'All for ourselves and nothing for other people' seems in every age of the world to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind. -Adam Smith "All the 'truth' in the world adds up to one big lie." Bob Dylan "Idealism precedes experience, cynicism follows it." Anon

October 17, 2011

Canada's Christian fundamentalist Prime Minister tells millions of poor no need to protest

Chain The Dogma   October 17, 2011

Canada's Christian fundamentalist Prime Minister tells millions of poor no need to protest

by Perry Bulwer

Today, October 17, is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.  I doubt Canada's fundamentalist Christian Prime Minister is even aware of it given his refusal to implement any kind of poverty reduction program let alone one that eradicates poverty, which is possible to do in such a rich, stable country as Canada. Here is what Stephen Harper said  when asked for his comments on the Occupy Canada protests that began here on the 15th.

"Canadians understand that Canada has performed very well during the global economic recession," he said. "We've managed to create more growth and more jobs than just about any other industrialized country. We are extremely focused on the needs of Canadians and the needs of the middle class. We obviously have a very different situation here — we didn't bail out our banking sector. Our banking sector was the strongest in the world."

As is the habit of demagogues, they always mix in some truths to disguise the lies. That is especially true for Harper, who manipulates or ignores facts that contradict his ideology. That is something that has occurred over and over again in various positions taken by the Harper government, including drug policiesmaternal health policies, crime and punishment policies, fishery policies,  as well as in its undermining of one of the most respected statistical gathering agencies in the world, Statistics Canada.

Harper's comment on the current global protests is no different. Breaking it down sentence by sentence, here is how I see it. In his first sentence he presumes to know what all Canadians understand. After ruling with a minority government for so many years, the recent parliamentary majority he won has gone to his head . He seems to actually think the majority of Canadians are conservatives who voted for and support him, when that is far from the truth. Only 60 percent of Canadians voted  in the last federal election and only 40 percent of them voted for Harper's party. Clearly, only a minority of Canadians support Harper, but more than that, those statistics show that forty percent of Canadians obviously feel voting is a waste of time. It seems to me that those who do not exercise their right to vote are protesting against the inertia and inequity of the current financial and political systems just as much as the Occupy protesters are, since the status quo remains regardless of which political party is in power. Small protest crowds in Canada do not indicate the true numbers of Canadians who feel disenfranchised by the present system. Mocking and dismissing those protests is a foolish mistake.

The claims Harper makes in the second part of the first sentence and the second sentence of his comment are probably true to an extent, but when he says "Canada has performed very well" and created "more growth and more jobs" he means in comparison to other countries. It is true that the unemployment rate has recently dropped slightly, but that is small comfort for those still without a job who may lose their homes, let alone those without a home. So who exactly has benefited from Canada's good performance? It is definitely not the four million citizens living in poverty, including 300,000 homeless.

Harper's next claim is that his government is focused on the "needs of Canadians and the needs of the middle-class". False. He most definitely is not focused on the needs of all Canadians, since he refuses to address the issues of poverty and homelessness affecting the most vulnerable citizens, as recommended by a parliamentary committee, and as set out in Bill C-233, An Act To Eliminate Poverty In Canada,  which is a Private Member's Bill proposed by an opposition MP so unlikely to pass under a Conservative majority.

Neither is Harper focused on the needs of the middle-class, as the evidence below illustrates. Harper's final claim in that comment on the Occupy protests is that the situation in Canada is very different from that in the United States, because of our superior banking system. This is a perfect illustration of mixing lies with truth. While it is true that the Canadian banking system didn't need bailing out and is recognized around the world for that, it is not true that the situation in Canada with respect to the Occupy protests is different than in the United States. In fact, the situation is worse.

According to the recent report, "World Income Inequality",  by the Conference Board of Canada: "The increase in income inequality has been more rapid in Canada than in the U.S. since the mid-1990s." Anne Golden, president and chief executive explained:  “Even though the U.S. currently has the largest rich-poor income gap among these countries, the gap in Canada has been rising at a faster rate,” adding that high inequality raises both “a moral question about fairness and can contribute to social tensions.” The conclusions in that report are supported by the December 2010 study by the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives, "The Rise of Canada's Richest 1%".

The Rise of Canada’s Richest 1% looks at income trends over the past 90 years and reveals the 246,000 privileged few who rank among the country’s richest 1% took almost a third (32%) of all growth in incomes between 1997 and 2007.

“That's a bigger piece of the action than any other generation of rich Canadians has taken,” says Armine Yalnizyan, CCPA senior economist and the report’s author.

“The last time Canada’s elite held so much of the nation’s income in their hands was in the 1920s. Even then, their incomes didn’t soar as fast as they are today. It’s a first in Canadian history and it underscores a dramatic reversal of long-term trends.”

Post-war, Canada became more equal with the rise of the middle class but by 2007, the richest 1% reversed equality trends, amassing incomes gains reminiscent of the 1920s.

Among the report’s findings:

From the beginning of the Second World War to 1977, the income share of the richest 1% dropped from 14% to 7.7%;

By 2007 they’d made a comeback: the richest 1% held 13.8% of incomes;

Since the late 1970s, the richest 1% has almost doubled its share of total income; the richest 0.1% has almost tripled its share of total income; and the richest 0.01% has more than quintupled its share of income.

So, there is the evidence that exposes Harper's blatant lie that the Canadian situation is different and better than in the United States. The Occupy protests here, and where ever they occur, are focused on the inequities and corruptions of financial and political systems. That old truism, "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer", has never been so true or so obvious as today in Canada, so Harper is both ignoring the evidence, which he is well known for, and lying to the people he supposedly serves. I think that comes easy to Harper, because of his membership in the fundamentalist, evangelical Christian and Missionary Alliance church.

One Canadian situation that is different than in the U.S. is the fact that Harper's religious beliefs and affiliation are not well known in Canada and rarely discussed. I don't think I need to describe just how different that is from the U.S. situation, where religion plays a central role in politics. However, the fact that Harper is an evangelical fundamentalist, or pretends to be one to win votes, ought to be a wake-up call to Canadians. Here is how a former evangelical and co-founder of the Religious Right, Frank Schaeffer, explains the role of Christian fundamentalism in the exploitation of the many by the few in the United States:

As the Occupy Wall street movement spreads across the country and the world, we must bring attention to the enablers of the top 1 percent exploiting the 99. Fundamentalist religion made this exploitation possible.

Evangelical fundamentalism helped empower the top 1 percent. Note I didn't say religion per se, but religious fundamentalism.

Why? Because without the fundamentalists and their "values" issues, many in the lower 99 percent could not have been convinced to vote against their (our) economic self-interest; in other words, vote for Republicans who only serve billionaires.

Wall Street is a great target for long-overdue protest, but so are the centers of religious power that are the gatekeepers of Republican Party "values" voters that make the continuing economic exploitation possible.

Fundamentalist religion -- evangelical and Roman Catholic alike -- has delegitimized the US government and thus undercut its ability to tax, spend and regulate.

The fundamentalists have replaced economic and political justice with a bogus (and hate-driven) "morality" litmus tests of spurious red herring "issues" from abortion to school prayer and gay rights. The result has been that the masses of lower middle-class and poor Americans who should be voting for Democrats and thus their own economic interests, have been persuaded to vote against their own class and self interest.

In Canada, religion does not play such a prominent role in public political life, but that does not mean that the religious right are not active behind the scenes  on core conservative values such as abortion and gay rights. Harper has always had to keep tight control over his caucus on those and similar issues, because the majority of Canadians are not conservative and do not agree with Harper's party. And so Harper lies and obfuscates. For example, he says he will not reopen the debate on abortion, which is legal in Canada, but he continues to export anti-abortion ideology and policies through international aid projects, revealing where he really stands on the issue.

If religion does not play such an overt role in Canadian politics or society as in the U.S., then why should we care what Harper believes? Because as Schaeffer explains above, religious fundamentalism helped create and increase the financial, social and political inequities that are now the focus of worldwide protests. Furthermore, it is important to know if our politicians who create laws and policies base those on evidence or ideology. Harper's government has made it very clear that ideology is far more important than evidence. At the end of it's years long fight against InSite,  for example, the government's arguments at the Supreme Court of Canada against the facility were all based on ideology or jurisdiction. Government lawyers presented no evidence of harm to counter the stacks of evidence proving that the facility saves lives, reduces harm and produces benefits for individuals and society. Likewise, by building more prisons and pushing a new crime bill Harper intends to pass with his new majority, he is completely ignoring solid evidence that crime has been falling for the last 20 years, not increasing.

I questioned above whether Harper is a true believer or just using religion as a political tool. I think that latter scenario may be more common in the U.S., where it is political suicide not to have a religious affiliation of some sort. There are only 28 atheist members of Congress,  but only one of them is willing to admit that publicly, which means the other 27 and probably many other members are hiding or lying about their religious beliefs. I think Harper may actually be a sincere believer, however, because of his consistent refusal to consider valid, scientific evidence in favour of ideological positions, which is a trait of religious fundamentalists. As I mentioned above, that is something that has occurred over and over again in various policy positions taken by the Harper government. Considering the strictly fundamentalist and evangelical tenets of Harper's church, it is really no surprise he discounts scientific evidence when formulating public policy. After all, he chooses to attend a church that believes in creationism and rejects evolution, even theistic evolution, believes the Bible was verbally dictated by God and therefore without error, believes in faith healing, and believes Jesus was born of a virgin and will return any day now. But where does Harper's religion put him in relation to the millions of Canadians struggling with poverty that his politics and policies have ignored? The cries of the poor do not move him, and so his holy book condemns him as a hypocrite:

But if a person has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need and that person doesn’t care, how can the love of God remain in him? I John 3:17 


A modest proposal to end homelessness in Canada

Asbestos, Abortion and the Canadian Prime Minister's cats

Beware of any religious organization with Family in its name


  1. New index pinpoints inequalities in Canadians’ quality of life

    by TAVIA GRANT Globe & Mail October 20, 2011

    Canada’s economy has boomed for much of the past two decades, yet that expansion has not sparked equally robust improvements in Canadians’ quality of life. That is the key finding of the Canadian Index of Wellbeing, a composite guide launching Thursday that claims to be one of the first of its kind in the world. It seeks to provide a fuller picture of the country’s economic health than the widely used gross domestic product.

    The University of Waterloo-based index, which tracks 64 indicators in eight domains such as health, education and living standards, is the culmination of seven years of research and input from dozens of Canadian and international academics. The release of this index puts Canada ahead of other countries, such as the United Kingdom and France, which are developing similar measures. Since 1994, the starting point for the new measure, Canada’s well-being has improved 11 per cent compared with 31-per-cent growth in the country’s GDP.

    Its release is timely, given the growing dissatisfaction with economic progress and government policies around the world as mirrored by Occupy Wall Street and its offshoot protests. “This is a two-sided coin – the one side is fiscal and economic policies that governments set, and the other side is what it means to ordinary Canadians,” said Roy Romanow, chair of the index’s advisory board and former premier of Saskatchewan. “This is a seminal report, because it puts out for the first time some measuring stick as to actual impact of government policies. ”


    The findings paint a mixed picture. Canadians’ quality of life has diminished in areas such as the environment, leisure and culture, and time use. Health-care advancements have been only modest. And it finds that the top 20 per cent received the lion’s share of rising income and wealth during the boom years while the gap with the bottom 20 per cent grew ever larger. “What troubles me the most is that, at a time of good economic growth, there are notable disparities, and secondly, that they seem to be widening,” Mr. Romanow said.

    Canadians are facing a bigger time crunch, depression rates are up, voter turnout is ebbing, greenhouse gases are growing and job quality has deteriorated. Matewes Tadesse is among those struggling to make ends meet. The multilingual immigrant from Ethiopia has qualifications as an electrical engineer and technician. Instead, he’s driving a taxi and says high gas prices and a glut of cab drivers in Toronto mean he’s earning less than minimum wage. “I went to school to get a better job, but when I graduated no one wanted to hire me,” he says.

    The index also shows progress. Crime rates are going down and more Canadians feel a strong attachment to their community. High-school graduation rates are increasing and life expectancy is climbing.

    read the full article at:


  2. Hang about - all those claims of best in the world, unique re banking etc --- I thought you were talking about Australia as those are the precise claims made here

  3. Omnibus crime bill won't reduce victimization rates


    Harper, Nicholson and Toews are selling their snake-oil crime bill by presuming to speak on behalf of victims. When told that the crime rate has been declining for 20 years, they reply that one victim is one too many. When advised that statistics do not support their approach, they say most crimes go unreported by their victims. When criticized for the cost of their simplistic and counterproductive legislation, they reply that crimes cost victims $99 billion per year.
    Let's be clear. One victim is too many, and whatever we can do to reduce victimization rates should be done. However, the omnibus crime bill will not achieve that objective. It will contribute mightily to a continuing structural deficit because of the colossal costs involved. And paying for this crime bill means programs that effectively prevent crime and rehabilitate offenders will never be funded.

    Victims are not all made the same. They do not all support the strictly punishment-oriented approach of the Harper government. Why not let them speak for themselves?

    Arlène Gaudreault, President of the Association québécoise Plaidoyer-Victimes, objects to the way politicians are usurping the legitimate voices of victims. She says victims are "increasingly exploited and used as a tool for partisan purposes by political parties of all stripes. Victims' rights are used to legitimize more crime control, but that discourse does not express the position of all victims. . . . It does not serve the cause of victims, and we reject Canada's decision to take this path." She says that "measures to help parents and families reduce poverty and inequality are essential to combat and reduce criminal victimization."

    Lorraine Berzins worked in federal penitentiaries for 14 years and was the victim of a hostage-taking. As spokesperson for the Church Council on Justice and Corrections, she says the Harper tough-on-crime agenda "goes so much against all the evidence about what keeps communities safe, and it does so much harm, and they are going to spend so much money, that it's really surprising that there isn't more opposition."

    Steve Sullivan of Ottawa Victim Services (and erstwhile Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime) says "victims understand, better than most, that nearly all offenders will eventually be released from prison. . . . The best protection victims, their families, and the community will have is if the offender can learn to modify negative behaviour before he or she is released." In other words, rehabilitation programs are key.

    In spite of eloquent pleas by victims' advocates, the Harper government forges ahead with a retrograde, antediluvian and discredited approach to criminal justice. Its only "solution" for any and all crimes is a long prison sentence.

    There is virtually no hope that the omnibus crime bill can be defeated now that Mr. Harper has his majority. So we turn to Steve Sullivan, who recently sent a desperate crie de coeur to the Conservative caucus:

    "I believe the ministers when they say they care about victims. . . . Here is what they should do -- at the next cabinet meeting, tell the Prime Minister he should abandon his crime agenda and put the bulk of those resources into programs for victims and prevention. When the Prime Minister says no, and we all know he will, then they should stand up for victims and walk out."

    Paula Mallea, ... is a Research Associate with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. She is the author of The Fear Factor: Stephen Harper's Tough On Crime Agenda. Her book, Fearmonger, a detailed critique of the Harper tough-on-crime agenda, published by Lorimer, is available in bookstores and online.


  4. Canadian Banks were Bailed Out!
    Special investigation: How high-risk mortgages crept north - The Globe and Mail

    Mortgages and Harper’s ‘pre-emptive’ bank bailout : The Ryerson Free Press

    ‘Not a bailout’: the great Canadian bank caper - Nova Scotia News - TheChronicleHerald.ca

    "The Market Transaction"
    The Insured Mortgage Purchase Program (PRB-0856E)
    -To say Canadian Banks were not bailed out is an untruth that needs to be corrected.
    The MSM has perpetuated this lie!It needs to STOP.

  5. Stretched food banks a measure of Canada’s frail recovery

    by TAVIA GRANT, Globe and Mail November 01, 2011

    The number of Canadians using food banks has declined slightly, but persistent demand indicates many are struggling in a frail economic recovery. More than 851,000 individuals visited a food bank in March alone, a number that’s little changed from last year’s record and still 26 per cent above prerecession levels, Food Banks Canada’s annual survey, to be released Tuesday, shows. The findings reveal that recipients span the spectrum. Nearly 100,000 of them are first-time users and one in five actually has a job or has recently been employed. More than one in ten are immigrants or refugees – many of whom are highly educated, and usage is growing among seniors.

