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.]

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Karzai Calls on U.S. to Pull Back as Taliban Cancel Talks

KABUL, Afghanistan — President Hamid Karzai insisted Thursday that the United States confine its troops to major bases in Afghanistan by next year as the Taliban announced that they were suspending peace talks with the Americans, both of which served to complicate the Obama administration’s plans for an orderly exit from the country.

Mr. Karzai’s abrupt planning shift was at odds with a pledge offered just hours earlier by President Obama to stick to a 2014 withdrawal schedule for troops in Afghanistan. It also ran up against the Pentagon’s stark assessment that Afghan security forces were not yet ready to take over control of the country.

Mr. Karzai’s surprise announcement, which would confine American troops to their bases a year earlier than Mr. Obama proposed, was initially made at a Thursday meeting with Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, who spent a fraught two days here apologizing in person to the Afghan president for the massacre of civilians by an American soldier last Sunday at a village in Kandahar Province. Upon Mr. Panetta’s arrival, an Afghan interpreter working for coalition forces crashed a stolen pickup truck near his plane.

Defence officials misled Parliament on F-35 deal: AG report

Canada’s new federal spending watchdog is set to deliver a scathing report on the F-35 fighter jet program early next month that will make distinctly unpleasant reading for the Conservative government.

The first draft of the report on replacing Canada’s fighter jets by new Auditor-General, Michael Ferguson, is said to charge the Department of National Defence with misleading Parliament, according to someone who has read it.

Neither DND nor the Auditor-General’s office would be drawn on the contents of the report ahead of its release on April 3.

But there are signs that the Harper government is already back-tracking on its previously unwavering support for the F-35s. At the Commons defence committee this week, Julian Fantino, the associate defence minister overseeing military procurement, said the government “has not as yet discounted the possibility of backing out of the program.” The F-35 purchase has been plagued with cost overruns and delays that have doubled the cost of each plane, according to some estimates.

Mayor Ford’s subway advocate boycotting final transit meeting

Frustrated that he’s being “ignored,” Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s subway advocate is boycotting the final meeting of an advisory panel on Sheppard Avenue transit.

Gordon Chong is skipping the meeting, which was scheduled to begin Thursday at 12:30 p.m., and he intends to quit the panel if its members decide to axe his pro-subway arguments from a crucial report to council.

“If they cut it out entirely, I’m gone,” Mr. Chong said Thursday. “I will not sign on to that report.”

Mr. Chong opted not to make an 11th-hour pitch to his fellow panelists, most of whom are on the record as supporting above-ground, light-rail transit on Sheppard Avenue East.

“I spent five or six meetings arguing it and frankly, even my patience wears a little thin,” Mr. Chong said. “I don’t like being ignored and then dismissed and then having our work diluted in a way that doesn’t faithfully reflect what we were saying.”

Canada Wireless Prices: Choice Of Carriers, Connection Speeds Could Suffer Under New Rules, Critics Say

Ottawa’s new rules for wireless carriers could mean Canadians will miss out on faster cellphone connections, a telecom consultant says, and some industry insiders say the changes will ultimately mean fewer companies offering cellphone service in Canada.

Industry Minister Christian Paradis announced rules for the auction of the 700 MHz spectrum on Wednesday, setting aside 10-MHz blocks to allow smaller wireless carriers to capture a share of the new spectrum that otherwise would likely have been bought out by the big three carriers -- Bell, Rogers and Telus.

Analysts and wireless industry executives are in disagreement about what these rules will mean. While companies such as Mobilicity welcomed the move as a step towards greater competition and lower cellphone prices, Wind Mobile’s CEO argued the new rules could actually decrease competition.

And telecom consultant Mark Goldberg argued that the 10-MHz blocks are not big enough to properly build the next generation of wireless network.

Muskrat Falls hydro project clears environmental hurdle

The proposed Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project in Labrador has passed federal and provincial environmental assessments, a step towards proceeding with the $6.2-billion development.

In their formal responses to a joint panel report on the project, the federal and provincial governments reiterated their past assertions that Muskrat Falls is justified on both economic and environmental grounds.

They also rejected a recommendation to conduct further analysis to determine the project’s viability, concluding that sufficient information has already been provided to the panel.

“Today’s release from the environmental assessment process represents another important milestone and a major step forward as we move towards our decision on final project sanction,” provincial Natural Resources Minister Jerome Kennedy said in a statement Thursday.

Ottawa and the province say they will now proceed to issue the required federal authorizations for the project while trying to finalize a promised federal loan guarantee.

Elections Canada probe focuses on 700 similar robo-call complaints

Elections Canada, which is probing fraudulent robo-calls that tried to discourage voting in one Ontario riding, has now revealed it’s received a total of 700 similar complaints.

Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand warned Canadians against drawing premature conclusions on what his agency has already found, saying investigators are keeping as quiet as possible until they are done.

“Like all law enforcement bodies, the Office of the Commissioner generally does not disclose information on its investigative activities in order to protect the presumption of innocence and privacy,” Mr. Mayrand said.

