Monday, July 27, 2015

Harper's anti-terror legislation facing legal challenge in Ontario court

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association(CCLA) and the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression(CJFE) are challenging the constitutionality of Bill C-51, the Conservative's new anti-terror legislation in Ontario's Superior Court of Justice.
The CCLA is the leading group in Canada working for defence of civil liberties and constitutional rights. The CCLA works on law reform, constitutional litigation, and presenting briefs on civil liberty issues before public officials and elected bodies. It receives no government support but is funded by members and the general public. The group has taken on unpopular cases on principle including the defense of the neo-Nazi Ernst Zundel, and Jim Keegstra, the anti-Semite against censorship. CJFE is an NGO supported by Canadian journalists. The purpose of the group is to defend the rights of journalists and promote press freedom around the globe. It also promotes freedom of expression in general for everyone.
The Conservative anti-terror legislation , Bill C-51, which just recently came into effect, allows the Canadian Security Intelligence Services(CSIS) much greater power to thwart suspected terrorist plots than its traditional role of collecting information. The CCLA and the CJFE claim key elements of the legislation conflict with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and are thus unconstitutional, since they do this "in a manner that is not justified in a free and democratic society."
Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney disagreed with this assessment, saying:"This bill is crafted with very reasonable measures, I leave it to the court to make their own view and analysis of the bill. We're pretty confident that this bill is there for the right reason, to protect Canadians, and that it will stand any challenge that it could face."
In contrast, Tom Henheffer, executive director of the CJFE claims:“This law is so dangerous, so incredibly over-broad and such a clear violation of that Charter, I don’t think there is any way a judge will be able to turn down our challenge."
Should a proposed process to disrupt a possible terrorist attack violate the Charter of Rights or break other Canadian laws, the CSIS would require a court warrant. The court challenge notes that this turns the role of the judiciary upside down. Instead of protecting rights and encouraging obedience to the law, the judiciary are to authorize violating people's rights and breaking of the law.
The legal challenge also objects to authorities being given the power to add someone to the no-fly list "on mere suspicion" that the person might commit an act that threatens an airplane. The court filing claims: "Once placed on the no-fly list, it is very difficult for the individual to remove their name from the list.There is no due process, no fundamental justice, and no natural justice under the scheme."
The application to the court also criticizes the vagueness of the language used in the law. The phrase "undermines the security of Canada" is unclear. Finally, the new crime of promoting terrorist offences is also vague but will also have a very chilling effect on free expression. Henheffer noted: "If you publish any information coming from a terrorist group, that is illegal under this law. That is astoundingly troubling.” CCLA lawyer, Anil Kapooor, said that the provision is a direct assault on free speech as protected by the Charter, and as such has ramifications for all Canadians: “It narrows the scope of permissible expression. We believe that the current constitutional standard of freedom of expression should be maintained across all our laws.” Reporters might refrain from interviewing suspected terrorists or making critical comments about actions of security forces at events that might be classified as terrorist. Under the new law reporters in these situations could be charged with the crime of promoting terrorism if authorities judged that their reports did so. This would have a very chilling effect on reporting of such events.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

NDP and Conservatives virtually tied in projection for most seats in fall election

