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Who needs old-time climate-change deniers when we've got the 'New Climate Denialism'?

12 May 2017 - 1:13am
David J. Climenhaga

VICTORIA, B.C.

Just because there are hardly any climate change deniers left any more doesn't mean there's no climate change denial, says Shannon Daub of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Indeed, Daub told about 60 participants in the 2017 Summer Institute of the Corporate Mapping Project at the University of Victoria this week, climate change denialism is playing a bigger role than ever as corporations, right-wing think tanks, Astro-Turf groups, conservative governments and others among the Usual Suspects shift from denying outright that climate change is taking place to conceding the science is real while doing what they can to delay meaningful change that might do something about it.

"They’ve decided to stop fighting the science," observed Daub, associate director of the CCPA's British Columbia office and co-director of the Corporate Mapping Project, a six-year research initiative jointly run by the University of Victoria, CCPA's B.C. and Saskatchewan branches, and the University of Alberta's Parkland Institute.

None of which is to say there aren't actual deniers of climate change science out there, of course. It's just that it's become sort of a legacy hobby activity engaged in by amateurs who write letters to their local newspapers. The smart money in climate change denial, as Daub explained, has moved on to new approaches.

So the days when the fossil fuel industry paid big bucks to get think-tanks, foundations, friendly academics and lobbyists to confuse the public and raise doubt about the powerful evidence climate change is real are thankfully coming to an end. As Daub said in a blog post last fall written with CCPA B.C. Director Seth Klein, "the climate deniers have now mostly been exposed and repudiated."

But as a result, she told the UVic conference, opponents of action on climate change have adopted subtler approaches. She named four main kinds of climate change denialism now commonly practiced in Canada, none of which requires participants to be embarrassed by having to claim aloud that the science of climate change isn't … well, scientific.

The Cheerleaders -- who tell us about our bright green market-based future based on the trinity of renewables, clean technology and carbon taxes without addressing the truly difficult question of how we actually manage the transition from fossil fuels, which won't be easy. They act as an echo chamber for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's cheerleading, she observed.

The Pragmatists -- who recognize Western Canada's oilsands need a reputation makeover to give Canadian oil a better reputation abroad and win access to foreign markets. It's what Alberta Premier Rachel Notley is doing, Daub argued, when Alberta’s government uses carbon pricing and tougher environmental regulations in an effort to persuade Canadians we can have climate leadership and more oil and gas expansion at the same time. It's what B.C. Premier Christy Clark is up to when she touts the province's "climate leadership" to push LNG development and fracking.

The Skeptics -- who say, "we're behind this policy as long as it doesn't do what it's supposed to do." You know, like "revenue neutral" carbon taxes that don't result in industry paying more for carbon outputs. Groups like the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers now acknowledge the need for a more effective approach, but warn us not to move too fast or change anything that might affect the Canadian industry's competitiveness. "It's actually a form of obstructionism," Ms. Daub argued.

The Indigenous Rights and Title Deniers -- who endorse reconciliation and Indigenous self-determination, but insist in the face of First Nations legal challenges on the legal right to push pipelines wherever they want.

All of these "new climate deniers," Daub said, provide "green cover for industries profiting from fossil fuels and pumping carbon into the environment."

As for those old "hard deniers," why would they bother? "Why take the flack when you can do the same thing and get the credit?"

Formally known as Mapping the Power of the Carbon-Extractive Corporate Resource Sector, the Corporate Mapping Project is financed by a $2.5-million partnership grant awarded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, plus $2 million in matching funds from partner organizations. SSHRC Partnership Grants support formal partnerships between universities and others to improve understanding of critical issues facing Canadians.

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

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With new bank, Canadians will pay for infrastructure but investors will own it

11 May 2017 - 10:33am
EconomyPolitics in Canada

The Trudeau cabinet, brimming with women and minorities, seems so 2017, so far removed from the traditional bastions of power.

Amid all that fresh-faced diversity, it's easy to overlook the pale face of finance minister Bill Morneau -- a rich, white male from Bay Street, ensconced in the cabinet's most powerful post.

