Thursday, November 27, 2014

Canada opposes UN bill opposing glorification of Nazism

Last Friday, Canada along with the U.S. opposed a resolution that was meant to combat glorification of Nazism. The only other country to vote against the resolution was Ukraine.

The resolution was put forward by Russia and a number of other countries. The entire resolution can be viewed here. Part of the resolution claims to be for “combating glorification of Nazism, neo-nazism and other practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.” There were 55 abstentions including many EU countries. This Lithuanian source explains some of the reasoning behind some of the abstentions. There were 115 countries in favor of the resolution including India, Iran, but also Israel.
 While the Russian motion was no doubt in part motivated by its claims that far-right neo-Nazi groups were powerful actors in the new Ukrainian government, it is surprising to me that the US and Canada voted against the bill. It seems purely a political move designed to try and discredit the Russian motion. What it does is discredit those who voted against the motion. Narrow as the motion is, it still expresses positions that both Canada, the United States, and the Ukraine actually all support. The Ukrainian vote is particularly significant since it suggests that approving the resolution would alienate the very right-wing neo-Nazi groups that the motion is directed against. Ukraine therefore voted against the motion to avoid alienating these groups. No doubt Russia hoped for just such a result. The US and Canada apparently will do anything that would irritate Russia.
Even Israel voted for the resolution parting company with its big supporter the United States. The Ukraine objected to the resolution because the country also suffered under Stalinism and felt that passing the resolution would minimize that suffering. This seems a bit bizarre. One cannot resolve to oppose one evil because others are not mentioned. The Canadian objection has a family resemblance to that of the Ukraine but is much more bizarre: But Canada objected because the resolution has a “narrow focus” and it draws on the controversial declarations of the 2009 World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, which Canada regards as anti-Semitic. Surely Canada should support a resolution that combats attempts to glorify Nazism even if the focus is narrow. Given that the content of the resolution opposes Nazism, how is it anti-Semitic? Canada claims it voted against the resolution because it is anti-semitic. How is it Israel did not vote against it? Maybe Obama told Harper how Canada should vote. Usually Canada supports the Israeli position.
The Jerusalem Post has an interesting comment by Dr. Efraim Zuroff, head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem:“There is a very strong tendency in post-Communist Europe to try to rewrite the narrative of World War II and the Holocaust and to try and minimize crimes by local Nazi collaborators, to equate Communist crimes and suffering of Communist victims with Nazi crimes during the Shoah and to glorify local heroes who fought against the Communists even though some of them were actively involved in collaboration with the Nazis and mass murder of Jews during the Holocaust." Zuroff claims that many former Soviet countries, have tried to rewrite history with the Ukraine being among " the worst of them". The appended video also discusses aspects of the situation described by Zuroff.
Germany abstained from the resolution. This is somewhat surprising given that Germany is usually anxious to ensure other countries understand it rejects its Nazi past. Other countries such as Britain and France who suffered at the hands of the Nazis also abstained. The Russians, not surprisingly, expressed regret that not all countries supported the resolution. A Russian Foreign Ministry statement said: "The fact that the US, Canada and Ukraine voted against, while delegations from EU member states abstained in the vote on this draft resolution, which was supported by an overwhelming majority of the UN member states, is extremely regrettable...Ukraine’s position is particularly dispiriting and alarming. One can hardly understand how a country, the people of which suffered their full share of the horrors of Nazism and contributed significantly to our common victory against it, can vote against a resolution condemning its glorification."

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Burnaby BC and environmental activists fight to protect Burnaby Mountain

Both the city of Burnaby BC just outside of Vancouver along with environmental activists are joining battle against Kinder Morgan

Kinder Morgan intends to expand the Trans Mountain bitumen export pipeline so as to triple its capacity. This would require adding many storage tanks to their present storage facility at Burnaby Mountain. However, another factor that concerns environmentalists is that it would increase oil tanker traffic through the Burrard Inlet by four to six times what it is now, increasing the likelihood of a disastrous oil spill. A National Energy Board (NEB) decision granted Kinder Morgan access to the Burnaby Mountain municipal conservation area. The city plans to appeal the ruling. The city has tried to block the company from doing survey work in the Burnaby Mountain conservancy for the route preferred by the company for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
The Energy Board ruling claims that the geotechnical work in the area is necessary to provide the data to the Board to make recommendations to the government about whether the project should proceed. Derek Corrigan, the mayor of Burnaby questions the Board's legal authority to over-rule municipal bylaws. Corrigan said: "We are disappointed but not surprised by this ruling. We believe that it is inappropriate for the National Energy Board to rule on the critical constitutional issue of whether a multinational pipeline company can override municipal bylaws and cause damage to a conservation area, for a project that no level of government has deemed to be in the public interest." The city lawyer Greg McDade claims that the power to rule on municipal laws and enforcement powers does not exist in the National Energy Board Act and has never been claimed before by any federal tribunal.
 The Board however claims that it does have the power to override municipal bylaws. The NEB order prohibits Burnaby from attempting to enforce any bylaw blocking the Kinder Morgan work but ruled that Kinder Morgan must give the city 24 hours notice of work in advance and also repair any damage its work causes.This is the first time the National Energy Board has issued an order indicating what a municipality must do. Both sides are launching court battles, with Kinder Morgan managing to get a court injunction against protesters who were blocking workers from carrying out their drilling on the mountain.
 Thursday morning police swept in shortly after 8 AM after deciding to arrest anyone not obeying the court injunction. By 9:45 it was reported that at least ten people were arrested with at least one being a First Nations member. The RCMP have forced journalists and witnesses far away. There is an arrest-free area cordoned off by police. The people there are requesting community members to come to the site. As this short clip shows, the police were not always restrained in treatment of some protesters. The incident would appear to be the same as described here: A middle-aged female who was in front of the line was tossed to the ground behind police and was quickly arrested."Hey, that's violence," a protester yelled at police as the woman slammed onto the road. An RCMP tweet claimed that 26 people in all were arrested but that only five remained in custody by Thursday evening. Many were released after being cited for civil contempt. They were required to promise not to interfere, obstruct or impede survey crews.
There is still one ongoing protest a ceremonial First Nations fire remained burning throughout the day tended by a group of women. RCMP Staff Sgt. Major John Buis said: A ceremonial First Nations' fire remained burning throughout the day. A pair of RCMP officers sat down and spoke to a group of women who were tending the fire in the afternoon."We are in discussions with First Nations on how to respectfully remove a sacred fire and totem pole that remain inside the zone in contravention of the order." The government, has recently passed extensive anti-terror legislation. The RCMP has warned that environmentalists are a greater threat to Canada's energy system than jihadists. The climate is being prepared in which any militant actions by environmentalists can be treated as terrorist acts and no doubt dealt with using the powers of the new anti-terror laws. Conservative legislation has "streamlined" approval processes in the Conservative view or "gutted" them in the opinion of environmentalists. Under whatever description, the legislation is a move to prevent environmentalists from slowing up approval or even blocking approval of projects. Marc Eliesen former head of BC hydro recently withdrew from Kinder Morgan hearings calling them a farce and a waste of his time. Having successfully blocked legal ways of stopping development the Conservative government will now see to it that any illegal attempts by environmentalists to stop projects can be dealt with using powerful and punitive anti-terror legislation.