“This also ensures that investigations are carried out effectively while meeting the high standards of due process and impartiality that are required and expected in a free and democratic society. In this regard, I advise caution about drawing conclusions based on possibly inaccurate and incomplete information.”

Elections Canada has had 31,000 “contacts” from Canadians in recent weeks on robo-calls.

But the agency has revealed the majority were form letters rather than specific complaints.

Recent immigrants a 'huge burden' on taxpayers

OTTAWA - A researcher for a conservative think-tank says recent immigrants to Canada are a drain on the country's economy - and stand in the way of a robot revolution.

A new report from the Fraser Institute suggests immigrants who arrived in Canada between 1987 and 2004 received about $6,000 more in government services per person annually than they paid in taxes - costing taxpayers between $16 and $23 billion a year.

For a host of reasons, immigrants "are not doing as well economically" now as earlier waves of newcomers and often struggle to find high paying jobs.

"We're not against some immigration," said Herbert Grubel, who co-authored the report with Patrick Grady.

But he said the "mass immigration" system that sees Canada accept some 250,000 newcomers annually is stifling innovation.

MPs might have not been treated right during Israeli visit: Speaker

OTTAWA - The Speaker of the House of Commons says tight security during the recent visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may have breached the privileges of MPs.

Andrew Scheer has ruled that an initial examination of the facts suggests there might be legitimate concerns about how the movements of MPs were hampered on Parliament Hill on March 2.

Some MPs said at the time that police prevented them from moving freely around the parliamentary precinct.

Netanyahu's visit featured exceptionally tight security, including a double row of steel fencing around the Parliament Buildings.

The question of privilege first brought by NDP MP Pat Martin will now be studied by a Commons committee, before possibly returning to the House for a further vote.

Martin has called for a tenant revolt on Parliament Hill, arguing that MPs have ceded too much control to outside bodies, including government departments.

Original Article
Source: winnipeg free press
Author: The Canadian Press

Broadbent blasts Mulcair, warns against pushing NDP toward centre

After providing an early boost to backroom strategist Brian Topp, NDP sage Ed Broadbent is now taking aim at the leadership candidacy of Thomas Mulcair and his promise to modernize the party.

In his first public comments on the matter, Mr. Broadbent raised concerns about the future of the New Democratic Party as a social-democratic force if its 130,000 members choose the centrist Mr. Mulcair at the Toronto leadership convention on March 24.

“It would be a central mistake for us to move in a calculating way to the centre,” Mr. Broadbent said from his home in Ottawa this week.

Mr. Broadbent also wondered openly about Mr. Mulcair’s abilities as a leader, namely in terms of maintaining cohesion among the large 101-member Official Opposition caucus. His comments echoed a concern among NDP workers and supporters about Mr. Mulcair’s temper, which he has carefully kept in check during the seven-month race.

Trawler protest ends, Newfoundland Lynx sails again

Newfoundland trawlermen have left a vessel docked in Nova Scotia that's at the centre of a labour dispute with Ocean Choice International.

The Fish, Food and Allied Workers union says members walked off the Newfoundland Lynx of their own accord, rather than be arrested by police.

The Lynx has since left port in Mulgrave, N.S.

Union officials say their members were protesting because the Newfoundland Lynx is operating with replacement workers.

"The official crew of the Newfoundland Lynx came up yesterday from Newfoundland and boarded the Lynx this morning," said the FFAW's Dave Decker, who was in Nova Scotia with seven trawlermen who boarded the vessel.

Obama Administration Partners With Anti-Abortion Magnate's Gym

If you've been a strip mall anywhere in America lately, you've probably seen a Curves gym—the ladies-only fitness centers with the 30-minute circuit workout system. It's well known that the franchise's founder and CEO, Gary Heavin, has given to anti-abortion causes. So when the Office on Women's Heath, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services, announced that it was teaming up with the ubiquitous chain to promote National Women's Health Week this May, some in the reproductive rights community were none too pleased.

Curves, whose nearly 10,000 clubs around the globe make it the largest fitness franchise in the world, is listed as an official partner for the National Women's Health Week, which runs May 13 (Mother's Day) through 19. The partnership includes events to "educate and inform women on a variety of health and wellness topics" at Curves locations that HHS will promote on its website and its Facebook and Twitter feeds. Curves is also providing coupons for free one-month memberships to anyone who attends a NWHW events, and providing free publicity for the week in the franchise's in-house magazine, Diane. The agreement also designates May 17 as "National Curves Day," which HHS will promote in its materials.  (More details on the partnership are included in a memorandum of understanding between HHS and Curves International obtained by Mother Jones.)

Enviros Target Lead Bullets, Pro-Gun Crowd Freaks

On Tuesday, 100 environmental groups petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate lead in bullets and shot, adding fuel to the conspiracy theories of Second-Amendment fans that environmentalists—and the Obama administration—are about to take away their ammo.

