Archive | July, 2012

Ontario’s fractured student movement: the wheat from the scabs

30 Jul

The other day I wrote this for the Huffington Post blog I write from time to time: [LINK TO ARTICLE]

I conclude that becoming a candidate for the PQ was probably the best (and most predictable) decision made by Léo Blouin-Bureau, former president of the FECQ.

I’ve watched many people move into politics from the student realm. Zach Churchill out in Nova Scotia is probably my favourite. He was the national director of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (created in 1995 by the Liberal Party) and ended up getting elected as a *wait for it* Liberal. We’ve lost contact but I assume he’s doing well.

While writing the piece, I was thinking a lot of people who use their position for political gain. To explain this properly, it must be said that the student movement in Québec is really, really different than in Ontario. CFS-Ontario is like FEUQ, FECQ and CLASSE all combined in one, kind of. The Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance is like that woman from Montreal who was the lone Liberal voice at the start of the strikes most famous for “debating” Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois on Tout le monde en parle. The College Student Alliance is like…. ….   I don’t know. They just don’t exist here.

All student organizations in Québec grew from students directly. There’s been ebbs and flows. FEUQ and FECQ have leaned toward the PQ for most of the years I was involved. ASSE grew from a rejection to this politic and evolved into the impressive CLASSE. This must be stressed: they grew from within their own members: students. So, no matter what kind of leadership they produce, the tactics they choose and their successes were at least at the hands of autonomous student organizing.

Not the case in Ontario.

The Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance is a training ground for eventual Liberal staffers. Just this past year, their Executive Director and Communications guys landed jobs in the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (you know, the cerebral cortex of the absolute worst PSE policy Ontario’s had since since they were all private universities). OUSA has been pretty consistent in delivering their cream to the Liberals and pushing the dirty, grey milk into the ether.

The College Student Alliance is the farm team of Colleges Ontario. Their past (or second past?) Director of Advocacy actually works in Communications in the Premier’s office and I’m sure nodded enthusiastically in favour of the ridiculous branding of the 30% off campaign lie.

Both organizations serve the following functions:
Support government policy
Promote government policy to the small network of local representatives
Justify these policies
Lightly criticize when it’s not going to hurt anyone
Advocate for exactly what the government is planning to do.
Claim victory when it comes to pass
Discredit students who disagree with government policy

There’s lots of examples of each of these online, so google away if you’re curious. Or ask me about any of them…I can dedicate a whole post to each one.

Neither of these organizations are autonomous from the masters they serve. An Alumni Council (a good chunk of whom are current Liberal staffers) at OUSA green lights future plans and staff aren’t allowed to stay long enough to have any real influence (2 years is the max someone can serve as Executive Director). As for CSA, I’ve seen the president of Colleges Ontario whisper into the ear of the CSA rep and then him attempt to relay her message. This was in a government consultation. (He didn’t get what she wanted said correct, so she cut him off and explained).

So, when these folks go on to their government positions, I think back to every single time that I witnessed them in government meetings, behind closed doors, sell out their members and my stomach churned.

This brings me back to Blouin-Bureau and my somewhat charitable take on his candidacy. Maybe Ontario has jaded the hell out of me and anything less shitty than we experienced (and experience) doesn’t seem as bad. But really, it isn’t. Even when FECQ’s leadership was ready to accept modest fee hikes, their members rejected them and the strike continued.

Hell, the existence of a no negotiation pact if other groups weren’t around the table is the height of solidarity.

Imagining OUSA or the CSA anywhere near a picket line, without being the folks who try to protect administrators as they cross it, is ludicrous.

This is really important.

These two shell organizations are the key to why Ontario’s student movement is so weak. Administrators know this. The Liberal Party knows this. It’s in their interest to prop them up as high as they can. And unless students at those member schools start demanding to know certain things (like, how the hell can a so-called student organization support tuition fee increases??), students will continue to lose.

Just ask the students’ union at the Thames Campus of St. Clair College. Theirs has been a quiet battleground on which this exact war has been waged…

The complicated politics of resource extraction

25 Jul

I flew home the other night from Saskatoon. I had just spent 7 days in Sasktaoon, 6 days at Otter Lake (about an hour north of La Ronge, 6 hours north of Saskatoon), and 2 days at Ness Creek, near Big River, at a music festival. All three areas feature the diverse landscapes of the province, with rivers cutting through grasslands, Boreal forest along the Canadian Shield and other sights that I could explain here, or you could just go and see for yourself.

While I was at Otter Lake, I spent a lot of time gazing at everything around me: from the roots, rocks, mosses and lichens to trees, lakes, sky, bugs etc., the entire place was alive. I didn’t spend much time thinking of what was below my feet but it’s likely that, if extracted, mixed with seriously toxic shit, boiled, cooled, boiled again, put into a magic hat and spit upon, it could make some asshole really rich.

