Saturday, December 31, 2011

Two Grenada police charged with manslaughter in death of Toronto man

  On Tuesday Oscar Bartholomew died from wounds received while in custody at the St. David's police station in Grenada. He, his wife, and a cousin had stopped by the station so his wife could use the washroom. Bartholomew thought he recognized a female officer as an old friend and hugged her and lifted her off the ground before realizing that he was mistaken.
   Other officers took his actions as an assault on the officer and arrested and allegedly beat him. After being denied medical treatment for several hours he was transported to the hospital where he died of his wounds.
   An eyewitness said that Bartholomew was bound and beaten by five officers. Two officers are now charged with manslaughter indicating the Grenada authorities are serious about investigating the incident. Bartholomew died of  trauma to the head and multiple wounds to the body according to an autopsy. Bartholomew is originally from Grenada and was visiting relatives with his wife over the holidays. For more see this article.

Canadians and Japanese equally happy

  Leger Marketing surveyed about 53,000 people in a total of 58 countries. Leger asked participants whether they were unhappy or happy in 2011. The happiest country was Fiji. People there no doubt enjoy the weather and beaches and laid back life style.
   Canada ranked 23rd. In spite of the poor economy and disasters in Japan they tied with Canada. An even bigger surprise was that Afghans were happier than Americans.
   No doubt some countries that are relatively well off have unhappy people because expectations are high. This may explain the Afghan U.S. anomaly. Relatively, the situation in Afghanistan is probably not as bad as it has been. In the U.S. unemployment, and the general economic situation has been worse than earlier and looks bad for the future.
    Canada's net happiness score was 47 per cent much above Afghanistan at 35 and the U.S. at 33 per cent. Fiji  the happiest country had a net happiness score of 85. The score is the result of subtracting the percentage of happy people from unhappy people. For more see this article. Among Canadians those in Alberta are the unhappiest! This result perhaps also shows that happiness is based upon expectations rather than ones actual conditions. Alberta is relatively well off and booming compared to many other provinces.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Toronto Stock Exchange declines 11 per cent over year

  The Toronto Stock Exchange lost almost 1500 points during 2011 a drop of 11 per cent from the beginning of the year. The exchange finished the year on a positive note closing up 113.9 points Friday.
    U.S. market fell on Friday but the Dow Jones index was up 640 points or 5.5 per cent for the year. The S and P index was almost flat. The NASDAQ ended down two per cent for the year.
     Gold and metals sub-indexes on the Toronto exchange also posted significant drops. Even though the price of oil rose over the year the energy index also declined. The loonie has risen slightly in relation to the U.S. dollar.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Harper Government not campaigning for seat on UN Security Council

    Foreign Affairs minister John Baird says that the Harper government will not be campaigning again for a seat on the UN Security Council. Last year Canada lost out to Portugal in a campaign for the two year term in the Council.
    Baird said: "you never want to stand for something and not be elected,""Listen, I mean, we don't go along to get along. That's just not a phrase," Certainly Baird gets along with Israel and also with those attempting to sabotage the Kyoto Accords and some other environmental issues.
      Baird said that if Canada had not been so vocal about human rights in Iran, Iran might have voted for us. I am not sure whether this is meant to be humor or not! The loss in the campaign last year was the first for Canada since the formation of the UN. Canada usually support U.S. policies at the UN but on Israel the Harper government manages to be if anything even more supportive of Israel on most policy issues. For more see this article.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Amazon comes first in poll of customer satisfaction

 Foresee runs a poll of the 40 largest online retailers about every six months. came first in the survey at 88 out of a 100 possible points. This was the 14th consecutive time Amazon has been first and was up two points from the last survey.
   Among the big losers in the survey was Netflix. Although the company had come close to the top of the surveys earlier, in this survey it fell to a rating of 79 and suffered the largest decline of any retailer. The drop happened after Netflix tried to raise its prices and split off its DVD service from its streaming service. The customer reaction was so negative that the company scrapped its plans. However the damage was already done. Netflix shares have lost more than half their value this year.
   Gap was another poor performer in the ratings this year but came last at a rating of 72. Tiger Direct improved the most with a gain of six but still only at 79. More information can be found in this BNN article.

Grenada: Canadian man from Toronto dies after alleged police beating

 A 39 year old Canadian, Oscar Bartholomew, died after being arrested by police who thought that Bartholomew was attacking a female police officer. Apparently Bartholomew thought a female police officer was an old friend. Bartholomew was originally from Grenada. He hugged her and lifted her off the ground before realizing his error.
   Unfortunately, the police took his actions as an attack on the officer. Grenada Broadcast reported he was beaten by police and succumbed to his injuries at a local hospital. Bartholomew and his wife were in Grenada visiting for the holidays. He, his wife and a cousin had stopped at the St. David's police station as his wife needed to use the bathroom. It was at this point that Bartholomew mistook the female officer for an old friend.
    The Prime Minister of Grenada said there would be a full investigation into the incident. The cousin who was present claimed police left Bartholomew bleeding in his cell for 3 hours before finally summoning an ambulance at the insistence of his wife. For more see this CBC article.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas cats and cats playing in the snow

 The appended video shows that cats can enjoy snow. They may not like swimming but some of them at least can enjoy frolicking in the snow.
   None of them seem to know how to make snow angels. One frisky cat manages to  be sure-footed as it chases something across the ice.
   No doubt PETA will not like some of the cats shown dressed up in Xmas costumes. However the cats themselves probably are not all that much perturbed if they are offered treats in return.
    I set out food regularly for our local strays. One or two have become regulars who shelter in our old garage. They are enjoying the holidays and the relatively warm weather but I have not noticed them playing in the snow very much! Here is the link as well. I don't really know if these cats are Canadian cats.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Boxing Day: Guess what Canadians are shopping for bargains

   There were early morning lineups across the country in some big malls. The West Edmonton Mall in Edmonton Alberta and the Eaton Centre in Toronto all had lineups as shoppers waited to snatch bargains in many areas including electronics and clothing.
   The Yorkdale Shopping Center in Toronto expect up to 100,000 to shop today. In some of the Atlantic provinces however big store cannot open because of local laws governing the Boxing Day holiday. There were a lot of deals Xmas Eve especially on line. This may mean lower sales for Boxing Day sales. Also, this year a lot of Canadians were lured into purchasing items on Black Friday.
    However sales of many electronic items have dropped from last year's volumes and this may mean that some Canadian consumers are waiting for the traditional Boxing Day sales. The lineups at the Eaton Centre in Toronto saw 500 people in line at 6 AM this morning! Wide screen TV's were among the discounted items and they were bought by many. Canadians are already very much in debt but being patriotic they continue to ensure that the economy does not go into depression!