The groups, led by the Center for Biological Diversity, has asked the EPA to ban lead ammunition and require sportsmen to use nontoxic bullets and shot. Hunters leave 3,000 tons of lead bullets in the woods each year, and shooting ranges generate another 80,000 tons of spent ammo, CBD says. As many as 20 million eagles, condors, swans and other birds die each year due to lead poisoning after consuming what's left behind. The groups argue that the EPA should ban lead ammunition under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the 1976 law governing what chemicals the EPA is allowed to regulate.

The Home Depot Man Who Wants to Demolish Obama

On November 1, more than 100 wealthy political donors, including former New York Stock Exchange CEO Dick Grasso, streamed into the luxurious Conrad Suite at the Waldorf-Astoria on Manhattan's Park Avenue for a lunchtime fundraiser. The event was a smashing success, raising six figures for Mitt Romney—three times what had been expected. Save for the candidate himself, no one could have been more pleased than Ken Langone, the legendary investment banker who had organized the fundraiser and who, armed with a fat Rolodex and the pugnacity of a by-the-bootstraps billionaire, wants nothing more than to defeat Barack Obama in 2012.

The 76-year-old Home Depot cofounder looks how you'd imagine a self-proclaimed "fat cat" might: tall, broad-shouldered, and jowly, with a crown of white hair and a penchant for crisp collars. Langone, who dug ditches as a young man, is a legend in corporate America, and his vast network of business titans could prove crucial to Romney if he faces the cash-flush Obama political machine. (At the start of this year, Obama had raised $88 million to Romney's $32 million.) "You'd be hard-pressed to find a major CEO that wouldn't take his call," says his friend Anthony Carbonetti, a former bundler for Rudy Giuliani. "Everyone takes his call—because they want to know what he has to say."

B.C. Teacher Strike: Back-To-Work Bill Coming As Educators Weigh Options

VICTORIA - B.C. politicians voted Thursday to put an end to the government's longrunning contract dispute with the province's teachers, which has seen educators scaling back their work for months and culminated in a full-scale walkout last week.

The Liberal-dominated legislature voted 43-31 to pass Bill 22, which bans further walkouts, forces teachers to resume their normal duties, imposes a six-month "cooling-off" period, and then sends the contract dispute to mediation.

The controversial back-to-work legislation may put an end to the teachers' ongoing strike action, but it will only inflame the province's poor relationship with its teachers, which has seen the government step in to end nearly every set of contract negotiations in the past two decades.

The legislation has been panned by the teachers' union and other labour groups as an attack on workers' rights, with the teachers considering withdrawing volunteer work such as supervising extracurricular activities even after the back-to-work legislation is passed.

Canada Budget 2012: Alternative Federal Budget Proposes Tax Hikes On Wealthy, Corporations

The federal government should create a new tax bracket for Canada’s biggest earners as a way to avoid cuts to social spending and "restore fairness to the tax system," a prominent public policy think tank says.

The "alternative federal budget" released by the progressive Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives on Thursday does away with the Conservative government's spending cuts and replaces them with increased revenue in the form of higher corporate taxes and a new top income tax bracket.

The alternative budget would create a top income tax bracket of 35 per cent for people earning over $250,000, and would roll back a series of corporate tax cuts started under the previous Liberal government and continued under the Conservatives that has seen corporations’ federal tax burden drop from 29 per cent to 15 per cent. The alternative budget would raise that to 21 per cent.

The CCPA's budget comes two weeks ahead of the release of the Conservative government’s federal budget, on March 29, and is part of an effort by the budget’s authors to make Canada’s tax system more redistributive -- something they say has been lacking from the policies of the governing Conservatives.

Canadian Homebuyers Getting Priced Out Of Market

Overseas investors are snapping up properties in Canada's largest cities, driving up prices and pushing ordinary Canadians out of the housing market, observers say.

Real estate experts call it the "new reality," and the high price paid for a north Toronto bungalow is the latest evidence.

This month, the three-bedroom bungalow, circa the 1960s and without much updating, sold for $421,800 over the asking price, creating a buzz among agents and other buyers.

Located in Willowdale, where similar detached houses typically sell for just short of $900,000, the bungalow at 300 Dudley Ave. was listed at $759,000.

The winning bid of $1,180,800 came from a university student whose parents live in China and own a business in San Francisco. There were four other bids of more than $1 million.

Opposition demands Tories reveal EU free-trade details

The Opposition NDP is asking the federal government to lift what it argues is a veil of secrecy over one of the largest free-trade deals in Canada's history.

The federal government is on the verge of signing a free-trade agreement with the European Union, a deal that would be the largest Canada has signed since the North American Free Trade Agreement.

A House of Commons committee backed the government's push for a free-trade pact with the EU in a report released this week, but the NDP and Liberals were leery about the lack of details.

The NDP asked for details of the Canada-EU Trade Agreement (CETA) to be released so Canadians could be consulted and be able to decide if the deal would be good for Canada.

"Transparency is essential," the NDP wrote in its dissenting opinion attached to the report, released Monday. "Closed-door meetings have created a climate of secrecy in the CETA process. Too little public information exists for Canadians and their elected representatives, at all levels of government, to reach informed conclusions on the merits and risks of CETA."

The government now has 120 days to respond to the report.

