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, May 09, 2012

Environment Canada's scientific expertise at risk, report says

OTTAWA - Environment Canada is at risk of losing the scientific expertise it needs to counter ecological threats and protect the country's ecosystems because of federal budget cuts, warns a new report signed by the government's environment minister.

``Due to transition alignment challenges, the department risks being unable to stay current with advances in science and technology,'' said the report on Environment Canada's plans and priorities for 2012-13 tabled in Parliament this week by Peter Kent.

``In addition, the recruitment and retention of employees who possess the essential and specific skills and knowledge required to support programs and internal services could pose difficulties, in particular due to the current fiscal environment.''

The report follows announcements over the past year that several hundred bureaucrats at Environment Canada, including scientists and policy experts, were at risk of having their positions changed or eliminated. Overall, the department has estimated it had the equivalent of 6,973 full-time employees in 2010-11 under former minister Jim Prentice, but it's projecting to decrease that total to the equivalent of 6,128 full-time employees by 2014-15.

Afghanistan war support reaches new low among Americans in Associated Press-GfK poll

(AP) WASHINGTON - Support for the war in Afghanistan has reached a new low, with only 27 percent of Americans saying they back the effort and about half of those who oppose the war saying the continued presence of American troops in Afghanistan is doing more harm than good, according to an AP-GfK poll.

In results released Wednesday, 66 percent opposed the war, with 40 percent saying they were "strongly" opposed. A year ago, 37 percent favored the war, and in the spring of 2010, support was at 46 percent. Eight percent strongly supported the war in the new poll.

The poll found that far fewer people than last year think the killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. troops increased the threat of terrorism against Americans. Overall, 27 percent say the al Qaeda leader's death resulted in an increased terror threat, 31 percent believe his death decreased the threat of terrorism and 38 percent say it has had no effect. The poll was conducted before the revelation this week of a recent al Qaeda plot to blow up a U.S.-bound airliner with an underwear bomb.

The bullies that you are paying for: How the 'Christian' right is making you subsidize their hate

We are all likely familiar with the war that our Conservative federal government is waging on organizations with which it does not see eye to eye.

And most of us have heard the borderline hate speech of Ontario Christian fascist Charles McVety, as when he said, in opposition to Ontario's new proposed anti-bullying law, Monday, May 7, appallingly and revoltingly, that:

Bill 13 "embraces a radical sex education agenda" and children will be taught "about oral and anal sex."

"My daughter is a precious little 14-year-old girl. I beg you not to do this to my daughter," he said. "This bill goes against the Bible. The Bible is a very important document."

You may be less aware of what your tax dollars are subsidizing when it comes to the virulent anti-gay and anti-woman, anti-choice rhetoric that is coming from groups that either are, or claim to be, "charities" under tax law, usually by using religion as the front to circumvent the intent of the law.

Wealthy foundations wary of Harper’s crackdown on charities

The organization that speaks for foundations bearing illustrious Canadian names like Asper, Bronfman, McCain and Bombardier says it's worried about the Conservative government's recent attacks on figures in the charitable sector.

Philanthropic Foundations Canada has been trying to keep its members informed about changes in the federal budget that touch on charities, but fears a chill descending on the sector.

The Conservatives have accused some environmental foundations of laundering money for American bodies in the United States that are critical of Canadian resource projects.

The government wants to apply greater scrutiny and limits on how much charities can spend on non-partisan political activities, such as advocating for certain policies or laws.

At the same time, a Senate finance committee is set to study the politically loaded issue of foreign cash flowing to organizations with charitable status.

Enbridge AGM: Police out in full force at giant energy company’s annual general meeting

Dozens of police and security guards were out in full force outside the King Edward hotel on Wednesday as protesters were marching toward the venue.

Enbridge is holding its annual general meeting here and anger over its proposed Northern Gateway pipeline threatened to get loud.

With drums pounding, protesters chanted “we can’t drink oil,” as they marched down King St. in Toronto’s downtown core.

They held placards saying, “No tankers,” “No pipeline without consent” and “Stop Enbridge.”

Inside, CEO Patrick Daniel, who is retiring later this year, told shareholders that the company has heard the message that some investors, including mutual fund company NIE Investments has sent, and offered to follow up later.

Federal Budget 2012: Conservatives reject calls to break up massive federal budget bill

OTTAWA—New Democrats vowed to use every parliamentary tactic available to stall passage of the Harper government’s far-reaching budget legislation after the Conservatives rejected opposition demands to break up the bill for more study on Parliament Hill.

Government House Leader Peter Van Loan made clear Wednesday that the government would not accede to the NDP’s request to split up its budget legislation.

