Thursday, May 25, 2017

Saskatchewan premier Wall faces protests at dinner party he hosts

Hundreds of protesters from more than a dozen groups converged outside the Premier's Dinner location in Saskatoon where Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall gave a keynote speech.

Hundreds of people rallied outside the Premier's Dinner venue in Saskatoon Thursday night, where Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall gave a keynote address. The dinner was held at Prairieland Park, Hall A. The dinner was hosted by the ruling Saskatchewan Party led by Wall. Drivers on nearby Ruth St. found themselves surrounded by sign-waving protesters speaking through megaphones. Wall's popularity has dropped since he introduced a budget with many cuts.
Among the more controversial moves was to do away with the provincial bus service run by the provincially owned Saskatchewan Transportation Company (STC) as described in a recent Digital Journal article.
Cindy Harrison, a spokesperson for Stop the Cuts, a coalition of 12 organizations that organized the rally noted that cutting the STC would hurt rural people particularly: "We think the cuts are unfair and they were done without consultation and we're not willing to accept them. Saskatchewan has one of the highest rural populations in Canada. The cuts to STC will hit rural populations." She noted that while the protesters were feasting on hot dogs, those attending the dinner were paying $250 dollars a plate. Harris said that cash for access system was unfair when Wall was cutting services to the people of Saskatchewan. Federal Liberals have had similar events to raise funds.
Wall defended the right of the protesters to express their views:"We live in a kind of a society where people I think are not just free but encouraged to express what they believe. We know people are upset and obviously they're going to express that dissent as they did today and they should be welcomed and encouraged to do so. I knew before the budget was introduced that this was not going to be a popular budget and we made these difficult decisions because we strongly believe they're in the best interests of the province and the long-term interests of Saskatchewan."
A recent Mainstreet poll commissioned by Postmedia reveals the effects of the provincial budget, released last month, on Wall's popularity. In October Wall had a 52 percent approval rate but now only 46 percent approve of the job Wall is doing while 45 percent disapprove, with the remaining 9 percent undecided. The Mainstreet vice-president said that the poll numbers were mainly a result of the budget. Wall lost most approval in the two main cities Saskatoon and Regina whereas he did better in rural ridings. The budget itself was approved only by 26 percent with 45 percent disapproving. 51 percent disapproved of doing away with STC while only 18 percent approved. The poll was conducted March 30 and 31. 1,704 people were surveyed, using landlines and cellphones. A random sample of this size has a margin of error of +/- 2.37 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Hundreds of Manitoba nurses rally at legislature to oppose cutbacks

Last Wednesday, hundreds of nurses and other front-line workers protested at the Manitoba Legislature about budget cuts they claim will compromise patient care in the province.

Sandi Mowat, president of the Manitoba Nurse's Union said:"We want the government to put patients first and focus on making investments and improvements in health care." About 600 nurses and other protesters gathered at the steps of the provincial legislative building. They oppose the government plans to close three emergency rooms and also cut the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority budget by $83 million. The government has also ordered health agencies and Crown corporations to cut 15 percent of management positions among other cost-saving measures in the health care system.
Half of Winnipeg's Emergency Rooms will be closed in the cutbacks. This will mean patients in emergency will need to travel further and also that there may be delays as well. The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority may attempt to privatize some services as it tries to achieve $83 million in savings. The shortage of doctors in rural Manitoba is bound to get worse as the Health Minister Kelvin Goerzten confirmed that the government would also axe a program designed to attract doctors to rural and remote parts of the province. The Conservative government has massive support in most rural areas and yet the government is punishing those who are most supportive of it.
The nurses union represents about 12,000 employees across the province. The union fears the cuts will affect nurses' ability to provide quality care for patients. Mowat said of the government claim that it wanted to decrease wait times: "I don't understand how decreasing the number of emergency rooms is going to decrease wait times. We have to see the concrete plan … where are all these people going to go?" Mowat said that there had been no consultation about the proposed closing of the three emergency departments with the group. She said that patients will be put at risk as they need to travel further. She said that nurses and other front-line workers needed to be consulted on these issues saying: "Step back, and do some consultation with the front-line nurses to ask them. We agree that the system needs work, we agree that there are inefficiencies. We can help them figure out what those inefficiencies are. Nurses know a lot about patient care and no one asked us."
The Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen said he had an obligation to reduce wait times. He said this means making tough decisions now to ensure a better future. However, to reduce wait times one surely might need to spend more money on staff and consult nurses and other front-line workers as to how this might be achieved. Goerzen is doing the exact opposite. His response explains nothing but is hopeful froth: "My hope of course is that in the years ahead that people will look back and say, 'Was it easy? No. Was it challenging? It was. But was it the right thing to do? Absolutely,." They will look back and say: "Why did I ever vote for the Progressive Conservatives." The Premier Brian Pallister said that he understood why people are concerned about the health care changes but said they should not fear.
Perhaps Pallister gets health care in Costa Rica where he has a luxurious property at which he hopes to spend six to eight weeks every year. His home in a rich part of Winnipeg on Wellington Crescent is worth about $2 million. The home is 9,000 square feet and has a seven car garage and a basketball court.
Katie Bryant, an emergency room nurse at Victoria General Hospital said: "People with life-threatening illnesses and life-threatening problems are going to have to be travelling further to hospitals to get the care that they need and that's unsafe and it's putting people at risk unnecessarily. I wish that they would have consulted more with front line staff and more with people that are there every single day, triaging these patients, taking care of these patients on wards, dealing with families, who are now potentially going to have to travel even further to visit loved ones."
The grant program to attract doctors to remote and rural areas of Manitoba in 2001 and changed in 2010, gives medical students grants of $12,000 in each of their four years at medical school and also further grants to physicians establishing a practice in Manitoba. For each year students were given the grant they were required to six months in an under-services part of the province upon graduation. The cut will save the government about $4.2 million a year. However, it will also leave some rural and remote areas even less able to find physicians serve them. It will no doubt have zero effect on the health care received by Pallister and his family.
Health Minister Goerzen said that money was not one of the most motivating factors in doctor's decision as to where to practice. But it might be a consideration for poorer medical students to have $12,000 each year to pay for their education expenses! Goerzen said: "We are going to put together a more central, provincial strategy in terms of how do we attract and retain doctors. We're moving the resources and attention to the things that actually motivate doctors to come and stay in the province." He said that the new approach would involve a more coordinated approach that would not see rural regional health authorities fighting each other for doctors. It sounds as if the government is going to centralize decision making taking any local control over health care facilities and funding away from them. Recruiting more doctors was a central plank in the Conservative platform. How this is to be accomplished has yet to be revealed. What the government has done so far is to ensure that Winnipeg has less emergency services and that rural areas will have even more difficulty recruiting doctors to serve their communities.

