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.]

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Invisible Army

It was lunchtime in Suva, Fiji, a slow day at the end of the tourist season in September of 2007, when four men appeared in the doorway of the Rever Beauty Salon, where Vinnie Tuivaga worked as a hair stylist. The men wore polished shoes and bright Hawaiian shirts, and they told Vinnie about a job that sounded, she recalls, like “the fruits of my submission to the Lord all these years.” How would she like to make five times her current salary at a luxury hotel in Dubai, a place known as the City of Gold? How would she like to have wealthy Arab customers, women who paid ridiculous fees for trendy cut-and-color jobs?

“I’ll talk it over with my husband,” she replied, coolly, but her pulse was racing. Vinnie, who was forty-five, had never worked abroad, but she often dreamed of it while hearing missionaries’ lectures at her local church. Nearly six feet tall and two hundred and thirty pounds, Vinnie moved with an arthritic gait. But she took care with her appearance. She wore shiny slacks, with a gold pageboy cap on her perfectly coiffed frosted black hair, and carried a bright-red faux-leather purse, stuffed with silver eyeshadow. She could see herself working in one of the great cosmopolitan capitals. The offer seemed like her big break, the chance to send her teen-age daughter to hospitality college and to pay her youngest son’s fees for secondary school.

Exxon-Rosneft Deal To Develop Oil, Natural Gas Fields Gives Russia Foothold In Canadian Arctic

NEW YORK -- Exxon is teaming up with Russian oil giant Rosneft to develop oil and natural gas fields in Russia and North America.

The deal is a major score for Exxon, granting the Irving, Texas company access to some of the world's richest sources of crude oil and other hydrocarbons in the Black Sea and the Russian Arctic. In turn, Rosneft subsidiaries will take ownership stakes in three Exxon projects in the U.S. and Canada.

The companies agreed in August to form a partnership. They announced new details Monday in conjunction with a signing ceremony in Russia that was held at Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's suburban residence.

As part of the agreement, Exxon will work with Rosneft to develop oil Russia's prized offshore reserves in the Black and Kara seas. Rosneft does not have its own technology for deep sea drilling, so it needed a partner to develop the offshore projects. Exxon already has experience drilling in the Arctic regions of Canada.

Exploration already has started in the region, and the companies said that the first test wells could be drilled in 2014. Exxon and Rosneft said initial work in the region will cost about $3.2 billion.

Peter MacKay Relies on Smoke and Mirrors When It Comes to An Announcement of “New” Search and Rescue Funding, Say Critics

On Sunday Defence Watch published a DND press release in which Defence Minister Peter MacKay announced $8.1 million in “new” federal funding for search and rescue prevention and response.

The emails immediately started to come in questioning the claims about “new” funding for SAR. In fact, the funding is part of a regular annual contribution to SAR and not new, say Defence Watch readers.

“Our government understands the importance of investing in new initiatives aimed at improving the efficiency and effectiveness of search and rescue in Canada,” MacKay said in a statement announcing the money. “This money will support projects that build search and rescue capacity and strengthens the response of search and rescue.”

The DND press release continued:

“In 2012-2013, this new funding will allow for the purchase of life-saving equipment and tools; the development of training standards; collaborative interoperability exercises between the Canadian Forces, the Canadian Coast Guard, Parks Canada, and the over 15,000 specially trained air-ground-marine search and rescue volunteers; the development of outreach prevention and awareness programs to targeted audiences like flight safety for private pilots; the building of search and rescue capacity in the marine environment on the coasts; and the development of virtual trainers for the air and marine search and rescue environments.”

Alberta voters should look beyond leaders’ debate to party platforms

In the leaders’ debate in the Alberta election – which was essentially between Alison Redford, the Progressive Conservative Premier, and Danielle Smith, the Wildrose Party Leader – the most important point in dispute was the contrast between Ms. Redford’s promise of capital investment in infrastructure and Ms. Smith’s promise of a balanced budget. The Premier has undertaken to build 50 new schools, as well as family-care clinics, and Ms. Smith has offered a $300 dividend to all Albertans, after a return to fiscal balance.
More related to this story

An active part – accompanied by charges of health-care privatization all too familiar in Canadian politics – was also taken by Raj Sherman, the Liberal Leader, and by Brian Mason, the NDP Leader, but neither of them will form the next government. In effect, they are campaigning for a minority government of either the Conservatives or Wildrose, which would enable them to wield considerable power.

There was heated debate over Ms. Smith’s proposal for referendum legislation, which her opponents sought to link to controversial matters such as abortion and same-sex marriage. She emphasized her resolve not to “legislate on contentious social issues,” and the hurdles such referendums would have to overcome before they could actually take place, but she reassured her social conservative supporters by making the doubtful claim that Wildrose is the one party that “welcomes diversity of opinion.”

On this point, Ms. Redford could have made a stronger defence of representative democracy as opposed to plebiscitarian populism – as Mr. Mason did. Instead, she pronounced the contentious social issues to have been settled. She did, however, present the counterexample of California, where referendums have been an obstacle to effective government.

Unfortunately, the debate was no great help to Albertans in making their choice between the Conservatives and the Wildrose Party. The electors will need to take a hard look at the two platforms before they cast their ballots.

Original Article
Source: Globe
Author: editorial

Is Stephen Harper displaying fascist-like tendencies?

The stepped-up authoritarian, anti-democratic manner in which Stephen Harper has conducted himself since obtaining his Parliamentary majority nine months ago raises serious concerns about how far right he is planning to push the country in his effort to forever change the face of Canada.

Harper hates many things about Canada – most of all the moderate liberalism that a majority of people have preferred over the years. He has adopted a ‘take-no-prisoners’ attitude, rushing ahead with destructive plans never before discussed in public, as well as doubling cuts to government compared to what he said before the election.

Elected with the support of only 25 per cent of eligible voters, Harper nevertheless is running roughshod over the wishes and interests of the majority 75 per cent of Canadians.

So, just how extreme is Harper’s behaviour?

A few years ago, a former U.S. business executive, Laurence W. Britt, came up with a 14-point description of fascism.
In view of Harper`s behaviour of late, I think it’s time to look at Britt’s document again.

But, before proceeding, I want to say that I don’t think Stephen Harper is a fascist. His ideology is neoliberalism, which favours domination of society by laissez-faire capitalism. Interestingly enough, neoliberalism and fascism share some common characteristics.

Harper acting like an elected dictator

When Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Jean Chrétien were in power, conservative commentators used to complain that both tended to be dictatorial, courtesy of our parliamentary system that made the prime minister too powerful, more so in some respects than the president of the United States.

Where are those pundits when we really need them? Stephen Harper is centralizing power in the PMO on an unprecedented scale; defying Parliament (by refusing to comply with a Commons vote demanding the files on Afghan prisoner abuse); derailing public inquiries (by a parliamentary committee and the Military Police Complaints Commission); muzzling/firing civil servants; demonizing critics; and dragging the military into the line of partisan political fire.