“We are committed to implementing our budget. Canadians expect their government to make decisions,” said Van Loan, who held several days of discussion with the NDP over the handling of the bill.

“Across the world political gridlock and indecision has led to economic uncertainty and continues to threaten the world economy. This is not what Canadians want from their government,” Van Loan told reporters.

ORNGE: Man dies as air ambulance can’t get to Stouffville crash

A motorist died Wednesday after the troubled ORNGE air ambulance service couldn’t get a helicopter and paramedics to a serious crash between a cube van and two dump trucks in York Region.

Progressive Conservative MPP Frank Klees said the accident raises fresh questions about ORNGE, now under the microscope over concerns about patient safety and questionable business dealings now under a police probe.

“The people of Ontario are counting on our air ambulance service to be there when an emergency happens,” Klees told reporters after raising the incident in the legislature’s daily question period.

“You can’t arrange an emergency to coincide with the staffing at ORNGE.”

The unidentified driver of the van was rushed to hospital by land ambulance but he later died. The crash left a tangled mess on Bloomington Rd. and witnesses told CP24 that the impact made the ground shake.

Toronto police will not charge reporter Daniel Dale over Mayor Rob Ford incident

Police investigators have “found no evidence” that Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale was on the mayor’s property or looked over his fence last week and will not be charging him in connection with his well-publicized confrontation with Rob Ford.

“I closed off the investigation,” Det. Tricia Johnston told Dale in a phone conversation Wednesday afternoon. “There’s nothing left to do.”

“You’re not being charged.”

Police closed the investigation late Wednesday afternoon after they accepted Dale’s offer to allow investigators to view any photos, videos and emails on his BlackBerry, which has been in police custody since the incident took place last Wednesday night.

The phone was previously in Ford’s possession after Dale surrendered it to the mayor during the heated confrontation behind his Etobicoke home.

Federal Tories tied to Quebec companies accused of corruption

The federal Conservative Party received donations from dozens of employees at three engineering firms now implicated in high-profile police investigations into Quebec's construction industry.

Such donations to Canada's governing party, and to a lesser extent the opposition Liberals, illustrate that federal politics is no stranger to the corporate ties now being scrutinized by police and an upcoming provincial inquiry in Quebec.

As Ottawa unveiled billions in economic stimulus spending in 2009, Conservative coffers in one Montreal riding were flooded with contributions from individuals affiliated with firms that have since become mired in collusion scandals.

A special Quebec task force has been investigating the role of engineering-consulting firms in wider scandals over collusion, kickbacks, Mafia ties, illegal political financing and money-laundering that have raged at the provincial and local level.

Little has been written about the industry's ties to federal politics.

Obama Says Same-Sex Marriage Should Be Legal

WASHINGTON — President Obama on Wednesday ended nearly two years of “evolving” on the issue of same-sex marriage by publicly endorsing it in a television interview, taking a definitive stand on one of the most contentious and politically charged social issues of the day.

“At a certain point, I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married,” Mr. Obama told ABC News in an interview that came after the president faced mounting pressure to clarify his position.

Mr. Obama said his views had changed over the years, in part because of prodding from friends who are gay and conversations with his wife and daughters.

“I had hesitated on gay marriage in part because I thought that civil unions would be sufficient,” Mr. Obama said. “I was sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people, the word marriage was something that invokes very powerful traditions and religious beliefs.”

But he added that “I’ve always been adamant that gay and lesbian Americans should be treated fairly and equally.”

Elders to tell Enbridge no on Northern Gateway

In a dramatic and symbolic demonstration of their opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline, First Nations drummers and hundreds of followers marched through the core of Canada’s financial centre Wednesday, on their way to Enbridge Inc.’s (ENB-T39.770.070.18%) annual meeting.

Chanting “No means No” and “No more pipeline,” the demonstrators disrupted traffic along King Street in Toronto in front of the big banks’ headquarters.

First Nations elders say they hold voting proxies for the Enbridge annual meeting to be held Wednesday afternoon, and will tell shareholders the Northern Gateway pipeline should not be built.

At a press conference and rally, the leaders insisted they could not be won over by offers of money or benefits. “It is not about money, it is about our way of life,” said Chief Jackie Thomas of the Saik’uz First Nation.

Budget watchdog comes up empty handed in bid to detail Tory cuts

Most federal departments are giving Kevin Page the cold shoulder as the Parliamentary Budget Officer tries to find out what is actually being cut in the push to balance the books.

Nearly a month after the watchdog asked all departments to fill out a form outlining their restraint plans, the PBO reported Wednesday that he has only received answers from eight small departments. Combined, they represent just 0.06 per cent of the total savings promised in the 2012 budget.

