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.]

Friday, May 25, 2012

Propaganda firm owner admits attacks on journalists

The online "misinformation campaign," first reported last month, has raised questions about whether the Pentagon or its contractors had turned its propaganda operations against U.S. citizens. But Camille Chidiac, the minority owner of Leonie Industries and its former president, said he was responsible for the online activity and was operating independently of the company and the Pentagon.

"I take full responsibility for having some of the discussion forums opened and reproducing their previously published USA TODAY articles on them," he said in a statement released by his Atlanta attorney, Lin Wood.

"I recognize and deeply regret that my actions have caused concerns for Leonie and the U.S. military. This was never my intention. As an immediate corrective action, I am in the process of completely divesting my remaining minority ownership from Leonie," Chidiac said.

RCMP Closing Forensic Labs: Three Out Of Six Labs Being Shut

OTTAWA - The Mounties will close three of their six forensic labs and consolidate services in those remaining.

The operations in Regina, Winnipeg and Halifax will close and their work will be handled in Vancouver, Edmonton and Ottawa, an RCMP spokeswoman said in a statement Friday.

Sgt. Julie Gagnon said the change will save about $3.5 million a year. It will also improve efficiency, eliminate redundancy and reduce infrastructure costs, while maintaining services, she said.

"The consolidation will enable the RCMP to more effectively deliver quality and timely forensic services to its police and provincial clients," said the release.

"The RCMP will continue to offer laboratory services in biology, toxicology, trace evidence, national anti-counterfeiting and firearms and toolmark identification."

Student protests signal need for democratic reform

Much has already been written about Quebec’s student protests. Some have elaborated on the arguments for and against raising student tuition while others have decided to emphasize the impact of the violence and lawlessness of certain protestors on our democratic system.

Allow me, however, to focus on two other realities that should be understood from this student uprising.

First is the fact that, tragically, a significant number of young Quebeckers clearly believe that change is achieved in the street and not at the ballot box. Despite the fact that an election in Quebec is likely only months away, students are not prepared to exercise the privileges afforded to them by democracy to enact change, even though the Parti Québécois is promising to cancel the Liberal government’s legislated tuition hikes.

Ottawa moves to limit foreign investment reviews

The federal government is raising to $1 billion the amount of foreign money that can go into a Canadian company before the investment is reviewed.

Right now, an investment or takeover of a Canadian business worth $330 million or more triggers a federal review under the Investment Canada Act. The industry minister looks at whether the investment is of "net benefit" to Canada, though current laws don't explain what that means.

If the change goes ahead, the limit will immediately rise to $600 million, then to $800 million two years after that. The threshold will sit at $800 million for another two years before rising to $1 billion. The final amount will be indexed to Canada's gross domestic product.

Toronto home prices jump 7.9 per cent in April

The Greater Toronto Area led the country in rising home prices in April with a nearly 8 per cent gain compared to a year ago, a national real estate index shows.

The average price for a single family home in Toronto was $521,300 that month, according to the index published by the Canadian Real Estate Association. The figure includes semi-detached and detached homes.

Across Canada, real estate prices rose a more moderate 5.2 per cent, the MLS Home Price Index showed. The index tracks so-called “benchmark” homes in five major markets, an indicator that strips out variations in the types of housing sold from one month to the next.

Ottawa posts $9-billion deficit in March

Tony Clement told his fellow ministers there would be no year-end spending spree, yet the federal government posted a $9-billion deficit in the final month of the fiscal year.

The large monthly deficit to close out the 2011-12 fiscal year comes after Ottawa posted surpluses in January and February. A report released Friday stated that the higher March expenses were partly due to “workforce adjustment costs” tied to recently-announced budget cuts. Government officials later clarified that the exact amount being set aside for these one-time costs is $900-million.

The March numbers bring the 12-month deficit to $23.5-billion. There will still be some adjustments to the final deficit numbers before they are made official in the fall. Finance Canada’s fiscal monitor, released Friday, states that the numbers to date are in line with the deficit of $24.9-billion for 2011-12 projected in the March 29 budget. That would be a decrease from the $33.4-billion deficit posted in 2010-11.

