29 June 2008

To Vote or not to Vote

Reading this post prompted me to reflect on a conversation I had the other day.

I was having a chai tea with a friend of mine at a local beverage lounge. Like me, my friend has always voted, including at all municipal, provincial and federal elections.*

My friend is also a strong health promotion activist, at both local and provincial levels, and has founded at least two provincial non-profit organizations. I mean, she is used to bucking against brick walls and despite this has kept going and going and going.

If anyone knows the importance of participation and getting involved politically, my friend does. But the state of our political institutions and the conduct of our politicians - all of them, even the ones with good (yet paternalistic) intentions - has set her to reassessing the value of political engagement.

That day, as my friend and I sipped tea, she told me she was considering not voting in the next BC and federal elections.

I was shocked, not just by my friend's statement but by the degree of despair she exuded. "I don't trust any of them," she said, with more anger than I've heard from her in a long time.

As for me, I'm still incensed by the way the referendum on electoral reform was (mis)managed and (mis)handled by the BC Liberals. And I remain furious with the NDP's continued opposition to the choice of the BC Citizens Assembly (and now, of the people). The 60% threshold was clearly set to ensure the new system wouldn't be voted in, so it must have been a thunderbolt to the established parties to learn that British Columbians had voted 58% - and in majorities in all but two of 79 electoral districts - in favour of the new system.

So, yes, I agree with my friend. I don't trust any of them either. And maybe, just maybe, in the next provincial election, I'll not vote for anyone.

But I WILL vote for BC-STV.

* Actually, there was one provincial election in which I didn't vote. Had just moved back to Canada after being away for four years and then it was to BC where I'd never lived - let alone visited - before. Too unaware of BC and regional politics to make an informed voting decision, I decided the most responsible thing to do was skip that election.

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28 June 2008

US and EU near Private Data Deal

Issues concerning security and government encroachment into private lives have largely been discussed concerning US post-9/11 policy. The US PATRIOT Act is just one example, but there are many more.

Another Point of View has posted fairly extensively about this and recently wrote this excellent review about US policy leeching its way into Canada. The US agenda to govern and control more of what is Canadian has been aided and abetted by former PM Paul Martin and now the Harper government.

Amidst these Canadian (and Mexican) privacy concerns comes a report today of the United Sates and the European Union nearing an agreement for handing over to the US the private data of EU citizens.

The United States and the European Union are near a deal on letting law enforcement and security agencies obtain private information like credit card transactions and travel histories about people on the other side of the Atlantic, The New York Times reported on Saturday.

The newspaper, which obtained an internal report on the potential agreement, said it would amount to a diplomatic breakthrough for U.S. counterterrorism officials...

The Bush administration wants to resolve the issues before leaving office in January and is hoping for an agreement that would not require congressional approval...

The talks resulted from conflicts between the United States and Europe over information-sharing after the September 11 attacks. The Bush administration had demanded access to passenger data held by airlines flying out of Europe and by a consortium, known as Swift, which tracks global bank transfers. Several EU countries objected, citing privacy laws.

U.S. and EU officials hope to avoid future confrontations "by finding common ground on privacy and by agreeing not to impose conflicting obligations on private companies," the Times quoted Stewart Baker, assistant secretary for policy at the Homeland Security Department, as saying...

Negotiators are trying to work out minimum privacy rights standards, such as limiting access to information to "authorized individuals with an identified purpose" for seeing it, the Times said.

This looks like an extension of the North American Security and Prosperity Partnership - soon to be 'The Americas' SPP? - to across the pond.

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27 June 2008

Canada supports your wars, so you support our oil

This has got to be the dumbest argument yet in support of the Alberta oil sands.
Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach says Canada has "protected the backs" of Americans in several wars and U.S. politicians should consider this before rejecting what some are calling "dirty" oil from the oilsands.

In other words, we support your dirty wars, so you support our dirty oil.

That this policy ultimately destroys life and the environment is apparently irrelevant.

Update: This related commentary from Saturday's Globe is just too funny.

When Barack Obama threatens to break America's addiction to “dirty, dwindling and expensive oil” and endorses a proposed “low-carbon fuel standard,” he is harming America's own national interests. Canada is the largest exporter of crude oil to the United States.... The Americans would be hard-pressed to find as reliable or as conscientious a supplier.

Unfortunately, ... the U.S. Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 contains a controversial section 526, which bans federal agencies from buying alternative fuels that produce more greenhouse gases than conventional oil. Efforts to amend the legislation, to specify that this section does not include Canadian heavy oil, have stalled. Worse, many view the section as a precedent for broader action.

Meanwhile, California has a sweeping plan to reduce greenhouse gases, which would require a 10-per-cent cut to the carbon intensity of transportation fuels by 2020. If Mr. Obama embraces this provision, as seems likely, U.S. refiners would hesitate to accept Canadian oil – because oil-sands production generates as much as three times more greenhouse gas than conventional oil; ... it is the American consumer who will pay the price, not Canada.

But isn't that the point, that all of us must take responsibility for our gluttony?

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US withdraws nukes from Britain

Picked up from Reuters:
The United States has quietly withdrawn its last nuclear weapons from Britain after more than half a century, a watchdog said yesterday. The Federation of American Scientists said in a report that Washington had removed its last nuclear bombs from the British Royal Air Force base at Lakenheath, where they had been stationed since 1954.

Sooo, where are they keeping their nuclear weapons in Canada?

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26 June 2008

Study: Vitamin D eases Chronic Back Pain

There are days when I've such pain in my back that I struggle to get out of bed in the morning. On those days, there's no point trying to do anything beyond lie prone for the next 24 hours.

Then, with my mobility somewhat recovered, the following few days I'm able to sit at this computer, go for daily walks, grocery shop, sweep the floors, clean out the kitty litter, and feed and water myself and the cats.

Then the cycle starts all over again.

Over the past two years, the cycle has been tightening; so that now, it has become one day off and four to five days OK. Previously, I might have gone as long as a month without much pain.

So I was happy to read this report of an easy and inexpensive way of possibly relieving some of the pain.

In an analysis of 22 clinical trials of people with chronic back pain, Dr. Stewart B. Leavitt, editor of Pain Treatment Topics, found that in any given study, between 48 per cent and 100 per cent of subjects with back pain had insufficient levels of vitamin D....

In one study of about 150 subjects, 93 per cent of patients with chronic musculoskeletal pain were vitamin D deficient. More than one quarter of the subjects had a severe deficiency, defined as less than 8 nanograms per millilitre.

In another study of about 360 subjects, a three-month course of vitamin D supplementation improved back-pain symptoms in 95 per cent of patients. In fact, 100 per cent of that study's subjects who had a severe deficiency of the vitamin got relief from their pain...

While reviewing the vitamin D research, Leavitt also found that the current recommended daily intake of vitamin D ... should be increased to 1,000 IU per day, and to 2,000 IU or more for people with chronic back pain.

Today is one of my OK days, so I'm off to the store to get some Vitamin D.

Here's the full, original report (PDF).

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Shots at Dion fall close to Campbell

Following up on my earlier post today, here's further comment on a carbon tax. This time it's about the inconsistent reaction by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to the plan proposed by Stephane Dion and the one now being implemented by Gordon Campbell in BC.
You have to wonder how long Premier Gordon Campbell is going to sit quietly while Stephen Harper rails on about how stupid his pet idea is.

