Colonial Schools maybe, colonial monuments no

Some of Canada’s Indigenous people have decided to keep their Residential Schools despite the fact that they hold so many painful memories.One of those is the largest Residential School in Canada on the Kamloops Indian Reserve.

Image: Woodland Cultural Centre, Six Nations

Former Kamloops chief Manny Jules said there have been many debates over the years about the future of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School but band members have decided to keep it as a reminder to future generations that their children will never go through such an experience.

Jules said the federal government offered Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc $70,000 in the 1970s to tear down the school but they declined the offer.

“What we said at the time is we want to turn these buildings into a legacy for language, history and culture, for education and all those other aspects,” said Jules. “Why tear it down?”

Not so for the Okanagan Indian Band in Vernon. They want the federal government to remove three former day schools for Indigenous children that the Chief Byron Louis called “symbols of trauma.”

“A number of our community members won’t even set foot in there unless they absolutely have to,” said Chief Louis. He would like to see the structures replaced with “places of healing.”

The Six Nations of the Grand River reserve in Brantford, Ontario, has restored their Residential School as a “site of conscience.” Now called the Woodland Centre, they plan on guided tours that will take visitors through the building from the perspective of a child, separated from parents, language and culture to arrive in this foreboding place. Different rooms – such as the dining hall and the dormitories – will be restored to different periods in the long history of what was the first residential school in Canada.

While the preservation of colonial schools is debatable, the preservation of colonial monuments is not.

The recent discovery of 215 unmarked graves of Indigenous children by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc has sparked a debate about what to do with one of the remaining statues of Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, in Kingston, Ontario. That’s where Macdonald grew up, practised law and served as a Member of Parliament.

Both monuments, architectural and artistic, evoke a painful chapter in the lives of Indigenous people. Both represent Canada’s colonial past.

The difference is that schools are built on Indian Reserves where Indigenous people have control of them. For those Indigenous people who support the schools, they are not monuments to colonialism but living monuments to the resilience of the survivors.

Statues of Macdonald are located in non-Indigenous locations and open to attack by groups with agendas other than the legacy of colonialism.  On July 19, 2020, a group of about 30 people gathered at Ryerson University in Toronto, organized by Black Lives Matter-Toronto, and defaced another Macdonald sculpture with paint. One protester said:

“Defacing the monuments and having the art display done is actually I think a really good way of showing Canada’s long-standing history of violence of both Black and Indigenous communities on these lands.”

For non-Indigenous Canadians, monuments to Macdonald are a painful reminder of the way we treated Indigenous people. It’s best that they are stored away out of sight, out of mind.

B.C. needs a Consent and Capacity Board to prevent seniors’ loss of liberty

Unlike Ontario, B.C. doesn’t have a Consent and Capacity Board. That means seniors, or in fact anyone, can be deemed unfit and their lives handed over to the state.

And while there are good reasons why some persons should be deemed unfit in the management of their affairs, there is little recourse once it’s done.

Once a person is declared unfit, a “certificate of incapability” is issued and their assets seized.

The prospect that I could lose my autonomy, and be institutionalized with little recourse, is not what I imagine my “golden years” to be like.

But that’s what happened to Muriel Shaw, in her eighties, of Coquitlam, B.C. It began when her son Jarvis was concerned for her health and took her to the hospital. Jarvis thought his mom didn’t seem herself: she was anxious and confused—“just acting strange (Walrus, March, 2020).”

Hospital staff decided to give her a “capacity assessment”: a common evaluation administered to people who seem disoriented. The assessment consists of questions like, “What is today’s date?” and “What problems are you having right now?”

Muriel failed the assessment. She was deemed to be incapable of making her own decisions and a certificate of incapability was issued.  From that moment on, Muriel Shaw’s autonomy was taken away for good.

A capacity assessment is an imprecise instrument considering the consequences -robbing someone of their liberty. You can take my temperature to see if I have a fever but no capacity assessment can accurately measure my ability to manage my own affairs.

And even if my ability could be accurately measured, it would be essentially a medical evaluation. A medical evaluation should not have legal consequences in the seizure of my property and assets.

A condition of anxiety and confusion can be temporary. Muriel, living alone and survivor of breast cancer, could have had some treatable medical condition.

Things just continued to get worse for Muriel. She wanted to go back home but wasn’t allowed. Her care workers looked to family to see if they could take her. When no suitable place was found within her family, she was placed in a long-term care facility.

