealand. 

There you have it.  

Conservatives can choose between hard-line neo-conservative ideologues, some of whom indulge in a bit of currently fashionable anti-diversity populism, or apostles of vague and vacuous nostrums, who promise nothing more than to pick up where Harper left off. Good luck with all that.

NDP has an identity challenge with Trudeau at the helm of Liberals

After the Official Opposition chooses its new leader on Saturday, the NDP will showcase its complete roster of candidates on Sunday. The danger for New Democrats is that, to many Canadians who consider themselves progressive, almost any new Conservative leader will likely make Justin Trudeau look good in comparison.

The NDP has been drifting upward in the polls of late, both nationally and in some provinces such as Saskatchewan, and might yet get to form a government in British Columbia. That should be good news for the party.

There is a big challenge for all of the NDP's leadership aspirants, however, and that is to provide a compelling reason for Canadians to choose one of them over a still-popular, young Liberal prime minister. One option for New Democrats would be to offer a number of hard-edged and specific policy proposals on such matters as taxes, child care, pharmacare, and the environment. If you want voters to choose you and your party you should be as clear as possible about what you would do once in power. 

The unavoidable fact is that the task of establishing a distinct identity and role for the NDP will not be as easy today, with Justin Trudeau's Liberals in power, as it was when the Conservatives -- or even the budget-slashing Chrétien and Martin Liberals -- ran the show.

Screenshot from 2017 Conservative leadership debate in Toronto/CPAC

Karl Nerenberg is your reporter on the Hill. Please consider supporting his work with a monthly donation Support Karl on Patreon today for as little as $1 per month!

Aeroplan is a potent warning about corporate financing run amok

26 May 2017 - 12:03pm
EconomyPolitics in Canada

For a company whose raison d' être is loyalty, the executives and shareholders of Aimia must wish a little more was coming their way. The company, which operates the Aeroplan loyalty program, was recently dumped by Air Canada, which will start its own in-house frequent-flier scheme starting in 2020.

Since then, Aimia has lost two-thirds of its market value, and it's easy to see why. Air Canada started Aeroplan in 1984; it cut the corporate umbilical cord in 2008, but remains far and away the program's dominant partner. It's hard to fathom how Aeroplan could survive without the airline. But the markets love what it means for Air Canada: Analysts are drooling over billions in incremental profits forecast from its decision.

All of which raises an obvious question: Why on earth did Air Canada spin off its points program in the first place?

To answer this question, we must go back to the early 2000s, when Air Canada's then-chief executive officer Robert Milton was restructuring the company after the Sept. 11 terror attacks (which hammered airlines everywhere). Central to his strategy was an ingenious but bizarre plan to break Air Canada into several component parts -- each of which would be floated on the stock market as its own branded asset.

Virtually anything could be spun off: Aeroplan, the Jazz regional airline and the aircraft maintenance division were all launched as independent companies. Plans were made to float other units, including the vacations business, cargo services, ground handling and the Destina booking platform. Even Air Canada itself was spun off as a stand-alone unit -- operating under a new holding company, Air Canada Enterprises (ACE). The toilets at head office could have been next, if the financial wizards had more time.

Each new business was given a financial head start to boost the odds for a successful initial public offering. For example, the deal with Jazz (originally established as an income trust) featured a unique "cost-plus" billing system that virtually eliminated the financial risk of operating the regional service -- shifting all the risk to Air Canada. This made Jazz highly attractive to investors, all the more so given tax rules at the time (which until 2011 allowed income trusts to avoid paying corporate tax).

But the goal of all this financial engineering was never to run continuing businesses. It was always to generate a one-time financial gain, supposedly based on "unlocking" the "hidden" value of each operation. The bias of Canada's tax system in favour of financial investors (including partial taxation of capital gains and dividends) added to the frenzy -- like throwing jet fuel on the financial flames.

Initially investors lapped up ACE's glitzy offerings, amid the frothy exuberance of North American markets in the mid-2000s. By my reckoning, ACE disbursed more than $5 billion in value to investors from these schemes, even though Air Canada itself lost money every year but one between 2002 and 2012. It seemed Mr. Milton could extract blood from a stone.

Of course, brokers and underwriters collected fat margins with each equity offering. And Mr. Milton himself walked away with more than $80 million in cumulative compensation, largely through exercised options and other gains tied to the spinoffs.

Alas, every financial bubble must pop. And the new units never really stood a chance as independent companies. Air Canada regained its independence in 2012. The technical service and Destina businesses both collapsed. Now, the loyalty program is coming back in-house. Other potential spinoffs never made it to market. The only one left standing is Jazz, and its revenue was cut under a new deal with Air Canada in 2015.

ACE's early investors (including its bankers and executives) walked away with billions. But later investors (including Aeroplan's current shareholders) were left with worthless paper, once the music stopped. Air Canada's workers, too, suffered endless disruption and uncertainty. Consider Aeroplan employees, most of whom were transferred over painfully from Air Canada, yet now face renewed turmoil. Consumers certainly weren't served well: Most didn't even know which company they were dealing with when they phoned to complain.

Air Canada has fared much better since its executives abandoned financial engineering in favour of actually running an airline. This painful final chapter of the whole saga should be a potent warning to business leaders and policy-makers alike: Real prosperity can't come from buying and selling pieces of paper. It only comes from running real enterprises that produce real goods and services.

Jim Stanford is Harold Innes Industry Professor of Economics at McMaster University and an adviser to Unifor. This column was first published in The Globe and Mail.

Photo: Heads Up Aviation Photography/flickr

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Trump's scaled back hostility to Islam means the world is somewhat less apocalyptic

26 May 2017 - 10:11am
EducationUS PoliticsWorld

Brief relief

Trump's speech in Riyadh this week was normal foreign policy drivel, which came as a relief. It was no more preposterous than what Obama, either Clinton, or Trudeau deliver when they talk world issues. Foreign policy is a truth-free, fact-free zone. When leaders speak on domestic issues, citizens at least have points of reference to check them against. On foreign affairs they blather freely. What did the Riyadh speech blessedly avoid?

The clash of civilizations, a dim notion that has sloshed around academic and policy circles. It was generated by Samuel Huntington as a substitute for Cold War, good-evil dualism, then targeted specifically at Islam by Bernard Lewis. The clique around George W. Bush embraced it, though in democratic (versus religious) terms, to justify their crusades -- W.'s word -- in the Mideast.

