Note: The following points of view have not been updated since 2008.
CANADA AND THE WORLD:
Canada – US Relations
Canada’s Global Role
Immigration & Refugee Policy
The Middle East
Peacekeeping and the Military
The Rights of Women
United Nations Reform
OUR SYSTEM OF JUSTICE:
Alcohol Abuse and Crime
Judicial and Quasi-Judicial Appointments
Modernization of the Court System
National Legal Aid
The Sentencing of Criminals
Strengthening the Charter
OUR CANADIAN SOCIETY:
Aboriginal Canadians: Time for Justice
Arts and Culture
Early Child Development & Child Care
Ethics In Government
Faith-Based Education and Arbitration
Freedom of Religion
Freedom of Speech
Gender Equality & Same Sex Marriage
Healthcare for the 21st Century
Local Organic Food Production
Lower the Voting Age to 16
Regulation of Payday Loans
Trans Fats in Foods and Animal Feed
Women in Politics
Youth In Crisis
THE CANADIAN ECONOMY:
Education and Training
General Taxation & the National Debt
Harper’s “Open Federalism”
National Economic Union
National Securities Commission
Research and Development
CANADA AND THE WORLD (last updated 2008)
Afghanistan (last updated 2008)
We are right to be in Afghanistan, participating in a mission of great moral and strategic significance. Canada must be at the forefront of new means of civil-military cooperation – increasing our military strength to enhance our effectiveness in the growing number of areas of complex conflict requiring delivery of humanitarian and development assistance. An unstable Afghanistan can destabilize its nuclear neighbours – Pakistan, India, and, if it has its way, Iran. Prior to 9/11, the Taliban in Afghanistan provided the operational centre and a shelter for Osama Bin Laden.
We are there to ensure that the international community does not turn its back too soon as arguably it did in 2001 when the Americans sent a totally inadequate number of troops, limited to Kabul, to assist the Afghan people to achieve stability, peace and democracy. Building a functional sovereign and democratic state is not an 18-month job, a 3-year job or even perhaps a 10-year job.
Canada must take steps to instill a sufficient sense of hope and progress in developing societies so that despair and anger do not send more masses into the arms of extremists.
We must continue to stay engaged in establishing stability in Afghanistan. Rebuilding a failed state while fighting guerillas who have a safe sanctuary is arguably the most significant international commitment Canada has made since World War Two.
Of course we must also continue at all times to reassess our goals and military strategy. The Manley Report of January 2008 provided a long overdue discussion of our national purpose in Afghanistan. The key points have been succinctly summarized as follows: The options are not security or development, combat or training, Canada or NATO allies. The choice is both or neither.
Because Afghanistan must be rebuilt village by village, our goal must be to devise new means of civil-military cooperation to provide essential military support for the delivery of humanitarian and development assistance. Among other things, more NATO troops based in Kandahar will of course help, as will much greater CIDA effectiveness in building up the public administrative capacity of Afghanistan. Also, we must urgently correct the fact that Canada does not yet have troop transport helicopters and ways to avoid dangerous overland travel. Most of our casualties continue to be caused by IEDs – improvised explosive devices.
In the meantime, every single Canadian casualty is a terrible loss to each and every Canadian. We must reassure our brave men and women on the front lines that we will never waver in our support for their endeavours and sacrifices, and will always be guided in our decision-making by their best interests.
Canada – U.S. Relations (last updated 2008)
Canada- U.S. relations will remain of paramount importance, wherever the forces of globalization lead, and however much American power may decline relative to China and India. The answer to the perennial question of whether we can maintain our overall distinctiveness from the United States is yes, just as we have done successfully ever since 1867. We have almost always agreed with Americans on the rules of democracy, the rule of law, shared geography, our respective political systems and so forth. The sympathy and outpouring of emotions and support/aid in the wake of September 11th and Hurricane Katrina reflect our closeness.
We are unquestionably closely tied to the United States economically, most obviously through the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). We are great friends and allies. Millions of people cross the 49th parallel every year. But we must not be naïve: as important as trade and exchange with the United States may seem to us, the converse is not true. Less than one quarter of American trade is with Canada; the vast majority is not.
To ensure that our concerns are heard clearly and constructively in the United States, we must put a great deal of effort into diplomatic and other channels to increase American awareness of Canadians. As difficult as it is to believe, most Americans know very little of Canada or its politics and are occasionally too quick to assume the worst of us. For example, it was disturbing to find Americans, including those who produced the brilliant television series, The West Wing, assuming that Canada had harboured many of the terrorists responsible for the September 11th attacks. Clearly, we must improve this situation in order to strengthen our hand in our bilateral relations, while at the same time, acknowledging that Canadians for their part do not know enough about Americans and the United States.
We also need to assume our responsibility for the defence of North America with a maturity that befits a modern sovereign state. For example, we must do much more to secure our borders and extensive seacoasts, as well as bolster our internal defences – and it must be done in close cooperation with the Americans. Such cooperation does not constitute a loss of sovereignty; rather, it strengthens our sovereignty by ensuring that joint policy and decisions reflect our country’s interests and needs.
Energy cooperation with the United States is quickly becoming a critical element of our bilateral relationship, as Americans focus on developing secure energy supplies within North America in order to reduce their dependence on Middle East oil supplies. One proposal put forward by Thomas Axworthy is the conclusion of a Resources Security Pact between our two countries in which “Canada would use energy to tempt the United States Congress to end the harassment of agriculture and softwood lumber exports.”
Although the Free Trade Agreement already gives the U.S. oil export guarantees, such an agreement would ensure that development of the resource proceeded in a timely and comprehensive fashion. We must of course ensure that Canada always maintains its security of supply, and that consideration always be given to the broader context of developing joint Canada-United States approaches to resource renewability, sustainability and the development of alternative energy sources.
Canada’s Global Role (last updated 2008)
Canadians, new and old, do not define themselves by their ethnicity, religion, language or their province. Nor do we define ourselves with material things – not the cars we drive, the houses we own, the areas in which we live.
We do not define ourselves with borders.
We are Canadians without borders, looking outward to an exciting future.
We have come together to continue to build a progressive, vigorous multi-ethnic democracy. We are prepared to embrace the responsibilities that have been thrust upon us because of our unique place in the international community.
For Canada to be a global leader, as we can and should be, Canada’s strength must come from a unity of purpose – our ability to pull together our huge and growing pool of exceptional human talent, to build a better world for our children and grandchildren.
Our destiny must be to show that Canada can be a model for a troubled world increasingly challenged by religious and sectarian friction, and environmental catastrophes.
We have a mission to export the type of pluralistic, creative, modern society we are building in Canada.
And we have every right to be proud and assertive, not weighed down by “middleness”, diffidence, the all too typical Canadian “Excuse me, sorry to bother you” attitude.
Our national purpose must be to improve the quality of life both in Canada and elsewhere, to promote a common sense of humanity, good government and good citizenship around the globe, to collaborate globally to ensure that economic prosperity coincides with environmental preservation.
We must remember that Canadians choose Canada because of the opportunity, both economic and social.
With some exceptions, most notably the extraordinarily unacceptable third world conditions among aboriginal Canadians, Canada represents the best of universal values ─ justice, equality, diversity, the rule of law, fundamental freedoms, equal rights, non-discrimination, and a chance to live in peace and humanity.
Canada provides a safe haven, and a base from which to reach out to the troubled areas of the world and teach what we learn in Canada ─ how people with different religions, ethnicities and values can live together as full citizens in free societies, exercising the mutual responsibilities that go along with the rights of citizenship.
Almost every aspect of our daily lives has a global dimension. All the serious challenges we face whether climate change, dreadful poverty, wars, sicknesses, nuclear proliferation, terrorism, all require global cooperation and global solutions, but also decisive national leadership at home.
The longer we fail to act coherently and effectively, both nationally and internationally, the narrower our options and the greater the potential for catastrophe.
The success of Canada therefore also lies not only in ensuring our diversity remains our strength, but also in demonstrating that we can have bold and visionary national leadership in a dynamic federation.
Indeed Canada’s influence and effectiveness on the international stage depends on maintaining our internal coherence and stability, and strengthening our commitment to greater equity, economic and social justice, sustainable development, environmental preservation.
We must have our act together at home, and implement domestic policies which attract world-wide respect, if we are to have credibility and a knowledge base from which to act internationally.
We need bold and visionary national leadership to inspire us to confidently take on our complex world, and convey a sense of forward motion, leadership that convinces Canadians once again to believe that those in public life can translate rhetoric into action.
We need bold and visionary national government that brings forward national initiatives with clarity and conviction.
Our prime minister and foreign minister, in particular, must provide clear directions for national and international action.
But what is the reality?
We have foreign policy going off in potentially 10 or 12 different directions. With Quebec’s proliferating delegations, critical cutbacks at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Canada’s voice in the world is confused.
We are too defensive with respect to the United States, there is too much promotion of mediocrity, and our federal government is risk averse and indecisive, most notably with respect to the crucible issue of our time, global warming.
With so many of us active outside Canada and globally-connected, Canadians must demand a clear Canadian voice on the world stage, and coherent national government at home, to inspire us to pull together for the common good.
We must demand national leadership that governs for the Canadian people, not the provincial premiers. Canada is not Quebec. Canada is not Alberta. Neither Jean Charest nor Ed Stelmach speaks to the national interest. Nor is it their job to do so: that is the job of the prime minister.
We must find and elect national politicians able and willing to defend Canadian values at home and abroad with dignity and determination. We need our politicians to move beyond petty politics, power plays, outdated ideologies, seducing voters with ill-conceived tax cuts, and commissioning useless opinion polls to gauge, not important matters, but merely the popularity of the government.
As Canada searches for its role and purpose in the 21st century, especially on the global stage, we must ask whether we are content to be a neutral broker here and there with mixed success, or do we want to achieve something more concrete and vigorous?
Once again, bold and visionary national leadership is desperately needed.
All liberal democracies, big and small, need to participate in networking and international agreements that result in effective cooperative action on global problems of energy security, economic inequality, ethnic conflicts, regional militarization, pandemics and global warming.
In the foreseeable future, national power will no longer depend primarily on military, or even economic, might. It will depend on social stability, access to safe, clean sources of energy, clean air and water, a good healthcare system and adequate national preparedness to enable a nation to withstand a pandemic.
Even the United States appears slowly to be learning the lesson of Iraq the hard way: that even a powerful state such as the United States in a currently unipolar world, gains an advantage by supporting, and operating within, an international system of rules and institutions.
In the near future, hundreds of millions of poorly educated young people around the world will lack the necessary skills for employment, and find very few employment opportunities except in the informal economy. They are living in the crowded mega-cities and will be attractive recruits for radical groups, alienated from the global economic, social and political system, and who consider the U.S. to be simply the supporter of Guantanamo Bay and Abu Graib. Such mass poverty is the greatest moral challenge/moral dilemma of our time.
The international community must be fully engaged, for example, in supporting international initiatives such as the Millennium Development Goals, established in 2000. Canada at the very least must increase our foreign aid level from the current pathetic 0.28% of GDP to the 0.7% promised back in the 1960s. We must instill a sufficient sense of hope and progress in developing societies so that despair and anger do not send more masses into the arms of extremists.
But at the same time as ramping up international development initiatives, we must deal firmly with the corrupt self-interested regimes, in too many developing areas of the world that rule by fear and threats, and siphon off aid intended to advance the local social economy. They are guilty of manufacturing poverty to enhance alienation and anger for their own political ends.
Crises in states from Sudan to Afghanistan are potential threats to security at home here in Canada. Destabilizing civil wars are much more common than they were 40 years ago. As Rwanda and now Darfur demonstrate, the potential for horrific genocides is all too real. And rants by the president of Iran, advocating the elimination of the nation of Israel, are ominous.
We need a forceful Canadian presence at all the bargaining tables around the world – in Afghanistan, Rwanda, Darfur, to the ongoing Kyoto conference negotiations, to the World Trade Organization, to the United Nations, and so many more.
We must support and encourage the many many Canadians involved outside Canada in business, education, arts and culture, sports, the foreign service, non-governmental organizations, civil society groups and our military.
