All posts in Canadian Politics

Justin Trudeau in Edmonton: dismiss this guy as a flake or a lightweight at your peril

Liberal Party of Canada Leader Justin Trudeau energized a crowd of Liberals and the curious last night in Edmonton. Below: His father, Pierre Trudeau, circa 1968; the chip off the old block.

I’m pretty sure it was in the spring of 1968 that I heard Pierre Trudeau speak in Victoria’s Beacon Hill Park. I think it was March ’68, as a matter of fact, right before the convention that made him leader of the Liberal Party and prime minister of Canada.

I can tell you this for sure, it was a beautiful day, the sun was warm, there was a nice breeze off the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the daffodils were in bloom, and the presence of the still-youngish Mr. Trudeau (he was not quite 50 and the minister of justice at that time) generated a heck of a lot of excitement.

Seems to me there were about 1,000 people there that day – the single Internet account I could find was imprecise about such details, including the exact date. The crowd was abuzz. Mr. Trudeau spoke for about half an hour. It was exciting. I can’t recall much of what he said, but it isn’t really important anyway. It was boilerplate campaign stuff.

The mood was the thing: Upbeat. Hopeful. It was memorable.

Fast forward to yesterday evening and Justin Trudeau, 42, was in Edmonton. And to my mind there were a lot of things in common with that afternoon in Victoria, lo those many years ago.

Maybe I just caught a taste of the Kool-Aid. Maybe I’m just getting old and remembering my youth through rose-coloured spectacles. But I can tell you this, it was a beautiful evening last night, the sun was warm and some marigolds or something were blooming nearby. Edmonton’s River Valley was nice, although I’m afraid it didn’t quite come up to the standards of the Juan de Fuca Strait and the Olympic Mountains.

But there were about 1,000 people there. Justin Trudeau spoke for about half an hour. People seemed to find it pretty exciting. Nowadays, of course, we have an Internet record of what he said, but it isn’t really that important anyway. It was boilerplate campaign stuff.

The mood was the thing: Upbeat. Hopeful. It was memorable.

I’m telling you people, if it hadn’t been for the boring interlude when the rally organizers tried to get their most fervent supporters to break a silly record by making phone calls to voters in other cities, a lame idea that momentarily took the wind out of the rally’s sails, the feeling was much the same.

Yes, there was more than a whiff of old-style Trudeaumania in the air, just like in ’68.

As I’ve said before, whether you’re a New Democrat or a Conservative like most of the people who run things in this province, if you think you can just blow this guy off as a flake or a lightweight you’re sadly deluded. He’s got some ideas, he’s got charisma, and so he’s got people listening to what he has to say.

There are differences: We’ve got a mean spirited, tired old government in Ottawa that has discovered from its fellow travellers in the United States how to wedge the electorate and go negative to great effect. It’s prepared to do things to stay in power that real Conservatives like Bob Stanfield or Joe Clark would never have contemplated.

The Liberals in ’68 were just renewing a franchise that had gone a little stale.

Oh, and we all have cell phones with cameras in them now.

So you can say that was then and this is now if you like.

Still, 2014 is starting to feel to me a bit like 1968. Maybe more than a bit. It sure did for a little while last night, anyway.

A return to civility? An end to Internet anonymity? Please! The leaders of all Parliamentary parties need protection now

Political discourse in Canada, as seen by the National Post, that well known champion of common courtesy. Below: Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.

The National Post is shocked, just shocked, at the tone of the public commentary responding to the threatening break-in at Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau’s Ottawa home while his wife and small children slept.

“Canadian political dialogue is devolving into a mosh pit where even the vilest personal attacks are more or less routine,” lamented political columnist Michael Den Tandt in the Post yesterday, apparently in response to some of the ferocious debate that reports of the frightening incident sparked in the comment sections of various media outfits.

This is true enough, although a mosh pit is for too benign a metaphor for what has become routine political discourse in this country, thanks in large part to the rise of what’s known here as the Online Tory Rage Machine.

These boiler rooms full of angry Conservative Party agitators respond instantly to any issue with furious online denunciations of anyone who disagrees with the enthusiasms of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, no matter how mild the disagreement.

Fret about the death toll in Gaza, get ready to be called a friend of terrorists, if not an outright terrorist yourself. Express some worries about sabre-rattling in Ukraine, and you’ll be told you’re in bed with Vladimir Putin. Express doubts about the war on drugs, be prepared to be accused of drug use yourself, or maybe selling the stuff. And just try talking about moderate firearms regulations and then watch with astonishment the threatening tone the response to your remarks quickly takes on.

For, oh, the past eight years or so, it’s been relentless – and, with the active and enthusiastic encouragement of the Harper government. And it is semi-official – who can forget the famous Craigslist ad of 2011, when this stuff was really getting off the ground, seeking social media writers to “make up facts” and use “sarcasm and personal insults” to “score points” and “stir outrage.”

No one has ever persuasively denied this was legitimate, although recruitment of operatives seems to have moved to more secure channels, perhaps the back rooms of various right-wing centres for “building democracy.”

This routine abuse of the CPC’s doubters, let alone its actual opponents, has even crept into legitimate media, through the agency of the prime minister’s favourite TV station, the semi-official Sun News Network.

Hell, thanks to Sun News, the Two Minute Hate is practically a Canadian institution now, except that it seldom runs for less than eight or 10 minutes.

And that’s not to mention the Harper Government’s approach to political advertising, which as we know nowadays tends to target on the mostly imagined failings of Mr. Trudeau, with an occasional halfhearted sideswipe at Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair.  The fact it doesn’t seem to be working just arouses them to new heights of vituperation.

