Building solidarity between teachers and parents

29 March 2017 - 9:04am
Scott NeighMarch 29, 2017Talking Radical RadioEducationLabourPolitical Action

On this week's episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Drew Moore and Tina Roberts-Jeffers. Moore is a teacher in Nova Scotia. Roberts-Jeffers is a mother of three small children. They talk about the unprecedented activity and engagement by both teachers and parents over the last couple of years in the face of an austerity-minded provincial government and in defence of a strong public education system.

Across North America in the last few decades, it has been hard to find any governments in any jurisdictions that don't fall somewhere on the spectrum between quietly undermining and fanatically attacking public services. When it is public education in particular that is in their sights, a popular government tactic has often been to target teachers and to sow divisions between teachers and parents. Some of the most important resistance, on the other hand, has been when teachers and parents have begun from a shared interest in an education system that is strong, well-funded, and public to build relationships, solidarity, and collaborative action.

Until quite recently, Nova Scotia has seen relative peace between its teachers and its provincial government -- in fact, never in its history had the Nova Scotia Teachers Union engaged in any kind of province-wide job action. When the latest round of negotiations began for the teachers in mid 2015, though there were signs that the province had some rather ambitious goals in terms of containing spending, nobody among the teachers or the general public expected much to be different.

By the time the provincial government imposed a contract through legislation in late February 2017, however, everything had changed. The government's actions and public statements throughout this period were much more negative and combative than they had ever been before. Much of what the government sought in bargaining, teachers identified as detrimental to their working conditions and to students' learning conditions. According to Moore, as a result of all of this, his rank and file colleagues were much more engaged with the negotiating process than he had ever seen them. In particular, more and more of them were insistent that certain key workplace issues related to class sizes, to the pressure for teachers to do ever-increasing amounts of administrative work with no additional time to do it, and to other classroom-related concerns must be addressed. Teachers voted on three separate occasions to reject tentative agreements, and overwhelmingly passed a strike vote. Towards the end, the union engaged in a province-wide work-to-rule campaign that involved continuing to teach but withdrawing auxiliary services not explicitly required in their collective agreement.

And it wasn't only teachers who were more engaged and politicized than ever before over the course of this process -- so were parents. Tina Roberts-Jeffers has always been a firm believer in the importance of a strong public education system, though she also has her share of criticisms of the specific challenges and barriers that the system puts in the way of African Nova Scotia students. As the conflict between teachers and the government developed, she became increasingly convinced that the government's actions would not only be detrimental to teachers but would harm students, and therefore communities. It was some time last year when she heard about a small meeting in which a handful of parents were getting together to figure out ways to express their support for the teachers, and she knew she had to get involved. Nova Scotia Parents for Teachers grew quickly, engaged in multiple public and media events, and developed a Facebook presence with more than 19,000 members.

The combined efforts of teachers, parents, and also students managed to mobilize some impressive expressions of public support for teachers during the period preceding the provincial government's passage of legislation last month. This included what some have identified as the largest demonstration at Nova Scotia's provincial legislature in history. Alas, this was not enough to stop the government from imposing a contract.

For the moment, the struggle to defend public education in Nova Scotia has entered a quieter phase. There are a lot of conversations going on in a lot of different contexts about the events of the past year and about how to move forward. Despite the recent set-back, many parents and teachers can identify some hopeful signs as well. Teachers and parents have a new track record of collaboration and new relationships that were built in the course of struggle. Moreover, the public conversation about education in the province has become more lively, enthusiastic, and informed, and includes plenty of voices calling for it to be well funded, equitable and accessible, and treated as a public good. It's not clear what form this attention and energy might take in the new moment, but circumstances are ripe for solid organizing that is capable of building towards future gains.

Moore and Roberts-Jeffers speak with me about public education, about the recent struggles surrounding it in Nova Scotia, and about the importance of solidarity between teachers, parents, and students. We spoke by Skype-to-phone from Nova Scotia.

You can learn more about this struggle via two of the organizations involved, the Nova Scotia Teachers Union and Nova Scotia Parents for Teachers.

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

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

The image modified for use in this post is in the public domain.

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teacherspublic educationsolidarity

B.C.'s students serve notice to Kinder Morgan and Premier Clark for provincial election

28 March 2017 - 11:38pm
March 29, 2017B.C.'s students serve notice to Kinder Morgan and Premier Clark for provincial electionUniversity carbon divestment movements in B.C. are encouraging fellow students to remember recently approved massive fossil fuel projects like the Kinder Morgan pipeline during May's election.BC

Justin Trudeau versus Stephen Harper: What's the difference?

