Is it Finally Time for a Guaranteed Annual Income?

August 7, 2015 10:01 am
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Could the Guaranteed Annual Income–once considered radical notion–now be an idea whose time has come? The Dutch city of Utrecht recently announced it is starting an experiment to determine whether introducing a basic income produces a more effective society. Closer to home, Joseph Ceci, Alberta’s new Finance Minister proposed a guaranteed income program last year on the election campaign trail, and both Calgary Mayor, Naheed Nenshi and Edmonton Mayor, Don Iveson, have also promoted such a program. Now, medical officers of health and boards of health members across Ontario are officially calling for provincial and federal governments to bring in a basic income guarantee.

So what exactly is a Guaranteed Annual Income?

Well it turns out, GAI has been supported by generations of economists and welfare theorists, from the left and the right. One version works like a refundable tax credit. If an individual has no income from any source at all, they receive a basic entitlement. As earned income increases, the benefit declines but less than proportionately. As a result, low income earners receive partial benefits so that they are not worse off than they would be if they quit their jobs and relied solely on income assistance.

This means that there is always an incentive to work, and people who work are always better off than they would be if they didn’t work.

So why are such a broad group of peoplee–finance ministers, mayors and medical officers of health—pushing such a program? Poverty, substantial evidence now tells us, is one of the best predictors of poor health. And poor health costs everyone.

Research on the city of Hamilton, Ontario demonstrated that residents of the city’s wealthy west Mountain neighborhood lived, on average, to 86.3 years of age, while average age at death for residents of one of the poorest Hamilton neighborhoods was only 65.5 years – a shocking gap.

Way back in the 1970s, Manitoba tried implementing a Guaranteed Annual Income in Winnipeg and in the small town of Dauphin. In Dauphin, everyone was eligible to participate. A family with no income from other sources would receive 60 percent of the Statistics Canada low-income cutoff (LICO) which varied by family size. Every dollar received from other sources would reduce benefits by 50 cents. Important for an agriculturally dependent town with a lot of self-employment, the GAI offered stability and predictability. Sudden illness, disability or unpredictable economic events would no longer be financially devastating. The project ran for four years, ending in 1979.

So did the GAI produce anything to report? Remarkably, even this four year program had strong positive results. Dauphin high school students were more likely to remain in school than had been true in the years before the GAI started (or in the years after the GAI stopped). The health of Dauphin residents also improved, with fewer hospitalizations (8.5% reduction), specifically for mental illness, accidents and injuries.

So how much would introducing a Guaranteed Annual Income across Canada cost?

According to several Queens University professors, the cost of replacing social assistance (which includes welfare and disability support) and old age security (which includes a top-up for low-income seniors) and providing every adult with an annual income of $20,000, and children with an income guarantee of $6000, would be $40 billion. The Fraser Institute calculates the total cost of Canada’s current income support system (the payout plus administrative costs) at $185 billion.

Our own estimates, which build on existing social programs, range from a gross annual cost of $17 billion for a program that (in today’s dollars) is slightly more generous than was offered in Dauphin, to a “Cadillac” version costing $58 billion that would guarantee everyone a minimum income equal to the LICO, and pay at least some benefits to people earning well above the LICO. The cost of a Guaranteed Annual Income depends on how generous it is, how quickly benefits are phased out with additional income and how existing social programs are affected.

Some of these costs, of course, would be partially recovered from the additional taxes paid by recipients, as well as the lower costs faced by so many other social programs that are driven by poverty. Hospital care alone, for example, cost Canada $63.5 billion in 2014.

Bottom line, whether it’s our calculations or those done by other organizations, a GAI is definitely do-able. And it is clear: the potential benefits of a GAI are substantial.

Maybe it is time for the rest of Canada to at least look to what Alberta is saying and focus on the health, educational and financial benefits that the Guaranteed Annual Income might offer.

Noralou RoosNoralou Roos is the Director of Evidence Network and professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Manitoba. Follow her on Twitter at @nlroos.

 

 

 

 

 

Evelyn ForgetProfessor Evelyn Forget is a health economist at the University of Manitoba. Her re-examination of Mincome and ongoing work on Guaranteed Annual Income is supported by CIHR and SSHRC.

 

What You Need to Know About the Election

August 6, 2015 9:19 am
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On your marks, get set, go! The race is on.

The federal election to determine Canada’s 42nd parliament and leader has begun.

Set to end with the October 19 election, this campaign will be the longest in over a century (since 1872), running for a full 78 days.

In Canada, federal election dates are fixed for the third Monday in October every four years. However, the prime minister can dissolve the House of Commons any time before that date. On August 2, Prime Minister Stephen Harper did just that.

Harper’s Conservatives won the May 2011 federal election with a majority government. If Harper wins again, he will be the first prime minister since 1908 to win four federal elections in a row.

The major players in this race are, of course, Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, NDP and opposition leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau.

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As they head out on the campaign trail, the Conservatives will likely focus on the economy and national security. The NDP will highlight its differences with the Conservatives by noting their approach to child care and health care. The Liberals will chant that it is time for change after nine years of Conservative government. There are some buzzwords voters are likely to hear a lot over the next several weeks: economy, security, family, change, experience—to name just a few. It will be a rare three-way race.

For up-to-date polling information, take a look at EKOS or IPSOS.

Election day is Oct. 19, 2015, but you can vote in advance from Oct. 9-12. And don’t forget to bring I.D.! Due to changes to the Fair Elections Act after the last election, you must present valid photo I.D. when you go to vote—not just a voter identification card. (Your best bet is to bring your driver’s license along.)

Not sure if you are registered to vote? Click here to check.

About Your Riding

There are nine ridings in the National Capital Region. See below to find the candidates from each party in your riding. Click their name to access their website and find out more about who you are voting for.

Carleton

Pierre Poilievre (Con)

Chris Rodgers (Lib)

KC Larocque (NDP)

Deborah Coyne (Green)

Kanata-Carleton

Walter Pamic (Con)

Karen McCrimmon (Lib)

John Hansen (NDP)

Andrew West (Green)

Nepean

Andy Wang (Con)

Chandra Arya (Lib)

Jean-Luc Cooke (Green)

Glengarry-Prescott-Russell

Pierre Lemieux (Con)

Francis Drouin (Lib)

Normand Laurin (NDP)

Ottawa Centre

Damian Konstantinakos (Con)

Catherine McKenna (Lib)

Paul Dewar (NDP)

Tom Milroy (Green)

Ottawa South

Dev Balkissoon (Con)

David McGuinty (Lib)

George Brown (NDP)

John Redins (Green)

Ottawa-Vanier

David Piccini (Con)

Mauril Bélanger (Lib)

Ottawa West-Nepean

Abdul Abdi (Con)

Anita Vandenbeld (Lib)

Orléans

Royal Galipeau (Con)

Andrew Leslie (Lib)

Nancy Tremblay (NDP)

A Plan for a Vibrant and Sustainable CBC

July 31, 2015 2:00 pm
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The Senate Standing Committee on Transport and Communications has released a report on the future of the CBC. I was a part of that study, but I could not support the report. Some Conservative members of the committee spent too much time denouncing the CBC and not enough time on building a way forward. Regrettably, all we got was a lost opportunity. So I authored a Minority Report in response, A Plan for a Vibrant and Sustainable CBC/Radio Canada.

The CBC is facing significant challenges. There is the continued rise of the Internet and digital services like Netflix that are changing the broadcasting landscape. More and more content is consumed online. There are also long-standing challenges of competing against the U.S. entertainment giant to our south.

With these challenges in mind, here is what I propose. It is important to have a strong and vibrant CBC, to tell our stories, to entertain and inform us as Canadians. Polling suggests Canadians want it. The overwhelming majority of witnesses we heard from want a robust CBC.  They want it not only to fill gaps left by private broadcasters—as the committee suggested—but because, as one witness said, the “CBC is the only network that brings together all Canadians.”

Regrettably, the CBC’s ability to meet consumer demands is severely challenged.  Why is that the case? Simply put, the CBC is starved for cash. At $29/per capita, the CBC is well below the average of $82 per capita invested in public broadcasting in other industrialized countries.  The BBC in the UK, for example, receives three times more funding than the CBC.

To have an effective public broadcaster, the CBC needs strengthening. Not only should the government commit to stable and predictable funding over five year periods, adjusted to inflation, the government should also pledge to increase CBC’s per capita funding to at least $40 annually. This can be done by incrementally raising the parliamentary appropriation and exploring other funding models that could either enhance or eventually replace the parliamentary appropriation if sufficient funds are found. Other countries do this to great effect.

