Severing Iranian-Canadian relations

September 7, 2012 in democracy, Iran, war and conflict

by Britta Hansen

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird announced this morning that Canada was closing its Iranian embassy, removing Iranian diplomats from Ottawa and severing diplomatic ties with Iran.[0]

Baird’s claim is that “Iran is among the world’s worst violators of human rights. It shelters and materially supports terrorist groups” and that “Canada views the government of Iran as the most significant threat to global peace and security in the world today.”

I would be surprised if most Canadians found Iran more threatening than North Korea which has actively threatened to invade other countries, take over the world, and bomb its neighbours.

In fact, Iran might not even have nuclear weapons. There is no hard evidence of nuclear weapons in Iran.[1][2] However, it is possible Iran is touting a nuclear weapons program for the purpose of fending off potential threats, while creating a new one.[3]

Why shouldn’t Iran have nuclear weapons capacity? It is unfair to allow Italy, the U.S.A., China and Israel to keep their nuclear weapons but not “unstable”, “terrorist” Iran. Despotic or not, it is unsurprising that they would want nuclear weapons capacity: they are wedged between Israel and Pakistan, both of which have nuclear weapons, and they also clearly fall on the Palestinian side of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Apparently pro-democracy activists have been encouraging the shut-down of the Ottawa Iranian embassy.[4] However, severing diplomatic ties is usually a precursor to war.
Is democracy worth going to war for?

All in all, the move seems largely hypocritical given that there are slews of countries which are horrible human rights violators (China), non-democratic (most the Middle East and Africa) and possess functioning nuclear arms (North Korea, China, Pakistan.) We must wonder what is the purpose of stirring the pot, especially during a U.S. election? I am sceptical of another quest through the Middle East, for “weapons of mass destruction,” that may not exist. (remember Iraq?) Hopefully there will be no conflict and any damaged relations will be repaired expediently.

This move is representative of a dangerous trend in Canadian international relations of increased permanent military presence and islamophobia.

[0] http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/09/07/ottawa-shutters-embassy-in-iran-expels-all-iranian-diplomats-in-canada/
[1] http://en.rian.ru/russia/20091203/157086953.html
[2] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8ZVXoFQP0Y
[3] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/16/world/middleeast/16nuke.html?_r=2&hp
[4] http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/story/2012/09/07/pol-baird-canada-iran-embassy.html

Lower that voting age!

June 25, 2012 in democracy

by Britta Hansen

In the 2008 federal election, only 37.4% of eligible electors aged 18-24 voted.1

Of course we’re not voting!

We’ve been taught our entire lives that we’re too young to vote: voting is an adult thing; politics is an adult thing.

How can we be expected to vote at 18 if we haven’t been following politics?

Oh you don’t want to watch the debate: it’s boring.

In theory, there should be no voting age. The point of a democracy is that every person’s opinion counts. 22.8% of the Canadian population is under 20;2 they’re citizens of this country too and they’re very much affected by the policies made in Ottawa.

At what age is someone “intelligent enough” to vote? By restricting the voting age to 18, we’re neglecting 22.8% of the country.

In 2004, MP Mark Holland proposed a private member’s bill, C-261, to lower the voting age to 16. What happened to that bill? Nothing at all. It barely received any media attention.3

The NDP, Communist Party, and Parti Québecois have all proposed lowering the voting age to 16 in the past. Ask them: What efforts are you making now?

If you’re under 18 and even remotely interested in politics, I implore you: go visit your local MP, and ask them why they don’t want you to vote.

Here is a list of MPs for you to harass.

 

 

[1] http://www.parl.gc.ca/Content/LOP/ResearchPublications/2010-19-e.htm#a5
[2]http://www.statcan.gc.ca/tables-tableaux/sum-som/l01/cst01/demo10a-eng.htm
[3] http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=E&Mode=1&DocId=2333564

The case for free and accessible amenities

June 8, 2012 in economics

by Britta Hansen

Post-scarcity is a state in which all goods are available and free to everyone in abundandant quantities. Although this may be a distant utopian dream, it is nonetheless something that we should all be striving for. We should be trying to provide every human being with, at the very least, the basic amenities of life: potable water, nourishing food, adequate shelter, etc. No human should be forced to go without these things.

