Rick Mercer Explains Our Democratic System

It’s federal election day in Canada, and it has turned out to be a much more interesting election than was expected.  The NDP have had a surprisingly strong showing in the polls over the last 10 days, and this has left both the Harper Conservatives and the Liberals scrambling to change their tactics in the dying days of the campaign.  Canadians, it seems, don’t like Stephen Harper or Michael Ignatieff that much, but they do trust Jack Layton, leader of the federal NDP.

Unfortunately, I will be traveling all day and won’t be able to easily tune into the election results.  But I thought it would be appropriate on election day to post this Rick Mercer video from two years ago, Canada Explained:


And remember, if you are Canadian, exercise your democratic right and VOTE – other people are dying to.

‘Twas The Night Before Elections

From the pen of Michelle Mainwaring, comes this inspired ditty:

‘Twas the night before elections and all through the House, not a conservative was stirring, not even the louse.

The con signs were placed on the lawns with great care, in hopes that a majority soon would be theirs.

The pollsters were nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of Nanos all danced in their heads.

And Michael with his ‘passport’ and Jack with his ‘Cap’, had just settled in for the results from our map.

When out on the telly there arose such a clatter, I sprang off of facebook to see what was the matter.

Away to the t.v I flew like a flash, turned way up the volume and heard the news splash.

The news that came on that Osama was dead Gave the lustre of hope that they did have his head.

When what to my wondering mind should appear but a vision of Harper saying “Now let me be clear”.

I turned off the vision, I did that right quick, cause I won’t vote for Harper because he is a big ….!

Steve it’s time to Leave!

And I echo Michelle’s thoughts on last evening’s news, remembering all those who have lost their lives in the face of war and terrorism (in the U.S. but also Iraq and Afghanistan). Many thoughts and  prayers for the families they all left behind ~ May this federal election bring us new hope and less fear, new leadership and less war and good democracy for all ~ Amen

Leap In the Lake For Climate Action

I’ve been rather busy lately, and one of the reasons is that I’m helping to organize an event to focus some attention on the urgent need to address climate change, while there is still a window for action.  So, this Saturday at 11:00 a.m., a hardy group of souls, including me, will be jumping into our local lake and raising money  for a good cause – our local Emergency Shelter’s local food initiative – at the same time.

For those of you who don’t live in northern Ontario, this may not sound like a foolhardy thing to do at the end of April.  However, when we committed to doing this back in March the odds were not good that the ice would be gone on the lake, although the average ice break-up day has been trending earlier over recent decades.  Last year, the ice was gone on April 20th, but the average ice-free day is May 7th.  This year it’s been a cool spring, and the ice is still quite solid.  This is what the dock looked like on April 12:

Town docks, April 12.2011

If the weather had stayed spring-like, we would probably be jumping into open water.  However, that wasn’t the case.  This is what the lake looked like 8 days later:

Town docks. April 20th.2011

There’s actually less open water!

So today I have a dedicated crew (thanks Perry, Chris, and Jordan!) who are going to get out on the ice and cut us a hole to jump into.  Then on Saturday, a local scuba diver trained in ice diving is going to be on hand, along with the local gold mine’s ice rescue team, just in case there’s an unexpected problem (thanks Ed and Mo!).

We are also going to have some guest “Celebrity Leapers”.  Graham Saunders, a meteorologist and lecturer at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay as well as author of “Gardening in a Short Growing Season” is making the 7-hour drive up to Red Lake to participate in the Leap in Red Lake as well as the local Earth Festival that is happening on this weekend.  Graham, who is also the President of Environment North, has been a guest blogger on 350orbust in the past.  Also making the trip from Thunder Bay is Peter Rosenbluth, the Northern Connections Coordinator for Ontario Nature.

