Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Erosion Of Educational Integrity

I rarely write directly about education these days, now that I am several years into retirement and believe that dwelling upon the past can be unhealthy. Every so often, however, a story comes along that causes me to relive some of the sleazy politicization that continues to erode educational integrity to this very day.

Thanks to a link sent to me by my son, who is now living in Alberta, I read a story reported by CBC about an Edmonton high school physics teacher who has been suspended for giving zeroes on uncompleted assignments or exams:

Lynden Dorval, a physics teacher at Ross Sheppard High School, has been giving the mark for work that wasn't handed in or tests not taken even though it goes against the school's "no-zero" policy.

The thinking behind the policy is that failing to complete assignments is a behavioural issue and marks should reflect ability, not behaviour.

Dorval said he couldn't in good conscience comply with the rule.

Towards the end of my career in Ontario, we were moving toward a similar policy, but at the time of my retirement, many of us were still practising what we called a 'drop-dead date' beyond which late work could not be submitted and would be assigned a zero. However, for me the proverbial line in the sand, one upon which I was never actually tested, was the Ontario Ministry guideline that described plagiarism as a behaviourial issue and that students should be given opportunities to do makeup work.

While some teachers actually provided such opportunities, it was, in my time still only a guideline and not school policy. I vowed to myself that I would never submit to such a stipulation, and fortunately, like the teacher in the Edmonton story, was close enough to retirement to have been able to stay true to my principles had an administrative ultimatum been issued.

And what foundational principle was so important to me that I would have put my job on the line? It was that I would never reward academic dishonesty as if it were a mere slip of judgement, a quirk or peccadillo easily remediated by second and third chances.

And my reasoning was simple: to give makeup chances to errant students was to simply encourage academic dishonesty, since there would be no real consequences for committing what used to be considered a grave academic crime. It also would have mocked the majority of students who were hardworking and earnest in their efforts. That was something I could not live with.

So, as my friend Dom, also a retired teacher, says about those who promote such inane policies, 'educational principles' are now in the hands of the resume-builders, those whose concerns for quality in education are at the very least a distant second, far behind their insatiable appetite for career-advancement.

You can perhaps appreciate why I prefer not to revisit "the good old days' too often.

P.S. If you read the CBC story, be sure to note the student reactions to Lynden Dorval's suspension, especially the first two.

When The Left Is Right

Although one wouldn't know it by listening to the predictable, hysterical, and politically-motivated campaign Harper Inc. is mounting against Thomas Mulcair for his 'Dutch disease' comments, there is a growing view amongst analysts and think tanks that the NDP leader is correct to an extent in his assessments of the economic impact of unrestrained tarsands development.

In his column today, Thomas Walkom offers an overview of analyses that verify the inconvenient truth to be found in Mulcair's assertions.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Andrew Coyne On The Decline Of Parliament Under Harper

Despite his right-wing orientation, there has been unmistakable evidence in the work of Andrew Coyne this past year or so that conveys a clear disenchantment with the Harper regime. Using the sad spectacle of David Wilk's public humiliation, today in the National Post Coyne offers the re-education of the Kootenay-Columbia Conservative MP as an object lesson in how debased Parliamentary traditions have become under the nation's autocracy known as Harper Inc.

An Opportunity To Send Harper Inc. A Message

I received the following email message last evening from Leadnow.ca:

Since the Harper Conservatives announced their Omnibus Budget, more and more Canadians are rallying against a bill that would put a black mark on our democracy. Now, we’re writing to invite you to join a national day of action at Conservative MP offices, and supporting locations across Canada, this Saturday, June 2nd.

Even some traditional Conservative allies are now saying that the Harper Conservatives have gone too far. Last week, David Wilks, a Conservative MP, told a small group of his constituents that he, and many other Conservative MPs, were deeply troubled by the Budget Bill and that he would consider voting against it if 12 of his colleagues, enough to stop the bill, stood with him.[1]

It’s time to stand up. This Saturday, we’ll gather at Conservative MP offices and support locations across the country to bring Canadians together in opposition to a Bill that contains a sweeping agenda to remake Canadian society. And, we’ll shine a spotlight on the Conservative MPs who can stop the bill, split it apart and start over by inviting Canadians to help them make better laws.

If you are interested in this opportunity for a democratic expression of disgust at the direction Harper Inc. is taking us in, please click here to find an event near you.

A Journalist Writes About A Pattern

The other day I wrote a post about detecting patterns in political behaviour, opining that most media spend a disproportionate amount of their considerable resources covering trivia like celebrity gossip and acting as shallow and lazy supporters of government propaganda. The Toronto Star, I asserted, is one of the few exceptions in the world of newspapers.

Despite my feelings of repugnance toward The Globe and Mail, they still have at least one journalist who writes and thinks independently: Lawrence Martin. Yesterday, in a piece entitled The time has come for a progressive revival, Martin, drawing upon the work of a blog posting by Alex Himelfarb, the Clerk of the Privy Council under Paul Martin, Jean Chrétien and, briefly, Stephen Harper, discusses the slow but relentless dismantling of the progressive state at the hands of Harper Inc., a change that was presaged by the dropping of the word Progressive from the party's name and one that is accelerating under recent legislation.

I hope that you will have time to read both pieces. While Himelfarb's analysis is lengthy, it is a solid testament to the robust nature of the politcal blogosphere. Martin's piece is much shorter but, I believe, captures the flavour of the originating work.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Please Read This

It is a very eloquent and heart-felt rebuttal to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s observation that there are “no bad jobs.”

Thomas Mulcair: Wastrel or Canny Investor?

Given the widespread support that the the NDP Leader of the The Official Opposition is enjoying these days, it is hardly surprising to see a public campaign to erode that support getting underway. The latest, of course, is the non-story of Thomas Mulcair remortgaging his house 11 times; as the trained seals the Canadian public is expected to be, we are supposed to recoil in horror at the thought of this wastrel ever becoming Prime Ministere and doing the same with our 'fragile economy', to borrow a phrase from the perpetually-consternated Labour Minister, Lisa Raitt.

After reading an article in the Financial Post my son, who recently moved to Alberta, sent me the following thoughts:

Everyone's criticizing Mulcair for taking out 11 mortgages on his house and not understanding how to handle money, with the implication being that he'll bankrupt Canada. Here's a good rebuttal to that, saying that it's the opposite, and that he's very savvy with money. As the article says, borrowing to spend is a bad idea, but borrowing to invest is a good idea.

"If you are borrowing money at 3.5% and you have an opportunity for a yield of about 4.5% in a basic investment of say real estate investment trusts, that looks like a winner even before you consider the advantage of writing off interest."

Since he likely borrowed all that money to fund his political campaign, he made a superb financial investment.

Guess that means Harper Inc. is going to have to do a little more work on the Mulcair character-assassination file.

A Victim of Bullying Speaks Out

I have a confession to make: I'm a survivor of bullying. Educated in the Catholic elementary and secondary high school system, it was common for me to be the target of verbal harassment that questioned my worth as a human being and physical abuse in the form of sudden and explosive slaps to the face, hair-pulling, and books slammed over my head. Needless to say, I was not the only victim of such assaults

It literally took decades to lose my hatred of the teachers, both lay and religious, who perpetrated those acts of violence against me, under the pretext of 'corrective discipline'.

