Bills 5 & 6

Queen’s Bench Justice Dennis Ball’s decision on the constitutionality of the Public Services Essential Services Act (Bill 5) and the Trade Union Amendment Act (Bill 6) was issued on Monday afternoon. Tuesday morning, I did a short interview with Charles Smith, a constitutional and labour law expert who teaches at St. Thomas More College in Saskatoon, for a news brief on the judgement. Here’s a link to the brief.

Ball’s ruling runs 132 pages. Most of it concerns Bill 5. In his judgment, Ball didn’t dispute the government’s right to pass essential services legislation. As he noted, most provinces in Canada have some form of legislation to ensure that services that are essential to the health and safety of citizens aren’t adversely affected during a strike involving public sector workers. Prior to the legislation being passed, essential services were provided at the discretion of the union involved. Outside of a few isolated instances, unions generally ensured that the public’s welfare was looked after.

When the government introduced Bill 5, it did so with little consultation with organized labour. In the bill, it gave employers virtually blanket authority to deem employees as essential. In the area of Health, that resulted in hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities declaring over 80 per cent of their employees as essential. While recreation therapists, maintenance personnel and other staff undoubtedly make an important contribution to the long-term well-being of patients and residents it’s a bit of a stretch to deem them as essential to the institution’s operation.

Continue reading “Bills 5 & 6”

Cagey Caterpillar Closes London Plant

The other day, the $60 billion heavy equipment manufacturer Caterpillar announced that it would be shutting a locomotive plant in London, Ont and moving production to a plant in Muncie, Indiana. The 450 workers in London belong to the Canadian Auto Workers Union, and they had been locked out since January 1 after they balked at taking a substantial pay cut that would have reduced hourly wages from the $34 an hour range to $16 an hour. Here’s a link to a report in The Star.

A few things of note: in 2008 the London plant received a $5 million tax break from the federal government to help it upgrade equipment and remain competitive in the global economy. Four months after Caterpillar purchased the plant in June 2010 it purchased an abandoned manufacturing facility in Muncie. According to this Globe & Mail report, the move to shift production to Muncie was made just 36 hours after Indiana’s governor signed into law “right to work” legislation that will make it hard for any prospective union to organize a workplace in the state which has been hit hard by the ongoing U.S. recession. Workers in Muncie will receive wages in the $12-$14.50 an hour range. Finally, once the London plant is closed, Caterpillar will be free transfer all its equipment and intellectual property (which was paritally paid for by Canadian taxpayers) to Muncie.

So all in all, not a bad bit of corporate bull-dozing. In response to the London closure, Mark’s Work Wearhouse has apparently said it will be pulling Caterpillar’s line of workboots from it’s its London-area stores.

Andrew in Wonderland

Weird column in today’s Leader-Post by Andrew Coyne (pictured). It’s about federal NDP leadership hopeful Thomas Mulcair and the fact that, in addition to being a Canadian citizen by birth, he also holds French citizenship through his marriage to a French-born woman.

In the first part of the columnCoyne lists a number of countries like Australia, Demark, Norway, Germany and Japan that require anyone who becomes a citizen of a foreign country to forfeit their citizenship in their home  country.

No problem there. But after musing about the balance Canada has struck between being open to people from other lands and the fealty we expect from them, Coyne veers into looney-land and starts waxing poetically about the glories of Canadian citizenship and the demands it places on us. This sentence in particular jumped out at me:

And these in turn depend upon an expectation that we are, in some more fundamental sense, committed to each other: that we are pledged, not merely to live with each other, but to be bound by and to each other, and to that enterprise in which we are all engaged, the construction of a society based on justice.

I’m not sure where Coyne has been for the last 30 years, but doesn’t he realize that his concept of citizenship is decidedly old-school and idealistic in the extreme? I believe former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said it best in 1987:

I think we’ve been through a period where too many people have been given to understand that if they have a problem, it’s the government’s job to cope with it. ‘I have a problem, I’ll get a grant.’ ‘I’m homeless, the government must house me.’ They’re casting their problem on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families.

