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Special Report: Fracking Nuclear Waste, Say What? #cdnpoli #onpoli

Ontario residents have been kept in the dark, but Canada’s most populous province is about to become an unlikely and international battleground. After all, how many times does the Great White North threaten the drinking water of more than 40 million people, including their neighbours in America?

 

Legislators from south of the border have already taken issue with plans for a deep geologic repository. Less than a mile from the shores of Lake Huron, Bruce Power intends to store 200,000 cubic meters of nuclear waste within the natural rock formation. Senators and congressmen shared their dissent with the Canadian government, but the fed responded by sending police to the homes of eco protesters, in what some would call an act of intimidation.

 

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(photo credit: Ontario Power Generation)

 

It will take at least 300 years for the nuclear waste to decay, to a point that radioactive catastrophes are not a threat to human populations. This Kincardine, Ontario location was also chosen for its low seismic activity, reducing the likelihood of water and soil contamination by earthquake.

 

This much we’ve always known, due to the federal environment assessment that required public consultation. The Harper government has since levied time restrictions to speed the process along, but this is one project that was too big and too perilous to keep from the radar at all.

 

Seemingly unrelated, the controversy over fracking and in-situ technologies to harvest oil has been raging around the world. Ohio experts claim it causes earthquakes. Texans say it releases benzene and hydrogen sulfide in the air, causing everything from cancer to nosebleeds and skin rashes. British scientists say it causes radioactive contamination. Researchers at Duke University say it makes water flammable in Pennsylvania and New York, where investigators cite enough contamination to blow up homes with families in them. In Canada, the Idle No More movement continuously defends First Nations from plans to frack their tribal territory and there’s still the argument of numerous toxic chemicals used in the extraction process.

 

014Gasland

(photo credit: HBO, GasLand)

 

The topic of hydraulic fracturing is so polarizing that countless provinces, states and cities have sought a moratorium. The mayor of New York City added his voice to the opposition, with strong reservations about the impact to water safety. By contrast and north of this shared water source, scientists from Canada were abruptly silenced by the federal government and environmental laws were gutted, so there is no mechanism or freedom to complain above the forty-ninth parallel any longer.

 

This much we also knew, but how could it possibly relate to a nuclear waste dump?

 

Critics warned that sweeping changes to de-monitor water, curtail public input and failure to assess smaller power projects would have a grave and lasting impact on the Canadian ecosystem. They denounced newly legislated secrecy and threw their hands in the air when the government conducted a good old-fashioned, scientific book burning. They went so far as to accuse the Harper administration of oppressing Canadians for the sake of Alberta oil profits, meant to benefit the Prime Minister’s friends at a cost to every other industry in the country. With few studies or consultations required anymore, the public wouldn’t be privy to projects that conflict with each other either.

 

It was a Nostradamus moment that wouldn’t take a thousand years to come true. It’s just that our first example arises in Ontario, further east than they predicted when pitted against bitumen, LNG or coastal pipelines as the likely candidates. When people think about oil, they don’t naturally imagine the Great Lakes region as an epicenter for this development.

 

No one can blame residents for being remiss, when information became inaccessible to the public and for that matter to Americans who are impacted by Canadian activity. Former Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty claimed there would be no fracking until the province studied evidence to determine if the practice was safe. The new premier has never commented and no elected officials have alluded to anything different.

 

With all this government subterfuge from provincial and federal levels, the only way to learn about energy projects is through private company investor reports and knowing which ones to research now.

 

Bruce Power, meet Dundee Energy Limited. The former is an Ontario nuclear giant and the latter has the largest stake in Ontario oil. The two may operate side by side, but you’d never know from asking any level of government including municipal managers. These companies also favour the same rock formation, but for very different reasons.

 

Nuclear proponents believe the shale is strong enough to store radioactive waste, while oil competitors have chosen the area due to rich deposits and the porous nature of the same rock, making it a perfect specimen for fracking. It’s hard to see how both could be correct, but everyone drinking water along the Great Lakes is in the crosshairs of this corporate aggression.

 

From Neil Young to Yoko Ono, concerned stars have raised alarm bells regarding each of these topics, but no one thought to consider the impact of running these operations together. Fracking beside nuclear waste is a new concept for sure. The consequence of either practice is still a new frontier and combining them won’t be studied in Canada, nor will anyone be informed to care.

 

This situation is complicated by a few key players. Nuclear behemoth Bruce Power is technically owned by TransCanada Corp, that is better known for the KeystoneXL oil pipeline and tribulations visiting the White House. It’s also owned by Cameco, recently accused of tax evasion related to uranium sales. This partnership is completed by the retirement funds of municipal employees and the Power Workers Union, otherwise known as an affiliate of the left-wing labour movement and CUPE. As these strange bedfellows negotiate long term destruction of the environment for short term gain, the public is none the wiser because every brand of elected official appears to have taken a vow of silence.

 

In the case of Dundee Energy, it’s a subsidiary of the Dundee Corporation and federal Labour Minister Kellie Leitch was implicated in an alleged conflict of interest with this very consortium. While sitting on a board of directors for Dundee (REIT), Leitch was also debating legislation that impacted her environmentally averse tenants. In addition to meeting the needs of numerous oil clients under the Dundee real estate umbrella, this MP’s company position included an asset-based relationship with the National Energy Board (pgs 20-26).

 

The National Energy Board is Canada’s environmental regulator and the body that oversees public consultation in a situation like the Bruce Power nuclear waste dump. It no longer needs to conduct environmental hearings related to Dundee’s oil pursuits, as a result of the Labour Minister and Conservative government’s plight to de-monitor water and “streamline” approvals.

 

It’s now come to light that Leitch’s business associate was buying considerable land for oil extraction, with an eye for the riding she continues to represent. Dundee Energy also purchased junior speculators with rights to harvest oil in Ontario, around the same time she was named a trustee to the sister company with shared executives.

 

For context, the Labour Minister’s family established the Fort McMurray oil sands town in Alberta, before her career was transferred to Ontario where the process may be repeating. This time brings us to Collingwood, Ontario and begins with thousands of acres around Blue Mountain that the oil industry took an interest in.

 

This location boasts a farming heartland and world class ski resort, with waterside tourism in the summer. It’s unlikely Intrawest realizes the surrounding property is on the fracking horizon. It doesn’t bode well for stable snow formations if earthquakes are indeed caused by fracking. Yacht owners may pull their boats from oil-slicked waters and tourism around the protected Niagara Escarpment Biosphere may soon resemble the tar sands on this deregulated trajectory. The groundwaters sustaining agriculture in the bins at your local grocery store may also become poisonous if the experience of early adopters is any indication.

 

To manage a complex and conflicting set of developments, here’s a recap to give clarity that illuminates who might have known what.

 

1857 – 1863: Canada’s first shale gas operation was founded in Collingwood, Ontario. It originally supplied the market in Toronto. This enterprise eventually failed due to competition from Lambton County and this local history would be forgotten, until the present day when it’s repeated.

 

April 2008: Bruce Power begins drilling boreholes to test Collingwood, Blue Mountain, Georgian Bay and Manitoulin shales, in preparation for the nuclear waste deep geologic repository. A layout of the project is included, depicting the proximity to Lake Huron and a railway passing directly above the proposed radioactive location.

 

September 2008: Mooncor begins aggressive acquisition of Ontario shale oil assets. They have access to 23,000 acres with the ability to develop Collingwood and Blue Mountain formations.

 

November 2008: The Ontario Petroleum Institute holds an annual conference. Sponsors include Talisman and Torque Energy, as well as Enbridge, Haliburton and the US Energy Development Corp. Exhibitors include the Government of Newfoundland and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. The latter presents “Shale Gas Opportunities in Ontario” during the session dedicated to fracking. The Ontario Power Generation also speaks about the Bruce Power waste site. That seminar is sandwiched between the effect of petrochemicals and how to fight back against eco protesters.

 

February 2009: A Calgary based oil and gas consultant is hired to conduct seismic testing for the Ontario Bruce Power nuclear site. Data is borrowed from a nearby Texaco well and Shell oil pipeline. Many gas wells are noted in the area and previous studies failed to indicate a seismic fault line. With newer technology however, faults were discovered around the nuclear site and this information will be submitted to the National Energy Board.

 

May 2009: The federal government finalizes a process of environmental review for the proposed Bruce Power nuclear waste site.

 

November 2009: The Ontario Petroleum Institute holds an annual conference. Sponsors include Torque Energy, Talisman Energy and Enbridge. Shale gas opportunities are promoted in Ontario and the Minister of Natural Resources is a keynote speaker this year. Numerous reps from the Ontario government provide seminars as well as a report for oil companies, enticing hundreds of new explorations. The Collingwood and Blue Mountain deposits are given special attention, closest to the nuclear waste site. Health Canada is also an exhibitor.

 

March 2010: Central Ontario oil was predominantly owned by Mooncor and Talisman Energy. The Dundee Corporation purchases “the largest accumulation of oil and natural gas assets in Ontario” for $131 million from Talisman, to overtake their interest in the area.

 

May 2010: Kellie Leitch becomes a trustee at a Dundee company that oversees real estate. These portfolios include a considerable roster of oil companies and the National Energy Board.

 

June 2010: Simcoe and Bruce Counties experience an uncharacteristic earthquake. The area surrounding a proposed nuclear waste dump and fracking locale, shakes enough to startle half the province awake.

 

October 2010: The Ontario Petroleum Institute holds an annual conference. Sponsor information was withheld this year, but exhibitors include the Canadian Consulate General and various members of the Ontario government. Keynote speakers include disgraced Congressman Chris Lee (R-NY) and seminars are provided by the Ministry of Natural Resources, in addition to the Ministry of Northern Development. Dundee Energy updated their progress in purchasing Ontario shale assets, as the government updated its list of shale assets for promotion. Additional seminars were offered regarding hydraulic fracturing and the difficulty moving enough sand, water and chemicals to supply the fracking industry.

 

April 2011: The Bruce Power nuclear site tests for the presence of gas. It’s found in the Collingwood, Blue Mountain and Georgian Bay formations, among others. Upon detailed analysis, the highest concentration of oil is noted in the Collingwood shale samples (closest to the nuclear repository), while the highest gas concentrations can be found in the Blue Mountain companion. This study and many more were submitted to the National Energy Board.

 

April 2011: Mooncor creates spinoff company DRGN Resources to handle its Ontario shale oil and gas assets. The long term strategy includes overtaking smaller companies to become a major player in the province.

 

May 2011: Kellie Leitch is elected Member of Parliament for Simcoe-Grey, after accusations of being parachuted from out of town. This riding consists of Collingwood, Blue Mountain and much of Georgian Bay. She still works with Dundee REIT and will not resign the executive position until the end of the next quarter, representing both the public and a corporation at the same time.

 

June 2011: Dundee Energy Limited establishes 100 percent ownership of its Ontario oil assets, further retained by the Dundee conglomerate as the parent company. New horizontal wells are planned for extraction.

 

June 2011: Several fish begin dying in Lake Simcoe. It’s part of the same glacial movement that created the Great Lakes system and it’s a 30 minute drive from the shores of Lake Huron. A magnificent amount of oil and gas tests are occurring at the same time (from government, the fracking and nuclear industries), but this is not considered a possible culprit because the public is unaware.

 

August 2011: Dundee Energy purchases Torque Energy – a former sponsor of the Ontario Petroleum Institute and a remaining holdout competitor. Torque Energy includes oil assets in Ontario and the acquisition helps to pad Dundee’s dominant market share.

 

September 2011: Mooncor retains a small amount of stock in Torque Energy, now owned by the Dundee corporation (pg. 12). At the end of this month, Member of Parliament Kellie Leitch resigns from her position with Dundee’s real estate branch as well.

 

October 2011: The Ontario Petroleum Institute holds an annual conference. Sponsors include Dundee Energy, Torque Energy (under Dundee ownership) and Mooncor (with stock interest in Dundee). Keynote speakers include the Mayor of London and First Nations elders. Seminars are provided by the federal government’s Indian Oil and Gas Canada agency, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and the Ontario Energy Board. Topics covered Aboriginal affairs and fracking, with a hydrofracturing demonstration to close the event.

 

October 2011: Six thousand dead birds and fish scatter the shores of Wasaga Beach. It’s the longest freshwater beach in the entire world and lines much of Georgian Bay, connecting to Collingwood at Lake Huron. Both shale formations were being tested for oil and gas reserves, but botulism is the suspected culprit with little explanation regarding changes to the lake’s chemistry. The area never saw a die-off like this before and experts were left to guess a reason.

 

November 2011: Mooncor engages the Dundee conglomerate for help to raise $5 million toward expansion.

 

November 2011: An executive lawyer for Bruce Power and the nuclear waste site is appointed to the Ontario Centre of Excellence, to guide the provincial economy. This centre is funded by the Ontario government and Bruce Power continues to be owned by the same curious partners.

