Canada to put the boots to ISIS?

Produced by General Dynamics in Brampton, Ontario, Canada’s Coyote is widely considered to be the best desert fighting vehicle on the market, with the flexibility to serve as forward operating bases, surveillance platforms and airfield defence posts. Canadians worked out the bugs and perfected their use in Afghanistan. The Trudeau Liberals have yet to approve a 100-Coyote sale to the Saudi government. –Military Today photo

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, in Quebec City on Friday for a North American Foreign Ministers meeting, came close to confirming something I heard earlier in the week – that Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government is expected to announce it will be committing a significant ground force to the ISIS mission, most likely in northern Iraq.(http://www.cbc.ca/player/play/2682797614)

According to DND sources, 600 Special Forces members are training for the mission although to judge by vague government responses during Question Period, Parliament is being kept in the dark.

“The Government of Canada has made the decision to put boots on the ground Liberals one more time seem to be preparing to send hundreds of Canadians into a war zone without a national debate,” a usually reliable source told me during the course of the week.

Once we get past Kerry’s “outside effort” gaffe at last Friday’s meeting, take note of his carefully phrased hint at a 180-degree shift in the Trudeau Liberals’ Mideast mission strategy:

“…I am absolutely confident from my conversation with Stéphane (Canada’s International Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion) that the Prime Minister and his security team are working on ways to continue the contribution and to make a significant contribution to our efforts in a way that will make a difference. We have every confidence that Canada will do that, so while they have made a choice with respect to one particular component of that effort, that does not reflect on the overall commitment or capacity to contribute significantly to the road ahead and we are confident that they will.”

Even the Liberals’ campaign promise to bring home the six CF-18s, infight refuelling tanker and Orion trackers may be on the table. My sources tell me Canada now has nine CF-18s in country, with three additional fighters now prepositioned for arrival of the special forces contingent. They also tell me redeployment isn’t on the agenda at the operational level until March. Does that sound like Ottawa is in any rush to bring them home?

Kerry also elaborated on an upcoming meeting of 24 nations in Rome “in order to talk about the road ahead.” This, too, is a shift in light of Canada’s humiliating exclusion from U.S. Secretary of State Aston Carter’s Daech bull session, where even the do-nothing Swedes and Danes were at the table.

…which brings us to another comment made Friday, from Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan. Sajjan was referring to the “ripples” – fallout from some of Canada’s defence and development strategies in Syria and Afghanistan helping to create corruption fuelling the insurgencies Canada is paying to put down.

Hmm. New foreign-aid priorities and a federal budget in March. All this says to me the Trudeau Liberals are laying the political groundwork for a major policy shift that will encompass defence and international aid. I recall former Liberal PM Paul Martin’s vision of a Canadian task force that could be dropped anywhere in the world to deal with humanitarian crises, be they in Darfur, Afghanistan, Nepal or Thailand.

On Monday I’ll see if I can prod some reaction out of DND and the PMO. But remember you read it here first – 600 pairs of boots on the ground, plus the Strykers, Coyotes and logistics backup a force that size would need.

All without the benefit of a Parliamentary stamp of approval.

Heck, even Stephen Harper made sure he got that before he told the Americans.

 

 

 

Time for a Robin Hood tax

Unless current trends miraculously reverse themselves, market watchers will remember 2016 as the year Canada went to hell, stranded in No Man’s Land in a war among the world’s biggest central banks. The loonie and crude have yet to find a floor. Unemployment is expected to top 7% but stats will be misleading. As EI benefits run out, the destitute turn to the underground economy. The taxpayer loses any which way.

Meanwhile, Canadian investors are so terrified of losing their nest eggs in a bear market they’re sitting on $75 billion of excess cash. Remember former Bank of Canada head Mark Carney calling out Canadian corporations for sitting on cash reserves rather than investing in productivity? Carney’s ‘dead money’ estimate is thought to be closer to $600 billion than it was when Carney said it. The banks scold us for lacking faith in Canada, but in an economic environment this bleak, who feels like investing?

