Ottawa culprit in Copenhagen fiasco

by Barry Weisleder

For the Canadian government, the 12-day Copenhagen climate change summit in December 2009 was a public relations disaster – deservedly so, as the Stephen Harper Tories slavishly followed Washington’s lead, even trying to scupper the weak legacy of the Kyoto Accord.

Environmentalist activists at Copenhagen ‘awarded’ the daily Fossil of the Day to Canada, on its own, or as one of a group of countries, ten times — more than any other state present. Toronto Mayor David Miller, followed by Ontario and Quebec’s representatives, condemned the Harper regime. A leaked cabinet document suggested the emissions from Alberta’s oil sands will rise 165 per cent in the coming years. And an elaborate stunt by social media pranksters exposed Ottawa’s perfidious position to the world media.

Still, Prime Minister Harper maintained that his government’s insistence on ‘realistic targets’ was vindicated by the bargaining process at Copenhagen. The result, of course, was no enforceable agreement on emission reductions, and only offers of inadequate aid to less developed countries, to be meted out via imperialist financial institutions. It’s a case of finding ‘vindication’ in an elite-crafted failure.

Canada is the only country to ignore its international obligations under the previous Kyoto climate treaty. At Copenhagen it blocked all attempts to reach a new treaty to significantly cut carbon emissions.

“Canada is the dinosaur at these talks,” said Canadian David Cadman, president of ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, an international association of local governments that hosted a Mayor’s Conference on climate change.

“They are all about protecting Canada’s fossil fuel sector instead of protecting the interests of the Canadian public,” Cadman told TerraViva.

Canada is “throwing a spanner into the works wherever it can”, agreed Dale Marshall of the David Suzuki Foundation, a Canadian environmental group. “They are even blocking agreement on the use of 1990 as the base year,” Marshall said in an interview.

It’s not hard to understand why. Not only are Canada’s emissions 34 percent higher than the 1990 baseline and rapidly growing, its massive Alberta tar sands production is believed to be the world’s biggest single industrial source of carbon emissions.

The emissions cut offered by Stephen Harper’s government is just three percent under 1990 levels by 2020 – less than the Kyoto obligation of cutting six percent by 2010. Scientists have repeatedly warned that to have any chance of keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius (which is likely insufficient to avoid eco-catastrophe), industrialized countries must cut emissions 25 to 40 percent by 2020 compared to the baseline of 1990.

Canada also lobbied hard alongside the U.S. to abandon the Kyoto Protocol process entirely, to the outrage of developing countries. Ottawa expects them to make significant emissions reduction commitments despite Canada’s unwillingness to live up to its legal obligations from 1997.

The poorer countries, represented in a bloc known as the G77, want the Kyoto deal extended past its 2012 deadline. China, India, Brazil and South Africa called on rich countries to take on targets under an extended Kyoto plan that would cut emissions by 40 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020.

New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton said “despite the support of Canadians for a real plan to cut emissions, Harper has sided with the big polluters”.

He’s right. Unfortunately, Layton’s solution is a ‘carbon trading’ scheme, which British environmentalist author of “Heat”, George Monbiot, says is like the medieval Catholic Church selling indulgences. It might make some people feel better about their sins, but it won’t reduce carbon emissions.

Representatives of Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia hit the mark squarely when they argued at Copenhagen that the real obstacle to the cutting of emissions is the global capitalist system, which profits from the destruction of nature.

Consider the scope and trajectory of the problem. How can a system that has consumed more resources and energy in the last 50 years than all previous civilization be made to stabilize and reduce its rate of resource depletion and pollution emission? How can such a wasteful, poisonous and unequal economic system be compelled to introduce technologies, consumption patterns and radical income redistribution, without which sustainability is only a cruel joke?

The reason there is no capitalist solution to climate change is simple. Capitalism is made up of thousands of corporations, all competing for investment and profits. There is no “social interest” in capitalism – only separate interests. If a company decides to invest in cutting emissions, its profits will go down. Investors will move capital into more profitable investments. The ‘green’ company goes out of business. “Grow or die” is the motto of the private enterprise economy. Capitalist anarchy, its social irrationality, is not accidental. It is not the product of a ‘market failure’. It is the very nature of the beast.

The solution lies in the direction of less, not more reliance on the market. Society needs more social control, more economic democracy. Only public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy makes that possible. The place to start is the energy industry: Nationalize Big Oil. Then make the corporations that produce greenhouse gases pay the full cost of cutting emissions, end all subsidies to fossil fuel producers, and re-direct the billions of dollars now being spent on wars and debt into public transit, into retrofitting homes and offices, and into renewable energy projects.

Changing from fossil fuels to other energy sources will require massive spending, which in the short run will be unprofitable. Carbon emission reductions must be global. Air and water do not respect borders. Change must be all-encompassing. In every economic sector Capital will resist. Only the expropriation of Capital, followed by the institution of democratic economic planning by workers and communities, can overcome the anarchy of production under capitalism.

