Saturday, December 2, 2017

Thursday, November 30, 2017

UPDATED: An Increasingly Tattered Cloak

That would be the one Justin Trudeau wraps himself in with such rectitude whenever he attempts to convince the public of his climate-change bona fides. Increasingly, both his cloak and his rhetoric are wearing thin.

The latest example of the hollowness of his public persona comes with news that his government is doing something it shouldn't be doing, interfering in provincial rights:
The B.C. government says Ottawa is interfering in an independent review connected to the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, just days after Alberta Premier Rachel Notley called on Ottawa to intensify its efforts to defend the project.

"It's both a highly unusual and a highly troubling intrusion on a province's right to enforce its own permits, its own regulations and the interests of its own citizens," B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman said in an interview on Wednesday. "We do not take kindly to this intervention."

Federal Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr announced in a statement on Wednesday that Canada has filed a letter to the National Energy Board supporting a process to quickly resolve conflicts with local and provincial governments that could slow down construction on the pipeline.
It would seem that the powers to whom both Trudeau and Alberta's Rachel Notley answer are unhappy:
The NEB is hearing a complaint from Kinder Morgan, which has already begun construction, that the city of Burnaby, B.C., is blocking the project by refusing to issue four permits. The city, which opposes the project, denies any unreasonable delay.

The company – now with Ottawa's support – wants a standing panel to allow any future permit disputes to be resolved quickly.

In Calgary on Wednesday, the NEB heard Mike Davies, Trans Mountain's senior director of marine development, say the company's dealings with Burnaby have been difficult for some time.
B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman doesn't care that the pipeline giant has its knickers in a twist:
"The federal government should not be intruding on provincial rights and authority," he said.

"I would expect the National Energy Board, which in this case has the powers of the federal court, to understand that we as a province have a responsibility and a right to both permit and enforce our own standards. "
It would seem that Mr. Trudeau and Ms. Notley only have ears for one entity here: Kinder Morgan.

Now why does that not surprise me?

UPDATE: NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has now entered the fray. Whether this is mere political opportunism or principle, only time will tell.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh slammed the Trudeau government on Wednesday for its "betrayal of the people of British Columbia" in order to support a large corporation, Texas-based multinational energy company Kinder Morgan.

Trudeau had promised during the 2015 election campaign to introduce a brand new environmental review process to assess the Kinder Morgan project. But once elected, the prime minister approved the pipeline last November based on an assessment by the National Energy Board (NEB) under controversial rules adopted by the former Harper government. Singh said that Carr's new proposal was a second "betrayal" of the west coast province.

"They’re supporting the rights of a corporation to override the decision making of an elected body, the municipality of Burnaby," Singh told reporters. "That to me is a massive concern. That is something that is very troubling and it’s the second major betrayal of the people of British Columbia."

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

C'mon Bill. Just Answer The Question

The beleaguered Bill Morneau continues in his refusal to answer questions about whether he sold a whack of shares in his company, Morneau Shappell, before the government introduced changes to tax rates dropping the income tax rate for middle-class Canadians while boosting it on high-income earners. Those rates were to take effect on Jan. 1, 2016, prompting financial advisers to advise high-income earners to realize capital gains in the last weeks of 2015 to avoid the coming higher tax rates.

The 680,000 shares were sold for $15 apiece. By Dec. 14, a week after the tax rate announcement, they had dropped to $13.96.

Employing a time-worn technique practised by scoundrels far and wide, Morneau is embracing moral outrage, threatening to take the Opposition to court over the impertinence of their questions:
Morneau said if the Opposition wants to make its claims outside the Commons, where MPs enjoy the legal protection afforded by parliamentary privilege, they will “absolutely be hearing how the legal system works.”
His strategy did not work:

Shortly after Question Period began, he [Pierre Poillievre] challenged the now-absent finance minister to take things outside.
“Would he commit that if I go out and repeat my question in the lobby at this moment, that the finance minister will meet me out there and answer the question?”

Poilievre then walked out, and did just that. But he was greeted by an empty lobby, as Morneau had already left to deliver a scheduled speech in Toronto.

It would seem that old Bill needs some lessons in basic poker strategy.

Lest one think this is just a nasty partisan fight between the Conservatives and the Liberals, the third party also smells some rot:
The NDP is also taking aim at Morneau over the share sale. The party's ethics critic, Nathan Cullen, has written a letter to Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson, requesting she investigate.

