Monday, December 30, 2013

Doing right by sex trade workers

Due to multiple technical issues I haven't been able until now to comment on the Supreme Court's decision in Attorney General of Canada v. Bedford on December 20th but all I can say is it was absolutely the right decision.   What surprised me was that it lined up 9-0, I was expecting 5-4.   Given that five of the justices were appointed by PMS and one by Mulroney, one might expect conservative thought to win, but as we have come to expect, the Court thankfully looked at the big picture and agreed that the three provisions of the Criminal Code at dispute -- running a whorehouse, communication for the purposes of sex and living off the avails of prostitution -- were meant to go after pimps and johns but instead went after the very people the law was designed to protect, sex trade workers, and that was unconstitutional.   If you haven't read the decision, do so at the link, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin doesn't mince words about the dangers of the business or the real harm it causes the victims but that there has to be a better way.

By no means should this be seen as a total victory.   The rights of workers in the trade have been guaranteed but there is still exploitation, especially with teens and immigrants.

That said, I had to laugh when I heard the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada -- which with the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and REAL Women (no surprise on the last one) filed a joint amicus curiae brief against the women who filed the original petition during the appeal -- said the best way forward in light of the judgment was to just ban prostitution altogether (it has been legal ante the ruling).    Don't go after prostitutes, just the pimps and johns.

Well, two points.   As I said above the law was meant to go after those two groups but the way the law was constructed made them go off relatively free.   Of course we should be going after the exploiters.

But making it illegal?    That would just force everything underground and make things even worse for the workers, especially the women.   It's those workers who are our front line.   They know what's going on with their fellow workers.   They know what's going on in the underground.   They're the ones the police should be going to first when there are missing women and missing teens.   They shouldn't be ostracized because of their chosen profession.

I am almost certain I would never hire an escort or another else woman in the trade for "services".   (Right now I can't afford it anyway!)    But I think both men and women who want to purchase such services should have a reasonable expectation his or her temporary partner isn't being exploited.

Don't forget, the Mafia got its start with Prohibition.   By the time alcohol was made legal again, they were firmly entrenched and now control at least 10% of our economy.    They definitely have their hands on prostitution.  Do you think it'll get better with making that illegal?   Really?   (Apologies to Seth Meyers and Amy Pohler.)

I say, totally legalize it, with appropriate safeguards.   If rape occurs during a paid for transaction, then it should become a hate crime with enhanced penalties just like any other crime motivated by hate.   Empower the workers to help the police go after the real scums -- those who do exploit people for the money or the hell of it.

Tax it.   This is a huge revenue stream waiting to be tapped into.   It may be a bridge too far for the incumbent government but with fiscal restraint it cannot be ignored.

This is an opportunity to fix the law.   But the PM may have other ideas, and not just because he's an evangelical (although many friends of mine at work who are support the decision).

I'm sure Harper is tempted to use the "notwithstanding clause" which would reinstate the ante quo and kick the issue down the road for another five years.    But there is a strong precedent his Attorney General, Peter MacKay, can use instead.

When the original rape shield law was "voided for vagueness" in 1992, women's groups were clamouring for the clause to be invoked.   But as the then AG Kim Campbell pointed out, the fact the law was vague did neither attackers nor victims any good.   Not the victims because it wasn't clear what evidence was excludable    Not the defendants because they didn't know on what basis they could defend themselves.

The statute that replaced it, which passed unanimously in both Houses (when has that happened under Harper?) was the "no means no" law.   Not only did it put in clearer guidelines for when a victim's past sex history could be used, the law also created a nine-point test to determine if there was consent to sexual activity.    It has survived court scrutiny, and more important there have been a higher number of convictions for sexual assault.

The point:    Rework the nullified provisions.    Make it clear who gets protection under the law and who doesn't.   If it means expanding and tightening "no means no" by all means do so.   But don't make the whole business illegal.    Then it's society as a whole that will be the victims, not just sex trade workers.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Is that all the post office could come up with?

Since the post office department (literally part of the government) became the Canada Post Corporation in 1982, its mandate has been to deliver the mail but to do so on a self-sustaining model; in other words, no bailout from Parliament.    That's been fine, because until a few years ago it was a very profitable venture paying dividends into general revenues.

Recently, though, despite having huge revenue streams from Purolator Courier and the Canadian arm of, it's been losing money.   Simply stated, with people getting their bills online, through ePost no less (!), and a switch to e-mail as the main form of communication -- not to mention pretty tight collective bargaining agreements and being on the losing end of a pay equity case -- the post office has been losing money.

There are ways to turn all of this around.   But I am worried about the choices the company has made.   And I'll go through their "five points".

First, jacking up the price of postage to a buck (yeah, yeah it's 85 cents if you buy a book of ten but who does that, really?).    This may indeed reflect the true cost of service, and it may be Canada Post's way of getting out of the bind it was in when Parliament said it could only raise postage prices to just ¾ of the rate of inflation for several years ... that restriction has now expired.   For those on fixed incomes, or those who can't afford Internet access (or believe it's the tool of the devil), it certainly puts a crimp on their lifestyle.   So what if costs less than a cup of coffee?

But it's interesting this is happening just as the federal and provincial governments are phasing out cheques as a method of paying entitlements and refunds.    Members of Parliament and Senators get double-ended franking (i.e. postage is free both ways), but the executive has to pay for mailings.    There may be volume discounts for them as well as large commercial enterprises but small businesses pay the going rate .   And as far as Business Reply Mail?   It's like a collect call, they pay more to receive it (there, one of "Their" dirty secrets is out in the open!)   Guess how many charities will stop accepting BRM, even if it means a drop in donations?    Do the math.  A ton.

I find it more than coincidental that the Post, knowing they would lose their biggest customer by far, would make up the difference and then some with postage.     If anything, this may actually get people who don't bank online or get direct deposit to do so.  No money, no money.

I'd say phase in the increase over four years.   Not in one fell swoop.

Second, ending door to door delivery for the third of the population that still has it.     Sure, it's easy to just walk to a mailbox.   When I was just five or six years old, my family and I were using a primitive version of the Superbox.   But when I moved to neighbourhoods that had them, I enjoyed the convenience of D2D.   Maybe that has gone the way of the dodo, but there are a lot of people, especially seniors and the infirm, who won't appreciate having to walk with difficulty to get their mail or worse paying someone else to do so.

I think everyone should get D2D -- every household -- but that's not really practical under the current framework.    But how about giving us the choice, on a user-pay basis?   If the difference between delivering to a doorstep and to a community mailbox is just $100 or so, as the Post claims, then why not let people decide?   Given the choice, I think most of us would gladly pay for the convenience.

Third, franchising post offices.   Most of them actually already are.   Contrary to popular belief, they are not allowed to charge more for parcel service than corporate owned stores --  that's against the law and it should continue to be so.  But getting out of the business altogether is another story.    There may be some cases, especially in rural areas, where a franchise simply isn't sustainable.    In this case, a higher hand is warranted.

There should be no sacred cows, but every corporate office should get the magnifying lens and the determination if local involvement is more appropriate or if the company should stay.    Whatever the case, corporates should have the same operating hours as franchises -- usually, the same hours as most malls.    And for God's sake, don't get rid of the historical offices, like the one on Adelaide Street in The Smoke.    I'd kind of like, just once, sending out mail the way they used to -- with a seal and wax!

Fourth, the old standby, streamlining.    This means fewer postal sorting plants.

There was a big uproar not that long ago in the Tri-Cities (Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo) when The Post wanted to close the plant there and move operations to the Millen Road plant here in Hamilton.    Delivery of sensitive mail is essential everywhere; but in an area much more prosperous than The Hammer, it is much more so especially with financial services and health and life insurance which they have a lot of.    There was some backing off although there were also layoffs, but no guarantee of the future.

What does this mean?    More centralization.

I'm sorry, but my answer is no.    There may be some plants which are truly redundant, but processing close to the point is what helps get the mail out in time.    I don't think the Millen plant is going away anytime soon, but I'm sure people in Stratford or Saint Thomas would be happy to learn their mail was going through Hamilton, if you know what I mean.     Better mail sorting machines, sure.    But this is nuts.

Fifth, attrition.   Ah yes, get rid of the deadwood, don't hire any new people -- or at least as few as is necessary to run the joint.

Two points there -- severance packages mean you get your company pension up front until you're 65 at which time it stops paying.    You have to rely on CPP / RRQ, OAS and your RRSP (if you have one).    People paid into these things counting on a pension for life, and while there is a big shortfall of $6.5 billion (which can be overcome), it's not fair to change the rules midstream.   For new people coming in, maybe.   Not for the veterans.  A deal is a deal.     And what if one takes a package while his or her union grievance is still in process?   Does that mean if he or she loses, the pension is gone too?    No one has answered that.

As for new people -- yes, there are intakes every so often, but it's not like it used to be.   The wages are lower and the benefits less.   And remember, these are not civil servants, they are employees of a Crown Corporation.    But as federally regulated employees, the labour and workers' compensation rules are different than for everyone else.    They may not get the same treatment they might get at a lower level of government.    The disenchantment and "revolving door" syndrome could be substantial unless newbies have the expectation of getting to a "regular" pay level rather quickly.

There are other ways of achieving the goal of getting back into the black.   Three day a week delivery; contracting delivery to the private sector; making some components of the "midstream" other than sorting competitive as well.

But this is a worst case, graveyard scenario.     And the problem is, it's harder to dig out of a grave than to dig it.    Ask any government who's run a deficit; going back to the black there is a Herculean task.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Should Worker's Compensation be a shared responsibility?

We all know the reason for workers' compensation.   We give up the right to sue a company for injuries that happen at the workplace (although it is possible to sue another company that made the equipment responsible for the injury, in a product liability lawsuit).   In exchange the province's compensation board will pay replacement income.  It may be partial if we have to resort to modified work.  For example, if taking modified work reduces a salary by 15%, comp will pay an amount equal to 15% of after-tax income, since benefits are tax-free.  In some cases, it could be as much as 60% or more of after-tax if we are totally unable to resume work (the rest would be covered by a CPP or RRQ disability pension which is taxable).

In some provinces, a province's worker's comp board is just that, it is solely focused on determining compensation.

Some other provinces, however, have a dual mandate for the service  -- not just paying compensation for injuries but also trying to prevent injuries, in other words promoting workplace occupational health and safety.   These provinces include BC, Ontario and Québec (with their CSST).  That makes sense, we should have as an aim keeping injuries at work to a minimum -- after all, healthy employees reduces overhead related to the costs of workplace related absenteeism.

In all cases, though, the responsibility for paying premiums for worker's compensation is solely the responsibility of employers.   Employees pay nothing.  In fact, it is this payroll tax (anywhere from 1.12% to 2.75% depending on the jurisdiction) that many companies claim is a disincentive to expand their operations.