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Friday, December 23, 2011

Former Conservative MP suing Stephen Harper

   Former Conservative MP Helena Guergis is filing suit against Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party as well as other individuals.  Among other claims she alleges that the party and Harper defamed her.
    Guergis was formerly a member of  Harper's cabinet. In April 2010 she was forced to leave after allegations were made against both Guergis and her husband Rahim Jaffer. Jaffer also a former MP is joining his wife in the suit.
    The suit is against not just Harper and the Conservative party but a host of others associated with Harper including his principal secretary,  a law firm, and a former Harper chief of staff. All are alleged to be involved in spreading rumors about Guergis. Among the rumors were that Guergis had used cocaine. There was an even a claim that there was video evidence of this--which was never produced.
   Altogether Guergis' suit asks for over a million dollars in compensation. The RCMP eventually cleared Guergis of all charges but she had already resigned from her cabinet post of Minister of State for the Status of Women. The Conservative Party removed her as a candidate in her constituency. Guergis ran as an independent but did not win. For much more see this article.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Canada: Female officers may file class action suit against RCMP.

    Since a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation news story in November featuring sexual harassment charges by high profile Corporal Catherine Galliford many other current and former female members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have come forward with other complaints.
     Many who have come forward say that there were inspired by the testimony of Galliford to come forward themselves. There now are at least 25 who may join a class action suit against the force. Lawyer Alexander Zaitleff along with six other lawyers is collecting data for the case. He maintains that he has been receiving stories from every province about abuse. Another lawyer involved said that the suit would likely be filed on behalf of one or two specific plaintiffs but he will then ask that the suit be certified as a class action. This would allow others to join.
    Corporal Krista Carle started a Facebook group open only to women with complaints of abuse. She noted that some involved have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome. Some can no longer work Until she saw the Galliford news report she felt that no one would ever believe her own story of harassment. For more see this article.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Harper government warns of further spending cuts

    The government has yet to negotiate a new Health Accord with the provinces. The present accord expires in 2014. The government has promised an increase each year of 6 per cent to the provinces until 2016, two years after the agreement expires  Jim Flaherty the finance minister says that such increases cannot be sustained.
     The poorer provinces must rely on transfers from the central government to ensure that they can offer health care services that are comparable to those in richer provinces. Prime Minister Harper would like to see radical changes in both the health care system and a reduction in the size of the welfare state.
      Harper had this to say about Canada and Canadians.""In 1997, Harper delivered a controversial speech for a conservative American think tank in which he said, "Canada is a northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term, and very proud of it", "if you're like all Americans, you know almost nothing except for your own country. Which makes you probably knowledgeable about one more country than most Canadians", ""
    The government has been promising to balance the budget through 4 billion in savings over three years. But now a government spokesperson Jason Kenney says that the cuts could be larger, up to 8 billion dollars. The government does have money to spend on new Stealth fighter jets and also to build up the prison system. The new Conservative crime bills will guarantee that more prison facilities will need to be built. Perhaps Harper's admiration for U.S. conservatives is leading him to attempt to catch up with and surpass the U.S. in incarceration rates. The U.S. has the world's record for incarceration.

He may be cute, Harper that is, but watch out for his claws.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Canada: Hay bales set on fire at Occupy Winnipeg

  With harsh winter weather setting in the Occupy Winnipeg site is now down to five tents and three of them have been ordered removed because they are not regularly occupied. On  October 15th about 400 people marched to the park area where the encampment is located.
    The hay bales were used as a wind break. They had been ordered removed as a fire hazard. Someone set them on fire during the night. No one was injured and nothing else was burned. Back on Nov. 25th someone burned an unoccupied tent as well.
    One of the three tents that are to be removed is actually a yurt structure in which meetings were held but with the numbers dwindling so are the meetings no doubt. There are only two tents left that are regularly occupied. Other people no doubt drop by but few want to stay in the frigid weather with no heat. A representative of those remaining said that they plan to beef up security. However with only two tents left it may be problematic to find people to act as security guards! For more see this article.

Terry Weaymouth inspects a removal order on an abandoned tent. The yurt in the background has also been ordered removed

Friday, December 16, 2011

Canadian Wheat Board: Farmer elected members booted and replaced by government appointees

        After passing legislation that would remove single desk selling from the Wheat Board the Conservative government has now replaced five farmer elected board members with their own appointees. These five immediately voted to discontinue the suit filed against the government. The former Wheat Board sued the government and had won on the grounds that the government was required by law according to the Wheat Board Act to hold a plebiscite among farmers first. NOTE: In single desk selling all wheat and barley in the western prairie provinces is marketed through the Wheat Board. This gives the board the power of a monopsony. The board was formed in the depression by farmers who believed they were at the mercy of large grain companies who bought their grain at prices that were too low.
   The agricultural minister put a familiar spin on what happened. It is all about freedom of choice or marketing freedom. No doubt the large grain companies were cheering as well. Others cheering are the U.S. who filed over a dozen suits against the board claiming that the board gave prairie farmers an unfair advantage. Farmers in the room where agriculture minister Gerry Ritz was speaking apparently cheered his speech.
    The Wheat Board itself had taken a plebiscite on whether farmers wanted to remove the single desk selling monopsony and a majority said they did not. The Conservative government in the last election campaign promised to remove those powers but also said it would hold a plebiscite of farmers. But it did not. It just threw out the elected farmer board and ignore a judgment of a court that their action was illegal. For more see this article.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

