Donald Quixote and Sancho Trudeau

img_1643 Credit: Dewet on Flickr Creative Commons: Attribution/Share-Alike

Miguel Cervantes, in a brilliant, caustic reaction to the addiction in Spain in the early 17th Century to a huge crop of silly, chivalrous romances, published Don Quixote de la Mancha (Part 1 in 1605 and Part 2 in 1615). It is considered by some authorities as one of the first, and possibly the very best, novels ever written. Cervantes had a keen nose for farcical BS.

The knight-errant, Don Quixote, having read way too many such trashy stories, loses his mind and decides to take issue with almost anything he encounters in the desolate flatland of Spain called La Mancha. Suffering constantly from delusions of grandeur and hallucinatory visions, he sets off to right all imaginary, unchivalrous wrongs, accompanied by a tired old horse, Rocinante, having persuaded a humble neighbouring farmer, Sancho Panza, to be his squire.

As a Canadian surveying the political scene in February 2017, the comic analogy described in the above photo has burrowed rapidly into my consciousness. Where the metaphor breaks down a little:

Sancho Panza possesses a sharp, entertaining sense of burlesque, whereas “Sancho” Trudeau is comparatively dull-witted and a trifle narcissistic.

But, does the darkness of the surroundings ever work…

My Short, Essential To-Do List for Our 42nd Parliament

Brampton - October 4, 2015
Brampton – October 4, 2015

1. Trans Pacific Partnership

First and foremost, the TPP likely needs to be killed dead. Wikileaks has been revealing details of the secret TPP from time to time since at least 2013. There are many very serious threats to the people of Canada and the other eleven countries who signed the deal this October. (See list below for just some threats). These threats are enabled by the extraordinary power given to foreign corporations (mostly in the U.S.) by the deal’s Investor-State Dispute Settlement Agreements (ISDS Agreements)  to sue nations for expected future profits if their legislatures enact laws or operate public institutions that are deemed to affect their profits.  Canada has first hand experience of these lawsuits since it has been involved with the U.S. and later Mexico in NAFTA. This legal, but immoral, right to sue has cost Canada and Mexico, but not the U.S., millions in lawsuits. The TPP is incredibly more pervasive and involves 12, not just 3 countries. More and more Canadian businesses and institutions, such as small farmers and the CBC are directly under attack from the TPP – a much larger group than under NAFTA, which at least had some provisions to protect our water and our farms. It is very likely that Canadians ourselves, and likely even most MP’s, will not see the details of this deal.

The argument that Canada is better in than out of this deal sounds powerful, but deceives us. This deal will provide very few Canadians with good, stable jobs that offer a package of benefits. NAFTA at least protected our auto industry but other U.S. firms no longer had to manufacture or do research here in order to sell in Canada. Shortly after the free trade deal with the U.S. in 1987 Caterpillar closed its plant in Brampton, Ontario and fired 90% of its workers. Ten per cent went to North Carolina with Caterpillar’s manufacturing. Bye bye. Trade deals that began in 1987 between Canada and the U.S. and expanded to include Mexico in 1994 have not preserved quality manufacturing jobs.  Canada’s manufacturing as a per cent of GDP, and the good jobs with benefits that go with it, has fallen from 24% in the 1960’s to about 10% in 2015. As for Canada’s pathetic decline in research and development this article in the Tyee is worth reading. With the TPP the victims in the 12 TPP countries will be the general population. The winners will be those highly placed in the foreign corporations who conjured up this deal in secret. The poor in all twelve countries will become destitute, except for a small fraction of educated English speakers who will form a small lower-middle class.

In years past, Canadians and others aware of this grave corporate threat took to the tear-gassed streets and successfully defeated monster trade deals like the MAI. The ‘better in than out” choice is a false one. Rather, all 12 countries should present this deal accurately to their electors; then its defeat would be certain.

Some issues with the TPP:

Investor-State Dispute Settlements, as mentioned above, allow foreign corporations to sue countries and cities for billions of “lost future profits” if they enact legislation to protect health care, the environment, jobs, wages and democracy and these actions affect their “sacred” right to profits forever.