28 March 2017 - 9:58am
March 28, 2017Justin Trudeau versus Stephen Harper: What's the difference? By 2015, for most Canadians, the Harper government had run out its time. Voters decided to replace it with the Trudeau Liberals. How is that working out?

Justin Trudeau versus Stephen Harper: What's the difference?

28 March 2017 - 9:55am
Politics in Canada

By 2015, for most Canadians, the Harper government had run out its time. Voters decided to replace it with the Trudeau Liberals. How is that working out?

The Liberals are cooking up changes to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons that look suspiciously like a power grab on the part of the government. Closing down debate though parliamentary closure was standard Harper procedure.

Have a pipeline you want built? The Canadian government will smooth your way, Trudeau Liberal or Harper Conservative.

As prime minister (1963-68), Lester Pearson suggested international development could provide Canada with a sense of purpose. His chosen vehicle, the Canadian International Development Agency, was dismantled by Harper; its budget had been previously been reduced significantly by Chrétien.

As Africa advances into a terrifying era of famine, where is the Trudeau government? It announces a small charitable donation, provides no domestic leadership, and takes no initiative internationally.

Relative indifference to looming starvation reflects poorly on Liberal internationalism, a policy outlook much disliked by Stephen Harper.

The foreign policy of the Harper Cons was to undertake bilateral trade talks with over 50 countries.

At a time of much economic stagnation worldwide, is the Trudeau government committed to working with other countries to revive multilateral trade, investment and financial rules? No. Sitting down for bilateral talks with China, allowing it to use its size advantage over Canada in negotiating a trade pact favourable to Beijing is the Liberal policy, as it was the Conservative policy.

On climate change the Trudeau government made the Harper government targets for greenhouse gas emission reductions its own targets, and like Harper, has no policy for implementing them. As a result, Canada will not meet its Paris Accord promises, just as Canada missed its Kyoto Accord commitments.

On Aboriginal issues the Liberal government introduced a welcome change of tone. Unfortunately, Aboriginal issues remain a low priority for the Trudeau government. As under Harper, resource extraction takes precedence.

At election time, women show greater support for Liberals than for Conservatives. Have women benefited as a result? Not if providing concrete measures important to the lives of women is any indication.

For instance the Liberals promised child-care spaces in 1993, 1997, 2000 and 2004 without delivering. The recent budget offers a plan, but no real money until after the next election. Harper used to telescope budget measures in the same fashion.

Conservatives were strong supporters of infrastructure spending. Except that money was only available through public-private partnerships (P3s). These P3 screens meant available infrastructure money was not taken up, as provinces and municipalities wanted lower cost and more efficient public investment than could be provided by P3 projects.

The Liberals won the last election promising infrastructure spending. Two budgets later, no real money has been allocated, let alone spent. Rumours abound about selling airports and other public assets to fund infrastructure spending.

Like the Harper government, the Trudeau government likes P3s, which require the public to pay higher interest costs, fund profits, and get lower-quality services than public investments.

On electoral reform, the Liberals were for it. Being quite distinct from the Conservatives before the election did not mean they were going to be any different after taking power.

Electoral reform can be promised again before the next election, which will be fought under the same regime as election 2015. A promise by Justin Trudeau to the contrary turns out to be meaningless.

Justin Trudeau is a skilled politician. People like him, want to meet him, talk to him, be photographed with him. Stephen Harper never knew any similar popularity.

Harper failed miserable as a political strategist. He insisted on cancelling the long-form census for no good reason, made the 2015 election campaign long enough to allow Justin to catch a wave, and threw the niqab into the Quebec race, which made the NDP stumble, but not Justin Trudeau. These strategic decisions all gave the Liberals space for a majority win.

Does Trudeau have the strategic sense Harper lacked to hold onto to his majority? His continued popularity depends on it.

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

PMO Photo by Adam Scotti

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NDP's youth leadership debate highlights differences in style, not substance

27 March 2017 - 12:42pm
March 27, 2017NDP's youth leadership debate highlights differences in style, not substanceThe four declared candidates for the NDP leadership debated again in Montreal on Sunday. They knocked Trudeau for failing to live up to promises to young Canadians.

Canada's earliest immigration policies helped make the Underground Railroad possible.

