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Ed Finn

Ed Finn has 41 articles published.

Global warming and corporate greed combine to destroy forests with fire and felling

in Featured/Opinion/The Nonagenarian’s Notebook by

The razing of millions of acres of forests by wildfires has been increasing in scale and intensity for the past few decades. This year has set new records for the number of trees and shrubs destroyed by fire—not just in the United States and Canada, but also in many other countries, including England, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Sweden, Latvia, and North Korea. Wildfires, of course, have been a yearly occurrence in the summer months for centuries. Triggered mainly by lightning, they were Mother Nature’s way of disposing of dead timber and providing fertile ground for new plant growth. That is still an important natural process, although many conflagrations today are unnaturally caused by human carelessness, such as poorly tended campfires and flipped-away cigarette butts. Far more devastating for the world’s forests today, however, are the effects of global warming, mostly caused by the greenhouse gas emissions that emanate from the burning…

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Will the latest report on Canada’s shoddy childcare help to reduce government neglect?

in Featured/Opinion/The Nonagenarian’s Notebook by

A recent report on Canada’s abysmal failure to protect and care for the country’s youngest and most vulnerable citizens—its children—made headlines and stirred ripples of shame and outrage. Compiled by Children First Canada and the O’Brien Institute for Public Health, the study found that children in Canada suffer from shockingly high rates of poverty, obesity, infant mortality, abuse, suicide, and declining mental health. Calling these grim statistics “deeply disturbing,” Sara Austin, director of Children First, pointed out that “Canada ranks as the fifth-most prosperous nation in the world, but there’s a big disconnect between the well-being of our country and the well-being of our children. All levels of government need to do more to ensure that children benefit from Canada’s overall wealth.” This plea for decent high-quality child care in Canada is only the latest in a long list of such supplications. It is only the latest such report detailing…

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Trade unions get scant coverage in modern mainstream media

in Opinion/The Nonagenarian’s Notebook by

Back in the 1960s, 1970s, and into the ‘80s, almost all of the large newspapers in Canada had a reporter who specialized in labour-management relations. Wilf List covered labour for The Globe and Mail for an amazing 35 years. I wrote a labour relations column for the Toronto Star for 15 years (1968-1982), and the editorial staff of several other papers at the time also included labour columnists as well as labour reporters. Conventions of the largest labour unions and the Canadian Labour Congress attracted dozens of reporters. The names of union presidents were almost as well known as those of prominent politicians and corporate executives. Once a year, in my Star column, I listed, in order, the ten labour leaders I considered the country’s most influential, without having to identify them with much more than their names. Today, not a single daily newspaper employs a labour columnist, much less…

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Science fiction helps us understand the future as well as past and present

in About Books/The Nonagenarian’s Notebook by

When I started reading science fiction, in my teens, it was widely regarded as a disreputable form of literature. This was not surprising, since at that time—the early 1940s—sci-fi was confined to pulp magazines with lurid covers, often depicting scantily-clad heroines shooting ray-guns at BEMS (bug-eyed monsters). Living in Newfoundland at the time, while it was still a British colony, I had to order sci-fi periodicals from the United States. They had to be cleared by customs officers, who also doubled as the colony’s censors. The censor who examined the magazines mailed to me from New York was Mr. Howell, who happened to be our nearby neighbour. Shocked by the trashy cover art, he spent an hour or more leafing page by page through Amazing Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories, and Weird Tales, searching for evidence of pornography or obscenity, all the while shooting suspicious glances at me. Fortunately, the stories…

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There’s no excuse for government refusal to help kids in millions of poverty-stricken families

in Opinion/The Nonagenarian’s Notebook/Uncategorized by

“Where’s the money coming from?” That’s the question thrown at any individual or group seeking increased funding for health care, education, child care, or public pensions – and, most urgently, for the elimination or at least sharp reduction of the disgracefully high rates of poverty in Canada. The presumption underlying this question is that the federal government is short of cash because the Canadian economy is unable to generate enough tax revenue to support an improved social security system. The facts and figures disprove this fallacious supposition. Canada’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2016, as calculated on a per capita basis by the CIA World Factbook, was $46,200 in U.S. currency for every man, woman and child in the country. That’s about the same as Denmark’s, but higher than the per capita GDP of the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Finland, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Russia, Japan, and many other countries. Significantly…

