26 Oct 2011

Journalists, community groups need
to develop independent Canadian media

Editor’s Note: This is the second of a two-part series. Part 1 was published on October 18 entitled Corporate-owned media manipulation threatens Canadian democracy

It is shocking that – in the 21st Century – we still have a system under which corporate over-lords – not the journalists who produce the news – control the process that determines the content of mainstream media.

Reporters and editors in mainstream media in Canada and the United States now operate at the whim of strong-armed publishers and owners who cater to the interests of the wealthy and corporations. Mainstream journalists who might have independent views are usually afraid to argue with senior editors over the content of their articles. 

Canadian journalists need to grow some hind legs! While professionals in areas such as law and medicine have control over their work, mainstream journalists appear to lack the determination, or interest, to fight for the right to control the content of vitally important news that serves as the backbone of our democratic process.

Journalists also need to increase their awareness level concerning their position in society. They need to listen to, and support, the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations because the one per cent that controls our lives is the same one per cent that owns and controls our for-profit news organizations. 

As a solution to these problems, Canadians desperately need to develop both more capable and larger independent and alternative media outlets. This is not to say that a number of excellent independent and alternative media outlets have not emerged on the Internet in recent years.

The Tyee, which targets primarily a British Columbia audience, provides an outstanding service, providing balanced, in-depth reporting and probing columns that is unavailable in the mainstream.

Non-conformist news and opinion appears on many Internet-based sites, such as Straight Goodsrabble.ca and The Media Co-op. Two sites – the Progressive Economics Forum and The Mark  – carry thoughtful and detailed analysis and commentary.

While independent sites have news and opinion that is informative and challenging, the whole lot together do not come close to matching the audience reached by either The Globe and Mail or CTV News on any given day. Moreover, most of the independent sites lack the resources to do in-depth and investigative journalism.

As a first step, the public needs to be convinced of the great danger of one-sided reporting and censorship. We like to think that Canadian media would never be subjected to strong controls but, if certain political conditions exist, government interference in media can exist anywhere in the world. The current self-censorship and media manipulation we have in the mainstream press in Canada and the United States could turn into something much worse under authoritarian government if we are not vigilant.

The country’s two media associations could play an important role in giving credibility to the fact that our media is being badly manipulated.

Freedom of expression and media diversity are major interests of Canadian Journalists forFree Expression (CJFE), while the rights of journalists and ethical issues are high on the agenda of the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ). Together or separately, with financial support from the country’s journalists’ unions, they could launch a research project into how damaging corporate control of media is to the public and freedom of expression.

Other actions could be taken to launch a process that would help bring Canadians news and opinion that is more balanced and less ideological.

Here’s a long-shot possibility: Perhaps one of the large media organizations, such as The National Post, could be challenged under the Charter of Rights. A particular group of people would have to be able to document that that The Post coverage was discriminatory and that they, as a group, suffered as a consequence. It is hard to say how far the case would proceed – but even taking up such a case would create greater public awareness of the problem.

However, so the public voice can begin to match the power of the corporate voice, what the Canadian public needs most is non-profit, public-owned media. Non-profit media that is owned and controlled by large and small public-interest organizations would by their very nature provide news and information of interest to a wide spectrum of people.

Last winter I wrote a series of seven articles that, in part, explained what I think could be done to establish more non-profit, independent media outlets in the country. The articles can be read on my blog A Different Point of View, beginning in December 2010.

More small, but likely poorly-funded news sites will no doubt be set up in Canada. But, because such sites have limited ability to reach large number of people, we have to campaign for a new model that would provide an independent media outlet with adequate funding.

Such a project would require some arms-length government funding.  I think that such a vehicle could maintain its independence if it were funded on a one-third model: one-third of the funding would come from public gifts and memberships; one third from advertising; and one-third from arms-length government grants.

I am convinced that this non-profit model has to be the media model at some point in the future – when the public realizes the damage caused by corporate media ownership.

Before this can happen, the public needs to be convinced that it is perfectly acceptable for our government to give money to independent media that will strive to serve the public interest. European governments have been providing massive support for media organizations for many years, and the result has been a stronger, more diversified media than we have in Canada.

In Canada, the federal government has a history of subsidizing the distribution of rural newspapers as well as the publication of cultural literature in small magazines. Of course Hell will no doubt freeze over before the Harper government would consider putting substantial amounts of money into independent media – why should they when practically all of the corporate media organizations support them?