    “We think we’re coming out of a recession, but this is telling us that many Canadians are still really struggling,” said Katharine Schmidt, executive director of the association. Food-bank usage is one of the more tangible measures of how society is faring. It’s worth paying attention to because it gives a “true depiction” of the challenges that low-income people are facing, said Craig Alexander, chief economist at Toronto-Dominion Bank. Increased usage reflects a number of shifts in the economy, he said. While the number of jobs lost in the recession has been recouped, many new positions aren’t as well-paid as the former ones. Wage growth has not kept pace with inflation. Globalization, outsourcing and technological changes have eliminated many middle-skilled, middle-income jobs. And displaced factory workers are having trouble re-entering the work force. “One of the underlying stories that gets missed by the fact that Canada is doing better than many of its peers is that we have pressures for many low-income people, and not everyone is benefiting equally from the economic recovery,” Mr. Alexander said. The findings show 18 per cent of food-bank recipients are part of the working poor – people who have earnings from a current or recent job. ...
    Food banks weren’t supposed to become a permanent presence. Many started in the 1980s as an emergency stopgap as workers were losing their factory or forestry jobs. Usage declined steadily through the economic boom of the mid-2000s – only to shoot up in the recession and remain elevated ever since. The still-high figures aren’t surprising to John Stapleton, a fellow at the Metcalf Foundation who has scrutinized income trends for the past 35 years. He notes that, with the exception of Saskatchewan, social-assistance caseloads in every province west of Quebec are still above prerecession levels, and that welfare rates have not kept up with inflation. In Ontario, for example, a single person who receives $592 a month from welfare typically spends almost all of that on rent. “So people have enough to eat for a week, and then become urban nomads who ride their bike or walk from food program to food program in search of the next meal.” ...
    The gap between the poor and the rich is widening, a recent Conference Board of Canada paper found. It said income disparity has risen more rapidly in Canada than in most of its peer countries, including the United States, since the mid-1990s. Tuesday's survey lists several recommendations to help alleviate hunger in Canada. Affordable housing is at the top of the list, since shelter costs typically consume more than half of incomes. Other measures include updating EI to reflect the current reality of a more fluid job market. Without steps like these, “expect health care and social service costs to rise,” Ms. Schmidt said. “And we are missing the opportunity to improve the quality of life for all Canadians.”

    read the full article at:


  6. Canada remains in 6th place in annual UN development ranking

    by TAVIA GRANT, Globe and Mail November 02, 2011

    Canada is ranked sixth in the world in terms of achievements in incomes, health and education, the United Nations’s annual human development index shows.

    The latest report, to be released Wednesday, shows Canada’s overall position hasn’t changed from last year and has climbed three notches since 2006.

    Norway is top of the 2011 list, followed by Australia, the Netherlands, the United States and New Zealand. The Democratic Republic of the Congo sits in last place of the 187 countries on the list.

    The index crunches numbers on schooling, life expectancy, and per capita income to rank countries in terms of human development. The annual study has changed its methodology, meaning rankings shouldn’t be compared to prior years. It’s worth noting, however, that Canada sat in first place in the overall ranking eight times in the 1990s.

    This year’s picture changes considerably when the index is adjusted for internal inequalities in health, education and income. By that measure, newly introduced last year, Canada tumbles out of the top 10 – sliding to 13th place.

    And some of the wealthiest nations drop out of the top 20 list – the United States topples to No. 23 from No. 4, South Korea slides to 32 from 15 and Israel ebbs to 25 from 17. By contrast, Sweden, Denmark and Slovenia all climb up the rankings when equality is taken into account.

    The index, when adjusted for inequality, “helps us assess better the levels of development for all segments of society, rather than for just the mythical ‘average’ person,” said Milorad Kovacevic, chief statistician for the report. “We consider health and education distribution to be just as important in this equation as income, and the data show great inequities in many countries.”

    It finds that income distribution has worsened in most of the world. Latin America is still the most unequal region in income terms, though some countries such as Brazil and Chile are narrowing internal income gaps.

    In overall human development terms, which includes life expectancy and schooling, Latin America is more equitable than sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia, the report said. The 10 countries that place last in the 2011 overall ranking are all in sub-Saharan Africa.

    Canada also doesn’t fare nearly as well when gender disparity are taken into account. When the index is adjusted to account for gender equality, Canada slides to the 20th position.

    This year’s report, launched in Copenhagen today, also examines how environmental degradation and social disparities are affecting countries.

    Although living standards in most countries have been rising for several decades, it projects a “disturbing reversal of those trends if environmental deterioration and social inequalities continue to intensify.”


  7. Omnibus crime bill ignores the true victims

    By Steve Sullivan, National Post Opinion
    November 11, 2011

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised to pass his Omnibus Crime Bill in 100 days and his government is on track. The Commons Justice Committee is hearing a little from a lot of witnesses and most are being cut off mid-sentence. The Committee is moving at lightning speed.

    Government officials say Bill C-10 will “provide support and protection for victims of crime.” They herald it as a “fundamental pillar of our commitment to victims of crime.” They promise it will “ensure justice for victims of crime and terrorism.” With Stephen Harper’s government, “victims come first.”

    Having advocated for victims of crime for almost 20 years, I reviewed the proposed legislation. In the hundreds of pages of would-be law, I found only a few that deal with victims. Among those are several provisions that enhance the rights of victims in the corrections and parole system. These are important provisions, but were first introduced in 2005 by the Liberal government of Paul Martin.

    The provisions to toughen sentencing for sex offenders will be welcomed by most. Few of us lose sleep over child-sex offenders spending more time in prison. But some of the reforms will toughen the sentences for low-risk offenders, with low rates of recividism. They won’t make children safer, but will cost five times more than what is being invested in Child Advocacy Centres that support abused children.

    While the Commons Committee is rushing through Bill C-10, the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee is reviewing Bill C-46, which was passed in 1997 to protect the private records of sexual assault complainants. The Committee heard evidence that over 80% of victims do not report to the police. Bill C-10 doesn’t offer much for these women beyond eliminating most conditional sentences for sexual assault, and does nothing to help the four out of five victims who stay silent.

    There is no evidence that women are not reporting because sentencing is too low. In a Department of Justice Study, female sexual assault victims were asked what they would do to fix the system and few said toughen sentencing. Most said stop blaming the victim, provide women with more support, invest in more prevention. A few even talked about treatment for offenders and centres for men who were victimized as children.

    None of that will be accomplished by this bill.

    The government’s claims of what Bill C-10 will do for victims are more rhetoric than reality. It will not help the woman who is being terrorized in her home. It will not build one more Child Advocacy Centre to support abused children. It will not make the decisions of at-risk youth any easier and it won’t give more support to victims of sexual assault.

    Canadians are not wrong to want to see the perpeptrators of violent crimes punished for their deeds. But it is hard to argue with the evidence of Jamie Chaffe, from the Canadian Crown Attorney’s Association, who has warned MPs that the justice system cannot handle the increased workload of this bill and the ones before it. In Ontario, for example, Crowns can already only go to trial for 7-8% of all cases. The remainder must be dealt with through non-judicial diversion programs, plea bargains or simply dropped charges. Adding to the workload of our prosecutors and judges will only result in more cases being dealt with in these ways.

    There is no evidence that the billions the governments are going to spend on this crime agenda will enhance justice for victims of crime. The Conservatives need to consider the implications of their proposed bill, and ask themselves if they’re truly willing to put the needs of victims first.

    Steve Sullivan has been an advocate for victims of crime for almost two decades, and was the first federal ombudsman for victims of crime. He is currently executive director of Ottawa Victim Services.


  8. Stop Harper's cruel crime bill

    In days, Harper will try to push through a crime law that could drastically raise our taxes and dole out harsher punishments for pot smokers than pedophiles -- but Quebec and Ontario have refused to pay for the bad law. Together, we can stand with them and call on every province to ditch the crime bill and protect Canadians from useless expenses.

    Crime rates in Canada have been falling steadily for over a decade yet Harper insists on spending our money to lock up our most vulnerable citizens like youth and aboriginals. Spending billions on bad crime laws means that our taxes will rise or valuable social programs like Employment Insurance will be cut. Quebec and Ontario have already said they won’t pay and now we can sign this petition telling our Premiers to join them in protecting us from this bill.

    Texas blew billions on a crime fighting system that didn’t work and now Harper wants to do the same in Canada -- but we can still stop him. Let's ditch the crime bill by signing this petition calling on our Premiers to stand with Quebec, Ontario and Canadian taxpayers. Click below to be heard and forward to everyone:

    The total crime rate for serious offences fell by 19% between 2000 and 2010. The crime severity rate has fallen 6% since 1998, which means that Canadians commit fewer violent crimes like murders, attempted murders and serious assaults. There are also fewer brake-ins, car thefts, robberies and drunk driving charges -- still Harper wants to spend massive amounts of our money locking up more Canadians. Creating mandatory minimum sentences for marijuana smokers and putting kids who make mistakes behind bars is not the way to make Canada a better place. Join the call to show Harper that we’d rather invest in social programs that really help Canadians.

    Virtually all major authorities have questioned this approach to stopping crime: Texas, Ontario and Quebec, the Canadian Bar Association, Academics, think tanks, even a Conservative Senator. We’ve seen this approach fail in multiple US states but Harper remains dead-set on wasting our money on a law that will create more criminals.

    Sign this petition:


    Texas conservatives reject Harper's crime plan

    Quebec balks at Ottawa’s law-and-order agenda

    Quebec will refuse to pay for omnibus crime bill

    The true costs of ‘truth in sentencing'

    Crime bill penalizes logic

    Kevin Libin: Provinces will pay dearly for Tory crime bill

    NDP blasts dismal response rate as Tories cut EI call centres

    Crime bill unfairly targets women, aboriginals, critics say

    “Bill C-10 will guarantee that aboriginal women remain in prison for longer"

    Police-reported crime statistics

    Fact Sheet for Police-Reported Crime Statistics In Canada

  9. Harper's Plan to Dismantle Canada's Safety Nets,

    By Murray Dobbin, TheTyee.ca November 7, 2011

    The Harper government's announcement that it will change the laws regarding capital gains taxes to encourage more charitable giving strikes an ominous note for the country's political culture. Harper is mimicking -- through tax incentives -- the Conservatives in Britain who are trying to pull the same trick with what they call the Big Society initiative: promoting the privatization of social services through increased private giving. Both efforts smack of social engineering from the right. When Harper stated that we would not recognize the country after he was through, this is in part what he was talking about.

    Ideology is meaning in the service of power, and the Conservative government, libertarian to its core, intends to create the appearance of an increasingly volunteer society as it systematically guts the social and cultural role of government. Harper hopes to justify massive cuts to programs (and in general the role of the federal government period) by shifting responsibility to charities and foundations. This is the Americanization of Canada -- remaking the country in the image of the minimalist government that the U.S. has experienced for decades. The problem is that there is very weak tradition of foundations and corporate giving in this country, so it has to be engineered, too.

    The notion of social engineering was one of the most popular concepts on the political right in the past (when it was out of power). The phrase is intended to describe a process by which liberals and the left (read the Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc/PQ) "engineer" society -- that is, set out to remake it by implementing government programs, intervening in the economy, and redistributing wealth so that there is a measure of economic equality (in a capitalist economic system defined by inequality). The implication is that these changes were undemocratic and thus illegitimate -- imposed by politicians, intellectuals and bureaucrats.

    Those shocked at how Harper can shamelessly implement an agenda completely at odds with the vast majority of the country need look no further than this notion of illegitimacy. For Harper and his political base it can all be dismantled because it was all an elite conspiracy in the first place. Yet right-wing social engineering is exactly what Stephen Harper intends with his program. Indeed, it is simply an extension of his policies implemented during his two minority terms. We are now a far more militarized culture than we were when he came to office four years ago with an aggressive "war-fighting" military. Our foreign policy is now in lock-step with that of the U.S., shamelessly serving corporations and aiming for the status of junior partner in an increasingly aggressive and desperate American empire.

    Harper's assault on the political culture has included concerted attacks on science, cultural organizations, human rights and women's groups and now the collective bargaining rights for public service workers. None of these actions were ever part of a campaign platform or, for the most part, even legislation; they are simply seen as a political imperative rooted in the core values driving the re-making of the country. This is true social engineering if by that term we mean the illegitimate remaking of Canadian political culture and governance. When all the social programs and the activist government that Stephen Harper seems to detest were implemented there was widespread public support for them. Governments were responding to social and labour movements pushing for these things: unemployment insurance, Medicare, subsidized university education, Family Allowances, public pensions, old age security. ...

    read the full article at:

  10. Income gap widening in Canada: OECD

    By Crawford Kilian, The Tyee December 5, 2011

    Income gaps in most OECD countries are at their widest in over 30 years, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. And the income gap in Canada has grown sharply since the mid-1990s.

    In Divided We Stand: Why Inequality Keeps Rising, a report released today, the OECD said:

    The income gap has risen even in traditionally egalitarian countries, such as Germany, Denmark and Sweden, from 5 to 1 in the 1980s to 6 to 1 today. The gap is 10 to 1 in Italy, Japan, Korea and the United Kingdom, and higher still, at 14 to 1 in Israel, Turkey and the United States.

    In Chile and Mexico, the incomes of the richest are still more than 25 times those of the poorest, the highest in the OECD, but have finally started dropping.

    Income inequality is much higher in some major emerging economies outside the OECD area. At 50 to 1, Brazil's income gap remains much higher than in many other countries, although it has been falling significantly over the past decade.

    In a two-page Country Note: Canada, the OECD notes that "Income inequality among working-age persons has been rising in Canada, particularly since the mid-1990s. According to the latest data, the level of inequality is above the OECD average but still below that of the US."

    The average income of the top 10% of Canadians in 2008 was 103 500 can $ (84 600 USD), 10 times higher than that of the bottom 10%, who had an average income of 10 260 can $ (8 400 USD). This is up from a ratio of 8 to 1 in the early 1990s.

    The rise in inequality was largely due to widening disparities in labor earnings between high and low-paid workers, but also to less redistribution. Taxes and benefits reduce inequality less in Canada than in most OECD countries.

    The richest 1% of Canadians saw their share of total income increase from 8.1% in 1980 to 13.3% in 2007 ... . Moreover, that of the richest 0.1% more than doubled, from 2% to 5.3%. At the same time, the top federal marginal income tax rates saw a marked decline: dropping from 43% in 1981 to 29% in 2010.

    ... In Canada, increased earnings inequality was also driven by a rise in self-employment, as on the whole the self-employed earn less than full-time workers. This explains more than one-quarter of the increase.

    Societal changes, such as more single parent families and people living alone, and people marrying within similar earnings classes, contributed little to inequality. At the same time, higher employment rates for women helped reduce household earnings inequality by around the same amount. The rising gap between men’s earnings remains the main driver, explaining more than 40% of the increase.

    Prior to the mid-1990s, the Canadian tax-benefit system was as effective as those in the Nordic countries in stabilising inequality, offsetting more than 70% of the rise in market income inequality. The effect of redistribution has declined since then: taxes and benefits only offset less than 40% of the rise in inequality.

    Among the OECD's recommendations for narrowing the gap:

    Investing in human capital is key. This must begin from early childhood ...


  11. Surely Harper Doesn't Want More Poor People. Or Does He?

    By Donald Gutstein, 11 January 2012, TheTyee.ca

    Is Stephen Harper's goal for Canada the United States of today?

    That would mean a nation in which somewhere between a half and a third of its citizens have fallen into poverty or are hovering just above, in low income. This according to latest data released by the U.S. Census Bureau. Meanwhile, 400 Americans are worth more than $1 billion.

    And the divide will likely worsen, as Congress and Republican-controlled state legislatures continue slashing programs and benefits, firing workers, and further weakening health, safety and environmental protections to make the rich richer and the poor poorer, if that is even possible.

    But rather than face the grim reality of a collapsing American society, conservatives question whether people classified as poor by the Census Bureau are really that poor. Are they actually suffering material hardship? asks Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation based in Washington, D.C. Social safety-net programs have gone too far, Rector claims, citing poor people who live in decent-size homes, drive cars and own wide-screen TVs. Why should they get help from taxpayers?

    This analysis comes from an organization in which 72 executives and staff members each earned over $100,000 in 2009, with president Ed Feulner taking home $921,000 and executive vice-president Phillip Truluck $557,000.

    Rector is considered the "intellectual godfather of welfare reform" for his role in crafting the 1996 federal welfare legislation which ended "welfare as we know it" -- signed by Bill Clinton -- and created a permanent underclass of Americans available for low-paid, dirty work.

    While income for the rich was soaring, Rector ensured that income for the poor would be depressed even further.

    Having a large pool of low-income workers is exactly what Heritage Foundation folk want. It's what makes the market work, they say.

    People are poor because they deserve to be poor. Otherwise they'd be rich like us.

    Fraser Institute's cry for 'economic freedom'

    Here in Canada, the Fraser Institute and its radical conservative allies sing from the same songbook. We need vast disparities in wealth and income so the market can work better. Social programs that lessen inequality just get in the market's way.

    As the Fraser Institute's Niels Veldhuis observed, "taking money from successful Canadians and redistributing it to lower income Canadians will only decrease the incentives for lower income Canadians to become successful."

    Veldhuis himself must be counted as a successful Canadian -- and why should he deprive the poor of their opportunity to become successful like him? But with a 2010 paycheque of $168,836, Veldhuis still has a ways to go before he's really successful and safely ensconced within the one per cent.

    (Statistics Canada doesn't publish data on the income necessary to be included in the top one per cent, but this figure has been estimated at just over $200,000 for 2009.)