"When you add up all that this government has done, it's truly scary," says Gar Pardy, former head of the foreign ministry's consular services. He's the one who organized the petition that defended diplomat Richard Colvin from Tory mudslinging, and which has been signed by 133 retired ambassadors.

The extent of Harper's misuse of power becomes clearer when you realize that the Conservatives are replicating some of the worst practices of the Republicans under George W. Bush and Dick Cheney:

Consolidating executive power; eviscerating the legislative branch; operating under extreme secrecy (by keeping an iron grip on information, through endless court challenges and censoring/redacting documents); riding the coattails of the military and questioning the patriotism of political opponents; and forcing out public servants who refused to fall in line.

Ending Canada's 'benign dictatorship'

hereHere's a little test: what would the Conservatives do if they found a clip of Michael Ignatieff calling Canada a "benign dictatorship?"

Right: they'd put it in an attack ad.

Another test: what would the Liberals do if they caught Stephen Harper saying that?

Right: nothing. At least, that's what they've done with it so far.

So, let's consider that obscure but intriguing article, written in 1997 by two brainy conservatives, Tom Flanagan and Stephen Harper. Yes, it calls Canada "a benign dictatorship."

Oh, and it's a passionate defence of coalition governments.

That's right: the whole article is a detailed, persuasive and deeply-researched plea for governments to be forced to compromise with opposition coalitions. That's the only way, said Harper and Flanagan, to curb the tendency to a "one-party state" induced by Canada's "winner take all" system.

Rumor, Lies, and Weibo: How Social Media is Changing the Nature of Truth in China

When the message appeared on the Weibo account of Xinhua, China's official news agency on April 10, announcing charges against the family of high-profile party leader Bo Xilai, it ended many days of public speculation on China's largest political crisis in decades. But it also left Chinese web users even more deeply confused about the distinction between political truth and rumor, one that has always been hazy in China but is now blurred even more by social media.

Chinese web users began speculating, following Bo's firing as Chongqing party chief in March, about the Bo family's possible role in the mysterious death of Neil Heywood, a British businessman with close ties to the family. China's Internet censors muzzled the online discussions. The government spokesmen stonewalled inquiries from the British government and told curious Chinese that Heywood died of "excessive drinking," admonishing them "not to spread groundless rumor."

On the morning of April 11, Chinese web users woke up to find that the reports that had previously filled their Weibo pages -- in coded words adopted to evade the censors -- now featured the front page of every official newspaper. The rumor, repressed by censors and dodged by government spokesmen, had become a state-approved fact overnight.

Does Fracking Cause Earthquakes?

There are plenty of reasons to worry about fracking—groundwater contamination, methane leaks, that flaming tap water thing. But can it really cause earthquakes? That's the question the US Geological Survey set out to answer after a spate of tremors in the Midwest—an area not usually known for earthquakes—alerted scientists to the possibility that some of them might be man-made.

Seismic activity in the Midwest started increasing around 12 years ago but picked up significantly in the past few years, says seismologist Bill Ellsworth, the lead author of a new USGS study examining potential links between fracking and earthquakes in the region. Since 1970, the baseline for earthquakes in the Midwest measuring above a 3.0 hovered at around 21 per year, but beginning in 2001, that number began to rise. There's been a "remarkable increase" in the past few years: The number of 3.0-plus earthquakes rose from 29 in 2008 to 50 in 2009, then to 87 in 2010, and in 2011 to a staggering 134. Something unusual was going on, but what? As Ellsworth and his colleagues at USGS ask in the study, "Is this increase natural or manmade?" And if it's man-made, is fracking—which has ramped up in the region in the past several years—to blame?


Pity the poor essayist, trolling around for the quintessential anecdote for how the GOP has needlessly alienated soccer/security/nom du jour moms in its quest to brand anyone who has ever used contraception with a scarlet S. Do you revisit Rush calling Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute" for daring to talk about the need for contraception, including for non-sex-related medical uses? Yes, perfect, though perhaps a better example of what happens when a Beckian blatherskite forgets that advertisers are a fickle lot. Maybe the time when Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) refused to have Fluke—or any woman—appear before his all-male subcommittee on the bishops-versus-birth control fight? Eh, a little procedural. How about the zygote-personhood bills that prompted Oklahoma state Sen. Constance Johnson to offer up an amendment making it illegal to ejaculate anywhere outside a woman's vagina? Love the nod to Reese Witherspoon's "reckless abandonment" lawyering in Legally Blonde, but then again, can we privilege that over Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner's measure to require Viagra users to get a psychological exam? As Turner so thoughtfully noted, "The men in our lives, including members of the General Assembly, generously devote time to fundamental female reproductive issues. The least we can do is return the favor." And yet, surely props must go to Virginia state Sen. Janet Howell, who kicked off the good-for-the-gander trend back in January, on the occasion of a bill to require women seeking abortions to endure a transvaginal ultrasound: She offered an amendment to force men wanting Viagra to get a rectal exam and a cardiac stress test. It failed by just two votes.

Summit of the Americas: Cuba Issue Splits Canada, U.S. From Unified Latin America

CARTAGENA, Colombia - Prime Minister Stephen Harper came to the Summit of the Americas with the goal of bolstering ties with the booming region, but left Sunday on a discordant note because of his government's stance on Cuba's participation.

Canada and the United States stood alone in balking at an agreement to allow Cuba to attend future summits. That disagreement, and a lack of consensus on backing Argentina's claim to the Falkland Islands, scuppered a final declaration from the 31 participating nations.

Even the summit host, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, declared it to be "unacceptable" that Cuba not attend the next meeting three years from now. Other major players such as Argentina and Brazil have echoed the sentiment.

Harper emphasized that Canada has reached out to Cuba, and does not agree with the American embargo of the country. But he said Canada is sticking with the summit principles that state that members must be democracies — an idea that originated under Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien during the Quebec City summit of 2001.

Air Canada Strikes: Airline Must Scrap Toxic Culture To Salvage Ailing Reputation, Experts

TORONTO - Air Canada must purge its toxic culture and attitude if it hopes to win back consumers frustrated with an airline increasingly known for labour strife and shaky service, industry observers are warning.

While the effects of the latest labour dispute faded over the weekend, some experts predict that persistent tensions within the ranks of Canada's largest airline have eroded the carrier's image beyond what slick ads and promotions can fix.

"There's a poisonous labour climate in there, and that's more than their image, it's already their identity now," said Gabor Forgacs of the Ted Rogers School of Management.

"If they want to right this ship, they need to make big changes," he said.

Experts believe that years of operating in a near-monopoly may have made the airline complacent.

