Wednesday, July 17, 2013

All The World's a Laboratory

Source: Maclean's Magazine: http://www2.macleans.ca/2013/07/16/hungry-aboriginal-kids-adults-were-subject-of-nutritional-experiments-paper/

When I woke up this morning, I had intended to talk a bit more about the news that the PMO is actively withholding emails from the RCMP over Duffy-Wright, but I think this is a big issue we need to talk about.

A story has come out which documents that during the 1940s, government researchers exploited Aboriginals across Canada in order to research nutrition. Effectively, government researchers saw already hungry and impoverished communities and saw the perfect chance to test out vitamins and other supplements and the effects they have on the body.

What makes this especially horrendous, is that the bulk of these experiments were conducted on children.

Much like the Tuskegee Experiments in the US, participants in these experiments were not aware of the fact they were being experimented on and these government researchers seemed to have come under the guise of being helpful to the community's ills. And while some may argue that it's not as ethically dubious as Tuskegee was; due to the fact that no one was being exposed and untreated to a crippling disease, that does not make it any more right or morally acceptable.

In the end, it seems as though the experiments produced little active results of note, which helps explains how this was kept from Canadians for decades, but there does seem to be one common thread with today that should depress and shame us all: the root cause of the problems that beset malnutrition and other ills in these communities was underfunding.

Today, the story is no different.

It has been only months since a report showing that 50% of Aboriginal youth in Canada live in poverty; and that number becomes a staggering 64% when looking solely at Saskatchewan. That is compared to the non-Indigenous youth poverty rate of 16%; a considerably lower number. (Source: CBC News http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/story/2013/06/18/f-poverty-first-nations-indigenous-report.html)

Add to that information that continually reminds us that Aboriginal primary and secondary students are consistently being underfunded compared to their non-Aboriginal counterparts; and you begin to see just how far we haven't come as a nation.

The problems noted fifty years ago by researchers continue to impact Aboriginal communities across the county today. 

The truly sad thing, however, is the backlash that is sure to follow this kind of discovery. It hasn't happened yet, but there will be the cries from the usual circles of how the lack of progress falls directly onto the Aboriginal population themselves. It is those kinds of shortsighted, narrow minded, and utterly uninformed comments that continue to allow these economic problems to persist. 

Actions taken in the past affect the outcomes of today, they do not exist in some kind of self contained bubble; as such, the actions committed by our ancestors cause lasting effects to this day. Non-Aboriginal Canadians played a role in establishing the Aboriginal society of today by exploiting, marginalizing, and abusing the Aboriginal societies of the past. 

And while some truly callous people will try and suggest that the past has no effect on today, why not go to a courtroom and listen to legal precedents...Or give the Charter of Rights & Freedoms a glance and see how a document from the 1980s has no bearing on today.

You'll have to forgive the sarcasm on the last one, but I think it brings home the point. What is truly important to understand is that actions matter; and right now, we are expecting the world to move forward and improve for Aboriginal Canadians without doing anything to help them. We're passing on the same broken system to the next generation, who if our track record for the last century says anything, will beget that system to the next generation and the next.

We helped create this system, we helped break it, and we have a responsibility to work with Aboriginal leaders to fix it. Another key phrase there: work with. We cannot dictate to Aboriginals across Canada, we have to work with them in equal partnership to address the issues that are facing them across the country.

The way forward is moving together, not separately, towards the common goal of improving the living standards of Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals across Canada. What it truly comes down to is this fundamental idea: it is not about trying to elevate one culture, or society or race above another; it is about trying to ensure equality. 

Part of that means ensuring that every child in Canada has a roof over their head, food in their stomach, and the opportunity to learn. Notice that that doesn't say every Aboriginal child, it says every child. We are not trying to give an unfair advantage to one side, because there are no sides in this debate. When it comes down to it there are two commonalities that should mean more to us than Aboriginal or Non-Aboriginal: we're both Canadian and more importantly, we're both human beings.

It's time we started treating each other as such.

Monday, July 15, 2013

All Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing...

Many people were waiting for the on the horizon cabinet shuffle in Ottawa that finally took place today. Pundits saw it as an opportunity for a scandal plagued government to turn the page and change the channel by getting Canadians to talk about something other than Duffy-Wright. And while people have focused on it for today, as we are here, the seemingly safe measures taken by this shuffle will do little in getting anyone to move ahead permanently. 