Quebec Student Protest: Clang Of Pots, Pans Rings Out Across Quebec As Unrest Grows

MONTREAL - First the streets — now the courtrooms.

After demonstrating night after night to protest a controversial law aimed at limiting protests against tuition hikes, students and myriad other groups are carving out another battleground.

Lawyers for student federations and other groups filed two legal motions on Friday against Bill 78, the law adopted May 18 to crack down on the protests.

The first motion seeks to temporarily suspend sections of the law that involve public protest. It will be heard next week in Superior Court.

The second motion is to have Bill 78 declared invalid altogether, although it may take longer to reach a judge.

I'm Not a Quebec Protester, But Police Assaulted Me Anyway

On Tuesday evening, just before midnight, I was assaulted by a police officer. No warning, no explanation, just a swift swing of a nightstick to the back of my leg.

It was on Rene Levesque Boulevard. I was walking west, away from the protest area, near the corner of Sanguinet. I was with one other person. Both of us are freelance journalists, and had been observing the protests from Ste. Catherine Street for about 90 minutes.

About a quarter of the way up the block two younger looking kids ran past us. Ten seconds later, we heard a police car pull up behind us. It stopped and two officers got out, wielding batons. Right away we moved to the edge of the sidewalk, assuming that the officers were about to give chase to the two that had just ran past us. We were mistaken. For reasons I still cannot understand, they charged at us.

"Bouge! Bouge! Bouge!"

Water and oil spill discovered near Rainbow Lake

CALGARY — Provincial regulators are reporting the weekend discovery of a “substantial” leak of oil and water from a feeder pipeline in a remote northwest corner of Alberta.

Workers conducting clean up operations on site have yet to determine the volume of liquid spilled in boggy muskeg 20 kilometres southeast of Rainbow Lake, but well operator Pace Oil and Gas said it covered about half a kilometre in length.

The Energy Resources Conservation Board was told of the spill on Saturday, and is investigating how long the pipe, flowing to a disposal well, had been leaking brackish water and oil.

The Gem of Canadian Science that Harper Killed

Over the Victoria Day weekend Canadians lost another vital national institution that quietly stood on guard for the nation's 4 million lakes.

Just as citizens flocked to their cottages and launched their boats, the government of Stephen Harper pulled the plug on Canada's greatest freshwater defender and scientific achievement: the Experimental Lakes Area.

And though its muzzled scientists haven't been able to talk about the program's impressive research in recent years without Ottawa's approval, this uniquely Canadian endeavor both changed and educated the world. It also drove global public policy on watershed protection.

In a move that stunned and appalled scientists around the world the Harper government laid off as many as 40 scientists associated with the legendary program working out the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Winnipeg's office.

All the Media Money Can Buy

Shorn of our media’s preoccupation with personality conflict, tabloid gossip and cliché, the fundamental shape of American politics looks pretty simple these days. Campaigns cost money. The people with the money to pay for them are extremely wealthy. And in exchange for their money, they want more money. They get it by ensuring that the politicians who are elected write laws to their advantage (and, lately, that the politicans also appoint judges who will keep it all secret).

According to the textbooks, to say nothing of the First Amendment, the job of the journalist is to expose these arrangements. And this does happen. But it is rare. Far more frequently, we find journalists running interference for the people behind these schemes, sometimes ignoring the central role that money plays in pretty much every calculation, and sometimes attempting to sell the notion that all this is actually a good thing.

This Week in Poverty: Wage Theft in the City of Millionaires

For two years running Houston has added more millionaires to its population than any other city in the United States. Near-millionaires are enjoying some nice upward mobility, especially those involved in the oil and gas industry.

Low-wage workers, on the other hand, aren’t faring too well in the city. In fact, a recent report from Houston Interfaith Worker Justice (HIWJ) estimates that low-wage workers lose $753.2 million annually due to wage theft. Wage theft can occur in many ways, including: workers being denied the minimum wage or overtime pay; stolen tips; illegal deductions from paychecks; people being forced to work off the clock; or workers getting misclassified as independent contractors so they aren’t entitled to overtime or benefits.

“We’re not talking about a worker here or a worker there, it’s something that has a lot of ripple effects,” says José Eduardo Sanchez, campaign organizer with HIWJ. “It impacts families, communities and local economies.”

