People’s Voice January 1-31, 2017
Volume 25 – Number 01   $1

CONTENTS

1) ON ITS 50TH ANNIVERSARY, MEDICARE IS BEING SYSTEMATICALLY STARVED

2) CUPE WOMEN STEP UP THE FIGHT ON THE PICKET LINES

3) CHILDREN’S AID LOCKS OUT NORTHERN ONTARIO WORKERS

4) PRECARIOUSNESS AND POVERTY FOR YOUNG WORKERS: STATSCAN REPORT

5) RENEGOTIATING NAFTA?

6) LOOPHOLES, LOBBYISTS AND LIES - Editorial

7) PROTECT MARITIME JOBS AND ENVIRONMENT - Editorial

8) ONTARIO’S AFFORDABLE HOUSING PLAN A GIFT TO DEVELOPERS

9) DEFEND PEOPLE AND NATURE, NOT BIG OIL PROFITS

10) ARMED DRONES PART OF TRUDEAU’S NEW MILITARY

11) CEOs STILL RIDING THE HIGH INCOME GRAVY TRAIN

12) EVEN LEONARD PELTIER’S PROSECUTOR CALLS FOR CLEMENCY

13) MUSIC NOTES, by Wally Brooker

14) FIDEL CASTRO SPEAKS OF JAN. 1, 1959, IN HIS OWN WORDS

 

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(The following articles are from the January 1-31, 2017, issue of People's Voice, Canada's leading socialist newspaper. Articles can be reprinted free if the source is credited. Subscription rates in Canada: $30/year, or $15 low income rate; for U.S. readers - $45 US per year; other overseas readers - $45 US or $50 CDN per year. Send to People's Voice, c/o PV Business Manager, 706 Clark Drive, Vancouver, BC, V5L 3J1.)

1) ON ITS 50TH ANNIVERSARY, MEDICARE IS BEING SYSTEMATICALLY STARVED

By Liz Rowley, leader of the Communist Party of Canada

            December 19 marked the 50th anniversary of the Medicare Act, passed in the House of Commons December 19, 1966,after a mass struggle led by the labour movement that had its roots in the plan created by Dr. Norman Bethune for a system of socialized medicine in Canada.

            Tommy Douglas, then the CCF Premier of Saskatchewan, introduced medicare in that province, taking on the powerful doctors’ lobby that saw medicine primarily as a business, not an essential service and human right. Saskatchewan’s doctors went on strike, but eventually came back to work, tails between their legs, overwhelmed by public support for this first introduction of socialized medicine in Canada.

            But the opponents of Medicare have never given up their fight. The doctor business is quite profitable in Canada, particularly for specialists and for those who run their practices like for-profit businesses.

            Among these is Dr. Brian Day, owner of the Cambie Surgery in Vancouver. Day has brought a Charter Challenge before the BC Supreme court, which aims to dismantle the single-payer system in BC and allow doctors to bill patients as well as the Ministry of Health for doctors’ services. If the courts find for Day, the single payer system which is at the core of Medicare, will be blown apart right across the country.

            The very biggest opponents of Medicare are the multi-national health care corporations operating in the US, who regard Canada as a huge untapped market for private health care services, from hospitals to out-patient clinics to family medicine to long-term care. Their goal is to crack open the Canadian market, and that means ending the single payer system and Medicare, reverting to pay for service – or do without.

            Big Pharma is also an opponent of Medicare, because it recognizes the public push to expand Medicare is the push for pharmacare, and long overdue nationalization of the pharmaceutical industry in Canada.

            Across the country, provincial governments have been delisting healthcare services and drugs covered under provincial healthcare plans for years. They have turned a blind eye when private for-profit clinics set up shop in cities and towns across the country, and ignored the myriad fees being illegally charged to patients. Provincial governments have cut health care spending systematically and deliberately, leading to hospitals without any free beds, emergency departments unable to accept patients and redirecting ambulances elsewhere, wards with super-bugs, and without adequate cleaning staff, RNs or RPN’s to care for patients.

            The federal government too has cast a blind eye to the decline in the quantity and quality of Medicare services available across the country, due in the first place to their refusal to meet their obligations to adequately fund Medicare. 

            In 1967, adequate funding meant that the cost of Medicare would be split evenly between the federal and provincial governments, so that Canadians could receive an equivalent level of good medical care, no matter where they lived. Federal healthcare transfers were to be made to the provincial governments, which delivered healthcare services, under the umbrella of the Canada Health Act.  

            By 1977 the federal government’s share of funding came in two parts: 25% was a cash transfer, and the other 25% was in tax points given to the provinces. But the amount of the cash transfer was already falling.

            The biggest cuts were made by the Liberal government of Jean Chretien in 1995. During that time Chretien also raided the Unemployment Insurance fund, denying hundreds of thousands  of unemployed workers access to the insured benefits they had bought and paid for.

            Substantial cuts to the cash transfers by various federal governments since Medicare’s inception have guaranteed that the quality of healthcare available to Canadians can vary substantially, particularly with regard to access to services. For Indigenous Peoples and migrants, who have never received equitable funding for either healthcare or education, the situation is that much worse.

            From the beginning, the services covered by Medicare were not comprehensive, and excluded everything outside of a hospital and a doctor’s office. Not surprisingly, the demand to expand coverage to more services has grown. The 2002 Romanow Commission on the Future of Healtlhcare indicated that the most urgent to be added were: vision and dental  care, pharmacare, and long-term care. Mental health care has subsequently been added to the list.

            In consequence of renewed mass pressure, the federal government under Liberal PM Paul Martin introduced an escalator clause into the funding formula for Medicare, increasing the federal government’s cash transfer at a rate of 6% annually, for 10 years.

            Provinces responded by de-listing existing services, and forcing patients to either purchase them in private clinics or do without.

            By 2014 the Harper Tory government had reversed direction on healthcare funding. Mindful of the public’s affinity for Medicare, Harper extended the 6% escalator for a further two years, well past the 2015 federal election date, promising his corporate friends that he would cut it to 3% in 2017 (presumably on the way to zero, down the line). 

            This is the backdrop to the December 19 “take it or leave” consultation on a new Health Accord, convened by federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Health Minister Jane Philpott, with provincial and territorial Health Ministers.

            What was being offered was a 3.5% escalator in the cash transfer over ten years, plus lump sums totaling $11 billion for home-care and mental health care. Philpott proclaimed the agreement “historic”.

            Neither Philpott nor Morneau mentioned that the deal would result in an overall cut of $30 billion in federal transfer payments for healthcare over the ten years, or that the cut would reduce the value of the federal cash transfer from the current 23.3% to under 20%.

            If anything, the Liberals’ offer was “historically low”, including the $11 billion for home care and mental health care that was so clearly inadequate to the task.

            Not surprisingly, the Premiers said No. 

            Canadians should say No too. They didn’t vote for Harper-care and privatization; they voted for Medicare and the Liberals who said they would fund it and expand it. Now’s the time to hold them, and the provincial governments, to their promises.

            If the Liberals aren’t funding healthcare, what are they funding? Well, military hardware and aggressive military ventures around the world, is one clear answer. The antithesis of healthcare in other words.

