Seeking a brave new model for journalism

17 March 2017 - 9:07am
Media Matters

In a way it's a pity that the crisis of journalism, especially for newspapers, is such an existential one, i.e., will they even survive? Existential crises put off other questions -- how are we doing? How can we improve? Etc. But there you go: To be or not to be. That is the only question.

Journalism's survival is threatened because of the economic model it's based on: ad revenue (plus the selling price of the paper.) It's a strange model. When you buy a book or banana you expect to pay full price. When you bought a paper, you paid a fraction of cost and advertisers picked up the rest.

Yet it was one of history's accidents. If you look at papers from the 1800s, like Toronto's Colonial Advocate, it's solid print: there are no ads. Readers paid full cost.

In the early 1900s, press barons, such as Hearst and Pulitzer, increased ads massively and readers got used to being heavily subsidized. When radio and TV came along, there was no choice: you couldn't sell programs that were on "the air" so ads paid the entire freight.

When the Internet arose 25 years ago, papers could have stuck with a paying model, via paywalls or subscriptions. But by then everyone was used to the "free" model of radio/TV -- and the Internet was on a screen. So the ads on papers' sites were expected to cover their full costs. But behemoths such as Google and Facebook gradually swallowed most ads -- they're now at 80 per cent to 90 per cent -- and papers languish as ad revenues don't suffice.

What's stunning is there was no inherent connection. Ads and news just happened to get welded at the hip. It was a historical accident. There could've been other models: readers could have paid full costs; or public subsidies could have been applied. You'd simply have had to declare journalism an essential national thing, like highways or the armed forces.

In a report titled The Shattered Mirror issued in January, veteran journalist Ed Greenspon confronted the crisis and proposed what look like fairly timid solutions. He doesn't advocate tax tricks to restore the golden age of ad revenues. Instead he suggests levying a charge on ad-heavy Internet platforms like Facebook and Google. This would go into a fund that distributes money to journalistic institutions to help them weather the storm and pay for more actual journalism.

The amounts would be substantial, though nothing like the great old days. It's a bit like funds that support Canadian film production or even Canada Council grants for artists.

Greenspon tries to avoid the odium of hefty government involvement (and the lash of free market zealots) but there's really no way around it: this is about active public policy to save a crucial democratic resource: journalism.

Attacks have even come from Star columnists Chantal Hebert and Paul Wells, wary of political controls. I think this is naïve on their part. Public policy has long been present in this area: advertising deductions, postal subsidies, Canadian content rules, the CBC itself. Journalism's virginity vanished awhile back.

It's also naïve to think advertising didn't wield a heavy hand on its own. During the 1900s in Toronto, papers never covered union drives at Eaton's because it was their biggest daily advertiser. The first nightly news show in the U.S. was Camel News Caravan. Do you really think that had no effect on coverage of lung cancer research? You're always fighting one devil or another.

So I'd prefer not to think of Greenspon as wimping out in the face of Google and Facebook -- though he does call them "monsters," referencing their size, mostly. Other nations, he notes, have successfully levied a charge on them to help keep the journalistic home fires burning. But this limited approach may be far-sighted in spite of itself, since it implies reaching toward a new model of journalism that divorces it from its peculiar dependence on ads.

Whatever that model eventually is, it could hardly be odder than the match between journalism with its solemn civic duties and commitment to truth on one hand, and ads with their crass devotion to piling up profits while manipulating citizens on the other.

Journalism would no longer be -- or at least not primarily -- what a former Globe and Mail publisher defined it as not long ago: a matter of selling readers to advertisers. What brave new world might lie beyond?

This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Photo: UNclimatechange/flickr

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future of journalismCanadian journalismcanadian mediaNewspaper Industryad revenueRick SalutinMarch 17, 2017Karl Kraus: What a century-old literary critic can teach us about journalismToday newspapers aren't the dominant journalistic force they were in Karl Kraus's Vienna. But they can still play a vile or almost angelic role in the grand drama of public life and debate.We no longer trust newspapers and it's their faultMany of us no longer understand what journalists do, or why. In the face of this knowledge, journalists often duck for cover. It's time they faced up to it, for the sake of democracy.The shattered mirrorIf you think news media cost too much, try making decisions in the dark.

U.S. health 'reform' and the Koch-designed Republican Party

16 March 2017 - 11:08am
Food & HealthPolitics in CanadaUS Politics

I recall my frustration years ago watching U.S. television while an "analyst" from the right-wing Cato Institute spewed blatant lies about Canada's public health-care system -- including that all hospitals in Ontario, having run out of money at the end of the year, had completely shut down for the month of December.

This was back in pre-social media days, making it difficult (beyond yelling at the TV) to immediately challenge such a breathless release of alternative facts.

So it was with some pleasure last week that I watched as a Republican congressman tried to insist that Canadians routinely flock to the U.S. for health care, only to have MSNBC host Ali Velshi stop him dead in his tracks.

"Sir, I grew up in Canada," Velshi declared. "I live in Canada. My entire family is in Canada. Nobody I know ever came to the United States for health care. I am sure you have a handful of stories about things like that. It is not actually statistically true."

Whenever Americans start tinkering with their deeply dysfunctional health-care system, we feel the reverberations up here, as right-wing commentators seek to denigrate our system of universal health-care coverage, which they know sets a dangerous example.

With the ruling Republicans now poised to take health-care coverage from 14 million Americans (eventually 24 million) and keep a straight face while insisting this is about increasing their "choice," it's worth reminding ourselves just how merciless, cruel (and stupid) so many of the Trump/Republican solutions truly are.

Health care is a particularly stark example, but it is symptomatic of the Republican keenness to fully embrace the private marketplace, even though that means abandoning vast numbers of their fellow citizens by the side of the road.

Americans have always had more of a taste for unbridled capitalism than Canadians, but today's Republican party is infected by a particularly virulent strain -- a strain that has been nurtured with ample funds from a few dozen billionaires, led by Charles and David Koch, who have a combined fortune of $84.5 billion.

The Koch brothers have long been radical libertarians, far to the right of even radical conservatives like Ronald Reagan.

When David Koch tried his hand at politics in 1980, running for vice-president on the Libertarian Party ticket that called for an end to public schools, social security and taxation, he and his running mate won only 1 per cent of the vote in the Reagan landslide.

Undeterred, the Koch brothers set about to push America, particularly the Republican Party, much farther right. Operating mostly behind the scenes, and driven by an abiding hatred of government and anything that smacked of distributing wealth more broadly, the Kochs invested massively over the next few decades in creating a vast network of think-tanks, academic programs, front groups, political action groups and campaigns, lobbyists and politicians, as New Yorker writer Jane Mayer documents in her powerful book Dark Money.