    Veldhuis and his colleagues have fought mightily to forestall efforts to raise the living standards of the less well off, most notably the minimum wage, the living wage, and unionization. These are policies which, according the institute, impede economic freedom, the right of individuals to choose for themselves and to engage in voluntary transactions.

    Minimum wage laws and the right to be represented by a union infringe on the economic freedom of employers and employees, they say. Having a legislated minimum wage must inhibit a prospective employee's freedom to choose an even lower wage.

    If a country has minimum wage laws and a high degree of unionization, it's not going to do well on the Fraser Institute's Index of Economic Freedom.

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    Be more like Hong Kong?

    Other indicators the institute says increase economic freedom are deregulation, unfettered free trade, low taxes, privatization, and minimal government spending -- the usual suspects.

    As expected, Hong Kong, with the highest level of poverty in Asia and the most billionaires per capita in the world, leads the parade of the economically free. Canada ranks sixth, up from seventh in 2010.

    Harper has been a staunch advocate of neoliberalism and economic freedom since he was a graduate student at the University of Calgary in the 1980s.

    The importance of the economic freedom project to the Harper government was revealed when the Fraser Institute released its 2010 list. This occurred at a Fraser Institute lunch-hour policy briefing at Ottawa's Rideau Club with guest speaker Peter Van Loan, Harper's then minister of international trade, who was busy working on the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the European Union.

    Van Loan applauded his government's "commitment to free trade, open investment rules and lower taxes." Free trade is key to economic recovery, he declared. "In Canada, prosperity and quality of life are dependent on trade with the world."

    He did not mention that Canada's income gap is widening faster than in the United States.

    But he reminded his audience of the "fierce debates about North American free trade and the voices from the fringe telling us that it would somehow erode our sovereignty." Van Loan declared that "we need to continue building a broad base of support for the importance of a competitive, globally engaged Canadian economy of the future." He ended with an invitation: "So let's work together to continue convincing Canadians... of the importance of economic freedom."

    And as Canada's standing on the economic freedom index rises, so do the number of billionaires and the ranks of the poor and struggling.


  13. B.C. income gap getting worse

    Province has the biggest gap between top and bottom 20 per cent in Canada

    CBC News January 31, 2012

    A new report [ http://www.cbc.ca/bc/news/bc-120130-bcstats-infoline-income-gap.pdf ] echoes what Occupy protestors across B.C. were saying last year — there's a growing gap in the province between rich and poor.

    And the report does not come from a left-leaning organization, but from BC Stats, the agency that crunches numbers for the provincial government.

    In its weekly Infoline report, dated Friday, the BC Stats report cites two measurements of inequality in 2009.

    The first measurement looks at household income and found that B.C. is second only to Alberta as having the greatest inequality of any province.

    In the second measurement, B.C. ranked dead last, having the biggest gap between the top and bottom 20 per cent of income earners.

    The report notes that the gap has increased since the early 1990s and that other provinces have had more success redistributing income through taxes and benefits.

    The report is frank in framing the situation vis-a-vis the Occupy movement.

    “Given the size and vehemence of the Occupy protests, one would suspect that the current income gap is too large," it says.

    B.C. NDP leader Adrian Dix said the report corroborates his comments over the past year.

    “With this report and all the other reports we've seen, it becomes harder and harder for the Liberal party to create the fiction that inequality is not growing in this province when clearly inequality is growing in dramatic ways,” he said.

    Dix said it's disturbing that the gap between rich and poor is growing, but he's glad BC Stats is now underlining that fact.


  14. No Canadian government has ever been cited for contempt before.

    The Washington Post
    By Associated Press, Monday, March 21, 2011

    This week, a parliamentary committee slapped the government with the first contempt ruling in Canada’s history...



  15. Harper is not a true Christian. Anyone can call themselves a Christian, go to church, read the book, and wear a cross.
    True Christians, those with unhardened hearts cry for the weak amongst us and will do everything and anything within their power to help those that need it.
    A true Christian is a Christian that would give the clothes of their backs to those that need it most.
    A true Christian wouldn't worry about the car they are driving, the clothes they are wearing, or how much money they have in their bank account.
    In fact a true Christian would have $0 saved because what they have is what God gives them to not only survive on but also to share with those in need. A true Christian doesn't need savings accounts, RRSP's or $110k+ salary. A true Christian trusts God with all their heart and soul.
    A true Christian is one that has been touched by the hand of God in a way that goes completely contrary to what the rest of the world is doing.
    So the day Harper shows up to work in Tip Top for Men,driving a Toyota Corrola or taking the bus even, bringing home made lunch and standing in the House of Commons and declaring that he is cutting his pay to $50 thousand a year, that will be the day that you will know Harper is a true Christian, until that day, Harper is a Pharisee, a wolf in sheep's clothing.
    And for publicly declaring himself a Christian, and doing the things he is doing to eliminate programs for the poor and looking out for the best interests of the rich and big business, Harper will meet his maker. God doesn't like it when those in position of power like pastors use His word to do harm.

  16. Warrior Nation, Canada's New Brand

    TheTyee.ca August 11, 2012

    [Tyee Editor's note: This is excerpted with permission from Warrior Nation: Rebranding Canada in an Age of Anxiety by Ian McKay and Jamie Swift, published by Between the Lines.]

    In 2007 J.L. Granatstein, the doyen of the new warrior historians, brought out a new book, Whose War Is It? How Canada Can Survive in the Post 9/11 World. Another title for the book might be Warrior Nation for Dummies. The retired academic had become so popular with dial-a-quote journalists that the CBC's Peter Mansbridge even called him "Canada's national historian."

    For Granatstein, to be a Canadian is to understand that the Canadian past was basically about war. The present? The country confronts grave, even existential, threats. Granatstein does not present these ideas as being open to debate. They are absolute certainties. "The simple fact is...." And the simple fact is, in the Warrior Nation, that only fools, knaves and romantics can miss the dire necessity of massive military investment in a looming war for Western civilization. To think otherwise is to confess to ignorance and to countenance error. To argue with this thinking is to indulge in public mischief. Even people whom one might have thought to be conversant with foreign and defence policy, Liberals such as former cabinet ministers Lloyd Axworthy or Bill Graham (the latter being as much as anyone responsible for Canada's blunder into Kandahar) are ignorant. They are self-deluded proponents of a false view of history, propounders of "moralizing" views that are just "naive foolishness" and "nonsense," often anti-American purveyors of "a poison afflicting the Canadian body politic." One can but imagine new warrior reactions to Linda McQuaig's analysis of Canada's aggressive military posturing. In her book published around the same time that Granatstein came out with Whose War Is It?, the radical journalist offered a suggestive title -- Holding the Bully's Coat: Canada and the U.S. Empire.

    For Granatstein, perhaps the poison-purveyors' most odious nest can be found in "deeply pacifist and anti-military Quebec." For him, in 2003, the province played a damaging role in preventing Canada from invading Iraq beside its U.S.-led allies. Here was an abdication of our true national interests, first and foremost among which is the maintenance of good relations with the United States. Perhaps a future prime minister -- or even the one elected while Granatstein was writing his book -- would finally level with the child-like Canadians who cling to romantic dreams of a peaceful world. The author of hand-wringing books about the sad demise of old-fashioned history and a stalwart military imagines what such a valiant leader might tell Canadians: "Canada has a dominant cultural pattern comprising Judeo-Christian ethics, the progressive spirit of the Enlightenment, and the institutions and values of British political culture." Such a valiant Caesar would realize that "He is in a war for the soul and survival" of the country, against all who oppose these ideals.

    Granatstein and others have since the 1990s been attempting, recently with Ottawa's active assistance, to right what they consider to be grievous wrongs. This essentially revanchist struggle pits itself against ideological foes in a fight for the Canadian imagination. A revanchist is someone who wants to reverse war-induced losses, often through further warfare; and revanchism in this case applies to the militarist historians who are attacking not just their professional rivals but those forces that they think their rivals represent -- naive and romantic tendencies excessively wedded to the ideals of peacekeeping.

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    What truly distinguishes this right-wing current from any we have seen since the Great War of 1914–18 is the extent to which the new warrior campaign is working in tandem with the state's propaganda apparatus to institute a new regime of truth.

    Military spending beyond Cold War level

    Even as Canada awaited the final bill for Afghanistan, the Harper regime announced a further bold new projection of Canadian power on the world stage: the creation of new military fixtures overseas, to defend the "national interest." As of June 2011, the Canadian military was engaged in talks "to establish a permanent presence in up to seven foreign countries ... marking the first time since the end of the Cold War that Canada has aimed to expand its military reach around the globe." Under the "Operational Support Hubs Network" concept, Canadian facilities may be established in Senegal, South Korea, Kenya, Singapore, Jamaica, Germany and Kuwait. In the view of David Bercuson, in his capacity as the "senior research fellow" of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, the aim is to establish "forward supply depots" near "parts of the world where Canadian Forces may be deployed in future." (Senegal should prove handy for Canadians fighting for multinational claims to Africa's oil.) Undeterred by the mixed record of a similar venture in the Middle East, surreptitiously conceived, expensively maintained and now embarrassingly concluded, the government was, then, contemplating the establishment of Canadian operations in many of the world's hot spots. Perhaps, in homage to both William Stairs and George Orwell, one of these bases could be named "Fort Peace." Although doing its bit at "force projection," Canada will never approach what Andrew Bacevich describes as an "empire of bases." The U.S. government maintains some 300,000 troops at 761 "sites" in at least 40 foreign lands.

    Establishing foreign toeholds is just part of a colossal buildup of Canadian defence spending, which began under the Liberal administration of Paul Martin. Harper not only agreed to fulfil the outgoing government's promise to increase defence spending by over $12.8 billion over five years, but committed an additional $5.3 billion to an unprecedented increase in the military budget. Under Harper, Canadian military spending attained its highest level since 1945, exceeding even the levels attained in the Cold War. The $492-billion Canada First Defence Strategy: A Modern Military for the Twenty-First Century (CFDS), first introduced in 2008, linked vastly enhanced military spending to an increasingly abstract notion of "Canadian values."

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    In all of this Canada is simply taking advantage of a continental arms bonanza after decades of modestly diverging from that stream. By 2009 the U.S. military budget was seven times as high as that of its nearest competitor, China; its military spending was roughly equal to that of the entire rest of the world combined. It has long been the world's biggest arms dealer. But the Canadian war machine itself is not inconsiderable. Although in both the United States and Canada it is difficult to obtain an exact account of military expenditures, one estimate pegged Canadian military spending at just over $21 billion in 2009. In that year Canada ranked thirteenth in the world for its military spending -- the sixth highest in NATO.

    As Zefra so excitedly suggested, the new world of permanent war entails elaborate and wonderfully expensive networks, an entire hidden economy flourishing largely outside the purview of the public. The new-style wars are neither declared nor officially terminated. The battlefields are often no longer even identifiable places. In the new forms of "Network-Centric Warfare," in the words of U.S. Vice Admiral Arthur Cebrowski, victory will go to the side with the best "total information awareness." The wars following this new model will unfold within a world "in which communication systems, modes of production and transportation systems function as vectors redirecting war from the battlefield to the scientific and the military economy." Fighting the new wars will be a job for civilians, perhaps as much as, or even more than, it is a job for professional service men and women. WikiLeaks disclosures revealed that about 600 "civilian" organizations in the United States have joined in the planning and execution of war.

    Iraq and now Afghanistan have introduced the world to a form of war not generally seen for two centuries: the mercenaries' war, fought by subcontractors and retailers pursuing profit wherever they can find it. Henceforth, the Anglosphere's exploits will be necessarily accompanied by such emblems of Western superiority as Tim Hortons, Pizza Pizza and Subway, in addition to a host of more militarized firms such as Blackwater, since rebranded "Academi." The for-profit War on Terror, Naomi Klein points out, signals the arrival of a new "disaster capitalism complex," one with more far-reaching tentacles than the military-industrial complex denounced by Eisenhower: "This is global war fought on every level by private companies whose involvement is paid for with public money, with the unending mandate of protecting the United States homeland in perpetuity while eliminating all 'evil' abroad."

    This perpetual war economy, already extraordinarily expensive, will become more and more burdensome. "Redistributive militarism" entails increases in war spending along with tax cuts for the wealthy. Peace activist Matthew Behrens notes: "Slightly more than $63 million a day is spent on Canada's war machine. That's the daily equivalent of 420 affordable housing units or 3,000 four-year full-tuition grants for university students. Over the course of a month, that's 13,000 affordable housing units and 90,000 students going to university without massive debt load." The welfare state is starved so that the warfare state might thrive. Canada as Warrior Nation means a stance of permanent aggression. It also signifies a hard, competitive society in which the weak go to the wall. We all become warriors -- in a permanent struggle against each other.


  19. Canada's anti-democratic, anti-science, dogmatic, evangelical Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made himself the 'enemy' of Canadian citizens by his ideological policies and has become so paranoid and afraid that he needs the RCMP to keep even peaceful citizens far away from him.


    How a canoeist got frisked for stumbling into Harper’s picnic


  20. One thing I did not cover in the article above regarding Prime Minister Stephen Harper is his reactionary, militaristic bent. He has returned the 'Royal' designation to the military, and he is willing to spend billions of dollars on war machines while millions of Canadian citizens and their children live in dire poverty. However, at the same time he and his Ministers, such as Peter Mackay, love to boost their image with macho photos riding tanks and such, there are many homeless, poor and seriously ill veterans, who are being denied benefits and neglected by the Harper government. It is our national, royal shame. see: http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1142022--tim-harper-rob-anders-the-latest-injustice-for-canadian-veterans


    Soldier's mother agonizes over suicide video viewing

    The Canadian Press September 3, 2012

    Sheila Fynes couldn't sleep most nights this summer, wondering whether she made the right decision in allowing a public inquiry to view a 34-minute military police video of her son's lifeless body hanging from a chin-up bar in his barracks.

    The graphic, disturbing images of Cpl. Stuart Langridge, were never released to the news media, but the commission investigating the military's handling of his suicide played it in public, as part of a series of hearings last spring.

    His mother and stepfather, Shaun Fynes, wrestled with the question of showing the video almost up until the day it was played.

    "There are times when I think I've shared the most personal thing about Stuart's life and I hope, ... I hope it wasn't for nothing," said Sheila Fynes in an interview with The Canadian Press from her Victoria home.

    Langridge hanged himself on March 15, 2008, and his body was left in place for four hours while investigators documented and searched through everything in the room.

    The video sometimes zoomed in on his head and face. Federal lawyers representing the Defence Department argued in advance that if the video were to be shown, it would have to be in its entirety.

    Sheila Fynes said that "at first, we said: No, we don't want anybody ever to see that."

    "But then (after) discussions with our lawyer (and) between ourselves, we decided there would be no better way for the chair to understand our allegation of the total disrespect shown to Stuart in his death, than for him to see it."

    After a pause, she added: "Was it the right decision? It keeps me awake at night."

    Neither Sheila Fynes nor her husband were present when the video was played for the commission.

    The Military Police Complaints Commission hearing into the Afghan vet's death resumes Wednesday, with testimony from Shaun Fynes.

    In the coming weeks, the commission will put under the microscope not only the Defence Department's handling of the Langridge case, but also how it copes with soldiers suffering from mental illness and post-traumatic stress.

    The inquiry also poses a political problem for the Harper government with Defence Minister Peter MacKay's refusal to hand over some internal documents to the military watchdog. That decision echoes a bruising fight with the commission previously over records relating to the treatment of Afghan prisoners.

    The Defence Department refutes the claim Langridge suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, following a stint in Afghanistan. The doctor who made the diagnosis is soon to testify, along with military police investigators that are the subject of the complaint.

    Langridge's family accuses members of the National Investigative Service of conducting an inadequate, biased investigation aimed at exonerating the Canadian Forces.

    Sheila Fynes says the coming set of hearings "will get to the heart of the matter."

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  21. continued from previous comment...

    Thus far, testimony from the military contends that Langridge, who also served a tour in Bosnia, was a troubled young man with an addiction to alcohol and cocaine. One expert witness traced the problems as far back as Sheila Fynes' divorce from her son's father.

    The military withheld Langridge's suicide note from his family for 14 months, something for which it has apologized.

    Yet a jumble of contradictions and missteps were exposed in testimony last spring.

    At first, it was claimed Langridge had been under a "suicide watch" prior to his death. But a fellow soldier who attended him refused to describe it that way, saying it was only "a watch."

    Witnesses also testified that the military consulted the family about the formulation of policy for dealing with loved ones, something Sheila Fynes angrily denies.

    "What has surprised me the most is the levels Justice (department) lawyers have gone to try and paint a very damning picture of our son. And some of the things that have been said by witnesses are so contradictory, and some of the things are just plain, flat-out, vile lies," she said.

    Just as the hearings recessed in June, complaints commission chair Glenn Stannard asked for partial access to documents that relate to the Langridge case but were written after military police investigators had been in touch with Defence Department lawyers.

    MacKay, in a terse response, refused the plea and told the chairman not to talk to contact him again directly, but instead go through Justice Department lawyers.

