Harper Watch, July 1 to July 18, 2014


COMMENTARY

The Star – Mainstay of Canada’s literacy movement topples: Goar
A sad farewell note is all that remains of Copian.
It closed its doors quietly after 25 years at the nucleus of Canada’s community literacy network, leaving behind this online message: “We’re sorry! As a result of the withdrawal of funding from the Government of Canada we are no longer able to provide you with the information you are seeking.”
The non-profit organization, previously known as the National Adult Literacy Database, provided hundreds of grassroots groups, local libraries and new readers with access to the best the material in the field and an online training centre.

Globe and Mail – Fix the link where science and policy meet
The connection between science and public policy within the federal government is broken, and the consequences for Canada are becoming disastrous. We propose four ways to fix this problem.
But first, how is the connection broken, and why should Canadians care?
The federal government has severely degraded its internal scientific capacity, including its ability to perform and publicize its own scientific research, track outside scientific research, and monitor and assess policy issues with complex scientific content.

Huffington Post – How Tories Bully Charities and Abuse Power
Canadian charities are experiencing an “advocacy chill” and changing the way they go about their work as a result of what they say is “bullying” by the Harper Conservative government. My just completed Master’s thesis research finds that the denunciatory rhetoric of government ministers against charities, followed by stepped up audits is having its toll not only on charity operations, but also on the strength of Canada’s public discussions and thus on the vigor of democracy itself.

Montreal Gazette – Coyne: Conservatives’ incoherence really shows with Charter of Rights discontent
“I’m all for rights and freedoms,” he said, “but the Charter complicates things.” The problem, as far as rights and freedoms are concerned, is that we have “complicated” them by writing them into law.
This is a common refrain among conservatives. We’d always gotten along fine without a written constitution, you will sometimes hear them say, in the apparent belief that the British North America Act, not to mention Magna Carta, the Petition of Right and the Bill of Rights 1689, were elaborate works of mime. The idea of codifying rights in law they tend to regard as a vaguely Gallic plot, perhaps forgetting Canada’s original Bill of Rights, the handiwork of a certain John George Diefenbaker.

Globe and Mail – Bill C-24 is wrong: There is only one kind of Canadian citizen
Of course Canadians found guilty of crimes in credible courts of law should be punished according to the law, and they are. But Bill C-24 gives the government the power to revoke citizenship as some kind of additional penalty. It is redundant in cases where a citizen is in fact guilty of a crime. It is downright dangerous for those who are not. Under the new law, for example, Al Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmy could be stripped of his Canadian citizenship because he was convicted of terrorism by an Egyptian court. Ottawa has said it would not apply the law in Mr. Fahmy’s case, but the mere fact that it has had to answer the question should give us all pause.

GAZA

CTV News – Canada calls out UN for criticizing Israel’s response to Gaza rockets
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird says the UN High Commissioner’s criticism of Israel’s response to rocket attacks from Gaza are uncalled for.
Navi Pillay said this week that there should be an immediate ceasefire, citing reports of many civilian casualties.
A council statement approved by all 15 members calls for de-escalation of the violence, restoration of calm and a resumption of direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians aimed at achieving a comprehensive peace agreement based on a two-state solution.

DUFFY

The Star – RCMP lay 31 criminal charges against Senator Mike Duffy
Mike Duffy’s fall from grace took another stunning tumble Thursday as Mounties charged the suspended senator with 31 counts of fraud, breach of trust and bribery in connection with the alleged misuse of taxpayers’ funds.
The charges set the stage for a dramatic trial involving a high-profile witness list that could include Nigel Wright, the former top aide to Stephen Harper, Conservative senators and perhaps even the prime minister.

The Star – Stephen Harper in the witness box now a possibility: Tim Harper
Could we one day see Stephen Harper sitting under oath in the witness box being cross-examined by counsel for disgraced suspended Sen. Mike Duffy?
Thursday, that question moved beyond the theoretical to the distinctly possible.
There would be a lot of twists and turns in this saga before we get there, but this we do know — a Conservative government that had been looking at the end of a tunnel on the Senate-PMO scandal can now see only another tunnel.

Huffington Post – Harper Must Answer For Duffy’s Crimes
It’s a terribly sad day for Parliament when a member of the Senate gets hauled before the criminal courts to face 31 charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust. The formal trial of Mike Duffy is about to begin.
But his personal fate is no longer “the main event.”
Duffy fell from grace in the eyes of Canadians a long time ago. His unravelling circumstances have become almost farcical. The most important aspects of this painful saga are now his intimate interconnections with the Prime Minister, the Conservative Party and the Harper government.

National Post – Andrew Coyne: Now Mike Duffy has been charged, the truth about the government’s role can emerge
While Mr. Duffy is the one facing charges, he was only ever part of the story. Beyond the immediate matter of his guilt or innocence, his trial will be of interest for the chance it affords to get some answers, at last, to those larger questions I mentioned. Mr. Wright will almost certainly be called as a witness. Given Mr. Duffy’s contention that he is being made a scapegoat by those higher up, others in the government may be as well — perhaps even the prime minister.

ENVIRONMENT

Canada.com – Harper government scraps 3,000 environmental reviews on pipelines and other projects
The Harper government’s budget legislation has forced the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency to cancel nearly 3,000 screenings into potential environmental damage caused by proposed development projects across Canada, including hundreds involving a pipeline or fossil fuel energy, according to published records.
Out of 2,970 project reviews that were stopped by the legislation that rewrote Canada’s environmental laws and weakened federal oversight on industrial development, 678 involved fossil fuel energy and 248 involved a pipeline, including proposals from Alberta-based energy companies, Enbridge and TransCanada.

LAW AND ORDER

Globe and Mail – The Supreme Court is Harper’s real Opposition
Worried on this Canada Day that an overbearing government is trying to change the country too much? Bothered that civil liberties are being sacrificed, that the government is trying to impose a moral code, that big monied interests are being catered to at the expense of the disadvantaged?
If so, you might find comfort in the work of our Supreme Court. Its rulings give it the look of standard-bearer for the proverbial little guy, the underdog’s ally. Its progressive orientation runs up against the Conservatives’ intent. Not by design, but in effect, it has become the Official Opposition in Ottawa, outdoing the New Democrats and Liberals.

CBC News – Federal government to appeal ruling reversing ‘cruel’ cuts to refugee health
The federal government will appeal a court decision overturning its cuts to refugee health-care funding, Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said today.
Earlier Friday, the Federal Court released a decision giving the government four months to change federal cuts to refugee health care. The court threatened to strike down the changes.
Alexander told reporters at a news conference the government “vigorously defends the interests of Canadian taxpayers” and said he wants to emphasize “genuine refugees.” The appeal goes to the Federal Court of Appeal, but could end up in the Supreme Court if one side challenges the Federal Court of Appeal’s eventual decision.

CBC News – Refugee board approves claimants labelled ‘bogus’ by Ottawa
The federal government says refugees from a list of “safe” countries are “bogus” and don’t deserve health care, yet hundreds of these claimants have been approved as legitimate refugees, including dozens from the United States.
Figures provided by the Immigration and Refugee Board to CBC News show 47 claimants from the U.S. have been approved since 2007, even though the U.S. is on a list of “Designated Countries of Origin” that are deemed by Canada to respect human rights and offer state protection — and therefore don’t produce what Canada would recognize as refugees.
A small number of claimants from other “safe” countries, such as Belgium, Germany, France, Sweden have also been approved — joining hundreds more from Mexico, Hungary and countries that have recently been added the DCO list.

