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Climate Change, Christmas and Capitalism: The Great Southwest Airlines Meltdown

Fri, 12/30/2022 - 06:45

Climate change, Christmas and capitalism chaotically converged with an epic operational failure at Southwest Airlines that stranded thousands of holiday travelers and airline staff at airports for days.

Winter Storm Elliott slammed the continental United States with snow, pelting winds and freezing cold arctic air in what meteorologists call a “bomb cyclone.”

Air travel was understandably impacted, but the scale of the disruption at Southwest was many times greater than other airlines, accounting for an estimated 90 per cent of the tens of thousands of canceled flights.

Central to this travel catastrophe are the deregulation of the airline industry during the late 1970s, during the Carter administration, and the decision by Southwest executives to prioritize their investors over customers and staff.

“It is unconscionable…we have been sounding the alarm, along with our pilots’ union and other unions, that our technology issues are absolutely going to lead us to this place. This is not the first time. It is the first time it’s happened over a Christmas that’s affected so many,” Corliss King, vice president of Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 556, representing Southwest Airlines flight attendants, said on the Democracy Now! news hour.

Her union has been in contract negotiations with Southwest for four years. Among the workers’ demands is that the airline fix “the technology failures that disproportionately impact frontline aviation workers and passengers.” Southwest uses software called SkySolver, released in the early 2000s, to correct scheduling interruptions by moving planes and staff around the country as fast and efficiently as possible.

The storm overwhelmed Southwest’s dated system, as Corliss King explained:

“Crew scheduling, which is our heartbeat of our operation for our crews, is using technology that is not expandable to the airline we are right now…on a normal day, we have 500 people who are out of place, but due to a crisis, we now have a thousand people, 1,500 people out of place. That technology has to be able to expand to meet an unprecedented situation like this. That is not able to happen.”

Consequently, thousands of Southwest flight attendants and pilots were stranded, often with no place to stay other than in an airport’s crew lounge. Southwest had no way to match available crews with idle planes, lacking basic information about where their workers were. Meanwhile, ground crews were forced to work longer hours in the freezing cold, some suffering frostbite.

Tens of thousands of passengers have spent days stranded in airports, often separated from their luggage – some without medicines. Southwest told most passengers they wouldn’t be getting an alternate flight for several days at the earliest, claiming the airline lacked capacity.

“They have no capacity because it’s actually more profitable to have bad service than good service,” Paul Hudson, president of FlyersRights, an airline passenger rights organization, said on Democracy Now! “Every airline is required to have a plan to deal with bad weather and other disruptions, but there’s no enforcement. There are no reserve requirements. There are no customer service standards of any meaningful nature. The whole idea of deregulation was that the airlines would compete to provide better service. But actually what happens today, they compete to provide more profitable but worse service.”

For passengers experiencing multi-day flight delays, Paul Hudson warns, “Domestically, you have no rights to delay compensation. If weather is the reason for the cancellation or delay, you don’t really have any rights to things like hotel accommodations. It’s all up to the airlines. Of course, they’ll do anything to avoid those expenses.”

While Southwest has underinvested in its IT infrastructure and reserve capacity, it has treated its investors well. In the three years leading up to the pandemic, Southwest reportedly spent $5.6 billion on stock buybacks, and just weeks before the Christmas debacle announced it would be the first U.S. airline since the pandemic began to provide a stock dividend.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg tweeted on Wednesday, “Southwest Airlines needs to do everything it takes to get stranded passengers to their destinations–and cover their expenses (like meals, hotel, ground transport) in the meantime. We’ll continue to hold them accountable.”

This compensation is the least Southwest should do. However, according to the Transportation Department’s own website, “There are no federal laws requiring airlines to provide passengers with money or other compensation when their flights are delayed.”

Meanwhile, the climate emergency worsens. Air travel is estimated to produce 4 per cent of the global greenhouse gas emissions annually. After a dramatic, pandemic-related drop in 2020, air travel has recovered and is increasing. Unless we make drastic changes to how we live, including how we travel, we will all be stranded, not at airports, but on this, our only, rapidly heating planet.

The post Climate Change, Christmas and Capitalism: The Great Southwest Airlines Meltdown appeared first on rabble.ca.

Categories: F. Left News

2022: A year in review, from the editor’s desk

Fri, 12/30/2022 - 05:00

Hello readers! I’m excited to share with you a look back on the top news stories of the past year. I began my role as editor of rabble.ca in April this year. This December, I was excited to review all of the great work that our team has done throughout 2022.

2022 saw major news stories that changed the political, health and labour landscape in Canada and around the world. These stories will no doubt follow us into and affect our decision-making in the year ahead. 

Over the last 12 months, rabble.ca kept you up-to-date on the news and views you needed to know. As we enter the last few days of 2022, let’s review some of the top stories of the year.

Freedom Convoy occupation of Ottawa

The year began with the chaotic Freedom Convoy protest. Ostensibly about a federal vaccine mandate for international truckers, this protest saw hundreds descend upon downtown Ottawa and Parliament Hill.

The protesters harassed Ottawa residents —subjecting them to incessant honking for weeks on end —as a part of their demand to end all COVID-19 related mandates.

As similar protests began at some of Canada’s border crossings to the U.S., Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act to evict the protesters from the capital.

Before the occupation began making national headlines, rabble contributor David Climenhaga shared how many of the financial backers of the Convoy were connected to far-right wing and Alberta separatist groups.

Karl Nerenberg, rabble’s parliamentary reporter, and resident of Ottawa, shared his first hand account of the protest.

“[I] witnessed a rather large proportion of the protesters carrying aggressive and obscene signs which featured an upwardly outstretched middle finger accompanied by the words F*CK TRUDEAU,” Nerenberg wrote in late January.

“In their actions, the protesters have, so far, avoided out-and-out violence. But when it comes to their words and their imagery, it is another story,” he added.

Monia Mazigh called out how differently police agencies were handling this mostly-white protest as compared to protests by racialized communities. She wrote, since 9/11, the only “publicly perceived threat to Canadians is ‘Islamic terrorism’.” 

“[Canada has] passed highly intrusive anti-terrorism legislation that expanded police powers to arrest actors, disrupt groups, and prevent attacks,” Mazigh wrote. “Many activists, especially those in Indigenous and racialized communities, knew this legislation targeted Muslims and those contesting governmental policies like Indigenous land defenders. If anti-terrorism laws were really useful, and I am not advocating to enact them, they would be the ideal tools to use against these occupiers.”

Provincial elections

There were two major provincial elections this past year, one in Ontario and another in Quebec. Both elections resulted in victories for right-wing parties and both elections saw comparatively low voter turnout.

In Ontario this June, Premier Doug Ford and his Progressive Conservatives returned to a larger majority government. Despite winning less than 20 per cent of the vote.

National politics reporter Stephen Wentzell reported on Democracy Watch’s analysis of the election. This analysis found that Ford was funded by an equally small group of donors.

Later in the fall, François Legault’s governing the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) party returned to power with a massive majority of 90 seats out of 125. And again, a right-wing party was able to achieve this astounding victory without majority support. Roughly 40 per cent of the electorate actually cast their ballot for Legault.

Legault had previously been a champion of reforming Quebec’s electoral system, a cause he has let fall to the wayside now that he no longer stands to benefit from it.

“Now, Legault says he doesn’t perceive any demand from the population for a different electoral system. So it is no longer a priority for him,” wrote Karl Nerenberg just prior to the vote. “It just so happens that the current system hugely favours the CAQ. That’s because the governing party faces a highly fractionalized opposition.”

This year also saw John Horgan step down as premier of B.C. and provincial leader of the NDP. Horgan was replaced by David Eby in November this year. 

Poilievre takes the CPC further down the road of toxic politics

In September, Pierre Poilievre was officially crowned as the new leader of the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC).

During the campaign, Poilievre did what he was best at, campaigning on the offensive, both literally and figuratively.

In a piece written just before the leadership vote, I chronicled how Poilievre was quick to use social media as a tool to assault journalists who he disagreed with, regardless of the danger it represented for those journalists.

“We try not to get into critiques on politics per se, but on issues and policy of hate,” said Bernie Farber, chair of the Canadian AntiHate Network. “I’m taking a bit of a different track with Mr. Poilievre. Only because of his clear associations with the hard right, that I find a really clear and present danger to the country right now. That’s why we’re having a discussion.”

Furthermore, Poilievre was not quick to distance himself from far-right leaders like Jeremy MacKenzie, leader of Diagolon, with whom he was photographed with during the leadership campaign over the summer.

Joyce Arther of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada also highlighted Poilievre’s anti-abortion record.

“Fourteen years ago, Poilievre opposed giving Dr. Henry Morgentaler the Order of Canada. Since then, he has consistently voted in favour of anti-choice private member bills and motions, with just one exception. He voted against Bill C-233 in 2021 (to ban sex selection abortion),” she wrote.

End of a royal era leaves difficult legacy for First Nations

On September 8, 2022, after 70 years on the throne, Queen Elizabeth II passed away.

As head of state, the passing of a monarch leaves a complicated legacy for Indigenous peoples living in Canada.

rabble columnist Rachel Snow explained that in the view of some First Nations groups, treaties made in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries between Canada’s Indigenous people and the British Crown were done so with the monarch, rather than simply the government of the day.

“The Queen has not really done anything to assist the First Nations People[s] here in Canada who signed or believed that the promises and negotiations and everything that was discussed, that that treaty was going to be honored and fulfilled,” Snow said. “I think some people will be upset that they didn’t get a chance to directly go to the Queen to ask for this kind of a nation-to-nation agreement.”

Roe v. Wade struck down and the state of reproductive rights in Canada

Canada, like much of the world, watched in horror as the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the landmark case of Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed the right to an abortion and related healthcare in America.

rabble columnist Judy Rebick explained how the decision represented a broad attack on human rights.

“A ban on abortion affects millions of people,” Rebick wrote. “The Supreme Court argument basically says that there are no legal rights unless they are guaranteed in the Constitution other than those originally there unless a constitutional amendment is passed by elected representatives. With that argument, same sex marriage, perhaps inter-racial marriage, birth control, gay rights and trans rights could be eliminated.”

Also this year, Stephen Wentzell reviewed Martha Paynter’s book Abortion to Abolition: Reproductive Health and Justice in Canada. The two discussed how the status of abortion rights in Canada is far more complex than is widely understood.

“New Brunswick has always had, since 1810, the most restrictive and conservative approach to abortion access,” said Paynter, noting that the province’s Medical Services Payment Act prevents physicians from being paid for abortion care services if they are provided in “free-standing” clinics.

Lisa LaFlamme and the attack on female journalists

Canada’s most prominent female journalist Lisa LaFlamme was herself unwillingly thrown into the spotlight this summer after her employer unceremoniously fired her.

While no official explanation was given to the public, speculation was rampant that this was a decision motivated by sexism and ageism.

Judy Rebick wrote that the firing of LaFlamme highlighted greater issues faced by women and people of colour working in journalism.

“As an older woman with grey hair who still works in the media from time to time, I am glad to see the massive support for Lisa LaFlamme but I am much more concerned with the online hatred experienced by young women journalists and particularly Black, Indigenous and racialized women,” Rebick wrote.

rabble labour reporter Gabriela Calugay-Casuga spoke to Kiran Nazish, the founding director of the Coalition for Women in Journalism (CFWIJ). The two discussed how newsrooms can protect journalists from harassment.

