Harperites Seek to Silence the Churches Sunday, Jun 24 2012 

Senator Nicole Eaton now joins the ranks of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Environment Minister Peter Kent and Energy Minister Joe Oliver in trashing any group or organization that raises a dissenting voice to governmental policies or actions. Only Senator Eaton has now given the issue a new twist, helping the cause of government propaganda she has decided to target the mainline churches in Canada.

Over the last few months we have heard ministers of the crown speaking about, “money laundering” and “radicals serving foreign interests”. Added to that venting of spleen is Senator Eaton’s offering of, “influence peddling”. The Prime Minister in a recent interview with Peter Mansbridge even offered the view that organizations who receive federal funding and publicly dissent from government policy will have their funding reviewed because such dissent is not appropriate. The only common thread in this villification and focused attack is that these groups have the audacity to question the priorities and actions of the government. What a sin!

But now the real fun begins for the government. They will try to silence the environmental groups who stand in the way of their pro petroleum legislation and policies. Then they will move on to attack the churches who should not, as the good senator opines, “take political stands. They should be more about helping people and giving people succour”. I am sure next on the list will be the poverty groups, immigration and refugee support agencies and of course those organizations that support women’s issues. The only thing lacking is legislation to ban such groups from actually existing. Fear not, given another mandate, that legislation will enevitably follow.

So what do we make of this attack on the churches? Although only the United Church was singled out for this particular example of vituperation, you can be assured that the Anglican Church, the Roman Catholic Church and others have often committed the “sin” of critiquing the policies of various governments. I recall in the 1970’s the document “Ethical Reflections on the Economic Crisis” published by the CCCB of the Roman Catholic Church received a dismissive comment from Prime Minister Trudeau who said that the bishops should stick to theology and leave economics to the government. Author’s note: (After all the politicians have always done so well by the economy.”) The Anglican Church has often sent clear messages of concern about policies of various levels of government. They have also publicly condemned the federal government for certain policies and initiatives through resolutions passed at General Synod.

My reading of this is similar to Moderator Mardi Tindal who publicly stated, ” there is a very clear distinction between being political, meaning advocating for changes in public policy, and being partisan.” In fact over the last fifty years the churches have felt both the need and the responsibility to keep governments accountable and they have done this on a totally non-partisan basis. I have seen churches criticize Liberal, Conservative and New Democratic  governments across Canada. The point is not that they represent a particular political stripe but that they are the government and therefore responsible to the citizens for the policies and actions that they espouse.

A number of people have taken up the view that there should be a separation between church and state. Maybe this is necessary, it is certainly a debatable point. I hasten to add that the particular doctrine of the separation of church and state is enshrined in the United States system of government, not in the Canadian or British tradition.

What I find offensive is the act of Ministers of the Crown questioning any group or organization’s right to crticize or express dissent. They do so on what basis? To defend the Income Tax Act? To ward off revolution or the attempt to be criminally engaged or perpetrate violence? No, they are engaged in a cynical and reprehensible campaign to further their ideologically based policies by destroying any person or group who has the courage, intelligence and comittment to express a vision of Canada which is just, equitable and compassionate, in other words the opposite agenda to the present government’s.

Mercifully Christians in Canada follow the gospel of Jesus Christ not the gospel of Stephen Harper. I don’t speak for any church, Anglican or otherwise, but I can enunciate clearly what many Christians feel when the government starts name-calling, accusing, and using innuendo to besmirch the good names of people and groups who are unwilling to follow the dictates of this authoritarian regime. They are offended and find such behaviour extremely repugnant.

If the government truly believed in democracy, and the last few months have decidedly shown otherwise, they would not only allow discontent and dissent but ensure that other views are afforded opportunity to be expressed. Democracy requires all sides to be heard for for the initiation of good public policy and so that the best legislative decisions are able to be made. After all, who really has the upper hand in this struggle;  the government or a host of ill funded non profit agencies and organizations that depend on volunteers and the good will of their supporters? If anything is clear from these governmental attacks, it is that the government is afraid of its own citizens and intends to crush any expression of dissent.

If the Harperites continue to initiate the same unjust and inhumane policies that we have seen of late we will not only oppose them, we will redouble our efforts and ensure that every mis-step, every attack, every policy and regulation that hurts our citizens and that sells out the rights of Canadians is witnessed to and that they, the government, are made accountable. They believe that power resides in the government. This is wrong and dangerous thinking in a democracy. The government only has as much power as the citizens of Canada are willing to allow them to use. 