Airline workers lose rights: Rae

Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae says the federal government violated the constitutional rights of airline workers to strike when it legislated them back to work in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Rae said the Conservative government - which overwhelmingly supported the bill to keep Air Canada's planes in the air - is treating the company as an essential service and, as such, should offer employees a fair alternative to striking, similar to what police and firefighters enjoy.

Legislation to prevent a work stoppage at Canada's largest airline passed in the House of Commons after a rowdy marathon debate that began Tuesday evening and ended about 1: 30 a.m. Wednesday.

Bill C-33, which passed by a vote of 155-124, addresses some 8,600 mechanics, baggage handlers and other ground crew, along with about 3,000 pilots, and now moves to the Senate, where it is expected to be receive royal assent later this week.

The House Speaker repeatedly was forced to tell MPs, who had been up all night, to quiet down during the raucous debate.

Air Canada pilots say stress could lead to empty cockpits

Frustrated Air Canada pilots say they may be forced to stay home from stress or look for jobs elsewhere now that back-to-work legislation prevents them from striking amid a labour dispute.

CTV News has been shown several letters pilots have sent to their union, threatening to slow down Air Canada operations in response to Ottawa blocking any strike action.

"I am more than happy to take my skills elsewhere so I can be properly compensated," one pilot wrote.

Others have indicated they will stay home because of stress caused by the bitter contract negotiations. Transport Canada has strict guidelines for determining whether a pilot is fit to fly an aircraft. Pilots who are stressed or fatigued can have legitimate reasons to call in sick.

There are concerns many pilots may do just that this weekend, as Ontarians return in droves from their March Break vacations.

A budget, a leadership race - and a nation split up the middle

The phoney war is over. Nearly a year after the election, the parties it propelled to the fore, the one as majority government, the other as official Opposition, are at last about to engage. Later this month the Conservatives, having spent the past few months tidying up some unfinished business from the last government, will deliver a budget that by all accounts will define the current one. The week before, the NDP will elect a new leader, and in the process define themselves: ideologically, regionally, tonally. Together, the two offer a prism through which to view our politics over the next four years, and the forces that will shape it.

It is clear, first, that natural resources, notably oil, are emerging as the primary fault line in Canadian politics, assuming commodity prices remain at their present, historically high levels. The fundamental question is whether the enormous wealth this represents is an asset to be managed, or a problem to be solved. (It's both, of course, but politics has a way of turning complex questions into binary choices.) The Conservatives have plainly nailed their colours to the mast as the defender of the resource industries, and of the regions that depend upon them.

Tory Arctic ship plan should be sunk; replaced with real icebreakers: senator

OTTAWA - At least $1.4 billion is expected to be carved out of spending at National Defence in the coming fiscal year, but a longtime critic says some politically-motivated programs should not survive Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's budget axe.

The coming March 29 budget is expected to see $19.8 billion set aside for the military, a seven per cent decrease compared with last year's defence spending plan, according to preliminary federal estimates.

And those forecasts do not reflect the five or 10 per cent reductions the Conservatives have asked all federal departments to deliver.

Liberal Senator Colin Kenny, the former chair of the senate defence and security committee, said if the Harper government wants to make appropriate defence cuts it would look at its pet project of Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships.

The $4.3 billion program was established to build between six and eight light naval icebreakers — slated to be the first military vessels constructed in Halifax under the recently announced national shipbuilding plan.

To stop voter deception, start with well informed voters

The poorly named “robo-call” scandal continues apace in Ottawa, the latest development being an ill-timed call for a royal commission by the Interim Liberal Leader, Bob Rae. Perhaps it was just another bit of throwaway dialogue in the political theatre surrounding the issue, but launching a commission of inquiry while Elections Canada is still busy with its investigation is an obvious non-starter.

A more promising development this week was the unanimous, all-party support for a motion giving Elections Canada more powers to, among other things, monitor spending by political parties. That’s a long-standing request from Elections Canada. Whether the proposed amendments will be passed into law remains to be seen, but if this is one of the outcomes of the affair, then that will be its silver lining.

Budget won’t reveal details of PS cuts, Clement says

OTTAWA — Canada’s public servants still won’t know if they’re losing their jobs when the Conservative government unveils its deficit-reduction plan on budget day and may not find out their fate for months.

Treasury Board President Tony Clement acknowledged at the Commons’ government operations committee Wednesday that it may take months for the impact of the March 29 budget cuts to unfold within federal departments, where bureaucrats are braced for up to 30,000 job losses.

Clement said details will be revealed in stages as “accurate” information becomes available between budget day and next fall. He said some details will be provided in the budget and more will be released in the spring and fall when supplementary estimates are released and the two-stage budget implementation act is passed. He said some reductions may not take effect for three years.

“Look, we give details when we have the detail and when it is our responsibility to convey that detail to agents of Parliament and parliamentarians,” he told reporters after the meeting.