What I'm writing next is probably a very unpopular position.   But it is what I think. 

In Canada, the CPP / RRQ and EI programs are shared between employers and employees (1:1 for pensions, 1.4:1 for unemployment).

This is an issue that has made me curious for quite some time.    But after thinking about it, I think that worker's comp should also be a 1:1 proposition.   Here's why.

A company has as a primary duty the safety of its employees.   Whether it's in a factory or an office environment, people have the right to expect minimal to no disruption in their working lives.   This means safe factory equipment with guards to prevent injury, readily accessible eyewash stations, computer stations that minimize Carpal-tunnel syndrome incidents, and of course and sadly the stress that can result from sexual and other types of harassment.   And so forth.

But I think employees also have a reciprocating duty to contribute to workplace safety -- by avoiding risky behaviour.   The benefits that come with worker's comp aren't free, someone has paid for them.    I'm not just talking about slips and falls at the factory.   They also happen at the office, for example if you rush to make a turn around a supervisor's "platform" and you slam your knee into a sharp corner during that turn.   It also deals with harassment issues -- one just might think twice knowing their hard-earned money might be used to compensate for other people's physical and mental health costs.   (Of course, this should not mean the rogue is exempt from being personally sued.)

Certainly, no one should be penalized financially for unintentional accidents, or even incidents where their was just plain idiocy on one's own person.   In fact, firing an employee under such a circumstance should be illegal unless he or she deliberately endangered other persons.   And there should always be zero tolerance for racial or sexual harassment because of the mental health implications.

Given all of that, I've in my working life seen risky behaviour both at the factory and at the office.   And it bothers me that on this one item, employees think they can get a free ride.   As I said, nothing is truly free.  Giving workers peace of mind that they will be taken care of is part of our social safety net and it is a principle that should be protected.   But it should also mean that employees should take responsibility not just for their own safety as much as is possible, but for taking care of their fellow workers too and protecting their safety as much as employers should.   That's why an employee payroll tax for worker's compensation is warranted.

If employees had premiums deducted from their pay cheques (which would be fully tax-deductible, of course, just like the other payroll taxes) it might make them think twice before doing something inherently risky or just plain stupid.    And giving employers a bit of a break would be an incentive to hire new staffers.

This change doesn't have to be done overnight.   It can be phased in over four years to give us time to adjust.   But for the most part, the system we have is stuck in a World War I mentality (the period when most provinces set up their régimes).    It needs to change.   And making it a shared responsibility is one way to do so.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

"I've got more than enough to eat at home," Ford says

You couldn't get the best scriptwriters in Hollywood or Broadway to come up with this line.   Rob Ford, responding this morning to numerous allegations that he hired a call girl to visit his office in Toronto (among other allegations of downing mickeys in one shot and DUI), said they were untrue.    But then Ford went after one of his former assistants who talked to the police, a woman who claims he sexually harassed her with lewd comments about his own sex life:

"Oh and the last thing was Olivia Gondek," Ford said, "it says it says [sic] that I wanted to eat her pussy. Olivia Gondek, I've never said that in my life to her. I would never do that. I'm happily married. I've got more than enough to eat at home. Thank you very much."
If your spouse or common-law partner talked about you like that, in public, you'd be very tempted to serve the other half with separation papers.  More than likely, you would.   But of course, this is Rob Ford.

A couple of hours later he apologized twice (never sorry, so it means squat) then said he has been in professional counselling.   That would have been helpful to know ... last week.

All the city council in Toronto can do is strip him of his ex officio duties (jobs he holds by virtue of being Mayor).   But it would be better than nothing.    Toronto needed some fiscal conservatism even in a very liberal city, but Ford has undermined his role with all this crap.    Can't he just call a time out?    Please?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Take a time out already, Rob!

So Rob Ford has actually admitted it.   He's bought illegal drugs during the last two years.  Notwithstanding that concession, 30 of 44 councillors on Toronto City Council voted to ask him to take a leave of absence.  Naturally, Ford refused.  He also said he still has a "coat hanger" in the closet.   I've heard of double entendres but not that one.   (Any guesses what he means?   Because unless he's had an affair, I'm otherwise stumped.)

And, oh yeah, the organizers of the Santa Claus Parade asked Ford not to show up.  (Ford says he will anyway).

Look, people make mistakes.  I get that.

But let's count the ways Ford has gotten into hot water without consequences:
  • DUI and marijuana possession in Florida
  • Being kicked out of the ACC while intoxicated
  • Acting like a jerk in a restaurant on St Patrick's Day
  • Driving with a cellphone in hand
  • The incident with Sarah Thompson (I believe her side of the story, FWIW)
  • The video
And it goes on and on.  And the police files unsealed today are even more disturbing.   And we'll no doubt be hearing more.

Most cities in this country of Canada would not tolerate this kind of behavior from the top of the heap.    The council would have thrown him or her with the trash a long time ago, asking him or her to resign with such a strong non-confidence motion that the mayor would take the hint and walk away.

I'm against the idea of recall.   Yes, Athens had it 2½ millenia ago but I think the idea of pulling someone out midstream for purely ideological or moral reasons is wrong.  I'm still furious that Gray Davis was trounced in favour of Ahnold, even though the California Legislature was just as responsible for the power fiasco in that state in 2002-03.   If you recall one, you should recall all.

But there is nothing immoral about taking a leave of absence.   About the only people who can't take time off from their job are clerical ministers, for obvious reasons.

Ford can't seem to understand he's a big joke to the world.   No doubt he'll be the subject of yet another series of attacks by late night this evening.   Toronto, and by extension the country, has more important things to do than worry if what will next come out is Ford hired sex workers  -- well, looks some may have visited his office, and he was probably DUI at some point during his term)

He should take the rest of the year off.  Get some perspective.   And run the 2014 campaign on the way forward, not what happened in the past.

UPDATE (6:26 pm EST, 2326 GMT):   Some new info on the latest shenanigans.

Friday, November 1, 2013

As always, it's the coverup (if that's what it is)

At this point, I really don't give a damn if Toronto Mayor Rob Ford did drugs.   If he did it certainly hasn't impaired his performance as a politician.    What I do care about are the following:
  1. Ford obviously has major issues.   Be they mental or substance, or both, he needs to deal with them before someone really gets hurt.   His city has an excellent benefits package that includes counselling.   He should acknowledge the issue, and use the taxpayer funded help.   Just talking about it to an impartial person might be a start.
  2. Using drugs is one thing, but lying about it is quite another.   Like Watergate, Iran-Contra, tainted tuna and Miss Lewinsky, it's getting caught up in inconsistencies that's the problem.   As ever I support the right to presumption of innocence.    But if the smoking gun is now there, he has only one chance to set the record straight; otherwise he's toast.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

See, we told you so (Senate reform edition) -- and what I'd like to see

Finally someone has told the Prime Minister he can stuff it on his brand of changes to the Senate of Canada.  It comes courtesy of the Québec Court of Appeal which has unanimously ruled Bill C-7, if passed, would be unconstitutional and therefore a form of "dead letter clause".

(The official ruling, in English is here -- courtesy The Montréal Gazette)

Stephen Harper has been so determined to "reform" (pun intended) the Senate of Canada that he has introduced unilateral legislation creating fixed nine year terms and elections only in those provinces that want it.   (Compare this, for instance, to the Beaudoin - Dobbie Committee of more than 20 years ago, to which I actually filed a brief, which recommended fixed six year terms and elections held across the country).

Harper's argument is that Section 44 of the 1982 constitutional amendment allows Parliament to pass laws that exclusively pertain to the House of Commons and the Senate.    That's fine for changes to the formula that determines representation of each province in the House of Commons (Section 51 of the original 1867 Constitution), or if the Senate decided to replace the appointed hack of a Speaker with one elected amongst its members, just as the House does after every election; or just in general any changes to the Standing Orders of Procedure in each House.

But actual changes to the nature of the Senate?   Well, not so much.   And the QCOA ruled as it should have:  That the correct procedure is Sections 42 (b) and (c) which prescribes 7 provinces with 50% of the population; with no province being able to opt out.   In other words, the provinces have to be at least consulted and give their ratification based on that formula; and even if the Senate self servingly voted against the amendment or hoisted it for six months, the House could pass it a second time and then the GG would then have no choice but to "seal" the amendment.

It's interesting that Québec, which has never ratified the 1982 amendment although it acknowledges the amendment does apply to the province, would be the ones challenging the law.   But if it wasn't there, another province would have filed a reference to the high court and the ruling would have been exactly the same.   Here's why:

Those of us who have actually read both Acts (as well as the numerous amendments in between) understand that the Confederation bargain was such that the Atlantic provinces would have at least as much say as Ontario and Québec in The Other Place, to offset representation by population in the House.

And while it rankles many in the West, it explains why representation in the Senate is as it is:   Ontario and Québec each have 24; Atlantic Canada has 30 (10 each for Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, 4 for Prince Edward Island, 6 for Newfoundland and Labrador); the four Western provinces have 6 each for a total of 24; and the territories get one each (prior to 1886, the Great White North didn't even have representation in the House, and only finally got Senate representation in the 1950s).

But more important, the reason the Fathers of Confederation set lifetime terms for Senators (this was changed to 75 years old by an amendment in 1965) and setting the minimum age at 30 (still in effect) was 1) to ensure Senators summoned would have the maturity to handle the responsibility of reviewing House legislation and if necessary amending or rejecting it; 2) to free Senators from political pressure of the kind having to report to the people every four years, unlike in the House.  Regarding the age limit, the QCOA pointed out that such an age limit, if it were created now or lowered from the present limit, would not be passable under section 44 either.

As time as gone on we've come to see that a second Chamber needs to be more democratic.   While some countries have in recent years abolished their Senates (Croatia and Norway, to name just two), other countries have had their Senate elected from the start or became so after major public pressure (for instance, the US Senate became elected in 1913, but is still seen as the more important body in Congress because Senators represent not only the people, but their respective state legislatures -- as it was they that originally selected the Senators from 1787 to 1913).

I know of only two other countries that have indirectly elected Senates via an electoral college:   France (although the campaign to reform or abolish there has been ongoing for some time) and Ireland (where the voters surprisingly voted down an abolition amendment earlier this month).   Canada is unique among democracies where the provinces don't even have to be consulted -- appointments are made solely by the Prime Minister.    Even for the Supreme Court, it's been established since during the brief Clark administration that the PMO will at least get a short list of recommended candidates, which the government doesn't have to accept but at least would consider before picking another candidate.

Reforms have never really happened in Canada because a) the push for a "Triple E" Senate of elected, "effective" and equal representation was really a poison pill aimed by some Westerners at Québec which would never have agreed to it and therefore would have preferred independence; 2) the failed Charlottetown referendum in 1992 had a Senate that was so much weaker than the House that it would have a joke job.   Running for the Senate under those parameters would have been like someone deliberately running in the primaries for Vice-President of the United States.   (Some states actually allow this!)