New border deal may close some smaller U.S. Canada crossing points

   Among the changes involved in the new U.S. Canada border deal is the closing of some border crossings with little traffic and merging others. In some cases the U.S. and Canadian officials could share the same building. The deal also suggests that border crossings should mirror each others working hours. As it is now the U.S. side and Canadian sides can have different hours of operation!
     The small crossings involved range from one coast, St. Stephen New Brunswick in the east to Chopaka B.C. in the west. Proposed closings include three crossings in Manitoba, in B.C two, and Alberta Quebec and New Brunswick one each.
    As well as sharing facilities, mirroring hours of operation and closing facilities the plans also suggest having unmanned crossings. There would be a camera but guards would be stationed elsewhere. However, many have expressed concerns that since there would be no one to search vehicles the crossings would attract those trying to smuggle goods from one country into the other. There are several crossings where Canada has closed its office but the U.S. post remains open. Travelers can enter the U.S.. through these crossings but must go elsewhere to come back to Canada. For more see this article.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

TD bank cuts Canada growth estimates

   The Toronto Dominion (TD) bank lowered its growth predictions for Canada's economy both in 2012 and 2013. The bank predicts that commodity prices will be weaker in the next two years and exports will grow slower. However at least the prediction is still for positive growth.
    The bank predicts growth of 1.7 per cent in 2012. In September it had predicted growth of 1.9 per cent. In 2013 the growth is now predicted at 2.2 per cent as compared to 2.6 per cent back in September. The European financial crisis and a possible European recession will put a damper on global growth.
    The bank sees unemployment  now at 7.4 per cent to increase to from 7.5 to 8 per cent. The bank also sees high personal and government debt slowing growth. On the European crisis the bank was quite negative. It predicts that Greece will likely default on its debt next year. European banks will be forced into buying bonds of member countries and become a lender of last resort. Progress towards a fiscal union will take years according to the bank. For more see this article.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Canadian debt goes up and net worth goes down

  Statistics Canada released figures showing that the net worth per household dropped by $4,600 (Canadian) last quarter mostly because of declines in the value of equities and pension assets. In spite of  relatively hard times Canadians have continued borrowing. Over a year the per capita debt has risen by $2,200 dollars to a total of $46,100. The total is a humongous 1 trillion dollars in mortgages plus another 448 billion in consumer credit.
    The governor of the Bank of Canada warned Canadians they must ease up on spending as the level of debt averages over 150 per cent of income as the most recent Statistics Canada figures show. Net household worth has been declining as debt has been increasing. In the third quarter of this year net household worth dropped 2.1 per cent. This is the second consecutive quarter in which net household worth has declined.
   Government debt has also been rising. In the second quarter government net debt was 46.3 of GDP but this last quarter was 46.9 per cent of GDP. This is still quite moderate compared to many countries. Canada's problems may be more with consumer debt. Consumers saddled with large debts in a sluggish or declining economy are not a recipe for growth or even social peace. For more see this article.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Canada: Face veils disallowed while taking citizenship oath

      Immigration minister Jason Kenney has placed a ban on wearing face covering garments during ceremonies at which immigrants recite the oath of citizenship. The ban would include the niqab and burkas among other things. This may cause problems if the ceremony is held outside in minus 40 degree since no doubt full face ski type masks will be covered (pun intended) by the ban. Batman better stay in the U.S. as well.
    The ruling is in line with what is happening in Quebec where a similar ban will force women to unveil when receiving government services and laws in some European countries which ban the veils in public. Tunisia bans the veils at universities a practice that has caused recent demonstrations by Salafists.
     Kenney takes the position that it is not a religious but a cultural tradition and at the pilgrimage to Mecca women must unveil themselves. Even if it is not a religious obligation but a cultural tradition this does not seem a reason to ban the veil. The practice does not seem to harm anyone. When my wife attended her citizenship ceremony the people arrived in all sorts of attire. Some were in suits, a few had traditional dress of their homeland, others dressed very casually. The citizenship guide notes that it is appropriate that those taking the oath wear their traditional dress should they wish. Several men seemed to be taking time off their construction work and were in work clothes.
    Of course liberals will say the niqab or burkha are signs of women's oppression. Nice that Islam haters can go along with this. Of course the veiled women themselves are never asked if they want to have the veil removed. No need to consult these brainwashed, oppressed women. Free them whether they like it or not.
   Apparently citizenship judges and some MPs complained to Kenney that women wearing the veil could not be seen reciting the oath. Surely the point is to be heard. Put a microphone in front of them if you can't hear them. Are dumb people --those who cannot talk-- refused citizenship on the grounds they cannot be heard reciting the oath. I think the whole issue is politicized and used by politicians as a means of gaining support. Lets see the opinion polls on support for the banning. I expect they will be very much in favor. For more see this article.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Drunk RIM executives cause plane to divert to Vancouver

The two Research in Motion executives have since been fired. RIM makes the Blackberry. The two were on a flight from Toronto to Beijing.
Their behavior was so disruptive the plane finally diverted to Vancouver where the two were arrested. George Campbell, 45, and Paul Alexander Wilson, 38, were charged with mischief and pleaded guilty. The judge ordered that they pay 72,000 in restitution. They were given suspended sentences. They will be on parole for a year.
Apparently the two were quite drunk even at the start of the flight. They drank enough to pass out but then woke up and started yelling at each other Campbell lay belly down in the aisle kicking. One of the two assaulted one flight attendant and threatened another.
Crew members finally handcuffed the two with plastic restraints and tapes but they managed to chew through them! Flight attendants and passengers continued to restrain the two until the plane landed. Researach in motion is one thing but heavy drinking and rowdiness in motion are quite another. For more see this article.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Canada: Conservative government will go ahead and break the law to end Wheat Board monopoly

