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?

10:00 am

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

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 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:
(613) 238-5104

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

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

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.

Waking Up Ottawa with Training, Safety and Survival

March 31, 2015 10:12 am

The City of Ottawa has picked up on the importance of fire emergency response, as the number of Ottawa residents increases with each passing year. New provisions and incentives, including changes in the administration and execution of emergency fire services, aid in strengthening existing fireserviceability for Ottawa residents.

The goal of Ottawa Fire Services is to save lives and prevent damage to property. Municipal initiatives reveal enhanced training, distribution of fire standards, community engagement campaigns and recruitment are notable areas worthy of investment. The Ontario provincial government has placed an increased emphasis on implementing preventative measures for fire emergency service operations and new objectives have introduced a shift towards health oriented planning.

“Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort.”

Recent months mark the remodelling of priorities for firefighters in Ottawa. Current projects include mental health first-aid training, performance measurement plans, officer development strategies, revisions of recruitment standards and training and sharing in the expansion of a contemporary fire dynamics curriculum under a $1.2 million dollar grant.

The Ottawa fire department participates in several campaigns such as ‘Wake up’ and ‘Fire Recruitment of Ottawa.’ Fire escape plans, mandatory carbon monoxide alarms, smoke alarm inspections and a new focus on public education are part and parcel to the changes these campaigns have embraced. These efforts also assist in optimizing community awareness and involvement.

On Feb. 25, 2015, Ottawa Fire Services appointed new chief Gerry Pingitore. Pingitore claims he is devoted to recognizing and alleviating both the undue physical and mental health stressors associated with exposure on the job. The Ontario government supports Pingitore in his ambitions and has agreed to extend healthcare coverage for firefighters.

“Ottawa Fire Services protect us when there are fires, but they are also responsible for rescues, medical and hazardous-material emergencies”

Firefighter training was once rooted only in prevention and suppression. Recent initiatives aim to include multiple other community services, such as emergency medical services, hazardous materials response and special rescue.

Immediate goals for fire recruitment in Ottawa suggest ethnic diversity is increasingly a focal point for new hires, the number of female recruits is rising and eminent attention to the psychological and physical health of firefighters in Ottawa is priority for chief Pingitore.

Firefighting recruitment 
for the City of Ottawa is established through a credential process involving specific mandatory pre-qualifications. The total out of pocket cost is approximately $450 for the applicant. The routine includes written examinations, two screening and follow-up interviews, orientation training, practice sessions and a candidate physical ability test (CPAT).

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Trudeau Needs More “Nate’s”

March 13, 2015 4:03 pm

For the Liberals, the Tories and the NDP, the nomination process is a political blood sport and intrigue and backroom manoeuvrings have defined nomination races in all parties since Confederation.

All political parties have nomination issues. In Calgary, a former provincial Conservative minister defeated a sitting MP, Rob Anders, for the nomination in Calgary Signal Hill and will now represent the Conservative party in the riding in the next federal election. Anders was seen as a thorn in the side to the Harper Conservatives and many were happy to see him go. After losing the nomination in his riding, he  ran for the nomination in an adjacent nearby riding and was defeated again. In Calgary Skyview, Buta Singh Rehill and Puma Banwait were challenging the incumbent Conservative MP Devinder Shory for the party nomination, but they were disqualified from running by the Conservative party without explanation. (It is generally frowned upon in all parties to run for the nomination against a sitting MP). Now, Banwait says he is thinking of running as an “independent Conservative” in the upcoming election. Conservative MP turned Liberal nomination seeker Eve Adams jettisoned her political career and credibility recently in a nomination battle in Ontario. Her boyfriend Dimitri Soudas, the former Director of Communications to Prime Minister Harper and the Executive Director of the Conservative Party of Canada, became inappropriately involved in her nomination battle and was removed from his high profile role as a consequence. When Adams was advised by the Conservative leadership that she would not be allowed to run as a Conservative in the upcoming election, she suddenly became a Liberal. She has yet to win a Liberal nomination.

The NDP have their own nomination nightmares. In Ontario in 2013, the NDP provincial council was accused of ignoring serious irregularities at a nomination meeting. Participants at the meeting claimed former controversial Toronto councillor Adam Giambrone had allegedly broken the rules, as several ineligible members were allowed to vote for him when he won the nomination against the local favourite Amarjeet Kaur Chhabra. The party went into quick denial, people quit and Giambrone went on to lose the by-election.


