June 20, 2008

Attacking Dion not Conservatives Best Move

Our bumbling Prime Minister has set off to the West to spread his virulent brand of fear in an attempt to bring Dion and the new carbon plan down. While this strategy may have worked in the past (i.e. Dion is not a leader), and with the exception of Alberta, it may not work now. The difference this time around is that Harper has very little, if any, credibility left, especially in regards to accountability, leadership and the environment, and the Conservatives are bankrupt of any ideas beyond childish retorts and deceitful attack ads.

Harper can attack the Liberal Carbon plan all he likes. The fact of the matter is that Canadians are well aware that Harper speaks with no credibility on the issue. Harper trashed Kyoto and tried to sell his own 'Made-In-Canada' Clean Air Act that was based on hollow targets rather than real numbers. Even reviews of the plans by arms-length government programs gave Harper's policies a big thumb down while emphasizing the shell game the Conservatives were playing with the figures. More recently Harper and his group of whiners attacked the historic agreement between Ontario and Quebec to develop a carbon trading program. And now they are going after Dion's carbon tax program. All the while they are pushing an idea of intensity targets and lots of patience (before it becomes effective). However, this program has already been rejected by pretty much everyone in the world because it doesn't really do anything except waste paper.

Dion is right to believe that Canadians are intelligent enough to know the difference between what he is offering and the Conservatives offering of 'truthiness'.

The attack ads the Conservatives are pushing are likely to help Dion and his plan. The ads will bring attention to the carbon tax plan and Stephane Dion. If the Conservatives are so afraid of the carbon tax program that they have to run out and try to discredit it through deception, many Canadians may deduce that the plan is significant. Canadians are likely skeptical enough at this point to take much of what the Conservatives do or say with a grain of salt. Especially when Harper and Kenney are running around making jackasses out of themselves predicting a doomsday scenario. The funny part is that Harper has essentially done this to himself by being consistently poor when it comes to his words versus reality. The politics of division and fear are beginning to die off and are no longer palatable to Canadians. Harper needs to learn that very quickly.

The Conservatives also seem to be overlooking something else in regards to Canadians and the carbon tax. Dion is being completely forthright when he refers to it as a tax. In the current political climate, new taxes are taboo. The only good time to refer to taxes is when your talking about cutting them. Any government looking to significantly increase taxes or create new ones are possibly staring at a death sentence. Good thing Dion's plan also calls for tax cuts. Thanks to the Chretien governments, balanced budgets without tax increases has become the norm. However, Dion is willing to put it all out there, giving Canadians the opportunity to exam it for themselves. This will get people to listen. While it's a gamble to talk of a new tax it will make people interested in the details. And with this plan being touted by environmentalists, economists and indirectly, the Green Party, Canadians will begin to realize that the carbon tax might be legitimate and reasonable for a 21st century Canada and the environment.

June 12, 2008

Hamlet: Starring Stephen Harper as King Claudius?

There is a moment in Hamlet, the famous tragedy by Shakespeare, where Claudius is in his chapel begging for forgiveness for murdering King Hamlet and other wrong doings (Act III, scene 3). The fallacy for Claudius, obviously, is that while he may be remorseful he can't be truly forgiven since he is still willing to be king - the title he knew he would inherit after the murder. The point of that scene is that with apologies and forgiveness there is an expectation of consequences and actions. For Claudius, he would have been expected to give up his title and everything he had gained by being king.

For Harper, the long overdue apology has significant meaning for the First Nations peoples, however it's ultimately meaningless unless Harper is willing to commit to certain consequences and actions. First off, Harper's government has to finalize the commitment of financial restitution for the residential school victims. Most importantly, the social and mental health fallouts have to be addressed. Too many victims still suffer from their experiences and these have had an adverse effect on First Nations' communities in the process. These need to be made right or else this 'historic' apology is nothing more than words and a empty spectacle.

It's hard to say at this point what next move the Conservatives have planned - whether or not they will follow up the apology with actions. However, if the past is any indication, it may amount to nothing as the Conservatives trashed the Kelowna Accord, voted against the UN declaration of the rights of indigenous peoples and have consistently avoided dealing with the many problems that have come to light in the time the Conservatives have been in power. And then there is also the telling, double-speak filled interview that Pierre Poilievre gave that essentially diminished the supposed sincerity of Harper's apology, only to have Poilievre make his own 'apology' - likely since he got caught - because he screwed up the other apology. With this track record, it doesn't come as any surprise that there are many who are skeptical of Harper's intentions behind the apology.