But we don’t need to wait for a change of government at the federal level to begin lobbying for support to help set up independent media. Even now, the federal NDP – possibly a government in waiting – can be approached to see if it will add support for funding of independent media to its list of policies.

A few provincial governments already have programs that support aspects of the media. There is no reason why municipalities across the country can’t develop programs that could help independent media.

Individuals who care about free expression and media diversity need to begin talking more about the problems we are now faced with in Canada.

In the end, when it comes to protecting democracy nothing is more important than making sure the public has access to a diverse body of different opinions on a daily basis. That is the goal we all need to work towards.

25 Oct 2011

$15-million gift to Nova Scotia university
rewards donor with $6-million tax break

What could be wrong with Dalhousie University’s announcement that one of Nova Scotia’s leading industrialists is giving Dal’s School of Business $15-million?

When you dig behind the headlines, there’s quite a lot wrong with it. 

Kenneth Rowe, executive chairman of Nova Scotia’s IMP Group of Companies, announced his gift to Dal last week. Rowe is one of those “self-made men” who launched the company during the 1960s and has guided the firm into a multi-billion-dollar international venture with holdings in aerospace, aviation and commercial development.

The first thing to note is that Rowe’s personal fortune will not be hit for anything close to $15-million. Instead, it is likely he will be out of pocket by about $8-million or $9-million.

This is because he will receive a tax reduction of perhaps $6-million to $7-million spread over the 15 years of the gift.

Neither Dal in its press release nor Rowe in his statement make mention of the fact that, in effect, it appears Canadian taxpayers will cover the cost of close to 50 per cent of the gift.

Too bad. I would have liked to have received a little credit for the contribution I made as a taxpayer.

It likely would have been impossible for him to save close to 50 per cent of the $15-million had he used any other income tax provision.

Rowe cannot personally be faulted for taking advantage of this goldmine for rich folk that exists in the Canadian tax system. What might be seen as a “tax loophole” was created for the rich by our federal government.

Revenue Canada crafted a 3-minute video that takes potential donors through the process of how they can save the most money. The video appears on an independent site called “Helping Canadians to Maximize Tax Refunds.”

Note how the video outlines the “pretty sweet deal” Canadian taxpayers can get due to giving to registered charities. And it explains that…”the benefit to you can be as much as a half of what you give.”

Hmmm! I thought the role of Revenue Canada was to help collect money for Canadians, not to tell rich people how they can get our money!

The charitable tax provision in both Canada and the United States is so appealing to the super-rich that the resulting tax breaks have become a drain on the revenues of both countries.

In Canada in 2009, the total value of charitable donations for which a tax receipt was issued was $7.7 billion. Figures were not available for how many very large donations were included but, if the total was, say, 50 per cent, the cost to taxpayers was more than $3-billion.

In the U.S., a surge in donations in recent years is one of factors contributing to the government’s funding shortfall. Between 2010 and 2014, this deduction -- excluding donations for education and health -- will mean the U.S. Treasury will be out an estimated $182 billion. President Obama says that this has created a serious financial problem for the U.S. government.

Not only do the wealthy receive a huge tax break when they donate to a university, they also get to decide how their money is used. Because of their preference for making donations related to promoting business, the country has an absurd number of business schools – at least 59

Many of the schools are named after wealthy men who wanted to have their name recorded in history – people such as ‘Izzy’ Asper, Frank Sobey, Richard Ivy, Ted Rogers, and Kenneth Rowe.

Had these men been required to pay higher taxes throughout their lifetime, the Canadian government would have had access to billions of dollars it could have used to provide cash-strapped universities to pay for programs that are much more needed than business courses.

The lucrative charitable tax facility is just one of many tax breaks used by the rich to reduce the percentage of money they contribute to our governments compared to the rest of us.

“We currently have a so-called progressive tax system,”  says the group Canada Without Poverty, “although it is not where it should be.

“Between 1990 and 2005 the Canadian tax system has dramatically grown less fair. In recent years the richest one percent of families pay less in taxes compared to 1990 while the poorest 20 per cent pay more – significantly widening the gap between the rich and the rest of us.”

As the thousands of people involved with the Occupy Wall Street Movement are saying, it is about time that everyday people rebelled against this type of legal theft performed by the rich.