David Bertschi. Source: Wikipedia

Recently, Justin Trudeau and the Liberals have kept busy putting out a series of nomination brush fires. The most egregious case is in the riding of Ottawa-Orleans, where former Liberal leadership candidate David Bertschi was treated horribly by the Liberal Party of Canada. Bertschi is an Ottawa lawyer and former Liberal candidate in the 2011 election in Ottawa-Orleans. He lost the election to Conservative candidate Royal Galipeau by just 6 percentage points.  Like hundreds of other Liberal candidates in that election, he was burdened by the disastrous performance of Michael Ignatieff, which ended with the Liberals having the worst national election defeat since Confederation. Afterwards, Bertschi entered the federal Liberal leadership race and made a respectable run, further raising his profile and winning many admirers in the process. It was assumed by all he would run again for the nomination in Ottawa-Orleans and be the candidate.

However, after winning the leadership race, Justin Trudeau promised “open nomination meetings” for all Liberal ridings. Then, Trudeau got himself into a pickle when he selected former General Andrew Leslie as his defence and security advisor. Leslie, in that role, then announced he would run for the nomination in Ottawa-Orleans, even though he does not live in the riding. Bertchsi, who had been previously “green lit” to run for the nomination in Ottawa Orleans by the Liberal Party, was suddenly told by senior party officials that he could not stand as a candidate for the Liberals. They claimed it was because Bertschi had not paid off all of his leadership debts, but that was poppycock. He had met all the payment terms laid out for him by the green light committee regarding his leadership debt and was ahead of schedule. The problem for the Liberals was that Bertschi was too strong in the riding with local Liberals and had much more support for the nomination than Leslie. Rather than risk the embarrassment of Trudeau’s security and defence advisor losing the nomination to his former leadership opponent, Trudeau’s team simply disqualified him from running. Leslie was acclaimed at the nomination meeting while Bertschi stood on the sideline and watched the charade unfold. In the end it was a bad day for Liberals, messy for Trudeau, Leslie and Bertschi, and only helped Conservative MP Royal Galipeau to solidify his role in the riding where he is still very popular.

The Liberals also had problems in Vancouver South, where Barj Dhahan, the former Liberal Party candidate for the Vancouver South riding in 2011, claimed he was pressured to withdraw from the nomination race because the Liberal Party National Campaign Co-Chairs had a preferred candidate named Harjit Singh Sajjan who they wanted to be acclaimed as the candidate for the riding. They told Dhahan to run elsewhere. Dhahan refused. The process got nasty when claims were made that Sajjan was backed by the World Sikh Organization, which is often described as being associated with extremist and fundamental groups. Dharan did drop out, although on the record, he blamed the mess on the National Co-Chairs, not Trudeau, saying that he believes Trudeau’s commitment to open nominations across the country is “genuine.” When asked, Trudeau told the CBC in British Columbia that, “There is a clear process that people have to go through and Barj made a decision to withdraw from the race.” Dharan’s campaign team alleges that people were so upset with the Liberal party brass over the nomination process, that 4,000 members loyal to Dhahan had torn up their cards. The party says this is untrue.


Olivia Chow

Liberal nomination troubles were also on full display last year in the high-profile race in Trinity-Spadina in Toronto, the seat of former NDP MP Olivia Chow. Justin Trudeau openly favoured Toronto City Councillor Adam Vaughan as his candidate. Trudeau and the Liberal Party had banned Christine Innes, the wife of the former Liberal MP, and cabinet minister Tony Ianno from running, suggesting she showed poor conduct in running for the nomination. Innes ran and lost for the party in the 2008 and 2011 federal elections. Innes was notified by the Party Co-Chairs that she was being blocked from participating in the nomination race for Trinity-Spadina. Vaughn was acclaimed as the candidate and then won the by-election for the Trudeau Liberals last year. Innes is now suing Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and a party official for $1.5 million for defamation over their allegations about the conduct of her nomination campaign.

To Trudeau’s credit, he has won his own nomination and met fierce Bloc Quebecois candidates in Quebec. He has twice defeated strong BQ contenders in a working class neighbourhood in Montreal, including defeating a sitting MP in 2008. He is personally tested and has his own credentials and record of victory to understand what is at stake in these races.

As party leader, even in an open nomination process, Trudeau can use moral suasion and other tactics to ensure some of his preferred candidates are selected. The Liberals have a history of their Leaders picking “star candidates.” McKenzie King, Trudeau, Turner, Trudeau, Martin, Dion and Ignatieff all had their preferred choices. The idea is that “star candidates,” like the Leslie’s and Sajjans, are the people who are going to help Trudeau propel the party in to government in the election. However, there is a double-edged sword effect to “star candidates,” as they do not always go over well with local riding associations. It was particularly vexing in the Bertschi case because after his solid performance in the Liberal leadership race, he was a star candidate in his own right. It is a difficult road for any party leader to navigate.

