Monday, December 31, 2012

Comedy Group Air Farce does Stephen Harper "Gangnam Style" parody

The Canadian comedy group Air Farce has produced a parody of the ever-parodied "Gangnam Style" starring Craig Lauzon as Stephen Harper.
The skit will be part of the Air Farce's New Year's Eve special on December 31. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper gives us the year in review through his version of the South Korean pop song by PSY "Gangnam Style". Some of the references will no doubt be quite foreign to non-Canadians.
The video makes reference to several controversies that dogged the ruling Conservative Party. This includes the over-spending by Bev Oda, the deal for buying F-35 fighters, and budget cuts.
Bev Oda is a former MP and cabinet minister. Oda was appointed Minister for International Cooperation on August 14 2007. After a series of controversies and scandals she resigned her seat in July of 2012 and was dropped from Cabinet.
Besides having a recommendation for funding of a charitable group turned down by having a "not" inserted in a document that recommended funding, and then pretending she did not know who put the "not" in, she was often excoriated for her spending habits. In April 2012, at a conference on the immunization of poor children, Oda refused to stay at the conference hotel furnished by the hosts. Instead she stayed at the Savoy Hotel at a charge of $665 dollars per night for three nights. She also hired a limousine to transport her to the conference. After a huge public outcry, Oda paid some of the expenses herself. She is also famous for her smoking habits, which is why she changed hotels some say. She was charged $250 dollars for smoking in a non-smoking room.
The F-35 controversy has been ongoing. As time passes the costs of the planes has gone far beyond the original ridiculously low projection of the Conservative government. The government originally planned to buy 65 F-35 fighter jets. The costs were estimated in July 2010 at $9 billion. However an audit recently put the actual costs over the lifespan of the planes at $45.8 billion. This has been a huge issue in Canada as the government has kept insisting that the planes were the only ones suitable. There was no tender process. For a summary and some videos see this CBC article.
If you live in Bahrain, Iran, Egypt, or numerous other places please do not attempt to imitate this satirical take on your leader.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Tiny Machias Seal Island claimed by both the US and Canada

Machias Seal Island is a tiny rock island 16 kilometres from the coast of the US state of Maine and 19 kilometers south of Grand Manan Island just off the coast of the Canadian province of New Brunswick. The island is claimed by both Canada and the US.
Machias Seal Island has an area of just 8 hectares or about 20 acres. The island is a sanctuary for many seabirds including the Atlantic Puffin seen in the appended video. Visitors from around the world come to view the birds during the summer.
There are no permanent residents of the island although there are lighthouse keepers who come in pairs and stay four weeks at a time. The lighthouse is operated by the Canadian Coast Guard. The original lighthouse was built by the British in 1832. There has been a lighthouse maintained ever since. Many think that the presence of the lighthouse will give Canada a legitimate claim to the island. The United States has never had a presence on the island except in 1918 during the First World War when a small detachment of marines was posted to the island with Canadian agreement.
However in the past private citizens in Maine have claimed ownership of the island. There is a tour boat operator from Cutler Maine, who brings tourists to the island in the summer to view the birds. While there has been no oil or mineral resources discovered in the area, there is a large 720 square kilometres around the island called a grey zone. Lobster fishermen from both Canada and the US fish this area.
MP for New Brunswick Southwest , John Williamson said:
"The fishing community on Grand Manan is permitted to fish there on an open-end basis and it's our way of laying our claim to this water that is part of the Machias Seal Island dispute.I think our claim is sound and is legitimate, but at the end of the day it's going to come down to the minister in this country and the administration in Washington to settle it. I think it is in the interests of both of our countries to do that."
Unfortunately an earlier decision of a joint commission in 1817 did not decide the ownership of Machias Sea Island even though it did decide that of other islands in the area including Moose, Dudley, and Fredericks Islands that are now owned by the US and also Grand Manan island that now belongs to Canada.
Stephen Kelly of Duke University and a retired US diplomat thinks that it would be a good idea to resolve the issue.
"It just strikes me if we have this opportunity to remove a potential irritant going forward, why don't we take it. What if some valuable resource is discovered in the grey zone around Machias Seal Island? What if some other contingency that we can't imagine now of strategic importance comes along?Wouldn't we feel silly that we didn't take the opportunity to resolve this when the stakes were relatively low."
Ralph Edlridge, who has been a light-keeper on the island for 16 years, thought ownership was a non-issue. Neither he nor anyone else who comes to visit the island has to worry about showing a passport whether they come from Maine, Canada, China, or Spain he said. Barbara Harvey a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and International Trade said that as far as Canada is concerned the island is Canadian: "Canada's sovereignty over Machias Seal Island and sovereign jurisdiction over the 210 square nautical mile surrounding waters is strongly founded in international law." Some residents of Maine may not agree.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

President of Manitoba PCs youth wing resigns after racist comments

Brayden Mazurkiewich, who was president of the youth wing of the Manitoba Progressive Conservative Party has resigned after posting racist comments on Facebook. The Progressive Conservatives are the official opposition in the Manitoba government.
The president of the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba, Ryan Matthews, in a press release said:
"Comments by Progressive Conservative Youth President Brayden Mazurkiewich have been deemed conduct detrimental to our party. As PC Manitoba party president I have asked Brayden Mazurkiewich for his resignation and received it."
Mazurkiewcih made some of the comments in response to news that a group of four First Nations again won a decision in their favor on the government sale of the Kapyong barracks site located in Winnipeg. The court ruled that the federal government had failed to consult, or even communicate adequately with the First Nations involved before selling the land. The First Nations group has been trying to secure the land as part of a treaty land entitlement. In 2007 the federal Treasury Board decided to sell the barracks' site to the Canada Lands Co, a Crown corporation, to oversee the site's development and resale. The group of First Nations went to Federal Court to have the decision overturned. In September 2009 a judge ruled in the group's favor declaring the transfer invalid because the government did not consult enough with the First Nations about their treaty claims. Now the government's appeal has failed. Mazurkiewich responded to the court decision on Facebook:
"Listen carefully to the news today. Looks like they might be announcing that they're building a freaking reserve in the middle of Winnipeg. This city is quickly becoming the laughing stock of the entire country."
When some people commented on his post Mazurkiewich went on to say of the barracks' site:
"That was built for hardworking men and women of the military, not freeloading Indians."
Mazurkiewich apologized for his outburst and handed in his resignation but he still maintained he is opposed to having an urban reserve on the property saying:
"But my feelings about the reserve going in ... I don't think that would fit well in that community at all. You know, you hear on reserves all the time, people are burning down their own homes. There are shootings and stabbings, and we don't need to bring more of that to Winnipeg."
Mazurkiewich has also made some comments on Twitter that have offended some people as well. He has called the famous Winnipeg Folk Festival the "hippie festival". Francophones he claims are "all just pushy and liberal".