On my flight, I met a guy who was flying home to New Brunswick. He was a worker at a uranium mine very close to where I was staying at Otter Lake. He works 20 days straight, 12 hours a day for ~$120K. Then, he’s flown home for 10 days with his family.

As we were talking, the guy in the seat ahead stuck his head around. He was from NB too. Jealous of a 10 day break as he was returning in 8.

It occurred to me that most of the men on my flight were on the same schedule, doing the same trip.

In this context, the Air Canada labour negotiations this past year made total sense: flying in thousands of workers to Saskatchewan and Alberta from economically depressed regions of Canada must be a huge chunk of their business. If government is in the pockets of the resource extraction industry, they have an interest to prevent Air Canada workers from striking.

So, wildcat strikes will become even more important. They’ll be a means to kick not only management, but also profiteering land pirates in the junk.

But I’m jumping around. What about an industry that steals from the land, destroys forest, land, water, eco-systems and traditional ways of life, fueled by willing workers who will leave their homes for a six-figure pay cheque? What does the reliance on out-of-province workers mean for the sustainability of these industries?

As unemployment climbs and as the middle class falls into the lower class, Canadians are going to be more willing to take on these jobs and generate profits for major multinationals. Government  should be protecting Canadians from such exploitation, but instead, our current lot of clowns would likely rather see Canadians continue to slide economically. More workers, lured by the promise of less wages to work five or six provinces over from where their families reside.

It’s really sick. And, in absence of a social solidarity that would make taking a job like this an impossibility, it’s only going to get worse.

I have no solution to this issue. Hell, I’ve barely articulated it in a way that makes as much sense as I set out to do. So I’ve written a song about this that I’ll put out there once recorded. Which, because of my current unemployment, I’ll post later.

Or, hell. Maybe I should get a job out in Northern Saskatchewan…I love it there. Free trip? OK Work? Six figures? Damn.


Honour the Treaties and do your homework

10 Jul

This week and next, I’m in Saskatchewan for the second intensive summer of three for my MEd in Critical Eco Justice.

Sometimes I feel like I can write pages about my experiences here, and sometimes there’s nothing to say. Chrystalizing it all into explaining how intense and amazing the time I spend here has been seems futile: nothing I write is good enough for what I want to say. But I’m going to try anyway.

Today, my class did a Sweat. Lead by an Elder in the Dakota tradition, a dozen of us entered the Sweatlodge as many times as we could handle it. We prayed. Some of for the first time, others not.

The Crown, governments and corporations have tried very, very hard to eliminate First Nations culture, traditions, languages and ways of life. They tried to erase entire peoples through a centuries-long project of genocide.

The brave men and women who maintained these and taught these traditions have helped ensure that the knowledge and way of life that grew out of the Land have not been eliminated. Instead, in many places in Canada, they thrive.

Of course, traditions that grew from thousands of years of living on the Land that Canada occupies can (and should) teach us about this Land: how to treat it, how to live in a good way, etc. I say “of course” because it should be obvious. But, it’s still actively suppressed.

Rather than these traditions, ceremonies and understandings being mainstream, they’re pushed to the fringe and still sometimes demonized and ridiculed.

Learn these traditions in any way you can.

With environmental destruction that’s likely to kills us all, hairbrained schemes like the Ring of Fire, the Plan Nord and the Tar Sands that will make some dudes quite rich and kill/injure/poison thousands of people, animals etc., isn’t it clear that we don’t know how to live with and among this Land any longer? Isn’t is the most obvious thing since the existence of sexism that they (the privileged who dominate halls of power) have no fucking idea whatsoever about how to run a country without killing off the poor, oppressed, marginalized? Or, isn’t it clear that this project is ongoing?

To those of us who are settlers and who are not the privileged few who run this place, I beg you: do your homework into the cultures and traditions of where you live that predate those WASPy names you’ve probably memorized.

The Treaties that remain in force that have allowed settler-descended Canadians the lives we’re living now (yeah the docks/beer/long weekends/shit-pay at mind-numbing jobs/sports etc. all thanks to the Treaties) Settler-Canadians got a lot out of the Treaties that were signed, but we have a side of a bargain to uphold. Unfortunately, our representatives in Ottawa aren’t the most unracist folks out there and we’ve sucked at upholding our side of the agreements. 

The Treaties allowed many Canadians to live their lives without fear of violence, after fleeing it from home.

So, if you needed another issue to pile onto your inbox of things to do to unfuck this world, I think you should add this: research, read, meet, understand and know about the history of this land. Balance your reading by hearing from people who lived it, who didn’t go to university, who you may or may not be related to.

If our representatives won’t do it, we must force change in other ways.