Former Conservative staff member Michael Sona jailed for role in robocalls scandal

Michael Sona, a former member of the Federal Conservative Party staff has been sentenced to nine months in jail for his role in the 2011 Federal Election robocalls scandal.

Sona set a record of sorts by becoming the first and only person, so far, to be sentenced to jail for violations of the Canada Elections Act. The robocalls were designed to misdirect potential opposition voters so that they would not vote on the morning of the 2011 federal vote. Most robocalls are perfectly legal and can be used in political campaigns as well as public information campaigns. The Crown prosecutor had asked for a sentence of at least 18 months. Justice Gary Hearn also gave Sona twelve months on probation. Norm Boxall, Sona's lawyer, had suggested a suspended or conditional sentence but Justice Hearn termed that "entirely inappropriate".
On the morning of May 2, 2011, thousands of automated phone calls went out to some voters in and around Guelph giving incorrect information as to where they should vote. Most of the calls were to Liberal supporters. Sona was found guilty of willfully preventing or trying to prevent electors from voting. The maximum penalty is five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. The scheme involved fake names Pierre Poutine and Pierre Jones, prepaid credit cards that could not be traced, and disposable cellphones from which the robocalls were ordered. Pierre's Poutine is a well-known restaurant in Guelph. The identity of Pierre Poutine or Pierre Jones have never been determined. Sona's lawyer argued that Sona did not have enough technical knowledge to be behind the complicated plot. Boxall suggested that Andrew Prescott, Sona's colleague, who acted as a Crown witness and had experience ordering robocalls was a likely suspect. Prescott had testified against Sona and received immunity in return. Even Crown attorney Croft Michaelson cautioned that Prescott's testimony should be approached with caution. The judge also said that he found Prescott's testimony to be largely "self-serving" and also inconsistent.
The judge relied on testimony from other Conservative staff members who claimed that Sona openly bragged about his actions. Boxall, however, questioned the reliability of other Crown witnesses as well. Chris Crawford, a member of the Conservative ministerial staff who worked with Sona on the campaign claims to have overheard Sona talk of misdirecting voters to wrong polling locations and also sending out calls meant to annoy Liberal voters. Boxall was able to force Crawford to admit that after his testimony to Elections Canada he was given a promotion and $15,000 raise.
 Judge Hearn in handing down the sentence noted that although Sona had no previous record his offence was a serious affront to the electoral process. Crown prosecutor Ruth McGuirl said that the sentence sends a message that this "type of conduct which interferes with fundamental rights of voters" will warrant time in jail. Crown Attorney Michaelson also claimed that jail time was appropriate:" (Jail time is needed) to deter this type of conduct in the future, so it doesn’t ever happen again, and more importantly, so those involved in the electoral process are aware we have rules and the rules have to be followed." Both the Crown and the defence agreed that it was unlikely that Sona acted alone. Sona's actions did not prevent a Liberal win in the riding even though the Conservatives won a majority in the election overall.
 The Liberal who won the riding Frank Valeriote said: “I feel badly for Michael Sona that he’s been the pawn, who in part deployed and executed the delivery of the call, but others did, as well, and Michael’s taken the fall." Some suspect that the campaign manager Ken Morgan, who refused to cooperate in the investigation yet was never charged was also involved in the operation. Sona himself at first claimed he was innocent and was being used as a scapegoat, but later at his sentencing hearing in October he was silent. Sona is not the only one to suffer from the incident.
 New Democratic Party MP Pat Martin was involved in a five million dollar defamation suit for comments he made about RackNine the service the Conservatives used for the robocalls. He settled for an undisclosed sum but is still paying it off. Martin said: “Nobody in their right mind believes Michael Sona acted alone but it looks like he and I are the only two that are suffering any lingering effects from the attempt to hijack…the 2011 election.”

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Humboldt, Saskatchewan woman ends up with $950,000 bill after premature birth in Hawaii

A Saskatchewan woman, Jennifer Huculak-Kimmel, went on a holiday to Hawaii in October 2013 while she was pregnant. She ended up giving birth nine weeks prematurely in Hawaii.

She gave birth on December 10th by emergency C-section. She and her baby daughter remained in hospital for two whole months. Huculak-Kimmel thought that her Blue Cross travel insurance would pay her bill but Blue Cross refused to provide any payments on the grounds that she had a pre-existing condition — a high risk pregnancy — and also her insurance ran out during the period when she was in the hospital. A Blue Cross worker wrote to the family: "We are unable to provide coverage for any medical expenses incurred for Ms. Huculak's baby" and "please note that Ms. Huculak's travel policy expired on Nov. 9, 2013." Huculak-Kummel had met with her own doctor who approved the trip, and also Blue Cross before she went on the trip. She said: "Blue Cross said that because I had a bladder infection at four months and hemorrhaged because of that, that they would not cover the pregnancy. We thought we had done everything right. We thought we had covered all avenues and we thought we were covered. We thought we were safe to go." She is quite grateful that her daughter ,now almost a year old, is quite healthy, but she and her husband have no idea how they can pay the $950,000 bill.
 Blue Cross explained their rejection of the claim as follows: "Ms. Huculak was diagnosed and treated for a high-risk pregnancy in the six months prior to departure. As Ms. Huculak is currently hospitalized and being treated for this high-risk pregnancy, any expenses incurred are not eligible under the terms of your policy." Huculak claims that she did not have a high-risk pregnancy but had a bladder infection that led to bleeding. She said: "The specialist in Hawaii said that these things just happen. There's nothing that causes them." Her specialist in Saskatchewan wrote to Blue Cross telling them that it was not the bladder infection that led to the early labor but still her coverage was denied. Huculak was angry because the Blue Cross pamphlet she had said nothing about rules for pre-existing conditions.
 A CBC article gives tips about buying travel insurance. Bill Walker, director of individual products for Ontario Blue Cross warns: "Probably the biggest thing for a person to do is to give as much medical or background history as they have when they're purchasing [insurance]," Medical expenses are much higher in the U.S. than in Canada and so it is important to have travel insurance even for short trips to the US. Walker mentions a case in which a Canadian had a brain aneurysm in Buffalo right on the border but had to be treated there at a cost of $90,000. Alex Bittner, vice-president of the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada notes that on a $100,000 bill from the US, the Ontario Health Insurance plan would pay just $9,000, and so extra insurance is quite important.
 Huculak is not alone in having problems with insurance claims. Two snowbirds from Alberta were denied a $105,000 dollar claim because they had not counted properly all the prescriptions they had in a period before the travel. None of the extra prescriptions involved had anything to do with the health problems that racked up the expenses. Not just Canadians face these problems.
  A Sydney couple John Kan and Rachel Evans were also stuck with a million-dollar hospital bill after their daughter was born in a Vancouver hospital. They had taken out extra travel insurance and extra coverage for the pregnancy but did not realize that the birth was not covered. Just as they were about to return to Australia Evans went into premature labor right at the airport. The baby, Piper Kan, ended up in the neo-natal ward in a Vancouver hospital for three whole months with a bill of about $1 million. The couple actually does not begrudge the bill since they have a healthy daughter. They arranged with the hospital to pay it off at $300 per month. It will take 278 years to pay it off. The Australian foreign ministry is investigating whether it can pay the bill. Australia has reciprocal arrangements with 11 countries that allows Australians to get treatments deemed medically necessary but unfortunately Canada is not one of them.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Manitoba NDP leader Sellinger faces leadership race next March

On Saturday, the ruling provincial Manitoba New Democratic Party held an emergency executive meeting in Winnipeg to discuss dissent within the party with criticism being directed at Premier Greg Selinger by a number of cabinet ministers.

