Broken and Bankrupt: Greece Stares into the Abyss

May 24, 2012 8:24 am
Greek riot police confront rioters in Athens

Before the turn of the twentieth century, America’s premier financier, John Pierpont (JP) Morgan, famously coined a phrase which has since become a common saying in the English language. Morgan remarked that, “If you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it.” More than a century later, Morgan’s comments could be used to characterize the ongoing disorderly unraveling of the Greek economy. The breakdown of Greek social structure and law and order which have accompanied the nation’s economic collapse pose a very real threat whose consequences could spill over into other Mediterranean countries and could scuttle the viability of the European integration project.

Nearly all of the Mediterranean nations within the European Union’s (EU) seventeen member economic and monetary union known as the “Eurozone” are frozen in a state of economic paralysis due to unsustainably expensive social welfare programs, crippling deficits and runaway public spending. Add to that the lack of political will needed to implement the austerity measures and structural reforms required for slowing the EU’s economic free-fall and for initiating a path towards economic solvency. At the same time, a signal must be sent to global markets that the EU will not continue to spend more than it can ever hope to repay. However, no other EU country is in as dire a condition as Greece. Greece has been the focal point of violent protests, looting and widespread social disruption caused by both depression-era unemployment rates and a population that is unwilling to make the lifestyle sacrifices needed to begin the painful task of putting Greece’s financial house in order. One particular example is worth highlighting as characteristic of the unsustainably expensive social programs that have allowed the small nation to accumulate deficits and debt large enough to threaten the global market. If you were a member of Greece’s swollen public sector, the year would have fourteen months instead of the twelve months everywhere else. That is because Greek public sector employees receive fourteen monthly paychecks per year. Nor does this extraordinary practice end when a public sector employee retires. In fact, former Greek public sector employees receive fourteen monthly pension checks for the remainder of their lives.

John Pierpont (JP) Morgan

Nonsensical forms of spending such as this, coupled with rampant fraud and unwillingness to pay income taxes, have resulted in a lack of the capital reserves necessary to keep the nation afloat and have led to runs on Greek banks which, as a whole, have lost upwards of 30% of their deposit values over the past two years. Without another injection of stimulus funding from Germany, the most economically and politically powerful nation in the EU, as well as from the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Greece will run out of money by July. Almost immediately thereafter, it will default on its debts. The prospect of this scenario is heightening fears among policymakers and politicians across the globe and is initiating discussion amongst ECB bankers and other economists about the possible consequences for global markets should Greece exit the Eurozone either at the behest of the other member states or by its own choice.

Still, more than three quarters of Greeks continue to express their desire to remain in the Eurozone and the EU despite the fact that they are adamantly opposed to making the financial and lifestyle sacrifices required to do so. To make matters worse, Greece is hurtling towards another election in which the man who may well be the next Greek prime minister is a 37-year-old by the name of Alexis Tsipras who serves simultaneously as both the president of Greek’s ultra-left political party Synaspismos and as the leader of the Greek parliament’s Coalition of the Radical Left, better known as “SYRIZA.” Tsipras is riding a wave of popular support due to his election platform of calling the bluff of the IMF, the ECB and Germany by insisting that Greece will be permitted to remain in the Eurozone even if it refuses to implement the austerity measures and structural reforms which were attached as conditions to earlier bailouts. This is clearly a risky and unrealistic proposition.

The more likely scenario is that Greece will eventually fail to receive further financial assistance from the international community and will subsequently default on its debts, eventually being forced to leave the Eurozone. This would not be pretty. The consequences could be further rioting, pillaging and unemployment, all sending a dangerous shock wave through the global economy. Other struggling nations within the EU would have to face the fear that they too could be next in being forced to fully implement the required austerity measures or be cut out of the EU’s Eurozone. Even worse, the global economy which is struggling to maintain a modicum of growth, could be sent into a tailspin since fear and uncertainty almost always send markets into a steep decline.

Alexis Tsipras

Yet, regardless of whether Greece were to exit the Eurozone of its own free will or not, some are speculating that the economic consequences would not be that severe once the protesting, rioting and looting have subsided. Greece would have to abandon the euro and return to using its old currency, the drachma, thereby implementing a plan of rapid currency devaluation which would make the country a more competitive place to do business and hopefully boost Greek exports at the same time. Such a path back from the economic brink has worked before for other nations but Greece may not be able to enjoy the same results as Argentina which successfully pursued this policy option in 2002. Unlike Argentina, Greece has a limited volume of exports and fewer profitable business ventures to offer at the reduced price that its newly reinstated and devalued drachma would support given that the Greek economy relies predominantly on tourism, agriculture and shipping.