Note: Kenneth Rowe was offered the chance to provide a comment concerning this article, but had not responded to my request after four days.


18 Oct 2011

Corporate-owned media manipulation
threatens Canadian democracy

This is the first of a two-part series about how freedom of expression is threatened because corporate-owned media in Canada censor and manipulate the news. Part two was published October 26 entitled Journalists, community groups need to develop independent Canadian media. 

"Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one."
               --  A.J. Liebling, American press critic 1904-1963
The economy of the Western world is in a shambles. However, it seems that mainstream Canadian journalists are forbidden from writing about the root of the problem – our current version of capitalism – or suggesting that the capitalist system needs a major overhaul.

How is it possible that the real nitty-gritty behind the most important issue facing millions of people is pretty much taboo in the popular media? What has happened to our right to have access to fair and balanced journalism?

Denying the public access to vital information has a strong negative impact on the democratic process in Canada, just as it does in any country in the world.

Unfortunately, nearly all of Canada’s mainstream political and economic journalists are forbidden from focusing on the fundamental flaws in our system.

Instead, corporate media owners make sure that these journalists adhere to the screwball-but-powerful ideology that is responsible for many of our problems: neoliberalism. Under neoliberalism, capitalism has nearly unrestricted control over our society.

Big mass-media corporations, such as CTVglobemedia, Postmedia Network, and Woodbridge Company, which owns The Globe and Mail, have aligned themselves with the right wing of the business community and Stephen Harper’s government. While the CBC still has many excellent, independently-minded programs, its bosses, concerned with trying to protect Mother Corp’s funding, try their hardest to avoid controversy, let alone think about whether capitalism is good for us.

Anyone who follows the media can spot the biases: an emphasis on red-baiting the NDP; continued denials of human-caused environmental change; attacks on unionized workers; and ever-positive profiles of the “Captains of Industry.”

In today’s media, progressive and small-l liberal ideas that champion the public interest are missing. In our liberal-oriented country, many newspapers do not have even one moderately progressive columnist writing on economic and political issues.

When the federal budget is brought down, the corporate-owned media outlets focus on what they perceive as the need to cut the deficit at a time when the country has a real unemployment rate of perhaps as high as 13 to 15 per cent.

The corporate media cater to powerful neoliberal types who want to end universal health care, destroy organized labour as a force for working people, and end fair election funding for federal political parties by eliminating party subsidies.

This right-wing media slant gives the Harper Conservatives a huge advantage over the parties with liberal-minded views because the Conservatives and Big Business share the same neoliberal ideology. The Conservatives know that they will receive the odd slap on the wrist from the corporate media, but otherwise they will be free to make government smaller and cut funding – unless, of course, big corporations need a handout if there’s crisis in the business world. 

In recent years senior news executives have weeded out journalists and columnists who do not follow the unspoken rules concerning what is “fit to print.”

Newspapers such as The National Post and The Globe and Mail have only journalists now who, when they go to cover something like the federal budget, report that the deficit is the most important thing, not unemployment.  Any journalist who doesn't "see it this way" will never get an opportunity to cover anything as important as the budget. When an organization's stock of journalists has been shaped this way, there's not much policing to do.

Most business journalism is heavily pro-business and pro neoliberalism. There’s no pretence that it is balanced in the same way as general news, which is expected to be fair. In fact, because business journalists are “in bed” with the business elite, they often do not see a huge story developing right before their eyes. For instance, many economists and analysts blame the business media for failing to warn the public about the likelihood of the 2008 financial collapse.

Many general assignment reporters and desk editors at corporate media outlets are well aware that the news, looked at in total, is slanted. Too many take little personal responsibility for what they produce. They feel that their personal life is more important then getting into a hassle with the desk over the news. Most of them work long, hard hours.

Journalists who see the need for greater balance in journalism in their newsroom need to work as a group and support each other in trying to bring about improvements. On the other hand, if working in a corporate-dominated world becomes too difficult, if you let your work slip and you become discouraged, get your finances in shape and quit!

Needless to say, we need to be clear about where the real fault lies when it comes to corporate media news manipulation. 

The real fault lies with the corporate owners and executives. Perhaps it is time that these men were publicly ridiculed for the damage they do.