“One thing that newsrooms do, which is very harmful and very archaic, is work independently in silos,” Nazish said. “If CBC is going through something, they would not do any kind of support work, assistance or talk about it. I think there needs to be an ecosystem of support between newsrooms. When there’s a journalist in any community, whether they’re freelancers or working with opposition media or competitor media, there should be an ecosystem and a unified support system for all journalists.”

The fight to protect female journalists in Canada rages on. 

As Stephen Wentzell reported last week, Canada is on track to be the most likely country for female reporters to be subjected to major online trolling campaigns.

Solidarity wins out in Ontario labour dispute

CUPE Ontario scored a historic victory for labour as they fought a better contract for their education support workers.

Education support workers, who are mostly women, were only receiving an average annual salary of $39,000 a year.

After talks with the province stalled, Premier Doug Ford reached for the so-called “nuclear option” by passing Bill 28, which imposed a contract of his choosing on the union. He invoked the notwithstanding clause to ensure that the bill could not be challenged in the courts.

I spoke with CUPE Ontario President Fred Hahn about this unprecedented attack on labour rights. I asked if he was prepared to call for a general strike, something not seen in a generation. He said:

“I think it is absolutely a possibility in a way I hadn’t imagined before. Many of us talk about the idea of a general strike as though it were a fantasy land. A lovely dream. But I do think that people see what is at stake and if a government isn’t going to allow for any democratic process or any democratic debate, if they’re just gonna create legislation that is such a ridiculous hammer to hang over the heads of people, and continue to cut services . . . This is the beginning of much resistance to many of the components that this government has here.”

Just days later, Ford blinked and repealed Bill 28 and returned to the negotiating table.

CUPE’s members voted to ratify their new agreement on December 5 by a margin of 73 per cent in favour. The new contract secured an average annual salary of 3.59 per cent, but did not address the unions concerns about continued underfunding of public education in Ontario.

Inflation in Canada

Like much of the rest of the world, Canada is facing historically high rates of inflation. Nowhere has this been more evident than in the grocery store.

Grocery industry insiders said that the record profits Canada’s major food chains have seen during the pandemic are not the result of profiteering off of inflation. Economist Jim Stanford told Karl Nerenberg that this simply was not true.

Grocery profits have more than doubled since before the pandemic, but the volume of sales has not similarly grown.

Those facts and figures, argued Stanford, are “definitely proof that the industry is profiting unusually from the current conjuncture of supply chain disruptions, inflation, and consumer desperation.”

This autumn on rabble radio, I sat down with Stanford to talk about the state of Canada’s economy. We also discussed how progressives must band together as we move into 2023.

Environment remains a top priority

Once again global temperatures spiked, and the rabble newsroom was inspired to create the Boiling Point series. At part of this series, our newsroom spoke to a diverse group of healthcare workers, labour leaders and climate activists. We wanted to know: how prepared is our country to handle increasingly hot summers and extreme weather events? And how are these weather events affecting everyday Canadians?  

On the global effort to mitigate the damage being done by climate change, rabble covered COP15 biodiversity conference this fall.

Stephen Wentzell reported that the landmark conference ended with a historic agreement to protect biodiversity by 2030. This agreement was called the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework. The framework includes a commitment from governments to respect the rights of Indigenous Peoples

Sovereignty Act debacle in Alberta

Newly minted Alberta Premier Danielle Smith passed the so-called Sovereignty Act as her first piece of signature legislation.

rabble Alberta politics correspondent David Climenhaga explained how the act represented a potential constitutional crisis.

“The fact remains the law is still virtually certain to be found unconstitutional as it allows the Alberta Legislature, now apparently dominated by recently converted Alberta separatists, to usurp the power of Canada’s courts to adjudicate jurisdictional disputes between the federal and provincial governments,” he wrote.

Climenhaga will keep a close eye on all-things Alberta politics in the year to come. 

The news is an ever flowing and ever changing thing. It does not respect neat chunks of time like months and years. Some of these news stories will likely continue to dominate the headlines in 2023. See what our columnists chose as their favourite pieces from this past year.

The post 2022: A year in review, from the editor’s desk appeared first on rabble.ca.

Categories: F. Left News

UCP unexpectedly turns against P3s to build new schools

Thu, 12/29/2022 - 08:28

It’s no secret that P3s – so-called public-private partnerships – are at best a lousy public investment and at worst a disaster for citizens and taxpayers.

Still, they’re a great way for governments to subsidize big businesses with friends in high places while pretending to prudently manage public funds, so despite their higher costs, lack of transparency and accountability, vulnerability to business failures, and the exaggerated claims of their proponents, they’ve been enduringly popular with so-called conservative governments in Canada. 

So it came as a genuine surprise to many of us on Boxing Day when the CBC reported that Alberta Infrastructure Minister Nathan Neudorf had announced the United Conservative Party (UCP) government of Premier Danielle Smith will no longer be using P3s build new schools.

Say what? 

After all, it was only in 2019 that then-Premier Jason Kenney, a month after his election victory over the NDP, was promising to aggressively pursue P3s to build infrastructure projects in this province. 

“We think in the long run, the way we can get more job-creating infrastructure, to make Alberta’s economy more efficient, is through more public-private partnerships,” Kenney pontificated to reporters. 

Former prime minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative federal government, which Kenney served as a senior cabinet minister, loved P3s. In 2009, it even set up a Crown corporation to encourage the use of P3s when federal money was earmarked for local projects. 

It is no small irony, I suppose, that when the Liberal Government led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that replaced Harper’s Conservatives shut down PPP Canada in 2018, it was infrastructure minister Amarjeet Sohi who pulled the plug. Sohi, of course, is now the progressive mayor of Edmonton.

In 2016 Alberta’s NDP infrastructure minister Brian Mason had announced that Premier Rachel Notley’s government would stick with traditional (and cheaper) government methods of financing infrastructure projects. “I think there are real questions about the overall benefit that is received by P3s,” he diplomatically said at the time. 

So Kenney may have been influenced both by the fact his former boss in Ottawa loved P3s, and his Trump-like need to tear down everything the NDP had done just to show who was boss. (Who can forget his “summer of repeal”?)

Which brings us back to Neudorf’s revelation to the CBC, of which he said, rather murkily, that “money, though very important, is not the only consideration.”

Well, we’re not privy to everything he told the CBC, presumably, but he apparently has the notion P3s only make sense for projects over $100 million. He seems to have presented no justification as to why P3s would make more sense on bigger projects than smaller ones when the same basic flaws exist regardless of the project size. 

A report on P3s done for the Canadian Union of Public Employees in 2020 concluded that:

–       P3s are nothing more than a covert form of long-term debt
–       Private borrowing is more expensive than public financing, so the public pays more
–       If a project fails, taxpayers and citizens end up holding the bag anyway
–       P3 claims of “value for money” are based on shoddy math intentionally biased against public enterprises
–       The drive to cut costs in P3 contracts leads to corner-cutting and poor quality
–       P3s are often late and over budget – despite the claims of their promoters
–       P3 contracts are shrouded in secrecy, so there is little accountability
–       P3s distort public policy, including which projects are chosen and where public funds are spent

It would seem school boards and staff responsible for some of the P3 schools built for the Kenney Government discovered other operational problems as well. 

“Sometimes, a private company’s control over the buildings is so restrictive, children have sweated in classrooms while Edmonton school staff had no control over the thermostat,” the CBC story said. “Some of the 40 P3 schools built by the former Progressive Conservative government were left with muddy fields fenced off and inaccessible for years while school boards were powerless to fix the problem.”

School trustees cheered when Education Minister Adriana LaGrange hinted last month at an Alberta School Boards Association meeting there would be no more school P3s. 

So why, it must be asked, did the Smith Government move now to curtail school P3s? 

It’s probably that looming general election. 

Back in 2008, Alberta’s PC Government had a scare when a key partner in a P3 to build schools suffered a huge loss in stock value and laid off staff, raising the prospect of the deal falling apart. 

In 2010, a report by Albert’s provincial auditor general chastised the PC government for overstating by about $20 million its supposed savings on a P3 project. 

In 2013, a consultant’s review called a PC scheme to use P3s to build 50 new schools “a mess” and said the schools would never be built on time. Building contractors were unenthusiastic about bidding on those P3s. 

The 2023 election won’t be a cake walk for Premier Smith and the UCP – which is why an election in 2023 is no sure thing, notwithstanding Alberta’s constitutionally meaningless fixed-election-date statute. 

The thought of noisy opposition from school boards, advice from senior civil servants, and the reminder of recent and not-so-recent problems with P3s likely added up to Neudorf’s decision to back off this bad idea for the time being.

Plus, of course, Smith would really rather see more private and charter schools, and fewer public schools, anyway. 

The post UCP unexpectedly turns against P3s to build new schools appeared first on rabble.ca.

Categories: F. Left News

How the far-right benefits from socio-economic disruption across the globe

Thu, 12/29/2022 - 05:00

In this clip, panelist Chuka Ejeckam explains the ways far-right movements across the globe have been expanding in the face of social and economic distress. The way to combat this, Ejeckam says, is global social solidarity. 

Chuka 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: A look back to leap forward.’ From the Freedom Convoy, to major action in Canada’s labour movement, to the ongoing war in Ukraine, to political leadership races on the provincial and federal levels… Our panel reflected on 2022, a year that had no shortage of newsworthy events. Then asked: what does this mean we can expect for the year ahead?

The panel featured guests MP Leah Gazan, Chuka Ejeckam, El Jones and Karl Nerenberg. With co-hosts Robin Browne and Libby Davies.

Off the Hill is a fast-paced live panel on current issues of national significance. To support our mission of mobilizing individuals to create progressive change  — on and off Parliament Hill — visit rabble.ca/donate.

The post How the far-right benefits from socio-economic disruption across the globe appeared first on rabble.ca.

Categories: F. Left News

Premier Smith: Forget about measures to mitigate respiratory disease spread

Tue, 12/27/2022 - 10:41

On Tuesday, December 20 both the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) and the Alberta Medical Association (AMA)’s Section of Emergency Medicine sent letters to Chief Medical Officer of Health Mark Joffe urging him to implement temporary mask mandates and take other measures to reduce the wave respiratory infections battering children’s hospitals in Alberta.

On Wednesday, December 21 at a news conference, the actual decider about public health matters, Premier Danielle Smith, delivered her response: forget about it. 

The letter from UNA President Heather Smith, which was also addressed to Premier Smith and Health Minister Jason Copping, implored the government “for the sake of Alberta’s children, and all Albertans” to “cease treating this situation as if it were a political inconvenience and address it immediately as the public health crisis that it is.”

“The simplest and most effective policy change that could be implemented immediately would be an indoor mask mandate to reduce the spread of influenza, COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus,” Heather Smith wrote. “However, even a strong statement acknowledging that wearing masks in indoor public spaces and limiting the size and number of public gatherings attended this holiday season could have a beneficial effect.” 

Stating that the current situation “has become truly dire,” the letter to Dr. Joffe from Dr. Arun Abbi, president of the AMA’s Section of Emergency Medicine, and Dr. Warren Thirsk, president-elect, urged the CMOH to immediately implement seven recommendations. These included the mask mandate, better air filtration in schools, and more messaging saying influenza and COVID-19 vaccines are safe. 

“There is a very real cost to not acting immediately,” they warned. “The cost will be paid by the increased suffering of many Albertans, including our vulnerable children …” Not to mention health care workers, they added. 

“We are extremely concerned that without strong public health mitigation strategies, the suffering will worsen, preventable deaths will occur, and we may see our workforce attrition continue to the point where safe and timely acute care is no longer available to many Albertans.”

