Monthly Archives: July, 2015

Would a recession by any other name sound as bad?

What if, instead of calling it a recession, we call it a cracked tree that might someday maybe fall on your neighbour’s house?

This past Wednesday, Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz, as was widely expected, announced that the Bank would be lowering its overnight interest rate by 0.25%, down to a mere half-percent, which by historical standards is extremely low. The move comes amidst increasing signs of a slowdown in the Canadian economy, with bank analysts from TD and Bank of America, among others, projecting that Canada entered a recession in the first half of 2015.

While we won’t have the final statistics until September (just in time for the federal election campaign!), the emerging consensus is that growth in Canada has been at best stagnant so far this year. So market analysts were keen to hear what Poloz had to say when he announced the new rate.

Poloz has been extremely careful with his language as of late, ever since he found himself in hot water for (accurately) describing the outlook for the Canadian economy as “atrocious” this past March in an interview with the Financial Times. Though the first-quarter numbers turned out to be worse than even the pessimistic Poloz projected, the backlash against his comments was so strong that he’s been striving to strike a tone of cautious optimism ever since.

So perhaps it was no surprise that he went WAY out of his way to avoid actually uttering the word “recession” this week.

But the disingenuousness – and sheer politicality – of his cautious language deserves calling out.

Let’s let the man speak for himself (while the CBC’s Terry Milewski gently mocks him): Continue Reading

Accused “terrorist” John Nuttall feared for his life if he didn’t follow cop’s orders to plant bomb

The trial of accused terrorists John Nuttall and Amanda Korody resumed yesterday in Vancouver, with the judge seeking to determine whether the pair were entrapped by the RCMP. A finding of entrapment would render last month’s guilty verdict null and void, so the stakes for the Mounties are high.

As regular readers of The Alfalfafield may know, my mind is pretty firmly made up on this one, and has been since the trial’s early stages – there’s no way in hell this pair could’ve cooked up and executed this plot without extensive training, funding, and pressure from their police handlers, who literally planned the entire scheme.

For those who are new to the story, Nuttall and Korody were recovering heroin addicts who had recently converted to Islam. Nuttall encountered an undercover CSIS agent provocateur at his local mosque, and decided to snitch (to CSIS, ironically) about this seemingly dangerous firebrand radical. For whatever reason, this caught the attention of the RCMP, through channels that Nuttall’s lawyer is convinced were undocumented, so as to avoid future court disclosure. The RCMP then sicced its INSET program on Nuttall and his wife.

As I wrote in April:

To give a bit more detail on INSET [Integrated National Security Enforcement Team]: it’s actually five programs, not one. It operates in six major Canadian cities – Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa, and a joint Calgary-Edmonton unit, each of which is known as an INSET. And the purpose of these INSETs?

The purpose for [INSETs] is to increase the capacity for the collection, sharing and analysis of intelligence among partners with respect to individuals and entities that are a threat to national security and; create an enhanced investigative capacity to bring such individuals and entities to justice; and enhance partner agencies collective ability to combat national security threats and meet all specific mandate responsibilities, consistent with the laws of Canada and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

INSETs are made up of representatives of the RCMP, federal partners and agencies such as Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and provincial and municipal police services. [sic throughout] [Evidently one of the 600+ officers transferred out of their normal duties into INSET was the one responsible for copy-editing and keeping track of all the semicolons]

That’s some pretty suggestively murky language right there. If “enhanced interrogation techniques” turned out to mean “torture”, what do you supposed “enhanced investigative capacity” means when translated into plain English? It’s hard to say exactly, but after squinting really hard at these paragraphs, I came to the conclusion that INSET is largely about undercover and intelligence work, infiltrating suspected national security threats and disrupting them from within.

Note that this program was very much operative long before anybody ever learned to dread the alphanumeric abomination that is C-51. That is to say, people and parties who advocate merely for a repeal of that noxious law are advocating to a return to the days when the RCMP could pull a stunt like the one they pulled on Nuttall and Korody. Continue Reading

As Canada’s economy slides into recession, how safe are the big banks?

