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Will Alberta’s UCP government tries to ban mask wearing in schools?

Fri, 11/25/2022 - 13:47

Serious question: How long before Alberta’s United Conservative Party (UCP) government tries to ban mask wearing in schools, period? 

After all, nothing triggers an anti-vaccine snowflake like the sight of an adult wearing a COVID mask, unless it’s the sight of a child wearing one.

And surely by now we understand we’re all responsible for ensuring those who fly apart at the sight of a paper mask can feel good about themselves again!

Am I being sarcastic? Frankly, I can hardly tell any more. 

Yesterday, Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange banned school mask mandates and changed the rules to ensure that no school can move Grade 1 to 12 classes completely online, no matter how many students are sick, or how sick they are.

Last month, an Alberta Court of King’s Bench judge found LaGrange overstepped her authority when she ordered school boards not to try to set their own mask mandates. 

Well, this fixes that. That’ll teach parents not to go to court to try to protect their immunocompromised children!

It may not seem very sensible to ban mask mandates and online learning at a time when many classes are reported to be more than half empty with students sick with the three respiratory illnesses that are slamming Alberta at once – COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus

But who said the UCP had to be sensible, especially now that a right-wing talk radio host with a fondness for quack COVID cures is calling the shots and the governing party in the hands of a cadre of anti-vaccine, anti-mask militants called Take Back Alberta?

“Securing a face-to-face classroom environment means students can continue to learn successfully while allowing their parents to go to work,” LaGrange said in a news release.

“It will also help to maintain and improve student mental health while minimizing student learning loss,” she added, a questionable point on both counts. 

It’s all very well for LaGrange to sign a letter to parents claiming she’s trying to protect students’ health by requiring schools to remain open without mask requirements no matter what, but what happens if the anti-maskers aren’t satisfied with that? 

Up to now she and Premier Danielle Smith have indicated it’s OK to send your kids to school in masks if you wish to – or, if you’re silly enough to want to keep them safe, the Smith Government’s messaging seems to imply. 

“Families are free to make their own personal health decisions, and, no matter what that decision is, it will be supported by Alberta’s education system,” Smith promised in Thursday’s press release.

But with the Occupation Convoy talking about heading back to Ottawa, you have to wonder how long it will be before our education minister is seriously considering banning masks in school altogether, because freedom!

According to Sarah Hoffman, the former minister of health and the NDP Opposition’s education critic in the Legislature, “it’s clear that Adriana LaGrange and Danielle Smith don’t have a clue about what’s happening in Alberta schools.”

“The UCP is asking school staff and families to take on more chaos and stress while the current government underspent the education budget by $1 billion over the past two years,” she added. “It is totally unrealistic to expect that school districts can staff in-person and online classes simultaneously with no additional resources. They are struggling to staff schools already given UCP cuts in the last budget.”

However, it’s unlikely the problem is that the education minister and the premier don’t understand what’s happening in the schools. More likely they just don’t care. 

Alberta is being run a group of people who apparently think COVID is a fake disease, and may be starting to imagine influenza is too.

Needless to say, this is not a healthy state of affairs.

Second-quarter fiscal update: Cue the slide whistles! 

Uh oh! Cue the slide whistles! 

Alberta continues to roll in enough cash to bankroll Premier Smith’s vote-buying campaign for now, but according to the province’s second-quarter fiscal update yesterday, “high inflation, rising interest rates and geopolitical unrest are slowing global economic activity,” and, always the clincher in Alberta, “oil prices have softened.”

OK, they’ve remained robust, Finance Minister Travis Toews said in a news conference, and the projected windfall surplus is still $12.3 billion, down close to a billion from the first-quarter prediction. 

But those of us who have been in Alberta for a long time know it doesn’t take much for Alberta Conservatives to go from telling us it’s the best of times, to telling us it’s the worst of times, the spring of spending, the winter of austerity. 

As for the Kenney Government’s promise to put $1.7 billion into the Heritage Fund, that’s off already. 

“This sort of ad-hoc, frantic approach is not good for the long-term fiscal sustainability of Alberta’s balance sheet,” said NDP Finance Critic Shannon Phillips. 

But since when did Alberta do things any other way? Other than between 2015 and 2019, I suppose you could argue. 

We’re a distinct society, after all, aren’t we? Ad-hoc, frantic spending and cutting is our unique cultural character. Toews is just setting us up for the same old, same old. 

The post Will Alberta’s UCP government tries to ban mask wearing in schools? appeared first on rabble.ca.

Categories: F. Left News

Shandro’s complaint about RCMP commissioner is preformative

Fri, 11/25/2022 - 13:37

There’s a certain irony, I suppose, to Alberta’s justice minister piously insisting “the commissioner of the RCMP must be held to the highest of standards” while he himself faces an investigation into whether he breached the Law Society’s code of conduct. 

But the frequently irascible Shandro’s performative handwringing about RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki Werdnesday was all part of the United Conservative Party (UCP)’s campaign to replace the Mounties as Alberta’s provincial police with a more expensive but presumably more pliable provincially run force. 

This recycled policy proposal from Stephen Harper’s sovereignist 2001 manifesto, the notorious Firewall Letter, is broadly unpopular with rural and urban Albertans alike, a point of frustration to the UCP under former premier Jason Kenney and even more so now under Premier Danielle Smith, the Sovereignty Queen of Wild Rose Country. 

Given the UCP’s history and attitudes about policing, it’s hard to believe Shandro’s first complaint in his opportunistic news release yesterday that the RCMP Commissioner “has failed to deal with the RCMP’s history of systemic racism in a forthright and public manner” is really a priority of the current Alberta government. 

Demanding that federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino fire Lucki, Shandro also cranked up some faux outrage that the commissioner “risked the integrity” of the inquiry into the 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia. This is a harder case to make unless you’re an aggrieved gun nut.

Alert readers will understand that Shandro is not complaining about the RCMP’s appalling handling of the Nova Scotia shootings while that tragedy was unfolding, but about Lucki’s entirely legitimate decision to describe the kind of weapons being used – a revelation verboten in right-wing cancel culture. 

In addition, he complained that she “failed to inform the federal cabinet of all law enforcement options available prior to the decision to invoke the Emergencies Act,” a tendentious claim that should be left to the the statutory commission into that crisis, which may reach a different conclusion given what we’ve heard to date. 

Mendicino “stood idly by while Lucki has failed to meet even the most meagre of standards for the past two years,” Shandro opined huffily.

“This is an abrogation of the minister’s core responsibility to Canadians and must be rectified before the RCMP’s reputation as Canada’s federal police service is further damaged,” he continued, doing his best to impugn the reputation of the RCMP, the better to replace it with something even worse.

A closely related aspect of the Smith Government’s anti-Ottawa strategy was found not far away, literally three new releases later in Wednesday’s stream of pre-election campaign announcements on the province’s Alberta.ca website. 

Amendments introduced Tuesday to the federal government’s latest firearms control legislation had the UCP in a frenzy, presumably in hopes of keeping Alberta’s sizeable community of fans of firearms, particularly ones that look like assault rifles, on side. They are, after all, a key component of the party’s increasingly radicalized base.

Shandro’s statement alleged, falsely, that the Ottawa’s Bill C-21 “will lead to the most sweeping and arbitrary ban in Canadian history” that “will not only be unenforceable but will criminalize hundreds of thousands of Canadians.”

Whether or not it’s unenforceable remains to be seen, but it will only criminalize those gun owners who choose not to obey the law. 

The statement then moved on to its real point, to wit: We’re here for you, gun people! 

“The federal government is clearly seeking to ban legal firearm ownership altogether,” Shandro’s statement concluded, also falsely. “In the coming weeks, Alberta will explore all available options to take action.”

That’s probably a reference to Smith’s still unseen Sovereignty (But Actually Proudly Canadian or Something) Act, which will allow Alberta to unconstitutionally ignore federal laws without violating the Canadian Constitution … or whatever. 

We await the appearance of this miraculous piece of legislation for further analysis.

It is important to note that as mass shootings continue with metronomic regularity in the United States, evidence keeps piling up with the bodies that the principal difference between the U.S. and other countries is the number of guns in circulation. As the New York Times reported in 2017, “the only variable that can explain the high rate of mass shootings in America is its astronomical number of guns.”

Finding co-operation with the gun lobby political expedient, the UCP, apparently, is willing to risk the same fate for Alberta. 

In the meantime, back in Ottawa, Mendicino told reporters: “I have confidence, and the government has confidence, in Commissioner Lucki.” In other words, Get lost, Shandro! 

Shandro’s Law Society hearing is scheduled to take place from January 24 to 26 in Calgary. It will look into three controversial incidents in 2020 when he was minister of health. 

In one, the Law Society’s summary of the case says, it’s alleged went to a neighbour’s home and “behaved inappropriately by engaging in conduct that brings the reputation of the profession into disrepute.”

Another allegation says Shandro “used his position as Minister of Health to obtain personal cell phone numbers” and “contacted one or more members of the public outside of regular working hours using that information.”

The third says he “responded to an email from a member of the public addressed to his wife by threatening to refer that individual to the authorities if they did not address future correspondence to his office as Minister of Health.”

The post Shandro’s complaint about RCMP commissioner is preformative appeared first on rabble.ca.

Categories: F. Left News

Climate scientists take climate activism into their own hands

Fri, 11/25/2022 - 13:04

Wildlife conservation specialist and biologist Laura Kehoe is leaving behind a dream research position on a post-doc at Oxford University and the Nature Conservancy on the Livestock Environment and People project to work full-time for the climate. 

The financial hit does not faze her. 

