Harper Watch – May 17 to June 12, 2015


COMMENTARY

Toronto Star – Conservatives choose retaliation over redress when it comes to aboriginals: Tim Harper

It is the default position of the Stephen Harper government.  If you encounter dissent, you demonize. If you are crossed, you take the low road and fight back. Seek enemies. They keep supporters energized and help you raise money.

Now it’s been caught and has retreated to another well-known default position — ignore.

National Observer – Is Harper the worst prime minister in history?

Five weeks after Stephen Harper won his majority government in 2011, Maclean’s magazine ran a story asking experts to name Canada’s best prime ministers. Harper ranked 11th on the list.

Stephen Azzi, a Carleton University historian who co-authored the Maclean’s piece, says he doubts very much Harper would have budged on the list if their survey were conducted today. “All of the prime ministers we consider successful have some major accomplishment they can point to – Harper doesn’t have that,” he explains. “His accomplishment first of all is winning power and staying in power and then there are a series of minor things that his supporters like. But it will be hard for future generations to remember him for these things.”

National Observer – Is Harper the worst prime minister in history? PART TWO
“Brian Mulroney was an appalling prime minister, appalling. But if I had to pick one prime minister over the other [between Harper and Mulroney], I would pick Mulroney.”
Stevie Cameron, author of On the Take, the 1994 bestseller about corruption during the Mulroney years.

Winnipeg Free Press – Harper doesn’t let law get in the way

It’s unconstitutional in Canada to charge someone with a crime if the offence was not illegal at the time it was committed, technically called an ex post facto law. Unfortunately, the framers of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms never anticipated the Harper government, which has found a loophole on that principle.

Under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, actions that were illegal can now be made legal when the law is politically inconvenient.

National Observer – Opposition MPs blast “crazy” omnibus budget bill C-59

Finance critics and MPs from both the NDP and Liberal parties blasted the federal government’s 2015 budget, taking aim at everything from long-gun registry record destruction to employment statistics.

Liberal finance critic Scott Brison had harsh words about the government’s elimination of the long-gun registry, which formed part of the Harper government’s latest ‘omnibus’ Bill C-59, ‘An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on April 21, 2015 and other measures’.

“The most egregious thing the Conservatives do in this bill is retroactively changing the law to make something that was illegal at the time legal,” Brison said. “But the Conservatives won’t speak out against this because they’re all whipped — they don’t have the will to defend the rule of law in this case.”

Huffington Post – Tories Have Shut Down Debate 100 Times This Parliament: Opposition

When it comes to the controversial practice of curtailing parliamentary debate, opposition parties say Conservatives have hit the century mark.

On Wednesday, 141 Tory MPs voted to pass a time allocation motion on Bill C-59, a 167-page, omnibus budget implementation bill that also contains unprecedented amendments to retroactively rewrite access to information laws.

Time allocation allows the government to limit the length of debate on a bill so that it can be passed at a quicker pace. Opponents of the practice deride it as anti-democratic.

HARPER TAKES FROM YOU AND GIVES TO HIS FRIENDS

CTV News – Municipal study warns of looming housing problem

The country has a looming housing problem that is going to require action from all levels of government, according to a new report from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.  The study says the long, steady decline in federal subsidies for social housing has left provinces, territories and municipalities struggling against market forces that are making it increasingly difficult for low- and modest-income renters.

“With 850,000 lower-rent units lost in the last decade, our rental sector is ill prepared for any downturn in the housing market,” Brad Woodside, the president of the FCM, says in the introduction to the study. “One in five renters pays more than 50 per cent of their income on housing.”

CBC News – Lavish Canada House reopening in London cost taxpayers more than $200K

As the Harper government was tightening its belt to wipe out the federal deficit, officials at Canada House in London, England, spared no expense on a splashy re-opening fit for a queen.

Internal invoices for the Feb. 19 posh event on Trafalgar Square show taxpayers were billed more than $200,000 for a few hours of wine-sipping, beef-eating and plaque-unveiling, as well as a set of complimentary keys for Queen Elizabeth II, the guest of honour, and Prince Philip.

SCIENCE AND ENVIRONMENT

Speaking Up For Science – Part of National Rock Collection To be Dumped – Is This A Concern? Probably.

The excellent folks at Blacklocks Reporter are reporting that the geological Survey of Canada is throwing away part of its mineral and soil collection. “The Canadian Geological Survey said it will dump tons of minerals and soil samples carefully collected for scientific research”

Now, I am not a geologist so I contacted one who used to work for the GSC and asked “is this a concern?” His answer?   “Yes”

CBC News – Steve Campana, Canadian biologist, ‘disgusted’ with government muzzling

A recently retired Fisheries and Oceans Canada biologist says the muzzling of federal government scientists is worse than anyone can imagine. Steve Campana, known for his expertise on everything from great white sharks to porbeagles and Arctic trout, says the atmosphere working for the federal government is toxic.

The Halifax-based scientist, who only agreed to talk to CBC after he retired from the department, says federal scientists have been working in a climate of fear.  “I am concerned about the bigger policy issues that are essentially leading to a death spiral for government science,” he said in an exclusive interview.

“I see that is going to be a huge problem in the coming years. We are at the point where the vast majority of our senior scientists are in the process of leaving now disgusted as I am with the way things have gone, and I don’t think there is any way for it to be recovered.”

The Globe and Mail – An unambitious emissions target we won’t even hit

The Harper government now says Canada will reduce its carbon emissions by 30 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030, likely one of the least – if not the least – ambitious target of any advanced industrial country. Of supreme importance, nothing in the announcement referred to bitumen oil, which was the fastest-growing source of GHGs in Canada before the oil price collapse. For years, the Harper government promised regulations on bitumen oil, only to produce nothing. That nothing will now continue

The Globe and Mail – Canadian efforts on marine protection areas woefully inadequate: report

A new report on marine conservation efforts says Canada is severely lacking in the quantity and quality of its protection for ocean ecosystems.

In a report released Monday, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society points to flaws in Canada’s marine protected areas — zones intended to conserve aquatic species and habitats under various provincial and federal legislation.

CPAWS says only 0.11 per cent of Canada’s ocean territory is fully closed to what it calls extractive activities such as fishing and oil and gas development. The report says that in the United States and the United Kingdom the area is closer to 10 per cent.

LAW? WHAT LAW?

CBC News – Medical marijuana legal in all forms, Supreme Court rules

Medical marijuana patients will now be able to consume marijuana — and not just smoke it — as well as use other extracts and derivatives, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled today.  The unanimous ruling against the federal government expands the definition of medical marijuana beyond the “dried” form.

CTV News – Ambrose ‘outraged’ by SCC’s marijuana ruling

Health Minister Rona Ambrose says she is “outraged” by the Supreme Court of Canada decision that expands the definition of medical marijuana beyond dried leaves, to include cannabis oils, teas, brownies and other forms of the drug.

In a unanimous decision Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that users should not be restricted to only using the dried form of the drug. They said the current rules prevent people with a legitimate need for medical marijuana from choosing a method of ingestion that avoids the potential harms of smoking it.

National Post – Government loses bid to dismiss court case over prime minister’s refusal to fill Senate vacancies

The federal government has lost a bid to thwart a court challenge aimed at compelling Prime Minister Stephen Harper to fill Senate vacancies. Federal Court Justice Sean Harrington rejected Thursday the government’s motion to have the case dismissed.

The case was launched by Vancouver lawyer Aniz Alani, who maintains the unfilled vacancies are unconstitutional, leaving provinces under-represented and the Senate less able to carry out its constitutional role as the chamber of sober second thought. He is asking the court to declare that Senate vacancies must be filled within a reasonable time.

Harper has not appointed a senator since March 2013 — when the scandal over improper expenses claimed by some senators began to engulf his government.

BILL C-51 

ThinkPol – Bill C-51 violates Universal Declaration of Human Rights, OSCE finds

The Harper government’s controversial anti-terrorism bill violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Canada has ratified, according to legal analysis by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the world’s largest security-oriented intergovernmental organization.

The Vienna-based group, which Canada joined in 1973, found that Section 16 of Bill C-51, which contain amendments to the Criminal Code outlawing “advocating or promoting the commission of terrorism,” places a number of direct restrictions on freedom of expression.

HARPER’S FRIENDS AND ENEMIES

Globe and Mail – Ottawa aims to keep lid on details of Saudi arms deal

The Canadian government is refusing to make public the assessments it conducts to determine whether Ottawa’s $15-billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia is compatible with foreign policy or poses a risk to the civilian population in a country notorious for human-rights abuses.

APTN – Aboriginal Affairs “retaliated” against First Nations child advocate over human rights complaint: Tribunal

The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal awarded a First Nations child advocate $20,000 after determining an official in the office of the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs “retaliated” against her over a human rights complaint against the department.  The tribunal released its decision in the case of Cindy Blackstock on Friday.