My friends remember, time is on our side,  not theirs.

Margaret Wente pleads ignorance, but promotes fracking anyway! Saturday, Jun 16 2012 

The article written by Margaret Wente and published in the G&M on June 14th was alright until the last paragraph. Ms. Wente’s thesis being if fracking is OK for Obama and a great many scientists (paid by the petroleum industry) its OK for her. Then she says this,

“I’m no expert on fracking technology, and I’m in no position to evaluate the risks. I have to rely on experts for that. The real issue is whether the risks can be managed, and whether the public thinks the risks are worth the rewards. European countries such as France and Bulgaria have decided not. But we’ll have to power up our iPads somehow. Our energy needs are forecast to grow by another 15-20 per cent over the next few years. And it seems to me that tapping into a supply of cleaner, greener, abundant and reliable energy is a no-brainer.

More and faster, please.”

My problem with the article is that it doesn’t do justice to both sides of the issue. The potential benefits for allowing such an industry to flourish may well be an increase in jobs and greater access to cleaner energy sources. These are indeed laudable goals. I hate to be the one to rain on her parade but there is another side to the issue. Disturbing problems with fracking have been witnessed in the United Kingdom, The United States and in Canada. Many scientists not aligned with the petroleum industry have argued that fracking can potentially destroy fishing stocks in river systems and off shore and pollute water tables and put communities at risk because of the high volume of toxic chemicals needed for the procedure. See: http://www.canadians.org/energyblog/?p=320; and: http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/energy/blogs/vermont-becomes-first-state-to-ban-fracking and http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-14432401

The greatest source of disquiet and danger has to do with the future of our fresh water systems and the need to protect them. In the next number of years water will surpass oil and gas in importance for the continued viability of many countries. There are many jurisdictions in the world which are at the breaking as regards their need for an increased fresh water supply. Farcking uses obscene amounts of water and pollutes the surrounding area so that significant volumes of water are rendered unusable. Rather than allowing such procedures to provide more fossil fuels we should be protecting our most precious resource.

Margaret Wente shows an arrogant disregard for the communities that are on the front line of where fracking will happen. Her claim, “I’m no expert on fracking technology, and I’m in no position to evaluate the risks. I have to rely on experts for that. The real issue is whether the risks can be managed…” I find such an approach rather demeaning and simplistic. It is demeaning because we who have to face the potential hazards are usually the people who least have the ear of government. As we now observe, the petroleum industry has their best friends in office, the same parcel of rogues who have just gutted environmental assessment in Canada.

Her approach is simplistic because it puts unquestioning faith in a government and in an industry which have already shown themselves to be enemies of the people. Indeed, Ms Wente, you are no expert. You may well trust the Harperites and the petroleum industry where we obviously do not. But what will you do if even a portion of our concerns for the environment become realities. Will you apologize, retract your statements or hope that everyone has forgotten your incursion into an area which you should have avoided, because as you quite rightly opine, you know nothing about the issue. We unfortunately will have to live with the results. Thank you so much.

 

 

The Aim of the Harperites Revealed: No dissent! No protests! No rights! Tuesday, Jun 12 2012 

Steven Harper has warned agencies and organizations and especially environmental groups who publically dissent from “government policy” that if they are funded by the government they will be cut. His exact quote was: “If it’s the case that we are spending on organizations that are doing things that are contrary to government policy, I think that is an innappropriate use of taxpayers money and we’ll look to eliminate it.”

On Saturday CBC’s “The House” http://www.cbc.ca/thehouse/2012/06/09/alex-himelfarb-james-rajotte/ host Evan Solomon asked the all important question: Does the government have an obligation to fund organizations that don’t support its own policies?” Both Bob Mills a former conservative MP and a member of the Round Table and the former Clerk of the Privy Council Alex Himelfarb answered yes because democracy is the beneficiary. If the government does not hear dissenting opinions about major issues, policies or concerns, they will be incapable of doing the job they need to do. Not only is democracy served by such public discourse but the creation of better public policy is facilitated as well. It is too easy for government to be isolated and hear only the “cheerleaders” who are invariably government supporters. 