(Full disclosure: I ran unsuccessfully against Morneau in the 2015 federal election.)

Morneau hasn't grabbed the limelight like some of the more flamboyant ministers. But, with the help of heavy hitters from Bay Street and Wall Street, he's been quietly designing a radical new bank that will deliver some of Canada's future infrastructure -- roads, bridges, public transit, utilities -- into the hands of private investors.

The Trudeau cabinet may have a New Age feel to it, but it's by no means neglecting its Bay Street base, which stands to profit handsomely from Morneau's proposed "Canada Infrastructure Bank" (CIB).

The bank is being presented to the public as a way to attract billions of private sector dollars to help pay for our public infrastructure.

But the bank's unusual design will also, for the first time, give powerful private institutional investors -- even foreign-owned entities -- the opportunity to actually own important pieces of Canadian infrastructure, with the ability to charge us fees for using them.

Under the current model, Ottawa (or another level of government) typically owns Canadian infrastructure. In other words, we collectively own it.

But big institutional investors -- pension funds, mutual funds, investment banks, etc. -- are looking for investments that are safe and produce a reliable revenue stream.

Nothing fits that bill better, in these days of volatile markets, than investing in infrastructure, as a 2015 report by Wall Street giant JP Morgan documented. The report noted that, compared to other investment options, infrastructure assets offer very high returns, at very low risk, that they operate in monopoly situations free from competition and provide reliable revenue, even during economic downturns. "Infrastructure assets have produced stable, predictable and growing returns," concluded JP Morgan.

The appeal of infrastructure investment was no doubt on the mind of Wall Street titan Larry Fink when he met Justin Trudeau in January 2016 at the annual power-gathering in Davos. Trudeau and his newly elected government were just developing ideas for their new bank, and Fink was looking for good investment opportunities for the $5 trillion in assets he manages as CEO of BlackRock, the world's largest asset manager. (Fink now belongs to Donald Trump's Strategic and Policy Forum.)

Trudeau and Fink hit it off. Since then, BlackRock officials have worked closely with Morneau and others inside the Trudeau government, raising concerns about the appropriateness of a major Wall Street financier -- and powerful institutional investors inside Canada -- apparently helping shape the design of a bank they will probably end up doing business with.

And while the investment community's enthusiasm for Canada's new bank is clear, it's less clear what's in it for Canadians.

When tolls and user fees are added in, privately owned infrastructure could cost us more -- and we'd own nothing.

Whether privately or publicly owned, Canadians will still end up paying for these assets, note analysts Azfar Ali Khan and Randall Bartlett in a report for Ottawa's Institute for Fiscal Studies and Democracy. "[T]his does beg the question: Why would Canadians want to sell their most valuable assets to the private sector?"

Another option would be for us to finance and own our own public infrastructure, as we have in the past. Now more than ever, there's good reason to do so: Ottawa can borrow money at very low rates, much lower than the private sector. "With yields on 30-year Government of Canada bonds currently sitting around 2.2 per cent, the federal government can almost literally get 'money for nothing,' " Khan and Bartlett note.

They urge more careful assessment before Canada starts "shovelling money out the door."

Indeed, with sophisticated financiers working closely with government officials designing the bank, it could turn into a boondoggle for financial interests, with Canadians holding the short end of the stick.

Ontarians got a taste of that when the Tory government of Mike Harris was outsmarted by private investors into handing over the lucrative Highway 407 toll road in a 99-year lease, for just a fraction of its value.

In the case of the CIB, there are some whip-smart financiers involved, including Fink, a key player in squeezing money out of the American public to bail out Wall Street's banks after the 2008 crash. What could possibly go wrong for Canada?

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

Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

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corporate greedCanadian Infrastructure Bankpublic infrastructurepublic-private partnershipsbay streetWall Street bailoutLinda McQuaigMay 11, 2017Trudeau's finance minister wants private investment in infrastructure, non-committal on privatizationsFinance Minister Bill Morneau delivered his Fall Economic Statement on Tuesday with some new commitments to private investment in public infrastructure.Trudeau Liberals offer Shangri-La to private financeHow is the Canadian public interest served by bringing in private financiers to make money operating and owning what rightfully belongs to Canadian citizens?Trump and Trudeau's 'stealth privatization' will be at the taxpayer's expenseIf Trump's infrastructure plan is a "privatization scam," what should we call ours?

