Environmentalist Tzeporah Berman, who gave as good as she got, leaves Alberta oilsands advisory role

17 June 2017 - 4:24pm
David J. Climenhaga

Tzeporah Berman, the high-profile environmentalist who became a lightning rod for right-wing fury at Alberta's NDP, is no longer advising Premier Rachel Notley's government.

A Canadian Press story yesterday stated Berman was "let go" -- a phrase that contains a strong implication she was fired -- from the government's Oil Sands Advisory Group.

This interpretation is highly unlikely. If it were so, two other environmental advocates and two oil industry executives were "let go" at the same time, although in their cases the Canadian Press story phrased their departures much more gently.

The government’s bland news release -- headlined "Oil Sands Advisory Group reaches consensus on first phase of work" -- noted that, "with Phase One complete and Phase Two winding down, the government would like to thank Tzeporah Berman, Karen Mahon, Alison Ronson, Christa Seaman and Lloyd Visser for their work." The latter two were the industry representatives.

Still, it cannot be denied that the constant and frequently hysterical vilification of Berman by various right-wing politicians and their media echo chambers had an effect on the government that, at best, must at times have been wearying. It will also make good people think twice about taking on government advisory roles, which is no doubt intended by the authors of such attacks.

For her part, Berman was no shrinking violet, and usually gave back to her critics as good as she got -- an approach that could be both entertaining and righteous, but which was surely not the impact the Notley government hoped the appointment of a prominent environmentalist to its oilsands advisory committee would have.

A talented public advocacy tactician associated with such well-known groups as Greenpeace and ForestEthics, Berman was vocal in her support for the British Columbia NDP and its opposition to the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project during last month's B.C. provincial election campaign. Obviously, this is not the preferred position of the Alberta NDP.

Berman also once famously compared Alberta's tarsands to the volcanic wasteland of Mordor, the hangout of the evil Sauron, in J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. This sent Wildrose and Progressive Conservative politicians scrambling for copies of the venerable fantasy novel -- an unfamiliar experience for many, one suspects -- which may have accounted for the particular outrage the comment prompted on the Opposition benches.

While Premier Notley always defended Berman's appointment forcefully -- it wouldn't be much of an advisory committee if it only reflected a single point of view, as the Opposition constantly demanded, she said frequently -- it was hard not to imagine a note of relief in the government's farewell yesterday.

Thus it was probably telling that the release went out on a Friday afternoon, a traditional time in government circles for disposing of news a government would prefer not to be the subject of too much media attention.

Alberta's right-wing opposition today, be it Wildrose or PC, does not take kindly to views different from their own being heard, let alone attended to. This has been quite clear on a number of fronts, including PC Leader Jason Kenney's ongoing purge of moderate centrist Tories of the sort that used to be found in the ranks of the PC Party.

Still, Berman, for some reason, always provoked a particularly ferocious reaction from the Alberta right. There were legitimate differences, even profound ones, between the her positions on the oilsands, and those of the carbon boosters who dominate both conservative parties. But that hardly explained the intensity of their reaction. I suspect it was the fact she is a strong, outspoken, successful woman that accounted for the intensity of the response.

"We just hope Berman hasn't tarnished Alberta's reputation," PC Caucus leader Ric McIver commented churlishly to CP's reporter yesterday. Outside the province, one can be quite confident, she rather did the opposite, her presence in the consultations burnishing the tarnished thing a little.

"Our government was elected at a time when Alberta’s environmental reputation had hit an all-time low," said Environment Minister Shannon Phillips in yesterday’s statement, accurately enough. "In just two years we have worked with industry, civil society and communities to turn the corner, in no small part thanks to our limit on oilsands emissions."

Saying this, while certainly true, will just make the Opposition parties angrier, as Phillips surely understands.

The committee's report recommended that the province publish an annual forecast of greenhouse gas emissions from the Athabasca bitumen sands to monitor compliance with the government's 100-megatonne annual emissions cap.

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

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Target benefit pensions open the door to privatization and shift risks to workers

16 June 2017 - 10:15am
Peter Whitaker

On October 19, 2016, Finance Minister Bill Morneau introduced Bill C-27, which would bring in target benefit pension plans for the federal private sector and Crown corporations. Harper's Conservatives had considered the target benefit plan as a replacement for employees and retirees' guaranteed defined benefit pensions. Target benefit pensions shift all the risks of pension liabilities away from employers and governments onto the backs of employees and retirees, to be paid through reduced benefits and pensions.

Prequel to privatization

In 2013, the Harper government commissioned a study of the Royal Mail privatization. The study revealed that, to facilitate privatization, the U.K. government took on the £8.6-billion pension liability they had guaranteed. Royal Mail's privatization resulted in the elimination of 11,000 jobs, the closure of a fifth of its mail centres, and the closure of 5 per cent of its delivery offices, with more to follow as shareholders exerted pressure to maximize their profits.

Rather than ensuring the government live up to their pension commitments as was done in the U.K., Harper came up with the Conservative solution by taking a page out of Morneau Shepell's 2012 playbook. Morneau Shepell played a key role in the development and implementation of the outcome-based and risk-managed shared risk plan -- a type of target benefit plan. This plan had nothing to do with sharing the risk and everything to do with shifting the risk onto employees and retirees.

The Conservatives saw the target benefit plan as a way to shift the Canada Post paper pension solvency deficit -- $5.9 billion at the time -- away from the Corporation and the government, and onto employees and retirees. Without first eliminating the pension solvency liability, no one would buy the profitable Canada Post Crown corporation, which pays yearly dividends to government coffers and has a going-concern pension surplus of $81 million. Going into the 2015 election, the Conservatives shelved their target benefit plan due to opposition from union and retiree groups, representing 6.9 million members. On July 23, 2015 Trudeau promised: "defined benefit pensions, which have been paid for by employees and pensioners, should not retroactively be changed into target benefit pensions."

Conflict of interest

Bill Morneau, former chair of the CD Howe Institute, resigned as executive chair of Morneau Shepell after his election. On September 15,  2015, reports indicated Morneau still indirectly owned 2,066,480 common shares in Morneau Shepell, worth about $32 million, through a numbered company in Alberta. In a submission to the federal government, the firm wrote that target benefit pensions entail "excessive operating costs." These actuarial firms would be big winners if defined benefit pensions were converted to target benefit pensions, which require more frequent and more complex services from firms like Morneau Shepell.

