Controversial Public Servant Cuts Coming – Canada’s Magic Shrinking Trick

April 27, 2012 4:03 pm

Public Servants Series

What will Canada look like if tens of thousands of public sector jobs are lost by the end of this year? That is the question plaguing economists, unions and political analysts alike. These potential job losses follow the federal Conservative government’s announcement to freeze wages and deliver $8 billion in cuts over the next five years. The goal? Rid Canada of its $56 billion deficit over the same time period. Last year’s announcement prompted a collective gasp of horror. Not since Paul Martin’s 1995-96 austerity Budget has Canada seen anything close to such numbers. That was the year Ottawa cut program spending by 8.8 per cent and reduced public sector employment by 14 per cent. Cuts of that magnitude loom again. Treasury Board President Tony Clement told the Empire Club of Toronto in January the cuts could be as deep as ten per cent, which equates to spending “of anywhere between $4 billion and $8 billion.” Without question, Canada will feel the reductions. Big time.

And while Martin’s shrinking trick saved Canada from becoming, as the Wall Street Journal put it “an honorary member of the Third World” this time around there are poignant differences.  The Conservative’s $4 billion program spending cuts amounted to less than 2 per cent of total federal spending. (This would the Treasury Board maintains, return the federal government to a balanced budget in 2015/2016.) The Chrétien-Martin cuts amount to spending cuts of more than 2.7 per cent of GDP. What really makes the impact different this time around is the nature of the cuts. Martin’s 1995-1996 Budget spread the pain – payments to individuals, transfers to other levels of government and direct program spending. The current Conservative government’s focus is on direct program spending which means highly concentrated layoffs of the public-sector employees that deliver them. And it is this aspect that has the public sector unions worried – very worried.

Without question, Canada will feel the reductions. Big time.

The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) that represents 57,000 government scientists and professionals maintains Canadians will lose all round. The cuts will imperil the economy and leave Canadians bereft of crucial public services. (An economic analysis by the Canadian Association of Professional Employees (CAPE) released in February projects the loss of up to 116,000 jobs in Canada’s public and private sectors. CAPE argues this will topple Canada into recession.) How can a country with a gutted public sector provide sufficient public services? Gary Corbett, PIPSC President remains dedicated to doing just that. “We are committed to defending the public good due to the erosion of public services and the related economic and social impact of job losses on communities across the country.”

The type of public services slated for cuts also concerns Corbett. “Our members are professionals whose jobs can be summed up as protecting Canadians. Any time thousands of their positions are on the line, public safety demands a full and transparent accounting of the impact,” says Corbett. Earlier this year, the government announced the layoffs of food and safety inspectors and scientists that monitor water quality and pollution levels – that is, public servants crucial to the functioning of a first-world country. Read more about PIPSC on page 54 of Ottawa Life Magazine March/April Edition.

An analysis by economic think tank the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), “The Cuts Behind the Curtain: How federal cutbacks will slash services and increase unemployment,” validates Corbett’s concerns. The CCPA estimates federal government employee job losses of between 60,100 and 68,300. The City of Ottawa would be especially hard hit. Our city’s unemployment rate would soar from 6.2 per cent to 9.2 per cent.

The CCPA also looked at programs that would be cut.  Some of the most vulnerable are hit hard. Support for low-income families, seniors, the unemployed, environmental programs, programs for Aboriginal on-reserve housing, training and primary health care and workplace and food safety inspectors would all be cut. Canada, the CCPA report maintains could lose up to 1,500 food and safety inspectors in the Canadian Inspection System – all within 12 months. “This” the report added, “despite Canada’s still-vivid memory of the 2008 listeriosis outbreak.” (This refers to the Maple Leaf Foods tainted cold cuts incident that killed 23 Canadians.) And if that wasn’t enough, Canada’s international profile would be hurt. Cuts to Canada’s international development program would also be affected.

Proposed by the Tories is $1 billion in cuts over the next fiscal year, $2 billion for 2013-14 and $4 billion (which could go as high as $8 billion) by 2014-15. Under the microscope are 70 government departments and agencies which are required to submit scenarios for a five and ten per cent cut to their budgets. This, the Tories say, will help eliminate a $31 billion deficit by 2015-16.

Proposed by the Tories is $1 billion in cuts over the next fiscal year.

A way of assessing the potential impact of the cuts is to compare and contrast the Tory slash plan with the size and shape of the 1995-96 budget cuts.  At the time of the 1995-1996 cuts, the world had written off Canada as an economic basket case.  Ottawa cut deep and Canada rebounded. The GDP grew an average of 3.3 per cent a year. Canada then proceeded to outpace other G-7 economies, investment grew 5.4 per cent a year and employment expanded by 2.1 per cent. The number of welfare recipients halved and the national debt fell to 29 per cent in 2008-2009 from 68 per cent in 1995-96. The federal Conservatives believe the 2012 cuts might set Canada on track again. But the tone, the vein and intent feel different this time around.  Many argue the Tories are targeting many of the programs and public services that are defining features of the Canadian fabric, what makes our country unique.

Might there be another solution to Canada’s deficit conundrum than across-the-board cuts to government departments?

Lieutenant-General Andrew Leslie, who commanded the Canadian army during the Afghanistan mission thinks so. So do economists and social think tanks like the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the C.D. Howe Institute and even the Conservative Fraser Institute.

Leslie proposes a nuanced approach. Instead of axing across the board, cuts should be targeted. Ironically, he says the Department of National Defence should be cut. In Report on Transformation 2011, Leslie proposes a wholesale deflation of the national headquarters of Department of Defence. Among the 43 recommen-dations is the redeployment and elimination of 3,500 regular forces personnel and 3,500 civil servants in the department, cutting 30 per cent from the $2.7 billion spent each year on private contractors, consultants and services and the consolidation of departments that overlap and dupli-cate each other.

Niels Veldhuis, Vice-President of Canadian Policy Research at the Fraser Institute.

Niels Veldhuis, Vice-President of Canadian Policy Research at the Fraser Institute, advocates a Martin-era redux. “What they did was to put every single government department under a series of six tests. This is something the current government should do today.” The final results might, Veldhuis suggests, result in some departments being unaffected by cuts, some being disbanded altogether with others falling mid-way. The Martin tests included assessing departments on affordability, ability to serve the public interest, scope for private/public sector partnerships and the necessity of government involvement. Reductions at the spending level are another solution to Canada’s deficit woes. Veldhuis suggests the removal of the 100-odd “special treatments” such as credits and allowances offered by the government to the ordinary taxpayer through to corporations.

David Macdonald, Senior Economist at the CCPA, the Fraser Institute’s ideological counterpoint, offers  another solution Canada’s deficit woes – eat the rich. Solutions include a new tax income bracket for Canadians who earn $250,000 a year or more, closing high end tax loopholes for Canada’s ultra wealthy, getting rid of the capital gains tax and capping Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) contributions to $15,000 instead of the current $22,000. Only wealthy Canadians can contribute $22,000 a year, turning RRSPs into a tax shelter for the rich.

Alexandre Laurin from the C.D Howe Institute offers other revenue raising solutions – user fees for services offered by Crown Corporations, the full or partial privatization of government services and switching the tax mix from corporate taxed to consumption taxes. Easing the corporate tax burden would Laurin says “create more economic growth.”

But no matter the solution to Canada’s deficit woes, the effects of the government’s plans on the country remain a dark horse.  As the government unveils its budget, things will likely become a bit clearer.  But it has been a situation that, Corbett, as the head of Canada’s largest professional public sector employee union, finds unacceptable. “For us it is about working smarter, not cutting the public sector wholesale, it’s about better planning and identifying where you want to take the public service.” Time will tell where Canada’s public service will end up and where Canadians are going to feel the pinch.

SIDEBAR: Finance Minister Jim Flaherty disagrees with conclusions in report by CAPE

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty

While public sector service unions are heeding CAPE’s findings, Canada’s Finance Minister Jim Flaherty dismisses them.  In February, Flaherty told CBC’s Evan Solomon that CAPE’s projected $8 billion cuts are “way outside the realm of possibility.” As for the prospect of 116,000 job losses, Flaherty stated the government has “a very complicated process for work adjustment in the federal government. Nothing happens quickly in terms of work adjustment changes: it takes a year or two, even perhaps three in some cases, so moderation in all things, and we have a fair amount of attrition.” However, when Solomon probed Flaherty on the scope of the estimated between 5-10 per cent  cuts Flaherty remained tight-lipped. “We’re working on it, reviewing all the work of the Deficit Reduction Committee and we’re not at final figures and I’m not being coy about that,” Flaherty said. With the 2012 Budget being tabled in the House of Commons on March 29, only time will tell.

The Expendables: Political Advisors, Consultants and Media Commentators

April 17, 2012 9:13 am
Screen shot 2012-04-17 at 9.08.42 AM

It is said that there is no honour among thieves. After watching the reaction from both the White House and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to recent comments made by one Hilary Rosen concerning Ann Romney, wife of the Republican Party’s likely presidential nominee, we could safely expand this old adage to read that there is no loyalty among politicians and their advisors in an election year.

Last week, when appearing on a three-way discussion panel on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360, Democratic political consultant and White House advisor Hilary Rosen attempted to frame Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney as being out of touch with today’s female American voters. She claimed that Romney’s wife, Ann, could not be seen as a true spokeswoman for the problems, concerns and fears that many working (and out of work) women are grappling with because she was wealthy. More specifically, Rosen stated that, “Guess what? His [Mitt Romney’s] wife has never actually worked a day in her life. She’s never really dealt with the kinds of economic issues that a majority of the women in this country are facing, in terms of how do we feed our kids, how do we send them to school, and why do we worry about their future.”

Hilary Rosen

Rosen’s remarks did not go unnoticed. Shortly after the panel discussion was over, Ann Romney responded to Hilary Rosen on FOX news, driving home the fact that she has worked for decades raising a family and has indeed faced many challenges in so doing, challenges which are like those of many American women regardless of their socio-economic status. In essence, Ann Romney rebutted Hilary Rosen’s comments by insisting that raising a family is as valid a form of work as is working a nine-to-five job outside the home. In the immediate aftermath of Rosen’s remarks and Romney’s response, President Barack Obama, his administration and the Democratic Party machine have proactively engaged in damage control in an effort to distance the President from the likely fallout that Rosen’s “class and gender warfare-based” gaffe would have on the Democratic Party in general and on President Obama in particular.

Knowing that the stakes were too high in November’s presidential election to risk any association with anything or anyone that could hamper the President’s re-election campaign, senior White House officials immediately began excommunicating Hilary Rosen from the Democratic Party. During a press conference, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said that Hilary Rosen did not work for the President as an Obama re-election advisor and stated that he did not even know who she was. On CNN, David Axelrod, who is serving as the chief campaign strategist for President Obama’s re-election bid, unequivocally stated that Hilary Rosen’s comments were her own opinions and that she was not associated with the White House as an advisor to the President — despite the fact that Rosen had visited the White House for business purposes more than thirty times in the recent past according to Secret Service records.

Ann Romney

Gaffes like Hilary Rosen’s are nothing new in politics. However, what is new is the immediate dog-eat-dog reaction that Rosen’s comments have precipitated, a reaction which has so far resulted in her being shut out or, to put it more bluntly, thrown under the wheels of the bus by her own political party in near record time. When politicians make a gaffe — and all do no matter on which side of the aisle they may sit — there is more room for forgiveness than there is with political operatives, consultants and media commentators. For instance, when outgoing President Ronald Reagan referred to Michael Dukakis, the Democratic Governor of Massachusetts who would challenge Republican George H.W. Bush in the 1988 presidential election as an “invalid” at a White House press conference, or when, on the 2008 campaign trail, then Democratic Senator and now Vice President Joe Biden told a wheelchair-bound Missouri State Senator to “stand up,” people let it pass. However, when a political consultant or advisor makes a gaffe, the situation is markedly different. Immediate dismissal and no delay in distancing the politician from the offending individual is often the first line of defense in the battle to avoid damaging reaction in the court of public opinion. The reason, of course, is that the comment, if left unaddressed, could very well translate into a loss of votes at the next election. Such is the case with Hilary Rosen.

Rather than admitting that Rosen was indeed a White House advisor who erred in making a comment that was accusatory and inappropriate (a common enough human failing), the Obama administration has spared no effort in distancing itself from her. As a result, there is little doubt that her career as a Washington-based political operative and Democratic political consultant is likely over. Politics at the national level has always been a zero sum game; yet it would seem that the consequences are especially swift for advisors and consultants who find themselves at the wrong end of a comment which could prove damaging to a re-election campaign. The reaction to Rosen’s comments should serve as a warning to all political operatives and workers that loyalty is not absolute and that, in an election year, everyone is expendable. This lesson is equally as pertinent here in Ottawa as it is in Washington.

Global Trade Wars Past and Present: the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of the Sky

April 3, 2012 9:07 am
U.S. Representative Willis C. Hawley & U.S. Senator Reed Smoot in 1929

In 1930, as the United States of America and much of the Western world slipped further into what would later be called the Great Depression, the American Congress and Republican President Herbert Hoover were convinced that the best way to stop the hemorrhaging economy was to pursue a path of ardent protectionism through the implementation of “beggar thy neighbor” policies. The best known of these policies was the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act which was signed into law in June of that same year amidst much support from a broad cross-section of the American populace. Although the Act was originally intended to spur investment and create employment in America’s declining agricultural industry by placing extremely high tariffs on foreign agricultural products, by the time that congressmen and senators from both parties were through, the law had raised tariffs to unsustainable levels in virtually all segments of the American economy.

Naturally, nations outside of the United States quickly retaliated by tabling their own protectionist laws with the aim of increasing tariffs on American products and services. Some countries even went so far as to ban the purchase of American products and services in the attempt to make their own economies competitive despite Washington’s protectionist response to the economic crisis. The Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act backfired on Herbert Hoover and the Republican Party by strongly exacerbating the Depression and by contributing to the election of America’s only four-term president, Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt, two years later in 1932. The end result of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act and the retaliatory “beggar thy neighbor” protectionist policies that it spawned was arguably the first global trade war in history.

A Boeing 707 lifting off.

Today, despite the Western world’s efforts over the decades to encourage freer trade and thus avoid repeating history in terms of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, it would seem that the protectionist urge still lives on. One need look no further than the European Union’s (EU) ongoing attempt to require all airlines flying into EU airspace to participate in its Emission Trading Scheme (ETS). In an act of bureaucratic arm-twisting, that scheme would force the international airline industry to become more fuel efficient and pay reparation to the EU for the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by commercial airplanes flying into the EU. As of this past January, all airlines flying into the EU are legally obligated to purchase carbon credits which are to be used to offset the emissions created by burning jet fuel in the turbine engines that power virtually all commercial airplanes. Although payment for such permits does not become mandatory until the spring of 2013, airlines in countries operating outside of the EU are already beginning to implement their own retaliatory measures.

Not surprisingly, the United States, Canada, Russia, China, India and also the majority of the other nations that maintain large commercial fleets beyond the borders of the EU strongly object to the EU’s unilateral, punitive program. They are seeking the most effective way to implement retaliatory measures against the EU’s overreaching bureaucracy if a diplomatic solution cannot be found. The retaliatory response to the ETS being considered by many nations consists of a mix of both legislative and economic action.

China has officially prohibited its national airline from participating in the ETS.

On the legislative front, China has officially prohibited its national airline from participating in the ETS. India has taken a similar stance by advocating a boycott of the program, while the United States of America and many other Western countries have considered the possibility of altering existing flight paths so as to bypass the geographical regions included in the ETS. That move would translate into the loss of countless millions, if not billions, of dollars of revenue generated by tourism and its supporting industries which have taken the easy access to countless travellers from beyond the EU for granted in their current business models. A refusal to fly into EU airspace by many popular airlines would require travellers to land in countries outside the EU and then to find their own alternative form of transportation into the EU, a move which would make travelling to EU countries more difficult and also more expensive. Given such a scenario, if countries within the EU wanted to maintain the steady stream of travellers required to sustain their existing business models, they would likely have to assume the extra costs associated with facilitating access to the EU. In a nutshell, travellers would face a much more complicated two-step process to enter the EU. Furthermore, within the international aviation community, there is talk of imposing a surcharge upon all European flights, something that could be even more costly than the consequences from the ETS.

