Sunday, April 29, 2012

New wave of job cuts in public service announced

The extent of public service cuts is gradually becoming known as employees receive notice that their jobs will be impacted by the government's spending cuts. This is the third wave of letters and involves six federal departments.

Even diplomats and embassy staff will be facing cuts. Four Canadian trade consulates in the U.S. and seven of 18 international trade offices in Canadian cities will shut their door as of next week.

Unions representing five other departments received notice of coming job cuts on Friday. The departments are: Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, Human Resources and Skills Development, Library and Archives Canada, Statistics Canada and Transport Canada.

The head of the Canadian Association of Professional Employees said:"These cuts are not necessary, but for ideological reasons only," The CAPE group represents 14,000 employees including economists,, statisticians, translators, and others.

These notices come just as the PSAC (Public Service Alliance of Canada) begins a week long convention in the capital Ottawa. The 500 plus delegates will be discussing the impact of the government cuts on their 172,000 members as well as electing new officers.

It is estimated that balancing the books by 2015-2016 as planned by the government will result in slow growth and the loss of 108,000 jobs. In the recent budget the government announced that it will cut 19,200 public service jobs over the next three years saving 5.2 billion dollars. Of course the costs that government might face through disasters caused by cutting in areas such as food inspection are not factored in! For more see this article.

Soviet era Ladas cease production in Russia

The original Ladas were based upon the Italian Fiat 124. They were cheap, utilitarian, autos. Many were exported and earned the Soviet Union hard currency.
The Ladas were the butt of many jokes about their reliability. However, many owners liked them. A Russian immigrant I knew who always had one claimed they were easy to fix for most problems. There were not that many sold in Canada and the dealer network was weak. I see one quite rarely in my area now. The 4x4 Niva was more popular than the car in these parts.
The car was very much out of style for years. However, now that they are going out of production they will probably become collector items. I enclose a short video. For more see this article. The company that produced the Lada Avtovaz will still produce other models.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Students continue tuition hike protests in Montreal (April 27)

In spite of the government offering concessions students were out again last night in Montreal protesting with chants that there was no offer just an insult. The students are demanding a freeze at the least whereas the government is not granting that.

The student protests have actually helped the popularity of the unpopular premier Jean Charest. His position on hiking tuition is supported by about 60 per cent of the populace. Even a number of students want the protests to stop and oppose them. There is however a long tradition of student strikes in Quebec. In 1968 strikes managed to achieve a tuition freeze that has only recently been breached.

Among the government concessions is to spread the tuition increase of $ 1,625 over 7 years rather than five. They would also put more funds into bursaries and loans. The Quebec fees at present are the lowest in Canada. Some U.S. students attend McGill because even though they pay about 15,000 per year about 8 times what a Quebec student pays it is still cheaper than an Ivy League college but with comparable quality of education. Protests obviously depend upon local policies. No doubt in Finland where university education is free students would protest if any fees were introduced. In the U.S.students have faced escalating fees and increased debt loads for years but the increases just keep on.

Students protest almost every day in Montreal often tying up traffic. The premier has refused to meet with protest leaders but he is now negotiating in the press obviously.

Student leaders will meet with their members this weekend and votes will be taken to see if there is support for the government offer. Almost 170,000 students have been out of class for months. For more see this article.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Montreal drug raid linked to Mafia ring

Police in Quebec raided places in Montreal, Laval, and also Longueuil in a drug bust on Thursday. The anti-gang squad raids claimed to have struck a cocaine ring linked to the Mafia. Eleven arrests were made.

The raids on 18 different locations yielded drugs, money, and a number of weapons. The investigation into the ring had begun last fall.

Charges of drug trafficking, conspiracy, and weapons offenses are expected to be laid today against those arrested. For more see this CBC article.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

How much revenue will new Ontario tax on rich raise?

In order to pass their budget in the province of Ontario the minority Liberal government made a deal to impose a 2 per cent surtax on those earning more than 500,000 a year in return for support from the New Democratic Party. The Liberals say the increased revenues will go to reduce the 15 billion dollar provincial deficit. However, there is considerable debate about how much the new tax will actually generate.

Kevin Milligan an economics prof. at the U. of B.C. said: "We're still going to raise revenue from this new tax. But it just might not be as much as the Liberals or NDP hope," This is hardly surprising since politicians are apt to be too optimistic when calculating such revenues. However, the rich are also well endowed with tax avoidance experts.

Not only may the rich find loopholes to negate the increase but they may be able to move income out of Ontario and thus frustrate the intended effect of the new tax. Even so some increase in revenue is better than none and perhaps we should count in the increased payments for tax experts who may then spend more!