But with upstart carriers such as WestJet and Porter Airlines nipping at its heels, salvaging its ailing reputation may be a matter of survival for Air Canada, Forgacs said.

A spokesman for Air Canada said many airlines around the world are facing similar challenges as they seek to transform their business models to respond to intensifying low cost competition.

Price of democracy merely our sanity

Well, folks, here we are, just one week until election day, and for those of you who were hoping for a campaign of ideas, and civil discourse, I need to ask: What planet do you live on?

In this campaign we have heard the words corrupt, frightening, scary, and phrases such as “doesn’t like Alberta.”

Daily “fact checks” from warring war rooms (fancy that, eh) are beginning to leave the distinct impression we’re all being lied to, by everyone.

But hey, the price of democracy is merely our sanity.

Perhaps I am already short a few screws (go figure), but I still get giddy at the prospect of a campaign, in part due to policy, but also because I’m curious how strategy is going to play out — which party is going to take what tactic and run with it, and so on.

If you’d have told me that the Redford Tories were going to take the Paul Martin/Michael Ignatieff line of campaigning, I would have laughed.

After all, it worked out so well for those former Liberal leaders. Right?

People on the left tend to claim it’s always those on the right who want to engage in scorched-earth, culture war tactics.

Impact of Charter polarizes us still

Since Pierre Trudeau still remains unavailable, the Liberals will be dusting off Jean Chretien Tuesday, and hauling him onto the trading floor of Toronto's Bay Street to help celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Joining the 78-year-old former prime minister on Tuesday's stage will be the (almost) 64-year-old (interim) leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, Bob Rae.

This is an old-timers' league. This is not the future.

The barely-breathing Liberals do not need another poll to remind them that the federal NDP leadership victory of Thomas Mulcair was the worst possible outcome for their party, the latest survey showing them bottoming out at 19%, their lowest national popularity score ever.

But what to do, what to do? How does the party get some positive ink?

Surely one cannot ask son-of-PET, Liberal MP and Papineau pugilist Justin Trudeau, to re-enter the boxing ring so soon after his first-round pounding, yet (admittedly) remarkable third-round TKO over Tory Sen. Patrick Brazeau.

How the Charter helped define Canada

The most significant political event of post-Second World War Canada may be the enactment of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It has transformed a country obsessed with the federal-provincial division of powers and enabled it to address its diversity in a substantive, principled way. This was not inevitable. Credit is due in large part to the quality of the judicial branch of governance and, obviously, to the legal profession.

It often takes less foresight than good luck to succeed. The Charter of Rights could have gone the path of its disappointing predecessor, the Canadian Bill of Rights – a modest instrument of guidance to courts reluctant to challenge elected officials.

Many things contributed to the Charter’s central role in our constitutional democracy. At least three were counterintuitive.

The notwithstanding clause: This allowed legislators to override protected rights. Offensive to legal purists, it proved to be the perfect political compromise – designed to preserve the supremacy of elected officials, it, in fact, allowed the courts to avoid undue deference to them.

Ford team set tone for municipal labour talks

The aggressive strategy that led to the City of Toronto’s new labour peace was half a year in the making and had the Ford administration girding for a four-month to six-month strike with contingencies that included neutralizing the union’s strongest – and smelliest – weapon: Toronto’s garbage.

The city’s plan worked and now other municipalities across the country are looking at replicating the Toronto model.

This spring, the city inked new four-year deals with its major unions – and it managed to avoid all but one labour disruption, a 10-day strike by library workers. As Canadian jurisdictions prepare to take on public-sector unions in a new age of austerity, the estimated $141-million in savings over four years that Mayor Rob Ford’s administration is claiming is already turning heads.

“I’m getting calls, of course. They are definitely interested,” City Manager Joe Pennachetti said in a rare interview.

Ministerial responsibility doctrine should apply on F-35s

With Parliament in recess, an uneasy calm has settled over the F-35 scandal in Ottawa. Hostilities will not resume in earnest until next Monday when the Commons resumes after its 18-day Easter respite. (You have to hand it to MPs — they really know how to stretch out a one-day stat holiday. But I digress.)

The absence of Question Period may have lowered the decibels, but it has not reduced the finger-pointing. Who is responsible? Who decided there was no need for an independent Canadian evaluation of Canada’s requirements for a new fighter aircraft to replace the CF-18? Why did Ottawa fail to hold a competition to choose the best and most suitable aircraft? With billions at stake, why did it not call for public tenders?

Why did the Harper government claim the cost of the 65 F-35s would be no more than $16 billion (that’s $9 billion for the planes, plus $7 billion for maintenance and training) when it knew the figure was a phoney? The parliamentary budget officer put the cost at $29.3 billion; the defence department reworked its sums and told its minister, oops, the number would actually be more like $25 billion.

Who made the decision to bury the $25 billion figure and to insist in last May‘s election that the cost would be no more than $16 billion, or maybe only $14.7 billion? Who decided it was smarter to lie and to win re-election than to tell the truth and accept the consequences, whatever they might be? Why did the Conservatives claim that the purchase contract had been signed when it hasn’t been?

The Harper Doctrine

Stephen Harper became Prime Minister six years ago with little interest in, or experience of, international affairs. He was a domestic policy wonk - particularly interested in economic and fiscal affairs. Yet, in about half a decade, he has fashioned the clearest Canadian foreign policy posture in at least a generation, whether you like that posture or not. We can now speak of a Harper Doctrine which forms the cornerstone of our foreign relations.

In a largely ignored interview with Maclean's magazine last summer, the Prime Minster stated: "We also know, though, the world is becoming more complex, and the ability of our most important allies, and most importantly the United States, to single-handedly shape outcomes and protect our interests, has been diminishing, and so I'm saying we have to be prepared to contribute more, and that is what this government's been doing."

These remarks are an important insight into the Prime Minister's perception of the changes in America's geopolitical position, and how Canada should respond. They suggest his world view is based on the premise that the United States is in relative decline as a superpower, and that Canada must step up to the plate to help our distressed ally police the world. It is a striking acknowledgement. And it was not just words.

In praise of negative political ads

Pundits, academics and media experts are always condemning negative political attack ads. We are told again and again that such ads contribute nothing to the democratic process.

But to my mind, there’s actually something worse than a nasty negative attack ad, and that’s a saccharine, upbeat positive ad.

Now before I explain myself, let me say I understand completely why there is a stigma attached to so-called attack ads. After all, they focus on negativity, they put candidates in a bad light and they usually manipulate the primal emotions of hate and fear.

I get all that.

But the idea that positive ads are superior because they tell us why we should vote for instead of against a candidate is largely a myth. In reality, positive ads are typically emotionally manipulative and intellectually vacuous.

To understand what I mean, consider the New Democratic Party’s positive TV ad that’s airing right now.