The budget promised a combined savings of $5.2-billion a year and listed total spending cuts for each department, but few details were provided.

The PBO’s frustration at the lack of detail on spending cuts in the budget comes as opposition MPs are also raising concerns about the lack of government answers on the measures contained in the omnibus budget implementation act, Bill C-38.

Jesse Lee Peterson, Conservative Preacher, Says Women's Voting Rights 'One Of America's Greatest Mistakes'

Jesse Lee Peterson, the controversial conservative preacher and regular guest of Sean Hannity, said in a recent video it was a mistake to allow women the right to vote.

In a video uploaded in March but publicized this Monday by Raw Story, Peterson, who runs an organization calling for Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny (BOND), said that allowing women to vote puts the United States "on a pathway to destruction."

    "I think that one of the greatest mistakes America made was to allow women the opportunity to vote," Peterson said to his congregants in the 12-minute video. "We should have never turned that over to women. There are more women out there voting than men now … and these women are voting in the wrong people. They are voting in people who are evil, who agree with them, who are going to take us down this pathway of destruction."

Antibiotic Resistance Spreads Through Environment, Threatens Modern Medicine

Waste from people, pets, pigs and even seagulls may be playing a significant role in the rise of antibiotic-resistant infections, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a number of new studies warn.

Widespread fear of diminishing returns for modern medicine is becoming amplified, scientists say, by the discovery of soils and waterways polluted with both traces of antibiotics and bacteria encoded with antibiotic-resistant genes, the information that tells a microbe how to evade drugs designed to kill it. And even if that fortified microbe isn't capable of causing illness in humans itself, scientists add, its DNA could find its way into the more malignant microbes in the environment.

"Antibiotic resistance is likely the biggest public health challenge that we'll be facing this century," said Amy Pruden, an expert on antibiotic resistance at Virginia Tech University. "We're in a state of complacency right now. We count on antibiotics working for us, but they are slowly starting to lose their effectiveness."

An Inconvenient Lawsuit: Teenagers Take Global Warming to the Courts

Alec Loorz turns 18 at the end of this month. While finishing high school and playing Ultimate Frisbee on weekends, he's also suing the federal government in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

The Ventura, California, teen and four other juvenile plaintiffs want government officials to do more to prevent the risks of climate change -- the dangerous storms, heat waves, rising sea levels, and food-supply disruptions that scientists warn will threaten their generation absent a major turnabout in global energy policy. Specifically, the students are demanding that the U.S. government start reducing national emissions of carbon dioxide by at least six percent per year beginning in 2013.

"I think a lot of young people realize that this is an urgent time, and that we're not going to solve this problem just by riding our bikes more," Loorz said in an interview.

The youth -- represented, pro bono, by the Burlingame, California, law firm of former U.S. Republican congressman Paul "Pete" McCloskey, a co-founder of Earth Day -- filed the suit, Alec L. et. al vs. Lisa P. Jackson, et. al, in May of last year. Defendants include not only Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson but the heads of the Commerce, Interior, Commerce, Defense, Energy, and Agriculture departments. This Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Robert L. Wilkins, an Obama appointee, will hear arguments on the defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint.

How Your College Is Selling Out to Big Ag

Last week, the University of Illinois' College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) in Champaign-Urbana made a momentous announcement: it has accepted a $250,000 grant from genetically modified seed/agrichemical giant Monsanto to create an endowed chair for the "Agricultural Communications Program" it runs with the College of Communications.

The university's press release quotes Monsanto's vice president of technology communications giving a taste of its vision for the investment:
With the population expecting to reach 9 billion by 2030, farmers from Illinois and beyond will be asked to produce more crops while using fewer resources. At Monsanto we are committed to bringing farmers advanced ag technologies to help them meet this challenge. Effectively communicating farmers’ efforts to feed, clothe and fuel a rapidly growing population is a major part of the solution.

Refuse to be Silenced

Canada would be a different place without our 80,000 registered charities dedicated to everything from health to economic policy to the environment. We'd be much poorer without the two-million employees, and millions of volunteers who devote their time to causes that strengthen our nation.

Recent efforts by the federal government, its backers in media and industry front groups like Ethical Oil to demonize and silence legitimate organizations ignore the important role charities play in Canada. That's why environmental and other organizations are joining with Canadians from all walks of life for Black Out Speak Out, launched on May 7th with ads in the Globe and Mail, La Presse, and Ottawa's Hill Times and culminating in a website blackout on June 4th.

Canadians understand the value of charitable organizations. Close to 85 per cent of us over 15 years of age (22.2 million people) donate to charities every year. Often, it's to help people in other parts of the world. According to Charity Village, Canadians gave $20 million to the Canadian Red Cross, CARE Canada, Oxfam Canada, UNICEF Canada, and World Vision within four days of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. For supporting worthy causes, Canadians are entitled to a small tax break.