Other jurisdictions such as the U.S. are attempting to introduce more taxes on the rich. In the U.S. Obama is plumping for the Buffet rule that would see a 30 per cent tax on the very rich. So far the Republicans have managed to frustrate attempts to pass such a tax.

However, Obama's proposal is timid compared to that of Francois Hollande the front runner in the race for the French presidency. He has suggests there be a 75 per cent tax on millionaires. '

The UK government had a top tax rate of 50 per cent but lowered it claiming that it did not increase revenue. Perhaps the revenue refers to donations to the political campaigns of the ruling parties as well as to the government. The rate has gone down to 45 per cent. For much more see this CBC article.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Progressive Conservatives win majority again in Alberta

From the polls it looked as if the Wildrose party might win a minority or even majority government. However the polls were wrong. In fact the popular vote was running at almost 44 per cent for the PCs and just around 36 per cent for the Wildrose as I am writing this at just about ten thirty PM central time.

The CBC has just declared that there will be a majority Conservative government even though many ridings are still too close to declare who is elected. But the figures show the situation: The Conservatives are leading in 60 seats the Wildrose in 19 the NDP in 4 and the Liberals in 4. The NDP has doubled their numbers if they actually win whereas the Liberals seem to have lost several seats.

Some Liberal voters may have decided to vote PC to keep the Wildrose out but the NDP vote percentage held. Over the weekend many who earlier intended to vote for the Wildrose must have changed their mind or perhaps the undecided voters chose to vote for the Progressive Conservatives. I did not think that the strategic voting campaign was working but perhaps it did have some effect although not on New Democratic Party voters. The Conservatives have been in power in Alberta for over 40 years.

UPDATE : Results here as of April 24th
Progressive Conservatives elected in 61 seats and leading in one, Wildrose Party elected in 17, NDP elected in 4 and Liberals elected in 4. Popular vote:: PC 43.9 , Wildrose 34.5, NDP 9.8, Liberal 9.6.

Canada: Only the best for our Bev

Canadian Conservative International Development Minister Bev Oda declined to stay in a five star hotel on a conference visit to London England. Instead she booked at another more luxurious hotel at more than twice the cost.

The original hotel Grange St..Pauls was the actual conference site. Oda had staff rebook her into the Savoy Hotel owned by a Saudi Arabian Prince. Six years ago Oda rejected a minivan as transportation and demanded a limousine instead.

Since Oba was now a distance from the conference site she also hired a luxury car and driver to shuttle her from her new hotel to the conference site. This cost another 1,000 a day approximately. The bill at the Savoy was $1995 for three nights plus another $287 for the cancellation at the original hotel..

While paying for Oda the Canadian International Development Agency had cutbacks this year to the tune of 380 million dollars. Documents detailing the expenses were obtained by the press under the Access to Information Act.

A spokesperson said:"These expenses followed the appropriate guidelines; all travel is done in compliance with Treasury Board guidelines. When Minister Oda travels we consider the most appropriate, cost-effective accommodations. On the trip in question, our office followed this procedure." So cancelling out of a five star hotel and booking one at twice the price is cost-effective. No wonder there is a government deficit.

This morning it was announced that Oda reimbursed the government for at least part of the additional expenses. She paid after the news reports not before. So why did she pay when it was cost-effective and appropriate and followed guidelines? For more see this article.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Final polls show Wildrose party still leading in Alberta

While there has been a last minute attempt to persuade those in the center and the left to strategically vote for the Progressive Conservatives to keep out the scary further right Wildrose party there is little evidence it is working as far as polls are concerned. However, as the saying goes it is the final poll at the ballot box that counts.

The very latest polls can be found here at the CBC with a graph showing the historical trends as well. A poll by Leger on the 18th shows the following: Progressive Conservatives 36, Liberals 9 NDP(left) 10 and Wildrose 42. These are vote percentages.

The last poll I can find on April 20 shows: Progressive Conservatives 33, Liberals 11 NDP 11 and Wild Rose 41. There does not seem to be any shift to the Conservatives from the NDP or Liberals so the strategic voting campaign seems to be going nowhere.

For more details on the campaign and the positions of the parties see this CBC report.. Alberta is an oil rich province and has always elected various right wing governments in recent years. The province is dominated by oil interests but there is a great deal of ranching in some rural areas. It is perhaps seen as a sort of Texas north!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Wildrose may be poised to defeat Progressive Conservative dynasty in Alberta

An article in the Globe and Mail argues that the Progressive Conservatives may go down to defeat because they have ignored a central tenet of the the party's success under Peter Lougheed who first brought the party to power more than forty years ago.

