Monday, December 19, 2016

Canadian Federal Government needs to invest more in airports

Business leaders and officials from major Canadian airports have joined forces to urge Ottawa to invest more in airports to make air travel smoother and make them more competitive.

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The Canadian Global Cities Council released a report Thursday asking the Liberal government to invest in the growth of airports which it claimed are economic powerhouses helping the growth of the country. The Council represents 8 large chambers of commerce and boards of trade from across Canada. Adam Legge, president of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce said that policy-makers have overlooked the economic benefits and employment potential of airports saying during a discussion at the Economic Club of Canada:“Our concern is that the federal government uses airports as a cash cow and not as that enabler of global trade, global commerce, global connectivity.”
Howard Eng CEO of Greater Toronto Airports Authority that manages Pearson International Airport agreed: “Airports today are economic generators for their region. They are also economic generators for the country. We are in a competitive environment. We need to trade globally but in order to trade globally we need to get there . . . the way to get there is by air travel. I think it’s a huge economic issue if we don’t get our flow, our processes right.” However, the Liberal government is considering the privatization of some airports, using them even more as a cash cow to provide a one time bonanza that will help them fund the government through privatization. This will also guarantee donations from buyers in gratitude for allowing the private sector to receive the profits from the airports rather than the government.
The Council also wants Ottawa to act immediately to lessen wait times in security lines that cause frustration to air travelers Michel Leblanc. CEO of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal said: “When people enter the country, those lines are unacceptable. Those lines create this impression that Canada, perhaps, is not that efficient.” The Council also suggests that visa requirements for passengers transiting through Canada from countries that are low risk should be eased. As well there should be better integration with ground transportation hubs.
Officials at Pearson International Airport in Toronto are asking the government to provide it more funding to help ease the backlogs at security and customs checkpoints. Delays have left thousands of passengers fuming. On October 7th even Gerald Butts,Justin Trudeau's principal secretary tweeted: “Friday of Thanksgiving weekend and half the security lines are closed at Pearson. #fail.”
The Council's call for action comes as several departments are waiting for a report by Credit Suisse on the options for management of Canadian airports. As discussed in a recent Digital Journal article the bank is known for its role in privatizations. It is not unlikely that it will note the favorable aspects of privatization as an option. Airport officials claim that they are already operating under a private sector model.
One would think that airports would be concerned more with service to the public as a model rather than the for-profit private sector model, especially since many smaller airports or those in remote areas are essential services. Yet Eng praises Pearson as a cash cow noting that Ottawa receives $120 million a year in rent from the airport: “We’ve made that transition to run it like a business, as a commercial enterprise." Eng encouraged the government to consult widely on the best management model for airports and to have a thorough discussion of the issues, to find the best way of unlocking the value of airports over the long term.
Jan de Silva CEO of the Toronto Region Board of Trade said that airports were critically important to the business community, particularly when the Canadian economy needed to find ways to grow. De Silva said: “Our ability to get out to those growth markets is critical as is our ability to attract foreign companies.” We should soon know if the Liberals will decide on more public investment in our airports or if instead they will sell them off to raise funds and provide new sources of profit for their business supporters.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Ontario government officials sued over privatization of Hydro ONe.

The Ontario branch of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) has filed a lawsuit against the Liberal Premier of the Province Kathleen Wynne, Finance Minister Charles Sousa and former Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli on the grounds of malfeasance.

The suit is connected to the privatization of the provincially owned electric company Hydro One. The Ontario president of CUPE, Fred Hahn said the suit is aimed at preventing any further sale of shares in Hydro One while the province remains the major shareholder. The province earlier sold about 30 percent of the shares and is planning to sell another 30 percent. The aim is to raise money to help pay down the provincial debt and to fund infrastructure projects. CUPE had notified the Ministry of the Attorney General of its intent to launch the suit.
The CUPE suit claims that the Liberals had inappropriately held fundraisers with cabinet ministers and bankers who were to profit from the privatization process. One fundraiser even cost $7, 500 a ticket and allowed the bankers to be with Sousa and Chiarelli. Wynne claims that the provincial integrity commissioner had looked into the events and found no wrongdoing. No doubt if money had been exchanged in return for promises related to privatization the situation would have been different. However, the fundraiser sounds like the typical type of event where high government officials hob nob with important business figures and raise funds for the party in power. Nothing illegal, just business as usual with the party in power reaping rewards for being business friendly. The government maintains that it was "not aware of any action from CUPE". The union said it could not give specifics about the lawsuit until it was officially filed in November.
CUPE claims it is using the suit to argue that shares of Hydro One should remain in public hands and says that most Ontarians oppose the sale. President Hahn said: "It seems remarkable to me that a provincial government would act in a way that is so broadly unpopular." The Liberals are planning to sell up to 60 percent of the utility. The earlier sale of 30 percent of the shared brought in revenue of $3.2 billion. Hahn believes that the sale is not in the best interests of the province. Hahn said: "This is one piece of a much larger chorus of opposition that this government needs to pay attention to. We have firm belief that we can stop them."
There was criticism of the Ontario government's privatization plans from the beginning. Hydro One produces around $1 billion annually for provincial coffers. The federal Liberals also are contemplating raising money perhaps by privatizing airports. Given that these moves also produce profits for bankers and buyers of the assets, the Liberals also can expect to raise money through donations from grateful businesses.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Canadian kidnapped in Libya glad to be back home with his family