This ad is supposed to tell us in a positive, non-negative, non-attack sort of way why the new NDP leader, Thomas Mulcair, is a swell guy, who would make a great prime minister.

Prison rehab program axed due to budget cuts

An award-winning program that helps rehabilitate prisoners and protect the public by keeping them from re-offending is falling victim to budget cuts.

The Lifeline program, which provides support for those serving life sentences and helps re-integrate those who are released on parole, has been operating in Canadian prisons for more than 20 years.

Rick Sauve, who spent 17 years behind bars and has been out for almost two decades, says he survived thanks to the program he now works for.

"When you get a life sentence, you think your whole world is over," Sauve told CBC News. "There’s not a lot of help in there. You’re kind of just left to flounder."

Skip Graham, who works with the St. Leonard’s Society, which oversees Lifeline, believes the decision to cut the program flies in the face of good corrections policy and has nothing to do with saving money.

"It’s the most practical, humane program that has proven itself, and it’s the one they’ve decided to eliminate, so it’s just politics," he said.

Stop playing politics with people's lives

OTTAWA -- There's really no good way to tell people they're losing their jobs.

But there are ways to soften the blow.

The federal government is looking to cut discretionary spending -- that's bureaucratic speak for all the money it spends on its own programs. So it's not cutting transfers to the provinces or debt costs, just its own departments. It means a total of 19,200 jobs eliminated from April 1 onwards. About 12,000 will actually result in layoffs, the rest will come through attrition.

Many Canadians would agree it's an unpleasant necessity. Private businesses have gone through shrinking exercises repeatedly over the last few years. That the government should eventually do the same seems unavoidable, no matter how difficult it is to see people lose their jobs.

But telling thousands of people the day before Easter weekend begins that they possibly, maybe, sort of, kind of could lose their jobs eventually is a ridiculous way to dole out the cuts.

Letting unions know information that then is released to the public without full information from the government seems like a ridiculously poor communications strategy. It has led to confusion again and again over the last two weeks.

Civil liberties trump fight on terror, Canadians say

A new survey marking this week's 30th anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms shows Canadians remain largely - but far from unanimously - resistant to surrendering certain rights in the name of reducing the threat of terrorism.

Close to two-thirds (64 per cent) of the 1,522 respondents in a poll commissioned by the Montrealbased Association for Canadian Studies disagreed with the statement: "In order to curb terrorism in this country, it will be necessary to give up some civil liberties."

But significantly fewer respondents (57 per cent) balked at the idea of forcing citizens to carry state-issued I.D. cards and being subjected to random police checks, with 43 per cent agreeing that "everyone should be required to carry a national identity card at all times to show to a police officer upon request."

The findings were released to Postmedia News before a two-day, ACS-organized conference at the University of Ottawa this week - titled Checking our Constitution30 - where the April 17, 1982, patriation of Canada's Constitution and the adoption of the charter will be discussed and analyzed by some of the country's top legal scholars.

Thatcher cabinet looked at rejecting Canadian Charter of Rights plan

OTTAWA - The British cabinet considered denying Canada's proposal to create a Charter of Rights amid concern that Pierre Trudeau was pushing the plan without the desired backing of the provinces, declassified records show.

The once-secret deliberations of Margaret Thatcher's ministers in the early 1980s — made public by Britain's National Archives — cast new light on Trudeau's ultimately successful effort to patriate the Canadian Constitution.

Tuesday marks the 30th anniversary of Royal proclamation of the Constitution Act, which included an amending formula and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The historic milestone was a significant step for Canada as a nation, and also ushered in a new era of entrenched rights for minorities that reshaped the legal landscape.

The British cabinet records show there was considerable constitutional angst not just in Canada, but across the pond, said Eric Adams, an assistant professor of law at the University of Alberta.

"There's this massive tug-of-war going on in which the rules are not clear, and in which politics and law are totally interwoven, and you can see how flummoxed this makes the British Parliament. They wish this issue would go away," said Adams.

Conservatives trumpet wage freezes while giving big bonuses to top execs

Top federal government executives quietly received hefty increases in performance pay and bonuses last year at the same time pay cheques for MPs and most public servants barely budged, iPolitics has learned.

The biggest percentage jump was in bonuses that were paid out on top of base salaries and basic performance pay known as “pay at risk.”

The amount of money the government paid out in bonuses jumped from $913,914 in 2009-10 to $2.2 million in 2010-11 – an increase of 144 per cent. The average bonus for executives fortunate enough to get them went from $1,671 in 2009-10 to $4,156 in 2010-11.

Bonuses and “pay at risk” are part of the federal government’s Performance Management Program designed to encourage, recognize and reward strong performance by its top officials. The performance of each executive is assessed after the end of the government’s March 31 fiscal year and performance pay is generally paid out in the fall.

Günter Grass’s poem opens old wounds

That Israel and Germany have forged such a close relationship within living memory of Auschwitz is a remarkable testament to reconciliation and forgiveness. And yet the shadow still cast by the Holocaust ensures that criticism of Israel by a prominent German will trigger an emotionally charged response in both countries.

Last week, the German author and Nobel laureate Günter Grass published a poem titled “What Must be Said” in which he claims, “The nuclear power Israel is endangering a world peace that is already fragile,” and condemns Germany for sending Israel submarines that could be used in a nuclear strike against Iran.

Grass is “one of the most important figures of German intellectual life,” says Jennifer Hosek, an associate professor of German studies at Queen’s University. He was part of a postwar group of Germans that urged their countrymen to take responsibility for Germany’s crimes during the Second World War. He has been called his nation’s conscience. But Grass also carried a wartime secret: he was drafted as a teenager into the Nazi Waffen SS during the war’s final months. Grass revealed this only in 2006.

Grass alludes to this in his poem. He writes of a personal stain that, along with the “unique and exclusive crimes” of his country, had caused him to stay silent. But now, he says, I won’t be silent / because I had enough of the Western hypocrisy.

Taxing the rich akin to 'ethnic cleansing' – seriously?

The spirit of the Occupy movement lives on.

François Hollande is leading France’s presidential race with a promise to slap a 75-per-cent levy on everyone earning more than €1-million ($1.3-million).

In the United States, President Barack Obama has latched onto income inequality as a key wedge issue to go after Mitt Romney, his likely opponent in November’s presidential election. Mr. Obama is touting the so-called Buffett rule – a 30-per-cent minimum tax on millionaires inspired by billionaire investor Warren Buffett’s sheepish acknowledgment that he’s taxed at a lower tax rate than his secretary.

Closer to home, Ontario New Democratic Party Leader Andrea Horwath has made a 2-per-cent levy on people earning at least $500,000 a make-or-break condition for backing Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty’s minority budget. No tax, and Ontarians could be headed for the polls again.

The idea of taxing the rich is suddenly in vogue. But are these simply populist attacks on an easy target? Sure, there’s a dose of that.