Picking two names at random, among them is David Thomson, the richest man in Canada with wealth in the area of $23 billion and a key owner of The Globe and Mail. Thomson spends millions on art without giving it a second thought. The second individual is Pierre Karl Péladeau, the president and CEO of Quebecor Inc., which owns the second largest newspaper chain in the country. He is anti-union. Using strong-arm tactics to humble employees at two of his Quebec papers, Péladeau forced them to accept lower wages.

Instead of hoisting these types of men up on a pedestal because of their power and wealth, as has been the common practice, perhaps it is time we became more courageous and started to point a finger at them for the damage they are doing.

Editor’s note: In Part 2, which will appear next week, I will discuss what journalists and community groups need to do to develop independent media in the country.

14 Oct 2011

‘Occupy Wall Street’ gets our attention while
3-billion in the South sink deeper into poverty

It is next-to-impossible to comprehend the magnitude of world poverty. See if you can visualize the faces of three billion people, many of them hungry children, flashing past your face on a giant TV screen, one at a time. Imagine how long that would take. You will have some idea of the extent of world poverty.

The 2008 financial and economic collapse that has tens-of-thousands of people angrily demonstrating on Wall Street and in more than 100 
American and Canadian cities, has hit already-impoverished underdeveloped countries around the world much harder.

In many countries – particularly in Africa – the economic crisis, along with a rise in basic food prices, climate change, and increases in population, has reversed the progress that has been made over the past few years.

Three recent international reports – which, incidentally, have barely been covered by the Canadian and U.S. mainstream media* – paint an increasingly bleak picture:
  • The number of people worldwide who are undernourished must be at least one billion, say the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in their annual World Disaster Report. A total of 178-million children under five have stunted growth as a result of lack of food.
  • In the G-20 member countries  (generally the most wealthy countries in the world) alone, 20-million jobs have disappeared since 2008, says a report prepared by the International Labor Organization (ILO) in cooperation with the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). If employment grows at just under one per cent per year – as expected – in G20 countries, there will be a shortfall of 40-million jobs in 2012 and a much larger shortage by 2015.
  • UNICEF was quick to blame austerity cuts [forced upon many developing countries by the policies of the neoliberal International Monetary Fund (IMF)] starting in 2010 as exacerbating the degree of severe poverty, particularly among children and vulnerable populations, in at least 70 countries around the world. 

Now, economic stagnation, accompanied by destructive austerity programs, as well as long-time problems such as corruption, government incompetence, and civil war, is bringing despair to billions of people that will likely last for years to come. Million of people in Africa will die prematurely.

Sadly, during the unprecedented growth period in the West between, say, 1975 and 2000, rich nations probably had enough resources to all but eliminate world poverty. But rich countries did not assist Africans in ways that would have allowed them to develop their own industries and control their own future.

Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General and now an advocate for Africa, looks back: “Despite repeated promises of reform, the continent remains heavily marginalized in world affairs, with little say in and control over how these affairs affect its countries and people.”

However, during the mid-2000s, a number of events, such as Britain’s and Canada’s Make Poverty History, the U.S. ONE Campaign, several global fundraising events, as well as a debt relief program, resulted in the infusion of  billions-of-dollars in financial support for Africa. 

"The increases that have been delivered are being put to great use”, Jamie Drummond, executive director of non-profit organization, ONE, said later, “and we have the living proof to show it: 2.4 million fewer children dying before their fifth birthdays in 2009 than in 2004; 46 million more children in school since 1999." AIDS incidence has declined, from an estimated 2.3 million new cases in 2001 to 1.9 million in 2008. 

But broken promises soon left many people in Africa bitter.

In 2010, the G8 developed countries – that includes Canada – reported on its Africa donations. Their report hails the "great successes" of donor countries in providing more than $48-billion of the $50-billion in additional development assistance that had been pledged at Gleneagles.

However, the G8 did not adjust the figures for inflation. In truth, the main report was a lie. There was an $18-billion shortfall.

Kirsty Hughes, Oxfam’s head of advocacy and policy, told The Guardian “. . . rich nations have barely increased aid and are lining up big cuts for the next few years – cuts that will cost lives . . . . Cutting aid to these countries means depriving poor people of clean water, life-saving medicines and food.”

Now, in part due to the unknown future because of the financial and economic collapse, G8 support for poverty-stricken countries looks bleak. G8 countries are many trillions of dollars in debt, and the amount grows daily.

