Trudeau should leverage reputation at UN to stop Myanmar's ethnic cleansing

21 September 2017 - 8:17am
Scott Fenwick

As the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar (also known as Burma) deepens, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau needs to stand firmly and personally hold the country's military leadership responsible. Canada must amplify its voice as much as possible to rally the world in ending this crisis, widely viewed as an organized ethnic cleansing.

With hundreds of thousands of lives at stake, this quickly evolving crisis requires condemnation and involvement from the highest levels of the Canadian government. Although Trudeau has expressed "deep concerns" to Myanmar's State Consular, Aung San Suu Kyi, about the ongoing violence, he can and must go several steps further.

Trudeau needs to explicitly condemn the Myanmese military for organizing this ethnic cleansing. Since Myanmar's 2012 constitution makes the military, not San Suu Kyi, responsible for national security and gives them a veto over constitutional amendments, solely targeting San Suu Kyi lets Myanmar's military, who are the real perpetrators of this violence, off the hook.

Instead of a written statement merely expressing "concern," Trudeau should condemn Myanmar's military on camera, in both French and English, ensuring his message goes around the world. Since Trudeau is speaking at the United Nations General Assembly this Thursday, he has the perfect platform to do so. People around the world have heard and praised Trudeau's previous stances as a human rights and refugee advocate, giving him and Canada an overwhelmingly positive international reputation. Trudeau must leverage this newfound reputation to stop this crisis.

The scale and speed of the crisis in Myanmar requires Canada to dramatically escalate its response. The Rohingya are being systematically targeted, in what the United Nations human rights chief calls a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing"; survivor accounts point to Myanmar's military as the principal actors. Rohingya refugees have told stories of sexual assault, beatings, robberies and killings, blaming the military and their fellow citizens for the atrocities committed. The arson of Rohingya homes in Myanmar appears to be part of a systemic government campaign, as confirmed by satellite photos and survivors' stories. Since August 25, almost 400,000 Rohingya have been driven out of their country into neighbouring Bangladesh.

This is not the first time the Rohingya people have been targeted in Myanmar. They have been subjected to bigotry for decades as demonstrated by the government stripping them of their citizenship in 1983, which has rendered them stateless to this day. Furthermore, violence towards the Rohingya has precipitously risen since the sectarian riots in 2012, when local authorities either refused to protect Rohingya from the attacks or participated in violence against them. This triggered a "boat people" crisis in 2015 where massive numbers of Rohingya fled to neighbouring Southeast Asian countries.

Today's claims of ethnic cleansing are compounded by reports stating the Myanmese military are laying landmines at the border and requesting people to provide "proof of nationality" to return to the country, which is clearly impossible for any Rohingya to produce.

Trudeau must use his voice to help accelerate the international response to the crisis in Myanmar, with the aim of ensuring the survival of the hundreds of thousands of people currently living in makeshift refugee camps in Bangladesh. Trudeau's voice can rally other countries into contributing to the $18 million the United Nations has requested to provide relief to the Rohingya refugees. It can help pressure Myanmar into giving investigators access to the areas where the Rohingya have fled in order to find out what exactly happened. His voice is needed to pressure Myanmar into finally restoring citizenship to the Rohingya.

Although Trudeau's conversation with San Suu Kyi is a step in the right direction, it's still a weak response to the purported ethnic cleansing. When we look back at this, we must be able to say our government did everything it could to stop what's happening to the Rohingya. Previous Canadian governments were slow to act in other horrific cases of ethnic cleansing, as seen in Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur, but history doesn't need to repeat itself once more. It can be different this time for Myanmar.

Scott Fenwick is Executive Director of STAND Canada, a national youth-led organization advocating to make preventing and ending genocide a cornerstone of Canadian foreign and domestic policy.

Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

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While Alberta awaits the Green Apocalypse, Norwegian version of Heritage Fund hits US$1-trillion

21 September 2017 - 1:50am
David J. Climenhaga

In case you missed it, Norway's sovereign wealth fund smashed through the $1-trillion barrier Tuesday. Alas, the financial sonic boom was barely audible out here in Alberta.

That's a trillion with a T, by the way. You know, a million million dollars. And those are U.S. dollars.

It's called a sovereign wealth fund because Norway, being a social democracy and everything, decided the vast wealth generated by its oil resources should be invested exclusively for the benefit of the country's approximately five million citizens.

After all, Norwegian officials reasoned when they set up the fund in 1996, their fellow citizens owned the stuff in common. All Norwegians should all reap the benefits together.

I mention this because Alberta's Heritage Savings Trust Fund -- established by the government of premier Peter Lougheed in 1976 with very similar goals in mind -- is reputed to have partly inspired Norway's approach to saving, not just for a rainy day, but also for a sunny petroleum-free future.

According to the Alberta government's last report on the topic, the Heritage Fund is now worth a hair over $17 billion, which is only a couple of billion over where it was in the dull old 1980s. Norway's fund is almost 60 times larger.

That's because, as Canadian financial journalist Eric Reguly wrote back in 2013, after we Albertans got tired of Peter-Lougheed-style saving -- soooooo boring! -- we "decided that a drunken, blow-out dance party today was better than a string of candle-lit dinner parties down the road."

And, admit it, everyone … the drunken partying was fun!

We got to yell at other provinces about how they should become ultra-low-tax jurisdictions just like us. (Why not? If they were better managers, they would have moved somewhere with oil and gas just like we did, right?) Plus, Ralph Klein gave every single one of us enough money to buy an iPod and a six-pack of Molson's brewskis!

Was that great, or what? I think I still have the iPod, too, if I didn't give it to one of my kids. I'm afraid the six-pack is long gone, though.

Norway, according to Reguly, doesn't collect royalties on its North Sea oil production, which is now dwindling at the same time, it turns out, as international oil prices are doing the same thing. "It taxes the production profits at a 78 per cent marginal rate. And all the tax revenue collected is funnelled into the country's sovereign wealth fund that pays out 4 per cent a year to fund current spending on public services."

But even using the royalty model, the royalties we charged in Alberta were a fraction of what they should have been. Conservative premier Ed Stelmach and NDP Premier Rachel Notley both made half-hearted stabs at fixing this, and then gave up when the oil industry bucked.

Albertans may have missed this too, but, despite the country's more expensive financial structure, energy companies continue to invest in Norway's oil.

"The Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund, the province's rainy-day umbrella," wrote the Globe and Mail's Brian Milner two years ago, "barely has enough capital to deal with a few scattered storms. Norway's equivalent, which was partly modelled on Alberta's when it was set up in the early 1990s, could handle a deluge of almost biblical proportions."

Lougheed, who died at 84 in 2012, observed in his final years that the fund would have been worth $100 billion or more if we'd stuck with his plan, and that "when a real revenue disaster strikes, Albertans will not have the fund as a shield."

Well, here we are. Six additional Conservative premiers after Lougheed, we already had the revenue disaster when Notley's NDP government was elected -- caused by the very same low oil prices Norway has no need to panic about. And we have … as a famous Alberta political ad once whispered … noooo plaaan.

Well, it's lucky for the Conservatives, in a way, that we have an NDP government they can kick around for the consequences of their decades-long irresponsibility.

No plan. Well, not much of one, anyway. Certainly not as good a one as biting the reality bullet and bringing in a sales tax. For a lot of Albertans, the plan is to bring Klein back from the dead in the form of Jason Kenney.

Other than their general physical shape and market fundamentalist irresponsibility, however, it would be hard to find two politicians less like one another. As is fairly widely understood, Klein didn't even particularly like Kenney.

Kenney claims they were pals, however, and had a beer together while they came up with a plan to give this province "the Alberta Advantage"!

I can do Kenney one better, I think. I had a beer with Klein twice. Mind you, both times were in the company of a large number of carousing journos, and as far as I can recall, there was no dancing.

Alas, Ralph and I didn't come up with a plan to create an "Alberta Advantage" like Kenney claims the two of them did. You may think "just as well," but who knows? Maybe if we'd worked on it together we'd have thought up with a brainstorm like, "Hey! How about we keep putting money into the Heritage Fund!"

No such luck.