But the recession and the financial crisis have left a lot of people feeling vulnerable, bitter and more conscious than ever of the widening gap between haves and have-nots.

Softening tone, Harper concedes drug war ‘is not working’

Something is just not working with the way the hemisphere has tackled powerful and violent drug traffickers, Prime Minister Stephen Harper acknowledged Sunday as he wrapped up a meeting with the leaders of the Americas.

It was the first time Harper has suggested he is open to discussing new approaches to the war on drugs. Several Latin American countries, including Guatemala, Mexico and Colombia have called for an open and frank discussion about how to deal with the cartels.

“There is increasing doubt about whether we are taking the best approach to doing that, but nobody thinks these transnational networks are good guys, or that changing the law is somehow going to make them good people,” Mr. Harper told reporters at a news conference following the close of the Summit of the Americas.

“I think what everyone believes and agrees with, and to be frank myself, is that the current approach is not working, but it is not clear what we should do.”

The gathering of 31 leaders agreed to analyze the approach to the drug situation in a more formal way through the Organization of American States.

Anders Breivik trial: Norway’s mass killer’s tears not ‘out of pity’

OSLO—Anders Behring Breivik shed tears as he went on trial Monday for killing 77 people — but not for his victims. The emotional display came when prosecutors showed his anti-Muslim video.

Dressed in a dark suit and sporting a thin beard, the right-wing fanatic defended the July 22 massacre as an act of “self-defense” in his professed civil war, and sat stone-faced as prosecutors described how he killed each of his victims.

But he was gripped by emotion when they showed a video warning of a Muslim takeover of Europe and laden with crusader imagery that he posted on YouTube before the attacks. Suddenly, the self-styled “resistance” fighter’s eyes welled up. He cringed his face and wiped away tears with trembling hands.

“Nobody believes that he cried out of pity for the victims,” said Mette Yvonne Larsen, a lawyer representing survivors and victim’s families in the court proceedings.

Breivik showed no signs of remorse on the first day of a trial that is expected to last 10 weeks. After being uncuffed, he extended his right arm in a clenched-fist salute. He refused to stand when the judges entered the room.

Housework as Work: Selma James on Unwaged Labor and Decades-Long Struggle to Pay Housewives

A debate over housework shook the presidential race last week after a Democratic strategist accused Mitt Romney’s wife Ann of never having worked a day in her life. Ann responded: "I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys. Believe me, it was hard work." Today we bring a historic voice into this discussion: the longtime activist, writer and political thinker Selma James, known for her pioneering work on women’s rights and against racism. She is credited with coining the phrase “unwaged” labor to describe the work of housewives — and she has argued women should be paid for housework. Selma James’ new book is "Sex, Race, and Class — The Perspective of Winning: A Selection of Writings, 1952-2011." In a series of arguments that have remained remarkably consistent across six decades, Selma James urges unity across the lines of race, class and gender. I interviewed Selma James recently, and she spoke about the great West Indian scholar C.L.R. James, who was her husband, and the writing of her seminal 1952 essay, "A Woman’s Place."

Source: Democracy Now!
Author: ---

A Veteran’s Death, the Nation’s Shame

HERE’S a window into a tragedy within the American military: For every soldier killed on the battlefield this year, about 25 veterans are dying by their own hands.

An American soldier dies every day and a half, on average, in Iraq or Afghanistan. Veterans kill themselves at a rate of one every 80 minutes. More than 6,500 veteran suicides are logged every year — more than the total number of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq combined since those wars began.

These unnoticed killing fields are places like New Middletown, Ohio, where Cheryl DeBow raised two sons, Michael and Ryan Yurchison, and saw them depart for Iraq. Michael, then 22, signed up soon after the 9/11 attacks.

“I can’t just sit back and do nothing,” he told his mom. Two years later, Ryan followed his beloved older brother to the Army.

When Michael was discharged, DeBow picked him up at the airport — and was staggered. “When he got off the plane and I picked him up, it was like he was an empty shell,” she told me. “His body was shaking.” Michael began drinking and abusing drugs, his mother says, and he terrified her by buying the same kind of gun he had carried in Iraq. “He said he slept with his gun over there, and he needed it here,” she recalls.

Sergey Brin, Google Co-Founder, Says Internet Freedom Facing Greatest Threat Ever

LONDON, April 16 (Reuters) - The principles of openness and universal access that underpinned the Internet's creation are facing their greatest-ever threat, the co-founder of Google Sergey Brin said in an interview published by Britain's Guardian newspaper on Monday.

Brin said the threat to freedom of the Internet came from a combination of factors, including increasing efforts by governments to control access and communication by their citizens.

Brin said attempts by the entertainment industry to crack down on piracy, and the rise of "restrictive" walled gardens such as Facebook and Apple, which tightly control what software can be released on their platforms, were also leading to greater restrictions on the Internet.

"There are very powerful forces that have lined up against the open Internet on all sides and around the world," Brin was quoted as saying. "I am more worried than I have been in the past. It's scary."

He said he was concerned by efforts of countries such as China, Saudi Arabia and Iran to censor and restrict use of the Internet.

Brin said the rise of Facebook and Apple, which have their own proprietary platforms and control access to their users, risked stifling innovation and balkanising the web.

Original Article
Source: Huff
Author: Reuters

Mitt Romney Outlines Policy Details At Closed-Door Fundraiser, Suggests Eliminating 'Some' Departments

In a closed-door speech to donors at a private home in Florida on Sunday, Mitt Romney was unusually candid about his policy plans, offering details about what he expects to implement if elected president in November.

According to NBC News, the former Massachusetts governor said he may decide to eliminate several government agencies, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which was once led by his father, George Romney.

"I'm going to take a lot of departments in Washington, and agencies, and combine them. Some eliminate, but I'm probably not going to lay out just exactly which ones are going to go," Romney said. "Things like Housing and Urban Development, which my dad was head of, that might not be around later."

Although Romney refused to make specific calls about each agency, he did suggest that the Department of Education would see major changes under a Romney presidency.

"I will either consolidate with another agency, or perhaps make it a heck of a lot smaller," Romney said. "I'm not going to get rid of it entirely," explaining that to do so could be a political pitfall and would eliminate a way to push back on powerful teacher unions.

Opposition MPs push for PBO’s independence, call Kevin Page ‘a modern-day hero’

Opposition MPs are renewing their call for the Parliamentary Budget Office to be a full-blown officer of Parliament and not under the Library of Parliament’s thumb, after the PBO’s report on the estimated $30-billion cost to the government to buy 65 F-35 fighter jets, dismissed last year by DND as “flawed,” was validated by Auditor General Michael Ferguson’s damaging audit two weeks ago.

Mr. Ferguson’s audit, released on April 3, said the F-35 fighter jets would be billions higher than predicted by the Department of National Defence, putting the costs more in line with Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page’s estimates released last March.

