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.]

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Canada Budget 2012: Economy Will Feel Drag From Cuts, Analysts Say

OTTAWA -- Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's austere budget Thursday will place speed bumps on -- but not derail -- Canada's economic recovery, economists say.

Sources have told The Canadian Press that Flaherty's cuts will build to $7 billion in annual savings over the next three years, in addition to the $17.7 billion in cuts announced by Ontario this week for the same period.

Asked Wednesday morning about the $7-billion figure reported by The Canadian Press, Flaherty declined comment.

As well, Flaherty is expected to announce measures to restrain growth in elderly benefits by pushing public pension eligibility to 67 years from 65, and require public servants to pay a greater share of their gold-plated pensions.

Ottawa has already dealt with fast-rising health care costs by tying future transfers to the growth of the economy.

Paul Ryan's Class Warfare

"Class warfare may make for really good politics, but it makes for rotten economics."

That's what House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) told Fox News Sunday last September.

I would argue it makes for both rotten politics and rotten economics. And there is no greater example of that than Chairman Ryan's own budget.

That's right...the Ryan budget...the one that ends Medicare but continues tax cuts for millionaires and back.

It's like a bad horror movie.

So what is different this time around? The answer is not much.

It still does nothing to create jobs. It still eviscerates the social safety net. It still fails to invest in education, infrastructure, and clean energy.

FBI Muslim Scandal: Documents Show San Francisco FBI Office Illegally Collected Information On Local Muslims

WASHINGTON -- The American Civil Liberties Union on Tuesday released records it obtained from the FBI that it said showed the bureau's San Francisco division used its Muslim outreach efforts to collect intelligence on religious activities protected by the Constitution.

Under the U.S. Privacy Act, the FBI is generally prohibited from maintaining records on how people practice their religion unless there is a clear law enforcement purpose. ACLU lawyers said the documents, which the organization obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, showed violations of that law.

After reviewing the ACLU documents, the FBI said the reports that contained notes about religious activity were appropriate because the agents were meeting with members of the Muslim community for law enforcement purposes.

The documents are from 2004 through 2008, before the FBI established a formal community outreach program and before it put in place sweeping new rules governing the collection of intelligence.

Kathryn Lehman, Republican Lesbian Who Helped Write DOMA, Is Now Lobbying To Repeal It

WASHINGTON -- It has been 16 years since Kathryn Lehman was a Republican Hill staffer working on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the federal law that defines marriage as between one man and one woman.

Now Lehman's back on Capitol Hill, in a new capacity: as a lesbian GOP lobbyist trying to repeal the law she helped write.

Things were pretty different in Lehman's world in 1996. She was engaged to a man. Same-sex marriage wasn't legal anywhere. And the public perception of what it meant to be gay wasn't anything like it is now, she says.

"There was nobody married, it wasn’t allowed anywhere," Lehman recalls. "The view of gay people ... it wasn't Ellen [DeGeneres]. It wasn't Neil Patrick Harris. It was kinky sex and women riding around on motorcycles without shirts on. That was sort of the view that the community projected as well."

"It wasn't people that you know, people that you work with, people just like everybody else."

Trayvon Martin: What It's Like to Be a Problem

Trayvon Martin was not innocent. He was guilty of being black in presumably restricted public space. For decades, Jim Crow laws made this crime statutory. They codified the spaces into which black bodies could not pass without encountering legal punishment. They made public blackness a punishable offense. The 1964 Civil Rights Act removed the legal barriers but not the social sanctions and potentially violent consequences of this “crime.” George Zimmerman’s slaying of Trayvon Martin—and the subsequent campaign to smear Martin—is the latest and most jarring reminder that it is often impossible for a black body to be innocent.

Black communities in the United States spent much of late March expressing outrage about Zimmerman’s actions and the Sanford, Florida, police department’s inaction. But the anger and grief are not exclusively about this single act. They are prompted by the ways the case reveals the continuing subordination of full citizenship for black Americans.

And You Thought That Heat Wave Was Bad?

Purdue University climatologist Matthew Huber gets plenty of death threats, but that hasn't stopped him from exploring the outer limits of just how much global warming human beings can tolerate. Whatever our recent Great American Heat Wave may or may not portend, most credible climate scientists agree that human-caused global warming is real—oh yes they do!—and most of the research out there, Huber says, predicts dire consequences for people (and other mammals) if average global temperatures rise by 6° Celsius or more.