With increased funding, the CBC should get out of the commercial advertising business altogether leaving it to the private sector broadcasters. Not having advertising on radio has served the CBC well and would follow the highly successful model of the BBC in the UK or HBO on this continent that provides continuous uninterrupted programming that so many people enjoy.

As much more content continues to be consumed online, the CBC should launch a direct streaming service similar to Netflix. This should be a free service for Canadians so they can consume CBC’s content on the platform they desire.

On governance, the committee wants to leave appointments for the board of directors to the Prime Minister alone. I disagree. A new process is needed.  Either an arm’s length selection process or an all-party selection committee should be created to select the board. This would increase accountability, transparency and competence.  Once selected, the board would appoint the president and look for a person with proven expertise in business and the broadcasting industry.

Lastly, I strongly disagree with the committee recommendation that said, A portion of CBC’s funding should be reallocated to an external ‘superfund’ that would help finance the creation of Canadian content.”

Without increased funding, this would cripple an already cash strapped organization. Also, where would the money come from? If the goal is to create more Canadian dramas and comedies, then taking money away from those areas within the CBC doesn’t make sense – which means it would have to be taken from the other side of the CBC, the news.

This is not at all what we heard from witnesses who expressed how important CBC news is to our country. CBC news provides distinct local, regional, national and international perspectives and in-depth coverage, which contributes to a vigorous democracy.

The CBC is just as important now as when it was created. Canadians want and need a robust and durable public broadcaster to tell our stories, to inform and entertain and to nurture and convey our national identity.

official photo 2012By Art Eggleton

Art Eggleton is a Canadian Senator and former Mayor of Toronto and Member of Parliament. 

Former PM John Turner and the Arctic Youth Corps

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Should Justin Trudeau’s Liberals revive a 1965 Throne Speech promise?

“I really became a Canadian when I got to know Canada north of the 60th parallel… I have never felt more Canadian than when alone with my thoughts in the remote northern vastness.”
—Former Prime Minister John Turner

Former Prime Minister John Turner has canoed every river in Canada that empties into the Arctic Ocean. As a young parliamentary secretary to Arthur Laing, the minister of Northern Affairs and National Resources under Lester Pearson, he came to know the northern reaches of the country intimately.

While it is the current prime minister, Stephen Harper, who now garners arctic headlines, perhaps the Liberal Party should be reviving a policy idea Turner brought forward to the Pearson government in the 1960s.

Turner accompanied Laing on a trip to the Arctic during two consecutive summers, in 1963-64, and he was deeply affected by what he saw. From Cape Dorset to Port Burwell and many other Arctic communities, Turner saw the Inuit people in a realistic—although precarious—light. They were leaving their old ways behind, but yet not sure how to embrace the opportunities of capitalism that southern Canadians simply took for granted. As his biographer, Paul Litt, has pointed out, Turner wanted the Inuit to develop their own commercial enterprises, so they could run self-sustaining businesses. He believed in encouraging southern Canadian investment in the north.

Part of what Turner saw as a disconnect between the Inuit way of life and southern Canada was the lack of opportunity for the two to ever meet. It was this lack of connection—and the fact that there was no capacity to make it happen—that weighed heavily on him when he sat down to come up with policy options for the Pearson government.

One of his most inspired ideas has been lost in history’s pages – although it was both exciting enough and practical enough for the Pearson government of the day to include it in the 1965 Speech from the Throne. Turner proposed the formation of the Arctic Youth Corps, modelled after the United States’ Peace Corps.

In the US version, the Peace Corps sends Americans abroad to work at the grassroots level, in an effort to create sustainable change in communities. Turner’s vision was to see the potential for young people from southern Canada to get to know the northern realities of their country. He knew that it was sustainability that was needed in the arctic and that such a program might go a long way in building economic and social bridges between north and south.

He also knew that young Canadians who served in the Arctic Youth Corps would carry this knowledge into subsequent generations. It would be a legacy of real value passed on from one generation to the next.

In a recent interview with Turner, it was clear he believed the Arctic Youth Corps remains a viable idea, declaring that it would “open up the eyes of our young people to our great north.”

While he gives Prime Minister Harper credit for “taking a great interest” in Canada’s arctic, he also notes that “we haven’t done as much as we should.”

Turner says transportation development, education, and a broad range of business opportunities needs to be encouraged in the far north so it can attain its potential. Showcasing what the Inuit people can do with a hand up in infrastructure matters will be important. The Arctic Youth Corps could be a crucial, bridge-building link that is also relatively cost effective, compared to many other arctic initiatives.

Like many who have visited the Canadian arctic, Turner was never able to free himself from its pull. His personal interest remained, even when he moved into other political portfolios. Given Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s teaching background and his interest in Canadian youth, he could do worse than to revive a celebrated – albeit forgotten—policy idea from the most senior Liberal statesman in Canada.

By Roderick Benns

Roderick Benns is the publisher of Leaders and Legacies and the owner of Fireside Publishing House.

Light-Rail gets $1 Billion Boost from Feds

July 28, 2015 3:11 pm
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The existing O-Train passes over the Rideau River. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In a letter to Mayor Jim Watson dated July 22, Orléans MP Royal Galipeau announced his party’s intention to give $1 billion to support Stage 2 of Ottawa’s light-rail plans.

That money will make up one third of the project’s projected $3 billion price tag.

“Our intent to contribute to Stage 2 reflects our understanding that Canada’s largest cities depend on public transit infrastructure to fight gridlock, reduce congestion for people and businesses, and support economic development,” Galipeau said in his letter.

This money is dependant on the city completing a formal application to the Conservative’s Public Transit Fund. The transit fund has previously contributed to the Spadina Subway Extension project in Toronto and the Evergreen Line in Vancouver. The city will also need to release a more detailed plan of the project to receive funding.

Stage 2 of the LRT will reach from Bayshore to Place d’Orleans, and stretch as far south as Riverside South. The project will add 30 new kilometres of track and 19 new stations to the transit system.

Construction on Stage 2 is set to begin in 2018, after Stage 1 is finished. The projected completion date is 2023.

Will climate refugees in Canada finally spur action on climate change?

July 22, 2015 12:23 pm
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Photo Credit: Eric Wüstenhagen
Ryan Meili and Mahli Brindamour

A young child arrives at the hospital emergency room in respiratory distress, his asthma worsened by smoke exposure. An elder has uncontrolled blood pressure because there wasn’t time to get her medications when the evacuation orders came through. Scabies and other illnesses related to crowding spread quickly through the close quarters of the evacuees. Sudden departure from and worry about home bring significant mental stress. These sorts of health problems are commonplace for people in circumstances like the over 13,000 Northern Saskatchewan residents forced to leave their homes due to forest fires.

As physicians, we’re taught not only to look at the symptoms of an illness, but to seek its root causes. For these patients, the connection is fairly obvious: through smoke and relocation, the fires have hurt their health. And the cause of those fires? Canadian experts are pointing to high temperatures and dry conditions, with climate change a likely factor.

The people who have been relocated in Saskatchewan come from Northern communities with higher rates of poverty than the rest of the province. This is the predicted pattern of the repercussions from climate change, as remote communities with less infrastructure are more prone to its effects. Poverty, lower rates of employment, the effects of colonization and other social determinants also lead to higher rates of illness. This means that community members are more susceptible to the health effects of changes in temperature, air quality and diet that come with the disruption of climate.

We now have internally displaced people in Saskatchewan, and although they do benefit from state protection, in some ways they are as vulnerable as resettled refugees. The federal response to the forest fire crisis is certainly better, however, than the treatment refugees to Canada have received in recent history, as exemplified by the cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program, reducing health services to this vulnerable population.

Natural disasters can bring out the best in our political leaders. They come forward with extraordinary support for people affected or displaced by floods or forest fires. We’ve seen this in the past couple of weeks in Saskatchewan too, as provincial and federal governments have been assisting evacuees and adding additional resources to fight the fires devastating the North of the province.

This action is admirable, a manifestation of the care we provide for each other as a society, and of governments and civil society acting decisively in the public interest.

Tragic times can paradoxically be a boon for political leaders. It’s a chance for dramatic speeches and fire station photo-ops from government and opposition leaders alike. We say this not to cast doubt on their motivations. A strong performance in times like these demonstrates the dedication the public expects from their elected leaders. However, we should be able to expect more.

The point is that talking about climate change is not bringing up politics in a time of tragedy. There are already politics at play.  What we need from our leaders is more than a robust response to the downstream effects of climate change. For the health of Canadians, we need to see upstream thinking to prevent this from occurring over and over.