Temporary Foreign Workers: Foreign corporations that procure TFW’s probably will be able to sue for lost income if Canada cuts numbers of TFW’s permitted to work here. This is already being done in a case about McDonalds. And Canadian Seafarers are threatened and fighting back. TFW’s are themselves abused and are already being inappropriately used to prevent Canadians from making a just wage.

BGH: American milk and meats use Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH), suspected of being associated with cancer. We probably will be exposed to this?

Food Safety: Canadian standards on food safety will likely be further weakened by the TPP.

Labeling: Will Canadian products still be identified in supermarkets? I doubt it.

Public services: Wikileaks revealed that TPP pushes for the elimination of publicly funded institutions like the CBC and Canada Post. These leaks are notably absent from discussions even on the threatened CBC!

Bank Deregulation: Will banking regulations be weakened?

Privacy: Canadian privacy, already blown away by C-51, will be further jeopardized by this agreement, which will force internet service providers to track our activity.

Job Losses: Canadian jobs will likely be lost in large numbers to workers from countries with lower wages, labour standards and non-existent unionization.

2. Bill C-51

Clayton Ruby, a distinguished lawyer and activist who has been practising law since 1969, believes Bill C-51 should be completely thrown out and rewritten. It is a catch-all list of vague but serious offenses that can be gratuitously applied to acts that are really quite innocent. It permits dirty tricks. It can turn an innocent article or speech, by abuse of its ill-defined powers, into an “act of terrorism.” Justin Trudeau cannot invent a system of oversight to guard against abuses possible with such a plethora of vague possibilities that have not been properly classified. This article gives some excellent examples of how irretrievably defective this bill is. It must be rewritten into something that can be easily and clearly reviewed by whomever are given the responsibility of oversight.

3. Truly Proportional Representation; Not PR-lite!

There are only two types of proportional representation currently used that are truly proportional: Party List Proportional Representation and Mixed Member Proportional Representation. Tom Mulcair has suggested one of them: Mixed Member Proportional Representation, used by Germany and New Zealand. Party List Proportional Representation is used by over eighty countries worldwide. See my post on PR here.Justin Trudeau should confer with his counterparts in parliament and pick one of the above systems. There are various minor ways in which different countries have modified the two choices. The Canadian people must be educated about the importance of replacing our FPTP system with whichever system will ultimately be selected. This is the job of parliament. The committee that looks into selecting PLPR or MMPR (MMP) should be composed mostly of members from the parties that proposed this reform: the NDP, the Liberals and Elizabeth May.

Note: Instant Runoff, also known as Alternative Vote is NOT proportional representation! It will betray the continually frustrated supporters of the Greens and the NDP- the very people that gave the Liberals a majority despite receiving less than 40% of the popular vote.

Since 68% of Canadian voters elected to vote for a party that included electoral reform in its platform, parliament has total authority to pass legislation to enact it.

There must not be a referendum on this! It is time Canada moved confidently to a truly proportional system. Parliamentarians on October 19th were given a strong mandate to do this for us.

No need to re-invent the wheel. Beware of attempts to dilute, adulterate or corrupt this very important reform of our electoral system.

By the way, if the TPP with its ISDS agreements is ratified, our improved electoral system will mean nothing, since foreign corporations will hold us to ransom and voting will be a farce, because our leaders will be no more than puppets. That’s why killing the TPP is numero uno – the sine qua non.

4. Other Stuff

There are many other important tasks for what will be a truly busy four years. Ferreting out and removing the bad bits squirreled away in Stephen Harper’s many, huge, undebatable omnibus bills will be an unenviable task. And the Liberals must act to prevent existing infrastructure of public institutions like the CBC from being sold:

  1. Harper reduced Canada’s protected lakes, rivers and waterways from 2.5 million to a mere 159 in Bill C-45.
  2. Dozens of laws in over 10 Huge Harper omnibus bills have decimated the powers and rights of our indigenous peoples. What I call “buckshot legislation.”
  3. CBC infrastructure must be preserved by immediately dismissing most of its  current Board of directors, 80% of whom are Conservative Party contributors appointed by Harper. These party hacks plan to sell all CBC buildings!

