What makes jobs in BC?

NOT THE OIL SECTOR.

From a great group: CRED: http://credbc.ca/role-energy-sector-bcs-economy/

Fuelling BC’s economy: where does our wealth come from?

Why does this conversation matter?

In order to decide whether energy development projects should go forward, it’s essential to have a good understanding of where the sector fits into the bigger economic picture. Of course we know that energy is important to Canada, but how important? In what ways? And is it more or less important than other sectors?

Where does our wealth come from?

It’s often said that British Columbia is a resource-based province. In actual fact, the reality is a lot more complex. While it’s true that much of BC was built on natural resources, and that even today sectors like technology and construction have a certain amount of inter-relationships with the resource sector, the basis of our economy has overwhelmingly shifted to service-based industries. More than 4/5 of us work in services and over 76% of our GDP comes from those sectors.

It’s also important to note that a significant part of our economy is based on small businesses. Small businesses make up 98% of all businesses here in BC, more than any other province.

Although economics can be complex and numbers can tell different stories depending on how they’re interpreted, some data speaks for itself. Here’s a chart breaking down the main sources of GDP in British Columbia:

BC GDP by industrySource: The 2012 British Columbia Economic Accounts, BC Stats

Oil, gas and support services make up just 3% of our GDP, compared to 15% for manufacturing and construction and over 23% for financial and real estate services. When secondary energy services are added into the equation, the total contribution to GDP is still only 11%. While this number is significant, it’s certainly not where most provincial economic activity is coming from.

Federally, the numbers are similar. The oil sands make up just 2% of Canada’s GDP. When you add in conventional oil & gas extraction, the total is still only 6% of our wealth.

Oil contribution to Canadian GDP
Source: Statistics Canada (CANSIM table 379-0031)  

Where’s the economic growth?

This graph from KMPG’s recent tech sector report card gives an overview of which industries are growing and which are shrinking in BC. The sectors to the right of the middle line are contributing more each year to provincial GDP, and those to the left are contributing less each year – in other words, they’re shrinking.

The sectors showing the most growth are construction, high tech, finance and real estate, retail trade, and professional, scientific and technical services. A recent survey of small businesses had similar findings.

Tech sector report card

Where are the jobs? 

In BC, the mining, oil and gas sector combined employs just 1% of the workforce.

BC energy jobs
Source: 2012 British Columbia Financial and Economic Review

Instead, the biggest employers in the province are:

  • Construction – 205,000 jobs
  • Manufacturing – 164,000 jobs
  • Tourism – 127,000 jobs
  • Real estate and property development – 121,000 jobs

The film sector adds an additional 36,000 jobs and the technology sector employs 84,000 people – more than oil, mining, gas and forestry combined.

Across Canada, the numbers are similar. In fact, more people in work in the beer economy than in the oil sands:Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 2.00.58 PM

Who funds social programs?

Although BC Stats doesn’t gather data on the tax contributions of different sectors, StatsCan makes this information available on a national level. In total, the oil and gas sector (oil sands plus conventional oil and gas) contributes 4.2% of corporate GDP. Compared to financial services (25%) and manufacturing (13%) this number is unimpressive. Particularly considering that the manufacturing sector is widely reported to be struggling and has decreased in size significantly over the past decade, manufacturing businesses contribute much more towards social spending for big ticket items like schools and hospitals.

Tax revenues by sectorSource: Statistics Canada (CANSIM table 180-0003)  

On the whole, the sectors most responsible for creating jobs, funding social programs and contributing to the wealth of British Columbians are finance, real estate, manufacturing, construction, retail trade and tourism. Any big development project should take into consideration its impact on these sectors – positive or negative – before it gets approved.

Thank you, Prime Minister.

And what have you done for authoritarian regimes today??

Election bill sends ‘very poor message’ to budding democracies

Proposed election changes set bad example for authoritarian countries trying to go democratic, expert says

By Laura Payton, CBC News Posted: Mar 21, 2014 7:45 PM ET Last Updated: Mar 21, 2014 7:54 PM ET

Proposed Fair Elections Act rebuked globally

Proposed Fair Elections Act rebuked globally 7:50

The Conservative government is trying to change Canadian election law in a way that is “deeply disturbing” and “sends a very poor message” to countries trying to become democracies, an international democracy expert says.

The proposed changes, contained in Bill C-23, include limiting the topics on which Canada’s chief electoral officer could speak, and eliminating vouching, a process that lets a voter vouch for another person in his or her riding to prove that person’s identity.

Question Period 20140207Pierre Poilievre, minister of state for democratic reform, is trying to change Canadian election law in a way that is ‘deeply disturbing’ and ‘sends a very poor message’ to countries trying to become democracies, an international democracy expert says. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

 

Andrew Reynolds, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was one of 18 professors from around the world who earlier this week signed an open letter about their concerns. Their letter came the week after an open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper by 159 Canadian political science and law professors.

 

Reynolds calls Elections Canada “the pre-eminent example of an elections administration body.”

“Its autonomy, its independence, its capacity to enforce free and fair elections is something that is transported around the world,” he told Rosemary Barton in an interview on CBC News Network’s Power & Politics.

“Now, this legislation would severely do damage to the autonomy, to the independence, to the capacity of Elections Canada to manage good elections.”

‘Partisan mechanism?’

Reynolds said democracy advisers face a challenge in trying to persuade new governments to set up independent, autonomous election authorities.

“When a democratic, established democracy in the west like Canada seems to be curtailing its own ability to do that, it sends a very poor message to new countries in the Arab world, in Africa, in Asia, who are attempting to move from authoritarianism to democracy,” he said.

Reynolds said many of the bill’s measures would weaken Elections Canada in its ability to “enforce legitimate elections.”

Pierre Poilievre, the minister of state for democratic reform and the MP who tabled the bill, says Elections Canada’s numbers show “irregularities” in 25 per cent of vouching cases from the 2011 election. But Harry Neufeld, the election expert on whose report Poilievre bases his claims, says Poilievre is “selectively” reading the report.

Reynolds says there’s almost no evidence that vouching “is a window to voter fraud.”

“There’s huge evidence to show that vouching would, if it was taken away, curtail the rights and accessibility of tens, if not hundreds of thousands of Canadians to vote,” Reynolds said, adding that the question is what is driving the proposal.

“Is it really fear of fraud and malfeasance? Or is it in fact a partisan mechanism to try and preclude some people from voting who should be legitimately voting?”