But look at the bright side. If Kenney succeeds with his political master plan, maybe all four-plus million of us will get an iPhone this time, plus enough change left over for a whole case of watery Saskatchewan beer from the home province of the real leader of Western Canada, Kenney's real hero, Brad Wall.

Of course, it might cost us our health-care system, but … hey! It's party time again!

Meanwhile, as we await the Green Apocalypse here in Alberta, Yngve Slyngstad, CEO of the Norwegian sovereign fund, was justifiably patting himself on the back Tuesday.

"I don't think anyone expected the fund to ever reach $1 trillion when the first transfer of oil revenue was made in May 1996," Slyngstad said. "Reaching $1 trillion is a milestone, and the growth in the fund's market value has been stunning."


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

Photo: Norsk Teknisk Museum, Wikimedia Commons.

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What bothers Martine Ouellet is not what Jagmeet Singh advocates. It is the way he dresses.

20 September 2017 - 4:14pm
September 20, 2017Bloc leader attacks Jagmeet Singh, gives fuel to Quebec bashersBloc Québécois leader Martine Ouellet claims that Jagmeet Singh's NDP leadership campaign signifies we must now confront not only the religious right, but also the new and scary religious left.

Bloc leader attacks Jagmeet Singh, gives fuel to Quebec bashers

20 September 2017 - 4:03pm
Karl Nerenberg

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Bloc Québécois leader Martine Ouellet claims that Jagmeet Singh's NDP leadership campaign signifies we must now confront not only the obscurantist, anti-science and anti-women's-rights religious right, but also the new and scary religious left.

Ouellet has not said what policies or values of this new political force she finds to be objectionable.

It is, however, impossible that the Bloc leader and former Parti Québécois cabinet minister does not know Jagmeet Singh is entirely in favour of the separation of church and state, ardently believes in a woman's right to choose, wants the Canadian government to heed the science and do a lot more about climate change, and does not, in any way, subscribe to the view that the sinful poor are the authors of their own misfortune.  

At heart, what bothers Ouellet is not what Singh believes or advocates. It is the way he dresses.

If the young NDP leadership candidate dressed in regular, western street clothes, but was a devout follower of some obscure cult, Ouellet would be okay with that. It is the public and external sartorial expression of Singh's faith and tradition that bothers Ouellet.

The crucifix that still hangs in Quebec's National Assembly is merely a cultural artifact, which does not alter Quebec's secular character. It certainly does not seem to upset Martine Ouellet, who was a member of that body for many years. Neither does the enormous cross atop Montreal's Mount Royal, which lights up the city's sky at night.

Those visible religious symbols are, apparently, mere vestiges of Quebec's Roman Catholic history and tradition, and do not mean Quebeckers who practice other religions, or none at all, should feel uncomfortable.

A weapon for Quebec bashers

Ouellet and others, including NDP MP Pierre Nantel, who are obsessing about Singh's outward appearance have launched a distressing, depressing and entirely redundant exercise. What is perhaps most distressing is the license this exercise gives to some smug non-Quebeckers to label all Quebeckers as intolerant, xenophobic and bigoted.  

Graeme Hamilton's piece in the National Post on Wednesday comes close to doing that.

This writer is a proud Quebecker, although he lives, for the time-being, in Ottawa. His experience with the people of Quebec is that they are, on the whole, curious, globally minded, friendly and welcoming. They are not xenophobes. They are not bigots.

Quebeckers do not, as a matter of course, distrust outward manifestations of difference. In fact, a good many of them consider themselves to be citizens of the world -- to a greater extent, one could argue, than do other Canadians. To cite just one example: proportionately, many more Quebeckers volunteer to do service overseas in the developing world than do other Canadians. 

In that light, it is more than sad that too many Quebec politicians believe they succeed best only when they appeal to voters' darker angels, to their inchoate, and, at base, irrational fears and suspicions, rather than to their reason and curiosity.

In picking on Jagmeet Singh's appearance Martine Ouellet is trying the same tactic that some in her party may believe helped them win 10 seats in 2015 compared to a mere four in 2011.

In fact, in popular vote terms, the Bloc lost support last time, dropping from six per cent to below five per cent. But the party's campaign based on fear of women who choose to wear the niqab -- epitomized by an odious television commercial in which a black, toxic oil spill transforms into an animated version of a women in black face-covering -- probably helped the Bloc win a handful of seats.  

It worked once, Ouellet might reason, so it might work again.

Awkward timing for the NDP

Quebec's Liberal premier Philippe Couillard has muddied the waters by introducing legislation, Bill 62, which would ban people who wear face coverings from either dispensing or receiving government services.

When it comes to working in a front-line role one might understand the notion that people are not accustomed to being served by someone with a covered face. However, for those receiving services, the legislation seems like more than overkill. Even if one accepted that, at times, it is necessary to see a person's face in order to verify her identity, there could be administrative ways to achieve that. Why grandstand with legislation?

Bill 62, like Parti Québécois' ill-fated secular values charter, is nothing so much as a solution in search of a problem. There is never a good time to deal with such an initiative, but for an NDP which is in the process of selecting a new leader, this debate comes at a particularly awkward time.   

NDP candidates, including Singh, might want to try to reason with Ouellet and others who share her view. They could start by asking: what would your reaction be to a political candidate who dressed in traditional Indigenous clothing?

Photo: Jagmeet Singh/Facebook

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If we called Trump's bluff on NAFTA we could save farmers and workers from a bad deal

20 September 2017 - 9:35am
September 20, 2017For farmers and working people, cancelling NAFTA might be the best way forwardAs U.S. President Donald Trump rambles and rumbles about cancelling NAFTA, what if we called the bully's bluff? The result would no doubt be much better than any of his suggestions for change.

For farmers and working people, cancelling NAFTA might be the best way forward

20 September 2017 - 9:31am
Food & HealthLabourPolitics in Canada

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you called the bully's bluff? As Liberal members of Parliament return to their seats in the House of Commons, they need to consider the sometimes-veiled opportunities that political bullying provides. Are you listening, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland?

More than 20 years ago, I was someone who campaigned and organized against the passage of both the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). I was devastated, like many others, when both passed, first the FTA and then later NAFTA, enabled by the Liberals, and supported over the years by various shades of Conservatives.

The results of almost 30 years of free trade have not borne fruit for workers, the environment or family farmers.

Over the years the U.S. has placed one barrier in front of another, and Canada has spent incredible energy trying to defend some of the public systems that have created a bit of equality in this country. Whether it be health care, supply management, or the now defunct Canadian Wheat Board, among others, various U.S. administrations have been quick to call Canada's regulations unfair trade practice, protectionist, or simply and blatantly, unfair competition. Go figure -- the powerful U.S. couldn't handle the public component of Canada's governance. Probably because it helped alleviate some of the pain of living in a profit-driven system.

As U.S. President Donald Trump rambles and rumbles about cancelling NAFTA, I keep thinking -- what if we called the bully's bluff? The result would no doubt be much better than succumbing to any of his suggestions for change. In the process, food producers and working people could rid themselves of an all-around bad deal.

A troubled process

In August, as renegotiations of NAFTA began, farm groups from Canada, the U.S. and Mexico issued statements about the process and denounced the directions of the talks. Farmers in Mexico called for transparency. And American farm groups have noted that trashing Canada's supply management system will not benefit U.S. farmers, any more than increasing exports will ensure fairness for farmers and the price of their products.

"This whole process should begin with a thorough, independent evaluation of NAFTA's economic, social, environmental and governance impacts," notes Victor Suarez, Executive Director of the Mexican National Association of Rural Producers (ANEC). "The goal should be to restore national sovereignty over food and farm policy, and to support local farming communities."

Suarez and other progressive farm people know that NAFTA has always been about much more than trade. The tri-country treaty has set rules on investment, but also farm exports, food safety, access to seeds and access to markets. It has also been about the consolidation and merging of agri-business corporations, and the loss of family farms and their communities. Basically it has been about following a profiteering model of food production and consumption as detailed in, among others, Eric Schlosser's 2001 book Fast Food Nation or Raj Patel's dazzling analytical tome, Stuffed and Starved, published in 2007.