The meeting lasted a full four hours beginning at 10 AM in the morning. Selinger was able to convince the executive that the solution to the crisis was to hold a leadership convention at the party's annual convention March 6, 2015. Selinger was smiling when he emerged from the long meeting and said: “I’m happy that we’ve found a democratic way to make decisions. That’s always been the tradition of our party." Selinger would not comment when asked by a reporter whether some executive members wanted to hold an earlier leadership race claiming that those were "internal discussions".
 Party president, Ellen Offert, said that a committee will soon be set up that will formulate the ground rules for the leadership race. The rules will need to be approved by the party executive and the larger provincial council. The council will be meeting next on December 6th. Offert said: "In terms of the timing, I think the timing is available. I think it can be set up to be fair. We want to be fair for everyone." Selinger was upbeat about the process claiming that it was a democratic way of solving the dispute: "It put democracy at the forefront on how we make decisions. It allows us as legislators to get back to our number one priority, which is serving the people of Manitoba."
 Five senior cabinet ministers recently publicly criticized Selinger for his performance. The party is plagued by low poll numbers. Selinger lost considerable public support when he raised the provincial sales tax from 7 to 8 per cent. There are other provinces such as neighboring Ontario that have the same rate and others such as Quebec have an even higher rate. However, Selinger had promised not to raise the tax in his last campaign and was unable to convince many that breaking his promise was justified. The five cabinet members who criticized Selinger resigned.
 Selinger furher punished the five members by removing some of their caucus privileges. While the five remain members of the party they will not be allowed to attend caucus meetings or have any input into decisions. The government will set out its plans for next year in a throne speech that starts a two-week fall session of the Manitoba legislature.
The next election in Manitoba will probably not be until April of 2016: A federal election is slated for the fall of 2015, so the provincial election is to be pushed back to April 19, 2016, unless the federal government changes its date. This will give the NDP time to try and improve their position in the polls.
  A recent poll published October 9 shows the Conservatives with a twelve point lead over the NDP with the Conservatives having 42 per cent support among decided voters. However, this is down somewhat from a June poll that showed 45 per cent support. The Liberal party has 20 per cent support much higher than usual. Conservative support is very strong outside of Winnipeg with only Brandon and northern Manitoba for the most part showing support for or electing NDP members. The NDP and Conservatives are still neck in neck in Winnipeg.
 The NDP has been in power in Manitoba since 1999. After premier Gary Doer resigned to take a position as Canadian ambassador to the US to serve Stephen Harper's Conservative government, Selinger led the party into the 2011 election. Doer had been popular and there were some gloomy predictions about how Selinger would perform. He won 37 seats one more than the previous record set by Doer and a comfortable majority in the legislature.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Canada to be a hub for trading Chinese currency

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper returned to Canada after a successful trade mission to China. While Harper did raise human rights and religious freedom issues this did not prevent negotiation of trade deals.

One of the more important deals makes Canada a hub for trading in Chinese currency the yuan, or renminbi (RMB). This should encourage more trade between Canada and China as it will make speed of transactions quicker and decrease costs. It will also be a boost to Canada's financial sector based in Toronto. China is already the world's second largest economy and is one of the fastest growing as well. The new deal will also allow Canadians to open bank accounts that contain renminbi. Canadian investors will be able to buy up to 50 billion in renminbi, about $9.2 billion, in Chinese stocks and bonds. BNN calculates 50 billion RMB at $8.2 billion US so the other calculation is probably in Canadian dollars. I checked out the figures on a converter and indeed the first figures are the approximate amount in Canadian dollars.
 Jason Henderson, head of global banking for HSBC said: "What this is, hopefully, is a wakeup call to Canadian business to do more trade with China. Instead of being 21st on China’s list of trading partners Canada should be closer to 10th or 12th based on the relative size of the economy." Prime Minister Harper has urged Canadian business to expand international trade efforts to reduce dependence on the state of the US economy and also to increase demands for Canadian goods. At the same time his government has been somewhat wary of Chinese government owned or controlled corporations gaining too much control in our energy sector.
Canada's present trade with China runs at $73 billion a year but the Canadian Chamber of Commerce estimates the hub could boost those figures by as much as $32 billion over a decade. At the same time, the Chamber claims costs to importers would be reduced by up to $2.75 billion.
Canadian trade with China is done through a third currency, usually the US dollar. Now deals could be done directly using RMBs. Over half of Chinese businesses would offer discounts of up to 5 percent if Canadian customers convert Canadian dollars directly into RMBs, a survey carried out by the HSBC bank found. The hub will be the first in North America but there are hubs already in Frankfurt Germany, and London in the UK as well as Seoul, South Korea. Paris will also soon become a hub. China has named the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China in Toronto as the clearing house for RMB transactions.
 C. J. Gavsie from BMO Capital Markets said: “The goal here in Canada, from my perspective, is we want a Canadian company anywhere in Canada to be able to walk into their local bank of choice and say, ‘I need this RMB product.’ Whether it’s in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, MontrĂ©al or Ottawa shouldn’t make a difference,” A number of other countries are attempting to establish trading hubs for the RMB. The RMB passed the Euro to become the second most used currency in international trade after the US dollar. Gavsie notes: “We are gearing ourselves up to be able to offer renminbi related financial services. Everybody that monitors that activity in Canadian dollars today, we are all huddled around a table saying, how are we going to offer this in renminbi?” China also recently signed a hub deal with Qatar.
 Stewart Beck, president of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada said of the hub deal:"It's a great boon for the Canadian business community, both importers and exporters, because they can now do business in China with the currency and not have to go through multiple financial exchange transactions So the pundits are saying it could double maybe even triple the level of Canadian trade between Canada and China."
 Harper did bring up human rights in his talks, in particular the imprisonment for three months of Kevin and Julia Garratt, although not publicly. But Premier Li Kequiang mentioned that he and Harper had discussed the rule of law and human rights. The Garratt case is somewhat surprising since the couple have lived and worked in China for 30 years. However, they operate a coffee shop near the North Korean border and were arrested in August on suspicion of spying. When asked about the Garratt case the premier replied: "As for individual cases, I want to reiterate that as China continues to build a country under the rule of law, I believe that judicial authorities should be able to handle cases in accordance with the law." The Canadian government has also accused the Chinese government of cyber espionage.
 As well as the hub deal Canada and China signed 20 other deals with a total value well above $1 billion. Among the larger deals was an agreement with Bombardier to sell over $1 billion worth of its aircraft to China Express Airlines. Details of some of the deals can be found here. and deals even include export of BC cherries to China. Somewhat ironically, Canada is also involved in the secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement negotiations which excludes China but includes the US.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Scotiabank cuts 1,500 jobs while profits almost 2 billion

Scotiabank is cutting 1,000 jobs in Canada and another 500 in branches outside of Canada. The cuts are happening in a year when the bank has made well over $1 billion in profit.

