Thursday, June 28, 2012

Ad: Join the One Per Cent

Often commercial groups co-opt radical movement media coverage and turn it to their own ends. Although Occupy Wall Street has faded from the media scene for some time a clever ad for a brokerage firm trades on the former visibility of the movement.

  The ad turns the radical anti-Wall street movement protests to its own ends by suggesting that the firm too wants revolutionary change on Wall street. However, the aim is to allow you to join the one per cent. If you can't  beat them at least join them with cheap entry fees.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Canada and Tax Freedom Day

A number of organizations in different countries usually on the right calculate what is called Tax Freedom Day. This is the day when if all your income went to pay your taxes up to then on that day you would be free and the rest of the year your income would go in your own pocket and not to the government.

Different countries have vastly different tax freedom days. The U.S. was on April 12 in 2011. Canada is a whole month later at June 12 th this year. However the latest listed here is Norway on July 29th. One might think that Norway must be a terrible place to live. However this site ranks Norway the number one country in the world to live a ranking it has held for some time.

The Tax Freedom Day somehow assumes that you are not really free until you stop paying the government. However for your taxes you receive services often services that benefit you personally. Norway for example has an extensive universal health care system that includes drugs.

If the Tax Freedom Day people wanted to be fair they should have a mortgage freedom day, the day that you finished off paying your mortgage for the year. Or there could be an Auto Financing Freedom Day. However, David Macdonald has a different twist on Tax Freedom Day.

MacDonald suggests there should be a freedom from government services day. He calculates a freedom from Medicare day. Although much medical care is paid by government insurance in Canada there are still quite a few medical expenses paid by the individual. This has been increasing over time.

In 1980 all our medical expenses were paid until Nov. 6 according to MacDonald. By 2011 the date was October 13th . We gained over a month of freedom in which we could pay for expenses all on our own. The period during which we must pay our own way without government help has been increasing every since 1980. Our freedom is increasing. For more see this article.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Canada drifting down in openness rankings

Once at the cutting edge of openness in government Canada now finds itself tied for 51st out of 89 countries ranked in terms of their openness. The 30th anniversary of Canada's Access to Information Act is coming up. At the time of passage the Act was regarded as quite progressive but little has been done to improve matters since while many other countries have moved forward. Canada is actually behind Angola, Colombia and Niger!

The Canadian Access to Information act passed in July of 1983 requires an application plus a five dollar fee to access a wide variety of records. Agencies and Departments are to respond within 30 days. However it can actually take over half a year or even more. Even when responses do come only a trickle of information may be released.

Activist groups have been calling for modernization of the act but the government has refused to act calling the thirty year old act a strong piece of legislation. The rankings report says of the Canadian system:"Canada's lax time lines, imposition of access fees, lack of a proper public interest override, and blanket exemptions for certain political offices all contravene international standards for the right of access," "Canada's antiquated approach to access to information is also the result of a lack of political will to improve the situation." They certainly have that right and as long as the present Conservative government is in power that will probably not change. For much more see this article.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Students in day of protest in Montreal and Quebec City

Thousands rallied in another day of protest in the Quebec cities of Montreal and Quebec City the capital of the province. The day of protest has been scheduled once a month since March but there have been regular protests almost every night in Montreal. The protests are over an increase in tuition fees originally but now are also over Bill 78 a draconian crack down on protests.

The protest yesterday was organized by CLASSE the largest and most militant of the Quebec student unions. Both protests were peaceful although the police declared protests in both cities illegal since no route was given beforehand. One arrest was made in Montreal.

Students plan to continue protests even over the summer. A CLASSE spokesperson said:"We think it's important to remind the Charest government the crisis is not over, and we'll continue to be in the streets, because we are still against the tuition hike and this is still our fight," Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois of CLASSE said:"Negotiation or mediation will not be fruitful without a change of position from the Liberals. Hiking tuition will not lead to any fruitful negotiations, but we are willing to be a bit less rigid than we have been in the past." Protest numbers have dwindled recently. Quebec is governed by Liberals under Jean Charest. For more see this CBC article.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Our new family

Who said I couldn't climb out of the box?

 Bundle of young kittens
 What did you say?
  This is the longest day of the year and I am on the prowl.

I regularly feed stray cats. One of them was a pregnant female and she decided she was going to have kittens at our place. I tried to introduce her to our several sheds and the garage but she ended up having them right beside the house in the flower garden on May 20th.