Trump's version came via the sloppy mind of Steve Bannon, who claims that "We, the Judeo-Christian west," are inevitably destined for wars with both Islam and China. That's scary stuff, injected into the seats of power. When Anderson Cooper asked Trump about Islam, you could see his tiny brain pause, searching for whatever Bannon had told him, then say: "I think Islam hates us."

But Bannon, much demoted, was in Riyadh along with the rest of Trump's team, doing his silly version of the Saudi sword dance -- showing how a whiff of power can vaporize even passionately constructed worldviews. Then he was whisked back to the U.S. Trump, meanwhile, voiced no hostility to Islam, nor did he say anything enthusiastic about "spreading" democracy. His speech scaled back the menace to merely demonizing Iran and rallying fundamentalist Arab monarchies against it, and against vaguely "evil" terrorists anywhere.

Why relief? This far more modest demonization of a single country is less likely to lead to hysteria and global incineration than the scaremongering threat of entire "civilizations." Regrettably Iran, a more developed, pluralistic and democratic society than any Gulf monarchy -- despite the theocracy also rooted there -- will suffer as a result. They will, involuntarily, have to bear the burden for a somewhat less apocalyptic world. We should be duly grateful.

Let Spence teach?

I'd rather not revisit the Chris Spence debacle but he won't leave it alone. The former Toronto schools director is back with a self-justifying video. He was dismissed in 2013 for plagiarism, starting with a Star column on the Sandy Hook shootings in which he repurposed a U.S. columnist's encounter with his son. Then came cases in his own "books." (They're flimsy and air quotes are common among those who've "read" them.) Finally his PhD thesis. His license to teach was recently lifted.

His justifications are bizarre. He says he didn't write the Sandy Hook column himself, someone else did, and he's willing to name the person whose work he then took credit for, effectively plagiarizing a plagiarizer.

He says he takes "full responsibility" for "mistakes" and wants "to move on." But taking responsibility doesn't mean you get to move on as if you never did anything, with no real consequences beyond vocalizing your guilt.

He says "parts of that thesis … are reckless and careless" but he was busy, he takes on too much. Why does he think people plagiarize -- because they like the concept? They're all busy and preoccupied so they swipe stuff. He blames everyone else: the thesis committee that wanted changes, the thesis service he handed it to. It's all excuses, scant on responsibility.

"The public scrutiny that I've gone through has been unprecedented," he says, sounding like Trump announcing no politician in history has been treated worse or more unfairly. Perspective is the first casualty in plagiarism and dismissal cases. But it makes his claims about taking full responsibility baffling.

This is a notion of responsibility without consequences and it's become a minor plague. One Spence backer says, "he clearly says he's responsible" but "is he culpable … those are two different things."

No they're not. If you're responsible, you're culpable. It has the ring of PR advice: Get out in front of this thing and say you take responsibility. Then forget it and get on with life exactly as before. Neat trick if you can manage it but at the least, the rest of us might say we have doubts about someone zealously performing this kind of mental contortion, then returning to serve as a renowned "role model" for kids.

This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Photo: The White House/flickr

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Choice of leader will set new direction for the NDP

26 May 2017 - 9:09am
May 26, 2017Jagmeet Singh and Niki Ashton: A choice of flash versus vision for the NDPAs they choose a new leader, NDP members will decide what they want their party to be. The two candidates who stand in greatest contrast are Manitoba MP Niki Ashton and newcomer Jagmeet Singh.

Jagmeet Singh and Niki Ashton: A choice of flash versus vision for the NDP

25 May 2017 - 6:00pm
NDPPolitics in Canada

As the mainstream pundits are putting it, the NDP leadership race just got more interesting with the declaration that Jagmeet Singh, an Ontario NDP MPP, is in the race. He has real charisma and would break the white-only leadership barrier for the first time.

There seems at first glance to be little in the way of major policy differences between the four candidates who preceded Singh in the race. While all are smart, able politicians with a solid understanding of the issues, there seems to be scant recognition of the need for the NDP to distance itself from the Layton-Mulcair period wherein the party decided to go for power and made the inevitable rush to the centre to do so.

The Liberals won that race and now have an almost unshakable grip on the centre. The overarching purpose of the NDP is perhaps the most important issue of all and it's not being debated. Will the new leader follow in the footsteps of Mulcair and his political whiz kids and go for the ring or will they decide to reinvent the party as a principled, unabashedly left-wing party eager to actually challenge corporate power?

The two candidates who stand in greatest contrast on this all-important issue are Manitoba MP Niki Ashton and newcomer Jagmeet Singh. Singh is eagerly poised to fill the role as the man who can take down Justin Trudeau (literally it turns out, claiming his mixed martial arts would be too much for Justin) and become prime minister. He oozes self-confidence but gets close to being a bit too attracted to himself. He doesn't quite refer to himself in the third person, but he gets close, as in this Toronto Star interview: "If people see that I'm dynamic and exciting and approachable, that's a good thing."

But while charisma is an important aspect of leadership it has to be matched by policy depth and transparency. Singh is famous in Ontario for his expensive, perfectly tailored suits and his brightly coloured turbans. But he is a provincial politician with no experience in federal government issues. He has been given an easy ride by the Toronto Star (no friend of the NDP) and has even been featured in the Washington Post.

But his flash fell short when he was interviewed by CTV's Evan Solomon. After saying "Glad to be here, man," Singh looked very uncomfortable when Solomon pressed him three times on his position on the Kinder Morgan pipeline. He dodged it three times, falling back each time on a nearly identical rehearsed answer: "We are going to come out with a comprehensive plan…" He similarly dodged a question on whether he would support retaliatory action against the U.S. for its softwood lumber tariff. When Solomon pressed him on what kind of leader he was going to be, he fell flat, suggesting that he was not ready for prime-time questioning.

Singh's discomfort with these questions (and one on immigration levels) reveals a politician who is a bit of a blank slate. In fact, there is a certain irony in his eagerness to take on Justin Trudeau -- another politician who, when he went for the Liberal Party leadership, seemed to have few ideas of his own. The other candidates have been immersed in these issues and their positions seem rooted in personal conviction.

