2 weeks ago

Mon, 12/03/2018 - 09:15

Topic The Ways We Win Citizens mobilize to hold on to ownership of seniors’ care home

DARRIN PATEY DIDN’T WANT MARJORIE DENGIS TO BE FORCED FROM HER HOME. He’s certain now that she won’t be. He’s certain the new county council will not stick with a decision to sell the Grey Gables long-term care home in Markdale, Ontario, a community of just over 1000 people, 250 kilometers north of Toronto.

Marjorie Dengis is happy at home in Grey Gables in Markdale, Ontario

DARRIN PATEY DIDN’T WANT MARJORIE DENGIS TO BE FORCED FROM HER HOME. He’s certain now that she won’t be. He’s certain the new county council will not stick with a decision to sell the Grey Gables long-term care home in Markdale, Ontario, a community of just over 1000 people, 250 kilometers north of Toronto.

Grey Gables is owned by the people of Grey County. It is home to Marjorie and 65 other seniors. That’s the way a lot of Grey County people want to keep it. So many that they elected 10 new people to council in October to make sure of it. The election victory was the summit of months and months of citizen action, buttressed by support from the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU).

OPSEU stands shoulder to shoulder with local people

“We worked side by side with OPSEU,” says Darrin, a key leader in the community campaign to stop the sale of Grey Gables to a private operator. “They were involved with picketing and organized rallying. We put together an alternative plan to present to the county and they denied our delegation.”

“It’s like they want to take $1.2 million that belongs to Grey County residents and set it on fire,” said OPSEU president Smokey Thomas.“We’re not going to sit by and let these councillors waste more than a million dollars, force seniors to move farther away from their families and push them into lower-quality care.”  

“I want to stay here. I don’t think they should do that at all. It’s the worst idea I’ve heard in a long time,” says Grey Gables resident Olga Rae.

“I don’t want to move,” says Loraine Zorowski. “Grey Gables is my home.” Her daughter lives close by, she says, and visits her almost every day. Loraine is afraid that would change with a move.

Community campaign moves into high gear

A petition to stop the proposed sale got 46,000 signatures. It had no effect.

 “We are feeling that some of these folks are doing wrong to their neighbours and are not listening to the public,” said Darrin.

It became clear to Darrin that is was time to focus on the fall elections and to  “break up the club.”

Darrin headed-up a strong Facebook and Twitter campaign with the hashtag, #BREAKUPTHECLUB. The campaign called on voters not to re-elect councillors who voted for the plan to sell Grey Gables to a private operator and force residents to move out.

The citizen activists turned the Grey Gables proposed sale into an election hot potato issue. The sitting council—the one that had approved the sale—was unhappy about that. Darrin says they even tried to find a way to charge the community group under the Ontario Election Finances Act.

“I guess they just skimmed the third-party advertising laws when they read them,” says Derrin, “and missed the part where social media posts don’t count.”

Confident sale will not happen

The citizens’ action group attended all-candidates meetings to keep the sale issue front and centre. They missed no opportunity to speak out loud and clear for candidates opposed to the privatization. It all paid off. A substantial majority of those “no sale candidates” were elected.

Darrin is confident the new council will overturn the plan to sell off Grey Gables at its first meeting on December 7.

Premier Doug Ford has promised to fund more long-term care beds in Ontario. He has not promised to make sure those beds are in publicly-owned facilities.

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2 weeks 1 day ago

Sun, 12/02/2018 - 13:18

Topic This Working Life Letter carriers do a lot more than deliver the mail

LETTER CARRIERS DON’T JUST DELIVER THE MAIL. They deliver community. They deliver a personal one-to-one connection, a daily reminder of how important we all are to each other—even when we don’t get mail.

Canada Post hired women to be letter carriers in the early 1970s

LETTER CARRIERS DON’T JUST DELIVER THE MAIL. They deliver community. They deliver a personal one-to-one connection, a daily reminder of how important we all are to each other—even when we don’t get mail.

Letter carriers deliver the letters that strengthen our very personal bonds of love, hope and community in ways that phone texts or emails cannot. That’s why letter carriers often become our friends.

If you are lonely, the daily visit from the letter carrier offers some tiny chance for human connection. If you are old and alone the Canada Post Alert Program* will have the letter carrier check in on you “just in case.”

In rural communities, going to pick up the mail is as much a social ritual as going to church or the community pot luck supper.

It is important that in the resolution of the latest Canada Post labour dispute we do not lightly discard these chances to be human together.

A ‘postie’ remembers

Anne Ehret worked as a letter carrier in Vancouver for three years in the early 1970s. She remembers how it was “back then” and how it is something we would do well to value still.

What follows are some of her thoughts on that, taken from a blog she posted on in early November.

“The current strike by Canada Post workers has made me reflect on my early years as a letter carrier in Vancouver, when the crown corporation was first hiring female letter carriers.

“It was 1974, and I was 21. I had moved to Vancouver from southwestern Ontario because I wanted to experience a different part of Canada. I initially had worked in a bank, but was feeling quite restless and unhappy in this job. Then, I saw the mail carrier come into the bank to deliver the mail. I was so impressed by the fact it was a woman, that I immediately went up to her and asked: “They’re hiring women for this position now?” She responded, “Oh yes. It started a few months ago.”

“I called in sick the next day, went to the post office and applied. A few weeks later, I was on the job.

[ ... ]

“I worked for the post office for several years before leaving for other pursuits, and am now retired. But since that time I watched as the post office changed.

“When I started, I met people who wanted to discuss what I thought of the job, what it entailed and how many women were doing this.

“I remember one of my routes had quite a few seniors, many of whom would greet me at the door. They wanted to talk, to connect with someone. I had many offers for coffee and tea breaks each morning (which I was tempted to accept). I began to realize the importance of the postman, or woman, to the people in each neighbourhood.

[ . . . ]

‘A place that is not for profit, but for community’

“... Canadian society is witnessing change. Institutions that were once the backbone of our society, the glue that connected us—the family, churches, doctors, the library, the post office—are all going through this change. And although people do not write letters as much these days, one thing remains constant—the need for community.

“As I think about all of this, I can’t help but be reminded of the thing that stood out the most for me when I was a letter carrier all those years ago. It was that the people I met wanted conversation. They wanted to greet and talk with the letter carrier.

“No matter how much we do online, we still have a need to gather together, if not in conversation, at least in just being close by. Could not the post office be part of building community?

“There is a suggestion now to bring back a postal banking service (especially in rural areas and in Indigenous communities where there is often no bank or credit union). To me, this makes a lot of sense. The union suggests that this will be part of an overall plan to reinvent the post office and make it a real hub for every neighbourhood; to bring it back to a place that is not for profit, but for community.

“Perhaps these words from Turkish author and playwright Mehmet Murat ildan sum it up best:

‘Postman’s bag is always heavy because it carries the life itself: it carries all the sorrows and all the joys, all the worries and all the hopes!’”

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* The Canada Post Alert Program
The Canada Post Alert program is an added measure of security for seniors, people with disabilities and those with other illnesses who live alone in their own homes.

Letter carriers are on alert to possible security issues during their regular delivery duties through Monday to Friday. If your mail is still in your mail box the carrier will report it and we will follow up to assure your well-being.



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3 weeks 6 days ago

Mon, 11/19/2018 - 16:19

Topic The Ways We Win ‘Hallway medicine’: nothing our Medicare can’t fix

WE DON’T WANT OUR MEDICARE TO BE THIS WAY. A man dies after six hours in a cold hospital corridor, waiting for medical attention. A woman with broken bones, cracked ribs and internal bleeding waits nearly two days for surgery in a hospital “holding area.” Patients are stashed in offices, given stretchers in hallways instead of beds, even told to lie on the floor.

Rebecca Boonstra and Shantal Cloufer, two of 14
LPNs at the Boyle McCauley Health Centre in Edmonton

WE DON’T WANT OUR MEDICARE TO BE THIS WAY. A man dies after six hours in a cold hospital corridor, waiting for medical attention. A woman with broken bones, cracked ribs and internal bleeding waits nearly two days for surgery in a hospital “holding area.” Patients are stashed in offices, given stretchers in hallways instead of beds, even told to lie on the floor.

What was once unheard of and unacceptable is now commonplace. We even have a name for it. It’s called “hallway medicine.” No hospital is immune.

In one Ontario hospital—Brampton Civic—more than 4,300 patients in one year were treated in the hallways.

It is more difficult to get admitted to an Ontario hospital than anywhere else in the country.

Canada lags behind the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) average of hospital beds per capita, and Ontario lags well behind the rest of the country.

More hospital beds only part of the answer

All this is clear evidence that we don’t have enough hospital beds for the people who seek medical care at hospitals. What is not clear is why that is.

Is it because of deep cuts in public spending on health care? Or, is it because we send too many people to hospital to begin with—simply because there is no other place for them to get the care they need?