And so, Greece like other Mediterranean nations within the EU continues to limp on towards an uncertain future. But if the international community’s patience wears thin and if current trends in markets persist, Greeks may find out the hard way that, “If you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it.”

The Uncertain Future: France’s Socialist Resurgence

May 18, 2012 9:00 am
Hollande & Sarkozy

All is not well in Europe. The European Union (EU) in general and the Eurozone financial union in particular are in a precarious position. Crushing debts and deficits as well as unsustainably expensive social welfare programs — not to mention unemployment rates in excess of 20% in certain EU countries — have turned what many academics call “Eurosclerosis” (the lack of economic growth and consistently high unemployment rates) into reality for much of Western Europe. International institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have contributed billions of euros (the EU’s international currency) to stabilize the toxic economies of nations like Greece and Spain in an attempt to prevent them from defaulting on their debts. Should default occur, it could trigger a collapse in the value of the euro, a move which would likely lead to the demise of the Eurozone and possibly the EU as a whole. Such a monumental economic and political collapse would unquestionably plunge the highly interconnected global economy into a severe recession at best and a global depression at worst. But, all of this is old news.

However, the surprising results from both the French and Greek national elections last week have the potential to exacerbate political differences and to further polarize both the European public and European policymakers. At issue is the difficult, but necessary, task of writing and implementing policies that would reduce member states’ deficits as well as government expenditures, all the while spurring growth and reducing unemployment throughout the EU. It is no small task to do so and still remain palatable to European voters. It would be difficult in any country but it is far more so in countries like Greece and Spain which, for all intents and purposes, are currently in depression and not recession. This act of political tightrope walking will be much more challenging in the near future due to the fact that both the Eurozone and EU may well be placed on life support in coming months. While France may not suffer from the same depression-level unemployment rates common in Greece, nor does its balance sheet contain as many toxic assets, France faces a number of challenges which, if not defused, could harm the Eurozone, the EU and the interconnected global economy even more than a Greek default.

Nicolas Sarkozy

Incumbent politicians often share the praise and the blame for their nation’s economic performance. Given the EU’s lack of economic performance, it is not surprising that any incumbent politician seeking re-election in the EU would face public opposition. Last Sunday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his centre-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) Party lost their re-election bid by a narrow, but still significant, margin of 48% to 51% in favor of Sarkozy’s Socialist challenger Francois Hollande. In the past, the French Socialist Party (PS), now led by Hollande, has only elected one man to the highest office of government. Thirty-one years ago, in 1981, the Socialist Party’s Francois Mitterrand was elected President of France. He remained in power throughout much of the 1980s and served a second term in the first half of the 1990s.

Generally speaking, financial markets did not react positively to Mitterrand and the Socialists’ tenure. There is a likelihood that markets will again react negatively to a France led by a Socialist government, but today the consequences could be more serious than when Mitterrand was in power. Francois Hollande has taken an anti-austerity stance which resonated with the large population of French unemployed and also with the public sector workers who would likely bear the brunt of any austerity program intended to stabilize the Eurozone countries. Doubtless, these positions played a crucial role in the defeat of Nicolas Sarkozy, a man who led a party which advocated the merits of austerity and whose flamboyant personality has taken its toll on French voters’ good will. Hollande has advocated the need for protectionism, has called for the implementation of a 75% income tax on wealthy French individuals (which would strangle growth and innovation) and has rejected the austerity measures required to keep France’s fiscal house in order. Hollande says he prefers to have the French economy “grow” its way out of recession and that he is not averse to using quantitative easing to spur that growth.

At best, Hollande’s agenda will likely create an unpleasant environment in which the 27 member states will seek to solve their debt and unemployment problems, a task made more difficult since his views directly challenge those of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Merkel leads the EU’s strongest, most economically solvent country and has stressed the importance of balancing the EU’s books and of reducing deficit and debt by way of austerity measures. Negotiating and implementing successful policies could be more difficult when the EU’s most powerful country (Germany) and second most powerful country (France) have two conflicting ideologies separating them on the important issue of countering the ongoing European economic crisis. At worst, this conflict could make any further coherent economic policy-making an impossibility, thereby derailing future hope for the stabilization of the EU’s economy and the lifespan of the euro as a viable currency.