When you haven't developed a clear vision of the party you want to lead, you end up relying on others, which is exactly what Trudeau did -- and it's largely why he has broken the specific promises he has. They were never his in the first place. It begs the question with Mr. Singh: who is he going to rely on for his vision of the party and the country?

One of the people he is relying on is none other than Brad Lavigne, Jack Layton's and Tom Mulcair's strategic genius -- you remember, the guy who thought it was cool to work for Hill and Knowlton, the people who brought you the first Gulf war. While Lavigne is only a volunteer and there are other people advising Singh, there is little doubt that Lavigne will be hard-selling the "we can win" Kool-Aid again.

Niki Ashton is about as different from Jagmeet Singh as you can get -- about the only thing they share is that they are both young. Where Singh has given no sign of how (or if) he would rebuild the post-Mulcair party, Ashton has been clear that she wants to transform the party into a movement. Whereas Singh attributes the loss of the 2015 election to the fact that Mulcair didn't "connect emotionally," Ashton's take is more substantive:

"In the 2015 election, we allowed the Liberals to out-left us. In the last little while we have lost our sense of being a movement. …We need to reconnect with activists and community leaders who share our same values …We need to build the NDP as a movement for social, environmental, and economic justice."

While we have to wait for Singh's answers to fundamental questions, Ashton's answers seem instinctive but rooted in policy depth. She has served as NDP critic for Aboriginal Affairs, Status of Women and Post-Secondary Education and Youth. As the NDP's critic on Jobs, Employment and Workforce Development she led a countrywide, 11-city tour engaging young people on the issue of precarious work faced by millennials.

Perhaps the strongest symbol of Ashton's boldness is her stance regarding the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. After posting support for Palestinian independence she was, of course, subjected to the knee-jerk bullying from B'nai Brith which "demanded" an apology --which it never got. Under both Mulcair (a proud Zionist) and Layton, the party was terrified of the issue. As I detailed in this column a few months ago, Canadians' views on the conflict are clearly in line with Ashton's.

Jagmeet Singh might well be the ideal candidate to continue the party's centrist quest for power. He has charisma, he's a social media star, young people love him, and breaking the white-only barrier is a very attractive proposition and would be a huge step forward in Canadian politics. If the party wants to try for a quick comeback in 2019 they could certainly do worse.

But if the party wants to rebuild, return to its social democratic roots and show the boldness that will be required to seriously challenge climate change, inequality, reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, and peace in the Middle East they will need to take the long view and build a movement. That's Niki Ashton's pledge though she would have to take on the party establishment to do it.

We'll just have to wait to see what NDP members decide they want their party to be.

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

Photos: Matt Jiggins/flickr; BGM Riding Association/Wikimedia Commons

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Killing is as wrong in Manchester as it is in Sanaa, Yemen

25 May 2017 - 4:32pm
US PoliticsWorld

Donald Trump, the so-called leader of the free world, made his first foreign visit as president to an absolute monarchy, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a petrostate legendary for its complete absence of democratic institutions and rampant violations of human rights. The signature foreign-policy development that Trump announced in Riyadh over the weekend was a massive, $110-billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia. Many people are going to be killed by this flood of weaponry. But this is not a done deal; Trump's affinity for autocrats, strongmen and bullies is facing resistance. As the world processes the horror of the suicide bombing in Manchester, England, where most of the victims were young girls out for a concert, we should brace ourselves for another wave of similar, innocent casualties, this time in Yemen, the target of relentless, U.S.-supported Saudi Arabian bombardment.

Start with the premise that killing children is wrong, period. It is as wrong in Manchester as it is in Sanaa, Yemen. It is wrong to kill a child as an act of war, whether the killing is done by a U.S. soldier, a remote pilot of a U.S. Predator drone, a Saudi Arabian pilot of a U.S. provided F-35 or, to use the current term, a terrorist.

When a suicide bomber exploded a bomb at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester this week, those killed were almost entirely from among her immense fan base: young girls -- tweens -- and their parents. The newscasts appropriately labelled the attack "barbaric." Jump to the first week of the Trump administration, for example. Then, with expected hubris, Trump and his surrogates touted a "successful" raid in Yemen, despite the death of a Navy SEAL and loss of a helicopter. What went largely unreported, at first, were the 30 civilian casualties of that attack, many of them women and children, including an eight-year-old girl, Nawar Anwar al-Awlaki. Her name is known because she was the daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, the Islamic cleric who was killed by a U.S. drone strike in 2011. Her older brother, 16-year-old Denver-born Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, was killed in a separate drone strike two weeks after their father was killed. Abdulrahman didn't know his father had been assassinated, and was trying to locate his father when the U.S. military killed him.

The botched January raid came in the wake of the disastrous Saudi Arabian attack on a funeral in Sanaa on Oct. 8, 2016, where over 140 people, almost all civilians, were killed. After this attack, President Barack Obama, who had authorized a $115-billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia, withdrew precision-guided munitions from the sale, since their most likely use would be to target civilians. Donald Trump has removed the restriction on those weapons; the Saudi king, a dictator, now has state-of-the-art weaponry to unleash on the people of Yemen.

"These terrorist attacks are not confined to Europe. They take place every single day in Iraq, in Syria, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan and Yemen, Bahrain," Tariq Ali said on the Democracy Now! news hour, reacting to the Manchester bombing. He is a British political commentator, writer, editor of the New Left Review and longtime peace activist.

"We all deplore the loss of lives of innocent people. We do. Everyone does. But we can't have double standards, in which we say that someone killed in Europe, their lives are more valuable than the lives being taken in large parts of the Muslim world. And unless the West understands that these double standards provoke and anger more people, it will carry on."

The media should use their coverage of the victims of the Manchester bombing, with its poignant biographies and life stories of each of the young lives lost, for the coverage of the deaths in Yemen, in Syria, in Iraq, in Afghanistan. We need to know the names, we need to hear the stories, of those lost lives as well.

Trump's arms deal with Saudi Arabia is wrong. It will inflame an already war-ravaged region, hitting Yemen especially hard. Because of the utter destruction of the country, Yemen is suffering a cholera epidemic, famine and an almost complete breakdown of the sanitation, water, and health and hospital infrastructure in the country. This is a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions.