Domino effect

Public service, military and RCMP defined benefit pensions plans are not directly affected by Bill C-27, but if the Liberals are successful in forcing the target benefit plan onto Crown corporation employees and retirees, the domino effect will come into play -- and it will only be a matter of time before they come for all defined benefit pensions. The CD Howe Institute floated the idea on April 4, announcing that the expanded CPP should be a target benefit plan. Surprisingly they did not call for the entire CPP defined benefit plan to be converted to a target benefit plan.

C-27 has to be changed! Liberals must be forced to keep their pension promises. A 2014 Ipsos Reid poll showed "that 92 per cent of Canadians agreed with the proposition that employers and governments must live up to their pension promises." Help stop the elimination of defined benefit pensions and prevent the selling off of our public services by contacting your MP.

View a video of CUPW president Mike Palecek addressing Bill C-27 at a demo here.

Peter Whitaker is Central Region representative for the National Organization of Retired Postal Workers and retiree representative for CPC Pension Advisory Council.

Photo credit: Manon Parrot

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Trudeau's national child-care framework is a far cry from the kind of universal child care we need

16 June 2017 - 9:21am
June 16, 2017National child-care framework a wasted opportunity: union leaders The federal government's recently announced national child-care framework is a far cry from the kind of universal child care that PSAC, and many other unions, want the government to establish.

National child-care framework a wasted opportunity: union leaders

15 June 2017 - 4:06pm
Meagan Gillmore

The federal government's recently announced national child-care framework is just another misstep by a government continuously slow to deliver on its promises, says Robyn Benson, president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC).

On Monday, the federal government announced it had reached a multilateral agreement about child-care funding with the provinces and territories. The agreement would invest $7.5 billion over the next 11 years to support providing child-care spaces for children under the age of six.

Quebec did not sign the agreement because it has universal, provincial child care. British Columbia has not signed because its new government is still being finalized.

The framework is a far cry from the kind of universal child care that PSAC, and many other unions, want the government to establish.

A universal child-care plan needs to work for all families. This framework doesn't, said Benson.

The government wants provinces and territories to use the money to target families and children who are most vulnerable. This could include those who live in underserviced communities or have low incomes. It could also include single-parent families, parents who work non-standard hours, or families with children who have disabilities.

The first agreements are for three years and are expected to be signed within the next few months. In total, the government plans to spend $1.2 billion over the next three years on child care.

Provincial and territorial governments will develop action plans about how to use the funds received. According to government information, the federal government will post details of the bilateral agreements on a government website. 

This $7.5 billion includes $100 million for Indigenous child care that was announced in the 2016 budget. Another $100 million is earmarked for innovation in child care, with another $95 million to be used for collecting data about child care across Canada.

The government is also working on developing a separate Indigenous framework for early child care.

Benson said PSAC is "very disappointed" in the announcement. The union will continue to lobby for increased child-care funds. It will also ask Prime Minister Justin Trudeau "why he continuously does not keep his election promises," said Benson, noting the government's decision to not pursue electoral reform is another broken campaign promise.

Mark Hancock, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) said in a release that all families struggle to afford child care. "It's important that we build a public and not‑for‑profit system everyone can access -- like public schools or health care," he said in the statement. "This way no infant or child will get left behind."

Siobhan Vipond, secretary-treasurer of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), called the agreement a "missed opportunity." While the funding could be used to help expand Alberta's project of $25 child-care spaces, the framework "doesn't show the national leadership needed to help provinces create a truly universal system. It will only address a small fraction of the need," she said in a release.

Unifor also harshly criticized the announcement, saying in a press release it was based on "inadequate" consultation. In the release, union president Jerry Dias questioned whether it's good to have each province and territory develop the specifics of how funds will be spent, warning that could lead to variances in service across the country. "This random hodgepodge of funding for child-care spaces is more expensive than a universal system and it isn't good for children or parents," Dias said in the release.

Unions have said they will continue campaigns for better child care across Canada.

Meagan Gillmore is rabble.ca's labour reporter.

Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

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New legislation in Manitoba reduces workers' rights and puts health care at risk

15 June 2017 - 9:13am
June 15, 2017Manitoba's unions are ready to fight proposed labour legislationManitoba's labour leaders are pushing back against new legislation they say drastically reduces workers' rights and puts Manitobans' health care at risk.

Logistical barriers prevent migrant farm workers from accessing health care

14 June 2017 - 9:40am
June 14, 2017Logistical barriers prevent migrant farm workers from accessing health careThe organizers of the Migrant Worker Summer festival speak to the need for mobile clinics and culturally sensitive care for seasonal workers.


13 June 2017 - 11:54am

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It's hard to see what the Liberals have to offer the world

13 June 2017 - 9:14am
June 13, 2017Canada's new foreign policy is the same as its old foreign policyMinisters are trying to shore up support for the Trudeau government at home, not plot a new direction for Canada abroad.

Canada's new foreign policy is the same as its old foreign policy

13 June 2017 - 9:08am
Politics in CanadaWorld

"Many of you have worried that Canada has lost its compassionate and constructive voice in the world over the past 10 years," said Justin Trudeau following the election of a Liberal majority government in 2015. "Well, I have a simple message for you: on behalf of 35 million Canadians, we're back."

It was foreign policy week in Ottawa last week. Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland made a major foreign policy statement in the House of Commons; Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan released Strong, Secure, Engaged: Canada's Defence Policy; and Minister of International Development Marie-Claude Bibeau announced Canada's feminist international assistance policy.

Though the statements will be read in foreign ministries abroad, Canadians are the intended audience. Ministers are trying to shore up support for the Trudeau government at home, not plot a new direction for Canada abroad.

Making women and children the focus of international development assistance makes sense. In 2014, that is what Stephen Harper decided to do. His Conservative government allocated $4 billion "to improve maternal, newborn and child health" around the world.

In contrast, the Trudeau Liberals are allocating no new money for their feminist foreign policy initiative. Spending $150 million over five years to support feminist groups abroad will come from funds already set aside for foreign assistance.

Despite the inspiring prose of the development assistance statement, with no new money -- at a time when military spending is to be increased by 70 per cent -- women in Canada are not going to be tricked into thinking the Liberals have made women and children a priority.  

Development assistance spending of $5 billion compares to current defence spending of nearly $20 billion per year, defence spending which the Liberals promise to increase to $33 billion over the next 10 years.

New military spending is what Donald Trump has asked Canada and other NATO members to do. The Trudeau government is jumping to comply.

In addition to playing up to Trump in advance of NAFTA renegotiations, the Liberals hope to pre-empt calls from the Conservative opposition to "support our troops" with the defence minister's pledge to buy more military hardware.

Reading the three policy statements, it is difficult to see what the Trudeau Liberals have to offer the world.

