Canada’s Energy Juggernaut Hits a Native Roadblock January 15, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Energy, Environment, First Nations, Idle No More.
Tags: alberta oilsands, canada aboriginal, canada energy, canada environment, canada first nations, canada indian act, emissions, environment, First Nations, harper government, idle no more, indigenous, linda mcquaig, mother earth, pam palmater, roger hollander, Stephen Harper
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Those who believe we can freely trash the environment in our quest to make ourselves richer suffer from a serious delusion — a delusion that doesn’t appear to afflict aboriginal people.
A Vancouver protester highlights the environment on Jan. 11. (Photograph: Ben Nelms / Reuters)
Aboriginals tend to live in harmony with Mother Earth. Their approach has long baffled and irritated Canada’s white establishment, which regards it as a needless impediment to unbridled economic growth.
Nowhere is this irritation more palpable than inside Stephen Harper’s government, with its fierce determination to turn Canada into an “energy superpower,” regardless of the environmental consequences.
So it’s hardly surprising that the Harper government has ended up in a confrontation with Canada’s First Nations.
Certainly the prime minister has shown a ruthlessness in pursuing his goal of energy superpowerdom.
He has gutted long-standing Canadian laws protecting the environment, ramming changes through Parliament last December as part of his controversial omnibus bill. He has thumbed his nose at global efforts to tackle climate change, revoking Canada’s commitment to Kyoto.
And he’s launched a series of witch-hunt audits of environmental groups that dared to challenge the rampant development of Alberta’s oilsands — one of the world’s biggest sources of climate-changing emissions — as well as plans for pipelines through environmentally sensitive areas.
But, while there’s been some resistance from provincial governments, opposition parties, and environmentalists, Ottawa’s energy juggernaut has continued to surge ahead.
At least until now. With the First Nations, Harper may have met his Waterloo.
Among other things, Harper’s attack on Canada’s environmental laws included rewriting parts of the Indian Act, thereby removing safeguards for native land and waters that are protected in the Constitution.
Of course, even with the Constitution on the side of aboriginals, it’s hard to imagine a group consisting of some of the poorest people on the continent taking on the federal government, backed up by corporate Canada, and winning.
After all, the First Nations are divided, and the government has deftly exploited these divisions. Furthermore, many influential media commentators side with the government, helping it portray aboriginals as impractical dreamers unable to understand the dictates of the global economy.
And restless natives have been a permanent political backdrop in Canada, unable to even ensure clean drinking water for themselves, let alone shape the government’s agenda.
But what’s new and potentially game-changing is Idle No More, the youth-based native initiative that, suddenly and unpredictably, has grown into a feisty grassroots movement — one that has shown the potential to attract activists from Occupy Wall Street, the Quebec student movement and even middle-class Canadians starting to wonder if barbecuing weather in mid-January suggests we’re playing too fast and loose with the environment.
Idle No More grew directly out of the resistance to Harper’s energy juggernaut. Pam Palmater, a Mi’kmaq and spokesperson for Idle No More, notes that changes in the omnibus bill make it easier to overcome native resistance to energy projects. For instance, the changes would enable a handful of natives, without support from the band majority, to surrender reserve land to Enbridge, enabling it to build a pipeline.
The Harper government will undoubtedly mobilize resources and cunning against Idle No More.
Whatever happens, it’s hard not to be inspired by this gutsy, earthy band that has asserted itself in the tradition pioneered by native-influenced governments in Ecuador and Bolivia, both of which have passed laws giving Mother Earth legal protections.
Canadians have reason to be ashamed of our treatment of aboriginals — from residential schools to the continuing failure to provide basic necessities like water, housing and education to people whose ancestors were here long before ours arrived.
Ironically, their insistence on their constitutional rights, as Palmater notes, may be the last best hope of Canadians to reverse our own culture’s reckless disregard for the dictates of Mother Earth, who ultimately is more demanding and unforgiving even than the global economy. Rising GDP levels won’t mean much if we’re swamped by rising sea levels.
The very least we can do is to get behind this ragtag group that has, in a few short weeks, shown more wisdom than our “advanced” society has mustered in decades.
Linda McQuaig’s column appears monthly. email@example.com
Linda McQuaig is a columnist for the Toronto Star. She first came to national prominence in 1989 for uncovering the Patti Starr Affair, where a community leader was found to have used charitable funds for the purpose of making illegal donations to lobby the government. McQuaig was awarded the National Newspaper Award for her work on this story. The National Post has called her “Canada’s Michael Moore”. Linda is the author (with Neil Brooks) of Billionaires’ Ball: Gluttony and Hubris in an Age of Epic Inequality, published by Beacon Press.
Idle No More: Women Rising to Lead When it’s Needed Most December 24, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, First Nations, Occupy Wall Street Movement, Women.
Tags: Canada, canada first nations, candad budget, First Nations, harper government, hunger strike, ilde no more, indigenous rights, indirenous, muna mire, political protest, roger hollander, Stephen Harper, theresa spence
Idle No More: Women Rising to Lead When it’s Needed Most
Chief Theresa Spence is now on Day 13 of her hunger strike. Too weak to leave the teepee she is living in on Victoria Island, a mere stone’s throw from Parliament, she called for a round dance yesterday at 24 Sussex Drive in Ottawa, Prime Minister Harper’s residence.