The Liberals have never been a grassroots or open nomination type of party. Where Trudeau may have erred is in committing himself so forcefully and publicly to the principle of an open nomination process, while letting the shenanigans of the past continue behind the scenes. Trudeau must attract youthful and talented candidates to run, while at the same time not offending the older generation of party members who are still capable of making great contributions and have something to offer.

Nathaniel (Nate) Erskine-Smith

Trudeau and the Liberal Party can run into challenges, even when they successfully attract the best and brightest of the younger generation to run for the party in the open nomination process. Take the case of Nathaniel (Nate) Erskine-Smith, a formidable candidate if there ever was one for a new generation of Liberals.

Born and raised in Toronto’s Beaches-East York, Erskine-Smith is the son of two well respected local teachers. He studied politics (BA) and law (JD) at Queen’s University, where he won a number of academic and public speaking awards. He went on to obtain his Master of Law (BCL), with distinction, from Oxford, where he studied political philosophy and constitutional law. He is married and is a commercial litigation lawyer who has fought public interest matters before the Divisional Court and the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. He is charismatic, authentic, principled, polite, savvy and smart. In short, he is the dream candidate for the Liberals and the kind of person that Justin Trudeau is counting on to bring in a new generation of Liberal voters.

He kicked off his nomination campaign in November 2013 and worked hard for 13 months with a committed and enthusiastic campaign team. Erskine-Smith and his supporters sat around hundreds of kitchen tables, knocked on thousands of doors and made over 10,000 phone calls. He handily won the nomination in December 2014, after signing up 800 new memberships and earning the support of many existing Liberal members. Three of the four other nomination contestants have since pledged their support to his federal election campaign in 2015. The fourth candidate has not done so and is appealing what was a clear win for Erskine-Smith.

Source: Wikipedia

Maria Minna. Source: Wikipedia

Maria Minna, the former Liberal MP from the riding from 1993-2011 was the key backer to the candidate who is holding out and is now appealing the result. It is quite obvious the appeal is a hollow attempt by Minna to try to exert some hold or sway over the riding, rather than gracefully exiting the stage for the next generation. This is the rub and reality of many Liberal nominations for Justin Trudeau. Even when a formidable and top notch candidate like Erskine-Smith fairly and squarely wins a nomination, an old party stalwart like Minna can make things difficult. The appeal process has the very unfortunate effect of holding back the Erskine-Smith campaign team’s ability to move to election preparedness and focus on fighting the Conservatives and NDP in the riding.

So, in some ways, Trudeau is damned if he does get involved and damned if he doesn’t get involved in nomination meetings. Nate Erskine-Smith is a walking version of the new Liberalism Justin Trudeau keeps talking about. He is a star candidate precisely because he wasn’t acclaimed or named to the role. He did it the old fashioned way: smarts and hard work. He is someone to watch in the Liberal party and in Canadian politics. Trudeau would do well to get more “Nates” as quickly as he can.

More Than a Boring Government Town

March 9, 2015 3:02 pm
Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 11.08.33 AM

Let’s face it; Ottawa doesn’t have the best reputation for its fun factor. But one company is trying to change that!

Invest Ottawa is challenging the Capital’s dull name with the Why Ottawa project. The project argues Ottawa is not only the best city in Canada, but the best place in the world to start and grow a business.

The investment agency has come up with more than 65 incredible reasons why Ottawa is a prime location for top talent to work, play and grow.

Here are just a few points:

  • Ottawa sees 2084 hours of sunshine a year making it the sunniest city in Ontario.
  • It has the country’s most educated workforce.
  • The combined area of Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver can all fit inside Ottawa.
  • Ottawa was voted the most sustainable city in Canada.
  • Ottawa was rated second for quality of living for large cities in North America and placed 14th in the world.
  • The city has the second highest concentration of scientists and engineers in North America.
  • Ottawa is the least expensive Canadian city to live in.
  • There are four post-secondary institutions that collect about 120,000 students annually.
  • It is a very bilingual city with 44 per cent of the population speaking both English and French.

The Why Ottawa story aims to empower business leaders and ambassadors across the city to deliver the same key messages about Ottawa’s value to international partners and clients.

“It took us almost two years to gather all this data in one spot so that every person in Ottawa can tell our great story and so we are all singing from the same song sheet,” explains Bruce Lazenby, President and CEO of Invest Ottawa.

Also participating in the evolution of the Why Ottawa message is Mayor Jim Watson, who is co-chair of Invest Ottawa’s Board of Directors. He has delivered the information on numerous occasions even while overseas in China.

“This presentation clearly explains why Ottawa is the best place in the country for people to work, play and grow and why we are the perfect home to start and grow a business,” says Mayor Watson.

Business leaders and key stakeholders are invited to use the presentation when selling their expertise abroad. It is available for download here. The project is also accessible on YouTube, click here to take a look.