    That has galvanized one veterans group, which released a letter to MacKay demanding he waive solicitor-client privilege.

    "I was quite disillusioned when reading your letter of response, Minister MacKay, not only from a sense of empathy for the Fynes family but to those military policemen who have been accused, our brothers in arms who have been subject to great stress and long-term concerns about potential disciplinary-career consequences," wrote Mike Blais, president of Canadian Veterans Advocacy.

    "You have an obligation to those that serve, sir, an obligation to accord to those who have been accused the opportunity to defend themselves with the full truth."


  22. Harper, honoured in N.Y. as statesman of the year, aims to snub UN

    CAMPBELL CLARK, The Globe and Mail September 11, 2012

    Stephen Harper will go to New York this month to accept an award for statesmanship – but will snub the United Nations while he’s there.

    The Appeal of Conscience Foundation, an international organization founded by New York rabbi Arthur Schneier, has picked Mr. Harper as its World Statesman of the Year for 2012. He joins a list of past recipients – also deemed promoters of human rights and freedom – that includes Jean Chrétien, Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel and, most recently, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.

    The presentation of the award to Mr. Harper is likely to spark debate at home, where his critics and admirers will face off over whether the Conservative Prime Minister ranks as a global statesman.

    Mr. Harper’s critics have argued he lost a bid for the UN Security Council, has overemphasized the military and shifted Canada to a one-sided support of Israel. His supporters will contend he has taken strong stands – and his position on Israel was cited by the ACF’s founder as one reason he will be recognized with the award.

    The timing of the award ceremony, during the week when world leaders descend on New York to address the annual opening of the UN General Assembly, underlines Mr. Harper’s distaste for the multilateral diplomatic forum. Prime ministers were offered UN speaking slots on Sept. 27 – the very day Mr. Harper will accept the award in New York – but Mr. Harper chose to skip the UN. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird will speak for Canada, but, as a mere minister, is relegated to the following week.

    The soirée where Mr. Harper will be feted typically features luminaries drawn from the social and political elite of New York and the foreign-policy world. Former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger will present the award to Mr. Harper. The audience will likely include former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, a member of the ACF’s board, and possibly former U.S. president Bill Clinton, its honorary chair.

    Mr. Schneier, long involved in interfaith initiatives with Christian leaders, co-founded the ACF in 1965 to promote religious and human rights – notably, at that time, in the Soviet Union.

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    He said Mr. Harper’s promise to open an Office of Religious Freedom in Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs drew the notice of the ACF. (The office is slated to open later this year.) He said Mr. Harper’s staunch support of Israel and vocal criticism of Iran were also significant factors in the foundation’s decision to honour him.

    “We’re not one issue. However, this [is] a significant issue – the Middle East and Iran today. His stand, I think, is basically one of conviction. That Israel is an outpost of democracy, and he supports democracies,” Mr. Schneier said. At a meeting last week, Mr. Schneier was impressed by the Prime Minister’s “unambiguous” views.

    “I met the man for the first time face-to-face, and I must say that he impressed me as a man who has a vision and doesn’t veer,” he said.

    That isn’t always a characteristic Mr. Harper’s critics appreciate. By coincidence, the award was announced just a few days after his government cut off diplomatic ties with Iran – and even when it comes to dealing with a pariah regime, his opponents have accused him of going too far.

    Perhaps most pointedly, his disaffection for the UN is demonstrated by his willingness to fly to New York during the so-called UN week to meet other world leaders without agreeing to speak to the General Assembly.

    Mr. Harper has only addressed the General Assembly twice in his nearly seven years in power. The last time was in 2010, when he was campaigning for Canada to obtain a seat on the UN Security Council for 2011 and 2012, a period when the Security Council has debated intervention in Libya, came to a stalemate over sanctions in Syria and grappled with Iran’s nuclear program.


  24. PSAC Peoples Court convicts politicians for crimes against ordinary Canadians

    BY JOHN BONNAR rabble.ca SEPTEMBER 17, 2012

    On a cloudy Saturday afternoon, the mock trial of Stephen Harper, Dalton McGuinty, Rob Ford and Tim Hudak officially opened in front of the 361 University Avenue Courthouse in Toronto.

    The accused were charged with promoting anti-worker agendas and making sweeping cuts to vital public services.

    Organized by the Public Service Alliance of Canada - Ontario, the People's Court was part of PSAC's National Day of Action, one of many events that took place across Canada, against federal, provincial, and municipal austerity agendas.

    The prosecution argued that the accused gave away billions of dollars to the corporate sector with the expectation that it would use that money to create jobs. But the much anticipated job growth never materialized.

    Over 200 people, wearing t-shirts that said “We Are All Affected”, packed the courtroom on Saturday to listen to witness testimony.

    PSAC’s “We Are All Affected” campaign was launched to remind Canadians that government cuts to jobs will affect everyone who relies on public services.

    In his testimony, Raul Burbano of Common Frontiers said that if Canada signs new free trade agreements with other countries, the job losses for Canadians will be staggering.

    “This will be the loss of good paying union jobs across all sectors,” said Burbano.

    Following Burbano, PSAC’s Debbie Willet took the stand. She said that federal public service workers have been targeted by the Conservative government to reduce a deficit that workers didn’t create.

    “Departments have had their operating budgets slashed that will result in 35,000 lost jobs over the next few years,” said Willet.

    After Harper won a majority government, CUPW’s Cathy Kennedy said, “That’s when Canada Post stopped negotiating and moving backwards cause they knew they had an anti-worker government in power.”

    Shortly thereafter, the federal government brought in back-to-work legislation.

    Last week, the McGuinty government passed Bill 115. “The most radical piece of legislation we have seen,” said Fred Hahn, president CUPE Ontario.

    “More radical than even Stephen Harper at the federal level, it denies fundamental civil liberties to some 200,000 Ontario citizens.”

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    Andrea McCormack, 1st Vice President, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists - Ontario, testified about the devastating impact of the austerity agenda on racialized communities.

    “This so called austerity agenda is twice as dangerous to racialized communities,” said McCormack. “Communities that need the most supports will find it difficult to access them.”

    OCAP’s John Clarke described the austerity agenda as a means of solving the financial crisis on the backs of working and poor people.

    “This is an inhuman and brutal agenda,” said Clarke. “An attempt to use the poor as a battering ram to attack working people generally.”

    By driving down income support programs, said Clarke, people are forced into the lowest paying jobs.

    Toronto and York Region Labour Council president John Cartwright said corporate tax cuts are the reason that governments have to cut back on public services.

    “They have made choices that cost our revenue $14 billion every year,” said Cartwright. “These four are guilty of horrific acts against the best interest of all Canadians.”
    The defense argued that her clients were democratically elected on a platform of tax cuts.

    “But what they didn’t run on was a tax cut to corporations and then turn around and charge families new user fees which are in fact the same as tax increases,” said Cartwright.

    At the end of the day, the jury unanimously found Stephen Harper, Dalton McGuinty, Rob Ford and Tim Hudak guilty on all counts.

    The four men (and their defense lawyer) fought back tears Saturday after learning their fate. They were taken into custody and will be sentenced later this month.

    The prosecution will be seeking life sentences (preferably inside one of the new super jails being planned by the Conservatives) without eligibility for parole.

    In spite of overwhelming evidence, the four denied any wrongdoing and claimed the witnesses had created a bogus story against them.

    But the jury found the accused totally lacking in credibility.
    After the judge adjourned the court, the defense lawyer quickly disappeared, refusing to speak with any media.

    Later in the day, a warrant was issued for her arrest on charges of attempted jury tampering.


  26. Why a U.S.-style housing nightmare could hit Canada

    How Canada resembles a slow-motion replay of the American crash

    By Neil Macdonald, CBC News September 21, 2012

    An expatriate always thinks about going home. The longer the time abroad, the stranger the prospect of re-entry feels.

    But if you're a Canadian living abroad these days, the idea of returning home has become downright frightening. Stories are now routinely surfacing in the Canadian media suggesting collective madness when it comes to affordable living.

    Our biggest real estate markets — Toronto and Vancouver — seem to have decided they're really London and Manhattan. Several of our smaller cities are wildly optimistic, too, with year after year after year of six-, seven-, even 10-per-cent increases in property values.

    Friends and colleagues who own homes in Canada are the very pictures of smug. They seem convinced the markets in which they happily reside will keep rising forever. Or at the very least, never drop.

    And any discussion of the subject usually involves condescending lectures about how Americans, who are only beginning to recover from a six-year nightmare of foreclosures, could have used a dose of Canadian common sense and prudence.

    Well, I watched America's nightmare unfold, and it appears pretty evident to me that a sequel of some sort is coming to Canada.

    So I ran that thesis past Robert Shiller, of Yale University, probably the foremost authority on real estate in America. He co-founded the Case-Shiller Home Price Index and predicted the American collapse in 2005, a year before it happened.

    "I worry," he told me, "that what is happening in Canada is kind of a slow-motion version of what happened in the U.S."

    What Shiller was getting at — and what is most alarming to economists and to the Bank of Canada — is the debt Canadians are carrying.

    As was the case in America when I arrived here nine years ago, Canadians have for years been so desperate to avoid being left behind by a surging housing market that they've been stretching themselves beyond reasonable financial limits to jump in, thus of course ensuring continued surges.

    In the process, household debt has doubled, going from a manageable 75 per cent of household income in the early 1990s to 150 per cent today.

    That's just about exactly the nosebleed level Americans were at when everything imploded here in 2006.

    Worse, as the Bank of Canada has been pointing out, Canadian debt is disproportionately concentrated in the most vulnerable households, defined as those devoting 40 per cent or more of household income to paying interest charges.

    That means those households are extremely sensitive to any sort of shock — be it a rise in interest rates, a drop in home prices, or, worst of all, job loss.

    The central bank's analysis suggests that if interest rates rise to 4.25 by mid-2015, fully one fifth of all Canadian debt would be held by those households least able to finance it.

    "That is rather scary," says Don Drummond, a former federal mandarin who also spent many years as the chief economist of the TD Bank.

    Drummond says an interest rate of 4.25 by 2015 would not be out of the question, given the levels of economic stimulus in recent years. He also says the bubble in Canada is bursting right now.

    "My base case expectation would be that most markets in Canada over the next two years would see a pullback of housing prices of 10 to 15 per cent."

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  27. continued from previous comment...

    Now, both Shiller and Drummond are quick to say Canadians are not likely to experience the near-total meltdown Americans experienced.

    For one thing, Canadian banks never joined in the subprime-lending lunacy that inflated the American bubble to such extremes.

    For another, Canadian mortgages are insured by the federal government through Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corp.

    But Shiller says Canadians do seem to be suffering from the same delusion that afflicted Americans: the notion that housing prices always rise.

    He has studied data going back a century, and says that when you factor in inflation, and depreciation of the home's physical structure, "historically home prices haven't gone up. Real home prices were essentially unchanged over that interval."

    There are bursts of growth, as in the past 10 years in Canada, but historically they are offset by retreats.

    Shiller says real estate bubbles are nothing more than groupthink, and that they "always have their end built into them."

    "People are investing in real estate that is tough for their budgets because they think it will make them rich, and that can continue only as long as [prices] keep increasing.

    "When they stop increasing," he says, people back off, and the bubble then collapses. "So it has its own internal dynamic."

    Exactly when this groupthink changes course, says Shiller, is hard to pinpoint, but one sign is a flurry of media stories. Such as this one, I suppose. Not to mention the attention we are giving this subject on The National.

    Even though many of us in the media own homes ourselves — and have a self-interest in the market continuing to rise — there clearly comes a point when the subject begins to dominate public discussion.

    Shiller also points out that it was not the financial crisis that burst the American housing bubble. Rather, when the groupthink that caused the bubble turned, the market collapsed, and that in turn triggered the financial meltdown and the crisis among lenders.

    "The same sort of thing might well happen in Canada," Shiller told me.

    Canadians seem to think that stricter government regulation in Canada protects them. But they are in some ways more vulnerable than Americans.

    Americans at least have the option of lifetime payment stability. The gold standard here is the 25- or 30-year fixed mortgage. The interest rate can be locked in for the life of the loan.

    In Canada, most mortgages "renew" every few months, or years, and payments can spike by hundreds of dollars a month if rates rise even slightly.

    Americans also deduct interest payments from their taxable income. So many people get a big annual refund, which provides a financial cushion.

    If you take that tax refund into consideration, prices in Ottawa are now approaching or equal to prices in Washington, DC., a city steeped in wealth and power.

    Seen from this distance, by a longtime expat, that is just unmoored from reality.


  28. Evangelical Christians find a home in Conservative politics

    by JEFFREY SIMPSON, The Globe and Mail October 10 2012

    We in what is called the “mainstream” media tend to be secularists who either consider religion to be a private matter or have no religious faith at all. We tend therefore to minimize or miss the importance of religion in politics, especially Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party.

    A recent vote on a Conservative backbencher’s motion to let a Commons committee ponder when human life begins plunged the House of Commons briefly again into the question of abortion. More than half of the Conservative caucus, including eight cabinet ministers, voted for the motion, which presumably meant they wanted the country’s abortion laws and practices tightened.

    The Prime Minister had made it clear he did not favour the motion; indeed, he has said abortion law is settled. So, even if the matter had gone to committee, it would have died there, killed by NDP and Liberal MPs and Mr. Harper’s orders. Still, the abortion motion showed how powerful religion remains as a force in the Conservative Party. And it suited the party to have the motion debated, as a nod to its core supporters.

    Abortion can be divorced from religion. People without a religious bone in their bodies can have strong views on the matter. On the pro-life (or anti-abortion, if you prefer) side, however, are churches that campaign vigorously against abortion, and Conservative MPs and candidates who, far from the mainstream media spotlight, use their pro-life/anti-abortion views in and between election campaigns.

    The Roman Catholic Church is a well-known opponent of abortion, which does not mean all Catholics agree with their church. But the church has some influence on the issue.

    Of arguably greater influence are the evangelical Christian churches. They tend to be strongly pro-life and politically aggressive. Leading up to the Commons vote, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, which boasts two million members, was among the organizations that lobbied hard for the motion.

    Evangelical Christians – and this is of course a generalization – tend to live in rural and suburban areas, the Conservative heartland. They tend to have a black-and-white, good-and-evil view of religious doctrine and of the world in general, which fits rather nicely with how the Harper government sees the world.

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  29. continued from previous comment...

    Recent speeches by Mr. Harper and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird in New York were quite radical by the standards of traditional Canadian foreign policy, although their messages would be compatible with evangelical Christianity’s view of the world. In the speeches, they painted the world in good-guy/bad-guy terms, full of threats and dangers, whereas as Steven Pinker has shown in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature, we live in a time of remarkable peace and relative stability. None of the great powers threatens the others; none wishes to change boundaries.

    One threat is that of Islamic jihadism, a fringe group within Islam – albeit a dangerous one. A regional threat revolves around Israel’s position in the Middle East. The Harper Tories have become the world’s most unfettered supporters of the Netanyahu government, a position that is deeply popular with evangelical Christian doctrine. Outside Jews themselves, evangelicals tend to be Israel’s most uncritical supporters.

    Even the United Nations, which the Harper government detests and portrays as a nest of dictatorships and thugs, actually counts a strong majority of its members as democracies. As Freedom House in Washington has shown, democracies (some admittedly flawed) are now by far the majority of countries in the world. No matter. For the Harperites, the UN is best flayed and neglected, and the party base loves it.

    Evangelicals appear to be gaining adherents, while traditional Protestant denominations such as the United Church and the Anglican Church are losing members. The Social Gospelers who married social reform with religion and gravitated to the CCF and NDP – men such as Tommy Douglas, Stanley Knowles and, more recently, Bill Blaikie – are all but extinct in the modern NDP.

    Evangelicals’ support for the Conservatives is tremendously helpful in the form of financial contributions and votes. Only occasionally does their presence make itself felt, as in the abortion debate, usually without much direct effect. But indirectly, their view contributes to how the Conservatives see the world and act within it.


  30. Long-form census cancellation taking toll on StatsCan data

    The Canadian Press October 27, 2012

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper's cancellation of the long-form census has started to take a toll on Statistics Canada's data.

    The agency released its final tranche of the 2011 census last week, focusing on languages, but it included a big warning that cautions data users about comparing key facts against censuses of the past.

    "Data users are advised to exercise caution when evaluating trends related to mother tongue and home language that compare 2011 census data to those of previous censuses," Statistics Canada states bluntly in a box included in its census material.

    Those are strong words for a statistical agency, since they raise profound questions about how the data can be used reliably to come to conclusions about language trends. Officials have undertaken a thorough investigation, with a report to be published shortly.

    "There are a lot of questions and responses that don't seem to add up," said Doug Norris, the chief demographer for Environics Analytics and formerly a census manager at the agency.

    Statistics Canada analysts already know enough about the anomalies to suspect the cancellation of the long-form census in 2010, said Jean-Pierre Corbeil, the lead analyst for the languages part of the 2011 census.

