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Friday, October 31, 2014 / PROGRESSIVE JOURNALISM FOR POSITIVE ACTION
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David McLaren
NOC Featured Blogger
Published: Saturday 21 June 2014

The boy followed the old man along the road that wound up from the city. He had to run sometimes for the man was old but he was strong, and the axe the boy carried was heavy. At least they were above the sting of the tear gas that still hung heavy in the streets below. But they were not above the wood smoke that even now partly obscured the Parthenon. The winter of 2013 in Athens was not the coldest on record, not as cold as it was when I camped out on a boat in the Piraeus harbour so many Christmases ago. But it was cold enough for people to burn things. The city was swept of bits and pieces of scrap cardboard and wood, and now the elderly were breaking up their furniture. In November, the government had jacked upthe tax on heating oil 450%.Along with Greek tables and chairs, the Greek economy was pretty much in ashes. The European Union and the International Monetary Fund were keeping the country from burning to the ground by pouring money on its economy. The price for their beneficence? An austerity regime of tax hikes and draconian cuts to government jobs and services.In the winter of 2013, so few could afford to buy heating oil, that the government lost revenue on its sales. And the air in Athens turned black with burning wood.Who knows how it got so bad? Credit default swaps hid the real economy. ...

Published: Sunday 27 April 2014

Sally’s choice was this: either pay the heating bill or fix her car. She chose the car because without it she couldn’t get to work, and if she couldn’t get to work, she wouldn’t be paid. Sally is a personal support worker making $15 an hour after a decade on the job. But today, on one of the coldest days in December, she’s walking the picket line, on strike for a better deal. She’s not sure how long she can afford to do this because, while she’s on the line, she’s making $0 an hour.Katie’s been working been working for fast food chains for over a 15 years. She’s now the afternoon shift manager at a big multi-national and earning a dollar more than minimum wage. She’s got two children in school and she’s in debt to a pay-day loan company. She tells me she might go back on social assistance. At least that way she’ll be able to see her kids.Charlie wrecked his back dragging rock out of a limestone quarry. The doctor at the ER said he should rest it for at least 6 weeks. But that’s what’s left of the work season. There’s no union at the quarry, so no benefits, no time off if he’s sick, no one to back him up if his boss tells him to do something dangerous. So he does what he’s done for the last week. He drags himself out of bed, downs an OxyContin with his coffee and waits for his buddy to pick him up.These are not their real names, but their work is real enough: low wage, part time, temporary work. If you’ve got a family to raise on that kind of work, it’s all guts and no glory. It’s soul crunching. It’s precarious work and it’s a plague that’s spreading. Half the jobs in Toronto are precarious. Almost 95% of the jobs created in Canada in 2013 were part time, ...

Published: Thursday 17 April 2014

It is an easy thing to dismiss Ford Nation.Here’s how Jeffery Simpson does it in the Globe and Mail: “[They and their leaders] prefer to lecture rather than reason, to posture as … the “people” against undefined but dangerous “elites,” and live in an intellectually self-contained world where curiosity is banished and slogans take the place of deliberation.”And he goes on: they’re tough on crime, yet revel in the Mayor’s misdeeds. They vote for fiscal prudence, yet support his imprudent and expensive Scarborough subway. They insist on personal responsibility, but let their own off the hook.To the elites, they are a mess of contradictions and political incorrectness. If he wasn’t an enemy of the state of Ford Nation before, he is now.You can hear the disdain, even in pollsters’ numbers: they earn in the lower regions of the 99% and almost half don’t graduate high school. They’re young (18-34) or old (over 55), and they live to the north and east in Toronto and here and there in rural Ontario.They account for 16% of Rob Ford’s support—and Tim Hudak’s and Stephen Harper’s.Mike Harris, with his “Common Sense Revolution” was the first conservative to court them. Stephen Harper has made a science of them. Rob Ford is them.Ford Nation loves it when their guys do things that aren’t elite-like: smoking crack cocaine for example, or squabbling with the liberal press, or being in contempt of Parliament. (Remember the Tory line? “It’s just the ...