There are many difficulties in achieving this, but they aren’t so obvious.

The problem is not abundance; there is ample food and fresh drinking water to provide every person on the planet.1,2

The problem is not technology; we have every means necessary to extract and distribute all of the natural resources (including food, water, and energy) that are needed to provide humans with a minimal life.

The problem is economics.

Economics requires scarcity. Without scarcity, there would be no price system. If something is highly abundant and easy to access it would be free unless if an artificial scarcity is created.

In order to continue to profit off of these basic commodities, economics has created artificial scarcity.

 

HOW IS ARTIFICAL SCARCITY CREATED?

 

  • Monopolies, by definition, do not allow exterior entities to sell or offer their products, thus giving them the power to underproduce for the sake of charging more and raising the value of their product.

    For example: In 1997, the World Bank pressured the Bolivian government to privatize their water systems, or else they would not continue their loans. The president passed Law 2029 in order to ensure the legality of privatising water. Law 2029 left only half of the population connected to a water system. It gave the company Aguas del Tunari a monopoly over the country’s water. It became illegal for anyone other than Aguas del Tunari to distribute water; this included wells established in people’s homes. It even became illegal to collect rainwater. Aguas del Tunari’s monopoly made water even more scarce and unavailable to the people. In fact, it’s monopoly created a 2% increase in poverty. 8

  • Cartels allow the few competing sellers of a product to collaborate and agree on a fixed price or total output, thereby controlling the output of a product for the purpose of profit.
  • Surplus products can be destroyed or withheld in order to increase market value.

    For example: Sales at grocers. In a flyer you might see a particular item on sale at the grocer’s, but when you get there there are none left on the shelves. Of course that doesn’t mean the store’s out, but they could purposefully keep a only few of the sale items out at all times in the hopes that consumers who can’t get what they came for will buy something else instead.

  • Patents, copyrights and privatisation give exclusive rights to produce or distribute a product or asset, which thus limits the rights of individuals to share the product with those who cannot access it themselves.
  • Planned obsolescence: manufacturers can ensure that their product will have a short lifespan. They may design something with the intent that it will break within a certain amount of time.
  • Limited editions (also a form of planned obsolescence): By purposefully only fabricating a small quantity of a product, manufacturers create a sense of urgency to buy, used as a marketing gimmick.

So economics necessitates scarcity, and thus, even if we can eliminate famine, we don’t, because we insist on keeping our economic system. In fact, we worship economics. Somehow, this completely fabricated concept of price, supply and demand has become one of the fundamental pillars of our very lives.

Not only are there ample resources for food and water for all, we could also be providing everyone with basic health care, shelter, and an education. We’re not asking for anything fancy here, we’re just asking that people don’t be denied the right to live.
 
MAKING THE PUSH TOWARDS ENDING SCARCITY:
 
REDUCING POVERTY & INEQUALITY
 
Certainly, reducing poverty and inequality will make these essential commodities more accessible to everyone, although that is not enough on its own to end the scarcity of these basic amenities. We can make a significant impact in reducing poverty and inequality by:

  • Creating more not-for-profit child care space
  • Raising minimum wages to match living wages, and adjusting them to inflation.
  • Restoring the corporate tax rate to 18%
  • Opening more safe injection sites
  • Abandoning the Indian Act and developing a new accord with First Nations, Métis, and Inuit.
  • Adding protection from genetic discrimination to the Charter
  • Eliminating patents from genes and life forms

 
POTABLE DRINKING WATER
 
There is no commodity more precious to life on Earth than water. Canada has more freshwater than any other country in the world and yet 1091 communities were under boil water advisories last year. 3 The vast majority were on native reserves.

It was recently revealed that still to this day, mercury pollution in the waters from 1970 continue to affect the residents of the First Nations’ community Grassy narrows 10.

We must add the right to potable drinking water to the Charter and we must invest in wastewater treatment plant upgrades. All Canadians should have free access to clean, safe water.
 