    Agriculture minister Gerry Ritz will go ahead with a bill that a federal judge has just ruled breaks the law. Ritz noted that the government of Canada has the sole right to act amend or repeal any piece of  legislation. While that is true it is irrelevant. The situation here is that the government has been found to have broken an existing law. Rather than break that law the government should first repeal it. But this Conservative government has a number of times showed its contempt for parliament, it is now just showing contempt for the law.
    The court ruling found that Ritx broke the law by violating a section of the Wheat Board Act. As interpreted by the judge this requires that the government  consult the Board and hold a plebiscite among farmers to see if they support the changes. The government is appealing the decision but is going ahead with passage of the bill even during the appeal process.
   The Conservative government has been a long time critic of the Wheat Board and is supported by some farmers. However a plebiscite held by the Wheat Board showed a majority actually support keeping the monopoly. Nevertheless the Conservative election platform pledged to remove the monopoly.
   The monopoly was formed in the depression by prairie farmers who felt they were exploited by the big grain companies. It has been the subject of over a dozen complaints by the U.S. that the monopoly is an unfair marketing practice but all were lost. Now the Harper Conservative government has come to the rescue of the big grain companies. Of course this is all in the name of free choice. For more see this article.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Canada will not make further commitment to Kyoto protocol

 As expected the environment minister for the Canadian Conservative government Peter Kent announced that Canad would not make any renewed commitment to the Kyoto Protocol. Kent' speech at the UN Durban climate conference was interrupted by a protest message.
   Six protesters members of the Canadian Youth Delegation stood as Kent began to speak. They turned their backs revealing the message "Turn Your Back on Canada" emblazoned on their T shirts. They were quickly removed and had their accreditation cancelled. The crowd however applauded the demonstration.
   The U.S. also has refused to sign on to Kyoto. Indeed Canada is often accused of pushing a U.S. type position at the conference. The Canadian position is that major emitters such as China and India must be involved in any new agreement. Developed countries such as the U.S.and Canada after themselves being responsible for global emissions over decades now want developing countries to bear the burden as well as they finally begin to develop their own economies. '
    Countries seem to put their own short term economic interests first and foist responsibility for tackling environmental problems on others rather than taking the lead themselves. The Conservative Harper government has always been opposed to Kyoto and made no attempt to meet targets. Observers expected Kent's announcement. Canada earned the fossil of the day award the other day. For more see this article.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

New Canada U.S. border deal: Big Brothers are tracking you

  Canada and the U.S. have just agreed on a number of  border control issues. The deal is supposed to make both trade and travel between the two countries easier. There are a total of 36 new measures meant to make it easier for people and goods to cross the border but without compromising security.
   The changes involve costs as well, including a billion dollars in infrastructure projects over five years. Certainly some of the changes will  make it much easier for goods to cross the border. For example, goods can be inspected and cleared for export at the place where they are manufactured and then cleared for shipment in sealed containers. The shipment will then not need to inspected at the border. There are also agreements to harmonize standards.
   Among the most controversial changes are the exit controls. Canadians departing the country would have their departure recorded with Canadian authorities. However, Canadians would still  need to clear only U.S. customs and immigration. The difference will be in the sharing of information. All information collected by the U.S. officials would be shared with Canadian customs officials and information collected by Canada customs on people entering Canada would be shared with U.S. officials.
    The Canadian Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddard is critical of this provision. She wants to know what controls there will be to make sure the system is not abused and how much information will be shared. What happens to someone who is falsely accused of being a security threat?
      We know already what happens when Canadian Intelligence Services shared intelligence with their U.S. counterparts. Maher Arar a dual citizen of Canada and Syria was detained while transferring planes on his way back to Canada. He was interrogated and then rendered to Syria where he faced further interrogation and torture. The U.S. deported him to  Syria on the grounds he was an Al Qaeda operative.
     Even though Arar was eventually cleared of any terror connections by an extensive investigation in Canada the U.S. refused to cooperate with the investigation and has never changed their position. He could not even fly to the U.S. to receive a human rights award because he is on a no fly list. The Canadian government on the other hand awarded him compensation of ten million dollars.
   We can all feel secure now that the two Big Brothers have agreed on the manner of sharing their information on each of us. We can soon look forward as well for both nBig Brothers to collect bio-metric information as well.  For more see this article. The Arar Inquiry is archived here.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Wheat Board sues Federal Government

    A lawyer for the Canadian Wheat Board told a federal court in Winnipeg that the Conservative government Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz broke the law when he ended the Board's monopoly on marketing western wheat an barley. Another lawyer for the board Matthew Fleming noted:"Farmers were promised a vote. The minister himself made that promise."'
   A section of the Canadian Wheat Board Act that set up the board says that changes to the marketing of wheat and barley cannot be changed except  "the producers of the grain have voted in favour of the exclusion or extension."  The agriculture minister interprets this to mean that the farmers must vote only on what commodities will be excluded or included not the monopoly powers of the board. However as critics noted he did promise a vote on the monopoly issue as well.
   If the court interprets the section in the manner of the agriculture minister no doubt it will find that no law has been broken. The Wheat Board lawyers seem to anticipate this result by arguing that the court should rule that the government has a duty to hold a plebiscite since it had promised to do so.
  If the Wheat Board wins its case the Conservative government may be forced to hold a plebiscite before the monopoly powers are set to end on August 1st 2012. The U.S. representing the interests of big grain companies has been a constant critic of the board challenging the Board's powers several times but losing every time. The challenges often claim that the Board gives the farmers an unfair market advantage. A list of 14 challenges and their disposition can be found here.
 The Board was set up by farmers back at the time of the Great Depression. By binding together they sought higher prices for their grain. Now some farmers want the power to seek better deals themselves. Good luck as individual farmers face bargaining with oligopolistic global grain buyers. For more see this article.

