Posted by Don McLenaghen on July 4, 2012
The Canada Border Services Agency is in the process of deploying new hi-rez cameras in customs-controlled areas of airports across the country. What makes these cameras different is that they will also be equipped with a microphone so that not only will security agents be keeping a watchful eye on actions but will also be able to listen in on your conversation; that seems one intrusion too many.
Now, as a society we have given up a lot in the name of ‘security’ from terrorism. However at a some point you have to ask, what is the point of being secure in a country that has eliminated the meaning of freedom? Okay, that may be slightly overstating the situation but there is a great need for a cost benefit analysis on what we have given up for what gain in security. The money spent globally on enhanced security could have literally wiped out hunger, the climate change with enough left over to put a manned station on Mars.
We have been told by our current government that we need to cut back on luxuries like health care for refugees, the environments, and retirement because there is just not enough money to go around and yet the Harper government found enough to deploy this Orwellian security enhancement.
Now on the surface, this may not sound such a big deal. However it takes an ominous turn when you hear that the first airport to have this new invasive surveillance is Ottawa’s MacDonald Cartier Airport. If you are attempting to avert terrorist type attacks you would have chosen Vancouver or Toronto airports, the nation’s busiest. Ottawa’s is Canada’s 6th busiest…but only 6th…at least for people, for politicians it is our busiest.
We have seen that politics in this country have taken a dramatic and worrying turn since our last election. So much so that what I am about to say would have sounded like a crazy conspirator’s theory at one time but not so much now.
I don’t think I would be wrong if I said every MP at one time or another has taken a flight out of Ottawa Airport and likely more often than less. Now that government security forces have the ability to listen in on these conversations, it leaves open the possibilities at least for sensitive information being leaked to the public or perhaps to foreign nationals. And at worst, provides the overseer of the border agency, the Minister of Public Safety, with a channel to listen in on opposition MP’s conversations at the airport…perhaps to help in their election campaigns? Not that the Conservatives have ever been accused of breaking the rules to win an election.
As a skeptic, I would normally not give in to such theories and if this was an isolated event I would have dismissed it…well as a conspiracy, but this is yet another piece of data and one must go where the evidence leads them. Now, maybe this is just an attempt to ensure Canadians remain fearful of the terrorist bogeyman…maybe it is simply graft to one of the many corporations the Conservatives “owe a favour too”…maybe it is someone in the agency who truly believes a terrorist strike is imminent…but you can no longer rule out the thought that Harper is pulling a Nixon at the airport.
Border agency to eavesdrop on travellers’ conversations
Posted in Blogs, Don's Blogs | Tagged: air port, Canada, Conservative, Government, Harper, MacDonald Cartier Airport, Nixon, politicians, Privacy, Security, Terrorism | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Don McLenaghen on July 2, 2012
Canada languishes in world rankings for government openness. As the 30th anniversary of the Federal Access to Information Act approaches, Canada finds itself tied for 51st in the world on a list of freedom-of-information rankings, languishing behind Angola, Colombia and Niger. This is out of a list of 89 nations. This confirms a previous study done in 2010 by Government Information Quarterly out of the UK that ranked Canada last compared to similar commonwealth nations with regards to freedom of information.
This is sad because when our access to information act was originally passed in 1983 we were seen as a global leader. However since then no changes to the law have occurred to correct issues with the bill, like the fact requests which are supposed to be provided within 30 days but often take months to years and then the information is incomplete. Also, as we are all aware, technology has changed allowing the government to, if it wished, make all its documents available to the public at next to no cost…viva la internet, viva la computer revolution!
Currently the information is not provided in a timely manner, there are departments with a blanket exemption and there is a growing fee for such information. Even simple things like allowing for electronic requests, are not allowed, all filings must be on paper forms and accompanied by the appropriate fee before anything will happen.
It should be a concern to Canadians that our government, current and previous, are not being open with the public and thus accountable. To sound like a broken record, for democracy to work there must be an informed electorate. Now, I am not alleging that Top Secret documents should be available to whoever requests them but it seems baffling that the vast majority of government documents are not available for free online. Even those things that may be questionable should be available under an appropriate process. Now this is not Harper’s doing, so I will not lie this at his feet but it has helped the Conservative’s government attempts to “control” the message with regards to…well everything as we have already talked about censoring science.
