Any Other Government Would Have Sent Gerry Ritz Packing

Gerry the Ritz Cracker
I got an e-mail yesterday from the official opposition saying that that a leaked memo confirms that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency ordered meat inspectors to not enforce health standards to the same standards for meat going to Canadian consumers as they would for meet was destined for export.

The memo says in part:

“Our number 1 priority is to ensure this standard is met with Japan-eligible carcasses. Ensure that non-Japan-eligible carcasses are not inspected for spinal cord/dura-mater, OCD (other carcass defects) and minor ingesta … Ignore them.”

This double-standard directive was issued in 2008, and then again in 2010 and 2011.

What it seems to say is that the Canada Food Inspection Agency, Gerry Ritz and the rest of the Harper Conservatives have been mismanaging food safety for years, endangering the safety of food that Canadians put on their dinner table every day.

Today the spin doctors at the Food Inspection Agency were hard at work trying to assure Canadians that despite other problems at XL Foods, they have always made sure that Canadian beef bound for domestic markets was fully inspected.

Our old friend Gerry Ritz also issues a release saying "The CIFA continues to ensure that meat processed in Canada meets our high food safety standards."

Sure Gerry Sure. We know we can depend on you.



How well do you sleep at night Tom?
My Member of Parliament Tom Lukiwski, has once again let his constituents down. Yesterday all except for seven members of the Harper Conservative Government,  Tom included, voted to defeat private member's bill C-398.

The only Saskatchewan MP who votes "yes" was Maurice Vellacott.

The bill, brought to the House by New Democrat Helene Laverdiere who said in part as she introduced her bill,  "Mr. Speaker, today, I am proud to introduce my bill entitled An Act to amend the Patent Act.

This bill will modify the provisions of the current access to medicines regime, which allows Canada to export generic versions of drugs for HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other illnesses to developing countries, and it will make the regime easier to use.

This will enable Canadian manufacturers to send potentially life-saving medicines to those who desperately need them.

This bill is an improved version of Bill C-393, which the House passed by a comfortable margin last March but which, unfortunately, died on the order paper in the Senate.

When drafting this bill, I worked closely with the Grandmothers Advocacy Network and the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network"

The bill was championed by the Grandmothers Advocacy Network and thousands of Canadians signed petitions in support of this bill.

When the original bill passed the big drug manufacturers opposed it. This time around withdrew any opposition to the bill being passed.

In advance of the vote former Member of Parliament Gerald Caplin said “If you had the opportunity to save hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of AIDS sufferers in Africa and other poor countries, what would you do? A complete no-brainer, right? Why in the world is it even a question?” 

Why indeed. 

Why did the Conservatives change their minds and defeat this bill?

Why did the Harper Government mount a campaign of misinformation in a push to assure the bill was defeated?

Why won't any predominant cabinet ministers comment on the decision to defeat the bill?

Disappointment in the Harper Government was expressed widely by those working on the front lines internationally was widespread.

UNICEF for example released a statement saying in part "We are highly disappointed with the result of tonight's vote. This Bill would have helped get life-saving medicine to the world's most vulnerable children without any additional costs to the government or Canadians. This is a missed opportunity and it is children who will suffer most," says UNICEF Canada's President and CEO David Morley.

Currently only 42 per cent of the estimated 1.5 million infants born worldwide to mothers with HIV receive the antiretroviral (ARV) treatments needed to prevent transmission of the disease.

If passed, Bill C-398 would have strengthened Canada's position as a true global leader on newborn, child and maternal health. The Bill proposed critical amendments to CAMR removing the unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles that have made the process impossible to use.

How many children will die before a bill like this is finally passed?

Stephen Harper should be ashamed


Why Didn't They Bother to Report this in October?

I am sometimes amazed at the state of journalism in this country.

Yesterday we were treated to an "economic update" from the Finance Minister, Jim Flaherty  It was big news on the CBC yesterday and in this mornings papers. The deficit is up. The Globe & Mail shouts "Surprise $7- Billion Deficit Surge" on the top of the front page. The Regina Leader Post puts a bigger headline on the front page of the business section.

Holy smoke. it all seems to say. "Boy, were we taken by surprise."

Sure Jim, Sure
If you scroll down this blog, to a posting about a month ago, there it is. At that point it had surges to over $6-billion and climbing.

The spin now put on the story is that commodity prices are to blame. No mention of those corporate tax cuts.

The Globe & Mail quotes one unnamed bank economist as saying the government's financial credibility could now be in jeopardy.

Only now? These guys' credibility period, is  already shot.  Jim Flaherty is one of the old Mike Harris mafia and the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper already is the least trusted leader in the Western Hemisphere.

Flaherty says   "You can be assured, we have contingency plans."

Sure Jim, sure.


I Think They Have Lost Their Minds

Here in Saskatchewan it wasn't First Nations unemployment, the lack of adequate housing, sky rocketing rental costs, or the economic disparity many of us see in this new "boom economy" that was the hot button issue. The thing that captured the hearts and minds of delegates at the governing party's Convention was lowering the drinking age from 19 to 18.

I have to ask myself, what person, over the age of 19 or 20, think this is a good idea?

I figure two groups.

First the slightly older guys whose friends are not yet 19 think it would make it a lot easier to get them drunk if they could all go to the bar.

And secondly, bar owners who see lowering the drinking age to 18, as a cash grab. Great for business. Cooler sales shoot through the roof.

The Sask Party Government loves small business so will most likely back this initiative. We have heard the "What is good for business is good for Saskatchewan." mantra all too often

Tourism Saskatchewan will most likely jump on the bandwagon too selling this initiative as a way to increase tourism. Lets' attract under aged American drinkers to small Saskatchewan border town bars. Yet another  wayto stimulate the rural Saskatchewan economy.

Why Would we Believe Anything they Say?

The immigration minister Jason Kenney is hell bent for leather to deport a couple of Nigerian, University of Regina students. Victoria Ordu and Ihuoma Amadi made an honest mistake and worked for a couple of weeks at a Walmart store in violation of their student visas.

Many people are outraged by the actions of Canadian Immigration Services. Kenny and Cabinet puppet Vic Toews both have lied to the public about the matter saying the students were not actually enrolled in university. Something the U of R refutes. Both have been enrolled since 2009.

Both students, here on scholarships, have had to take refuge in a church to keep from being forcibly being put onto an airplane back to Africa.

Not surprisingly, there is no indication that any managers of the huge America company that hired them have had to take refuge in a church or anywhere else, to avoid deportation for hiring illegal aliens.

As often happens with Harper and his gang of thugs, we are getting mixed signals from this Government. At the same time he is trying to deport these young women the Minister is trying to amend legislation to make it easier for foreign students to stay here in Canada after they complete their studies. To be able to apply to immigrate from right here in Canada instead of having to first, return home.

Canada recruits foreign students. They pay a great deal more that Canadians students do for tuition. In many ways, a foreign student is basically, a cash cow for universities.

