Make Hope Practical

Venezuela – the next war zone?

While this blog is going to focus on deep fundamental issues and change globally, the situation in Venezuela deserves attention as an example of the expansion of the crisis. And for Canadians we need to see how our government has become even more of a servant of the American president.

The current and past administrations in Venezuela have run the country into the ground. That is true. Corruption is rampant and poor administration has not been able to deal with internal and external threats to the socialist ideals that the people have voted for. The Maduro regime has echoed the manipulation of democratic processes and institutions in the US and does not have a legitimate mandate of the people any more.

However, the US administration and Canada (and other countries) do not have the right to demand executive change in Venezuela. Their interest in Venezuelan oil does not give other countries the right to interfere in their politics. In forcing a confrontation, American officials are demonstrating their loss of leadership and legitimacy in addressing international needs through diplomacy and collaboration. And Canada has now confirmed that we have taken sides and are no longer going to be objective mediators in international conflicts.

If the international community was genuinely interested in democratic change and the interests of the people there would be sanctions and dialogue, economic and diplomatic measures. What is happening is going to back both parties in the country into entrenched positions that will lead to more violence and potentially another Syria. The country and the people will suffer and only the arms industry (in the US and Canada of course) will benefit.

Smoke and Mirrors

The first thing we have to do to confront the assault on our reason and democracy, is to understand what is happening in our country and world. Specifically, we need to understand how far-right thugs have risen to power and why working class people are supporting them.

While the economic and political dynamics facing us are interwoven and complicated, there is a fairly basic source to the current crisis. Capitalism is struggling to survive – the people with money and power know it but the working mass of people don’t. Globalization, an effort to bolster 20th century capitalism has succeeded in generating wealth for the wealthy but the cost to social and environmental life has been astronomical. Ironically, globalization has been more successful that the wealthy expected – they thought they could gain with sufficient spin-off benefit for working people so no one would notice their theft. However, the exploitation of economies (resources and people)  in the south has meant larger refugee and economic migration that has put a face to the economic change that has taken place. For Europeans and North Americans, it has provided very visible people to blame for the crisis rather than seeing who is really responsible. Working people are not seeing improvements in their life opportunities and are lashing out in anger, with its irrational consequences.

So in short, we should see the populist movement supporting Trump/Brexit/etc as a legitimate criticism of the political status quo though misdirected in supporting where change will come from.

Trump has Dominated Our Thinking

Trump has taken over the news industry. It seems every little thing he does or says has become public discourse. Social media is saturated with him on video, in text and imagery.  I have not been to a social event in the last year where his name has not come up, either in expressing regret or humour.

I think we have to avoid becoming obsessive with him and focus on what we need to do to avoid the damage he and his ilk are bound to inflict on us locally, nationally and globally.

Let’s remember to start, that the people who voted for him and who support him now, have been hurt by the economic and political system they have. There has been decades of corruption and elitism in the American system and working people have borne the brunt of this system. The middle class are now feeling their dreams and expectations have been stolen from them. These people are angry and afraid. Anger and fear do not lead to rational thinking, choices or action.

One specific dimension of this exploitation was the signing of NAFTA almost 30 years ago. Those of us who protested this political shift to the control of corporations and the financial institutions warned of what was going to happen and it has. We spoke about how Canadians were going to feel the effects of these corporate trade deals when it hit their municipalities and manufacturing. I believe people see they have been sold snake oil but may not yet know who is responsible.

Second, lets pay attention to what Americans are doing in response to Trump. The mid-term election was not a resounding condemnation of the Trump juggernaut but it has put in place the means to formally challenge what he is doing. Congressional men and women may not have control of government but they control Congressional Committees where they have some leverage they did not have before. And we can see that the Democratic Party is still floundering, unable to take responsibility for the crisis in America and unable to propose a viable alternative.

However, the number of people who turned out to vote is significant (though it astounds me that commentators were gleeful that nearly 50% turned out – no one said much about the 50 million who did not vote). And women said in 2017 they were going to do more than protest about the corruption of power in America and they have. Women organized, got practically involved, elected women to Congress and have expressed a new sense of power in other aspects of American culture.

In Canada we should be doing our part, not just to help American clean up their system,  but in making sure our country does not slide further into a reactionary abyss. We have some experience seeking democracy that is just and inclusive, but we have huge deficiencies to correct. Indigenous people, those living in poverty and homelessness know well the deficiencies in our system.

My next post will deal with some of the ways I think we can organize now.

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Are international Trade deals delivering on their Promises?