Friday, May 12, 2017

PM Trudeau defends Canadian dairy system

Trudeau defended Canada's dairy supply management system noting that every nation including the US defends its agricultural industries as much as it can.

 1 of 3 
Canada has a supply management system fodairy products, poultry and eggs. It is discussed in a recent Digital Journal article. Trump recently criticized the dairy system during a speech in Wisconsin a cheese-producing state. In an interview with Bloomberg television Trudeau points out that the US actually runs a dairy surplus with Canada. Trudeau noted that the system worked quite well in Canada and said: "Let's not pretend we're in a global free market when it comes to agriculture. Every country protects, for good reason, its agricultural industries." Trudeau made his response after Trump again attacked the Canadian dairy industry as well as lumber, timber and energy sectors. It is Canada that should be complaining about the energy sector under NAFTA. If Trump's slogan is America First, under NAFTA Canada comes second.
As an article in Rabble notes:The proportionality clause says that if the government of any NAFTA member country takes action that cuts the availability of energy for export to another NAFTA member country, it must continue to export the same proportion of total "supply" that it has over the previous three years. If it cuts energy available for export to another member country, it must also cut the supply of that energy domestically to the same extent.The proportionality rule means that Canadians cannot have priority access to their own energy supplies. Richard Heinberg, a noted California energy expert said that proportionality is unique in all of the world's trade treaties. Heinberg claims that "Canada has every reason to repudiate the proportionality clause, and to do so unilaterally and immediately." With the opening of NAFTA Trudeau has every opportunity to do this. However, he has yet to reveal what he intends to change. He has not mentioned this clause, no doubt for good reason. The US would never accept it being dropped. The US wants Canada to be first and foremost a reliable source for oil and gas who will not put the needs of Canadians above those of the US.
I doubt the issue will even make it to the mainstream press. What we have instead are attacks against the management supply system by international dairy bodies that have already been captured by the neo-liberal policy agendas that will profit large corporations. A recent Globe and Mail article by Campbell Clark, takes on the task of attacking the system and predicting its demise:The end is coming for Canada’s supply managed dairy market, not immediately, but almost inevitably. That’s not because U.S. President Donald Trump has claimed the Canadian system is unfair to U.S. farmers. The hypocrisy of a President who crows about an America First trade policy while demanding access to Canada’s market makes one of the best arguments for keeping the protectionist system. But the political market for supply management is weakening. For Canadian politicians, it will soon be more valuable to give it up in trade talks than it is to use it to buy the votes of dairy farmers.The article points out that from more than 100,000 dairy farms in Canada the number had declined to 11,260 in 2014. Half of these are in the province of Quebec but even there a Conservative MP Maxine Bernier is running for his party's leadership on a pledge to eliminate supply managed. It should be noted that the Conservatives have only 5 seats in Quebec in the federal government.
Campbell notes that the US wants concessions. Canada could trade doing away with the supply management system in order for greater market access for steel pipes, lumber, or exemption from border taxes. US lumber and steel companies may object to any such deal as it conflicts with Trump's America First doctrine. However, Trump may very well abandon that as he has other campaign promises especially as Steve Bannon seems to be losing influence and Wall Street and the military appear to be winning power in his administration. While the strength of dairy farmers under the supply-management system may be waning it may still be strong enough to keep its protections under NAFTA.
Trump has said that the US will report within two weeks what it is intending to do with NAFTA, that he promised to renegotiate.
Trudeau said he planned to move the trade conversation ahead "in a way that both protects consumers and our agricultural producers". Trudeau also noted about Trump: "He has shown if he says one thing and actually hears good counter arguments or good reasons why he should shift his position, he will take a different position if it's a better one, if the arguments win him over." Trump does often flip flop but Trudeau is being overly kind in suggesting Trump's reason for doing so.
There is no sign of the renegotiation being an open transparent process, or that there will be any public consultations on this exceedingly important issue. It is likely to be done in secret behind closed doors with the most important stakeholders giant international corporations having a significant presence. A list of demands from the Council of Canadians can be found here.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Trump targets Canada's dairy farmers under NAFTA