Canada Eyes Kazakhstan as a Top Priority Market

January 30, 2015 9:37 am

On December 16, folk festivals, parades, displays of traditional food and fireworks took over many cities across Kazakhstan. Cheering crowds flooded main streets to celebrate the country’s 23rd birthday.

In connection with Kazakhstan’s Independence Day, prominent Canadian politicians and members of the business community shared their experiences of working with the Central Asian country. In recent years, Canada and Kazakhstan have been actively cooperating in many branches of economy, security and health care.

Stephen Millar, a former Ambassador of Canada to Kazakhstan from 2009 to 2014, says Kazakhstan and Canada have common factors that provide opportunities to share experiences and learn from one another.

“I want to stress how similar we are: We are both bilingual, multicultural societies. We are northern countries. We know what winter is, we know how to grow crops in conditions of harsh winter climates,” Millar says.

2.Deepak Obhrai, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, says Kazakhstan is Canada’s primary market in Eurasia.

Deepak Obhrai, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, says Kazakhstan is Canada’s primary market in Eurasia.

Deepak Obhrai, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, says Canada has already laid a strong platform for the bilateral relations growing each year.

“Our Global Markets Action Plan identifies Kazakhstan as a primary emerging market—there are opportunities for Canadian businesses,” Obhrai says, referring to the new trade plan released last November by Ed Fast, the Minister of Trade and Development of Canada.

Today, Kazakhstan is Canada’s number one trading partner in the post-Soviet region and in Eastern Europe. In the past two years, trade between the two countries has clinched $6 billion. Canada is also among the top ten largest trade and investment partners of Kazakhstan.

Cameco, Bombardier and Peace Country Petroleum are among some Canadian companies running their operations in Kazakhstan. There is a major cooperation in agriculture, mining, oil and gas industries. Recently, Kazakhstan bought 10 Q400 NextGen aircrafts from Bombardier worth $225 million. This partnership will also establish ADC—a new domestic airline in Kazakhstan.

Last November, during the visit of Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird in Astana, the top two uranium producing countries signed the Nuclear Cooperation Agreement. The agreement will enable both countries to export and import controlled nuclear materials, equipment and technology under oversight of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Eva Slawecki, director of project development at Canadian Society for International Health, finds many opportunities for cooperation in the health sector too. Both countries provide their population with universal health care. Both countries share common challenges.

“We can learn a lot from each other,” Slawecki says. “We have a lot of similarities in terms of our countries geographies and growth of populations, and I think it’s a valuable experience that we can share.”

Slawecki says there is a lot of work needing to be done, but over the years of independence, Kazakhstan has come a long way.

“People in Kazakhstan are very professional and very interesting to work with. It’s good to see that there is such a desire to learn from Canada, to learn the best practices in health.”

In a multiethnic country, there is also a great demand for manufacturing resources. Canada Pork International Agency has already taken care of this opportunity. The company provides Kazakhstan with resources for meat manufacturing.

Jacques Pomerleau, president of Canada Pork International, says the agency struck an agreement with Kazakhstan Meat and Dairy Union three years ago.

“We need to revive it. In light of sanctions by Russia, we want to develop a full class relationship with Kazakhstan, and not going through Russia or any other country,” he says.

In the future, Pomerleau says the agency intends to develop a much closer relationship with Kazakh consumers by customizing products to closely meet their needs and requirements.

3.Canadian political scientist Piotr Dutkiewicz says Canada and Kazakhstan are ready to expand cooperation into science and culture.

Canadian political scientist Piotr Dutkiewicz says Canada and Kazakhstan are ready to expand cooperation into science and culture.

Kazakhstan is a good partner for Canada because the country enjoys economic and social stability, says Piotr Dutkiewicz, a professor of political science at Carleton University. Yet, he says, it’s time to extend cooperation of the two countries beyond economy.

“Judging by the economic facts – these relations are pretty strong,” Dutkiewicz says. “On the other hand, we don’t have too much of the scientific research and cultural exchange—that’s what is missing in our relations.”

Dutkiewicz says Canada should open a visa section in its embassy in Astana to increase scientific and cultural exchange.

“What is now slightly problematic is that going to Kazakhstan—we can get visas in Ottawa, but Kazakhs, who are going to visit Canada—they have to make their visas in Moscow, Russia,” Dutkiewicz says.

It’s clear there is much to celebrate in Kazakhstan and Canada relations. Both countries are similar in many ways, allowing them to perform well on the economic stage. It’s also clear both partners are ready to leave their comfort zone and undertake other stages of cooperation.

In light of the upcoming Expo-2017 in Astana, Canadian companies, start-ups and travellers should take note. There are still many more unexplored opportunities in this distant yet akin central Asian country.