    "The only answer we have at the moment ... (is) it's very likely that it is related to the changes in the questionnaire," he said in an interview.

    In the past, the language questions were mostly included in the long form, which went to 20 per cent of households. When Harper cancelled the long form, several groups concerned about tracking the vibrancy of French in Canada went to court to make sure information about official language usage was properly collected.

    As a result, the Harper government agreed to move the language questions to the short form, which went to 100 per cent of households.

    The problem was that the language questions in 2011 were presented in a different context than they were in 2006, explained Corbeil. In 2006, they were preceded by other questions about ethnicity and birthplace. Now, they appear suddenly after basic demographic questions.

    The context of the questions has changed dramatically, likely prompting people to answer the questions truthfully, but differently, Corbeil said.

    "We reviewed everything. Everything is really OK. The only thing is, we know that the responses we get are really influenced by the context and the placement in our questionnaires."

    The main problems arise in how respondents reported their mother tongue and the language they spoke at home. Based on what Statistics Canada knows about immigration, there were far too many people claiming to have two mother tongues -- an official language plus a non-official language -- and speak an official language plus another language at home.

    What first set off alarm bells for Corbeil was the proportion of people reporting English as a mother tongue. The raw data from the 2011 census told him it was 58 per cent. That was the same percentage as in 2006, but in the meantime, Canada had received about 1.1 million new immigrants.

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  31. continued from previous comment...

    And Citizenship and Immigration data, as well as Statistics Canada's own research, told him that 80 per cent of those immigrants did not have English or French as a mother tongue.

    If people had responded to the 2011 census in the same way as the 2006 census, the proportion of English-speakers "would have been lower," Corbeil said.

    He looked further and found more strangeness. Between 2001 and 2006, the census found there was an increase of 946,000 in the number of people who claimed a non-official language as a mother tongue. But between 2006 and 2011, that number dropped to 420,000.

    That's less than half the increase noted earlier in the decade, even though immigration levels continued to rise at the same rate.

    Normally, when Statistics Canada changes its methodology, it test-runs its new questions first, said Michael Wolfson, a former assistant chief statistician at the agency and now at the University of Ottawa.

    That way, they can tell exactly how people will respond to the new methods, and take any differences into account when they compare the new data to old information to look for trends, he said.

    But in the case of the census, Harper cancelled the long form with so little time before the next census that Statistics Canada did not have a chance to properly test-drive its new approach for the language questions.

    "The time just wasn't there to assess this," Wolfson said. "Here we have a last-minute monkeying around with the language question."

    As a result, Wolfson said, Statistics Canada is left with a "serious" problem on a sensitive part of the census.

    "Clearly there's a problem and the time-series consistency has been lost," he said.

    In an email statement, Corbeil agreed that there was not enough time to thoroughly test-drive the new placement of the language questions. But he says only parts of the data series are broken, not the whole thing.

    "We can't say, 'Don't use the data, they are not reliable.' The data are good. They are not fully comparable.... For the moment, that's all we can say. The data can still be used. We need to be cautious."

    The problem for users is that they don't know which data is good and which is not, Norris said.

    "Is this data a better picture of true linguistic use, or is the old picture better?" he asked. "Right now, we don't know."

    It's a worrisome sign of things to come, he added.

    "This is exactly the kind of problem we're going to have next year with the national household survey."

    That survey is meant to replace the long-form census, asking Canadians about immigration, citizenship, birthplace, ethnicity and work. But the survey is voluntary, unlike the short and long-form censuses.

    So Statistics Canada and data analysts alike have warned that the information it produces will not be completely comparable to information collected in censuses in the past.

    That survey doesn't start releasing new information until next year -- and the problems have already begun, Norris said.

    "I would be very reluctant to make any comparisons with the last censuses."


  32. Harpers Attack on Democracy, Itemized by Lawrence Martin

    Armine Yalnizyan April 27th, 2011


    Lawrence Martin, columnist with the Globe and Mail, has written the best review, so far, of Stephen Harper’s one-man show The Attack On Democracy.

    It’s a must-read on the record thus far, particularly by colleagues, friends and family members who might not much like Harper, but like the other options far less.

    One can only imagine where he might it next with sufficient popular support.

    Originally appearing on the pages of ipolitics, http://www.ipolitics.ca/2011/04/27/democracy-harper-style/
    it appears below in full.

    The descent of democracy: A country under one man’s thumb

    by Lawrence Martin Apr 27, 2011

    Can we still call this a parliamentary democracy? Or is it something more akin to a democracy of one?

    More and more, Stephen Harper’s critics are asking the question. There is a widespread view among political scientists and constitutional scholars that the prime minister, with his l’etat c’est moi methods, has brought Canadian democracy to new lows.

    Canadians themselves may be starting to feel that way. Pollster Angus Reid found this week that 62 per cent of Canadians surveyed described our democracy as being in a state of crisis. For the first time in many elections, democracy is a foremost issue.

    When Harper was not even two years into his stewardship, a study published in theInternational Political Science Review measured the degree of centralization of power in all parliamentary countries. Canada, the study concluded, was the worst.

    Much of our undemocratic condition was a result of the power hoarding of prime ministers who came before Harper, says Peter Russell, the University of Toronto professor emeritus who has studied prime ministerial power since the 1950s. But if our democratic health was bad then, Russell says, it’s now worse — much worse — after Harper’s five years in power.

    “Harper is on a course towards a very authoritarian populist government appealing over the heads of Parliament to the people with an enormous public-relations machine. The appeal is to the less educated and less sophisticated parts of society.” What is being fashioned, says Russell, is a presidential prime ministership without a powerful legislative branch to keep it in check.

    Lori Turnbull, who teaches political science at Dalhousie University and who is publishing a book on declining democracy, says the system with its loosely defined separation of powers relies on a prime minister acting in good faith. Mr. Harper can hardly be said to have done so, she said. In reference to abuses of power by the Conservative government, she said that “if you put together a list of what he’s done, it’s scary.” (See list below.)

    Harper cabinet member John Baird rejects such criticisms. “There was a book written about Prime Minister Chrétien, The Friendly Dictatorship,” he says. “People made the same charges about prime ministers Mulroney and Trudeau.”

    Conservatives say the portrayal of Harper as an autocrat are politically motivated — this though many of the same professors and journalists (this writer included) charting the plight of democracy today were highly critical of ethical corruption during the Chrétien years.

    During his time in office, Harper has been charged with denying Parliament its historic right to documents, shutting down the House, intimidating independent agencies, muzzling the bureaucracy, suppressing research, curbing the access to information system, and other transgressions.

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  33. In the election campaign, people have been barred from Conservative rallies, strict limits have been placed on questions form journalists, Tory candidates have been instructed to stay away from all-candidates debates in their ridings. Liberals and New Democrats say the controversy over the coalition issue is another example of Harper not being able to tolerate the rules of democracy.

    Democracy became an election issue after the prime minister was defeated on a confidence motion over contempt of Parliament. Though the Speaker of the Commons ruled there were legitimate grounds for the charges, Harper dismissed them as parliamentary squabbling.

    “Who does he think he is? The king, here?” asked Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff. During the televised debates he told Harper, “You are a man who will shut down anything you cannot control.”

    When Harper campaigned during the 2006 election, he made promises of a new era of openness and transparency to contrast a Liberal Party plagued by the sponsorship scandal. He brought in accountability legislation, which was applauded by such oversight groups as Democracy Watch for containing many impressive reforms. But a great number of the reforms, the watchdog group found, never saw the light of day.

    At the same time the Conservatives were making their accountability promises in the 2006 campaign, they were running a surreptitious money-shuffling operation that became known as the in-and-out affair. It allowed the party to spend more on its campaign advertising than Elections Canada permitted. Earlier this year, party operatives involved in the scheme, including former campaign manager Doug Finley, were charged with offences under election finance laws.

    The case for painting Harper as an anti-democrat stems from dozens of actions, catalogued below. They can be roughly divided into three categories: Treatment of the parliamentary process; degree of information control; intimidation of opponents.


    Prorogations of Parliament:
    Other governments have prorogued Parliament many times. But Harper’s prorogations were seen as more crassly motivated for political gain than others. His second prorogation, 16 months ago, brought thousands of demonstrators to the streets to decry his disregard for the democratic way.

    Contempt of Parliament:
    The demonstrations did not serve to elevate the prime minister’s respect for Parliament. He refused a House of Commons request to turn over documents on the Afghan detainees’ affair until forced to do so by the Speaker, who ruled he was in breach of parliamentary privilege. More recently, he refused to submit to a parliamentary request, this time on the costing of his programs. The unprecedented contempt of Parliament rulings followed.

    Scorn for parliamentary committees:
    Parliamentary committees play a central role in the system as a check on executive power. The Conservatives issued their committee heads a 200-page handbook on how to disrupt these committees, going so far as to say they should flee the premises if the going got tough. The prime minister also reneged on a promise to allow committees to select their own chairs. In another decision decried as anti-democratic, he issued an order dictating that staffers to cabinet ministers do not have to testify before committees.

    Challenging constitutional precepts:
    During the coalition crisis of 2008, Harper rejected the principle that says a government continues in office so long as it enjoys the confidence of the House of Commons. To the disbelief of those with a basic grasp of how the system works, he announced that opposition leader Stéphane Dion “does not have the right to take power without an election.”

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  34. Lapdogs as watchdogs:
    Jean Chrétien drew much criticism, but also much help for his cause, as a result of his installing a toothless ethics commissioner. The Harper Conservatives have upped the anti-democratic ante, putting in place watchdogs — an ethics commissioner, lobbying commissioner, and others — who are more like lapdogs.

    The foremost example was integrity commissioner Christiane Ouimet, who was pilloried in an inquiry by the auditor general. During her term of office, 227 whistleblowing allegations were brought before Ouimet. None was found to be of enough merit to require redress.

    The Prime Minister’s Office saw to it that she left her post quietly last fall with a $500,000 exit payment replete with a gag order.

    The Patronage Machine:
    To reduce checks on power it helps to have partisans in the right places. Harper initially surprised everyone with a good proposal to reduce the age-old practice of patronage. It was the creation of an independent public appointments commission. But after his first choice of chairman for the body was turned down by opposition parties, he abandoned, in an apparent fit of pique, the whole commission idea.

    Since that time he has become, like other PMs before, a patronage dispenser of no hesitation.

    One of the latest examples was the appointment of Tom Pentefountas as deputy chair of the CRTC. His only apparent qualification was his friendship with the PM’s director of communications. Mr. Harper also had good intentions on Senate reform but it, too, has remained a patronage pit. One of his first moves as PM, having long lashed out at the unelected body, was to elevate a senator, Michael Fortier, to his cabinet.

    Abuse of Process
    Another less noticed infringement of the democratic way came with the 2010 behemoth budget bill — 894 pages and 2,208 clauses. It contained many important measures, such as major changes to environmental assessment regulations, that had no business being in a budget bill. Previous governments hadn’t gone in for this type of budget-making, which is common in the United States. The opposition had reason to allege abuse of process.


    The vetting system:
    In an extraordinary move, judged by critics to be more befitting a one-party state, Harper ordered all government communications to be vetted by his office or the neighbouring Privy Council Office. Even the most harmless announcements (Parks Canada’s release on the mating season of the black bear, for example) required approval from the top.

    In most instances, forms known as Message Event Proposals had to make their way through a bureaucratic labyrinth of checks for approval.

    Never had Ottawa seen anything approaching this degree of control. In one of many examples a bureaucrat, Mark Tushingham from Environment Canada, was barred from giving a talk about his book on climate change — even though it was a work of fiction. The muzzling policy of the government extended to the military brass. It led to a split between the prime minister and Chief of the Defence Staff Rick Hillier.

    Public service brought to heel:
    In asserting his individual will in the nation’s capital, it is of central importance for the chief executive to have a compliant bureaucracy. Under Harper, who suspected the bureaucracy had a built-in Liberal bias, the public service was stripped of much of its policy development functions and reduced to the role of implementers.

    The giant bureaucracy and diplomatic corps chafed under the new system. Their expertise had been valued by previous governments. In the Harper democracy, it was shut up, don’t put up.

    As for independent agencies, the level of distrust was much the same. As part of her distant past, Nuclear Safety Commission head Linda Keen was seen to have Liberal affiliations. It was among the reasons she was unceremoniously dismissed.

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  35. Access to information:
    The government impeded the access to information system, one of the more important tools of democracy, to such an extent that the government’s information commissioner wondered whether the system would survive. Prohibitive measures included the elimination of giant data base called CAIRS, delaying responses to access requests, imposing prohibitive fees on requests, and putting pressure on bureaucrats to keep sensitive information hidden. In addition, the redacting or blacking out of documents that were released reached outlandish proportions. In one instance, the government blacked out portions of an already published biography of Barack Obama.

    Supression of research:
    Research, empirical evidence, erudition might normally be considered as central to the healthy functioning of democracies. The Conservatives challenged, sometimes openly, the notion.

    At the Justice Department they freely admitted they weren’t interested in what empirical research told them about some of their anti-crime measures. At Environment Canada, public input on climate change policy was dramatically reduced.

    In other instances, the government chose to camouflage evidence that ran counter to its intentions. A report of the Commissioner of Firearms saying police made good use of the gun registry was deliberately hidden beyond its statutory deadline, until after a vote on a private member’s bill on the gun registry.

    The most controversial measure involving suppression of research was the Harper move against the long-form census. In his democracy, critics alleged, knowledge was being devalued. The less the people knew, the easier it was to deceive them.

    Document tampering:
    It was the Bev Oda controversy involving the changing of a document on the question of aid to the church group Kairos that captured attention. But in Harperland, document tampering was by no means an isolated occurrence.

    During the election campaign it has been revealed that Conservative operatives twisted the words of Auditor General Sheila Fraser in order to try to deceive the public. They made it sound like she was crediting them with prudent spending when, in fact, what she actually wrote applauded the Liberals.

    As part of their vetting system, the Conservatives tried to institute a policy, until Fraser rebelled, whereby even her releases would be monitored by central command. The re-ordering of documents extended to the Harper economic-recovery program. The Conservatives got caught putting their own party logos on stimulus funding cheques, which were paid out of public purse. They were forced to cease the practice.

    Media curbs:
    Though having stated that information is the lifeblood of democracy, the prime minister went to unusual lengths to deter media access. He never held open season press conferences, wouldn’t inform the media of the timing of cabinet meetings, as was traditionally done, limited their access to the bureaucracy, and had his war room operatives, using false names, write online posts attacking journalists. In one uncelebrated incident in Charlottetown in 2007, the Conservatives sent in the police to remove reporters from a hotel lobby where they were trying to cover a party caucus meeting.


    Afghan detainees:
    As a reflection of the governing morality, the detainees’ file is one the Conservatives would hardly wish to showcase.

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  36. They attempted to tar the reputation of diplomat Richard Colvin, who contradicted their position. On the same file, they tried to deny Parliament its historic right to documents. On the same file, Defence Minister Gordon O’Connor got caught misleading the House, had to apologize, and later resigned. On the same file, the Conservatives terminated the work of Peter Tinsley, the Military Police Complaints Commissioner, whose inquiry was getting close to the bone. Tinsley’s commission was denied documents for reasons of national security — even though all his commission members had national security clearance. Lastly, it was this same file which played a large role in the prime minister’s decision to again prorogue Parliament.

    My way or the highway:
    The prime minister had once criticized Paul Martin’s Liberals, saying that when a government starts eliminating dissent, it loses its moral right to govern. In a variety of punitive ways, Harper moved against NGOs, independent agencies, watchdog groups, and tribunals who showed signs of differing with his intent.

    In some cases he fired their directors or stacked their boards with partisans. In others, he sued them or cut their funding. The targets of such tactics included the Rights and Democracy group, Elections Canada, Veterans’ Ombudsman Pat Stogran, Budget Officer Kevin Page and many more. His party’s smear tactics — sometimes resembling those of right-wing Republicans — included labelling the Liberal party anti-Israel, calling Dalton McGuinty the small man of Confederation, trying to link Liberal MP Navdeep Bains to terrorism, and calling for reprisals against academics such as the University Ottawa’s Michael Behiels for questioning their policies.

    Personal attack ads:
    Beginning when Stéphane Dion was elected Liberal leader, the Harper Conservatives became the most frequent deployer of personal attack ads — many of them blatantly dishonest — of any government. Before the Conservatives’ arrival, such ads were seldom, if ever, used in pre-writ periods. They made them a common practice.

    A democratic party?
    Though he came from the Reform Party, Harper, as his mentor Preston Manning once said, never showed much interest in power sharing. His Conservative Party has become a reflection of his command and control style. Tom Flanagan, Harper’s former strategic guru, helped the leader evolve the Tories into what Flanagan calls a garrison party. It basically exists, he said, to go to war against opponents, raise money, and bow at the leader’s feet.