(Indeed, the "analyst" I heard lying about the shutdown of Ontario hospitals was from the Cato Institute, which Charles Koch established in 1974.)

With the rise of Donald Trump, the media has tended to go along with Trump's suggestion that, unlike other Republican politicians who depend on Koch money, he enjoys a rare independence from the brothers.

Trump's independence may be overstated; his vice president, Mike Pence, has been a major recipient of Koch money and was Charles Koch's first choice for president in 2012. Pence has brought Koch operatives into the White House and shows signs of becoming a Dick Cheney-style puppet master. For that matter, the Kochs are only an impeachment away from having their guy running the free world.

The role of Koch money in shaping Republican politics gets surprisingly little media attention. But it helps explain the otherwise baffling behaviour of Republican politicians scrambling to justify stripping health coverage from their constituents and using the savings to pay for $600 billion worth of tax cuts for the rich. Awkward.

Meanwhile, many Republicans in the "freedom caucus," who've been heavily funded by the Kochs, consider the proposed reform too generous to the disadvantaged.

American commentators talk about how "complicated" reforming health care is. True, if you utterly reject the simple solution that works -- a Canadian-style public system -- it does become awfully complicated devising a solution that pleases the broader American public while also satisfying two radical extremists who together have the world's largest fortune and a deep aversion to sharing.

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.

Image: DonkeyHotey/flickr

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U.S. prepares to cut humanitarian aid as 20 million people face famine

16 March 2017 - 10:23am
US PoliticsWorld

The world is facing the most serious humanitarian catastrophe since the end of the Second World War. Twenty million people are at risk of starving to death in Yemen, Somalia, Nigeria and South Sudan. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump is responding by slamming the door on refugees and cutting aid funding while proposing a massive expansion of the U.S. military.

"Millions of people are barely surviving in the space between malnutrition and death, vulnerable to diseases and outbreaks, forced to kill their animals for food and eat the grain they saved for next year's seeds," Antonio Guterres, the new United Nations secretary-general, said recently. "These four crises are very different, but they have one thing in common. They are all preventable. They all stem from conflict, which we must do much more to prevent and resolve."

While the United Nations scrambles to raise the $5.6 billion needed to avert the worst impacts of these crises, the Trump administration is slashing funding to the U.S. State Department, and, according to a draft executive order obtained by The New York Times, to the United Nations as well. The order as drafted (but not yet officially signed or released) calls for "at least a 40 per cent overall decrease" of U.S. voluntary contributions to UN programs like the World Food Program, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and UNICEF. "This is, frankly, a juvenile attitude unbecoming of the world's only superpower," wrote former George W. Bush State Department official Stewart M. Patrick, now at the Council on Foreign Relations.

While the attitude may be juvenile, its impact on actual juveniles is deadly. Seven million people in Yemen are in danger of starvation, and 2.2 million of those are children. Close to half a million of those children are "severely and acutely malnourished," which means they have already suffered potentially lifelong, developmental damage due to starvation.

Joel Charny, director of the Norwegian Refugee Council USA, said on the Democracy Now! news hour, "If the war continues, people will die from famine. I don't think there's any question about that. We just have to find a way for the war to end." That would start with stopping the arming of Saudi Arabia, which is mercilessly bombing Yemen. Instead, on Tuesday, President Trump met at the White House with Saudi Arabia's Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defense Mohammed bin Salman, where they reportedly discussed resuming sales of precision-guided munitions to the Saudi dictatorship.

Amnesty International urged Trump to block new arms sales, writing, "Arming the Saudi Arabia and Bahrain governments risks complicity with war crimes, and doing so while simultaneously banning travel to the U.S. from Yemen would be even more unconscionable."

The war in Yemen is largely seen as a proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, with the United States, under Obama and now intensified under Trump, arming the Saudis and logistically supporting their bombardment of Yemen. "It needs to be stressed that this is not something that started on January 20," Charny said, referring to Trump's inauguration. "This is something that the U.S. has been driving for some time." In his two terms, President Obama sold a record-breaking $115 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia, suspending sales only after a Saudi jet attacked a Yemeni funeral with back-to-back bombings, killing 140 people and wounding 500.

Millions more face famine and a painful death by starvation in Somalia, South Sudan and Nigeria. In South Sudan, despite oil revenue and fertile cropland, Charny says, "unresolved political conflicts within the South Sudanese ruling class that date all the way back to the '90s, that were covered up during the independence struggle but have since emerged," leading to famine. In northeastern Nigeria, armed conflict between the group Boko Haram and the government make delivering humanitarian aid extremely dangerous. Somalia, where famine threatens populations that are actually reachable by the weak central government and aid agencies, Charny struck a more optimistic note: "If we're able to mobilize food and cash quickly, we can overcome the situation in Somalia ... if we get moving."

Famine in these four countries is avoidable. President Trump should fully fund food shipments -- not arms shipments -- and spearhead much-needed diplomacy to avoid the immense catastrophe of 20 million horrific deaths by starvation.

This is what would make America great.

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: IRIN Photos/flickr

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B.C. Liberals are a rogue government that must be dispatched

16 March 2017 - 9:48am
March 16, 2017B.C. Liberals are a rogue government that must be dispatched The 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.

B.C. Liberals are a rogue government that must be dispatched

16 March 2017 - 9:44am
ElectionsEnvironmentPolitics in Canada

The experience of anything approaching good government or robust democracy in the province of B.C. is now such a distant memory that the present danger is people's low expectations. The 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.

From reckless and damaging tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations (which leaves a budget shortfall of over $3 billion a year) to the $9-13 billion Site C dam catastrophe, to the financial commitment to an LNG business that the experts say is not viable, the Liberal government is aiming to govern into the future even if it loses the May 9 election. These decisions will financially cripple future governments.

If governments could be charged with criminal negligence, the Christy Clark Liberals would be in the dock.

Let me list the charges. Criminal negligence causing harm to pupils. Criminal negligence causing harm to families on social assistance and those with disabilities. Criminal negligence causing harm to B.C. Ferries. Criminal negligence causing harm to B.C. Hydro, once the pride of the province under governments of all stripes.

The "harm to pupils" should be familiar even to those outside B.C. given that it received national attention when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the Clark government violated the Constitution when it unilaterally gutted the teachers' contract language on class size and composition. That resulted in a whole generation of students -- 15 years' worth -- being denied not only decent class sizes but librarians, specialist teachers and those serving kids with special needs. And the principal reason for this outrage? Christy Clark's personal animosity towards the B.C. Teachers' Federation.

In Christy Clark's world the first will always be first and the last, last. Under the Liberal government, social assistance rates have not been raised in 10 years. That means that you get $610 a month for everything (if you are on disability you get $906). You get more if you have kids but forcing a family to exist on such rates in Vancouver is tantamount to child abuse.

