Tag Archives: Government of Canada

The take on clean tech


Assuming my personal pantheon of household gods – including the one that lords over my bank account – continues to gaze affectionately at my ramshackle abode in the west end of Moncton, I can imagine one day installing solar panels on my roof’s southern exposure.

I can even divine a day when a compact, ridiculously efficient wind turbine installed against my back fence feeds power to my smart-grid controller, which, in turn, tells my fridge when to run and my furnace when to start. Meanwhile, my spiffy, new Tesla Model S sits happily in my driveway fully charged until its next trip to the neighbourhood electrical boosting station.

Flights of fancy are the territories of the future. But, in important respects, the future might be just around the corner if certain federal and provincial officials in Atlantic Canada have anything to say.

The extent to which New Brunswick may expect to participate in what’s being billed far and near as the nation’s “clean technology revolution” depends entirely on public and private-sector willingness to get out in front of these developments. That this province – which needs all the innovative economic opportunities it can digest – should not hesitate is an obvious no-brainer.

Not long ago, while making a speech in Alberta, Navdeep Bains, the federal minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, announced more $206 million in funding for 36 clean technology projects across the country.

In a prepared statement, department officials stipulated that “Investing in innovation, supporting clean technology and encouraging sustainable practices will help create jobs, expand access to international markets and make Canadian companies more competitive in the global economy.

“The minister announced the investment in Sustainable Development Technology Canada,” which will, among things, provide “support for clean technology companies at a critical point in the innovation spectrum: it allows innovators to develop and demonstrate their technologies prior to entering the market. . .To stay competitive, Canada must lead the way in innovation and must embrace opportunities to create the clean jobs of the future. The Government of Canada will continue investing in innovative clean technology projects that grow local economies and promote environmental sustainability.”

Minister Bains, himself, stated, “Now is the time for Canadian companies to capture their share of the global market for clean technology. From waste management to biofuels to greener solutions for the oil and gas industry, these Canadian companies are leading the world in intelligent, environmentally responsible and economically sound solutions in a number of key economic sectors. . . Canadians understand that a healthy environment and a strong economy are not competing priorities.”

He’s right. Canadians do understand this – or, at least, they’re getting the picture. A study released last month by the group, Clean Energy Canada, found that spending on this sector in 2015 amounted to $10 billion. That was the second-best performance on record. Said the group’s executive director, Merran Smith, in the report: “We’re living in a new era of political resolve to tackle climate change. . .Spending on clean energy will likely grow again in the years ahead.”

Intriguingly, Clean Energy noted, spending on the sector in Atlantic Canada last year jumped by 58 per cent to just about $1.2 billion. Given the region’s relatively small population, that result compared favourably to Ontario’s $5.3-billion investment in renewable energy in 2015.

The trick, of course, for this region will be learning how to transform its traditional industries even as it embraces new, cutting-edge ones. It’s encouraging that this process seems to be underway.

My hunt for solar panels might not be so whimsical, after all.

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Whose democracy 
is it, anyway?


If those who doubted that the national police force is now working for the political office of the reigning government, let those fine, pristine sensibilities fade into the harsh reality of a hard, partisan winter.

The Harper government has retailed two – and only two – presiding ideological platforms over its well-worn terms in office.

The first is that it, and only it, is the peerless steward of economic growth in this country; the second is that it, and only it, is the last defence against the hordes of human demons and other assorted bad guys determined to upend our constitutional democracy.

The first conceit is patently false, as the national government hasn’t raised a well-appointed finger to encourage anything close to durable economic development in eight years.

In fact, it has gone out if its way to play favourites with the western oil patch at the expense of less flashy, though more sustainable industries.

The result has been predictable: an unemployment rate that, while down nationally to 6.6 per cent, remains as high as 20 per cent in rural areas and even urban enclaves not blessed with dirty bitumen. Now that global oil prices are on the run, it is only natural to expect Canada’s presumptive protectors of the public peace to tar everyone who doubts their sincerity with the same black brush they use to colour their annual balance sheets.

This rather obviously brings me to my second concern, which is: What, on earth, does the RCMP think it’s doing by shilling for the federal Conservatives on environmental stewardship?