The answer is yes. We do need more hospital beds. But, we also need to stop using hospitals as the first—and last—resort for all medical care. It’s an approach that can only create problems.

For example, people who need long-term care don’t need to be in a hospital. But, an absence of enough long-term care facilities leaves them with nowhere else to go. So, they stay in hospital while waiting for alternative facilities to become available. In Ontario alone, around 3,200 patients requiring an alternative level of care are parked in those beds.

There are almost 7,500 “alternate level of care” (ALC) patients in Canada. These are people who have been discharged but continue to live in hospitals because they have nowhere else to go, for lack of long-term-care beds and home-care spots.

Blaming Medicare is a misdiagnosis

It is clear we will need more than money for more beds to fix this. We will need to complete the full Medicare project, as set out by Tommy Douglas, the father of Medicare. We will need to move forward into what he called “phase two.”

Douglas said this would be more difficult than the first phase of making medical care available to all. He said the second phase would be “to alter our delivery system to reduce costs and put an emphasis on preventative medicine.”

In other words: the second phase of Medicare will be delivering health services differently to keep people well, so we will only go to hospital when we really need to.

The ER overcrowding problem won’t be solved in the ER, nor will the hospital overcrowding problem be solved in the hospital. The real solution lies in treating patients in the right place, at the right time, with the right level of care.

This multi-pronged approach to the problem is essential. Canadian Doctors For Medicare published a comprehensive set of practical suggestions in 2012 for transforming our healthcare system, some of which bear directly upon the hallway medicine crisis—improving community-based primary health care, for example, and public wellness initiatives.

Retrofitting and building new long-term care facilities  would obviously relieve the pressure on acute care resources, and new technologies are already improving everyday life for seniors in their own homes. Expanded homecare programs could play a significant role as well.

Many working examples of how to improve Medicare

The Women’s College Hospital in Toronto has created an acute ambulatory care unit. Patients there are referred directly by a provider, avoiding the dreaded ER visit. Instead, they make an appointment and are in and out of hospital within 24 hours.

This is just one example of smarter health-care delivery. Another is, after a patient is hospitalized, to ensure they get a couple of visits from a home-care nurse, an approach that dramatically reduces readmission.

In Edmonton, the Boyle McCauley Health Centre has been making community-based care a reality for 39 years. It is a non-profit community-owned and operated health centre.

The centre’s 85 staff include licensed practical nurses, doctors, nurse practitioners, social workers, medical office assistants, psychologists and outreach workers. Together they form four similar interdisiplinary teams. The teams provide person-centered primary health care for vulnerable Edmontonians with complex needs.

The Hamilton Family Medicine Mental Health Program increased access for mental health patients by 1100% AND decreased psychiatry outpatients’ clinic referrals by 70%.

The program staff includes 22 psychiatrists, 150 family physicians, 114 Nurses and Nurse Practitioners, 20 Registered Dietitians, 77 Mental Health Counsellors, 7 pharmacists and provides care to 340,000 patients

The only permanent way to to alleviate hallway medicine is to take the pressure off hospitals. The best way to do that is to bolster services in the community, so we can keep ourselves healthier longer and turn trips to the hospital into exceptions again—rather than the rule.

That was part of the whole medicare ideal right from the beginning. We’re halfway there. It’s time to finish the job. It’s time to move forward into phase two, to expand and improve our Medicare and make it into what we always intended it to be: a medical care system that is even better at preventing illness than at curing it.

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1 month 1 week ago

Sun, 11/04/2018 - 10:32

Topic The Ways We Win Privatization a bust; public services continue their comeback

PUBLIC SERVICES JUST WON’T DIE. No matter how hard politicians work to impose privatization on us. Reality continues to prove privatization is a bust.


Port Moody, BC turned waste collection back into a public service in 2008

PUBLIC SERVICES JUST WON’T DIE. No matter how hard politicians work to impose privatization on us. Reality continues to prove privatization is a bust.

Privatization cannot, and does not, provide us with the range and quality of services we want, need and deserve. A good proof of that is the fact many are abandoning privatization in favour of a return to public administration and delivery of public services.

Hamilton first to bail on privatization

When Hamilton City Council agreed in 1994 to a public private partnership to privatize its water and waste water services, it was widely considered to have one of the best services in the country. But over the next decade, things went from bad to worse. Under private ownership, the water and waste water service cut staff, causing a decline in service quality.

Due to the wording of the privatization contract, the city even had to pay out fines when sewage spills were caused by the private operator’s cost-cutting.

When the contract came up for renewal in 2004, the city council decided enough was enough, and took the service back under municipal control. At the time, it was the first decision of its kind in Canada.

Three years later, with the water and waste water services firmly back under public control, the city stated that it had avoided paying out incentives to private operators of more than $75,000. Moreover, the city-run service proved much more efficient, costing around $500,000 less than the original maintenance budget.

Award-wining return to public ownership

In 1998, the city council in Port Moody, British Columbia, decided to outsource its solid waste collection service. A trade union-backed study advised against it. The unions emphasized the loyalty of city employees. The council privatized the service anyway.

By 2008, public frustration with the private operator was mounting. Service quality had dropped, recycling targets were being missed, and costs were skyrocketing.

The city responded by launching a collaborative project with the Canadian Union of Public Employees to take solid waste collection back under public control. The improvements were dramatic.

Waste diversion rose rapidly from less than 50 percent when the service was privately run to more than 75 percent under public ownership. The publicly-run service also won an award from the Solid Waste Association of North America for its educational work among residents.

Fifteen-year privatization revoked in year two

In 2013, The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, which includes Fort McMurray, Alberta, awarded private operator Top Transit a 15-year contract for Fort McMurray’s transit service.

Within two years, the municipality was forced to invoke a 90-day termination clause, when a report revealed that Top Transit had failed to adhere to staffing requirements. The company had also provoked a large number of customer complaints and had failed to build a bus facility. The municipality also stated that Top Transit had not maintained the fleet well enough to allow buses to run “efficiently and safely.”

Robert Kirby, Wood Buffalo’s director of public works, stressed that the decision to take the transit system into public hands wasn’t primarily about cutting costs. “This allows us to control the revenue stream and put money back into the local transit system,” he stated. “We live in Fort McMurray, we’re part of the community, and we understand what the community’s needs are.”

Even Top Transit employees liked the decision. They were able to transfer to become municipal workers.

Reversing privatizations

These examples from across Canada demonstrate that possibilities for protecting, preserving and even recovering public services exist.

The examples for this article were taken from the report “Back in House: Why Local Governments are Bringing Services Home,” which was funded by CUPE in 2016. The full report can be downloaded here.








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1 month 1 week ago

Sun, 11/04/2018 - 10:26

Topic The Ways We Win John Clarke is a badass—lucky for us

JOHN CLARKE LOVES A GOOD FIGHT. He became famous for it in Ontario. But the man who founded and led the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) for 28 years is ready for a rest. OCAP won’t be the same without him.

John Clarke

JOHN CLARKE LOVES A GOOD FIGHT. He became famous for it in Ontario. But the man who founded and led the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) for 28 years is ready for a rest. OCAP won’t be the same without him.

John Clarke was never ready to give a’ inch. The power elites hated him for it. Many fellow social justice fighters loved him for it. Some others, loved his message but questioned the wisdom of his methods. Regardless. No one ever questioned John’s commitment to the fight to end poverty.

Love him or hate him, there is no doubt John made his mark in the world of Ontario politics and anti-poverty activism. John’s way to get action was, more often than not, to make a scene. He didn’t want to make friends. He wanted to end poverty.

People have a right to be angry

John was once arrested for “inciting a riot” at an anti-poverty demonstration in Toronto. Well-known writer and activist Naomi Klein wrote that John’s real “crime” was refusing to play nice.

In a June 2000 column in the Globe and Mail she wrote how Clarke refused to: ... clean up poverty for the benefit of cameras and politicians. The Coalition doesn’t ask its members to abide by the genteel protocols of polite protest. And it doesn’t tell angry people they shouldn’t be angry, especially when confronted by some of the very same police officers who beat them in back alleys or the politicians who write laws that cost them their homes.”

John’s “take no prisoners” attitude made him one of the most influential anti-poverty activists Ontario. He had a hand in every major anti-austerity demonstration since 1990—making the news time and again for his aggressive anti-capitalist standpoint.

Putting the action back into activism

The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) is not a charity in the usual sense. It is not interested in finding a pleasant, non-threatening way to pursue social and economic justice. It is a direct-action anti-poverty organization. It’s goal is to mobilize the poor to speak and act for themselves to bring change. OCAP doesn’t shy away from a fight. They are always ready to go “all in.”

Rather than just organizing campaigns and demonstrations, OCAP provides case-based activism that helps real people find the information needed  to access government social assistance programs that are muddied with bureaucracy. Their campaigns are dedicated to helping everyday people fight back against government oppression toward the homeless, minimum wage workers, Ontario Disability Support Program recipients, Indigenous people and many more.

