You, me and STV

Let’s make it fly

You have to ask yourself; why don’t we adopt STV in BC? Are we a bunch of chickens or what? Are the politicos a little worried about losing control of the flock? Perhaps too few of us give much of a cluck about democracy? Don’t be chicken; let’s make this bird fly.

– Alan Cassels
drug policy researcher
University of Victoria, BC

heatherA fresh start for democracy

On May 12 in BC, we can have a fresh start for democracy. We have an historic opportunity. The UK has the same dysfunctional system as we do and they have been trying to change their electoral system since 1875. The UK never even had a referendum! We can lead the way. We can bring in a new system in which citizens know their votes count, where politicians can be held to account and where elections give genuine results. Voters will have more incentive to vote because every vote counts. We can bring in a system that creates a legislature that reflects the views of voters and the diversity of the electorate.

– Heather Dale, LL.B, MA
Vancouver regional organizer
YES referendum campaign

donEvery vote should count

I have long been convinced of the need for proportional representation. Every vote should count and every voter’s voice should be reflected in the legislative body. Although I believe that a mixed member proportional format is the best system, I think that any electoral reform that introduces proportionality is a positive step. I look forward to discussing STV with all British Columbians in the weeks ahead.

– Don Davies
M.P. Vancouver Kingsway

fredGovernment for the people

Under BC-STV, each person gets to rank candidates in order of preference 1, 2, 3, etc. If your favourite candidate is eliminated, your vote is not wasted; it is simply transferred to your second choice, and so on. No need to vote strategically for the “lesser of two evils” as we do currently. I truly believe that BC-STV is a tool to get our democracy to work better, to get governments more responsive to the people and to improve the “government of the people, by the people, for the people” as per Abraham Lincoln’s famous saying.

– Frédéric Van Caenegem
SFU student
Centre for Sustainable Community Development

davidCloser to what voters want

BC-STV will improve our democracy. It will give us a legislature which is what we want and voted for. It gives voters the power to choose the MLAs they want for their preferred party. It moves power from the party leaders down to the MLAs and moves power down from the MLAs to the voters. It gives women and popular independent candidates more opportunity to get elected. BC-STV will often lead to coalition governments which have to work on a consensus. They will have policies much closer to what the voters want, and voters will be more satisfied because they will see the system as being fair. FPTP is an unfair system which does none of these things.

– David Huntley
Professor Emeritus
Department of Physics
Simon Fraser University

maharaHere’s our chance BC!

I remember the night of our last federal election. I scurried down to the local pub to get the election results in the warm buzz of dedicated neighbours. What a shock to find only 58 percent of Canadians had voted versus 30 years earlier in 1978 when close to 80 percent had! What’s up with that? Clearly, two reasons: a rising disillusionment with politicians and secondly, an antiquated voting “First Past the Post” system that has left many Canadians asking, “What’s the point?” Finally, we can do something about the second. Here’s our chance BC to make some good history. Okay everybody; let’s do the referendum!

– Rev. Mahara Brenna 
speaker, mediator, community builder

Back room drug deals


DRUG BUST Alan Cassels

“The very word ‘secrecy’ is repugnant in a free and open society and we are, as a people, inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings. ”

– John F. Kennedy

ARE YOU familiar with the line, “If you’ve nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear?” That’s the slogan often used to attack those who express concern about personal privacy – the ones who say they’re worried about the proliferation of surveillance cameras, databases and other data-collection devices that track us like bloodhounds, recording our every encounter with the legal, commercial, educational and medical systems. Where is all that information kept? How correct is it? Who is using it? Can it be used for purposes for other than which it was intended? Will it ever come back to haunt us even if we have “nothing to hide?” Scary thoughts indeed.

While personal privacy is an issue that gets a lot of attention, leading to a growing level of public concern about exactly how personal data are being used, there’s another side to the secrecy issue. And that’s the fact that many decisions, especially vital decisions that affect healthcare, are made in secret, not open to the sunlight of public scrutiny. Most people would find it astounding that, in Canada, millions are spent on healthcare decisions made behind closed doors. Even if these decisions are being made by well-meaning policy makers fully preoccupied with advancing the public interest, secretive decision-making, by its very nature, means there is no way for third parties to verify whether or not the public interest is best served.

One example on my radar, although details are sketchy, is the way different provincial drug plans cut deals with drug companies about listing their drugs. These so-called product listing agreements allow companies to get their new drugs on the formulary – the list of drugs the province will pay for – without having to reveal how much or how little they are paying the government. They also don’t have to reveal how much more patients and private insurers may have to pay outside the government plan for the same drug. The public may be getting a real steal on a certain product, which just might be providing incredible value for taxpayer money, but the name of the game is secrecy; no one is supposed to know.

Let’s say a company wants its new drug listed on the Ontario Drug Plan and it asks the Ontario government for a certain price. After negotiations about the number of doses and the number of patients likely to use the drug, the product will be listed. If the company sells more of the drug than it projected, it might be required to pay back some of those additional costs to government. These agreements may have research requirements built into them to better monitor how the drug is being used in the general population. This is all conjecture, of course, because the deals are made in secret. What actually happens within a product listing agreement is a big, black box and no one, except the government negotiators and the manufacturer, knows what kind of money the drug is costing the taxpayer or the consumers who are not covered by provincial plans.

Are these fair agreements? Should they be made in the open? That’s my default opinion, but without knowing the specifics of these deals, it’s necessary to withhold judgement. Hopefully, given all the pressure exerted on governments to keep costs down, such secret deals are actually resulting in maximum value for the dollar.

Let’s broaden this question and ask ourselves if we’d welcome governments secretly negotiating on our behalf for other public goods. Would we allow the building of a new Port Mann Bridge or a new Sea-to-Sky Highway to be negotiated in secret? What would we say if prospective builders got together with government officials and hammered out financial deals where the public couldn’t know how much money is changing hands?

Some say the secrecy is necessary because of the way the drug industry and the different public pharmacare programs are structured in Canada. For instance, Quebec has a “most favoured nation” clause that requires manufacturers to provide the Quebec government with the lowest price among all the provincial plans. Maybe doing deals in secret is the only way any other province can get the fairest price. It’s hard to tell, but a recent paper published by Aidan Hollis, an economist in Alberta, found that BC carried out a sole-sourcing contract with a drug company that involved secret rebates to Pharmacare. The problem he saw was that the alleged price reductions for Pharmacare recipients meant higher prices for everyone else not covered by Pharmacare. Hollis concluded: “A tendering process with secret rebates is not transparent, nor is it fair to impose high costs on those patients whose purchases are not covered by Pharmacare.”

“Transparent.” That’s the word that seems most antithetical to the word “secrecy” and one that pharmaceutical companies absolutely love to fling at governments for being secretive. In fact, if you’ve been listening to the comments from drug lobbyists and their favourite disease groups about public agencies that critically evaluate drugs – Canada’s Common Drug Review and UBC’s Therapeutics Initiative, for example – the word “transparency” is thrown down like a gauntlet. Why aren’t these organizations more “transparent” they ask?

Am I the only one to notice the faint whiff of hypocrisy when drug companies are cutting secret deals with provincial governments to list their drugs, even as they publicly demand transparency in government-sponsored analyses of new drugs?

The drug companies’ version of the word transparency is simple: these groups want to know who’s at the table and they want to know the name, rank and serial number of the key lobbying targets. They want to know which levers to work, hence demanding greater and greater transparency around the decisions governments make about drugs because the more opaque the decision-making process, the less chance the drug companies have of influencing governments’ decisions.

Fair enough, right? Yet these demands from the pharmaceutical industry lead to some hard questions regarding the industry’s offerings in terms of their own transparency. Sure, they are companies and companies need to keep secrets – proprietary information, ya know – and I can accept that. However, we in the public know almost nothing about what the industry is doing to influence healthcare decisions, such as how much they spend to influence physician prescribing.

Dr. Joel Lexchin, a Canadian expert in pharmaceutical policy and author of one of the best books on the drug industry in Canada –The Real Pushers, New Star Books, 1984 – has estimated that the drug industry in Canada today spends about $50,000 per doctor, per year, marketing its products to physicians, but we don’t know for sure. (With 6,000 practising doctors in BC, that’s about $300 million per year.) Do we know how the money is spent or to what extent it influences prescribing decisions? Of course not. All of that information is confidential, secret and non-transparent.