            Clearly, the direction being pursued by the federal Liberals is privatization of healthcare, not expansion, despite Justin Trudeau’s letter to premiers when he was campaigning in 2015. This privatization may take the form of suffocating or starving Medicare to death, counting on the private sector to fill the void of unfunded and under-funded services, while assiduously looking the other way when the Canada Health Act is flaunted, or challenged in court.

            This is the message that working people and the public need to get, because it’s a clear indicator that the fight to save and expand Medicare is on the forward agenda, and especially because of the arrival of Donald Trump, NAFTA trade renegotiations, and the HMOs salivating over us, just south of the border.

            This fight’s just beginning.

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2) CUPE WOMEN STEP UP THE FIGHT ON THE PICKET LINES

By Helen Kennedy

            Since April of last year, something amazing has been happening in CUPE in Ontario. CUPE locals in social services, overwhelmingly female workers, have been taking a stand against bad bosses and their austerity agendas. The most significant result, along with the some major improvements for precarious workers, is the emergence of a militant leadership led by women.

            Strike activity has been focused in two sectors – children’s protection services and libraries. Protracted underfunding by the provincial government has led to wage stagnation and dramatic increases in workloads for frontline workers in Children’s Aid Societies across the province. Library Workers have been fighting to improve wages and working conditions for their primarily precarious workforce for years.

Children’s Protection Services

            CUPE Local 4325, representing workers at Family and Children’s Services of Guelph and Wellington County, were the first out on the picket lines in April 2016. Their previous negotiations resulted in a 2-year wage freeze, followed upon ratification by a 9% increase for management staff. After three weeks on the line, the union was able to sign a deal that increased wages and improved contract language.

            In September, 434 members of CUPE 4914, representing workers at Peel Children’s Aid Society, were out on strike to demand workload and job evaluation improvements. After the bargaining committee rejected the employer’s latest offer, management mailed the proposal to each member. The workers rallied to defeat a final offer vote by 93%.

            “This offer does nothing to help the children of Peel or the health and safety of workers,” said Stephanie Zaine, frontline worker and member of CUPE 4914. After 13 weeks on the picket line, the local was able to get management to agree to refer outstanding issues to binding arbitration.

            Just two days before Christmas, the Nipissing and Parry Sound Children’s Aid Society locked out their workers represented by CUPE Local 2049. Workers had rejected a contract by 96% the week before the lockout and management had no improvements to offer. The issues stem once again from the provincial underfunding and the stress it causes with increased workloads and fear of children ‘falling between the cracks.’ CUPE spokesperson, Fran Belanger, emphasized that the society regularly leaves frontline positions vacant, doesn’t replace employees who are on sick leave, and doesn’t fill other temporary vacancies.

            For the remaining child protection workers, these measures require them to cover absent colleagues’ caseloads and perform extra administrative tasks, even though they themselves may be struggling under already excessive workloads. The irony is that management has proposed cuts to sick time provision, even though they regularly don’t replace workers who are off sick!

Fred Hahn, the President of CUPE Ontario, has been kept busy with picket line support.

             “The daily reality for the people who work in child protection is that workload needs to be addressed,” says Hahn. “This was first identified with a workload study in 2001 and been recommended in numerous coroner’s inquest reports. Many front line workers live in fear that with the complexities and intensification of the cases they carry, one of the children on their caseload could fall through the cracks. If the government is truly committed to fixing the problems facing the CAS, then it must deal with workload and health and safety issues that child protection workers face every day, along with providing the funding necessary for expanding the mandate of services.”

Public Libraries

            In addition to the picket line activity at CAS workplaces, 2016 saw an increase in militancy among Public Library locals. Toronto Public Library Workers Union President Maureen O’Reilly led the local in building overwhelming public support for its members during the Ford regime. To support their bargaining this past year, CUPE Local 4948 promoted a creative video exposing the pitfalls of precarious work www.ourpubliclibrary.to. They focused attention on the fact that over half the members of the union were precarious workers. While Local 4948 bargained a settlement without a strike in 2016, the same was not true for two other locals.

            This past summer, CUPE Local 1989, workers at the Mississauga Public Library, went on strike with a central strategy – to move the wages of their lowest paid workers out of poverty. The pages at the library made only pennies over minimum wage; 56% of the members worked part-time, without benefits, paid sick days, or paid vacation. Most are scheduled for only 12-16 hours per week. Led by President Laura Kaminker, the local organized spirited picket lines that included programs for children and youth (and free pizza); they were overwhelmingly successful in building community support. After three weeks, the employer returned to the table and the local was able to win a living wage for their pages, improvements for part-timers and a percentage increase for all. Significantly it was support from Maureen O’Reilly and Fred Hahn that helped get the employer back to the bargaining table. 

            Another similarity between the Mississauga and Toronto Library locals is that they both separated from their larger municipal-based local in recent years. Women’s leadership may have had something to do with the success of these locals in building solidarity amongst its members and solid community support.

            The success of Local 1989’s struggle helped to buoy the spirits of another library unit, the Essex County Library Workers, 57 members of amalgamated CUPE Local 2974. Forced out on strike just a week before their Mississauga sisters, Local 2974 is now in their seventh month on the picket line! Management has held fast to their bid for concessions, on issues like sick time. The attack on sick time is particularly abhorrent for library workers who for the most part don’t have this as a benefit for their predominantly precarious workforce. The Essex County Council set the concessions agenda. Like every other municipal council across Ontario, they had their minds set on stripping sick leave provisions from all their CUPE units. Perhaps they thought it would be easier to win concessions from a smaller, woman-led and predominantly female unit?

            With thousands of dollars in strike support coming in from across the country, CUPE 2974 has kept up the spirits of their members on the line through some very tough times. In December, the leadership was forced to take a final offer to their members. It was overwhelmingly rejected.

            Currently the Essex Library Board is threatening to open the larger libraries on a rotating basis starting this month, using their managers as scabs. 

            Both current strikes are looking for support – through messages of solidarity, and if you’re in the neighbourhood, picket line support. Updates and picket line locations can be accessed at www.cupe.on.ca

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3) CHILDREN’S AID LOCKS OUT NORTHERN ONTARIO WORKERS

PV Ontario Bureau

            It is a holiday drama with Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals cast as the austerity-minded Scrooge, and a Northern Ontario Children’s Aid Society as the heartless Grinch.

            On December 22, the Nipissing and Parry Sound CAS locked out its 140 workers and suspended all Youth Justice Services and Early Intervention programs. The agency expects children and families to rely on scabs for reduced services, while forcing its trained and experienced workers to walk the picket line.

            The workers, members of Local 2049 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), rejected the employer’s final offer by 96% on December 13, but continued bargaining toward a fair contract. During that time the CAS merely re-tabled the same rejected offer while, evidently, preparing a “contingency plan” that included the lockout and scab labour.

            The locked out workers are receiving active solidarity from the North Bay and District Labour Council and union locals in the region.

            The CAS claims the major stumbling block is paid sick days, specifically targeting contract language that allows for banking sick leave and suggesting this leads to an “above-average” number of sick days. CAS Executive Director Gisele Hebert has stated that reducing paid sick leave, which she claims costs $389,000 annually, is key to addressing the organization’s $2.6 million deficit. The union counters that the Hebert has inflated this figure, something employers are notorious for doing.