Revolutionary Cuba has shown that it is possible, even in a poor country suffering under a 50-year embargo by the world’s dominant power, and even after the loss of its major trade partner, to reduce the carbon footprint while defending and raising health and education levels for the population as a whole, and building an egalitarian and highly participatory society.

A century ago the great socialist leader Rosa Luxemburg predicted the future for humanity would be “socialism or barbarism”. In light of the fiasco at Copenhagen, and the deepening crisis of climate change, we are compelled to revise the slogan to read: “Eco-socialism or extinction”.

Political crisis boils over Afghan occupation

by Barry Weisleder

For the second year in a row, the Conservative minority government asked Governor-General Michaelle Jean to prorogue, or suspend, Parliament for the winter months in order to avoid political accountability and a potential loss of office. Shamefully, the G-G agreed. Thus, all Bills in process were abandoned, and a new session will begin with a brand new budget on March 3.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s refusal to release documents that would shed light on Canadian Forces’ handling of Afghan detainees was set to provoke a crisis on January 25, when the House of Commons was to return. On December 10, the Commons ordered the government to produce uncensored documents dealing with detainee transfers. But Harper refused, citing ‘national security’, troop safety, and relations with allies.

Former number two Canadian diplomat in Afghanistan, Richard Colvin, raised concerns in 2006-2007 about prisoners being routinely beaten and tortured by Afghan authorities. So did the Red Cross, Britain, Netherlands, the media and human rights groups. General Walter Natynczyk, Chief of Defence Staff, confirmed that Canadian troops did hand over a detainee in June 2006 to the Afghan police, who promptly beat him, until he was taken back into Canadian custody.

But Ottawa continues to deny that a problem existed. Instead, the Tories attacked Colvin’s credibility, made an issue of the Opposition’s ‘patriotism’, and proceeded to boycott a special sitting of the Parliamentary committee probing detainee abuse.

The question arises: Why are Harper and company being so pig-headed?

The issue goes beyond parliamentary decorum, beyond the centralization of power in the PM’s Office. The treatment of detainees has become a lightening rod for mass popular opposition to the war of occupation in Afghanistan. It highlights the nature of the corrupt regime of war lords and drug barons in Kabul which NATO, including Canada, sustains.

For the Canadian ruling class, the treatment of Afghans is far less important than the economics of energy pipelines and the politics of western domination of the Middle East and South Asia. Tory intransigence in Ottawa is proving to be a costly political impediment to the realization of larger imperialist foreign policy aims. A major section of the Canadian business elite would rather cut their losses in Afghanistan (where the 134th Canadian soldier died on December 23), make a superficial concession to public opinion, and re-deploy troops to another theatre of neo-colonial occupation, like Haiti.

Setting aside all the hypocrisy about ‘the rule of law’, the supremacy of Parliament, and the promotion of ‘democracy’ abroad, the division of the rulers over the war is a good thing — even better if it leads to an early exit from Afghanistan, and an early end to the Harper government. But neither should be taken for granted, as the Tories seem as determined to tough it out, as they are to make working people pay for the economic crisis.

Pension ‘status quo’ is not an option – CLC

by Barry Weisleder

Pension plans and retirement savings have been hit hard by the downturn. The security of many Canadians is at risk. Some companies even want to cut defined benefit plans that employees paid into throughout their working lives. (That’s a big issue in the United Steelworkers’ strike at Vale Inco.) People with Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs) and other private pensions that invested heavily in stock and financial markets have seen their investments lose much of their value. There is an urgent need to expand public pensions and reduce reliance on financial markets for economic security. Public pensions remain secure, but they replace only a modest share of previous work-related earnings.

In fact, 11 million Canadians (one-third of the total population) don’t have a workplace pension. 1.6 million seniors qualify for Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) benefits (and therefore earn less than $11,300 per year). Employers use bankruptcy courts to shirk their pension promises. In the Nortel bankruptcy case, retirees stand to lose a third of their pension incomes. Average fees gouge a third of workers’ RRSP earnings.

Thus, pension reform is in the air. The New Democratic Party is pushing a Canadian Labour Congress plan. The federal Conservative minority government is resisting. The Liberal Opposition, following the lead of British Columbia and Alberta, wants a CPP supplement to which individuals could voluntarily contribute. The banks, fearing that a beefed up CPP will cut into their lucrative RRSP business, are notably hostile to the idea.

The CLC proposal asks the federal government to:

*Phase in a doubling of payouts from the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and the Quebec Pension Plan (QPP). (The average CPP payout is about $600 a month.)

*Immediately increase by 15 per cent Old Age Security (OAS), which is about $500 a month, and the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS), which is about $450 a month for all retirees.

*Create a national pension insurance fund to ensure that workers’ defined benefit pensions aren’t at risk when employers go under or speculative bubbles go bust. (The United States has a pension guarantee fund covering up to about $50,000 of pension income.)

Working people and nature are the source of all the wealth. It is appropriated by Capital. Workers shouldn’t have to beg for crumbs in retirement. In the face of the economic crisis we did not cause, and the bail-out of banks and big businesses we did not approve, our demand is that, in addition to doubling the CPP and QPP, the OAS and GIS be increased sufficiently to ensure that no senior is condemned to subsist below the poverty line (approximately $30,000 a year in large urban centres).