Shawn McCarthy’s recent piece in the Globe and Mail aptly serves the point. “The RCMP has labelled the ‘anti-petroleum’ movement as a growing and violent threat to Canada’s security, raising fears among environmentalists that they face increased surveillance, and possibly worse, under the Harper government’s new terrorism legislation,” he writes.

“In highly charged language that reflects the government’s hostility toward environmental activists, an RCMP intelligence assessment warns that foreign-funded groups are bent on blocking oil sands expansion and pipeline construction, and that the extremists in the movement are willing to resort to violence.”

The report cites the 2013 cop-car burnings in Rexton, New Brunswick, as evidence of increasing radicalism everywhere without bothering to differentiate between the actions of a very few and the broad, peaceful concerns of the very many.

Reports McCarthy, quoting directly from the report: “‘There is a growing, highly organized and well-financed anti-Canada petroleum movement that consists of peaceful activists, militants and violent extremists who are opposed to society’s reliance on fossil fuels,’ concludes the report which is stamped ‘protected/Canadian eyes only’ and is dated Jan. 24, 2014. The report was obtained by Greenpeace . . . If violent environmental extremists engage in unlawful activity, it jeopardizes the health and safety of its participants, the general public and the natural environment.’”

Fine; but how do you conflate peaceable, law-abiding citizens’ legitimate concerns with violent extremism without driving a nail through the democratic principles that lets you issue such verbal nonsense in the first place?

This “waiting-for-terrorists-to-strike-from-the-shadows” mentality has overtaken our public spaces, our private conversations, our personal expectations and perhaps even our conception of ourselves as members of an inclusive plurality.

Do we jump, do we fight, do we run away?

Surely, we don’t listen to anything but the blow horn from Parliament Hill anymore.

Neither, it seems, do the national cops, now more willing than ever to give their political masters the partisan wherewithal to scare enough voters into hating tree-huggers in the name of catching a few ill-minded radicals.

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In the policy-maker sweepstakes, the Supremes win


It’s bad enough for a sitting government with an entire justice department at its disposal to be judged broadly inept on matters of law. But to be found so wanting by one of the country’s leading conservative think tanks?

Gadzooks! Et tu, Brute?

But there it was last week for all to witness: The Macdonald-Laurier Institute’s 2014 pick for policy-maker of the year.

The winner was (cue drum roll) the Supreme Court of Canada. The reason was (cue kazoo) it managed to wipe its hallowed chambers with government lawyers 70 per cent of the time in big, landmark cases.

Allow into evidence, if you will, item #1: The federal Tories wanted an elected Senate and thought they could push a form of one through legislative channels without opening up the Constitution and all that pesky inter-provincial wrangling that is, in fact, the very essence of Confederation.

The Supremes’ response: “Sorry, fellas, it’s not gonna happen on our watch.”

This almost dismissive “now-off-you-go-and-play-nice-for-a-change” routine transpired seven times in 10 Supreme Court considerations of government cases. Apart from the Senate decision, these included key matters involving aboriginal title and land claims, prostitution, the appointment of Supreme Court justices from Quebec, cybercrime, truth in sentencing, and retrospective repeal of accelerated parole review.

For Benjamin Perrin – an Associate Professor at the University of British Columbia, Faculty of Law and a Senior Fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute – who who picked this year’s top policy-maker, the decision was a no-brainer:

“The policy and legal impact of the Supreme Court of Canada’s decisions of the last year are significant and likely enduring; the Supreme Court of Canada was a remarkably united institution with consensus decisions on these significant cases being the norm, and dissenting opinions rare; and the federal government indeed has an abysmal record of losses on significant cases, with a clear win in just one in 10 of them.”

What’s more, if there had been a concerted effort to stack the court with justices who could be counted upon to tow the Conservative Party line, that effort seems to have failed miserably. “(Mr. Perrin’s) analysis showed that the court reached a consensus decision in 80 per cent of these cases – higher than the average over the past decade,” a Macdonald-Laurier press release stated.

Added Mr. Perrin, himself: “There is no evidence whatsoever of any observable split in the Court’s decisions on significant issues between the six judges appointed by Prime Minister Harper and the three judges appointed by previous prime ministers.”

Make no mistake, these are no trifling matters. Mr. Perrin correctly observes that 2014 hosted a disproportionate number of landmark cases. The government’s losing streak effectively handed the keys to the castle to the judicial branch.