I extended the invitation to participate in this local event to each of the candidates running in the federal election – Greg Rickford is the incumbent CONServative MP, Roger Valley is the Liberal candidate, Tania Cameron is running for the NDP, and Mike Schwindt is the Green Party candidate.  I haven’t heard anything back from Rickford’s office, despite several emails.  Mr. Valley declined the invitation but is supposed to be sending a delegate from his campaign team.  Ms. Cameron’s campaign manager told me she had another commitment that day, although I see that on the Facebook event page she is now signed up as “attending”.  And Mike Schwindt, the courageous Green Party candidate, has been an enthusiastic supporter, and willing “leaper”, since he first heard about it.

So, wish us luck on Saturday!  And even more important, consider creative and fun ways to raise the issue of taking action on climate change in your community.  Together, we can do this!

Thanks to Dimitris, Marlene, Suzanne, Perry, Catherine, Kaaren, Eleanor, Kelly and Donna who have stepped up to the plate in an amazing way to help make this event happen.  As well, Miigweech to the Red Lake Indian Friendship Centre for offering their space, and hot chocolate, on Saturday morning.  And, of course, a big shout out to all the “Leapers” who are crazy enough – and committed enough – to take a leap for a really good cause!

On May 2nd, Vote For a Future For Your Grandchildren

From the Association of Suzuki Elders, these thoughts on the upcoming Canadian federal election:

Two benchmarks of a sustainable future for our grandchildren are careful management of Canada’s natural environment and its resources, and promotion of a low-carbon economy.

Let’s use the forthcoming federal election campaign to engage our candidates in meaningful discussion about the environment. Our grandchildren can’t elect their future, but we elders can.

Question to the candidates: “Please describe how you and your party’s policies will promote a sustainable future for my grandchildren. For example, what are your specific commitments to the following important issues?

  • A sustainable low-carbon economy that includes a national clean energy plan, financial support for renewable energy production and energy use efficiency, implementation of a revenue-neutral federal carbon tax, removal of all subsidies to coal, oil, gas and coal-bed methane industries, and support for rapid transit and new public transportation systems.
  • Sustained national action on climate change, including international agreements on technology transfer, financing and co-operation on emissions reductions and adaptation in developing countries in exchange for their agreement to limit emissions.
  • Ensuring Canada’s future as a food production and exporting country by establishing a national food and farmlands policy, restructuring of our agricultural markets to sustain farming, encouragement of family farms and ensuring that farm families receive a fair share of consumer income, and support for organic agriculture instead of subsidizing costly agro-chemicals and genetically modified crops.
  • Protection of our irreplaceable marine fish habitats by placing a permanent legislated moratorium on oil and gas exploration and development in ecologically sensitive areas such as the west coast of British Columbia and the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and by eliminating open-ocean net-pen aquaculture practices.

Remember those wise words from Albert Einstein when casting your ballot:

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

More links:

The Harper Government’s Record on Climate Change

Federal Election 2011: A Checklist For Clean Energy Success

Suzuki Elders

Rate The Harper Government On A Despotism Scale

Although this video was made for the last federal election, Stephen Harper and his government have proven themselves to be firmly on the “despotism” side of the political scale.  “The lower your community rates on economic distribution and information scales, the lower it is likely to rate on respect and power scales, and thus to approach despotism.”

“The establishment came down with a constitutional package which they put to a national referendum. The package included distinct society status for Quebec and some other changes, including some that would just horrify you, putting universal Medicare in our constitution, and feminist rights, and a whole bunch of other things.”
– Stephen Harper, then vice-president of the National Citizens Coalition, speaking at a June 1997 Montreal meeting of the Council for National Policy, a right-wing American think tank.


Not convinced yet?  Check out Harper: Redacted:


More links:

Stephen Harper ‘s Communications Strategy and Some Principles of Propaganda

An Open Letter to Canadian Journalists from the Canadian Association of Journalists

Science Writers Call For An End To Muzzling of Scientists By Canadian Government

The following is an open letter to the leaders of all the federal parties from the Canadian Science Writer’s Association expressing concern about the Harper Government’s policy of hampering information flow from taxpayer-funded scientists to the public and the media. In the past, the media would have unrestricted access to researchers working in government agencies. This is VERY disturbing to me, and most Canadians who are aware of it. It begs the question – is this Canada or North Korea?