Quebec’s Proposed Health Reform Ignores Best Evidence

January 28, 2015 11:30 am

Mega-mergers in healthcare don’t save money or improve health outcomes

Quebec’s Bill 10’s objectives are the improvement to the access and quality of health and social services in the province, while diminishing bureaucracy and increasing efficiency. To accomplish these objectives, the proposed law merges all public health and social service institutions in a given region into an integrated center of health and social services (CISSS). The Montreal region, due to its size, will be divided into five new distinct regions.

As professors in the Department of Health Administration in the School of Public Health at the University of Montreal, we are in agreement with these objectives; however, we seriously question the ability of this reform to achieve them. Scientific evidence has shown mergers of institutions in the healthcare sector do not generate economies of scale nor do they reduce bureaucracy—and have had little or no effect on the integration of services or an increase in accessibility. The centralization resulting from this reform will not allow for the stated objectives to be achieved and will likely have important negative consequences.

Mergers and their cost: Bigger is not better nor less expensive
The debate surrounding the optimal size of a healthcare institution has been going on for decades. This debate reached a crescendo during the 1980s in the United States and Great Britain. Experience shows there are no cost savings in increasing the size of an acute care hospital over 200 beds. Hospitals with over 600 beds cost more to run than those hospitals of smaller size. Evidence also indicates that not only are costs not reduced with bigger institutions, but there are unexpected and negative effects on the offering of services, most notably in the delays in the development and improvement of those services. There was even a national conference held in 2001 in the U.S. on the theme of “The Failure of Mergers.”

Many studies, both in England and the U.S., as well as Quebec, have looked to explain the impact of integration on health and social institutions and their missions. These studies show very positive effects on the integration of care but that they were achieved through contractual agreements between autonomous organizations and not through mergers. Contracts between autonomous institutions to share the provision of services by implementing corridors of care achieve much better results than do mergers.

Less bureaucracy: Not true
We could ask: are there too many bureaucrats? The question is complex and difficult to answer without objective data. Instead one can observe the evolution of administrative expenses as a portion of government expenses in health and social services in Quebec in the past and compare them to like expenses in other provinces.

In Quebec, according to the data from the Canadian Institute on Health Information (CIHI), the portion of administrative expenses in healthcare spending has decreased since 1975 from a four per cent rate in the seventies to 1.3 per cent into 2011, and then started slowly increasing to 1.6 per cent in 2014. General administrative expenses in other provinces have followed the same tendency. From 2.6 per cent in 1975, they were reduced to 1.1 per cent in 2014. In fact, these expenses were more significant in Quebec than Canada between 1975 and 2004 and very comparable from 2005 onward.

General administrative expenses in Quebec were similar to other Canadian provinces after the Couillard reform when the role of regional agencies was reinforced. However, between 2011 and 2014, the portion of general administrative expenses in Quebec’s healthcare system did not follow any development in regionalization. In this context, it is difficult to associate regionalization with an increase or a reduction in administrative expenses. It is also difficult to imagine how the abolition of regional agencies would lead to a reduction in these expenses.

Centralization is not a guarantee of efficiency in our public healthcare system
Scientific data show clearly that a decentralized system is closer to the centers of decision- making and allow for health and social services to be better adapted to populations needs, especially those of the underprivileged or those living in rural or outlying communities. Contrary to industry, which seeks the production of uniform and standardized services at the best price, health systems need to be able to adjust services to the needs of the populations being served.

The disappearance of local institutions risks standardizing services throughout a regional territory, hence diminishing access to more marginal populations while increasing the inequalities of health. The creation of regional mega structures will result in an important loss of linguistic, cultural and community identity. Those institutions serving their community for many years and are essential for their role in maintaining community ties and supporting community development will be lost.

Scientific evidence does not support the presumption of Bill 10 that there will be a reduction in bureaucracy with the centralization of decision-making. National and international experience has shown time and time again that the proposed reform will not have the desired effects and, in fact, will make healthcare delivery more complex. We should learn from these experiences instead of increasing the centralization of decision-making in our healthcare system.

Unfortunately we have the peculiar trait of trying the same solutions over and over again even when they have been already shown not to work.

Beland_FrancoisBy Paul Lamarche, Réjean Hébert et François Béland

The following professors in the Department of Health Administration in the School of Public Health at the University of Montreal have signed this letter:

Nicole Leduc, Régis Blais, François Champagne, François-Pierre Dussault, Lambert Farand, Marie-Josée Fleury, Mireille Goetghebeur, Mira Johri, Lise Lamothe, Nicole Leduc, David Levine,  Michèle Pelletier, Louise Rousseau, Claude Sicotte, José Carlos Suarez Herrera.