Frank Poccia, a 52-year-old Canadian man was abducted by armed and masked gunmen on September 19th along with two Italians in the southwestern Libyan city of Ghat.

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At the time of his abduction, he along with the two Italians were working on a project at the Ghat airport. Poccia counts himself lucky to be alive and safe back home with his family in Montreal Quebec.
Poccia says that after being kidnapped the three were driven out into the desert. They spent the next seven weeks confined to small rooms. He said they were reasonably well treated by the kidnappers. He thought that they were gang members rather than terrorists. However, the most terrifying day was the day of their release. He and the two Italians were ordered at gunpoint to lay on the ground. They all thought they would be killed. Instead, they were driven to the airport and freed. Otherwise, Poccia said the worst part of his ordeal was not being able to contact his wife and children.
Poccia says he does not know whether any ransom was paid for his and the two Italians' release or the role the Italian and Canadian governments played in their release. Kidnapping is common in Libya but is often politically motivated whereas this case might have been for ransom. Poccia worked for the Aeronav Group based in the Montreal area. All three were technicians working at the Ghat project.
At the time of their release on November 5, Judy Garner, a spokesperson for the company said: "We are overjoyed with the news that our colleague, Frank Poccia, is safe and sound,. We have been in touch with Mr. Poccia's family throughout this ordeal and all we know at this time is that Mr. Poccia is physically well."
When the three were released, Italian Premier Matteo Renzi thanked Libyan authorities and security forces for their role in liberating the men saying: "Today is a moment of relief and joy that I would like to share with the families of our technicians." Canada's Global Affairs Department also issued a statement announcing the release of Poccia. At the time, Italiian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said that the two Italians had not been mistreated and were in good health. The three were brought to Italy on a special flight. The Italians worked for an Italian construction company.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Libyan National Army threatens to bomb Canadian aid ship

- According to the Libya Observer, the spokesperson for the Libyan National Army (LNA) forces of Field Marshal Khalifa Hafar, Ahmed al-Mismari, said that his forces would bomb a Canadian ship bound for Ganfouda, Benghazi that is carrying humanitarian aid.

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According to the Observer the ship will likely arrive in mid-December. The ship is said to be carrying humanitarian aid and medicines for civilians trapped in Ganfouda. However al-Mismari claimed: “The Canadian ship will come to Ganfouda with evil intentions in the disguise of humanitarian assistance,” His statement was broadcast on Al-Rasmiya TV associated with the Al-Thinni government of the Hourse of Representatives (HoR). Haftar is commander in chief of the HoR armed forces, the Libyan National Army.
Parts of the Ganfouda area are still held by members of the Benghazi Shura Council opponents of Haftar. Haftar has driven Islamic State fighters along with those of the Shura Council out of most of the city previously held by them. Al-Mismari said that the security of the country was much more important than human rights "that are sponsored by the traitors". Al-Mismari said: “All ports and terminals in Benghazi and Derna are closed, except for the Brega and Tobruk commercial ports. This is because we have issued an order treating all the ports in military operations’ areas as shutdown ports,” He compared the situation to that of the Mavi Marmara that tried to enter Gaza and was boarded by Israelis and stopped with several people being killed.
The Canadian ship was not identified, nor was the name of the organization or organizations that are sending the aid. I could not find out anything further about the ship but now that it has been threatened by Haftar, perhaps more information will be made more widely available.
Haftar has been criticized for some time for the way he has operated in his fight against Islamists in Benghazi and also in Derna. An article in the Middle East Eye compares actions in Benghazi to those in Srebrenica.. The article notes:
Hundreds of civilians, including 130 Libyan families and foreign nationals who have been besieged for months and trapped by the fighting, are at risk of starving to death. They are running out of food, and the food they have left is inedible. Water is contaminated, infants are without milk and the sick are running out of medication.Amnesty International also spoke out on the situation demanding that passages out of the area be provided by Haftar. An article in the Libya Herald also quotes the United Nations Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) on civiilains casualties caused by the Haftar offensive:UNSMIL said that two women and five children died in airstrikes on Benghazi’s Ganfouda district where civilians were trapped because of fighting between the Libyan National Army and the Benghazi Revolutionaries’ Shura Council. It noted “While no one claimed responsibility for the air strikes, information received indicated that the LNA or their allies carried out the airstrikes that caused civilian casualties in Ganfouda and Derna.”
The Canadian government should surely have something to say about the Libyan threats against a Canadian ship.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Prime Minister Trudeau does not attend Castro's funeral