Bank of America said it on the 1st of July, and TD said it on the 6th, but I knew that the economy was in a recession as soon as I heard federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver deny it way back in early June.

That would be the same Joe Oliver who “balanced” the budget with a whole host of lies, tricks, creative accounting, and the promise of future union-stomping. That surplus was a total fabrication, a clumsy election-year subterfuge designed to make the Cons look like responsible stewards of the economy.

Also that’s the same Joe Oliver who was forced to delay unveiling of that budget by several months because of “market volatility” (aka the tar sands getting kicked in the shins by the collapse in oil prices). Despite the total lack of improvement in the economy in the interim, Oliver was confident at the time the budget was released that things would get better – soon.

And that’s the same tune he was singing last week when BofA became the first of the big bank to project a recession following the release of stats for April showing the economy contracted for a fourth consecutive month. Oliver angrily denied that we’re in recession territory, and predicted strong, strong growth – right around the corner!

“We don’t have a recession. We don’t believe we will be in a recession,” Oliver said Friday in Toronto. “A recession is technically two consecutive negative quarters and we don’t have results from the second quarter.”

Statistics Canada reported this week that gross domestic product shrank by 0.1 percentin April, on the heels of a 0.6 percent annualized contraction in the first quarter.

However the finance minister sees indications that consumers and manufacturers are more optimistic. “There are, I think it’s fair to say, mixed signals at the moment,” Oliver said. “We’ll and wait and see what the numbers, in fact, will be.”

The federal budget, released in April, forecast annual GDP growth of 2 percent for the country, based on projections from private sector economists. Those projections haven’t been updated, Oliver said.

Of course the projections haven’t been updated – that would make the phony surplus Oliver worked so hard to engineer completely disappear! But in order to make good on those projections, the Canadian economy will have to grow at an annualized rate of roughly 4% in the second half of the year – a pace we haven’t seen in the last fifteen years. Continue Reading

The party system is undemocratic – here’s why

(This is the latest in an ongoing series on the question of whether voting is worthwhile. If you’re interested, here’s parts one, two, and three.)

Political parties are such a firmly entrenched part of our political system that it’s almost absurd to suggest, but I’ll suggest it – what the hell good do they do anyway?

Here’s the situation as it stands. Every four years or so, in your city or town or rural area, three or four wannabe politicians, having gained the approval of their party’s local riding association and (most importantly) of their party leader, swear absolute fealty to an incredibly detailed party platform and contend for your vote. If elected, they hew to that party line absolutely, speak when they’re told to (which is rarely), vote how they’re told to, espouse the views their leader tells them to hold, and occasionally come back to your city/town/rural area and get their picture in the paper saying that they’re standing up for your interests in Ottawa.

And that’s true regardless of the party they represent.

The majority of MPs are irrelevant to the process of governing this country. The government needs its MPs to show up for votes (and vote the way they’re told), but other than that, the majority of the caucus may as well be composed of mannequins:

W.S. Gilbert put the present Canadian political reality succinctly; “I always voted at my party’s call and I never thought of thinking for myself at all”. Canadian members of Parliament are essentially passive observers in the formulation and administration of most national policy. Indeed, Sean Moore, editor of the Ottawa lobbyist magazine, The Lobby Digest, told a committee of MPs in early 1993 that they are rarely lobbied by the almost 3,000 reported lobbyists in the capital because “elected officials play a very minor role in governing”.

Continue Reading

Oka, 25 years later (or, Indigenous land defence, 523 years later)

On July 11, 1990, a long-simmering dispute over a stand of pine trees escalated into a major stand-off between Indigenous land defenders and local and provincial police just outside of Oka, Quebec. Eventually, the Canadian army would be called in by a nervous provincial and federal government.

Throughout the 78-day standoff, the people of Kanesatake, who were trying to protect their land (including a burial ground) from being turned into a golf course, were vilified, slandered, attacked physically, dismissed, demonized, and denied the basics of life:

Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Simon remembers seeing the SQ [Sûreté du Québec]  tactical squad moving in the morning of July 11.