ECONOMIC MISMANAGEMENT

Broadbent Institute – Fact check: putting the Conservatives’ “million net new jobs” into context
The Conservative Party recently launched the “We’re better off with Harper” campaign with the claim that “with over one million net new jobs created in the recovery, Canada’s economy is on the right track – thanks to the strong leadership of Stephen Harper and Canada’s Conservatives.”
The number in that claim is carefully chosen, and taken in isolation is factually correct. In the five years of recovery from June 2009 to June 2014, total employment indeed rose by 1,091,400 jobs.
But if we do the count from June 2008, before the onset of the recession and the big job losses it caused, the increase in employment to date has been a more modest 753,000 jobs. And the national unemployment rate in June 2014 was, at 7.1%, still significantly higher than the average of 6.0% in 2007 and 6.1% in 2008.

Broadbent Institute – Canada’s economic performance is nothing to celebrate
For all of the self-congratulatory rhetoric of the Harper government, the fact remains that Canada’s economic recovery has been built on very fragile foundations. Growth has been fueled by the growth of household and foreign debt rather than by business investment, and we have become dangerously reliant on the resource sector.

Ottawa Citzen – Audit challenges government on Old Age Security savings
The Conservative government will face difficulty proving that its plan to automatically enrol eligible Canadians in the Old Age Security plan will save taxpayers money.
An audit on the first phases of the program has found that the department responsible, Employment and Social Development Canada, couldn’t show “expected benefits” from the program because it has no measurable targets.

Huffington Post – CSEC Staff Levels Hit Record High, As Other Agencies Suffer Through Austerity
The Harper government is working to slash the size of the public service, but at least one agency is exempt from the austerity push.
Staff levels at Canada’s electronic spy agency hit a record high last month, according to national security blog Lux Ex Umbra.

Huffington Post – Tax Audits On Canadian Charities Widen, Criticized As ‘Bullying Tactic’
The Conservative government has stepped up its scrutiny of the political activities of charities, adding fresh money for more audits, and casting its net well beyond the environmental groups that have opposed its energy policies.
Canada Revenue Agency, ordered in 2012 to audit political activities as a special project, now has also targeted charities focused on foreign aid, human rights, and even poverty.
The tax agency has also been given a bigger budget — $5 million more through to 2017 — and is making the special project a permanent part of its work.

The Star – Parks Canada services take hit in budget cuts
“These are cuts to direct services, exactly what the Conservatives promised wouldn’t happen,” said Megan Leslie, Halifax MP and New Democratic environment critic.
“(This) is about us trying to access our cultural heritage (and) our natural heritage. This is actually going to prevent people from being able to access our parks.”

JUST DELICIOUS

Ottawa Citizen – Del Mastro grilled over bank deposit during election campaign
In a tense day of cross-examination Friday, MP Dean Del Mastro admitted he couldn’t explain who transferred $11,500 to his bank account a few hours before a $21,000 cheque was cashed by a federal campaign supplier.
Del Mastro is charged with violating the federal Elections Act by exceeding the spending and donation limits in his 2008 campaign and covering it up by filing an incorrect return.

 

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Harper Watch, June 17 to June 30, 2014


COMMENTARY

ipolitics – Michael Harris:  Who cares about the truth when you’ve got a hefty ad budget?
Stephen Harper has made an amendment to the old saying that bullshit baffles brains: marketing trumps all.
Care to play Snakes and Leaders Stevie-style? Easy-peazy. You screw the veterans and then divert attention by surrounding sporting events with commercials saying what a swell job you’re doing for them. The veterans will know you are a fat-faced liar, but that doesn’t matter. They are old and expendable — a disappearing demographic of no political importance. There’s no political upside to them.
You are interested in aiming your message at those millions of non-veterans watching the game, the ones who will be more impressed by all the monuments you are building to past wars, while simultaneously ignoring sick and dying veterans of more recent ones.
After a few beers, a few highlights-reel goals and a few government-sponsored TV spots, hey, they might come away with a more or less sloppy idea that you are in fact the lone champion of the veterans. The beauty of advertising: You can be rewarded for failure and phoniness every time if you get the messaging right.

ipolitics – Linda McQuaig:  Why Harper doesn’t give a damn about Mohamed Fahmy
In April, a brutal Egyptian judge known locally as “the Butcher”handed down a mass death sentence to 683 men. To most civilized observers, this kind of action is associated with the world’s most tyrannical regimes.
But to the Harper government, this is the behaviour of a country “progressing towards democracy”.

PIPELINES, ENVIRONMENT, FIRST NATIONS

Huffington Post – Harper Accused Of ‘Hiding’ After Northern Gateway Pipeline Decision
In the end, one of the biggest decisions of Prime Minister Stephen Harper‘s career was marked with little more than a press release.
And, this time, the words “Harper government” were nowhere to be found.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Conservative government announced its conditional approval for Enbridge Inc.’s controversial $7-billion Northern Gateway pipeline project between the Alberta oilsands and the B.C. coast.

THE COURTS

National Post – Justice Minister Peter MacKay defends suggestion women are too busy with their kids to be judges
Federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay is defending comments he made last week about why so few women are appointed as judges in Canada.
MacKay was responding to a Toronto Star report Wednesday about an Ontario Bar Association meeting at which he was asked about the lack of women and visible minorities on federally appointed court benches.
MacKay answered the question by saying that women don’t apply to be judges because they fear the job will take them away from their children — and that children need their mothers more than their fathers, the Star report said.

The Star – Lawyer disputes Peter MacKay’s claim that women, visible minorities don’t apply to be judges
When Avvy Yao-Yao Go read Justice Minister Peter MacKay’s claim that women and visible minorities are underrepresented on Canada’s courts because they don’t apply for the job, she was furious.
Go, a director at the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic and a practicing lawyer for the past 23 years, says it’s not true. She knows “worthy” candidates who have applied, and so has she.
Go submitted her name for a federal judicial appointment two years ago and again this year. She was worried by cuts to legal aid that might threaten her own job, and on another level, she says she believed it is up to visible minority lawyers to throw their hats in the ring.
But Go, who was recently named to the Order of Ontario, heard nothing back except that her application would be held “in the system” for two years. She suspects her past criticism at parliamentary committees of the Conservative government’s policies on immigration, refugees and poverty reduction mean she has no chance of an appointment.

aptn – Saganash wants probe into money spent by Ottawa fighting aboriginal rights
Cree NDP MP Romeo Saganash has asked Canada’s auditor general to probe the millions of dollars Ottawa spends fighting Aboriginal rights and title cases.
Saganash sent a letter to Auditor General Michael Ferguson requesting an operational audit of the expenditures to determine whether Ottawa is using taxpayer money wisely and efficiently battling First Nations over rights.
The federal Aboriginal Affairs department spent over $100 million between 2012 and 2013 on legal fees, according to federal government records. The department’s own internal risk assessment found that a lot of the litigation money has been spent on losing causes.

SKEWED PRIORITIES – VETERANS LOSE AGAIN

CBC News – Canadian Forces’ return to old-style ranks, insignia costs millions
At a time of federal belt-tightening, the Conservative government’s return to World War II-era ranks and insignia will require new dress uniforms for Canadian soldiers and naval officers at a cost of $4.5 million.
Defence Department figures show the bulk of that cost — $3.1 million — will go to buy new jackets for the dark green dress uniforms army officers wear to formal events and on parades.
A similar change for naval officers — the addition of a curl to the top bar of their traditional naval rank — has a cost of $1.35 million, the Defence Department says.
That puts the cost of new jackets for the highest-ranking soldiers and sailors at almost $4.5 million.
Those costs are only necessary because of Conservative government changes to rank titles for the army and insignia for officers in the army and navy announced last year.

ipolitics – The number of homeless veterans in Canada is soaring
The number of homeless people identified by Veterans Affairs Canada has skyrocketed over the last five years, jumping from just 35 in 2009-2010 to 236 last year.
But the true figure could be much higher. Experts suggest there could be thousands of veterans living on the streets yet to be located by government and volunteer organizations. A City of Toronto report released last year revealed that 16 per cent of the 447 people sleeping on Toronto’s streets identified themselves as veterans.