The National Round Table on the Environment and Economy is slated to be cut because it does not represent the government’s environmental approach. Minister Peter Kent speaking on behalf of the government has responded that the work of the Round Table no longer does a job that is needed because the internet and other groups provide information that duplicates their work. This view is not shared by other conservatives who have been actively concerned in environmental issues.

Mike de Souza a journalist for Postmedia News reported the comments of Mark Parent another member of the Round Table and a former Conservative Nova Scotia Minister of the Environment, Mr Parent said. “”Anyone who says they’re an economic genius when they take attitudes such as we’ve been seeing — with not just unfortunately the federal government, but I see it with provincial governments — are wrong, It’s for political short-term reasons; it’s not for long-term economic reasons. It’s not economically sensible.”

James Rajotte, Chair of the Finance Committee tried to spin Harper’s comments to be only related to environmental groups, Through close questioning by Evan Solomon Mr. Rajotte tried to distance the Prime Minister and the government from somre of the bullying comments made by certain ministers regarding their expressed dissent. Mr. Rajotte said, “it’s not the Prime Minister, it’s not the cabinet who determines who gets charitable status, it’s the Canada Revenue Agency. CRA does the monitoring for all the charities in Canada as well and decides whether to revoke or not. It’s not a political decision, that’s an independant decision by the CRA.”

Perhaps Mr. Rajotte should consult with his Harperite brother in the Conservative cause, Minister Peter Kent who said to Evan Solomon on the April 28th edition of “The House”, “Some groups with charitable status have been going well beyond the CRA (Canada Revenue Agency) guidelines for what is acceptable practice as a charitable agency. ” If Mr. Rajotte is trying to say that there is no political link between the Harperites and the CRA, I am afraid he makes a very poor case. Mr. Kent has repeated these comments many times. He at least is very public about his views regarding any dissent aimed at government policy and what the CRA should do about such expressed dissent.

The Harperites have been busily cutting any programs that do not adhere to their ultra-right ideological agenda take a look at a partial list of the agencies and organizations that they have cut up until the last budget. See: http://rewindthecuts.ca/2011/05/02/stephen-harpers-hit-list/

In this budget the Harperites have axed: The National Council on Welfare, Rights and Democracy, The Public Appointments Commission, The National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, The Katimavik program, which allows young people to experience life in different communities; Human Assisted Reproduction Canada and a host of other environmental, legal and social agencies an organizations. According to government we have no need of such voices or opinions.

The aim of the Harperites is clear: No dissent, No protests, No rights

Harper’s Make-Believe Government: No Accountability and No Transparency Thursday, Jun 7 2012 

 

Kevin Page the Parliamentary Budget Officer knows that he’s on the Tories hit list. All the Members of the House of Commons know that Mr Page has become a thorn in the side of the Harper government. Then why don’t the Harperites just admit that they will not give Mr Page the information that he is seeking because they are afraid he will do with that information what he has done with all the information he has received thus far-he will make it public, because that is what his job demands of him. 

Mr. Page is looking for information regarding the projected effects of the cuts that are being made through the budget. The $5.2 billion in spending cuts will obviously affect government jobs, programs and services. His questions are important if he is to fulfill his mandate to respond fulsomely to the queries of Members of the House of Commons. But what we find are stalling tactics, obfuscation and lies.

As we read in today’s article by Paul McLeod in the Chronicle Herald, “The government initially said it was handcuffed from releasing cut details by union contracts that require giving advance notice to employees.””

But government unions then went public, saying they supported more information about cuts being released as long as it didn’t name specific employees losing their job.”

“In the House of Commons on Wednesday, Treasury Board President Tony Clement said the government was holding back information for compassionate reasons.” Now get this…

“This isn’t about the unions, it’s out of compassion for workers that we decided to inform them first,” said Mr Clement. The other day Minister Peter Kent described Megan Leslie’s very reasonable question in the House as ‘sanctimonious twaddle’. How should we characterize Mr Clement’s offering? Let me just say that Mr Clement has a rather loose understanding of what is required when one is asked to honestly respond to a legitimate question.

