Friday, November 18, 2011

Why are Tories so determined to defend the F-35?

Even Stephen Harper’s detractors will acknowledge – after a few libations and with no microphones in view – that the prime minister has generally shown a deft hand in foreign affairs. Indeed, along with economic management, this has become one of Harper’s greatest strengths.

So why, some in and around Ottawa wonder, is the Harper government so dead-set on championing the much-delayed, expensive and controversial F-35 fighter purchase, even as the project takes on ever more ballast?

Day after day in the House, opposition MPs pose pointed, scathing questions about why the government has “sole-sourced” this estimated $16-billion (including maintenance costs) purchase from U.S. aircraft maker Lockheed-Martin, with no competitive tender. Day after day a trio of ministers – up to and including the PM himself – deliver wan responses, looking unhappy as they do so.

Polls have shown that a majority of Canadians doubt whether ultra-high-tech new fighters should be a priority. The government’s three stock arguments in their defence – it was the Liberals who launched the program in the late 1990s, our pilots deserve the best, and the industrial spinoffs will be huge – look weak, in an era of looming budget cuts.

International support for the joint strike fighter has gone wobbly. The Turks are out, because of a disagreement over rights to the F-35’s critically important software source code. Australia is buying Boeing Super Hornets. Norway has delayed its purchase. The British are reviewing their purchase of more than 100 F-35B models – the JSF’s vertical landing variant. And there are rumblings that the Italians may soon do the same, if they can order any planes at all, given their debt woes.

As if all that weren’t bad enough, the U.S. military – on the hook for 2,443 F35s, at an estimated cost of $380-billion (US) – is under siege because of America’s own debt crisis. There is rampant speculation the Pentagon itself will soon be forced to curtail its order. Because pricing is based on economies of scale, that would change the game for every other member of the consortium, including Canada. As orders get reduced, the price per plane goes up.

Therefore, why so dogged? Here’s a partial answer. The growing turmoil, itself, is one reason why the Harper government remains grimly at the table.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Gazette opinion: Build pipeline to supply U.S. with friendly fuel

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline is not a risk-free project. However, there are risks in not building this oil pipeline from Alberta to Texas.

The United States needs oil. We consume more than we produce and we put ourselves and our military members at risk to defend distant, unstable sources of oil.

Conservation and energy efficiency must become a higher priority for our great nation. But we won’t be able to conserve away our oil import demand in the foreseeable future.

In a guest opinion printed Sept. 26 on this page, a Canadian diplomat noted that construction of the pipeline is expected to create “5,531 person-years of employment and $7.5 million in state tax revenues” in Montana.

“Both Canada and the United States are moving towards reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, but this transition, while necessary, will take time,” Landan Amirazizi wrote from Denver. “Until we sufficiently reduce demand and secure alternative sources that can meet our requirements, turn to Canada.”

A 1,700-mile pipeline from Canada’s oil sands north of the Montana border is a reasonable, necessary source of dependable oil supply.

Montana onramp

Montana has strong interests in this project, which would cross 284 miles of the state from the Port of Morgan north of Malta to a pointsoutheast of Baker. Gov. Brian Schweitzer insisted that the project include an onramp near Baker to transport Montana and North Dakota crude to oil refineries in Oklahoma and Texas.

Last fall, TransCanada’s “open season” drew commitments for shipping 65,000 barrels a day from the Bakken oil play. Dave Galt, executive director of the Montana Petroleum Association, said last week that he expects the full 100,000-barrel-per-day onramp capacity will be used once it becomes available.

“This is a big deal for the Williston Basin,” said Tad True of Bridger Pipeline, which has oil pipelines in Eastern Montana. True said the Keystone XL onramp would give this oil-producing region a direct connection to Cushing, Okla., the largest oil market in the world, and it would increase the basin’s overall export capacity.

The Keystone XL pipeline is projected to create tens of thousands of constructions jobs nationwide as well as refinery jobs in Texas. That’s what brought out much of the crowd at a Glendive hearing Tuesday. Union workers and local government leaders voiced support for the pipeline as a job creator.

After completion, the pipeline would generate millions of dollars annually in property taxes for the counties through which it passes and for the state as a whole.

The Gazette has printed dozens of letters from readers for and against the pipeline. Concerns about the danger of leaks and fairness to landowners whose property the pipeline would cross must be addressed in the pipeline permit.

Environmental protection

TransCanada officials have pledged to build this pipeline to the highest safety standards. State and federal regulators must hold the company to that commitment.

TransCanada should provide the emergency response plan that some landowners and neighbors have called for.

The Keystone XL project has been exhaustively studied. An environmental impact statement, nearly three years in the making, found that the pipeline wouldn’t significantly affect the environment.

The EIS includes 57 conditions covering construction materials, pipeline pressure, temperature, reporting requirements and many other points. Those conditions should be part of the permit to ensure that the project runs as safely as possible.

The governments of Canada and the United States have required oil producers to reduce pollution. Additional technology is needed to make oil sands less polluting.

However, lack of better pollution controls isn’t reason to veto this project. If this oil doesn’t flow through the Keystone XL pipeline, it will get to market another way, and probably go to developing nations far from U.S. shores.