Yet, another piece of evidence that things are not “all right” on parliament hill.
Canada languishes in world rankings for government openness
Posted in Blogs, Don's Blogs | Tagged: accountability, Canada, democracy, Freedom of Access to Information, Government, political scepticism | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Don McLenaghen on June 30, 2012
If a government employee falls in the forest, does he make a sound? Well, with a new directive, they had better not.
We have often talked on the show about the ‘apparent’ trend of the Harper government to silence scientist. Now, some could argue that it’s not ‘silencing’ but attempting to ensure a ‘consistent’ message. I think we pretty much exposed in a previous show that was NOT how science should be done or reported. This is also not a gag that applied to employees only at work but extends to their private life as well.
Part of the Parks agency’s code of ethics states that “All Parks Canada employees shall…arrange their private affairs so that their impartiality is conserved and enhanced.” Thus, making possible as Eddie Kennedy, national executive vice-president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, said “If you’re in a coffee shop and you’re criticizing the Harper government and there’s someone sitting beside you and they know you work for a government department, technically you’re in violation of the code of ethics,”
Recent action by our government has provided evidence that there really is a deliberate attempt to muzzle government employees even on their own time. The action in question was a ‘reminder’ to Parks Canada employees about their “Duty of Loyalty”.
In a letter sent to park employees by their supervisors, they were warned not to speak against the government. The letter states that ‘Workers are not supposed to speak about the cuts, whether at meetings, forums or through social media. Only designated people are allowed to deal with journalists.’
The letter informed that “as employees of the public sector, our duty is to support the elected government” that seems to mean the Harper government not Canada itself.
Now, one might argue that this is only Parks Canada, seems harmless but such loyalty documents and amendments are being made in several agencies and departments. When this ‘silencing’ extends to health, environment or science as we skeptics are concerned about… harm will happen. For rational and reasoned debate to exist there must be the free flowing of information. If someone in a government department says that, for example, cuts to Parks Canada will result in higher fees and fewer parks; this is not disloyalty…well not disloyalty to Canada although Harper may disagree. This is the information required by the public to make reasoned decisions. If all we get from our government employees is “Whatever Harper said is true…and if it’s not I could not tell you because that would be disloyal and may get me fired”, reasoned decisions are not possible.
Ironically, there is a contradiction in the Parks Canada Code of Ethics, after warning employees not to be honest to the public but to only tout the party line; it states that “All Parks Canada employees must be open and honest in their dealings with the public, stakeholders and other organizations.”
Yet, another piece of evidence that things are not “all right” on parliament hill.
Posted in Blogs, Don's Blogs | Tagged: Canada, code of ethics, Conservative, duty, Free Speech, Government, Harper, loyalty, Parks Canada | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Don McLenaghen on May 1, 2011
First the formation of a government….
After an election, the Governor General asks the leader of the party with the largest number of seats if he(/she?) believes they can secure the confidence of the parliament. Obviously in a majority situation it’s a given; however in a minority situation some negotiation may need to take place before a positive answer can be given. When the ‘major’ party believes it cannot gain this confidence, the GG will then give the ‘runner-ups’ an opportunity to meet the standard of confidence. The Confidence of the house is simply the majority of MP’s supporting government either directly in a non-confidence vote (ie. The majority reject this motion) or indirectly by the failure to pass the budget, however the recent government (not uniquely but more frequently) have declared other bill-votes to be votes of confidence in an attempt to browbeat the opposition so as to pass said legislation.
What is the difference between minority and coalition government?
A minority government is one where a party forms a government while not having a majority in parliament but maintaining the confidence of the majority of MPs in parliament. We have a long history of minority governments with the first occurring in 1873 and twice the ruling party changed without an election (1873: Conservative to Liberal and 1926: Liberal to Conservative). There are two kinds of minority rule – arrogant or cooperative.