Representatives of small family farmers from across the continent also have lots to say about the negative impact of NAFTA.

"Under NAFTA and its forerunner, the Canada-U.S. FTA, farm input costs have gone up and inflation-adjusted commodity prices have dropped, yet the farmer's share of the grocery dollar is smaller," says National Farmers Union President Jan Slomp. "We export more, but imports have increased faster, which means our share of our own domestic market is actually shrinking. NAFTA and the FTA have not helped farmers. Since 1988 we have seen one in every five of our farms disappear and we've lost over 70 per cent of our young farmers, even though Canada's population has increased."

NAFTA has not benefitted working people in Canada, or the U.S., let alone the working people of Mexico. NAFTA, like many agreements since, was really the first multi-country agreement to consolidate corporate control and investment. It was never designed to protect workers, human rights, communities, or family farms. It was meant to increase the profits of large corporations through trade.

The Donald appears to be particularly vexed by the dispute resolution clause in NAFTA and by Canada's system of supply management. The dispute clause, known as Chapter 11, is the only provision that has allowed some semblance of fairness on some issues such as softwood lumber. Canada's supply management system was born way before NAFTA and so far has managed to survive despite the constant challenges by U.S. administrations.

The best way forward

As Parliament heads back after the summer recess, the Liberal government and Minister Chrystia Freeland need to take a tough stand on these two items and not budge an inch. Either that, or as the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives's Bruce Campbell has noted, prepare an exit strategy and encourage cancellation of the so-called trade agreement. If Trump insists on his concessions, this may be the best way forward.

For farmers and working people of the three countries, cancelling the deal might just be a super idea. It would astonish most of us to actually think that -- for different reasons, obviously -- we could agree with The Donald. But, as they say, politics makes for strange bedfellows!

In an article for the CCPA Monitor, former CCPA executive director Bruce Campbell raised a number of points worthy of reflection. It's important to keep in mind that NAFTA was never designed as a treaty that would enforce labour, environmental or human rights; rather, it was designed as an investment treaty. For that reason, Mexican workers, who have a very low rate of unionization, were the most affected by NAFTA and have seen their living standards and wages drop substantially, Campbell notes.

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy has tracked the impact of NAFTA over the decades and has released a primer called NAFTA Renegotation: What's at stake for food, farmers and the land? as well as collecting 25 years' worth of research on the trade deal.

The IATP's Director of International Strategies, Karen Hansen-Kuhn, concludes:

"NAFTA has woven our economies together in ways that hurt family farmers, workers and our environments. We need a new approach to trade that promotes local and regional food systems, including providing for mechanisms in all three countries to shelter food crops from volatile markets and dumping. Simplistic calls to expand exports won't get us to the fair and sustainable food and farm system we need."

What many of these voices seem to be emphasizing is clear: a bad deal is not a deal that can be repaired.

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

Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

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At the farm gateNAFTADonald Trumptrump administrationCanadian Farmerscorporate rights dealsfarm workersLois RossSeptember 20, 2017Agriculture stats call for political will as family farms dwindleIn mid-May the federal government began to release the long-awaited results of the 2016 Agriculture Census. While lots of the detail has yet to be revealed, there is enough to see the big picture.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.Ho-hum budget delivers little vision or action on agricultureThe Liberals tabled another "stay-tuned" budget, with little commitment and definitely little vision for how the agricultural economy of this country might be best developed in the public interest.

Rural communities in B.C. will be hurt by Greyhound's route cuts

19 September 2017 - 2:53pm
Amanda West

The quality of life of rural-dwelling British Columbians is being thrown under the bus. If we are not careful, it will be done without a plan for the future. We can only hope that our provincial and federal politicians are finally paying attention.

We, as a collective, have been asking for a national transit strategy that includes inter-city bus transportation for many years now, but this plea has continued to fall on deaf ears. Inter-city bus transportation is the transit of the rural community. Without it, rural citizens have limited access to out-of-town services. Years of provincial cuts mean that many have no choice but to travel for medical appointments and other vital services. The government, both provincially and federally, has a duty to ensure affordable and reliable ways to carry out this essential travel.

Canada, as a whole, does not provide for an alternative to bus travel -- either by air or by rail -- that most people can afford on a regular basis. Many small communities such as Lytton, Dawson Creek or Princeton are due to be adversely affected by Greyhound's service withdrawal. The inter-city bus industry has been all but deregulated -- thanks in part to the federal government downloading responsibility for regulation to the provinces. The provinces are no longer willing to face the challenge and expense of providing safe, clean and reliable transportation to their own rural constituents. At worst, this constitutes serious neglect of rural needs.

Greyhound readily admits in its most recent application to the B.C. Passenger Transportation Board that the proposed route reductions and eliminations will deprive remote communities of vital service. While bemoaning their lack of revenue, Greyhound has failed to mention that their own changes of the past few years (i.e. running scheduled coaches at times inconvenient to the travelling public, eliminating route stops/agencies in smaller communities) have caused some, if not most, of the results we see today. Any funding provided to a private company such as Greyhound must come with some form of reciprocation to the province and the citizens of British Columbia, such as dedicated fleet, daily runs and mandatory service to smaller communities. If Greyhound's application is approved in its current form, by spring, communities and local small businesses unable to offer a promise of big profits for certified curbside providers and private bus lines will bear the brunt of the impacts.

Further isolation also makes a bad situation worse when it comes to rural health care. We are all aware that the presence of health-care providers is the lowest per capita when communities become more isolated from urban centres. Federal census data shows that those in isolated communities have about half the health-care providers available to them compared to urban patients. Combined, these two facts alone leave little doubt that a lack of inter-city bus service is more than a trivial issue.

Added to this, the lack of inter-city bus service puts an unfair financial burden on ordinary people. This leaves rural British Columbians in an increasingly precarious position that cannot be ignored. Factor in safety and the situation becomes more alarming, especially given what has transpired along the Highway of Tears. We are now in danger of replicating this travesty along the Fraser Canyon, before the situation in the north of B.C. has been adequately resolved. Safe and regularly scheduled transportation is a necessity in the small communities dotting British Columbia and every other province in Canada. It is essential for the safety and well-being of all our residents.

It should also be the government's concern to ensure that the most dangerous roads in this province are not left to private operators motivated solely by profit in a piecemeal system. The guarantee of regulated provincial bus service upholds the government's obligation to provide vital and essential links to all British Columbians. These links allow for fair and affordable access to services which have already been wiped out locally, services which urban British Columbians may take for granted. Rural families should not have to expect less from their own government because they do not live in a big city.

Amanda West is a former Coach Operator from British Columbia. She is the current Financial Secretary Treasurer of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1374.

Photo: Stephen Rees/flickr

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Autoworkers take strike action at GM CAMI in Ingersoll, Ont.

19 September 2017 - 2:16pm
Meagan Gillmore

Work has stopped at the GM CAMI automotive plant in Ingersoll, Ontario.

Almost 2,800 workers walked off the job on Sunday night after contract negotiations with the company broke down. It's the first strike at the plant in 25 years.

Workers want job security, said Dan Borthwick, president of Unifor Local 88, which represents the workers.

Their chief concern is having the plant in southwestern Ontario designated the lead producer for GM's Equinox. Two plants in Mexico also produce the crossover vehicle.

Being designated as lead producer for the Equinox would mean any layoffs would happen at the Mexico plants first, Borthwick said.

Earlier this year, 400 workers were laid off when the company stopped producing the Terrain in Ingersoll. That vehicle is also produced in Mexico, a Unifor press release says.

At the time, 600 layoff notices were issued, but some workers retired or took buyouts.

Now, the plant only produces the Equinox. Production of the vehicle began at the plant in January.

Workers are willing to do whatever they need to do for the plant to be the lead producer of the Equinox, said Borthwick. This would include continuing to work six days a week, something he said is common throughout the industry. They've been working six-day weeks since 2009, to help keep up with the demand for vehicles.

The plant is the largest employer in Ingersoll, he said. Manufacturing is the largest employment sector in the southwestern Ontario town of approximately 12,000 people.

Borthwick said on Tuesday morning that the company has not brought in any workers to replace the striking employees. He described the mood on the picket line, where workers are blocking the four gates to the plant, as "positive."