Dear Misters Harper, Ignatieff, Layton, and Duceppe, and Ms May:

The Canadian Science Writers’ Association (CSWA) represents science journalists, communicators, publicists and authors—500 and growing. For almost a year now, the CSWA has pushed for changes in the government’s current communication policy to enable timely access to government scientists who have published studies and research in journals. We have documented numerous examples of instances where Canadian journalists have been denied access to government scientists doing research in areas of public interest. The problem is relatively new in Canada, although not unknown. It became critical with new rules and regulations instituted by the Harper government. The CSWA has attempted to work with high-level, senior public servants, those who act as champions of science, to restore journalists’ access to science experts in the federal government. We are frustrated by our lack of progress.

Every year, several billion dollars of tax-payers’ money is invested in made-in-Canada research—from genetically altered life forms, to promising forms of clean energy. We assert that the taxpaying Canadian public has a right to know about the science they pay for and what it can tell us about our health, safety, and the world in which we live. The findings and benefits of scientific and medical research should be available to all Canadians to enable engaged public policy awareness, debate and development.

All political parties repeatedly make promises to promote government openness and accountability. It is in this spirit that we ask you, our party leaders, to tell us and the public how you would guarantee freer channels of communication.

We want to know because the current Harper government’s restricted access to information impedes the public’s right to know about the research and studies it funds. We know that many reporters no longer try to get interviews from government experts because requests for interviews are so often stymied, there is an excessively long turn-around time on getting questions answered, and the now typical boilerplate responses are unsatisfactory. This means federal scientists who do the work miss out on the opportunity of getting some public feedback and the public doesn’t learn of the research being done in Canada.

Media requests that used to be handled by government researchers and communication staff across Canada now require an elaborate process of screening and approval in Ottawa that has been described publicly by one scientist as “Orwellian.”

By the time the “media lines” are approved—at considerable expense to taxpayers whose dollars are used to pay for these extra layers of message approval—the journalist’s deadline has usually long passed and the “lines” are never used.

Is communication staff now more compelled to block access to scientists and information than facilitate communication? As a 2010 document by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) put it, in response to an access to information request, the bureaucracy is now working to create a “zero surprise environment” for the Harper government.

The work of federal scientists is important, and it is often described as science done in the public good. These men and women monitor ozone depletion and air pollution. They work to ensure that drugs and medical supplies are safe. They assess which forms of Canadian energy are most promising, and which are most polluting.

We urge you to free the scientists to speak—be it about state of ice in the Arctic, dangers in the food supply, nanotechnology, salmon viruses, radiation monitoring, or how much the climate will change. Take off the muzzles and eliminate the script writers and allow scientists—they do have PhDs after all— to speak for themselves.

Let the federal scientists inform and enliven understanding. They are public servants, doing science for the Canadian public.

Sincerely, on behalf of the CSWA Board of Directors,

Kathryn O’Hara, President
Canadian Science Writers’ Association

Among recent examples of restricted access:

  • In January, 2011 the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) muzzled B.C.-based scientist Kristina Miller. Her research, suggesting viral infections may be compromising the health of salmon, was published in the journal Science on January 14. According to a media advisory sent by Science’s media office to hundreds of journalists around the world, Miller was available for interviews that could be arranged by DFO media officer Diane Lake. Journalists from such outlets as Time magazine and the Globe and Mail requested interviews with Miller. But in the end, DFO granted no interviews with Miller. When pressed for an explanation, DFO came up with the rather flimsy excuse that there might be a possible conflict of interest because Miller was to testify at the Cohen Commission into the collapse of salmon stocks in the Fraser River. Meanwhile, Miller’s co-author on the Science report, Scott Hinch at the University of British Columbia, had no problem being interviewed by journalists even though he too was to testify at the Cohen Commission.