“There should be a renewed movement to make the Parliamentary budget officer a full officer of Parliament as has been recommended by all kinds of observers. He deserves to be,” said NDP MP Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre, Man.). “The work is just too valuable. In the same way the auditor general reviews spending after the fact, we need the Parliamentary Budget Officer to comment on proposed spending at the front end like the Congressional Budget Officer in the United States. It would be such an asset and such a resource to Parliament to have that objective independent third party analysis of proposed spending.”

Robocall Scandal: Elections Canada 'Keeping Secret' Probes Into Majority Of Election Complaints, Democracy Watch Says

Elections Canada is withholding information on about 3,000 of the more than 5,000 complaints it has received in the past 15 years, a government accountability watchdog group says.

In the wake of this year’s robocalls scandal, Democracy Watch compiled data on 5,018 complaints Elections Canada has received since the 1997 election, and found the election agency hasn’t released information on 2,982 of them.

“The main problem is no one can tell whether Elections Canada has been enforcing the law fairly and properly because it has failed to disclose details of how it has investigated and ruled” on the complaints, Democracy Watch stated in a press release Monday.

“Federal MPs have to stop being so negligent and start demanding regular, detailed reports about what all the key federal good government watchdogs are doing, and not doing,” Tyler Sommers, the group’s coordinator, said in the statement.

The question of electoral fairness was propelled to the forefront of Canada’s political debate earlier this year when allegations emerged that an individual known only as “Pierre Poutine” had arranged for robocalls in a riding in Guelph, Ontario, which attempted to send voters to nonexistent voting stations.

Since then, many Canadians have come forward with complaints about irregularities in the 2011 election.

Harper dismisses concerns over misleading F-35 estimates

Prime Minister Stephen Harper dismissed a question Sunday about whether his government lied about the cost of owning a fleet of F-35 fighter jets, arguing it always talked about the $9-billion acquisition cost.

He defended the fact the government provided only the cost to buy the planes, despite months of questions about what the planes will cost to fly, beyond the initial purchase cost.

Opposition MPs made the operational costs a focus of their questions on the plan to buy 65 F-35 planes, leading the House of Commons to vote in February 2011 to force the government to hand over those costs. Eventually, after then House Speaker Peter Milliken ruled the House had the power to compel the government to hand over those and other documents, MPs voted no confidence in the government, driving Canada into the 2011 federal election.

On April 3, Auditor General Michael Ferguson reported the government had internal estimates for the F-35s that included an additional $10 billion in operational costs, but that it wasn't made public despite repeated demands. He also found the Department of National Defence didn't provide complete information to decision-makers.

Asked Sunday in Cartagena, Colombia, whether the government lied about its estimates, Harper again focused on the cost to buy the planes.

The F-35 fiasco

Both Stephen Harper and Peter MacKay have stated that the F-35 procurement process actually began 15 years ago. This is false. What began 15 years ago was a partnership of several countries interested in vying for industrial contracts associated with the development of the F-35. There was no undertaking, official or implicit, that Canada would procure this aircraft.

The week before last, the Auditor-General released his report on the government's management of the procurement process to replace the CF-18. He dwelt on the fact that the process was opaque, that key steps were performed out of sequence, that $10-billion had disappeared from government costing and that the process was driven from 2006 onward toward one outcome only: the selection of the F-35.

Deeply troubling is the fact that the Harper government does not accept any responsibility for this fiasco, nor does it believe that it is accountable in any way. There is no other word for this but hypocrisy.

I would like to reiterate what I wrote in this newspaper almost two years ago, shortly after Peter MacKay announced that the F-35 would be the sole source choice to replace the CF-18. At the time I argued that the procurement process required an open competition based on a clearly stated set of requirements. This has never happened.

At the very top of the military procurement process is the definition of the mission capabilities required of the replacement fighter, based on Canada's defence and foreign policy objectives. In other words, how will this aircraft be used during its expected lifetime to serve Canada's specific needs?

Rethink the F-35s? Let's rethink the entire process

At this point in the confused and mismanaged F-35 affair it's worth reminding ourselves that there are some shambles that can be turned into an advantage.

In this case, there is much to learn from exposing the gross weaknesses — and possible dishonesty — in the vague military/bureaucratic/cabinet procurement process while we still have the luxury of time to reform the system and reconsider the entire $30-billion buy.

While the political parties battle, quite properly, to find out who knew what when, they might also want to take note of how grossly ill-informed and weak in basic research Canadian MPs are when it comes to the oversight of public spending.

It's hard to imagine U.S., British or Australian legislators being so badly out of the loop given their far superior research resources and more demanding committee systems.

Certainly the fallout from this matter should underline the need to further strengthen the watchdog powers of the Parliamentary Budget Office and the Auditor General, the two organizations that have done the best job at unravelling the mysteries of this affair.

As for reviewing the F-35 decision, we have the comforting luxury of time. As the prime minister now makes haste to argue, we "haven't bought" a plane yet.

PM defends F-35 figures

The government has been crystal clear on the cost of the F-35 fighter jets, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Sunday.

Speaking to reporters in Cartagena, Colombia, where he was attending the Summit of the Americas, Harper said the figures his government used publicly was for the acquisition of the stealth fighter.

"Other numbers cited, obviously have to do not just with the acquisition of the F-35 but operations of the F-35," he said.

"There's more than one number, there's more than one cost depending on what you're counting. These things have all been well known for some time. But in terms of our numbers, I've been very clear."

In a report released earlier this month, auditor general Michael Ferguson found National Defence officials didn't adequately inform ministers about problems with the F-35 fighter program, underestimated expected costs and bent the procurement rules.

F-35 scandal ‘a key point’ in history of this government

When Parliament returns on April 23 after a two-week break, the government will “try and change the channel” on the escalating F-35 political scandal, say opposition MPs, but some Conservatives say the growing controversy over the $25-billion fighter jets is a key point in the history of this government and depending on how it handles it, could determine its fate.

Tim Powers, a Conservative pundit and lobbyist at Summa Strategies, said that while the government would “most certainly want to get onto other subjects,” it can also advance the F-35 story.

“They have an opportunity try and change the story on the F-35s if they advance their seven-point plan and even move beyond that. I don’t think it is overstating it to say this is a key point in the history of this government. How the next chapter is written could be crucial in determining its long-term fate,” Mr. Powers said.

“I won’t be surprised if they try to bring something else up that will take the limelight off them and particularly off the Defence Department. It’s really hard to forecast what they’re going to do, but they clearly will be trying to get it off the F-35s,” NDP House Leader Joe Comartin (Windsor-Tecumseh, Ont.) told The Hill Times last week. “They certainly haven’t been successful up to this point.”

