Monthly Archives: December, 2015

As 2015 comes to a close, these major ongoing issues aren’t going anywhere

This awkward week jammed in between Christmas and New Year’s is when some of the year’s most half-assed journalism gets cranked out, in the form of phoned-in Year in Review pieces, or worse, Top Ten Blanks of 201x listicles.

I don’t have a problem with retrospectives. It’s just that the last week of December is only ever the actual turning point in current events by pure chance or accident. More often than not, major stories are still developing, trends are still unfolding, and it’s too soon to pass judgement on what the legacy of recent events will actually be.

So in my final post of 2015, I’m going to eschew the lazy conventions of the genre by highlighting a few stories which are very much ongoing affairs as the year comes to a close. Continue Reading

Trudeau’s lacklustre approach to pipelines means direct action is (still) our best hope

Image description: A person (presumably Vanessa Gray) is led away from a pipeline shutdown action by two police officers. Caption reads: ‘”The tar sands projects represent an ongoing cultural and environmental genocide. I defend the land and water because it is sacred.” – Vanessa Gray, Anishnaabe’

What Mr. Harper has consistently misunderstood about what happens in the 21st century is you cannot make a choice between what’s good for the environment and what’s good for the economy. Mr. Harper continues to say oh, we can’t do anything on the environment because we’ll hurt the economy. And not only has he not helped our environment, but he’s actually slowed our economy. He cannot get our exports to market because there is no public trust anymore. People don’t trust this government to actually look out for our long-term interest. We – he hasn’t convinced communities of the rightness of his – his pipelines, of the proposals he supports. He hasn’t been working with First Nations on the kinds of partnerships that are needed if we’re going to continue to develop our natural resources. Canada will always have an element of natural resources in our economy, but the job of the Prime Minister is to get those resources to market. 

– Justin Trudeau, Maclean’s leaders’ debate, August 7 2015

Numerous times throughout this year’s election, Justin Trudeau tried to position himself as the candidate who could do what Stephen Harper, for all his efforts, never could manage to accomplish: get major tar sands pipeline construction projects approved. With a cavalier well-of-course-we’ve-gotta-exploit-the-tar-sands attitude, he insisted, again and again, that the flaw in Harper’s approach wasn’t that his government was pushing fundamentally flawed, dangerous, and ecocidal proposals, but instead was an issue of tone, of building public trust, of performing the proper consultations, of going above and beyond to assuage local safety concerns.

In some cases, that’s meant publicly opposing major proposals, like the Northern Gateway pipeline, which Trudeau’s Liberals oppose on account of its traversal of the Great Bear rainforest. But in other cases, it’s meant picking up right where Harper left off, as with Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion’s spectacularly ill-timed renewal of the Harper government’s advocacy for the Keystone XL pipeline literally one day before U.S. President Barack Obama announced the project couldn’t go forward. And let’s not forget that one of Trudeau’s campaign co-chairs, Dan Gagnier, was simultaneously working as a lobbyist for TransCanada, that the Liberal Party knew about this lobbying work, and that Gagnier was advising the pipeline company on how best to lobby the new government before the election was even over.

And a lot of the time, it’s left the now-PM sounding spectacularly ill-informed to folks who are aware of the latest climate science, as when Trudeau insists that if Canada must improve our environmental reputation if we want to continue pushing tar sands projects. There exists a broad international consensus that a majority of fossil fuel reserves, including upwards of 85% of the tar sands, absolutely need to stay in the ground if the world is to avert the worst effects of runaway climate change. Continue Reading

Holiday hiatus

Hello dear readers!

The Alfalfafield will be on hiatus for the next week, as I’ll be travelling/spending time with family/chillaxing. Plus it’s typically pretty much the slowest news week of the year anyway, on account of the national press corps all wanting to travel/spend time with family/chillax, so hopefully I won’t be missing out on much.

Check back here next Monday, when I’ll be back on my (ir)regular schedule. Regardless of what you’re up to for the next week, I hope it’s joyous and peaceful!

Remember #StopC51? Anybody?

Image: a protester holds a sign with a thumbs-down symbol over the words C-51 at a large rally. (Image credit: openmedia.org)

It was the major rallying cry of activist groups across Canada this spring. Tens of thousands took to the streets in big cities and small towns in opposition to its passage. Editorial boards slammed its heavy-handed creeping totalitarianism, even at more conservative publications like the Globe and Mail:

On close inspection, Bill C-51 is not an anti-terrorism bill. Fighting terrorism is its pretext; its language reveals a broader goal of allowing government departments, as well as CSIS, to act whenever they believe limply defined security threats “may” – not “will” – occur.

It became one of the most fiercely debated and protested government bills in recent years, and its passage was fought tooth and nail.

It’s easy to forget now, but when C-51 was first proposed, it was wildly popular. Something like 80% of Canadians were in favour of its passage, with many saying that the bill didn’t go far enough in tackling terrorism.