The final decision is up to President Barack Obama. We call on the president to support this project for a safer, more dependable source of oil and for the construction jobs that it would start generating next year.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Without a navy, Canada won't matter

Canada's coastlines are the longest in the world. Canada's economy relies on safe passage for our exports, and Canada's allies depend on our support at sea. Canada has a big stake in the Pacific Ocean, where the new studs of the political world are starting to flex their naval power. All of which makes one wonder about the indifference with which the Harper government is treating Canada's navy -the abandoned child of the Canadian Forces.

The government is committed to F-35 jet fighters for the air force. It has taken a number of measures to replenish the army, which has captured a lot of attention during our mission to landlocked Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the navy continues to rust out. There is now little hope of plugging what are fast becoming huge gaps in Canada's capacity to defend our interests off our coasts and on the high seas.

Here's one example. When naval formations go to sea, they need destroyers to supply air defence in case of an attack on frigates and other ships. Only destroyers can supply this defence as well as play a leadership role (command and control) in missions involving more than one ship. Without destroyers, a country's fleet becomes much more vulnerable.

The process to replace Canada's four destroyers should have begun long ago. One -the Huron -has already rusted out and was retired from the fleet in 2005. Canada needs at least two new destroyers on each coast to ensure that one is always available. This should be an urgent issue, but it is met with silence.

Instead the government has prioritized the procurement of six to eight Arctic coastal patrol vessels which can only operate in northern waters for four months a year -the last thing the navy or anyone else needs. With only feeble icebreaking capacity and low speed (only enough to keep up with most fishing trawlers), these ships will be expensive and ineffectual window-dressing for Arctic sovereignty claims that will be sorted out in the courts, not in battle.

There has been no recent action on the much-ballyhooed Joint Supply Ships that are supposed to replace Canada's aged refuelling vessels and provide support for army deployments around the world. We need four of them -again, two on each coast. The government originally promised three, then balked at the cost last summer and said two should do. Wrong. That will mean a void on one coast or the other during refits. This can't be avoided or denied by the government, so they just don't talk about it.

Meanwhile, our coasts are vulnerable to visiting freighters planting mines in our waters and then disappearing over the horizon. Imagine a ship from a hostile force dropping mines in the West coast waters off Prince Rupert and Vancouver -mines that won't surface and activate until six months after the ship that laid them has disappeared. Not only does Canada not have sufficient surveillance capacity to determine who laid the mines, we don't have the capacity to sweep those mines away. These delayedaction mines are a legitimate threat -one we're not paying attention to.

The government seems to have convinced itself that Canada doesn't really need a navy -a stunning thought given all those coastlines and our proximity to the Pacific theatre, likely to become the world's next military hot spot. Navies transport armies and provide invaluable logistical and firepower support for ground troops in conflicts in countries with coastlines -which means just about everywhere but Afghanistan. Indeed, the mere presence of naval vessels off a country's coast can pre-empt land battles that place troops in great danger.

Navies intercept threats before they get to our coasts. Navies counter piracy. They provide emergency assistance in places like Haiti. Navies help countries like Canada pull their weight in alliances with countries we are going to need if our international interests are threatened.

Countries with navies matter. Countries without them matter mostly to themselves. Canada is never going to rule the world. But while defending itself it can help keep the world from falling apart. Without a navy, we can't pull our weight on the global stage. If the government wants Canada to matter, it needs to take the navy seriously.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Midwives defend their actions

In the face of a PR nightmare following the death of a baby, Quebec midwives who have been fighting for years for acceptance and recognition again find themselves on the defensive.

However, they are hoping questions that arose after a newborn died at a Pointe Claire birthing centre are an opportunity to set the record straight.

“It’s terrible. My first thoughts last week were, ‘Oh dear, this is so ugly,’ ” said Claudia Faille, president of the Regroupement des sages-femmes du Québec, a non-profit group that speaks on behalf of the province’s midwives.

“We’ve been working so hard for the last 10 years to have midwifery accessible to the whole population and then this happens, and public opinion is affected.

“We just want the facts made public,” Faille said, referring to misleading information about the circumstances in the death of a newborn on June 21 at the West Island Health and Social Services Centre birthing centre.

Faced with an impending complication in the birth, the centre had placed a 911 call at 9:12 a.m. to transfer a woman with labour complications.

The baby, however, was born before the fire department’s first responder team arrived, and the centre barred them from entering.

Centre director Christiane Léonard told them that the baby was in cardiac distress and three midwives were attempting to revive and stabilize him while the facility awaited specialized neonatal transport from the Montreal Children’s Hospital.

Outraged, a fire department responder threatened to break down the door and then called the police, who arrived followed by Urgences Santé paramedics.

Her staff did nothing wrong professionally, Léonard said, and the standoff with the first responders should never have happened.

“That’s a strong image,” Faille said. “Even people who know me said: ‘You didn’t let them in?’ ”

But that’s only half the story, Faille said.

The police and firemen do not understand the role of midwives, she said.

The fact is, midwives are the first responders and they’re trained in advanced neonatal resuscitation while firemen and ambulance technicians are not, Faille said.

“It’s absolutely not their place. Access was rightfully denied – they’re not trained for that,” Faille said.

The centre has an agreement with 911 for transfers and the firemen should not have been deployed, Faille said. “It was a dispatch mistake.”

Birthing centres have all the necessary equipment and medication to intubate and resuscitate a newborn while waiting for the neonatal transfer team.