It was those experiences, I suspect, that planted the seeds of what became a life-long suspicion of all institutions, both religious and secular, and a deep, abiding contempt for all who abuse their authority in any arena of human activity.

And so it is with a mixture of fascination, bemusement and contempt that I read about the current outrage being expressed by Catholics and political opportunists (i.e., the Hudak Conservatives) in Ontario over the McGuinty government's insistence in its amended anti-bullying initiative that all school boards, both public and Catholic (the latter of which in fact is public, given that they are taxpayer-funded) permit the use of the term gay-straight alliances if requested by students.

Indeed, no less a church luminary than Toronto Archbishop and Cardinal Thomas Collins has weighed in on the controversy. The frequently red-accoutered prelate, in rhetorical flourishes approaching the hysterical, warns ominously, and with holocaust overtones, that

other faiths could become targets of the government if the anti-bullying bill becomes law and doesn't allow Catholic schools the right to deal with homophobia in their own ways.

"I would say to people of other faiths and even those who disagree with us on (gay-straight alliances): if this could happen to us it can happen to you in some other area," he said.

"When religious freedom becomes a second-class right, you also will eventually be affected."

Consider us warned, Cardinal Collins. And one more thing: get over your fear of the word 'gay' and try practising Jesus' command of unconditional love.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Lisa Raitt Promises To Get The Trains Running

And will she promise to get them running on time?

We're The Real Opposition Party - No, We are - NO, WE ARE

While the federal Liberals have adopted an interesting strategy by teaming up with Elizabeth May to introduce amendments that could delay the passage of the Conservative government’s omnibus budget bill, their childish boast that “We very clearly indicated that we are the real opposition here because we found that the best way to deal with this ...." tends to undermine any claim to superiority over the NDP.

Poisonous partisan politics, something Harper Inc. loves.

Patterns

Something that occurs just once is mere happenstance; twice is a coincidence, and three or more times is part of a pattern. - Anonymous

Being able to detect patterns, whether in the lab or in the crucible of political behaviour, requires time, intelligence, and access to extensive sources of information. Few of us possess sufficient amounts of all three to be able to conduct such analysis in isolation; therefore collaboration would also seem to be a fourth requirement.

While the Internet has made it easier to detect such patterns, and indeed there are certain bloggers I read who are masterful in their capacity for pattern-detection (Dr. Dawg and The Sixth Estate come immediately to mind), there is still a vital role to be played by organizations that should have all four components in abundance - the mainstream media.

Sadly, however, many newspapers and television networks have degenerated into lazy, sycophantic and shallow promoters of government policy and celebrity gossip, affording little upon which the critical thinker can draw for nourishment. However, there is one paper who readers of this blog know I take a special interest and pride in, and that is The Toronto Star.

Canada's largest-circulation newspaper, The Star is often dismissed by the reactionary right as a 'leftist-rag', a derogation not surprising since nuanced thinking is not the extreme-right's forte. However, in my view it provides much-need information so sadly missing from Canada's self-proclaimed newspaper of record, The Globe and Mail, a journal I have occasionally written about on this blog.

The fact that The Star has such high circulation figures and healthy profits is a clear indication of the appetite that exists in this country for solid journalism. It is certainly why I subscribe to it.

A national debate on key issues affecting the lives of Canadians cannot take place in a vacuum. And while Harper Inc., probably the most secretive government in our history, sees openness and truth as an impediment to the implementation of its neo-conservative agenda, The Star continues to ensure that the vacuum is never absolute.

I therefore highly recommend perusal of this morning's editorial, in which The Star, while discussing the changes in the Employment Insurance appeals system, detects a larger pattern at work here, ending with this assertion:

What is emerging is a system that gives more power to the government and makes it more difficult for Canadians to challenge the way their tax dollars are being used, their rights are being eroded and their avenues of appeal are being shut down.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Shield of Secrecy Protecting Toronto G20 Police Still Exists

Although two years overdue, the abuses of Charter Rights and police brutality that occurred in Toronto during the June 2010 G20 Summit are finally being recognized for what they were; this can't help but be a source of satisfaction to many. The comprehensive report by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director has at least started us down the road to long-overdue justice. However, not all is yet well.

The report's apparently comprehensive nature stands in sharp contrast to the tactics of the never-say-sorry Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair, who has consistently temporized and qualified his comments to the point that were he the only source of information about the shameful and criminal acts committed by Toronto's finest, one would believe that an exemplary job had been done by all. However, it seems he is not the only one concealing the truth from the public.

A Star exclusive reports today that a G20 senior commander, Toronto police Insp. Gary Meissner, is facing disciplinary action for ordering the early-morning raid and unlawful mass arrests at the University of Toronto, an event that many will recall as a stark reminder of the fragility of our Charter rights.

Based on deductions befitting Inspector Gadget, Meissner concluded that a group of 100 people, mainly students from Quebec being billeted at a U of T gym, was shielding some of the black bloc anarchists who had wrought the deplorable property destruction the previous day, destruction that for some strange reason the police chose not to stop. Without a proper warrant, the police, under Meissner's command, swooped in with tasers pointed and rubber bullets at the ready, proceeding to shackle all of the arrested. Eventually, charges were dropped.

Most disturbing is that this information about Meissner was withheld from the public in the OIPRD report, and The Star was able to obtain the information only from one of the arrested people who complained to the arm's length agency.

It would seem that the public's right to know is yet another of our cherished freedoms that is more illusion than reality.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Thomas Walkom Opines on E.I. Changes

To this Conservative government, anything that might interfere with the mythical free market — and particularly with the market’s downward pressure on wages — is anathema.

The above is just a brief excerpt from Thomas Walkom's column in today's Star, additional food for thought as I continue trying to critically assess these recent changes to Employment Insurance rules.

The Butler Did It!

This report kind of reminds me of an old spoof on small-town newspapers I once saw, with the headline "Two Local Women Missing in Japan" with almost the entire front page taken up with the story. In a small space at the bottom, this headline: Massive Earthquake Kills Thousands in Japan".

Friday, May 25, 2012

Canada For Sale

At least that's all I can conclude given that the ineffectual Investment Canada Act is about to become completely impotent thanks to changes announced today; in a short time, the government will not even bother reviewing foreign investments in or purchases of Canadian companies worth less than $1 billion.

National borders? Economic sovereignty? Closures of branch plants? Completely irrelevant in the new Canada being formed by Harper Inc.

A Good Environment For Mushrooms, Not Democracy

Government policy conducted in dark secrecy, as I suggested in my last post, is difficult for the critical thinker to evaluate; that task is made even more arduous when it is hidden within an omnibus bill, as is the case with the reforms to Employment Insurance eligibility.