For a shuffle that was being seen as a fresh start, it was ultimately quite a major disappointment. In the most telling detailing that the government is not shifting course, no major economic portfolios changed hands. The ministers responsible for finance, natural resources, and the treasury board all stayed the same; which many have chalked up to having experienced hands on deck, but for a government that says Canada is on sound footing, it doesn't make a lick of sense to then say the economy is too fragile to change ministers on those issues.

As such, I think this is the clearest example that there is no seismic shift in direction coming, which ultimately makes one wonder why we needed a cabinet shuffle at all (and more on that later)...

Harper also took to twitter to make announcements regarding his changes, which is perhaps the only real notable event from today. Though, anyone who honestly believes it was Harper himself tweeting as opposed to some staffer in the PMO probably also believes that wrestling is real. So, while it was interesting to see this technology included in the day's events, I don't really know whether it added anything over all. If it included more than just the boiler "happy to name blank to the ministry of blank" it would have been more interesting and insightful, but since it wasn't, it seemed more like a ploy to make the PM seem up to date with that there new fangled technology the kids are always chirping about. 

Now, lets talk about women. Harper was beaming about the addition of 4 new women to cabinet...though, in reality, it's only a net gain of 2 given the resignations of Majority LeBreton and Diane Ablonczy. So, we lost 2 women in the process to gain 4...And while those 2 loses were triggered by resignations rather than by removal, it's still disappointing to see the addition of only 2 women overall as a Great Leap Forward for women in cabinet. It's great to see more representation in cabinet, no doubt, but there's still a long way to go and adding 2 women and acting like its the most any PM has ever done ever doesn't cut it.

And while we're on the subject of most any PM has done ever; small government conservatives are likely continuing to curse under their breath as the federal cabinet remains amongst one of the largest cabinets in Canadian history, with 39 members. Add that to the fact that the public service has grown, at least in the media and "presentation management" departments, and I'm sure there's a lot of small government conservatives who are wondering what to do come the next election...or at the very least, the next convention. 

Speaking of the public service; we also have to talk about the report from Global News stating that departments prepared missives for new ministers that sought to blacklist organizations, bureaucratic members, and reporters that were deemed outside of the government's image and agenda. In simpler terms, the politically neutral civil service was asked to engage in partisan behaviour by identifying groups and individuals for specific ministries that would be apt to avoid for the future minister.

Among these groups were environmental groups, non-profits, and the like. While the government claims the request for reporters and troublesome bureaucrats were removed, and that this is standard practice, it's still worrisome to be reminded of how petty and singleminded this government is with their "us or them" mentality. 

Finally, lets talk about the optics of the change. Very few members were actively shuffled out of cabinet; if my count is right, only 4 people were booted out (along with 3 who resigned/will not be running in 2015) while the rest played a game of musical chairs and switched portfolios. Peter Mackay, who has arguably been a disaster at Defence, faced no consequences for his procurement issues or vacation helicopter rides and was sided off to Justice in a straight swap with Rob Nicholson. 

Garry Ritz, another under performer, kept his post at Agriculture (perhaps because there's no other qualified Saskatchewan MP to serve in cabinet to keep numbers balanced) despite food safety cuts and concerns. And Tony Clement, the loser of $3.1 billion dollars in terrorism funding, faced no repercussions at all and kept his posting at the treasury board despite a clear lack of economic management skills.

Peter Kent was rightfully tossed from Environment, but his partner in crime and equally befuddling Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver kept his post. Gordon O'Connor lost his post as Whip, likely due to his inability to control backbenchers during this last session (for House of Cards viewers, he certainly was no Francis Urquhart [UK Viewers] or Frank Underwood [US viewers]). 

Steven Fletcher and Keith Ashfield were also removed completely, though most people may have forgotten that these two were even in cabinet in the first place. (It's not really a slight against Fletcher or Ashfield, it's hard enough to make the news in a junior ministry let alone when your caucus is completely riddled by scandal after scandal.)