26 March 2017 - 8:43pm
March 26, 2017Canada's earliest immigration policies made it a safe haven for escaped slavesIn the second part of her series on how Canada has served as a refuge for U.S. dissidents, Penney Kome looks at the Underground Railroad.

In a city of side hustles, sting of transit credit cut hurts precarious workers most

24 March 2017 - 6:24pm
March 24, 2017In a city of side hustles, sting of transit credit cut hurts precarious workers mostWhile the transit credit did not curb car use, it did help blur the sharp line between merely surviving in the city and thriving.

Neil Gorsuch's appointment to U.S. Supreme Court has real-life consequences

24 March 2017 - 10:51am
US Politics

The Senate confirmation hearings for President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, have often been obscured by one controversy after another, from the Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act to revelations that the FBI is actively investigating possible links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Add to that the unprecedented decision last year by the Senate Republican majority to deny President Barack Obama a hearing on Merrick Garland, his constitutionally nominated successor to the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, after Scalia's death. The magnitude of a Supreme Court nomination should not be underestimated; it comes with a lifetime appointment to the bench, with far-reaching, sometimes life-or-death implications. No one understands that better than Alphonse Maddin.

On a freezing-cold night in January 2009, Alphonse Maddin was driving a truck, employed by TransAm Trucking of Olathe, Kansas. In a statement before the press last week, Maddin recalled his ordeal:

"I was hauling a load of meat through the state of Illinois. After stopping to resolve a discrepancy in the location to refuel, the brakes on the trailer froze. I contacted my employer, and they arranged for a repair unit to come to my location."

Waiting in the freezing cold, Maddin fell asleep.

The African-American trucker went on:

"I awoke three hours later to discover that I could not feel my feet, my skin was burning and cracking, my speech was slurred, and I was having trouble breathing. The temperature that night was roughly 27 degrees Fahrenheit below zero. The heater in the cabin was not producing heat, and the temperature gauge in the truck was reading minus 7 degrees below zero. After informing my employer of my physical condition, they responded by telling me to simply hang in there. ... I started having thoughts that I was going to die. My physical condition was fading rapidly. I decided to try to detach the trailer from the truck and drive to safety."

He did so, and for taking that action to save his own life, he was fired.

Maddin sued, and the Department of Labor ordered his reinstatement, with back pay. TransAm Trucking appealed, and the case was argued before the federal 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. Among the three judges hearing the case was Neil Gorsuch. Maddin's attorney, labour lawyer Robert Fetter, recalled:

"There were five or six cases before that court that morning, and we were the last. Judge Gorsuch was neutral, or even affable, as the cases proceeded. Then, when our case came up, he became noticeably hostile. ... He was not folksy or oh goshy," Fetter said, comparing Gorsuch that day with the nominee's demeanor at this week's hearings. "It was like night and day."

Maddin summed up the ordeal and the legal battle that followed, saying:

"I disputed my termination from TransAm Trucking and ultimately won. This was a seven-year battle. Seven different judges heard my case. One of those judges found against me. That judge was Neil Gorsuch."

As Fetter put it, "the business community loved it." Why is this relevant? Candidate Donald Trump publicized a list of prospective Supreme Court nominees in May 2016. Gorsuch was not on it. Gorsuch's dissent came out on Aug. 8, extolling what Fetter called Maddin's "legal right to stay in the truck and freeze to death." In late September, Trump, by then the Republican nominee, published a second list of Supreme Court nominees, this one included Gorsuch.

Elliot Mincberg, senior fellow at People for the American Way, said on the Democracy Now! news hour, "[Gorsuch] did what he does in so many cases, siding with the corporation."

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., during his questioning of Gorsuch Tuesday, said, "I think everybody here would have done exactly what he [Alphonse Maddin] did. ... It is absurd to say this company is in its rights to fire him because he made the choice of possibly dying from freezing to death or causing other people to die possibly by driving an unsafe vehicle. That's absurd." Franken, formerly a comedian, added, "Now, I had a career in identifying absurdity, and I know it when I see it. And it makes me question your judgment."

Yes, Neil Gorsuch stands out. Seven judges heard Alphonse Maddin's case. Six sided with the frozen trucker. Supreme Court decisions are not theoretical; they can have real-world, life-and-death impacts. They reflect our collective values. Neil Gorsuch cast a cold, solitary vote against a worker who was fighting for his life. That should weigh heavily on the senators as they consider Gorsuch's lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land.