“In its decisions on significant constitutional matters in the last year, the Supreme Court of Canada has made bold decisions that fundamentally affect the way Canadian Democracy functions,” he writes.

Furthermore, he concludes, “The most significant and enduring impact of the Supreme Court of Canada in the last year will be its interpretation of the amending procedures in the Constitution Act, 1982, in its reference decisions related to Senate reform and the appointment of judges to the high court from Quebec. Taken together, these decisions entrench the Senate and Supreme Court of Canada as institutions that are virtually untouchable. Changing the composition of either institution has been determined to require the unanimous approval of the House of Commons and the Senate as well as every provincial legislature.”

So, then what happened in 2014?

Did the government know the law well enough before it argued its cases before the court? Or, did justice lawyers feel that discretion was the better part valor (or, at least, their own job security) before politely suggesting that their political masters were out to lunch on one or more points of precedent?

In any case, Mr. Perrin thinks a post-mortem is in order. “Until this is exhaustively done, it would be premature, as some commentators have suggested, to conclude that there is a fundamental rift in values between the federal government and the Court.”

Maybe, but from where this commentator stands, it sure looks that way.

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Ottawa to the courts: Don’t be so judgy



If certain Tory Members of Parliament are beginning to suspect that the bull’s eyes painted on their backs are not, in fact, figments of their fevered, paranoid imaginations, they might be right.

Never in recent times has the gulf between the executive and judicial branches of government been so cavernous as now. Consider the latest trouncing of the Harperites by the courts, as reported recently by the Globe and Mail’s justice writer Sean Fine:

“The Conservative government’s latitude to choose its own policies was curtailed yet again on Friday when a (Federal Court) judge called health-care cuts for failed refugee claimants a form of ‘cruel and unusual treatment’ and ruled them unconstitutional.”

What’s more, he observed, “So rare is the use of Section 12 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms – ‘cruel and unusual treatment or punishment’ – that neither the government nor the refugees’ representatives were able to identify a single successful claim outside of criminal cases.”

Hardly able to contain his glee, Lorne Waldman, the lawyer for the Canadian Association of Refugee Doctors told Mr. Fine, “It’s huge – it opens up a whole new claim that we can make when we want to challenge government conduct.” 

For its part, the government remains undeterred. True to form, Immigration Minister Chris Alexander stiff-upper-lipped his reaction to the ruling, insisting he will appeal. “Failed claimants and those from safe countries like the U.S. or Europe should not be entitled to better health care than Canadians receive.” 

This is, of course, utter nonsense. Decent health care for refugee claimants (failed or successful) does not preclude similar service and treatment for citizens and immigrants. It never has.

But it is a response that’s typical of this government when it has been thwarted in pursuing its sometimes incomprehensible social agenda. And the whining, it seems, is growing louder with each passing day. 

In April, the Supreme Court slapped Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s hand by ruling that, no, he can’t just go ahead and make the Senate an elective body without the consent of the provinces, because that, dear boy, would be patently unconstitutional.

“The Senate is a core component of the Canadian federal structure of government,” the ruling read. “As such, changes that affect its fundamental nature and role engage the interests of the stakeholders in our constitutional design – i.e. the federal government and the provinces – and cannot be achieved by Parliament acting alone.”

To which Mr. Harper rejoined, just a wee bit petulantly, “(it is) a decision for the status quo, a status quo that is supported by virtually no Canadian. . .(the country has no interest in) “a bunch of constitutional negotiations. We know full well that there’s no consensus among the provinces, there’s no willingness to reopen the Canadian constitution.”

Only the month before, the Supreme Court ruled, in a precedent-setting decision, that Ottawa had no right to retroactively annul the early-parole entitlement of three federal inmates in British Columbia.

The government’s March 2011 legislation effectively, “deprive(d) the three respondents of the possibility of being considered for early day parole, which was an expectation they had had at the time they were sentenced (and) had the effect of punishing the respondents again,” the court found.

Again, the Tories were unrepentant. “Our Conservative government has been clear,” Jason Tamming, a spokesman for Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney, declared. “We do not believe that white-collar criminals and drug dealers should be released after a mere one-sixth of their sentence.”

Then, there were the kerfuffles over imposing longer prison times (nope, no can do), closing a B.C. drug clinic (we’d rather you not) and even a sketchy appointment to the Supreme Court, itself (nice try, pal, but no cigar).