“I have some savings anyway. Money can come and go. It is the flourishing of life on Earth that I care about,” Kehoe said over a Zoom call from her home in Dublin, Ireland. 

She stresses the “moral duty” of scientists like herself to sound the alarm.

“We know more than most what is coming down the line. It is already happening,” she said.

Kehoe has been busy developing strategies to protect the Earth’s life support systems, “grounded in spatial ecology and conservation decision science.”  

Also, she is helping to plant trees in deforested natural areas where farmers struggle to grow crops. 

All of this work in communities has taken her around the globe. It includes a two-year stint in Canada with two universities, University of British Columbia and University of Victoria. 

Now, the hour is getting late and various scientists like Kehoe are stepping outside the comfort zone of their research labs.

“I would ask any scientist …why are they in science in the first place. Is it for the sake of humanity’s well being, if so, we need to stand up and speak out,” she said.

Meanwhile, meet the world’s most famous scientist-s*** disturber

A NASA climate scientist at the Jet Propulsion Lab, Peter Kalmus was among the arrested last April after locking himself into the entrance of the JP Morgan Chase in downtown Los Angeles. 

“We chose JP Morgan Chase because out of all the investment banks in the world, JP Morgan Chase funds the (newest) fossil fuel projects,” he told The Guardian 

Kalmus is on a tear. In the fall he was part of a nation-wide campaign in the US to oppose the flying of private jets, a major source of greenhouse gases. He and another climate scientist were charged with trespassing after chaining themselves to the entryway at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport’s private jet terminal. 

I left some questions on the web site of Peter Kalmus but so far, he has not gotten back to me. 

Kalmus laments in a tweet that most scientists are not following in his chosen path.

“If thousands of scientists started stepping up into civil disobedience instead of just dozens it would be truly game changing for saving Earth,” he tweeted. 

The global temperatures are currently at 1.2 per cent above pre-industrial levels. Scientists are telling us that climate change is worsening at an unprecedented speed. The breaching of the 1.5 C threshold set by the 2015 Paris Agreement is expected soon.

To avoid that scenario, scientists are pleading that countries quickly transition to a non-carbon world. Meaning, stop the production and burning of fossil fuels which emit carbon that is then baked into the atmosphere and ratches up a heating planet.

Yes, there are investments in electric cars and renewable energy sources like wind and solar.

But the transition by governments is remarkably too slow to stave off the terrifying consequences down the road. Much of that is attributed to the power and clout of the fossil fuel companies and the financiers of their current exploration projects.  

At the just completed United Nations climate conference (COP 27) in Egypt, national governments failed to reach a consensus on reducing oil and gas. 

Laura Kehoe says that even were the pledges for action by the past 27 annual climate gatherings implemented, the global temperatures would still overshoot beyond two degrees Celsius.

“What over two degrees means is that our means capacity to feed ourselves, supply water and have basic security are gone,” says Kehoe.

She says a serious disconnect exists between scientists with front row seats on the technical data of climate change and species disappearance and political leaders, plus members of the public who are in denial or not coming to terms with science behind the impending climate chaos. 

Kalmus and Kehoe are members of a loose international network of scientists, Science Rebellion focused on an aggressive protest that can include non-violent civil disobedience.

Kehoe is fed up with the polite rallies and marches in her native Ireland protesting climate inaction but not accomplishing much. What she describes may have resonance here in Canada. 

Her preferred model is the in-your-face style of climate protest in the UK

“If you look through history, that is generally how (change) happens. We have to be a lot more abrasive and a lot more courageous,” says Kehoe. 

Visit the Science Rebellion web site and you will find a host of signatures from scientists from around the world. Some high-profile names such as Katharine Hayhoe and Michael Mann are not there. 

Not all scientists support the radicalism professed by Science Rebellion, says Lynne Quarmby, a professor of molecular biology and biochemistry at Simon Fraser University and a past federal Green party candidate. 

“I have no data to support this, but my guess is that scientists are not joiners. First, there is not the time to properly vet everything that crosses our desks and scientists are not likely to join without properly vetting. Second, the SR letter has a radical ring that will not resonate with many scientists (in other words, yes, I suspect political differences). In my case, you do not find my name for reason #1, ” she said.

Quarmby was no slouch when it came to protesting the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline going past her university.

In 2012, she was for instance. one of 13 people arrested in White Rock for blocking coal trains. 

“We were taken to jail but we were processed immediately and released,” said Quarmby

Quarmby also stresses that there is still time to mitigate and adapt climate change without experiencing as much of the predicted damage if no action is taken.

“I don’t know any credible scientist that would say we are hopelessly doomed. Civilization is in very serious trouble. There is going to be a lot of social upheaval, there are going to be issues with food production, transportation and all sorts of things, that is not the same thing as extinction, ” she added.

There is a history of scientists speaking out from their vantage point of their research and knowledge, ranging from the dangers of nuclear weapons to the pandemic.

Ottawa based and award-winning journalist Stephen Leahy has encountered many scientists during the years he has covered international climate conferences.

“In my experience scientists are very conservative and taught to qualify what they say and not express personal opinions. Let the science speak for itself is what they are taught and have told me many times,” he said.“That seems to be changing for some in recent years. There have long been calls from activists for scientists to speak out because of their respected status in society.”“So many of my interviews with scientists end up concluding: ‘We know what to do and how to do it. All that is missing is political will,’” added Leahy.

The post Climate scientists take climate activism into their own hands appeared first on rabble.ca.

Categories: F. Left News

Don Davies: Regarding the legalization of cannabis in Canada, pardons are not enough

Fri, 11/25/2022 - 11:14

MP Don Davies has been a vocal advocate for improving Canada’s drug policies – notably calling for across-the-board record expungement for marijuana convictions. In this clip, Davies explains the issues with the current pardon process and how a ‘blanket pardon’ would actually work in Canada.

Don Davies is the Member of Parliament for Vancouver Kingsway. He was first elected in 2008, and has been re-elected four times since. Davies is the NDP Critic for Health and Deputy Critic for Foreign Affairs and International Development.

“My colleague Murray Rankin, who was justice critic at the time, introduced legislation in the House of Commons in 2019 that would have had expungement of all cannabis related records. In one fell swoop, if we passed that law, everyone in the country who had criminal records for the prescribed list . . . would have immediately had their records expunged. They could tell people ‘I’ve never been convicted of a crime.’ The Liberals defeated that legislation.”

This is a clip from rabble’s most recent live politics panel: ‘Off the Hill: Big Biz Marijuana – who wins, who loses?’ The panel featured guests Jodie Giesz-Ramsay, Chuka Ejeckam and MP Don Davies. With co-hosts Robin Browne and Libby Davies.

Off the Hill is a live panel unpacking current issues of national significance that features guests and discussions you won’t find anywhere else. To support Off the Hill’s mission of mobilizing individuals to create progressive change in national politics — on and off Parliament Hill — visit rabble.ca/donate.

The post Don Davies: Regarding the legalization of cannabis in Canada, pardons are not enough appeared first on rabble.ca.

Categories: F. Left News

Biden must demand freedom for Alaa Abd El-Fattah

Fri, 11/25/2022 - 09:37

CAIRO–There are dictators in the world who wield absolute power, and then there are U.S. Senators. Very few understand the power these 100 individuals hold in the world’s most powerful country. A single senator can effectively block any legislation. They don’t need to give a reason, and often do it entirely in secret. President Joe Biden, who was a senator for decades, knows this and also knows he needs the vote of every Democratic senator to pass critical appropriations during Congress’ current lame duck session.

Democratic Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, the longest-serving senator currently in office, is retiring on January 2nd after 48 years. He’s been a champion of human rights, authoring the “Leahy Law” that denies U.S. aid to human rights abusing regimes. Senator Leahy or one of his colleagues could make a vital difference, and save lives, by blocking any bill in this session that shores up human rights abusing governments.

Take Egypt.

The U.S.-backed Egyptian dictator President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi rose to power after a military coup in 2013. His image is omnipresent in this sprawling capital city of 20 million, on buildings, lamp posts, and across the mass media, which is effectively controlled by the state. More than 60,000 political prisoners are locked up here; the true number is unknown. The most prominent is Alaa Abd El-Fattah, a writer, technologist and leading activist in the 2011 Arab Spring revolution that overthrew Egypt’s previous, long-standing, U.S.-backed dictator, Hosni Mubarak.

Yet Alaa, a dual Egyptian and British citizen, has been in prison for most of the last decade. His case received global attention when Egypt hosted COP27, the UN climate summit, in Sharm el-Sheikh. Alaa had been on hunger strike for more than 200 days. As COP27 began on November 6th, he escalated his protest, refusing to drink water altogether. Last week, Alaa told family members, in their first prison visit in a month, that he suffered a near-death experience that week. The German Chancellor, the French President, the British Prime Minister, and President Biden had all raised his case directly with Sisi. Prison authorities medically intervened secretly, to avoid the crisis his death during COP27 would have provoked.

The Sisi regime survives largely thanks to massive support from the United States. Egypt receives $1.3 billion annually in military aid, with an additional $125 million-plus in economic aid. Egypt has long been the second-highest recipient of U.S. foreign aid, after Israel. Its support is delivered through annual Congressional appropriations, subject to verifiable compliance with human rights standards. The U.S. State Department oversees this massive aid package with the Pentagon.

As part of the process, the State Department is required to produce a human rights report on Egypt. Its most recent 72-page litany of horrors includes extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, torture and cruel, inhuman treatment; life-threatening prison conditions and arbitrary detention. The list goes on. While any rational reading of the report would result in the denial of aid, the State Department routinely invokes a “national security” waiver, authorizing the aid despite the rampant abuses.