However, one piece of information has emerged that perhaps makes the job a little easier. The CBC's Allison Crawford reports that a new Social Security Tribunal will replace about 1,000 part-time members of the Employment Insurance Board of Referees and 32 umpires, and that same tribunal will also hear appeals from Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security claimants.

Under the current system, most appeals on denials of benefits are heard within 30 days. Under the new Tribunal, to be in place next year, it is difficult to see how complaints will be dealt with expeditiously, since it will consist of only 74 members, half of whom will hear the E.I complaints.

University of Ottawa law professor Lucie Lamarche says the new measure, which comes on page 196 of the more than 400-page budget implementation bill, is "well-hidden," and she fears that under the new system, applicants will have to hire lawyers. She says it appears that under the legislation, people will have to make more technical, legal arguments.

So, a little more information, ferreted out by diligent journalists and citizens, has perhaps helped in my quest to critically assess the 'new and improved' E.I. program.

What is Truth?

An age-old question without a firm answer, it is one I find myself regularly pondering as I continue striving toward an ideal I know I'll never attain, that of being a consummate critical thinker. Bombarded by information as we are, it is often difficult to separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff and arrive at satisfactory conclusions. And of course, there is always one's own biases to contend with as major filters of that information.

Take, for example, my deep antipathy toward the Harper Conservatives. So used to their tactics of denigration, disparagement, denial and deception am I that part of me strongly believes truth in any form is alien to them, that their actions are driven not by any concern for us as a nation, but only as the subjects of a grand neo-conservative experiment.

But to interpret everything they do according to that restrictive framework is also to deny true critical thinking and is simply to be as reactionary as the right-wing.

And so, in the spirit of honest inquiry, I seek to make an honest assessment of the changes to Employment Insurance announced yesterday by Human Resources Minister Diane Finley. Is it, as Star columnist Tim Harper suggests, a reform that curiously dovetails "with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation view that a bunch of lazy layabouts are milking the system and forcing more ambitious offshore workers to do the work they won’t do" ?

Or is it "all about matching Canadians hungry for work with employers hungry for employing Canadians instead of foreign workers," as the government insists?

Another question: what commitment does Ottawa have to improving and expanding access to retraining programs for those seeking to upgrade their skills? And how do the E.I. changes affect them?

Like all policy conducted in secrecy instead of collaboratively with the public, this legislation invites the worst of interpretations, whether or not those interpretations are wholly warranted. Such is the price to be a paid by a regime committed to restricting the flow of information and treating those it 'serves' with palpable contempt.

That kind of philosophy of government certainly doesn't make it easier to be a critical thinker these days.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Just a Coincidence?

Surely there can be no other explanation for the fact that at the same time that Human Resources Minister Diane Finley has announced new rules for those claiming E.I. benefits, her department has cut off the flow of some key employment data that the public has a right to.

Now being withheld from public scrutiny is information showing the total dollar amount of benefits paid to each province and the average weekly payments by province. As reported by the CBC, the official explanation involves some inconsistencies in the Human Resources raw data that were discovered over a year ago, but, strangely enough, inconsistencies that did not prevent Statistics Canada from doing its usual job of aggregating data over the past year. However, as of May, that data has been cut off by the Harper government.

One can only hope that these 'inconsistencies in data' are resolved soon, lest uncharitable thoughts should emerge to undermine this government's 'credibility'.

Words, Words, Words

As a retired English teacher and a lifelong lover of books, I have always been fascinated by words, both what they actually mean and how they are used to influence and manipulate. As the years have gone by, I have become especially interested in the political uses and abuses of language along the lines described in George Orwell's seminal essay, Politics and the English Language, the latter of which I would explore every year with my senior classes.

As I noted in an earlier post, the power of language to curb liberty and undermine free and critical thought is something we are witness to on a regular basis, and it is only by being familiar with these techniques that we can, to some extent, guard against them and recognize perversions of truth when they occur.

Orwell was well-aware of these dangers when he wrote his essay 56 years ago, and the problem has become so extensive that many of us almost automatically tune out when politicians or other 'leaders' open their mouths.

In Ontario, we are currently witness to a barrage of demagoguery and euphemisms from the McGuinty government in its battles against teachers and doctors. Take, for example, Education Minister Laurel Broten, whose government insists on a two-year pay freeze for teachers and the elimination of the retirement gratuity that exists in lieu of any post-retirement benefits. When she says she is choosing full day kindergarten and smaller elementary class sizes over teachers' paycheques, she is awakening latent public antipathy against 'greedy teachers', a pretty obvious subtext of her public pronouncements.

When she says, “I am asking the unions and the teachers to come to the table and work with us,” insisting she is “not negotiating in the media,” that is precisely what she is doing, of course.

And then there is her strange use of the word 'negotiation', which denotes a give and take to arrive at a reasonable solution. However, in this context, since she and McGuinty have made clear there is to be no give, only take, (OSSTF, for example, did offer to accept a two-year-wage freeze but not the end of the gratuity) 'negotiate' becomes a euphemism for saving the government the political embarrassment of having to strip away collective bargaining rights at some political cost to the party.

The same, of course, applies to the 'negotiations' the province is conducting with doctors. When Health Minister Deb Matthews says she’s disappointed that the OMA rejected her offer, what she is really saying, since the word 'offer' is a euphemism for 'ultimatum', is that she is sorry that the medical profession has not capitulated to her government's demands. That negotiation is not possible is attested to by the fact that she and McGuinty rejected the OMA's offer of a pay freeze.

No matter where we might stand on the direction being taken by the McGuinty government, it is imperative that all of us recognize and decry tactics that take us further and further from a healthy state of democracy.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Chief Bill Blair Dodges Another Bullet

The Toronto Star reports the following:

The province’s police complaints watchdog has recommended 31 officers be charged with misconduct during the G20 summit, two of them in senior positions, Toronto police said Wednesday.

The good chief must be wearing his kevlar vest 24/7, judging by his apparent immunity to any consequences for his disastrous G20 police 'leadership' in 2010.

What Do Bumper Stickers Reveal About Us? Part 2

I recently wrote a post entitled, What Do Bumper Stickers Reveal About Us? Part 1, in which I contemplated the implications of the one that reads: If You Don't Stand Behind Our Troops, Feel Free To Stand In Front of Them. I ended that post by offering the opinion that the second part of the slogan suggests that raising any kinds of questions about the military is tantamount to treason and therefore warrants execution. Now to the implications of that mentality.

Military policy is determined by government. Government decides whether to wage war, and with whom. Government determines whether or not military service is voluntary or mandatory. And it is government, unfortunately, that is frequently motivated by imperatives that are more political than they are noble in deciding to put our young soldiers into harm's way, paving the road to grievous injury, a lifetime of disability, and even death.

Take, for example, the war in Afghanistan. Even jingoists like Stephen Harper now recognize its futility, refusing to extend beyond 2014 any Canadian presence there. Unfortunately, however, with the loss of 158 lives, far too high a price has already been paid for a commitment originally made by the Liberal government under Chretien, and escalated under Paul Martin, for economic, rather than security reasons.

As observed by Thomas Walkom,

It was Chrétien’s successor, Paul Martin, who committed full battle troops, apparently under the impression that this would allow Canada to be viewed as a serious country by its allies.