On top of Expensegate, Harper didn't need this.   And he will have to make a really strong case for his government when the Supreme Court reference is heard -- however, the QCOA ruling will be very persuasive in guidance.

The only question remaining is if the Senate can be abolished by the 7-50 formula?   I say unlikely.    That's because 1) the bargain of regional representation in the Upper House being changed would violate an important constitutional convention which while unwritten would nevertheless go against the intent of the Fathers and therefore be unacceptable; 2) Section 41 (b) protects both the 1915 amendment which ensures that any province (presently Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland) gets at least as many MPs as Senators; and also that in no case less than what a province had in 1982, and changing either or both principles requires unanimity.

Simply put, all ten provinces.   And I think the only plausible way to compensate the smaller provinces by having the lost Senate seat, is if it would become House seats elected at large (that is, the whole province).   Believe it or not, this is what Bob Rae's opening position was during the 1992 talks.

Now that, if actually implemented, would be fun.   Because Ontario and Québec are going to have 121 and 78 seats respectively after the next election.   Add 24 to each, and that becomes 145 and 102.   Meanwhile, BC would go from 42 to 48, Alberta from 34 to 40, Saskatchewan and Manitoba from 14 each to 20.   On the other side of the country, New Brunswick would jump from 10 to 20, Nova Scotia from 11 to 21, PEI from 4 to 8, Newfoundland from 6 to 12.

Yeah, that would go over well.   Newfoundland, with just a half a million people or so, would have nearly as much presence in Ottawa as Manitoba with more than double the population.     Alberta, with more half the population of Québec, would have only one third as many seats.   And so forth.

I really don't know where this is going.   Chances are, there will be no changes and we'll end up where we are now, with a otherwise dysfunctional chamber whose only useful purpose these days is to produce committee reports that really challenge the status quo and gets us to think.   Especially reports on national security and public healthcare, both categories of which have made the feds cringe when the reports were released.

But personally, this is what I think we should have in terms of reforms that could get 7-50:
  • The minimum age to run for the Senate is 18 years, just like the House;
  • There is no property requirement unlike now;
  • One must clearly have an established connection to his province or territory -- proof of residency or just proof of the fact they were at a physically located homeless shelter would suffice;
  • All Senators are elected for re-electable six year terms, with staggered classes (two halves with one half elected in three year waves; or three classes with one-third up for reelection every two -- as is the case in the States); in no case will a House election happen at the same time so there are no crossovers of current campaign issues;
  • proportional representation with super-districts of four to six Senators each, depending on population;
  • the representation that New Brunswick and Nova Scotia should be reduced so that the other Atlantic provinces get a bigger role.   This may mean more MPs for PEI and NL but in such an important body the small need the protection of the whole -- pardon the expression;
  • Ontario and Québec should give up four seats each and those given to the Western provinces, so each of those provinces would go from six each to eight;
  • the territories get two each instead of one;
  • the Speaker is elected, not appointed;
  • the Senate actually has real power and exercises it, including the power of a sub poena, and the right to reject legislation outright as it does now;
  • the Senate doesn't wait for legislation from the House to reach it to consider it (ending sober second thought); instead it can introduce legislation (except money bills) and have first thought on an issue if it so chooses, with each bill going through the three reading process in parallel with the separate House legislation, with the differences in House and Senate bills sent to conference for compromise before going through a final vote;
  • the Senate allows its floor proceedings to be televised, live (not just committee hearings);
  • if a federally appointed judge faces dismissal, that he or she faces an impeachment hearing in the House and then an open trial in the Senate with the Senators acting as proctors.    This way, the dismissal of a section 99 judge would have to get clear majority votes in both Houses, each sitting separately -- presently it's not really clear whether that's the case, or if a majority of the combined membership is required (although to date there has never been a trial, such a judge recommended for removal quits rather than face the humiliation of being rejected by the people's representatives); and
  •  the six month hoist for constitutional amendments is retained but at the end of the hoist the Senate must vote on the amendment, up or down.
At least for now,. the idea of railroading an "amendment" up our throats is waived off.   The Senate can't be changed like Harper would like it to.  It has to be done soundly and with a constitutional basis.

But we can't wait another 200 years for a change.  It has to be within the next four years.   Otherwise, we're condemned to a very boring place on the taxpayer's dime for a very long time.

UPDATE (2013/10/25 3:00 pm EDT):  Minor edits to correct math errors.

Senate or Star Chamber?

Barring a last minute change of minds, it looks like Senators Brazeau, Duffy and Wallin will be effectively impeached from the Senate.

I think there are a lot of questions that need to be answered.   I will recognize that I have written all three have a lot to answer for.

But I also believe in the principle of presumed innocent until proven guilty.   Something that Stephen Harper, the alleged guardian of the Constitution, does not believe in.  By using such a huge hammer before the criminal investigation is complete, Harper has effectively converted the Senate into a Star Chamber.   Bad King John would be very pleased that Magna Carta has been repealed, at least in Canada.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Where's the draft text?

Today, Harper and EU President Jose Manuel Barroso initialled a trade and labour agreement between Canada and the world's most powerful trading bloc.  Like I said in my last post, I think open trade with the EU will be overall good for Canada.

But don't you find it odd that there isn't even a draft text available for public consumption?   The final agreement may be two years off, but wouldn't it would be useful to know what each side "traded" [pun intended] to get to where we are today?

If the final agreement will be ready in 2015 that will be just in time for the next election.   We've fought three elections on free trade -- 1911, 1988, 1993.   There are going to be much bigger issues when the next campaign hits but this could be a dark horse that might come to the forefront.

We need to know what we're getting into, now.   Just because it's potentially a good thing doesn't mean it has to be a state secret.   Release the draft, Steve.   Let us read it, and let us decide.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Harper picks CETA over H of C

I couldn't believe it when I heard it on the radio this morning.   On the first day of the debate regarding the Reply to the Speech from the Throne, Stephen Harper doesn't face off against Tom Mulcair -- by tradition it's the Opposition Leader that starts the debate.    Nope.   Harper hightails it to Brussels to sign the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the European Union.

Sure it's taken long enough to finalize the treaty, which came down to of all things dairy and meat products.   There is a big concern that with the reduction of tariffs there could be a huge hit for dairy farmers, although beef producers stand to gain big.  (Although I think paying 30% more for pizzas and nearly triple for cheese as Americans do is ridiculous.)  And I do think that despite its shortcomings it will have a major net benefit for Canada, especially with labour mobility provisions.

But why the rush to sign it now?   Could not have Harper waited twenty four hours to discuss in more detail how he intends to implement the current round of policy planks before going to Europe?    Is it really necessary to sign an agreement on Friday?   Oh right, it will be mid-morning their time, about three hours before the markets open here.  The Canadian dollar needs to go back up to par after all -- after the debt cliff in the States this past week.

This action, picking Europe over Canada, is contempt of Parliament of the kind that is worse than touching the Mace.   If you can't defend you own policies at the start of a legislative session, then how much longer can we trust the Prime Minister on anything?    I wonder if Harper knows what patriotism means -- and I'm not talking about continuing to commemorate the War of 1812 which did not produce a "winner".

If Harper's going to be this disregardful, then at least CETA should be put up to a free vote in both chambers.    This is something where the people's representatives need to decide without the crack of a whip which Harper has had a firm grip of far more than any other Prime Minister in our history.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Here he comes, the PM in the big white sportscar ...

The second session of Canada's 41st Parliament opens today.    And early word about the Speech from the Throne is that PMS (Prime Minister Steve) will make a move towards consumer rights.


He was against pick-and-pay cable and satellite, before he was for it.

He was for long term cell phone contracts before he was against it.

He was against cell phone company mergers -- now in the next auction of bandwidth it looks like those restrictions are going out the window.

There's no indication yet that he'll allow financial institutions and life insurance companies to set whatever mortgage rate they want, especially if they're below the general market (remember earlier this year when Slim Jim practically ordered an insurance company to reverse a rate decrease).   The public backlash might have changed Harper's mind about that too.

Why all of this?

To try to lift a page from the NDP.  Although the Liberals are out in front despite a very weak leader in Justin Trudeau, the Cons must be worried that Tom Mulcair actually has a chance to win in 2015 and lead our country's first ever socialist federal government.    And as I've written before, Mulcair actually appears to favour free enterprise over the Conservatives.    Unthinkable for the NDs even a decade ago.

Oh, and let's not forget the other week when Harper said he won't take no for an answer when it comes to the approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline.    What's the point of having a National Energy Board, or any arm's length quasi-judicial board when the Cabinet can just override their decision?    Such powers make the resident of 24 Sussex, whoever he or she is, a dictator.    Even the British PM doesn't have nearly those powers -- the only reason he's perceived to have more is because he has his finger on The Button (or one of them).

And even if the NEB says yes but Obama says no, what will Harper do?   Order Alberta to turn off the pipelines and let the southern b******s freeze in the dark?   Sue maybe, and under the much hated Chapter XI of NAFTA.    Doesn't bode well to help America -- and us -- get off OPEC's client list.

Meanwhile, Parliament goes into its 13th year of renovations.   A $50 million job is running up to $5 billion and counting.    All parties are to blame on that one, but you'd think Steve would hire as many stonemasons and other general labourers as he could -- even foreign ones on temporary work permits -- and tell them, get this done in time for the next election.   Seven to ten years more is crazy.   Yeah, there's asbestos there, but how about closing the place for two months while it's cleared out?   They had the summer.

A new session?  Much ado about nothing.    There is no reset button today.    Whether it's the Senate or the train crash in Lac Mégantic, Harper still has to answer some tough questions.

In the meantime, it's time to stop the grandstanding standing ovations in the House.    There were nearly none under Mulroney or Chrétien.  Those demonstrations don't impress me much, or a lot of other Canadians.   Just a change there would indicate Harper actually respects the integrity of the House, or what's left of it.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

My thoughts on "death with dignity"

The recent passing of Dr. Donald Low, who guided Toronto through the SARS crisis in 2003, unexpectedly sparked a revival of the difficult issue of assisted suicide when his widow, CBC alumna and medical expert Maureen Taylor, released Low's final home video where he asked Canadians to consider what it would be like to live in his body -- rapidly degenerating -- for twenty-four hours.

At the outset, I want to express my condolences to Maureen and her family.    His was certainly no way to die.

That said, this is truly a conflicting issue for me.   As most of you know, I'm pro-life.   Unlike a lot of social conservatives, that to me means from birth to natural death.   I certainly don't support capital punishment, and the concept of assisted suicide goes against my conscience at every possible level.