“In every case that we’ve seen a similar type of proposal, it has been about tilting the balance in favour of a given party,” he added.

Unis’tot’en Camp. Save the Wild Coast

Save the Wild Coast

 

This is the most activist of the many groups working to follow the laws of the BC Aboriginal Nations and ban tankers from the coast and legally disrupt the construction of the Northern Gateway that would feed those tankers.

HOME: http://forestaction.wikidot.com/

 

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Spring training to stop the pipelines

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March 29-31 in Victoria, BC, Coast Salish Territory

Full schedule here

Saturday & Sunday, March 29 & 30: University of Victoria, Bob Wright Building, Room A104

Monday March 31: Norway House, 1110 Hillside Ave,

Victoria workshops and discussions on:

Non-violent civil disobedience
Warrior societies
Shaping conditions for grassroots revolt
Planning and preparation for action
Security culture & counter-surveillance
How to stop a goddamn pipeline
Fundraising for radicals
Legal rights and solidarity
Families in the resistance
Indigenous women in resistance

Full schedule here. Admission by donation. Coffee, tea, meals, snacks, and child-minding provided.

RSVP on Facebook and follow the No Pipelines page. Email wildcoast@riseup.net or phone Zoe for info: 250-813-3569.

Sponsored by Wild Coast and VIPIRG.

Permaculture Not Pipelines Camp May 12-30

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Volunteers are needed now and all year round
Help defend the land and water
Support indigenous resistance
Stop the pipelines!

Spring Work Camp May 12-30
The camp is building permaculture gardens, a traditional pithouse, and a new bunkhouse in the path of the pipelines.
Now recruiting:
Carpenters
Electricians
People with perrmaculture knowledge
Gardeners
General labourers

Apply to join the camp

Winter in the North

Four years ago, grassroots members of the Wet’suwet’en people of northern BC (western Canada) learned that oil and gas pipeline projects are planned to cross their territory without their permission.

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The indigenous leaders of Unis’tot’en Camp began turning away oil and gas company workers over a year ago. The land defenders set up a “soft blockade” to keep out the corporations, and started building a camp and permanent homes in the pipeline route. A large log cabin now houses the defenders and volunteers, while several pithouses are still under construction.

The camp hosts are scrambling to prepare for the coming storms. The camp was on high alert in November after two incidents of attempted arson on bridges near the camp at the end of October.

People all over Turtle Island are responding to the call for support and funds for security equipment. The camp is also calling for strong-hearted volunteers to watch over the camp and patrol the area this winter.

Volunteers should:

  • be willing to to travel to the camp and stay for two weeks or more
  • have experience and gear for winter hiking
  • be able to chop wood, carry water, and watch for intruders

Sign up to volunteer

The oil and gas representatives and police have made a couple forays into the territory, but so far they have avoided starting a full-scale confrontation.

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Donations will supply the camp with security cameras, motion sensors, night-vision equipment, and an all-terrain snowmobile to patrol the territory and watch for invaders.

The success of the camp jeopardizes oil and gas deals supposedly worth billions of dollars (plus the untold costs of spills and leaks, poisoned water, lost habitat, and human suffering). We know there is a risk of dirty tricks and intimidation tactics to try and scare the campers away. The more support we give, the less likely those tactics will work.

Click here to help Unis’tot’en Camp and defend the land defenders.

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Winter camp in the path of the pipelines

Winter is coming to Unis’tot’en Camp, and a crew is working to finish the roofs and walls on two traditional-style pithouses so visitors stay snug and warm when the snow comes.

The blockade camp is on guard every day. Hundreds of good-hearted people are contributing their time, labour, and funds to make this community what it is today – a force to be reckoned with. Please support the winter camp!

At this point, it looks like one of the pipeline projects that was “approved” to go through Wet’suwet’en territory has fallen drastically behind schedule. There’s no official announcement yet, but work was supposed to start in earnest a year ago. Could it be all the publicity and support for the Unis’tot’en blockade in the pipelines right-of-way scared the investors away? Or did we slow them down enough that a competitor beat them to the finish line? Stay tuned!

Protect the Sacred Headwaters from coal mining

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The Sacred Headwaters is the birthplace of Stikine, Nass, and Skeena, three of Northern BC’s major salmon-bearing rivers. Thousands of people from the northern interior to the coast depend on these watersheds for their livelihood and for the well-being of their families and communities. Now Fortune Minerals is actively test-drilling Klappan Mountain for an environmental assessment for a coal mine in the heart of the Sacred Headwaters.

Sign the petition. Pledge to join the Klabona Keepers. Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition
Photo: Rally in Victoria, August 31, 2013 by Ann Jacobs

 

Unis’tot’en defenders evict pipeline crews from their territory

Great news: The caravan is back from the no-pipelines blockade at Unis’tot’en Camp and it was amazing. Thank you to everyone who helped make it happen! It’s great to see our circle expanding. The caravan was only the beginning – the real solidarity work is still ahead of us.

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A few days after the caravan left, the camp came under more pressure from pipeline companies trying to push into unceded indigenous territory. On July 19, the Unis’tot’en defenders evicted yet another pipeline crew from the territory. This time it was a two-person team that came in by helicopter.

This is the third time the defenders have sent surveyors packing and warned them not to come back. It seems the higher-ups have decided to ignore the warnings.

We’re ramping up to support the defenders. It looks like they are going to need all the help they can get. Here’s what we’re planning this summer and fall:

– Backcountry hiking and mapping
– Renewing the legal defense fund
– Benefit events for the camp

Join us! We’re getting ready to respond when there’s a call for a day of action. It’s a great opportunity to get with friends and build the resistance to pipelines and oil tankers.

Make a pledge to stop the pipelines.
Big cheers to everyone who contributed to support the caravan. Thank you for being part of this growing movement.

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Grassroots Wet’suwet’en people vs. the pipelines

The latest pipeline proposal for the “Energy Corridor” between Prince George and Kitimat has shifted the route to pass south of Unis’tot’en Camp.Center: Wedzin Kwah (Morice River), the point where grassroots Wet’suwet’en people are making a stand to stop pipeline companies from entering their unceded territory.

Top to bottom: Unis’tot’en Camp (star), Morice River West Forest Service Road (white line), fracking pipelines Pacific Trail (red) and Coastal Gas (blue); Enbridge Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline (black).

Last year, indigenous activists built two homes on the pipeline route on the bank of Wedzin Kwah. This year, the activists are expanding the defense of their land.

