Sunday, April 30, 2017

Peel school secularism protests may have hidden religious element

In the district of Peel, just northwest of Toronto, the spectre of religious, even racial, factionalism appears to be rearing its ugly head, although perhaps not in its usual guise.
A series of small demonstrations in support of secularism in the Peel education system, a cause that I am all in favour of myself, is bringing with it an odour of religious intolerance. The protesters are, quite rightly, complaining about the Peel school board's recent decision to allow Muslims to perform their Friday prayers (or jummah) in schools, arguing that such excessive religious accommodation is misplaced, and that schools should be kept as wholly secular institutions.
That is all well and good, but some of the protests have become more overtly anti-Muslim (as opposed to pro-secular), resulting in some anti-Muslim remarks and even, at one point, the tearing up and stomping on of a copy of the Koran and a YouTube offer of a cash reward for evidence of Muslim students using hate speech in their Friday prayers.
More than half of the population of Peel is South Asian, and the region hosts the fastest-growing Muslim population in Canada (an estimated 12% of Canada's total Muslim population lives there). And, interestingly, now that the minority population has become a majority, it is beginning to splinter and divide, and identity politics are beginning to take hold - even here in multicultural Canada, where such prejudices are largely absent.
For example, it is apparent that the school board protesters are overwhelmingly Indian and Hindu. They represent small and earnest-sounding protest organizations like Concerned Parents of Canada (CPC), Religion Out Of Public Schools (ROOPS), and Keep Religion Out Of Our Public Schools (KROOOPS). But there is also an element of Hindu demagoguery in some of these groups, and more particularly in the Rise Canada organization, which is also involved, and many of the participants are unashamed supporters of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist revival. Such movements have apparently established themselves in the United States and in Britain, although this is the first I have heard of them here in Canada.
Despite the ostensibly reasonable, democratic and secularist concerns of these protest groups, and their stress on Canadian values and freedoms, there is at times a distinct anti-Islam undertone to them, which is both disturbing and unwelcome.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Canada no longer has to worry about a Trump-esque O'Leary

America's Donald Trump and Canada's Kevin O'Leary are scarily similar in many respects. They are both mega-rich reality show celebrities with zero political experience. They are both narcissistic prima donnas with unpredictable tempers, and come armed with a conviction that they are right and the rest of the world must be wrong. They are both intelligent, but they have no empathy and no thought for their fellow man or woman. Basically, it's all about them.
In Trump's case, as we have seen all too often in his first few months of power, this translates into a political MO which is very difficult to deal with. His policies tend to begin with a blustering middle-of-the-night tweet, which his policy wonks then try to formulate into something halfway workable (which, as we have seen from the number of Trump edicts that have back-fired and either been abandoned or legally blocked, is no easy task).
The so-called "dealmaker-in-chief" has a very stressful and inefficient method of dealing, which usually starts with promising the moon and then gradually paring it back to something more practical. Thus, he will initially bluster that he is going to pull out of NAFTA or NATO or the Paris Climate Accord or whatever it might be. But then, after a conversation or two with more reasonable and seasoned individuals (which usually means someone outside his own cabinet), he will tone down his demands substantially, or often withdraw them completely. This must be incredibly frustrating for other politicians, who are not used to having to deal with the temper tantrums of a six-year old.
Kevin O'Leary is another such soi-disant dealmaker, and Canada should consider itself very lucky that he has recently decided not to pursue the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada. Not that the Conservatives are in any danger of running the country again for quite some time (even most Conservatives are admitting that Trudeau is going to be unbeatable in 2019, and they are meekly setting their sights on 2023).
O'Leary's rationale for quitting the leadership race at this late stage is that he is "a numbers guy" and his extensive private polling has shown him that there is no way he can possibly win enough seats in Quebec to defeat the Liberals, and he is really not interested in being the leader of an opposition party. Why it has taken him this long to figure that out is a moot question, as is why he thinks that Maxime Bernier, with all the baggage he is bringing to the position, is in a better position to do so. O'Leary is portraying his decision as the best one for the party and for the country, as of course he has to do. But, in reality, it is the response of another megalomaniac six-year old, along the lines of "it's my ball, and I'm taking it home".
Now, I'm no fan of Maxine Bernier, and I am really not convinced that his libertarian vision is going to resonate with Canadians. But I consider that the country has dodged a bullet by not having to contend with a Trumpian monomaniac like Kevin O'Leary.