More specifically, Ottawa hoped that its participation in the Afghan war would convince Washington to keep the U.S.-Canada border open to truck traffic.

So, to return to the frightening implications of the mentality being expressed in the bumper sticker, it seems to be advocating an unquestioning acceptance of authority, a naive trust in the purity of both governmental and military intentions, and a suspension of critical thinking on the part of the electorate.

Perhaps it is this philosophy that helped propel the Harper regime into majority government.

Perhaps it is this philosophy that has made it easier for Harper Inc. to lie both to Parliament and the people of Canada on so many occasions.

Perhaps it is this mentality that is helping to make it easier for the Prime Minister to reshape Canada through his massive and secretive omnibus bill, Bill C-38.

Indeed, I can't help but wonder how devotees of the bumper sticker If You Don't Stand Behind Our Troops, Feel Free To Stand In Front of Them define the democracy that they are so quick to say the troops are defending, while ours so precipitously and perilously declines.

While Canadians Pay Designer Prices, Cambodian Workers on Strike For $5 Salary Increase

As we go about, getting and spending, here is a sobering reminder of other people's reality.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Harper Omnibus Bill To Cede Some Of Our Sovereignty

Everywhere we look, more and more evidence of Stephen Harper's intention to betray Canadians through Bill C-38, his omnibus bill which covers a multitude of sins.

A Star Reader's Thoughts On G20 Justice

As a reader of various progressive bloggers, I know that the thirst for justice and accountability burns strongly amongst informed Canadians. The only problem, of course, is that this passion seems singularly absent in those who occupy positions of authority, be they our elected 'representatives', heads of various organizations, or, to be sure, certain police chiefs.

So it is always heartening when concerns about issues repugnant to our sensibilities and values are given prominent space in national newspapers; such is the case today in The Star's lead letter to the editor. Written by Peter Finch of Toronto, I suspect few will disagree with the sentiments he expresses:

Re: G20 commanders committed misconduct, reports conclude, May 18

The unlawful acts by police during the G20, identified in the report from Gerry McNeilly of the Office of the Independent Police Review Director, will be prevented from recurring only when accountability results in hard measures.

First, Chief Bill Blair and the senior officers of the major incident command centre (MICC) must be fired or demoted. Their incompetence in planning for the G20, from inadequate tactics to control and minimize the known methods of the Black Bloc through to operation of the detention center, was reprehensible.

Worse, their order to “take back the streets” was a panicked overreaction with no real direction as to what this meant or how to effect it, with the result of hundreds of innocent citizens being detained, jailed and in many cases, beaten.

Secondly, police officers involved in the beating of protesters must face criminal charges and if found guilty, removed from the force. They will have shown themselves unfit for police work.

Thirdly, the Police Act needs an overhaul to make disciplinary hearings more open and truthful co-operation by officers mandatory. Penalties must be more appropriate. An officer removing his/her name tag requires not only a financial penalty but also a black mark slowing their promotion.

Finally, civilian oversight of the Toronto Police must be strengthened. Responsibility for investigation of serious police malfeasance must be stripped from the Toronto Police and carried out by an independent body such as the Special Investigations Unit.

Evidence and testimony must not be withheld or delayed. The police chief and officers must not be allowed to hide behind a blue wall of conspiracy.

Failing to address the unlawful arrests, excessive force, Charter rights infringements and gross violations of prisoner rights without adequate penalties will only encourage the Toronto Police Service to continue acting like power unto themselves rather than the service arm of Torontonians.

Peter Pinch, Toronto

Monday, May 21, 2012

How The Harper Omnibus Bill Disrupted My Sunday

Yesterday started out pleasantly enough. After enjoying my wife's home-made cereal, a piece of toast and some coffee, I decided the weather was so fine that it warranted my going out on my bicycle to be among nature's delights. Returning home after about an hour-and-a-half, in an unusually serene frame of mind, it seemed like a grand idea to have another cup of coffee, watch the birds at my feeder and bird bath, and read the Insight Section of The Star.

It was that last decision that ended my hard-won equanimity, as I read an analysis of the Harper budget omnibus bill. Although I was previously aware of many of the bill's major contents, the stealthy scope of this grossly undemocratic legislation, and the palpable contempt for the Canadian people implicit in it was, to say the least, unsettling. Indeed, after I read the article, relaxing amidst the sylvan setting of my backyard while Rome burns seemed a bit of a guilty indulgence.

The following aspects of the bill were highlighted in the article:

• Cuts 19,200 government jobs amid $5.2 billion in spending reductions.

• Eliminates a wide range of agencies and organizations, from social policy-oriented agencies like the National Council of Welfare and National Aboriginal Health Organization to the watchdog responsible for monitoring the activities of Canada’s spy agency, CSIS.

• Sweeping changes to immigration law that will allow the government to delete the applications of some 280,000 people who asked to come here as federal skilled workers before 2008. Application fees will be returned. The legislation also refocuses immigration policy on economic needs with measures intended to attract younger, better-qualified workers to directly meet labour market demands.

• Changes the Temporary Foreign Worker Program so that foreign employees can be paid up to 15 per cent less than the prevailing local wage under certain circumstances.

• Alters the administration of parks, meaning shorter seasons and fewer services at parks and historic sites.

• Cuts spending on culture, foreign aid and future health-care transfers to the provinces.

Like the cowards that they are, the Harper regime has refused all opposition demands for a legislative breakdown of the omnibus bill that would allow full and public debate on each of its elements.

Like all evil that thrives, the Conservatives know that it is only through the shroud of secrecy and darkness that their vile efforts to reshape Canada can succeed.

And like the true betrayers of democracy's ideals that they are, Harper Inc. is doing everything within its power to keep the people who will be most affected by this reshaping, i.e., the majority of Canadians, as ignorant of its plans as possible.

If you want to know more, including some of the details of the bill's scrapping of environmental regulations that has prompted Greenpeace Canada spokesperson Keith Stewart to describe it as an attack on nature and democracy. It’s being done, basically, on behalf of the big oil companies, I hope you will check out the article.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

New Disgrace For Both Harper And Kent

Environment minister’s office urged bureaucrats to blame media for recycling controversy

Nope, no surprises here in the depth of contempt both the P.M. And Peter Kent feel for the people they 'serve'.

The Purpose of Education

As a retired teacher who spent 30 years in the classroom, I long ago recognized how crucial the development of critical-thinking skills is to a good education. During my career, the cultivation of these skills was really an intrinsic part of literary exploration as we questioned, speculated upon and analysed the motivations of characters from some of the world's great works, whether it was Shakespeare's Hamlet or Macbeth, or Coleridge's protagonist in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, to name but three.

However, for a number of years now, such pursuits have often become regarded as rather 'soft', not what is needed in a society where 'hard-skills' are increasingly in demand. Of course, I and countless others would argue that critical thinking is one of the most important hard skills that are crucial to any thriving society, imparting as they do the ability to think widely, deeply and nimbly, facilitating adaptation not only in the workplace but also in the demands of daily life.