(November 28)  Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will not be attending the funeral next Sunday of former Cuban president Fidel Castro the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) has confirmed. The PMO said only that his schedule did not permit it.

Castro seized power in 1959 and ruled until 2006 when he turned the leadership over to his brother Raul. He died just last week at the age of 90 but had been in poor health for some time. The Governor General David Johnson will attend a commemoration on Tuesday in Havana but there is no word on who, if anyone, will represent Canada at the funeral.
Trudeau had issued a statement that included positive aspects of Castro's rule. The entire statement can be found on the Prime Minister's website. Trudeau had several positive things to say about Castro for example that he improved education and health care in Cuba. He noted as well his father's friendship with Castro. Castro attended Pierre Trudeau's funeral in Montreal as shown in the appended video with the Jimmy Carter. Castro was an honorary pallbearer at Pierre Trudeau's funeral in 2000.
Maxime Bernier, a Conservative party leadership candidate, called on Trudeau not to attend the funeral saying: "Fidel Castro was a brutal dictator who killed and imprisoned countless Cubans while keeping the rest of the country impoverished due to his reckless communist ideology." Of course this is a proper right wing reaction but many of the left in the west are also strongly anti-communist, so while not joining in the strong denunciation of many conservatives, leftists must not say anything that might be interpreted as pro-communist. NDP leader Tom Mulcair tweeted: "Upon the passing of Fidel Castro let us think of the lives impacted by his actions and be hopeful for the future of the Cuban people." Trudeau's dad was not so careful about political sensibilities and never attempted to hide or downplay his friendship with Castro or his support for the country against the wishes of the United States.
In a response to the criticism of his statement Justin Trudeau said that he believed that Castro was a dictator. This is a must term when mentioning Castro. Note the contrast when King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia died: "Mr Obama paid tribute to Abdullah as a leader who "was always candid and had the courage of his convictions". UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon praised Abdullah's work 'to promote dialogue among the world's faiths'." Of course the king was also a dictator and had a dismal record on human rights and the rights of women. But then he had oil and was friendly with western imperialist countries.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale defended Mr. Trudeau and said the Prime Minister reflected on “the unique relationship that Castro had with Canada," and claimed that the relationship actually reduced geopolitical tensions. Goodale said: “Mr. Trudeau has stood up and spoken vigorously about human rights wherever he has gone in the world, whether that’s China or Africa or indeed, in Cuba a couple of weeks ago. Mr. Trudeau’s record on human rights and civil liberties is very strong and very clear. And he’s regarded around the world as an eloquent spokesman in that regard.” Of course he also ships armored vehicles to Saudi Arabia.
The Mexican president Pena Nieto will attend the funeral. Although Putin will not attend, his close ally, the speaker of the State Duma will lead the Russian delegation. Neither Obama nor the U.K. PM Theresa May will attend. Maxime Bernier claimed that attending the funeral could jeopardize relations with the United States. To that his father would have replied "fuddle duddle!" Surely if Nieto can attend, Trudeau can too.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Manygroups urge Trudeau to keep to his plan to price carbon

ore than sixty business, labor and environmental groups have written a letter to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and provincial premiers urging that the government press forward with plans to put a price on carbon.