While Lougheed was moderately progressive as a conservative he paid attention to his back benchers. He consulted them constantly and on occasion even let them overrule cabinet decisions. It worked to keep harmony for the most part.

However in recent years some back benchers especially in some rural areas have felt left out. Even more dramatic some of the oil patch supporters have been miffed that a former premier Ed Stelmach raised royalties.

The problem as the Globe article sees it is that the Progressive Conservatives had huge support on the right so they tried to keep the left at Bay. In order to do so they adopted more liberal policies that alienated their base. This is a common tactic for parties to remain in power. In the U.S. the Democratic party moves right because the left in the Democratic party have no where to go. The Conservatives moved left slightly to attract and keep votes from going to the Liberals and NDP. However the tactic has backfired and disgruntled conservatives formed the Wildrose party.

While Peter Lougheed the patriarch of the Progressive Conservative party continues to support the party and its leader Alison Redford many federal Conservatives support the Wildrose. The former chief of staff for Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper Tom Flanagan not only supports the Wildrose Party but is manager of Danielle Smith's the Wildrose leader's campaign. We will know on Monday if the Wildroses are more than just a thorn in the side of the ruling Progressive Conservatives.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Montreal fee hike protests turn violent

Hundreds of students protested outside the Palais des Congres. The Quebec Liberal premier Jean Charest was speaking at a symposium on northern development.

Charest's keynote address was delayed when protesters accessed the building and confronted police guarding the meeting. There were injuries to two protesters and two officers and 10 arrests.

Protests have been ongoing for some time sometimes accompanied by violence. Ministers in the government have been threatened. Police used batons, chemical irritants to push students back but eventually resorted to tear gas and concussion grenades.

Demonstrations have been ongoing almost daily. Students have been boycotting classes for almost two months now. Over the next five years the government intends to raise fees by 1625 dollars. Fees in Quebec are at present the lowest in Canada. However, compared to some European countries such as Finland where university education is free they are still high. For more see this article.

Photo removed from public display for depicting reality

Some Muslims are quick to take offense even if the offensive items depict reality. Of course the Pentagon takes similar offense. Recent photos of troops posing with parts of bodies or urinating on corpses should not be published according to many officials.

However the recent outcry about the photo by an art student in Canada who wears a Muslim headdress seems relatively innocuous but is apparently something that should be hidden. So what was the subject of the photo?

The photo in black and white shows a woman in the full Islamic scarf and cloak holding a flower embossed bra while she is folding her laundry. The photo was removed from public display. An education center funded by Saudi Arabia has also gone on record as opposed to the photo. So do Muslim women shy away from buying sexy and attractive lingerie. Not at all.

Banker Reem Assad in Jeddah Saudi Arabia says the market for lingerie in Saudi Arabia was one billion U.S. in 2010. In fact the lingerie industry is thriving more in the Middle East than in North America.

An ad for Motexha which is the largest trade event for garments, textiles, etc. claims that the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia account for 77 per cent of Europe's total lingerie exports.

According to the article here the lingerie portrayed in the photo is quite tame compared to what is worn under the niqab in some parts of the Muslim world. In Syria for example there are Tweety Birds on the crotch that light up, feathers, and buttons to press to hear music. No doubt Syrians have other issues at present that overshadow such frivolities. For more see this article.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Alberta: Polls show Wildrose still ahead of PCs

The right wing Wildrose party is challenging the right wing Progressive Conservative Party in the Alberta election. The Progressive Conservatives have ruled Alberta for four decades!

The parties are both run by women leaders, Danielle Smith for the Wildrose and Alison Redford for the Progressive Conservatives. A poll taken on April 16th by Leger gives the following percentages for the main parties. Liberals 9 per cent, NDP(left) 10 per cent Progressive Conservatives 36 per cent and the Wildrose 42 per cent. See this site..

Seat projections go against the ruling Progressive Conservatives. On April 16th the projections were: Liberal 1, NDP 4, Progressive Conservatives 33, Wildrose 49. See this site.

The Wildrose party has had some problems with two candidates who have had to clarify remarks about race and homosexuality. Smith has tried hard to keep her candidates under control. At a recent leaders debate the Wildrose leader Danielle Smith was heckled the most.

Smith has suggested that the science of global warming is not settled. This brought howls from some in the audience. However the Alberta oil patch supporters may not find this offensive!

