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Posts Tagged ‘Harper government’

Editorial – Caterpillar, lock-outs and who defends Canadians?

Posted by Don McLenaghen on February 5, 2012

Okay, so there are many things that I find disturbing and upsetting about the just announced decision of Caterpillar to shut down the Electro-Motive Diesel, Inc. plant in London. I could do an appropriate anti-corporate rant about how corporations see people…cities…society as meat for the grinder of profits. I could point out the underhanded and deliberate way Caterpillar uses its global position to undermine labour…to strip people of their ability to collectively bargain by creating production in different counties then pitting labour in those regions against each other to create the lowest possible standard of living…regardless, of the inequality of wealth created. It is obscene that a corporation like Caterpillar, which is experiencing record profits[1], feels no need to share its prosperity with those whose hands made the products that enriched the company but instead plans to strip them of what dignity they have remaining.

No, what I wish to bring to the attention of Canadians is our government…well, I say ours but I find that caricature farcical. One would expect that a body, such as government or union, would work to help its people…to ensure the prosperity, integrity and dignity of its members. The union has tried to stand up for its workers but as labour laws are, there is little they can do when confronted by a corporation that demands its work force take a 50% drop in pay or they will leave the country…”oh and by the way, leaving was our intention from the start”.

In October 2010 Caterpillar bought Electro-Motive[2] that same month it began ‘building’ an assembly plant in Indiana[3] which went online Oct 2011 ostensibly because of “Buy America” provisions imposed by US lawmakers. It is important to note though that Indiana is one the US states that have passed “Right to Work” legislation[4]; laws intended to prevent unions from organizing in their state. The plant in London, for those not in the know, is one of four facilities operated by Electro-Motive around the world; although one, a maintenance plant (immune from “Buy America”), was opened in 2010 in Mexico and the other in Indiana. Caterpillar experienced a record increase in profits of 82%[5]…but did this only on an increase sale of 52%; where did the rest of the increased profit come from? Well one possible location is the workers. The average wage in the closed Canadian plant was $32-$45/hr[6] and those of the new Indiana plant – $12-$18/hr[7]…that helps the shareholders, the CEO ($10.5 million in pay last year)[8] & board members…but those who actually do the work – F@ All.

Losing unions hurts us all

Okay, I have taken a bit of a sidetrack here. It is important to know some of the detail…that this is more than just a business decision; it is an attack on Canada and the Canadian worker. Although my views on capitalism should be well known to my readers this is how the system is set up. To push back on the power of the corporation the worker has only one option – collective power. Collective power has two main manifestations; unions which are prevented to organize globally, effectively because of draconian restrictions on the movement of labour, while capital flows freely (and recklessly) across borders. This is not the first time Caterpillar has used its global reach for union busting.

The other locus of collective power is the government. It was the Harper government that gave Electro-Motive a 5 million dollar tax break[9] to ‘save jobs’, fat lot of good that did. The conservative mantra (north and south of the border) state that give the 1%…the corporations tax breaks they will invest, employ and create better communities. This is, as a rule with few exceptions, a fallacy when applied to multinationals. Why don’t they learn!

What can the government do now? Well, then labour was ‘acting up’, Harper could not move fast enough to pass back-to-work legislation. “To save jobs and help the economy”. In this case he could seize the assets of the London plant…nationalize it (or at least collectivize it). This is not as radical or ‘petty’ as it may at first sound. Caterpillar did not resolve the continuing labour dispute; it just walked out. The government has a right and a duty to step in and ensure the community and the workers are protected and compensated. There are obligations a corporation takes on when it sets up shop; it is the role of the government to ensure those obligations are satisfied.

Second, this is an act of economic warfare.  As we are all well aware of these days, corporations have in many ways become de facto states. Caterpillar took hostage a group of Canadian workers and then economically executed them…as a warning to any other union or worker in Canada, if the company says take a 50% pay cut, you do it or will kill your livelihood! It would not be the first time a government in Canada has stepped-in to protect its populous from predatory corporations[10]. Former Premier Danny Williams did this Abitibi-Bowater in Newfoundland[11] when it threatened the people of the province[12].  The Harper government did not even have the business intelligence to ensure that when Canadian taxpayers gifted Electro-Motive with 5 Million dollars, strings would be attached to ensure the plant while profitable (and no one has argued it is not) would remain open with job security and integrity intact.

I am incensed at Caterpillar for what it has done. We can however ask and ask again why our government…the HARPER government sits back and insists that tax cuts for corporation help workers in the face of the obvious rebuttal of that as witnessed by Electro-Motive. Why he is so eager to stand up for corporations when unions attempt redress of grievances by instantly issuing back-to-work legislation. Why he has been absent when a foreign corporation takes economic hostages…almost 500 people have lost well-paying jobs not to mention the ripple effect in the community of London. If he is OUR Prime Minister…if it is OUR Government, why does it stand by in silence and do nothing?

Let your voice be heard…

[1] “Caterpillar Inc. reported a 58 percent rise in quarterly earnings that blew away Wall Street expectations”

[12] Of course the absence of the Ontario government is just as sad, however, they have not been as ideologically tied to the manta of “tax breaks improved corporate investment leads to more jobs” that Harper et al has chanted.