Image: Aaron Paquette
Throughout the duration of her hunger strike, Harper has maintained a chilly silence around the grassroots Indigenous movement now widely known as Idle No More, taking to Twitter instead to share his jokes about bacon with the Canadian electorate. What started as a string of emails between four Saskatchewan women back in November in protest of Bill C-45 eventually became a hashtag on social media, snowballing over time into a global movement for Indigenous rights.
Chief Spence is starving herself for her home community of Attawapiskat where there is a dire housing crisis, but more broadly for all Indigenous peoples in Canada, many of whom have rallied around her. Spence is asking for a meeting with the Prime Minister, Governor General and other leaders, and will fast until she gets it.
Spence began her fast just as the grassroots movement began to gather steam, and has said that she is “not afraid to die” for her people, taking their lead on non-violent direct action. In turn, Indigenous people have taken their lead from her. Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike have started hunger strikes in solidarity. Across Canada and throughout the world, peaceful demonstrations have disrupted the normal order of things this winter.
On Friday, the winter solstice saw unprecedented protest action. Supporters of the movement staged solidarity demonstrations from as far away as London, England, Los Angeles and Egypt. In Canada, major thoroughfares were shut down and flash mobs took over malls and public spaces as protestors performed traditional round dances in support of the movement.
In Edmonton, protestors blocked downtown streets as they marched from Walterdale Bridge over to Canada Place, holding round dances in the middle of Jasper Avenue and in Churchill Square. Organizers at the rally in Churchill Square lauded protestors for showing up to march despite -20 C temperatures, noting that “this was nothing compared to what the ancestors went through.”
“That’s what this is about. Our treaties and the lack of recognition that Canada and the Harper government is giving to our treaties. Our treaties are strong, they have international recognition and we have to remember that. They aren’t just written documents, they are a living spirit. We have to stand strong, this is the time for us to set our agenda, for us to stand proud. For us to say no. Enough is enough. We will not let this government unilaterally impose legislation on us, especially when it affects our lands, our waters and all the living things that give us life and that we use to sustain ourselves as indigenous people,” said one of the organizers of yesterday’s rally, Janice Makokis, a lawyer from the Saddle Lake Cree Nation.
“We’re here to also support Chief Theresa Spence as she has gone on a hunger strike, this is her eleventh day. And she’s not only doing that for her community, she’s doing that for us. As a woman, and as women who started this movement, we must continue to recognize women and stand proud with them,” she added.
The role played by women leaders and organizers of the movement was underscored many times during the rally. Speakers called on women to continue leading the movement they started in the name of Indigenous self determination and climate justice.
“There is an old prophecy that said when the world needed it most, the women would rise to lead us. I see that happening right now. This is a woman initiated movement and you can feel the difference in it,” says Aaron Paquette, a First Nations artist and writer, who has been involved with the movement since its inception. Paquette is responsible for much of the art that has come to graphically represent the movement, especially through social media.
Art has also played an important role in the movement, inspiring people to join a growing collective of protestors and allowing those protestors to imagine a different future for indigenous peoples in Canada.
“I feel that being an artist as an Indigenous person is different from the common understanding. While I create for the joy of it, I also feel a responsibility to use my art to benefit my community, to speak to them, to share, so that we can grow together,” says Paquette.
Paquette sees the timing of the movement as representative of its character. For him, the solstice day of action was reflective of what indigenous people have been through, in Canada and across the globe.
“This is an organic movement. There was no grand strategy, it just happened. It has come now because it’s necessary. Symbolically, the winter solstice marks the end of a long night and the welcoming of light [and] renewal. There is a long road ahead before the spring. The days will get colder, the struggle will not be easy. But the sun gets stronger and so do we,” Paquette said.
Paquette’s vision for the future of the movement includes solidarity from settlers on Turtle Island. Many nonindigenous people have already joined the movement, which is growing by the day.
“Our nations are rising. We are extending our hand to everyone to join us. Enter the hoop and be welcome. Finally do something that makes you happy instead of afraid, that empowers you instead of making you feel impotent, that feels right and makes you proud to be human,” Paquette offers.
Paquette imagines the future of the movement as one of joyful resistance leading to genuine change at the community level. He believes the time has come to transform the way we think about climate justice and the environment.
“Ultimately, I would like to see Idle No More fundamentally transform the way we look at Mother Earth and our role in our communities. I would like to see the maturing of the human race. I would like to see all the people discard their anger and their fear and be happy.”
Organizers at yesterday’s rally announced that Mikisew Cree First Nation Chief Steve Courtoreille told Parliament earlier that same day his nation would be launching a legal challenge to Bill C-45. He invited other First Nations leaders to join him in doing so. The Prime Minister’s silence has not deterred Spence, Paquette and other movement leaders, who are determined to see their goals met.
“Sounds like a long shot, but we’re used to that. We don’t think in quarterly statements and yearly projections. We think in terms of generations,” Paquette said.
Muna Mire recently completed an internship with rabble’s podcast network and is a student in her final year at the University of Toronto where she is currently completing an Honours B.A. in English, Political Science and Sociology.
An update on Kimberly Rivera and other U.S. Iraq War resisters November 23, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, Canada, War, Peace.
Tags: Stephen Harper, Canada, roger hollander, Iraq war, Kimberly Rivera, Canada Tories, jason kenney, war resister, desmond tutu, harper government
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It has been a period of intensive work on many fronts since the Harper government told Kimberly Rivera and her family they had to leave Canada.