It was only after a fantastically organized grassroots campaign of public education against the bill and high-profile criticisms of its contents, including condemnations from the Canadian Bar Association and four former Prime Ministers, that public opinion started to turn around. And, it’s worth noting, it was only when a majority of Canadians opposed the bill that Leader of the Opposition Thomas Mulcair finally clarified that he favoured its repeal. As late as mid-May, the NDP’s opposition mainly focussed on the lack of Parliamentary oversight of intelligence agencies, and while Mulcair had indicated he would vote against the bill, some comments he had made on the issue seemed to imply that he favoured reforming it if his party won the election in October.

Meanwhile, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s inherently mockable wishy-washy position, that he was against portions of the bill but would be voting for it nonetheless, seemed to fail to capture the urgency of the issue. For many, it was nuance for the sake of nuance, when what was called for was a clear and unequivocal denunciation of the dangers of the law. Andrew Mitrovica at iPolitics was unreserving in his scorn: Continue Reading

Opposition to Line 9 heats up in the weeks since its reversal

Image: a man turns a valve to shut down a pipeline behind a chain link fence

A few weeks back, I wrote about the badass direct action in Ste-Justine-de-Newton, Quebec, which shut down Enbridge’s Line 9B for several hours, as an exemplary model of how pipeline resistance can move forward in the face of a disgustingly racist and industry-captive National Energy Board review process which all but guarantees that oil and pipeline companies will ultimately get their projects approved.

And it’s heartening to me to see just how much public outcry there has been in the wake of the NEB’s final approval of the line’s reversal, which runs contrary to all evidence, common sense, treaty rights, and democratic sensibility. Folks who are opposed to this pipeline for a vast multiplicity of reasons are continuing to make their voices heard, and are both engaging in the political process and working outside of it to build momentum towards a reversal of this foolishly wrong-headed decision.

First off, let’s take a look back at those heroic anarchists who manually shut the line down before chaining themselves to the valve back in early December.

Somebody closely involved in the action wrote a fantastic piece which was published over at Earth First! Newswire which is well worth a read. The key quote:

There is a general sense that this action has breathed new life into the anti-Line 9 campaign, which NGOs long ago abandoned as unwinnable. For the first time in a long while, activists are expressing optimism that Line 9 can be shut down before it spills. We’ve arrived at a critical juncture, and the time for bold direct action has come.

It’s hard to argue with this contention. There’s been an outburst of renewed interest in this particular pipeline project, which has been overlooked in recent months in favour of Energy East, TransMountain, and the U.S. pipeline Keystone XL, which was finally shot down by President Barack Obama after more than five years of dithering. By their bold and concrete resistance, these brave folks hope to not only encourage others to help take down Line 9, but also to directly challenge the noxious and odious law C-51, as their comrade expresses in his piece: Continue Reading

Prime Minister Trudeau’s absolutely incoherent statement on Canada’s fight with ISIS

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attended a town-hall-style interview organized by Maclean’s Magazine. It was the first extensive, wide-ranging interview Trudeau has given since the election campaign ended, and as such was an opportunity for the media and the public to press him on the specifics of his government’s many ongoing projects and proposals.

Details haven’t been Trudeau’s strong suit, either on the campaign trail or since he took power. This is obviously more true of some subjects than others, but on a wide range of issues, from the “fixing” of C-51 to the timing and specifics of marijuana legalization to the government’s thoughts on and plans for electoral reform, what the public has been told so far essentially adds up to “Just wait and see”.

And on no topic has this vagueness been more pervasive than the issue of Canada’s fight with ISIS.

Trudeau and his Foreign Affairs Minister, Stephane Dion, insist that the Liberals’ campaign promise to withdraw Canada’s fighter jets from the conflict still stands, but two months after election day, those same fighter jets are still dropping bombs on Iraq and Syria, and no date has been provided for their mission’s conclusion. Meanwhile, aside from vague statements from the Prime Minister that Canada would bolster its contingent of military trainers, we haven’t heard any concrete details about what the shape of Canada’s military mission will be, what its objective are, how long it will last, where it will operate, or how it hopes to accomplish its goals.

Nor have we heard from Trudeau, during the election or afterwards, a coherent statement as to why he feels that Canada ought to end its bombing mission while strengthening its training mission. No doubt there is a case to be made for this particular course of action, but it’s not a case that Justin Trudeau or his ministers have ever made publicly.

So it was only a matter of time before the subject came up during Trudeau’s town hall. Up to that point, I thought that Trudeau had done a fine job of answering questions in detail – which isn’t to say that I agreed with his positions, merely that he was getting into the nitty-gritty of policy in a way I hadn’t seen him do during the campaign or since he took power. But as soon as the subject pivoted away from domestic policy into foreign affairs, he suddenly seemed like a first-year poli-sci student who skipped the readings and is trying to bullshit his way through a question from the prof that he doesn’t have a damn clue how to answer properly.

I’ve quoted the entire exchange in full here, although Maclean’s edited the plethora of “uh”s and “um”s out of Trudeau’s statements; if you’d like to watch the exchange, it begins at roughly 19:00 here. Continue Reading

Trudeau’s reaction to Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report provokes both hope and skepticism

The residential school system which was imposed upon generations of Indigenous people across so-called “Canada” is a permanent stain upon the history of this land.