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People may be living longer, but they suffer from lack of a genuine health care system

in Opinion/The Nonagenarian’s Notebook by

Canadians are living longer, with current life expectancy now averaging 81. Statistics Canada reports that last year 750,000 Canadians were in their 80s and 305,000 in their 90s, with women significantly outnumbering men in both categories. (Of the 305,000 nonagenarians, more than 200,000 are female.) But StatsCan can’t measure the well-being of these senior citizens. One of its recent studies found that the health of most Canadians starts to deteriorate at the age of 69, but the extent and cause of that decline varies considerably at the individual level and is not measureable. Obviously, it depends on the different internal and external determinants of health that affect each of us, and whether we can exert any control over them. People who choose a self-indulgent and dissolute lifestyle can shorten their life-spans to 70 or much sooner. But even when we eat nutritious food, exercise, and do our best to nurture…

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Alleviating child poverty would save much more money than it would cost

in Featured/Indy Essay by

Oh God! That bread should be so dear, And flesh and blood so cheap! –Thomas Hood, “The Song of the Shirt.” Canadians are fortunate to live in one of the world’s better countries, but we delude ourselves when we claim to be living in the best—or even one of the best. Not when more than a million Canadian children—15.1 percent or one in seven of them—are living in poverty, many thousands bereft of adequate nutrition and health care. Not when the OECD ranks Canada 15th—third last—among the 17 leading industrialized countries in the extent of its child poverty. (The OECD gives Canada a C grade, not much lower than the D grade given the last nation on the list, the United States.) Not when children in millions of Canadian households are living in sub-standard, crowded, poorly furnished housing conditions. Not when 21 percent of single Canadian mothers have to raise…

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Bypassing Dystopia could free Canada from the clutches of neoliberalism

in About Books by

The people in Canada who are intelligent, open-minded, and not ideologically conservative would probably number at least a million. But if only one in twenty of them—50,000—were to read Joyce Nelson’s latest book—Bypassing Dystopia: Hope-filled Challenges to Corporate Rule—the outcome could be a grassroots uprising that would free Canada from the corrosive clutches of neoliberalism. Canada would become the idyllic country of economic, social, and environmental well-being that our corporate and political leaders hypocritically boast it already is. For anyone who hasn’t read this book and doesn’t intend to do so, my prediction of its revolutionary effects may seem impossibly grandiose. Most of those who do read it, however, will almost certainly share my enthusiasm. Its stunning exposure of how neoliberalism has worsened poverty and inequality, while supplanting democracy with plutocracy, will both infuriate and motivate readers not yet aware of these and many other “free market” iniquities. A brief…

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Why is the United States always fighting a war somewhere?

in Opinion/The Nonagenarian’s Notebook by

Why is the United States always fighting a war somewhere? Could it be because war is profitable? Harper’s magazine, in its June issue, reports on a panel of former soldiers that it convened at the U.S. Military Academy at Westpoint, New York. They were all veterans of wars waged by the U.S. over the past 30 years, mainly in Iraq and Afghanistan, or stationed in some of the nearly 800 military bases the U.S. maintains in more than 70 countries and territories around the world. These veterans were asked to explain why their country has been engaged in so many armed conflicts, and why, in none of them since World War II, has the outcome resulted in a decisive victory. And this despite the U.S. having the world’s best-trained and best-equipped armed forces. The war in Afghanistan has now dragged on for 17 years, under Presidents George Bush, Bill Clinton,…

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Why is Canada far behind other countries in switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources?

