Archive | February, 2013

Canada and Israel: our shared apartheid histories

22 Feb

One of the most effective graphic representations of Palestine is the map that demonstrates the changing of its borders as Israel has expanded itself over many decades. You know the one. It’s a reminder that most often, a slow, decades-long war of attrition can be the most destructive to a people than a war in the sense that many of us would imagine first.

When rendered in this way, Canada’s map looks strikingly similar to the link above. Through its own genocidal policies, war of attrition and slow-paced though violent land grab, Canada stands as a map for what Israel is doing currently. It’s hard to imagine how their construction of illegal settlements is any different than the settlement policies of Canada during the 1800s to fill Turtle Island with Ango-Saxons. That’s how my family came to Canada.

Unfortunately, Canada’s too big for the image to be as easy for me to render (especially since my design skills aren’t so good). But I offer the image below as a starting point for others to use and change.

The past week, the Canadian Press reported that 3000 kids can be confirmed as having died at Residential School. Considering the fact that many schools’ designs included cemeteries in their plans, I’m sure we should assume that number to be much higher. But regardless, when I think back to my elementary school, and how not only did we not have a cemetery on our grounds, but that none of the kids in my school died while I was there, one kid’s death is too many.

3000 confirmed by the state; some of the manifestation of genocide.

Apartheid

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11 clues that the PCs’ 11 Paths to Prosperity is a joke

14 Feb
Image

Commentary on their own satirical policy document, through tableau (Toronto Star)

While I’m not sure others did, I totally got the joke.

I saw people responding to the Progressive Conservatives’ White Paper on higher education and thought, “Boy, they’re going to be embarrassed when they realize that this is a joke.”

As the party panders to elitists, there are many clues dropped into the paper that can be hard to spot for your average Joe Blow journalist. Most Ontarians may think that Hudak’s proposal should be taken seriously.

Luckily, I’m no Joe Blow. I spent a solid six minutes identifying these clues so that you don’t have to sound like an idiot the next time you mention this plan to your local PC MPP at the Victoria Day Long-Weekend Fair. (In Georgetown, that event was called the Bang-o-rama. No one wants to look like a moron in front of Ted Chudleigh at the Bang-o-rama).

The paper, called Paths to Prosperity offers eleven paths that would drastically change how university and college education is delivered. Clue number 1 that this is a joke? One cannot take eleven paths at the same time.

Obviously penned by a staff writer at The Onion, Paths to Prosperity contains 10 other references that indicate that none of the document should be taken seriously. For example, it hilariously refers to private careers colleges as, “one of our most efficient paths to employment” (clue number 2: no they aren’t, though they are a path to lots of student debt).

The 24-page document starts off with a letter from Hudak that says, “[PSE] gives us all a chance to reach higher….” This is clue number 3: Reaching Higher has been the name given to the Liberal’s higher education policies since 2006. Had this not been written in jest, surely the pale and awkward fellow writing on Hudak’s behalf at PC HQ would have been caned by now.

Clue number 4 is that the Globe and Mail quoted the CEO of Colleges Ontario as having “lauded” the recommendation. Despite all other sectoral stakeholders agreeing that allowing colleges to slap the label “degree” on their diplomas is a stupid idea, CO’s unfettered support for anything that leads them closer to the rank of “real” administrator (like the president of Algoma University), is a clue that this document cannot be serious.

The PCs also include a graph that they cite from the Drummond Report, which Drummond cites as being from the Ontario Undergrad Student Alliance (OUSA). It represents the percentage change of several university costs over five years, in a pie graph. This is clue 5. Remember when you were young and you learned about graphs and you wanted to make everything into a pie graph even if there was no 100% total for the pie to be whole? Well, OUSA got all Grade 3 on us and made a graph that expresses several years of inflationary changes as 100% of something, then divides the pie to demonstrate that (shockingly!) professors’ salaries have been the largest point of growth. Maybe its because there has been more professors hired to handle the tens of thousands of new students in the system. Maybe its because professors get wages that have been agreed to by administrators through collective bargaining. Either way, a pie isn’t the way for an adult to represent this data. The authors must have snuck it in because it would be hilarious. Which it is.