So, why the secrecy? Why are the Harperites unwilling to respond with clear answers to these requests?  Curiously it was the Harper government that passed the Accountability Act in 2006 as a means of ensuring that transparency was maintained in the reporting of financial and economic information to Members of Parliament. But here they are, now as a majority government, actually refusing to comply with the request of the person who presently holds the position that their own government established. Back then, during the debate on the Accountability Act,  they argued that it was necessary to have a person charged with the responsibility of making sure that  Parliamentarians were able to secure the necessary and pertinent information that would help them to make the best decisions as legislators. The Harperites, it seems,  no longer feel that that is demanded of the government.

Kevin Page is very clear, both about his mandate and about the principle that is at stake. He is reported in the McLeod article as writing of his concern in this way,  ““Without transparency (we only have proposed savings by department; no baselines by program activity) it is impossible for Parliament to hold the government to account…” And this is the crucial point, Mr Page is doing precisely what he is supposed to do he is part of the system that helps keep the government accountable to the citizens of Canada by providing parliamentarians with the information they require to be able to do their job efficiently and effectively. By withholding information and maintaining secrecy on the flimsiest of rationales, the Harperites are proving that they are governing in bad faith. It also clearly shows that they have no respect for Parliament or the citizens of Canada.

Being Taught by The Students: A Lesson in Democracy Friday, May 25 2012 

Last night in front of the National Assembly hundreds of citizens arrived to protest the raising of tuition fees and the application of the draconian law known as Bill 78. I found the experience paradoxical. Behind us was the beautiful and impressive building that houses the Assembly. It stands on a hill overlooking the Old City. It should be the place from which laws promoting peace and good government emanate. In front of me hundreds of students, teachers, seniors, families, and visitors were gathered. They came in great numbers to register their disapointment and anger at an obdurate government which took far to long to open communication, and when that led to militant action, proclaimed a law that under-cuts the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

It must be noted that over the weeks of marching during which there was no Bill 78 the students and their supporters marched peaceably. As they did the night before. But this time with Bill 78 invoked over 100 marchers walking in a peaceful respectful manner were arrested. What a social statement, gather peacefully and we will detain or arrest you!

At about 8 pm the police sought from the students and citizens a plan of the route they would be taking. If they produced it they would be allowed to march. If they did not, they would be immediately arrested when the march started.  A young woman about 20 took the microphone to speak to the hundreds who had gathered. She said, ” we must now make the decision as to whether we comply with this unjust law or whether we march despite the law. We believe in democracy even if they (the government) don’t. We will take a vote, All those who want to give the police the plan of the march raise your hand. Those who don’t want to, raise your hand.” The process had to be gone through twice to make sure of the result. The students did give the plan of the march so it was deemed legal.

Then I was asked to speak. I had spoken with many of those gathered over the hour and a half while the march was being organized. I was impressed by the sincerity, commitment and courtesy of most of the citizens who were present. I wanted them to know why I was there and why our collective witness was important. This is what I said,

“My Dear Friends: Tonight I come to the National Assembly to speak to you as a citizen and as a bishop to denounce the use of Bill 78 on peaceful law abiding citizens. I believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ calls all Christians to speak truth to those in power. This is especially important when power is being used as a weapon by those in authority. What we need now, is for the two sides to meet and speak together in good faith. It is only by a willingness to engage in discussions in good faith, that this impasse will come to an end. No citizen should be arrested for participating in a peaceful and non-violent march protesting an issue that is, in their view, highly important to them and to their community. This abuse of power must stop.”

Then the march began; and again peace, non-violence and respect were the order of the day. I learned a great deal from these young leaders, I learned that the only way to move toward change is to tenaciously hold to the principles that guide and direct you. I learned that when people share decision making and power they grow stronger and wiser. I also came to the conclusion that we would be better served if our politicians were more aware of the needs and aspirations of all the people rather than continuing to serve the few. Even now I hear echoes of the Occupy Movement that succinctly reflects our present dilemma and challenge: We are the 1 per cent.

Non-Violence and Peaceful Protest receive the Government’s response: Arrests Friday, May 25 2012 

Last night as in virtually all the previous nights, the students and their many supporters marched through the streets of Quebec. Despite the fact that the march was as usual non- violent and peaceful the police moved in and arrested over 100 people.

Although I have sympathized with the student position I have had no strong motivation to pursue the protest as an active participant until last Monday night. The deciding factor was the passage of Bill 78 limiting the constitutionally guaranteed right to peaceful assembly and freedom of speech, so I joined them on the peaceful march.