First responders would never threaten to break down a door of a hospital, Faille added.

Intervention from their team would not have saved the baby, she said.

“We’re going to have to work at getting the facts out. Babies die in a hospital every day and we never hear about it but because it’s a midwife, it’s a big thing,” Faille said.

The practice continues to suffer from lack of acceptance, she said.

“I don’t know why the reaction. But if you look at (the) neonatal mortality rate, we always say it’s similar to doctors in hospitals,” Faille said, which is 4.2 deaths per 1,000 births.

“It’s important to get the right information out so this never happens again,” Faille said.

The Quebec coroner, police and the provincial order of midwives have launched investigations into emergency protocol at the centre.

About 25 per cent of women surveyed last year said they would choose to give birth outside a hospital if they could.

Officially reintroduced in Canada in the 1990s, midwifery is answering a real need for perinatal care, Faille said.

But there are wait-lists, she added. Three out of four women who request midwife services are refused in the Montreal area because the services are not available.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Canadian BitTorrent User Fined $60,000 By U.S. Court

A new dimension was just added to the ongoing stream of BitTorrent lawsuits in the U.S. A Canadian BitTorrent user has been ordered to pay $60,000 by a U.S. District Court judge. The Calgary resident, who did not defend himself, was ordered to pay the damages for sharing two films on an adult-oriented BitTorrent tracker.

Over the last year several mass-lawsuits were started against so-called ‘John Doe’ defendants, who are only identified by their IP-address. However, at the same time a handful of copyright holders have also launched cases against named BitTorrent users.

One of these defendants was the Calgary, Canada-based Alan Phillips. The adult entertainment studio Corbin Fisher filed suit against Phillips, who they claim had illicitly shared two of their movies (“Turner F***s Austin” and “Keagan” ) on the BitTorrent tracker 

While most BitTorrent sites treat the private information of their users confidentially, the operator kindly provided the copyright holder with information that could identify the defendant. 

According to information previously received by TorrentFreak, this is not the first time that GayTorrent has handed over the personal details of a member to a copyright holder without being required to by law.
This compliance by GayTorrent allows Corbin Fisher to directly target defendants, instead of having to ask the court for a subpoena.

In the initial complaint Corbin Fisher alleged that Phillips willingly infringed on its copyright, and the studio’s lawyer Marc Randazza asked U.S. District Court judge John Houston to award $50,000 in damages per movie, totaling 100,000. Although Phillips complained to the court in an attempt to get the case dismissed, he did not defend himself.

Due to Phillips absence, Judge Houston was left with no choice but to order a default judgement as requested by the plaintiff.

In his ruling Judge Houston rejects the studio’s claim that the infringement was willful, just because Phillips was savvy enough to use BitTorrent. This reduced the maximum damages from $150,000 to $30,000 per movie.

Judge Houston did, however, rule that Phillips was guilty of copyright infringement.

“The record, as presented does not support a finding of willfulness based solely on plaintiff’s speculative argument that BitTorrent requires technical knowledge such that a person using the application necessarily used it in order to defraud plaintiff.” 

“Thus, this Court finds that the increase in statutory damages suggested by plaintiff is not appropriately assessed here. In this Court’s view, statutory damages of $30,000 per infringed work, for a total of $60,000 plus attorneys’ fees is reasonable.”

In total Alan Phillips was ordered to pay $63,867, which makes it one of the largest fines ever handed out to a P2P user in the U.S. Certainly the highest we know of where a foreign copyright infringer was targeted.

“There are too many canadians who are under the mistaken impression that Canada does not respect copyrights,” lawyer Marc Randazza told TorrentFreak in a comment. 

“Canada is a signatory to international copyright treaties, and thus Canadians need to learn that the border does not insulate them from illegal activity,” 

“My client is delighted with the verdict,” he added. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Paratroopers defend airborne

Members of the international brotherhood of paratroopers are defending the disbanded Canadian Airborne Regiment.

"These guys have heroes dating from World War Two, it's wrong to brand the whole unit for the crimes of a few," retired Staff Sgt. Mike Stocker, a former U.S. Green Beret and president of the Special Forces Association of St. Louis, told QMI Agency. "They were super tight-knit, real tough and real professional. It's unfair, it's as if they have taken their swords, broken them and branded them all. As a paratrooper, I stand behind them."

The Canadian Airborne Regiment was a specialized group of army soldiers selected to jump out of airplanes into hostile territory. The group traces back to the Second World War's First Canadian Parachute Battalion, and the First Special Service Force (FSSF) known as the Black Devils. The American heirs to the Black Devils are the Green Berets.

But the elite Canadian army group was "disbanded in disgrace" by the Liberal government led by former prime minister Jean Chretien in 1995 after Somali teenager Shidane Arone was beaten and killed during a mission in the war-torn country. Several soldiers were court-martialled, and after a controversial hazing video surfaced, the entire regiment was stood down.

The Black Devils was a historic joint-fighting unit between Canada and the United States during the Second World War. The Canadian Airborne Regiment still carried the crossed-arrow and spear-head battle honours of the Black Devils until it was disbanded. Joint Task Force 2 (JTF2) and Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR) carry them now.

Retired Sgt.-Maj. Gordon Sims, 89, was a Canadian member of the Devils who fought against the Nazis in Italy and France.