Premier Smith was having none of it. 

Responding to a question from a reporter about the UNA letter during Wednesday’s news conference, she started with a pro forma declaration of her respect for nurses, but soon made it clear that didn’t mean she was going to listen to what they had to say. 

“I always appreciate the input from our front-line workers,” she summed up, “but we do support choice.”

That is, of course, the choice to infect others with a dangerous ailment if, basically, you feel like it. That is what the United Conservative Party base and the Take Back Alberta group that now controls the party demand, after all. 

So, “the best current scientific evidence, recently endorsed by our Pediatric Speciality colleagues,” as Doctors Abbi and Thirsk put it, will be ignored. 

Premier Smith didn’t bother to answer Heather Smith’s request, mentioned by the reporter in her question, for Dr. Joffe to make an appearance and speak for himself about the current crisis. 

But why not? She has already made it clear through her dismissal of Dr. Joffe’s predecessor, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, that chief medical officers of health who do their jobs and express opinions other than those of the government will not be in their positions for long. 

The news conference at which Premier Smith made these comments was called to tell the public not to worry about Emergency Medical Services, which seem to be in a state of chaos at the same time as the province’s children’s hospitals, because they’ll soon be augmented by “non-clinical transports for patients who do not require medical support during transport.”

In fact, Alberta Health Services does this now, with properly equipped and professionally driven vans for non-emergency patient transfers. So the idea cannot be dismissed out of hand. 

But what Premier Smith, Health Minister Copping, AHS Administrator John Cowell and other officials trotted out for the news conference and press release in many cases appears to be dumping recovering patients into taxis and ride-sharing services like Uber and telling them to make their own way home. 

Like the proverbial penny, Lyle Oberg is back

Like that proverbial penny, Lyle Oberg is back again. 

An Order in Council named Dr. Oberg, who will be 63 in 18 days, as a public member of the council of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta until December 20, 2025.

A physician by profession, Dr. Oberg is best known as the Progressive Conservative MLA for Strathmore-Brooks who was named minister of education (styled, in those days, minister of larnin’) by Ralph Klein in 1999. During his tenure in that job, teachers were awarded a 14-per-cent pay increase but school boards only got a six per-cent funding increase, proving again that for Conservatives math can be hard. No matter, untroubled, Premier Ed Stelmach later made him minister of finance.

In 2006, Dr. Oberg was kicked out of the PC Caucus for failing to urge party members in his riding to support Mr. Klein’s leadership review. He was readmitted three months later.  

Dr. Oberg dropped out of politics in 2008 and, in 2011 announced he was unhappy with the creation of Alberta Health Services and publicly quit the PCs, transferring his loyalties to the Wildrose Party, then led by Danielle Smith. 

He later worked for a cannabis production company. 

NOTE: I hope readers will forgive me if I take a few days to relax over the winter holiday. A Merry Christmas to all! AlbertaPolitics.ca will be back soon. … possibly sooner than I expect if something really crazy happens in the next few days.

The post Premier Smith: Forget about measures to mitigate respiratory disease spread appeared first on rabble.ca.

Categories: F. Left News

Canadian universities’ staff battle ‘culture of entitlement’

Tue, 12/27/2022 - 10:30

December is coming to an end, and for many studying or working in a post-secondary institution, this means that the semester is finally drawing to a close. 

As the stress of exams loosens its grip on students and teaching staff at post-secondary institutions, lessons to be drawn from this semester are becoming clear. Coming out of a pandemic, there have been unique challenges to those pursuing a post secondary education. The hardships students face are only exacerbated by the chronic underpaying of academic and service staff at universities. 

Ontario is ending the semester on the tail end of two university strikes. One was led by service workers at the University of Toronto and one led by teaching and research assistants at McMaster university. Both groups mentioned wages as one of the sticking points during negotiations. 

In Nova Scotia, the Dalhousie Faculty Association (DFA) members, such as professors and  instructors, voted 92 per cent in favour of a strike. The DFA wrote in their news release that the wage increase proposed was a major reason they were unhappy with the Board’s offers.

Nova Scotia faculty salaries lagging behind administration salaries

The Association of Nova Scotia University Teachers (ANSUT) released a report in October 2022. The title, “Culture of Entitlement” describes the attitude festering among administration and blocking wages from keeping pace with inflation.

The report explains that spending on executive positions rose 84 per cent between 2011 and 2021. As well, spending on presidents’ salaries rose 41 per cent, spending on vice-presidents’ salaries rose 76 per cent and spending on deans rose 86 per cent. Moreover, spending on directors rose 88 per cent and spending for managers increased by 63 per cent over ten years. Other executive positions, such as executive secretaries, university librarians, university counsel, and registrars saw university increase spending on them by 119 per cent. 

Meanwhile, full-time faculty saw wage increases of only 17.5 per cent. 

“Cuts made necessary by decreased tuition revenue during the pandemic have been borne

largely by faculty and staff, some of whom were expected to waive cost-of-living increases, accept wage rollbacks or freezes, and teach extra sessions for no compensation,” ANSUT wrote in their report. 

Teaching staff who are categorized as instructors or who work on contract are feeling the pinch acutely. David Westwood, president of the DFA, said that they have long been pushing for instructors categorized under the “Instructing Stream” be “elevated” to have their job be categorized as “Professor (Teaching).” Westwood said this elevation would need to include wage increases for instructors to close the gap between professors and instructors. 

Universities overly reliant on contract work

Universities are growing more and more reliant on contract work to fulfill faculty tasks. The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) wrote in the post-secondary sector profile that 54 per cent of faculty work is contract, not permanent.  

This growing reliance on contract or part-time faculty is affecting the learning conditions of students as teaching staff is becoming more and more overworked and burnt out. 

“Everything’s way more work,” Westwood said. “For instructors, it’s more pressing because you’re doing nothing but teaching. You’re always having to deal with students. In research as a professor, your research is a little bit more under your control.” 

Westwood said that in bargaining, the DFA is not always getting reasons for why the university is offering small wage increases and looking for ways to shirk responsibility when it comes to compensating teaching staff. 

“My suspicion is they were thinking about money. They know equal status would mean equal pay. Given that these folks are noy well paid, they saw it as a budget issue,” Westwood said. “I don’t want to put words in anybody’s mouth, but that was always our sense of the situation.”

Budget concerns arise when lowest paid faculty and staff ask for wage increases but ANSUT has reported that executive positions in Nova Scotia university have seen skyrocketing compensation. 

Universities across Canada see compensation disparity

This pattern can be seen in other universities as well. Allan James, president of the local representing service workers, told rabble in a past interview that while they were bargaining for University of Toronto service workers, the union often heard concerns about fiscal responsibility. The university’s top 10 earners make a total of just over $3.7 million in 2021 according to the Ontario sunshine list

At the University of McMaster University, where TAs and RAs recently came back from a strike, the top ten earners make a total of over $4.4 million. 

While the disparity is clear in Ontario, where university workers recently came back from a strike, and in Nova Scotia where ANSUT has published data on the disparity, there seems to be an issue at universities in other provinces as well. 

According to the British Columbia sunshine list, six staffers at the University of British Columbia made a total of $2.4 million while sessional instructors make about $23,900 for teaching 15 credits in a semester.

Westwood said that from his perspective in Nova Scotia, universities need to reexamine where they prioritize funding. 

“During COVID, nobody was using buildings on campus. Everybody was living at home and teaching from home. Yet, magically, universities continued despite not having a single building being used to teach people,” Westwood said. “That, to us really, reinforced the idea that the university is people. The money should be going to them. COVID taught us it’s always people first. Why boards of governors can’t see that? I don’t know.”

The post Canadian universities’ staff battle ‘culture of entitlement’ appeared first on rabble.ca.

Categories: F. Left News

2022 marks the deadliest year of COVID-19 pandemic

Tue, 12/27/2022 - 08:51

It’s official: 2022 is the deadliest year of COVID-19, so far. 

With Canada well on its way to reaching five million total cases and 50,000 deaths in 2023, the end of the pandemic remains out of sight.

As of December 23, there have been a reported 48,948 COVID-19-related deaths across Canada. They make up just a fraction of the 4,475,268 reported cases in the country since the pandemic began nearly three years ago.

The underreporting of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, deaths and vaccinations has worsened as governments pulled back from daily reporting to weekly, and some to monthly releases. Data on gender, age and race has also been largely absent from government reporting.

Just look at New Brunswick, where health officials recently released a review of COVID-19 death data, concluding an additional 86 deaths — more than ten per cent of total deaths related to COVID-19 — were previously unreported.

But just because politicians are pretending the pandemic is over doesn’t mean scientists are doing the same.

Beginning to understand long-COVID

Earlier this month, Canada’s chief science adviser issued a series of recommendations as a blueprint to help the federal government combat cases of long-COVID, or post-COVID condition (PCC).

In a recent news release, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam noted that “PCC represents a significant health issue in our country,” adding more data and research is necessary to understand long-term physical and psycho-social impacts of long-COVID.

The first look into the federal government’s insights regarding long-COVID started with a simple, yet crucial step: admitting the disease even exists.

The task force was established in July in an effort to better understand long-COVID.

According to their findings, as of August, nearly 15 per cent of adults who have had COVID-19 experienced symptoms three months or more after initially testing positive.

The task force found that symptoms of long-COVID can range from muscle pain, brain fog and trouble breathing, to extreme fatigue, gastrointestinal problems and heart palpitations.

“To start, we need to acknowledge that PCC is real,” Nemer said Wednesday. “That COVID-19 manifests itself as an acute but also as a chronic illness.”

Despite the effects of long-COVID becoming clearer, there is no consensus on the definition of the condition or how to diagnose and treat it.

“This is where we need a lot of research to understand what was going on, and we also need perhaps to try and see if any of the existing treatments for other diseases can be repurposed,” Nemer added.

Among the 18 recommendations issued by the task force are strategies to identify and treat patients, track their symptoms, research the condition and prevent infections.

With so little understanding, Nemer made one thing clear: getting vaccinated against COVID-19 can reduce the risk of developing long-COVID symptoms.

According to Canadian Institutes for Health Research president Dr. Michael Strong, there are three main factors that experts believe lead to long-COVID.

These factors begin with damage done by the initial infection to the heart, lungs or other organs that can cause long-term or even life-long effects.

How the immune system responds to the initial reaction and whether that response can continue after recovering from the virus is also a factor, along with long-term impacts from COVID-19 itself. 

“We don’t know why women are twice as likely as men to contract it. We don’t know why it can accelerate the onset of other chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease,” Nemer said. “But it is evident that [post-COVID-19 condition] is a serious condition that can have at times irreversible health consequences.”

The impact of Omicron

Earlier this month, Statistics Canada published a Canadian COVID-19 Antibody and Health Survey in an effort to better understand the spread and long-term impacts of the virus.

First discovered one year ago, the Omicron variant quickly became the dominant strain of COVID-19. But as Omicron cases spread across the country, the rise of rapid antigen tests and self-reporting of COVID-19 diagnoses, the ability to accurately track the number of actual cases at any given time in 2022. Reported numbers don’t include those who got COVID-19 but didn’t test or weren’t aware they had it due to being asymptomatic.  

The results of StatsCan’s survey, conducted between May 10 and August 31, found that, on average, at least one in every 50 Canadians aged 18 and older would have tested positive for COVID-19 on any given day. In total, between 420,000 and 650,000 Canadian adults suffered from COVID-19 infections each day during the study period.