CWB board chair Allen Oberg speaks to reporters outside the federal courthouse in Winnipeg.CWB board chair Allen Oberg speaks to reporters outside the federal courthouse in Winnipeg. (Claudine Richard-Beaudoin/CBC)

Monday, December 5, 2011

OECD reports that wealth gap in Canada is increasing

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development has released new figures on the wealth gap between rich and poor in OECD countries. The gap is widening in most OECD countries including Canada. In Canada the top 10 per cent of Canadians earn ten times what the bottom 10 per cent own.
The actual annual income of the top ten per cent was 103,500 in 2008 while the average of the bottom ten per cent was just 10,260. This is the highest the gap has been in decades. Even in the early nineties the gap was just 8 to 1.
The richest one per cent are doing just fine as their share of income has gone from 8.1 per cent back in 1980 to a whopping 13.3 per cent in 2007. The richest one tenth of one per cent have done even better as their share in the same time period has gone from 2 per cent to 5.3 per cent.Furthermore, the share owned by the richest 0.1 per cent of Canadians more than doubled, from two per cent to 5.3 per cent.
Norway, Germany, Sweden and Denmarks all have much lower ratios between top and bottom ten per cent. In those countries the ratio is 6 to 1. The UK, Italy, Japan and Korea have the same ration as Canada at 10 to 1. The U.S. and Israel have a higher ratio at 14 to 1. But there are many countries with much higher ratios than these. Mexico and Chile have a ratio of 27 to 1 and Brazil although it is not a member of the OECD has a whopping 50 to 1 ratio.
While tax rates are often being lowered on the well off benefits that used to make up for the wealth gap are being eroded. The OECD Secretary General put the matter succinctly:"The social contract is starting to unravel in many countries,""This study dispels the assumptions that the benefits of economic growth will automatically trickle down to the disadvantaged and that greater inequality fosters greater social mobility." It seems that the trickle down theory should be replaced by a trickle up theory. For more see this article.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

First Nations form united front against pipeline but there is no unity

  A total of 55 First Nations groups have formed a united front against a proposed pipeline that would bring oil from the province of Alberta's oil sands to the west coast port of Kitimat for export. However at one native group has signed an agreement with Enbridge the company who would build the proposed line.
    In a statement the First Nations group said:  "These First Nations form an unbroken wall of opposition from the U.S. border to the Arctic Ocean," The group said they would stop the pipeline legally or otherwise even putting themselves in the way of bulldozers.
   The costs of the pipeline is projected at around 5.5 billion. With the delay in the Keystone XL pipeline to the Texas coast there is more pressure to approve the Enbridge pipe line to the west coast. Completion of the line would make it much easier to export Canadian oil to Asian markets.
    Although the Northern Gateway project as it is called has been heavily criticized by environmentalists and many native groups at least one aboriginal nation has signed on to the project. The Gitxsan First Nation has taken an ownership stake in the project. The band hopes to make millions through its stake. The chief said:
“Over time we have established a relationship of trust with Enbridge, we have examined and assessed this project, and we believe it can be built and operated safely,” The company says that it is in negotiations with other first nations as well. For more see this article, and also here.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Research in Motion stock motion is down

   Research in Motion (RIM) the Canada-based company that makes the Blackberry has been selling off its Playbook tablet at huge markdowns from its original price. I saw it on sale at Futureshop the other day advertised at 200 dollars marked down from 500. Of course they had none in stock!
   RIM had introduced the Playbook in April at a time when iPad had already established a clear dominance of the market. In the third quarter of this year RIM sold 150,000 Playbooks compared to 11million iPads sold by Apple.
   RIM shares dropped more than 8 per cent the other day. Once a favorite with investors, this year the price of the stock has dropped about 70 per cent. The company warned it would not meet its financial targets. RIM market share has been eaten up by the Apple iPhone and also Google's Android devices. A global outage of  its network for the Blackberry also hurt consumer confidence in the company.
For much more detail see this article.

Canada: Unemployment rate rises in November

   In contrast to the U.S. the unemployment rate in Canada climbed last month to 7.4 per cent but it is still considerably better than in the U.S. Canada lost a total of 18,600 jobs last month. Last month the unemployment rate was 7.3 per cent.
   The news was not all bad in that there was an increase of 34,600 full time jobs. This was more than offset by a decline of 53,300 part time jobs.
   The unemployment situation varies by province. Newfoundland and Labrador had a rate of 13.2 per cent up from 12.9 the month before. In the three prairie provinces unemployment is lower than the national average at between five and six percent although Saskatchewan lost some jobs last month and unemployment went from a low 4.1 to 5.1. This is still a rate many provinces can envy. For more see this CBC article.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Canadian finally removed from UN terror list

Abousfian Abdelrazik a Canadian citizen born in Sudan was arrested when he went to Sudan to visit his mother in 2003. Sudanese authorities suspected that Adbelrazik had ties to Al Qaeda. Abdelrazik says he was tortured by his Sudanese captors and asked questions that he thinks were prompted by CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service)
 While he was imprisoned Abdelrazik's passport expired and he ended up having to live in the Canadian embassy in Khartoum. In July 2006 the U.S. listed Abdelrazik as an Al Qaeda supporter and the UN also added his name to a list of terrorists.
 However, Abdelrazik has never been charged with anything. Quite the opposite he has been cleared by both the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) and CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Agency) of any terrorist connections.
  In June of 1909 Federal Court Justice Russel Zinn concluded that CSIS had been complicit in arranging Adbdelrazik's arrest. He also ruled that the Canadian government had denied his constitutional rights by not issuing him a visa to return to Canada.
  CSIS asked for a prompt review of the case more than two years ago. But two years later the investigation seems to be dying a slow death. No one from the CSIS has responded to reporters' questions about the status of the investigation.
 However finally Abdelarzik's name has been removed from the UN's terrorist list. Abdelrazik has been trying to clear his name ever since he returned to Canada in June 2009. If the case of Maher Arar is any precedent Abdelrazik will probably never get the U.S. to change their characterization of him as an Al Qaeda supporter. Arar is still on a no fly list. Arar was rendered to Syria after he was held during a transfer of planes in the U.S when he was on his way back to Canada. He was deported on the grounds he was an Al Qaeda supporter. He was deported to Syria even though he was a Canadian citizen and told U.S. authorities he would be tortured there. Even though there was a long expensive inquiry in Canada that cleared Arar and awarded him ten million dollars the U.S. has never changed their position. For more on Abdelrazik see this article.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Global City Ratings: Three Canadian Cities make top 20

   In a ranking of 221 cities globally Mercer company based in New York rated Vienna number one. The company used 39 factors in coming up with the ratings.
   Although many of the top cities are in Europe, Canada has three cities in the top twenty. Vancouver manages to be in the top ten at number five. Ottawa is number 14 and Toronto 15. Auckland in New Zealand is third. There are several Australian cities in the top twenty as well.
    The United States did not have even one city in the top twenty but Honolulu made number 29 and San Francisico 30. The Big Apple New York made 47. The worst rating went to Baghdad. If you have to go to Baghdad probably staying at the humongous American embassy would be a good place.
    For much more see the entire article here. Photos of the top 20 cities are here.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Report: Northern Gateway Pipeline involves unacceptable environmental risks