Behind Trump's headline-grabbing chaos, the FCC is quietly dismantling media democracy

11 May 2017 - 9:52am
Civil Liberties WatchMedia MattersUS Politics

"You're fired!" When Donald Trump ousted FBI Director James Comey Tuesday night, it was more than just another of Trump's shocking executive actions. Comparisons to Watergate are chillingly relevant; Comey was investigating potential collusion between the Russian government and Trump's presidential campaign. Just days earlier, Comey asked the Justice Department, run by Trump crony Attorney General Jeff Sessions, for more resources for the investigation. Trump's termination of Comey echoed President Richard Nixon's firing of the special prosecutor investigating Watergate, Archibald Cox, in what was called "The Saturday Night Massacre."

Amidst the daily deluge of scandal, one detail remains crystal clear: Donald Trump understands the power of the media, and he wields that power relentlessly. From the announcement of his Supreme Court nominee in a suspenseful event that could have been drawn from reality TV, to his incessant and inflammatory tweeting, Trump manipulates the media and, more often than not, controls the news cycle. His unpredictable pronouncements have captured the attention of the corporate media, almost to the point where very little else is covered.

Behind the headline-grabbing chaos, though, decades of progressive policy achievements are being quietly undone by the army of loyalists that Trump is assembling around him. Over at the Federal Communications Commission, for example, newly installed Chairman Ajit Pai is doing everything he can to eliminate rules protecting net neutrality on the Internet, while allowing big, pro-Trump broadcasters to further consolidate. This will lead to increasingly restricted democratic dialogue in our society, further strengthening Trump's grip on power.

Net neutrality is described by the media advocacy organization Free Press as "the First Amendment of the Internet." It describes a fundamental feature of the Internet, allowing information to flow freely and equally over the web, regardless of its content. For example, whether you want to view web content from the National Rifle Association or the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, the site you are seeking will load equally quickly. The ISPs are not allowed to favour one site over another.

Take another example: Many people watch video on the Internet using Netflix. But imagine an ISP with ownership interest in another, competing service deciding to slow down Netflix in order to frustrate those users and drive them to its service. With strictly enforced net neutrality rules, this type of conduct would be illegal. In the Internet that Ajit Pai, a former Verizon lawyer, is trying to construct, with net neutrality rules scrapped, it would likely become the norm. Extremely well funded, incumbent sites would dominate, while smaller, startup web ventures would find it impossible to compete. The Internet's dynamism would disappear.

To take the hypotheticals one step further, imagine an activist website dedicated to organizing resistance to President Trump's immigrant ban. Such a site, now, would be freely accessible. But without the protection of net neutrality, there would be nothing to stop an ISP from slowing down traffic to and from the site, rendering it useless.

Broadcast ownership rules, also under the FCC's purview, are being targeted for elimination by Pai as well. On April 20, the FCC voted 3-2 along partisan lines to relax broadcast ownership rules, unleashing a wave of TV station ownership consolidation. The Sinclair Broadcast Group is reportedly attempting to purchase Tribune Media for $4 billion, giving it control of more than a third of the country's local TV stations.

Sinclair is more than just a TV network, though: It has for many years exploited the public airwaves to promote a right-wing political agenda. "They've rolled out the red carpet for President Trump," Craig Aaron, president and CEO of Free Press, said on the Democracy Now! news hour. "Right after the election, Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and adviser, indicated that he had struck a deal with Sinclair for favorable coverage, where they would air Trump speaking at length without interruption. ... They've hired multiple Trump spokespeople, mouthpieces from the administration, to come on the air, give the administration's views."