Francois Hollande

France and Germany, along with the other 25 nations in the EU, would suffer greatly should this occur. This scenario would deal the global economy a crippling blow that could suddenly halt the current anemic recovery in the majority of the world’s developed economies. Unlike Greece, France is well-integrated into the larger European marketplace in terms of the business it conducts beyond its borders. For instance, French companies operating outside of France, but within the EU, provide some 4.5 million jobs in a cross-section of virtually all forms of business. Furthermore, unlike Greece, these 4.5 million satellite French workers create products and services which, when combined, account for almost one fifth of all European investments in terms of monetary value.

To raise the stakes even further, France’s financial system provides significant capital and loans to other EU countries like Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Italy — countries which are burning through money as if there were no tomorrow. Some of those countries may well default on their debt no matter how much money the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or Germany may reluctantly provide to shore up their hemorrhaging economies. Should President Hollande obstinately pursue his hard-line, hands-off position against austerity which runs counter to that advocated by both Germany and the IMF, France and its creditor nations could fall into the abyss.

Queen In Disgrace: Canadian Task Force in Ukraine

May 17, 2012 6:01 pm

Once she was the face of the Orange Revolution.With a peasant-braided hairstyle that she wore as a crown, Yulia Tymoshenko led mass protests that swept Ukraine in 2004. She was a leader of the Fatherland Party. In 2005, Forbes magazine pronounced her the third most influential woman in the world. Tymoshenko served twice as Prime Minister of Ukraine. In 2010, she became the first female to run in presidential elections. But shortly after losing to Victor Yanukovich, the queen of the Orange Revolution has fallen into disfavor, to put it mildly.

Today, Tymoshenko is a prisoner and a patient at a hospital in Kharkiv.

Shortly after Yanukovich became president, Tymoshenko was arrested and charged with allegations of abuse of her office in striking a gas deal with Russia in 2009. Analysts claim the deal was doomed because of market fluctuations and the country’s economic crisis – it was a political error, not a criminal offense. The court nevertheless found Tymoshenko guilty, also charging her with tax evasion and embezzlement.

She was sentenced to seven years in prison.

Tymoshenko is a prisoner and a patient at a hospital in Kharkiv.

Many European countries and the United States condemned these actions against Tymoshenko; human rights organizations called them politically motivated, as other members of the opposition were also prosecuted.

In April, Tymoshenko went on a two-week hunger strike protesting her inhumane treatment in jail. Tymoshenko, who suffers from chronic back pain, said she was beaten by guards. As pictures of a bruised Tymoshenko emerged on TV screens and in newspapers, European leaders have been putting more pressure on the Ukrainian government to relent.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel refused to attend a European summit in Yalta. Merkel went as far as calling Yanukovich’s regime “a dictatorship.” The leaders also halted the Association Agreement with Ukraine – an agreement aimed at bringing economic benefits to Ukraine. Earlier, some leaders threatened to boycott the EURO 2012 soccer championship to be hosted by Ukraine and Poland, but later withdrew their threat.

The members, however, are clear: EU doors will be shut to the Ukraine, as long as Tymoshenko remains in prison.

Why Canada Cannot Remain Neutral

While turmoil over Tymoshenko is broiling in Europe, Canada cannot afford to remain neutral.

To Canada, the Ukraine is more than just a faraway Eastern European country. Canada is home to 1.2 million Ukrainians, who settled in Western Canada 120 years ago. Today’s foreign policy is mostly built on bilateral trade agreements, too valuable for both countries to put at risk.

In 1994, Canada proclaimed Ukraine a “special partner.” Over the years, after signing several trade agreements, Canada has become one of the major exporters of fish, seafood, pork, pharmaceutical products and aircrafts; and importer of mineral fuels, oils, fertilizers, iron and steel. In 2010 alone, trade between the two countries totaled $252.2 million. In 2011, this number exceeded $507 million, according to Ukrainian embassy statistics.

This week, a Canadian delegation is paying a visit to the Ukraine to conduct hearings on economic, political and judicial issues, upcoming fall parliamentary elections as well as human rights.

Tymoshenko, once a popular figure in the Ukraine, has been sentenced to 7 years in jail.

Tymoshenko is in the limelight of Canada’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development hearings, led by Mississauga-Erindale MP Bob Dechert.

Taras Zalusky, an executive director of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and a member of the delegation, said the committee has a busy schedule. Zalusky said that they have already met with Tymoshenko’s lawyers, as well as officials from the prosecutor’s office and of the ministry of justice. It’s a four-day visit, and the committee will present a report of their findings on Thursday.