"Workers have been waiting for this day. We didn't want to have a strike, but we're tired of being taken advantage of," he said. The company has not been "employee-friendly" for years, he said.

Workers voted 99.8 per cent on August 27 to give the union a strike mandate. Their current contract expired on Sunday.

Workers are also looking for increases in wages, benefits and pensions.

In a statement issued on Sunday, GM Canada said it is "disappointed" a new agreement could not be secured and encouraged the company to continue negotiations.

Last year, GM ratified contracts with workers at plants in Oshawa and St. Catharines as well as a parts distributor in Woodstock. It also announced it would be adding 700 software and engineering jobs in Markham, Oshawa and Toronto.

The nearly 2,800 workers at the Ingersoll plant represent more than a third of the 8,072 GM employees in Canada.

In an email to rabble.ca, Curtis Tighe, the town's chief economic officer, said a labour disruption between Ingersoll's largest employer and the many community members who work there caused "the deepest concern." He said the town hopes the union and employer resolve the issues as soon as possible. 

Meagan Gillmore is rabble.ca's labour reporter.

Photo: Nox360/Wikimedia Commons

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New documents reveal cozy relationship between fossil fuel industry and last B.C. government

19 September 2017 - 8:37am
September 19, 2017B.C. climate leadership team recommendations were revised, re-written in a Big Oil boardroomDocuments indicate that while the Paris talks were underway, the B.C. government launched a closed-door three month-long process with the oil and gas industry to revise and re-write the climate plan.

Caregivers in Canada deserve to live with their families

17 September 2017 - 1:26pm
September 17, 2017Caregivers hold rally seeking family reunification nowCaregivers who have been waiting years to have Canadian permanent residency applications processed held a rally in front of Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada offices in Toronto this week.

We need a strong independent, critical media like rabble.ca

15 September 2017 - 8:51am
September 15, 2017Help us build a movement a little at a timeYou can't build a strong independent, critical media without support from many people, people like you and me.

Yes, Israel is being singled out -- for favouritism

14 September 2017 - 3:08pm
Miranda Gallo

This past June, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley slammed the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for "singling out Israel" for criticism. This is not a new line: the "singling out Israel" accusation is a decades-old tactic that Israel's proponents use almost any time that Israel is challenged on its human rights record. The rise of the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement calling for economic pressure on Israel for its human rights violations has only amplified the use of this evasive tactic.

At best, critics of Israeli government policies can expect to be accused of imposing an unfair standard on Israel; at worst they can face allegations of anti-Semitism for supposedly singling out the country for criticism. For example, during Parliament's 2016 debate over a motion to condemn BDS, about a dozen Liberal and Conservative MPs toed this fictitious line when they declared, "Israel is singled out from the rest of the world." In addition, a few MPs actually suggested that BDS supporters are the new face of anti-Semitism because they "selectively condemn Israel."

But ironically, what the pro-Israel lobby has been arguing for decades about Israel being singled out is true -- as Israel benefits from unparalleled favouritism. Israel has been given preferential treatment for years by Western governments, immune to criticism.

Consider how the world is preoccupied with North Korea's nuclear program, yet not a single Western government has ever criticized Israel for its nuclear weapons.  Consider how the world responds when North Korea shoots a missile over Japan, yet ignored Israel's airstrikes on targets in Syria, or Lebanon, or Iraq. Rather than being berated for these destabilizing acts, Israel has been rewarded, as the number 1 recipient of U.S. aid since the end of the Second World War. In fact, since 1970, half of the U.S. vetoes at the UN have been used to shield Israel from condemnation.

But why, Israel's proponents ask, is Israel being boycotted when other countries like Saudi Arabia are also committing human rights violations?

While it is true that other nations commit grave human rights abuses, the boycott of Israel is an explicit call to action launched by Palestinian civil society. It is justified using arguments of international law and has clearly stated objectives. Right or wrong, there is no similar campaign or set of objectives guiding any international boycott against Saudi Arabia. And just as the boycott movement against apartheid in South Africa was not designed to solve the problems in the rest of the world, BDS has objectives that are uniquely specific to Israel-Palestine.

In a similar vein, Israel's allies suggest that Israel's critics overlook more urgent human rights crises. "Why isn't there a larger focus on Syria?" Israel's champions ask. "The situation there is so much worse." Indeed, the death toll and human rights violations in Syria this year supersede those in Israel-Palestine. Yet the conflict in Syria began in 2011, and may be resolved in the next few years, while Israel's occupation of Palestine is in its 50th year with no end in sight. Conflicts around the world come and go, yet Israel's occupation remains, worsening with the bulldozing of every Palestinian home, and the construction of every illegal Israeli settlement unit.

Israel's champions also ask why the UN seems to pass such a disproportionate number of resolutions condemning the state. Yet honestly, the international community has exercised a maddening degree of patience with Israel.

Despite a scathing 2004 decision from the International Court of Justice and decades of UN resolutions, Israel continues to commit human rights violations with impunity. In December 2016, after almost 50 years in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, UN Security Council resolution 2334 finally demanded that Israel cease all settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), calling them a "flagrant violation" of international law. Nonetheless, as if to spite the Security Council, Israel made three separate settlement expansion announcements within weeks of the resolution, showing utter disregard for international law. To say that the UN is singling out Israel is like saying that the police are singling out a serial shoplifter after his 53rd arrest.

Canada too participates in this favouritism, shielding Israel from criticism. For example, in 2014, Canada boycotted a UN conference that called attention to Israel's illegal settlement activities.

More recently, a government decision allowed Israeli wine producers to sell inaccurately labelled wines produced illegally in the West Bank and Golan Heights. Making an unwarranted exception to Canada's own consumer protection laws, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency ruled that it is acceptable to falsely label wines produced illegally in the OPT as "Products of Israel."

Israel can't have it both ways. If it's a liberal Western democracy as it claims, rather than smearing its critics, Israel should face up to its human rights failings. For whether it's Amnesty International or the UN Security Council, Israel's critics are only holding it to the standard it has set for itself. 

Miranda Gallo is currently a Research Analyst with Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME). She holds a BA in World Islamic and Middle East Studies with a minor in History from McGill University.

Photo: U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv/flickr

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On the limits of tolerance

14 September 2017 - 1:41pm
Jade Saab

The recent events in Charlottesville and the build-up to the confrontational levels of discourse we are seeing leave much to be said. One of the dangerous outcomes of these events is that the more we focus on them, the more they obfuscate and shift analysis away from the reasons they have emerged. This hinders our ability to tackle the root of the problem and not just the "divisive" outcome that we have been speaking of since early 2016.

Beyond the analytical threat this re-emergent rhetoric poses, there is also a very real and immediate threat.

The racist ideology at the core of these movements -- the alt-right, nationalists, or whatever name they chose to co-opt to disguise their white supremacist core -- is driven by the belief that the white race, with its European roots, is better equipped to handle power than their non-white counterparts.

Their call to action hinges on the idea that "whites" are being squeezed out of power and control by the "left," "political correctness," and immigration -- ultimately they perceive that their actions constitute a measured defensive response to a "white genocide."

To substantiate this threat, these racist organizations lean on conspiracy theories -- orchestrated and "behind-the-scene" efforts by others (Jews, Muslims, "Communists," and social "Liberals") to undermine their power and authority.

Freedom of speech

Once at the fringes of the political movements existing in "safe spaces," these organizations are now gaining more popularity as they have found sympathizers to their mentality of victimization by weaponizing "freedom of speech."

They have found that, by linking their movement to fleeting conservative discontent on issues varying from LGBTQ rights to terrorism, they can draw in the ranks of other disenfranchised members and hide their true goals around calls for "rational debate" and their right to raise "awareness" of the threats they face.

This indivisibility of causes, similar to the left's calls of "no racism, refugees welcome" (as if the two were one and the same), has allowed racist groups to put themselves on an altar as willing martyrs for everyone's rights to freedom of expression -- rights which are currently unhindered and protected by the Constitution, rights, which the conclusion of their movement will see revoked for any member of society they deem unfit (read: non-white).