It is worth noting that many, many of these students the minister is trying to entice are here on scholarships paid by their home countries, often developing nations, that cannot afford to lose their best and brightest.

At the same time, Canada is continuing to under fund the education system in our own country. As an example, it is cheaper to steal doctors from developing nations than it is to provide more spaces for Canadian students in medical school.


How do you like those corporate tax cuts so far, Jim?

Stephen Harper and his blue meanies tell us they have the economy in hand. Don't forget, Canada's Action Plan saved us from the kind of problems experienced by Greece and Spain. Stephen reminds us that we are really lucky that socialist Tom Mulcair isn't running things .

Our Prime Minister is so proud of his record he took it upon himself to lecture other world leaders about the strength of his economic policies. Praise the Lord, Harper has saved us all from a fate worse than death.

At least that is what the Conservatives like to tell us.

That is why I am simply amazed that this story, I found tucked away on the back pages of the Regina Leader Post, isn't front page news. How could it not be?

Ottawa's deficit for the current fiscal year is now $6.2 billion. I guess that in and of itself, really doesn't grab people's attention. We are getting used to surging deficits despite the soothing tone of political leaders who tell us "We are fine."

The real story is that $6.2 billion is pretty much double what it was at the end of the previous month.

The Finance Department quietly announced recently that the August deficit was $3.2 billion, slightly more than the $3.1 billion recorded in the same month of 2011 but, corporate tax revenues fell by 13.5 per cent decline compared with August 2011 and a 16 per cent decline from $2.1 billion in July of this year.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, who said recently he may need to revise downward growth projections for the rest of the year, is due to issue a midterm report card on the government's books in a few weeks.

How are those corporate tax cuts working out for out so far Jim? I can just hear him saying, "Oh don't worry, the middle class will pick up the slack"

Oh by the way, personal income tax receipts are up 3.8 per cent for the year so far.


What about an Order of Canada

Another story that grabbed my attention because of the outrage expressed by the media. Saskatchewan Conservative MP Maurice Vellacott, generously gave Queen's Diamond Jubilee medals to two anti-abortion activists who have been jailed repeatedly.

One of the 30 medals Vellacott was allotted to give away as a Conservative backbencher, one went to someone called Mary Wagner, whose actions at abortion clinics have landed her behind bars time and time again. He also gave one to Linda Gibbons,who is currently in jail in Toronto awaiting trial after she attempted to force her way into a Toronto clinic’s private treatment area.

Should we be giving these things to criminals? Do we care? What if the shoe was on the other foot?

Although I have never been convicted of a crime I have had my share of confrontations with police and have been arrested, and jailed as a result of my actions on picket lines. Should I now be disqualified?

Thinking of the issue in that light I am not so sure. I have been an activist too.

* Just a quick note to my MP Tom Lukiwski: I am still waiting for my medal in recognition of a lifetime working in the trenches fighting for the rights of working peoples.
OK Tom,  you were probably right in not offering me that one. A medal from the Queen wouldn't really be appropriate for me but, all things considered, I would accept an Order of Canada.
And after all if Conrad Black still has his and...never mind, I feel a rant coming on. I should just quit.

Letters to the editor

I wouldn't want anyone to think that this blog is in any way shape or form acting as a letters to the editor aggregator but from time to time, I think it is fun to pass on a couple of things that have caught my eye and that you might have missed. I like the letters from readers. They often oick up points that the papers' editor's miss.

First a couple of gems from Globe & Mail readers:

  • Cathleen Kneen writes that she noted that there have been suggestions that \canada should irradiate meat coming from places like XL Foods that way any plants, fecal matter or other contaminants that made their way into our meat wouldn't be harmful to consumers. Ms Kneen certainly echos my feelings when she says, "Sorry, I don't want to eat poop, even if it is irradiated Why not just set up smaller plants where workers have enough time to ensure the the meat stays clean in the first place?" 
  • Also in the G&M a reader from Winnipeg, Burton Ayles notes the difference between attitudes in Italy as compared with Canada. In Italy they recently convicted and jailed a group of scientists who failed to predict a fatal earthquake. Admittedly an impossible task. He compared it to Canada under Stephen Harper where "...government scientists repeatedly warned about environmental issues - acid rain, contaminants etc..." and when they do happen, the scientists get laid off and the programs get axed. 

Keep those letters coming

Gerry Ritz is predictable in nothing else. Known for making it up as he goes along and never accepting responsibility for anything unless it makes him look good, has done it again.

The Regina Leader Post reports the former ostrich farmer turned Agriculture Minister who, should by rights have resigned over the XL Foods tainted meat scandal, is now blaming the Federal inspectors at XL for being "too nice" Not tough enough?

No mention from Gerry that, under his watch, the number of inspector on the floor in meat packing plants was substantially cut. The message from the Harper Conservatives has always been clear, "Things work better when industry polices itself."  Under the guise of "cutting red tape" these guys put Canadians at risk daily.

Who has the guts or the time to be "tough enough" under Gerry's watch. Conscientious inspectors very likely would be accused with threatening meat packers' profits.

So no word that Gerry Ritz has learned any lessons from all this;
  • No promise to get more inspectors on the floor, 
  • no word that Gerry has listened to the workers on the floor who complain that the speeded productions  lines are a risk, 
  • no sign that Gerry who visited the plant soon after the American inspectors found the problem his department had missed, ever visited the citizens who were made sick by his incompetence, 
  • and actually no word that Gerry gives a fiddlers fart about anything but his own survival.
Get used to it folks. There are years to go before we gt another kick at the cat.


Election Night in Regina

We had an election in our town last night. In fact most, if not all people in Saskatchewan municipalities went to the polls yesterday to elect their civic leadership.

In Regina nine candidates ran for outgoing mayor Pat Fiacco's soon to be vacant spot. It was a bit of a dog's breakfast to be honest. A lot of people were obviously very unhappy with the current administration and it was nice to see so many throw their hats into the ring to attempt at least to draw attention to the shortcomings of those running our city.

Problem is of course, the die was cast for the one status quo candidate. He must have been ecstatic. And why not. It worked wonders for him.  As a bonus, we the voters got a real chance to see our flawed democracy at work. You would think that those in opposition to the way things were being run, would have thought of what would happen as they split the vote.

. Those opposition candidates got 58% of the vote.Instead all nine stayed in the race and the vote was split every which way. Had the only two credible candidates in opposition got together and run one candidate, that person most likely would be mayor today. The second and third candidates combined,earned more votes than the winner who was elected with 42% of ballots cast.

So in the end Regina's new mayor is Michael Fougere elected with about 21,000 votes in a city with a population of close to 210,000.

Democracy at work.

Not something I'd crow about.


American Leadership Debate

I try not to pay attention to American politics. God knows I have enough trouble keeping my blood pressure in check just dealing with Stephen Harper but, I am not sure the world can survive Mitt. Romney. So I tuned in.

Did anyone else who watched the debate last night wonder at the lack of response from the studio audience purported to be filled with undecided voters. It isn't unusual for the TV producers to warn the crown not to get overly animated in events like this. They don't want anything to take away from the "stars" of the show.