A hard man to silence

John showed his deep dedication to ending poverty in Ontario on June 15, 2000, when he lead 1,000 people in a march on the Ontario legislature in a demonstration calling out the provincial government on the abandonment of the homeless.

The demonstration turned violent and resulted in what the media called “the Queens Park Riot.” Clarke was arrested and charged for the role he played. His bail conditions required him to stay away from all OCAP activities and members. That didn’t stop him.

Despite the government’s attempt, Clarke wasn’t silenced, he  argued the bail conditions violated his constitutional rights. Social justice advocates, union leaders and concerned citizens showed up at his hearing to show their support for John and OCAP.

Peter Rosenthal, a Toronto lawyer who occasionally defends coalition activists in court, said in defence of Clarke that his charges had more to do with silencing political comment than keeping law and order.

John Clarke may no longer be found on the front lines of the anti-poverty fight, but his relentless, life-long commitment to fighting that good fight will forever be an example to all of us in that fight.

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1 month 1 week ago

Sun, 11/04/2018 - 10:10

Topic Privatization We can’t ever really recover what we lose

Privatization is a “Humpty Dumpty” experience. We can never really put all the pieces back together again—no matter how much we want to.

Privatization is a “Humpty Dumpty” experience. We can never really put all the pieces back together again—no matter how much we want to.

Let’s say you work all your life to pay off your home. You make a rash decision to sell it. Then you realize it was a dumb idea. You try and get your house back. But you can't.

First, you have to pay double the money to get it back; and, even if you have the money, your old house is gone. It’s not like it was. It's been all changed around. It’s not your happy home any more.

That’s the way it is with privatization. You can’t ever really go home again.

Worse still: Going public again is never that easy

Part of the privatization project is to give private companies contracts to provide the services that public employees once provided.  The problem is, these are often very long-term contracts that would cost us way too much to terminate.

Obviously, it’s better not to privatize to begin with. At least, it should be obvious—to those who end up paying the cost. And in case there is any doubt—that’s us.



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1 month 2 weeks ago

Mon, 10/29/2018 - 10:58

Topic How Fair is That Chrysler gets let off the hook

Chrysler owes us $2.6 billion but the feds have decided to let it slide. The Liberal government won't make the company pay back all they owe us from the bailout they got from us after the 2008 world economic meltdown.

Chrysler owes us $2.6 billion but the feds have decided to let it slide. The Liberal government won't make the company pay back all they owe us from the bailout they got from us after the 2008 world economic meltdown.

That means every one of us—every man, woman and child in Canada—will give a $75 gift to one of the richest corporations in the world.

New money vs. old money

"Old Chrysler" went into bankruptcy—but a "New Chrysler" reported net profits of $4.3 billion US for 2017. Some tricky accounting allows New Chrysler to keep all its profits and forget about paying back what Old Chrysler owes.

But, we’re still on the hook

All of us could use the same kind of break. None of us rake in billions in profits every year. Plus, we are the ones who bankrolled the loans to Chrysler to begin with. That should earn us something. Something we could take to the bank!


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1 month 2 weeks ago

Wed, 10/24/2018 - 16:16

Topic How Fair is That Thousands rally to warn Ford not to make health care cuts

EDDY ALMEIDA PROMISED DOUG FORD A FIGHT. He had 8000 people ready to back him up. They were gathered on the lawn in front to the Ontario legislature on October 23 to warn the Ontario premier not to make cuts to their health care.

Eddy Almedia, OPSEU First VP/Treasurer, speaks to Toronto rally

EDDY ALMEIDA PROMISED DOUG FORD A FIGHT. He had 8000 people ready to back him up. They were gathered on the lawn in front to the Ontario legislature on October 23 to warn the Ontario premier not to make cuts to their health care.

“Ford keeps saying that he’s ‘for the people’,” said Almeida, the First Vice-President / Treasurer of OPSEU (Ontario Public Services Employees Union.)

“Well look at this crowd. We are the people. We’re here and we’re not going to let him cut our health care!”

Many OPSEU members at the rally signed their names to a banner that read: “We are the people,” before joining thousands of others from across Ontario to march up University Avenue to Queen’s Park to demand the provincial government back off any and all plans to cut, freeze, and privatize health care.

Almeida told the rally: “We’re here to tell Doug Ford: we don’t pick fights, but we don’t back down from them either.

"We’re here to tell Ford: touch our public health care and you’ll get burned!  We will keep coming back in larger and larger numbers until the cuts are stopped and health care services are improved and expanded.”

Hands off our health care

The crowd chanted “Hands Off Our Health Care” and joined hands to encircle Queen’s Park, at the largest rally there since Doug Ford became premier in June.

Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition, told the crowd: “In the five short months since the provincial election, Doug Ford has cut OHIP (Ontario Hospital Insurance Plan) and mental health funding,

“He has also released a major report calling for means testing, user fees and privatization of health care and other services. This is intolerable. He never talked about doing any of this in his campaign.”

Cold shoulder from Ford

Ford was the only Ontario political leader to refuse to address the rally. He also refused to send anyone to represent him or his party.

John Fraser, Interim Liberal Leader and Mike Schreiner, Leader of the Green Party pushed for more investment in the public health care system, not cuts.  The message being sent to the Ford government was clear, expand care not cuts.

Ontario New Democratic Party leader Andrea Horwath told the crowd: “Families want to know that when a loved one needs to visit the hospital, they won’t be stuck in a hallway.”

Patients and advocates called for improvements to health care and seniors care, hospital overcrowding and homecare, including reopening closed hospital beds, a long-term care minimum care standard of four hours per resident per day, and also that all new capacity in hospitals, long term care and community care to be built as pubic, non-profit services and not privatized.

Michael Hurley, President, OCHU/CUPE said, “This government plans to cut the heart out of healthcare funding. We expect the closure of 3,000 hospital beds by the time the dust settles, unless we push back hard—which we will.”

“Pre-election, Doug Ford promised to end hallway medicine, but instead he’s hired former B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell, who slashed health care in favour of privatization. Unifor is here to say hands off our health care,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President.

The many other groups and unions in the rally included the Council of Canadians, a variety of local health coalition chapters, and other unions like Unifor, CUPE (Canadian Union of Pubic Employees), ONA (Ontario Nurses Association) and UFCW (United Food and Commercial Workers.)

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1 month 2 weeks ago

Tue, 10/23/2018 - 16:48

Topic How Fair is That CPP money used to buy into profits from Trump’s ‘prison camps’

GEOFFREY RUBIN IS PLEASED WITH THE JOB HE’S DOING. The rest of us not so much. Not since we learned he’s investing some of our CPP (Canada Pension Plan) money in companies that profit from locking up immigrants crossing into the USA.

CPP Fund head Geoffrey Rubin approved investment in for-profit prisons

GEOFFREY RUBIN IS PLEASED WITH THE JOB HE’S DOING. The rest of us not so much. Not since we learned he’s investing some of our CPP (Canada Pension Plan) money in companies that profit from locking up immigrants crossing into the USA.

Rubin is chief strategist for the CPP Investment Board (CCPIB)—their job is to make the most of the surplus beyond what the CPP needs to meet its current obligations. The board has used our money to invest in more than 4,000 companies world-wide. Two of those investments are in companies deep into making the anti-immigrant polices of Donald Trump possible.

The CPPIB holds US$5.9m of stock in Geo Group and CoreCivic. Both companies run private prisons for massive profits, including the “prison camps” set up to cage  children following the US “zero-tolerance” crackdown on the US-Mexico border this summer.

Pension board ‘doubles down’ on prisons

Between August 2017 and 2018, the CPPIB grew its investment in Geo Group almost 13-fold to 153,500 shares worth $4.2m.

CoreCivic is the second largest private prison company in the USA. During the same period, our pension fund more than doubled our investment in CoreCivic to 73,700 shares, worth around $1.7 million. CPPIB sees nothing wrong with any of this. Their attitude is, it’s “just business,” and is just something that comes with the territory of big-time investing. And besides, the amount is really “small potatoes.”

A CPPIB spokesperson said: CPPIB’s objective is to seek a maximum rate of return without undue risk of loss. This singular goal means CPPIB does not screen out individual investments based on social, religious, economic or political criteria.” Many Canadians think this might be a good place to start.

Why not invest in narco gangs

CPPIB is a government agency, ultimately accountable to parliament, but free of any government input in its day-to-day operations. Despite its stated environmental, social and governance investment policy, CPPIB remains invested in some companies that other big investors have pulled out of due to ethical concerns.

For example, CPPIB holds:

  • a $186m investment in ExxonMobil,
  • a $202m investment in the tobacco giant Philip Morris International,
  • a $18.7m in the defense contractor General Dynamics and
  • a $36.8m in another defense contractor, Raytheon.