The Arrogant minorities tend to have a short life span as we have seen with Arthur Meighen (who lasted about 6 months) or Diefenbaker (who lasted less than 5 months). This form attempts to implement their party platform irrespective of what the majority of parliament wishes, where they attempt to balance the opposition’s aversion for another election against aversion of the government’s legislation. In this way, Harper has proven quite adept; manipulating the electoral fears of the opposition so as to pass far more regressive conservative (neo-con?) legislation that one would think possible. Of course his domineering control of the conservative party, his totalitarian control of the ‘media message’ (helped by the absence of a pluralistic press) and his contempt for parliament (for which the government ultimately fell) and the democratic processes has helped him push his extremist agenda…sorry, for the rant however true it may be.
The Cooperative minority is one that acknowledges the opinion of the nation is mixed…that it likes policies from some most/all the parties and a responsible Prime Minister should attempt to push legislation that is supported by the majority of the population regardless of the originating party. The greatest of these PM’s probably was Lester Pearson during whose tenure as PM we saw the adoption of such great advances the current Canadian Flag, the creation of universal Health Care, Canadian Student Loans and Canada Pension Plan.
A Coalition government is one where two or more parties form a government which can maintain the confidence of the majority of MPs in parliament. Canada has never had a coalition government (although during WWI, some liberal members joined the Borden Government however, the Liberal party officially declined the offer of coalition). As of yet Finland has never had a majority government, Israel, India and Germany regularly rely on coalitions and currently England has a coalition government.
Recent claims by the Conservatives that the Liberals-NDP planned to form a coalition government WITH the Bloc is incorrect (a lie?). The coalition was comprised of the Liberals (who would get 18 ministries) and the NDP (who would get 6 ministries); the Bloc only offered support so that when the Lib-NDP leadership approached the GG they had a credible claim to have the confidence of the house. By this standard, the Bloc was in a coalition with Harper’s Conservatives government.
Do we elect our Prime Minister?
Yes and no…technically the Prime Minister is simply the leader of the house…the leader of the house is simple any individual who can command the confidence of the house. The office of Prime Minister is not defined in our Constitution; in fact the PM is only referenced indirectly as the person responsible for organising Constitutional Conferences (to amend the constitution). Unlike our American neighbours whose presidential powers are explicitly outlined, we rely on history and precedent to define the PM’s powers and role (there is also a large degree the willingness or acquiescence of the public/parliament to accept changes for example the recent decision of to officially refer to government projects not as “the Canadian government” but as “the Harper government”…something I find very disturbing and wrong but something that seems to disappear for the headlines due to other Conservative scandals.
In fact all ministers and their portfolios of responsibility are defined by constitutional convention or the whim of the PM themselves. By convention, the leader of the party that holds the confidence of parliament is the PM; usually this is a member of the House of Commons but on occasion are not (John Abbot and Mackenzie Bowell were senators while PM). As well; on several occasions’ ministers of the crown were not elected members of government at all, although this is seen as extreme and against convention. On occasion, governments have had ministers of the crown who only later became MPs and often senators have been ministers with portfolio.
The PM serves “At her majesties pleasure”, meaning that unless a PM resigns, dies or is dismissed by the GG (or Queen), they remain PM even if they or their party loses an election. If a PM party loses a majority, they may still remain PM if they can command the confidence of the house. They may also be dismissed by the GG who will then ask the leader of the majority party (or the leader who can command the confidence of the house) to form the government.
Why are elections called?
An election is called by three mechanisms; firstly in our constitution a government cannot hold power longer than 5 years before an election MUST be called. As well as the Canada Elections Act (CEA) states that a general election is to take place on the third Monday in October, in the fourth calendar year after the previous poll, starting with October 19, 2009. The CEA however can be amended at any time so has little effective weight as our current election shows.
Under parliamentary rules, the prime minister can ask the Governor General to dissolve Parliament but the Governor General can refuse the request. This precedent was set in 1926 when William Lyon McKenzie asked the GG to dissolve the parliament but Lord Byng refused and gave the Conservatives a chance. When Paul Martin was in a minority situation after the 2004 election, Harper drafted an agreement between the opposition parties (including the Bloc) to approach the GG to form a government. In 2008, the shoe was on the other foot and the NDP and Liberals signed an agreement to form a coalition; this was avoided by the unusual act of prorogation of parliament.