There seems to be a stop the Wildrose party campaign. There is even a website entitled: "I Never Thought I'd vote PC". Perhaps some Liberals and NDPers might vote strategically.We will see but the campaign may be a sign of desperation on the part of the Progressive Conservatives. The vote is next Monday. For more see this article.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Russian oil giant and Exxon Mobil plan joint project in Alberta

The Russian oil company Rosneft and the U.S. based global giant Exxon Mobil are teaming up in a joint venture that will involve an oil project in Alberta. However the project will also involve oil exploration and production in Russia as well.

A Rosneft subsidiary RN Cardium Oil will gain a 30 per cent share in the Harmattan acreage in Alberta. The National Energy Board of Canada estimates the formation of which the acreage is part contains about 10.6 billion barrels of oil. The problem is the oil is in very dense rock. However, new technologies may be able to release the oil.

Rosneft hopes that the Alberta investment may eventually help it develop similar unconventional oil reservoirs in Russia as well. Exxon gains from the project since it will gain access to the Russian Arctic and Black Sea. Three key Arctic fields in Russia are thought to contain up to 85 billion barrels of oil equivalent. Russia will take advantage of Exxon's experience and technology in Arctic drilling. For more see this article. Many environmentalists are concerned about drilling for oil in the Arctic.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Harper government shortens and streamlines environmental review process

The Harper government has reduced the number of departments dealing with environmental reviews from 40 to 3. Joe Oliver the Natural Resources Minister claims this will speed up approval of projects that will boost the economy.

In the budget passed on March 29th plans were announced to speed up a "duplicative, cumbersome and uncertain" process projects faced. The government will now move to what it calls a one project one review system. If a provincial review meets the requirement of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act then this review would suffice.

Companies will be pleased as they have been complaining for years about the review process. Some projects take many years for approval.

Opposition MPs and environmental groups said that what Harper called streamlining was in effect gutting the review process. However Oliver said the streamlined process is critical to creating jobs and economic growth. While these are laudable aims it should not be at the expense of the environment and of future generations who must live with the consequences. For much more see this CBC article,.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Early childhood Olympic training (video)

The CBC among many outlets has links to this video of a baby nine month old doing chin-ups. He is probably wanting to watch a video as he shows his strength at the computer desk.

This video is getting plenty of hits on line. It comes complete with music and a barking dog. The dog is probably jealous of the attention the little fellow is getting. See this site and appended video from You Tube.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Harper and Obama support each other at Summit of Americas

Canada and the U.S. stand alone on the issue of excluding Cuba from the Summit of the Americas and the two united also against decriminalizing drugs. The host country and a U.S. ally Colombia spoke out against excluding Cuba. President Juan Santos said that holding another meeting while excluding Cuba would be unacceptable.

Canada and its faithful ally Canada were the only two countries not to lobby for including Cuba. Interesting that a die hard conservative Stephen Harper and liberal Barack Obama see eye to eye on the matter. At one time Canada developed relations with Cuba in spite of U.S. objections. Even now we do not have travel or trade restrictions as does the U.S. Sherrit Gordon mines has extensive investments in Cuba.

Santos said: "The isolation, the embargo, the indifference, the looking the other way don't work," . "It's an anachronism that keeps us anchored in a Cold War era that was overcome decades ago." No doubt the U.S. position has to do with internal politics and expatriate Cuban voters.Canada's position is probably a function of Harper's wanting to curry favor with the U.S.

President Santos also wanted to have a debate on decriminalizing drugs. Stephen Harper said that he would not entertain any policy changes that would decriminalize drugs. In Canada Harper has consistently opposed even harm reduction strategies such as safe injection sites. Obama also claimed that legalization was not the answer. This liberal president again follows the same policies as our reactionary Canadian prime minister.

Harper waas mainly trying to sell Canada as a good source of natural resources for Latin America's growing economies. He stressed the fact that he has streamlined environmental regulations to make it easier and quicker for projects to be approved.

Of course Harper spins his "reforms" positively:"We cannot allow valid concerns about environmental protection to be used as an excuse to trap worthwhile projects in reviews without end," He also noted that Canadian banks were among the strongest in the world.

Meanwhile Latin American leaders have founded their own group that excludes Canada and the U.S. The group is called the Community of Latin American and Caribbean states. No doubt this will be a competitor to the Summit of the Americas In fact a number of nations have said that they will not even come to the next meeting of the Summit of the Americas if Cuba is still excluded. For more see this article.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Former Alberta premier Lougheed supports sagging Tories

Peter Lougheed a former premier of the province of Alberta threw his support behind the Progressive Conservative Party and its leader Alison Redford in the upcoming election. The Conservatives are being out polled by the upstart Wildrose party also on the right of the political spectrum.