 

May 2012: Thousands of dead fish appear on the shores of Lake Simcoe. The second time is worse than the first. The Ministry of Natural Resources waited a number of months before informing the public of a widespread infection and no detailed cause was ever given.

 

September 2012: The Ontario government promotes shale fuel extraction at a conference in the United States. Collingwood, Blue Mountain and Georgian Bay formations are the focus, with 31 percent oil saturation and 77 percent gas saturation to encourage deeper investment. One of the wells cited is adjacent to the Bruce Power nuclear waste site. (A similar situation between oil wells and nuclear generators occurs in the Pickering location on Lake Ontario.)

 

September 2012: Dundee Energy invests $13.7 million in Ontario assets. Another $3.4 million is spent to acquire maps with seismic data, needed to plan the next harvesting sites. Inland extraction has become a priority to increase production, that offsets lower gas prices affected by greater American penetration and the Canadian petro dollar. A rig is purchased to assist with new drilling, allowing expansion in the Toronto gas market. In the process, they reserve $3.3 million for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, in anticipation of future environmental costs.

 

October 2012: The Ontario Petroleum Institute holds an annual conference. The sponsor list is excluded again, but the Ministry of Natural Resources, Conservative MPP Bob Bailey and a National Post editor were mentioned as speakers. Embattled Liberal Energy Minister Chris Bentley was invited to give the keynote address and topics narrowly focused on pipelines, fracking and promoting Ontario’s shale assets for exploration.

 

November 2012: The Ontario government releases a comprehensive report (490 pages) meant to attract investment, reform applicable laws and assist corporations in negotiating with First Nations. Shale gas and oil in the Collingwood, Blue Mountain, Georgian Bay, Nottawasaga and Manitoulin areas is given special attention (pgs. 222-240), with specific mention of fuels (pgs. 275-286). Each is promoted as having the best potential for fracking related extraction. At least 360 samples were tested from wells and new boreholes in the years preceding, as part of the larger “shale gas assessment project” the public was never informed about. Groundwater mapping for Simcoe County is thoroughly noted (pgs. 295-306) and includes data from Lake Huron to Georgian Bay, Lake Simcoe, the Nottawasaga River, Newmarket Till and Oak Ridges Moraine. It is further identified as one of the most significant glacial aquifers, responsible for drinking water obtained from the Great Lakes and every connecting path from Canada to Chicago, Illinois.

 

November 2012: At the same time Ontario promoted shale extraction, Premier Dalton McGuinty informed the media there was no reason to worry about fracking in the province. He offered this reassurance despite public objection to Dundee Energy and Mooncor buying land for the same purpose. This message was supported by the Ministry of Natural Resources when they confirmed one new shale well was drilled, but denied any knowledge of plans to continue. All political parties responded as if the premise of fracking was hypothetical, but each shared a connection to this series of concrete developments. The Liberal government spent millions to encourage fracking extraction and accepted millions from interested companies. Elected Conservatives spoke at fracking events and/or occupied an executive table with the most aggressive corporation. The NDP also enjoys considerable input from the labour movement, as business partners with an oil giant involved in testing the area.

 

December 2012: The federal government passes controversial legislation to de-monitor Canada’s water and reduce environmental assessments, in favour of oil lobbyist demands.

 

June 2013: Dundee Energy plans to invest $13.2 million in new Ontario wells and exploration to increase production. Another $2 million will be spent to map 314 kilometers of prospective shale opportunities. The corporation pays an extra $270,000 to the Ministry of Natural Resources in anticipation of future abandonment costs (pgs. 8, 28). This expansion is again reported to offset losses incurred by the American market and complication from the petro dollar (pgs. 10-13).

 

September 2013: Dundee’s rig is used in Lambton County, Ontario to fracture-stimulate a new well. Additional projects are planned for summer the next year.

 

October 2013: The Ontario Petroleum Institute holds an annual conference. This time it’s at the Windsor casino and sponsors are dwindling as companies are bought up, but Dundee Energy has attained the gold level. Seminars are provided by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Dundee itself, regarding radial jet drilling and its benefits to the fracking industry. This talk was followed by a presentation regarding the Blue Mountain shale formation and the majority of that day was dedicated to hydraulic fracturing topics. The smaller event was then closed by the Ontario Minister of Rural Affairs. It should be noted that a few days earlier, First Nations made international news with a government standoff against fracking. A Chief close to Bruce Power was also protesting the nuclear waste dump.

 

In other curious developments, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources defers to the oil industry as its spokesperson. Visiting the government internet page to learn about provincial resources not only misinforms about Ontario’s history (forgetting Collingwood as the first producer), but it also directs readers to the “Discovery Education Centre” as the government’s source for facts.

 

It just so happens the Discovery Education Centre is owned by Discovery Drilling Funds. They were purchased by LongBow Energy Corp and this business is steeped in the Alberta oil sands. Head office is located in Calgary, Alberta and one of the key executives is a former Koch Petroleum manager (of Koch Industries fame). It’s unclear why a private group of five western oil companies is now speaking for the Government of Ontario.

 

Regarding competition between fracking and nuclear waste, the town of Walkerton, Ontario is located at the midpoint between them. Driving half an hour west, residents will arrive at Bruce Power and driving half an hour east, they’ll arrive at the heavily promoted Collingwood oil deposits. If they dare to drive south, they’ll arrive at Sarnia’s petrochemical industry and advanced plans for fracking in Lambton County as well.

 

This tiny hamlet was foisted to world news when the water supply was contaminated and more than 2,300 residents became severely ill. Several died. Criminal charges were laid. The Conservative government of the day was blamed for legislation that privatized the testing of water safety. Now the same families may serve as a test, to see what happens when government policy allows fracking beside nuclear waste, fourteen years later in a repeat performance.

 

Everyone who obtains drinking water associated with the Great Lakes will also be affected, if any part of this experiment goes wrong. And despite Ontario denying plans to frack, taxpayers footed the bill to produce widespread tests for shale oil, in addition to yearly seminars designed to entice extraction.

 

These water tables come from one of the most important Precambrian aquifers. It supplies the local area and stretches deep into the United States. This underground water highway also supports Toronto and all the towns branching out along the way. The only thing that doesn’t appear to support 40 million North Americans, is politics north of the border and its friends in the energy industry. If all bureaucracies have skin in the game, who’s left to speak for the water?

 

Is Labour Minister In Conflict Of Interest?

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/amy-macpherson/mp-leitch_b_4124776.html

Will the Ethics Minister Investigate this MP’s Failure to Disclose Her Income?

Posted: 10/21/2013 1:30 pm

 

Surprising developments continue to challenge the Harper government and it doesn’t appear the recent cabinet shuffle was enough to contain the party’s troubles.  In July, the prime minister embarked on a public relations makeover to soften the blow from repeated allegations of criminal activity and impropriety against a growing number of Conservatives.

 

To quell chatter about Duffy and the senate spending scandal — followed by charges against Del Mastro, the Prime Minister appointed a fresh batch of faces to populate his inner circle. In this rejuvenation process, a faithful MP from Simcoe-Grey was promoted to Minister of Labour and Minister of Status of Women. It seemed a safe bet, as the member was not only a minority female but also a paediatric surgeon who proved her loyalty by supporting the export of asbestos. Surely her silence in the face of criticism from the health care industry could merit responsibility for two portfolios in a beleaguered government.

 

Doubly minted Minister Kellie Leitch keeps a low profile with the local public, but she’s been a staple in the Conservative party since the days of her youth. The doctor wasn’t familiar to residents of Simcoe-Grey until the 2011 federal election, because she normally hailed from Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto and the University of Western Ontario in London. Leitch’s life was centred many hours away and she survived this controversy with stellar endorsements from CPC stars like Jim Flaherty, Peter MacKay, Hugh Segal, Julian Fantino and Stephen Harper. The campaigning efforts of Pamela Wallin weren’t quite as glowing, since her visits have become a point of contention in the senate investigation (see April 26 and 29, expanded to include Jan. 17).

 

This prominent attention must have felt remarkable. In a rural region known for farming and rustic getaways, the area was transformed into a political Hollywood for the election. The only caveat is it required this much effort to help Leitch overcome the toxic atmosphere she was about to inherit. Her predecessor in Simcoe-Grey was also a Minister for the Status of Women, but Helena Guergis was in the process of being turfed as her replacement was parachuted by the Prime Minister. It was a timely campaign of false and tawdry allegations. Ms. Guergis saw her career destroyed to create a vacancy in the riding and much of the local executive quit to protest their loss of democracy.

 

Amid the many accusations against Kellie Leitch, it became apparent she would need to open up and endear herself to the locals. In a rare interview with the tiny Wasaga Beach newspaper, a limited number of constituents received a glimpse into the world of our prospective Labour Minister. This included a rare epiphany explaining just how far she traveled. In her own words, Kellie Leitch professes it wasn’t in her plans to become a doctor and she was keen to build on her father’s legacy as a founder of Fort McMurray.

 

The Alberta oil sands are more than a stone’s throw from the shores of central Ontario and according to Leitch, her family should be credited with bringing the oil rush to Canada because they’re the ones who built the infrastructure to make the harvest area inhabitable. This MP was proud of the environment she helped create, despite Neil Young’s comparison of Fort McMurray to Hiroshima. Of course the latter was banned from the former’s radio station, so perhaps Minister Leitch will never hear about the opposition.

 

This brings us to the ethical hurdles facing the Conservative party and whether Harper’s judgement would improve in time for the cabinet shuffle, meant to save the government’s reputation. These new ministers should be impervious to criticism, or rather investigation. Ideally they would lead the way by filing items properly and insulate the Canadian Parliament from any more questions of fraud or conflicts of interest. Or contempt. Or bribery. Or voter suppression. Or criminal charges. With such a turbulent track record, it only seems reasonable the Prime Minister would benefit from hindsight and wisdom in selecting his next executives.

 

It was previously reported that Minister Leitch was in good standing with the Ethics Commissioner and she did not declare any additional income in her report for the public registry. This is the information she provided to media in a congenial, receptive email. But that registry and the Canadian Securities Regulators at Sedar appear to have a different opinion.

 

The following is a public version of events, expressed in a timeline with commentary:

 

May 4, 2010 — Kellie Leitch causes a stir with Conservatives in Simcoe-Grey, when she attends private meetings as a star candidate who was parachuted from Toronto.

 

May 6, 2010 — Kellie Leitch becomes a paid trustee at Dundee REIT (see also May 10, 2010 – report of voting results). As part of a Declaration of Trust, she must agree to a non-competition clause with the company. She is not permitted to acquire an interest, even indirectly from commercial real estate, without first allowing Dundee the option of purchasing said investment (see page 37).

 

Dundee REIT is a subsidiary of Dundee Corporation and Ned Goodman is the owner, occupying a seat at the same table as MP Leitch. Mr. Goodman is better known as one of the richest people in Canada (see page 18). The REIT is better known for its main accounts, as landlord to the Government of Canada, Government of Ontario, Government of British Columbia, Government of Alberta, Government of Saskatchewan, Government of Quebec, Government of Northwest Territories, Enbridge Pipelines and SNC Lavalin. This is in addition to the Canada Revenue Agency, Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Cities of Edmonton and Calgary, Alberta Health Services, CAE and Ministry of the Attorney General (see page 20).

 

In media it’s not mentioned that Dundee REIT is behind the Toronto Pan Am village, but annual filings detail the company’s $15 million investment, with an expected profit of $50 million when the properties are finally sold (see page 12).

 

In the same report Mr. Goodman shares his executive insight with underlings like Minister Leitch. He says,

 

“Inflation is a certainty because without any other reasons, and there are many, it is a political and financial tool that allows for de-leveraging of debt and payment of deficits. In addition, politicians very seldom get elected by causing deflation. Almost everyone likes inflation. If you are a government and inflate prices, then you keep people struggling and working hard to keep pace with inflation. The poorer the people are, the more likely they can be kept under control. In addition, inflation for rich people is taxable and deflation is less so. No government ever has an incentive to deflate, but has incentive in fact to inflate. Voters prefer inflation to deflation.” (seepage 19)

 

He would have said this while also acting as the Chancellor of Brock University.

 

May 10, 2010 — The appointment of Dr. Leitch to Dundee REIT is confirmed by Sedar.com (see May 10, 2010, report of voting results).

 

May 2010 — Kellie Leitch is slated to receive 4,607 deferred REIT units for her services as a trustee in the first year (see April 18, 2011, management information circular – within report, view page 6). Her access to sensitive information about the company and advice from owners like Mr. Goodman is granted (view page 9). The compensation structure is outlined and as a trustee, Dr. Leitch will play a role in determining these amounts, including the amount of payment due to Mr. Goodman and approval of deferred units like she received (view pages 12-13). In addition to receiving property investments and a personal stake in government tenants, Leitch receives $21,000 in cash for meeting fees (see page 18). It’s important to understand this compensation was negotiated at the onset, but actual payment would be received into the next year. The deferred units go through a 5 year vesting period, with parts maturing at each anniversary. This would provide Dr. Leitch with steady income for a minimum of 5 years (view page 16).