Punishing the poor is hardly new in this neoliberal world but the B.C. Liberals have proven to be not just right wing but spectacularly reckless and incompetent when it comes to public utilities. There are, of course, institutions in B.C. that even the rabid privateers in Clark's political universe didn't dare privatize outright: ICBC (Insurance Corporation of British Columbia -- the public insurance corp.), B.C. Ferries and B.C. Hydro. But even though they couldn't sell off B.C. Ferries they "commercialized" it, turning it into a semi-private corporation with a mandate to make a profit. Even the National Post, in 2014, was left rolling its eyes at the results:

"[B.C. Ferries'] government subsidy has ballooned by more than $20 million a year, fares have risen by as much as 100 per cent, and as per one recent study, the combined effect has sapped an incredible $2.3 billion out of the coastal economy."

But the prize for recklessness would be awarded for what the Liberals have done to B.C. Hydro -- including, most recently, the decision to proceed at record pace with the Site C dam project -- at $9 billion (which will likely become $13 billion) the most expensive public infrastructure project in B.C. history. Flying in the face of withering criticism from a large array of strange bedfellows and experts, Clark is furiously building "facts on the ground" so it can't be stopped.

Among the angry and dumfounded opponents are large industrial users of electricity who in 2014 declared B.C. Hydro "out of control." They will have seen a doubling of electricity costs even before the dam is half built. Some pulp mills have already decided to use natural gas to produce their own -- cheaper -- electricity.

And just this week UNESCO added its voice with a dire warning that if the Canadian government didn't intervene, the negative downstream effects of Site C could result in the giant Wood Buffalo National Park being declared a world heritage site "in danger."

The bizarre 70-year financing of the dam means that it will not be paid for until 2094. In other words, it will be at least two generations before B.C. citizens see any return on "their" investment.

Former B.C. Hydro CEO Marc Eliesen has also denounced the project as irresponsible: "In my view, the directors of B.C. Hydro have abdicated their fiduciary and legislative responsibility. They have allowed primarily the premier and the minister of energy to run B.C. Hydro."

Dr. Harry Swain, who served as the chair of the Site C Joint Review Panel, broke his silence in 2016, saying the project was not needed now or in the foreseeable future: "You would only want to do that if there were an overwhelming economic case that this was the best and cheapest way, including all external effects, of providing something that the provincial economy absolutely required."

All of this criticism has been tossed aside by the Clark government because of yet another reckless commitment it has made: to the development of a huge liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry in the province supplied by the fracking fields of northeastern B.C. -- the idea being to provide clean Site C electricity to an industry with a huge carbon footprint.

One madness has led to another -- because experts in the field of LNG say it will be years, possibly decades, before anything like the Liberals' plans will play out. Perhaps three or four of the 20 proposed plants envisioned for the B.C. coast are economically viable -- and then only after the huge supply coming on line in the next few years -- increasing world supply by over 50 per cent -- is taken up and prices rise.

Despite the "facts on the ground" both Harry Swain and Former Hydro CEO Eliesen said this week it still makes sense to cancel the project. It would cost at least a couple of billion dollars but that is still cheaper than a potential white elephant with $9 billion in stranded costs -- and huge price increases to pay down the costs.

Regrettably we can't charge this wrecking crew with criminal negligence. But at least on May 9 we can throw them out of office and stop the carnage.

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

Photo: BC Gov Photos/flickr

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CIA spying and the Theatre of Privacy

15 March 2017 - 9:19am
Arts & CultureCivil Liberties WatchTechnology

So, how gadget paranoid do we need to be given last week's Wikileaks dump about how the CIA is spying on us via our smartphones and TV sets?

Not so much, really.

A lot of the coverage about the Vault 7 data dump was breathless nonsense. You would think by reading the reporting on it that the CIA could peek into popular messaging apps like WhatsApp and the secure Signal chat software. You would think that your Samsung SmartTV was at risk of being turned on remotely so it could act as a hidden microphone for the agency.

If you were paranoid enough, you might even think that means the CIA could hack in-home devices like the Amazon Echo and Siri, or that Google Home could be used to spy as well. Not to mention the webcam on your laptop.

None of that is true. There is, actually, no evidence that the CIA has hacked a Samsung TV. And, what the documents show is that in order to do that, the agency would have to physically plug a USB thumb drive into the TV to potentially compromise it. So, the agency would have to target a specific TV for a specific purpose. Not that they have -- they just want to.

The CIA cannot hack into WhatsApp and Signal. There is no evidence they can. They may be able to compromise a target's phone, but that's often because a target has installed malware or an agent gets physical access to a target's device. And, most of the vulnerabilities the documents claim the CIA can use have already been plugged by smartphone makers. Plus, the tools mentioned are pretty old school and well known to the hacker community. There is nothing bleeding edge or secret to see here.

Devices in your home like the Echo sit in near-sleep mode listening for keywords like "Alexa" before they kick into high gear and reach out to the web to answer your question. If you think Amazon could alter those trigger words to include "bomb," "sex" or "terrorist" then you are disappearing down a paranoid conspiracy rabbit hole there is no escape from.

In short, the concern that our gadgets are open windows into our private lives because of the CIA's software tools is ridiculous.

The average gadget-using human isn't at any significant risk for device invasion. Many of the exploits that could be used require that there is physical contact with your device. In other words, again, these are hands-on exploits aimed at specific users, not you.

No thanks to ill-informed stories about CIA hacks, people are becoming gadget paranoid. But, often that paranoia is demonstrated in what I call the Theatre of Privacy. 

Look around your nearest coffee shop. You'll often see folks with the webcam of their laptop covered with tape or a Band-Aid. But, right beside that laptop is a smartphone sporting a front- and back-facing camera, both of which are wide open to the world. Now, which device is more personal and more likely to be with you in even the most intimate of places? That's Theatre of Privacy. 

It does nothing for a few reasons. First, I couldn't actually find an in-the-wild exploit that can take over a MacBook (which most folks with taped-over laptop webcams are using in my observation). And Windows machine exploits for other operating systems are rare or require that your specific device is physically compromised. Also, most laptops have their "on" light hard-wired to the camera so software can't turn it off. 

Second, someone would have to have those tools and a reason for compromising your device. Like the reality of child abduction, the most likely person to want to have access to your webcam is probably someone you know, not a random stranger. So, again, that person who is known to you would also have to have the tools to access your webcam and a reason to do that. And they risk being arrested if caught. For almost all of us, that reduces the threat to zero. The idea that some random creep is hacking your webcam is more sleepover urban myth than reality.

Third, some modern laptops like the latest MacBook Pros contain webcam and microphone controls within what's called a secure enclave so no hacker could, say, turn on your webcam without the "on" light being lit. Even if it is being accessed, which is really, really unlikely. 

