Democracy Gone Astray

Democracy, being a human construct, needs to be thought of as directionality rather than an object. As such, to understand it requires not so much a description of existing structures and/or other related phenomena but a declaration of intentionality.
This blog aims at creating labeled lists of published infringements of such intentionality, of points in time where democracy strays from its intended directionality. In addition to outright infringements, this blog also collects important contemporary information and/or discussions that impact our socio-political landscape.

All the posts here were published in the electronic media – main-stream as well as fringe, and maintain links to the original texts.

[NOTE: Due to changes I haven't caught on time in the blogging software, all of the 'Original Article' links were nullified between September 11, 2012 and December 11, 2012. My apologies.]

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Sacrificing the desert to save the Earth

Construction cranes rise like storks 40 stories above the Mojave Desert. In their midst, the "power tower" emerges, wrapped in scaffolding and looking like a multistage rocket.

Clustered nearby are hangar-sized assembly buildings, looming berms of sand and a chain mail of fencing that will enclose more than 3,500 acres of public land. Moorings for 173,500 mirrors — each the size of a garage door — are spiked into the desert floor. Before the end of the year, they will become six square miles of gleaming reflectors, sweeping from Interstate 15 to the Clark Mountains along California's eastern border.

BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah solar power project will soon be a humming city with 24-hour lighting, a wastewater processing facility and a gas-fired power plant. To make room, BrightSource has mowed down a swath of desert plants, displaced dozens of animal species and relocated scores of imperiled desert tortoises, a move that some experts say could kill up to a third of them.

Iran Will Attack Countries Who Host Enemy Strikes, Says Hossein Salami, Head Of Iran Revolutionary Guards

TEHRAN, Feb 5 (Reuters) - Iran will attack any country whose territory is used by "enemies" to launch a military strike against its soil, the deputy head of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards told the semi-official Fars news agency on Sunday.

"Any spot used by the enemy for hostile operations against Iran will be subjected to retaliatory aggression by our armed forces," Hossein Salami said during military manoeuvres.

The Revolutionary Guards began the two-day ground exercises on Saturday as a show of military might as tension rises between Tehran and the West over Iran's disputed nuclear programme. Iranian media called it a small-scale exercise in southern Iran.

The United States and Israel, Iran's arch-enemies, have not ruled out a military strike on Tehran if diplomacy fails to resolve the nuclear standoff. Iran says its nuclear programme is purely peaceful, not aimed at developing weapons.

Salami did not identify which countries he meant as possible launching pads for military action against it.

The six, U.S.-allied Gulf Arab states in the Gulf Cooperation Council have said they would not allow their territories to be used for attacks on Iran.

But analysts say that if Iran retaliated for an attack launched from outside the region by targeting U.S. facilities in Gulf Arab states, Washington might pressure the host nations to permit those bases to hit back, arguing they should have the right to defend themselves. The Gulf states that host U.S. military facilities are Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait.

Iran has warned that its response to any such strike will be "painful", threatening to target Israel and U.S. bases in the Gulf, along with closing the vital Gulf oil shipping route through the Strait of Hormuz.

Original Article
Source: Huff 
Author: Reuters  

Harsher Sentences For Pot Growers Than For Pedophiles Caught PM Stephen Harper's Eye Say Documents

OTTAWA - Media reports that some pot growers will face harsher mandatory-minimum sentences than child rapists under the Conservative government's new crime bill were enough to catch the attention of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

A request by The Canadian Press for cabinet records on the controversial omnibus crime legislation turned up a single document — much of it blacked out under a broad, discretionary exemption in the Access to Information Act.

The Oct. 11, 2011, "memorandum for the prime minister" says its purpose was to inform Harper about the controversial sentencing provisions "in light of recent criticism in the media."

And the memo, marked "secret," ends by stating that "additional analysis would be required if potential amendment proposals are deemed needed."

Bill C-10, the omnibus crime bill, is currently being studied by the Conservative-dominated Senate, where Justice Minister Rob Nicholson has confirmed some flaws will be corrected.

But those government amendments relate to specific measures on suing state sponsors of terrorism. There is no indication the government is open to altering the bill's mandatory minimums.