In spite of a national mobilization with events in 8 cities, an op-ed in the Globe and Mail by Archbishop Desmond Tutu in support of Kim, and tens of thousands of people writing letters, faxing, sending emails and phoning Immigration Minister Jason Kenney calling on him to let the Riveras stay in Canada, the Conservative government forced Kim and her family – including two children born in Canada – to leave this country.
But Kim’s case confirmed once again that there is a broad and deep support for the stand that Kim and other U.S. war resisters have taken in refusing to participate in an illegal and immoral war. And we are more determined than ever to build on the support for Kim to give voice to that majority of Canadians who opposed the Iraq War and who want a provision made for US war resisters to stay in Canada.
Below is a brief update on Kim’s situation, and an APPEAL to help the War Resisters Support Campaign continue to mobilize in support of the many other U.S. war resisters who still face the threat of deportation. •
Following her arrest, Kim was taken to Fort Drum, N.Y. and shortly after, to a county jail. After several days she was transported to Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, Colorado. She is separated from her husband and four young children who are in Texas and are missing Kim terribly. In a recent interview, Kim’s husband Mario Rivera explained how difficult it has been for himself and, especially, for the children to be separated from their mother.
“I explained to them that Mommy is away for a while and she will come back as soon as she can. Katie thinks she’s lost and wants to go rescue her. She is anxious and nervous about it. She closes herself off from people as she’s missing her mom real bad… Gabriel too. He misses his mom real bad. He holds a picture of her and kisses it and tries to reach through the picture to grab her.”
Kim and her family are receiving support from the U.S.-based organization Courage to Resist as well as the War Resisters Support Campaign, and there is a dedicated group of supporters in Colorado Springs who visit her regularly at Fort Carson. James Branum, who has worked on many U.S. war resister cases, is Kim’s civilian lawyer. Supporters in the U.S. have been working hard to facilitate Kim’s family visiting her in Colorado Springs.
• There are still many other U.S. war resisters and their families in Canada who are facing the threat of deportation, and we urgently need to continue to build support for them. The Harper government’s attack on the Rivera family has produced a groundswell of support for war resisters in Canada. Many people were disgusted and angered by the scene of Conservative MPs applauding the news that Kim and her family had been forced to leave the country on September 20th. In their push for increasing militarization of Canada, the Conservative government is criminalizing war resisters and silencing anti-war voices. Millions of Canadians disagree with this. The outpouring of support for Kim has shown once again that people care deeply about this issue, and many are prepared to take action for war resisters. We need to keep up the pressure to achieve what two votes in Parliament and a majority of Canadians have demanded: that Canada should enact a provision to allow U.S. war resisters to stay in Canada.
Over the next weeks and months, the War Resisters Support Campaign will be initiating a broad outreach campaign to build on the mobilization of the past few weeks. A signature ad by prominent Canadians including Andy Barrie, Alexandre Trudeau, John Polanyi and many others will publicly call on the Canadian government to stop deporting U.S. war resisters. And we will continue to build the campaign to repeal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s discriminatory Operational Bulletin 202: http://resisters.ca/resources/
To do all of this, WE NEED YOUR SUPPORT! Please consider making a contribution to the War Resisters Defense Fund, which will allow us to carry out this work. To donate on-line please click on this link: http://resisters.chipin.com
Or you can send a cheque to:
War Resisters Support Campaign 427 Bloor Street West, Box 13 Toronto, ON M5S 1X7
The stakes are high for those US soldiers who have risked their futures by refusing to participate in a war Canadians rejected. The Harper government threatens to rip apart their families and facilitate their ‘rendition’ to harsh punishment, as they did to Kim Rivera. The Conservatives are determined to close the door on the tradition of Canadian asylum for US war resisters, and to override the overwhelming opposition to the Iraq War, by driving Iraq War resisters out of Canada. But they have NOT succeeded in changing public opinion on either front. That is because of war resisters’ voices, and the movement of people who support them. We need to make sure those voices continue to be heard in the period ahead.
War Resisters Support Campaign – www. resisters.ca – 416.598.1222 – firstname.lastname@example.org Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s op-ed in The Globe and Mail: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/dont-deport-war-resister-kimberly-rivera/article4544856/
Tags: beth hong, Canada, canada china treaty, Canada Conservatives, china, china fipa, fikpa, fippa, Free Trade, harper government, roger hollander, Stephen Harper, van harten, Wen Jiabao
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The Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Act(FIPPA), Canada’s biggest foreign trade treaty since NAFTA, will come into effect at the end of October and bind both the federal and provincial governments of Canada to its clauses for the next 31 years until 2043. International investment law expert and Canadian citizen Gus Van Harten says provinces have a strong case for challenging the treaty on constitutional grounds.
With two weeks remaining before the controversial Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Act (FIPPA) is ratified, international investment law and treaty expert Gus Van Harten says BC has the option of delaying the treaty’s ratification through the courts.
“The province can call for an injunction in the BC Superior Court, requesting the courts to order the federal government not to ratify the treaty until the constitutional issues are resolved,” Van Harten told The Vancouver Observer.
The other option, Van Harten added, was an upswelling of public opinion against the treaty that will pressure elected officials in Parliament as well as provincial legislatures.