Probably quite a while, is my guess. Federal-provincial relations are huge rats' nests of conflicting interests. And Campbell has to sustain a certain number of bites if he wants to see the federal lolly continue to arrive.

But it still must be galling for Campbell to watch Harper spew such venom at the carbon tax concept.

Particularly when the prime minister's tune has changed so dramatically in the past few months. He had no problems at all with the carbon tax when he was in B.C. a few weeks after it was introduced.

But when federal Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion announced a milder national version of the same thing last week, Harper almost started foaming at the mouth. Now the Conservatives are going to attempt to win the next federal election by eviscerating Dion over the tax.

Dion's proposal is much like the plan Campbell introduced in February. So far Harper has called the idea "crazy," "intellectually bankrupt" and "nonsense."

He's equated it to the reviled national energy program from the early 1980s, "in the sense that the program was designed to screw the West and really damage the energy sector -- and this will do those things. This is different in that this will actually screw everybody across the country."

Harper stomped all over the federal Liberals. "They're so bankrupt intellectually that the only policy idea they can come up with is to impose a new tax on energy prices at a time when energy prices are a national and global problem? Mr. Dion's policies are crazy. This is crazy economics. It's crazy environmental policy."

...But when Harper was in B.C. just weeks after Campbell's carbon tax was introduced, did he have any thoughts about how "foolish, unnecessary, crazy and intellectually bankrupt" it was? Did he express any thoughts about how Campbell was out to "screw everybody"?

Of course not...

The article's worth reading in full.

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Braidwood Taser Inquiry: Reclassify tasers as firearms, hence potentially deadly

Tasers should be reclassified.

Complaint commissioner urges that police officers view tasers as potentially deadly rather than safe, and that they not use them as devices of convenience.

B.C.'s police complaint commissioner, Dirk Ryneveld, has told the Braidwood Inquiry that Tasers may be misclassified as prohibited weapons, as opposed to prohibited firearms, as defined under Canada's criminal code.

Ryneveld told the public inquiry on Wednesday the distinction is important because the classification determines how police use the controversial stun guns.

"If this is a prohibited firearm, it must be authorized for use. And if their paperwork is misclassified as a prohibited weapon, then the restrictions on its use, and the reporting and the training and the certification don’t apply to the Taser, whereas perhaps it should," said Ryneveld.

He also told the inquiry police need to use Tasers knowing that they could be lethal, not with the belief that they are a safe, non-lethal alternative to a gun.

“Unfortunately, the Taser has become a tool of convenience in some situations. Sort of a come along device. ‘Drop the beer!’ No? Zap!” said Ryneveld.

These are pretty blunt statements and I applaud Ryneveld for making them.

Now, will law enforcement and the Harper government heed them?

Only time will tell (the Inquiry has adjourned for summer and resumes October 20th). Unfortunately, time isn't something which future taser victims have.

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More NDP Hypocrisy: Send us your $100 cheque

Yesterday, we learned that scientists and environmental activists had slammed the province's NDP for their disingenuous and misleading Axe the Tax campaign.

Today, British Columbians are given this suggestion from NDP environment critic Shane Simpson concerning what we should do with our $100 cheques - those cheques issued as part of the BC government's new carbon tax initiative.

Shane Simpson urges people to make their "gas tax rebate count" by funneling it to his party.

"We need to get tough on polluters, expand transit and aggressively promote green energy production," he says. "But we need your help.

"Here's what you can do right now: Join me and donate your $100 tax rebate to the B.C. NDP."

Giving to the NDP "will help elect the right people to fight for the right solutions for environmental change that are equitable for all British Columbians," he says.

Environment Minister Barry Penner accused the NDP of trying to get its hands on money that was intended to fight global warming.... Now, it appears the party is trying to make money off a program that it doesn't even support, Finance Minister Colin Hansen said.

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25 June 2008

NDP Axe the Tax Campaign angers Environmentalists

The Times-Colonist reports a Nobel Prize-winning scientist and respected environmentalists of slamming NDP Leader Carole James for trying to mislead British Columbians with her Axe the Tax campaign.
University of Victoria climatologist Andrew Weaver ripped the NDP in an interview for releasing "inaccurate" information about the tax....

"I find the behaviour of the opposition in this reprehensible," said Weaver, one of the scientists on a United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change who shared a Nobel Peace Prize with former U.S. vice-president Al Gore last year.

Weaver said experts worldwide agree that only way to fight climate change is to put a price on greenhouse gas emissions.

"A carbon tax is the most efficient way of doing it," he said. "The government in British Columbia recognized that, they showed leadership ... then the opposition realized that they don't want to be the opposition, so they try to score cheap political points. I say shame on them."

James launched her Axe the Gas Tax campaign last week, saying the levy unfairly targets ordinary British Columbians, and won't help in the battle against climate change.... The government has vowed that every dollar raised will be returned to taxpayers in the form of tax cuts.

The NDP claims the tax lets big polluters off the hook because some industrial emissions will not be covered.

But Weaver and the NDP's long-time allies in the environmental movement said yesterday that James is simply wrong on that and other key points.

"It's just a bit discouraging to see the misinformation, such as referring to it as a 'gas tax,' when in actual fact, it is a carbon tax," said Ian Bruce of the David Suzuki Foundation... "Secondly, because business and industry burn more fossil fuels in the province, they will be paying more of the carbon tax."

...Environmental groups also noted that government has committed to creating a cap and trade system that will put a price on emissions not covered by the carbon tax....

[James] argues that the government should have started with the cap and trade system [and that] the public is overwhelmingly supportive of the NDP's campaign...

Not in my neighbourhood, Ms. James! And no one else I've spoken with in BC sides with the NDP on this issue either.

To be fair, I did venture over to the NDP website and download their Framework for Real Climate Change literature. But it was quickly clear that the provincial and federal parties either share the same strategists or they all cut their teeth on the same sour lemons.

Typical of all NDP literature I've seen since 2004, including their election campaign platforms, it isn't until more than halfway through that one begins discovering what the NDP proposes instead of the Liberal plan - and the writing is heavy on rhetoric, sparse on specifics. The pages previous to that point are used to slam the Liberals and their plan, and to mislead the public about its details (and I say this as NO fan of Gordon Campbell).

It's not that the NDP's own plan is bad. It's that their opportunistic opposition is aimed at hurting a strategy which starts BC on the road to addressing climate change.

Is there room for improvement? Of course there is!

Which is why the NDP should be working with the Liberals on this crucial issue, not against them.

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He's Back! Dion's Three Pillars

Carol Goar wrote in The Star today that Stéphane Dion's green shift plan makes a strong start on the reduction of poverty.
When Stéphane Dion announced last November that a Liberal government would cut poverty by 30 per cent – and child poverty by 50 per cent – within five years, his political opponents scoffed.

Where would he find the billions of dollars he needed to deliver on his commitment?

Now we know the answer – or at least a large part of the answer.

Dion's proposed carbon tax, unveiled last week, would allow him to launch the most aggressive anti-poverty program in 40 years...

Political junkie that I am, I paid close attention to the Liberal leadership race and was glued to CPAC's online coverage of the party's 2006 convention.

I liked Dion's platform, which saw Canada redefining prosperity from that measured solely by the GDP to that guided by the three pillars of environment, economy, and social justice. I hoped Dion would win.