After he sold this new arsenal to the king of Saudi Arabia, Trump swung through Israel, then had an audience with the Pope. After that meeting, Trump tweeted, "I leave the Vatican more determined than ever to pursue PEACE in our world." Some might maintain hope that Trump means what he tweets. In the meantime, millions around the world are organizing to end war, and to stop the arms sales that promote them.

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: The White House/flickr

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manchester attackU.S. foreign policySaudi arms dealsyemenwar-mongeringMiddle EastAmy GoodmanDenis MoynihanMay 25, 2017A full inquiry into Donald Trump should cover his real crimes and misdemeanoursWhat if Donald Trump were actually held responsible for real crimes: killing civilians in drone strikes, forcing refugees to suffer or die, or driving the planet into climate change?Donald Trump tries to show himself fit to be president on first official trip abroadU.S. President Donald Trump took off last Friday for a nine-day trip abroad that did not begin with (or include) a stop in Canada. The Trudeau government cannot be too disappointed.Trump keeps campaign promise to promote unfettered police power 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.

Not Rex: Robots will soon be replicating themselves. What could go wrong?

25 May 2017 - 11:01am
YouTubeTristan LettieriLabourTechnologyMay 25, 2017Not Rex

Last week Google CEO Sundar Pichai broke news that could shift the course of humanity. Pichai was really excited about automating their state-of-the-art database, AutoML, which will use artificial intelligence to create more artificial intelligence… which is robots making robots and a lot of AI. What could possibly go wrong?

artificial intelligencegoogleautomationrobotscorporate capitalism

Parkdale tenants take action on affordable housing with rent strike

25 May 2017 - 10:03am
Political Action

At the beginning of May, a group of tenants in Parkdale, a Toronto neighbourhood that is home to many newcomers and low‑income residents, went on a rent strike. The tenants are protesting proposed rent increases as well as what they claim are serious maintenance issues in their units. In a recent news release, a spokesperson for the group said that the landlord of three of the six buildings has begun issuing eviction notices to the striking tenants because they did not pay their May rent.

The background to this rent strike is an increasingly problematic rental market in Toronto.

As property values in Toronto increase, so does the market rate for rental units. The Ontario Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) contains rent control provisions that limit the percentage by which a landlord can increase the rent for existing tenants but not when the unit turns over and a new tenant moves in -- at that point the landlord can raise the rent for the unit without limit. This creates incentive for landlords to get their long‑standing tenants out so they can rent the unit to a new tenant at a much higher rate given the increase in market rates. In some cases, the Parkdale tenants allege, this means making life in the unit so unbearable that tenants move out voluntarily.

Further, as property values increase, so do property taxes, and as buildings age, they often require costly maintenances such as a new roof or balconies. Landlords in Ontario may attempt to pass on these increased costs to tenants in the form of an "above guideline increase." This is essentially a temporary exemption from the rent control laws that allow landlords to raise rents by as much as 3 per cent per year versus the 1.5 per cent currently allowed. The Parkdale tenants claim their landlords have secured this exemption on the basis that the buildings they live in require significant repairs. They argue this is unfair given the maintenance issues in their units and that the landlord's motivation for obtaining the above‑guideline increase is not to undertake repairs but to  push them out so the landlords can move in higher-paying tenants.

These issues are not specific to Parkdale and Toronto. In Vancouver, property values are even more out of control than Ontario and many of the same issues with unscrupulous landlords and economic evictions exist and recently led to the formation of a tenants' union to advocate for fair treatment.

What a rent strike could mean for tenant rights

The Parkdale tenants have fought back by going on a rent strike. Is this a strategy that is likely to get them the much-needed repairs and a withdrawal of the above‑guideline rent increase they are advocating for?

As a starting point, what tenants in Parkdale have done -- refusing to pay their rent -- is justification for eviction in Ontario. When a tenant doesn't pay the rent owing for a unit, a landlord can give that tenant a notice to terminate their tenancy. If the tenant doesn't pay up or move out within two weeks of receiving the notice, the landlord may apply to the Ontario Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) for an order evicting the tenant. The rent strike is a risky tactic that could very well result in eviction for many of the Parkdale tenants.

However, just because refusing to pay the rent is a ground for eviction, doesn't mean the LTB will necessarily evict every tenant who hasn't paid the rent. Above all else, the RTA is a tenant protection act. Amongst its purposes is to "provide protection for residential tenants from unlawful rent increases and unlawful evictions." To that end, the RTA builds in several protections intended to aid tenants confronted with the issues the Parkdale tenants are protesting.

1. Maintenance issues

A landlord is responsible for maintaining a rental unit in a good and safe state of repair. Once the tenant has informed the landlord of a maintenance issue such as a leaky ceiling or a pest infestation, the landlord must take steps to correct it in a reasonable timeframe.

In an application to evict a tenant for not paying rent, the RTA entitles the tenant to raise allegations that the landlord has not met their obligations under the act. If the tenant convinces the LTB that the landlord did not meet their maintenance obligations, the tenant may be entitled to a rent abatement and/or an order that the landlord make the necessary repairs. If the rent abatement is equal to or more than the amount the tenant owes in rent, the LTB will not evict.

Further, the LTB is required to refuse an eviction if the landlord has seriously breached their obligations under the RTA, including the obligation to maintain the unit.

If the Parkdale tenants can convince the LTB that there are serious maintenance issues in their unit, they may avoid eviction despite having not paid the rent and may even get an order from the LTB demanding that the landlord make necessary repairs.

2. Retaliatory evictions

The RTA also requires the LTB to refuse an eviction order if the landlord is seeking it because the tenant is part of a tenants' association or because they tried to enforce a lawful right under the act.

Both potentially apply in the case of the Parkdale tenants. They have withheld their rent in an attempt to get their landlords to fix serious maintenance issues in their units and they have done so through an organized and high-profile tenants' association.

The issue the tenants have to overcome here is that it is undisputed that the applications are brought because of their rent arrears. To take advantage of this protection, the tenants would have to convince the LTB to look to the reasons the tenants have withheld their rent to determine that the rent arrears that form the grounds for eviction are part of a coordinated effort to assert their rights under the RTA.