Three Things We Can Do to End Poverty in Canada

January 16, 2015 9:50 am

Poverty degrades our economy, changes the nature of our cities and the cohesion of our society

“Time to end poverty in Canada” has been the message from the Salvation Army coming across our TV screens this holiday season. A great idea from an organization that fights poverty every day in our country—but is it realistic?

Yes, it is.

Poverty doesn’t just cost the poor their dignity and a reasonable standard of living, it costs us all.  A study guided by noted economists for the Ontario Association of Food Banks found that poverty costs the government about $30 billion a year, much of which was health care expenditures because being poor frequently means poor health.

Consider also the homeless. Numerous studies have found that it costs three to four times more to leave someone on the street (in and out of shelters, hospitals, jails) than to give them a home with support services.

And that doesn’t include the millions spent on provincial welfare systems which entrap people with thousands of bureaucratic rules. To which the late Senator David Croll once said, “We spend billions every year on a social welfare system that merely treats the symptoms of poverty but leaves the disease itself untouched.”

It is astounding that here in this rich country that one in seven lives in poverty according to Statistic Canada. For these fellow citizens every day is a battle. Just struggling to get by, these families can’t even dream about getting ahead.   

What is also disturbing is that over a million are children even though 25 years ago the House of Commons said it was going to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000.

And then there is the wide gap in wealth and income levels that has come about in the last 30 years now posing a threat to our social fabric. Cities once dominated by middle income neighbourhoods are giving way to greater polarization between high and low income communities. More and more are living pay cheque to pay cheque (if they have a job) with heavy debts. As the TD Bank states in the title of a recent report, it is time to recognize “The Case for Leaning Against Income Inequality in Canada.”

Let’s be clear: poverty and inequality are not obscure issues that only concern economists or policy wonks. It’s degrading our economy, changing the nature of our cities, creating unequal health outcomes and impacting the cohesion of our society.

So, what do we do about all of this?  Here are three ways we can end poverty:

  1. Education is a great enabler and leveller in any society. While Canada overall does fairly well in post secondary education statistics, there are pockets of the population that need attention. For example, the aboriginal high school dropout rate is four times higher than the national average. Improving literacy rates, early childhood learning and skills development to reflect the ever changing job market are all good investments that will pay long term dividends.

And let’s make sure kids don’t go to school hungry. They can’t learn on an empty stomach.

  1. We need to explore a basic income plan for Canadians. It would start moving people off the costly social welfare systems to an income tax managed formula. It wouldn’t provide for the ‘good life’ but it would ensure that no one in this country goes without the basic needs of nourishing food, warm clothing and decent shelter. We put such a plan in place for senior citizens back in the 1970s and it brought most of them out of poverty. Also, at that time, an experiment in Manitoba called ‘Mincome’ demonstrated a reduction in health care costs and higher school graduation rates.

While there will be transitional costs, overall we don’t need to spend more money, we need to invest smarter, more efficiently and effectively.

  1. It is time to get serious about tax reform. The last major federal overhaul arose from the Carter Commission in the 1970s. Federal corporate taxes, which stood at 29 per cent in 2000, have been reduced to a current level of 15 per cent without a discernable effect on the rate of employment. Let’s improve the fairness and progressivity of our tax system, tackle tax havens and loopholes and establish a carbon tax.

Yes, it is time to end poverty and reduce inequality in this rich country we are blessed to live in. It’s time to improve equality of opportunity and a better sharing of our prosperity.

By Art Eggleton

ArtEgiltonArt Eggleton is a former Toronto mayor, Member of Parliament, and is currently a Canadian Senator.

Oil: A High-Stakes Game of Chance

January 15, 2015 11:30 am
Oil Pump Jacks

Popular wisdom has it that the only certainty in life is death and taxes. Until a few short months ago, most economists, politicians, political pundits and journalists would have added to that short list a perpetual increase in the price of oil. But, in today’s interconnected world, much can happen to a global commodity like oil within the period of a few months.

A generally lethargic global economy, a hedged bet by OPEC (the intergovernmental Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) as well as an upswing in production of unconventional oil in America’s shale oil fields have all contributed to a significant oversupply of crude in the global market, resulting in a substantial decrease in the price of the world economy’s hydrocarbon lifeblood. The consequence: global oil prices have fallen by upwards of 50 per cent.

Rapidly descending oil prices have undoubtedly been a boon for motorists and should also serve as a form of stimulus for the global economy that is still recovering from the financial downturn that began in 2008. At the most basic level of pocketbook analysis, lower crude oil prices encourage greater consumption and therefore help to stimulate the global economy. Lower prices put extra income in consumers’ pockets, income that can be spent on purchases and services which might not otherwise be consumed. But the current sliding oil prices are also a boon for oil-dependent industries. For instance, lower prices increase the sales of automobiles although, to the dismay of many environmentalists, they typically spur the sale of less fuel-frugal vehicles. Lower oil prices reduce the operating costs of airlines and other transportation-centric industries, in a perfect world, should translate into lower consumer prices for the products being transported. However, as we all know, does not always happen.