Lougheed noted:"This is a harder campaign...because we’ve been there for 40 years and obviously these are difficult and challenging times." The Conservatives have been characterising the Wildrose party as the party from the past with an agenda set by old white guys. Now the Conservatives have the support of an old 83 year old patriarch white guy from the past.

Lougheed became premier in 1971 defeating another right wing party Social Credit. That party had itself ruled Alberta for decades. Now another right wing party is hoping to knock out the Conservatives.

The article here claims that the Conservatives have been trailing or running neck-and-neck.. However recent polls put Wildrose far ahead.. See this site.. As you can see the most recent poll puts the Wildrose party at 46 per cent and the Progressive Conservatives at 29.. There are several other recent polls that put Wild Rose far ahead. The Wildrose leader's campaign has promoted free votes in the legislature so that representatives can represent the opinions of their constituents and also citizen sponsored referenda. The program has popular appeal as a return to grass roots democracy. For much more see the full article.

Seat Projections: There are seat projections at this site. The most recent projections give the NDP 5 seats, Progressive Conservatives 29 seats and Wildrose party 52 seats. Obviously the Conservatives need to turn things around.

Friday, April 13, 2012

RCMP raid head office of SNC-Lavalin in Montreal

The RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) carried out a raid on the offices of Canadian Engineering firm SNC-Lavalin in Montreal. The company confirmed that the RCMP had a search warrant and that the company was cooperating with the police.

The company said: 'The warrant relates to an investigation of certain individuals who are not or are no longer employed by the company.' The company itself had asked for an investigation after two top executives resigned.

Two Vice Presidents and the CEO resigned after an internal audit found 56 million in missing payments. In the background also is an alleged plot to smuggle some members of the Gadaffi family into Mexico. SNC-Lavalin had a number of lucrative contracts in Libya under the Gadaffi regime and some in the firm had connections with Gadaffi relatives.

Cynthia Vanier a Canadian consultant is in jail in Mexico arrested in an alleged plot to smuggle Gadaffi relatives into Mexico. She has been questioned by the RCMP although the police told her she was not a suspect. They are after the former executives it would seem. Vanier has complained about her treatment by Mexican authorities and the lack of any help from the Canadian government.

All this bad publicity has sent shares of the firm downward. For more see this article.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

In Alberta election Progressive Conservatives attack Wildrose on race, age issues

In the Alberta election the long ruling Progressive Conservatives are trailing in the polls against the Wildrose party. Both are on the right and both have women as leaders. In desperation the ruling right wing party is accusing their opponents of having an agenda that is being set by old white guys.

While it is true that Danielle Smith's Wildrose party does have more support among men than women, it is also true that those old white guys elected a woman as leader. In Calgary where the Wildrose has much more support than in Edmonton old white guys must have helped elect a Muslim mayor Naheed Nenshi. The city is known more for the Calgary stampede than for electing minorities to office but nevertheless it is a fact! He was elected because he was young, has lots of ideas and was pro-business!

Tom Olsen a Tory strategist said:"I'll tell you exactly what I'm saying: This is the party of yesterday. This is the party of the middle-aged male who has lost control of the Progressive Conservatives because they have moved forward." The Wildrose house leader Rob Anderson said the Progressive Conservatives sound hysterical:"They sound utterly hysterical. It's literally like watching grown men and women in tinfoil hats running around yelling: 'The end is near! The end is near!'"Danielle and the caucus have been clear from the day Danielle was elected leader: the Wildrose will not be legislating on any of these contentious moral issues, period."

The Conservatives have even carried the race age issues into their newspaper ads. Perhaps the campaign will work but I would not be surprised if it backfires. After all it is the Progressive Conservatives who have long been the establishment not the Widlrose party. For more see this article.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Up to 100 jobs may be cut at Canada Food Inspection Agency

In 2008 the government hired 70 new food inspectors after a listeriosis outbreak at a Maple Leaf meat processing plant was linked to 20 deaths. This seems now to be forgotten as up to 100 jobs may be cut in the agency according to the union representing workers at the agency.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is expected to receive notices that 308 employees in all will have their jobs impacted by planned cuts. Once a letter is received a process kicks in that could see the person be moved to another position within the department or even be transferred to a job in another department.