When her family couldn’t agree on the management of her finances, the B.C. Public Guardian and Trustee (PGT) took over.

The PGT took control of Muriel’s finances and charged her four per cent of her income for doing so. If the PGT decides to sell one’s home, they will collect four percent of the sale price, as well. She was angry at the loss of autonomy.

B.C. needs a Consent and Capacity Board like Ontario’s. If we had one, Muriel could have taken her objections to the board and they would have convened within seven days, and met at a place convenient for her.

Bob’s case is an example of what Ontario’s board can do. “Bob” was assessed by someone who had little knowledge of his medical, financial, or personal history. The assessor met Bob in a Tim Hortons and noted that he was “vague” in his responses to questions. Bob was asked to count coins she gave him under the table. When he failed to accurately to do, the assessor unilaterally decided that Bob was incapable of handling his finances.

The board found that the assessor, while well-intentioned, made “made a number of assumptions that were proven erroneous.” Bob regained control over his bank account and his life.

Seniors in B.C. need a Consent and Capacity Board that could prevent incorrect assessments and capable seniors being made wards of the state.

Albertans to receive the highest carbon gift

The carbon gift is not a lump of coal. Albertans will receive the highest carbon tax rebate of any of the four provinces who have opted out of the federal plan. A family of four will receive an average tax credit of $888, compared to families in the other holdout provinces of Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan who can claim a credit of $448, $486 and $809, respectively.

imge: Pinterest

Let’s call it a gift, not a rebate because most Albertans will receive more back than they pay in the so-called carbon tax. According to calculations by economists Jennifer Winter and Trevor Tombe at the University of Calgary, 80 per cent of Alberta households will get more back from the credit than they will pay in increased costs (Globe and Mail, Dec. 19, 2019).

And can we really call it a carbon tax when it isn’t really isn’t? Taxes are collected by governments to pay for health care, roads, education and so on. The goal of the carbon transfer is to reduce fossil fuel consumption, not to collect taxes. Let’s call it a carbon transfer. Money is just collected and redistributed.

The names given to the carbon transfer and carbon gift are politically motivated.  Conservatives prefer to call it a tax because it suits their political agenda of characterizing the fed’s actions to reduce fossil fuel consumption as a tax grab. The feds like calling the carbon gift “climate action incentive payments” because they like to pretend that we will meet carbon reduction targets.

And the federal Liberals are not rewarding Albertans for shutting them out of the province in the last election. The carbon gift is higher there because it covers a longer period of time than the other provinces and because Albertans spend more on fossil fuels.

You might wonder who’s paying for the carbon gift if it’s revenue neutral. Who is paying more than they receive?  It turns out that businesses are.

For struggling businesses, the carbon transfer seems unfair. But the holdout provinces are responsible for that: if they had devised their own carbon transfer system, the one proposed by the feds wouldn’t be in place. All provinces are free to create their own systems. Presumably, they could devise a system where taxpayers end up giving a carbon gift to small businesses. By refusing to create their own plan, they are accepting the fed’s by default.

B.C.’s carbon transfer is a model for the rest of Canada to follow. Businesses are not hurt –in fact they receive a reduction in taxes, as do personal taxpayers. Introduced in 2008, it has reduced per-capita emissions by 12 per cent and contrary to what conservatives claim, it hasn’t hurt the economy.

B.C.’ carbon transfer is also a model for conservatives because it was introduced by the BC Liberals, a conservative government. If the BC Liberals could introduce a carbon transfer and get re-elected, any conservative government could.

Pricing carbon is an easy sell to voters because most Canadians agree on pricing pollution, led by BC (84%) and trailing in Alberta where it’s still a majority (69%). And if there is no net cost to taxpayers, what’s not to like?

Canada goes nuclear

Canada is third in the world in replacing fossil fuels with nuclear. France and Sweden have replaced almost all of their fossil-fuelled generated electricity with nuclear power. Now France generates only six per cent of electricity with fossil fuels and Sweden only one per cent.

Darlington Nuclear Plant, Ontario

Canada comes behind France and Sweden in replacing fossil fuels. Now fossil fuels generate 19 per cent of our electricity. Canada has an advantage with hydroelectricity: hydro generates 59 per cent of our total.  Nuclear generates 15 per cent and wind/solar generate 7 per cent.