Not that I’m jumping to any conclusions, but it’s not hard to imagine the possibility that one of the many violent fruitcakes of the right was motivated by this stream of invective to decide they had to … do something.

This has served a purpose for the government. For one thing, keeping the tone of political debate ugly, and fostering the sense that all politicians are corrupt, is a well-understood technique of the political right in North America. It has the tendency to suppress the vote by people who might otherwise be motivated to do something about the state of affairs at the ballot box.

For another, it does in fact have a chilling effect on legitimate democratic discourse and the expression of views not approved by the official right.

Mr. Den Tandt, in the traditional enabling manner of the mainstream media, tries to paint this as something equally contributed to by intemperate supporters of both sides. “As quickly as Trudeau haters popped up to dine out on the break-in, Stephen Harper-haters piled on with their own equally anile attacks,” he wrote, and, I admit, I had to look up “anile” to realize it is sexist as well as largely incorrect.

Although, in fairness, I have noticed in the past few months that traditionally mild-mannered Canadian progressive commentators are holding themselves back much less than in the past – a sleeping dog, perhaps, than the political right may yet regret having awakened. Or perhaps not, since the goal of the strategy was always to debase political discourse.

And so we come to Mr. Den Tandt’s proposed solutions: an end to Internet anonymity and a return to “time-tested standards of common courtesy and decency.”

Well, I understand they’ve been trying something like the former idea in Russia. But good luck with getting any of that to happen in Canada, where, among other things, it would immediately put the Online Tory Rage Machine out of business.

We’re well past all that, I’m afraid. What needs to happen now is for the Mounties to assign protection to the leaders of all Parliamentary parties, and their families. Even the one with only one member. Right now.

That’s going to cost us a few bucks. We’re told we had to pay $47 million from April 1, 2009, to Jan. 31, 2011, to protect Mr. Harper and his family.

Well, so be it. The alternative is much, much worse.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Blogosphere heaves sigh of relief: ‘Canada’s Worst MP’ Rob Anders is back, for now anyway

Rob Anders in his second most famous pose, the most famous with his eyes open, with 4.5-litre hat plus circa-.45 revolver. Mr. Anders is thought to be Canada’s Worst MP and hopes to keep it that way. Below: Bow River Conservative candidates Rolly Ashdown and Martin Shields.

Rob Anders to Canada: “I’m baaaaaaaaack!”

It’s a staple of the horror movie genre: You can’t keep a bad man down. Who can forget Hannibal Lecter’s last call to Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs? “I’m having an old friend for dinner.”

Or Jack Torrance in the Shining: “Heeere’s Johnny!”

Now we have learned that Mr. Anders, renowned as Canada’s worst MP and still stinging from his rejection at the hands of Conservative Party members in the new Calgary-Signal Hill riding, has found another Alberta riding in which he will hopes to  exercise his undeniable electoral talents.

This time, thanks very much, Mr. Anders won’t be taking a chance on the citified voters of another Calgary riding like the redistributed district where he was handed his lunch in the nomination vote last April by Ron Liepert, Alberta’s former health and energy minister and a man famed for being a bull in a china shop in his own right.

Instead, Mr. Anders will be running in the also-new Bow River constituency, a vast patch of mostly bald-headed Prairie east and south of Calgary. There, according to Mr. Anders’ remarks in the National Post, men are armed, liberals aren’t welcome and there are more trucks. “I feel a real connection,” he told the Post, and, really, under the circumstances as described, who wouldn’t?

Mr. Anders also told the Post’s reporter he has a home in the riding – in the community of Chestermere, formerly the Summer Village of Chestermere Lake on Calgary’s eastern fringe, although whether he lays his head there or at his residence deeper inside city limits is unknown to this blogger.

Regardless, it will be interesting if the man who for the moment remains MP for Calgary West, a riding that will disappear after the next election, really fits in as well as he imagines he will in rural southern Alberta, which has changed too in the years the ground was slowly shifting under Mr. Anders’ feet inside Calgary’s boundaries.

Born on April Fools Day 1972 and rechristened “Canada’s Worst MP” by a Conservative newspaper columnist, the Winnipeg-born arch-conservative has been demonstrating since he was elected to the House of Commons at 25 in 1997 that he isn’t the sharpest knife in the Parliamentary cutlery drawer.

He’s done this on a variety of topics, ranging from his opinions about Nelson Mandela (he called the South African leader a communist and a terrorist), to his weird conspiracy theory about the circumstances surrounding Jack Layton’s death from cancer (he suggested Thomas Mulcair was responsible), to his choice of locations to catch forty winks (his desk in the House, while the cameras rolled).

Back in 1994, Mr. Anders travelled south to act as a “professional heckler” for a Republican candidate in Oklahoma. (He was labeled a “foreign political saboteur” for his trouble by CNN.) He later assailed Alberta’s still-beloved premier Ralph Klein as a “cocktail Conservative,” too soft on Ottawa and not nearly far enough to the right.

As Calgary West MP, he voted with the Bloc Québécois to support a proposition that Quebeckers should be able to form a nation any time they darn well felt like it and could withdraw from any federal initiative. He was the only legislator to vote against giving Mr. Mandela honourary Canadian citizenship.

He once boasted about how women throw themselves at his feet, explaining that as a consequence he’d taken a vow of chastity. (Just the same, he explained to a astonished and presumably appalled reporter, he had “gone as far as kissing and kind of ‘massaging,’ if you will.”)

So, we – and Mr. Anders – will see how that kind of stuff goes down in places like Strathmore, Brooks and Rocky View, where one thing that hasn’t changed since 1997 is the importance of success in local public life for people what want to be the (inevitably Conservative) Member of Parliament.