So far this year Scotiabank has been doing very well: Like Canada's other major banks, Scotiabank has been extremely profitable — with a total $5.57 billion of net profit in the first three quarters of 2014."Today's announcement is a result of making some difficult but necessary decisions to support our long-term goals," said Brian Porter, Scotiabank's president and chief executive officer. The figure of $5.57 billion actually is total revenue according to the Wikipedia entry on Scotiabank, and net profits were $1.8 billion, but this is still a substantial profit. Given that the bank is at present making huge profits with the number of employees that it has it would seem that there is no necessity to cut jobs and certainly not that many. However, the bank's role is to provide maximum returns to shareholders not maximum employment. The bank expects to save $148 million annually as a result of its restructuring.
  Canadian taxpayers helped Scotiabank out during the financial crisis: When the bank was in trouble from the international credit crunch, you, the taxpayers, were there for them. Canada's third-largest bank and 10th-biggest company transferred billions in risky loans to taxpayers, leaving it free to lend that money again. At a profit. According to the narrative in this article Scotiabank is simply being prudent in preparing for a situation where demand lessens and certain economies will face sluggish growth: With higher profits year after year, fear of a slump in earnings could drive shareholders away, slashing a bank's capital value and leading to a further negative effect on profits. A prudent CEO does not want that to happen on his watch. But what Scotiabank may be doing is getting risk off its books and battening down to make sure it will be in good shape to withstand a potential storm.Maybe the storm won't come. But it's good to be ready. That's only prudent. Lost jobs are just unfortunate collateral damage in this prudent process of ensuring there is less risk if there is a slowdown. Actually, actions such as this remove demand from the economy and contribute to sluggish growth. Unemployed workers consume less since they lack the funds to buy goods. They also place a burden on social services and reduce the level of funds to pay unemployment benefits. When benefits run out they may depend upon welfare payments. If other sectors also are downsizing there will be few jobs available.
Scotiabank is not alone in cutting jobs. The Bank of Montreal cut nearly 1,000 jobs in the fourth quarter of 2013 after making a record profit of $4.2 billion but some claim that this is just a necessary feature of a situation where there is improved productivity and a relatively sluggish economy. Ian Nakamoto, director of research at investment firm MacDougall, MacDougall, and MacTier, said: "Most corporations tend to pare back whenever they think they can do with less people. No one wants to be let go, but it's an ongoing thing for any big corporation to constantly look at their expenses and see what they can do without." The idea that there are other stakeholders in the firm other than the stockholders simply does not arise. The purpose of the firm is to maximize profits. If this increases unemployment so be it. This is just unfortunate collateral damage intrinsic to the system. As the appended video shows banks in the US are also cutting thousands of jobs and preparing for headwinds later on after interest rates rise but in the meantime they are making even more profits and their stocks are expected to rise.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Former head of BC Hydro Marc Eliesen withdraws from Kinder Morgan pipeline hearings

Marc Eliesen, who was formerly head of British Columbia Hydro, pulled out of federal government hearings on a proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline that would run parallel to its existing pipeline linking Alberta and Vancouver, BC.

Kinder Morgan has headquarters in Houston, Texas and is the fourth largest energy company in North America. In 2013 Kinder Morgan filed an application before the Canadian National Energy Board(NEB) to build a second pipeline parallel to the Trans Mountain line it already owns. This new pipeline would boost the amount of oil the company could ship to Vancouver to 850,000 barrels from 300,000 barrels per day. Cost of construction is estimated at $5.4 billion.
 The new line would allow much larger volumes of tar sands oil to be shipped to the US and Asia. In a letter sent to the National Energy Board Eliesen claimed that the federal hearing process on the project was "a farce". Among other failings Eliesen noted that oral cross examination of testimony had been removed entirely. Eliesen said: "Unfortunately, I have come to the conclusion that the board, through its decisions, is engaged in a public deception. Continued involvement with this process is a waste of time and effort, and represents a disservice to the public interest because it endorses a fraudulent process."
The provincial New Democratic Party environment critic Spencer Chandra-Hebert suggested that the province should not participate in the federal process: "I think the province should pull out of the Kinder Morgan process, and instead run our own environmental assessment process, where we can hold Kinder Morgan accountable and not let them get away without answering tough questions about their ability to respond to oil spills."
 Kinder Morgan has been found to have violated safety standards on a number of occasions by the US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration(PHMSA) in the US. A list of violations can be found here. In his testimony Marc Eliesen described the National Energy Board as "a truly industry captured regulator." Eliesen should know. Not only was he former CEO of BC Hydro but he was deputy minister of energy in both the provinces of Manitoba and Ontario and he also was once on the board of the oil giant Suncor. He spent 40 years in the industry.
 It is not his first foray into criticism of pipeline projects since during earlier hearings on the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipelines he suggested that the company's energy forecasts were based on "bogus economics". Eliesen testified:“It is my contention that Enbridge has submitted marketing propaganda masquerading as economic analysis because of the one-sided, self-serving private benefit picture the proponent has presented. Therefore the public benefit test is not being met and therefore the project is not in the public interest,”
As to the present Kinder Morgan hearings Eliesen claimed that the hearings are "dismissive of intervenors" and "showed a lack of respect" for participants. In an interview with the Vancouver Observer Eliesen said: "In my view the NEB hearing process is a rigged game. In the past, there was a more objective evaluation of projects that would come forward...but it's reached a stage where the NEB is not interested in the public interest, and more interested in facilitating the infrastructure for the oil and gas industry." The city councils of both Vancouver and nearby Burnaby oppose the Kinder Morgan proposal because it would increase oil tanker traffic in the Burrard Inlet six-fold.
The NEB spokesperson Sarah Kiley defended the hearings claiming they would not be biased: "We have a long history of conducting hearings that are rigorous, thorough and fair and the Trans Mountain Expansion project is no exception. As an expert and independent tribunal, it is up to the NEB to gather the information and evidence necessary to make an informed decision," Kiley claimed that the NEB had removed oral cross-examinations in past projects.
 Eliesen said that any claim that omitting oral cross-examination was standard procedure was simply false: "For them to suggest they've done this in the past is totally misleading and erroneous. We've never had in the history of the NEB a public hearing process in which there was no oral cross examination...You have a situation here where all intervenors have done due diligence and have put in a heck of a lot of work and time and cost...and you submit all these questions. And you have proponents refusing to answer questions, who appeal to the NEB. That's what makes this whole thing a farce."
 There is not just hostility in city councils and at the hearings but on the ground as protesters have blocked survey work in a conservation area in Metro Vancouver. Lawyers for the company are seeking an injunction to stop the protests.