            The facts suggest that the CAS focus about sick leave is a ploy to get the public onside and avoid the real issue of underfunding. During the 2014-15 year, for example, boarding payments for children in care increased by nearly $500,000, while funding from the Ontario Ministry of Child and Youth Services (MCYS) actually fell by 1%. Ironically, the employer’s own Annual Report from that year supports the union’s position that underfunding and workload are key issues in the Nipissing and Parry Sound dispute: “We have seen an ongoing increase of children being admitted to care to a level that became alarming in January 2015. The Society had exhausted its foster care resources as well as outside paid foster care options which had resulted in children being placed hours out of community at a much higher cost, and was left with no other option but to rent a cottage to accommodate children being admitted to care.”

            In October 2016, the union and members of CAS held an information picket outside Parry Sound town council, drawing attention to the problems of funding cuts to child protective services and calling on councilors to demand adequate local funding from Queen’s Park. Union president Debbie Hill noted that underfunding had resulted in job cuts, staff working short, and an increasing reliance on out-of-area workers and service providers.

            This reflects a general trend that is affecting the CAS in districts across the province, in which local agencies are handcuffed by an inadequate funding formula that was introduced in 2014 and “accountability agreements” that promise to balance budgets. While their employers have chosen to implement the Ontario government’s austerity measures, CAS workers and their unions are rallying community members and local politicians in the struggle for proper funding that meets community needs.

            This was the case in Peel region, where 435 CAS workers who are members of CUPE Local 4914 waged a 13-week strike that ended December 19. Among the key issues was workload, which the employer has been increasing to a point that jeopardized the quality of care given to the children, as well as the health and safety of both workers and children.

            As the provincial government continues to impose its austerity agenda on the broader public sector, more people are seeing the political dimension of local workplace disputes. This realization results in stronger community-labour solidarity that is capable of building the mass pressure necessary to force changes in government policy.

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4) PRECARIOUSNESS AND POVERTY FOR YOUNG WORKERS: STATSCAN REPORT

From http://rebelyouth-magazine.blogspot.ca/

            In early December, Statistics Canada released a report that confirms what young people already knew: youth jobs are few, temporary and part-time. Canada’s so-called “recovery” economy has little to offer youth besides precariousness and poverty.

            The report, entitled “Perspectives on the Youth Labour Market in Canada, 1976 to 2015”, focuses on young workers aged 15-24 who are not enrolled as full-time students and compares this generation to past generations of the same age group.

            Youth unemployment remains high at the official rate of 13.2% averaged over 2015, which is well over double that of the unemployment rate for all ages.

            But it is the nature of the work available and wages that show the greatest deterioration over the last four decades. Full-time and permanent work has declined sharply since the mid-1970s.

            As the report says: “Of all young individuals who are not full-time students, proportionately fewer are now employed full-time – that is, in jobs that involve at least 30 work hours per week – than they were four decades ago. Among those who are employed full time, a greater percentage hold temporary jobs.”

            In 1976-1978, the percentage of those youth with a full-time job averaged about 76% for men aged 17-24 and 58% for women. Today’s full-time employment rate is 59% for men and 49% for women.

            What has caused this? The report points out that the shift to part-time work is because that is all the capitalist class has decided to offer these days: “… the decline in youth full-time employment rates was driven mainly by increases in the incidence of part-time employment rather than by decreases in youth labour force participation or increases in youth unemployment.”

            Along with the growth of part-time work is the growth of temporary employment among full-time young workers. While these figures only started being recorded in 1989, since then temporary jobs have increased by 16 percentage points for women and 14 percentage points for men. This demonstrates that even those young workers who can find full-time work are increasingly having their jobs become temporary positions.

            The spending power of wages has also not kept up, despite massive growth in the economy over the last four decades. This means that workers are taking home smaller share of the wealth they produce in today’s economy.

            Here’s the story of young workers wages over the last thirty-five years: full-time young workers saw their real hourly wages drop by 15% for men and 10% for women from the early 80s to the early 90s. From 2004 until the economic crisis hit Canadian wages, median hourly wages grew as oil prices increased (Tar Sands development) and general economic activity grew.

            But these gains have not made up the previous losses: “The net result was that by 2015, young full-time male employees had median wages that were about 10% lower than those of their counterparts in the early 1980s. For females, the difference was 3%.”

            This does not mean that the gendered wage gap in Canada is closing however, just that young male full-time workers had farther to fall. In fact, the overall wage gap has increased in the recent period. Earlier this year a report showed that in 2009, women in Canada earned on average 74.4 per cent of what men earned. In 2010, it was 73.6 per cent, and in 2011, it was 72 per cent, roughly where it remains today.

            As can be seen earlier in this article, young women have a 10% lower full-time employment rate than young men and hold proportionally higher temporary full-time jobs as opposed to permanent. This partially explains the widening wage gap. This is a wage gap that is also racialized as it is gendered. Racialized women earn only 64 cents, and Indigenous women 46 cents, for every dollar earned by men of all age groups.

What to do about it?

            A debate on youth unemployment and precarious work has started in Ottawa after years of ignoring the growing crisis. But what is on offer is either more of what has brought the pain, or painfully inadequate.

            In a response to the StatsCan report, Rachael Harder, the Conservative Youth Critic, said that the government needs to do more to invest in oil and gas (hand over more cash to the industry that is threatening the planet), and give students more access to loans (increase student debt levels while encouraging higher tuition fees). Even if we put aside climate change as perhaps the most important political issue of our time for a moment, the Tar Sands industry has shown that it has very little to offer young people besides uprooting them and putting them in an economically unstable field. Higher debt levels for students would mean adding fuel to the fire for hundreds of thousands of university and college graduates.

            Meanwhile the Liberals promised increased funding for the federal Youth Employment Strategy before and after the election. The government is planning on spending $219 million this year on the Youth Employment Strategy (YES). This consists of increased help for youth accessing jobs and training and incentives to business to create jobs (subsidies). Social services and grants to help youth can have an impact, but spending here remains low. Subsidies to business to create youth jobs and summer employment are essentially hand outs of public money to the private sector that do not create a long-term change in the economy towards permanent, full-time employment.

            The real Liberal agenda for young workers was expressed by Finance Minister Bill Morneau to the Federal Liberal’s Ontario wing: "How do we train and retrain people as they move from job to job to job? Because it's going to happen. We have to accept that.'' In other words, the neoliberal economy with its “flexible” labour market are here to stay, so how do we train the workers of tomorrow so they can be effective precarious workers in a variety of fields.

            The good news is that young workers are not as accepting of the status quo as the Finance Minister. Morneau’s comments were cited as one of the reasons that young workers’ turned their backs in protest on the Prime Minister when he was speaking at the recent Canadian Labour Congress Young Workers’ Summit.

            “Fight for $15” campaigns have sprung up in most provinces across Canada. The struggle to increase the minimum wage, often accompanied by other demands against precarious work and for unionization are a direct challenge to the Liberal government’s approach of finding the right training to fit the labour market. There is not one province or territory in Canada that has a minimum wage that is above the poverty line, even if workers are able to find full-time work. This injustice has become a flashpoint for collective action, often involving union and non-union young workers.

            Present struggles and labour history both demonstrate that the collective action of workers can change what big business is prepared to offer. We do not have to “accept” it.

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5) RENEGOTIATING NAFTA?