Within the international aviation community, there is talk of imposing a surcharge upon all European flights.

To make matters worse for the proponents of the Brussels-based program, China is in the process of cancelling an order from France’s aircraft manufacturer Airbus, a deal said to be worth over $14 billion. That move will represent a substantial economic loss of revenue for the French manufacturer in particular and for the European aeronautic industry in general. It would seem that “beggar thy neighbor” policies are back and that the ETS could more appropriately be labeled the “Smoot-Hawley of the Sky.”

The only real difference between the controversial piece of American legislation from the 1930s and the current ETS is that the motivation for the protectionist legislation has changed substantially. In the 1930s, the motivation for the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act was based on creating a way to allow American businesses to better exploit America’s natural resources for economic gain. Today, some eighty-two years later, the European Union is unilaterally implementing a punitive tariff program under the guise of protecting the planet from industry-specific growth in carbon dioxide emissions and reducing the exploitation of global natural resources — in this instance, the fossil fuels from which jet fuel is made. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

While the threat of the world’s first global trade war in the sky looms on the horizon, there may yet be a silver lining should the EU refuse to soften its hard-line approach on the objections to the ETS. If the nations that refuse to participate in the ETS follow China’s lead and vote with their feet by cancelling the purchase orders of EU-made commercial aircrafts, North American aircraft manufacturers such as America’s Boeing and Canada’s Bombardier could gain the billions of dollars in revenue from future fleet purchases that would have gone to European manufacturers like Airbus had the ETS program not been enforced.

Negative Political Advertisements in 1988: The Blueprint for Today

March 20, 2012 10:41 am

Any day you’re not moving the ball forward, it’s moving backward. Lee Atwater, the controversial Republican political consultant and mentor to Karl Rove, coined this insightful maxim while he was serving as the manager for George H. W. Bush’s 1988 presidential campaign. Atwater’s statement can be considered a timeless piece of advice that should be kept in mind by all politicians, political consultants and pundits no matter where they may fit on the political spectrum. The core principle behind the maxim is the importance of staying on message, of always defining yourself and of never letting your opponent define you. However, since consistently achieving these ends in any political campaign is not always an easy task, the ball often begins moving backward when all three goals are not reached.

Many tactics are used by political consultants in the attempt to move the ball forward when crafting their candidate’s message and to avoid having the ball roll backward by being pulled off message because of distractions from opponents or from the media itself. However, there is one widely-used tactic in the United States, and which is increasingly used in Canada, offering the potential to move the ball both forward and backward simultaneously, thus helping one candidate but hurting another at the same time. That tactic is none other than the negative attack advertisement.

Lee Atwater

Negative advertisements are nothing new. They have been used for the better part of half a century in American politics, but it wasn’t really until the 1988 presidential election that the effectiveness of the technique would be fully realized. Flawlessly executed, it could diminish the credibility of the target of the advertisement while successfully reshaping voters’ opinions of the attack ad’s intended protagonist. In 1988, the National Security Political Action Committee aired an advertisement that is still considered by many to be the most successful negative attack ad of all time: the infamous “Willie Horton” advertisement.

The advertisement contrasted Republican George H. W. Bush’s view of crime and its punishment with that of his Democrat opponent, then Governor of Massachusetts Michael Dukakis. It focused on Dukakis’s policy of granting weekend passes to prisoners serving time for felony offences in the state of Massachusetts. In a manner deemed by many to be racially charged, the advertisement highlighted how Willie Horton, an inmate serving a life sentence for murder, was let out on a weekend pass but went AWOL. During his extended weekend leave, he kidnapped a young couple, stabbing the man and raping the woman before being apprehended some months later in the state of Maryland. The advertisement wrapped up with the pithy phrase, “Weekend prison passes: Dukakis on crime.” Although the advertisement was produced outside the Bush campaign by the National Security Political Action Committee, when it was coupled with the guerilla-like campaign tactics utilized under the direction of Atwater, the Bush campaign was able to reshape the public’s opinion of Dukakis and eliminate his roughly seventeen point lead in the polls. The end result was a landslide victory for Republican George H. W. Bush in November of 1988.

George H W Bush & Lee Atwater in 1988

Twenty-four years later, the legacy of those negative attack ads perfected in the 1988 presidential campaign lives on. In the ongoing 2012 Republican presidential nomination process, candidates have spent millions of dollars generating negative advertisements in an attempt to reframe and redefine an opponent in a less favorable light, albeit with more subtlety than in the no-holds-barred Willie Horton advertisement.

The success of the Willie Horton ad demonstrates that using negative advertisements can move the ball forward, benefiting those who launch the advertisement and, especially, the candidate who is positively associated with the advertisement. However, there is always the possibility that this same practice can be damaging to those who launch the advertisement.

Mary Matalin, the widely respected Republican political consultant who worked on the 1988 Bush campaign with Lee Atwater and who served as the deputy campaign manager for the 1992 Bush re-election campaign, stresses the importance of keeping a campaign positive until just before going negative. Launching a negative ad when the public already views your candidate negatively can be extremely damaging since it risks a backlash from those who claim to hate negative campaigning. In other words, you cannot successfully launch a campaign by projecting negativity from the outset. To do so would seriously jeopardize your campaign by swiftly moving the ball backwards. The pitfalls of such a strategy are illustrated by the recent Ontario provincial election where the Progressive Conservative leader, Tim Hudak, who went negative from the outset and did not project a positive vision for Ontario, was rejected by Ontario voters.

Mary Matalin

Because they understand that negative advertising can be a dangerous double-edged sword, many candidates will claim that they are running a “positive” campaign and will extol the virtues of such a campaign to voters even as they purchase millions of dollars worth of airtime and fire one negative attack ad after another at their opponent. To see a striking example of this phenomenon, one need look no further than the Republican presidential candidate nomination race. In state after state, most candidates have launched multiple negative advertisements but are still careful to remind voters that they are running a positive campaign. This seemingly contradictory behaviour brings to mind another old maxim worthy of note: that is, in all politics, perception is reality.

Shallow Graves

March 19, 2012 4:34 pm
Pg21_by OLM Staff

The Kingston Mills Locks are located off a road that snakes its way through north Kingston. They can be usefully described as a point at which the city merges with the countryside. It was here that on June 30th, 2009 the Kingston Police made the grim discovery. Three sisters and an older woman were found dead in their Nissan Sentra, submerged in the Rideau Canal. Zainab, Sahar and Geeti – aged 19, 17 and 13 respectively – were the daughters of Mohammad Shafia and Tooba Yayha. The fourth victim was 52-year-old Rona Amir Mohammad, who at the time was thought to be the girls’ aunt.

The Shafia family had driven from Niagara Falls to Kingston the night before, where everyone with the exception of the brother Hamed was to stay, before making the final leg of the journey home to Montreal. After Zainab, Hamed was the second oldest child. Both he and Mohammad would later tell the police that he decided he would keep driving to Montreal that night and return to Kingston in a couple of days. Mohammad would later inform Detective Steve Kroopman that it was a last-second decision for the rest of the family to stop in Kingston. “If Tooba was awake we would have kept driving to Montreal,” he says to the detective. If they had kept driving, his three daughters and their aunt would never have gone missing. Zainab, he would go on to say, had a history of taking the family car out for “joy rides.” Perhaps this explained their disappearance. In any case, when the vehicle and bodies were found, it was assumed their night of innocent fun took a tragic turn. At some point while driving the car Zainab found her way to the locks and, with the other three passengers still in the car, drove into the Rideau Canal. Trapped in the submerged vehicle, the three sisters and their aunt had little chance of escape. Although the water in which the car and bodies were submerged was only a few metres deep, it was believed the four victims drowned to death.

Publicly, the police allowed the family to grieve. Nevertheless, their suspicions about the parents and their son were immediate and ran deep. The reasons were obvious. The notion that three daughters and their aunt would take a car out for a ‘joy ride’ was possible, but hardly likely. Rona’s presence alone would have raised doubts for the police. How irresponsible would she have to have been to willingly go out with three young girls? Zainab, after all, didn’t even have her driver’s license. That sort of behaviour would not only have been irresponsible, but utterly reckless given what the police soon learned about her family. Mohammad, the police discovered, was exceedingly strict, especially where his daughters were concerned. Their punishment for taking the car out for a ride would have been severe.  The story’s implausibility was exacerbated by its tragic end. It was almost impossible to imagine a scenario in which a driver would mistakenly veer off the road, onto to the grass and then into the canal. It would require a deliberate effort to drive a car in the part of the canal where the Nissan was found.

The Shafias’ claims about what happened on that fateful night their daughters and Rona went missing were bizarrely inconsistent and implausible.

Indeed the Shafias’ story and the Kingston Police’s immediate response established a pattern that was to become the hallmark of the subsequent investigation and trial. The Shafias’ claims about what happened on that fateful night their daughters and Rona went missing were bizarrely inconsistent and implausible. The Shafias, moreover, were ill prepared for the intense scrutiny to which they would soon be subject. All three would change their stories and all three would sometimes appear indifferent and even disdainful of the legal process in which they were hopelessly caught up. The police and Crown prosecutors, by contrast, were professionally trained to tease out inconsistencies in these sorts of stories and to uncover motives for murder. The police didn’t allow their immediate suspicions to prompt unwarranted conclusions. They would meticulously gather and examine evidence while remaining committed to upholding the rights of Mohammad, Tooba and Hamed. The police also knew had to set traps. The Shafias would quickly fall into one.

Police suspicions justified a court -issued warrant allowing police to wiretap conversations among Mohammad, Tooba and Hamed. The recorded conversations would prove decisive in the investigation. Mohammad especially would strike any listener as not only guilty of the murders, but also unrepentant and self-righteous.

“If they came back a hundred times, I would kill them a hundred times again,” he says in one conversation.

He refers to his daughters as ‘whores’ who brought shame to the family. When Tooba expresses a hint of remorse, he insists that what they did was right. The recorded conversations were remarkably self incriminating. Together they constitute a damning body of evidence. They were also remarkable for establishing the twist-ed rationale for the murders. “Even if they hoist me up in the gallows, nothing is more dear to me than my honour….Let’s leave our destiny to God,” he says at one point. In two sentences, Mohammad articulates the ideas motivating his decision to kill his daughters and his first wife. Mohammad’s faith complemented his zealous commitment to upholding his family’s honour.

In addition to the recorded conversations among Mohammad, Tooba and Hamed, there was other compelling evidence that the three were guilty of killing the three sisters and Rona. It was soon discovered that Rona was not the aunt of the sisters but rather Mohammad’s other wife. Hamed’s claim that he had driven to Montreal the night the four victims went missing was contradicted by his cell phone activity, which suggested he remained in Kingston. He would call 911 the next day to inform the operator he had been in a single vehicle accident in an empty Montreal parking lot. Yet there were parts of a broken headlight found at the Kingston Locks, suggesting that the Nissan had been pushed by another vehicle into the canal. That vehicle was presumed to be the family’s Lexus. The used Nissan had been purchased only days before. Hamed had conducted on-line searches for web sites that provide instruction on how to murder someone without getting caught.

Police formally charged Mohammad, Tooba and Hamed with four counts of first-degree murder on July 22, 2009.

There was a shared sense among those observing the trial – the media and local residents – that the deaths were not a tragic accident, but instead a horrible crime. Each new revelation only confirmed the shared belief that Mohammad, Tooba and Hamed were guilty of the crimes for which they were on trial. Mohammad couldn’t even summon a sense of remorse. At one point in the proceedings prosecutor Laurie Lacelle asked him if he thought his daughters and Rona deserved to die.

“Yes,” he said.

“If they came back a hundred times, I would kill them a hundred times again."

Yet the prosecution’s assessment could not definitively answer all questions concerning the deaths of the daughters and Rona. The biggest challenge stemmed from the indeterminate outcomes of the forensic reports. For the reports did not precisely reveal how Zainab, Sahar, Geeti and Rona died. If they drowned, why was there no indication they had tried to escape from the vehicle after it was pushed into the Rideau Canal? Were they rendered unconscious before being pushed? This would seem likely and yet the pathologists suggested there were no traces of alcohol or drugs in the four women’s bodies. Both the Crown and the police must have been aware of the potential uncertainties such imprecise findings may have raised for the jury. Their shared strategy thus had to focus less on the question of how precisely the four women were killed, and more on why they were killed. Why would Mohammad, along with his second wife Tooba and their son Hamed be intent on killing four of their own flesh and blood in such brutal fashion? The answer, according to the Crown, was to preserve the family’s honour. The prosecution would contend that according to the three accused, the daughters had sacrificed that honour by shamelessly adopting Western styles of dress and behaviours. As for Rona, she was an expensive nuisance whose inability to conceive was another source of family shame. The proof was in the long trail of evidence of abuse and intimidation. The Shafias created an intolerable climate of fear from which all the victims in their own way had tried to escape.

Rona Mohammad’s memoirs make for compelling reading. The story that emerges from them is one of a middle-aged woman who felt trapped in an abusive marriage and an unhappy home life. The memoirs document the family’s circuitous route to Canada, the birth of the family’s seven children and, most interestingly, the growing rivalry between Rona and Tooba, Rona’s growing fear of Shafia and Sahar’s despair. It is small wonder that the prosecution introduced the diary as an important piece of evidence.  Rona’s estrangement from Mohammad appears rooted in her inability to conceive. Mohammad went to great lengths to help Rona towards this end, but also resented her for her inability to give him the children he desperately desired. Tooba was able to provide Mohammad with seven children, a fact that she apparently leveraged to assume a more privileged and dominant role in the Mohammad household. Rona strikes the reader as increasingly aware of her precarious place in the family. She fears Mohammad and Tooba’s shared hostility. Occasionally she is defiant, especially towards Tooba. But her defiance is tempered by her genuine desire to establish a more secure existence and more fulfilling home life. Her efforts were to no avail. At one point, Rona writes of a conversation between herself and Tooba.

“You are not his wife, you are my servant,” Tooba says to Rona.

On another day, she writes of Mohammad “hitting her.”

By virtue of being the oldest sibling, Zainab had come closest to escaping her oppressive home life. She would fall in love with a young man. At one point, she left home for the relative safety of a women’s shelter. But, as the jury would learn, the family persuaded her to return home. She would later marry her boyfriend, only to have the marriage annulled the next day.

Sahar attempted suicide and spoke of how fearful she was of her father and brother.

The trail of evidence led directly back not only to the Shafia household, but to Antoine de Saint-Exupery, a school located in the Montreal borough St. Leonard and attended by both Sahar and Geeti. School staff was increasingly alarmed by both girls’ behaviour and wondered if their home life was the source of their struggles. There was evidence that the parents did not want Sahar and Geeti to get an education. Their absentee record would have been among the highest among students at the school. Their grades suffered. Sahar attempted suicide and spoke of how fearful she was of her father and brother.  She told teachers that she hoped to leave school and get a job. It was not because she was without academic ambition. On the contrary, Sahar spoke of wanting to study to become a gynecologist and return to Afghanistan with the hope of helping women there. But her home life was so distorted by fear and abuse that what she wanted to do now was to work so that she could leave home and support herself and her sister Geeti. That scenario was impossible. Quebec’s laws would not have allowed it.

Sahar’s terror is what inspired hopes of escape, but it is what also served to keep her in her family’s grips. When confronted with the knowledge that her parents would be called to the school, she immediately retracted the allegations. School staff would soon learn why. When speaking to staff, Tooba wanted to know if Sahar had kissed a boy she was perhaps dating. Sahar’s teacher at the time responded no, Sahar had not kissed a boy not because it wasn’t true, but because she feared for Sahar’s safety.

For those teachers and school officials who knew Sahar and Geeti, the evidence that their home life was characterized by threats, intimidation and sadness was too great to ignore but beyond the school’s mandate to address. Quebec’s Youth Protection Agency was thus called to assess the sisters’ problems in school and at home. The response on the part of the child protection agency was immediate but, in the end, somewhat bewildering.