U.S. President Donald Trump promised, during a visit to Wisconsin a cheese-making state that he will defend U.S. dairy farmers who claim they are being hurt by Canadian protectionist trade policies.
dd Imag
Under the present NAFTA agreement Canada's dairy sector enjoys protection by high tariffs. There are also production controls that ensure the prices for products are sufficient for farmers to make a living. The Canadian dairy system is not a free-market system but involves supply management by the Canadian Dairy Commission(CDC):
The Canadian Dairy Commission (French: Commission canadienne du lait) is a Canadian government Crown corporation created in 1966 under the Canadian Dairy Commission Act (1966–1967). According to the Act, CDC is mandated to "provide efficient producers of milk and cream with the opportunity to obtain a fair return for their labour and investment, and to provide consumers of dairy products with a continuous and adequate supply of dairy products of high quality."The CDC also chairs the Canadian Milk Supply Management Committee that coordinates industrial milk supply in Canada. The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-food is responsible for the CDC. The U.S. and some other countries hate the system since global companies want a purely market-based system in keeping with neoliberal policies in the interests of global corporations.
Trump said in Kenosha, Wisconsin: "We’re also going to stand up for our dairy farmers. Because in Canada some very unfair things have happened to our dairy farmers and others.” While Trump did not detail his concerns he said that his administration would call the Canadian government led by PM Justin Trudeau to ask for an explanation. The explanation is that there would be no NAFTA without protections for aspects of the economy that are supply-managed such as dairy products. Negotiators worry about the political fallout from any attempt to do away with the system. The system is described here:In total, there are about 17,000 Canadian farms that operate under Supply Management; this is about 8 percent of all farms in Canada. The dairy industry is the largest of the three supply-managed industries in Canada, with 11,280 farmers operating in 2016 [6]. There are about 2,700 poultry farmers, and fewer than 1,000 egg farmers. Dairy is the largest industry of the supply-managed industries, but it is also Canada's third largest agricultural commodity in terms of farm cash receipts, making it a significant commodity for Canada [7].
Trump again threatened to eliminate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) if it cannot be changed in the way he wishes. Trump said: "It's another typical one-sided deal against the United States and it's not going to be happening for long." Trump naturally emphasizes negative effects of NAFTA on U.S. workers but it has had negative effects in Mexico and Canada as well. The appended video from 2006 shows some of those effects. If NAFTA is reopened for negotiation then Mexico and Canada should demand changes — not just the United States.
Some of the demands that Canada should make are listed by the Council of Canadians: "... if the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is to be renegotiated, then it must be fundamentally changed, meaning at minimum its investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), energy proportionality, and water as a good, service and investment provisions must be removed. We also argue that the negotiation process must be done in an accountable and transparent way that includes public consultations." The proportionality provisions prevent the Canadian government from ensuring that there are sufficient supplies of goods to supply Canadians before exports of those goods are allowed. The proportionality provisions apply to oil and gas:
"The deals say that Canada must maintain at least the same level of oil and gas exports to the United States as it had supplied for the past thirty-six months. Only if Canadian consumption is cut proportionately, and then only in times of crisis, could the Canadian government claim jurisdiction over its own energy resources."
So far there has been complete silence as to what changes the Trudeau government is seeking in NAFTA. Neither the U.S. nor Canadian government have suggested that the negotiation process be transparent and accountable, or that there will be any public consultations. Usually trade deals are held behind closed doors with mainly government and corporate representatives taking part.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Canada to pass legislation on over-booking flights

After the outpouring of anger over a United Airlines passenger who was injured when he was forcibly removed from a flight, the Canadian government announced that it will pass legislation to address the problem.