The technical term for that philosophical take on humanity is Homo Economicus. It’s the basis of most neo-liberal political and economic thought, and assumes that human beings are rational creatures whose actions are motivated exclusively by their desire to maximize their “utility” — be it through monetary or non-monetary means. In plain language, we look out for #1. We don’t concern ourselves with justice and other airy-fairy ideas like equality, fairness, community, environmental sustainability and anything else that doesn’t enhance our material well-being.

Usually, I enjoy Coyne’s insights into Canadian politics. But in this instance he really missed the boat.

Pick of the Day: Think & Drink

This is a new once-a-month initiative at Creative City Centre (1843 Hamilton). As part of CCC’s mandate to boost the business skills of local artists through the Regina Arts & Business Network, it’s a mixer designed to bring people in different creative fields together to meet each other and brainstorm on ways to promote the creative industries in Regina.

The inaugural event goes tonight from 5-8 p.m. At 6:30 p.m., Taron Cochrane, Marketing & Promotions Manager of the Regina Symphony Orchestra, will give a short talk titled: What’s YOUR Soundtrack?  Making the Perfect Mix-Tape for Your Life. There’s a cash bar, along with snacks, so if you’re in the neighbourhood check it out.

Keystone Kaput


The U.S. government has denied an application by TransCanada to build the Keystone XL pipeline, the State Department announced Wednesday. A statement released by the department said it doesn’t preclude TransCanada applying again with a different route. The Canadian government wanted to see the pipeline go ahead. Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said the government hopes a new TransCanada application will be approved, but Canada is going to look to other markets to sell its oil. “It is clear that the process is not yet over,” Oliver said.

The Washington Post:

Obama said that a Feb. 21 deadline set by Congress as part of the two-month payroll tax cut extension had made it impossible to do an adequate review of the pipeline project proposed by TransCanada. “This announcement is not a judgment on the merits of the pipeline, but the arbitrary nature of a deadline that prevented the State Department from gathering the information necessary to approve the project and protect the American people,” the president said in a statement.

The Guardian:

Environmental groups immediately hailed the decision as David versus Goliath victory for an unlikely coalition between national activists and Nebraska landowners opposed to the pipeline’s route across an ecologically sensitive area known as the Sand Hills.

Last word to Desmog Blog:

While it’s good to see that President Obama is standing up to oil industry bullying and Republican pressure to fast-track the permit, this still means Keystone XL is very much in play. If it’s ever built, Keystone XL will allow the expansion of the Alberta tar sands that climate scientists worry will send us down a dangerous path of global warming pollution. What’s more, the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, if built, would increase oil prices in the American Midwest. That’s the shocking takeaway point from a bombshell report about Keystone XL as an export pipeline released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Oil Change International. We’ve reported time and time again here on DeSmogBlog, the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would not improve America’s energy security, but never has that reality been more clearly conveyed than by this one real-world point that is worth repeating. The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would increase oil prices in the Midwest.

Segregated Education System Causes Problems in Israel

Even with the recent move by the Saskatchewan government to provide expanded public funding for associate/private schools the situation here is much different than it is in Israel, so I don’t mean this post to be alarmist. It’s more a cautionary warning because in Israel a lot of concern has been expressed lately with the ultra Orthodox component of the Israeli education system which comprises about 25 per cent of students.

In Saskatchewan, associate/private schools, most of which are faith-based, must follow the provincial curriculum and meet other academic requirements to receive public funding. In Israel, that’s not the case. In ultra Orthodox schools, this Associated Press article says, students typically don’t do much in-depth study of subjects like math, science and the arts. Instead, they focus mostly on religious studies. This has led to a marked decrease in the performance of Israeli students in international tests in comparison to students from other countries (another contributor to this poor performance is the underfunding of education for Arab Israelis). As adults, ultra Orthodox Jews are ill-equipped to function in the job market, and the Israeli government apparently provides significant welfare payments to thousands of ultra Orthodox Jews so they can survive.