“You train their police officers, their army officers,” Laila Soueif, Alaa’s mother, a math professor and renowned activist in her own right, told the Democracy Now! news hour during an interview in their family apartment in Cairo. “This is a U.S. operation. The helicopters they use to track people in the desert, this is the U.S. This whole Sisi thing is a U.S. security operation. Really, the U.S. can decide, if they want to, that they want the regime to do this or not do that.”

Alaa’s family has been tirelessly advocating for his release, at great risk. His youngest sister, Sanaa, 28, has already been imprisoned for three years for her activism. “The U.S. has stakes in that regime, stakes in that oppression, and so has responsibility,” Sanaa said on Democracy Now!, sitting next to her mother. “It’s not leverage. Leverage is as if you’re not a stakeholder in this. You are a big part of this. You send $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt every year.”

President Biden was photographed with Sisi at COP27, laughing with the dictator. Sisi has also been invited to next month’s U.S.- Africa Leaders Summit at the White House. Like any Western-aligned autocrat seeking legitimacy, Sisi is reportedly seeking a one-on-one meeting with Biden.

President Biden should work for the immediate release of Alaa Abd El-Fattah and many more Egyptian political prisoners before granting Sisi a plum White House meeting. Meanwhile, Sen. Patrick Leahy, as one of his proud last acts in office, along with other Senators, should block further Egyptian military aid until Alaa is free.

This column originally appeared in Democracy Now!

The post Biden must demand freedom for Alaa Abd El-Fattah appeared first on rabble.ca.

Categories: F. Left News

Canadian workers are not to blame for inflation

Fri, 11/25/2022 - 09:30

This week on the show, rabble editor Nick Seebruch is joined by the director of the Centre for Future Work, economist Jim Stanford. Together, they walk us through the state of Canada’s economy – the good, the bad, and the ugly. 

Earlier this month, Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem made headlines when he remarked that inflation was due to what he called an “overheated” labour market. Stanford says that’s unfair; Canadian workers being able to easily find employment and the slightly higher wages they’ve been receiving are not to blame for inflation – and therefore shouldn’t be punished. 

Seebruch and Stanford also discuss how progressive organizations, activists, and groups must ban together as we move forward into what’s sure to be a tough year economically and politically. 

Photo: Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

If you like the show please consider subscribing on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you find your podcasts. And please, rate, review, share rabble radio with your friends — it takes two seconds to support independent media like rabble. Follow us on social media across channels @rabbleca. Or, if you have feedback for the show, get in touch anytime at editor@rabble.ca.

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Categories: F. Left News

The climax of the Emergencies Act hearings is supposed to be Trudeau (but it wasn’t)

Fri, 11/25/2022 - 09:23

The public hearings on the Emergencies Act are ending — climactically I guess is the idea — with the prime minister. But as a viewer I was more gripped by the opening scenes, with protesters/truckers/occupiers on the stand. They embodied more contradictions, raw feeling and so, potentially, more insight.

Everyone wants to think their moment in the glare of history is the biggest ever, so it’s not surprising they claimed that about their honk-in. There are other contenders: the Oka crisis, the Winnipeg general strikeIdle No More. But what struck me was their sense of entitlement. Not righteousness — everyone thinks they’re right — but their shock at being treated as other protesters are.

Even this week, when “Freedom Convoy” lawyer Brendan Miller spotted a minister’s minion in the room, he asked the commission head to pop the guy onto the stand to answer Miller’s questions about some theory. It wasn’t just grandstanding to make a speech, which happened often, say, at U.S. anti-Communist hearings in the fifties. Miller seemed to actually expect a win.

These people say proudly they’ve never had trouble with police, that they have friends and family in police or military. And they do seem to have received info from police sources in Ottawa. They feel nothing in common with groups who live in lifelong fear of cops. I’m not saying they’re privileged. But they live on the safe side of the line that demarcates marginalized, vulnerable groups. It’s what you cling to when more direct forms of privilege start to teeter, as happened in the 1960s with empowerment of racialized groups, women, Indigenous peoples, etc.

In fact, some seem a bit obsessed with the sixties and finally getting a piece of that action. As Rabble-rouser Pat King said, “I’ve never seen anything as loving and peaceful in my life. It was Woodstock.” Organizer Tamara Lich — far more likable and plausible — called it a lovefest. There are emotional dividends to being marginal, as there are to being white, other things aside.

So it was the arrests that seemed to most unsettle them. Lich, who said convincingly that she’s not easily offended, also said she sobbed in her hotel room at the thought of her husband seeing her arrested. For the life of me, I can’t see why. Surely she should be proud, as should he, and generations before them. (In the sixties they sang, “If you’ve been to jail for justice, you’re a friend of mine.”) She’s upset that her trial isn’t till September, but what of those who spent decades in jail, like Steven Truscott, while innocent? Or others, interned for years during the wars for being Ukrainian, German or left wing?

It’s this lack of empathy, the failure to extend your own dismay to the plight of others when it’s staring you in the face, that seems to me the fatal human flaw. We retreat into particularity, instead of generalizing into common cause.

“No one else would’ve got three weeks with that kind of coddling,” a pissed-off protest veteran told me. The best parallel may be the 1935 On to Ottawa trek that began, via boxcars, in B.C. They didn’t make it past Regina. They were attacked by Mounties, routed, two people died, hundreds were injured. End of “convoy.” They’d probably have been grateful to make it to Winnipeg.

This column originally appeared in the Toronto Star.

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Categories: F. Left News

Canada pushes for record number of newcomers despite backlog

Fri, 11/25/2022 - 07:57

Earlier this month, the Government of Canada announced their plan to welcome nearly 1.5 million immigrants to the country by the end of 2025.

While the push to increase immigration rates will help more people build a life in Canada, the red tape required to become a permanent citizen is holding many back.

Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the country’s immigration backlog reached a high of 2.7 million applicants.

One woman in Halifax, who fled her war-torn home of Palestine, completed the application process and passed all testing requirements in 2017. Five years later, she’s still waiting for her swearing-in ceremony. In the meantime, she’s not considered a Canadian citizen. 

Last week, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Sean Fraser shared the federal government’s next steps in welcoming more immigrants to Canada by allowing workers from 16 new occupations to become eligible for permanent residence. 

The federal government has made clear the decision to welcome an increase in immigrants to Canada is one based on the economy, rather than by urgency and need.

The economic strategy was doubled down in Fraser’s announcement, as he described labour shortages in key sectors like health care, construction and transportation — the same industries where employees are often underpaid, overworked and face serious workers rights issues. After all, there’s a reason Canadians are leaving these sectors in droves.

And what about the prospective immigrants who may not possess the “global talent” skills the federal government deems attractive? Implementing such a rigid and exclusive priority system does not just weed out the people who need refuge most — it also dismisses the idea that these skill sets can be learned upon settling in Canada.

“We are using all of the tools at our disposal to tackle labour shortages, particularly in key sectors like health care, construction, and transportation,” Fraser said last week. “These changes will support Canadians in need of these services, and they will support employers by providing them with a more robust workforce who we can depend on to drive our economy forward into a prosperous future.”

Crunching the backlog numbers

According to data from the federal government’s website, more than one million people are currently waiting for backlogged applications. That’s more than half of the 2.2 million total applications currently being processed.

Sixty per cent of the 1.3 million people seeking temporary residence in Canada are currently backlogged, while 54 per cent of permanent residence applications are also outside of service standards.

When it comes to citizenship, 100,000 people are facing a backlog of their application — leaving their rights as a Canadian citizen in limbo.

While the office of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenships Canada (IRCC) hopes to reduce the backlog with a target of 20 per cent by the end of the year, they only managed to process 1.7 million applications in 2021.

Data shows nearly three out of every four work permit applications are from the Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel, as well as 16 per cent of temporary resident visa applicants. 

During a press conference on November 1, Fraser told reporters Canada’s 2023–2025 Immigration Levels Plan “embraces immigration as a strategy to help businesses find workers” in an effort to “manage the social and economic challenges Canada will face in the decades ahead.”

The new plan follows a record year for welcoming newcomers into the country. In 2021, Canada welcomed over 405,000 newcomers. Targets for the coming years include 465,000 permanent residents in 2023, another 485,000 in 2024, and 500,000 in 2025.

How the IRCC plans to achieve Canada’s goals

In an email to the Immigration Minister’s Office, rabble.ca asked for details on current wait times for successful applicants to receive their swearing-in ceremony, and whether a deadline must be met by officials. Their response answered neither of these questions.

Instead, IRCC communications advisor Jeffrey MacDonald stated the government of Canada is “modernizing and increasing its services” by offering “online testing, virtual citizenship ceremonies, and an online application tracker.

MacDonald noted the government’s plan to accommodate the influx of applicants by hiring up to 1,250 new employees by the end of fall 2022 to reduce application backlogs, with a focus on “addressing labour shortages, improving client experience and reuniting families.”

“Increasing immigration helps address long-standing challenges, such as decreasing worker to retiree ratio, a low fertility rate, and labour shortages, which will continue to affect us even after the side effects of the pandemic subside,” MacDonald wrote.

The IRCC is also set to benefit from an allocation of $1.6 billion over six years, announced on November 3 in the Fall Economic Statement. That’s in addition to $315 million in new funding to help speed up processing times and support the settlement of newcomers, and $50 million to fill critical labour gaps in 2022-23.

According to the IRCC, employees have produced 4.3 million final decisions between January and October 2022, compared to 2.3 million decisions in the same period last year.

The IRCC anticipates it will set a new record for study permit processing in 2022, with 593,000 permits processed as of October 31, compared to 455,000 in 2021. During the same period, the IRCC processed 645,000 work permits, up from 163,000 the previous year.