3. Fairness

Finally, in all eviction applications, the LTB must refuse to issue an eviction order if it finds that doing so would be unfair to the tenant. The LTB will consider a variety of circumstances including the likelihood that the tenant would become homeless if evicted. For many of the Parkdale tenants, an eviction from their apartments might mean homelessness, particularly given the rapidly increasing rents in the city of Toronto. Whether intentionally or not, the eviction action by the Parkdale landlords is targeting a group of low‑income tenants and they may face significant difficulties convincing the LTB that it is fair to evict them.

None of the Parkdale tenants are subject to proceedings at the LTB yet so it remains to be seen if the protections built into the RTA will make the rent strike a success. What is certain is that affordable housing is at risk in Parkdale and the entire city of Toronto and these tenants are taking a creative and courageous stand in an attempt to fix the issue.

Iler Campbell LLP is a law firm serving co-ops, not-for-profits, charities and socially-minded small business and individuals in Ontario.

Pro Bono provides legal information designed to educate and entertain readers. But legal information is not the same as legal advice -- the application of law to an individual's specific circumstances. While efforts are made to ensure the legal information provided through these columns is useful, we strongly recommend you consult a lawyer for assistance with your particular situation to obtain accurate advice.

Submit requests for future Pro Bono topics to probono@rabble.ca. Read past Pro Bono columns here.

Photo: peter pelisek/flickr

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pro bonotenant organizingtenants' rightstenants' strikeaffordable housingResidential Tenancies Actcanadian lawKatie DouglasPro BonoMay 25, 2017How inclusionary zoning stands to grow affordable housing in OntarioOntario municipalities have newly expanded powers to implement "inclusionary zoning." What will these changes mean for new affordable housing in the province?Taking the fight for housing rights to court Last week, the Ontario Court of Appeal released its decision on a landmark Charter application on housing rights. Safia Lakhani considers what it means for the housing rights struggle in Canada.Does the right to housing belong in Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms? This week, the Ontario Court of Appeal is hearing an appeal of a 2013 court decision on the right to housing, which raises the question of whether housing rights are embodied in the Charter.

Fighting to improve working conditions for reality TV workers

25 May 2017 - 9:19am
May 25, 2017Media guild organizing for order in 'Wild West' of reality TVWorkers in reality TV often work in unsafe and unhealthy environments, contributing to professional and personal drama that can rival the action on the shows they create. And, for now, it's legal.

Media guild organizing for order in 'Wild West' of reality TV

25 May 2017 - 9:11am
Meagan Gillmore

Most viewers know reality TV is misnamed: lines are scripted; scenes are edited.

Less known is the reality of working conditions for those who create these shows. Workers are often misclassified -- and this can be dangerous.

Workers in reality TV shows and documentaries, also known as "unscripted" or "factual" television, often work in unsafe and unhealthy environments, contributing to professional and personal drama that can rival the action on the shows they create.

And, for now, it's legal.

The Canadian Media Guild (CMG) has been working to organize factual television and movie industry workers for four years. The all-media union represents workers across the country at such places as CBC, The Canadian Press, Agence France-Presse (AFP), TVO and more recently, VICE Canada. It also represents freelancers. It wants to organize workers in factual programming -- a segment of the entertainment industry many call "the Wild West" -- so they have a collective voice and can bargain with employers.

"Workers in this industry have been flying under the radar for a long time," said campaign organizer Lise Lareau. There's no specific union for them, and they have little legal protection.

The film and television industry is exempt from some parts of The Employment Standards Act. These exemptions include limits on the number of hours worked in a day or week and the amount of time off between shifts. Factual television is also unique, said Lareau, because when it emerged nearly two decades ago, a result of writers' strikes and an influx of new channels that needed programming, no one thought it would stick around this long -- or be so successful.

Reality shows like Survivior, Big Brother Canada and The Amazing Race dominate the most-watched TV lists.

Workers in factual television are often misclassified. They are often hired as independent contractors and not as employees. This means they don't have the same rights as employees, including the right to paid overtime or vacation days, strict safety legislation or the right to unionize.

The Ontario government's Changing Workplaces Review, released on Tuesday, recommends the Ministry of Labour make misclassification a priority enforcement issue. It also says reviewing sector-specific enforcements should be a priority.

Standard contracts needed

The CMG also wants to create a standard agreement that many production companies can use as a model, said Lareau. This agreement would benefit the companies too, she said, by helping them know how much to budget for payroll.

There's interest from the industry, but change will take time. "I'm not naïve," said Lareau. "I don't think people working in this industry are going to be classified as employees tomorrow, and then have an immediate right to unionization."

But these workers need it -- not only for their own safety, but also because their working conditions clearly demonstrate the dangers of a gig economy, said Denise O'Connell, a former factual TV worker who first alerted Lareau to factual workers' need for a union.

"Two or three part-time jobs doesn't always add up to a full-time job," she said, noting that looking for jobs is also a full-time job. "It either adds up to less than a full-time job, or more than a full-time job."

Few standards exist in this industry dominated by contract work. Workers are often paid a daily rate, but these vary from company to company. Contracts range from days to weeks or months; hours of work are also erratic, changing with little warning. Contracts may be extended -- or terminated -- with little notice.

One editor with more than five years' experience in the industry told rabble.ca they were once given an hour-and-a-half notice their contract was ending -- six months before the original end date. (This editor spoke on the condition of anonymity, for fear of losing their job.) It's a common industry joke, they said, that someone only becomes a "real" television worker once they've been laid off. There may not be severance pay.

"You're constantly walking on eggshells making sure you don't piss off the wrong person," said O'Connell.

But uncertain working conditions create serious pressure. Savings or home ownership are seen as luxuries. Workdays can stretch from 12 to 16 hours or longer, causing physical exhaustion. Viruses spread quickly in open-concept production offices. Tight deadlines mean workers feel obligated to come into work while unwell, a pressure increased by the lack of paid sick days. Staying home may keep them and their coworkers healthy, but it also causes them to lose money.

Amanda Terfloth worked as a producer in factual television for eight years, often taking temporary jobs to fill the gaps between contracts. She rarely qualified for employment insurance, and had to resort to using her credit card to buy groceries. She said she often made less than $29,000 a year. One year, she lost $1,700 when she contracted whooping cough -- Terfloth was in her late 20s at the time and unaware her immunization had expired. She estimated that she didn't crack $20,000 that year.

