Cabinet ministers say no to meeting with UN food envoy MAY 4 2012 | Ottawa Citizen
Several federal ministers have declined requests to meet with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food as part of his first-ever probe of a developed country.
Olivier De Schutter’s mission brings him to Ottawa next week as part of an 11-day tour that includes visits to aboriginal communities in Manitoba and Alberta. He had requested meetings with the ministers of health, aboriginal affairs, agriculture, fisheries, foreign affairs or international co-operation, as well as departmental experts.
The UN’s right to food expert, who usually meets with government ministers and technical experts within the civil service during his missions, was informed departmental officials would be available, but no meetings with ministers were arranged, his office said Friday.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, which is co-ordinating De Schutter’s meetings with federal officials, declined to say why no minister is available to meet with the UN Special Rapporteur.
Jason MacDonald, a spokesman for Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan, also declined to comment on the matter, but emphasized that department officials will “provide detailed briefings on the programs and initiatives in place to ensure First Nations have access to healthy, affordable food, and will respond to any questions the UN Special Rapporteur may have.”
Jean Crowder, NDP aboriginal affairs critic, said the Conservative government’s refusal to make a minister available to meet with the UN Special Rapporteur “is just another example in a long line of their lack of commitment” to tackling inequality and food insecurity.
“I think that the ministers have the ultimate responsibility for their departments, so they should meet with the Special Rapporteur. By distancing themselves, I would suspect that they’re not going to have any kind of official plan to deal with whatever his recommendations are,” Crowder said Friday.
NDP leader Thomas Mulcair and interim Liberal leader Bob Rae will be meeting with De Schutter during his two days in Ottawa next week. De Schutter will meet also with farmer, food, development and human rights organizations in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg and Edmonton.
Until now, the independent expert appointed by the UN’s Human Rights Council has been dispatched to countries such as South Africa, Cuba and Lebanon to probe those nations’ records on ensuring people have access to food. The report on the Canadian mission, to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council, will be part of Canada’s official international human rights record.
In a statement on the eve of his Canadian mission, De Schutter said “challenges remain to ensure that food is adequate, accessible and affordable for marginalized groups, be they poor urban populations or Aboriginal peoples.”
He also stressed that developed countries have important obligations to international co-operation when it comes to securing the right to food.
“The terms of the trade agreements that Canada engages in, and the nature of its food aid and development commitments, can have huge impacts on the ability of populations worldwide to produce or to procure food,” said De Schutter.
Oil Spill Reported in the Great Bear Rainforest: Gitga’at Nation Reports Large Spill Believed to Be From Sunken Munitions Ship; Calls on Federal Government for Immediate Response and Full Clean-Up May 2 2012 | MarketWire
The Gitga’at Nation of Hartley Bay is reporting an oil spill, between two and five miles long and 200 feet wide inside the Grenville Channel, not far from the proposed tanker route for the Enbridge Gateway pipeline. The spill was spotted by a commercial pilot and reported to the Gitga’at Nation and the Canadian Coast Guard yesterday evening.
A Coast Guard landing craft from Prince Rupert is on its way to the spill, and expected to arrive by 12pm. The Gitga’at are sending their own Guardians to take samples and have chartered a plane to take aerial photos of the spill.
“If this spill is as big as the pilots are reporting, then we’re looking at serious environmental impacts, including threats to our traditional shellfish harvesting areas,” says Arnold Clifton, Chief Councillor of the Gitga’at Nation. “We need an immediate and full clean-up response from the federal government ASAP.”
Heavy oil, known as “bunker c” is thought to be upwelling from the USAT Brigadier General M.G. Zalinski, a U.S. army transport ship that sank in 1946 with 700 tonnes of bunker fuel on board. The Canadian government has been saying it would remove the oil and munitions from the ship since 2006, but with no results.
“Right now we’re focused on getting a handle on the size of the spill and the clean-up that’s required,” says Clifton. “But this incident definitely raises questions about the federal government’s ability to guard against oil spills and to honour its clean-up obligations. As a result, our nation has serious concerns about any proposal to have tankers travel through our coastal waters, including the Enbridge proposal.”
The spill is just the latest in a series of spills of bunker oil and diesel coming from the Zalinski and the BC Ferry Queen of the North, which sank in 2006. Despite government assurances of clean-up, both wreckages continue to leak fuel, fouling the marine environment, and heightening the fear of future oil spills.