 

May 2010 — Dundee REIT confirms it will invest $20 million to construct a building for the Government of Canada in Yellowknife, fully leased to the government for 10 years (see May 6, 2010, interim financial statements – within report, view page 21).

 

December 31, 2010 — Kellie Leitch is confirmed to receive $21,000 in cash, for her services at Dundee REIT (see page 18).

 

March 21, 2011 — Much of the Conservative riding executive quits in Simcoe-Grey, due to the ouster of Helena Guergis and the parachuting of Kellie Leitch.

 

March 31, 2011 — As Defence Minister, Peter MacKay visits the riding of Simcoe-Grey to campaign on behalf of Dr. Leitch. On the same day, Dundee REIT releases a business update to Sedar.com that includes important information about its trustees. Leitch is legally reported to live in the municipality of Toronto (see March 31, 2011 – annual information form – within report, view pages 30, 31). This supports the accusation that she was parachuted to another riding.

 

April 12, 2011 — Leitch’s business partner and Dundee Corporation owner, Ned Goodman,purchases considerable interest in resource extraction from the Ring of Fire – a point of deep contention for Northern Ontario Native communities.

 

April 19, 2011 — Peter Cosgrove donates $1,000 to the election campaign of Kellie Leitch (see entry 29). If this was a misspelling, a fellow trustee at Dundee REIT also goes by the name of Peter Cossgrove.

 

April 27, 2011 — Robert Goodall donates $500 to the election campaign of Kellie Leitch (see entry 51). He is a fellow trustee at Dundee REIT.

 

April 29, 2011 — Joanne Ferstman donates $250 to the election campaign of Kellie Leitch (see entry 48). She is a fellow trustee at Dundee REIT.

 

April 29, 2011 — Robert Tweedy donates $250 to the election campaign of Kellie Leitch (see entry 123). He is a fellow trustee at Dundee REIT.

 

May 2, 2011 – Don Charter donates $500 to the election campaign of Kellie Leitch (seeentry 19). He is a fellow trustee at Dundee REIT.

 

May 2, 2011 — Michael Knowlton donates $250 to the election campaign of Kellie Leitch (see entry 69). He was the president, COO, executive vice president and CFO at Dundee REIT. He made this contribution two weeks before retiring from the president’s position.

 

Most donations were recorded at the last minute. Forty per cent arrived on Election Day and this indicates Leitch was in contact with her business partners from Toronto, while the riding of Simcoe-Grey was busy voting. No trustees at Dundee REIT are residents of this riding, according to available financial records. In addition to these individuals, the majority of political donors hail from the Toronto area and their contributions were accepted on May 2, 2011.

 

The return submitted to Elections Canada includes donor names such as Lara Zink (136),Dori Segal (106), David R. Wingfield (133), Kevin Warn-Schindel (128), Linda Rorabeck(100), Lori Turik (122), Kim Shannon (107), Michael S. Ras (95), Partick Meneley (83),Frank Magliocco (77), Onorio Lucchese (75), Blair Levinsky (73), William E. Lardner (71),Landon French (49), Victor Dodig (40), Bradley Cutsey (34), William J. Corcoran (28) andRita Ciccolini. It is this calibre of GTA powerhouses that funded an election campaign in rural Ontario.

 

(To view a candidate’s return within the Elections Canada database, a fresh search must be performed. Once the information for Leitch, Kellie, in the riding of Simcoe–Grey is displayed, select Form 2A to browse donations. Screen captures of this information are also provided below. Please be advised there is nothing improper about the donations, but they did arise from out of town, predominantly on the day of election.)

 

May 2, 2011 — Kellie Leitch is elected Member of Parliament for Simcoe-Grey, defeating Helena Guergis as a new face for the Conservatives.

 

May 12, 2011 — Ten days after the election, MP Leitch accepts paid re-appointment to the Board of Trustees at Dundee REIT (see May 16, 2011 — report of voting results). This happened at a specially scheduled event, in the Toronto Board of Trade, East Ballroom. It would have been clear to everyone that Kellie Leitch was celebrating her election, when she accepted their overtures to oversee a business that relied heavily on the favour of federal government (see pages 1, 6).

 

May 16, 2011 — Kellie Leitch is recorded in the Canada Gazette as being elected to Parliament. According to the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons, she has 60 days from this moment to file her private interests with the Ethics Commissioner for inspection. Since Dr. Leitch was immediately appointed to parliamentary secretary, her ability to engage in private employment would not have been appropriate (seeitem 7). She would not have been able to engage in contracts with the government for which she received benefit, without the Commissioner’s permission and only if the arrangement wouldn’t affect her parliamentary obligations (see items 16, 17, 18). MP Leitch was also required to disclose any income greater than $1,000, including its source, for the 12 months preceding election (see item 21).

 

May 19, 2011 — Dundee REIT acquires the Realex portfolio (see page 84). It includes parts of the University of Waterloo.

 

May 25, 2011 — MP Leitch is appointed to parliamentary secretary by the Prime Minister.

 

July 16, 2011 — MP Leitch was due to submit her disclosure of private income and conflicts of interest to the Ethics Commissioner, in keeping with the 60 day mandate. She failed to do this within the required time and remained engaged with Dundee REIT as a parliamentary secretary.

 

August 15, 2011 — Dundee REIT acquires the Blackstone portfolio for $703 million (seepage 23). It was the largest portfolio ever purchased by a REIT in Canada and this transaction contained significant addresses in the heart of Toronto’s financial district (Bay Street).

 

2011 — Dundee REIT becomes landlord to the National Energy Board, numerous oil and resource companies, WSIB and Government Services for the Department of National Defence (see pages 20-26). Due to the nature of their tenants, Dundee’s liability for environmental protection and the cost of remediating contaminated sites is considered (seepage 27).

 

September 22, 2011 — Parliamentary Secretary Leitch resigns from her position at Dundee REIT. The company attributes this departure to her successful election nearly five months earlier. They note she attended four of five regularly scheduled meetings, meaning it’s probable that some of them occurred while she was a Member of Parliament — unless all the company’s business was conducted prior to May 2nd and the federal election. Leitch accepted remuneration for her service in 2011, in the form of $6,000 cash, 35,000 REIT units and 110,000 deferred REIT units, for a reported value of $151,600 (see April 11, 2012 –management information circular – within report, view page 20 – or see alternate source atpage 20, here).

 

September 26, 2011 — MP Leitch discloses her private interests to the Ethics Commissioner on the public registry. She reports a blind trust and income from the University of Toronto, University of Western and the Ministry of Health. She does not report the $21,000 plus $6,000 received in cash, for her previous twelve months at Dundee REIT, or the current term. She does not report her significant interest in the company’s contracts with government tenants or the oil and resource industries. In fact, there is no mention of Dundee REIT, even though this report is filed four days after resigning the private position and two months after the parliamentary due date.

 

September 29, 2011 — Three days later, MP Leitch makes a correction to her Ethics disclosure. This time she adds ownership of the Khristinn Kellie Leitch Medicine Professional Corporation, but still there is no mention of Dundee REIT.

 

2010 – 2011 — During the first year of Dr. Leitch’s tenure at Dundee REIT in 2010, the Government of Canada leased 333,187 square feet from the company (see page 21). Although she was elected to Parliament in May 2011, MP Leitch didn’t resign the position with Dundee until the end of September. During this period of dual representation, the Government of Canada became the company’s largest tenant, increasing their lease to 1,209,973 square feet in 2011 (see page 19). That’s an unprecedented increase in the company’s history of 263 percent, around the same time this parliamentary secretary was working for both entities. Since her departure from Dundee REIT, the federal government expanded their account to 1,658,129 square feet.

 

2012 — Dundee REIT releases an annual report that cites considerable political influence on their business ventures (see page 44).

 

As the current Minister of Labour, Kellie Leitch could impact the employment concerns of Dundee REIT. She will continue to receive income until her payment cycle completes in 2016, with incentive to meet their needs. There is no concern from government to abstain from voting in parliament, on matters that affect the company or any of the tenants. There is no mention of the environmental pressures to keep many of these clients profitable. The REIT units owned by the minister are more than security investments and there is nothing to indicate the Ethics Commissioner identifies these holdings as remuneration. Minister Leitch could choose between cash and securities, opting for the latter as a lion’s share of compensation. This relationship is further complicated by Dundee’s political interest in the outcome of government decisions from a number of different perspectives.

 

January 17, 2012 — Dundee completes their acquisition of the Whiterock portfolio, becoming a landlord to the Government of New Brunswick, Government of Nova Scotia, Quebec public health, Air Canada, provincial hydro organizations, the US Bank, TD Canada Trust, Royal Bank, Molson, PEI Liquor Control Commission, Nova Scotia Liquor Corp and the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority (see last pages, B-1 to B-4).

 

February 14, 2013 — MP Leitch makes the last update to her ethics disclosure file. This time she adds publicly traded securities and an extra blind trust to the assets column. It’s likely these securities arise from her payment at Dundee REIT; but still there is no cash declared, no mention of remuneration and no mention of the company or its interests.

 

July 15, 2013 — MP Leitch is appointed to Minister of Labour and Minister of the Status of Women.

 

Minister Leitch has been contacted for comment, but none has been forthcoming. The only question that remains is if the commissioner will evaluate these potential conflicts of interest, the primary address of MP Leitch on Election Day and the apparent failure to disclose earned income.

 

***February 13, 2014 UPDATE:  It is now known that MP Leitch donated to the Rob Ford election campaign.  In his financial documents, it lists her home address in the City of Toronto.  FreeThePressCanada will not disclose the exact location, but the election documents are a matter of public record, stored online.

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Ontario Poverty Overview, The Finer Points

(Originally published by Open Government projects and universities in 2010, but mainstream media wasn’t interested in the topic to amend for newspaper format.)

Poverty is a growing epidemic in the province of Ontario, costing us billions of dollars across a wide range of government ministries.  Normally we hear critiques focused on philosophy, program names and groups of people; but while many debate the grander principles, I’d like to discuss the finer points.  No matter anyone’s focus on reducing poverty, there still remains great conflict in the way we deliver patchwork service and agendas.  It is through a collaboration of competing interests, motivations and tunnel vision that cycles of dependency are born and further nurtured by our oversight.  The following is an overview of these conflicts and their impacts on society.  We mustn’t downplay its importance, for this is the very foundation upon which all else is built.

Contributing Factors:

 

1.  Public assistance rates – Are calculated in accordance with the inflation level of 1995.  In 16 years the amounts allotted for rent, utilities and food have not been adjusted to address current reality.

2.  Ontario Works and ODSP lost frontline funding for children – When the Ontario Child Benefit was created, the Basic Needs portion of public assistance was literally clawed back to zero, for anyone under the age of eighteen.  Welfare no longer provides food, clothes, personal care or school supplies to children.  Under the new funding module, the government expects families to access this income via tax returns (OCB), in theory to make it more accessible (ex. working poor).

However, the “new” groups were only accounted for by taking directly from our most vulnerable.  At the end of the day, those on public assistance saw an average increase of $1 – $19 while working families gained closer to $350 per month.

3.  The recession – Placed a considerable amount of new clients into our social welfare system.  The middle class has been chipping away but the last few years have made a stunning impact on the gap between rich and poor.

http://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2010/12/06/GapKiller/

4.  Housing inflation – Has been uncontrollable since our move to a market fetching system.  This practice makes it near impossible for low income families to afford living anywhere at all.  The vast majority of those on public assistance only receive enough to pay the rent with their entire month’s income.  The same is true of many working minimum wage, part time, contract and seasonal positions.

5.  Near abandonment of subsidized housing – Has been the norm as counties see little incentive to invest in this protection of community.  This is an issue that’s been placed in local hands, where the greatest bias has the potential to exist, conflicts of interest and no motivation to act charitably.

6.  Total abandonment of the Poverty Reduction Strategy – Painstaking consultations were procured by government, remedies were put in place, promises were made, but very little has been enacted.  Here’s a copy of that mandate:

http://www.children.gov.on.ca/htdocs/English/breakingthecycle/index.aspx

7.  Uninspiring wage penalties via OW and ODSP – The public assistance system has been revised countless times, in the name of progress and yet always at a cost to its recipients.  The current method actually deters people from working and sets up an atmosphere of all or nothing.  It also divides families believe it or not.

Anyone on welfare who obtains employment pays deductions from their monthly allowance.  In the case of ODSP, a client will pay the same taxes, EI premiums, CPP contributions and union dues just like anyone else.  They are further penalized 50% from their gross earned wages by ODSP in the following month, so they’ve lost well over 75% of their take-home pay by the time government is done.