- Chinese companies can sue BC for changing course on Northern Gateway, says policy expert
- 14 reasons why Canada-China investment deal needs more time, debate
According to international law, a foreign investment protection agreement (FIPA) treaty binds the state regardless of changes in federal or provincial governments.
“It’s a done deal between the two countries—by signing a treaty, the Harper government can bind future governments and bind the Canadian electorate for 31 years,” Van Harten said.
Van Harten—who has a PhD in international law from the London School of Economics, and teaches law at Osgoode Law School—is one of five internationally recognized experts in Canada on international investment and treaty law and how they work on a practical basis. He said that he is an outlier for speaking out, based on his experience.
“The difference between me and many others is that a lot of academics work in the system as lawyers or arbitrators or experts, and they’re much more cautious about saying things that are critical of the system,” he said.
He noted that FIPPA is a good news for lawyers, who stand to profit off potentially multi-million dollar lawsuits.
“The lawyers who work in this field will like that—their business is to sue,” he said. “It’s not good for Canadian taxpayers.”
Any province with Chinese investors in natural assets over the next 31 years has right to challenge constitutionality of FIPPA
The only provincial governments that shouldn’t be concerned about FIPPA are the ones which won’t expect to be getting any significant Chinese ownership of assets, Van Harten said.
Van Harten’s concerns “speculative”: BC Environment Minister Terry Lake
Van Harten also sent letters to premiers of all across Canada, including BC Premier Christy Clark. He did this to help the provinces understand the scope of the fiscal risks this treaty will have on them and taxpayers.
Clark’s Press Secretary Michael Morton confirmed that Clark’s correspondence branch received the letter. Clark did not respond to questions from The Vancouver Observer about her reaction to any of the concerns it raised.
BC Minister of Environment Terry Lake responded to Van Harten’s letter to the Premier and concerns about FIPPA in a written statement, calling the letter “speculative”:
“We are intervenors in the hearing and examining issues that are critical to our five conditions that must be met on all pipeline projects in BC. At the same time we are working with our federal counterparts on [Northern Gateway Proposal] related issues where BC’s interests are at stake.”
“As this is ongoing work and international treaties are the purview of the federal government I am not going to comment on speculative comments by Mr. Van Harten.”
No response from feds about concerns over FIPPA
FIPPA is the biggest foreign trade agreement since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). FIPPA is an agreement with provisions to protect Chinese investors in Canada, and vice-versa. However, it also contains many clauses that have alarmed Van Harten and opposition MPs such as Green Party MP Elizabeth May. May requested an emergency debate on the treaty at the beginning of October to the House Speaker. Her request was denied.
Van Harten wrote a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Minister of International Trade Ed Fast last week outlining his concerns as a legal expert and Canadian citizen, but has yet to get any confirmation on whether his letter has been recieved.
A spokesperson for Minister Fast responded to questions from The Vancouver Observer about Van Harten’s letter and concerns with the following written statement:
“With regards to investor-state dispute settlement, it is Canada’s long-standing policy to permit public access to such proceedings. Canada’s FIPA with China is no different. As we do with all other investor-to-state disputes, this FIPA allows Canada to make all documents submitted to an arbitral tribunal available to the public (subject to the redaction of confidential information).
It is also important to note that under this treaty, both Canada and China have the right to regulate in the public interest. Chinese investors in Canada must obey the laws and regulations of Canada just as any Canadian investor must.
We’ve been clear that Canada wants to continue to expand its relationship with China, but we want to see it expand in a way that produces clear benefits for both sides. By ensuring greater protection against discriminatory and arbitrary practices, and enhancing predictability of a market’s policy framework, this FIPA will allow Canadians to invest in China with greater confidence.”
Harper government rushing FIPPA, not allowing enough debate
However, Van Harten disagrees on with the Minister on various points.
“Why it is being concluded now in a form that is not advantageous to Canada is perhaps because the Harper government wants to pass it quickly while it has a majority in Parliament, and has been prepared to give away things that it would not have given away presumably as a minority government because it would not have been able to pass it through Parliament”
He added that the bulk of the responsibility for FIPPA lies at the majority Conservative government.
“To be honest, the provinces didn’t start this. It’s the federal government which has taken this reckless step,” he said.
After the majority Conservative committee voted for a confidential, in-camera meeting, the motion was removed from the Committee’s agenda.
International Trade committee member and Liberal MP Wayne Easter decried the killing of the motion, saying it was hindering Parliament from doing due diligence.
“We should be doing what Parliament is supposed to do and hold a consultation so that we know just exactly what is happening under the investment agreement, and so that we can look at the implications,” Easter said.
Two weeks won’t be enough time to fully debate and study the implications for all provinces, hence Van Harten’s recommendation for provinces to request a delay, and then the courts for an injunction based on constitutional grounds.
“I just want to emphasize to you the actor who is to blame at the moment is the federal government,” he said.
“The provinces would be to blame if they sat on their hands despite the implications of this treaty.”
Tags: brigette depape, Canada, canada conservative, canada parliament, canada senate, civil disobedience, democracy, harper government, political protest, roger hollander, Stephen Harper, stop harper
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I am moved by the excitement and energy with which people from all walks of life across this country greeted my action in the Senate.
One person alone cannot accomplish much, but they must at least do what they can. So I held out my “Stop Harper” sign during the throne speech because I felt I had a responsibility to use my position to oppose a government whose values go against the majority of Canadians.