When Dion did win, I felt buoyant. Then he quickly came up against a number of barriers:

  1. Liberals continued to be divided, with some members working against the new leader's efforts to unite the party.
  2. HarperCritical bullies were unleashed.
  3. Canada's 'natural ruling party' was now the Official Opposition. And it didn't know how to oppose.
  4. The party was cash-strapped and bereft of a new vision. It wasn't anywhere near ready to run another election campaign and had it done so, there was the real risk of the Conservatives forming a majority government.
  5. Because the Liberals couldn't bring down the government due to #4, they had to support (or abstain from voting for) legislation they would not have supported otherwise. They therefore looked - and were - weak and ineffectual.
  6. Dion's spoken English was abysmal.

Now Dion and his three-pillars leadership platform are back (and his English has improved).

So what is a poor (literally) voter to do?

First, continue monitoring the goings-on of all federal parties and politicos.

Second, watch Dion's green plan evolve over the summer.

Third, talk to friends about the next federal election.

I started on the third recommendation today. And you know what? Two people who voted Green in the last election said they would, based on the green shift plan, vote Liberal next time - and one of them has never voted Liberal before. (As for me, I'm suspending judgement until I hear the Liberals' plan for communities - see my June 8th and 18th posts.)

"The Liberal leader promised seven months ago to 'embark on a war on poverty never seen before in Canada's history'," wrote Goar.

"People thought he was exaggerating. It turns out that he meant it."

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24 June 2008

Liberal Green Plan: Can I have a hat?

Having read the 48-page document describing the Liberal Party's Blue-mixed-with-yellow Shift™ plan, I confess to being relieved, also pleased - and not at all confused.

My befuddlement is not with Stéphane Dion's green plan.

My confusion is with comments made by Stephen Harper, Jason Kenney, and other GOP-Canada loyalists, who have said the plan would "screw everybody," is far too complicated for ordinary Canadians to understand, and would be rejected by Canadians if we did understand it.

But really, Stevie, what's so hard to get about a SHIFT in what is taxed?

Not only is the Liberal green plan intelligible, it is an elegant start. The plan combines three high-priority concerns of Canadians:

  • a move toward taking responsibility for our ecological footprint,
  • a start on adjusting our economy and lifestyle to global warming, and
  • a start on addressing poverty and homelessness

Now, Mr. Dion, can I have a hat?

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Renters Dilemma: Reducing our ecological footprint

In an article in The Tyee today, we learn of a report that Canada's top 10 percent of income earners have an ecological footprint two and a half times that of Canada's bottom 10 percent of income earners.

The study found that the per capita ecological footprint of the richest 10 per cent of Canadian households is 66 per cent higher than the national average...

"Low- and lower-middle income Canadian households are far more likely to rent rather than own their housing. As tenants, they are generally not in a position to make decisions with respect to the energy efficiency of their homes because they are not responsible for the capital investments required to give effect to those decisions.

"In many cases, tenants are not even in a position to control the temperature in their rented homes."

That many low-income renters cannot control the heat in their units is a point worth expanding.

I'm one of the working poor, a renter, and because of my low income must stay in this building.

Why? Because my employment is here, the vacancy rates in much of BC are between zero and two percent - locally, it's 1.3 percent - and rents to new renters in this community have ballooned by 40 percent over the past two years.

My former landlady, who managed this building for 11 years, refused to turn off the building's furnace during the summer and kept the thermostat at 24C/75F - all year round.

When asked by irate tenants why she did this, our landlady responded: "Because the little old lady on the first floor will be cold."

Methinks it was the little old (land)lady whose comfort she was concerned about, since tenants on the top two floors - old and young alike - complained about the heat and petitioned her to turn the darn thing off! (We get lovely cool nights here, but our units never got a chance to cool off.)

We cynically concluded that this practice was intentional, to force 2nd- and 3rd-floor tenants to move out so the rents could be jacked up to new residents.

Fortunately, we just got a new landlady and she's more considerate of tenants, particularly the long-timers. Still, the building isn't designed with individual thermostat control.

Another barrier which tenants may face in reducing their own ecological footprint is intransigency and lack of imagination on the part of owners or building management.

Again, my building is a case in point.

Tenants here wanted to use some of the land around the building to grow our own food. We proposed to maintain the plot ourselves, pay for the materials, and so on. That is, there'd be no cost to the management or owners.

We made our proposal to the new landlady, who thought it a great idea.

Our landlady asked management.

Management refused.

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Big Box Boom

Michael Watkins, president of the Duncan-Cowichan Chamber of Commerce, was reported in the Cowichan News Leader as saying that more jobs are being created in the Cowichan Valley and "this keeps money in our area."

"It’s a circle," he enthused, "and can be a win-win for everyone.”

This statement and the supporting statistics cited in the article are misleading.

True, Statistics Canada has shown valley unemployment dropping from eight percent in 2000 to 4.5 percent in 2006.

True, Cowichan’s wholesale/retail labour force increased by 12.5 percent between 2001 and 2006.

True, the Valley's median family income went from $20,483 to $24,457 between 2000 and 2005.

False, that these facts mean the average Valley resident is better off.

What the figures hide is a growing inequality between the haves and have-nots, a growing underclass of workers who work for poor wages, and an upper-middle and wealthy class which are served by them.

The figures hide that Canada has been in the midst of an economic boom, begun in late 2005, which has seen the cost of housing, transportation and food outstrip, in percent, the rise in median income.

Property values in BC between 2005 and 2006 alone shot up by 24 percent. In the meantime, the rental vacancy rate in Duncan went down in 2007 to 1.3 percent.

These realities disproportionately affect the working poor, most of whom are employed in the retail sector. The boom has left them and other low-income residents further behind, not ahead.

And a growing number of the middle class are teetering on the brink with them.

Regarding the increase in senior residents, while seniors tend to travel outside the area less and do their shopping locally, they also are less likely to be spending big bucks here.

Canadian seniors, as a group, are not known to be affluent.

Our wealthiest new residents don't work here. They are more apt to be employed in Victoria and other large centres, and are unlikely to have jobs in retail with the exception of upper management. They earn their income from outside the area and spend it here on general household needs where, for them, prices are more affordable.

The Valley's burgeoning consumer-oriented employment sector, therefore, while great for local business owners and their suppliers, only increases the economic divide among our residents.

For solutions, look to attracting more business in other employment, non-service, sectors.

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23 June 2008

Feeling the Heat: Women and climate change

Informative article on women's health in a changing climate from the Canadian Women's Health Network. It highlights some surprising facts about gender differences in coping with atmospheric heat.

For the first 20 years that climate change garnered international attention, gender issues were not even on the agenda—even though women and girls represent half of the world’s population and are likely to experience very different health impacts compared to men and boys. Women are generally poorer than men and more dependent than men on primary resources that are threatened by changes in climate...

In a warmer world, heat waves are expected to become more frequent and severe. Particularly vulnerable are infants, elderly people and people living in poverty.

In 1936, Canadians suffered under temperatures of 38° to 41° C in Hamilton, Niagara Falls and Toronto... Almost 1,200 Canadians died during the crisis (compared with 42 people the previous year), with Toronto experiencing 225 deaths. More recently, heat waves in Europe killed 35,000 in 2003; in France, female mortality was 15 to 20% higher than male mortality for all age groups.