Besides, not everyone is hurting equally. As NDP leader Tom Mulcair notes in a fundraising plea this week, Canadian banks earned a record $35 billion in profits in 2015 and handed out $12.5 billion in bonuses. According to Disgruntled Tom, those same banks eliminated 4,600 good-paying Canadian jobs last year alone.

We’re looking at a planetary crisis. Earlier this week, an Ottawa symposium on income inequality sponsored by the Hill Times heard that as 2015 drew to a close, 62 people held the same amount of wealth as the world’s poorest 50%.

…the wealth of the one per cent richest people in the world amounts to $110-trillion, which is 65 times the total wealth of the poorest half of humanity. An international network of tax havens allows the world’s elite to hide $7.6-trillion. – Oxfam International’s Ricardo Fuentes-Nueva

…which brings me to why I like Bernie Sanders for president of the United States. I recall the first time I heard Sanders explain his Robin Hood tax. Sanders would tax stock transactions at half a percentage point, less for bond and derivative trades. Bernie estimates it would raise $300 billion a year to cover free tuition at every public college and university in the U.S. His supporters estimate the collective student loan debt is close to $1.3 trillion, much of it at unsustainable interest rates.

A whole lot of ifs stand in the way. If Sanders wins the Democratic nomination, if Michael Bloomberg doesn’t spoil a Sanders/Trump shootout. And of course, if Bernie wins with the  Democratic majority he would need to pilot socially divisive legislation through the House and the Senate.

If it adopted such a measure the U.S. wouldn’t be alone; Britain, Germany, Switzerland and China tax financial transactions. The Trudeau Liberals would put themselves on the right side of history by including a made-in-Canada transaction tax in the upcoming budget. Sooner or later, the world’s central banks will have no option but to agree to measures that will have the effect of reining in wealth flight, corporate extortionists and fiscal tax havens because of the human cost of extreme wealth inequality and injustice. An equality tax is a modest first step.

Coderre vs. Trudeau

There’s a lot about Montreal’s camilienhoudesque mayor Denis Coderre to dislike. His grandstanding bloviations, his antiunion smear tactics, his big-fat-finger-in-your-face bully-boy way of dealing with people. To put it as bluntly as he would, Coderre doesn’t give a rat’s ass whether he’s liked. He feeds off power and he’s got plenty of it.

So it’s no surprise that Coderre, chairman of the 82-municipality Montreal Metropolitan Community, is working himself into the job of Public Enemy #1 in Alberta and the Maritimes. What is surprising is the longtime former Liberal MP’s reckless disregard for the Trudeau government, caught between Alberta, the four Maritime provinces, the greens and the PMO’s growing credibility gap between climate-change platitudes and greenhouse gas-reducing action.

At stake is TransCanada Pipelines’ Energy East project, a $16B project to move more than a billion barrels a day of Alberta and U.S. crude to the Irving refinery in St. John, N.B. and from there to world markets. Underlying the desperation to see Energy East built: unless North American producers can move their oil to a year-round deep-sea port, the oil sands and the frackers will be out of business and a much poorer Canada is back to dependency on oil from the Middle East and North Africa for as long as it takes to wean North America from fossil fuels. With oil prices at 2003 levels and a worldwide glut fed by $10-a-barrel Mideast producers, there isn’t much incentive to save the planet.

Through a combination of external factors and their own conflicting ideologies, Trudeau Liberals have no room to manoeuvre. A federal carbon tax similar to those in Quebec, Ontario and B.C. risks sending the fragile Canadian economy into a full-blown recession. Duties on oil imports wouldn’t survive a domestic legal challenge, let alone WTO scrutiny. Now that the U.S. Keystone and B.C.’s Northern Gateway have been nixed, Ottawa’s last and only hope is Energy East. Except both Quebec and Ontario oppose it, citing both risk and concern for the environmental impact of oil sands oil.