in Opinion/The Nonagenarian’s Notebook by

It is depressingly ironic that, while many other countries are steadily switching from fossil fuels to clean and renewable sources of energy, Canada’s federal and provincial governments squabble over building yet another pipeline to British Columbia—one that, with the existing Trans-Mountain pipeline, would nearly triple the delivery capacity from 300,000 barrels of oil a day to 890,000. And the planned new Kinder Morgan pipeline would carry the thickest and dirtiest oil of all: bitumen. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau blithely claims that this massive increase in the extraction of oil from the tar sands is not incompatible with saving the environment from global warming. He proudly points to his government’s carbon pricing policy as evidence of a commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. He projects emissions will fall by 90 megatonnes by 2022, conveniently not mentioning that this reduction, even if achieved, will still be inadequate. It will fall far below…

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What’s behind the Canadian pension crisis?

in Opinion/The Nonagenarian’s Notebook by

Most Canadians today are not financially prepared for retirement. According to recent polls, over two-thirds of us (68 percent) don’t have a retirement plan, 30 percent have paltry or no savings, and 62 percent end up retiring earlier than they expected or wanted. The Broadbent Institute, in a recent study, found that half of Canadian couples between 55 and 64 have no employer-provided pensions. Fewer than 20 percent of middle-income families have saved enough to adequately supplement the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and Old Age Security (OAS). “The vast majority of Canadians without a private pension have totally inadequate retirement savings,” says the Institute’s executive director, Rick Smith. “We have a retirement crisis that requires urgent and immediate government action.” This action would ideally involve a substantial increase in the Canada Pension Plan. At present, the CPP pays a maximum of $12,780 a year, but many retirees don’t qualify for…

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Communication is complicated

in Columns/Opinion/The Nonagenarian’s Notebook by

“But far more numerous was the herd of such Who think too little, and who talk too much.” –John Dryden. During the early 1960s, I was assistant editor of The Newfoundland Examiner, a weekly tabloid published in St. John’s. It was a journal launched to provide progressive news and views that were not likely to be found in the province’s conservative media. Our sole reporter was Malcolm (“Mac”) Maclaren, who had earlier emigrated to Newfoundland from England. He and I were boarders in a lodge owned by Mrs. Penny (not her real name), and she became a good friend as well as a good host. One evening, however, her friendship with Mac was sorely tested. She had a dentist’s appointment at 8 o’clock the next morning, but her alarm clock was broken, so she was worried about getting there on time. “Oh, that’s all right, Mrs. Penny,” Mac assured her.…

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The myth of Canadian progress

in Letters/Opinion by

In the current squabble over improving drug coverage and child care in this country, it’s crucial that the social programs provided in Canada be compared with the far superior benefits that are provided citizens of most European countries. Apart from the United States, Canada is the only advanced nation that confines its public health care to the services of physicians and hospitals. In Europe, coverage is universal and comprehensive, incorporating dental and vision care as well as pharmaceuticals. The latest OECD report on the social spending of its 34 member states ranks Canada 24th for its relatively low 17.2 percent of GDP expended on social programs. Most of the countries that surpass Canada have social spending rates higher than 24 percent of GDP, and several, including France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Ireland, and the three Scandinavian countries, have rates that exceed 28 percent. Incredibly, even the United States ranks above Canada…

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Scorpions, icebergs and cancer cells

in Opinion/The Nonagenarian’s Notebook by

Feedback from readers of my earlier essay “Who benefits from government policies?” was mostly positive, but a few thought I had taken a view of the future so dire that it implied capitulation—that further “resistance is futile.” Let me clarify my thinking, at least to the extent of assuring readers that I have not lost hope. Although I see unchecked capitalism as inimical to life on Earth—as the deadliest enemy of all that is fair, progressive and wholesome—I believe it can be vanquished and replaced. Eventually. And before its demolition of the environment passes the point of no return. I am reserving my rationale for optimism until the very end of this perhaps overly protracted blog. I think it will be helpful first to consider how and why capitalism has become the world’s predominant economic system. This does not necessitate a tedious academic treatise, but can best be done by…

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Who benefits from government policies? Usually just the rich and powerful.