Broadcast networks are still the way that most people get their news, especially those who are less Internet-connected, like older people and the poor. By supporting candidates like Donald Trump, Sinclair also ensures there will be no drastic changes to campaign finance law. Every election cycle, then, Sinclair and other broadcasters reap huge windfalls from the flood of dark money spent on broadcast airtime to disseminate misleading political ads. This creates a vicious cycle, allowing anti-democratic (small "d" democratic, that is) forces to tighten control of the broadcast networks and, increasingly, the Internet.

President Trump knows how to use the mass media, and social media, to manipulate public opinion and sway voters. But Trump, and appointees like Ajit Pai, are learning that there is a force more powerful: organized people, taking to the streets. Trump can fire individuals who threaten his power, like James Comey. But he can't fire a movement.

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: cool revolution/flickr

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U.S. politicstrump administrationnet neutralityjames comeyfccMEDIA CONSOLIDATIONAmy GoodmanDenis MoynihanMay 11, 2017Trump keeps campaign promise to promote unfettered police powerAs 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.In Trump's America, your privacy is for saleDonald Trump, in the midst of accusations that his own privacy was invaded by illegal wiretaps, is signing into law permission to invade, trade and monetize the most private detail of every American.Net neutrality: Fighting for an Internet that has never been neutralThousands of people feel the fight for net neutrality is an essential struggle. However, it is obscuring the fundamental reality that the Internet hasn't been 'neutral' for years.

Liberals propped up by a tiny Green caucus may be worst outcome of B.C. election for Alberta's NDP

11 May 2017 - 9:00am
May 11, 2017Liberals propped up by a tiny Green caucus may be worst outcome of B.C. election for Alberta's NDPSuccess on the pipeline file is apparently essential to political success in Alberta -- never mind the world market for petroleum.

Palestinian political prisoners are in their fourth week of a hunger strike

10 May 2017 - 10:09am
May 10, 2017Why are Palestinian political prisoners on a hunger strike?Striking Palestinian prisoners are demanding respect for their basic human rights.

Anti-poverty activists urge Ontario to focus on poverty reduction, not just basic incomes

10 May 2017 - 7:45am
Meagan Gillmore

Anti-poverty activists in Ontario are calling the provincial government's announcement of a basic income pilot project for low-income adults a positive first step, but say more must be done to help people living in poverty.

"It's great that we've got a trial happening, but we can't let the government use this as a ploy to just sit on their tushes and wait for three years. There's desperate need for immediate action on welfare rates," said John Mills, a community activist with the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction.

The roundtable has no official position on basic income, but will be watching the project closely. The pilot is scheduled to begin in Hamilton, Brantford and Brant County, as well as Thunder Bay, later this spring. It will launch in Lindsay in the fall.

The government announced the details of the three-year pilot project late last month. The project will test if receiving a guaranteed basic income improves the quality of life for people who have low incomes.

On the pilot, a single person will be eligible to receive up to $16,989 per year; a couple $24,027. A person with a disability is eligible to receive an additional $6,000 per year. These amounts are 75 per cent of the Low Income Measure. Participants will continue to receive provincial and federal child-care benefits while on the program. Payments will be received monthly.

People receiving a guaranteed basic income can work. But their basic income will be reduced by half of what they earn. If a single person earns $20,000 from employment, their basic income would be reduced from $16,989 to $6,989. Participants who receive employment insurance or the Canadian Pension Plan (CPP) will have their income reduced dollar by dollar, the government's website says.

People who receive social assistance through Ontario Works (OW) and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) are eligible to apply to be part of the pilot. They won't receive income from OW and ODSP while receiving guaranteed basic income payments. But any coverage they received as part of the Ontario Drug Benefit will continue. Recipients of ODSP will continue to receive dental benefits if they had them before joining the pilot.

'A paradigm shift from social assistance'

Advocates praise guaranteed basic income for providing assistance without intense scrutiny.

"It's a complete paradigm shift from social assistance," said Sheila Regehr, chairperson of Basic Income Canada Network, one of the organizations that participated in consultation. Social assistance programs come with restrictive bureaucracy. After proving their eligibility, individuals have to report their income and changes in their living situations much more often than those who don't receive these types of assistance. When people begin earning income, their social assistance benefits are reduced or taken away. The anxiety of having to maintain eligibility and sometimes not knowing how much money is coming each month can cause a lot of stress, said Regehr. It can also discourage people from seeking employment.