Difficult places to work, harder to leave

Even when workers are physically healthy, their workplaces could put them at risk. In more than a decade working in factual television, O'Connell does not recall being on a show that had a medic on set. She worked on home renovation shows, but because she didn't appear on camera, she didn't have steel-toed boots, helmets or protective eyewear. "There was more emphasis put on taking your shoes off at the door to make sure you weren't tracking dirt through the homeowners' place," she says.

Current workers fear speaking out about poor working conditions could cost them their jobs. They -- and production companies -- know many people are willing to work for less, or free. O'Connell and Terfloth said they only felt comfortable speaking about their experiences because the industry no longer pays their bills. Terfloth has left altogether. She works at The Better Way Alliance, researching employers throughout Ontario who treat their employees well and provide them with needed benefits like paid sick days. She said she got involved with the organization, a group of businesses committed to treating employees fairly, partly because of her experiences working in the factual TV industry. O'Connell produces multimedia content for a bank, but still picks up the occasional freelance producing job. "I love the creative work," she said, noting that, in her opinion, most people who work in the industry do so because they love it. "We love what we do. We just hate the fact that our working conditions are such crap that we can't do it properly."

Both declined to name the specific shows where they worked or their former employers.

Current workers may often contemplate leaving, but limited finances make options like further education seem unattainable. It can be hard to explain how their skills translate to work outside of media. The current editor rabble.ca spoke to said they have a "media" and "non-media" resume. Terfloth said that even though she was often re-hired by companies, a sign she was a good worker, many people would look at her resume and assume she couldn't hold down a job.

"The further I got into it in regards to it being my work experience, the harder it was to get work outside of it," she said.

Combatting the 'cool' factor

Broadcasters and production companies alike face mounting pressures: decreased demand for Canadian content; smaller budgets; a rapidly changing industry. But they hold a powerful, unquantifiable quantity: people consider the industry to be "cool." Many people want the few jobs available, and this can make workers feel they must be grateful for whatever they can get, even if it's a low-paying, unsafe, precarious gig that could harm their physical and mental health or relationships.

"People assume that if it's something that is really cool to do, or if it offers up fame or recognition, than it should be harder for you to make a living. I don't think that that's the case," said O'Connell.

Changing that mindset will take a while, as will helping media workers break out of the idea that they need to put themselves at risk for the perfect shot, or sacrifice their health for their work. But there are signs of hope. The people rabble.ca spoke to said once they learned about being misclassified as independent contractors and what their rights were, they would educate their colleagues. Since the CMG started its campaign, there's been more openness across the industry about payments and working conditions; a private Facebook group dedicated to the campaign has more than 1,000 members.

O'Connell said she hopes to create a sustainable industry, where people can both find employment and mentor others so the work can continue.

Meagan Gillmore is rabble.ca's labour reporter.

Image: Paul Ford/flickr

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Activists Clayton Thomas-Müller and Vandana Shiva connect climate and social justice

24 May 2017 - 4:07pm
Resh Budhu

The Tommy Douglas Institute at George Brown College invites educational communities and wider communities to explore progressive ideas and critical perspectives on educating and organizing for change in the 21st century. Now, in its fifth year, we focus on the single most important issue of our time, the environment -- and the need to connect climate justice to social justice.

On Wednesday May 31, environmental justice activists Clayton Thomas-Müller and Vandana Shiva will speak on this year's theme, Social Justice = Environmental Justice: Rethink! Reclaim! Respect!

It's 2017 and eight billionaires own as much wealth as the world's bottom 50 per cent and two-thirds of wildlife will disappear by 2020. Winters have never been warmer and precarious jobs, divisive politics, gender-based violence and urban poverty continue to thrive. More people are being displaced by war and want, while once immortal icebergs melt into the oceans.

Are they connected? Of course they are.

As Clayton Thomas-Müller writes in Change the System, Not the Climate:

"When we talk about climate change we are really talking about re-evaluating our relationship as humanity to the sacredness of Mother Earth…. A relationship that has been catastrophically damaged by this psychotic Western industrial scientific experiment called Capitalism."

Over 200 years of industrialization -- fed by rampant resource depletion of natural and human reserves, sustained by a raging consumerism that it both caters to and creates, protected by neoliberal deregulation serving the interests of corporate monopolies over communities and now finding its greatest champion in a climate-change-denying superpower -- has led us to the tipping point of irreversible climate disaster and the worst existential crisis to ever face our global humanity.

For Indigenous rights and environmental justice activist Clayton Thomas-Müller, climate change is also the legacy of the colonial project:

"Neocolonialism has reared its head. Only this time it's not Jesuit priests and Black Robes coming into our communities, it's corporate CEOs and black-suits ... And instead of saying, 'Change the way you communicate to the Creator to solve your problems,' they're saying 'Change your relationship to the sacredness of Mother Earth by entering into the industrialization game.' And it's bullshit…."

As essayist Edward Abbey once likened the corporate mantra of "growth for the sake of growth [to] the ideology of the cancer cell," ecofeminist and anti-globalization activist Vandana Shiva outlines the fundamental hypocrisy of growth economics:

"A living forest does not contribute to growth, but when trees are cut down and sold as timber, we have growth. … Water .. shared freely and protected by all.. does not create growth. But when Coca-Cola sets up a plant, mines the water and fills plastic bottles with it, the economy grows. ..this growth is based on creating poverty -- both for nature and local communities….The dominant model of economic development has in fact become anti-life."

Yet, despite warnings from the world's climate scientists and activists, too many are still caught in the cognitive dissonance between a humanity that is powerful enough to usher in a new geological era -- the Anthropocene -- while remaining mired in enough denial, ignorance or obstinacy to doubt the climate changing consequences of their actions.

As Clive Hamilton recently wrote in The Guardian, "The greatest shame is the absence of a sense of tragedy."

But there is hope. From the recent Peoples' Climate Marches to the incredible number of climate actions around the world, a growing environmental consciousness is taking hold across lines of identity and politics.

From unions to farmers, teachers to health-care workers, politicians to citizens, more and more are asking: If jobs are not green, can they be just? How does the natural world impact our health, education, housing? Can we fight for Indigenous sovereignty, gender and racial justice, freedom from conflict and violence, sustainable communities and the rights of all humanity without linking them to climate change and the environment?