The last time a pipeline surveying crew tried to come in was November 2012. The crews were given trespass notices and escorted back across the bridge, off Unis’tot’en Clan land.

Join the summer action team. Donate to the caravan.

More about Unis’tot’en Camp.

Harper’s wrecking crew

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Last year, 2.5 million lakes and waterways were protected in Canada.

Today that total is 62 rivers and 93 lakes.

The San Juan River is not one of them.

The San Juan River is home to four salmon runs, ducks, geese, swans, otters, seals, and eagles.

Goldstream River and its salmon runs are no longer protected.

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Cowichan River and its salmon runs are no longer protected.

Cowichan Lake and its fish habitat are no longer protected.

Chemainus River and its salmon runs are no longer protected.

Sooke River and its salmon runs are no longer protected.

In 2012, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Omnibus Budget stripped away the rules that protected our rivers, lakes, and habitat for decades.

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Now, entire ecosystems can be bulldozed, blasted, and paved over without consultation.

That’s just one reason why indigenous people are rising up across the country.

Now is the time for all of us to defend the land, the water, the animals, and all living things.

Stand with the defenders of the Wild Coast.

Photos: San Juan River by Zoe Blunt

Unis’tot’en Camp

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Indigenous people in the path of the pipelines are evicting oil and gas crews from their land. Last summer, the Lhe Le Liyin defenders and the Unis’tot’en and Likhts’amisyu clans of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation put out a call for solidarity to stop the clearing and bulldozing of the pipeline route. We responded with a busload of volunteers and a convoy from BC, Ontario, Alberta, Colorado and the NW US, and we helped build the no-pipelines camp.

Support the action camp to stop the pipelines
Tar sands oil threatens land, water, human rights, wild salmon, migratory birds, shellfish beds, and all interior, marine and coastal species.

A more immediate threat than tarsands pipelines, the Pacific Trail pipeline would carry liquefied natural gas from the fracking fields of eastern BC to Kitimat for export. Pacific Trail would pump flammable LNG along much of the same route as the Enbridge line, through wetlands, forests, streams and wildlife habitat. The fracking pipeline was approved in spring 2012, and Pacific Trail announced work would start this fall. Crews started surveying along the Morice River earlier this year.

Manure Gasification

Gasification is quite distinct from anaerobic digestion. This short post explains the former in terms of dairy or beef farm manure. There is traditional gasification (around for over 100 years) and plasma arc gasification.

biochar is a by product that can be rich in nutrients:

A more welcome surprise came for Josh Frye when he was introduced to the concept of biochar by Tom Basden, an extension specialist in nutrient management at West Virginia University. “Tom told me I would end up growing chickens mainly for the poop,” Josh said. “I thought he was off his rocker, but now I think he might be right on the money.”

Josh is now producing a high quality biochar and has sold his first ton at a net price of $480 ($600 a ton for the char and $120 a ton transport costs) to a farmer in New Jersey who is testing its qualities for his crop of corn and soybeans.  A farm in South Carolina is testing the char on pharmaceutical grapes (used in the nutritional supplement industry). Josh worked with IBI board members Johannes Lehmann and Stephen Joseph to optimize the gasifier to produce quality biochar rich in phosphorous and potassium. His test burns so far have made biochar that ranges from 1.7 to 3.2 percent P and 5.4 to 9.6 percent K.

Th800px-Adler_Diplomat_3_GS_mit_Holzgasgenerator-hinten_rechtse Stirling engine.

COALTEC

http://www.coaltecenergy.com/biochar/

Biochar is retained in the soil over many hundreds and even thousands of years, unlike fertilizers which typically require annual application. The “black earth”, or Terra Preta, of the Amazon Rain Forest is noted world-wide as being one of the most fertile soils, yet was actually a very poor soil enriched with biochar material. The market for biochar is currently being developed.  It is valuable commercially for fertilizing soil, and is used to mitigate climate change through the sequestering of atmospheric carbon dioxide.  Biochar is an ideal amendment to increase crop yields in most soil types.

Biochar also has a variety of other uses, including animal feed supplements and use as a water filtration medium. Extensive research has been done in both applications, with a small amount of biochar being sold for these uses.  Research continues towards these and other applications.

Cow Manure as an Economical Energy Source

The dairy industry is globally under pressure from increasing environmental regulations, falling prices, as well as very aggressive foreign competition. Manure management and electrical costs are one area dairymen can look to cut costs. The current market for all agriculture is under high pressure from increasing regulation, falling prices, as well as very aggressive foreign competition. The current EU administration is trying to pass new environmental laws and regulations. At the same time trying to reduce government subsidies, it is determined to push through stricter regulations using the regulatory government agencies.

The dairy industry in particular is facing new challenges with low milk prices that have started to incline but with feed costs currently on the rise dairymen still are challenged to break even. This has meant that dairy farmers have had to borrow more money to maintain their herds while at the same time increasing the breakeven point they must get for their milk now and in the future. Dairy farms must become more efficient. Dairy farmers must find ecological and economical solutions to ever increasing environmental regulations while at the same time lowering their costs of production.

Successful dairy farmers often own multiple farms; while this is often successful it is not always the most effective solution. Adding more animals at the same location should be more efficient as well as cost effective. Generally availability of land and manure management is the limiting factors. Increasingly waste management is a major factor and concern of dairy farmers. Fines, threats, and an ever-increasing regulatory burden take more of our time, energy and money. How can dairies increase the point at which their operation is profitable?

Energy costs will continue to go up and costs are dictated to the user by third parties of which we have no control over. Additionally handling of waste material and increasing regulation is another high cost that shows no indication of going down. One possible method of increasing efficiency is to use manure, and waste feed to produce the electrical needs of the farm. Capturing solids before they go to the lagoons, and send all the waste to a boiler specifically designed and tested to burn high moisture waste. This system can provide electricity, heat and hot water.

Plasma arc gasification is a new form of technology that turns biomass into plasma at extremely high temperatures. The basic requirements for a plasma arc gasification system involve a sealed vessel that is filled with a stable gas. The gas can be either nitrogen or, even ordinary air. Then a high-volt current is passed between two electrodes creating an electric arc that pull electrons from the air (Plasma arc & Gasification).

This high voltage impact converts the gas into plasma. The current flows through this newly formed plasma, creating a field of high energy that is extremely powerful and is compared to the equivalent of lightening. The energy of the plasma arc is so powerful; it can turn trash, biomass, and basically anything into its basic elements by tearing apart their molecular bonds. With the plasma process toxins and odor substances are immobilized in-situ environmentally friendly.