Unfortunately, we’re hearing nothing of the sort. Quite the opposite in fact; at the same time as the federal government is stepping in to take action to respond to the effects of climate change, they are the subject of international criticism at the Climate Summit of the Americas in Toronto for their inaction on its prevention or mitigation. Premier Wall has been openly resistant to taking any meaningful action to reduce carbon emissions, despite Saskatchewan leading the country in per capita carbon output.

Climate change is a massive and complex issue, and can be hard for people to get their heads around, and hard to motivate political leaders to make sacrifices to act. Sometimes what it takes to understand something on this scale is to see its effects on the health of a single person or a community.

Saskatchewan today has thousands of climate refugees suffering as a result of climate change. Will that be enough to change minds and spur meaningful action?

If our leaders have, as they should, the health and wellbeing of the population as their highest priority, it must.

Meili_Ryan_high resRyan Meili is a family physician in Saskatoon, founder of Upstream, and an expert advisor with EvidenceNetwork.ca.

 

 

 

 

 

Mahli BMahlirindamour is a pediatrician in Saskatoon and a member of the steering committee of Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care.

Mother Canada also about embracing immigrants, not just honouring war dead

July 17, 2015 12:00 pm
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It is not news to point out that Canada accepts more immigrants, per capita, than any other nation in the world, as Globe columnist Jeffrey Simpson recently pointed out. It is a distinction that serves us well as we build a welcoming society, bereft of the deep social turmoil that mars immigration in other nations.

By Canada Day, 2017, to celebrate the 150th birthday of this country, we can have a symbol that welcomes newcomers who continue to choose Canada as their home. On a half-acre of land at Green Cove in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, the Mother Canada memorial will rise, as soon as the environmental assessment and First Nations reviews have been completed.

With her arms stretched toward Europe where the two great wars were fought, she is of course a symbol of remembrance for the more than 114,000 Canadians and Newfoundlanders who gave their lives overseas in defence of Canada.

But she is much more. In all the recent controversy about the proposed sculpture, it hasn’t been communicated strongly enough that this monument was always meant to be dually iconic – to honour Canada’s fallen, but to also welcome Canada’s future.

Tony Patrick Trigiani, the Toronto businessman who is the driving force behind the Never Forgotten National Memorial, pointed out his own immigrant roots in an interview last year with Leaders and Legacies. Trigiani was just two years old when his father arrived in the Toronto area from Italy in 1949 and his mother then followed in 1950. They settled in Mimico, in the Etobicoke area of the city.

“We have woven in a unique gesture of welcoming with her outstretched arms. Just like my father and my whole family was welcomed to Canada long ago, she is welcoming the ever-changing fabric that is now Canada,” Trigiani said at the time.

In the same interview, he noted that the project was always about doing something for the whole country.

“This is one of the very few times in this ethnically diverse and modern country where we can all participate in the building of a memorial of this nature…”

The Mother Canada statue was always meant to be a welcoming symbol, not a divisive one. Even though most of today’s immigrants land at Pearson International Airport in Toronto, not on the shores of Nova Scotia, an airport is obviously not the place for an iconic marker. Instead, it will be built on a half-acre of land in an area of Canada too few Canadians have bothered to visit, on the picturesque Cabot Trail. It will bolster tourism, encouraging travel to our rugged east coast. It will speak to our history but also resonate for the new generations to come — those whom we have an obligation to teach.

Just 0.4 hectares out of the 26,000 hectare Black Brook Granite Suite within and around the Cape Breton Highlands National Park will be set aside to honour Canada’s fallen and to welcome new Canadians. We should not be dismayed by this fact. We instead should be celebrating that we live in a nation that wants to both honour its history and welcome new immigrants who will contribute to the fabric of Canada.

At the time when the Vimy monument was erected, fresh from the memory of battle, we knew then that Canada was a noble cause – one worth fighting for. The proposed Mother Canada sculpture reminds all of us, native born and immigrant alike, that it still is.

RoderickRoderick Benns is publisher of Leaders and Legacies. He is also a volunteer director responsible for educational and narrative development, First Nations, and multicultural outreach for the Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation.

The Memorial to the Victims of Communism: It’s Complicated

July 15, 2015 1:00 pm
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There seems to be a general agreement that the Memorial to the Victims of Communism—Canada a Land of Refuge is a worthy project. However, controversy surrounds the current proposed location and design.

Canada, a Land of Refuge— More than a Memorial

“People are trying to make this political,” says Ludwik Klimkowski about the plans to build a memorial to the victims of communism. Klimkowski is the board chair for Tribute to Liberty, a Canadian charitable organization, established with the mission of creating a monument for the millions of people who struggled under communist regimes and for those who helped them find refuge.

“I wish they paid more attention to the eight million of us who live here who are either directly or indirectly touched by the evils of communism,” he says.

Milo Suchma is one of those eight million.

Early one September morning in 1951, six secret policemen came to the Suchma family apartment in Prague, Czech Republic (formerly known as Czechoslovakia). “They took my father immediately out. They took my mother for interrogation for some time and they were with me in the apartment,” remembers Suchma.

“After two days, they let me go to school and I went to my class teacher, not loudly, but I told her, apologizing that I missed two days of school but my father was arrested,” he says. The teacher was a Russian émigrée. Her husband was taken away after the war and she never saw him again. “She told me, ‘Be very brave.’”

Suchma had just started the fifth grade. His father, Miloslav Suchma, a jeweler, was arrested and all his possessions taken away.

“The communists took everything,” Suchma recalls. “They put him in prison for two and a half years and he was lucky…because some of his colleagues got seven or 12 years in prison .”

“After that, you are nobody. You are nobody.You cannot get a reasonable job,” he describes.

“This is even a relatively mild story,” Suchma warns.“Some people can tell you stories that their whole family was wiped out—executed.”

Suchma left Czechoslovakia in August 1968. While on vacation in Western Europe with his wife, Jana, troops occupied Czechoslovakia, and Suchma knew they would not be able to return.

During that time, Czechoslovakia was at a tipping point of socio- political change, as the leader of the communist party, Alexander Dubcek, pushed for reform—a programme he called ‘socialism with a human face.’ In response to increasing reform, troops from Russia, East Germany, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Poland occupied Czechoslovakia. Everything changed. Supporters of liberal reforms after occupation were forcibly removed from the country. Anyone with alternative political views was potentially under threat.

“There was no hope that there would be change because I knew that they would occupy the country for a number of years,” Suchma says. So, at the age of 28, he and his wife left their lives behind and came to Canada— the land of refuge. “We, of course, had mothers and brothers, sisters and so on, but that’s life. You have to try and save your existence.”

Now 75-years-old, a proud father and grandfather, Suchma has lived in Canada for 47 years, raising his family in Ottawa. He is currently the vice- president of the Czech and Slovak Association of Canada.

Globally, more than 100 million people have been affected by communist tyranny and oppression. And the ramifications continue to this day.

“I think the situation in the world is very alarming,” Suchma says. “If you look right now at what North Korea is doing and what Russia is doing in Ukraine.”

Immigrants from communist regimes have sought refuge in Canada for generations. From all corners of the world, Czechoslovakia to China, Cuba to Korea, there are dozens of communities affected by communism who found a new home in Canada. They left everything behind and started a new life in a new country that promised freedom and democracy.

“This is not just a situation for Czechs. Look at the Vietnamese or Koreans or Chinese or Poles,” Suchma says.

“The memorial is devoted to the land of refuge. All of these people, including myself, appreciate that Canada gave us freedom, opportunity and liberty.”

Klimkowski agrees: “This is really about our common memory and above all, it is a thank you for the generosity, safety and prosperity that was extended to us.”

The latest design for the memorial only covers 37 per cent of the site, rather than the previously envisioned 60 per cent. The tallest point has been reduced from 14.35 metres to eight. And there will be five memory folds, not seven.

And many of those people wrote about their experiences on the Tribute to Liberty website as part of a fundraising campaign for the memorial. These are stories of bravery, strength, love and perseverance. Each dedication is just as powerful as the last; each one a reason for the memorial to be built.

Suchma wrote a dedication to his father.“I think that he would be proud of it,” he says.The Memorial - image 2

Breaking it Down: The Process, Supporters and Opponents

As noble a project that it is, The Memorial to the Victims of Communism—Canada a Land of Refuge has generated some controversy. While the project has the support of all of Canada’s federal political parties, and the mayor of Ottawa Jim Watson, there has been disagreement over the current site and design.All are opposed to the selected site. NDP Ottawa Centre MP Paul Dewar, Liberal MP Stéphane Dion, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and Mayor Jim Watson all maintain the memorial design does not work well next to the Supreme Court building.