"At first, I had felt we had been dishonoured by the Airborne," Sims said.

"But my feelings are tempered now -- it was a couple of radical guys who have tarnished the whole regiment, and should we all be painted with the same brush? No, that's what you had a stockade for."

The last commanding officer of the Canadian regiment, retired Col. Peter G. Kenward, wants Prime Minister Stephen Harper to apologize to the airborne soldiers, reinstate the colours and strike "disgrace" from the record. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tory incumbent Mike Wallace cruises to win in Burlington

Mike Wallace blazed past his opponents Monday night, seizing the Burlington riding by a handy margin.

With more than three quarters of the poles counted, the Conservative incumbent had 54 per cent of the vote. Liberal challenger Alyssa Brierley had 23 per cent and NDP candidate David Laird sat at 19 per cent.

“I’m very proud to be Conservative in our great country of Canada,” an elated Wallace said from a podium in his Burlington headquarters to applause, hoots and whistles from an excited crowd. “It is our party and our leader that is here for Canada and I’m here for Burlington.”

Wallace led in every poll, followed closely by Laird and Brierley, who were neck and neck throughout the race.

Laird, a child protection worker with the Children’s Aid Society, glowed from sweat and excitement before the polls closed, pumped to receive the results in what was sure to become his most victorious election yet. With a majority of the polls in, he had 19 per cent of the vote.

Brierley, a lawyer, is a Phd candidate and newcomer on the political scene.

Her supporters gathered across town at a Jack Astors restaurant dotted with red and white balloons.

Wallace’s campaign manager had jokingly promised him a “15,000 vote spread” over the runner-up, following the math of previous wins: In 2008, he took the riding by 10,000 votes; in the race previous by a mere 2,500. In 2004, he lost by a similar margin.

And while he didn’t quite make that goal, the voters did not disappoint.

Wallace, who is most proud of his efforts to clean up toxic mud in Hamilton Harbour.

In the campaign, Brierley and Laird stressed that Burlington, a bedroom community in transition as immigrants and young families seek affordable housing, is a riding hungry for change.

Laird said constituents were concerned about Wallace’s voting record when it came to international issues. Brierley said voters were looking for someone “fresh, new, energetic” and “willing to hustle to get the job done.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Tories and Liberals spar over Harper quote on health care act

Conservative party campaign manager Jenni Byrne accused the Liberals Monday of falsifying a quote in a recent television ad that suggested Conservative leader Stephen Harper could not be trusted to defend the public health-care system.

"The Liberal attacks are based on outright lies," Byrne wrote in a letter to the party's campaign managers. "The quotation (in the Liberal ad) about scrapping the Canada Health Act was not made by Stephen Harper but by somebody entirely different," she stated.

Do the Tories have a point, did the Liberals put words in Harper's mouth?

Harper was misquoted. But the Liberals say they didn't intentionally mislead their audience and will update their ad "in response to the Globe and Mail's error in its attribution of a quote."

The quote used in the Liberal ad and attributed to Harper, "It's past time the feds scrapped the Canada Health Act," was cited as having appeared in an August 26, 2010, Globe and Mail column.

But Monday, after the Conservatives had issued their release, the Globe said it misattributed the quote to Harper.

The newspaper posted a correction on its website at 1:38 p.m. ET saying the statement in question was written by David Somerville, in the June 1997 edition of The Bulldog.

Sommerville was the president of the National Citizens Coalition (NCC) when Harper was vice-president of the group, before he became leader of the Canadian Alliance.

The Liberals pointed out that the quote was used and misattributed to the Conservative leader in at least two other publications, a piece in Maclean's magazine from January 31, 2011 and a column in the Calgary Herald from May 5, 2005. Both outlets issued corrections Monday.

The Liberals said they planned to use another quote in their ad that showed Harper's "opposition to universal public health care in Canada."

Are the Liberals right, does Harper want to scrap the Canada Health Act?

"He's had five years to do it and he hasn't," McGill University professor Antonia Maioni told Postmedia News. "If he wants to do it, he is taking his time to do it."

Harper has often said the provinces should be allowed to experiment with more "private delivery" options, and he suggested that again last week during the English leaders debate. But he has said he "strongly supports . . . the principle that no person should ever be denied necessary medical treatment because of inability to pay."

Private delivery options are not a breach of the act but they impact on the public health-care system through queue jumping and strain on human resources, Maioni said.

In 2001, Harper suggested the provinces should each raise their own revenue for health care through tax points. That likely would end the federal government's role as guardian of the public health-care system. Unlike the Liberal government, Harper doesn't seem interested in fining provinces that breach the Canada Health Act by charging user fees, for example. In five years in office, he as never fined any provinces for breaching the principles of the act, Maioni notes.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Does Canada need next-generation stealth fighter jets?

An absolutely necessary weapon or an astronomical cost to avoid? The planned purchase of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters has been portrayed as both, and the divide between the two has made it an issue in the current election campaign.

Stephen Harper and his Conservatives say the 65 fighter jets will cost about $15-billion, but Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page estimated in March that the cost will be twice as much.

How much will they cost, and how much is too much? Do we need them to defend against the Russians, and take part in campaigns like the one over Libya right now?

Winslow Wheeler, a Washington-based defence-spending watchdog, argued that Mr. Page’s figures are too low, and that the fighters will cost billons more than his $29-billion estimate – maybe $10 billion more, but it’s impossible to say. And he argues Canada should wait till they know what they are buying, and how much it costs.