For those who do not know, prorogation is ending one session of parliament and starting a new one without calling an election traditionally done to allow MP’s to engage their constituency. In modern times, the length of the first ‘session’ of parliament is around 6 months to a year. Harper has the record for the both the shortest session, 17 days, and also the earliest call for Prorogation after an election… 51 days.
Lastly, an election is triggered whenever the sitting government loses the confidence of the parliament. As mentioned before, this can occur by a direct motion of non-confidence or the failure to pass a moneyed bill (such as the budget). Technically, any bill can be declared a confidence vote by the sitting government, but only a motion of non-confidence can be moved by the opposition to defeat a sitting government. It is interesting to note that a third motion may become an automatic non-confidence motion resulting in the defeat of the government; that is a motion of contempt of parliament. Technically that was the motion that caused the Harper government to dissolve parliament and request the GG to call for an election. In the future it may become constitution convention that to be found in contempt of parliament is to also be fired as government…as so it should be.
 I have excluded session a) 1873 which was only to call an election, b) only enacted the War Measures Act in 1914 c) the declaration of war on Germany in 1939, and d) 1930 for no good reason at all!
Posted in Blogs, Don's Blogs | Tagged: Arthur Meighen, Canada Elections Act, Canada Pension Plan, Canadian Election 2011, Canadian Flag, Canadian government, Canadian Student Loans, Coalition government, confidence of the parliament, Conservative Party, Conservative scandal, Constitutional Act 1982, Constitutional Conferences, contempt of parliament, England, Finland, Germany, Government, Governor General, Harper government, India, Israel, Jack Layton, John Abbot, John Diefenbaker, Lester Pearson, Liberal Party, Lord Byng, Mackenzie Bowell, NDP, New Democratic Party, non-confidence vote, parliament, Paul Martin, prime minister, Prorogation, Steven Harper, the Bloc, universal Health Care, William Lyon McKenzie | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Daniel Gipps on November 5, 2010
On episode 86 of Radio Freethinker we discussed the efficacy of building bigger highways to combat congestion. That debate is fairly straightforward and the evidence quite conclusively demonstrates that over the long term (over 10 years or more) expanding highways does nothing to lower congestion or speed up commuting times, and it comes at great monetary, and arguably social, costs. For more information on that debate, look at the references in the show notes or listen to the episode.
This blog post will focus on the secondary debate of the causes of urban sprawl which lead naturally to some conclusions on how to combat sprawl. I realized after I presented my argument in episode 86 that I did not do enough research into the causes of urban sprawl. Now that I have done my research I will present a non-exhaustive list of natural, and political causes of sprawl.
- Growth of income
- Reduction of transportation costs due to technological improvement
- Rising city populations
- Property taxes ( by incentivizing owner-occupier over owner-renter, and by incentivizing low density )
- Roads and other expenses to allow for cars
- Public transit
- Zoning laws, building codes, subdivision regulations
The natural causes are the causes that are not direct effects of government policy. I would argue that any sprawl created by just these forces is not something that needs to be combatted because it represents the natural expansion caused by human motivation, although others could still argue against it on environmental or social grounds.
The political causes are those created directly from laws passed by government. If the goal is to combat urban sprawl, it seems pretty clear that the best method would be to change the political laws. Ultimately, any method that could be successful would either have to involve reducing the political incentives to urban sprawl or by creating incentives for high-density or mixed residential/commercial communities.
While doing research for this topic I came across some interesting information comparing transportation subsidies in the U.S. and Europe. In the U.S. only 25% of Public Transit operating and capital costs are covered by fares. This compares to 60% of road costs covered by gas taxes and user fees. Compare this to Europe where fares cover 50% of public transit costs and gas taxes and other user fees more than cover spending on roads and other driving services. It’s pretty easy to see why European cities are generally denser and why public transportation is utilized more heavily.