Critics call CEAA overhaul bad for business

Big changes are in store for how the federal government assesses the environmental impacts of industrial projects, but environmentalists say the plans for a regulatory overhaul of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act detailed in the budget will hurt industry by undermining social licence and further sullying the country’s environmental track record abroad.

“The budget was a sad day for Canada in terms of the environment and the health and safety of Canadians,” Liberal environment critic Kirsty Duncan (Etobicoke North, Ont.) told The Hill Times last week. Ms. Duncan said that she was all for an efficient regulatory regime, but took a swipe at the government for using the struggling the economy as “an opportunity to gut environmental legislation.”

Ms. Duncan, who was part of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change when it was awarded a Nobel Prize in 2007 and taught at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management before entering Parliament in 2008, accused the government of ignoring the private sector’s willingness to transition to a green economy. Instead, she said, the government is attempting to fast-track development at the expense of the environment.

“What’s good for the environment can be good for the economy, and business gets this,” said Ms. Duncan. “If you reduce waste it pays off. Business understands this and Canadian communities understand this. They’re taking action and our government is lagging.”

Anders says most Alberta federal Conservative MPs want Wildrose to win in next week's election

Many of the federal Conservatives’ 26-member Alberta caucus are staying tight-lipped on who they’re favouring in the province’s April 23 election, but Alberta MP Rob Anders told The Hill Times last week that there is strong support within his federal party’s ranks for the Wildrose Alliance, to end to the Alberta Progressive Conservatives’ 41-year reign.

“I think I can safely say that the majority of Members of Parliament inside the Alberta caucus, that I’m aware of, are leaning Wildrose,” Mr. Anders (Calgary West, Alta.) told The Hill Times in a phone interview from his Calgary riding. “There are still a few stragglers who are supporting the Progressive Conservatives, but they’re more reluctant to make a public admission of that because they see the numbers and where things are heading.”

Mr. Anders is sporting two lawn signs at the front of his house—one for Rob Solinger and one for Vittor Marciano, both Wildrose candidates running for MLA and federal Senate, respectively. Mr. Anders said he wants to see the Wildrose Party win because he’s worried taxes will go up, especially for energy producers.

“There’s a strong possibility of taxes going up under a re-elected Progressive Conservative government,” said Mr. Anders, who identified taxation as his main concern as a constituent in the Calgary-Varsity riding, told The Hill Times. He spoke favourably of Wildrose’s signed pledge to not increase taxes—a tactic that has been used by many U.S. Republicans affiliated with the Tea Party movement.

Why this year could prove to be the Charter’s most controversial

Created 30 years ago amid immense political controversy, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms could easily have become an empty shell. Instead, its guarantees of liberty, equality and fairness have permeated political life and Canadian cultural consciousness.

Yet, for all the contentious issues it has settled, the Charter is poised to become more relevant than ever. A federal government with an ambitious agenda of reform is running headlong toward the one institution that has the power to send it back to the drafting board – the judiciary.

In the past year alone, the Charter has been invoked to preserve a Vancouver safe-injection clinic and to blunt the impact of a federal provision to reduce credit for time served in pretrial custody. Prostitution and assisted-suicide laws are under siege. And a wave of new challenges is surging forward, including to mandatory minimum sentences, electronic surveillance and enhanced police powers.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper may not face strong opposition in Parliament or from the provinces, but his policies are brushing up against more core legal roadblocks than any of his predecessors faced.

Many legal experts believe that the Charter could be used to block mandatory minimum sentences, a crackdown on refugees and measures that will pack more inmates into already-overcrowded prisons.

The Charter proves to be Canada’s gift to world

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms was signed 30 years ago Tuesday. Since then, not only has it become a national bedrock, but the Charter has replaced the American Bill of Rights as the constitutional document most emulated by other nations.

“Could it be that Canada has surpassed or even supplanted the United States as a leading global exporter of constitutional law? The data suggest that the answer may be yes.” So conclude two U.S. law professors whose analysis of the declining influence of the American constitution on other nations will be published in New York University Law Review in June.

As the first Commonwealth nation to adopt a bill of rights, Canada has influenced other former British colonies as they create or revise their own constitutions, the study finds. Israel, Hong Kong and Eastern European countries have also drawn from the Canadian example.

Both the Charter itself and the nation that gave birth to it serve as an example to the world. “Some countries may be especially prone to borrow from the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms because they perceive themselves as sharing the same goals and values as Canadian society,” write David S. Law, who is professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis, and Mila Versteeg, who teaches law at University of Virginia.

Drone death in Yemen of an American teenager

SANAA, YEMEN— With the house still quiet with slumber, the 15-year-old left a letter for his mother begging forgiveness, then crawled out a second-storey kitchen window and dropped to the garden below.

Abdulrahman al Awlaki crossed the front yard past potted plants and a carnival ride graveyard — Dumbo, Donald Duck, an arched seal balancing a beach ball — debris from his uncle Omar’s failed business venture to install rides in local shopping malls.

The family’s guard saw the grade nine student with a mop of curly hair leave the front gate at about 6:30 a.m. that morning on Sept. 4. Abdulrahman then made his way to the gates of Bab al-Yemen to catch a bus to a cousin’s house in Shabwa province in the south.

As he crossed the desert on his six-hour journey, his family awoke to news of his disappearance.

“He wrote to his mother, ‘I am sorry for leaving in this kind of way. Forgive me. I miss my father and want to see if I can go and talk to him,’ ” said the boy’s grandfather, Nasser al Awlaki, as he sipped tea in his lavish home. “ ‘I will be coming back in a few days.’ ”

“He was very obedient to everybody in the house,” said Awlaki, “and that’s why it was a surprise that he would make that kind of decision.”

Pride Toronto issues invitation to Rob Ford

Mayor Rob Ford will receive his official invitation to Pride Toronto 2012 festivities on Monday or Tuesday, but he has already ignored an olive branch from a prominent gay member of council.

Kristyn Wong-Tam wrote to Ford on Feb. 7 offering to host receptions for him to mark International Day Against Homophobia on May 17 and Pride, which begins June 22 and ends with the big parade on Canada Day.

“I do not believe that the media fully grasps the complexity of the positions held by yourself and other members of council,” she wrote. “To that end, I think we could work together to get past these very superficial impressions” with a reception “where a respectful and representative group can speak to the most essential principles of equality.”

Wong-Tam (Ward 27, Toronto Centre-Rosedale) said Ford has not replied. Last year, he famously ignored similar entreaties to continue the previous two mayors’ decade-long tradition of attending the parade to demonstrate an acceptance of Toronto’s gay communities.

The coaxing included an Air Canada Centre tour with Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke, whose late son, Brendan, was gay. Ford told reporters he was too busy to attend an event in the 10-day schedule and cited a tradition of spending the Canada Day weekend at his family cottage.