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Canada’s Nuclear Highway

Posted by Don McLenaghen on December 30, 2011

Recently there has been much buzz in the media about the ‘revelation’ that Canada is sending its nuclear waste to the USA and NOT informing the public about the when-&-where of it all. Now, as most know by now I am no fan of the current  Harper government. One of my biggest issues with government (any government) is its secrecy and inability to enforce basic regulations on industry. You would think then I would have a problem with this news; well surprisingly I don’t really. Why? Let me explain.

Currently we do nothing (but store) the ‘waste’. Our storage, like most of the plants in the world is ‘temporary’; temporary storage…a cooling off period of about a decade (i.e. the point where when exposed to air it would not spontaneously combust), then placed in various forms of concrete like boxes where it awaits a final home. Currently there is no real long term storage plans for our waste. In fact one of the larger expenses of a power plant is to maintain these storage facilities indefinitely with their costs to protect the environment, maintaining infrastructure and providing anti-terrorist security.

We could develop reactors that use this material in breeder reactors which would effectively reduce the waste to nothing (yes, I mean nothing relatively still there will be waste). This is done in France, Japan, Russia and the US. It is also done in India and Pakistan but largely to produce nuclear weapons not to reduce nuclear waste; so this is not a perfect solution globally but would work here. However, thanks to Fukushima, it is unlikely a nuclear power plant, breeder or otherwise, will be built in Canada this century.

As implied above, our waste could be used to make nuclear weapons via reprocessing. Thus, some could argue we are helping the US make nuclear bombs…of course this is a straw man of sorts because the USA has more nuclear waste of its own creation that it needs not more from us. They want our waste for fears that “terrorist” will attack Chalk River and carry off a kilo or so for a dirty bomb or worse.

Now, it does make sense from a Canadian perspective to let the Americans worry about what to do with all that waste. They DID (although currently don’t) have a plan to store all their waste at Yucca Mountain. In a cynical sense, it is better they spend their money trying to store it than we spend ours.

Of course things are never simple. As I mentioned the US does not currently have a plan for long term storage…well at least a place. We in Canada do have a plan; the Nuclear Waste Management Organization has a plan called Adaptive Phased Management to deal with our waste long term. However (from my research) our plan lacks a home as well.

Lastly, the secrecy around the transportation of the waste does warrant some comment. We live in a democracy where citizens are expected to be informed…especially about hazards that can have a life-threating impact on their life – I think this qualifies. That said, this is no ordinary risk like hazardous chemicals. There is the added risk of an ‘on purpose’ accident.  I don’t think “terrorism” is a credible threat at storage facilities; they seem to have adequate security features (arguable I agree, but so far so good).  I don’t think we needed to move it for fears of “al Qaeda” attacks regardless of how much the Americans lie awake at night worrying about that.

However, an attack en-route (more likely from environmentalist than ‘terrorist’) is very likely. It has happened in France and Germany (nothing worse than delays but could have been worse). So keeping the shipments a secret does not seem unreasonable in spite of the fact it does seem ‘undemocratic’ and more of ‘government keeping secrets from the public’. I do think that the details should be kept under wraps. We already knew (and should have known) beforehand the shipments would be made because they were part of a publicly available ‘trade’ agreement between the US and Canada. Our government should also inform us afterword about the shipment with a complete report about potential risks and the actual ‘outcome’ (i.e. were there any radioactive leaks) of the transportation.


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Who can form a government?

Posted by Don McLenaghen on May 1, 2011

First the formation of a government….

After an election, the Governor General asks the leader of the party with the largest number of seats if he(/she?) believes they can secure the confidence of the parliament. Obviously in a majority situation it’s a given; however in a minority situation some negotiation may need to take place before a positive answer can be given. When the ‘major’ party believes it cannot gain this confidence, the GG will then give the ‘runner-ups’ an opportunity to meet the standard of confidence. The Confidence of the house is simply the majority of MP’s supporting government either directly in a non-confidence vote (ie. The majority reject this motion) or indirectly by the failure to pass the budget, however the recent government (not uniquely but more frequently) have declared other bill-votes to be votes of confidence in an attempt to browbeat the opposition so as to pass said legislation[1].

What is the difference between minority and coalition government?

A minority government is one where a party forms a government while not having a majority in parliament but maintaining the confidence of the majority of MPs in parliament. We have a long history of minority governments with the first occurring in 1873 and twice the ruling party changed without an election (1873: Conservative to Liberal and 1926: Liberal to Conservative). There are two kinds of minority rule – arrogant or cooperative.

The Arrogant minorities tend to have a short life span as we have seen with Arthur Meighen (who lasted about 6 months) or Diefenbaker (who lasted less than 5 months). This form attempts to implement their party platform irrespective of what the majority of parliament wishes, where they attempt to balance the opposition’s aversion for another election against aversion of the government’s legislation. In this way, Harper has proven quite adept; manipulating the electoral fears of the opposition so as to pass far more regressive conservative (neo-con?) legislation that one would think possible. Of course his domineering control of the conservative party, his totalitarian control of the ‘media message’ (helped by the absence of a pluralistic press) and his contempt for parliament (for which the government ultimately fell) and the democratic processes has helped him push his extremist agenda…sorry, for the rant however true it may be.