Commentary by Liz Rowley

            The arrival of US President Donald Trump on the international stage, backed by an army of trade negotiators, has raised the alarm among Canadians, and with good reason.

            More than half a million workers lost their jobs in manufacturing and secondary industry after Canada signed onto NAFTA in 1994. Real wages and living standards fell, as good jobs were replaced by part-time, temporary, and precarious work. As permanent employment disappeared,  many unemployed workers were driven to accept to low wages and multiple jobs.

            The Canadian economy was undermined by the elimination of whole sections of work, including textiles, clothing and footwear, furniture and appliances, farm equipment, and big reductions in forestry, and in the steel and auto sectors.

            In Quebec the auto assembly and parts have virtually disappeared, while in Ontario, tens of thousands of jobs have disappeared in the parts sector, and some in assembly with plant closures in Oshawa, Windsor, St. Thomas and St. Catharines. Auto is the beating heart of the Canadian economy, which Donald Trump could be aiming to take out in his drive to “make America great again” – at the expense of Canadian and Mexican workers.

            Some think that renegotiating NAFTA would improve Canada’s position in the continental, or even global trade hierarchy. But that conclusion would be faulty, and dangerous. Why? Because there is nothing good about NAFTA, and there never was. It was a corporate deal, foisted onto Canadian workers with the help of the ever-ready Brian Mulroney, for the benefit of the largest Canadian and US based transnational corporations and their drive to increase profits at any cost. NAFTA took down borders and regulations that stood in their way, undermined national sovereignty and independence, and helped prepare publicly owned assets and services for privatization or reincarnation as P3s.

            NAFTA contained the first Investor State Dispute Settlement mechanism in its Chapter 11, which allowed corporations to sue governments over loss of existing and future profits. As a direct consequence, Canada is the most sued country in the world, losing every dispute to the US, and paying millions in fines. 

             NAFTA helped to secure massive corporate tax cuts over two decades, and put significant obstacles in the way of labour, civil and democratic rights.

            NAFTA opened up communities to virtually unlimited access by multi-national corporations like US Steel (Hamilton),  Caterpillar (London) and others. By giving capital “the run of the house” , NAFTA also provided the legal basis for great damage to the environment and to Indigenous communities. NAFTA was the mechanism for transforming Canada’s economy away from value added industry and manufacturing, towards resource extraction and exports, from energy resources and minerals to Great Lakes water.

            In the early ‘90s, progressives knew that the deal posed a great threat to Canada. They knew that NAFTA should be rejected, that it could not be amended in any satisfactory way, that it was intended to serve corporate interests, not public or democratic interests, or the concerns of women or labour, or Indigenous Peoples, or environmentalists. 

            Yet efforts were made to force governments to build in protections for the environment, for Medicare, for Canadian culture, for workers. for Indigenous Peoples. But as we have seen, and as has been widely acknowledged, the safeguards added were weak and ineffective.

            When Trump comes calling to renegotiate NAFTA, It will not be to help bolster Canada’s position. He will look for measures to strip Canada’s softwood lumber industry of any government supports, which the US asserts are subsidies, and to benefit the softwood lumber industry in the northwest USA

            Trump will come to re-open the Keystone XL pipeline deal, as the first of other pipelines still to come. He will advise us that climate change is a hoax, and that he will roll back Obama’s climate change commitments.

            Trump will come calling to open up Medicare to for-profit healthcare corporations who see Canada as a huge new market for private healthcare insurance.

            He will come calling to tell carmakers and investors about the right-to-work legislation and further tax cuts he plans to introduce, and the red tape he will strike down, alongside the new national infrastructure he will build to serve corporations and profit-making.

            The only benefit to come from renegotiating NAFTA will go to the 1%, the owners of the biggest corporations in the world, operating in Canada, the US and Mexico.

            Progressive people said NO in 1994, and we must say NO again. Fair trade, not free trade  - means GET OUT OF NAFTA NOW!

            Fair trade means mutually beneficial, and multi-lateral trade with all countries, and long-term credits to the developing countries and to the socialist countries. Fair trade also requires a foreign policy of peace and disarmament,  investment in peaceful development, and civilian spending. 

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6) LOOPHOLES, LOBBYISTS AND LIES

People’s Voice Editorial

            One of the reasons many Canadians voted Liberal in the November 2015 federal election was Justin Trudeau’s promise to support “middle class” people by reversing some of the tricks that allow the wealthy to pile up ever larger riches. A prime example was the loophole that gives executives, who take much of their pay compensation in the form of stocks, a tax deduction of 50 percent of the gain when they sell those stocks.

            The Liberals promised to cap this deduction at $50,000, pointing out that 8,000 people were claiming an average of $400,000 a year via the loophole. That's a total of $3.2 billion annually. But less than two years later, pressure from wealthy executives led the Trudeau government to renege on this promise. Why? According to Finance Minister Bill Morneau, because “small firms and innovators” would be hurt by closing the loophole. But let’s be clear: we’re mostly talking about the top 100 CE0s in Canada, who took in an average of $9.5 million dollars in 2015, 193 times what the average person is paid. One of the business leaders who lobbied the Trudeau government was former Liberal MP and finance minister John Manley, who heads up the Business Council of Canada.

            Canadians for Tax Fairness is calling out the PM over the government’s backtracking. They point out that the issue raises concerns in light of the cash-for-access scandal, in which wealthy donors get private dinners to lobby Liberal cabinet ministers.

            Of course, the Liberals first denied the accusations, claiming that lobbying does not take place at these dinners. Now PM Trudeau admits that he is lobbied at pay-to-attend events, but this doesn’t affect his decisions. We’re sure that corporate big shots will give up their efforts to influence the federal government - when pigs learn to fly.

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7) PROTECT MARITIME JOBS AND ENVIRONMENT

People’s Voice Editorial

            The struggle to save jobs in the maritime sector and to protect Canada’s coasts and waters will be in the forefront on Jan. 12, when the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada, the International Longshore Association and the Seafarers International Union join forces for a National Day of Action. Rallies are taking place in Vancouver, Victoria, Prince Rupert, Montreal and Toronto to raise awareness of some crucial issues.

            The federal Liberal government is out to dismantle “cabotage” - the legal guarantees that ensure maritime work remains in the hands of trained and dedicated Canadian workers. The unions are condemning the government’s intention to adopt the Emerson Report on the Canadian Transportation Act, which calls to dismantle the safety net of regulations which require people and goods moving between two Canadian locations to be transported by Canadian companies, equipment and workers.

            The Emerson Report recommendations threaten 12,000 well-paying maritime jobs - all those who work aboard ships, tugs, ferries, barges and dredges. The underlying aim is to drive down pay and benefits, for the interests of bosses who prefer to hire foreign seafarers for as little as $1.26 per hour. Smashing the labour unions in this industry would not help these foreign workers; it would slash the incomes and working conditions of every employee in the industry.

            And there are other dangers looming, including the potential to privatize Canada’s ports, with billions of dollars of public infrastructure; and the environmental threat posed by hiring inexperienced sailors, unfamiliar with Canada’s coastal waters, to pilot vessels containing a wide range of fuels, chemicals and other cargoes.

            We urge readers to stand with ILWU, the ILA and the SIU in this important struggle. Contact the Prime Minister and all Liberal MPs to say: stop this  assault on our jobs, our communities and our coasts.