“I thought, ‘They’re going to kill everybody up there,’” he said.

When he heard a police officer had died, he had one thought: “We’re going to pay for this one. This is not going to go under-answered.”

What happened next, Simon said, left his community traumatized.

“It was incredible. The SQ would not allow any food to come in to our territory. Our people were systematically searched illegally,” he said.

Ultimately, the mayor of Oka called off the proposed golf course and the dispute was seemingly resolved. The usual blue-ribbon government panel made recommendations which were ignored, and the media’s attention moved on.

Today, the typical “On this day in ___” stories recap the basic narrative as it was established at the time – a narrative which is resolutely ahistorical. The issue of the golf course and the pines is presented without context.

What goes unmentioned is that this indigenous burial ground was located where it was because for generations, white people in Oka wouldn’t allow indigenous bodies to be buried in their graveyard.

What goes unmentioned is that land which had been guaranteed to them by the French crown in the 1700s was covertly signed over to the government without their knowledge in the early 1800s, and never returned.

What goes unmentioned is hundreds of years of aggression both macro- and micro-, of the daily violence of settler colonialism, of the slow-motion genocide which has been perpetrated against Indigenous people.

What goes unmentioned is that Oka was just the latest – and most eye-catching – in a long tradition of Indigenous land defence. Continue Reading

Politicians pretend to be cowboys, and the media pretends this is somehow reasonable

This past week, the self-proclaimed “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” was responsible for the death of yet another two horses, in the name of tradition. Despite the objections of animal welfare advocates, organizers of the atrociously retrograde chuckwagon races insist that there’s no problem here:

The Stampede Chuckwagon Safety Commission said there have been no similar incidents for the last “three or four years.”

“I think the Stampede does an excellent job that the horses are fit,” said the commission’s Stan Church. “I don’t think there’s anywhere in the world that does as much to ensure that the horses are fit when they come onto the track.”[…]

[M]ore than 50 horses have been killed during the event at the Stampede since 1986.

Old traditions die hard. They seem to linger long after the logic behind them has been revealed as flawed, leaving them looking ridiculous and arcane to any observers who aren’t themselves steeped in the traditions.

And so the Calgary Stampede also witnessed a parade of federal political party leaders, dressed awkwardly in their Hallowe’enified Wild West gear, flipping flapjacks and dishing out baked beans and doing their damndest to seem like cartoon portrayals of fairground cowboys, despite the fact that all were born and raised east of Mississauga. To my Ontario eyes, they looked nothing short of ridiculous.

This is one of those cases where a picture is truly worth thousands of snarky words: Continue Reading

BC wildfire blues (and bluegrass)

Four years ago, I spent the summer biking across Western Canada. I left my hometown of Peterborough, ON, on the 28th of May and I arrived in Victoria, BC, three months later to the day.

Along the way I saw some intensely beautiful parts of Canada. Highway 17 as it runs along the shore of Lake Superior on the road from Sault Ste Marie up to Wawa, and again in between Marathon and Terrace Bay, is a spectacular sight to behold, as is the gorgeous Highway 22 running south from Calgary along the borderlands between prairie and mountain, leading to the entry to the towering Crowsnest Pass. The Okanagan Valley’s dry sagebrushed palette was a delight to the eyes, and of course Vancouver Island’s majestic ancient-ness is in a league of its own.

But for me, nothing compared to the wild rolling hills of the Kootenays.

I made steady forward progress throughout my entire trip – until I hit Creston, BC, the entry-point to the Kootenays on the southern Crowsnest Trail. Two weeks later, I arrived back in Creston, having completed a grand loop through the towns of the southern Kootenays. I had visited Nelson four times, as well as Trail, Castlegar, Fruitvale, Rossland, Slocan, Nakusp, and a sublimely beautiful backroad hot springs called Halfway that I wish to God I still knew the location of. I was led there by migrant fruit pickers, mostly Quebecois, who swell the population of the Kootenays and the Okanagan Valley every summer, harvesting the massive fruit crops.