Romney's Plan to Save Higher Ed: Let the Private Sector Handle It

Mitt Romney has released his plan for bringing down the cost of higher education, and although it's not extensive, it is enough to tell us where his heart is on the issue. And, unsurprisingly, his heart is in the private sector.

This is the bullet point version of Team Romney's agenda. As president, the candidate would:

    Loosen restrictions on for-profit universities
    Get banks back into the federal student loan game
    Streamline (or possibly just cut) government aid programs
    Give colleges more flexibility when it comes to how they award degrees

Average CEO Pay 2011 Nearly $10 Million At Public Companies: AP Study

NEW YORK — Profits at big U.S. companies broke records last year, and so did pay for CEOs.

The head of a typical public company made $9.6 million in 2011, according to an analysis by The Associated Press using data from Equilar, an executive pay research firm.

That was up more than 6 percent from the previous year, and is the second year in a row of increases. The figure is also the highest since the AP began tracking executive compensation in 2006.

Companies trimmed cash bonuses but handed out more in stock awards. For shareholder activists who have long decried CEO pay as exorbitant, that was a victory of sorts.

No, The Student Protest Is Not Just About Tuition

The ongoing -- perhaps growing -- student strikes in Quebec have brought into focus the most pressing question in this period of austerity: is the only solution to current economic challenges to cut public services and raise "user fees" such as post-secondary tuition? The answer to this question has as much a consequence for student strikers as it has for workers and Canadians from coast to coast.

Just as there are reasonable alternatives to cutting public services at any level of government in Canada, there are also many viable alternatives to raising Quebec's tuition fees that should be considered. But these, unfortunately, have been successfully kept out of the realm of public discussion over the course of this strike.

The most obvious is a higher tax rate on the super rich. Why is it, for instance, that under Quebec's current tax scheme, someone who earns $85,000 per year pays the same rate of tax -- 24 per cent -- as someone who earns ten times more or $850,000? After all, someone who earns $40,000 is subject to a lower 16 per cent rate of tax, so why does the same progressive bracketing approach not apply to the other end of the wage spectrum?

Quebec Student Protests: 2,500 Arrests And Counting

MONTREAL - The staggering number of student protest-related arrests in Quebec — 2,500 and counting — is about to add costs and delays to an already overburdened justice system.

The historic number has prompted two questions: what is the short-term impact on the system and what is the long-term impact on those rounded up?

Some of the accused will face lengthy waits to actually get to trial, while others will encounter similar delays fighting their fines.

Constitutional challenges are inevitable against some of the laws used to end protests, and some people will face the prospect of a criminal record that could hang over them for years.

What Etobicoke Centre ruling means for the running of elections

The overturn on appeal of the 2011 Etobicoke Centre federal election (originally won by 26 votes by Conservative Ted Opitz) caught everyone by surprise, elections officials not least. It adds another layer to problems besetting the Canadian elections process already troubled by allegations of wrongdoing in the Robocall affair.

Ontario Justice Thomas Lederer had been skeptical that an elections process involving more than 100,000 part-time polling officials across Canada could escape without a significant number of clerical errors. He said in his decision that the case presents “a true conundrum (which) arises in that making it too easy to set aside the results of an election may also lead to a loss of confidence in the process. Mistakes in the records are inevitable.”

But Justice Lederer found enough serious blunders, mainly in the registration and vouching process for electors not on the list, that on balance of probability he was forced to disallow 79 votes cast, thus exceeding the plurality of 26 votes in the election. That was the ‘magic number’ which led him to rule the election null and void.

Parliament should debate major changes to employment insurance

Being out of work is never fun. Now it’s going to be just a bit harder.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is putting the squeeze on many jobless Canadians who are collecting employment insurance benefits, in a bid to push more of them back into the workforce.

The Conservatives are tightening the rules to “connect Canadians with available jobs,” because they believe too many are sitting at home collecting pogey in areas where jobs are going begging or being filled by foreign workers. Claimants will now be required to accept lower-paying jobs, or jobs they may not want, or face being cut off. They’ll be expected to canvass for jobs “every day they receive benefits.” And they may have to commute up to an hour.