In her major foreign policy address, Minister of Global Affairs Chrystia Freeland pointed to the benefits Canada has derived from "a global order based on rules."

In fact, the postwar global order was based on fear, not rules; on nuclear deterrence, not international law.

Both the old Soviet Union and the U.S. possessed the capacity to destroy the other. Since an attack would be followed by a counterattack, it was not an option.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the Cold War era of "mutually assured destruction" was supposed to be over. Without an adversarial relationship, the nuclear arms race was no longer necessary, and a peace dividend could be declared.

When the U.S. moved to incorporate the former Soviet allies into NATO, it provoked a Russian nationalist response and created new East-West tensions.

The natural role for Canada would be to promote nuclear arms reductions and conventional arms control, and work with other middle powers to de-escalate tensions between the U.S. and Russia.

Instead Minister Freeland takes aim at Russian expansionist policies in Crimea and gives U.S. global imperialist foreign policy a free pass.

The foreign affairs minister acknowledges the danger of Canada acting as a client state of the Americans. Incredibly she uses this danger to justify increased purchases of military hardware -- exactly what Washington always wants Canada to do -- because much of the money will be spent in the U.S.

This resort by Freeland to "hard power" as a supposed antidote to Canadian conformism to U.S. wishes is unconvincing in the extreme.

Spiegel Online reported that when Angela Merkel asked Justin Trudeau to support a German initiative at the upcoming G20 summit to pressure the U.S. president on climate change, he declined to go along. For Trudeau "appeasement" of the U.S. had replaced alignment with Merkel against Trump on climate change.

"We're back" all right: Canada's new foreign policy is the same as its old foreign policy.

To get along with the U.S., Canada looks to avoid irritating Washington, and will go along with what it wants Canada to do, even if it means jettisoning Ottawa's policy priorities.

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

Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

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Canadian foreign policydefence policyTrudeau governmentChrystia Freelandmilitary spendingHarjit Sajjanfeminist policyDuncan CameronJune 13, 2017Trudeau ready to defend constitutional status quo without consulting Indigenous nationsIn the 150th year of Confederation, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard wants to talk about how Canada governs itself. Justin Trudeau put him off, saying he did not want to open the Constitution.Liberals' massive increase in defence spending is a budgetary coupWith its giant boost to military spending, the Trudeau government is gearing up for more Western adventurism, using NATO to prop up a failing finance capitalism by military threats.How NAFTA surrenders Canadian energy sovereignty -- and gives the U.S. control over our oilIn an age when control over energy shapes global politics and the fate of the world, why wouldn't Canadians be happy to leave our energy in the hands of Trump's Washington and Big Oil?

Migrant Worker Summer Festival connects farm workers to community members in Niagara

12 June 2017 - 9:42am
June 12, 2017Creating a new vision for migrant worker health careHeryka Miranda speaks with two migrant farm workers about mental health and labour.

Labour Party surges ahead in U.K. election with unabashedly leftist policies

9 June 2017 - 10:34am
June 9, 2017Corbyn nearly topples May in U.K. election with 'revenge of the young' votePre-election polls had shown a significant increase in Labour support, but very few had them at the 40 per cent of the popular vote they got on Thursday.

Corbyn nearly topples May in U.K. election with 'revenge of the young' vote

9 June 2017 - 10:15am
Karl Nerenberg

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

Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May will cling to power in Britain, propped up by the social conservative, right-of-centre Northern Ireland-based Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). Early in the evening on Thursday it looked like Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party might be able to form a progressive alliance with the centrist (and very much anti-Brexit) Liberal Democrats, the Greens, the Scottish Nationals (SNP) and their Welsh  counterpart, the Plaid Cymru, but the numbers simply were not there.

Pre-election polls had shown a significant increase in Labour support, but very few had them at the 40 per cent of the popular vote they got on Thursday. That put Jeremy Corbyn's party a bit more than two points behind the Conservatives. 

British commentators are calling the vote the revenge of the young, who came out in large numbers to vote for Corbyn. The far-right, ethno-nationalist United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) collapsed. It had well over 12 per cent of the vote in 2015 but less than two per cent on Thursday. The majority of that vote went to the Conservatives. May made a play for it with her tough-talking, so-called "hard" Brexit strategy. But a good many previous UKIP voters returned to their working-class home in the Labour Party.

May should thank Northern Ireland and especially Scotland

Overall, both Labour and the Conservatives gained in popular vote, but Labour gained more. The Conservatives increased their vote by five and a half per cent vis-à-vis 2015, but Labour gained nearly 10 per cent over the last election, with their best result since Tony Blair's second majority win 2001. Labour did quite a bit better in popular vote share this time than did Blair in his last victory, in 2005, when the political map in Britain was more fragmented and Labour managed a majority with 35 per cent of the vote to the Tories' 32 per cent.

On Thursday, Theresa May's Conservatives lost 12 seats, bringing them to 318, eight short of a majority of 326. Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party picked up 29 seats, for a total of 261.

The Liberal Democrats dropped very slightly in popular vote share, but picked up four new seats, for a total of 12. The Lib-Dems, as the British call them, were formed in 1988 out of a merger of the once mighty Liberal Party, the party of the 19th-century reform laws that gradually extended the franchise in Britain and such political giants as prime ministers Gladstone and Lloyd George, and the centrist Social Democrats, who had split from the Labour Party in the 1980s.

If she manages to keep power at the head of a minority government, Theresa May will owe her fragile position to unexpected Conservative strength in Scotland, where the Conservatives made their only substantial gains on Thursday, winning 10 seats. They won zero in Scotland last time, and have not had much success there for many decades. The Scottish result was not really a May victory, however. British commentators are giving most of the credit to the leader of the Scottish Conservative Party, the affable and popular Ruth Davidson. Were it not for Scotland, the world would be talking about Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn today.

The overall result is a typical, distorted artifact of the first-past-the-post system.

In 2010 the Liberal Democrats formed a coalition with Conservatives led by David Cameron, but would be much more inclined, this time, to support a Labour minority. Their 2.4 million votes gave them only 12 seats, however. May's newest best friends, the DUP, had a mere 292,000 votes, barely more than a 10th of the Liberal Democratic total. But while the Lib-Dem vote was spread over all of the U.K.'s 650 ridings, the DUP's tiny share was entirely concentrated in Northern Ireland's 18 seats. That gave the right-of-centre Northern Irish party 10 seats, just enough to give May the support she needs to carry on, for now at least. 

Canadians will recognize this sort of result. In this country, first-past-the-post once elevated the Bloc Québécois to the status of second place and Official Opposition, even though they came fourth in the popular vote.

Has Corbyn satisfied the skeptics in his own party?