Canada, Free-Trade Agreement and International Pressure

Canada and the Ukraine are in the process of round table talks on signing a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) that will give Canadian businesses even broader access to the Ukrainian market without tariffs. The Foreign Affairs and International Trade website states that the FTA will be “consistent with Canada’s foreign policy objectives, which support Ukraine’s democratic transformation and economic reforms.”

Even though Rudy Husny, spokesman for Minister of Free Trade Ed Fast, said the government is “concerned by the apparently arbitrary and politically-biased nature of judicial proceedings against Ms. Tymoshenko, and other individuals, which undermines the rule of law;” Canada will still proceed with the FTA. Unlike Europe, Husny said, Canada does not believe in the politics of isolation. In fact, according to Husny, signing the FTA will foster economic growth in the Ukraine, which in its turn will help to “secure democracy where human rights are respected.”

The Ukrainian Stand

Marco Shevchenko, a chargé d’affaires of the Embassy of Ukraine, said he isn’t be able to comment on Tymoshenko’s case, claiming that neither diplomat or politician should interfere with the judicial process. Shevchenko only hopes that both governments won’t become hostages of political situations in their economic decision-making.

Marco Shevchenko

“We separate political and economic content,” Shevchenko said. “Both sides consider business above all.”

Shevchenko said Tymoshenko is planning to appeal her case to the Supreme Court of Ukraine.

Asked how the country could have fair parliamentary elections when the leader of the official opposition party is in prison, Shevchenko said, as a citizen of the Ukraine, he would never vote for a party that can’t survive without its leader.

On May 9, Tymoshenko ended her two-week fast and was transferred to the clinic to treat her back pain and the effects of her hunger strike. A German doctor was brought in to treat her. According to the latest news, after Kharkiv’s hospital made her treatment schedule publicly available, Tymoshenko refused to undergo any further treatment. The opposition leader says it is private information that is not to be shared.

It’s still unclear what the future holds for the Ukraine, a country that is torn between Europe and Russia. It’s unclear whether President Yanukovich will remain autocratic or make necessary democratic reforms before Europe turns its back on him. But what’s certain now – the disgraced queen of the Orange Revolution will still keep drawing the world’s attention.

The Natural: Laureen Harper Talks Family, Fitness and Canadian Pride

May 14, 2012 8:48 am
Screen shot 2012-05-13 at 9.55.15 PM

Laureen Harper is a natural. She’s found the secret to balancing her official duties, being a mom and finding time to do what she loves most.

There is more to Laureen Harper than meets the eye. Charismatic and unpretentious, her personality is a refreshing reminder that although she may be the woman alongside Canada’s Prime Minister, she’s also busy with work of her own.

Laureen Harper grew up in Turner Valley, a rural town in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, southwest of Calgary, where she developed a lifelong passion for the outdoors and a love for animals at an early age. Today, she advocates for the proper care of animals and opens her home to kittens waiting to be adopted from the Ottawa Humane Society. Known for her extensive volunteer work and her support of important community causes, Laureen Harper’s focus on family, community and charity is a reflection of her down-to-earth sensibilities.

I caught up with the on-the-go mom at 24 Sussex Drive to talk about raising a family in the spotlight, her no-fuss fitness regime and what makes Canada the best place to live in the world.

Alexandra Gunn and Laureen Harper. Photo by: Deborah Ransom

ALEXANDRA GUNN:  Being in the spotlight day in and day out must be difficult to manage. How do you separate your personal life from your public life or is that even doable?

LAUREEN HARPER: You’d be surprised; a lot of people don’t recognize me. I walk around Ottawa and no one knows who I am. I think it’s because most of the time no one knows who you are or they don’t put two and two together. The other day, I was coming out of Walmart and a woman came running after me to see my receipt.

AG:  I’m sure you’re always recognized at public functions and political events. I would assume that a lot of people want to respect your privacy.

LH: That woman wanted to see that receipt! She was making sure I wasn’t stealing (laughs). In Ottawa, I go to a lot of events, so people are used to seeing me, but most of the time I just think they don’t know who I am. I’m not a celebrity or a movie star, so I can run down Wellington Street right in front of the House of Commons, past all the reporters who don’t even notice. It makes me smile because they are so busy talking that I go running on by with no makeup in my running gear and they don’t even look twice. I think sometimes they are going to say hello but they keep on walking.

AG: You may be able to go unnoticed on your runs, but raising a family in the public eye while juggling your official commitments must be tricky at times, so how do you stay grounded?

LH: I am a stay-at-home mom, so I spend a lot of time with my kids. They’re getting older, so they don’t want to spend as much time with you (laughs).

AG: Family always comes first but you’re also generously donating your time to a variety of charities. Are there any particular organizations that you believe support a great cause?

