Archive for December 2013

Canada – the politics of inequality

Canada means “village”. That is to say, we are all neighbours who are aware of each other, and care for each other. There is sufficient prosperity in our nation to enable everyone to live a full and rewarding life.

The Broadbent Institute reports that, “Apart from scandal, Parliament didn’t produce much in the just completed fall session – a grand total of three bills. But there was one ray of light, a Finance Committee report last week on one of our most serious problems, the growth of income inequality.

The report lays out the evidence of the growth in economic inequality in Canada, confirming the sustained rise of the income share of the top 1 per cent, and describes some of the key underlying causes, including changes in the labour market. But most experts cited seemed to agree that government policies have also worked to exacerbate the problem. “

See more at:


Posted December 30, 2013 by allanbaker in Canadian society, Politics

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The Religion of Growth

IMG_1384Sunday December 29, 2013


By Jim Taylor

Two pipeline debates wrack North America these days. Both start in what Alberta euphemistically calls its “oil sands.”

One projected pipeline heads south, to refineries on Texas’ Gulf Coast — the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. The other, the Northern Gateway pipeline, heads west to the Pacific Ocean and the burgeoning Asian markets.
I had a premonition that the Joint Review Panel studying the Northern Gateway line would came out in favour of it. On December 19, they did.
According to the David Suzuki Foundation, 1159 people spoke to the panel against the pipeline, including the representatives for 130 First Nations. Only two spoke for it.

The sheer volume of public opinion might suggest that the pipeline’s opponents should win. But in cases like this, majorities do not necessarily rule.
Because the two who supported the pipeline had powerful allies — money and mindset.
They had the entire oil industry behind them. That’s about 25 per cent of the value of the Toronto Stock Exchange, and almost ten per cent of Canada’s gross domestic product.
Back in the 1970s, when Pierre Trudeau tried to impose his National Energy Plan on the oil producing provinces in western Canada, bumper stickers in Alberta read, “Let the eastern bastards freeze in the dark.”
The threat of the slogan is lessened now that provinces east of Ontario’s financial towers also produce oil. But the implied threat is still there. If Canada’s oil companies ever locked out consumers as a bargaining tactic, more than just “eastern bastards” would be freezing. And not driving. And doing without plastics of all kinds.
The Joint Review Panel found that “opening Pacific Basin markets is important to the Canadian economy and society.” Also that “the project would bring significant local, regional, and national economic and social benefits.”
Money talks.

Even more significantly, the two in favour of the Northern Gateway pipeline had on their side a prevailing mindset — the gospel of growth, growth, growth.
Its defenders cite economics — you must have growth to provide jobs.
Or demographics — you need a growing economy to provide continuing income for the people who are already there and retiring.
Or biology — any organism that stops growing is beginning to die.
Or even theology — the biblical mandate that God made the earth for humans to have dominion over it.
Against that mindset, it’s heresy, anathema, blasphemy, to argue that half of the province of B.C. should be preserved as is.
For four years, I covered news for the sweep of Highway 16 across northern B.C. And for one glorious summer, I worked in the woods that the pipeline will pass through on its way to Kitimat. It is a spectacularly beautiful region, barely damaged by the urban obsession with parking lots, freeways, and big box stores.
I don’t want to lose it. I don’t want my grandchildren to have to experience nature in a make-believe Disney theme park. Neither do the 1159 people who spoke against the pipeline.
They weren’t completely ignored. The review panel issued 209 recommendations to address their concerns.
But the panel also found that “after mitigation, the likelihood of significant adverse environmental effects resulting from project malfunctions or accidents is very low…. After weighing all of the oral and written evidence, the Panel found that Canada and Canadians would be better off with the Enbridge Northern Gateway project than without it.”

Still, I guess that few of the pipeline’s opponents would want to freeze the clock where it is, let alone turn it backward. I doubt if they’re satisfied with the present quality of education for their children, medical care in their hospitals and medical clinics, and availability of road, air, and rail travel to larger centres outside the north.
In that sense, they too believe in growth — but at their pace, their timing. Not sudden massive growth where a single accident could destroy much of what they value about living in the north.
The pipeline itself may be the least of their worries. Pipelines can be monitored. Spills can be contained.
Tankers, that’s another matter. A tanker that runs aground, the way that B.C. Ferries flagship Queen of the North did, because of a short lapse of attention, despite all navigational aids, could have massive consequences.
And there will be an accident. I don’t know when. It may be decades away. But there will be an accident, eventually. The owners of the pipeline, the owners of the ships, will cut a dollar here and a dollar there to reduce costs. Safety will take second place to profit. Maintenance will become a chore rather than a commitment.
Now it’s up to the federal government to approve or reject the pipeline.
Given Stephen Harper’s support for private industry, his conservative economic leanings, his conviction that resources exist to be exploited, I don’t see him rejecting a development that could produce hundreds of jobs and billions of dollars of revenue.