It's this rationale that allows this toxic ideology to hide in plain sight with members being able to make statements as ridiculous as this: "As a white nationalist, I care for all people. We all deserve a future for our children and for our culture. White nationalists aren't all hateful; we just want to preserve what we have."

Power and violence

By pointing to the source of their grievance as the maintenance of power, these movements reveal the racist belief at the core of their ideology. That is, that only the "white man" has the capacity to hold and dispense with power. Ironically this is a notion done away with mostly by white European men (Locke, Paine, Mill) who championed the causes that have given us what is now known as universal human rights -- rights, which protect individuals from discrimination based on race, religion, and sexual orientation; rights, which most constitutions around the world, including the United States, are based on. So whatever "rational debate" these movements are calling for has been said and done in the early and mid-1800s.

More frightening though is that the preservation of "what we have" predicates violence. It is only through the suppression or removal of "threats" to that authority, i.e. minority and vulnerable groups, that these groups' goals can be achieved.

This is where the critical limit of freedom of speech is found, for to suggest that the maintenance of the values you stand for can only come at the cost of the values of others is in of itself an act of violence. To claim that one race, and its values, is supreme cannot be separated from the reality of how this supremacy is meant to be preserved.

This too is a perfect display of how disjointed supremacist movements are from their own calls to rational debate. For if their ideology had any legitimacy in rationalism, it would not be so inextricably dependent on violence.

We don't need to go far to see how indistinguishable the idea of supremacy and violence are.

The mobilization of white nationalist groups at Charlottesville revolved around the planned removal of General Robert E. Lee's statue, a civil war commander who fought for the right to keep slaves. The removal of the statue is being touted as a betrayal to the history of the country.

However, it's important to remember that statues are not meant to provide historical lessons; they are public celebrations of identity. To maintain the statue of Lee thus can be nothing else but a continuous idolization of the power structures Lee was fighting for -- the same power structure these groups would like to see returned.

To claim that their removal is a betrayal to history also undermines the fact that the U.S. has not shied away from removing hateful statues internationally, without any amnesia reported. The fact that they have yet to do so domestically, tells us nothing more than that their removal is long overdue. Furthermore, if these statues were truly erected for their historical and not ideological representations, why were most of them put up at times of heightened racial tensions?

Beyond the analytical interpretation around "symbols of oppression" are the more directly observable manifestations of this violent ideology, namely the overt armed presence at rallies.

This presence is always presented as defensive, but why would such a defensive precaution be needed if all the ideology seeks is the opportunity for rational debate? Why bring a gun to a battle of wit? It cannot be clearer that these actions have the sole purpose of intimidation, a display of strength with hopes of maintaining the subservience and silence of others.

Paradox of tolerance

Those on the receiving end of this free speech rhetoric have been paralyzed by what is known as the paradox of tolerance. This has resulted in a comical online debate of "is it OK to punch a Nazi?"

Stuck between idealistic pacifism, the uncertainty cast on this issue by moral philosophy, and a lax legal framework around the issue, there has been no consensus on how best to tackle the rise of white supremacist and other racist groups. Action has been limited to counter-protests where the phrase "violence begets violence" has become a widespread code.

But as the above analysis shows, the only means with which these groups can achieve their political goals is through violence, and there is a very specific term for that: war.

This then provides a more than ample moral justification for taking responsive violent action against such groups. "Violence begets violence" becomes an empty placeholder, a moral statement imposed through an inadequate analysis of the moral landscape at hand.

However, it is important to keep in mind that when one speaks of political violence and terms of war one must be organized for it with the sole intention of violently defeating the other side.

Seeing how in this context we are not talking of a foreign enemy, but rather individuals who exist among us, an all-out extermination of an opinion through violence isn't much of a viable option. We are also not talking about an environment exclusive to two groups, but two groups that exist in a wider legal context that applies equally to both, a barrier warring nations are exempt from.

Therefore, although it may be appealing to engage in violence (one could say even cathartic), it is not, in this situation a winning strategy, even if morally justifiable. This matter remains a civil one.

On its own then, responding to on-the-ground action remains inadequate to tackle the complexity of this issue, and violence must be used in a capacity of self-defence if used at all.

More is needed to put this political battle to rest once and for all.

Beyond violence

It's beyond reason why the existence of groups and organizations with supremacy-based agendas remain legal. In Canada, hate laws already protect individuals from discriminatory behaviour in economic and media-related settings. There is no reason why these laws shouldn't be extended to political discourse. That is, there is no reason why we have yet to declare any group organized on the basis of supremacy as a hate group. It would seem that politicians already agree that these groups and sentiments hold no place in our societies, so why the hesitancy to legislate to that effect?

Legislative action on these grounds does nothing to impede the right to free speech. On the contrary it creates a clear delineation between personal and public space. If one wishes to hold the view that their race is superior, then so be it. If one or several individuals decide to form a group to advocate that notion, then so be it. However, if a political or social organization is put forth on that premise, the line from freedom of thought is crossed and we have entered the purview of political action, and any action on that premise, as we have previously explored, necessitates violence premeditated on racial hate. 

Beyond campaigning for legislative action, a more astute analytical and intellectual confrontation is needed.

Much of the reaction on the ground has been fuelled by moral outrage which has created a lack of effectiveness in confronting and undermining the arguments and narratives put forth by supremacists. This is a result of our automatic assumption that the legitimacy of liberal values are known and well established. This is most clear in the context of media, where figureheads have failed at confronting their supremacist guests by dismissing them as comical or responding to them in shock. Both have only fuelled supremacist feelings of legitimacy.

It is time, once more, to make it clear that not all ideas are held equal, and therefore are not all deserving of the platforms they seek, and to refresh people's memories as to why -- by besting these ideas through public debate.

This can be done by co-opting narratives of nationalism and giving it a form that undermines the limited race-based perspective. It can be done by pointing out historical inconsistencies in narrative. More importantly, it can be done by pressing for elaborations on the arguments put forward by hate groups which can have no other effect than exposing their own inconsistencies and betrayals of the values they espouse.

It is necessary for the following three actions to be presented together. The first, counter-action, is important to provide the tactical pressure needed to disorientate, frustrate and overwhelm supremacist organizations and their efforts to mobilize. The second, legislation against hate groups, provides a long-term political goal, a push to our social and civil evolution through our current legislative bodies. It can also act as a litmus test for our representatives, current and future. Finally, intellectual and analytical confrontation will drive a wedge straight between the two causes of freedom of speech and supremacy which are now being presented as indivisible, stripping racist movements of much of their sympathetic supporters.

The propositions put forth here could be taken as radical; however they are strictly based on the preservation of the liberal "way of life." Furthermore, it is important to keep in mind the context in which all of this is being discussed, the context of political organizations that believe members of our society need to be suppressed, controlled, and even eliminated, for the purpose of political power.

Jade Saab is a Lebanese/Canadian political writer and theorist based in Toronto. His writings cover topics of Liberalism, governance, and Marxism with occasional forays into current affairs.

Photo: Bob Mical/flickr

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Removing monuments and renaming schools is a step in the right direction

14 September 2017 - 1:16pm
Cheryl Thompson

When white nationalist neo-Nazis protested plans to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, placed on the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville, Virginia in 1924, suddenly, people took notice of Confederate symbols in Canada.

In Montreal, someone complained about a Confederate plaque on Hudson's Bay flagship store in the city's core (there since 1957) and it was subsequently removed. Days later, however, the Confederate flag was proudly on display at an annual flea market in New Brunswick. These two incidents point to ongoing contradictions in our country. While some are ardently trying to right past wrongs, others cling to the past as a part of their identity in the present.

Confederate symbols pay homage to the "Lost Cause," a belief among white southerners that their fight in the U.S. Civil War was a "noble" one. These symbols also disavow the extreme violence suffered by African-Americans post-Emancipation, such as lynching and Jim Crow segregation.

When I was a child, there were constant racist incidents, from being called the N-word to racist graffiti on our property in Scarborough. The recent debates over Confederate symbols and historic monuments made me think about my childhood memories, and the fact that other non-white Canadians might also have a difficult time reconciling the realities of their experiences and the symbols of Canada we are told to celebrate as "ours" even though they were built at a time when we were unequivocally not part of the nation. The Indigenous and Black activists who have been protesting these symbols since 2015 have forced us to confront historical fractures in our national story. 