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: Geoff Livingston/flickr

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This may be the budget that ended deficit phobia

24 March 2017 - 9:55am
EconomyPolitics in Canada

Sorry, but I'm afraid I don't agree that Wednesday's federal budget was a non-event: "cynical," a "placeholder," "bafflegab and buzzwords" -- as others wrote.

I think this budget rocked, in one sense: it did a 180 on the stifling monomania of the last 30 years. I'm referring to the obsession with deficits. As recently as the last election, the Liberals promised a balanced budget by the end of their first term. Now their projected deficits are even higher but that promise is gone and the thought process, transformed.

Finance minister Bill Morneau blandly says, they'll "be responsible every step along the way" and "show a decline in net debt to GDP," which totally shifts the metric. He might as well have trilled, "Tra-la-la, we really don't care." It's a damn earthquake.

For proof, look not at the opposition -- Rona Ambrose predictably called it "spending out of control"-- but at the journalists, who were left sputtering. It's so radical they struggled for words. Peter Mansbridge began interviewing Morneau with: "How does it feel to know you'll likely never have a balanced budget?"

I wish Morneau had said, "I'm fine, but is there anything I can do to help you through this?"

Mansbridge couldn't stop, turning plaintively to his panel: "I tried to get him on the deficit … Is there a right and wrong any more?"

Jennifer Ditchburn tried to soothe him with, "Deficit is a word they just don't use any more."

If I'm hyperventilating, it's because I've led a cramped existence all these years, bowed under the weight of deficitism since I first heard the phrase, "Yeah, but how ya gonna pay for that?" during the 1988 election.

No one knew where it came from or how it usurped all other political concerns, like a missive from heaven, or the Fraser Institute. Paul Martin adopted it, using it to sink the Canada we knew, and his own career.

Yet, there's apparently an ebb and flow to these things: a Nanos poll says Canadians now want Ottawa to run deficits as long as overall debt declines relative to GDP. That's a pretty sophisticated alteration for ordinary folks to make intuitively; it makes you wonder if someone isn't pulling strings somewhere and decided to drop a new backdrop (to public discourse) over the previous one.

Is this stuff all orchestrated from offstage and the actors simply read the new lines? If so, I wish I knew who's rewriting them. Or maybe the cast just got tired of being scared out of their pants, like the kids in Monsters Inc.

The point is, all the angst-ridden, action-inhibiting deficit phobia wasn't based on immutable laws of nature. It suited the needs of some heavy players at the time, who are now prepared to cheerily jettison it for its near opposite. No harm done, eh? What might replace it?

Personally, I'm intrigued by MMT (Modern Monetary Theory), a version of Keynesianism. It maintains that governments can create (or "print") money to fill public needs and can't go into debt to themselves, though they should keep an eye on inflation.

It has respectable advocates, such as James Galbraith (son of John Kenneth). Paul Hellyer, who's been chirping at Liberal governments since he was in one in the 1970s, says he remembers the Bank of Canada governor who unilaterally decreed that henceforth all public debt would be owed to the big banks, not ourselves. He says it's been downhill, or downhell, ever since.

I don't really expect any Liberal government, including this one, to do anything very radical or publicly beneficial with their new leash but if you want some real common sense on the subject you can't beat Tommy Douglas in his farewell speech as the NDP's first leader, in 1971. He was recalling challenges early in his career as a socialist voice for activist government:

"In 1937, the minister of finance asked, where will we get the money? [Liberal finance minister] Benson asks the same question today. My reply at that time was that if we were to go to war, the minister would find the money. And it turned out to be true … we can, if we want to, mobilize the same resources to fight poverty, unemployment and social injustice."

Good point, IMHO. Now get some of those bright economists and pollsters to figure out what myths and manias are required get on with it.

This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

PMO Photo by Adam Scotti

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Don't be fooled by Trudeau's First Nations charm offensive

24 March 2017 - 8:14am
March 24, 2017Don't be fooled by Trudeau's First Nations charm offensive. The Liberals' real agenda will be decided behind closed doors Despite the charming style of Prime Minister Trudeau and the apparent kindness of his Cabinet ministers, Russ Diabo advises First Nations to look for substantive changes in federal policy and law.

