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2014 Peoples’ Social Forum comes to Ottawa

2014 Peoples’ Social Forum, Ottawa

A Peoples’ Social Forum (PSF) which has been several years in the planning will occur at the University of Ottawa on August 21-24 and organizers are expecting thousands of people to attend. There will be …

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Canadian CEOs make 171 times the average

It’s time to talk about a maximum wage

Peter Drucker, “limit executive pay,” Photo courtesy Creative Commons

In November 2013, people in Switzerland voted in a referendum on something called the 1:12 Initiative for Fair Pay. Under that proposal no one in a Swiss company would earn more in a single month than someone else in that company earns in an entire year. Corporate spokespersons in Switzerland and some in government warned of dire negative economic consequences if such a proposal were accepted. Although it was defeated by a significant margin, it is significant that the issue was being discussed at all.

It is a debate that we should have in Canada. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives reports that in 2012 Canada’s top 100 CEOs pocketed an average of $7.96 million. That was an income equal to 171 times that of the average Canadian worker, and 194 times that of the average female worker.

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Lac Mégantic rail disaster

Lac-Mégantic, Que. in flames. Sûreté du Québec photo

There is an important public policy backdrop to the disaster that befell the good people in Lac Mégantic, Quebec in July, when a freight train — with five locomotives and 72 tanker cars — jumped the tracks. The crude oil leaked and then exploded, killing at least 47 people, destroying much of the town, and contaminating the soil and a nearby lake.

The core responsibility of government is to protect its citizens from harm when at all possible. The question here is whether Ottawa has met its responsibility to safely regulate railway transportation. I was surprised to learn, for example, that there was but one engineer for the train. That driver had reached the limit of how many hours he could drive on that day and he left the train, unattended, on the tracks uphill from Lac Megantic while he went to a hotel to rest. In his absence, there was no one else attending the train.

Transport Canada allowed Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway Inc. to operate in this way. The company, preposterously, has defended the one-engineer practice, saying that it is safer to have only one driver because that creates fewer distractions. I must say that I have always felt safer in a jetliner with a co-pilot aboard than I would if there were but one pilot.

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Ethical Reflections on the Economic Crisis

Michael McBane & Tony Clarke

On New Year’s Day 1983, Canada’s Catholic bishops released their controversial report, Ethical Reflections on the Economic Crisis. Tony Clarke and Michael McBane worked for Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) at the time and were staff members for the bishops’ Social Affairs Commission. Thirty years later, in April 2013, the two appeared together at a Catholic church in Ottawa to talk about the report and its release in 1983.

“It was a time of high unemployment and deindustrialization,” McBane told an evening audience of 40 people at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. “There was very little sense in the country of the social ramifications of high unemployment. There was a sense of inevitability about it, almost as if it was an acceptable sign of economic progress, but the bishops named it a moral crisis.”

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Elizabeth May, churches and climate change

In October 2011, the leaders of about 30 faith communities met in Ottawa to talk about the urgent need to take a stand on climate change as a moral issue. These deliberations were organized by the Commission on Justice and Peace of the Canadian Council of Churches. The faith leaders crafted and released an interfaith call for action in advance of an international conference in Durban, South Africa. They held a news conference, lobbied politicians on Parliament Hill and created a petition that MPs could table in the House of Commons. Recently about 100 people, including Green party leader Elizabeth May and three other MPs, gathered in a meeting room near the Hill for a panel discussion about whether last October’s interfaith call is having an impact.

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Jim Manly at Northern Gateway pipeline hearings

Jim Manly, Rabble photo

Public hearings are occurring for the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline that would transport crude oil from Alberta’s oil sands to the northern British Columbia port of Kitimat. There the crude would be loaded onto oil tankers plying the B.C. coastal waterway and sent to China.

There are billions of dollars at stake and the Prime Minister, it appears, will not tolerate anything but a swift and affirmative decision for the project. Various government ministers have, in effect, labelled those who raise concerns as “radical environmentalists” and enemies of the state who are financed from abroad. The government signalled in its recent budget that it will have the Canada Revenue Agency crack down on charitable organizations considered to be too political. It is no secret that they are taking aim at environmental groups.

David Suzuki has chosen to step down from the board of the foundation that he created so that he can continue speak his mind – and he hopes that the Suzuki Foundation will not become a target of the government. The government has also promised that it will shorten the time that it takes to hold an environmental hearing. This kind of activity by governments is common in most petro states. The amount of money at stake is astronomical and that usually trumps democratic process or environmental concern.

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Peruvians in Hampstead crash from Comas

Shanty town near Lima, circa 1979

Nine of the ten farm workers killed in a tragic automobile accident near Hampstead, Ontario on February 6 came from Comas, a shantytown on the outskirts of Lima. They, and three others who survived crash, were in Canada as migrant farm workers because there is little chance in Comas of providing the necessities of life for their families. The 38-year-old Canadian driver of the truck that collided with the 15-passenger van carrying the Peruvians was also killed.

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