Goodale blasts politics of 'impunity, polarization'

The politics of "impunity and polarization" is dividing Canadians and making Canada a less democratic and egalitarian society, Wascana MP Ralph Goodale told the Regina & District Chamber of Commerce Thursday.

The former senior cabinet minister in the Chretien and Martin Liberal governments noted that the Harper Conservatives received the support of only 40 per cent of voters in last year's election, and only 60 per cent of Canadians bothered to vote, meaning three out four Canadians didn't vote Conservative.

"Ambiguous mandates like that require careful, thoughtful interpretation,'' Goodale said. "The government should not use sheer numbers to do whatever it wants with impunity.''

Yet the actions of some federal cabinet ministers suggest an "attitude of impunity'' pervades the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Goodale said.

G20 police illegally arrested journalists, used gay slur

Two Toronto police sergeants face disciplinary hearings after a watchdog agency found they illegally arrested two alternative media journalists during the 2010 G20 summit and that one officer hurled homophobic slurs.

The Office of the Independent Police Review Director report on the incident, obtained by CBC News, found that Sgt. Michael Ferry and Sgt. Douglas Rose had "no reasonable grounds" to arrest colleagues Ryan Mitchell and Lisa Walter.

However, a further allegation that one of the officers threatened to sexually assault one of the journalists with his baton had "insufficient evidence" to bear it out, the Office of the Independent Police Review Director found.

In the case of Mitchell, the review found that the officers used excessive force in his arrest. But it couldn't substantiate Mitchell's allegation that during his arrest, an officer said: "I'm going to love shoving this baton up your ass."

Employment Insurance review boards to be scrapped

The federal government is scrapping two review boards used by people appealing decisions made about their employment insurance, replacing them with a much smaller tribunal.

A new Social Security Tribunal will replace about 1,000 part-time members of the Employment Insurance Board of Referees and 32 umpires, the CBC's Alison Crawford reports. The tribunal will also hear appeals from Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security claimants.

The new tribunal will consist of 74 members. Half will hear EI disputes. It's expected to be in place by May 2013.

In a province of sacrifice, a few pursue privilege

Across Quebec for the last few years, ordinary people and businesses have been asked to make sacrifices. They have done so for a broader public purpose, except for one group, a minority of university students.

Quebec’s sales tax has gone up by two points. A health tax was imposed to raise $945-million when fully implemented. One cent a litre was added to the price of fuel each year from 2010 to 2013. Business taxes were raised by $800-million.

A payroll freeze was instituted for government workers. The budgets of all departments except health and education were frozen or reduced.

Why? For three reasons.

Police Strike: 20,000 March Against Coalition Government's Police Reforms

More than 20,000 off-duty police officers took to the streets on Thursday as they warned that Government cuts are putting public safety at risk.

The officers, from all 43 forces across England and Wales, donned black baseball caps with the words "Cuts are criminal" as they marched through central London to protest against the spending cuts and wide-ranging changes to their pay and pensions.

The officers, banned from striking under law, began marching from Millbank at around noon in a protest to show "the unprecedented attack on policing by this Government and the consequences that these cuts will have for public safety".

Tories launch legal attack on robocall challenges from ‘activist group’

Just days after a judge overturned the election of a Conservative MP in Toronto, the Conservative Party of Canada has moved aggressively to try to shut down a series of lawsuits seeking to overturn the election of seven other Tory MPs.

The party filed a 750-page legal brief Tuesday night, complete with highly political denunciations of The Council of Canadians, a citizen advocacy group sponsoring the challenge of election results.

The motion is based on an obscure and ancient legal prohibition against “champerty and maintenance” — meddling in another party’s lawsuit to share in the proceeds.

It seeks to dismiss the legal challenges, backed by the council, which are aimed at throwing out election results in the seven closely contested ridings across the country. The ridings involved were all won by Conservative candidates.

Women Allowed In Combat Under Senate Defense Bill

WASHINGTON -- A measure to let women fight on the front lines is part of the massive defense bill proposed Thursday in the Senate.

The National Defense Authorization Act, unveiled by Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), includes a proposal offered last week by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) that would order the military to come up with a plan to send women into battle.