A subsequent article in the Globe and Mail by journalist Mark Hume (March 27/2011) reported on the silencing of Miller, inspiring retired DFO scientist Alan Sinclair to write to Hume: “Your recent article reporting that DFO put a gag order on Dr. Kristi Miller’s research on disease in sockeye salmon is very disturbing. Unfortunately, this sort of thing is all too common in DFO and other Federal Ministries with large science components. I encourage you to follow up on this and make Canadians more aware of what’s going on.” But as Hume reported, “following up while Dr. Miller is kept away from the press won’t be easy. She isn’t due to testify before the Cohen Commission for several months. Until then, Canadians can only wonder what she discovered—and why she was silenced.”

  • February 17, 2011, the British journal Nature published a cover story on the human contribution to more-intense precipitation extremes by Seung-Ki Min, Xuebin Zhang, Francis W. Zwiers & Gabriele C. Hegerl. Though the lead author was Environment Canada (EC) researcher Min, it was Zwiers, formerly of Environment Canada and now at the University of Victoria, who participated in a telebriefing for journalists organized by Nature and did the bulk of the media interviews on this subject.
  • On April 5, 2011, the American Geophysical Union sent out an email alerting science journalists to newsworthy papers published in Geophysical Research Letters. Topping the list was a study by an Environment Canada team that concludes “dangerous” 2 degrees Celsius warming in the global temperature may be unavoidable by 2100. The study warned that “it is unlikely that warming can be limited to the 2 C target agreed to in the 2009 Copenhagen Accord” since immediate reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions are required. Several of the co-authors were in their offices and available to give interviews, but they told reporters that requests for interviews had to go through Environment Canada’s media office in Ottawa. Interviews were not granted. The story—minus any expert comment from EC—appeared in The Vancouver Sun.

Four of our members—who are among Canada’s most highly regarded science journalists—shared their personal experiences with our board and these are detailed below.

Margaret Munro, Postmedia science reporter, encountered difficulties when reporting on the U.N.’s supersensitive radiation monitors used to track emissions from the crippled Japanese nuclear plant. Four of the detectors are run by Health Canada (HC). Despite repeated requests, HC would not facilitate an interview with one of their radiation experts responsible for the Canadian detectors. “Meantime an Austrian team released data from the global network, including the stations in Canada,” she reports. The resulting stories can be found here and here.

Tom Spears, a reporter for the Ottawa Citizen and science blogger, recounts his experiences in an April 8 email: Last June, Natural Resources Canada refused to take any calls from reporters for close to five hours following the earthquake in Ottawa. It told its communications people they could confirm there had been an earthquake, but they were to say nothing else until the top brass got its message together.

“Sadly, the government now avoids telephone contact. You call in, you get a call centre. They ask ‘What’s the deadline?’ They ask for an email address, and always, always reply by email, so you can’t say things like “Why?” or “What does that mean?”

The Globe and Mail’s Andre Picard recounts similar experiences, for instance: “For a post-mortem story on H1N1, we asked how many people were vaccinated by province and territory. We were told that information couldn’t be released, that we had to get it from each individual province and territory. It was a federal program—the vaccine was paid for by Ottawa and distributed by Ottawa. And it’s a secret who actually received it?”

Veteran science writer Stephen Strauss echoes the frustration: “What we end up with is hoping that some scientist in the U.S. or Europe also worked on the project so we can ask them questions about what Canadian tax money spent on the research has accomplished. The result is sort of like Canadians trying to follow the Canadian election by only reading The New York Times or Le Monde.”

More links:

An Open Letter To the Leaders of Canada’s Political Parties

Who’s Muzzling Canadian Scientists?

Public Science.ca

Would You Like Engines With That?