A spokesperson for Transport Minister Marc Garneau, Marc Roy, said that rules about bumping will be included in an air passenger bill of rights. The bill had been promised last fall. The bill will require clear minimum requirements for compensation when flights are oversold or luggage is lost. Roy however did not say whether the legislation would set industry-wide standards or whether the compensation levels would be raised to match those in the United States or Europe.
Garneau, the Transport Minister, would not comment directly on the United Airlines incident in Chicago. He said he did not know if a passenger in Canada can be removed due to overbooking. Garneau said: “I certainly have seen what happened in the case of the United Airlines flight and that is why last November I announced that we would be putting in place what we call a regime of rights for passengers. We recognize that when a passenger books a ticket, they are entitled to certain rights.”
Gabor Lukacs, a passenger rights advocate, said the troubling video showing the forcible removal of the United Airline passenger showed the need for greater protection of the traveler. Lukacs said: “Sadly, people realize what bumping actually means only when an incident so extreme happens." Lukas said all airlines should be forced to have the same compensation limits rising to a maximum of $1,500 in line with the US. In 2013 Lukacs won a Canadian Transportation Agency case against Air Canada which required the airline to raise compensation to a maximum of $800 depending on the length of delay.
The usual reason for a person being forcibly removed from a flight is that they are drunk or regarded as a threat. However, Lukacs pointed out:“If for any reason the airline tells you you need to leave, you have to leave. You don’t get a choice, you cannot argue about whether you have to leave or not because it is their aircraft.” Airlines overbook flights as a hedge against people not showing up. However not all airlines do it. Both Westjet Airlines and Air Transat said they do not intentionally overbook flights. Air Canada does but claims that bumping is rare. Spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick said in an email: “We appreciate this is inconvenient for customers and we do take a very conservative approach to avoid this situation arising and when it does, we pay significant compensation.”
CEO of U.S.-based, Rick Seaney, said that he had never seen anything such as happened on the United flight. He said that airlines typically raise the amount of compensation until someone volunteers to take a later flight. The Canadian Transportation Agency said it had received 55 complaints about overbooking in 2015-16 which was less than 4 percent of all the complaints filed.
The United Airlines incident that caused all the fuss was a flight from Chicago to Louisville. A United spokesperson said: “Flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville was overbooked. After our team looked for volunteers, one customer refused to leave the aircraft voluntarily and law enforcement was asked to come to the gate. We apologize for the overbook situation.” The Chicago Department of Aviation(CDA) officers dragged the man off the plane. Karen Pride, spokesperson for the CDA said: “The incident on United flight 3411 was not in accordance with our standard operating procedure and the actions of the aviation security officer are obviously not condoned by the Department. That officer has been placed on leave effective today pending a thorough review of the situation.”
Joseph D'Cruz, of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto said that airlines overbook to save money:“Airlines overbook because very often people book a flight and then don’t show up. It’s called a no show. And the no-show rate can vary depending on the route. So in order to protect themselves from having empty seats on the plane, they overbook.” In Canada the federal government has not mandated any sort of compensation for those who are bumped D'Cruz said. Airlines apparently offer whatever is sufficient to entice a person to give up their seat. The United airlines case shows how few rights the traveler has.
United's Contract of Carriage says:"If a flight is Oversold, no one may be denied boarding against his/her will until UA or other carrier personnel first ask for volunteers who will give up their reservations willingly in exchange for compensation as determined by UA. If there are not enough volunteers, other Passengers may be denied boarding involuntarily in accordance with UA’s boarding priority." Passengers with disabilities, and minors under 18 will be the last to denied boarding. United policy further states: "The priority of all other confirmed passengers may be determined based on a passenger’s fare class, itinerary, status of frequent flyer program membership, and the time in which the passenger presents him/herself for check-in without advanced seat assignment." In the United States the biggest US airlines bumped 475,054 passengers from flights in 2016.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Trudeau flip flops to join Trump on Syria attack

(April 7) At first, when many countries jumped on the US bandwagon blaming Assad for the apparent chemical attack in a town near Idlib in Syria, Canada took a common sense cautious approach as an investigation into the incident had not yet even been started.

Trudeau said that the international community had to do more to investigate the the Syrian chemical attack. He roundly condemned the attack that killed more than 70 including children. Trudeau said: "We're all shocked and horrified by the terrible images and actions that just happened in Syria with chemical weapons." Trudeau said the Canadian government 'obviously, unequivocally" condemned the attack and "pushed the international community to do more to condemn, to find out what's going on." He did not blame Assad as the U.S. and others had already done.
Yet after Trump unilaterally, without waiting for a UN resolution or investigation, fired Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airbase, Trudeau came out in support of his action. Trudeau said that Canada was briefed in advance, about an hour before the U.S. missile strikes on the Syrian airbase. He said U.S. Secretary of State, James Mattis, called Canadian Defence Minister, Harjit Sajjan, Thursday night and Sajjan immediately briefed Trudeau.
For some strange reason, Trudeau's account contradicts what Trump's Press Secretary Sean Spicer had to say. Spicer said: "Missiles were launched at 7:40 p.m. during dinner. Foreign leaders and congressional leaders were notified starting at 8:30 p.m., just as first impacts were hitting the ground." It seems a bit odd if Canada had been warned ahead of other nations but Trudeau repeated his claim in a later speech. Trudeau also said that Canada would continue its mission in northern Iraq but that the government would continue to work to see how it could help in Syria.
Trudeau had a phone conversation with Trump on Friday morning. Trudeau told Trump that Canada fully supports the "limited and focused action to degrade the Syrian regime's ability to conduct chemical weapons attacks". Conservative MP Pierre Polievre during question period in the House of Commons, claimed that were inconsistencies in the Trudeau governments' response to what has happened. On Thursday, Trudeau had suggested there were continuing questions about who exactly was responsible for the attack and that the UN Security Council should launch an investigation into who was responsible. Polievre said Trudeau's rapid change of position shows Canada had been "completely out of the loop" on developments in the region. Polievre said: "Now [Trudeau] says he fully supports the United States's unilateral missile strikes against the Assad regime. The government's position seems to change with the wind." It was not exactly the wind but the phone call from Trump on Friday that changed the policy. On Thursday, Trudeau had been "out of the loop" not realizing that like other U.S. allies he was supposed to blame Assad before any investigation as the U.S. and shortly after many U.S. allies had done.
Trudeau's story is that the U.S. had provided him with information about the attack: "Secretary Mattis called Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan to confirm that Bashar al-Assad and his regime were responsible for the horrific attacks on civilians of a few days ago. A trusted and reliable ally in the United States informed us that the Assad regime was responsible for these chemical attacks." Sajjan told the House that Assad's repeated use of chemical weapons must not continue. Canada was back in the loop, accepting the U.S. narrative before any investigation and not questioning the missile attacks but supporting them. Maybe Trump will call and thank him.
Interim Conservative leader, Rona Ambrose, of the main opposition party also supported the missile strikes saying: "The global community cannot sit idly by while deadly nerve toxins are unleashed on innocent civilians." Murray Rankin of the NDP said the Assad regime must be held responsible for these shocking crimes. An NDP statement on its website is somewhat more reticent about blaming Assad already. A CBC article discusses viewers questions with Brian Stewart an award-winning Canadian journalist.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Saskatchewan's 70-year old provincial bus service to shut down

Employees cried and passengers were angry when they learned last Wednesday that the provincial government of Brad Wall had decided to shut down the 70-year-old bus service.