TrafficOther beneficiaries of today’s lower oil prices are the countries requiring imported oil to subsist. Unfortunately countries, like the consumers who inhabit them, are more likely to spend rather than save the extra money that, in the past, would have been earmarked to cover transportation costs. To claim otherwise would be mere wishful thinking.

But, if the current slackening of global oil prices constitute a boon for individual consumers and oil importing countries, they are a bane for oil producing and exporting countries. Since Canada is a net energy exporter, this means that the slump in oil prices will directly affect the Canadian economy. While Canada’s oilsands will undoubtedly be negatively impacted by the sudden sharp decrease in the global price of oil, the jury still remains out on how adverse that impact will be. A continuing slide in prices could render numerous projected oilsands extraction projects economically untenable, thereby reducing the amount of capital investment in Canada’s energy sector. Furthermore, on a broader level, the decline in oil prices could increase Canada’s trade deficit and substantially reduce previously predicted budget surpluses based on a higher international price of oil. And here is where both OPEC and the American shale oil industries come back into the picture.

Typically, when global oil prices slide, OPEC makes the conscious decision to bolster the price by reducing the amount of crude that its members pump into the world’s oil market. Because of OPEC’s dominant position in the area of oil production, this has the effect of controlling fluctuations and ultimately stabilizing the global market price of oil. However, in an unforeseen turn of events, OPEC has not indicated that it will pursue its usual price-bolstering strategy. Instead, its member states will refrain from curtailing oil production in an effort to prop up the sliding price of oil. It appears OPEC will not put the brakes on the global slide in the price of crude.

Many economists are speculating that this uncharacteristic action is aimed at undercutting the United States’ burgeoning shale oil industry. In other words, the hand that OPEC appears to be playing is to let the global price slip below a point where most of America’s lucrative (and rapidly expanding) shale oil projects cannot break even with the cost of exploration, extraction, transportation, and refining. If the global price of oil is below the American shale oil industry’s break-even price, investment in American shale oil will dry up. Existing firms will have to take on more debt to cover their costs when the commodity itself is worth less with each passing day.

The trump card OPEC seems to be counting on is this: the lower global oil price could limit future investment in America’s shale oil deposits thereby making that industry uneconomic. Prodigal investors and consumers would go back to OPEC’s own traditional light sweet crude. But why take the risk?

With the advent of recent advancements in extraction engineering procedures, America’s oil production has risen to approximately 9 million barrels per day. That tally is uncomfortably close to Saudi Arabia’s—OPEC’s most lucrative and productive member—daily output. In fact, there is now only about a million barrels separating the American daily output from that of Saudi Arabia. The American oil industry is nipping at the heels of the longstanding reigning champion in oil production and that reigning champion is taking evasive action to curtail the growth of its new and vigorous competitor. Before OPEC and the American oil industry finally turn over their cards (and the price of oil eventually stabilizes), Canada’s oil industry could become collateral damage in what increasingly appears to be a high-stakes game of chance. But no matter what the outcome, until then, consumers will smile all the way to the pump.

Preventing Radicalization: Two-Decade Social Experiment

December 17, 2014 4:00 pm

The Assembly of Nations unites all 140 nationalities living in Kazakhstan to promote cooperation and to give them political voice. Nine representatives of the Assembly are elected to the legislative chamber of the Parliament.

On Wednesday, October 22, Ottawa woke-up to the sounds of shooting coming from Parliament Hill, the heart of the nation’s capital. Once peaceful and tranquil, Ottawa stood vulnerable and insecure.

This attack in Ottawa, and an earlier one in Montreal, has prompted Members of Parliament to consider additional protective measures. The government is planning to give more power to the police to deal with suspects and to expand surveillance operations. Some experts, however, question the proposed actions. They say safety measures should not only protect, but prevent attacks in first place.

The government proposed tough measures for Canada and expects government accountability, says Fen Hampson, the director of Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University in Ottawa.

“It’s an issue in a democratic society, where you have civil liberties, freedom of speech – it’s very difficult having these kind of calls,” Hampson says. “The question is should the police have power to not only conduct surveillance operations, but to detain individuals, and if necessary arrest them on the grounds of suspicious activities.”

Having more police and more surveillance won’t guarantee full security as long as the society stays disengaged in government’s strategy, says another expert Michael Kempa, professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa. Kempa says Ottawa needs preventive social measures too. So far, Canadians—especially new immigrants—are left out in the government strategy, he says.