Ontario Works is worse yet.  The client pays all taxes like everyone else and then faces 100% deduction of gross pay, thereby leaving them with even less than if they hadn’t worked.  This happens for the first 4 months and if the client has managed to maintain the same position for consecutive months, they will finally be converted to the 50% deduction schedule.

If children in these low income families attempt employment (even part time at McDonald’s during high school) it will be considered family income.  They will face the same deductions as their parents and be forced to support the adults in their family.  Therefore we can assume they will never be able to save up for a class trip, extra curricular activity or proper clothing.

While it’s not entirely a provincial issue, recipients of CPP Disability are only allowed to make $4200 per year without being disqualified from benefits.  This speaks for a great amount of mentally ill, terminally ill and physically challenged persons.  If they manage to recover for a period of time and make an effort to seek employment, they may find themselves abandoned from support and forced into the regular welfare system.

In any event, all methods discourage participants from working, as they stand to receive less income for even trying.  And so the cycle is born.

8.  No access to social care – Exists in smaller communities.  These “towns” account for the majority of Ontario and struggle with lacking support systems.  Most do not have a domestic violence centre or transportation to one.  They don’t have soup kitchens, Out of the Cold programs, parenting courses, child counseling or a host of other interventionist measures.  They also don’t have community resource agencies connecting them with information and referral.  In cities with better access there are waiting lists and countless thousands turned away.

 

Complications and Mounting Costs:

 

1.  Cost of living is insurmountable – And has resulted in numerous consequences.  When incomes don’t nearly reflect basic expenses, we find our vulnerable population living on the very fringe of existence.  The onus of getting families by has been placed on the shoulders of charity and grassroots, who are not capable of being responsible for an entire province alone.

 

The Winter Warmth program runs out of funds in its first month every year for the last 3 years running (locally).  This means anyone who is facing heat disconnection will have to go without if they didn’t apply for help by the end of December.

The Barrie, ON food bank recently invested in a warehouse twice the size because it can’t keep up with local demand.  They’re serving 21,000 families per year and turning away an average of 800 per month.  Smaller communities have to export their poor to the nearest urban centre because they are isolated from support in the vast in-between.  In the meantime, small town food banks appeal to their municipalities for thousands more when their cupboards run bare:

http://anewsvideo.ca/play.php?vid=322

(Watch at 9:25 for newscast on food banks & 10:13 for confirmation of amount without service)

We know 100% of income is going to shelter in many cases and the only sustenance families receive comes from the food bank.  Except these supplies weren’t designed to last more than a week and records show around 1/3rd of visitors are children and 1/3rd are senior citizens.  Many people think food bank users are lazy or spend their money on drugs, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Here’s a copy of an especially thorough report titled The Cost of Poverty.  It was written by the Ontario Association of Food Banks at the end of 2008 and is the first study of its kind to tie the majority of elements together.  They’ve calculated poverty-induced, health related costs at $2.9 billion alone.  They find our methods of ignoring poverty come with a price tag of $13.1 billion annually, which trickles down to $2895 per Ontario household.

 

The report goes on to look at the characteristics of our system and determines 45.4% of single mothers struggled with poverty in 2001.  But the recession has since hit our economy and numbers have only skyrocketed.   Whereas minorities might have been able to secure available part time positions, today the competition is fierce.  At the time, 40% of Ontario’s disabled were skimping by at the lowest possible income quintile as well:

http://www.oafb.ca/assets/pdfs/CostofPoverty.pdf

2.  Ontario children no longer have access to emergency food, clothing or personal care– Since basic needs were removed from the public assistance structure, there is no ability to provide them with immediate support outside of foster care.  This is forcing countless families to remain in abusive situations.

Here is a prime example:  A husband and wife or common law couple has children together.  She’s a stay-at-home mom and he earns a good wage at $80K per year.  They don’t qualify for the Ontario Child Benefit together when claiming income tax.

The husband is abusive however and the mom enters a shelter with her children.  She technically has no income and applies to Ontario Works so they can find a home and begin rebuilding, until she can develop skills and secure employment.

Because the Ontario Child Benefit (OCB) and National Child Benefit Supplement (NCBS) are processed by Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), mom will have to file for separation from her husband and 6 months to a year must pass before the government accepts their new family structure.  Even so, it may take longer before a full year’s income tax will reflect what she’s entitled to, as CRA calculates from the year prior.  Countless months will pass before this newly single parent will be able to access “baby bonus” (to provide food for her children) and she may feel she is not able to afford leaving the situation.

In the meantime the only contingency is what’s called the Transitional Child Benefit (TCB), administered by public assistance.  A client must first prove they’re not entitled to baby bonus which can take months in itself.  Welfare can then loan $189 per month to make up for the shortfall.  If the family receives money from any source in the future (child support order, baby bonus, inheritance, insurance, EI, gifts), they will have to repay the amount “borrowed” in full however.

This was the most oppressive policy against children in recent memory.  Taking funds from the frontlines put them directly in harm’s way and more than 350,000 kids had to line up under a Salvation Army sign for dinner last year.  In rural communities they don’t even have that.

http://thecapitalworks.cusjc.ca/2010/11/16/food-bank-use-sets-13-year-high/

The Children’s Aid Society has also seen an influx of calls.  As mentioned, when a family can’t provide the necessities of life, the state has an obligation to step in.  Here is the Canadian Bar Association’s depiction of the overload.  It also illuminates a lack of access to Legal Aid.  Since that program was clawed back it added even more complication:

http://www.cba.org/CBA/National/junjul03/feature1.aspx

3.  Social Services require complete loss of all worth before stepping in – This has only taken the recession and made it worse.  Countless families are trying to cope with job loss and the death of our traditional manufacturing sector.  They’re running out of EI benefits now.  They’ve missed as many payments as possible before the bank gets cranky and we’re standing at the precipice of foreclosure due to unpaid property tax (normally spanning 3 years of non payment).

These are oftentimes educated people who were directly impacted by illness or a cutthroat economy.  A former Director from Queen’s University befell the same fate, demoted from an executive lifestyle to homelessness because of disability:

http://www.tvo.org/TVO/WebObjects/TVO.woa?videoid%3F756011455001

We expect them to sell their homes and live off the proceeds until there is truly nothing left.  They must be near a state of bankruptcy before public assistance will qualify anyone.  This policy destabilizes the population directly, at a time when it is trying desperately to rebuild and reinvent itself.  An Ontario mother and former Bell executive explains in her own words:

http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/906127

4.  Homelessness is frighteningly on the rise – Families carry the highest rate of homelessness today.  There was a 51% increase in those housed at shelters and a 60% increase of children taken into foster care “as a direct result of housing deficiencies”.  If only I could surround those numbers in neon lights to grab your attention.The Registered Nurses Association of Ontario offers a more concise look at the characteristics of this situation:

http://www.rnao.org/Page.asp?PageID=122&ContentID=2085&SiteNodeID=398

In areas outside the city, we don’t have Out of the Cold programs or shelters, nor can any low income family technically afford market rent.  The only alternative is hospitalization to the tune of $2500+ per month:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/toronto/homeless-patients-cost-2500-more-per-hospital-stay-study-finds/article1933517/

5.  Affordable housing is not a priority for municipalities – A good example is Collingwood, ON who just disbanded their housing committee, or Toronto who suggests getting out of the business entirely.  Placing subsidized options in the hands of municipalities makes it hard to convince one neighbour to dish out the $2895 to support the fellow next door (amount of tax burden per household).  Despite any government subsidy, this is what the situation amounts to and why we’ve lost so many units.  From 1995 to 2003 the affordable market cut 127,680 offerings while 158,456 families joined the waiting list.  Since the recession we’ve only seen more needing assistance and a brazen unwillingness to respond:

http://www.thestar.com/news/torontocouncil/article/952130–new-tchc-director-has-criticized-management-and-said-the-city-can-t-afford-social-housing?bn=1

Please view the attitude Ontario’s most vocal mayor is sharing with his constituents (26 sec):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8YZQ4oQjxgc

Just today a new report was released by the reputable Wellesley Institute to confirm the federal government is quashing affordable housing of every type as well.  They’re cutting another 50,000 spaces in addition to dissolving the home repairs fund.  This means families who manage to find an abode will be forced to live in dilapidated conditions and the cuts will be unanimous by every level of government:

http://www.wellesleyinstitute.com/uncategorized/latest-federal-spending-estimates-confirm-sharp-cuts-to-national-housing-homelessness-investments/

6.  Forsaking the Ontario Poverty Reduction Strategy – Is destroying the base by which we can be measured.  When contemplating the economic recovery of Ontario, we must consider our reputation to business.  Our statistics dropped so dramatically that we were rebuked by UNICEF and the UN.  Canadian children are worse off for shelter, food and clothing than those in Portugal or the Czech Republic:

http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/900891–rich-countries-let-poorest-children-fall-behind

In 2007 we ranked 15th and have since fallen to 17th place.  In more detailed categories like family relationships we sadly scored dead-last.  Hopefully these are warning signs the good people of Ontario will take to heart:

http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/Canada/20070214/child_wellbeing_070214/

7.  Our poverty help system is punitive in nature – Promoting patterns of absolute breakdown and continued dependency.  “Zero Dollar Linda’s” story went viral amongst health and social work groups and she’s a perfectly good example of this conundrum:

http://www.thestar.com/news/article/894037

Adding to the confusion is the method in which we collect deductions from public assistance.  When a recipient of OW or ODSP works in March they will report their earnings before the end of the month.  The penalty won’t be taken until April 30th however.  This delay only leaves a client vulnerable if they can’t maintain the status quo.  This happens frequently to seasonal, temp and disabled workers, where an entire month will have to lapse before their family could receive support.  It doesn’t matter if they paid bills or lived responsibly.  The qualifier is going 30 days without any income first.  And by the time benefits are reinstated, the family is already receiving disconnection notices.  This will result in being a month behind for the rest of the entire year.

We have threatened our most vulnerable population in the most intimate of ways.  They must live without food, shelter and without their children for trying to make the climb out of poverty.  Their health and stability will be affected and the cost of putting kids in state care is astronomically greater than providing the basics to their parents.

8.  Isolating communities from social support – Turns early intervention opportunities into full blown emergencies.  When a woman can’t seek counseling for domestic violence or information about getting out; this can result in terrible injuries, police, court involvement and tremendous cost to public agencies.  According to the OPP these charges have doubled since the recession.

When a wayward parent can’t access a Triple P parenting program (the gold standard in correcting discipline issues, promoted by every regional health unit), an issue that could have been resolved with education may grow into child abuse.

When they can’t access Legal Aid they end up in a holding cell for 6 months for stealing a loaf of bread.  And when they can’t access counseling for their troubled children, they too grow up through the court system instead.  Despite the social safety we’re so proud of, it’s not within reach for Ontario’s in-between places.  Our services have eroded so far that they’re only offered in larger cities.

Strategies to Make a Real Difference:

 

1.  Establish the $100 Healthy Food Benefit – As outlined at PutFoodInTheBudget.ca, this would directly infuse our most vulnerable households with an increase in groceries.  It must be calculated per person and would make sense to expand to children.  It should also come with protections so no corresponding clawbacks could defeat the purpose (ex. further deductions from the Basic Needsportion of public assistance cheques).

2.  A strong commitment to affordable housing – Is imperative to avert an epidemic in homelessness, especially that of families who constitute the heart of a stable society.

3.  Put children’s Basic Needs back in frontline funding – And enable families to deal with their own fundamental survival.  By canceling coverage through Ontario Works and ODSP offices, we knowingly oppress our own kids from eating for months at a time.  The Ontario Child Benefit did nothing to alleviate our most poor and put them in greater danger, just because of how the program is administered.  This is hardly different from Third World countries where residents obtain “rations” from federal government and aid agencies now.  It also goes a long way to explain the troubling spike in young food bank visitors.

The Ontario Child Benefit may provide relief at the end of a tax year, but it doesn’t help with the onset of an emergency.  In fact, 5% of eligible, low income families haven’t managed to access “baby bonus” at all.  This means imperative funds are diverted to government coffers to collect interest, while more and more children go without.  It’s also a good indicator that federal management of our provincial poverty initiatives is strikingly ineffective.

http://www.moneyville.ca/article/939401–roseman-benefits-go-begging-when-rules-unclear?bn=1

4.  Increase public assistance rates to reflect current inflation – 16 years of tax and rate increases have gone by without recognition.  Back in those days gas sold for 45 cents a liter and bread was 49 cents a loaf.  Today those amounts have tripled and they’re only going up.  Most families are afraid to even mention the word hydro.  It’s just not possible to afford basic staples in the present market with a pay schedule from 1995.  With respect, I feel this expectation is rather curious.