Also seeking the Bow River Conservative nomination – and the automatic ticket to Ottawa that goes with it – are Rocky View Councillor and former reeve Rolly Ashdown and Brooks Mayor Martin Shields, who was quick to remind voters Mr. Anders doesn’t actually hang his oversized hat in the riding.

And if big facial hair is de rigueur in rural Alberta, as the success of the hirsute local political pair suggests, Mr. Anders is done like dinner at last, notwithstanding his 4.5-litre hat and butchy poses with pistols.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

A meditation on the parlous state of the prime ministerial belfry: is he batty, or what?

Psychological-political portrait of Prime Minister Stephen Harper by Edmonton artist William Prettie. (Used with permission.) Below: The young Vladimir Putin; the young Stephen Harper.

When I ponder our prime minister’s mental state nowadays, my mind spontaneously offers up a rude phrase about the things bats leave behind in belfries.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has got a national election looming; he’s none too popular in certain essential parts of the country and not quite popular enough just now in others; Disgraced Canadian Senator Mike Duffy is facing a criminal trial and apparently wants the PM on the witness stand; it’s attracting public notice that his government uses tax policy as an ideological bludgeon; and the economy is easing toward the crapper everywhere except out here in Alberta, where our disproportionate economic success depends on laying waste to the environment.

So it should be easy for everyone to understand why he might call up the Globe and Mail and ask for space for a little heart-to-heart with the nation.

And what does he want to talk about? Vladimir Putin?

I’m not making this up, people! Click here and read it for yourself. The world’s problems? They’re all caused by Mr. Putin! Who knew?

I don’t know about you, but I always took a certain comfort in the notion Mr. Harper was a cynical master of manipulation, a politician for whom no wedge was too harmful or divisive to be shunned. This is bad, of course, and both immoral and dangerous, but it contains the comforting kernel of thought that no one as bright as Mr. Harper is could actually fail to see the glaring contradictions in the stuff he says. This always offered the faint hope he didn’t actually believe everything he was saying, and therefore might be philosophical if voters indicated they disagreed.

Naturally one hoped his petulant and furious reaction to the complicated situation unfolding in Ukraine reflected only the availability of another potential wedge issue here in Canada. That is, a chance to capture the Ukrainian-Canadian vote. Perhaps, one hoped, it didn’t reveal his actual thoughts on the unstable and dangerous crisis in which there are plenty of nasty players and victims on all sides.

However, after reading Mr. Harper’s little magnum opus about how Mr. Putin is all bad, and the current Ukrainian government – neo-Nazi enforcers, foreign fascist mercenaries, the illegal coup that brought it to power and everything else – is nothing but good, I’m not so sure.

His diatribe doesn’t seem to bear a precise relationship to the facts on the ground in the borderlands of Russia, let us say, but it did sound like something the man actually believes, and may well have written himself!

The most astonishing part, though, is what Sherlock Holmes might have called the curious incident of the dog in the night-time. That is, the glaring omission in Mr. Harper’s 866-word diatribe of any mention of what’s happening in the other great conflict playing out on our planet at this moment. To wit: Israel’s assault on Gaza.

About the first, he has everything to say. About the second, nothing. That is the curious incident – and a remarkable inconsistency given the seeming similarities of the two tragedies, and the fact many innocents are suffering and dying because of both.

According to Mr. Harper’s fulminations, by looking out for its undeniable national interest and making noises about protecting the large Russian community in Eastern Ukraine, Mr. Putin’s government is aggressively and recklessly “threatening the peace and security of eastern and central Europe.” He must be punished, he must be punished now, and Canada is resolved to punish him!

Surely, Israel too views its massive air and artillery bombardment of Gaza in response to missiles fired from that tiny enclave as being in its undeniable national interest and protecting its people everywhere, and not necessarily just passport holders. Moreover, all political parties in the Canadian government apparently agree that, as Mr. Harper’s PMO put it a week ago, “Canada remains steadfastly in support of Israel’s right to defend itself as long as the terrorist attacks by Hamas continue.”

The ferocity of Israel’s response, however, apparently leaves Mr. Harper utterly unmoved.

Mr. Harper’s sermon on Ukraine showed him to be particularly furious that the Russian government, “remains in violation of international law for its illegal occupation of Crimea.”

Again, it’s hard here not to see the parallel to the situation in the Middle East. Whatever you may think of international law and the United Nations – apparently not much, if you’re Mr. Harper’s foreign affairs minister – it is undeniable that Israel has for many years defied both. By contrast, this in no way troubles the current Canadian government.

So why is an illegal occupation of Russian speaking Crimea by Eastern Europe’s greatest military power an outrage, while an illegal and much more violent occupation by the Middle East’s predominant military power so perfectly reasonable in the eyes of the PM that it doesn’t even require his or our notice?

Look, I understand that there are persuasive arguments to be made that the situations are quite different. What’s bizarre is that in the face of such a seeming inconsistency the PM feels no need to make them – or, indeed, that he chose this topic at all for his little fireside chat with the Globe’s reliably Conservative readership.

Mr. Harper is focused on one thing, and one thing only: “Mr. Putin’s Russia increasingly autocratic at home and dangerously aggressive abroad.” Rather like Mr. Harper’s Canada, one is tempted to note, in that regard.

OK, when you’re assailed politically on the home front, it makes a sort of irresponsible sense to try to unite the country around a foreign enemy. But who believes now that Mr. Harper hasn’t started to believe everything he says?