The terrorizing occupation of Afghanistan

We may never know what drove a U.S. Army staff sergeant to head out into the Afghan night and allegedly murder at least 16 civilians in their homes, among them nine children and three women. The massacre near Belambai, in Kandahar, Afghanistan, has shocked the world and intensified the calls for an end to the longest war in U.S. history. The attack has been called tragic, which it surely is. But when Afghans attack U.S. forces, they are called "terrorists." That is, perhaps, the inconsistency at the core of U.S. policy, that democracy can be delivered through the barrel of a gun, that terrorism can be fought by terrorizing a nation.

"I did it," the alleged mass murderer said as he returned to the forward operating base outside Kandahar, that southern city called the "heartland of the Taliban." He is said to have left the base at 3 a.m. and walked to three nearby homes, methodically killing those inside. One farmer, Abdul Samad, was away at the time. His wife, four sons, and four daughters were killed. Some of the victims had been stabbed, some set on fire. Samad told The New York Times, "Our government told us to come back to the village, and then they let the Americans kill us."

The massacre follows massive protests against the U.S. military's burning of copies of the Quran, which followed the video showing U.S. Marines urinating on the corpses of Afghans. Two years earlier, the notorious "kill team" of U.S. soldiers that murdered Afghan civilians for sport, posing for gruesome photos with the corpses and cutting off fingers and other body parts as trophies, also was based near Kandahar.

'I accomplished what I wanted to,' says Turmel

For the past six and a half months, Nycole Turmel has had to deal with a situation without precedent in Canadian parliamentary history.

Last May, for the first time in its history, and in the history of the CCF that preceded it, the New Democratic Party won the status of Official Opposition.

Even for an experienced leader the task of building an effective force in the House with the newly-elected group of 103 NDP MPs, so many of them rookies, would have been daunting.

Turmel had to undertake that task in the wake of the sudden death of the leader, having never even sat in the House herself.

At first, shock and sadness

She well remembers when the phone rang, last summer, and it was Jack Layton calling to ask if he could recommend her to the party's Executive Council for the role of Interim Leader, while he dealt with his illness.

Why Is President Obama Keeping a Journalist in Prison in Yemen?

On February 2, 2011, President Obama called Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The two discussed counterterrorism cooperation and the battle against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. At the end of the call, according to a White House read-out, Obama “expressed concern” over the release of a man named Abdulelah Haider Shaye, whom Obama said “had been sentenced to five years in prison for his association with AQAP.” It turned out that Shaye had not yet been released at the time of the call, but Saleh did have a pardon for him prepared and was ready to sign it. It would not have been unusual for the White House to express concern about Yemen’s allowing AQAP suspects to go free. Suspicious prison breaks of Islamist militants in Yemen had been a regular occurrence over the past decade, and Saleh has been known to exploit the threat of terrorism to leverage counterterrorism dollars from the United States. But this case was different. Abdulelah Haider Shaye is not an Islamist militant or an Al Qaeda operative. He is a journalist.

Arizona Birth Control Bill Penalizes Women For Using Contraception For Non-Medical Reasons

Arizona legislators have advanced an unprecedented bill that would require women who wish to have their contraception covered by their health insurance plans to prove to their employers that they are taking it to treat medical conditions. The bill also makes it easier for Arizona employers to fire a woman for using birth control to prevent pregnancy despite the employer's moral objection.

Under current law, health plans in Arizona that cover other prescription medications must also cover contraception. House Bill 2625, which the state House of Representatives passed earlier this month and the Senate Judiciary Committee endorsed on Monday, repeals that law and allows any employer to refuse to cover contraception that will be used "for contraceptive, abortifacient, abortion or sterilization purposes." If a woman wants the cost of her contraception covered, she has to "submit a claim" to her employer providing evidence of a medical condition, such as endometriosis or polycystic ovarian syndrome, that can be treated with birth control.

Moreover, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, the law would give Arizona employers the green light to fire a woman upon finding out that she took birth control for the purpose of preventing pregnancy.

Federal Budget 2012: It’s time to address income inequality, think-tank says

OTTAWA—The Harper government should use the March 29 budget to address growing income inequality, says an Ottawa think-tank in a pre-budget analysis being released Thursday.

“Income inequality in Canada is at a 30-year high, rising at a faster pace than in the U.S.,” says the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) in a study entitled “A Budget for the Rest of Us.”

“The richest 1 per cent of Canadians are now taking home a bigger share of income growth than since the 1920s, middle-income Canadians have seen their incomes stagnate and nearly one in 10 Canadians —including one in 10 children — still lives in poverty,” the CCPA says.

The group urges the government to tackle this situation with wide-ranging reforms to the tax system.

“The federal government is enacting deep cuts to public programs, ostensibly to reduce the deficit, while also cutting tax rates for highly profitable corporations. There’s a better way,” the CCPA says.

“Federal revenues as a share of the economy are 3 per cent (or $48 billion) lower than they were a decade ago. Much of this is due to lower corporate taxes and lower taxes on higher incomes.”

Congress’s Genius Jobs Plan—for Fraudsters, Shills, and Wall St. Analysts

Finally, the House passed a jobs bill last week. And what a bill it is!

Officially called the Jump-Start Our Business Start-Ups Act, it calls for reopening our capital markets to exciting new start-ups by ridding protections for investors and stripping away disclosure requirements for smaller companies.