Another city that is often cited as a great example of smart urban growth rather than haphazard sprawl is Portland, Oregon. To limit sprawl, Portland literally has a border where zoning laws change to very low density, and services like sewage, water, telecommunications, police, fire, and schools are greatly limited. Because of this and other policies like a transportation system built around public transportation, Portland is considered one of the greenest cities in the U.S.
Ultimately any policies implemented to combat sprawl or to improve transit need to be based on sound economics and evidence in order to avoid unintended consequences like those we now face from years of constantly building bigger highways.
Posted in Daniel's Blogs | Tagged: cars, Government, highways, housing, property taxes, subsidies, transit, transportation, urban sprawl, zoning laws | 2 Comments »
Posted by Don McLenaghen on July 19, 2010
Part 1, show me the money!
There were several issues that arose out the recent meeting of global leaders in southern Ontario at the end of June. The first issue is cost. The G20/G8 cost the Canadian people over a billion dollars for a 3 day event. This expense included a 10 km fenced enclosure costing almost 10 million, new crowd control equipment including the dreaded ‘sound cannon’ and of course security enforcement personal..
The security cost of last G20 was held in spooked Pittsburgh cost only 13 million, London’s in 2009 was priced (for the whole event) at 20 million. Now, the G8s have a record of costing more (although even by that standard we spent more than twice as much as the next most expensive G8, L’Aquila, which was a masked way for the Italian government to rebuild the town after a devastating earthquake) but in this case the vast amount of money was spent on the G20 in Toronto.
Let’s compare this to other past events. Security for the Olympics here in Vancouver cost around 1 billion, depending on your source. This was a 26 day event with some history of terrorist violence in the past (The Munich and Atlanta Games). At the opening ceremonies 10 heads of state as well as over 41 other high officials from over all over the world. This of course did not include the thousands of performers or the crowd of tens of thousands watching in person or the billion or so watching on TV; a very high profile event we paid over 40 million a day for security. If one was worried about ‘sending a message’ the Olympics (as those who tried to justify the expense of the games constantly reiterated) would be a prime target.
The G20/G8 events, although also ‘famous’ for their protest, these are low level (ie few people), low impact (minor property damage) and attack mainly social justice activist. However, they do get a disproportionate amount of press in the first instance because the activist are trying to point out social inequalities, access inequalities and other justice issues and for the second instance because the participants (especially those representing private interest) do not want the ‘masses’ to know what is going on (largely at private behind-closed-door events) and those who worry about a repeat of MAI.
MAI was the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) which was derailed by popular protest in the late 1990s. This victory of the ‘people’ followed by the resistance to ‘restart’ MAI at the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in 1999. Seattle was a break water point for both the activist and the ‘establishment’. When protesters came out again in Quebec in 2000 and Genoa, the ‘security’ forces were prepared to be more ‘aggressive’. Since then there have been a couple of deaths – all of them protesters.
The change the security forces have taken is the adoption of the ‘Miami’ model. This was an event where negotiations for the Free Trade of the Americas Agreement occurred in Miami, Florida. This model, seemed a win-win (-lose) for the security forces, the politicians/lobbies (and the activist/masses). There are several aspects of the psychology of the Miami model I will bring up in the next post, but the important aspect for now is the money. One reason the ‘local forces’ are willing to be so ‘active’ is large amounts of money are infused in the local security apparatus and forces. Often this is seen as new equipment but in Toronto’s case the vast amount of money was spent ‘paying’ for the personal (with its corresponding overtones of ‘mercenary’). One area of visible equipment increase was in the form of riot gear but enough to say a lot of money was spent, a lot of people detained, a lot of press on the ‘thugs’ and very very very little was broadcast of substance in spite of the fact the VAST majority of the activity of activist were peaceful, important and should have been heard; instead we got a burning car.
Posted in Blogs, Don's Blogs | Tagged: activism, Canada, G20, G8, globalization, Government, inequality, Miami Model, Olympics, Oppression, Political Skepticism, public protest, Spending, Toronto | 1 Comment »