Ontario is mainly responsible for Canada’s third place position. In 2003, the Ontario government started phasing out coal-fired generators. At the time, coal generated one-quarter of the province’s electricity. By 2014, coal was gone. Now 60 per cent of Ontario’s electricity comes from nuclear plants, not far behind France at 77 per cent (Globe and Mail, June 21, 2019).

Other countries aren’t even close to top three. In the United States, 67 per cent of electricity comes from fossil fuels. In Germany, despite massive subsidies for wind and solar, 55 per cent of their electricity comes from fossil fuels.

Nuclear energy is the most dangerous source of electricity in the world, except for the alternative. Nuclear meltdowns are spectacular but deaths are much fewer than those from fossil fuels.

The explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant in 1986 killed 50 first responders and will likely kill 25,000 from cancer resulting from radiation. There were no direct deaths from radiation when a tsunami hit the Fukushima Nuclear station in 2011 but radiation from the plant is expected to generate 180 cases of cancer. Fukushima was second largest nuclear disaster in history, after Chernobyl.

The burning of fossil fuels, mainly coal, causes 7.3 million premature deaths annually according to the World Health Organization. Not all of those deaths are from the production of electricity but coal generates 41 per cent of the world’s electricity. Extrapolating those numbers means that coal sourced electricity kills 3 million people annually.

The burning of fossil fuels is the greatest threat to humanity. Our very existence in some parts of the planet is at risk due to climate change.

Misconceptions over nuclear energy abound. One in three Canadians think nuclear power plants emit as much carbon dioxide as burning oil. Almost three in 10 think it emits more. Nuclear energy plants emit no carbon dioxide.

You hear about the nuclear plants that blow up or melt down but not much about the about 450 now in operation, most in the U.S., with 60 more reactors under construction worldwide.

Nuclear plants have their problems. They are expensive to build and disposal of spent radioactive fuel is controversial.

Nuclear power is a taboo topic in politics. I can guarantee that you won’t hear any of the leaders of Canada’s three main political parties even mention the word nuclear prior to the upcoming federal election.

Environmentalists despise nuclear energy as being too risky. Some unions support it, such as the Power Workers Union who placed full-page ads in the Globe and Mail praising nuclear power. Most Canadians, I suspect, would rather not think about it.

Canadians support carbon pricing

Canadians, including business groups, support Trudeau’s proposed carbon-pricing plan announced Tuesday. So why are some politicians opposed? The short answer is politics, although games are being played by both sides.

image: Werner Antweiler

Recent polling from Environics Research shows that nine out of ten Canadians are concerned about climate change. And a majority support carbon pricing except in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Tony Coulson from Environics Research says:

“For many Canadians, it appears their concern about the consequences of climate change is strong enough that they’re willing to bear some cost to help stop it (Globe and Mail October 16, 2108).”

The feds say that they will collect carbon taxes from those provinces that don’t have a carbon-pricing plan and return the money directly to citizens of those provinces. Depending on how little fossils fuels they burn, they could get more back in rebates than they spend on the added carbon tax.

Opposition parties are calling it a vote-buying tactic in time for the next election.

Those opposing carbon pricing include Ontario Premier Ford. During his Alberta visit to bolster Jason Kenney, leader of Alberta’s United Conservative Party, Ford tweeted:

“I am proud to say that Ontario will stand with Albertans who oppose this unfair and burdensome tax on families and businesses.”

The Ontario Premier has allied himself with Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe in opposing the federal tax plan. Manitoba also recently cancelled its planned carbon tax.

Carbon taxes are directly on the sources of carbon: 70 per cent of them from burning fossil fuels to heat our homes, generate electricity and for transportation.

Ford claims that carbon taxes take money out of the pockets of taxpayers. Not necessarily. A revenue neutral carbon tax such as the one that B.C. has doesn’t. Sure, we pay more for gasoline but receive an equal reduction in taxes elsewhere. As demonstrated in B.C., carbon pricing reduces greenhouse gases and doesn’t harm the economy.

If Ford wanted to take a conservative approach, it would be our carbon tax. A progressive approach would be to take the carbon taxes and directly invest them into sources of renewable energy.

Canadian businesses also support carbon pricing. The business-backed C.D. Howe Institute has recently come out in favour of carbon-pricing. The institute understands both the necessity and practicality of carbon taxes. C.D. Howe policy analyst Tracy Snoddon says:

“The politics of carbon pricing may have changed but the climate change challenge and Canada’s emissions reduction targets under the Paris agreement have not. The economics are also unchanged – carbon pricing continues to be the most cost-effective option for achieving emissions reductions across the country (Globe and Mail October 18, 2108).”