Friday, December 14, 2012

Will Harper finally pull the plug on the F-35 purchase?

According to a December 6 article in the Ottawa Citizen, the Conservative government of Stephen Harper has finally decided to pull the plug on a planned purchase of 65 F-35 stealth fighter jets.
An audit, soon to be released by KPMG accountants, will push the projected life-cycle cost of each plane to well above $30 billion. Some even put the figure at close to $40 billion. NOTE: Actually it turns out to be around $45 billion according to the KPMG report. Faced with the huge increases in costs, the operations committee of the federal Cabinet decided to scrap the sole-source program and begin looking at other sources, claims the Ottawa Citizen, citing an anonymous source familiar with the decision.
The Prime Minister's Office denied a media report that the F-35 purchase was dead saying that the report was "inaccurate on a number of fronts". The statement also promised that the government would update the House of Commons on its seven point plan to replace the jets before the Xmas break. The government also claims that no decision has been made on buying the F-35 planes to replace Canada's aging CF-18 fighter jets.
Opposition members of parliament hammered the government on Friday, claiming that the government has consistently hidden the cost of the F-35 jets from the public. Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae said:
"I don't see how the minister of defence [Peter MacKay] can possibly continue in his job. He's basically been a sales spokesperson for Lockheed Martin, the manufacturers of the F-35, since he took office. He's denigrated and attacked every person in opposition, in the Liberal Party or elsewhere, who has ever raised concerns or questions about this."
Speaking in Toronto, Rae claimed that the government has constantly misled Canadians:
"The government has consistently misled Canadians about the true cost of this aircraft. They've misled Canadians about their degree of oversight and their readiness to deal with the situation."
The Harper government had already put its purchase plan in neutral, if not reverse. Last April, the Canadian Auditor General questioned the reliability of the military's figures on costs of the planes. The government then announced it would undertake an "options analysis" and would consider alternative fighter jets that might meet the military's needs. Prior to this, the government's argument was that only the F-35 could meet the military's needs and that was why there was no competitive bid! The KPMG audit was to be part of the review process.
Originally the cost of the entire project was announced by MacKay as being just $9 billion for the 65 planes. However, a report by the government's own budget office put the cost at $29.3 billion. The federal auditor general put the total cost to buy and maintain the planes at $25 billion. Questions about the F-35 during question period in parliament were not answered by MacKay but by others.
In response to a reporter MacKay said:
"What I can tell you is we're following the seven-point plan as we have been now for some months and into next week there will be an open and transparent discussion about the next steps that are going to follow in the CF-18 replacement."
MacKay and a transparent discussion, something straight out of Onion! In the interests of transparency no doubt, when asked whether the cost would be $40 billion, MacKay did not respond.
The New Democratic Party defence critic, Jack Harris said:
"The whole process is in a shambles, quite frankly. This is not good enough. We've got enough misleading information out there in front of the public.... They didn't do their due diligence, they didn't have an open, fair and transparent process. They've demonstrated their incompetence in a $40-billion-plus contract."
Harris pointed out that the Conservatives attacked anyone who questioned their figures, including their own parliamentary budget office Kevin Page. See the marvelous video with Kevin Page below.
Whenever the purchase plan and process were questioned, the government and military have constantly maintained that the F-35 was the only plane that would be suitable for Canada's needs. Many expect that the specifications were drawn up so that only the F-35 could meet them. Suddenly, all has changed. General Tom Lawson, chief of the defence staff told parliamentarians that there were other planes with stealth capabilities.
When Lockheed Martin was asked questions, the company said that they should be asked to the Canadian Department of National Defence but also said:
"Lockheed Martin has been a partner with the Canadian Forces for more than 50 years. We continue to look forward to supporting the Canadian government as they work to provide their air force fifth-generation capability for their future security needs,"
We can expect more fireworks in parliament when the KPMG audit is released and the government provides an update. Peter MacKay the defence minister has not offered to resign and no doubt won't, although it might be a nice Xmas present for many Canadians.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Harper reverses policy and condemns Israeli settlement expansion

In a sudden reversal of Canada's unqualified support for Israel, Stephen Harper warned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Canada does not support the expansion of settlements planned by Israel.
Perhaps the negative reactions to Harper's quite one-sided position of supporting everything Israel does changed Harper's mind. European nations and the United States were very critical of the Israeli plans, claiming that they could prevent any peace talks in the near future. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird told the Globe and Mail that Harper told Netanyahu that he believes the settlement construction would impair peace efforts between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. A Globe and Mail editorial earlier criticized the government for not condemning outright the Israeli settlement plans:
Canada’s strident defence of Israel’s interests in the UN vote was legitimate but its zealous threats to punish the Palestinians damaged its ability in Arab eyes to contribute to a much-desired two-state solution. Ottawa could re-establish its independence by strongly condemning Israel’s settlement gambit.
Actually, Canada will hardly establish its independence by taking this new position, rather it now allies itself with the U.S. position on the issue rather than that of the Israelis. The editorial seems to support the Canadian vote against Palestine getting observer status. Another important factor in Harper's decision is no doubt the article by me in the Digital Journal the other day! Foreign Affairs Minister Baird had condemned the overwhelmingly positive vote in the UN Security Council to grant Palestine observer status but now he also condemns the settlement expansion specifically as well:
“The Palestinians’ actions last week were very unhelpful to the cause of peace, and the Israeli response of settlement expansion is very unhelpful to the cause of peace.".
Baird also toned down somewhat his threats against the Palestinians for seeking observer status:
“When we said ‘consequences’ I think the media implied that we would break off relations and cut aid, but we never said either option was on the table."
Baird condemned the Palestinian move vigorously in the UN and recalled envoys for consultation but this seems to be the extent of the government's punishment of Palestine. Canada has provided $300 million in aid projects to Palestine over the last five years. Baird said any future projects will be assessed on their merits and will not be influenced by the UN vote on Palestinian observer status. Baird warned that Canada would be watching Palestine's next moves, particularly any attempt to take Israel to the International Criminal Court with charges that Israel has been violating international law. Any such action would cause Canada great concern he said. He said that this move would be a provocation that merited a strong response. Imagine, any Palestinian attempt to show that Israel is violating international law, is a provocation!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Canada refuses to explicitly criticize the 3,000 new Israeli settlement housing units

