Harper government's "leap of logic" to justify voter suppression

Poor Pierre Poilievre.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's point man on the government's proposed elections act has just been called out, again, by yet another expert.

The smack down on Saturday by Harry Neufeld has got to really hurt, though.

That's because Poilievre, minister of state for democratic reform, cites a Neufeld report at every opportunity to justify two draconian measures in the bill: prohibiting voter information cards as a valid piece of ID and ending "vouching" for voters.

Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand estimates that putting an end to vouching would disenfranchise more than 100,000 people, especially aboriginals, seniors and students.

Neufeld, the former Chief Electoral Officer in B.C. who was commissioned by Elections Canada to probe voting irregularities during the 2011 election, backed up Mayrand in an interview Saturday with CBC Radio's The House.

"I think Mr. Mayrand is absolutely correct," Neufeld told host Evan Solomon.

"And [with] the provision that no one is allowed to use the voter information card that is sent to every individual voter who's registered, I think it will disenfranchise more people in addition," he said.

"This is extremely problematic. We have constitutional guarantees that every Canadian has the right to vote."

Neufeld told Solomon that Poilievre makes a "leap of logic" when he uses his report to justify these measures in the bill.

"But it's very much his conclusion from reading — I think quite selectively — parts of my report," Neufeld said, emphasizing "there was no evidence of fraud whatsoever" in the cases he reviewed.

"I think any fair-minded person who reads that report would come to the conclusion that he has not been fair in his assessment of my findings."

Neufeld's criticism of Poilievre follows the release last week of an open letter to the Conservative government signed by 160 academics, containing another scathing analysis of the election bill.

That follow Mayrand's detailed and devastating critique of the act during parliamentary hearings.

Over to you, Minister Poilievre.

Photo: YouTube.

"We can't afford to have a soft conservative representing us"

The imminent retirement of MP Maurice Vellacott, a leader of the morality squad in the Conservative caucus, means there will be a hole to fill.

And it looks like Randy Schiller of Weyburn, Saskatchewan may want to fill it.

Conservative MP Ed Komarnicki has already announced, like Vellacott, that he won't be running in the 2015 election, and Schiller has decided to go for the Conservative nomination in the riding of Souris-Moose Mountain.

His rationale? The other candidates to replace Komarnicki are "soft conservatives."

Here's what Schiller told the Estevan Mercury, a local newspaper:

"With the unexpected retirement announcement from Ed, and after seeing the first three candidates that declared, I thought that they were soft conservatives, and we can't afford to have a soft conservative representing us," said Schiller, who holds strong beliefs in core conservative principles. "We can't have liberals or even socialists running our country."

"I'm hoping to accomplish a stronger Canada that is financially and morally sound. Canadian values are rapidly eroding. We need to return to self-reliance and personal initiative. I want to decrease Canadians' dependency on government, and we must decrease our government's addiction to tax increases, which feeds that dependency."

"Our once strong conservative Canadian values are being degraded. We no longer have self-reliance in our personal initiatives. People want to rely on the government, and we need to break that reliance in government."

Schiller, who served as president of the Weyburn Big Muddy Sask. Party Constituency Association before entering the race, is the "financial secretary and faithful captain with his local church group," according to the local paper. 

Good to know Schiller thinks he should be picked as the Conservative candidate over "soft conservatives."

Photo: spendadaytouringUsed under a Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 licence. 

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Canada's latest labour minister just like the old one

That was fast.

Just as news broke Wednesday that the union representing 3,000 workers at Canadian National Railway Co gave strike notice, meaning a strike could begin as early as Saturday, the Conservative government served notice it would be tabling back-to-work legislation.

Labour Minister Kellie Leitch stood in the foyer of the House of Commons to announce the government's plan to stop collective bargaining rights in its tracks.

This was fast, even by Conservative standards.

Since coming to power in 2006, the Harper government has tabled back-to-work legislation six times and used it four times to stymie the collective bargaining process and force workers back to work.

In this case, CN Rail and the Teamsters union reached a tentative agreement late Wednesday. Had they not, you can be sure Leitch would have acted on her threat.

Just ask employees of Air Canada (2012), Canadian Pacific (2012), Canada Post (2011), and CN Rail (2007). They were all stripped of their bargaining rights when the Conservatives let their employers off the hook. Why bargain when you know your friends in power will just order your employees back to work?

Leitch may not get her chance to kick around labour this time, now that a tentative deal has been reached. The Conservatives still have C-525 to do that.