The full extent of the horrors suffered by the children forced into these brutal institutions was for decades denied, then downplayed, then shrugged off as ancient history.

Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper did his best to put an end to discussion of the matter by offering a formal governmental apology, an apology that was clearly shown to be hollow when his government refused to cooperate with the survivor-funded Truth and Reconciliation Commission when it embarked on a systemic inquiry of residential schools some six years ago.

The TRC today released the final volume of its report on the residential school system. You may recall that the summary of their report, issued with 94 recommendations, was released with great fanfare back in June, on the eve of a federal election, and, in a pathetic commentary on white fragility, managed to make waves for its use of the term “cultural genocide” to describe the practice of forcibly removing Indigenous children from their parents, punishing them for speaking their languages, teaching them their customs were barbaric and savage, and employing extreme physical and sexual violence against them in an effort to make them conform.

One other moment from that event which sticks out in my memory is when TRC Chair Justice Murray Sinclair called for a national inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women, and the whole room stood and applauded except for Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt, whom Thomas Mulciar side-eyed the fuck out of.

The change in tone from the Conservatives at the release of the report’s summary to the Liberals at the release of the full report is night and day. Here’s what Prime Minister Trudeau had to say today:

But here’s the thing: at this point, the difference is only one of tone, and that needs to be pointed out, again and again, relentlessly, because saying nice and comforting and agreeable things is what politicians are best at, and what ultimately matters least. Harper was willing to say the nice and comforting and agreeable things when he apologized for the residential school system, and he had no compunctions about thereafter decimating funding for Indigenous people, refusing to consult First Nations on major resource extraction projects which affected them, refusing to meet hunger-striking Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, and enacting policies which made it much more difficult for Indigenous people to vote.

Similarly, the Liberal Party doesn’t exactly have a sparkling history when it comes to Indigenous issues, including under the current Prime Minister’s father and his then-Indian Affairs Minister (and future PM) Jean Chretien. As Cree writer Harold Cardinal put it back in his 1969 book “The Unjust Society”: Continue Reading

Large-scale strike action hits Quebec – but how effective will it be?

Image: a crowd of thousands marches through a Montreal street. (Image credit @MyMyvall)

This past Wednesday, the long-threatened mass strike by a coalition of public sector unions finally took place.

Up to forty thousand people took to the streets in Montreal in a march that the Gazette described as reminiscent of the student strike of 2012. Across the province, as many as 400 000 workers were on strike for the day, including elementary, high school, and CEGEP teachers, nurses, and civil servants. It was the largest workers’ strike in the province since 1972.

Oh, and they brought a drum ensemble.

Continue Reading

Don’t act so smug about Trump, Canada – Islamophobia is a serious problem here too

Image: Zunera Ishaq wearing a colorful patterned niqab. Ishaq’s battle to wear her niqab while she took her oath of citizenship became a central focus in the recent election, just one example of widespread anti-Muslim racism in Canadian politics. (Image credit: CP/Patrick Doyle)

Yesterday, as the first few hundred Syrian refugees since the election began to arrive in Canada, the Toronto Star printed a front-page editorial saying, in English and Arabic, “Welcome to Canada,” telling refugees that they’re “with family now.”

The short piece, which leaned heavily on well-worn and outdated Canadian stereotypes (and a totally gratuitous plug for Tim Hortons), played up the notion that Canadians are, as a group, a welcoming and tolerant people.

There was an almost self-congratulatory tone to the whole thing – an entirely implicit one, of course. But in a week which featured a call from a leading candidate for the American presidency to ban all Muslims from entry into the “land of the free”, the very act of publicly welcoming Syrian refugees takes on a secondary dimension of subtly proclaiming that we are a much more open and accepting nation.

As for Trump himself, his anti-Muslim remarks this week set off a flurry of condemnation from Canadian politicians. NDP leader Thomas Mulcair called for banning Trump and others who “spout hatred” from entering Canada, and Toronto and Vancouver city councillors are working on proposals to remove Trump’s name from high-profile skyscrapers in the two cities. Toronto councillor Josh Matlow went so far as to call Trump a “fascist” on Twitter.

And for many, the contrast between Canada and the United States was crystal clear: Continue Reading

The Canadian government’s constantly changing climate goals

“Everybody has thrown out numbers and different targets, and what they’re going to do and what is going to happen…What we need is not ambitious political targets.”

– Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, CBC interview, October 10, 2015

“[On] the question for framing the temperature goal, we support reference to striving for 1.5 [degrees Celsius of warming] as other countries have said…If we want to achieve this temperature goal, everyone needs to be part of this. We need maximum participation where everyone puts their best efforts forward.”

– Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna, Paris COP21 summit, December 7, 2015

How the hell do we square these two statements with each other?

Because make no mistake about it, a temperature target of 1.5°C is both an ambitious target and a political one.

Major industrialized nations, including the United States and the European Union, favour a target of 2°C. The 1.5°C target, favoured by nations in the Global South, and particularly low-lying and island nations, is the more ambitious of the two targets on the table during Paris negotiations, as it requires a much more rapid transition away from major sources of carbon emissions. It is a matter of life or death for hundreds of millions of people living at or near sea level: Continue Reading

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