Published: Thursday 23 January 2014

On Wednesday November 27th 2013, John Baird officially redefined Canada to the world as a corporate shill.Prime Minister Harper told Ed Fast, the Minister of International Trade after the 2011 election that he wanted Canadian foreign policy to focus on foreign trade. The Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development’s new Global Markets Action Plan is the result of that order. But it isn’t all that new—it’s been developing ever since Bev Oda scrawled “NOT” on CIDA’s funding approval letter to KAIROS.Actually it’s been developing a lot longer than that.In 1965, George Grant publishedLament for a Nation. In his eulogy for a sovereign Canada, he argues the Liberals got and held power by merging their political policies with the ambitions of corporate North America: “Liberalism is the perfect ideology for capitalism … even the finest talk about internationalism opens markets for the powerful.”For Professor Grant, John Diefenbaker was the last Canadian nationalist. Yes, he cancelled the Avro Arrow, a fighter jet ahead of its time. It was too expensive to build, largely because the US refused to buy any. But when the US pushed the Bomarc missile on him, he refused to arm them with nuclear warheads.It was a move mocked by the Liberals under “Mike” Pearson and booed by Bay Street. In the “Defence Election” of 1963, Dief was out and Mike was in. The Americans were happy and President Kennedy promptly sent over nuclear warheads for the Bomarcs.Mr Pearson was an ...

Published: Wednesday 31 July 2013

I’m looking at a map of northern Ontario’s Ring of Fire. It’s a pretty patchwork of colours in the shape of a crescent moon: deep sea-blue for Freewest Resources, orange for KWG, bright sun-yellow for Probe, grass green for Fancamp, sky-blue for the Freewest/Spider/KWG partnership. They are some of the thousands of claims staked by mining companies in the Ring of Fire—5,120 square kilometres in the water sheds of Hudson and James Bays and chock full of chromite, nickel, copper and zinc worth well over $100 billion. That’s a sizable chunk of boreal forest, itself a carbon sink of the order of the Amazon rain forest. Imagine you are on the shore of McFaulds Lake. You’re looking at trees and rock and muskeg—swampland—millions of acres of it. Turn around and you’ll see KWG’s base camp and maybe a drill or two pulling up core samples of chromite. Well why not? you ask. There’s nothing there. No so. It’s home for everyone from black flies to black bears to First Nations peoples, Cree and Anishinaabek, whose ways of life will be forever altered if and when all those pretty coloured claims become mines. Some people are growing impatient for those mines. Keith Hobbs, the mayor of Thunder Bay says “Everybody can get rich on this. … We’re tired of hearing, ‘It’s going to happen, it’s going to happen.’ It needs to ...

Published: Friday 22 March 2013

 I come to bury Chavez, not to praise him. Barak Obama says he was authoritarian. And the President is an honourable man. John Graham, former ambassador to Venezuela says he couldn’t manage his own economy. And he is an honourable man. Stephen Harper says he was undemocratic. And he is a Right Honourable man. So are they all, all honourable men. And yet … Hugo Chavez gave people free education while others indenture their citizens. He put in place the most robust electoral system in the south. He narrowed the gap between rich and poor even while the gap grows wider in the north. Poverty, infant mortality, public debt—all cut by half. His will, shall I read you his will? It is simple. To the people of Venezuela he gives them their own country’s resources, and the money earned from their extraction. Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar had Marc Antony to rehabilitate his reputation. His Richard III had no one. Shakespeare says the King was a murderer, a usurper, and a twisted tyrant. And Shakespeare was honourable man. But Tudor generals dumped Richard under a Leicester parking lot and Tudor historians heaped upon the ...

Published: Monday 25 February 2013

 The Ring of Fire. It sounds like something out of a Tolkien novel. Welcome to Mordor Ontario, an area of 5,120 square kilometres in the James Bay watershed chock full of nickel, copper, zinc, gold, palladium and chromium—especially chromium (the element at the centre of Erin Brockovich’s crusade).* The Lords of the Ring are some 30 exploration companies, such as KWG and Noront, who have staked over 31,000 claims. Cliffs Natural Resources from Ohio is the principle mining company. They’re after chromium, a vital ingredient in stainless steel. But others are coming in, including the Chinese state-owned Sinocan Resources Corp. The Crown, in this realm, has two heads—Stephen Harper and Kathleen Wynne. Ottawa has responsibility for some environmental oversight through the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, and Ontario collects royalties, or will, after the 10-year tax holiday it gives remote mines. In fact, Ontario’s mining tax regime is so generous, compared to other provinces, it amounts to a subsidy. (Throw in the oil sands and the Crown gives more money to mining companies than it spends on First Nations’ health, education and housing.) The federal government’s recent omnibus bills have so severely crippled the Crown’s environmental regulatory muscle that you might as well hang a sign on the north that says “(Ring ...