Truly, one has to wonder if the cognitive dissonance of it all is going to make the man spontaneously combust! Or, if there’s no danger of that, then if there really is something other than bells in that belfry of his.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Russia must be stopped! And Peter Goldring’s just the man to do it! We’ll fight to the last Frenchman and German!

After we’ve won the war with Russia, a beachhead in the Caribbean! Edmonton MP Peter Goldring as illustrated by Press Progress. Below: Rob Ford, Louis Riel, Ann of Green Gables and last year’s military licence plate, which is presumably the same as this year’s military licence plate.

Whenever you think it’s safe to start ridiculing Toronto Mayor Rob Ford again, Peter Goldring opens his mouth, proving that this province remains Canada’s Home Sweet Alabamberta of egregious political bufoonery.

Mr. Goldring, 69, is the Member of Parliament for Edmonton East and the source many of the more entertaining if inconsequential political stories in Alberta. Yesterday he was back in the thick of it, using the unfolding tragedy in Ukraine as an excuse to demand Canada declare war on Russia.

Well, in fairness, all Mr. Goldring was really calling for was “total economic warfare,” but that, he added, should only be “the first precursor to much more strident efforts” – which will be fought, presumably, to the very last German, Frenchman and Italian.

Thoroughly in tune with the sprit of the era, Mr. Goldring also demanded the West start a religious war by establishing a competing Patriarchy for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to compete with one inside Russia’s borders. Maybe later we can argue about whether it should be Canada’s state church.

Mr. Goldring has long had a lively interest in foreign policy, and indeed is best known as the country’s most enthusiastic advocate of bringing the Caribbean’s Turks and Caicos Islands into Confederation, an idea that for some reason has failed generate much enthusiasm elsewhere in Ottawa’s halls of power throughout his 17-year Parliamentary career.

He argued that the Turks and Caicos would be just like Prince Edward Island – only, you know, farther away, and without potatoes, Anne Shirley or Green Gables.

But Mr. Goldring’s latest effort should find considerably more sympathy in the bellicose PMO of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, as the Top Tory Banana attempts with his friends at Post Media and the Sun News Network to revive the Cold War.

Last December, Mr. Goldring engaged in a little “freelance diplomacy,” visiting Kiev on his own dime to whip up the crowds in support for the rebels who later toppled the former Ukrainian government in last spring’s coup. Later, the Harper Government sent him back to Ukraine in May and June to make impartial observations about the current Ukrainian government’s election.

On the Home Front, Mr. Goldring is also well known for his view that this homelessness stuff is vastly overstated. “You don’t want to look at it coldly, but they’re really not in desperate need until they’re holding that eviction notice in their hand,” he explained in 2012.

In 2009, he railed against what he called the effort to “unhang” Louis Riel, whom he dismissed as a villain.

While he has spent most of his career in Parliament as an MP for the Conservative-Reform-Alliance Party, Mr. Goldring spent all of 2012 and bits of 2011 and 2013 in the doghouse after he was accused of refusing to provide a breath sample to a police officer who pulled him over on his way home from a dinner at the Ukrainian Hall. In June 2013, he was acquitted of that change and welcomed back in to the Conservative fold.

Mr. Goldring has long been a fervent opponent of roadside Breathalyzer tests on what he calls civil liberties grounds. During his spell in political Coventry, he described himself as a Civil Liberties MP.

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Alberta honours troops with new licence plate

IMPORTANT BLOGGER’S NOTE: As a public service, to save taxpayers money and government information officers time, I have updated last year’s Redford Government news release on Alberta’s new licence plates honouring the military to serve as today’s announcement by the Hancock Government of Alberta’s new licence plates honouring the military. Changes are shown in italic type. Remember, people, it’s not plagiarism if you’re plagiarizing yourself – a rule firmly adhered to on this blog:

The Redford Hancock government is giving Albertans another way to support the brave men and women of the Canadian Forces with the launch of a new licence plate.

The plates, which bear the Yellow Ribbon and the Support our Troops slogan, will be available for pre-order early next later this year. The new plates will cost Albertans $150. This includes the regular registration fees as well as expenses for production and delivery. Revenue beyond these costs will go directly to the Support our Troops campaign to assist members of the Forces and their families in Alberta.

Manmeet S. Bhullar Heather Klimchuk, Minister of Service Alberta Culture, will make the announcement at K-Days in Edmonton today.

Under the Building Alberta Plan Jim Prentice’s Keeping Alberta Strong Plan, our government is investing in families and communities, living within our means, and opening new markets for Alberta’s resources to ensure we’re able to fund the services Albertans told us matter most to them without the words “Wild Rose Country” appearing anywhere on anything. We will continue to deliver the responsible change Albertans voted for. Uh, never mind that last bit.

The first half of this post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Canada’s anti-union lobby is at the heart of the deceptive campaign for more Temporary Foreign Workers – why’s that, d’ya think?

Canadians need not apply? Actual Canadian store displays may not appear exactly as illustrated. But the intent of the AstroTurf TFW lobby is to bust unions and weaken the bargaining power of Canadian workers. Below: Employment Minister and former Canadian Taxpayers Federation operative Jason Kenney; former Canadian Federation of Independent Business president and current “Working Canadians” spokesperson Catherine Swift; and CTF board member and Canadian Labour Watch Association President John Mortimer.

Judging from what they read and hear in the news, Canadians can be forgiven for concluding a large number of organizations representing a broad range of opinions are lobbying public-spiritedly for more access to Temporary Foreign Workers by Canadian businesses.