What is left behind after biomass is passes through this plasma gasification process is a volcanic-like glass. This glass can be used as a raw material for several applications that range from bathroom tiles to an asphalt like product.  Another beneficial by-product that is created during this process is a syn-gas much like the gas created from older forms of biomass gasification. It is a mix of hydrogen and carbon monoxide that can be converted into several types of useful fuels. Some of these fuels include ethanol, natural gas and hydrogen. A big bonus of this system is that it is self-sustaining. It requires only the initial high volt current to start the cycle after that it produces its own electricity to create the electric arc, even if there is a blackout power outage.

To produce electricity this system much like other methods of cogeneration, relies on heating water to generate steam and in turn spin a turbine that drives an electric generator. At the current time this technology is mainly targeting the landfill waste segment. Our society is pushing towards more environmentally friendly technologies and this certainly is one. This technology has the ability of taking otherwise useless landfill waste and creating electricity at the same time slowing the growth of landfills and the pollution we leave behind. If they could extremely scale this back and reduce the equipment costs then it could be a possibility for the dairy industry in the future.

Manure production is a key factor for determining just how much electricity could potentially be generated. Average milk production per cow has increased 70% from 4,500 kg/cow/year in 1971 to nearly 7,300 kg/cow/year in 2000, resulting in changes in manure production.

A cow produces 14 pounds of manure on a dry matter basis for lactating cows. Electrical production is the cornerstone for this project. 1 British thermal unit (BTU) requires 6lbs of manure to be gasified. To convert BTU’s to kilowatts of electricity there is a factor of .00029. This means that 3,448 lbs of manure at 55% moisture are required to produce one kilowatt of electricity. The project is in the preliminary stage and is planning a design that will have the capacity to burn 3,000 lbs per hour.

Biomass gasification has many promising attributes for the dairy industry. It can produce electrical needs for a dairy operation in an environmentally friendly manner, while utilizing a renewable fuel source. Another financial benefit is that any excess energy could possibly be sold back to the power grid to generate extra revenues. Biomass gasification also produces a beneficial by-product for any dairy operation that farms.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biochar

EXAMPLE

Chicken Manure (Frye Poultry)

Frye Poultry gasifier

Frye Poultry gasifier

Frye Poultry Farm
Wardensville, West Virginia

West Virginia Department of Environmental Quality features Coaltec’s Frye Poultry chicken litter gasification project in their InDEPth newsletter. Scroll to pages 4 and 5 of the PDF version of this article here.

West Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, Division of Air Quality, features Coaltec’s Frye Poultry gasification project in their Clean Air Forum. Scroll to page 7 of the PDF version for the full article here.

Gasifier at Frye Poultry

Gasifier at Frye Poultry

Located at Frye Poultry Farm, Hardy County West Virginia, this demonstration project has shown that chicken litter can successfully be gasified to provide a bio-based heating system. The project compared, side-by-side, a typically-heated poultry house and a poultry house heated with hot air out of a gasifier with an air-to-air heat exchanger. The focus of the project was to prove the feasibility and economic viability of a bio-based fuel-to-energy system utilizing poultry litter as the fuel and a fixed-bed gasifier as the medium to convert the material to energy. The project is the culmination of advanced-stage research and development work for a poultry system, and included commissioning, evaluation, and field testing of a gasification system specifically designed for the poultry industry.

Inside Frye Poultry barn

Inside Frye Poultry barn

On March 19, 2007 the gasifier was delivered to the Frye Poultry site. By the end of that same day the modular system was in place and ready for coupling to the ducting system. On day two the propane and electrical work were in progress. On day three the system was operating to cure the refractory. The was done by a six man crew with the assistance of a crane and crane operator. A sock air distribution system was installed with outstanding results; the ambient air temperature throughout the house having no more than a two degree differential.

The controls in the house are completely secured and the system is operational with birds in the house. Additionally it was operated between flocks to dry the manure pack on the floor and to preheat the house to improve the environment for new birds coming in. The fuel feed iscompletely automated and the system changes as fuel quality and energy needs change. The system has been operated utilizing both local controls as well as with monitoring from Indiana and Canada through the remote web-based access system.

Frye Litter Shed

Frye Litter Shed

The operation of the gasifier has a definite positive impact on the bird growth and health. The humidity level in the house is lower – over 20% less, and the bird’s growth was as much as 7% higher. The propane use is obviously lower as the gasifier is providing the energy for replacement heat.

The owner installed a litter shed to improve the quality of both the fuel feed and the resulting biochar.

As the system is used, a variety of unexpected benefits have been discovered: The ash as a fertilizer supplement has substantial value. It may also be beneficial as a feed supplement to replace dicalcium phosphate. Research work to determine this will be a part of Phase 2 of the project.

Cosmic Inflation

A good explanation.

bigbang proven--

Discovery Clarification

I’m actually in hiding and silence for a week. It is Spring Break and I have locked myself away in a seaside town to do some writing, as I did last year. But I must break my silence for a little while. Why? Well there’s been a really great announcement in physics today and while being very happy that it is getting a lot of press attention – and it should since the result is very important and exciting – I’ve been stunned by how confusingly it has been reported in several news reports. So I thought I’d say a few things that might help.

But first, let me acknowledge that there’s a ton of coverage out there and so I don’t need to point to any press articles. I will just point to the press release of the BICEP2 collaboration (yes, that’s what they’re called) here, and urge you once you’ve read that to follow the link within to the wealth of data (images, text, graphs, diagrams) that they provide. It’s fantastically comprehensive, so knock yourself out.

I keep hearing reports saying things like “Scientists have proved the Big Bang”. No. The Big Bang, while an exciting and important result for modern cosmology, is very old news. (You can tell since there’s even a TV comedy named after it.) This is not really about the Big Bang. This is about Inflation, the mechanism that made the universe expand rapidly from super-tiny scales to more macroscopic scales in fractions of a second. (I’ll say more about the “super-tiny” below).

I also hear (slightly more nuanced) reports about this being the first confirmation of Inflation . That’s a point we can argue about, but I’d say that’s not true either. We’ve had other strong clues that Inflation is correct. One of the key things that pops out of inflation is that it flattens out the curvature of universe a lot, and the various observations that have been made about the Cosmic Microwave Background over the years (the CMB is that radiation left over from when the universe was very young (about 380,000 years old – remember the universe is just under 14 billion years old!)) have shown us that the universes is remarkably flat. Another previous exciting result in modern cosmology. Today’s result isn’t the first evidence.