While other strong allies of Israel, even the United States, have strongly condemned the Israeli plan to build 3,000 settler homes in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, Canada refused to directly criticize the plan.
The Jerusalem Post says that Canada is the "gold standard" of support for Israel:
"There is not a government on the planet today more supportive of Israel than Harper's Canada."
Canada, together with the U.S. with only a few other countries voted against granting Palestine observer status at the U.N. While this marks Canada as one of the few supporters of Israel globally on this issue, Canada has now gone even further to show that it is globally number one as a supporter of Israel.
The White House and State Department both complained that the Israeli announcement would be an obstacle to resuming peace talks. Five European countries have removed their ambassadors from Israel in protest of the new plan. Germany had a "very negative view" of the settlement announcement. The UN has warned that the settlement expansion could be almost fatal to restarting the peace process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Foreign Minister John Baird repeats the official Conservative position continuously as if repeating some prayer ritual:
"Unilateral actions on either side do not advance the peace process."
Baird's office refuses to even say whether the government still adheres to the established policy which is that the settlements are a "serious obstacle" to peace.
A spokesperson for Stephen Harper. Andrew MacDougall, also refused to say whether Harper raised the issue of new settlement construction with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister when he spoke to him on the weekend by telephone. In an emailed response to the question MacDougall said:
"No further comment on the call — the PM's tweet will stand. I can state that Canada's position is that unilateral actions on either side do not advance the peace process."
The prime minister's Tweet was:
"Spoke today to Benjamin Netanyahu, who thanked Canada for its friendship and principled position this week at the UN."
The Canadian response is in contrast to the U.S. which showed particular concern that the building was in part on a patch of land known as E1 just outside Jerusalem. The settlement will make travel from Bethlehem to Ramallah for Palestinians much longer. A settlement in the area will virtually prevent any Palestinian state from having a contiguous border.Jay Carney, the spokesperson for the White House said:
"We urge Israeli leaders to reconsider these unilateral decisions and exercise restraint as these actions are counterproductive and make it harder to resume direct negotiations to achieve a two-state solution."
Mark Toner of the U.S. State Department said that construction in the E1 area:
" particularly sensitive and construction there would be especially damaging to efforts to achieve a two-state solution."
Carney went on to repeat the U.S. "long standing opposition to Israeli settlement activity and east Jerusalem construction." However the Conservative Harper government that holds a similar position now seems unwilling to repeat it in public. The Canadian Foreign Affairs website says:
"As referred to in UN Security Council Resolutions 446 and 465, Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The settlements also constitute a serious obstacle to achieving a comprehensive just and lasting peace."
When Baird's spokesperson was asked whether the government still accepted this position, the response was:
"Unilateral actions on either side do not advance the peace process."
The spokesperson refused to elaborate further. The government simply refuses to repeat what is on its own Foreign Affairs website!
Alex Neve, head of Amnesty International in Canada, urged the government to speak out more forcefully against the expanded settlement plan just as other countries did.
"It's unfortunate to simply characterize this as being a unilateral action. These are human rights violations. These are breaches of international humanitarian law. This isn't simply deciding to do something unilaterally. I think the response from Canada should be equally clear and not left to implicit interpretation as to what Canada is or is not saying, or is or is not concerned about."
Canada's pro-Israeli policy has brought it considerable international attention. There is even an entire article on the subject in Al Jazeera. Even the Israelis make joking remarks about Canada's support for Israel At a reception for John Baird, the Foreign Minister, Likud Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said:
"I think Canada's an even better friend of Israel than we are."
The appended video gives some of the history of Israel Canada relations. Canadian governments have always been pro-Israel but the present government has taken support for Israel to extreme lengths. This support provides Israel with joy and apparently some amusement as well.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Canadian economy slows in third quarter of 2012

In the July-September, third quarter, Canada suffered the largest drop in exports in three years. The economy grew at a 0.6% annual rate compared to 1.7% in the first two quarters.
While Canada has recovered relatively quickly from the recession compared to some other countries, growth has become more sluggish in 2012. and particularly in the last quarter. While the Bank of Canada and many economists had been expecting a slowdown in the third quarter the results were even weaker than expected.
Analysts predicted that even with the slowing economy, the Bank of Canada will still take the position that interest rate hikes may be needed down the road. Michael Gregory, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets said:
"The Bank of Canada bias is very much a long-term bias so it's not going to be changing any time soon. But there is no question the Canadian economy is under-performing a bit here and if this continues past the turn of the year and the whole 'fiscal cliff' in the U.S., we could see a different tone from the Bank of Canada. But it is way too early for that to be happening now."
The Bank has kept the benchmark rate at a low 1% for more than two years now.
The 0.6% growth rate was below a Reuters poll average of 0.9% and the Bank of Canada's forecast of 1%. The U.S. economy did much better during the period at 2.7%. Business investment in Canada actually declined by 0.6% in the third quarter. This is the first decline since 2009 and contrasts with a growth of 1.3% in the first quarter.
Exports were hard hit by the relatively weak growth in the U.S. and problems in Europe. They fell by 2% during the quarter. Consumer spending continues to increase in spite of the high debt load of many Canadians. It grew at the fastest pace in two years rising by almost 4%.
Residential housing construction also declined during the quarter by 4.4%. Tougher mortgage rules may be causing lower demand.
The Bank of Canada is predicting the the fourth quarter will see growth of 2.5% but with these latest figures that may be optimistic. Paul Ferley, an economist at the Royal Bank of Canada said:
"Expectations had been that after a weak third-quarter activity we would bounce back in the fourth quarter. It could still be the case, there were some temporary factors that don't look like they have fully reversed as yet, we may see that in October, but it may limit the rebound in the fourth quarter to something closer to 2 percent."