 Last night the police moved in and arrested people for no other reason than that they had not obeyed Bill 78 and chose to exercise their right to assemble.  There is a time and place for police and the maintenance of order in society, but when citizens in a peaceful and law abiding manner exercise their constitutional rights and are arrested, then it is not the people or the community that is mocked but the law makers themselves. The actions of the government and the police are not at all what they claim them to be, concerns for traffic and being able to protect the populace, these are nothing more than pretence to cover what can only be described as a denial of fundamental freedom.

Tonight I go to the National Assembly and speak to the students and the hundreds who will be there to support them to denounce the use of Bill 78 on peaceful law abiding citizens. What we need now, is for the two sides to meet and speak in good faith. It is only by a willingness to engage in discussions in good faith that this impasse will come to an end.  

If citizens can be arrested en masse for a peaceful and non-violent march protesting an issue that is, in their view, highly important, then it is a very small step for arrests to be made for far less. This must not be tolerated by any citizen if we are to call our society truly democratic. The great concern for me and I think for many is how our governments in Canada are increasingly resorting to diminishing rights rather than communicating and cooperating with the citizens who elected them. 

Advice to David Wilks MP: You’re too nice a guy to swim with sharks. Thursday, May 24 2012 

I have to say after seeing the videos of David Wilks speaking with his constituents I actually felt sorry for the guy. There he is, a decent man, who is trying to swim through the muck of Parliament Hill and do the right thing. The problem is he is too honest. You can see in his discussion with his constituents that he has lots of concerns about Bill C-38 and the process, or lack there of, which has put him in the position of defending the indefensible.

He freely acknowledges that one member can do nothing against the Prime Ministers Office and cabinet decisions. He also mentions that the caucus didn’t even see the bill before its being placed on the Order Paper. Tonda McCharles included the following quotes in her Toronto Star articele posted today May 23rd 2012.

‘He explains, however, that his vote like that of the entire Conservative caucus is subject to a “three-line whip.” That means, says Wilks, a retired RCMP officer, that he would likely be evicted from caucus for dissenting from the budget decisions already made by the prime minister and cabinet.’

‘He adds Conservative MP’s during their first year of majority government have not been allowed one free vote. “I haven’t seen one in a year yet.”’

“It’s been done like that since 1867,” Wilks says.

‘Another woman challenges Wilks to speak up: “At what point do you say I will not vote along party lines and I will represent my constituents?”’

‘“You want me as an Independent member, I will do that,” replied Wilks.’

‘In the first excerpt posted on YouTube, a participant suggests to Wilks that he must be able to influence the process before it gets to a vote. “Surely there’s some kind of debate behind the scenes before you get to that point?”’

‘“No,” replies Wilks.’

‘Another constituent asks Wilks: “Does that not grate that you don’t have internal debates?” And Wilks acknowledges his “concerns.”’

‘“It certainly concerns some of us backbenchers, the decisions are made predominantly by cabinet and then they come back to us informing us how this is going to move forward.”’

Now none of this is really new. PMO’s and cabinets have long held the view that Members of Parliament are merely cannon fodder in the political wars between competing political interests. Where there is a demarcation between Stephen Harper and prime ministers before him is found in two elements that are native only to him. The first element has been in evidence since the earliest days of Stephen Harper’s public life when he portrayed himself as the protector of parliament and an advocate for the freeing up of democracy. He was all in favour of referenda, an elected Senate, free votes in the House of Commons and other pro democracy measures. Where are they now. Where are the free votes in parliament or the referring of issues to be decided by the citizens of Canada through referenda?

The other element which differentiates him from other prime ministers is his absolute commitment to secrecy. In the past he attacked successive governments for lack of transperancy and lack of consultation and now, in the position of Prime Minister in a majority government, he has not only adopted the ways of former occupants of that office but he has become even less inclined to take the people of Canada into his confidence. Secrecy is not only his byword it is in fact his preferred style of leadership. Simply put secrecy is the means that he uses to hide his need to control.

The denoument of this vignette concerning poor Mr Wilks MP for Kootenay-Columbia happened today when his office issued the unsurprising clarification that follows.

“I wish to clarify my position with regard to Bill C-38, the Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity Act. I support this bill, and the jobs and growth measures that it will bring for Canadians in Kootenay-Columbia and right across the country.