The Saskatchewan Transportation Company is a provincial crown corporation:
The Saskatchewan Transportation Company (STC) is a Crown Corporation of the Government of Saskatchewan, created in 1946 by an Order in Council. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of Crown Investments Corporation of Saskatchewan, with a mandate to provide bus services carrying people and freight between major centres and to as much of the rural population as possible.Freight services will be terminated on May 19 and passenger services by May 31. The closure will see 224 people lose their jobs and hundreds of rural Saskatchewan communities without any bus service. The province of Manitoba to the east already faces that situation. There is no service on highway 16, the Yellowhead, that runs from Winnipeg to Saskatoon, through much of Western Manitoba. Our main bus service is Greyhound Lines with offices in Austin Texas and owned in Scotland by FirstGroup. Any service that is not profitable is discontinued. The idea that a bus service might be operated to serve all areas of the province is a non-starter. This was the case even under our former supposedly socialist New Democratic Party (NDP) government. We now have a Conservative government and the issue will not even be discussed. The Saskatchewan Party government of premier Brad Wall in Saskatchewan is also conservative. Now they too will enjoy Greyhound as their main bus service. There is no money to be made providing transportation to the small towns of Saskatchewan except on a few main highways so they will all be without service.
Norquay resident, Cara Severson, said: "I can't believe this. I don't know what I'm going to do, I won't be traveling any more. It's going to be quite a nightmare. You guys don't know what you're doing to small communities. Think about the little people." She hoped that Premier Wall could reconsider the decision. A Nigerian immigrant did not know how she would bring her daughter into Saskatoon for medical treatment. An elderly Saskatoon woman who took the bus to the Manitou Springs Resort and Mineral Spa near the small town of Watrous said she will simply not be able to go there anymore.
Tareq Sunny of Yorkton takes the bus every month on business and said: "It's shutting down forever? My life is shutting down." While the decision is estimated to save the province about 17 million a year it also ends over 200 jobs and deprives many, in rural Saskatchewan especially, of a valuable transportation service. Only two of STC's 27 different routes are profitable. No doubt carriers such as Greyhound will service these routes while the 25 other routes will simply be without service.
New Democratic Party critic Cathy Sproule said that the loss of STC would have a negative impact on seniors in rural areas and people who depended on the bus service for medical appointments and deliveries. Sproule said: "We have a minister who promised a year ago that they wouldn't be touching STC because of the valuable service it provides." A survey of customers in the STC's latest annual report showed that 93 percent of customers were satisfied and 95 percent of parcel customers.Jennifer Campeau who was minister in charge of STC in 2016 said: "By linking communities, people and businesses, STC serves the customer and the shareholder. STC provides citizens with access to essential services in larger and rural communities. Entrepreneurs across the province have access to shipping services that can supply parts or distribute products, expanding markets beyond their local community." Even though the passenger service is to continue until May many routes were cancelled just hours before the announcement of STC's termination was announced in the budget. Apparently the cancellations were made to allow management to meet with STC staff, a move that shows no concern about customers.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Toronto District School Board cancels all new trips to the United States

The Toronto District School Board is canceling all new planned school trips to the United States until further notice due to the uncertainty with respect to whom could be affected by Trump's latest travel restrictions.

The Girl Guides of Canada and other school boards have halted travel to the U.S. The Windsor School board implemented a ban back on February 11th as reported in a Digital Journal article. The new ban replacing an earlier one bans travel to the U.S. from Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen unless the travelers have already been issued valid visas. However, as with the first ban, the new version is suspended pending several court challenges. The ban is to last 90 days.
In a statement released on Thursday, March 23rd, John Malloy, Director of Education said that the board faced a difficult choice: "We strongly believe that our students should not be placed into these situations of potentially being turned away at the border. For the planned trips that will be continuing, should students with the appropriate documentation be denied entry to the U.S. for no legitimate reason, the entire trip will return to Toronto and will not proceed." The board has 246,000 students in 584 schools throughout Toronto.If the U.S. travel restrictions are fully implemented, the school board said that even pre-approved trips would be cancelled.
A few individuals from the countries on the ban list will still be eligible to enter the U.S. if they are dual nationals travelling on a passport from a country not on the list or if they are legal permanent residents of the U.S. Iraq has been removed from the second list of banned countries. The Ottawa-Carleton District school board sent a letter to parents asking them if they thought upcoming trips to the U.S. should go ahead.
Roy Bird, spokesperson for the Toronto board told the Canadian Broadcasting System (CBC) that the ban would be in place until further notice. When asked whether the ban was a political statement he said: "I think this is about the information that we have in front of us. I think it's about the equity and inclusion angle. I'm not naive to say that it doesn't make a statement, but the decision is not being made as a statement." He said the main concern of the board was that students would not be turned away at the border even if they had the necessary documentation. Bird noted: "We have heard anecdotal stories of the executive order, in some cases when it was in place before, preventing people even with the appropriate documentation from crossing the border, and we don't want to put our students in that position. What we're saying is if this executive order is fully implemented, it could cause problems."
Toronto District School Board (TDSB) chair, Robin Pilkey said that there were 25 previously organized trips involving 900 students that will go ahead as planned. He said if any students with proper documentation are turned back the whole group will return. Pilkey said: "We're committed as a school board to equity, inclusiveness and fairness, and it's not appropriate that some students would not be able to attend based on their country of birth." While some families are asking why all trips were not cancelled, others are anxious planned trips go ahead. Bird said: "Hundreds of kids have been working months in some cases, fundraising, planning, working hard on competitions to get to where they are, and we don't want them to miss out on those opportunities."