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Federal food inspectors told to ignore contamination on carcaases not bound for Japan

According to documents obtained by CTV News, Canadian meat inspectors were told to "ignore" contamination on carcasses for domestic consumption but to inspect meat bound for Japan extra carefully.
According to memos sent to inspectors at XL Foods, the plant subject recently to Canada's largest ever beef recall, federal meat inspectors were told to give extra scrutiny for visible and intestinal contamination of the carcasses if the meat was bound for Japan but the contamination could be ignored for meat bound for Canadian consumers.
A memo issued on Sept. 12, 2008 reads:
“Our number 1 priority is to ensure this standard is met with Japan eligible carcasses.When stationed at this position, ensure that non Japan eligible carcasses are not inspected for spinal cord/dura-mater, OCD [other carcass defects] and minor ingesta (Ignore them).”
The memo was sent again to inspectors in 20010 and 2011.
The memo said that contaminants would be detected later in the process. However, the inspector's union told CTV that the position referred to in the memo is at the end of the inspection line.
In early November, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency again cited XL Foods for failing to sufficiently clean meat-cutting areas. The firm also allowed condensation to form on pipes in the tripe room and did not have a high enough temperature of water in a sanitizer. There was also no sanitizer solution at all in mats used to clean employees' boots. A government bulletin said:
“The CFIA instructed plant management to take immediate action to address these concerns. In addition, the CFIA requested the company submit corrective action plans outlining how they will address these issues in the longer term and mitigate future risks.”
The CFIA reports that XL has already corrected immediate problems. A corrective action plan submitted by the company is under review. Now for the rest of the story, which seems not even a subject of debate.
XL Foods reached a deal with JBS in October. The Brazilian-controlled company is the world's largest animal protein processor. JBS will operate the feedlots and processing plants of XL Foods with an option to buy. Bill Rupp, president of JBS's U.S. division said:
“We know full well the commitment it takes to manage world-class operations that produce safe and nutritious products. We believe our experienced team will provide an invaluable asset in the management of XL Lakeside and we look forward to to exploring our options to purchase XL assets in the near future.”
The deal gives JBS an exclusive option to buy the Brooks operations, and packing facilities in Calgary, Omaha, Nebraska and Nampa, Idaho for $100 million. JBS said that under no conditions would JBS assume any XL Foods' debt or liabilities.
Commenting on the decision Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said:“While this is a private business decision, Canadian consumers can be assured the Canadian Food Inspection Agency will enforce the same rigorous food safety standards at the Lakeside facility regardless of the management." Officials of Nilsson Bros Inc., who own XL Foods, could not be reached for comment.
The president of the union local that represents most plant employees welcomed the announcement. He said.
“I’m not normally in favour of foreign control and ownership, but the Nilsson brothers were in over their heads.They can go back to running their ranches now and leave the operation of this plant to someone who knows what they’re doing.”
However, JBS USA has had its own problems with e coli recalls:
On June 24, 2009 the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced that JBS Swift Beef Company, a Greeley, Colo. establishment, recalled approximately 41,280 pounds of beef products that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. By June 30, the recall had risen to over 421,000 pounds
As seen on the video, Bill Rupp of JSB USA thinks that the role of inspection falls on the company not on the government. Gerry Ritz along with the union boss are all relieved that the new boss has such a positive view of food safety, in spite of the fact that this same company has itself been charged in the U.S. and has already had to rectify conditions in the plant it is now running.
Notice that it is U.S. cattlemen who oppose the purchase. Conservative politicians in Alberta, the union head, the minister of agriculture, all applaud the sale.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Vito Rizzuto, Mafia don, called to testify at Charbonneau corruption inquiry in Montreal

A reputed Mafia don, Vito Rizzuto, has been summoned to appear before the Charbonneau Commission that is investigating corruption in Quebec.
Quebec police were able to serve Rizzuto a subpoena on November 19th in Montreal. Rizzuto seems to have been in hiding since he returned to Canada in October after being released from prison in the U.S. Many believe that Rizzuto is head of the Sicilian Mafia in Canada. Sgt. Claude Dennis of the Quebec provincial police only confirmed that Rizzuto was met and the subpoena served.
Rizzuto was known once as Montreal's Teflon Don because of his ability to avoid prosecution. His name has come up several times during discussion of corruption in Quebec's construction industry. Earlier testimony described how construction officials would collude to decide who would win which public contracts and at what price. The Rizzuto family would receive a 2.5 per cent cut of the contracts.
Lino Zambito, a former vice-president of a construction firm, gave testimony that Rizzuto once mediated a conflict between Tony Accurso, a construction magnate, and Transport Quebec. RCMP videos, presented before the commission, show executives handing over stacks of money to Rizzuto's father.
During the period Vito was in jail in the U.S. serving an 8 year sentence for his role in killing three Mafia lieutenants in New York, the family suffered setbacks in Montreal Many of his friends and family disappeared .His son Nick Rizzuto Jr. was gunned down on a Montreal street in 2009. His father, Nicolo Rizzuto Sr., was shot in his home by a sniper the next year Many of his associates are behind bars.
It remains to be seen how cooperative Rizzuto will be. In 1974 the Cotroni-Violi family that the Rizzutos supplanted, were uncooperative in an earlier inquiry into Quebec corruption and organized crime. Then boss, Paolo Violi, told the inquiry: "I don't refuse to testify. I have a lot of respect for the court but I don't have anything to say." The court was not impressed and he was sentenced to a year in jail for contempt of court.
Several Quebec politicians have already resigned due to testimony at the investigations including the mayor of Montreal as reported earlier in the Digital Journal.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Prime Minister Harper visits the Philippines