And, if you're blocking your laptop webcam but not your smartphone you actually don't know what you're doing. You're just aping what you see. That's especially true if you're using that same smartphone to take selfies. Really, think about it. You are so concerned about somebody taking convert videos of you that you aim a camera right at yourself over and over, in change rooms, at the beach and in a bathroom mirror. 

Should we have a reasonable concern about our privacy? Sure. Should we be paranoid about hacks and exploits that are as unlikely as your computer turning into a running shoe? No. Should we be more concerned about all this because of the Wikileaks Vault 7? No, again. We've got more important things to be worrying about than a SmartTV watching us. And besides, how interesting would it be to have terabytes of footage featuring slack-jawed viewers sitting in the blue-tinted dark watching Game of Thrones?

Really, if you're truly concerned about privacy, a Band-Aid solution isn't the answer.

Listen to an audio version of this column, read by the author.

Wayne MacPhail has been a print and online journalist for 25 years, and is a long-time writer for rabble.ca on technology and the Internet.

Photo: Vincent Brown/flickr

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Defending Indigenous land in the Far North

15 March 2017 - 8:51am
Scott NeighMarch 15, 2017Talking Radical RadioEnvironmentIndigenous Rights

On this week's episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Bobbi Rose Koe and Chris Rider about the long collaboration between Indigenous nations and conservation groups to protect the Yukon's Peel watershed from industrial development. Along with a lengthy public information and advocacy campaign, in recent years Protect the Peel has also involved a court battle that will reach the Supreme Court of Canada on March 22.

The watershed of the Peel River encompasses an area in the northeastern Yukon that is larger than the province of Nova Scotia. It is one of the largest unroaded natural areas in the world, and is the territory of four First Nations.

The use of land in the Yukon is currently governed by agreements finalized in the 1990s among most of the First Nations in the territory, the Yukon government, and the government of Canada. These agreements include substantial requirements for consultation with and input from those nations whose territories will be impacted by land use decisions. When the land-use planning process was begun for the Peel watershed in the early 2000s, all of the First Nations in the area plus the conservation groups with which they were working took the position that 100 per cent of the watershed must be protected from industrial development. The process was extensive, lasting seven years, and resulted in a compromise that the First Nations and the conservation groups were not thrilled about but that they accepted: 80 per cent of the watershed would be protected, even from the building of roads, while 20 per cent would be opened for development.

Around the same time as the final report of the land-use planning process was released, however, the territorial government released its own report saying that rather than abide by the seven years of good-faith consultation and negotiation, they had unilaterally decided that they would protect only 30 per cent of the watershed and open the rest up to industry.

Already by this point, for many years Protect the Peel had been a highly effective public education and public pressure campaign. It had succeeded in raising public consciousness in the Yukon about the importance of preserving the watershed and had also made significant strides in connecting with people far beyond the territory. With the government announcement that it intended to open up the majority of the watershed to industry, the First Nations leadership and the conservation organizations decided they had no choice but to build on this public campaign with a robust legal challenge as well.

In 2014, the Yukon Supreme Court delivered a stinging rebuke to the territorial government, which was ordered to abide by the outcome of the land-use planning process with no option for introducing changes that would protect any less than the 80 per cent figure in the original compromise. In 2015, the Yukon government appealed this ruling. While the Yukon Court of Appeal agreed with much of the earlier decision's criticism of the Yukon government's actions, it granted permission to re-boot the land-use planning process to a much earlier stage that would end up allowing the government to force through a major reduction in the percentage of land ultimately protected.

On March 22 of this year, the Supreme Court of Canada will be hearing an appeal by the First Nations and the conservation groups. Though the new Yukon government elected in late 2016 takes a much more pro-conservation stance than its predecessor, the case is continuing, and the court will decide whether or not the government will be bound by the earlier process to fully protect 80 per cent of the watershed. All through the legal process, the public education and advocacy component of Protect the Peel has been continuing, and there will be a series of public events in March in both Whitehorse and Ottawa.

Bobbi Rose Koe is a member of the Tetlit Gwich'in nation who lives in Fort McPherson. She is active in Protect the Peel and is one of the leaders of Youth of the Peel, a group of Indigenous people committed to reconnecting other Indigenous youth with the watershed and teaching them skills. Chris Rider is the executive director of the Yukon chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, or CPAWS, one of the conservation groups active in defending the Peel watershed. They speak with me about the land, about the long public campaign to protect it, and about the legal process that will culminate in the Supreme Court of Canada later this month.

To learn more about the Protect the Peel campaign and the legal battle, click here.

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 was taken by Peter Mather for Protect the Peel. Used by permission of Protect the Peel.

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environmentland defenceIndigenousconservationYukon

Julie Hirshey on the Philadelphia Eagles, charity, community engagement and making an impact

15 March 2017 - 8:47am
Face2FaceMarch 15, 2017face2faceArts & Culture

Julie Hirshey and Face2Face host David Peck talk about the Philadelphia Eagles, non-profits, charity, and how we as individuals and community-based organizations can create a more significant impact.


Julie Hirshey is the Director of Community Relations for the Philadelphia Eagles where she works to execute the team’s mission to serve as proud partners of the Philadelphia community. In this role she leads the team’s efforts to support generations of Eagles fans and works to partner with non-profits throughout the region. Hirshey was instrumental in the creation of the Eagles Care initiative, which focuses on non-profit capacity building. 

Her department also executes public facing corporate social responsibility initiatives such as the team’s Healthy Food Drive and Tackling Breast Cancer. Hirshey also serves as an officer of the Eagles Charitable Foundation, which is a public charity that serves thousands of low-income children in the Greater Philadelphia region every year with a focus on improving health outcomes through vision care and autism research and services.

Prior to joining the Eagles in 2000, Julie worked in the television and business affairs department at the National Hockey League in New York. She received her BSc in Sociology from Boston University where she worked for the Terriers Ice Hockey team.  Julie is a native of the Philadelphia area and comes from a family of long-time Eagles Season Ticket Members.

Find out more about the Philadelphia Eagles Community Outreach.

For more information about my podcasting, writing and public speaking please visit my site here.

With thanks to producer Josh Snethlage and Mixed Media Sound.

Image: Julie Hirshey

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When the celebrated Mr. K. performs his feat on Saturday … what will Brian Jean do?

15 March 2017 - 1:00am
David J. ClimenhagaMarch 15, 2017

Could Wildrose Party Leader Brian Jean beat Progressive Conservative leader-presumptive Jason Kenney for the leadership of Wildrose 2.0, or whatever the new Alberta conservative political entity that emerges after Kenney's expected victory on Saturday is called?

It's an interesting, if unlikely, question.