Kevin Beaulieu, Pride Toronto executive director, said Friday that invitations were being sent to Ford and his council “imminently.”

Debt and the Tar Sands

The Occupy Movement has been characterized by, and criticized for, its lack of focused objectives. Originally gathering around issues of economic inequality and debt, it soon ballooned to include every progressive issue under the sun, and then some. Yet amid the cacophony of proposals and messages, we could always detect a hint of a unifying theme. We sensed that all of these issues are somehow connected; we sensed that we were protesting something. What was that thing? What is it now? What is it about current actions to, say, stop the excavation of Alberta's tar sands that makes them Occupy actions? What does ecosystem destruction and climate change have to do with financial inequality?

Just as we suspect, both arise from the same source. Inequality and environmental degradation are written into the rules of our financial system on a level so deep they are nearly invisible. To see how, let us start by asking, Why is it that there is money to be made by excavating the tar sands, but not by protecting the wilderness and the indigenous way of life there? After all, money is a mere social agreement, created by human beings. It is a story – a system of interpretations of symbols that defines value. How have we come to assign value to those activities that are destroying Earth?

Alberta Election 2012: Alison Redford Shocked At Wildrose Candidate Allan Hunsperger's Views On Gay People

CALGARY - The Wildrose party went into damage-control mode Sunday after one of its candidates' anti-gay rants raised the ire of many voters and prompted Premier Alison Redford to warn Albertans about who they want to run their province.

The controversy stems from a blog written by Allan Hunsperger, a pastor who's running as a Wildrose candidate in Edmonton South, in which he warned against accepting gays and lesbians for who they are.

In his comments, written in June, 2011, Hunsperger criticized the Edmonton Public School Division's views of accepting students for who they are and used Lady Gaga's album, "Born this Way" as part of his analogy.

"You see, you can live the way you were born, and if you die the way you were born then you will suffer the rest of eternity in the lake of fire, hell, a place of eternal suffering."

With only one week left before the election, Redford wasted no time joining in the condemnation of the comments that quickly spread to social media.

"The fact that there are people who think that's a legitimate perspective just absolutely blows my mind," Redford told reporters at a Calgary campaign stop.

If the War of 1812 warrants commemoration, so does the patriation of the Constitution: Chretien Read it on Global News: Global News | If the War of 1812 warrants commemoration, so does the patriation of the Constitution: Chretien

MONTREAL - Former Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien was left scratching his head after learning the government had no plans to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"For me, I think it was a very important moment... You know, we were still legally a colony of Great Britain," he said in a feature one-on-one interview on The West Block with Tom Clark.

The Conservative government is anything but shy of the country's history, as evidenced by recent moves to highlight Canada's ties to the monarchy and planning an elaborate celebration to commemorate the bicentennial of the War of 1812.

The bicentennial, which Chretien acknowledged marks a "very important" milestone, is acting as the beginning of the five-year countdown to Canada's 150th birthday in 2017.

But the fact that the Conservatives are celebrating that and not the Constitution -- the document that gave Canada full political independence from the United Kingdom, and formed the moral fibre of Canada's governing system and its citizens' civil rights and liberties -- baffles the former prime minister.

Tories playing politics on Charter anniversary: Trudeau

Three decades after then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau signed Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms into law, his lawmaker son says the majority Conservatives are now ignoring the document in a blatant act of partisan politics.

"It's just typical. It shows that we have a government that can't get beyond its partisan ideology and its grounding," federal Liberal Member of Parliament Justin Trudeau told CTV's Question Period.

"The Conservatives are supposed to be about protecting individuals from an intrusive state, so you would think they'd like the Charter."

While numerous organizations intend to mark the anniversary, many have noticed the government is taking a much more low-key approach.

Suggesting that Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives "ignored" the 25th anniversary of the Charter in 2007, Trudeau said they appear to be bent on doing the same when the 30th anniversary rolls around on April 17.

Feds warned not to ‘cheerlead’ for oilsands

OTTAWA — Federal bureaucrats warned Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government not to become “cheerleaders” for the oilpatch as it launched a sophisticated lobbying and marketing campaign — lightheartedly described as “God’s work” — to promote the industry abroad and challenge foreign climate change policies, newly released internal documents have revealed.

“Given the ever-increasing attention this issue is receiving in the U.S. and Europe, and the importance of the issue to the Canadian economy and our international reputation, a more concerted strategy is needed in some jurisdictions,” said a draft strategy produced in the early days of the plan.

“At the same time, we must carefully balance our messaging to ensure that we cannot be accused by oil sands opponents of simply being cheerleaders or apologists for the industry; the environmental challenges of the oil sands are huge (although not as dire as some NGOs claim) so taking a facts-based approach is vital.”

The draft lobbying and marketing strategy from 2008 was sent out to Natural Resources Canada officials for review by Robert Arnot, then a senior policy adviser on energy issues at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

Alberta's Conservatives welcome "father" of party support but opposition calls it "tragic"

CALGARY - Alberta's election campaign entered its final week Sunday with the opposition Wildrose party dismissing an endorsement of Premier Allison Redford by a high-profile predecessor.

Peter Lougheed's nod to Redford over the weekend came as her Progressive Conservatives face their toughest test since he ended more than three decades of Social Credit government in 1971.

The endorsement from Lougheed, considered the party's patriarch, is considered a boost for Redford's campaign, which has struggled against the Wildrose party. The fledgling opposition party is hoping to ride the same kind of populist wave that brought the Conservatives to power 41 years ago.

"It's kind of tragic actually that it is considered news for a former premier of the PC party to endorse the current leader of the PC party. That should just be a given," Wildrose leader Danielle Smith told reporters Sunday.

"It is actually kind of sad that they have to go to that extent to try and seek endorsements from prior premiers. Normally premiers do take a step back after they've left public office. I think it just shows the state the PC party is in right now."

Canadian media misses Castro's message

On Monday, our national media seemed taken aback when Fidel Castro pointed a finger at Canada. Reporters presumed that the former Cuban President was upset that the island nation was not invited to this week’s Summit of the Americas taking place in Cartagena, Colombia.

CBC reporter David Common’s analysis of Castro’s latest newspaper column entitled “Stephen Harper’s Illusions,” was particularly derisive, while other journalists seemed mostly confused. “It isn’t clear,” concluded an article from the Canadian Press, “why [Fidel] seems to be venting his anger on Canada rather than on Cuba’s more customary adversary, the United States.”

But Castro’s tone was more reflective than angry. He also noted that Canada has never embargoed Cuba and has been generally seen there as a friend.

The story Canadian reporters did not care to untangle from the aging revolutionary’s column is how much Canada’s dominant role in the mining sector is not just causing “incredible damage,” but is also giving rise to growing backlash.

Castro spends a third of his article on the subject, describing it as “an issue that has been identified innumerable times as one of the main scourges that affects millions of persons.”