Liberals' second budget gets failing grade

22 March 2017 - 10:53pm
March 23, 2017Politics in CanadaLiberals' second budget gets failing gradeThe federal government, says David Macdonald, "took the 2016 budget out and put a new cover on it... Now you have the 2017 budget. They’ve gift wrapped last year’s budget."CA

Chinese railway worker history comes to life in new Canadian children's book

22 March 2017 - 9:50am
Anti-RacismArts & CultureLabour

The old saying is better late than never and that's what playwright George Chiang thought when he finally decided to create the children's book The Railroad Adventures of Chen Sing.

"It was sitting on the shelf, and you know what? I'm not going to live forever," Chiang told me in an interview over Skype from his home in Montreal.

The 68-page colour book just came out in early March and the Montreal-based actor/writer is feeling relieved and a little reticent. The book was almost two decades in the making.

"I waited it out," Chiang said. "I had the idea back in the 1990s but this book by Paul Yee [Ghost Train, 1996] had just come out and won the Governor General's award. No publisher was interested in another Chinese railroad children's book. But that one was just pictures."

Chiang's book concerns a teenage boy who ventures to Canada's West to build the transcontinental railway through the Rockies. There are disasters, encounters with wild animals and friendships that mark Sing's journey. The book is based on the stories told to Chiang by Ike Sing when he was in his 80s, before he passed away in 2003. The stories were about Ike's life and that of his father, Chen.

"This book is important now because it highlights the relationship of the Chinese workers to the Indigenous people," explained Chiang.

"For example, this actually happened: Chen Sing's railroad crew was dying of scurvy but they just didn't know what it was back then. He was dispatched to find help and the natives taught him to make spruce tea, from which they could get vitamin C. They also gave him berries so the crew could eat them right away. The Indigenous people saved their lives."

Chiang and Ike Sing met by accident in Cuba -- the actor was on vacation and so was Sing. They ran into each other twice and it was on the plane back to Canada that the two got talking.

"I realized this guy was a masterful storyteller with a great memory of the past."

Months later, in the fall of 1995, Chiang was at Sing's Cawston, B.C. home and spent more than two weeks recording stories of his life and of his father -- who worked on the railway. Chiang returned the following spring to do more recordings.

"He had so many stories! I had to go because his wife was tired of me," Chiang said laughing.

The playwright had a few publishers interested over the years but things never seemed to gel. In fact, he ended up writing a Chinese opera-musical called The Golden Lotus, which launched in Hong Kong in 2014 to acclaim and nabbed the Hong Kong English Drama Award for "Best Original Work." Chiang told me he's now working on a railroad musical based on Chen Sing.

"I was a history major in university and none of the history I studied was about Asians…when I graduated, I decided I wanted to tell that history in whatever form I could."

Sing's relatives getting older

About four years ago, Chiang decided he needed to make the book -- Sing's relatives, many of whom are elderly, kept asking him if he had something to give them. He enlisted the help of an illustrator, a student at the time, and it took about six months for Jessica Warner to come up with about 80 illustrations. Chiang also had to get back to the "writing" board.

He had written it out as a series of children's books but then compiled and re-wrote it as a "chapter book" and put the stories together. Sing's sole son, Roland, also had a hand in making suggestions -- one of which was to keep as many of the illustrations as possible because he thought they were top quality.

"It's different than an opera because with a book, I have to be careful of grammar -- that was a challenge," revealed Chiang. "Also it's for children aged 7 to 11, so it has to read slower -- I had to cut out a lot of descriptions."

Perhaps the waiting played in Chiang's favour. Chiang had originally envisioned it as an e-book because publishers are reluctant to produce a book with so many illustrations but he found Friesen Press in British Columbia and the author was able to bring the story to life -- as a book you can hold.

The writer -- who had lived in Toronto with his family until last year -- has been invited to the Chen Sing Annual Family Reunion and Picnic in Vancouver in July where he hopes to hold court and hand out some books. More than 200 people attend annually.

"I wrote it for children because I didn't want just one generation to know this story. Good books last from generation to generation," he noted. "So I hope the schools also buy this book so it can be passed to new groups of kids every year."

There are more books in Chiang. He's already working on a second one -- this time about Ike's experiences as a frontiersman in northern B.C.

"It's called 'Ike Sing Speaks' and I have the first draft written [and] the third book will be based on Ike's childhood but it will be fiction. That might be my one novel."

Find the book or e-book online.