    Helena Guergis, the excommunicated MP, is one of the latest to find out what one’s rights within the party amount to. Under Mr. Harper, the rank and file have had little say in policy formation. At the riding level, no dissonance with central command is tolerated. Last year, when constituents in Rob Anders’ Calgary riding tried to organize to contest his renomination, party operatives descended like a commando unit, seized control of the riding executive, and crushed the bid.

    Legal Threats:
    The Conservatives ran from accountability by running to the courts. No government has resorted to legal threats and challenges to intimidate opponents as much as this one.

    In the so called Cadman-gate affair, wherein the Conservatives were accused of trying to bribe independent MP Chuck Cadman for his vote, the party resorted to suing the Liberals. They went after Tom Zytaruk, who wrote a book on the affair, alleging Mr. Zytaruk’s tape of an interview with Harper was altered.

    The party sued Elections Canada in connection with the in-and-out affair and it is using legal channels to try to block information gathered by the Military Police Complaints Commission on the Afghan detainees’ affair.

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  37. In other cases, the Conservatives chose to circumvent their own laws. In the interest of making democracy fairer, Harper brought in a welcome measure — a fixed-date election law. PMs no longer had the advantage of setting election dates at their own choosing. But in 2008 Harper ignored his own law and went to the Governor General to call an election.

    The government’s perspective in democratic/legal rights area was illustrated when Harper went so far as to appeal a Canadian Federal Court decision asking the United States to repatriate the Canadian Omar Khadr from Guantanamo. Harper was reluctant to speak out against the judicial travesties at Gitmo. The Conservatives shut down the Court Challenges Program, which provided funding for Canadians to defend their Charter rights. They fought hard to deport Iraqi war resisters and they went to extremes to crush protests at the G-20 summit.


    The story of increased concentration of power in the prime minister’s office is one, as charted by Donald Savoie and other specialists, that has been ongoing for decades. But the experts are hard pressed to find another prime minister as obsessed with control as the current one.

    Chrétien was driven, at times, to authoritarian measures because of his longstanding bitter feud with Quebec separatists. They posed a challenge to him in his own riding, so he went to unusual lengths to secure support there. He bestowed on it largesse by the barrelful, leading to the Shawinigate controversy. At the province-wide level he was determined to ward off secessionist threats. Excesses in pursuit of that goal resulted in the sponsorship scandal.

    When he faced an internal rebellion in the party, led by Paul Martin, Chrétien sometimes resorted to extraordinary measures of control as well. And there were other heavy-handed tactics, as seen when Chrétien shut down the Somalia inquiry and used tactics to drown out protests at the APEC conference in Vancouver in 1997. But in day-to-day governance he delegated much power to his cabinet and the public service. He was never personally driven to try to control Ottawa like Harper.

    Lorraine Weinrib, a professor of law and political science, says Harper is intent to construct his own constitutional framework. His actions, she said, align with “an all-powerful executive that makes its own rules on a play-by-play basis.” Those actions “reveal an understanding of democratic engagement that barely tolerates the dispersal of power.”

    If a healthy democracy requires some degree of balance of power between the executive branch, the legislative branch and other power sources, there is little such balance today. The Harper effect has been to enfeeble the other constituent parts. The state of democracy now is such that the civil service is subjugated, the committee system weakened, watchdogs anemic, independent agencies intimidated, information less available, the prime minister’s own party in servitude, political parties soon — if Harper gets his way — to be stripped of public funding.

    Consultant Keith Beardsley who worked in the Harper PMO, said the initial plan in 2006, when the party was new to power and insecure, was to put the hammer down — exert maximum control — for about the first six months. The six months came and went, he said, but the hammer was never lifted.

    Critics fear it never will be, that we may just be seeing the beginning, that Harper will see an election victory as vindication for authoritarian methods and that more will follow.

    The remarkable thing, as professor Russell notes, in looking at the way this prime minister has overpowered the system, is that he has done it all with only a minority government. Even prime ministers with big majorities have never been able — if indeed it was ever their intent — to bring the system to heel to the extent of the minority man.


  38. Canada falling behind on poverty, inequality, says report

    CBC News February 4, 2013

    Canada isn't living up to its potential or its reputation when it comes to societal issues like poverty, government and inequality, according to the Conference Board of Canada.

    The group gave Canada a 'B', good for a 7th place ranking out of 17 developed countries, but it said the "middle-of-the-pack" ranking leaves room for improvement.

    Getting an 'A' at the top of the rankings were the Scandinavian nations (Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland) as well as the Netherlands and Austria. At the bottom were Japan and the U.S., both getting a 'D' ranking.

    Inequality was a major factor in Canada’s low ranking, according to the report. Canada ranked a 'C' on both income inequality and the gender income gap.

    Many studies have pointed to the rise of income inequality in Canada over the past 30 years. The top 10 per cent have seen their average income rise 34 per cent, while the bottom 10 per cent have seen their earnings rise just 11 per cent. The report says income inequality is cause for concern, especially in education.

    “Better education is a powerful way to achieve growth that benefits all,” writes Brenda Lafleur, the report’s author. But if the cost of education in Canada continues to rise, “it is very hard for the child of poor parents to do well.”

    However, Canada still maintains a great level of income mobility, ranking ‘A’. Compared to other countries, there isn’t a very strong relationship between a family’s economic background and how much their children can expect to earn.

    In Canada, just 19 per cent of a family’s disadvantage is passed on, while that is 47 per cent in the U.S. and 50 per cent in the U.K.

    Linked to inequality is Canada’s high poverty rate, which ranks among the worst of the 17 countries the report looks at.

    Canada’s child poverty rate is 15.1 per cent, up from 12.8 per cent in the mid-1990s, earning a ‘C’ ranking – only the U.S. ranked lower. Working-age poverty was 11.1 per cent, up from 9.4 per cent in the late 1990s – the ‘D’ ranking Canada received was the same as the U.S. and Japan.

    The Conference Board calls Canada’s rate of child poverty “unacceptable,” and says action needs to be taken.

    “Poor children do not eat well, do not learn well and have low chances of escaping poverty when they grow up,” Lafleur said.

    In reducing inequality and poverty, the report finds that the Canadian government has proven quite effective.

    The study notes that due to the tax system and transfers to the poor, income inequality is 27 per cent lower than it otherwise would be, and without government benefits and taxes, poverty rates would be 23 per cent, compared to the current 12 per cent.

    However, the political system didn’t get a free pass. Voter turnout and confidence in Parliament were both rated 'C'.

    Lafleur calls the report “myth-busting” of the idea of Canada as a “kinder, gentler nation,” saying that self-image is “based largely on a narrow Canada-U.S. comparison,” and that the U.S. ranked dead last among the 17 countries ranked.

    The report wasn’t without a few positive marks for Canada – the conference board highlighted acceptance of diversity and life satisfaction as strengths.

    Crime was also an area in which Canada was given good marks, with lower rates of homicides and burglaries than most of the other 17 countries.


  39. Could muzzling federal scientists be illegal?

    Canada's information commissioner being asked if policies break law

    CBC News February 20, 2013

    The Information Commissioner of Canada is being asked to investigate whether "federal government policy forcing scientists to jump through hoops before speaking with the media" breaches the Access to Information Act.

    The request was made as part of a complaint filed Wednesday by Democracy Watch, a non-profit organization that advocates for government accountability, and the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Clinic.

    "In sharp contrast to past Canadian practice and current U.S. Government practice, the federal government has recently made efforts to prevent the media and the general public from speaking to government scientists,” said Tyler Sommers, coordinator of Democracy Watch, in a statement.

    He noted that the scientists conduct research that is paid for by taxpayers who therefore have a right to learn the results.

    Calvin Sandborn, legal director of the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Clinic, said in a statement that "Canadians cannot make smart choices about critical issues such as climate change, oil sands development, and environmental protection if the public does not have full, timely access to the government’s best scientific knowledge on those issues.

    "This is why we’ve filed this complaint and why we are asking for a full investigation."

    Sommers said the groups believe that parts of the act being violated include those that:

    --State government information should be available to the public and necessary exceptions to the right of access should be limited and specific.

    --Specify that the government should provide "timely access" to records without regard to the identity of a person making the request.

    "We don't know how far-reaching the situation is," he added in an interview.

    While he thinks certain sections of the act are being violated, based on a limited investigation by Democracy Watch and the Environmental Law Clinic, he suggested that the information commissioner, "may be able to uncover much more" in a more thorough investigation and issue a clear interpretation on how the act should be applied.

    He added that the commissioner is currently reviewing Canada's access to information system in comparison to other countries worldwide, providing a good opportunity for such an investigation.

    continued in next comment...

  40. The groups allege in a newly-released 26-page report that "federal civil servants in Canada, and in particular, scientists, are being muzzled by the federal government:"

    --Directly, by not being allowed to speak to the media.

    --Indirectly, through bureaucratic procedures that delay approval to speak to the media – delays that are incompatible with journalists’ deadlines.

    The report also alleges that the government is “manipulating the release of government information” by:

    --Selecting which media inquiries to respond to.

    --Having communications employees craft “approved lines” or provide scripted answers for civil servants to deliver.

    --Using “subtle means of intimidation” when civil servants speak directly to the media, such as requiring an interview to be recorded or requiring a communications employee to sit in on the interview.

    The report examines communications policy changes and their consequences at Environment Canada, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Natural Resources Canada and the National Research Council and concludes that “there is a clear and significant trend showing that the federal government is closing off access to government information by tightly controlling and monitoring the release of government information to the public.”

    The report adds that it is "even more alarming" that the government has ignored international criticism "and seems intent on continuing down this path."

    The report was based on internal government documents previously released through freedom of information requests, along with conversations with current and former federal public servants, journalists, members of non-profit organizations, and professors at Canadian universities.


  41. Experience affects gene expression

    UBC Trek Magazine Fall/Winter 2012

    A joint study between UBC and the Centre for Molecular Medicine and Therapeutics (CMMT) has revealed that childhood poverty, stress as an adult, and demographics such as age, sex and ethnicity, all leave an imprint on an individual’s genes – an imprint that could play a role in our immune response.
    The study was published last week in a special volume of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that looks at how experiences beginning before birth and in subsequent years can affect the course of a person’s life.

    Known as epigenetics, or the study of changes in gene expression, this research examined a process called DNA methylation where a chemical molecule is added to DNA and acts like a dimmer on a light bulb switch, turning genes on or off or setting them somewhere in between. Research has demonstrated that an individual’s life experiences play a role in shaping DNA methylation patterns.

    The research team discovered that childhood poverty, but not socioeconomic status as an adult, was correlated with the marks or methylation patterns left on genes. “We found biological residue of early life poverty,” said Michael Kobor, an associate professor of medical genetics at UBC, whose CMMT lab at the Child & Family Research Institute led the research. “This was based on clear evidence that environmental influences correlate with epigenetic patterns.”

    The amount of stress hormones produced by adults was also linked with variations in DNA methylation, but Kobor says it is unknown whether increased stress as an adult could leave marks on DNA or whether the marks may play a role in the amount of stress hormones released.

    Kobor, a Mowafaghian Scholar at the Human Early Learning Partnership, and his colleagues also found that methylation patterns were predictive of future immune responses, suggesting that early life experiences could play a role in our response to illness later in life.


  42. Canadas federal librarians fear being muzzled


    Federal librarians and archivists who set foot in classrooms, attend conferences or speak up at public meetings on their own time are engaging in “high risk” activities, according to the new code of conduct at Library and Archives Canada.

    Given the dangers, the code says the department’s staff must clear such “personal” activities with their managers in advance to ensure there are no conflicts or “other risks to LAC.”

    The code, which stresses federal employees’ “duty of loyalty” to the “duly elected government,” also spells out how offenders can be reported.

    “It includes both a muzzle and a snitch line,” says James Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, which represents more than 68,000 teachers, librarians, researchers and academics across the country.

    He and others say the code is evidence the Harper government is silencing and undermining its professional staff.

    “Once you start picking on librarians and archivists, it’s pretty sad,” says Toni Samek, a professor of library and information studies at the University of Alberta. She specializes in intellectual freedom and describes several clauses in the code as “severe” and “outrageous.”

    The code is already having a “chilling” effect on federal archivists and librarians, who used to be encouraged to actively engage and interact with groups interested in everything from genealogy to preserving historical documents, says archivist Loryl MacDonald at the University of Toronto.

    “It is very disturbing and disconcerting to have included speaking at conferences and teaching as so-called ‘high risk’ activities,” says MacDonald, who is president of the Association of Canadian Archivists, a non-profit group representing some 600 archivists across the country.

    She says the association’s board will ask Daniel Caron, deputy head of Library and Archives Canada, for clarification about the code and its “harsh” wording.

    MacDonald says federal archivists are leaders in the field both nationally and internationally and have traditionally spent a lot of personal time on professional activities.

    They have served as editors for publications such as Archivaria, a widely cited journal, written about developments and issues in the archival world and led workshops for historical and genealogy groups.

    “Could someone from the LAC be on the editorial board of a journal that contains an article critical of LAC?” MacDonald asks. “The code appears to now rule out such activities, unless they are sanctioned by managers at the LAC.”

    Given the wording of the code, she says it appears the government no longer trusts its professional staff. “It’s really tragic,” she says.

    The code — “Library and Archives Canada’s Code of Conduct: Values and Ethics” — came into effect in January, says Richard Provencher, LAC’s senior communications adviser.

    continued in next comment...

  43. He says the code was written by LAC in response to the April 2012 Values and Ethics Code for the public sector, which called for federal departments to establish their own codes of conduct.

    Provencher said by email that information sessions for employees are being held to ensure the new code “is known and understood by all.”

    “LAC has invited all of its employees to provide feedback and suggestions during the ongoing information sessions,” Provencher said. The feedback will “ inform any future iterations of our code,” he said.

    The 23-page document is to be followed by everyone at LAC from full-time staff to students, volunteers and contractors. It spells out values, potential conflicts of interest and expected behaviours, both on the job and off.

    “As public servants, our duty of loyalty to the Government of Canada and its elected officials extends beyond our workplace to our personal activities,” the code says, adding that public servants “must maintain awareness of their surroundings, their audience and how their words or actions could be interpreted (or misinterpreted).”

    It points to the dangers of social media. ”For example, in a blog with access limited to certain friends, personal opinions about a new departmental or Government of Canada program intended to be expressed to a limited audience can, through no fault of the public servant, become public and the author identified.”

    “The public servant could be subject to disciplinary measures, as the simple act of limiting access to the blog does not negate a public servant’s duty of loyalty to the elected government,” says the code. “Only authorized spokespersons can issue statements or make comments about LAC’s position on a given subject.”

    One of the most contentious sections of the code deals with “teaching, speaking at conferences, and other personal engagements.”

    “On occasion, LAC employees may be asked by third parties to teach or to speak at or be a guest at conferences as a personal activity or part-time employment,” it says. “Such activities have been identified as high risk to LAC and to the employee with regard to conflict of interest, conflict of duties and duty of loyalty.”

    continued in next comment...

  44. The code says employees may accept such invitations “as personal activities” if six conditions are met: The subject of the activity is not related to the LAC’s mandate or activities; the employee is not presented as speaking for or being an expert of LAC or the Government of Canada; the third party that made the invitation is not a potential or current supplier or collaborator with LAC; the third party does not lobby or advocate with LAC and does not receive grants, funding or payments from LAC; and the employee has discussed the invitation with his or her manager “who has documented confirmation that the activity does not conflict with the employee’s duties at LAC or present other risks to LAC.”

    MacDonald, Turk and Samek say the six conditions appear to rule out federal librarians or archivists interacting on their own time with academics or heritage or genealogy groups and associations, as they may lobby, collaborate and receive funding from the LAC.

    “If I worked there and my kid’s school invited me to talk about my work as an archivist in Canada, I’m not sure I’d even feel comfortable doing that,” says Samek.

    She says it is ironic, and disturbing, that the code is being applied at an institution meant to be dedicated to the preservation and sharing of information.

    “This is a cultural icon we are talking about,” says Samek, who expects the code to have a “demoralizing, self-censuring” effect on the LAC staff.

    Provencher had no comment when asked to explain why teaching and attending conferences are identified as “high risk” or why interacting with individuals or groups that interact with the LAC has been ruled out.

    John Smart, who recently retired from archival teaching at Algonquin College and worked for almost 20 years at LAC, says it used to be considered an “honour” for LAC staff to be invited to talk at conferences. “It wasn’t seen as high risk but as high benefit,” says Smart.

    Like MacDonald, he notes that staff from the LAC have worked on their own time over the years to help foster Canada’s national and provincial archivist associations and groups.

    Smart suspects the new code reflects a “generalized suspicion of public servants” by the Harper government. And he says LAC managers are likely not keen to have staff fielding questions about funding cuts and changes at LAC, which are eliminating several specialist archive positions; moving to digitalize materials; and reducing public access to archival collections.

    “My perception of Library and Archives Canada is that it’s an institution in great trouble generally,” says Smart. “It is making decisions and changing policies that are making both its employees and its clientele upset.”