For the many in the Labour Party establishment who had hoped a sharp electoral rebuke would help rid them of the radical Jeremy Corbyn, this election must have produced some rather mixed feelings. Corbyn will not be going to 10 Downing Street this time, but few will be calling for him to step down either -- quite the contrary. Some in the centre and on the right of the Labour Party are still saying that with a different leader Labour could have won. Theresa May's campaign, they say, was pathetic, and her party is still divided between its pro- and anti-European Union factions. It was only the antipathy of many potential Labour voters to Corbyn's lack of front bench or government experience and his reputation as a hard-left protest candidate that prevented Labour from achieving a Blair-style sweep.

Writing in the New Statesman (a pro-Labour weekly that has not been kind to Corbyn) Anoosh Chakelian dismisses that argument. Labour, she argues, did as well as it did because of, not despite Corbyn's unabashedly leftist policies -- which include free university tuition and bringing the British rail system back into public ownership -- and his unconventional style.

"Corbyn's big, old-fashioned rallies and bypassing of the usual channels to get his message across [...] appealed to voters in a way that Theresa May's stage-managed, distant approach did not," Chakelian writes. "His style of campaigning particularly appealed to young voters, whose unusually high turnout (estimated by some to be as high as 72 per cent) underpinned Labour's surge in this election."

As for Corbyn's notionally radical agenda, the New Statesman writer says:

"[C]learly his policies resonated; most of them were popular with the majority of voters when polled. His straightforward opposition to austerity [...] struck a chord with people who are fed up with their wages stagnating, benefits reducing, the cost of living rising, and public services failing."

Those who held their breath on Thursday, hoping to see Corbyn get a chance to put at least some of his ideas into practice, will be naturally disappointed. Nonetheless, they should take comfort from the fact that Theresa May's hold on power is at best tenuous. Her Northern Irish allies are pro-Brexit, but Northern Ireland, together with Scotland and London, voted strongly against Brexit in the 2016 referendum. In addition, a good many of May's Conservative colleagues continue to be staunchly pro-EU. British commentators are almost unanimous in saying that May will not now have the support she needs to pursue her hard Brexit strategy. She will also have to put significant water into the wine of her harsh austerity program.

Another election soon?

Despite her weak position, May could govern for quite a while at the head of a minority government. In Canada, we have seen minorities last nearly three years in the past, although the British have much less experience than we do with that sort of government.  Her own Tory party is not likely to be too kind to May, however. Tories do not like losing, and May quite deliberately made this election a test of her own leadership, a test a great many Tories will believe she failed.  

The tight result and Tory restiveness could well produce another election sooner rather than later. Those in the Labour Party who have been sniping behind Corbyn's back, and have considered him to be absolutely unelectable might want to seriously reconsider where they stand now. 

Canadians, especially those on the left, will no doubt be examining the British election result carefully. If nothing else, Thursday's U.K. election proves that it is not electoral poison for a party and a leader to take a clear, left-of-centre stance, one that includes nationalization and expansion of social benefits. No doubt NDP leadership candidates are thinking hard about what that means for them and their party.

Photo: Andy Miah/flickr

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

Liberals' massive increase in defence spending is a budgetary coup

9 June 2017 - 9:18am
Politics in CanadaUS PoliticsWorld

The arrogance of power could scarcely be more dramatically demonstrated than by the tag team of Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan announcing that Canada was going to cave in to Donald Trump's demand that we spend two per cent of GDP on defence. We will be increasing military spending by 70 per cent over 10 years -- an obscenity when so many social needs go unmet. Not only does this make a mockery of Trudeau's election pledge to return to Canada's historic peacekeeping role but surrenders to the absurd one-size-fits-all NATO imperative. Nothing has changed internationally to justify such an increase. There are no existential threats to Canada on any horizon. As Trudeau said in March, Canada more than pulls its weight in NATO: we are the sixth-highest spender in NATO and 16th in the world.

Giving Freeland the opening role on the announcement raises the question of her disproportional position in changing Canada’s defence posture. Her contradiction-filled foreign policy speech in the House of Commons on Tuesday suggested that Canada is going to somehow fill the vacuum left by an allegedly isolationist Trump regime. In her statement Freeland declared: "The fact that our friend and ally has come to question the very worth of its mantle of global leadership puts into sharper focus the need for the rest of us to set our own clear and sovereign course." Really? Just how do we do that by caving in to Trump's demand that all NATO members pony up? In fact, the increase in spending -- $14 billion over 10 years; $62 billion over 20 -- represents a clear loss of sovereignty, abandoning our right to make decisions in our national interest in order to please a rogue U.S. president.

Exactly what kind of global leadership does Freeland think we are now missing? Given that she spoke almost exclusively about defence spending, presumably she thinks that a less military-interventionist Trump requires more intervention from Canada. But intervention where, exactly? Our last enthusiastic intervention -- celebrated by our last prime minister -- was in Libya. That "humanitarian" project resulted not only in a failed state but also in the creation and arming of ISIS, the flood of desperate refugees to Europe and, indirectly, the terror attacks Freeland rightly describes as "monstrous."

U.S. "leadership" is known by another name in scores of countries around the globe: U.S. imperialism. In the last decade that term has gained widespread acceptance by the U.S. political elite where it used to be righteously denied. Does Freeland believe that the illegal war on Iraq is an example of U.S. leadership? Would she, unlike Jean Chrétien, have joined in? What about the slaughter in Yemen? Going back a bit further, would Freeland see the literally dozens of U.S. interventions to overthrow democratic governments and install dictators the epitome of U.S. leadership? 

The notion that anything Trump says can be taken as rock solid American foreign or defence policy is laughable. The man is willfully ignorant of anything outside his New York penthouse and incapable of formulating, let alone implementing, a coherent policy. While he Twitter-rants, real decisions are made by others. The U.S. has not announced the closing of any of its 800 military installations around the world. Trump is going to go along with the military's request for thousands of more troops for Afghanistan. And what kind of isolationist president increases military spending -- already at $600 billion -- by $54 billion? 

The increase in military spending announced Wednesday will turn the Defence Department into an unabashed War Department, with Harjit Sajjan playing second fiddle to the militant Freeland. Just what existential threats does Canada face? The terrorist threat is handled by our intelligence agencies and police. Russia and the U.S. are the only two countries in close proximity and whether we have 65 jet fighters (Stephen Harper's plan) or 88 (Freeland's plan) will make absolutely not one iota of difference. With respect to the Arctic, where there are conflicting interests, it is obvious to all parties that negotiation is the only possible strategy.