In September 2009, the National Capital Commission board approved the monument theme and federal land use approval was given for an initial site at the Garden of the Provinces, located along Sparks Street between Wellington and Bay streets, in the summer of 2011. In 2012, Tribute to Liberty requested the current Wellington Street location next to the Supreme Court. On November 20, 2013, the NCC board of directors agreed that the Memorial could be located on the Judicial Precinct site southwest of the Supreme Court of Canada. In April 2014, a national design competition was implemented.

The two-phase contest narrowed down 20 proposals to six finalists. These six concepts were presented to the jury (design professionals, artists and architects) and the public on August 21, 2014.

Canadian Heritage Minister, Shelly Glover, and then Citizenship and Immigration Minister, Jason Kenney, announced the winning concept by the Toronto-based ABSTRAKT Studio Architecture in December 2014.

“This is a true multicultural mosaic of all the experiences of people who came here. We can’t get anything more beautiful than that story,” says Klimkowski.

The concept behind the winning design is a “fold of memory.” There will also be an interactive ‘Wall of Remembrance’ and a ‘Bridge of Hope’.

“You look to your left to see the memory folds and you experience each and every fallen victim of communism but then each and every pixel comes together as one large picture of Canada as the land of refuge.Then you come over to the Bridge of Hope.You see those names. You can see the story behind those names using your smart phone and then when you climb the Bridge of Hope, you see all of it in its glory,” he explains.The Memorial - image 3

Design Debate

Questions and criticism over the design quickly generated debate. Some said it was too dark, others said too ugly or too big.The problem here is that art is entirely subjective.Who is to say what the perfect representation of the victims of communism should be? It is nearly, if not completely, impossible to please everyone. Famed newspaper magnate Conrad Black recently wrote about the memorial debate in the National Post. “There seems to be an element of moral relativism involved, as if we have no right to recognize the hundred million or more people massacred by international communism in the Twentieth Century, as well as an aesthetic concern.”

“Almost all monuments, including the most illustrious, such as the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty, were much disparaged at first and I think the design is appropriate to the subject. Ottawa, and Canada’s other large cities, need more monuments—they add greatly to the visual environment and appearance of solidity of a city, as Washington, Paris, Rome, London, and other great capitals demonstrate,” Black says.

The NCC board considered the memorial design at a public meeting on June 25, 2015. The meeting outlined the progress of the project and the public was able to contribute to the discussion. The presentation outlined many alterations to the design, emphasizing the fact that the memorial’s size and scale had been significantly decreased, with an increased focus on the theme of Canada as the land of refuge. In fact, the latest design for the memorial only covers 37 per cent of the site, rather than the previously envisioned 60 per cent.The tallest point has been reduced from 14.35 metres to eight.There will be five memory folds, not seven and the memorial will not be higher than the National War Memorial.

Even though at this meeting the NCC board listened to concerns about the location of the memorial,it had already approved the site preparation.

As for the design of the memorial, there is a process in place, allowing the NCC board to reject or make changes to it. However, this outcome seems unlikely. This memorial has been a substantial undertaking for the federal government and it would be quite the political slap to completely reject the plans, especially considering a significant number of board members were appointed under the Harper government, some as recently as mid- June. Even in the unlikely event that the NCC rejects the current plans, the federal cabinet has the power to override the decision under the National Capital Act. So, really, it seems to be an irrelevant point.

All the same, Mayor Jim Watson and city councillors have voiced opposition to the project’s location. Watson addressed concerns at a council meeting on May 27, 2015, supporting Councillor Nussbaum’s motion speaking out against the current plans.

“As Councillor Nussbaum’s motion clearly states, our concern here is about the location of the proposed memorial and not the merits of the memorial or its design,” he said.

“The parallel discussion on the merits and design of the monument is neither one that is before us today nor one that I believe we should be undertaking, but the location of a monument of this size and prominence will have a significant effect on our city going forward and I believe that it is best suited in its original location, the Garden of the Provinces.”

However, he noted: “I recognize that this is ultimately not the city’s decision to make.”

It is a classic city issue versus federal issue debate familiar to residents of Ottawa who have watched the NCC and the city clash over a myriad of issues for decades, whether it’s about Sparks Street redevelopment, Rideau Street development, the proposed King Edward Boulevard, Canada’s Sport Hall of Fame (which eventually was built in Calgary) and Light Rail Transit routes.

Jurisdiction is further complicated at the national level, as the NCC, Canadian Heritage and Public Works and Government Services all have a part to play in the development of this memorial. The National Capital Commission is providing required land use and design approvals throughout the project, and is responsible for the construction of the memorial. Canadian Heritage is managing the overall monument project and the national design competition. Public Works and Government Services Canada is providing procurement services for the design competition. Once the memorial is built, ownership and maintenance of the monument will be the responsibility of Public Works and Government Services Canada. It is an entanglement of accountability.

So what happens now? The decision- making process for this memorial is ongoing and evolving. Once the NCC board grants the federal land use and design approval for the project, ABSTRAKT Studio Architecture will begin working on the construction documents. Canadian Heritage says the official inauguration of the memorial is expected to take place in 2016.

“There is a lot of work ahead of us,” says Klimkowski. “My sleeves are rolled up and I look forward to working with all partners to see this project brought to life.”

Where do the Parties stand?

Where do the parties stand - image 1“The Government is committed to seeing this important monument built in the selected location. Let me be clear, the monument will not be located in front of the Supreme Court. Rather, it will be off to the side, closer to the Library and Archives. Critics of the monument want to destroy green space and construct yet another building for government lawyers. This Memorial will honour the more than 100 million lives lost under communist regimes – and pay tribute to the Canadian ideals of liberty, democracy and human rights. In Canada, over 8 million people trace their roots to countries that suffered under Communism. Thousands of brave young Canadian soldiers fought against communism in Korea.We must never forget their sacrifice.” – The Honourable Pierre Poilievre

Where do the parties stand - image 2“My NDP colleagues and I join with architects, municipal representatives, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and Ottawa residents in opposing current plans for the Memorial to the Victims of Communism. The Conservatives’ decision to locate the monument next to the Supreme Court of Canada is particularly wrong-headed and inappropriate. The monument was originally approved for a different site, but the Conservative government intervened to change the location – in violation of the longstanding plan for the parliamentary precinct and the interests of local residents. A memorial to remember and honour those who fought for democracy is a fine idea – but Conservative political interference undermines the very principle of democratic consultation. As the NDP MP for Ottawa Centre, I have written to the Minister of Public Works, the National Capital Commission, and the Speaker of the House of Commons; asked numerous questions in Question Period; and written op-eds on this issue.The government must abandon its stubborn refusal to listen to the local community, and reconsider its ill-conceived plans for this monument.” – NDP Ottawa Centre MP Paul Dewar

Where do the parties stand - image 3“We support the idea to commemorate the victims of communism because so many communities came to our country in order to escape from these horrific regimes. So, Canada has been in some ways benefiting a lot from these communities who came to our country. To commemorate this difficult part of their history to explain why they came to Canada, makes sense. But we think that the process was not  respectful. So many people are against the site that has been chosen without proper consultation and to do it so close to the Supreme Court is not what we support.The design is a matter of personal taste.We do not have an official position about the design…We support the idea.We have a problem with the site. And we have a problem with the process.” – Liberal MP Stéphane Dion

Local Liberal MP Mauril Bélanger reinforced Dion’s comments and noted that his constituents have voiced concern about the memorial.

Where do the parties stand - image 4“I’m quite opposed to the current siting and approach and arrogance of the Harper administration in forcing this on the City of Ottawa…I can understand and am willing to give qualified support to the idea of a victims of communism statue in Ottawa, but not this one, not in that location and not at this scale. I certainly don’t support the current plans.” – Green Party Leader Elizabeth May

* These are the Party positions at the time of print.

Native History with Pulse: Inspiring Journey of Thousand Years

June 22, 2015 11:06 am
1 Under Bridge

Global Savages represent the members of the Anishnaabeg family: Debajehmud, Chibiabos, mother Sky Woman and Mudjeekwis (left to right). Photo courtesy of Ron Berti.

Have you heard the rowing of canoes?

2 Smudging

Public participates in the smudging ceremony

Because Global Savages were here to tell their 18,000 year-old story as a part of Canada’s Magnetic North Theater Festival that took place on the first week of June in Ottawa. Close to a hundred people, young and old, among them tourists and casual passers-by, gathered under the bridge near the Bytown Museum to view the performance.

It was just in time as Ottawa was preparing to celebrate the National Aboriginal Day on June 21. The holiday was overshadowed by the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on residential schools in Canada. Nevertheless, Global Savages brought some light and hope.