This crowd however was either drugged before hand or they were actually zombies. I believe they were undecided, they didn't look capable of making up their minds.


Toews fails Canadians Again

If you like Gerry Ritz, you'll love Vic Teows. They are pretty much peas in a pod sitting in the front benches along with the rest of Steven Harper's brain trust. Teows who worked hard to trash the gun registry is another of those Conservative bully boys who walks over anyone who disagrees with him or his ideas.

A sulking, smirking Toews has reluctantly announced that Effective Dec. 1, rules which the Harper Conservatives have delayed almost eight years, rules which will requiring serial numbers on gun will come into force.

In effect, serial numbers on rifles will work like a licence plate or VIN number. Now, investigators will be able to determine where and when the gun was made, and when it was imported to Canada, but not much more.

The rules, which the government says will "contribute to public safety, by facilitating law enforcement investigations when the markings can be linked to information on the last legal owner of the firearm."

I am not so sure, last June, the Tories also introduced legislation to ensure gun dealers don't have to keep records identifying buyers of non-restricted weapons and unfortunately, unlike the original 2004 regulations which were been postponed several times by this Conservative government, these rules will not be enforced and there are no penalties for non-complience.

How cynical can you get. What contempt for international protocols these guys have.


Gerry Ritz Has to go
Ok, enough is enough. No ands, ifs or buts, Gerry Ritz has to go.

I know, I know, Ritz is only putting into place the Harper agenda like a faithful old lapdog but, bottom line, the minister is responsible.

What makes things worse, I think, is his denial in the beginning of this latest scandal. His story just didn't hold up. Some say he just lied about it, figuring he’d get away with it. I don’t know for sure, but I do know what side of the coin I fall on. I just don’t trust Gerry.

I think what I find most annoying is that for Ritz and the rest of the Harper Conservatives, this is all about protecting business. Their corporate friends. These Conservatives forget, their primary responsibility is to protect its us.

Ritz is ignoring the fact that:
  • Because we tolerate over crowded feedlots, cattle turns up on the killing floor, caked with mud and cow shit 
  • A vaccine is available which would put a stop to this e-coli problem but it costs about $3.00 an animal and the government sees this as too much of a burden to producers to insist they use it. 
  • Huge meat packers mostly hire immigrant workers on work permits who don’t dare complain when production lines are cranked up to unsafe speeds, making it impossible for the workers to do their jobs safely. 
  • Despite what the so-called Agriculture Minister says, there are fewer inspectors on the plant floor, leaving much of the responsibility to the producer. 
Ritz just doesn't seem to get it. He has dodged question period in the House of Commons and left a press conference, held on the completion of his tour of the XL plant, after four questions because he didn't like where the questions were leading.

Calling this a scandal is not too big a word. Canadian’s health is at risk and from my perspective, having the Ag Minister resign isn’t enough. This whole damn incompetent government should step down.

Perhaps Andre Picard said it best in today’s Globe and Mail when he wrote in part:

Peter Sandman, a business professor at Rutgers University and the guru of crisis communications, says there are six strategies required during a situation like tainted beef: 1) don’t over-reassure; 2) acknowledge uncertainty; 3) treat the public’s fears as legitimate; 4) express your own feelings; 5) offer people things to do to protect themselves; 6) don’t worry about panic because panic is rare.

The company, the regulator and the minister failed on every single one of these points.

Worse yet, they have no excuse because we’ve seen this movie before.

In 2008, when Maple Leaf Foods Inc. produced listeria tainted luncheon meats that killed 22 people and sickened 35 others, the company responded in textbook fashion. CEO Michael McCain was front and centre: He was available to the media, he was transparent and he was contrite.

Maple Leaf recalled all its meat and shut down the plant – which is what XL should have done. The company then apologized, in print and via its CEO, it fixed the problems, and it compensated the victims.

Mr. Ritz was minister during the listeria crisis. His government commissioned a report from Sheila Weatherill, which cost taxpayers $5.3-million.

Obviously, he has not read or understood that report, which, in addition to its technical recommendations for improving food safety, had two overriding messages: 1) That communication by the CFIA and the government more generally were appallingly bad and 2) there was a “void in leadership” that contributed to the deaths.

Today, as the E. coli tainted meat outbreak demonstrates, communication is as bad, if not worse, and the void in leadership is even more gaping.


Are Calgary's Petroleum Investors Acting a Bit Odd?

I sometimes wonder about my fellow Canadians. Remember when the rallying cry was to restrict foreign takeovers and to be once again the masters of our own resources; our own economy.

All that seems to have gone out the window. Sucked in to supporting globalization, many Canadians don’t seem to care any more and other Canadians have paid the price.

Remember Caterpillar and their shut down of Canadian operations in in a move which saw Canadian jobs moved to an American right to work state. To the government, the caterpillar employees were just another bunch of greedy workers. Steven Harper sure didn't give a damn. He saw Caterpillar as a corporate friend during the election and made much of giving them a significant tax break as a  handout.  What we saw was, Canadian workers,used as pawns in the race to the bottom.

I find it all a bit confusing.

In Alberta, particularly in Calgary, when the Canadian Government created Petro-Canada just so our country would be present in a small section of what was largely then an American dominated oil sector Calgarians refused to fill up at Petro-Canada gas stations claiming the company reflected the socialist bent of the Liberal Government. They hated PetroCan for what it was. They referred to the Petro-Canada head office as Red Square.

Now a Chinese company, wholly owned by the government in communist China wants to take over Nexxon. A company with its head office in Calgary and no one in Alberta seems to have a problem with it. No talk of socialism and no suggestion of boycotts, just a line up to cash in when the deal goes through.

Go figure.


Saskatchewan Government Squandering Precious Resources

Zamboni Treatment Shot Down in Flames
Two years ago, give or take a couple of weeks I blogged about the so-called MS Liberation Treatment and the Brad Wall government's support of it.

I said "In the face of two new European studies debunking controversial Dr. Zamboni's "Liberation Treatment" for Multiple Sclerosis Saskatchewan's Premier figures damn the torpedoes. full speed ahead. Who knows what drives him but I'd wager it was a meeting with someone in small town Saskatchewan or from his church who came to him with a heart wrenching story about living with MS and not a well thought out strategy from within the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health."

Originally Saskatchewan put up $5 million and issued a call for clinical trial proposals in October 2010. The goal was to proceed with those trials by the spring of 2011.

However, by June 2011, it was revealed that only one proposal had been received and that was lacking in substance.

So in January 2012, Brad and his buddies decided to send multiple sclerosis patients to the U.S. for the clinical trial of a controversial treatment. The province is providing $2.2 million so that 86 MS patients can be included in the two-year, trial at the Albany Medical Center. So for, one patient, a man from Saskatoon, has been selected to participate.

The Harper government followed Wall and pledged $5 million in support of the study.