But, of course, it's not about defence. It's about war. If we look at the planned spending it seems clear that we are gearing up for more Western adventurism, using NATO to prop up a failing finance capitalism by military threats. Freeland stated: "Canadian diplomacy and development sometimes requires the backing of hard power." She has a duty to explain exactly what that means in the areas she listed as the focus of hard power: North Korea, the civil war in Syria, the Islamic State, Russian aggression in Ukraine and the Baltic states. Freeland's stated goal of "peace and stability" will not benefit in any way from an additional $14 billion in war materiel.

It's hard to say which is the most outrageous aspect of this budgetary coup by the foreign affairs and defence bureaucracies. The transparent rationalization for the spending is simply shocking. Equally disturbing is the complete lack of a mandate for such an increase: it was never mentioned in the election and erases the Liberal election commitment to peacekeeping, it doubles down on Harper's aggressive foreign policy, and was done without consultation with Canadians.

There will be blowback to this military build-up. Young people played a major role in electing Sunny Ways Trudeau. They might want to ask how it is Mr. Trudeau can find billions more for war fighting but nothing for reducing the crushing weight of tuition fees. They have the political clout and passion to put him on notice that this is a dealbreaker. Let's hope they use it.

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

Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

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Canadian foreign policydefence policymilitary spendingTrudeau governmentDefence Minister Harjit SajjanChrystia FreelandCanadian militarismtrump administrationimperialismwar-mongeringMurray DobbinJune 9, 2017Trudeau runs risk keeping flawed politician as foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland's well-documented hostility towards Russia raises questions about her suitability for the foreign affairs post. Are we risking a Freeland blunder in a situation that requires nuance?Chrystia Freeland should not be punished for her grandfather's sins, but for lying to Canadians about themThe fact the Foreign Affairs Minister tried to pass off her grandfather's history, which we now know to be true, as Russian disinformation should concern us all.As NATO war-mongering against Russia intensifies, Canada faces a difficult choice NATO is requesting that Canada join a 4,000-troop contingent that would form a permanent NATO presence in countries bordering Russia. Will Prime Minister Trudeau make the courageous choice and say no?

Unions are at the fore of the struggle to give workers paid domestic violence leave

8 June 2017 - 2:32pm
Meagan Gillmore

Proposed changes to Ontario's employment laws don't do enough to support workers who are experiencing domestic violence, says Peggy Sattler, the member of provincial parliament fighting for domestic violence leave to be included in Ontario's labour laws.

The government revealed their amendments to the Employment Standards Act last week. These include allowing employees to take time off for personal emergency leave if they or a family member are experiencing sexual or domestic violence, or have the threat of domestic or sexual violence.

The proposed legislation allows all Ontario employees up to 10 days of personal leave each year, the first two of which are to be paid.

Right now, only employees at businesses with more than 50 employees are guaranteed 10 days of personal emergency leave. None are paid. Employees can use these days if they or a family member is sick, or if they or their family member has an emergency. Experiencing domestic or sexual violence, or the threat of this violence, is not currently listed as a separate reason for taking the leave.

In Alberta, legislation that would give workers up to 10 days of unpaid domestic violence leave received royal assent on Wednesday. Workers are eligible if they or a dependent child or protected adult living with them is experiencing domestic violence. Employees must have worked for an employer for 90 consecutive days to qualify for this leave.

"While these new laws won't end domestic violence on their own, they're going to help," Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), said in a statement to rabble.ca on Wednesday. Many people stay in dangerous situations because they can't afford to leave, McGowan said, so fear of losing their job makes "an already tough financial situation an impossible one."

This makes Alberta the second province to guarantee domestic violence leave. Manitoba became the first last year. Employees in Manitoba are entitled to 10 days of leave, five of which are paid. They are also entitled to up to 17 weeks of continuous leave. A private member's bill was introduced in Saskatchewan in March that would allow workers access to the same leave as in Manitoba. Similar legislation has been proposed in British Columbia.

Establishing a separate category for domestic violence in Ontario is "a baby step forward," said Sattler, MPP for London West. She introduced a bill last September that would allow employees up to 10 days of paid leave a year if they are experiencing domestic or sexual violence. They can use the time to move, meet with lawyers or attend court or see a doctor or counsellor. The bill passed second reading in October.

If adopted, the bill she proposed would create a separate leave for domestic or sexual violence that's in addition to personal emergency leave already provided. It also includes provisions for employers to accommodate workers who are experiencing domestic violence by changing their schedules or location of work. It mandates all managers, supervisors and employees to be trained about domestic violence.

The proposed two days of paid leave is a "far cry" from her proposed 10 paid days, or the five paid days guaranteed in Manitoba for workers in domestic violence situations, Sattler said.

The United Steelworkers (USW), in a press release responding to the Ontario government's labour law proposals, also called for a longer, paid leave for people leaving violent domestic relationships.

The union has been negotiating leave for domestic violence into more contracts. At their international conference earlier this year, it announced domestic violence leave language should automatically be part of all negotiations.

It can be a tough sell for some employers to agree to domestic violence leave, especially if it's paid. Employers have to pay for both the employee on leave and their replacement, said Lynne Descary, a USW staff representative who is responsible for negotiating more than 30 agreements. She began introducing domestic violence leave into contracts last year, and it's her goal to have it in all of them. She got domestic violence leave included in five of the seven contracts she negotiated in 2016.

She negotiated her first contract with paid domestic violence leave this year. It was for four weeks.

Domestic violence leave should be paid because of how severe the situations are, said Descary. Even if people have a job, sometimes their abusers take their money away from them. Guaranteeing an income is "one less power struggle with the abuser," she said.

It's important for domestic violence leave to be included in contracts because governments change. Once it's in the collective bargaining agreement, "I know it's secure and I know that it's there," said Descary. "I don't need to worry about what political party is at the helm."

In 2012, domestic violence leave was guaranteed in The Yukon Teachers' Association contract. Employees can take up to five paid days for domestic violence leave. Supervisors can decide to grant more if needed. Domestic violence leave is also guaranteed in the contract for government of Yukon employees. The contract says leaves for domestic violence reasons cannot be denied.

A 2014 study from the Canadian Labour Congress and researchers at Western University in London found that a third of respondents had experienced domestic violence. Of those, more than half said they'd experienced it at or near their workplaces. The Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour (NLFL) has been researching the issue and is preparing a report to present to the government in the fall. Mary Shortall, president of the federation, told rabble.ca in April that she is "very optimistic" the province will pass domestic violence leave.

NLFL domestic violence project researcher Alyse Stuart told rabble.ca at the time that unpaid leave really isn't an option. "It's paid or bust."

Meagan Gillmore is rabble.ca's labour reporter.