A basic income "treats people with respect. It allows people autonomy to make their own decisions," said Regehr.

Mills understands the anxiety that comes with being monitored on social assistance. He recently began receiving CPP payments after living on OW since 2010.

"Basically, you're screwed," he said of the system. People who are receiving OW need to show their caseworker that they're looking for employment. That can be difficult, especially if they don't have access to transportation to attend job interviews.

Several times, Mills received letters saying his account had been suspended and he wouldn't be receiving his payments. The situations were always resolved, but it caused undue anxiety, he said. Sometimes, he didn't have a phone, so he couldn't contact his caseworker to explain the situation.

"It's the whole dynamic of not having the ability to stand up for yourself and deal with issues in a timely manner without being cut off from any kinds of funds," he said. "It just creates a lot of unnecessary stress."

The guaranteed basic income won't include that monitoring. It will also produce better data about poverty in Ontario.

Marc Leferriere, a former coordinator with the Brantford Roundtable on Poverty, is optimistic about the project. He first heard about guaranteed basic income nearly a decade ago, but thought of it as a "pie-in-the-sky" dream.

The fact that it's actually something that tangibly will have at least a pilot in our community, that's great."

The data from the pilot could be used to better deliver social services, he said. As a former social worker, he saw people struggle with poverty every day. He understands the struggle: he grew up in a family that relied on social assistance. He didn't get a driver's licence until his early 20s because there wasn't money for it. That meant travelling to summer jobs in the county impossible, he said.

A guaranteed basic income can address problems of insecure employment, said Mills, who has studied basic income for years and attended North American conferences on the topic.

Basic income is the only way to keep capitalism running in North America, said Mills. Precarious employment and increased automation are making it harder for people to earn money to stimulate the economy. A guaranteed income gives that stimulus, he said.

More needed to reduce poverty

But not all anti-poverty activists are convinced guaranteed basic income will increase job security.

John Clarke, an organizer with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP), offered quick condemnation, calling the pilot "dangerous" and "unjust."

"What they're really experimenting with is not really an income for poor people, but a de facto subsidy for low-wage employers."

Instead of testing a basic income, the government should raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, he said.

It allows the government to say it's doing something to fix the problems of poverty, while not committing to raise social assistance rates. Any changes in legislation the project could inspire wouldn't likely happen until years after the pilot concludes, Clarke said.

The project is a guaranteed failure, Clarke said.

To test basic income, you have to see how the system works in a major jurisdiction. What they're doing is, they're testing a small group of poor people in a way that's very offensive," he said. It would be more radical, he said, to impose a maximum income. This way, instead of seeing how poor people handle a little more money, governments could test how wealthy people live with a little less.

He called the government's reliance on consultations an "abomination." The coalition did not make submissions a part of the consultation process. Instead, it protested at consultations.

Proponents of a basic income said there were some things they'd change in the pilot's plans. Regehr said she would have liked to see the government explore reducing participants' employment earnings by various amounts, not just the 50 per cent in the plan.

Josephine Grey, founder of Low Income Families Together (LIFT) in Toronto, said that Ontarians must fight for a good guaranteed basic income. Grey has received ODSP for nearly a decade, and other forms of social assistance before that. A single mother, she knows the challenges of relying on a broken system, and would "absolutely" apply to be part of the pilot if she lived in one of the eligible communities. A guaranteed basic income could allow people to spend their time creating meaningful jobs, like those that can benefit the environment.

She's "cautiously optimistic" about the pilot, saying the government hasn't had a "positive proposal for poor people for decades." But citizens are also responsible for making sure the program works, she said. Fighting to keep the current welfare system the way it is won't help, she said. But neither will viewing the government as "some big, monolithic enemy."

"We have to realize democracy's a two-way street," she said. "If we want the basic income program to be a good one, then fight for it to be a good one."

Meagan Gillmore is rabble's labour reporter.