   Enbridge Company based in Calgary would like to build a pipeline called the Northern Gateway from Alberta to the west coast port of Kitimat in northern British Columbia. The pipeline would transport bitumen from the Alberta Oil Sands to the port and then the oil would be exported.
  A new report by several groups including the Canadian Pembina Institute and the U.S. Natural Resources Defense Council claims that the pipeline would involve unacceptably high environmental risks. Any spill of the bitumen could have a disastrous effect on the region's sensitive habitat according to the report.
   The report notes that cleaning up bitumen is much more difficult than cleaning up regular oil. Paul Stanway who manages communications for Enbridge claimed that the report said nothing new and simply repeated earlier criticisms. He maintained that the project would entail some risk as would any project of similar size and scale.
Map of proposed pipeline route from Alberta to BC.

  Given that the criticism that has been generated by the Keystone XL pipeline that is to carry Alberta oil down to the Texas Gulf Coast there is renewed pressure to build a pipeline from Alberta to BC so that Canada can diversity it exports of oil to countries such as China. Many environmentalists however, oppose not just new pipelines but also any rapid development of  Oil Sands oil since its production produces considerably more greenhouse gases than regular oil. For more see this article.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Inflation hits cost of Twelve Days of Xmas items

   For the first time the cost of all the items mentioned in the traditional Twelve Days of Christmas carol is over 100,000 dollars U.S. However some items declined slightly including the five gold rings. On the other hand the cost of  turtle doves, pear trees, and partridges has increased considerably.
    Some items have stable prices including maids-a-milking, ladies dancing, and lords leaping. No doubt this is due to the high unemployment numbers. There is a reserve army of milk maids, leaping lords, and dancing ladies.
    The annual total is a Xmas gift to the public from PNC Wealth Management. This year the exact total given is 101,119 dollars U.S. The U.S. price index rose by 3.9 per cent during the same period while the increase in the items saw an increase of 4.4 per cent. The percentage increase in the total is much smaller than last year. For more see this article.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Moncton snowblower ad goes viral

   Weh-Ming Cho's ad for his snowblower on Kijiji has gone viral. The ad can be found here. There is a photo of the snowblower as well. However it is not the snowblower that has caused the ad to go viral it is the humorous text that Cho has appended as a sales pitch.
    I do not want to spoil the fun for you. He starts out by noting that if you  are one of those muscular granola eating types who glories in shoveling snow you might as well stop reading now!. I am not sure what the copyright violation rules are for reproducing actual text from ads.
    Whatever those rules are maybe some one will take the CBC news to task for reproducing his text. But that seems the only way to capture his humor. Anyway here are a couple of bits from the ad just as samples. When I read it the ad had over 300,000 hits. I don't know if he sold the machine yet.
  The ad notes:     "This isn't some entry level snowblower that is just gonna move the snow two feet away. This is an 11 HP Briggs and Stratton machine of snow doom that will cut a 29-inch path of pure ecstasy," "And it's only four years old. I dare you to find a harder working four-year-old. My niece is five and she gets tired and cranky after just a few minutes of shovelling. This guy just goes and goes and goes."  Another rather racy tidbit:
""I want you to experience the rush that comes with smashing through a snowdrift and blowing that mother trucker out of the way""  The CBC article is at this site. Cho lives in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada where the machine would certainly be handy!

Brandon University strike ends with agreement

 Late Friday evening the Brandon University Administration finally reached an agreement with the faculty union. The strike was the longest university strike in Manitoba history. It began way back on Oct. 12, interrupting the school year a little over a month after classes started. There have been longer university strikes. A strike at Laval University in 1976 in Quebec lasted four months! More recently in 1997 York University faculty went on strike for 55 days. However long strikes or any strikes are the exception rather than the rule.
    Earlier a mediator had suggested binding arbitration to solve the dispute. Although the administration agreed the faculty wanted to continue negotiation. Later Labour minister Jennifer Howard had ordered the faculty to vote on the last administration offer. The vote was to take place next week.
    The tentative deal will allow faculty to return to work as early as next Monday evening a much faster resolution that having to vote on the latest administration offer which the union recommended be rejected. Now the faculty are voting on an agreement that the union supports. It is quite likely to pass.
  The university president Deborah Poff says that the university will make sure that students will be able to complete the school year. Possibilities involve extending the next term and pushing back December exams into the new year. No doubt everyone is relieved that the strike will be over. Solving the crisis through an agreement shows that collective bargaining can work although in this case the two sides took much too long to finally settle.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Afghanistan: Tim Horton's ends Afghan mission!

    The iconic Canadian coffee and doughnut chain is closing down its one outlet in Afghanistan. The restaurant catered to troops located at a base near Kandahar. Canadian troops will be withdrawn except for around one thousand who will train Afghan forces.
    The outlet sold 4 million cups of coffee, 3 million doughnuts as well as supplies. For almost a decade Horton's was part of the U.S. chain Wendy's International but Wendy's sold off the company in 2006 and it is now again headquartered in Canada.
     While closing shop in Afghanistan Tim Horton's is rapidly expanding in the United Arab Emirates where it expanded this year. They plan to open over a hundred stores within five years in Dubai, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and Kuwait. The busiest Tim Horton's is in the far north of Canada in Yellowknife Northwest Territories.
     U.S. military will be able to continue enjoying Tim Horton's at outlets on bases in Fort Knox Kentucky and
Norfolk Virginia. Tim Horton's is named after its famous hockey star founder Tim Horton. For more see this article, and here.