In all of this, the preponderance of evidence yields one of two possible conclusions: That the various levels that comprise Canada’s justice system has it out for the sitting government and the merry pranksters it calls its cabinet ministers; or that the federal Tories know more about the ideological preferences of their voting base than they do about the actual law.

I might wish for the former, and all the court-issued bull’s eyes; but I fear that the latter is closer to the truth.


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The time is for taking more responsibility



When did everyone suddenly become so accountable?

Clearly, it happened on one of those occasions when we had our backs turned against the zeitgeist, when the arbiters of les mots du jour were feeling particularly shame-faced over some likely inconsequential misdemeanor. Now we’re stuck with one of the least inspiring measurements of virtue ever invented.

Politicians must be accountable, so must the governments they lead: To whom, exactly, is still a matter of some conjecture.

Corporate directors are nothing if not accountable to their shareholders whose interests they protect with quantities of vigor in direct proportion to the size of voting-class stock in play. 

Doctors are accountable to their patients, and patients are accountable to their insurers. Meanwhile, insurers are accountable to their (you guessed it) shareholders.

Teachers are accountable to their students. Students are accountable to their parents. Parents are accountable to their credit card companies, which, in turn, pay junior’s tuition and away-from-home living expenses.

To be accountable is to be answerable, subject, liable amenable, obligated, chargeable.

On the other hand, to be accountable is not necessarily to be responsible. There’s an important distinction between the two. 

Just ask Pasi Sahlberg, the Director General of Finland’s Centre for International Mobility – the centerpiece of its teacher education system. In an interview last year with American documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, the administrator was unequivocal:

“The Finnish language doesn’t have  word for ‘accountability’, particularly in education. Accountability is something this is left when responsibility is subtracted. In many places, people are getting education completely wrong when they think that stronger accountability – more testing, more evaluation, more penalties against teachers and principals – works.”

His bragging rights appear to be genuine. According to a piece in the Smithsonian magazine not long ago, “In 2000. . .the first results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a standardized test given to 15-year-olds in more than 40 global venues, revealed Finnish youth to be the best young readers in the world. Three years later, they led in math. By 2006, Finland was first out of 57 countries (and a few cities) in science. In the 2009 PISA scores released last year, the nation came in second in science, third in reading and sixth in math among nearly half a million students worldwide.”

None of which explains why Finland dropped from first to twelfth in the world in last year’s PISA assessments, of course. But does that make Finnish educators accountable to a system that’s creaking or responsible for getting everybody, including themselves, back on track?

Personally, I prefer door number two in this and just about every other human game show in which people rely on one another’s good graces to get ahead.

In the latter part of the 20th Century, notions of accountability emerged in the sometimes indistinguishable fields of government, business, sports and entertainment when, it became appallingly clear, leaders and celebrities oftentimes shared the moral compass of an amoeba. 

Oh look, there’s Billy-Bod Clinton playing “chase the nubile political intern” in the Oval Office. What a dirtbag! Oh well, if we can’t make him more responsible, we can certainly hold him accountable. How do you spell impeachment, again? 

The current Canadian government adores the concept of accountability and all it implies. It even maintains something called a Management Accountability Framework that purportedly, “support(s) the management accountability of deputy heads” and 

“improve(s) management practices across departments and agencies,” though it’s not immediately clear how any of that works.

The problem with emphasizing accountability over good old fashioned responsibility is that, in a funny way, we let out ourselves off the hook. We imagine that as flawed, weak mortals, we will transgress in, as yet, uncountable ways, so we’d better have the woodshed site-ready for the inevitable floggings we’ll take. Once properly flogged, we’re again free to offend if, that is, we’re again prepared to face the consequences.  

Accountability assumes that punishment is the inevitable denouement of every story. Responsibility resides in the spiritual fortification where trust, faith, honor, duty, and charity still thrive.

There, with only the best of all possible luck, we may find the next generation of political leaders. 


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For once, a great notion


Astoundingly, the federal and provincial governments in Atlantic Canada are getting out of their own way and forging a rational, relevant and thoroughly reasonable accord designed to improve both job prospects and economic development in the region for years to come.

And no, bitter winter weather aside, hell is not freezing over.