By removing statues like Edward Cornwallis (built in 1931), founder of Halifax in 1749, from a city park, and that of Egerton Ryerson (built in 1921), which sits on the campus of Ryerson University, we open a public discourse about who they were, the Canada of their lifetimes, and the period in which their statues were built. When we let these statues sit, unchallenged, unquestioned, decade after decade, we do little to confront the racism that is deeply embedded in their creation.

Rather than view these monuments singularly through the lens of remembering "heroes" from our past, we should see them for who they were -- instrumental in the founding of the nation but also key figures in the genocide of Indigenous people, the implementation of residential schools, and the oppression of Black people and other racialized groups. By recognizing this duality, we do not erase history, but rather, we confront the problem of clinging to one version of Canada's past in the first place.

I could not help but notice that in Canada 150 celebrations, we were inundated with reinsertions of the white, European settler narrative as "our" story, seen for example in the CBC miniseries The Story of Us. Non-white, non-English-speaking peoples were scarcely represented in this nostalgic sojourn into our past, even though we know from the historical record that we were there. Given these absences, it makes sense that some people don't see what the fuss is all about.

For example, after the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) tabled a resolution to remove the name of Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada's first prime minister from public schools in Ontario, the Angus Reid Institute conducted a national survey of more than 1,500 people in which it found that 69 per cent polled said that historical figures "should not be judged" by modern concepts of racism. If you consider that most history programs in high school and beyond ignore Black Canadian and Indigenous histories, what do most Canadians know of historical racism to begin with? 

Removing monuments or renaming buildings calls upon the public to reflect on what they don't know about "our" story not just in the past but also in the present. I had never heard of the white supremacist group the "Proud Boys," who disrupted the Indigenous-led Cornwallis protest in Halifax. As they marched holding up the Red Ensign, Canada's flag until 1965 when it was replaced by the maple leaf, their hatred was brought into plain sight. While some might dismiss them as being on the fringes, most experts estimate the number of hate groups to be nearly 100 and growing across the country.

Placing statues of historical figures such as Cornwallis in museums will allow for them to be placed in context but we also need an honest conversation about the increasing number of Canadians who cling to a Canada of yesteryear -- a time when Black and Indigenous voices did not matter -- refusing to consider other perspectives on our complex history. If people embrace what is happening and use this moment in the present as a catalyst to heal the wounds of the past we will be able to forge a path toward a truly inclusive future.

Cheryl Thompson has a PhD in Communication Studies from McGill University. She is the 2016-2018 Recipient of the Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship which she holds at the University of Toronto and the University of Toronto Mississauga. She also teaches courses on Black Canadian Studies and Visual Culture. She can be found on Twitter @DrCherylT.

Photo: Ben MacLeod/Wikimedia Commons

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U.S. health reformers are renewing calls for a single-payer system

14 September 2017 - 9:03am
September 14, 2017Talking to Americans: The health-care debacleSingle-payer is an idea that was once "on the fringes" of U.S. politics. No more. It has now moved into the mainstream.

Talking to Americans: The health-care debacle

14 September 2017 - 8:57am
Karl Nerenberg

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Americans might not worry much about their deeply flawed election system. Americans and their media do, however, care about their health care and health insurance coverage. Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, was designed to fill the gaps in and regulate what would remain a private sector-dominated health insurance system. One way the Act does that is by compelling insurance companies to provide coverage to individuals with pre-existing conditions. The companies had historically refused to insure those high-risk people, and so, in exchange, the Act also sought to encourage healthy, low-risk people to buy private insurance coverage. Those new low-risk customers would provide insurers with the cash to cover the folks suffering pre-existing conditions, the people most in need of health care and health insurance.

It all must sound strange to Canadians. Here, private insurance only exists for the extra, largely non-essential stuff the public system does not cover. For the vast majority of Canadians, the idea that you could get sick and be denied basic health care is a completely foreign notion.

The sad truth, however, is that Obama's reform did not entirely work out according to plan. The Affordable Care Act fell short, in part, because of the venality of the private insurance industry, in part, because the incentives (positive and negative) for healthy, low-risk people to buy coverage were insufficient, and, in part, because there was no public insurance option.

Obama dearly wanted that public option, as a way of guaranteeing that everybody would have access to affordable coverage. But not only could he not convince any Republicans to support his proposal -- they called it the thin edge of the wedge to a government takeover of all health care -- he could not even get it past the so-called moderates in his own party, including former Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman. Throughout the process, the Connecticut politician and one-time vice-presidential candidate acted as an active shill for his state's influential and powerful insurance industry.

And so, the Affordable Care Act was, at best, only a partial and inadequate reform, and, since implementation, has experienced its share of bumps in the road. The Act's problems made it an easy target for the likes of Donald Trump. The billionaire promised to repeal and replace Obamacare with an unspecified something better, without, to all appearances, having spent five minutes studying the issue.

As anyone who has been following recent happenings in Washington knows, efforts to accomplish repeal and replace now lie in ruins. Private sector health premiums continue go up, while, for many Americans, their insurance options have shrunk to near zero.

The result is that many Democrats -- and not just those of the Bernie Sanders wing -- are showing a renewed interest in a robust public sector solution. And their solution would go a lot further than Obama's, which would have seen a public insurer competing in a private sector-dominated marketplace. What U.S. health reformers are now calling for is what Americans have named the single-payer system. Put simply, they want the Canadian system, in which only one public sector insurer covers all basic health services, from doctors' visits to hospitalization to surgery to vaccination.

On Wednesday, September 13, the independent senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, introduced a bill that would create a single-payer, universal health-care system for the U.S. It has the support of at least 15 of Sanders' Democratic colleagues. In the words of the Washington Post, single-payer is an idea that was once "on the fringes" of U.S. politics. No more. It has now moved into the mainstream.

Canada has become a favourite target

While this is all happening on the progressive side of the political fence, the other side is not sitting on its hands. Renewed interest in Canadian-style single-payer is engendering a vicious campaign of slander and disinformation against Canada and especially our way of managing and financing health care.

We got a taste of that this past summer at a bar mitzvah in Ithaca, New York.

Ithaca is charming college town -- home to Ivy League Cornell University -- in the picturesque Finger Lakes district. It is a region of long, deep lakes and bucolic wineries on the surrounding hillsides.

The bar mitzvah took place in one of  Ithaca's two synagogues, the older one, founded more than 90 years ago and housed in a historic building downtown. It was followed, as is the custom, by a luncheon to which the whole congregation is invited. After filling our plates with cream cheese, lox, chopped egg salad and bagels, we found ourselves seated across from a doctor and her retired engineer husband who hail from Virginia, but have a home in the Finger Lakes. The husband struck up a conversation. When he discovered we were Canadian, he asked, in a non-confrontational way, our views of the Canadian health-care system.  

We explained that, overall, Canadians would not want the largely public system changed or diluted, although it has its share of challenges, such as wait times for elective procedures and shoddy care for Indigenous communities. The husband then turned to his wife.

"These people are from Canada," he said, "and they think their health care is pretty good."

The doctor wife was not in the least interested in our experience or perspective. She launched into an angry scold.

"Your system is terrible," she told us. "Patients die without getting treatment, and the doctors are not competent."

When we tried to offer an opinion based on a lifetime of actual experience, she was not interested. She cited the case of a distant relative who lives somewhere in Canada -- "Was it Montreal or Toronto?" she asked her husband -- and who is suffering from cancer. She claimed her relative's doctors had originally misdiagnosed his condition and only discovered how severely ill he was when it was too late to save him.

The story may or may not be true. It is typical of the U.S. health-care debate, especially when it comes to Canada. It is argument by half-baked, often false, anecdote.

Demagogues such as Trump routinely talk about Canadians flooding across the border for treatment, fleeing, in Trump's words, our "catastrophic" system. The fact is that even such sources as the neoconservative Fraser Institute report that the number of Canadians seeking medical care abroad (and not just in the U.S.) is tiny. It was about 45,000 in 2015, and that includes people who went to India for treatment and snowbirds, who live for six months of the year in Florida, California or Arizona.