Clue 6 is that they entirely neglected to talk about research, the core of the academic mission of all universities and, increasingly, colleges. That would be like presenting six streams to improve dairy farming in Ontario and forgetting to mention cattle feed or pasteurization. Or like analyzing this paper and pretending that it’s real.

Crazier than that, clue 7, is that they actually argue that many universities should stop doing research. You know, become more like colleges. Which makes sense in the context of clue 8, the promise to allow high school students to earn college credits from their high school credits.

With high school the new college and college the new university, we’re left to assume that in Hudak’s world, marriage is the new dating and retirement home flings are the new marriage. And then we die at 130 years old.

You probably didn’t read that far into the document, as it’s really hard to get through, but by this point, the joke is obvious.

For the few who are still reading, and who may still take this piece of satire for reality, the PCs envelop our critical faculties in the end with a black hole devoid of intellectual matter.

Their big idea is to tie student loans to the academic success of students. So, if you get As, you get more loans. If you fail, you’re out of loans. This would create a world-class system where the dumbest rich kids and the smartest poor kids could hopefully study together, breed together and cancel out the politically worst elements of society for the Progressive Conservative Party. Actually, while this is clue 9, it’s the only point that actually makes sense. A possible Freudian slip from the PC satirist author.

The penultimate clue, 10, is that they argue for elite education to cost more and regulated by out-of-touch, non-elected, unaccountable university Boards of Governors rather than government. This will mean a whole lot more rich kids will become lawyers, regardless of their thinking capacities, and a whole lot more poor kids will go to college, study online or not go to school at all.

If you were looking for the ultimate social experiment when income segmentation is intensified, the PCs got you.

Unlike Shakespeare, who littered his plays comic relief to save us from the depressing worlds of Macbeth and King Lear, the PCs have pulled a full-on SNL with Pathways to Prosperity, even down to the fact that the document runs a little long and the joke becomes tired before the end of the sketch.

Unfortunately, there will be people who don’t think this is farce. There will be people who claim to believe that these proposals would improve higher education, like Linda Franklin at Colleges Ontario, whose job is to parrot the megalomaniacal intentions of the Senecas of the world to become the Yorks of the world, at all costs to the quality they deliver.

If these recommendations were serious, they would not only not improve any aspect of the higher education system. Like Glen Murray’s hair-brained scheme “three cubed,” this White Paper would effectively block middle-income youth from universities, low-income youth from anything and give rich kids more of a free pass than they currently have.

But, it has to be satire. No one in their right mind would call a policy paper with implications such as these, a “White” paper in a non-ironic way (clue 11).

Survey says: The ONDP is out of ideas

8 Feb
Screen shot 2013-02-08 at 2.01.56 PM

It’s surprisingly hard to find photos of Horwath speaking at rallies.

What is up with the Ontario NDP?

During the last election, rather than offering Ontarians a vision for the province that was a real alternative to the austerity policies of the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives, the NDP promised every Ontarian relief from the HST on their home heating bills.

The chorus around hydro was so loud that it drowned out other, moderately more progressive, though equally boring policies. The sum total was an election where I held my nose and encouraged myself to not vote for the Northern Ontario Heritage Party candidate running in my Toronto riding.

(I didn’t know that party existed, though I figured the word “heritage” was a code word for “racist” as it sometimes is in Canada.)

I bring up the last Ontario election because that was the last time the NDP’s policies directly affected me, as an Ontarian. Aside from their disappointing budget negotiations last spring where they could have maybe saved the ONTC, the election was the last time the NDP had the chance to impress me as a potential voter. Then I left Ontario for Québec.

Despite the neoliberal policies of the Parti Québécois, they make the Ontario NDP look like the Progressive Conservatives. With a vision of Québec that is slightly less neoliberal than the Liberal party’s, the Ontario NDP could learn a lot from the PQ’s social democratic approach.