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Foreign Affairs minister praises her grandfather a Ukrainian Nazi collaborator

At a recent news conference Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland announced that Canada would extend its training mission to the Ukraine.

The announcement was no surprise as Canada has long been a supporter of the U.S.-led NATO campaign supporting the Ukraine in reaction to the annexation of the Crimea and Russian support for the rebel enclaves in eastern Ukraine. Freeland herself is a major critic of Russia. Canada has imposed sanctions on Russia. As retaliation, Russia placed a travel ban on some Canadians including Freeland. Nevertheless, Trudeau made her Foreign Affairs Minister. Russia suggested that they might remove the travel ban if Canada removed the sanctions but that idea was rejected. At the news conference, Freeland faced questions about her Ukrainian grandfather Michael Chomiak and his ties to the Nazis.
Some of the articles making the allegations appeared on pro-Russian websites. Freeland suggested that the articles on her grandfather were part of a disinformation campaign on the part of the Russians. She told reporters: “American officials have publicly said, and even Angela Merkel has publicly said, that there were efforts on the Russian side to destabilize Western democracies, and I think it shouldn’t come as a surprise if these same efforts were used against Canada."

According to the Globe and Mail: "An official in Ms. Freeland’s office denied that the minister’s grandfather was a Nazi collaborator. Ms. Freeland has written that her maternal grandparents fled Ukraine in 1939, describing them as 'political exiles with a responsibility to keep alive the idea of an independent Ukraine.'” Paul Grod, president of the Canadian Ukrainian Congress said: “It is the continued Russian modus operandi that they have. Fake news, disinformation and targeting different individuals. It is just so outlandish when you hear some of these allegations – whether they are directed at minister Freeland or others.”
What is outlandish is that the minister manages to avoid the fact that her grandfather Michael Chomiak was actually a Nazi collaborator and although she has known this for some time has never come to grips with the facts or condemned his actions. Kirill Kalinin, a spokesperson for the Russian embassy in Ottawa noted that Freeland did not directly respond to allegations about Chomiak: “The question was asked but the answer about her grandfather never followed. She avoided giving a direct answer as to what her grandfather was doing in Cracow during WWII. While we cannot deny or confirm particular news stories, it’s our principled position that Nazism and Nazi collaborators, their hateful ideology, that took tens of millions lives, must be unanimously condemned.”
There is no need to read Russian propaganda sites to find information on Chomiak. The Ukraine Archival Records held by the the Province of Alberta has an entire file on Chomiak. Information includes his own details on editing the newspaper Krakiviski Visti in Cracow Poland and later in Vienna when he had to move with his Nazi colleagues as the Russians were advancing into Poland. The Krakiviski Visti was seized by the Nazis from its Jewish owner and operated as a propaganda outlet.
The Los Angeles Holocaust Museum said about the Krakiviski Visti and another similar newspaper: “The editorial boards carried out a policy of soliciting Ukrainian support for the German causes. It was typical, within these publications, to not to give any accounts of the German genocidal policy, and largely, the editions resorted to silencing the mass killing of Jews in Galicia. Ukrainian newspapers presented the Jewish Question in light of the official Nazi propaganda, corollary to the Jewish world conspiracy.”
Freeland has known for over two decades that her maternal grandfather Chomiak had been chief editor of a Nazi newspaper in occupied Poland. The Globe and Mail claims: "Ms. Freeland, who has paid tribute to her maternal grandparents in articles and books, helped edit a scholarly article in the Journal of Ukrainian Studies in 1996 that revealed her grandfather, Michael Chomiak, was a Nazi propagandist for Krakivski Visti (Krakow News)."
The article by Freeland's uncle John-Paul Himka, a professor emeritus at the University of Alberta, noted the newspaper was set up in 1940 by a German intelligence officer who confiscated the offices and presses from a Jewish publisher later murdered at a concentration camp. Himka gave credit to Freeland for "pointing out problems and clarifications." He notes that some passages in the paper suggested approval of Nazi actions. He also noted that a daughter of Chomiak had claimed that he had also helped out the resistance but that he could never verify this. Professor Himka said: “Yeah he was the editor of a legal newspaper in Nazi-occupied Poland. He never signed anything in the paper. He never made policy or that kind of thing. It wouldn’t be his call [The newspaper] also performed a function for Ukrainian culture and kept Ukrainian intelligentsia alive during the war by paying them for articles, not just anti-Semitic articles but articles about Ukrainian culture. It was a bit of a mixed bag.”
Freeland goes much further and tries to classify Russian accounts of Chomiak's work as meant to destabilize democracy in the west. When Freeland's office was asked to refute the allegations the response was: "People should be questioning where this information comes from, and the motivations behind it.” The truth does not matter, that is why it is OK to call the reports fake news even though the basic facts seem correct as confirmed by numerous other sources.
Peter Kent, Conservative foreign affairs critic said that the Russians were digging up details from the past to smear Freeland: “It is unacceptable. It seems they are trying smear a minister with historical detail that has probably been misrepresented. It is unfair and it is typical of what we have seen in other countries and it has nothing to do with her ability to represent Canada.” Freeland has written that her maternal grandparents as political exiles with a responsibility to keep alive the idea of an Independent Ukraine.
Of course Freeland cannot be held responsible for the actions of her grandfather but she can be held accountable for misrepresenting facts about him and praising him while not acknowledging his support for the Nazis. She even suggests that the whole idea that Chomiak was a Nazi collaborator was a Russian fabrication.
On Black Ribbon Day a day of remembrance for the victims of Stalinism and Nazism, Freeland tweeted her admiration for her grandparents as detailed in this blog. On a day to remember victims of Nazism our Foreign Minister chooses to praise her grandfather who was a Nazi collaborator.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Windsor school board cancels trips to the United States

The Greater Essex County District School Board in Windsor, Ontario, Canada has decided to cancel all student trips to the United States for the rest of February.