Friday, October 31, 2014

MP Dean del Mastro found guilty of overspending in 2008 federal campaign

Judge Lisa Cameron found Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro from Peterborough Ont. guilty of overspending in the 2008 federal election and falsifying a document to cover this up.

Del Mastro now could lose his seat in the House of Commons, and face a sentence of up to three years in jail, and also $6,000 in fines. However, Del Mastro is considering an appeal of the decision. Prosecutors claimed that Del Mastro had ordered $21,000 in services from Holinshed a now-defunct company. However, his campaign realized that claiming the whole amount would put it over the spending limit and so claimed only $1,575 was spent. Del Mastro however claims that the $21,000 he paid from his personal account was for separate services from Frank Hall, Holinshed's owner, that he had never actually delivered.
The judge countered Del Mastro's claim. She said that the timing of the contract and the language it contained showed that it "is plainly a contract for election services". She also described Del Mastro as not being credible and had a number of inconsistencies in his testimony. In particular, she rejected Del Mastro's claim that Frank Hall had falsified e-mail correspondence. She accepted the evidence of Hall while discounting the evidence of Del Mastro. Del Mastro has repeatedly attacked Hall even once in the House of Commons where he would be protected by parliamentary privilege.
 Del Mastro was once parliamentary secretary to Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Del Mastro was convicted of three counts in all, exceeding the spending limit, taking steps to hide this, and finally exceeding his personal donation limit. Michelle Laliberte, a spokesperson for the Office of the Commissioner of Elections said: "Anyone convicted of having committed an offence that is considered to be an illegal practice under the act is not entitled to be elected or sit in the House of Commons for a period of five years from the date of conviction,"
However, Del Mastro said that he was not planning to leave his seat since he had a mandate from people in Peterborough his riding to serve them. He protested that he was innocent and had broken no laws. Del Mastro's lawyer Jeff Ayotte said that credibility issues were "difficult to appeal". There may be more drama if Del Mastro continues to sit in Parliament.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Manitoba NDP premier faces internal political crisis

The last four elections, fifteen years, Manitoba has elected the New Democrats to rule the province. Even though during the last election Greg Selinger the leader of the party and premier won a resounding majority he is facing internal criticism.

Several senior cabinet ministers in Sellinger's government publicly spoke out about public dissatisfaction with the premier's performance. Five ministers and one former minister spoke out on Monday and Tuesday of this week: "..Justice Minister Andrew Swan, Jobs and the Economy Minister Theresa Oswald, Health Minister Erin Selby, Local Government Minister Stan Struthers, Finance Minister Jennifer Howard and former labour minister Becky Barrett — suggested that Selinger should consider his future and come to a decision that is in the best interests of the government and the province. " Selinger did not take the hint and announce his resignation or even a leadership review. He announced he intends to lead the NDP in the next election.
No Manitoba premier has ever been ousted by his party midway through his term and leading a majority government. The only time that an NDP premier lost power in Manitoba was in 1988. Howard Pawley resigned but only because he lost a confidence vote when an NDP member voted against his own party's budget. The NDP has 35 of the 57 seats in the legislature so at least 7 party members would need to vote against any legislation to bring the government down and force an election. No doubt few party members want that to happen since the party would likely lose the election.
 The New Democratic Party is regarded as on the left of the political spectrum. However, the Manitoba NDP has been far from radical. The former premier Gary Doer was arguably much better at communicating with the public then Greg Sellinger who was a social work professor and then a finance minister. Doer was chosen by Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper to be Canadian ambassador to the United States. This gives an indication of how far to the left Doer was. He is now no doubt busy selling the merits of Tar Sands development in Washington.
Becky Barret, a former labour minister said that Selinger made a mistake in not stepping down for the party's sake. She thinks that if he stays on the NDP will lose to the Conservatives: "He missed that opportunity. He didn't take that decisive leadership role and I'm very disappointed that didn't happen,"
Selinger lost a great deal of support when he changed his position on raising the provincial sales tax. In his 2011 election campaign he promised not to raise the provincial sales tax from 7 to 8 percent but then in July of 2013 he did exactly that. At least he kept his promise for about two years, not too bad for a politician. Several other provinces also have eight per cent sales tax including Ontario next door to Manitoba. Quebec has almost a ten percent tax and Nova Scotia's tax is also ten. Manitoba is hardly exceptional. The exceptional province is Alberta with no sales tax at all. Barrett complained that Selinger has never been able to explain to the people why he changed his mind on the tax and as a result has lost the trust of the people.
 Given that Selinger has decided not to resign, a cabinet shuffle can be expected with those ministers who have publicly criticized the premier losing their portfolios. As Selinger delicately phrased it: "I've said all options are available as we move forward. Every year we review how we've been doing together and cabinet shuffles are often one of the alternatives that are available to you,"
 Allen Mills, a political science prof. at the University of Winnipeg said of Selinger: "He has a political crisis on his hands in the form of, well, five cabinet ministers that clearly challenged his authority and did so publicly. And it seems to me that in the norms of the parliamentary system, they either have to resign or he has to fire them." Paul Thomas, professor emeritus of political studies at the University of Manitoba also noted that the situation was very dramatic and unprecedented in the modern political era.
  Probe Research in an October 9th poll done for the Winnipeg Free Press and CTV showed the Progressive Conservatives with a 12 point percentage lead over the New Democrats:The Progressive Conservatives currently have the support of 42 percent of decided Manitoba voters, down slightly from the level of support the party recorded in June (-3%). Three-in-ten decided voters, meanwhile, would cast a ballot for the New Democratic Party in a hypothetical general election (30%, down from 32% in June). One-in-five voters (20%) now prefer the provincial Liberals – which marks a slight increase (+4%) since the last Probe Research survey in June. Eight percent of decided voters would cast a ballot for the Green Party or other parties not represented in the Legislature. The last election was on October 4, 2011 but the next election is not expected until April of 2016. This gives the NDP a considerable length of time to rebuild the party and public trust but there is no guarantee this will happen. Governments sometimes are able to create the conditions for their own defeat.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Justin Trudeau's position on Iraq and public opinion polls

Both Liberal leader Justin Trudeau who is leading in recent federal polls and Thomas Mulcair of the New Democratic Party(NDP) voted against the bombing mission of Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Iraq.