The probability of the Conservatives under leader Stephen Harper winning the next federal election is 50.4, according to a Globe and Mail model.
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While the New Democratic Party(NDP) has a small lead over the Conservatives in recent polls, this does not necessarily mean the NDP will take more seats than the Conservatives. For example, almost doubling support in Alberta from the last election may do little to change the huge margins by which many federal Conservatives win in Alberta. The prediction assumes current conditions, past voting behavior and normal campaign changes.
The Liberals, who had hoped to do well with their young new leader Justin Trudeau have only a 2.9 per cent chance of winning the most seats. However, the probablity of the NDP and Liberals together winning a majority of seats is 97.2 percent. In any European country this would mean the NDP and Liberals should join in a coalition government especially since both are to left of the Conservatives. However, coalitions in Canada are seen as unpopular. Justin Trudeau has insisted he would not form a coalition with the NDP. If the Conservatives do not get a majority they might decide to rule simply as a minority government.
The NDP is often regarded as a spendthrift party since they favor expenditures on social programs. However, historically the data do not support this as shown here. The NDP has never been in power federally so the data for the NDP is of provincial governments. Another article points out that the recent NDP government in Manitoba has seen increasing debt levels and downgrading by Moody's, but there is no comparison with what is happening in other provinces and a couple of examples do not change the overall statistics.
Data from the Poll Tracker show predicted seat results if an election were held now based on a number of recent polls. There are very helpful graphs and charts with the results. There will be 338 seats up for grabs in the House of Commons. To form a majority a party needs 170 seats. The NDP would win 128 seats; the Conservatives, 118 seats; Liberals, 88; Bloc Quebecois, 3; Green Party, 1. The Bloc Quebecois is a separatist party that runs only in Quebec province. The Poll Tracker gives a different result than the Globe simulations but are in the same general range. While the NDP wins over the Conservatives, they are nowhere near a majority position being 42 seats short.
The Liberals gain 27 seats in Ontario compared to 2011. In Manitoba and Saskatchewan the NDP has gained a number of seats despite the NDP being far less popular provincially in Saskatchewan than the conservative Saskatchewan party. A fascinating article at the National Observer shows how Harper's Conservatives might win the election.
Well-known Toronto-based election consultant Warren Kinsella, a former campaign strategist for Jean Chretien predicts : “Harper is going to win [the next election]...Until the progressive side gets its act together, Harper is going to win because [the progressives] are splitting the vote. It’s a perfect cleavage."The left vote is split at least three ways in Canada between the NDP, the Liberals, and the Green Party. Often as the election nears the Liberals will urge leftists in other parties to vote for them as the only practical alternative. In third place this time, that narrative is not likely to work.
Harper is willing to use vicious tactics to win elections. Mike Casey, a veteran Democratic communications consultant in Virignia claims:“Stephen Harper is willing to burn the house down to own the lot. ‘I will bring a gun to a knife fight. You can call foul while you’re lying bleeding on the floor' — that is the kind of ethic.”
Kinsella notes however, that Conservative success is based upon extensive research:“What the Conservatives have been able to do for a decade now is high quality research – the kind of research that only previously Coca-Cola and Procter and Gamble could afford,”
Conservative ad strategists believe that their is no sense directing ads towards people who you know are not going to vote for you. Patrick Muttart, one of Harper's top advisers since 2004, said:“Close campaigns are decided by the least informed, least engaged voters. These voters do not go looking for political news and information. This necessitates brutally simple communication with clear choices that hits the voter, whether they like it or not.”Conservative strategists use an approach called "hypersegmentation" in which party polling identifies voter demands and then ads are designed to appeal to specific segments of the population often with the help of focus groups. Research identifies seniors, working-class suburbanites especially in suburbs of Vancouver and Toronto, and families as the best targets. Policies were adopted to gain their votes to with income splitting for seniors, and families were extended tax credits. The Jewish community was offered full support for Israel.
Muttart even gives names to the different group segments. There are "Zoes" who are young, single, female, progressive downtown apartment-dwellers. Zoes are a lost cause, will never vote Conservative and should be ignored. Conservatives should target their messages to "Steves and Heathers" who are married, Protestant, small business owners with children. They are in their forties and live in the suburbs. They should also target "Eunices," widows in their seventies living on modest pensions. These groups can be usefully targeted with ads designed to entice them to vote Conservative. We will know on election day whether these well-honed techniques can overcome the accumulation of negative baggage the Conservatives have accumulated and the negative effects of a slowing Canadian economy.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