Our military in particular is now at the forefront of forging new means of civil-military cooperation – using our military strength to make possible the delivery of humanitarian and development assistance in the growing number of complicated conflicts worldwide.
We must invest the necessary resources in our peacekeeping capacities, our military, our international activities, and our defence of North America. Our international reputation and influence is a source of pride, but is never something to be taken for granted. It is something to be earned and maintained through hard work and, at times, great sacrifice.
Human Trafficking (last updated 2008)
There is an urgent need for Canada and all nations to deal more effectively and multilaterally with the tragedy of human trafficking, an illegal modern-day slave trade in women and children that closely follows drugs and guns in profitability. The U.S. Department of State 2008 Annual Report on human trafficking states that 600,000 to 800,000 persons are victimized each year. Canada has the legislation in place to deal with both increased penalties for human trafficking, and assisting the victims of trafficking. But as the Department of State Report notes, the RCMP Human Trafficking National Coordinating Centre has only two officers and one analyst. Canada must do much more to put an end to human trafficking both within Canada and abroad. Among other things, much more resources are required, especially in support of effective NGOs fighting the scourge of trafficking.
Immigration & Refugee Policy (last updated 2008)
Immigrants built Canada and are the backbone of, and enrich, Canadian society. The federal government must vastly improve the process of applying to immigrate to Canada and, once and for all, facilitate the recognition of foreign educational credentials and foreign work experience, while recognizing that both skilled and unskilled workers have invaluable contributions to make.
An immigration system that generates a backlog of 850,000 applications, with many in the queue for 5 or 6 years, is a dysfunctional nightmare and an embarrassment to a country like Canada which increasingly depends on our interconnectedness with the rest of the world. Indeed by as early as 2012, immigration will account for all net labour force growth.
The solution does not lie in the Harper government’s ill-considered proposal to give the immigration minister sweeping powers to pick and choose different types of immigrants and establish arbitrary caps on categories of applicants. Nor does it lie only in ad hoc, albeit laudable,steps such as creating a new category of “Canadian Experience Class” which allows temporary workers and foreign students to apply for landed status without first returning to their home countries.
The proper route is to undertake a serious and complete overhaul of the immigration and refugee protection system and take the time necessary to get it right.
To begin with, we need to speed up the immigration application process by hiring more staff in all our offices abroad and ensure that enough individual attention is given to potential immigrants to ease their arrival in Canada and maximize their chance of successful integration. But staffing up to adequate levels will only work if we have adequate capacity within Canada to integrate new Canadians once they arrive. We must provide the necessary infrastructure, especially individualized human assistance, to help new Canadians maximize their potential – language training, settlement services, internship programs that provide work experience, expeditious certification mechanisms to recognize foreign credentials and work experience.
Given the backlog, it may be advisable to establish a new system for processing all new applicants as of a certain date, this time sufficiently staffed in all areas, while creating specialized teams over the short-term to attack and eliminate the backlog in an equitable and very expeditious manner. This will require a significant and long overdue investment of public funds at both the federal and provincial levels, something that is infinitely preferable to the introduction of extraordinarily arbitrary ministerial powers.
Ensuring the efficient and equitable operation of our immigration system will relieve the pressures on the refugee determination process which arise when would-be immigrants attempt to circumvent the clogged and frustrating immigration stream by making unfounded refugee claims. To some extent, our refugee protection system has functioned as an overflow mechanism for the immigration system, and this has unfortunately fuelled much exaggerated claims that our good will and humanitarianism are being abused.
But minimizing unfounded refugee claims is neither the only nor the most serious reform that merits our attention. While we should be proud of Canada’s record in assisting refugees fleeing persecution in their country of nationality, our refugee determination process too often gives rise to incomprehensible situations in which a deportation offends our standard of basic fairness and compassion, in addition to defying common sense. This situation must be corrected at the earliest opportunity.
Among other things the current refugee determination structure and process should be changed as follows:
• The members of the refugee board should comprise experts in the field, appointed by an arms-length commission, who decide both whether a person falls within the legal definition of a refugee or whether, in any event, the person should nevertheless stay in Canada on humane and compassionate grounds. (Currently there are two separate, costly and time-consuming proceedings).
• The board must be adequately staffed so that backlogs do not build up. Equally, our overseas offices must be adequately staffed to allow much greater processing of refugees in transit points and hot spots around the world.
• There should be an appeal to a quasi-judicial Refugee Appeal Division.
All persons who have been welcomed within our borders as immigrants, refugees, or people meriting humanitarian and compassionate relief, become eligible for Canadian citizenship. As part of the process of applying Canadian citizenship, we must also promote the responsibilities that go along with the rights of citizenship. In gaining the rights of Canadian citizenship, all persons must accept the responsibility to maintain a civil society and a political community that espouses democratic ideals and acts on them, upholds the rule of law and outlaws the use of violence as a means of political expression. As well, all persons must accept the responsibility to maintain a civil society and political community in which women have equal rights and privileges with men.
At the same time, all Canadians must discharge our serious collective responsibility to ensure that new Canadians have real equality of opportunity. The evidence is clear that the latest wave of immigrants, while perhaps better educated than their predecessors, face more difficulties with respect to employment, reuniting their families, proper housing and health services. The huge mismatch between the skills of new Canadians and what they are actually employed to do here is astonishing. It seems that newcomers are now seen as a source of low-income workers, not as a solution to the much-needed upgrading of skills in both the manufacturing and knowledge sectors, and as much-needed new professionals.
No less than 41% of immigrants with university degrees are now in chronic low-income categories, compared to only 13% in 1993, before the immigration laws were changed to encourage more educated immigrants to come to Canada. Especially among the young there is a real sense of exclusion as the disaffected lash out against a society that fails to give them equal opportunity in practice. Canadians, particularly employers in Canada, must identify what barriers are preventing many new Canadians from advancing their careers, and then address those barriers with positive action. According to a 2007 report of the Conference Board of Canada, “although Canadian organizations say they value diversity, they have not yet fully committed their policies, practices and resources to embedding diversity in their operations.”
We clearly require much more public investment in education and training, sector by sector, so that we stop shedding so many valuable middle-income jobs that traditionally have allowed workers to climb the income ladder, and so we can really focus on keeping people employed. Wouldn’t dramatic national action be great for a change? Like offering free employee training to employers who locate or expand their operations in Canada? For that matter, why not the Irish route of free college tuition? But this takes us to another area of discussion, to be addressed at another time.
The Middle East (last updated 2008)
Canada must support an effective peace process in the Middle East that leads to a Palestinian state and full respect for Israel in international forums. The road to lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians lies in the establishment of a fully democratic Palestinian government, with democratic institutions and the rule of law, equality of women in civil society and a commitment to eschew violence as a means of resolving disputes. This will require the dissolution of Hamas and its promotion of terrorist activities, and this in turn requires the collaboration of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt and Syria, with the active involvement of Jordan, Russia and China. These states must step up to the plate and discharge their responsibility to contribute to greater peace and security by themselves allowing the evolution of democracy and by playing an active role in suppressing and eradicating terrorist groups. Iran and Syria, in particular, are currently much more part of the problem, not part of the solution. Arab states must be persuaded to make political space for liberal, secular movements and must allow the advance of both democratic institutions and the equality of women and men. The transition to democracy will of course take time and will create vulnerabilities that must be overcome.
A durable and equitable Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement must involve the creation of a viable state of Palestine, having the capacity to maintain public order and safety as well as to provide services, goods and jobs to people. This will depend on the Palestinians ability to resolve the divisions between Hamas and Fatah that prevent coherent leadership in negotiating forums. It will also depend on Israel’s ability to rethink and revisit its approach to building a security barrier.
A durable and equitable Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement must also ensure that Israel is accorded the proper respect in international forums. Israel is a legitimate democratic nation that is entitled under international law to defend itself against international terrorism and should not have to face calls for its destruction, and suffer ongoing suicide bombings and rocket attacks that plainly target civilian populations. It is not acceptable that it live under a perpetual threat of attack. Yet instead of encouraging Israel’s full participation on the world stage, Israel has been excluded from all key United Nations human rights committees, while Libya, hardly a standard bearer for respect for human rights, has been elected in the past to the Human Rights Commission. (See “United Nations Reform” below).
Nuclear Proliferation (last updated 2008)
We need to put the focus back on the very serious nuclear threat and the goal of the abolition of nuclear weapons. The nuclear non-proliferation regime is on the verge of collapse. The United States is mumbling about “usable nuclear bombs” (bunker busters, mini-nukes, reliable replacement warheads (RRWs)) and continues steps that are leading to the weaponization of space. The five original signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1970 – the U.S., Russia, France, Britain and China – are still committed to giving up nuclear weapons. But now there is India, Pakistan, Israel, North Korea and possibly Iran. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco and Algeria have all told the International Atomic Energy Agency that they now intend to develop nuclear power programs. And as events in Britain regarding the poisoning of a former Russian KGB agent demonstrate, much more controls are required on radioactive fissile materials.
The growing dangers of our nuclear world must force us to recognize how little the international community has accomplished in more than half a century in terms of the abolition of nuclear weapons and the threat of nuclear Armageddon. It is clear that we must redouble our efforts in this area especially as the pressure increases to greatly expand nuclear energy as a way to reduce global warming and too much reliance on fossil fuels.
Peacekeeping and the Military (last updated 2008)
We must invest the necessary resources in our peacekeeping capacities, our military, our international activities, and our defence of North America. Our international reputation and influence is a source of pride, but is never something to be taken for granted. It is something to be earned and maintained through hard work and, at times, great sacrifice.
History bears out the dangers of not sustaining outside help in nation-building projects. Witness what has happened in Somalia, Haiti and Lebanon. As we discovered in Bosnia, an operation of sufficient scale and duration may be the only effective way to achieve our goals of greater peace and humanity.
All this should underscore for all Canadians how increasingly important our military role will be outside our borders, and the critical need to use military power carefully as an instrument of foreign policy in conjunction with diplomacy and development strategies.
A much more effective NATO or, ideally, vigorous U.N. peace-making units, is also urgently required in Darfur, and neighbouring Chad and Central African Republic, to prevent the first genocide of the 21st century. General Romeo Dallaire, the most passionate and eloquent veteran of the horrors of Rwanda, argues persuasively that we need to rally Japan, Germany, India, Brazil, and the Scandinavian countries to commit resources and troops to NATO, as well as partner with Australia and New Zealand.
We must reinvest in our military capacities, even beyond the recent initiatives, and once again become an effective player in all domains of international affairs – defence, diplomacy and development. According to most expert observers, military expenditures currently hover about 1 per cent of GDP and may have to rise eventually to at least 4.5 per cent.
We must continue to be in the forefront of the development of the international “responsibility to protect” doctrine, which is gaining support as the legal and ethical framework within which to protect vulnerable populations at risk from civil wars, insurgency, state repression and state collapse. We must also be in the forefront of the development of effective, innovative means of civil-military cooperation, providing essential military support for the delivery of humanitarian and development assistance within the context of the increasing number of complex conflict situations around the world.
Finally, Canada must support effective international action to stop the international arms trade especially in lethal small arms that too often fuel conflict, as well as promote an international ban on IEDs -improvised explosive devices.
The Rights of Women (last updated 2008)
The key to the emergence of civil society and the reduction of extremism around the world is the rising influence of women and the promotion of the rights of women. Shirin Ebadi, the activist Iranian attorney who won the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize, insists that the expansion of women’s role will itself be a force for democratization.
For example, within the Muslim faith, tolerance of women in mosques is still rare. Generally, women are not even represented on mosque committees. Signs of change, however small, are encouraging. In April 2006, Morocco’s Islamic Affairs Ministry awarded diplomas to 50 women imams. This followed some legislative changes in 2003 whereby King Mohammed VI reinterpreted the Sharia in an egalitarian direction.
In January 2006, women led an Eid prayer in Boston. In March 2006, women led Eid prayers in Canada before a grand mufti. In May 2006, Salam Yaqoob, the national vice-chair of the far-left “Respect Party” in England, was elected as Birmingham’s first female Muslim councilor with over 50 per cent of the vote. However, she was attacked by extremists and a fatwa was issued against her.