Two recent polls indicate that a majority of Canadians support Canada's Iraq mission and also Stephen Harper's judgment on the matter. Yet, as an article by Eric Grenier indicates, the results do not clearly show that Trudeau's position on Iraq has had any negative effect on support for the Liberal party.
An EKOS research survey shows that 58 per cent of Canadians strongly or somewhat support Canada's Iraq mission while only 39 per cent are opposed. As usual with such results the polls actually show that most Canadians 58 per cent favor a "non-military response such as aid and assistance to refugees" a position supported by both opposition parties. 21 per cent favored limiting the response to airstrikes where another 23 per cent wanted a "fuller military response including airstrikes and ground combat". The last two positions favoring a military mission add up to only 44 per cent, less than a majority.
Another poll by Abacus Data showed that 54 per cent thought that Prime Minister Harper showed good or at least acceptable judgment in dealing with the IS threat with only 23 per cent thinking that he had shown poor judgment. Note that a considerable number in these polls said they did not have sufficient information to make a judgment. For both Mulcair and Trudeau 39 per cent of respondents said that they had shown good or acceptable judgment. However, more thought Trudeau's judgment was poor, 28 per cent while just 19 per cent thought this for Mulcair.
Opposition to the Canadian mission in Iraq was strongest among New Democrats at 60 per cent. Support was strongest among Conservatives at 90 per cent but Liberals showed a slight majority in favor with only 45 per cent opposed according to an Ekos poll. The EKOS poll showed that the Liberal party still had the support of nearly 39 per cent, almost the same as the last two polls. The support for the Conservatives and New Democrats remained about the same. This suggests that the issue has had little or no impact on support for any party.
As often happens with polls however, the results of the Abacus survey indicate a drop this week in Liberal support to 32 per cent, six points lower than the 38 per cent they had back in September in contrast to the EKOS poll. Yet these results when looked at in depth make the situation even less clear. The fall in Liberal support was worst in Ontario where they dropped from 41 per cent to 32 per cent just two per cent more than the Conservatives. However, the New Democrats are the party that gained nine points, and they are also the party most opposed to the Canadian Iraq mission.
 Over the last five months Liberals averaged 43 per cent in Ontario polls with the NDP at only 18 per cent. Surely the conclusion one could draw from this is that opposing the Iraq mission is the way to gain support since the NDP are most opposed. Detailed descriptions of the surveys is given at the end of this article.
 The next federal election in Canada is scheduled for Oct. 19 2015 almost a year away. The three main party standings in the most recent Abacus poll on October 17 in percentage support were: Conservatives 30; NDP 25; Liberals 32. In contrast the EKOS poll just two days earlier showed: Conservatives 26.4; NDP 25; Liberals 38.5. If the present trends continue it looks as if the Conservatives will lose their majority government but not to the NDP who are at present the main opposition but to the Liberal party. The Iraq mission so far seems not to be much of an issue.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Gunman attacks parliament wounds guard

Ottawa - Although details are still sketchy an armed man emerged near the National War Memorial on Parliament Hill. He then shot four times wounding a guard. He then apparently was able to enter the parliament buildings.
The shooter is still said to be on the loose although one MP Bernard Trottier had tweeted that the gunman was shot and killed inside the Centre Block. The area has been sealed off by police and the guard who was shot has been taken to hospital. Police locked down parliament. Tactical Ottawa police arrived pointed guns at journalists and ordered them to the ground. Reporters were in lockdown in the foyer at the front of the House of Commons.
Stephen Harper, the prime minister, is reported safe and has left the parliament buildings. One Calgary MP Michelle Rempel tweeted to her mother that she was safe but that there were shots outside the caucus room. One body was reported visible from the Library of Parliament that is about in the middle of the Centre Block. It was not clear if the body was of the suspect or a law enforcement officer.
 This attack occurs after another incident Monday in Quebec in a hit and run event that ended up killing one soldier and injuring another. Martin Couture-Rouleah was being tracked by police as a person with potential terrorist links.The suspect was later shot and killed after a chase in which his vehicle overturned. He had deliberately run over the two soldiers and then sped away. Police had arrested Rouleau-Couture last July and confiscated his passport as he was about to leave for Turkey. He had converted to Islam about a year ago. The police did not have evidence sufficient to lay any charges at the time but he was under surveillance.
 Another report claims that two MP's said that the gunman had been killed but that this had not been confirmed. The attack came just hours after the government had raised its terror threat level from low to medium. Ottawa police tweeted: "Shots fired at War Memorial at 9:52 AM today; one person injured." However, it is clear that several shots were also fired within the parliament buildings themselves. Earlier this month Canada decided to take part in the coalition fighting against the Islamic State in Iraq.

UPDATE: The guard who was shot died. The gunman was killed inside the parliament buildings. There was just one shooter not several as earlier reports suggested.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Harper government to give more powers to CSIS spy agency

The Canadian Conservative government of Stephen Harper has announced that it will increase the powers of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service(CSIS) the main spy agency in Canada.

The Minister of Public Safety Stephen Blaney said the legislation would give the CSIS more power to investigate terrorist threats outside Canada — and also to protect the identity of informants working for CSIS. Blaney referred to the advance of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq as showing the need to increase the powers of CSIS:"The events in recent months in Iraq and Syria have shown us that we cannot become complacent in the face of terrorism. Now more than ever, a motivated individual or a group of extremists with access to technology can do significant harm to Canada from thousands of miles away." Blaney claimed that the new legislation will allow CSIS to track and investigate potential terrorists when they travel outside Canada which could ultimately lead to prosecution.
Blaney claims that the government as of early 2014 the government knew of 130 individuals with connections to Canada who were suspected of engaging in terrorist activities. Eighty of these suspects had already returned to Canada and were being investigated. The legislation would allow CSIS to work more closely with the Five Eyes spy group that includes Canada, United States, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. The legislation would allow CSIS to obtain information from the other four "eyes" on Canadians suspected of fighting with terrorist groups abroad. In turn CSIS could provide other members with information on their citizens in Canada.
The FIve Eyes(FVEY) is described by whistleblower and former US National Security Agency contractor as a "supra-national intelligence organisation that does not answer to the laws of its own countries." : Documents leaked by Snowden in 2013 revealed that the FVEY have been intentionally spying on one another's citizens and sharing the collected information with each other in order to circumvent restrictive domestic regulations on spying. The new Canadian legislation will make legal what CSIS had been doing all along even though it was against the law. CSIS has been subject to a number of criticisms. The Maher Arar report criticised CSIS for not sufficiently subjecting material obtained through torture to critical analysis. A CSIS mole infiltrated a Canadian white supremacist movement from 1988 to 1994 the Heritage Front. Not only was the mole, Grant Bristow, one of the founders of the group, but he ensured that CSIS funds came to the group.
The new CSIS headquarters in Ottawa will be the most expensive government building ever built in Canada. As an October 2013 CBC article noted: While the Harper government is preaching government austerity, it is spending almost $1.2 billion on a new Ottawa headquarters for a little-known military spy agency. The expenditure shows the priority that the government gives to its spy agency.
Two lawyers with a great deal of experience defending clients involving security told the CBC that the blanket protection given to protect sources might cause court proceedings to be unfair to those accused. Lawyer Norm Boxal, who represents an Algerian refugee in a security case, said: "These types of privileges can have far-reaching effects, and can close off information in cases where it would be important to have.There is no problem to have a secret source — that can be done all the time, and within the existing law. The problem is when you have secret information and you choose to act on it, and that's the difference. If they want to use the secret information to enforce things — [for] deportation, or in criminal trials — they should have to produce the source." Paul Copeland, a Toronto lawyer agreed that giving class privilege to intelligence informants would be "highly dangerous" and claimed that the only way to test evidence was to be able to cross-examine on it.
 Steve Hewitt, a senior lecturer in Canadian and American Studies at the University of Birmingham notes that in passing this legislation Canada is following the UK model rather than that of the US where informants are often brought into court in terrorism cases and subject to rigorous cross-examination. He notes that some informants act out of self-interest and for money. Failing to provide a fair trial for suspected terrorists is not likely to hurt the Harper government politically. The appended video shows the type of overseer Stephen Harper appointed for the CSIS.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Canadian studies show neonicotinoids a danger to birds and bees

New research into the longer-term effects of neonicotinoids show that the effects of these most common insecticides are raising serious questions about their use.