There were seven in all. My wife found them and said that the mother had tossed out two of the litter. I checked and found that one was still alive and the other stillborn. I put the live one back with the others and it survived to this day.

There are three black with some white and three orange with white. The mother is orange black and white. A couple of weeks back the mother disappeared. We rushed to the vet and bought some kitten milk replacement powder and also a bottle and two syringes. My wife served as mama cat for two feedings.

We put the box with the kittens out on our deck with a partial cover to keep the sun out. I was sitting out in the afternoon enjoying a cup of coffee and took off the top. There was the delinquent mama with the kittens.

The kittens are now in their fifth week. They are exploring and can easily get out of the cardboard box which was their home earlier. I have included some photos. At this stage they are already prancing about.

The mother seems very laid back. Not all momma cats are properly programmed to instinctively do the right thing. In fact some are so stressed out by the birth process that they just take off and leave the litter to die. However at least this momma has stayed long enough that the kittens are now starting to eat solids already. I have appended a number of photos.

Finance Minister Flaherty reduces mortgage terms from 30 to 25 years

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced today that the rules for CMHC (Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation) to allow a maximum of a 25 year amortization period rather than the present 30 year period. Refinancing loans will also be limited to only 80 per cent of the value of a home rather than the present 85 per cent.

These moves are meant to slow debt growth of Canadian households which had reached a record 152 per cent of income by the last quarter of 2011. The governor of the Canadian Central Bank Mark Carney has been lecturing for some time on the fact that Canadians were taking advantage of record low interest rates to place themselves in debt to an alarming level. While this move may slow down the real estate market slightly most analysts think that it was a good move even people in the real estate business. For more see this article.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Wheat Board supporters lose key legal battle

Supporters of the Canadian Wheat Board which used to have sole power to market some grains in western Canada lost a legal battle when the Federal Court of Appeal overturned a lower court ruling that said that the Conservative government had broken the law when it took away the monopoly over wheat and barley sales without holding a plebiscite on the issue.

When the Conservatives originally passed legislation stripping the board of its monopoly supporters of the Wheat Board filed a lawsuit claiming that producers had to vote on any such changes. A lower court agreed last December but the government appealed. The Appeal court said there is nothing wrong with the government in effect changing its own law through parliament.

Justice Mainville wrote:"I am of the view that none of the arguments advanced by the respondents or the interveners can sustain an interpretation that would preclude the minister from introducing in Parliament legislation which would fundamentally modify the CWB's mandate or which would lead to the repeal of the CWB Act," This is the final nail in the coffin of the Board. The U.S.and big international grain companies had tried for years to destroy the board using international trade rules but always failed.

Farmers by electing the Conservatives have destroyed an institution that served them well. When the Wheat Board conducted its own survey a majority wanted the powers of the Wheat Board retained. However, Conservatives obtained large majorities in rural areas of the prairies and the Conservatives made it clear and a campaign promise that they would curb the power of the Wheat Board. The donations will come pouring in from the giant international grain traders. For more see this article.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Aribtrator imposes company offer on Air Canada machinists and ground workers

Michel Picher the federal arbitrator sided with Air Canada and imposed its final offer on the mechanics and ground crews. The contract is for five year and includes changes to pension plans for new employees.

The arbitration came after months of negotiation between Air Canada and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. Air Canada refused to comment on the deal until details are communicated to employees.

The union represents a total of 8,600 mechanics, baggage handlers, and cargo agents. The union was legislated back to work by the Conservative government.before the arbitration. For more see this article.

Air Canada pilots are also involved in arbitration. See this article.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

B.C Supreme Court judge rules ban on physician-assisted suicide is unconstitutional.

Judge Lynn Smith of the British Columbia Supreme court rule yesterday that a law that bans physician-assisted suicide is unconstitutional. The ruling resulted from five plaintiffs who sought to overturn the ban. One woman Gloria Taylor is suffering from ALS(Lou Gehrig's disease).

In her 395 page ruling the judge argued that parts of the Criminal Code that prohibit physician-assisted suicide “unjustifiably infringe the equality rights” of the plaintiffs. The ruling is suspended for one year giving parliament time to draft and consider new legislation. However, the judge allowed Gloria Taylor to go ahead with her plans but with certain conditions. Smith said: that the decision would apply only to“competent, fully informed, non-ambivalent adult persons who personally (not through a substituted decision-maker) request physician-assisted death, are free from coercion and undue influence and are not clinically depressed.”