Meanwhile, a study was released Tuesday proving yet further conformation that Dr. Zambini's treatment is not credible. The finding have prompted an American  MS expert to criticise Canadian Government's support for the treatment. The Globe & Mail quotes David Hafler, the Chair of the Neurology Department at Yale University saying, "The debate in the scientific community was brief, swift and is over. The government has squandered precious resources not using peer review, but instead using emotion and theologic belief and I think shame of the Canadian Government for bowing to those pressures."

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, after receiving reports of injuries and deaths to patients undergoing the treatment, issued warning against participating in the procedure. Canadian Health Minister, Leona Aglukaq was not surprisingly unavailable for comment.

One might argue that the Liberation Treatment, is no treatment at all as a growing number of studies all point to the fact that blocked veins have no impact on the development of MS.

Is anyone listening?

OK I'll get back to it.

An anonymous fan of this blog commented yesterday that he/she was getting sick of seeing Dean del Mastro 's ugly puss sitting their as the last post on my blog.  Anonymous  is right. Dean is as ugly as they come and mean spirited too. Time to move him down the list.

It has been a weird kind of summer for me and I haven't had the creative energy to generate any new postings. However, people do still come to the blog despite my lack of new postings. Nearly 50 hits yesterday.

Perhaps anonymous is right though and I think needed that boot in the rear to get me thinking about issues again.


Don't you just love it when bad things happen to nasty people

They don't get a lot nastier than Dean
I for one got so sick of watching the nasty Conservative Dean del Mastro defending the Harper government's conduct through the robo-call scandal. It some ways he epitomized the government's arrogance through out.

Well, this week an Election's Canada investigator told the court that Dean Del Mastro knowingly and willfully exceeded election spending limits. Then covered it up.

I am keen to watch this one play out.


La Festival Mondial de la Biere

This afternoon we all went headed up to Place Bonaventure where they are holding the Festival Mondial de la Biere. Beer from around the Quebec and the world.

It was a pretty good deal, for $20 you could get 20 tickets and a the beer cost anything from 2  to 5 tickets for a 4 ounce sample. I figured there was too much to try everything so I would stick to IPAs. I particularly liked what was on offer from the Cheval Blanc, a Montreal brew pup that had four IPAs on tap.

We shared around anything that was particularly delightful or unusual:

  •  One by Dieu de Ciel called Umami a red German style beer which was a morrel mushroom flavour - very earthy and they also had a black IPA with a strong coffee flavour - a breakfast beer if you ask me.
  • A rose hibiscus wheat beer
  • The Aphrodisiac was a vanilla and cocoa stout
  • I quite liked the Falconer's Flight IPA from Le Cheval Blanc.
  • Shelley  tried Unibroue's La Terrible stout which once you got used to the background flavour of cloves was quite good.

We tried a  mint, raspberry, chocolate stout which in my view was better left in the bottle and we weren't too impressed with the cream IPA either.

The venue wasn't particularly striking, but the crowd made the place hop. It some point everyone started doing what I called the beer cheer, kind of like the wave at a sporting event. In the hall with its low ceilings  it sounded like a train rushing through.

The food wasn't bad either, everything from large pretzels to BBQ kangaroo.

It was interesting to see booths by Richard's, Kieth's and  even Heineken being ignored by the crowd looking for something different. 


Montreal in Summer

Montreal is a pretty busy place in the summer.

The Entrance to our Metro Stop
It is Grand Prix weekend so there are street parties all over. Crescent Street is jumping and we passed a big reception area not far from us on Notre Dame. Big events mean the students are out too and last night hilocopters hovered above the city all evening making what would have been a lovely night to sit outside a little noisy.

They changed tactics a bit last night and held a nude protest. I am sorry I missed that one.

We spend late morning and afternoon at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. I had forgotten how large a collection they have. Impressive.

Visiting my mother twice a day means we are in and out of the Metro system alot. Up and down those escalators, back and forth. It is a great system though. Every station was designed by a differant archetict so you really get to appreciate their creativty.

Today there were police posted at almost every station. Someone set off a smoke bomb last night and they aren't taking any chances there will be a repeat.


Here in Montreal

Photo Shelley Banks
We are here in Montreal trying to keep tabs on how my ailing mother is doing.

This afternoon we took a break and had lunch in Chinatown then walked into Old Montreal - people watching and checking out the shops and the old port.

We walked back along the old Lachine Canal through Griffentown and Little Burgundy and stopped for a much needed beer at the Burgundy Lion before heading down to check out the situation at the Verdun General.

One of the things I love about a big city is the characters you meet, This guy was out giving his iguana a ride on his bike. He was pleased to have his picture taken.

When we parted company and wished him a good afternoon he assured us that both of them would very much enjoy their bike ride.

Photo Shelley Banks


NDP Must be Doing Something Right

The National Post says Canada is leaning to the left.  My first reaction was that they are just trying to get a rise out of their right wing readers but, when you look at the numbers. Perhaps they are right and it is about time.
 The nationwide Forum Research poll says the NDP would form a minority federal government if an election were held today. As well, a strong majority of Canadians believe the country suffers from an income gap. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. 
More than two thirds of Canadians of voting age, thought the NDP was the best bet, compared to less than one-third who chose the Harper Conservatives  and one-fifth the Liberals

Isn't it Time we Said No?

OK, full disclosure here. I was involved in collective bargaining, on the labour side of the table, for about 30 years. Most of the time, as chair of the union committee.

My first experience at the bargaining table was as a committee member at a Montreal television station. That process ended with a three-day wildcat strike and a brief occupation of the station’s lobby. We won a good settlement and were glad to put it behind us and get back to work.

After that, not long before I retired, I had one other set of negotiations go sideways on me, we were locked out of a mine in Northern Saskatchewan the membership turned down a negotiated settlement. The employer shut the place down and flew us south that Friday afternoon. I managed to get the deal sweetened enough, in talks across the picket line between the CEO and me, to get a settlement that stuck. Otherwise, I always managed to find a reasonable agreement.

I only tell you this because, I think you will agree, I think it shows that I do know a thing or two about collective bargaining.

That is perhaps why I am so concerned as once again the Harper Conservatives get ready to legislate striking employees back to work. This time it is CP Rail. Once again it is Labour Minister Lisa Raitt to the rescue of the Conservative’s Corporate friends.

There is no question that Raitt learned a few things since screwing the employees at Canada Post and Air Canada. She must have been sent for training because she has learned to frame things a little better than she did but the cold hard truth is that employers have learned that there is no need to bend to pressure from their unions. Employers can gut hard won provisions in collective agreements, cut and slash pensions, undermine working conditions and with impunity. Lisa and people like her will always be there to make sure they come out on top.

Once in last minute mediation employers have no incentive to do very much. They know the drill. No union negotiator with half a brain would think for one minute that any imposed settlement will come down on their side. The odds are stacked against them. It doesn’t matter if the terms of settlement are legislated or if the final deal is sent off to an arbitrator, the union can’t win.