In our region alone, our Government’s Economic Action Plan 2012 will support jobs and growth by ensuring we can develop our natural resources in a responsible way that creates well-paying jobs while protecting our environment. Our Plan will also deliver investments in training, infrastructure and opportunities for youth, First Nations, newcomers and unemployed Canadians.

These important measures will help British Columbia and Canada remain strong and prosperous. I look forward to supporting the bill and seeing it passed.”

Reading this statement and looking at the video of Mr Wilks with his constituents makes me feel very sad for Mr Wilks and for the people of his constituency. But I feel shame that we have a government that respects no one. The Harper government shows no respect for seniors, the unemployed, immigrants, refugees indigenous people and now we can add the backbench Members of the Conservative Party. The list seems to be growing longer everyday.

Protest and the Streets of Quebec City: A Hopeful Sign Tuesday, May 22 2012 

Last night my wife and I joined many hundreds of citizens who joined with the students to protest Bill 78. It was a peaceful demonstration as are the vast majority of demonstrations. Of course very little reporting of non-violent protests happens so you would not necessarily know unless you happened to be in the centre of Quebec City.

The protesters were made up of all ages: seniors, middle aged people, young families with mum or dad pushing strollers or carriages and some children with their parents. All were united in denouncing Bill 78 which has been used as a means of control by the Quebec Government and which I and many others believe is unconstitutional as it violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The crowd shouted slogans that said the streets were ours not the government’s. Some signs deplored the disintegration of democracy in our society. Drums were beat, horns were sounded and songs were sung. It was raucous by times but never aggressively so. As we made our way through the city many people came out to stand on the sidewalk and cheer, many leaned out their windows to wave a red towel or to shout their support.

A most amazing thing happened near the end of the march before people began to disperse. The protesters were near the train station, the Gare de Palais, all resting before going up the hill to pass by the Hotel Dieu Hospital. The leaders of the march explained that as the protest was going up the street beside the Hospital that we should not chant or make any loud noises. So in silence the protesters marched up the hill in their hundreds and passed the hospital. At one point a small group way at the back, people who were so far back they had not heard the instructions, made a small noise, the protesters who had heard and were closer turned and said shush!  That was enough, silence reigned.

I pass this on because the reports by the corporate media about the protests focus not on the issues or on the threat to democracy, they highlight the wrong headed and violent behaviour of a small percentage of the crowd. many of these people have their own agenda, some may even be agents provocateur, used to get a reaction from the protesters. The vast majority of people are citizens like you and I who deplore what is happening to our society and to the institutions of our nation. Fortunately, there has not been much behaviour like that in Quebec City although there has been some in Montreal. You will note however that there have been many reports of the police in Montreal being provocative and at times showing antagonism to the protesters.

I am proud to see so many citizens marching to show the government that we will not give up our civil rights. I am also heartened to know that so many see and and are willing to publicly deplore the debasing of our parliamentary and governmental institutions. On every level of government we need new leaders. I believe we are seeing the rise of a new political consciousness and a rededication to the principles of democracy. This is a hopeful sign.

The Seeds of Civil Unrest: Bill 78 Monday, May 21 2012 

Yesterday I said that social peace is not possible in Quebec with Bill 78. Some find this position untenable because after all, according to them, there must be a halt to the protests because they have become violent. They advocate a hard-line against the students. Some even say that the students should give up and go home.

I would suggest that the state of the protests at this moment is in direct relationship to the unbending, insensitive and arrogant position taken by the Government of Quebec at the very beginning of the problem. In the beginning student groups across Quebec sought to enter into dialogue with the Charest Government. It is true that their position was totally against tuition increases, but what is so surprising about that? The student groups in Quebec have hardly been silent about their views on this issue for many years! The initial protests were scattered across many regions of Quebec and the student leadership was ultimately seeking negotiation.

The Charest Government from the very beginning wanted no dialogue and no negotiation. They had made the decision and the decision was final and any discussion was considered superfluous to the issue. The students then began to consolidate their efforts and mobilize across the province. By the time the students were “granted an audience” with the government, the Education Minister and the Premier were being criticized in the media and the students had succeeded in presenting a strong front against the government.