FOOD
 
It goes without saying that food is essential to life and should be accessible to everyone.
Currently, healthy food is not accessible to all Canadians: more than 800,000 Canadian households are considered “food insecure”, and in March 2011 851,014 people used food banks – that’s 2.5% of the population! 4,9

Any jurisdiction that doesn’t feed its people is at the mercy of whoever does.” Says Cathleen Kneen, a food-activist.

We must push for a national food strategy. A national food strategy will also alleviate the health care system, by improving the diets of Canadians. It will stab at monopolies and allow smaller farming families to make ends meet.

We must also change the way we think about agriculture:
Canada imports 53% of its vegetables and 82% of its fruits. For every apple we export we import five.
The Technocratic Party of Canada promotes intercropping, heirloom seeds and genetic diversity. We encourage food cooperatives to replace commercial grocers, in order to ensure local food grown by family farms can make it to Canadian tables.
 
EDUCATION
 
Education is a right!

The average undergraduate student payed $5,138 in tuition in 2010-2011. 5 A large number of Canadian students have considered paying for their tuition and books by working in the sex trade. 6

We propose reducing tuition fees across the country, and we strongly support the hundreds of thousands of protesters in Montréal, who are demanding fair tuition and the right to assemble.
 
HEALTH CARE
 
In Canada, the diagnosis is free, but the treatment is not – we pay for prescriptions, hospital beds, dentistry, glasses, menstrual products, ambulance services etc. 1 in 10 Canadians can’t afford their prescription medication.7 We can’t afford root canals and dental work.

We must push for pharmaceutical coverage, dental coverage and optometry. The Technocratic Party of Canada wishes to reduce the validity of patents on drugs from 20 years to just 5 years, thereby enabling us to distribute and produce prescription medication for as little as one tenth the current costs.
 
PENSION AND OLD AGE SECURITY
 
Sure, we can grant you the right to live, but for how long?

We are very concerned by the recent trend in Canadian pensions, which are making the shift from defined benefit to defined contribution. As markets falter, corporations are less and less willing to bear the risk of their investments on behalf of the employees. Defined contribution pensions are unfair, and are a step backwards for Canadian labour.

We propose changing our RRSP tax subsidies from deductions to credits, which will give every investor, regardless of income, the same rate of subsidy.

We also support the right for terminally ill patients to end their lives, with the assistance of a medical doctor.

Please support the right to an accessible, minimal standard of living. It’s not too much to ask for!

[1] http://www.foodfirst.org/node/239
[2] http://www.worldhunger.org/articles/Learn/world%20hunger%20facts%202002.htm
[3]http://www.water.ca/textm.asp
[4] http://www.foodbankscanada.ca/getmedia/dc2aa860-4c33-4929-ac36-fb5d40f0b7e7/HungerCount-2011.pdf.aspx Hunger Count 2011
[5] http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/100916/dq100916a-eng.htm
[6] http://www.progressive-economics.ca/2011/08/16/the-hidden-impact-of-rising-pse-costs-for-students/
[7] http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/TopStories/20120116/prescription-medication-costs-afford-120116/
[8] !Cochabamba! by Oscar Olivera, 2004
[9] http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/story/2012/05/16/pol-un-canada-food-security.html
[10] http://freegrassy.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Harada-et-al-2011-English.pdf

Could the NDP have another Waffle movement?

March 24, 2012 in NDP

Watching the NDP Leadership race today, I felt like I was watching a rock concert, or more likely the Superbowl in over-time; and it was about that long too. While I congratulate Mulcair on his victory, I’ve got to say that all of the candidates performed very well and I hope that NDP supporters do not regret their decisions.

But with Mulcair’s victory I’m anticipating another Waffle movement.

Mulcair does not have a traditional NDP stance on two key issues: he’s opposed to the legalization of marijuana, and he is vehemently pro-Israel. These issues are very important for many party members and could easily divide the party. Luckily for him these are two-key issues the Conservatives will definitely not bother him with.

As per the Waffle movement, I would not be suprised to see these disgruntled members look for another party, or perhaps form one of their own. To add to that, Mulcair has also said he is not interested in working with other opposition parties in order to beat the Conservatives, so we could also see a lot of vote splitting again in the next election.