The Defense Department last week began relaxing its ground combat exclusion policy for women, opening some jobs closer to traditional battlefields. The Gillibrand provision would require commanders to make plans to remove the final barriers for woman warriors.

SEC Giving Up On Lehman Probe, Won't Recommend Any Action

Lehman Brothers did nothing wrong when it booked billions of dollars in phony sales to disguise the true extent of its financial woes.

That, apparently, is the surprising conclusion reached by investigators for the Securities and Exchange Commission. On Thursday, Bloomberg News reported that SEC investigators concluded a three-year probe and determined that it will probably not recommend any enforcement action against Lehman or its former executives. Bloomberg cited an excerpt of an internal agency memo in its report.

An SEC spokesman, however, said the case remains under review. "As the Chairman said, it's still under review and no final decision has been made," John Nester said in an email.

Tories spurned Quebec towns to give 'cultural capital' funding to Calgary

OTTAWA — The Harper government has spurned the advice of experts recommending that it spend money to promote culture in two Quebec towns, choosing instead to give more than $3 million to the Niagara region in Ontario and Calgary, Postmedia News has learned.

Internal federal records show that Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore rejected the advice from bureaucrats and an analysis by a panel of five independent experts who collectively received about $40,000 to travel to nation's capital and review applications for the funding.

Instead, he announced last fall that the $3.25 million in funding would be split between the two winning bids in 2012, under a 10-year-old federal program that recognized "cultural capitals" of Canada among three different categories, based on population.

Religious freedom speech offers few clues about new office

A speech by Canada's foreign affairs minister about religious freedom is providing few new clues as to what a planned office to promote the cause will entail.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird used a speech Thursday night in Washington, D.C., to talk up the government's planned Office of Religious Freedom, which the Conservatives campaigned on last year.

Baird was asked to speak at the dinner, organizers said, because of Canada's intention to open the office.

But he offered no new information about what the office would do or how it would work, other than to say he's excited about it because "it might help our diplomats around the world support religious freedom."

F-35 debate: Canadian firms will lose out if government ditches jets: Lockheed Martin

OTTAWA — F-35 manufacturer Lockheed Martin is warning that Canadian companies will lose out if the Conservative government decides not to purchase the stealth fighter.

"Right now we will honour all existing contracts that we have," Lockheed Martin vice-president Steve O'Bryan told Postmedia News on Thursday. "After that, all F-35 work will be directed into countries that are buying the airplane."

But O'Bryan also said his company has not received any indication Canada won't buy the aircraft.

"What we have is the official statement out of the government and we're working with the government," he said. "They're committed to the F-35, they've selected it, and we haven't had any change in that official position."

Tories denounce Council of Canadians in bid to squash voter suppression lawsuits

OTTAWA — Just days after a judge overturned the election of a Conservative MP in Toronto, the Conservative Party of Canada has moved aggressively to try to shut down a series of lawsuits seeking to overturn the election of seven other Tory MPs.

The party filed a 750-page legal brief on Tuesday night, complete with highly political denunciations of the Council of Canadians, the citizen advocacy group sponsoring the challenge of election results.

The motion is based on an obscure and ancient legal prohibition against “champerty and maintenance” — meddling in another party’s lawsuit to share in the proceeds.

It seeks to dismiss the legal challenges, backed by the Council, aimed at throwing out election results in the seven closely-contested ridings across the country. The ridings involved were all won by Conservative candidates.

It’s the older generation that’s entitled, not students

“Entitlement.” We hear that word associated again and again with student protesters in Quebec. Usually, it’s preceded by the words, “sense of.”

“They think someone owes them a living,” disgruntled critics harrumph. “Wait until they get into the real world.”

Setting aside the fact that this intergenerational hectoring dates back to Socrates, let us ask: Who exactly is making the charge? Quebec has had low tuition rates for a half century. That means almost every living adult in the province, having already been afforded a plum goodie, is now wagging his finger at the first generation that will be asked to pay the tab. So who really is entitled here?

Internet Freedom and the Erosion of Democracy

This week, at least 125 million people are watching the Eurovision Song Contest, an annual competition of singers from 56 countries across Europe and parts of the former Soviet Union. This year’s contest is hosted by Azerbaijan, a country whose human-rights record has come under heavy fire.