I have many concerns for the future, not the least of which is that as a society we no longer recognize the central importance of these thinking skills, making us increasingly prone to easy manipulation by those who do not have our best interests at heart. It is for this reason that I found an article on Alternet.org of particular interest; although written for an American audience, it explores education from two perspectives, the conservative and the liberal, and while its bias is clearly in favour of the latter, it offers some real food for thought as we confront, in our own country, almost daily assaults on logic and reason as the Harper regime perfects its campaign of demagoguery and denigration against all who disagree with it.

Entitled How the Conservative Worldview Quashes Critical Thinking -- and What That Means For Our Kids' Future, you can read the article here.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

He's Just Another Politician

Despite the ongoing and very critical coverage of Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair and his myriad leadership failures at the 2010 G20 Summit in Toronto, the truculent top cop refuses to both apologize and resign.

The most withering criticism I can think to make is that Blair is just another politician.

You know, a politician in the mode of incompetent and unethical public 'servants' like Bev Oda, Peter MacKay, Christian Paradis, and Tony Clement, all 'Honourable' in parliamentary title only, all betrayers of the public trust in many ways, none possessesing the personal integrity necessary to take responsibility for their misdeeds and resign.

Chief Blair has some wonderful models to inspire him.

Friday, May 18, 2012

'Dutch Disease' Confirmed By Harper-Funded Study

Despite the ongoing Harper-led campaign of vilification against Thomas Mulcair for his comments about the Alberta tarsands and Dutch disease, a Harper-funded study confirms the truth of his assertion.

As reported in The Globe, Industry Canada paid $25,000 to three academics to produce the lengthy study, which is about to be published in a prestigious journal, Resource and Energy Economics. The study concludes that between 33 and 39 per cent of the manufacturing employment loss that was due to exchange rate developments between 2002 and 2007 is related to the Dutch Disease phenomenon.

Despite that inconvenient finding, don't expect the character attacks on Mulcair to abate. If past practices are any indication, they will probably be taken to new levels as the party of national division, the Conservatives, seek to drown out rational debate with hysterical name-calling and finger-pointing, the chief weapons in their childish arsenal.

Christopher Hume on the G20

With a broad range of targets in his column today, including Dalton McGuinty, Harper, Tony Clement and Julian Fantino as additional architects of the 20120 G20 debacle in Toronto, the Star's Christopher joins in the chorus of those calling for the resignation of Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair. Of course, he is under no illusion that this will happen, as he tartly observes,

Perhaps Canadians can take solace in the fact that Harper, Clement, Blair, Fantino, McGuinty and the rest of this ghastly crew must recognize the full extent of their failure, however silently. They’re not about to admit anything, of course, that would require integrity and a degree of courage none possesses.

Amen, brother.

Deny, Deny. Deny

In the strange parallel world inhabited by Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair, that seems to be the rule governing administrative oversight. When confronted with an authoritative and damning report on the behaviour of your officers, both frontline and senior, attempt to deal with its implications by refusing to apologize for the abrogation of Charter rights that took place under your command, defiantly assert that the rights of citizens were protected that weekend, maintain that 'most police carried out their duties in a professional manner,' and, when really pushed, admit that there are things that “could have been done better”

The apparent inviolable rule of this parallel world is to never, under any circumstances, accept personal responsibility for what happened under your command.

Fortunately, to set things right, both worlds have a Toronto Star which, in today's hard-hitting editorial, suggests that if Blair continues inhabiting that strange world where DENY, DENY, DENY is the ruling ethos, he should step down.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Senior Toronto Officers Facing Charges

The Star reports the following:

About five high-ranking Toronto police officers were informed last week they will face misconduct charges for their actions during the G20 summit, the Star has learned.

The CBC is reporting 28 front line officers have been charged with misconduct — including unlawful arrest and excessive force.

Regarding the G20 police abuse of Charter rights, the still-truculent Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair yesterday:

“Generally, I think the rights of our citizens were protected that weekend,” Blair said, except, he added, “in individual circumstances.”

“I am quite prepared to hold people accountable,” he said. “If there is misconduct, we’ll deal with that.”

Unfortunately, he is still excluding himself from culpability in that misconduct.

Accentuating The Positive

Perhaps he is a student of Norman Vincent Peale. Perhaps he believes that when you are handed lemons, you make lemonade. Perhaps he prefers to see the glass as half-full, not half-empty. Or perhaps he is just a politician intent on covering his professional rear end.

Whatever he is, Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair is NOT going to accept the responsibility he bears for the policing and Charter Rights disaster that Toronto became in June of 2010 under his command during the G20 Summit.

Chief Blair's immediate public reaction to the excoriating report from The Office of the Independent Police Review Director was to comment that the report observes that 'most police carried out their duties in a professional manner.' When asked by CTV reporter Colin DeMelo whether he would consider resigning, the Chief looked at him and curtly replied, "No."

In any event, today's Star has extensive coverage of the report and a recap of the myriad wrongdoings of the constabulary under Blair. You can access that coverage here.

One final observation from me: Whether evaluating our federal or provincial politicians or police chiefs, much can be inferred about their character when they put their own careers above both personal integrity and the public good. We see it all the time, but just because it has become the norm hardly justifies their choice of expediency over principle.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Stating The Obvious

While this report from The Office of the Independent Police Review may afford some satisfaction for confirming the obvious, the fact that there were no consequences to the Toronto police or their chief, Bill Blair, for being key parts of this orchestrated violation of our Charter Rights renders it pretty much meaningless.

Death By Download?

Although a cliche, it is nonetheless true that knowledge is power, which probably explains why Canada is currently under the yoke of the most secretive and undemocratic federal government it has ever known.

The latest restriction on access to information is reflected in the Harper termination of the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, a move which Tim Harper, in his Star column today, attributes to Conservative political ideology.

The group never strayed from its mandate, which was to study both the economic side and the environmental side of climate change, but never one at the exclusion of another. Apparently, however, as the Harper regime eliminates a variety of environmental regulations to fulfill its commitment to turn over the country wholly to the free enterprise 'masters of the universe', the Rountable's reports proved to be too popular a source of information for interested citizens.

As Tim Harper reports, Twin reports entitled Achieving 2050 were downloaded 51,605 times. A report on water sustainability was downloaded 33,565 times, another one entitled Climate Prosperity was downloaded 25,592 times and was linked from national and international media websites.

The NRTEE website gets more than 500,000 hits each year.

It has been said that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Coupled with all of the other measures implemented by this regime to limit access to information, it is a safe bet to say that the current Prime Minister agrees.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Mulcair's Dutch Disease Comments: A More Rational Assessment

Despite the near-hysterical reaction of certain CBC broadcasters to the comments made last week by Thomas Mulcair about how tarsands developments are inflating the value of the Canadian dollar, thereby weakening our manufacturing sector, there are those who are able to more objectively assess his comments. One of them is Lawrence Martin.