The key to their success is producing (and implementing) a platform that more or less resembles what they believe Québecers want: an end to corruption in politics, a moratorium on fracking, banning asbestos mining, a tuition fee freeze (the NDP promised that in the 2011 election), 15,000 new public childcare spaces and increasing taxes on top income earners.

With a particular ideology, the PQ has offered a program that they have used to entice Québecers to support them.

For some reason, the NDP has instead relied on the use of online surveys to determine their political priorities. It was this survey approach that some NDP activists used to justify their weak policies during the 2011 election. During the election, Ontarians apparently “had their say” to make HST off home heating the big issue of the election for the NDP.

And they’re trying it again.

This past fall, the NDP should have jumped on McGuinty’s prorogued government and turned it into a rallying point. They should have staged protests across the province, pretended to govern anyway, issued daily press releases with the issue that the NDP caucus would be highlighting each day, invited Liberal and PC MPPs to join them in their mock government, flooded radio phone-in shows with stories about their dedication to democracy, rejuvenated the campaign for electoral reform or basically anything else that was something.

Instead, there wasn’t a whole lot. The teachers’ negotiations dominated the headlines and the NDP was almost completely absent from the debate.

And when the OFL impressively mobilized nearly 30,000 people out front of the Liberal Convention, in many ways the culmination of the battle waged by the teachers, Andrea Horwath wasn’t among the speakers. Was this labour’s fault? The NDP’s? I don’t know. But if I were running the NDP, I’d have every single NDP MPP, staffer and activist all over that rally as if it were lifeboats being dropped off the side of the titanic, whatever it took.

Now, faced with a leader who may actually appear more progressive than Horwath at the Liberal Party, the NDP has returned to their favoured form of policy development: another survey.

You can tell Andrea your priorities because, apparently, she’s run out of her own.

In the fight against the Liberals, here’s what is supposed to inspire Ontarians:

  • End corporate tax loopholes (this is just related to the HST)
  • On-the-job training for youth
  • Opening doors-to-employment
  • 15% cut to auto insurance rates
  • 5 day home care guarantee for seniors
  • Balanced approach to balancing the budget

This is supposed to differentiate them from the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives. This is supposed to be inspiring.

If the NDP is going to start convincing Ontarians to vote for progressive policies, rather than just picking up the scraps left behind by even less impressive Liberal and PC parties, they’re going to have to do better.

Why not promise to do something actually progressive? Why not demonstrate to Ontarians why the left exists and that it’s capable enough to fight for a more just and equitable world? Why pretend that on-the-job training for youth (more unpaid internships??) will do anything to help a generation of young people who are drowning in debt and cobbling together shitty contract with shitty contract to get by?

If it’s crowdsourcing that the NDP has opened itself up to in this process, then, fine. Here’s a list that can be crowdsourced.

  • Immediately instate $5/day publicly subsidized childcare
  • Create a Green Ontario plan that would halt mining on traditional Indigenous territory, increase rail connections, reinvest in the ONTC, invest in alternative energy sources and phase out nuclear power.
  • Reverse McGuinty’s tuition fee increases (a reduction of up to 71%).
  • Create a new tax bracket for people making more than $150,000
  • Launch a corruption probe into the affairs of the Liberal Party to investigate ORNGE, E-Health and the Mississauga gas plan closure.

I really want Ontarians to have a progressive, uniting force that can take down neoliberal politicians and I’m not naïve: the NDP isn’t supposed to be this force. But in its desperate reach for populism while still occupying space on the “left” it prohibits any other opportunities for activists to build an alternative to the party.

Instead, progressives are expected to lobby the NDP the way they would lobby the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives, through meetings and online surveys.

It’s no wonder the party seems to be struggling to reach people. By and large, its relationship with the left is somewhere between damaged and non-existent.

In Québec, the Parti Québecois’ brand of populism and social democratic rule wasn’t good enough for the left. The result has been the creation of Québec solidaire, born out of social movement organizations.