Next month there is to be a crucial meeting with provinces to finalize a plan for a national climate strategy. The letter said: "We applaud your initiative in developing the Pan-Canadian Framework for Clean Growth and Climate Change. Putting a price on carbon, to reflect the real environmental costs, is the most cost-effective way to reduce emissions, stimulate innovation and drive energy efficiency. Co-ordinated Canada-wide carbon pricing, rising predictably over time, can do much of the heavy lifting towards meeting our climate targets." The letter is signed by some oil and gas companies plus mining, cement, forestry and manufacturing firms. Some banks and insurance companies also signed. In total they produce about 15 percent of Canadian GDP, over one million employees and $300 billion in annual sales.
The initiative was begun by an Ottawa think-tank that focuses on solutions for a clean economy. Co-chair of Smart Prosperity Stewart Elgie said: "It's vital to hear from business leaders that a strong climate policy can also help the economy." Pierre Gratton, president of the Mining Association of Canada, which represents 39 mining companies as well as Suncor, Shell and Syncrude said: "We think it's the best way to send a market signal to reduce emissions. This is something the industry believes. It's a generally held view that is the best way forward to fight climate change."
Smart Prosperity is a group that had the blessing of the Liberals from its beginning last March 1st: "Smart Prosperity officially launched in Vancouver with encouragement from Trudeau, whose Liberal government's climate agenda appears to dovetail with the economic transformation envisioned by the new market-oriented group." It would appear that some corporations rather than fighting with environmentalists have decided to try and control the process.
What is not mentioned, is that the actual targets of the Liberals for reducing greenhouse gas are not going to be any tougher than those of the previous Conservative Harper government, targets they had been attacking for years:Federal Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna finally admitted the painfully obvious on Sunday. She acknowledged the Trudeau Liberals are not going to toughen Stephen Harper’s targets for reducing industrial greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions linked to climate change. This means that after years spent in opposition attacking as inadequate Harper’s targets of lowering GHG emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and to 30 percent by 2030, the Liberals are adopting them.
The Liberals are masters of progressive rhetoric accompanied by actions no better and perhaps worse than the Conservatives. In the 1993 election, then PM Jean Chretien promised he would reduce Canada's Green House Gas (GHG) emissions to 20 per cent belosw 1988 levels by 2005. He broke that promise by doing nothing to reduce emissions. Perhaps some of this background helps to understand why a market-oriented group of companies would join with the Liberals to determine climate policy.
The federal plan is to gradually phase in a $50 a tonne carbon price by 2022. Yet even this runs into strong opposition in some quarters. Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose said:"It's complete insanity that we would kneecap our own economy, and put ourselves at a competitive disadvantage with a carbon tax across this country, when we know that the Americans would never do that, and have no plans to do that... Why would we put our own families, and our own companies and our own workers at a competitive disadvantage — a carbon tax makes no sense anymore."While Trump's win has been almost universally regarded as a disaster for environmental causes, it remains to be seen to what degree he remains as a climate change denier. He recently has admitted that in some way humans have had an effect on the environment. One thing certain about Trump is that his views are "flexible".
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has also been an outspoken critic of any plans to price carbon arguing that as long as there is no comparable price in the U.S., the policy would make Canadian companies uncompetitive. "We will continue to strongly oppose any attempt to impose a federal carbon tax on Saskatchewan and will not support any agreement at the December meeting unless the proposed federal carbon tax is withdrawn," said Wall in a statement.
Lorraine Mitchelmore, a former president of Shell Canada who is now co-chair of Smart Canada disagrees with the critics: "Whenever your largest trading partner does something different you pay attention, but that doesn't mean you change your long-term goals. You adjust as you move forward. You can't just have a knee jerk reaction. You have to think about the long term. This is a multi-decade business, and so how do you position it to compete today and tomorrow?" Mitchelmore said that the carbon pricing policy should be accompanied by other policies that keep Canadian companies competitive.
Jean Simard, president of the Aluminum Association of Canada even recommends that the process be accelerated. His own industry has reduced emissions by 66 percent from 1990 levels. He pointed out that other countries were moving towards lower carbon economies and that Canada needed to do so as well. He claimed it would be of real value to Canada to keep on top of the low-carbon agenda. It remains to be seen if the U.S. continues in the policies promised by Trump. If it does, the promises of the Liberals may turn out to be as they have been in the past, unkept promises.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Canada hopes to phase out coal-fired power plants by 2030

The Liberal government intends to phase out coal-fired power plants by 2030. The move is part of the government's clean energy strategy.