But while many individual business owners would no doubt love to have a direct pipeline to the huge international pool of compliant, vulnerable and easy-to-exploit foreign workers instead of yielding to market pressure to pay Canadians a living wage, the seeming multitude of public voices calling for more access to TFWs originates mainly with a small group of individuals and well-financed interlocking organizations.

It turns out that this network involves many of the same people sitting on the boards of each other’s groups. What’s more, these groups are repeating the same key messages and skillfully feeding press releases to Canada’s dysfunctional mainstream media to generate sound and fury against the modest restrictions on Ottawa’s TFW Program.

As readers will recall, those restrictions were put in place by Employment Minister Jason Kenney last spring. The minister was responding to public revulsion at the program’s apparent goals of exploiting vulnerable foreign workers and suppressing Canadian wages.

So it cannot be mere coincidence that in almost every case the main groups calling for more TFWs turn out to have a long history of anti-union advocacy. In some cases, before the TFW issue came along, their sole purpose was attacking the right of working people to bargain collectively.

This web of anti-union advocacy groups includes the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Restaurants Canada, the Workplace Democracy Institute of Canada, the Merit Contractors Association, “Working Canadians,” and the Canadian Labour Watch Association.

Even the mysterious National Citizens Coalition, the granddaddy of all Canadian far-right AstroTurf groups, once headed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, puts in a cameo appearance in this convoluted tale!

Each of these groups is not forthcoming about its finances and, it is reasonable to conclude given their purported mandates to represent to represent a different segment of the Canadian economy from “taxpayers,” to restaurant owners, to ordinary working stiffs who just want a little “freedom” in their workplace, is deceptive about its true objectives.

So it should surprise no one that this same web of organizations has emerged as the leading advocate for the exploitation of vulnerable and poorly paid foreign workers to replace uppity Canadian young people in low-wage, low-skill Canadian workplaces, or, in the case of the CTF, to use the purported need for foreign workers as a way to attack unemployment insurance for working Canadians.

Perhaps the best way to understand the revelation that the TFW lobby has many heads but is only one beast is to look at what little we know about the secretive Canadian Labour Watch Association, founded by several of the other groups in 2000.

While the CLWA describes itself as an organization that “advances employee rights in labour relations,” it is fair to say after a review of its materials that its principal goal is to advance the goals of employers who are opposed to unions in their workplaces. In other words: union busting.

According to Canadians for Responsible Advocacy, the “industry organizations” that founded the CLWA in 2000 included Restaurants Canada (formerly the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association), the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the Retail Council of Canada and the Merit Contractors Association of Alberta, which represents a group of non-union contractors.

The CLWA does not disclose financial statements, identify major contributors, indicate its membership policy or criteria, list its bylaws or identify its connections to other right-wing advocacy organizations, the CFRA reports. However, we do know about its members and board of directors, a list that tells an interesting story.

The CLWA’s president and only listed employee is John Mortimer, a prominent member of the board of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. Member associations include the CFIB, Merit Contractors associations in several provinces, the Retail Council of Canada, Restaurants Canada and the National Citizens Coalition.

The CLWA’s board, according to its website, includes representatives of the CFIB, the Retail Council of Canada, Restaurants Canada, the Merit Contractors, the Canadian Taxpayers Association (although this relationship is not declared) and the Conseil du Patronat du Québec (the Quebec Business Council), another consistent opponent of unionization.

Restaurants Canada, by the way, was founded in 1944 as the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association to fight against the Mackenzie King Government’s food rationing and menu price-control policies when the war against Nazi Germany, to which many Canadians were sacrificing their lives, started to cut into profits.

Whether there is a formal connection between the CLWA and its associated groups with the so-called “Working Canadians” AstroTurf organization and the “Workplace Democracy Institute of Canada” can only be speculated upon because all these groups are very economical with information about their operations.

Working Canadians may be little more than a website and an advertising budget provided by someone with deep pockets. It appears to have been set up to counter the Working Families Coalition created in Ontario by 15 unions, which openly declared their involvement on the Working Families website.

Working Canadians, by contrast, provides no information about its funding and purports to be a “volunteer organization” that is “concerned that union leaders have too much influence over government.”

But it is evocative that Working Canadians’ only known volunteer is Catherine Swift, president of the CFIB in 2000 when the CLWA was founded and well known for her opinion that “what would be ideal is getting rid of public-sector unions entirely.” So it is hard to imagine that the mysterious principals behind both Working Canadians and the CLWA, and the network that supports them, are not well known to one another.

As for the WDIC, its way into the web of TFW Program advocates comes via the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, through CTF board member Karen Selick and a CTF staffer, Atlantic Canada Communications Director Kevin Lacey.

There are probably many other such groups, because the corporate-financed right prolifically cooks up fake AstroTurf organizations with positive-sounding mandates, inclusive-sounding names and disguised agendas.

The links among this well-established network of anti-union agitators have been obvious for many years.

That the same players who hold the most virulently anti-union views and the most offensive opinions about the supposed shortcomings of Canadian workers should turn out to be the loudest advocates, and in some places the only advocates, for the TFW Program suggests the true agenda behind the vociferous TFW lobby.

It is quite apparent the goals of the Canadian Taxpayers Association, the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses, and the various trade associations involved are to weaken the bargaining power of Canadian families (including many of their own naïve members), keep wages low, keep all workers vulnerable and re-elect the Harper Government.

If the Harper Government is re-elected, of course, even today’s modest restrictions on the TFW Program are sure to soon disappear, snipped away as so much “red tape.”

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

The most important Duffy trial must be held in the court of public opinion

Mike Duffy, back in pre-Senatorial days, but already feeling the heat. Below: A more recent shot of Senator Duffy; former prime ministerial chief of staff Nigel Wright.