This writer knows plenty of Canadians who have had both necessary and elective procedures in Canada, from chemotherapy to heart bypass surgery to hip and knee replacements, but not a single person who has crossed the border to seek treatment in the U.S. Readers can ask themselves if they know anyone who has gone south for medical care. The answer is almost certainly no.

Nonetheless, as the debate gets hotter south of the border we can expect not only Trump and his ilk but also legions of supposedly reasonable politicians and opinion leaders to dump more and more slander and calumny on Canadian health care. When the Harper government was in power it had queasy ideological motives for staying silent in the face of such nonsense. Deep down, Harper and his gang were not committed to our public system. They likely only acquiesced to it because they knew it would be political poison to propose measures that could weaken health care as we know it.

Notionally at least, the Trudeau Liberals do not suffer from similar ideological ambivalence. Given that, perhaps it is time they politely push back when loud voices in the U.S. tell bald-faced lies about Canada.

This article is the second part in a two-part series on American views about politics.

Photo: Molly Adams/flickr

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Unionization campaign at the National Post is steeped in irony, and not just because hell has frozen over

14 September 2017 - 12:49am
David J. Climenhaga

Been there. Done that. Took the buyout.

"'Hell freezes over': National Post staff announce union drive at Postmedia's flagship paper," a headline on the Global News website said yesterday morning.

Less than two months from now, it'll be the 18th anniversary of the start of the ugly eight-month strike at the Calgary Herald, a newspaper that was and is part of the same corporate fleet at the head of which the Post, rightly described as its ideological flagship, founders in the waves.

That strike ended in a humiliating defeat for the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, a career disaster for many of the strikers, and a catastrophe for good journalism in Calgary.

The ownership of the Toronto-based parent corporation changes from time to time, as the fortunes of the newspaper industry -- which still seemed like a going concern back in November 1999 -- decline. So does the name of the "Canada's largest newspaper company": Southam, Hollinger, CanWest Media, Postmedia … whatever.

But from an outsider's perspective, it's basically the same crowd running the company -- with the same business philosophy and ideological blinders, both of which have contributed to the decline of the corporation to the point its collapse appears imminent. What about the internet? That's only part of the problem.

The sad-sack state of the company, everyone seems to agree, is a key motivating factor behind the unionization drive at the Post -- where senior editors and writers, the Global News reporter observed, "took pride in the paper's non-unionized work environment that was seen to encourage a meritocracy." (This was always baloney, of course, as anyone who has worked in the newspaper industry knows. But it's comforting baloney if you happen to be one of the beneficiaries of the alleged meritocracy.)

Indeed, non-union Post staff were proud to mock the Herald's strikers as childish socialist ninnies and occupants of a metaphorical "velvet coffin," and to do their bit in the company's ultimately successful effort to bust the union and force a generation of fine, experienced journalists out of the building and into new careers.

Different times, and mostly different people, I know. That's not the irony.

The irony is that the heartfelt rhetoric of the Post's would-be unionists today is almost identical to that of the Herald strikers in 1999 and 2000, before the strike ended in disillusionment and decertification. And it is true now, as it was then.

"We see unionizing as the best way to protect both ourselves and our readers across the country, who suffer every time the newspaper loses a great reporter, photographer, editor or designer to a buyout or a better-paid job with a competitor," said a statement by the Post employees who are asking for a certification vote with the Communication Workers of America Canada.

The only difference between then and now is that in 1999 the writing was on the wall about what the company planned to do to its employees. Now it has all become reality -- layoff after layoff, pension cuts, huge cuts to benefits, meagre buyouts, low starting pay, and an end to job security.

"We're unionizing because we love this newspaper," said the staff statement. "We want the Post and its newsroom staff to have long, bright futures. We have broad support among our colleagues and are planning to file for certification soon."

Ditto at the Herald in 1999.

According to the Global account, one of the significant factors in making the success of the union drive at the Post a real possibility was disillusionment among the most experienced (and hence most valuable and at the same time most expensive) employees, who were being hit hard by the by the latest round of company cuts while Postmedia's top managers rewarded themselves with rich bonuses for squeezing a few more drops of blood from the stone.

This too is an irony. These folks include the same people who complained endlessly in their ideological bloviations about "forced union dues" and how, at other papers, they were dragooned into unwanted union membership. (They were not. Under Ontario labour law, they had the option of not joining.)

Well, as I was taught as a lad in Sunday School, a change of heart and a sincere desire for redemption, even in extremis, is always welcomed by the angels.

And I truly hope to welcome the Post's journalists to the union movement, and I wish them the best in confronting a difficult corporation at a difficult moment in history for a traditionally profitable industry that is unlikely to see such days again.

But I also hope they will forgive me if I say how much better off everyone in Canadian media would have been if the Calgary Herald strike had been as successful as its union drive, because, truly, a journalists' union at the Herald would have done much to protect readers as well as employees, and to have ensured Postmedia treated the employees at its remaining non-union papers more fairly as the industry declined.

That was not to be. I am personally grateful. It got me out of the newspaper business with my health, sanity and retirement plans intact. I have proudly worked ever since for the trade union movement. Others were not so lucky.

Now? It will be a much harder row to hoe for the new trade unionists at the National Post. For many reasons, not least among them the survival of real journalism in Canada, I hope they succeed.

The author was the vice-president of CEP Local 115-A at the Calgary Herald in 1999 and 2000. When the company succeeded in busting the union, striking employees were given the option of returning to work, a requirement of the law, or taking a buyout. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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Trump continues long U.S. legacy of bullying Latin America

13 September 2017 - 7:18pm
Gerald Caplan

"The Donald" can't buy a break. The U.S. President has been criticized for undermining all the established conventions of the presidency, but that's not how it looks to me. In fact, he's honouring several of the central themes of American history.

What else is anti-Mexican racism but part of the warp and woof of American life? What else is Sheriff Joe Arpaio but a classic case of law and order serving the cause of bigotry and racism? What else are threats to Mexico and the slander of Mexicans? Playing the race card and bullying the countries of Latin America are as American as McDonald's golden arches.

So despite all his ostensible repudiation of established and hallowed practices, literally from the moment he announced his decision to run, Donald Trump was following in earlier footsteps. Last month, we saw yet another example, when Vice-President Mike Pence went on a Latin America tour to throw around American weight. Nothing could be a more cherished part of the American Dream.

Anyone who ever said that the United States, unlike Europe, has not been guilty of an imperial past has willfully ignored U.S. policy toward Latin America for the past two centuries. In fact, imperialism was a formal component of American foreign policy ever since 1823, when former U.S. president James Monroe outlined his cheeky Monroe Doctrine. First, it unilaterally banned European intervention in the Western Hemisphere. Second, it pledged that the ban would apply equally to the United States. Well, one out of two ain't bad.

By and large, most of the countries of the Caribbean and Central and South America have been American fiefdoms for much of the past 200 years. If it wasn't the CIA and its bag of deadly clandestine tricks, it took the form of direct military intervention, training and weapons. Mostly to protect some "yuge" American economic interests, U.S. presidents sent in the Marines -- Semper fi and Oorah to you -- while the CIA specialized in knocking off unco-operative heads of state.

The more notorious interventions and invasions are well known: Cuba, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Chile, Panama, Grenada -- the list is impressively comprehensive. No place was immune from America's violent meddling. At times, the United States has provided military support to reactionary forces that had taken over much of the continent, as Ronald Reagan did during the 1980s when violent right-wing armies brutally ruled -- Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Peru. Mr. Reagan remains the revered avatar of the Republican Party and virtually all conservatives. At the same time, American economic policy was carefully designed to promote American interests in Latin America, especially agriculture and mining. "Banana republic" wasn't a figure of speech.

Here's where Mr. Trump has already proved to be just another conventional American president. Asked about the strife in Venezuela, Mr. Trump was positively Monroe-like. "We have many options for Venezuela and, by the way, I'm not going to rule out a military option," he said.