Photo: Generation Grundeinkommen/flickr

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Ontario's guaranteed basic income pilot misses mark, labour leaders say

9 May 2017 - 1:18pm
Meagan Gillmore

Labour leaders in Ontario are criticizing the provincial government's plans to pilot a guaranteed basic income for individuals with low incomes, saying it doesn't address a broken social assistance system and precarious job market that keep people trapped in a system of poverty.

Fred Hahn, president of CUPE Ontario, called the announcement a "lost opportunity." Instead of spending money on a pilot project, the government should be raising social assistance payments and ensure people can find stable, well-paying jobs, he says.

"At its heart, the best version of a basic income program ensures people are lifted out of poverty," said Hahn. "This, in fact, does nothing to lift people out of poverty."

The government announced the details of its plan in late April.

The pilot will test whether a guaranteed basic income can help improve people's quality of life, including their mental and physical health, education, access to employment and food security. It's different from current social assistance programs, Ontario Works (OW) and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), but, like these programs, will be administered by the Ministry of Community and Social Services.

These programs will continue to run during the pilot project. rabble.ca asked the Ministry of Community and Social Services in an email if a guaranteed basic income could eventually replace these programs. In response, the ministry said that the pilot is about "exploring" a "simple and more effective way to support more people living in poverty." The information gathered from this project will help inform future decisions about "reforming" income security, the ministry wrote.

How the program works

In the pilot, a single person will be eligible to receive up to $16,989 per year; a couple up to $24,027. A person with a disability is eligible to receive an additional $6,000 per year. These amounts are 75 per cent of the Low Income Measure. Participants will continue to receive provincial and federal child-care benefits while on the program. Payments will be received monthly.

People receiving a guaranteed basic income can work. But their basic income will be reduced by half of what they earn. If a single person earns $20,000 from employment, their basic income would be reduced from $16,989 to $6,989. Participants who receive employment insurance or the Canadian Pension Plan will have their income reduced dollar by dollar, the government's website says.

People who currently receive coverage for medications as part of OW or ODSP will still receive that coverage, the Ontario Drug Benefit. Recipients of ODSP will continue to receive dental benefits if they had them before joining the pilot.

The pilot will launch in Hamilton, including Brantford and Brant County, and Thunder Bay in late spring. It will begin in Lindsay in the fall. Randomly selected individuals in those areas will receive applications in the mail and can apply to be part of the program. Up to 4,000 people will be eligible to receive the basic income payment.

To be eligible, people must be between the ages of 18 and 64 when the program starts. They must have a low income and be living in the area for at least 12 months before the program begins.

There will also be a control group of 2,000 people across these locations who meet the eligibility requirements but do not receive the guaranteed basic income.

Not enough to address poverty

Smokey Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), said that while he agrees with the concept of basic income, he worries the pilot "gives (the government) an excuse to do nothing about poverty for the next three to five years."

Hahn told rabble.ca he was concerned that individuals receiving OW or ODSP payments before joining the pilot would lose additional supports, like addiction counselling or support finding employment. His union represents workers who deliver those services. He also expressed concern about how people will return to social assistance programs once the pilot concludes. People need more than money to leave poverty, he said. They need affordable housing and access to good child-care services.

The pilot "misses the mark on the reality that people aren't just all consumers in a marketplace. We are citizens and neighbours, and we need the collective support of one another," he said. "It's the role of government to provide services that help make people's lives better."

The pilot also doesn't address current pressing employment challenges: namely, an abundance of minimum-wage and precarious jobs.

Thomas expressed concerns a basic income could become a "subsidy for businesses" and not encourage employers to create good jobs. Thomas, who readily admitted he's not a fan of the Wynne government, saying the recent budget "sucks," said the government would do better to raise social assistance rates and not spend so much on infrastructure.

Ontario's business community echoed similar concerns.

While the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC), did not formally participate in the consultation process, it will be watching the pilot closely, said Ashley Challinor, the chamber's director of policy. The chamber's members have various opinions about the pilot. The chamber wants to make sure the government integrates this pilot with existing government services and spends money wisely. It's also interested to see if people who receive a basic income will still seek jobs.