5. Hopeful Congratulations to Justin Trudeau

All the above being said, I’ll admit I’m nervous about Mr. Trudeau’s recent cautious avoidance of the term Proportional Representation, his voting with Harper on C-51 and his unequivocal pro-trade stance. But he really seems to be setting out an ambitious agenda for the first half of his mandate. I have not been this hopeful for over a dozen years.

Congratulations, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. You have already changed the world’s perception of Canada for the better. You have slain Cerberus in grand style. You hold the future of my grandchildren in your hands. You can be greater than your father.

Temporary Foreign Workers in Canada – Two Questions

 

McDonalds Fast Food - Even Faster in Beijing?
McDonalds Fast Food – Even Faster in Beijing?

Canada has for a very long time allowed farmers to bring in temporary foreign workers to harvest crops. This is a program I support for two, and ONLY two, reasons:

a) Harvesting of crops is vitally important and it was/is hard to find Canadians willing to do the work.

b) The work is seasonal.

Neither of these two reasons applies to temporary workers being brought in to compete with Canadian bank tellers and people (many of them young students) looking to find work with McDonalds. And foreign companies, such as iGate in the case of Royal Bank’s temporary foreign workers, are making a profit by sourcing cheap labour. Many foreign corps have, sometimes successfully, often frivolously, sued Canada under NAFTA’s Chapter 11 already for laws, such as environmental protection laws, that affect their “sacred treaty right” to make money.

If only the treaties with our First Nations had been made under NAFTA. Hmmmm…

Anyway, here are my questions:

1. Please….PLEASE can someone help explain when unhealthy fast food became so vital to Canadians that it justifies harming our Canuck workers to make it even cheaper?

2. At what point can US corporations like iGate sue Canada for Lost Future Profits Until Kingdom Come if Canada legislates against foreign temps?

Once again I am frustrated and shamed of our spineless government and complacent population.

I am seriously waiting for an answer or two here, folks…

Update April 25:

OK, not hearing from anyone, I have found this article by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) on the history of the Temporary Foreign Workers Program. Trust a Canadian union to do the investigative reporting our media should have been doing to educate us on this widespread and ever-growing abuse and commodification of human beings, both Canadian (the ultimate losers) and non-Canadian “Temporary” Foreign Workers (the “often gratefully abused”). From a pilot program introduced by the Liberals in 2002 it was expanded repeatedly by the Harper Conservatives since 2006 to the point where, at the end of 2012, there were 340 000 TFW’s living in Canada.

Here is a 2011 article done at York University which described how, in the 2008 downturn, the so-called “temporary” program designed to fill jobs Canadians didn’t want actually grew and, in fact, had become permanent.

And below is a table from Stats Canada showing that TFW’s accounted for 29% of Canada’s Total Paid Employment increase from 2007 to 2011. Must be worse now… Thanks for this to economist Jim Stanford’s May, 2012 post in The Progressive Economics Forum. No wonder Harper wants to emasculate Stats Canada! I have sandwiched the table in between two quotes from Stanford’s brief article:

Even before the expansion of the program envisioned in the current omnibus “budget” bill, temporary foreign workers (who do not have the same rights as other Canadian workers, and whose presence here depends entirely on keeping their employers happy) already accounted for almost 30% of all net new paid jobs created in Canada between 2007 and 2011.

And another quote:

Hence, this initiative by Harper & Co. is aimed at relaxing a fundamental constraint on class relations in our whole labour market, and in that regard represents a very important (and dangerous) shift in the balance of power in our society.

A Way With Words

“The days of the moneylender have arrived, and the days of the swaggering privateer; banker sits down with banker, and kings are their waiting boys.”

The above insight from the reflection of Thomas Cromwell on the new type of power in 16th C. Europe. Another surprise from the Booker Prize winning Hilary Mantel. I laughed out loud when I saw this on page 142 of Bring Up The Bodies. Cromwell is thinking that, despite his low birth and the repeated, jealous insults of the nobility in Henry’s court, he is the second most powerful man in England next to the king, and, perhaps, the most influential.
That from December, 1536.