Just to restate what has been predicted here before:

  1. Kenney will win the PC leadership race on the first ballot this Saturday, then proceed with his planned double-reverse hostile takeover of Alberta's two conservative parties.
  2. Jean will come under enormous pressure from well-heeled and influential Kenney supporters like former Reform Party leader Preston Manning and former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper to make way for the celebrated Mr. K.
  3. Jean will cave.

To add one more essential point -- as explained by political commentator Dave Cournoyer in his Daveberta.ca blog yesterday -- the instant Kenney wins, the venerable Progressive Conservative Party "will become a vassal of the Wildrose Party, which Kenney also seeks to lead into a new conservative party."

Kenney’s campaign against Jean has already begun -- in the open and, quite possibly, covertly too, played out behind the scenes by groups of Kenney's supporters. Kenney backers have already shown themselves on several occasions to be prepared to ignore the PC Party's rules, not to mention the rules of common decency as illustrated by the harassment campaign against former PC leadership candidate Sandra Jansen.

Thanks to Kenney's efforts, or at least those of his supporters, Jansen is now a New Democrat MLA, a turn of events that would have been very hard to see coming even a few months ago.

But suppose, for a moment, that Jean doesn't cave! Then things will get interesting …

One effect of such a contest, I expect, would be to push the combined party much farther right, as the contestants competed for the support of the most extreme and vocal elements of the Wildrose base.

There are days -- there were a couple of them in the Legislature's Question Period last week -- when the former Harper government MP for Fort McMurray Athabasca really doesn't sound like a fellow who is about to throw in the towel and surrender to the former Harper government cabinet minister from Calgary Midnapore who is favoured by the conservative establishment’s heavyweights.

So, if Jean makes a fight of it, could he win?

There was a poll last December by Janet Brown Opinion Research that indicated conservative Albertans are more likely to vote for a united right-wing party led by Jean than one led by Kenney -- so the Wildrose leader would certainly have a legitimate argument to make.

Assuming Albertans still feel the same way, though, the problem for Jean would be that he would have to win a vote by the increasingly radicalized -- and likely by then more radical still -- Wildrose/Conservative membership. They, it is said here, are more likely to plump for Kenney, a fairly extreme social conservative, than the somewhat more moderate Jean.

Then the crucial question becomes: What happens to the moderate Tory traditionalists who are supporting leadership candidate Richard Starke, who has been from the start Kenney's only serious contender? Do they stay or do they go? If they go … where?

If the Progressive Conservative Party had been serious about conserving its existence, there was a time not so long ago it could have done something about Kenney's campaign to destroy the party and turn it into an auxiliary of the Wildrose. But it's too late now, and the veterinarian from Vermilion will go down to the former Canadian Taxpayers Federation economic snake oil salesman on Saturday despite the distinguished list of former PC MLAs who have lent their 11th hour support to Starke's campaign.

The moneyed backers of Canada's Republicanized conservatives -- especially their two Alberta chapters -- are so sure they can win the next provincial election no matter who leads, they want the more extreme candidate in the hopes Alberta can be a beachhead in the campaign against Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as well as moving Canada's political discourse back toward the far right.

Could Premier Rachel Notley's New Democrats somehow pull the fat from the fryer and get re-elected in 2019?

A new poll by Mainstreet Research, which was being heavily promoted by Postmedia newspapers yesterday, suggests not.

With the NDP's third budget set to be delivered to the Legislature tomorrow, the Mainstreet survey indicated a large majority of Albertans are highly dissatisfied with the way the government is handling the province's anemic economy and its finances.

While Mainstreet President Quito Maggi's commentary about the likely response to the budget was balanced enough, editorials and commentary by the failing Postmedia chain, which nowadays acts as an auxiliary publicity department for the conservative opposition, were positively gleeful.

As for Mainstreet's methodology, though, while I'm no professional pollster and this is just my opinion, I'm convinced that if the company had asked the question a different way, it would have gotten a different answer.

The question asks respondents: "Finance Minister Joe Ceci says the provincial budget will not be back in balance (with revenues meeting or exceeding government spending) until 2023 or 2024. In your opinion is this too fast, too slow or is it about right?"

Now, I thought I'd read somewhere recently that a cardinal rule of polling was never to ask questions in the negative because such questions tend to create confusion about double negatives. This question also seems to encourage a particular response. And what does not balancing a budget too fast mean anyway?

So I have to ask, would Mainstreet have gotten a different answer if, say, it had asked the same question this way: "Finance Minister Joe Ceci says the provincial budget will be back in balance (with revenues meeting or exceeding government spending) by 2023 or 2024. In your opinion is this too fast, too slow or is it about right?"

I say the answer is yes. That answer, however, wouldn't have reinforced Postmedia's partisan narrative.

Bonus Essay Question: Should Alberta be kept sewer-rat free?

Certain conservative politicians who seem to think it's OK for their supporters to insult a woman's appearance or to describe women politicians with what is generally considered to be the most obscene word in the English language, and who associate with groups that promote the idea "feminism is cancer," are wounded and emotional because a woman politician speaking in the provincial Legislature accused them of hanging out with "sewer rats." Discuss.

Please keep your essays to 200 words or fewer and place them in the comments section of this blog. There will be no prize for the winner beyond the approbation of this blog's proprietor.

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

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Politics in CanadaAlberta politicsWildrose PartyProgressive Conservative PartyAlberta NDPBrian JeanJason KenneyRichard StarkeProgressive Conservative Leadership RaceJanet Brown Opinion ResearchCanadian Taxpayers FederationMainstreet Researchpolling

While Russia has never invaded Canada, we once invaded their country

15 March 2017 - 12:56am
Yves EnglerMarch 15, 2017

The corporate media presents Russia as militaristic but ignores Canada’s invasion of that country.

One hundred years ago a popular revolt ousted the Russian monarchy. Enraged at Nicholas II's brutality and the horror of the First World War, protests and strikes swept the capital of Petrograd (Saint Petersburg). Within a week the czar abdicated. Later in the year the Bolsheviks rose to power in large part by committing to withdraw from the war.

The English, French and U.S. responded to the Bolsheviks' rise by supporting the Russian monarchists (the White movement) in their fight to maintain power. Six thousand Canadian troops also invaded. According to Roy Maclaren in Canadians in Russia, 1918 – 1919, Canadian gunners won "a vicious reputation amongst the Bolsheviks for the calm skill with which they used shrapnel as a short-range weapon against foot soldiers."

While a Canadian naval vessel supported the White Russians, Canadian pilots stationed near the Black Sea provided air support.

The war against the Bolsheviks was initially justified as a way to reopen the First World War's eastern front (the Bolsheviks signed a peace treaty with Germany). Canadian troops, however, stayed after the war ended. In fact, 2,700 Canadian troops arrived in the eastern city of Vladivostok on January 5, 1919, two months after the war's conclusion. A total of 3,800 Canadian troops, as well as Royal Northwest Mounted Police and 697 horses, went to Siberia, which the Whites continued to control long after losing Moscow, St. Petersburg and most of the western part of the country.