That could well happen this century: By 2100, Huber points out, the mid-range estimates predict a rise of 3°C to 4°C in average global temperatures based on current economic activities, but those studies ignore accelerating factors like the release of vast quantities of methane—a potent greenhouse gas—now trapped beneath permafrost and sea ice that's becoming less and less permanent. Other models foresee rises in the 10°C range this century; at the outer fringe, predictions range as high as 20°C. Truth is, we simply don't know exactly when we'll reach these milestones or what they will cost us. And thanks to the uncertainty, it's been hard to get nations to agree on limits.

No New Coal Plants! Great, But What About the Old Ones?

The Environmental Protection Agency made a huge step forward on Tuesday with the announcement of rules limiting greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants—the first rules for power plants, ever. The rules are the beginning of the end of conventional coal-fired power plants, and have been cheered by environmental and public health groups.

Here's what the proposed rule states, from the National Journal:
The agency is proposing that new fossil-fuel power plants—namely those fired by coal and natural gas—emit no more than 1,000 pounds of carbon per megawatt-hour of energy produced. That's about the same amount of carbon emissions produced by today's natural gas-plants and about half the amount of produced by coal plants.
This basically means that going forward, anyone proposing new power plants has two options: build a natural-gas powered plant, or build a coal plant that has carbon-capture-and-sequestration (CCS) technology to significantly reduce the emissions from that plant.

Massive Gas Leak Could Be the North Sea's Deepwater Horizon

A natural gas well in the North Sea 150 miles off Aberdeen, Scotland, sprung a massive methane leak on March 25. The 238 workers were all safely evacuated. But the situation is so explosive that an exclusion zone for ships and aircraft has been set up around the rig, reports the Mail Online. And nearby rigs have been evacuated, reports the New York Times:

    Royal Dutch Shell said it closed its Shearwater field, about four miles away, withdrawing 52 of the 90 workers there; it also suspended work and evacuated 68 workers from a drilling rig working nearby, the Hans Deul.

But that's not the worst of it. The platform lies less than 100 yards/meters from a flare that workers left burning as crew evacuated. The French super-major oil company owner of the rig, Total, dismissed the risk, while the British government claimed the flame needs to burn to prevent gas pressure from building up. But Reuters reports:

    [O]ne energy industry consultant said Elgin could become "an explosion waiting to happen" if the oil major did not rapidly stop the leak which is above the water at the wellhead.

Canada Drug Laws: Public Health Leaders Attack Ottawa's Ideology-Based Drug Policies

TORONTO - A number of leading figures in Canadian public health are criticizing the federal government's approach to drug policy, suggesting political ideology is trumping scientific evidence.

In a two-pronged attack, the chief medical officers of health for British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia are publishing a commentary in the journal Open Medicine today that calls on the government to rethink strategies like minimum mandatory sentences for minor drug-related offences.

And the Urban Public Health Network, a group that represents the chief public health officers in Canada's 18 largest municipalities, has announced its endorsement of the Vienna Declaration, which calls on governments to draft drug policies based on evidence of what works.

"Basically what we're saying is that we don't think that the model we're using is particularly effective," said Dr. Perry Kendall, British Columbia's chief medical officer of health.

Bob Rae says Liberals won’t abandon airways to right-wing “jerks” after Conservative attack ad

More than a week after the Conservatives began running ads attacking interim Liberal leader Bob Rae, Rae himself came out swinging Wednesday, saying the Liberals will soon respond in-kind to defend him and the party against right-wing “jerks.”

“You can’t abandon the airways to the jerks on the right hand side of the spectrum,” Rae told reporters in Ottawa after a caucus meeting.

There was a momentary pause as everyone took in the quote. Rae started to walk away from the microphone in the foyer of the Commons.

“Did you say ‘jerks’?” a reporter asked.

Rae stopped, took a step back and leaned back into the microphone.

“Yes,” he said succinctly with a smile.

There you go. We all heard correctly.

The Commons: Of health care promises and marijuana dreams

The Scene. Thomas Mulcair wished to pick up where Jack Layton had once left off.

Last June, he reminded, Mr. Layton had stood in this place and asked the Prime Minister to identify the government services that would soon be cut. The Prime Minister, Mr. Mulcair recounted, had then stood in this place and said the government had been “very clear” that it would not cut pensions or transfers to the provinces for programs such as health care.

“Our question is also clear,” Mr. Mulcair finished. “Tomorrow, will the Prime Minister meet or betray his word in this House?”

Though returned to the country, the Prime Minister was not returned to the House. Today’s stand-in was John Baird, who proceeded to chop his hand and jab his finger and speak very assuredly of all that is good and unsullied about his government.

“Mr. Speaker, this government, every year since taking office, has increased support for the provinces for health care, which is a huge priority for middle-class families,” he declared.