So what is today’s exciting news about then? The clue to the correctcharacterization of what all this means is in the title of the press release: “First Direct Evidence of Cosmic Inflation”. It’s the “Direct” part that’s important, and it connects to more excitement too. Let me explain. By examining the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), the BICEP2 people were able to find something very important. If there was a period of inflation in the universe then the stuff left over (matter and radiation) ought to have an imprint of the gravitational waves (actual ripples in spacetime) that accompanied inflation. We’ve never seen these before, and this is precisely what they found! That imprint is in the from of a certain type of polarisation of the CMB. Yes, the same kind of polarization you play with when you use polarizing sunglasses. Light from the sun gets dodged around a bit by the molecules of our atmosphere, and we see the imprint of that as polarization… Well the imprint on the light of the CMB from gravitational waves in the very early universe makes a particular type of polarization too. That’s what they found.

This is hugely exciting since it is a direct (ish) detection of physics connected to the super-tiny scales many of us have been thinking about, and (through the gravitational waves) to much earlier than the 380K years when the CMB radiation first appeared. Those tiny scales are knocking on the door of the kinds of things I work on – quantum gravity. The very young universe had both quantum physics and spacetime physics (gravity) doing important things together and the combination of the two “quantum gravity” is what we hope to understand and put to the test one day, whether it be string theory or some other approach we may or may not have thought of. So this is exciting, since we’ve finally got some physics that is a bit more directly connected to those scales than we usually have access to.

Finally, there are questions like whether this is somehow “bigger than the Higgs” in terms of discoveries. I just think that’s a bit of a silly discussion, but let me engage slightly. On the one hand, I’d say we’d have been more surprised if we’d not found the Higgs, since there are so many things about the Standard Model of particle physics, the internal consistency of how quantum field theory (quantum mechanics for particle physics) works, and various other things concerning particles having mass, that depend upon something like the Higgs existing. On the other hand, there’s a lot more that we don’t understand about what constrains models of the very early universe (especially when knocking on the door of quantum gravity), and perhaps how cleanly we’d be able to see signatures of mechanisms like inflation, so I think we were less bound to having to find today’s signatures than we were to finding direct evidence of the Higgs mechanism. So it is great to learn (and more cleanly than most people were expecting) more evidence that inflation is on the right track. It could have been a messier story that took longer to sort out.

But you can run it both ways. You could say that my previous paragraph means the Higgs is a bigger result since we kind of needed it for full consistency of lots of things we already knew, or you could say it means the Higgs is a smaller result since we kind of needed it for full consistency of lots of things we already knew. Pick.

I return to my assertion that it’s silly to try to rank recent discoveries in this way, not the least because it plays into that tedious and damaging “what’s the next big thing” or “what has science done for me lately” attitude our culture likes to go in for.

Anyway – hurrah for physics and Congratulations to the BICEP2 team!

(Returning to quiet hiding mode… although there’s be some short posts every now and again.)

-cvj

Fascism Today: Britt

Dr. Lawrence Britt has examined the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia) and several Latin American regimes. Britt found 14 defining characteristics common to each:. This should be compared to Umberto Ecco’ s earlier piece on Ur-Fascism.  ECCO:  https://dglikes.wordpress.com/2014/03/16/fascism-and-ur-fascism/ 

1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism – Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.

2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights – Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of “need.” The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.

3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause – The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial , ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.

4. Supremacy of the Military – Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.

5. Rampant Sexism – The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution.

6. Controlled Mass Media – Sometimes to media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.

7. Obsession with National Security – Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses

8. Religion and Government are Intertwined – Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government’s policies or actions.  

9. Corporate Power is Protected – The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.

  10. Labor Power is Suppressed – Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.

11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts – Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts and letters is openly attacked.

12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment – Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.

13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption – Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.

14. Fraudulent Elections – Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.

Fascism and Ur-Fascism

Dr.  Lawrence Britt has described Fascism in 14 points. And this has been a useful summary. It was recently applied to Canada’s own Steven Harper and that process does turn on some warning lights. Britt: https://dglikes.wordpress.com/2014/03/16/fascism-today-britt/

Earlier, Umberto Ecco used the same number to talk about Fascism in Italy and Europe and this is something all intellectuals should read at least once a year. His original was addressed to an American audience and was written in 1995, but it still has validity.

In spite of some fuzziness regarding the difference between various historical forms of fascism, I think it is possible to outline a list of features that are typical of what I would like to call Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism. These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.

1. The first feature of Ur-Fascism is the cult of tradition.

Traditionalism is of course much older than fascism. Not only was it typical of counterrevolutionary Catholic thought after the French revolution, but is was born in the late Hellenistic era, as a reaction to classical Greek rationalism. In the Mediterranean basin, people of different religions (most of the faiths indulgently accepted by the Roman pantheon) started dreaming of a revelation received at the dawn of human history. This revelation, according to the traditionalist mystique, had remained for a long time concealed under the veil of forgotten languages — in Egyptian hieroglyphs, in the Celtic runes, in the scrolls of the little-known religions of Asia.

This new culture had to be syncretistic. Syncretism is not only, as the dictionary says, “the combination of different forms of belief or practice;” such a combination must tolerate contradictions. Each of the original messages contains a sliver of wisdom, and although they seem to say different or incompatible things, they all are nevertheless alluding, allegorically, to the same primeval truth.

As a consequence, there can be no advancement of learning. Truth already has been spelled out once and for all, and we can only keep interpreting its obscure message.

If you browse in the shelves that, in American bookstores, are labeled New Age, you can find there even Saint Augustine, who, as far as I know, was not a fascist. But combining Saint Augustine and Stonehenge — that is a symptom of Ur-Fascism.

2. Traditionalism implies the rejection of modernism.

Both Fascists and Nazis worshipped technology, while traditionalist thinkers usually reject it as a negation of traditional spiritual values. However, even though Nazism was proud of its industrial achievements, its praise of modernism was only the surface of an ideology based upon blood and earth (Blut und Boden). The rejection of the modern world was disguised as a rebuttal of the capitalistic way of life. The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.