Also, the self-segregation that the ultra Orthodox community imposes on itself leads inevitably to culture clashes with mainstream, largely secular Israeli society. In December, there was quite an uproar when a Jewish woman riding a bus route frequented by ultra Orthodox Jews declined to give up her seat near the front of the bus and sit at the back in deference to Jewish males as is the practice in the ultra Orthodox community. Secular Jewish girls and women who, in ultra Orthodox eyes, are regarded as dressing and behaving immorally are also subjected to harassment.

Ultra Orthodox Jews are also hard-line proponents of expanded settlements in the occupied West Bank which is a huge stumbling block to any peace agreement being reached between Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East. And that’s a problem we all have to deal with.

The Environment Vs. The Economy

In the comments for yesterday’s Six in the Morning  (in which I basically howled incohate inchoate rage at Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver for his ignorant comments about environmental activists), commentator Brononymous defends what I would characterize as a reckless, self-serving philosophy of resource development.

Brononymous implies that pipelines are necessarily to support the nice things that all us hippy lefties want, like affordable housing and public transportation. That’s a damn weak argument built on the thinnest sliver of truth, but I appreciate the chance to say more about  this topic.

The bottom line is that a wrecked climate brings a world of hurt to everyone. Like David Suzuki says (over and over and over), global warming is expensive as well as terrible. Climate change gives us crop failures and food scarcity, droughts, water shortages, increased wear and tear to municipal infrastructure, and ultimately a wobbly global economy beset by international and regional strife (what’s going to happen when Pakistan is wiped out by drought? Nothing good, that’s for sure). All of these problems are expensive and all undermine all our quality of life, including our society’s alleged ability to provide affordable housing (which we’re doing a crappy job of in any case).

Besides, what are the numbers on fighting climate change: something like one per cent of GDP? As George Monbiot pointed out last month in The Guardian, it’s cheaper than  bailing out banks.

Rather than an expense that makes life tougher, an increased commitment to protecting the environment is absolutely necessary for Canadians to maintain an enjoyable standard of living — which is obviously what prairie dog wants too, right? A little sacrifice today for a better tomorrow — investment of one per cent GDP to fight climate change, and a little more care in approving massive fossil fuel projects. No big deal, in fact, it’s arguably the small-C conservative position.

As it is, ignoring the environmental costs of our actions is like living off credit cards. The interest is a killer and when you eventually hit your spending limit you’re screwed. But ironically, that’s the approach of our government. Canada’s Conservatives consistently sacrifice future stability for short-term economic gain. They’re only fiscal conservatives when they’re cutting money to the arts, or the CBC, or the sciences. They’re always ready to break out the platinum card to build more jails or buy more warplanes. And they’re always ready to borrow from the future by cannibalizing environmental assets for profit.

I’m sorry and frustrated that Conservative supporters in Saskatchewan are so blind to all of this.

Calendar Quirk

When Samoans go to bed on Dec. 29, it will be with the knowledge that when they wake up it will be Dec. 31.

No, they’re not planning on sleeping an entire day away. Instead, the country is going to skip Friday to better align itself with its major trading partners Australia and New Zealand. Located by the International Date Line, it’s currently near the spot where the day officially ends (Samoa currently bills itself as the last country to see the sun rise and set).

Australia & New Zealand aren’t that far away, but they’re on the other side of the Date Line, so they’re 21 and 23 hours ahead of Samoa. That makes it hard to sync up business dealings and other forms of interaction, so Samoa is going to move over to the other side of the Date Line. In the process, it will become one of the first countries to see the sun rise and set.