“Quite frankly, if they’re going to be investing in private prisons, weapons manufacturers and tobacco companies, why aren’t they investing in narco gangs?” asked NDP MP Charlie Angus.

Private prisons are a growth industry

The Trump administration’s policies have created a positive outlook for both the Geo Group and CoreCivic. Corporate executives for both companies told investors and analysts recently that they are expecting federal contracts for housing immigrant detainees to continue to grow.

Financial analysts from US investment banks and firms agree the companies have a positive growth outlook. “We believe an increased reliance on private prisons will likely be required to handle the inflow of detainees owing to federal prison populations that are at 120% of designed capacity,” wrote one JP Morgan analyst in a report about GEO Group.

Both companies provide a favorable dividend yield of about 7%, which means each investor receives a steady 7% return of their investment.

All of which is all that Geoffrey Rubin and his boss Finance Minister Bill Moreau need to hear it seems. A 7% return will trump other people’s pain and suffering every time.

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2 months 3 weeks ago

Thu, 09/20/2018 - 10:23

Topic This Working Life MPs open up about life on the ‘barbecue circuit’ and other disappointments

MOST OF US THINK OUR MPS COULD DO BETTER. SO DO THEY. And they are not afraid to say so.

Scott Brison, MP at a barbecue this summer in Hants County NS

MOST OF US THINK OUR MPS COULD DO BETTER. SO DO THEY. And they are not afraid to say so.

That is just one of the revelations in ongoing research released in July by the Ottawa-based Samara Centre for Democracy.

Samara’s research comes “straight from the horse’s mouth.” It is the result of 54 one-on-one, frank and candid interviews with former MPS who sat in parliament from 2011 to 2015. The former MPs belonged to all the different parties and came from every region of Canada—but they all agreed that they rarely got to be the MP they wanted to be for one main reason: confusion over what an MP can do, and should do; confusion over where the real action is.

Where is the real action?

There never used to be any confusion: MPs were supposed to go to Ottawa to debate and fashion national policy that would deliver the greatest good to the greatest number. It was serious work that kept them in Ottawa for most of the year.  Few had offices in their constituencies. That changed in the early 60s.

The job of governing was “hollowed out.” All the important work and thinking was taken over by cabinet ministers and party staffers. The job of MPs was reduced to little more than knowing when to "show up for the vote."

With less required of them in Ottawa MPs used their time to pay more attention to work in their constituencies. Soon constituency offices were a requirement, not an option. MPs spent a lot more time back home “being seen” on the community “barbecue circuit”, “consulting” with various community groups and doing “case work” for individual constituents.

All worthwhile. Yet not directly engaged in governing. Recent public opinion data finds that a majority of Canadians would rather see MPs stay in Ottawa and focus their energy on governing.

The simple fact is parliament, and only parliament, is where the action is when it comes to keeping Canada on track. As one MP in the study put it:

“When I read MPs that say, ‘Oh well, Ottawa’s all theater, and the real work is when you can solve a problem for your constituent,’ I think that’s bullshit. That’s the work I used to do [before I was elected]. I did not put my name on a ballot so that I could do more of that work."

'As puff-pastry-thin as possible'

Constituency work is not an option these days. One MP told the researchers:

“I did about seven to nine [events] a day… And still, people felt that I wasn’t showing up… I spread myself as puff-pastry thin as possible and yet, still… I just constantly felt like I was letting people down.”

Another MP recalled:

“We had enormous pressure to go to events, and it was the driving, fundamental outreach strategy to make sure your MP was visible and at events, all the time. At certain events, they tracked your attendance…. [The PMO] tracked whether or not you were going and how many you went to, and would talk to you about it…. I never thought it was a good use of time.

When researchers suggested to one former MP that events could provide opportunities to hear the concerns of constituents, their response was blunt:

“That’s crazy talk. I’m sorry, but that’s crazy talk. ...Events—that’s where you’re drinking and socializing…. You don’t have time to have a fulsome discussion.”

'Guys at mics'

Samara reports some MPs strenuously tried to consult their constituents on a range of issues. One MP recalls just how futile their efforts proved:

“I really tried hard. I had, like I said, three to four town halls every year on various topics and I would send direct-mail letters and a “ten percenter,” and they were in a different area of the riding. I’d blanket the entire area. Let them know when it is, it’s free, there will be coffee and snacks: ‘Come and talk to your MP.’ It seemed to me that I generally got the same people every time. It didn’t matter where I held them. The turnout was always low.”

Another MP described the challenge of “guys at mics”:

“You put up the note that you’re going to have the meeting on something. You get up. You speak. And I call it ‘guys at mics’ come next. Because it’s always [the same] guys at mics. Wherever you are.”

Six million pieces of literature

Most of the MPs interviewed described how other aspects of constituency work had crowded out opportunities for thoughtful and innovative consultation.

“At the end of it all, I really don’t know how to connect with the broad range of constituents. I door-knocked every Friday for four and a half years. I held town halls. I did my social media. I sent out something in the neighbourhood of six million pieces of literature. Really trying actively for engagement. I don’t know that there was any real uptake in engagement.”

Buried alive in casework

Casework has grown to take up almost all the time of constituency staff. A result of the continuing cutbacks to frontline public services and the personal face-time that constituency offices offer.

Time spent on casework is stolen from time that could be spent on attending to the job of legislating. Also, since casework amounts to solving a personal problem for one individual constituent, there is a real concern about favouring some over others. Not something our government is ever supposed to do.

The never-ending demand for casework suggests a deeper  problem: namely, an inadequate level of government services overall.

Former MPs questioned why this kind of work wasn’t the responsibility of the public service. As one MP remarked, “We were basically running a subset of the Federal Government of Canada in our constituency office.” Another recalled “I had great [staff]. But I’d think, ‘Why are you doing this work? There’s a Service Canada office just down the road.’”

Piecemeal solutions doled out one person at a time are not what is needed. Rather the need is for national, permanent, and system-wide solutions. MPs should push for those solutions, and they can do that most effectively in Ottawa—not from barbecues back home.

The Samara document ends with a call for the “reenvisioning of modern-day constituency work." A reenvisoning that “should mean connecting the local to the national, by bringing debates in Parliament to constituents in ways that empower informed participation, and by seeking national solutions to community problems.”

And for the reconfiguring of constituency offices “so that they become the shopfront not for public service delivery, but for innovative consultation and democratic deliberation.”

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Reimagining constituency work for local democratic engagement




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3 months ago

Sun, 09/16/2018 - 14:48

Topic How Fair is That Low-income renters forced to live on Vancouver streets

THEY ARE NOBODY’S DREAM HOMES. Taking a bath could bring the whole room crashing down. Rotting floors make many toilets unsafe to use. Rats, mice and cockroaches are everybody’s uninvited roommates. Yet the the dozens of Single Room Occupancy (SRO) hotels in Vancouver are home to thousands of people down on their luck.

Jack Gates brought his mattress to the mayor

THEY ARE NOBODY’S DREAM HOMES. Taking a bath could bring the whole room crashing down. Rotting floors make many toilets unsafe to use. Rats, mice and cockroaches are everybody’s uninvited roommates. Yet the the dozens of Single Room Occupancy (SRO) hotels in Vancouver are home to thousands of people down on their luck.

The problem is, fixing the situation of thousands living in buildings “unfit for human habitation” in one of the richest nations in the world is not easy in the hottest real estate market in Canada.

Millions for a burned out hulk

Vancouver is now the third least affordable city in the world. One study found that Vancouver has undergone the worst deterioration of any major housing market in the world in recent years.

In August, a property agent revealed that a house that burned down last year in the high-end Kitsilano neighbourhood is on the market at $3.9 million. All that remains of the house is a pile of rubble.

Even so, the agent says its worth the price tag because of the location and the opportunity for the new owner to build from scratch. He claimed that the ruins of a house in the city centre would have sold for around $10 million.

The city’s long-term goal is to continue to replace aging SROs with social-housing units that have private bathrooms. The catch is that closing SROs leaves hundreds homeless.

The SROs are very valuable property to their owners. They are also very valuable housing for our poor. Activists ask: “Is building luxury condos the only viable industry left in B.C.? And why is the benefit from development not going to solve the housing problem in B.C.?”

Pile of rubble worth millions Activists join residents to press for change

Residents and activists have long campaigned for action to provide immediate decent housing for those still living in dilapidated SROs and to eliminate any need for them at all by building plenty of public low-income housing.

Jack Gates has few fond memories of the 15 years he lived at the Regent Hotel. He says he found nine people dead in their rooms over those years. He got another nasty surprise the day he turned over his mattress to find dead mice hanging out of it.

Gates took his mattress down to Vancouver city hall and propped it against mayor Gregor Robertson’s office door. He attached a note that read: “Would you sleep on this mattress, Gregor?”

Balmoral Hotel residents also occupied the Vancouver city council chambers last summer to protest the city’s refusal to enforce by-laws against the hotel owners.