Has the dominion of the banks over all types of planetary power, at its apex in this scary 21st Century, been growing ever since then?

Mantel won the Booker Prize for Wolf Hall, Volume I of her planned trilogy on the life and times of the powerful Cromwell. She won a second Booker for this one, Volume II, in 2012. Will her last in this series, due in 2015, win an incredible hat trick?

A long-time writer of immense taste, imagination and skill, her sprinkling of erudite LOL moments of pithy surprise throughout these works only compounds this reader’s delight.

Panem et Circenses

Joe Canuck's Present Distractions
Joe Canuck’s Present Distractions Surrounded By “Background Noise”

T’was ever thus. When the Olympics end, there’ll be plenty of other circuses. Methinks, however, the bread will diminish…

By the way, feel free to substitute your own national mascot. Joe is mine.

Substitute Corporate Personhood (or the 85 richest men) for Rome.

Will Emperor Harper call an election if Canada continues to do well?? Probably not, he’s made such a dog’s breakfast out of the last couple of years. But I bet his pollsters are busy and his fraudsters are having their hearts shrunk …

At The Risk Of Repeating Myself Precisely Ten Months Later

Surprise! Sometimes I even have something positive to propose instead of just bashing Stephen Harper.

I am re-proposing my Feb 1st proposal to the Green Party in a more general form. I have resent these messages directly to Elizabeth May and to Stephane Dion, since I respect and trust their greenness and honour. They just might “get it” and start the ball rolling. I am confiding to you readers that this challenging idea may be ignored without a huge show of support from Canadians for the idea. Maybe a Facebook page. I will not do it, since I only now use FB with my tiny iPod after learning that hackers siphoned off some folks’ financial information via that popular social media site.

If you believe, as I and Maude Barlow do, that we do not have two years to wait to derail the Conservative Party’s plan: Let’s Expose Canada to Foreign Corporate Lawsuits Forever By Signing Secret Trade Deals With The Pacific Rim and Europe then…

Here is something that just might work:

Continue reading “At The Risk Of Repeating Myself Precisely Ten Months Later”

All Of The Below

Flower with pollinator
Flower with solitary pollinator
Where to begin??? With the photo, I guess. The above “slightly macro” photo was taken in “Our Woods” (see categories) with my Tamron 90 mm macro lens on Oct. 15. 1/400 sec, f 6.3, ISO 100.
‘Nuff said there.
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But… the bee made me think about endangered species and then about “just about everything else that ticks me off” resulting, from time to time, in petitioning, ranting, raving, using cuss words, reading, blogging, occasionally marching and chanting, even singing à la Bob Dillon or Pete Seeger.
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I have recently learned through sumofus.org (and follow-up digging) how the chemical companies Bayer and Syngenta have recently launched a lawsuit against Europe for placing a moratorium on the use of their neonicotinoid pesticides because there is evidence that they are responsible for the decline in the bee population. The site, sumofus.org, has a petition we can sign against this lawsuit.
Stephen Harper, our Prime Dictator (er, Prime Minister), who rules with temporary absolute power in our backwater, soon to be blackwater, corporate colony named Canada, recently shut down our parliament for the third time. This time to avoid criticism for his Conservative Party’s corruption, mismanagement and election fraud (sound like Guatemala or El Salvador?). Shortly after reopening our lacklustre legislative body, he buggered off last week to Europe to be the co-star in a big splash photo-op: the signing of a memorandum of understanding on a new, huge, secret “Free” Trade deal with the European Community. It’s called CETA.
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Now it seems to me, after watching Canada get it’s ass gratuitously sued by foreign corporations over and over again since 1997 under the NAFTA with the US and Mexico, that we do NOT want another secret trade deal that is officially with countries but unofficially with the corporations that control the political leaders. You know it. I know it. Why do we voters let it happen? (Insert cuss word of your choice) While your petitioning appetite is whetted, why not sign this one on the secret Trans Pacific Partnership Harper is anxious to sign up for.
Before we can say “Mike Duffy” Harper will have us tied up in so many politically-paralyzing trade deals that we will become a true colony of the worldwide super-wealthy
with no control over our water, our fish, our resources, our climate, our land… Serfs subject to a plenitude of corporate lawsuits if we even try to live sustainably. To be fair, we don’t yet really try to reduce our bloody footprints, so this may not be relevant. Continue reading “All Of The Below”

Open Letter To Justin Trudeau: “L’heure est venue, si t’as compris.”

