May 9, 2014
Canada's Reputation "Tarnished"
Harper has tarnished Canada's reputation for 'sustainable governance' -- new report
BY KARL NERENBERG | MAY 8, 2014
The Harper government must be getting used to negative report cards from respected international bodies.
The latest comes from the Bertelsmann Foundation, based in Germany.
It says that "a strong case can be made that the quality of governance provided by the government of Canada deteriorated" since Harper got his majority in 2011.
Bertelsmann is especially critical of Canada's environmental performance in the Harper majority era.
Bertelsmann points to the Conservatives' omnibus budget bill of 2012, which gutted federal environmental oversight of major projects while, at the same time, announcing Canada's withdrawal from the Kyoto Accord.
These and other retrograde environmental measures "tarnished the government's reputation for sustainable governance, both domestically and internationally," Bertelsmann says.
All of this and much more comes in the third edition of Bertelsmann's Sustainable Governance Indicators project, which is a cross-national survey of 41 OECD and EU countries.
According to Bertelsmann's Canadian partner, the Ottawa-based Centre for the Study of Living Standards (CSLS), the Indicators project "analyzes each country's future viability based on 140 quantitative and qualitative indicators. It ranks countries in terms of policy performance, quality of democracy and governance."
The 2014 edition of this report finds that Canada has dropped overall since the last one in 2011.
In policy performance, Canada fell from 13th out of 31 countries in 2011 to 18th in 2014. In the category they call quality of democracy, Canada fell from 10th to 13th; while in governance, the fall was only of one place, from 9th to 10th.
That sort of ranking numbers game is probably too-wonky-by-half for most of us who are non-specialists. At this time of year, many Canadians might ask, in the face of such figures: "Yes, but did we still make the playoffs?"
What is more impressive are the clear -- and very damning -- statements Bertelsmann makes about a number of crucial areas of public policy and Canada's performance in them.
To begin, the Foundation makes the overarching observation that, historically, Canada has had what it calls "high quality governance structures."
The term "governance" here refers to the actions of elected political bodies, political parties, the civil service and other public entities (such as the CBC), and the business and voluntary sectors in their relations with government and the public sphere. In other words, this concept of governance is a broad description of how well a country is organized and managed, in all its many dimensions.
In 2014, based on its analysis of those 140 indicators, Bertelsmann says of Canada:
While the government has... implemented effective policies in many areas over many decades, the actions of the Conservative government since winning a majority of the seats in the House of Commons in May 2011 have jeopardized this situation.
Lack of commitment to evidence and economic inequality
The report looks, for a start, at the methods the Conservatives have used to concoct their policies.
"Good governance requires evidence-based decision-making and such decision-making requires high-quality data," the report says.
There are numerous examples in which Canada's government has demonstrated a lack of commitment both to the use of evidence in its decision-making and to the provision of high-quality data. For example, the crime rate has exhibited a strong downward trend in Canada for many years. Yet the government continues to pursue a 'tough on crime' agenda, allocating scarce resources to the issue that many feel could be better deployed elsewhere. Political calculations in this case trump evidence.
While the report generally praises Canada's economic performance and economic governance, on the issue of economic fairness and economic equity, it has this to say:
Canada has seen a substantial rise in income inequality over the past few decades. The share of total income going to the top 1% of earners has increased dramatically since 1980, mirroring trends in the United States and other Western economies.
It then goes on to point to those groups that have least benefitted from economic growth.
[C]ertain groups, such as recent immigrants and Aboriginal Canadians, are to a considerable degree excluded or marginalized from mainstream society. For these groups, social policy has done an inadequate job of preventing social exclusion. For immigrants, social disparities tend to diminish with the second generation. Indeed, second-generation immigrants often outperform the mainstream population on a variety of socioeconomic measures (including education, for example). The same cannot be said of the Aboriginal population, where the young generation often performs significantly worse than the mainstream.
Missing Aboriginal women and access to information
The report also notes that Canada is generally a safe and secure country, without much if any terrorism and relatively little crime.
But there is a big exception, and again it is in Aboriginal Canada. Here is what Bertelsmann says:
"The U.N. Human Rights Council's recent Universal Periodic Review of Canada expressed concerns about violence against Indigenous women and girls and Canada's perceived failure to address the problem."