3. Irrationalism also depends on the cult of action for action’s sake.

Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation. Therefore culture is suspect insofar as it is identified with critical attitudes. Distrust of the intellectual world has always been a symptom of Ur-Fascism, from Hermann Goering’s fondness for a phrase from a Hanns Johst play (“When I hear the word ‘culture’ I reach for my gun”) to the frequent use of such expressions as “degenerate intellectuals,” “eggheads,” “effete snobs,” and “universities are nests of reds.” The official Fascist intellectuals were mainly engaged in attacking modern culture and the liberal intelligentsia for having betrayed traditional values.

4. The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism.

In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge. For Ur-Fascism, disagreement is treason.

5. Besides, disagreement is a sign of diversity.

Ur-Fascism grows up and seeks consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference. The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.

6. Ur-Fascism derives from individual or social frustration.

That is why one of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups. In our time, when the old “proletarians” are becoming petty bourgeois (and the lumpen are largely excluded from the political scene), the fascism of tomorrow will find its audience in this new majority.

7. To people who feel deprived of a clear social identity, Ur-Fascism says that their only privilege is the most common one, to be born in the same country.

This is the origin of nationalism. Besides, the only ones who can provide an identity to the nation are its enemies. Thus at the root of the Ur-Fascist psychology there is the obsession with a plot, possibly an international one. The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia. But the plot must also come from the inside: Jews are usually the best target because they have the advantage of being at the same time inside and outside. In the United States, a prominent instance of the plot obsession is to be found in Pat Robertson’s The New World Order, but, as we have recently seen, there are many others.

8. The followers must feel humiliated by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies.

When I was a boy I was taught to think of Englishmen as the five-meal people. They ate more frequently than the poor but sober Italians. Jews are rich and help each other through a secret web of mutual assistance. However, the followers of Ur-Fascism must also be convinced that they can overwhelm the enemies. Thus, by a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak. Fascist governments are condemned to lose wars because they are constitutionally incapable of objectively evaluating the force of the enemy.

9. For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle.

Thus pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. It is bad because life is permanent warfare. This, however, brings about an Armageddon complex. Since enemies have to be defeated, there must be a final battle, after which the movement will have control of the world. But such “final solutions” implies a further era of peace, a Golden Age, which contradicts the principle of permanent war. No fascist leader has ever succeeded in solving this predicament.

10. Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology, insofar as it is fundamentally aristocratic, and aristocratic and militaristic elitism cruelly implies contempt for the weak.

Ur-Fascism can only advocate a popular elitism. Every citizen belongs to the best people in the world, the members or the party are the best among the citizens, every citizen can (or ought to) become a member of the party. But there cannot be patricians without plebeians. In fact, the Leader, knowing that his power was not delegated to him democratically but was conquered by force, also knows that his force is based upon the weakness of the masses; they are so weak as to need and deserve a ruler.

11. In such a perspective everybody is educated to become a hero.

In every mythology the hero is an exceptional being, but in Ur-Fascist ideology heroism is the norm. This cult of heroism is strictly linked with the cult of death. It is not by chance that a motto of the Spanish Falangists was Viva la Muerte (“Long Live Death!”). In nonfascist societies, the lay public is told that death is unpleasant but must be faced with dignity; believers are told that it is the painful way to reach a supernatural happiness. By contrast, the Ur-Fascist hero craves heroic death, advertised as the best reward for a heroic life. The Ur-Fascist hero is impatient to die. In his impatience, he more frequently sends other people to death.

12. Since both permanent war and heroism are difficult games to play, the Ur-Fascist transfers his will to power to sexual matters.

This is the origin of machismo (which implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality). Since even sex is a difficult game to play, the Ur-Fascist hero tends to play with weapons — doing so becomes an ersatz phallic exercise.

13. Ur-Fascism is based upon a selective populism, a qualitative populism, one might say.

In a democracy, the citizens have individual rights, but the citizens in their entirety have a political impact only from a quantitative point of view — one follows the decisions of the majority. For Ur-Fascism, however, individuals as individuals have no rights, and the People is conceived as a quality, a monolithic entity expressing the Common Will. Since no large quantity of human beings can have a common will, the Leader pretends to be their interpreter. Having lost their power of delegation, citizens do not act; they are only called on to play the role of the People. Thus the People is only a theatrical fiction. There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People.

Because of its qualitative populism, Ur-Fascism must be against “rotten” parliamentary governments. Wherever a politician casts doubt on the legitimacy of a parliament because it no longer represents the Voice of the People, we can smell Ur-Fascism.

14. Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak.

Newspeak was invented by Orwell, in Nineteen Eighty-Four, as the official language of what he called Ingsoc, English Socialism. But elements of Ur-Fascism are common to different forms of dictatorship. All the Nazi or Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning. But we must be ready to identify other kinds of Newspeak, even if they take the apparently innocent form of a popular talk show.

* * *

Ur-Fascism is still around us, sometimes in plainclothes. It would be so much easier for us if there appeared on the world scene somebody saying, “I want to reopen Auschwitz, I want the Blackshirts to parade again in the Italian squares.” Life is not that simple. Ur-Fascism can come back under the most innocent of disguises. Our duty is to uncover it and to point our finger at any of its new instances — every day, in every part of the world. Franklin Roosevelt’s words of November 4, 1938, are worth recalling: “If American democracy ceases to move forward as a living force, seeking day and night by peaceful means to better the lot of our citizens, fascism will grow in strength in our land.” Freedom and liberation are an unending task.

CRD Folly. Old School vs New School

The RITE Plan has articulated all the difficulties with the CRD’ “Old School” plan for improving Victoria’s sewage treatment.

Recently, after completing a study and prototype, Colwood has decided to go it alone and build its own New School plant: without the large federal and provincial subsidies the CRD centralized plant will require.

The Township of Esquimalt is demanding the depth of information that Oak Bay, Saanich, Victoria and the other members of the CRD seem content to exist without. Perhaps that is because they are being saddled (on McLoughlin Point) with the main primary treatment plant. The general public is using the Esquimalt Hearings to get the answers they can’t get from their own elected officials.

The Times Colonist is defending the Old School Project, (which is spending ten of thousands advertising in its pages), but the people are raising red flags and Esquimalt is holding the line. None of these citizens are opposed to treatment; they just want the best treatment that their $800,000,000  million can buy.

Art Bickerton makes all the key points.

I really cannot understand why the Capital Regional District directors are still supporting the Seaterra secondary sewage treatment plan when it is obvious that it is a costly mistake.