“Every single time we have stood in this House to raise funding for health care, the NDP has voted against it,” he lamented.

Redford pledges $3-billion in oil-sands environmental research

Alison Redford would pour $3-billion into research to clean up Alberta’s energy sector and foster technological innovation, a lofty pledge signalling her hope to overhaul the province – and the political battle she faces in that pursuit.

During a campaign stop in the oil sands Wednesday, the Progressive Conservative Leader announced she’d revive the defunct Alberta Oil Sands Technology and Research Authority (AOSTRA). Created by former PC premier Peter Lougheed in 1974, the agency was essential in developing the fledgling sector, which now pours billions into provincial and federal coffers.

AOSTRA 2, as Ms. Redford called it, would develop technology for both renewable and non-renewable energy – chasing, presumably, the source of Alberta’s next boom.

“This isn’t just about developing technology to produce oil sands,” Ms. Redford said. “It’s about environmental technology, and developing technology further in a more environmentally sustainable way.”

Mayor Ford drunk on power

You both get dirty, and the pig likes it: yes, children, it is time once again to wrestle with Rob Ford.

He used to be nothing more than a button-popping bully, prone to choleric outbursts: calling his pal Georgie Thumbs a Gino boy; calling another councillor a waste of human skin; opining that “Orientals” work like dogs and sleep at their machines, and that’s why they’re taking over; giving the finger to a taxpayer while talking on his cell phone and driving in his van; sucking up to Don Cherry; ducking the Pride Parade but running off to watch his niece play football in her underwear; calling the cops when a comedian showed up in his driveway; oh, and making a fool of himself by stepping on an industrial weigh scale.

I didn’t vote for him as mayor; that’s no secret.

That was politics. This time, it’s personal. This time, the big fella wants to start tramping around my ward like an elephant, drunk on the palm wine of power.

He thinks my councillor, and perhaps as many as 24 others, should be ousted.

For those of you who might have missed it, here’s what the mayor was burbling about on the radio the other day, in the company of his monkey brother. Oh, wait, did I just say monkey?

Children At Risk From Pesticides, School Bans Debated

When they started feeling woozy barely an hour into their batting practice, Alan Gorkin and his son Tristan, then 12 years old, didn't think too much of it. But as they packed up to leave the grassy field across the street from Tristan's school in Wilton, Conn., they spotted a little yellow sign warning that more than spring was in the air: The field had been sprayed with pesticides the day before.

"Parents should have a choice over whether their kids are exposed to pesticides or not," says Gorkin, who manages an organic farm in the area.

Back home, his and Tristan's symptoms subsided a couple of hours later. That was a year ago, a few months after the Connecticut state legislature's ban of pesticides on elementary and middle school grounds took effect. Unfortunately for the Gorkins, they had unwittingly chosen to play on the wrong side of Danbury Road -- at a city baseball field a mere 200 yards east of the school's pesticide-free property.

At the time, Alan Gorkin didn't know he actually had a choice. He hadn't heard about the now-endangered legislation. Today, he wonders, "Why would anyone want to get rid of it?"

Ron Johnson Offers Women Contraception Advice: Google ‘What If I Can't Afford Birth Control?'

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) weighed into the controversy surrounding President Barack Obama's birth control mandate this weekend, dismissing the concerns of women who cannot afford contraception.

"My wife actually went online here in Wisconsin and typed in, 'what if I can’t afford birth control,'" the freshman Tea Party senator told ThinkProgress. "Came up, bam. If you can’t afford it, you can get birth control in this country.”

(Video above via ThinkProgress)

Johnson has been a vocal opponent of Obama's birth control mandate, which requires nearly all employers to provide insurance which covers the cost of contraception to employees.

ThinkProgress asked Johnson to clarify his comments regarding birth control. “You can get it," Johnson insisted. "Go online, type it in. It’s easy to get.”

Pell Grants For Poor Students Lose $200 Billion In Ryan Budget

More than 1 million students would lose Pell grants entirely over the next 10 years under Rep. Paul Ryan's budget, according to an analysis that the national reform organization Education Trust provided to The Huffington Post.

And by the looks of it, the Ryan budget, which is slated to hit the House floor this week, would hit the poorest kids hardest.

"We could see disastrous consequences for America's children over the next couple of years," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said at a budget hearing last week, according to Education Week. "Passage of the Ryan budget would propel the educational success of this country backwards for years to come."

John Boehner Has Collected $742,000 For DOMA Defense, Top House Official Says

WASHINGTON -- Ever since House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) signed on last year to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in court, it's been a mystery trying to figure out where, exactly, he was getting the taxpayer funds to pay for it.