If the skepticism has a basis in reality, it's no wonder that Harper's speech was much more formal and general while the Layton and Dion gave emotional and reflective speeches. If the Conservatives are not truly remorseful, it's also, in part, likely they do not truly understand the situation and its meaning to First Nations peoples. And that is why there are comments from Aboriginal such as this,

"They (Liberals and NDP) dug down deeper into the history of what happened. It seemed more sincere. I don't feel that Harper did that."

At the end of the play, King Claudius is killed by Hamlet but not before Hamlet is inflicted with with a mortal wound. There is a lesson there. If Harper's words are empty and are not followed up by action Canada may also be subject to a tragedy. Without action and real support Canada's First Nations communities will further degrade and eventually be beyond both saving and reconciliation. If that were to happen, there is little doubt that the government at the time, especially if it's Harper and the Conservatives, may take the fall but not before a mortal wound has been struck and Canada's Aboriginals are lost forever. And that would be a tragedy of epic proportions.

June 11, 2008

Flaherty inTwo Different Situations but the Same Approach or If It Didn't Work the First Time...

I don't blame Canadians for doubting Flaherty's ability to manage the economy and make judgments about growth and whether or not we're heading for a recession.

Flaherty can go on all he wants but the reality is that he couldn't get it right when he was Minister of Finance of Ontario during a period of seemingly exponential growth and prosperity. So how are Canadians supposed to believe he can get it right when the economy is on its way down? Remember, his approach to both situations has been pretty much exactly the same.

June 08, 2008

Putting Party and Ideology before Constituents: Durham Politicians at Their Worst

For the last two days, I have spent time amongst the protesting workers of CAW Local 222 at General Motors' office in Oshawa. I have been hearing heart-breaking tales, experiencing angry emotions, seeing confusion, disappointment and bewilderment on the faces of so many. These are people who have been let down, in the worst of ways, by the company they've worked so hard for and made this GM division one of the best in the world. All they want from GM is recognition for their work and respect - enough respect for GM to honour the agreement that was signed only three weeks ago and supposedly under good faith.

From the government, most of all their elected representatives, they want empathy and support. From local and non-local Liberals and NDP they have gotten just that with visits from Stephane Dion, Jack Layton, Dan McTeague (Pickering-Scarborough) and others. From their local MPs - Jim Flaherty, Bev Oda and Colin Carrie - they've gotten nothing except cynical and convoluted, indirect replies. These local MPs have essentially brushed these constituents off in this time of need. What these Conservative MPs have done is exposed the worst of politicians and given aid to the growth of public skepticism towards politicians and government.

At what point does a politician worry more about their career and standing within the party than they do their constituency and issues that are facing them? Obviously, this is a rhetorical question. These people rely on their elected officials to represent them, not look down on them and treat them like they are a nuisance, which is what Flaherty, Oda and Carrie have done, if they've acknowledged them at all. The problem here is likely, in part, to do with the Harper's demand that members remain silent and out of the public eye and enforcing this through threat of status and such. There is also the issue of the Conservative ideology that tends to favour concepts such as not getting involved with business and supposed market-issues, about keeping the government from being involved with people and so forth. Lastly, there may be some fear that the members of CAW are unhappy with the Conservatives' views or the belief that these workers tend to vote with NDP and Liberal. However, all of these 'reasons' are arbitrary and contrived in comparison to what has happened to these people and the illegal actions by GM, and to the responsibilities politicians are supposed to have to those they represent.

Bev Oda hasn't really said or done anything. Jim Flaherty has offered nothing except vague and empty responses that borders on patronizing and arrogance, while insulting and putting down Ontario. Colin Carrie made excuses and then told CAW he needed a formal invite to meet with them, which he still hasn't done despite several offers made. These MPs are representing the worst in politicians. They are more concerned with their status within the party, the opinion of their leader and their ideology. They should be more concerned about providing good, strong representation to their electorate, about giving support to those who need it and making sure the ridings they represent are healthy and not being left behind in illegal, irresponsible and unforgiving ways. Yet, they are doing everything they shouldn't.

Flaherty, Oda and Carrie are representing their ridings through ignorance and absenteeism. They are giving comfort and support to the cause of a Prime Minister that delights in the idea that Ontario is struggling and whose loyalties are with Alberta and the oil companies. At what point do these local MPs realize that if their ridings - and Ontario - falter enough so do they? Oshawa and Whitby have enough problems already with unemployment, substance abuse, which has a lot to do with people struggling with economic issues. From one year ago, the number of people receiving EI has increased by 56% within Oshawa, Whitby and Clarington. When are Flaherty, Oda and Carrie going to put their party and their leader aside and stand up for their own people, ridings and province? That's what they were elected to do and that is where their loyalties should lie! Forget ideology, forget the party and the leader, and forget yourselves. This should be about local representation, the public good and principle. Flaherty, Oda and Carrie exemplify exactly what is wrong with many politicians and what is wrong with the Conservative Party.