The report does have a number of good things to say about the practice of democracy in Canada, reserving especially high praise for the way the universal franchise is guaranteed and elections are managed (the report was drafted before the Fair Elections Act). Bertelsmann is, however, highly critical of Canadian performance in one area: access to government information.
Canada was a world leader, in 1983, when federal access to information legislation was passed; but, Berteslmann now says, it has since slipped badly.
"Access is often impeded by bureaucratic procedures and delays," the report notes. "In general, there is reluctance on the part of political and bureaucratic officials to release information that puts the government in a bad light, and the current system of access to information appears to allow such attitudes to influence the release of information."
Bertelsmann quotes a recent study by the Canadian Centre for Law and Democracy and the Madrid-based Access Info Europe, which compares Canada's access to information legislation to that of other countries.
That study concludes that Canada's standing on access policy relative to other countries is in virtual free fall.
In September 2011, Canada ranked 40th of 89 countries. Less than a year later, in June 2012, it fell to 51st.
By September 2012, Canada's access to information performance ranking had fallen to 55th out of 93 countries -- behind Mongolia and Colombia.
Bertelsmann comments that this apparent lack of openness is especially troubling in that it comes from a government that was originally elected on promises of transparency and accountability, in response to its predecessor's sponsorship scandal.
Thumbs up for health, down for the environment
There is one Canadian policy area where the Bertelsmann Foundation is almost effusive in its positive comments: the much-maligned, Canadian 'single-payer' public health insurance system.
"The inclusiveness of the Canadian health system is impressive, with high-quality health care freely provided for virtually the entire population," Bertelsmann reports. "Lack of income is not a barrier to treatment. As there is no private health care system, the rich do not receive superior health care to the poor. One effect of the equity in access to health care services is the small gap in perceived health between the top and bottom income quintiles."
There are, nonetheless, some big gaps in Canadian health coverage, and the report identifies them:
"One access issue is presented by the exclusion from Medicare coverage of dental care, vision care and drugs prescribed for use outside of hospitals, resulting in unequal access across income groups to these types of health-care services."
In any case, the Conservatives can hardly take credit for the positive ranking on health care. They inherited the system, and have not (yet) destroyed it.
At the other end of the scale, the worst policy performance area for the Harper government is so bad that Canada is now ranked "very poor," 38th out of 41 countries, in that area.
You know which area that one is.
Here is a bit more of what Bertelsmann has to say about that particular failing grade for Harper's majority government:
Environmental policy is the area that has most tarnished the Canadian government's reputation for sustainable governance, both domestically and internationally. The 2012 budget implementation bill has been criticized both on procedural and substantive grounds. Many feel it was inappropriate to introduce major changes to environmental legislation in a budget bill where these measures could not be adequately analyzed and debated. The changes themselves were also seen as a step backward from the perspective of environmental protection. The government's skeptical attitude toward global warming and apparent unwillingness to offer an effective strategy for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, as manifested by its repeal of the Kyoto Accord, are seen by many as inconsistent with sustainable governance.
The message to the Harper government is simple: the world is watching you and taking careful note of everything you do.
November 25, 2013
Controversial changes to Fisheries Act guided by industry demands
Nov 15, 2013
I wrote to our MP about Cohen and the lack of response from DFO and this is the answer I got back from MP John Duncan:
October 30, 2013
Regarding your recent correspondence regarding the Cohen Recommendations:
The Government has long recognized the importance of protecting sockeye salmon in the Fraser River. That’s why we convened the Cohen Commission in the first place.
While the Cohen Commission was doing its important work, we put a hold on development in the aquaculture sector in B.C. As recommended by the report, the moratorium for aquaculture development in the Discovery Islands areas will not be lifted for the foreseeable future.
Economic Action Plan 2013 included three major measures that are directly addressing Justice Cohen’s recommendations. First of all, our Government committed $57.5 million over five years that will help bolster our environmental protection in the aquaculture sector through science, enhanced regulatory regime and improved reporting.
It also contained a new program to support recreational fisheries conservation activities through partnerships with community groups.
In addition, we are dedicating all revenue collected from the Salmon Conservation Stamp to the Pacific Salmon Foundation, which will mean approximately $1 million more every year to support the Foundation’s great work.