The Gitga’at depend on the ocean for 40% of their traditional diet.
Canada first wealthy nation to be probed by UN food monitor May 2 2012 | Postmedia
Canada has the dubious distinction of being the first wealthy nation in the world to face a probe by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food.
The 11-day mission begins Saturday, and will take Olivier De Schutter to Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Winnipeg and Edmonton, as well as remote aboriginal communities in Manitoba and Alberta. Until now, the independent expert appointed by the UN’s Human Rights Council has been dispatched to countries such as South Africa, Cuba and Lebanon to probe those nations’ records on ensuring people have access to food.
Canada, well known as a major food exporter, is the first developed country facing a probe since the UN created the position in 2000, and the report on the mission, to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council, will be part of Canada’s official international human rights record.
In addition to examining the challenges facing aboriginal people, De Schutter, a professor of law based in Belgium, will probe food supply chains in Canada and government policies and programs that affect the right to food. He will be meeting with aboriginal leaders and non-governmental organizations, as well as federal officials at Health Canada and in the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. While in Ottawa, he will also meet with NDP leader Thomas Mulcair.
“What we can say about Canada is that our food system is broken,” said Diana Bronson, executive director of Food Secure Canada, a non-profit that lobbies for better public access to nutritious and sustainably-produced food.
“There are two million Canadians in this country who regularly lack access to sufficient food. People who are living on government assistance often have to choose between paying the rent and paying for food, and that means they often can’t make healthy food choices.”
Canada’s Poor Have Just Become Poorer April 29 2012 | Huffington Post
The shock of the 2012 federal budget is just setting in, but the repercussions will be felt for years to come. Although deemed “moderate,” this budget has cut thousands of jobs and left a scar on our social welfare system. A particularly unsettling decision was to dismantle the National Council of Welfare (NCW), a renowned organization that offers in-depth information on poverty and also represents the needs of the poor in government.
Established in 1969 as an advisory group to the Minister of National Health and Welfare, the National Council of Welfare has played a crucial role in measuring the depth and breadth of poverty in Canada, linking citizens concerns about welfare and poverty with parliament. Specifically mandated to report to the minister, the NCW was unique in its research collection and reporting providing accurate pan-Canadian data that was used by various organizations, including Canada Without Poverty and Campaign 2000.
In contrast to a statement made by MP Kellie Leitch, the National Council of Welfare does not duplicate the activities of any other organization in the non-profit sector. As both Canada Without Poverty and Campaign 2000 have stated in a recent press release, the federal government’s termination of funding for this poverty advisory group, with unprecedented statutory powers, actually undermines national efforts to combat poverty. Without the informed voice of committed citizens to complement the important data, how will a minister know that his/her decisions are responding to real needs? The loss of NCW is a blow to social policy work.
Ethics commissioner cuts off probe into Fantino over alleged offshore accounts May 3 2o12 | iPolitics
Ethics commissioner Mary Dawson is ending her investigation into allegations that federal cabinet minister Julian Fantino had offshore bank accounts that were not explicitly mentioned in his public declaration of assets.
The commissioner based her decision on a statement from the banking firm UBS that the banking documents that make the claim and that were widely circulated last week were not authentic. The Royal Bank of Canada, however, would neither confirm nor verify any information about who held the accounts.
A statement from Fantino’s office asked that the complainant in the case, Richard Lorello, identify the source of the documents to the police, stating that the minister believes that he has been the object of mischief.
Budget . Austerity . Cuts
The government is setting Canada back at least 50 years in its quest to dismantle environmental regulations, say opposition MPs.
“[Prime Minister Stephen Harper is] destroying decades worth of environmental law and policy that’s been developed sensibly,” Green Party Leader Elizabeth May (Saanich-Gulf Islands, B.C.) told The Hill Times last week.
“Most of the legislation he’s destroying was put forward and passed by Brian Mulroney so it’s not a left, right or centre issue. It’s a question of do you understand the need to have sensible public policy developed while having respect for environmental protection. Clearly, Stephen Harper regards the environment as in his way.”
Budget bill gives Conservatives broad power over EI rules May 2 2012 | Globe & Mail
The Conservative cabinet is giving itself sweeping powers to rewrite the rules on whether Canadians on EI can turn down certain jobs without losing their benefits.