Environmental justice relies on building environmental literacy into every corner of our lives, understanding that there is no issue, community or ideology that can live beyond a planet unable to support life and mobilizing across a shared responsibility to the natural world. Our survival lies within our solidarity.

For communities and activists from Alberta to Madhya Pradesh and from the Congo to Standing Rock, it is our ability and willingness to connect social issues to climate issues that continues to drive and strengthen environmental justice movements.

Our communities and democracies depend not only on the rights and dignity of our peoples, but also on the rights and dignity of our Earth. As Shiva writes, "the real currency of life is life itself."

This year's institute also includes roundtable discussions, performances, an Environmental Justice Fair and a panel discussion on Connecting Climate Change to Social Change: Educate! Organize! Act! featuring Joanna Kerr (Greenpeace Canada), Dusha Sritharan (Toronto Environmental Alliance), Clayton Thomas-Müller (350.org), Katie  McKenna (LEAP) and moderator Ali Kazimi (filmmaker/activist).

To register, visit georgebrown.ca/TommyDouglasInstitute

Resh Budhu, Coordinator of The Tommy Douglas Institute, has worked in social justice issues of gender equality, anti-racism, education and the arts. Resh brings this commitment to her role as faculty and co-coordinator of the Community Worker Program at George Brown College. For over 40 years, the Community Worker Program has prepared students to become critical supporters and advocates of community empowerment, social justice and the building of a better world.

Visit the Community Worker Program: http://www.georgebrown.ca/C101-2017-2018/

Images: Fronteiras do Pensamento; Velcrow Ripper/flickr

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Trump and the legacy of Sykes-Picot is a tale of doomed deals in the Middle East

24 May 2017 - 9:30am
May 24, 2017Trump and the legacy of Sykes-Picot is a tale of doomed deals in the Middle EastThe "peace" deal which Trump maybe able to shove down the Middle East countries throats will not bring any peace because the stake holders have no one at the table advocating for them.

CLC must strengthen and grow, says re-elected president Hassan Yussuff

23 May 2017 - 11:58am
Meagan Gillmore

The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) must continue to adapt if it wants to thrive, recently acclaimed president Hassan Yussuff told rabble.ca.

The acclamation affirms a second three-year term as president at the Congress's national convention in Toronto earlier this month.

Increasing the number of people involved in the movement is his "ultimate priority," Yussuff said.

The convention was organized around four main themes: fairness, equity, green jobs and organizing to strengthen the union movement. But focus is required. "If we're going to take something on, we have to be successful at it instead of just making a loud noise and then moving on to something else," he said.

The Congress needs a stronger movement so it can better address social concerns. Unions don't just work for their members, they also advocate for issues affecting all Canadians, he said. This includes fighting for a $15 minimum wage and improved employment standards across the country.

Advocacy depends on having a strong, growing membership. The Congress needs to make sure it reaches out to workers in precarious employment or minimum-wage jobs, and make sure they know they have a place in unions too, said Yussuff. It also means looking to the future.

"We need to continue to modernize and change our organization because it has to have relevance for our members," Yussuff said. "In absence of that, you die a natural death."

Part of staying relevant means responding to changes in Canada's demographics, he said. "Racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, is a reality of Canada, and we can't ignore it anymore."

For the first time in its 61-year history, three officers at the CLC are people of colour: Yussuff, Executive Vice-President Larry Rousseau and Secretary-Treasurer Marie Clarke Walker. Walker was executive vice-president in 2002, the youngest person and first racialized woman to have that role.

Donald Lafleur was elected for a second term as an executive vice-president.

This racially diverse executive is "remarkable," said Yussuff. But having a racially diverse executive does not mean the labour movement is racially inclusive. He doesn't think the Congress will use the election of a racially diverse executive as an excuse to not be proactive in fighting racism.

"Elections are a wonderful thing," he said, "but we don't see that as a solution to the problems we face."

Along with having a racially diverse executive, the Congress can do more to hire and promote people who aren't white, he said. Members need to be educated about combatting racism. The Congress also needs to continue building relationships with organizations that advocate for racial equality. The convention, with the theme of Fighting for a Fair Future, included presentations from notable activists. Internationally known anti-racism activist, scholar and author Angela Davis addressed delegates. Amira Elghawaby from the National Council of Canadian Muslims participated in a panel discussion about equity. Yussuff said he expects equity will be a focus at future conventions.

Building relationships with organizations that are actively fighting racism is key for the labour movement, said Yussuff. This prevents the movement from becoming divided and shows the rest of the country that unions are fighting for social justice.

"It's an ongoing effort," he said. "It's not a one-time thing. There's no magic here."

Yussuff, who was part of a CLC anti-racism task force more than a decade ago, said he would welcome the creation of another task force to study the subject. The Congress has all the supports it needs, such as a human rights committee, for such an initiative.

Yussuff said the federal government has been attentive to the labour movement and its concerns. He counted the defeat of Stephen Harper's Conservative government as one of the greatest accomplishments of his first term. The federal Liberals, under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, have not interfered with unions' work, he said. But he acknowledged future disagreements will come. The CLC will continue to press the government for pay equity for women in the federal sector, a national child-care plan and national pharmacare. The Congress plans to intensify its work on pharmacare in the fall, he said.

The Congress will also continue advocating for Indigenous children across Canada, he said.

Meagan Gillmore is rabble's labour reporter.

Photo: OFL Communications Department/flickr

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Trump tries out the role 'leader of the free world' on first presidential foreign visit

23 May 2017 - 9:28am
May 23, 2017Donald Trump tries to show himself fit to be president on first official trip abroadU.S. President Donald Trump took off last Friday for a nine-day trip abroad that did not begin with (or include) a stop in Canada. The Trudeau government cannot be too disappointed.

Donald Trump tries to show himself fit to be president on first official trip abroad

23 May 2017 - 9:22am
US PoliticsWorld

Canada was selected as the site of a first presidential foreign visit for U.S. presidents Harding, Roosevelt, Kennedy, Johnson, Reagan, Bush Sr., Clinton and Obama.

When Governor-General Michaëlle Jean greeted U.S. President Obama on the tarmac at the Ottawa airport, she told him how popular he was in Canada. It was good to know that, he responded with a smile, as when things got really bad at home, it would be nice to be welcome in Canada.