June 06, 2008

General Motors Bad-Faith Bargaining Not the Way to Go

It was announced today that GM is sticking by its story that the market changed so drastically from two weeks ago that they have to continue with the violation of their labour agreement with CAW. It likely goes without saying that CAW doesn't believe their woeful tale. And they shouldn't because who would?

As I wrote yesterday that market trends don't just appear over night and restructuring plans of this magnitude take longer than mere days or a couple of weeks to put in order. General Motors would know all along what their sales are like and would be able to read the market trends long before they occur in any drastic measure. The past has shown that with spikes in gas prices sales of large vehicles will slump somewhat. The success of companies such Toyota and Honda with their compact and low-fuel consumption over the last several years, at least, would also be an indicator. GM should, have been preparing for slowing sales of trucks and SUVs for sometime. It's likely they have been.

This begs the question, why would they have bargained in bad faith with CAW?

One possibility is that they wanted to wrangle many concessions out of its employees. However, with there being precedence set by the Ford contract, it's likely GM couldn't get everything they wanted. They are now going to use the threat of closure to get even more concessions out of their employees before willing to change their plans. Think of this as a back door method of locking-out their employees. GM, just signing a new contract can't legally lockout its employees so instead will threaten a permanent closure to bring CAW back to the bargaining table to renegotiate the current contract.

Another possibility is that GM wanted to see what they could get out of the current contract so they could tally what the possible penalties would be when they made the decision to violate their contract. From GM's point of view, the financial costs of buyouts and severances, and the penalties that they are possibly going to incur for breaking the terms of their government assistance and labour agreement are worth it in the long run. In other words, they are willing to foot the bill on massive payouts right now in hopes of saving money later.

I understand it when a company is looking at their long term viability. That is likely what GM is doing here. However, they've gone about it the wrong way. It's one thing to present all the facts in negotiations and work together with your counterpart to find workable and longterm solutions, together. Ford was able to do it and they set precedence doing it. But to hide your facts and plans during the negotiations comes with much more problems. The public relations fallout may be enough to knock sales down even further and drive customers to your competitors. The financial costs may be much higher than you expect, especially if it is deemed you were highly dishonest. And if you're losing billions already losing more money, in this manner, doesn't seem to be in your interest. Let's not forget that the GM brass have already made errors in judgment, whether it came from the supposed misreading of the market, the closing of your most cost-effective and highest quality rated plant, and so on. Pulling this stunt is not going to reflect well on the company and is likely a huge miscalculation on the part of GM's brass.

June 05, 2008

Is General Motors Dishonest, Incompetent or Both?

The recent decision by GM to close the Oshawa truck plant is a devastating blow the local area and employees. Living within the area, I am seeing and hearing the effects of this announcement everywhere I go. The fallout is going to be felt by so many. I completely support the efforts by CAW and the employees are trying to make to get GM to abide by their recently signed contract. What type of company and its leadership pulls such a stunt? Who signs a brand new, concession-laden, unprecedented agreement than turns around and takes full advantage of the situation?

Obviously there are problems with the GM leadership.

A company such as GM doesn't decide to close a truck plant and ultimately restructure their entire company overnight. In fact, this type of planning (restructuring, etc.) takes months - Tim Horton's doesn't release a new food product without months of planning. What this means is that when GM negotiated their recent contract with CAW (less than three weeks ago), they negotiated in poor faith. That may be a strong accusation but the pieces are there to support such a theory.

With rising fuel prices, less demand for trucks, the growing environment focus and so forth, the writing has been on the wall for sometime and the GM brass would have seen it. Market trends aren't some elusive creature that appear out of nowhere and then suddenly disappears like Polkaroo. There are reasons why investors are making so much money these days on speculation. The information is available and with some knowledge and common sense they can be put together to form a future outlook. The warning signs and signals would have been in place months, if not years, ago and GM would have begun their restructuring plans long before they signed their current agreement. Therefore, it's easy for me to accuse GM of bargaining in poor faith. It's easy to accuse them of hiding relevant and important information, and making empty promises just so they could take advantage of CAW and its willingness to make concessions on wages and benefits.