The testimony of Jenna Rowe exemplifies why this is so. Jenna Rowe is a retired social worker who worked for Quebec’s Youth Protec-tion Agency. In her testimony, she conveyed intelligence and sensitivity, exactly the combination of traits one would hope to find in a social worker. On May 7, 2008, she was given a Code 1 report (codes highlight the urgency of the problem. Code 1 is the most urgent) regarding Sahar. Sahar was complaining of being extremely fearful of her father and had recently attempted to overdose on medication in a bid to commit suicide. But when Ms. Rowe spoke with Sahar in person, the young girl again retracted her allegations. She pleaded that her parents not be informed of what she had said or that she had attempted suicide. Ms. Rowe insisted, however, that she was obligated to speak with her parents. According to Ms. Rowe, Sahar was crying profusely during their entire conversation and that she was extremely fearful. Although not inevitable, such a reaction on the part of a young girl who has very good reason to fear her parents is somewhat predictable. If her father is abusive, then of course she is going to be terrified of him knowing that she has disclosed such abuse to teachers and social workers. Social workers must be intimately familiar with this sort of scenario.

Moreover, Ms. Rowe’s interviews with other family members should have done nothing to assuage her concerns for Sahar’s safety. Tooba indicated she had no idea Sahar felt “emotionally rejected,” nor did she know that Sahar had taken pills in a bid to commit suicide. She adamantly denied they exerted any pressure on Sahar not to go to school. Yet Sahar’s frequent absence from school is one reason why teachers and social workers were so concerned about both Sahar’s home life and her life as a student. Ms. Rowe’s remained deeply suspicious of Tooba’s denials.

Ms. Rowe’s interviews did not end with Sahar’s mother and nor did her suspicions. She met with the father and son that same day. In keeping with everyone’s testimony who had any contact with the father, she said he was “very angry” when he learned a report had been filed. He demanded to know who filed the report and declared from the outset that he would hire a lawyer. Ms. Rowe assured him that he would never be told who filed the report. He angrily denied every allegation. He vehemently dismissed, for example, the suggestion that his son cut Sahar’s arm when he threw a pair of scissors at her. “Do you think I would give my son permission to do that to his sister?” he remarked to Mrs. Rowe.

Other than the string of adamant denials on the part of all family members interviewed, there was little that would have assuaged Ms. Rowe’s concerns for Sahar’s well being. Yet after contacting her manager the decision was made to let Sahar go home, but with the understanding that they would conduct follow up assessments. They did so. On May 8th, Sahar was at school and on May 9th, Ms. Rowe met with Sahar again. Sahar was wearing the hijab that day. Ms. Rowe characterized Sahar as still cautious but happier. She indicated she wanted to stay at home. Somehow this was enough assurance that Sahar’s problems at her home had been satisfactorily resolved. “It was decided the child wasn’t necessarily at risk,” Mrs. Rowe testified. The file was closed.

Burned Alive

In her heartbreakingly sad memoir Burned Alive, a young Arab woman, who goes by the name Souad, writes of her life growing up in a remote village in the West Bank. From a very young age, she understood that her life would be horribly constrained by custom and violence. Her father would regularly tie her hands and feet to a pole and tape her mouth shut to prevent her from screaming out for help or in pain. He would then proceed to beat her with a cane or a belt. Souad knew that her only hope of escaping her brutalized existence was to marry a man. It was perhaps this certainty that helped to stir her love for a nearby neighbour. She first began throwing him discreet glances from her home’s terrace. He reciprocated and before long they would rendezvous in a field with tall grass in which they could remain hidden. They had sex on a few occasions. Souad was soon pregnant, but the man with whom she was in love disappeared upon hearing the news that he was the father. She endeavoured for months to conceal her pregnancy in the hope that there would be some resolution to her ordeal. But when her parents confirmed that she was with child, a decision was made to kill her. They could not tolerate the shame that their unwed daughter’s pregnancy would bring to bear on them. The family’s honour was at stake. One day, Souad’s brother-in-law doused Souad in gasoline and set her ablaze. As the flames consumed her, she ran to an area where others saw and – mercifully – helped her. They sprayed enough water to extinguish the flames and managed to get her to a hospital. She survived despite her family’s best efforts to kill her even as she was being hospitalized. In prose that is disarmingly precise, she explains to the reader the place of girls and women in her community and the role notions of shame and honour assume in her family.

Speaking of her brother, she writes, “Assad was violent like my father. He was a murderer, but that word doesn’t have any meaning in my village when it comes to having a woman killed. It is the duty of the brother, the brother-in-law, or the uncle to preserve the family’s honour. They have the right of life and death over their women. If the father or mother says to the son: ‘Your sister has sinned, you must kill her,’ he does it for the sake of honour…”

The term “honour killings” has been attached to the deaths of the daughters and Rona as soon as police suspected that they were murdered and not the victims of a tragic accident. Police soon came to believe that the four victims were murdered in order to save the family’s honour, as understood by the father.  To make the point, one of the prosecution’s last witnesses was an expert in honour killings. Shahrzad Mojab is an Iranian born professor at the University of Toronto. Mojab’s testimony constituted a powerfully effective summary of the ideas that seemingly motivated the Shafias.

“Even the assumption of non-marital relations is seen as a huge violation of the family honour….Even a rumour can cause the killing of a young woman,” Mohab testified.

Moreover, the female body is where honour is contested. Men who adhere to this system of beliefs will often seek to ruthlessly control women – wives and daughters – under their dominion. She went on to say that no one religion can be identified as the source of this phenomenon, as honour killings have been carried out among people of all the major faiths.

The female body is where honour is contested.

The defence did not have an enviable task. The recorded conversations, the physical evidence and the demonstrated motive together constituted an overwhelmingly strong body of evidence against Mohammad, Tooba and Hamed. Although they would question the alleged time line of events, the thrust of their strategy was to challenge the perception that the three accused were fundamentalists who would be motivated to uphold their family’s honour in such a ruthless fashion. During Tooba’s testimony for the defense, for example, she insisted the family was much more liberal than they have been depicted. The defence did show family photos in which the female members weren’t wearing headscarves or the hijab. They also made clear that Shafia grew up in an accomplished and seemingly liberal Afghani Muslim family. His brother is a surgeon. Others are similarly accomplished. Mohammad himself was a successful businessman who left Afghanistan with his family in order to escape the sort of tribal customs with which he was now being associated. The underlying point was clear, even though the defence never explicitly stated it. Mohammad would not kill three of his daughters and his first wife because they would not adhere to his Quran-inspired rules.

Indeed much of Tooba’s testimony was meant to reconcile the Quran’s competing dictates. Yes, she said, it was their duty as Muslims to instruct their kids in the way of their faith. But they could not force their daughters (or the rest of the family) to abide by all of its rules. Were these not the priorities of any parents who wanted their kids to retain their faith while growing up in a secular society? Similarly they were told they could not have boyfriends or get married until after they finished school. But ultimately it was their choice as to whom they would marry. Tooba recalled her uncle’s insistence that Zainab marry a relative of his. Tooba repeatedly informed him that his daughter wasn’t “chattel” and he therefore could not keep pressuring Zainab to marry this man.

Yet, most of Tooba’s testimony could not have persuaded the jury that she, Mohammad and Hamed were innocent. On the contrary, much of what she said about Mohammad only confirmed that he has a terrible temper and that the family – including Tooba herself – lived in fear of upsetting him. Tooba repeatedly suggested that she wouldn’t inform him of developments for fear of his reaction. If he was angry at someone, he would yell and constantly raise the subject long after the incident in question had passed.

In late January of this year, the jury delivered its verdict. Mohammad, Tooba and Hamed were all convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to 25 years in prison without parole. Most of those who gathered outside the courthouse celebrated the verdict. But the palpable sense of relief didn’t settle the questions that formed the trial’s backdrop. How could Quebec’s Youth Protection Agency close the file on Sahar with so little evidence that her home life had changed? Even without the benefit of hindsight, the decision to do so seems tragically shortsighted.

The other question to emerge from the verdict’s aftermath is perhaps less understandable. Is the term ‘honour killings’ more obfuscating than illuminating? Although it is a term most perhaps most readily associated with Islam, the violence it denotes can be observed in many different societies and under the banner of every major religion. To be sure, domestic violence is a universal problem. Yet it is pure folly to ignore the particular sets of ideas and customs that allow men to ruthlessly control and indeed snuff out the lives of women.

It was a bleak winter day when I recently walked around the Kingston Mills Locks. A strong wind was swirling, carrying with it first rain and then hail. A flock of geese was gingerly walking on the partially frozen water. At this time of year, the area has a desolate quality about it. Trees are bare, water levels in the locks are low and the visitor’s centre is boarded up. Amid the grey, however, were fresh red flowers placed where the lock ends and Colonel By Lake begins. It is also where the bodies of Rona, Zainab, Sahar and Geeti were found more than two years ago. Much time has passed, but the memory of the four women will not soon be forgotten

“A House Divided Against Itself”: The 2012 Republican Race for the White House

March 12, 2012 8:50 am

In the summer of 1858, two years before he would become the first Republican President of the United States of America, Abraham Lincoln uttered a phrase that still applies when he accepted his party’s nomination as the Republican U.S. Senate candidate for the state of Illinois. At the lectern in the Springfield statehouse, referring to political issues of the day, Lincoln stated that, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” Today, 154 years later, that single sentence could be used to sum up the results of Super Tuesday 2012 and, on a larger scale, the Republican Party’s continuing difficulty in finding, and then nominating, a candidate supported by all the different demographics within the GOP who could challenge Democratic President Barack Obama in this November’s presidential election.

Abraham Lincoln 1858

Super Tuesday, the first Tuesday in March of a presidential election year, is traditionally seen as both a confidence builder and a field narrower. Essentially, it is a day when ten different states hold their primary elections or caucuses to try to determine the candidate who best represents their interests in the contest to win the Republican Party presidential nomination. However, the key word here is try. For a Republican candidate, the first real test in the road to the White House hinges on the ability to gather the 1,144 delegates needed to secure the party’s nomination. Super Tuesday is seen as crucial in this race since there is a total of 419 delegates up for grabs in the ten states on that one day. Furthermore, the demographic cross-section of the states voting on Super Tuesday is perceived as a microcosm for the voting habits of many of the other states in the union.

Nevertheless, the most important state from a candidate’s point of view is Ohio. Ohio is seen as having one of the closest and most representational demographic samples of the entire country. As the saying goes, to win the presidency, you must win in Ohio. While former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney did indeed win Ohio — albeit only by an extremely small margin — alongside Massachusetts, Vermont, Virginia, Alaska and Idaho, Romney is still facing stiff opposition from former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, a more polarizing candidate, who won three states on Super Tuesday: North Dakota, Tennessee and Oklahoma.

Although Romney remains the frontrunner for the party’s nomination, many inside and outside the Republican Party continue to question his legitimacy as a conservative. The former Massachusetts governor is often labeled as being too moderate. Despite the fact that Romney has won the greatest number of delegates to date and consistently polls better than any of the other Republican contenders against President Obama, he continues to frustrate the more conservative wing of the Republican Party, including the Tea Party movement: a sure sign that the field will not be narrowed anytime soon.

Santorum, Romney, Gingrich and Paul

Instead, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul — the four remaining candidates — will all likely stay in the race, continue to trade punches and to air their dirty laundry through negative attack advertisements perhaps until the Republican Convention in August of this year. On the Democratic side, such a prolonged nomination process occurred just four years ago when Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama fought each other well beyond Super Tuesday until Obama eventually won the nomination. Many would argue that the lengthy nomination process in 2008 strengthened Obama as a candidate for the general election. The jury is still out on whether the ongoing Republican races will have the same effect on Mitt Romney if he does eventually win the Republican Party’s nomination.

The reason why this is less certain for Romney is that, for the time being, the Republican Party appears to be a “house divided against itself.” Romney is having trouble winning over the more conservative voters as well as many blue-collar voters which is translating into hard-won primaries and caucuses in states outside of the Eastern seaboard. At the other end of the spectrum, Rick Santorum is running strong in the blue-collar and more conservative Mid Western states. The victory of Tea Party favorite, Georgia native and former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, seems to be limited to the Southern states.

Santorum and Romney

Unless one of these candidates is able to obtain the required 1,144 delegates needed to secure the nomination before the Republican convention in August, there is a possibility that no nominee will have been elected, thus splitting the Republican Party along clear geographic and demographic lines, with no one candidate being able to appeal to all factions. This is a dream come true for President Obama and the Democratic Party. It would result in a brokered convention in which delegates would need to be divvied up or swapped and political horse-trading would be required so that one candidate would have enough delegates to win the nomination. The other wildcard in such a scenario would be to parachute in another candidate capable of uniting the Republican Party in a way that none of the four candidates have, up until now, been able to do. In either case, a brokered convention would reduce the prospects that a Republican candidate could defeat the incumbent president.

And so, the Republican Party’s nomination process continues: primary after primary and caucus after caucus. Unless the Republican Party’s coalition of voters coalesces around one of the four candidates in the race, Abraham Lincoln’s prophetic warning could come to describe his own political party, costing his party the White House.


Ottawa Life Interviews NDP Candidate Niki Ashton

March 8, 2012 5:27 pm
ashton feature

Editor’s Note: New Democratic Party leadership candidates Thomas Mulcair, Brian Topp, Martin Singh and Nathan Cullen did not respond to Ottawa Life Magazine’s request for an interview.

Niki Ashton (born September 9, 1982) is currently the New Democratic Member of Parliament for the electoral district of Churchill in Manitoba. She was first elected in the 2008 federal election.

A resident of Thompson, Manitoba, she is the daughter of Manitoba provincial NDP cabinet minister Steve Ashton and has been an instructor at the University College of the North. In 2005, Niki Ashton defeated incumbent NDP Member of Parliament Bev Desjarlais for the NDP nomination due, in part, to the same-sex marriage issue after Desjarlais broke party ranks to vote against the Civil Marriage Act. Desjarlais subsequently quit the party and sat as an independent for the remainder of her term; she ran against Ashton as an independent candidate in the election in Churchill in the 2006 Canadian federal election. Some of Ashton’s major themes in her campaign were obtaining federal funding for the University College of the North, as well as a federal government northern development agreement.

Although the labour unions in Thompson endorsed Ashton, the NDP vote nevertheless split between Ashton and Desjarlais, and the riding was won by Liberal Party candidate Tina Keeper. Ashton defeated Keeper in the 2008 election to regain the riding for the NDP.

On November 7, 2011, in Montreal, Niki Ashton launched her campaign as the ninth person to join the NDP leadership race.

OTTAWA LIFE: Do you think that balancing the federal budget is important? If so, why… and if not, why not?

NDP Candidate Niki Ashton

NIKI ASHTON: Balancing the budget is definitely important. Every penny spent on servicing debt is a penny taken out of the pockets of hard-working Canadian families and funnelled into the pockets of bondholders, bankers and speculators. It is a transfer of wealth and a transfer of power from poor and middle-income families to the rich who then get to dictate terms to governments and the citizens who elect those governments.

I come from a region of the country – the Prairies – where NDP governments have a long and proud history of balancing budgets and protecting the capacity of government to respond to the needs of their citizens. I would bring that same approach to the federal level.

This does not mean that I support austerity measures that inflict the greatest pain on those who can least afford it. I have said throughout my campaign for Leader that growing inequality is the greatest challenge confronting us as a country, and we cannot afford to make that worse in the name of fiscal restraint. Too often in Canada and around the world, governments have cut taxes for banks and oil companies and then used that reduced fiscal capacity as an excuse to cut services and supports for the rest of us. Fiscal discipline should begin with fair taxation, starting by closing the tax loopholes that don’t create new jobs or provide any tangible social benefit. We also need to look at creative ways to use monetary policy to finance needed improvements in infrastructure.

OTTAWA LIFE: What are your views on Old Age Pension reform by the Harper government?

NIKI ASHTON: I oppose plans to raise the qualifying age for Old Age Security benefits. It’s true that there will be a demographic bulge in the system, but cutting benefits for future retirees is not the way to address it. A better way to address it is to improve the Canada Pension Plan for all Canadians, as New Democrats have proposed.