JOBS has been repeatedly assailed, but it will bring much-needed help to some of the harder hit sectors of the economy.

John Coffee, a Columbia Law professor, has hailed the bill as "the boiler room legalization act." And rightly so. Boiler room operations were one of the unsung job creators of the 1990s, producing some of America's greatest penny stocks and boom times for yacht makers and coke dealers.

But these small, hard-working firms have run into hard times. Areas of Long Island and Boca Raton, Fla., have still not recovered since the heyday of the Nasdaq. How long must a lost generation of Lamborghini-loving twenty-somethings suffer while their talents for talking quickly go to waste?

Elder Abuse: Canada's Federal Government To Introduce Stiffer Sentences

OTTAWA - The federal government is set to introduce tougher sentences for those convicted of elder abuse.

The Canadian Press has learned that Justice Minister Rob Nicholson and seniors minister Alice Wong are to announce amendments to the Criminal Code on Thursday in Toronto.

The stiffer sentencing provisions were among the Conservatives' promises during the last election campaign, and were also mentioned in last year's speech from the throne.

"Our government will continue to protect the most vulnerable in society and work to prevent crime. It will propose tougher sentences for those who abuse seniors and will help at risk youth avoid gangs and criminal activity," the throne speech stated.

Research by academics, Statistics Canada and seniors' advocates suggests that almost one of every 10 older Canadians experiences some form of abuse.

Robocalls: Michael Sona, Tory Staffer, Latest Cause Celebre For Opposition

OTTAWA - Michael Sona has joined the ranks of other jilted Conservatives who suddenly find themselves defended and used by the official Opposition.

The young Tory staffer recently resigned as assistant to MP Eve Adams after unidentified sources were quoted as saying the Conservative party was investigating his possible role in placing controversial robocalls in Guelph, Ont., during the last federal election.

The sources were first mentioned in a report by the Sun News network.

No evidence has emerged yet that suggest Sona was involved, and he has insisted he had nothing to do with alleged voter suppression when he worked on the local campaign.

Now the official Opposition is holding him up as proof the Conservatives are trying to cover up the actions of more senior operatives. Elections Canada is currently investigating the Guelph matter, and has received thousands of contacts from Canadians on the robocall issue.

Tories plan to gut fish protection laws

The Harper government is poised to roll back fish powers in federal legislation intended to protect fish habitat, making it easier for projects like Calgary-based Enbridge Inc.'s Northern Gateway pipeline to B.C. to clear federal hurdles, according to a retired fisheries biologist who obtained the information from a government source.

Proposed new wording would prohibit activity that would cause an "adverse effect" on "fish of economic, cultural or ecological value," whereas the current law bans activity that results in the "harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat," according to the information leaked to Otto Langer.

The changes, if enacted, would result in the total rewriting of the legislation to remove habitat protection provisions that have been in place since 1976, said Langer, a federal biologist for 32 years who later worked for the David Suzuki Foundation before his retirement.

"This is a serious situation and will put Canada back to where we were in the pre-1976 period where Canada had no laws to protect fish habitat and no way to monitor the great industrial expansion that occurred in Canada, with the consequential loss of major fish habitat all across Canada," Langer said in a statement.

Purity is for gold - not politics

What is the value of political purity? Nada, zero, zilch, in my humble opinion. Music and gold should be pure. Politics works best as an alloy.

The Conservatives, from the intellectual right and from within their own ranks, have weathered charges that after six years in power they've sold the family farm. The crystalline libertarian ideology of the Reform years - zero deficits, an end to asymmetrical federalism, a radical curtailment of the welfare state, a return to self-reliance - has been set aside in the pursuit of power. Andrew Coyne made the case last weekend at the Manning Centre conference: Compromise has been the Tories' moral undoing.

The New Democrats, from the left and often from within their own ranks, are weathering charges that after less than a full year as the main Opposition party, they're about to sell the family farm. The socialist ideology of the Broadbent years - punish the rich and corporations through higher taxes, nurture the unions, bash the Americans, bolster the welfare state - will at last be set aside, in the pursuit of power. Compromise, leadership candidate Brian Topp argues, will be the NDP's moral undoing.

Kent praises Tories for proposing to speed up environmental assessments

OTTAWA — Environment Minister Peter Kent is praising recommendations of Conservative MPs for overhauling Canada's environmental review process for major industrial development projects.

The Tories made the recommendations in a report released this week by a parliamentary committee following hearings on the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. The report proposed changes to reduce the amount of reviews, combine evaluations in partnership with provinces, and revise existing laws that protect Canada's water and species at risk.

"I think it's fair to say that our legislative considerations in the months ahead will be informed by the recommendations of the committee," Kent told Postmedia News.

He acknowledged that opposition members have criticized the process of the review, which was finished after nine days of hearings, but suggested there were some areas of agreement among parties about ways to make environmental reviews more effective and timely.