As I expected, Northern Gateway will go ahead.
Copyright © 2013 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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An antidote for a capitalist, consumer Christmas

An antidote for a capitalist, consumer Christmas

IMG_0159This morning I encountered an antidote for the capitalist, consumer Christmas that many of us have been suffering through. In our United Church of Canada hymn book, called Voices United, is the following prayer:

God of stable, stars and surprises,

of light and hope and new life:

open our eyes and hearts to your presence in our world;

forgive our obsession with property and possessions;

forgive our compromises and narrowness of vision.

Open us to your grace,

that we might hear again the song of the angels,

and respond with a song in our hearts,

and in our lives. Amen.

Posted December 29, 2013 by allanbaker in Christian Faith

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Jim Wallis writes about Pope Francis

Jim Wallis of the Sojourners community in Washington, D.C. has written a commentary about Pope Francis. Part of that commentary is:

The remarkable acts of kindness and grace we see with Pope Francis are the natural response from a disciple who has known the kindness and grace of Christ in his own life. The pope’s moments of Christ-like compassion and love point not to “a great man,” but rather point to Jesus. He is not asking us to follow him, but inviting us to follow Christ.

Pope Francis in March 2013.jpg

Pope Francis in March 2013 – Wikipedia

The whole column by Jim Wallis is available at:

UN Climate Talks Move Backwards

UN Climate Talks Move Backwards: Developed States Refuse Meaningful Action

COP 19 protestors

Youth attending the Warsaw Conference staged protests
singling out Canada and Australia.

The 19th UN Climate Change Conference in Warsaw in November opened in the wake of  super typhoon Haiyan with Yeb Saño’s moving speech pledging to fast “until a meaningful outcome is in sight”. The conference was a dramatic spectacle of confrontations between industrial greenhouse gas contributing countries and low-income countries most affected by those emissions, highlighted by the walk-out of 130 low income countries whose joint statement described it as “a conference focused on profits at the expense of Mother Earth.”

As KAIROS partner Tetet Nera-Lauron from IBON in the Philippines stated, “The diluted language of the conference outcome presents a growing problem for poor countries that are most vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change. It allows further leeway for developed nations to backtrack on their commitments and effectively weakens the position of developing countries that struggle every year from the damages of climate catastrophes.

KAIROS’ Ecological Economy Program Coordinator John Dillon reviews the unfortunate outcome of this conference in this article.

Christmastide blessings from KAIROS

IMG_0027” I have trouble some days believing peace is possible.  In our work in the Democratic Republic of Congo or in Israel-Palestine, confidence in transformation can be easily tested.

But we work with the people who don’t give up, who can’t give up, who take the prophetic message to heart, who believe that peace, that well being is possible, and work hard, and at great risk to make it so.

Those are the words of Jennifer Henry of KAIROS Canada. Her full message of hope can be found at:

“Free thinking” in democracies

 In this column Jim Taylor argues that:

“National security and personal security are closely linked. A nation cannot be secure if it systematically undermines the security of its citizens. Citizens are not just a nation’s means to an end; they are the nation.”


By Jim Taylor – Sunday December 15, 2013

Let’s take a purely hypothetical case. Suppose I hid in the bushes outside a neighbour’s house, hoping to catch a glimpse of her disrobing in her bedroom.
I’d be what’s commonly called a “peeping Tom.” I could be, and probably should be, arrested, convicted, and punished.
Under the law, it makes no difference whether I do my spying from the bushes directly outside her bedroom, or set up a powerful telescope several kilometres away. I don’t even have to be there. I’m just as guilty if I set up a hidden camera to take pictures that I can drool over later.
So why is it apparently legal for the state to do the same kind of surreptitious snooping?
IMG_0922Thanks to defector Edward Snowden, we know now that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) has been tapping the private communications of not only its own citizens, but those of other countries as well.
And a CBC investigation found documents proving that Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) has actively collaborated with the NSA. During the 2010 G-20 economic summit in Toronto, the two agencies worked together to intercept the communications of visiting diplomats. In about 20 countries where Canada is more welcome than the U.S., CSEC even did NSA’s dirty work — peering into the lives of individuals and corporations.

Voyeurism is considered a psychological disorder — mainly male, although not always — where the victim is usually unaware of being observed.
In the U.S., the laws against voyeurism (quoting Wikipedia) specifically refer to “surreptitious surveillance without consent, and unlawful recordings… involving places and times when a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy…”
Voyeurism sounds to me like a perfect description of NSA’s activities.
Pierre Trudeau once declared, “The state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation.”
But does the state have any business peeping into the minds of the nation? The NSA/CSEC’s voyeurism does not seek sexual titillation. Does that make it acceptable?
I suggest that a woman’s thoughts have as much right to privacy as her body. Ditto for men. Electronic surveillance is utterly egalitarian; it ignores gender. And every other distinction, too.
The systems that NSA and CSEC use to gather information act like the gigantic trawl nets used by some fishing nations to scoop up everything in the sea, whether it’s valuable or not, for later sorting and discarding. We condemn indiscriminate harvesting that destroys dolphins and tuna while attempting to gather scallops; we should be equally outraged at indiscriminate electronic harvesting.