The measure is contained inside the budget implementation bill and would give cabinet the power to change employment insurance rules later through regulation without the approval of Parliament.
As soldier suicides rise, National Defence slashes suicide prevention staff May 3 2012 | Ottawa Citizen
The Department of National Defence is cutting the jobs of medical professionals involved in suicide prevention and monitoring post-traumatic stress disorders — despite claims by DND and the Canadian Forces that dealing with such health issues is a priority.
The move comes on the heels of a new report indicating that suicides have increased in the Canadian Forces. At the same time, the issue of suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the military is also under scrutiny at a military police complaints hearing in Ottawa. That hearing is examining how the Canadian Forces dealt with the case of Cpl. Stuart Langridge, an Afghanistan veteran who killed himself.
The unions representing the health workers have been notified that 15 of the 25 jobs in that area will be cut. The workers perform key roles, union officials say.
They have been told that the DND’s Deployment Health Section is being shut down, cutting four jobs, including those of suicide prevention specialists. The employees also monitor PTSD rates and traumatic brain injury.
Eight of the 18 jobs in DND’s epidemiology section also will be cut. Those include epidemiologists and researchers who analyze mental health issues such as depression, PTSD, and suicide.
The federal government’s new budget bill sets out a controversial two-step approach to how industry should deal with fish and their habitat — with the second step much more far-reaching than the first.
It has taken environmental and industry lawyers a week to work their way through the complex fisheries provisions in the new omnibus budget bill.
They say the most puzzling thing is the inclusion of two different ways in which protection of fish habitat will change.
“This is just weird,” said Andrew Gage, a staff lawyer with West Coast Environmental Law.
One provision will come into effect as soon as the bill is passed. It maintains some protection of fish habitat, but it gives Ottawa more leeway to allow exceptions.
The second phase will come later — exactly when is unknown — and will allow industrial development as long as fish deemed important for commercial or aboriginal use or for a sports fishery aren’t actually killed.
“This is the real new replacement,” said Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, who has spent hours dissecting the measures.
For wildlife and the country’s ecosystems, “it’s devastating and sweeping,” she said.
After hashing through the details with Fisheries officials, May believes the legislation will eventually eliminate protection of fish habitat, hand more oversight to provincial regulators and remove all federal impediments to natural resource extraction.
Allegations of charities laundering money ‘desperate’: Tides CEO May 3 2012 | Metro News
Tides Canada President and CEO Ross McMillan lashed out at federal Environment Minister Peter Kent‘s allegations of money laundering by Canadian charities Wednesday, calling the minister’s comments “desperate and preposterous.”
By law, Canadian charities are allowed to spend up to 10 per cent of their total resources on political activities. The government’s 2012 budget included $8 million to rewrite the tax questionnaire on charities’ political activities, and to investigate any that might be exceeding the limit.
Environmental organizations such as Vancouver-based Tides Canada, which funds social and environmental initiatives across the country, have been singled out by Conservative cabinet ministers in recent months. The feds claim some of them are undermining Canada’s interests by funneling foreign money to pipeline and oil sands opponents.
Government librarians vow to get loud over federal budget cuts May 2 2012 | Ottawa Citizen
Not known for raising their voices above a whisper, Canada’s librarians are sounding the alarm as federal budget cuts threaten library jobs and services at the country’s national library and archives, six federal government departments and three Crown corporations.
The changes, they say, will affect how well new federal policy reflects both historical knowledge and current research in areas as diverse as transport, national defence, immigration and the environment.
Hundreds of thousands of documents about the history and heritage of Canada, as well as specific information necessary for in-depth research in all affected departments, may be thrown out in the coming months as libraries across the federal government cut their collections to meet budget demands.
The main branch of the national library, which sits a ten-minute walk from Parliament Hill in Ottawa, has given notice to 430 employees, advising them that more than 200 jobs will be cut over the next three years, representing one fifth of the library’s workforce.
Censorship & Control of Public Information
Federal government flunks freedom of expression, says journalists’ group May 2 2012 | Toronto Star
Access to information requests denied, digital rights threatened, scientists muzzled.
All of this has earned the federal government failing grades in freedom of expression from a journalist advocacy group.
The “government is largely continuing its stonewalling tactics in hopes that journalists and other interested parties will simply give up and move on to something else,” says the third annual report by the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), released on World Press Freedom Day.