Manitoba: Brandon University Faculty to vote on Administration offer

(Brandon Nov. 24) Brandon University faculty will vote on the Administration's latest offer next week. The vote was imposed by the government and will be overseen by the Labor Relations Board. The 240 members of BUFA have been on strike since October 12.
  A mediator had suggested there be binding arbitration but this was not accepted by the union which wanted to continue negotiations. The union has recommended faculty reject the Administration offer and calls the vote a waste of time.
    However given the pressures to end the strike the faculty could very well vote for the offer. Should the offer be rejected Jennifer Howard the minister of Labor and Immigration has said that binding arbitration could be an option.
    The students are perhaps the biggest losers in the strike. Most of the fall term has been lost. Some are demanding their fees back. However, the intention seems to be that the faculty will make up the time after the strike ends. In fact one of the  issues in dispute is compensation for the extra faculty time required to make up this lost class time. For more see this article and also this letter to the editor.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Wages in Canada rise only marginally over the last year

 Over the last year ending this September wages in Canada rose a mere 1.1 per cent according to figures from Statistics Canada. This is the smallest increase since November of 2009.
  Although the average showed a small increase over the year, September average weekly earnings of non-farm workers actually declined by .3 per cent. This is just the nominal decrease and does not take into account that the inflation rate was 3.2 per for the month. Average weekly wages have been declining since April when they reached a peak of 4.1 per cent.
   The uncertain economic outlook may lead to a lessening demand for increased wages as many workers are happy enough just to have work. The government points out that 600,000 jobs have been created since the recession. However the other side of this story is that almost a million more have entered the labor market. Unemployment remains at 7.3 per cent. This is a large reserve army of the unemployed that will also keep wages low. For much more see this article.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Police move to evict Occupy Toronto protesters

  Police have moved into to evict Occupy Toronto protesters from their camp in St. James Park. As of this posting there had been quite a bit of shouting from protesters after tents were tagged and then removed.
   The protesters have been in the park since Oct. 15.  However, one woman has been arrested by police. An eviction order was upheld by a judge yesterday.
   A few protesters have chained themselves to a yurt that had not yet been removed. It is used as a library. An estimated 200 protesters remain in the camp so there could very well still be confrontations between police and protesters.
    The protesters are considering a move to a different public space in the downtown area. In Vancouver Occupy Vancouver protesters moved their protest to a different park after being ordered to move off courthouse grounds. For more see this article.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sam Gindin: Understanding and Fighting Against Austerity

 The linked video is the first half of a session sponsored by the GWTA (Greater Toronto Worker's Association) recently on austerity. Sam Gindin is a former research director for the Canadian Auto Workers. He retired from the CAW in 2000 and now teaches at York University.
    The sessions discusses some of the causes of the current financial crisis and how the crisis works to impose all sorts of belt tightening measures upon workers. He also takes up the forms of resistance that are growing throughout the world.
    Here are a few of his points in summary form. Gindin points out that measures to weaken unions and the power of workers began back in the 1980's when neo-liberal policies began to be introduced. Globalization and the demands for competitiveness helped decrease the power of workers in advanced capitalist countries. Certainly that process continues today.
   Gindin also mentions that there is now a demand to lower expectations. Capitalist critics argue that the entitlements of workers especially unionized workers are a cause of the debt crisis crushing some countries. Good pensions plans and high wages are no longer affordable.Gindin speaks of democracy becoming thinner as policies are more and more determined by the needs of the system and the one per cent.
    What is happening in Greece and Italy in response to the crisis are good examples of the point Gindin makes. Politicians are replaced by technocrats often linked with the European financial system. An attempt to let the Greek people have a referendum on austerity measures is met with dismay and in effect blocked. For much more see the video.

Canada: Canadian Imam returns home from detention in Saudi Arabia

  Usama Al-Atar is an Edmonton imam who was arrested and allegedly beaten by the religious police in Saudi Arabia. He was on a pilgrimage at the time and speaking in a cemetery in Medina.
   Al-Atar is expected to speak about his ordeal today. He called his detention horrid. He was held for almost 36 hours before his release. A British member of the group who was with Al-Atar said that the police virtually strangled Al-Atar.
  Al-Atar is a relatively liberal Muslim and a peacemaker. No doubt this is why the Saudi religious police attacked him. Here are a few words from his website:
   I am a Human
 I am a human.
 I have a mind, and I have a heart,
 I want to live in peace, equality and justice.
 ....Can I not speak about freedom, or call for communication?
 I see people, standing in peace, with a flower in their hands,
 Requesting their governments to meet their demands.
 Demands for justice, for equality, for respect,

   Obviously a subversive type of person judged by Saudi standards. For more see this article.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Diapers and Politics

 There are several famous quotes in this category. The first is attributed to Jose Maria de Eca De Queiroz a 19th century Portuguese writer. See this link
Politicians and diapers should be changed frequently and all for the same reason. (Translated from Portuguese)

Another version is attributed to the U.S. author Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens)
“Politicians are like diapers; they need to be changed often and for the same reason.”

 I saw another version when surfing today but there was no source cited.
"" Governments are like diapers. When they need to be changed, it’s often for the same reason!""

 Commentators on one posting noted that at least diapers are clean when they arrive! None of the websites I searched on this gave the precise source from which the quote was taken.

Postal Workers win case--after 28 years

In a case that finally wound up at the Supreme Court Canada Post workers won after 28 years. Canada Post Corp. says that it will respect the Court ruling.
  In 1983 the Public Service Alliance of Canada filed suit under the Canadian Human Rights act charging that women were being paid less for doing the same jobs as men. In 2005 the Canadian Human Rights tribunal finally ruled in the union's favor but reduced the award to half what had been asked.
   Canada Post appealed and won in Federal Court in 2008. The Federal Court of Appeal upheld the ruling but with one dissenting judge. The Supreme Court agreed with the reasoning of the dissenting judge and unanimously sided with the workers. The total bill will be up to 250 million to compensate female clerical staff who worked at Canada Post between 1983 and 2002. Given the length of time it took to settle the issue no doubt some of the money will go to the workers' estates!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Canada wins meat labeling case against U.S. at WTO

  The WTO(World Trade Organisation) ruled in favor of Canada's complaint that U.S. country of origin rules for meat labeling (COOL) lowered processing efficiency and distorted trade between the two countries. The ruling will apply not just to cattle and hogs but also to other commodities such as chickens that were also subject to the COOL label requirements. Mexico had joined Canada in arguing the case before the WTO.
    In 2008 when COOL was introduced Canadian animals had to be segregated and processed in separate lines to be packaged and labeled. The added costs caused some U.S. processors to refuse to buy Canadian livestock or to buy them only at deep discounts. Some U.S. processors actually sided with the complaint against the U.S.
  The U.S. can file an appeal within 60 days. However Canada won on all counts. The Canadian agriculture minister hopes that he can reach an agreement with the U.S. on implementing the decision of the WTO. The COOL requirements are estimated to have cost the Canadian livestock industry up to 5 billion dollars. One result of the requirements has been to provide an incentive for Canada to further diversity its export markets for livestock. For more see this article.