The negotiations began to seriously go wrong on both sides when the government tried to negotiate while playing to the larger public and the students, feeling their power began to inhibit other students from going to their classes to demonstrate their own organizing strength and burgeoning influence.

What if the Charest government had discussed and negotiated from the beginning? I believe a negotiated settlement would have been possible despite the fact that the two sides were far apart. Too many weeks went by and by the time the two sides met they were too concerned about their “public” image and not concerned enough to get the job done.

We are left with an escalating situation which never should have happened. The second disastrous decision made by the government was to bring in a law that essentially tampers with the civil rights of citizens. This single act shows the lack of capacity on the part of the government. It was enacted not to deal with the students and their demands but rather to prove to the citizens of Quebec  that the government is actually strong and can do “the right thing” when it is needed. What they have proved is exactly the opposite. This government has shown itself to be weak, unfocused and can only resort to legislated control and the diminishment of people’s civil rights. Rather than stopping the students they now have cause to defend themselves against dictatorial rule.

At the end of the day what are we left with?  All I can see is an unresolved issue about the future of tuition which will re-emerge every year until common sense begins to prevail. We will see a continuation of student militancy which will make the government’s role in finding a solution far more difficult. The media will perpetuate the divisions between the two sides helping to maintain the lack of trust and fostering instability. And what is worse we will see the possibility of social peace recede further and further away.  The people of Quebec are understandably fed up.

Old Age Security: the Harper Government Attacks Seniors Saturday, May 19 2012 

The shifting sands and shifting figures offered up by Ministers Flaherty and Finley regarding the proposed changes to the Old Age Security Program raise, as usual, a number of questions. Why can’t the bureacrats in either the Ministry of Finance or those in the Ministry of Human Resources respond to direct questions. Over the last few days when asked by journalists how much will be saved by the proposed OAS changes when they are implemented Minister Finley refused to say. Finally yesterday Mr Flaherty offered a tentative estimate of $10 billion. “I’ve heard that number, I’ve heard $12 billion also. Something in that area,” Such clear responses to an issue that has been a bit of a lightning rod over the last few weeks! And yet why no clarity? Did the government not do the appropriate analysis before proposing this measure?

Yesterday Kevin Page the Parliamentary Budget Officer clearly refuted the claims of the Harperites and reaffirmed that younger Canadians should not have to wait an extra 2 years to receive the Old Age Security benefit. He repudiates the government’s position. The CBC reported that Mr Page presented the analysis in response to further requests by Members of Parliament and that in his report he concluded: “The updated analysis indicated that as a result of the change to the [Canada Health Transfer]… the federal fiscal structure was sustainable and had sufficient room to absorb the cost pressures arising from the Old Age Security (OAS) program.”

Mr. Page’s analysis echos the Finance Department’s own study on Canada’s pension sysytem which was presented in 2010 and commissioned by the Department of Finance for the federal and provincial finance ministers’ Research Working Group, Edward Whitehouse, who leads the pensions team in the Social Policy Division of the OECD, said that “long-term projections show that Canada’s public retirement income system is financially sustainable. There is no pressing financial or fiscal need to increase pension ages in the foreseeable future.” This information comes from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in their report entitled, “Undermining Canada’s Retirement Income System” prepared by Monica Townson.

So what do we make of the plans of the Harperites? We know that according to the Vanier Institute of the Family that Seniors are 17 times more likely to live in poverty now than 20 years ago. We also know according to the CCPA that:

“OAS benefits constitute a significant percentage of income for many seniors. According to one estimate, OAS and GIS combined make up 36% of the income of seniors. For low-income seniors, it’s between two-thirds and three-quarters.”

“OAS alone represents about 29% of the income of women aged 65-69, and 19% of the income of men aged 65-69.”

“About 16% of older women on their own have incomes below the low-income cut-off. It is estimated that public transfers (mainly OAS and GIS) constitute 77% of the total income of unattached low-income seniors.”

What is the bottom line? The Conservative government has not proven that the OAS program is unsustainable, whereas the Finance Department itself has proven the opposite in 2010. The OAS program is a necessary support for thousands of seniors, particularly the most vulnerable individuals. To make these proposed changes is disgraceful and damaging. Our seniors continue to pay taxes even after a lifetime of being in the workforce. I would say the lesson we learn from this present budget and these changes in policy is: that the only people exempt from attacks by this government are their corporate friends and bankers.

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