Optics aside, Trudeau could ignore the opposition of Canada’s two largest provinces by insisting the project is essential to the nation’s survival, just as his father did with the Enbridge line in the late ’70s. The constitution gives Ottawa authority over transportation, and that includes oil pipelines. Under the Harper government, the National Energy Board’s mandate was rewritten to exclude consideration of climate change as a regulatory factor. One of the Liberals’ election vows was to change it back. Have no doubt Coderre took note of that.

This morning’s La Presse carries Coderre’s broadside, entitled ‘No to the Energy East pipeline project.’ He begins by restating the MMC’s zero-tolerance position. In other words, TransCanada would have to guarantee there will be no spills, something no pipeline operator in its right mind would agree to. “We’re not against pipelines,” Coderre continues, noting the MMC’s support for the Enbridge Line 9B reversal, now moving 300,000 barrels of oil from western Canada and the U.S. to Quebec’s two refineries – Suncor in Montreal East, Valero downriver opposite Quebec City.

Coderre position is almost unassailable. He has the backing of 81 mayors representing well over four million residents and we already know what he thinks of unions, (Big Labour supports Energy East because of potential petrochemical spinoffs.) Municipalities outside the MMC are on the Coderre bandwagon because they can’t lose. If the project is approved, it will almost certainly come with a massive damage deposit (former Conservative energy minister Joe Oliver used the figure $1B) and a hefty annual fee to cover the cost of training first responders and other risk-management expenses. Enbridge’s pipeline reversal approval process educated us as to what a catastrophic spill could cost when we learned details of the firm’s Kalamazoo, MI. river rupture. The Lac Mégantic disaster taught us how important it was to have a cleanup contingency fund in place from the get-go, beyond the reach of the corporations and their lawyers.

Enbridge’s reversal is Coderre’s only weak link. The Marois government did nothing to enforce Coderre’s zero tolerance standard or the need for a damage deposit when Enbridge got the green light from the National Energy Board. If the Enbridge line were to rupture underneath the Ottawa River at Pointe-Fortune, the spill would affect dozens of municipalities on both sides of the Lake of Two Mountains and the Back River. If enough crude was spilled and Enbridge isn’t quick enough on the shutoff valves, a catastrophic spill could find its way into the Montreal water supply. An unlikely chain of worst-case scenarios, yes, but as the NEB pointed out in its list of conditions for approval, what measures are in place to mitigate a catastrophe? As we saw with the Lac-Mégantic disaster, what began with a request to Transport Canada to reduce manning levels on the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway resulted in a cascade of events that caused 47 deaths. It’s likely the $500M cleanup, compensation and reconstruction bill is low.

Is Coderre bluffing to force TransCanada and Ottawa to sweeten the pot? Montreal is crumbling, but so is infrastructure in every Canadian city and town. This week we’ve heard stories comparing Montreal schools with those in the Third World, but at least Montreal kids have schools to go to. As Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall notes, Quebec has managed to portray itself as a have-not province to the tune of $20B in transfer payments this year. This is exactly the sort of inequality that resonates with Canadians, especially in the newly disadvantaged western provinces.

Students of Canadian politics will recognize this as a replay of the 1956 TransCanada gas pipeline debate that cost Louis St. Laurent’s Liberals the 1957 election and nearly tore the country apart. Sixty years later, Canadians face the same risk as we fight over TransCanada’s plan to convert its gas pipeline to carry western oil. Now, that’s ironic.

Photo:

Pointe-Fortune residents express dissatisfaction at the prospect of a second oil pipeline crossing.

 

 

 

Cops who kill

Unless his lawyer wins a stay of sentence, Toronto cop James Forcillo will spend four years in prison for pumping too many shots into drug-crazed teen Sammy Yatim.