On the flip side, I'm sure there are skeptics that may question whether or not GM had full intentions to dupe CAW. One could make the case that they signed their recent agreement to extend the life of the Oshawa truck plant to 2011 and only decided to renege based on more recent information. However, if that's the case then that would mean the decision to restructure, including closing the truck plant is a hasty and reactionary decision. Therefore, one could question the wisdom of their decision and the entire decision-making process of the brass. This would mean that GM is being run by fools and the entire company is likely doomed.

Maybe that is the problem. GM is run by damned fools. After all, part of the reason the Japanese manufacturers have been able to penetrate the North American market as well as they have and stem the economic downturn is because of their ability to foresee consumer trends and develop efficient manufacturing methods. They did this long before the domestics and it's forced the domestics to play catch up. This was a mistake made by the domestic companies years ago, however. And for them to still be ignorant of the situation would mean they exist in a strange time warp or are not fit to be running the company.

That may also explain why GM wants to shutdown the most efficient truck plant they own, which is another real head-scratcher. If GM isn't completely stable financially, and so it needs to find ways to cut costs, produce better products, etc. is it the wisest step to shutdown your most efficient and reliable plant, and move production to a factory that costs you more? There's something missing in this equation and that is competence. Whoever made that decision likely did so rashly and is likely the same person(s) that possibly missed the whole change in the trends and economy. And if that is the case then the whole recent restructuring decision deserves to be questioned and the decision-making process and reliability of management needs to be reviewed.

When it comes down to it this recent issue with GM is either one of dishonesty or one of incompetence. Either GM intentionally hid information from CAW during the bargaining session and had no intention of honouring their side of the agreement or GM is being run by fools who have missed changes in trends and the economy and are making poor reactionary decisions. Which is it? I'm leaning towards dishonesty since one would think that GM, like the other big North American car companies, had learned from their earlier mistakes and lack of foresight. I don't believe a company makes rash decisions when it comes to a major restructuring. A company cannot have the detailed outline of such a move in only a matter of days. Though who really knows? Because even if this is a case of dishonesty, that would still reflect poorly on the ability of the management to do their jobs effectively. But in the end, it's still the workers and the Durham region that suffer. And ultimately that is what we should be focusing on.

June 03, 2008

Open Letter to Government of Ontario Ministers: Invesitgate Clarington Mayor and Council for Ignoring Democracy

The following is an open letter to be sent to three Government of Ontario Ministers. It's concerning the lack of transparency, accountability and respect for democracy that has gone on for some time by Clarington's conservative and Conservative mayor, Jim Abernethy and several local and regional council members - Ottawa's not the only one with municipal council problems. Most of the issues stem from the process surrounding the proposed energy-from-waste incinerator that these municipal politicians are trying to enforce on the unwilling electorate. At the end are some articles that are from the local paper addressing these concerns as well. The most telling part is that the local paper has an open, right-wing bias, yet the situation is to the point where even it can't ignore some of these issues. -------------------------------------------------------------------

Honourable John Gerretsen, Minister of the Environment

Honourable Gerry Phillips, Minister of Energy

Honourable Jim Watson, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing

Dear Honourable Ministers

The undersigned are all directors of the Durham Provincial Liberal Association and it is with grave concern that we write to you today.

Democracy is at risk in our riding due to the behaviour of our local government that seems bent on ramming through an Energy from Waste facility with neither input nor approval from its electorate. Find attached a detailed description of how some local representatives are denying the democratic rights of those it governs. This behaviour makes a mockery of both the democratic process and the vulnerability of citizens. Also find attached a list of a few issues and questions we feel are relevant to the proposed EFW facility for Durham.

While it is understandable that you would not want to meddle in local affairs (and we do not think you should), we do call on you to you to help us by clarifying your stance on the issues that we have presented. We would be grateful if we could meet with you at your earliest possible convenience.