More than one-third of those cases were individuals who weren’t aware they contracted the virus. During that time, the vast majority of Canadians used rapid antigen testing (74 per cent) compared to 26 per cent from a PCR test to determine their COVID-19 status.

Nurses’ Voices

Earlier this year, the Canadian Federation of Nurses Union published Nurses’ Voices: Stories of Courage in the Face of COVID-19. The book featured over two dozen profiles of frontline nurses from across Canada, written by myself and fellow rabble.ca contributor Matthew Behrens.

The collection of stories pulled back the curtain on the sacrifices made by Canadian health-care workers. Whether it was isolating from families, pushing off retirement, or witnessing the deaths of people alone without loved ones, the toll the early waves of the pandemic took on frontline workers was immeasurable. 

The post 2022 marks the deadliest year of COVID-19 pandemic appeared first on rabble.ca.

Categories: F. Left News

Investing in people in 2023: Childcare, MMIWG2S, basic income and immigration

Tue, 12/27/2022 - 06:00

MP Leah Gazan has been a fierce advocate for people-first policies in 2023. In this clip, Gazan outlines some recent work with the federal NDPs and looks forward to the year ahead.  

“We’re in a human rights crisis … If we want a healthy place to live, then we have to invest in people. And that’s not happening right now.”

Leah Gazan is Member of Parliament for Winnipeg Centre. She is currently the NDP critic for Children, Families, and Social Development, as well as the critic for Women and Gender Equality, and the deputy critic for Housing. Leah is a member of Wood Mountain Lakota Nation, located in Saskatchewan, Treaty 4 territory.

This is a clip from rabble’s most recent live politics panel: ‘Off the Hill: A look back to leap forward.’ From the Freedom Convoy, to major action in Canada’s labour movement, to the ongoing war in Ukraine, to political leadership races on the provincial and federal levels… Our panel reflected on 2022, a year that had no shortage of newsworthy events. Then asked: what does this mean we can expect for the year ahead?

The panel featured guests MP Leah Gazan, Chuka Ejeckam, El Jones and Karl Nerenberg. With co-hosts Robin Browne and Libby Davies.

Off the Hill is a fast-paced live panel on current issues of national significance. To support our mission of mobilizing individuals to create progressive change  — on and off Parliament Hill — visit rabble.ca/donate.

The post Investing in people in 2023: Childcare, MMIWG2S, basic income and immigration appeared first on rabble.ca.

Categories: F. Left News

The dazzle of precision agriculture

Tue, 12/27/2022 - 05:30

“We have a food system that is broken in so many ways — and this is even recognized by the larger corporations that have broken it.”

So begins a podcast interview on the series Tech won’t save us with Paris Marx.

The interview is with Jim Thomas, Director of Research with the ETC. Group. During the 55-minute podcast, Thomas discusses how digital technologies are being integrated into the industrial food system, how this empowers agribusiness firms and major tech companies, and the implications for farmers, farmworkers, and consumers.

This podcast is definitely worth a listen. It’s an eyeopener.

Thomas dissects the industrial food chain and how it is creating hunger, harming health and the environment, and equity and justice more generally.

“It’s a pretty grim picture,” emphasizes Thomas. He goes on to explain that many believe the reason people are hungry is because there is not enough food. In fact, Thomas emphasizes, there is plenty of food to go around, but the problem is that people cannot afford it.

Thomas goes on to explain that if precision agriculture and the use of artificial intelligence is allowed to take over food production, many more will not be able to afford food, and the risks to health, environment and community will grow.

“People can’t access food for political reasons; they can’t access food because society is broken in all kinds of ways, and usually it is about human rights. So anytime we are told that tech is going to improve food production, or that what we need is to up (increase) food production, that is entirely the wrong set of answers, but it suits agri-business corporations. They want us to believe that hunger is a technical problem that they are working on,” he explains.

The ETC. Group recently published its report Food Barons 2022, summarized in a recent column. That report covers concentration in the food industry and includes a section on big data. This podcast interview goes into far greater detail.

The ETC. Group recently protested the role of the tech billionaires, such as Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, in the Montreal COP15 Conference on Biodiversity, noting biotech firms are promoting financialization and corporate takeover of nature.

The interview with the ETC. Group’s Jim Thomas progresses to detailing how corporate concentration is pushing the use of new bio-technologies as the solution to food issues, and how “precision” agriculture will be touted as the new magic bullet. Thomas explains a model of digital industrial agriculture that is already underway and is largely based on artificial intelligence designed to continue concentration and removal of family farmers and farmworkers from the land.

Digital agriculture includes the use of data to steer driverless tractors and trucks, to collect and use data for seeders and harvesters, to gene-edited seeds manipulated to respond to certain inputs or amenities (i.e., fertilizers, sprays, etc.), right through to the use of drones to monitor crops.

This next-level digital industrialization of the food system also includes the creation of new markets and “niche” foods by promoting “hyper-processed foods” tailored for unwary consumers seeking alternatives to, for example, meat.

Thomas adds that this model of agriculture is extremely risky and will be worse for the environment, will reduce food affordability, and further concentrate food production, distribution, and wealth —  unless it is challenged.

Digital and precision agriculture is based on gene-manipulation, artificial intelligence and, via data collection, design and promotion of the use of inputs that “the farmer becomes locked into” to grow their crop.

In addition, Thomas explains how the agri-business corporations are now peddling these new robotic data-driven technologies as an easy way to determine carbon credits — with a premium going to the corporation managing the credits in the name of mitigating climate change.

The podcast underscores the many, almost unfathomable, issues that need to be faced head on related to the global food system, including unmasking the belief that agriculture and farming, driven by big data, will solve hunger and deal with climate change.

Another key point is the tremendous amount of energy that is used to gather and access this data. Behind this so-called precision agriculture, notes Thomas, are the massive amounts of energy — weather data, soil data, agricultural data — needed to gather this information. To claim that somehow using data and artificial intelligence will help to make agriculture more sustainable is an “incredible fallacy” emphasizes Thomas.

Thomas explains the new role that tech giants are now playing in agriculture. From the Gates Foundation and Microsoft, through to Amazon, Google, Alibaba, IBM, and others, there is a keen interest by these corporations to control part of this new agricultural digital frontier.

“The Gates Foundation is deeply invested in the digitization of food and agriculture,” says Thomas, “…and has stated that it wants half of the small farmers in the developing world to be on digital platforms by 2030.”

Thomas adds that Microsoft has been undertaking contractual agreements with India and other governments so that it can handle food data.

As Thomas notes, the energy required to power data is a huge issue. There is an increasing number of data centres being created to try and meet the needs of ever increasing data collection and storage via the internet and the co-called “cloud”. The energy required for this infrastructure is putting an additional burden on an already climate challenged world.

As noted in this CBC podcast, Digital data has an environmental impact, a major issue surrounding data usage is the energy required to power these so-called “cloud” systems; the potable water used to cool the servers; the tracts of agricultural land taken-up by the construction of these huge facilities; and the e-waste that is generated. Data driven systems do not live in the clouds…they live on earth and have a very real impact. The podcast notes that calling the storage data using the metaphor “the cloud” hides the true environmental cost of digital data.

Linking agricultural systems to digital data through precision agriculture and hyper-processed foods need to be very carefully questioned in terms of sustainability. Afterall, as Thomas notes, when a driverless Uber runs off the road, unfortunately some people will be killed. But if a digital industrialized model of agriculture runs amok, entire populations will be at risk.

Awareness is part of the challenge — and to that end, the ETC. Group has also created a printed and audio story for young people called Jack and the Cloud Giant. Indeed the cloud replaces the beanstalk… and Jack struggles and learns how digitalization works as he follows a giant data-vine. It is worth a read (available in English, French, Spanish or Italian) whether you are young, or just young at heart.

Afterall, the first step towards creating a more just food system is understanding and being educated on the issues at hand. A graphic story full of information can make a lesson memorable.

The post The dazzle of precision agriculture appeared first on rabble.ca.

Categories: F. Left News

Danielle Smith floats idea of Alberta pension plan referendum, maybe

Mon, 12/26/2022 - 09:18

From time to time, Calgary Herald columnist Rick Bell has been used by Alberta Conservatives to float their trial balloons. 

So when Mr. Bell reported that Premier Danielle Smith was thinking about holding a referendum on whether Alberta should dump the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and set up its own pension scheme as early as May 2023, he created an instant buzz. 

Mr. Bell’s column didn’t mean the United Conservative Party (UCP) actually planned to hold a referendum in May. There’s a pretty good argument that would amount to political suicide. 

After all, say what you will about cranky old Boomers, they get out and vote, even if astonishing numbers of them ignore their own interests and vote conservative. 

But when CPP recipients and those about to retire started to realize that if Ms. Smith got her way, their pensions would almost certainly end up being transferred into a new plan that is smaller and less secure, had higher unfunded liabilities and was probably badly managed, that would scare the beejeepers out of large numbers of otherwise reliable conservative voters with predictable results in the polling booth.

This in turn likely explains why Ms. Smith sorta, kinda disavowed the idea of a referendum next spring on the same day Mr. Bell’s column appeared, admitting at a news conference about using Ubers to free up ambulances and paramedics that “it’s unlikely to be held in May.”

Still, if Mr. Bell was writing about this, and Ms. Smith was talking to him about it, there’s a reason, and that reason has political significance.

We don’t need Mr. Bell to tell us the UCP is now dominated by the Take Back Alberta extremists who ran Jason Kenney out of town as too liberal (!) and got Ms. Smith elected as his replacement, or that the party’s increasingly open separatist agenda remains on its front burner. 

And we all know the idea of an Alberta pension plan, which first came to public attention in 2001 in the notorious Firewall manifesto circulated by Stephen Harper and a few of his cronies, has always had a certain appeal to utopian market fundamentalists like Ms. Smith, if only as a way to bludgeon Canada into adopting more of their neoliberal agenda. 

As is also well known, Ralph Klein, who was premier at the time, sensibly tossed the Firewall letter into the shredder and it was forgotten about until Mr. Kenney entered Alberta politics in 2017 with his own kitbag of terrible ideas.

“There’ll be a vote on it,” the Ms. Smith told Mr. Bell as recounted in yesterday’s column. Whether or not it’s in May, in time to coincide with the scheduled May 29 provincial election, he quoted her adding, “I’d have to see if we have enough information out at that point.”

So how likely is a referendum at any time on severing Albertans from their CPP? 

The answer: Probably not very. 

Indeed, there may not even be an election in 2023. If the polls are not auspicious come springtime, the UCP will find a way to put off the vote. 

Unlike the eventual success of an Alberta pension plan (APP), you can take that to the bank! 

Moreover, not only would an APP be politically unwise, it would almost certainly be virtually unworkable, Ms. Smith’s brassy gaslighting notwithstanding. 

As pension experts Ellen Nygaard and Virendra Gupta wrote on Bob Ascah’s Alberta economics blog in the fall of 2021, a province can’t just quit the CPP. 

The CPP is governed jointly by federal and provincial governments, they explained, and Parliament’s legislation means “changes must be approved by two-thirds of the provinces representing two-thirds of the population.” (Quebec had its own pension plan from the get-go.)

Theoretically, CPP legislation would permit a province to withdraw if it set up an equivalent plan. But “an Alberta plan would inherit liabilities for all benefits workers earned while working in Alberta since 1966. Because so many Canadians have moved into and out of Alberta since then, determining Alberta’s liabilities would not be easy,” Ms. Nygaard and Mr. Gupta wrote.

“Liabilities and the unfunded liabilities assumed by an APP would be considerably larger than proponents of an APP seem to have contemplated,” they also observed.