Unlikely a Tory staffer could have acted alone in Pierre Poutine scam

A source close the robocalls investigation has claimed it’s unlikely a young Tory staffer could have acted alone to pull off the complicated “Pierre Poutine” scam.

Anonymous Conservatives have repeatedly directed blame at Michael Sona, 23, singling out him alone among a group of workers on the campaign of Guelph, Ont., candidate Marty Burke.

As recently as Monday night, Conservative sources were pointing to Sona in connection to the Guelph robocalls. A CTV News report cited unnamed Conservatives saying he had owned up to the calls amid reports that the investigation had traced an IP address used by “Poutine” to a home in Guelph.

Sona has told co-workers on Parliament Hill he was stunned to learn he’d been named in connection with fraudulent calls in the Ontario riding by unknown senior figures in the party.

A source says Sona had no reason to believe Elections Canada was interested in him until he was named by unidentified senior Tories in a report on Sun News Network the day the story broke.

Harassing phone calls in Ajax-Pickering fit fraudulent robocall pattern, cost Holland his seat, says former Liberal MP

PARLIAMENT HILL—Former Liberal MP Mark Holland, whose Ajax-Pickering riding near Toronto was targeted for an all-out assault by the Conservative Party in last year’s federal election, says Liberal supporters in the district were “bombarded” with harassing phone calls that fit the pattern of fraudulent calls involved in the robocall election controversy.

Mr. Holland, who lost to former ambassador and Conservative star candidate Chris Alexander by just more than 3,000 votes, told The Hill Times there were so many calls inundating the riding he does not believe the cost could have been covered by the local Conservative campaign, and that many or most of them must have come from outside the riding.

An assistant to Mr. Alexander, Alexandra Day, told The Hill Times in an email she was unable to reach Mr. Alexander Tuesday evening to see if he wished to respond to Mr. Holland’s statement.

Mr. Holland cited other voting irregularities, which his campaign noted to local Elections Canada polling officials along with the inexplicable phone barrage, that included members of the riding’s growing Afghan community turning up to vote, but finding their names had already been counted as having cast ballots.

Copyright bill returns with changes for final House vote

A bill that will update Canada's copyright laws is heading back to the House of Commons with amendments as early as Thursday morning — but without the changes opposition MPs had hoped for.

That puts bill C-11 one step closer to becoming law, with two remaining votes in the House before it moves to the Senate.

Glenn Thibeault, the chair of the special committee that looked at the legislation, said he plans to present the report as soon as possible, which would be Thursday when House business begins. The committee finished its clause-by-clause reading of the bill Tuesday, accepting eight changes from government MPs but defeating all amendments suggested by the NDP and Liberals.

Steve Anderson, national co-ordinator of, a national campaign for open and low-cost internet, says the bill is a win for consumers over all, but the group is still concerned about how the legislation handles so-called digital locks on copyrighted content. C-11 makes no provisions to allow consumers to break digital locks on material they've bought.

Canadian training mission meant to free up U.S. soldiers for Afghan combat: documents

OTTAWA — Since the Canadian training mission in Afghanistan began last year, the federal government has said the purpose is to help Afghan army and police develop the skills needed to take responsibility for the country's security in 2014.

But shortly before visiting Afghanistan this past Christmas, Gov. Gen. David Johnston was told of another reason 950 Canadian troops have been deployed to Kabul and two other central Afghan cities: to free up United States soldiers for combat.

The statement is found in briefing notes that were prepared in advance of Johnston's visit to Afghanistan, Kuwait and HMCS Vancouver in the Mediterranean and obtained by Postmedia News through access to information.

Since the end of the combat mission, Canada has become the second-largest contributor to the NATO training mission in Afghanistan after the U.S., which has long complained about other nations not contributing sufficient military trainers.

Alberta's Wildrose on a roll? The auguries may be in the flakes

A string of flaky polls augmented by some flaky behaviour by Premier Alison Redford and her political brain trust suggest that the Wildrose Party may be experiencing a genuine breakout -- at a singularly inauspicious moment for the Progressive Conservative government.

Polls in the past few days by Forum Research, ThinkHQ and Abingdon Research have suggested the Tories under Redford are flagging, sinking into the mid-30s in terms of percentage of committed voters, and moreover that the Wildrose Party under Danielle Smith is moving upward, closing in on 30-per-cent support.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I have my doubts about the methodology used by each of these three pollsters.

Yesterday, another poll by Abacus Data published for the Sun newspaper chain, which is increasingly committed to the Wildrose Party, came to an almost identical conclusion, putting the Conservatives at 34 per cent of decided voters and the Wildrose Party at 29 per cent.

Religion and State: An Uneasy Separation?

A recent Supreme Court decision raises pressing questions about the changing nature of the relationship between religion and state in our increasingly multicultural society.

