Potential criminal will continue to make ends meet

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Politics is a tricky game when it comes to strategic alliances. Everyone has dirty secrets, just waiting to be uncovered, the kind that can turn the ideal candidate into a political party’s worst nightmare. Politicians are like time bombs: they are waiting to explode with erratic behaviour, the kind that can either unveil their full potential or destroy it completely.

During the 2008 elections, Patrick Brazeau was Stephen Harper’s secret weapon. The Liberals were in the midst of trying to pass the Kelowna Accord, an attempt at tentatively making peace between the federal government and the aboriginal communities. In an article published in The National Post on Feb. 13, journalist Ira Basen underlined that, in the midst of the 2008 electoral fever, the soon-to-be outgoing Liberal Party had argued that only they could maintain the momentum necessary to push through with the Kelowna Accord.

At the time, by getting Brazeau on his side, Stephen Harper had found a way for the Conservatives to say that they were equally concerned for their voters, just in a different way. In other words, Brazeau was the key to Harper seeking out the swing vote in aboriginals.

Now, with his golden boy Senator being charged with both assault and sexual assault, our Prime Minister is probably secretly kicking himself. Upon hearing about the allegations, Senator Brazeau was immediately removed from the Conservative caucus. Brazeau now sits as an independent, at the back of the Senate.

Despite this, Brazeau is not truly being left to fend for himself: despite having been dismissed for his actions, the Senator will still be entitled to the $132,000 annual salary that he receives as a member of the Senate. This is exactly the kind of incident that has had the Canadian electorate questioning the pertinence of the political body that is the Senate altogether.

The number of scandals related to fraudulent expense reports for this political body is ever increasing and, to parallel recent political activity in Quebec, the more we dig, the more we uncover ugly truths.

In light of this, it only seems legitimate that taxpayers would want some sort revision made in order to establish whether we actually need a Canadian Senate. After all, if it’s going to cost $90 million to maintain annually, it better be worth every penny.

Brazeau’s case underlines the point that although we are definitely functioning in the confines of a democratic parliamentary system, perhaps we should revisit the idea of our “checks and balances” system. After all, we, responsible Canadian voters, elect the Prime Minister and, in turn, he appoints the Senators as needed. Is that constitutional to begin with? Reworking this procedure to include some sort validation system would require amending the Constitution and, necessarily, some sort of Canadian consensus on behalf of most provinces on an array of “touchy” topics. This can only make voters wonder what kind of major scandal will have to be uncovered for us to consider “updating” the Canadian political machine, once and for all.


Photos: Idle No More protests continue

Photo by Marie-Josée Kelly

Hundreds of Idle No More protesters weaved through the streets of Montreal for the second time last Friday afternoon to support what has become an international movement for indigenous rights.

Marching from the Palais des Congrès, the demonstration was peaceful and timed simultaneously in solidarity with similar protests in various Canadian cities.

Idle No More has gained momentum since Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence declared a hunger strike more than a month ago in an effort to demand a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Harper met with aboriginal leaders to discuss grievances but Spence has continued her hunger strike despite Harper’s promise to focus on the issues at hand.


There’s no such thing as bad press

Graphic by Phil Waheed.

Since Harper has been Prime Minister of Canada he’s been accused many times of having a lack of transparency in office; and his administration has often been called the most private government that Canada has ever seen. Despite various complaints demanding information, Harper hasn’t changed his ways.

This time, however, his actions have crossed the line.

The Toronto Star recently learned through an access-to-information request that the Harper administration has been working for over a year now on a government owned media organization worth over $2 million. The project was called the “Shoe Store Project”. According to the Star, the new centre may be located in a former shoe store in an Ottawa mall.

Harper going through with this project is a slap in the face to the democracy a country like Canada values so much. We, as a people, deserve to know the inner workings of our government. I believe the information coming from this media outlet, if it does go through, will be absolutely useless.

Harper’s government-controlled media centre is said to “put in place robust physical and information security measures to protect the prime minister and cabinet.” According to the Star it would also be able to give the government control over which journalists attend news conferences and to do their own filming, as well as provide the filming to journalists.

This is absolutely ridiculous when you think of the changes Harper has already made regarding media relations since his election in 2006. Considering he ran on a campaign based on an open and accountable government, this is wrong.

So what exactly is Harper’s problem? Why does he have such a shaky relationship with the media? According to Centre for Constitutional Studies, by managing what is said to the press “Harper is also able to manage communication between his government and the Canadian public, limiting the possibility that the media will run off in a direction that has little to do with the message that Mr. Harper wishes to send.” Oh please.

Needless to say, many journalists in this country have been extremely frustrated since Harper’s election. This new government-owned media centre will only go further to push Canada away from democracy. Sandra Buckler, the Prime Minister’s director of communication, said that “when the government has something to say, Canadians are going to hear it.” I don’t think I need to explain what’s wrong with that statement.

As citizens, we have the right to hear what goes on during Harper’s public addresses and be able to make our own conclusions on our government. Besides, no leader should have the right to control which questions are asked of him because he is accountable to all of us.

As journalists, it is our job to inform the people. However, our job becomes extremely difficult when our calls aren’t answered, when most of us are excluded from press conferences and when what the government says is controlled by an enormous team of image-management professionals.

“It’s a privilege to govern and our duty as the press in a free society is to pick and choose the issues that we cover…by restricting access to cabinet ministers, it amounts to restricting the issues that we can cover properly,” said Emmanuelle Latraverse, Radio-Canada reporter and Press Gallery president.

Harper has been on thin ice for a while concerning his relationship with the media. We journalists have one of the most important jobs— to inform the people. Obviously, with Harper in power, it’s nearing impossible. It’s time to demand change and get projects like the “Shoe Store” taken to the curb.