The federal and provincial Finance Ministers met in Whitehorse, Yukon in December, and will meet again in May 2010. Several of them said there’s nothing wrong with the existing pension set up. So, it’s time to start organizing and agitating. They need to hear the CLC’s message amplified many fold: The pension status quo is not an option!

Will Copenhagen Make a Difference?

– Toronto Socialist Action Public Forum Presents –

Will Copenhagen make a difference?

World leaders gather for the climate change conference in Denmark, after ten years of market-based ‘solutions’ set out in Kyoto have failed miserably to effect real reductions in carbon emissions. Will it take a social revolution to make the energy revolution needed to stop our planet from burning?

Judith Deutsch, president of Science for Peace
John Valleau, member, Science for Peace; professor (retired), University of Toronto.

Q & A, and discussion period will follow the presentation.
Friday, December 11 7 p.m.
OISE, 252 Bloor St. West, Room 2-212
(at the St. George Subway Station)

Everyone is welcome. $3 donation is requested.
For more information, visit the SA web site at: or call 416-535-8779

Will OFL Join OPSEU to Fight Ontario Cuts?

When Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan declared October 22 that his Liberal provincial government faces a $24.7 billion deficit this year, it was a signal that a major assault on public service wages and programmes for the poor is in the works.

This is the major challenge facing delegates at the biennial convention of the Ontario Federation of Labour, November 23-27 at the Sheraton Centre in Toronto. Firebrand CUPE Ontario leader Sid Ryan is set to replace retiring OFL President Wayne Samuelson. Many labour activists wonder whether this will mark a shift towards mass action to challenge labour concessions, disappearing pensions and benefits, and rising unemployment (expected to stay above 9 per cent, officially, in Ontario for the next three years).

A Workers’ Agenda is urgently needed to oppose the coming attacks on the Ontario public service, and to support the strike of the Vale Inco workers, now in its fourth month at Sudbury and Port Colborne, Ontario and in Labrador. Required is a programme to reject further labour concessions in the auto sector, to nationalize industry instead of dishing up corporate bail-outs, and to demand steeply progressive taxation of big business and the rich.

A good place to start would be a commitment to mobilize labour’s strength in numbers along side the 115,000 member Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union as it takes on the Liberal McGuinty government’s likely targetting of wages, jobs and vital public services.

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas issued a statement on October 23. Here are some excerpts:

“Finance Minister Dwight Duncan promised a “sweeping review” of government spending. Premier Dalton McGuinty would not rule out unpaid days off for the million Ontarians who earn their bread in the provincial public sector. And the spectre of privatization now looms over every public service worker.

“The Liberals’ plan is to make us pay.

“Dwight Duncan won’t have much luck looking for waste in public services (except, of course, for the hundreds of millions he’s throwing away on private consultants). We already had a “sweeping review” from 1995 to 2003. It was called the Common Sense Revolution (of Tory Premier Mike Harris), and public services still haven’t recovered from the brutal trauma of those years.

“As far as unpaid days off, a lot of us remember (then-NDP Premier) Bob Rae’s “Social Contract” all too well. But much has changed since the Rae days.

“For one thing, the Social Contract would be struck down by the courts today. In 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that (British Columbia) Premier Gordon Campbell was wrong to tear up the collective agreements of health workers in that province. Since then, collective bargaining has been recognized as a protected right under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“McGuinty can’t legislate his way out of this. If he wants to use public employees to buy Ontario out of the recession, his two main options are: a) privatization; and b) mass layoffs.

“Privatization is a stupid idea. It cuts services, it destroys jobs, and it usually comes with major cost overruns. And from a budget standpoint, selling off assets like the (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) LCBO – which right-wingers are already barking for – would kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.

“As for more layoffs, they can only weaken local economies, destroy the services people need, and generate headlines the Liberals really don’t want to see.

“So what’s their plan? My guess is, they think that just the threat of layoffs and privatization will force public employees to agree to the wage cuts or “Dalton Days” he wants.

“How is it fair that a part-time secretary at a community college, who makes maybe $27,000 a year, should be the one paying off the deficit when the Bay Street banker is not?

“Which is more important, providing professional help to a child with a mental illness, or giving income tax breaks to profitable corporations and obscene bonuses to their CEOS?

“Public services aren’t just for public employees. They exist because we all need them. And that’s why saving them is not the responsibility of public employees alone.

“We chose careers in public service not to get rich, but because we care – for people, for families, for communities. It’s time our commitment got the respect it deserves.
“We are already planning a bold strategy to fight the coming attack. It will take courage, commitment, brains, resources, and leadership.

“Working together as we have done so many times before, I know we will do whatever it takes”, Smokey Thomas concluded.

Will the Ontario Federation of Labour “do whatever it takes”? Will OPSEU undertake mass job action, and invite all workers and allies to join the struggle?

Therein hangs a tale. –Barry Weisleder

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