Sincerely

Pam Callus

Kyle Selmes

Scott Maxwell

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Local Governance Concerns

Clarington Council

  • During the last municipal election, the Progressive Conservatives ran one of their people in each of the municipal seats in Clarington; we see this as a premeditated effort to gain control of council so that the incineration issue would pass easily
  • Clarington Council voted Clarington an unwilling host, yet the mayor and two regional councilors proceeded to the region with votes in support of the incinerator
  • Delegation times have been reduced from ten minutes to five
  • Council’s agendas have become intentionally long and delegations are scheduled after presentations; at one recent council meeting delegations did not start until 10:30 p.m.
  • Council agendas are so long that business items cannot be addressed before the 11:00 p.m. deadline and so are adjourned until another day; (in)conveniently not all members of council can attend these reconvened meetings
  • The Mayor of Clarington lobbied the members of a Green Advisory Committee to become the chairperson; when this was shown to violate a bi-law, staff recommended that a member of council should, in fact, be permitted to chair such a committee. The Mayor is using his influence to wield power over both staff and citizenry.
  • Delegations have been banned from Council because they made suggestions that some members of local government were bullying others.
  • Members of the public have requested that various speakers be permitted to speak on both sides of the issue at a forum where the public can ask questions. The Mayor has decided that this will not happen and he will invite a variety of speakers to appear at council so that councilors may ask questions on behalf of their constituents. This is a very convoluted and non-transparent process.
  • The mayor and the three regional councilors that support this project may not seek re-election (or may not be re-elected). If this is so, we will be left with a legacy that we have not had a transparent opportunity to question, let alone oppose.

Regional Municipality of Durham Council

  • The Regional Chairperson has publicly indicated that whether or not Clarington council is an unwilling host, the project will proceed.
  • Staff members are clearly prejudiced towards the EFW project; there is no effort to step up diversion as other communities have done
  • Council has rejected calls for a “backup” plan for both the potential incinerator site and alternative waste disposal possibilities
  • The Director of Waste Management for the Region has stated that he doesn’t want to hear about zero waste philosophies.
  • One reason why the Region maintains that landfill is not an option is because the Region itself created a policy whereby they would not allow any landfills within the Municipality; we don’t believe that this policy is coincidence and it creates the impression that officials are backed against the wall.
  • Residents have been polled regarding their thoughts on EFW. However, the questionnaire and reporting of its results were conducted by the industry stakeholders.

Issues and Questions

Ministry of the Environment

  • If guidelines for the proposed incinerator are established, will you enforce the guidelines?
  • Will your Ministry develop a comprehensive plan for the province regarding the disposal of waste?
  • If incineration is appropriate for any community in Ontario, then it could potentially be appropriate for all communities in the province. Is this the Ontario of tomorrow?
  • Too little is known about the effects of nano-particles released to the air during the incineration process. What regulations could your Ministry propose to address such contaminants?
  • Is it really true that this incineration project could be considered recycling?
  • The local press has reported that Mayor Abernethy requested a Ministry official to speak at council about incineration and that the Ministry’s response was that it does not take a stance on thermal technologies. If this is the case, why not?
  • A moratorium on incinerators in the province would provide time for enough research to be carried out so that an informed decision can be made regarding their future.
  • This facility, if built, will spew its airborne waste not only onto the surrounding farmland and homes, but also onto the Region’s composting facility virtually across the street and onto our most precious local resource, Lake Ontario.

Ministry of Municipal Affairs

  • What suggestions can you make to us that would help us put a stop to the autocratic governance in Clarington and the Region of Durham?
  • Are there checks and balances that we are not aware of that we could put into play to help make the processes of council more accountable and transparent?

Ministry of Energy

  • Will power generated from such a facility be deemed “green” as has been suggested by staff at the Regional Municipality of Durham?
  • Is this facility really necessary to generate energy, given its location next door to Darlington Generating Station, just 2-3km away?

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Further Reading (all from local newspaper that is very open about its right-wing bias):

  1. Changing the Rules to Suit Himself is Wrong
  2. Former Mayor has Concerns About Current Council Workings
  3. Letters to Editor, Council Decry Mayor
  4. Rules are Rules and Should be Followed
  5. It's Debatable, Say Residents
  6. To Debate or Not Debate, That is the Question
  7. Air Quality Report Too Little, Too Late
  8. Clarington’s unwilling host status being used as a ‘bargaining chip’ say residents

Quotes from people smarter than me...

"If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich" ~ JFK

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. " ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. " ~ Benjamin Franklin

"First it is necessary to stand on your own two feet. But the minute a man finds himself in that position, the next thing he should do is reach out his arms. " ~ Kristin Hunter

"When you're a mayor and you have a problem you blame the provincial government. If you are provincial government and you have a problem you blame the federal government. We don't blame the Queen any more, so once in a while we might blame the Americans." ~ Jean Chretien

"Which is ideology? Which not? You shall know them by their assertion of truth, their contempt for considered reflection, and their fear of debate." ~ John Ralston Saul

"It is undoubtedly easier to believe in absolutes, follow blindly, mouth received wisdom. But that is self-betrayal." ~ John Ralston Saul

"Everybody dies, Tracey. Someone's carrying a bullet for you right now, doesn't even know it. The trick is to die of old age before it finds you." ~ Cpt. Malcolm Reynolds (Firefly, Episode 12)

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