But there is an argument that supporters from the military make: that there will be no other plane like it. The F-35 is touted as a “fifth-generation” fighter plane, with stealth technology and high-tech communications.

Retired lieutenant-general Angus Watt, chief of the air staff of the Canadian Forces from 2007 to 2009, was been involved in the planning for Canada’s air force for several years, and is well-place to discuss its needs. He believes the F-35 is the best plane for the job.

With that in mind, Mr. Wheeler and Mr. Watt join us Tuesday at 2 p.m. ET for a live discussion on the pros and cons of the F-35 purchase.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Canada needs overall energy strategy, Shell says

Global energy giant Royal Dutch Shell PLC RDS.B-N is calling on Ottawa and the provinces to overhaul the rules governing the oil and gas business, arguing a new national strategy is needed to ensure Canada can compete for a slice of Asia’s exploding energy demand.

Lorraine Mitchelmore, the head of Shell’s Canadian operations, on Monday said the country’s regulatory and fiscal polices are not always competitive when compared with other resource-rich regions. A national energy strategy, complete with a price on carbon, should be part of the overhaul, she said.

With an international juggernaut weighing in, Enbridge Inc. and Suncor Energy Inc. have found a powerful ally in their push for a national plan. Shell’s global activity gives it additional insight into how the country stacks up against other energy producers.

“If Canada is going to compete, it really has to take this on,” Ms. Mitchelmore told reporters.

The push from Shell comes as China’s appetite for energy shows no signs of decreasing. Fuel demand rose 12 per cent in the last year, and is expected to grow an average of between 5 and 6 per cent over the next five years. India’s growth also has energy companies racing to expand exports.

The national strategy “requires a competitive regulatory framework that is more simple than what it is today,” Ms. Mitchelmore said. “And it requires a competitive fiscal regime … that is competitive on a global basis.”

Canada is not always fiscally competitive, even though it has one of the “best” regulatory regimes in the world, she said. “It needs adaptation to what’s the future.”

She was vague, however, on details, or on whether a pan-Canadian strategy would mean scrapping provincial plans. Further, she did not pinpoint what she thinks would be an appropriate price for carbon, even though Shell prices the emission internally at roughly $40 (U.S.) per tonne.

“If you put a price on carbon right now, it will make energy too expensive. So you need to then bring in innovation and technology to [encourage] companies … That’s why it is quite complicated.”

Enbridge, which is struggling to win support from native groups in British Columbia for its Northern Gateway pipeline, has led calls for a national strategy – one it hopes would pave the way for the pipe it wants to build between the oil sands and Kitimat, B.C.

Suncor supports the pipeline – it would give oil sands companies access to markets in Asia – and is also on board.

Ms. Mitchelmore did not say whether Shell’s desire for a national plan equates to support for the controversial pipeline, but did say the company “always” supports new markets. She declined to say whether Shell has purchased one of the 10 Gateway units Enbridge sold for $10-million, giving buyers the right to buy equity stakes in the pipeline and reduced shipping rates.

“[A national strategy] is about designing a framework that allows companies to produce [Canada’s oil and gas] assets and deliver them to the growing population and growing demand,” she said. Federal and provincial policies need to “come together with a lens that we are competing globally.”

Shell, based in the Netherlands and Britain, is voicing its concerns over Canadian policy in part because of the experience it has gained from its operations in over 100 different countries, Ms. Mitchelmore said.

William Kimber, vice-president of research at Canada West Foundation, noted that if international companies are not pleased with Canada’s rules, they will invest in other global projects, a move which could stymie the oil sands industry because of its intense funding demands.

“Canada clearly has a very competitive investment environment,” he said, pointing to the plethora of global companies which operate in the oil sands. “[But] Canada needs to continue keep an eye out for its international competitiveness with countries like Australia, or places in central America or Africa.”

This is not the first time Shell has criticized Canada’s approach to energy policies. Peter Voser, the parent company’s chief executive officer, in September said the Canadian and Albertan governments are not doing enough to defend the oil sands. Shell’s key areas of concerns, he said, are dealing with toxic tailings, reducing the amount of fresh water used as companies extract bitumen, and addressing carbon emissions via carbon capture and storage. The company has a CCS pilot project at its Scotford upgrading facility near Edmonton, with the Alberta government pitching in $745-million in funding over the next 15 years, while the federal government chipped in $120-million. Shell also operates the Muskeg River and Jackpine strip mines near Fort McMurray.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Unions defend middle class

All eyes are on the Middle East as a wave of popular uprisings sweeps dictators from power.

But there's another battle brewing closer to home that has more significance for working people in the United States and Canada.

It's a fight about democracy and whether North America will continue to have a viable middle class.

The most prominent battleground is Wisconsin, where hardline Republican Gov. Scott Walker says it's necessary to strip middle-class, unionized, public-sector workers of their rights to bargain collectively in order to balance his state's books.

The truth is that Walker is using public-sector unions as scapegoats for problems that were caused by years of failed Bush-era policies.

It wasn't teachers or nurses who transformed the U.S. from a powerhouse into the sick man of the world economy.