It has been, however, twenty years since Rodriguez v. Attorney General of British Columbia.   In the very close 5-4 decision the point was made by all sides that the plaintiff, Sue Rodriguez, was in an impossible situation with Lou Gehrig's Disease.    Writing for the majority, though, the late John Sopinka began his opinion by making reference to Jack Kevorkian.   It was an understandable viewpoint.   The assisted suicide law doesn't only ban active and passive euthanasia -- this ban was what Rodriguez was challenging -- it also bans counselling someone to commit suicide; and all lines on which Kevorkian was often very close to crossing and which he finally did cross when he openly put down a patient on 60 Minutes -- the first ever televised snuff film.

No question that no one should be bullied into doing anything against one's self-interest, certainly something like that.   Ever.

But when the most strident opponents claim to offer alternatives, the first thing they point to is palliative care; trying to make the patient as comfortable as possible in an attempt to make death more manageable.    Reasonable but the problem there is, as far as I can see, palliative care hasn't really improved that much over the last two decades since the Rodriguez case.   And as the population gets older, the more the clamor for end of life rights is getting.

Every time the issue is brought up in Parliament, the powers that be impose party discipline (at least within the ruling party) and vote down the measure even though this is as much a matter of conscience as abortion is.   So to say Parliament has "voted" and there is no call to revisit the issue is disingenuous at the least.

On the one hand, there is for me a big difference between actually committing suicide as quite a few terminally ill people do before they aren't able to, and getting the help of someone -- presumably a medical professional -- in assisting the patient in ending his or her life.   It certainly goes against both the ancient and modern renditions of the Hippocratic Oath, the latter which includes the promise by the doctor that he or she will not play God.

And let's not forget Robert Latimer, someone with no discernible medical training, who took the law into his own hands when he killed his daughter Tracy.   I have previously argued that this was a situation that called for the creation of a tier of third degree murder -- something between a crime of passion (murder two) and recklessness causing death (voluntary manslaughter) -- but that Mr. Latimer shouldn't have gone unpunished.

On the other hand, there are some patients, perhaps a small fraction of those who say they want to die, for whom there is reached the point that is no hope that medical assistance can ever turn things around.   I say a small fraction because such a drastic measure should not be made available to anyone, presuming such a law is enacted.    The Belgian law that is so broad that recently one patient  ended his life because he was told he was going blind but was otherwise healthy, proves the point.

The number of doctors who would be willing to step up for such a "service" must be very small, for the reason I noted above.   This isn't exactly something one would want to advertise his or her services for.    We certainly don't know -- still -- who helped Rodriguez in her last moments and, really, the vast majority of all of us don't even want to know.

But I suspect that to the argument that a doctor musn't play God, he or she might counter that God has already made the decision for the patient making the point moot; and postponing the inevitable and making things worse is only a disservice to the patient and his or her family.

Martin Luther King, quoting Saint Augustine, pointed out an unjust law is no law at all.   He was referring to the unfairness of segregation and eventually Congress backed him up albeit years after the courts did.  

Morally, and in this instance I still think the law has a place.

But from the legal standpoint that most people have the right to end their own lives and others do not, I have to say that is a denial of the equal protection of the laws and is therefore unconstitutional.    This is based on the same principle why I now support same sex marriage -- whatever moral qualms I have, it's a matter of legal equality.  Given the current composition of the Supreme Court of Canada, there's a better than even chance that Rodriguez will be overturned when a contemporary case working its way up from the BC courts hits its docket, and then Parliament will have a huge hornet's nest to deal with.

It shouldn't get to that.    There has to be a proactive approach to this.  For once, and before the case reaches 301 Wellington Street, we need to have something we've never really had in Parliament -- a serious and broad debate about the issue down the street from the court at 111.   All 302 MPs who are not party leaders (the Speaker, who is neutral, is not included in that number) should be able to give his or her 20 minute talking point.   The five leaders, of course, get unlimited time but they should also make a cogent and concise argument.   Maybe then there can be compromise legislation that draws a line but leaves the door very slightly open and sets very clear rules when a physician -- and not a family member -- can intervene.

That it would take just one man, a true Canadian hero, to reopen the debate, is extraordinary.   But it is refreshing and if anyone should have done it, is was him.   Rest in peace, Dr. Low.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Why I'll be voting on the minimum wage in Ontario

Currently, the minimum wage in Ontario is $10.25 per hour.    Presuming a 40 hour week, no sick days and two weeks vacation, that works out to about $20,500 per year.   Not a bad piece of change; but with the lowest marginal income tax rate of 20% and payroll taxes of 7%, that leaves $14965, well below the "low income cutoff" -- a bastardized way of saying poverty line.   And don't forget, a general sales tax rate of 13%, so it goes down to $13,020.

Moreover, the rate has held steady since 2010, during a time when accumulated inflation has increased 6.9% -- and of course that does not include the very volatile energy prices we've experienced as with the rest of the country.   So those on minimum are worse off over time.

There is an argument, a strong one, that at the very least there should be a law requiring the minimum wage increase with the rate of inflation.

But many social activists have said that to put people above the poverty line, the minimum needs to go up to $14.00 per hour.    Now this doesn't have to be all at once; of course that would be a burden on business.   It can be phased in over four years, say 94 cents each.   Once the phase-in is complete, then do annual increases on inflation.

The problem, of course, is that every time there is proposed an increase in the minimum wage, businesses both large and small scream bloody murder; saying they will have to lay off people, it will force them to raise prices to the consumer, and that it acts as a disincentive to hard work.   All three of these are total nonsense.   I'm not aware in the recent past of mass layoffs caused by a raise in the minimum.   If anything, an increase also helps people earning higher wages, more often than not such a raise is applied across the board for both hourly and salaried workers (i.e. a fifty cent increase at minimum is reciprocated for higher wage people).    That it fuels inflation -- probably, but it's not the only reason prices go up, in fact it's only a small part of it.   And rewarding slackers -- seriously?   People these days are more than happy to work for minimum wage, it gives them something to do.   They'd rather pay taxes than collect welfare.

But as to the argument that a higher minimum wage is bad for business, I say bunk.    Here's why I think so:

Those below the low income cut off use a larger portion of their income for basic necessities; food, clothing heat, vehicle fuel.  They don't have the ability to afford not necessarily the finer things in life, but simply the items that actually bolster economic growth.    These are consumer goods such as home electronics, video games, appliances, furniture.    And of course, an annual vacation out of town instead of a "stay-cation".   The more money there is to go around, the more there is to spend.   The more to spend, higher profits lead from that which usually means the ability to hire more workers.

More workers means more income taxes, and the sooner Ontario can get out of "have-not" status and our current forced acceptance of equalization payments from the feds.   Currently, that's just over $3.1 billion, a huge spike from 2010 when it was "just" $347 million.   Equalization may be just a drop in the $117 billion revenue bucket, but it basically runs the agriculture, justice and environment departments.   Not insignificant items at all.

One of the issues with the inevitable election campaign that may happen here as early as this coming spring, a year and a half before it's supposed to be, will be this basic principle.   That no one gets left behind.    While this will not be the only deciding factor in my vote, it is now a huge one.

It's time to have a living wage, not a subsistence one.   I thank God we don't have third world conditions and pray we never will, but even lower income people have the right to have a reasonable level of participation in our society.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

My take on Line 9

Over the last year, there has been a huge amount of debate over Enbridge wanting to reverse the flow of oil in a major pipeline -- "Line 9" -- from east to west, to west to east.   The claim has been made that an already fractured pipeline could become even more of a threat when raw tar sands oil makes it way from Alberta through our our neck of the woods.   Indeed a lot of the protests have focused around the North Westover section in the mostly rural Borough of Flamborough which turn is part of Hamilton.   This station is one of several where pressure is added on its way downstream -- not unlike compressing stations for natural gas we see along the highways and byways of this part of the world.   A court hearing today around three of the protestors against Line 9 turned particularly nasty.

It's been hard to put a finger on where I should be.   Here are the issues as I see them and they are in no particular order:

First, the federal government has really changed the way environmental assessments are done.    Several groups asking to intervene have been rejected by the National Energy Board.  The decision is rigged -- Enbridge is going to win no matter what anyone has to say about it.    But its refusal to turn over even some basic documents the NEB wants is what I find truly unacceptable above all.   It amounts to contempt for the government and for Canadians, and we deserve better from our energy companies.

Second, the oil that will be shipped through the pipeline is not (contrary to what many protesters claim) raw tar sands.   Bitumen of the kind that is stripped mined in Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia would eat away at the line and cause it to be destroyed from the inside out.   Rather it is refined oil, or dilbit (diluted bitumen).   The dilution normally happens with naptha and synthetic crude (what comes out of 'sour' or high sulphur oil after going through an upgrader).

There are also some other chemicals used that we really don't know much about.    Point is, what usually comes out is at best medium grade oil -- which can be used at a refinery but is nowhere near as valuable as "light sweet", the kind that is normally referred to when we talk about the price of oil.   And we don't know nearly enough about those chemicals.   I'm sure Material Safety Data Sheets exist for them but presuming we can access them they could run for pages with dozens of known hazards and side effects.    One only has to think about the disaster along the Kalamazoo River in Michigan in 2010.   It's cost in the tens of millions and several hundred homes still have to use bottled water.

Can't safer chemicals be found, plain and simple?   No answer about that from Enbridge yet.

Third, there's the issue of the company donating about $44,000 to the Hamilton Police Service earlier this year.   The protesters claim the police were bought out and that's why they have been so belligerent in enforcing an order to vacate the pressure station.

Well, it is private property.    If a highway was shut down, then free speech considerations would kick in and the police would then really have no leg to stand on.

But as far as the donation?   It went towards the cost of an improved stable for the city's Mounted unit.   Yes, we have at least four police horses.   They're not just there for symbolic reasons or cuteness for the benefit of the city's kids, the horses do have a major role in deterring crime, particularly for crowd control situations that can get nasty.   They may appear to pace slowly on the urban and rural streets of our city, and they do shit quite often on streets without being cleaned up after (making our poop and scoop law a joke), but they do pursue at a fast pace if a suspect decides to run on foot and one of the horses is within the vicinity.

If it wasn't Enbridge, someone else would have donated the money and they'd also be accused of buying off the cops.    No win situation there for anyone.

Fourth, no guarantees from the company they will fix a decades old line to meet safety standards.    If the Kalamazoo disaster is any indication, one should really be worried about that since Line 9 runs through multiple watersheds -- including the Rouge Valley, which is on track to become an urban federal park, not unlike the Plains of Abraham or Stanley Park (both managed by local boards but still federal property).    Obviously, I think, the line has to be rebuilt from scratch or at least those portions that are in desperate need of replacement, and they run for dozens of kilometers.

So what's fifth?   It's something that could override all of the above.   And sadly, it does for me:   Energy independence.