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Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said Monday that the goal of the strategy is to ensure that 90 percent of Canada's power comes from sustainable sources. At present 80 percent of power in Canada already comes from sustainable sources. Coal plants in Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are responsible for 10 percent of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions.
The plan allows provinces to completely phase out coal plants as Alberta is doing or they can use carbon capture and storage technology. The move is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by five megatonnes by 2030. This is equivalent to taking 1.3 milliion cars off the road. There is an agreement to allow Nova Scotia some flexibility in shifting from fossil fuels to other cleaner forms of production. The Trudeau government is also negotiating an agreement with Saskatchewan. Saskatchewan and New Brunswick both have plants that are expected to remain in operation until 2040. Both governments or their utilities have expressed concerns about the federal plan.
Premier Brad Wall of Saskatchewan criticized the coal plan. He complained that Ottawa had promised to work with the provinces on a national climate strategy but then announced new regulations before meeting with them. Wall said: “These actions have severely undermined the December meeting and have exposed the prime minister's disingenuous commitment to federal-provincial collaboration.” He said his government would review the economic and environmental impacts of the accelerated phase out of the coal plants.
The Liberal strategy contrasts with the policy announced by President-elect Donald Trump. Trump has promised to ease the regulatory burden on fossil fuel producers including those producing coal. In early December, there is to be a meeting with all the Canadian provinces to come up with a broader climate change policy in Canada. McKenna said: "Tackling climate (change) is both a challenge and a huge opportunity. This opportunity will attract the investments required to build the clean-energy economy that will position Canada for great success in generations to come." McKenna noted that Canada already had an abundance of hydro, wind and solar resources for producing power allowing it to already produce most of its power from renewable resources. McKenna claimed the policy would help reduce illnesses linked to smog such as asthma that can effect children and seniors saying: "The early phase-out will significantly improve the quality of our air and the health of Canadians."
Ian Culbert, executive director of the Canadian Health Association praised the plan: “The scientific evidence on the destructive health effects of coal pollution is clear. By tightening federal regulations on coal-fired power plants, the government of Canada can take an important step towards creating the healthy energy environment that will protect the health of Canadians today and provide a stable climate for the future.”
Canada has joined Great Britain, France, Netherlands, Austria and Denmark in announcing an accelerated phasing out of coal-fired plants. Nevertheless, world-wide over 2,400 coal-fired power plants are either under construction or being planned over half of these are in India and China.

With Trump win of US presidency Canada has an opportunity to renegotiate NAFTA

Donald Trump during his campaign vowed he would renegotiate the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA). This provides a golden opportunity for Canada to alter some features of the agreement that should be changed.

Trudeau has said he was quite willing to discuss NAFTA with Trump. Trump said that he meant to move quickly on trade policies, according to an internal transition team document. The document claims he would drop out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) unless certain demands were met. Within a hundred days of doing that the US could withdraw from NAFTA also unless his demands were met,
Even if Trump did pull out of NAFTA, the 1989 Canada-US agreement of 1989 removed most tariffs so trade would continue to flow. One benefit of NAFTA failing would be that Chapter 11 of the deal, the investor-state dispute settlement section (ISDS) would be gone. ISDS provisions allow corporations to sue governments before special tribunals. Opponents argue that investor claims that certain laws or regulations negatively impacted profits and were discriminatory could inhibit countries from passing strict environmental, health laws or labour or human rights. An early case involved Philip Morris and Uruguay that challenged Uruguay's strict laws governing smoking. Philip Morris lost. Another case involved the Canadian company Methanex that sued California: as noted by Wikipedia, the "Methanex Corporation challenged California's plan to eliminate methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) from gasoline on grounds of water pollution prevention, claiming protection under Chapter 11 of NAFTA and demanding $970 million in compensation from the state."Methanex lost. However, the danger still remains of corporations winning as they often do, especially if based in the US: ISDS has been criticized because the United States has never lost any of its ISDS cases, and that the system is biased to favor American companies and American trade over other Western countries, and Western countries over the rest of the world. Soon after NAFTA was adopted, the Canadian government adopted a policy whereby all new laws and any changes to existing laws have to be vetted by trade experts to ensure they could not be challenged under ISDS rules. The elimination of Chapter 11 would be one giant step forward in renegotiating NAFTA.
NAFTA puts strict limitations on the ability of the Canadian government to reduce energy exports to meet Canadian needs or for environmental reasons: "The deals say that Canada must maintain at least the same level of oil and gas exports to the United States as it had supplied for the past thirty-six months. Only if Canadian consumption is cut proportionately, and then only in times of crisis, could the Canadian government claim jurisdiction over its own energy resources."
While Canadian Ambassador to the U.S., David MacNaughton says that the Liberal government would be glad to renegotiate NAFTA with the U.S. Trump administration, he refuses to disclose what Canada would be seeking in such a renegotiation. McNaughton claims that NAFTA has brought prosperity to the continent. Perhaps for international corporations. Maude Barlow, head of the Council of Canadians, counters: “Since NAFTA came into force on January 1, 1994, we've seen the loss of well over half a million manufacturing jobs in Canada, the net loss of one million jobs in the United States, and the displacement of millions of Mexican farmers. Employment trends suggest part-time precarious jobs with fewer benefits, while the income disparity in all three countries continues to grow."
Many analysts see NAFTA as posing a danger to the Canadian water supply. Maude Barlow writes: "The federal government should remove all references to water in all existing and upcoming trade and investment agreements as a good, a service or an investment, unless to allow for the specific protection or exclusion of water....Removing all references to water as a good from NAFTA would end the debate on whether the federal and provincial bans on water exports are sufficient, as it would remove any potential for a NAFTA challenge. Removing water as a service would help protect water as an essential public service. Removing it as an investment and excluding ISDS provisions would make it much harder for foreign corporations to use trade treaties to fight domestic or international rules that protect water."
The process of negotiating trade agreements is secretive and behind closed doors. There is little transparency, no public consultations, and no processes taking place in public. The Liberal government has given no indication it wants to change the process and has not said which aspects of the agreement it wants to renegotiate. Trudeau said: "The challenge is once you reopen it a little bit, they all tend to unravel, and it's too important for both of our economies to continue to have a strong trading relationship." Only by keeping public pressure on Trudeau for specific reforms are we likely to see Trudeau press for any progressive changes in the trade agreement. Every attempt will be made to retain a NAFTA that gives more power to global corporations. For further analysis, see the appended 1993 interview with Noam Chomsky on NAFTA.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Liberal government tables new bill that could reduce pension benefits