And using Alberta’s just-passed Sovereignty Act to simply pull the plug and walk away wouldn’t work either, at least if Alberta wanted some assets to go with its liabilities. 

What’s more, if the Alberta Investment Management Corp. (better known as AIMCo) is supposed to be the manager – as happened to the Alberta Teachers Retirement Fund on Mr. Kenney’s watch without its members and pensioners getting a vote on the matter – that’s a huge potential problem too.

The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Ms. Nygaard and Mr. Gupta noted, “enjoys a wide reputation for its independence, focused mandate and performance.”

“In contrast, AIMCo has multiple clients with multiple mandates, some of which are directed by the provincial government. As a result, AIMCo essentially operates like a mutual fund company that runs many funds from which the clients can choose.” (Emphasis added.)

And since the Alberta Government has sole authority to appoint AIMCo’s board, the opportunities for political interference are vast. 

So, if the whole idea is not achievable and politically dangerous, what the heck was Ms. Smith doing raising it now? 

Well, it’s a useful distraction presumably. 

It’s probably better to have voters yakking about a half-baked pension scheme that can be dropped at some point in the future than the cold hard fact our hospitals are so packed with sick children and seniors that once again the system is on the verge of collapse – thanks to never-ending UCP mismanagement and negligence. 

If by miracle or manipulation the UCP managed to win a referendum to set up an Alberta pension plan, and the whole thing then fell apart in negotiations with other provinces to chop up the CPP, I suppose that could be trotted out as an argument that Alberta would be better off as a separate country, albeit one without access to the sea. 

Or it could be that Ms. Smith has incredibly bad judgment, and this is just one more example. 

The post Danielle Smith floats idea of Alberta pension plan referendum, maybe appeared first on rabble.ca.

Categories: F. Left News

Listening to the other side

Mon, 12/26/2022 - 05:45

It can be instructive to spend some time each week reading items from Canada’s business class media and the nation’s right-wing think tanks, so generously funded by big business. I try to do so regularly, both because such study, no matter how annoying it can sometimes be, provides valuable insights into the mind set of those who own and rule the Canadian economy and because grappling with their  propaganda and sorting out any actual facts it may contain  helps stave off the kind of over-earnest certainty we can all fall into if we remain prisoners of our own preferred information silos. I rely on the old adage that a stopped clock is right twice a day and try to recognize the fragments of fact amongst the ideological swill.

So,  I of course  recommend that readers turn first to rabble and other progressive media for analysis and reporting that has a pro-working class, pro-woman, anti-racist and anti-sexist perspective. But supplement such readings with dips into the murky waters of the business class media, both to keep up with what our economic masters have on their minds (and want us to have on ours)  and because a careful, critical read of such material will sometimes reveal new information we’d miss if we only listen to each other.

For example, during the week this essay was written, the National Post issued an anguished plea to its readers “Don’t Blame Capitalism,” clear evidence that the Post’s editorial board is uneasy about the relatively mild mannered references on the part of NDP leader Jagmeet Singh recently  to industry price gouging. The editorial implicitly invokes  one of the central tenets of business class ideology- that when rich people get richer, that is good for the economy, but when workers manage to win a modest raise, that is very, very bad for the economy, and to be opposed at all costs.

A bit earlier this year, the staunchly pro-business Bloomberg.com was urging its readers to be afraid, be very afraid of the militance of Canada’s largest private sector union, Unifor, and the danger that wage improvements won in collective bargaining would create spiking inflation. Again, in this typical rant from the right, the implicit assumption is that when profits go up, it is a good thing , but when wages go up, it is a disaster.

And, over at the Fraser Institute,  adjunct scholar Matthew Lau weighed with an unintentionally revealing essay in the March 16 Ottawa Sun this year on why, in his view, a recent slight reduction in the percentage of private sector workers represented by unions is a very good thing indeed.

Mr.Lau, perhaps drawing on that great economic thinker the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland, who boasted  that she practiced believing six impossible things before breakfast, delivered this gem in an article earlier this year:

“The decline of unionization is worth celebrating because the effect of unions—contrary to stories emanating from union headquarters, union-friendly politicians and the broadsheets of some journalists—is to restrict worker choice, prevent job formation, reduce business investment, disrupt markets, discourage work effort and cut economic productivity.”

The observant reader will note once again the presence of that foundational right-wing assumption, that profits count as improvements to the economy, but worker gains do not, in this luminously mean-spirited and implausible pseudo-analysis, which is both factually inaccurate  and tonally obnoxious.

The poet Maya Angelou rightly tells us “ If someone tells you who they are, believe them,” but she nowhere suggests that if someone tells you who you are or how you should understand the world, you should be equally credulous. While very unreliable guides to our self-understanding, the ideas and arguments that business-friendly media and think tanks promote do provide a sense of what matters to the wealthy, and what alarms them. That information can be useful as we think together about analysis and tactics.

Clearly, as seen in the examples of “boss talk” cited earlier, the increased militance of some workers over the plague years is alarming to our economic masters, and the prospect of a labour movement informed and guided by that militance growing stronger is even more worrisome.

If the bosses are worried, workers should be interested. We should support the current levels of militant talk and action by our existing unions and work hard to prevent any failure of will or temptations  toward class collaboration among our union leaders. And we should launch and support as many organizing campaigns as possible among unorganized workers, especially the most marginalized. We should campaign against the ways that “temporary foreign workers” are made more vulnerable by the regulations surrounding their arrival and work in Canada, and we should reach out to those workers to help them organize and bargain collectively.

Canada needs more unionization, not less, despite the ill wishes over at the Fraser Institute and its many unpleasant siblings. But don’t  just take my word for it. Even Stats Canada recognizes many of the benefits of unionization, saying in a recent report that:

“Unions may influence wage setting directly (Cahuc, Carcillo and Zylberberg 2014) and indirectly by increasing the outside options of non-unionized workers (Beaudry, Green and Sand 2012). They may also affect the hiring practices of non-unionized firms (Taschereau-Dumouchel 2020). Unionized jobs tend to have higher-than-average coverage by registered pension plans …” .

Sadly, Canadian unions are not yet the hotbeds of ferocious class consciousness and militancy so often portrayed in the business-friendly media. They are, though,  important ways that workers can defend ourselves, but our unions are  themselves subject to pressures to collapse and collaborate with the other side. Currently, there is more tough talk and strong tactics coming from our unions leadership than there has been for decades. Rank and file members and interested union retirees like me need to encourage boldness in our leadership. Knowing something about what alarms or comforts the ruling class can help us craft strong tactics and strategies. So, let’s keep reading the opposition’s press, and keep talking with each other about what we learn.

The post Listening to the other side appeared first on rabble.ca.

Categories: F. Left News

rabble celebrates: best of columns 2022

Mon, 12/26/2022 - 05:00

Another year has come and gone – and what a year it’s been! Here at rabble.ca, we’re taking stock of the biggest national and international stories that happened this year. Every step of the way, rabble kept you up-to-date on a variety of news and views this year. And we couldn’t have done it without our diverse and thoughtful group of monthly columnists.

Today, we’d like to share with you some of our columnists’ best work of 2022. Let’s dive in!

Cathy Crowe | The war on nurses feels like Groundhog Day

Comparing the struggles of nurses in today’s health care system to the popular 90’s film Groundhog Day, Crowe describes the targeted and strategic war on nursing across the country. 

“The same government policies that have diminished the possibilities of caring, that have made it impossible for nurses to do their job, these are the same government policies that reduce or eliminate social programs such as affordable housing, employment insurance, welfare, and disability programs,” Crowe wrote. 

In the months after this column was published, the situation intensified. The province of Ontario, where Crowe is based, seems to be intent on creating a hostile environment for nurses. Many are making the hard decision to leave the profession. 

However, the overturning of Bill 124 and the successful fight against Bill 28 gives hope that the future for nurses and all public sector workers in Ontario will be brighter and that Doug Ford’s anti-labour agenda can be thwarted.

Charlotte Dalwood | Gender affirmation isn’t just for the able-bodied

In June of this year, Charlotte Dalwood shared the case of Romana Ingram, a disabled trans woman in Ontario who was taking her parents to court. 

Earlier this year, Ingram’s parents brought an application in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice under the Substitute Decisions Act to take away Romana’s power to make her own decisions about her life, medical care, and gender expression. 

In the hands of transphobic parents, Canada’s guardianship laws have become a weapon for taking away the rights of transgender children and adults to access gender-affirming medical care

Disability rights are 2SLGBTQ+ rights. Everyone has the right to decide who they are for themselves. But the only way to make sure that’s true is to make Canada’s guardianship laws a thing of the past.

Chuka Ejeckam | Chrystia Freeland thinks Africans should die for democracy 

Earlier this year, Canada’s Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said at a talk at the Brookings Institute that Africans should be “prepared to die for their democracy.” 

In his October column, Ejeckam explains how these statements ignore Euro-colonial history and perpetuate the exploitation of the Global South.

Freeland eagerly describes a circumstance in which NATO demands that all countries in the world align with them against Russia and China, or be deemed an official enemy. Instead, she argues that African nations developing relationships with China is a threat to world peace, and commands Africans to die in service of Western interests.

Evelyn Lazare | Alice in national healthcare land 

In this piece, Evelyn Lazare compares the children’s story Alice in Wonderland to the healthcare crisis in Canada

With the arrival of COVID-19, many of the cracks in the Canadian healthcare system became serious chasms. Hospitals were overwhelmed, inadequately equipped and frequently unable to provide appropriate services. Long-term care and other congregate care facilities were exposed as the last place to protect the frail elderly. Healthcare staff were stressed to previously unknown levels. 

Fast forward two – almost three – years later. And we’ve hardly made any improvements to the system. Surely provincial, territorial and the federal governments must be tiring of the pace of denial of the problems in healthcare. 

“…You see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!” 

Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

Lazare wonders: Isn’t it time to slow down and choose another path?

Jodi Rai | It’s self-preservation and purpose, not quiet-quitting

This year, the term “quiet-quitting” went viral on social media apps like TikTok, Instagram or Facebook. Simply put, quiet-quitting describes the act of employees who put no more effort into their jobs than absolutely necessary. But Jodi Rai says it’s more than that. 

Quiet-quitting refers to the mindful and empowered choices employees are making with regards to their life-balance. Employees have the right to do good work and be compensated for this work – full stop. 

The expectation to ‘do more’ is a capitalist construct that employees are saying “no” to. 

She says, quiet-quitting is about self-preservation. It is a statement to employers to treat their employees well and with respect. Because workers are more than just workers: they’re people too.

Judy Rebick | Class War in Ontario

This past fall 97 per cent of CUPE Ontario’s education workers voted in favour of a province-wide strike should their demands for better wages and funding not be met. 

Despite a long week at the bargaining table, the Doug Ford government refused to meaningfully negotiate. Instead, Ford imposed a new contract on educational support workers with a pay increase of 2.5 per cent, well below the rate of inflation. 

To make matters worse, Ford chose the ‘nuclear option’ and invoked the Constitution’s notwithstanding clause, which allowed the provincial government to override part of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and bypass the union’s right to bargain and strike. The use of the notwithstanding clause means that Bill 28 could not be challenged in court.

In doing so, Judy Rebick said the Ford government had effectively called a “class war against unions.”

Lois Ross | Who is taking the bread? The bottom line on the rise in food prices

In early 2022, columnist Lois Ross explained how the pandemic is not the cause behind “foodflation.” 