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper arrived in Manila on Friday. He will meet with President Benigno Aquino on Saturday for trade and security talks
Stephen Harper is the first Canadian Prime minister to visit the Philippines in 15 years. He arrived after a six day tour of India. Two-way trade between Canada and the Philippines is just $1.5 billion annually Increasing bilateral trade will be high on the agenda of talks between Harper and the Philippine president.
A special characteristic of the Philippine economy is the revenue received from Filipinos working overseas. The sum last year was more than $20 billion. Filipinos in Canada are a considerable part of those who help their families back in the Philippines.
The Philippines is now the largest source of immigrants to Canada. Tagalog, which along with English is a national language of the Philippines, is the fastest growing language in Canada. Many Filipinos come to Canada to fill low-skilled jobs, often through the temporary foreign worker program. In some cases there have been complaints about abuse by employers. Labour standards are also sometimes said to be ignored. There needs to be more monitoring of the system to assist workers with their rights.
Ethel Tungohan who co-edited a book on Filipinos in Canada said
:"What's missing from the narrative and what's missing from discussions taking place with respect to the relationship between the Philippines and Canada has are clear guidelines and clear parameters for how exactly the labour rights or the human rights of these migrant workers are being protected. That's something a lot of community members would like to hear. Their employers are aware that they really want to stay in Canada and stay working in Canada and they use that as their trump card to ensure that their employees are kept compliant."
A federal online list of abusive employees has not a single person or company name, even though the list was established in 2011. Everything must be excellent!
There are problems on both sides with respect to the caregiver program.. A recent change that requires family to pay up front for the health and transportation costs for incoming caregivers may have contributed to a steep decline in applications for the program from over 20,000 in 2008 to just under 9,000 in 2011. Manuela Hersh of the Association of Nanny Agencies Canada says that many parents do not want to take on this degree of liability when some of the caregivers have no incentive to stay once the family has paid their way here. As Hersh put it:.
"There's still caregivers that are not protected and in bad situations. Then you have the families who complain because now they might be out all this money and have no nanny in place. It's a mess."
I personally know of several Filipinas involved in the program where things have worked out well for the most part.The First Ontario Alliance of Caregivers Canada claims that the Harper government should reduce the processing time for permanent residency status. This move would allow for quicker family reunification.
Chris Thornley, the Canadian ambassador to the Philippines says that Canada is viewed positively as a work destination by the government. Thornley said:
"They're a hard-working people, they don't bring their politics with them, there's no language adjustment issue for them culturally, so I hear this a lot from Filipinos when they go to Canada, how quickly they integrate and what strong citizens they become. So perhaps they're not noticed to the same extent as some of the larger migrant communities that we have in Canada."
However, as Tungohan says, being below the radar often means that Filipinos who need help with labor standards or even having degrees recognized can be a problem:
"Filipinos in Canada are invisible when it comes to policy-making. When it comes to considering the specific needs of the community, Filipinos in Canada are usually lumped in with different types of Asian communities."
Protesters picketed the Canadian Embassy on Friday. Environmental activists were protesting the environmental records of Canadian mining corporations in the Philippines, including a huge spill of 3 to 4 million tons of tailings into the Boac River by a company partly-owned by Placer Dome.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Defeat of Proposition 6 in Michigan will clear way for new Detroit, Windsor bridge

Proposal 6 would have required Michigan residents to vote on any new international crossing to be built between Michigan and Ontario, Canada. The measure was defeated by more than 60%.
Proposal 6 was supported by billionaire Matty Moroun who owns the sole existing bridge, the Ambassador Bridge. The existing bridge is already 83 years old. Moroun spent more than $30 million on advertising to promote voter support for the proposal. If the proposal had passed the requirement for a referendum on any new crossing would become part of the state constitution.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was pleased with the results. From India, where he is on a trade mission, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper praised the decision:
"We're very pleased to see the support of the people of Michigan for the new bridge between Detroit and Windsor, which is very important to the economies of both our countries. I look forward, in particular, to working with [President Barack Obama] on the Beyond the Border initiative, which is obviously very important for the opportunities for Canadians and Americans going forward."
The Canadian minister of transport, Denis Lebel, also applauded the defeat of the proposition: Denis Lebel, minister of transport, infrastructure and communities, also praised the result:
"The defeat of Proposition 6 clears the way for the construction of the new bridge across the Detroit River. This is good news for travellers, workers and industry on both sides of the border, who will benefit from the new publicly owned bridge.The new bridge will attract new investments and business opportunities to boost our local and national economies, and will result in much needed jobs for Ontario and Michigan communities.The new crossing will also increase border capacity to handle future trade and travel growth, and will be built with the security of both our countries in mind."
deal for a new bridge was negotiated back in June of this year. Canada will foot the bill for Michigan's $550 million share of the new one billion dollar publicly owned bridge.
The People Should Decide Group has insisted that Michigan taxpayers will end up paying something for a new bridge. No doubt they will have to pay something for facilities at the end of the bridge where vehicles depart and enter the U.S. Moroun will probably continue to fight against construction of the new bridge in the courts. No doubt competition will force him to lower tolls and with a bridge that is over 80 years old he will also face steep costs of repair to keep the bridge safe.
The bridge is probably a marvelous cash cow for Moroun. In 2010, almost 29,000 trucks crossed the bridge each day. More than 25% of U.S. Canada trade passes over the bridge. Chrysler builds minivans in Windsor Ontario. The company moves thousands of cars and truck across the border and every day has more than 1,600 customs entries. The New Democratic Party MP for Windsor West Brian Masse said that Moroun could spend $30 million to promote opposition to the new bridge showed that he kept tolls too high. Masse said:
"The actual government on the Canadian side needs to actually start regulating their toll rates because we have the highest toll rates in Ontario for a bridge that has the highest volumes. I can't understand why we continue to allow that situation to exist when it's clear that volume should actually dictate price, and we should actually be reducing the rates."
The Canadian ambassador to the U.S., Gary Doer, has spoken out against Proposition 6. Doer said:
"Two bridges are better than one, for two-way trade, for security, for reliability. When you look at the proposal that the prime minister and the governor of Michigan came forward with, it cuts out a lot of traffic lights in Windsor. So that's good for the environment and for traffic on our side of the border.And it's got the support of all the Great Lakes states and provinces."
Both Chambers of Commerce and also some unions support a new bridge. Both groups hope the bridge will help promote trade and new jobs.Windsor Ontario has the highest unemployment rate in Canada.
Sandy Baruah, who is the CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce said that the result sends a clear message from the citizens of Michigan.
"Matty Moroun and the Ambassador Bridge Company ran an entire campaign and spent $31-plus million saying 'the People Should Decide.' Now, it'll be up to them to determine if they're going to honour that word — the people have clearly decided that they reject that proposal and that they want this bridge."
Perhaps, it is time for Moroun to retire with his billions. However, no doubt he will have a few more years without competition.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Harper has his own two Canadian armoured vehicles in India visit