 Soon, Canadians will be facing new debates over multilateral trade agreements. The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA was challenged by voters in one region of Belgium. Hopefully we will soon have an opportunity to speak to government about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). And one of the spin-offs of the American election could be a renegotiation of the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Last month, Prime Minister Trudeau promoted global trade and agreements at the G20 in Switzerland. He said such deals will improve international relations and will be good for the Canadian “middle class”. But are these trade deals good for Canadians? Shouldn’t we as citizens see and receive the benefits of global trade and these deals?

Two statistical measurements of how well Canadians are doing since signing the Free Trade Agreement (FTA 1989) are the Gini Coefficient and the Quality of Life Index. These formal tools utilize established formula and criteria to quantify certain economic values and compare these over time and to other countries.

The Gini Coefficient measures income inequality (how national wealth is distributed) and is being linked to economic and social health of a country.

Income inequality in Canada declined between the Second World War and the mid 1970s (Yalnizyan, 2010). However, this situation began to change during the 1980s, as market income inequality began to grow, while after-tax income inequality did not. In the 1990s, both market and after-tax income inequality grew. This trend of growing inequality continues today”, according to Stephanie Procyk, University of Toronto (in Understanding Income Inequality in Canada, 1980–2014 ).

The Conference Board of Canada backs this observation in its 2010 analysis of Gini Coefficients.

Income inequality in Canada has constantly increased since 1988 and has only levelled off after 2006. Canada reduced inequality in the 1980s, with the Coefficient reaching a low of 0.281 in 1989, then it rose in the 1990s, but has remained around 0.32 in the 2000s.

The 2012 report by the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW), How are Canadians Really Doing? presents another perspective on the economic benefits Canadians enjoy.

Using 1994 as a starting point for measurement, the CIW was assigned a baseline score of 100. By 2010, the combination of the domains shows us that our wellbeing improved on many counts, primarily in Education and Community Vitality, but declined on others such as in the Environment and in Leisure and Culture. Pulling together all eight domains, we see the CIW composite index increases to a score of 105.7 – just a 5.7% improvement in quality of life over the 17-year period.

When you compare the robust 28.9% in Canada’s GDP to the small 5.7% growth in our wellbeing over the same time period, we have cause for deep concern. Looking more closely at the impact of the recession of 2008, it resulted in an 8.3% decline in GDP up to 2010. However, the recession resulted in a stunning 24% decline in Canadians’ wellbeing from the modest gains made up to 2008.”

In the book 20 years Later: Has the FTA Delivered on its Promise? Bruce Campbell of CCPA writes, “There will be those among the business elite who will trumpet the free trade agreement’s success. They will link it to the current buoyant economy, with its strong currency, fiscal and trade surpluses, low unemployment and low inflation. … The facts, however, cast strong doubt that the promise made 20 years ago—the promise of a better life for all Canadians—has been fulfilled. It was an empty promise made by a business elite that has reaped the benefits of these self-serving agreements, without really considering how the majority of Canadians would be affected.” (December 2007).

When we hear of another trade deal being hatched, let’s question who really benefits. Canadians may not resort to a Brexit or Trump extreme reactions to these trade deals, but we can voice our critique in a Canadian fashion. And, if proponents of these deals want our support, they should show clearly how we will benefit. If we don’t see the benefits, then we should be prepared to turn them down.

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Change will come to the CP Rail yards

Developing the CP rail yards still an Opportunity

Last month the Manitoba government terminated the task force set up under the previous government to consider moving the Canadian Pacific rail yards out of inner city Winnipeg. While we don’t know what will happen next, this move was expected and is needed.

Considering what can be done about the rail yards is a huge, complicated and costly matter. Setting up a public task force to deal with all of these issues under the leadership of former premier Jean Charest was premature. High level negotiations will be needed to direct any change in land use, but strategic positioning and timing are important. The former government went public when a great deal of work behind the scenes was needed first.

The current government had to create its own process for addressing this opportunity. It’s customary that new governments put their brand on important on-going initiatives.

Second, the government needs to get its own intelligence in place on the technical, logistical, commercial and political requirements involved and on how to effectively manage a development process. As the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg reported in 2012, a feasibility study is needed to provide research based knowledge on what can be done to move the rail yards. This knowledge is needed to give all levels of government the perspective needed to make preliminary decisions, and to replace speculation with substance. This advice is even more pertinent today.

The SPCW report pointed to research needed for assessing the costs of moving the rail yards, soil remediation, building new infrastructure and measuring the impact on local industry. Equally important, the report also advocated investigating the tax potential of residential and commercial development, cost savings of avoiding bridge replacement, alternative uses of the rail right of way through the city (rapid transit for example), energy reduction savings and other opportunities for generating revenue from this land.