Ghiz on the hot seat over first class flight to India

Premier Robert Ghiz fielded questions today in the legislature about his first class flight from India last March that cost taxpayers over $4,000.

The Opposition raised concern over the expensive flight last week when they questioned Ghiz’s airfare expenses for the trip and pointed out they were more than double the amount incurred by Innovation Minister Allen Roach, who was one of several officials on the same trip.

The premier was out of the province last week and could not answer to the Opposition’s criticisms of his expenses.

Today in the legislature, Ghiz acknowledged he flew first class on the flight. But he stressed his ticket was the last one available for the flight and he needed to get back to Canada in time to prepare for meetings with Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Alberta profits little from 'American way'

When he was Alberta premier Peter Lougheed created the Heritage Fund to safeguard Alberta's non-renewable resource wealth for present and future generations.

It hasn't quite turned out that way. Since 1987, the fund has become something of a political football, sometimes used on vote-buying schemes at election time but mostly kept in a holding pattern while the government left royalty rates low for fear of antagonizing the big multinational oil companies.

The Lougheed government launched the Heritage Fund in 1976-77 with an infusion of $620 million of non-renewable resource revenue and $1.5 billion from general revenue. The original legislation established three objectives for it: saving for the future, strengthening and diversifying the economy and improving the quality of life of Albertans.

Between 1977 and 1987, the government poured the fund's resource windfall into diversifying and expanding the province's economic and social infrastructure, including investments in education, health care and renewable energy.

More convicts must pay their own way in prison, Toews declares

More inmates in Canadian prisons will be charged for their room and board starting next year.

It’s one of the latest tough-on-crime measures Public Safety Minister Vic Toews announced Wednesday. Charging more to stay in prisons, getting rid of incentive pay tied to certain inmate work and ensuring offenders are charged for their phone calls are among the changes the minister says will save a total of $10-million each year.

“All too often, victims have told us they feel the criminals have all the rights,” Mr. Toews said in a statement. “We’ve listened.”

The Correctional Service of Canada currently charges inmates at the top of the prison pay scale $25 per week for room and board. It comes out of their stipend or inmate pay that’s tied to employment in prison.

American mining firm promises big investment in the Ring of Fire

An American firm is expected to sink $3.3 billion into developing the resource-rich Ring of Fire, the Ontario government announced Monday.

Cliffs Natural Resources, an international mining company based in Cleveland, will use the money to haul and process chromite — the key ingredient used to make stainless steel — out of the Hudson Bay Lowlands.

The Ring of Fire, located 500 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, is said to contain one of the world’s largest chromite deposits. International mining companies have staked nearly 9,000 claims in the ring and both the federal and provincial government wants to hasten development of the area to bring much needed jobs to the struggling north.

The ring is a 5,000-square-kilometre area of pristine wilderness that is also one of the world’s last untouched ecosystems.

Ding, dong, the bell curve is dead

Human performance used to be measured in terms of a bell curve for decades.

But now a new study, published in Personnel Psychology, has found that the bell curve may not be the right way to measure human performance at all.

The study – The Best and The Rest: Revisiting the Norm of Normality of Individual Performance—researchers looked at the performance of 633,263 people and found that the bell curve doesn’t adequately capture individual performance.

Instead the researchers found that performance today unfolds along a “power distribution curve” – where there are a few superstars who outperform the rest of the workforce.

Quebec students reject miserable 'offer' from Charest government

Quebec college and university students are now in the 13th week of their militant province-wide strike, while voting by overwhelming majorities to reject a government offer that met none of their key demands.

After a 22-hour bargaining session involving ministers of the Charest government, university and college heads, and leaders of the major trade-union centrals, the student leaders agreed on May 6 to put the offer to a vote of their memberships without recommending acceptance.
If the offer (the French-language text is here) were accepted:

-The 75 per cent hike in tuition fees (now spread over seven years, but indexed) would remain, albeit with slightly liberalized access to scholarships and loans, and provision for repayment of loans geared to future income.

-A provisional committee would examine university budgets and propose possible cuts. Each dollar cut would go to reducing incidental fees not related directly to tuition (admission, registration, sports services, technology, etc.)

-The committee would include four students, but also 14 other members: six university rectors, four trade union representatives as well as two representatives of business, one from the ministry of education, and a chair with a tie-breaking vote - the latter four all designated by the minister of education.

-The committee would table its recommendations by December, although if necessary its mandate could be extended by one more year. It might then be replaced by a permanent committee appointed by law, its composition undetermined at this point.