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8) ONTARIO’S AFFORDABLE HOUSING PLAN A GIFT TO DEVELOPERS

Communist Party calls for comprehensive response to crisis; PV Ontario Bureau

            As in much of the country, Ontario is in the midst of a housing crisis that continues to deteriorate. In all areas of the province, housing costs are soaring, with an average purchase price of $520,000. For tenants, costs are even worse – the provincial average for renting a one-bedroom apartment was nearly $12,000 per year in 2015.

            According to a report by the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association, over 170,000 households in the province were on waiting lists for rent-geared-to-income (RGI) housing in 2015, an increase of 45,000 households over the decade. Waiting times for RGI applicants have increased to a provincial average of just over five years, with applicants in some urban areas expecting to wait up to 14 years to be housed.

            Furthermore, the proportion of rent controlled housing is diminishing rapidly as provincial rent control legislation does not apply to units created after 1991.

            The Ontario government’s response to this crisis is Bill 204, Promoting Affordable Housing Act, 2016. The centerpiece of this legislation is “inclusionary zoning,” which empowers municipalities to require developers to temporarily reserve a portion of new units for low- to moderate-income households. In exchange, developers receive multiple economic and financial incentives to developers such as waived development charges, lower taxes and fees, fewer regulatory restrictions, and sale of public land at low prices.

            The depth and duration of the housing crisis has led some activists to applaud Bill 204 and parrot the government’s claim that inclusionary zoning (IZ) will be a huge step toward fixing the housing crisis and increasing affordable housing stock.

            The reality is that IZ is a continuation of the province’s failed reliance on the private sector to provide affordable housing. It specifically does not increase affordable housing stock, and instead facilitates gentrification by requiring developers to only temporarily set aside a token number of affordable units while they gain cheaper and easier access to permits and resources. IZ also means reduced public revenue through waived charges and fees, and a huge transfer of valuable public lands to the private sector.

            Bill 204 also contains provisions for redefining affordable housing, which effectively enables the province to manipulate data and conceal the depth of the housing crisis. Far from remedying the housing crisis, Ontario’s “affordable housing” plan all adds up to more of the same – a gift of big profits for developers and no construction of affordable units.

            Ontario Communist Party leader Dave McKee insists that, “Housing is a basic human right, but the government refuses to recognize this. Instead of `private sector’ solutions, Ontario needs a comprehensive, progressive public housing plan that treats housing as a public utility and delivers it according to need.”

            McKee says the Communist Party in Ontario is going to ramp up its work on the housing crisis, which is provincial in nature. “Right across the province, what is needed is a massive public housing construction program, real rent controls and rent rollbacks, proper building inspections for rental housing, and a ban on evictions or utility cut-off due to involuntary unemployment.”

            He says the CPC (Ontario) will be reaching out to tenant and anti-poverty organizations, trade unions, youth and student groups, and others to push for “a housing program that puts people’s needs way, way ahead of corporate greed.”

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9) DEFEND PEOPLE AND NATURE, NOT BIG OIL PROFITS

Central Executive Committee, Communist Party of Canada, January 2017

            The decision of the Trudeau Liberal government to approve the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion and the Enbridge Line 3 project is a serious warning of the unchecked political and economic power of the transnational energy monopolies. Despite the government’s attempt to greenwash its decision by turning down the Enbridge Northern Gateway project at the same time, Canada clearly remains in the camp of countries engaged in the expansion of greenhouse gas emissions for the sake of Big Oil profits.

            This development is deeply disturbing to millions of Canadians who voted for the Liberals to block the anti-environment Harper Conservatives. During his first year in office, PM Justin Trudeau took some limited steps to reverse the appalling record of the previous government. But while Trudeau campaigned to prioritize “community consent” for resource extraction projects, and to fully implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, he made no commitment to block the Kinder Morgan project, which together with Enbridge Line 3 will expand Canada’s carbon footprint by more than the total emission cuts from his other policies. The KM approval in particular makes it obvious that his election rhetoric was never meant to empower communities or indigenous peoples, or to break with the traditional backing of Canadian governments for the energy transnationals.

            This decision comes along with news that 2016 will be the hottest year on record, and as Donald Trump (who claims global warming is a “Chinese hoax”) prepares to reverse U.S. support for the Paris accord and other steps to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

‘           But instead of placing the Kinder Morgan approval within the framework of the dire threat to the planet from rising greenhouse gas emissions, the corporate media continues to pose false dilemmas, such as “which pipelines should be approved,” or “the difficult choices between jobs, the environment, and the rights of indigenous peoples.” Ignoring the historic global context, pro-corporate politicians and media want to shift the argument towards approval of more pipelines to transport unprocessed bitumen from the Alberta tar sands for export. This includes the Line 9 and Energy East projects, and the Dakota Access Pipeline which are all meeting powerful grassroots resistance from environmentalists, indigenous peoples and working people concerned for the future of the planet. The aim is to maintain Canada’s longstanding policy of digging the tar sands out of the earth, to benefit the Big Oil profiteers

            This short-sighted approach of feeding corporate greed avoids the fundamental problem: how to sharply cut world-wide greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, by expanding environmentally sustainable technologies which can employ the workers displaced from the fossil fuel industry.

            The Communist Party of Canada calls for a People’s Energy Plan which can protect the environment and create sustainable employment, based on the following points:

* Public ownership and democratic control of all energy and natural resources, including extraction, production and distribution.

* Freeze and reduce energy exports.

* Expand shared power flows among provinces through an East-West power and energy grid.

* Block new development of the Alberta tar sands, and close these operations within five years, with jobs guaranteed for workers in more sustainable industries at equivalent wages.

* Compensate the Aboriginal peoples and communities already affected by the tar sands.

* No to the Kinder Morgan, Keystone XL, Line 9 and Energy East pipelines, and to oil and gas exploration and shipping on the west coast.

* Put a moratorium on the exploration and development of shale gas resources.

* Emergency legislation to slash greenhouse gas emissions.

* Invest heavily to create jobs through renewable energy and conservation programs, and phase out coal-fired plants and terminate reliance on nuclear energy.

* Substantially expand urban mass transit, and eliminate bus and transit fares.

* Legislate stringent vehicle emission controls.

* Fund high-speed rail as a better alternative to highways and airlines.

* Ban “biofuels” derived from feed grains.

 

            The Communist Party of Canada once again states its full solidarity with all those in struggle against the pipelines being built or proposed to take the Alberta tar sands to export markets, including Line 9 and Energy East. We also congratulate the heroic land and water protectors at Standing Rock, who have won an important temporary victory against the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline by Energy Transfer Partners. The fight to protect the Missouri River and the Standing Rock Sioux tribe's drinking water and indigenous sovereignty will continue, and we extend our full solidarity to this struggle.

            We say - there is an alternative to capitalist destruction of the global environment. The Communist Party calls to build a powerful and broad People’s Coalition of the working class and its allies outside of Parliament. Such a Coalition could have a huge electoral impact and begin to achieve real gains, to curb corporate power, and start moving Canada in a new direction!

            The global environmental crisis is not only about government policies – it is about capitalism itself. It is time to replace capitalism and exploitation with a new system – socialism, a society based on working class power, full democracy, human equality, and environmental sustainability, in which the resources and economic wealth are owned and controlled by the working people, not by corporate bosses.