Crane-climber a welcome break from politics as usual

In a welcome diversion from the dominant news items of the day (Trump tilting at the windmills of NAFTA and NATO, the Ontario provincial budget, blah blah blah), a Toronto woman was rescued from the top of crane yesterday, in an early morning drama which has captured the imaginations of the population and the local media.
23 year old Marisa Lazo, described by a friend as "an adventurous girl" (which is perhaps an understatement), was discovered around 4am on Wednesday morning placidly sitting on the pulley of a crane about 10 stories above street level in a construction site at Yonge and Wellesley in downtown Toronto.
Crane rescue
Dressed on this cold night in jeans, button-down short, a light denim jacket and two inch heels, Ms. Lazo had somehow scaled the huge crane, and then shinned down the cable to the pulley, where she was spotted swaying gently in the breeze by neighbours as it was coming light in the morning. Firefighter Rob Wonfor, who carried out the rescue, is quoted as saying: "I have no idea how she did it ... It was hard enough for me to go up with ropes and harnesses and she free-climbed that".
The next day, Ms. Lazo faced six mischief charges, and was ultimately released on $500 bail on the condition that does not enter an more construction sites or do on any rooftops. Which might sound kind of ridiculous, but apparently she has a penchant for standing on, or dangling off, tall building sin Toronto, as her Instagram account (since taken down) attests. In fact, "rooftopping" for photos is apparently a thing among some young people, and some have even died from it. Who knew?
Anyway, I just wanted to thank Ms. Lazo for brightening my day a little, and for giving the press something other than dry politics to feast on, for a while at least.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Canada's dairy trade and the supply management system

Wow, it's been a while since my last post! I was away for a couple of weeks, but as for the rest, I can only put it down to political lethargy and a surfeit of Trump news, which has recently become an instant repellent for me.
So what has prompted this sudden renewal of interest? Canadian dairy economics and supply management? Sounds unlikely, but it's an issue I have never really understood and wanted to get my head around, and a recent article about Canada's dairy trade woes with the USA has provided me with some answers at least.
Mr. Trump is currently blowing hard about Canada's "unfair" dairy policies, bleating that American dairy farmers in Wisconsin and New York are "getting killed" by the current provisions of NAFTA on the dairy trade. And, unusually, he may actually have a point, although as usual his language is characteristically exaggerated and excessive, and the story is predictably much more complicated than he suggests. Ground zero in the allegations being throw around is the state of Wisconsin, known as the dairy capital of America, and coincidentally instrumental in Donald Trump's narrow election victory (as well as the home state of the influential Republican House speaker Paul Ryan).
The current dispute has been precipitated by a recent decision by Canadian milk marketing boards to introduce a new classification for a type of milk concentrate used to make cheese, a classification that apparently makes it much more beneficial for Canadian cheese companies to use domestic milk rather than import cheaper milk from the USA. As a result of this new policy, the American milk processor Grassland Dairy Products summarily cancelled 58 contracts with dairy farms in Wisconsin and another 9 in Minnesota, arguing that it has suffered a "severe loss" and been "forced to cut back on our milk intake volumes on a very short notice".
But further contributing to the problem is the fact that the world, the USA, and Wisconsin in particular, is currently facing a huge glut and oversupply of milk - a problem clearly not of Canada's making - and so farmers like those in Wisconsin just have nowhere else to go, and many are faced with selling off their cows where possible, or even slaughtering them for meat.
While dairy practices in the USA are even more egregious than those in Canada, the machinations currently at work in the industry are almost entirely economic and not related to the environment or animal welfare. Somehow, NAFTA notwithstanding, Canada has managed to maintain a huge 270% duty on most imported dairy products, which keeps most imports out (and also props up artificially high dairy prices at home). Up until recently, "ultrafiltered milk", a milk concentrate primarily used to make cheese and yoghurts, has been exempt from this duty, and this is the loophole that many Canadian cheese and yoghurt manufacturers have been taking advantage of in using cheaper American ultrafiltered milk. It is the reversal of this exemption, then, that has precipitated the current crisis.
Although not immediately to blame for the current situation, the infamous Canadian regime of "supply management" is also implicated in the fracas. The dairy industry in Canada, as well as the chicken and egg industries, has since the 1970s been protected by a tariff wall to block imports, strict production quotas and centrally fixed prices. The practice has faced mounting criticism from abroad, particularly from America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, and is even under fire internally, as it leads to artificially high prices for Canadian dairy, eggs and chicken. Although Canada had nearly 140,000 dairy farms at the time the policy was implemented, that number is now down to  about 12,000 and falling annually, so one would have thought that it might be an idea whose day has passed. Nevertheless, all three major political parties still strongly support it, and the dairy lobby is still disproportionately powerful.
The official Canadian response to the current American spat over dairy tariffs is that the global oversupply of milk is the main culprit, but the supply management system is most definitely the elephant in the room, and it would frankly surprise me if it survived the current negotiations. And that may not actually be a bad thing (unless you are a Canadian dairy farmer, of course).
Not that the USA is not also subsidizing its own dairy industry, but that's another story....