That feat was accomplished by waves of deregulation, budget cuts, trade deals and tax giveaways to the wealthy -- policies that hammered the middle class, impoverished schools and other vital public services, and paved the way for the global financial meltdown.

The emptiness of Walker's arguments became apparent when it was revealed that almost all of the $140-million deficit he claims his state faces is attributable to a $137-million tax cut given to corporations.

It's important to note Walker is still calling for an end to union negotiating rights, even though the unions have agreed to deep wage and benefit concessions.

So, if public-sector workers are ready to deal, why is Walker so hellbent on killing unions?

It's because he -- and people like the billionaire Koch brothers, who bankrolled many Tea Party campaigns -- understand something important about unions.

They understand unions are one of the last counterbalances to unbridled corporate power and conservative political dominance.

That's why Walker isn't backing down -- he wants to use his manufactured budget crisis to stack the deck even more dramatically in favour of conservatives.

The good news is that most Americans understand that working people -- union and non-union alike -- need unions to protect the middle-class lifestyle that millions feel slipping away.

Despite massive and distorted coverage from media outlets like Fox News, a recent New York Times/ CBS poll revealed that Americans oppose weakening union bargaining rights by a margin of nearly two to one (60% to 33%).

What does all of this have to do with Canada?

In the past two weeks, major news outlets have published columns echoing the Tea Party attack on unions.

Don't expect guys like the Koch brothers to stay out of Canada's politics. They may already be funding the Wildrose Alliance and Tory leadership candidates in Alberta. (We can't know for sure, because both parties refuse to reveal their donors).

So, be prepared for the war on unions and the middle class to move north.

But rest assured, Canadian unions will be ready.

We'll make the case for quality public services. We'll defend decent jobs.

We'll remind the powers-that-be that, in Alberta, the only reason we have a deficit is because of massive and unjustified giveaways to hugely profitable energy companies.

In the battle to preserve Canada's middle class, Canadian unions will (as always) stand on guard for thee.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Bendus up for 2nd straight NCAA player award

Vicki Bendus of Wasaga Beach, Ont., is up for a second straight Patty Kazmaier Award as player of the year in NCAA Division 1 women's hockey.

The Mercyhurst College forward was among 26 nominees, including 17 Canadians, announced Monday by USA Hockey.

Bendus is joined by fellow current or past Canadian national team members Meghan Acosta of Ruthven, Ont., Haley Irwin of Thunder Bay, Ont., Brianne Jenner of Oakville, Ont., Rebecca Johnston of Sudbury, Ont., Marie-Philip Poulin of Beauceville, Que., Jenn Wakefield of Pickering, Ont. and Catherine Ward of Montreal.

Also on the list are forwards Kelly Babstock of Mississauga, Ont., Bailey Bram of Ste. Ann, Man., Isabel Menard of Ottawa and Jesse Scanzano of Montreal; defencemen Laura Fortino of Hamilton, Jocelyne Larocque of Ste. Ann and Lauriane Rougeau of Beaconsfield, Que.; and goaltenders Jenni Bauer of St. Catharines, Ont., and Hillary Pattenden of Surrey, B.C.

Mercyhurst, which will play host to the 2011 NCAA Women's Frozen Four, lead all schools with five nominees: Agosta, Bendus, Bram, Pattenden and Scanzano.

Agosta was a top-three finalist in 2007, 2008 and 2009 before taking last season off to play for Canada at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. She leads all NCAA scorers with 31 goals and 46 assists in 30 games. Bendus has 18 goals and 31 assists this season.

No player has won the award two years in a row since it was instituted in 1998. The only two-time winner was Jennifer Botteril of Winnipeg in 2001 and 2003.

Other nominess are Americans Brianna Decker, Meghan Duggan, Hilary Knight, Jocelyne Lamoueux, Monique Lamoureau-Kolls, Molly Schaus, Jackee Snikeris and Kelli Stack, as well as goaltender and 2010 Kazmaier finalist Noora Raty of Finland.

The 34 D1 head coaches will cut the list to 10 nominees on March 3. A 13-member committee will select the three finalists on March 10 and the winner will be announced March 19.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

That brief time out from heated discourse? No more

President Barack Obama? Weak, a socialist and a liar. Liberals? Monsters and a cancer. Former Vice President Dick Cheney? Called a war criminal, "murdering scum" and a draft dodger — by people in his own party.

Just a month after the Arizona shooting rampage led to bipartisan calls for toned-down political discourse, incivility suffused the year's largest gathering of conservatives. Just like at most partisan get-togethers on either end of the ideological spectrum.

The brief political time out is over — if it ever really existed.

"All right, sit down and shut up," Cheney said after being greeted by hecklers when he made a surprise appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Supporters shouted down the insults with a "U.S.A." chant, and a visibly annoyed Cheney brushed off the outbursts.

Such incivility didn't overwhelm the conference, which is a rite of passage for presidential contenders, right-leaning media personalities and grass-roots activists. But it kept popping up throughout the three-day affair in speeches by names big and not so big.

That's not to say liberals would have been any more civil at their own event, and the tone at the conservative gathering was arguably no different from what it's been in the past. After all, it's what these events are for.

On both the left and the right, hard-core ideologues are the ones who attend such conferences, and agendas are set with that audience in mind. Verbal bomb-throwing is the norm from speakers who serve up political red meat to highly partisan crowds that devour it.