Witness last week’s announcement of an $8-million joint program (cost-shared between the feds, who are ponying up $4.3 million and the four Atlantic provinces, who will contribute $3.5 million) to promote trades training and apprenticeships and remove educational and labour market barriers that prevent employers and workers from finding  true, wedded, occupational bliss together.

“What’s happening now (is), in essence, we have four provinces doing their own thing virtually doing the same thing,” Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil told The Halifax Chronicle-Herald.

That’s got to go, said federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney at a news conference in Fredericton last week: “We need to break down the unnecessary red tape and bureaucracy that exists to people getting their apprenticeships done and to getting their journeyman ticketed status so they can actually be full journeymen on the job sites and moving around to where the work is.”

In practice, the program will harmonize training, certifications and standards across the region in 10 trades, starting with cook, instrumentation and control technician, bricklayer and construction electrician. The rest will follow in due course, and not a moment too soon.

For decades, certain parts of Canada have been enduring a steady erosion in the number of skilled tradespeople on the job. Where once being a cabinet maker or plumber was considered a thoroughly viable career choice, we somehow got it into our heads that, as Mr. Kenny so aptly states, “everyone just had to go to university. . . We stopped encouraging people to pursue vocational and technical trades in our  high schools.”

In recent years, the pendulum has begun to swing back. According to careersintrades.ca “the wage gap between workers with bachelor degrees and trade certificates is declining.  Between 2000 and 2011, the average weekly wages of full-time workers aged 25 to 34 with trades certificates grew by 14 per cent, while bachelor degree holders saw their wage growth slow to 1per cent. And, apprentices begin to make money right away, earning a wage from their first day at work.”

And yet, according to Rick Spence, business columnist, writing in the Financial Post last year, “Studies cited by Skills Canada, a federally supported organization dedicated to trades and apprenticeships, indicate 40 per cent of new jobs in he coming decade will be in skilled trades or technology (think computer animation, network support, etc.). “

Meanwhile, in guidance offices and family dining rooms, the song remains the same: just 26 per cent of young people aged 13 to 24 plan to consider a career in the skilled trades, with 59 per cent of youths saying their parents have not encouraged them to consider the trades as a career option.”

Given the coming demographic changes – the last cohort of baby boomers retiring (we’ll see about that, of course), dropping birth rates, and a steady-state universe for immigrants – a country with an increasingly light supply of people who can actually make things, like toilets, work invites a whole new set of productivity problems not yet imagined in chambers where bankers and economists chatter about national competitiveness.

Indeed, as Mr. Kenney observed, “We have a lot of tradesmen, the guys and ladies who literally built the the country, who are about to start retiring. We have a much smaller group of people to fill their shoes.”

It is refreshing, like a blast of Arctic air, to hear politicians of any stripe, from any level, talk pragmatically about issues into which they are willing to invest some expertise and over which they are prepared to exert some control – and all for the common good.

It is heartening to watch them put their heads together, work out their problems logically and calmly and, when the day’s work is done, unveil the big reveal.

Why, it’s almost as if some of them went to trade school.

Well. . .almost.

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All our spies have come in from the cold

The light of democracy is dimming

The light of democracy is dimming

Former National Security Agency analyst Edward Snowden’s suggestion that this country’s espionage establishment colluded, perhaps illegally, with its U.S. counterpart to spy on allied nations – in peace time, away from the mayhem of battle, during the G20 summit in Toronto – is troubling.

But no more than what appears to be a growing consensus of reaction in Canada, as we trip over the shards of our democracy to pat ourselves on the back for our newfound swagger: good, old guts and glory to the rescue.

“If it wasn’t for our laws, and police forces and military employed to enforce those laws, the world as we know it would implode on itself,” a letter writer to a recent edition of The Globe and Mail observes. “To be able to monitor and catch the bad guys, we have to know what they’re doing and thinking. Of course we are going to spy. The bad guys are spying on us.”

Against which, this corner of the peanut gallery offers no argument. Only a complete naif would suggest otherwise. The distressing bit comes in the next sentence: “The media should be praising Canada for allowing the U.S. to spy. How else can we keep the world sane and without violence?”

Once upon a time in this country and in others, polite company considered spying on one’s friends to be. . .well, impolite, especially if such surveillance was also explicitly illegal. (The Government of Canada, it should be noted, denies any of this sort of wrongdoing). The whole cloak-and-dagger business, while a necessary evil, wasn’t something about which to crow like a cockerel in heat.