"If the finance minister used his inside knowledge to sell his shares at an advantageous time to financially profit, it would be in direct violation of the rules that prevent someone from profiting directly from their work in government," Cullen wrote in a letter that was sent Monday afternoon.

"I respectfully ask that you look into this matter as urgently as possible," the letter says.
As a political neophyte, Mr. Morneau has much to learn. He might start his lessons by checking with average Canadians about how they feel when privilege once more apparently games the system and leaves the rest of us holding the proverbial bag.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

UPDATED: A Sad Day In The House

It is indeed a sad day in public life when a worm like Pierre Poilievre can stand up in the House of Commons and seem to occupy the high moral ground as he renders ethical judgement on a minister of the Crown. Yet the government of Justin Trudeau has brought this odium on itself by harbouring Bill Morneau from the kind of standards all Canadians should expect from their politicians:

The Star reports that the sale of $10.5 million worth of shares in Morneau's company, Morneau Sheppell, occurred on Nov. 30, 2015,
a week before the Liberal government formally introduced changes to tax rates — dropping the income tax rate for middle-class Canadians while boosting it on high-income earners.

Those rates were to take effect on Jan. 1, 2016, prompting financial advisers to advise high-income earners to realize capital gains in the last weeks of 2015 to avoid the coming higher tax rates.

The 680,000 shares were sold for $15 apiece. By Dec. 14, a week after the tax rate announcement, they had dropped to $13.96.

Morneau held two million shares in Morneau Sheppell and sold half of those in the fall of 2015, a source has told the Star. Profits from those sales were donated to charity. The National Post has reported that the shares sold on Nov. 30 were held by Morneau.
Liberal loyalists and apologists will no doubt assert that the fact the profits from the sale were donated to charity means this is a non-issue. To argue thus, however, is to miss two key points:

The donation itself would have afforded Morneau a very handsome tax benefit.

That insider trading was committed by the Minister of Finance (that he refused to exonerate himself by answering the question suggests his guilt) renders him unfit for public office. How can Canadians believe the government has its best interests at heart if it shields such egregiously unethical behaviour?

Morneau should be compelled to answer the question. If the answer is what I think it is, he should finally do something honourable and resign.

Democracy Watch has a Government Ethics Campaign you may want to check out. It has already sent out over 170,000 letters about this issue.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Note To Justin And Rachel

Please explain again why your insistence that we need to build more pipelines is valid, given these facts:
A new world record price for electricity set earlier this month signals a radical disruption in global energy markets — and Canada, whose economy was once powered by some of the world's cheapest electricity, will not escape the effects.

The new price, described by the news site Electrek as the cheapest electricity on the planet, was less than 2 cents per kilowatt hour, "part of a pattern marching to 1 cent per kWh bids that are coming in 2019 (or sooner)," the site declared.

The record was not set in a place where energy is traditionally cheap. Nor is it from a traditional electricity source.

But the fact the power will come from solar is only one part of a series of profound changes, including mass battery storage, that is in the process of shaking up the world energy market.

[The University of Calgary's Blake] Shaffer says that in order to be effective in an integrated power network with backup systems like gas and hydro, intermittent power sources like wind only have to fall below the price of the of the cheapest alternative. Carbon pricing gives wind an even greater advantage over gas.

"It seems like at these prices, and that's what's really amazing about how low we're getting in solar, is that, yeah, it can compete, even though battery technology is expensive these days," says Shaffer. "You can out-compete coal and natural gas at these levels."
Given that 65% of the world's electrical power is currently generated by fossil fuels but is destined to fall with this new reality, I guess I just don't understand your pipeline passion, Justin and Rachel, especially given your seemingly contradictory position that we must move away from fossil fuels to mitigate climate change.

I await being enlightened on this issue.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Responding To The Outrage

Yesterday, I posted about the outrageous treatment graduate student Lindsay Shepherd experienced at the hands of the Wilfrid Laurier University thought police. As usual, Toronto Star readers had much to say about this shameful episode, and in the interest of balance, I am reprinting not only those who condemn what Shepherd was subjected to, but also the lone letter of support defending the process, which you will see as the first response.