Women are critically important to the strengthening of civil society, not just as workers, but as consumers, entrepreneurs, managers and investors. Women deliver economic growth, and women in power are more likely to spend money on improving health, education, infrastructure and poverty. Investment in the education of women in the developing world could deliver huge economic and social returns.
Canada and Canadians can do a great deal to reach out to the forces of moderation of all faiths both within and outside Canada. We must ensure that the rights of women and the fundamental value of the equality of men and women are respected at all times, especially in determining the scope of our freedom to retain some traditional religious and cultural practices.
On a related matter, in 2003 Norway passed a very interesting law requiring 40% of all Boards of Directors to be women within 5 years by 2008. As of February 29, 2008, most corporations had complied. The penalty for non-compliance is dissolution. Canada would do well to implement a similar initiative.
United Nations Reform (last updated 2008)
Canada must support significant U.N. reform and changes in global governance to ensure sustained international action to save struggling populations in Darfur, Afghanistan and elsewhere. We must be clear and firm in our denunciation of the current United Nations structure. We will not merit the respect of future generations unless we insist on the fundamental changes to the U.N. that will allow the world community to put an end to genocide in Darfur, Rwanda and elsewhere, put an end to the lethal arms trade and arms build-up.
The Security Council is fatally flawed by the vetoes of the five permanent members. Among other things, the renaissance of Asia – China and India – and the increasing power of states with oil and gas, notably, Russia, demonstrate how we desperately need a new structure of global governance that reflects the growing diffusion of power.
Suggestions for U.N. reform include expanding the Security Council to include 10 rotating members, such as Brazil, India, Germany, Japan and South Africa. (This is similar to the proposal to create a permanent Group of 20 to supersede the current G-8, adding Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, India, Indonesia, China, Australia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea and the EU to the United States, Britain, Japan, France, Germany, Italy Russia and Canada.) Other reforms to the international infrastructure involve merging the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to more effectively address global financial issues including development, and to ensure that critical decision-making authority better corresponds to actual global distribution of power.
The new U.N. Human Rights Council, recently created to replace the discredited Human Rights Commission, is no better than its predecessor. In fact, it may be worse because it is wrongly touted as being better. The Council still has a disproportionate number of members with dubious records, and the majority of the 44 resolutions passed during its first session failed to come to grips with the most appalling human rights abuses on the planet. Instead there were the usual condemnations of Israel, a very weak resolution dealing with Darfur, and a resolution passed by a group of African countries backed by Russia and Cuba, which would effectively ban independent UN human rights missions from investigating alleged violations of human rights, torture or human trafficking, except in Israel, an initiative that has even been criticized by Human Rights Watch. This is hardly an auspicious beginning for U.N. reform. We simply have to do better.
Yet, the January 2008 Arab Human Rights agreement and the proposals for a second UN Conference against Racism (Durban II), continues the unproductive, divisive equation of Zionism and racism and the promotion of anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic sentiments. This once again trivializes the real challenges faced by the international community in taking serious action to protect human rights and enforce human responsibilities in the face of the horrible abuses and violations in Darfur and elsewhere.
The decision of Canada and others to pull out of the second Durban conference on anti-racism was welcome. The first Durban conference in 2001 became simply a counter-productive platform for blatant anti-semitism and was a waste of public energy and resources.
OUR SYSTEM OF JUSTICE (last updated 2008)
Alcohol Abuse and Crime (last updated 2008)
One of the key elements of any realistic crime prevention strategy must include serious measures to deal with alcohol abuse in Canada, a commitment to early education and recognition of alcohol abuse patterns, and a strong commitment to a national strategy on both alcohol and drug rehabilitation.
No serious discussion of crime reduction in Canada can take place without looking squarely at the problem of alcohol abuse. Alcohol abuse is at the root of the vast majority of assault cases in the country, alcohol is the primary fuel behind domestic violence and far too often the catalyst for violence against Canadian children. And increasingly teens, and teen violence – often leading to murder – is linked with dangerous binge drinking.
Unfortunately no useful statistics are yet kept about the number of times that alcohol abuse plays a part in criminal convictions. Rehabilitation services across the country are an uneven patchwork – in some communities they are non-existent, in others, the wait lists are impossibly long and still too often only available to those who can afford them – essentially making for two-tiered alcohol rehabilitation.
Anti-Terrorism Legislation (last updated 2008)
No one is immune from the risk of terrorism. Terrorism, by its nature, targets innocents. Terrorism is an assault on the basic rights of the whole Canadian community. Respect for rights means combating terrorism effectively.
Promoting rights also means respect for the rule of law. Terrorists attack us in order to attack our values. We must preserve these values in the face of these attacks. Terrorist suspects must have their rights respected. Even known, convicted terrorists have basic minimum rights.
The current effort to combat terrorism fails to realize fully either of these principles. We are not now doing enough to combat terrorism effectively. And we are violating the rights of those suspected of terrorism unnecessarily.
Among other things, we should pursue the following:
• The Criminal Code should prohibit incitement to terrorism.
• The preventive arrest and investigative hearing powers should become an integral part of the anti-terrorism legislation after an extensive balanced parliamentary review of the ensemble of our anti-terrorism measures, in contrast to the politicized sham pressure-cooker review recently undertaken by Stephen Harper.
• Security certificates should be subject to review by the Security Intelligence Review Committee.
• Recent legislation proposes to extend the Federal Court power to disclose confidential material to the security-cleared counsel for the accused in security certificate proceedings, where that counsel gives an undertaking not to disclose the confidential material to his/her client, not to copy the material or permit it to be copied, and to destroy the material when it is no longer needed for the proceeding. It is extremely difficult to find the best balance between the rights of the accused to know the case against them, and the concerns of the democratic state to protect legitimate confidential sources. To this end, consideration should be given to allowing the accused’s own counsel to be security-cleared.
• Persons subject to security certificate procedures should then be allowed to submit specific questions to the Minister on the summary of information provided to him or her. If the Minister objects to the answering of the question, the Court could rule on the objection.
• Those detained under the security certificate procedure should be entitled to detention reviews, as are those detained where there is no certificate, after 48 hours, seven days and then every thirty days.
• Canada should not remove anyone to torture or death in another country under any circumstances.
All the antiterrorism legislation, in whatever Act of Parliament it is found, should be subject to a comprehensive sunset clause requiring periodic Parliamentary review and reenactment.
Border Security (last updated 2008)
The federal government must strengthen border security and the safety of all Canadians by enhancing the capacity of the Canada Border Services Agency. An additional police presence at the border would greatly improve overall security, and would permit a stronger response to any type of security threat, or potential crime. Increasing the presence of professionally trained police officers at all border crossings is preferable to arming border guards.
Along with increased border security, more consistency in the application of the criminal law is required, particularly where smuggling firearms is concerned.
The illicit flow of small arms and light weapons across borders and especially into conflict zones has been the subject of a UN initiative to conclude a comprehensive, legally-binding arms treaty since 2001.
Despite the July 2006 collapse of the UN meeting to conclude the proposed arms treaty, Canada must continue to be forceful, articulate and coherent in international forums on the urgent need for effective global action to control the lethal small arms trade.
Community Safety (last updated 2008)
The federal government must establish a truly cross-sectoral strategy to address the root causes of violence, ensuring all relevant government policies are explicitly engaged in pursuit of the goal of creating healthy, safe communities.
The federal government must provide substantial financial support for community initiatives that are broadly aimed at ensuring that youth and women, in particular, have access to much improved economic and social support and opportunities. Funding should be provided for 3 to 4 years with the possibility of renewal, with a review at the end of the 2nd year, to establish the effectiveness and efficiency of all initiatives. Ensuring that schools become effective community hubs must be a top priority.
There can be no doubt that enhancing community safety requires adequate community policing. If we as community members are to take greater interest in and discharge greater mutual responsibility for healthy safe communities, community police are an invaluable resource and critical component of any effective crime prevention strategy. Accordingly, the federal government must assist Canadian municipalities in greatly expanding community policing and ensuring that the community police, as well as the RCMP, better reflect the diverse population of Canada.
But the federal 2008 Budget creation of a $400 million Police Officers Recruitment Fund to be spent by the provinces and territories, while laudable, will not ensure adequate accountability. The Budget documents simply state that “provincial and territorial governments are encouraged to report directly to their residents on the expenditures financed and outcomes achieved with the funding provided through the fund.”
Ontario’s African Canadian Community prepared an Action Plan in 2005 that put forward many valuable initiatives to strengthen communities in Ontario, particularly those struggling with a young population facing few social and economic opportunities and fearing exclusion, something that should be anathema to our deeply-held values of justice, equality and diversity. Rather than being welcomed and supported, the group found it difficult to get federal attention, let alone critical financial support since much of what they had to offer could not be pigeonholed into the conditions for National Crime Prevention Strategy funding.
All Canadians should be concerned that the Harper Conservatives virtually ignore all such initiatives, witness the paltry $20 million for crime prevention in Budget 2006, a further $10 million in Budget 2007 and a limited two year national anti-drug program. And valuable initiatives proposed by the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations in June 2006, in the wake of the disturbing revelations about potential terrorist activity among some youth and others in Toronto, are unlikely to be supported as they should.
Gun Control and Gun Crime (last updated 2008)
Canada’s Firearms Program, including the gun registry, must be maintained as an effective crime-fighting tool and a significant contributor to greater community safety. The tragedies at Virginia Tech and Dawson College highlight the importance of gun control.
Among other things:
• The police continue to support the law – they use the system 5000 times each day. It has been used to produce over 3000 affidavits to support criminal prosecutions. Since the Firearms Act came into force, approximately 15,965 firearm licences have been refused.
• Just released data from Statistics Canada show that firearms deaths in Canada were 792 in 2003, down from 1125 in 1995. During this period, 333 fewer people were killed with firearms in 2003 than in 1995. Homicides with rifles and shotguns are down, suicides with firearms are down. Domestic violence with firearms has plummeted (although murders by other means have not).
• The law protects women. Since 1995, murders of women with firearms have gone down 33%. Meanwhile, the number of murders of women without firearms has increased slightly. While fewer than half of Canada’s 2 million gun owners support the legislation, 77% of persons living with firearms owners support it.
• The Supreme Court of Canada unanimously ruled that registration and licensing are linked and that it is not reasonable to have one without the other.
• Most industrialized countries license gun owners and register guns.
The Harper government announcement, and now extension to 2009, of a registration amnesty for hunting rifles and shotguns, effectively guts the Program and is a step backwards and away from greater public safety. Hunting rifles and shot guns are the firearms most commonly used in domestic violence, suicide and police killings.
Furthermore, Canadian taxpayers, having already invested their tax dollars in building the registry now deserve to reap the benefits of this investment. There have certainly been problems with the costs and management of the registry in the past and no one condones the conduct or problematic management and oversight that led to this. However, as the Auditor General confirmed, costs and management of the Firearms Program are now under control.
In the wake of the tragedy at Dawson College, the existing firearms legislation must be extended, among other things, to prohibit the sale of military assault weapons to civilians, and strengthen the controls on hand guns. The legislation already provides that this can be done through order-in-council.
A reverse onus is also appropriate in bail applications for certain crimes, notably, gun-related crimes. Although reverse onus provisions must be used sparingly in a free and democratic society, in certain circumstances in which an offender is likely to reoffend, it is appropriate to require the offender to justify bail. This policy was first endorsed by the Liberal Party in December 2005 in collaboration with the Premier of Ontario and the Mayor of Toronto as part of a comprehensive approach to combat gun violence in Canada.
Judicial and Quasi-Judicial Appointments (last updated 2008)
We must take steps to enhance the confidence of Canadians in the quality of judicial and quasi-judicial appointments. This will go a long way to ensure ongoing respect and confidence in those who uphold our basic rights and freedoms. The process of federal judicial appointments should be changed to establish a meaningful system of non-partisan advisory committees, as recommended by the Canadian Bar Association (and adopted in part by one of the House of Commons justice committee’s last reports to the last Parliament). These representative advisory committees would present the Justice Minister with a shortlist of the best-qualified candidates, and limit the Minister’s choice to one of the names.