Flaherty must balance needs for stimulus and restraint

Reports on Canadian trade and housing this coming week will, like last week’s disappointing January employment report, be closely watched by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, who is balancing demands for economic stimulus against commitments to fiscal restraint in preparing his annual budget.

“Looking beyond the high-profile debate over changes to the Old Age Security, which is a longer term issue, the case for deeper near-term restraint is far from compelling,” argues BMO economist Douglas Porter. “Growth is now struggling and has few obvious engines of support in 2012, markets are hardly braying for austerity from Canada, and Ottawa’s finances are quietly improving faster than expected.”

“The most encouraging developments for the Canadian economy so far in 2012 are south of the border,” TD Economics economist Leslie Preston commented following news that there was virtually no job growth in Canada in January while the U.S. generated some 275,000 jobs, some 100,000 more than anticipated

“Since Canada still sends nearly three quarters of our exports to the U.S. that is encouraging news indeed,” she notes.

Sal Guatieri , a BMO economist agrees. “More jobs mean more Americans will buy more Canadian-made products.”

Original Article
Source: iPolitico 
Author: Eric Beauchesne  

Military action against Iran remains possible: Baird

Participating in a military campaign against Iran remains a possibility, as long as the United States doesn't rule out action, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said that Iran right now is the world's biggest threat, and is likely to use nuclear weapons against Israel, even though doing so would be political suicide.

Canada's main goal is to take every single diplomatic effort possible in terms of "tough sanctions," Baird said Sunday in an interview on The West Block with Tom Clark.

"Let's focus on taking every diplomatic effort," ," Baird said from Tel Aviv. "But obviously President Obama has not taken military action off the table, so that's still an issue to address."

Canada continues to work with its allies on protecting Israel, taking threats from Iran's leader seriously.

"When a country's leader says they want to wipe Israel - to remove a cancer from the Middle East -- and they're building nuclear weapons, obviously we should take those threats very seriously," he said.

Baird compares Iran’s threats to Hitler's racist book

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird is comparing Iran’s latest threats to Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, expressing Canada’s tremendous concern over Iran’s nuclear program and deteriorating human rights.

Mr. Baird made the comments from Tel Aviv on Sunday, where he is wrapping up a week-long visit to Israel before joining Prime Minister Stephen Harper for key meetings in China.

The minister was responding to comments Friday from Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who described Israel as a “cancerous tumor that should be cut and will be cut.” Iranian officials added Sunday that “any spot used by the enemy for hostile operations against Iran will be subjected to retaliatory aggression by our armed forces.”

In an interview with CTV’s Question Period, Mr. Baird noted that while the U.S. has confirmed that all options – including military options – are on the table, the focus now should be on ramping up diplomatic sanctions.

Yet he stressed that he came across “palpable” fear in Israel and from around the region over Iran.

Fracking fracas: Pros and cons of controversial gas extraction process

Injecting a high-pressure mix of water and chemicals deep beneath the ground to free up oil and gas deposits has been in use for more than 60 years.

U.S. President Barack Obama even endorsed the practice in his state of the union address last month. Extracting shale gas will “create jobs and power trucks and factories that are cleaner and cheaper, proving that we don’t have to choose between our environment and our economy,” he said.

But in recent years the process called hydraulic fracturing — “fracking” for short — has also become a flashpoint for environmental critics.

Why has a long-accepted practice now become such a hot button topic?

Strike averted: City and outside workers reach tentative agreement

Mayor Rob Ford says the tentative contract reached with 6,000 outside city workers marks “a fantastic day for taxpayers of this great city.”

Ford told reporters he is “extremely happy we have been able to reach this agreement without a labour disruption.”

The remarks came Sunday morning, after all-night negotiations that capped months of rancorous bargaining, and an announcement by CUPE Local 416 president Mark Ferguson of the tentative deal that involves “numerous concessions” and “sacrifices” from the union.

Details of the proposed contract were not released. City and union negotiators are to meet Monday to hammer out final details. The results will then go to the union membership for a ratification vote and, if it passes, to a special city council session this week for a vote that would make it official.