With all of our oil in Canada, it often shocks many in Central and Eastern Canada that most of the oil used here doesn't come from out west, but rather from OPEC.   In particular, Venezuela -- not a friend of Canada by any means even though it draws a lot of our tourists, especially to Margarita Island.   The oil refined in Saint John, Montréal and Sarnia is foreign oil, not domestic.   And that's wrong.   Because OPEC is a cartel, the pool of petrodollars or increasingly petroeuros is divided up proportionately which means a lot of our gas purchases finance countries in the Middle East that sponsor terrorism, especially Saudi Arabia and Iran.

I happen to think Canadian oil should be used by Canadians first.   I'm not talking about a return to the National Energy Policy which forced the West to sell the oil east at a 20% discount.   By all means, price the oil at the West Texas Intermediate price, which would actually mean less expensive gasoline for those of us in this part of the world (by as much as five cents a litre).   If there is any left, then export it to whomever we deem appropriate (or not, as long as they have the money).

But it does us no good to stay on the current course.   We should not be a slave to a foreign cartel.   We have enough cartels in Canada as it is (i.e. marketing boards which are both a blessing and curse).

My position:   Very reluctantly, I agree the flow does needs to be reversed.   We should all be using Canadian oil, not OPEC oil.   I don't want to support terrorism, period.

But in return, Enbridge has to take out a huge liability policy (say, $10 to $20 billion) in case there are any fuck ups.

Rebuild the entire line too, from scratch -- the jobs will be mostly temporarily, but the line will also use Canadian steel designed to last.

And finally the company has to let us know exactly what's in the dilbit, including the supplementary chemicals and not hide behind the wussy term "trade secrets".   A hazard diamond with a four digit number, the kind we see on 18 wheelers and rail cars, may assist firefighters telling them what chemical they're dealing with in determining how to attack a disaster situation, but shouldn't we know what those numbers mean too?

(There is a HAZMAT guide of this nature that details the rules for hazard diamonds, published jointly by the Canadian, US and Mexican Transportation Departments, but it runs 392 pages -- including a list of 2516 (!) of HAZMATs shipped by all modes of transport on 69 of its pages, with painstaking details on how to deal with disasters on all of them, fire or not.  I'm sure even most shippers want something more straightforward.   We need something simpler, too.).

That more than anything would ensure that if we have to give the pipeline a wide berth, we do so.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

What? Wireless companies can't take the heat?

Over the last few weeks, the three big players in Canada's wireless business -- Bell, Telus and Rogers -- have been running two separate but related series of ads which are related to the almost certain reality that America's largest phone, cell and IPTV company, Verizon, will made bids to buy out two of the smaller and financially troubled carriers, Mobilicity and Wind Canada.   They never mention the company by name, but we all know that's who they mean.

One set of ads tries to make us believe that wireless rates are actually lower in Canada than the United States.  Indeed it's laughable.   Where did the industry come up with the claim our cell rates are lower 65% of the time?   Did they create the scenarios to prove their self-served point?  (Yes!)

Briefly:  Do the math.   With a population south of the border nine times larger and therefore lower economies of scale, that's just not possible.   It's bunk, plain and simple.   We need real competition.   If it's an American company does it really matter if the service is better and tariffs lower?

The second set of ads involves people who claim to be actual employees of the Big Three.  Maybe they really are.   Maybe they're just voice actors.   But the point they try to make is that it's unfair that a company that had no role in building up the wireless infrastructure in Canada will be able to just piggyback onto what we have.   As well they complain that foreign companies are able to buy their way in while Canadian companies are forbidden from buying their competition even if they're in dire straits.

Let's break that argument in two, starting with the second.

The ban on pan-Canadian mergers, well I agree with them that part makes absolutely no sense.   I wrote about this some time ago, when the feds stopped Telus from buying Mobilicity.   At the present time, Telus is suing the federal departments of Industry (licensing) and Heritage (communications) saying the rules aren't fair.   As well as they should -- a government that claims to support free enterprise while tying our own companies behind the back is wrong-headed.   And if they're wrong-headed on that it just goes to show they're like that on a lot of other things.   The loophole should be closed so everyone is on a level playing field.

The first:   Well it can be argued that letting a company in that wasn't involved with the buildup would be fine if the conclusion was, they shouldn't be allowed in at all.    But why not?    Wind and Mobilicity are bleeding money.   The fact they're willing to sell out at a discount is proof.   There are other regional players, such as Cogeco Cable (mostly in Québec, almost no penetration in Ontario although they have way more cable customers here), Videotron (owned by Quebecor / Sun Media) and MTS (Manitoba's main telco).   They should be allowed to bid too since they have their own infrastructure by that logic, but they can't either.

The reason why so many Canadians are salivating at the possibility that Verizon could come here is the fact they have two things going for them -- a willingness to be here for the long term; and more importantly since they already have a huge share of the market in the States, they would be the only company with operations on both sides of the border and that could mean making Canada and the United States a single coverage area with the end of roaming charges.   That would be a huge competitive advantage.   Imagine, no roaming charges, especially when we're close to the border and our devices "accidentally" link to a cell tower on the other side of the border.   The incumbents make a huge part of their profits from roaming.  How are they going to survive having to cut or eliminate them?   I wonder.

The Canadian companies say they believe Verizon would only want to focus on big cities to the disadvantage of smaller ones.   But isn't that part of the reason why Wind and Mobilicity got into so much trouble?    A behemoth would be stupid not to offer the same coverage and services to rural areas as to urban ones.   People wouldn't stand to have 4G or better service in cities (if we can get it most of the time) but 3G, 2G or even analogue service in the back country, especially when we're travelling as many of us do.

Heck, when discount companies like Virgin come here they can do the same piggybacking.   In that case in particular, they got into a partnership with Bell until about four years ago when they were bought out.  Fido was actually T-Mobile (read:  Deutsche Telekom) in disguise until they were bought out by Rogers.    Koodo started out as Solo and Telus had a partnership with Amp'd until they declared bankruptcy.   So spare me the claim that this is a first time venture.   T-Mobile just didn't have the chance to ramp up fast enough -- and they're way bigger than Verizon worldwide.

It's the old saying:   If you can't stand the heat ... you know the rest.   By all means, do close the loophole so the incumbents can have a real crack.    But it does the consumer no good by stopping any company, even a foreign one, from coming here.   Competition is good for consumers, and it's also good for businesses.   We get lower prices, and the old players have to wake up from their complacency -- and greed.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Guest post: The Reserve Paradox (Part II)

[Guest post continued ...]

Aboriginal people in Canada today suffer from much higher rates of poverty, illness, dysfunction and incarceration than non-Native Canadians. Many non-Native Canadians believe that this is due to the Indian Act and the reserve system which set Aboriginals apart from other Canadians. When these non-Natives see protest movements like the Idle No More movement and the land occupation at Caledonia in Ontario, many of them believe that Aboriginal people are simply trying to cling to backward ways of life and squeeze more cash out of the Canadian taxpayer, whether by guilt trips or threatening violence. These critics believe that Aboriginal people would be better off getting jobs and becoming “self-reliant”, in their words. 

These non-Native critics don’t know about the Reserve Paradox, the fact that the Indian Act and the reserves that are now symbols of Aboriginal peoples’ distinctiveness were in fact meant to assimilate Aboriginal people into Canadian society, stripping them of their identities in the process. The thought was that, with education and guidance from white authorities, the Aboriginal people who were their wards would eventually become part of mainstream society. Violence, racism, corruption and incompetence all meant that the assimilation efforts failed, and left an ugly legacy of dysfunction, alcoholism, corruption and crime on Aboriginal reserves that people are still trying to clean up. Part One of this essay provided an overview of the federal government’s assimilation efforts and the disastrous results for Aboriginal people, which are directly responsible for the miserable conditions many Aboriginals still face today. Part Two discusses how many of the problems caused by the Reserve Paradox still exist, how an ugly cycle of two-way racism and violence has only made the problem worse, and how we might finally be able to get beyond it.
  1. The More Things Change
Although things have improved in many ways for Aboriginal people, in other ways they have remained much the same.i The poverty and health issues described by Aboriginal activists such as Harold Cardinal and George Manuel in the 1960s and 1970s still persist in 2013. The Canadian Human Rights Commission noted that Aboriginal people continue to lag behind other Canadians in everything from income to employment to education.ii The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives further noted that half of status First Nations children live below the poverty line, a figure that increases to over 62% in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.iii

One major reason these problems persist is due to the ignorance of non-native Canadians as to the reasons for Aboriginal social problems and the existence of their Treaty rights. Few non-Natives have any problem with Aboriginal cultural ceremonies as dancing or powwows, but they object to Treaty hunting and fishing rights for Aboriginals, which they view as special treatment.iv Some non-Natives also believe that Aboriginal people are rolling in cash, influenced in part by the results of land claim and resource settlements,v and likely also due to the billions of dollars spent by the federal government on providing services and funding to Aboriginal reserves.

Another major cause is the fact that many non-Native Canadians simply don’t know about the attempts to assimilate Aboriginal people and the reasons the Treaties were signed, which accounts for their opposition to recognizing Aboriginal Treaty Bob Rae notes that many non-Natives seem to be of two minds on the issue. While they might want to recognize Aboriginal rights, they also believe very strongly that Canadian citizenship should apply equally to all citizens, regardless of background.vii

This meshes with the attitudes expressed by the government of Pierre Trudeau when it issued the 1969 White Paper and believed that the Treaties were holding Aboriginals back. The Trudeau government’s thinking, in turn, was derivative of the original thinking of the federal government when it set up the Indian Act and the reserve system as a way of removing everything that differentiated Aboriginals from other Canadians.viii Thankfully, the forced coercion employed by the authorities when Aboriginals refused to assimilate is no longer a tactic either of the federal government or non-Native society at large. However, the same thinking still remains.