MacDonald said the IRCC also expects to reach their record-setting target of 431,000 new permanent residence admissions in 2022, with approximately 388,000 new permanent residents already welcomed by the end of October.

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Categories: F. Left News

CUPE unrest not the start nor end of Ford’s anti-worker bullying

Fri, 11/25/2022 - 07:41

Beneath the shadow of a looming strike, the Ontario government and the union representing Ontario education workers reached a tentative agreement that will begin its ratification vote on Thursday. Bargaining between the Canadian Union of Public Employee’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions (CUPE OSBCU) and the Progressive Conservatives has been tumultuous. Since CUPE OSBCU served notice to bargain in June, negotiations faced a slow start and were set back by the introduction of Bill 28, which strong-armed union members into a collective agreement. 

After the repeal of Bill 28, bargaining resumed but CUPE OSBCU soon served a five-day strike notice. While Minister of Education Stephen Lecce said the strike notice was “disappointing,” the rocky bargaining journey may have been inevitable under previous anti-worker legislation that has been enacted by Doug Ford and the Progressive Conservatives.

An anti-worker attitude

“There are far less over the top ways that the government can flex its muscle that would be unlikely to galvanize the entire movement as we saw happen with Bill 28,” wrote Alison Braley-Rattai, Associate Professor in labour studies at Brock University, in an email to rabble.ca. 

The government has flexed its muscles over workers for years before Bill 28. Ontario residents may remember when Doug Ford decided to postpone raising minimum wage to $15 an hour. Originally scheduled to increase in 2019, minimum wage in Ontario reached $15 an hour only in January of this year. 

The progressive conservatives also lifted mask mandates in schools in February, despite organizations such as the Children’s Health Coalition imploring them to keep mandates until the situation with the Omicron variant of COVID-19 can be better assessed. Amidst a health human resource crisis, Doug Ford is looking to cut healthcare staffing costs, according to a report by Press Progress

Doug Ford also introduced Bill 124 in 2019. This bill limits wage increases for public sector workers to one per cent per year. Even if the tentative agreement with CUPE OSBCU is ratified, tensions and unrest may continue as Bill 124 still shackles other public sector unions during bargaining.

Unions have the momentum

Professor Larry Savage, who is also a professor for the Labour Studies department at Brock University, said that the momentum gained while mobilizing against Bill 28 should continue. 

“There’s no doubt the repeal of Bill 28 gave union members confidence that they could stand up, fight back, and win. But the test for unions going forward will be to translate that political victory into wins at the bargaining table,” Savage said. 

Reaching these victories at the bargaining table may be difficult considering the government’s anti-worker attitude. 

“OSBCU’s experience at the bargaining table did not appear to be a good one,” said Braley-Rattai. “The Education Minister started with divisive rhetoric early on in the negotiating process and did not strike a conciliatory tone until the announcement about the tentative agreement. I think other public sector unions particularly those in the education sector could not be blamed for going into their respective negotiations with their backs up.” 

The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) served notice to bargain in June and their agreement expired at the end of August. As well, the Ontario Nurses Association’s hospital central agreement is set to expire in March 2023. ETFO has said in a joint statement with other educator organizations that free and fair bargaining is vital to a fair deal. 

President of CUPE OSBCU, Laura Walton, said in a press conference that she does not like the tentative agreement. She said that the deal reached is the best agreement possible with a government that is unwilling to listen. The disappointment in the tentative agreement is palpable from CUPE OSBCU and could be forecasting disaster for other public sector unions preparing to bargain. 

“Bargaining is rarely easy and it can always go madly off in all directions,” Braley Rattai said. “Whatever the reason for that, casting blame and attempting to sow division in the public as Minister Lecce did can’t but have a negative impact upon negotiations.” 

Braley-Rattai said it is hard to predict whether more widespread job action can be expected in the future. However, she said it is clear that Ford was shown there are limits to how much he can push around organized workers.

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Categories: F. Left News

USW registers complaint against $1 per hour garment worker wages

Fri, 11/25/2022 - 06:00

USW registers complaint against $1 per hour garment worker wages

The United Steelworkers union in Canada has registered a complaint with the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE) alleging that Mark’s and its parent company Canadian Tire is failing to protect the human rights of garment workers in its supplier factories citing the case of Bangladeshi garment workers who do not earn a living wage.

RadioLabour is the international labour movement’s radio service. It reports on labour union events around the world with a focus on unions in the developing world. It partners with rabble to provide coverage of news of interest to Canadian workers.

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Categories: F. Left News

Chuka Ejeckam: Racism isn’t a by-product of drug prohibition; it was the purpose

Thu, 11/24/2022 - 09:28

Recently, the federal government recently launched a mandated review of the Cannabis Act. A part of this is to review the impact of legalization on Indigenous peoples, racialized communities and youth. In this clip, panelist Chuka Ejeckam explains how racism was built into the structures of drug prohibition in Canada. Therefore, he says it’s not a surprise that racialized communities are the ones feeling the brunt of criminalization in this country today. 

“The need to provide reparations isn’t just about drug prohibition itself. It’s also about drug prohibition as a constitutive element of a larger structure of racism and exploitation that really does define countries in, what we call, the West.” 

Ejeckam is a writer and policy researcher and a rabble columnist. His work focuses on inequity and inequality, drug policy, structural racism, and labour. 

This is a clip from rabble’s most recent live politics panel: ‘Off the Hill: Big Biz Marijuana – who wins, who loses?’ The panel featured guests Jodie Giesz-Ramsay, Chuka Ejeckam and MP Don Davies. With co-hosts Robin Browne and Libby Davies.

Off the Hill is a live panel unpacking current issues of national significance that features guests and discussions you won’t find anywhere else. To support Off the Hill’s mission of mobilizing individuals to create progressive change in national politics — on and off Parliament Hill — visit rabble.ca/donate.

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Categories: F. Left News

Smith’s TV message to Albertans was brief, uninformative, and not persuasive

Thu, 11/24/2022 - 08:18

Premier Danielle Smith’s nine-minute televised message to the people of Alberta last night, which at least had the virtue of brevity, could be divided into roughly four parts:

1.     Inflation is Justin Trudeau’s fault, but here’s a bunch of money, so for God’s sake vote for me.

2.     I’m going to fix health care. (Sorry, no details.)

3.     Sovereignty Act! (But Within A United Canada.)

4.     Pay no attention to anything I said before. I was just trying to sell newspapers or something. 

Is this a basis on which Premier Smith could overcome a deficit in the polls that puts the Opposition NDP led by Rachel Notley in solid majority government territory if the general election were held today? 

Well, anything’s possible. This is, after all, the age of Donald Trump and Boris Johnson. Still, it seems a bit far-fetched under the circumstances. 

The Conservative Party of Canada under Stephen Harper had considerable success with boutique tax breaks aimed at soccer moms and similar narrow but influential demographic slices. 

For Ms. Smith’s “affordability packaging” pitch, her brain trust seems to have decided on a cruder version of the same approach that adds up to a $2.4-billion list of pre-election giveaways.

She explained that her government will introduce an Inflation Relief Act in the Legislature next week, with payments to seniors, families with kids, and income support recipients; gasoline-tax cuts; re-indexed supports; electricity bill rebates, and so on. The payments will expire in six months, just after the next election. 

Finance Minister Travis Toews, the old austerity hound, must wish he was back on the farm taking a walk in the snow. He probably thinks Smith’s plan, to borrow a phrase, is a black hole of vote-buying arrangements! 

Not everything on the list is a bad idea, but contrary to the premier’s claims, there won’t really be something for everybody.

Some groups are definitely left out: “A family with 2 kids under 18 and a household income of $175,000 will get $1200,” tweeted University of Calgary political science professor Lisa Young after the speech. “A couple in their late 60s earning $175,000 will get $1200. A single person between 18 and 64 earning $30,000 will get nothing, unless they are an AISH recipient.”

In the past few days, there seemed to be a general buzz that Smith would opt for a Ralph Klein style straight-up cash giveaway to everyone. 

So will last night’s complicated list of promises leave a lot of Albertans feeling left out and grumpy, or too distracted to figure out what their share of the loot is? 

Probably. 

Then there’s Smith’s health care plan, important because there’s a near universal consensus the province’s health care system is a mess, and lots of fear based on recent things the premier has said about how we could fix it by introducing U.S.-style medicine.

Close to 60 per cent of voters, according to that recent poll, are said to think the United Conservative Party (UCP) is on the wrong track when it comes to health care – and that was before Smith’s plan to groom us for American-style health care with co-pays and user fees hit the news feeds. 

But about all her so-called Healthcare Action Plan amounts to is a list of things she says she’s going to fix, like cutting Emergency Room wait times, improving ambulance response times, and reducing wait times for surgeries.

As University of Alberta political scientist Jared Wesley observed in a tweet last night, “I don’t know who needs to hear this, but ‘We’re going to make healthcare better!’ isn’t a plan.”

Then there was that Sovereignty Act again – which, like a dog with a bone, Smith just can’t leave alone, even though it’s scaring the hell out of a lot of voters. But wait, now it’s called the Sovereignty Within A United Canada Act, so we’re OK! 

Finally, there was Smith’s glib assurance we need not worry our pretty little heads about all the stuff she said before because she was just being a cynical journalist.

I’m not making this up. Here’s what she actually said: 

“I know that I’m far from perfect, and I’ve made mistakes. And having spent decades in media and hosting talk shows, I’ve discussed hundreds of different topics, and sometimes took controversial positions, many of which I’ve evolved and changed as I’ve grown and learned from listening to you.”

Readers will recall that Smith’s most controversial recent past position, on health care co-pays and user fees, was published in June 2021 and repeated several times since. 