Global Savages represent the members of the Anishnaabeg family: the Sky Woman and her three sons Mudjeekwis, Debajehmud and Chibiabos. In   their stories, the family travels through thousands of years, through civilizations, to bring the wisdom of their elders – the Kahila teachings, lessons of preservation of humanity.

Kahila teaches people to be “gentle.” The gentle people cherish the Mother Earth that houses and feeds them, the Sun that gives the light, and the woman who begets life. The wisdom also teaches patience and reconciliation.

As the play begins, the family portrays their live on the Turtle Island, isolated from the world until strangers arrived on their land. Blue-eyed, dressed in different clothes, at first, the strangers were regarded as creatures from the higher, spiritual world.

The spiritual creatures, however, brought war, not peace. First, they fought each other. Then, they turned their spears against the natives. The strangers not only killed the indigenous people, but they tore out the hearts of the native families – their children. The children were sent to residential schools, where they were supposed to learn the Western language and manners.

4 In Act 2

Joseph Osawabine plays Debajehmud is also the artistic director of the Manitoulin Island’s Debajehmujig Storytellers Theater

Children’s separation from their families, and what it meant for their parents, was well acted out by the Sky Woman. Her dramatic narration about disconnection of children with their culture and language finishes with long, loud wailing.

The recent report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) revealed that there were 130 church-run, government-funded schools across Canada. In these schools, 150,000 First Nation, Métis and Inuit students suffered abuse and harassment, and many – faced death. Close to 6,000 children died in the walls of the residential schools.

Canadian government has always been slow to act. The last residential school closed in 1996. Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized on behalf of the government of Canada and all Canadians for the colonial school system only in 2008. The TRC report came out only two decades later.

It’s doubtful that the 94 recommendations by the TRC will be acted on by the present government. One of the recommendations of the report is for the Pope to offer an apology to Aboriginal people. When the TRC study came out, the prime minister was meeting with Pope Francis in Vatican City. Mr. Harper didn’t ask the Pope to apologize.

However, not all victims of residential schools had a negative impact, says Joseph Osawabine, the actor who plays Debajehmud. His grandfather withstood the residential system. As the result, the grandfather learned to read and write, which later helped him to become a successful entrepreneur.

“He [the grandfather] understood the world in a different way because of this [residential school experience] as well. And he instilled working values in us, in this family,” Osawabine says.

Osawabine is now the artistic director of the Manitoulin Island’s Debajehmujig Storytellers Theater. His theater is the only professional theater company on the Indian reserve that has been open for more than three decades. It is a place where the local youth learn their heritage, connect with the community, and find inspiration.

3 In Act

Anishnaabegs share their culture and way of life

“Our company gives youth a voice, we give them a sense of hope for the future,” Osawabine says.

One of the mandates of the theater is establishing connection with non-natives and introducing them to the version of the history that is not taught in the Canadian schools.

Many Canadians are glad to attend performances by the indigenous people. In Ottawa, the public who gathered under the bridge represented mostly non-natives.

Andrée Chartier was one of the spectators. The show inspired Chartier to learn more about history of Aboriginal people. There is a rich history yet to be discovered, she says.

“We, non-natives, have to recognize how much good philosophy there is, and the way native people live that we can learn from,” Chartier says.

Chartier thinks it’s a good idea for everyone to have a native friend to learn from each other, and walk along together on the immense land that Canada is.

The artistic director Osawibine is positive about the future of his people. In spite of all tragedies and challenges, Osawibine says: “indigenous people of this land are still here.”

After the performance the Global Savages “boarded their canoe” to continue their journey of sharing the heritage of the Anishnaabeg family. The place under the bridge slowly cleared as people parted. Only the wailing of the mother Sky Woman kept resonating in the air of the empty space.

Have you heard her perchance?

Was The Senate Audit Worth It?

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On a cost-benefit basis, probably not

Consider me one of the millions of Canadians offended by the Senate spending scandal. But it’s not for the reason you might think.

The auditor general spent $21 million on this investigation, and found less than $1 million in questionable expenses — out of $180 million worth of expenses investigated. So we, the ever-patient, ever-indulgent taxpayers, spent $21 million to find out that 0.5% of Senate expenses were questionable.

Should we be outraged? Yes, by the dollar cost of the investigation and by the cost to the reputation of Canada’s upper house.

The Senate’s expense rules seemed fuzzy at best, and downright muddled at worst. Many of the 30 Senators named in the report have already written strong defence statements, stating that they believed these to be simple administrative errors, or that the Senate rules, as they stood at the time, allowed the expenses.

Was there premeditated wrong-doing?

It’s quite easy to say, yes, there was. There are three senators facing charges, with another nine being referred to the RCMP. There are also 21 senators and former senators named who were referred to the Internal Economy Committee. However, 12 of these senators were reported for questionable expenses of under $11,000.

Perhaps much of it comes down to a grandiose sense of entitlement. Anyone who overnight becomes known as “The Honourable Senator” to everyone around them is bound to develop a somewhat grandiose sense of self. Add to that staff members who are often young and easily impressed by the aura of power that surrounds the Senate, and I doubt anyone would not feel a bit more self-important than the “great unwashed.”

This is not a unilateral defence of the Senate. There was a distinct need for expense reform within the Red Chamber. And perhaps it was necessary to bring in a third-party body to expose irregularities and enforce the Senate to tighten up its own rules. It may have been the only way. But it was also an incredibly pricey way.

The cost to Canadian taxpayers seems out of ratio with the benefit we will receive. And the Senate, which has actually done some very good work in researching and advocating for important social issues (palliative care, mental health, etc.) — but is terrible at communicating this good work and impact — will be irreparably damaged for years, perhaps decades to come.

Or perhaps this will be a tempest in a teacup and will blow over, just as many other spending scandals have in the past. Remember the Tories’ $50 million G8/G20 spending spree in Muskoka?

But we do know that pricey audits and commissions can have real political consequences. The Liberal Adscam scandal led to the $14 million Gomery Commission. In the end it found that $3.75 worth of spending was untendered or not completed, with $1 million of that ultimately repaid. And we all know the price former Prime Minister Paul Martin paid for that enquiry.

In reality, it may be the egregious lack of accountability and inflated sense of entitlement that we are most offended by. Will that change in any way if the Senate tightens up its spending rules?

In the end, it is up to each and every one of us who has paid for the audit to balance whether or not it was money well spent. If this is the going rate for such reforms, I, for one, vote no.

Lee Tunstall, PhD, is Lee Tunstalla consultant and adjunct assistant professor in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Calgary.

 

 

 

Canada Skips Dialogue of Leaders of World Religions in Astana

June 9, 2015 10:04 am
IV Congress

Photos provided by the Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions

Kazakhstan’s capital Astana is hosting an international conference gathering leaders of world religions and politicians from dozens of countries across the world. Canadian officials, however, will not be present.

The Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions was created by President of Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbayev in 2003. The conference serves as a platform for world politicians and religious leaders to engage in interfaith dialogue, seek ways to live in peace, better protect the environment and defend human rights.

In the fifthPresident Nazarbayev congress in Astana, delegates will discuss how working together can foster development and promote peace in the world. During the last congress in 2012, 85 religious delegations from 40 countries sat around one table, exploring solutions for building mutual understanding among inter-ethnic, inter-religious communities at home and abroad.

Canada has received an invitation to attend the forum. In February 2015, Kazakhstan presented the invitation to MP David Anderson, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Consular. Although Anderson would not be able to travel to Kazakhstan, he stated that Canada supports this initiative.

“Kazakhstan’s hosting of the triennial Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions is a welcome initiative which Canada hopes will serve to advance religious freedom in Central Asia,” Anderson wrote in his email.

Previous years, former Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien, Parliamentary Secretary Robert Dechert and Canada’s Ambassador for Religious Freedom, Dr. Andrew Bennett, attended the forum.

This year, however, Canada will not be sending its representatives. It’s unfortunate because the country has much to share and much to learn.

The interfaith dialog in Canada started more than five decades ago. The Christian-Jewish Dialogue movement was formed in the 1960’s. Two decades later, the National Muslim Christian Liaison Committee was created as a forum for the exchange of common concerns and interests.

In 2013, Canada launched the Office of Religious Freedom to speak on behalf of religious minorities under threat, to oppose religious hatred and promote harmony at home and abroad. Another mission of the organization is to facilitate an interfaith dialogue.

Ottawa’s interfaith dialogue is also giving sprouts.

Tom Sherwood, adjunct professor of Sociology at Carleton University, is one of the founding members and leaders of Interfaith Ottawa. The group was formed in 2001, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks as an advisory group to the mayor and the police. Sherwood says the group is still active.

“There is a lot of interfaith activity going on, and Ottawa is a leader,” Sherwood says.