The board expressed uncertainty over whether all students would be allowed to cross the border. Board officials said that Trump's ban on travellers from seven nations meant that the board could not guarantee that every student could be able to go with the group. Board spokesperson Scott Scantlebury said:
"Our priority is the safety and well being of students. Having to, for whatever reason, have a student travelling on a field trip be barred from entry or be left behind ... we're not going to proceed if that is the possibility."Scantlebury noted that the decision is not permanent policy but will be reconsidered after Trump's orders are resolved in US courts. Scantlebury also said: “Where one person doesn’t go, nobody goes … we want to make sure nobody is excluded." Windsor has multicultural schools with students from many countries.
Clara Howitt, a superintendent with the Board said that field trips were being cancelled to the U.S. because the current U.S. political climate was considered too "unsafe" and unpredictable to permit cross-border trips. She said: “Paramount for us is student safety … we really don’t know what will happen to our students at the border.” Ottawa has begun monitoring the situation, particularly that of dual citizens who have been denied entrance at the border. Among the trips cancelled were to the Metro Detroit Holocaust Memorial Center.
Windsor West MP Brian Masse says he has already heard of Canadians turned back. He says he has even heard of Americans not coming to visit Canada because they fear what could happen at the border when they try to return. Superintendent Howit consulted with U.S. border officials before the board made its decision. The reply was that any students who were citizens of the seven listed countries would be barred from crossing. This was before the recent court ruling staying the order but the board still felt the situation was uncertain.
Another casualty of the new ban is the W.F. Herman Academy award-winning concert bands. The group raise funds and organize a big festival trip every couple of years. The junior and senior bands planned to travel to a music festival in Washington this April but the public school board rejected the trip when it was discovered that students would be in the capital on the same day as a massive social justice rally that is expected to draw up to half a million protesters. W.F. Herman, has more than 1,200 students from all over the world according to principal Josh Canty who said: “If this were a regular school trip, it would be a great trip, but it’s not a safe time for us to be there" There is hope an alternate festival can be found on the Canadian side of the border.
A truck driver from one of the countries on Trump's list who had clearance to use FAST lanes that provide expedited access to the U.S. has had his trusted traveller documents revoked. The driver showed the letter revoking his clearance to MP Brian Masse. The driver is a permanent resident of Canada and obviously had to go through considerable vetting to get the documents. Several school boards in Alberta have also cancelled all international trips for now and that includes the United States.

Liberal billl that would reduce pension benefits frozen for now.

Bill C-27 An Act to amend the Pension Benefits Standards Act, 1985 was introduced into the Canadian House of Commons on October 19th last year.

The bill was introduced without any notice or consultation with pensioners or unions. It contains measures that directly contradict election promises made by the Liberals. As a Digital Journal article last November noted: "The Liberal government's Minister of Finance, Bill Morneau, tabled a bill this week that would allow Crown corporations and federal private-sector employers to back out of defined-benefit entitlements they agree to." The Liberals in their election campaign vowed that they would improve retirement security for Canadians. They do this by replacing a defined benefits plan(DBP) that ensures that a certain benefit be paid. Wikipedia says of a DPB:
A defined benefit pension plan is a type of pension plan in which an employer/sponsor promises a specified pension payment, lump-sum (or combination thereof) on retirement that is predetermined by a formula based on the employee's earnings history, tenure of service and age, rather than depending directly on individual investment returns.
The bill would allow a type of "shared risk" pension plan(TP) with the target a specific benefit and defined contributions. But there could be reduction of accrued benefits if the plan ran into financial problems because of market conditions. The employees enrolled with the plan share the risk and could be subject to reduction of pension benefits rather than having a guaranteed pension as under the defined benefits plan. The former Conservative Harper government proposed such a plan in April 2014. There was so much opposition from pensioners and retirees that the government withdrew the planned legislation.
Nevertheless, the Liberals Bill C-27 is the same type of plan and contains much of the original Harper plan. If the bill were to pass it could have effects on all pensions not just those who work for the government:" It will set the new standard for pension reform across the country, and it will accelerate the erosion of decent pensions in both the private and public sectors. Employers and the pension industry are paying close attention to Bill C-27 for this very reason. If the federal government signals that employers in one sector are no longer legally required to live up to their pension promise to workers and retirees, employers everywhere will demand the same treatment."
Bill C-27 would do away with the legal protection of the present DBP pension that guarantees pensioners accrued benefits to be replaced by a Target benefit (TB) pension. Under the TB plan accrued benefits can be retroactively reduced. The bill would remove all the legal protection of such benefits. Employers would be allowed to persuade active and retired members to surrender their earned DB benefits in exchange for the TB plan benefits. The legislation does not require that individual workers give up their DB plan but would encourage them to do so and employers would reap large benefits by persuading them to do so.
Employers can use various carrots and sticks to persuade employees to switch plans, including potential job losses, reduced benefits, restructuring processes or even bankruptcy as a means of avoiding obligations under a DBP pension. New Brunswick in 2012 introduced a TB plan. Plan conversions have resulted in class action lawsuits, constitutional challenges, and plummeting membership in defined-benefit plans. The appended video promotes the plan as a plus and a rational solution to pension deficits. No drawbacks are mentioned.
In conclusion:The Target Benefit "Shared Risk" pension plan proposal contained in Bill C-27 is not the solution to create a secure and sustainable pension for retirees. Target benefit plans will have the effect of watering down existing DB plans. Governments and companies that currently offer DB plans will be encouraged to adopt TB plans that will cost employers less while offering workers less and taking all the risks.
The opposition to the bill has finally moved the Liberal government to "freeze" the bill pending consultations on it. A recent tweet claims: "Because workers made their voices heard, government has agreed to freeze the anti-pension Bill #C27 and hold consultations. #cdnpoli #canlab " The Liberals are supposed to be progressive and far to the left of the reactionary former Harper Conservative government yet even in the face of strong opposition they are not withdrawing the bill as Harper did. They are holding consultations. There will need to be a concerted effort to ensure that the interests who will benefit from changes to the pension law do not drown out the opposition. Only clear evidence that passing the bill would be too costly in political terms will lead to its withdrawal. It will have nothing at all to do with keeping Liberal election promises.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Refugee claimants face dangerously cold conditions crossing Manitoba border