But those numbers became clear Tuesday as lawmakers sparred over the point, and the costs, of the House hiring outside attorneys to defend the federal ban on gay marriage at a time when money is tight and when various courts -- but not the U.S. Supreme Court -- have ruled that the law is unconstitutional.

Boehner so far has collected $742,000 to defend DOMA, and that money was skimmed from funds that would normally go toward House officer and employee salaries, Chief Administrative Officer Dan Strodel told members of a House Appropriations subcommittee. Strodel said none of that money came out of the budget of the Justice Department, which dropped its defense of DOMA in February 2011 after Attorney General Eric Holder determined it to be unconstitutional. Boehner, in his authority as speaker, has been defending the law on behalf of the federal government ever since.

Occupy Wall Street May Actually Be Changing Wall Street Firms

Though the Occupy protesters have taken their tents out of Zuccotti Park, they're still making their mark.

The majority of marketing and communications executives at financial services firms said that Occupy Wall Street has impacted their business, according to a study conducted by Echo Research and Makovsky -- a research company and an integrated communications firm specializing in financial services, respectively. The number one challenge for firms this year is dealing with a negative public perception, according to Scott Tangney, an executive at Makovsky. In recent years past, recovering from the financial crisis superseded that concern.

"Banks and financial services firms have now shifted their focus from liquidity and financial performance to customer satisfaction and their own employees," said Scott Tangney, an executive at Makovsky. "The Occupy Wall Street Movement has indicated to firms where they need to be focusing."

The study’s findings come a little more than one week after Occupy Wall Street protesters were met with arrests celebrating the movement's six month anniversary.

Trayvon Martin Case: Police Wanted Warrant To Arrest George Zimmerman, Prosecutor Says

The special prosecutor in the Trayvon Martin case said that the Sanford Police Department asked the state attorney's office for an arrest warrant to charge George Zimmerman early in the investigation, but the state's attorney's office decided to wait.

The Miami Herald reported that the local police initially went to the Seminole State Attorney with a request to file charges and the police report labeled the case as "homicide/negligent manslaughter."

"The state attorney impaneled a grand jury, but before anything else could be done, the governor stepped in and asked us to pick it up in mid-stream," Angela Corey, the special prosecutor on the case said.

Chris Serino, the lead detective on the case, expressed doubts around Zimmerman's account of the shooting, according to ABC News. Serino filed an affidavit on the night of the shooting in which he said that he was unconvinced of Zimmerman's version of events.

Serino told MSNBC Tuesday night that he was not at liberty to discuss the case, but he feels very encouraged by the new investigation into the shooting, and he was "looking forward to the truth coming out."

Canada Federal Budget: Public Service Union Cries Foul Over Exclusion

OTTAWA - The union representing tens of thousands of federal scientists says for the first time ever, it has been barred from this year's federal budget lockup.

The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada wrote to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty on Tuesday asking to be allowed into the lockup.

Union president Gary Corbett says PIPSC's request to participate in the lockup was rejected Monday.

Journalists, government officials and outside experts are sequestered for several hours on budget day without any means of outside communication so they can pore over the details of the federal budget.

Corbett says the union has participated in past lockups.

But a spokeswoman for Flaherty says the government received a record number of requests to participate in the lockup, and not every group can be accommodated.

Mary Ann Dewey-Plante says more than 190 groups — including several other public-service unions — are already participating.

She says PIPSC was not rejected and has been put on a waiting list.

Dewey-Plante says the union could be allowed into the lockup if a spot opens up.

Original Article
Source: Huff
Author: Canadian Press

RCMP Sexual Harassment Lawsuit: 150 Former, Current Members File Class-Action Suit

VANCOUVER - A former Mountie has launched a class-action lawsuit against the RCMP, hoping to purge the "toxic" attitude against women within the male-dominated force, her lawyer says.

David Klein says more than 100 current and former female members from across Canada are preparing to stand behind the lawsuit alleging widespread sexual harassment.

The suit was filed Tuesday in B.C. Supreme Court on behalf of Janet Merlo and alleges she was subjected to persistent and ongoing gender-based discrimination by male members.

The 19-year-veteran spent most of her career at the Nanaimo, B.C., detachment on the east coast of Vancouver Island and said the harassment started in 1992, just months into her job.

The lawsuit alleges she endured a series of sexist comments, sexual pranks, derogatory remarks and double standards.

In one instance, the court documents say she told her supervisor she was pregnant and he yelled at her.