SECRECY

The Star – Government of [CENSORED] censors cyberbullying docs
In her annual report to Parliament earlier this month, Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault said her office has seen a sharp increase in complaints over the government’s handling of access requests.
Legault’s report found that complaints about the government’s handling of the requests increased 30 per cent in 2012-13, leading the outgoing commissioner to warn that the system remains “fragile.”
“It is of concern to me when government institutions struggle to provide timely access, take an overly broad approach to exempting information or fail in their duty to assist requesters, as is required,” the report said.

The Star – Health Canada keeps flu plant inspection report secret
Health Canada is keeping the most recent completed inspection of Canada’s largest flu vaccine supplier secret despite a startling report from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration raising questions about quality control.
The Canadian federal regulator refused to provide a copy of its July 2012 inspection of GlaxoSmithKline’s Quebec plant, where about 5 million doses of flu vaccine were manufactured and supplied to the Canadian public in 2013 alone. The move comes in the wake of a warning letter from the U.S. FDA that documented concerns with the plant’s manufacturing process dating back to 2011.
“Health Canada seems to be prioritizing what the companies claim is confidential business information over patient safety and that really isn’t acceptable,” said Dr. Joel Lexchin, a health policy professor at York University and drug safety expert.

CBC News – New Parks Canada media policy spurs controversy
A new Parks Canada policy regulating what information can be released to the media is facing backlash.
The policy forbids employees from speaking to the media without approval and requires all requests for information to go through a national office. While many aren’t happy with the move, they say they aren’t surprised the Harper government is tightening its control of Parks Canada communications.
“This is just how this government operates, increasingly,” said Chris Turner, author of The War on Science: Muzzled Scientists and Willful Blindness in Stephen Harper’s Canada. “They do not trust their own sort of rank and file to do their duties and to speak frankly but honestly about what they know.”

CITIZENSHIP

The Star – Immigration experts say Bill C-24 discriminatory and weakens citizenship
Since the act’s introduction there has been a rising tide of criticism, much of it focused on perceived violation of human and Charter rights, a shift to treating citizenship as a privilege and expanded revocation powers.
The Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association gathered more than 42,000 signatures in an on-line petition opposing the act. Amnesty International spoke out against it. And many critics appeared before the parliamentary committee to argue that it’s exclusionary and discriminatory.

The Star – Case of Mohamed Fahmy shows failing of new citizenship rules
The Canadian government has been severely criticized for its failure to do enough to assist Mohamed Fahmy, the Canadian journalist sentenced to seven years imprisonment in Egypt for terrorism after a trial that has been uniformly condemned as a travesty of justice.
But with the recent passage of the controversial Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, the government can now answer their critics this way: “Hey, stop complaining. Last week, we passed a law that gives the minister of citizenship and immigration the power to strip Fahmy of his Canadian citizenship now that Egypt has deemed him a terrorist. So just be grateful we are publicly announcing that we do not intend to do that. But, by the way, we can change our mind anytime.”

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Harper Watch, June 5 to June 16, 2014


COMMENTARY

National Post – John Ivison: Peter MacKay’s prostitution law a failure on all counts
Peter MacKay’s role as Attorney General of Canada requires him to be the guardian of the rule of law. He is mandated to protect the personal liberties of Canadians and advise Cabinet to ensure its actions are legal and constitutional.
By introducing a new law on prostitution that is all but certain to be struck down by the courts, he has failed on all counts.

National Post – Andrew Coyne: We once had to wait weeks for a new Harper abuse of power. Now we’re getting them two or three a day
Several themes run throughout these: a contempt for civil liberties, for due process, for established convention, for consultation, for openness, replaced throughout by a culture of secrecy, control, expedience and partisan advantage. Worse, there is virtually nothing anyone can do about it. All governments have displayed some of these traits. If this government has pushed things rather further, it is because it can: because we have so centralized power in the Prime Minister’s Office, with so few constraints or countervailing powers.

ipolitics – Michael Harris: Harper’s foe isn’t the Supreme Court — it’s the Constitution
What a remarkable joke Stephen Harper continues to play on Canada: The law-and-order party is once again making it clear that it’s about as law-abiding as Bonnie and Clyde making a bank withdrawal.
Our desperado PM has done it again. The issue this time is the appointment of a new Supreme Court justice to fill a vacancy from Quebec. Judge Robert Mainville is apparently Harper’s pick this time, after a previous appointment from Quebec — Marc Nadon — was struck down as unconstitutional.

ipolitics – Michael Harris: Harper sinks to new lows with cold war posturing
Let there be no mistake about it. Our Steve is thinking marketing. He’s thinking about the 1.2 million Canadians of Ukrainian heritage. His Ukrainian Gambit is about winning votes by posing as a staunch defender of Ukraine, election by the million-dollar photo-op, election by working the hot buttons — anything other than his record as PM which has made the PMO one of the least trusted offices in the land.

ELECTION FRAUD

Ottawa Citizen – Key Conservative witness in robocalls trial said scheme was national in scope
GUELPH — The Crown’s star witness in the robocalls case wrote last year that the Conservative party was complicit in a national scheme in the 2011 election that it has blamed on local staffers.
Former Guelph Conservative campaign worker Andrew Prescott wrote the statement in July 2013 while he was upset over problems he was having getting accreditation from the party to attend the national convention in Calgary in November of that year.
Prescott never released the statement but did send it as a Facebook message to Michael Sona, who is on trial in Guelph for an Election Act violation in relation to a robocall that sent voters to the wrong polling station on May 2, 2011.

ENVIRONMENT, CLIMATE CHANGE DENIAL

Globe and Mail – Canada’s lagging on climate change is putting the economy at risk
It’s no secret that the government of Stephen Harper has doubled down on oil production and exports as the winning combination for keeping the economy in the black for years to come. But something unexpected is happening on the Prime Minister’s way to the bank: Our once-willing trading partners are making noises about turning their backs on us, and the product we have to offer.
Take for instance recent reports out of the U.S., which suggest that Canada’s unwillingness to get serious about climate change present one of the biggest stumbling blocks to the Obama administration’s approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. This is more than mere supposition with the U.S. moving aggressively on climate change in Barack Obama’s second term. Strict regulations out of the U.S. EPA this week aimed at cutting carbon pollution from power plants serve only as the most recent case in point.

Globe and Mail – Federal plan for B.C. oil spill relies on using banned chemicals
The federal government’s backup plan in the event of a catastrophic oil spill in British Columbia’s waters relies on using chemical dispersants that are currently banned from marine use by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak says her province is not prepared to sign off on the federal oil-tanker safety plan rolled out last month as part of an effort to address concerns about marine environmental safety in advance of Ottawa’s Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline decision.

VETERANS

Huffington Post – Veterans Affairs Denies, Delays Until Benefits Claimants Die: Ex-Soldiers
OTTAWA – A loosely knit group of outraged ex-soldiers railed Wednesday against what it calls the insurance-company mentality of Veterans Affairs, demanding legislation spelling out the moral obligation Canada has towards its military veterans.
Retired major Mark Campbell, a decorated soldier who lost both legs in Afghanistan, told a small, vocal rally on Parliament Hill that he has a hard time sleeping — but not because of his injuries or the associated mental trauma.
“This is not what has me punching and trying to kick in bed at night,” said Campbell, motioning to his missing limbs. “My trauma continues every single day (because of) my sense of betrayal at the hands of the Canadian government.”