Protests are bound to increase as the housing crisis deepens.

A report earlier this year found that average rent in Vancouver’s SROs rose by $139 last year to $687 per month. That means, after paying their rent, someone living on welfare only has $23 left for food, clothing and personal care for a month—less than a dollar a day.

Meanwhile, the homeless population in Vancouver has risen by 30 percent since 2014. Indigenous people make up 40 percent of the total homeless population.

A mansion tax and an end to ‘renovictions’

The lack of housing for low-income people in Vancouver, combined with the millions being raked in by property investors and real estate agents, makes the search for a solution a hot topic in the ongoing election campaign for city council.

Jean Swanson, a long-standing campaigner for social justice in the city, is running for city council on a platform that includes a four-year rent freeze, and a mansion tax on all properties worth more than $5 million. “We need to insist that social housing goes everywhere, so we can be an inclusive city,” she said in a recent debate.

Although the City of Vancouver has imposed an empty homes tax, housing activists believe the housing crisis can only be overcome with serious provincial and federal government investments in public housing.

The Vancouver Tenants Union has long campaigned for investment in public housing and rent controls on housing units. In recent years, the Tenants Union has stopped over 20 “renovictions”, the term it uses to describe an eviction caused by higher rent prices after a unit is modernized.

The group is also looking beyond these successes by encouraging its members and supporters to fight for policy change. “We strongly distrust the popular narrative of a market-driven ‘supply solution’ to the housing crisis, which is doomed to failure without addressing speculation or the requirements of unit affordability,” writes the group.

“[T]here is the reality of a large population of working class and low-income people in need of adequate housing that the market will simply never provide of its own accord.”

The leading right-wing candidates for mayor oppose all such ideas. Instead they  try to outdo each other with offers of concessions to real estate developers and investors: such as, cutting taxes, deregulating the planning process, and allowing increased density of housing construction.

Vancouver city elections are set for October 20.

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3 months 1 week ago

Mon, 09/10/2018 - 12:06

Topic How Fair is That Better health for all depends on better life for all

J. GARY PERLINE DIDN’T CHOOSE TO BE SICK. He didn’t choose to be poor either. But he was. Poverty didn’t make him sick. But it did make him more likely to get sick.

J. GARY PERLINE DIDN’T CHOOSE TO BE SICK. He didn’t choose to be poor either. But he was. Poverty didn’t make him sick. But it did make him more likely to get sick.

The impact of poverty and other “social determinants” on our health is just one of the hidden truths Andrew McLeod sets out in his new book All Together Healthy: A Canadian Wellness Revolution. They are truths health care policy makers work hard to have us ignore.

They make it sound like good health is all up to us. It all depends on each one of us making the right personal choices. They know it is not true. They know income inequality and other social factors hugely affect—and predict—the choices we will make.

‘My life was fucked before it started’

Consider someone like J. Gary Pelerine. What real “choices” did he ever have. McLeod writes:

"The story of his life included becoming a parent while still a teenager himself, divorce, estrangement from his children, a workplace back injury, hearing loss from working on loud job sites, and a suicide attempt. It started with a childhood lived in poverty in New Glasgow in northern Nova Scotia. “I grew up shithouse poor. I mean poor,” he said, drawing out the “poor” to stress just how poor he meant.

“I used to get off the school bus sometimes, change out of my school clothes into my hunting clothes, and if there wasn’t a rabbit in one of my snares when I got home, back from my trip through the woods, there wasn’t anything on that fucking table for dinner that night, buddy.

"There were four kids in the family and he was working on a farm baling hay by the time he was fourteen. Pelerine wasn’t blaming anyone for how his life had turned out, describing it as a long run of bad luck, but he observed, 'My life was fucked before it started.'

"It’s true that many people make choices that they know are bad for their health. It’s also true that everyone comes from somewhere."

Factors none of us can control

McLeod writes that decades of evidence show that most of what determines a person’s health is beyond the individual’s control. To individualize the problem is to imply that if you are fat, diabetic or sick, it’s all your own fault.

There is abundant evidence, for example, that type two diabetes, which accounts for 90 per cent of cases, is closely tied to income.  And yet the fact that the chances a person will become diabetic increase, at each step down the income ladder, is glossed over by Diabetes Canada.

In a 2015 report, the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) found that despite heavy spending on health care there was still a persistent health outcome divide between rich and poor.

Low income earners still had worse health outcomes overall including everything from mental health, to obesity, infant mortality and smoking. The reality is: not only are poorer people more likely to smoke, they are more likely to get sick from it.

Money even affects the likelihood that cancer treatment will succeed. For the wealthiest people living in Canada’s cities, there’s a 73 per cent chance they will survive five years after they are diagnosed. For the poorest, the five-year survival rate is 61 per cent.

“Put another way,” writes McLeod, “if 100 rich people and 100 poor people are diagnosed with cancer, 12 more of the poor people than the rich will be dead within five years.”

The CIHI’s report argued that major progress on health inequities was unlikely without taking a broader social approach, including boosting people’s incomes. Lower taxes and cuts to social assistance in the mid-1990s had contributed to a widening gap, it said.

Mapping life and death

McLeod points out how health levels skew widely by postal code. It’s concrete proof of the effects of social determinants of health. Simply put: rich neighbourhoods are good for your health and poor neighbourhoods aren’t. We can even map it.

There are thousands of maps online that link life expectancy to where you live. In Toronto, for example, the Toronto Community Health Profiles Partnership has an online map of Toronto neighbourhoods (2006-2008), mapped to show where inhabitants tend to live longer than others.

Factors that make your neighbourhood so important to how healthy you are include the education level of residents, income, having the tax base to support good schools, unsafe or unhealthy housing, access to nutritious food, and opportunities to exercise.

The 2016 My Health My Community survey of people in Vancouver found that the likelihood of someone saying their health was “good” or “excellent” was directly linked to which neighbourhood they call home.

None of this is a secret. Reports by the federal government linking improved social conditions to better public health date back to one written in 1974.

Justin Trudeau made Dr. Jane Philpott his health minister. When Philpott’s daughter entered medical school she posted a blog advising her daughter: “the social determinants of health actually set the stage for all those biomedical actors… Do your part to influence those social determinants. Speak up when you see the impact of poverty, unemployment, violence and more.”

However, in Trudeau’s mandate letter to Philpott, the words “social determinants of health” were never mentioned.

So, we are today about where former federal health minister Monique Bégin left us in her 2010 forward to Social Determinants of Health: The Canadian Facts:

“What good does it do to treat people’s illnesses, to then send them back to the conditions that made them sick?”

It’s a simple question, massive in its implications. The more our leaders find ways to avoid answering it, the more it becomes obvious we will just have to find our own ways to make them.

The work Andrew McLeod does in All Together Healthy: A Canadian Wellness Revolution will help us find those ways and realize that revolution.

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3 months 2 weeks ago

Sun, 09/02/2018 - 10:52

Topic Privatization Airlines freer to use company standards to test company pilots

IS AIR SAFETY TOO IMPORTANT TO BE LEFT ALL TO THE AIRLINES? Transport Canada doesn’t seem to think so.

IS AIR SAFETY TOO IMPORTANT TO BE LEFT ALL TO THE AIRLINES? Transport Canada doesn’t seem to think so.

The federal agency has decided to give the airlines even more responsibility for keeping us safe in the air. Starting this fall Transport Canada will let the airlines decide whether or not the people testing their pilots are qualified enough to do the testing.

That is: an airline like Westjet will be deciding, on its own, whether certain Westjet pilots are qualified to be testing other Westjet pilots to see it they should be flying for Westjet airlines.

The obvious conflict of interest here, and potential increased public risk, is lost on the government agency—and roundly dismissed by airline industry flaks.

Public vs corporate priorities

“Public safety is inevitably going to be challenged by corporate priorities,” said Greg Holbrook, director of operations with the Canadian Federal Pilots Association, the union representing 450 government aviation inspectors.

In order to maintain their credentials, pilots must regularly undergo what is known as a “Pilot Proficiency Check,” which tests their abilities under regular and emergency flying conditions.

But Transport Canada doesn’t have nearly enough inspectors to do all the testing required, so for the last 25 years the department has used “check pilots.” These pilots are employed by commercial airlines like Westjet or Air Canada, and have been approved to administer the tests. They often work for the same company as the pilot they are evaluating.

Transport Canada inspectors set higher standards. Overall pilot failure rate is small, less than 4%. But, from 2005 to 2016, twice as many pilots were failed by Transport Canada inspectors than by industry-employed check pilots

With the policy change Transport Canada inspectors will be less involved in ensuring those who are testing and signing off on Canada’s pilots as up to par.

Holbrook believes conflicts are inevitable. He described how an evaluator conducting a pilot proficiency check on a friend and workmate might feel pressure to pass their colleague, even if he or she didn’t quite meet the standard.