Mr. Harper’s partisan attack on the existing system of screening committees, however much reform is required, takes us backwards!
We must also improve the appointment process for all federal tribunals, notably, the Immigration and Refugee Board and National Parole Board. Meaningful advisory committees such as proposed above in respect of federal judicial appointments might be the preferred option to pursue.
Modernization of Our Court System (last updated 2008)
The federal government must undertake, with the provincial and territorial governments, a significant modernization of the administration of justice in Canada. Among other things, the government must implement nation-wide computer access to criminal records, and a national registry of stolen property. Crime and criminals do not respect boundaries, and the incredible backlogs and delays in trials etc. are unacceptable. Too often, because of delays, a young offender will be released and then reoffend, drastically reducing the possibility of successful rehabilitation. Plea-bargaining often inappropriately replaces the application of proper sentencing principles and does nothing to advance the goal of enhancing community safety. Until we, as a society, decide to invest sufficient funds in ensuring the efficient functioning of the criminal justice system, we will fail any test of maintaining a free and democratic society. .
All governments must commit themselves to reducing wait times in our criminal justice system across Canada as vigorously as we are attempting to do so in the health care system.
In the Toronto area, the court system is still run in Dickensian style – nothing is computerized; all court orders need to be hand written. And when it comes to enforcement, again the criminal justice system is decades out of date. There are thousands of unexecuted warrants of arrest being held for criminals across the country. In Ontario the Conservative government of Mike Harris terminated a program to modernize the court system so that all information about criminals – all their outstanding charges, their immigration status etc. – would be integrated. The program died – the system remains in the pen and ink era.
A National Legal Aid System
The federal government must establish a national legal aid system, in cooperation with the provinces, in order to promote a sustainable, fair and accessible approach to legal aid funding across Canada. We must also support initiatives to promote a stronger pro bono culture in Canadian society. For example, a national pro bono task force or a committee reporting to the Minister of Justice could be established to examine specific ways to enhance the provision of pro bono legal services.
The Sentencing of Criminals
Canada must retain sufficient judicial discretion in the sentencing of criminals.
The law and order agenda of the Harper Conservatives is primarily focused on more rigid sentencing codes of which the necessary consequence is greater numbers of people off the street and into jails. In particular, mandatory sentences for a significantly increasing number of crimes are the flavour of the day.
Yet all the informed, documented, evidence-based literature indicates clearly that more rigid sentencing does not make society safer, and simply diverts valuable resources away from really useful strategies to reduce and prevent crime. In both the United States and Britain, incarceration rates have spiked over the last 10 years, at great cost, but no gain in terms of public safety or justice. Putting people into jail does not change a person’s ways – in Britain, for example, over two-thirds of prisoners released from prison reoffended within 2 years. The United States incarcerates about 700 persons out of 100,000 versus 130 persons in Canada. Over 70% of parolees in the United States reoffend, compared to 12% in Canada.
Stiffer and more rigid sentences alone do not contribute to either greater public safety or greater justice. Mandatory minimum sentences have limited deterrent or denunciatory effect. The core problem is that mandatory minimums take away from the essential flexibility in the justice system which makes the court system in Canada work. The rigidity introduced with mandatory minimums results in greater numbers of persons in jail and the siphoning off of community resources into building more prisons rather than an efficient, equitable and effective justice system. The racial disparities in inmate populations increases significantly, incentives for guilty pleas are removed, and the numbers of charges going to trial increase, causing significant dissatisfaction among judges, defence counsel, prosecutors and police. It is very important for Liberals and others concerned with community safety to express their principled opposition to these Harper initiatives.
We need to create an independent Criminal Justice Council which could advise the government on changes to the Criminal Code whether with respect to new crimes, or penalties and sentencing. This would ensure that Criminal Code amendments were not simply knee-jerk reactions to short-term political pressures, as is the case with the current plethora of minimum mandatory sentences.
Strengthening the Charter (last updated 2008)
Citizen rights must always trump legislative rights and the courts are the best protectors of civil liberties. Canadians should work toward the abolition of the notwithstanding clause in the Charter. If provincial agreement is not immediately forthcoming, then the federal government should proceed to unilaterally suspend the application of the notwithstanding clause to all matters within federal jurisdiction.
The notwithstanding clause in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was reluctantly inserted into the Charter as a compromise to obtain the necessary provincial agreement to the 1981 constitutional package. The theory behind the legislative override is that Parliament should be able to have the last word on the exercise of citizens’ rights.
Even if this were desirable, which it is not, the legislative override has never been used by the federal government since the inception of the Charter, and with one misguided exception in Saskatchewan, the override has been used only as a political instrument by separatist and quasi-nationalist governments in Quebec.
Section 1 of the Charter, which provides for reasonable limitations on our rights and freedoms that can be demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society, has provided more than enough flexibility to uphold legitimate legislative action in a wide range of areas affecting our rights and freedoms. To take just one current example, there should be little doubt that polygamy would be condemned as unacceptable in a free and democratic society such as Canada and as corrosive of social justice and the social fabric of Canadian society. The notwithstanding clause is not needed to uphold the crime of polygamy.
Moreover the notwithstanding clause only applies to fundamental democratic rights, legal rights, and equality rights, and not to other Charter provisions such as mobility rights and language rights. This is illogical and creates an unacceptable hierarchy of rights.
OUR CANADIAN SOCIETY (last updated 2008)
Aboriginal Canadians: Time for Justice (last updated 2008)
We need to implement the Kelowna Accord or something similar to enhance social and economic justice for aboriginal Canadians. We must once and for all devote all the attention and resources necessary to put an end to third world conditions among aboriginal Canadians, and make a real commitment to improving accountability, delivery of better health care and housing, education and planning.
Aboriginal lands claims should be settled by a tribunal of aboriginal and non-aboriginal members, not the courts. The same arms-length body could advise on how to avoid more Kashechewans, eliminate the third-world conditions on many of our reserves, and focus on the education and other deficits behind the tragically high suicide levels. Ensuring respect for the fundamental value of equality of rights and opportunities for aboriginal men and women must also be a top priority. (Note that proposed federal legislation – Bill C-30 – will establish a new specific claims tribunal. The new tribunal would have the power to make $250 million in settlement payments every year for 10 years, with the aim of reducing the roughly 800 claim backlog. This may be a good step).
It is essential that federal and provincial governments cooperate effectively to improve outcomes especially given the fact that a growing proportion of aboriginal Canadians now live in urban areas (54%), and that aboriginal Canadians are much younger on average than the rest of the population. The recent Harper government 75% funding cut to the very successful First Nations Technical Institute (FNTI) on the grounds that native post-secondary instruction should be delivered through the band councils, and the subsequent response of the Ontario government that there could be no increase in provincial funding because only the federal government is responsible for “on-reserve native education”, illustrates perfectly the serious conundrum faced by those dealing with the two levels of government. Fortunately, on April 1, 2008, the Ontario government has now stepped in to fill the gap left by the federal government with a $1.5 million grant.
Abortion (last updated 2008)
Abortion is a procedure rooted in religious, moral and ethical judgment. At the same time, it is a matter of choice for the individual woman. No woman undertakes such a procedure without serious thought of the moral consequences, and a great deal of sadness. It is never a snap decision.
We must of course put as much energy as possible into minimizing unwanted pregnancies. But to have a meaningful right to choose, women must have assured access to safe and legal abortions in a timely manner. Recent reports that indicate that abortions are less accessible in Canada than in 2003 and that only 15.9% of hospitals provide abortion services, compared to 17.8% in 2003, are disturbing and need corrective action.
Affordable Housing (last updated 2008)
We should have a meaningful sustainable national housing strategy that provides stable long-term funding for new affordable housing initiatives and their ongoing operating costs, as well as the delivery of new rent supplements. We should recognize once and for all that the social housing sector is a critical component of economic development and a major contributor to a more sustainable social economy. For example, housing projects should be viewed, as they are in Britain and the U.S., as a significant driver of community renewal.
Note that in January 2008, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities called for a National Action Plan on Housing and Homelessness with an annual strategic investment of $3.35 billion in annual strategic investments.
Anti-Poverty Strategies and the Minimum Wage (last updated 2008)
Canada’s current poverty levels are unacceptable. We have too many working poor, too many hungry children, and too many Aboriginal Canadians live in third-world conditions. Poverty is the greatest threat to political stability, social cohesion and the environmental health of the planet.
We need to be fair to low income Canadians, by instituting a federal minimum wage together with tax provisions that significantly assist the working poor. We must once and for all establish a standard of fundamental decency for low-income Canadians.
We must always remember that the Canadian constitution imposes important responsibilities on the federal government to act with the provinces to ensure equality of opportunity for all individuals and a reasonable level of public services for all Canadians. Stephen Harper is determined to ignore the federal government’s responsibility and appears to believe that inequality is acceptable and that his government is not obliged to help the most vulnerable in society.
On the anti-poverty front, Harper has effectively ended the long term plan to expand the Canada Child Tax Benefit (CCTB) and introduced an ad hoc out-of-the-blue regressive non-refundable child tax credit. He has undermined other anti-poverty strategies, with boutique tax credits for sports equipment here and municipal transit passes there, and introduced an inadequate working income tax benefit (WITB) that does little to help the poorest of the working poor. Harper’s regressive universal child care benefit (UCCB) has done nothing to establish the kind of national child care initiative that is essential to a strong Canadian social economy, and to supporting working families.
Harper’s Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP) in the 2007 Budget is one positive development, but we need to do much more than assist those Canadians who already have money to help their children with disabilities through a new registered plan. Among other things, we need to bring coherence to the hodge-podge of disability assistance available through CPP and EI sickness benefits, better coordinate with provincial social assistance and workers’ compensation benefits, and ensure truly meaningful support for Canadians with disabilities. (Note that the Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA) in the 2008 Budget is another measure that could be a constructive anti-poverty measure).
The Ontario Child Benefit to be introduced by the Ontario government by 2008 is a positive step toward eliminating child poverty, but as provincial initiatives multiply in the absence of coherent federal leadership and action, Canadians need an objective assessment of the impact and interaction of federal and provincial programs. It is important to establish an accountability mechanism at the federal level, to determine exactly how the federal and provincial programs and initiatives interact and to recommend changes and improvements to advance the goal of eliminating poverty and protecting vulnerable Canadians.
The 2001 Social Union Framework Agreement (SUFA) did provide for a reporting template and guidance package to enhance accountability, but SUFA has never lived up to its potential. The National Child Benefit Supplement (NCBS) process was supposed to be a model of what SUFA could achieve., but the five poorest jurisdictions in the country – the three territories, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island – have been unable to complete the NCB process, thanks to Harper’s abandonment of the long-term development of the NTB, in favour of a regressive UCCB and a non-refundable child tax credit. As a result, the inequities across the country are greatly magnified.
The Liberal Party of Canada 30-50 plan to cut poverty levels in Canada by 30% in 5 years (and by 50% among children) is an excellent initiative. Among other things, this will restore the focus on implementing a substantial refundable Child Tax Benefit and abolish the regressive Harper child care allowance and non-refundable tax credit. It will also increase the Guaranteed Income Supplement for low-income seniors.
At the same time, we need to find a uniform poverty measure, not simply Statistics Canada’s Low Income Cut Offs (LICOs). Innovative approaches include Ireland’s Deprivation Index which also exists in a different form in Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Austria. A person is considered “poor” if they earn less than 60% of the median income and fail to meet 2 of 11 indicators on the Deprivation Index. These indicators include: buy new, not second-hand clothes, keep their home adequately warm, eat meals with meat, chicken, fish or vegetarian equivalent every second day.
To really reduce what is known as the “marginal effective tax rates” (METRs), governments need to make more case-sensitive assessments and approve a particular plan for an individual or family in transition to work or further education. For example, a time-out for eligible young adults up to age 24 should be considered involving a four year moratorium on all charges, and a subsidy toward rent increases while the person begins to receive earned income.