In his column today entitled Ottawa’s industrial policy divides Canada against itself, Martin observes that we made progress in the decades before 2000 in moving away from an economy based on resource extraction. Using figures from Jim Stanford's research, he reveals that well over half of Canada’s exports consisted of an increasingly sophisticated portfolio of value-added products in areas such as automotive assembly, telecommunications, aerospace technology and more.

However, as of July 2011, unprocessed and semi-processed resource exports accounted for two-thirds of Canada’s total exports, the highest in decades,” Mr. Stanford wrote. “Compare that to 1999, when finished goods made up almost 60 per cent of our exports.”

So while the Conservatives and their apologists at the CBC (aka Peter Mansbridge and Rex Murphy) can wax apoplectic about the 'divisiveness' of this national leader's comments, Lawrence Martin ends his piece thus:

But let the debate roar on. The country needs a new industrial strategy, one based on more than corporate tax cuts, free-trade agreements and rampant resource exploitation.

What Do Bumper Stickers Reveal About Us? Part 1

Although I have never affixed a sticker to my car bumper, I am fascinated by those who do. When I was young, it was very common to see bumpers proudly proclaiming travel to lands both near and far, I Drove The Alcan Highway and Rushmore Aerial Tramway being just two examples. Then, over time there was a movement toward signs that raised awareness for causes or beliefs, such as Think Pink (breast cancer) and Honk If You Love Jesus (evangelical promotion)

However, the sticker that most intrigues and disquiets me is one I see with some regularity: If You Don't Stand Behind Our Troops, Feel Free To Stand In Front of Them.

I saw it again just the other day, and my immediate desire, not acted upon, was to approach the driver to ask how he interpreted it. The first part may seem clear enough, the expectation that we will support the troops, but exactly what does supporting our troops mean in the minds of those who purvey this sticker?

Is it the equivalent of the tired absolutist phrase, America, Love It Or Leave It? If so, it is demanding that all citizens adopt an unquestioning, unthinking, uncritical acceptance of all things military including, one would have to assume, actions and policies that may violate personal values and norms, for example the euphemistic collateral damage that sometimes occurs in battle and is usually explained away by government and military command as 'a regrettable but unintentional event.'

Broadening the consideration, does a failure to support the troops include asking whether the loss of young soldiers' lives in a place like Afghanistan is worth it? Indeed, does a healthy debate about such matters constitute a betrayal of the sacrifice that they have made? That certainly seemed to be the mentality that earned Jack Layton the sobriquet 'Taliban Jack' for questioning the Harper regime about its military strategy in Afghanistan a few years back.

Moving to the second part of the sticker, Feel Free To Stand In Front Of Them, I assume, although I stand to be corrected, that we are being told raising any kinds of questions about the military is tantamount to treason and therefore warrants execution.

You perhaps begin to see that there are wider implications to this mentality, which I will address in Part 2 of this post.

Make That A Soya Burger For Me

If the Harper regime has its way, a rise in cholesterol levels may be the least of your worries when you make that next trip to Macdonalds.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Michael Moore: The Evolution of An Activist

Having suffered one of my fairly frequent bouts of insomnia last night, the blog post I had hoped to make is not yet complete, so just a quick entry here. I recently completed reading Here Comes Trouble, Michael Moore's memoir that takes us from his childhood to the world premier of his first documentary, Roger and Me. It is a book I highly recommend.

Although I initially had no particular interest in reading it, I happened to see the book in my local library branch one day and was pleasantly surprised by its drolly amusing, self-deprecating and very informative content. I realized that heretofore I actually knew little about Moore, other than his success in the film world. That success, and the activism behind it, I discovered, were clearly presaged very early in his life, only one indication of which I will deal with here.

When he was 17, he was invited to take part in a mock state government. Housed in a dorm at one of the universities, Moore actually had little interest in partaking in the process, but one day when he was going to the vending machine for a snack, he saw a notice inviting entries into a contest sponsored by The Elks on the subject of why Abraham Lincolm was a great president. Knowing that The Elks, a private club, at the time excluded non-whites from membership, Moore, in a moment of teenage outrage, was truck by the hypocrisy of the essay topic. He therefore wrote an essay, not about Lincoln, but about the fraternal order's hypocrisy. Having to deliver the speech the next day with some trepidation in a room filled with other entrants, he was shocked to learn that the judge, a high school teacher and a non-member of the Elks, declared him the winner.

His victory required that he give the speech again at the awards ceremony, where he would be presented with the trophy by the Elks' president. When he gave the speech ...., well, you'll have to read the book to learn of the immediate result, but I will tell you that he next received a call from CBS requesting an interview with him, to be shown on Walter Cronkite's evening news. Moore declined the opportunity, but the event was a pivotal formative moment in what was to become his destiny, and the publicity resulting from his speech had a real influence on legislation that was later enacted outlawing racial discrimination in private organizations.

Many people frequently get annoyed or outraged by Moore's antics, but Here Comes Trouble does a very nice job in providing some real insight into the passions that drive the man.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Star's Reader Reaction to Bill C-309

As promised in my previous post, I am reproducing letters from yesterday's Star in which readers offer their own trenchant insights on the implications of the abhorrent Bill C-309:

Re: Government backs bill aimed at masked protesters, May 7

This week the Harper government party threw its support behind Bill C-309 (Preventing Persons from Concealing Their Identity during Riots and Unlawful Assemblies Act) put forward by Wildrose MP Blake Richards. Owing to this support, Bill C-309 will almost certainly become law. But like so many recent Conservative initiatives, the bill is vindictive and manipulative.

Riding a public wave of unease after the riots in Vancouver and those in the U.K. in the summer of 2011, Richards drafted the bill in order to add ammunition to the police toolkit to respond to public assemblies. The bill aims to increase the punitive capacities of the law when reacting to people participating in the already illegal acts of rioting and unlawful assembly.

Let’s be clear: the deplorable behaviour of rioters in Vancouver was the act of vandals that should be punished. The problem, however, is the potential for this proposed amendment to the Criminal Code to be used in situations of legitimate protest, given the subjective criteria for determining riots and unlawful assemblies.

At the most basic level, a law of this nature will increase the risk of participating in even the most docile of events because all emotion-laden public gatherings, even of the most peacefully minded participants, hold the potential for violence.

There are many good reasons why people wear masks during public gatherings. To begin with, mask-wearing is a long-standing method of symbolic expression and political solidarity. Most often mask-wearing is innocuous and involves no risk to public safety such as when participants in Free the Children’s Vow of Silence Campaign cover their mouths with a small mask to symbolize the silencing of children or when Greenpeace activists don orangutan masks to publicize the destruction of rainforests. But Bill C-309 has the potential to criminalize those harmless acts.

Global protests, such as the G20 meeting in Toronto in 2010 have also drawn our attention to the fact that as the tension between police and protesters has risen in recent decades even the most peaceful protesters have been subjected to the use of pepper spray. In these instances, protective masks have become a commonly used method of protecting one’s physical well-being while expressing political views. Bill C-309 would almost certainly be used in these circumstances.