Thanks to Sherwood’s efforts, Ottawa’s Carleton University started an Interfaith Chaplaincy in the fall of 2014. It’s quiet and part-time right now, Sherwood says, but it is gearing up for the new academic year at the end of the summer.

“At Carleton, we have recently transitioned in formal ways to reflect the reality, not only of the student population but the actual practices of campus chaplaincy,” Sherwood says.

In 1996, Ottawa created the Capital Region Interfaith Council, which includes representatives of Catholicism, Presbytery, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Baha’i, Sikhism and other confessions. The Council is meant to serve as a place for a dialogue among Ottawa’s faith communities.Participants

This all could be shared with other countries in Astana.

Ottawa’s religious organizations and communities won’t be travelling to Kazakhstan either.

Yesbossyn Smagulov, expert in the religious studies from the Eurasian National University in Astana, says it would be great to have Canadian representatives. Kazakhstan resembles Canada in many ways: vast terrains, abundant deposits of mineral resources and scarce population.

“I think that participation of every country in the Congress in Astana provides an opportunity for an exchange of experiences and establishing closer relations,” Smagulov says.

“Canadian representatives could share their achievements in the field of multiculturalism, tolerance, religious freedoms and the way it accommodated two official languages.”

In its turn, Canada could learn how different nations, ethnic groups representing over 40 religions and confessions live in peace in Kazakhstan. Unlike neighbouring countries, Kazakhstan has avoided conflicts on ethnic and religious grounds thanks to the hard work of the government and its citizens. The concept of big diverse family is widely promoted and strongly supported across former nomadic lands.

It’s unfortunate Canada will skip the world’s gathering of religious leaders, politicians and organizations in Astana. In the era of terrorism and radicalism centered around religions, the world can’t be short of such dialogues. It’s a brilliant opportunity to discuss how to live in peace on Earth.

Learning to Walk

June 4, 2015 10:23 am
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What will the lasting legacy of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission be?

As Cree youngsters in the north, we are taught the tradition of how to walk on the land and in the bush – with each foot fall carefully and quietly placed so as not to disturb the food sources that have always meant the difference between thriving and starvation. It is a hard won but essential skill for those living off the land and it takes many years of practice to master.

Sadly, like so many of our traditions, this one was almost swept away during the tragic Indian Residential Schools period, described by Justice Murray Sinclair, Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as Canada’s greatest shame.

On June 2, after the Commission’s findings and final recommendations were released, the baton will be passed to people like Ry Moran, director of the National Research Centre at the University of Manitoba. Here, the many hours of deeply personal testimony will be housed and a plan struck to foster further research and to decide how best to pass on all that has been learned.

As he reflects on the many tears that were shed during the thousands of hours of disclosures, the horrors that still haunt many Canadians, and all that was lost, Moran said, “At its core, kids were denied the right to be children and to feel the love of their parents in their lives. At the same time, parents were denied the right to give love – an attack on the most fundamental and sacred elements of any society.”

When I think back on the role my own parents played in our lives and in Moose Lake, Manitoba where they both began their careers as teachers, how very different things could have been.

Though they arrived separately to a reserve that was accessible only by boat, snowmobile or dog team back then, they left together and their story is nothing short of remarkable in the way it paints what life in a Cree community used to be like.

Yes, they witnessed first-hand the chasm created by residential schools, but, as the community’s first Cree teacher, my Dad fell in love with another young teacher, the daughter of a Scottish couple who no doubt feared their girl was entering the unknown. Together, their time there was impactful and not only in romantic ways but in how they helped hold the community together.

I love to hear their stories about Moose Lake, back when teachers used to smoke at the front of their classrooms, and Physical Education entailed cutting wood and hauling water.

They both spent most every evening visiting the families in the reserve. Mum says they had a calendar mapping out who they would have tea with on which night, so they could eventually spend time with all of the community.

Now and then I still run into people who used to be their students, and I am proud to say the relationships they built there are still cherished.

My parents often talk about the people from the reserve who lived off the land. There was no such grandiose a title as “Elder” back then, only people who held themselves with the confidence of spending years being solely responsible for their own and their family’s existence.

When young people began returning from residential schools, it is fascinating that what struck those who lived off the land the most is that these ‘students’ had to be taught how to walk all over again. Not with the harsh heel strike they had learned in the towns and cities but with the gentle foot fall of their early childhoods.

Maybe that will be the lasting legacy of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission – that we can face the truth of our past, see a way forward that is hopeful, and learn how to walk gently together so that, as Justice Sinclair so eloquently said, “we can turn our greatest shame into our greatest source of pride” as peoples and as a nation.

By James Wilson

James Wilson is an advisor with EvidenceNetwork.ca and commissioner of the Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba, a neutral body mandated to encourage discussion, facilitate public understanding, and enhance mutual respect between all peoples in Manitoba. @JamesBWilson_

An Exclusive with U.S. Ambassador Bruce A. Heyman

May 12, 2015 2:07 pm
Copyright must be credited:
Couvrette/Ottawa
(613) 238-5104
www.couvrette-photography.on.ca

The United States Ambassador to Canada, Bruce A. Heyman, arrived in Ottawa last summer and has been one of the most active U.S. ambassadors in decades. In less than a year, Heyman has hosted seven senior United States cabinet members in Canada, including several visits by Secretary of State John Kerry. He also personally invited all U.S. governors to visit Canada. To date, ten have accepted. Heyman has been visiting the provinces and territories and has reached out to all premiers to promote trade and business relations with the United States.

Heyman is well briefed on Canada. His appointment as President Obama’s personal representative to Canada was well received here. He is a 33-year veteran of Goldman Sachs, where he served as a regional managing director of the Midwest private wealth management group, covering 13 states and half of Canada, from 1999 until December of 2013. He recently ensured 84 delegates from Canada attended the Select USA Investment Summit in Washington, which provides insight into how to do business in the United States. The stakes in the Canada-U.S. relationship are high. In 2014, there was $759 billion in trade and $650 billion in bilateral investment between the two countries.

The Ambassador’s April 8, 2015, interview occurred days before Parliament committed to sending Canadian soldiers to an expanded mission in Iraq as well as to sending Canadian soldiers to Ukraine on a training mission. Ambassador Heyman was refreshingly candid and took on all questions about the Canada-U.S. relationship.

OLM: Can you comment on the Government of Canada’s decision to expand the mission in Iraq and Syria?
Ambassador Heyman: The United States could not ask for a better partner in the fight against ISIL. Canada has an important and vital role to play in Iraq and I want to express the appreciation of the United States government for all that Canada has done and continues to do, both militarily and otherwise. There are now 62 other nations involved in efforts to stop ISIL. We realize the ISIL problem will not be resolved through the military alone. We must continue to stop the flow of foreign fighters and address humanitarian relief, and it is also important that we continue to figure out and expose the true nature of ISIL to further delegitimize them.

OLM: Prime Minister Harper has been very firm on Canada’s position on Russian incursions into the Ukraine. Does the United States support this position?
Ambassador Heyman: The United States and Canada stand shoulder-toshoulder with Ukrainians to govern their country free from outside interference. The United States joins Canada and all NATO colleagues in urging Russia to fully comply with the Minsk Agreement.

OLM: What has been the issue that comes up the most since you arrived last summer?
Ambassador Heyman: I’m told almost everywhere I go that people are most concerned about the proper functioning of the U.S.-Canada border. It’s not a new issue, but it is one with which both countries have made great progress. It’s complex because you have to balance security, free trade and travel. We’ve announced  many changes regarding preclearance provisions on land, rail and marine that are having a significant impact. The Beyond the Border program has been very successful. On February 18, 2015, the United States, Canada and the state of Michigan signed an agreement to finance the proposed New International Trade Crossing (NITC) that will link Detroit and Windsor, Ontario. This was the result of several years of discussions and cooperation between officials and agencies from both countries. So, we have improved technologies and techniques at border crossings and representatives from both countries have worked to ensure we are getting this right.

OLM: What about climate change? Canada and the United States seem to be approaching this differently.
Ambassador Heyman: Climate change is real and the President takes it seriously. We recognize the climate is changing and we must adapt to this change because it affects us all. We have a shared Arctic that is diminishing. When I was in Tuktoyuktuk, locals told me they have seen the change and that things are different. We have to reduce the human impact on the environment. I’m excited that many of our states and Canada’s provinces are working on this problem together. The one thing about climate change is it has no borders.

OLM: Can you comment on Keystone?
Ambassador Heyman: Keystone is still under consideration and it is being reviewed in a comprehensive transparent way by the State Department.
OLM: Many in Canada are under the impression Keystone is dead.
Ambassador Heyman: No, the process is not at a halt and is still under consideration. The State Department is reviewing it and we will see where that review leads.