The thousands of positive comments shared online, the printing of “Stop Harper” buttons and stickers and lawn signs, and the many calls for further action convinced me that this is not merely a country of people dissatisfied with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s vision for Canada.
It is a country of people burning with desire for change.
If I was able to do what I did, I know that there are thousands of others capable of equal, or far more courageous, acts.
I think those who reacted with excitement realize that politics should not be left to the politicians, and that democracy is not just about marking a ballot every few years. It is about ensuring, with daily engagement and resistance, that the vision we have for our society is reflected in the decision-making of our government.
Our views are not represented by our political system. How else could we have a government that 60 per cent of the people voted against? A broken system is what has left us with a Conservative government ready to spend billions on fighter jets we don’t need, to pollute the environment we want protected, to degrade a health-care system we want improved, and to cut social programs and public sector jobs we value. As a page, I witnessed one irresponsible bill after another pass through the Senate, and wanted to scream “Stop.”
Such a system leads us to feel isolated, powerless and hopeless — thousands of Canadians made that clear in their responses to my action. We need a reminder that there are alternatives. We need a reminder that we have both the capacity to create change, and an obligation to. If my action has been that reminder, it was a success.
Media and politicians have argued that I tarnished the throne speech, a solemn Canadian tradition. I now believe more in another tradition — the tradition of ordinary people in this country fighting to create a more just and sustainable world, using peaceful direct action and civil disobedience.
On occasion, that tradition has found an inspiring home within Parliament: In 1970, for instance, a group of young women chained themselves to the parliamentary gallery seats to protest the Canadian law that criminalized abortion. Their action won national attention, and helped propel a movement that eventually achieved abortion’s legalization.
Was such an action “appropriate”? Not in the conventional sense. But those women were driven by insights known to every social movement in history: that the ending of injustices or the winning of human rights are never gifts from rulers or from parliaments, but the fruit of struggle and of people power in the streets.
Actions like these provide the answer to the Harper government. When Harper tries to push through policies and legislation that hurt our communities and country, we all need to find our inner activist, and flow into the streets. And what is a stop sign after all, but a nod to the symbol of the street where a people amassed can put the brakes on the Harper government?
I’ve been inspired by Canadians taking action, and inspired too by my peers rising up in North Africa and the Middle East. I am honoured to have since received a message from young activists there, saying that we need not just an Arab spring but a “world spring,” using people power to combat whatever ills exists in each country.
I have been inspired most of all by Asmaa Mahfouz, the 26-year-old woman who issued a video calling for Egyptians to join her in Tahrir Square. People did, and they together made the Egyptian revolution. Her words will always stay with me: “As long as you say there is no hope, then there will be no hope, but if you go and take a stand, then there will be hope.”
Brigette DePape is a recent graduate of the University of Ottawa. She has started a fund to support peaceful direct action and civil disobedience against the Harper agenda: www.stopharperfund.ca
Restraint for Everything but Sports February 23, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Economic Crisis, Sports.
Tags: Canada, canada budget, Canada Conservatives, canada liberals, Economic Crisis, government spending, harper government, linda mcquaig, olympics, pan am games, roger hollander, sports, Stephen Harper
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No cost has been spared in mounting a giant spectacle of spandex-clad athletes performing dazzling feats in massive public venues.
Certainly, nobody seems to be letting the $6 billion price tag for Vancouver’s Olympic extravaganza get in the way.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against sports. I appreciate the nuances of a fine skeleton performance as much as the next person.
My point is simply to question why goals other than mounting gala sports events are routinely dismissed on the grounds that we can’t afford them.
Of course, sports extravaganzas often have side benefits. We’re told that with the 2015 Pan Am Games coming here, Toronto may finally get its public transit system upgraded.
How’s that? Are the Pan Am countries – an assortment of mostly poverty-stricken Latin American nations – going to chip in to improve Toronto’s subway system?
No. We’re going to pay. So why don’t we just decide to do it without the Games, given the need and the looming climate change disaster?
The conventional explanation is that the public won’t pay otherwise. But is the public the real obstacle here?
We’ve been exhorted to believe in the magic of sports, in the transformative power of the Olympic torch – that no dream is too big to dream, that guts and willpower will bring us glory.
But next week, when Ottawa brings down its budget, all that big-thinking and sky-high believing is to be shelved. We’ll be advised to think small, think restraint, focus on the impossibility of things. Deficits will own the podium.
That’s not because the public only cares about sports. It’s because the corporate world only supports public investments when it comes to sports and war, from which it makes money. But it wants to hold the line on public investment in health care, education, child care, social supports, etc.
So it’s tried to convince us these things aren’t affordable, or that we don’t want to pay for them – as we did in the past.
From the end of World War II, federal spending was almost always above 15 per cent of GDP, until the massive Liberal spending cuts of the mid-1990s brought it way down to about 12 per cent, notes economist Armine Yalnizyan.
Those cuts – made to reduce deficits caused by recession and overly tight monetary policy – became permanent, even after balanced budgets were quickly restored in the late 1990s.
Despite a decade of huge federal surpluses since then, the Liberals and the Conservatives failed to restore spending levels that prevailed during the prosperous early postwar decades, cutting taxes in response to corporate pressure instead.
The Harper government has made clear that once the stimulus package expires, federal spending will return to the historically low levels of the past decade.