First, however, is Shepherd talking about the timehonoured principles of teaching she tried to practise, and the charge of 'transphobia' that was leveled against her:

Now here are but a few of the letters revealing what Star readers think:
I am an academic working as an independent researcher and full-time faculty at George Brown College. I have an MA and PhD from the University of Toronto. I am writing to express my disappointment and concern with your coverage of recent incidents involving Wilfrid Laurier University Prof. Nathan Rambukkana and teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd.

Under the guise of protecting free speech, you published content that bullied Prof. Rambukkana, as well as the university at large, into apologizing for an act of intervention that was neither unfair nor unwarranted. Instead of taking a stand against hate speech, you have given dangerous credence to the views of (University of Toronto Prof.) Jordan Peterson and his supporters, flying in the face of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

As the leaked recording of their meeting shows, Prof. Rambukkana did not attack or endanger Shepherd’s right to hold an opinion. Rather, he challenged her decision to represent that opinion in class without a critical acknowledgment of its social impact.

As recognized by federal law and nearly all progressive social institutions, gender pronouns are a basic site of self-representation. Peterson’s brazen disdain for these protections is a violation of the human rights of students with non-normative identities.

When Shepherd was reported for showing the video, Prof. Rambukkana acted as he should have: by challenging her pedagogy and working to make his classroom safer.

Instead of highlighting this incident as a reasonable defence of human rights in the face of reactionary ideology, you have fuelled the fire of Peterson and his supporters. This sets an extremely destructive precedent at a time when white supremacist and patriarchal logics are gaining traction in mainstream political discourse. Publishing think-pieces and editorials that rationalize thinly veiled prejudice calls into question the mission of your publication and the intentions of your leadership.

I urge you to reconsider your position on this matter and demonstrate public support for Prof. Rambukkana and his brave stance against hate speech in the classroom.

Griffin Epstein, George Brown College, Toronto
The majority of letter writers did not share Griffen Epstein's view, however:
The so-called apology from Wilfrid Laurier officials to Lindsay Shepherd, most particularly the equivocal tone from Prof. Nathan Rambukkana, borders on satire. You can almost imagine the brass at the school winking while they created it. These folks aren’t sorry at all about the shameful way they treated Ms. Shepherd; they’re sorry about getting caught.

The timing of this episode makes it even worse, in my mind, as this is the month where we offer our thanks to the brave men and women who have served and died over the years to protect our freedoms.

Yet here we have the latest example of progressive bullies trying to shut down a fellow academic for daring to posit a view that differs from the zeitgeist. For those struggling to understand why U.S. President Donald Trump appeals to many people sick of the scourge of identity politics, this is a clear example.

Jeff Barker, Mississauga

Despite the extensive coverage given to the case of Wilfrid Laurier teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd, I have yet to see anyone say the obvious: that the university treated her in exactly the same manner as they wrongly accused her of treating her students.

She was told she had made people uncomfortable and had created a toxic environment, an environment in which she had the advantage of power and position.

Imagine that Shepherd really did make people in her class feel uncomfortable, and when they objected she took advantage of her position in a power relationship by berating them, invoking Hitler, and making them cry. The university rightfully would have sanctioned her, or perhaps removed her from her position.

This leaves one to wonder, apologies aside, just what sanctions are being administered to the two professors, as well as the school official whose sole function appears to be to make sure people are treated equitably, sensitively and fairly.

Len Bulmer, Aurora

I would hope that respect for transgender people — or for any individual — and respect for freedom of debate and confrontation of ideas are compatible.

But the actions of Wilfrid Laurier University show there is no respect for ideas, for debate or for discussion; that students are encouraged to spy on each other, on instructors and on professors; and that they are encouraged to report any thought that is deviant from the inculcated dogma. The spying remains anonymous, inviting all sorts of abuses.

The inquisitors who interrogated the young woman demonstrated they were incredibly obtuse ideologues without even a basic understanding of the nature of intellectual debate or intellectual freedom.

This little secret process was shameful in almost every respect and does not serve the interests of transgender people or anyone else.

The inquisitors and the university showed no awareness of the basic tenets of freedom. If we create a society consisting of an amalgam of snitches and victims, and a cult of eternal victimhood, then we create a society of puppets and slaves, easy victims for any demagogue who comes along, from the right or left.