Men and women differ in their response to extreme heat. Women sweat less, have a higher metabolic rate and thicker subcutaneous fat that prevents them from cooling themselves as efficiently as men. Women are therefore less tolerant of an imposed heat stress.

Heat-related health impacts can be reduced through individual behaviour adaptations, such as drinking more fluids and the use of air conditioners — as long as people have access to these resources. Poverty among elderly women, for example, limits their access to resources...

The author summarizes that, to "effectively address the health impacts of climate change for women and men, gender-based analysis is a necessity," with women being involved in determining strategies for tackling, on the human level, our changing climate.

"In the words of Nobel laureate, Amartya Sen, 'The voice of women is critically important for the world’s future — not just for women’s future'.”

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Reporting on the Homeless

Over on his blog, Scott Neigh brings our attention to this story in today's Toronto Star. It reports on a study which targetted the perilous aspects for women living homeless in Toronto.

Neigh questions The Star's style of reporting about this study.

There is something about the Toronto Star-liberal approach to writing stories about poverty that I don't like -- a sort of revelling in the stories of people living in poverty that is voyeuristic, that is about giving people whose lives are comfortable a chance to go "Oh! How awful!" with absolutely no danger of having to confront that fact that our comfort is directly built on that suffering (dramatized at a safely impersonal distance by the journalist) which therefore makes us complicit in producing that suffering.

I have to agree with Neigh, but would take it further.

It's not just about how the media reports on people who are homeless or living in poverty; it's also about how a large number of academics continue to conduct their research and subsequently report on it. Taking objectivity as the necessary measure of the validity of their research, these academics end up de-humanizing the subjects of their studies.

At a recent networking event - having sat through two days of study presentations -, I accused certain academics of doing just that and warned the room generally (which included students, or future academics) of adding to, rather than helping to alleviate, the marginalization of the women in their studies. My comments, which I'd been too outraged to hold back, received loud acclaim.

Another participant at the event used the word "voyeurism" to sum up how she felt sitting in that audience and hearing the women's stories being piecemealed.

I also pointed out that the most qualified to study and report on the lives of marginalized women are the women themselves.* That conducting such research is not only empowering for these women but also far more enlightening to anyone concerned with really wanting to learn the truth of our lives.

* For an example of such research, see Policies of Exclusion, Poverty & Health: Stories from the front.

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Harper Government mines Citizens' Tax Data

Am surprised this story has not received more play in the blogosphere.

To buttress its position that salaries for federal judges are generally higher than the income they earned as lawyers in private and public practice, the Justice Department took the unprecedented step of giving the Canada Revenue Agency a list of the names of 627 judges the federal cabinet appointed to the bench between 1995 and 2007.

The agency was able to match 567 of those judges to their tax records as lawyers, and provided the Justice Department with an aggregated version of the information, with no names attached. A consultant used the data to calculate what the department claimed was an indication of the average increases in salaries and benefits lawyers received after they became judges.

Several aspects of this story should disturb Canadians:

  • that Canada's tax agency would make such refined aggregated data available
  • that the federal government would solicit the CRA to provide such data
  • the assumption that judges should be paid no more than lawyers

First, the excuse used by the CRA that the data was aggregated doesn't wash, not given how few citizens' names would get caught in the data mining. The practice raises questions regarding how refined a search the Agency will accept.

Second, regardless of the federal government's legal footing in this matter, the ethics of this approach to salary negotiations merits questioning, not least because the Harper Conservatives ran in 2006 on an ethics and accountability platform.

Finally, why should it strike anyone as odd that judges' incomes would improve over the incomes they made as lawyers? Granted, there's a strong cynicism on the part of the public concerning the legal profession. However, it makes no sense that someone who holds such a position of responsibility as a judge would be paid equal to or less than other players in the courtroom.

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22 June 2008

Good News: For budget, environment, health

This story focuses on the economic benefit, with an acknowledgement that what's good for the budget can also be good for the environment.

When Eric King moved from his apartment in Pittsburgh to a single-family home with a lawn, he bought a manual lawn mower instead of the usual gas-powered kind. He figures he's putting money in his pocket and saving trips to the filling station.

He's got plenty of company. Sales of manual — or push reel — mowers with the cartwheeling blades are on the rise this year...

"With the way gas prices are going through the roof and are going to stay there or increase even further, that was the main reason I considered one," said King, 29. "I don't consider myself an environmentalist; I consider myself an economist."

American Lawn Mower Co., a Shelbyville, Ind., manufacturer of manual and electric lawnmowers, says sales are up 60 per cent to 70 per cent over last year.

"It's unbelievable," said Teri McClain, inside sales administrator. "I think gas prices are playing a part in this."

...In King's neighbourhood, his push reel mower has become an instant hit. One neighbour told him she is buying one for herself and for her father. Other neighbours and passers-by can't resist trying the mower out.

"The way people are reacting you'd think it was the newest technology," he said. "They end up mowing half of my yard for me."

A third benefit is overlooked: improved health due to increased exercise.

Now, all we need do next is get rid of those damn blowers!

Anyone up for a sweep?

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21 June 2008

Justice for Jassi

Jassi Kaur Sidhu was born in Maple Ridge, BC in 1975. On June 8, 2000, the 25-year-old was found murdered. She had recently married against the wishes of her wealthy family.

The details of her murder have been retold in several documentaries, including the CBC's the fifth estate documentary The Murdered Bride, which originally aired in 2001 and was followed up in 2006 by the CBC movie Murder Unveiled, also referenced in above link.

The key suspects in the contract killing, Jassi's mother Malkiat Kaur and millionaire uncle Surjit Singh Badesha, were accused by the Indian court as having been the masterminds behind Jassi's murder. They allegedly hired killers to murder Jassi and Sukhwinder Sidhu (Mithu), her new husband.

Left in the streets to die, Mithu survived the attack. Today, he languishes in a Punjab jail on charges based on dubious claims promoted by his dead wife’s powerful and well-connected Punjab relatives.

A petition has been circulating since 2006 urging the investigation and conviction of Jassi's mother and uncle. Despite this and other intensive efforts by Jassi's supporters, Indian police investigators continue to be frustrated by the lack of action by the RCMP on their requests for extradition.

More information about Jassi's murder is available on the petition website. Please sign it and spread the word.

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Harper Government muzzles Chief Public Health Officer

On June 6th, 2008, the website of the Public Health Agency of Canada quietly added the 2008 report by Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr David Butler-Jones. Normally, as noted in this release by Liberals Dr. Carolyn Bennett and Dr. Ruby Dhalla, such a report to Canadians from a senior public official would be accompanied by news conferences and press advisories.

“The Conservatives sought to bury Dr. Butler-Jones’ report, which offered five recommendations for government action, including the pressing need to reduce poverty,” said Dr. Dhalla. “In particular, the report calls for further examination of income redistribution policies, programs and initiatives so that all families have the resources needed for healthy child development.

“It seems clear that the views of Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer are not compatible with the ideology of his political bosses... Muzzling the man who wrote the report is the next best thing to withholding it,” said Dr. Dhalla.

“Also at issue here is the continuing - and disturbing - trend of this government in its disrespect of senior officials and experts tasked with defending the interests of Canadians,” said Dr. Bennett. “We do Canadians no favour by hiding the truth from them...”