(February 7) Over last weekend almost two dozen refugees walked over the border from the U.S. into Canada. Officials in the municipality of Emerson-Franklin directly south of Winnipeg worry about dealing with the rising numbers as they seem to be increasing.

 1 of 3 
Doug Johnston a councilor for the municipality said:"This is right off the scale for us." The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) confirmed that 22 people had crossed the border from Noyes, Minnesota into the Emerson area in Manitoba Canada. Johnston said that this is more than he has ever seen within such a short period. Rita Chahai, director of the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council said that last week another 10 refugee claimant files had been opened. Chahai said: "What we notice when they are in our office is that they are just extremely grateful and happy they have a chance at a fair hearing.To us, that's what is really important; that they are out of harm's way."

Most of the refugees come north to Manitoba through Minneapolis Minnesota. They are originally from such places as Somalia, Ghana and Djibouti. Four who arrived this weekend were from Somalia. Many of the refugees have no clue about weather conditions in Manitoba at this time of year and are not properly dressed. Johnston said he fears that some refugee is going to die if the number trying to get in increases while it is dead winter still.
Christmas eve, two Ghanians came by bus and then taxi to a large field that straddles the border. After wading through deep snow they finally reached the main highway to Winnipeg HIghway 75. It took some time to flag down a truck who phoned 911 when he realized how badly frozen the two were. They went by ambulance to Morris and then to Winnipeg as they were so badly frozen. The weather was quite cold even without considering the effect of the wind: "Environment Canada records show the temperature in the Emerson, Man., area on the morning of Dec. 24 was hovering around the –18 C mark before the windchill. CBC meteorologist John Sauder said skin can freeze within 30 minutes in that temperature." The two will suffer serious consequences but both are fortunate to be alive: "A Ghanaian refugee who almost died during a trek to cross the U.S.-Canada border into Manitoba on Christmas Eve will lose all of his fingers, a toe and possibly his arms." It appears from the appended video that neither will lose an arm.
Johnston thinks that when the weather warms up the influx could even be greater and he along with other officials and the local MLA want to meet with the federal and provincial government to devise a plan to deal with the situation. The Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) reports that 410 asylum seekers entered Canada near Emerson in just nine months last year. That is up from 340 in the year 2015-16 and only 68 in 2013-2014. Reeve of the municipality Greg Janzen said: "They are coming at all hours of the night, in the dark. We don't know if they're really bad criminals … if they're into drugs or into crime, and that's a scary thing."
Border staff were under pressure over the weekend but were able to get emergency officials in Emerson to house refugees in a local community hall. Sometimes the hall is opened for drivers stranded in snowstorms but volunteers said they had never had to deal with so many refugees.
Emerson is about 100 kilometers directly south of Winnipeg the capital. Refugees are usually picked up by fire crews or the RCMP and taken to the CBSA where they are processed. Volunteers provided the refugees blankets and warm clothes. They stayed at the hall about 12 hours. Usually refugees are not provided food but the group were hungry and were given bread with Nutella.
The Safe Third Country Agreement with the U.S. requires asylum seekers to claim refugee status in the "first safe country they arrive in" Any claimant trying to enter Canada from the U.S. via customs at U.S. land borders will be turned away. The deal was signed in 2004. However, there is a loophole that enables those who cross the border outside of official crossing points to be able to claim refugee status.
Janzen said: "I personally don't think they should be considered refugees. The United States is a safe country, and yet we're giving them refugee status." However, a growing number of critics including Amnesty International have called for scrapping the deal. Trump's recebt executive order is thought to have contributed to the recent influx into Manitoba. Ahmed Hussen, Federal Minister of Immigration defended the agreement claiming it allows Canada to "better handle the asylum system":"It's supported by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees to prevent asylum shopping."
A CBC article interviews a number of refugees in Winnipeg about the refugee situation. One, Abdikheir Ahmed, who came to Winnipeg as a refugee in 2003 from Kenya, said Trump's ban is scary for Muslims like himself."We might avoid the U.S. forever. The U.S. is not a safe country for refugees anymore."