Azerbaijan is a classic example of how, even when people are free to connect to the global Internet, they can be subject to pervasive, unaccountable, and unconstrained surveillance. It is also a case of how, while western democratic governments have been quick to follow the lead of the United States and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in calling for a free and open global Internet, they are much more conflicted when it comes to surveillance. The democratic world has failed to address the freedom-eroding potential of government surveillance through commercial networks.

Conservatives still face overwhelming public opposition to F-35s: Forum Research poll

PARLIAMENT HILL—Despite two months of trying to extract itself from the furor over plans to spend an estimated $25-billion on a fleet of F-35 stealth fighter jets, the Conservative government continues to face overwhelming public opposition over the controversial project.

Even a majority of Conservative Party supporters who are aware of the project favours other options than replacing Canada’s aging CF-18 fighter jets with the sophisticated and costly F-35s, according to a Forum Research poll.

The only place in Canada where support for the project has grown significantly since Auditor General Michael Ferguson released a highly critical report of the F-35 procurement at the beginning of April was Alberta, the survey this week found.

Conservatives move again to have robocalls suits tossed

The Conservative Party has filed a second motion to dismiss the robocalls lawsuits filed by the left-leaning Council of Canadians, calling council chairperson Maude Barlow a "virulent critic" of Prime Minister Stephen Harper who has "orchestrated" the litigation.

"It is evident that the Council's 'business plan' is to leverage anti-Conservative sentiment in order raise money and continue to employ professional agitators like Ms. Barlow," the motion says.

The Council of Canadians is seeking to overturn the results of last year's election in seven ridings won by Conservatives, where they say voters were misdirected to phoney polling stations by mysterious live or recorded phone calls, often purporting to be from Elections Canada.

Maple Spring: Nearly 1,000 Arrested as Mass Quebec Student Strike Passes 100th Day

More than 400,000 filled the streets of Montreal this week as a protest over a 75 percent increase in tuition has grown into a full-blown political crisis. After three months of sustained protests and class boycotts that have come to be known around the world as the "Maple Spring," the dispute exploded when the Quebec government passed an emergency law known as Bill 78, which suspends the current academic term, requires demonstrators to inform police of any protest route involving 50 or more people, and threatens student associations with fines of up to $125,000 if they disobey. The strike has received growing international attention as the standoff grows, striking a chord with young people across the globe amid growing discontent over austerity measures, bleak economies and crushing student debt. We’re joined by Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, spokesperson for CLASSE, the main coalition of student unions involved in the student strikes in Quebec, and Anna Kruzynski, assistant professor at the School of Community and Public Affairs at Concordia University in Montreal. She has been involved in the student strike as a member of the group, Professors Against the Hike.
Source: Democracy Now!
Author: ---

As New Jersey OKs NYPD Surveillance, Muslim Groups Continue Challenge to "Unconstitutional" Program

A three-month review by New Jersey’s attorney general has concluded the New York City Police Department did not violate state laws when they conducted extensive surveillance of Muslim communities with help from the CIA. The review’s finding means Muslims will have no recourse to state law to prevent the NYPD from monitoring and cataloging their daily life. The decision has angered Muslim groups who were seeking an end to the intrastate police operations and surveillance throughout the Northeast. We get reaction from Gadeir Abbas, staff attorney for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Source: Democracy Now!
Author: ---

CP’s pricey pensions a big hurdle to labour deal

Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd.’s (CP-T77.24-0.01-0.01%) battle with striking union workers comes down to a benefit that the company says it can’t afford any more – the $73,000 annual pension.

A veteran locomotive engineer will collect that much, based on the job’s average base salary of $105,000 in 2011.

In an internal memo to staff, CP management has appealed directly to striking employees to accept pension reform, saying the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference is misguided in opposing changes crucial to the freight carrier’s turnaround strategy.

CP has 16,200 employees, but 18,000 retirees.

Canada had lost sight of religious freedom as human right, Baird says

Foreign Minister John Baird told a U.S. audience that Canada went soft on defending fundamental rights like religious freedom some time after the Second World War, but he argued the Harper government is showing a stiffer spine now.