Another worrisome aspect of transparency relates to the way Health Canada respects drug manufacturers’ requests for confidentiality of unpublished data – that is, the company’s clinical data our regulator examines before it allows a drug to be sold in Canada. We researchers who are interested in what those data show –especially in terms of drug safety – can’t get them. That information is considered confidential and we can only see summaries of the data that support the approval of a drug.

Data on drug safety, data on what provinces pay for drugs and data on drug company spending to influence prescribing are certainly on my menu of what I think needs to be brought into the light of day under the banner of greater transparency.

Yet even while governments in Canada jump to satisfy the industry’s strident desire for greater transparency, they tend not to demand, in return, greater transparency for those things obviously in the public interest. At the very least, we would hope they would strike a balance so that the glare of transparency can shine on both public and private matters. However, the way the companies and governments currently deal with transparency issues reminds me of the slogan used to describe the recent spate of bailouts of private banks in the economic slowdown: “The privatization of benefits and socialization of costs and risks.”

Maybe our democratically elected governments need to say this to the drug companies: “We’ll give you transparency of our decision making processes when you provide us equal clarity on your business decisions. You can’t have us working in a glass house while you work in a batcave.”

Alan Cassels is a drug policy researcher at the University of Victoria and author of The ABCs of Disease Mongering: An epidemic in 26 Letters.


Obama and the return of the real

by Jonathan Schell

The inauguration of Barack Obama, whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant, is both a culmination and a beginning. The culmination is the milestone represented by the arrival of a black man in the office of president of the United States. That achievement reaches back to the founding ideals of the Republic – “all men are created equal” – which have been fulfilled in a new way, even as they resonate around a world in which for centuries white imperialists have subjected people of colour to oppression. The event fully justifies the national and global jubilation it has touched off. This much is truly accomplished, signed and sealed.

But what of the hour, the broad shape of the new world that Obama and all of us will face? If only the economic crisis were involved, the path ahead would have something of the known and familiar. Economic cycles come and go and even the Great Depression eased up in a little more than a decade. But this year’s crisis is attended by, or embedded in, at least four others of even larger scope. The second is the shortage of natural resources, beginning with fossil fuels. Oil prices have fallen sharply from their peak of last summer, but does anyone doubt that when the economy bounces back those prices will rise with it?

A third crisis – less on the public mind, perhaps, because it is so old it is taken for granted – is the spread of nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction. A fourth crisis is the ecological one, comprising global warming, the wholesale human-caused annihilation of species, population growth, water and land shortage and much else. Like nuclear danger, the planetary ecological crisis threatens something that has never been at stake before our era: the natural foundations of life upon which humans and all species depend for survival. Economic and military ups and downs are for a season only. Extinction is forever.

At a glance, this tangle of crises might seem merely to be the result of a colossal accident – a world-historic pileup on the global thruway. Yet in addition to being interconnected, the crises have striking features in common, suggesting shared roots. To begin with, all are self-created. They arise from pathologies of our own activity, or perhaps hyperactivity. The Greek tragedians understood well those disasters whose seeds lie above all in one’s own actions. No storm or asteroid or external enemy is the cause. Today, the economic crash is the result of investment run amok: The “masters of the universe” are the authors of their own (and everyone’s) downfall. The nuclear weapons that threaten to return in wrath to American cities were born in New Mexico. The oil is running short because we are driving too many cars to too many shopping malls. The global ecosphere is heading toward collapse because of the success, not the failure (until recently), of the modern economy. The invasion of Iraq was the American empire’s self-inflicted wound – a disaster of choice, so to speak. All we had to do to escape it was not to do it. Here and elsewhere, the work of our own hands rises up to strike us.

All the crises are also the result of excess, not scarcity. Too much credit was packaged in too many ways by people who were too smart, too busy, too greedy. Our energy use was too great for the available reserves. The nuclear weapon overfulfilled the plans for great-power war, making it – and potentially ourselves – obsolete through over-success. The economic activity of humanity – the “throughput” of productivity, to use James Gustave Speth’s term for the sheer quantity of natural stuff processed by the economy and dumped back into the ecosphere – was too voluminous to be sustained by fragile natural systems. The environmentalists’ word “sustainability” applies more broadly. The collateralized debt obligations, the oil use, the spread of WMDs, the military pretensions of empire, all are “unsustainable” and crashing at once. Taken together, the crises add up to a new era of limits, which now are pressing in on all sides to correct overreaching.

All the crises (but especially those that are endangering the ecosphere) involve theft by the living from their posterity. It’s often said that revolutions, like the god Saturn, devour their children. We are committing a slow motion, cross-generational equivalent of this offence. My generation, the baby boomers – ominously nicknamed “the boomers” – has been cannibalizing the future to provision the present. Though we are not killing our children directly, we are spending their money, eating their food, cutting down their cherry orchards. Intergenerational justice has been a subject more fit for academic seminars than for newspaper headlines. The question has been what harm are we doing to generations yet unborn? But the time frame has been shortened and the malign transactions are now occurring between generations still alive. The dollars we have spent are coming directly out of our children’s paychecks. The oil we burn is being drawn down from their reserves. The nuclear weapons we cling to for a dubious “security” will burn down their cities. The atmosphere we are heating up will scorch their fields and drown their shorelines. A “new era of responsibility” must above all mean responsibility to them. If it is true that all the crises are part of this larger crisis, then the economic crisis may simply be the means by which the larger adjustment is being set in motion, in effect dictating a forced march into the sustainable world.

All the crises are characterized by double standards, which everywhere block the way to solutions. One group of nations, led by the United States, lays claim to the lion’s share of the world’s wealth, to an exclusive right to possess nuclear weapons, to a disproportionate right to pollute the environment and even to a dominant position in world councils, while everyone else is expected to accept second-class status. But since solutions to all the crises must be global to succeed, and global agreement can only be based on equity, the path to success is cut off.

Finally, all the crises display one more common feature: all have been based on the wholesale manufacture of delusions. The operative word here is “bubble.” A bubble, in the stock market or anywhere, is a real-world construct based on fantasies. When the fantasy collapses, the construct collapses and people are hurt. Disillusion and tangible harm go together; as imaginary wealth and power evaporate, so does real wealth and power. The equity exposed as worthless was always phony, but real people really lose their jobs. The weapons of mass destruction in the invaded country were fictitious, but the war and the dying are actual. The “safety” provided by nuclear arms is waning, if it ever existed, but the holocaust, when it comes, though fantastical, will be no fantasy. The “limits on growth” were denied, but the oil reserves didn’t get the message. The “uncertainty” about global warming – cooked up by political hacks and backed by self-interested energy companies – is fake, but the Arctic ice is melting anyway.

A new stance toward reality

One day, someone will undertake a comprehensive study of how all these bubbles grew and why they were inflated at the same time. It will be a story of a crisis of integrity of the institutions at the apex of American life. It will recount how the largest government, business, military and media organizations, as if obedient to a single command, began to tell lies to themselves and others in pursuit of or subservience to wealth and power. Individual deceivers must arrange their untruths by themselves, by flat-out conscious lying, self-deception or a combination of the two. Huge bureaucracies have wider options. Banks, hedge funds, ratings agencies, regulatory agencies, intelligence services, the White House, the Pentagon and mainstream news organizations can grind inconvenient truths to dust, layer by bureaucratic layer, until the convenient lies that had been wanted all along are presented to the satisfied money or war-hungry decision makers at the top. The study of these operations will be a story of groupthink; of basic facts relegated to footnotes; of wishes tweaked into facts; of deepening secrecy; of complex models, mathematical or ideological, used to supplant, not illumine, reality; of new offices created to draw false new conclusions from old facts; of threat inflation; of the sinking careers of truth-tellers and the rising careers of truth-twisters.

It would be interesting, for instance, to compare the creation of the illusions of the real estate bubble with the creation of the claim that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. In both cases, contrary facts were readily available at the base of the system, but were filtered out as the reports went up the chain. For a somewhat contrasting, top-down model, the White House method for suppressing the truth about global warming within government agencies is instructive. In that case, the science was duly gathered, but often squelched at the last minute by political appointees editing the reports.