The Liberal government's Minister of Finance, Bill Morneau, tabled a bill this week that would allow Crown corporations and federal private-sector employers to back out of defined-benefit entitlements they agree to.

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For those retired and working employees who could be impacted by the change, their retirement benefits could be drastically reduced even though they have paid into the plans for years and budgeted on the basis of what they expected to receive when they retire. Defined Benefit plans require employees to give employees a monthly payment regardless of their investment returns. Accrued benefits are legally protected and cannot be clawed back. While such plans are not as cheap as alternatives such as Defined Contribution plans, they offer workers greater retirement security.
The president of the Canadian Labour Congress(CLC), Hassan Yussuf, said that the bill, C-27 was an "unconscionable betrayal" and an "attack on future and current retirees.' The text of the bill can be found here. The bill has the innocent title: " Act to amend the Pension Benefits Standards Act 1985". It removes the legal oblgation of employers to protect already accrued benefits. As the CLC put it: "Bill C-27 removes employers’ legal requirements to fund plan benefits, which means that benefits could be reduced going forward or even retroactively. Even people already retired could find their existing benefits affected, after paying in their entire working lives."
In a letter to Morneau, Yussuff said: "C-27 was introduced without notice or consultation with Canadians, pensioners, or unions and proposes measures that directly contradict election promises to improve retirement security for Canadians. If enacted, it will have negative implications for private and public-sector DB plans in every jurisdiction in Canada." Yussuff noted that the Liberal platform spoke of guaranteeing retirement security whereas the bill does the exact opposite. The platform promises to boost the Canada Pension Plan.
Ironically, the former Harper Conservative government in April 2014 had tried to loosen rules around public sector pension plans and encourage the growth of Targeted Benefit plans. There was such strong opposition that the Conservatives dropped the plan. In 2015 they floated changing pension plans again. Now it seems it is the Liberals who are carrying on Harper policies. Opposition to such policies is what resulted in the Liberals being elected.

Plane has to swerve to avoid hitting unidentified object on descent into Toronto island airport

A Porter Airlines Dash 8 with 54 on board encountered a UFO at a height of about 9,000 feet as it was making its descent into the Billy Bishop Airport on Toronto Islands.

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In a statement Porter Airlines said: “The pilots noticed an object in the distance (and) as they approached the object, they realized it was very close to their flight path.” The pilots at first thought the object was a balloon but after debriefing decided it could have been a drone. At this stage the object has not been identified. Senior regional investigator for the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, Peter Rowntree, said: “Nobody knows at this point. It happened so quick. We’ve got our work cut out trying to figure out what this unidentified flying object was. What did they encounter? It definitely wasn’t a bird. It was a fairly large object.” He said it was up to three meters wide. The plane was about 55 kilometers from the airport when the incident happened. Some incorrect initial reports actually had the plane hitting the object.
The sudden evasive action by the plane to avoid the object caused two flight attendants who were busy clearing the cabin for landing to receive minor injuries in the incident. On landing, they were taken to the hospital but then released according to a statement from Porter.
There are increasing numbers of close calls between planes and drones around the globe, especially near airports. Earlier this year, British Airways pilots claimed their aircraft was hit by a drone while approaching London's Heathrow Airport in the U.K. A spokesperson for London's Metropolitan Police said: “It transpired that an object, believed to be a drone, had struck the front of the aircraft.” The Airbus A320 had 132 passengers and 5 crew members. The plane landed safely and engineers found no damage and cleared the plane to fly again.
The Trudeau government is working to pass new regulations as the number of drones being operated grows in the hope of preventing more incidents such as this one in the future.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Canadian parliament finally passes motion against Islamophobia