In terms of Canadian support, the Harper government, which boasts the strongest financial situation among G8 countries, abandoned most of its support programs for Africa in favor of assisting relatively well off countries in Latin America that offer Canadian businesses better trade opportunities.

At this very moment the world’s developed countries are failing to come up with the funding needed to try to halt the starvation in East Africa. An estimated 13 million people are facing severe food shortages as a result of the prolonged drought. Thousands are dying daily.

The United Nations brought together 60 nations in New York on 24 September 2011, and asked them to donate funds to the Somalia cause. Thirteen of the countries – Canada not being one of them – pledged $218-million. But even, with those pledges, the UN says about $500-million is still needed to meet the overall humanitarian appeal.

And now the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are in danger of not being met in many developing countries. Last month, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned that the turbulence in global financial markets, along with volatile commodity prices and pressures on food security, pose “critical challenges” to the achievement of the MDGs.

However, the effort to greatly reduce poverty in underdeveloped countries does not have to be all doom and gloom.  Oddly, a possible reversal of fortunes depends on the same financiers and bankers who are responsible for creating the economic crisis. 

The Financial Transaction Tax, also known as the Robin Hood Tax , would be a tiny tax levied on all financial market transactions in order to raise resources for fighting poverty and climate change. 

The Robin Hood Tax campaign claims that a global tax would raise $650-billion a year.

In September, the European Union officially proposed the implementation of such a tax in the EU in 2014, saying the financial and banking industries must pay back taxpayers for bailing them out during the economic crisis.

The test for a global tax will come next month when France hosts the G20 Summit. Both France and Germany, as well as several other countries, favor the introduction of the Robin Hood tax as a way of reducing government debt and making available new funds for work in underdeveloped countries.

However, the tax also faces strong opposition. The UK says the only way it could support the tax is if it were applied globally. Earlier this month, the U.S. reiterated its opposition to the tax.

When the Financial Transaction Tax was hotly debated at the G8 in Toronto a year ago, it was Canada’s Finance Minister Jim Flaherty who led those against it. “We’re against raising taxes and I hope to be able to convince my colleagues that these are unwise moves.” 

Sadly, Flaherty did not provide the answer to where billions of dollars needed to save people from starving across the underdeveloped world would come from.

**Footnote: A Google search found that, while mainstream media provided millions of words every day concerning the impact of the economic collapse on North America and Europe, there are hardly any stories on the crisis in the underdeveloped world. Searches included The Globe and Mail, The Montreal Gazette, The Vancouver Sun, CBC News, The New York Times, the Boston Globe, and the Los Angeles Times.

13 Oct 2011

Last of Three Part Series:
What progressive groups must do
to defeat, or stymie, the Harper regime

Note: This article is outdated.
Please click here for new version.

Canada’s progressive community, which includes labour and grassroots groups, needs to make some significant changes if it hopes to slow down the assault being carried out on the country by Stephen Harper’s Conservatives and their right-wing allies.
Our Canadian progressive movement is not strategically organized to be able to take on Harper’s majority right-wing government. Many groups are using outdated, ineffective strategies.

The first article explored the reluctance of a handful of groups to form a cooperative network to track and pursue the robo-calling scandal. The second article explored how a new, powerful movement could come together, and also looked at some of the movement’s weaknesses. 

This piece below puts forward a case study of how a cooperative network could use a mix of tactics to stymie or even defeat Harper and his allies in some key areas.

After you have read this third part, there is a role for you. Please see the comments at the end of this article.
- Nick

Part III: How a big-co-op movement could fight against income disparity

A massive, well-thought-out campaign involving hundreds of groups from the progressive community, labour, grassroots organizations and individual Canadians would have an excellent chance of handing the Harper regime a significant defeat on a hugely important issue: income disparity.

The public outrage over income disparity, brought to light by the Occupy Movement last year with its ’99 vs 1 per cent’ slogan,  is a strong  indication that Canadians would support a huge campaign to totally discredit and hopefully eliminate “supply-side economics”, the policy mostly responsible for income disparity.

In January 2012, an Environics Institute poll revealed that more than eight in 10 Canadians suggested their governments have a responsibility to do something to reduce the gap between the wealthy and the rest of Canadians.