But there is also a question of political privacy and minimizing personal risk; for the same reason that we uphold the right of citizens to keep their vote private for professional and personal reasons, many people who engage in political dissent are not eager to publicize their political views. Canada’s legendary Cold War defector, Igor Gouzenko wore a hood covering his entire head during public appearances until his death in order to protect his family from the ramifications of his political choices.

Bill C-309 has very real consequences for Canadian civil liberties. At present, the bill conflates violent behaviour with mask wearing; the problem is that not all people wearing masks are intent on committing violent acts.

As a historical precedent, Britain’s Black Act of 1723 illustrates the dangers associated with such legislation. The Black Act was first designed to deal with poaching on private land. Being found in a park or on private property with a weapon and a disguised or blackened face could mean death by hanging.

The act became notorious however, because over time it was extended to cover an increasing number of behaviours, most of which involved the poor, including protest. As the historian E.P. Thompson wrote, the act “signalled the onset of the flood-tide of 18th century retributive justice.” Increasingly impossible to rationalize, the act was repealed in 1827. In as much as a democracy relies on a range of modes of engagement and expression, a watchful citizenry cannot leave undue powers in the hands of the police to decide when and how political assemblies will have their say.

By criminalizing legitimate political dissent, we can expect to achieve two things. First, we undermine a form of political action that is increasingly a favourite form of engagement among youth under 25. In an era where we decry the political apathy of youth, this is deplorable.

Second, we create an opportunity for greater extremism. For instance, the Black Bloc tactics — dressing in black, covering one’s head and face and causing targeted property damage during protests — have become an international phenomenon. The Black Bloc only gained momentum and notoriety after the German government banned masks in the mid-1980s as part of an effort to quash social movements.

News coverage treats the Black Bloc as a group of individuals, but more importantly it is an aesthetic and a credo symbolizing reactionary politics that escalates the tension between participants and police.

Police already possess the necessary power to deal with vandalism and violence. Make no mistake, this bill is not about crime. It is another attempt in a long line of conservative efforts to target the heart of our democratic rights to expression and to freedom of assembly.

Kathleen Rodgers and Willow Scobie, Department of Sociology, University of Ottawa

The Harper government is backing a back-bencher’s bill that would provide harsh penalties for protesters who wear masks at a demonstration. In considering this bill, I hope that MPs recognize that many protesters wear masks to protect themselves from tear gas.

I would also hope that, if this draconian measure should become law, it will apply equally to police officers who conceal their identities when policing demonstrations.

This practice by many members of the Toronto Police Service was much in evidence and well-recorded in Star photos taken at demonstrations against the G20 conference.

Bill Howes, Toronto

Does this mean the police can’t wear shields to conceal their identities as well? Or are they to protect their eyes? Maybe protesters should wear plastic face shields as well — tinted ones. Last time I checked, a plastic face shield does not a mask make. Protects the eyes though.

Richard Kadziewicz, Scarborough

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson announces that anonymous protesting leads to, “Destructive and reckless behaviour [which] damages communities and should not be tolerated.” Interesting, when you compare this to certain members of Toronto’s police force at the G20 summit, who executed their “duties” with faces hidden by masks, adorning shirts with no ID badges.

“Quelle difference,” indeed.

Edward P. Swynar, Newcastle

I applaud Stephen Harper Inc. for backing Conservative backbencher Blake Richards’ private member’s bill giving police the power to arrest anyone hiding their identity during a riot or unlawful assembly. There must be a clampdown on anarchists who disrupt peaceful protests.

But what about police officers who hide their identity while disrupting protests as was done during the June 2010 G20 Toronto summit? Or will this be yet another Harper Inc. case of “do as I say not as I do”?

Alan Pellettier, Scarborough

In speaking of the proposed new Conservative bill to make it illegal for protesters to wear a face-mask (though police who beat such protesters cover up their name plates), Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said, “Destructive and reckless behaviour damages communities and should not be tolerated.”

He’s just summed up his government’s daily effect on this country since coming to power. And he’s right — their behaviour damages communities and should not be tolerated.

Peter Dick, Toronto

I suspect the government will be able to count on broad support for this bill assuming: a) it only targets those masked protesters caught committing acts of violence; and b) it also deals with police officers who remove or cover their own identification tags during demonstrations.

Michael Lennick, Toronto

When Does An Assembly Become Unlawful?

Because we were rather busy yesterday preparing a small celebration marking my sister-in-law's retirement at an enviably young age, I am just getting caught up on my Saturday newspaper reading. One of the issues that caught my attention is the private member's bill making its way through Parliament as an amendment to the Criminal Code. Introduced by Alberta Conservative Blake Richards, Bill C-309 is the preventing persons from concealing their identity during riots or unlawful assemblies act.

While the proposed amendment presents itself as a strong response to the violent depredations of anarchists like the Black Bloc during the 2010 G20 Summit demonstrations in Toronto, many infer a more sinister motivation behind Richards' initiative. Curious as to the truth in this matter, I checked out the Criminal Code's definition of unlawful assembly:

Unlawful assembly

63. (1) An unlawful assembly is an assembly of three or more persons who, with intent to carry out any common purpose, assemble in such a manner or so conduct themselves when they are assembled as to cause persons in the neighbourhood of the assembly to fear, on reasonable grounds, that they

(a) will disturb the peace tumultuously; or

(b) will by that assembly needlessly and without reasonable cause provoke other persons to disturb the peace tumultuously.

You can perhaps appreciate the ominous implications of this definition, most notably the subjective nature of fear that demonstrators will disturb the peace tumultuously, an elastic definition if there ever was one. As my wife pointed out to me, does that mean that if three people were picketing their M.P.'s office, their behaviour, whether masked or not, could constitute criminal behaviour based on someone else's reaction to the assembly?

Bill C-309 does indeed carry ominous implications, epecially since existing law already gives police all the power they need to arrest rioters and those committing crimes while masked.

As outlined in Section 351 of the Criminal Code,

Every one who, with intent to commit an indictable offence, has his face masked or coloured or is otherwise disguised is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years.

So yes, I think there is much merit in the argument that this private member's bill is just another move by the Harper regime to stifle dissent. That is also the view of many Star readers, who have responded to this issue with their usual vigour and thoughtfulness. I am posting a link to those letters here, but because access to readers' letters on the Star website is frequently of limited duration, I am going to later put up a separate post that reproduces several of them for your consideration.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Repression 2.0

Given its evolution, so to speak, the state of Tennessee's new attempt to control and criminalize people's thoughts and acts can hardly be seen as astonishing.

Friday, May 11, 2012

John Baird, A Friend Indeed

Want $1 million of taxpayers' money for a project that fails to meet government criteria? If he is your 'dear friend,' call Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird for intervention that hardly qualifies as 'divine'.

The Powerful Stench Of Obsequiousness At The CBC

With the polls revealing that the NDP, under leader Thomas Mulcair, is enjoying 34% of popular support while the Harper Conservatives languish at 30%, it is probably no surprise that the CBC is once again polishing up its apples in yet another desperate and misplaced effort at appeasing its political masters. Having recently had its budget gutted, I guess it was too much to think that the Corporation would have found its spine and at least proceeded with a measure of dignity and integrity toward its ultimate doom under the Harper regime. Last night's At Issues Panel revealed that to be a forlorn hope.