Place decolonization at the centre of work that you do, regardless of what that work is. All people who care about the Land must resist “progress” that is supported by Stephen Harper and any other neo-con-man out there in the most accessible, public and powerful ways we can imagine.

How will you do it?

Why is this happening?

9 Jul

The neighbours are paying shmultzy Christmas music and slow dancing in the backyard next to my temp house in Saskatoon. Why. why . why what why.

Beware the wind. She’s dangerous.

5 Jul

One of the hard things about looking (or sounding) intelligent is choosing the right thing to write about. I was once told by a journalism prof that choosing a topic is the most important and difficult aspect of column writing.

Tomorrow, I head to Saskatoon for two weeks. Part of the trip is a 7-day canoe voyage along the N. Churchill River. It’s possible that I will die and this may be the last thing of substance I’ll ever write.

[Probably not though, I don’t think the University of Saskatchewan is allowing courses where students die. Beside giving an honourary degree to a well-known Anti-Semite or White Supremacist, dead students are, like, the worst for PR.]

So, despite the fact that someone just sent me a video of a scab student “alliance” offering their scab version of the future (which is IDENTICAL TO WHAT THE GOVERNMENT HAD ALREADY ANNOUNCED), that I’d gleefully like to tear to shreds, second by second, I’m choosing another topic.

There’s been a lot of talk of the Enbridge Northern Pipeline, Tar Sands, tearing out swaths of the United States to fuel the West’s demands for oil by installing pipes, and so on. Once in awhile, you’ll read something about wind power. Almost never are these two items linked, though.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how wind power causes retinal bleeding, hallucinations, and so on. It makes sense that people would oppose wind power. Ever been out in a wind storm and been smoked in the face by a giant, flying pole? I rest my case.

This brainiac is one of the leaders of the anti-wind people in Ontario. Click on that link. Not one of the articles posted actually explains how wind energy is going to kill us all, but somehow, he had an audience during the Ontario election.

Well, idiocy is contagious and, it caught on well enough to, as the Toronto Star claims, cost the Liberals some rural seats (despite the fact that thousands of Ontarians probably voted against McGuinty for the reasons I did: because it was the only decent option).

Just because I believe that all thinking citizens have the duty to fight against those who don’t think, here’s a helpful list I’ve amassed. It’s about as scientific as this debate should get.

Blades flying off, slicing off your head or the heads of your livestock.
Wind is so strong that windmill accidentally tears open a vortex, sucking your eyes out of your head or the heads of your livestock.
Child loses kite in windmill blades.
Bets are lots about how windy a particular day will be, judged by the speed of the blades.
Your country turns into a social democracy where the left and the right balance themselves out in extremes and you accidentally produce Geert Wilders’ doppleganger (also known as the Dutch Disease).

Carbon dioxide from production and destruction of forests will continue to aid climate chaos, crop failures become more common.
Half of the entire province of Alberta will look worse than Sudbury in years’ past.
Explosions. Lots of explosions.
Mass and forced displacement of millions of people.
Once oil dries up, civil and global wars will erupt. Millions have died, millions more will die.
It makes the most feasible, economic sense to annex Canada to the US.

Choke on your supper.
Get hit by a car and die.
Sneeze while walking down the street, accidentally walk into a sink hole and die.
Spend your entire life searching for meaning, acceptance and love, and fail.
Someone might punch you in the face at the supermarket (especially if you’re an anti-wind advocate).
You’ve already been exposed to the agent that will cause long-term, chronic health complications leading to your death and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.
You might accidentally flush a toilet on a plane and forget to stand up, landing you with a potentially debilitating ass hickey.

Now that I’ve put this into perspective, I want you to imagine how on earth we could have come to a place where people are arguing that WIND POWER (honest to god….WIND POWER) is too dangerous to develop.

It’s as if a bunch of oil tycoons, sitting around a massive gold-gilded table where brainstorming how stupid the average person is. After all the cocaine had been consumed, you can imagine one of them saying, “let’s just get a campaign going to convince people to fear wind.” [laughter] “If we did that, I’m sure the average person would put up with wars, death, plagues, environmental destruction as long as their back yard didn’t get a windmill in it” [laugher] “OK, make it happen.”

But it’s important to remember that if enough people believe something, it becomes true. Recall this decision of the Liberals in a bid to save their local seat. Yup, the residents of a location who are under constant threat of death if ever the Pickering nuclear plant melts down, “won” a victory to stop offshore wind turbines.

It won’t be appropriate to laugh when NO ONE DIES from wind power, so I’ll just leave it there.

(Can I get a Pulitzer for writing this sans the word fuck or its many derivatives?)


3 Jul

Back in April, Québec Premier Jean Charest announced $21 million for college/university grants and loans. After several months of a student strike, that was apparently the most Charest could find.