Alberta Oil Sands Royalties To Bring In $1.2 Trillion Over 35 Years: CERI

Alberta’s government will collect $1.2 trillion in royalties from the oil sands over the next 35 years, and emissions from oil and gas extraction are expected to triple during that time, a new report from an industry group says.

That stunning number -- equivalent to the entire annual economic output of Australia, or two Switzerlands, and equivalent to 10 times the annual budget of the province of Ontario -- will likely be welcomed by Albertans who can look forward to decades of budget surpluses and low taxes, but will likely raise alarm among economists about the future shape of Canada’s economy.

The Canadian Energy Research Institute projects that Alberta’s oil production will rise from 1.6 million barrels per day at present to 5.4 million barrels by 2045, and efforts to curtail greenhouse gases will have virtually no effect on emissions.

“While technological innovation within the oil sands industry (in addition to carbon capture and storage) is expected to help reduce these emissions, the emissions are still expected to rise,” the report states.

Wildrose, Tories in virtual tie

A new poll shows a virtual dead heat between Alison Redford's PCs and Danielle Smith's Wildrose, with the governing Tories holding onto a formidable lead in Edmonton but locked in an intense battle inside Calgary and throughout the rest of the province.

A Leger Marketing survey, commissioned by the Edmonton Journal and Calgary Herald, also shows almost 60 per cent of Albertans are "satisfied" with the Progressive Conservative government.

However, half believe one of the opposition parties would do better than the Tories at managing the province - particularly the Wildrose - and a slim majority of those surveyed would prefer to see a new government.

"The momentum at the moment favours Wildrose," Ian Large, Leger Marketing's Alberta vice-president, said Tuesday.

"Campaigns matter, and this campaign is going to matter more than a campaign in Alberta in a very long time."

U.S. study predicts pipeline spills

FORT MCMURRAY, ALTA. - A recent study from Cornell University argues that if Keystone XL is approved in its entirety, it’s not a matter of if a catastrophic leak will occur, it’s when.

Industry officials, however, insist pipelines are the safest method of transporting crude oil.

The authors of the study compiled statistical data from spills in the completed portion of the pipeline between Alberta and Illinois.

The study found that since June 2010, that section experienced more than 35 spills in the U.S. and Canada. In its first year, the spill frequency for Keystone’s U.S. segment was 100 times higher than TransCanada’s forecast.

The authors say this data means a major spill for Keystone XL is a statistical certainty if the pipeline is operated over the next 50 years.

Students slam Ottawa for shutting youth job centres

Jessica McCormick worked at the Service Canada Centre for Youth in Sydney, N.S., for three summers.

This year, a website will replace her.

"It was the best job that I could have gotten in my community over the summer," she told CBC News, adding that it was the only job she could find at the time that allowed her to fund her post-secondary education.

These employment centres have opened every spring for more than 40 years across Canada. But this year, they are being shuttered by the federal department of Human Resources and Skills Development, which is instead opting to bolster its online services — and save about $6.5 million in the process.

This move comes at a troubling time for young people trying to enter the labour force. According to Statistics Canada's latest Labour Force Survey, employment rates among people age 15 to 24 fell for the fifth consecutive month in February.

F-35s needed to fight alongside allies, MacKay says

Canada needs the F-35 fighter to take part in international air missions with allies, Defence Minister Peter MacKay argued Tuesday, as he met with a U.S. counterpart who described the costly jet as the only option for his country.

The Harper government’s backing of the F-35 is proving a political handful as it prepares a budget expected to include deep cuts, including to military spending, and the development of the fighter jet has been riddled by cost overruns and technical problems.

But as Mr. MacKay met in Ottawa with counterparts from the United States and Mexico, the Defence Minister stressed it as a critical tool for Canada to participate in military missions abroad.

U.S. Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta not only reiterated his country’s commitment to the F-35 fighter, but said he feels there’s no alternative. “It’s the fifth-generation fighter,” he said. “We absolutely need it for the future.”

MPs received over $400,000 worth of sponsored junkets: report

OTTAWA - Federal politicians have collectively reported receiving more than $420,000 worth of trips paid for by a variety of sponsors, reveals a new report released Tuesday by the federal ethics watchdog.

Conservative members of Parliament racked up the most expenses, accepting $236,503.53 in sponsored trips, followed by the Liberals at about $131,740.26, the New Democrats at about $33,911.33 and the Bloc Quebecois at $17,979.55.

MPs are required to report the travel benefits every year to Mary Dawson, the federal conflict of interest and ethics commissioner, who then compiles the data in a report. The totals also include travel benefits received by staff or guests who travel with the MPs.

Representatives from the three officially recognized federal parties all said sponsored trips helped contribute to their work as MPs.

