Saturday, November 26, 2011

Yet another promising piece of legislation by Canada’s Conservative Government

Canada’s Conservative government has introduced yet another important piece of legislation in the First Nations Financial Transparency Act.

Bill C-27 was introduced in the House on November 23 by Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development John Duncan.  The bill’s purpose is to “to enhance the financial accountability and transparency of First Nations by requiring the preparation and public disclosure of their audited consolidated financial statements and of the schedules of remuneration paid by a First Nation or by any entity that it controls, as the case may be, to its chief and each of its councillors, acting in their capacity as such and in any other capacity, including their personal capacity.”

These audited statements will provide invaluable insight into what a band’s chiefs and councillors are paying themselves, and whether the federal government’s grants are really being used appropriately.  Failure to provide disclosure for a financial audit to take place will place the reserve in jeopardy of having its future funding cut off.

This bill comes after Canada has seen its share of financial abuse committed by aboriginals on reserves.  It is required to ensure accountability and responsibility is borne for every dollar transferred to the reserves.

In 2010, for example, the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation revealed that “222 aboriginal chiefs and councillors from First Nations communities across Canada earn more money than their provincial premiers, and 82 make more than the prime minister.”  (Prime Minister Harper makes $317,574 a year and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty makes $208,974).

Leaders of the Alexander Indian Band of Alberta are supposed to be elected by their communities, but they literally bought their re-election in 2002.  They transferred $108,868 to residents the night before the election was to take place, with each person receiving between $150 and $200 with the understanding that they would vote for the incumbent leaders in the follow day’s election.

In another atrocious example, Shirley Clarke, Chief of the Glooscap First Nation in Nova Scotia, was revealed to be taking a $243,000 salary for her work – in a community with only 304 people.  Clarke’s work means she represents each person for $800, and if we carried that math into our House of Commons we’d be paying our Members of Parliament (who represent on average 100,000 people) $80 million a year!

But even after drawing her gross salary, Clarke still had the audacity to grant $978,468 of tax-free money to a fellow band councillor – a contract she insisted was for “business.”

Bill C-27 is yet another step in the right direction thanks to Canada’s Conservative government.  It will afford every Canadian taxpayer the ability to go online and read what every native band is receiving each year – especially when it comes to salaries.  It will allow for the appropriate level of scrutiny when it comes to taxpayers’ money being spent wisely, and surely citizen scrutiny will intensify if we ever again discover a chief to be drawing a handsome $243,000 salary.

But this should not be the end of reforms for aboriginals.  Canada currently spends about $6.3 billion per year to keep aboriginals on reserves – a system which has constantly been referred to as Canada’s own version of apartheid (The Globe and Mail, the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation).

The systemic theft of money by chiefs – as detailed above – is only one problem.  Federal transfers keep aboriginals on reserves, where their livelihood is similar to that of a person growing up in a third world nation.  The land on which these reserves exist belongs to the Crown, meaning aboriginals are treated as if they’re guests renting a portion of land from the government.  It also means they cannot fully benefit from the resources which may be located on that land – valuable resources like oil.

The entire Indian Act needs to be amended, if not outright scrapped and started over again.

Indeed, C-27 is an excellent and necessary first step, but we need much more.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Ottawa deserves better

OCTranspo’s bus driver’s union, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 279 (ATU) has shown its continual contempt and disrespect for Ottawa residents in the face of several incidents involving drivers.

It is disappointing to have such an inefficient, disrespectful bus service in Ottawa of all places, our nation’s capital where laws that form our society and identity are debated and passed.

Back in February a driver berated a passenger for smelling of smoke, and hurled a barrage of insults at him.  That driver then turned to another passenger and verbally accosted her for separate issues.  The union’s response wasn’t “we’re sorry” or “this driver will be dealt with.”  Instead, they outrageously rebutted “well video cameras are not allowed on buses.”

Excuse me?  You have specific evidence of a driver abusing his passengers, and your response is to attack the person who videotaped the incident?

This same appalling behaviour on behalf of the union continued last week.  A driver made news for screaming at a mentally handicapped passenger, telling him to “shut the f—k up!” and saying that he would assault the passenger if he did not get off the bus.

The driver has luckily been terminated, but disgusting is the response from union president Garry Queale.  He said it was clearly because driving a bus is stressful.

Most recently, a driver abandoned his bus on perhaps the busiest and most vital bridge for Ottawa transit - the Mackenzie King Bridge.  This bridge sees every bus traveling to the east or west end of Ottawa along the Transitway.  Bus riders know that this bridge is backed up for hundreds of meters on a daily basis, with hundreds of buses waiting to pick up passengers.  At this specific stop is the Rideau Centre Mall and the Department of National Defence’s Headquarters, where hundreds of government workers and mall-goers sift through the long line of buses to find their ride home.