Globe and Mail – Will the F-35 be another ‘Widow Maker’ for Canadian pilots?
Thirty-nine Canadian pilots lost their lives flying the CF-104 Starfighter, in planes that never saw combat. A staggering 110 of the 239 Starfighters purchased by Canada in the 1960s crashed before they were replaced by CF-18s.
These numbers remain relevant today given the similarities between the Starfighter and the F-35 that the Harper government is now poised to buy.
The Starfighter was built by Lockheed Corporation. The F-35 is built by the same company, which since 1995 has been named Lockheed Martin.

NO DEBATE ABOUT IT

Vancouver Observer – Conservatives defend suppression of debate
“I do not know why the current government does not buy an entire warehouse of duct tape and just tape every single mouth in this House,” added NDP MP Matthieu Ravignat, adding that it was “unbelievable” Canada was still debating what citizenship meant, at this stage in its history.

Huffington Post – Chris Alexander Calls Rocco Galati ‘Disgraced’ Ex-Khadr Family Lawyer
OTTAWA – Immigration Minister Chris Alexander went on the offensive Tuesday against Rocco Galati, the Toronto constitutional lawyer who plans to challenge the federal government’s controversial citizenship bill.
Under fire during question period in the House of Commons, Alexander denounced Galati — the same lawyer who successfully challenged the appointment of Marc Nadon to the Supreme Court of Canada — as the “disgraced ideological former lawyer of the Khadr family.”
A group of lawyers led by Galati is taking on Bill C-24 as unconstitutional, in particular those provisions that would let the government revoke citizenship from dual nationals — even if they are born in Canada.

CBC News – Ottawa insists on ‘absolute secrecy’ on Yukon environment law
A federal government bill that proposes changes to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act was tabled in the Senate last week, but few northerners who were consulted about the bill are in a position to talk about it.
Ottawa has insisted on secrecy throughout its northern consultation process.
“We were given an absolute secrecy,” says Ken McKinnon, acting chair of the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board. “We had to sign off for each numbered amendment to the act personally and then return them and be crossed off the list.

ipolitics – Opposition demands answers on grain crisis warnings
New revelations by iPolitics that two federal ministers were warned about a looming grain backlog months before the situation turned into a crisis triggered sharp criticism from Opposition MPs, Monday.
“Mr. Speaker, new documents revealed under Access to Information show the Conservatives ignored the grain transport warnings. They knew before yet did not act,” NDP Agriculture Critic Malcolm Allen asked in Question Period Monday.

HARPER IS WATCHING YOU

The Star – Police need warrant to get Internet customers’ identities, Supreme Court rules
OTTAWA—The Supreme Court of Canada broke new legal ground for privacy rights in a ruling that says the constitution protects the anonymity Canadian Internet users expect when they go online.
The high court in a bombshell 8-0 decision ruled Friday police must obtain search warrants to obtain basic subscriber information such as a customer’s name, address and phone number from telecom companies when an officer suspects illegal activity.
The decision immediately put in doubt the fate of two Conservative government bills that expand warrantless access to such data.

Ottawa Citizen – Government orders federal departments to keep tabs on all demonstrations across country
“The Government Operations Centre is seeking your assistance in compiling a comprehensive listing of all known demonstrations which will occur either in your geographical area or that may touch on your mandate,” noted the email, leaked to the Citizen. “We will compile this information and make this information available to our partners unless of course, this information is not to be shared and not available on open sources. In the case of the latter, this information will only be used by the GOC for our Situational Awareness.”

 

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Harper Watch, May 22 to June 4, 2014


THE TRIAL OF MICHAEL SONA

National Post – Defence grills witness about why Tories gave him $15,000 raise after pinning robocalls on Michael Sona
GUELPH – Michael Sona’s defence lawyer chipped away at the credibility of the Crown’s first witness in the robocalls case on Monday, pressing him on the vagueness of his memory and asking pointed questions about the promotion and raise he received after giving evidence against his former friend.
Chris Crawford, a Conservative ministerial staffer who worked alongside Sona on the Conservative campaign in Guelph, told the court that he had overheard his former friend speak of misdirecting voters to the wrong polling locations and sending out calls to annoy Liberal voters.
Crawford is the first of 10 Crown witnesses, all current or former Conservative political staffers.

CBC News – Star robocalls witness points to Michael Sona, Ken Morgan
Andrew Prescott, the star witness at the trial of Michael Sona, suggested Conservative campaign manager Ken Morgan was involved in setting up the misleading robocalls that confused Guelph, Ont., voters in the last federal election.
Prescott, the deputy campaign manager for the Conservative candidate in Guelph in 2011, said the campaign office was getting reports from supporters on May 2 that year that they had received phone calls telling them their polling station had moved, as well as a call that said the polls would close early.

OPINION, COMMENTARY

ipolitics – Michael Harris: Hey Stevie, start with ‘I’m sorry’ and go from there
Stephen Harper owes Canadians an explanation and now would be a good time to offer it.
How did a lawyer twice convicted of fraud, who went to jail for 18 months for stealing from his own clients, who was charged with influence peddling in 2012, and is now facing three new counts of illegal lobbying and another of influence peddling – how did such a talented guy get to sit at the right hand of power in the Prime Minister’s Office?

Maclean’s – The maternal health summit: Another bad day for the PMO
… we got suckered into believing we would be able to cover an event whose participants very much want their efforts to be covered, and instead we were wrong again, as we so often are when we expect Stephen Harper’s Prime Minister’s Office to act like professionals.

The Star – Stephen Harper presiding over Tories’ self-destructive madness: Hébert
When historians look back on Stephen Harper’s (first?) decade in power, what will they make of the trail of institutional wreckage that his government is leaving in its wake?
Will they conclude that a mastermind determined to change the course of the ship of state at all costs was in charge, or just a bunch of drunken sailors?
The Conservatives came to power in 2006 as institutional reformers. But three mandates later, one would look in vain for a method to the self-destructive madness that they are presiding over.

Press Progress – Stephen Harper will blow $43 billion this year on tax giveaways
The Conservative anti-tax brigade is spending $43 billion on tax giveaways this year, a new report estimates.
A Parliamentary Budget Office report released Tuesday examined changes to Canada’s tax system between 2005 and 2013 for personal incomes taxes and the GST/HST. It found that the accumulation of cuts since 2005 will reduce federal personal income tax revenues this year by an estimated $17.1 billion and the federal share of the GST/HST revenue by $13.3 billion.

rabble.ca – CLLN: Harper government attempts to quietly defund national literacy
Without an announcement or any consultation, it appears that the federal government has decided to quietly collapse Canada’s national literacy and essential skills network. This is happening at the same time as community literacy programs across Canada experience a seismic shift and uncertainty of sustained operations, while millions of dollars in federal funding is being effectively diverted from federal-provincial Labour Market Agreements and redirected to the unproven Canada Job Grant program.

IN THE COURTS

Canada.com – Federal government legal spending hit record $500 million last year
(And they lose almost every case)
Federal government departments and agencies spent a record half billion dollars on legal services last year, an increase of more than $138 million in the past three years alone, according to government spending records.
Total spending — not including legal services provided by a department or agency’s own lawyers — hit $500.8 million in 2011-12, according to the 2012 Public Accounts. That’s 6.8 per cent more than the previous year and 38 per cent higher than in 2008-09.

Globe and Mail – The secret short list that provoked the rift between Chief Justice and PMO
Early last summer, Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin sat down with five federal politicians at the stately court building on Wellington Street, just down the road from Parliament.
The Supreme Court selection panel – three Conservative MPs, a New Democrat MP and a Liberal MP – had come bearing a list of six candidates to replace Justice Morris Fish of Quebec, who was nearing 75 and about to retire.
That list, crafted by the Prime Minister’s Office and the Justice Department, was so troubling to Chief Justice McLachlin that she phoned Justice Minister Peter MacKay and took initial steps toward contacting the Prime Minister. These attempts to raise potential eligibility issues would later trigger an unprecedented public dispute between the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice, a coda to the ultimately failed appointment of Justice Marc Nadon.