But the issue is worse than mere muzzling. There has been misrepresentation.

Compare the CPHO's report to this June 19th item appearing on the Canada News Centre website. You will find the report to have been given a positive gloss and only the most innocuous quotes taken from Butler-Jones.

“While most Canadians enjoy good to excellent health, as a result of social, economic and environmental factors, some Canadians are less healthy than others", said Butler-Jones... “There are many things we can do - both individually and collectively - to create the conditions that are the foundation of good health.”

The Report identifies Canadians’ income, education, environment; health behaviours (including diet and exercise); and social supports from family, friends and communities among the variety of factors determining how healthy we are...

Dr. Butler-Jones added: “The good news is that different jurisdictions and sectors - including the public health sector - have been working together and independently, applying the growing knowledge and experience of what affects our health and quality of life to reduce social and health inequalities.”

The bad news isn't mentioned and the article is written so blandly as to dissuade people from wanting to check out the report themselves. I urge people to do so. Our Chief Public Health Officer has some important things to share with us about health inequalities and the state of our access to choices for promoting health, including this, taken from A few words from Canada's Chief Public Health Officer, a short Preface to the report on the PHAC website:

There are Canadians in every corner of the country who continue to experience high rates of injury, chronic or infectious diseases and addictions. These individuals are at a higher risk of poor health and premature death. They are also more likely to need the health-care system for what are largely preventable health issues. Poor health also results in higher rates of absenteeism and lowers productivity in our workplaces.

While certain disadvantaged segments of the population have poorer health than most of us, none of us is immune to the health inequalities that limit our potential as individuals and as a nation. For this reason, my first report focuses on inequalities in health. With few exceptions, the evidence shows that people with better incomes, better education and better social supports enjoy better health than those with fewer social and economic opportunities.

This is NOT a message that the Harper government wants to get out, since it challenges Conservative ideology.

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20 June 2008

Homeless: A "battle for the commons"

This story in The Tyee today reports on the landmark case before BC's Supreme Court on the right of homeless people to sleep on public property.

Like the comments by homeless people in the study I quote further below, these knife through my heart. I know the sense of community these people are talking about and feel the injustice of their communities being ripped apart by those who are simultaneously materially well-off and deficit in compassion and wisdom.

Much has changed for Natalie Adams since the Victoria police dismantled a short-lived tent city a few blocks from the provincial legislature in 2005. She's off drugs, she has a place to live and a job helping other people get off the streets.

She also has an 18-month-old son, whose very existence she attributes to the city shutting down the tent city that flourished briefly in a city park two and a half years ago.

"When they broke up tent city I was camping out [alone] in Beacon Hill Park," said Adams... "I ended up having a sexual assault and got pregnant. It wouldn't have happened if they left the tent city alone."

On June 16, she brought her son to the opening day of a B.C. Supreme Court trial that will test the constitutionality of Victoria's anti-camping bylaws and the injunction the city used to remove the tent city.

Adams's son is a beautiful boy and she's thrilled to be raising him, she said, but it shows the dangers people face when they lack secure shelter. For a brief time, she'd found some security in the tent city, she said.

"It was nice having a brother and sisterhood, feeling like you were a part of and not a social pariah," she said. "It was really nice. We had unity, we had safety, we had the comfort of each other. We could go to sleep and knew we were safe."

Natalie's comments run similar to those found in Gordon Laird's superb study Shelter: Homelessness in a growth Economy (PDF).

Few studies attract my cynical attention these days, since most ignore the voices and wisdom of the persons they are studying. This one, funded by the Sheldon Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership, was different. Its most notable section focuses on Toronto's Tent City, with much devoted to statements by people who saw their home destroyed by City bulldozers.

As a Metis woman with no fixed address, Boni isn’t convinced that Canada has much changed from the days of Indian Agents, work-for-food programs, social neglect and heavy-handed government control. The historical recurrence is striking: Indians, Metis and homeless people have a surprising amount in common. “My grandfather put down on Crown land and claimed it,” she says. “That’s what is happening here.”

“We infantilize these people,” she says of the shelter-based system. “We take independent people who lose everything. Limit their freedoms, feed them, give them therapy. But we don’t give them last-month’s rent, nor do they get to choose where they live, even if they do get social housing.”

“So we end up with a mental health case who wants to tell everyone to go screw themselves,” says Boni. “That’s the story of Tent City.”

“The trouble with social housing is that people still don’t own the place or have a stake in it,” Boni argues. “At least people here own their shacks – and many people can live more independently than we give them credit for...”

“I don’t think it’s okay to live in illicit squats – but, personally, Tent City was one of the greatest experiences of my life,” Boni says. It was the unlikely beauty of the place – the cultivated gardens, art installations, and collective bonds – that always came as a surprise. “I liked the physical labour - chopping wood, building things. You moved with a rhythm of time, the cycles of the outdoors. There was a community that we all miss, however crazed it was” (pp46 - 50).

If you're interested in homelessness or the purported connection between mental illness and homelessness, you should read Laird's study. I can't praise it enough.

Recommend this post

Guaranteed Annual Income

In her column in today's Star, Carol Goar writes of the need for a pan-Canadian anti-poverty strategy and the support, by Senator Hugh Segal, for a guaranteed annual income.

Goar lists what she considers to be the advantages and disadvantages of a GAI.

It would provide all Canadians with enough income to meet their basic needs. Because the benefit would go to everyone, there would be no stigma, no means test, no auditing of bank accounts, no fraud investigations and no intrusion into people's privacy.

It would be administratively efficient. Because the payment would be delivered through the income tax system – in the form of a negative tax for those with no income – there would be no need for legions of bureaucrats.

It would give governments a new tool to reduce poverty. Most research shows a revenue-neutral plan – one costing the same as the programs it replaced – would produce a slight drop in the poverty rate.

But a universal entitlement would have four major drawbacks:

It would be an expensive way to fight poverty. Economists have calculated the price of bringing everyone up to 70 per cent of Statistics Canada's low-income cut-off at roughly $20 billion...

A guaranteed annual income would not include job training for the unemployed, support services for people with disabilities, subsidized child care for single parents, student aid or social housing.

It would induce some people not to work. The impact would depend on the size of the benefit. Various experiments conducted in Canada and the United States have shown a 1-to-20 per cent drop in labour force participation.

It would require an extraordinary amount of federal-provincial co-operation to enact a new national program...

WISE, a former group and national movement of low-income women, included a GAI as one of its major goals. However, we did have one reservation - which is why it ranked as our third, not first or second key goal.

Contrary to Goar and the "various experiments" to which she alludes (would like to see them), WISE's project Policies of Exclusion, Poverty & Health: Stories from the front and other work with women in poverty make clear that low-income women, at least, want to work.

It's not the money driving this desire, either. It's the need to feel connected with our community and to know we're contributing to its vibrancy.

Goar does not include in her list the one reservation WISE women had about a GAI.

That reservation was based on this: Supposing Canada implemented a GAI with the intent of bringing everyone up to 70 per cent of Statistics Canada's low-income cut-off (LICO). Wouldn't the market simply adjust everything upward?

Rents, for example, would begin rising as more people could pay them. Wages would go up, in order to provide additional incentive to work. So would the price of the products or services workers provided.

Therefore in the end, after market adjustments, the chief benefit cited of a GAI - that it would lift more people out of poverty or at least enable everyone to meet their basic needs - would reduce to nothing.