Historically, the right to bargain was won after hard struggle. It was a trade off. A compromise that pretty much put an end to the era wildcat strikes to settle differences.

There has been relative labour peace in Canada for decades now. The process, for the most part worked. There was a balance of power at the table;
  • Employers knew the unions had the right to withdraw their services. 
  • Union members knew a strike meant real financial sacrifice. 
 It was in both side’s interest to get a deal.

In Harperland, large employers don’t have to worry that anything will get in the way of their slash and burn agendas.

News reports say that “Teamsters Canada Rail Conference President Rex Beatty is 100% behind the 4,800 CP workers who have been off the job since 0001 a.m. Wednesday. He says, “The battle these workers are waging is of utmost importance,” We'll see.

Civil disobedience in defiance of a bad law is well justified. We will see if Mr Beatty or perhaps better yet, Teamster International President James P. Hoffa are prepared to stand up and defy the legislation when it is passed. It is high time a few predominant national union leaders led from the front.

I’m not holding my breath.


The Difference Between a Bust and a Boom

I have been known to argue that the Saskatchewan “boom” is all a figment of Saskatchewan Party’s Premier Brad Wall and his cronies at the Chamber of Commerce’s imagination. You don’t see it on the street, thousands of university student can’t find summer employment and much of small town Saskatchewan has a depression era look to it.

How the politicians and the media characterize boom or bust, the winners, losers or the also ran in our economy, for me at least always has had a bit of Alice and Wonderland to it.

For example, these days, if we are to pick the big loser in the Canadian economy, listening to the media at least, most of us would say Ontario. The manufacturing sector, the backbone of Ontario’s economy is having a tough time. The high Canadian dollar has put the boots to competitiveness in exports.

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair is being figuratively burned at the stakes in the Globe & Mail, western newspapers and on the CBC for his comments about “Dutch Disease”. He has had the temerity to ask why unchecked tar sands exploitation is so good for Canada when it forces the value of the Canadian dollar even higher, hurting those who produce goods for export, most of them situated in Ontario.

This we are told has turned Ontario into a “have not” province.

The other side of the coin, we are told is, Saskatchewan. Brad Wall’s favorite two words are innovation and of course, “Boom! Boom! Boom!”
Potash is hot! 
National Post Graphic
  • Mining is hot! 
  • Gas is hot! 
  • Oil is hotter! 
Newfoundlanders are commuting from “The Rock” to fill vacant jobs. Temporary foreign workers scattered all around the province are driving our trucks, welding in small manufacturing operations, building our homes and working in our fast food joints. What is not to like?

Not so fast. New Statistics Canada figures tell us a slightly different story.

If we take a look at the “percentage of the population claiming Employment Insurance benefits”:
  • Our poor cousins in Ontario come in at 4.41% 
  • Powerhouse Saskatchewan is only slightly less at 4.28% 
For those who are mathematically challenged, the figures are just a bit above one tenth of one percent apart.

Is this how we define the difference between a boom and a bust?

Isn't it time we started paying attention?


A Rare Day

I'd like to get one thing straight off the top.

You couldn't pay me enough to listen to talk radio's John Gormely or any other of the cadre of rabid right wing professional pontificators. I work at keeping my blood pressure at a reasonable level and no amount of pharmaceuticals are up to the task, if I spend more than about five minutes listening to the Gormely's of the world spout off.
Brad Wall Needs to Take a Hard Look

That being said, I found my self agreeing with Gormley's conclusion that Saskatchewan Party cabinet minister Bill Hutchinson is probably safe in his position, simply because Brad Wall would not want to be seen to be backing down and agreeing with the Film Industry's demands that Wall punt old Bill.

I don't agree with the talk show host's contention that Wall has little choice however. Hutchison's record as a minister leaves much to be desired with most people considering him a buffoon rather that cabinet material. Old Bill should have been shown the door after his stunt, trying to fool a CBC television reporter into thinking that Sask Party employees and campaign workers were random people Bill just came across at a food court. Bill looked like the fool he is but, Brad stood by him.

Brad is simply afraid to step up and show real leadership. He looks more like a small town mayor.

I also disagree that Brad has lots to choose from as he picks his new cabinet. I figure the gene pool is pretty shallow. Small town rubes most of them. Gene Makowski? Come on John. Give me a break.


The one time in my life I agree with Gormley and we're both wrong. Hutchison got turfed from cabinet.
Happy to be wrong. Good work on this one Brad. 


Lukiwski Responds

Anyone who follows my blog will know that I don't hesitate to take issue with  my Member of Parliament Tom Lukiwski when he or his colleagues in the Harper Government take positions I believe are untenable. .

After I received what I felt was an inadequate and inaccurate response to a letter he wrote to me about my concerns to cuts to the CBC I responded to him electronically and then I posted the text of that e-mail here.

I wasn't surprised, but I confess to being a bit disappointed at his intemperate response to me. I always felt it was my Member of Parliament's duty to represent the wishes of his constituents to his caucus. Apparently Tom Lukiwski only represents Conservative Party members and others who blindly support any positions their government puts forward.

Below is my latest letter from my MP. Interestingly although it doesn't clear up the inaccuracies in his first letter it does show how he really feels about the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. If nothing else the honesty is refreshing.

I know it a bit tough to read but clicking on the letter will enlarge it.


What did Unions Ever do for me?

With Brad and the boys getting ready to set labour policy direction by what Saskatchewan Party supporters told them in the doorstep during the last campaign I got thinking how things hard won, can disappear in the blink of an eye.

I noticed a bumper sticker the other day that said, "Unions – The people who brought you the weekend" It made me laugh but, it also got me thinking. What else aside from negotiating contracts, representing members, fighting grievances and keeping an eye out for health and safety, did the union do for you and me lately. 
So, I started to make a list of things we tend to, take for granted.

I thought let’s see;
  • Vacations and vacation pay 
  • Minimum wage laws 
  • overtime pay
  • a five day work week
  • Unemployment insurance
  • Old aged pension benefits
  • Long term disability
  • Stat holiday pay
  • Human rights legislation
  • Workers Compensation
  • Maternity/paternity leave
  • Health and safety rules 
If you ask me, that is pretty good, for a quick, short list. The Aussies did a very funny video about all this.

So, if in the future someone says to you, “What did unions ever do for me?” You can answer, “A hell of a lot buddy. A hell of a lot.”

I know some readers will say “Don’t be nuts. The government gave us those things.”  Don’t be too quick.

You might have noticed lately. Governments don’t generally just hand stuff out to working people. Let me tell you. In each and every case, for each and every one of those benefits. There was a tough, tough fight.

Those benefits were won through collective action – lobbying politicians, in bargaining and on picket lines. Everything we have and now sometimes take for granted,was hard fought for.

The danger today, is that we forget how bloody hard those benefits were to get – and how easily they can be taken away.


Brad Wall is Warming up the Steamroller

I note that the Saskatchewan Government has turned down binding arbitration as a means of settling the outstanding issues in what has become protracted bargaining with the people who work at the Cancer Agency.