Before you read any further, watch the video (the Globe and Mail has the best edit). I had to watch it half a dozen times to get a clear idea of what happened that July evening in 2013. Stripped to basics, the video shows Yatim clearing out a TTC streetcar with his breast-grabbing, penis-exposing, knife-waving antics, then waiting for the police. Sometimes he’s immobile, other times pacing, but never making a move to leave the vehicle. When they arrive, the cops order the kid to drop the knife. Yatim takes a couple of steps toward the back of the streetcar, then moves into the doorway.

We see two, then three police officers 20-30 feet from the door. One of the cops has already assumed a firing stance. He drops Yatim with a three-shot volley. The shooter fires six more times. We see Yatim’s foot in the frame, jerking as five of the shots strike him.

It was on the basis of this video and weeks of testimony that the jury concluded Forcillo didn’t murder Yatim. They determined that Forcillo’s initial three-shot volley was in self-defence, so they did not find him guilty on the unpremeditated murder charge even though those first three shots killed Yatim.

We’ll never know for sure, but I think we can assume the jurors decided they had to find Forcillo guilty of something. So they got him for the attempted murder of the kid he’d already killed.

Thanks to the Harper government, attempted murder carries a four-year minimum sentence, which is why Forcillo’s lawyer proposes to challenge the constitutionality of mandatory minimums. Given the Supreme Court’s allergy to anything the Harper Tories rammed through Parliament, I’ll be interested to see how they deal with this.

The video I saw showed the execution of a skinny strung-out kid by a burly cop armed with the latest perp-stopping technology. It took me back to the first time I saw a police execution, the ambush of two bank robbers outside a caisse populaire on the south shore by members of the SQ holdup squad. I was a rookie police reporter but I knew what I’d seen was wrong. Since then I’ve chronicled maybe a dozen police executions, beginning with the 1987 murder of Anthony Griffin by a Montreal police officer. I can’t speak for the rest of Canada but most extrajudicial execution victims in Quebec seem to be members of visible minority and cultural communities – or aboriginals.

Before you accuse me of stereotyping all police officers as stone-faced killers, understand this: Canadians have assigned the job of dealing with society’s most disturbed individuals to our police forces. Whether it’s some poor soul off his/her meds having a psychotic episode in public, sex predator, jihadi terrorist or revenge-driven ex, it isn’t you or I who answer the 911 call. I can find sympathy for some cops who kill because they’ve never been taught or equipped to do better. Others should never have been hired, let alone armed. Political complicity is the reason why cops investigate cops, why cops are ready to perjure themselves to protect a colleague. We are moving past this. But we are moving far too slowly.

The Forcillo jury came to a ridiculous verdict. There’s nothing else to call it. But they’re like Canadians everywhere, sick of watching our police departments dealing inappropriately with society’s problems. Are we better off buying our cops better guns and   body armour or forcing elected officials and their top-cop appointees to move past the platitude-ridden bullshit we’ve been eating for far too long? One can only hope Canada’s top court recognizes this verdict for what it is – a call for help in stopping killer cops.

 

What should Tom have done?

Well, lie. Spout platitudes. Make nice.

The trouble with New Democratic Party leader Tom Mulcair is that he’s a fighter, not a lover. Canadians, always apt to vote while looking in their rear-view mirrors, dumped the Harper Tories. Quebeckers bitching about having elected a Liberal government have only themselves to blame.

Justin Trudeau and his caucus have four thankless, grinding, troubled years ahead in a world economy that bears no resemblance to what we were seeing 365 days ago. From the messages coming out of Davos, the worst lies ahead. The Liberal agenda has been bushwhacked and it’s highly unlikely next month’s budget will change this let alone what the New Democrats and Conservatives decide at their respective conventions.

My only regret is that Mulcair isn’t leading Her Majesty’s Official Opposition. I’d drive to Ottawa to catch QP if he was.