McLoughlin Point is too small and is in a dangerous tsunami zone. The Seaterra plan has an expanding billion-dollar price tag that will still be polluting the Juan de Fuca Strait upon completion.

Using proven new technology, the CRD can build a dozen modular tertiary treatment plants and place them near hospitals, colleges and other high-density buildings on higher ground before 2018.

In Victoria, a few tertiary plants could be hidden underground with affordable city parking above. The heat used in purification could supply warmth for temporary homeless shelters during the winter.

Bike and rapid transit lanes could follow the pipeline path as it weaves its way to connect with the West Shore.

If it really is costing a million dollars a month to delay, pay Seaterra a million to go away.

Use a plan that has a financial return and much of the costs can be reclaimed from the byproduct process.

The municipalities should own the computerized plants and staff them with trained personnel who can adapt, modify and rectify errors immediately.

Taxpayers are being forced to spend their money and senior governments are paying two-thirds of the bill.

It is the CRD’s responsibility to insist on a tertiary treatment plan that has the very best return. Art Bickerton .

Tony Rose deals with the redundancy of pumping sludge for 18 km.

It seems to me that once a decision is taken to incinerate the waste, this obviates any transfer to the Hartland landfill and makes the 18-kilometre pipeline redundant.

There are really only two choices these days for treatment: filtering, drying and incineration, or tertiary treatment with molecular filters.

The initial Capital Regional District option of spreading on the land is long recognized as unacceptable; the only choice they have at this stage is incineration.

The incinerator must be located as close as possible to the primary treatment, whether it is Esquimalt or not, to minimize cost and the risk associated with a pressurized pipe of biohazardous material.

Ideally, the whole treatment plant from raw sewage to treated water and compacted solids should be on one site. Colwood has taken the appropriate course, and this could well be followed by the various municipalities taking ownership of their waste and treating it in local modular plants within their own boundaries.

Environmental constraints will be the same for incineration regardless of the site; Hartland offers no advantages. What little ash is left over can be shipped to a secure landfill or completely destroyed. The pipeline is not needed.

Tony Rose Victoria –

David Stocks makes the case for redundancy across the board.

The article states: “The province might also require Colwood to retain a connection to the CRD sewer infrastructure as a redundancy in the event of an emergency.” Many Capital Regional District residents are concerned about the lack of redundancy in the Seaterra design.

The CRD has investigated redundant systems and concluded that redundancy would require “significantly higher capital and operating costs.” If redundancy would be a bad idea for Seaterra, why would it be a good idea for Colwood?

On the other hand, if redundancy would be required for Colwood, why should it not be required for Seaterra? Redundancy costs money, but it can save enormous amounts of money and environmental damage when the inevitable problems occur.

Just ask the people of Halifax about the extra costs when their monolithic sewage treatment plant was knocked out of commission.

If Halifax had built two plants that could back each other up, the city would have saved millions of dollars and months of pumping raw sewage into its harbour. The only way the CRD can claim that the Seaterra design is cheaper is by ignoring the financial and environmental costs of an emergency.

The CRD needs at least two treatment plants that are connected, so they can continue to operate when an emergency arises. David Stocks Colwood

And Dennis Robinson makes the case for a full plant Trial Island.

Re: “Colwood gets ‘go’ for own sewage plant,” March 13. With Colwood going alone with its own sewage treatment plant, isn’t it time to look at further options for the rest of us?

Trial Island is only 500 metres off the Oak Bay shoreline, and even though part of the island is an ecological reserve, there is still a large tract that could accommodate both a wastewater treatment plant as well as a resource-recovery centre.

With a Trial Island location, everything is together as it should be, with no need to run an 18.5-kilometre pipeline from McLoughlin Point to the Hartland landfill. And then there would be no need to run a 600-metre sewer line under the entrance to the harbour from Ogden Point to a proposed treatment plant at McLoughlin Point.

In some cases, the direction of sewage flow would be reversed, and it could be piped under the harbour at Bay Street until that bridge is upgraded or replaced. Then the pipeline could be suspended under the Bay Street Bridge, just as they are proposing to do at Tillicum over the Gorge, and send it on its way to Trial Island.

After treatment is completed, the water could be discharged from the south end of the island.

Dennis Robinson Victoria –

Feschuk’s Harpoon

You think Stephen Harper likes this whole power thing?

Everything the Prime Minister does, he does for you. Especially winning elections.

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Photo Illustration by Sarah MacKinnon

Photo Illustration by Sarah MacKinnon

The Conservative party has launched a new fundraising campaign as part of a strategy to win next year’s federal election. Let’s read between the lines of the online appeal from its executive director, Dimitri Soudas. His words are in bold.

We need to win another majority government.

Whoa! Easy, tiger. Where’s the romance, the sweet talk? As strategies go, this is a bit like getting all dressed up, going out to a nightclub and loudly announcing to the first girl you see at the bar: “I NEED A WIFE!”

It won’t be easy; the road to 2015 will be difficult. But this isn’t about Stephen Harper or the Conservative party—it’s about our future.

You heard him right, people: This fundraising campaign—explicitly devised and executed to directly benefit Stephen Harper and the Conservative party—is NOT about Stephen Harper or the Conservative party. Not at all.

It’s not like Stephen Harper is doing this “PM thing” for himself. It’s not as though heenjoys it. Why, if he had his way, he’d be livin’ a simpler life down Pincher Creek way, sittin’ on a porch and a-whittlin’ away alongside his old dog Zeke. He wouldn’t have much use for politickin’, nor, evidently, for the letter g.

But for you—for you, Canada, and for your future—Stephen Harper is willing to selflessly take on the burden of absolute power. Furthermore, he is willing to selflessly exercise that power, to the point of selflessly kind of being a jerk about it at times. For you.

For you, he is willing to abandon his fundamental principles and stack institutions, agencies and court benches with his loyal supporters and flunkies.

For you, he is willing to change the Elections Act to make it harder for you to vote and easier for you to give him money.

For you, he is willing to spend tens of millions of your dollars on ads to tell you what a good job he’s doing managing your money.

It’s about you. Your family. Your kids. Your grandkids.

It’s about your nephew. Your nephew’s cat. That cat’s grandkittens. It’s about ensuring that your own futuristic clone does not emerge from its slime pod into a dystopian hellscape wrought by an epidemic of post-Trudeau shirtlessness and doobie-smoking.

The choices we make today will impact Canada’s future. The global economy remains fragile.

If you think about it, no one has gotten more domestic political mileage out of the stagnant global economy than Stephen Harper. He should send Europe a fruit basket.