On a less critical note, I most enjoyed the campaigns which focused on their positive features, rather than on Harper’s negative features. I don’t like it when a party is the “Not Conservative” party, or a leader is “not Harper”. Equally I hate it when the Conservatives play the “Not Liberals” card too.

So if they really are “here to take on the Cons” as MP Glenn Thibeault says, then time will tell if these flaws become an important factor in winning the election.

Hats off to Mulcair.

 

And oh-my-goodness Peter Mansbridge was wonderful.

 

Britta Hansen

 

 

Transparency in Science

March 15, 2012 in science

Recently there have been discussions about the Canadian governments policy of censoring its scientists and their research. I want to discuss the importance of a transparent scientific community, and why our government should be forthright in making public it’s scientific research and results. From these discussions I’ve been forced to ask myself a couple questions. First, ‘Do I think I’m free as a Canadian citizen?’ Second; ‘How does the restriction of information affect freedom?’

I pose the question about freedom first because I believe it is a vastly misconceived notion that Canadians are ‘free’. Canadians are certainly not exclusively free as the volumes of Canadian laws which prohibit certain actions are well known and imposed every minute of every day, (in 2006 there was an estimate of 5 arrests per minute in Canada, a statistic that is certain to rise sharply with the new C-10 crime bill.) [1] I am not advocating for the abolition of law, I am only pointing out that we are not exclusively free as so many assume and in fact have very few freedoms as Canadians when the number of laws, which comprise stacks and stacks of volumes of books, is placed beside the Charter of Rights and Freedoms [2] which is just a few pages.

However, Canadians do have the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and what is outlined in this document can be thought of as a description of the freedom with which Canadians may live; a description of freedom which I would define as ‘Canadian freedom’. Now I will not discuss the rampant neglect of the enforcement of these laws, (which was demonstrated as being prevalent during the G-20 Summit protests of 2011 for example and are among many others and in often recurring occasions) but it is worth pointing out for the reader who disagrees with my proposal of a highly restricted Canadian freedom, or for anyone interested in the decay of our freedoms and rights which seem to be under attack daily from our current government.

For the sake of my second question, let us assume that we are in fact not truly free, but do share at least some level of a Canadian freedom that is well defined and I’ll ask again; ‘How does the restriction of information affect this freedom?’ I believe the answer lies succinctly in a borrowed phrase of disputed origins; ‘Knowledge is power.’ I would now like to immediately draw my primary arguing point; science is knowledge; this is not a borrowed quote, it is a fact.

Having knowledge is crucial in making an informed decision. Whether it be a local policy like bicycle lanes, or an international pollution accord like the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer [3], without knowledge an informed decision cannot be made.

It seems that uninformed decisions, (or rather blatantly ignorant decisions in support of private agendas,) are the new status quo with our current regime and it seems they like it that way [4]. It also seems that relying on rhetoric and misinformation to force feed Canadians whatever believable and often unbelievable stories might be conjured up as facts in order to sway opinion to their own ends is also regular practice. However, without access to information Canadians will never know what is fact or fiction and so will be effectively removed from the decision making process.

One might argue that the government of Canada is the body which makes the decisions and so they are the only one which need the information, also that the average Canadian does not need access to the information anyway. However, the government of Canada is (supposed to be) merely a representation of the body of Canadian citizens as a whole, acting on our behalf to provide essential services and support wherever and whenever the body of Canadians feels it should or should not be delivered.

Based on this naïve description of a government it is immediately obvious that withholding information about scientific research from the public is exactly withholding knowledge from the body of Canadian citizens. This practice effectively separates the body of Canadian citizens from the head that is our government, and to continue the metaphor, leaves Canadians blind, deaf, and dumb; unable to act, or speak, or have an opinion, or make an informed decision on any and every policy that might be so desired and for any reason whatsoever.

The government of Canada must stop the censorship of its scientists and of scientific results so the citizens which they represent can make informed decisions based on research and facts to ensure the future of our democracy and the development of Canada from which we can all prosper.