This failed “trickle down” policy has made Canada’s rich even richer, while many millions of other Canadians have lost ground:
  • More Canadians than ever before are shamed into going to food banks to feed their families;
  • While the official unemployment rate is 7.4 per cent,the real rate is closer to 14 per cent;
  • The number of working poor has increased to the highest level ever in many parts of the country because many new work opportunities are McJobs; and
  • Ordinary Canadians have seen their real wealth stagnate over the past years. In the period between 1980 and 2005 the median earnings for workers in Canada rose by just $53.00 annually. 
 In March, even the Bank of Canada urged governments to enact policies to rein in the excesses of free markets and reduce income disparities, arguing this would strengthen the economy. But Harper does not appear to be budging.

Groups should mount a huge campaign
At present, a number of groups, such as the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives  (CCPA) and the National Union of Public and General Employees  (NUPGE) and its branches, have income disparity on their agenda. However, no substantial campaigning appears to be planned. In addition, while the newly-charged New Democrats will no doubt protest loudly, the party will not have its chance to win an election for another four years.

Flaherty will release a partial federal budget on March 29 2012. If there are no tax changes to lessen the ever-increasing income gaps, then organizations need to mount a massive campaign to force the Conservatives to take appropriate action to relieve the burden placed on many Canadians by the time of the 2013 budget.

An inspirational, huge campaign with thousands of groups involved using hard-nosed tactics would be a fair test of the theory that, with proper planning and effective strategies, the Conservatives can be defeated or nullified on key issues.

Here is what could be carried out in an all-out campaign: (The names of just a few of the hundreds of public minded Canadian groups that could be involved are mentioned – so we can begin to gauge our own potential.)

THE ISSUE: In organized campaigning, leading groups need to identify the weakness of the targeted organization(s). Given the Conservatives’ vulnerability around “99 vs 1 per cent” issues, income disparity seems to be a good choice.

THE TARGETS: The federal government as well as the symbol of ill-gotten wealth: the Canadian bank employing the executive who had the highest income in the sector in 2011. In this case, the targeted bank would be the Toronto-Dominion Bank, which posted a record-high profit in 2011. Its president, Ed Clark, was the highest paid bank executive, earning $11.28-million during the year.

STRATEGY: Choosing the right strategy and tactics is hugely important. Member groups with the best track record of developing effective campaigns would be best suited to identify the proper tactics to be used. An interesting mix might bring together GreenpeaceDogwood Initiative, and the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW), and the Council of Canadians.

THEME: Canadians want the Harper government to end its immoral theft of billions of dollars from ordinary Canadians, which ends up in the pockets of the wealthy.

RESEARCH: Research groups such as the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), Canadians for Tax Fairness and similar groups could produce reports documenting the implications of wage disparity and recommending what changes could be made to create greater fairness in the tax system.

ACTIVITIES: To be successful a giant cooperative movement would need to deploy a wide variety of activities – some of them more aggressive than those normally used by the highly conservative Canadian progressive movement – is there an oxymoron in there?

First, a huge communications campaign, perhaps spun out by the Canadian Union of Public Employees  (CUPE), Friends of the Earth Canada  (FoE) and others, would make use of the mailing lists of hundreds, possibly thousands, of progressive groups and unions to reach out to millions of Canadians. Snappy, well-written, reports on why and how the campaign would be conducted would be circulated.

If the majority of Canada’s more than 15,000 progressive groups and unions with more than 4-million members signed on for the action, it would be possible that the number of people supporting the campaign would exceed the 5,832,401 votes received by the Conservatives in the 2011 election.

A Social Media program would be put in place. Leadnow has strong skills in this area, and there are others it could work with. A huge Facebook effort could be organized, with the strong participation of Fire the Liars and other groups such as Operation Maple. Mailing lists and other mechanisms would be used to ask Internet users to both promote the campaign and send protest emails to the TD Bank and the Conservatives on specific dates.

Moreover, to head off the backlash that can be anticipated from the Conservatives and the right-wing community, the new cooperative movement would want to take advantage of its size and newly-won power. It would need a strong group of leaders who could pressure mainstream media to provide fair and accurate coverage of the campaign. Dozens of op-ed pieces, media interviews, and letters to the editor would need to be planned during the campaign.

Partner groups, particularly unions as well as prominent individuals, would be asked to create a fund of at least $500,000 that would be used to buy strategically-placed ads.

When the campaign is officially launched, ideally six or eight branches of the Toronto-Dominion would be targeted for a series of actions. As a first step, Canadians would be asked to close their TD accounts at those particular branches and move their monies and business to a credit unions or other banking institutions.

