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The Nonagenarian’s Notebook

The Nonagenarian’s Notebook

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

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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

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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

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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

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“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

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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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Why is the United States always fighting a war somewhere?

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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?

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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?

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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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The Capitalist God’s Ten Commandments

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The first version of this satiric parody was written nearly two decades ago by Brian Arden, while he was a member of the board of the Manitoba office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. 2018 revisions and updates by Ed Finn. 1. Thou shalt honour Me as your one true God and have faith in my religion of neoliberalism, globalization, free trade, and private ownership. 2. Thou shalt accept the impoverishment of the many and the enrichment of the few, for in my religion avarice is to be valued over social and economic equity, and competition over co-operation. 3. Thou shalt not oppose the decline of democracy. I will permit you the illusion of democracy. You may still vote for and elect parties that purport to be different, but since they now all bow down to Me, it matters not which forms the government. 4. Thy governments shalt provide…

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Communication is complicated

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“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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Scorpions, icebergs and cancer cells

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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.

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“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

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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?

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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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Do governments neglect social spending for corporate subsidies?

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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

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

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What makes a country happy?

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The happiest countries in the world are not necessarily the richest, but those with truly democratic governments

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Hiding wealth in tax havens deprives Canadian governments of massive amounts of tax revenue

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Letting Canadians get away with tax evasion hurts us all

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It’s time to end NAFTA

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A renegotiated NAFTA that satisfies Trump would benefit the U.S. — but only its abrogation would benefit most Canadians.

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