I also have to comment on efforts by the Harper government to try to turn Old Age Security into a generational issue. This is typical of the old kind of politics practiced by Stephen Harper – pitting groups of Canadians against one another so he can cut benefits to everyone. The biggest losers for what the Conservatives are proposing are people from my generation and future generations who will have to work longer and will receive fewer benefits. To paraphrase an American general from the Vietnam War, the Conservatives are proposing to destroy the pension system in order to save it.

" I believe in reducing Canada’s national debt as a share of GDP over time."

Moreover, the Conservatives’ attack on the public pension system is part of a broader erosion of pensions. More and more corporations are targeting defined benefit pensions by making young workers ineligible for the type of benefits other workers have enjoyed. There is increasing evidence that my generation and future generations will be worse off than our parents’ generation. It was not supposed to be this way. It does not have to be this way. People from all generations need to come together to defend our pension system.

OTTAWA LIFE: What are your views on reducing Canada’s national debt, now at about $583 billion?

NIKI ASHTON: I believe in reducing Canada’s national debt as a share of GDP over time. I also subscribe to the view that governments should spend to stimulate the economy during times of recession and run surpluses and reduce debt during times of prosperity. Canada’s economy is still fragile. This is the wrong time to be making major spending cuts as the Harper government is proposing to do in the upcoming budget.

Even in times of prosperity, there is a right way and a wrong way to go about cutting spending. There is a direct link between greater economic inclusion and equality and lasting economic prosperity. Too often, governments have sown the seeds for a future economic downturn by making cuts and pursuing policies that increase inequality and exclude large numbers of people from the benefits of our economy.

If we want to reduce the national debt, we need to start by cutting tax expenditures that don’t create jobs—just ask the workers at the Caterpillar plant in London how well that works—or provide tangible social or environmental benefits. Do we really need to go on subsidizing the extraction and export of raw resources?

We need to cut military spending. And we need to look at ways we can use monetary policy to finance investments in transportation infrastructure.

OTTAWA LIFE: Should a percentage of GDP be spent on Canada’s military each year? If not, then do you believe American armed forces should protect the security of our Arctic regions?

NIKI ASHTON: New Democrats have an honourable history in terms of peace. We opposed the Vietnam War, the Iraq War and the war in Afghanistan. Jack Layton and the NDP fought for years to support Canadian troops by bringing them back home from Afghanistan. We must keep them home, and give them the respect and new opportunities they deserve. We owe our veterans and their families ongoing support to deal with all injuries incurred overseas, including and especially PTSD.

But we can’t just talk about peace and we can’t just provide a slightly different approach: there is too much at stake.

"Even in times of prosperity, there is a right way and a wrong way to go about cutting spending."

In government, the NDP should conduct a public defence policy review… then redefine the Forces’ roles and needs accordingly.

I believe the Forces should focus on defending Canada and providing humanitarian assistance to people facing catastrophic emergencies – from earthquakes to floods to forest fires – throughout Canada and internationally.

I do not believe that the militarization of the Arctic is the priority of Canadians living in the Arctic, nor does it reflect Canada’s interest in international cooperation and the rule of law.

OTTAWA LIFE: Should Canada purchase F-35 fighter jets – 65 of them for $9 billion?

NIKI ASHTON: I am opposed to the purchase of the F-35 fighter jets—whether they cost $9 billion or, as has been suggested, a much higher figure.

OTTAWA LIFE: Would you do anything different than the Tories with regard to a National Agricultural Policy?

NIKI ASHTON: I’ve outlined a clear vision to ensure rural Canadians share in the benefits of the wealth they create. The decline of rural communities is another indication of the growing inequality in Stephen Harper’s Canada.

As the only Opposition MP representing a rural riding on the Prairies, I’ve seen first-hand how Stephen Harper takes farm families for granted. He encourages divisions between rural and urban Canadians, between Westerners and people in other parts of the country. But he’s done nothing to address the decline of rural communities, or the growing inequality between rural and urban Canada. He’s done nothing to fight the dominance of big Canadian grain companies and shippers who will benefit from the Wheat Board’s demise.

We need an approach that ensures all communities and regions are included in Canada’s economic growth. A new politics that sees primary producers and rural communities as part of our future, not our past, as full players in our economy and as a vital part of greater Canadian society.

My plan to build an economy that includes rural Canadians includes directing more federal funds for regional economic development to community-based organizations so  communities can decide for themselves how to rebuild their local economies; allowing producers to vote on the future of producer marketing boards, rather than letting such decisions be made in Ottawa or at international trade talks; strengthening and enforcing regulations on foreign investment to protect Canadian jobs; encouraging New Generation Co-ops to give producers a chance to get a bigger share of the profits that are made off their crops (New Generation Co-operatives in other places have given farmers a guaranteed market for some of their primary production and a share of the profit that comes from adding value to their production.); supporting shortline rail and other producer-driven solutions that reduce the cost of transporting their goods to market; ensuring rural communities have access to clean, safe, affordable drinking water, health care providers including family doctors and nurse practitioners, mail service through Canada Post, and relevant news and information by maintaining CBC bureaus in northern and rural communities.

OTTAWA LIFE: Do you believe in national health standards for all provinces? Should Quebec be given special treatment, allowing it to be the only province that can impose health care user fees in violation of the National Health Act?

NIKI ASHTON: I do not believe that Quebec needs to opt out of the Canada Health Act in order to protect its jurisdiction over health care. Our party has always opposed user fees for health care, or anything that creates barriers that might prevent some people from being able to access health care when they need it. That is my position, as well.

Paul Dewar: He’s in to Win!

March 2, 2012 7:50 pm
Screen shot 2012-03-02 at 4.16.35 PM

Paul W. Dewar, 48, New Democratic Party Member of Parliament for the riding of Ottawa Centre, is running a spirited campaign for the hotly contested leadership of the NDP in the wake of the untimely death of Jack Layton in August 2011. On May 2, 2011, Layton led his party to an historic and unexpected win and onto the benches of the Official Opposition, formerly occupied by the decimated Liberal Party (once known as Canada’s Natural Governing Party). An ‘orange crush’ swept over Quebec and the NDP caucus nearly tripled in size, swelling to 103 MPs. So the conventional wisdom is that the new leader should reflect this electoral shift and hail from Quebec. But hometown boy Dewar (first elected to the House of Commons in 2006) disputes that assertion. He’s in this race to win, as he told Ottawa Life in a lively interview that took place at his office in the Confederation Building on February 3.

On October 2, 2011, Dewar announced his candidacy for the party leadership. Since then, he’s been running full throttle. Dewar is considered among the leading candidates in the leadership race. His Achilles’ heel is his halting French, but he is determined to become fluent in Canada’s second official language. Anyway, it’s no big deal: Dewar is at the same level of French Stephen Harper was at when he became Prime Minister in 2006. The NDP leadership convention will be held March 23-24 in Toronto.

OTTAWA LIFE: You’re obviously running to win. Tell us what makes you the best man for the job.

PAUL DEWAR: I think the next leader of our party has to be someone who has experience on the doorstep, on the national and international stage, and someone who can connect with people in the regions right across this country. I think I’m the best person for that, no question, in terms of my experience. I have been the party’s foreign affairs critic since 2007. The next leader of the NDP and the next Prime Minster must have those international skills. I think we also need a leader who loves people, and I think I’m best suited for that (aspect of the) job.

OTTAWA LIFEQuébec is important in this race. What does Paul Dewar have to offer Québecers?

PAUL DEWAR: If members in Québec look at what I’ve done since being elected, they’ll see that I’ve reached out to Québeckers right across the (Ottawa River), supporting NDP candidates in Gatineau and other Québec ridings. What I offer is my experience in connecting with people to build up grass roots. The leader must be out there working with the grass roots to build up our capacity on the ground. For the next election, we need a good team in place in every riding where we hold a seat, as well as making sure that those MPs are going to be household names. I understand Québec. I am very close to Québec geographically. My belief is that we need to show Québecers what we have in common. Many of our policies are very similar to the philosophy of many Québecers. The idea of the role of government and (the importance of ) foreign affairs and the environment… these are all aspects of our party platform that connected with Québeckers during our campaign with Jack Layton. We have to continue that, not take it for granted and make sure we’re not pandering. We will continue to develop a mature relationship with Québec, because let’s face it, the last federal election saw le grand changement. Québec just wanted to change what had been. They swept out the Bloc québécois and looked to us. We have to continue to earn the respect of Québec and develop that relationship.

OTTAWA LIFE: You recently announced proposals for building a more caring Canada. Tell us about your plan to help Canadian families make ends meet and lift our most vulnerable citizens out of poverty. Do you think that ordinary Canadians have never been more threatened by dire economic circumstances, job loss, poverty, loss of their homes, poor health, bankruptcy, as they are now?

PAUL DEWAR:You’d have to go back to the 1930s and the Great Depression to see such misery and financial insecurity as we now see in Canada. It’s quite extraordinary to see the lack of opportunity for many of our fellow citizens… the crushing poverty. Household debt right now is 153 per cent. In 2008, it was 123 per cent. And meanwhile, corporations have excess profits and they’re not investing. Caterpillar is leaving London, and we gave these guys $5 million in financial incentives. The priorities are out of whack here. When I talk about a more caring Canada, I fundamentally believe most Canadians want to see us take better care of each other. I believe strongly in a mixed economy but the government has a role to ensure that there’s fairness and we haven’t seen that.

We have students graduating with debts of $40,000 or $50,000. Unemployment is still stuck at 1.3 million and as many are underemployed. We are seeing a widening inequality gap in the fastest- growing economy among OECD countries. More people must decide whether to pay the rent or pay for their medicines. Many people are just a paycheck away from going bankrupt. I don’t think the Harper government fully realizes this growing income disparity. Small businesses barely got by the 2008 decline in the market; they’re trying to make ends meet and they are not getting any support from government, seemingly. They have to pay extra for credit card fees, while at the same time they are dealing with a downturn in market share. Someone asked me the other day: “Paul, are people angry out there?” I said: “Yeah, they’re a bit angry but they’re disassociated. They’ve almost given up on government. We have to deal with the question of inequality and crushing poverty. We can’t afford not to. Poverty is costing us too much.

This method we have now of downloading responsibilities on charities is simply not sustainable. Just take a look at basic needs like healthcare. Every single community I visit, there’s a crisis in homecare. Right now, the Ottawa Hospital has 15 per cent of its beds taken by people who don’t want to be there and shouldn’t be there, because we don’t have proper home care. And the Prime Minister tells the provinces: “Here’s our offer, take it or leave it.” And it’s not going to deal with homecare at all. And it’s not going to solve the crisis in our healthcare system. We’ve lost our imagination here on how to solve problems, while more and more people are falling behind. We see more and more people at the top accumulating more, while even greater numbers of people slip through the cracks.

Clearly, there’s a role here for government. There are smart things the government can do. When it comes to dealing with poverty, we must collapse all these federal and provincial programs and provide income security for larger numbers of Canadians. The savings in administrative costs would be enormous and benefit low-income Canadians. A guaranteed annual income supplement is one of our party’s main priorities. So we should collapse these programs to directly help families and seniors. We need more Homecare and Pharmacare. These are things we can do to deal with crushing poverty and growing inequality.

OTTAWA LIFE: In your opinion, are the federal Conservatives adopting policies that directly threaten ordinary Canadians, whether young or old, adding to the National Anxiety Index, so to speak?

PAUL DEWAR: I like the way that’s put. The Conservative debate is framed as: “We can’t afford this. You’re on your own. No one’s going to be able to help you.” Whether you’re a senior, a student, an unemployed worker, there isn’t anything coming from the Harper government other than: “Lower your expectations. Figure it out on your own.” There is no safety net for millions of Canadians. It bears repeating that the Conservatives have been giving inducements to the very large corporations that don’t have to pay the same level of taxes as everyday people, because prosperity was supposed to trickle down to the masses. But this didn’t happen while the safety net was being taken apart. And the bonuses and inducements are going to the people at the top and the corporations at the top, and it ain’t trickling down! I believe that most Canadians feel that government just isn’t working for them.

OTTAWA LIFE: How can Canada afford your proposed social and health programs at a time of national belt- tightening? For example, the country can no longer afford an immigration policy based on family reunification, which you advocate. The new trend is to move away from humanitarian concerns and favor “business class” immigrants who would be an asset to Canada’s economy, or skilled tradespeople who would help to fill shortages of skilled workers in Canada. What are your views on this?

PAUL DEWAR: On the family reunification issue, I would argue the following point. This could at least be neutral if not save money and here’s why. Many immigrant families are sending remittances out of this country like you wouldn’t believe. People from Sri Lanka or Central Africa or Somalia (or wherever) are sending billions of dollars out of Canada to help their families get by. Well, I’d like to repatriate that money as well as the people who are in those families.

Another thing: many business-class immigrants come here just to buy real estate. Is that really what we need strategically now? It’s a very hot market. Is that the strategy here? I don’t know. It’s just insane, the cost of real estate in some cities. Are we just going to bring in more people to invest in real estate or do we opt for strategic investment in key areas of the economy where we need capitalization and where we need to bring in more trained workers?

There are key areas in the economy where we need capitalization: we need more trained workers. On that note, we are now bringing in tens of thousands of foreign-trained workers… into places like Fort McMurray for the oilsands. At a time when we have 1.3 million unemployed Canadians, why aren’t we coordinating skills and job training across this country? We’re not. So before we open the floodgates to skilled workers, which I’m happy to do if it’s done smartly and strategically, we also need to coordinate skills and jobs training. That is a huge void right now and it’s in every province I go to. We have a skills shortage right now and it’s going to get worse, but there is no coordination. Between Employment Insurance programs, colleges and training facilities, and businesses, we need to get our act together. Training of the person must be connected to a job and to an industry.

Paul Dewar: He’s in to Win! Cover photo: Paul Couvrette

Government, business and labor must work together towards the same end. There must be jobs associated with the training, before we open the floodgates to skilled immigrants. There is a great model in terms of immigration settlement: the Nominee Program out of Manitoba. The principle is to coordinate the immigrant’s skills with labour market needs and then connect the two. The skilled immigrants are being directed to smaller towns where a job awaits them… to help boost the local economy. It’s a very strategic approach to linking skilled immigrants with jobs, instead of dumping them in a big city and letting them fend for themselves. This directing new Canadians to small towns for employment purposes isn’t really a new approach. It’s how we settled the West! There is also disproportionate unemployment among First Nations’ youth. This is a problem that must be dealt with, as First Nations are the fastest growing demographic in the country. Fifty percent of First Nations are 26 and under. First Nations’ youth also have the highest suicide rate in Canada, so it seems to me that this is an area we should be focused on.

OTTAWA LIFE: As Leader of the Opposition, how will you handle the gathering economic storm? What would you say to entrepreneurs and business people in Canada about your ability to manage the nation’s finances as a potential future Prime Minister?

PAUL DEWAR: You have to do your homework and dig into all the facts. When I look at our economy right now, I see that household debt is not sustainable. It’s very precarious right now. We need to figure out how we can alleviate household debt in this country. We must also invest in capitalization in many of our businesses and diversify our economy. We have to alleviate the tax burden on small and medium-sized businesses. We have to be responsible in our taxation for large corporations. Ramping it down to 15 per cent when Canada already offers the lowest corporate taxes among the G-7 nations doesn’t make sense to me. We want to drive investments towards transforming our economy. Innovation and research and development are actually a matrix of failed policies, particularly when we look at R&D tax credits. Just looking at the federal government’s own report on innovation, I would completely change the way it’s being done in this country.

As Prime Minister, I would put more focus on public investment that will lead to private development and patents. This is not happening. Three quarters of our investment right now is into R&D tax credits. This leads to companies tinkering with R&D to justify receiving the credits… and we see the results. Germany doesn’t offer any of those R&D tax credits. It believes in good solid public innovation research groups connected to universities linked to companies after patents are designed. This approach has been hugely successful, spurring all sorts of development, particularly in new energy that is coming out of R&D investment dollars. Many of these ideas are patented and turned into products. So as PM, I would change the tax structure to reward the job creators, change the way we structure our investments in strategic areas and look at revamping R&D in this country so we get more innovation and job creation.