A concluding chapter of the study will note that the rudiments of a new stance toward reality began to be articulated. Its motto can be the famous comment a senior Bush adviser made to writer Ronald Suskind, whom he belittled as belonging to the “reality-based community,” which, the adviser said, believed that “solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” But that was no longer true, for “we’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.” Over at the American International Group, the recipient of $152.5 billion in federal bailout funds, then-chief Maurice Greenberg was saying much the same thing in happier days: “This is never going to get any better than it is today. We’re so big, we’re never going to swim against the tide. We are the tide.” In short, the relationship between observation and action had been reversed. Reality was not the field of operation in which you acted and whose limits you must respect; it was, like a play or movie, a scenario to be penned by human authors. Fact had to adjust to ideology, not the other way around.

Obama, of course, cannot wait for such a study to appear. He must batter his way out of the various bubbles and lay his hands on what is real immediately. It will not be easy. His election has done part of the job, but the mists of illusion still hover over the land. Fantasies of wealth and power, not to speak of superpower, die hard. Happy hour is more pleasant than the morning after. For bubble thinking was projected beyond the deluded institutions to national politics as a whole. The falsehoods that led to war, the fact-averse ideology that inspired the bid for empire, the investments based on fictitious ratings and the denial of the evidence of global warming – none of these grew in a vacuum. They were supported or tolerated or insufficiently discredited by the media and other organizations that inform and constitute the mainstream. The credit and debt booms were national, corporate and personal, symptoms of a nation living beyond its means at all levels. The facts of global warming, it is true, were increasingly accepted by the public, but not by the president it put in office, and there was little appetite for measures, like a gas tax, to cut back carbon emissions. As global warming intensified, the iconic American vehicle of the era was the gas devouring, pseudo-military Hummer, an imperial auto if there ever was one. The grandiose conceptions of American power found a ready audience, as reflected in election results. They linger still as troops shift, with Obama’s blessing, from the unpopular Iraq quagmire to the better accepted Afghanistan quagmire.

In short, the mainstream, like a river that jumps its bed and ravages the countryside, has overflowed the levees of reality and carried the country to disaster after disaster in every area of national life: military, economic and ecological. These depredations have paradoxically led a groggy public to yearn for the stability that Obama’s centrist cabinet choices seem to promise. But they know – Obama, who denounced the “dead zone that politics had become,” told them in the campaign – that these appointees had a hand in creating the ills they are now charged with addressing.

“Reality” has bifurcated in a manner confusing to politicians and citizens alike. On the one side is political reality, which by definition means centrist, mainstream opinion. On the other side is the reality of events, heading in quite a different direction. If Obama makes mainstream choices, he is called “pragmatic.” And it may well be so in political terms, as the poll results attest. But political pragmatism in current circumstances may be real folly, as it was on the eve of the Iraq War and in the years of the finance bubble preceding the crash. Smooth sailing down the middle of the Niagara River carries you over Niagara Falls. The danger is not that Obama’s move into the mainstream will offend a tribe called “the left” or his “base,” but that by adjusting to a centre that is out of touch, he will fail to address the crises adequately and will lose his effectiveness as president.

Jonathan Schell is the author of numerous books, including The Fate of the Earth and The Seventh Decade: The New Shape of Nuclear Danger. He is also a Distinguished Fellow at the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization.

Fair voting in BC

The Citizens’ Assembly worked it out in 2004.
We can make it happen in 2009

by Nick Loenen

On May 12, 2009, British Columbians will take to the polls to vote for BC’s next premier. They will also vote to replace the current “first-past-the-post” voting system with a proportional voting system known as the BC single transferable vote (BC-STV), which was almost unanimously recommended by the BC Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform. This will give British Columbians:

1) Fair election results.
2) Effective local representation.
3) Greater voter choice.

You can help. Learn more at:

The Citizens’ Assembly at the Wosk Centre for Dialogue

On October 24, 2004, after nearly one year of discussion and deliberation, the Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform voted to recommend replacing BC’s current voting system, known as “first-past-the-post,” with a single transferable vote system adapted to our province’s needs. It is called BC-STV. The randomly selected 161 members of the Assembly, consisting of one woman and one man from each constituency, supported the recommendation almost unanimously.

The historic vote followed three hours of final discussions. At the end of that debate, Vaughn Palmer, Vancouver Sun’s senior political columnist, turned to Les Leyne, his counterpart at Victoria’s Times Colonist and asked, “Les, have we ever seen a political debate of such high calibre conducted with so much civility and goodwill?”

That was a fine tribute to the ordinary British Columbians who made up the Assembly, their work and their public mindedness, but it is also a shameful indictment of the legislature, the political parties and our political culture. Civility and goodwill? Why can our governing institutions not be more like the Citizens Assembly? Is that not what Canadians want?

The Assembly recommended a preferential ballot. Instead of voters selecting one of many candidates, voters rank any number of candidates. Voters don’t vote many times. Each voter gets just one vote. Think of it as one dollar’s worth, but the dollar might be spread around in support of more than one candidate, based on how the voter ranks the candidates. That is the essence of the preferential ballot.

What does a preferential ballot do for politics? It has a civilizing influence. Two real, live examples: I was a candidate in the 1993 federal election. The party nomination meeting was contested by five and conducted by preferential ballot. It was clear from the start that no one would win on the first count. The winning candidate would need second and third place support from members whose first loyalty was with a competitor. Is that conducive to negative, personal attacks? Of course not. I was constructive and found common ground with some of the other candidates and their supporters and hence won the nomination.

Some years ago, the then president of the Richmond non-partisan association phoned to say that prior to an upcoming nomination meeting to fill one slot for a by-election, membership numbers had suddenly swelled from the normal 300 to 400 to nearly 3,000.

Three competing blocks of instant voters were determined to get the nomination. I advised the president to go with a preferential ballot. They did and not one of those three big camps won. Those large groups competed with each, but a fourth candidate had built bridges to all three of the big groups and won on the fourth count.

First-past-the-post, our current voting system, is a winner-take-all system. Only one candidate can win. Only one party can win; all others are losers. In our system, there is no constructive role for losers. Politicians win by attacking and diminishing others. Canadians don’t like attack ads, but under first-past-the-post, that is how it is done.

Legendary BC premier WAC Bennett often said, “Politics is war by another name.” Winston Churchill said, “The difference between war and politics is this: In war you get killed but once; in politics, often.” Must it be thus? No. Politics is not war and should not be conducted as if it were.

A preferential ballot rewards constructive behaviour; you win by building bridges, by reaching out. It promotes the politics of inclusion, cooperation and consultation. It does not thrive on conflict; it thrives on conflict resolution.

You want the legislature and parliament to be more like the Citizens Assembly? Change to BC-STV. Are you offended by the recent events in Ottawa, a politics that thrives on placing party interest ahead of the public interest? Change to BC-STV.

Today, faced with unprecedented public policy challenges and the need to rescue an economy destroyed by excessive self-interest, we need politics that are constructive, a system that rewards politicians for placing the common good ahead of partisan interests. We need the Citizens Assembly’s recommendation – BC-STV.

Electoral reform will not solve all our problems, but no parliamentary reform or lasting democratic reform will take root until we have a voting system that rewards those who place the common good ahead of partisan advantage.

Electoral reform is not sufficient, but it is a necessary condition for all other reforms. It must be thus. Why? Politics are about power and the voting system allocates power. Under a changed voting system, political power is dispersed and shared political behaviour becomes more civilized.

Changing the rules by which political power is allocated is the first and highest priority.

The question is can we change the voting system? Yes, we can. In 2005, British Columbians came within a whisker. This time, the movement for electoral reform is better organized with more feet on the ground and voters are more knowledgeable. Building on that solid majority of 58 percent who supported the Assembly’s recommendation last time, people will be invited to join that majority, and perhaps, perversely, but best of all, recent events in Ottawa have angered Canadians who know we deserve better.

It can be done, but it is up to ordinary British Columbians. On this issue, political leaders will follow only if the people lead. Without you, it will not happen.

We have just one last chance on May 12 and I ask you to make a commitment.

Let each of us resolve, and all of us together resolve, to commit our energies and our resources for the next few months to this great undertaking that was born in the Citizens Assembly among the people’s representatives. This is an undertaking that transcends all of us. It is an undertaking to make politics more civilized and to rekindle the promise of democracy for our province and for our nation.

Can we do it? Yes, we can!