However, one other original benefit would remain: the reduction of stigma, through both the removal of means-based criteria and the return of privacy. For this reason, because we'd seen how much stigma plays a role in our own lives and those of the storytellers, WISE supported the push for a guaranteed annual income for all.

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18 June 2008

Letter to Liberal Urban Caucus Committee

Here's the PDF report I refer to in the email below. I hope for a positive response.

I was Founder and Coordinator of WISE, a former group and national movement of low-income women. WISE folded in April 2008 due to changes made to Status of Women Canada.

I've just finished reading the UCC's May 2008 discussion paper and have some questions and comments.

First the questions.

There has been indication that the consultations by the UCC are to continue. Will these consultations be open to any member of the public? If so, will consultations be accessible to people who live in rural or small communities and cannot travel? That is, is there accommodation being made to reach interested members of the public who would like to participate but for reasons of affordability cannot?

Regarding the report, I've the following comments.

The overall tone was disappointing. It comes across as cloyingly paternalistic; frankly, it made me want to take a shower.

The UCC is recommending that the federal (Liberal) government continue dictating to communities (albeit, in "partnership") what they should do, how they should do it, and what resources they should use to accomplish specific federal-mandated goals.

Such an approach does not empower communities to set their own path, which citizens in communities should have a right to do. It does not encourage active citizen engagement in identifying their community's problems and coming up with ideas to resolve them. When citizens are so engaged, the glue which holds communities together strengthens and thus supports them even during the bad times.

Another disappointment with the report, again within the paternalistic theme, is the mere lip service paid to the One Cent Now campaign supported by the FCM (see Emergency Resolution BCMC07.2.01 adopted at their 2007 annual conference). The One Cent campaign is mentioned in the UCC report, then brushed off and used to support UCC recommendations which have no direct relation to it.

"The 'One Cent Now' campaign led by Toronto Mayor David Miller and endorsed by FCM and the Big City Mayors' Caucus, dramatically underscored the very real problems that municipalities across the country are having as a result of provincial downloading and the increasing infrastructure deficit...

"The mayors' demands are not unreasonable. During much of the 1990s, provincial and federal governments downloaded responsibilities for various social needs onto lower levels of government... Ultimately, municipal governments were left to pick up the slack without any significant or systemic help from other levels of government. Now that federal and provincial governments across the country are recording record surpluses, the time has come to re-examine the funding of Canadian municipalities." [As though we must first look to the care and feeding of upper-tier governments before supporting the communities in which people live. CO]

"Canada's cities are being asked to deliver services that redistribute income and resources from high-income Canadians to low-income Canadians, without any access to revenue from income or sales taxes" (p18f)."

Having stated the above, this is what the UCC recommends:

17. A Liberal government engage provincial governments and municipal officials to study ways the funding model for municipalities can be improved. [The FCM proposed one. It's called One Cent Now.]
18. A Liberal government invite municipal representatives to all intergovernmental discussions that affect their interests.
19. A Liberal government provide seed money to a pan-Canadian program that would allow seniors the option to defer paying their property taxes until after their homes are sold.

The UCC has looked at the problems and come up with one-size-fits-all solutions that continue to support federal interference in community concerns. Between this and the paternalistic theme of the report, one might charge the Liberals with trying to emulate the NDP.*

You may wonder why I, as former Coordinator of WISE, am bothered by this.

The one issue which WISE pushed the hardest, since we considered it to be the most crucial for addressing inequalities in health, income, housing, inclusion, and so on, was that of democratic and electoral reform. We were not pushing anywhere near so hard for housing measures and supported not at all campaigns for more money for food banks, women's shelters, homeless shelters, etc., all of which are bandaid solutions.

Disempowerment and the inability to influence change in our communities were our greatest barriers.

In "democratic reform," we sought most to see more control and associated resources placed into the hands of communities, in the places where we live. We considered this to be one sure step of encouraging greater citizen engagement and empowering communities to develop sustainable, robust, local economies.

WISE was proposing the retention of a portion of the GST by municipalities before David Miller came forward with his resolution to the FCM. Of course we supported that resolution, although we didn't think it went far enough.

In our proposal, it would have been two cents of the (then) seven cents collected in GST (or one cent from GST, one cent from the provinces), and those two cents would be RETAINED by communities. That is, the communities' portion of the sales tax wouldn't travel to the federal government to be doled out at some future date, perhaps with strings attached and as though communities are beggars. It would be taken at source, with the rest forwarded to Ottawa.

We saw this reversal of how communities are supported by upper-tier governments as crucial to a necessary paradigm shift. The Star would seem to agree, as evidenced in this June 15th editorial.

Chrystal Ocean
* The vast majority of WISE members did not support the NDP or its big government solutions.

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17 June 2008

Sixteen Lakes slated to be Mine Dumps

From a CBC report, we learned yesterday that sixteen lakes around the periphery of Canada are slated to be turned into mine dumps.

Under the Fisheries Act, it's illegal to put harmful substances into fish-bearing waters. But, under a little-known subsection known as Schedule Two of the mining effluent regulations, federal bureaucrats can redefine lakes as "tailings impoundment areas."

Since the introduction of Schedule Two ... in 2002, 16 lakes have been proposed for reclassification as tailings dumps. Four of the 16 are already being used as dumps — all in Newfoundland. Two of those are at the Duck Pond Mine and the other two are older mines due to be brought under Schedule Two retroactively.

This map (PDF), provided on the CBC website, prompts this cynic to ask: Is it mere coincidence that vote-rich Ontario and Quebec, and Conservative-rich Alberta are not included in the hit list?

There is, of course, a further question: Why don't we just stop consuming so much junk and recycle materials already in circulation?

The cynical answer to that question is: To enhance the bottom line of mining companies.

Recommend this post

15 June 2008

Support for One Cent Campaign

In my June 8th post, I expressed disappointment in a Liberal "urban caucus committee" report which failed to recommend - even mention - the resolution by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities that municipalities receive one cent of the GST.*

A supportive editorial in today's Star acknowledges that "giving cities one percentage point of the GST would constitute a revolutionary change in federal-municipal relations."

The paper is right, and it's a change urgently needed.

Life, work, and play happen in communities.

Poverty, unemployment, widespread deteriorating health, failing infrastructure, plant closures, resource depletion, food and water scarcity, are all felt first in communities - and it's in communities where solutions have the most immediate effect. The people in communities, including local government leaders, are also the best positioned to identify the right solutions for their communities.

Municipalities shouldn't be placed in the position of beggars. A more equitable distribution of power, between top-level governments and citizens, is essential for communities to be revitalized, for sustainable local economies to develop and flourish, and to improve citizen engagement.

Indeed, I'd take the One Cent campaign one step further and urge municipal leaders to lobby their provincial governments for one cent of the provincial sales tax; and I'd encourage poverty groups to get fully behind both efforts.

*For example, an item purchased for $5.00 would have 25 cents in GST added to it (at the current rate of 5% GST). Under the One Cent proposal, five cents of the 25 cents collected would be returned to municipalities - one cent for each dollar.

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G8: Commodity Prices threaten Economic Growth

Had to laugh at this headline: Commodity prices threaten economic growth, warns G8.

Group of Eight finance ministers said surging commodity prices threaten to end years of robust global economic growth, stoke inflation and force millions of the world's most vulnerable people deeper into poverty.