OTTAWA LIFE: What is your military policy? Should Canada have a strong military independent from the USA? Would you boost Canada’s military presence in the northern territories to give our claims to sovereignty in that area some teeth?

PAUL DEWAR: I believe in an independent foreign policy. Right now, it’s pretty scattered or just a dim echo of Washington’s. I’ll invest in our military so we get back in the game of patrolling our borders (especially in the North), invest in people and military assets in the North. As for the F-35 jet fighter, not only do we not know the cost, we’re not sure if it actually functions north of 60! We should be involved in peacekeeping again. I’ve had discussions with generals about this. I know that peacekeeping is different than it was; it’s not the same as Cyprus. But this doesn’t mean peacekeeping still is not a valid investment for us and for the world.

We’ve been asked three times in the last four years to invest in peacekeeping in the Congo and we’ve said no. The Congolese need our professionalism. They’re not asking for thousands of troops. They’re asking for our professional officer class who know how to conduct peacekeeping in a way that is going to be effective. Right now, we’re 53rd in our contributions to peacekeeping. The void is being filled by developing countries as revenue streams. I don’t believe Canada needs more militaristic muscle in the world today. What we need is smart diplomacy, effective peacekeeping and development that is going to be innovative on the ground to help people with their own economies, buttressing the adaptation to climate change, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. They have a severe drought problem there due to the effects of climate change.

OTTAWA LIFE: What do you think of (Bank of Canada Governor) Mark Carney and the Bank of Canada’s policies?

PAUL DEWAR: I’m actually a fan of Mark Carney. He’s a very bright guy. He raises questions that typically Bank of Canada Governors don’t bring up, like household debt and exposing concerns within the economy. The way he phrases it is very diplomatic and genteel, but also warning… and saying: “Here’s the state of affairs right now and where we’re heading.” Carney practices realpolitik and is very well respected among his colleagues internationally. And that’s important because we have to deal with what’s been happening in Europe and the United States. You no longer can just hunker down and look at your own economy and say: “We’re okay.” There’s a confluence like never before. I appreciate his acumen there.

I believe in balanced budgets. If you’re going to have a national debt, you’ll be paying down the debt and won’t be able to invest in people. There are times when you have to do deficit financing. People ask if the NDP can manage the store. That’s one of our biggest challenges. But we’ll follow the money and see where it goes. I can tell you… watching the Conservatives in power, everything they do – the soaring costs of the F-35s, to the download in the cost of new prisons, Tony Clement showering millions of dollars around his backyard, their lack of response and attentiveness towards the warnings of (Parliamentary Budget

Officer) Kevin Page, I would assert that they actually aren’t managing the store well. The Conservatives are simply benefiting from the policies of previous governments and our well capitalized and regulated banks. There was a time when Stephen Harper and many other conservatives were pushing for merging of the banks and deregulation of our financial system. Thankfully, we didn’t go down that path. There was a lot of pressure on the Liberal government to go that route… and there was some deregulation in allowing for banks to do some other financial investing. Some have argued concerns around that, but thankfully we didn’t go the path of the United States, which led to the 2008 financial meltdown, from which the US is still recovering.

What would the Conservatives have done if they had been in power in the 90s? I’m sure they would have merged the banks and deregulated and we would have some of the challenges they’re having south of the border because of it. We have to be strong as New Democrats and social democrats to say – look what we’ve done in the past in provinces like Manitoba, where prudent fiscal management was the order of the day. We need balanced budgets because we want to make sure that people will trust us with their money, that the money is going to be invested in people and not just debt financing, because that’s money you can’t invest in health care and education.

*photos by Paul Couvrette*

Canada’s New Health Care Discord

February 28, 2012 7:09 pm

By: Dan Donovan and Claire Tremblay

In December, federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty unilaterally unveiled a new non-negotiable health-care funding plan that runs to 2024. Under this plan Federal healthcare transfers will continue to increase by six per cent until 2016-17. After that, increases will be tied to economic growth including inflation which is currently at four per cent and will never fall below three per cent. Kevin Page, the parliamentary budget officer says the new health care funding formula will slowly reduce Ottawa’s support for Medicare, while putting the federal government on a solid fiscal footing for the future.

However, the provinces will have to shoulder a growing health care burden over the long run and they can’t afford to do that without cutting spending elsewhere or raising taxes. Assuming the federal government’s planned health care transfers grow at 3.9 per cent a year from 2017-18, Page says his office’s projections show that the federal revenues to health will be significantly reduced while the provinces debt to cover health care will increase substantially.

Leadership on health care for the feds is not an option. It's a solemn responsibility.

That means Ottawa’s share of provincial health care funding will fall to an average of about 18.6 per cent for the coming two decades from about 20.4 per cent today and will continue to slide significantly after 2035 if the policy persists. The Provincial Premiers met in Victoria B.C. on January 16 and heaped scorn on Prime Minister Stephen Harper for an “unprecedented” and “unacceptable’ move to limit federal financing for Medicare without first consulting them. Quebec Premier Jean Charest said “it’s obviously unacceptable. The federal system of government cannot work that way” and noted that “when Medicare was initiated in the 1950s and 1960s, the federal government drew the provinces in by picking up 50 per cent of the health care tab.” Under the new Harper formula, this could drop over the long haul to as low as 11 per cent.Senior government officials told Ottawa Life said that 6 per cent annual increases are not affordable and the problem is not the amount of money provided, but rather how some of the money is being spent. They cited the Ontario Liberal government’s waste of $1 billion health dollars on an eHealth scandal and the millions reported wasted by the Ontario government’s air ambulance agency on salaries and perks. Premier Dalton McGuinty noted that “leadership on health care for the feds is not an option. It’s a solemn responsibility.”

The new health care agreement might be better named a discord.

All of this has put Federal Minister of Health, the Hon. Leona Aglukkaq in the hot seat and there is no question she will be there for quite some time. Ottawa Life had the chance to sit down with her recently. While the situation has changed somewhat given the recent Premiers’ meeting, we share some of her thoughts.

When asked about her response to the negative reaction from the Premiers regarding the new Harper funding formula, Aglukkaq says she wrote to her provincial and territorial colleagues reminding them that “Canadians are best served when we work together.” She is also proposing “greater collaboration between the federal and provincial-territorial governments — including a pan-Canadian approach for monitoring how the health care system is performing as the provinces search for innovative approaches to improve health care and curb escalating medical costs.”

Aglukkaq says she would “be pleased to continue to engage in intergovernmental discussions and actions with respect to innovation, improved accountability and other areas that will enable better, more sustainable health care.” However, she made it clear that there are limits on the health care funding options from the federal government. Rather than increased spending on health care, Aglukkaq says, “we could also pursue a co-ordinated approach to measuring and reporting performance across provincial and territorial jurisdictions in order to improve health care for Canadians.”

The new Harper funding formula will create 13 separate health care systems with vastly different levels of service.

But British Columbia Premier Christy Clark isn’t biting, saying that the new Harper funding formula will create 13 separate health care systems with vastly different levels of service. “I think Canadians want one national system with comparable levels of service.”

What the federal government has offered is a pure per capita funding over the long term. While this ensures stable funding and predictability for budget making, some provinces gain and others lose. Under the new formula, Alberta will gain $1 billion, while B.C., Ontario and Quebec, all provinces with more seniors and more demand for health services, will all lose money.

The Harper formula will see the feds hand over health-care transfer money with no strings attached. The nagging ongoing question of how the government would address prescription drugs to make sure all Canadians – regardless of income –  have access to medication? How would wait times for medical care be reduced? When will every Canadian have a family doctor it can call their own? There are a lot of unknowns and they are now solely up to the provinces. For many, this is going to create a confusing, chaotic health care system. Given the fiscal and demographic realities most of them face, one can only assume that controlling health cost inflation will trump improved service in provincial health reforms.

The provincial ministers have formed a “Health Care Innovation Working Group” and Ontario’s Dalton McGuinty and Saskatchewan’s Brad Wall have proposed a federal “innovation fund” that would help provinces implement specific programs in key areas — potentially such as home care and seniors care that would address priorities, other funding options and ways to renew the health-care system. Aglukkaq has been clear that there will be no new funding.

With respect to drug coverage, provinces and territories are responsible for determining whether or not to provide their residents with publicly-financed drug therapy.

On some of the other critical issues such as drug coverage, which will become a bigger issue for provinces, Aglukkaq said that too is a matter for the provinces and territories. “With respect to drug coverage, provinces and territories are responsible for determining whether or not to provide their residents with publicly-financed drug therapy,” she told Ottawa Life. “As provinces and territories continue work on their own priorities, we welcome the progress made on improving drug access for their residents and welcome opportunities to work with them on areas of common interest, in ways that respect jurisdictional responsibilities.” In other words, it’s time for the big drug companies to get lobbyists to the provincial capitals because that is where the action is headed.

Her position, it seems, will not change. What this all means is that how much you spend on prescription drugs will continue to depend on what province you live in. Of the 13 jurisdictions, six, including Ontario, put more pressure on private drug plans to cover drug costs. Healthy Canadians who work full time and have insurance are covered. Sicker Canadians are not. A 2011 Commonwealth Fund International Health Policy Survey of 4,000 Canadians showed that cost is a barrier to health care for sicker Canadians. One in four Canadians who rated their health as fair or poor skipped a dose of medication or did not fill a prescription due to cost. This compares to ten per cent of other Canadians. Another one in eight skipped a recommended test or follow-up treatment due to cost.

Then there is Aboriginal health. On this, Aglukkaq offered no specific comment. But it is a situation in need of urgent redress. The Aboriginal population is Canada’s fastest growing demographic. It also faces developing world rates of chronic illness and infant mortality. The Aboriginal population increased by 45 per cent between 1996 and 2006, six times the rate of non-Aboriginals. In 2008, the tuberculosis rate for Inuit was 186 times greater than for non-Aboriginals. For First Nations it was 31 times higher. Despite this, funding for health (and education) to First Nations has been capped at a 2 per cent annual increase since 1996. By contrast, provinces – under the current health care accord – receive a guaranteed (for now) six per cent increase in transfers each year. First Nations and Aboriginal health care is provided by the federal government. At press time, the federal government was about to head into negation talks with First Nations on a number of issues. Health care no doubt will be part of the discussions.

A 2011 Commonwealth Fund International Health Policy Survey of 4,000 Canadians showed that cost is a barrier to health care for sicker Canadians.

The challenges Aglukkaq faces in creating a new equitable health care accord that works are great. In the end, only time will tell how Aglukkaq intends to deal with Canada’s ailing health care system. With health care dominating provincial budgets (for example, over 40 per cent of Ontario’s budget goes towards health care alone) and dwindling budgets due to deficits and required cuts, this issue is going to be tough for all politicians.

But as Aglukkaq told Ottawa Life, “with over two years left in the 2004 Accord, there will be ample opportunity for further discussion with provinces and territories on how we can build on current commitments to make the health system more sustainable while improving accountability and demonstrating results to Canadians, in the North and across Canada.”

Let’s hope she’s right. With all the different parties to consult and a multitude of problems to fix with limited money, the time available to address Canada’s health care crisis may be less than Aglukkaq thinks.

Newfoundland’s Powerhouse Premier

February 22, 2012 10:29 am
kd feature

Don’t mess with Newfoundland and Labrador’s Premier Kathy Dunderdale. Armed with experience in many fields, (she is a social worker, has served municipally as deputy mayor and is, of course, a provincial politician), Dunderdale is a powerful lady with a lot of clout. As Minister of Natural Resources under former Premier Danny Williams, Dunderdale signed off on multimillion dollar development deals. The Hebron oil field development, for example, will reap more than $20 billion in royalties for the province. Despite her many achievements, her role as Newfoundland’s first female premier may prove to be her biggest challenge yet.

Newfoundland faces two main struggles. First, it is $8.2 billion in debt and second, it is facing a labour shortage crisis brought on ironically, by an unprecedented energy and resources boom. The province can’t find enough workers to complete $43 billion worth of projects.

Dunderdale has overcome two protracted labour disputes and she successfully implemented her first budget.

Fortunately, she is up to the job. Less than a year into her three-year mandate, Dunderdale has overcome two protracted labour disputes and she successfully implemented her first budget. In the first labour dispute, 14 doctors had resigned over the Government’s offer of a 31 per cent pay increase. Dunderdale quickly got a new deal signed. The second involved a protracted strike involving 15 home care workers. Dunderdale resolved the 377 day strike in five days. Then there was the budget. Dunderdale spent money on infrastructure, health care, social programs and handed out tax credits for child care, volunteer fire fighters and offered an eight per cent residential energy rebate on home heating fuel – all without blowing out Newfoundland’s debt.

Dunderdale, a dyed-in-the-wool Newfoundlander from Burin has big plans. She wants to capitalize on Newfoundland and Labrador’s oil and gas reserves. Then perhaps, ironically, Dunderdale wants Newfoundland to become a green energy giant.

The province produces 12 per cent of Canada’s crude oil and the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board estimates the province contains 479 million barrels of natural gas liquids and 10.86 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Newfoundland and Labrador’s green energy potential is equally massive – Newfoundland has more than 80 dykes, dams and hydraulic structures.

Green energy peaks Dunderdale’s interest.

“Having the oil offshore has been a tremendous lever for us because of it we have been able to make significant investments in infrastructure,” says Dunderdale. “We have spent billions this year in hospitals and improved transport links. These sorts of investments drive the economy. We have had a tremendous expansion of mining interests in Labrador that has created hundreds of new jobs.”

But it is green energy that peaks Dunderdale’s interest. The multibillion dollar Lower Churchill Hydroelectric Project would run electricity from a super dam in Labrador to the rest of Newfoundland via a power cable under the Atlantic. At a $6.2 billion dollar price tag, the hydro dam would power 1.5 million homes per year and create 10,000 person -years of employment during its construction.

“Once we bring on Muskrat Falls, we will have 90 per cent green energy in the province. I don’t think there is anywhere in the world that can say that,” says Dunderdale. Newfoundland and Labrador will have so much energy, says Dunderdale that “we will be able to market it to the rest of the world.”

The Lower Churchill is also big news for Canada. The federal government pledged a loan of $4.2 billion for the project and the other $2 billion will come from the province and private industry.

With Dunderdale at the helm, the future of Newfoundland and Labrador looks bright. “We finally have a vision of where we want to go and it is a deeply understood vision of who we are…It is a wonderful time to be a Newfoundlander and Labradorian. Not,” Dunderdale grins, “that there is ever a bad time.”

Whistleblower Claims Public Opposition Being Silenced by PMO

January 26, 2012 3:42 pm

Earlier this week whistleblower Andrew Frank  released an open letter to Canadians alleging that the Prime Minister’s Office threatened to withdraw Tides Canada’s charitable status if it did not cease funding to the environmental group ForestEthics. The allegations stem from an apparent bullying campaign in which the PMO allegedly characterized ForestEthics as an “enemy of the Government of Canada” because of the organization’s work opposing oilsands expansion and the construction of pipeline/tanker routes in Canada.

Frank is the former Communications Manager at ForestEthics, but he reportedly lost his job upon notifying senior management of his intention to go public with his accusations. Tides Canada CEO Ross McMillan denies Frank’s claims that the PMO put undo pressure on the organization.

Andrew Frank is the former Senior Communications Manager for ForestEthics and an instructor in the Environmental Protection Technology program at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. (source:

Frank’s allegations, especially with regards to ForestEthics being construed as an “enemy of the State,” is reminiscent of recent statements made by Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, who claimed that “radical” environmental groups were hijacking the review process for Enbridge Inc’s proposed pipeline and standing in the way of industry and progress.

According to Frank, it is the heavy-handed treatment of public opposition that is a troubling breach of public trust. His open-letter states,

“The language of anti‐terrorism, when applied to Canadian citizens who legitimately question the wisdom of an unsustainable oil tanker/pipeline plan, is an affront to the rights of all Canadians. It is the language of bullying. It is language that is violent and above the law, and harkens to previous examples of RCMP surveillance of Canadians for political rather than legal purposes, including Tommy Douglas. The casual use of such loaded language at the top of our government is immoral, unethical and probably illegal.”