As it is these are terrifying times and for 2012 it sure feels a lot like 1984.

John Hartley

03/15/2012

 

References:

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canada_2006_Census#cite_note-Differences_between_Statistics_Canada.E2.80.99s_census_counts_and_population_estimates-0

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crime_in_Canada

[2] http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/Charter/

[3] http://www.epa.gov/ozone/intpol/

[4] http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/story/2012/03/02/nature-science-canada.html

Higher Interest Rate: Good or Bad?

March 12, 2012 in economics

The Bank of Canada may not be able to keep it’s 1% interest rate hold for much longer. Given Canada’s strong growth over the past year,  and despite a weak final quarter of 2011, predictions have changed suggesting that the output gap will close as early as 2013, three quarters earlier than previous expectation.

What effect will this have on the Canadian economy for the coming years?

Domestically, the overall effect of a higher interest rate decreases the demand for goods at any level of output; a higher interest rate implies a lower level of output. In addition, an increase in interest rates would also reduce the real money supply (money stock in terms of goods, not dollars).

In other words; higher interest rates would make it harder for companies and consumers to invest in products. For example, higher mortgages on houses or higher costs on investment would reduce the number of people buying homes and companies investments. Thus, we can expect the housing market to decrease if not become more expensive.

Globally, an increase in the domestic interest rate will lead to an appreciation of domestic currency. Save a linear increase in the foreign interest rate, the exchange rate would decrease making Canada more prominent for trading.

Currently Canada stands at almost an 1:1 exchange rate with the United States, the ideal exchange rate would be 0.80c for every American dollar. This would increase exports from Canada, who has naturally been a export country, and decrease imports leading to an  increasing overall GDP. This, in addition to future improved trading plans with China, will benefit Canada in the long run.

Overall, my view as of this moment is that Canada should let interest rates increase naturally without any monetary or fiscal policy save drastic inflation results. Within the next year, Canada should start seeing itself being back to exporting goods to other nations and focus on fixing its national debt.

 

by Shabda Ghimire

8 ways to repair our democracy post-robocalls

March 4, 2012 in democracy

The Robocalls debacle will likely do one of two things: it could be the turning point for Canadians, in which we become passionate about politics, have record voter turnout, and demand more from our politicians. Or it could destroy all faith in politics, and turn thousands off for good. I’m hoping for the former! But whether or not justice is served and the guilty are charged, we need to do some serious upgrades to our democracy.

 

  1. We need proportional representation – badly.

    Nothing could improve our democracy as effectively as changing our electoral system to one of proportional representation. Proportional representation would guarantee fair election results. No government would be awarded a majority without at least 50% of the votes and Canadians could finally say we got the government we voted for.

  2. The senate must go

    Nothing says “undemocratic” like an unelected body, comprised of partisans individuals who are basically impossible to fire and keep their unbelievably well-paying jobs for life.

  3. Elect the ministry

    Electing the ministry based on their merit and knowledge for the position (isn’t that how job interviews usually work?) would greatly reduce partisanship, and make decision-making in the house a lot more democratic.

  4. Private information on voters must remain private

    It is increasingly important to protect our identities and our private information. When electors provide political parties with their private details, I’m sure they don’t want their info sold off to private companies, or misused. As is evidenced by the robocalls incident, there are not enough checks and balances in place to stop parties from misusing or distributing the data of unsuspecting electors. I’ve heard many stories of people getting festive greeting cards from political parties who must somehow know they’re Jewish. The questions are: how are they getting that info, and what should they be allowed to do with it?

  5. The media must stop endorsing parties

    If the purpose of the media is to provide objective news for the people, then they emphatically cannot endorse political parties. It’s one thing for a paper to feature an opinion piece endorsing a particular party or candidate, but the paper should not officially endorse a party.

  6. Pay cuts and pension cuts for MPs

    Right now, a member of parliament earns at least $158,000, and as much as $233,000 if they’re also a minister. How can they claim to represent the average Canadian when they make 2-3 times the average annual earnings?  Not to mention most retired Canadians live off of about $42,000 per year, while MPs can get pensions of over $150,000 depending on how long they’ve served. If it weren’t so profitable to run for office, politicians would likely be more genuine.