 Whatever could be wrong with binding arbitration. If you think the position you are taking in bargaining is fair? If you are confident your position is a fair one, wouldn't you think a reasonable arbitrator might think the same.

The natural conclusion to draw is that, the government of Saskatchewan knows they are being unreasonable, particularly in these booming times.

I also read in the paper this morning that the Saskatchewan Government is going to “review” our labour laws again in what will be a look at our “out of date” legislation.

My immediate reaction to all this was, “These guys just don’t get it.” People won’t put up with this. Stand by for yet another war between our business friendly government and labour.

The last time they did this, they looked kind of stupid. After all, one of the most right wing judges in the province ruled their essential services legislation went way too far and was put in to place without proper consultation with the stakeholders. Well no that is wrong, it was without consultation with one of... no, half of the stakeholders. Their process was to basically, just ignored organized labour.

They are about to do it again but, I think I was wrong about them being out of touch. They very much “Get it”

To the Saskatchewan Party, very much like the Harper Conservatives it isn’t about finding consensus, or building bridges, or fairness, or need.

Despite all the good old boy talk, Brad Wall’s government is all about us and them, about creating division, pitting one side against the other.

What is good for business is good for Brad. After all, could the Chamber of Commerce be wrong about anything?

Brad and the boys are sitting pretty with an electoral system that handed them 85% of the seats in the legislature with 64% of the popular vote. They can pretty much do what they want.

Will Saskatchewan the people who will be affected by what will no doubt be yet another gutting of Labour legislation stand up and speak out. I doubt it. Only 66% of us even bothered to vote. Speaking up, writing letters or - God forbid - going to a demo takes even more effort than casting a ballot.

Oh sure, the usual suspects will get up on their high horse but will the public actually listen? I sometimes thing the term Labour Communicators is an oxymoron. Think Bob Bymoen for example.

It isn’t a very good time for unionized workers in Saskatchewan. Standby, the government is just warming up the steamroller.


Send the Bugger Back to the UK

Conrad with his wife Barbara Amiel
Canadians have to ask themselves why, would it be in the best interest of the country to allow Conrad Black, back into Canada?

Black who so famously renounced his Canadian citizenship so he could become a British peer, and who is sometimes known as Prisoner no. 18330-424, is due to be released from his country club jail this coming Friday. He says he wants to settle back into, what for him is a normal life, in Toronto.

Now the question is, how promptly the convicted felon will be able to return to Canada. Prisoner no. 18330-424 is not able to re-enter our country without the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration’s permission but, Jason Kenney is predisposed to open the door wide to anyone who is able to bring a few million dollars with them. But, how does that fit with the Conservative law and order agenda.

Black was a pompous and shady character even before he tossed his citizenship aside and frankly I figured the Brits were welcome to him.

As a newspaper owner, he promoted the likes of Harper. It will be interesting to see if the PM returns the favour.


A Big Night at the Sask Book Awards

Anne and I were Big Winners        Photo Shelley Banks
We attended the Saskatchewan Book Awards Saturday night here in Regina. It was quite an evening with an amazing number of connections.

Two of our friends, writers and floor hockey players both of them, came up winners. It was all very exciting;

Eric Greenway is one of the principles in Hagios Press and one of their nominated books, Jeff Park’s The Cellophane Sky: Jazz poems won the Saskatoon Book award.

Then, Anne McDonald won the First Book Prize for her novel, To the Edge of the Sea, published by Thistledown Press. The book description says, In the mid-19th century three young Prince Edward Islanders explore their disparate futures at home and away, in a debut novel that is lyrical and precise in its descriptions of land, sea and people, and powerful in its accounts of both personal and political histories of the province and the country. It is also about John A. MacDonald and his efforts to form Canada into a real country.

We were sitting at Anne’s table and we were all holding our collective breath when Anne’s name was called out. It was a real treat to be there, one year to the day from her launch at the Bushwakker so of course, when the official gala event was over, we had to go back to the scene of the crime and finish our celebration with a pint or two.

We were also pleased that Seeing Red: A History of Natives in Canadian Newspapers took home prizes in in three categories. The authors, Carmen Robertson and David Cronlund Anderson led a University of Regina trip to Peru that Morgan went on a few years ago.

The guest speaker was Mark Abley. Although Mark has deep Saskatchewan roots, he lives and works Montreal. He is a poet and a columnist for the Montreal Gazette.

We used to live in the same neighbourhood in Pointe Claire and one of his daughters went to school with Chris for a few years.

To top it all off, we were all surprised at the end of the evening when I somehow managed to win the raffle and took home chocolates, a bottle of wine, hand painted wine glasses, a copy of each of the winning books and a gift certificate for the Willow on Wascana, one of our favorite Regina restaurants.


Lukiwski Disingenuous About CBC

A Team Member Tom Boy Lukiwski
I recently wrote to my Member of Parliament Tom Lukiwski about my concerns about the recent cuts to the CBC. I recieved his response today. Tom must think I am stupid. I found his simplistic response insulting.

I responded this afternoon and that letter is below.

Dear Sir:

I am in receipt of your letter concerning your Government's cuts to the CBC Dated April 23, 2012.

While I am sure its content was provided to you as a kind of form letter so you could respond to the many of your constituents who have written to you and to your colleagues over the past few weeks about our concerns about sustainability of the Corporation I would like to pursue a few of your points a bit further.

First let me say that I agree with you that the Liberals cut the CBC's budget substantially during the Chretien years just as the Government did under Conservative Brian Mulroney. So, it is true you are not alone. Attacking he CBC has been a Government sport for some time.

I do find your statements that the CBC will now be able to focus on "new digital technologies" and have a stronger presence in communities to be not much more than bafflegab. Ask the people in Northern Saskatchewan if they think the closing of the La Ronge station will help to do that.

Further you should not forget that with these cuts, the CBC will no longer have the technical facilities nor the trained personnel to record local music in any of the three prairie provinces. I am not sure how that helps serve local communities or musicians.

I am also particularly interested in your comment that "it will be less expensive for taxpayers, held hostage by fewer unions" Now I know that you, or someone on your staff, just made that up. The CBC held hostage by their unions? What poppycock. You are very out of touch.

I trust you know what a shit sandwich is. Just in case you don't the internet describes it as "The news is dressed up with first a positive friendly statement then the crap in the middle, and then a positive statement like "thanks for taking the time to write" to take the edge off things at the end.

In any case, this writing style, I find quite offensive and it seems, all I ever get from you.

I am passing your letter on to the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting as an example of the double speak we have come to expect from you. Who knows they may give you some kind of honourable mention for disingenuous efforts to justify the actions of your government.


Gord Hunter

How the Government is Screwing Canadian Workers

Well. It is hard believe to what lengths Harper and his gang of thugs will go, to screw Canadian workers all in the name of the economy.

This time the Government has bent to pressure from the industry - again - and made it easier to bring in foreign workers into Canada. The waiting time will be shorter and employers will be able to exploit incoming workers further by paying them 15% lower than the average wage for the job into which they are hired, in the area.