We also need a new government responsibility centre created from existing ministries tasked with resolving multiple barriers resulting from program overlap and duplication.
Turning to EI, a huge surplus continues to accumulate in the employment insurance fund while fewer and fewer Canadians are able to access the benefits. Coverage of EI has dropped dramatically from 82.9% of unemployed Canadians in 1989 to about 44% in 2004, and now excludes recent immigrants, new entrants to the labour market, non-standard workers and youth. EI currently only benefits 22% of those working in Toronto who lose their jobs.
Non-standard work – part-time work, self-employment and multiple jobholders typically with low incomes – now involves one third of the work force! This would most certainly be the time, for example, to end variable entrance requirements (while addressing the underlying need in another way), expand EI coverage and strengthen the earning replacement rate from 55% to 70-75% of average weekly earnings.
Budget 2008 creates a Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board which will report to Parliament through the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development. The Board will run the Employment Insurance Fund as a new crown corporation, and will improve the management and governance of the EI fund and ensure it is managed on a truly break-even basis over time. At first glance, this appears like a tepid first step in the right direction.
Arts and Culture (last updated 2008)
Our cultural institutions and achievements are among the most important assets uniting us as a people. Ensuring that they remain vital and excellent is critical to our national unity and national identity, as well as being of considerable economic importance. The opportunities we provide through our arts and cultural institutions to individual Canadians are essential to our quality of life.
Canadians are well ahead of our current leadership in recognizing that a vibrant artistic sector and vibrant cultural industries are essential elements of both a sustainable social economy and our Canadian identity. Canadian consumers spent $25.1 billion on cultural goods and services in 2005, an amount that is 5 per cent higher than the combined consumer spending on household furniture, appliances and tools ($24.0 billion). The $25.1 billion in consumer spending is over three times larger than the $7.7 billion spent on culture in Canada by all levels of government in 2003/04.
The Harper government rejects the national importance of arts and culture. Harper has placed our arts and cultural communities under siege. Essential long term funding for the Canada Council, CBC, our museums, cultural spaces and heritage facilities that require improvement and repair, will not be forthcoming and even current funding is at serious risk.
Concern is also mounting over the proposed undermining of the Canadian Television Fund (CTF). A proposal to divide the Fund into two separate pools is now under consideration. The CBC’s guaranteed envelope will henceforth be restricted to the smaller pool of $100 million available to TV projects that have full (10) Canadian content points. The second and larger pool of some $130 million from the Broadcast Distribution Undertakings (BDUs) will be available to the more flexible, market oriented private sector stream in which only 8 out of 10 Canadian content points are required.
Our Cities (last updated 2008)
In 2008 most of the world’s population is now living in cities. Canada is no exception and the increasingly diverse Canadian urban population is placing huge demands on infrastructure (repair and maintenance, let alone expansion), public transit, home care, child care, housing etc.
We need a strong national presence in the funding of the huge investments required in our public transit and municipal infrastructure. We should focus on light rapid transit more than subways. We need to articulate a national vision of the kind of sustainable livable cities we want to build, in the spirit of Toronto mayor David Miller’s One Cent Solution, where one per cent of GST revenues are dedicated to municipal transport and infrastructure across Canada.
We must also develop a national strategy and a clear statement of the very important federal role in assisting our cities to improve energy efficiency and energy conservation as well as develop integrated energy systems involving on-site renewable energy, district energy and combined heat and power. Cities are where at least 50% of energy is used in Canada and require our urgent attention.
Early Child Development & Child Care (last updated 2008)
We need a national child care and early childhood education program.
The renowned head of the Council for Early Child Development, Dr. Fraser Mustard, has been consistent in his call for much greater national spending on early childhood education. Currently Canada ranks last in such spending among developed nations with a paltry 0.25 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Two per cent of GDP should be our goal and an expenditure of some eight to 10 billion dollars. Dr. Mustard also suggests eliminating the “chaotic mess” of programs and assistance that exists now. We need to establish a system of community hubs, ideally located in schools, that would offer play-based pre-school activities, help for parents, social services referrals and child care.
A vigorous national child care program and system of early childhood education is long overdue. Indeed, we should establish a national goal of ensuring that all children have access to good public education, combined with child care, from the age of three. At the same time, through expanding such benefits as parental leave to self-employed parents, we must ensure that one parent can choose to stay home without financial stress for at least the early years of a child’s life (or have access to good quality publicly-funded child care if they choose). The Ontario government’s 2007 commitment to implementing full day junior and senior kindergarten is a very good step forward and should be pursued nationally.
Shortly after its election, the Harper government cancelled the Liberal Early Learning and Child Care initiative. This was a huge step backward. A national child care program will be the first major national program in decades and can certainly be said to be as essential to Canadians as Medicare, the Canada Pension Plan and other universal programs such as unemployment insurance, and the Guaranteed Income Supplement for our needy seniors.
The Environment (last updated 2008)
Planetary survival is now the most important concern of the early 21st century. The greatest consumer generation in history now has to confront its excesses and learn how to live intelligently and frugally, not wastefully, and to learn this very quickly.
Reputable scientists around the world agree that we are now in a race between environmental destruction on a global scale, and sustainable solutions. The alarming evidence of rising global temperatures, the rapidly accelerating loss of polar ice, and the increase in carbon dioxide concentrations, now at 378 parts per million and rising exponentially (while for 650,000 years the CO2 concentration never went above 250-300 ppm), confirm the urgency of the situation. Philosopher Ronald Wright argues that “we are logging everywhere, building everywhere and no corner of the biosphere escapes our hemorrhage of waste… Our ‘system’ is a suicide machine, in no one’s interests.” The evidence continues to pile up – coral reefs off Australia extinct by 2050; bogs of west Siberia melting, alone containing as much carbon as 73 years of man-made emissions; serious impacts on food production and water availability; and more extreme weather events.
At the very least, we must have a Minister of the Environment on a par with the Minister of Finance, so that ecological principles are integrated every step of the way into our budget, investment and planning processes.
We must also impose a carbon tax that is strong enough to influence behaviour, for example, a carbon levy on the end user of fuels and electricity the proceeds of which can be used to create a fund to reduce other taxes and/or support initiatives to reduce waste, increase efficiency and promote low emission technologies.
In March 2008, the 11 largest environmental groups issued a joint blueprint, among other things, calling for “realistic pricing” of greenhouse gas emissions (http://www.tomorrowtodaycanada.ca). Carbon taxes of $30 per tonne starting in 2009 were recommended, rising to $75 a tonne by 2020 (by 2020 it would add about 18 cents to the price of a litre of gas). This is twice what Harper will impose only on large industrial greenhouse gas emitters. The tax burden should be shifted away from taxes on income, savings and investment, and towards environmentally harmful activities such as oil and gas or mining projects. Finally, the 11 groups called for an end to direct and indirect subsidies to the nuclear industry, stopping short of calling for an end to all nuclear power.
The February 2008 British Columbia budget now leads the way in establishing a “revenue neutral” carbon tax of $10 a tonne rising to $30 a tonne by 2012. This amounts to 2.4 cents per litre of gas at the pump. Personal income taxes for incomes under $70,000 are reduced by 2% and business taxes are reduced by 1% for corporations and by 3.5% for small business. A $1 billion fund over 3 years is created for home energy audits, biodiesel production, fuel efficient cars and energy efficient appliances.
In addition to a carbon tax, we must:
• Implement energy conscious building codes, fuel efficiency regulations for new cars and trucks, good urban planning and public transit, “green taxes” and tough near-term, regulated emission-reduction targets for industry, together with a cap-and-trade system;
• Make incentives available to persuade both individuals and businesses to proceed with potentially costly renovations and a wide range of efficiency improvements;
• Implement a clear unequivocal national water policy for Canada and a national strategy to protect water from both bulk exports and large scale diversions. This must involve federal legislation preventing the bulk removal of water from Canada’s drainage basins in the event that any province is unable or unwilling to do so. Mapping of the underground aquifers is also urgently required. Despite the fact that Canada has 7% of the world’s renewable freshwater, we are facing huge challenges in terms of increasing pollutants and, for example, a 70% decline in the wetlands of southern Ontario;
• Ensure full compliance with the Species at Risk Act – as of June 2007 the Canadian government had only established 55 of the required 228 recovery strategies;
• Establish practical straightforward targets on everything from retrofitting houses to new efficiency standards for light bulbs;
• Encourage much faster action to remove toxic chemicals from our environment and stop tacitly accepting chemical pollution as a price of progress. For example, implement a national ban on pesticides, and a ban on the sale of all products containing the dangerous contaminant polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), and polycarbonate plastic made of bisphenol A;
• Impose stronger fuel-efficiency standards on the auto manufacturers in North America, and ensure their commitment to hybrid;
• Move vigorously toward a national electricity grid;
• Establish national parks in each of the country’s 39 natural regions pursuant to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity that we signed in 1992;
• Ensure that we do not confine our national action to “aspirational goals” (Harper’s Sydney Declaration at the meeting of the Asia Pacific Partnership) or “intensity-based targets” for cutting greenhouse emissions. Canadians expect much more concrete action to reduce greenhouses gases and our dependence on fossil fuels.
The Alberta tar sands represent a particular challenge to Canada’s ability to reduce greenhouse gases. The Alberta premier seems unconcerned and content only to require a 14% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2050. In contrast, other major oil producers such as Britain, Norway and Australia are committed to 50-80%! Norway in particular is preparing for the future non-oil economy and is investing no less than $1 billion a week in stabilizing investments outside the country. Norwegians pay high taxes and $2.30 a litre for gas, but are now well prepared for the future with one of the most flexible labour law systems in the world, and huge investment in R and D.
It is disconcerting that an astounding 60% of Alberta voters refused to participate in the March 2008 provincial election and allowed the Alberta premier to claim that his minimalist environmental protection policies were broadly acceptable to most voters. Surely most Canadians who live in Alberta are just as concerned as all other Canadians about reducing our environmental footprint. Surely Ottawa’s role cannot be restricted to meekly requesting from Washington, on Alberta’s behalf, a temporary exemption from the new American energy legislation that will prevent the U.S. government from purchasing fuel originating in the Alberta tar sands because its production spews more GHG into the atmosphere than conventional oil.
Unless we can preserve the quality of life on our planet, everything else is secondary.
But what do we have in Ottawa? One of the most divisive governments in Canadian history that appears incapable of taking any serious action on the environment.
A government that for partisan political purposes reduces the one tax that is capable of having an influence on our over-consumption – the GST, and then transfers much needed national revenues to provincial coffers via the ecoTrust and the Community Development Trust, with little or no accountability for the expenditures,
One of the best authors/commentators on the environment and the future of the planet is Jared Diamond (Collapse, and Guns, Germs and Steel). He has calculated that the average rates at which people consume resources like oil and metal, and produce waste like plastics and greenhouse gases, are about 32 times higher in North America than in the developing world. If the entire world achieved North American-level consumption rates, it would be as if the world population ballooned up to 72 billion from the current 6.5 billion. Only the most optimistic among us think that our planet can eventually manage 9 billion!
We must lower our consumption rates – they are unsustainable. Much of our consumption is unrelated to our living standards and is plainly wasteful. Western Europe per capita oil consumption is half the U.S. and yet the standard of living is higher, measured by life expectancy, health, infant mortality, access to medical care, financial security after retirement, vacation time, quality of public schools, support for the arts etc. Fortunately many individual Canadians now seem prepared to do the right thing – it is time our leaders did the same!
Equal Opportunity (last updated 2008)
All Canadians must have real equality of opportunity, especially new Canadians. The evidence is clear that the latest wave of immigrants, while perhaps better educated than their predecessors, face more difficulties with respect to employment, reuniting their families, proper housing and health services. There is no room in Canadian society for latent and not-so-latent discrimination, prejudice or racism and anti-Semitism.
The huge mismatch between the skills of new Canadians and what they are actually employed to do here is jaw dropping. It seems that newcomers are now seen as a source of low-income workers, not as a solution to the much-needed upgrading of skills in both the manufacturing and knowledge sectors, and as much-needed new professionals.