From time to time, picket lines, perhaps organized by unions such as the United Steelworkers and the huge United Food and Commercial Workers Canada (UFCWC) would be set up on public property in front of the six or eight TD branches. People would be asked to move their business elsewhere. At the same time, pickets would talk with bank employees and provide them with literature explaining why the action is taking place. A variety of prominent people would be asked to be pickets.

The Occupy Movement could play a “front line” role by carrying out disruptive protests that would involve “hit-and-run” occupations at the target branches, closing them down for an hour or two at a time.

Acting within legal boundaries, rotating teams of Internet users could occasionally flood TD Bank and government websites and email addresses with messages requesting that the bank urge the government to implement progressive tax policies.

At some point, campaign organizers could assess whether it would be possible to stage a huge rally in support of fair income distribution on Parliament Hill. A rally of 10,000 or even 20,000 people would not create enough impact. But if just one rally drawing perhaps 100,000 people were held, that would definitely send the right message. Shutting down Harper’s phoney majority government in the House for a couple of hours would be a nice bonus!

Two other possibilities:
  • The cooperative movement could ask a comedy troupe to come up with some comedy routines that would mock the way the Conservatives and the rich collaborate to keep all the resources for themselves.
  • The movement could ask legal experts to see if they feel there are any possibilities of taking legal action concerning any aspect of income disparity.
DURATION: A series of actions scheduled over at least 12 months.

VARYING DEGREES OF SUCCESS: If supported enthusiastically by a wide range of organizations, such a campaign could be successful in a number of ways. It could:
  • pressure the Harper government to use the tax system to decrease and eventually reverse income disparity in the country;
  • possibly embarrass the banking community to the point that some banks would be inclined to behave socially responsible in the future;
  • politicize and educate hundreds-of-thousands of Canadians about the need for them to actively support progressive change and to vote for change in the 2015 election, and
  • demonstrate to the progressive community, unions and grassroots organizations themselves that, if they have the courage to act as a unified force, they can be highly influential in bringing positive change to the country. 
Taking part in this kind of huge cooperative campaign would not mean that individual groups would give up their regular campaigning activities. But groups might need to trim back on less productive activities for a period of time and channel those resources to the cooperative campaign. With a ‘hot’ issue such as income disparity, it should be easy to raise $1-million or more for this special program.

We can only hope that community leaders from the progressive, labour and grassroots sectors have the courage to explore an idea that could have significant rewards for the country.

If you believe that progressive groups, unions and grassroots organizations should take a good, hard look at forming a big cooperative movement, you can help support The Campaign to Create a Campaign.

Please send me the names of organizations – large or small – you feel should be invited to take part in initial discussions. (A person’s name and email address will be appreciated.) Secondly, please indicate if you are willing to donate a few hours of your time to promote this cause. Please email me at: fillmore0274@rogers.com. You may not hear from me for a couple of weeks as I am travelling.

If you haven't already done so, please subscribe. Thanks.

Part One of Three Part Series:
What progressive groups must do
to defeat, or stymie, the Harper regime

Canada’s progressive community needs to make some significant changes if it hopes to slow down the assault being carried out on the country by Stephen Harper’s Conservatives and their right-wing allies.   

The observations and suggestions I will make in this three-part series are based on what I was able to learn during 16 years working with public interest organizations in many parts of the world, helping develop strategies and carrying out high-pressure campaigns to make dictatorial governments adopt free expression and human rights laws. 

Here in Canada, it is time that the progressive community received a little tough love!

Part Two of Three Part Series:
What progressive groups must do
to defeat, or stymie, the Harper regime

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Canada’s progressive community needs to make some significant changes if it hopes to slow down the assault being carried out on the country by Stephen Harper’s Conservatives and their right-wing allies.
The observations and suggestions I make in this three-part series are based on what I was able to learn during 16 years working on campaigning with public interest organizations in many parts of the world.

Unfortunately, our Canadian progressive movement is not strategically organized to be able to take on Harper’s majority right-wing government. Many individual groups are using outdated, ineffective strategies.

The first article explored the reluctance of a handful of groups to form a voluntary cooperative network to win the maximum advantage for Canadians from the robo-calling scandal.

This article explores how a new, powerful movement could come together and looks at some of the weaknesses of the movement as it now operates.