You can read more here. If you do, you can find out which countries currently claim that day begins there, and the circumstances around a previous Date Line shift Samoa made in 1892 where residents repeated a day to get into proper temporal alignment with the rest of the world.

Pick of the Day: Chasing Madoff

Chair of the NASDAQ stock market on Wall Street, defrauded thousands of investors of billions of dollars in a massive Ponzi scheme that stretched over decades, lived with his family in obscene luxury, plead guilty to 11 federal felony charges in 2009 and was sentenced to 150 years in prison. Here’s the trailer. This documentary screens at the RPL Theatre tonight at 7 p.m. and Friday at 9 p.m.

The Gospel According to Bill

Today’s Leader-Post has a report on a speech Potash Corp of Saskatchewan CEO Bill Doyle  (pictured) gave at a Regina & District Chamber of Commerce gathering yesterday where he described Saskatchewan as province once dominated by a “philosophy of failure” and “envy”.

In suggesting that those bad old days were now behind us, Doyle (who in the past few years has earned in excess of $120 million annually in salary and stock options) pointed to the experience of his own company, which he has been associated with since 1987.

In the 1970s, the Potash Corp existed as a Crown Corporation under the Allan Blakeney government. In 1989 it was privatized by the Grant Devine government. Throughout that period and into the 1990s, industry performance was pretty stagnant. In the early 2000s, the Lorne Calvert NDP government introduced changes to the royalty structure that paved the way for a significant expansion in potash production and the development of several new mines.

Now, and for decades to come, Saskatchewan enjoys preeminent status in the world as the Saudi Arabia of potash — a mineral used primarily in fertilizer that was deposited here hundreds of millions years ago when Saskatchewan was the site of a huge inland sea.

It would be stretching the bounds of credibility to credit Doyle and his fellow potash CEOs with securing our future prosperity by locating that inland sea in Saskatchewan all those hundreds of millions of years ago. But where they did shine is in arranging for China and India, with a combined population of 2.6 billion, to transition from Developing to Developed status with massive manufacturing capacity and large and growing middle class populations eager to upgrade their diets and acquire other trappings of Western prosperity.

That was a true masterstroke on their behalf, creating a vast market for our natural resources like potash, uranium, oil and gas, heavy metals and whatnot.

Truly, the Illinois-born Doyle and his colleagues are the most wonderful thing to ever happen to Saskatchewan and we should all be eternally grateful for their decision to earn their multimillion dollar livings here.

Pick of the Day: Linda McQuaig Lecture

Last year noted leftist firebrand Linda McQuaig published a book with law professor Neil Brooks called The Trouble With Billionaires. Tonight, she’s at the University of Regina Education Auditorium to speak about how the growing disparity in income and wealth in our society is threatening democracy and otherwise damaging society.

In our Oct. 6 issue I did a Q&A with McQuaig. You can read it here. Tickets for her talk are $20 Adults, $10 Students, Seniors & Low Income. For more info call 924-3372.


Pick of the Day (Tomorrow Edition): One Week Job

The poster kind of says it all. When Sean Aitken graduated from college with a business degree he, like a lot of people in a similar situation, wasn’t exactly sure what he wanted to do next.

With the right education there’s plenty of opportunity out there. That’s a great thing to know. But in our rapidly changing economic and technological climate, it can also make it hard to decide what career path to pursue.

To get a taste of the job market in all its glory Aitken embarked on an odyssey where he worked 52 different jobs in 52 weeks with the goal of finding something he felt passionate about.

His project really captured people’s imaginations and he ended up receiving all sorts of media attention and spinning his experience into a gig as a motivational-type speaker with a foundation dedicated to helping other young people discover their passion.

You can read more about his project at Monday night at 7 p.m. a documentary about his experience is being screened at the Regina Public Library Theatre. Aitken will be in attendance for a post-screening Q&A, and will also be giving a couple of talks while he’s in Regina, including one at Martin Collegiate.

To close, here’s a link to the documentary’s trailer.