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

Illustrations by Jessica Warner/The Railroad Adventures of Chen Sing

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Yukon First Nations takes territorial government to court

22 March 2017 - 8:55am
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Students fighting to raise the minimum wage

22 March 2017 - 8:51am
Scott NeighMarch 22, 2017Talking Radical RadioEducationLabour

On this week's episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Jessica Chen and Jermaul Newell. They are students at York University in Toronto and are active with the campus chapter of the Fight for $15 and Fairness, which is working to raise the minimum wage, improve basic employment standards, and build solidarity between students and workers.

The extensive mobilizing by low-wage workers pushing to raise the minimum wage has been one of the most widespread and energetic movements of recent years. It has taken different forms in different jurisdictions, but across North America these campaigns have come together under the common banner of the Fight for $15, which encapsulates the core demand of a raise in the minimum wage to $15/hr. Though the outcomes of these campaigns have also varied from place to place, they have won at least some level of increase in minimum wages in a lot of jurisdictions, and they have won commitments to phase in the full $15/hr amount in more than few.

Though bringing the minimum wage up to more livable levels is the most visible demand in pretty much all of these campaigns, on some level they are also about more than dollars and cents. Whether it is present mainly in the details of the many stories that low-wage workers tell about their lives, or whether it finds expression in concrete demands, all of these campaigns convey a more expansive vision of dignity and a message of solidarity. They are about all of the many ways that low-wage workers get ground down because of how employers are allowed to treat them, and about their growing determination to stand together and get that changed.

Ontario is one of the jurisdictions where demands beyond the minimum wage level have been most clearly articulated, in part because the provincial government has been undertaking its first exhaustive review of the rules around basic employment standards in two decades. In Ontario, the campaign is called the Fight for $15 and Fairness.

Along with regular actions in communities across the province -- often anchored by workers centres, labour councils, anti-poverty groups, and other kinds of organizations -- the Fight for $15 and Fairness has also included plenty of campus-based organizing. This is really not surprising: years ago, when it came to grassroots politics, the categories of "student" and "worker" were treated as separate, and the political work done by activists in their respective milieus was often quite distinct. Increasingly today, however, students have no choice but to be waged workers as well. Tuition in Ontario is among the highest in Canada and lots of students can only afford to pay for school, rent, food, and all the rest by working one, two, or even more jobs. And most jobs available to youth pay the minimum wage or only slightly more.

Jessica Chen is a third-year student at York University in Toronto. She works two minimum wage jobs in the service industry, so she has a very personal stake in raising the minimum wage and in improving basic employment standards. Jermaul Newell is a seond-year student at York. He also works for a wage, but in his case it's in a unionized position in the auto sector. This means the issues of the Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign don't impact him directly, but he participates because he believes that solidarity among workers in different situations is crucial to making advances for all working people.

Chen and Newell tell me about the broader Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign and about how it is playing out at York University. In particular, they illustrate very clearly how the campaign as it is happening at York may have begun from the strong hook of the $15/hr wage demand, but has quickly built to a broader vision of better lives for low-wage workers. Yes, like most Fight for $15 and Fairness groups across the province, they are mobilizing to put pressure on the provincial government as we draw closer to the expected summer release of the final report from the employment standards review. But the York group goes even farther: they are part of broader efforts to build alliances between students and workers on the campus. They played a role in supporting the recent strike by food service workers on campus employed by private-sector giant Aramark, who demanded and won a raise to $15/hr. And they see it as essential to talk about how racial justice and economic justice are tied together, and to name and challenge racism as an integral part of building the solidarity necessary to win dignity and better lives for all workers.

You can learn more about the provincial Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign and about the chapter at York University.

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

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

The image modified for use in this post is used by permission of Fight for $15 and Fairness - York University.

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Land for sale! The rise of land speculation in Saskatchewan

21 March 2017 - 9:57am
Food & HealthPolitics in Canada

I remember around 2005, someone who knew that I was originally from Saskatchewan mentioned to me that there was lots of land for sale in Saskatchewan -- and that it might be a good investment. This person happened to be an acquaintance: the parent of one of my son's classmates. He was also in the business of settling bankruptcies. My antenna went up. I had always known that there was speculation on land in Saskatchewan, but that was usually created by larger farmers trying to expand and in so doing, driving up land values. This was different.

What was also new at that time is that the conservative-minded provincial government had changed the laws around ownership of agricultural land. In 2002 it was decided that land could be bought and sold by buyers residing outside Saskatchewan. That law was changed once again in 2015 to close some of the loopholes that allowed investors to acquire farmland -- but much damage had already been done.