By linking information about the steady increase in food prices over the past several years, to the constantly dwindling incomes of family farmers and the shameful rise in CEO pay (among others) in the grocery industry, this column challenges the narrative that the pandemic and scarcity are the cause of rising food prices and growing food inequality in our country. 

We’ll continue the conversation of food security, inflation and the cost of living in 2023.

Matthew Behrens | Islamophobia preventing Jack Letts from returning home to Canada

In April, Matthew Behrens shared the story of Canadian Jack Letts. Letts is one of over 40 Canadians – men, women, and mostly children – illegally detained for years under conditions akin to torture in Syria. They are the latest group of Canadians abandoned to torture by the federal government

These Canadians are pleading to come home but Ottawa is refusing to provide them any assistance.

As the year draws to a close, a court battle seeking their repatriation is ongoing in the court system.

Maya Bhullar | Understanding the dynamics of the protests in Iran

In October, international columnist Maya Bhullar interviewed Canadian lawyer and human rights activist Kaveh Shahrooz about ongoing protests in Iran.

This year, protests broke out in Iran – and, indeed, across the world – after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was killed in police custody on September 16 for allegedly not wearing a headscarf.

Shahrooz explained that the current protests go beyond wom

Monia Mazigh | It’s time for Muslim communities to join the circle

In June, Monia Mazigh reflected on Muslim-Indigenous solidarity after attending a pow-wow in the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg, a First Nations reserve in Ontario. 

“It is unfortunate and frankly incomprehensible to me that many Muslims immigrants to Canada (with few exceptions, of course) have not been exposed to Indigenous communities despite sharing many spiritual beliefs and social habits,” Mazigh writes. 

Mazigh says her visit to the reserve “was a reminder that immigrant and Indigenous communities alike suffered from colonialism and the intergenerational trauma that ensues.”

Natasha Darling | Sex worker movement grows as constitutional challenge goes to court

In this November column, Natasha Darling outlines the importance of decriminalizing sex work. In the piece, she highlighted the work the Alliance of Sex Work Law Reform is doing to strike the provisions that criminalize sex work from Canada’s criminal code. 

Darling interviewed Jenn Clamen, spokesperson for the Alliance. The two discussed the differences in approach between the Alliance’s legal arguments –which include lived experience from sex workers and their mainstream feminist allies– and the government’s approach, which relied heavily on testimony from law enforcement and religious right.

Ole Hendrickson | Pull the plug on nuclear subsidies

In November, Ole Hendrickson shared a piece on the nuclear power industry in reaction to the Canada Infrastructure Bank approving its largest amount of funding ever for an energy infrastructure project.

An industry rooted in hyper-consumption and waste, nuclear power subsidies for crown corporations and their private sector corporate allies are crowding out investments in energy conservation and renewable technologies, fuelling inflation, and making electricity less affordable.

Despite the enthusiasm of Liberal and Conservative politicians for small modular reactor technology, it represents a costly and dangerous distraction from the real action required to address the climate crisis. It’s time to pull the plug on corporate welfare for the nuclear industry.

Pro Bono | Harnessing the power of community for live music

The live music industry was severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In Canada, one in four arts, entertainment and recreation workers lost their job in 2020. And over 85 live music venues in Canada were forced to close up shop for good.

As part of the Pro Bono column, Brian Iler illustrated how a group in Toronto came together to save Hugh’s Room

“Artists don’t play Massey’s stage without first building their career in smaller venues with supportive audiences,” Iler wrote. Small venues like Hugh’s Room are crucial in providing that first-show opportunity for emerging artists. 

Thanks to grants and donations from the community, Hugh’s Room was saved. They purchased a new venue: a historic church in downtown Toronto.

Rachel Snow | First Nation Indigenous truths before reconciliation talk

Before we can talk about reconciliation, Canadians need to learn the truth about Indigenous history, Rachel Snow wrote in September. But that’s not what the federal government wants to do.

The truth is, the federal government has been performative rather than sincere about meaningful change. 

“We are not on a path of reconciliation. We are watching the theatrics of a system that doesn’t want to change. A system that thinks it doesn’t have to change,” Snow wrote. 

Snow encourages us all to take a deeper look into how politicians act, rather than believing the words they say. For Canada to truly enter into reconciliation, Snow says fundamental changes need to happen. Including Indigenous governance on collective or whole First Nations community terms.

Shreya Kalra | How watching Gilmore Girls can improve local politics 

As Canada consistently reports low voter turnout rates, modern politics is thirsty for counseling to improve the relationship between elected officials and the public, rabble columnist and contributing editor Shreya Kalra wrote in September. 

To encourage more citizen participation in politics, contemporary politicians need to do more to appeal to younger voters. Perhaps this means taking a page out of the town hall meetings from the fictional village of Stars Hollow from Gilmore Girls

“With each rewatching of the show, I am convinced that modern politics is yearning for some kind of revival of town halls to deepen the relationship between the public and elected officials, beyond door knocking during an election cycle,” Kalra writes.

Thomas Sandborn | Heroes to hostage takers; what we talk about when we talk about strikes

This year, rabble.ca was excited to invite labour analyst Thomas Sandborn as part of our growing groups of columnists. Welcome, Tom!

In this piece, Sandborn makes the case for unions, collective bargaining and strikes as ways workers can defend themselves, improve their conditions and extend human rights protections. Sadly, this case needs to be reiterated every year, as anti-worker propaganda provides an incessant drum beat of insult and falsehood about what unions mean. 

What a year! If you’d like to review more top stories of 2022, watch our latest Off the Hill panel. You can also read our “Year in Review.” Then, listen to ‘Best of rabble radio 2022’. 

Did we miss a favourite column of yours from 2022? Let us know in the comments below!

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Categories: F. Left News

Whose rights prevail at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights?

Fri, 12/23/2022 - 08:43

Human rights issues are particularly interesting when they involve “competing human rights.” We see this when both sides to an issue claim that their human rights are being engaged. Competing rights came up in a recent case involving schools that had gone on field trips to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, but asked that material related to LGBTQI+ rights, women’s rights, and abortion be excluded from their tours.

Apparently, for a number of years, the museum permitted certain guests to request that their tours not include any LGBTQI+ material, going so far as to ask staff to physically block a display about LGBTQI+ issues from a passing group. While the museum thankfully stopped this practice in the middle of 2017, it popped up in the news recently, because two private schools went to Federal Court seeking to block the museum from disclosing that they were among the schools that had made such requests.

Although the Court granted an interim confidentiality order while the matter was pending, it recently ordered that the schools’ names be included in the material disclosed in response to a freedom of information request received by the museum.

It appears that the court case did not consider human rights. Instead, it was argued and decided based on issues such as the privacy rights of the students, the potential damage to the reputation of the schools, and the possible impact on the schools’ commercial interests.

However, while the case did not turn on human rights issues, the circumstances that led to it raise a number of interesting thoughts about human rights, particularly where different parties each have rights (or sometimes only interests) that they want to protect.

When rights collide

In many cases, both parties to a dispute will claim that they have human rights that are being infringed or imposed upon by the other side. For example, consider an apartment with two tenants who live next to each other, where one of the tenants uses prescribed medical cannabis to treat a chronic medical condition, and the other has severe asthma that can be triggered by exposure to smoke.

In such a case, the parties (and the housing provider) will need to find a resolution that addresses the needs of both parties, if that is possible. The reason for this is because both the medical condition requiring the use of medical cannabis and the asthma are disabilities protected by most human rights legislation.

However, if we change our example slightly, so that the first tenant does not need to use cannabis to treat a medical condition, but simply wishes to use cannabis, the analysis changes. While the first tenant no longer needs to use cannabis due to a disability, they might still use rights-based language to defend their position. That is, they might argue that since it is no longer illegal to use cannabis, they have a “right” to use it in their home.

But that is not the sort of right protected by human rights legislation, and will not prevail over another tenant’s right to have their disability accommodated. In that sort of case, there may be restrictions placed on the first tenant’s ability to smoke cannabis, even in their own home, because of its impact on the human rights of others.

Rights are not absolute

Applying this sort of thinking to the schools that asked the museum to exclude certain material from their tours raises a number of issues relating to human rights and how the law protects them.

For example, were the schools exercising any sort of right protected by human rights legislation? Would your answer to that question change if the schools in question were affiliated with a religious group that believed that it is a sin to identify as anything other than a heterosexual, CIS-gendered person?

At the very least, that would provide some basis for arguing that the position of the schools was based on a ground protected by most human rights legislation — religion or creed. And as much as one might feel that such a belief is bigoted, appalling, and awful, human rights legislation does not protect only those rights or beliefs that align with our own world views.

So, if we accept that freedom of religion includes the freedom to hold views that are distasteful and harmful, what does that mean? How far does that go?

Thankfully, there are limits.

As I have commented in previous articles, rights are not absolute. For example, if there was a religious group that believed in human sacrifice, those beliefs would be subject to laws against murder, which would presumably be determined to be a reasonable limit on religious freedom in those circumstances.

In addition, a religious belief teaching that homosexuality was wrong would not mean that proponents of that religion had a right never to have to encounter or deal with homosexuality. In other words, it might be their belief and they might be free to hold it (no matter how wrong-headed the belief might be), but that does not mean they can require the world to shape itself to comply with their belief.

No simple answers

With that in mind, when private schools (or other groups) that have views that are not supportive of LGBTQI+ rights or women’s rights go to a museum like the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, does the museum have any obligation to exclude material related to LGBTQI+ rights, women’s rights, and abortion from their tours? Probably not. Instead the answer is that those groups do not have to go to the museum in the first place. If that is the case, why did the museum agree to the request to censor its content in the first place?

There are no simple answers to many of these questions. But these sorts of questions are good to keep in mind when thinking about what it really means when someone claims to have a right to do something or not to have to do something else.

It is unfortunate that a museum whose purpose is “to explore the subject of human rights … in order to enhance the public’s understanding of human rights, to promote respect for others and to encourage reflection and dialogue” appears not to have given appropriate consideration to such questions in agreeing to provide censored tours.

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Categories: F. Left News

Karl Nerenberg: Social solidarity is the only way forward

Fri, 12/23/2022 - 05:51

The past two years have bought a variety of issues to the forefront of Canadian’s lives – serious social problems that, for the majority of the country, were previously only viewed from afar. Parliamentary reporter Karl Nerenberg hypothesizes that the only way forward is through social solidarity.

“One thing that has been very annoying to us here in a country like Canada, is that we have had to deal with an infectious, contagious disease that we can’t control. We keep looking for a magic bullet … but the only control is measures of social solidarity that we don’t understand.

“We’ve been so brainwashed by a self-centred, everyone-for-himself-or-herself philosophy that we are very unaccustomed to measures of social solidarity, and don’t know what to do about it. But it has been a cold shower and a strange experience. As a result, we wander around doing all sorts of hypocritical things.”

Karl Nerenberg is an award-winning journalist, broadcaster and filmmaker, working in both English and French languages. He is rabble’s parliamentary correspondent and a regular panelist on Off the Hill.

This is a clip from rabble’s most recent live politics panel: ‘Off the Hill: A look back to leap forward.’ From the Freedom Convoy, to major action in Canada’s labour movement, to the ongoing war in Ukraine, to political leadership races on the provincial and federal levels… Our panel reflected on 2022, a year that had no shortage of newsworthy events. Then asked: what does this mean we can expect for the year ahead?

The panel featured guests MP Leah Gazan, Chuka Ejeckam, El Jones and Karl Nerenberg. With co-hosts Robin Browne and Libby Davies.