It’s disappointing to see politicians use the future of our planet as a political football.

Canadians want government action. For the first time in polling history, Canadians say that individual action is not working that governments need to step in.  “A slim majority now feels that voluntary action is not enough to address the challenges we face,” says Coulson.

Canadians are waking up to the fact that individual actions, like changing to energy efficient light bulbs, is not working. Only legislated policies will collectively accomplish what we individually wish for.

 

Minimum wage hike is boon to economy

Higher minimum wages are good for the economy but you would never know it from Ontario’s experience. Their hike to $14 dollars per hour has taken an ugly turn. Seattle’s experience was quite different.

image: Toronto Star

The upset in Ontario is centered on Tim Horton franchises. Cuts to benefits have triggered public outcry in support of employees. Demonstrations took place across Canada at Tim Horton shops last Friday organized by Leadnow.org.

The franchisees, themselves, have been abused by their owners: Brazil-based Restaurant Brands International Inc. RBI has been squeezing franchisees for more profits.

Franchisees in Canada have joined their American counterparts in suing the parent company. The Canadians formed the Great White North Franchisee Association and in their statement of claim, they complained:

“Since the time of the corporate takeover of Tim Hortons, the relationship between Tim Hortons and its franchisees has become more adversarial than amicable.”

It’s a toxic business plan that has left franchisees, employees, and customers with a bad taste in their mouth that a double-double won’t sweeten. The flap is damaging the iconic Tim Hortons brand.

Seattle’s experience was quite different. Employers took the wage increase to $15 dollars an hour as a challenge. Toronto-based Lending Loop surveyed of Seattle businesses. Their CEO Cato Pastoll explained: “It kind of forced people to make some just general good business decisions (Globe and Mail, October, 2017).”

Low wages discourage productivity because cheap labour can make inefficient businesses profitable. Higher productivity involves streamlining operations and introducing technology. It’s notable that these measures are changes that employers make -low productivity is not the result of “lazy” employees.

One Seattle furniture store eliminated low-wage entry level positions and empowered employees to become more productive. One employee was so motivated that he contacted condo owners and offered deals on furniture for new tenants. The store owner was pleased with the boost in morale: “Find out what makes your staff excited and empower them to be part of it with you,”

“It’s really easy to become angry and start acting in injudicious ways,” said an owner of a nail salon in Port Angeles, Washington. He and his wife could have cut back on staff, or turned them into commissioned workers, but they streamlined operations instead. The time taken for each procedure was standardized which meant that more clients could be booked. An automated time-keeping system eliminated the time to manually fill out time sheets. Under different circumstances, staff might have resented seeing more clients a day but with an increase in wages, they were more willing to focus on work.

Contrary to the calamity predicted by some doubtful business owners, higher minimum wages don’t result in more unemployment. Studies done by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development show those countries with higher wages shift employment from formerly low wage sectors such restaurants to higher wage areas such as technology.

The owners of Tim Hortons could improve profits though the introduction of technology.  I notice that McDonalds has automated kiosks where you can both order and pay for your meal.

Higher minimum wages are a boon to the economy because businesses save costs by keeping experienced workers and reducing training costs; productivity and profit margins are improved; and local economies are enhanced with worker’s new spending power.

Electoral reform disappointment #3

I was disappointed but not surprised when Prime Minister Trudeau abandoned his plans for electoral reform. I’ve been let down before.

fairvote.ca

fairvote.ca

The first time was in 2005 when a Citizens’ Assembly was created to study models of reform. After much deliberation, they recommended a made-in-BC type of Single Transferable Vote called BC-STV.

The referendum was coincident with the provincial vote. Only weeks away from the vote, an Angus Reid poll showed that two-thirds of respondents knew “nothing” or “very little” about BC-STV.

Then to everyone’s surprise and my delight, BC-STV almost passed despite the high threshold: 60 per cent of voters had to be in favour as well as 60 per cent of the provincial districts.

The threshold for districts easily passed with 76 of 79 districts in favour. The popular vote came within a hair`s breadth of passing: 57.7 per cent. Support in Kamloops was the lowest in the province at 49 per cent in both districts (Elections B.C.). Bud Smith, the popular Social Credit MLA from 1986 to 1991, led the no vote in Kamloops.