“I’m not a talk show host or a media commentator any longer,” she went on, a smug look playing on her face. “That’s not my job today. My job today is to serve each and every Albertan with everything I have, and to the best of my ability, however imperfect that may be at times. I must be humble, listen, and continue to learn from you.” 

This actually looks better in print than it sounded. I recommend that readers watch the last moments of the video for themselves. 

As the U of C’s Professor Young said in a Substack post yesterday, “Voters are confronted with the question of who Danielle Smith really is. The libertarian who advocates health care by go-fund-me or the free-spending premier who feels your inflation pain? The populist who flirted with separatism or the ‘Sovereign Alberta Within a United Canada’ patriot?”

It’s doubtful I’ve been listening to you can change enough minds to salvage Smith’s approval ratings by May 29.

So don’t count on getting to go to the polls until fall at least, maybe 2024. 

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Categories: F. Left News

El Jones’ new book is an act of resistance and mutual aid

Thu, 11/24/2022 - 07:19

El Jones never stops when it comes to fighting for those without a voice.

In her new book, Abolitionist Intimacies, the professor, author, poet, and social justice leader takes readers behind the bars and into the minds of those who are suffering from human rights violations inside Canadian prisons.

A conduit to the public for individuals being silenced, Jones relies on her decade of experience working with incarcerated people and their loved ones to showcase the humanity of her subjects.

Abolitionist Intimacies is an act of resistance and mutual aid — a book about love and the complexity of relationships interrupted by the criminal justice system.

Jones writes of her expansive experience of “listening, visiting, offering legal support, witnessing, intervening, and loving.”

While the name Abolitionist Intimacies might sound academic, Jones says it all comes back to two things: freedom and love.

Ahead of her official book launch, Jones told rabble.ca the title stems from the basic idea “that the state abuses our intimacy,” pointing to strict requirements for visits and unauthorized strip searches as just two examples of abuses of carceral intimacy.

Jones first opened up to the idea of abolition as a young girl. At 13, Jones writes about discovering the writings of famous poet Oscar Wilde, who was sentenced to two years in prison in 1895 for homosexual relations.

“I immediately understood that prisons were an injustice,” she said. “It just really spoke to me.”

As Jones became a decolonial thinker and put together the pieces of colonization and race, the lessons she learned helped inform her storytelling when it comes to “documenting what’s taking place in prison… with some kind of care for people’s stories.”

“A lot of the book is over the phone,” Jones explained. “Most of these people, you’re not seeing face-to-face. You may never meet. Obviously, we do see each other in freedom eventually, but a lot of the relationship is over a prison phone.”

Ultimately, Abolitionist Intimacies reflects those personal conversations that are so rare between the “inside” and the “outside.”

“As humans, we normalize a lot of things,” Jones said. “We learn to normalize injustice, we learn to normalize torture and pain and suffering.”

Jones noted that it’s easy for those outside of the criminal justice system to become normalized to terrible and unjust things that they’re mostly powerless against. But, she added, that feeling of powerlessness doesn’t mean you can’t listen.

The violence of paperwork

The book doesn’t stop at sharing the lived experiences of incarcerated people. Jones also exposes injustice in the criminal justice system, in the form of violence through bureaucracy, through paperwork.

One of the many powerful stories Jones covers in her book is one she had a front row seat in — the deportation case of child refugee Abdul Abdi.

In 2000, Abdi came to Canada with his sister Fatouma as young orphans and were quickly introduced to the child welfare system. As Jones explains in her book, the province of Nova Scotia never sought citizenship for the Abdi’s, and after moving to 31 different foster homes between the age of 6 and 19 — where they were subjected to horrific abuse — the federal government began the process of deporting Abdul.

Jones believes lawyer Benjamin Perryman said it best: “They were denied the right to even have rights.”

While governments act like they “know it best,” Jones says, what they really know best is how to “take kids into care.”

It’s not in the name of the child’s best interest either. The same state that takes a child away from undocumented parents, she says, will go on to defend border agents in court when it comes time to deport the child as an adult.

The irrationality of the prison space

For Jones, Abolitionist Intimacies gives readers a chance to enter “the irrationality of the prison space” that is often “hard to wrap your mind around in the free world.”

“You enter this space where you can’t reason your way out of it,” Jones said.

That irrationality also complicates any chance for incarcerated individuals to advocate for themselves and others. Carceral facilities are designed to deter and intimidate inmates from fighting for their rights. That’s why extreme protests like hunger strikes are so common.

“What it really shows you, beyond the technicalities and specific examples, is exactly this idea that the so-called instruments of justice operate so far outside of the law, and they’re able to do so because of these narratives around criminals,” Jones said.

She also pointed out that the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) currently has no oversight, meaning there’s no one to complain to when human rights are being violated. It also means there’s no accountability system for CBSA employees.

Looking back on her more-than-a-decade of work in legal advocacy, Jones has learned just how siloed the law can be — criminal lawyers don’t understand immigration law, and immigration lawyers don’t understand prison law.

She’s often asked by those in the legal system how she knows the intersections of criminal, immigration, and prison law so well. The answer is simple.

“People inside prison taught me a lot about how these systems work,” she’ll respond.

“It’s very mutual,” she said. “In the book, obviously I’m the one writing, but it’s not that I saved them — their love and care nurtures and sustains me.”

To Jones, it’s all about “the acts of care we do, from small to big, and it’s about how those things are our weapon against the state,” adding that labour and love are the two most important tools we have to harness change.

She describes Abolitionist Intimacies as a critical book that often calls into question the ethics and humanity of the criminal justice system. Despite its hard-hitted nature, she added, it’s also a gentle book that promotes compassion, one that serves as an account of Jones’ crucial frontline work.

“It’s really like my life’s work in that sense.”

Abolitionist Intimacies is available now online through Fernwood Publishing or at a local bookstore near you.

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Categories: F. Left News

Jodie Giesz-Ramsay: A chance to address issues facing legal cannabis in Canada

Wed, 11/23/2022 - 13:09

Recently, the federal government recently launched a mandated review of the Cannabis Act. As part of this review, an online engagement process has been launched where all Canadians are invited to share their views through an online questionnaire.

In this clip, panelist Jodie Giesz-Ramsay explains how important it is for Canadians to take advantage of this opportunity to share their thoughts about what is working – and what is not working – about the legalization of cannabis in Canada today.

“Even though it can be very difficult to change such enormous things like cannabis policy – it can be overwhelming and somewhat discouraging – but it takes a lot of time and hard work to change things. And every little bit counts.”

Giesz-Ramsay has been an advocate for cannabis and civil liberties since 2004. She owns and operates Cannabis Culture Magazine, Pot TV, Cannabis Culture stores and lounges, and a hemp-themed coffee shop called Jodie’s Joint. Giesz-Ramsay has been arrested and convicted for her peaceful civil disobedience, and remains passionate about human rights and drug policy reform.

This is a clip from rabble’s most recent live politics panel: ‘Off the Hill: Big Biz Marijuana – who wins, who loses?’ The panel featured guests Jodie Giesz-Ramsay, Chuka Ejeckam and MP Don Davies. With co-hosts Robin Browne and Libby Davies.

Off the Hill is a live panel unpacking current issues of national significance that features guests and discussions you won’t find anywhere else. To support Off the Hill’s mission of mobilizing individuals to create progressive change in national politics — on and off Parliament Hill — visit rabble.ca/donate.

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Categories: F. Left News

Mitacs celebrates Canadian innovators

Wed, 11/23/2022 - 11:55

In 2021, it was estimated that fewer than 230 Southern Mountain Caribou roam traditional Splatsin First Nation (FN) territory. The steady decline in population is directly attributable to the loss of their habitat as well as their only food source, tree lichens.

While the forestry industry shoulders the blame for these losses, the climate crisis has accelerated the impacts and impending extinction of these caribou.

Southern Mountain Caribou provide food security as well as clothing and tools essential to the physical and cultural survival of the Splatsin.

Splatsin are the southernmost tribe of the Secwépemc Nation, the largest Interior Salish speaking FN in Canada. Their territory stretches from the British Columbia/Alberta border near the Yellowhead Pass to the plateau west of the Fraser River, southeast of the Arrow Lakes and to the Upper reaches of the Columbia River.

The well-being of these caribou directly correlates with the health of the surrounding ecosystem and its inhabitants. Think canary in the coalmine.

Wildlife ecologist Mateen Hessami worked with the Splatsin in an effort to revive the endangered caribou population.

Hessami, an enrolled tribal member of the Wyandotte Nation, has a Master’s in Biology from the University of British Columbia. He was instrumental in facilitating co-learning between Western scientists and Indigenous community members ensuring that Indigenous knowledge, perspectives, and value systems were heard and that Splatsin FN continue to take a leadership role in Canada’s conservation efforts.

On November 22 Hessami’s vital work with the Splatsin was celebrated when he was awarded the Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation — Indigenous at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.

In total, eight innovators were honoured at the 12th annual awards ceremony recognizing the ground-breaking achievements of interns, professors and industry partners working together to find inspired solutions to pressing problems while boosting Canada’s lagging innovation record.

The Mitacs Award for Exceptional Leadership – Professor recognizes François Routhier’s work designing innovative technology to enhance life for variously abled folks.

The mechanical engineer, and professor in the Department of Rehabilitation at Laval University, collaborated on the development of an app that brings together those living with disabilities and community volunteers who can help them participate in outdoor activities like paddle boarding, hiking or adaptive skiing.

Routhier is an academic supervisor with an exemplary record of developing collaborations with industry and other partners. He provides valuable research and training experiences for interns while creating state-of-the-art technologies.

Cristiane Maucoski’s research work is certainly timely given the recent roll out of the Canada Dental Benefit that will give an estimated 500,000 children access to vital dental treatment.