31,000 barrels of emulsion leak from Nexen pipeline in Alberta

Fort Mcmurray - About five million litres of emulsion, or 31,000 barrels, leaked from a Nexen Energy pipeline, at the company's Long Lake oilsands facility. Emulsion is a mixture of bitumen, water, and sand. The leak is one of the worst in Alberta's history.
The leak was discovered on Wednesday afternoon. Nexen said that its emergency response plan had been activated with personnel onsite who were able to stabilize the leak. The pipeline is a feeder line that runs from a wellhead to a processing plant. Nexen issued a statement saying:"All necessary steps and precautions have been taken, and Nexen will continue to utilize all its resources to protect the health and safety of our employees, contractors, the public and the environment, and to contain and clean up the spill."The company said the spill affected about 16,000 square meters, mostly along the pipeline route. The spill is said to be equivalent to about 31,000 barrels.
Peter Murchland, public affairs manager for the Alberta Energy Regulator(AER), said that his officials had been notified Wednesday on the day of the strike and by Thursday had staff at the site to work with Nexen. Murchland said: "My understanding is that the pipeline and pad site had been isolated and shut-in earlier today, effectively stopping the source of the release,..They go through a cleanup phase in accordance with the regulations set by the AER. And we'll have our subject-matter experts work alongside the operator, today and going forward, to make sure that safety and environmental requirements are met."
While Murchland said that there had been no reports of negative effects on wildlife as yet, the company was ordered to implement a wildlife protection plan. Both Nexen and Murchland said that it was too early to know the cause of the spill. The company is investigating how long the line was leaking before it was turned off. The spill was the largest in Alberta in 35 years, although in April of 2011 a Plains Midstream Canada pipeline spilled 4.5 million litres of crude oil adjacent to a First Nations community, Little Buffalo, in northwest Alberta. In March, the AER investigated a spill of about 2.7 million litres of condensate at Murphy Oil's Seal oilfield in northwestern Alberta. Condensate is used to dilute heavy oil so it can flow through pipelines.
Greenpeace on Thursday issued a statement condemning Alberta's history of pipeline spills. The spill occurs as provincial premiers are meeting in St. John's with a major discussion topic a national energy strategy. This could very well involve speeding up the approval process for new tar sands pipelines. Peter Louwe,Greenpeace communications officer said:"This leak is also a good reminder that Alberta has a long way to go to address its pipeline problems, and that communities have good reasons to fear having more built, New pipelines would also facilitate the expansion of the tarsands — Canada's fastest-growing source of carbon emissions — and accelerate the climate crisis even more. We need to stop new pipeline projects before they're built and focus on building renewable sources of energy that are sustainable and won't threaten communities, our environment, and the planet."
While the emulsion has not flowed into any body of water, it did spill into muskeg according to the AER. Long Lake is about 35 kilometres southeast of Fort McMurray.The facility uses steam to heat the bitumen in the oilsands enabling it to flow to the surface. Nexen, originally a Canadian company, was taken over by China's CNOOC several years ago.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Canada's GDP growth downgraded by International Monetary Fund

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) now predicts a lower growth rate for Canada in 2015. Last month the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) also predicted lower growth rates for Canada this year.
The IMF now projects the growth in GDP for Canada this year at only 1.5 percent. In April the IMF predicted a growth rate of 2.2 percent. The U.S. rate is now predicted to grow at a 2.5 percent rate but that is also down from 3.1 percent earlier. The EU growth rate is predicted at the same rate as Canada 1.5 percent in spite of problems with Greece. The rate is unchanged from the April prediction.
The OECD had predicted a Canadian growth rate of 2.2 percent in March but reduced this to 1.5 percent in June. The decline in oil prices, negative growth in the first quarter, and sluggish pace of new investments all contributed to the reduced growth prediction. Some are predicting that there will be a recession in Canada. While many admit there may be a technical recession, that is two consecutive quarters of negative growth, many see this as a "soft patch" with no sustained broad-based decline in economic activity. Much of the distress in the Canadian economy is focused on the energy sector. Randall Bartlett TD Bank senior economist commented: "It is likely that the Canadian economy was in recession in the first half of the year. It is commonplace to define a recession as two consecutive quarters of negative real GDP growth and output now looks to have fallen by about 1.0% in Q1 and 0.6% in Q2. The second half of the year is also likely to be weaker than previously expected, reducing annual real GDP growth to around 1.2% in 2015. This would mark the weakest pace of real GDP growth outside of a recession in over 20 years,"This view contrasts with that of Doug Porter of the BMO: "What we’re seeing right now is weakness in the energy sector… at the moment it’s not spreading much beyond that.”
The IMF claims reduced spending in the energy sector is one of the main reasons it has reduced it economic growth prediction for Canada. While the price has recovered, in the last few days prices have turned downward again. Since last summer the price of oil has seen a huge 40 percent decline. In provinces such as Alberta that are highly dependent on the energy sector, there has been considerable belt tightening and reduction in investment. The new NDP government will see declining revenues. In spite of the leftist reputation of the NDP, the new government has been attempting to develop good relations with the oil patch. Premier Rachel Notley stresses the importance for Alberta of the development of the Oil Sands.
Many economists believe that the Bank of Canada will cut interest rates further after its surprise cut in January of this year. While the IMF sees slower growth this year, it predicts an improved growth rate of 2.1 percent for 2016.
This rate will still be well below predicted global growth of 3.8 per cent for 2016. Global growth for this year is judged to be 3.3 percent. Canada is well below that, as are many developed economies.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Conservatives decide to euthanize HarperPAC shortly after giving birth to it