This weekend's conference was a sign of a return to normalcy in the wake of the shootings that wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and killed six in January. That attack touched off a national debate about overheated political rhetoric. Politicians of all stripes, Obama included, pleaded for a more civil discourse.

The GOP's top elected leaders — House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky — set a respectful tone in their speeches to the conservative gathering.

So did many of the Republicans likely to run for president.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who referred to Obama only once, confronted the issue of "the venomous, petty, often ad hominem political discourse of the day." He urged conservatives to be more thoughtful in their rhetoric.

Yet even as he invoked Ronald Reagan's admonishment, "Remember, we have no enemies, only opponents," Daniels slapped at Democrats: "Our opponents are better at nastiness than we will ever be. It comes naturally." He also told conservatives to embrace a nicer approach — for political gain.

"The public is increasingly disgusted with a steady diet of defamation, and prepared to reward those who refrain from it," he said. "It would help if they liked us, just a bit."

Other likely presidential contenders openly denigrated Obama — his policies, his politics, his ability to lead.

Ex-Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum suggested the president lies. "This is someone who doesn't believe in truth and evil in America," he said.

Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann said the country has seen Obama "usher in socialism" and she branded his health care law "the crown jewel of socialism."

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said that under Obama, "an uncertain world has been made more dangerous by the lack of clear direction from a weak president."

It wasn't all personal; some was just business. Yet much of the criticism relief on words and phrases that liberals tend to find offensive and conservatives wield specifically to score political points.

The false rumors about Obama's heritage surfaced.

"I'm not one who questions the president's birth certificate and the existence of his birth certificate," said former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. "But when you listen to his policies, don't you at least wonder what planet he's from?"

Laughter and applause followed that. And after Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador's quip that he "was fortunate enough to be an American citizen by birth, and I have the birth certificate to prove it."

The most pointed attacks came from sharp-tongued commentators, as is usually the case.

Andrew Breitbart, an activist who runs a conservative media company, assailed people from liberal groups such as ACORN, Code Pink and unions. "Hate-filled, racist sheep," he called them.

"These people I've confronted are monsters," he said.

Pundit Ann Coulter took aim at Obama using Democrats' poor fortunes in November's congressional elections. "The way things are going, Obama may want to look into becoming the president of Egypt. Nobody would complain about him being a Muslim then," she said to cheers. Obama was born in Hawaii and is a Christian.

Like previous years, insults dotted Coulter's speech.

"In honor of the new spirit of civility, I thought I would point out that under mean, divisive George Bush a nuclear sub was named after Jimmy Carter," she said sarcastically — and then proceed to bash the former Democratic president.

She lumped Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in with "overbearing, out-of-touch, despots."

Asked about her least favorite Democrat, she said: "That's like asking my least favorite disease ... Cancer."

In the end, modern politics is predictable — two parties, drawing distinctions, each saying it's better because the alternative is worse. If this weekend showed anything, it was that the 2012 presidential campaign has begun — no better than usual, but perhaps no worse, either.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Canada Reads is down to four books

Last week I spoke with Vancouver author and lawyer Anne Giardini, who is representing her mother Carol Shields and her book Unless in the CBC Canada Reads battle for book of the decade. (Read the story here.)

Essex County, a graphic novel by Jeff Lemire, was eliminated by the panel of five Monday morning, so now Unless has a 25-per-cent chance of winning the competition.

Other finalists include: The Bone Cage by Angie Abdou, championed by former NHL enforcer and activist Georges Laraque; The Birth House by Ami McKay, championed by designer and TV personality Debbie Travis; The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis, championed by CNN broadcaster Ali Velshi. 

Sheilds also wrote The Stone Diaries and Larry’s Party, among other books. Lorne Cardinal, a native of Sucker Creek First Nations in Alberta, will defend Unless in the competition on CBC Radio’s Q on Feb. 7, 8 and 9.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Early Canadian map back on auction block

It began with a stunning discovery last year in the attic of a Scottish estate: A previously unknown, 312-year-old hand-drawn map of Canada by John Thornton, one of the leading cartographers of 17th-century Europe.

Expected to sell at a U.K. auction in January for up to $120,000, the lost-and-found treasure became the focus of a fierce bidding war involving collectors and museums from around the world — including Manitoba's provincial archives — that ended with the map's purchase by a British rare-books dealer for close to $320,000.

Now, the buzz-worthy "Thornton map" of 1699 is for sale again this weekend at an vintage-map fair in Florida — this time for more than $600,000.

And in keeping with the map's ballooning price, new research suggests the artifact's historical value is far greater than originally understood. The dust-covered relic rescued from behind a water tank in Scotland appears to represent the landmark moment in Canada's past when rival French and English empires first attempted to formally divide the country.

The excitement surrounds a thin red line drawn diagonally across present-day Labrador, Quebec and Ontario, where the frontier possessions of Britain and France were in dispute at a time of rapidly growing interest from both mother countries in Canada's fur-trade riches.

Remarkably, the line passes directly through the labels for "Nova Britania" and "New France" on the 68-by-80-centimetre vellum map, drawn by Thornton on sheepskin to help ensure its preservation.

The map also includes labels for "Laboradore," "New Scotland" (Nova Scotia) and the island of "New Found Land," as well as the southern part of Baffin Island and northern edge of the fledgling American colonies of New England.