Bob Kingston a union representative said:"This decision will make the inspector shortage worse, not better. And because the government has failed to consult its own inspectors, they are cutting food safety blindly with little understanding of the consequences," He continued:"The federal government is turning its back on consumers with these cuts, taking food safety professionals out of the field. With no cop in the rear view mirror, food companies will have greater latitude to play fast and loose with our safety,"

 For more see the full article. While no doubt the union position is based upon protecting its own workers the facts speak for themselves

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

CBC funding to be cut and jobs lost

The CBC funding has been declining for some time now. The broadcaster is disliked by many conservatives. It is often called the Communist Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). The company is noted for some excellent documentaries and programs but as it has had to become more dependent upon ads for funding IMHO it has declined in quality.

The CBC has both English and French services. The English services will lose 86 million from its budget including 256 full time jobs.

There will be cuts to programming including six less series. With 175 less hours one can expect repeats. Altogether the budget cuts 115 million from the budget over three years.

CBC news will lose 88 jobs and cut 10 million from its budget.There will be fewer documentaries and both South American and African bureaus will be closed. The CBC will not get a Canadian perspective on events in those areas.

The CBC has often published exposes of government as well as corporate Canada. The Harper Conservative government and many of his supporters do not like that one little bit. Many are opposed to any publicly funded media period. For more see the full article.

Things have changed as in 1932 during the establishment of the CBC Conservative Prime Minister R.B. Bennett said; "I cannot think that any government would be warranted in leaving the air to private exploitation and not reserving it for use of the people." See this article.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Fidel Castro on Stephen Harper's Illusions

A CBC report here by David Common comments on Fidel Castro.s recent remarks called ""Stephen Harper's Illusions". Common trying to be fair and balanced calls the remarks a rant. While it is true that it is rambling and sometimes polemical the meaning of most of it is not difficult to grasp. The parts critical of the environmental records of Canadian companies in South America are certainly not off base.

There is a video interview with John Kirk a professor of Latin American Studies at Dalhousie which is far more balanced and informative than Common's commentary. Among the comments on the Common's piece is this:"Did anybody actually read Castro's writing? Whether you agree with it or not, what Castro was getting at is really simple to understand." This commentator gives a link to Castro's actual remarks translated into English. You can read for yourself.

David Common finds Castro's ending bewildering and apparently not connected to anything. Here is a quote from Common's article.

""The topic, it seems, is the upcoming Summit of the Americas that Cuba has evidently not been invited to.

"Who could hold back from laughing?" Castro poses, "We must hurry up and tell Harper."

Tell him what exactly? ""

Apparently the meaning of the rambling old man escapes Common who surely must have all his faculties but somehow misses what Castro implies in his ending. Harper has the illusion that he is accepted as an equal by the U.S. But when push comes to shove and Canada is no longer of use to the U.S. or goes against U.S. policy--not a likely scenario under Harper-- he will find out he is not. No doubt the U.S. president could wear a beaver skin hat made in Canada to the summit of the Americas but Harper would not be invited to the meeting. Here is what Castro said on the issue. This puts the Harper ending in the context necessary to understand what it implies.

"""The guayabera shirts to be worn by Obama in Cartagena has become one of the main issues covered by the news agencies: "Edgar Gomez [...] has designed one for the U.S. President, Barack Obama, who will be wearing it during the Summit of the Americas," said the daughter of the designer, who added: "It is a white, sober guayabera, with a handiwork that is more striking that usual..."

Immediately after that, the news agency added that the Caribbean shirt was first made by the banks of the Yayabo River in Cuba; that is why they were originally called yayaberas.

The curious thing about this, dear readers, is that Cuba has been forbidden to attend that meeting, but not the guayaberas. Who could hold back from laughing? We must hurry up and tell Harper. ""

 Actually there are many views as to where these shirts originated. Some say the Pbilippines, others Mexico, others still Spain. At any rate they are quite popular in those countries as well as Cuba. See this wikipedia entry. Certainly Castro has to tell us a story to together with his message but it is hardly that opaque and it fits in quite well with the title Stephen Harper's Illusions.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Wildrose party surges ahead in Alberta provincial election

The incumbent Progressive Conservative party is falling further behind the Wildrose party in recent polls. Both parties are on the right and both are led by women.

A Leger Marketing survey shows the Wildrose party gaining support in the second week of the campaign. Wildrose led by Danielle Smith received 41 per cent to 34 per cent for the Progressive Conservatives led by Alison Redford. The leftist New Democratic Party has only 12 per cent and behind them the Liberals have just 10 per cent. In Edmonton the NDP was doing well at 20 per cent versus about 7 per cent in Calgary.