The Harper government’s numbers on the F35 Fighter jets have been questioned by lot of people, including the parliamentary budget officer, Kevin Page.  Canada’s planned purchase of 65 fighter jets will cost billions more than government has projected, according to a report released in March by Mr. Page.  The watchdog’s report came a day after the Conservatives were reprimanded for refusing to release financial details of planned prison construction projects that the opposition also said will cost much more than the government maintains. It turns out, the Conservative’s numbers don’t include the price of engines!

Mr. Harper, it seems, is fonder of spending fighter jets with no engines and prisons despite a decreasing crime rate than providing Canadians with health care and looking after the environment.  That’s not my Canada – is it your’s?  Remember to vote for democracy on May 2nd (or in the advance poll tomorrow, April 25th) – fill out your ballot for the chance to win the Canada you want!

More links:

U.S. Defense Expert Says Jets Will Cost Double Tory and DND Estimates

Reality Check: Harper’s Five Biggest F-35 Fictions

Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer: Report on Cost of F-35 Fighter Jets

Astronauts Are People Who Boldly Do Things That Have Never Been Done Before – Stephen Harper Is An Evil Astronaut

The talented folks over at Sh*tHarperDid.com keep cranking out great videos that remind – or inform for the first time – Canadians of what Mr. Harper has been getting away with over the last five years.  This is their latest, Harper Is An Evil Astronaut:


Stephen Harper is the first Prime Minister to ever:

  • decorate the government lobby with photos of just himself, not other prime ministers

  • arrest more than 1000 Canadians all at once

  • be found in Contempt of Parliament – that means he has consistently broken the rules, and in doing so he violated the democratic rights of Canadians

On May 2nd, exercise YOUR democratic right – VOTE!

Anti-Conservative Media? So Says Stephen Harper, So He Doesn’t Have To Answer Their Questions

It seems there’s still enough Canadians pondering a vote for Stephen Harper on May 2nd to give us another minority Conservative government.  I do wonder where these folks have been over the  last five years as Mr. Harper has steadily eroded our proud democratic traditions.  Here’s George Stroumbolopoulos back in 2007 talking about Harper’s attitude towards the media, and the need for him to control them and their “pesky” questions:


Still not convinced Harper is unfit to govern (except perhaps in North Korea)?  Check out this article about the “Harper Portrait Gallery” in the government lobby in the House of Commons:

“When you walk in the door, all you see are pictures of Stephen Harper…”

“I’d say between every window, in every available space of the wall, at eye level, every available space has a photo of Stephen Harper.”

“You’ve got photos of Stephen Harper, but not of previous prime ministers,” she added. “Photos of Stephen Harper in different costumes, in different settings, dressed as a fireman, in Hudson Bay looking for polar bears, meeting the Dalai Lama, even the portrait of the Queen had to have Stephen Harper, but in a candid, behind her.”

More links:


Harper Gallery Leaves MPs Speechless: Citizens who want a national portrait gallery in Ottawa can rest easy. The government already has one.

Conservative Spin On Killing the Climate Bill: A New Source of Renewable Energy?

The Fallacy of Stephen Harper’s Good Economic Management

I’ve posted on this recently, but it bears repeating – Stephen Harper and his Finance Minister Jim Flaherty took Canada from a surplus position to a deficit even before the recession hit. For ideological reasons, Harper cut taxes so much that the surplus from the Martin government was gone, gone, gone before the Harper Cons been in power long.  And, despite consistently bragging about how Canada’s economy was a global leader, Harper used the excuse of poor economic times to freeze aid to some of the world’s most impoverished countries.

Thanks to Harper’s mismanagement of our economy, Canadians are now saddled with the largest deficit in Canadian history; clearly, Canada can’t afford much more of Harper’s economic brilliance!  Here is Mr. Harper in 2008 saying – repeatedly – “We will <NOT> be running a deficit.”


This graphic comes from Michael at Compelling Comics.com

More links:

Sachs Slams Harper G8 Maternal Health Care Plan, Criticizes Planned Aid Freeze

Canada Records Biggest Deficit in History

Which Canada Will You Vote For?

An Open Letter To Stephen Harper