With the right ably represented by both Bruce Anderson and the National Post's John Ivison, challenged in small measure by Chantal Hebert and the Huffington Post's Althia Raj, we were told how much of a mistake it was for Tom Mulcair to be critical of the inflationary effect of the Alberta tarsands on the Canadian dollar, a high dollar making it more difficult for Canadian manufacturers to compete. There was much tut-tutting on the divisiveness of such a pronouncement, the subtext being, I think, that Mulcair surely can't be considered Prime Ministerial material. Of course, nothing was said of our current Prime Minister, the master of national division.

This panel was followed by Rex Murphy's screed against Mulcair which, I must confess after listening to for about one minute, I turned off.

Should you deem yourself constitutionally strong, you can watch the panel discussion here; mercifully, the Murphy jeremiad does not yet appear to be on the website.

UPDATE: I'm sorry to report that Mr. Murphy's tantrum is now available via The Huffington Post. This time I made it to the 1:30 mark. If Rex does not get a Senate seat out of his unrepentant toadying, there clearly is no God.

Memo To Peter Mansbridge: Peter, you really have passed your best before date.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Are Workers Paying For The Globe and Mail's Sins?

UPDATE/CORRECTION: While I strive to be as accurate as possible in this blog, the second paragraph of this post contained an inaccuracy, which I have since rectified.

I have to say that my heart rejoiced yesterday when I saw the news that Torstar, the parent company of The Toronto Star, has increased its quarterly earnings over the year by about 100%, an unequivocal confirmation that quality, in-depth journalism for the social good can still very much be a profitable enterprise in the 21st century.

I also have to admit to an almost equal delight in the news I received from my son that the Globe and Mail, by contrast, is not faring so well. The Earnings Per Share (EPS) profit that the Globe and Mail contributes to Bell Canada, its parent company, is off by 0.23.

I interpret this profit reduction as an indictment of the direction in which John Stackhouse has taken the paper since assuming the mantle of editor-in-chief. It is a direction that has seen such betrayals as unequivocal editorial endorsements of the Harper regime, an inhouse apologist for all things Harper named John Ibbitson, and the continued employment of unoriginal thinkers like Neil Reynolds and Margaret Wente who, one suspects, would have great difficulty recognizing an original thought, should one occur to them, an admittedly unlikely event.

The one group for whom I feel sympathy at the Globe is the rank and file, who are now being asked to take unpaid leaves this summer in an attempt to temporarily reduce costs.

Oh, and I almost forgot. In either a very desperate grasping at straws for financial salvation or a very public display of delusions of grandeur, The Globe announced today that it is instituting a paywall. If you read the article, I strongly encourage you to also peruse some of the readers' comments that follow, comments of such withering contempt that one might infer that this 'Hail Mary pass' from the Globe is too desperate by anyone's standards.

Are You Watching the Polls, Mr. Harper?

Oh, how I hope this news shakes up Harper's arrogant smugness.

The Sad Saga Of Our Declining Democracy Continues

During the past year I have written many posts on the sad spectacle of a Canadian democracy in decline, citizen cynicism and apathy rather than vigorous engagement becoming the default position of more and more Canadians. I have also offered the opinion that this is in large part the result of practices purposely pursued by our political 'masters', most egregiously by the Harper regime, so as to leave the field pretty much clear for the 'true-believers' to exert a disproportionate influence on election results when they turn out and the rest of us tune out.

Extreme partisanship has relegated the public good to an afterthought, an example of which is highlighted in Martin Regg Cohn's column today in The Star. He writes about how the clash of politics has impeded anti-bullying legislation that was supposed to proceed smoothly as a response to the suicides of gay students, but has instead degenerated into open displays of bigotry, taunting, tweeting, sulking and shouting (or heckling, as parliamentarians call it).

An even more penetrating assessment of the price we all pay for the debasement of the political process is to be found in Chantal Hebert's column today, also in The Star. Entitled Ballot box seen as dead end rather than means to an end, Hebert first uses the ongoing Quebec student unrest to advance her thesis that our elected representatives are no longer looked upon as a viable source of representation, a notion which, when you think about it, strikes at the very heart of democracy:

Their movement increasingly boils down to an extreme manifestation of a widespread disenchantment toward Canada’s elected institutions; one that is leading alienated voters of all ages and in all regions to see the ballot box as a dead end rather than as a means to an end.

Hebert then turns her sights on the Harper regime:

In the national capital, a government elected with barely four in every 10 votes a year ago has since been going out of its way to disenfranchise the majority that did not support it.

Over the opening year of their majority mandate, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have moved to discourage civic dissent — in particular but not exclusively on the environmental front.

They have replaced federal-provincial dialogue with diktats and adversarial litigation.

They have placed themselves on a collision course with the courts over the place of the rule of law in the exercise of ministerial discretion.

The concept of ministerial responsibility has been reduced to a quaint historical footnote and parliamentary accountability is on the same slippery slope.

In the House of Commons, the government has moved to stifle the input of its opposition critics at every turn, systematically curtailing debate on bills or more simply subtracting legislation from competent scrutiny by cramming it inside inflated omnibus bills.

It should surprise no one that governments who treat the rule of law as a pesky inconvenience will eventually breed the same attitude in those that they purport to legislate for.

Hebert ends her piece by referring to ours as a debased democracy.

I have one questions that burns in my soul - Is there anyone or anything that can reinvigorate us at this point to reclaim our birthright?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Mayor Rob Ford Won’t Attend Gay Outreach Event

But then again, would anyone really want this clown to attend their function?

Vic Toews Strikes Again

Apparently dissatisfied with the way society currently holds criminals to account, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has decided that its high time to make them literally pay for their crimes.

In a move that will save $10 million per annum and leave more for Bev Oda's special travel requirements, The Star reports that prisoners will now have to pay up to 30% of their income toward room and board, leaving them less for the frills they often purchase inside, such as cough medicine and aspirin.

Given that the top earners make the princely sum of $6.90 a day, this latest move is sure to teach them, as their incarceration clearly has not, that crime does not pay.

Fear And Loathing From The Right

The other day I wrote a brief post linking to a site developed by the Conservative party that seeks to sow fear about Thomas Mulcair's 'shadow' cabinet. That campaign of demonization against the most serious threat the Harper regime has faced for sometime is now ramping up, as reported by Tim Harper in his Star column today.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Reading Recommendation

If you're like me, you harbour a certain fascination with Stephen Harper. Never before has there been a Prime Minister who so publicly displayed an anal retentiveness that has become emblazoned across the land, a man who, while frequently described as a policy wonk and a winner-take-all politician, appears to many as simply someone who has known little joy or pleasure in his life.

So Stephen Harper's psyche is there for all to ponder and speculate about, existing privacy laws notwithstanding. Couple that awareness with the fact that one of the Globe and Mail's few remaining journalists of integrity has written a piece pondering the Prime Minister's future, and I think you will find an article worth perusal.