Canada needs strong, stable leadership—or we risk losing everything we’ve accomplished together.

Think about that. Think about how traumatic it would be to lose everything we’ve accomplished together over the past eight years. Stephen Harper appointed to the Senate a man who is now the daytime manager of an Ottawa strip club. And you want to just turn your back on that kind of progress?

Not convinced? Think of everything else we’ve accomplished together: The public servants we’ve muzzled together. The forced smiles we’ve tolerated together. The unconvincing rhetorical use of “together” we’ve endured together.

Voters are faced with a choice between Stephen Harper’s strong stable leadership and Justin Trudeau’s lack of judgment and experience.

Way to go, Dimitri. You just made Thomas Mulcair sad.

The stakes have never been higher. That’s why I’m asking you to take part in our “Road to 2015” campaign.

That’s correct—the stakes have never been higher. Never. Not during the Great Depression. Not during either world war. Not during the free trade debate or either Quebec referendum. Stephen Harper’s electoral success in 2015 is literally the highest the stakes have ever been. The stakes are so high that we’ve lost sight of them. Please donate now so we can buy new stakes!

Will you add your name to our list of supporters and join the fight in 2015?

Andrew Coyne recently described our approach to government as being grounded in “secrecy, deception and brute force.” He left out pettiness, vengeance, patronage, yelling and gazebos, but the point is nevertheless clear: When you donate to the Conservative party, you get what you pay for.

POSTED ON:  March 15th, 2014. Maclean’s.

Unfair Elections Act

Is this this tipping point for Harper’s Regime? Andrew Coyne on Marc Mayrand’s testimony and recommended modifications to the Act.

Andrew Coyne: The Tories were right to be nervous.

Marc Mayrand shredded their ‘Fair Elections Act’ almost line by line

Andrew Coyne | March 7, 2014 9:29 PM ET More from Andrew Coyne | @acoyne

Chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand almost wasn't allowed to speak.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/
Adrian WyldChief electoral officer Marc Mayrand almost wasn’t allowed to speak in Committee. No wonder the Tories were so nervous. The government had been noticeably skittish about what Marc Mayrand would say before the Commons Procedure and House Affairs committee Thursday: not only had it kept the chief electoral officer largely out of the loop in the months before it introduced its landmark Fair Elections Act, but there was doubt whether he would even be allowed to testify about it afterwards. A promise to that effect had been made to the NDP’s David Christopherson the night before to persuade him to end his filibuster of the Act in committee. Yet on the day Mr. Mayrand’s testimony was interrupted by the calling of not one but two votes in the Commons just as he was scheduled to speak.

At any rate, at length he was allowed to give his testimony, at the end of which very little of the Act was left standing. The chief electoral officer, in his quiet, workmanlike way, simply shredded it, almost line for line, proposing more than two dozen amendments that would effectively rewrite the bill.

The provision banning “vouching” came in for particularly heavy fire: while the government insists the practice, by which voters who lack proper identification can have another voter vouch for them, has given rise to widespread voter fraud, Mr. Mayrand observed there was no evidence for this. It did not help the government’s position that the authority it cited in response, Harry Neufeld, author of a report on electoral irregularities in the 2011 election, later backed up Mr. Mayrand’s stance. (“I never said there was voter fraud,” he told Canadian Press.)

The treatment of Mr. Mayrand, like the misrepresentation of Mr. Neufeld’s report, is unfortunately of a piece with this government’s approach generally, in which secrecy, deception, and brute force are very much the watch words. But what is objectionable in ordinary legislation is intolerable in a bill such as this, one that touches upon the very heart of the democratic process. Of all bills, you would think, this is the one that should invite the most transparency, the most public input, the most reaching out to opposition parties, so as to leave no room for doubt that the fairness of elections had been preserved. Yet from the start, the very opposite course has been pursued.

Entrusting the matter to Pierre Poilievre, among the most ruthlessly partisan ministers in a government filled with ruthless partisans, was an early warning sign. Sure enough, not content with blindsiding the chief electoral officer, the minister — for Democratic Reform! — gave media and opposition members the merest sniff of the mammoth bill before thrusting it upon Parliament, where, after the usual curtailing of debate, it was packed off to committee, whose hearings will be likewise restricted (hence Mr. Christopherson’s filibuster). This is not how a government interested in fairness conducts itself.

But then, the speed and secrecy are understandable, in a way, since the closer one reads the bill, the worse it looks. It is not that the bill is all bad: some provisions, such as the limits on bequests to political parties or the stiffer penalties for election fraud, are quite welcome. But good or bad, what is true of every part of the bill is that it furthers the interests of the parties in general, and of the Conservative party in particular.

The bill would raise the limits on both contributions and spending. All parties would benefit from this — needlessly: there’s never been so much money in our politics — but the Conservatives, as the most successful fundraisers, would plainly benefit most. It would exempt from those limits expenses incurred to raise funds from previous donors: again, without justification, but again to the benefit of the party with the longest donor list — or the greatest willingness to abuse it, the distinction between a fundraising call and an advertisement being self-evidently hard to enforce.

It would allow incumbent parties, rather than Elections Canada, to choose important officers at polling stations: yet again, without offering any justification, and with the same potential for abuse. It would allow the parties to collect and assemble the so-called “bingo cards,” lists of who voted and who did not in each riding — information currently given out only to individual candidates — without any of the usual privacy safeguards, the parties not being subject to federal privacy legislation.

Elections Canada would be hamstrung in all sorts of ways. It would be forbidden from communicating with the public in anything but the most rudimentary terms — not even to encourage people to vote. It cannot be entirely coincidental that, as with the ban on vouching, the people most likely to be affected — the young, the poor, the marginalized — are the ones least likely to vote Conservative.

Likewise, the office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections, charged with enforcing the elections laws, has not only been denied the power to compel evidence, as it had requested — federal parties do not even have to provide receipts for expenses — but has been hived off to a different section of the bureaucracy altogether, though it will be under much the same gag order: it is not even clear whether it will be allowed to communicate with Elections Canada. I leave it to the reader to judge who benefits from that.

The thing is just riddled with this sort of stuff. Perhaps each measure would not seem so troubling on its own; nor even would the whole if the government did not seem so intent on smuggling it into law. But as it is I think some alarm bells should really be going off.

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Is the tipping point for Harper’s regime? Or was that the Senate Scandals?  Or will it be the combination?