Ontario isn’t Québec but progressives from both regions should learn from each other: either the NDP must be turned into a fighting, progressive force, or it can’t continue to be the only party on the “left.”

Because unfortunately, the status quo is letting austerity win.

Photo taken from: http://niagaraatlarge.com/2011/01/03/head-north-young-doctors-%E2%80%A6-far-away-from-fort-erie/

The neoliberal attacks on Québec higher education

4 Feb
Screen shot 2013-01-03 at 12.40.09 PM

The president of Université Laval has actually started his own campaign against the PQ’s cuts. It says: I SUPPORT the position taken by the president in the face of under-funding of Québec universities.

For a post-secondary education junkie like me, my move to Québec couldn’t have been better timed.

I left Ontario in June, amid inane ramblings emanating from the cerebral cortex of Glen Murray. His planned changes to Ontario’s higher education sector were outlined in the leaked document, 3 Cubed, that had been widely panned in the winter of 2012. Not one to give up after a failure, Murray repackaged his scheme and tried to shop it around again in the summer. This rollercoaster ride was giving me ulcers. Imagining Murray actually implementing his changes and further destroying Ontario’s higher education system made me want to throw my computer out of the window of my ninth floor office building and accidentally use such force that it would land on top of a bunch of dinosaur bones at the ROM, across the street. (With a good wind, maybe possible).

Luckily, Murray’s ambitions were stronger than the belief in his convictions (like all great politicians) and he jumped ship as Minister to (hilariously) run for the leader of the Liberal party.

Since October, with the elementary and secondary teachers in the crosshairs of Dalton McGuinty, all has been quiet on the post-secondary education front in Ontario.

But not so for here. Québec politics has picked up the slack where Ontario left off.

After last year’s mega doses of awesome, the combination of an election and the acceleration of semesters to catch students up who were on strike had the double effect of slowing down the student movement. Marois repealed Law 12 (Law 78) and replaced the tuition fee hike with an increase tied to inflation. For the students, both policies represented tangible and immediate victories of the work from the previous months.

The PQ is a party that is both populist and neoliberal. It bowed to the students demands not because its a party that fundamentally believes that higher education should not be bought and sold, but because the student movement made it possible for them to get elected. It was therefore impossible to immediately ignore their demands.

Once the new government settled down, though, the PQ implemented five per cent cuts, across the board, to university budgets.

With the victory of the student movement fresh in everyone’s minds, the argument flowed that the cuts were necessary to make up for lost revenue in with the tuition fee increase. While not true, the argument can be made to seem logical, and therefore, convincing. And, with university presidents and many faculty having opposed the student strike, this policy preys on divisions that already exist within the sector and weaken the bargaining position of the sector as a whole.

Higher education in all provinces is underfunded and Québec is no exception. Though nowhere near as underfunded as many university presidents claim, the intentional further underfunding by the PQ is a regressive move. Here lies the break from populism to neoliberalism: get elected, implement regressive cuts.

They didn’t stop there, though. They also cut the lifeblood of university research, FQRNT, by a whopping 30 per cent, after the applications for 2013 had already been submitted. This will fundamentally and abruptly alter research this year: professors will be expected to do just as much with less, fewer graduate students will be hired and competition will become more fierce among a group of people already competing for scare resources.

This, all while they host a summit on education to consult on the future of higher education in Québec. Similar to the Dog-and-Pony-Show of Bob Rae in Ontario in 2005, the PQ has let it be known that they prefer the current policy of tuition fees tied to inflation before the summit has finished its work.

So on the higher education continuum, so far, we have the Liberals trying to emulate the worst of Ontario’s policies and gut the best of Québec’s, which delivered them a shitkicking at the polls. Slightly to the left of them is the PQ who has basically tricked the electorate into believing they’re the “progressive” choice of the lot.

With Québec solidaire the only party with the clearest and most progressive policy out there (free education at all stages of life), they occupy the left.