"I’m always focused on animal charities and animal welfare." Photo by: Deborah Ransom

LH: I’m always focused on animal charities and animal welfare, so when I’m in Calgary or Ottawa, I work with the Humane Society. There are so many great charities doing wonderful work, so if I can help them I will. I work with the Trans Canada Trail and the National Arts Centre Gala benefitting the National Youth and Education Trust. In 2017, the Trans Canada Trail is going to go from coast-to-coast-to-coast. It’s 75 per cent done now and I’ve already been on sections of it and I’m hoping Canadians will take advantage of it when it’s done. The National Arts Centre has really become the National Arts Centre. It brings in artists from across the country and bring music to Canadians from all over. The NAC Gala allows for the foundation to do work across the country. It isn’t just here in Ottawa; it goes across the country and helps a lot of kids who otherwise wouldn’t get music education. I really think they do a great job. I also really like regional theatre. I love all of these regional theatres that we have across the country; they’re little treasures. We are really lucky to have great theatre houses. Some are them are in the middle of nowhere and they are creating jobs and opportunities for actors and playwrights.

AG:  It’s nice to see that you dedicate so much time and effort to Canadian charities. If you had a few extra hours every day, how would you spend them?

LH: I would go hiking or doing something outside. I love being outdoors.

AG: Growing up near the Rocky Mountains must have inspired your love for adventure and hiking. What are some of your favourite outdoor activities that you like to take part in?

LH: I love to snowshoe – that’s my favourite. I try to snowshoe as much as I can in the winter. In the spring, I like to hike because there’s always something interesting going on in the hills. Anytime of the year I can snowshoe or hike. I love the Gatineau Hills in Quebec, but when I’m in Calgary, I hike in the Rockies or along some great hiking trails in and around Calgary. I don’t care if there’s a hill – I just like hiking. When I was growing up in Turner Valley, my family loved to hike. People were poor and so there wasn’t much to do. There was no going to theatres or concerts. We had the mountains 20 minutes away so we did what was available. We would head to the mountains to hike and camp and it was great because it didn’t cost any money.

AG:  Do you encourage your two children, Ben and Rachel, to enjoy the outdoors as much as you do?

LH: Yes, as much as I can. There are some great parks in Ontario and Quebec and we’ve recently learned to canoe. And we always do one mother-daughter canoe trip every year, which I really enjoy.

AG:  You must know some great spots across Canada. Where do you usually go?

LH: (laughs) I don’t want to say because then other people would go there! Where we go is such a great place and it’s so close to Ottawa, but very few people know about it. Rachel and I usually canoe and camp for three days and two nights, but you can’t make kids go too long because they can get bored. It’s our secret canoe spot.

AG:  Hiking and adventure are high on your list, but do you have a particular fitness regime that you try and stick to during the week?

Photo by: Deborah Ransom

LH: I know I should, but I don’t. I love to run and that’s what I do. Everybody does different activities but I try and run five times a week. In the summer, I run outdoors and in the winter, I just go on the treadmill. There are no excuses with the treadmill. If you run outside, it can be too windy, too hot or too cold. I love the treadmill. There are so many great activities, but they go in and out of style, so I stick with what works.

AG: There are quite a few big races in Ottawa throughout the year. Do you ever participate?

LH: We do charity races but I only compete against myself. I like doing charity runs for fun, but I’m not under any illusions! I tried to keep up with Peter MacKay for the Army Run and I only lasted about a kilometre and told him to go on without me. He did five kilometres in 22 minutes and I can’t!

AG: Aside from running, what are some of the things you do to stay healthy?

LH: I try to eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Well…we try (laughs). I think snacks should be snacks, but we try to stick with fruits and vegetables and then we have one day a week where we cheat. Salt-and-vinegar potato chips are the perfect cheat food. I want the whole bag, which is why I hate those 100-calorie bags – there are only four chips in there!

AG: You’ve had the opportunity to travel the world with your husband and as a solo traveler many years ago. Now that you’ve seen so much of the world outside of our borders, what do you most appreciate about Canada?

LH: The space. It’s so clean in Canada. When I come back from trips, I think how we are the luckiest people to have a country that is as big and beautiful as it is. Canadians appreciate what we have.

AG: What do you recommend to an out-of-country guest as a must-see if they will be traveling across Canada?