Off the Hill is a fast-paced live panel on current issues of national significance. To support our mission of mobilizing individuals to create progressive change  — on and off Parliament Hill — visit rabble.ca/donate.

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Categories: F. Left News

What a religious life might look like today

Fri, 12/23/2022 - 05:47

In the spirit of the season, I want to reflect on what being religious might mean today, in light of a superb — let’s call it religiously informed — 2004 novel, Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson. I somehow missed it at the time but a friend recently gifted me with it. By season, I mean this darkest time of year, when we seek out signs of light and hope.

The book is imbued with a sense of “hallowing,” a rare term now outside of Halloween and the Harry Potter books. It’s exemplified in the main figure of Reverend John Ames, an aging, dying Christian minister in a small, dying Iowa town in the 1950s.

Hallowing isn’t directly about God. It’s about a sense of set-apartness in almost anything, large or small, that’s suddenly, um, illuminated. A moment, a leaf, a face, a pang. Shock — that such things simply are. My teacher, Abraham Joshua Heschel, called it “radical amazement.” Sometimes known as awe. It’s kind of religion without God or tradition, much less doctrine. The raw material. It’s what suddenly mesmerizes Doctor Zhivago in the film of the same name, as he sees the moon while crossing an icy lake.

Anyone can experience these things, but a minister has, or had, a special shot since he’s designated “spiritual” by his community. He’s less likely to seem odd. He has permission to seek those moments out; it’s almost expected. We aren’t talking mystically gifted individuals. It’s something nurtured and valued by institutions through their history — en principe, if not often in reality.

This sensitivity to hallowing also defines Ames’s work with his congregation. True, “you can spend 40 years teaching people to be awake to the fact of mystery,” as he says in Gilead. Note that this is how Reverend Ames sees his role, versus saving or converting them — “and then some fellow with no more theological sense than a jackrabbit gets himself a radio ministry and all your work is forgotten.” Sounds about right.

There’s an unfamiliar sense of scale here. Ames expends his life’s energy in a small church in a decrepit town — yet he’s not dismayed; it seems worthwhile, though he’s not famous or widely known. He’s on no magazine covers. Whence his sense of validation? In the eyes of God, I guess, who sees him do it all. So fame and worldly success aren’t essential, even if they might be attractive.

And what about God? Reverend Ames lives in a time of expanding atheism, though less than our own, but he refuses to “defend religion” or give “proofs.” Because “nothing true can be said about God from a posture of defence.” He finds the phrase “believing in God” to be odd: “There’s a problem in vocabulary.” I used to attend classes with the renowned Talmudist and thinker Joseph Soloveitchik, who maintained that faith preceded philosophy and heavy thinking wouldn’t ever lead you to it. Perhaps it’s like love and relationships that way.

When Ames meets someone new, he tries to ask himself why God put them in his path. This frees him to search for possibilities in the encounter, beyond what’s evident. It’s almost a trick, and likely to work whether or not you’re a “believer.” So when he meets a character who evokes his envy and jealousy — the deadliest feelings, forbidden in the Bible even though it’s futile to prohibit emotions — he wonders what God expects of him from this and he wrestles with the awful feelings productively, in a way people usually wouldn’t.

Mondays are his Sundays, because on Sunday he preaches his sermons. I used to attend a seminary, though I never finished, and I did take “homiletics,” which was about sermonizing. I’ve sometimes wondered if writing a weekly column, as I have for years, is an attempt to reinstate those sermons, though of course they’re in the oral tradition and this is written. But I do try to keep them conversational in tone and as interactive as possible.

Have a good holiday. I hope you find some peace and light.

This column originally appeared in the Toronto Star.

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Categories: F. Left News

What really happened at COP15?

Fri, 12/23/2022 - 05:45

On the penultimate day of COP15, the global biodiversity summit in Montreal, countries adopted a “package” of decisions that includes the “Kunming-Montreal Global biodiversity framework” (better known as the GBF), along with an associated GBF monitoring framework and a “GBF Fund” for developing countries.

The process by which this package was adopted was unusual and controversial.  The Chinese environment minister, acting as COP15 president, gavelled it through quickly without allowing substantive comments on six individual decisions. 

This was clearly the only way to achieve any significant outcome from COP15.

The environment minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo objected to this process because the GBF Fund was established within the Convention’s existing financial mechanism (the Global Environment Facility) rather than as a stand-alone fund. However, the following night she said, in so many words, that her country supports the adoption of “the package”.

The GBF is a significant achievement. Mother Earth was freed from her brackets. The section on “Considerations for implementation” discusses “different value systems” and contains a reference to the “rights of nature and rights of Mother Earth” – an acknowledgement of their importance “for those countries that recognize them.”

READ MORE: Historic framework reached as COP15 concludes

While the GBF is not transformative, it is not quite business as usual. Perhaps most importantly, Target 22 recognizes the rights of Indigenous peoples over their lands, territories, resources, and traditional knowledge. It also calls for full and effective participation in decision-making by “women and girls, children and youth, and persons with disabilities.”

A Global Witness report says that “around the world, three people are killed every week while trying to protect their land, their environment, from extractive forces.” It is therefore significant that Target 22 also calls for “full protection of environmental human rights defenders.”

Of particular value to urban dwellers, Target 12 acknowledges the “benefits from green and blue spaces in urban and densely populated areas.” Before COP15, Montreal mayor Valerie Plante announced plans to take biodiversity-friendly actions to protect pollinators and increase green space in Montreal. The following week, cities around the world — including Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Milan and Paris – pledged similar actions.

Target 3 calls for protection of 30 per cent of Earth’s lands, oceans, coastal areas and inland waters by 2030 (wetlands and peatlands are notable omissions from this list).  This “30 by 30” commitment was promoted by environment minister Stephen Guilbeault as the most important COP15 outcome and has received wide media attention.

Unfortunately, however, the GBF essentially allows unfettered development outside protected areas. Target 10 encourages “sustainable intensification” — continued use of harmful means of food, fiber and fuel production. Target 15 does not call on national governments to restrict corporate activities that harm biodiversity. Instead, it places the onus on businesses to disclose their risks and impacts, and on consumers to voluntarily alter their consumption patterns.

While the GBF calls for restoration of 30 per cent of degraded ecosystems by 2030 (Target 2), the GBF monitoring framework says that a means to measure progress in achieving this target “does not exist”. Similarly, no measurable indicator is proposed for “minimizing negative and fostering positive impacts of climate action on biodiversity” in Target 8.  

This opens the door to absurd schemes such as clear-cutting biodiversity-rich forests to reduce coal burning, as was just announced in Nova Scotia.

Two other potentially important COP15 decisions – one on biodiversity and climate change, and another on mainstreaming biodiversity — were gutted by Brazil near the end of the meeting. This adds to the problem that the twin biodiversity and climate crises are being addressed ineffectively, in silos. This is being exploited by corporations and governments (globally and nationally) to delay action.

To take a more positive view, the gaps in the GBF monitoring framework could be a blueprint for national action. For example, instead of using an expensive and indirect “pesticide environment concentration” indicator for Target 7, Canada can aim directly for a 50 per cent reduction in overall pesticide use.  It can be a global leader in measuring the elimination of “plastic pollution” (also in Target 7). It can directly track which companies are “reporting on disclosures of risks, dependencies and impacts [on] biodiversity” for Target 15. And it can draw upon a long list of potential indicators to be “derived from national reporting” found in Table 1 of Annex II of the GBF monitoring framework.

Despite the claim that the purpose of the GBF is to be a catalyst for “transformative action”, this will not occur without major additional efforts, including national legislation. The GBF can be used to “halt and reverse” biodiversity loss only if it, along with its gaps and deficiencies, are addressed by leadership within Canada.

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Categories: F. Left News

Can we stop the sixth extinction?

Thu, 12/22/2022 - 11:42

The words of United Nations Secretary General António Guterres couldn’t have been starker:

“We are waging a war on nature. Ecosystems have become playthings of profit. Human activities are laying waste to once-thriving forests, jungles, farmland, oceans, rivers, seas and lakes. Our land, water and air are poisoned by chemicals and pesticides, and choked with plastics. The addiction to fossil fuels has thrown our climate into chaos. Unsustainable production and monstrous consumption habits are degrading our world. Humanity has become a weapon of mass extinction … with a million species at risk of disappearing forever.”

Guterres was opening the global summit of the Convention on Biological Diversity, or COP 15 in UN parlance, which just wrapped up in Montreal. The convention was launched at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, alongside the UN’s better-known climate change negotiations.

The biodiversity convention is the best hope we have to stop what has been called the sixth extinction, as human activities extinguish tens of thousands of species every year, never to return. The previous five extinctions occurred from tens of millions to hundreds of millions of years ago.

The most recent one happened 66 million years ago, when, scientists believe, a six-mile-wide asteroid smashed into water off Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. The impact caused massive tsunamis, acid rain and wildfires, then blanketed the atmosphere with sun-blocking dust, lowering temperatures worldwide and wiping out the dinosaurs.

We humans are now essentially doing to the planet what that asteroid did. As New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert eloquently describes in her Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Sixth Extinction, humans have evolved into a predator without equal. We overtake and destroy habitats with abandon, driving other species into permanent oblivion.

Key agreements forged last week in Montreal were signed by 196 nations. The U.S., along with the Vatican, didn’t sign, as neither is party to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

A central achievement of the Montreal negotiations was the “30×30” pledge to protect 30 per cent of Earth’s lands, oceans, coastal areas and inland waters by 2030. Also agreed to was the creation of a fund to help developing nations protect biodiversity, slated to reach $200 billion annually by 2030, while phasing down harmful subsidies by $500 billion per year. A requirement for the “full and active involvement” of Indigenous peoples was also written into the text.

“It’s absolutely impossible to create a biodiversity agreement without the inclusion of Indigenous rights, because 80 per cent of remaining biodiversity is Indigenous lands and territories,” Eriel Tchekwie Deranger, executive director of Indigenous Climate Action and member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation said on the Democracy Now! news hour.

“Some of the biggest challenges and risks that have come out of this COP is the fact that there aren’t any real mechanisms with real teeth, similar to COP27 [the recent UN climate summit in Egypt], that actually protect our rights, our culture, and our ability to advance our rights to say yes and no to these types of agreements.”

Eriel Deranger first appeared on Democracy Now! while in Copenagen in 2009, attending a different COP 15 – the 15th meeting of the UN climate change convention. She was delivering a basket to the Canadian embassy in advance of then-Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper’s arrival for those pivotal climate negotiations:

“Inside the basket were copies of the treaties that are being violated by the Canada tar sands, and copies of the Kyoto Protocol, which he signed onto, as well as a copy of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, to remind him that there is something else that he needs to sign onto in order to really fully respect Indigenous people’s rights.”

It was at that 2009 climate summit that wealthy nations pledged to create a $100-billion-per-year fund by 2020, to help poorer nations adapt to and mitigate climate change. To date, the fund has fallen far short of the pledge, and much of the money available is offered as loans, not grants. So activists like Eriel Deranger have reason to be skeptical of the $200-billion-per-year biodiversity pledge just made in Montreal.

“They’re centring colonial economic ideals,” Deranger said this week.

“They’re still giving national and colonial states the power to determine what Indigenous rights look like when they’re implemented in these agreements, and how lands will be developed, undeveloped, protected…In Canada, we are committing to ‘30×30,’ millions and millions of dollars for biodiversity protection, Indigenous protection and conservation areas, yet we are not talking about ending the expansion of the Alberta tar sands.”