I wonder if Farley Moway ever wrote about the Kootenays. It would take a talent of his magnitude to do them justice. Continue Reading

Trans-Pacific Partnership – the scariest trade deal you’ve probably never heard of

A few weeks back, a poll by Environics Research Group for Trade Justice Network, “an umbrella group dedicated to challenging the secretive process by which international trade deals are generally negotiated”, released a poll showing that three out of four Canadians have never heard of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Assuming my readership is roughly representative, that means that for 75% of people reading this, this is your first introduction to the horrorshow of a trainwreck of a landmine which is the TPP. So, fair warning – there’s not much good news in this post, not many glimmers of optimism, no clear path forward. This is a story about a disaster in progress, a disaster which has been carefully concealed from the public.

There’s something darkly ironic about the CBC reporting on ERGTJN’s poll results, because they’re very much part of the problem. They haven’t exactly covered the story in great depth – a Google search reveals that the term received a mere ten mentions on their site all year up until their article about the poll, with half of these being passing references and the other half being related to the squabbles in the US Congress and among US Presidential candidates over the super-secretive trade deal. If you’re wondering why Donald Trump easily has four times the name recognition of the TPP while possessing way less than a quarter the relevance, look no farther than the mainstream media.

If you’re one of the 75% who don’t know what I’m talking about, I won’t leave you in suspense any longer. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is ostensibly a free-trade deal being conducted between twelve Pacific Rim nations, including Canada, which will vastly empower corporate interests while in large measure sacrificing the national sovereignty of all nations involved.

The full extent of the damage this treaty will do is unknowable, because we’re literally not allowed to know. The treaty will remain secret until four years after it is completed and signed and ratified and brought into force.

Does that sound absurd to you? Almost as though it couldn’t be true?

Because, unfortunately, it is.

Economist Robert Reich explains it succinctly in this (admittedly US-centric) video (h/t Lorne over at Politics and its Discontents): Continue Reading

Electoral reform and the inadequacy of proportional representation

(This is the third in an ongoing series on the question of voting. See part one and part two if you’re interested.)

Now let me just start off by saying loudly and clearly that I’m in favour of proportional representation.

If we’re going to have a representative democracy – or even pretend that we do – then it’s long past time that we switched to an electoral system which yields results which reflect the actual vote totals. The obviousness of this proposition makes it hard to believe that this policy has never been enacted, especially since all of the major parties in this country have been on the losing side of an unfair election result at some point or another.

The introduction of a more democratic method of allocating the seats in Parliament would go some way towards alleviating the tendency of parties with a shot at winning government to abandon all principle and run toward the perceived “centre” that I discussed last week, and would no doubt encourage people who support marginal parties and parties unlikely to win their riding from voting anyway.

All of this is good.

But.

(You knew there was gonna be a “but”, right?) Continue Reading

In solidarity with the people of Greece, on the eve of a ridiculous referendum

Pity the people of Greece.

Those folks have been screwed over by everybody. And tomorrow, no matter how they vote in this supposedly critical referendum, they’re gonna get screwed again.

And yet in most of the articles on this debacle that I read, I run into the conventional framing of this story, which still dominates coverage of Greece despite the fact that it’s total bullshit. I’m referring to the wrong-headed notion that the people of Greece somehow brought this on themselves, and that if they had only been more disciplined and responsible, they wouldn’t be in such a desperate fix.

So I wanted to take this opportunity, on the eve of a vote that nobody quite understands, to point out how guiltless the people of Greece are.

The essence of the story of this debt crisis, in fact, is that the Greek people have been fucked over by pretty much everybody.

They were enticed into the eurozone by what turned out to be fantasy promises by an institution whose architecture was pretty much designed to fail. European bureaucrats, Greek politicians, and French and German bankers were well aware that Greece was a risky proposition, but they were willing to look the other way because there was money to be made: Continue Reading

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