Nigel Raine of the University of Guelph, an expert in pollinator conservation found that neonicotinoids affect the ability of bees to find and collect food. The neonicotinoids are neurotoxins that is they adversely affect the functioning of the nervous system. Nicotine was long known to be effective as an insecticide but it is also harmful to mammals. Neonicotinoids were developed so as to avoid harmful effects on mammals. By 2008 neonicotinoids made up 24 percent of the global pesticide market. In seed treatment neonicotinoids constituted 80 per cent of the market.
 However, recent studies have raised serious question about the effects of the insecticides on bee populations and also on birds. Some bird species that depend upon insects for food are suffering in areas that make extensive use of these effective insecticides. As with any intervention by science meant to aid man produce food more efficiently there are often negative results on the environment. Large corporations dominate in advanced nations' agricultural system and their profits and interest come into play. This in turn tends to corrupt or at the very least slant scientific studies in the hope of supporting the positions of the corporation. However, there is often bias on the other side as well since environmentalism has become for some a cause that is to be pushed forward to save the planet and the environment. Often environmentalists believe that they know what is the case, namely that their opposition is manipulating the facts and is concerned only with profits and not the environment even though in many cases the facts may be exceedingly complex and open to dispute. However, in the case of the neonicotinoids evidence is accumulating to show that they produce enough damage to be severely limited in their application and perhaps even banned.
 Raine discovered that bees treated with neonicotinoids showed the neurological effects of the toxins in their behavior: "When the neonicotinoid-treated bees go out of the colony for the first time to look for flowers, something about their exposure to that pesticide means that they’re less able to collect as much pollen as the bees that are untreated. And that impact only gets worse over time, because the untreated bees improve their performance and their ability.” The consequences of this lack of performance is smaller colonies with fewer queens and fewer colonies. Dr. Raine notes that pollinators, including both honeybees and wild pollinators are in decline around the world. However, as others have pointed out there are a number of different causes of this.
 Pierre Petelle, vice-president of chemistry at CropLife Canada claims that the "neonics" as he calls them are not one of the causes. However, even he admits that there have been some problems. In 2012 dust raised from their application did drift onto some bee colonies killing the bees. He claims that farmers and manufacturers are working to change the way that the pesticides are applied to avoid this happening again. There are increases in the number of bee colony collapses in many different countries. While neonics are likely one cause of this phenomenon there are numerous other factors. Often the factors work together to exacerbate the problem. Among the causes of colony collapse(CCD) are the varroa mite that spreads a virus: "According to a 2007 article, the mite Varroa destructor remains the world's most destructive honey bee killer, due in part to the viruses it carries including deformed wing virus and acute bee paralysis virus, which have both been implicated in CCD.[103][105] Affliction with Varroa mites also tends to weaken the immune system of the bees. Dr. Enesto Guzman, an entomological researcher at the University of Guelph in Canada, studied 413 Ontario bee colonies in 2007–08. About 27% of hives did not survive the winter, and the Varroa mite was identified as the cause in 85% of the cases.[106] As such, Varroa mites have been considered as a possible cause of CCD, though not all dying colonies contain these mites.[107]
 There are debates about the effects of neonics on birds as well. Christy Morrisey, from the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon found just last year that 90 percent of prairie potholes had small amounts of neonics. This means that the chemicals stayed in the soil and washed into the water. Morrissey said: "Insecticides or pesticides in general are not supposed to be on the market if they persist [in the environment. We do not want chemicals that are designed to kill lasting in the environment for weeks, months or years. …You want pesticides to be applied, do their job, kill the pest and then be gone." Dr. Morrisey is now studying how the neonics in the water may be affecting the aquatic insects and also the health of tree swallows nearby. He said: "We do not want chemicals that are designed to kill lasting in the environment for weeks, months or years." A Dutch study published this summer showed there were annual declines in insect-eating birds in areas that had higher surface-water concentrations of a popular type of neonic.
Pettell of CropLife claims that the concentrations of neonics that Morrissey finds are too low to have any effect on aquatic insects. Industry studies on the water flea show that there is no danger to aquatic insects or wildlife. Pettell may be correct in his remarks about Morrissey's findings but the industry studies are themselves an example of slanted science. The water flea is according to Morrissey compared to other insects tested on average about 1,000 times less sensitive to neonics. She also complained that compared to the aquatic insects that birds like to eat it is between 10,000 and 100,000 less sensitive. If Morrissey is correct it is hardly surprising that the water flea is not hurt by the neonics in the water.
 Even if the pesticides are not banned at the very least their use should be restricted. As seed coatings they are used as a prophylactic even in fields where there are no insect infestations. In Canada all canola and corn seeds are coated and they are used in seeds of some other crops as well such as soybeans. A recent report of the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides analyzes 800 different studies and concluded that pesticides including neonics are having widespread effects on ecosystems far beyond killing crop pests. The scientists involved recommend that there should be a plan for a global phasing out of the chemicals or at the very least a plan that would see farmers use pesticides only when their crops actually are threatened by insect pests.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Canada will join the US-led coalition to attack the Islamic State in Iraq

Canada will join in the coalition led by the US to combat the Islamic State. The mission will involve air combat but no ground troops and will be only in Iraq not Syria and initially will be for six months.