-Pending the provisional committee's conclusions, the students' incidental fees would be deferred. However, these fees would apply retroactively to the students in any amount the committee is unable to cut from current expenses.

Harper Government Can't See the Forest for the Trees

I've started to have a repetitive nightmare.

The light in the hearing room is bright, hot and pointed right at me. The heat is suffocating, and I am visibly sweaty, the senator leans over, taps his microphone and begins to read questions from a typed sheet.

"Mr. Fenton, Have you ever donated to or been a member of the Sierra Club of Canada?"

"Do you own a book or books written by Dr. David Suzuki?"

"Did you or did you not write blog posts that were critical of the oilsands?"

That's usually about the time I wake up, but instead of relief that my nightmare is over, I make the mistake of turning on the radio or picking up the paper to find my speculative fiction becoming more and more real.

Environmental groups in Canada are in the crosshairs of the government, not simply under investigation for fiscal mismanagement, but the targets of criminalization, misinformation and a smear campaign.

Economist Robyn Allan says Enbridge and Kinder Morgan pipelines will harm Canadian economy

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver have tried to characterize critics of the proposed Enbridge pipeline as financial illiterates.

But that doesn't square with an economic analysis by Robyn Allan, a former ICBC CEO and former senior economist of the B.C. Central Credit Union.

Allan noted in her paper that oil-industry studies fail to identify the impact of building pipelines on the Canadian dollar and overstate the growth of royalties to government treasuries.

Building new pipelines will result in higher Canadian oil prices of anywhere from $2 to $13 per barrel, according to various studies, because tar-sands producers are currently limited to selling to U.S. refineries. (For more on this, see economist Jeff Rubin's new book, The End of Growth, which goes on sale tomorrow [May 8].)

Wisconsin Democrats Select Recall Challenger to Take On Gov. Scott Walker’s "Ideological Civil War"

Wisconsin Democratic primary voters have picked Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett to face controversial Republican Gov. Scott Walker in a recall election. Protests erupted across Wisconsin last year after Walker announced plans to eliminate almost all collective bargaining rights for most public workers, as well as slash their pay and benefits. Walker and Barrett will now square off in a recall election on June 5. We go to Madison to speak with Matthew Rothschild, editor of The Progressive magazine. Rothschild notes Walker’s bid to remain in office has been aided by massive contributions from rich donors nationwide. "Walker is the darling of the vicious business class in America; he’s a hero to every boss who wants to put [a] boot on the throat of labor," Rothschild says. "And these people ... have just been opening their wallets."

Source: Democracy Now!
Author: ---

From Coal to Foreclosures, Bank of America Faces Protest at Shareholders Meeting in Charlotte

Occupy Wall Street protesters, environmental activists, and struggling homeowners are converging in Charlotte today for a protest outside Bank of America’s annual shareholder meeting. The protesters are calling attention to the bank’s involvement in the financial crisis, its support for the coal industry and its long record of alleged foreclosure abuses. The rally marks a test run for activism targeting September’s Democratic National Convention, which will be held in Charlotte. The city recently enacted broad police powers to stop and search anyone carrying a backpack, purse or briefcase with the intent to conceal anything on a long list of prohibited items, ranging from weapons to markers to bicycle helmets. "Folks are coming to Charlotte to stand their ground against the predatory practices of Bank of America," says Rachel LaForest of the Right to the City Alliance, a national coalition of community groups that is bringing roughly 175 residents to Charlotte who have been evicted by Bank of America. "We’re coming to their shareholders meeting and to say: 'This is what your practices have done to our lives.' We’re entering into the space to become decision makers and ensure this stops." We’re also joined by Rebecca Tarbotton, executive director of Rainforest Action Network, which is calling on Bank of America, the largest financier of the coal industry, to transition its investments out of coal and toward energy efficiency and renewable energy. "Bank of the America is the lead [U.S.] financier of coal — the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. We’re here to say to Bank of America: You need to get out of coal if you’re serious about this country transitioning into renewable energy."

Source: Democracy Now!
Author: ---

Paul Krugman: Rich People Want To Be Praised 'As The Salvation Of The Rest Of Us'

Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman has a theory about the super-rich: They just want to be loved.

"If you're really, really rich, an additional dollar, an additional hundred million dollars doesn't matter too much for you. But feeling that you are being respected -- it matters a lot," the Princeton professor and New York Times columnist, said in an interview with Reuters on Monday.

"I think what really rich people want to buy often is they want the world to praise them for their wealth, so they want economic theories that praise rich people as the salvation of the rest of us."

Krugman went on to say that the wealthy support Republican economic policies both because they want more money for themselves and they want everyone to respect them.