We were proud of our diplomats who helped write the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We were proud of our prime ministers, such as Lester Pearson who was instrumental in creating United Nation Peacekeeping. We were proud of our scientists, engineers, teachers, and environmentalists; of our clergy, philosophers and writers. From time to time, we were even proud of our politicians – those who were able to muster the courage to shatter the status quo in the interests of a more civil society.

We certainly weren’t proud of the means by which our clandestine operatives obtained the ends of their shadowy missions either abroad or at home.

Times, however, have changed. They have become more discernibly black and white, as the once vast grey zone of dialogue, discourse, negotiation and conciliation in politics has vanished as utterly as has the middle class in society.

Today, we we are forced to choose between good and evil, rich and poor, criminals and victims, strength and weakness, resistance and compliance, national pride and wobbly thinking in the loathsome salons of the liberal elite.

Today, in this country, loose, unapproved talk about defending the environment from the depredations of a careless commercial sector – once a splendid exercise in participatory democracy – is tantamount to treason, punishable by several lashes of a government official’s tongue.

The oil must flow as surely as the pipelines must be built. As for the safety and security of the communities through which we send our dirty crude, leave that to the men in charge. They know best.

Today, from this country, international affairs gets bundled and exported to the world as a byproduct of something called “economic diplomacy”.

Gone is the emphasis on poverty reduction, human rights, child welfare and disease control. Welcome a new, golden age of liberalized trade for Canadian companies seeking to plant their corporate staffs in emerging markets, including those of China and India, Russia and Brazil.

Through these adventurous small and medium-sized businesses, Canada will achieve the greatness it so richly deserves and could never hope to acquire under any other sort of government than one that truly understands the prideful heart that beats strong and true in the breast of all “real” Canadians – those who, let’s just say, do not vote for Hollywood-handsome, marijuana-smoking mop-tops.

In this fresh impression of the cosmos, Canada’s spy agencies are not cabals of itinerant villains; they are chambers of patriots and heroes, as long as the information they obtain about our “friends” continues to elevates the nation’s interest.

And, apparently, by any means necessary.

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Courting the world as the homefront crumbles


Say what you will about the federal Conservative government’s evolving conception of international affairs, at least it has one. Far less clear are its notions about more humdrum, though no less crucial, matters of domestic tranquility.

News reports earlier this week confirmed that Prime Minister Stephen Harper will roll out an entirely new approach to foreign policy – one that makes something called “economic diplomacy” the centerpiece of his government’s efforts overseas.

In fact, this Global Markets Action Plan is merely a refurbished version of the Global Commerce Strategy, established in 2007 to, according to a government website, “respond to changes in the global economy and position Canada for long-term prosperity. . .(in). . .13 priority markets around the world where Canadian opportunities and interests had the greatest potential for growth.”

Wednesday’s edition of The Globe and Mail quotes selectively from the new plan, which directs federal officials, including senior members of the Tory caucus, to “entrench the concept of ‘economic diplomacy’ as the driving force behind the Government of Canada’s activities through its international diplomatic network.”

Indeed, deploying the trenchant language of public service memo writers in times of war, the report insists that “all diplomatic assets of the Government of Canada will be marshalled on behalf of the private sector.”

For those who cling to the idea that non-commercial interests – such as humanitarian assistance, poverty reduction, human rights, health and safety, and education – should guide Canada’s foreign policy and that multilateral collaboration is the only effective instrument with which to pursue these objectives, the shift in thinking at Foreign Affairs is a disaster.

For those who believe, however, that expanding the reach of the country’s businesses, particularly the small and medium-sized ones, is the most productive way to inculcate Canadian values and make the world safe for our particular brand of capitalist democracy (which may just be one of the more transparent oxymorons in the contemporary lexicon), economic diplomacy is a triumph of pragmatism.

Still, regardless of one’s opinion of the plan, we can all agree on at least one thing: it’s a real platform from which to tell the world that Canada is open for business. Then again, how are we doing on the homefront?

No less an authority than Canada’s Auditor-General, Michael Ferguson, worries about that kind of thing every day. His latest report, out this week, unwittingly raises troubling counterpoints to the ones our new economic diplomats proudly propagate. To wit: We may be ready to take the world by storm, but can we fix what’s broken in our own backyard?