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10) ARMED DRONES PART OF TRUDEAU’S NEW MILITARY

By Matthew Behrens, from Alternatives International Journal, www.alterinter.org/spip.php?article4539

            Following a U.S. election campaign dominated by questions of temperament and fitness to carry the nuclear football, the new President will also inherit one of the most troubling but little discussed legacies of the Obama administration. That’s the limitless capacity to assassinate anyone by armed drone, a signature policy of the past eight years resulting in thousands of casualties in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

            “We now have this very significant bureaucratic and legal infrastructure to support targeted killing, and there’s virtually no oversight by Congress or the courts of the lawfulness of these strikes,” says Jameel Jaffer, the Kingston-born human rights lawyer who, following a clerkship with Supreme Court Justice Beverley McLachlin, has spent the past 15 years on the front lines of U.S. court battles challenging war on terror practices from indefinite detention and warrantless wiretapping to torture and untold layers of government secrecy.

            “Once you accept the concept that the battlefield is borderless and war powers can be used anywhere, you open up [the potential for] all sorts of abuses,” says Jaffer, author of the new book, The Drone Memos: Targeted Killing, Secrecy, and the Law. It’s a partially redacted collection of originally top secret memos and documents in which some of the country’s leading lawyers have twisted themselves like pretzels to justify abuses that Jaffer says would have been unthinkable a generation ago.

            “When Bush proposed extrajudicial detention [of alleged terror suspects], Americans were quite rightly alarmed and outraged, but when Obama authorized extrajudicial killing, Americans were for the most part indifferent,” Jaffer says, noting part of that may have been due to the amount of faith Americans placed in him following the bleak Bush years.

            “But you cannot invest that kind of power in the presidency just because of the person who occupies that spot at a certain point in time, because someone else will eventually occupy that spot. And when they inherit this virtually unchecked power, we have very little idea how they are going to use it, because we don't know what the world will look like in a few years. Something might happen that makes the resort to this kind of power much more appealing, and so a President may say certain people in Germany or Canada or Spain present a sufficient threat to the US that we need to kill them. At that time there will be no institutional checks against that kind of decision. To me that seems crazy.”

            Drone warfare – in which pilots sitting in a Nevada or New York State military bunkers remotely pilot unmanned aerial vehicles armed with real-time video cameras and Hellfire missiles halfway around the globe – is very much part of public discourse, from Hollywood movies to Obama joking about the use of Predators to scare guys wanting to date his daughters. Obama was even quoted as saying “I’m really good at killing people,” but much of the assassination program’s legal schematics remain secret, from why people are targeted to how someone can be defined as an “imminent threat” when they may be on a target list for months at a time.

            In 2012, the New York Times reported the calculus for the administration’s claims of extremely low drone strike civilian casualties was based on considering “all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.”

            Jaffer has spent years in the courts trying to force disclosure of the documentation behind those killings, but is frustrated with a judicial system that continues to defer to the administration’s national security confidentiality claims. Similar legal fights may be in store here as the Canadian military pushes for a fleet of its own armed drones, which top soldier General Jonathan Vance touted last March at the Senate Defence Committee. Vance told Senators that he is prioritizing the Joint Unmanned Surveillance and Target Acquisition System (JUSTAS), and earlier this year, Public Works Canada put out a Request for Information to weapons manufacturers hungry for an opportunity to fulfill the program’s mandate, whose parameters appear to engage the very profound legal, political, and moral questions Jaffer tackles in The Drone Memos.

            Indeed, the 88-page JUSTAS document lists a number of potential scenarios which appear to share the Obama administration’s shady targeted killings rationale. The program envisions a hypothetical “Expeditionary ISR/Strike Scenario” with Canadian Forces in Afghanistan performing reconnaissance for a coalition convoy, during which their drone pilots conduct “Pattern of Life Assessments” as they look for “High-Payoff Targets” on the approved “Joint Prioritized Target List” (echoing the Kill List updated at Obama’s infamous “Terror Tuesday” meetings). As part of a proposed mission sequence, the pilot crew spots 3 Fighting Aged Males (FAMs) “standing near a long wall close to the road that the convoy is traveling on,” with one holding a small radio or cell phone. When it appears that “there is a shovel leaning against the wall next to the three FAMs,” and that some nearby dirt seems to have been disturbed, they suddenly become labeled as combatants, and the use of force – in this instance one Hellfire Missile and two 250-lbs GBU 48 laser guided bombs – is authorized.

            While it is unclear how those dead FAMs can perhaps prove their innocence posthumously, the consideration of such a scenario raises significant questions about the extent to which Canadian officials will develop a similar targeted killing infrastructure to their American cousins. Given Ottawa’s broad definition of Canadian interests, which now encompasses much of the globe, will that include non-battlefield scenarios, as has become commonplace stateside? And how will extrajudicial executions be justified by Trudeau’s Justice Department’s lawyers?

            Equally concerning, drones are an increasingly favoured tool for surveillance and crowd control. The JUSTAS document posits another potential scenario, a Quebec G20 summit where “several groups have openly indicated their intent to protest and intelligence indicates that radical elements may exploit the presence of international media to further their anti-capitalist cause by disrupting the Summit.”

            A proposed Mission Sequence of Events takes readers through the log of a drone mission, with demonstrators referred to as “moving targets” and drones employed to  “ assist ground security forces [to] control a crowd of protestors.”  Later on, the drone crew works with a security team and “vectors them to the area where they spot [a] vehicle and intercept it, identify the occupants and ascertain that the individuals were attempting to hang a banner concerning global warming.”

            As Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan considers the best bang for his military buck, drone manufacturers argue their products are far cheaper than fighter jets. Jaffer, meanwhile, says that as militarized drone use appears on the Canadian horizon, “the public ought to know what the government is doing, and they should be able to assess how the use of this kind of violence is likely to change both the society in which the violence is used and the society that authorizes the use of it.”

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11) CEOs STILL RIDING THE HIGH INCOME GRAVY TRAIN

Excerpts from the new CCPA report, “Throwing Money at the Problem: 10 Years of Executive Compensation”

            Over the past 10 years, compensation for Canada’s 100 highest paid CEOs has proven to be resilient in nature, weathering all kinds of economic storms, and continually breaking new highs.

            Total compensation for Canada’s 100 highest paid CEOs in 2015 hit a historic high, registering at $9.5 million — 193 times the average industrial wage in Canada.

            Although public outrage over exorbitantly high CEO pay continues unabated, especially since the Great Recession of 2008-09, CEO pay in Canada takes a licking but keeps on ticking. Like clockwork, Canada’s highest paid CEOs consistently earn what it takes a Canadian working full-time, year-round to make within the first working day of every new year.

            This year is no different: Canada’s 100 highest paid CEOs on the TSX index earn the average Canadian wage by 11:47 a.m. on January 3. The average of the top 100 CEOs made $9.5 million in 2015. In sharp contrast, a Canadian working 52 weeks at the average weekly earnings rate for 2015 of $952.11 would have earned $49,510.The gap is even bigger when you compare CEO pay to minimum wage earners’ pay: the 100 highest paid CEOs would match the Canadian weighted average 2016 minimum wage — $11.18 per hour or $23,256 annually by just after 2:00 pm January 2.