Rewrite

Hudson residents ask me what’s going on at their town hall, and with reason. For example, sharp-eyed residents consulting the minutes of the Dec. 16 budget meeting on the town’s website will note a significant change from the budget presented to residents.  The bottom line ($12,053,290) is the same as that adopted in December, but the administration has made a few crucial changes, such as adding $592,840 for public transportation. That was left out of the December budget presentation, but unless you took screen shots of the Powerpoint, taped the whole show or finagled a copy, how was anyone to know? Of course my confusion may be a function of my inability at basic math, so I’ll reserve further comment until the town files its budget with the municipal affairs ministry. One assumes this will be posted on the municipal website as in past years.

•••

Then there’s the $2,086.80 the town spent last fall on hotel rooms for the Radio Canada production crew in town to shoot a Petite Séduction episode. I was skeptical taxpayers would be asked to foot the bill to put them up, given Hudson’s proximity to the Maison Mère. So I emailed my questions and got this reply from Ophélie Simoncelli, the show’s researcher.

Nous avons tourné une magnifique émission à Hudson cet automne qui, sans aucun doute, aura de belles retombées sur votre communauté! Cet épisode sera diffusé en avril ou en mai prochain – nos calendriers de diffusion ne sont malheureusement pas encore complétés.

Les municipalités qui posent leur candidature pour recevoir La Petite Séduction le font en toute connaissance de cause. Le conseil municipal doit d’ailleurs adopter une résolution en ce sens, sachant qu’il doit réserver un budget pour la réalisation des activités et pour l’hébergement de l’équipe. L’équipe est sur le terrain 12 heures par jour et doit profiter de chaque minute de lumière pour faire la plus belle et la meilleure émission possible, voilà pourquoi nous sommes logés sur place, même si la municipalité est à une heure de route de Montréal.

Grâce au comité de citoyens qui a piloté cette Petite Séduction avec la complicité de notre équipe, Hudson profitera d’une visibilité enviable sur les ondes de Radio-Canada. Nous sommes regardés par une moyenne d’un million de téléspectateurs, d’un océan à un autre du pays.

Cet épisode sera à l’image de votre communauté : une émission colorée, aussi touchante qu’amusante, qui laisse une belle place à vos magnifiques paysages et au divers talents de vos concitoyens.

En espérant que vous apprécierez cette Petite Séduction à Hudson!

The council indeed adopted a resolution approving a maximum expenditure of $10,000.

I’ve since been told other expenses were incurred in staging the shoot but have so far been unable to quantify them. As for les rétombées economiques hinted at in Mme. Simoncelli’s email, residents will have to find the patience to await results. As Justin Trudeau pointed out in Davos, gladhanding and a lower Canadian dollar will take time to work their magic.

I bring this up because the shitstorm from the Petite Séduction episode appears have been behind the suspension  of Parks and Recreation Director Julia Schroeder for 15 days. The suspension, approved Jan. 15 by a council majority with only District 1’s Rob Spencer voting against, is based in part on an alleged violation of the town’s spanking new anti-harassment bylaw adopted at that very same confused Dec. 15 special meeting. Schroeder’s transgression was to have gone public with her concerns about Hudson’s indifference to the Petite Séduction shoot. A competent administration would have done a better sales job, like when Schroeder’s predecessors Mike Klaiman and Jean Chevalier recruited Hudsonites by the hundreds to vote their downtown core as one of the Seven Wonders of Vaudreuil-Soulanges.

People familiar with the file believe Schroeder is being set up for dismissal because she’s not seen by the current administration as a team player. I hope this isn’t the case. My own experiences have taught me the wisdom of seeking a more positive, proactive solution to human relations. Successful managers realize it’s easier to get things done by selling the mission at hand – and ultimately their global vision – to the people assigned to deliver the results. Willing hands mean lighter work for everyone.

Grumbling and dissent are symptoms of a deeper malaise. Firing or suing one’s critics may silence dissent in the short term but does not cure the underlying condition.