Blackstock is the president of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society which, along with the Assembly of First Nations, launched a human rights complaint in 2007 alleging the federal Aboriginal Affairs department discriminates against First Nations children on the basis of race and national ethnic origin by underfunding child-welfare services on reserves.

Toronto Star – Stephen Harper defangs another watchdog

In days of yore, kings and queens festooned the castle gates with the severed heads of miscreants who had been executed as a lesson to others who would dare question their authority.

Metaphorically speaking, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has put his own, contemporary stamp on the medieval practice by only reappointing prison ombudsman Howard Sapers to a one-year term. By cutting short what ought to have been a long career, Harper has sent a resounding message to anyone interested in Sapers’ job: Clear-eyed, courageous prison reformers need not apply.

Calgary Herald – Nenshi slams MP Crockatt over infrastructure comments

Crockatt, the MP for Calgary Centre, issued a news release Friday urging the new NDP government and Nenshi to access federal infrastructure dollars for the city and province that “are sitting unused.”

She said that while other provinces “have shovels in the ground” for projects funded from Ottawa’s Building Canada fund, Alberta has not given a list of priorities to the federal government.

But Nenshi, who is in Edmonton for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities annual conference, said he asked a room of big-city mayors whether their municipalities had received any funding from the program and none had but Edmonton.

 

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Harper Watch – May 1 to 18, 2015


COMMENTARY

National Post (Andrew Coyne) – A telling 24 hours in Stephen Harper’s world
(A damning piece by a columnist who is not known to be anti-Harper.)

If one were to draw up an indictment of this government’s approach to politics and the public purpose, one might mention its wholesale contempt for Parliament, its disdain for the Charter of Rights and the courts’ role in upholding it, its penchant for secrecy, its chronic deceitfulness, its deepening ethical problems, its insistence on taking, at all times, the lowest, crudest path to its ends, its relentless politicization of everything.

But you’d think you would need to look back over its record over several years to find examples. You wouldn’t think to see them all spread before you in the course of a single day.

Toronto Star – NDP win in Alberta spells trouble for Harper Tories: Editorial

Rachel Notley touched a raw nerve when she made her rousing victory speech after burning down Alberta’s Conservative house in Tuesday’s stunning election.

Party activists erupted in cheers as the New Democrat premier-designate declared that “change has finally come to Alberta” after four decades of monolithic Tory rule, along with “new people, new ideas and a fresh start.” But those cheers abruptly turned to jeers when she went on to say she is “looking forward” to working with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government.

Many of her diehard supporters clearly are not, and their booing momentarily drowned her out. That spoke volumes about the combative mood in her party’s ranks as it celebrated a win for the history books.

iPolitics (Andrew Mitrovica) – What the hell was Harper doing in Iraq anyway?
…..Why did Stephen Harper go to Iraq? I’m not talking about the real reason — I’m talking about the rationale.  Was it to gather first-hand impressions of the suffering of Iraqis at the hands of Islamic State? Unlikely: Harper has no military training and wouldn’t know what he was looking at. Was it to bolster morale? Please.

Harper went there to get pictures and video of himself standing near the ‘front’ (to the degree it exists) and looking resolute. He went there to dispel the lingering odour from the Hill attack. He went there to use serving troops and military hardware as a convenient backdrop for his John Wayne act.  He did what every chickenhawk politician does to boost his political fortunes – he made a beeline for men and women in uniform with guns and made sure the folks back home saw him in khaki giving the troops a pep talk in front of a big Canadian flag……

Harper’s costly vanity visit was an irresponsible thing for any government leader to do.  Harper never should have gone to Iraq. There’s a war going on and Canada is part of it. The prime minister is a high-value target. His presence in Iraq ramped up the threat to everyone around him — including the military, security and civilian staff he brought along with him so he could deliver a cliché-riddled speech while posing in front of a couple of CF-18s.

Globe and Mail – Editorial: Another budget, another contemptuous Tory omnibus bill

The Harper government tabled yet another monster omnibus budget bill last week. Not do be outdone, here is yet another editorial decrying these overstuffed bills and their contemptuous disregard for Parliament.

Omnibus budget bills should not be one of those bad habits that, through force of repetition, become tolerated, like looking at your cellphone while driving. They are an outrage. They usurp Parliament’s most important role, that of oversight, by lumping a variety of legislative matters into a single bill. 

Toronto Star (Editorial) – The high price of speaking out in Ottawa

Forthright government watchdogs have a way of disappearing in Ottawa.

They are quietly replaced. Their mandates are terminated or not renewed. They are suddenly found to be unqualified.  Seven government watchdogs and three senior bureaucrats have been stifled or impugned since the Conservatives took office. 

Gracious, respectful Omar Khadr confounds Harper government stereotype

By simply seeming reasonable, Omar Khadr has confounded Stephen Harper.The former Guantanamo Bay inmate could have reacted bitterly Thursday when, after almost 13 years in detention, he was finally allowed out on bail.  He could have echoed his lawyer, Dennis Edney, and called the prime minister an anti-Muslim bigot.

DANGEROUS PRECEDENT

Huffington Post – Suzanne Legault, Information Watchdog, Wants Mounties Charged
An unprecedented Conservative bid to rewrite the law in order to retroactively erase the RCMP’s mishandling of gun registry records sets the table for legislated, after-the-fact cover-ups of far more serious crimes, Canada’s information commissioner declared Thursday.

In a damning new report tabled in Parliament, Suzanne Legault concluded that the practice establishes a “perilous precedent” of rewriting laws — one that could jeopardize the ability of authorities to prosecute electoral fraud or other government scandals.

ipolitics – “Effectively they are censoring that part of the past:” Michel Drapeau
“I think it’s wrong, it’s very, very wrong,” Drapeau said. “There is a concept in law that laws, normally, that’s 99.999 per cent, never have any retroactive action. The past is the past.”

The precedent the government is setting by making the exemption to the access to information act retroactive could be used to eliminate all trace of other files, Drapeau said.

“There’s no limit – anything they want. I guess they could pass a law on whatever activities that this particular government might have done or may have been involved in. It could be the Libyan mission or the ISIL mission.”

National Post View: The government has been caught re-writing the rules to suit its own purposes. Again

If the issue weren’t so serious, it would almost be funny. Once again, the government has been caught re-writing the rules to suit its purposes, a practice that goes to the heart of the Harper Conservatives’ chronic misuse of its power.

Federal information commissioner Suzanne Legault had recommended two months ago that charges be laid against the RCMP for destroying records from the federal long-gun registry, in defiance of the access to information laws. Instead, the government introduced legislation to make the practice legal, backdated it to absolve the RCMP of any culpability, and slipped it into a mammoth budget implementation bill, in hopes that it might pass unnoticed. Legault accused the government of setting a “perilous precedent,” and rightly so — what other illegal acts could be retroactively excused in this way?

FALSE PROMISES AND WASTED MONEY

CBC News – Harper government left $97M unspent on social services, report shows
The Harper government’s promises to help jobless youth, the disabled, immigrants and illiterate adults fell short last year by almost $100 million.

That’s the amount of so-called “lapsed” funding — money promised but never spent — at Canada’s biggest social services department, Employment and Social Development Canada.

Huffington Post – Tories Kill Bill Urging ‘Harmony’ Between Canadian Law And First Nations

A NDP-sponsored bill proposing Canada align its laws with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was defeated Wednesday.

The Conservative government used its majority to reject Romeo Saganash’s private member’s bill, five months after it was first introduced to the House of Commons.

In a statement after the vote, Saganash said he was disappointed with the outcome.

Press Progress – Corporate Canada’s cash in tax havens explodes to $199 billion under Stephen Harper

Despite claims that raising corporate taxes will lead to “capital flight,” Corporate Canada has managed to smash its old record, sending close to $200 billion to tax havens – even as Canadian corporations enjoy their lowest tax rates in recent history  (and among the lowest in the world) thanks to Stephen Harper’s Conservatives.

New data from Statistics Canada show the amount of money flowing from Corporate Canada into the world’s top 10 tax havenshit a record $199 billion last year. And if that doesn’t surprise you, get this: the second biggest destination for money flowing out of Canada is now Barbados.

BILL C-51

Open Media – Conservative MP Laurie Hawn attacks Canadian Businesses that raised concerns about Bill C-51

Wow — this is how Conservative MP Laurie Hawn responded to the now 140+ businesses who have raised concerns in a letter published by the National Post about reckless spying Bill C-51:”[They] should seriously reconsider their business model and their lack of commitment to the values that bind us as Canadians”.

Keep in mind that the list of signatories includes the founder of the largest software company in Canada.