The PhD candidate from Brazil earned the Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation – International for her almost year-long work exploring how to make stronger, longer-lasting fillings.

Working in the Department of Dental Clinical Sciences at Dalhousie University, Maucoski evaluated a variety of curing lights used to harden white composite fillings.

The work is critical to reducing the number of replacement fillings performed by dentists each year. It’s also keeping patients healthier by preventing leaks, increased tooth decay and the pain caused by improperly cured fillings.

Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation – Industry went to the Artic Research Foundation (ARF). The private, not-for-profit charity is creating a scientific infrastructure for the Canadian Artic.

Over its lifetime, ARF has generated and collected volumes of valuable data. With the assistance of Mitacs interns, ARF was able to design an effective database that not only integrates data from a variety of sources but manages and catalogues the data improving accessibility by researchers and the public.

Mitacs interns were instrumental in assisting ARF with a variety of projects while ensuring Inuit communities maintained the lead in determining and directing projects that address their most pressing issues.

The Mitacs-ARF collaboration built a free, pan-Canadian intersectional research repository designed to break down silos in Artic research.

It also significantly improved the digital storytelling platform, ArticFocus, by identifying and developing ways of meaningfully engaging Artic voices and community.

ArticFocus performs many roles including providing community understanding of the ARFs mission while improving and expanding the understanding of non-Northern audiences to the diverse life of the Arctic.

The team was also able to lay the groundwork for the development of a sustainable fishery on Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories (NWT) by engaging northern residents and governments of NWT for input on the project.

Mitacs partnerships are much more than co-operative learning for post-graduate and post-doctoral students. The companies and non-profits commit to the student experience and that includes competitively paying interns in exchange for creating ground-breaking solutions for Canadian companies.

In return, students get to develop their innovative ideas with established companies and see them come to fruition with the added benefit of a potential job offer after their internship ends.

Over 400 nominees vied for one of only eight coveted Mitacs awards this year.

In a statement, Mitacs CEO John Hepburn shared, “These prestigious awards celebrate the tremendous achievement of top Mitacs talent and recognize the infinite potential for innovation made possible when bold leaders work together. On behalf of Mitacs I am pleased to honour and congratulate this year’s recipients and to celebrate the significant contributions to innovation.”

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Categories: F. Left News

Smith essay calling for health care user fees was not peer reviewed

Wed, 11/23/2022 - 08:49

Danielle Smith’s controversial 2021 essay arguing how to introduce user fees and co-pays to Alberta health care is not a research paper and was not peer reviewed, a spokesperson for the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy (SPP) said yesterday.
 
This answers a question that has generated debate in academic circles, some of which has now spilled into social media, after many political commentators became aware of the existence of the paper last week.
 
“In addition to policy research, part of the SPP’s mandate is to shape public policy by fostering meaningful debates,” said University of Calgary Senior Communications Advisor Dana Fenech in an emailed response to a query about the School of Public Policy’s decision to publish Smith’s commentary last year.
 
The essay, in which Smith described her strategy for getting Albertans used to paying for essential medical services, was later included as the second chapter of an e-book published in September 2021 by the right-leaning institute, which operates out of the U of C’s downtown campus.
 
“This e-book was part of our role to generate conversation – as it clearly has in this case,” Fenech said. “It is not a research paper and was not peer-reviewed. As noted in the e-book, the views are the views of the author alone.”
 
Smith’s musings, though, were only those of a former right-wing radio talk show host in June 2021, when they were first published by the School of Public policy without much fanfare.
 
Nevertheless, they aroused strong feelings within the academy because while they might have been good enough for an op-ed in a publication like the Calgary Herald, some saw them as not meeting the standards expected from a first-class university or felt their publication by the SPP lent a veneer of academic respectability to a poorly researched piece of work.
 
Critics of the paper have also pointed to the similarity of the arguments in Smith’s chapter to those of a 2004 publication of the Fraser Institute, a notorious market-fundamentalist “think tank” based in Vancouver, not mentioned in the footnotes.
 
This might have attracted notice had the paper been peer-reviewed, although in Smith’s defence, her views on this topic are commonplace in the extreme market-fundamentalist circles she has been part of throughout her career, and have appeared in more than one business-funded think tank’s publications.
 
Regardless, now that she is the premier of Alberta, put in power by a radical anti-vaccine faction of the governing United Conservative Party (UCP), Smith’s views about public health care naturally seem considerably more relevant and significant.
 
Fenech did not respond to a query about who provided the funding for the commission, something that would normally be disclosed in a scholarly publication, or how much Smith was paid.
 
The e-book, Alberta’s Economic and Fiscal Future, that includes Smith’s chapter, contains articles by 28 authors, some of them academics and a few like Smith associated with business interest groups. Premier Smith was president at the time of the Alberta Enterprise Group, pro-business advocacy organization with extensive ties to Alberta conservative parties.
 
Readers who scan the list of authors will recognize such public figures as Jack Mintz, founder of the SPP; economists Todd Hirsch and Trevor Tombe; Alberta Chambers of Commerce President Ken Kobly; Bev Dahlby, a member of Jason Kenney’s 2019 “Blue Ribbon Panel” on cutting public sector salaries; and former senior civil servant Bob Ascah, whose recent blog post about Ms. Smith’s views aroused the current furor.
 
Smith’s chapter, the first after an introduction, is in effect highlighted as the keynote article of the publication.
 
The e-book, in turn, is part of an SPP project called the Alberta Futures Project, which says it has plans to publish two more e-books, one on Alberta’s fiscal future and another on heath care. Whether those projects see the light of day after the current controversy, however, remains to be seen.

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Categories: F. Left News

As COP27 wraps, we must all do our part

Wed, 11/23/2022 - 07:55

The 27th annual Conference of the Parties (COP27) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change recently wrapped up, and the world continues to burn.

Despite positive commitments — including on methane emissions and a climate “loss and damage” fund — it will take more to slow and reverse climate disruption and the impacts it’s fuelling. We can’t hope it will be resolved by governments — or the industry responsible for the crisis, which was well-represented at COP27 in Egypt.

That doesn’t mean individuals should shoulder the burden. Governments must make big decisions that enable us all to reduce emissions. Personal choices and behaviours are important and add up, but one of the most powerful things we can do is join with others to demand action. Research shows that when just 3.5 per cent of a population actively supports a campaign, protest or movement, real change is likely.

We’ve been certain for decades that burning fossil fuels is causing ever-worsening impacts, but industry, governments and media have perpetuated myths and misinformation to keep the inevitable transition to renewable energy from happening in the time needed. Now it’s urgent. We must demand a rapid end to the fossil fuel era.

Let’s support real solutions to curb our voracious consumer habits and the coal, oil and gas that are fuelling them and polluting land, water and air and altering the climate. We must let governments know we expect them to live up to and strengthen their global commitments.

It means calling for transparency and ensuring no one is left behind in the global transition to clean energy and better ways of living. Global North nations must step up with financing for the most vulnerable countries, communities and people who contribute least to the climate crisis but are most affected.

One idea gaining traction in the wake of COP27 is a windfall profits tax. With fossil fuel executives and shareholders gorging on record returns squeezed from global conflict as people everywhere struggle to keep up with rising fuel costs and related prices, many, including UN secretary general António Guterres, say industry should pay up. (The Guardian reports oil and gas companies made US$100 billion in the first three months of 2022 alone.)

More than 30 media outlets from more than 20 countries recently published an opinion article arguing for such a tax, with money directed to helping the vulnerable adapt to inevitable climate consequences and forestall the worst, and to compensate for “loss and damage.”

“Rich countries account for just one in eight people in the world today but are responsible for half of greenhouse gases. These nations have a clear moral responsibility to help,” the article says.

To ensure governments get serious about climate disruption, calls are also getting louder for a “fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty.” Harking back to the 1970 global nuclear non-proliferation treaty, advocates say, “Climate change, like nuclear weapons, is a major global threat.”

The fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty website states that “thousands of academics, scientists, parliamentarians, cities and civil society leaders” have joined the call to “stop the expansion of fossil fuels and manage a global just transition away from coal, oil and gas.”

To rein in industry and do our part in the global effort against climate change, Canada needs a strong, declining, vigorously enforced cap or limit on emissions from the oil and gas sector immediately. It’s Canada’s largest and fastest-growing emissions source, accounting for 26 per cent of the domestic total — increasing 89 per cent since 1990 as other sectors reduced emissions.

Industry is trying to get the federal government to halt or water down its promised regulations. We can’t let that happen. Restrictions need to be strengthened, not weakened — and they need to cover all emissions, including those from burning fuels.

Canada must also uphold its commitment to 100 per cent net-zero-emissions electricity by 2035. David Suzuki Foundation research shows how we can move even beyond that to entirely emissions-free, affordable, reliable electricity.

We can’t continue to support an industry that’s putting our health, well-being and survival at risk. We need to end all fossil fuel tax breaks and subsidies. With its slow-moving governments and industry lobbyists, COP27 shows again that we all must step up, with votes, actions, calls and letters. We’re in this together.

David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Writer and Editor Ian Hanington.

Learn more at davidsuzuki.org.

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Categories: F. Left News

Is Canadian forestry sustainable?

Tue, 11/22/2022 - 12:27

The Canadian logging industry claims that they are practicing “sustainable forestry.” They are not. The stakes of allowing this deliberate deception are high. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and their Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), are certain that biodiversity loss and climate change, which are driven by the degradation of forests, “will lead to organised human life becoming untenable within 100 years.”

93 per cent of British Columbians say these trees are “worth more standing.” Credit: Aaron Yukich

In plain language, that means societal collapse in our children’s lifetimes. We are at a crossroads where we must reign in corporate greed or die.