There was no coverage of passage of a motion against Islamophobia approved on October 26, by the CBC, Globe and Mail, or other prominent Canadian media. In contrast, there was plenty of coverage of the defeat of a similar motion on October 6.

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At least, that is the claim of an article in the Huffington Post. The article notes that without any public awareness of the motion condemning Islamophobia, it is unlikely to have much effect. Much of the value of such motions it claims is in the publicity that is generated in opposition to Islamophobia.
The October 6 resolution was presented by New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair. Mulcair needed unanimous consent for his bill to go forward since his party is part of the opposition rather than the Liberal government that is in power. He had talked with all parties in parliament almost a week before he presented the motion. The NDP motion was based on a parliamentary e-petition that had 70,000 signatures and was sponsored by Liberal MP Frank Baylis. The motion was a symbolic gesture meant to disavow hate and reassure Muslims in Canada that parliamentarians care about them However when the motion came to a vote a number of Conservative MPs shouted NAY preventing the necessary unanimous vote. There was no role call so those yelling NAY were not identified.
Mulcair said at the time: "I can't see how anybody can speak out against a motion that seeks to condemn a form of hatred." Liberal MP Omar Alghabra also expressed his incredulity describing the motion as a non-partisan, good, positive motion. He said he thought it would be treated as an "apple pie and motherhood type of statement". Defeating the motion could be described as an act of Islamophobiaitself.
Samer Majzoub, President of the Canadian Muslim Forum, got the parliamentary petition started which ultimately inspired the October 26 resolution. After the motion finally received unanimous consent, Majzoub expressed his thanks to all Canadian federal parties and attributed the success of the motion to "true Canadian values". In an interview, he said the motion would open doors and lead to discussion of concrete policies around the issue. He warned that forms of discrimination like Islamophobia can change and appear in new ways in Canadian society. The article in Huffington Post concludes with the hope that next time such events happen in parliament the media should be concerned enough to cover them.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Wildlife spooked by mysterious noise in area in northern Canada

Hunters in a remote community in Nunavut, in northern Canada are concerned about a mysterious sound apparently coming from the sea floor. The sound described sometimes as a "pinging", a hum, or even a beep has been heard throughout the summer.

Fury and Hecla Strait, the area where the sounds are heard is about is about 120 kilometers northwest of the village of Iglooik. The area is north of the Arctic Circle. Paul Quassa a member of the Nunavut legislative assembly said that the noise is scaring animals away: "That's one of the major hunting areas in the summer and winter because it's a polynya." A polyna is an area of open water surrounded by ice usually containing many sea mammals. However, this summer that were very few. Qassa told members of the legislature that the noise was emanating from the sea floor.
Quassa says that Baffinland, owner of a mine at Mary River has been doing sonar surveys but the company says it has no equipment in the water. Another member of the legislature George Qulat also visited the sites but as he is nearly deaf he did not hear any sounds. However, he noticed the absence of wild life and said: "That passage is a migratory route for bowhead whales, and also bearded seals and ringed seals. There would be so many in that particular area. This summer there was none."
Others have heard the sound, including those aboard a private yacht that passed through the area. They described the mysterious sound during a community radio show after they arrived in Igloolik. Other people called in to claim they heard the sound.
While some suggest that the sound is created by Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. the company claims it is not conducting sonar surveys in that area and has no equipment in the water. Qassa points out that no permits have been issued for any work in the area that could explain the noise. Another theory blames Greenpeace environmentalists who it is claimed are attempting to scare wildlife away from the rich hunting grounds. The local Inuit have had conflict with Greenpeace before over the issue of seal hunting. Qassa said: "We've heard in the past of groups like Greenpeace putting in some kinds of sonars in the seabed to get the sea mammals out of the way so Inuit won't be able to hunt them. Nobody has ever seen any type of ship or anything going through that area and putting something down." Farah Khan , a spokesperson for Greenpeace said that not only would they do nothing to harm marine life, they respected the right of the Inuit to hunt. Even the Russian news source Sputnik covers the story.
The reports are regarded as significant enough for further investigation by the Canadian military. The noise could be produced by submarines but were not considered a likely cause. A spokesperson for the military wrote in a statement: "The Department of National Defence has been informed of the strange noises emanating in the Fury and Hecla Strait area, and the Canadian Armed Forces are taking the appropriate steps to actively investigate the situation." Igloolik is about 70 kilometers north of Hall Beach a military site that is still active though it was part of the now closed DEW early warning line of radar stations active during the cold war. Qassa said that inhabitants of the area really had not a single clue as to what was causing the sound.
The military sent a CP-140 Aurora patrol aircraft to investigate last Tuesday. It was sent under the mandate of Operation Limpid, a domestic surveillance program meant to "detect, deter, prevent, pre-empts and defeat threats aimed at Canada or Canadian interests." Ashley Lemire, a spokesperson for the Canadian Department of National Defence said: “The Canadian armed forces are aware of allegations of unusual sounds emanating from the seabed in the Fury and Hecla Strait in Nunavut. The air crew performed various multi-sensor searches in the area, including an acoustic search for 1.5 hours, without detecting any acoustic anomalies. The crew did not detect any surface or subsurface contacts." She said the crew did observe two pods of whales and six walruses in the area. She said that at the present the Department of National Defence did not intend to do any further investigation.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Liberals hire pro-privatizing bank to advise them on privatization