Photo of Peggy Sattler via United Steelworkers/flickr

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The truly outrageous aspects of NAFTA affect Canadian sovereignty

8 June 2017 - 1:25pm
June 8, 2017How NAFTA surrenders Canadian energy sovereignty -- and gives the U.S. control over our oil In an age when control over energy shapes global politics and the fate of the world, why wouldn't Canadians be happy to leave our energy in the hands of Trump's Washington and Big Oil?

How NAFTA surrenders Canadian energy sovereignty -- and gives the U.S. control over our oil

8 June 2017 - 12:29pm
EconomyPolitics in CanadaUS Politics

In the wake of Donald Trump's fiery threats to end the trade deal between the U.S., Canada and Mexico, the subject of NAFTA has become much more interesting to Canadians than before, when it mostly consisted of talk about softwood lumber and the dairy industry. Boring.

In fact, Trump or no Trump, NAFTA has always been a potential firecracker of an issue, if only the public knew what was in the deal.

But for more than 20 years, Canadian politicians have largely managed to keep the focus on lumber and cows, distracting us from the truly outrageous aspects of NAFTA: the surrender of Canadian sovereignty in a couple of key areas.

Now that Trump is forcing us to renegotiate NAFTA, there's lots of talk here about how Canada must be tough, and even demand some changes we want. A big spread in The Globe and Mail last week identified two -- and only two -- "contentious issues" for Canada: lumber and cows.

That short list, with all due respect, strikes me as a steamy pile of covfefe.

Left out, as usual, is the notion we should be trying to renegotiate sections of the deal that erode our sovereignty.

One of those sections, the investor-state clause, which gives corporations the power to sue governments over laws threatening their profits, has received some attention, although less than it deserves.

But there's been virtually no attention to another section, Article 605, which effectively relinquishes control over our energy resources to Washington.

Article 605 was considered such an extreme infringement of national sovereignty that Mexico refused to accept it. Instead, Mexico demanded and was granted an exemption to that clause when it joined NAFTA in 1994.

Let's shine a little light then on this mostly darkened corner of NAFTA: Article 605 limits the power of governments to cut back energy exports. So, for instance, Canada must continue to make available to Americans the same proportion of our energy as in the previous three years.

If there were a global oil shortage -- like the ones in the 1970s -- we couldn't cut back our oil exports to the U.S. in order to redirect the oil to Canadians.

While section 605 has always offended those who care about sovereignty, it poses huge new problems in the age of global warming.

If we're serious about fighting climate change, we're going to have to phase out dirty oilsands production and rely on our remaining reserves of conventional oil (we have about 11 years left, at current rates) while we transition to clean energy, argues Gordon Laxer, founding director of the University of Alberta's Parkland Institute and author of After the Sands: Energy and Ecological Security for Canadians.

But if we reduce our consumption like this, the Big Oil companies operating in Canada will just export more of our oil to the U.S. And, under Article 605, that will increase our future oil export obligations to the U.S., explains Laxer.

It's not hard to see why the erosion of energy sovereignty in Article 605 -- apparently unique to NAFTA among all global treaties -- was rejected by Mexico, a country that celebrates an annual Energy Independence Day to commemorate its 1938 nationalization of foreign-owned oil companies.

Mexico's fierce defence of its sovereignty stands in sharp contrast to the easy submission to Washington's energy demands by Canadian politicians, led by then Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney.

Mulroney happily agreed to U.S. demands that NAFTA provide guaranteed access to our energy, which U.S. leaders have always regarded as rightfully theirs.

Mulroney and the Alberta government were actually keen to limit Ottawa's control over our energy. They saw this as a way to prevent future Canadian federal governments from following the lead of Pierre Trudeau who introduced the controversial National Energy Program in 1980 to increase Canadian ownership of our energy sector.

Whatever happens in the upcoming NAFTA talks, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's team will insist they fought hard for Canada's interests. And that will be true -- when it comes to lumber and cows. Just don't expect them to fight for our right to control our own energy reserves.

After all, in an age when control over energy shapes global politics and the fate of the world, why wouldn't Canadians be happy to leave our energy in the hands of Trump's Washington and Big Oil?

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

Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

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NAFTACanadian free tradeenergy securitycanada-u.s. tradeBIG OILtrump administrationLinda McQuaigJune 8, 2017Breaking tradition championed by his father, Trudeau boycotts key UN disarmament initiativeWhile the Trudeau team is very worked up about chemical weapons, they seem strangely unconcerned about nuclear ones, snubbing important new UN negotiations aimed at nuclear disarmament.NAFTA renegotiation could undermine Canada's digital freedomsThere are a number of concerns that come along with a renegotiation of NAFTA. Canadians enjoy stronger digital rights protections than their U.S. counterparts -- policies that could be placed at risk.Trump's proven that free trade deals can be rewritten. So let's write better ones.If Trump can rewrite international economic treaties on the strength of a few tweets, then we can do the same thing -- but only if we build a political movement with the same confidence and power.

'A Better Man' explores the damage caused by acts of violence

8 June 2017 - 9:33am
June 8, 2017A better man can evolve from a history of violence"A Better Man" opens with Attiya meeting Steve for coffee 22 years after she literally ran for her life and never looked back.

Remembering John Dillon

8 June 2017 - 8:42am
Jennifer Henry

John Dillon, KAIROS Canada's long-serving researcher and policy analyst on the global economy, human rights and ecological justice passed away on June 5.

John served the Canadian churches in ecumenical social justice for 44 years. He was a researcher, writer, analyst, but most importantly a persistent and faithful advocate for marginalized peoples everywhere. It was to the needs and concerns of women, Indigenous peoples, poor communities, and the cries of the earth that he held himself to account.

"It is almost impossible to imagine the ecumenical coalitions, and now KAIROS, without him. John so vitally shaped our identity and commitments," says KAIROS' Executive Director, Jennifer Henry, who began working with John in the early 1990s.

John never sought recognition for his work. And yet his research and policy analysis was the cornerstone of so many successful ecumenical advocacy and education campaigns for social change.

As Amnesty International's Kathy Price said, "John did the quiet, demanding, behind-the-scenes work of strategizing and coalition-building via partnerships of equals to help us get past the spin and build progressive movements for hope and change."

John joined GATT-Fly, one of the earliest ecumenical coalitions, in 1973. GATT-Fly later became the Ecumenical Coalition for Economic Justice, which became part of KAIROS in 2001. Working in a former closet in the Anglican Church House, John and his GATT-Fly colleagues tackled cutting edge social justice issues that challenged the Global Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, focusing on global food security and the rights of sugar workers. John walked in solidarity with the workers and produced invaluable research that included keen analysis of what was then called the New International Economic Order. 