Holbrook says the evaluator is bound to ask himself: “Do I have to satisfy Transport Canada, or do I go along with what my boss wants, with the one who signs my paycheck, and pass the guy?”

‘Further erosion’ inevitable

Transport Canada’s own risk assessment last year found that implementing the new system would result in “a further erosion” of its ability to keep an eye on how the industry polices itself.

In 2017, Transport Canada inspectors performed 300 pilot proficiency checks compared to 15,000 by industry-employed testers.

Newly released statistics seem to bear out critics’ fears. Until last year, the number of accidents and incidents involving commercial aircraft were on a steady decline in Canada.

But in February, the Transportation Safety Board revealed that there had been 94 incidents involving commercial aircraft operators in 2017, a jump from the 63 recorded in 2016 and much higher than the five-year average of 79.

“If there was ever a time for Transport Canada to get into the cockpits, to get back to providing oversight, to get back to providing checks on a regular basis, the time is now,” said Greg McConnell, national chair of the Canadian Federal Pilots Association (CFPA), which represents government pilots and inspectors.

“I hate to say we’re on the precipice of something bad, but we are.”

Cutting into profits always an issue

Failing a pilot means grounding them, and potentially sending them back into a flight simulator to practice.

If a company doesn’t own their own simulators, they need to pay to use one and often pay extra to cover the pilot’s hotel room and per diems during re-training. The company might even have to adjust its flight schedule, shuffling other pilots around to compensate.

Transport Canada’s inspectors don’t care about any of that, McConnell noted.

The new Transport Canada policy just pushes the industry one step closer to self-regulation, said McConnell.

“It’s a good (regulatory) system, it requires more vigilance, it requires more oversight on behalf of transport Canada,” he said. “You need to have the cops on the street.”

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3 months 3 weeks ago

Sat, 08/25/2018 - 10:02

Topic The Ways We Win Trump doesn’t like how we sell milk. Tough!

BETTINA SCHUURMAN DIDN’T WANT TO DIE FOR SUPPLY MANAGEMENT. She wanted to live for it. That’s not how it worked out.

Henk and Bettina Schuurman: ready to take to the road

BETTINA SCHUURMAN DIDN’T WANT TO DIE FOR SUPPLY MANAGEMENT. She wanted to live for it. That’s not how it worked out.

Bettina, 55, was killed July 9 when a semi-trailer hit her John Deere 6430 tractor on a rural stretch of highway between Saskatoon and Langham, Saskatchewan. Her husband Henk survived.

Bettina and Henk were on a mission. They wanted to raise awareness and support for the supply management of milk. They planned to drive the 4,300 km from their dairy farm in Elmira, Ontario to Vancouver on their 40 kph tractor. It would be a bold adventure to bolster Canadian commitment to supply management. Sixteen days into the trip Bettina was dead.

Trade talks put them on the road

Bettina and Henk fixed a giant plastic cow, nicknamed Maple, to the back of their tractor, along with a sign that read: “Honk to support quality milk produced by Canadian farm families.”

A big, sign on the front of their tractor read, “Keep my milk 100 % Canadian.”

The couple said they would camp and stay with other farmers along the way. “We are looking forward to seeing the country,” Henk said in an interview the day the couple left Elmira.

Bettina and Henk had created a good life for themselves as dairy farmers in Elmira. They needed supply management to keep it that way. It’s the same for all our egg and chicken farmers. But, current trade talks have put supply management on the table and under threat.

Henk and Bettina Schuurman with their tractor in Elmira, Ontario Let’s talk supply management. Not!

Supply management has three big things going for it: it’s Canadian made; it works for farmers and consumers and...Donald Trump hates it.

Yet, talk of supply management is a conversation stopper. Few of us know what it is. Fewer still want to listen to talk about it. So, we are generally ready to let it go. This is unfortunate.

Supply management is important in practice and in principle.

In practice: it stabilizes the prices we all pay for milk, eggs and chicken and it stabilizes the return milk, egg and chicken farmers will get for their work.

Consumers get a steady supply of safe and affordable food. Thousands of farmers get to make a decent living from farming.

In principle: it gives everyday people (milk, egg and chicken farmers) a way to break free of the dictates of the not-so-free market system.

Doesn’t cost us a thing

Federal government direct subsidies to farmers were once common in Canada. But a crisis of agricultural overproduction in the 1960s made such subsidies too high to bear. Supply management offered a way for the government to help farmers without asking the rest of us to foot the bill.

Under supply management, a national marketing agency, mostly made up of farmers, determines production amounts for each commodity and then sets production quotas for each province.

In order to sell their products, a farmer must hold a quota (basically a license to produce up to a set amount.) The quota system prevents market gluts that would cause prices to dip and disrupt farm incomes.

As of 2015, there were just over 16,000 quota holders in Canada—most of them dairy farmers in Ontario and Quebec.

Supply-managed producers are guaranteed a minimum price for their products. Through provincial marketing boards, farmers negotiate minimum “farm gate prices” with processors.

Trump just blowing smoke—again

Effective supply management also depends on protecting Canadian producers from foreign imports that could undercut Canadian prices. This requires high tariffs on foreign imports.

It’s this policy in particular that annoys Trump, who has said the policy is unfair to American farmers.

In fact, overproduction is the main source of the financial problems plaguing dairy operations in the USA.

Persistent overproduction drives farm-gate milk prices far below the cost of production and more and more American dairy farmers into insolvency. Recently, a surge in dairy-farmer suicides caused national alarm in the USA, drawing attention to what the New York Times called “the widespread hopelessness afflicting the industry”

Bruce Muirhead is a historian at the University of Waterloo who has written extensively about supply management. He told CBC News that while U.S. President Donald Trump has pushed Canada to dismantle our supply management system, many dairy farmers in the USA envy what our farmers have.

Muirhead said Wisconsin farmers in particular are beset by production issues that have caused prices to tank; the state has more cows than all of Canada and produces more milk.

“Those guys are massively in favour of supply management. It would stabilize their industry,” he said.

Canada leaves about 10 per cent of our domestic dairy market open to foreign imports.

The United States gives foreign dairy products access to only 2.75 per cent of its domestic market. Europe offers just 0.5 per cent access for foreign poultry.

In 2016, Canada imported dairy products from the US worth five times more than the small amount it exported there.

Trump has it all wrong once more. But that doesn’t mean he won’t bully his way to what he wants. It is the fear that he might that cost Bettina and Henk Schuurman so much. That alone should give us all reason enough to support and defend our supply management system.

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3 months 4 weeks ago

Sun, 08/19/2018 - 13:21

Topic This Working Life Forest fire firefighters prove their worth and a lot more besides

RICHARD SOLOMON IS A HERO TODAY. He is also living proof of the value of a strong public service.

Exhausted firefighters take a break from battling BC forest fires

RICHARD SOLOMON IS A HERO TODAY. He is also living proof of the value of a strong public service.

Richard is on the government payroll. He works for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF). He is one of hundreds of firefighters deep in the Ontario woods doing the exhausting, dirty and dangerous work needed to extinguish raging forest fires in Ontario—fighting to save homes and keep people safe.

That’s not a reality conservatives like. They prefer their own make-believe reality of a public service that they like to say “costs too much and delivers too little.” Richard and his fellow members of Ontario Public Service Union (OPSEU) Local 623 do not live or work in that kind of reality. Their job is public service: regardless of risk or reward. And they are good at it.

‘It’s in our blood’

“We are looking after safety, and looking after Ontario. It’s in our blood,” says Len Sedore, OPSEU Local 623 president.

Richard’s crew worked 19 days in a row in early July, with only a two day break, before returning to fight the fire. The firefighters live in tents in forest camps, far from their homes and families. The forests are infested with bugs, the smoke and heat is inescapable.

“We work four per crew,” says Richard. “We go where the fires are, and where we are needed—out to North Bay, Sudbury, then back to Cochrane. The new people team up with the seasoned firefighters and we help each other out.” Crews from Nova Scotia, PEI, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia have all come to aid the Ontario fight.

No matter how good you think you are there’s always a risk, says Richard. “We knock down the fire by putting water all around it, and then start working inside the fire ASAP so it doesn’t jump above the water. But the wind can come out of nowhere.”

“Everything switches with the wind. It just takes you by surprise, and you never know.”

“Safety is number one. We all work together’” says Len Sedore. He is part of a close-knit team in the Sudbury area, including firefighters as well as IT, engineers, pilots, and warehouse and administrative staff.

“All hands are on deck, and we are working flat out,” says Sedore. “Helicopters and water-bombers are doing missions all day long. We are working around the clock bringing clothes, food and resources to the firefighters out in the field.”

“These are true heroes,” says OPSEU President, Warren (Smokey) Thomas. “They make us all proud.”

“The bravery and commitment of these OPSEU members is extraordinary. They are putting their own lives and safety at risk, so that our communities are safe from the dangerous flames and smoke. I could not be more proud of these workers on the front lines as they continue to face down the fires and protect our province.”