Mass extinction will have far-reaching, potentially cataclysmic consequences for humankind. António Guterres was right: we are waging a war on nature. Respecting and following the leadership of Indigenous communities is the first step towards making peace with Mother Nature, while we still can.

This column originally appeared in Democracy Now!

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Categories: F. Left News

Auditor General scapegoats low-income Canadians

Thu, 12/22/2022 - 08:48

Social policy researchers and advocates worry there is a backlash developing in Canada against the “undeserving” poor. 

Even more worrisome, this backlash is being fueled by an unlikely source: the federal Auditor General (AG). 

Campaign 2000, a national organization whose goal is to end child and family poverty, says the AG’s December report, if implemented, could “drive more people into deeper poverty”. 

In the report, Auditor General Karen Hogan examines the suite of COVID payments the federal government put in place, starting in the spring of 2020. 

Hogan concludes the various COVID relief measures, which the Trudeau government enacted and implemented with lightning speed, were effective in their main objective – to protect Canadians from catastrophic economic harm at a time of unprecedented crisis.

The AG’s team looked at the big three COVID spending programs – the Canadian Emergency Recovery Benefit (CERB) which cost $28.4 billion, the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) at $100 billion, and the Employment Insurance Emergency Response Benefit at $74.8 billion – and a handful of smaller ones. 

The combined cost of these measures was over $200 billion dollars.

The report states that the COVID programs “quickly offered financial relief to individuals and employers, prevented a rise in poverty, mitigated income inequalities, and helped the economy to recover from the effects of the pandemic.”

But the AG also finds there were overpayments to the tune of some $27 billion, and big gaps in the government’s verification and accounting procedures. 

To some extent, the AG admits, such failings were almost inevitable, given the depth of the crisis and the need to act with extreme haste. 

To get the money out the door in a timely manner the government simply accepted applicants’ words, the report notes, without imposing normal verification processes on those in need. 

The result, says the AG, is that some people got money to which they were not entitled.

Now the Auditor General wants the government to act forcefully. Hogan suggests they put in place vigorous procedures to recover overpayments. 

For instance, the AG recommends the Canada Revenue Agency deduct amounts individuals supposedly owe from any tax refunds to which they might be entitled.

AG moves into social policy territory

The AG’s allegations of multiple missing billions as a result of COVID relief are controversial. Some, in government and out, have disputed them. 

Indeed, a good many of the figures in Hogan’s report are estimates, the products of educated guesswork, not calculations. 

But what is more contentious is what the AG says next. 

Hogan goes beyond the scope of accounting issues when she asserts some COVID payments constituted a “disincentive to work” for several million Canadians. 

“At a time when businesses needed employees, some employees had more income by receiving the COVID-19 benefits than they would have had by rejoining the workforce,” the report claims.

The AG points out that individuals earning less than $500 per week made up nearly half, 44 per cent, of applicants for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), and “the amount of benefit they received could impact their return to work, since they could receive an equal or greater income without working.” 

The report goes on to say that “between April and May 2020, only 11% of people earning $500 or less returned to work.”

Hogan’s conclusion? 

“The Canada Emergency Response Benefit created a disincentive to go back to work, especially for the more than one third of applicants who earned less than $500 per week.” 

For those low-income folks, the AG argues, “the Canada Emergency Response Benefit represented more than 100% of income replacement.” 

It seems like an open and shut case. But anti-poverty activists say the AG’s figures do not tell the whole story. 

Campaign 2000 issued a detailed rejoinder to the latest AG report.

For starters, the anti-poverty group points out there were lots of tangible reasons for which low-wage workers did not flood back into the workplace in droves when the authorities lifted pandemic restrictions.

Low-income workers had difficulties finding and keeping housing; they lacked supports for child and elder care; and many lived with food insecurity. All of these factors inhibited those Canadians from going back to low-paying jobs.

“For the AG to say that the availability of additional income resulted in failure to take on employment among the poorest of the poor reveals a significant misunderstanding of how the job world works,” Campaign 2000 says.

Beware the stereotypes

The anti-poverty group adds a cautionary note on stereotypes about low-income people “gaming the system.”

Campaign 2000 urges the auditor general to stick to her field of true expertise, audit and accounting issues. She should refrain from “conjectures” which, intentionally or not, support the too-widely-held view that people who require public assistance are “lazy and undeserving of help.”

To the AG’s conclusion that the government must pursue recovery of potential COVID over-payments with greater zeal, Campaign 2000 responds: 

“The federal government is already spending more than $250 million in taxpayer dollars to verify eligibility and pursue repayments from people they have deemed ineligible for pandemic benefits they received.”

The current federal recovery effort, the Campaigners say, is causing hardship for many low-income Canadians.

“Low-income earners have a much harder time meeting verification requirements.  Many are paid in cash and these payments do not flow through bank accounts because of their need to make essential purchases immediately,” states Campaign 2000.

Leila Sarangi is the National Director of Campaign 2000. She reminds the government and the Auditor General that pandemic benefits for people who struggle to survive on extremely low incomes “were not tucked away into savings accounts.” 

“The money was spent to provide for their basic needs,” Sarangi explains. “Seeking repayments now, in the context of record high inflation, from people who already cannot make ends meet, can only result in more hardship and destitution.”

Campaign 2000 points to a double standard in Auditor General Hogan’s recommendations for poor individuals versus what she says about corporations.

When the AG turned her attention to the federal emergency wage subsidies to businesses, she “was unable to determine if those payments were, in fact, used to prevent layoffs, because the government chose not to collect that data or to follow up with employers.”

“The Auditor General’s report should have recommended a more aggressive pursuit of large corporations that used wage subsidy programs to pad their bottom line and the pockets of their CEOs,” Campaign 2000 goes on to state. “The government should declare a repayment amnesty for individuals living on low and moderate incomes who continue to struggle to make ends meet.”

The Justin Trudeau government has, so far, been cautious in its response to the AG’s recommendations. It did not immediately declare mea culpa and accept them wholesale. 

National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier even went so far as to suggest Karen Hogan torqued her numbers and conclusions in response to political pressure from the opposition Conservatives. 

That comment deflected parliamentary debate away from the substance of the AG’s findings to whether or not Lebouthiller should apologize to Hogan. In the end, the House of Commons voted unanimously to affirm full confidence in the AG – and that was that.

Beyond partisan bickering, the medium and long-term danger of the December Auditor General’s report is its (very Canadian) tendency to reduce enormous questions of public policy, touching such basic concerns as equality and enduring poverty, to mere matters of accounting.

It would be a shame if the chief lesson of the bold efforts the government undertook during the darkest days of the pandemic were that governments should not be too trusting of the people – that future governments, faced with a similar crisis, should act more warily and cautiously. 

Do we want a government whose motivating principle echoes the creed of Charles Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge, namely: All power to the bean counters?

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Categories: F. Left News

Poilievre’s regressive policies partially responsible for growing division in Canada

Thu, 12/22/2022 - 07:14

Inflation, food insecurity and homelessness is on the rise in Canada – as is a toxic drug epidemic. In this clip, Jones explains how Conservative leaders like Pierre Poilievre are using these issues as political propaganda rather than offering meaningful and compassionate solutions. As a result, these policies are creating harmful division across the country.

“We see this cynical exploitation of these very real human conditions by people using human beings as a backdrop to pursue this false populist narrative that, of course, has nothing to do with serving the working classes or those people who are in need.”

El Jones is a poet, author, journalist, professor and activist living in Halifax. In November, she published “Abolitionist Intimacies” – a book which examines the lives of those incarcerated and exposes injustices in the criminal justice system.

This is a clip from rabble’s most recent live politics panel: ‘Off the Hill: A look back to leap forward.’ From the Freedom Convoy, to major action in Canada’s labour movement, to the ongoing war in Ukraine, to political leadership races on the provincial and federal levels… Our panel reflected on 2022, a year that had no shortage of newsworthy events. Then asked: what does this mean we can expect for the year ahead?

The panel featured guests MP Leah Gazan, Chuka Ejeckam, El Jones and Karl Nerenberg. With co-hosts Robin Browne and Libby Davies.

Off the Hill is a fast-paced live panel on current issues of national significance. To support our mission of mobilizing individuals to create progressive change  — on and off Parliament Hill — visit rabble.ca/donate.

The post Poilievre’s regressive policies partially responsible for growing division in Canada appeared first on rabble.ca.

Categories: F. Left News

Solidarity is the remedy

Thu, 12/22/2022 - 05:46

There’s no way around it – we have a challenging year ahead. As I write to you today, I find myself reflecting on what a year this has been for us all. Together, we’ve confronted  an ongoing pandemic, inflation and the rising prices of basic goods and the creeping –or maybe leaping– growth of radical conservatism. 

However, it has also been a year of exceptional labour organizing and solidarity for fairness for worker rights, and of activism for Indigenous power, racial, climate and economic justice. 

Solidarity is critical to responding to the challenges in the year ahead and this is a crucial time for rabble.ca to amplify the voices and messages that are needed to build a better future.

This winter, help support the rabble community

rabble is an independent, non-profit news site founded in 2001 by a collective of journalists, activists and community-centred organizations. We deliver award-winning progressive journalism to a national audience 365 days a year.   

Our small but mighty team of reporters cuts through misinformation to provide sustained coverage of grassroots activism, Indigenous rights, labour news and political analysis. Our diverse columnists ensure all rabble readers feel meaningfully represented on progressive issues. We know that when we all come together, we can create transformative social change! 

If you are able to join us with a contribution of $5, $50, $250 or more by December 31st, you will help broaden rabble’s reach in 2023. Donate online now at rabble.ca/donate. Who we are and what we do …

Over the past year, our parliamentary reporter, Karl Nerenberg, has continued to keep a close eye on both federal government and opposition responses to the pandemic and the looming recession. Nerenberg is joined by our insightful and people-centred Halifax-based national reporter, Stephen Wentzel. Keeping us up-to-date in labour news is razor sharp labour reporter Gabriela Caluguay-Casuga. The newest member of the team is Kiah Lucero, 2023 Jack Layton Journalism for Change fellow.

Our journalism coverage is rounded out by a host of diverse columnists, by our weekly podcast, rabble radio – that can now also be heard on more than a dozen community and campus radio stations – and our monthly live video Off the Hill panel, rabble’s answer to the CBC At-Issue panel. Off the Hill is hosted by Libby Davies and Robin Browne. The panel includes guests like MP Leah Gazan, Chuka Ejeckam, El Jones, Jim Stanford, Senator Kim Pate, Avi Lewis and many other change makers across the country you want to hear from. In 2022, the panel series featured cutting edge conversations that will be all the more necessary in 2023. 

Amplifying the work of grassroots activism and social and labour movements is what makes rabble different from other Canadian media. Too often these days, the media becomes the story. Through initiatives like our ‘rabble rousers to watch’ series, the Courage My Friends podcast (produced in partnership with the Tommy Douglas Institute of George Brown College), our activist toolkit and In Cahoots partnerships, we amplify the local wins and struggles of political changemaking to a national audience.

This is the time to keep building solidarity 

Telling these stories, amplifying these messages, is why your support is so important to rabble.ca.

rabble.ca exists to share stories and analysis of injustice, solidarity and resistance. Your support is critical to keep momentum going. Consider donating today!  

I know you’ve heard it before but it’s worth saying again because it’s true: no amount is too little! 

Thank you for your ongoing support and help. We are in this together.  Please donate today

Kim Elliott, 

Publisher 

The post Solidarity is the remedy appeared first on rabble.ca.

Categories: F. Left News

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