"We were helping to launch a new, activist ecumenical movement that was to have a huge impact," reflects Dennis Howlett, John's early GATT-Fly co-worker.

Throughout his career, John continued his focus on the global economic system and its impacts on the marginalized, as well as the increasing demands of ecological crisis. His first KAIROS job title was Global Economic Issues Researcher/Policy Advocate. His final: Ecological Economy Program Coordinator. He was passionate about ecological integrity and deeply integrated that commitment with global economic justice and human rights, particularly Indigenous rights. He retired on June 1.

Just prior to the creation of KAIROS in 2001, his research on global debt was instrumental in the successes of the Canadian Ecumenical Jubilee Initiative, including its 640,000 signatures on a Canadian petition calling for debt cancellation. At that time, John was regularly consulted by the Ministry of Finance on issues related to Canada's eventual bilateral debt cancellation.

John's research was also vital in the fight against the Canada/U.S. Free Trade Agreement, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). He was a founder of Common Frontiers Canada. His analysis and critique of these agreements helped civil society partners forge deeper relations with Mexican and other Latin American allies, and led to the integration of energy and environment in critiques of the integrationist corporate agenda.

"One side of John's contribution was the process: nursing, cajoling, guilting, challenging, encouraging international thought, consensus building and political action," writes Dr. John Foster, a longtime colleague. As Foster said, "The other side was the substance and content, building a critique of the 'free trade' agenda that had depth and had to be taken seriously. This multi-year effort was no small contribution to the forces that brought down the ALCA/FTAA project."

His later analysis of international financial architecture was a vital contribution to many international networks, including those of Jubilee South and the World Council of Churches.

Whatever the issue, John was faithful to the concerns of affected communities. As Rachel Warden, KAIROS' Women of Courage & Latin America Partnerships Coordinator said, "John took painstaking efforts to ensure that his research was informed by the voices and experiences of partners who were impacted by the policies he was writing about. He refused to water down their messages to make them more palatable to a Canadian audience. This faithfulness to partners separated his policy papers on debt, climate change, food security, trade and a myriad of issues from others."

John leaves a rich legacy in his books, policy papers and impacts on colleagues and civil society allies. His books include Power to Choose: Canada's Energy Options, Turning the Tide: Confronting the Money Traders, and Recolonization or Liberation, as well as huge contributions to Reweaving Canada's Social Programs: From Shredded Safety Net to Social Solidarity and many other ecumenical publications.

Over 11 years in KAIROS, John produced 49 Policy Briefing Papers. His last one, dated April 2017, is: Fossil Fuel Projects at Odds with Actions on Climate and Indigenous Rights. His op-eds and letters to the editor have appeared in numerous Canadian newspapers, including in rabble.ca.

Those who were fortunate to work with John note the multiple facets that made his work unique and powerful, including a dogged attention to detail, ability to distill complex data into clear digestible responses, coupled with humility and deep ecumenical understanding and spirituality.

"There have been and are very few people in the Canadian ecumenical justice community who are able to connect the biblical imperative to do economic justice with the complex reality of trade agreements, world regulatory bodies, and the so-called lenders like the World Bank and the IMF," writes Dale Hildebrand, who served as KAIROS' Global Partnership Manager from 2001 to 2009. "John Dillon was without doubt not only one of those, but probably the best. His contributions will be felt for years to come."

John brought his ethics and strong sense of solidarity and justice to the workplace and to his relationship with colleagues. He was a constant and active member of KAIROS' local, CUPE 4557 and served for over 10 years as union steward.

John was an intensely private person, quiet yet determined. His ethics were beyond reproach. He was also very kind, and could offer a gentle teasing or share a laugh when he knew you well. He deeply loved his family. 

John studied philosophy and theology at St. Peter's Seminary in London, Ontario. John spoke Spanish well, and his frequent travels to Latin America also shaped his education, forging relationships that had a lasting impression on his work and life.

John passed away suddenly of complications related to cancer on June 5, 2017, surrounded by his loving family. He was 68. He is survived by his wife, Marianne and two children, Timothy and Norah. John will be deeply missed by his colleagues at KAIROS, civil society allies, and partners in movements around the world who will carry his commitments forward.

John Dillon, Presente.

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The left needs to oppose Trudeau's military spending

8 June 2017 - 3:45am
Yves Engler

It's no wonder the Trudeau government has moved to ramp up military outlays. Even "left" commentators/politicians are calling for increased spending on Canada's ecologically and socially destructive war machine.

Yesterday Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan announced a 70 per cent increase in military spending over the next decade. Canada's new defence policy includes a significant increase in lethal fighter jets and secretive special forces, as well as enhancing offensive cyber-attack capabilities and purchasing armed drones.

A Globe and Mail story about the defence policy yesterday quoted David Perry, an analyst with the unabashedly militarist Canadian Global Affairs Institute, and UBC professor Michael Byers, who has been described as the "angry academic voice of Canadian foreign policy" to denote his purportedly critical stance. In the story titled "Canada's new defence spending must come quickly, experts say," the paper reported that "Byers said the Forces are currently in a state of 'extreme crisis,' with the Royal Canadian Navy running out of functioning ships and the Royal Canadian Air Force still years away from getting its new fleet of fighter jets. 'The government has inherited a badly broken Canadian Forces and it clearly has a monumental task ahead that is only beginning,' he said."

Despite his affiliation with a peace organization, Byers supports increased military spending. The Rideau Institute board member has repeatedly expressed support for Canada's war machine.

In 2015 the UBC professor published Smart Defence: A Plan for Rebuilding Canada's Military which begins:

"Canada is a significant country. With the world's 11th-largest economy, second-largest landmass and longest coastline, one could expect it to have a well-equipped and capable military. However, most of this country's major military hardware is old, degraded, unreliable and often unavailable. When the Harper government came to power in 2006, it pledged to rebuild Canada's military. But for nine long years, it has failed to deliver on most of its promises, from new armoured trucks and supply ships to fighter jets and search-and-rescue planes."

The Rideau Institute/Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report was partly an attack against the Stephan Harper government's supposed lack of military commitment. In Smart Defence, Byers writes, "Prime Minister Stephen Harper has reduced defence spending to just 1.0 percent of GDP -- the lowest level in Canadian history."