How could the handoff of a $90,000 cheque to Senator Mike Duffy by the prime minister’s chief of staff not be worthy of prosecution while the acceptance of the same piece of paper by the senator is?

Wherever the trial of Mr. Duffy leads us in the months and years to come, this is the question ordinary Canadians are scratching their heads about today as they pick up a whiff of something not quite as it should be on the breeze from Ottawa – like the ephemeral scent of a distant skunk’s perfume on a summer’s night.

This will not be the question at Mr. Duffy’s trial, however, although it is certainly now one of the key political questions about the PMO-Senate Expenses Scandal that must be answered in the court of public opinion.

As Donald Bayne, Mr. Duffy’s lawyer, put it in the news clip played on CBC Radio in Edmonton yesterday morning: “I am sure that I am not the only Canadian who will now wonder openly how what was not a crime or a bribe when Nigel Wright paid it on his own initiative became however, mysteriously, a crime or bribe when received by Senator Duffy.”

Mr. Bayne got that one right, for sure! It is what we used to call the $64,000 Question, which inflation and other factors have apparently now increased to $90,000.

Many of us with some knowledge of the law, I suspect, thought the charges must be more complicated than that. But it would appear not. Here is the explanation of the charge in question, summarized by the Globe and Mail yesterday: “Directly or indirectly corruptly accept, obtain, agree to accept, or attempt to obtain, for himself, money ($90,000 from Mr. Wright).”

I had always thought that offering and accepting bribes was one of those situations that, as we put it in the vernacular, take two to tango. You know, like participating in illegal prostitution… But perhaps not.

Perhaps, as a lawyer consulted by Global News suggested, the RCMP believed Mr. Wright didn’t corruptly offer the money – or “that his testimony against Duffy is stronger if he’s not charged himself.” In other words, a common variation on the oldest prosecutorial trick in the world.

Meanwhile, I was struck by the sleaze exhibited by Prime Minister Harper and his PMO staff as they tried to have it both ways, implying Senator Duffy is guilty while hiding behind the sub judice rule to avoid commenting on their own part in the affair.

Said Jason MacDonald, Mr. Harper’s communications director, in a carefully parsed statement: “Those who break the rules must suffer the consequences. The conduct described in the numerous charges against Mr. Duffy is disgraceful. As this is now a criminal matter that is before the courts, we have nothing further to add.”

Very well. But in that case, please shut up!

Mr. Bayne is right too that it is important for us ignoramuses in the general population not to pre-judge Mr. Duffy’s guilt or innocence. And it is quite true that, up to now, Senator Duffy has had a fair hearing in neither the Senate nor the media, and certainly not at the hands of the PMO.

But in reality there are two concurrent trials that must take place.

The first, in the judicial system, is to determine the validity of the 31 charges laid by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police against Senator Duffy. That will take a long time and will most certainly not render a verdict until well after the next Canadian general election.

The other is in the court of public opinion, where it behooves all of us who are citizens of Canada to consider the matter much more quickly than the wheels of Justice can be expected to grind.

Like a juror instructed by the judge not to consider a certain statement made by a witness, we may have to set aside the question of Senator Duffy’s guilt or innocence while we proceed with the much more important matter of the actions of the Prime Minister’s Office, and the prime minister himself.

In such a case, we may legitimately bring down a Scotch Verdict: Not Proven … but worthy of consideration nevertheless.

In the mean time, we are all forgiven if we await with a little shiver of anticipation the witnesses Mr. Duffy’s counsel can be expected to call – including Mr. Wright, and Mr. Harper himself – to make his case that “when the full story is told, as it will be, and shown to be supported by many forms of evidence, it will be clear that Senator Duffy is innocent of any criminal wrongdoing.”

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Climate change divestment movement gains ground in church – but not in Canadian media or political circles

Ho-hum... Some typical Canadian reporters, hard at work … Actual Canadian newsrooms may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Is he more influential than we imagined in Alberta?

CALGARY

When retired South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu visited Alberta’s Tarpatch capital of Fort McMurray last month and called the output from bitumen mining “filth,” the commentary here in Alberta was pretty predictable.

The right-wing rage machine creaked briefly to life, complained bitterly about celebrities who don’t know what they’re talking about just passing through, and then moved on to other complaints.

About the kindest thing said about the retired Anglican churchman by officials and media in these parts was the suggestion he was a naïve do-gooder who should stick to his theological knitting, never mind that he was a veteran of South African politics during and after the apartheid era and thus probably knew a thing or two about persuasion.

As for his contention that “the oilsands are emblematic of an era of high carbon and high-risk fuels that must end if we are committed to safer climate,” Alberta politicians and oilpatch commentators forgot about his brief appearance almost as soon as he had departed. A few Twitter trolls defamed him for a couple of extra days before they too lapsed into forgetfulness.

Perhaps they should have paid a little more attention, though.

From the Guardian, Britain’s faintly progressive daily newspaper, comes a report that the World Council of Churches, an umbrella group that represents about half a billion Christians around the world, including Anglicans like Archbishop Tutu in both Canada and South Africa, plus members of the United Church of Canada, has decided to pull all of its investments out of fossil fuel companies.

Back in April, Archbishop Tutu told the same U.K. newspaper that “people of conscience need to break their ties with corporations financing the injustice of climate change.”

Now, whether this divestment is a big deal or just a blip on the political radar is hard for a layman (as it were) like me to predict. For one thing, some pretty big churches, like the Roman Catholic Church, are not affiliated with the WCOC, and there may be plenty of investors to buy up they stocks they divest. For another, the WCOC doesn’t have that big an investment portfolio anyway, the Guardian pointed out, and no one yet knows if its member churches will all go along with this.