  45. Unequal justice in Canada: Law and order for the poor, impunity for the rich

    BY YVES ENGLER | rabble.ca MARCH 14, 2013

    One law for the rulers and another for the rest of us -- wasn't that supposed to have ended with feudalism?

    If a poor person is caught taking a computer or some other piece of property from a federal building you can bet police will be called and the thief will go before a judge to decide if she/he goes to jail. Yet when a Senator who is paid at least $132,000 per year in salary illegally claims many times the value of a stolen computer as a "living expense" they simply have to return the money.

    Of course so-called white-collar crime is generally treated less severely than other forms of illegal activity, which is another way of saying there are different rules for 'important people' than the rest of us. If you have high enough status you can usually buy your way out of crime.

    For example when Griffiths Energy recently pled guilty to bribing officials in Chad to gain access to lucrative energy properties, the Calgary-based corporation agreed to pay $10.35 million under the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act. But no individual at the privately held company will be pursued criminally. Apparently, you can pay a multi-million dollar bribe to gain access to a poor country's natural resources and then simply pay some more money when you are caught.

    Griffiths is only the second significant conviction rendered under the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act and no business leader has gone to jail since this legislation came into force in 1999.

    In Canada the poor -- and Indigenous -- are much more likely to find themselves locked up. Despite making up only 4 per cent of the general public, 23 per cent of Canada's federal prison population is Aboriginal). This is partly because they lack the resources to adequately fight their cases. But anti-poor and working class bias runs much deeper than an individual's financial means.

    Recently the Canadian Medical Association Journal released a study showing that people on welfare face discrimination when seeking publicly financed healthcare.

    Posing as either a welfare recipient or a bank employee, the researchers called 375 family physicians and general practitioners in the Toronto area to book an appointment and ask if the doctor was accepting new patients. "We found that if you were of apparently high socio-economic status, you had a 23 per cent chance of getting an appointment, but if you were of apparently low socio-economic status that dropped to 14 per cent," said the lead author of the study, Dr. Stephen Hwang.

    These biases are deeply rooted in our economic and social system and the last quarter century of 'free' market reforms have greatly exacerbated inequities in our society.

    continued in next comment...

  46. In January Statistics Canada released a study showing that the income of the top 1% of earners has dramatically increased since 1982. The top earners have seen an average pay increase of $91,800 taking their median income to $283,400 a year while the other 99% received an extra $400 over the same period raising their median wage to $28,400.

    Over the next decade the number of Canadians worth at least $30 million is expected to swell nearly 35 per cent. According to the Knight Frank report, the number of super wealthy in this country will rise from 4,922 to 6,637 by 2022.

    The top 1%, especially the top of the top 0.1%, have benefited from the erosion of Canada's progressive tax system. Corporate tax rates are at their lowest level in decades and top income tax rates have dropped as well. The super wealthy also benefit from various tax provisions that are biased in favour of wealth holders. The federal government provides anywhere between a 100 per cent and 50 per cent tax exemption on capital gains, which means that those who make their money from investing pay lower tax rates than those who make their money from working.

    Is it any surprise that this bias in favour of wealth would also be seen in the treatment of criminality? And, if current economic policy continues, the legal bias is likely to get worse.

    In a recent story about individuals with tens of millions of dollars in RRSPs the Globe and Mail Report on Business noted:

    For those who don't want to give their money away, there is a radical tax-minimizing step: leave the country. Although it hardly seems fair that Canadians who decamp should get preferential tax treatment, that’s the case when it comes to RRSPs. Those who become non-residents can collapse their plan and pay a 25-per cent tax, far better than the rates near 50 per cent they would pay if they remained in Canada.

    What do you think the chances are that the current government will change tax rules that give wealthy RRSP holders a huge incentive to leave the country?

    It's more likely that Harper would ask a Senate committee to investigate. And then a few years from now we'll learn that five of eight senators on the committee took the opportunity to move to another country, cash out their RRSPs and claim moving expenses.

    Yves Engler's latest book is The Ugly Canadian: Stephen Harper's foreign policy. For more information yvesengler.com


  47. Doctors appear more likely to take on wealthier patients, study finds

    Toronto offices seem to discriminate against poor patients. The good news: higher-needs patients are more likely to get appointments.

    by Theresa Boyle, Toronto Star February 25, 2013

    Family physicians’ offices appear to be discriminating against the poor, a Toronto study concludes, after finding they are more willing to take on people of higher socioeconomic status as new patients.

    Researchers from St. Michael’s Hospital posed as prospective patients looking for family physicians when they called 375 Toronto doctors’ offices in 2011. Following scripts, they explained either that they were bank employees who had recently transferred to Toronto, or welfare recipients.

    The study, published online Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, http://www.cmaj.ca/content/early/2013/02/25/cmaj.121383
    found the bank employees were 50 per cent more likely than the welfare recipients to get appointments.

    “The most likely explanation is that people working in doctors’ offices may be unconsciously biased against people of low socioeconomic status,” said Dr. Stephen Hwang, a general internal medicine physician at the hospital and a researcher in its Centre for Research on Inner City Health.

    It was mostly secretaries and administrative assistants who answered phone calls and provided information.

    “We don’t know for sure, but it’s (also) possible that physicians are telling their office staff the kind of patients they want to accept and office staff are simply carrying out the physicians’ directions,” Hwang said.

    There was no financial incentive for doctors to see wealthier patients, since they get paid the same through Ontario’s publicly funded health insurance system, regardless of patients’ socioeconomic status.

    The study also found that 9 per cent of doctors surveyed offered patients “screening visits,” otherwise known as “patient auditions.” Patients are invited for initial visits, during which doctors decide whether to continue seeing them.

    The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario prohibits such visits, requiring doctors who have openings to accept patients on a first-come-first-served basis.

    “Ultimately, the screening visit poses a lot of additional opportunity to cherry-pick patients or to potentially discriminate,” Hwang said, adding that the college’s rules should be more strictly enforced.

    continued in next comment...

  48. In response to the study, the College said “it is not appropriate for physicians to screen potential patients because it can compromise public trust in the profession, and may also result in discriminatory actions against potential patients.

    “Notwithstanding the first-come, first-served approach, physicians are permitted to prioritize treatment to those most in need,” said college spokesperson Kathryn Clarke.

    On a positive note, the study found that an individual with chronic health issues was significantly more likely to get an appointment than someone without — 23.5 per cent compared with 12.8 per cent.

    Prospective patient callers revealed they either had no health problems at all or that they suffered from diabetes and lower back pain.

    The finding suggests patients with greater medical needs are being appropriately prioritized.

    Hwang said this result was surprising and contrary to anecdotal evidence that doctors prefer to take healthier patients.

    “We were expecting that healthy people would be favoured to get an appointment, because they are easier to take care of,” he said.

    One limitation of the study was that researchers did not have access to information on how doctors were paid, a factor that could perhaps influence patient selection. Family physicians can be paid in three different ways: by fee-for-service, in which they bill OHIP for every service performed; by capitation, in which they get a set annual amount for each patient; or a combination of the two.

    Fifteen per cent of Canadians report they do not have a regular doctor. Among those who have looked, the most common reason for not having a doctor is that local physicians are not accepting new patients.

    Hwang was recently appointed to St. Mike’s new chair in homelessness, housing and health. He conducts a half-day clinic weekly at Seaton House in downtown Toronto, Canada’s largest shelter for men.

    It was his experience in helping poor people in need of health care that inspired him to do this research.

    “I’ve always been struck by the fact that many of my patients who are marginalized say that they have been treated poorly by health-care providers in the past, simply because of their position in society,” he said.

    “When I’m taking care of patients, I’m also very aware of my own need to consciously guard against treating people who are affluent and influential differently from people who are poor and disadvantaged,” he added.


  49. A Toronto bias study shows doctors prefer bankers to welfare recipients: Editorial

    A study on bias shows Toronto family doctors are 50 per cent more likely to accept bankers as patients compared to welfare recipients. It’s strong evidence of discrimination.

    Toronto Star Editorial February 26, 2013

    Pay and perks aside, here’s another reason it’s better to be a banker than on welfare — you’re a lot more likely to see a family doctor, even in Canada’s universal health care system. Why? Blame discrimination against the poor.

    Evidence supporting that depressing conclusion comes in a new study examining the way 375 Toronto doctors’ offices responded to callers looking for a family physician.

    St. Michael’s Hospital researchers telephoned those offices at random to ask if the doctor was taking new patients. Reading from a script, researchers described themselves in half the calls as bank workers newly arrived from Sudbury; in the rest they said they were on welfare.

    Results published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal on Monday show bank workers were 50 per cent more likely to be offered an appointment.

    Bias favouring the more affluent would be easier to explain in a health care system where patients must pay for their medical care. But in Ontario the province covers these costs, so there’s no material reason to turn away welfare recipients while welcoming bankers. And it’s not that the poor face rejection because they’re likely to be sicker. When callers said they had a chronic health problem they were more likely to be accepted.

    In doing their work, researchers contacted secretaries or administrative assistants at each doctor’s office — not the physicians themselves. “Nonetheless,” write the study’s authors, “any discriminatory behaviour by office staff can clearly have an adverse impact on patients’ access.” The findings appear to indicate a subconscious bias against welfare recipients, one that reflects feelings that are probably broadly held in society as a whole.

    There should be no place for those attitudes, especially when it comes to health care. But subconscious bias is a noxious weed that is difficult to uproot. Exposure helps. Awareness is a necessary first step toward fairness. Authors of the study should be commended for bringing this issue this forward.
    Physicians everywhere, not just in Toronto, would do well to sit down with their office staff and insist that all prospective new patients be treated the same way.

    Millions of Canadians lack a family doctor. And the most common reason for failing to find one is that physicians aren’t accepting new patients. That search is stressful enough without subjecting the poorest among us to unfair and unwarranted barriers.


  50. Provinces bear rising justice costs, budget watchdog finds

    Cost of jails, courts and policing up 23% in last decade, amid drop in crime rate

    The Canadian Press March 20, 2013

    Per capita spending on criminal justice — including federal and provincial jails, court costs and policing — has climbed 23 per cent over the last decade even as the crime rate fell 23 per cent, says a new study by the Parliamentary budget office.

    The report, a first-of-its kind, comprehensive look at criminal justice costs over time, put the price tag at $20.3 billion in 2011-12.

    The authors looked at direct public spending on policing, courts and corrections, including parole. They excluded costs such as victims compensation, private security and non-criminal matters such as family, environmental and competition law.

    Almost $15 billion of the total last year, or 73 per cent, was carried by the provinces and municipalities.

    "It is important to note that in Canada, the federal government has exclusive jurisdiction to make criminal law, unlike the United Sates where each state has this power," the study states.

    "With regards to the enforcement of criminal law, it is the responsibility of the provinces and territories."

    The Conservative government has been on a seven-year push to increase sentences and introduce new laws, citing its own internal study that claims crime costs victims $100 billion a year in Canada.

    In January, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews warned a policing conference in Ottawa that rising police costs cannot be maintained.

    "A decade ago, the average Canadian readily accepted, almost without question, steady increases in police budgets," Toews told the conference in a prepared speech.

    "Today, however, there are increasing calls to demonstrate the value of the investments that all governments make in public services, including policing."

    The budget office report released Wednesday shows a direct correlation between Prime Minister Stephen Harper taking office in 2006 and a jump in criminal justice spending, both in Ottawa and elsewhere.

    Crime rates, meanwhile, have been on a steady decline since 2003 — a trend the office says it included in the report "for illustrative purposes only."

    "This paper is not policy advice," the authors state.

    That didn't forestall a heated policy debate over the report in the House of Commons.

    continued in next comment...

  51. NDP justice critic Francoise Boivin said costs are "sky-rocketing" — and landing on provincial ledgers — even though the crime rate was already on the way down when the Harper government came to power.

    "This report proves the Conservative crime agenda is more about photo ops and partisanship than getting results," she charged.

    Justice Minister Rob Nicholson responded that his government "makes no apologies for cracking down on crime," adding the Conservatives have introduced 30 pieces of legislation on the file since 2006.

    Nicholson said the "cost of crime is borne by victims; that's the side (New Democrats) are never on."

    Bob Rae, the Liberal interim leader, also waded in, saying in a release the report confirms "what Liberals have long suspected about this government's so-called 'tough on crime' agenda: that it is, in fact, tough on taxpayers."

    The report is the last to be released under the watch of Kevin Page, Parliament's first fiscal watchdog whose eventful five-year term ends Monday.

    Provincial security and court costs, as well as federal corrections costs all climbed by more than 40 per cent between 2002 and 2012, while federal security costs rose 53 per cent, the study said.

    Policing costs were "relatively flat" before beginning a steady climb in 2007, the same year corrections costs reversed course and began rising. Court costs — including judges, prosecutors, legal aid and youth justice — had been decreasing, but started up again in 2006, although they still haven't reached 2002 levels.

    Court costs shifted toward the provinces and territories and off Ottawa over the study period.

    In 2002, the federal government carried 32 per cent of criminal court costs, but that had fallen to 22 per cent by 2012. The provincial share, meanwhile rose 10 points to 78 per cent.

    Provincial incarceration rates were also on the rise, while federal rates actually fell, the report said.


  52. Jim Flahertys retreat costs taxpayers $16,000

    Finance minister's annual summit with top business leaders was held in August

    by Dean Beeby October 2, 2013

    OTTAWA — Jim Flaherty’s two-day retreat for Canada’s brain trust in the summer cost taxpayers more than $16,000.

    The two-day gathering in August for 17 movers and shakers, hosted by the finance minister, was held at a country inn this year in nearby Wakefield, Que.

    Hospitality cost more than $6,800, including meals and wine, while facilities and rentals were almost $8,000.

    Travel and accommodation for some participants was another $1,500.

    Flaherty had to personally approve the hospitality expenses because they exceeded the $5,000 threshold set by government policy — and because alcohol was served.

    Participants were treated to breakfast, two lunches, dinner and a reception, the costs of which were higher than the standard per-person guideline set by Treasury Board.

    Details of the expenses were obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, with further details from the federal Finance Department.

    Guests mostly comprised CEOs from key Canadian industries, but also included an academic, a think-tank executive, a First Nation chief and even a business journalist, the CBC’s Amanda Lang.

    The retreat offers the group privileged access to the economy’s most important decision-maker.

    The meeting expense comes at a time of government belt-tightening and thousands of layoffs in the public service, but a spokesman for Flaherty said there was good value for the money.

    “These gatherings provide an opportunity for the minister to get advice outside of government,” Chisholm Pothier said in an email.

    “These Canadians deal with real problems every day and we want to hear from them.”

    “Our attendees, except for those from the charitable and academic sectors, pay their own air fare, transportation and accommodation costs, but most importantly they give their valuable time.

    “Having a glass or two of wine over dinner at the end of the night is normal for such gatherings.”

    The cost of last year’s annual retreat, with 22 guests, was also slightly more than $16,000, with the hospitality tab at almost $8,000.

    Flaherty’s responsibility for the $6,800 Wakefield hospitality bill is not included in his ministerial travel-and-hospitality expense claims posted on the web because the cost is classed as departmental rather than attributed to the minister.

    The Wakefield bill is also separate from the hospitality expenses Flaherty runs up as a member of Parliament, which were $9,323.57 in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2013.

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper has himself been required to sign large hospitality expense claims, including a 2011 event for visiting European bureaucrats that cost $16,000, and another for his own staff for $7,400.

    However, Harper quietly delegated signing responsibility last year to his senior public servant, the clerk of the Privy Council. Wayne Wouters approved $43,550 in hospitality costs at three events in the first six months after receiving signing authority.

    The Conservative government has at least three times tightened its policies on hospitality spending, including last October when it restricted the scope of what constitutes hospitality.


  53. Mike Duffy affair an indictment of current system of government

    by Andrew Coyne, Postmedia News October 28, 2013

    First, the good news: It appears Mike Duffy’s heart condition has improved.

    Though he had been unable to appear beside his lawyer at last week’s press conference, and though he was speaking, as he told the Senate Monday, against doctors’ orders, the Senator From Wherever I Designate was somehow able to struggle to his feet and deliver a robust 20-minute broadside, complete with theatrical pauses and infomercial pitch lines (“but wait, there’s more”), accusing the government, not only of buying his silence, but of buying his lawyers. The effort did not appear to tax him unduly.

    This time, what is more, the senator had documents. Not as many as he’d let on, and not enough to prove more than a fraction of the charges he levelled at the Prime Minister’s Office, but still: there was the correspondence (using their personal email accounts) with the prime minister’s former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, in which he was encouraged to believe he’d been the victim of a “smear,” and there was the memo from an adviser to Sen. Marjory LeBreton telling him that the constitutional requirement that a senator be “resident” in the province he represents did not mean he had to reside in it, and there was the cheque from the Conservative party lawyer, Arthur Hamilton, to cover his legal fees.