In most cases, this is due more to ignorance than racism. Unfortunately, that racism is still entrenched in Canadian society. Harold Cardinal wrote in the 1960s about the ghettoization and racism many Aboriginals encountered when they moved to urban centres.ix Life for urban Aboriginals in the 21st century is reportedly very mixed- On the one hand there are reports of higher education, incomes and life expectancy among urban Aboriginals, but there is also the presence of urban gangs, family instability, prostitution and violence.x More subtle racism exists in the form of “polite” bigotry, with negative stereotypes and derogatory comments.xi

Not all non-Native assumptions are based on racism, of course. Some stem more from concerns that are in fact much more understandable, like the belief that the billions of dollars spent by Ottawa on Aboriginal people has not been a worthwhile use of taxpayer money. On paper, it seems like a lot of money, but the problem is that it’s much more complicated than most people realize. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the residential schools for Aboriginals were plagued by underfunding, often using money taken out of the existing Indian Affairs budget, and reducing the amount of money available for other projects. This underfunding was one of the many reasons why the residential schools were such a disaster for Aboriginal people.xii It was the same story in the second half of the 20th century, when Harold Cardinal noted that the seemingly large amount of money spent by the federal government on supporting Aboriginal people had to divided among all the thousands of Aboriginal people and pay for all of their living expenses, in addition to anything else they might be interested in pursuing.xiii

The same problem still exists more than 35 years later. Aboriginal activist Aaron Paquette noted that Ottawa’s $10 billion a year on Aboriginal services amounts to $16,500 per person for all services, while the province of Alberta spends $18,000 per person on education funding alone. Aboriginal chief Carolyn Buffalo got just $90,000 to cover the housing costs of her band.xiv The northern Ontario reserve of Attawapiskat got a lot of coverage from the supposed mismanagement of the millions of dollars it got from Ottawa. The $90 million the reserve has received is not the amount of funding it’s gotten per year, but actually how much funding it’s gotten since Stephen Harper became Prime Minister in 2006. Attawapiskat has only received some $18 million a year since that time.xv More generally, it’s been said that the federal government provides 20-30% less funding for Aboriginal education than non-Aboriginal schools that receive provincial funding.xvi 

One might also point out the fact that Aboriginal leaders are hardly the only ones who mismanage public funds, given the “significant gaps” that Ottawa’s own internal audits have shown in how the federal government is managing over a billion dollars meant for repairing Aboriginal infrastructure. And then there’s Ottawa’s own questionable spending of public money and clashes with the Parliamentary Budget Office over access to budgetary documents.xvii

As was noted in Part One of this essay, government action regarding the Indian Act, the residential schools and various policies leading up the 1969 White Paper were all unilaterally decided on by the federal government, without much consultation with the Aboriginals. When the Aboriginals were consulted, they were generally ignored. This attitude continued in the 1970s, when Harold Cardinal wrote about how many Indian Affairs programs were unilaterally designed by the federal government and then presented to the Aboriginals without giving them much say in how the programs were designed.xviii In the 1990s, Matthew Coon Come criticized the federal and Quebec governments for cherry-picking which parts of the James Bay Northern Quebec Agreement they chose to implement, effectively dictating the terms to the Aboriginals.xix 

The federal Conservative government of Stephen Harper has been accused of continuing with its top-down, big-government approach to dealing with Aboriginal people,xx and current Assembly of First Nations leader Shawn Atleo laments the lack of progress in dealing with the Harper government and its top-down approach.xxi As Tim Querengesser writes, some individual Aboriginal reserves may in fact be very innovative, but many of their positive ideas for change are rejected by Ottawa.xxii

Many of these problems have gone on for decades, a century or more. Aboriginal people have typically tried to resolve these issues and make the governing authorities aware of their opinions, but quite often the governing officials have ignored them, driving many Aboriginals to desperation and frustration. This has led to confrontations such as those at Oka and Caledonia, problems which have much deeper roots than most people realize, and contribute to an ugly cycle of anger and racism between Aboriginal and non-Native Canadians.
  1. Standoffs and Occupations: Old Causes, New Problems
The standoffs and confrontations that have occurred in places such as Oka, Ipperwash, Gustafsen Lake, Caledonia, Burnt Church and the land of the Lubicon Cree have many of the same origins. These origins generally centre around Aboriginal people protesting non-Native development of lands that the Aboriginals believe were never ceded by a Treaty (in Oka, Ipperwash and Caledonia and on the Lubicon Cree’s traditional territory), or by Aboriginal attempts to make use of land and resources that were never formally ceded by Treaty (at Gustafsen Lake) or they had a Treaty right to use (at Burnt Church).xxiii Some of these disputes, most notably at Oka, are centuries old, but the pattern has generally been the same. Aboriginal Treaty and land property rights have been consistently ignored by non-Native authorities, who act unilaterally without consideration of the Aboriginals’ rights or needs, in some cases deciding what is “best” for them.xxiv

To many non-Native observers, these standoffs and confrontations have seemed like just more examples of Aboriginal people refusing to integrate with the modern world, to laze around waiting for handouts instead of getting productive jobs and using violence to extort more money from the public. The reaction in some circles to Idle No More has been no different.xxv Indeed, as noted by writers like Ojibwa man Mike Alexander, Idle No More can be seen as the latest manifestation by Aboriginal people against policies and attitudes that have harmed them and their ways of life. Citing Aboriginal singer Buffy Sainte-Marie, he notes that there is nothing new about Idle No More, and indeed he doesn’t believe much has changed since the summer of 1990. The same negative perception, without any attempt to understand the Aboriginal point of view, has marked much of the media coverage about the movement.xxvi

Other parallels exist between Idle No More and previous Aboriginal protests. In 1988, when the frustrated Lubicon Cree of Alberta mounted a blockade, other Aboriginals in Quebec and Ontario mounted blockades in solidarity.xxvii During the Oka standoff in 1990, sympathy protests, blockades and standoffs erupted across the country at the same time.xxviii As of this writing, Idle No More and other Aboriginal activists are planning a “Sovereignty Summer” full of protests and potential blockades, meant to stop “business as usual” in Canada, based on the belief that Prime Minister Harper only listens to economics. Aboriginal activist Andrea Landry expressed her concern that violence may flare up, caused by the growing frustration in many Aboriginal communities with what they see as the Harper government’s stonewalling.xxix

Landry’s comment ties into the much darker side of Aboriginal protest and activism, namely the violence that occurs during these conflicts that further poisons relationships between Aboriginals and non-Native Canadians, and the racism attached to it. Some standoffs have involved gunfire, which led to the death of Dudley George at Ipperwash in 1995 and of Corporal Marcel Lemay in 1990 at Oka. Other outbreaks of violence involved harassment and attacks of Mohawk people by white Quebecers at Okaxxx and beating of a non-Native man who building a house for his daughter near the land claimed by the Aboriginal Caledonia occupation by Aboriginal protesters.xxxi More general bigotry could be seen by the attempts by non-Native Quebecers to subtly and not-so-subtly undermine the claims, rights and even identities of the Aboriginal protesters, while some of the Aboriginals in turn demonized the non-Natives with racist statements and attacked the non-Natives’ own identities.xxxii

When non-Native Canadians don’t understand the backgrounds of these protests, and end up seeing the bigotry and the violence expressed by some Aboriginal radicals, it’s not hard to see why they wrongly conclude these protests are just a cover for Aboriginal extortion. It creates an ugly cycle that feeds on itself, as non-Natives react badly to what they think is just Aboriginal violence, particularly when they themselves are caught up in it, and in turn become opposed to any recognition of Aboriginal peoples’ distinct status. In turn, when Aboriginal people see the non-Native refusal to recognize their distinct place in Canada, it contributes to the frustration many of them feel. As previously noted, these standoffs generally start when the Aboriginals feel that they have no other choice, or when they try to assert their Treaty rights. Even then, the proceedings could be sidetracked by Aboriginal radicals that actively made things worse.xxxiii

Small wonder, then, that some Aboriginal people hope that Idle No More can be used as an opportunity to “reset” the relationship between Aboriginal Canadians and their non-Native fellow citizens. Aboriginal activist Chelsea Vowel is encouraged by the dialogue she sees going on with non-Native Canadians, and build more understanding between them and their Aboriginal kin and neighbours.xxxiv This is a hopeful development, and it is exactly what Canada needs. It will be only through that kind of dialogue that a stronger place for Aboriginals will be established in Canada, one that puts an end to the Reserve Paradox.
  1. Dialogue And Development
However, achieving that dialogue still presents a challenge in Canada. Many non-Native Canadians simply don’t know the background of the Reserve Paradox, or the real reasons why Aboriginal people have to deal with so many problems in Canada today. This essay has shown many of those reasons, and how they continue to be persistent headaches for many Aboriginals today. The Idle No More movement, and the past work of activists like Harold Cardinal, George Manuel and Ovide Mercredi have all played critical roles in making non-Native Canadians aware of these issues.

However, there are still problems with the Idle No More movement itself. Blogger Stephen Lee, who is of Mik’maq ancestry, has expressed his disgust with those non-Natives who have genuine malice and bigotry against Aboriginals, particularly when it’s of the “soft racist” type. However, he is also concerned that some of the Idle No More movement’s supporters attack all non-Natives who question it as racists, instead of actually answering their questions. Lee is also concerned that Idle No More’s goals are diffuse, and that all of the disparate groups who make it up have no clear, unified message. That, along with many non-Natives’ own unwillingness to accept that problems still exist, are major reasons why there seems to be an impasse when neither side can even seem to agree on the terms of the dialogue.xxxv Non-Native blogger Patrick Ross puts it rather more bluntly, claiming that Idle No More was able to be hijacked by “any douchebag with an axe to grind”, as he put it.xxxvi

Non-Native commentator Don Lenihan, however, provides a substantial explanation for Idle No More’s form and its protests against the Harper government’s tactics. Lenihan believes that Idle No More is a truly grassroots movement that is trying to dissociate itself from the established Aboriginal leadership and the controversy over the nepotism and corruption among some Aboriginal reserve governments. Grassroots movements are often eclectic and have sometimes conflicting views among their members.

Idle No More was also formed more specifically in response to the protests many Aboriginals made about the Harper government’s reforms to the parts of the Indian Act governing reserve lands. This essay has already highlighted the way the federal government has frequently made top-down policy for Aboriginals, without actually consulting the people the reforms are meant for. As previously noted, many Aboriginals feel that the Harper government is continuing in this way, and they have little trust for the government or its intentions. Indeed, many people are concerned that Harper’s reforms on land use will enable those in the best position to do so to put their own personal gain ahead of the needs of the reserve community. The community would be unable to stop them, and in turn they would lose their land base, the reserves would be dissolved, and the Aboriginals would ultimately be assimilated.xxxvii

These are not new concerns. In the 1970s, Aboriginal activist George Manuel wrote about how many Aboriginals were suspicious of promises of economic development that provided an uncertain number of jobs in exchange for nearly unlimited leases and amounts of pollution without local control, which would only exchange one form of stagnant poverty for another. Similarly, many Aboriginals were concerned that the selling off of reserve lands would lead to them being whittled down and disappearing.xxxviii In the 1980s, Aboriginal activist Georges Erasmus echoed the point, stating that private enterprise and investment would be very welcome in developing Aboriginal economies, but that the Aboriginal communities need the appropriate ownership of land and subsurface rights.xxxix Manuel also agreed with the positive advantages the private sector could bring for economic development.xl Jody Wilson-Raybould points out that many Aboriginals are quite happy with economic development, but they want to ensure that the primary beneficiaries are the Aboriginal citizens themselves, not just third parties or potential speculators. Many reserves are also developing their own particular land management initiatives according to their own needs.xli

Economic development and jobs are a critical part of moving beyond the Reserve Paradox, but they are not the only elements. Aboriginal Treaty rights are specifically recognized in Sections 25 and 35 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and are a full part of the Canadian Constitution. In the 1980s, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Treaties such as the 1752 treaty between the British Crown and the Mik’maq in the Maritimes were still in effect,xlii and further noted that Aboriginal land titles in Canada exist based on their long-time occupation of the land.xliii These things cannot simply be wished away-they are part of the law of the land. The question all Canadians, Aboriginals and non-Natives alike, have to answer is how we can live together.
  1. The Two Row Wampum Belt: An Alternative
Many Aboriginal people don’t trust the federal government, for the reasons noted in this essay. Some, however, go even further and don’t consider themselves Canadian at all. Aboriginal scholar Patricia Monture-Angus, for instance, isn’t sure what Canadian citizenship really has to offer her, given that most of the actions of the Canadian state have not benefited Aboriginal people.xliv She further notes that most non-Native commentary centres only on what Aboriginal people must do to solve the problems they face, without commenting on what non-Natives ought to do.