The pilot is just one way of responding to the complex labour realities facing Ontario at this time, said Challinor. People are struggling to find good jobs, and employers are having difficulty hiring workers who are suited for the jobs available. Employers are noticing various gaps, ranging from potential employees needing more technical skills, to those struggling with "soft skills," said Challinor.

"The hiring market is very challenging for employers," she said. Members from all regions and businesses ranked hiring difficulties as their main challenge. "But at the same time, we're looking at a future that's rapidly approaching where we may not need as many people to work, or the nature of how individuals interact with work is going to be very different."

Automation and artificial intelligence are taking away both low-skill and high-skill jobs, she said, noting she's heard of automated divorce lawyers.

If the pilot goes well, it could be an opportunity for Ontario to become a leader in providing government services, she said.

In an email to rabble.ca, the Ministry of Community and Social Services said individuals who receive payments during the pilot project will still be able to access other income-based benefits and credits that aren't part of social assistance. ODSP employment supports remain available to anyone who has a disability, regardless of whether they receive social assistance.

Payments will be gradually phased out before the pilot project ends, and those who were receiving OW and ODSP before joining the project will be eligible to re-apply for those programs using the rapid reinstatement program.

People receiving basic income payments are not obligated to disclose this information to their employers, the ministry said.

The government also plans to create a separate, parallel, basic income program for First Nations. Planning for that is in the early stages. The Ministry of Community and Social Services told rabble in an email that individuals who live in First Nations reservations in the Hamilton, Brantford, Brant County, Thunder Bay and Lindsay regions will not be receiving application packages for the Ontario basic income program at this point.

Meagan Gillmore is rabble's labour reporter.

Photo: Andrew Currie/flickr

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France elects a self-described progressive as president

9 May 2017 - 12:25pm
EconomyWorld

The newly elected, eighth president of the Fifth French Republic wants to break with a long-standing French political dynamic.

Instead of politics as a struggle between left and right, workers and capitalists, Socialists and Gaullist Republicans, the forces of change versus the status quo, Emmanuel Macron sees opposition between progressives and conservatives: renewal versus continued sterile conflict.

Macron gets his first chance at demonstrating his commitment to renewal May 11 when he announces the 577 candidates for the June elections to the French National Assembly.

In April 2016, as Macron began building his movement En Marche! -- renamed La République En Marche (REM) to contest the elections -- he issued an Internet call for candidates.

He has indicated that one-half of REM candidates will be drawn from civil society -- i.e. they will not have held elected office at any level.

Macron has also pledged to uphold gender equality in selecting candidates.

The promise of injecting new blood into a political system dominated by long-standing office holders was an important part of building the Macron candidacy from nothing a year ago, to winning top spot in the first round of presidential voting, albeit with less than 25 per cent of the vote.

In the run-off presidential election, Macron was able to handily defeat far-right candidate Marine Le Pen by winning 66 per cent of voter support.

However, commitment to support his electoral program is tempered by exit polls showing over 40 per cent of his second-round electors declaring they were voting mainly to defeat Le Pen, and thwart the ambitions of her National Front party.

Le Pen greeted her defeat by announcing that the National Front would be rebuilt as a new political organization; her opponents will see this as a threat not to be taken lightly.

Fully 20 per cent of first-round Gaullist party voters opted for Le Pen in the run-off round; overall she attracted support from 22 per cent of registered voters. Only seven per cent of voters for the Left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, and virtually no first-round Socialist voters, opted for Le Pen.

Macron has called for renewal of the European Union in a progressive direction. He wants European Value Added Tax (VAT) revenue to fund a European finance ministry that would re-distribute revenue to regions losing income. Like Socialist candidate Benoît Hamon, Macron wants a Eurozone parliament to oversee the finance ministry, and a nascent (and needed) fiscal union.

Macron also defines renewal as making France more competitive in European and world markets though scrapping social protection for workers, a prospect that produced street demonstrations in France the day following his election. 