But this is disastrous policy. Given the severity of the ongoing recession, what is needed now is massive public investment to put the country back to work and rebuild our crumbling social and physical infrastructure.
For millions of young people, holding a job is a dream just as surely as competing before the hometown crowd.
But we’re supposed to believe that, beyond sports, we can’t afford to meet our needs, no matter how pressing.
Perhaps we could finally get some serious action on climate change if it were a curling bonspiel – rather than simply a crisis that threatens life as we know it on this planet.
© Copyright Toronto Star 1996-2010
Why a Resister Chose Canada Over the War in Iraq December 24, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: army recruitment, Canada, canada refuge, harper government, Iraq, iraq abuse, iraq civilians, iraq racism, Iraq war, racism, rodney watson, roger hollander, stop-loss, war, war resister
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by Rodney Watson
I am from Kansas City, Kansas, and I joined the U.S. Army for financial reasons in 2004 after my steady job of seven years ended.
I enlisted for a three-year contract with the intention of being a cook and not in a combat role. I wanted to support the troops in some way without being involved in any combat operations.
A recruiter promised that I could do this.
In 2005 I was deployed to Iraq just north of Mosul where I was told that my duties as a cook would be to supervise and ensure that the local nationals in the dining facility were preparing meals according to military standards.
But instead of supervising in the dining facility, I was performing vehicle searches for explosives, contraband and weapons. I also operated a mobile X-ray machine that scanned vehicles and civilians for any possible explosives that could enter the base.
I had to keep the peace within an area that held 100 to 200 Iraqi civilian men who would be waiting for security clearances, and shoot warning shots at Iraqi children who were trying to set up mortars to fire at the base.
In Iraq I witnessed racism and physical abuse from soldiers toward the civilians.
On one occasion a soldier was beating an Iraqi civilian, called him a “sand nigger,” threw his Qur’an on the ground and spat on it. The civilian man was unarmed and was just looking for work on our base. He posed no type of threat and was beaten because soldiers brought their personal racist hatred to Iraq.
This was not what I had signed up for.
After all the wrongs I witnessed in Iraq, I decided that once my one-year tour of duty was over I would never again be part of this unnecessary war.
When I returned home, my unit was informed that we would be redeployed within four months. This would put me beyond the term I signed up for. I was going to be stop-lossed and forced to serve past my contract.
While on two-week leave I made my decision to come to Canada and not return to my base at Fort Hood, Texas.
I have been here in Vancouver since early 2007. I have been self-sufficient. I have fathered a beautiful son whose mother is Canadian. I plan to marry her and to provide our son with a loving and caring family unit.
I have made many friends and I have built a peaceful life here.
My son and my wife-to-be are my heart and soul and it would be a great tragedy for my family and for me personally if I were deported and torn away from them.
I think being punished as a prisoner of conscience for doing what I felt morally obligated to do is a great injustice.
This Christmas I hope and pray that people will open their hearts and minds to give peace and love a chance.
I appeal to the Canadian government to honour your country’s great traditions of being a place of refuge from militarism and a place that respects human rights by supporting my decision, and the decisions taken by my fellow resisters to refuse any further participation in this unjust war.
I ask that you urge your government to respect the will of the majority of Canadians by acting on the direction it has been given twice by Parliament to immediately stop deporting Iraq War resisters like me and to let us become permanent residents here.
My heart goes out to the families who have lost loved ones in this unnecessary war.
Alberta’s Tar Sands Make Canada a Climate Criminal December 1, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Energy, Environment.
Tags: alberta tar sands, bp, Canada, Canada Conservatives, canada environment, canada government, canada oil, canada reputation, climate control, copenhagen, george monbiot, global warming, greenhouse gases, harper government, kyoto, kyoto protocol, oil industry, roger hollander, shell oil, Stephen Harper
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Canada’s image lies in tatters. It is now to climate what Japan is to whaling
by George Monbiot
When you think of Canada, which qualities come to mind? The world’s peacekeeper, the friendly nation, a liberal counterweight to the harsher pieties of its southern neighbour, decent, civilised, fair, well-governed? Think again. This country’s government is now behaving with all the sophistication of a chimpanzee’s tea party. So amazingly destructive has Canada become, and so insistent have my Canadian friends been that I weigh into this fight, that I’ve broken my self-imposed ban on flying and come to Toronto.
So here I am, watching the astonishing spectacle of a beautiful, cultured nation turning itself into a corrupt petro-state. Canada is slipping down the development ladder, retreating from a complex, diverse economy towards dependence on a single primary resource, which happens to be the dirtiest commodity known to man. The price of this transition is the brutalisation of the country, and a government campaign against multilateralism as savage as any waged by George Bush.
Until now I believed that the nation that has done most to sabotage a new climate change agreement was the United States. I was wrong. The real villain is Canada. Unless we can stop it, the harm done by Canada in December 2009 will outweigh a century of good works.
In 2006 the new Canadian government announced it was abandoning its targets to cut greenhouse gases under the Kyoto protocol. No other country that had ratified the treaty has done this. Canada was meant to have cut emissions by 6% between 1990 and 2012. Instead they have already risen by 26%.