5.  Restructure the way deductions are taken from public assistance recipients – So the program will encourage families to make more frequent attempts at employment opportunities and allow them to contribute to their own support in a fair and just manner.  Remarkably, no one else in Canada pays a higher rate of combined “taxes”, penalties and deductions.  No other group of children is required to support their parents either.  By deducting 100% of children’s wages, we only teach them not to participate in the workforce.  And so the cycle continues.

6.  Provide reasonable access to childcare – And maintain full day kindergarten.  Canada has one of the lowest birthrates, producing only 1.5 children per household.  The biggest part of the problem is mom and dad can’t afford to raise a family.  The average cost of daycare is $200 – $300 per week, per child and that’s over half a family’s income in many cases.  So if childcare is $1000 per month, rent is $900, hydro $200 and groceries at $500; the couple would have to earn $5200 per month to surpass the Low Income Measure.  This doesn’t account for telephone, internet, tv, vehicle, bus pass, insurance, personal needs or clothes.  If they add a second child to their home they will have to boost their income to $7200 per month to live without risk of homelessness or hunger.  If one of them fell sick for 2 weeks it would be enough to put the family unit in danger.  By comparison, the most this family would receive from welfare is $1062 if times ever got tough.  (The LIM suggests spending 50% of income to cover basic needs is too uncertain.  To qualify for a mortgage banks stipulate these expenses can only account for 30%.)

 

Childcare is the Achilles Heel of every working family, but it poses the greatest barrier to those still looking for a job.  This is the future of Ontario and we need to invest in its care more wisely.

7.  Allow those on public assistance to apply for student loans – otherwise we have yet another cog in the cycle of dependency.  Any person has a greater chance of employability with education and again, this is the only group barred from equal access.  If they accept a student loan for books and course fees, they will become disqualified from Ontario Works and ODSP for food and shelter in return.  This particular discrepancy contributed to the death of a Sudbury, ON woman:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kimberly_Rogers

By denying education to the impoverished we are only teaching future generations the same, unengaged behaviour.  We also prevent a great number of disabled persons from a life of productivity, showing them barriers instead of a method to overcome them.  We take ready minds, able bodies and shut them down instead of providing the tools to flourish and earn returns for our province.  Then society points fingers and claims this group made a choice not to participate, when some of them have literally died trying.

8.  Implement a Guaranteed Annual Income strategy – For all adults, not just senior citizens.  This method has proven successful with the target group and a past pilot project in Dauphin, Manitoba produced the same results for families in poverty:

http://www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca/e/40308.html

Dr. Evelyn Forget conducted the study on behalf of government with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research from 1974 – 1979.  Despite its success however, politics and economy of the day brought a swift end to poverty reduction concerns.  This option has been debated for 30 years by members of every political party and Conservative Senator Hugh Segal is the Guaranteed Annual Income’s most current proponent:

http://www.hughsegal.ca/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=126%3Asocial-inclusion-and-poverty-reduction&catid=21%3A2010&Itemid=27&lang=en

While I understand there are drawbacks to implementing such an overhaul, the payback is worth its weight in gold and healthcare.  The latter raises particular concern when we consider changes to Ontario (and Canada) demographics on the horizon.  In the near future 1/3rd of our population will have to support the remaining 2/3rd of aged residents.  The older group will be subject to a higher rate of illness while the younger workforce won’t have access to pensions or benefits for their own growing families.

We have to expect some bumps in the road and making it impossible for the working class to recover from challenges will be at our own peril.  Food, utilities and shelter have become precious luxuries already.  Add the cost of carrying the majority of our population with the smaller, remaining tax base and compound that with 50% – 100% deductions from gross wages, along with no childcare and we have a recipe for disaster.  At the end of the day a Guaranteed Annual Income appears to be the most successful answer to circumvent countless oppressive policies, encourage productivity and maintain the health of families as they take on this daunting, historical task.

9.  Promote a provincial structure to provide community resource in rural areas – This will make great strides in coping with isolation.  With the least amount of dollars we can accomplish the most good, by making our social safety net accessible to a larger audience.

This would require a parent body to oversee grassroots providers in smaller populations, where they could tap into core programs essential to their communities.  They may include parenting courses, educational material in elder issues or other staples of community support.

Community resource acts as a satellite for information and referral.  It is often early intervention in a wide array of social challenges and saves a heavy burden on more expensive responses like 911, OPP, ER, CAS and the court system.  It’s a vessel to solutions and a catalyst of self sufficiency when residents are faced with difficult events.

I’ve mentioned how poverty and homelessness relate to health care, but our population is about to experience its greatest growing (shrinking) pains in history.  This will be a new phenomenon as baby boomers age out of the workforce and become more dependent on their much smaller group of offspring.  They will be adapting to changes such as ill health, lost pensions and widowhood.

In the case of the latter, perhaps a husband did the banking and drove all these years so his wife would be at a disadvantage without him.  Or a wife cooked and looked after her husband’s medication, but he lacks culinary skills and isn’t sure what the pink or blue pill was for.  They are now lost without their partners.

With access to community resource we can teach the woman pertinent life skills and arrange for volunteer drivers.  We could also teach the gentleman how to cook in a group with others who are facing the same challenges, so he remained independent and developed the support of friends.  We could further arrange plans through his local pharmacy to manage the medication safely.  In these 2 examples we’ve saved the cost of a nursing home, ER and putting stress on CCAC homecare before it was truly necessary.

To ensure this project is viable for rural communities the province would need to provide central management of core resources.  The cost of operating this way comes with savings in itself and any common programs or literature can be shared amongst regional areas.  This structure can accommodate the hiring of 1 course provider to float between grassroots offices, from month to month.  In January they can run a 6 week course in Collingwood and in the middle of February the same person can spend 6 weeks in Wasaga Beach etc.  In another area 1 employee could be responsible for Ancaster, Stoney Creek, Grimsby, Winona and West Lincoln.  It’s a cost effective means of reaching far more isolated people.  The alternative is providing transportation to “the city” and Social Services already complain that’s one of their most overwhelming budgets.

I’m not suggesting we provincially mandate all social groups, but providing a small office filled with information to populations of 10,000 (grouped or alone) seems like a good option to manage dwindling resources.  It’s a social emergency location where clients will be met by a guidance counselor of sorts.  If we don’t give people a place to speak and be counted, they will find it on the other end of 911.

I know there are many “solutions” to poverty, but the important part is that we take action on some of them.  Access to life sustaining employment is obviously the foremost concern in everyone’s minds.  But while our economy rebuilds and numerous families have found their way to the margins, we have a duty to ensure the whole process of recovery is cohesive and productive, as opposed to conflicting and punitive.  In reflection of these fears, TVO reported social services ranked in the top 3 issues according to the electorate.  It notably surpassed both healthcare and education:

http://www.yourvote2011.ca/?p=1222

And finally I’ll leave you with the 2010 report card on child and family poverty in Ontario:

http://www.campaign2000.ca/reportCards/provincial/Ontario/2010OntarioReportCardEnglish.pdf

The Occupy Movement, A Detailed Explanation

(This was previously published by CBC when I was an Occupy Toronto correspondent.  All Occupy related articles have since been migrated to the archives section.  A live link is no longer accessible and the original would need to be sought by request from the broadcaster.)

 

It’s a widespread, global phenomenon; the greatest revolution of our time – and yet no one can seem to put their finger on it.  The participants haven’t summarized the problem in three weeks’ time and the media isn’t sure where to begin.  So what’s this Occupy Movement all about?

 

On Saturday, October 15th, I will join with citizens from every nation in what is set to be a record breaking event, with the Toronto chapter.  Representatives for 99% of the world’s population are intent to be heard, uniting their voices as one.  This movement now spans every continent except Antarctica.  But is this for teachers, pilots, unionists, the unemployed, middle class, impoverished… or is it a bunch of communists as some corners have suggested?

 

The first question that begs answering is who are the 99% and how did they get that way.  They are you and me and everyone we’ve ever known.  Unless you’re part of the 1%, you’re part of the 99 and it’s just that simple.  The middle class has a tendency to view themselves separate from the woes of common man, but rest assured the consequences apply to them too – especially them, in fact.

 

Ultimately the occupation results from “trickle down economics”, to put a very complex set of circumstances in a single nutshell.  According to the Conference Board of Canada, the gap has been growing between rich and poor for more than two decades.  The disparity grew by the greatest proportion in Canada, where average incomes remain stagnant with levels of the 1970’s.  After factoring inflation and debt, our value from wages has actually decreased 10%.   The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives paints a stark contrast for the top 1%, who happened to increase their value 219 times greater than any of us.

 

The score is -10 versus +219.  This kind of disparity hasn’t been seen since the Great Depression and even then society’s wealthiest only controlled 8% of income growth, whereas they control an entire third today.  In response to that historic calamity, governments were forced to respond with public policy that addressed fair taxation and wages.  The goal was to redistribute prosperity even-handedly to prevent another collapse of the country.  Presently however, they control as much as 42.5% of our wealth and government has insisted on lowering their taxes, again to levels not seen since the Depression.  It’s apparent those lessons have been forgotten and astute historians are intent on getting the message out before lines under Salvation Army signs quadruple.

 

The theory to cut taxes for the 1% says this will result in trickle down benefits for the other 99.  It’s supposed to create jobs and cause the market to remunerate us properly based on natural forces.  It’s supported by both the IMF and OECD in the global view of financing.  Except all data shows the benefactors continue to pocket the overwhelming profits and fail to invest in our workforce.  They’reinvesting 40% less in their businesses than they were before the gift of major tax reductions.  That means our so-called stimulus is filtered straight to their bank accounts and they’re taking even more from profit margins.

 

This is like asking us to ignore an elephant in the room.  There have been 11,724 foreign takeovers of Canadian companies in the last 25 years and all our jobs are exported with them.  It was thought through even distribution of global competition that we could replace these countless industries.  But we’ve been forced to reckon with the inability to maintain a system of minimum wage, health or safety regulations and remain competitive with countries that don’t have them.  We’ve already cut costs at a detriment to safety and felt the repercussions through Walkerton and Maple Leaf.  The utilization of employment agencies and repeated attempts at union busting already serve to decrease our wages or any access we had to benefits.  All in the name of shining us up, so we look our best for the 1%.

 

In another bid to win their favour, our governments are deregulating everything from banking to trade, takeovers, wheat, power, food and pharmaceuticals.  Canada has been undergoing a personality makeover to morph into the US and it’s been a harsh battle to keep our social network balanced with the shift toward total capitalism.

 

The FIAT monetary system also bears mention.  At the same time a gap defining rich from poor was allowed to establish, so too was this currency adopted.  No longer was money gold-backed and instead it became traded on the stock market based on debt, wars, ability to repay, GDP, employment rates, investment and poverty.  Since debt is now factored into dollar value, governments have found themselves printing money without the ability to repay it and as a result cause hyperinflation.  The history of FIAT currency has ended in complete failure, without exception, since the beginning of money in 800 AD and bureaucracy only turns to this method of calculating wealth in times of trouble to artificially pad their value.

 

But the moment of truth has arrived and 99% can no longer afford to live within reason.  We’re not making enough to afford inflation, depreciation of wages, or repayment of a deficit to cushion the elite.  We can least afford the cuts to public services that are sacrificed to maintain this pretense of funny-money in our time of suffering.

 

Financial industry employment already outnumbers public sector jobs by 4% to 0.82% respectively.  By the year 2023 they are predicted to control the majority of employment across Canada, should present trends continue.  For every doctor, teacher, police officer, fire fighter, social worker, EI counselor, garbage collector and soldier –  there are four stock brokers, insurance agents and bankers to steer our agendas and speak for our needs.

 

This is how pressure becomes placed on our governments to accommodate deregulation that increases prices, again in an effort to pad the 1% at our expense.  They’re the folks who do the advising, they approve loans for governments in trouble and they fund a majority of major political parties.  Talk about a conflict of interest!  And yet the current Canadian federal government is making laws to end subsidy based on votes and force every party to embrace financing from the 1%.  They also do what they can to prevent unions representing public interests from participating.

 

When that wasn’t enough, the deregulated markets took up the art of speculating.  For those who don’t understand, speculation is the process of buying something (in large quantities) without the need or perhaps intention to sell it.  This artificially manufactures shortages and drives up prices for the 99%.  You’ve watched the result of this activity unfold at the gas pump increasingly throughout the years.  We’re paying the same price per barrel of oil today, as we were when it cost 79 cents at the gas station.  The price has only risen to $1.30/litre now, specifically because of speculation.

 

Since middle class incomes haven’t risen effectively for more than a quarter century and the cost of living has gone through the roof, we also lost our buying power – which is essential to keep a capitalist system functioning.  We were thoroughly supported by manufacturing to meet our own demands, but can only need so many TVs, cars or new clothing patterns and our ability to purchase them on a whim has diminished.