Published: Sunday 13 January 2013

 It is telling that the Idle No More movement started with four First Nations women—Nina Wilson, Sylvia McAdam, Jessica Gordon and Sheelah McLean who gave the first “Idle No More” teach-in. Sylvia McAdam is a lawyer, as is Tanya Kappo, who first tweeted #idlenomore. Perhaps they are of the “New People” of the Anishinaabek Seventh Fire prophecy. Perhaps they are of those who refuse to see themselves as victims, but rather as human beings with rights that are being eroded and responsibilities that need taking up, Time will tell, as it has told of past abuses and as it is telling of present wrongs.In 2007, Mr Harper gave the Kashechewan First Nation a choice. Either stay where they were put in 1957, or move to Timmins—stay in a place where you might get sick again from E-coli or lose your land and move to town. To become what? Beggars? Assimilated? The people suggested a third way and asked Mr Harper to move them upstream, to their original home. He refused. During the pomp and ceremony of Mr Harper’s apology to Aboriginal Canada for the Indian Residential School System, a First Nation’s commentator on the CBC radio said “at least it was well written.” (I think it was Mary Simon, but I can’t find the clip on the CBC website and queries have gone unanswered). It was her way of wondering if the apology was sincere and would ever lead to reconciliation. Perhaps she had seen this sort of thing before. Such apologies are cheaply made and dearly bought. They give only the appearance of reconciliation, because only equals can be reconciled. An apology is insincere if made to people abused, for ...

Published: Sunday 13 January 2013

 It is telling that the Idle No More movement started with four First Nations women—Nina Wilson, Sylvia McAdam, Jessica Gordon and Sheelah McLean who gave the first “Idle No More” teach-in. Sylvia McAdam is a lawyer, as is Tanya Kappo, who first tweeted #idlenomore. Perhaps they are of the “New People” of the Anishinaabek Seventh Fire prophecy. Perhaps they are of those who refuse to see themselves as victims, but rather as human beings with rights that are being eroded and responsibilities that need taking up, Time will tell, as it has told of past abuses and as it is telling of present wrongs.In 2007, Mr Harper gave the Kashechewan First Nation a choice. Either stay where they were put in 1957, or move to Timmins—stay in a place where you might get sick again from E-coli or lose your land and move to town. To become what? Beggars? Assimilated? The people suggested a third way and asked Mr Harper to move them upstream, to their original home. He refused. During the pomp and ceremony of Mr Harper’s apology to Aboriginal Canada for the Indian Residential School System, a First Nation’s commentator on the CBC radio said “at least it was well written.” (I think it was Mary Simon, but I can’t find the clip on the CBC website and queries have gone unanswered). It was her way of wondering if the apology was sincere and would ever lead to reconciliation. Perhaps she had seen this sort of thing before. Such apologies are cheaply made and dearly bought. They give only the appearance of reconciliation, because only equals can be reconciled. An apology is insincere if made to people abused, for ...

Published: Thursday 6 December 2012

 About a month ago, the Harper government dropped the first shoe of its new foreign policy—economic agreements with the 3rd world and China. The latter will be at our expense but it looks as though our agreements with developing countries will be at theirs. Canadian mining companies are implicated in dozens of cases of human rights and environmental abuses: Dorato Resources in Peru, Barrick Gold in Tanzania and New Guinea; Centerra in Kyrgyzstan; Excellon in Mexico; Hudbay Minerals in Guatemala. There are others. If the Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement we signed with China is any measure, the agreements we are signing in Africa and South America will allow Canadian mining companies to run roughshod over other peoples’ rights and their ...

ABOUT David McLaren
David McLaren is an award-winning writer living at Neyaashiinigmiing on the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario. He has worked for government, in the private sector, with civil society and First Nations. He can be reached at http://jdavidmclaren.wordpress.com/.
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