It is now clear that Canada will refuse to be sanctioned for abandoning its legal obligations. The Kyoto protocol can be enforced only through goodwill: countries must agree to accept punitive future obligations if they miss their current targets. But the future cut Canada has volunteered is smaller than that of any other rich nation. Never mind special measures; it won’t accept even an equal share. The Canadian government is testing the international process to destruction and finding that it breaks all too easily. By demonstrating that climate sanctions aren’t worth the paper they’re written on, it threatens to render any treaty struck at Copenhagen void.
After giving the finger to Kyoto, Canada then set out to prevent the other nations striking a successor agreement. At the end of 2007, it singlehandedly blocked a Commonwealth resolution to support binding targets for industrialised nations. After the climate talks in Poland in December 2008, it won the Fossil of the Year award, presented by environmental groups to the country that had done most to disrupt the talks. The climate change performance index, which assesses the efforts of the world’s 60 richest nations, was published in the same month. Saudi Arabia came 60th. Canada came 59th.
In June this year the media obtained Canadian briefing documents which showed the government was scheming to divide the Europeans. During the meeting in Bangkok in October, almost the entire developing world bloc walked out when the Canadian delegate was speaking, as they were so revolted by his bullying. Last week the Commonwealth heads of government battled for hours (and eventually won) against Canada’s obstructions. A concerted campaign has now begun to expel Canada from the Commonwealth.
In Copenhagen next week, this country will do everything in its power to wreck the talks. The rest of the world must do everything in its power to stop it. But such is the fragile nature of climate agreements that one rich nation – especially a member of the G8, the Commonwealth and the Kyoto group of industrialised countries – could scupper the treaty. Canada now threatens the wellbeing of the world.
Why? There’s a simple answer: Canada is developing the world’s second largest reserve of oil. Did I say oil? It’s actually a filthy mixture of bitumen, sand, heavy metals and toxic organic chemicals. The tar sands, most of which occur in Alberta, are being extracted by the biggest opencast mining operation on earth. An area the size of England, comprising pristine forests and marshes, will be be dug up – unless the Canadians can stop this madness. Already it looks like a scene from the end of the world: the strip-miners are creating a churned black hell on an unimaginable scale.
To extract oil from this mess, it needs to be heated and washed. Three barrels of water are used to process one barrel of oil. The contaminated water is held in vast tailings ponds, some so toxic that the tar companies employ people to scoop dead birds off the surface. Most are unlined. They leak organic poisons, arsenic and mercury into the rivers. The First Nations people living downstream have developed a range of exotic cancers and auto-immune diseases.
Refining tar sands requires two to three times as much energy as refining crude oil. The companies exploiting them burn enough natural gas to heat six million homes. Alberta’s tar sands operation is the world’s biggest single industrial source of carbon emissions. By 2020, if the current growth continues, it will produce more greenhouse gases than Ireland or Denmark. Already, thanks in part to the tar mining, Canadians have almost the highest per capita emissions on earth, and the stripping of Alberta has scarcely begun.
Canada hasn’t acted alone. The biggest leaseholder in the tar sands is Shell, a company that has spent millions persuading the public that it respects the environment. The other great greenwasher, BP, initially decided to stay out of tar. Now it has invested in plants built to process it. The British bank RBS, 70% of which belongs to you and me (the government’s share will soon rise to 84%), has lent or underwritten £8bn for mining the tar sands.
The purpose of Canada’s assault on the international talks is to protect this industry. This is not a poor nation. It does not depend for its economic survival on exploiting this resource. But the tar barons of Alberta have been able to hold the whole country to ransom. They have captured Canada’s politics and are turning this lovely country into a cruel and thuggish place.
Canada is a cultured, peaceful nation, which every so often allows a band of Neanderthals to trample over it. Timber firms were licensed to log the old-growth forest in Clayaquot Sound; fishing companies were permitted to destroy the Grand Banks: in both cases these get-rich-quick schemes impoverished Canada and its reputation. But this is much worse, as it affects the whole world. The government’s scheming at the climate talks is doing for its national image what whaling has done for Japan.
I will not pretend that this country is the only obstacle to an agreement at Copenhagen. But it is the major one. It feels odd to be writing this. The immediate threat to the global effort to sustain a peaceful and stable world comes not from Saudi Arabia or Iran or China. It comes from Canada. How could that be true?
George Monbiot is the author of the best selling books The Age of Consent: a manifesto for a new world order and Captive State: the corporate takeover of Britain. He writes a weekly column for the Guardian newspaper. Visit his website at www.monbiot.com
Rich Cause the Crisis, Workers Get the Blame July 14, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Economic Crisis, Labor.
Tags: canada labor, canada workers, cupe, Economic Crisis, economic meltdown, harper government, labor, linda mcquaig, municipal governement, recessions, roger hollander, steven harper, tax cuts, tim hudak, toronto, toronto city workers, toronto strike, toronto workers, Wall Street, workers rights
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For a while, the Wall Street meltdown gave the rich a bad name.
Even they seemed embarrassed by their own excess. There were reports of designer shops packaging purchases in plain paper bags.
But as going downscale lost its novelty, the rich have grown weary of their own embarrassment. Gratuitous extravagance is making a comeback. I noticed a Tiffany’s ad in a Toronto newspaper last week for a “diamond solitaire on a platinum band of channel-set diamonds. From $3,550 to $1,000,000.”