Regaining control

The successful efforts of firefighting crews are evident all over the province. In Henvey Inlet First Nation near Parry Sound, for example, their efforts allowed residents to start making their way back home August 8.

Angele Dubois is one of almost 200 people the fires forced out of the community, in mid-July. She says she’s just happy to be able to return home.

“I just have a whole new appreciation for day-to-day life there, the nature that surrounds us, the community itself, all the structures, the buildings, the services we have,” she said.

Dubois also gave her thanks to ministry firefighters and local officials for “coordinating all of this and making sure everyone was safe.”

As of August 14 there were 5,915 forest fires burning in Canada—at least 50 in every province and territory except PEI. BC, Alberta and Ontario each had over 1000 active fires.

Dedicated and brave public service workers are on the front line working long and hard to extinguish every single one of those fires. Something to remember the next time someone starts huffing and puffing about a make-believe public service that is supposed to “cost too much and deliver too little.”

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3 months 4 weeks ago

Thu, 08/16/2018 - 18:05

Topic Feed Your Head Progressive populism is as Canadian as maple syrup

DONALD TRUMP GIVES POPULISM A BAD NAME. The “populism” he purveys is not even real populism. It is a deformed and twisted version of populism—a dark evil twin of true populism, whether of left or right.

DONALD TRUMP GIVES POPULISM A BAD NAME. The “populism” he purveys is not even real populism. It is a deformed and twisted version of populism—a dark evil twin of true populism, whether of left or right.

Wikipedia says: “In politics, populism refers to a range of approaches which emphasize the role of “the people” and often juxtapose this group against “the elite.” Differences over the best ways to unseat the elites is what separates right wing populists from left wing populists.

True populist parties, of the right and left, have had their day many times in Canada and the USA over the past 150 years.

“The Wizard of Oz”, for example, was probably written as an elaborate metaphor to support the rise of a third-party populist campaign in Kansas and other mid-western states in the USA in the 1890s. The campaign aim was to wrest power from bankers and business leaders. (Think gold for the yellow brick road and ounce for Oz and you begin to get an idea of the true meaning under the so-called children’s fable of the Wizard of Oz.)

But, no truly populist campaign ever traded in the hard-bitten hate and calculated incitement to hate that Trump uses to “fire up his base.”

Our kind of populism

Canada has a long and robust tradition of progressive populism, going back at least to 1915, when the Non-Partisan League, a socialist agrarian protest movement originating in North Dakota, was imported into the prairie provinces. It became a serious force here after its American counterpart swept the North Dakota elections in 1916.

Active in electoral politics at both provincial and federal levels, the League lobbied on behalf of small farmers against eastern banks and corporate interests. In 1917, it captured two seats in the Alberta legislature.   

The United Farmers of Alberta (UFA), originally a progressive non-partisan grassroots lobby group, launched its own political arm and absorbed the League in 1919. It went on to be spectacularly successful provincially, winning a majority in the Alberta legislature in 1921, and remaining in power until 1935. Like the League, the UFA opposed political parties, insisting that its elected members be guided entirely by their respective constituency organizations.

The United Farmers movement was not confined to Alberta. The United Farmers of Ontario formed the provincial government from 1919-1923, in coalition with the Independent Labour Party (ILP). It introduced allowances for widows and children and a women’s minimum wage, expanded Hydro into rural areas, and created a provincially-owned bank that would lend money to farmers at a lower rate. It undertook major public works, too: a massive reforestation program and beginning the construction of our modern highway system.

The United Farmers of Manitoba won power in Manitoba without a leader in 1922, and governed until 1942. Its elected representatives called themselves the Progressive Party of Manitoba. It was less progressive, however, than the other United Farmers’ governments—and in 1942, it was a co-founder of the federal Progressive Conservative Party.

Till power is brought to pooling

Till Power Is Brought to Pooling is the title of a book of speeches made by Tommy Douglas, one of the most successful progressive political leaders Canada has ever had. The title reaches back to a forgotten time. Yet, although obscure today, there could be no Canadian reference more fitting for a book praising and promoting the power of progressive populism.

Saskatchewan wheat farmers used “pooling” to break free of corporate control of their lives. They took direct action to create the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool in 1923—a co-operative marketing organization imagined, created, owned and controlled by the farmers themselves.

Thousands of volunteer organizers travelled from farmhouse to farmhouse to get farmers to put their futures into the hands of the untested “wheat pool.” Farmers trusted other farmers. In less than a year 45,000 farmers had signed contracts agreeing to sell all their wheat through The Pool for five years—in the full knowledge that the huge private grain marketing companies would retaliate by manipulating prices.

The Pool was a huge success—perhaps the greatest success for progressive populism in Canada ever. It delivered stable prices to prairie wheat farmers for over half a century.

Stacks of signed contracts from farmers supporting their Wheat Pool in 1926

The United Farmers of Canada (Saskatchewan Section) also pushed for progressive reforms in education and health care. In 1932, it joined forces with the ILP to form the Farmer-Labour Group, which in 1934 won five seats in the Saskatchewan legislature. The coalition then affiliated with the newly-created Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, becoming the Saskatchewan CCF, which first introduced medicare in 1962.

On the national level, there was the Progressive Party, an uneasy coalition of radical Ontario and prairie farmers and dissident federal Liberals, founded in 1920. One year later, it won 65 seats in the west, Ontario and New Brunswick, becoming the second-largest party in Parliament. The party rapidly declined in popularity, however: some of its members eventually joined the CCF, others the Progressive Conservative Party.

The co-operative commonwealth

The best known of all of these allied populist movements was the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, founded in Calgary in 1932 by a number of groups, including the UFA, unions and progressive academics. Its members embraced electoral politics, running federally and provincially, and many were elected—the CCF governed Saskatchewan by 1944, and had 28 federal MPs by 1945.

But the Cold War intervened, and as a left-wing party, the CCF was stigmatized and rapidly declined in the 1950s. In 1961, it joined with the CLC to form the NDP.

It was just one more example of how grassroots radicalism had been effectively taken over by orthodox party politics. Formal electoral politics is in many ways contradictory to a populist movement, even if the former springs from the latter. In Canada, there has always been a tension between the two.

Learning from progressive populism

Can left-populist “movement” politics be socially transformative (as proposed in the LEAP Manifesto, and a few years ago by the New Politics Initiative), instead of running out of steam as has so often been the case?

Can electoral politics be reconstructed to offer more policy options, with far more accountability to constituents between elections? Can political decision-making be decentralized, and electoral politics integrated with ongoing grassroots initiatives, so that ordinary citizens feel engaged instead of ignored?

Perhaps our history of strong progressive populism can help us find practical answers to those increasingly urgent questions.

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4 months 1 week ago

Tue, 07/31/2018 - 11:07

Topic Privatization Private services waste our money

Public services create valuable assets for you and me.


Private services create money for shareholders. Why would we pay to do that? It just doesn't make any sense.

Public services create valuable assets for you and me. Things like the power grid, safe water and sewer systems, schools, hospitals, airports, dams—all things with real tangible value that we own.

Privatization just doesn't make any sense. It’s like selling your house that you worked hard to pay for and own free and clear and then paying rent to live in it.



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4 months 2 weeks ago

Sun, 07/29/2018 - 10:05

Topic How Fair is That Greyhound bus bails on two million riders

GREYHOUND BUS HAS LEFT VERA PETERS STRANDED. She’s not alone. She’s just one of the two million Canadians who won’t be able to count on Greyhound bus to stay connected any more.

Vera Peters: Stranded in Edmonton

GREYHOUND BUS HAS LEFT VERA PETERS STRANDED. She’s not alone. She’s just one of the two million Canadians who won’t be able to count on Greyhound bus to stay connected any more.

Vera lives in Edmonton. The Greyhound decision to abandon its bus service in Western Canada means she won’t be able to visit any of her three children.

“Sure there’s flights from Edmonton to Vancouver where one of my daughters lives, but for low-income people like me, there’s no way we can afford it. As for visiting the other kids in small communities, you can’t get a flight there. The bus was the only way in.”

For Vera, it also means the end to a low-cost and quick way of sending parcels.

“We could just pop it on the next bus and it would be there the same time the bus was. With Canada Post it’s a lot more expensive and it takes forever.”

By October 31 Greyhound will have cancelled all bus service in Canada west of Ontario. This move will throw 415 people out of work. It will also leave over 2 million riders scrambling to find other ways to connect with each other—something Greyhound has been doing since 1929, when it first began operations in BC.

A lot more than a bus service

For riders who use the bus to access healthcare, the news is heart stopping.   

Jean Grassick of Dauphin, Manitoba takes the bus to Winnipeg for regular treatments to halt a progressive eye condition. She told CBC News that without the treatments, she’ll go blind.