Nick Loenen, a former Richmond councillor and MLA, has written extensively on voting system reform and can be reached at To learn more and to get involved, visit

The Single Transferable Vote (STV)

Proportional representation by the single transferable vote (STV) method rests on the assumption that voters can choose between candidates rather than parties. Voters rank candidates in order of preference by numbering the candidates on the ballot. The ballots are then counted in a way that insures the candidates with the highest preferences are elected.

The principle is straightforward:—that a variety of minority and majority opinions are represented in government. A candidate needs a certain number of votes to be elected, and this quota can vary according to the particular STV system used.

Source: Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform

Battling the banks to save public power

WRITING ON THE WALL by Representative Dennis Kucinich


Once they were as gods, but the deities of the American banking system are now in ruins, plunged from their 

Rep. Dennis Kucinich

pedestals into the maw of taxpayer largesse. Congress voted to give the banks $700 billion, lifting them temporarily out of their sepulcher of debt, while revealing a deep truth about the condition of America’s financial powers:

They never had the money they said they had as they constructed their debt-based monetary system, which now lies in ruins. Their decisions on behalf of depositors, shareholders and investors were lacking in basic integrity and common sense. Green gods bailing out with their golden parachutes. There was a time when their power was real. Come with me to Cleveland 30 years ago today.

Dec. 15, 1978, Cleveland, Ohio
I awoke to find a curt payment demand that was dropped on my front step by a grandfatherly man who supplemented his Social Security delivering the morning newspaper. The headline plastered across the front page:

Cleveland Trust: Pay Up. Bank would relent if Muny Light were sold, Forbes believes.

One of America’s largest banks, Cleveland Trust, led local banks in demanding immediate payment from the city by midnight, Dec. 15, of $14.5 million in short-term loans.

I regarded the headline skeptically. Having lived in 21 different places by the time I was 17, including a couple of cars, I had come to an encyclopedic knowledge of dun letters, sent to my parents by battalions of bill collectors seeking immediate payment for televisions, cars and a variety of household appliances that never seemed to work. I first came to regard these credit alarms with trepidation, later with impassiveness, with the expectation that as our family grew to two adults and seven children it would soon be on the move again, incurring new delinquencies with each new address. Lack of access to money, housing and credit seemed to be a permanent condition.

Now, having fought through a thicket of consequence to become America’s youngest mayor, elected on a promise to stop the privatization of the city’s electric system, I was faced with paying off loans taken out by the previous mayor, for the financing of municipal projects of dubious value.

The banks refused to extend terms of payment and connived with City Council members to block alternative payment plans, such as the sale of city land or tax revenues. The banks knew the city couldn’t otherwise pay. They demanded instead the sale of the city’s electric system, Muny Light, to an investor-owned electric company, the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co. (CEI). The president of the Cleveland Council, George Forbes, had met with the head of Cleveland Trust bank, who insisted on the sale of Muny Light as a precondition for extending the city credit. This was a case of the bank blackmailing the city, pure and simple.

The alternative to accepting the bank’s blackmail was default. Cleveland could become the first city since the Depression to default on its financial obligations. Cities rely on credit for everyday operations and for meeting long-term financial obligations, such as infrastructure improvements. If banks called in their loans, the city would head toward dire straits. No one knew that better than the law firm of Squire Sanders and Dempsey, which had served as bond counsel for the city of Cleveland while the city entered fiscal peril and was simultaneously, though not coincidentally, the principal law firm for the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co. Through Squire Sanders and Dempsey, CEI had access to the intricacies of the city of Cleveland’s financial records.

Under the previous administration, the city began using bond funds for general operating purposes. As mayor, I inherited $40 million worth of debt that had to be refinanced before the end of my first year in office. Under my predecessor, the city had illegally spent money it did not have, and yet it had the key to every bank in town and the confidence of the bond rating houses, at precisely the same time it was preparing for the sale of the municipal electric system to CEI.

Cleveland Trust and another bank demanding the sale of Muny Light, National City, were principal stock owners in CEI. Several members of CEI’s board sat on the boards of local banks as interlocking directorates. There was a myriad of bank-utility business relations. Cleveland Trust bank, which handled CEI’s demand deposits, pension funds and other assets, would directly profit from the sale of Muny Light. In a way, the banks were the private utility. With the sale, CEI would have an electricity monopoly in Cleveland and would be able to name its price for electricity and get it. Everyone in the Muny Light territory would receive at least a 20 percent rate increase as the rates would be raised to CEI’s levels.

The city was self-sufficient with Muny Light for many years. Muny provided power to 46,000 homes with low electric rates, which contributed to the economic growth of the city. That was until the late 1960s and early ‘70s, when a series of suspicious mechanical failures and power outages diminished the system’s reliability. At that time, under heavy lobbying from CEI, the Cleveland City Council delayed the passage of legislation for $9.8 million in repairs to Muny Light’s generators, thereby forcing the city to purchase power at a premium from its competitor, CEI. The city became increasingly dependent on an interconnection between CEI and Muny Light, a high-voltage line over which power could be transferred from CEI to the city, to ensure reliability. The city’s power system began to experience more unexplained power failures. CEI began to make public overtures to purchase Muny Light. The sale of Muny Light to CEI was soon supported by most of Cleveland’s media, business, political and labor interests.

In November 1976, the City Council passed legislation authorizing the sale of Muny Light for a fraction of its value. I was clerk of Cleveland’s Municipal Court at the time and I objected to the sale. I was advised that there was no way to stop the sale, but I saw it differently. Cleveland had a long history of municipal power. I could sense a terrible injustice was being visited upon the people of the city by its leading institutions, which were conspiring to deprive the city of its public power system.

I organized a petition drive that attracted support from city neighborhoods served by Muny Light. A full civic campaign was born with an intense effort made under brutal weather conditions to gather the signatures necessary to put the issue on the ballot. There was much at stake besides the monetary value of the system: The people’s right to own an electric system. And the historic position of Muny Light, one of America’s first municipal electric utilities, founded 70 years earlier by Cleveland mayor Tom Johnson. Muny Light provided electricity to about one-third of the homes and businesses in the city at a peak savings of 20-30 percent over the rates charged by CEI. Additionally, Muny Light provided millions of dollars annually in savings to taxpayers by serving 76 city facilities. It also provided Cleveland’s street lighting. High electric rates and higher taxes would follow if Muny were sold. The private sector was forcing the sale for its own profit at the expense of the community.

On January 4, 1977, the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB), in an antitrust review required of any company applying to operate a nuclear power plant, ruled that CEI had conspired to put Muny Light out of business. CEI tried to force Muny Light into price-fixing and blocked Muny expansion, stopped the installation of Muny Light pollution-abatement equipment and forced the city to buy power it didn’t need. In addition, the ASLB uncovered a CEI budget planning report for 1971 that spoke of a five-year plan “to reduce and ultimately eliminate” Muny Light.

The ASLB determined that CEI deliberately caused a Christmas season blackout on the Muny Light system and sent salesmen into Muny Light territory offering “reliable CEI service.” The private utility illegally tripled the cost of purchased power, thereby driving up Muny Light’s operating costs. CEI illegally blocked Muny Light’s access to power from other companies, all in violation of federal antitrust law. As a condition of receiving its license to operate a nuclear power plant, CEI had to provide Muny Light with access to cheap power. Documents showed that CEI executives believed the purchase of Muny Light would increase CEI’s earnings by $2.732 a share, eliminate a competitive threat, and push the company’s growth rate to 10 percent, further enhancing investment.

Documents in the case also demonstrated CEI’s successful attempts to subvert media editorial policy through cunning use of the company’s large advertising budget. Over the years, several local reporters lost their jobs after writing reports unfavorable to CEI, and CEI bragged internally about placing verbatim company-written propaganda as general media editorial content.

Confronted with the federal finding that bolstered a previously filed $330 million antitrust damage suit, the Cleveland city administration’s response was incredible: “Now CEI has to buy Muny Light!”

At the same time the campaign to sell Muny Light accelerated, a high-powered rifle shot ripped through my house, just missing my head.

A cavalcade of media editorials commenced favoring the transfer of Muny Light to CEI. During an ensuing legal battle over the validity of the referendum petitions, I became a candidate for mayor. I promised that if elected I would save the system. I won the election. My first act in office was to cancel the sale of Muny Light. I next had to pay off a $14 million CEI electricity bill that the previous administration owed and wanted to satisfy through the sale of the light system.