Between the delays, exorbitant fees and redactions on access to information requests “sometimes there are stories that never get written . . . and it’s the public that pays the price in the end,” said CJFE president Arnold Amber.
“You should be able to say what you want to say but you should also be able to hear what you as a citizen in a democratic country have a right to hear or read.”
The rigid control over releasing information extends to some provincial governments as well, says Amber.
Look at the Winnipeg Free Press, he said, which was recently told by the Manitoba government that it would have to pay $1.9 million for documents requested under access to information legislation.
The “most openly brash act of control,” according to the CJFE report, is the practice of stopping federally funded scientists from speaking about their work even when it is published in peer-reviewed journals.
A recent article in Ottawa Citizen details how it took just 15 minutes to speak with a scientist at NASA about a joint study with Canada’s National Research Council (NRC), but a request to get a Canadian angle from the NRC was denied after a lengthy bureaucratic process.
“NASA has talked with enthusiasm about the joy of studying snow and its mysteries,” wrote reporter Tom Spears. “The NRC has sent an email describing the number of pieces of equipment on an airplane.”
Canada is also failing in providing access to information compared to other countries, notes the review.
Manitoba wants $1.9 million from paper to disclose public records May 1 2012 | Toronto Star
The Manitoba government is under fire for requesting a $1.9-million fee to hand over to the Winnipeg Free Press public documents concerning flood compensation paid to First Nations.
The newspaper had requested copies of correspondence between Manitoba’s Emergency Measures Organization (EMO), Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada and the Manitoba Association of Native Fire Fighters in an effort to find out the costs associated with an increasing number of evacuees from Lake St. Martin First Nation…
The governing NDP also asked for $920,617.50 to process the newspaper’s request for copies of correspondence and emails between Manitoba EMO and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada during the same time period. The government said that request would require 30,687.25 hours.
“It’s ridiculous,” said Stu Briese, a Progressive Conservative MLA and opposition critic for Aboriginal and Northern Affairs and EMO. “When they put out figures like that . . . our first reaction is that the government is obviously trying to hide something. They are putting up barriers to keep the information.”
$1.9M to get evacuee info: Province puts price on newspaper’s request May 1 2012 | Winnipeg Free Press
The province has set a price tag of $1.9 million on records that could help the public get to the bottom of questions surrounding flood compensation to First Nations.
That hefty bill is what the province said it will cost to produce copies of correspondence between Manitoba’s Emergency Measures Organization and other key players that provide flood compensation to Manitoba First Nations.
Last month, the Free Press requested emails and other correspondence between EMO and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada as well as the Manitoba Association of Native Fire Fighters (MANFF), which handles First Nations’ flood compensation claims on behalf of Ottawa.
The newspaper hoped the correspondence would shed light on why the number of evacuees from Lake St. Martin First Nation soared in recent months, requiring Ottawa to spend an increasing amount of money on hotel and other claims.
In letters to the Free Press late last week, the province said it would take staff close to 63,000 hours of work to produce copies of the correspondence, which covered a period of 13 months.
Stu Briese, the Conservative critic responsible for EMO, was incredulous when told of the provincial government’s response.
“The first thing that jumps immediately to mind is: ‘What are they trying to hide?’ ” the member for Agassiz said Monday, referring to the government’s replies to the Free Press requests, which were made under provincial freedom-of-information legislation.
Canadian bureaucracy and a joint study with NASA April 20 2012 | Ottawa Citizen
The Citizen asked the National Research Council a simple question back in March: What’s this joint study that you and NASA are doing on falling snow?
The federal department never agreed to an interview. It sent an email instead, with technical details on equipment but without much information on the nature of the project.
It never even explained the study’s topic.
Before sending even that modest response, however, it took a small army of staffers — 11 of them by our count — to decide how to answer, and dozens of emails back and forth to circulate the Citizen’s request, discuss its motivation, develop their response, and “massage” its text.
All this for a question about how snow falls.
NASA, meanwhile, answered everything in a single phone call. It took about 15 minutes.
The Case of F-35 Jets
F-35: Government failed to provide full cost estimate despite order, watchdog says May 3 2012 | Postmedia
Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page says National Defence did not provide him with all available information about the cost of the F-35 stealth fighter despite being ordered to do so by a House of Commons committee in fall 2010.