What Canada’s NDP can learn from the Socialist victory in France

For the first time since the election of François Mitterrand in the 1980s, French voters elected a socialist president on Sunday. Is there anything progressive forces in Canada can learn from their French cousins? While the context is different, there are important similarities between the NDP and the French Socialist Party.

Both are progressive parties struggling to find their voice at a time when right-wing ideas seem to dominate. Both parties are flirting with the centre, at the risk of losing their base (and their identity) to the left. Ultimately, the challenges for the NDP are remarkably similar to those faced by the French Socialist Party.

What could NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, who is no doubt following the French debates given his family background, learn from the new French President, François Hollande?

First, don’t be afraid to assume your party’s roots, and campaign on the left, while keeping a watchful eye on the centre. There is a temptation for progressive parties to dilute their core ideological message in order to attract a more centrist electorate. The problem with a centrist strategy is that it concedes the ideological battlefield to the right, allowing your adversaries to set the agenda on which the election is fought, and, ultimately, define your party. A party with no ideas is not attractive. And it runs the risk of alienating its own base.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper: A strong but hidebound economic manager

Prime Minister Stephen Harper doesn’t care whether you consider him likeable. He didn’t win three elections because of his charm.

He doesn’t care whether you think he’s anti-democratic, environmentally negligent or socially regressive. He’s already written off your vote.

But he does care whether you acknowledge that he’s a good economic manager. That was his key to winning a majority in the last election. It is his best hope of securing another strong mandate in 2015.

No one has seriously challenged his economic competence.

New Democratic Party Leader Thomas Mulcair intends to change that. He thinks Harper’s reputation is overblown and his “action plan” to produce jobs, growth and long-term prosperity is myopic.

Relations between Ottawa, Victoria cooling

After more than a decade of fairly good relations, things are likely to get a bit ugly between the federal government and the B.C. government.

With the prospect of Adrian Dix and the NDP taking over the reins of government looking more and more likely, the stage is being set for a clash of ideologies on a number of issues.

Chief among them is environmental protection, and more specifically, the proposed Enbridge pipe-

line in northern British Columbia. While the federal government's weakening of the environmental process is a cause for concern for New Democrats, it is the pipeline that really drives them up the wall. Dix and the NDP caucus are adamantly opposed to the project, and the Harper government is just as determined to see it come to fruition.

Last week, the NDP caucus wrote an 11-page letter to the joint review panel for the project, articulating its opposition to the pipeline. They cited a variety

of concerns, including fears the project could lead to a massive oil spill.

Harper government has walked away from its environmental responsibilities

The quiet business of saving Canada from Stephen Harper has passed to another unlikely hero from the grey ranks of the best public service in the world.

Don’t get me wrong.  Scott Vaughan is no Brigitte DePape. He doesn’t hold up a sign reducing our political universe to a single hortatory injunction:  Stop Harper.  No, the  Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development speaks with the urbane inflections of a man who has spent his life measuring his words against the demands of the facts and the imperatives of mandarin diplomacy.  He doesn’t aim to offend, but neither does he cast the appropriate lights and shadows over his file for the benefit of a miscreant government.

Sitting in the national press amphitheater as Vaughan moved effortlessly between English and French like Gordie Howe shifting his stick to shoot either from the left or right, I was struck by the enormity of the Harper abdication on the environment.  Failure to comply with the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act was no surprise – the Harperites withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol last December to a chorus of international denunciations.

An Ethical Notion

Certified B Corporations harness the power of business for social and environmental good. An initiative of the Pennsylvania-based non-profit B Lab, B Corp certification requires companies to meet rigorous and independent standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. Last month, B Lab and the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing – the B Corp hub in Canada – announced the 39 Founding Canadian B Corps. In this special series, The Mark is excited to feature testimonials from three of these pioneering Canadian B Corps.

We started Ethical Ocean because we think we can transform an entire market, deliver social impact, have a lot of fun in the process, and maybe, just maybe, even get a little rich.

As co-founder and CEO, I’m fully invested in this company. Our thesis is that people want to feel good about what they buy – consuming products that are safe and healthy for their families, that weren’t manufactured in sweatshops, and that have as little negative environmental impact as possible.

Tom Mulcair’s call for environmental responsibility hits nerve in the West

When Tom Mulcair, then a prospective NDP leader, wrote in an influential magazine last winter that Alberta’s oilsands have artificially driven up the Canadian dollar and hurt manufacturing in central Canada, his remarks received scant notice.

Mulcair was largely adding his voice to a view espoused by Premier Dalton McGuinty and a number of commentators and analysts.