Why did the driver abandon his bus?  Because he was asked why he was running 45 minutes late.  How awful for the elderly passenger to make such an inquiry!

Again the union issued a dreadful statement.  They said that OCTranspo drivers are clearly being targeted by passengers eager to videotape any misstep, so instead of fixing the problem or interacting with passengers, drivers are supposed to avoid confrontation.

It’s no surprise that Ottawa residents are not fans of OCTranspo bus drivers.  This is the same union that stranded passengers for 53 days because they demanded higher pay and significantly increased benefits at the peak of the global economic recession.  ATU President Andre Cornellier was known for famously stating “sure, we’re inconveniencing people.  What of it?” which didn’t win the union any supporters.

The union got their wish, among several other cozy perks, so why are these drivers still so apparently stressed out?

They’re certainly not stressed about money.  OCTranspo bus drivers make a starting salary of $28 an hour, and they regularly make the Ontario sunshine list for pulling in over $100,000 a year.

Again, the union President insists they’re stressed about being bus drivers and having to make routes run on time.

OCTranspo should welcome this little thing called “accountability.”  They can expect lots more of it.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

White poppies disrespect veterans, misinterpret red poppies

Few symbols in our society are as universally understood and respected as the red poppy. 

The red poppy has been used as a symbol of remembrance in Canada since 1921.  We also knows of the infamous In Flanders Fields, in which red poppies “blow between the crosses, row on row.”

It’s a classic and universally understood symbol, not subject to political considerations of whether war is “right” or “necessary” or “wrong.”  It’s a symbol that represents the brave men and women in uniform who have served our country and paid the ultimate price so that Canada could become the Canada as we know it today.  The country in which they paid that ultimate price may have changed, as have the Prime Ministers and Parliaments which decided to send those brave soles to war.  The act of remembrance is premised on remembering the soldiers, not the government that sent them or the reasons for such.

But a “peace organization” in Prince Edward Island has been assaulting this invaluable symbol for several years now.  They’ve come out with the white poppy, which they say represents peace as opposed to violence and war.  They’re opposing war, as if anyone wearing the red poppy is pro-war or pro-death.

What white poppy proponents fail to realize is that they’re violently shoving their “peace” symbol in the face of poppy wearers who clearly don’t like war or death (who does?).  The red poppy brings back not only memories of Flander’s Fields, but of the blood spilled by our brave soldiers.

Jim Ross, president of the Royal Canadian Legion in Prince Edward Island, said “to denigrate a symbol of the remembrance of people who died for this country certainly is emotional.”  And almost 60 percent of respondents in an online CBC poll agreed.

Not only does the white poppy denigrate the red poppy, it steals revenues from the Legion too.  Poppy boxes are placed in various locations across Canada, and the poppy purchases and donations received go towards the Legion’s operations and support services.  As a former cadet who supported the Legion by selling poppies in October and November, it was not uncommon for a person to donate $5, $10, or $20 for a single poppy.  Using the white poppy to attempt to supplant the red poppy steals money from veteran’s pockets and replaces and essential symbol with a meaningless one.

So whether they served in Korea or Afghanistan, Rwanda or Normandy, veterans deserve our utmost respect and remembrance.  Do not devalue such an important symbol by recognizing an organization bent on curbing the remembrance of our fallen men and women.  Wear a red poppy.  Lest we forget.

The irony of Ontario’s Human Rights Commission is in its name

Human Rights Commissions (HRC’s) were originally set up to protect, well, human rights.  They were set up to allow citizens to express their human rights concerns to the government, to seek damages when their human rights were violated.  And they were given quasi-judicial status so that ordinary citizens could seek relief from these Commissions in an efficient manner.  The Commissions could process cases faster than real courts, which have high standards pertaining to the acceptance of evidence, testimony, and so forth.

HRC’s were set up as a shield, used to defend citizens’ human rights, and given jurisdictional leniency to operate efficiently.  “Human rights” was universally understood to be actual human rights, such as the right to “life, liberty, and security of the person.”

But the recent trend has been to abuse HRC’s, to use the Commissions as a sword to extract money and revenge, not a shield to protect against legitimate human rights abuses.  People are using this sword to gain the ugliest, most unfair victories, far from the original intent of HRC’s.