Ottawa maintained its forces in Russia after the conclusion of the First World War partly to persuade the British that Canada merited inclusion in the Paris peace conference that would divvy up the spoils of the war. Prime Minister Borden wrote:

"We shall stand in an unfortunate position unless we proceed with Siberia expedition. We made definite arrangements with the British government on which they have relied … Canada's present position and prestige would be singularly impaired by deliberate withdrawal."

Ottawa also feared the rise of anti-capitalism. On December 1, 1918, Borden wrote in his diary that he was "struck with the progress of Bolshevism in European countries." For their part, Canadian working-class groups condemned the invasion of Russia as "for the benefit of the capitalist." The president of the B.C. Federation of Labour Joseph Naylor asked, "is it not high time that the workers of the Western world take action similar to that of the Russian Bolsheviki and dispose of their masters as those brave Russians are now doing?"

The allies invaded Russia to defend the status quo, much to the dismay of many Canadians who welcomed the czar's demise and found it difficult to understand why Canada would support Russian reactionaries. Opposition to the intervention was widespread even among soldiers. According to the Toronto Globe, 60-70 per cent of the men sent to Siberia went unwillingly. One artillery section even refused to obey orders.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s western countries worked to isolate Moscow. Canada (and the U.S.) opposed a treaty to guarantee Russia's pre-war frontiers, which England had signed with Moscow. Ottawa recognized the Bolshevik government in 1924 but ties were severed after the British cut off relations in mid-1927. Full diplomatic relations with Moscow would not restart until the late 1930s.

Russophobia has once again gripped the political/media establishment. A number of prominent commentators have defended the grandfather of Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland collaborating with the Nazis on the grounds it was either them or the Russians occupying Ukraine during the Second World War. Freeland herself deflected questions on the matter by saying Moscow may be trying to "destabilize" Canadian democracy while Brigadier General Paul Rutherford warned of Russian cyber warfare. More dangerous, Ottawa is ramping up its military presence on Russia's doorstep (Ukraine, Poland and Latvia) to counter "aggression."

To help clear the thick fog of propaganda it's useful to remember how Canada responded to the fall of Russia's monarchy. While Russia has never invaded Canada, we once invaded their country.

Image: OlestC/flickr

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Kinder Morgan's $771,000 donation to B.C. Liberals raises red flags while Premier shifts to damage control

14 March 2017 - 11:25pm
March 14, 2017EnvironmentPolitics in CanadaKinder 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.BC

French presidential race finds two leading candidates enmeshed in corruption

14 March 2017 - 9:28am

In France, if you have a political secret to reveal or scandal to relate, the place to dish the dirt is the 102-year-old, eight-page, weekly satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchaîné.

Sources for the paper's investigative reports include whistleblowers, revenge-seekers, opposition researchers from political parties, and journalists from other newspapers, concerned about protecting themselves from retribution for publishing destructive material.

Each Wednesday the Canard is required reading in the public affairs milieu. Since January the current French presidential campaign has been dominated by its revelations of corruption surrounding François Fillon, the high-profile candidate of the right-wing Republican party.

In November 2016 Fillon was a surprise winner of the Republican party primary defeating the favourite, Alain Juppé, mayor of Bordeaux. With Fillon's party nomination safely stowed away, along with over 10 million euros to wage his campaign, the Canard was ready to attack.

In a first report, followed each week by others that have dominated news coverage of the Fillon campaign, the Canard revealed that throughout his career in municipal, regional and national politics, Fillon had his wife, Penelope, on the payroll -- though the Welsh-born U.K. national was on record as having "never" devoted time to her husband's career. 

The estimated cost of this non-employment to the French Treasury over the years was 930,000 euros.

His two children also had paying jobs, totalling 84,000 euros, at different times.

As part of his nomination campaign, Fillon had pledged to uphold the honour and dignity of public life. In a thinly veiled reference to judicial proceedings underway against a primary rival, former president Nicolas Sarkozy, Fillon asked if anyone could imagine Charles de Gaulle facing criminal charges.

Fillon is now scheduled for judicial hearings March 15.

The embezzlement scandal (alternatively labelled a misappropriation of public funds) led to speculation that Fillon would resign as candidate.

The one-time prime minister has steadfastly refused to do so, and because he controls the party campaign funds, the Republican party executive committee has been unable or unwilling to make him step down.

Fillon did lose his campaign manager, the support of over 300 elected Republican officials, and the backing of UDI -- L'Union des démocrates et indépendants -- a small independent right party.

For years French politics has drawn its battle lines between left and right forces. Indeed, the political usage of left and right worldwide derives from the arc of seats facing the Speakers Podium of the French National Assembly with the Socialists to the left, as seen from the podium, and Republicans to the right.

In 2016 with first Juppé, then Fillon, leading the polls as replacements for the outgoing Socialist President François Hollande, it appeared the usual dynamic of right replacing left in French politics was at work.

With Fillon wounded and falling in public esteem, surprisingly, a centrist candidate, campaigning as being neither left nor right, 39-year-old Emmanuel Macron, has emerged as the front-runner.

Macron was an investment banker recruited by François Hollande to be his economic adviser and then named to his cabinet. Unhappy -- Hollande was insufficiently "liberal" -- Macron resigned, and announced the creation of En Marche (or EM, his initials), a movement for change rather than a party.

Macron is soliciting candidates via the Internet to run under the EM banner in the June parliamentary elections. Part of his appeal is his willingness to throw out entrenched political office holders.

After five years of Socialist government, the assessment of left philosopher Alain Badiou rings true for many, supporters included: once in power, the Socialist party exists to explain why it can't do the things it promised to do when in opposition. 

Its indifferent record and its failure to attack unemployment contributed to a simmering Socialist party internal revolt. Les Frondeurs (rebels) a group based in the National Assembly, created Vive la Gauche, a collective. One of its members, ex-minister Benoît Hamon, won the Socialist primary, defeating the former prime minister Manuel Valls.

Hamon was able to arrange support for his candidacy from the French Greens, who have withdrawn in his favour, but the strong left candidacy of Jean-Luc Mélenchon bleeds support from the Socialists. Mélenchon represents the dissident wing of the left, and he has used the poor historical record of the Socialists in power to build his campaign strength.   

French presidential elections take place in two stages. In the first vote scheduled for April 23, over 10 candidates will be on the ballot. In the run-off election two weeks later, the top two vote-getters face each other.

The weakness of Fillon suggests he will place third in the first round of balloting, leaving Macron to face Marine Le Pen, the extreme right-wing, anti-immigration, anti-EU candidate.