Luckily, there is a simple legislative solution, which is to ban clearcutting immediately, and a proven alternative, which is to develop a reciprocal relationship with our forests. This involves only harvesting wood in such a way that does not degrade their ecological and economic functions.

Why clearcutting is unsustainable

The giant logging corporations that control 80 per cent of B.C.’s annual cut see trees as “fibre.”

Forest ecologist Suzanne Simard, author of Finding the Mother Tree, encourages us instead to look at trees as extended family. She also encourages us to value the forest’s “ecosystem services” including carbon sequestration, and the moisture regulation that has always kept us safe from extreme wildfires and floods.

Ecosystem services are provided by forest “biomass” including trees, moss, lichen, fungal mycorrhizae, birds, fish and animals.

Clearcuts stop providing ecosystem services the day they are cut, and never fully recover.  Credit: T.J. Watt

Clearcutting strips 100 per cent of the above-ground biomass.

When the sun hits the unprotected forest soil, the underground biomass is incinerated. In his book Entangled Life, biologist Merlin Sheldrake tells us that underground mycorrhizal fungal networks make up over a third of the living mass of soils, and sequester 6 billion tonnes of carbon annually, equivalent to all the U.S.A.’s C02 emissions.

Sheldrake notes, “Logging wreaks havoc below ground, decreasing the abundance of mycorrhizal fungi by as much as 95 per cent, and their biodiversity by as much as 75 percent.”

Averaged over a 60 year recut cycle, clearcuts reduce total local biomass and ecosystem services by 70 per cent.

And then the trees are re-cut again!

The logging corporations claim that they are “not practicing deforestation.” No one would buy their lumber if they did. Yet clearcutting results in permanent forest degradation, which does at least 70 per cent the ecological damage of “deforestation.”

In British Columbia, we degrade a forest area the size of Vancouver Island by 70 per cent every 22 years. That’s a lot of ecosystem services to lose.

That’s a lot of fires and floods coming our way.

How clearcutting causes extreme fires and flooding

UBC forest scientists Younes Alila and Xu Jian Joe Yu have shown that reducing forest canopy by only 11 per cent in a watershed doubles the flood risk and increases intensity. Clearcutting 50 per cent of the forests in the watersheds above Merritt removed the protection that kept the town flood-free since 1893.

The floods were not caused by the amount of rain that fell, which was less than what fell during the Great Storm of 2007, but the lack of a forest “sponge” to absorb it.

The sheer volume of land degraded by industrial clearcutting has caught up with us and pushed us over the tipping point. By removing so many billions of tonnes of water-absorbing forest biomass, clearcutting has turned our province into a tinderbox.

Slash piles burning on the leading edge of a fire racing across a dried-out clearcut. Credit: BC Wildfire Services

The cumulative effect of clearcutting in the last 20 years has also ramped up the frequency and severity of extreme wildfires, which incubate and accelerate in jammed monoculture plantations and dried out clearcuts. As David Broadland explains in his article Clearcut logging increases fire risk on the Evergreen Alliance forestry website, “Carbon emissions from forest fires are on track to double every 9 years since 1990.”

By causing fires to release up to 20 times the C02 that they did 20 years ago, clearcutting has become the worst emitter of net C02 in B.C. The Sierra Club estimated the 2017 carbon footprint of the logging industry to include four to eight million tonnes of C02 from slash burning, 42 million tonnes from harvesting, 40 million tonnes from the cumulative sequestration loss of biomass removal, and 190 million tonnes from wildfires over the historical baseline. This totals to almost 276 million net tonnes of  C02, three times the 67 million tonnes we emitted by burning fossil fuels.

The B.C. government doesn’t count these numbers against our provincial carbon footprint, and report author Jens Wieting said, “B.C.’s forest management is making climate change worse.”

Is this destruction of biomass sustainable? No, and the logging industry knows it.

Here is their own infographic, which estimates the permanent loss of marketable biomass and timber available for future generations to be 60 per cent, and economic value per hectare by 90 per cent.

What truly sustainable forestry looks like

Since 1890, the Menominee Nation in Wisconsin have harvested billions of board feet of lumber, but their forest is still delivering all its ecosystem services including carbon sequestration, oxygen production, moisture regulation, and human benefits like forestry jobs.

The Menominee gave their river the rights of a person to protect it from an upstream mining company. Credit: Menominee Forest Keepers

In a forest with millions of trees, each annual ring per tree adds millions of board feet of lumber to the forest. Every year, the Menominee measure that growth over the whole watershed, and cut less.

They never cut their “principal,” only the “interest,” using “single tree selective harvesting” to maintain full age and species ranges. The canopy is gently opened to stimulate growth.

I call this “Net Zero Forestry,” as there is zero net loss of biomass, canopy or ecosystem services when measured annually in watersheds.

Measuring biomass annually in watersheds is a simple metric by which forestry can be judged scientifically. Any forester can follow the instructions. Scientists can track results. Governments can’t fudge the numbers.

We miss out on these benefits because the corporate logging industry protects their $70 billion annual revenue stream by manipulating our governments into perpetuating the dysfunctional “Tenure System.” In this system, wood is given away to corporations for 10 cents a board foot, which consumers will eventually pay prices like $4.00 a board foot for.

Climate change and biodiversity activist saying goodbye to the Old Growth forest in Ada-itsx (Fairy Creek) before his arrest. Credit: Ben Barclay

The province of B.C. loses over a million dollars a day on the logging industry, before we count the constant bailouts like the $300,000 compensation paid for one logging-flooded home, to the $9 million spent on the RCMP to crush peaceful biodiversity and climate change activists at Fairy Creek, to the $9 billion costs of rebuilding after the Merritt and other floods.

In contrast, the Menominee own their own sawmills, control their own jobs, and sell their value-added wood products at wholesale and retail.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, does not see forests as “fibre.” He suggests, “What governments and corporations need to do is to view old growth forests not as commercialised products to be harvested and sold, but as bedrock foundations of a healthy, biodiverse environment that First Nations have been stewards over since time immemorial.”

At the stroke of a pen, dissolving the Tenure legislation and banning clearcutting would shift us into a new paradigm of maintaining a reciprocal, respectful relationship with forest ecosystems.

With the money saved by retaining ownership of the trees until they are sold to retail, we could generate billions in provincial revenue, and double our forestry jobs putting people to work healing the terrible damage we have done to our forests.

Legislation is free. We just ban clearcutting, stop cutting old growth, and start practicing forestry, instead of land degradation.

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Categories: F. Left News

Barrick Gold’s ongoing chapter in Canadian mining history

Tue, 11/22/2022 - 09:41

In 2009, the then outgoing Chilean President Michelle Bachelet was awarded the Gold Insigne award by the Council of the Americas; the latter an American business organisation “promoting free trade, democracy and open markets throughout the Americas.” 

Bachelet is not a stranger to controversy when it comes to human rights violations. Despite her personal history and that of her family as victims of the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship, her legacy as president also included excessive use of the anti-terrorist law to criminalise the Indigenous Mapuche’s resistance against exploitation of their land and natural resources. 

The Gold Insigne Award was sponsored by Chevron, Freeport-Mcmoran and Canadian mining company Barrick Gold; the latter having been in the spotlight since 2001 in Chile over the Pascua Lama mining project. 

The Pascua Lama original plan called for an open-pit mine on the Chile-Argentina border, which was altered in 2016 in favour of underground mining. One major concern of Indigenous communities and environmental activists who led a relentless campaign against the mining project, was Barrick Gold’s initial plan to move the ice from the Toro 1, Toro 2 and Esperanza glaciers in order to gain access to gold, silver and copper deposits. 

In July of this year, Chile’s First Environmental Court confirmed the “total and definitive closure” of Barrick Gold’s Pascua Lama mining project – a gold and silver venture which has been on hold since 2013. The court upheld three charges from the 2018 decision to definitely close the Chilean side of the Pascua Lama mine – namely the project’s damage to flora and fauna, the failure to monitor the melting rates of glaciers and the dumping of acidic waste into Estrecho River. 

Yet, given that Chile’s transition to democracy was and still is tainted with the legacy of the  dictatorship and neoliberalism, the country and its Indigenous communities are susceptible to the exploitation of mining companies, whose support for the Concertacion governments was given in return for facilitating investments. Canada’s Free Trade Agreement with Chile, for example, is mainly concerned with the mining sector. 

Chile’s example is by no means isolated. While the company bolsters its image with factsheets detailing global expansion and profits, the darker side of Barrick Gold’s story is better told through a look at the egregious human rights violations which it is responsible for, as a result of its exploitation of natural resources and disregard for local communities. 

Speaking to rabble.ca, Outreach Coordinator and Canada Program Co-Lead of MiningWatch Canada, Jamie Kneen, noted how indigenous people were marginalised from the entire process of Pascua Lama.      

“Indigenous peoples’ rights to the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), or even the more limited right to consultation under ILO 169, were never respected, from the initial exploration through development efforts,” Kneen said. “Those who were also part of the Irrigation Association also had their rights restricted by the deal that Barrick made with the association, to provide funding for projects in exchange for the association refraining from participating in the environmental assessment.”

Kneen added that despite the definitive closure, the communities need to remain vigilant.      

“Once a valuable deposit has been identified, there is always the risk that someone will try to go after it. It could be Barrick, or anyone else,” he said. 

Since 2019, Chile had been on the verge of a new era, as nationwide protests triggered the call for a new constitution, which former President Sebastian Pinera acquiesced to after it became clear that there was no containing the demonstrations. However, right-wing influence over Chilean media, particularly the spreading of misinformation, resulted in the new draft constitution being rejected by Chilean voters. 