When he repeated an abridged version of his Policy Options argument on the CBC last weekend, the reaction in western Canada verged on the hysterical.

Stephen Harper surrogates in right-wing media and think tanks joined Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall in hurling invective at the NDP leader, accusing him of trying to divide the country, demonizing the West, pandering to Quebec and misunderstanding history and politics.

Chantal Dupuis, Woman Who Wrote To Queen Asking For Harper To Be Fired, Gets Another Response

The Montreal woman who asked Queen Elizabeth II to fire Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has received a second response from Her Majesty.

Chantal Dupuis wrote the Queen again in March complaining that Harper’s government is illegitimate and asking for changes to Canada’s constitution.

“Nobody in power related positions will ever make them,” Dupuis wrote, as she requested mayors, ministers and the prime minister be limited to two-year terms and that mandatory voting be installed so that a majority of the electorate selects the government.

Dupuis also asked the Queen to strip Harper of his title, saying he didn't deserve it.

‘Sad and pathetic’ anti-Mulcair salvo lacks punch of past Tory attacks

Have the Conservative political attacks softened under a majority government?

When Thomas Mulcair was elected NDP chief – and the Leader of the Official Opposition – it was widely assumed he would find himself in Conservative Party sights.

But the attack campaign that’s been rolled out by the Tories to bash Mr. Mulcair lacks the same sort of creative nastiness that defined their attacks against Liberal leaders when that party held second-place status in the House of Commons.

Yes, it was designed with scary Halloween colours of orange and black. And yes, it does warn that “Mr. Mulcair has chosen a team that threatens dangerous economic experiments, job-killing taxes, and reckless spending we simply cannot afford.”

Tories considering splitting omnibus budget bill into five pieces after opposition outrage: NDP

OTTAWA — The Harper government seems to be having second thoughts about the wisdom of lumping major changes to dozens of statutes into one massive budget bill.

NDP House leader Nathan Cullen says his Conservative counterpart, Peter Van Loan, is considering a New Democrat proposal to split the 400-plus-page budget implementation bill into five separate pieces of legislation.

Cullen expects to hear back from Van Loan late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

On Monday, Van Loan categorically ruled out splitting up the bill, calling the NDP proposal “just another attempt to delay this important job-creating bill.”

But by Tuesday, a spokesman for the minister was no longer so unequivocal when asked about Cullen’s assertion that his proposal is under discussion.

Taxpayers on hook for Harper's high-powered legal defence in Guergis case

OTTAWA — The Conservative government has hired a private-sector lawyer, at taxpayers' expense, to represent Prime Minister Stephen Harper and three other people who are among those being sued for defamation by former Tory cabinet minister Helena Guergis, Postmedia News has learned.

The government could have appointed a staff lawyer from the Department of Justice to handle the case, but chose instead to reach into the private sector to select one of the country's leading litigators — Robert Staley.

The Toronto-based lawyer is a partner at the law firm of Bennett Jones. Staley is promoted by his firm on its website, which cites publications that praise him for his "skilled handling of complex cases," a "first-rate" ability to cross-examine witnesses, and as a "litigation star" who "works hard for his clients and gets results."

François Hollande's Socialist France

Masses of people thronged Place de la Bastille -- symbolically representative of the French revolution -- to cheer the electoral victory May 6 of French Socialist Party candidate François Hollande, over conservative incumbent President of the Republic Nicholas Sarkozy.

The joyful celebratory mood was a welcome change. Over a decade of grim employment news had brought a measure of despondency to the nation once noted for its "joie de vivre." On the campaign trail, Hollande was called the only happy person in a morose country.

In his election campaign, Hollande pledged to be a "normal" president. By promising to fulfill the role chief of state with dignity, and eschew partisanship, Hollande implicitly asked the electorate to compare him favourably to the outgoing hyperactive Sarkozy, whose presidency was marked by displays of personal excess, and his dissing of political opponents.

Yinka Dene Alliance Freedom Train –- Tar Sands to pipelines

The Yinka Dene Alliance is taking a Freedom Train across Canada to enforce their legal ban on the Enbridge Northern Gateway oil pipelines and tankers project, and to stand up for their freedom to choose their own future.

A large delegation of Yinka Dene people will travel with allied First Nations from their traditional territories in northern B.C. all the way to Toronto, with events in Jasper, Edmonton, Saskatoon and Winnipeg along the route.

The train left Monday from the West Coast with stops in Edmonton and Winnipeg and Toronto's the next stop.

You can read about their trip so far here: Freedom Train carries message of opposition to Enbridge pipeline

Countdown begins as Ottawa ‘Canadianizes’ F-35 figures

Last week, as MPs bickered on Parliament Hill over the true costs of the F-35 fighter, Department of National Defence officials made an under-the-radar trip to Washington to gather the figures needed for an updated per-jet estimate of the war planes Canada wants to buy.