On everything from food and transportation safety to border security, Mr. Ferguson finds the current office holders in Ottawa severely lacking in vision.

On food, the A-G report, declared, “There are weaknesses in the Canada Food Inspection Agency’s (CIFA) follow-up activities after a product has been removed from the marketplace. The CFIA did not have the documentation it is required to collect to verify that recalling firms had appropriately disposed of recalled products or taken timely actions to identify and correct the underlying cause of the recall to reduce the likelihood of a food safety issue reoccurring.”

About rail safety, the audit observed, “Despite the fact that federal railways were required 12 years ago to implement safety management systems for managing their safety risks and complying with safety requirements, Transport Canada has yet to establish an audit approach that provides a minimum level of assurance that federal railways have done so. While it has done a few audits of those systems, most of the audits it did were too narrowly focused and provided assurance on only a few aspects of SMSs. At the rate at which the Department is conducting focused audits, it will take many years to audit all the key components of SMS regulations, including key safety systems of each of the 31 federal railways.”

As for border security, Mr. Ferguson said simply that “systems and practices for collecting, monitoring, and assessing information to prevent the illegal entry of people into Canada are often not working as intended. As a result, some people who pose a risk to Canadians’ safety and security have succeeded in entering the country illegally.”

It’s all very well to court the world’s commercial movers and shakers.

But what, one wonders, will they find should they ever return the favour and put down stakes in our own home and native land?

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How to fight the good fight, especially when it’s wrong


Those picket-line-protesters who may worry that their shoe leather will wear out before the shale gas industry’s resolve does should cheer up after reviewing a World Trade Organization (WTO) decision this week – a decision some are calling a victory for the hard-scrabbling, morally superior little guy.

Of course, it is hardly that.

The WTO has simply upheld the European Union’s (EU) 2009 ban on imported seal products (meat, pelts, oil, etc.), which affects Canada most among the world’s pinniped-hunting nations (a small club that includes Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Namibia).

In its ruling, the organization allowed that while the prohibition probably violates at least the spirit of impartiality in global trade, it nonetheless “fulfills the objective of addressing EU public moral concerns on seal welfare to a certain extent.” What’s more, it added, “no alternative measure was demonstrated to make an equivalent or greater contribution to the fulfillment of the objective.”

In other words, consumers’ decidedly non-commercial interests can and do trump those, however legitimate, of producers, either small or large.

That’s good news to all the assorted rebels with various causes among us, though, naturally, none of this is sitting well with the federal government or Canadian sealers who are screaming about the dirty they’ve been done at the hands of a powerful, disingenuous protest lobby.

In a statement from Ed Fast, Minister for International Trade, Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of the Environment, and Gail Shea, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, the trio declared, “On February 11, 2011, our government requested the establishment of a World Trade Organization dispute settlement panel to challenge the European Union’s unfair ban on seal products in order to stand up for Canadian sealers and to vigorously defend the interests of Canada’s Inuit and Indigenous communities.

“The WTO panel confirmed Canada’s long-standing position that the EU ban is discriminatory and treats Canadian seal products unfairly. However, the panel also took the view that such a ban can be justified due to some of the public’s concerns regarding seal harvesting. Canada remains steadfast in its position that the seal harvest is a humane, sustainable and well-regulated activity. Any views to the contrary are based on myths and misinformation, and the Panel’s findings should be of concern to all WTO members.”

The government, of course, promises it will press on with an appeal. But, realistically, this battle is over. The Harper government is not likely to threaten the stability of its freshly minted European trade agreement over an industry that generates few economic benefits for citizens who live south of the 60th parallel – i.e., most Canadians.

All of which provides several object lessons for less mature social agitations, the first of which is that the “facts” at one’s disposal need not actually be true.

The trick to winning hearts and minds in the seal debate was always steadfastly ensuring that the message of carnage and cruelty on the ice floes was front and centre and before the public. Even after the industry effectively cleaned up its act (to the degree that any mass predation can be absolved of moral ambiguity), the message never changed, a fact which truly bugged even some ardent environmental pioneers.

“We have to be logical,” Jacques Cousteau reportedly once said. “We have to aim our activity first to the endangered species. Those who are moved by the plight of the harp seal could also be moved by the plight of the pig – the way they are slaughtered is horrible.”