That is why the research paper I am about to showcase is so important. It is called "Who is buying the farm?" -- a play on the phrase "to buy the farm," used to call out a death in combat.

In the lead-up to this week's federal budget, the Centre for Policy Alternatives has published an important document chronicling what has been happening to land -- a form of land-grabbing if you will -- in one Prairie province. Authors André Magnan and Annette Desmarais are to be commended for researching a tough subject and ferreting out almost non-existent data.

The paper is about speculation and its impact on huge tracts of prime agricultural land in my home province of Saskatchewan. But the same is likely occurring in other western Prairie provinces.

Since the beginning of the last century, as Canada's breadbasket, Saskatchewan has long been seen as the province that has fed the world. Those of us who follow agriculture know that is not quite how it works (i.e. you can grow the food but it doesn't mean it gets to the hungry), but we also know that access to land is the basis of food security. If family farmers cannot afford to buy land, then stewardship and food production is in jeopardy.

Between 2002 and 2015, I am ashamed to say, it is the Canada Pension Plan Investment Review Board that has become one of the main entities holding huge tracts of land in Saskatchewan.

The research paper opens with some key questions:

"From 2003 onward, non-farm investors began quietly acquiring large tracts of Saskatchewan farmland. In 2014, the sale of some 115,000 acres of farmland from one investor to another sparked a public controversy. Regina-based investment company Assiniboia Capital Corp., which had built up a large portfolio of Saskatchewan farmland, sold its entire holdings to the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, for $128 million. The controversy focused on the role of large, institutional investors in the farmland market. Some political critics and agricultural organizations have asked: is it fair for ordinary farmers to be competing with the Canada Pension Plan, with billions of investment dollars at its disposal, for scarce farmland?"

Here is another sample of what this paper includes:

"Between 2007 and 2014, investors paid, on average, $239/acre over the assessed value (a premium of about 50 per cent) for their farmland purchases. By comparison, non-investor arm's length buyers paid, on average, $96/acre over the assessed value (a premium of 21 per cent). In the booming farmland market of recent years, both farmers and investors have been prepared to pay above assessed value for land that they have acquired. The fact that investors have paid significantly more than other buyers, however, lends support to concerns about the speculative nature of investor activity."

Each page of this tightly written 12-page brief chronicles the rise of land ownership in Saskatchewan for investment purposes. A huge chunk of that investment occurred after the 2008 economic crisis as investors looked for more secure initiatives for their capital. What could be more secure than prime agricultural land? This research provides a solid beginning to inquiries that should be occurring across the country.

It's definitely worth a read. Download it for free from the CCPA website.

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: Jeff/flickr

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land speculationland grabbingCanadian agriculturefarmlandsaskatchewanAt the farm gateLois RossMarch 21, 2017'Gold with yield': A primer on land-grabbingLand use, access to agricultural land, and who stewards land, are key issues in food production. Land-grabbing is a growing concern because it determines not only access but also how land is used.Cut the nonsense: World food policy is an important and growing issueA new edition of the 'No Nonsense Guide to World Food' adds on more "food highlights" that could not have been predicted in 2008.Ethiopian subsistence farmers subject to forced relocationEthiopia boasts one of the strongest economies in Africa. But this comes at a heavy price for the country's farmers.

Your nonsense detector for Budget Day 2017

21 March 2017 - 9:26am
March 21, 2017Your nonsense detector for Budget 2017 The current federal budget process is a textbook example of the propaganda model. On budget day, a nonsense detector comes in handy. Here is Duncan Cameron's.

Your nonsense detector for Budget 2017

21 March 2017 - 9:23am
EconomyPolitics in Canada

When I joined the Department of Finance in Ottawa in 1966, the government budget was run off on a Gestetner duplicating machine in a large room not far from my office.

George was in charge; not many copies were printed. Budget secrecy was a big deal. The budget itself, not so much -- but the 1967 budget included financial planning for the debut of medicare.

Budget day 2017 is a huge media and public relations event, as it has been for many years. In the run up, opinion formation is a priority for big accounting and law firms, banks, and corporate lobby groups who aim to intimidate policymakers.

The current federal budget process is a guide to how the world works today -- it's a textbook example of the propaganda model, with the media playing its assigned role.

On budget day, a nonsense detector comes in handy. Here is mine.

1. When you hear the word "deficit" or "debt" as a reproach, this is a roundabout way of calling for less government. It has little to do with the financial health of Canada. UBC economist (and Liberal adviser) Kevin Milligan has shown that Canadian government has been shrinking in size for the last 25 years.