There are still 22 per cent of voters undecided. The undecided voters were leaning equally toward the Wildrose and Progressive Conservatives. The are still over two weeks left in the campaign.

The polling reveals a split between the two largest cities Edmonton and Calgary. The Conservatives continue to lead the Wildrose in Edmonton in the north but are far behind in Calgary in the south of the province.

In Edmonton the PC's have 37 per cent while the Wildrose has only 25 per cent. In Calgary the situation reverses with Wildrose aat 47 per cent and PCs at just 34 per cent. Rural areas are overwhelmingly for the Wildrose at 54 per cent and just 30 for the PCs. The situation has changed dramatically just within a couple of months. Earlier Redford was by far the most popular choice of leader when compared to Danielle Smith. Only 3 out of ten voters polled wanted the present Conservative government to be reelected.

The Wildrose leader actually receives more support from men than women. 35 per cent to 22 percent. Redford has about equal support. The full report is here. For more on the election and issues see this article. Both leading parties are promising goodies. Alberta is one of the richer provinces as it has vast oil resources. Conservative parties have ruled the province for decades.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Conservative government cuts Internet access program

The Community Access Program(CAP) costing 15 million enabled people to access the Internet at libraries and community centers. The access was either free or very low cost.

A Nova Scotia representative of CAP said:"Basically, Industry Canada has said it has achieved its purpose and the CAP program is being terminated," "I was really shocked." He said that he had been trying to find out the status of the program for months but received no answers. Such a response would be typical for this government. The representative said that he hoped he could have some discussion before a decision was made. That is the last thing that the government wants.

The program paid for web connections, rent in community centers, coordinators and technical support.The representative said many CAP sites will simply close. The sites that remain will not be able to offer help to people or update equipment.

CAP sites also helped people with tax forms. He noted that many cannot afford a computer or high-speed Internet and many also need help filling out government forms on line. Often government departments tell clients to go on line to fill out or download forms.

I personally used a local CAP site when I had a single computer. When I had any troubles I could just access the site. This is a Conservative government and for them the fewer government services the better. It will leave more in taxpayers pockets as the saying goes. Especially the one per cent.! For more see this article.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Mark Carney: Excessive household debt could threaten economy

Mark Carney Bank of Canada governor said that if excessive household debt threatened the economy he would act. Ten per cent of Canadians could be unable to meet their mortgage payments if interest rates increased to more normal rates says Carney.

Carney remarked:"In exceptional circumstances, if there are issues that threaten financial stability, such as household debt ... the bank could use monetary policy for that purpose," Most economists think that the Bank of Canada will keep interest rates at one per cent for some time yet as the economic recovery remains fragile. However there were good job numbers for the month of March many times the predicted amount. Perhaps this indicates the economic recovery is being sustained. The interest rate at present is far below the inflation rate.

At present household debt is 150 per cent of income. Carney claims this is unsustainable. Carney said:"We have never been as indebted as we are today as individuals," If Carney does decide to raise interest rates this could cause problems for those barely able to pay their mortgages now. See this article for more.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Budget cuts will mean loss of many public sector jobs

The PSAC (Public Service Alliance of Canada) a union that serves many public sector workers lists some of the areas and services that will face significant cuts as the Conservative government takes steps to reduce the deficit. The group claims that there will be tens of thousands of job losses.

Exactly where the cuts will be remains to be set out in many cases. There are to be very large cuts in the Dept. of National Defence but all on the civilian side. As a result services that are supportive of troops may very well be cut. Over a billion dollars is to be cut. There are to be cuts in Veterans Affairs as well 66 million added to a previous cut of 266 million. The government is always touting how marvelous our troops are but when they become veterans benefits are cut.

Agriculture Canada and Agri-food receive a ten per cent budget cut. Worst of all there will be 56.1 million cut from the food inspection agency an agency that is already woefully understaffed. With weakened inspections Canadians could face increased health risks.

Finally 183.2 million is cut from Human Resources and Skill Development a sector that already has backlogs because of staff shortages. Among the clients are seniors, and the unemployed. For more see the entire article here.

Harper closes down RIghts and Democracy agency

The Rights and Democracy agency has the job of monitoring human rights abroad and promoting democracy. The agency was actually created by another Conservative government in 1988. The Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird confirmed the agency would be closed down.

Baird noted:"For some time, the many challenges of the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development (also known as Rights and Democracy) have been well publicized," ."It is time to put these past challenges behind us and move forward."