The second lesson is that celebrities can vastly enhance a movement’s credibility.

In 2006, Paul McCartney and his then-wife Heather Mills, took Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams – who was linked to the show via a scratchy phone connection – to task over the annual cull. They called him by his first name and beseeched him, several times, to stop the killing. They were wrong on every account, every statement of fact. But, it didn’t matter. Subsequent polling showed that, in the eyes of the average viewer, they’d won the debate.

Was this sensible? Was this reasonable?

Who cares?

All’s fair in love, war and on the picket lines.

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Who watches the watchers?


The mind of The Great White Spook is more scrutable today than it was merely a week ago. But only a shade, and only thanks to the whistle-blowing of a certain, former National Security Agency (NSA) operative now on the lam in Russia.

Edward Snowdon’s data dump of super secret NSA documents on American scrivener Glenn Greenwald and his associates now implicates Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), which was, until recently, tucked safely behind an opaque veil.

In the spy world, Canada has never commanded much more authority than a handmaid in the U.S. and British intelligence establishment (or so “they” would have us believe). The news, this week, out of Brazil puts paid to that quaint conceit.

“Brazil’s flagship Fantastico investigative program on the Globo television network revealed leaked documents suggesting that Communications Security Establishment Canada has spied on computers and smartphones affiliated with Brazil’s mining and energy ministry in a bid to gain economic intelligence,” the Globe and Mail reported on Monday.

“The report. . .includes frames of a CSEC-earmarked presentation that was apparently shared with the United States and other allies in June, 2012. . .The presentation. . .rhetorically asks ‘How can I use the information available in SIGINT [signals-intelligence] data sources to learn about the target?’ before delving into specific hacking techniques.”

Former intelligence officials were quick to dismiss the report. Ray Boisvert, an ex-director general of counter-terrorism for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service told the National Post that there wasn’t much up-side in crawling through Brazil’s underwear drawer.

“Like any crime drama, you look for capability and intent,” he said. “Could CSEC do Brazil? Of course, it has significant capability to collect intelligence in the national interest. But on motive, you come up way short. If it was Iran, nobody would be surprised. But this is Brazil. I’m really short on motive.”

Perhaps, but the point is not whether Canada is poking its nose into places where its nose doesn’t belong; it’s whether it can. An even more interesting question is what prevents CSEC from doing just about anything it likes in the name of national interest and domestic security.

On June 27, the organization modified the content of its website, though it’s not clear how or where. Still, the spy agency describes its mandate, thusly: “To acquire and use information from the global information infrastructure for the purpose of providing foreign intelligence, in accordance with Government of Canada intelligence priorities;

to provide advice, guidance and services to help ensure the protection of electronic information and of information infrastructures of importance to the Government of Canada; to provide technical and operational assistance to federal law enforcement and security agencies in the performance of their lawful duties.”

As for its role, CSEC declares that it is “unique within Canada’s security and intelligence community” as it “employs code-makers and code-breakers to provide the Government of Canada with information technology security (IT Security) and foreign signals intelligence (SIGINT) services.” The latter assists “government decision-making in the fields of national security, national defence and foreign policy. These functions “relate exclusively to foreign intelligence and are directed by the Government of Canada’s intelligence priorities.”

Nothing in the public record suggests that one of these prime concerns is a policy – official or otherwise – of conducting commercial espionage against our league of friendly nations, of which Brazil is a stellar member.

The Government of Canada’s own website happily declares that this country is  “priority market. . .It is a major economic player, not just in South America, but also globally, as our 11th largest trading partner.. . Bilateral trade has increased by more than 25 per cent over the last five years, reaching $6.6 billion in 2012. . .Canadian exports to Brazil were $2.6 billion. . .In 2012, Brazil was the 7th highest source of foreign direct investment in Canada, with $15.8 billion in cumulative stocks. Brazil was the 12th largest recipient of Canadian direct investment abroad, with $9.8 billion of cumulative stock invested as of year‑end 2012. Some 500 Canadian companies are active in Brazil (over 50 in the mining sector alone).”

As CSEC’s just-retired head, John Adams, tells CBC News, it’s not a bad idea that, henceforth, the agency receives a little more parliamentary oversight than it has in the past.

After all, he says, “We have got capability that is unique to this country. No one else has it.”

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