The ruling is bound to be appealed. The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition called the decision naive and said it would appeal. Clearly the judge tried to ensure that involuntary physician-assisted suicide would not be condoned.For more see this article.

Friday, June 15, 2012

New one billion dollar bridge announced between Windsor and Detroit

Plans for the new bridge were begun back in 2002. The Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Michigan governor Rick Snyder are to announce the agreement on the bridge today(June 15).

The one billion dollar bridge between Windsor Ontario and Detroit Michigan should ease congestion and facilitate transport of good across the border. Almost half a billion dollars worth of goods passes over the existing Ambassador bridge daily. It is the busiest border crossing in North America.

The Ambassador bridge is privately owned. Key infrastructure edifices such as this are more and more used as a vehicle for private profit rather than being funded by governments as basic infrastructure. Canada apparently offered to buy the Ambassador bridge from billionaire Manuel Moroun in 2009 but he wanted 3 billion dollars plus incentives and talks broke down. Moroun has been in constant hot water with the U.S. government and has even served jail time for contempt of court. Canada has agreed to pay the 550 million in costs for construction on the U.S. side. The money will be recouped through tolls. The area has high unemployment and the construction will provide much needed jobs. For much more see this article.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Many cars made in Canada much cheaper in the U.S.

CBC news looked at prices of 24 new car models made in Canada. The study examined models made by: Ford, GM, Chrysler, Honda and Toyota. In 18 of the 24 the cost in Canada was thousands of dollars more than in the U.S.

Some models are even quite a bit cheaper in Hawaii. The Toyota Rav4 would cost 22,650 according to the manufacturers suggested retail price in Hawaii but there is an additional 810 dollars for freight and inspection. The cars are made in Woodstock Ontario Canada. To buy the car there would cost you 24,865 plus, get this, an additional freight and inspection charge of 1465 for exactly the same model!

Not all Canadian prices are higher. For some cheaper models they are about the same or lower. For example Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic are not more expensive here.

The Canadian Senate Finance Committee asked representatives of the Big Three auto manufacturers to appear before a committee to explain this strange pricing but they declined.

One might think that Canadians would be flocking to the U.S. to buy new cars but this apparently is not happening. Consumer advocate Rob Lamb says that most U.S.dealers will not sell to Canadians. Lamb says:"If you're a U.S. dealer you're not going to sell a brand-new car to a Canadian and that's it, and if you do you'll lose your licence, you'll be penalized. So dealers across the states are not selling new cars to Canadians," So much for free trade.For much more see this CBC article.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Opposition makes hundreds of amendments to "Frankentstein" Conservative budget bill

The official opposition the New Democrats, the Liberals, and the lone Green Party member submitted hundreds of amendments to the majority Conservative government's budget bill. The budget bill which the opposition has called a Frankenstein bill goes far beyond financial matters and setting forth the budget.

There is a huge revamping of environmental laws. The changers are streamlining according to the Conservatives but to the opposition they weaken environmental laws and rush through approvals to please industry. There are also changes to oversight of the security apparatus, changes to eligibility for social security and unemployment insurance and on and on.

The opposition asked that the bill be split. In particular they wanted the legislation on environmental policy changes to be separate so it could be debated and voted on separately. However the Conservatives have a majority and use it to push through whatever they want however they want to do it.

The speaker of the house Andrew Scheer grouped amendments that were similar together. He said:“I have made every effort to respect both the wishes of the House and my responsibility to organize the consideration of report stage motions in a fair and balanced manner,”

Bill C 38 the budget bill is 425 pages long. The sole Green Party member and leader Elizabeth May introduced more than 300 amendments. She is particularly concerned with changes to environmental policy.

In total the opposition made 871 motions and amendments. The bill changes more than 70 different laws many having nothing to do with the budget. By bunching the motions and amendments together Sheer has managed to reduce the votes required to a minimum of 67 and the maximum number to 159.

Originally it was predicted that voting would take days but now it can all be done it is predicted in one marathon day. For much more see this Globe and Mail article.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Montreal braces for more protests at Grand Prix

The student protests in Quebec and particularly in the city of Montreal show no sign of letting up in spite of a draconian new law meant to crack down on them. Students and others are protesting the Liberal provincial government's tuition hikes plus the crackdown bill 78.