LH: Every region of the country has something amazing. So many Canadians travel outside the country on their vacations, which I think is a real shame. There are people from Western Canada who have never been to Eastern Canada and there are lots of Eastern Canadians who have never been to Western Canada and I think they should travel around Canada. Anyone who has been to Newfoundland knows it’s a great time. Niagara has great wineries. I’d recommend Toronto’s theatre district. Vancouver is one of the most amazing cities on earth. And, of course, head to Calgary for the Stampede! Every region of the country has fantastic festivals and it’s the people who make Canada a great place to live and visit.

AG: The Calgary Stampede will be celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Will you be attending?

LH: You betcha! I’m inviting every person I know to come to Calgary. We will likely run out of space and will need to put mattresses down, but it’s a great festival that everyone needs to experience at least once. It’s difficult explaining the Calgary Stampede to someone who has never been to one. The entire city gets involved in the Stampede festivities – every street, every shopping centre and every community centre. I think it’s going to be the biggest party we’ve seen in a long time. This is the year to go. You have to experience it!

AG: Now that the warmer weather is here, what else are you looking forward to doing?

LH: I always do a big hike somewhere in Canada in the summer with a group of friends. We try to pick a different place every year. Last year, we went to the Yukon and this year, we are going to go hiking in the Kootenays in British Columbia. It’s nice to go somewhere where no one else is, even if it takes two or three days to get there. It’s always a wonderful feeling. A couple of years ago, we hiked for five days and only saw two people and one grizzly bear.

Photo by: Deborah Ransom

AG: Your keen sense of adventure must translate well when you accompany your husband on official business at home and abroad. What are some of the memorable moments that you often look back on?

LH: Traveling across this great country and getting to go to every province and every territory, which most Canadians don’t get to do. My husband and I get to do that all the time, but it never gets old and we love it. Every time you go somewhere you’ve never been before, it’s amazing and I always say that I want to come back here and spend more time.

AG: Looking back on the past few years, is there anything you’d wish you had done differently?

LH: No, I don’t think so. My husband works very hard and sometimes I wish he didn’t, you know? But that’s the nature of the job and he loves his job. He loves going to work and we are very lucky that we get to spend time with our kids. We miss our families back in Alberta, since we only see them three or four times a year. I’ve made lots of good friends across the country so there are no big regrets. We just miss our family in Alberta, so we’re thankful we get to go back so often to visit. All in all, it has been amazing.

Canada’s First Lady, Laureen Harper Supports These Charities:

The Humane Society The Humane Society of Canada (HSC) works across the street, across Canada and around the world helping people, animals and the environment.

Canada Army Run The Canada Army Run is about Canadians and the Canadian Forces – Air Force, Army and Navy – joining together in the spirit of camaraderie and mutual respect. It’s a chance for the troops to extend the military esprit de corps to Canadians and to thank them for their support.

Trans Canada Trail The Trans Canada Trail promotes and assists in the development and use of the Trail in every province and territory. Today, more than 16,500 kilometres of trail have been developed. When completed, the Trail will stretch 22,000 kilometres from the Atlantic to the Pacific to the Arctic Oceans, linking 1,000 communities and all Canadians.

National Youth and Education Trust (NYET) provides funding for the performing arts, programming and educational initiatives for young artists, young audiences and schools across the country.

Photography by Deborah Ransom

Hair & Makeup by Noah at

The Price of the Word: It’s Time for a Change in Kazakhstan

May 10, 2012 9:33 am

Journalism and fear never go well together.

Just one day before I interviewed CBC foreign correspondent Nahlah Ayed, who has been covering the Middle East for over a decade, I learned that somebody tried to kill my colleague in Kazakhstan, journalist Lukpan Ahmediarov.

As I was interviewing Ayed, I couldn’t help but admire her courage. She is always packing her bags to report from a conflict-torn part of the world, leaving behind her safe and comfortable life in Canada. She said if you are not brave, just don’t go there. Her words echoed what once Ahmediarov told me: “if you are afraid of your own work – don’t be a journalist!”

Ahmediarov was shot three times and stabbed eight times from behind. Even though his vital organs remained intact, he is still in critical condition after a three-hour operation.

A week later, Ahmediarov was able to record an eight-minute video message to the public – a video that might cause his enemies to try to kill him yet again.

In the video, Ahmediarov says he has no doubts that his profession and civil activities are the main reasons somebody wanted to silence him. Moreover, he says, once stable, oil-rich country ruled by President Nursultan Nazarbayev for more than 20 years, are now torn by rifts which appeared as the president feverishly tried to hold onto his power.