The ministers pledged after a meeting Saturday to remain “vigilant” amid economic uncertainty and promised to take “appropriate actions, individually and collectively, in order to secure stability and growth in our economies and globally.”

Why is it so hard for the financial sector to understand that we cannot have perpetual growth? Our natural resources are finite, given that we've only one Earth.

Yes, higher prices hurt the poor the most; they always do. But we need something to curb growth and to challenge the concept that growth should be the measure of human advancement and flourishing. There are alternative measures to the GDP and we should be using them. Such measures can far better suggest the types of policies required to address issues such as income disparities, voter apathy, and challenges to health.

Organizations like the G8, the WTO, and the supporters of free trade agreements, argue that economic growth, as indicated by the rise and fall of GDP, should be the one measure that matters.

They're dead wrong - and I suspect they know it.

The G8 after all, is comprised of politicians; and one would be hard-pressed to find a politician who thinks beyond two or three years into the future, to the next election campaign.

In the short term, economic growth serves governments well. In the long term, it hurts the governed. Clearly, the latter is irrelevant to those in power or who seek power.

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13 June 2008

Irish Voters Reject EU Lisbon Treaty

Bravo to the Irish!

DUBLIN (Reuters) - The victorious "No" campaign in Ireland's referendum on the EU reform treaty tapped into a growing disaffection among working-class voters who feel alienated from political elites in Dublin and Brussels.

Just as in 2005, when French and Dutch voters rejected a European constitution, the skepticism voiced in working class districts played a pivotal role, election results showed...

The constituency of Dublin South, which includes some of the Irish capital's most salubrious neighborhoods, voted overwhelmingly in favor of the treaty but many poorer parts of the city's north and west showed high levels of opposition...

"It is a huge rebuff to the Irish political establishment," said Joe Higgins, a member of Ireland's Socialist Party...

"This vote does tally with what the millions of French workers, millions of Dutch people did (in 2005)," Higgins said. "Throughout Europe I believe many working people and activists in the labor movement will see this as an opportunity to fight back against the neo-liberal economic juggernaut that's being pushed down their throats."

Among the comments following the referendum from members of the Irish government, is this:

Richard Bruton, deputy leader of Ireland's main opposition Fine Gael party, which supported the treaty, said voters lashed out without necessarily understanding the issues at stake.

"The treaty's benefits were very cerebral and a hard sell," Bruton said. "You had some chance maybe with the middle classes who would have been reading the broadsheets (newspapers) and listening carefully to the debate," he said.

So the working-class don't read the rags, Mr. Bruton? Then how did they know enough to reject your position and vote No in the referendum?

I liken this situation to that in North American with respect to the Security and Prosperity Partnership. The goal of proponents of the SPP is ultimately to set in place a supranational body. As with the case of the SPP, Europeans are dealing with an agenda that is being pushed by power elites, most particularly the Bilderbergers.

(Google 'Bilderberg' for all kinds of interesting tidbits. Of relevance to the EU is this 2003 BBC radio program.)

As we know from the protests already begun in the US and in Canada led by the Council of Canadians and environmental groups, the SPP has the potential to override sovereign rights in both countries. And you can bet that Canada would be the greater loser.

A similar fear in Europe is no doubt driving citizen defiance, as witness the results of this Irish referendum on the EU Lisbon treaty.

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12 June 2008

Pets: Helping ease abused lives

A poorly titled, poorly worded, yet nonetheless possibly hopeful, article in today's Globe reports on a study of abused women and their pets.
Over the past few years, women's advocates, veterinarians and researchers have begun to uncover surprising and at times troubling information information about the connection, including the fact that many women often stay in unsafe situations rather than leave their pet behind...

In Ontario, women are currently referred to the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association's SafePet Program, in which local vets will board animals while their owners are in the shelter system.

Debbie Stoewen, a vet with the Pioneer Pet Clinic in Kitchener, Ont., sees a constant stream of pets referred through the program. In April, she housed a dog and two cats for a woman for more than a month, even though the SafePet program generally houses animals for a maximum of two weeks. Most animals are placed with foster families, but Dr. Stoewen said these animals stayed with her...

Women who use the service can arrange to visit their animals, but Dr. Stoewen agrees it would be better if the pets could stay with their owner throughout the traumatic ordeal of starting their lives anew.

There's a strong taint of blame-the-victim in the article's presentation of this study. Whether that whiff is evident in the study report itself I don't know, as I've been unable to obtain a copy of it.

The message conveyed by the Globe writer, however, is that abused women, in order to protect their pets, are to blame for keeping themselves in harm's way.

This is equivalent to blaming someone for being caring and nurturing, traits which society expects women to possess. We've absorbed that expectation well, too, since we are notorious for putting others before ourselves.

So, according to the Globe writer, fearing that cruelty will be turned on their animals, abused women are at fault for wanting to protect them.

I don't think so.

Returning to the study, it's no surprise that it recommends women's shelters to find a way of accommodating the pets of abused women. I hope more studies follow and that they explore the connection between women who live challenged lives and the pets whose companionship help keep them going.

Recommend this post

10 June 2008

Commissioner of Gender Equality "outdated tokenism," says Globe

In my blog post of June 6th I wrote favourably of Stéphane Dion's promise that, should the Liberals be elected, he would establish a Commissioner of Gender Equality. In an editorial on June 9th, the Globe and Mail charged that such a move would be "outdated tokenism."

The commissioner would examine gender-equality practices in all government departments, scrutinize existing programs and policies to see if they are in line with the Federal Plan for Gender Equality, and report annually to Parliament. These, Mr. Dion added triumphantly, are "bold steps."

If so, they are bold steps backward...

Since 1995, Ottawa has required its departments and agencies to conduct gender-based analysis of proposed policies and legislation, where appropriate. The government, however, did not establish a commissioner to police its application.

Now, 13 years later, along comes Mr. Dion. Gender-based analysis may be a legitimate effort when examining such issues as the intricate tax implications of child-care proposals. But do we really want to run all existing federal policies through this lens? ... Radical feminist 1960s chic could wreak havoc on 2008 officialdom.

To the question asked in this editorial, yes, we do really want to run ALL existing federal policies through gender-based analysis. That is the point in the call by the Standing Committee on the Status of Women to establish a Commissioner of Gender Equality, to ensure that this is done.

Programs which are not obviously relevant to women can and indeed do affect the genders differently, not least because we don't both start out with equal opportunity. The issues are structural and systemic.

For example,

  • Women's income is still $0.70 for each $1.00 earned by a man. 
  • Women are less likely to be eligible for Employment Insurance because:
    • society places additional pressures on women to serve as caregivers and volunteers, which means
    • women are less in a position to be employed full-time and hence contribute to EI, obtain a decent salary and benefits, and accumulate the sufficient number of hours. For the same reasons, a woman who does manage to become EI eligible is likely to receive substantially lower benefits than those of a man.
  • Women are less likely to receive a decent pension when they retire, again because the work that they do, which society values in one sense, is not valued in another sense; conveniently, women do not get paid for their caregiving work.

For a good review of the issues, see Gender Budget Initiatives: Why they matter in Canada (PDF, 158 Kb).