“Over the past few weeks, it has become clear that the Department of National Defence provided the PBO with figures that did not include all operating costs,” Page told Parliament’s public accounts committee on Thursday.
“The PBO understood that it had been provided with full life-cycle costs from DND as required.”
Those operating costs — which have been estimated at around $10 billion over 20 years — have become central to the question of whether Canadians were misled in the weeks before the last federal election.
At that time, Page released a report which estimated that acquiring, maintaining and operating 65 F-35s would cost taxpayers nearly $30 billion.
The Defence Department responded by telling Parliament that the stealth fighter would actually cost $14.7 billion.
It was only last month that Auditor General Michael Ferguson revealed the Defence Department had excluded the operating costs, which meant the full cost was closer to $25 billion.
Defence Department officials have said they did not include operating expenses in reports to the public, such as pilot salaries, fuel and replacement parts, because many of those costs are already associated with Canada’s fleet of CF-18s.
They have also indicated they did not know Page’s report included operating costs.
Page reconfirmed that his report did just that, adding that “it seems difficult to understand how there could have been any confusion as to whether or not the PBO included operating costs within its estimate.”
Page: Tories wanted public to believe F-35s were cheapest May 3 2012 | CTV
The Conservative government wanted the public to believe the F-35 program was cheaper than it was actually going to be, says the parliamentary budget officer.
Kevin Page took the opportunity Thursday to refresh his long-standing criticism of the proposed multi-billion dollar purchase with an appearance before the House of Commons public accounts committee. It came just weeks after the auditor general accused National Defence and Public Works of misleading Parliament over the program.
Conservative MPs took turns trying to rip apart the assumptions, economic models and research that went into Page’s March, 2011 report and its startling conclusion that the plan to buy 65 stealth fighters would cost $29 billion, not the $14.7 billion reported by Defence.
The auditor general pegged the total cost of the program $25 billion.
The guidelines on how the numbers should be presented are clearly laid out in federal Treasury Board policy and should be followed, Page said.
“I think what we need to get in place, so we can really enhance trust in this country, is the kind of information that goes to cabinet to support decisions also goes to parliamentarians,” he said.
Auditor general Michael Ferguson testified last week that cabinet knew the full $25 billion cost when it approved the project’s budget in two stages in 2008 and accused the government of keeping two sets of books — a charge that’s been denied by a phalanx of deputy ministers and officials who also appeared before the committee.
The key difference has been over whether National Defence should have disclosed $10 billion in operating costs for the lifetime of the jets.
Harper’s chief of staff keeps out of fighter jet debate due to conflict May 3 2012 | Canadian Press
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has had to face one of his government’s biggest challenges to date — the controversy over the multi-billion-dollar purchase of fighter jets — without the help of his right-hand man.
Nigel Wright, the prime minister’s chief of staff, has carefully and completely stayed out of any discussions of the procurement issue since he took up his post in January 2011, according to several government sources.
Wright has had to abide by a so-called “ethical wall,” put in place to ensure that there was no conflict between files he dealt with in corporate Canada and those that would come across his political desk.
Wright was an executive with private equity firm Onex Corp., and dealt specifically with the aerospace industry. Onex manages capital for Hawker Beechcraft, a firm that has partnered on projects with F-35 manufacturer Lockheed Martin.
Wright is on a leave of absence from Onex, and could go back any time between July and next January.
He appears to have initially underestimated how large the F-35s loomed over the political landscape, telling a Commons committee in late 2010 that he foresaw few potential conflicts that would require him to step out of political deliberations.
“I don’t expect issues to arise very frequently,” Wright said at the time.
The fighter jet debacle has dominated the political debate on Parliament Hill since the auditor general suggested a month ago that Parliament had been misled on the true costs of the program — pegging them at $25 billion rather than $16 billion.
But what has Wright’s absence meant for Harper’s ability to handle the sensitive F-35 file? When he was hired, Wright said the constraints were “not going to hinder the service I’m going to render to the prime minister.”
Other News & Readings
Rating of Legal Framework for Right to Information in 89 Countries Centre for Law & Democracy
Conservatives use emotion more effectively when campaigning: study May 3 2012 | Global News
Democracy needs constant supervision, leader of watchdog group says May 2 2012 | Guelph Mercury