Had the new constitution replaced the former from the Pinochet era, mining companies might have faced some difficulties in Chile, as Article 145 of the rejected draft would have established state control over mines, including environmental protection. Yet even prior to current Chilean President Gabriel Boric’s electoral triumph, the mining industry seemed unfazed about a possible change in politics.      

“There’s no intention to change the rules of the game, just to strengthen institutionality so that things function better,” Willy Kracht, one of Boric’s advisers, stated

Strengthening institutionality will not safeguard the communities affected by the violations of mining companies. Barrick Gold has faced accusations of environmental exploitation and human rights violations in countries where the company operates.

Viviana Herrera, MiningWatch’s Latin America Program Coordinator, described the environmental disaster as a result of the Veladero mine in Argentina.

“The Veladero mine operated by ​​Minera Argentina Gold SRL (MAGSRL), a 50/50 joint venture between Canadian Barrick Gold and Chinese Shandong Gold, is a large industrial gold and silver mine that uses cyanide heap leach processing to separate the metals of value from the ore body,” Herrera said. “The mine is located in a periglacial area in the Andes cordillera. To date, Barricks has been responsible for at least five heavy metal spills at its Veladero mine, contaminating waterways, killing animals and sickening residents of Jachal town in 2015, September 2016, March 2017, October 2021, and February 2022.”

Herrera explains that the first spill, considered as the worst environmental mining disaster in the history of the country, happened in  September 2015. 

“A failure in the valve of a heap leach pad pipeline released millions of liters of water contaminated with cyanide and heavy metals into local watersheds, contaminating at least five rivers. The company was fined US$10 million for the accident. A possible fourth spill at Veladero in June 2022 was revealed by a local journalist. This report was later referenced in an article by the Financial Post,” she said.

“The social movement Asamblea Jáchal No Se Toca, [Hands Off Jachal], which formed after the first environmental disaster in 2015, accuses the provincial government and company of not alerting them about either of the five toxic spills and attempting to undermine their seriousness or impact,” Herrera added. “They also denounced lack of accountability. None of the spills were reported by the company or the local government to the local population, and alerts have not been issued either.”

Herrera explained, “According to water tests carried out by the public National University of Cuyo, the impacts of the fourth spill show high levels of heavy metals like mercury, aluminum, manganese, arsenic and lead in their water supplies. These levels are all above WHO and Argentine standards for human consumption. Arsenic levels superseded WHO levels by 33 times, lead by 16 times, and aluminum by 485 times. The Asamblea Jáchal No Se Toca notes that these levels are higher than those recorded in 2015.”

Mining exploitation is also impacting the residents’ health. 

“Asamblea Jáchal No Se Toca states that the impacts of those spills are being felt in the communities, with local residents reporting high numbers of cancers and leukemia diseases for such a small population of only 20,000. Their right to live in a healthy environment has been violated,” Herrera noted. 

Elsewhere in the world, Barrick Gold’s mining projects have been associated with human rights violations, including abuse and killings. Catherine Coumans, MiningWatch’s Research Coordinator and Asia-Pacific Program Coordinator explained the trail of abuses against local populations, in which security forces and the countries’ economies play a role. 

“Barrick Gold’s impunity for a range of serious human rights and environmental abuses at mines such as Porgera in Papua New Guinea and North Mara in Tanzania, to name but two, stems in part from the economic conditions in these countries,” Coumans explained. “Papua New Guinea is a true example of a “resource curse” economy that has become over-dependent on resource extraction and is in debt to international lenders. Thus it turns a blind eye when a company like Barrick is implicated in criminal acts against the local Ipili people by its security forces or when the mining contaminates an 800km long river system with its uncontained tailings.” 

Coumans noted that when the government tried to sever ties with Barrick in 2020, by refusing a permit renewal after 30 years of mining, Barrick sued the government of Papua New Guinea, both in the country and in an international tribunal (ISDS), causing the government of Papua New Guinea to back down. ”

Coumans explained that in Papua New Guinea and Tanzania, mining operations and the ensuing loss of land, as well as water contamination from mining operations have led to food insecurity and stress among the local populations.      

“Additionally, both mines are essentially militarized by heavy private and public security that regularly uses excess force against desperate villagers who try to eke out a living on the mines’ waste rock dumps and tailings flows and sometimes in the pits,” said Coumans.

Meanwhile, the communities’ efforts to prevent mining exploitation and safeguard their livelihoods face layers of marginalisation as well as the impunity awarded to the multinational companies. 

Canada, Coumans, adds, has the means through which it can hold mining companies accountable for their violations abroad.      

“Canada can implement the mandatory human and environmental due diligence legislation as proposed by Private Member’s Bill C-262,” said Coumans.

Two separate bills were tabled in March 2022. The Private Member’s Bill C-262 details a corporate organization’s responsibility to protect human rights, while also providing access to Canadian courts for individuals harmed by Canadian companies in their endeavours abroad. 

Private Member’s Bill C-263 seeks to transform the office of the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE) into an effective watchdog in relation to Canadian businesses abroad, in order to lessen, prevent and address human rights violations and their impact.However, the Canadian government is “home to almost half of the world’s publicly listed mining and mineral exploration companies,” according to Natural Resources Canada. To start the process of accountability, however, Canada needs to dig deeper into its own history beyond the current mining exploitation and contextualise the nature of its impunity in its own support for colonial exploitation.

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Categories: F. Left News

U of T contracting out of jobs undermines equity, union says

Mon, 11/21/2022 - 11:01

Concerns persist regarding contracting out of service jobs for Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) local 3261 after reaching a tentative agreement with the University of Toronto (U of T) on November 18.

While in bargaining, service staff at U of T, including custodial services, food services, grounds, maintenance and other areas, had voiced concerns about the contracting out of their jobs to for-profit operators who pay low wages. According to a press release from CUPE Ontario, the new collective agreement does not include any guarantees on limits to contracting out but it does contain “steps in the right direction.” 

A strike may have been averted for U of T service workers but the impacts of contracting out deepen inequities for their service staff. 

CUPE says the precarious working conditions of service staff will be highlighted in a forthcoming report by Kiran Mirchandani, Professor in the Adult Education & Community Development Program at U of T, and Michelle Buckley, professor in the Geography department at U of T. 

A two-tiered workforce

While the report is not published yet, drafts indicate that these professors’ study found there is a two-tiered workforce on campus. According to CUPE local 3261 president, Allan James, workers employed by third-party contractors make approximately $16-to-$17 an hour with few benefits while those employed directly by the university make about $23 an hour. 

“Living in Toronto,” James said, “I don’t know of anybody who can survive on a wage of $17.” 

Other than wages, workers employed by third-party contractors enjoy fewer benefits, James said. He pointed to tuition waivers as one of the important benefits for service workers at U of T. 

“Most of our employees wouldn’t be able to afford to send their kids to university if they were just making $23 an hour.” James said. “That would have been impossible. Now they have an opportunity for their kids, if they qualify, to actually go to university and pull themselves out of poverty.” 

Benefits break cycle of poverty

Diana Medeiros, the daughter of a worker employed directly by U of T, benefitted from the tuition waiver and said this benefit can help children break cycles of poverty in their families.

“Higher education is so expensive already and that alone is a barrier,” Medeiros said. “Not to mention everything with inflation going on. It’s just adding more fuel to the fire of making it hard for us to continue. So this waiver was a game changer. That’s the best way I can describe it. It was an absolute game changer for me and my family.”

Beyond tuition waivers, Medeiros said she and her family also found other benefits to be very useful. Medeiros said her father passed away when she was 11. During this time, she said the university provided access to counseling. 

Medeiros said she found it ironic that the university was contracting out jobs like her mother’s. She said that the cuts to benefits made by corporations will not promote equity among service workers, despite U of T’s public image being one that is devoted to equity and diversity. 

“They’re branding equity, but they’re not reflecting it in what they could do,” Medeiros said. “It just bothered me so much when I found out about the contracting out. I was just like, ‘Well, this saved my family and our life and our situation and this could help so many more people. Why would you teach and support equity to such a high standard and degree but not provide it in the same ways?’” 

James explained that the university chooses to contract out service jobs to save on costs. However, James said funds from their $3.2 billion budgeted revenue could be allocated differently to ensure higher wages and benefits for all service workers.

Better wages and benefits would lead to better service

James said that better wages and benefits for service workers on the U of T campus will also improve services. 

“For most of these employees who work for the for profit agency, this is their second or third job,” James said. “By the time they come to do work for the university, most of them are tired.” 

Medeiros said that while she was studying at U of T, the impacts contracting out had on workers were clear.

“They were overworked  like no one’s business. It was insane,” Medeiros said. 

With service workers spread thin, Medeiros said that things were not as clean and not restocked as often. The impact on workers also harmed the overall university environment according to Medeiros. 

While the negative impact on service is clear, James wanted to reiterate that the fight is not against workers employed by for-profit agencies. 

“Our fight has never been with those workers who work with those for profit contractors. They’re just trying to make a living and I respect that,” James said. 

James continued, “Our solution is that the employer stop contracting out and bring in those employees who are working for these contractors. Make them U of T employees, so they can get a little more wages and good benefits.” 

U of T is among the top 50 employers in Canada on Forbes’ list of Canada’s Best Employers. If they are to be an example for Canadian employees, it may be time to end the two-tiered workforce. 

“I think the University of Toronto is a trendsetter,” James said. “There’s no doubt they’re one of the biggest universities, if not the biggest university, in Canada. That [limiting contracting out] will send a message that they’re a responsible university who practice what they preach, and they’re willing to do the right thing.”

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Categories: F. Left News

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