``When I take trips paid for by others, I make sure that my independent judgment is not compromised, and I do what my constituents elected me to do as an international lawyer and as a human rights lawyer,'' said John Weston, a Conservative MP from British Columbia, who reported receiving the most travel benefits among Conservatives at $15,761.40 for two trips to Hong Kong and Baghdad in 2011.

CBC Cuts: 2012 Budget Could Mean Hundreds Of Job Losses

Cuts to CBC funding expected in the upcoming federal budget could have dramatic implications, touching everything from popular television programming to foreign news bureaus and eliminating hundreds of jobs, observers predict.

Though the CBC declined The Huffington Post’s request for comment in advance of the budget, it is widely anticipated that Mother Corp.’s federal funding could be trimmed by upwards of 10 per cent — or some $110 million of the $1.1 billion in direct federal funding it receives.

First reported by The Huffington Post in September, the prospect of a 10 per cent cut has over the last month become “a very consistent rumour” at Canada's public broadcaster, says Mary Darling, executive producer of the network’s hit TV show, Little Mosque of the Prairie.

In addition to stoking concern among CBC employees, Darling says the possibility of significant belt-tightening is contributing to widespread uncertainty among the legions of independent producers, such as herself, who create the network’s English language dramatic programming.

Federal budget expected to slash $7-billion from discretionary spending

The Harper government will chop $7-billion from discretionary spending when the finance minister hands down his budget Thursday, The Canadian Press has learned.

That high number will surprise many, including some economists, who had expected that Ottawa’s improving fiscal position would allow the government to keep cutbacks at the low end of the $4-billion to $8-billion range it had previously set.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has spent weeks insisting that it would be wrong to view his document as an “austerity budget.”

But Conservative sources say months of poring through the $80-billion discretionary spending envelope with a fine-tooth comb has led to about 8.5 per cent in savings worth around $7-billion. Discretionary spending is all of the money the government spends apart from transfers to the provinces and individuals for programs such as health care.

University of Calgary opens the Enbridge Centre of Corporate Sustainability, satire dies

When I discovered that Enbridge and the University of Calgary have partnered to launch the Enbridge Centre for Corporate Sustainability, I had to glance at my calendar. March 27. Still four days until April Fool's. It would have been a tremendous joke if they were not dreadfully serious.

Enbridge, as most readers are likely aware, is now infamous for their proposed tragedy known as the Northern Gateway pipeline. Designed to transport millions of barrels of tar sands oil to port, it threatens dozens of local watersheds and a fragile coastal ecosystem, as well as the expansion of the environmental catastrophe that is the Alberta tar sands.

However, if Enbridge first brought us the narrative plot of a pipeline tragedy, they have expanded their repertoire to comedy. Their proposed sponsorship of a supposedly independent research centre cannot but be read as a farce.

How can one take seriously the claim that the Enbridge Centre for Corporate Sustainability will advance the science and practice of balancing environmental, social, and economic considerations, when that corporate funder of that institution is involved in one of the most unbalanced development proposals in Canada.

Hill Dispatches: Robocall court cases could mean by-elections

Elections Canada may be investigating robocalls and other voter suppression tactics. But Elections Canada cannot overturn the results of an election in a given riding.

The only chance of overturning results of the 2011 election in any of the 308 ridings is the through the Federal Court.

That is why the Council of Canadians is supporting legal actions on the part of individual Canadians to overturn the 2011 results in seven ridings throughout Canada.

The Council's lawyer, Steven Shrybman, explains that Canadian electoral law provides that only aggrieved voters may seek court orders to "restore their franchise." Neither Elections Canada, nor anyone else, can do that. The result of such court orders would be significant -- they could mean by-elections.

Pushing back on the nuclear path: Part 2

Photo: / Greenpeace

Part 1 of Pushing back on the nuclear path outlined three post-Fukushima nuclear battles in Ontario. They were the campaigns to stop the construction of two new reactors at Darlington Station, the life extension of 10 more reactors in Ontario, and efforts to prevent economically desperate communities in Northern Ontario from becoming dumping grounds for Canada's radioactive waste.

In this final part, we're headed to Eastern Canada to outline the ongoing efforts to oppose nuclear in Quebec and New Brunswick.

Point Lepreau: Down the re-furbishment rabbit hole

Point Lepreau is Atlantic Canada's only nuclear reactor. Commissioned in 1983 and brought online in 1984, Point Lepreau is approximately 50 km west of Saint John, on the storied Bay of Fundy.