The popularity of BC-STV seemed baffling given the lack of understanding of just what voters were supporting. But not so baffling in light of a recent referenda, such as Brexit. British voters were as much against immigrants as they were for leaving the European Union. Clearly, voters don’t necessarily answer the question on the ballot.

BC-STV was on the ballot but not on voter’s minds; rather, it was dissatisfaction with Gordon Campbell’s BC Liberals. The BC Liberals lost 31 seats, down from their record win of 77 out of 79 in 2001.

My second disappointment was the defeat of the BC-STV referendum again in 2009. With the earlier referendum being so close, I hoped, against discouraging opinion polls, that earlier support was not a fluke. This time, even in Kamloops, electoral reform would prevail. I joined city Councilor Arjun Singh, Gisela Ruckert, and others in Fair Voting BC. In a column for the Kamloops Daily News (May, 2005), I implored:

“This is a limited time offer.  The chance to change our electoral system comes once in a lifetime, . . . Don’t let this chance to make history pass you by.”

It was not to be. A disinterested electorate, 51 per cent of eligible voters, returned the BC Liberals for a third term, defeated BC-STV by 61 per cent and buried electoral reform for decades.

Trudeau raised my hope federally by proposing unilateral legislation. But Canadians want a referendum (73 per cent in an Ipsos poll).

A referendum would doom electoral reform to failure. Voters like the idea of proportional representation but have trouble understanding the voting systems that would accomplish it. The outcomes of referenda in B.C., P.E.I and Ontario made that clear. The same would be true of a federal referendum says pollster Environics. The vote would be split between three alternatives –the current system and two types of proportional representation:

“In a referendum, not one of these three alternatives would achieve majority support — leaving the reform project to die, along with virtually every other proposal ever put to a referendum in this risk-averse country.”

And that assumes they vote on the ballot question.

Truth in a post-factual world

We live in a world in what’s true is a question of opinion, not a matter of fact. Imagine his guy, his father, and girlfriend sitting around a campfire drinking a few brews near Brockville, Ontario. She says the Earth is flat. The father insists that it’s round. Tempers rise and the father starts throwing things into the fire, including a propane bottle. Firefighters arrive on the scene and police charge the father with mischief.

truth

Wasn’t the fact of a round Earth determined long ago? Mark Kingwell, professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto, wonders how anyone can dispute centuries of scientific knowledge based on Pythagoras and Galileo.

“It can seem as if we are living in a world where fact, truth, and evidence no longer exert the rational pull they once did. Our landscape of fake news sites, junk science, politicians blithely dismissive of fact-check, and Google searches that appear to make us dumber, renders truth redundant. We are rudderless on a dark sea where, as Nietzsche said, there are no facts, only interpretations (Globe and Mail, June 19, 2016)”

Truth has evolved over time. Philosophers used to believe in an absolute truth.  Now they offer a more pragmatic version: those that are empirical and falsifiable. If you want to know if the Earth is flat, travel in one direction and see if you fall off the edge.

The Bush era ushered in a new kind of truth, one based on hunches such as “Iraq processes weapons of mass destruction.”

Bush aide Karl Rove explained the new truth to writer Ron Suskind. Rove told the writer he was part of a deluded group, a “reality-based community, who believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” Rove explained. “We create our own reality,”  “We’re history’s actors… and you, all of you, will be left to study what we do.”

Truth continues to evolve with Donald Trump. He makes President Bush look good.

“The cynical, political aides of George W. Bush argued that they created reality out of power. That position was doctoral-quality compared to the haphazard, say-anything approach of the new Republican regime.”

Bush’s reality was, at least, sensitive to rebuttal. The world according to Trump sees rebuttal as an opportunity to double-down. Correction used to cause shame and confusion. No more.

When Trump arrived in Scotland, it didn’t bother him at all that Scotland hadn’t voted to leave the European Union. Instead, Trump tweeted “Just arrived in Scotland. Place is going wild over the vote. They took their country back, just like we will take America back. No games!”

Shame and confusion are not part of Trump’s repertoire. When a reporter with a deformed hand questioned Trump, he mocked the reporter’s deformity rather than answering the question. “Now, the poor guy,” he said, “you’ve got to see this guy.” Trump curled his arms to mock the reporter.

Conspiracy theories are regarded as sophisticated in the post-factual world. Trump claims to have seen news reports from 9/11 that show “thousands and thousands” of Jersey City residents of Middle-Eastern descent cheering when the Twin Towers fell. Those reports do not exist.