With a bandaged head, Ahmediarov addressed many issues the country is facing, heavily criticizing the government. The correspondent says that by silencing journalists the government can’t hide its problems. It’s time for President Nazarbayev to step down, he says, and allow the country to have a proper democracy with a rotation of powers. “His [President Nazarbayev’s] project is exhausted,” says Ahmediarov.

(CP-Raul Uporov)

Lukpan Ahmediarov being taken to hospital after his attack

But the journalist is more amazed at how the president is out of tune with his citizens’ mood. He says in 20 years, since the USSR collapsed, people have learned how to think critically. They can’t just read and believe self-censored, state-owned papers, nor do the citizens accept the messages conveyed by the presidentially-owned media.

Now, Ahmediarov says, people are realizing how absurd the regime has become.

By absurd the journalist means holding last year’s referendum to allow 72-year old President Nazarbayev to remain in power for life, and allowing the President’s supporters to erect monuments to him, claiming that it’s the peoples’ wish. It’s absurd, the journalist says, for the police without any investigation, to make a statement which claimed his attempted has nothing to do with politics or his profession.

“Kazakhstan has realized: That’s it! We can no longer live in such a country, and we must not live in such a country,” Ahmediarov declares. “It must be a normal country with a change of governments. That’s why people started talking – I was not the first.”

Indeed, Ahmediarov wasn’t the first citizen to raise concerns. In December 2011, the police opened fire on protesters in Zhanaozen, leaving 16 people dead, 100 injured. On the 20th anniversary of Kazakhstan’s independence from the former Soviet Union, laid-off oil workers stepped out onto the main street. The police claim that they shot protesters out of self-defense, while some witnesses say the striking workers were unarmed.

Meanwhile, Ahmediarov’s case left Uralsk and its citizens shaken. Uralsk is a city with a population of 350 000, situated on the northwestern border of Kazakhstan and Russia. Everybody in town knew the journalist had many enemies because of his bold articles and civil activities, but nobody had ever expected that somebody would attempt to kill him.

“I think in Uralsk, local powers got mad because in the battle with me they could not present anything adequate. I fought for my rights, for my freedom, for the rights of other Kazakhstanis. I never broke the law. Whatever I did, whether it was protesting on the streets or writing articles, I always told officials that I have a right to express my opinion.”

But not so, according to the Freedom House. In its 2012 charter on worldwide freedom of the press, Kazakhstan ranked 175th out of 196 countries, while Canada ranked 25th. For a democratic Kazakhstan with an embedded constitutional right to free speech and press, its status still remains “not free.”

Uralsk City Hall

Last year’s report on freedom of the press raised concerns about the country’s law that classifies libel as a criminal offence, with high penalties for the defamation of the president, members of the Parliament and state officials. In the first six months in 2010, there were 44 libel suits against journalists – the majority came from government officials. In 2009, for instance, Ramazan Yesergepov, the editor of the independent weekly Alma-Ata Info, was arrested in the hospital where was being treated for hypertension. Yesergepov was detained for eight months, and later, sentenced to three years in prison.

Tamara Eslyamova, editor-in-chief of the Uralsk Weekly, is familiar with every challenge that independent media face. Her newspaper is the only independent paper in Uralsk. It’s also the paper Lukpan Ahmediarov was writing for. Eslyamova says the government always pressures the print houses, distributors, sale outlets, denying them services. She and her journalists always receive angry calls and are harassed and threatened on the streets.

A botched contract-killer hit on Ahmediarov came to her as no surprise. In a telephone interview, Eslyamova said Ahmediarov had just written an article on how government officials are distributing multimillion-dollar projects to their families and relatives. Eslyamova says she knew after this article, officials wouldn’t go easy on the journalist, but the editor says Ahmediarov was always reporting such stories.

Why? Because he is not afraid to start a whirlwind or expose the truth.

More on the story:
Struggle for free press in Kazakhstan

Polling Déjà vu in Wild Rose Country

May 3, 2012 9:01 am
The day after the 1948 election President Truman holds the Chicago Tribune with its faulty prediction

In November of 1936, in the depths of the Great Depression, incumbent Democrat President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was running for re-election in what appeared to be an extremely hostile political climate. The American unemployment rate was roughly 25% and there was an ideological divide in much of the country regarding the reception of Roosevelt’s New Deal plan to boost employment, not to mention the then-unprecedented expansion of the Federal government required for its implementation. According to the Literary Digest, the nation’s most respected polling source at the time, the Republican Governor of Kansas, Alf Landon, was well on the way to defeating Roosevelt with a commanding margin. But, when election night drew to a close on November 3, 1936, the polls would tell a different story.