In fact the list of signatories runs the gamut from local bakeries, to property developers, to venture capitalists.  It’s amazingly unbecoming of a public office holder like Laurie Hawn to question the loyalty to Canada of these business people from across the country.

iPolitics – Senator Cowan says ‘most Liberal senators’ to vote against Bill C-51 despite Trudeau’s stand
(This is how the Senate should work. Independent Senators. At least the “Liberal” Senators are now free to vote independently – thanks to Justin Trudeau.)

Senate opposition leader James Cowan says he’ll break with the policy of the Liberal party and vote against the Harper government’s controversial anti-terrorism legislation, Bill C-51. Cowan says the bill, which passed in the House of Commons last week with Liberal support, lacks oversight and violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“My sense would be that most Liberal senators will oppose the bill. We’ll propose amendments — not the same amendments they did in the House but similar. For my part, if the amendments aren’t carried, and I don’t expect they will be, then I’ll vote against the bill,” said Cowan.

OUTRAGEOUS BLUNDERS AND POLICIES

CTV NEWS – PMO apologizes for showing elite soldiers’ faces in promotional videos
The videos were filmed during Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s recent trip to Iraq and Kuwait. Members of the media travelling with Harper were asked to sign agreements not to publish any images of the elite JTF-2 troops who were providing security.

Security expert David Hyde said the PMO’s mistake was baffling.  “This is an egregious security breach, one of the worst I can recall in recent times,” he told CTV’s Power Play.

Hyde said the PMO staffers who worked on the video could have easily blurred the soldiers’ faces before posting the images.

NDP deputy leader Megan Leslie said there’s “no excuse” for compromising the soldiers for the sake of another “promotional video.”  “Not only has the security of these soldiers been breached, it was for a promo video,” she told Power Play.  “It’s starting to look more and more like the prime minister’s entire trip is more about his election brochure and his election videos than it is about the soldiers.”

Huffington Post – Munir Sheikh: Bad Info From NHS Will Lead To Bad Planning
Important statistical information has become so unreliable that the government would be better off making policy decisions based on no information at all, says the former head of Statistics Canada.

“When you have bad information, the chances are you will develop policies that are inappropriate,” he told a conference on Canadian access to information laws held by the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression.

Huffington Post – Canadian Senators Ignored Staffers Concerned About Expenses: Documents
Conservative senators overrode the concerns of senior public servants about lax expense rules in the upper chamber, newly released documents reveal.

Some of those same senators later worked in tandem with the Prime Minister’s Office to make sure Mike Duffy was not publicly admonished for failing to grasp the rules around his own expenses….

He recounted how once Deloitte’s report was filed, Conservative senators David Tkachuk and Carolyn Stewart Olsen unilaterally changed the Senate’s report on Duffy’s expenses. They did not consult Furey, who sat on the same subcommittee dealing with the issue.

iPolitics – Penashue’s official agent charged with violating Elections Act

Former Conservative cabinet minister Peter Penashue’s official agent in the 2011 federal election campaign has been charged with violating Canada’s Elections Act in connection with ineligible contributions made to Penashue’s campaign.

Reginald Bowers faces three charges – failing to return ineligible contributions, providing the Chief Electoral Officer with false or misleading information by failing to accurately identify ineligible campaign contributions and providing Elections Canada with false or misleading information by inaccurately reporting Penashue’s travel expenses.

ENVIRONMENTAL BULL

The Guardian – Canada reneges on emissions targets as tar sands production takes its toll
Canada has retreated on past promises to fight climate change, setting out lower targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions than any other industralised country so far ahead of a critical conference in Paris.

The announcement was a setback to efforts to reach a deal in the French capital that would limit warming to 2C (3.6F), the threshold for dangerous climate change.

Under the announcement, Canada committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 30% below 2005 levels by 2030.

That is a far weaker target than the European Union or the US. The European Union pledged to reduce emissions by at least 40% from 1990 levels, and the US committed to cut emissions to 28% below 2005 levels by 2025.

Vancity Buzz – Harper government closes Vancouver Coast Guard communications base

Another Coast Guard facility in Vancouver has shuttered its doors. This time, it is the communications centre that manages all ship traffic in the waters of Burrard Inlet.

At 10 a.m. this morning, the Marine Communication and Traffic Services Centre on the 23rd floor of Harbour Centre in downtown Vancouver closed its operations and transferred the region’s maritime communications responsibilities to the Victoria base.

The now-closed downtown Vancouver base overlooked the region, including English Bay and Burrard Inlet where there is a high level of container and cruise ship traffic. For years, the facility monitored the busiest port in Canada, but the decision is being made to save $700,000 in annual operational expenses for the federal government.

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Harper Watch – April 22 to 30, 2015


COMMENTARY

iPolitics – Why the Harper government can’t let Omar Khadr go

Stephen Harper’s obsession with Omar Khadr borders on the pathological. He has spent over half a million taxpayer dollars on battling Khadr in court and is about to spend even more fighting his release on bail. In the version of events conjured up by the Harper government’s fevered rhetoric, Khadr is an evil terrorist — and the fight to deny him release is just another front in the war on terror.

Never mind that he was a 15-year-old child soldier when he was accused of throwing a grenade in Afghanistan that killed an American soldier. Never mind that he may have confessed under duress, that he may have been tortured in Guantanamo. The prime minister has no use for nuance, or context. Politically, he needs an unrepentant terrorist — and Khadr only fits the bill as long as he remains locked up and out of reach.

National Post (John Ivison) – Former Prime Minister Paul Martin right to be angry over aboriginal education funding

The allocation in the federal budget of $200 million to improve aboriginal education has enraged Canada’s 21st prime minister.

“I don’t understand why this government makes it such a partisan issue as they did in this budget. I believe discrimination in education funding will be an (election) issue for Canadians,” Paul Martin said in an interview.

Perry Bellegarde, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, called the money in the budget an “outright snub and a missed opportunity.” The two men were speaking prior to a Canada 2020 symposium on aboriginal people and economic development in Ottawa on Wednesday.

BUDGET LIES AND DECEPTIONS

Globe and Mail – Budget balanced on backs of contingency fund, EI and oil

The Conservative government’s long-promised return to surplus relies on a series of accounting moves that includes slashing the contingency reserve, assuming oil prices will climb and collecting billions more in Employment Insurance premiums than necessary.

While economists say it is of little significance whether federal finances are in a small deficit or small surplus, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Finance Minister Joe Oliver have made the return to surplus a central political pledge for the Conservatives. “A promise made, a promise kept,” Mr. Oliver said in his budget speech Tuesday. “This budget is written in black ink.”

The government’s critics called it something else: economic sleight of hand.

PUBLIC SAFETY COMPROMISED

iPolitics – CFIA inspector: Cutbacks in Alberta are real, and ‘morale is in the toilet’
(This is typical of the federal public service today.  People want to do a good job but budgets and staff have been cut to the bone.  The Harper government was determined to balance that budget – even if it kills YOU.)

Despite repeated denials from federal officials, including Health Minister Rona Ambrose, that no cutbacks have been made to Canadian Food Inspection Agency inspections in northern Alberta, an Alberta CFIA inspector has told iPolitics that the cutbacks are real, and that they are seriously impacting food safety.

“Most inspectors just want to do the right thing, but you just can’t,” the inspector, who asked not to be identified because they fear retribution from their employer, told iPolitics.

Morale within the department and among those working the frontline is particularly low, the inspector said, especially given what they called the “blatant lying” coming from CFIA’s national office.

Toronto Star – Terror fight hampering work on other criminal files, senior Mountie says

Shifting hundreds of RCMP officers to counterterrorism duty has hurt the national police force’s efforts to fight organized crime and espionage, a senior Mountie says.

The resource challenge is “negatively impacting” the force’s ability to do everything it’s expected to do, says Mike Cabana, deputy RCMP commissioner for federal policing.

“As a result, the RCMP recognizes that it needs to find a longer-term solution to be able to respond to the breadth of its federal policing mandate,” Cabana told the Senate national security committee Monday.

Global News – Funding slashed for all safety programs at Transport Canada

The Conservative government is slashing funding for all safety and security programs at Transport Canada, with a significant chunk coming out of safety oversight initiatives, planning documents show.

The amount of funding set to be clawed away varies between programs — the budget for transportation of dangerous goods is going down 32 per cent while the budget for aviation safety is dropping 9.2 per cent, for example — but all are seeing decreases, just as the wreckage of Air Canada Flight 624 was pulled off a runway in Halifax and the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic continues to rebuild.

Business In Vancouver – Ucluelet Coast Guard station closure will erode coastal safety: union (updated)

Vancouver’s marine communications and traffic centre is also slated to close on May 6, and the Comox station will close sometime next winter or spring, said Scott Hodge, a spokesperson for Unifor Local 2182. Vancouver traffic will be monitored via radar from Victoria, while Ucluelet will be monitored from a communications centre in Prince Rupert.