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09 June 2008

Fastest Computer to be used for Nuclear Weapons Work

Scientists develop fastest computer

WASHINGTON (AP) — Scientists unveiled the world's fastest supercomputer on Monday, a $100 million machine that for the first time has performed 1,000 trillion calculations per second in a sustained exercise. The technology breakthrough was accomplished by engineers from the Los Alamos National Laboratory and IBM Corp. on a computer to be used primarily on nuclear weapons work, including simulating nuclear explosions.

As news organizations picked up this story today, they added it to their websites' Science & Technology sections.

But what attracted my attention was the computer's chief purpose.

While US political leaders diligently work to stoke fear into the hearts and minds of Americans about Iran's purported nuclear threat (the country hasn't a single nuclear weapon, let alone the capability to build one), the US harbours the largest nuclear arsenal in the world.

And if this report is any indicator, the American nuclear weapons industry just got a big boost.

In the meantime, the drums keep beating, lately for Israel, for an attack on Iran. Should Israel launch such an attack, there should be no doubt in anyone's mind of US complicity in it.

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08 June 2008

Liberals on Supporting Municipalities

No fire in Liberal strategy for cities

When federal Liberals announced the creation last fall of a special "urban caucus" within their ranks, charged with the task of helping cities advance, Canada's municipal activists had reason to cheer. The party has a solid record on delivering a "new deal" for cities. While Liberals were in power, the GST was waived for purchases made by municipalities, money from the tax on gasoline was pumped into local budgets and public transit projects received special funding.

It would be only natural to expect a dedicated group of urban advocates within the Liberal caucus to forcefully champion new measures that would move the cities' agenda several steps forward. Unfortunately, when the caucus issued a recent discussion paper, there wasn't much push in evidence. Instead of aggressively pressing the case for municipalities, the urban caucus mostly advocated tepid and familiar measures that, while helpful, lacked essential boldness.

According to the above editorial in The Star today, the federal Liberal's Urban Communities Caucus has so far not recommended that the Party support the Federation of Canadian Municipalities' resolution that communities receive a portion of the GST.

If true, then I am disappointed.

I was Founder and Coordinator of WISE, a former group and national movement of low-income women. WISE folded in April 2008 due to changes to Status of Women Canada made by the Harper government.

The one issue which WISE pushed the hardest, since we considered it to be the most crucial for addressing inequalities in health, income, housing and social inclusion, was that of democratic and electoral reform. In democratic reform, we sought most to see more control placed into the hands of communities, backed up by the necessary financial resources. We considered this to be one sure step of encouraging citizen engagement and empowering communities to develop sustainable, robust economies.

WISE was proposing the retention of a portion of the GST by communities before Toronto mayor David Miller came forward with his resolution to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. While we supported that resolution, we didn't think it went far enough. With our proposal, it would be two cents of the (then) seven cents collected in GST, and those two cents would be retained by the communities. That is, the communities' portion wouldn't travel to the federal government to be doled out at some future date - perhaps with strings attached and as though municipalities were beggars. Instead, it would be taken at source, with the remainder forwarded to Ottawa.

Miller proposed one cent of each seven cents collected and that it be returned to communities, not retained by them. The distinction is an important one in terms of local control and signals a much-needed reversal of power.

At any rate, the Liberal website mentions that the UCC report is preliminary, so I'm hoping the UCC's final recommendations include sharing the GST with municipalities - and that the LPC adopts that recommendation.

It was also mentioned that consultations by the UCC are continuing. Whether these are with LPC members only or include the general public isn't made clear.

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06 June 2008

Dion on Women's Equality

Dion vows to create gender equality post

Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion said yesterday that if he becomes prime minister, he'll appoint a federal commissioner of gender equality.

"Women have made huge strides in the last few decades, but our society still has further to go," he said, citing violence and social and economic inequality as issues "that have been allowed to exist for far too long in Canada.... We need a new tool to further the cause of gender equality."

[The new commissioner] would have status equivalent to [that of] the official languages commissioner or the privacy commissioner. She or he would have power to audit federal departments, review legislation or policy and make recommendations to Parliament.

Liberal status of women critic Maria Minna said the advantage in having a gender officer would be that "we can see who benefits from government policies and who doesn't."

For example, Minna said, a gender equality commissioner might criticize the Conservative government's cancellation of the court challenges program (which provided funds for challenges of government policies on language or equality grounds). Or the commissioner might comment on Canada's tax system, which Minna called a "huge discriminatory piece when it comes to women."

This is a step in the right direction and one which has been recommended by the Standing Committee on the Status of Women (FEWO) - see their Reports 7, 8, and 9 here.

Dion also said this week that he would ensure that the Liberals defeated Bill C-484, a bill introduced by Conservative MP Ken Epp as a backdoor means to reopen the abortion debate. Epp denies it, but his ruse has been uncovered.

Dion's statements are encouraging, but will he hold to them?

The promotion of women's equality in Canada took a major step backward when Stephen Harper's Conservatives took over in 2006. Status of Women Canada was severely gutted, one consequence being the closure of several women's organizations; the Court Challenges Program was outright cancelled; and other measures which had been in place to protect and further women's equality have either gone unfunded or been brutally curtailed.

Here's one woman who hopes Dion keeps his word.

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02 June 2008

Leave us quiet types alone

Two articles in today's newspapers tickled my funny bone.

People who bottle up may fare better after trauma:

Researchers at the University of Buffalo interviewed people on how they dealt with a large-scale traumatic event. They found those who didn't express their feelings were better off than the subjects who articulated their thoughts and expressed emotions... [This] contradict[s] the popular view of many psychologists, that venting after a trauma is critical in coping with the event.

The authors caution that the study in no way suggests all people should suppress their emotions after a stressful event... Instead, they emphasize that the findings point more to the absence of a need to force traumatized people to open up, when in fact their silence can be just as beneficial.

"If the assumption about the necessity of expression is correct — that failing to express one's feelings indicates some harmful repression or other pathology — then people who chose not to express should have been more likely to experience negative mental and physical health symptoms over time, the researchers point out.

"However, we found exactly the opposite," Mark Seery, lead author of the study, said.

Oh dear! Might this not throw a monkey wrench into the designs of "grief counsellors" who gather like locusts at crisis events?

I've an objection to group therapy too and similar warm fuzzy solutions. They assume that every one of us is a people person. But approximately half the population are introverts. Forcing upon us interventions which more often than not have been designed for extroverts - extroverts are more likely to volunteer for studies - can in fact do us harm.

Then there's this story, Busybodies should let old folks alone:

The latest bit of nonsense to issue from busybodies who think it's their business to find out what makes us tick comes from the Harvard School of Public Health.

It claims to have discovered that people who talk to other people are less likely to forget things than those who don't have the opportunity, or feel the need, to interact with other people.

We didn't have to wait to be told that the guinea pigs in this pointless exercise were old folks.

Big deal. If you talk to plants in the garden as I do frequently, they don't take umbrage if you forget their names. If you take your dog for a walk on the beach it doesn't matter if you call a stick a ball or vice versa, it'll chase it anyway if you throw the thing.

Even when my mind was as hale and hearty as my body has remained apparently ... I've had no urge to make small talk with strangers and no wish for a detailed answer to a polite "how do you do."

Couldn't have said it better myself. We're not all in-your-face, love-to-party, gotta-share-my-pain, A types!

Overall, I'd say it's been a good day for the other half of the human race.

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