2. A classic con game has been at work in budget making. Reduce income taxes (Mulroney, 1987); yell about the resulting deficits and cut spending (Chrétien, 1995); reduce income taxes (Chrétien, 2000); reduce taxes and GST (Harper, 2007-08); watch government continue to shrink while unmet needs grow.

3. As with medicare, fulfilling future needs requires planned spending today, not cutbacks and restrictions. Who in their right mind would say we need to spend less on hospital care? Is it so drivers with tax breaks have more money for car repairs instead? What is the point of less money for public transit? Is it so banks can write more car loans? Yet, that is what smaller government arguments amount to: less money being spent on basic human needs and more money for those who already have enough, to increase their personal consumption, bank loans or savings.

4. Government spending needs to be examined. Does it make sense to first buy fighter jets? No. Should we have universal child care now? Yes. Budget day focuses on tax changes instead.

5. Taxes forgiven are also expenditures. Companies can write off investment costs plus interest charges against taxes they owe. The financial impact is the same as if those companies received a cheque from the rest of us. These tax expenditures should be voted upon every year in Parliament, not slipped by us as recurring items.

6. Tax expenditures favour richer individuals. Saving for retirement? You get to shelter income every year from taxes. RRSP contributions provide tax-free compounding of income on investment instruments inside the plan. Contribution limits expand regularly -- the maximum allowed in 2015 was just under $25,000.

7. More budgetary benefits are available to the wealthy than to those in need. Welfare rates in B.C. have been the same for the last nine years: $610 per month for a single person. Such injustices are facilitated by a budget process which keeps income disparity and poverty out of sight.

8. Arguments for abolishing regulations that protect the environment, provide security against financial fraud, protect us from dangerous drugs, contaminated food, and potentially lethal toys for sale to children make no sense and should never be take seriously. However, by saying deregulation is needed for "productivity," attention gets diverted away from health, security and other pressing needs. Deregulation follows.

9. "We need to improve productivity" is an all-purpose excuse for cutting government spending, negotiating trade deals and privatizing public assets. Numbers generated for productivity assume the existing distribution of income is the right one. In fact, inequality -- poor income distribution -- is a problem that needs to be fixed, not accepted as a given. Productivity measurements assume that those who control production have the public interest at heart. In reality, absentee landlords, speculators and hedge funds make very poor owners, and new forms of social ownership are very much needed.

10. There is an Alternative Budget full of sensible policies. It's been produced by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives for 20 years. Alternative Budget 2017 shows how parents could have child care, poverty could be reduced, drugs costs could fall and be covered by public insurance, and quality of life in a host of areas such as recreation, the arts, and education improved. Download it, form a community group to discuss it, and invite your MP to a public meeting to answer for parliamentary inaction on the issues facing Canadians.

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

Photo: KMR Photography/flickr

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Budget 2017economic inequalitywealth distributiondebt reductionCanadian economypublic policyalternative budgetDuncan CameronMarch 21, 2017Liberals tack right, jettison progressive policyTeam Trudeau have decided they have less to fear from the NDP profiting from the Liberal shift to the right, than from disgruntled Ontario Tories getting out in big numbers to vote against them.Progressive budget measures? Thank the CCPAWhat if our finance minister chose Canadian values over the interests of a privileged minority?Is Bill Morneau listening to Canadians? Don't bet on itIf Finance Minister Morneau is serious about tax fairness, Canadians for Tax Fairness say here are three changes he could include in the 2017-18 Budget.

Jason Kenney wins Alberta PC leadership

19 March 2017 - 6:48pm
March 19, 2017Jason Kenney's leadership win ushers in new era of social conservatism for the Alberta PCsKenney's victory as Alberta PC leader marks a new era of social conservatism for the provincial party.

Why wasn't Canada's foreign policy discussed at the NDP debate?

19 March 2017 - 6:05pm
March 19, 2017NDP leadership debate fails to mention Canada's foreign policyA lot was on the table at the party's first leadership debate a week ago. Canada's involvement in international affairs wasn't.

Hope Has Two Daughters: A new book tells story of modern Tunisia

17 March 2017 - 9:16am
March 17, 2017Hope Has Two Daughters: A new book tells story of modern TunisiaPolitical change has gripped Tunisia more than once and a new book by Monia Mazigh tells the tale of a mother and daughter affected by revolutions old and new.