 

So enters the business of speculation and commodities.  We still must eat, drive and light up our homes.  Again through deregulation and privatization, we’ve seen hydro, insurance and interest only climb and once those avenues were saturated they started tinkering with our food.  The 1% is now gambling with our ability to eat, the same way they did with hedge funds and everything else that bubbled over.

 

Global markets are now speculating on corn, grains, sugar and water – the basis we need to make all else.  Like clockwork it’s already doubled our prices at the grocery store, the same as they did with oil.  The 1% has run out of things to increase their incomes beyond the 220% benchmark and they haven’t stopped at anything to maintain their status quo.

 

Further complicating matters is the logistical problem with 1% holding everyone’s wealth.  We’re told they’re “too big to fail” and have to cover their tab for unbridled, vicious grabs at even more of the economy.  They created the internet bubble, housing bubble, finance bubble, food bubble and oil bubble, but the system is set up so they continue to benefit no matter what they’ve done to the economy while you and I are forced to pay for it – WE, the 99%.

 

Last but not least this eats into our tax base, as they lobby governments for deeper cuts and fewer regulations still.  The bulk of our services like health care, child care, education, pensions, EI and housing are on the chopping block because we can’t afford to provide public services while covering the debts of the rich.  The 99%’s debts are forever owed to the 1% and the 1% shift their debts to the 99%.  It might be brilliant if it wasn’t so blatant.

 

The result of these high stakes experiments is the disappearance of a middle class.  It’s predicted for 2025 in Toronto and most cities around the world are similar.  I don’t think there’s any coincidence between financial markets dominating the workforce by 2023 and the collapse of families on its heels 2 years later.

 

I hope this explains why we’re the 99% and everyone needs to support this movement, no matter which path they take to get there.  Ultimately you’re not protesting the people who work on Bay Street, or the police for that matter (they’re the 99% too)!  The financial district was chosen as a symbol of capitalism gone awry, without the courage of governments to control them in the best interests of their people.  And make no mistake; while Canadian banking is more regulated than our counterparts, the entire act of trading, speculation, lending and borrowing is still done on the same global playing field, to the same rules and repercussions.  The attitude of governments is how to become a bigger player in that game, as opposed to moderating the Billionaires Gone Wild before we’re manipulated to ruin.

 

The Occupy movement is not asking for “a” program.  They’re not asking for “a” tax rebate.  What they’re asking for is fundamental change within our system and readdressing priorities like our forefathers had to do in times of disparity past.  This is no easy task on a global scale, but it’s precisely why we elect governments and it’s their job to enter an open discussion in favour of solutions.  The gig is up and 99% of us are ready to take our balls home – or stare through windows in every financial district until they have the courage to notice.

 

This isn’t a fringe group of radicals or anyone holding a grudge from the G20.  This is Grandma, Grandpa, Mom and Dad; Suzy, Bobby and Rufus too.  The most people ever documented in history will be joining together to begin a dialogue with their governments on Saturday.  We can’t afford what amounts to trickle down economics to support the 1% anymore.  Two thousand new entries were made on the critical housing list in Toronto just last month.  40% of our food bank users are now children.  A full third of many communities are already dining there.

 

When situations were radically unfair and unmanageable in the 1960s, our families united and led the way for reluctant governments then too.  Call them hippies, call them whatever you like.  But I call them honest and courageous, agents of positive change.  No one in history will argue they didn’t do something necessary that shaped our future for the better.  The time has come for us to show the same care to our children.

 

***Added February 13, 2014 for educational value.  Please see this fantastic animation that makes the economic situation crystal clear.

Was Rob Ford Talking Drugs On The Danforth?

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/amy-macpherson/mayor-rob-ford-danforth-disaster_b_3737576.html

 

Was Rob Ford Talking About Drugs on the Danforth?

Posted: 08/11/2013 9:18

 

This weekend marks a staple celebration in Toronto, and the mayor of Canada’s largest city was there. Rob Ford attended Taste of the Danforth; not as a proper ambassador, but rather as a patron intent to enjoy the festivities intoxicated.

 

YouTube users have been flooding the site with video evidence of their concerns, prolonging the mayor’s woes with media inquiries into his suspected struggles with substance abuse. The Toronto Star as well as the Globe and Mail have addressed the recent spectacle, but what seems to be overlooked is a poignant entry that may indicate a reference to cocaine.

 

As Ford poses for pictures with festival goers on the street, he comes across a fellow who he repeatedly refers to as “brother”. Amid the intoxicated slurs, the mayor appears to ask if someone in the group is looking for “blow” and confirms that he has some (although what he claims to possess is unproven).  See this clip at 0:17 (UPDATE: The Toronto Star enhanced this audio and found Rob Ford said “cologne” not “blow”)

 

(Video now removed from source, a copy can be found at the Toronto Star)

 

Blow is a nickname for cocaine, raising new suspicions about the infamous crack video first covered by Gawker. The fallout has claimed numerous members of the Ford political entourage, as they departed from City Hall and the world at large encouraged the mayor to seek help for drug addiction.

 

The newest “drug video” has been viewed nearly 18,000 times on some sites, as listeners attempt to discern a controversial quote attributed to Rob Ford,

 

“You want some blow? I’ll get you some blow. I have it, seriously!”

 

These words do appear to be uttered by Toronto’s mayor and whether Ford raised the issue of drugs with constituents or one of them inquired about his troubles, it should be noted that he didn’t condemn the conversation. Instead it was a jovial and carefree moment that substances can induce, when a user isn’t sober enough to realize the consequence of their words and actions.

 

Toronto is a world class city that deserves to be represented in kind and regardless of any smack talk about illicit drugs, there is still the issue of alcohol to contend with. Sarah Thomson previously accused the mayor of inappropriate behaviour while under the influence and despite his denials, the Danforth reinforces similar concerns.

 

Another resident posted video citing worries the mayor was drunk and had driven to the festival. In fairness to Ford he does say that he isn’t driving when pressed on the issue, but others reported him by the vehicle later in the evening.

 

 

Ford used his party time to seek the spotlight while posing for countless pictures. He knew all eyes were on him because he was smiling for the attention. He knows the cloud of suspicion that surrounds him is darkening the city’s reputation and causing dysfunction within city council. He didn’t use this opportunity to speak about responsible drinking or provide a good example, nor did he address the economic and cultural benefits that come from hosting events like Taste of the Danforth.

 

That was too much to ask from a man who is tasked with managing the concerns of millions and the only business Rob Ford wishes to discuss is where to find the next venue with mind-altering substances. In lieu of drumming up support for business and community, the mayor was concerned with partying. He promoted public intoxication over public safety and couldn’t see beyond enjoyment of self in what some would call a slurring stupor.

 

So the question begs to be asked, is this the face constituents want to represent their interests while attracting committed business to the metropolis? Is this how the mayor behaves when negotiating deals with corporate friends? Are these the actions of a leader or truly Conservatives ideals? Is Ford’s judgement sound or is it really shaded by addiction?

 

Let us not forget the mayor is a fishing buddy to our Prime Minister and a previous party to celebrate their pursuit of a Tory trifecta was attended by the most powerful CPC personalities.


 

They say we’re judged by the company we keep and to date the mayor is alleged to be friendly with convicted, stabbed and/or dead drug dealers.  Stephen Harper considers Ford to be part of his inner circle and our country’s leader was surrounded by Mike Duffy, Nigel Wright, Patrick Brazeau, and Mike Sona as well.  All individuals are innocent until proven guilty, but can we name another Prime Minister who was dogged by so many illicit allegations in his entourage, or intoxicated partners who repeatedly star in questionable videos?

David Suzuki Empowers 8,000 Youth To Wake Up Canada

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/amy-macpherson/david-suzuki-wake-up-canada_b_3212833.html

 

David Suzuki Empowers 8,000 Youth to Wake Up Canada!

Posted: 05/05/2013 10:16 pm

The saying goes, if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? According to 8,000 Ontario youths it surely does. You just wouldn’t know from media outside this Windsor community despite their resounding hollers and applause.

 

On April 25, 2013, renowned scientist Dr. David Suzuki attended the WFCU Centre to empower the crowd with his Wake Up Canada call. It’s a campaign organized by the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition (CYCC) to support a day of action, encouraging kids to advocate for their environmental future through the very media that overlooked them this time around.

 

The event was broadcast province-wide with the help of TVCogeco, but still there was little response from adults or acknowledgement of this priceless opportunity for students across Ontario. Guest speakers came all the way from British Columbia to help unite Canadians and foster our understanding that we’re all in this together — that the legacy we leave our children really does matter, especially to them.

 

This jam-packed hockey stadium hosted fellow speakers in the Wake Up Canada entourage. They included a First Nations activist with Greenpeace, Melina Laboucan Massimo. She explained the damage of Alberta bitumen harvesting practices and oppression that caused her to leave the reserve she always knew as home.

 

Pictures of tailings ponds shocked the crowd on the overhead screen. Although most of the kids were high school students, some of them were a bit younger. Explaining the threat of chemical leachates contaminating drinking water wasn’t lost on any of them though.

 

Next was Sam Harrison, from Kids for Climate Action. His message was politically focused and it packed a memorable punch. He’s only a young fellow and talking politics to children might have seemed out of place, until he riled his peers with tremendous enthusiasm for what he came this far to say.

 

Six-million children will turn 18 in time to vote in the next federal election. If they all participate, these newly minted adults could be the difference between a minority or majority government of their own doing. He proudly sported a button saying “Future Climate Voter” and the idea of kids having a say in their destiny penetrated deeper than society gives them credit.

 

Some may see our children as playing in parks without a care in the world; but the truth is we uprooted the trees, paved over the grass and polluted the air so badly that they can’t breathe during summer. We replaced their time at parks with a reliance on air conditioning and slathering their bodies in sunscreen to avoid skin cancer. It’s not so much that kids are maturing faster in modern times, as we’re responsible for forcing them to grow up and solve the issues they’ve inherited.

 

Mr. Harrison’s message dovetailed with Dr. Suzuki’s description of the environmental challenges we’ve bestowed upon our children. He candidly offered,

 

“You see, my generation and those that followed, we partied like there was no tomorrow and forgot that there were consequences. We now see the results of living so extravagantly in the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s. My generation left a legacy that you will have to deal with.”

 

He also mentioned that he was speaking with students as a concerned grandfather, after political bullying forced him to abdicate his own board of directors at the David Suzuki Foundation. He wasn’t shy to explain his challenges and this example of muzzling Canada’s scientists brought a rare moment of silence to the arena. Suzuki was genuine and heartfelt in his delivery. The effect was disarming and somehow more real than hearing these issues discussed by concerned pundits on television.

 

But the guests of honour wouldn’t let this gathering end on a sore note. The sobering moments were perhaps so powerful because the rest of the time was filled with laughter, hope, a ton of cheering and a positive plan for the future. On May 30, 2013, kids will share their Wake Up Canada messages to let us know how much they care and that we can all do something about it! It’s a national event, there’s enough time for schools to get involved and the only thing they need from us is a moment to truly listen.

 

Following the grand production a smaller group broke away to meet with Dr. Suzuki and the cast of traveling speakers, barely five minutes away in Tecumseh, Ontario. At the local museum they were joined by Cameron Fenton from the CYCC and Kevin Millsip from Next Up, known for youth leadership training.

 

The purpose of this detour was meant to inaugurate a very special project that was co-founded by the CAW’s Ken Lewenza Jr. (Full disclosure: Lewenza Jr. organized the larger event in Windsor and both were planned together. I’m connected to the latter through social justice initiatives.)

 

The Canvas Campus is a “street tank” of sorts, akin to a think tank but for ordinary people. Young, old, experts and beginners are welcomed to sign on. Its purpose is to offer free education and the Dean of Canvas Campus is the respected Len Wallace, a professor from the University of Windsor.

 

With blessings from David Suzuki and a collective pledge of $50,000 from the labour community, things were off to a good start. The Ontario Federation of Labour‘s Antoni Shelton stopped by for the celebration as well.

 

The Canvas Campus is situated in an Aboriginal Tipi adjacent to the museum and it was launched through consultations with First Nations elders. They cautiously lent Indigenous support and friends of the project attended for the inspiring grand opening. Native art adorns the interior of this culturally respected structure and teaching is shared in the spirit of Tecumseh. (See pictures below)

 

The Tipi is cherished by locals in the Windsor-Essex area, but the initiative isn’t limited by its physical location. Equipped with audio, video, Internet and Skype; the Canvas Campus began its first class by reaching out long distance.

 

Fifty-five students were present with Dr. Suzuki and the many guests who came to share their knowledge. A classroom from Peel Region joined them on a screen set in the centre and this is where the real magic happened, as youths were able to interact and ask questions.