I had been in the mayor’s office barely a year, facing a municipal horror story of huge snow storms, massive water main breaks and a police strike. I had cut city spending by 10 percent through eliminating corrupt contracts, payroll padding and attritional cutbacks. Through the year, I struggled with a recall attempt for firing a police chief. The recall was backed by banks, utility and real estate interests with a last minute appeal printed by the Plain Dealer to sell Muny Light. Credit rating agencies, which had looked the other way while CEI was attempting to gain Muny Light in the previous administration, downgraded the city’s finances.

Another Muny Light-related attempted assassination was averted when I was rushed to a hospital vomiting blood from a profusely bleeding ulcer. Some years later, a congressional investigation produced information from an undercover agent of the Maryland State Police that the assassination attempt was to occur while I was the grand marshal in a local parade. A local television investigative report claimed the assassin’s services were purchased because I refused to sell the electric system.

One month later, I was back at work trying to find a way to save Muny Light. The utility’s financial difficulties, though contrived largely through interference with the system by CEI, were depicted as so overwhelming that only the sale of the electric system itself would save the city from financial catastrophe. I held several meetings with bank officials and it became clear we were heading for trouble on the question of refinancing. The banks were going to try to force me to sell the electric system. I went public with a plea for an income tax increase to protect the city’s solvency.

On December 15, I made a last-minute appeal to Cleveland Trust. It was eight o’clock in the morning. I met with Brock Weir, the chairman of Cleveland Trust, council president Forbes and our host, a local businessman. I had the intention of protecting Muny Light and avoiding a default.

“There’s just one thing you’ve got to do,” said the council president, who strongly favored the sale.

Weir, the bank CEO with the stern visage: “If you sell Muny Light, we’ll roll over the notes. I can get you $50 million in new financing. We’d get other banks to participate.” It was a bribe.

My thoughts went to the street just outside the boardroom. Some 20 years earlier, a few blocks from where this meeting was taking place, I slept with my brothers and sister and parents in a car, homeless. I remembered an apartment where my parents sat underneath the pale yellow light of a kitchen wall lamp, counting their pennies on an old porcelain-topped table. The pennies dropped, click, click, click. Pennies to pay the utility bills.

It matters how much people pay for electricity. It matters if the public owns its own system and has political and financial control over rates. I could hear the pennies dropping, click, click, click, as Mr. Weir insisted on the sale of Muny Light. I remembered my family and the struggles of people like them. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t sell. Not for $50 million, not for anything.

“I’m not going to sell, even if it means my career,” I said, as council president Forbes looked on in surprise.

“Why do you want to end your career? Sell the system. Get rid of it!” he said.

“Is there some other way we can work this out?” I asked Brock Weir.

He shook his head “No.”

Throughout that day, every media outlet in Cleveland echoed the sentiment of Cleveland Trust’s chairman, including the morning newspaper headline, with such depth of coverage and intensity that it seemed the city itself would crumble unless I agreed to the sale, which also included a provision dropping the $330 million antitrust damage suit.

The objective condition of the city’s finances received no honest review. The sale of Muny Light was depicted as the only way the city could avoid fiscal disaster. The majority leader of the City Council held a news conference live on the six o’clock news. He declared that if I sold Muny Light, “the chairman of the Cleveland Trust bank has informed the council that his bank will purchase $50 million worth of city bonds. So, in effect, we have a plan sitting on the mayor’s desk that will absolutely end the city’s financial problems, if he will put his signature on it.”

The $50 million bribe had been brought out into the open in a manner that now suggested it was a legitimate offer, a fake solution to a fake crisis. I refused to sell.

As Cleveland television stations covered the event live, with a countdown clock that looked like a twisted version of New Year’s Eve, midnight struck. Television networks of several countries recorded the grim event: The city of Cleveland became the first American city to go into default since the Great Depression. The default was over just $14.5 million dollars in credit.

When I called for a congressional investigation a few days later, Cleveland Trust denied it wanted Muny Light, CEI denied it wanted Muny Light, the council president denied the chairman of Cleveland Trust wanted Muny Light, and the majority leader said he was mistaken when he said live on the six o’clock news that the bank chairman offered $50 million in credit for Muny Light. Muny Light was no longer the issue. It was the mayor and his obstinacy that caused the crisis. So went the waltz into a netherworld devoid of truth, justice, reality or morality.

Though the people of Cleveland supported keeping Muny Light by a margin of two to one in a referendum a few months later, and passed an income tax increase by the same margin in order for the city to pay off the defaulted bond anticipation notes, the state of Ohio intervened and put the city into fiscal receivership. I lost the mayor’s race in 1979. The banks renegotiated the defaulted notes, at a profit. The city lost its antitrust suit against CEI in 1981, in a hung jury. An appeal failed.

I was out of major public office for almost 15 years until, in 1993, Cleveland announced an expansion of Muny Light (now called Cleveland Public Power). At that time, the City Council and others decided that I had made the right decision in refusing to sell Muny Light. The city and its residents had saved hundreds of millions of dollars through Muny Light’s reduced electric rates and the savings the taxpayers enjoyed from Muny’s lower-cost power for street lighting and city buildings.

I attempted another political comeback and this time succeeded, getting elected to the state Senate with the motto: “Because he was right.” My campaign literature showed a radiant light bulb behind my name. Two years later, I was elected to Congress, with the slogan “Light up Congress.” Today I am the chairman of the House Government Oversight Domestic Policy Subcommittee, which has broad jurisdiction over most government departments and agencies, including the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and electric utility matters generally.

The Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co. is now a subsidiary of First Energy Co., which was fined by the NRC for various safety violations and, a few years ago, was found to have primary responsibility for the 2003 blackout that left 50 million people throughout the northeastern United States without electricity.

Cleveland Trust no longer exists. No other bank involved in the default survives, except for National City, which faces extinction through shareholder approval of a takeover by PNC bank. I have spent much time trying to save National City.

One newspaper, the Cleveland Press, which advocated that CEI be Cleveland’s sole electricity provider, ceased publication. The other strong proponent of the sale of Muny Light, the Plain Dealer, struggles to survive.

The city’s electric system endures and this past year celebrated its 100th anniversary.

Another US nail in the coffin of international law

by Robert Dreyfuss

A parallel new Bush doctrine is emerging, in the last days of the soon-to-be ancien régime, and it needs to be strangled in its crib. Like the original Bush doctrine – the one that Sarah Palin couldn’t name, which called for preventive military action against emerging threats – this one also casts international law aside by insisting that the United States has an inherent right to cross international borders in “hot pursuit” of anyone it doesn’t like.

They’re already applying it to Pakistan, and this week Syria was the target. Is Iran next?

view larger image

Let’s take Pakistan first. Though a nominal ally, Pakistan has been the subject of at least nineteen aerial attacks by CIA-controlled drone aircraft, killing scores of Pakistanis and some Afghans in tribal areas controlled by pro-Taliban forces. The New York Times listed, and mapped, all nineteen such attacks in a recent piece describing Predator attacks across the Afghan border, all since August. The Times notes that inside the government, the U.S. Special Operations command and other advocates are pushing for a more aggressive use of such units, including efforts to kidnap and interrogate suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders. Though President Bush signed an order in July allowing U.S. commando teams to move into Pakistan itself, with or without Islamabad’s permission, such raids have occurred only once, on September 3.

The U.S. raid into Syria on October 26 similarly trampled on Syria’s sovereignty without so much as a fare-thee-well. Though the Pentagon initially denied that the raid involved helicopters and on-the-ground commando presence, that’s exactly what happened. The attack reportedly killed Badran Turki Hishan al-Mazidih, an Iraqi facilitator who smuggled foreign fighters into Iraq through Syria. The Washington Post was ecstatic, writing in an editorial:

“If Sunday’s raid, which targeted a senior al-Qaeda operative, serves only to put Mr. Assad on notice that the United States, too, is no longer prepared to respect the sovereignty of a criminal regime, it will have been worthwhile.”

Is it really that easy? To say: We declare your regime criminal, and so we will attack you anytime we care to? In its news report of the attack into Syria, the Post suggests, in a report by Ann Scott Tyson and Ellen Knickmeyer, that the attack is raising cross-border hot pursuit to the level of a doctrine:

“The military’s argument is that you can only claim sovereignty if you enforce it,” said Anthony Cordesman, a military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “When you are dealing with states that do not maintain their sovereignty and become a de facto sanctuary, the only way you have to deal with them is this kind of operation.”