UBC professor, Penny Gurstein, believes that the federal government should step in because these route closures will effectively limit access to essential services like medical care, putting people’s health and lives at risk.

AMC Grand Chief Arlen Dumas agrees and is calling on the provincial and federal governments to help First Nations and others living in remote communities create a subsidized, sustainable transportation network.

“The more that we take the opportunity to take over these types of things — to provide services for ourselves — the better off we all are,” he said.

Escape route for abused women

Even more ominous is the threat these closures pose for women fleeing violence.

Abusive partners often control the purse strings so their victims have no access to the means of making an escape. Women in these situations have relied on shelters paying the bus fare to get them to safety, whether that be to a shelter or to supportive family and friends in another location.

Joanne Baker, executive director of the BC Society of Transition houses, puts it bluntly. “It is vital that women in rural and remote communities have access to safe and affordable transportation. Without it, they may have little choice but to remain with their abuser.”

For indigenous women, the stakes are even higher. They are in danger not only from abusive partners but from predators who treat them as disposable, and who seldom face consequences for raping, brutalizing, or even murdering them.

Jody Leon, a member of the Splatsin First Nation in BC states their concerns. “There’s a lot of people in Indigenous communities right now that have a lot of fear around the cancellation of the Greyhound line.”  

The Native Women’s Association of Canada has issued a news release in response to the cuts, asserting that a lack of safe transportation is “encouraging travellers to resort to less safe means of transportation such as hitchhiking or walking unsafe highways.”

An essential service for indigenous people

As Grand Chief Doug Kelly says, “If they’re hitchhiking, they’re vulnerable; they’re  vulnerable to violence, they’re  vulnerable to murder.”

In his role as chair of the First Nations Health Council in BC, he sees bus service between remote communities as an essential service without which vulnerable women and girls are put in an even more dangerous position.

Yet Greyhound Canada senior vice-president Stuart Kendrick said in an interview with The Canadian Press that “Simply put, the issue that we have seen is the routes in rural parts of Canada­­—specifically Western Canada—are just not sustainable anymore.”

Peter Hamel, Greyhound’s regional vice president for Western Canada, said that the company has been running deficits and have no profitable routes left in Western Canada.

“That’s the argument that we’ve been making [to the government]. This is the message that we’ve been trying to communicate this year and for five years — that no private sector company can be sustainable in these markets, in these regions, without some sort of assistance.”

So what’s the solution?

Some government officials have said they expect the private sector will jump in and fill the gap. It seems an odd assertion to make when one of the largest and most established private sector players is abandoning bus service for the entire region.

Nicole Sarauer of the Saskatchewan NDP doesn’t buy it. She points out there has been no private sector backup ever since the shutdown of the Saskatchewan Transportation Company. “We’ve seen little of that so far. And now with the shutdown of Greyhound, it’s even more concerning.”

Sarauer also believes losing the bus is a health and safety issue: it affects those who need to travel to get medical care in the larger cities, and impacts women fleeing domestic violence and dangerous situations.

Others have suggested that ride sharing would provide an alternative to bus service.

Leon isn’t so sure that this is a good solution for indigenous women and girls. “We know, based on past history, that some of our people have gone missing utilizing things like ride share.”

Publicly-owned bus service

Stop the Cuts member Chelsea Flook thinks she has the answer.  She believes the best alternative includes accessing funding from the federal government for inter-city transportation, and starting up a scaled-down version of the formerly publicly-funded Saskatchewan Transportation Company.

“We would like them to see the consequences of their actions—that their whole idea that the market is going to step in, that’s not true, so they now need to get serious about coming up with alternatives,” she said.

Three BC Council of Canadian members, Joanne Banks, Eric Doherty and Anita Strong make a case for creating a publicly-owned and operated highway bus network that would be superior to the service Greyhound is abandoning.

Not only would it serve the safety needs of indigenous women and girls, as well as those of other women living in rural communities, it would also lead to fewer traffic accidents. Most of the communities served experience severe weather conditions, especially in winter. Keeping more drivers off the road during storms and icy driving conditions would keep everyone safer.

They also argue that it would cut down on green-house gas pollution and help meet Canada’s Paris climate conditions.

“Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has shown a willingness to spend billions to nationalize and expand an oil pipeline. Low-carbon transportation for people should be his funding priority instead. Regardless of what name is on the buses, the federal government must step up with funding.”

Vera Peters agrees with all their conclusions. And she adds another one. A publicly-funded bus service would create greater equality between all Canadians.

“These cuts to bus service make me feel like a second-class citizen. I’ll be cut off from my family. But it’s even worse for others who won’t have access to emergency services without buses. I think the government should supply the service. That’s my opinion.”

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4 months 3 weeks ago

Sun, 07/22/2018 - 16:47

Topic The Ways We Win Closing the digital divide aims to make democracy more open to all

CANADA COULD USE A LITTLE URUGUAY. In 2013, The Economist named Uruguay the “country of the year.” How did an obscure, little country located in the southeastern region of South America win such an honour? By being one of the most liberal and advanced nations, not just in Latin America, but in the world at large

The Uruguayan government plan put a computer in the hands of all 300 000 students in the country's public schools

CANADA COULD USE A LITTLE URUGUAY. In 2013, The Economist named Uruguay the “country of the year.” How did an obscure, little country located in the southeastern region of South America win such an honour? By being one of the most liberal and advanced nations, not just in Latin America, but in the world at large.

Marijuana use, same-sex marriage, and abortion are all legal in Uruguay. Political corruption and income inequality are low, and the free press is highly respected. Uruguay also works hard at bringing the possibility of participating in its democracy to all its citizens by eliminating any “digital divide.”

The publicy-owned Administración Nacional de Telecomunicaciones (Antel) is Uruguay’s main telecommunications company. Movistar and Claro offer mobile wireless phone services, but the government-owned Antel has a monopoly of landline, telephony, and all hard-wired data services in the country. Antel makes sure the internet is available to everyone, almost everywhere.

Democracy goes digital

According to the website Euro Investor, Antel “has a strong commitment to universalize broadband access and has taken firm steps to eliminate the digital gap, with the current deployment of a nationwide fiber optic network.

The infrastructure offered by Antel is essential to the success of the Uruguayan Digital Agenda for an Information Society launched in 2008 by the government of Dr. Tabaré Vázquez.

Vázquez wrote the key objective of the program would be to: “increase the access of citizens—including the most marginalized—to government services and public institutions through the use of the Internet.”

Vázquez  said “overcoming the digital divide” was a key to “creating a culture of citizenship with clearly defined rights and responsibilities.”

Nowadays Antel has a total of 70% of households across the country connected to the Internet and more of 50% of those has fiber optic access. Antel is the first company in Latin America providing customers with LTE technology, placing Uruguay among the top 10 countries with the highest mobile broadband average.”

There was a move, in the early 90s, to privatize government-owned companies in Uruguay. A referendum rejected the attempt. This allowed Antel to stay public and continue to bring these services to the majority of the people.

In 2008, Antel expanded their monopoly on services even further by putting restrictions on cable companies which would keep them from providing internet with their cable services.

Some have argued that these actions are unconstitutional because consumers should have a choice of internet providers. But there are arguments to be made in favour of the status quo in this case.

In other countries, including Canada, private, for-profit cable companies are able to charge people more money for additional services, and as cable TV subscriptions are becoming less common thanks to the popularity of streaming services like Netflix, internet prices through cable companies are continuously increasing.

Here in Canada, cable and internet provider Bell got themselves into hot water last year when some of their customers received misleading internet prices and usage-based billing. This is something that could be avoided with the type of public internet service they have in Uruguay—a service that is provided as a public utility and separate from private ownership by cable companies.

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5 months ago

Fri, 07/13/2018 - 16:10

Topic Privatization Public services free us to get on with our important stuff

Public services free us to get on with our important stuff

We wake up, take a shower, brush our teeth, make coffee and breakfast. We don't need to think twice about any of it--thanks to public services.

We all depend on public services to make it through the day, every day. We expect them to be there so we don’t have to sweat the small stuff. And they always are. So, we grow to take them for granted. Yet, we couldn’t achieve anything without them.

Public services make sure there's plenty of safe water in the taps, safe ingredients in the toothpaste and bacon and eggs inspected and cleared safe for human consumption. Then we go off to work or elsewhere on public transit, on public roads maintained year-round by public-sector workers.

Overhead, we see a plane heading towards the airport, guided by air traffic controllers and rigorously inspected for safety. We take an elevator, again safety-inspected, or head directly onto a job site (ditto).

Even non-union employment must meet minimum standards of pay and working conditions, enforced by public employees. If we’re retired, on Old Age Security, we head to a public park, knowing the day will be sunny because Environment Canada has provided a weather report.

Thanks to industrial pollution controls, we breathe more easily. That night we sleep soundly. Firefighters and police are on the job to make sure of it.


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2 hours 13 minutes ago
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