Coast guard communications officers are particularly concerned about the Vancouver closure, which will leave B.C.’s busiest location in terms of ship traffic without visual checks.

JOBS AND ECONOMY

Press Progress – Canada creates auto sector jobs in US & Mexico as 1,000 GM workers laid off in Canada

Here’s a question for you: Why is Canada spending half a billion dollars helping German car makers create jobs in Mexico and the United States at the same time as thousands of manufacturing jobs are being eliminated right here at home?

On Thursday, 1,000 auto workers at General Motors learned they were the latest ones to lose their jobs when the automobile giant announced massive layoffs at its Oshawa assembly line. This represents a reduction of one-third of GM’s Oshawa workforce.

iPolitics – Why isn’t the free trade era delivering better jobs?

With the 2015 federal election fast approaching, Canadians can expect a lot of loud government messaging about its ‘sound economic management’, including some trumped-up claims about how joining more — and ever more elaborate — trade and investment liberalization agreements will boost Canada’s national prosperity.

Far from spawning higher levels of investment and GDP growth, Canada’s great era of trade and investment liberalization — which began with the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement in 1988 — has been marked by underinvestment and sluggish growth in both employment and GDP.

Vancouver Observer – Multi-million dollar tax battle casts shadow over Canada-India uranium deal

Prime Minister Stephen Harper met with Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi on Thursday at the Pinnacle Harbourfront hotel to tout a $350 million deal in which Canada’s largest uranium company, Cameco, will supply uranium to India….

But Cameco, the Saskatchewan-based company hired to supply India with 3,220 metric tonnes of uranium over five years, is wrapped up in legal a fight with Canada Revenue Agency over millions in owed taxes. In 2013, the Globe and Mail reported the company owes $800 million in back taxes.

The Tyee – (Michael Harris) Joe Oliver’s Budget Numbers Are Thoroughly Cooked
No wonder they’re spending $7.5 million in public money to advertise Joe Oliver’s budget. Bernie Madoff couldn’t have come up with a sneakier sell than this.

Still, no one should be surprised. This misbegotten government’s modus operandi is about much more than information control. It’s about soaring, jet-propelled skullduggery in a never-ending political campaign. It’s a power fantasy. It’s Steve’s way.

Armed with his narrative of convenience, Harper programs the electorate with fictions of prosperity, compassion and prudence. In the real world, he acts quite differently. There, he underfunds Coast Guard stations, veterans’ offices, First Nations tribal councils, railway inspections, scientific research and Employment Insurance processing.

CBC News – Auditor general report: Child fitness tax credit report kept hidden

The Conservative government doesn’t know whether its first-time homebuyers tax credit is working as intended, and kept the evaluation of the child fitness tax credit hidden, Canada’s auditor general said today in his spring report.

The tax credit for first-time homebuyers hasn’t been evaluated since it was introduced, despite an earlier analysis suggesting there could be some problems with it.

ENVIRONMENT

Huffington Post – The Conservative Budget Is 500 Pages of Climate Change Denial

It’s been obvious for years that climate change is not a priority for this government, but to produce a 518 page document that is the basis for the Conservatives’ next election platform and not mention the existential threat of the century is truly appalling.

If ever the Canadian public needed a more graphic demonstration of Conservative misplaced priorities and contempt for the concerns of the majority of Canadians, it is in the failure to mention climate change in this key governance document.

Huffington Post – Harper: Canada Won’t Match U.S. On Greenhouse Gas Targets
Canada appears set to break a two-decades-long tradition of setting matching greenhouse gas reduction targets with the United States.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Thursday that new targets will be released next month, and will likely deviate from those recently set by the U.S.

Globe and Mail – U.S. worried about Canada’s ability to respond to oil spills, records reveal
Newly released U.S. documents show American authorities are nervously eyeing Canadian proposals to triple the number of oil tanker voyages through the shared waters off B.C.’s coast, saying among themselves that Canadian standards to clean up a major spill are decades behind those of the U.S. and leave states vulnerable to environmental damage and costs.

CBC News – Sierra Club latest environmental charity hit by Revenue Canada audits
Another environmental charity is about to undergo a political-activity audit by the Canada Revenue Agency, in what the charity’s director says is part of an “intimidation campaign.”

Auditors are set to appear at the Ottawa offices of the Sierra Club Canada Foundation on May 11 to examine the books for evidence of excessive political activity.

“It’s a huge undertaking for us to do this,” said John Bennett, the foundation’s national program director, who has been asked to produce a list of all the politicians he met in 2012 and 2013, among other documentation.

DUFFY AND OTHER STUPIDITIES 

National Observer – Redacted diary reveals oil’s hidden route to Harper

Redacted entries in Mike Duffy’s diary suggest he was in regular undisclosed contact with pipeline giant Enbridge during the height of the federal government’s scorching attacks on environmental activists and charities in 2012.

The suspended senator’s journal shows a flurry of conversations and emails with or about top-level Enbridge executives, then PMO chief of staff Nigel Wright and the Prime Minister between January and June of 2012, just as the National Energy Board started its hearings on the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline proposal.

Star Phoenix – CWB deal raises doubts

When announcing the saleof the former Canadian Wheat Board to a U.S.-Saudi joint venture, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz couldn’t resist getting one parting shot in at supporters of orderly marketing.  No longer would Canadian farmers go to jail for selling their own grain, Ritz said. The only problem is, like many of the other statements Ritz made on Wednesday in Winnipeg, it’s not entirely true….

Does selling the CWB (albeit stripped of its ‘single desk’ marketing power and most of its staff) to Bunge Canada, a subsidiary of the U.S. conglomerate Bunge Ltd., and SALIC Canada, a unit of Saudi Agricultural and Livestock Investment Co., increase competition in the grain sector?

Since the number of competitors in the grain trade remains the same, there’s no increase in competition. Moreover, the new CWB will have far less market clout than the old CWB, which was the world’s largest marketer of wheat and barley until it was dismantled by the Harper government.

CBC – Mandatory minimum sentences fight cost big bucks, records show

The Conservatives have spent more than $4.7 million fighting 15 losing court cases, including more than $1 million on tough-on-crime measures, according to figures released this week.

The cases range from the Conservatives’ $426,529 battle to shut down Insite, Vancouver’s safe-injection site, to $347,271 on the Supreme Court of Canada reference regarding Marc Nadon, whom Prime Minister Stephen Harper tried to name to the top court, but who was ultimately found to be unqualified.

The most expensive fight for the Conservatives is the continuing dispute over health care for refugee claimants, which totalled $1,062,187 according to the costs released this week. The government lost a Federal Court case last July, which it plans to appeal, and refugee advocates have returned to Federal Court to argue the government is ignoring the original decision.

CBC News – ‘Canada’s Economic Action Plan’ signs painted in U.S.
(Also, why are Provincial governments paying for Conservative Party propaganda in the first place??)
A member of the B.C. legislature wants to know why the provincial government is paying a Washington state company to make road signs extolling Canadian stimulus spending.

 

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Harper Watch – April 5 to 21, 2015


COMMENTARY

iPolitics (Michael Harris) – Stephen Harper loves the smell of napalm in the morning
Going after the Ukrainian vote in Canada is one thing. But sending troops, even as trainers, into Ukraine’s “fratricidal” civil war and confronting Russia is quite another. If this thing goes sideways, he may wish he had sent diplomats instead of military advisors.  Has anyone told the PM that these are not toy soldiers he is dispatching — by the hundreds no less — but flesh and blood human beings?

This is an old story. From his opposition days, this leader has exhibited a fatal instinct to take it to the parking lot. The itchy trigger finger initially showed up in the second Iraq War. Cooler heads in the Chretien government scuppered his ill-informed bellicosity. Canada refused to join President George W. Bush’s coalition of the misguided.

Globe and Mail – Lawrence Martin: It’s not just Duffy – the Harper era is on trial
If you wanted to go into detail, you could fill an entire page of news print with the ethical transgressions of this government that have undermined the democratic process.

Huffington Post Blog – David Martin: As a Retired Public Servant, I’m Speaking Out About Government Cutbacks

A government with a hate-on for its workers doesn’t just go after those still employed; it also revels in undermining the security of its former workers: us retirees.

This year has seen the implementation of an additional roughly $500 payment for my healthcare plan. Despite protests from our retirees association and from the unions, the government effectively broke our contract and unilaterally imposed the extra charge.

ipolitics – Michael Harris: Forget Duffy, Canadians need to wake up to Harper’s true incompetence

If the Millienials need a wake up call to engage in the looming federal election, this prime minister is a walking alarm clock.