For some time now the Liberals have been flirting with the idea of privatizing airports. The move would garner much needed funds for the government, turn the airports into profit making ventures, and generate more corporate donations for the Liberals.

A Digital Journal article covered the issue back in July. As a Metro News article said at the time:
The federal government is looking at whether Canada’s major airports should be sold off to private investors as a way to raise tens of billions of dollars in new cash to fund other infrastructure projects. Transport Canada bureaucrats are reviewing the ownership structure of Canadian airports, now operated by not-for-profit airport authorities, to assess the possibilities of transferring them to for-profit enterprises — and collect a windfall in the process.
Now an article in the Toronto Star by Linda McQuaig shows the Liberal government is continuing with its plan. The Liberal government has hired the giant investment bank Credit Suisse to offer it advice on the privatization issue. Yet Credit Suisse is itself heavily involved in the privatization process:Certainly, Zurich-based Credit Suisse has for the past decade been a major global player in the lucrative business of privatizing government infrastructure, including airports. Indeed, in 2009, Credit Suisse bought Gatwick Airport in the U.K., through a joint venture with General Electric. Credit Suisse also recently indicated an interest in advising the Russian government on its plans to privatize some major Russian state-owned enterprises.
The hiring of Credit Suisse is a sure sign that the Liberals are already moving ahead with plans to privatize the airports even though the Liberals deny that any decision has been made yet. But many moves have already been made to advance the privatization agenda. Business has been pushing for privatization through former cabinet minister David Emerson. Emerson headed a government transportation review. Emerson was formerly a Liberal but crossed over to the Conservatives. Although the review was started under Stephen Harper it was completed under the Trudeau Liberal administration. Emerson relied on corporate and investment advisers in producing his two-volume report last winter. The report supports the idea of privatizing airports.
The Liberals produced their own report which follows the same process as the one begun under Harper. Finance Minister Bill Morneau set up a 14-person economic council that supported the sell off. As McQuaig puts it: "Like the Emerson review team, Morneau’s advisory council reads like a who’s who of the business world, and contains no labour representatives or anyone who could be expected to represent the broader public interest." With advice coming only from sources that favor privatization and who stand to benefit from the process the Liberals can claim that expert opinion is all in favor of the process. However, the experts were chosen so as to ensure they would support the privatization policy.
There has been no consultation with those who use the airports, or with the workers at the airports, or even with the boards that now run the airports. Mark Laroche, CEO of the Ottawa International Airport Authority and Craig Richmond, CEO of the Vancouver Airport authority offer some criticism of the Liberal plan. In a joint article, they point out that passengers could expect higher parking costs, airport improvement fees, cuts in cleaning staff, and removal of free services such as Wi-Fi in order to increase profits when airports were privatized. The governance of the airports would be by corporate board members concerned mainly with profit rather than the present boards which often have community representatives concerned with more than just profits.
The present system returns about $1 billion a year to the government in fees. While the Liberals need funds to pay for new infrastructure investment surely selling off existing infrastructure paid for by the public for the benefit of private corporations is not the way to raise those funds. Unless that is, the Liberals want to do exactly the same sorts of things the Harper government would do.