NDP MP Pat Martin swears at Conservative closure of debate

 Pat Martin a Manitoba New Democratic Party MP used distinctly unparliamentary language in a tweet. He may swear by the New Democratic party but he swears at the ruling majority Conservative party. To quote Martin with appropriate omissions: "This is a f--king disgrace ... closure again. And on the Budget! There’s not a democracy in the world that would tolerate this jackboot sh--."
  Martin did not apologize for his outburst but claimed that his language expressed his frustration at the government's tactics. Closure is rarely used in Canada and usually when the opposition is using tactics to deliberately hold up legislation. Martin noted that he is a construction worker by trade and he said that this is the way that they communicate with each other.
    I worked as an inspector on pipeline construction years ago and I can attest that in my experience Martin is telling the truth about construction workers'  language at least in the past. Naturally several Conservative MP's called the language completely inappropriate and expressed their strong moral disapproval. One MP even wants the house speaker to rule on the language since Martin made his tweet while actually in parliament. Of course the Conservatives and much of the media seem to concentrate upon Martin's use of language rather than the inappropriateness of the Conservative use of closure. For more see this article.

Would you want an Occupy protest in your own area

 The CBC is asking Canadians whether they would want Occupy protests in their area. I happen to live in rural Manitoba in a village of about 150 people. I expect that a large group of campers would be welcomed. I even have an almost acre lot with an old garage on it with a stove inside. Our local park is much too small for any reasonable sized protest  to use.
    If the protesters want to use public property the Trans Canada trail that used to be a railroad runs through the village. It is hardly ever used and certainly people could camp along the right of way. The local store would probably be quite happy to have increased business. They also carry beer and liquor!
   There is no hotel in town but hotels in nearby towns would be happy to have reporters as customers. Restaurants too would show an increase in business. Before the protesters set up camp though they would need to get locals to clear the snow off their camping areas. The encampment would be a good survival training area. The temperature is going below minus twenty in the next few days.
   In a short time we will have Xmas lights up and burning.  This year we could attract people not just to see the lights but to come and visit the largest Occupy protest in rural Manitoba.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wheat Board supporters protest on Parliament Hill

 A group of farmers opposed to the Conservative government's bill to end the Wheat Board monopoly on marketing wheat and barley in western Canada protested on Parliament Hill yesterday. Drew Baker the farmer who led the rally said: "On our own, we will have little power to negotiate with big American companies, and that concerns me." The U.S. has long challenged the Wheat Board monopoly as giving Canadian farmers an unfair advantage in global marketing.
     Where the U.S. complaints have always failed , western farmers themselves have now achieved what the U.S. and the grain marketing giants have long desired, an end to the Wheat Board monopoly. Farmers have done so by voting in large numbers for the very Conservatives who promised as part of their platform to end the monopoly. A  Wheat Board organised vote later showed that a majority of farmers actually support retaining the system.
     The board is run by directors elected by farmers. Only two of the elected board members favor the changes in the government bill. The remainder support the retention of the single desk system as it is called. The system gives the farmers collectively considerable power to negotiate good prices for grain sales.
      The government legislation would also dismiss the farmer-elected directors of the board. The board had been controlled by members elected by farmers since 1998.
       The Wheat Board has launched a lawsuit challenging the government's bill. The suit claims that the bill violates the Canadian Wheat Board Act. The Wheat Board Act specifies the minister cannot change the system without holding a vote of Prairie grain farmers. The  Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz promised during the latest election campaign a vote would be held. The only vote held was by the Wheat Board itself. The Conservatives claim that the abolition of the monopoly was a prominent part of the campaign platform and since they were elected with a majority they already had a mandate to change the system. For much more see this article.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Canada looks to market more oil in Asia

     The delay in approval of the Keystone XL pipeline has led Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to look for other markets for Canadian oil and gas particularly in China. Harper should have been diversifying markets even before this delay. China and other Asian countries need oil and probably will pay more for it than the U.S.
   Canada has deliberately made itself into an oil supplier primarily for the U.S. The NAFTA agreement cements this relationship. While Harper talks about finding new markets for our oil, the eastern provinces of Canada import almost all their oil from abroad. It would make much more sense to have oil from Alberta flow to Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes rather than down south as far as Texas!
Obama and Stephen Harper at APEC
   Chinese president Hu Jintao has welcomed Harper's move to market oil in China. He has invited Harper to visit China next year. However, to ship large quantities of oil to China a pipeline from Alberta to Kitimat British Columbia would need to be approved. There will be considerable opposition to building that pipe line from environmentalists and first nations groups.
   Many environmentalists want to block further development of  Tar Sands oil. They claim that production of  Tar Sands oil involves the emission of far too many greenhouse gases. First nations in the area also have complaints about the effects of production on them. Given the dependence of the global economy on fossil fuels the environmental concerns will in the end not likely be powerful enough to stop further increases in production. For more see this article.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Tommy Douglas NDP leader was spied upon for decades

 Recently declassified material shows the RCMP were spying on Tommy Douglas the leader of the Federal NDP as he called for a probe of the RCMP in April of 1963. The RCMP were drafting memos casting suspicion on Douglas' own activities.
    The Library and Archives Canada had fought for six years to keep the RCMP files on Douglas secret. The new pages became available when a federal judge ordered a review the nine volume dossier with a view to releasing more. The pages released are still fragmentary. Over two hundred pages of the dossier remain entirely secret.
     Although Douglas was a premier of Saskatchewan and a hero to many for bringing the first universal health care scheme to the province of Saskatchewan he was watched by RCMP spies for more than four decades. His ideas were obviously regarded as a threat to the powers that be. For more see this article.  For more about Douglas see this site.