HARPER’S FAVOURITE THINGS… 

…WAR 

CBC – Canada-India uranium deal will spur proliferation, experts warn

India test-fired a nuclear-capable ballistic missile Thursday, just hours after signing a deal to buy 3,000 tons of Canadian uranium.

While the terms of this week’s deal are not public, the nuclear cooperation agreement, first announced in 2010 and finalized in 2013, includes assurances that India use Canadian material for civilian purposes only.

“Canadian uranium can only be exported to facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. The IAEA verifies that nuclear material is only used for strictly peaceful, non-explosive purposes,” Natural Resouces Alain Cacchione said in an email to CBC News.

But some nuclear proliferation experts say India has been able to make such a deal without abiding by the rules set out for most other countries that abide by the international non-proliferation regime. And they warn that countries the West has been attempting to bring into the rules-based system — such as Iran — will be less inclined to submit when they see the rules don’t apply to India.

 …OIL

Vancouver Observer – Mayor blames province and feds for slow response to English Bay spill

It took six hours for the Coast Guard to build a containment boom around a toxic spill at a deep-water anchorage off English Bay and 13 hours before City authorities were notified. Now the City of Vancouver has advised residents to stay away from globs of toxicity washing up on shore and 3 oiled ducks are in a rescue care unit — with growing fears that all this foreshadows an approaching catastrophe.

Mayor Robertson said this morning that efforts to contain the spill failed.

“We don’t know if this is a long term hazard. Clearly it has spread further than originally reported,” he said, and the blame, he said, lies with gaps in the coordinated response by provincial and federal government.

VanCity Buzz – Now-closed Kitsilano Coast Guard base would have responded to oil spill instantly

Two years ago, the federal government pushed forward with their decision to close down the Coast Guard base at Kitsilano despite warnings from municipal and provincial officials that such a move could jeopardize public safety.

This week’s bunker fuel oil spill in English Bay incident proved that, beyond any doubt.

Toronto Star – B.C. spill means Conservatives need a scrubbing: Harper

What is clear is that Ottawa’s so-called “world class” spill response is anything but.

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark boldly called out the federal Conservatives, calling their response unacceptable and saying the province would take over the primary response role if Ottawa can’t step up.

 …RISKING LIVES TO SAVE MONEY

Global News – Funding slashed for all safety programs at Transport Canada

The Conservative government is slashing funding for all safety and security programs at Transport Canada, with a significant chunk coming out of safety oversight initiatives, planning documents show.

The amount of funding set to be clawed away varies between programs — the budget for transportation of dangerous goods is going down 32 per cent while the budget for aviation safety is dropping 9.2 per cent, for example — but all are seeing decreases, just as the wreckage of Air Canada Flight 624 was pulled off a runway in Halifax and the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic continues to rebuild.

Other programs dealing with cuts include marine safety (23 per cent), rail safety (4.3 per cent) and motor vehicle safety (8.8 per cent). All percentage differences were calculated using the department’s forecasted spending for 2014-15 and planned spending for 2015-16.

…THE DUFF…OH WAIT, MAYBE NOT ANYMORE

Weyburn Review – Crown contradicts Harper: Duffy ‘probably ineligible’ to be senator for P.E.I.

Harper appointed Duffy to the Senate in late 2008, despite the fact Duffy had lived in the Ottawa area for decades. Duffy was a well-known former TV broadcaster who went on to be featured prominently at Conservative events and in promotional materials.Later, when questions began to be raised in the media about how much time he spent in P.E.I., Harper defended Duffy’s eligibility both publicly and behind the scenes.

…ABUSING VETERANS

Toronto Star – Difficulty recruiting military psychiatrists blamed on too-low pay scale
New documents show the Canadian military found recruiting new psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers an uphill battle because the government’s top pay scale wasn’t high enough in some parts of the country.

…IGNORING ABORIGINAL RIGHTS

Red Power Media – Why Bill C-51 Is A Threat To Aboriginal Rights

In January, the federal government tabled Bill C-51, the Anti-terrorism Act, 2015. The bill has generated widespread uncertainty and concern. It fails to safeguard the dignity, human rights and security of indigenous peoples and individuals. It is inconsistent with good governance.

…IDEOLOGY

Toronto Star – Government refuses prison watchdog’s request for another full term

Ottawa is searching for a new prison ombudsman after refusing to extend the contract for the current Correctional Investigator for Canada beyond one year.

Howard Sapers, who has held the position for eleven years and been a vocal critic of the Harper government’s treatment of mentally ill and Aboriginal inmates, as well as the use of solitary confinement, was recently told he would remain on the job only until a replacement was found.

Toronto Star – Supreme Court strikes down mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes

(Another Harper law struck down in court)

In a ruling that sets back the Harper government’s tough-on-crime agenda, the top court has agreed with an earlier decision labelling the law cruel and unusual punishment.

Globe and Mail – Canada entangled by its own anti-corruption laws

The government refuses to acknowledge what many legal experts say is the fundamental problem. Eager to send a strong message that it wouldn’t tolerate corrupt suppliers, Ottawa put in place an excessively rigid and sweeping regime – rules that, on paper, are tougher than in most other developed countries.

Inexplicably, the government somehow failed to anticipate that many of its leading suppliers would be caught in its policy dragnet.

FISCAL FAIL 

iPolitics – No matter how you add it up, Harper’s fiscal record is a catastrophe

On April 8st, Finance Minister Joe Oliver stood up before the Economic Club in Toronto and delivered what can only be described as one of the greatest “fantasy economics” speeches in decades.

It was a message from a parallel universe — one in which the Harper government delivered ‘sound economic management’ through the recession (it didn’t), the economy recovered its pre-recession growth pattern (it hasn’t) and Ottawa is delivering tax relief for the average Canadian household (it isn’t). Stranger still, it’s a parallel universe where Pierre Trudeau is still around, haunting us.

In his speech, Oliver somehow contrived to blame Justin Trudeau for the alleged fiscal sins committed by his father during Trudeau Senior’s decade in power.
AlJazeera – What happened when Canada stopped counting its numbers

When a major Western country stops counting its numbers, bad things can happen.

In June 2010, the Canadian government unveiled a grand experiment in data collection. In the name of privacy, Prime Minister Stephen Harper ended the mandatory long-form census for the country and swapped it out with a voluntary survey.

Five years later, there is a mass scramble to make sense of a rapidly changing country. Despite an explosion of corporate data-mining in most nations, researchers interested in tracking poverty, immigration and public health in Canada know less and less about the country as time progresses. They’re not, for example, entirely sure if income inequality is accelerating, stagnant or closing. Across the nation there is a loud, collective uneasiness among them.

CBC News – ‘Balanced budget’ bill a political move, says former PBO Kevin Page

Former budget watchdog Kevin Page says a Conservative move to force future governments to keep balanced budgets is a “political” move that isn’t necessary.

“Do we need the legislation? We didn’t need the legislation from the mid-1990s to 2007-2008, when we had 11 years of surpluses,” Page told Power & Politics host Evan Solomon Wednesday evening.

National Post – Federal budget is now balanced, but billions in future surpluses wiped out, PBO says

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said the government will likely post a small deficit in 2014-15 but has promised a balanced budget on Tuesday for the new fiscal year, just months before a scheduled Oct. 19 election.

But the PBO says a combination of billions of dollars in new family tax cuts, lower oil prices and reduction of EI premiums in 2017 will effectively gobble up what was, according to the government just last fall, expected to be more than $30 billion worth of total surpluses over the next five years.

 

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Harper Watch – March 26 to April 4, 2015


COMMENTARY

National Post (John Ivison) –  Tories’ behaviour during anti-terror bill hearings borderline anti-democratic
(If Tory lover John Ivison is worried, we should be apoplectic!)

Even in the darkest days of the Second World War, Winston Churchill addressed the House of Commons with the latest news, good or bad, and never shrank from a vote of censure.

“I am,” he used to say, “a servant of the House of Commons.”

The great Tory leader would probably be appalled by Canada’s Conservatives, who appear to believe the acronym MP stands for Masters of Parliament, given the way they treat its institutions like whipped dogs.

The recent hearings into the anti-terror legislation were, in the words of Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, “a sham.” Forty nine witnesses appeared over 16 hours but the most enduring statement was made by Conservative MP Rick Norlock, who asked Carmen Cheung of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, “Are you fundamentally opposed to taking terrorists off the street?” 