Still, it’s a powerful symbol, and it’s bound to result in some additional pressure being put on the energy industry – and on the Alberta Tarpatch in particular. What’s more, it’s evidence that when Archbishop Tutu speaks, people listen – even if Alberta’s various varieties of conservative, used to getting their own way without too much backchat, think that’s an outrage.

So at the very least you’d think there’d be some interest out here in the Lone Tar State in this development – if only to dismiss it as inconsequential.

But here in Alberta, and across Canada, the mainstream media seem not to have touched this development with the proverbial 10-foot bargepole. (That’s 3.05 metres to those of you born after 1970.)

Here in the Alberta ’patch, not one of the Calgary Herald, the Edmonton Journal or even Fort McMurray Today seemed to have mentioned it as of yesterday.

They need feel no embarrassment, though, for the national media has ignored it too – leastways, there’s not been a word about it that I could Google up from the Globe and Mail, the National Post, the Toronto Star or the CBC.

Last May, also writing in the Guardian, the United Nations climate chief Christiana Figueres encouraged religious groups to “provide a moral compass to their followers and to political, corporate, financial and local authority leaders” on this issue.

She noted in that article that Archbishop Tutu had called “for an anti-apartheid style boycott and disinvestment campaign against the fossil fuel industry.”

And as the Guardian observed last week, “studies have suggested the fossil fuel divestment campaign, which began in the US, has been faster than any previous divestment movement such as tobacco and apartheid.”

So even if Canada’s tame and obedient media and Alberta’s influential conservatives of various stripes don’t like the message, they might want to pay attention to the story just the same.

I have a feeling that just pretending to have a climate change strategy, as Alberta does, isn’t going to be a very good strategy for dealing with a global divestment movement.

And whether or not it gets covered in Canada just yet, this story isn’t going to go away. Ignore it at your peril.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

‘Targeted exemptions’ for TFWs – Tory fund-raising tool, a backyard maquiladora in every neighbourhood, or both?

Typical Canadian fast-food help, as seen by Canadian fast-food employers, sort of. Below: Employment Minister Jason Kenney in Stampede-Week-appropriate garb and the CFIB’s Richard Truscott.

ST. ALBERT, Alberta

Unemployment has climbed to 7.1 per cent in Canada and yet a key segment of the Harper Government’s donor base is screeching for more Temporary Foreign Workers. What to do?

From the perspective of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, this is a serious problem. Too many Canadians remain unpersuaded by the hysterical campaign cranked up by the country’s retail business sector to turn the TFW spigot back to full, and to do it right now, lest … well, lest something really bad happens.

Not satisfied by mere wage-suppression – delivered in spades by the federal government – now they’re hooked on a steady supply of powerless and compliant workers from abroad.

Fast-food restaurant owners have threatened everything from cutting back the number of coffees they serve after 3 a.m. to trimming their charitable donations, and yet the general public seems unshaken by their warnings. Maybe the usual suspects can blame the education system: here in Alberta our teachers still seem to be teaching their charges how to do the math.

Behind closed doors, have no doubt about it, the TFW lobby is telling the Harper Cons that the spigot that’s actually going to be shut off if they don’t get their way, and soon, with the flow of easily coerced and underpaid foreign workers fully restored, is the one full of money they send to Conservative Party coffers.

The Harper Government’s Solomonic answer? “Targeted exemptions,” which according to the Canadian Press means Employment Minister Jason Kenney will consider fewer restrictions on a steady flow of TFWs “in specific areas with very low levels of unemployment in regions with a higher level.”

That’s vague enough it should be possible for any fast-food business owner to claim a special unemployment zone around his or her store sufficiently low to set up a backyard maquiladora anywhere in Canada – successfully suppressing wages despite market realities while enabling Conservative politicians to make soothing noises to Canadians that all is well with the rigorously enforced TFW Program.

I await publication of the Harper Government’s clear and accessible rules for these regulatory exemption zones with interest.

Meantime, the usual suspects in the campaign to suppress wages by hiring no one but TFWs – thus eliminating the need to deal with uppity Canadians and their propensity to insist they have workplace rights – are starting to snarl at more people than their Conservative MPs.

Back in April, the Alberta Director of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, an AstroTurf group that purports to represent the interests of small business owners and has been at the forefront of the fight for unlimited use of TFWs, was pleading for reasoned discourse to prevail.

“It’s time to dial down the rhetoric and have an informed conversation about labour shortages, skills training for Canadian workers, new government strategies to match employers with qualified employees, and fixing the permanent immigration system to ensure it matches the current and future labour force needs within the economy,” Richard Truscott wrote in the vast expanse of free space donated to him by the Calgary Herald, a once-great newspaper that nowadays appears to rely on full-time right-wing agitators from groups with mysterious funding sources to report the news.

The targets of his call for sweet reason? “Some union leaders” whom he said had “turned their rhetoric dial all the way up to shrill, and are calling for the program to be scrapped.”

Well, as I’ve said before, it’s still a free country, after a fashion, so you can call that shrill if you like.

But just yesterday, Mr. Truscott – sounding a little shrill himself – was accusing this blogger via Tweet of “profound ignorance” of how small businesses operate. My offence was daring to challenge the hysterics of the TFW lobby to produce even one Alberta business that’s had to go out of business because of a shortage of TFWs.

They can’t because there are none. But Mr. Truscott promised fast-food businesses won’t disappear overnight for want of a TFW, but some will … someday.