Le Pen see herself as leading an anti-globalization opposition to Macron. She offers an anti-European Union outlook, and extreme nationalist sentiment to her actual and potential supporters. She has gathered support from workers, and from rural France.

The authoritarian core of the National Front is active fomenting division of France into friends and enemies, with immigrants, Muslims in particular, being cast as the enemies.

Despite its efforts to moderate its image, tone down its rhetoric, and bury its openly anti-Semitic past, for a solid majority of French citizens, the National Front remains the party stoking fears of "others," and ethnic hatred.

Macron represents an optimistic vision of France defeating unemployment, lifting Europe out of economic doldrums and helping the world slow climate change.

In his campaign, Macron was able to strike a progressive pose -- especially with Marine Le Pen as a debating partner.

More will be known about his priorities once Macron names his prime minister and cabinet on May 14, the date he assumes presidential office.

The Gaullist Fifth Republic foresaw French presidential elections as setting the stage for building a presidential majority government. So two rounds of legislative voting always follow closely after the election of the Chief of State.

Potential support for the self-styled progressives running under the new REM banner is uncertain. How many of them will emerge from two rounds of voting is unknown.

To establish a voting coalition to implement his ideas, Macron will likely reach out to second-round supporters from amongst his former Socialist colleagues, and/or Republican legislators.

Socialist and Republican parties alike have come under criticism from Macron as being "conservative" for their unwillingness to undo the French social state.

If Macron wants to make his progressive presidency a success, he can certainly do better than impose neoliberal market economics, and expect the population to accept a more precarious future.

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

Photo: Mutualité Française/flickr

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Emmanuel Macronfrench election 2017Marine Le Penneoliberal politicsfrance politicsDuncan CameronMay 9, 2017Post-politics is alive in France, thanks to the marriage of social democracy and neoliberal economics On the economic issues of how wealth is produced and distributed, the social democratic left in the U.K., France and Germany have bought into the "globalization is good" agenda promoted by the right.French election speaks to the pointlessness of politics under globalizationIf political acts, like voting, are meaningless under globalization, that makes some sense of the refusal by normally left voters to turn out for Hillary, leading to Trump's victory.Trudeau's social media mastermind tours Europe, explains strategyTom Pitfield, a childhood friend of Trudeau's and a former IBM innovation expert, went through a top 10 Buzzfeed-like list of What He Learned from the Election Campaign.

My final plea to undecided voters in B.C.

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

When your city hates poor and homeless people

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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displacementgentrificationpovertyhomelessness

Success for women lies in collaboration, say female labour leaders

8 May 2017 - 10:55am
Meagan Gillmore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meagan Gillmore is rabble's labour reporter.

Photo: Victoria Pickering/flickr

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

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

Rally for Rainbow Railroad supports LGBTQ community being targeted in Chechnya

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

French election speaks to the pointlessness of politics under globalization

5 May 2017 - 12:57pm
EconomyElectionsWorld

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Photo: Blandine Le Cain/flickr

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

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

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

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

5 May 2017 - 8:54am
ElectionsPolitics in Canada

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2017 B.C. ElectionAndrew Weaverchristy clarkgovernment corruptionJohn HorganBCMurray DobbinMay 5, 2017B.C. Liberals are a rogue government that must be dispatchedThe Liberal government of Christy Clark is not so much a government as it is an anti-government: contemptuous of both the public good and of the citizens it is supposed to be governing for. Dear Christy Clark: We are all LindaClark's rude reaction to a citizen in advance of the election has sparked a social media outpour of #IamLinda.Kinder Morgan's $771,000 donation to B.C. Liberals raises red flags while Premier shifts to damage controlThe B.C. Liberals are under scrutiny for accepting significant donations from lobbyists, including those connected to the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline project, sparking an RCMP investigation.

North Carolina residents fight back against corporate factory hog farms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This column was first published on Democracy Now!

Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture/flickr

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

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

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

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

4 May 2017 - 9:30am
Tania Ehret

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mayworks is here to fill that need.

For more information on the Mayworks Festival, click here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: DanielPaquet/Wikimedia Commons

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