National Post (Michael Den Tandt)  – Bumbles make the once all-star Jason Kenney seem more like a reflection of Tories’ worst traits

For it has been reinforced lately, most recently Wednesday, that this minister has a potentially crippling Achilles heel; his very confidence and combativeness, coupled with instant access to social media, lead him to one snafu after another. Making matters worse, having erred, Mr. Kenney is incapable of apology. The words “I’m sorry” apparently cannot pass his lips without causing him to spontaneously combust. In this, the Defence Minister neatly personifies what ails his party as it heads into a make-or-break election; a clench-jawed refusal to admit error or consider fair criticism until the last grainery has been burned, the last well salted and the last bridge bombed.

ipolitics – Paul Adams: Keeping it simple: Canada solves the Middle East morass
The key insight of Harper Conservatism is that everything is simple. Taxes are bad. Carbon taxes are really, really bad. Iran is bad. Russia is bad. Exports are good. Oil is good. Pipelines are good, too. The military is good. Israel is good. Terrorists are bad. Islamic State are terrorists and are crazy bad. International law is bad when it gets in the way of doing what we want militarily; international law is good when it helps us sell our exports.

Liberal.ca – The Canada Pension Plan at 50!

This past February, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Canada’s Red Maple Leaf Flag — one of Mr. Pearson’s proudest accomplishments.  Next year, we’ll mark the 50th anniversary of national medicare, another Pearson legacy.  And this week, the legislation that originally created the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) will turn 50 years old. ….

However, the CPP/QPP are labouring under one major limitation. The maximum regular benefit a contributor can receive is just over $12,000 per year. The average is just more than half that. Those amounts are far from sufficient to ensure retirees can maintain their quality of life, without other significant savings.

Three-quarters of those working in the private sector don’t have access to an employer-sponsored pension plan. And of those who are within 10 years of retirement, fewer than one-third have $100,000 or more set aside to sustain themselves. Another third have no retirement savings at all.

While they have tinkered with various private sector pension ideas, the Harper government has not been helpful in dealing with basic retirement income insecurity.

BILL C-51

ipolitics – Harper is losing the argument on C-51 … with Conservatives

That same day, at committee hearings on the bill, Connie Fournier, founder of the former conservative online forum FreeDominion, criticized the bill’s infringements on privacy and freedom of speech. Fournier is going a step further, reviving her website to fight Bill C-51 — and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

“I feel like we’re in some kind of alternate universe,” she recently told the Tyee. “You spend your life working for the Conservative party, and the Conservative party finally gets in, and (now) you’re saying, ‘I hope the NDP really steps up and protects us from our Conservative government.’”

iPolitics – Why we can’t just trust CSIS to do the right thing

If laughter really is the best medicine, then I have to thank Christian Leuprecht. His appearance before a Commons committee this week on Bill C-51 had me laughing so hard I won’t need to see a doctor again for years.

Leuprecht, an associate professor at the Royal Military College, appeared before the Public Safety and National Security Committee to offer an impersonation of someone who knows what he’s talking about.

Prof. Leuprecht may have the academic credentials, but his gut-busting remarks demonstrate he doesn’t have a clue about what really goes on inside the Canadian Security Intelligence Service — nor the contempt the spy agency has for anyone in or outside government who tries to keep serious tabs on what it’s up to. 

FIRST NATIONS 

CBC News – Aboriginal Affairs won’t fund life-saving airstrip in Saskatchewan

A Cree community in northern Saskatchewan without access to air ambulance service says people’s lives have been lost or endangered while the federal and provincial governments squabble over jurisdiction.

Six hundred kilometres northeast of Saskatoon, on the southern shore of Reindeer Lake, the community of Southend is home to 1,000 people.

It doesn’t have an airstrip that can accommodate an air ambulance, and the nearest hospital and doctor are located in La Ronge, a two- to three-hour drive on a winding gravel road.

Hill Times – Canada needs to work with Inuit to bolster its sovereignty claims in the Arctic, say experts
If Canada is going to achieve its territorial aims in the Arctic it needs to treat the Inuit population as partners, rather than using only their existence to bolster Canadian sovereignty claims. This was the message from a panel of experts who appeared before the Senate Liberal Open Caucus on Wednesday March 25 to discuss the issues facing the Arctic….

Peter Hutchins, also of Hutchins Legal, noted that the ironic part in all this is that the presence of the Inuit in the Arctic is the best chance Canada has at achieving its objectives. However, this can only be achieved by respecting the spirit of the treaties which Canada and the Inuit have signed in the past, and this is not happening. “Canada says we now have full sovereignty and that’s it,” Hutchins stated, “but the transaction was quid pro quo. It was in return for something, and frankly if Canada does not honour its obligations, the Inuit are entitled to say the deal’s off.”

THE WAR MONGERS

Globe and Mail – Government votes to extend, expand military mission against IS

Canada is now at war in Syria.   Prime Minister Stephen Harper used his party’s Commons majority to authorize extending Canada’s military fight against Islamic State militants in Iraq for 12 months and expanding that fight into Syria.

The Commons vote took place in a divided House where Canada’s two major opposition parties, with about 40 per cent of the seats, refused to support it. The Commons motion endorsing the revised mission passed 142-129. Thirty-three MPs were absent for the vote and one abstained.

iPolitics – Mr. Alexander’s fantasy Cold War 

That was some speech Immigration Minister Chris Alexander gave the Ukrainian Canadian Congress last week. It combined a scathing attack on Vladimir Putin with a rousing call to arms…..

Mr. Alexander warned that “we are at the beginning of a long struggle” against Russians “who want to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.” In the meantime — in his view — there is no hope for world peace and security “without a full international effort to give Ukraine the tools it needs to drive Russian forces from its borders and secure (them) for good.”

But no, Russia is not trying to put the USSR back together again. And no, world peace and security would not be at all well served by major war with Russia on its border. Nor would Ukrainians — who would be, as they have been before, the first victims of any such conflict. Mr. Alexander is right: “The buck stops in Ukraine.”

Embassy – Syrian aid money approved without due diligence, docs show

Foreign Affairs bureaucrats partially filled out an application form for an aid group seeking government money for Syrian medical aid in 2012 and, under pressure from the minister, pushed it through the approval process without performing due diligence, newly released documents show.

While visiting a camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan on Aug. 11, 2012, then-foreign minister John Baird announced aid to Syrians caught up in what appeared to be a growing civil war between anti-government forces and those loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.  That included $2 million for Canadian Relief for Syria, a Canadian non-governmental organization established only a few months earlier.

But within a couple days of the weekend announcement, reporters started asking Mr. Baird’s office and the foreign ministry questions about the group’s track record. The Canadian Relief for Syria website said the group was still in the process of getting charitable status, didn’t list any previous projects and redirected prospective donors to the site of another aid group, Human Concern International.    That group faced controversy for its past ties to Ahmed Said Khadr, the dad of ex-Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr.

TRANSPARENCY?

Vancouver Observer – Feds stifle media questions around oil sands’ toxic effects, FOIs reveal

Documents obtained by DeSmog Canada reveal that Canada’s Ministry of Environment vetoed an interview request on toxins in fur-bearing animals in the oilsands, even though the federal scientist was “media trained and interested in doing the interview.”

TAXING TIMES

CBC News – Tax bill hiked for civil servants sent to war zones

Civil servants representing Canada in the world’s most dangerous places are being hit by a personal income tax hike, a possibly unintended consequence of the 2012 budget that senior government officials are struggling to reverse.

Changes that took hold in 2013 began treating group sickness or accident insurance plans — including accidental death and dismemberment policies for travel in war zones — as a taxable benefit.

Globe and Mail – Family tax breaks to benefit parents with no childcare expenses: PBO

This year’s expansion of the Universal Child Care Benefit will deliver billions of dollars to parents with no child-care expenses at all, according to an analysis from the Parliamentary Budget Officer that has reignited debate over Ottawa’s approach to child care.

Jean-Denis Fréchette, the PBO, released a report Tuesday that found the Conservative government’s latest child-care measures will bring total federal spending on child care to nearly $8-billion a year. The report notes this is a major increase over the $600-million spent by Ottawa prior to 2006, when the Conservatives came to power promising the Universal Child Care Benefit.

ENVIRONMENTAL FOLLY

Maclean’s – US, Mexico sign climate co operation deal as Canada stalls

The Harper government is temporarily standing on the sidelines as international negotiations ramp up for a United Nations climate conference at the end of this year.

The conference scheduled for Paris in December is supposed to result in a post-2020 global agreement on cutting greenhouse gas emissions – a successor to the Copenhagen accord signed in 2009.

To help the negotiations, countries that are ready have been asked to submit their emissions targets and climate plans by March 31, a Tuesday deadline Environment Canada says it won’t meet.

JUST NASTY

Huffington Post – Pierre Poilievre Won’t Help Cancer Victim In Fight For CPP Disability
Employment Minister Pierre Poilievre will not intervene to ensure a terminally ill Alberta man denied Canada Pension Plan disability benefits finally gets his payments.

Peter McClure, 62, is suffering from lung and rectal cancer and has outlived his doctor’s prognosis.