Yesterday Montreal police made 28 arrests after protesters tried to disrupt parties associated with the Canadian Formula One Grand Prix. Business leaders in particular are furious that the races which bring big dollars into Montreal are not given a pass for business as usual.

Police have also arrested a man in connection with a bomb threat targeting the yellow line of the subway that goes to the Grand Prix race. The bomb threat was a hoax but did delay service briefly. Protesters will attempt to disrupt subway travel and hold protests later today June 10. There is a heavy police presence in downtown Montreal.. For more see this CBC article.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Toronto to ban plastic bags beginning in 2013.

The first community in Canada to ban plastic bags was in the northern town of Leaf Rapids Manitoba way back in April 2007. However by now several large U.S. cities including Los Angeles San Francisco and Seattle have banned the bags. The bags stay for ages in landfills without biodegrading.

The Toronto right wing populist mayor Rob Ford was outraged. He claimed that this was the dumbest thing council had done. Ford had wanted council to scrap a five cent retail fee on the bags. They did that as of July 1st. But much to Ford's chagrin they then went on to introduce the ban as well.

In an interview Ford said:"It's just ludicrous," "It's the dumbest thing that council's done, and council's done some dumb things, let me tell you" Why Ford thinks the action so dumb is not clear. However the council could certainly have consulted with stakeholders such as those who make and sell the bags before acting.

There are recyclable plastic bags but when a distributor of plastic bags tried to introduce them in Toronto the city told him that the recycling facilities could not handle them. We use our plastic bags multiple times and extras we donate to thrift shops who reuse them as well. If more people reused the plastic bags there would be less in the landfills. However, I would be in favor of a ban. For more see this article.

In many countries there are bans on plastic bags including an outright ban in Germany and South Africa, and even some underdeveloped and developing countries such as Botswana, Uganda, Kenya, Turkey, Ethiopia, Sweden Singapore and on and on. However no doubt this will not impress Rob Ford.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Lululemon fastest growing Canadian brand

The list of Best Canadian Brands for 2012 by Omnicon Group now includes Lululemon as number 7 in the top ten Canadian brands. It is the fastest growing within the top ten. Lululemon specializes in yoga and exercise clothing.

The list is published every two years. The value of the brand has nearly tripled in the last two years. The exact increase is 292 per cent. Alfred Dupuy of Interbrand said :“They’re more than apparel. They’re a lifestyle ... they do so much,”

The list is based upon the firms with what they call the biggest "brand value". The list attempts to measure value in terms of marketing and branding power. Companies that depend a great deal upon marketing and brand tend to be over-represented compared to large firms such as Air Canada which does not even make the list.

Toronto Dominion Bank is at the top of the list with a brand value of 9.69 billion dollars. Second was the media giant Thomson Reuters.

Another bank the Royal Bank of Canada was third. RIM maker of the Blackberry was fourth in spite of all its recent troubles and downturn in shares.

Tim Hortons doughnut's and coffee shop came sixth just ahead of Lululemon. Shoppers Drug Mart came 8th next to Lululemon. For more see this article in the Globe and Mail.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Peter MacKay defends drone attacks

Addressing a security conference in Singapore Peter MacKay Canada's defense minister took the opportunity to defend drone attacks spouting the same sort of rhetoric in defense of the attacks that U.S. spokespeople use. Of course Canada has not mounted any drone attacks. I am not sure we even have any armed drones to carry out such attacks.

However, MacKay is no doubt trying to winning brownie points with the U.S. or perhaps the U.S. suggested it might be a good idea for him to defend the drones rather than the U.S. carrying that burden all the time.

As with U.S. defenders MacKay stressed how accurate the drones were in hitting their targets. Of course accuracy is no virtue if the intelligence about the target is incorrect as sometimes happens. MacKay said “These eyes-on systems that can literally read a license plate from outer space have increased our ability to decrease civilian casualties.”“We want to reduce if not eliminate collateral damage," Well that's comforting. I did not really think that the intention was to increase collateral damage. However it occurs anyway.

There is no mention in the article that MacKay considered the issue of mounting attacks in Pakistan even though there have been three motions in the Pakistani parliament that they cease. MacKay did his job, acting as an apologist for U.S. drone attacks.