All in, CLASSE argues that of the $85 million dedicated to grants and loans, just $26.6 million in new money will reach students to offset the proposed tuition fee hike.

Students who argue for craaaazzzyyyyy ideas like lower or free tuition fees are often confronted with the question “where’s the money coming from.” While the answer to this question is usually pretty straightforward (um, from anything that’s stupid and wasteful like….corporate bailouts/Pan AM Games/G20/some account related to the celebration of the Queen/her son/his sons etc), in Québec, the argument just became really easy.

On Friday, Charest announced a boost to the asbestos industry. A large boost. A boost to the ratio of 2:1 for asbestos over students.

$58 million to be exact.

First off, anyone who passed Grade 7 and saw this shot of the winning asbestos mine, who doesn’t invest the millions into a modern version of the Globe theatre is a down-right plebe.

Secondly, if all it takes for the millions to roll out is for a town to be named after an industry, Université Laval should immediately name itself it Institute of Higher Learning Laval. But anyway.

Maybe Charest is on to something. Sure, the residents of Asbestos Québec are drooling, but does it really make economic sense to pour $58 million into 435 jobs and some local honour? Why not spend it on students?


$58M could give free university education to 23,025 students. Instead it’s paying for 435 jobs, hoping for 1000 spin off jobs and maybe enough votes for Asbestosers to vote Liberal in the next election.

Let’s look at this more logically.

After the $58 million investment…

ASBESTOS–1 year: 435 happy miners are working away like crazy. They’re thrilled to be employed. Their kids are thrilled to be in a middle class family.
UNIVERSITY–1 year: Thanks to a full scholarship, 23,025 happy students are studying full time. No economic benefit to their communities as they’ve saved enough money to avoid jobs during the school year. Instead, probably being loud on Friday nights in the streets.

ASBESTOS–4 years: ~370 happy miners are working even harder. Some have quit, some have died in unfortunate accidents, some are injured. But, the mine is pumping away. The town voted Liberal.
UNIVERSITY–4 years: just 1000 students found employment right out of graduation. 10,000 are working part-time or contract work not earning enough to contribute to the economy. 10,000 have gone on to a higher tier of education to better their job prospects, 3,025 have left Québec for Europe or similarly exciting life escapes. Each cohort has spent too much time listening to Democracy Now! and reading Marx. Those remaining in Québec are split between supporting Québec Solidaire and anarcho-syndacalism. A third of those fully employed support the Parti Libéral du Québec.

ASBESTOS–10 years: ~200 happy miners. Their kids are nearly grown up. Some can afford CEGEP! Jobs are starting to dry up as countries are slowing their demand for asbestos due to lawsuits. 30 or so are experiencing respiratory illnesses. Global asbestos deaths have surpassed 1,070,000 people.
UNIVERSITY–10 years: nearly all 23,025 students are or have been married. Most of their loveless marriages have fallen apart, with a few heart-warming exceptions. Not enough have children to buoy Québec’s birthrate. Some have created new industries but who the hell cares, they’re socialists.

ASBESTOS–30 years: all originally employed workers have died. The industry has contributed to nearly 50 million deaths world wide due to a surge in asbestos-related deaths, predicted in 2011.
UNIVERSITY– 30 years: ~20,000 of the original students are still living and working. None are voting Liberal because of how they treated youth when they were young. Charest spins in his grave.
I’ve talked myself into understanding the logic behind this decision. I hope you see it too.

You can’t fault Charest for doing what Conservatives and Liberals do best: self-preservation, sucking up to industry, not giving two shits about the future, spending accordingly.

For Canada Day

1 Jul

There are too many reasons to count to not celebrate Canada Day. But, there’s a good reason to celebrate too: long weekend in the summer. If the Ontario government was smart, they’d start laying on long weekends, celebrating other vacant points in Ontario’s collective past. People would for sure celebrate Banting Day, Bill Davis Day or McGuinty Fun-Day if it meant more time at the cottage.

Leisure time is really, really important. Why not use it to forward a myth-making day of festivities? People will forget about the HST if they’re on a dock in Parry Sound. They will.

But I digress.

Today, the Globe and Mail published Drew Hayden Taylor’s epic smack-down of an opinion piece. White people, here’s your one-time Canada Day special: Native people apologize back!

Piling all these issues into one opinion piece reminds me how little, good coverage exists in the mainstream press about/by/for, as Taylor says it, NAFNIP (native/aboriginal/first nations/indigenous people). It’s awesome that the Globe published this today, but it does not absolve it’s editors from actually covering NAFNIP stories, issues struggles etc. properly every other day of the year.

Enjoy the long weekend. Remember kids, pass out on your backs tonight.