McClure says he was told by Service Canada 18 months ago that his condition wasn’t severe or prolonged enough to qualify for CPP disability, and was advised to apply for CPP retirement benefits instead, which pay significantly less.

ipolitics – CFIA cutting back on meat inspections in Northern Alberta: document
Health Minister Rona Ambrose’s office is continuing to insist that reports of Canadian Food Inspection Agency cuts to the number of meat inspections in Northern Alberta are “irresponsible and inaccurate” despite the fact internal documents obtained by iPolitics show the agency is doing just that.

iPolitics – Liberal defence critic says she was blocked from visiting bases

Liberal defence critic Joyce Murray is accusing the government of blocking her efforts to visit Canadian Forces bases across the country.   Murray said the problem started in late 2013 and early this year when she asked for permission to visit CFB Trenton, CFB Esquimalt and CFB Comox. She said she tried initially to contact the bases directly and was told to go through then-defence minister Rob Nicholson’s office —  but she never received a reply to her requests.

Despite repeated messages to both the base and Nicholson’s office, she said she only received a reply in July — when Nicholson’s staff told her verbally the visit was “not going to happen, (there’s) policy against it.”

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Harper Watch – March 17 to 25, 2015


FOSTERING FEAR AND DIVISION

Huff Post – Canadian Bar Association Denounces Anti-Terror Bill

The Conservative government’s anti-terrorism bill contains “ill-considered” measures that will deprive Canadians of liberties without increasing their safety, the Canadian Bar Association says.

The bar association objects to the planned transformation of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service into an agency that could actively disrupt terror plots.

It argues the bill’s “vague and overly broad language” would capture legitimate activity, including environmental and aboriginal protests — and possibly put a chill on expressions of dissent.

Hill Times – Anti-Terrorism Act House committee hearings a ‘sham,’ say opposition MPs

The House Public Safety Committee, studying the federal government’s controversial Anti-Terrorism Bill C-51, will hold marathon meetings this week to hear from 36 witnesses over four days, but opposition MPs say the entire process is not only a sham, but a contempt of Parliament.

Opposition MPs say witness testimony has been rushed and MPs won’t have enough time to properly consider feedback before diving into clause-by-clause consideration. The amendments are due March 27 and the deadline for clause-by-clause consideration is March 31. Some key witnesses requested by opposition MPs on the committee have not been invited to testify at committee, while other important witnesses have declined invitations.

iPolitics – Worried about C-51? You’re probably a terrorist

Are you now, or have you ever been, a terrorist?   That, in one form or another, is the question being asked over and over by Conservative MPs of expert witnesses called before the Commons standing committee reviewing Bill C-51, the so-called anti-terrorism law.

I spoke before the committee last week. I pointed to the danger in the bill’s much-expanded definition of national security and in its false conflation of peaceful protest with terrorism. I was expecting to be called on to defend our arguments, to cite evidence on how the bill’s sweeping new powers could be used against peaceful advocates for action on climate change.  No one on the government side seemed terribly interested in our argument — but they were very interested in us.

National Newswatch – Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid

As the war drums beat ever louder across Canada, this seems to be the advice Stephen Harper’s Conservatives want Canadians to follow.

The question is, afraid of what and whom? Islamic terrorism? Right-wing and white supremacist ideologies? Lone wolves? Violent anti-petroleum extremists? Canada’s environmental movement?

The Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CISIS) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police seem to be unsure and so now are clumping them all together for safety’s sake .

Toronto Star – CSIS highlights white supremacist threat ahead of radical Islam
“Lone wolf” attacks more often come from white supremacists and extreme right-wing ideologies than from Islamic radicalism, internal CSIS documents say.

Citing recent academic research, the unclassified documents note extreme right-wing and white supremacist ideology has been the “main ideological source” for 17 per cent of so-called lone wolf attacks worldwide.

G&M (Lawrence Martin) – Provocation, pandering and prejudice in our politics
Last week, at an event in Saskatoon, Prime Minister Stephen Harper turned his focus to guns. He talked about there being too many restrictions on gun ownership, making the point that people in rural areas need guns for self-defence.

He used his wife Laureen as an example. “My wife’s from a rural area and obviously gun ownership wasn’t just for the farm, but was for a certain level of security when you’re a ways away from immediate police assistance,” he said.

THE ECONOMY

Toronto Star – OECD slashes forecast for Canadian economy, blaming oil price declines
The OECD has sharply cut its growth forecasts for Canada for this year and next, a continuing reminder of how sinking oil prices are pulling down the country’s economy.

The downgraded projections from the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development come amid mounting job losses in Canada’s oilpatch. Talisman Energy, Nexen Energy and ConocoPhillips Canada have all separately announced plans to eliminate hundreds of workers in the coming weeks.

The OECD now estimates the Canadian economy will expand by 2.2 per cent in 2015. That’s 0.4 of a percentage point lower than previously thought.

Globe and Mail – Only 15 per cent will benefit from Tories’ ‘family tax cut’: budget watchdog
The Parliamentary Budget Officer says the Conservative government’s income-splitting tax cut will cost $2.2-billion this year and only benefit about 15 per cent of Canadian households.

A report released Tuesday takes a closer look at the “Family Tax Cut” announced in the fall by Prime Minister Stephen Harper that would allow couples with children under 18 to transfer income for tax purposes up to a maximum savings of $2,000.

Toronto Star – Inside Ottawa’s $24-million oil ad campaign

The multimillion-dollar campaign to market Canadian oil in the U.S. was hard to miss.

The Maple Leaf was plastered on the walls of subway stops in Washington, D.C., and it popped up in all sorts of American publications with messages such as “America’s Best Energy Partner” and “Friends and Neighbors.”

Documents obtained by The Canadian Press offer a peek into the careful strategic considerations and internal discussions behind the $1.6-million (U.S.) ad campaign launched in 2013. That blitz was followed up by a $24-million, two-year international program that wraps up this month.

The Tyee – Harry Smith Is Coming for Stephen Harper

A sparkling-clean nation where everyone willingly paid their taxes is the Canada that Harry Leslie Smith remembers choosing as a place to raise his family and live his life decades ago.

Now, at 92, Smith has become a sensation in the United Kingdom for his opinion pieces and memoir Harry’s Last Stand, in which he draws parallels between his brutal childhood in the U.K. and where the western world is headed today as government austerity grips many of its countries.

”He is really, to me, the worst prime minister that ever existed,” Smith said over the phone from Manchester, pausing for a drink of water. ”Since Harper has come into power, everything has gone downhill. He has one consideration, and that is to let the rich get richer and the poor fend for themselves.”

VETERANS AND THE VULNERABLE

Ottawa Citizen – Chapin: What veterans’ families want

Migneault wanted VAC to recognize the struggle of spouses who care for veterans with injuries such as PTSD. Since then, she’s used the publicity from her infamous encounter to meet with more than 150 politicians – including Romeo Dallaire, Justin Trudeau and eventually, Fantino himself – to advocate for more family support.

Migneault does not think cash is the solution. She wants a program that trains family-turned-caregivers to live with PTSD. “I can have all the money in the world,” she told CBC in reaction to the caregiver benefit. “But if I don’t have a quality of life, this money doesn’t serve anything.”

Ottawa Citizen – After 35 years, federal government takes jobs from developmentally disabled workers
(The government has since assured the workers will remain employed. Let’s see if they actually mean it.)

“I loved working there,” she says. “It was a nice job and we got paid for it. I liked everything about the job. All the people I work with I like very much — they are all my friends.”

Whincup’s workplace is — or was — a wastepaper sorting and disposal plant at Tunney’s Pasture where she and dozens of other developmentally disabled people have been gainfully employed disposing of copious quantities of secret and confidential federal government paper — as much as 40 per cent of it — since 1980.

As of month’s end, their workplace and sense of community and friendship will be just another empty federal government building. The group of 50 workers has been told to vacate the premises.

Canada.com – Details, details: Defence minister Jason Kenney’s blunt style betrays him
Defence Minister Jason Kenney’s credibility has come under fire after some recent public miscues, just as the Conservative government is proposing to expand Canada’s war against the Islamic State.

Kenney has been a visible presence on television and radio news shows, on Twitter and in Parliament since taking over the all-important defence file six weeks ago. He has been forceful on the threat posed by ISIL, proclaiming the government’s support for the military and hammering the opposition for its views on the conflict.

Yet Kenney, one of the few ministers in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet allowed to speak freely, has also found himself clarifying or backtracking on some of his blunt assertions.

Ottawa Citizen – New records detail how climate-change views scuttled artist’s grant
A British Columbia artist and environmental activist accuses government of misusing its censorship powers to hide a politically driven effort to silence her because of her views on climate change and the oilsands.

Franke James found herself on the federal government’s radar in the spring of 2011 after Canadian diplomats agreed to offer a $5,000 grant in support of a European art tour featuring James’s artwork. The grant was revoked a few days later by a senior director of the Foreign Affairs Department’s climate change division, who felt the funding would “run counter to Canada’s interests.”