Since the release of Frank’s public statement on Tuesday, this issue has gotten major coverage in both mainstream and social media. In just over 24hrs, Frank’s online letter has received over 46,000 views. If it is possible for a letter to go viral, then that’s exactly what this one appears to be doing. As his letter continues to light up the blogosphere, individuals on either side of the debate are increasingly coming forward. ForestEthics co-founder Tzeporah Berman says that he has no evidence to support Frank’s claims, and asserts that Frank was fired “for unprofessional conduct and breach of trust.” However, in a statement released yesterday, ForestEthics other co-founder Valerie Langer confirms Frank’s claims that the PMO targeted the organization.

Routemap for the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline (source: Enbridge Inc. 2012)

ForrestEthics is an environmental organization that discourages the use of oil-sands derived fuel. They also encouraged speakers who oppose Enbridge Inc’s proposed pipeline between near Edmonton, AB and Kitimat, BC to signup for the National Energy Board review currently underway. Joe Oliver’s public statements criticizing environmental groups that had worked to drum up public opposition towards the Northern Gateway pipeline were in direct response to concerns that the over 4000 people slated to speak at the review would cause significant project delays.

Tides Canada is a non-profit organization that funds a range of social and environmental charities including Big Brothers/Big Sisters and World Wildlife Fund. According to Frank’s open-letter, Tides Canada was phasing out its support of ForrestEthics because of pressure from the PMO.


2012 Republican National Convention: A Colossal Undertaking

January 13, 2012 4:06 pm

The 2012 Republican National Convention will be held in Tampa, Florida, August 27-30. The Tampa Bay Times Forum [JD1] will serve as the convention venue, and the Tampa Convention Center will be used for the Media Workspace.

What goes into planning a colossal event like the 2012 Republican National Convention – the Grand Old Party’s 40th presidential nominating convention? Ottawa Life asked James Davis, Director of Communications, 2012 RNC, what his job as lead organizer entailed.

How many delegates are you expecting in Tampa in late August?

James Davis: About 5,000 individuals will attend the convention as delegates and alternate delegates. They will come from all 50 states and six U.S. territories — American Samoa, District of Columbia, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands.

How many media reps/personalities from all over the world will convene in Tampa in August to cover RNC 2012?

James Davis

JD: From grassroots outlets to national news channels, the convention will be attended and covered by 15,000 or so members of the accredited media. These will include television, radio and print outlets as well as digital media such as Internet news sites and bloggers.

How do you handle the allotment of workspace, credentialing, transportation and other logistical details pertinent to the massive media presence covering the event?

JD: Our Media Operations team, led by Julie Shugar, works closely with the Congressional Press Galleries to assign credentials and workspace. Credentialed individuals and outlets will be provided workspace in the Tampa Convention Center, located just a short shuttle ride from the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

In order to accommodate the nearly 50,000 convention participants, the convention team has reserved 15,000 rooms in 100 Tampa Bay-area hotels; some rooms will be made available for credentialed members of the media.

Freeman – a Dallas-based general contractor with exhibition expertise – has been selected as the General Services Contractor for the convention. Freeman has served in this role since the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas, Texas. Freeman will provide a variety of services for the build-out of media workspace including furniture, drywall construction, room dividers or pipe and drape, material handling, signage, electrical distribution, cabling, aerial rigging and audio/visual services. Bright House Networks will provide the voice and data communications infrastructure in various locations around the convention complex.

SP Plus Gameday, an Orlando-based company, has been named the Official Transportation Services Manager for the convention. We will leverage their experience from notable local events, including Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa, the 2008 NCAA Women’s Basketball Final Four, played at the then-St. Pete Times Forum, as well as the 1999 NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four, played at Tropicana Field. The convention will use 300 buses to transport guests to and from the Forum.

How do you prevent volatile (and recorded/filmed) confrontations between opposing candidates and their supporters… or between forthright media personalities and candidates?

Tampa Convention Centre Cityscape

JD: We are confident that our party will unite behind our presumptive-nominee as we come together to officially nominate them in August.

With the grueling schedule in that pressure-cooker environment, what must the organizing committee do to keep the candidates and their spouses happy, as well as delegates, media reps and other guests?

JD: The 40th Republican Presidential Nominating Convention will serve as the center stage for our party’s nominee in August – there’s really nothing more exhilarating than nominating the next President of the United States and being part of this historic process.

The 2012 Tampa Bay Host Committee is rolling out the red carpet to welcome convention guests to a world-class event, unmatched hospitality and all the wonderful amenities that make Tampa Bay such a great place.

What role will social networking play on the convention floor?

JD: We are developing an aggressive effort to allow broad public participation in convention events and program activities. We will be rolling out some of these programs and platforms in the coming weeks and months.

Does social networking make your job easier?

Tampa Bay Times Forum

JD: Social media provides us with a greater opportunity to engage a growing number of online audiences here at the convention and across the country with our nominee’s themes and messages. According to a January 2011 report by the Pew Research Center, “some 21% of online adults used social networking sites such as Facebook or MySpace in the months leading up to the November 2010 elections to connect to a campaign or the election itself, and 2% of online adults did so using Twitter.” While more online users are seeking political information, there is also greater competition for their attention. From the convention perspective, this forces us to provide more accurate, interesting and usable content to attract online users to our social media programs.

How do you handle the presence of celebrities at the RNC?

JD: It is still early in the process so we do not have plans for the involvement of any specific individuals. However, as in years past, the convention communications office will manage a program to connect convention and Republican Party leaders; federal, state and local elected officials; delegates, community leaders and other notable individuals with journalists seeking interviews. We will do our best to satisfy as many requests as possible for journalists located here in Tampa or back in their home offices. As you can imagine, with 15,000 journalists expected in Tampa for the convention, this will be a significant undertaking. 

What major pitfalls must you avoid while organizing a convention of such monumental proportions?

Tampa Bay Forum

JD: There are many challenges to organizing a convention, from ensuring adequate hotel accommodations to implementing a streamlined and efficient credentialing process. The key to avoiding problems is understanding these challenges and having a staff with the experience and knowledge necessary to develop and implement detailed plans for every aspect of the convention. We are fortunate to have on our team a number of leaders who have worked on multiple conventions. In fact, our COO Mike Miller is on his thirteenth convention and our CEO Bill Harris is on his eleventh convention.

What changes were implemented in organizational procedures since the 2008 RNC in Minneapolis-Saint Paul?

JD: Each convention works to build off of the successes of past conventions, making changes where they are needed and leveraging the latest technologies for productivity and efficiency.

What are the great satisfactions of organizing the RNC?

JD: The 2012 Republican National Convention will stand at the forefront of American politics next August as we launch our nominee into the White House. It “kicks off” the head-to-head fall campaign that will decide the outcome of the next presidential election in November.  Being part of an effort that brings thousands of people from across the country in a peaceful and historic process is a unique opportunity.  And helping the American people, who are unable to attend in person, better understand the convention process, procedures and platform, and to better know our Republican nominee, is a great honor.

 [JD1]The venue was renamed the “Tampa Bay Times Forum: as of Jan. 1, 2012.

Police State or State of Police? Part 2

November 14, 2011 7:06 pm
Screen shot 2011-11-14 at 6.56.39 PM

A few other notable Canadian cases involving allegations of misconduct against the police:

Fredy Villanueva, Montreal, QC – August, 2008: Over three years after Fredy Villanueva was killed, no answer has been offered as to why police opened fire on the 18-year-old teenager. Villanueva , who was playing a game of dice on the street with friends, was shot after an officer attempted to arrest his brother. The unexplained shooting sparked a riot, public outcry and subsequent discussion into racial profiling.

Photo: Toronto Star

Toronto G20 Summit – June 2010: Lacy McAuley from Washington, DC was documenting arrests made outside of the G20 detention centre on June 27, 2010, when she was arrested for taking photographs. McCauley alleged she was tossed to the ground by officers, dragged three metres into an unmarked van and placed face down, before an officer sat on her back, held her throat and threatened her – causing her to wet herself. This is only one story of hundreds of protesters who reported alleged beatings, assaults or hostile detainments during the week-long political summit that has led lawyers, protesters and civil rights groups to speak out.

Harold Hyde, Halifax, NS – November 2007:  Hyde, a mentally ill prisoner apprehended for assault in Nova Scotia, was stunned five times after trying to escape a police station, before going into cardiac arrest. Paramedics revived him and he was released from the hospital on the condition that he be returned to the emergency department if the court did not provide him with a psychiatric assessment. Hyde was returned to jail without medication or the ordered assessment, and following hallucinations of “demons” and another attempted escape, Hyde was repressed on his stomach and died.

Aron Firman, Collingwood, ON – June 2010: The 27-year-old schizophrenic was shocked when he was aggressive towards Collingwood OPP officers after they responded to an assault complaint. The unarmed victim, who lived in a home for mentally ill patients, died from “cardiac arrhythmia precipitated by electronic control device deployment in an agitated man,” according to the medical examiner’s findings.

Photo: Globe and Mail

Buddy Tavares, Kelowna, BC – January 2011: The investigation into suspended RCMP officer Geoff Mantler’s videotaped misconduct is set to begin this time next year; a civil lawsuit that is one of two assault charges against the officer. RCMP received a call to shots fired at Kelowna golf club, where they proceeded to arrest a compliant 51-year-old Tavares for the careless use of a firearm. Videotape then caught Mantler kicking Tavares in the face – who at the time was recovering from a brain injury suffered in a car accident – while he was on his hands and knees. Following the incident, Tavares and the BCCLA have also alleged a civil breach in which the RCMP released an unverified statement saying Tavares’ charge was related to a “domestic violence situation” – information Tavares and his family say is untrue.

Mario Hamel, Montreal, QC – June 2011: Montreal police knew of Hamel, a homeless man with a history of severe mental illness who had been living in a rooming house downtown Montreal, when they approached him before dawn on June 7th. While tearing into garbage bags and threatening officers with a knife, Hamel was unable to be repressed with pepper spray and the officers opened fire. How many rounds were shot is unknown in the ongoing investigation, but it is known that enough were fired to kill Hamel and claim another casualty nearby. The next day, Public Security Minister Robert Dutil said he was “dumbfounded” by the shootings.

Patrick Limoge, Montreal, QC – June 2011: Patrick Limoge was on his way to work at St. Luc Hospital when police opened fire on Hamel at Ste. Catherine and St. Denis. Limoge was struck by a stray bullet and rushed to the hospital, where he later succumbed to his gun wound. The deaths of Hamel and Limoge have sparked the debate surrounding Quebec’s tactics of police-investigating-police.

Photo: Globe and Mail

Jamie Haller, Williams Lake, BC – September 2011: Haller, a 17-year-old Williams Lake girl, was being chased by gang members when she stopped a passerby to call the police. Once RCMP officers arrived on the scene, Haller was quickly placed in handcuffs and jostled into the back of a cruiser. Confused and struggling in the backseat, Haller was then held down by an officer while the other punched her several times in the face.

High-school student Tasered, London, ON – September 2011: During a quickly unfolding street brawl involving two 17-year-old students, police officers approached and shot a Taser into one of the teenager’s ears. Witnesses say the weapon was deployed without the officers yelling at the students to stop or attempting to pull them apart, and despite the fact that provincial regulations advise against Tasering sensitive areas like the head – the Special Investigations Unit has said the incident doesn’t meet its criteria for an inquiry. London police instead opted to probe into the matter internally.

11-year-old boy Tasered, Prince George, BC – September 2011: After stabbing a 37-year-old male, a young boy fled the scene of the crime into an empty building; he had been drinking wine, was reportedly wielding a knife and was prone to violent outbursts. Police tried to verbally coax the boy out of the building, which failed because he is hearing impaired and was not wearing his hearing aid. The next time he stepped out of the building, police Tasered the boy to subdue him.

Armande Cote, Sorel, QC – June 2006 – October 2011: Armande Cote placed a call to 911 in the summer of 2006 to say she had found her husband dead in the home’s gazebo from gunshot wounds to the head. Although Cote was fit to stand trial in what would have been a murder case against her (a rifle was found in the house) – the Supreme Court of Canada has been forced to throw out evidence based on police misconduct that systematically violated Cote’s Charter rights. The judge found police actions to be “aberrant” when they barged unannounced into her house in the middle of the night, searched her home without a warrant and interrogated her for hours without access to a lawyer – causing Cote to recently be set free. Criminal lawyer Frank Addario told the Toronto Star that the scenario sends a “strong and clear message” to police what happens when they do not follow minimum Constitutional criteria.

Police State or State of Police?

6:29 pm

By: Dan Donovan & Claire Tremblay

A 27-year-old theatrical make-up artist was walking along Rideau Street, Ottawa in September 2008 when she was stopped by police. Officers ran her name through their database and let her go when nothing turned up. When she then inquired as to why she’d been stopped, she was arrested for “public intoxication”. Police took her into custody. She was stripsearched, her underwear was cut off with scissors and she was placed semi-naked in soiled clothing in a police cell for three hours. The woman had been out on the town with friends.

In another case, a reporter was stripped of her press pass at a political protest. Police, she alleges, threatened her with gang rape. This, police allegedly informed her, would teach her a lesson – keep reporting and you’ll pay the price.

At the same event, a man alleged police pushed him to the ground and handcuffed him. An amputee, the man alleged police pulled off his leg and told him to hop to the police van. He refused. His leg was confiscated by police as a weapon. He was arrested.

These are not cases from Iran, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain Syria, or Mexico. Welcome to Canada in the first decade of the new millennium. The Canadian citizen referred to in the first paragraph was Stacy Bonds of Ottawa. Her case is well known because the video of her being beaten went viral on the internet. The other two individuals, Amy Miller of the Dominion and Alternative Media Centre and Revenue Canada employee John Pruyn alleged they were beaten at the G20 protests.

The allegations are shocking. But it gets worse,.Canada has the dubious reputation of being one of the few Western countries to fire a weapon at a child. Worse, it has happened twice in 12 months. In April 2011, in Prince George, British Columbia, Canadian police fired a stun gun at an 11-year-old boy. The outside police force that conducted the investigation won’t reveal the most basic details about what happened. The case raised questions about why “trained police officers” would need to use the weapon on a child. The boy is believed to be the youngest person ever to be stunned with a police Taser in Canada. An “outside investigation” by the West Vancouver Police Department did little to address the controversy, other than to conclude the officers involved didn’t break the law. West Vancouver police Chief Peter Lepine reported: “My team spent much of this spring and summer interviewing witnesses, collecting and analyzing evidence and consulting with those in the legal profession as well as subject matter experts in topics like police use of force. We have concluded that the actions of the officers involved did not violate the Criminal Code of Canada and we are not recommending charges.” Few details about the confrontation have ever been released. Police have never said whether the boy was armed or if he was attacking or threatening the officers at the time. It was later reported that the boy had serious mental issues and was holding a pen when tasered and not a knife as police had reported. Months later, in September 2011, in London, Ontario another 11-year-old boy was tasered in the head by a city of London Police Sergeant. A video of the incident shows the Sergeant walking towards an altercation and firing his Taser without warning at and knocking the boy unconscious. Before any investigation, London Police Chief Brad Duncan issued a terse statement saying the sergeant was justified in deploying the Taser without giving a verbal warning. The national standard for Taser use in Canada is that Tasers are to be used only when an officer’s life or another person’s life is in immediate danger.

The RCMP have had so many complaints against them in the past decade for improper behavior and incompetence that the Canadian public is no longer confident in the leadership, management and training levels of its once hallowed national police force. In 2010, former RCMP Commissioner Bill Elliottt had to get the Minister of Public Safety to intervene to stop an internal mutiny against him by senior RCMP officers who said he needed anger management training. Elliottt was sent to Texas on the taxpayer’s dime to take an anger management course. Elliottt, commissioner since July 2007, finally stood down this summer.