  7. Reduce the 75% tax credit on political donations

    It’s unfortunate that the Conservative Party got rid of the $2 per vote subsidy, because what they really should’ve gotten rid of is the 75% tax credit on political contributions. When you donate to a charity, like the Red Cross, you get 25% of your donation back, but somehow your donation to a political party gets you 75% back. The $2 per vote subsidy was a flat rate subsidy, equal for all parties. The 75% tax credit, however, only benefits the parties with the richest and most generous supporters.

  8. Create an option to decline a ballot

    Because every democracy should have an option to vote for “none of the above”.

Now let’s keep the pressure on for a public inquiry into the robocalls affair: if you’ve not already signed, here’s a petition from Leadnow. We can’t let this fade away; this is our best chance to repair our democracy.

Britta Hansen

Canada must act now to preserve our marine biodiversity

February 16, 2012 in environment

Canada is failing its oceans.

A panel of experts in marine conservation and aquaculture released a study on the state of our marine biodiversity. The study was to determine whether or not Canada is meeting its commitments to sustain our marine ecosystems.

It found that, among developed nations, Canada was faring quite poorly with regards to preserving and sustaining our marine wildlife. Currently, only 1 of 161 MPAs (marine protected areas) are protected from commercial fishing expeditions.

But national overfishing and warming waters are not the only problems at hand. Due to the melting of sea ice in the arctic, previously inaccessible regions will become available to international fishing expeditions. The regions will be within reasonable expedition distance from China and Japan: two of the world’s largest consumers of fish and whale.

Unfortunately, this is old news. 20 years ago, Canada’s northern cod fisheries collapsed, and still there is no national strategy for preventing future collapses.  The Oceans Act has been waiting to be implemented since 1996, but so far little action has been taken.

Canada must follow the recommendations of the expert panel, and

  1. strictly prohibit commercial fishing in our MPAs (marine protected areas), and enforce this prohibition.
  2. increase the volume of scientific research being done on our marine ecosystems.
  3. increase the accountability of ministers for the state of our marine biodiversity.
  4. work with the United States, Norway, Greenland, and Russia, to create a multilateral agreement to exercise control of fisheries in the Arctic waters.

We must act now to preserve our marine biodiversity. The Technocratic Party vows to take action to sustain our marine wildlife. We can start by electing experts on marine biology and conservation to the Ministry of Fisheries and Oceans.

 

- Britta Hansen

Demand the resignation of Minister Tony Clement

January 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

Here is a new petition to demand the resignation of Minister Tony Clement.

Yesterday, documents were unveiled through the Access to Information Act, which showed that Minister Clement had a hand in choosing which infrastructure projects to fund for the G8. In fact, previously he so emphatically denied doing this, and said

“If I was the decision-maker, if I had set up a parallel process and created a situation where the auditor general did not know – that’s their (opposition MPs’) accusation – I’d be resigning right now and turning myself in to the local police office,”

It is appalling that a Canadian Cabinet Minister would deliberately mislead Parliament and the Canadian people. Is this what our politics has come to? That politicians can get away with out and out crime and it just rolls off their back like water on a duck? We can demand more. We can demand his resignation.

- Britta Hansen

Corporate taxes reduced once again

January 19, 2012 in economics

On January 1st of 2012, the corporate tax rate was again reduced, this time to 15%. Meanwhile, the average Canadian household pays 22% in personal income taxes. There are approximately 25 million earners (read: taxpayers) in Canada; 8.5 million of them now pay higher income taxes than corporations. The lowest income tax bracket in Canada also pays 15%, so no Canadian earners pay less than the corporate tax rate.

This is particularly shocking news given that corporate profits in 2010 were $65.5 billion; the biggest gains coming from the mining, oil & gas sector, chartered banks, and financial institutions.

These cuts will cost us billions of dollars, there is considerable doubt they will create jobs, and they provide less money to invest on the biggest job creator of all: infrastructure.

Let’s raise the corporate tax rate to 19%, invest in infrastructure, and watch our economy boom.