No less than 41% of immigrants with university degrees are now in chronic low-income categories, compared to only 13% in 1993, before the immigration laws were changed to encourage more educated immigrants to come to Canada. Especially among the young there is a real sense of exclusion as the disaffected lash out against a society that fails to give them equal opportunity in practice. Canadians, particularly employers in Canada, must identify what barriers are preventing many new Canadians from advancing their careers, and then address those barriers with positive action. According to a recent report of the Conference Board of Canada, “although Canadian organizations say they value diversity, they have not yet fully committed their policies, practices and resources to embedding diversity in their operations.”
Canadians must identify what barriers are preventing visible minorities from advancing their careers, and then address those barriers with positive action. We need to solve the foreign credential problems once and for all, and provide adequate infrastructure to help new Canadians maximize their potential.
We have to inspire and demand from ourselves the discipline to understand, celebrate, and protect what makes each of us unique. Preserving the dignity of our neighbours preserves the dignity of us all.
Ethics in Government (last updated 2008)
We need to stop being passively polled ad nauseam on our current needs, and instead actively engage in the public policies that will affect future generations. We need to demand more of those we elect and challenge them to see the big picture and tackle the big issues. And we need our elected officials to serve in the best interests of our citizens, and to equate their public office with public service.
We need to take firm action to reign in the excesses of lobbying. The new public registry under the Lobbying Act will have only a very limited impact since it covers only “arranged communications” – a mere fraction of the range of communications between ministers and senior government officials and those in the lobbying business. One step would be to ban all financial contributions or political activity by anyone in any jurisdiction in which they are registered to lobby.
Faith-Based Education and Arbitration (last updated 2008)
A harmonious cosmopolitan society on the scale of Canada depends on the pursuit of positive initiatives that encourage people of all faiths and backgrounds to come together, to work towards common goals. Public education is of course among the most important means to this end. There should be no public funding for faith-based schools, and the standard curriculum must include serious study of religions of the world. Faith-based initiatives, including private faith-based schools, must be carefully monitored to ensure that they contribute to greater mutual understanding and harmony and a respect for our core values of justice, equality and diversity.
The Ontario government was correct to refuse to allow faith-based arbitration in family law, something that would have led to increasing divisions within Canadian society. Faith-based arbitration is not consistent with our goals of ensuring that our diversity remains our strength, and respecting the fundamental value of equality of men and women.
Freedom of Religion (last updated 2008)
Religion must not be a weapon to express prejudice and incite hatred and discrimination against those of different beliefs. It should be a positive force that helps us explain our mortality, our significance in the universe, how to distinguish between right and wrong, how to establish a peaceful community life and discharge our responsibility for our fellow human beings.
Around the world, the vast majority of Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus and others, all believe in religious tolerance, openness to others, and the fundamental values of democracy, liberty, and equality. But there are religious extremists of all backgrounds who pose an ongoing serious threat to world peace.
We must make it perfectly clear that all persons must respect the universal principle of the sanctity of human life, whatever their religious, ethnic or national background. We must go beyond the condemnation of violators of human sanctity, to action. We must especially appeal to the moderate members of all religions.
As Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka of Nigeria suggests, all Muslim leaders all over the world must pronounce a fatwa against those who kill in the name of their faith. As Soyinka argues, “who is responsible for bringing disrepute to the religion of Islam – those who butcher in the name of the Prophet, or a cartoonist or atheist?” How can Muslims be so silent in the face of massacres of innocent people in Iraq, in Darfur, in Lebanon, in Israel? Yet there is little or no communal reaction, compared to the rage whipped up by the Danish cartoons, or comments in a Papal speech. Too often it then appears that Islamic clerics sanction or at least tolerate violence and murder in the name of religion. And Christians in Muslim countries certainly do not have the same religious freedom enjoyed by most Muslims in the west.
In many parts of the globe, civil societies must evolve to displace the tribal mentalities that still rule today. In Afghanistan, for example, this means effectively asking people to give up their tribal identity. This will be difficult. But until civil societies are firmly established, clan loyalties and tribal identities are often strengthened by extreme religious sentiment which fuels conflicts.
The day that author Salman Rushdie can freely lecture in Tehran, will be a milestone in our progress towards greater peace and humanity.
Freedom of Speech (last updated 2008)
The responsibility of citizenship in a strong multiethnic democracy also requires that we respect some civic limits to free speech. The purpose of freedom of expression is to broaden public discourse, and encourage citizens to talk with each other. Its purpose is not to increase misunderstanding and mistrust. If freedom of expression serves to produce unnecessary conflict, then it is our responsibility to figure out the civic limits to such freedom.
The restraint among Canadians with respect to the discussion and publication of the cartoons of Mohammed, regarded as blasphemous by most Muslims, should be applauded. This was an instance where the publication of the cartoons did not serve to broaden public discourse and civil debate.
Gender Equality and Same-Sex Marriage (last updated 2008)
We have a responsibility to ensure that the fundamental values of equality of men and women, and non-discrimination, are never dismantled under the guise of “less government”, or through misguided accommodation of outdated cultural norms.
This requires a refusal to pander to prejudice and parochialism. This requires moral leadership.
In this I am proud of the fact that Canada has not only defended same-sex marriage as a legal requirement of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but also as a logical extension of the basic ideals of equality and diversity that underpin our inclusive society.
Good Citizenship (last updated 2008)
Good citizenship is the essential counterpart of good government.
Bold and visionary national leadership must provide the essentials of Canadian citizenship–clean air, clean water, safe streets, our parks, healthcare, child care, parental leave, public education, equality of opportunity, and adequate income and other supports–and ensure that our diversity remains our strength.
We must ask at least as much of ourselves as we do of our governments: As citizens of a country with so many resources and opportunities, we all need to be responsible and contribute, as volunteers and concerned and engaged citizens.
To better prepare ourselves for a future of possible environmental catastrophes, acts of terrorism, a pandemic, we must put the brakes on the extreme and unchecked consumption that has driven globalization. Our national leadership must start now to promote a cultural transformation that redefines wealth as well-being, not well-having. This will encourage us to live intelligently and frugally, not wastefully – and measure our achievements by our commitment and responsibility to our fellow citizens, not by our level of consumption.
It will foster a society that is based on the principles of responsibility, our duty to each other and our respect of one another. The responsibilities of citizenship will finally emerge on a par with the rights of citizenship.
Health Care for the 21st Century (last updated 2008)
It is time to bring Medicare into the twenty-first century. We must establish, at the national level, the services and medical treatments that should be available to all Canadians under Medicare. Canadians in all provinces must have equal access to, for example, extensive services for children on the autistic spectrum, physiotherapy, adequate cancer treatments, or MRIs.
The Harper government is wrong to claim that there is a constitutional barrier to such a step. Medicare funding decisions must be made in a coherent fashion in a national framework given that we invest no less than $160 billion annually, of which $113 billion is from the public purse. (See the analysis in the early 2008 publication of the Canadian Health Services Research Foundation by Colleen Flood, Mark Stabile, and Carolyn Tuohy – “Defining the Medicare Basket.”)
Fortunately, individual Canadians are filling in the vacuum and promoting change from below. One British Columbia-based group ¬ Medicare for Autism Now ¬ has been busy building up an effective political lobby and a national coalition to convince our national politicians to support universal access to the necessary medical services for children on the autistic spectrum across Canada. This is a multi-partisan coalition of frustrated but determined Canadians who are tired and cynical about having to fight for equity and justice in the national interest in a country that is supposed to be one of the best in the world.
The real issue is the lack of political will and determination among our elected representatives to bring coherence, consistency and accountability to the current mess of federal-provincial financial transfers, of which health care is a significant component. To begin with, we should implement an independent institutional mechanism to deal with issues of fiscal federalism and fiscal balance, and thereby ensure rational cooperative action. This is a far better alternative to ill-considered politicized steps serving some short-term objective ¬ witness the Harper 2007 Budget which included confused and confusing multiple equalization formulas and a massive transfer to the provinces to eliminate a mythical fiscal imbalance, which then (unsurprisingly) reemerged a short time later.
There are precedents for such a mechanism in other federations. Australia has a Commonwealth Grants Commission which deals with both horizontal and vertical transfers between the federal government and the states, and facilitates cooperative equitable outcomes. South Africa has a similar Financial and Fiscal Commission.
We should have an arms-length national health commission, overseen by a non-partisan board of outstanding citizens, to tackle issues such as:
• national standards in terms of coverage,
• how to ensure that Canadians do not have to leave the country for essential medical treatments or take governments to court to pay for essential medications or treatments,
• what is the acceptable degree of private delivery of publicly insured health services,
• how to ensure the portability of Medicare across the country.
If we have, as we do, a national body ¬ the Common Drug Review (CDR) that makes recommendations to provincial governments as to which drugs should be covered by all provincial drug plans, then we most certainly should be able to find the political will to cooperate and establish something analogous such as the national commission suggested above, to ensure the provision of essential medical treatments and health care services across Canada.
The Commission would also examine levels of health care funding as a percentage of GDP and propose changes to ensure that Health care does not swamp our federal and provincial government budgets to the detriment of the environment, education and emergency preparedness. Already health care budgets consume 40% of all provincial spending and 10.6% of GDP (compared to 33% in 1993, and 7% of GDP in the 1970s and 8.9% in 1997). For example, informed observers are concerned about the excessively large component of health care expenditures absorbed by pharmaceutical research and development. A medical journal published a study a few years ago that suggested that some $4 billion dollars currently spent on pharmaceutical R & D could be freed up for more productive use in the health care system. How many variations of cold and cough medicines and pain killers do we really need? It is confusing to enter a drugstore these days for certain items and in the case of some children’s medications and pain killers, the number of recalls and reviews in recent years have been significant.
One final note: we must at all times ensure that our health care system serves the patients, not the other way around. Just as parents of ASD children are insisting on more case-sensitive human intervention, some hospitals are successfully experimenting with patient advocates whose job is to help the individual to deal with the array of options and possibilities for treatment available following a complex diagnosis such as cancer.
Local Organic Food Production (last updated 2008)
We must strongly support all initiatives encouraging the production and availability of locally-grown organic foods that do not require energy-intensive fertilizers or pesticides.
Much of the stress on our environment is a result of our consumption patterns in a wide range of areas. Our consumption of foods from distant suppliers, from Chile to China, has a huge impact on emissions of greenhouse gases and our footprint on the planet. It is time to factor in the CO2 cost of our food to promote more sustainable food consumption and production.
A 2005 study called Fighting Global Warming at the Farmer’s Market noted that long-distance food trade doubled between 1968 and 1998. Huge amounts of GHG are generated by the extensive packaging, refrigeration, and trucking involved in bringing foods to Canada from faraway markets. Air transport is even worse than trucking. Great amounts of petroleum are required to make the synthetic fertilizer and the machinery used in food production. Wayne Roberts, coordinator for Toronto’s Food Policy Council, argues that our food distribution system is irrational when much of the food trucked or flown into Canada could be produce locally.
We should applaud the recent initiatives of such restaurants as Il Fornello on the Danforth which has agreed to only use local produce while in season, and try to follow suit. In addition, during the winter we must try to buy as locally as possible, for example, from British Columbia or Southern U.S. We must also try to buy fruits and vegetables from cold storage of locally grown food, or winter greens grown in hothouses using solar or other environmentally friendly production methods.
Lower the Voting Age to 16 (last updated 2008)
There continues to be a tension between pressures to prolong childhood and pressures to accelerate adulthood. There is no single beginning to adulthood or end to childhood. You can drive at 16, school is optional at 16, but you have to wait until you are 18 to vote.
We try as a society to protect our children and their childhood from alcohol, drugs, violence and employment. But the evidence is mounting that our efforts may be failing. For example, there appears to be an increase in serious violence committed by and against teenagers, and many young people are involved in significant drinking and drugs.
Accelerating the arrival of adulthood with respect to voting and positive civic engagement might be a good step. Young people must take mandatory civic classes in school around age 15. Being able to vote at 16 might increase civic awareness and raise the pathetically low turnout we now have among young Canadians with a voting age of 18, not to mention among older Canadians as well. It is certainly worth a try.