The show for which she wanted the grant was to be “all about inspiring people to reduce their carbon footprint,” James said in an interview.

Pivot – Harper government moves to block supervised injection services for drug users in Canada
Today, the House of Commons passed Bill C-2, the Respect for Communities Act. Pretty title, but like so much Conservative legislation, the meaning of the title, like the bill, is cruelly ironic.

What the Respect for Communities Act does is effectively ban supervised injection facilities like Insite. The bill will make it much harder for Insite to stay open, and it effectively prevents a similar centre from opening in any other Canadian city.

(Some background to above article. The passing of the Bill, as you might notice, was not reported in the MSM)

CPHA – Bill C-2: Let’s get serious about respecting our communities

While the intent of the Bill may be to stimulate a legitimate community consultation process, the list of information requirements contained in the current text (27 in total) places an emphasis on the opinions of non-local governments and stakeholders, as opposed to those of the community. As such, it is CPHA’s opinion that, if enacted, the Bill will subvert the interests of the community, in contradiction to its stated title.

 

 

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Harper Watch – March 10 to 17, 2015


WE’RE STARTING WITH SOME VERY INSIGHTFUL HUMOUR THIS WEEK

Rabble.ca (Gerald Caplan) – Everything you need to know about the Middle East to keep you safe from Bill C-51

Islam, like all religions, is divided. As you observed, there are two main denominations, Sunni and Shia. There are way more Sunni in the world than Shia but lots of the Shia are in the wrong place, like Iran. The western world generally doesn’t like the Shia, often seen as more extreme, so you could say we are pro-Sunni. But both ISIS and al-Qaeda are Sunni, so we must be anti-Sunni. But Sunni ISIS kills other Sunnis by the tens of thousands (plus anyone else they can get their mitts on, especially Shia).  As well, Saudi Arabia is Sunni and anti-ISIS, but so is despicable Iran, which is hugely Shia. This really complicates things. Sunni ISIS and Sunni al-Qaeda also loathe reach other, and both of course hate Shia Iran, and (possibly) vice versa.

Are you with me so far, Peter? No worry. You can rest assured Stephen Harper and his ministers have all this down pat.

JOBS AND THE ECONOMY

Rolling Stone – Crude Awakening: How the Keystone Veto Dashes Canada’s ‘Superpower’ Dreams

Canada has benefited from Harper’s oil boom — though less than you might imagine. In a quirk of Canadian law, the federal government collects no oil royalties. Its fortunes rise, indirectly, from oil, benefiting only from GDP growth and the surge in corporate and payroll taxes. The province of Alberta does collect oil royalties: C$5.2 billion last year alone. But far from socking that money away in a sovereign wealth fund — as Norway has done, amassing a portfolio worth more than $800 billion — the province has pissed it away on tax cuts.

More about the tax breaks and royalties (or lack thereof) paid by oil companies.

CBC – Job quality in Canada at 25-year low, says CIBC

Not happy in your job? Feel like you can’t get ahead. A new study by CIBC Economics says you may have ample reason.

CIBC says its index of Canadian employment quality is at a 25-year low, and nothing the Bank of Canada can do to adjust interest rates is likely to fix the situation.  In fact, its job quality index has been trending down for the past 25 years and is 10 per cent below its level in the 1990s, the CIBC report said.

That means more people are working part-time instead of full-time, more people are self-employed instead of having secure employment and more are in low-wage jobs than at any time in the last 25 years, says CIBC economist Benjamin Tal…..

“If we have a whole army of people who are buying lunches in a can, we’re not going to stimulate the economy and create the kind of jobs that would enable people to make a decent living,” said Wayne Lewchuk, a McMaster University professor who has researched precarious employment.

 More on this important topic.

VOTE BUYING

Huffington Post – Diane Finley, PMO Under Fire For $1-Million Violation Of Conflict-Of-Interest Rules

Opposition parties demanded to know Wednesday why the Prime Minister’s Office influenced a $1 million funding decision that the ethics watchdog said broke conflict-of-interest rules……

“There were 167 projects submitted, and only five were chosen,” the NDP leader said. “Four fulfilled all the criteria, but the fifth was managed by a good friend of the Conservatives. According to the evaluation of the department, it was one of the worst projects out of the 167. Guess which one was chosen?”

A damning report by Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson found that Finley, now the public works minister, had broken the Conflict of Interest Act and Treasury Board policy by giving preferential treatment to a non-qualifying project championed by a well-known Jewish leader with ties to the Conservatives.

CREATING DIVING, PROMOTING ISLAMOPHOBIA

CBC – Bill C-51 hearings: Diane Ablonczy’s questions to Muslim group ‘McCarthyesque’

The head of a group representing Canadian Muslims accused a veteran Conservative MP of making slanderous comments during expert testimony on the government’s proposed anti-terror legislation Thursday night.

During a question-and-answer session following National Council of Canadian Muslims executive director Ihsaan Gardee’s presentation to the House public safety committee on Bill C-51, Diane Ablonczy used her allotted time to “put on the record” what she described as “a continuing series of allegations” that the NCCM has ties to groups that have expressed support for “Islamic terrorist groups,” including Hamas.

Gardee pushed back.  “First and foremost, I’ll say on the record that NCCM has condemned violent terrorism and extremism in all of its forms, regardless of who perpetrates it for whatever reason,” he told the committee.  “However, the premise of your question is false, and entirely based on innuendo and misinformation.”

Contrast to this inspiring message of inclusion from Justin Trudeau

Macleans – For the record: Justin Trudeau on liberty and the niqab

Full text of the much talked about speech Justin Trudeau gave in Toronto on March 9th, 2015

VIDEO:  https://www.facebook.com/JustinPJTrudeau/app_142371818162

 

 “SECURITY” AND WARMONGERING

Toronto Star – CSIS highlights white supremacist threat ahead of radical Islam
“Lone wolf” attacks more often come from white supremacists and extreme right-wing ideologies than from Islamic radicalism, internal CSIS documents say.  Citing recent academic research, the unclassified documents note extreme right-wing and white supremacist ideology has been the “main ideological source” for 17 per cent of so-called lone wolf attacks worldwide. Islamic extremism accounted for 15 per cent of such attacks, the document noted, while left-wing extremism and “black power” groups followed with 13 per cent….

The CSIS documents explicitly warn that the notion the Western world is at war with Islam plays into terrorist recruitment strategies.  “International terrorist groups place a high priority on radicalizing Westerners who can be used to carry out terrorist attacks in their home countries,” the documents read….

Other CSIS documents, obtained by The Canadian Press, warned the Conservatives last September that there is an emerging anti-Islam movement in Canada, similar to movements in Europe.

iPolitics – A pigeon in hawk’s feathers: Harper on security

Stephen Harper’s gotten me so scared, I feel like hiding in a closet.  The prime minister is quite right — the highest purpose of government is to protect its citizens. Why, then, does he try to scare the bejesus out of them every day?

I thought leaders in times of crisis were expected to keep calm and carry on, maintaining stiff upper lips and carrying sticks bigger than their tongues. Not our guy. He mongers fear across the land — fear of criminals, fear of terrorists, fear of Iran, fear of Russia — fear in every case gussied up with purple prose, proud to be certain, proud to be loud.

iPolitics – Former SIRC chair Atkey calls for better review, parliamentary oversight in C-51

Former Conservative MP Ron Atkey speaks from experience when he tells the House public safety committee that if we want to protect Canadians, the Harper government’s anti-terrorism legislation should include a beefed up Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) and a form of parliamentary oversight.

“The answer to whether parliament or a specialized agency should have the power to review security agencies is easy for me: Canadians should have both,” said Atkey, who served as the first Chair of SIRC from 1984-89.

“It is unfair to dramatically expand CSIS powers to conduct disruptive or international activities to fight terrorism at home and abroad while leaving the watchdog frozen in time,” said Atkey. “Failure of the government to address this issue in the context of this bill is irresponsible.”

Ottawa Citizen – NATO disputes Conservative claim that Russians confronted Canadian warship

The Conservative government has ratcheted up its war of words over Ukraine, with the parliamentary defence secretary claiming Russian warships confronted a Canadian frigate in the Black Sea.

But NATO officials say no such thing happened.

James Bezan, parliamentary secretary to Minister of National Defence Jason Kenney, told the House of Commons earlier this week, “Since arriving in the Black Sea, Royal Canadian Navy sailors have been confronted by Russian warships and buzzed by Russian fighter jets.”  Kenney also repeated the claim the next day, stating that a Russian jet buzzed the Canadian frigate HMCS Fredericton at low altitude.

But NATO officials say the frigate, part of a NATO naval task group, was not buzzed and there was no confrontation.

 

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