Justin Trudeau writes, in a contribution-soliciting email that I received today:

It’s time to turn the page on seven years of Conservative policies that have left too many Canadians behind. Together, we can build a strong middle class and grow our economy so that everyone can share in Canada’s prosperity.

It is well-known by now that growth as we know it is unsustainable. I hope you will speak honestly with Canadians about this reality when the time (hopefully) comes for you, Tom Mulcair and Elizabeth May to be the next government. You have a powerful team there. I hope change comes before it’s too late.

I’m sure you realize that it is irresponsible to grow our economy at all costs. We need to make this limitation clear to all classes of Canadians and come up with a plan that conserves the things without which life itself is unsustainable: our air, soil water and our interconnected biodiversity – the disrespected, often invisible, things upon which all life depends.

I am very concerned that we will not make it to the next election without Harper having signed secretly-negotiated trade agreements that will limit our ability to protect our environment and our health. Even NAFTA needs to be amended to remove the restrictive parts of its Chapter 11, which give American and Mexican corporations the right to sue Canada for lost future profits if we bring in a law to protect our environment, for example, and that law has a negative impact on their revenues. In one classic NAFTA case in 1997, Canada had determined that a gasoline additive made by Ethyl Corporation was a potential carcinogen. This chemical, MMT, was banned in the United States. It was only used in Canada! Canada removed MMT from our gasoline. Ethyl Corporation was entitled under NAFTA’s Chapter 11 to sue for “future profits” – $251 million dollars. Canada, faced with a very expensive lawsuit that we might lose, settled out of court. Canadian taxpayers paid millions to the American corporation and permitted the additive to be used. This is just one example.

No one in Parliament looks ahead seven generations when making a decision as our native peoples used to do.

By the time the next election rolls around the destructive laws contained in huge un-debatable omnibus bills that attack our native peoples on numerous fronts may be un fait accompli. Our First Nations’ genuine rights to treaty and unceded lands (disrespected by us settlers for centuries) may be our collective last defence against pipelines and the permanent, polluting destruction wreaked by  largely foreign resource extraction corporations, whose “moccasins” have never walked our forests. In fact, corporations, though they don’t even have feet, and are, unlike us humans, immortal, have – and this must change – all the rights of a human being and then some! These powerful, ruinous rights, called “Legal Personality” or “Corporate Personhood,” must be quickly taken away. I hope you, Tom and Elizabeth will make this a priority.

It is a sad reflection on Canadian stewardship when millions of hectares of land, water and trees are surrendered to foreign corporations. The profits from these destructive activities don’t even stay in Canada; they are spirited out by means of transfer pricing, a sinister tool by which corporations avoid paying taxes owed to the country whose resources they are exploiting.

If, by sheer good fortune, the powerful, hugely punitive trade deals like CETA and the TPP agreement have failed to be passed before the 2015 election, I call on you to defend the rights of our native peoples and all Canadians to a clean environment. Please do not subject us to trade agreements that are even more powerfully punitive than NAFTA.

Look around. Smell the tobacco and the sweetgrass.

As Félix Leclerc put it, in an admittedly different, but nonetheless patriotic, musical context:

l’heure est venue, si t’as compris

Who To Believe?

Since NAFTA, we’ve had a flood of dumped corn and other products from the U.S., a financial crisis and recession, a rise in migration, a food price crisis that caused tortilla riots, and all the World Bank can say is that our farmers are unproductive and should get out of farming.

Victor Suarez (Mexican farm movement leader)

I prefer to believe statements from real people to flossy, alienated World Bank pronouncements.