Stephen Harper, the Canadian Prime Minister, shipped two armoured cars to India for the use of himself and his entourage, including an armoured Cadillac.
While visiting the city of Agra, Harper was driven around in a black Sport Utility Vehicle with Ontario licence plates. No doubt this would be a novelty in India! When he arrived in New Delhi, he was transferred to a black armoured Cadillac sedan.
When reporters asked about the reason for shipping these armoured vehicles to India for the visit, the Prime Minister's Office referred them to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Spokesperson, Cpl. Lucy Shorey responded with a statement:
"The deployment of RCMP resources are dictated by operational requirements, including public and officer safety considerations, and a threat assessment of the events/environments.For security reasons, details on the security plans will not be discussed."
The prime minister has also used his own vehicles in visits to Haiti and Afghanistan. However, in a recent trip to Kinshasa in the Congo he was seen being driven around in a Toyota Forerunner that did not seem to be from Canada. Ordinarily, on his Indian visit, he would be driven around in a Hindustan Motors Ambassador. Probably the government provided transportation would be free, but traveling in imported armoured cars no doubt will cost the Canadian taxpayer a pretty penny.
Perhaps Harper is trying to keep up with the U.S. president. Barack Obama flies in his own armoured vehicles when he goes on foreign trips. He used them even when he visited Canada back in 2009.
Andrew MacDougall, spokesperson for the prime minister, said that the total price for these security measures will be disclosed once it is known. He said:
"I don't have the costs in front of me. We won't know that for a while."
Security for Harper was tightened even during trick or treating . Children had to pass through metal detectors and leave their plastic swords etc. at the checkpoint at the end of the drive before getting their goodies at the Prime Minister's residence at 24 Sussex Drive in Ottawa.
While in India, Harper at a business round-table in New Delhi, touted 14 new trade and investment agreements which he claimed "demonstrate the increasing depth of the Canada-India relationship." International Trade Minister Ed Fast said that $2.5 billion in new business deals with India are planned although some are still in the form of memoranda of understanding. Harper has been trying to diversity Canadian exports so as to take advantage of developing Asian markets. He has also encouraged Asian capital to invest in Canada.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Conservative Intergovernmental Affairs Minister has election finance problems

Records obtained by the CBC(Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) suggest that Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Peter Panashue received an illegal corporate donation.
There was a single cheque issued by Pennecon Ltd. a St. John's Newfoundland construction company for $5,500 dollars. Corporate donations are illegal in Canada. However, a separate receipt was issued for each of six board members of the company. These receipts ranged from $550 to the maximum personal contribution of $1,100. These personal donations are eligible for a tax refund and are quite legal.
Records obtained by CBC News appear to indicate the campaign of federal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Peter Penashue deposited a single cheque from Pennecon but wrote separate receipts to the board members for the donation. In the minister's election file there is a single line for the deposit by Pennecon of $5,000 and no separate board member donations are listed.
The individual receipts were all mailed to Pennecon and only one receipt listed a different mailing addres.. A spokesperson said that it is up to a client whether they want to lsit cheques separately or as a single item on a deposit slip.
The company said that it was conducting an internal review and cooperating with Elections Canada in its investigation. The company issued a statement which said:
"In recent days questions have arisen concerning contributions made by some Pennecon Limited executives to the 2011 federal campaign of Mr. Peter Penashue. Pennecon has been in contact with Elections Canada to offer its full co-operation in responding to any questions that the office may have.Pennecon and its executives place a high priority on ethical and transparent practices. It is assessing the current situation and conducting an internal review."
spokesperson for Penashue. Cory Hann, said:
"The minister was very clear during his campaign that no corporate donations would be accepted, and that donations to his campaign were to be personal donations made by individuals."
Documents in Penashue's Elections Canada file show his 2011 campaign would have spent over $24,000 in flights but he was able to make a deal with an airline in his riding that wrote off most of that amount. If he had paid market prices he would have overspent by over twenty per cent of what is allowed.
Penashue brokered a deal with Innu Mikun airlines and Provincial Airlines to provide both Penashue and his family for unlimited air transportation during the election period for a lump sum payment of $7,000. Any deduction from fair market value for transportation must be counted as a campaign contribution. Penashue was already $4,000 over his spending limits even after the airline deal. Penashure won his riding by only 79 votes.
Penashue also had close financial ties with an Innu development company, the Innu Development Limited Partnership. The company loaned Penashue $25,000 for campaign expenses after several checks issued by his campaign officials had bounced. The CEO of the development company at the time was Paul Rich, Penashue's brother-in-law. Innu Mikun airlines is co-owned by the Innu Development Limited Partnership. No doubt all these generous gestures during the campaign will need to be returned now that Penashue is a federal minister.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Recession leads to steep decline in quality of life in Canada