Infamously known is the case against Ezra Levant, who was brought before the Alberta HRC for publishing the photos of the Islamic prophet Mohammed.  Syed Soharwardy, an Islamic imam, said that the cartoons offended him, and demanded that Levant be charged and fined.

Also well known is Mark Steyn’s prosecution before the British Columbia HRC for writing an article in Maclean’s Magazine, titled The Future Belongs to Islam.  This time the complaint wasn’t that someone’s feelings were hurt.  It was that the Canadian Islamic Congress wasn’t allowed equal space in Maclean’s for a rebuttal.  The CIC said Maclean’s choice to not give them the same space violated their human rights!

Then there was Guy Earle, who was dragged before the British Columbia HRC because, as a comedian, he traded a few choice words with hecklers disrupting his show.  The hecklers, two lesbian women, won $22,500 from Earle for his choice of “discriminatory” words.

Now another outrageous case is before the Ontario HRC.  Sinem Ketenci is bringing her Ryerson University professor and senior faculty staff to the Ontario HRC.  What human right did they break?  The right to not be offended.

Ketenci is pursuing a Masters degree in Social Work.  Her degree requires that her dissertation be, you know, about Social Work.  But Ketenci wanted to write about animal rights, so she made a request to do her project on how maltreated animals were the same as marginalized people.  When the university disagreed and her professor called such a suggestion “inhuman and racist” (which it is), Ketenci wanted revenge.

Any student knows that professors are supposed to challenge students’ thoughts and ideas.  Sometimes professors are intentionally pushing you to reach a conclusion; other times students just say something unintelligent and the professor wants the person to explain himself or herself.

But Ketenci didn’t have a human right broken.  She had her feelings hurt.  So she drummed up some fancy legal language and filed a complaint against her professor, saying that “this systemic discrimination and harassment that silences marginalized minority peoples’ voices, such as me as a Racialized Ethical Vegan, is a serious threat towards freedom of speech and freedom of belief.”

She says her veganism is her “creed,” no different than a religion, and demands $15,000 in compensation because she couldn’t write about social work for her degree in social work.

To say that her choice to eat plants over meat makes her a “marginalized minority” is incredibly offensive.  It obliterates the real definition of marginalized minorities who really need special protection provided by the government, such as aboriginals and the homeless.

As outrageous as her complaint is, even more outrageous is that the Tribunal accepted to hear this complaint.  Ontario taxpayers are now spending tens of thousands of dollars on determining whether a vegan is a “marginalized minority" that needs special governmental protection.

Ontario Human Rights Commission.  The irony is in its name.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Democracy works: government begins to claw back bilingual requirements

Remember back in July when I wrote about Michel Thibodeau, the angry French crusader who sued the federal government for $525,000 because he couldn't order a 7-Up in French?  Here's the article to remind you.

Thibodeau outrageously won that case (although he and his wife only won $5,376) because Air Canada is legally bound to the Official Languages Act, even though it's a private corporation.  Why?  Because when Air Canada was privatized in 1988 they foolishly bound themselves to the OLA under section 10 of the Air Canada Public Participation Act (ACPPA).

Given this, my article published in July called for the removal of s. 10 from the ACPPA, because

What business does government have dictating in which language(s) a company operates? In a country as diverse as Canada, where 21 languages are recognized and almost two million people speak “other” languages, it makes no sense to be able to dictate in which language a company can operate. English should be a given considering it is the predominant language spoken across Canada and increasingly in the world. But if a company wants to do business in Cantonese, Ukrainian, or Cree, let them. Perhaps Mr. Thibodeau can attempt to find a French-only airline as he so desperately desires, but he might be waiting a while.
 I even took my outrage to several federal ministers, including Prime Minister Harper, James Moore, Minister of Heritage and Official Languages, Denis Lebel, Minister of Infrastructure, Transport, and Communities and Minister of the Economic Development Agency for the Regions of Quebec, and Jim Flaherty, Minister of Finance.  I received acknowledgement letters from their offices, but nothing further.

And it turns out democracy works.

I noticed today that Bill C-17: An Act to Amend the Air Canada Public Participation Act was introduced and given its first reading by Minister Lebel on October 17, 2011.  Obviously amused, I read on.

Bill C-17 is a government bill, so it probably can and will become law.  Among the other sections, C-17 moves to amend the ACPPA by excepting s. 10 from the OLA if the air carrier provides its services through a different entity (for example, Air Canada Jazz).

So it's a start.  Although I'll never know at what stage this bill was before my letter was received, or if my letter even had any effect at all, C-17 is a semi-win for Canadians.  It does not repeal s. 10, so it still binds Air Canada - a private company - to the OLA.  Even if they're flying to places like Georgia (like Thibodeau was), where less than one half of one percent of the population speaks French.  But the fact that the government is recognizing that Air Canada should be exempt from the OLA in some circumstances is a start.