Justice Cohen provided us with valuable information that informs our day-to-day work of protecting salmon.
Scientific advice provides the basis for governments to make informed decisions when developing policy on aquaculture practices, regulations and environmental performance. Informed by science, both government and industry protect fish and fish habitat through measures such as appropriate siting of aquaculture sites, management of organic waste, control of introductions and transfers of fish, and escape prevention. Consistent with Commissioner Cohen’s recommendations, our Government will continue to support research to help ensure the ecological sustainability of Canada’s aquaculture sector.
In September we signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the BC First Nations Leadership Council. This agreement will formalize the way we work with BC First Nations, as recommended by the Cohen Report.
As part of our historic investments in Canadian Coast Guard’s fleet renewal, we purchased six new vessels to monitor, conduct site inspections, and enforce compliance with the regulations and the Fisheries Act.
The Government will continue to limit salmon farming activities in the Discovery Islands for the foreseeable future. Additional scientific research will be conducted and a new disease risk assessment process will be completed. This action responds to the Commission’s call to address “scientific unknowns” in the Discovery Islands.
The Government is also collecting and testing wild salmon off the coast of British Columbia to determine the status of three salmon diseases: infectious haematopoietic necrosis, infectious pancreatic necrosis and infectious salmon anaemia. Approximately 5,000 wild salmon will be collected annually. Led by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, these surveillance activities are in collaboration with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Province of British Columbia and the aquaculture industry.
John Duncan, P.C., MP
Deadline for new fisheries regulations slips again
Delay hints at an internal battle over wording of new rules
Researcher Tom Reimchen states the trout adipose fin acts as a mechano-sensory organ.
Hatchery salmon disadvantaged by fin clipping: study
A new study suggests that the common practice of clipping the adipose fin of hatchery salmon may be damaging their swimming ability and survival rate. The adipose fin, found on a fish’s back behind its dorsal fin, was until now considered vestigial rather than functional and is typically cut off from millions of hatchery fish for identification purposes when they are caught.
But it turns out the practice is harming fish more than previously thought, according to a study co-authored by University of Victoria biologist Tom Reimchen and published recently in Proceedings of the Royal Society.
The study shows advanced microscopic techniques which reveal that adipose fins in brown trout, which belongs to the salmon family, hold a network of nerves linked with star-shaped cells similar to those in the brain.
“This strongly suggests that the fin acts as a mechano-sensory organ that relays positional information to the fish,” said Reimchen.
He noted that this is particularly vital when the fish is traversing turbulent waters, as the adipose fin plays an important role in the fish’s swimming abilities. In the past, Reimchen had found that removing the small fin forced the fish to use more energy to keep up speed and position, which would likely put the fish at a disadvantage in the ocean, where salmon brave survival challenges ranging from climate change to predators.
The researchers found that the adipose fin acts like a complex feeling device, allowing the fish to detect water flow and make up for it as necessary, reports The Globe and Mail.
“While the removal of the adipose fin may be less damaging than the removal of any other fin, our results suggest that we should be rethinking the removal of a vital sensory device, especially when these fish are already subjected to considerable demographic and environmental stresses,” Reimchen continued.
"The practical issue emerging from our study is: what is the result of the increased loss of their swimming ability and their reduced competitive performance and do they come back at a lower rate than fish with an adipose fin?" he asked, reports The Times Colonist.
The adipose fins serve as markers when the fish is caught. The data is then sent to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) to help it gauge stock assessment and trends in salmon abundance and survival.
Update to educators on April fuel spill into Goldstream River
From Don Lowen (email@example.com) South Vancouver Island Education Coordinator
I have received a number of requests from teachers for information concerning the tragic fuel spill upon the lower reaches of the Goldstream watershed on April 16th. Here are a couple of notes sent to me:
“Just read an article in the paper about the devastating effect of the accident in Goldstream on the fish and am very concerned. I'm sure my students will be too. If you have information I can share with them or any ideas about how we can help, please pass them onto me. Or links, people my class can write to, maybe even fundraising? Our classroom salmon are big and healthy and almost ready to go into the Cowichan River. They seem even more precious than ever. This is not a project just for fun or education. Is there any more we could be doing??? Thanks for listening, I'm sure you are busy but the thought of those beautiful wild fry being killed like that touches my heart with sadness.” (Shauna Curtis, Maple Bay School)
“We are so sad to hear about the tanker crash and subsequent oil spill into the river. What bad news! The students are all very concerned about the salmon and the ecosystem as a whole and they have asked me to ask you if there is anything they can do to help??” (Christine Munro, Maria Montessori School)
For information, please read Peter McCully’s attached detailed update..