Maureen Dolyniuk, manager of the Winnipeg-based Hudson's Bay Company Archives, said the unexpected appearance of the Thornton map fills a major gap in the cartographic record of Canada.

That's one of the reasons, she told Postmedia News, that the HBC archive attempted to purchase the map at a Jan. 17 auction in Britain when it was outbid by Oxford-based antiquarian Daniel Crouch.

"We did attempt to acquire the map, but as you know, it went for quite a bit more than the pre-auction estimate," said Dolyniuk.

"We have a record in the minute books of the Hudson's Bay Company that they purchased two copies of this map," she added, noting the firm paid Thornton all of "three pounds" for his services in 1700.

The HBC archive, a world-renowned repository of early maps of North America, already possesses an important 1709 map of Canada drawn a year after John Thornton's death by his son, Samuel.

That map also features the same long, red diagonal line — but this time conspicuously marked as the boundary between French and English territory, and roughly corresponding to the height of land dividing the Hudson Bay watershed to the northwest from the St. Lawrence River/Atlantic Ocean watershed to the southeast.

Significantly, historians have pointed to the 1709 map as critical to negotiations between France and England leading to the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, which — until the British victory in the Seven Years War some 50 years later — established each empire's domain in North America.

Dolyniuk, who has been collaborating with Crouch in researching the history of the newly discovered map, said it appears to have been the template — the Hudson's Bay Company's initial attempt at a French-English division of territory — from which Samuel Thornton crafted his 1709 map ten years later.

"We don't see any earlier versions of it," Dolyniuk said, describing John Thornton's scarlet stroke as perhaps the first clear expression of the company's — and by extension, the British Empire's — line in the sand in the face of French competition for the future Canada.

"It's the line the company used to defend their territory, the rights over their charter territory," she said. "It was their interpretation of the boundary between the English and French territory."

Even as recently as the 1920s, when officials from Britain and Canada were still negotiating where to draw the boundary between Labrador and Quebec, the 1709 map — and thus its 1699 template — were factored into the final border agreement, notes Dolyniuk.

John Thornton's map "would have been a wonderful addition to our holdings had we acquired it," she said.

Crouch, currently in Florida ahead of Sunday's annual Miami Map Fair, told Postmedia News he was thrilled to acquire such a "unique" artifact. And the price he's set for it in Miami makes it clear he believes the $318,000 he paid at auction two weeks ago was a bargain.

"I am quite used to bidding at auction," he said, "but the Thornton is a manuscript map and unique, so there is always a special kick when one is successful with such items."

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

It's gutsy to say no to the kirpan

This past week, Quebecers openly showed what it is to be a distinct society within Canada.

On Jan. 18, four members of the World Sikh Organization of Canada were refused access to the National Assembly of Quebec because they were wearing kirpans.

Ironically, the members of the Sikh community kicked out of the National Assembly were trying to get in to present their views on Bill 94, anti-niqab and anti-burka legislation that would require anyone dispensing or receiving a government-paid service in places like hospitals and schools to show their faces.

While carrying a kirpan, a ceremonial dagger, in the Quebec National Assembly is considered dangerous, it is allowed in Quebec schools. Supreme Court judges unanimously decided in 2006 to allow a Montreal student to attend school with his kirpan.

The judgment even underlined that banning it would violate the charter’s guarantee of freedom of religion.

But for a strong majority of Quebecers, whether it is an article of faith or not, a kirpan is first and foremost a weapon. If a knife is not allowed on a plane, why should it be allowed in parliament? And no one has forgotten the shooting in May 1984 when Cpl. Denis Lortie killed three and injured 13 people in the National Assembly.

The different reactions of the two solitudes were interesting. In Quebec City, the Charest government’s response was wishy-washy. Immigration minister Kathleen Weil left it up to the National Assembly’s security to decide, while opposition parties cheered at the ban.

Parti Quebecois spokesman Louise Beaudoin, reminded of her earlier disagreement with the Supreme Court’s decision on the kirpan, even declared “multiculturalism may be a Canadian value. But it is not a Quebec one.”

The Action democratique du Quebec went a step further by asking the Sikh community living in Quebec to obey their duty of reasonable accommodation for the majority.

“It’s part of the accommodation. If you come here, you put your kirpan aside,” said the ADQ leader, Gerard Deltell.

MNA Francois Bonnardel added “a weapon is a weapon, period. There is no tolerance. If I founded a sect and decided a Swiss knife is my object of worship, would you allow me in the National Assembly?”

In Ottawa, the Bloc Quebecois smelled a good wedge issue. It now wants to push for the ban of kirpans in the House of Commons.

Politically skilful, the Conservatives escaped the question by attacking the Bloc for its misplaced priorities, accusing Gilles Duceppe’s party of not being interested in economic issues.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff showed once more how far from the Quebec mainstream he is by defending the ceremonial dagger as a symbol of tolerance and religious freedom. The weapon Quebecers in the vote-rich regions wanted him to defend was not the kirpan but the gun.

The PQ’s Beaudoin might have phrased it in a way to promote her sovereignist views, but she is right in recognizing the issue at stake.

The kirpan debate brings back on the table, once more, the excesses of Canadian multiculturalism. No politician outside of Quebec might have the guts to admit it publicly, but I am quite sure many English Canadians feel very Quebecois on this distinct issue.