Some worry that Fillon will eclipse Macron, giving Le Pen a shot at winning the presidency on the second round, because so many people would refuse to vote for an embezzler.

However Le Pen herself is facing a judicial enquiry in France and is in trouble in Brussels for illegally using funds provided her as a member of the EU parliament to fund her National Front party activities in France.

Meanwhile, this week it was revealed that Fillon had received nearly 50,000 euros in custom-tailored suits paid for by an anonymous benefactor.

France awaits the results of judicial enquiries launched against the Republican candidate and the Front National candidate, not just the first round of voting for a new president.

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

Photo: Prachatai/flickr

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french election 2017france politicsfranceEuropean politicsFrançois Fillongovernment corruptionEmmanuel Macronsocialist partyDuncan CameronMarch 14, 2017Populism and faux feminism: Marine Le Pen, Donald Trump and Justin TrudeauJustin Trudeau arrived in Washington on Monday with a plan to help Trump polish his image with women, even though Canadian women are still waiting for action on public child care from our feminist PM.Why is France emulating the U.S.?Instead of making declarations of war, France needs to remember the Lafontaine fable about the ox and the frog, and re-examine its blind new alignment with American imperialism.Why France's economic problems matterFrance is at that critical juncture where it seems poised to begin tearing down its social democratic infrastructure by embracing the neoliberal playbook of austerity.

Vancouver film festival takes on colonization as Canada celebrates confederation

14 March 2017 - 9:04am
March 14, 2017Vancouver film festival takes on colonization as Canada celebrates ConfederationThe "Beyond 150 Years" film festivals asks: what exactly is Canada 150 celebrating and who is invited to the party?

Alberta finally moves, cautiously, toward reforming labour laws, more boldly to ban cash-for-blood transactions

14 March 2017 - 1:25am
David J. ClimenhagaMarch 14, 2017

No sooner asked than answered, Alberta's NDP government announced a plan yesterday morning to consult with the public and the usual suspects on both sides of the labour relations aisle about the sorry state of Alberta's workplace laws.

Calling the fact Alberta’s labour laws haven’t been meaningfully updated since 1988 "staggering," Labour Minister Christina Gray used a news conference in the Legislature Building to announce a mercifully short consultation period.

The consultations will focus on the Alberta Labour Relations Code, the legislation that governs working relationships in unionized worksites, and the Employment Standards Code, the law that sets minimum standards for employment relationships on non-union worksites.

The whole consultation phase is supposed to be wrapped up by April 18.

So far, so good! Although, as was observed in this space yesterday, it's not entirely clear why we need to spend even a month studying policies like first contract compulsory arbitration for which there is an evident need and have been operating without problems in other provinces for decades.

There were certainly some good signs during Gray's news conference -- for example, she acknowledged openly that Alberta has badly fallen behind both the law in other provinces as well as decisions made by the courts in many aspects of labour relations, leaving us out of step with the rest of the country.

"Work life in Alberta has changed a lot over the last 30 years," the minister observed -- to which we can add a hearty no kidding! These have been three decades in which the whole shabby edifice of globalization, de-skilling, precarious work, institutionalized anti-unionism and other depredations of neoliberalism has taken deep root in Alberta and elsewhere on this continent.

Another good sign was the appointment of Edmonton labour lawyer Andrew Sims, respected by pretty well everyone in the field in this province. Sims has worked both for conservative and not-so-conservative governments on this file, and is well known as a mediator and arbitrator, and has managed to continue to be held in most everyone's esteem.

But there were also some not-so-good signs -- for example, there's still no timetable for getting any of this stuff signed off, let alone passed through the Legislature, and few hints of what actually might end up in legislation.

You can count on business groups, as also suggested here yesterday, to argue that you shouldn't fix what ain't broke, and to claim, furthermore, that not broken is a fair description of the state of Alberta's labour laws. That, of course, is baloney, but opponents are certain to try to stall for time in the hopes another election will be upon us with this essential job left undone.

The danger is that the NDP -- still spooked by the hysterical reaction to its farm-safety legislation last year -- will buy into this, giving the opposition time to gin up more anger.

I should pause here and declare my interest in this topic. I was one of the strikers in 1999 and 2000 at the Calgary Herald -- the folks Conrad Black described as "gangrenous limbs" who should be surgically lopped off -- and I saw for myself how Alberta's labour laws, and the lack of first-contract compulsory arbitration in particular, abetted an employer determined never to comply with its employees' legal right to be represented by a union.

I am also, paradoxically, grateful to his Lordship and his less lordly minions for saving me from the moribund daily newspaper business moments before it crumbled into dust -- more evidence of which we learned about just this past weekend.

Opponents of any change the NDP is likely to propose, I imagine, would be singing a different tune about the quality of Alberta's supposedly unbroken labour laws if there were a conservative government in the driver's seat in Edmonton. Then they would be crying for the nearly vertical labour relations playing field to be tilted even further in favour of employers.

Gray told the newser her goal, a laudable enough aim, is to ensure that Albertans are able not only go to work and contribute to the economy, but also to "care for themselves and their families."

She indicated the review will focus on hours of work, overtime, special leaves and collective bargaining rules. I'm going to assume that union organizing regulations are included under the last heading on that list.

She encouraged members of the public to complete a survey and provide their views through a website set up for this purpose -- work.alberta.ca/leg-review. If you're a veteran of an ugly strike in which the employer ignored your legal rights and got away with it, I'd strongly encourage you to take part.

This time, the submissions will not be published, a reasonable precaution to protect commenters favouring labour law reform from harassment by right-wing social media trolls.

NDP moves to ban unsavoury practice of selling blood for cash

Meanwhile, the government wasn’t fooling around at all yesterday when it took tough action banning private pay-for-plasma clinics and other commercial efforts to buy human blood in Alberta.

"Donating blood should not be viewed as a business venture, but as a public resource," Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said when she announced the introduction of the Voluntary Blood Donations Act.

So Albertans will be spared the unsavoury -- and sometimes unsafe -- practice of allowing corporations to offer $25 a pop to the most disadvantaged people in our society to sell their blood, presumably permitted in Saskatchewan by the same market-fundamentalist vampires who think you ought to be able to sell a kidney if you feel like it.

The act, introduced in the Legislature by the NDP, carries hefty penalties for individuals and corporations that pay donors for blood -- fines of up to $10,000 a day for a first offence and $50,000 a day for subsequent offences for individuals, and $100,000 and $500,000 daily for corporations.

The goal of the legislation, like laws in Ontario and Quebec and in line with the recommendations of the 1993 Royal Commission of Inquiry on the Blood System in Canada, is to prevent the province's voluntary blood donor pool from being depleted or put at risk from infected donors relying on donations for cash.