The Canadian Well-being index shows that since the onset of the recession between 2008 and 2010, the quality of life deteroriated by 24%. Canada's GDP, in contrast, declined by only 8.3% during the same period.
The Canadian Well-being Index compilation is led by researchers at the University of Waterloo, Roy Romanow, former NDP premier of Saskatchewan, co-chairs the advisory group to the researchers.
Between 1994 and 2010 the Canadian GDP rose 29% but the Well-being Index grew only 5.7% during the same period. Romanow said:
"When Canada's economy was thriving, Canadians only saw modest improvements in their overall quality of life.But when the economy faltered, our well-being took a disproportionate step backward."
The report itself noted:
"Despite years of prosperity, our economic growth has not translated into similar significant gains in our overall quality of life,.Even more concerning is the considerable backslide Canadians have experienced since 2008."
Economists often measure economic progress simply in terms of increases in GDP. However, Romanow and his co-chair, Monique Begin, say in the introduction to their report:
"GDP tells us nothing about our people, our environment, our democracy, or other aspects of life that matter to Canadians."
Among the worrying trends are a long term decline in environmental quality, and less leisure time. As well, there was a sudden drop in living standards when the recession hit. However, violent crime and property crime are at their lowest levels since 1994.
Canada has one of the largest ecological footprints in the world per person. However, Peter Kent, the Canadian Environment minister, argues that emissions are starting to fall even as the economy is growing.
The standard of living has been declining considerably since the recession began. The report notes that during the last two years:
"The deterioration experienced by so many Canadians speaks to the growing unease felt across Canada and must be taken into consideration as our governments make decisions on how to steer us forward, particularly given predictions of an extended period of weak economic growth."
Romanow argues:"What we have to do as a nation and society is to develop a consciousness, develop public policies which address this." Harper argues that provinces rather than the federal government are better able to develop social policies to deal with regional variations. However, having national standards such as are associated with the Canada Health Act, would ensure that all Canadians have a certain level of services across the nation Perhaps next year, the group could measure the changes in quality of llife for the one per cent!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Canadian government rejects Petronas takeover bid for Progress Energy

Industry Minister Christian Paradis, announced on Friday that the $5.2 billion offer by Malaysian state-owned oil company Petronas for Calgary-based Progress Energy Resources, had not met Canada's "net benefit test" and therefore will not be approved.
In his statement Paradis said:
"I can confirm that I have sent a notice letter to Petronas indicating that I am not satisfied that the proposed investment is likely to be of net benefit to Canada. Due to the strict confidentiality provisions of the [Investment Canada] Act, I cannot comment further on this investment at this time,."
Petronas will have 30 days to make additional representation and to add further undertakings that might alter the decision. After that period, Paradis will confirm his first decision or approve the deal.
Paradis said that Canada had a long-standing reputation for welcoming foreign investment. I just wonder if there is not some static coming from the U.S. about the Harper government welcoming Asian state-owned energy companies investing in Canada. Through NAFTA, the U.S. has special claims on Canadian energy resources. The U.S.may object to Petronas taking over a Canadian energy company. Paradis says that Canada remains committed to an open climate for foreign investment in Canada.
The specific aspects of NAFTA related to oil and gas exports to the U.S. can be found at this government site. The Council of Canadians has often criticized the arrangements: “NAFTA prevents us from selling our energy resources at rates lower than we sell them in the U.S. We also can’t ever cut back on the proportion of energy we produce and sell to the United States, even in times when our country runs short.”
The decision on Petronas comes as the Harper government is also reviewing a takeover bid by CNOOC, a Chinese state-owned oil company. The $15.1 billion takeover bid is for Calgary-based Nexxen Inc. Paradis announced on Oct. 11 that he had extended that review for thirty days and might even extend it further.
The recent nationalistic noise by Canadian opposition parties about foreign investment is a bit bizarre since much production is already foreign owned. Any national oil policy died with the Trudeau Liberal government and no one, at least in Alberta, is crying over that!
Oil sands production, just to give an example, is already 71% foreign owned. As I see it, the real debate is to what extent Canada is going to remain bound up with its relationship of prime supplier to the U.S. and a safe source of supply for the giant oil consuming economy to the south. Debate about this is taboo, as far as most public discussion is concerned. Public discussion is about how dangerous it is to Canada's security etc. that we have state-owned entities owning our oil resources, and, in particular, the security risk of dealing with Chinese companies. Apparently, there is no security risk to Canada in being required not to cut back on the proportion of energy we produce and sell to the U.S. if we suffer a shortage.
I have included a news report by Iranian Press TV. While the suggestion of a national state owned oil company proposed in the interviews is certainly a good idea IMHO, the reality is that there is almost no significant public demand for this in Canada. Our supposedly socialist NDP is busy complaining about the Chinese takeover bid for Nexxen but it is not asking for the government to takeover Nexxen, as that would be much too radical a move.

Friday, October 19, 2012

CRTC rejects $3.4 billion takeover bid by BCE for Astram Media

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission rejected the Bell $3.4 billion deal to buy Astral Media. The Canadian regulatory commission claims that the deal would give BCE too much market power and threaten competition in the media.
The CRTC rejected the proposed deal unconditionally. Many analysts thought that the deal would go through but with conditions attached.
Jean-Pierre Blais, chair of the CRTC said:
"BCE failed to persuade us that the deal would benefit Canadians. It would have placed significant market power in the hands of one of the country’s largest media companies. We could not have ensured a robust Canadian broadcasting system without imposing extensive and intrusive safeguards, which would have been to the detriment of the entire industry."
The proposed deal was one of the largest takeovers ever sent to the CRTC. It was also the first major decision for newly installed commissioner Blais. If the deal had been approved, BCE would have owned 107 radio stations, two national television networks and 49 pay channels as well. Its share of the English TV sector would have been a whopping 42 percent. In the radio sector, BCE would have 25 per cent of revenues. It would be larger than the next two biggest competitors together.
Blais noted that BCE had not made any commitments to local programming or local artists, activities the CRTC would like to see promoted. In TV, BCE would have had about 45% of viewing share in English, and 35% in French.
The CRTC was concerned that BCE would have even more influence in negotiating its share of must-carry services with distributors. The CRTC also thought that BCE would increase its presence in premium content containing exclusive and/or live programs that would be unavailable elsewhere. The CRTC said that BCE did not show that it needed to be larger to compete with foreign services.
Competitor Rogers, which had opposed the deal, commended what it called the courageous decision of the CRTC. Gavin Graham of Graham Investment Strategies said:
“I was very surprised. The expectation here was fairly widespread they would approve it with some restrictions.”
Although competitors Rogers, Telus, and Quebecor had all joined in opposing the deal, Calgary-based Shaw Cable was for it. Shaw president, Peter Bisonnette said the real threat in Canada is not large Canadian players such as BCE would be, but online services such as Netflix and Apple TV. He said:
"We urge the commission to support our efforts to respond to the real competitive threat to the system — unregulated, foreign (over the top services) like Apple, Google, Amazon and Netflix."
BCE has 30 days to appeal the ruling to the Federal Court of Appeal. As an alternative, BCE could change the proposal and apply again for approval.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Peter Mansbridge and Stratford Crew Do Gangnam Style Parody