National security and personal security are closely linked. A nation cannot be secure if it systematically undermines the security of its citizens. Citizens are not just a nation’s means to an end; they are the nation.
Security comes from the unity of a shared vision, a common purpose. It does not come from lurking in the bushes, hoping to catch an indiscretion.
In previous columns, I have argued that in today’s world, there is no such thing as privacy anymore. (Especially if you’re the mayor of Toronto.) Surveillance cameras monitor your car in traffic. Closed circuit video records your passage in shopping malls and corporate offices. Airport security scanners examine you inside and out. Cell phones capture your actions when you least expect it.
But how much of yourself you choose to expose is still a matter of choice. You don’t have to strip naked in front of a shopping mall cameras. You don’t have to bare your political ideology before you go into a bank.
CSEC and NSA strip away that element of choice.
It’s like a priest broadcasting your words from the confessional. Or a lawyer entering your privileged discussions as evidence against you.

But this is not just about privacy. It’s about intrusion. What the spy agencies are doing is akin to a home invasion. It might even be considered intellectual rape. It’s about busting into “places and times when a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy.”
It seems to me that the NSA and CSEC may still believe in the divine right of kings. Once upon a time it was taken for granted that monarchs had absolute authority over their subjects. They could make laws, or break them. They could raise taxes, launch wars, seize property, and execute opponents, at their sole discretion.
When a woman married, the king or lord often had first rights to bed her.
Few would endorse such practices today. But the state still presumes it has a divine right to insert itself into its subjects’ private lives.
As I write this, I hear that the Harper government in Ottawa has embedded new rules about snooping into an omnibus bill supposedly intended to protect young people from cyber-bullying. But only four of the bill’s 70 pages deal with that subject. All the rest make it easier for the peeping Toms in government agencies to snoop on private conversations and e-mails.
I object.
Copyright © 2013 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.
Please encourage your friends to subscribe to these columns too.
To send comments, to subscribe, or to unsubscribe, write

Peace – Advent 2

IMG_0940“Inner peace will always be compromised until we recognize and affirm that we cannot be ruled by our fears but only by our hopes.”

Peter Gomes in: “The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus”, page 101


Good news in Canada

The Rob Ford meltdown in Toronto is hard not to watch. Every day, there’s a fresh outburst followed by another apology.

Most recently, it revolved around lewd comments made by Ford after the release of a new batch of court records. They relate to a drug case in which the Toronto mayor is entangled.

Need a break from the spectacle?

Here’s some good work coming from towns and cities across the country. These municipal initiatives just can’t grab the headlines like Ford can; winning a sustainable-development award from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) just can’t compete.

So here are some of the FCM’s 2013 winning projects:

  • The City of Kingston in Ontario planted hybrid poplars in a former landfill site to reduce leachate seepage into a river.

  • The City of Summerside (PEI) set up a 12-megawatt wind farm.

  • The City of Red Deer in Alberta is pilot-testing a 20-kilometre network of bike lanes on city streets.

  • The City of Yorkton in Sasktachewan built an advanced water filtration plan that incorporates an innovative system to treat backwash.

  • The City of Waterloo in Ontario developed a new sports facility with a rainwater system that uses runoff from two playing fields with artificial turf to irrigate four fields with natural turf.

And even the City of Toronto is managing to get good work done amid the chaos.

On Thursday night, council endorsed the FCM’s efforts to work with the federal government to ensure federally-funded social housing programs are maintained and expiring funding from existing agreements is reinvested into social housing.

The City of Vancouver is also doing its part these days. The city launched the world’s first cigarette recycling program this week in partnership with a recycling company, so smokers can butt out in receptables instead of on the ground.

Take that, Rob Ford.

Photo: photopia. Used under a Creative Commons BY 2.0 licence.

 This originally appeared at:

Posted December 7, 2013 by allanbaker in Politics

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Nelson Mandela – Madiba

Re-posting an inspiring note about Madiba, written by a South African named Lushendrie, and featuring people from all around God’s world:

Dear friends,

The last great leader of the 20th century — and an inspiration for this new millennium — died here in South Africa yesterday.

Nelson Mandela touched all of us with his courage, his unyielding resistance, and his grace. He knew how to fight, and he knew when to make peace.

Inspired by Mandela’s vision, climate activists made a video last June during the Global Power Shift convergence coordinated by our crew. Please do watch and share the video:

As a South African, I am filled with an overwhelming appreciation for a man that gave the world so much — freedom, love, compassion, empathy, graciousness and of course, himself. Along the way, Mandela and his colleagues helped pioneer the divestment tactic that many climate campaigners are now emulating. I think the tribute he would like the most is the knowledge that people the world over are carrying on his work.

Mandela’s selfless determination is an inspiration to all of us, and we will keep his memory close to our hearts on the road ahead.


Lushendrie for the whole team