OLM: Can you comment on the dispute regarding Buy America requirements for steel, iron and manufactured products? As you know, Canadian officials have called the requirement to only use U.S. steel on Canadian soil unacceptable.
Ambassador Heyman: The United States will honour all international agreements and we are continuously working with Canadian officials on trade and other issues. It is important to remember that the United States-Canada relationship is unique in the world. We are linked by culture, values, trade and a comprehensive commitment to shared prosperity. There are always challenges that exist in families and between good friends. There is more that binds our countries than distracts us.

Photo: Paul Couvrette

Crimea Uncensored: A Look from Inside the Peninsula

May 7, 2015 1:01 pm
Swallow's nest castle, decorative castle, located on the Black Sea coast between Yalta and Alupka on the Crimean Peninsula. Photo courtesy: Igor Mazurov, Flickr

Photo courtesy: Igor Mazurov, Flickr

In 2014, on a sunny August day, my spouse and I were on our way to Crimea. We were driving along the shorelines of the Black Sea, curving green hills of the Caucasian Mountains.

I have been following the Crimean crisis from home in Ottawa, watching and reading Western and Russian media. Needless to say, the news coverage was so different—as if it came from two different places. The trip was an exciting opportunity to find out what Crimeans have to say about their “secession” or “annexation.”

After waiving away concerns of our parents—at that time, nobody really knew whether it is safe to travel there—we started on our adventure. Our route would start in Sochi and go through Anapa, Kerch, Simferopol and end in Alupka. Our mode of transportation: rented cars, public transit, a ferry and taxis. Locals would be our travel guides.

Route to Crimea

It’s a long drive from Sochi to Port Kavkaz, but scenic views of cliffs covered with an abundance of flora and open valleys delight the eyes. Small cafes, popping up now and then, spark curiosity. At the port, we waited for three hours to board a ferry to cross to the Crimean Peninsula. While standing in a line, idle travelers spoke about everything except politics. On their minds were touristic thoughts: What to see? Where to eat? What souvenirs to buy?

When we stepped down on the Crimean soil, the sun was setting over the Kerch Strait, which separates the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. As darkness was slowly falling, we met Sergey—the only taxi driver who agreed to drive us through treacherous and unlit roads from Kerch to Alupka.

It was midnight when we have decided to pull over for a late dinner. Loud Russian pop-music was busting from an outdoor restaurant named “U Armena” (Chez Armen), which offered grilled meat. Right at the entrance of the restaurant, the chef Armen was busy preparing kebabs.

“Is the meat good?” we asked him. Armen gave us a serious look and said: “Are you offending me? The meet will be so good: If you don’t like it—you don’t have to pay.”

Later, he served us tender mutton that came with grilled onions and a big bowl of fresh uncut greens and herbs. It would be a crime not to pay for the best kebabs on the Black Sea coast.

On the way to Alupka, Sergey said that now the most important thing for Crimea is to catch up with Russian infrastructure. Over the years of being a part of Ukraine, the peninsula’s economy has barely seen any investments from the Ukrainian government. Despite broken roads, leftover from Soviet-era, we reached Alupka safe and sound.

The next day, another taxi driver, Sasha, drove us to Yalta. The young man said Crimeans build their lives around tourists. When the season ends, the peninsula’s inhabitants switch to their winter mode of life. Sasha works in his garage, where he makes different crafts out of metal for trade and for pleasure. As the weather gets hotter, however, Sasha puts a taxi sign on his mini-van to welcome new tourists, who bring with them new stories and new adventures.

No sense of war

Crimea greeted us with beautiful nature, warm weather and people who were genuinely happy to welcome visitors and tourists. There was no sense of war, or any discontent. There were no “annexed” victims. I met no “occupants,” or even a single armed military man. Secession from Ukraine perceived as a normal process that was long overdue.

People I met spoke of life—not war. On the bus, a babushka (Russian word for a grand-mother) was curious where we came from. She said she hasn’t done much travelling in her life, except for visiting her relatives in Ukraine. The babushka said she is happy to see visitors and tourists.

Crimean Tatars, who, according to Western media, are prosecuted by the Russian government, are living and working—like many other residents— in a thriving tourism industry. I met them on the Ai-Petri Peak of the Crimean Mountains, where Tatars run majority of businesses. They were glad to see and to serve their “guests.”

Crimeans are very proud people. They hold their families, deeds and even their words in high honour. They are ready to die for it. There were no panhandlers. No smiles for tips. Hospitality came from heart.

Crimea, one year later

March 2015 marked one year since Crimea has seceded from Ukraine. On March 6, 2014, 83 per cent of Crimeans cast a ballot in the referendum to secede from Ukraine. Almost 97 per cent expressed their will to join Russia. Western media, nonetheless, is continuing to portray Crimea’s separation as an annexation by Russia. However, the West is now slowly starting to accept the reality.

In February 2015, German Gfk and American Gullup polling firms showed 82 per cent of Crimeans believed the referendum vote was fair and legitimate; 73.9 per cent believed joining Russia would make their life better.

Forbe’s Kenneth Rapoza writes: “At some point, the West will have to recognize Crimea’s right to self-rule. Unless we are all to believe that the locals polled by Gallup and GfK were done so with FSB bogey men standing by with guns in their hands.”

On March 5, 2014, The Washington Post published Henry Kissinger’s opinion piece on the Ukrainian crisis. Kissinger writes that the West should accept that, “to Russia, Ukraine can never be a foreign country.”

Both countries share history and religion, writes Kissinger. The Black Sea Fleet is based in Sevastopol, Crimea. Crimea became a part of Ukraine in 1954, when Nikita Khrushchev, a Ukrainian by birth, gave it as a gift to Ukraine to commemorate the 300-year celebration of Ukraine being a part of the Tsardom of Russia

Kissinger writes: “Far too often the Ukrainian issue is posed as a showdown: whether Ukraine joins the East or the West. But if Ukraine is to survive and thrive, it must not be either side’s outpost against the other — it should function as a bridge between them.”

Crimeans have been saying this from the beginning. Somehow, however, their voices were lost or distorted in the Western media. Only a few journalists traveled to the conflict zone to report, while many others sat in their offices, aggregating the same news of corporate press agencies.

After visiting the Crimea and speaking to the residents that are comprised of Russians, Ukrainians and other diverse nations living in peace, calling one another “brothers,” it makes me wonder: How many more conflicts and wars were blown out of proportion, played out as an entertainment on the screens of people who safely live far away?

Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbayev Wins His Fifth Election

April 30, 2015 11:24 am
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Photo courtesy: Official site of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan

It came as no surprise, Nursultan Nazarbayev has won yet another election in the Central Asian country of Kazakhstan. The incumbent president knows his country and his people well. President Nazarbayev is an experienced politician. In his campaign, he addressed concerns, criticisms and proposed solutions.

With a voter turnout of 95 per cent, the 74-year-old President Nazarbayev received almost 98 per cent of the vote. This was his fifth election win, which will now extend his 26-year rule in the oil-rich country until 2020.

Two opposing candidates: the Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan Turgun Syzdykov and self-nominee, pro-environmentalist Abelgazi Kussainov, shared less than 3 per cent of votes.

So, communism, environmentalism or old regime? There was little to choose from.

I grew up in Kazakhstan and I still visit my family, relatives and friends every year. None of them think red or green. And it can’t be otherwise. Now, people worry about their jobs, how to afford education for their children and about stability in the country.

Kazakhstan faces many internal challenges. As one of the world’s major oil-exporters, the country’s economy is suffering  under the weight of sagging oil prices. Sanctions against its strategic partner Russia, levied over the crisis in Ukraine, hurt Kazakhstan too. The national currency, the tenge, fell against the U.S. dollar. In February 2014 the cost of one U.S. dollar was 155 tenge, and a year later it was 185 tenge, a 16 per cent devaluation.

1There are many external threats too. Kazakhstan is close to troubled zones such as Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Pakistan, all of which pose a serious menace of radicalization and terrorism. Muslim families fear their sons will fall victims of ISIL and other Islamists.

Kazakhstan is home to more than one hundred nations and ethnic groups, who represent diverse faiths. Any religious or social unrest can easily disrupt stability, which, in turn, can provoke separatism of territories. Russians who comprise the majority of population on the country’s northern borders may want to seek separation from Kazakhstan. Colour revolutions can also captivate the country.

It’s also important to understand the psychology of people of the post-Soviet country.

The older generation is just lifting the iron curtain. Many still haven’t yet tasted the Western culture forbidden for 70 years. Many haven’t travelled much outside of the former Soviet borders. Middle class and entrepreneurs have just learned to exploit the levers of capitalism.