If anything, the overarching message remains pretty clear based on swaps and complete removals: there is almost nothing you can do as a Harper minister to get the Order of the Boot. Mackay and Clement, even still Government House Leader Peter Van Loan, have fouled up and have had calls for their resignation from the opposition and politically minded Canadians alike...Yet, none of them found themselves on the chopping block. 

Kent may be gone from environment, which will please a lot of people, but was his removal due to his inefficiency as a minister OR as a prelude to the US pro-Keystone lobby to show movement on Canada's environment file? I would lean towards the latter and say political expediency prompted Kent's removal, rather than any other deciding factor. 

When we get right down to it, this swap is effectively worthless. Too many of the same old faces linger around the cabinet table, even if they are in different roles. And to really get down to brass tacks, the PMO continues to be the true guiding force behind ministries now, as opposed to the actual ministers. What the PM says goes, and a change of the face and voice that speaks the PM's words is not a change at all.

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Devil is in the Details

Another day, another chance for us to talk about the Conservatives and the ever deepening hole they continue to dig for themselves. 

When it came out that the RCMP was officially investigating the Duffy-Wright scandal, a lot of Canadians hoped it would be the chance for the truth to come out about what really was happening on Parliament Hill. Of course, while there is still a lot of be uncovered, the first bit of information to come out of the investigation has been a major revelation. 

It seems the Conservatives were getting ready to use their own funds to bail out Duffy's spending, to the tune of $32,000. As we've talked about before on the blog, this runs counter to the government's call to prevent taxpayers being on the hook, since part of those funds come from tax dollars. So, there's one strike against the conservative defence. 

When they found out the $90,000 price tag for his expenses, the conservatives balked at repayment and Nigel Wright stepped up to cover the money. It had been another defence for the conservatives that Wright and Duffy were friends and it was a gift with no strings attached. But now, it seems Wright has admitted that he and Duffy weren't exactly "friends", and the money came with a caveat that Duffy would stop talking to the media and the Senate would whitewash their audit report when it came to Duffy's file.

There's too many strikes there to even count.

Then comes the truly shocking revelation. Harper has maintained that he knew nothing of the Wright payment until the story broke in the media; though it seems the Prime Minister's Office was neck deep in the affair since the beginning. Four people within the PMO, including Wright, a lawyer, a communications officer, and the head of the Conservative Heritage Fund (another Senator) were all aware of the deal.

I've made this argument before, and it must be made again, Harper is either involved or ignorant at this point. For four members of his staff, and a key Senator in his party, to have awareness of this issue while keeping the Prime Minister in the dark suggests that only one of those two options is the truth. Either Harper was well aware of the troubles with Duffy, and the steps being taken by his office and party to deal with them, which means the Prime Minister has also been lying to Canadians since this scandal broke.

OR Harper was truly left in the dark by what is supposed to be his closest advisors, party members, and fellow Conservative teammates. 

Is it wrong that I don't know which of this scenarios is the worst of the two? Yes, it would be bad to have a Prime Minister commit Nixonian levels of deceit while in office; but the other scenario suggests that Canadians are being controlled outside of their elected officials, since it would seem power does not reside with the Prime Minister but with his bureaucratic staff...which is also quite a harrowing thought.

Which brings me to the Harper Government's response to all of this thus far: talk about everything else.

In addition to failed attempts to smear Mulcair and Trudeau, the Harper Government has now been teasing the upcoming cabinet shuffle and tried to focus attention on the coming changes to the front bench. 

The Conservative website has also rebranded the party as "Canada's Founding Party", due to the connection John A. MacDonald and Confederation (ignoring that MacDonald sat as Liberal-Conservative MP), and the connections to Free Trade (ignoring that Mulroney and his PCs opposed free trade during his first term as PM, and only took it has a mantra when the liberals started successfully running with the issue). 

Not to mention that everyone has generally accepted that the Progressive Conservatives were the successors of the party of John A. MacDonald, and that party was ultimately destroyed by the Reform/Canadian Alliance that merged with it. 

There's also the notion that I've mentioned before on this blog; numerous historical party leaders would likely feel out of step with their counterparts of today. And while Harper's team may be trying to "save the brand" by harkening back to their so-called forerunners, I don't think Canadians are going to swallow the pablum the Harper Team is shilling. 

At least, one can hope.