SAFETY, SECURITY

Ottawa Citizen – Government orders federal departments to keep tabs on all demonstrations across country
The federal government is expanding its surveillance of public activities to include all known demonstrations across the country, a move that collects information even on the most mundane of protests by Canadians.
Wesley Wark, an intelligence specialist at the University of Ottawa, said such an order is illegal. “The very nature of the blanket request and its unlimited scope I think puts it way over the line in terms of lawful activity,” said Wark. “I think it’s a clear breach of our Charter rights.”

CBC News – Cyberbullying bill surveillance powers alarm Ontario privacy watchdog
Ann Cavoukian, Ontario’s privacy watchdog, is sounding the alarm about “overreaching surveillance powers” contained in Bill C-13, the federal government’s legislation to combat cybercrime.
In a sharply worded letter sent to Conservative MP Mike Wallace, the chair of the Commons justice committee currently studying Bill C-13, Cavoukian warns the government against beefing up police powers under the guise of protecting children from cyberbullying and other online crimes.
“The time for dressing up overreaching surveillance powers in the sheep-like clothing of sanctimony about the serious harms caused by child pornography and cyberbullying is long past,” Cavoukian said in a letter dated May 16.

Globe and Mail – Privacy watchdogs troubled by controversial bill extending police powers
The new bills come amid a renewed debate over privacy in Canada, ranging from questions about oversight at the national spy agency, Ottawa’s own efforts to monitor Canadians’ social-media accounts and recent revelations that telecommunication companies are regularly being asked by government agencies to hand over private data.
Nonetheless, the new bills further expand snooping powers. In particular, C-13 was tabled as a cyberbullying law but also includes clauses beefing up the power of various government officials to monitor cellphones and other electronic data and track people, though in most cases a warrant is required. However, the bill also allows law-enforcement officials to seek private information from, for instance, telephone companies – who critics say could, under the bill, voluntarily hand over certain subscriber information to police, border guards or other officials with full legal impunity.

The Star – Ministry confirms it doesn’t audit overseas garment factories
In the year since the Rana Plaza disaster, the clothing sector has come under scrutiny for its lack of oversight and transparency. Some Canadian companies and levels of government have taken steps to improve their accountability.
Loblaw, the maker of Joe Fresh clothing, has joined the Accord on Building and Fire Safety in Bangladesh, a legally binding agreement that will see more than 100 retailers pay for factory safety upgrades.
But the federal government remains an exception, activists said.
“Having no audits is a formula for disaster,” said Scott Nova, an official with the Workers Rights Consortium, a group that monitors garment factories. “You have a law with no enforcement that companies have every incentive to ignore because by ignoring standards they make more money.”

FIRST NATIONS

WC Native News – First Nations chiefs have voted and rejected Bill C-33
First Nations chiefs have voted to reject Bill C-33, which proposes to create the First Nations control of First Nations education act, and demand the government withdraw it immediately.
Their resolution calls on Canada, “based on the honour of the Crown to negotiate an agreement on new fiscal transfer payments to First Nations.”
The chiefs demand that Canada immediately provide the $1.9 billion that was offered in conjunction with Bill C-33, with the core funding growing at an annual rate of 4.5 per cent.

Global News – Harper’s actions unconscionable and immoral: Former PM
Former Prime Minister Paul Martin says the government’s decision to put the First Nations education bill on hold is “morally wrong” and “unconscionable.”
In an interview airing Sunday on The West Block with Tom Clark, Martin said the decision to shelve Bill C-33 and the money that goes with it, shows the government is playing a “very tough game…really an unfair game with the First Nations.”

ENVIRONMENT, OIL

ipolitics – Ottawa demands NAFTA body drop investigation into oilsands tailings
CALGARY – Ottawa wants the Commission for Environmental Co-operation to drop its investigation into whether laws are being properly enforced when it comes to oilsands pollution.
The CEC asked the federal government in December to respond to allegations that it has failed to enforce provisions in the Fisheries Act by allowing harmful substances to leak from tailings ponds into water sources downstream of mines in northeastern Alberta.

rabble.ca – New revelations show Harper’s warm embrace of Big Oil lobby
Now, Wright figures prominently in another PMO saga that highlights something arguably much more serious — the political influence of a multi-billion-dollar lobby whose business development plans imperil nothing less than the fate of the earth.
Yet this latest Nigel Wright saga has been largely ignored by the media — perhaps because it’s not considered news that a lobbyist for Big Oil had stunningly easy access to the PM’s top adviser.
After all, did anybody think that such a lobbyist would not have that sort of access in Stephen Harper’s PMO?
Under Harper, the Prime Minister’s Office has dedicated itself to transforming Canada into an unabashed petro-state, making the country one of a handful of nations leading the world rapidly down a path to climate-change mayhem.

ECONOMY, EMPLOYMENT

CBC News – 39% of unemployed have given up job search, poll suggests
The results of this survey should serve as a wake-up call to policymakers that some unemployed Canadians are falling behind,” Express CEO Bob Funk said. “If left unchecked, they could fall into a trap of prolonged unemployment and risk being left out of the workforce entirely.”
With numbers like that, it’s not hard to detect the bleakness emanating from employment centres across the country.
“I’m not even going to look for a job anymore, because I’ve been searching for six months and nothing is happening,” says Shirlon Marshall, an unemployed short order cook looking for a job at a Toronto-area job centre.

Globe and Mail – Ottawa approved thousands of foreign worker requests at minimum wage, data reveal
The federal government approved thousands of requests to bring in temporary foreign workers at minimum wage in recent years, a practice that undermines claims from government and employers that there are serious labour shortages and that all efforts have been taken to hire Canadians.
The revelations in newly released data come as the Conservative government is weighing major policy reforms – including a new “wage floor” – in response to criticism that employers are relying on the temporary foreign worker program as a way to avoid raising wages.

STILL CHEATING

The Hill Times – Cabinet ministers on P&P get $1.3-million more to spend on ministerial staff annually: report
“Unlike permanent public servants, political staffers are ‘exempt’ from expectations of non-partisanship in their work. In fact, they are selected and appointed, at least in part, based on partisan affiliation and serve at the pleasure of the minister or Prime Minister,” writes Ms. Robson in her paper.

INTERNATIONAL SHAME

Huffington Post – Harper Government Ignores Advice About Ukraine Election Observer Mission
OTTAWA – For the third time in four years, the Harper government has sent a large, Canada-only mission to observe an election in Ukraine, despite a report that concluded it would be cheaper, more credible and more effective to join a multilateral international mission.
Some 338 observers are part of Canada’s current independent mission in Ukraine; they are fanned out across the troubled country to assess the integrity of Sunday’s presidential election process.

CBC News – Maternal health summit excludes opposition parties, NDP says
“I asked specifically to be invited. I’m the Official Opposition critic on international development,” said Hélène Laverdière on CBC Radio’s The House.
“I mean, this is a governmental event. I would presume many members of the Conservative caucus will find themselves there. So, are they turning it into a kind of partisan event where only Conservative MPs are entitled to attend?”
Laverdière said she finds it “worrying, to say the least.”