In a speech promoting Ottawa’s plans to open an Office of Religious Freedom in the Foreign Affairs department, Mr. Baird spoke of the “moral call” that people like his grandfather answered in fighting the Second World War.

“And yet, after the war, some decision makers lost sight of our proud tradition to do what is right and what is just,” he said in a draft of the speech. “Some decided it would be better to paint Canada as an honest broker. I call it being afraid to take a clear position, even when that’s what’s needed.”

Tories say ‘professional agitators’ behind robo-calls legal fight

Stephen Harper’s Conservatives are asking a court to dismiss legal bids for new elections in seven ridings because, they say, the group financing this is full of “professional agitators” who hate Tories and want to topple the government.

They’re fighting an effort by nine individuals who are seeking new ballots in seven closely fought federal ridings where it’s alleged that misleading robo-calls or other harassing phone messages interfered with fair elections.

Conservatives lawyers filed their latest arguments May 22 in a second omnibus legal motion that exceeds 750 pages, a package that is longer than both Budget 2012 (498 pages) and its first implementation bill, C-38 (420 pages).

EI reforms will encourage work, but at what cost?

I detected a familiar ring to the explanation delivered Thursday for the changes to the federal Employment Insurance plan.

The subtext was that there are jobs aplenty for people willing to get off their butts and go to work. What EI recipients need to connect with them is some tough love in the form of a little (very little) more help for people looking for a job and a swift boot out the door for those deemed to be too fussy about what sort of employment they would accept.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty set the tone for the new rules earlier this week with his assessment that there is no such thing as a bad job.

When the new rules were finally announced, they were accompanied by statistics that showed the number of people in various provinces collecting EI while foreign workers were being brought in to take jobs unemployed Canadians with similar skills could have taken.

‘When I needed it, I used it’: Green Party leader Elizabeth May says she was repeat EI user

Green Party leader Elizabeth May objected Thursday to the Conservative government’s targeting of “repeat users” of the Employment Insurance system — because she was one herself.

Ms. May said that from 1975 to 1980, she received what was then called unemployment insurance during the off-season while working as a waitress and cook at her family’s restaurant and gift shop business in Cape Breton, she says.

Labelling regular users of EI, such as herself, as lazy or abusing the system is unfair, she said.

“I paid into employment insurance. When I needed it, I used it. When I didn’t, I didn’t. I raise my personal experience because I don’t think anyone should be ashamed that seasonal businesses in this country that are big, or small, have benefitted from a legal system of insurance that pays for itself.”

Ideology meets reality on EI reform

After ominous hints and mixed messages from the Harper cabinet, Human Resources Minister Diane Finley finally announced “reforms” to the employment insurance system on Thursday that are both milder, and murkier, than expected.

No jobless easterner will be forced to move to Alberta, nor will out-of-work teachers be required to staff the counter at McDonald’s. And illness, hours of work and family demands will be legitimate grounds for refusing work. At worst, EI recipients will be required to apply for jobs within an hour of their homes — with some variation depending on local commute times — and could end up working for 70 per cent of their previous pay.

Far from being onerous, such an opportunity — if any do exist — would be embraced by many long-unemployed forestry workers, suddenly jobless public servants, or experienced tradespeople whose manufacturing plants have collapsed beneath them.

Finley’s new EI rules: 'We want McDonald’s to hire Canadians, not foreigners'

OTTAWA - Human Resources Minister Diane Finley's language was designed to be reassuring and moderate.

Canada is facing "unprecedented skills shortages," she told a Thursday news conference, and the government wants to help the unemployed to "find jobs and keep them."

Employment Insurance (EI) is this country's single largest "labour market program," she emphasized, and the government only wants to make it work better - for those out of work, for employers and, as usual, for "the economy."

EI Reform: Changes will divide unemployed Canadians into three groups

Proposed changes to Employment Insurance will divide claimants into three categories:

 • Long-tenured workers who have paid into the EI system for the past seven of 10 years and who, over the last five years, have collected EI or fishing benefits for 35 weeks or less.

 • Frequent claimants who have had three or more claims for regular or fishing benefits and collected benefits for a total of more than 60 weeks in the past five years.

 • Occasional claimants would be all other claimants.