    To be sure, there was nothing to back the senator’s remarkable contention that the expenses he falsely claimed amounted to “$2.03 per claim.” (For balance, readers might wish to consult court papers filed by the RCMP, in which the investigating officer swears “I believe that Senator Duffy has demonstrated a pattern of filing fraudulent expense claims.”) Nor was there anything to support his other charges: that the PMO, having blackmailed him into letting it pay his expenses (yes, you read that right), then conspired to conceal the payment, to the point of concocting a cover-story, which the senator dutifully repeated, that he had made the payment himself, with the help of a loan from the Royal Bank of Canada.

    Still, while the senator hardly cuts a sympathetic figure, and while there is much of Duffy’s story that defies belief, in the broad strokes it is unanswerable. Officials within the Prime Minister’s Office — not only Wright, but others — colluded to bribe a sitting Senator, relieving him of any penalty for filing false expense claims in exchange for his silence. Then both he and they lied about it for months. Indeed, they kept lying about it, it appears, even after the scheme was uncovered, a series of falsehoods that ran from “Wright and Duffy are old friends” to, we now learn, “Wright resigned.” (The prime minister, in the day’s other revelation, told a radio interviewer he was “dismissed,” having maintained until the previous day that he resigned.)

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  54. And there were tantalizing hints of more to come. There were “at least” two cheques, he noted, at one point. Were the documents he provided just a taste of what he has on his hard drive? If so, what was the point of releasing just a few? Was this that moment where the kidnapper shoots one of the hostages, to prove he means business? But to what end? What does Duffy want? To hold onto his Senate pay cheque? Or does he hope somehow to stave off legal proceedings?

    The portrait that emerges from these claims and counter-claims — not only involving Duffy, but senators Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau — is revealing. Some of the fiercest disputes seem to turn on deals in which the two sides would arrange to tell a mutually agreed upon lie to the public (Duffy repaid, Wright resigned, Wallin “recused” herself from caucus) only to have one side renege, i.e. tell the truth. This is then presented by the other side, without evident irony, as evidence of their perfidy. There’s just no honour among liars any more.

    Indeed, if the story has resonance, it is because it fits with everything we know about this government: the tight, top-down control; the penchant for secret deals (Chuck Cadman, anyone? Alan Riddell, come on down!); the cynicism, the duplicity. There is, shall we say, a pattern.

    The involvement of Arthur Hamilton is particularly troubling in this light. Not only does it suggest still wider circles of knowledge about the scheme — Who authorized Hamilton to sign the cheque? On whose account was it drawn? — but it ties the Duffy mess to some other Conservative ethical morasses. Hamilton was last in the news sitting in on Elections Canada’s investigations into the robocalls affair, advising party workers how they should respond to questions.

    But more than just a malfunctioning moral compass is at work here. This whole affair is an indictment, not only of a government, but of a system of government. If the reflexive reaction of officials around the prime minister was to lie and cover up, and to go on lying and covering up, possibly it was because they figured they could get away with it — because our systems of accountability have grown so weak that it is unlikely those in power will ever be made to answer for their actions.

    Here we are, more than five months after the scandal broke, and we have still to hear more than a few words from most of the principals. Instead, we get a series of different stories from the prime minister, and talking points from his underlings, while the RCMP investigation grinds on, and on and on.

    In any self-respecting democracy, all of these people would have been subpoenaed to appear before a public inquiry or parliamentary committee of some kind, and required to testify under oath. But as this is Canada, we are obliged to rely on Mike Duffy’s self-serving Dance of the Seven Veils.


  55. Stephen Harpers Covert Evangelism

    How an apocalyptic strain of Christianity guides his policies and campaigning.

    By Andrew Nikiforuk, TheTyee.ca September 14, 2015

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper's love-in with Israel's right-wing government provides more insight on the influence of his religious views on public policy -- and the importance he places on pleasing evangelical Christian voters.

    It also confirms what I wrote three years ago in a Tyee columnthat went viral across the nation.

    That piece argued that Harper's own evangelical beliefs, which are closely aligned with extreme elements of the Republican Party, explained his disinterest in climate change and his government's pointed trashing of environmental science. It also explained his penchant for secrecy and his dislike of the media, environmentalists and other secular groups.

    In particular I referenced the reportage of Marci McDonald, whose book The Armageddon Factorcarefully outlined the growing strength of the Christian right on Canada's political landscape and its significant influence on Harper's administration.

    McDonald did not write a polemic. She merely documented how Harper slowly exploited moral and religious beliefs for partisan purposes with little transparency and no public debate.

    Most Canadians still don't even know that Harper has been a long-time member of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, an evangelical church established by a Canadian nearly 100 years ago. It has a wide following in Alberta.

    Harper's church believes that Jesus Christ will return to Earth in an apocalypse that is "imminent." It does not support abortion and homosexuality and believes that those who aren't born-again are "lost."

    About 10 per cent of Canadians call themselves evangelicals representing a diverse set of Protestant denominations.

    It's well documented that in a 1996 speech in Calgary Harper outlined how he would unite social conservatives and evangelicals by choosing issues carefully and implementing real change incrementally. This alliance would include Canada's Jewish community. In 2003 he reiteratedthis agenda, calling members of the new alliance "theo-cons."

    Yet when McDonald's book was published in 2010, friends of Stephen Harper including Ezra Levant and David Frum immediately attacked it as anti-Christian and bigoted. (For the record, McDonald considers herself Christian and is part Jewish.)

    More lately, two high-profile books on Harper by Paul Wells and John Ibbitson either ignore Harper's evangelical leanings altogether or dismiss them as inconsequential. They argue that Harper adroitly avoided two divisive issues dear to social conservatives: gay marriages and pro-life politics. Therefore the influence of religion on Harper's politics does not matter.

    Yet nothing could be further from the truth.

    'Smartest evangelical politician'

    For starters, Christianity Today pegged Harper as "The Smartest Evangelical Politician You Never Heard Of" in 2006.

    Harper had a secret formula for not being likened to George W. Bush or Sarah Palin, said the magazine. It included "keeping his God talk below the media radar." And Harper has maintained that discipline.

    Next comes the union made by Big Oil and right-wing evangelicals in Alberta. When the Petroleum Belt linked to the Bible Belt more than 50 years ago, the province forged a unique Republican-style political culture.

    In fact, Harper's views draw upon and are part of a tradition that goes back to Ernest Manning and Sunoco president J. Howard Pew of oilsands fame.

    In the 1960s both men shared Protestant evangelical views and even vacationed together in Jasper every summer.

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  56. When Pew, the American equivalent of a Saudi sheik in terms of wealth and power, encountered resistance to his bold bitumen mining plans in Fort McMurray (conventional oil drillers feared the project could tank oil prices), he had a talk with his pal, premier Ernest Manning.

    Shortly afterwards, the government smoothed things over and approved the first oilsands project in 1964. Pew then helped to fund Manning's popular radio show Back to the Bible Hour.

    Pew's deep pockets also extended to conservative political lobbying. He helped to finance the far-right John Birch Society as well as the American Enterprise Institute, where Republican speech writer David Frum later worked for a number of years.

    Pew also cultivated the famous evangelical energy of Billy Graham. To Pew, Manning and Graham, the Great Canadian Oil Sands Project represented a triumph of the evangelical Protestant spirit as well as "the right to extract all of the bountiful gifts of the great Creator and in ways that affirm their dominion over the earth," writes Darren Dochuk in his marvellous historical account, American Evangelicals and the 1960s.

    So Harper's low-key Christian fundamentalism (he doesn't discuss his religion in public) is not some inconsequential belief system but remains part of an ongoing Alberta political legacy where, as one U.S. scholar put it, "the forces of oil and evangelism have had a longer and more entwined relationship" than Ottawa journalists have ever reported.

    Israel as keystone

    The Israeli press understands Canada's new religious reality. During Harper's celebrated state visit to Israel in 2014 the local press published an analysis noting that views of "the devout evangelical Christian prime minister" probably played a key role in Canada's new strategic union with the right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu.

    Under Netanyahu, anti-Arab harassment and hatefulness have reached dangerous heights. Even the conservative Israeli president Ruvi Rivlin has despaired about the racism, extremism and "thuggishness that has permeated the national dialogue" in Israel.

    A 2012 poll showed that one-third of Israelis don't think that its two million Arab citizens should have the right to vote, and half would strip their citizenship rights. Many citizens now believe that Israel's democracy, in which right-wing Orthodox Jews hold increasing sway, is sick.

    But that's not what Canadians now hear from their evangelical prime minister. His government has declared a "zero tolerance" approach towards groups that support boycotting Israel to protest its dealings with Palestinians, conflating criticism of state policies with "anti-Semitism." That meant the Canadian government has identified as enemies such boycott backers as the United Church of Canada, Canadian Quakers, labour and student groups.

    KAIROS, a Christian foreign aid group, was "defunded" by the Harper government in 2009 for criticizing Israel, according to then immigration minister Jason Kenney. That startling admission, notes McDonald in her book, demonstrated that "some expressions of Christianity were acceptable and others were not" in Harper's theo-con Canada.

    The evangelization of Canada's Israeli foreign policy (previous governments held balanced views that recognized the plight of the Palestinians) began promptly in 2006.

    Since then Harper has constantly attacked Israel's enemies and backed every military operation. His government routinely describes the killing of Israel soldiers as "appalling." Yet the Harper government has not once used that adjective to describe the impact of residential schools on First Nations or the startling number of murdered or missing Aboriginal women in Canada.

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  57. So why has Harper become Israel's "staunchest supporter?" asked the Times of Israel when our PM visited the country in January 2014. "Harper is Canada's first evangelical prime minister in 50 years, and most observers accept that his faith plays some role in his support for Israel," explained its Toronto-based contributor.

    Citing McDonald's book, the column added that Harper has backed Israel with such fervour that some scholars and diplomats "rank it as the most dramatic shift in the history of postwar Canadian foreign policy."

    Who's on board

    Other evangelical politicians saluted Harper's rapturous visit. Sarah Palin, for example, tweeted: "Thank you to our good neighbors led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper for their exemplary support of our friend Israel. It's wise and prudent for Canada and America to stand together against evil that would seek to destroy Israel."

    So religion not only powerfully influences domestic policy in Canada, it has also radically reshaped the nation's foreign policy in a direction more in tune with the U.S. administrations of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Both men courted the evangelical vote and both acted as fervent supporters for Israel.

    The composition of Harper's delegation to Israel also spoke volumes about his beliefs and Ottawa's new directions. It included 21 rabbis and more than 56 representatives from various Zionist lobbying groups (including the Canadian chapter of the militant Jewish Defense League, a "violent extremist" organization according to the FBI in the United States, where it isoutlawed.)

    Representatives from evangelical Christian groups also joined the "historic" pilgrimage but hardly any came from mainline churches. The select group included Harper's own church the Christian and Missionary Alliance of Canada, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, Trinity Bible Church, Crossroads Christian Communications and the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.

    Many hold extreme views. The Ontario-based Crossroads Christian Communications hasdescribed homosexuality as a "perversion" and a "sin." It received $544,813 in funding from the Harper government for foreign aid work in Uganda, prompting a public uproar.

    Former Tory cabinet minister Stockwell Day, another Pentecostal and former Alberta and Tory politician, also joined the delegation. Day sits on the board of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), one of the most powerful pro-Israel lobbying groups in Canada.

    Awaiting Armageddon

    The visit and its photo-ops were sure to appeal to evangelicals who believe that Israel is a nation chosen by God to play a special role in history based on their Americanized reading of the Bible.

    Some Christian Zionists argue that Israel must be defended at all costs so that the end of the world unfolds as Biblically foretold. Without an intact Israel, goes the theology, there can't be an Armageddon.

    Many of these Christian Zionists are dispensationalists who believe that if Israel gets into a huge battle with the Arab states, the destruction might actually invite the second coming of Christ. (Only about a third of U.S. evangelicals are dispensationalists and many belong to John Hagee's Christians United For Israel.)

    Such novel beliefs oddly make both the state of Israel and the Jewish people players in an end times theology largely espoused by white evangelical churches in the United States.

    Several years ago Timothy Webber, a U.S. evangelical scholar, explained this extraordinary theology to journalist Bill Moyers:

    "Without Israel in the land, there can be none of the other events prophesied in the Bible. There can be no rise of Anti-Christ. There can be no rebuilding of the Temple. There can be no Battle of Armageddon. And there can be no second coming of Jesus Christ. So everything is riding on the Jews, getting them there and keeping them there in the Holy Land."

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  58. US evangelist Jerry Falwell typically proclaimed in 1981: "To stand against Israel is to stand against God. We believe that history and scripture prove that God deals with nations in relation to how they deal with Israel."

    The founder of the Harper's chosen Christian and Missionary Alliance church certainly leaned towards dispensationalism. Given his church's own website lists as a core belief that the end of the world is nigh, Harper himself may be a dispensationalist. No Ottawa journalist has asked him. (It's unlikely the smartest evangelical politician you never heard of would answer the question.)

    But Canada's foreign policy in the Middle East can sound a lot like dispensationalism. Defending Israel wasn't just the right thing to do, Harper preached to Israel's parliament in 2014. "Through fire and water, Canada will stand with you," he thundered in closing his speech.

    Onward Christian voters?

    Canada's evangelical Christians are highly organized, well-funded, strongly disciplined and much more prone to vote than other Canadians. Yet it would be a mistake to assume that all of Canada's three million evangelicals agree with Harper's policies or the way he has exercised power.

    Many, for example, find his refusal to address climate change a matter of moral outrage.

    Contrast Harper's studied intransigence on the subject with the sentiments of Richard Cizik's New Evangelical Partnership:

    "Christians must care about climate change because we love God the Creator and Jesus our Lord, through whom and for whom the creation was made. This is God's world, and any damage that we do to God's world is an offense against God Himself."

    The great issue here is deception. Harper has inserted an agenda into the life of the nation without a full declaration or any transparency. He pretends to be a boring centrist when in reality he represents, in many cases, the views of an extreme religious minority.

    Despite the denials of some Ottawa journalists, the evidence that Harper's evangelical views have greatly influenced Canadian foreign and domestic policy are now overwhelming.

    Religion explains why Harper appointed a creationist, Gary Goodyear, as science minister in 2009; why the party employs Arthur Hamilton, as its hard-nosed lawyer (he's an evangelical too and a member of the Christian and Missionary Alliance); why Conservative MP Wai Young would defend the government's highly controversial spying legislation, Bill C-51, by saying it reflects the teachings of Jesus; and why Canada's new relationship with Israel dominates what's left of the country's shredded foreign policy.

    It also explains why Harper would abolish the role of science advisor in the federal government only to open an Office of Religious Freedom under the department of Foreign Affairs with an annual $5-million budget. Why? Because millions of suburban white evangelical Christiansconsider religious freedom a more vital issue than same-sex marriage or climate change.

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  59. While such gestures helped pull evangelicals into Harper's coalition (a 2011 poll foundConservatives attract 50 per cent of regular churchgoers), Harper now faces some backlash from some of the most ardent "theo-cons" he's wooed. Many evangelicals today feel that Harper has not gone far enough. Many regard the man more as a political opportunist than as a true believer.

    Of approximately 30 evangelical MPs that followed Harper into power in 2006, most have stepped down for this election. One, James Lunney, even resigned from the party to run as an independent member of Parliament for Nanaimo-Alberni.

    Lunney did so as he called critics of creationism "social bigots," and railed against what he describes as "deliberate attempts to suppress a Christian worldview from professional and economic opportunity in law, medicine and academia."

    'Faith as an opportunity'

    Harper, who prefers to let his policies do the talking when trying to connect with Christian fundamentalist voters, probably was not sorry to see Lunney go. Lunney's forthright expression of his beliefs made him a liability to Harper's overall re-election strategy.

    Indeed, the subversive nature of Harper's religious agenda may be a factor in his party's obsession with media control and secrecy, and why less than five per cent of Conservative candidates now agree to interviews with reporters. Harper wants the evangelist vote, but he also wants voters who are made uneasy by Christian fundamentalist social views and apocalyptic yearnings.

    Although Harper remains most comfortable with the worldview of evangelicals, says Marci McDonald, he is probably more of a political opportunist than a true believer.

    "Harper uses faith as an opportunity politically to build a base that he saw working in the United States with the Republicans," McDonald told The Tyee. "And he has got a lot of vocal support from the States to build that base."

    Whether Harper lets evangelism be his guide because of his faith-filled heart or his strategy-spinning head matters little. In the process he has demolished science libraries and environmental science funding; defunded women's groups and Christian groups that don't speak in evangelical tongues; and concocted a "values-based" foreign policy that puts Israel first.

    Many Christians (and I'm one of them) find this undeclared agenda not only abhorrent but also fundamentally anti-Christian. The great Protestant philosopher, Jacques Ellul, believed "Christian faith tells us that we should live, not how we should live."

    Ellul read the Bible as "antipolitical" in the sense that Jesus regards political power as idolatrous. "Christianity offers no justification for political power; on the contrary, it radically questions it," explained Ellul.

    That is hardly the theology of Stephen Harper, who has reshaped the Canadian government in service of a covert evangelical mission.

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