Climate injustice in Canada

Graphic by Jennifer Kwan.

Whether it be pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol, the gutting of federal environmental regulations or the muzzling of some of our top climate scientists, the Harper government has done irreparable damage to our international reputation and more importantly to our ecology.

That’s not to mention an unprecedented and secretive trade deal being negotiated with China that would all but ensure the unbridled expansion of the tar sands. This would also increase Canada’s direct role in the release of GHG emissions which threaten to push the global concentration of CO2 over the edge and into dangerous territory.

It’s no secret that Harper is a friend to big oil. After all, this government continues to hand out subsidies to the tune of $1.4 billion to the fossil fuel industry even as energy companies take in record profits.

If there was ever a time for Canadians to come together to stand up and tell this government that we oppose its policies and want an end to these subsidies, this is it.

It is true that climate change will most negatively impact the world’s poorest; but the regressive environmental policies of the current government will also be felt here at home. They will also be felt in communities most vulnerable to the effects of climate change; such as Indigenous communities who have lived and depended on the land for generations, ranches and farms which depend on streams and water tables, and yes, eventually the rest of us.

This is why now, perhaps more than ever, we need a new generation of climate leaders to converge and create meaningful opposition movements. Climate injustice is another form of oppression, inextricably linked to all other battles in social justice. Whether it’s the destruction of the environment, access to education or vast economic inequality we must hold our leaders accountable and ensure equity and justice for all of our citizens. Ending the fossil fuel subsidies and re-committing to the protection of our climate and environment more generally could be a first step.

This week saw historic action taken against the future of oil pipelines, and the prospect of more tankers on the B.C. coast shipping tar sands bitumen to global markets. The movement, aptly called “Defend Our Coast”, has rallied thousands of concerned citizens across British Columbia to mobilize and take action against the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline. As I write this, citizens all across the province are linking arms in front of their Member of Legislative Assembly offices to show they are united in opposition to this pipeline.

This has left me thinking. After a year that saw an incredible mobilization of students in Quebec to defeat the tuition increases and ultimately the Liberal government, why not learn from that success? Let us link our common struggles from coast to coast. Radical grassroots activism has proven to work. It’s time to take direct action against the environmental record, or lack thereof, of our federal government.

This weekend I will be attending a conference called Powershift in Ottawa. There, 1500 youth from across the country will meet to discuss the future of climate change activism and how Canadians can mobilize practically to fight for our country to start taking it seriously. Speakers such as Naomi Klein, Bill Mckibben and Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois will be making key note addresses throughout the weekend. Participants will be actively lobbying MP’s, taking it to the streets and getting out their message to end big polluter handouts in every way we can. After all, Harper did promise at the G20 to do so. It stands to be one of the most important convergences of young activists and environmentalists that we’ve seen in the past decade.

We now have a chance to come together and show the Harper government we will no longer let them tarnish our reputation internationally, nor will we let them trample the ecological rights of our most at risk communities while providing subsidies to companies with soaring profits.

As Naomi Klein aptly put it, “ We are part of a groundswell, a global movement against all forms of dirty energy. It is a movement on a roll. The beautiful truth is that we have fossil fuel companies surrounded, and they’re running scared.”


Make way for the omnibus

Next up in the fall political schedule for the federal government: a new omnibus bill put forward by the Conservatives. An omnibus bill is one which includes a number of different issues within it and tends to act as a method by which unpopular legislation is passed along with the bulk of the good.

The bill, which primarily contains budget policy, is set to touch other sectors not traditionally found in budget bills including new crime legislation, the most important being new police measures to combat terrorism.

This past spring, some members of Parliament complained about the 400-page bill, which provided sweeping measures across many different disciplines, including environmental procedures, labour rights, security and pensions. The time allotted for debate on this colossal juggernaut: seven days.

This repeated move has once again bothered Canadians on all sides of the political spectrum for its violation of democratic principles. However, this is nothing new in Canadian politics, with even the revered Trudeau doing the same in the late ’60s.

Still, the move, however common, remains a stain on the democratic process. If we elect individuals to represent a collective society in order to bring together different viewpoints and share in the common journey forward as a nation, how can we pretend to have a democratic process when those individuals aren’t concerned about such key issues.

One of the simplest solutions to this omnibus problem is to split up the bills, forcing only monetary and financial policy to be dictated in the legislation. However, as many Conservative pundits have asserted, this would delay the process, as every little policy would have to be debated. What they don’t realize is that this is what is mandated in their jobs.

While Harper and his administration are not well-liked, he is an exceptionally shrewd and cunning politician. By moving forward with this form of governing early on in his mandate, the collective memory will ebb and fade away much more easily. When the time comes to actually harvest the votes, Conservatives can push forward popular legislation in order to garner another majority.

Plus, there is the obvious added benefit of not having Canadians looking too closely at the bills their legislators are passing. They can tell everyone that they are helping the economy, but they are also quietly pushing reforms to civil liberties like privacy.

The problem keeps compounding on the myriad of issues with Canadian politics. The first-past-the-post system, which entails an election that is won by the candidate with more votes than the other, does not work in this day and age.

Politicians are clinging to the old vanguard, and some Canadians are in a general disheartened state by empty promises and looming crises worldwide.

In the early ’90s, then Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and his Liberal caucus pushed through an omnibus bill. There were many politicians who complained about this governance, including a little known Reform MP.

He said: “In the interest of democracy I ask: How can members represent their constituents on these various areas when they are forced to vote in a block on such legislation and on such concerns? We can agree with some of the measures but oppose others.

“How do we express our views and the views of our constituents,” he continued, “when the matters are so diverse? Dividing the bill into several components would allow members to represent views of their constituents on each of the different components in the bill.”

The name of that MP: Stephen Harper.

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