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.