I still encourage you to write your Member of Parliament, as well as Minister Lebel to encourage them to make additional changes to the ACPPA.  Repeal S. 10!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

French lobby ramping up forced bilingualism attacks

The past months have seen a significant increase in lobbyists rallying for forced bilingualism.  Led largely by the federal NDP, they’ve ramped up the rhetoric and increased their attacks on the federal government, demanding that just about everything be fully bilingual.

Bilingualism already comes with an expensive price tag: $1.8 Billion a year.  Yet the NDP’s demands for more and more just do not make sense.  They’re short sighted and simply unreasonable for a Canada in which barely 22 percent of the population speaks French, and a world where English is the international language of business, commerce, trade, and diplomacy.

The first instance of the French lobby needlessly attacking good policy took place back in July, when French crusader Michel Thibodeau sued Air Canada for $525,000 because his flight attendant couldn’t speak French.  Even though Thibodeau, a fluently bilingual federal government employee, was on flights traveling to and from states such as Georgia – where half of one percent of the population speaks French – he demanded that he be served in French.  He even had the nerve to say that such a lack of service was “systematic,” “malicious,” and “oppressive.”   The courts awarded him $12,000; score 1-0 for the French lobby.

Then we saw them complain that Justices Michael Moldaver and Andromache Karakatsanis were unilingual, and thus unfit for appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada.  Coming from Ontario, an officially unilingual province, why wouldn’t they be?

Moldaver, who at 63 has clearly been successful despite being unilingual, committed to doing his best to learn French.  Yet the attacks persisted, with the NDP’s displeasure being well known.

The NDP even introduced a bill that requires Supreme Court judges to be fluently bilingual, and able to perform their duties without the help of a translator.  Score: 2-0.

Most recently they’ve attacked newly-appointed Auditor General Michael Ferguson because he’s not bilingual.  Yet Ferguson, hailing from New Brunswick, comes from a province where 30 percent of the population speaks French as its mother tongue.  It’s also the only officially bilingual province.  By comparison, a lower percentage of Canadians speak French (about 22 percent), yet he seems to have gotten by just fine as New Brunswick’s unilingual AG for five years.

Never mind that Ferguson has repeatedly stated that learning French will be his number one priority.  (Which is a shame.  Being the Auditor General should be his number one priority.)

Never mind outgoing AG Sheila Fraser’s recommendation that he become the new AG.

Just ignore all that logical-sounding stuff and appoint a bilingual person, because that’s what the French lobby, led by the NDP, says we should do.  Score: 3-0.

Why are they insisting on an affirmative action qualification that isn’t needed?

In every case mentioned above, the French lobby has attacked ordinary Canadians serving in federal government roles for not speaking a language only spoken by 22 percent of Canadians to begin with.  It would be like asking why you’re not fluent in Chinese, since that language, too, is spoken by almost 22 percent of Canadians.

Speak French where it makes sense to speak French.  But don’t complain that the rest of us are speaking the international language.

We’re in a technological world, where word processing tools, dictionaries, and language translation tools are in abundance.  It’s simply short-sighted to demand such an unfair affirmative action program, when something much cheaper and more efficient would be ample.

It’s also short-sighted to attack these senior-level officials for not being bilingual when their offices employ hundreds of people.  The AG’s office, for example, employs 650 people.  The Supreme Court has hundreds of interns, transcribers, lawyers, and advisers working there.  Let one of them translate a document from French to English or assist a judge when needed.

It’s no coincidence that the NDP has spent a large amount of its time agitating for Quebec and French language rights.  After all, 58 of the 103 seats they won in the May 2 election are from Quebec.  This was a win largely stemming from the failures of the Bloc Quebecois and Liberal Party, while Jack Layton simultaneously appealed to soft nationalists by promising to renegotiate the province’s language laws and saying that Quebec could separate from Canada with a 50% plus one referendum vote in favour.

But there’s a fine line between remaining principled and desperately attempting to please your constituents.  The French language is a language that can be kept alive if its people want it to be kept alive.  They can speak it at home; they can create businesses which serve customers in French; and they can live their lives all they want while speaking French.  But attacking unilingual English speakers for not speaking French is the wrong approach.

The score is currently 3-0 for the French lobby, and you’ve seen how effective they’ve been at forcing the government to spend money and rallying people to force the government spend more on a policy that doesn’t work.  Who’s going to even the score?