In her view, relations between Aboriginals and non-Natives should be based on the Gus-Wen-Tah, or “Two Row Wampum Belt”, which symbolizes the Treaties signed between the Aboriginals of Canada and the Canadian Crown and government. While this relationship has been defined and is part of the Canadian Constitution, Monture-Angus writes that it has yet to be fully lived by non-Native Canadian society. Reserve lines and borders have been applied with little to no consultation by the Aboriginals themselves. These rigid borders are a sense of frustration to Aboriginals who move onto and off reserves regularly, particularly since their Treaty rights apply only on one side of the border.xlv Her fellow scholar Taiaiake Alfred is more blunt, saying that Aboriginals are being assimilated by the very acceptance of Canadian citizenship. He believes that the Aboriginals should deal with non-Native Canadians on a “nation to nation” basis, rather than as fellow Canadian citizens.xlvi

Such stances are controversial, to say the least. In his review of proposals for how Aboriginal governments and people would fit into Canadian society, non-Native political scientist Alan Cairns points out that most of them stress the maximum amount of autonomy for Aboriginal people, with much less regard to how they would interact with non-Native Canadian society.xlvii He further points out the factors that complicate any effort at maximizing Aboriginal independence, such as intermarriage between Aboriginals and non-Natives, the large population of Aboriginals dwelling in urban areas, the number of people of Aboriginal ancestry who don’t identify with an Aboriginal identity and the smaller sizes and population of many reserves.xlviii

I myself would also add the questions of whether non-Canadian Aboriginal communities would mint and use their own currencies, set up their own embassies in other countries and generally set up all the practical trappings of state sovereignty, or whether they would continue to use Canada’s currency, embassies and other state creations. Similarly, how and when will Aboriginal or Canadian law apply to non-Natives who run into issues on Aboriginal territories?xlix Will Aboriginals such as Elijah Harper, who sent such a strong message to non-Native Canadians on behalf of his people when he helped derail the Meech Lake Accord, still be able to run for office in and get elected to Canadian legislatures?l

Other Aboriginals have provided a solution to these issues. Thinkers like George Manuelli and Ovide Mercredilii have invoked the Two Row Wampum Belt as a symbol for what the relations between Canadians and other Aboriginals can be like. Aboriginal law professor John Borrows also notes that, at the same time that the Two Row Wampum Belt was exchanged, a ‘Belt of Peace’ was exchanged that emphasized just how interconnected the Native and non-Aboriginal peoples were, something the Two Row Wampum Belt also symbolizes. As important as self-government is for Aboriginals, it doesn’t encompass all of the relationships Aboriginals have with the rest of society, or lands outside their own reserves. Borrows argues for an Aboriginal participation in Canadian affairs, which would enable Aboriginals to maintain those bonds with the rest of the land even as they work and thrive alongside their non-Native neighbours. The meaning of being Aboriginal grows and changes with time, and Aboriginal values can help develop and evolve Canadian culture, society and identity.liii

As with so much relating to the Reserve Paradox, these ideas are not new. In the 1970s, George Manuel wrote that the Two Row Wampum Belt isn’t necessarily just about the separation of non-Native and Aboriginal cultures, but also about straddling both of the vessels, and expressing concern when one or both runs into problems.liv In his view, the Aboriginal goal of home rule and responsible government wasn’t very different from what non-Natives were looking for. Besides, just as non-Native governing institutions have been modified to meet the changing times, so too can Aboriginal governing institutions adapt to new challenges and integrate into Canada without Even institutions such as the Two Row Wampum Belt can change and evolve as needed.lvi

Of course, some non-Natives might ask why all this is necessary. Why can’t Aboriginal people just be Canadian like all the other residents of the country? In replying to this question, Harold Cardinal pointed out that many Aboriginals feel their identities are tied up with their Treaty rights. Being told to ‘just’ be Canadian is taken by many Aboriginals to mean that they should abandon their identities, and that “white is right”. He stated that most Aboriginals are in fact quite happy to participate in mainstream Canadian society, but they don’t want to have to give up their identities in the process.lvii

Ovide Mercredi points out that Aboriginals see themselves as distinct peoples in Canada, and have a sacred responsibility to be themselves. Telling them that they should assimilate and conform to the status quo is like telling them that they should “civilize” and stop “acting like savages.”lviii As noted by Randall White, conflicts like the Caledonia standoff are about much more than just land claims. They are also about a continuing lack of recognition of Aboriginal rights, and the frustrations that come from it. Forcibly dispersing a standoff like Caledonia wouldn’t really solve anything, and would probably just lead to more standoffs in the future.lix

Cardinal further emphasizes the fact that a declaration of ‘nationhood’ by Aboriginals does not necessarily imply the forming of a separate country. What it actually means is a statement of their unique place in North America. Unfortunately, Aboriginals were never asked if they wanted to be members of more than one nation. The governing authorities apparently saw it as a black and white choice between being Aboriginal or being Canadian, which goes against some of the fundamental philosophical and even religious beliefs of the Aboriginals. They believe that the land was meant to be shared, not just occupied by one group or another.lx 

The Dene of the Northwest Territories are a classic example, having stated that they are a ‘nation’ and a distinct people in Canada, but they emphasize that they seek to be recognized within Canada.lxi
Mercredi drives the point home when he states that self-government for Aboriginals is what would make them free, not simply assimilating and abolishing the Indian Act. He notes that it is easy to support strictly individual, undifferentiated rights for all Canadians when all of the equivalents to the collective rights Aboriginals seek to have recognized (e.g., speaking the English language) are secure. Indeed, Mercredi states that recognizing Aboriginals on a “nation to nation” basis would have positive benefits for all of Canadian society, not just the Aboriginals themselves.lxii Former Northwest Territories Premier Stephen Kakfwi pointed out that, while the Aboriginals of the Northern territories felt they had to “hit back” at the federal government and the resource companies, they did so with the support of and for the benefit of their non-Native neighbours, as well as themselves.lxiii

The idea of mutual benefits for both Aboriginals and non-Natives is one that repeats itself in Aboriginal discourse. Georges Erasmus wrote about strong Aboriginal economies strengthening the economies of the larger regions they’re incorporated in,lxiv a point reinforced by the Royal Bank of Canadalxv and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.lxvi Idle No More spokespeople such as Chief Shining Turtlelxvii and Pam Palmaterlxviii emphasize that the changes to environmental regulations passed by the Harper government in 2012 endanger the quality of life for all Canadians, Aboriginal and non-Native alike.
  1. Telling A New Story
Recognizing the Two Row Wampum Belt and the meaning behind it would go a long way to overcoming the Reserve Paradox and reinforcing the spirit of the Treaties. As previously noted, the Treaties are part of the fundamental laws of Canada and their recognition is long overdue. Harold Cardinal noted that there is often much more convergence between Aboriginal and non-Native conceptions of what it means to be Canadian than most people realize.lxix Kathy Brock notes that the idea of Aboriginals being interconnected with non-Natives and participating in the larger country is quite compatible with the idea of Aboriginals developing their own particular institutions and territories in Canada. Many Aboriginal people in fact travel frequently to and from reserves, maintaining strong connections between the on- and off-reserve populations.lxx

Much of this essay has been devoted to describing all of the problems and suffering caused by the Reserve Paradox, and also to discussing the weaknesses in some elements of the Idle No More movement and the larger Aboriginal movement. As it stands, the Reserve Paradox creates a self-fulfilling cycle of frustration and anger. The lack of recognition of their rights and perspectives, and the unilateral actions of non-Native society, create frustration for Aboriginals that can and does cause violence at places like Oka and Caledonia. In turn, those actions create a backlash against Aboriginal people and a refusal to recognize their rights, which starts the cycle all over again.

But that’s not all there is to it. As Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux and others have pointed out, for all the frustration Aboriginal people have encountered in dealing with the federal government and non-Native society, they are also gaining educations, building businesses, and social initiatives. For them, Idle No More is a way of giving voice to their concerns.lxxi Even in the ugliest crises, reconciliation can still occur-the book Justice for Natives: Searching For Common Ground is an account of how Aboriginals and non-Natives alike tried to defuse tensions and build a better relationship after Oka. The sister of the slain Marcel Lemay found healing with the Mohawk community nearly 15 years after the crisis.lxxii

Stories have long played an important role in Aboriginal culture. Currently, the story of the Reserve Paradox is one of broken promises, racism and a long, cycle of frustration. But the story doesn’t have to end there. At the same time as all the problems of the Reserve Paradox remain with us, people have been telling new stories-stories of reconciliation and healing, of rebuilding cultures and societies, of building bridges between Canadians.

The problems we face now do not just affect Aboriginals-they affect all of us. We are all Canadians-we are simply too intertwined to be anything else. But we can tell a new story, one that revives the true spirit of the Treaties by recognizing the distinct place of Aboriginal people in Canada and the Two Row Wampum Belt. It won’t solve all of our problems, but it will go a long way towards healing old wounds and building bridges between Canadians. 