Religious right's rejection of science is baffling

Is the world getting nuttier? Looking at recent events in North America, it's hard not to conclude that humanity is taking a crazy step backwards. I recall a time when science and scientists were taken seriously, but lately they’ve been getting knocked around, especially in the U.S. and Canada.

The State of Tennessee, for example, passed a law that allows teachers who don’t believe in evolution or human-caused climate change to challenge existing scientific theories. Yes, students should be encouraged to think critically and to question everything they are taught but, given the current political climate in the U.S., this is likely to lead to misinformation. In the 1920s, a Tennessee school teacher was tried, convicted, and fined for teaching evolution.

Meanwhile, candidates vying for the Republican presidential nomination reject the overwhelming scientific evidence for human-caused climate change. Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich once held rational positions but have since capitulated to the fossil fuel lobby. Rick Santorum just seems out of touch on every issue, from rights for women and gays to the environment. He’s referred to climate change as a “hoax” and once said, “We were put on this Earth as creatures of God to have dominion over the Earth, to use it wisely and steward it wisely, but for our benefit not for the Earth’s benefit.”

Fear and Loathing on the Leadership Trail

The Tory attacks on Mulcair have already begun. Based on this government's take-no-prisoners governing record, we ought not be surprised.

The ruling Conservatives have made politics a dirty part of the Canadian experience in which the absence of civil discourse is appalling. Before Stephen Harper, in his role as prime minister of the country, congratulated Thomas Mulcair on his election as the new leader of the Opposition, he condoned the release of ad hominem attacks on Mulcair. James Moore, the Conservative cabinet member who attended the NDP convention, and who certainly does not speak without direction from above, described Mulcair as “divisive and vicious,” which is an obviously hypocritical accusation from someone whose party primarily distinguishes itself by demonizing anyone who questions its policies.

CIDA's Risky Business Venture

Why the public-private development partnerships forged between the government and large mining companies are unlikely to improve the record of Canada's extractive industries.

Canada is home to more than 75 per cent of the world’s exploration and mining companies. For a country that prides itself on its positive role in international development and human-rights promotion, this raises some awkward issues. Local populations tend to benefit little from the vast resources generated by the extractive sector. Instead, they often suffer from human-rights abuses and increases in violence, to say nothing of environmental degradation. In many cases, the companies around the world that manage the extraction process (including those that are Canadian-owned) are deeply complicit in human-rights abuses and political repression.

Toews feeds trolls

They never forgive, they never forget. Vic Toews should expect them.

Our Public Safety Minister painted a giant digital bullseye on himself today by continuing his silly crusade against an organization that doesn’t really exist. “Anonymous,” he told a Parliamentary committee, “is a threat to us all”. You could almost hear the lulz.

One has to feel a bit sorry for Toews. Few middle-aged technology neophytes have so successfully summoned the dregs of the Internet as Toews did when he told Canadians that they either stood with his Internet snooping bill or they stood “with the child pornographers”. Quicker than you could say “Beetlejuice,  Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice,” Toews was dealing with a tell-all Twitter account and a threatening ultimatum video from Anonymous. In it, Toews is asked to withdraw Bill C-30 and resign, or face the consequences.

As it turned out, the @vikileaks30 Twitter account was the partisan work of a Liberal staffer, who fumbled the ball by accessing his account through a Parliamentary computer. He was traced, exposed and forced to resign. Emboldened, Toews is now pursuing a far more nebulous foe- the “group” that posted that nasty video. He doesn’t know how to proceed, but asks for the help of the police and of “experts” to help him gain satisfaction. He won’t get it, but may end up with more than he asked for.

Tough drug laws harm health and safety, doctors say

Criminalizing the use of marijuana and other tough on crime approaches haven't worked, say public health doctors from across Canada who propose taxation and regulation instead.

The chief medical health officers in British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan wrote a paper reviewing the evidence on Canada's current illicit drug policies in Wednesday's issue of the journal Open Medicine.

The paper comes as the federal government is set to table its budget amid funding questions for its new anti-crime legislation, which includes mandatory minimum sentences for minor drug offences.

Looking at illegal drugs solely based on a criminal justice approach has failed, said Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical health officer, a co-author of the paper.

"For the last decade, Portugal has decriminalized all drug use and they have some of the lowest rates of drug use in Europe and they have some of the least amounts of harm from drug use," Strang said.

An austerity budget, but no bloodletting

The truly scary story of the provincial budget? The sorry state of the Ontario economy.

It not only tanked in 2009 — it’s still performing far worse than anyone imagined. And will continue to underperform.

And just as a poor economy hurts working families, it also hits a provincial budget hard: Burns a hole in revenues, boosts the deficit, bulks up the total debt.