in Opinion/The Nonagenarian’s Notebook by

“When it can be said in any country in the world, “My poor are happy; neither ignorance nor stress is to be found among them; my jails are empty of prisoners, my streets of beggars; the aged are not in want; the taxes are not oppressive . . . When these things can be said, then may that country boast of its constitution and its government.” –Thomas Paine. Lucius Cassius, a consul whom the people of ancient Rome revered as a wise and honourable judge, was often required to adjudicate disputes involving the laws or policies of the Senate. Time and again, his first question was “Cui bono?” which can be translated as “Who benefits?” or “To whose benefit?” His reasoning was that no political action could be explained unless it was first ascertained who gained from it. The even more illustrious Roman orator and statesman Cicero often quoted this…

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Fatal truck crashes are a serious problem in Canada, fuelled by government inaction

in Opinion/The Nonagenarian’s Notebook by

The reason there were fewer wrecks in the old horse-and-buggy days is because the driver didn’t have to depend entirely on his own intelligence. – Anonymous. For the past several years, on a part-time basis, I’ve been assisting the non-profit Canadian Owner-Operators’ Cooperative (COOC) in its efforts to lower its trucking members’ operating costs. These mainly include the costs of insurance, fuel, tires, and maintenance. But a much more crucial campaign the COOC has undertaken has been to improve driving safety and decrease the involvement of heavy trucks in highway crashes. Nearly 2,000 Canadians are killed each year and another 10,000 seriously injured in collisions involving a heavy truck (one with a gross vehicle weight greater than 12,000 pounds). Even on a per-distance-travelled basis, large trucks have a fatality rate double the rate for all other vehicles. The tendency, unfortunately, is for most people to blame the truck drivers, rather…

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Will all Canadians enjoy prescription drug coverage soon?

in Columns/The Nonagenarian’s Notebook by

The federal New Democratic Party has called for Canada’s public health care plan to be expanded to cover the cost of pharmaceutical drugs. If the ruling Liberal government doesn’t provide this extended coverage, the NDP promises to do so if it wins the next election in 2019. While I applaud this NDP initiative, I have to add that it’s jolly well about time. The party should have made the expansion of medicare a top priority a long time ago. And not just to cover pharmacare, but to encompass dental, vision, and other vital health needs as well. Apart from the United States, that’s what all other major countries did when they first inaugurated public health care for their citizens. When Tommy Douglas pioneered public health care in Saskatchewan 56 years ago, he limited it to the services of physicians and hospitals. He would have preferred to make the coverage all-inclusive,…

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Tax evasion is costing our government billions

in Columns/Featured by

“In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.” –Benjamin Franklin. “In this world death is certain for everyone, but taxation is far from certain for those allowed to avoid it.” –Ed Finn. I recently received an unexpected letter from the Canada Revenue Agency. I always pay my income tax on time, but I still felt some trepidation. When my wife returned from the mail box and gave it to me, she said the expression on my face was akin to that of someone handed a ticking time bomb. My foreboding turned out to be unfounded. The four-page letter consisted of a detailed analysis of my 2016 tax return, with tables and graphs and a form to fill out and send back to the CRA. I could have trimmed the bureaucratic jargon to a single sentence: “We have reviewed your last tax payment and found that you owe the…

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Do governments neglect social spending for corporate subsidies?

in Columns/Featured/Opinion/The Nonagenarian’s Notebook by

Governments exist to protect the rights of minorities. The rich need no protection. — Wendell Phillips. When it comes to listing countries on the basis of the social services they provide to their citizens compared to the subsidies they heap on their corporations, Canada doesn’t fare well. A recent study from the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy reports that our federal government and the four largest provinces spend $29 billion a year subsidizing business firms. The study’s author, John Lester, says that half of these huge subsidies fail to improve economic performance and therefore constitute a colossal waste of government revenue. “And because nearly one-third of all such subsidies just go generally to support specific industries or regions rather than to enhance economic development,” he added, “the proportion of questionable spending rises to 60% of the total.” Of the $29 billion in government handouts that corporations receive annually,…

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Don’t dread old age

in Columns/The Nonagenarian’s Notebook by

Old age need not be dreaded if it is the culmination of a well-spent life

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