Some of you have also asked what you or your class can do to help, and here are some of my thoughts.
- Writing letters to media and politicians will help to keep this disaster on the radar, reminding all that, drunk driver or no, there is no separation in Nature between our ways of living and the health of the planet that sustains us. That truck rolled through the Goldstream watershed that day because there is a demand for its payload. The challenge is not to remove drunk drivers from the road; the challenge is to find ways to reduce or remove the need to transport toxic payloads through any watershed.
- You already understand that a fuel spill affects nature inclusively. No organisms are spared, so let’s remember that this spill also landed on the aspirations of humans who are also part of the Goldstream community – First Nations, volunteer stewards, and children, to name a few. With the support of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Tsawout First Nation has worked closely with Goldstream Hatchery volunteers on past restoration projects, and will do so in the future. Close to 1,400 students were poised to release a total of 11,000 salmon fry from classroom projects into Goldstream River, and many of these projects started with visits to the Nature House on the estuary. These students planned and dreamed all year of the experience of giving life back to the Goldstream. How do you put that into words that government will understand? How do you convince government that the cost of its investment in stewardship through public involvement (Volunteer restoration and education) will never match the cost of mitigation and enforcement? If you can find a way, please let me know.
- It occurs to me that an interesting secondary level research project would be to compare the total cleanup cost of one event - the April 16th spill into the Goldstream - to the annual cost of public involvement programming across the Pacific Region.
Hope this helps, and thanks for all your kind thoughts.
Don Lowen, Managing Director
3731 Winston Crescent
Victoria, BC V8X 1S2
Phone (250) 388-4756
Cel (250) 213-8582
Director General of DFO Science for the Pacific region was put on the stand at the Cohen Commission to answer questions
On March 17 the Director General of DFO Science for the Pacific region was put on the stand at the Cohen Commission to answer questions about a Ministerial memo regarding a virus that may be killing large numbers of Fraser sockeye. The transcripts will eventually be available from the Cohen Commission website, but in the meantime here are my notes. http://alexandramorton.typepad.com/
It was a disheartening display of avoidance behavior following in the footsteps that brought us the east coast cod collapse.
I am deeply grateful to Greg McDade and Lisa Glowacki, the lawyers that represent me at the Commission. I am also thankful to First Nations lawyer, Brenda Gaertner who brought a powerful sense of outrage that DFO has not informed First Nations on this potentially very serious virus.
We have a long way to go, but these lawyers were a storm over passive waters.
From humble beginnings when the Steelhead Society of BC (Comox Valley Branch) under the direction of Father Charles Brandt wondered why the Tsolum River was not rebounding after the devastation of the clear cut logging from the turn of the century to the 1950's. The Tsolum River Restoration Society now boasts the completion of a complete covering of the minesite that was discovered as the cause.
It is agreed that historical logging (that left no tree standing on the southern slopes of Mt. Washington and all along the Tsolum River) destroyed so much habitat for salmon that historical levels of production were decimated! It is also agreed that after great efforts on the part of the community and DFO stocks still did not rebound.
It was not until 1985 that the toxic runoff created by a short-lived copper mine (1964 - 1967) was discovered.
As we now approach the end of this toxiciity we can see our way to restoring this once incredibly productive watershed.
We invite you to share with us this journey of ecological restoration in action as we tackle the next most serious problems and struggle with human use of the land in order to ensure long-term protection for the essential ecological features.
We see a day when we will again have a sports fishery in the river bringing tourists from all over the world to "play" with a huge steelhead or cutty. We also see the day where the Tsolum River will again take its rightful place in the production of chum, pink and coho salmon to support a commercial fishery. But more than anything else we see a wonderful community amenity providing an experince with nature with a functioning ecosystem, the miracle of spawning salmon and a balanced and healthy place for animals and humans.
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