In another incident, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association is calling for an independent investigation into allegations an RCMP officer in Williams Lake, B.C., assaulted a 17-year-old girl. Jamie Haller was repeatedly punched in the face by an RCMP constable while she was handcuffed in the back of a police car. The incident happened on Sept. 10, 2011 after Haller herself had called the RCMP for assistance. Her mom Martina told local media that “I saw Jamie on the ground, crying and handcuffed and I got out and ran towards her. She was having a panic attack. She is very small and has never been in trouble with police before.” Jamie Haller claims she was mistakenly arrested and was kicking at the inside of the car windows trying to get the attention of her mom, who was nearby. Martina Jeff said she looked at the cruiser and saw the constable “put his whole upper body in the car and started punching… When I looked in the car I saw my daughter. Her face started swelling really bad. There was blood coming down on each side of her mouth. She was handcuffed, with her hands behind her back.” Haller was released the next morning without charge and alleges she did not receive any medical attention. RCMP Sgt. Warren Brown said the accounts of police officers on the scene differ dramatically from Haller’s account and police are recommending the teen be charged with assaulting a police officer.

Then there’s Ashley Smith. Sent to a youth detention centre in New Brunswick for a one-month sentence at 15-years-old, Ashley Smith came out of the centre four years later in a body bag. Prior to Ashley’s suicide at age 19, she had been placed in isolation and body restraints for years. The reason Smith was initially detained? She tossed crabapples at a mail carrier. Smith points to systemic problems from arrest to incarceration.

What is happening to the state of our police? The primary role of the police is to protect the public interest, not protect each other or cover for each other in the case of wrongdoing. Key to the effectiveness of any police force is strong leadership, competence and good training of police constables. Leadership, training, good judgment and common sense seem to be missing from the RCMP, Ottawa Police and other police forces across Canada. Police forces are better and communities stronger when they know serious allegations against police will be investigated fully, promptly and impartially and that if wrongs are committed, police will be dealt with in accordance with the law.

Where has this alleged police aggression sprung from and what is the extent of it in Canada? How do we stack up internationally? No one knows for sure. And that’s because no one is “officially” counting. Police services, according to a University of Toronto criminology report, “do not routinely release official statistics on police shootings or other use of force incidents.” The report, Police Use of Force in Ontario: An examination of Data from the Special Investigations Unit Final Report conducted for the Ipperwash Inquiry, adds research on police violence is “almost impossible to conduct because there is an informal ban on the release of any type of information that breaks down criminal justice statistics…”

In the absence of facts, there is perception. And if media reports are to go by, multiple cases of police misjudgment emerge. This includes using force when force is not necessary, breaching the Charter Rights of Canadians, questioning the decisions of judges in cases where police are found culpable of criminal conduct and conducting strip searches when they are not permissible. Then there are police chiefs who are not always providing the best example to officers under their command. From coast to coast to coast, there are cases of misjudgment all on the public record.

First, look what happened at the G20. People were crammed up in wire holding pens and female journalists covering the event alleged sexual assault by police. Not to be forgotten is G20 protestor Adam Nobody. Nobody claims police kicked him in the face after a police officer asked him his name – and he gave it.

Then there is the 2007 now legendary case of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski who was tasered to death by the RCMP at Vancouver International Airport. Police fired at Dziekanski five times (even after handcuffing him). A report released in June 2010 concluded the RCMP weren’t justified in using a Taser and that officers misrepresented their actions to investigators. Since Dziekanski’s death, the RCMP allows officers to use Tasers only when risk of bodily harm or death is imminent.

In Eastern Canada, a police officer in Labrador showed poor judgment by taking the law into his own hands. In May 2009, Constable James Woodrow, who was off duty at the time, had drinks with a woman. They went back to his home. She refused to leave. His response? Put her in the police lock up. The constable was charged with assault and forcible confinement.

Of all cities in Canada, the record of the Ottawa Police force under current Chief Vern White seems to be one of the worst. Ottawa Police have the lowest clearance rate among Ontario’s 17 largest police departments at
31 per cent, putting them at the bottom of the pack among Ontario’s largest police services when it comes to solving crimes. (Police Resources in Canada Statistics Canada report). The clearance rate is a percentage indicating how many crimes among all those reported annually to police are solved. In addition, Ottawa is the second most investigated force in Ontario for sexual assault. That means the Capital ranks second to Toronto for the number of sexual assault complaints against police officers. Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) has investigated 15 allegations of sexual assault by Ottawa police since 2005. Toronto, in first place with a much larger police force, has had 37 investigations. Out of Ottawa’s 15 investigations, two officers were charged with assault compared with three in Toronto. Among Ontario’s biggest police forces, Ottawa actually has the highest rate of investigations per officer. It also has the highest number of criminal charges laid per officer of the three largest forces (Toronto, Peel, and York) in the last five years.

Ottawa Police’s dirty laundry list is made up if a litany of people being manhandled after being charged with minor offences. Combined five citizens, Stacy Bonds, Terry Arthur Delay, Roxanne Carr, William Sarazin, and Ernest Schuhknecht are now suing Ottawa police for more than four million dollars. (Police investigations also took place in the cases of Velvet LeClair and Hugh Styres.) The true cost may never be known (lawyers for the police often put a non-disclosure clause on a settlement). However, Ottawa Police Services Board data released to the Ottawa Citizen, shows a total of $85,671 was paid out in settlements against the police in the first nine months of 2010. Another $486,500 was paid out in 2009 and $162,750 in 2008. More may be in the works. The Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) has received 300 complaints against the Ottawa Police Service since 2009.

The individual allegations are shocking. In the most public incident, Stacy Bonds was arrested in September 2008 for public intoxication. Video tape evidence showed Special Constable Melanie Morris kneeing Bonds and pinning her to the ground. Sergeant Steve Desjourdy then cut off Bond’s shirt and bra with scissors. Police then left Bonds topless in a police cell for hours. Justice Richard Lajoie threw out charges against Bonds labeling her treatment as “an indignity toward a human being.” Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty also chimed in telling the media in November 2010, “it is very, important that the police act in what is keeping in what is right, and appropriate and lawful.

Ottawa women Velvet LeClair and Roxanne Carr alleged similar treatment. LeClair, arrested in 2007 in the ByWard Market for obstructing a police officer, claimed police twisted her arm, made sexually explicit remarks and groped her. Roxanne Carr contends police broke her arm and wrist, banged her head and left her naked in a cell. Charges against Carr for obstructing police and damaging property were withdrawn upon review of a video of Carr’s treatment in a police cellblock. (Interestingly, the same officer, Detective Steven Desjourdy was implicated in the sexual assault of both Stacy Bonds and Roxanne Carr, less than two months apart. The Carr incident occurred on August 23, 2008, the Bonds incident on September 6, 2008. Carr is suing for close to $1 million and Bonds for $1.2 million. Special Constable Melanie Morris was also implicated in the Bonds and Delay (see below) cases.

Photo: Globe and Mail

As recently as August this year, a homeless man Hugh Styres alleged police forced his arms behind his back and pushed his head on to the sidewalk. Tasha Doucette, a Carleton University criminology student took photos of police hosing down the sidewalk afterwards. Styres was charged with assault. The Special Investigations Unit is investigating.

Another homeless man, Terry Arthur Delay was arrested for public intoxication and assaulting police – the same charges laid against Stacy Bonds. Like Bonds, charges were stayed after the judge saw videos of Delay’s treatment while in custody. Video evidence showed Delay being dragged into a cellblock. Special Constable Melanie Morris then kicked Delay to the ground. Judge Dianne Nicolas stated in October 2009 that Morris kicked Delay like “you wouldn’t kick a dog.” Delay is suing police for $750,000.

In yet another intoxication case, Ottawa police took William Sarazin to the cellblock after finding him sleeping in his car in a hotel parking lot in July 2010. Police accused Sarazin of having the care and control of a motor vehicle while his blood-alcohol level was over .08. A videotape captured part of what happened next. Police pulled a handcuffed Sarazin to the ground, then kicked and punched him, stripped off his pants and pulled his shirt over his head. While it is not recorded, Sarazin’s legs were allegedly pulled through the bars, crossed followed by having his body yanked up against the bars. In this case, the Crown withdrew criminal charges after reviewing “evidence of (his) time and treatment in the police cells.” Sarazin is suing police for $650,000.

In another cellblock incident a year in July 2009, Ernest Schuhknecht alleges police kicked him, kneed him and slammed his head against a table. Like the Sarazin incident, police found Schuhknecht intoxicated, this time on the floor of a Bell Street apartment building. Schuhknecht is suing three police officers and police chief Vern White for $700,000.

When you look at Ottawa statistics for sexual assaults committed by criminals, an interesting observation can be made. In a radio interview in September 2011, Holly Johnson, Professor of Criminology at the University of Ottawa, told the CBC that a third to a quarter of sexual assaults reported to Ottawa police are coded unfounded. According to Statistics Canada, an unfounded sexual assault means police concluded an assault did not occur or was not attempted. Statistics Canada also reports that unfounded reports in 2002 to 2003 range from 7 per cent to 28 per cent, which puts Ottawa at the high end of unfounded sexual assaults. Wide variations, the study stated “raise the possibility of varying police beliefs and attitudes on the dynamics of sexual assault.”

Despite Ottawa’s poor Special Investigations Unit record, the City of Ottawa has been largely silent. Few councillors, if any, have spoken out in the media about the need for police to pull up their socks. The Police Services Act states every municipality “shall provide adequate and effective police services in accordance with its needs.” This includes crime prevention, law enforcement, and assistance to victims of crime, public order maintenance and emergency response. However, according to Executive Director of the Ottawa Police Services Board Wendy Fedec, regulating police behaviour is not the Council’s role. In an email to Ottawa Life Magazine, Fedec stated “City Council does not have any responsibilities in these areas, and the role of the Police Services Board in issues pertaining to police conduct, discipline and complaints is extremely limited.” Instead, regulating police conduct lies with statutory bodies such as the Special Investigations Unit, enumerated under the Police Services Act.

Darryl Davies, Professor of Criminology and Social Justice in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Carleton University disagrees and says that while the City of Ottawa has no statutory role to regulate police conduct, it needs to speak out. He says that “we have had too many cases of police malfeasance in this city and across the country where nothing of any consequence seems to happen to police officers for egregious acts of wrongdoing.”

Velvet LeClair’s lawyer, Karin Galldin is not surprised. “Unfortunately, there are not a lot of mechanisms available to hold police accountable,” Galldin says. “Police videotape their own behaviour and they work in partnership, so their notes are very consistent with each other.” LeClair’s cellblock footage included only the parts of the video that do not show LeClair. In the Carr case, videotape evidence went missing from the court file. Coincidentally, charges against Carr were dropped.

And while Ottawa’s record is of concern, Ottawa is not alone. Police wrongheadedness is everywhere. If you ask Davies, this points to poor leadership and training of police and a police culture that places allegiance to the police service above public service.

Poor training may be responsible for the mishandling of Stacy Bonds. Bonds’ lawyer, Matthew Webber told CBC News that “at the station we have the police officers not only assaulting my client, but we have the police engaging in a strip search which is in clear contravention of the Supreme Court of Canada’s directions as to when you can engage in a strip search. It’s a lack of knowledge. It’s a lack of training.”

Judge Richard Lajoie who heard the Bonds case stated police had “no reasonable explanation” for the strip search of Bonds. The 100 pound Bonds, was “clearly cooperating.” Police actions on the other hand were “appalling,” a “travesty” and an “indignity.”

Poor training or just plain bad judgment may be a factor in Styres’ situation as well. Doucette said when she made her initial call to police she was asked “is the man an Aboriginal?”

Davies argues the poor leadership starts right at the top, from the Attorney General of Ontario down. Davies questions why – given Justice Lajoie’s harsh criticism – was Bonds still hauled in front of the courts. The Crown, led by the Attorney General of Ontario gets to decide if a prosecution should go ahead. Bonds’ chief prosecutor, John Ayre, who is also Assistant Deputy Attorney General, reviewed Bonds’ case and confirmed there was a reasonable basis to proceed. Ayre’s decision was rubberstamped by Attorney General Chris Bentley. Davies is critical of Bentley’s decision to allow the charges to proceed.

Davies also questions the judgment of President of the Ottawa Police Association, Steven Boucher, in stating Lajoie’s comments to Bonds were “shocking and disappointing.” This was in reference to Lajoie’s ruling in October 2010 describing police conduct against Bonds as vengeful and malicious. Davies argues that making a public statement on the judge’s comments indicates that the police believe themselves to be above the law.

Then there is Ottawa Police Chief Vern White. In December 2010, White told CTV News he had offered his resignation to Ottawa Police Services Board Chair Eli El-Chantiry over Bonds. Conveniently White didn’t mention was how the offer was made. In an email obtained by Ottawa Life Magazine from Eli El-Chantiry to Keith Egli, El-Chantiry states: “With regard to the matter of the Chief offering his resignation, the subject was raised by the Chief in a personal conversation with me, in which he stated that if I thought it was in the best interests of the Police Service, he would be prepared to offer his resignation. I did not think it was in the best interests of the Police Service and told him that. That was the end of the matter…” In other words, there was no written offer made by White nor was the offer made to full membership of the Ottawa Police Services Board. El-Chantiry is a personal friend of White’s and shortly after rejecting his “resignation offer” attended White’s wedding in Finland. A request for an interview with White by Ottawa Life Magazine was refused.

Two years before the Bonds’ incident, City of Ottawa auditor Alain Lalonde raised concern. In a 2005 report, Lalonde stated “caution needs to be exercised that the relationship between the Board and Ottawa Police Service does not become too familiar.” If it became too cozy, it would be “counterproductive when difficult and contentious issues need to be dealt with.

Other police foreces have had their problems too. Toronto Chief of Police and President of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police Bill Blair misinterpreted an Ontario regulation enacted before the G20 Summit as giving police carte blanche power to detain bystanders outside the perimeter fence and demand identification. The regulation accorded police no such power. Blair failed to apologize immediately once the error was realized. It was only in December 2010 after Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin released a critical report that Blair expressed regret over the incident.

Then there’s Montreal. In June this year, Montreal police shot and killed a knife-wielding homeless man and an innocent bystander. Montreal police chief Marc Parent told the media in October that police are best equipped to investigate other police. Only limited civilian oversight, if at all, is necessary according to Parent.

Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu was condemned for his poor handling of the Stanley Cup riots. During the riots, more than 100,000 people rampaged for three hours, damaging 29 businesses and a dozen vehicles. Chu was criticized for insufficient policing of the downtown core. Worse still, some claimed Chu had a template on how to do it right and just didn’t follow it. Consultant Bob Whitelaw claimed he co-authored a report of the 1994 Stanley Cup riot – the how-to-guide to Stanley Cup riots – and Chu ignored the report’s advice.

But poor leadership may be a symptom of something bigger – police culture. The Police Use of Force in Ontario: An examination of Data from the Special Investigations Unit Final Report points to five elements that contribute to a violent police culture. They are; a militaristic “war on crime” orientation where every citizen is a potential “enemy”; “war stories” that depict minorities as dangerous; an emphasis on “toughness” and “courage” and on respect. “Contempt of cop” merits punishment to those who breach it and then there is a “code of silence” which dictates police do not “snitch” on other officers. Canada, it would appear, has each of the five elements.

Take a “militaristic war on crime orientation.” Ottawa’s Tough on Crime strategy resembles a war chest, not a crackdown. Canada’s Federal Corrections system will cost $2.98 billion in 2011-12 – an 80 per cent increase of 2006-07. In 2014, it will jump to $3.1 billion. By contrast, the Afghanistan mission cost $1.5 billion in the 2009/2010 fiscal year – all this when crime is at a 38-year low. (This amount does not include the $2 billion in equipment and infrastructure in Afghanistan nor soldier salaries for that year.

The effect of a war on crime? Every citizen is a potential enemy. At the Toronto G20, 19,000 police arrested 900 people in two days – 400 for being “engaged in a criminal conspiracy to attack the city.” (This compares to 1,100 arrests in five days in five cities during the English riots in early August 2011.) The Canadian Civil Liberties Association says hundreds of people were randomly searched and did not have timely access to lawyers or medical treatment.