“We think that if we get the surveillance right, and the law right, that everything will be safe—this is, to an extent, true. But without right economical and political structures that encourage people to fully participate in Canadian society, we will never achieve full safety,” Kempa says.

So, what kind of social measures can be taken to prevent future attacks?

For security and protection, Canada has looked at measures taken in the U.S., Europe and Australia. Yet, for prevention, perhaps Canada should look farther to the East. There, in Central Asia, Canada would find Kazakhstan—the country facing the same very question since gaining independence from the USSR in 1991.

Representatives of different nationalities pose in front of the Pyramid of Peace in Astana, Kazakhstan. The Pyramid, constructed in 2006, represents country's spirit of tolerance and peace.

Representatives of different nationalities pose in front of the Pyramid of Peace in Astana, Kazakhstan. The Pyramid, constructed in 2006, represents country’s spirit of tolerance and peace.

Kazakhstan seems so distant and so different from Canada, yet, there is so much in common between the two countries. Like Canada, the ninth biggest country in the world, Kazakhstan’s vast steppes are sparsely populated with just over 17 million people.

Like Canadians, Kazakhstanis are diverse and multiethnic: 140 ethnic groups, representing over 40 religious communities live together. Armenians, Germans, Koreans, Poles, Turks and many other nationalities call Kazakhstan home.

Both countries opened their arms to welcome new people on their lands. Canada has gained its diverse population from immigration and Kazakhstan from the Soviet Union’s resettling policies. Many ethnic groups came to Kazakhstan to cultivate wheat and other cereal grains. Later, Kazakhstan’s land, rich of coal, gas and oil, attracted many Europeans.

Unlike Canada, Kazakhstan faced a more treacherous path to unity in the country. When the country gained independence, it had no budget to keep people happy and positive. Ethnic groups had no interest to stay united. The land bore a sleeping bomb that could tear the country apart with any slight discontent or protest. The newly independent country had no choice but to rely on preventive measures. Without realization, the country has engaged in a successful social experiment that still keeps the nation in peace.

In 1982, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms kept Quebec from separating from Canada. The Charter has guaranteed the rights and freedoms for all Canadians, and made English and French official languages. Kazakhstan has entrenched equal rights and freedoms for all citizens without any discrimination in its Constitution. Kazakh and Russian were proclaimed as two official languages of Kazakhstan.

To knit all distinctive ethnic groups into one social fabric, President Nursultan Nazarbayev established the Assembly of Nations. The institute unites all ethnic groups and gives them legislative powers. Nine representatives of the Assembly are elected to the legislative chamber of the Parliament. The members oversee all laws, making sure they do not violate any rights or freedoms of any ethnic group.

Today, like the rest of the world, Kazakhstan faces threats of radicalization by ISIS and other extremist groups. Even though threats are mild and don’t hold serious grounds, Kazakhstan is taking special measures, says Serik Belgibay. Belgibay is a Kazakhstani political scientist and the director of RealPolitik—a non-profit aiming to present an objective research and analysis of the country’s domestic and foreign policies.

Belgibay says all traditional religions enjoy full freedoms and are accepted with high tolerance in Kazakh society. There are some untraditional streams of religions too, and a few who hold radical views.

In general, both the society and the state have a cautious attitude towards them [untraditional religions]. But most powerful oversight goes against radical faiths with radical tendencies,” Belgibay says.

Kazakhstan, like the rest of the world, is also trying to prevent ISIL from getting to young minds through social media. For this purpose, Belgibay says the government has launched e-Islam, an online portal providing educational resources on traditional Islam for teachers and followers. Some universities also provide free-courses on Islam studies.

Protection measures also play a part, says Belgibay.  All religious movements have to undergo mandatory registration. Unregistered movements face fines. Groups with radical inclinations are closely watched by the police and can be banned.

Over these 20 years of keeping different nationalities together, Kazakhstan has learned a few lessons to share with Canada and with the rest of the world. Belgibay says a country should be careful not apply too much force and pressure to any religious groups. It will just give them a motivation to use their religion as a tool for violence. It’s better to keep an ongoing social dialogue on how to live together in peace and in harmony.

Next year, Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, will host its fifth Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions. The leaders will get together to discuss how to prevent radicalization of young people. In previous years, the leaders discussed how to fight religious extremism at home and abroad, the role of women in religion and multiculturalism.

As Canada is getting ready to give more powers to the police, to expand surveillance operation and to beef up security around the public institutions, it should take time to answer one question: Will these measures help Canada to prevent future attacks?

Perhaps it’s also a good time to think about preventive measures.  In that case, why not look at Kazakhstan’s measures, at how the country is managing to keep peace, tolerance and mutual understanding with such a diverse population.

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