A motion was tabled in the Canadian House of Commons today, October 3, and the text can be found here. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said that the contribution will include an air-to-air refueling plane, two surveillance aircraft, and also Canada is offering up to six CF-18 fighter jets. Canada will provide pilots and support personnel. For now, Harper said that Canada would attack the Islamic State only where it had the clear support of the country being bombed. This would not include Syria but Harper said also that he might expand the airstrikes if the situation changes. Canada is already providing humanitarian aid to Iraq as well as weapons for the Kurdish peshmerga.
 Canada's Conservative government had already authorized the deployment of up to 69 military advisers for a period of thirty days, the new motion extends that authorization for another six months.The former authorization extended only until tomorrow. Harper emphasized that no ground troops would be involved. Canada was invited by the US to join in the fight against the Islamic State.
Australia has already indicated it will join the US-led coalition:Four Royal Australian Air Force F/A-18F Super Hornets, a KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport refueling aircraft, and an E-7A Wedgetail Early Warning and Control Aircraft took to the air Thursday before Australia announced the move. Australian special forces troops will be deployed in Iraq to assist in the fight against Islamic State militants, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Friday, and its aircraft will also join U.S.-led coalition strikes. There has been no UN motion sanctioning the attacks.
 No opposition party supported the new Canadian mission for now. The leader of the New Democratic Party(NDP) Tom Mulcair said that humanitarian aid and diplomatic measures should happen before a military attack. However, he did not rule out supporting the mission if his questions are answered during debate in the coming week. Mulcair worried that Canada could be dragged into a quagmire such as the last Iraq war that lasted for a decade when the US invaded Iraq. Mulcair also worried that Harper might extend the mission to bombing Syria without having a vote in parliament on the issue. Mulcair made the same criticism of the Syrian attacks on the Islamic State as many Syrian rebels, namely that the bombings aided Assad. Some of Mulcair's remarks are on the appended video. The NDP House Leader Peter Julian told reporters that the party needs to see Harper tackle the questions that the NDP had been posing for some time: “We do see the prime minister making very controlled comments but he hasn’t answered some of the basic questions we’ve been asking around timelines, around the scope of the mission, about whether he’s asking for an extension of the mission to Syria.” Julian also stressed that humanitarian aid should be the prime focus of any Canadian mission. Justin Trudeau, the leader of the Liberal Party, and son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau said that his party would not support the mission saying: "The Liberal Party of Canada cannot and will not support this prime minister's motion to go to war in Iraq. The prime minister in his motion today once again relied on rhetoric rather than facts and information. He has no plan, he has not justified his case for going to war in Iraq, and therefore the Liberal Party cannot support it." Trudeau had supported the earlier 30 day non-combat mission in Iraq. Trudeau echoed the NDP complaints that Harper did not answer questions about the mission adequately.
 Elizabeth May the leader and sole representative of the Green Party in the Canadian parliament also opposed the mission and wanted more than the one day of debate scheduled for Monday or Tuesday next week and voted on the same day. May said she supported Harper's intentions but said that in the past bombing countries has not been helpful. She also suggested that provoking military action might be exactly what the Islamic State wanted. Harper's Conservative government enjoys a majority in parliament so it is expected that the motion approving the mission will be approved Monday or Tuesday.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Fracking an issue as Liberals win majority in New Brunswick election

Brian Gallant, the leader of the New Brunswick Liberal party, won a majority in the eastern province triumphing over the incumbent Progressive Conservatives of David Alward.

During the count, the lead changed several times but in the end the Liberals held 27 seats with only 21 for the Progressive Conservatives(PC) with the Green Party winning one seat. Detailed results for each constituency can be found here.The vote was marred by problems with voting machines: Before the results were declared, however, the tabulations of ballots were suspended late Monday for almost two hours due to concerns about technical issues with memory cards and discrepancies with the vote-counting machines. The issue led the Tories to call for the ballots to be counted by hand, but the Liberals demanded that Elections New Brunswick be left alone to determine the result. Because of the ballot-counting problems the PC leader had not conceded defeat.
There were eight female members elected in the 49 constituencies. Nine cabinet ministers in the ousted PC government went down to defeat. However, five seats were won by less than 100 votes. In the Saint John East riding Liberal Gary Keating won over the incumbent PC member Glen Savoie by a mere eight votes.The leader of the People's Alliance Kris Austin lost to the PC incumbent Pam Lynch in Fredericton-Grand Lake by only 26 votes. The party won just over 2 percent of the vote province-wide.
 In terms of vote percentage Liberals had 42.7 percent, PC's 34.6, New Democratic Party(NDP) 13 percent, Green Party 6.6 percent and People's Alliance 2.1. The NDP failed to gain a seat in the legislature and the leader Dominic Cardy resigned even though the NDP vote actually increased by several percentage points from the previous election. The Green Party, with half the number of votes as the NDP, nevertheless made history by electing David Coon, a well-known environmentalist, in Fredericton South. Coon is the first ever Green MLA in New Brunswick and only the second to be elected to a provincial legislature in Canada. There is one Green member of the federal parliament, Elizabeth May.
 In spite of the vote tally issues, the New Brunswick chief electoral official said that results of the election on the government website are accurate. The official results will not be announced for four days after results have been reviewed. Tom Bateman, a St. Thomas University political scientist said: “If you cannot trust that the technology has indicated exactly how New Brunswickers wanted their vote expressed, how do you say to the people of New Brunswick this is an election and these are the results you can have faith in?”
Among one of the important issues in the campaign was fracking. The Liberal leader Brian Gallant promised a moratorium on fracking "until risks to the environment, health and water are fully understood". On the other side, the PC leader David Alward promoted shale gas development as a prominent part of his campaign arguing that such development would create jobs and keep skilled workers in the province rather than heading off to Alberta.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

John Tory well ahead in Toronto mayoralty race but Rob Ford is second

John Tory, a former leader of the Progressive Conservative party of Ontario, is far in the lead for mayor of the city of Toronto. However scandal-ridden Rob Ford the present mayor is in second, and Olivia Chow of the New Democratic Party is in third.

The latest Forum Research Poll has Tory with 40 percent support, to 28 percent for Ford and just 21 percent for Olivia Chow. Chow has seen her support dwindle in Scarborough in the east end of Toronto from 31 percent in July to nine percent at present lower than the approximately 13 per cent for Ford. The CEO of Forum Research Lorne Bozinoff said of Olivia Chow: “Her support really has been declining over the last two months, and she’s hit a new low now … she’s one of the candidates that wants to replace the Scarborough subway with an LRT, and that’s really costing her support. Not surprisingly, almost all the Chow vote would go to John Tory. None of it really would go to Rob Ford." Chow also is in favor of improving bus services. Chow has now started to call herself the underdog in the race as she lags behind even the disgraced mayor Rob Ford. 
 Candidate David Soknacki is withdrawing from the race and has six percent of the vote according to Bozinoff. Three per cent of that vote is expected to go to Chow with two percent to Ford and just one percent to Tory. This will still leave Tory well in the lead. He is leading in every area of the city. The Forum poll was of 1,060 residents using an automated system of interactive voice response phone calls and has a margin of error of three percentage points, nineteen times out of twenty.  
Another poll by Nanos Research earlier also showed Tory well in the lead. The poll surveyed 1,000 residents between August 27 to 31. Pollsters asked participants simply who they would vote for if the election were held today. Tory received 42 percent support, Ford 28 per cent and Olivia Chow 26 per cent. David Soknacki who is now withdrawing had three percent. The vote is to be held October 27, so there is still time for the figures to change. Tory is seen by many as the obvious choice to keep out Ford and this may be hurting Chow. Both Tory and Chow are trying to woo Liberal voters. However, the NDP irritated the Liberals by precipitating a provincial election that the Liberals won. The election could have been avoided if the NDP had supported the Liberal budget. The budget had a number of progressive features that many labor groups supported causing some friction within the New Democratic Party. 
 Just recently Rob Ford was found to have an abdominal tumor. Tests will be needed to see if the tumor is malignant. There is no indication as yet that he intends to withdraw from the race.