This is a great deal for business but the effect is, that it keeps wages down for Canadians. I don't claim to know how it works across the board  but I know more about how the influx of foreign workers has effected the transportation industry.

In the last several years it has been difficult for trucking companies to lure young,qualified Canadian workers into their industry. It is a tough life, with long hours on the road and a lot of time away from home. And,  to top it off, people don't make a hell of a lot of money doing it.

The result is, that trucking companies are always looking for new recruits and if truth be known, often hire high risk drivers simply because they are scraping the bottom of the driver pool.

So what is the problem? Lots of jobs are tough. What makes this industry unique.

Well, to start with, it wouldn't be unfair to characterize their industrial relations practices within the trucking industry as neanderthal.
  • They push drivers to drive more hours than regulations allow then abandon them when they are caught doctoring their log books. 
  • When poorly maintained equipment is discovered and the driver ticketed for it by inspectors, they leave to driver to fight the ticket on their own time and on their own expense.
  • They take a laisse faire approach to health and safety
  • Ask drivers to go out on the road with trucks with poor tires and bad brakes
  • They push drivers out on the road when conditions are simply unsafe to do so
  • Health benefits and pensions are appallingly low.
  • They cheat drivers on their wages and
  • They pay wages lower than the rest of the community.
  • Drivers are paid by the mile so, if road closures or weather strands them. They can sit for a couple of says with no pay.
  • When road conditions are bad, their regular 8 hour run, can take 14 or 16 hours. Then they do it all again the next day.
 Why, you have to ask, do they get away with this? Why do people stay?

People stay because it was a career they choose years ago and they options for a career change are limited.

The industry could, if they wanted to, make the industry a great one to work in. It isn't that tough but it does require a bit of initiative and the ability to think outside the box. Not common traits found amongst truck company managers.

Instead of jumping into the breach, getting together and fixing what has to be fixed they decided that there was no need to go that far. They didn't have to. The Government jumped in to the rescue.

Now instead of paying a decent wage and improving working conditions it is easier to bring drivers in from abroad. They first went to UK but, when the word about the Canadian's treatment of workers got back to Britain, that pool dried up. They then went  to the Ukraine, then Indonesia and Mexico. They went anywhere that the economy was soft. Where people were desperate to find a better life.

Drivers and mechanics were hired in all these countries and brought to Canada to fill the jobs. It didn't matter that many of them had never even seen snow, let alone driven in a prairie blizzard or through the mountains in snow.

It doesn't take long for these guys to figure out they are being exploited and few stay beyond their original commitment or, they do stay until they qualify to stay here in Canada then they move on to another industry.

Meanwhile, Canadian drivers and mechanics continue to work for less than they should  and governments do less and less to help train Canadian workers and they continue to undercut them by bringing in a continuous stream of workers to exploit.

Trucking is only one example. In large construction projects in Saskatchewan employers continue complain that they can't get skilled workers but they still want to pay less that they do in Alberta, with less benefits To help them out, Premier Brad Wall travelled to Ireland to hire unemployed Irish workers while increasing technical school tuition making it more difficult for local men and women to afford job training.


Not a Very Christian Response

A couple of issues that are bound to get the people in small town Saskatchewan all riled up are gun control and prayer.

Bumper sticker with sayings like "When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns" are common out here on the prairie. The gun registry never was about outlawing guns but telling that to a Conservative was risky. You just might get shot.

This week there is a bit of a stir in Middle Lake Saskatchewan about prayer. It seems that five or six of the 17 graduating seniors at Three Lakes School in Middle Lake voted against having a prayer before the meal at graduation celebrations. Jacob Nantau led the charge to reject the religious observance from the celebration thought perhaps a neutral moment of silence would be more appropriate in a public school.

For his efforts Nantau has been harassed, had religious tracts stuffed into his locker and had his car vandalized several times which doesn't seem to me to be a very Christian response.


Why We Should Ban Election Polling

The pollsters were positive about it all. Wildrose was going to kick Allison Redford's Ass.  What happened in the end is the media reports of that polling scared the pants off the average Albertan  proving that they are not as rabidly right-wing as the rest of Canada thought they were. OK, they are right-wing -  just not the of the loony variety.

Well, I am happy to report - perhaps I am even gloating a bit - but I was one of the few who predicted the Alberta election result with some accuracy.

Now, if I'd been a bit more accurate with last fall's Saskatchewan election, the world would be a better place.


Walkers, Ram Trucks, Bikes and Bells

Ding, Ding, Ding

Regina is one of those cities just beginning to learn about co-existing with bicycles. You wouldn't think it would take as long as it has but Regina, the little city with Alberta envy, is still pretty car crazy.

The city does sort of try and they think they are moving in the right direction but bike trails are few and far between. If you don't live near one you are relegated to the street. Most street bike lanes are poorly marked with a sort of optional feel to them. and the average tricked out Ram Charger pick-up driver doesn't give two hoots about bike riders so, anyone brave enough to drive their bike on a city street deserves a medal.

The other side of the coin is that now that spring is here more and more bike riders are sharing the paved pathways that do exist, with walkers.

We walked around Wascana Lake the other evening and to be honest I spent quite a bit of my time nervously listening for the hum of bike tires coming up behind me and watching as bike riders wove their way between family groups and wandering toddlers.

Someone is going to get seriously hurt one of these days.

It isn't that walkers and bikes can't share the space. It works well in some cities. Think of the sea wall in Vancouver as an example.

I few years back I lived in Ottawa for a while. Now. I know people in Western Canada are supposed to hate the place but, I've always been quite fond of the city. It is a city with a huge interconnecting system of bike/walking paths so I was thinking about Ottawa this weekend while we walked around Wascana Lake.

What makes it work in cities like Ottawa is a spirit of co-operation between walkers and riders and a by-law that says every bike has to have a working bell so riders can warn walkers of their approach. It is about mutual respect and common sense. We could use a little of that.


Things Are Looking up for Dope Smokers in Atlantic Canada

Bret, the Drug Sniffing Dog Gets Pink Slip
It is tough sledding for you graduates looking for meaningful work and its going to be a tough summer for University students looking for jobs.

Not so long ago when people were grabbing at early retirement packages and the governments were talking about jobs for new and creative young workers prospects looked good for high school grads entering university. Everything was coming up roses.

Today the Blue Meanies have shifted their stance. Today it is screw young workers, make people work longer, no access to Old Age Security until 67 and take a hands off approach while corporations default on workers' pensions.

To add to the misery, Harper is getting hands on in adding to the misery, cutting about 20,000 jobs within the next three years.

It is hard to get a handle on it because instead of just being up front about it all, they pretend they are doing  a great job for Canadians with warm and fuzzy messaging, while all the while they are, day by day announcing job and program cuts.