But the times in Latin America, they've been a-changing. Meeting President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia early in his trip, Mr. Pence got an unusual earful. Mr. Santos -- one of the United States' best friends down south -- denounced Mr. Trump's threat, adding that military force "shouldn't even be considered" and was "unacceptable." Mr. Santos added: "Every country in Latin America would not favour any form of military intervention."

This historic exchange received minimal coverage in North America. Across South America it earned banner headlines. It must have shocked the Yanquis. Neither Mr. Trump nor Mr. Pence had a clue that so many Latinos still bitterly recall the long night of American imperialism that caused so much pain and poverty across the entire south. But a new south has arisen in the past generation throughout Latin America, led by women and men who will not be bullied by their former imperial power.

According to Mr. Pence, the United States "is simply not going to tolerate seeing Venezuela collapse into dictatorship." Heaven knows Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and friends have made an unholy mess of the mixed legacy left to them by Hugo Chavez, and 11 Latin American countries plus Canada have now demanded a return to democracy in Venezuela.

But I'll bet that's not the world's priority this year. Actually, I'm confident that Mr. Pence's sentiment is shared by millions around the world -- if "Venezuela" was replaced by the good old U.S. of A.

Gerald Caplan is a former New Democratic Party national director. This column was first published in The Globe and Mail.

Photo: The White House/flickr/ Myles D. Cullen

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Talking to Americans: Democracy in the Trump era

13 September 2017 - 2:32pm
Karl Nerenberg

Dave is a retired Ohioan with a booming voice and hail-fellow-well-met manner. We met this last August on a hiking trail in the Adirondack High Peaks region of New York State. He was resting while his son, Kevin, ran up and down a steep and rocky mile-long spur trail that leads to the summit of 4,100-foot high Mount Phelps.

Dave let Kevin do the daunting, uphill, mile run solo -- but Dave is no slouch. He and his son had both just climbed the highest of the high peaks, Mount Marcy, at 5,343 feet. Dave figured the mountain they call the cloud-splitter was enough of a workout for his aging knees for one day. 

That evening, my wife and I ran into Dave at the basecamp lodge. After supper, the conversation somehow turned to politics, despite my profound apprehensions. I had misgivings because in the 2016 election Trump did very well in Ohio, winning more than 50 per cent of the vote. And with his loud, blustering manner, Dave looked a lot like a typical Trump Republican to me.

I needn't have worried, however. Dave has no affection for Hillary Clinton, but he has even less for Trump. He voted for the Libertarian Gary Johnson, in what was as much a gesture of protest as solidarity with the wonky libertarian ideology. 

Dave's politics are something of a hybrid between what Americans call an independent, and that vanishing breed, the moderate Republican. He admires Ohio's notionally moderate Republican governor, John Kasich. The governor launched his political career tilting to the right, but is now making news by joining forces with Colorado's Democratic governor in an effort to rescue Barack Obama's beleaguered Affordable Care Act. Kasich portrays himself as a pragmatic, get-things-done guy, which appeals to Dave.

Blue-collar Trump supporters want a retrograde male leader

Listening to Dave one gets a sense of the cultural and political Sturm und Drang that is raging -- sometimes out in the open and sometimes beneath the surface -- in the American heartland.

Dave's member of Congress, David Joyce, is another moderate Republican, ranked the most bipartisan member of Congress by the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University. Not surprisingly, the congressman has found himself in the sights of the Trump wing of his own party. Dave, the voter, receives regular, angry phone calls from organized pro-Trump groups denouncing David Joyce. They want voter Dave's support to replace the champion of bipartisanship as the Republican candidate in the 2018 midterm election.

Dave will have none of it.

"Joyce wants to do what's best for the people," Dave opines, in his blunt way. "What's wrong with that?"

Twenty-eight-year-old Kevin is a self-identified Democrat, who works for one of the biggest breweries in the U.S. He deals a lot with unionized workers and is bemused that they could support a billionaire candidate whose policies are entirely inimical to unions and the workers they represent.

Kevin told us it was impossible to reason with those blue-collar Trump supporters. The connection they felt with Trump, the sense they had that the dyspeptic billionaire could be the vehicle for their free-floating sense of disaffection, had little to do social class, not much to do with race, and was not even significantly connected to a new version of U.S. ultra-nationalism.

Trump, Kevin suggested, appealed to working-class voters' nostalgia for the male can-do and bluster that once characterized America, at least in myth if not reality. Trump, in those blue-collar supporters' eyes, is a take-charge guy, akin to the swearing, ranting, old-school football coach, who goes into the locker room at half time, with the team down three touchdowns, and gets the boys so fired up they roar back in the second half to win the game. (That actually happened in last year's Super Bowl. The winning comeback team was piloted by Trump friend and supporter -- and sometime cheater -- Tom Brady.)

Attacks on the right to vote that few notice

The Ohio father and son share a contemptuous skepticism about the current occupant of the White House. And yet, they still have faith in the fundamental fairness of U.S. democracy.

When our conversation turned to the issue of voter suppression they were both more than a bit surprised at some facts we put on the table. We pointed out, for instance, that a huge number of Americans, disproportionately African-Americans, are permanently disenfranchised, simply because they once served time in prison.

"That's nonsense," Dave said. "Folks are denied the right to vote while they are in prison, not after they've served their time."

We assured Dave that in many U.S. states convicted felons can be denied their right to vote for years after their release. In fact, in a number of states, including the third most populous, Florida, people who have served time for criminal offences are denied the right to vote for the rest of their lives.

Dave refused to believe it. He was adamant and would not budge.

"We don't do this in America!" he bellowed.

Son Kevin decided to settle the matter. He hauled out his smart phone and quickly checked the facts.

"Yes, we do," he told his dad.

When, however, we broached a related topic, to wit, the efforts some states, notably North Carolina, have made to discourage young and non-white Americans from voting -- by, for instance, placing polling stations in inconvenient places and severely cutting back on advance polls -- Dave would have none of it.

Line-ups and inconvenience be damned, the retired Ohioan shouted. If folks want to vote, he said, it is up to them. The states, in his view, do not have to make it easy for people to exercise their franchise. The rules are the same for everyone, whatever their skin colour. It's all a matter of personal motivation and commitment.

We had a taste of this debate in Canada during the Harper era. Remember the Fair Elections Act and the efforts of Harper's ministers, especially Pierre Poilievre, to undermine Elections Canada? The Harper Conservatives were amateurs compared to the Republicans south of the border.

Trump is now ratcheting up efforts to suppress the vote, after claiming his loss in the popular vote last time was due to (non-existent) voter fraud. He has set up a Commission on Election Integrity that is busying itself trying to get its hands on all kinds of information about voters, including past voting records. At the same time, Trump's Justice Department, which is supposed to uphold the civil rights and voting rights acts of the mid 1960s, is pressuring states to "purge" their voters' lists.

The right to vote was a fundamental focus of the early days of the civil rights movement in the late 1950s and 1960s. Today, state governments and the Trump administration are working hard to roll back the hard-earned gains of that time. They have already had considerable success.

Here is just one example.

In the last election, tens of thousands of voters in Wisconsin were denied the right to vote based on new stricter ID requirements. The result: turnout in the upper Midwest state was the lowest in 20 years. In Milwaukee, heartland of Wisconsin's African-American community, turnout decreased by 13 per cent. Trump narrowly carried Wisconsin in 2016, the first time a Republican had done so since Reagan's landslide in 1984.

Mainstream Americans -- even those who do not like Trump, such as our hiking friends from Ohio -- seem to be maddeningly indifferent to the glaring flaws in their electoral system. And, for the most part, the U.S. media, of all stripes, take almost for granted a so-called democratic system where there are a patchwork quilt of voting rights, which vary from state to state; where it is routine that people must line up for hours to exercise their franchise; where voters are obliged to individually take the initiative to get themselves registered to vote; and where the officials who control the state-by-state electoral apparatuses are partisan political appointments.

This article is the first part in a two-part series on American views about politics.

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Poster project tells stories marginalized in dominant narratives of Canadian history

13 September 2017 - 8:56am
September 13, 2017 Graphic History Collective re-imagines parts of Canada's historyA collective of artists, activists, writers and researchers is examining Canadian history and re-casting it in new ways, in the Remember | Resist | Redraw poster project.