The internal fights in the organization were fostered by appointments made by the same Conservative Harper government that now is closing the group down. In particular the Harper government goes after any group critical of Israel's human rights record.

A new chairman appointed by the Conservatives complained that organizations that had received grants were tied to terrorism. Employees revolted, said they had no confidence in the chair and asked him to resign. No need. Not being able to satisfactorily control the organization and after poisoning the atmosphere the Harper government will now put it out of its misery and move on.

In spite of not supporting euthanasia Harper think it is OK for government agencies. The Conservative government has cut the funding of other groups it does not like such as the Canadian Council for International Cooperation and KAIROS. For more see this article.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Canada fifth happiest country in the world according to World Happiness Report

The Earth Institute a think tank at Columbia University has released its first ever World Happiness Report. According to the report Canada is the fifth-happiest country in the world.

Surprisingly the top 3 are all those dark and dreary northern Scandinavian countries: Denmark, Finland, and Norway in that order.. Then comes the Netherlands close by Denmark. Canada is the happiest outside of Europe. The U.S. missed the top ten and came in at a relatively gloomy eleventh.

The happiest countries are among the wealthier countries and the least happy: Togo, Benin, Central African Republic are among the poorer countries. For much more and a slide show of the happiest countries see this article.

Monday, April 2, 2012

New Democrat quits Twitter for good

New Democratic Party MP Charlie Angus logged off Twitter for good late last month. Angus complained about the dumbed-down nature of the Twitter conversations.

Angus had been tweeting for about a year and a half before he decided to quit. Angus claims that only about 5 per cent of what he read was worth reading. One positive aspect of Twittering was that it helped bring attention to a housing crisis in his constituency at the Attawapiskat First Nation. However he also read a great number of tweets that were inane, mean-spirited or even racist. One person tweeted that they hoped the people at Attawapiskat froze to death.

Angus noted that Twitter took up time that he could have used to better use by having real conversations, responding to emails or doing other more productive tasks. Angus represents Timmins-James Bay a vast northern Ontario riding. Angus continues to use Facebook to communicate with constituents. While he enjoys Facebook because he is dealing with real people. Angus notes:: “I think new media has a really important role to play but more and more Twitter, again, it’s like being badgered by a drunk on a 24-hour bus ride.” For more see this Globe and Mail article.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Canada: 280,000 skilled worker applications to be wiped out by Immigration Dept.

If a business had huge lineups and long waits for service they would have more staff at more checkouts. That is not the way the government works. The government just lets the lines get longer and longer and the wait times longer and longer. If you complain you are likely to get your file put at the bottom of the pile. Now the lines and waits are impossibly long the solution is to just tell the people they will not be processed at all. Start over and apply under the new rules.

The Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has said elimination of the backlog is necessary so that the government can focus on new applicants who can fill specific labor gaps. Business needs is the focus and that is all that counts. It used to be that family unification was a strong focus. Now if those already here want to get their parents over as well often the line is so long that parents would have to come to Canada in a casket!

David Chalk a Montreal Lawyer remarks:“These people have had the rug pulled out from underneath them,” “The government of Canada invited people who had certain qualifications to apply, these people invested time energy and hope." Too bad. They must be sacrificed on the alter of service to some of those who support and donate to the Conservative Party.

Citizenship and Immigration complains that it is coping with half a decade of application backlogs. So whose fault is that? Certainly it is not the fault of all the applicants who spent time and money going through all the hoops that are required by immigration. For more see this CBC article.

Justin Trudeau scores TKO over favorite Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau

Justin Trudeau a Liberal Member of Parliament and Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau fought for charity in an Ottawa event. The event raised $230,000 dollars for a local cancer research foundation.

Brazeau was the favorite. He tried to finish off Trudeau with a very aggressive first round. However , this is what Trudeau expected and he was able to survive the round. Brazeau seemed to have worn himself out and by the third round Trudeau was landing a lot of punches. As can be seen on the enclosed video the referee decided to stop the fight in the third round with Trudeau scoring a TKO. Brazeau has military and martial arts training.

Trudeau said:"It feels really good. I had a game plan that I was going to stick to,". "I knew he would come in heavy and hard right off the bat, but I also knew that I was going to be able to take anything he threw at me. And when he did, he emptied himself out, and I just kept going."I'll be absolutely honest: He hits really hard."

Before the fight Trudeau and Brazeau duked it out on Twitter. Brazeau said that his ego suffered the worst blow.. For more see this CBC article. Brazeau will now be forced to cut his hair which will mean his pony tail will probably be gone!