Byers has long called for increased military spending. In a chapter in Living with Uncle: Canada - U.S. relations in an age of Empire, edited by then CCPA leaders Bruce Campbell and Ed Finn, Byers notes that "the defence budget, roughly 1.2 per cent of GDP, is a bit low by comparable standards." He describes writing a 2004 paper for NDP defence critic Bill Blakey that called for a $2-3 billion per year increase in military spending. "A defence budget increase," it noted, "essentially repairs some of the damage that was done by a decade and a half of neglect." But, the military budget was $15 billion and represented 10 per cent of federal government outlays at the time.

A former NDP candidate and adviser to Tom Mulcair, Byers' position is similar to that of the social democratic party's leadership. After the federal budget in March the NDP leader criticized the Liberals for not spending enough on the military. "Canadians have every right to be concerned," Mulcair said. "We are in desperate need of new ships for our Navy, we're in desperate need of new fighter aircraft for our Air Force, and there's no way that with the type of budget we've seen here that they're going to be getting them."

The NDP has staunchly defended Canadian militarism in recent years. During the 2011 and 2015 federal elections the party explicitly supported the Harper government's large military budget. In 2011 party leader Jack Layton promised to "maintain the current planned levels of defence spending commitments" and the 2015 NDP platform said the party would "meet our military commitments by maintaining Department of National Defence budget allocations."

In addition to backing budget allocations, the NDP has criticized base closures and aggressively promoted the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy, a $60-billion effort to expand the combat fleet over three decades (over its lifespan the cost is expected to top $100 billion).

I'm yet to come across a formal party statement about yesterday's announcement. What do those currently vying for NDP leadership think of the Trudeau's new defence policy and how will they respond?

Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

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Mapping the 'Kleintastrophe' -- veteran journalist and researcher tracks energy policies of past Alberta PC governments

8 June 2017 - 12:32am
David J. Climenhaga

As the years Ralph Klein headed Alberta's government recede into history and memory, the enormity of the "Kleintastrophe" his policies wrought becomes ever clearer.

While right-wing ideologues in the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties continue to portray the Klein years from 1992 to 2006 as a kind of economic nirvana, a hard-nosed analysis of the period shows it to have been chaotic, economically irresponsible and environmentally and socially destructive.

Even Alberta's vaunted debt-free status turns out to have been essentially a public relations stunt, based on undermining essential public services and running up a huge infrastructure deficit -- analogous to calling yourself a good household manager because you're saving money by not fixing your home's leaky roof or crumbling foundation. Economic management under Klein boiled down to giving away the store to multinational energy corporations and leaving taxpayers to pick up the pieces when the oil and gas markets went south.

Now veteran Calgary journalist, author and researcher Dr. Gillian Steward has made an important contribution to the overdue and necessary reassessment of Klein's leadership with the publication yesterday by the Edmonton-based Parkland Institute of a new report analyzing the oilsands policies of previous Alberta governments and the situation inherited by the NDP government led by Premier Rachel Notley.

In Betting on Bitumen: Alberta's Energy Policies from Lougheed to Klein, Steward tracks policy development from the era of Peter Lougheed, which began in 1971. During that period, Alberta's first Progressive Conservative premier emphasized orderly development of the oilsands, a big government role to kick-start bitumen development, and determination to ensure oilsands extraction returned benefits to the people of Alberta.

The Klein years, with their total capitulation to industry interests including a royalty policy that provided only nominal returns to the people who owned the resource, provided a dramatic contrast -- and set the stage for the economic challenges faced by the province in a period of falling world petroleum prices and rising environmental concern propelling worldwide efforts to move away from a carbon economy.

In other words, Steward has charted exactly what former Alberta Liberal leader Dr. Kevin Taft was talking about about 20 years ago when he wrote Shredding the Public Interest: Ralph Klein and 25 Years of One-Party Government.

History shows that Taft got it right. Klein responded at the time by calling him a "Communist," launching Taft's political career as leader of the Alberta Liberals, after which he is remembered as the best premier Alberta never had.

Steward recounts how with the connivance of regional media the Klein government allowed an industry dominated "task force" on oilsands development to pass itself off in the public's mind as a neutral agency with ties to the government.

In a sense, one supposes, it was tied to the government. The spokesman of what should be described as a lobby was the president of Syncrude Canada Ltd. It was organized by an oil industry trade group, the Alberta Chamber of Resources. The Klein government tossed aside the Lougheed government's good stewardship policies and adopted the "task force's" self-serving recommendations holus bolus, including a generic royalty regime the industry had been demanding for years.

Consider this passage from Steward's report:

"The generic royalty regime was designed to encourage oil sands investors by assuring them that they would pay almost no royalties (royalties are not a tax but are considered as rent paid by producers for the use of a publicly owned resource such as oil) until they had paid off all the costs of constructing the project. So while the project could in fact be producing oil for sale to the market at the going price, royalties would be only 1 per cent until the cost of construction was entirely paid off. Between 1997 and 2010, oil sands producers paid Albertans less than $20 billion in royalties and land sales for the rights to more than $205 billion worth of bitumen. In other words, the industry was getting 'free oil' and putting it on the market when, by 2008, U.S. refineries were paying $100 US a barrel for Canadian crude oil." (Emphasis added.)

Steward concluded her report: "It is important for Albertans to understand this history if we are to avoid the pitfalls that come from giving control of development decisions about such an important resource to one stakeholder at the expense of the broader public interest."

No kidding!

The report is part of the Corporate Mapping Project to research the corporate power of the fossil fuel industry in Canada, jointly led by the Parkland Institute, the University of Victoria and the B.C. branch of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, and supported by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Klein died in 2013.

Whatever can it mean? Kenney supporter launches run for new party's leadership ... against Kenney

Doug Schweitzer, the Calgary lawyer who once pondered a run for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party but decided to support social conservative Jason Kenney instead, yesterday launched a bid to lead the United Conservative Party, Kenney's unite-the-right brainchild.

Being the first thing of interest to happen in the race to lead the still-nonexistent party in many days, Schweitzer's announcement generated an enormous amount of ink -- or its digital equivalent, at any rate -- in The Globe and Mail yesterday. The CBC was similarly generous.

In the Globe story, Schweitzer mildly knocked Kenney's social conservatism -- at least by implication -- telling the Globe's reporter that he's "fiscally conservative, socially moderate," and coming right out and saying he supports gay-straight alliances in schools, unlike you-know-who.

Other than that, Schweitzer didn't provide much information about his platform, although he promised to do so later. His campaign website is startlingly uninformative. His slogan is "New Blue," which evocatively suggests the traditional fashion advice for brides: "Something Old; Something New; Something Borrowed; Something Blue."

The announcement seems curious, given Schweitzer's previous support for Kenney, for whom he acted as a scrutineer in the PC leadership contest.

Well, a feller can change his mind, can't he?

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

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