FDR on the cover of the magazine that three years later would inaccurately predict the results of the 1936 US presidential election.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt not only defeated Landon, but he did so by the largest Electoral College margin in American history. Roosevelt obtained a staggering 523 Electoral College votes, representing over 60% of the popular vote and 46 of the then 48 states. Landon, on the other hand, was only able to gather a miniscule 8 Electoral College votes and roughly 36% of the popular vote as well as just 2 states. The Literary Digest’s dead wrong polling prediction resulted from an unrepresentative and skewed sample which was concentrated in the state of Maine alone and which relied upon responses from fewer than one quarter of the anticipated respondents in that state. Furthermore, due to the Literary Digest’s predominantly white-collar readership base, the majority of those who did participate in the already under-represented survey were more likely to support Republican Governor Landon than the incumbent Democrat President who advocated a less business friendly and more regulatory laden approach to governance, thereby skewing the poll’s sample even further. Not surprisingly, in the wake of the unanticipated election results, the Literary Digest’s polling operations lost all credibility, and the magazine ceased publishing shortly thereafter.

History would repeat itself twelve years later when, in the general election of 1948, another American polling miscalculation again predicted a victory for a candidate who would never move into the White House. In 1948, Democrat President Harry Truman — who had served as Vice-President in Roosevelt’s fourth term and who was sworn in as President after Roosevelt’s death in the spring of 1945 — ran his first campaign for the presidency against the moderate Republican New York Governor Thomas Dewey and the more radical States’ Rights or “Dixiecrat” Party candidate Strom Thurmond. At the time, renowned pollster Elmo Roper, like the majority of the other pollsters in America, was predicting a large win for Thomas Dewey. In fact, the Chicago Daily Tribune was so confident that Truman would be defeated that, on the evening of the election, it set the headline “Dewey Defeats Truman” on the front page of the morning edition for the following day without waiting to confirm the election results.

Alberta's Progressive Conservative (PC) Premier Alison Redford.

The results were not quite what the Chicago Daily Tribune, and much of America for that matter, expected. Not only did the incumbent President Truman defeat his Republican challenger, but the Democrats also picked up a majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Once again, the pollsters were dead wrong and, as was the case in 1936, this discrepancy could be traced back to an unrepresentative sample. The majority of the pollsters stopped canvassing and sampling respondents in the pivotal final few weeks before the early November election. Elmo Roper’s polling ceased almost two full months before election day based on the assumption that voters’ opinions wouldn’t change in the period between the end of the primary contests and the general election itself. Thus, the belief in the inflexibility of voters’ opinions, which resulted in a lack of up-to-date polling, led to a polling blind spot: the increasing favorability of Truman and the Democrats that was building in the final few days of the election campaign went almost completely unnoticed.

Sixty-four years later, the recent unexpected defeat of Alberta Wildrose leader Danielle Smith by incumbent Progressive Conservative (PC) Premier Alison Redford in the Alberta provincial election demonstrates that the same reasoning which led to the unanticipated election victories in 1936 and 1948 is alive and well inCanada. The vast majority of Canadian political pundits, pollsters and commentators were predicting that an easily-won Wildrose majority government would form the next provincial government with Danielle Smith as the first non-Progressive Conservative Premier in 12 election cycles — or more than 40 years. They had it wrong, most likely because of a flawed sample.

Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith.

In the weeks preceding the election, virtually all the polls across the province of Alberta reflected the likely scenario that Danielle Smith and her recently formed, more conservative Wildrose Party would be swept into power. These polls were neither inaccurate nor misleading. However, what the majority of these polls missed was the change in voter opinion which took place in the last three days before Albertans voted. Many of the polls relied on by political pundits, pollsters and commentators as barometers for the public opinion of Albertans consisted of out-of-date sampling research and responses. In other words, since most pollsters in the province stopped contacting respondents to gather information prior the critical 72 hours before the election itself, the polls were inaccurate due to a sampling method that was beyond its “best before” date and which was therefore unrepresentative of the voters’ true perceptions. At least three days out-of-date is better than the nearly two months out of date which characterized the polling of Elmo Roper and that of many others during the 1948 American presidential election.

Today, it is business as usual in Alberta politics. Premier Alison Redford and her Progressive Conservatives (PC) will remain in power with the party’s 12th consecutive majority government, albeit with a smaller majority than has been the case since the year of Canada’s centennial celebration in 1967. But when it comes to conducting the accurate polling of voters’ public opinion, mistakes from yesteryear surface yet again in 2012, shocking the political pundits, pollsters, commentators and the general public. Once again, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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.


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