            A review of CEO compensation in Canada over time shows that the average earnings of Canada’s corporate top 100 increased by 178% between 1998 and 2015. And there seems to be no end to the great heights to which executive pay will soar. Public outrage over the CEO pay gap hasn’t curbed corporate boards’ enthusiasm for lining the bank accounts of their executives. “Say on pay” votes were supposed to deliver cautionary messages about pay, but those votes are simply advisory and boards are free to ignore them, and usually do.

            ... Every January since 2007, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has highlighted one of the most visible symbols of income inequality in Canada: the dizzying pay gap between the 100 highest paid CEOs of companies in the TSX index and average Canadian wages.

            The challenge we faced was how to express the astronomical discrepancy in terms that would connect to people’s everyday life experience. This is not a unique problem — studies of income inequality have always struggled to find ways to communicate vast differences in income and wealth...

            Because we were comparing income from employment, the obvious way to locate a CEO’s pay in everyday experience was to ask and answer the question: how long would a CEO have to work to take home the same pay as the average Canadian received in a year?

            The answer — consistent over the years — has been stunning. Like clockwork, on the first working day of every year, the average of the 100 highest paid CEOs in Canada already pocket what it takes the average Canadian an entire year to earn. Usually by lunchtime.

            This year is no different. Based on CEO pay data for 2015, reported in 2016, and the Statistics Canada average industrial wage for 2015, the average of the 100 highest paid CEOs in Canada will have surpassed the average Canadian’s earnings before noon (11:47 a.m.) on the first working day of the year, January 3.

            In 2015, the 100 highest paid CEOs in Canada made 193 times more than the average Canadian rate of pay. The average of the top 100 CEOs made $9.545 million; a Canadian working 52 weeks at the average weekly earnings rate for 2015 of $952.11 would have earned $49,510.

            The gap is even bigger when you compare CEO pay to minimum wage earners’ pay: the 100 highest paid CEOs would match the Canadian weighted average 2016 minimum wage — $11.18 per hour or $23,256 annually — by just after 2:00 p.m. January 2. The average CEO in this elite group makes as much as 410 minimum wage workers...

            Of that $9.545 million average CEO pay: $1.1 million was base pay; $1.8 million was bonus; $4.3 million was grants of shares; $1.5 million was the value of grants of stock options; $316,000 represented the value of increased pension earned; and $530,000 was “other” sources of income such as benefits, perks, etc.

            Forty-seven of the top 100 CEOs had a defined benefit pension plan, with an average pension payable at age 65 of just under $1.1 million.

            Even that doesn’t fully capture the income earned by these CEOs. Seventy-nine of the top 100 CEOs owned shares in their companies that paid dividends: those 79 received an average of $1.625 million in dividends.

            Although the CCPA began compiling data on CEO earnings with the 2005 pay year, changes in the basis for compensation reporting required under accounting rules beginning in 2008 mean that consistent comparisons over time are possible only after that date...

            If you think it’s always been this way, think again. In 1998, the average of the top 100 CEOs in Canadian publicly listed companies was able to get by with an income only 103 times that of the average Canadian. The gap between the average top 100 CEO’s pay and that of the average Canadian has increased by 179 per cent since 1998 — from 3,390,367 to 9,472,938.

            Longer term, we have data for the top 50 going back to 1995. In 1995, the top 50 CEOs received 85 times the average Canadian income; in 2015, the average of the top 50 received 290 times the average Canadian income.

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12) EVEN LEONARD PELTIER’S PROSECUTOR CALLS FOR CLEMENCY

From TeleSUR

            The former Iowa United States attorney in charge of the widely-condemned prosecution and conviction of Indigenous activist Leonard Peltier wrote to President Obama saying granting clemency to the 72-year-old, considered by many the longest-held political prisoner in the U.S., would be “in the best interests of justice.”

            In writing the letter, James Reynolds, who was the chief prosecutor during Peltier’s 1977 trial as well as a subsequent appeal, joins Nobel Peace Prize winners Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela and Rigoberta Menchu, as well as tens of thousands who have signed petitions calling for clemency for Peltier, who was convicted under dubious circumstances of the murder of two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1975.

            “It is truly extraordinary for the head prosecutor in such a politicized case to take a public stance contrary to the FBI. It is unprecedented to our knowledge,” said Martin Garbus, the lead counsel in Peltier’s petition for clemency. “We will urge President Obama to weigh Mr. Reynolds’ letter when considering Mr. Peltier’s case, and to examine the Petition with fresh eyes. We believe that Mr. Peltier’s conviction presents one of the greatest injustices in the history of the American justice system.”

            Peltier has continually maintained his innocence and in the 40 years since the trial, original evidence continues to surface showing that Peltier was convicted under false pretenses. Amnesty International is just one of dozens of organizations who point out that a U.S. appeals court judge found that the FBI withheld key ballistics evidence showing Peltier’s gun did not fire the bullets which killed the two agents and that the key testimony used to extradite Peltier from Canada, where he sought asylum, was perjured.

            Reynolds’ letter comes as pressure mounts on President Obama – who has granted clemency to 1,176 prisoners, more than the previous 11 presidents combined – to finally pardon Peltier, who is gravely ill. Many worry that the veteran prisoner may die in prison given the scant hope that incoming President Trump would release the world-renowned political prisoner.

            In an earlier interview, Garbus told Democracy Now! that former President Clinton had told Peltier’s defense team that he would grant clemency before leaving office in 2000, a promise he broke after a last-minute protest by FBI agents.

            In support of Peltier’s release, Archbishop Tutu wrote, “In a nation which so prides itself on a strong and incorruptible judicial system and a human and responsive government, it is sad indeed to think that in nearly a (half) century, justice has been elusive for this man. If the matter continues without remedy and action, it will soon be too late for any justice at all. A tragedy of this magnitude cannot be allowed.”

            HOW YOU CAN HELP:

            Call President Obama for Leonard Peltier: 202-456-1111 (White House Comment Line)  or 202-456-1414 (White House Switchboard); or send email to: www.whitehouse.gov/contact.

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13) MUSIC NOTES, by Wally Brooker

Segato joins homeless T.O. musicians

Toronto singer Lorraine Segato, who rose to fame in the 1980's as lead singer of the pop band Parachute Club ('Rise Up'), has again joined forces with homeless Toronto street musicians. A CD documenting their continuing collaboration has just been released. The story begins in 2007 when Segato, responding to a request by the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee, organized a concert with homeless musicians, backed up by a reunited Parachute Club. The sold-out benefit, held at a downtown church, was accompanied by a meal for 300 invited homeless people. Film director Shelley Saywell attended that show. After years of fundraising for the project, she released "Lowdown Tracks" in 2015. The documentary was voted Canadian Audience Choice at Toronto's Hot Docs International Festival. "Songs From the Lowdown", the soundtrack, was released on November 22 to coincide with National Housing Day. Segato produced the album, which features street musicians Woody Cormier, Bruce Bathgate, Maryanne Epp, Katt Budd, Anthony Van Zant, and The Railyard Ghosts performing their original music. All proceeds go to the musicians who took part. Purchase the album at www.lowdowntracks4impact.com. View Saywell's film at www.tvo.org.