It is clear the union had given up some job-security protections, bumping rights and other contract provisions targeted by the Ford administration.

The results will no doubt impact ongoing negotiations with more than 20,000 city workers — inside workers, library staff and community centre workers. The concessions will raise the likelihood of significant layoffs if the administration is free to proceed with more contracting out.

Canada doesn’t know how to protect its interests

“We are sitting ducks.”

That’s the way Anthony Campbell, the former head of the Intelligence Assessment Secretariat of the Privy Council Office, put it to me the other day. We were talking about Beijing’s designs on Canada’s energy resources, Beijing’s adroit cunning in enfeebling Canadian foreign policy, and how Canadians have been rendered unable to cope with the drama as it unfolds.

The Chinese Year of the Dragon began inauspiciously with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Industry Minister Joe Oliver riffing on a clever talking-points stratagem dreamed up by neophyte Conservative war-room hangabouts. It featured American billionaire socialists infiltrating into Canada to ambuscade the construction of Canada’s last-hope economic lifeline, to China.

Most Canadians had probably never even heard of the Enbridge project, which is a plan to build a huge bitumen tube from Alberta’s oilsands to saltwater on the northern British Columbia coast. Still, whatever Ottawa was shouting about, it seemed to contain enough resemblance to a kernel of truth. So it worked for a while.

But what Harper and Oliver inadvertently opened up was a nasty and troubling question that nobody in Ottawa is particularly happy to hear people asking. Just what legally constitutes a foreign activity in Canada that is detrimental to this country’s national security interests these days, anyway?

How Canada let Caterpillar strip a plant clean

Ask yourself this: Why did Caterpillar buy a plant only to destroy it?

The labour dispute at a London locomotive factory was nasty, brutish and short — a depressingly Hobbesian scenario in which brute strength prevailed over civilized rules of conduct.

There were no strikebreakers wielding clubs at Electro-Motive Canada, because there was no strike to break — the union was locked out on New Year’s Day. There were no replacement workers to bust the union, because the union was merely invited to slit its own wrists — by halving most wages from $34 to $16.50 an hour.

The U.S.-based owner, multinational giant Caterpillar Inc., didn’t so much humiliate 460 skilled workers as ignore them. It started and ended this negotiation with a carefully choreographed plan to pack up, shut down and leave town.

Clever multinationals — and this is one cunning Caterpillar — don’t spend hundreds of millions of dollars to buy a factory only to shutter it. So what was the plan?

Never mind Caterpillar’s cold-hearted tactics. Its clear-eyed strategy exposes our own blindness.

Canada slams UN 'paralysis' on Syria

Canada is "disappointed in the extreme" by the UN Security Council's "paralysis" after Russia and China vetoed a resolution calling for Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down.

“Today's failure by the UN Security Council to effectively deal with the crisis in Syria is yet another free pass for the illegitimate Assad regime and those backing it," Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said in a statement issued from Tel-Aviv on Saturday.

"Canada is disappointed in the extreme."

Baird said the UN's "paralysis of power is particularly deplorable given the reported upsurge in violence overnight in Homs, which we condemn without reservation."

"Those attempting to cling to power in Syria are morally bankrupt, and their disregard for human life is surpassed only by their cynicism for doing what is just and right.

The New Democrats also weighed in, calling on the federal government to "immediately recall" Canada's ambassador from Syria but also to apply diplomatic intervention.

"We call on the Canadian government to immediately exert diplomatic pressure on China and particularly Russia in order to secure a UN resolution on the crisis," said NDP foreign affairs critic Hélène Laverdière in a written statement Saturday.

The decision by two of the Security Council's permanent members to veto the resolution comes ahead of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's second trip to China, set for next week.

Canada to mark Queen's Diamond Jubilee in a big way, ties to monarchy run deep

TORONTO - When Princess Elizabeth succeeded to the British throne in 1952, Canada hailed her as the country's queen even before the declaration was issued in her homeland. Six decades later, royal watchers predict Canadian political and popular celebrations of her Diamond Jubilee will be among the most enthusiastic in the world.

Revived political interest in the monarchy, coupled with residual glow from last year's blast of royal star power, has whet the country's appetite for months of festivities honouring one of the longest reigns in the institution's history.