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

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Food & HealthLabourPolitics in CanadaAlberta politicsAlberta NDPblood donationslabour relationsChristina GraySarah HoffmanPay for PlasmaVoluntary Blood Donations ActAlberta Labour Relations Codecollective bargainingAlberta Employment Standards CodePrecarious WorkAndrew SimsCalgary Herald Strike

Leadership debate showcases NDP unity and a feisty spirit

13 March 2017 - 2:27pm
March 13, 2017NDPPolitics in CanadaLeadership debate showcases NDP unity and a feisty spirit While the 14 Conservative leadership candidates squabble and attack each other, the four NDP aspirants agree on most issues.NDPleadership debateCA

Leadership debate showcases NDP unity and a feisty spirit

13 March 2017 - 6:39am
Karl NerenbergMarch 13, 2017

NDP organizers seemed almost giddy Sunday afternoon at the success of the de-facto launch of the party’s leadership race, the first candidates’ debate, at a downtown Ottawa hotel.

More than a 1,000 people attended, many young. Their evident enthusiasm indicated they thought it worth braving Ottawa’s wicked wind chill to be there. One person who attended rated the four candidates in this way:

  1. Guy Caron, because of his substantive ideas, candid way of expressing himself in both languages, and surprising flashes of humour;
  2. Niki Ashton, because of her poise and clear commitment to a progressive vision (with the caveat traditional working class NDP voters in Hamilton or Windsor might not relate to Ashton’s talk of such matters as intersectionality);
  3. Peter Julian, for his solid, if somewhat too-earnest-by-half, grasp of the issues; and
  4. Charlie Angus, who came in last mostly because his French seemed, to this debate watcher, a bit on the dubious side. The northern Ontario MP did get points for folksy charm, even if some thought he might have laid it on a bit thick at times.

Others thought all candidates acquitted themselves well, and none were either winners or losers. As one observer who has watched many NDP leadership debates over the decades put it: "Overall, I am unable to rank them with much confidence and am frankly impressed by the field."

Guy Caron, who normally seems like a fairly serious economist, got the biggest laugh when he said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau might be quoting another Justin named Bieber during the next election campaign: "Is it too late to say sorry?"

The NDP candidates all took the unequivocal position that Trudeau has, indeed, let down the voters, that he used the time honoured Liberal tactic of campaigning from the left only to shift rightward once in office. Charlie Angus was speaking for them all when he said Trudeau is not a real progressive; he merely "plays one on TV."

But all candidates showed signs of understanding their party will have to do more than attack the current Prime Minister if it hopes to make significant inroads next time.

Harkening to the party's history, kitchen tables and social movements

Julian is the candidate most likely to evoke NDP tradition – and that of the CCF that preceded it. He is fond of pointing out he occupies the office in Parliament’s Centre Block that once belonged to Tommy Douglas; and he talks about how it took courage for the party, historically, to advocate policies that were neither fashionable nor popular at the time. Julian cites extending the franchise to Indigenous people, public pensions, and universal health care. Without the NDP and CCF before it, Julian says, Canada would be a meaner, less compassionate, less equal and less fair country. 

Ashton unabashedly portrays herself as the candidate of young, marginalized and racialized Canadians. She is the only candidate to make consistent use of the language of social movements, such as Black Lives Matter. Her mission echoes the Politics Initiative (NPI), founded in 2001, and supported by folks such as Judy Rebick, on the social movement side, and Libby Davies, from the parliamentary party.  The aim of the NPI was to bring the NDP closer to feminist, Indigenous, environmental and other grass roots organizations. The party of the left cannot succeed, NPI supporters argued, without the energy and commitment of community level activists. Ashton makes a similar case today, while being careful to avoid giving the impression she wants to create a left splinter faction in the party.

Charlie Angus sees the current task to be one of re-engaging with working class Canadians over their kitchen tables. Journalists have asked him if he sees himself as a sort of northern Bernie Sanders, but they have it wrong. 

In truth, Angus is trying to channel Jack Layton, whose name he mentions frequently, not the Senator from Vermont. Like Layton, Angus has more faith in the power of optimism and empathy than in ideology. When asked if he considers himself to be “on the left” he answered: “I failed ideology 101.” Folksiness is Charlie Angus’ calling card. He evoked his grandmother in his closing remarks – she told him New Democrats were the only ones who would stand up for working people when the chips were down – and made a point of saying he wanted to put the "party" back into the Party. Fun is an important part of who we are, the onetime punk rocker said.

Guy Caron points out that all candidates have very similar goals. They all agree on what they want to achieve. They might differ, however, on how they want to achieve it. Caron cites his guaranteed annual income proposal as an example. The Rimouski MP believes such a measure would be a powerful weapon in the fight against growing inequality. Not the only weapon, he hastens to add, but one that would be worth trying.

As for the lessons of the disappointing 2015 election, only Caron brought up what, in Quebec, they call "la question identitaire" – meaning, in this case, the Niqab debate. It was not entirely clear what Caron would have done differently from Tom Mulcair, when one woman’s demand that she be allowed to wear a Niqab while swearing an oath of citizenship became a toxic election issue in Quebec. Caron seemed to be saying he agreed, substantively, with the party’s position on the Niqab – i.e., that it was within a person’s rights to wear it, if she so chose – but believed the NDP could have communicated its position more effectively during the last campaign. In particular, Caron said the party should have framed its stance with more "empathy" – but empathy for whom? That was not at all clear.

We will no doubt be hearing a lot more about this, and other issues, in the weeks and months to come. We have eight months to go before the party choses a new leader. 

NDPNDP Leadership 2017NDP leadershipguaranteed annual incomeniqabhilldispatchesHill DispatchesJack LaytonGuy CaronCharlie AngusNiki AshtonPeter JulianCA

NDP leadership candidates must present concrete and bold ideas on Sunday's debut debate

10 March 2017 - 5:23pm
March 10, 2017NDP leadership candidates must present concrete and bold ideas at Sunday's debut debateThe first NDP leadership debate takes place on Sunday. There are four strong, experienced candidates. Their task will be to demarcate the party on the political map.

A Day Without a Woman: Women's global strike shows resistance to Donald Trump on the rise

9 March 2017 - 12:46pm
March 9, 2017A Day Without a Woman: Women's global strike shows resistance to Donald Trump on the riseDonald Trump is doing damage, daily, to pillars of progressive achievement. But the resistance is growing, offering hope in a time of darkness.

Judy Rebick: An oral history of International Women's Day in Toronto

8 March 2017 - 12:43pm
March 8, 2017Judy Rebick: An oral history of International Women's Day in TorontoGiven all the attention to International Women's Day this year, Judy Rebick is sharing a chapter of her book Ten Thousand Roses on how IWD came to be celebrated in Canada.