The young generation, however, can’t get enough of the West. Cinemas are crowded on opening nights of the sequels of Transformers, X-men or Toy Story. Network gaming clubs, which are rampant across the country, offer youth the latest games on PC, Xbox and PS4.

To give an economic boost, President Nazarbayev plans to build at least five manufacturing plants, an oil refinery and a new copper smelter. These construction projects would boost the economy and provide employment for the population. To address corruption and nepotism, Nazarbayev promised changes that will replace the hierarchical form of the government into a horizontal one. Promises of transparency, government accountability came from his lips.

The people of Kazakhstan know well the criticism coming from the international community regarding the country’s human rights record and questions regarding control of freedom of speech and the press. As the international community might question the fairness of elections, Kazakhstanis are confident in their choice because they haven’t seen any credible alternative.

It’s also important to understand people of Kazakhstan support President Nazarbayev. Behind him, rises a newly-built capital—Astana. Nazarbayev has made successful efforts in discarding nuclear weapons, inherited from the former Soviet Union. This earned him international recognition. Most importantly, President Nazarbayev over his years of rule kept his promise. He kept stability, peace and harmony in the country.

By choosing Nazarbayev yet again, the people entrusted him to hand over Kazakhstan as a developed Central-Asian country to the future successor.

What Really Stands Behind Eurasian Economic Union?

April 20, 2015 9:47 am
Russian President Putin, Kazakh President Nazarbayev and Belarus President Lukashenko shake hands during a meeting of the Eurasian Economic Union in Astana

Above: From left: President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko, President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev and President of Russia Vladimir Putin signed the Treaty of Eurasian Economic Union in Astana. The treaty came into force January 1, 2015. | Photo courtesy: Mikhail Klimentyev/RIA Novosti

Media has paid little attention to the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) between Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus that came into force in the beginning of January. A few journalists who covered the event portrayed the EEU as a menace to the world security, the Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ambition to revive the former Soviet Union and the beginning of the new Cold War.

The Eurasian Economic Union presents its emblem

The Eurasian Economic Union presents its emblem

As luring as these nostalgic views can be, they are mere speculations and simply don’t reflect the true motivations behind the Eurasian Union. The establishment of the EEU has long been in the process, and it wasn’t Putin’s idea after all. The idea behind the EEU is a common sense that the European Union and other regional organizations like CARICOM, NAFTA, or ASEAN have followed when they joined together to have their say in the widening global economy.

The roots of the EEU took place in 1994, when the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev has proposed creating the Eurasian Economic Union between neighbouring countries during the address at the Moscow State University. According to Nazarbayev’s vision, the economic union will allow free flow of goods, capital, services, manpower, and facilitate foreign investments.

In February 2014, two-decades later, amid the events in Ukraine, Nazarbayev reminded the purpose of the Eurasian Union.

“The Eurasian Economic Union is a common market. It will be a fundamentally new relationship for the 21st century, working on the principles of equality, mutual benefits and interests of all participants,” Nazarbayev said during the meeting with foreign ambassadors and representatives of international organizations.

The Kazakh President has also addressed the concerns regarding the union’s resemblance to the former Soviet Union.

“We hear various expert opinions on the Eurasian Economic Union. I believe everyone should understand that it is not a political organization. Today, it is purely about economic cooperation, which is determined by the needs of our countries,” he said.

The members of the Eurasian Union have put hard work into the project. The Union established the Eurasian Economic Community in 2000, the Customs Union in 2010 and the Common Economic Space in 2011. Last year, the participants signed the EEU Treaty that came into force in the beginning of January. All institutions are meant to develop full economic potential of the member-states and foster partnerships with China, U.S., European Union and Asia-Pacific.

Scope of the Eurasian Economic Union. Photo courtesy: Retrieved from the Library of Eurasian Integration

Scope of the Eurasian Economic Union. Photo courtesy:
Retrieved from the Library of Eurasian Integration

Similarly to the structure of the European Union, the EEU has the executive body – The Eurasian Commission, the judicial body – the Court of the EEU, and the Eurasian Development Bank. National governments are represented by the Eurasian Commission’s Council.

The union’s population concludes over 173 million with a combined GDP of $4 trillion. Three countries represent 20 per cent of world gas reserves and 15 per cent of world oil reserves. The Common Economic Space will allow the EEU residents a free access to healthcare and social assistance. All residents will also have equal access to kindergartens and secondary education; some forms of higher education will also be available free of charge.

It’s not surprising that Kazakhstan initiated, led and actively promoted the creation of the Eurasian Union. The country is home to a quite successful institution that united its highly-diverse population. The Assembly of Nation, established two decades ago, represents a union of a more than 140 nations and ethnicities with 48 different faiths and confessions, speaking 23 languages – all living in peace on vast Kazakh lands.

On the international level, the Kazakh capital Astana offered to host many world talks, including the Normandy Four, the meeting of leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France. This June, Kazakhstan is preparing to host the fifth Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions. The leaders will discuss religious extremism and how to prevent radicalization of youth.

The purpose of the EEU is far from the idea of building a new Soviet Union, it is rather the opposite: to link post-Soviet countries with the world, by fostering economic and cultural cooperation. Perhaps it’s time to stop viewing the world through the prism of old bipolar glasses, and start embracing the Earth’s diversity. The Assembly of Nations of Kazakhstan is a living proof that the United Nations can work, and people can friendly coexist on one planet.

 

Give Pierre a Chance

April 8, 2015 12:14 pm
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With new cabinet responsibilities, Pierre Poilievre has the opportunity to prove his worth

The new minister responsible for the National Capital Commission isn’t without his critics. Pierre Poilievre, who has served as the minister of state for democratic reform since July 2013, has gained what seems like an unending supply of haters in his time in politics, particularly for the rollout of last year’s Bill C-23, the so-called Fair Elections Act, which many critics considered unconstitutional in its initial form.

The MP for Nepean-Carleton is also known for his ability to stick to scripts in the House of Commons and for enraging the opposition in his responses during daily question period. Some may consider this good strategy—stick to the script and you have a lower chance of tripping over your words or messing up, you’re staying on message—while others, many others, see the rote routine of talking points as a negative thing for Canadian politics and doesn’t allow for MPs to think and speak for themselves.

The National Capital Commission is an institution of the federal government, a Crown corporation, according to its website, works to ensure the Capital Region “is a source of national pride and significance.” The minister responsible for the NCC appoints members of the NCC board of directors and oversees the work of the NCC. Poilievre took over in the role from John Baird, former Ottawa West-Nepean MP and foreign affairs minister, after he announced his resignation on Feb. 3 following the news leak of his pending departure the day before.

Poilievre is a devout, devoted and longstanding Conservative, with a history in Alberta’s Conservatives with the likes of Tom Flanagan and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and is seen as a channel for talking points from the Prime Minister’s Office.

But so was the previous minister in charge of the NCC. Both Baird and Poilievre entered politics at young ages. Both had their fans and their critics—Poilievre likely more on the receiving end of criticism these days. Baird was first elected to Mike Harris’ Ontario government in 1995 and served in provincial politics until 2005. He held a number of portfolios while at Queen’s Park and after entering the federal realm, gained that oh so well known attack dog moniker.

As veteran reporter Don Newman noted in his memoir Welcome to the Broadcast, and columnist Frances Russell pointed out just after Baird’s resignation announcement, Baird was no stranger to channeling talking points from the PMO. Newman described a scene fairly early on in the MP’s career in federal politics in the House of Commons foyer, in which Baird was, “on a repetitive message track obviously worked out with the Prime Minister’s Office.”

Baird did not stay in that role forever, churning out political talking points as other ministers, parliamentary secretaries and backbenchers are to do. Over the course of his time in federal politics, and especially in the role of foreign affairs minister, he made a transition into what many have called a statesman. Some of his work was lauded by opposition benches, while some of it has been decried. But, he was a likable guy on the front benches in the House.

Ottawa is a very politically mixed jurisdiction, with the NDP, the Liberals and Conservatives representing ridings across the National Capital Commission federally and provincially. Factions exist on city council—some are considered progressives, others seen as Liberal supporters and others more along the lines of the Conservatives. In spite of all of this, Baird made the NCC role work. He worked as the minister in charge of the NCC without eruptions of partisan clashes.

And now, with Baird getting out of the political world, Poilievre has been handed much more responsibility. While maintaining his democratic reform portfolio, he’s also the new minister for employment—taking over from Jason Kenney in the cabinet shuffle sparked by Baird’s departure—as well as minister responsible for the NCC. It might be time for Poilievre to learn a thing or two from his Capital Region predecessor.

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