The New York Times broadens the possible targets from Pakistan and Syria to Iran, writing (in a page one story by Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker): “Administration officials declined to say whether the emerging application of self-defense could lead to strikes against camps inside Iran that have been used to train Shiite ‘special groups’ that have fought with the American military and Iraqi security forces.”

That, of course, has been a live option, especially since the start of the surge in January, 2007, when President Bush promised to strike at Iranian supply lines in Iraq and other U.S. officials, including Vice President Cheney, pressed hard to attack sites within Iran, regardless of the consequences.

On October 24, I went to hear Mike Vickers, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, speaking at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), a pro-Israeli think tank in Washington. He spoke with pride about the vast and growing presence of these commando forces within the U.S. military, noting that their budget has doubled under the Bush administration and that, by the end of the decade, their will more than 60,000 U.S. forces in this shadowy effort. Here are some excerpts of Vickers’ remarks:

“If you look at the operational core of our Special Operations Forces, and focus on the ground operators, there are some 15,000 or so of those – give or take how you count them – these range from our Army Special Forces or our Green Berets, our Rangers, our Seals, some classified units we have, and we recently added a Marine Corps Special Operations Command to this arsenal as well. In addition to adding the Marine component, each of these elements since 2006 and out to about 2012 or 2013 has been increasing their capacity as well as their capabilities, but their capacity by a third. This is the largest growth in Special Operations Force history. By the time we’re done with that, there will be some things, some gaps we need to fix undoubtedly, but we will have the elements in place for what we believe is the Special Operations component of the global war on terrorism.

“There’s been a very significant – about a 40 or 50 percent – increase in operational tempo, and of course more intense in terms of the action since the 9/11 attacks. On any given day that we wake up, our Special Operations Forces are in some sixty countries around the world. But more than 80 percent or so of those right now are concentrated in the greater Middle East or the United States Central Command area of responsibility – the bulk of those of course in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Notice what he said: operating in 60 countries. The very invasion of Iraq was illegal in 2003, and it flouted international law. So some may say these cross-border raids are small potatoes. But they’re not. This is a big deal. If it becomes a standard part of U.S. military doctrine that any country can be declared “criminal” and thus lose its sovereignty, then there is no such thing as international law anymore.

And what of Defense Secretary Robert Gates? As quoted in the Washington Post article cited earlier: “Gates said that he was not an expert in international law but that he assumed the State Department had consulted such laws before the U.S. military was granted authority to make such strikes.”

Not an expert in international law? He’ll leave it to the State Department? And this is the guy that Barack Obama’s advisers say ought to stay on at the Pentagon under an Obama administration?

Robert Dreyfuss is a contributing editor of The Nation magazine, and the author of Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam (Metropolitan).

Give me some truth

by Joseph Roberts

I’m sick and tired of hearing things

From uptight, short-sighted, narrow-minded hypocrites

All I want is the truth

Just gimme some truth

I’ve had enough of reading things

By neurotic, psychotic, pig-headed politicians

All I want is the truth

Just gimme some truth.

– from Gimme Some Truth by John Lennon

I am not happy with this federal election and the way it is being reported. Unimportant, nauseating details are cited while important matters – the politicians’ essential character, whether or not they are telling the truth and what they really stand for – get little coverage. These politicians are asking us to trust them with our vote and the power to govern Canada, so, yes, it is important that we know who they are so we can judge for ourselves whether or not they are worthy.

Many party leaders have made themselves available to share who they are as people and politicians. We had the good fortune to interview Stéphane Dion, leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, for Common Ground’s May 2008 edition. We also gladly published an interview with Jack Layton, leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP) in our June edition. We wanted our readers to have a chance to hear from these politicians directly about who they are and what they stand for. (Read their candid interviews on our website at Click on “Archive” at the top of our homepage, then click on the monthly edition and follow to the interviews.)

We had hoped to interview all the leaders of a Canadian political party prior to October 19, 2009, our official election day as prescribed in the Canada Elections Act, passed by the current government through Bill C-16, which had its first reading on May 30, 2006. Instead, we are now heading to the polls on October 14, 2008, a full year earlier.

There would have been ample time to interview Elizabeth May, leader of the national Green Party, Bloc Quebecois’ Gilles Duceppe BQ, and, of course, Stephen Harper, leader of the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC). Only one of the aforementioned refused to be interviewed. After a number of emails and phone calls, we were still denied the opportunity to interview Mr. Harper. We would have settled for a candid interview with a next in command, such as David Emerson, who was voted in as Liberal MP, but jumped over to the CPC before parliament even had a chance to sit. Emerson decided not to run again for MP and instead settled for co-directing the CPC campaign across Canada.

The voters here in the riding of Vancouver / Kingsway, where our office is located, still feel ripped off by his disregard for their votes and his refusal to stand in a by-election as a Conservative in order to honour the wishes of the people. We would have appreciated the opportunity to ask him a few questions, but it seems Conservative MPs are trained to not talk to media unless they are reading from the party script – coverage you can readily get from mainstream media. So with the snap election called, we ran out of months to interview those remaining leaders who were willing to go public inCommon Ground. My apologies to those leaders we would have interviewed. We believed the official election date would have been honoured, in which case each of you would have had your month to let our one-quarter million readers know who you as a person, why you got into politics and what your vision is for Canada.

As a replacement for an interview with Prime Minister Stephen Harper or his next in command, please find below portions of a speech by the Honourable Danny Williams, Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador. Premier Williams spoke his mind about Stephen Harper at the St. John’s Board of Trade on September 10, 2008.

“While I am on the topic of our federal government, allow me a few words on the federal election and the very dire consequences that could face us should Stephen Harper and his right-wing Conservative-Reform Party form a majority government in the coming weeks.

First, let me remind you that Stephen Harper as Opposition Leader, together with the Conservative Newfoundland and Labrador MPs, voted against the Government Bill that gave us the two billion dollar Atlantic Accord cheque. ‘Trust us; we know what we’re doing,’ they said at the time. Thank goodness we didn’t take them at their word back then. On top of that, we now have the 10 billion dollar broken promise on the removal of non-renewable resource revenue from the equalization formula. This promise was made in the past two elections in writing, in their campaign platform and in subsequent letters. And let’s face it folks – regardless of our recent financial well-being, that 10 billion dollars would have made a huge difference to the bottom line of our province.

But now, all of a sudden, because we have finally achieved some self-sufficiency, we should forget the promise. Or so say Conservative candidates. After all, God forbid Newfoundland and Labrador get what is rightfully theirs as partners in Canada. We have put up with that attitude in this province for 55 years and look where that has gotten us in the past.

Stephen Harper’s own campaign literature proclaimed, ‘There is no greater fraud than a promise not kept.’ He used these words as he successfully attempted to woo voters from this province to not vote for the opposing party.

Naively, we trusted him. He rewarded that trust with a broken promise. According to his own brochure – he is a fraud.

I think you all know my views on this issue and I firmly believe that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians at home and abroad still feel the same cold, sharp sting of betrayal at the hands of our country’s leader.

Other commitments were also made by Stephen Harper that were not kept – 5-Wing Goose Bay; custodial management; a Lower Churchill guarantee and numerous others.

We all know that these promises are sadly not worth the paper they were written on and the bond of his word is meaningless.

The raising of rates at Marine Atlantic in times of high gas prices, poor service and inaction on badly needed vessels is another example of their attitude to isolate the island, which creates more economic hardship on small rural businesses.

If Harper is prepared to slash program spending with large surpluses and break his written word as the leader of a minority government, the future for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, and indeed all Canadians, will be very bleak under a Conservative majority.

Do not let Stephen Harper turn your focus onto a green shift in his attempt to turn your focus away from the Conservative’s blue shaft.

His list of broken and unfulfilled promises portrays a lack of integrity in his character and shows us he cannot be trusted.

This is a federal government willing to not only break their own promises, but they go so far as to break their own laws and call an election even though they mandated fixed election dates.

There is nothing Harper will not do to win a majority government.

This is a party who purportedly offered a terminally ill MP a life insurance policy to get his vote. How low can you go?

This is a man who wants an election before losing by-elections that were to have taken place this month.

A man who wants an election before the economy declines any further due to fiscal mismanagement.