This leaves the CAQ who, of course, devises a plan that is even more schemey than had been proposed by the Liberals. They argue at the summit that Québec should create two tiers of universities: one elite and one common.

The elite schools will be able to set their tuition fees at any rate and grants and loans will fill in the gaps to ensure that McGill doesn’t become overrun with rich Americans and Ontarians.

Of course, the only way that the state could actually do this is to significantly reduce the public funding offered to these schools. In Ontario, this idea floats around the tables of the Council of Ontario Universities too. Led by U of T president David Naylor, he argues for the creation of a funding model that would all U of T (and a few other schools) to deregulate their tuition fees, charge what the market can bear and become truly prestigious.

Unsurprisingly, the presidents of the the Brocks and Nipissings of the world tend to oppose these recommendations.

While Ontario is much closer to Québec in fulfilling this reality, both provinces would substantially damage their systems if they created a two-tiered system. (It’s unclear if the CAQ is ideologically in favour of creating such an elite system, or if they showed up late on the day that right-wing policies were being handed out and they were given a shitty one.)

Either way, I suspect that the CAQ’s dream of an elite Université Laval is about as likely as their likelihood of forming a majority government.

This is good news, but it doesn’t mean that the CAQ should be ignored.

In a minority government situation, there is a high possibility for the proposal of strange, regressive policies to be developed, voted on and passed.

This is why the students’ and faculty responses will be so important.

Why should the labour movement support Idle No More?

1 Feb
As seen on the side of a building in Québec City

As seen on the side of a building in Québec City

Idle No More has emerged to be the most important movement in Canada right now. For people who are new to Indigenous organizing or movements, it can sometimes feel like the issue is to too complex, too overwhelming and too large to understand. In partnership with the Canvass Campus Assembly Initiative, I’ve written this Q&A on Idle No More with an eye to a labour audience. This work should be seen as dynamic and suggested changes and additions are welcomed.

Please share this with your colleagues, engage in the work and find out how you can support Idle No More organizing in your community.

What is Idle No More?

Idle No More has emerged as a civil rights movement where Indigenous people, regardless of region or nationhood, have united to tell Stephen Harper “Enough is Enough.” It was sparked by opposition to the Federal budget bill, C-45. After video footage of dozens of chiefs surfaced being denied access to the House of Commons, people took to social media and called for protests across Canada under the banner of Idle No More. Since then, hundreds of protests, blockades, traditional round-dances, drumming, and other events have taken place in towns and cities across Canada.

Who is behind “Idle No More”?

Idle No More does not have official “leadership.” Instead, it was founded by four women from Saskatoon and has spread into a national movement. Canada is a large country and there exist hundreds of First Nations communities. Combined with Indigenous activists and allies within towns and cities, the movement has grown to be too large for a single leader. Spokespeople have emerged who articulate the demands that are being expressed by the grassroots.

But what about the chiefs? Aren’t they the leaders?

In some communities, the leadership has been quick to join the chorus of voices demanding change. Chief Theresa Spence, for example, helped to raise awareness of the conditions of many First Nations communities through her high-profile hunger strike. But in other communities, the leadership is slower to join the campaign.

In some ways, this is just like in the labour movement where it can sometimes be hard to gain the consensus among different unions, sectors and even within a local workplace. Imagine adding the presidents of the Canadian Labour Congress and the provincial labour federations into the mix; arriving at a consensus can be extremely difficult. And, just like in the labour movement, the side with power always tries to divide people to weaken the bargaining position of a movement. With Idle No More, there exists a broad consensus that something has to be done, but there are still large debates over how to fix what. It makes arriving at a consensus difficult, though certainly not impossible.

What’s contained within Bill C-45?

C-45, the federal omnibus budget bill, changes 44 federal laws. One of those laws, the Navigable Waters Act, has been changed to remove 99% of Canada’s lakes and rivers from previously existing environmental protections. Indigenous communities weren’t consulted on this change and expressed outrage as many bodies of water run through traditional territories. These changes will enable corporations to boost their profits by not having to abide by environmental protections.