My question remains the same: “If the market’s so great, what’s wrong with the market?” That, in turn, leads inevitably to a prescription: Pay a living wage and employees will find their way to you.

All the pro-TFW crowd has to offer are anecdotal tales about how hard they’re trying to find Canadians to work in their restaurants, and how few of these ungrateful wretches respond to their calls.

So here’s a little equally unscientific anecdotal evidence of my own, from right here in St. Albert where our more-Tory-than-the-Tories Independent MP claims to be inundated by pleas for more TFWs from local fast-food business owners who insist Canadians won’t apply for the jobs they need to fill.

I looked in the Saturday edition of the local twice-weekly newspaper. There were only 13 help-wanted ads, not one of them from a fast-food restaurant.

Can’t find local kids willing to work in their stores? Maybe they need to look a little harder.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

The horror! The horror! Brent Rathgeber and the St. Albert Chamber of Commerce on the nightmare of too few TFWs

St. Albert by night. My lord! What would we do if the local McDonald’s wasn’t open at 3 a.m.! Below: Edmonton-St. Albert MP Brent Rathgeber.

St. ALBERT, Alberta

I have a challenge for Edmonton-St. Albert Member of Parliament Brent Rathgeber, the St. Albert Chamber of Commerce and all the other hysterics wailing about the disaster wrought by the federal government when it imposed some modest limitations on the Temporary Foreign Workers Program, some of which don’t apply to Alberta anyway.

Show me one – just one! – Alberta company that’s had to go out of business because of a shortage of TFWs.

Mr. Rathgeber and the local chamber here in the Edmonton bedroom community of St. Albert were in full flight last week about the horrors that await us if the TFW spigot isn’t turned back to full, posthaste.

“The situation is actually worse than I thought,” a horrified Mr. Rathgeber told the credulous local twice-weekly after his audience before the local Chamber of Horrors, I mean Commerce, which the paper indicated was a private get-together at which the horrified Chamber men and maids could spin their horrifying yarns without interruptions or questions from the unwashed, which would be horrifying, I presume.

Mr. Rathgeber, an Independent MP who not so long ago resigned from the federal Conservative caucus in Ottawa, says he has decided to run again under no party banner. To do so, he has apparently hit upon the strategy of campaigning to the right of the Harper Conservatives. This is hard to do at the best of times, but on the issue of TFWs, he seems to be succeeding. And it sure beats going out and door knocking, which both of his Conservative challengers have been doing.

Why, said Mr. Rathgeber, the possibilities of an insufficient supply of foreign indentured labourers are simply appalling: “It is quite conceivable, and they told me I could tell you, both Tim Hortons and McDonald’s may not be able to operate any of their stores 24/7,” our MP told the local rag.

I’m just going to pause to give readers an opportunity to get the breath back and get back up from the floor after thinking about that one. Good gosh, does he mean we won’t be able to go out for coffee at 3 a.m.! In a town where the last of the liquor stores closes at 2? How will the people driving through on their way Fox Creek and Fort McMurray sober up?

It only gets worse from here. Among the other frightening consequences of a TFW shortage enumerated by Mr. Rathgeber, with a hearty Hear! Hear! from the spokesperson for the local Chamber are the following:

  • Local restaurant owners may put off plans to expand. (The MP explained: “They can’t staff the stores they have, why do they want to build another one?”)
  • Canadian employees, already reviled by Mr. Rathgeber and the Chamber’s members as shiftless and lazy, may get even crankier! (“They get overworked and frustrated – and leave,” explained the local paper.)
  • If fast food restaurants aren’t open as many hours, they’ll buy fewer supplies – and, get this, according to Mr. Rathgeber they actually do buy some supplies locally! I confess I have no idea how many all-beef patties our three local McDonald’ses sell between midnight and 7 a.m., but I’m betting it’s not all that many.
  • And the piece de la resistance, “philanthropic donations from local franchisees might go down as their profits dwindle.”

Readers will be getting the hint by now – even before I get to the likely story that local businesses will have to start laying off Canadian employees if they can’t have their TFWs – that your blogger is not all that shaken by the dire possibilities enumerated by our local MP.

Indeed, the only moment Mr. Rathgeber found himself in the vicinity of the real story, it’s said here, was when he suggested, again in the words of the local paper, that “in some high volume, low-margin industries, raising wages could have a dramatic impact.”

Exactly! Without Ottawa interfering in the local labour market to keep wages as low as possible, the Alberta fast-food industry faces the appalling prospect of having to pay its employees something approaching a living wage. And after them, who’s next? Wal-Mart?

Worse, they’ll have to put up with uppity Canadian employees, who are well known for standing up for their rights, even complaining to Alberta’s toothless Employment Standards branch!

The possibilities are endless, and to Mr. Rathgeber and the Chamber, apparently endlessly horrifying.

But bottom line – and this is the truly horrifying part – if they start to pay a living wage, their profits might have to decline a little. Either that, or we’d have to pay a few cents more for our coffee.

One thing that won’t happen, though, is that any Alberta business will ever have to close because of a shortage of TFWs.

A lousy business plan? Maybe. A wrong guess about what the market wants? Quite possibly.

But a shortage of indentured labour from abroad? If that’s going to kill your business, you need to be in another business.

I’ll say it again: No Alberta business has ever failed because of a shortage of TFWs and no Alberta business ever will.

I challenge Mr. Rathgeber and the local Chamber – and all the other conservative MPs and all their local chambers – to name just one shuttered Alberta business that even makes that claim. Then we can actually look at the facts of the case.

In the mean time, the big threats are no Big Macs at 3 a.m., crabby waitrons and a dip in philanthropic donations?

Please!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.