Peter Mansbridge, the anchor of the CBC National news report, takes part in an parody of the famous, Gangnam Style, South Korean pop single by singer PSY.
Parodies of the South Korean pop song, Gangnam Style, are legion. Digital Journal has reports on two political versions. One features Mitt Romney and another Barack Obama. .
There are also parodies that feature cartoon characters and even North Korea. Now the veteran CBC news announcer has entered the fray. He does his best, together with members of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, including cast and crew of 42n Street and The Pirates of Penzance. On his Twitter account , that has a link to the video,Mansbridge says:
"Be kind. I know I can't dance or sing but it's all good fun for a great Festival Theatre!"
He is a keen critic of his own performance!
The CBC has a list of the top ten parodies of the Gangnam Style.together with links to the videos. Number one on the list is Lifeguard Style.
group of lifeguards in El Monte, Calif., produced this video at the public pool as a way to remember the summer before going back to school. The city did not appreciate attention the video brought to the city or the use of the public pool to make the video. The lifeguards and the pool manager were all fired. They should have received an award instead.
According to the participants :*All footage was recorded off the clock during breaks and free time.* However, on Sept. 5, 2012 city supervisors fired the group for using a public facility for private purposes and wearing their uniforms in public while off duty. The group were told unofficially that their music was disgusting and embarassing to the city!
Another parody uses the mascot of the U. of Oregon athletics the Duck in their Oregon Duck Style. This video was done with iPhones!

UPDATE: There is a report today (Oct. 17) that the lifeguards fired over their video have been rehired.

Monday, October 8, 2012

PBO head Kevin Page at loggerheads with Harper government

Kevin Page, the Parliamentary Budget Officer and the Conservative government of Stephen Harper face a showdown. Page gave officials in 56 departments until this Wednesday to provide him with information about cuts and savings in the budget.
In March of 2008 Page was appointed Parliamentary Budget Officer. In 2006 the Conservative leader, Stephen Harper, ran on an accountability theme. For the most part, the Conservative government has failed to be accountable whenever possible. However, Harper did create the PBO or Parliamentary Budget Office as part of his promise to make government more accountable, even though he gave the office less power and independence than many advocates of the office wanted.
Kevin Page was regarded as a safe choice for head of the PBO when he was appointed in March of 2006. Page had spent 27 years as a behind-the-scenes-economist in the government. Top-level Conservatives found him acceptable. Page had even worked closely with Harper as a key economic policy assistant in 20006 and 20007. When Page started to take a combative position in opposition to the Conservative government, many were taken by surprise. Now Page has become a constant thorn in the side of the government. He takes accountability seriously!
As the appended video shows, Page does not shrink from saying exactly and succinctly what he thinks When he is asked whether he thinks that the government was trying to mislead the public about the costs of the F35 jets Canada is planning to purchase, Page simply replies: "Yes". Ordinarily, reporters would be treated to a long song and dance that evades answering the question.
Page is now threatening to take the government to court if he does not receive the information he has requested from departments by Wednesday. The Treasury Board President, Tony Clement, claims that Page is operating outside his mandate. He even says that he is quite ready to make this argument before a court. This certainly shows that the Conservative government is trying its very best to narrow the range of its accountability as much as possible. According to Clement, Page's job is restricted to looking at what the government actually spends money on, not what it doesn't.
Page, on the other hand, points out that often what money is not being spent on, is as important as what it is being spent on. The recent food beef recall associated with cuts to the Canada Food Inspection Agency's budget is a good example of Page's point. The information that Page is requesting on budget cuts is another prime example. We will see on Wednesday whether Page gets his way or if the government challenges him.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Complaint that Harper nude painting is sexual harassment is dismissed

The complaint by Albertan Curtis Stewart alleged that a nude painting of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was sexual harassment.
The painting called "Emperor Haute Couture" by Kingston artist Margaret Sutherland made headlines back in May this year when it was displayed in a Kingston library. The artist painted the nude as a satire after she was peeved by a number of Harper government moves, including the elimination of the long term census and the closure of some prison farms.Sutherland said:
“The political message is to look for yourself and don’t necessarily believe the party line."
The title of the painting, Emperor Haute Couture carries a satirical reference to the fairy tale "The Emperor's New Clothes," in which a vain king parades around naked. The painting was sold to an unknown buyer for the asking price of $5,000 in late May.
Curtis Stewart filed the complaint in May shortly after the nude was first displayed and caused an uproar. In the complaint Stewart says:
"How do I explain this to my daughter that it is OK for anyone to do a non-authorized nude portrait of the leader of Canada and put it on display in a very public place where school-aged children come by the busload to visit?"
Kingston claimed that the painting was not a portrait but a satirical and imaginary depiction of Harper.
When children's events were scheduled in the room where the portrait was displayed, Stephen Harper was covered up. The prime minister's office was also critical of the painting but in a less moralistic manner. In a Twitter post the Prime Minister's Office tweeted:
“On the Sutherland painting: we’re not impressed. Everyone knows the PM is a cat person.”
This is true enough. Of course there were many witty responses from opposition politicians including Liberal MP Scott Brison who said that this was one case when a Conservative cover-up was needed.
In June, the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal sent Stewart a notice that it would dismiss the application because it was outside its jurisdiction to decide on the issue. Stewart had until July 19 to respond but he failed to do so. As a result, the tribunal dismissed the case on September 19. Perhaps Curtis just wanted to vent his anger rather than pursue the case.