The Cooperative minority is one that acknowledges the opinion of the nation is mixed…that it likes policies from some most/all the parties and a responsible Prime Minister should attempt to push legislation that is supported by the majority of the population regardless of the originating party. The greatest of these PM’s probably was Lester Pearson during whose tenure as PM we saw the adoption of such great advances the current Canadian Flag, the creation of universal Health Care, Canadian Student Loans and Canada Pension Plan.

A Coalition government is one where two or more parties form a government which can maintain the confidence of the majority of MPs in parliament. Canada has never had a coalition government (although during WWI, some liberal members joined the Borden Government however, the Liberal party officially declined the offer of coalition). As of yet Finland has never had a majority government, Israel, India and Germany regularly rely on coalitions and currently England has a coalition government.

Recent claims by the Conservatives that the Liberals-NDP planned to form a coalition government WITH the Bloc is incorrect (a lie?). The coalition was comprised of the Liberals (who would get 18 ministries) and the NDP (who would get 6 ministries); the Bloc only offered support so that when the Lib-NDP leadership approached the GG they had a credible claim to have the confidence of the house. By this standard, the Bloc was in a coalition with Harper’s Conservatives government.

Do we elect our Prime Minister?

Yes and no…technically the Prime Minister is simply the leader of the house…the leader of the house is simple any individual who can command the confidence of the house. The office of Prime Minister is not defined in our Constitution; in fact the PM is only referenced indirectly as the person responsible for organising Constitutional Conferences (to amend the constitution). Unlike our American neighbours whose presidential powers are explicitly outlined, we rely on history and precedent to define the PM’s powers and role (there is also a  large degree the willingness or acquiescence of the public/parliament to accept changes for example the recent decision of to officially refer to government projects not as “the Canadian government” but as “the Harper government”…something I find very disturbing and wrong but something that seems to disappear for the headlines due to other Conservative scandals.

In fact all ministers and their portfolios of responsibility are defined by constitutional convention or the whim of the PM themselves. By convention, the leader of the party that holds the confidence of parliament is the PM; usually this is a member of the House of Commons but on occasion are not (John Abbot and Mackenzie Bowell were senators while PM). As well; on several occasions’ ministers of the crown were not elected members of government at all, although this is seen as extreme and against convention. On occasion, governments have had ministers of the crown who only later became MPs and often senators have been ministers with portfolio.

The PM serves “At her majesties pleasure”, meaning that unless a PM resigns, dies or is dismissed by the GG (or Queen), they remain PM even if they or their party loses an election. If a PM party loses a majority, they may still remain PM if they can command the confidence of the house. They may also be dismissed by the GG who will then ask the leader of the majority party (or the leader who can command the confidence of the house) to form the government.

Why are elections called?

An election is called by three mechanisms; firstly in our constitution a government cannot hold power longer than 5 years before an election MUST be called. As well as the Canada Elections Act (CEA) states that a general election is to take place on the third Monday in October, in the fourth calendar year after the previous poll, starting with October 19, 2009. The CEA however can be amended at any time so has little effective weight as our current election shows.

Under parliamentary rules, the prime minister can ask the Governor General to dissolve Parliament but the Governor General can refuse the request. This precedent was set in 1926 when William Lyon McKenzie asked the GG to dissolve the parliament but Lord Byng refused and gave the Conservatives a chance. When Paul Martin was in a minority situation after the 2004 election, Harper drafted an agreement between the opposition parties (including the Bloc) to approach the GG to form a government. In 2008, the shoe was on the other foot and the NDP and Liberals signed an agreement to form a coalition; this was avoided by the unusual act of prorogation of parliament.

For those who do not know, prorogation  is ending one session of parliament and starting a new one without calling an election traditionally done to allow MP’s to engage their constituency. In modern times, the length of the first ‘session’ of parliament is around 6 months to a year. Harper has the record for the both the shortest session, 17 days[2], and also the earliest call for Prorogation after an election… 51 days[3].

Lastly, an election is triggered whenever the sitting government loses the confidence of the parliament. As mentioned before, this can occur by a direct motion of non-confidence or the failure to pass a moneyed bill (such as the budget). Technically, any bill can be declared a confidence vote by the sitting government, but only a motion of non-confidence can be moved by the opposition to defeat a sitting government. It is interesting to note that a third motion may become an automatic non-confidence motion resulting in the defeat of the government; that is a motion of contempt of parliament. Technically that was the motion that caused the Harper government to dissolve parliament and request the GG to call for an election. In the future it may become constitution convention that to be found in contempt of parliament is to also be fired as government…as so it should be.

[2] I have excluded session a) 1873 which was only to call an election, b) only enacted the War Measures Act in 1914 c) the declaration of war on Germany in 1939, and d) 1930 for no good reason at all!

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