Next week’s article will present a case study of how a cooperative network could use a mix of tactics to win major victories.
-- Nick

Part II: How progressive groups could work together

Picture this  . . . .  The directors of 25 or 30 of Canada’s leading progressive organizations and unions are hived away in a secluded location for a long weekend. At the conclusion of three exhausting days of discussion and argument, they announce they have created the framework for a new, powerful public interest cooperative movement.

3 Oct 2011

Globe and Mail’s RoB shocks by
questioning our economic system

The Globe and Mail – the Canadian media’s strongest supporter of neoliberalism and uncontrolled capitalism – has published a news story that questions whether the economists, business owners and governments that dictate the economic policies of Western society might have it all wrong.

Barrie McKenna’s article, “Time for a rethink of modern economics”, quotes a research paper by two Canadian economists who have identified a series of anomalies that, as they say, “call into question the basic understanding of economics that underpins policy formulation today.”
Even though it’s only one story, this is a remarkable development. The Globe, as well as other mainstream corporate media, has unwaveringly endorsed supply-side economic policies during most of the past 30 turbulent and destructive years.

The research paper, written by economists Dan Ciuriak and John Curtis, says that three decades of supply-side policies have produced the same economic problems they were supposed to fix, including stagnant growth, high unemployment, deflationary pressures and piles of public sector debt.

While the paper was published April 1, the Globe reported on it only this week as the Western world’s economic model appears to be self-destructing.

As many as four European countries are on verge of collapse. In Greece, some people who lived a normal life a year ago are eating from garbage cans. In many countries, the rich and corporations pay less in taxes than an office secretary. In the United States, there is not enough money to run the country and the economy is collapsing because the rich won’t pay taxes.

McKenna’s Globe article does not say that the Harper government is also guilty of using supply-side economics. The corporate-dominated Harper government has given billions in tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy on the pretext that jobs will be created. This has given the Conservatives the opportunity to slash government services that Canadians need. Soon they will be officially saying we can’t afford universal healthcare.

Supply-side economics was denounced by progressive economists when they were adopted by U.S. President Ronald Regan in the 1980s. Dozens of books and hundreds and hundreds of articles have been published documenting the damage caused by supply-side economics, but few of these articles have ever made it into mainstream media. This 1984 article from TIME magazine discusses how supply-side economics contribute to poverty.

Meanwhile, small but apparently determined protests are taking place or are planned for Europe, the United States and Canada.

While the European unrest over government cuts and the loss of jobs is seldom reported in Canada, protests are occurring in at least nine countries.

In New York, the Occupy Wall Street protest is growing day by day – a report in The Wall Street Journal, no less, and the protests have spread to as many as a dozen other U.S. cities.

Protests in at least eight communities are now planned for across Canada. Again, another business publication: International Business Times.

Could it be that the “Captains of Industry” and the “Moguls of Wall Street” are getting nervous?


1 Oct 2011

Wall Street occupation may grow this week

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a few hundred American freedom fighters who planned to occupy Wall Street. Police barricades prevented them from taking over the heart of the financial district, and a few of them got their butts kicked pretty good during the first few days.

But they still occupy a park in Lower Manhattan after 12 days, and they have vowed not to leave until democracy is restored to the United States.

(Below you have an opportunity to read a strong appeal by Chris Hedges that everyone support the occupation.)

The protestors refer to themselves as “the 99 per cent” – “the 99 per cent that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1 per cent."

"We are the 99 percent. We are getting kicked out of our homes. We are forced to choose between groceries and rent. We are denied quality medical care. We are suffering from environmental pollution. We are working long hours for little pay and no rights, if we're working at all. We are getting nothing while the other 1 percent is getting everything. We are the 99 percent.”

Some protestors have been jailed and beaten. The on-going event has been a hoot for the wealthy bankers who work on Wall Street. Some sit on balconies, drinking champagne, taking in the unusual site below.

The protest just might take off this week. New York City labour unions say they are going to back the occupation. The Transit Workers Union, which has 38,000 members, has voted unanimously to support the protestors. Special rallies are planned for October 5th and 12th.

Who knows, you might soon be able to read about this in the mainstream media!

*   *   *

Perhaps my favourite radical journalist these days is Chris Hedges. He is always on the mark. He has such an open mind and is such a clear thinker it is hard to believe he spent 15 years with The New York Times. Read his article about why it is important that everyone support the occupation. Truthdig