National Unity (last updated 2008)
There is no single issue called “national unity” because every issue is about what unites us. Every issue concerning people in our community is about what unites us.
National unity is about a creative, compassionate Canada, about how to advance our fascinating, diverse, cosmopolitan society, and promote greater peace and humanity. It is about building up our strength and unity as Canadians so that Canada can make a contribution we can be proud of in our global village.
National unity is all about Canadians working together to make Canada and the world a better place for our children and grandchildren.
National unity is about building a Canada where achievement is measured by our commitment and responsibility to our fellow citizens, not by our level of consumption.
National unity is about building a Canada which is the greenest country on the planet, in which the minister of the environment is on a par with the minister of finance.
National unity in a free and diverse country such as ours is not something that is imposed from the top. Nor is it a vote in a referendum every 5, 10, or 15 years.
National unity is the act of Canadians working together, keeping faith with those who have come before us, to build a country that matches our brightest dreams for the future.
It is about ensuring that we have the tools needed to advance our goals as a nation – institutions that reflect our shared values and that are able to project those values to the world.
We must focus on what we share, and stand up to those who would focus only on our differences. In the inspiring words of our Governor General, Michaelle Jean: “The narrow notion of ‘every person for himself’ does not belong in today’s world, which demands we learn to see beyond our wounds, beyond our differences for the good of all.”
We require a bold and visionary national government to guarantee social and economic justice for all Canadians.
We need a bold and visionary national government to establish the essentials of Canadian citizenship – clean air, clean water, our parks, healthcare, child care, parental leave, public education, equality of opportunity for everyone.
We need a bold and visionary national government to continue to rebuild our international reputation and enhance our influence in our increasingly shrinking world.
Post-Secondary Education (last updated 2008)
Canada has no national coherence in post-secondary education. The annual education report released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in October 2007 noted that Canada was unable to report figures for two-thirds of the information gathered by the other 39 countries covered in the survey (57 out of 96 indicators). Dr. Paul Cappon, president of the Canadian Council of Learning, a non-partisan think-tank on education created by the federal Liberals a few years ago, decries the fact that we do not know where the substantial amount of money transferred for PSE purposes is going.
It is absolutely critical to develop a national strategy to ensure that our colleges and universities are up to the challenge and to be able to measure how we stack up against the competition. We must have a national discussion about what we want from our colleges and universities. The EU, Australia, Germany, Britain, New Zealand, all establish nation-wide goals and objectives for their PSE institutions and align funding with national priorities. Why can’t Canada?
We must develop an effective national strategy to assure access to the full-range of post-secondary options to all qualified students. David Johnston, President of the University of Waterloo, proposes a Canada Learning and Innovation Act which creates a federal-provincial framework to encourage our nation’s talent and implement an integrated system of grants, loans and credits aimed at the 30% plus of families with financial difficulties.
In the 2008 federal budget, the PSE provisions simply rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic. The Millennium Scholarships are phased out and replaced by a Canada Student Grant Program that may or may not pay out less to somewhat more students, this time on an income-basis, not a needs-basis, through Human Resources Social Development Canada.
Twenty years ago, Canadian universities received $2000 more per student than their U.S. counterparts. Now, Canadian students receive $2000 less. Canada has only won 3 Nobel prizes since 1993, compared to 18 since 1995 in California alone. Budget 2008 does attempt to address the situation: $28 million over 2 years to the Canada Graduate Scholarships Program to support 500 doctoral students. And a further $80 million per year allocated to the 3 granting councils (NSERC, CIHR, and SSHRC), as well as some modernization and streamlining of the Canada Students Loans Program. But so much more remains to be done.
Regulation of Payday Loans (last updated 2008)
Payday loan companies such as MoneyMart and Rentcash frequently charge outrageous borrowing rates to their desperate clients and engage in questionable disclosure and collection practices. It is time for an effective national initiative to ensure adequate regulation of these activities.
Instead, the Harper government, further diminishing the relevance of the federal government, chose only to repeal the relevant section of the Criminal Code dealing with criminal rates of interest in favour of allowing provinces to regulate the activities as part of their consumer protection regimes. Provinces and territories can set limits on the cost of borrowing and regulate the business practices of payday lenders. Admittedly the Criminal Code provision was a clumsy consumer protection tool, having been designed for loan-sharking connected to organized crime. But the provincial regulation, with the obvious exception of Manitoba, is less than adequate. Ontario, for example, has so far only chosen to require additional written disclosure of borrowing costs.
The federal government should, at the very least, draft uniform legislative provisions perhaps modeled on the Manitoba legislation, and persuade provinces to adopt substantially similar legislation. This would require reinvigorating the anemic federal Office of Consumer Affairs which currently does very little. Clear federal guidelines are another option, as is exercising the federal jurisdiction over banking and financial services to (1) encourage our banks to get back into the business of providing this kind of credit and/or (2) support microlending by non-profit financial services centres in low-income neighborhoods. In the meantime, it is absolutely unacceptable that the Royal Bank of Canada and the Toronto Dominion bank have apparently invested in payday loan companies!
Toxic chemicals (last updated 2008)
We need much more than isolated chemical bans and endless calls for more research. We must insist on much faster action to remove toxic chemicals from our environment and stop tacitly accepting chemical pollution as a price of progress. We need a national ban on the use and sale of pesticides and, for example, a ban on the sale of all products containing the dangerous contaminant, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), whether produced in Canada or imported. We also need right to know legislation to mandate much greater transparency and accountability with respect to releases of toxic substances by businesses.
We must also be cautious in concluding international agreements such as those signed under the Strategic Partnership Plan (SPP) with the U.S. and Mexico in Montebello this summer. We must ensure that the SPP goal of harmonizing chemical regulations in testing, research, information-gathering, assessment and risk management as much as possible by 2012, permits a significant strengthening of the existing Canadian regulatory system.
Trans Fats in Foods and Animal Feed (last updated 2008)
It is now well-known that trans fats are highly damaging to human health and development, as well as contributing to the obesity challenge we face today. The time is long overdue for a national ban on artificial trans fats in foods as soon as possible. This includes all hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated, modified and shortening oils.
Equally we should remove such artificial “plastic” fats from animal feed, which means that the feeding of trans fats to animals must be banned as well.
It is unacceptable that the federal government has not yet acted on the summer 2006 federal Task Force Report calling for limits on trans fats in foods. The Task Force recommended that trans fats in vegetable oils and margarines be limited to no more than 2% total fat and no more than 5% in other foods. The limits would also cover all foods Canadians consume, from the raw food stage to the finished product, and take effect July 2008 after a one year phase-in period.
While these Task Force recommendations are an encouraging first step, even stronger limits are required to provide consumers with the safest foods possible, beginning with a tightening of the definition of “zero trans fats”. For example, many products we buy today already state that they are trans fats free. However, local activists, who are working with the City of Toronto to ensure trans fats free food for our children in city-run establishments, note with concern that some producers are changing their serving sizes to give only the appearance of a food being trans fat free. Current and recommended regulations allow a producer to label something “trans fat free” if there is less than 0.2 grams trans fats in a serving size. If the serving size is set at a very low level, significantly below what a normal person or child might consume, then a consumer would be mislead into thinking that they are not eating trans fats when in fact they are. For example, a child consuming ten “no trans fats” biscuits with just under 0.2 grams per biscuit serving size, would in fact consume 2 grams of trans fats.
Women in Politics (last updated 2008)
I strongly believe that we need more women in politics. I share the aims of such groups as Equal Voice which has demanded that all political parties prove their commitment to women’s equality and take action to ensure the nomination and election of more women. Despite constituting over 50 per cent of the population, women now make up only 20.8 per cent of the House of Commons. The United Nations estimates that a critical mass of 30 per cent of female legislators is required to ensure that public policy reflects the needs of women. Equal Voice notes that Canada now ranks 47th in the world and behind Mauritania, Uganda, Rwanda, Afghanistan and Iraq, in terms of women elected to its national parliament.
Youth in Crisis (last updated 2008)
We have a responsibility as citizens to help pull our communities together to figure out how some of our young people are so marginalized to the point that they have no empathy, no compassion, no conscience.
How do we repair this tear in our social fabric? Is it because we have turned our backs on critical social programs? Do we lack community centres, schools open into the evenings, places where young people can meet and come together without getting into trouble? Do we attach too high a value to materialism? Do we lack good citizenship, social solidarity, strangers helping strangers, friends responsible for friends? Have we spent too much time talking about our differences, instead of what unites us?
We must find the answers with an urgency and determination unparalleled in recent times.
THE CANADIAN ECONOMY (last updated 2008)
Education and Training (last updated 2008)
Why, in 2007, does Canada not invest much more in education at all levels? A better educated, more innovative work force is essential to Canada’s future well-being. But whereas the U.S. increased public spending on education by 3.3 per cent a year since 1993, Canada only managed a paltry 0.2 per cent a year. As well, Canada is last among developed countries in spending on early childhood education, managing only a paltry 0.25 per cent of GDP.
Dramatic action is required. For example, why not offer free employee training to employers who locate or expand their operations in Canada? Why not consider free college tuition? It is only through vastly increased public investment in education and training, sector by sector, that we will stop shedding so many valuable middle-income jobs, especially in manufacturing, that traditionally have allowed workers to climb the income ladder. We have to focus on keeping people employed, instead of warehousing those laid-off.
We must also develop a bold national strategy to provide substantial financial assistance to the best and the brightest in our scientific community, supporting a wide range of “bottom-up” excellence-driven research similar to the European Union’s European Research Council. Only free wide-ranging scientific innovation will ensure the necessary advances in such critical areas as renewable energy sources, energy conservation, environmental causes of ill-health, and waste reduction.
Energy Policy (last updated 2008)
Leaders in the oil, gas, pipeline, energy retail and electricity industries, such as Patrick Daniel, CEO of Enbridge Inc. continue to call on Ottawa to implement a national energy policy – a clear statement of Canada’s interests and objectives with respect to energy, clear national regulations, infrastructure investments and immigration and education policies, a national strategy to help corporations map out an energy development agenda and prioritize initiatives, including research and development, and training. This is yet another example of where strong national leadership is urgently needed – not to create new intrusions into provincial jurisdiction, but to better articulate how the federal government will act within its already established jurisdiction and competency. These corporations understand that a clear statement of federal intentions can ease the cost burdens faced by the companies and uncertainties faced by their shareholders, and also ameliorate the incoherence of the patchwork of provincial and federal laws.
For example, a carbon tax regime and carbon trading system (see “Environment” discussion above) would enable corporations to better estimate the full cost of the proposed projects. Energy companies also recommend that the federal government encourage an increase in the immigration of both skilled and unskilled workers and promote education for oil workers.
We must also develop a national strategy and a clear statement of the very important federal role in assisting our cities to improve energy efficiency and energy conservation as well as develop integrated energy systems involving on-site renewable energy, district energy and combined heat and power. Cities are where at least 50% of energy is used in Canada and require our urgent attention.
A national strategy for nuclear power is also needed. Despite concerns over the long-term storage of nuclear waste, even important environment activists such as Tim Flannery (The Weather Makers) and David Suzuki are willing to contemplate a role for a clean source of energy such as nuclear, at least until such time as our conservation and efficiency efforts produce much greater dividends. Fortunately, there is growing optimism in the scientific community that within the next century, we should be able to develop more effective ways to deal with nuclear waste and significantly reduce long-term radioactivity.
Foreign Takeovers (last updated 2008)
We should be concerned about the closing of so many locally based head offices, and the takeovers of Canadian companies by foreign state-owned entities. Even gold magnate Peter Munk of Barrick Resources and Gerry Schwartz of Onex Corporation have expressed concern about the outsourcing of decision-making to Switzerland and California. Canadian icons, from the Hudson’s Bay Company to our heritage hotels, beer and steel companies, are currently bought up by foreign interests with no protest. We must stop and examine the impact of these losses on the future of Canada’s economy.
The evidence is clear that outside buyouts of Canadian companies have spiked since 2005, reaching some $90 billion in 2007, and greatly exceeding Canadian acquisitions abroad during the same period ($61 billion in 2007). The federal government has established an expert panel to review the situation and report next year, but has effectively restricted the review to a narrow interpretation of “national security” concerns and the purchase of Canadian assets by foreign state-owned firms.