 

Here’s one of the more poignant answers regarding the corporate agenda, the politics of environment and the power of children in this equation:

 


In case anyone thought our kids didn’t care about corporate responsibility, here’s another glimpse of the business minds and curiosity that propelled their teach-in forward:

 

(A full list of video clips can be found on the Canvas Campus website here and photos from the inauguration with links to all speakers is located here.)

 

In the end these grand ideas and global challenges circled back to our own communities. As Dr. Suzuki explained in his experience, it’s been too overwhelming for individuals to contemplate climate change on an international scale. Trying to solve the problems of entire industries or continents can become daunting in a hurry, but it doesn’t need to be that way if we focus on issues in our neighbourhoods.

 

The overarching theme that tied everything together is we can each do our small part and combined it makes a difference. Training ourselves to pick up a piece of garbage each day can equate to 33-million plastic water bottles or cardboard sandwich containers being recycled, also in a single day (Canada alone).

 

The Canvas Campus will continue to provide free learning opportunities and it hopes to grow through membership. Upcoming guests include quantum physicist Bill Baylis and while this educational street-tank began with scientific issues, experts from social justice fields will be added to the roster shortly.

 

If you wish to share your expertise or request a class in the physical and/or Skype audience, you’re invited to contact the Canvas Campus. Topic proposals will be accepted and they’ll do their best to provide an appropriate instructor to meet your needs.

 

This project is dedicated to uniting knowledge from all across the country, as well as fostering a sense of unity and strength at the local community level. Eventually there may be satellites and those interested in expansion should direct their inquiries to Ken Lewenza Jr. Finally, here’s a photo album to demonstrate what all the hype is about.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Part 1/2 – Your CPP Is Funding War Crimes

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/amy-macpherson/cpp-war-crimes_b_2487424.html

Your CPP Is Funding War Crimes

Posted: 01/17/2013 12:09 pm

How would you feel if someone told you that every one of your paycheques was being used to support war crimes and keep the companies accused of these atrocities rolling in lucrative business? And how would you feel if you lived off the avails of torture and bloodshed through the Canada Pension Plan (CPP), upon your long-awaited retirement after paying into it? This appears to be our dirty little secret, that Canadians enjoy prosperity at the unethical demise of others.

 

In a recent interview with Harry Fear we touched on CPP investments and how they contribute to the Israel-Palestine conflict; through complicity in drone warfare, an illegal wall, the death of children and suppression of human rights.

 

While this was enough to make anyone angry, it wasn’t until I received mortified responses from baby boomers that I investigated further. The messages from this demographic were compelling and show that we’re ready to take action to restore our reputation and the shame of these transgressions will not be tolerated.

 

It’s claimed the amounts we contribute to CPP are not enough to cover the population’s living expenses and as a result, the plan turns to the stock market in an effort to generate a sustainable future. We’ve done well enough that organizations are pushing for expansion, to allow Canadian retirees a degree of pride that sustains them above the poverty line. With the amount of privatization, downloading and user fees they will surely need it; but the Harper government says we can’t afford to treat our own a little better.

 

It may indeed be a matter of priorities, but not as we are led to believe from a lack of funding. Instead it’s the difference between humanitarian care for Canadians, versus the pursuit of power in a vicious, military-industrial complex. At the end of the day CPP relief is not available to seniors because the government wants a greater share to invest in pet projects of warfare.

 

Our domestic (PDF) and foreign portfolios (PDF) are available on the CPP Investment Board website. Scanning through the foreign list we come across L-3 Communications Holdings, where we invested $10 million in solidarity with a company held responsible for the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

 

Everyone remembers the horrifically iconic photographs that circulated media from the darkest corners of Iraq. What Canadians may not have realized is that our holding, L-3 Communications, was the first private contractor to settle with victims for $5.8 million to account for their role in the torture and inhumanity.

 

Reprieve is a UK charity focused on the human rights of prisoners. They cite L-3 Communications as not just a violator in the Abu Ghraib case, but also as a”key drone component manufacturer” for the American-made predator. This is the weaponized, remote control aircraft responsible for increasing attacks on civilians in Pakistan and Yemen.

 

According to international law it’s illegal to use armed drones in non-war zones, but no one from the company will acknowledge these concerns. In the meantime, as many as 885 innocents were killed, accounting for 176 children in Pakistan alone. That means every working person in Canada paid about $5 in CPP contributions to make it happen and we continue to perpetuate violence in this corner of the world.

 

But our unethical investments don’t end there. We support Elbit Systems Ltd., on the forefront of miniature drone cars that also kill by remote control. They can take action of their own accord, without the need for human intervention to shoot whatever these Guardium models deem a threat in their computerized judgement. Automatic killing machines pose a challenge to human rights and yet the Canada Pension Plan is behind pushing them to market.

 

Canadians hold another $16 million in CAE, as a partner to Elbit for the purpose of developing Integrated Soldier Systems. Most information has been removed from public view by the Department of National Defence since the project was approved for a tendering process by the Canadian government. Earlier research (PDF) indicates the creation of veritable robo-cops like what we’ve seen in the movies, complimented by eyepieces with pop-up TV screens to feed intel to the troops. This is the military meets Xbox and CPP facilitates this development too.

 

With the presence of hacktivist groups like Anonymous watching over the battlefield and increased warnings from CSIS regarding digital espionage as the biggest threat to our security, a new industry of war games is birthed against conventional wisdom that places profit front of mind with little regard for human beings.

 

In fact, Chinese-based servers are responsible for hacking into Canada’s defence research, treasury and finance departments in an unprecedented breach of our most classified information. Ironically, the Integrated Soldier System was housed in a compromised department and it may still come to pass that the government looks to Anonymous for protection at the rate we’re going.

 

By no means are these the only examples of our financial stake in conflict, but they do represent some of the most heinous crimes and self-inflicted danger that our savings are used to promote. With every paycheque we’re breaking human rights around the world. CPP has been manipulated to terrorize Palestinian children by the hundreds of thousands. Hundreds more are killed across the Middle East and a majority of countries where drones are hovering equipped with missiles. The ones that aren’t weaponized perform surveillance to challenge North American civil liberties and we’re so heavily invested in warfare that if peace occurred, our retirement fund would become bankrupt.

 

It’s important to understand that CPP is not a tax and therefore doesn’t qualify as government revenue (PDF) to do with as it pleases. Despite this, the investment board is a crown corporation that is directly responsible to the federal government and immediately after Prime Minister Stephen Harper was elected in 2006, they updated their policies to encourage aggressive tactics.

 

Dramatic changes followed quickly. In 2007, new legislation altered CPP practices through measures contained in Bill C-36. By April 2007, all CCP assets were transferred to control of the investment board (PDF, see pg. 18, New Investment Policy) and in 2012 they changed from passive management to active management techniques. Aggressive trading requires a team of involved experts and staff at the CPP ballooned from 70 to 811 in the same short period. They’ve opened offices in Hong Kong and London, took on riskier markets, decreased Canadian equities in favour of foreign projects, hedged currency and shifted public holdings to private interests. Our hard-working dollars used to find their place in safer government bonds, but the lion’s share was migrated to a war-centric market.

 

The investment board explains they’re unique from other retirement funds and they’re padded to take on the risk. They’re only expected to share 25 per cent of profits to provide for CPP benefits and the working class pays the rest. With $170 billion in assets now and 18 million people to cover, the plan can already sustain itself for another 75 years. (PDF, see pgs. 1-21, CCPIB Annual Report 2012).

 

Since Conservative rule and the CPP makeover, we’ve borne the brunt of losses great as 18.6 per cent. We must divest from the war machine and put our money where it doesn’t kill, if not for humanitarian grounds then because financially it doesn’t make sense. As international diplomats have said, “Canada is not the good guys anymore — we all have a bit of blood on our hands.”

Part 2/2 – Where Your CPP Money Really Goes

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/amy-macpherson/cpp-money_b_2487663.html

 

Part II: Where Your CPP Money Really Goes

Posted: 01/22/2013 12:30 pm

In part one of this two-part series, we examined the Canada Pension Plan’s (CPP) investment in drones, computerized soldiers, land occupation and an infamous prison scandal. Part two is dedicated to the many potential conflicts of interest — yours, mine, the executives’ and the PMO’s. Some might be moral. Some might be something more.

 

If you look at the CPP Investment Board of Directors, you will find that all but one executive was appointed since the determined change in strategy under the Harper government. These board members are skilled leaders from different industries, but no matter their background, most of them share something in common.

 

Robert Astley was the President of Sun Life. CPP purchased $109 million worth of stock in Sun Life. (See CPP domestic portfolio and foreign portfolio, PDF)

 

Ian Bourne is Chief Executive Officer of SNC-Lavalin.  CPP invested $21 million in SNC-Lavalin in spite of the company being plagued by ties to the Gadhafi regime and fraud charges that are still winding through the courts.

 

Bourne is also the Director of Canadian Oil Sands Limited, which has a large stake in the Syncrude project — the project at the heart of a lawsuit involving Greenpeace and the death of wildlife.  Syncrude was convicted and fined more than half a million dollars. Our CPP investments in this company total $80 million.

 

David Suzuki continues to educate about the misnomers of “ethical oil” and points to other companies in business with the Alberta oil sands. Exxon Mobil has a history of major oil spills. CPP gave them $553 million. Exxon funded a lobby against the Kyoto Protocol, and Canada eventually cancelled our commitment to the international community.

 

BP is responsible for the tragic Gulf Coast oil spill that may cost more than $7 billion in legal settlements to cover the damage.  And if we look in our CPP foreign column, we’ll find $347 million invested in BP.

 

Nexen is another curious entry with $62 million in CPP investments.  It’s unclear what will happen to this particular investment, since Harper made waves by allowing the company to be purchased by China.  The deal was embroiled in controversy regarding national security.  CSIS raised concerns about compromising Canadian intelligence, while the United States rebuked the purchaser’s energy partnership with Iran.  Still, it went unreported that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) had to freeze assets to investigate cases of Nexen insider trading that resulted from our sell-off.

 

CPP also has $218 million invested in TransCanada Corp. They’re the ones fighting for the Keystone XL pipeline that was met with public backlash across the continent. We have another $201 million socked away in Enbridge, which has challenged Native land rights in preparation for the Northern Gateway pipeline.

 

Moving along in our Board of Directors, we arrive at Pierre Choquette was the CEO of Methanex.  Douglas W. Mahaffy is the current director of Methanex.  This company is the world’s largest producer of methanol for petrochemical use.  It received $38 million from CPP.  Choquette further served as a director at TELUS, which received $116 million from CPP.  TELUS employs two former consultants linked to the E-Health scandal that rocked Ontario.

 

Heather Monroe-Blum sits on the Board of Directors for the Royal Bank of Canada.  RBC received $707 million from CPP and is the Plan’s largest domestic holding. That’s putting a lot of our eggs in one basket, which seems unwise, especially when that one company has been implicated in the LIBOR scandal .

 

Karen Sheriff heads Bell Aliant as the CEO and president. CPP invested $21 million with that company.  Joe Mark Zurel is listed as the Director of Major Drilling Group, which also received $12 million from CPP.  Nancy Hopkins is the Director of Cameco Corporation. CPP invested $43 million there.  Robert Brooks was the Vice Chair of Scotiabank.  CPP invested $537 million in the company.  Brooks also headed Dundee Wealth and CPP invested $20 million with Dundee’s parent company.

 

In addition to these revelations, the CPP is a substantial partner of Onex. The Onex Corporation purchased Raytheon’s air division in 2006. Raytheon is a defence contractor. It’s the world’s largest producer of guided missiles and nuclear warheads. These weapons are involved in conflicts from Iraq to Afghanistan, from Libya to Syria and everywhere the U.S. military sets foot. The acquisition of Raytheon’s flight technology created the Hawker Beechcraft company, putting Onex in the business of peddling combat planes to governments.

 

The managing director of Onex was Nigel Wright. He took leave from the position to become our Prime Minister’s chief of staff, exactly two months after CPP entered a multi-billion dollar partnership with his company. While the Conservatives called this “great news for Canada’s economic policy,” the NDP’s Charlie Angus cautioned Wright to “follow the rules” regarding conflict interest.

 

Wright was recently cleared in an ethics probe about the same issue with Barrick Gold (in which CPP holds a $330 million stake). The founding family of Barrick sat on the Onex board of directors and there were questions about personal lobbying that could have led to the PMO.

 

Despite the investigation’s positive outcome for Wright, MP Angus took issue with the commissioner’s process. When additional conflict issues were raised by OMERS, they were dismissed as mistakes in a hasty response from the Prime Minister on Wright’s behalf.

 

As we’ve seen, Harper’s chief of staff is also connected to Lockheed Martin (incidentally CPP holds $78 million in that company as well).  Nigel Wright’s duties as director of Onex included oversight of Hawker Beechcraft, the partner to Lockheed Martin, which produced the fighter jets at the centre of F-35 debacle. This places the CPP in a bizarre love triangle with Onex and Lockheed, well beyond anything we purchased in stock.