Clearly the rich are feeling good in their own skin again. Public wrath, having briefly nipped at the heels of the well-to-do, has moved on to the heels of the less well-heeled – who also carry plain paper bags, but ones you can eat lunch out of.
And so, as the Wall Street-generated economic storm has squeezed public finances, Toronto’s city workers find themselves in the crosshairs.
The striking workers are demonized for wanting to hold onto their benefits, including the right to bank sick days, even though they won this fair and square at the bargaining table. It’s just one of dozens of concessions the city is now demanding from them.
Although the strike is a terrible drag for all of us, the city workers are in some ways doing us a service – holding the line against employers taking advantage of the recession to demand concessions (if unions simply give in, emboldened employers will go for more), and taking a stand against further erosion of public services.
Of course, in the media narrative, the workers are the villains. The role of the financial elite in triggering the economic storm is omitted, as is the elite’s relentless campaign over the past three decades for tax cuts, which set the stage for today’s financial shortfalls.
Responding to this campaign, Ottawa kept cutting taxes (more than $160 billion since 2003), rather than using its massive surpluses for public reinvestment. That meant cuts in transfers to provincial and municipal governments, even as extra responsibilities were downloaded onto them.
By August 2007, crash-strapped Toronto announced an array of cuts that threatened to diminish life in the city: less snow removal, shorter library hours, delayed openings for skating rinks, etc. Further down the food chain, struggling school boards were closing swimming pools.
In fact, the crunch could have easily been alleviated – if the Harper government had been willing to transfer the revenue from a planned one percentage point reduction in the GST, as municipal leaders across the country pleaded. His October 2007 budget gave the answer: no.
Business groups never mention that tax cuts necessitate cuts in public services. For the rich, it’s often a good trade-off; they can buy their own high-end services. But it’s rarely good for the rest of us.
As economists Hugh Mackenzie and Richard Shillington showed in a study last April, Canadian families typically get about $41,000 in public services for their taxes, which amounts to “the best bargain they’ll ever get.”
Meanwhile, provincial Conservative Leader Tim Hudak, sensing the frustrated public might be ready for a Mike Harris revival, has gone after the strikers, suggesting they should “get a grip.”
Hudak wants to direct your anger at the people who pick up garbage, rescue animals, run daycare centres – not at those who’ve spent years pushing for tax cuts that have left our public services underfunded and who now chase the recession blues with million-dollar shopping sprees at Tiffany’s.
© Copyright Toronto Star 1996-2009
Let Iraq War Resisters Stay in Canada May 28, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Uncategorized.
Tags: Afghanistan, Afghanistan War, Canada, canada government, canada parliament, canada politics, canada war resisters, cliff cornell, harper government, Iraq, iraq reisters, Iraq war, jason kenney, jean crhetien, jeremy hinzman, mary jo leddy, nuremberg trials, robin long, roger hollander, War Resisters
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Jeremy Hinzman was a soldier in the United States Army’s elite infantry division, the 82nd Airborne. In 2002 and 2003 he served in Afghanistan in a non-combat role after applying for conscientious objector status. His application was refused and he learned that he would be deployed to Iraq. In January 2004 he drove to Niagara Falls, crossing the border with his partner Nga Nguyen and son Liam.
Hinzman was the first American Iraq war resister to seek refuge in Canada. Since then many others have joined him here realizing that were they to stay in the United States, they would be punished for their moral, political and religious beliefs.
In the coming days, Hinzman is expected to receive notice that he will be deported. Like Robin Long and Cliff Cornell, who were deported by the Harper government and sentenced respectively to 15 and 12 months in prison, Hinzman will be jailed as a prisoner of conscience.
For what crime were Long and Cornell sentenced to a year or more in prison?
During Long’s court martial, the only piece of evidence presented against him was a video of him speaking out against the Iraq war on Canadian television. For Cornell, it was a clip of him being interviewed on CNN.
Ninety-four per cent of U.S. military deserters are administratively discharged. Those who have had the courage to make their opposition to the war public, like Long and Cornell, are convicted as felons. In many states that means they will be stripped of the right to vote and in all cases it means they won’t be permitted to return to Canada.
Ever since the Nuremberg Trials, a new principle has entered the realities of modern warfare: the argument that one must follow orders in all circumstances is no longer justified. Following orders is not the ultimate test of patriotism. This is especially true in the case of an illegal, immoral and, in Barack Obama’s words, “a dumb war” like that which is still being fought in Iraq.
Our former prime minister Jean Chrétien refused to send Canadian troops to Iraq, in spite of all the dire consequences he was threatened with. To this day, Canadians continue to support that decision with what pollsters call “statistical unanimity.”
As a graduate student at the University of Toronto, I studied with many of those who came here because of resistance to the Vietnam War. They were allowed to stay and our country has been immensely enriched by this wave of immigrants who were willing to commit to the civil society that welcomed their ideas and values.
We would be a better country for welcoming Iraq war resisters, too.
In the last 11 months Parliament has twice voted for an end to these deportations. Our government has also been directed by the majority of MPs to establish a program to facilitate permanent resident status for Iraq war resisters.
Despite these democratic expressions of the will of the majority of Canadians, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney refuses to take action to accept Iraq war resisters’ requests to stay on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
As citizens, Canadians have the choice of whether we are going to be a colony of empire or a country of conscience.
Our government emphasizes programs for immigrants who make money. We also need immigrants who make sense.
© 2009 The Toronto Star