The federal government is working to translate this U.S. data into figures that reflect Canada’s purchase plans and hopes to make these public before Parliament rises in June, sources say.

The Conservatives recently promised to be more open about plans to acquire new fighters for Canada in the wake of a damning Auditor General’s report on the handling of the decision to purchase 65 leading-edge jets made by Lockheed Martin.

The political pledge made in April was that the Conservatives would provide Canadians with an updated estimate for the per-plane costs of the jets within 60 days of receiving forecast information from the Joint Strike Fighter Program office in the United States.

Changes to immigration policy will affect nearly all aspects of Canadian life

The Canadian immigration landscape is shifting beneath our feet. When the dust settles, where will Canada be?

Some of the proposed changes, such as dealing with the backlog, are long overdue. Other changes may also be necessary. They will nevertheless have a series of unintended consequences for the makeup of Canada’s immigrant population and its ethnic diversity. It is these consequences that we should be concerned about.

Recently, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration has spoken highly of the Australian immigration model with its strict language requirements. High levels of language proficiency are a requirement in our labour market. But raising the bar on language competency may trigger an increase in immigration from English-speaking countries – Britain, the United States, Australia and New Zealand – at the cost of immigrants from emerging economic superpowers such as China, India, Russia and Brazil.

Northern Gateway Pipeline: First Nations protesters take to a train to share their protest

Just past dawn in a northern Ontario town, a lone woman held up a sign by the railway tracks.

“I support the Freedom Train.”

Cheers swept through the forty First Nations protesters on board the VIA Rail train as they barrelled past her toward Toronto in their battle against the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.

The representatives of the Yinka Dene Alliance, made up of B.C. First Nations groups, left Vancouver eight days ago, winding through Saskatoon, Edmonton and Winnipeg to tell Canadians about the damage the pipeline could wreak on their natural resources.

The Freedom Train rolled into Union Station Tuesday morning, a day ahead of their planned protest at the Enbridge annual general meeting.

Inquest jury blames police for teen’s death, but rules it an accident

An inquest jury has ruled Junior Manon’s death an accident, but said police actions at his arrest contributed to his death.

Jurors, who delivered the verdict Tuesday, listed Manon’s official cause of death as “restraint asphyxia, following a struggle and exertion.”

The ruling implies that police restrained Manon in a manner that impaired his breathing, despite the testimony of the two arresting officers who said they never restrained the teen in a way that could have caused his death.

The “jury found the conduct of the officers caused his death and didn’t believe the testimony of the officers,” the family’s lawyer, Julian Roy, said after the ruling.

However jurors ruled the death an “accident,” rejecting Roy’s contention that police intentionally caused Manon’s death, and that, as such, it was a homicide.

Mentally ill female prisoners treated cruelly, inhumanly, report finds

Canada’s treatment of mentally ill female prisoners amounts to “cruel and inhuman” punishment, a new report finds.

“It is shocking to see the extent of human rights abuses against women at home,” said Renu Mandhane, director of the International Human Rights Program at University of Toronto, which published the report.

“I think, with the Ashley Smith story and the ongoing inquest, everyone assumed that no one is currently in that situation,” said Mandhane, who co-chairs the Advocacy Committee of Human Rights Watch Canada.

“The fact is there are still women imprisoned who are subject to long periods of segregation and uses of force despite their mental health status. That is quite disturbing.”

Smith died at Grand Valley Institution in Kitchener in 2007 after tying a ligature around her neck — a habitual behaviour that was considered a dangerous coping mechanism to deal with prolonged periods of isolation. She was 19 and had served nearly a year in federal custody. A report by the Office of the Correctional Investigator found her mental health issues, which went unaddressed in the system, were exacerbated by 17 institutional transfers and continual segregation.

War artist destroys works as protest against Tories

A renowned Canadian war artist is destroying five pieces of his own artwork — including one he shredded live on CBC’s Power & Politics — to protest the federal government's treatment of veterans and aboriginals, as well as for what he calls an "abuse" of parliamentary power.

"And so there are four to go," an emotional Allan Harding MacKay told host Evan Solomon after ripping up a piece depicting a scene from Kandahar Air Field.

MacKay plans to destroy four more pieces on Parliament Hill on Thursday and says he hopes his act will help more people "wake up" to how the government is doing business.

"This is a citizen’s action," he said. "I have art that has a power beyond my voice. So I am utilizing works that within my possession — assets that are within my possession — to shine a spotlight on things I completely disagree with in terms of this particular Harper government."