Nothing like that will ever be said by U.S. President Donald Trump, who took off last Friday for a nine-day trip abroad that did not begin with (or include) a stop in Canada.

Trump took a trip to distract from his problems at home.

The Trump journey began in Saudi Arabia where he signed off on a $110-billion arms sale, representing a new "strategic vision" shared with the Petrol Kingdom. Travelling with 50 U.S. CEOs, the president announced joint ventures and cross-border investments that totalled some $200 billion over 10 years.

Asset manager BlackRock, adviser to the Trudeau government on its proposed infrastructure bank, announced it had recruited $20 billion from Saudi sovereign wealth sources, for a projected $40-billion American infrastructure fund to upgrade U.S. assets. 

Pushing a familiar theme of fighting terrorism, the U.S. president met with six Gulf state heads of government on Sunday, and in an effort to counter his Islamaphobic immigration policies and campaign statements, also addressed a conference of 40 Arab and Muslim leaders on the need for religious tolerance.

For Saudi Arabia, the Trump visit signals a renewed partnership based on common concerns such as counter-terrorism, defeating ISIS, and Iranian support for the Syrian regime.

Saudi Arabia had been unhappy with the Obama administration when it signed a nuclear reactor agreement with its rival Iran, a deal Trump had denounced.

The Saudis were looking to get Trump to tilt against Iran, and enlist further U.S. support for the Saudi regional war in Yemen where Iran is active on the opposing side.

The American president did not raise human rights concerns or criticize the killing of civilians in Yemen by Saudi forces.

Trump was in Israel to meet and then dine with the Israeli prime minister Monday, as well as touring sites such as the Wailing Wall (the man is known to like walls) and meeting prominent Israelis. On Tuesday, Trump was slated to see the president of the Palestinian Authority.

In his election campaign Trump pledged to move an Israel-Palestine peace accord further ahead than any U.S. president before him. After reportedly sharing sensitive Israeli intelligence with the Russian foreign minister, Trump will be satisfied to receive some acknowledgement from the Israeli prime minister that he is a trusted leader.

For the rest of the week his schedule reads: greeted by the Pope in Rome Wednesday; visit EU headquarters in Brussels, have lunch with the new French president and attend a dinner with NATO leaders Thursday; and participate in a G7 summit in Sicily Friday and Saturday.

The Trump trip ends after a Saturday visit to American troops at their base in Sicily.

This kind of schedule is fairly routine for the "leader of the free world" as Americans style their president, but for Trump it amounts to an attempt to show himself fit to be president.

Trump will go on the offensive with NATO leaders, calling for more military spending. Justin Trudeau, for one, has already indicated Canada has no intention of contributing more proportionately to NATO than it already does.

Prior to the G7 gathering in Sicily, Trump will have already met with the six other heads of government in attendance: Abe of Japan, Merkel of Germany, May of the U.K., Gentiloni of Italy, Macron of France, and Trudeau.

G7 leaders will know that Trump and his Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross have expressed their distaste for the World Trade Organization and multilateral trade agreements, preferring to negotiate bilaterally where they can exercise their superior power.

On the campaign trail, the U.S. president made it crystal clear he was going to end NAFTA, the American jobs killer. Last week U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer notified Congress of the U.S. intention to renegotiate the 20-year-old agreement. 

In its trade relations with Canada, the Trump administration wants to target currency manipulation and foreign currency rates will be an American theme at the G7.

The Trudeau government cannot be too disappointed that Donald Trump decided to break with tradition by not visiting Canada first.

Not only Trump is distinctly unpopular in Canada, Team Trudeau has no recipe for dealing with a White House under siege and bent on singling out others for blame.

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

Photo: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs/flickr

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U.S. foreign policyCanada-U.S. relationscanada-u.s. tradeNAFTADonald TrumpG7Duncan CameronMay 23, 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" has met with approval from NATO states.Thanks to Twitter diplomacy, Trump reminds us that dairy supply management worksBy turning the focus on Canadian dairy farming, U.S. President Donald Trump has unwittingly helped to remind us why supply management is key to treating farmers fairly.Madmen in the White House … this time it's a thing, not just a 'strategy'Unlike 1972 when we all thought the world might end the same way because Nixon was mining Haiphong Harbour, at least this time there’s someone around who might be able to talk the president out of it.

The National Newspaper Awards are overwhelmingly white

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May 21, 2017Newspapers are good at honouring their best, so long as they're male and whiteThe National Newspaper Awards have a diversity problem, and it's worse than you think.

Brad Wall's salvo on Saskatchewan carbon tax and transfers off target

19 May 2017 - 10:34am
Erin Weir

In inventing a hypothetical future scheme to "tie transfer payments to a province's position on carbon tax," Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall's recent letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau completely misses the fact that Ottawa is actually short-changing Saskatchewan on transfers for public transit.

Equalization ensures provincial governments a minimum level of fiscal capacity based on their access to different revenue sources. Provinces recently began collecting revenue by pricing carbon emissions. Governments will need to figure out how these revenues, along with all other provincial revenues, fit into equalization.

The federal department of finance examining this question is hardly evidence of the skullduggery insinuated by Wall. Indeed, carbon tax revenues could only count against Saskatchewan's equalization entitlement if our province were receiving equalization.

Since our province does not receive equalization, Wall instead demands an "assurance that there will be no linkage by the federal government between provincial carbon tax policies and infrastructure funding." Such a linkage is entirely a figment of Wall's imagination.

However, the federal government is short-changing Saskatchewan on funding for transit infrastructure. Whereas most federal transfers are allocated according to population, the 2017 federal budget (page 120) allocated $20.1 billion in transit funding based on a formula of 30 per cent population versus 70 per cent ridership.

Because Saskatchewan has 3.2 per cent of Canada's population but only 0.86 per cent of current ridership, our province will receive less than 1.6 per cent of federal transit funding. In other words, Saskatchewan's per-capita share would be about $640 million, but the federal government's formula will only provide about $320 million.

Why is Wall making noise about an equalization formula that does not affect transfers to Saskatchewan while keeping quiet about a transit funding formula that massively short-changes our province? Is he more interested in distracting from his own political problems than in negotiating a better fiscal deal for Saskatchewan?

Erin Weir is MP for Regina-Lewvan.

Image: DanielPaquet/Wikimedia Commons

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