MacKay also warned about cyber attacks and urged that intelligence and technology be used to battle cyber attacks that could shut down crucial infrastructures including communications and transport. Of course he was not critical of the U.S. and Israeli cyber attacks on Iranian centrifuges I expect. He said:“The consequences of cyber attacks haven’t really washed over us as to just how devastating they could be,” “It’s a monster in our midst.” For more see this article.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

UN reports chastizes Canada for not acting on rendition of three Muslim Canadians

A recent report by the UN Committee Against Torture takes the Canadian government to task for what they call not taking seriously their complicity in renditions of Canadian citizens to countries such as Syria and Egypt.

Strictly speaking the only case that was actually a rendition was of Maher Arar. They did take that seriously. The rendition was not by Canada but the U.S. Maher was arrested when he is was in the U.S. simply transferring planes on a trip back to Canada. The U.S. authorities declared that Arar was an Al Qaeda operative and shipped him back to Syria where he was interrogated and tortured. The Maher Inquiry was extensive and found that Arar had no terrorist connections. The Canadian government negotiated a settlement with Arar for about ten million dollars in compensation. The U.S. refused to cooperate with the Arar inquiry and the U.S. still has Arar on a no fly list and presumably considers him an Al Qaeda operative.

The Canadian government wanted to make sure nothing more than a tongue lashing would come from the Iacobucci Inquiry that was very narrowly focused. The Inquiry was almost all done behind closed doors with not even lawyers for the three men who had been jailed in Syria and Egypt being allowed in to sessions where intelligence officers were questioned. Some groups withdrew from participation in disgust.

The three Canadian Muslims were not directly rendered. I call it rendering light or opportunistic rendering. Intelligence operatives waited until the men involved visited Syria for different reasons and then had them arrested so they could be interrogated on matters of terrorism. None of the three have had any compensation as yet. In neither inquiry was there ever any punishment of officials for wrongdoing. Of course the U.S. which was involved in direct rendition has never punished anyone. In fact Obama has not even abolished rendition.

The report also urged the government to repatriate Omar Khadr held in U.S. custody at Guantanamo from the age of 16. He signed a plea deal in which he plead guilty to charges that was supposed to see him transferred to Canada but the Canadian government has never followed through. For more see this article.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Alberta raises minimum wage now second lowest in Canada still

Even though Alberta is one of the richest provinces in Canada with rich oil deposits until recently it had the lowest minimum wage in Canada. However, on Sept 1 the province will raise the minimum wage to $9.75 per hour.

The new 35 cent increase will put Alberta at the second lowest minimum wage rate in Canada. Saskatchewan next door will now have the lowest rate at $9.50. Both provinces have right leaning governments even though in the past Saskatchewan was home to the most leftist government under the CCF of any Canadian province. How times change.

The minimum wage for those who serve liquor will remain at $9.05 per hour. Presumably the rationale is that the wage is supplemented by tips. In reality it is probably a nod to bar owners who help fund the Conservative government!

The Alberta government puts a positive spin on the wage saying that if you factor in the low taxes in Alberta it is second highest in Canada. But the Alberta Federation of Labor says that government is spinning the truth and noted that Alberta has the highest provincial cost of living in Canada. People trying to live on the minimum wage will hardly be able to make ends meet.

Nunavut in the north has the highest minimum wage of 11 dollars no doubt necessary because of the isolation and high living expenses. For more see this article.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Ottawa GM plant to close with loss of up to 2,000 jobs

Chris Buckley who is president of the local CAW (Canadian Auto Workers) union said: “This is absolutely sickening,” Actually the closing has been in the works for five years. The required notice of 12 months was given by GM which will be closing the plant next June.

Although the older consolidated plant will be closing the newer nearby flex plant is expected to remain open. The plant that is closing produces the Impala and Equinox. Some Impala production will be transferred to the flex plant saving perhaps 500 jobs. But the increased production is not confirmed as yet.

The Equinox's will be built at a now closed Saturn plant in Spring Hill Tenn. GM is re-opening the plant because the UAW has agreed that the company can hire a large number of workers at wages of about 14 dollars an hour less than half what Canadian workers are paid. So the U.S. union is in effect undercutting their fellow workers in a race to the bottom after having already given up all kinds of benefits before and during the restructuring of GM.

The Canadian union has not agreed to these types of cuts. Chris Buckley noted that if the union agreed to these cuts it would soon be asked to meet the 6 dollar an hour wage of Mexican GM workers. Of course that wage would violate minimum wage laws! For much more see this CBC article or the Globe and Mail here.