It can be a truly Canadian story, one that builds a better tomorrow for all of us. 

i Harold Cardinal, The Unjust Society. Vancouver, British Columbia: Douglas & McIntyre, 1999. Originally published in Edmonton, Alberta: Hurtig Publishers, 1969. Pages viii-xiii.

ii Canadian Human Rights Commission, Report on the Equality Rights of Aboriginal People. Ottawa, Ontario: Canadian Human Rights Commission, 2013. Available online at

iii David Macdonald and Daniel Wilson, Poverty or Prosperity: Indigenous Children in Canada. Ottawa, Ontario: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 2013. Available online at

iv David R. Newhouse, “All Singing, All Dancing, 24/7” in Centre for Research and Information on Canada, Facing The Future: Relations Between Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal Canadians. CRIC Papers, June 2004. Available online at Page 12. See also Carol Crowe’s comments in “Interview With Community Leaders On The Prairies” on page 5.

v Kelly Lendsay, “Interview With Community Leaders On The Prairies,” page 5 of Facing The Future: Relations Between Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal Canadians.

vi Kris Frederickson, Matthew Dunn and Donita Large, commentaries on David Newhouse’s article on pages 14-18 of Facing The Future: Relations Between Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal Canadians.

vii Bob Rae, “Citizens Plus: A Review”, in Bridging the Divide Between Aboriginal Peoples and the Canadian State, pages 5-7. The Centre for Research and Information on Canada, CRIC Papers #2, June 2001. Available online at

viii More details on the original thinking that led to the reserve system, the Indian Act and the 1969 White Paper, can be found in Part One of this essay.

ix Cardinal, The Unjust Society, pages 4-5. See also George Manuel and Michael Posluns, The Fourth World: An Indian Reality. Don Mills, Ontario: Collier Macmillan Canada Ltd., 1974. Pages 123-125.

x Alan C. Cairns, First Nations and the Canadian State: In Search of Coexistence. Kingston, Ontario: Institute of Intergovernmental Relations, School of Policy Studies, Queen’s University, 2005. Pages 12-13.

xi Donita Large, “Polite Racism and Lack of Mainstream Aboriginal Education in Canada,” commentary on David Newhouse’s article in Facing The Future: Relations Between Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal Canadians, pages 16-17.

xii Olive Patricia Dickason and David T. McNab, Canada’s First Nations: A History of Founding Peoples From Earliest Times. Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press, 4th edition, 2009. Pages 307-310.

xiii Harold Cardinal, The Rebirth of Canada’s Indians. Edmonton, Alberta: Hurtig Pubilishers, 1977. Pages 152-153. See also Manuel and Posluns, pages 205-206.

xiv Kevin Ma, “Why Idle No More?” Local panel looks at gulf between Aboriginals and leaders. St. Albert Gazette, February 23, 2013.

xv Chelsea Vowel, “Attawapiskat: You want to be shown the money? Here it is.” Huffington Post Canada, December 26, 2011.

xvi J.F. Foulds, “Reflections on Idle No More.” Straight Goods News, February 11, 2013.

xvii “First Nations funds mishandled by Ottawa, audits show.” Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, January 5, 2012. See also Michael Adams, “First Nations: The media misses the point-again.” IPolitics website, January 10, 2013. See also an author with the screen name of “Sixth Estate”, “Is Theresa Spence’s alleged fiscal mismanagement serious because she’s an Indian, or because she’s not a Conservative Cabinet minister? The Sixth Estate blog, January 7, 2013. See also Sixth Estate’s “If Theresa Spence was a white politician, she could have just fired the auditor.” Sixth Estate blog, January 10, 2013.

xviii Cardinal, The Rebirth of Canada’s Indians, pages 47-48.

xix Matthew Coon Come, “Different Laws For Different People”, in Justice For Natives: Searching For Common Ground, edited by Andrea P. Morrison with Irwin Cotler. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1997. Pages 162-166, citation on pages 164-165.

xx Chris Plecash, “Federal Conservatives taking ‘big government’ approach to First Nations: Critics say the Tories are continuing to impose policies top-down on First Nations.” First Perspectives website, June 17, 2013.

xxi Tim Harper, “Shawn Atleo, Assembly of First Nations Chief, has little to show his people.” The Toronto Star, June 16, 2013. See also Gloria Galloway, ““Native leaders frustrated by lack of consultation with Ottawa on job program.” The Globe and Mail, March 22, 2013.

xxii Tim Querengeser, “Why Indigenous blockades are now Indigenous to Canada.” This Magazine, February 19, 2013.

xxiii Dickason and McNab, pages 333-334, 319-324, 413-415, 443-445.

xxiv For an account of the sorry Oka saga, including the constant and repeated peaceful attempts by the Aboriginals to get fair treatment and have their rights respected, see J.R. Miller, “Great White Father Knows Best: Oka and the Land Claims Process.” Native Studies Review 7.1 (1991), pages 23-52. See also Dickason and McNab, pages 319-321. For an account of the Lubicon Cree’s blockades, see Arthur J. Ray, I Have Lived Here Since The World Began: An Illustrated History of Canada’s Native Peoples. Toronto, Ontario: Key Porter Books, 1996. Pages 350-356. For an account of the Caledonia occupation from the occupiers’ point of view, see John Ahni Schertow/Ahniwanika, “To The People of Caledonia and All Canadians.”

xxv As an example, see Michael Adams, “First Nations: The media misses the point-again.”

xxvi Mike Alexander, “The failed whitewashing of Idle No More.” Divided No More website, February 23, 2013.

xxvii Ray, page 354.

xxviii Peter C. Newman, The Canadian Revolution 1985-1995: From Deference To Defiance. Toronto, Ontario: Penguin Books Canada, 1995. Page 360.

xxix Laura Beaulne-Steubing, “First Nations plan ‘Sovereignty Summer’.” IPolitics website, June 19, 2013.

xxx Will Ferguson, Bastards and Boneheads: Canada’s Glorious Leaders Past and Present. Vancouver, B.C. and Toronto, Ontario: Douglas & McIntyre, 1999. Pages 216-217.

xxxi “Trio Sought in Caledonia Beating.” Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, September 20, 2007.

xxxii Pierre Trudel, De la négation de l’Autre dans les discours nationalistes des Québécois et des Autochtones, in Le nationalité autonomiste des Québécois, extrait de Les Nationalismes au Québec du XIXième au XXiième siècle, edited by Michel Sarra-Bournet with the assistance of Jocelyn Saint-Pierre. Quebec City : Les Presses de l’Université Laval, 2001. Pages 203-230.

xxxiii See Dickason and McNab, pages 414-415, for an example of what happened at Ipperwash. The violence at Caledonia can in all likelihood be attributed to radicals as well.

xxxiv Duncan McCue, “The cultural importance of Idle No More.” Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, January 9, 2013.

xxxv Stephen Lee, “Trying To Understand Idle No More.” The Orange Tory blog, January 8, 2013. See also Lee, “Racist No More,” January 15, 2013.

xxxvi Patrick Ross, “My Personal Response to Nina Waste.” Bad Company Canada blog, March 24, 2013.

xxxvii Don Lenihan, “Building a Crown-First Nations Relationship On Trust.” IPolitics website, January 8, 2013.

xxxviii Manuel and Posluns, pages 151 and 169.

xxxix Georges Erasmus, in his contribution to If I Were Prime Minister, compiled and introduced by Mel Hurtig. Edmonton, Alberta: Hurtig Publishers, 1987. Pages 78-82, citation on pages 79-80.

xl Manuel’s contribution to If I Were Prime Minister, pages 186-190. Citation on pages 188-189.

xli Jody Wilson-Raybould, “First Nations want property rights-but on their own terms.” The Globe and Mail, August 10, 2012.

xlii Ovide Mercredi and Mary Ellen Turpel, In The Rapids: Navigating The Future Of First Nations. Toronto, Ontario: Viking Press, 1993. Page 60.

xliii Newman, page 365.

xliv Patricia Monture-Angus, in a discussion between her, Alan Cairns and Kathy Brock in Bridging the Divide Between Aboriginal Peoples and the Canadian State, page 19.

xlv Monture-Angus, “Citizens Plus: Sensitivities vs. Solutions,” in Bridging the Divide Between Aboriginal Peoples and the Canadian State, pages 8-13.

xlvi Taiaiake Alfred, “Who you calling Canadian?” Windspeaker magazine, Volume 18, Issue 5, 2000. Available online at

xlvii Alan C. Cairns, Citizens Plus: Aboriginal Peoples and the Canadian State. Vancouver, B.C.: UBC Press, 2000. Pages 177-182, 191-195 and 200-205.

xlviii Alan C. Cairns, First Nations and the Canadian State: In Search of Coexistence, pages 11-15, 36-38 and 51.

xlix One of my professors in university was Dr. Lloyd Patrick Dempsey, an Aboriginal man who was himself part of the Blood nation in southern Alberta. In a conversation with me on this issue, he observed that, if the practical trappings of sovereignty like currencies were not employed by separate Aboriginal nations, then they were not in fact truly sovereign.

l Elijah Harper, “A Time To Say No”, in Justice For Natives: Searching For Common Ground, pages 219-226. In this speech, Harper specifically notes that he did not say ‘no’ to Meech Lake because of any opposition to Quebec nationalism, but because he wanted to drive home the point that Aboriginal people and their rights could not be ignored in constitutional discussions.

li George Manuel’s contribution to If I Were Prime Minister, page 186. See also Manuel and Posluns, 8-9 and 97-98.

lii Mercredi and Mary Ellen Turpel, page 35.

liii John Borrows, “’Landed’ citizenship: Narratives of Aboriginal political participation,” in Citizenship, Diversity and Pluralism: Canadian and Comparative Perspectives. Edited by Alan C. Cairns, John C. Courtney, Peter MacKinnon, Hans J. Michelmann and David E. Smith. Montreal, Quebec and Kingston, Ontario: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1999. Pages 72-86, particularly pages 75-81.

liv Manuel and Posluns, pages 8-9.

lv Ibid., pages 135, 203 and 215-219.

lvi Thomas Hueglin, “Constitutional Federalism vs. Treaty Federalism in Canada: Aboriginal Political Thought Beyond The State”, paper presented to the “New Federalism In North America” conference in Mexico City, CISAN-UNAM, November 1998. 26 pages, citation on pages 17-18.

lvii Cardinal, The Unjust Society, pages 12, 19 and 21.

lviii Mercredi and Turpel, pages 21 and 106-109.

lix Randall White, “Happy birthday to who? And where does the Six Nations Caledonia protest go from here?, February 28, 2007.

lx Cardinal, The Rebirth of Canada’s Indians, pages 140-144.

lxi Cited in Jeffrey Simpson, Faultlines: Struggling For A Canadian Vision. Toronto, Ontario: HarperCollins Publishers, 1993. Pages 201 and 232.

lxii Mercredi and Turpel, pages 46-47.

lxiii Stephen Kakfwi, in an interview given in Facing The Future: Relations Between Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal Canadians, pages 9-10.

lxiv Erasmus, in his contribution to If I Were Prime Minister, page 80.

lxv John McCallum, chief economist of the Royal Bank of Canada, “Aboriginal Economic Development Report”, October 1997. Available online at

lxvi Internal paper published in 2012 by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. Available online at

lxvii Chief Shining Turtle, “Idle No More: An Open Letter To My Non-Aboriginal Neighbours. The Huffington Post, January 25, 2013.

lxviii Pam Palmater, “What is the Idle No More movement…really?” Indigenous Nationhood blog, January 3, 2013.

lxix Cardinal, The Rebirth of Canada’s Indians, pages 8-13.

lxx Kathy L. Brock, “Citizens Plus: Old Debates, New Understandings” in Bridging the Divide Between Aboriginal Peoples and the Canadian State, pages 15-17.

lxxi Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, “Aboriginal youth find their voice in Idle No More.” Calgary Herald, February 1, 2013.

lxxii Loreen Pindera, “A sister’s grief bridges a cultural divide.” Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, July 8, 2010.