Why should workers support Idle No More?

Many Indigenous people are union members. Supporting our brothers and sisters in the workplace is as important as supporting the struggles in which their communities are engaged.

The labour movement has proudly played supportive roles in civil rights movements and Idle No More should be no exception. Fighting racism within the workplace and in our communities must be at the core of our collective work.  Because of the relationship that Indigenous people have with “the Crown” (a.k.a. the federal government), all Canadian citizens have the responsibility to ensure that this relationship is functioning. When Stephen Harper breaks his promises or breaches his responsibility towards Indigenous people, Canadians must unite and demand that he honour the Treaties, or the agreements that formed the basis on which Canada was established.

The Treaties? What are they?

When Canada was being carved into provinces, many formal agreements were made between Indigenous communities and the Crown. Those agreements allowed for Canada to exist the way it does today. The Treaties outline what lands can be used for what purpose, the processes that exist to negotiate changes to these agreements and other policies. Many of these policies influenced the Indian Act, Canada’s only piece of race-based legislation.

What do you mean?

Part of the problems identified by activists in the Idle No More movement is that “Indians” as defined by the Indian Act are treated very differently from Canadians. They are subject to different rules for buying land or owning property, for example. The Act defines their nationality and excludes some Indigenous people because their parents and grandparents married non-Indigenous people. The Indian Act prevented First Nations people from voting until the 1960s, and also established the Residential School System.

There have been numerous abuses allowed by the Act, which was originally intended to eliminate Indian identity entirely. The federal government has used it and other policies to try to subjugate Indigenous people; this has led to familial breakdown, poverty, unemployment and other problems. Idle No More is the result of activism that has been building across Canada for decades and is helping to awaken a new generation of activists to the possibilities of resisting these negative realities and to continue building a united movement.

This seems overwhelming. Are there even any solutions?

Idle No More activists have been offering ideas and solutions throughout the campaign, but the issues are complex. The most pronounced one is that the relationship between the federal government and First Nations communities has to be rebuilt. Stephen Harper cannot simply ignore the Treaties and pass laws that will impact First Nations people.

For Canadians, Idle No More creates a space where everyone can demand that democracy start to work again. Canadians have benefitted greatly from the Treaties: industries, homes and communities would not exist had they not been signed. Through Idle No More, it’s time for Canadians to uphold their side of the bargain, support Indigenous brothers and sisters, and force our government to do the right thing.

Why can’t they just become like the rest of us Canadians?

Assimilation is a difficult subject. Because so many of us have been assimilated into Canada, the idea of protecting our own cultures or traditions can be hard to grasp. But while many immigrants made the choice to move to Canada (where their descendents still live), Indigenous communities had their ways of life forcibly taken from them. Many of Canada’s policies towards Indigenous people doesn’t resemble assimilation; they actually resemble genocide.

After centuries of these policies, Indigenous people are standing up to say that they reject the attempts to take away their languages, cultures and identities. They are fighting for the protection of their people and future generations. Assimilation is not an option because it would erase the rich histories, cultures, languages and traditions that have existed here for time immemorial.  

What’s the real story here?

Most of the policy decisions being made by the Harper government try to move, remove, or justify the transfer of people from their traditional territories. When Indigenous peoples were first forced onto reserves, it was often in remote, difficult places to farm, or far from urban centres. Many of these lands happen to be on top of diamond, gold, uranium or other precious metals and are now highly profitable and coveted by corporations. Many of these lands are in the way of oil and gas companies’ access to oil and gas. Many of these First Nations communities are living with the environmental disasters that have been left behind by profit-hungry companies.

The most recent attack on First Nations communities is the same attack that workers face when company management wants to cut health and safety regulations, or cut wages to boost profits. The only difference is that First Nations communities have to contend with health problems from environmental disasters caused by corporations all the time.

Standing in solidarity with Indigenous communities is important because these struggles are connected. A victory in a single plant or a single community is not enough. We need to stand up against corporate powers and their control over government decisions and bring democratic power back into communities.