 

Hawker Beechcraft’s Onex deals with Lockheed include supplying the US Air Force and Homeland Security with cannon equipped fighter jets. They produce a handful of warplanes with rocket capability and their accounts include the Canadian, American, Greek, Israeli, Iraqi, Moroccan and Mexican military. One of the shared executives (PDF) managed the Lockheed F-35 file before coming to head government relations at Onex’s Hawker Beechcraft.

 

So that introduces our business partner.

 

In July 2010, CPP and Onex purchased Tomkins PLC together, for $4.5 billion (£2.9 billion) with our retirement dollars. We are equally listed owners and our acquisition provides hydraulics to the oil, gas and mining industries.  Tomkins was also the previous owner of Smith and Wesson guns before we bought them out.

 

In November 2012 CPP deepened its relationship with Onex to acquire Tomkins Air Distribution for an additional $1.1 billion (PDF); meaning when Nigel Wright leaves his position with the Prime Minister’s Office, he’ll presumably return to managing our CPP partnership from the private industry end.

 

With the 2012 expansion, Onex and the CPP came to own all subsidiaries under the parent heading. One of those spinoffs is Titus, a company that provides data security to the military in Canada, the U.S., Australia, Belgium and Denmark. Titus provides services to the whole of government, aerospace, police and financial industries.

 

The moral of the story is we’ve got to come clean about the unethical use of our retirement funds. There isn’t enough money to expand CPP because the surplus was earmarked to boost the military-industrial complex. When our hard-earned money isn’t being used to cause bloodshed, it’s going to companies affiliated with the CPP’s own CEOs and the Alberta oil sands.

Unedited: An Intimate Interview With Harry Fear About Palestine & Israel

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/amy-macpherson/harry-fear-israel-palestine_b_2433043.html

Harry Fear Has a Message for Canadians

Posted: 01/08/2013 1:28 pm

 

He graced our television sets with live reports from the most recent conflict between Palestine and Israel. Now that a ceasefire has been reached, British filmmaker and human rights advocate, Harry Fear, has embarked on a world talking tour to share his knowledge about the social, political and economic ramifications from a firsthand perspective.

 

He arrived in Toronto Monday, amid much ado from Canada Customs the moment he stepped off the plane. That curious greeting will leave a lasting impression; complete with grilling about his political perspective, examination of his website, a list of domestic associates and questions regarding which side he supported. It used to be that a British passport could get you into Canada, but now not so much. Now it depends on where you stand and if your freedom of speech is acceptable to the Harper government.

 

Thankfully Fear passed the interview and wasn’t turned away like British diplomats before him, due to peaceful and sympathetic views that include the Palestinian people (see MP George Galloway). Sometimes we’re luckier than we know to receive communication from the outside world and in this rare glimpse; Harry provides extensive interview to help us understand what our handlers already had the benefit of gleaning from his experience.

 

Fear’s lectures, Aggression in Gaza – A Talking Tour, are scheduled for numerous venues across the country. Tonight, he speaks at University of Toronto, followed by engagements at respective universities in Hamilton, London, Windsor and Calgary. Due to the overwhelming response, more dates and locations in various provinces are still being determined and you can keep an eye on the itinerary here.

 

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(photo credit: SPHR McMaster University)

 

For those who can’t make it, he was kind enough to provide us with two hours of intimate answers to our deepest questions, unedited. Via Skype video recording, Harry Fear compels us to think harder about what we’ve been told. He points to concerns about our current leadership’s role in perpetuating the conflict by taking a hard stance that may not be conducive to a peaceful resolution. In fairness, Fear identifies a North American mindset that falls short of grasping the repercussions or why it is so important for us to sit up and take notice.

 

These topics do not shy away from what amounts to controversy in the western world. We do, however, stand alone in our foreign affairs policy toward the situation, as seen by the United Nations vote for Palestine’s observer status and our lonely opinion against them. One hundred and thirty eight countries gave their nod of approval and Canada was amongst the nine to object. We’re also in the minority to label Hamas a terrorist sect, but Harry does a thorough job of explaining international law and how our opinions translate on the streets of Gaza.

 

Not only was Fear present for the onslaught of bombing in Operation Pillar of Cloud (aka Pillar of Defence), he is also a scholar from Oxford in the discipline of political science. In our personal exchange he goes on to explain the reason for that name change, in that Pillar of Cloud is a religious reference to a children’s playground. It might not have been good optics in a public relations war, that sees them dying and sometimes burnt to the bone by white phosphorus.

 

From the bombing of kindergarten humanitarian schools on International Children’s Day to the demoralization of depending on foreign aid for food, Harry Fear is not too timid to express in real terms what their day to day reality is like. He is passionate about this suffering and urges us to understand the majority of civilians in Gaza are children. He says the violence and occupation punishes them as if they were responsible for the adults and world politics.

 

Fear also paints a picture of arbitrary detention, in a system where kids are imprisoned and even tortured for throwing stones. He describes some as having to defend themselves in a foreign court, in a foreign language, all alone. Moreover he amends the terminology of PTSD to say the children are coping with “continuing stress disorder”. This presents with symptoms of bed-wetting, separation anxiety and consistent shell shock that does not have a chance to heal.

 

The dialogue isn’t nearly confined to children though and broaches topics such as apartheid, “with a small ‘a'”. This involves road systems that Palestinians aren’t allowed to use in their own territory and colour-coded licence plates to alleviate racial profiling by identifying their vehicles for interrogation. In other strange measures, Palestinian males can be guilty of a crime for failing to announce their ethnicity to a prospective sexual partner.

 

Nearly every aspect of the Israel-Palestine conflict is touched upon in this account, underlining unemployment, education, Hamas and perceived terrorism, as well the dangers to Israeli citizens. But where the West has been led to believe the Jewish people strictly oppose Palestinians, he challenges us with information about their protests in support. Fear outlines the difference between a Zionist, an Israeli and those who practice Judaism, explaining many Jews decry the occupation and complain their religion was hijacked by politics. Contrary to North American beliefs, the truth of the situation is that Rabbis for Human Rights are some of the most active Israelis campaigning against the illegal settlements in search of peace for all (in English and the original in Hebrew).

 

Fear offers a balanced and honest assessment from both perspectives, right down to the pros and cons of Palestine obtaining observer status. He breaks down the structure of their government, so Canadians are able to understand the nature of each territory, the reasons for disjointed leadership from the West Bank to Gaza Strip and where they’ve been able to work together.

 

He discusses the different tactics of oppression in each of the areas. In Gaza it’s predominantly violence related and an open air prison, surrounded by the Israeli Defence Forces. In the West Bank it’s entirely occupied and they rely on humiliation, complete with constant control of Palestinian movement.

 

He brought this message to Canada and the U.S. to draw attention to superpowers that are aiding and abetting the occupation. One example through my research is the Canada Pension Plan. Our citizens are retiring based on our government’s investment in the very companies that supply arms and build the illegal wall (more here, including photographs).

 

Harry mentions the G4S company, that provides armed security for illegal settlers also contrary to international law. A number of significant entities have already divested to clear themselves of supporting that violation as well as the maltreatment of child prisoners. And yet here is G4S Canada, thriving without an ounce of recognition in the Canadian consciousness.

 

Our collective CPP investments (domestic companies list and foreign companies list — PDF) include Elbit; responsible for drone smart cars and the newest patrol of Palestinians with the ability to kill by remote control. Whether it’s on the ground or in the air, drones are being used to target citizens 365 days a year regardless of any ceasefire. Our retirement is doubly invested in CAE, which has partnered with Elbit to provide similar technology on Canadian soil.

 

The University of Alberta partnered with the government in Alma, Quebec, to develop and test Israeli drones for greater human impact and profit. This was accomplished through an Israeli economic mission to Canada last spring, unbeknownst to most Canadians. So not only is our retirement tied to keeping the conflict going, but we’re also developing the unmanned machines to kill Palestinians in our own backyard.

 

The Canada Pension Plan is heavily invested in construction of the illegal wall. That too was reprimanded by United Nations, but we’re paying for it through Elbit, CHR and Caterpillar. As Fear says, this places blood on all Canadian hands and we are morally compelled to guide our leaders in an ethical direction. For a running list of companies in the divestment campaign, please see Stop the Wall. (PDF)

 

Finally Fear addresses the Canadian government, asking the Harper Conservatives and federal Liberals to rethink their stance in support of Israeli violence without question. He notes the NDP may have represented our country better under Jack Layton and was surprised to learn even they haven’t condemned the occupation or spoken of divestment under new leadership.

 

In the video he encourages everyone to visit IfAmericansKnew.org to get a real handle on the numbers and to visually grasp the disparity between them. Fear describes the Israel-Palestine conflict as a case of David and Goliath and asks us to take one minute out of each day to learn more, write a letter or anything we can to make a difference. A solution must be found and 60 years of suffering hasn’t improved by us ignoring it. The rest of the world doesn’t perceive Canada as the good guys anymore and it’s high time we restore our reputation for the benefit of these many children.

 

Without further explanation, here is the answer to every burning question you’ve ever had about Palestinians and what Fear was able to see for himself. If you would like more information, please visit HarryFear.co.uk or GazaReport.com. You can also follow Fear on Twitter via @HarryFear.

 

Is This Politician Insulting War Vets?

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/amy-macpherson/grant-humes-remembrance-day_b_2109220.html

 

Is This Politician Insulting War Vets?

Posted: 11/11/2012 7:59 pm
Remembrance Day Canada 2012
It all began when Conservative MP Bev Oda resigned her position with the Harper government. The disgraced Minister of International Cooperation was responsible for a series of scandals that including being the first sitting cabinet minister to be found in contempt of Parliament, extravagant use of taxpayer dollars and repeat performances defying the law by smoking in her parliamentary office. Her eventual departure from politics spawned a by-election in the Ontario riding of Durham and all eyes across the nation are now fixed on the candidates vying to become her replacement.

 

Campaigns kicked into high gear for this second chance to win the public’s support and federal Liberal Grant Humes has managed to generate controversy amid the excitement. As his election sign was revealed on social media leading up to Remembrance Day, it generated negative responses from veteran families the candidate wasn’t expecting.

 

2012-11-10-LIBsign0022.jpg 

Facebook followers of the campaign page shared their criticisms ranging from “offensive” to “publicity stunt,” “classless” and “shameless as stealing a poppy box.” A concerned Afghanistan vet voiced disapproval and others indicated they would not vote for Humes as a result of this material.

 

Part of the problem was confusion about the sign itself. The candidate’s name does not appear and it seems to be an invitation to a patriotic website in support of veterans. Upon arrival at Durham4Vets.org, visitors are greeted by press clippings regarding veterans’ issues, followed by Grant Humes’ reasons for seeking office and a bit about his work history.

 

Clicking the petition displays a form to collect personal information, requests a $20 contribution toward the veterans awareness campaign and support for “sound National Policy” — although there is no petition.

 

In the same navigation bar clicking the “donate” option will cause a different box to appear; this time displaying the candidate’s Liberal Party of Canada donation page pertaining to the by-election.

 

To clarify, I contacted Humes and he put me in touch with campaign manager Quito Maggi to respond on his behalf. By telephone and follow up email exchange, Maggi explained the purpose of the site and how it relates to the by-election. I also learned animal cruelty is an issue dear to the candidate’s heart and a similar venture was set up to address those matters at StopTheCruelty.org. Both endeavours are authorized as part of the Grant Humes Liberal campaign, but some donations are separate for advocacy about the featured issue at each website. Manager Maggi elaborates,

 

“Any money raised through the Durham4Vets.org website goes right back into the public awareness campaign (and) yes the money raised from the animal cruelty campaign goes towards keeping that website active and paying for magnets that have been designed (a number have already been produced and distributed).”

 

When asked about support for these projects, the campaign cited intimidation from the Harper government as a reason veteran groups were afraid to speak up. As a result there were no official endorsements of Humes’ initiatives to report. Regarding the websites and their strategy to educate with continued monetary support; the candidate said he planned to establish veterans and animal advocacy prior to any knowledge of an election. Maggi affirms,

 

“The websites were registered before the writ was dropped (on October 21) and there was no way for us to know when the writ would be dropped.(Referencing veteran website advertising on election signs,)

“If we could keep the signs up after the election we would, but the sign bylaws are very strict.”

 

StopTheCruelty.org and Durham4Vets.org are collecting funds through Liberal party mechanisms in the meantime. Whether a by-election campaign or public awareness for cherished issues, this confusion could result in consequences for those who are unable to tell the difference. The timing of a federal election coinciding with the candidate’s project is reported to be incidental, but surely they should be kept apart for the public to perceive ethics in politics.

The last word is offered by Grant Humes who summarized,

“It’s important we respect our Veterans and give them the benefits they deserve. What the government is doing is wrong and I hope people will add their voice and call on the government to take action.”