Roger Martin, the Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, warns that Canada has left itself vulnerable to a “hollowing out” of its corporate sector by allowing foreign takeovers by companies based in jurisdictions that do not play by the same free market rules. For example, the proposed $5 billion takeover of Calgary’s PrimeWest Energy Trust by Abu Dhabi National Energy Company (TAQA) is creating significant anxiety.
In determining how better to ensure foreign investment contributes a net benefit to Canada and Canadians, we must consider the 21st century context. As Roger Martin and others note, Canadian firms now face a completely different success model – overseas operations, global mangers, global economies of scale, much higher research and development spending. We need to consider options to help Canadian businesses grow and withstand foreign takeovers, including reductions in corporate taxes, allowing interest deductions on foreign acquisitions, and permitting bank mergers, as well as amendments to securities regulations to give firms more time to ward off predatory corporate raids.
General Taxation and the National Debt (last updated 2008)
It is important to maintain national revenues through fair and efficient taxation. Cutting the GST is a costly and inefficient step, encouraging consumption in an era in which we must curb the excesses of consumption and our footprint on the planet.
In contrast, cutting personal income taxes and taxes on savings and investment is the correct route to follow to encourage people to save and invest. Taxes on business must also remain competitive, and significant reductions in corporate taxes may be the most effective way to encourage investment in research and development, and increase productivity.
We must implement a carbon tax and other taxes or levies to raise the cost of polluting activities. The revenue generated will allow income tax reductions, as well as support enhanced refundable tax credits for children (National Child Tax Benefit), seniors, and a meaningful Working Income Tax Credit. Substantial additional national revenues can also be generated simply by eliminating a wide range of distorting, inefficient corporate subsidies. This could yield anywhere from $2 to $4 billion dollars.
The successful economic policies and sound fiscal management of Liberal governments in Ottawa have brought about a remarkable state of affairs: a situation of fiscal surplus in our nation’s coffers which allow us both to decrease income taxes and to increase expenditures on national programs and initiatives for the benefit of all Canadians. The interest cost of the current national debt of $470 billion has dropped significantly from 32 cents of every dollar of tax revenue in 1993 to 14 cents in 2007.
Unfortunately , two years of minority Harper government and three Harper budgets have dissipated the surplus and severely diminished national revenues through ill-considered and massive tax cuts of some $60 billion over 5 years, while transferring substantial sums to provincial coffers with little or no accountability for the expenditures. Budget 2008 imprudently paid $10 billion down on our national debt, and projects a dangerously low budgetary surplus of only $1.3 billion, well below the minimum prudent margin of $3 billion.
Following the federal budget, financial commentators such as Terence Corcoran endorsed the proposal by Liberal leader Stéphane Dion that debt reduction should be limited to $3 billion a year and that any surplus above this could be used for essential long term infrastructure. Economic growth alone will permit our total national debt to continue to decline significantly as a percentage of GDP to 25% by 2012, well down from 68% in the mid-1990s.
Harper’s “Open Federalism” and Dismantling the National Government (last updated 2008)
Mr. Harper’s “open federalism” will dismantle the national government. “Open federalism” means reducing national revenues so that the national government no longer can undertake the kind of national standards and national programs that we require as a nation. “Open federalism” means so-called national initiatives will simply be a lowest common denominator amalgam of what provincial governments are willing to undertake.
“Open federalism” makes it easy for Mr. Harper to buy into the provincialist/separatist rhetoric of “fiscal imbalance,” which he purported to correct through increases in equalization payments, and through a significant reduction in federal taxes – personal, business and consumption – so that provinces can then move into the tax room themselves and impose their own taxes.
The reality is that there was/is no fiscal imbalance. It was primarily Québec driving the initiative to correct the alleged fiscal imbalance, since the term “fiscal imbalance” was coined by the 2002 Report of the Quebec Séguin Commission on the Fiscal Imbalance. As respected Québec commentator, Alain Dubuc, writes in his book, L’Éloge de la Richesse, Québec spends more per capita than any other province ($1500 more per capita than Ontario), taxes its citizens most heavily and is the most indebted. Its university fees are the lowest in North America; it has $7 a day child care, a provincial drug plan, low hydro rates, not to mention an international presence to rival the federal government – 28 missions/offices abroad with the Québec flag flying, among other locations, next to the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Yet despite the fact that all provinces, including Québec, have the same fiscal capacity as the federal government – the same access to corporate and personal taxes, the same ability to collect tax revenues, Québec refuses to increase taxes or cut spending, and cannot create more revenue through economic growth. Instead, Québec demands, and receives in the latest Harper budget, the money from the rest of Canada.
The fact is that Ottawa’s share of total revenues is the smallest of any central government in the developed world (44 per cent versus 67 per cent in the U.S.), and the portion of national income that is going to federal coffers has actually declined from 18.5 per cent in 1992/1993 to 15.5 per cent in 2004/2005. The fact is that Ottawa places the fewest strings on the money it transfers to the provinces – $29.8 billion in 2006-2007 for health, social services, post-secondary education, and over $11 billion for equalization, plus child care and some infrastructure spending. The federal government share of overall government spending is 37 per cent compared to 54 per cent in the U.S., and federal government transfers as a percentage of provincial and local revenues is less than 20 per cent in Canada, compared to 29 per cent in the U.S. and 45 per cent in Australia.
If anything, Ottawa’s national revenue base must be strengthened. A strong national tax policy is needed to lessen the chance that people will move to different parts of the country to avoid paying taxes. Sales taxes, for example, should be consolidated at the national level with a national goods and services tax (NGST), rather than the Harper government route of a costly reduction in the GST which eventually will be offset by an increase in provincial taxes. For the national sales tax to work, revenue-sharing accords would be entered into with the provinces, perhaps using the Australian model. In Australia, the federal government allocates the GST revenue using equalization-type criteria. In Canada, the federal government could turn over funds to the provinces according to where it is collected, and then the revenues could be equalized according to the standard equalization formula. This is essentially how the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) works in three Atlantic provinces. (Quebec has its own form of harmonized sales tax and, unlike Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, collects it for the federal government. If necessary, special accommodation could be made for this, as has been done in the past with respect to pensions.)
We must remember that the Canadian constitution imposes important responsibilities on the federal government to act with the provinces to ensure equality of individual opportunity across the country and a reasonable level of public services for all Canadians.
Shifting more and more tax room to the provinces jeopardizes tax harmonization, and prevents the federal government from using transfers to achieve national equity and efficiency objectives through national standards and national programs in a wide range of areas. The better option is to increase the transfers from the federal government to the provinces for such standards and programs and maintain national tax revenues at appropriate levels. At the same time, we should also remove all special tax incentives for oil and gas production, provisions which are unnecessary in light of the booming energy sector and rising oil and gas revenues. We absolutely must ensure adequate national revenues for the numerous pressing matters of national concern such as environmental protection, health care, early childhood education, post-secondary education, immigration settlement, clean energy initiatives, wage adjustment, wage security programs, and so forth.
National Economic Union (last updated 2008)
Our national economy is dragged down by a myriad of inter-provincial barriers to trade. The time is long overdue for the federal government to take effective action to eliminate interprovincial barriers to trade across the nation. There should be no need for, Ontario, for example, to have to take the lead to join the recent Alberta-British Columbia deal.
A recent Conference Board survey found that one-third of all businesses surveyed said that non-tariff barriers hindered their competitiveness, and 26 per cent of them said they had lost business because of them. Each province still has, for example, its own rules for accrediting everyone from engineers to plumbers. Businesses crossing provincial borders face multiple registrations.
Until the path-breaking Alberta-British Columbia bilateral Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement in August 2006 (effective 2007), trucks used to have to unload their loads at the border and repack them according to the different regulations in the two provinces. Crossing to the state of Montana was easier. Now with the Alberta and British Columbia economies essentially open to each other, a gain of some $4.8 billion in national income is expected. Imagine what would happen if all provinces pursued open trade within Canada!
The federal government should also show firm national leadership in establishing training, certification, and apprenticeship standards, model employment standards legislation, health and safety regulations, and wage security.
National Securities Commission (last updated 2008)
Canada should have a single national securities commission. Regulations and standards, not to mention registration fees, vary considerably across the 13 provinces and territories despite the valiant efforts of the Canadian Securities Administrators, the umbrella group for all the securities commissions. Among other things, without a national security regulator, insider trading is undeterred, investigations are badly managed, and prosecutions are often either unfair or unnecessarily abandoned.
Most recently, the federal finance minister has been severely hampered in dealing with the financial crisis in the murky asset-backed commercial paper market, especially as a participant in international discussions on the critical role played by credit rating agencies. Affected pension funds such as Quebec’s Caisse de Dépôt work out deals with provincial finance ministries, and the federal government is only informed of decisions.
The IMF Report of March 2008 severely criticized the “weak” criminal enforcement of capital markets in Canada and highlighted the need for a single regulator capable of tackling the increasingly complex investigations into the sophisticated cases of financial chicanery.
On March 17, 2008, the so-called “passport system” came into force. This is a tepid step forward to more consistent regulation across Canada. Any further steps toward a single national regulator will have to address the broader financial demands of provinces that will lose significant public revenues as their provincial regulatory operations are wound up. This will involve reviewing the whole range of federal-provincial fiscal transfers from equalization to healthcare and education and so forth.
Research and Development (last updated 2008)
Why, in 2007, are corporate expenditures on research and development and investment in the latest equipment and technology to boost productivity among workers, so dismal? Why do energy companies, for example, that are racking up gigantic profits, put more effort into buying back stock than improving their R&D efforts, especially in green technologies?
Valuable businesses, for example our pulp and paper mills, are shutting down and throwing thousands out of work thanks to a shortsighted lack of investment in creating more efficient mills that could be reusing mill residue to produce energy, fuels or chemicals (biorefineries).
Lowering taxes on companies which engage in R&D favouring innovation and productivity is the right approach.
Small Business (last updated 2008)
We should have a national sales tax that consolidates the GST and provincial sales taxes. This measure would be welcomed by small businesses. We need to have a tax system we can understand, and make every effort to reduce the administrative burdens on small businesses.
For the national sales tax to work, revenue-sharing accords would be entered into with the provinces, perhaps using the Australian model. In Australia, the federal government allocates the GST revenue using equalization-type criteria. In Canada, the federal government could turn over funds to the provinces according to where it is collected, and then the revenues could be equalized according to the standard equalization formula. This is essentially how the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) works in three Atlantic provinces.
Worker Protection (last updated 2008)
Why, in 2007, do we still not have effective protection for workers who lose their employment due to global forces? Denmark has something called flexicurity which effectively funds EI at 80 per cent of the lost wage while a person looks for new employment. Another option popular among EU circles is wage security, which supplements the wage of a person who has lost a higher-paying job.
We also need to review the Canada Labour Code to bring it into the 21st century, and provide more effective employee protection. In this regard, the recommendations of labour law expert and Professor Emeritus, Harry Arthurs, in his 2006 report on the Canada Labour Code merit serious consideration.
In addition to legislative amendments to the Canada Labour Code, Canada should continue to actively support developments in international law and in the transnational arena which can have a substantive impact on the employment protections available to a range of unprotected workers in both federal and provincial jurisdictions.
Most elements of the labour law system – collective bargaining, social security, workers’ compensation, job training, employment equity, and even individual employment law, arose in the context of a world in which nation states controlled their economic space, and typical employment involved long term tenure and standardized tasks.
Now, nation states no longer control their economic space. New business structures, notably, franchises, contractors, consultants in the service industries – do not easily fit under employment standards legislation, and most employees currently lack any legislative protection. Employees are increasingly highly differentiated according to their credentials, skills and knowledge.
The difficulty in the twenty-first century is that businesses have much more fluid structures. In Canada, employees work outside the national boundaries outside the reach of both federal and provincial legislation. Conversely, increasing numbers of migrant workers come to Canada on temporary work permits with few protections with respect to employment standards.