FANTINO – CANADA’S SHAME

National Post – ‘We’re nothing to you’: Julian Fantino heads for back door, ignores veteran’s spouse demanding answers over PTSD treatment
OTTAWA — Veterans Affairs is spending an additional $4 million on advertising this year — including television spots throughout the NHL playoffs — but ignoring the plight of families who care for injured soldiers, says the spouse of a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder.
An angry Jenifer Migneault chased after Julian Fantino and demanded to speak to the veterans affairs minister following his appearance Thursday at a House of Commons committee.
The spectacle played out before a crush of reporters, television cameras and microphones in a scene reminiscent of Fantino’s testy encounter last winter with veterans angry about the closure of federal offices.

ipolitics – ‘Mr. Fantino … can I talk to you, please?’
Why does Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino hate veterans?
Maybe “hate” is too strong a word. Let’s just say that he has a peculiar way of showing his affection and admiration for veterans. In fact, Fantino has been disdainful and curt with the very Canadians whose interests he is supposed to serve and protect.

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Harper Watch, May 11 to May 21, 2014


*** Check out the latest additions to Harper Chips at Hchips.ca! Sign up to become a Printer Person and get monthly installments of printable, business card sized Harper Chips to hand out to friends, family – even conservatives you may still be associating with! Raise awareness about how Harper is destroying Canada – you might even change a few Conservative minds in time for the next election. ***

COMMENTARY

iPolitics – (Michael Harris) Canadians realize if veterans can get crushed, no one is safe
The final victims of Stephen Harper will turn out to be the members of his own government. The Conservatives are now the 3-D party: delusional, disconnected and doomed. If you want the quintessential Stephen Harper, look no further than last week’s National Day of Honour. Everyone knew it was the Governor General’s job to accept the last Canadian flag that flew in Afghanistan, but hey, why give up the money shot to a mere functionary? So the PM snagged the flag — and then handed it off to the hapless David Johnston, former Commander-in-Chief of Canada.   Cute, Steve — but everybody gets it. The whole thing was for you, not the veterans.

Canada.com (Stephen Maher) – Election call centre script raises questions about honesty of Conservatives
(Great to see that Stephen Maher who broke the robocalls story back in 2012 is not letting up on his investigative reporting even if the  Yves Coté, the Commissioner of Elections halted the investigation last month due to “lack of evidence”.)
The lawyer for the Conservative party twice gave Elections Canada incorrect information about telephone calls that directed voters to the wrong polling station in the last days of the 2011 federal election. In an email May 1, party lawyer Arthur Hamilton told Elections Canada that Conservative call centre workers were not advising voters that Elections Canada had changed the location of polling stations, and that the party had not advised voters to go to a polling station an hour and a half from their home. But a report released by Elections Canada last month includes a script that shows the party’s callers were telling voters that Elections Canada had changed the location of polling stations, and investigators found one voter who was directed to a polling station 740 kilometres away.

Toronto Star (Editorial) Peter MacKay should heed evidence, not eliminate it
A Canadian Press report last week revealed that in April, $1.2 million was removed from the department’s research budget – 20 per cent of the total. As a result, eight researchers have lost their jobs. The dual purpose of the cut, in the convoluted, vaguely ominous words of Justice Minister Peter MacKay: “To ensure that we bring value to hard-earned taxpayers’ dollars” and that “research is … undertaken to obtain information to support priorities of government.” But if the government wants to reduce the justice budget it ought to heed the evidence, not eliminate it. Since the Conservatives took power in 2006, justice spending has risen by more than 30 per cent, even as the crime rate has continued its steady, two-decade-long, largely demographics-driven decline.

The Star – Stephen Harper must withdraw accusations against chief justice: Editorial
Prime Minister Stephen Harper seems to be edging back from his reckless and indefensible attack on the chief justice of Canada’s Supreme Court, Beverley McLachlin. As the Star’s Tonda McCharles reported this past week, he now says he simply didn’t need to speak to McLachlin about a court appointment, rather than rejecting such a conversation as “inappropriate” and “inadvisable.”
What Harper has not yet done – and what he must do without delay – is definitively clear the air of any suggestion that McLachlin acted wrongly by offering her input to the government on issues that might arise in a potential appointment.
As things stand now, the prime minister has called into question the integrity of the chief justice – and then left the allegations hanging in the air for more than two weeks. He has neither defended his suggestions that McLachlin attempted to involve him in improper discussions about court appointments, nor has he clearly withdrawn them.

CCPA – Harper’s Attack on Democracy, Itemized by Lawrence Martin
Lawrence Martin, columnist with the Globe and Mail, has written the best review, so far, of Stephen Harper’s one-man show  The Attack On Democracy.
It’s a must-read on the record thus far, particularly by colleagues, friends and family members who might not much like Harper, but like the other options far less.
One can only imagine where he might it next with sufficient popular support.
Originally appearing on the pages of ipolitics,it appears below in full
Read it and vote. After all, we get the democracy we deserve.

 ENVIRONMENT

iPolitics – Ottawa demands NAFTA body drop investigation into oilsands tailings
(Note that the CEC is a tri-national organization created in connection with NAFTA to address regional environmental concerns.)
Ottawa wants the Commission for Environmental Co-operation to drop its investigation into whether laws are being properly enforced when it comes to oilsands pollution. The CEC asked the federal government in December to respond to allegations that it has failed to enforce provisions in the Fisheries Act by allowing harmful substances to leak from tailings ponds into water sources downstream of mines in northeastern Alberta. But the federal government said in January that process should proceed “no further” because a legal case dealing with the same issue was already underway in provincial court. In April, the CEC said it disagreed with Ottawa’s stance and would press on with its analysis.

The Tyee – IMF Pegs Canada’s Fossil Fuel Subsidies at $34 Billion
While Canada slashes budgets for research, education and public broadcasting, there is one part of our economy that enjoys remarkable support from the Canadian taxpayer: the energy sector. The International Monetary Fund estimates that energy subsidies in Canada top an incredible $34 billion each year in direct support to producers and uncollected tax on externalized costs. These figures are found in the appendix of a major report released last year estimating global energy subsidies at almost $2 trillion. The report estimated that eliminating the subsidies would reduce global carbon emissions by 13 per cent. The stunning statistics specific to this country remain almost completely unreported in Canadian media. In comparison to other countries, Canada provides more subsidies to petroleum as a proportion of government revenue than any developed nation on Earth besides the United States and Luxembourg.

DIRTY POLITICS

Chronicle Herald – Canada tangles up fisheries talks to score foreign-policy point
But then things start to go wrong. Just as a draft of these guidelines was about to go back to the FAO fisheries committee this coming June, something unexpected and quite shocking happened: one country out of almost 90 member nation states — Canada — torpedoed the whole process at the very last minute. Even more unbelievably, Canada blocked the guidelines, not on the grounds of some fisheries policy position, but because of a completely unrelated political issue. Here’s what happened: A paragraph was inserted into the draft that indicated the protection of the rights of small-scale fisher people includes those in “occupied territories” around the world.

Toronto Star – How the myth of a Canadian skill shortage was shattered(Renounced economist, auditor general, TD Bank, Conference Board of Canada say that the Harper government’s claim of skill shortages that they use to justify the Temporary Foreign Workers Program in BUNK.)
It took nine months of detective work by economists, journalists, social media sleuths and investigators at the Parliamentary Budget Office to solve the mystery of Canada’s missing job vacancies. Last week Auditor General Mike Ferguson made it official: The federal government was using unreliable statistics to support its claim that Canada had plenty of jobs but no workers with the skills to fill them. The first clue that something was wrong came last August. Speaking at a policy conference in Kingston, economist Don Drummond said he had combed Canada’s labour market statistics looking for indications of a serious shortage of skilled workers – which Prime Minister Stephen Harper had called “the biggest challenge our country faces” – and failed to find any credible evidence if a misalignment between the skills of Canadians and the needs of employers.