  • More that 1500 scientists, vets, engineers and medical doctor's jobs are on the chopping block
  • The food Canadian Inspection Agency is laying off 344 people including many of the inspectors they just hired as damage control after the listeria crisis.
  • Natural Resources Canada is giving 156 people the boot 
  • One hundred people are losing their jobs at Environment Canada 
  • Something like 700 economists and social scientists are heading out the door 
  • And perhaps the most surprising of all, all of the drug dogs in with Canada Border Services in Atlantic Canada are getting their pink slips. 

Wait! Stop! Tell me it ain't so. The law and order government that wants to bring in mandatory jail sentences for the heinous crime of growing five or more marijuana plants. The government that along with the crazy Americans just told the rest of the hemisphere to pound sand when they suggested that drug laws were not working and should be relaxed, wants to make it easier to bring drugs into Canada.

Works for me.


A Week in the Life Under Harper

If nothing else give us pause, the cuts to services being dribbled out to the public day by day, the result of the cuts in the Harper budget, should.

I'm not going to go into detail ad nauseum but, if Stevie hadn't reduced the GST and cut corporate taxes, there wouldn't be a deficit.

The first one that sticks its head up is the cut to a program which provided internet services through libraries and community centres. A service used by seniors and under privileged people who either don't have or can't afford a computer. The program costs peanuts in the larger scheme of things.

Two programs under the stewardship of the Ritz Cracker, Gerry Ritz the ostrich farmer cum agriculture minister from Saskatchewan.  The Regina leader post, always willing to give up space in their letter to the editor section to the government ran letters today from Ritz and from the head of the Food Inspection Agency.

We all should remember the Food Inspection Agency. The last time we heard from them was when 33 Canadians died as a result of the infamous Maple Leaf listeria crisis. At the time it was suggested that inspectors were not able to spend time of the meat packing floor under Harper and his gang of thugs. Their role had become mostly administrative.

We all remember Gerry Ritz "Death by a thousand cuts, or should I say cold cuts" remark during that period.

Well now, as they serve inspectors with layoff notices, they are saying "Don't worry. We "will not make any changes which will not in any way put the health and safety of Canadians at Risk."

I am not sure I feel reassured.

Meanwhile Gerry can't understand why people might be upset at the Prairie Shelterbelt Program is being done away with. First he says there is no longer a need for the program then claims there is great potential for the private sector to take it over.

That Gerry sure can be confusing some times.

Those who follow the CBC have been reading the mixed messages coming from the Harper Government for some time now.

Shortly after the last election Federal  Heritage Minister James Moore gave the CBC and its supporters a reason to relax. He assured us that the Cons weren't going to use their majority  to slash the national public broadcaster. In fact, pledged Moore, the government would "maintain or increase support for the CBC."

That assurance was tempered however by comments by a couple of his colleagues.
  •  Dean Del Mastro, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage suggested "The government should get out of the broadcasting business."  
  • Jason Kenney, Minister of Immigration said, "The CBC lies all the time."
The fact is the CBC has been cut by a succession of Governments going back to Brian Mulroney.  It is an old strategy, and it works. If you cut an institution again and again over a long period of time, as it struggles to keep its head above water it flounders bit by bit, until it eventually becomes irrelevant.

Developers do this all the time. They buy up houses in a community one by one. Let them run down. Rent them out to bad tenants then, when by design the neighbourhood becomes an eyesore, they petition city hall for the right  to tear the buildings down and build apartments buildings.

That is what Harper is trying to do to the CBC.

It goes on and on. No time to remind you of the Robo call scandal except to say that Elections Canada investigators on the trail of the "Pierre Poutine" suspect in the robocalls case have apparently been asking questions about the actions of staff at Conservative party headquarters in Ottawa. Some suspicious conduct there which will have to be followed up.

Then there are the jet fighters, Peter Mckay is still defending his actions.

We all remember Rob Anders, the Calgary MP who was moved from a Veterans Affairs Committee after he fell asleep during a hearing, then ranted that a couple of presenters who were atually Con Party members were NDP hacks.

He has a new spot new position on a little-known House of Commons committee to loosen Canada's firearms rules. His ultimate goal is to repeal strict gun control provisions "shoved down our throats" by the Liberal government in the mid-nineties.

Anders said he will use his position on the regulations committee to put the RCMP Canadian Firearms Program — which administers Canada's gun control regime — under the microscope. Those rules mean that gun owners have to lock and safely store their guns when not in use. They also put restrictions on the owners of restricted and prohibited firearms.

Anders is joined on the committee with Yorkton's right wing crazy MP Garry Breitkreuz, who for years led the Conservative charge to scrap the long-gun registry.

Surely that is enough. It all gives me a headache.

Harper Makes Me Wonder

I am finding it difficult to continue blogging regularly, not because there isn't much to blog about but perhaps because there is too much. It defeats the purpose if it just makes me more angry.

This week was too much though.

So, Obama, the leaders of the other countries in the Americas, except Cuba, meet to discuss pressing issues. No big surprises here. A vast majority of the leaders with two notable exceptions came to the table declaring that the "War on Drugs" in an abject failure and arguing that the cost is too high. In Mexico alone, 60,000 people have been murdered as a direct result of the cartel's efforts to keep up the supply an insatiable North American Market.

The leaders living south of the American border want to see some form of legalization as the only way to stop drug violence. The leaders north of the boarder want to dig in and protect the status quo. Canada wants to toughen up their war on drugs with mandatory sentences for growing five or more scrawny marijuana plants.

Not very progressing Stevie.

Then came a motion that, Cuba be invited to any future meetings. Nicaragua and Honduras have been boycotting these meetings to  protest Cuba's exclusion and all the other leaders, except for Obama and Harper, want Cuba at the table.

I understand Obama's hesitation in an election year but what is going on with Harper. His move to back Obama on this issue makes Canada look very much like some irrelevant toady nation, snivelling up to the bully.

Harper, perhaps thinking that no one would notice at home, is saying that "Cuba is a communist country with a record of human rights abuses. The world know where Canada stands on these issues."

Canada has had a pretty good relationship with Cuba. Pierre Trudeau visited in 1976. When I visited Cuba shortly after, there were still posters up welcoming he and Maggie. Forward thinking Americans, wanting to help Cubans often did so by moving goods through Canada to the Caribbean nation.

Canadians love Cuba as a vacation destination. It ain't Club Med - thank God - but it is warm, the people are friendly, the accommodations good and the costs are reasonable.

So why this change, so may years after.

Harper would like us to think his decision is a principled one. Based of good foreign policy and humanitarian policy. That all seems to fly in the face of Harper's about face on China, in Canada's long trading and business relationship with Libya - until the revolution and if we wanted we could make a list of African despots Canada sits down withregularly. So what gives?

The truth is, if the USA hadn't been so single minded all these years, Cuba would be a much more democratic nation today. The single largest deterrent to building democracy is not the Castros. It is American foreign policy.

Personally, I think the USA is embarrassed that,  despite decades of trade embargoes, Cuba has one of the best health care systems in the hemisphere, more poor kids get a good education and there isn't a large unemployment level.