He wants an election before findings are released on various ethical breaches against his government.

It is so critically important that the people of Newfoundland and Labrador let Stephen Harper know that his treatment, his attitude, his indifference to this province is not acceptable.

When I met with him to offer a compromise, he told me face-to-face that he does not need the people of this province to win an election. So, let’s let him know that we don’t need him either.

His own candidates and MPs admit that the promise was broken, but we should forgive and forget. Well folks, forgiveness may be a virtue; but forgetting is just plain foolhardy.

In the very words of Stephen Harper’s own candidate in St. John’s East just a year ago, ‘Given his handling of equalization, who can trust the Prime Minister anyway?’

Here in Newfoundland and Labrador, we need to ask ourselves is it ok for the man occupying the highest office in our country to treat a province in this federation with such distain?

We should show him we don’t put up with that in Newfoundland and Labrador anymore.

Vote anything but conservative.

Even his own candidates say they don't trust him. So why should you?

How does it make us feel when the Prime Minister of Canada invites backbencher Newfoundland and Labrador MP Fabian Manning into the front bench in the House of Commons to smile and laugh along with him, as he openly mocks this province upon delivering the best budget in its history?

It was a betrayal that was felt deeply across this province as another MP put Ottawa ahead of province.

Stephen Harper’s ideology has been cleverly hidden and implemented quietly as much as possible in the past four years.

And the only reason we have not seen his full plan for Canada implemented is because he had a minority government to keep him in check.

I can only say this, and I say it with all sincerity and genuine concern for our great country: A majority government for Stephen Harper would be one of the most negative political events in Canadian history.

Even without a majority, he has cut funding for minorities.

Cut funding for literacy.

Cut funding to students.

To volunteers.

To museums.

To arts and culture groups right across the country.

His government cut funding to women’s groups.

In fact, his government actually went so far as to remove the federal mandate to advance equality for women.

This all happened under a minority government. What in heaven’s name will happen if he gets his majority government?

And make no mistake – you won’t hear Stephen Harper admit he may win a majority government because he is terrified that people might stop and actually start to think about the consequences.

Well, I beg you all today. Stop. Think. And decide if that is what this country deserves?

When we vote, I would rather that we stand on the solid ground of principles than on the shaky ground of broken promises.

If you believe the country deserves better, you know what to do. It is as easy as ABC.”

(For more information, visit

Abandoned voters in David Emerson’s riding have followed suit and launched the West Coast version of Anything But Conservative (ABC).

It has been difficult for me to write this month’s editorial. The incessant, fear-inciting crap on TV, and in other sources of mass media, has a corrosive effect and as much as I might wish, I am not immune to the toxicity of this onslaught of propaganda. But I had to pay attention and respond to these issues. As Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for evil to succeed is that good men do nothing.”


So what is weighing heavily on my heart? This 12-month too early, unwanted Canadian federal election, the third in four years. It is especially galling as the new Prime Minister passed Bill 16, thereby creating a fixed election date that would no longer be at the whim of an opportunistic PM. Well, parliament may have passed the law, but Stephen Harper, unable to blame the election on a NPD or Liberal non-confidence vote, decided himself that he lacked confidence in the government. He told the Governor General to dissolve parliament and called a snap election.

There are many speculations as to why Harper leaped for an election at this time. A few educated guesses follow, and we can only guess because he was unavailable for comment. 1) The polls show that the Conservatives are ahead – hey, it’s an opportunity. 2) With Barack Obama looking like a winner in the US presidential race, Stephen Harper’s pro Bush, Oil and War would be awkward for Conservatives up North. 3) Remember when the RCMP raided the CPC headquarters for inappropriate election expenses? The CPC now has its own scandal brewing as the “In/Out” election kickback scheme, which could have the same damaging effect on Conservative re-electablity as the Gomery Inquiry had for the Liberals. In the last election, Canada voted to “kick the bums out” because of what was seen as cronyism and corruption while the CPC accusers stood pure as the driven snow. Harper did not want to wait for the results of his party’s own RCMP investigation before the next election. 4) There were a number of by-elections slated for this month that may have not left the CPC in a popular light. 5) The subprime and Wall Street “bail out” / give-away / taxpayer rip-off economic crisis brewing in the USA would certainly stink up the Canadian economy and not look pretty for an election if it was held on the designated, lawful date in 2009. Harper is too greedy for power and is too afraid of what the CPC might lose to wait for the celebrated National Election Day. Except for Harper and his handlers, this is the election nobody wanted. Given the way Harper has acted as if he had a majority with the minority, we should all be concerned with what he would he do if he snatched a majority.


Going south on the bailout

I write this as the US congress staggers to comprehend the real issues behind the $700 billion protection rack, AKA bail out for Wall Street and the banks. On September 29, I was delighted to see Congress vote against the mugging of America and say no! The taxpayers ought not to be rushed into generations of debt because a former Wall Street CEO was appointed by Bush a few months back to sell their latest con to congress. The same level of thinking (and ethics) that created the problem is not the same level of thinking (or ethics) needed to create the solution. In fact, we need different people with higher morals and a dedication to the American taxpayers to figure out a real solution that helps homeowners and Main Street. They are certainly not the same people who created the chaos in the first place. The markets will correct themselves, as painful as it will be to the money trust and the bank cartel, AKA the Federal Reserve. The Fed, whose members are very big private banks joined at the hip with the federal government, makes it look like they care about taxpayers. For more background go online and read G. Edward Griffin’s A Second Look at the Federal Reserve.

Many great thinkers are writing about this cash-for-trash hustle. In his article, US taxpayers are being enrolled in an economic chain gang, posted at on September 25, Jeff Randall quotes Thomas Jefferson: “To preserve their [the people’s] independence, we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. We must make our selection between economy and liberty, or profusion and servitude… Banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies.”

According to Randall, “having failed to deliver victory in the War on Terror, President Bush is hoping for better luck in the War on Error…Toxic rubbish will not be made to disappear by Mr. Paulson’s [Henry M. Paulson, Jr. is Secretary of the Treasury] proposals. All that will be different is ownership. It will be like removing nuclear waste from a failing business and parking it in a government building. The risk moves from private to public… Mr Paulson’s sales pitch is essentially: ‘American capitalism, I love you! But we only have 14 hours to save the Earth!’… Which brings us back to Jefferson. Two hundred years ago, he demanded: ‘The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people to whom it properly belongs.’ Twas ever thus.”

Writer Mike Whitney nails it in his article Trouble in Banktopia posted at on September 27: “The Fed’s rotating loans are just a way to perpetuate the myth that the banks aren’t flat-lining already, Bernanke [Ben Bernanke is Chairman of the Board of Governors of the US Federal Reserve] has tied strings to the various body parts and jerks them every so often to make it look like they’re alive. But the Wall Street model is broken and the bailout is pointless… The bailout has galvanized grassroots movements which have flooded congressional faxes and phone lines. Callers are overwhelmingly opposed to any bailout for banks that are buckling under their own toxic mortgaged-backed assets. One analyst said that the calls to Congress are 50 percent ‘No’ and 50 percent ‘Hell, no.’ There is virtually no popular support for the bill” (the 700 billion bailout bill)… Surely, the cure for hyperbolic credit excesses and reckless behaviour cannot be more of the same… The worthless assets must be written-down, insolvent banks must be allowed to go bust, and the crooks and criminals who engineered this financial blitz on the nation’s coffers must be held to account.”

I could not say it any better myself.

A grassroots middle America pressured their congress to do the right thing and defeat the dastardly bill. A big thank you to those who had the courage to vote against the 700 Billion Dollar Bailout hidden within the patriotic sounding Bill title: To amend the Internal Revenue code of 1986 to provide earnings assistance and tax relief to members of the uniformed services, volunteer firefighters, and Peace Corps volunteer, and for other purposes.

The vote went as follows:

Democrats: Yes: 140, No: 95, 1 NV

Republicans: Yes: 65, No: 133, 1 NV

President: no vote NV

Totals: Yes: 205, No: 228 with 2 NV

From See the website for the final vote results and how each member voted. Bush's bank bailout went back to the drawing board. After putting more lipstick on the pig, tweaking a few changes, and voting it through Senate, they then sent it back to Congress which caved in and passed the bill. Most economist say the bail out won't do much. But where does all that taxpayer's money go, likely to the same kind of people who did the S&L scam.