Toronto Star – Legal community demands Stephen Harper withdraw criticism of Beverley McLachlin
An outraged Canadian legal community is marshalling criticism of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, writing an open letter to him and seeking outside international help to reaffirm the independence of Canada’s top jurist. More than 650 lawyers and law teachers from across Canada released an open letter Tuesday calling on Harper to withdraw his criticism of Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin. In apparent expectation that the government will not back down, a second letter from seven top Canadian legal academics asks the International Commission of Jurists in Geneva to investigate what they call the Conservative government’s “unfounded criticisms levelled at the Chief Justice.”

Toronto Star – Stephen Harper changes version of events around phone call by Beverley McLachlin
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has revised his version of events around what he and his office first characterized as an “inappropriate” and “inadvisable” phone call by the country’s top judge over a vacancy on the Supreme Court. Now Harper suggests he foresaw a court challenge and legal issue he previously said “surprised” him and his advisers because it had “never arisen” before. Earlier, Harper had characterized a call by Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin as inappropriate, just as any minister’s call to a judge would be on a case that was before the courts. “The fact of the matter is this,” Harper told the Commons Wednesday. “A matter came before me that I thought was likely to come before the court — the Supreme Court of Canada — based on information that I had. For that reason we completed our consultations with outside legal experts and later referred the matter to the Supreme Court.”

VETERANS KICKED AGAIN BY HARPER

National Post – Canadian Forces major sues government over money lost on home when forced to sell
A 24-year veteran of the Canadian military is taking the federal government to court Tuesday to recover thousands of dollars he lost on his home when he was posted to another base and got little compensation through a program that he says has caused financial hardship for dozens of members. “Clearly, there are a number of converging bureaucratic issues that are creating unfair hardship for some CF members simply because they are doing their duty,” Daigle wrote. Records released last year show that between 2007 and 2010, 146 applications involving tens of thousands of dollars each were rejected by the Treasury Board, despite having the support of National Defence.

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Harper Watch, May 4 to 10, 2014


Same old, same old again this week: secrecy, depressing wages, creating jobs for foreign workers, bullying and botched appointments.

Toronto Star (Susan Delacourt) – Stephen Harper: No longer taking advice

When Harper lashed out at the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court last week,critics asked whether he could go much higher in his disdain for dissent. As a matter of fact, he already has. In late 2008, when Harper needed the Governor-General’s approval to fend off the defeat of his minority government, Conservatives talked of “going over the head” of the Queen’srepresentative in Canada.

From all authoritative accounts of that “crisis,” the governor-general at the time, Michaelle Jean, agreed to give Harper an extension of his power mainly because it was clear a public relations attack was planned in retaliation if the wrong advice was given.

So from the highest constitutional offices in the land to ordinary publicservants, there’s a chill on giving this prime minister advice or questioning his authority.

HuffPost (Liberal MP Sean Casey) – The Myth of Harper’s Economic Competence
(Balancing the budget but raising the national debt.)

• Fact: Between 1996-97 and 2005-06, the Liberal government paid $81.4-billion against the national debt.

• Fact: The federal debt in the fiscal year 1996-97 was $562.9-billion. By the time the Liberals left office in 2006, it was reduced to $481.5-billion • In contrast, by the year 2014-15, the Conservatives will have added $176,400,000,000 to the national debt.

Let me say that again, Stephen Harper has added and will add $176,400,000,000 to our debt.

• Fact: The Conservative federal debt in 2008-09 = $457.6-billion.

• Fact: The expected Conservative debt in 2014-15 = $634.0-billion (forecasted).

• Fact: 24% of the total accumulated debt since Confederation was amassed under Stephen Harper, this just since 2008.

This is the real and true economic and fiscal record of the Harper era.

Toronto Star – Harper government keeps details on public pensions secret from Auditor General

The federal government is withholding information from the Auditor General on the long-term health of public pension plans and tax policy changes, citing cabinet and budgetary secrets.

Auditor General Michael Ferguson’s office requested the government conduct an analysis of the long-term sustainability of public pension plans — plans that could prove a “significant risk” to Ottawa’s finances. Treasury Board bureaucrats responded they already do that work, they just refuse to make it public.

“Due to cabinet and budget confidentiality, the (Treasury Board) could not share much of its analysis with the Auditor General,” officials wrote in response to the audit.

Toronto Star (Justin Trudeau) – How to fix the broken temporary foreign worker program

Since taking office, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party have transformed the Temporary Foreign Worker Program — which was originally designed to bring in temporary workers on a limited basis when no Canadian could be found — into one that has brought in a large pool of vulnerable workers.

As a result, the number of short-term foreign workers in Canada has more than doubled, from 141,000 in 2005 to 338,000 in 2012. There were nearly as many temporary foreign workers admitted into the country in 2012 as there were permanent residents — 213,573 of the former compared to 257,887.     At this rate, by 2015, temporary worker entries will outnumber permanent resident entries.

iPolitics (Michael Harris)  – L’etat, c’est Steve

As Prime Minister Stephen Harper attacks the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in broad daylight, there is a question Canadians need to answer fairly soon.   What’s it going to be: a modern democracy or a Steve’s banana republic of the north?

The train wreck of the Harper government continues to roll down the mountainside, crushing body after body, yet no one utters the right word. Allow me. Canada is a dictatorship in the making.

CBC – Feds swipe at Kathleen Wynne as Ontario campaign kicks off

Just hours into the Ontario election, senior federal Conservatives leaped into the fight, delivering unvarnished scorn for some of Ontario Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne’s signature policies.

In an interview on CBC Radio’s The House, Finance Minister Joe Oliver broke with the convention of keeping out of provincial elections and delivered a nasty assessment of the newly released Liberal budget.

“This is the route to economic decline, not the route to economic growth or job creation,” Oliver said. He went on to challenge the Ontario Liberal promise to erase the deficit by 2017- 2018.

CBC – Nadon spat between Harper, chief justice McLachlin called ‘disturbing’

The association that represents lawyers in Canada is calling on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to acknowledge that the chief justice of the Supreme Court has done nothing wrong. Late Thursday, Harper’s office suggested McLachlin acted improperly last July when she advised his office that Marc Nadon, a Federal Court of Appeal judge, might not fit the legal criteria set for Quebec appointees to the Supreme Court.

McLachlin issued a statement saying all she wanted to ensure was that the government was aware of the eligibility issue, but didn’t express any opinion on the merits of the eligibility issue.

G&M – Chief Justice hits back at Prime Minister over claim of improper call 

An extraordinary showdown between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin has intensified, with the jurist denying wrongdoing, and disputing Mr. Harper’s recollection of the facts.

The court issued a statement a little after noon on Friday, defending itself against the top-level attack on its integrity: “At no time was there any communication between Chief Justice McLachlin and the government regarding any case before the courts.”

Huffington Post – We Are 465 Academics Against the Fair Elections Act 

An Open Letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Members of the House of Commons, and Senators of Canada:

Last month, more than 160 professors signed an open letter to express grave concerns about the damage to Canadian democracy that the “Fair Elections Act,” Bill C-23, would cause. Today, we the undersigned, an even larger group of professors who share a deep concern over this legislation, urge the government to withdraw the bill and draft truly fair election reforms based on meaningful consultations with opposition parties, non-partisan experts, Elections Canada and the public. There is no reason to depart from this laudable Canadian tradition for electoral reform.

Huffington Post – Tory Senator Don Meredith Touts Degrees From Unaccredited Schools

A Conservative senator earmarked as one of the Senate’s top spenders holds a master’s degree from a school whose phone number directs calls to a customer helpline for a website that sells iPads and printers.

Senator Don Meredith, a Toronto-area Pentecostal pastor, has a master’s degree in religious studies from California State Christian University (CSCU) – an unaccredited and unregulated private institution that has shifted addresses at least four times within the last 10 years….