Royal commentator Rafal Heydel-Mankoo said Canada's long-standing love for its official head of state will also fan the flames of royal fervour in the coming months.

"It's been absolutely remarkable to see this resurgence of support and enthusiasm for the crown," Heydel-Mankoo said in a telephone interview from London. "I think that's a sign of maturity ... A mature nation doesn't tamper with a tried, tested and proved formula which has given Canada stability and good government."

Monday marks the 60th anniversary of the Queen's ascension to the British throne, which took place automatically with the death of her father King George VI.

Heydel-Mankoo said Canada's privy council hailed her as the new sovereign hours before any other realm, including the United Kingdom.

Komen's Ambiguous Apology

The Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation must have been totally unprepared for the firestorm provoked by its announcement that it was severing its long relationship with Planned Parenthood, which for at least five years had been receiving grants to provide low-income women with breast exams and mammogram referrals. Komen showed itself to be both dishonest and ridiculous: there was its initial long silence over the decision, followed by a flurry of flimsy and inconsistent explanations—first it was that Planned Parenthood was being investigated by Representative Cliff Stearns; then it was a change in criteria for funding. And what PR genius advised it to childishly delete negative comments on its Facebook page? Result: Planned Parenthood was deluged with donations to keep its breast care services going, including a $250,000 matching grant from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg; twenty-two senators signed a critical statement; there were resignations among staffers and open rebellion among volunteers. Andrea Mitchell’s interview with Nancy Brinker on MSNBC was as close to open distaste as that very polite journalist ever gets. Mitchell is herself a breast cancer survivor, and the expression on her face as she questioned Brinker was as if she were steeling herself to pick up a dead mouse.

The massive show of prochoice strength worked. Friday morning Komen released a statement apologizing for its decision and acknowledging the unfairness of cutting off PP because of the Stearns investigation: “We will amend the criteria to make clear that disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political. That is what is right and fair.” (Forget for the moment that Brinker denied the investigation had anything to do with the ban on PP). This is excellent news: Komen has in essence admitted that the Stearns probe is politically motivated, which must sting recently hired senior VP for public policy Karen Handel, who publicly favored defunding PP when she ran as a Palin-endorsed candidate in the 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary.

Park Police Clear Occupy DC Camp; McPherson Square Tents Searched, Removed

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Park Police officers, some on horseback and others in riot gear, surrounded the Occupy DC camp in McPherson Square with barricades before sunrise Saturday in an enforcement action that led to the search and removal of tents and protester belongings.

By early evening with light rain falling, police had cleared the entirety of McPherson Square of protesters, who gathered in the middle of K Street NW for their daily Occupy DC general assembly.

Though police stressed earlier on Saturday that their action did not an eviction, protesters disputed that contention. "We're being evicted without tear gas!," said Occupy DC activist Melissa Byrne, according to The Washington Post, which observed early Saturday afternoon that "[t]hey are really clearing this place out."

There have been at least eight arrests, according to media reports and protester dispatches from the scene. According to WRC-TV/NBC4, a Park Police officer was hit in the face with a brick. WTOP reports that the person suspected of throwing the brick is in police custody and will be charged with felony assault on a police officer with a deadly weapon.

By 10 a.m., Park Police officers, along with personnel in bright yellow HAZMAT suits, were inspecting tents to see if they were in compliance with the National Park Service's no-camping regulations. Tents that were deemed out of compliance were dismantled and removed from the park, along with Occupy DC activists' belongings.

Shafia Murders: Imams Issue Fatwa Against Honour Killings, Domestic Violence

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. - Controversy surrounding the Shafia murder trial prompted imams from across Canada and the U.S. to issue a moral ruling Saturday officially condemning honour killings, domestic violence and misogyny as "un-Islamic."

Thirty-four imams belonging to the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada, including a handful of American members, signed the fatwa in an effort to counter misinterpretations of the Qur'an, they said.
While it has no legal teeth, the fatwa is "morally binding" for all Muslims, said Syed Soharwardy, a Calgary-based imam who founded the council.