Against that gloomy backdrop, Ontario had good reason to brace for a bloodletting Ontario budget Tuesday. For months, Finance Minister Dwight Duncan had been laying the groundwork for major cuts in government spending. Egged on by the influential Drummond Commission’s report last month, he promised to rein in a runaway deficit.

Yet there are no deep pools of blood on the floor.

All the tough talk of cutting some ministries by up to 30 per cent has been forestalled. Instead of welfare cutbacks recalling the Mike Harris Tories, rates will be frozen.

Ontario budget: Get out that wallet — increased fees to hit drivers, seniors and homebuyers

Ontario drivers, high-income seniors, homebuyers and businesses that create hazardous waste are just some of the groups being targeted with increased fees as the cash-strapped Liberal government attempts to rid the province of a $16-billion deficit by 2017-18.

The government is staying firm on its promise to raise licence plate renewal fees in southern Ontario to $82 this year, an increase of $8. That fee will rise to $98 by 2014 and is just part of a series of fee increases on drivers' licence renewals and heavy truck licences that the government says will bring in an extra $340 million annually by 2015.

The government says such fees will go towards investments in public transit, road safety, and highway maintenance and infrastructure.

Seniors with annual incomes of more than $100,000 will pay a larger share of their prescription drug costs starting in August 2014 as part of the government's efforts to improve the fairness of the Ontario Drug Benefit program. Under the new plan, high-income seniors will pay a deductible of $100 plus three per cent of income over $100,000. Senior couples with a combined income of over $160,000 will pay a deductible of $200 and three per cent of their combined income over $160,000.

NDP MP compares large-scale, organized attack on NDP leadership vote to robocalls scandal

PARLIAMENT HILL—Confirmation the NDP leadership election’s online voting over the weekend was attacked by an “organized and large-scale” computer subversion has prompted an NDP MP to compare the assault to the robocall subterfuge in last year’s federal election.

The Canadian-division manager of the worldwide firm that hosted the online portion of the NDP election told The Hill Timeson Tuesday that although the Spanish-based firm has 70 per cent of the global market shore for online elections, including general elections in several countries as well as smaller elections like the New Democrat leadership vote, it has never experienced an attack on the same scale—involving more than 10,000 computers that had likely been controlled through a “botnet” virus specifically designed to disrupt the voting last Saturday.

The online vote-service firm, Scytl Canada, issued a statement on CNW Newswire Tuesday morning to report the findings of a forensic investigation it conducted in the aftermath of the NDP convention disruption, disclosing that the accounting firm Price Waterhouse Coopers had also investigated and found the attack had not compromised the vote or any of the ballots.

The Commons: The NDP starts the budget debate a bit early

The Scene. On the second question of his second day, the new leader of the opposition seemed to find the right key of indignation.

“Mr. Speaker, if the Conservatives are so confident that the F-35s meet the operational requirements, they should be willing to table the full list in the House today,” he ventured. “Even when they are rigging the process, they cannot get a plane that meets Canada’s needs. It is way over budget, and they do not even have any guarantee of proper industrial benefits for Canada, one of the leading aerospace countries in the world.”

The indictment thus read—and today Mr. Mulcair opted to use the House’s small, portable lecterns—the question was then tabled.

“When are the Conservatives going to show some basic competence with public money,” Mr. Mulcair wondered, “and have an open, transparent, public competition to replace the CF-18s?”

The New Democrat members felt strongly enough about this to stand and cheer. Standing in for the Prime Minister, Jason Kenney rose and offered a rambling, somewhat hesitant, series of sentences, a rhetorical smorgasbord of the government’s finest charges and assurances.

Harper government accused of rigging F-35 purchase

Opposition MPs demanded answers from the government on the F-35 fighter jet purchase Tuesday following a CBC News story that raised questions about the process used to choose the aircraft and whether it meets the requirements stipulated by the military.

Evan Solomon, host of Power & Politics, reported Monday that CBC News had seen a copy of the department of national defence's statement of operational requirements, a document that has not been released publicly. It indicated that the mandatory requirements for the jet that would be chosen to replace the aging CF-18s was written in June 2010.

That is only one month before Defence Minister Peter MacKay announced that the government would buy 65 of Lockheed Martin's F-35 planes, through the Joint Strike Fighter program. It also revealed that at least one of the mandatory requirements given by national defence is not met by the F-35 model.

One of the 28 mandatory requirements listed is for the plane's sensor requirements. The document says the plane must be capable of providing the pilot with a helmet that allows 360-degree, out-of-cockpit visual situational awareness in a no-light environment.