In 2012 when public discussions were facilitated by the Free Press on the merits of a rail yard development, two things were clearly evident. On one hand people were operating on the basis of supposition and personal opinion rather than facts or research. This approach persists today. On the other hand, once we started taking about practical possibilities and tangible opportunities, everyone agreed a development of the rail yards property would be a tremendous benefit for the city and all residents into the next century.

Third, any change for the rail way through the city has to be initiated by the City of Winnipeg according to the federal Rail Relocation and Crossings Act (1985). Therefore, the Province and the City need to think through their interests and common issues involved in moving the rail yards. While the Mayor and Council are more visionary than the last regime and will be receptive to considering a development process, they also need basic information before committing to negotiations with CP Railway.

A paced approach to developing this property can also respond to evolving conditions. Ongoing expansion of CentrePort in particular will make a huge difference in how the railway sees benefit in moving. Having business oriented governments at three levels now may also lead to more support for developing the rail yards for community as well as corporate benefit. And public concern with the safety of rail traffic through urban areas only adds to the motivation for railway relocation.

With a new approach to this issue, I hope we can shift the focus from just moving the rail yards to exercising an opportunity to address city needs. For Winnipeg to grow and meet the needs of citizens, depends on how we turn problems into potential, and the CP property can be one asset in a collective vision.

So let’s be patient but supportive and encourage the city and provincial governments to develop this parcel of real estate for the good of citizens, all levels of governments, local business and the railway corporation. I think the economic, environmental and social benefits of a change in land use can justify the costs and effort involved, but let’s do the research and collective thinking to make sure.


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Who Should Support Idle no More?

Aboriginal youth and women started the rallies and demonstrations in support of Theresa Spence and the Chiefs who protested the passing of Bills C-38 and C-45. First Nations leaders are now publicly supporting the movement and more youth and student groups are out on the streets demonstration support for Idle no More.

I believe the rest of us – every Canadian – should be supportive.

Personally I do not endorse the tactics of many of the people involved in the movement – the rallies, flash mobs, blockades, marches and especially the hunger strikes. These actions do not lead directly to  a better understanding of issues or positions, they do not lead to motivating people to take the corrective action needed to deal with very important social and political issues and they are very vulnerable to news media distortions and drama.

However, these action deserve and need the support of every Canadian who believes in fairness, justice and compassion. We – non-aboriginal, middle-class, comfortable Canadians – should be out at these events, we should be taking our families and friends to these opportunities to express our support. We should be looking for our politicians at these events and encouraging them to show their support.

Aboriginal people, especially First Nations a have been forced into untenable circumstances and conditions. A large number, possibly a majority,  have been relegated to an inferiour position in our social order. Thousands of Aboriginal people live in poverty and experience consistent systemic exclusion. The description of these conditions are becoming well known and don’t need repetition here.

What is important now, is that the current expression of the frustration, anger, disillusionment and on and on, is organic and honest. It is not strategic and organized, but non-the-less a genuine political expression of what people feel about the position of Aboriginal people. At a national level, Aboriginal people have been backed into a political corner where other – more conventional, institutional and publicly acceptable – forms of engagement have been denied or have failed them. They have sought out institutional forms of addressing grievances and using the democratic procedures. They have set up service and advocacy organization to promote their rights and deliver the services the people need.

What I also think, is that we as citizens have let down Aboriginal people. We are indirectly complicit in what our governments have done or not done. We have been complicit  in our indifference and ignorance. We have passed the buck to governments and politicians to address Aboriginal needs.  We have  avoided our personal responsibility to include all segments of our society in our social networks. We have not confronted those who have expressed their racism or criticism. We have not educated ourselves about the history of exploitation and abuse endured by Aboriginal people.

So by joining these events and demonstrations, we are expressing our intent to change not only how Aboriginal people are treated by governments, but how we will change our individual and collective relationships. In expressing our commitment to better relationships in this way at this moment of our history, we also will mark a change in how we recognise our social responsibility and the benefit we all we get from creating a society that is inclusive, just and caring.

Follow the Idle no More movement though the Winnipeg based, Aboriginal Youth Opportunities,

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Defend the CBC

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is again being threatend by the Conservatives. The government is indicating that the CBC will undergo further budget reductions next year.

We have to resist any further reduction in the CBC’s ability to report on Canada and represent Canadian views. Sign the CBC Petition today….

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