Since Meredith’s appointment in 2010, he’s been named to and dropped from four standing Senate committees. He was most recently removed from the Senate standing committee on human rights after revelations surfaced in March that he attended the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C.

Meredith had actually been denied authorization for the trip, but he attempted to expense the total tab anyway. The senator reportedly had to cover some of the costs out of his own pocket.

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Harper Watch – April 24 to May 1, 2014


ELECTION FRAUD

iPolitics (Michael Harris) – Robocalls report clearest sign yet of our democracy’s decay
People need to be clear on what EC’s decision doesn’t mean since we live in an era of bullshit and blarney. It doesn’t mean that nothing happened here.

During the writ period, there were complaints from 11 ridings about calls from Conservative campaigns directing voters to the wrong polls. By May 6, 2011 there were 49 complaints from about 40 electoral districts across Canada. But returning officers were sometimes not able to provide names or numbers for people who complained. Robocalls was still a relatively new animal in 2011 – at least the devious kind.

FOREIGN WORKERS

Toronto Star (Tim Harper) – For Conservatives, cheap foreign labour trumps Canadian youth
….. Months after shutting down the jobs centres, Kenney, then the immigration minister, made a high-profile trip to Ireland that gave publicity to an obscure program known as International Experience Canada (IEC).

Once a diplomatic initiative and a type of job-swapping, it has now become a source of young foreign workers who are allowed entry to find jobs without any government oversight on the labour market need. Employers are under no obligation to pay the prevailing market wage….

Less than a decade ago, 21,656 Canadian youth travelled abroad while 30,467 foreign youth worked here. Today, fewer than 18,000 Canadians are working abroad, but there are more than 58,000 foreign workers here.

Cape Breton Liberal MP Rodger Cuzner told the Commons this week that, under the program, there were 753 Polish workers in this country and four Canadians in Poland. There are more than 300 Croatian workers here, but there are two Canadians working in Croatia.

WORKING FOR CORPORATIONS NOT FOR YOU

G&M – Government, energy industry defend fracking rules

The Harper government signalled Thursday that it has no intention to take over regulation of hydraulic fracturing from the provinces, despite a new report that concludes that current regulations may not be adequate to ensure public safety.

Responding to a report from the Canadian Council of Academies on the impact of shale gas development, Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq said the practice known as fracking is safe, and the provinces are effectively regulating it.

The report released Thursday concluded that there isn’t enough known about the environmental and health impacts of fracking to declare it safe, and that key elements of the provinces’ regulatory systems “are not based on strong science and remain untested.” The council is an independent, non-profit group that does scientific assessments in key policy areas; its shale gas report was requested by the federal government nearly three years ago.

National Farmers Union – Protect the Right to Save Seed – Stop Bill C-18
On December 9, 2013 Bill C-18, the “Agricultural Growth Act” was introduced in Parliament. This agriculture omnibus bill amends several federal agricultural laws including the Plant Breeders’Rights Act, the Seeds Act, the Health of Animals Act, the Feeds Act and the Agricultural Marketing Programs Act. Bill C-18 would give multinational companies greater power and control over Canada’s seed industry.

“Those who control seed control food, and as a sovereign nation we must ensure that control of seed and food is protected in the public interest”, said Terry Boehm, Chair of the NFU’s Seed and Trade Committee.

IGNORANCE OR WILLFUL IGNORANCE OF THE CONSTITUTION

iPolitics – Senate baloney: Would Trudeau’s non-partisan plan mean opening the Constitution?
When the Supreme Court’s ruling on Senate reform last week slammed the door on Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s hopes of dodging a constitutional quagmire, his rivals were left to argue about alternatives. NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, a champion of abolishing the Senate, said he would forge ahead undaunted. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, meanwhile, defended his plan to create an advisory panel to recommend non-partisan Senate nominees as the only realistic route to reform while avoiding the Constitution……

Mulcair’s claim that it’s “eminently clear” Trudeau’s proposed advisory panel would require a 7/50 amendment is, according to experts, not at all clear and probably wrong. For this reason, there’s “a lot of baloney” in the claim.

iPolitics – How the Supreme Court explained the obvious to Mr. Harper
(The author of this article is Errol Mendes, a professor of constitutional and international law at the University of Ottawa and is the founding editor-in-chief of the National Journal of Constitutional Law, now in its 24th year.)

This is a landmark decision and, along with the Supreme Court’s take on the Nadon appointment, it shows the court nailing down the fundamental constitutional limits of the Canadian parliamentary and federal order for a government that seems to be looking for ways around the rules to achieve its political ends.

The decision also has implications for the NDP. The court found that abolition would require unanimous provincial consent; that means that the NDP’s proposal to kill the Senate is practically impossible under the law. A national referendum on abolition would not carry any constitutional weight, although it might have some political impact.

Perhaps only real option left for Senate reform is the one proposed by Justin Trudeau, which focuses on how to advise the Governor General in future on the appointment of independent senators who would restore the institution’s credibility — and Canadians’ trust.

ATTACK OF THE WEEK – ON SUPREME COURT  CHIEF JUSTICE!!!

National Post (John Ivison) – Tories incensed with Supreme Court as some allege Chief Justice lobbied against Marc Nadon appointment

Frustrations inside the Harper government at the recent string of losses at the Supreme Court are in danger of boiling over.

One minister said he had been advised not to get into a public “firefight,” but senior Conservatives are privately incensed and feel the court has blocked Parliament’s ability to make laws.

Rumours about Beverley McLachlin, the Chief Justice, are being shared with journalists, alleging she lobbied against the appointment of Marc Nadon to the court (an appointment later overturned as unconstitutional). It is also being suggested she has told people the Harper government has caused more damage to the court as an institution than any government in Canadian history.  

ECONOMY

Star Pheonix – Oliver to take cautious approach
(Note, the absence of talk about paying down the debt which has been on the rise since the Conservatives came to office.)

Finance Minister Joe Oliver says the federal government could have more than $ 9 billion in surplus to play with next year, but Canadians shouldn’t expect any massive new spending programs.

“We don’t intend to launch a massive, reckless spending program because we’ve spent too much time and devoted too much work in reducing the deficit and eliminating it to throw it all away,” he told reporters at a media event.  “Deficit spending over the longer term is a path to economic decline.”

Oliver said he still plans to cut taxes once the deficit is eliminated in the 2015-16 budget, which will likely come next winter, but Wednesday’s statement also suggests he will be cautious about how deep the cuts will be – at least initially – so as to not jeopardize the surplus.

POLICY BASED ON IDEOLOGY – NO CONSULTATION, NO PLAN

Ralph Goodale, Liberal MP, Wascana, Sask  – Conservatives continue to bungle grain transportation

In another demonstration today of Conservative incompetence in the painful crisis in western grain handling and transportation, the Speaker of the House of Commons has had to rule the most important part of the Harper government’s so-called “emergency” grain legislation (Bill C-30) procedurally incorrect and out-of-order….

To try to give Bill C-30 some useful heft, Liberals proposed amendments to provide greater certainty about farmers’ grain delivery rights; more transparency in how grain companies calculate the deductions they make from farmers’ grain cheques; safeguards for producer-car shippers and short-line rail operators; a definition of railway service obligations; and reciprocal penalties to be applied when obligations are not fulfilled. The Conservatives voted against each and every one of those suggestions.

But at the last minute – knowing they were looking pretty weak and culpable – the government concocted an amendment of their own to Bill C-30 to create the illusion that they were actually doing something. They proposed to give federal transportation regulators the power to order the railways to pay compensation to shippers for service obligation failures.

That might be a good idea, but it was badly designed and obviously a political after-thought introduced in desperation at the last minute in a manner that was against the rules. So the Speaker had to throw it out. And without that amendment, Bill C-30 remains toothless and ineffectual.

 

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