Access denied

On May 2, 2008, CBC News published the piece entitled Tories kill access to information database. The following has been excerpted from that report: “The federal Conservatives have quietly killed an access to information registry used by journalists, experts and the public that users say helped hold the government accountable. The Coordination of Access to Information Requests System, or CAIRS, is an electronic list of nearly every access to information request filed to federal departments and agencies.

Originally created in 1989, it was used as an internal tool to keep track of requests and co-ordinate the government’s response between agencies to potentially sensitive information released. “It was really a tool designed to make government more open,” said CBC investigative journalist David McKie. Public Works, which operates the database, spent $166,000 improving it in 2001. Federal officials in 2003 had been working on a publicly accessible online version.


Fixed elections date

Bill C-16, an Act to amend the Canada Elections Act, was introduced in the House of Commons and received first reading on May 30, 2006. The bill amends the Canada Elections Act to bring in fixed election dates at the federal level in Canada. It provides that, subject to an earlier dissolution of Parliament, a general election must be held on the third Monday in October in the fourth calendar year following polling day for the last general election, with the first general election after the bill comes into force to be held on Monday, October 19, 2009.

The issue of fixed election dates – or elections at fixed intervals – has been discussed at some length and acquired certain popularity in recent years. Fixed election dates are part of a general package of measures designed, it is argued, to make Parliament more accountable and democratic. Part of the reason that many people have embraced this issue is that it is seen as a way of counteracting the pervasive cynicism that exists towards politics and politicians.


So here’s to living in interesting times. And please do your own research and go vote. This looks like the most important election in Canada’s short history. It may decide whether or not we continue to have a country or become a toss-away colony of the Empire.

How 9/11 taught me to seek truth

by Drew Noftle

In 2005, I was living a luxurious life in Beijing, China, as the private English teacher for Yang Kaisheng, then President of the Industrial Commercial Bank of China, the largest bank in the world. I was also a corporate trainer for various multinational corporations. Like many people, I believed 9/11 was about America getting blowback from decades of exploitive foreign policy.

At that time, my roommate frequently listened to the Alex Jones Show, a nationally syndicated news/talk radio show based out of Austin, Texas. I remember often coming home to hear Jones, with his thick Texan accent, telling his listeners how he thought the world was run. To me, his ideology seemed radical and baseless until my roommate pleaded with me to sit down and watch one of his films. I said I had neither the time nor the desire to watch a full film, but that I would give him five minutes of my sincere attention. During those five minutes, he played a clip from Martial Law where I saw the collapse of 7 WTC. At first, I thought it wasn’t real. Then I thought if it was real how could I have not seen it on TV even once in the last four years? How could a building blow itself up? After six months of personal research, I still didn’t have many answers, but I had some. The answers I did find led me to join the 9/11 Truth Movement in Canada and inspired me to step onto a path of self-discovery and social awareness.

9/11 brought Canadian troops into Afghanistan and delivered Canadian material support to the war in Iraq. In fact, it is, as Stephen Harper reminded us on September 11, 2007, our sole reason for participation in the War on Terror. “And that is why the countries of the United Nations … launched their mission in Afghanistan – to deal with the source of the 9/11 terror.”

However, what Harper did not mention is that we only did so because then Secretary of State Colin Powel promised us a white paper linking Osama Bin Laden (OBL) to the attacks. That white paper never materialized.

More recently, on August 19 of this year, Minister of Public Safety Stockwell Day sent me a letter in which he stated, “The Canadian Government has no cause to believe the destruction of the World Trade Center was due to reasons other than those cited in the … 9/11 Commission Report.”

No cause to believe? How about the following?

  • Some of the alleged “suicide hijackers” are still alive and well.
  • Fire has never – either before or after 9/11 – caused a steel-framed structure to collapse, let alone at free-fall speed.
  • Squibs (explosives that cause puffs of pulverized concrete and steel), such as those you would see in a controlled demolition, were caught on tape during the collapse of all three towers.
  • In January of 2008, 9/11 Commissioners Kean and Hamilton stated, “We had no way of evaluating the credibility of detainee information…” adding they were “stonewalled by the C.I.A.”
  • To this day, the FBI does not accuse OBL of the attacks. The collapse of 7 WTC – which was not hit by an aircraft – was not even mentioned in the 9/11 Commission Report.
  • Furthermore, why was not one official or civil servant fired for their actions that day? Was no one negligent? Why were 70 percent of the victims’ family members’ questions not answered by the 9/11 Commissioners?

I, for one, no longer delve into where to place blame for the events of September 11. My reasons for participating in Canadian 9/11 Truth are no longer about putting Bush, Cheney or Osama Bin Laden in jail. Nor is it about justice for the victims. It is about seeing the world once and for all for what it really is. It is about realizing how we are lied to by our government and by corporate journalism, and how we accept those lies. It is about seeking truth in all we do, and learning the importance of educating ourselves, for ourselves.

9/11 Truth is about steering away from our more than 2,000-year-old cycle of non-stop war, and moving instead into a world based on truth, peace and tolerance. These are the truths for which I gave up my life in China and these are the truths the 9/11 Truth movement is founded upon and guides us toward.

Drew Noftle will be in Ottawa this September 11 to build support for a Canadian investigation into 9/11. He is currently working as a teacher in Yaletown. More info:

How Canada can avoid an American corporate takeover

by Drew Noftle

What do you call a country where the gap between the rich and the poor is growing beyond bounds, the principal exports are wood pulp and scrap metal, the principal imports are manufactured goods and the fastest growing industry is the construction and operation of private prisons?

According to Dr. Robert Bowman Lt. Col. (ret), the answer is a Third World country. Unfortunately for us, this Third World country is the US with its corporations unilaterally running the world, and its military spending far exceeding that of the rest of the world combined. Disturbingly, Canada is currently going down a path that will see its inevitable integration into the Bush Administration’s corporate and militaristic desires. The question is can Canada regain its own self-determined direction?

Dr. Robert Bowman has seen both sides of the argument of corporatism and militarism. He flew more than 100 combat missions over Vietnam and directed the Department of Defense’s Star Wars programs under presidents Ford and Carter. Since then, however, Dr. Bowman, who received a Ph.D. in Aeronautics and Nuclear Engineering from Caltech and ran as the Reform Party presidential candidate in 2000, has spent well over two decades in the peace movement.

Last summer, during a speech he gave in Portland, Oregon, Bowman delivered a State of the Union address at his imaginary inauguration as successor of George W. Bush for President of the United States. During this address, he cited how America is unquestionably number one. “Number one in the use of our world’s resources, number one in the production of pollution, number one in the gap between the rich and the poor, …deaths by gunfire…teen pregnancies …poverty among the elderly …citizens without health coverage…child poverty …homeless veterans …and number one in citizens behind bars. Our Canada is following suit with these prerequisites for corporate takeover.”

Bowman also talked about how his predecessor should have taken the advice of his father. In George H. W. Bush’s memoir, he writes, “Trying to eliminate Saddam would have incurred incalculable human and political costs. We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad, and, in effect, rule Iraq. There was no viable exit strategy we could see. Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land.” In a rare show of emotion, Bowman then proclaimed, “It is too damn bad his son doesn’t read!”

Mr. Harper is also seemingly missing this fatherly advice.

On August 22, 7:30 PM, Dr. Bowman will give a lecture at the Maritime Labour Centre in Vancouver. His talk will focus on how Canada can escape American corporate takeover. Although he will be back in Vancouver in late October, be sure to catch him this time around.

In October, he will present evidence to the newly formed Canadian Citizens Jury on 9/11, where a non-partial jury will hear presentations from both the 9/11 Truth community and from official defenders of the official story to determine if the 9/11 Commission Report is a reliable and honest account of what happened that day.

If the jury decides that it is not, it may advise Canada to begin its own investigation to either justify or end our participation in Afghanistan and our material support for the Iraq war. Although the Canadian Citizens Jury will be open to the public, seating will be very limited. The location has yet to be announced.

Come out for Dr. Bowman’s talk on August 22 to see why the Los Angeles Times calls Dr. Bowman, “The best speaker in the country.” We all, Stephen Harper included, could use a little advice. For more information,

Drew Noftle helped organize the Vancouver 9/11 Truth Conference in June 2007. He is currently working as a teacher in Yaletown.