"So if anybody is thinking that honour killing is allowed in Islam, or domestic violence is OK or misogyny is OK, we are saying no, you are dead wrong," he said Saturday in announcing the measure.
The ruling comes after a verdict was delivered last weekend in the Shafia murder trial, in which a Montreal couple and their son were convicted of killing four female relatives.

The Crown alleged three teenage Shafia sisters and their father's first wife in a polygamous marriage were killed in an effort to restore the family's honour.

The trial captured worldwide attention and cast a shadow over Canada's Islamic community, prompting many religious and community leaders to speak out against domestic violence.

Corporate Taxes As Percentage Of Profits Now Lowest In Decades

As a percentage of ever-growing profits, corporations are paying less in taxes than they have in decades.

Thanks in part to federal tax breaks, corporations paid out just 12.1 percent of their 2011 profits in taxes, according to the Congressional Budget Office. That's well below the country's top marginal corporate tax rate of 35 percent -- and as The Wall Street Journal notes, it's the lowest percentage corporations have paid since 1972. During the two previous decades, a period that included the economic prosperity of the 1990s and the housing boom of the George W. Bush administration, corporations were paying an average percentage almost twice as high.

The CBO's numbers undercut a popular conservative claim -- that the United States places a higher tax burden on its corporations than almost any other first-world nation -- and arrive at a time when national politicians are engaged in a fierce rhetorical battle over how much wealthy institutions and individuals should pay to the government.

Corporations reported a combined $1.97 trillion in profits in the third quarter of 2011. As recently as June, they were also believed to be sitting on more than $2 trillion in cash hoardings. Most of that money has not been touched by taxation, even though the federal government has experienced budget shortfalls of more than $1 trillion for each of the past four years, and is scrambling to cut back on staff and services as a result. Meanwhile, the money isn't going to employees either, as real wages for most Americans declined in 2011 in spite of strong corporate balance sheets.

'Reading is in big trouble' - Vancouver philosopher and author warns of 'encroaching ignorance'

In an article about the good deeds of E.D. Hirsch, the recently deceased American cultural literacy superstar Christopher Hitchens dropped alarming findings from a nationwide survey: "The chances of a 17-year-old American being able to say anything meaningful about Thomas Jefferson are disconcertingly slight. The chances of the same student knowing anything significant about Poe, or slavery, or of being able to translate the most elementary Latin ... or even being able to define the word 'ironic' are slighter still."

Published shortly after Allan Bloom's Closing of the American Mind and Hirsch's Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know, Hitchens' New York Times piece drew references from a 1988 survey. Since the ensuing two decades have witnessed the explosive growth of the Internet and gadgets for every occasion, it is tempting to wonder about the cultural literacy of that former disappointing testsubject's teenage son.

A professional philosopher at Vancouver's Capilano University for nearly three decades and the author of more than 20 books that range from sexual politics (Buddies: Meditations on Desire, On Kiddie Porn) to Canadian politics (Fantasy Government, Delgamuukw), Chicago-born Stan Persky has been studying the data. He cannot be labelled an optimist.

Crowds pack Prince Rupert's streets to protest Northern Gateway pipeline

Close to a thousand people marched through Prince Rupert’s streets today as part of a rally hosted by local first nations against Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline and the oil tanker traffic it would generate on British Columbia’s northern coast.

Hosted by the Gitga’at First Nation, which is based at the end of Douglas Channel and would see much of the proposed tanker traffic, the march began with beating drums and singing around 10:30 in Pacific Mariners Memorial Park and ended at the Jim Ciccone Civic Centre where speakers, dancers and singers continued into the evening.

Bob Hill, treaty coordinator and negotiator for the Gitga’at and an MC at the rally, said Saturday’s action was planned in the lead up to the National Energy Board hearings slated to visit the area later this month.

“We’ve invited all the neighbouring nations and we’ve received 100 per cent support,” Hill said as he walked from the stage at the rally. “As you well know we’re the community that managed to save the passengers off the Queen of the North.

“And it’s an example of what a small community is faced with in regards to tanker traffic — and the Queen of the North is minute compared to the size of the tankers they’re talking about.”