Gilbert Reid, Toronto
It is perhaps obvious to observe, in closing, the irony of an institution of higher learning acting and thinking in such a retrograde and untutored manner. Scratch the surface of a person and what you see, at least in this case, is the rapid unwinding of our evolution.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

A Modern Witch Hunt

Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning.
-The Trial, by Franz Kafka

Thus begins one of the most disturbing and compelling novels I have ever read. It centres around a man who, even those he is arrested, is never told what the charge is, nor is he incarcerated, although he does have to appear before strange tribunals throughout the novel. His punishment is meted out only at the end of the story.

A number of interpretations have been advanced over the years; one that has a certain currency is that the novel is a foretelling of the rise of the fascist state. If you get the chance, read it and form your own conclusions.

That we live in the age of surveillance should come as a surprise to no one. What some might find shocking, however, is that it has now infected academic institutions, supposed bastions of free thought, free expression and critical thinking.

You may have read about the profoundly disturbing 'trial' at Wilfred Laurier University of Lindsay Shepherd. If you haven't, here is a brief synopsis of her 'crime'.
Shepherd is a graduate student and teaching assistant. Her sin was to show a first-year communications class a video snippet from TV Ontario of two professors debating grammar.

Some transsexual people prefer that they be referred to with gender-neutral pronouns such as “they” or “ze” rather than “he” or “she.” That, in turn, has led some universities to adopt gender-neutral pronoun policies.

All of which is to say that when Shepherd ran her five-minute TVO clip featuring pronoun traditionalist Jordan Peterson debating another professor, she unleashed a storm.
Peterson’s views on pronouns are viewed by some as transphobic. So when Shepherd dared air the TVO segment featuring him, someone complained.

The teaching assistant was hauled before a three-person panel made up of her supervisor and boss, Nathan Rambukkana, another professor named Herbert Pimlott, and Adria Joel, Laurier’s acting manager of gendered violence prevention and support.
Fortunately Ms. Shepherd had the presence of mind to tape the 40-minute interrogation, which can be heard here. As well, you can read a transcript here.

It was, in fact, her recording of this kangaroo court that brought her situation to the nation's attention, something I'm sure the powers-that-be at WLU are apoplectic about, inasmuch as they tarnished the university's reputation, faced national censure, and had to apologize to Shepherd.

While The Toronto Star has lauded this apology as an opportunity for the renewal of academic freedom, the cynic in me says that the university's about-face is only because their hypocrisy was exposed, and other such incidents of free speech suppression may well occur far into the future.

Heather Mallick has an excellent piece in today's Star that, I think, does greater justice to the entire imbroglio:
The use of anonymity — in other words, cowardice — was one of the worst aspects of Wilfrid Laurier University’s ritual humiliation of a bright and thoughtful teaching assistant for the crime of WrongTeach.

So an unknown first-year student complained to Laurier about communications studies teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd, though to whom and in what manner we don’t know. Then her supervisor joined an “informal” panel, including the alarmingly titled Manager of Gendered Violence and Support, to tell her that that they’d been secretly informed of her creating a “toxic” environment.
And, like Kafka's Joseph K., she was not told anything about her accuser:
Shepherd was devastated to be told about the secret complaint. “How many? Who? How many? One?” she asked. “I have no concept of how many people complained, what their complaint was, you haven’t shown me the complaint.”
“I understand you’re upset but also confidentiality matters,” her supervisor said.

“The number of people is confidential?” Shepherd asked.

“Yes,” he answered.

It went on. Shepherd welled up again. “And I’m sorry I’m crying. I’m stressed out because this to me is wrong, so wrong.”
Who among us cannot empathize with her raging sense of injustice here?

Mallick, whose capacity for allusions from both popular culture and literature never fails to impress, aptly assesses the situation:
So Laurier is less a university than a corner on The Wire. A first-year with a scarf over his face shivs a young TA, another masked gang gathers to do the same at U of T and a posse beats down Shepherd who then produces a secret recording.

There was widespread anger, another of those civil brawls bred of an airy word, as Shakespeare so aptly put it, he’s good that way. But thanks to the posse, people grow leery of speaking too freely, of leaving the house for fear of being filmed and possibly publicly humiliated, of trusting others.
Wilfrid Laurier University has behaved with egregious dishonour and cowardice.

I hope they wear their disgrace for a long, long time.