Then there’s contempt of cop syndrome. The Police Use of Force in Ontario study states police are more likely to use excessive force against belligerent citizens. Karin Galldin points to Velvet LeClair and Stacy Bonds. LeClair questioned police over the arrest of her friend. Bonds also asked the reason for her arrest. Both allege abuse. Roxanne Carr also claimed police punished her for supposed disrespectful conduct.

Even legitimate questions pose a risk and can result in a charge of resisting arrest. “Once they have decided to charge you with something,” says Galldin. “They are capable of detaining you and you have to defend yourself. There is a definitely a fine line between interaction with a police officer and showing enough deference to diffuse the situation.”

There’s no doubting though that policing is a tough job. Based on occupational mortality rates, policing ranks ninth (behind fishing workers, forestry workers, airline pilots and flight engineers, farmers, coal miners, roofers, refuse and recyclable material collectors and truck drivers) in the most dangerous jobs in the United States. As Matthew Torgian, President of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police explains, “police officers are required to expect the unexpected and be prepared to respond to the most unforeseen circumstances with strong judgment, high levels of mental acuity and accountability. Unique to policing is that officers run toward danger when our natural human instinct is to run away.” Given this reality, brotherhood is an understandable response.

But brotherhood can show itself in nefarious ways too. Executive Director of the Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies of Canada, Kim Pate, said “by and large, they (police and correctional officers) are diligent and they want to do a good job. But they find it difficult to call out anybody who is acting in a way they may not agree with.” Pate says mistakes may be concealed. “A culture of punishment infiltrates the staff, so instead of being encouraged to report breaches, they are ignored.” As minor breaches are forgiven so are larger ones. “By the time you get to a Stacy Bonds’ situation, someone has turned their head so many times, why would they not turn their head again?”

And beware cops who snitch. Perry Dunlop, the police whistleblower in the Cornwall Inquiry, pedophile ring said his family received “non-stop vindictive targeting by the police, church and justice system over the past 15 plus years… “After Cornwall, Dunlop and his family moved from the East Coast of Canada to the West.

Another police cultural element is “war stories” – the labeling of marginalized groups as dangerous. It may explain why Aboriginals are 3 per cent of the general population but 17 per cent of federal penitentiary in-mates or why in Saskatchewan the incarceration of Aboriginal people is 35 times higher than average. Then there is racial profiling. In February 2010, the Toronto Star reported Toronto police are three times more likely to stop a black person than a white person.

Perhaps most disturbing about the state of Canada’s police is that problems appear to start from the get go – starting with police training. Last spring 75 officers from the Niagara region wrote tests and went through rounds of interviews, vying for 17 supervisor jobs as sergeants and staff sergeants. In June, it was reported that several police officers “were caught cheating on exams that are part of the force’s promotion process.”

Niagara Regional Police Service Chief Wendy Southall wouldn’t say how many officers were involved, but confirmed that between six and eight officers are facing informal discipline. “It’s very disappointing yes, and it’s very difficult,” she said. She added “The most important thing I believe in their day-to-day duties, aside from the operational techniques that they know, is honesty and integrity. And do some breach it? Unfortunately they do… it’s a very small number.” This small number it would seem has a large influence on Canada’s police force, to the detriment of honest hard working cops.

But whatever the reason for police malfeasance – police culture, poor leadership, or a lack of accountability – something is not working and it needs to change. It appears that  many of the people who are in the current leadership roles for Canada’s police are not providing a standard of service and integrity that communities deserve.

It is notable that Vern White is on the RCMP’s short list to be the next Commissioner even though under his tenure, the Ottawa Police have the worst record of solving crimes in Canada. White has overseen a police force subject to numerous allegations of abuse of citizens at the hands of police. The allegations have hurt the City of Ottawa and made its residents question the legitimacy and competence of its police force.

White has stated publically he will stay on with the Ottawa Police until 2015. If his offer to resign over the Stacy Bonds case is any example, the seriousness of his intent remains to be seen.

Canada’s 20/20 Vision

September 13, 2011 11:19 am
Screen shot 2011-09-13 at 11.46.52 AM

By: Claire Tremblay

Political think tank Canada 2020 wants Canada to have great vision – the type of vision that secures Canada’s prosperity into the next decade. Some might even call it 20/20 vision – the best sort of vision there is.

A self-described centrist progressive think tank, Canada 2020 started in 2006 with the idea of gathering up Canada’s greatest minds to generate ideas to solve Canada’s problems. Twenty leading thinkers were asked to pick a single issue that could transform Canada by 2020. Luminaries including journalist Chantal Hebert, health sciences expert Dr. David Walker, environmentalist Dr. David Suzuki and literary critic George Elliott Clarke offered up their ideas. They identified the rise of Atlantic Canada, Western separation, the Arctic, baby boomers health needs and the prospect of Québec as America’s 51st state as emerging issues.

Five years on, think tank Chairman Don Newman says Canada 2020 has grown substantially. Since then, Canada 2020 has hosted symposiums, overseas politicians and established a web site. Issues already addressed by the think tank include the need to make multibillion dollar upgrades to Canada’s electricity infrastructure, foreign ownership of Canada’s natural resources, inflation targeting, a pre-budget debate and the creation of a sustainable health care system. Symposium speakers have also included Bank of Canada Governor, Mark Carney, the President of the Canadian Medical Association, Jeff Turnbull, Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page, President and Chief Executive Officer of Suncor Energy, Rick George, and Ontario Minister of Economic Development, Sandra Pupatello.

And Canada’s 2020 symposiums and dinners and lunches are proving more than just high-level gab fests. Ideas percolated through Canada 2020 have been picked up in the media (including editorials in the Globe and Mail) and by influential audience members including politicians and business leaders. By getting ideas out into the public forum, says Newman, Canada is better able to direct its destiny.

“The idea with Canada 2020 is to bring out ideas that help Canada,” says Newman. “If you don’t address your problems and try to deal with them in the changing international landscape, you are just throwing the dice,” says Newman.“If you can think about the things you have to deal with and at least exchange ideas first, then you can put out different ideas on how to deal with important issues.”

On the world front, America’s foreign debt problems rate highly as an emerging issue for Canada. In September, Canada 2020 is holding a global strategic outlook conference on the long-term economic outlook for the US. and its implications for Canada. The conference hopes to gain insights on international analysis and forecasting from both Canadian and international minds. Notables attending the conference include Ian Bremmer, President of the Eurasia Group based in London, David Emerson, former Canadian Minister of International Trade and Martin Wolf, from The Financial Times.

Canada 2020 will also hold an event in November with the United States Embassy on North American innovation. Newman says some “high-powered” people from the United States and Canada will attend the conference, including the Mayor of Minneapolis R.T Rybak, a scientific advisor to American President Barack Obama and the American Ambassador to Canada, David Jacobson.

“One of the reasons we are doing all this is to think of policies for Canada in 2020 and to have some idea of what the world is going to look like, how those trends will impact Canada and how we can take advantage of the trends.” says Newman.

The Canada 2020 web site states its goal is to “create and environment of social and economic prosperity for Canada’ through the “engagement of Canada’s business and political and community leaders.”  As to what this looks like in practice, Newman says, it is “about not just some people prospering but everyone prospering.” This includes making social services “that are available and affordable while also knowing what the cost of them are and how we can afford them in a global economy,” Newman says. “If we as Canadians have good ideas about international problems then we will have influence in a multi-power world,” says Newman. “For example how we came through the recession has made the world look at us and ask how did we do things differently.”

An issue closer to home says Newman is energy policy in Ontario. John Podesta, President and CEO of the Centre for American Progress and former White House Chief of Staff has spoken at two Canada 2020 events in Ottawa and Washington. Podesta spoke out in July this year on the Ontario Green Energy policy urging Ontario not to scrap its renewable energy policy.

Issues concerning Ontario are front and centre for Canada 2020 in the lead up to the upcoming provincial election later this year.

Just as impressive as the issues Canada 2020 tackles are its founding members and supporting organizations. Newman for one is a Canadian icon.  A veteran journalist of 40 years and former Senior Parliamentary Editor of CBC Television News, Newman is now a senior consultant with Ottawa public relations firm Bluesky Strategy Group and columnist for, an online political hub. Other founding members include Tim Barber and Susan Smith, owners of the firm. (Both Barber and Smith worked on Parliament Hill in the 1990s as political aides). Fellow Hill veteran and award-winning author Eugene Lang is Vice-President at Bluesky.

High profile Canada 2020 backers include the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Scotiabank, Telus, pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association and Canadian National Railways.

However, Canada 2020 is not just about high-profile Canadians working to affect positive change in Canada. The think tank also welcomes all concerned Canadians to participate

in Canada 2020. Sign up to its newsletter, contribute as a sponsor, participate in Canada 2020’s blog or watch Canada 2020 events online.  More information on Canada 2020 can be found on the organization’s web site,

The Politics of America’s Economic Decline

September 6, 2011 9:27 am

America’s economic crisis is showing no signs of abating. Late last week it was announced that no new jobs were created in the month of August. The most recent figures suggest over 14 million Americans are jobless; the real figure is undoubtedly much higher. Panic grips the stock market every second day or so. The U.S. housing market remains depressed in many pockets throughout the country. Perhaps most distressing of all, governments seem either ineffectual or simply powerless to address the economy’s chronic problems. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that Congress finally passed a motion to raise the debt ceiling. But even that measure has done little to inspire confidence among either businesses or regular citizens. Nor have the Federal Reserve’s relatively tepid measures done enough to stimulate any sort of real recovery. President Obama will address the nation on Thursday of this week with a new jobs creation plan. But few anticipate the sort of initiatives that will dramatically stimulate job growth and thus reduce unemployment. Many Americans are no doubt feeling hopeless about the country’s economic future.

Though it’s no longer in vogue to think so, the crisis is in keeping with what Karl Marx anticipated and John Maynard Keynes understood had to be corrected if capitalism wasn’t going to collapse under the weight of its own contradictions. America’s economy is suffering from a classic combination of high rates of joblessness and insufficient consumer demand. The two problems are self reinforcing. Slumping consumer demand undermines the incentive to hire more workers, which, in turn reduces demand even further. The crisis has been prolonged in part because of the preceding collapse of America’s housing market.  An over inflated market was cause and consequence of too many Americans being over leveraged. Once housing prices started their precipitous decline, personal indebtedness also increased. Record numbers of foreclosures is the most dramatic symptom of the housing market’s collapse. Another has been to further depress consumer demand. So long as this remains so, job growth will remain anemic. It’s a vicious circle.

Tea Party's Michele Bachmann

As Keynes understood, In such scenarios governments must assume a more active role in stimulating job creation if recessions are to be avoided. Contrary to what most Republicans suggest, there are ways of doing so that are fiscally responsible.  As many economists have argued, the housing market’s collapse will continue to play a central role in keeping America’s economy mired in recession like conditions. Mitigating its effects will thus require some sort of mortgage relief for distressed home owners. Investments in necessary infrastructure programs should be forthcoming. Companies should be given strategic incentives to hire more workers. Getting most of America’s millions of unemployed back to work will remove an important drag on the system. Instead of collecting employment insurance or welfare, they will be paying taxes. In the case of America, fiscal responsibility must ultimately entail tax increases for the most wealthy. (Warren Buffet, one of America’s richest citizens, recently stated that he and others in his income bracket should be paying far more in taxes.) As the economy grows, reducing the deficit in a responsible fashion is much easier.

For members of the Tea Party and most Republicans, however, the jobs crisis is at best of secondary importance. Instead they insist that the country’s economic problems all more or less stem from an over reaching, over spending government. A combination of deep spending and tax cuts, from their perspective, is thus the only viable path towards economic recovery. Towards this end, the Republican controlled House refused to raise the debt ceiling until the threat of default seemed perilously real and President Obama agreed to their very disagreeable package of demands. Among other things, the president agreed to immediate and back loaded spending cuts.

US President, Barak Obama

President Obama and his team of economic advisers are smart enough to know that such measures will only exacerbate the country’s unemployment problem. But somewhere along the way Obama seems to have lost his nerve. He has too readily capitulated to Republican demands, in part because the GOP controls the House of Representatives. His capitulation is most reflected in the narrative he constantly invokes in explaining what his administration must do. Too often Obama refers to the very misleading analogy of the government being like a “family” that must “tighten its belt” and “reign in uncontrolled spending.” But like it or not, the government is not like a family. On the contrary, its responsibilities are different and far greater in scope. In addition to sound financial management, they involve generating conditions conducive to higher employment and protecting the air we breathe and the water we drink.  In supposedly democratic countries, they have a profound responsibility to nurture democratic approaches to problem solving. Besides families wouldn’t be living in homes or buying vehicles or other large scale items if they weren’t themselves going into debt. This is why financial institutions issue mortgages and lines of credit. President Obama should be more forthright with American citizens and find more effective analogies when describing what his administration must do to improve the country’s prospects.

But for all of the Obama administration’s failures, it is highly misleading when equal blame is assigned to both the Republicans and the Democrats for the dysfunction in Washington or the prolonging of the economic crisis. On the contrary, the sources of the toxicity hanging over American’s capital can almost all be attributed to the Republicans and their Tea Party members. Their approach to the economy has been to hold it at ransom as a way of advancing a very partisan agenda, namely, to ensure Obama is a one term president. Perhaps there’s an element of racism in their determination to sabotage his presidency. In any case, doing their part to sustain high levels of unemployment is their best chance of achieving their objective. The Tea Party and the GOP also seem intent on widening the gap between America’s rich and poor while simultaneously severely restricting the government’s capacity to address the country’s problems. For this is what a combination of deep spending cuts and tax cuts amounts to. Yet they talk as though their twin demands reflect virtue of the highest order. They are either very cynical or simply unaware of the extent of their extreme narrow-mindedness. When it comes to the Tea Party and most Republicans, it’s always hard to know.

Counting on the Drinkers’ Vote

September 2, 2011 2:03 pm

A few weeks ago I sat down at my computer and opened an email  that had a link to a special interview with the leader of the Provincial Conservatives, Tim Hudak. With an election only weeks away the rhetoric and the promises are flowing like water. However, in terms of the main concern for Ontario’s wineries, greater access to the market, these have been largely ignored by the McGuinty government; but it seems that Mr. Hudak has got himself a plan.

Tim Hudak’s promise of  VQA-Only stores seems like a genuinely great one. However, the recent past suggests that the Leader of the PC Party will have quite the fight on his hands. Particulalry from LCBO and the Californians, who have achieved unparallel success here in Ontario, and who are threatening to blow the Free Trade whistle if Tim goes forward with his plan to loosen the market for VQA wines.

Tim Hudak

In the past, Mike Harris, a conservative and once premier of the province – who had a Common Sense Revolution – also had plans to revolutionize the LCBO. However, this was a promise he did not fulfill.  Mr. McGuinty also made some noise about the liquor board and even followed through with a study and report, called the BASR report, but  similarly the issue was scrapped and the report buried.

Mr. Hudak has not said he’ll take on the Board, in fact he is promising greater access to market for local wines (being a Niagara-boy he’s doing his riding proud), but the KGBO knows that would be the first step in losing control of the whole system.

Although the idea to take on the Board and the Californians, is potentially a good one, the question remains: How many Ontario/Canadian wines are in Californian liquor stores?  Can we lodge our own complaint against them?  The question will be how far will Mr. Hudak get in his endeavour to bring VQA wines to the masses?  History doesn’t bode well for the would-be premier of the province and that’s too bad, because many Ontario vintners would love to see the marketplace pried open; but something tells me the LCBO will take the Charlton Heston NRA approach:  you’ll have to pry the control of booze out of their “cold dead hands”.

Vineyards of Ontario

A quote found in a Globe & Mail article from July 6, 2011 sums up the situation brilliantly: “If Ontario wants to boost market share for local winemakers, then it should simply privatize alcohol sales and give fair treatment to all vintners.” Mr. Jim Clawson [chief executive officer of JBClawson International, US industry’s top trade consultant since the early 1980s] said, “You make it awfully difficult for consumers to buy a bottle of wine in Canada.” With this one statement, Jim has said a mouthful, but this now leads to the next question for the campaigning PC leader:  Why stop at VQA?  I think Clawson has given us a better idea; if you’re gonna pick a fight, might as well be for the whole enchilada, not just for the cheese topping.

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