There are many ways in which political parties and governments can promote their agendas through the media and other activities. PACs or Political Action Committees are a common vehicle for doing this in the US.
In the US, PAC's are a legally-defined type of organization meant to promote various causes. Often they are simply used to promote large companies such as Pepsi or groups of professionals such as the American Banker's Association. When the organizations have a political link they often use their names to hide this link as in Republican's Mitt Romney's Super PAC Restore Our Future. In Canada, these types of organizations would be called "third parties". Before election campaigns, they and the political parties are able to advertise and spend free of the restrictions on spending that apply during the period of a formal campaign. We are already seeing American style attack ads on our TV screens.
HarperPAC was apparently designed to counter union-backed ads. However, it did sponsor a radio ad targeting the Liberal leader Justin Trudeau. After less than a week, its website shut down last Thursday. HarperPAC was started by a group that included a number of former Conservative staff members. The name and those running the third party group clearly brand it as on behalf of the Conservative government and party even using the last name of Prime Minister Stephen Harper in its name. Perhaps Harper and the government may have decided that is a very bad idea given that Harper's ratings are not that high.
The union-backed group that HarperPAC was meant to combat calls itself "Engage Canada". That group was started by former NDP and Liberal strategists. It is more anti-Harper policies rather than a direct promoter of either the Liberals, NDP, or unions. Its name sounds positively non-partisan compared to HarperPAC. Spokesperson for the Conservative Party, Kory Teneycke,pointed out a serious problem for the party in that the HarperPAC was using the name of the prime minister and raised money and ran advertising without input or control or even association with the Conservative election campaign. He said that Conservative supporters should show their support by donations at the party website: "What we were concerned with in this particular case is to a reasonable person, it appeared to be us. It appeared to be the Conservative Party, it appeared to be the prime minister,This other approach is sort of misleading and that's why we wanted to put an end to the use of, really, our name and our brand."He said there was no communication between the party and the group. This sounds very strange that people so close to the party would set up something like this and not communicate with the party and use Harper's name without discussing this with him and party officials. There are already anti-union groups working to counter groups such as "Engage Canada". The group "Working Canadians" is said to aim at countering excessive union influence over government, the economy, and society.
There are many ways in which various lobby groups can influence party policies. Stephen Harper himself was at one time president of the National Citizen's Coalition(NCC) The NCC early on campaigned against "socialized medicine" and the Canada Health Act. It now supports privatization, tax cuts, and government spending cuts. It opposes electoral laws that limit third party spending and wants "more freedom through less government". The NCC holds no annual membership meetings and does not provide financial statements to members. The group has headquarters in Toronto and an estimated annual budget of $2.8 million. dollars. There are also many "think tanks" that support either right-leaning or left-leaning policies. On the right there is the well known Fraser Institute and on the left Canadian Policy Alternatives. Many corporate bodies also push for policies that may help one party rather than others. For example the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers has a great many ads promoting the type of energy development supported by the Harper government. A sample is appended but they are ubiquitous on TV. A very significant source of promotion for policies of the ruling party are government sponsored information ads which often combine limited information often one-sided with promotion of government policy or feel good shots as in the one appended starring cute and cuddly Stephen Harper and pandas.
The former Canadian chief electoral officer worries that influence from big money using political action campaigns will undo decades of work that have tried to remove that influence from Canadian politics:Jean-Pierre Kingsley says Canada is headed down the road well trodden in the United States, where political action committees, or PACs, raise and spend staggering amounts of money to influence elections, without the same restrictions that apply to political parties.
The introduction of fixed dates for elections has resulted in many third party groups spending huge amounts on advertising without any restrictions before the actual election campaign period. Kingsley also said that the development was inspired by the American example. Kingsley complains: "We are in, effectively, a free-for-all zone. It took us 40 years of scandal, sweat to come to a regime where we had the best in the world for control of money in politics ... now we are back in the jungle."While the NDP and Liberals are promoting their own anti-Harper campaign through the Engage Canada group and are also spending huge sums on ads themselves before the election campaign starts, the NDP at least has used the short-lived HarperPAC as a fund-raising device:"This week, we learned that Stephen Harper's friends have set up a U.S.-style group called the HarperPAC to spend an obscene amount of money on Harper's re-election. It's the kind of money we've never seen before in Canadian politics, and it's up to us to fight back right now."
I expect that HarperPAC like the Phoenix will rise from its ashes but with a thorough rebranding.