Less government requires social trust

U.S. experience suggests it's tough to shrink bureaucracy while building more prisons

Twice in the past three months, I have been reminded that I represent a potential security risk to the people of the United States.

The first time was at a Canadian airport early one morning. The uniformed officer at U.S. Customs and Border Protection asked my profession - professor, I said, political science - and then my business, which was to attend meetings with senior leadership of an international development organization. The name of the organization was unfamiliar to him.

"It isn't one of those socialist, United Nations, one-world government, liberal, Marxist organizations, is it?" he asked. As if such an organization, should it somehow exist in his country, ought not to.

At the border, it is never a good idea to mistake serious probing or even freelance political bluster for jocularity; and, in the unlikely event of the latter, witty comebacks don't come easily at 6 a.m. I forgot to mention that the organization had received a presidential medal for its work. I said something about supporting communities around the world to become self-reliant.

"Oh, like you teach someone how to fish, instead of just giving him the fish?" "Yes, that," I said. Close enough. I was on my way.

Three Tibetans self-immolate in western China

BEIJING — Three Tibetans in southwestern China have set themselves ablaze in protest against Chinese rule, Radio Free Asia reported, the latest in a series of self-immolations over the past year.

The three set themselves on fire on Friday in Seda county, known as Serthar in Tibetan, in Sichuan province, calling for freedom for Tibet and the return of exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, the U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia broadcast and online news service said on Saturday, citing three sources, one of whom is in exile.

One person died at the scene, while the other two -- Tsaptsai Tsering, 60, and Kyarel, 30 -- were seriously injured, it said, citing unidentified sources. It said it could not identify the dead person.

Seda was among the three sites of violent clashes between security forces and demonstrators in Sichuan in late January that marked the bloodiest spate of Tibetan-linked violence in China since early 2008. Riots and protests erupted then in Tibet's capital, Lhasa, and spread to other restive regions in China's western border regions including Sichuan, Qinghai and Gansu provinces.

Calls to officials in Seda county were unanswered on Sunday.

If the latest incident is confirmed, at least 13 of the 19 Tibetans who have self-immolated in the past 11 months -- most of whom were Buddhist monks and nuns -- are believed to have died.

For the Chinese government, the self-immolations are a small but destabilizing challenge to its regional policies, which it says have lifted Tibetans out of poverty and servitude.

China has branded the immolators as terrorists and blamed Tibetan separatist forces for fomenting hatred among the people.

Security forces have clamped down on the Tibet Autonomous Region and other Tibetan areas of China, setting up road blocks and cutting off some communications, making it impossible for journalists and others to independently verify conflicting accounts.

Tibetan advocacy groups say as many as seven Tibetans were shot dead and dozens wounded during the protests in January. China's official Xinhua news agency reported that police fired in self-defence on "mobs" that stormed police stations.

China has ruled what it calls the Tibet Autonomous Region since Communist troops marched in 1950. It rejects criticism that it is eroding Tibetan culture and faith, saying its rule has ended serfdom and brought development to a backward region.

On Saturday, U.S. Senator John McCain warned China's Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun that "the Arab Spring is coming to China" and highlighted the number of Tibetans burning themeselves to death in China.

Original Article
Author: Reuters 

Manufacturing faces bleak future as Caterpillar plant closes down

The closing of a locomotive plant in London, Ont., by U.S. heavy equipment maker Caterpillar comes as the latest blow to Canada's struggling manufacturing sector.

Facing new competition from low-cost countries, a sluggish economic recovery and no longer able to count on a weak loonie to create a cost advantage, the sector faces a tough future.

Michael Burt, director for industrial economic trends at the Conference Board of Canada, said the manufacturing sector has been improving since the lows of the 2008-09 recession, but noted it faced difficulties long before the downturn.

“Before the recession, we saw no growth in broad manufacturing activity for much of the last decade,” he said pointing to the rising loonie and China's growing role as the world's factory as two key factors.
Mr. Burt said there have been some areas of growth in areas such as food manufacturing, but the more traditional segments such as the auto-parts industry have struggled in the face of competition from places like Mexico.

“That's been because we are a higher-cost market. That's a function of the strengthening dollar and the unit labour costs in the industry.”

Will union bargaining in Toronto create template for curbing rights?