Patti Smith's Hard Rain performance

U.S. rock poet Patti Smith performed a faltering, but ultimately triumphant, rendition of Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" at a ceremony in Stockholm on December 10 to mark his Nobel Prize for Literature. Dylan's reluctance to attend meant that Smith, a long-time friend who had already been booked to perform at the celebration, became his proxy. The choice of "Hard Rain", composed in 1962, was inspired. The song is based upon "Lord Randall", an old Anglo-Scottish ballad, depicting a dialogue between a mother and her ill-fated son. In Dylan's verses the wandering son describes a nightmarish world full of violence, cruelty, and indifference. Striking images abound - of gun-toting children, trees dripping with blood, dead oceans, and poisoned waters. But the song ends on a ringing, affirmative note, with the son's pledge to go back into the world and sing out against the darkness wherever he sees it.  An overcome Patti Smith stumbled twice on the second verse, but after a nervous apology, she regained her poise and delivered a performance that brought tears to the eyes of some of the elegantly-dressed dignitaries. View it at www.nobelprize.org.

Fidel Castro: 7 musical tributes

It was a pleasant surprise to discover a collection of Cuban songs celebrating Fidel Castro published the day after his death in Billboard, the venerable trade magazine for the U.S. entertainment industry. The list, complete with YouTube links, was compiled by Judy Cantor-Navas, editor of Billboard en Español. Some readers may have already viewed "Un hombre que sueña", a video released earlier in 2016 for Fidel's 90th birthday, featuring contemporary artists Arnaldo Rodríguez, Mayito Rivera, Laritza Bacallao, Waldo Mendoza, Lena de la Torre, and Dayany Gutiérrez. Another contemporary artist on Billboard's list is rapper Baby Lores, who sports a tattoo of Fidel on his shoulder. His "Creo (el Comandante)" was released in 2009. Nueva Trova, the "new song" movement that emerged after the revolution, is represented by Silvio  Rodríguez and Sara Gonzalez.  Silvio's beautiful "La Cançion del Elejido" is a collage, with images and audio excerpts of Fidel. Sara Gonzalez's "El Programa de Moncado" shows the singer at an outdoor concert performing an adaptation from Fidel's writings. "Que Viva Fidel" by Celina Gonzalez (1929-2015) adds new lyrics to an old "campesina" song. Lastly, there are two fine tributes - "Gracias Fidel" and "Y en eso llego Fidel" - by Carlos Puebla (1917-1989), composer of the popular ode to Che, "Hasta Siempre Comandante". 

Russia mourns Red Army Choir

Flags were at half-mast across Russia on December 26 as the country observed a day of mourning after a plane crash took the lives of 92 people, including 64 members of the legendary Alexandrov Red Army Choir. The military aircraft went down in the Black Sea on December 25, minutes after taking off from Sochi, en route to Syria, where the choir was to perform for Russian troops. The Alexandrov Russian Army Song and Dance Ensemble was founded in 1928 by Alexander Alexandrov, composer of the Soviet national anthem. It won world-wide acclaim during the Soviet era, and on into post-Soviet times, performing a repertoire of patriotic Soviet songs, Russian folk songs and dances, operatic arias, and, lately, pop tunes. During World War II the Red Army Choir gave more than 1500 concerts at the front, singing regularly for troops about to go into battle. Its most unforgettable song is "The Sacred War", a symbol of Soviet resistance to the Nazi invaders that still brings Russians to their feet. In the current international climate, it's hard to believe that in 2007 they actually performed "The Sacred War" at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

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14) FIDEL CASTRO SPEAKS OF JAN. 1, 1959, IN HIS OWN WORDS

By Nino Pagliccia

            This is the first anniversary of the Cuban Revolution when Fidel Castro is not with us physically. After he passed away last November 25 at the age of 90, dignitaries and world leaders remembered him for his many achievements for Cubans and for humanity. Around the world, including in Canada from coast to coast, millions have celebrated his life. Many still mourn him.

            As we celebrate the 58th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution on January 1, we recall different aspects surrounding the historical events leading up to that day in 1959. Historians have described those events widely. We ask a different question: what was it like for Fidel and the rebel army during those crucial days approaching victory?

            Fortunately, we can let Fidel tell the story in his own words, thanks to the interviews that French journalist and author Ignacio Ramonet collected in the book “Cien Horas con Fidel”, published in 2006.

            In December of 1958, the minds of the rebel army of fighters against the regime of Fulgencio Batista were not tuned into the Christmas season. There is not a single reference to it by Fidel. On the contrary, they were literally fighting to stay alive while pursued by the “enemy”, as Fidel rightly calls the Batista army.

            It was in preparation of that final push for victory that Fidel, the military tactician, recounts his strategy: “It was strategic [to assign] Raul’s [Castro] column to the Second Front, [Juan] Almeida’s to the Santiago Front, Che’s [Ernesto Guevara] to Las Villas, and Camilo’s [Cienfuegos] initially to Pinar del Rio. […] I remained almost without leaders at the front of Column 1.”

            Fidel had words of recognition for many of his fellow combatants, including Celia Sánchez Manduley and Haydée Santamaría, who in a particular battle “were with me”, Fidel says. In those days approaching the final battle, Fidel knew on whom he could count. His brother Raúl, Fidel notes, “had the ability of developing columns and appoint leaders.”

            He tells us who some of those leaders were. “The first commander we appointed was Che. There were two who were prominent: Che and Camilo.” “Camilo, less intellectual than Che but also very courageous, an outstanding leader, very audacious and very human. The two of them respected and loved each other.”

            When asked specifically about Che, Fidel states: “He was examplary, he had the moral and the ascendance over his troops. I think he was a model of the revolutionary man.”

            That December of 1958, Fidel remembers, “The rebel columns marched ahead in all directions in the whole country; nothing and no one could stop them. In a very short time, we had dominated and surrounded the best of Batista’s forces.”

            A strategic battle was planned for December 30 against a strong Batista army force in Santiago de Cuba. Fidel: “we were planning to carry on an attack with about 1,200 men. They had 5,000. […] According to my calculations, that operation would have taken five days.”

            Even with that level of self-confidence about a certain victory, just days before January 1, Fidel, the diplomat and negotiator, attempted to give an honourable way out to the Batista forces through negotiations requested by an army general in Santiago who was anticipating the final loss. In a meeting with the general, Fidel had only three basic demands: there should be no coup attempt in Havana, Batista should not be helped to flee the country, and there should be no contact with the U.S. embassy.

            None of the agreed conditions were met and Fidel calls it, “a coward treason!” on the part of the general. Then, he meets with about “three hundred officers of the troops defending Santiago de Cuba! ... I explain to them about the treason, they support us, and they side with us.” Still, a trusting Fidel designates one of the officers as head of the army. In the meantime, he has given orders to the rebel troops “to march on and fight”, and he has called on all workers to a “revolutionary general strike.”

            What follows is well known. Fidel: “On January 1st I convey to Camilo and Che the critical instruction: ‘Advance towards Havana ... They do and occupy the two army fortresses of Columbia and La Cabaña in Havana.”

             Fidel himself leaves Santiago with about one thousand soldiers on January 2: “It took me eight days to reach Havana because in each provincial capital I had to stop and participate in massive and exciting activities […] everybody was in a party mood.”

            And so triumphs the Cuban Revolution that we remember 58 years later. To conclude with Fidel’s words: “Three thousand combatants won the war in less than two years. We cannot lose the notion of time.” 

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