Does religion belong in Canadian schools? This question is by no means new, but a recent decision by the Supreme Court of Canada has again placed it at the forefront of debates over Canadian identity and multiculturalism. On Feb. 17, the court upheld the constitutionality of Quebec’s Ethics and Religious Culture (ERC) program. Part of the mandatory primary- and secondary-school curriculum in Quebec since 2008, the ERC program replaced Catholic and Protestant religious education in public schools. In brief, it promotes an understanding of major world religions, including aboriginal spirituality, as well as some reflection on ethical questions such as the meaning of societal values and norms. In S.L. vs. Commission scolaire des Chênes, parents concerned about the program’s teachings lobbied for the right to exempt their child from the course, but the Supreme Court rejected their appeal. The implications of this case stretch beyond the merits of the ERC program itself, highlighting the very real challenges facing Canada’s culturally and religiously diverse society with respect to the delicate interaction between religion and state.

Mayor Rob Ford’s conflicts of interest date back to 2005

Are opponents trying to unseat Mayor Rob Ford from office by citing nitpicky rules? Or has he brought this week’s conflict-of-interest lawsuit upon himself?

Reports from the city’s integrity commissioner, as non-partisan an arbiter as one can find, show the conflict dates back to 2005:

 • A citizen complained in 2007 that Councillor Rob Ford violated two clauses in the councillors’ code of conduct when he enclosed a decal promoting his printing company in an invitation to a summer barbecue. The invitation was in an envelope bearing Ford’s City Hall address and City of Toronto logo. As Ford appeared “contrite,” the integrity commissioner pardoned him, though it was a repeat of a 2005 violation.

 • A November 2009 complaint had similar concerns. Ford agreed his family business stickers should not have been included. But he argued he could use the city logo and letterhead because he pays office supplies and postage out of his own pocket. The integrity commissioner disagreed.

Ontario scraps plans to expand mining in an old-growth area near Temagami

Ontario has scrapped plans to expand mining in an ecological gem that is home to North America’s largest stand of old-growth red pine trees near Temagami.

A Star story in December detailed the Ministry of Natural Resources’ proposal to change the “forest reserve” designation for 340 hectares around Wolf Lake — 50 kilometres from Temagami — to “general use,” which would have put a greater focus on mining instead of forests and recreation.

The ministry now says it won’t tamper with the government protections around Wolf Lake.

“It was really about finding the appropriate balance,” Natural Resources Minister Michael Gravelle said in an interview Tuesday.

“We are always trying to find that balance between making sure we maintain the opportunity for economic development in northern Ontario while at the same time . . . we are very committed to the protection of our forests, particularly old-growth forests,” Gravelle said.

Occupy Climate Change

Occupy Wall Street’s original Declaration of the City of New York, in September, listed a litany of issues, from foreclosures and bailouts to outsourcing and cruelty to animals, but it barely mentioned the environment and was silent on global warming and climate change. A resolution passed by consensus at a General Assembly this past January more than rectified the omission. It states, “We are at a dangerous tipping point in history. The destruction of our planet and climate change are almost at a point of no return.” The resolution links climate destruction to the shift in political power that lies at the heart of Occupy: “We must reclaim our democracy to protect our planet.”

The General Assembly resolution calls for a month of action, starting March 24 and leading up to Earth Day on April 22, to draw the Occupy movements across the country and around the world further into the struggle to protect the climate. “Earth Month,” which will target all fossil and nonrenewable fuels, is being spearheaded by a group from OWS called 99forEarth. The resolution also calls for “connecting the dots between the 1% and the destruction of the planet.” At one end of the chain are specific depredations on specific environments: “Our mountains in Appalachia are blasted; our drinking water in the northeast [is] threatened by fracking; our American heartland is charted for an oil pipeline; and our forests in the northwest [are] targeted for further deforestation.” Connect the dots and you find that the corporate destruction of the earth’s climate has been “financed by the 1%” and that a “small group of polluting businesses” have “hijacked our political system for their benefit.”

Living in Bamba Land

For four consecutive days and nights, millions of citizens of this country once again lived under conditions of fear and terror. The innovation was that, this time, no one tried to whitewash things. The mass terror was to be expected and it stemmed directly from an Israeli act of violence. Nevertheless, no one thought of expressing opposition. Better not to even ask whether indeed a terror attack had been foiled; whether the secretary general of the Popular Resistance Committees was one of those rare people in human history for whom there is no replacement; or whether indeed his assassination was beneficial or legal.

The assassination and the revenge were seen here as a divine edict, as a force majeure, as a storm in the southern skies - a quick strike that would blow away with the wind. The south was scared, the north turned a blind eye, and all together were amazed at the way Iron Dome successfully intercepted the missiles. And at times like these, there is no opposition in Israel.

Not just at times like these. It is possible to imagine a situation in which Israel would have continued with another ground invasion of the Gaza Strip. And would anyone have raised his voice against that? Of course not. Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee's chairman Shaul Mofaz would be in favor of course, and so apparently would opposition leader Tzipi Livni (whose voice was once again not heard this week ); Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich is busy to the hilt with the tycoons; Knesset hopeful Yair Lapid would have made do with another ideological "okay, bye!"; the summer protest movement leader Daphni Leef is traveling across the seas to explain that Israel is not an apartheid nation; on the Facebook page of Meretz leader Zahava Gal-On there is no mention of what happened in the south; and the Arab members of the Knesset are isolated as usual from the public discourse.