Citizens of Toronto, it all comes down to you.

The city could be ready as early as today to start stripping job security from its biggest union of outside workers, in what appears to be a Canadian test case on American-style restrictions on public sector unions.

Job security has been at the heart of the city’s contract talks with 6,000 employees, belonging to the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 416 and including garbage collectors. The Ford administration warned Friday it would jettison the contract if there’s no agreement and do what it wants, including announcing layoffs and firings in order to contract out to private companies.

All eyes are on Toronto. Talks went down to the wire Saturday night with Mayor Rob Ford reportedly saying he was “optimistic.”

Municipalities across Canada “are watching closely to see what happens here because it’s likely going to affect what they do,” said Councillor Shelley Carroll, a critic of Ford’s tactics. She called the Ford team’s hard line “union-bashing” and said, “It looks like Ford is taking us right to the precipice.”

Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday wrote that these negotiations are the city’s “crucible” in the National Post Saturday, adding “it’s the defining experience in our city’s recent history.”

Labour lawyers, officials from the union and city councillors scrambled Friday and Saturday to find ways to avert what they feared was impending disaster. Opposition councillors sought legal advice on whether the Ford administration could change working conditions without seeking approval from council.

CUPE hopeful late-hour talks will avoid Toronto labour disruption

Union officials remained hopeful Saturday night that a new collective agreement for 6,000 city workers could be reached through negotiations.

If not, Mayor Rob Ford’s administration said it would impose new terms and conditions that would essentially force the outside workers to accept the city’s offer or go on strike.

Contract negotiations were extended from the 12:01 deadline until 2 a.m., said CUPE spokesman Cim Nunn.

“We're not done yet. There's still work to be done,” said Nunn, looking weary as he spoke briefly to reporters at the Sheraton hotel, where talks have been held all day.

Talks extended well past this 2 a.m. deadline into Sunday morning.

“At the request of the mediator, the city will continue its efforts to bargain a new collective agreement,’’ read a city statement.

“It’s a very hopeful sign that they’ve been in the room together with the employer for most of the day,” said Nunn. “They have been actively bargaining.”

Speaking several hours before the final deadline, Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday said it’s possible talks could continue past midnight if it’s clear a deal is in sight.

Look out below

After years of lecturing America about loose lending, Canada now must confront a bubble of its own

IN FEW corners of the world would a car park squeezed between two arms of an elevated highway be seen as prime real estate. In Toronto, however, a 75-storey condominium is planned for such an awkward site, near the waterfront. The car park next door will become a pair of 70-storey towers too. In total, 173 sky-scrapers are being built in Toronto, the most in North America. New York is second with 96.

When the United States saw a vast housing bubble inflate and burst during the 2000s, many Canadians felt smug about the purported prudence of their financial and property markets. During the crash, Canadian house prices fell by just 8%, compared with more than 30% in America. They hit new record highs by 2010. “Canada was not a part of the problem,” Stephen Harper, the prime minister, boasted in 2010.

Today the consensus is growing on Bay Street, Toronto’s answer to Wall Street, that Mr Harper may have to eat his words. In response to America’s slow economic recovery and uncertainty in Europe, the Bank of Canada has kept interest rates at record lows. Five-year fixed-rate mortgages now charge interest of just 2.99%. In response, Canadians have sought ever-bigger loans for ever-costlier homes. The country’s house prices have doubled since 2002.

Hundreds Rally Against Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline

More than 600 protesters have taken to the streets of Prince Rupert, B.C., to oppose Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline from Alberta's oilsands to Kitimat, a port on the northern B.C. coast.

The super-sized rally is being hosted by the Hartley Bay First Nation, a tiny village at the end of the Douglas Channel — the main access point for tankers arriving at the planned Enbridge terminal in Kitimat.

Marvin Robinson, a band councillor, says residents are worried about risks posed by hundreds of oil tankers passing their community.

Other First Nations, environmentalists, local leaders, residents and even rock artist Bif Naked are also turning out to support Hartley Bay.

Prince Rupert City Councillor Jennifer Rice is also an opponent of the project and believes taking over the city for a day is a symbolic gesture of unity.