The anti-union private member's bill, tabled by a Conservative backbencher and backed enthusiastically by Stephen Harper and his cabinet, is now at the committee stage in the House of Commons. The Conservatives seems poised to ram it through.

The bill borrows from Republican-style tactics in the United States to destabilize the labour movement and weaken the ability of unions to fight for fair wages and a shared prosperity.

C-525 proposes that a majority vote in favour of joining a union is no longer enough while letting a minority of the membership sign a petition to trigger a decertification vote. And by forcing a mandatory secret vote on employees who have already signed union cards, the bill makes the union certification process more difficult, allowing employers to intimidate employees.

This two-step process would put federal labour laws at odds with the rules in a number of Canada's provinces, where a "card check" of a majority of workers is enough to organize a union. 

Photo: waderUsed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 2.0 licence.

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The slippery reach of Big Oil's PR machine

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers seems to be everywhere these days, selling the idea that the rapid development of the tar sands without federal emissions regulations constitutes a "balanced" approach.
The group represents big oil companies operating in Canada, so there's no shortage of money to spend to try and shape the debate about Canada's energy and environmental policies.
Here are 4 recent examples of how CAPP goes about its business — the environment be damned.

1. Snag favourable coverage in Canadian newspapers

CAPP made a board pitch to Postmedia Network's board of directors last year to create an "Energy Channel Sponsorship," so newspapers in the Postmedia chain (which includes the National Post, Ottawa Citizen, Montreal Gazette, Calgary Herald and Vancouver Sun, among others) "amplify our energy mandate."
You see, Albertans "may be acutely aware of this fact, the rest of the country often fails to grasp the fundamental role the energy sector plays in building and sustaining economic prosperity. Postmedia and CAPP will bring energy to the forefront of our national conversation. Together, we will engage executives, the business community and the Canadian public to underscore the ways in which the energy sector powers Canada." 
These special "joint venture" packages, filled with "topics to be directed by CAPP and written by Postmedia," would include one 8-page Special Report in Ottawa Citizen and National Post, according to the pitch.
In a statement, Postmedia Network's vice president of communications Phyllise Gelfand said CAPP delivered the sales presentation a year ago, but the company does not share the full details of any client campaign.

"Theirs is an innovative marketing program across our brands and platforms which adheres to clear labelling guidelines. The program includes sponsorship of the FP Energy channel on our websites. These are topical issues, covered across all media — including ours. CAPP is communicating with Canadians through an innovative advertising program, on our platforms. CAPP has no control over editorial opinion or coverage."


2. Reach schoolchildren with CAPP-funded curriculum

CAPP is funding "Energy IQ" teaching materials that are currently being distributed to schools across the country by Canadian Geographic magazine. The materials includes a giant floor-sized map to map out pipeline routes. Absent from the map are the locations of the safety incidents involving pipelines, even though they've doubled over the past decade.

In the words of a group of high-school students in Vancouver, the stuff is "propaganda." The open letter from the students, drafted to keep the CAPP-funded materials out of their school, starts off with this opener: "We’re young, not stupid. Keep big oil out of our schools." 

3. Develop a special relationship with a TV personality with a megaphone

Rex Murphy delivers regular rants against environments and pumps up the virtues of Big Oil from his perch at CBC's The National. Murphy is also a go-to guy for the oil sector as a favourite keynote speaker to trash-talk the environmental movement.

Since 2009, Murphy has been spotted or booked at the podium as a keynote speaker not one, not twice, but at least 25 times, including a luncheon this week co-sponsored by CAPP.

Other sponsors for Murphy's paid speaking gigs include: Enbridge; TransCanada; SunCor; the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers; Halliburton; First Energy Capital; Pipeline Contractors Association of Canada; the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum; Canadian Natural Resources Corp.; Esso; Imperial Oil, ConocoPhillips, BP; and Chevron.

4. Help write government policy

Internal records from the Alberta government, released recently under the provincial freedom of information law, show how close CAPP works with government officials to neuter and push off proposed rules regarding capping greenhouse gas emissions (kudos CBC).

You see, "higher stringency requirements" would "impact production and revenue," so they "should not be fast-tracked," according to CAPP.

This snapshot into behind-the-scence negotiations between industry and government looks familiar to people in Ottawa. In 2012, CAPP recommended the Conservative government pack a series of laws to weaken environmental rules into the omnibus bill, instead of multiple pieces of legislation. The Conservative ran with suggestions, and buried them in a massive budget implementation bill.

Photo: peterblanchard. Used under a Creative Commons BY 2.0 licence.

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