Absolute Equality

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The F word

The world is congratulating Justin Trudeau for being a feminist because he described himself as one in public last week in Davos.

In fact it has become very popular to ask famous people whether they would call themselves feminists.

I’m getting really tired of talking about the word. I’d like to decide whether or not people are feminists based on their actions.

For example: is a prime minister who names a cabinet with gender parity a feminist?

What if several of the women in his cabinet are actually junior and are only to be styled as full ministers?

What if most, though not all of the top portfolios still rest with men?

Justin Trudeau has talked about gender parity, equal pay, let’s see what he does.

Further reading:

Ottawa Citizen: If you’re a man, being a feminist means unlearning what you had learned

Globe and Mail: The economic story behind gender parity in Trudeau’s cabinet

On the duty to be loyal

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The public service was in the news a lot this election and continue to be so now that we have a new Liberal government. First when they applauded a visit by the new Prime Minister to Foreign Affairs and now because of a report put out by Canadians for Tax Fairness.

The report consisted of interviews with anonymous current and former public servants at Canada Revenue Agency who made claims that politics were getting in the way of audits of corporations that may be evading taxes with offshore accounts.

You can find the full report here.

Now the question is whether these anonymous public servants are acting for the public trust and deserve protection as whistleblowers or whether they are breaking their vow to remain “professional and non-partisan.”

Public servants have a duty of loyalty to their employer (the Government of Canada) as outlined in the Values and Ethics Code of Conduct. But this code of conduct also refers to a “fundamental role to play in serving Canadians, their communities and the public interest.”

As such, it is up to public servants, and possibly the courts, to decide whether things like these anonymous interviews are a breach of the code or that these public servants were acting in the public interest.

The Conservative Party in particular is upset about this report and is calling on the current government to investigate what happened here. There is an irony here in that the Conservative Party under Stephen Harper was elected on the promise of an accountability act that included whistleblower protection.

These protections were meant to allow public servants and, in fact, all Canadians to report government wrongdoing: “These changes will help create an environment in which employees and all Canadians can honestly and openly report wrongdoing in the federal government without fear of reprisal.”

These particular public servants opted to go to Canadians for Tax Fairness to report what they felt was government mismanagement and political interference that meant that tax laws were not being fairly implemented.

This case highlights two aspects of the Duty of Loyalty specifically: 1) The duty of loyalty owed by public servants to the Government of Canada encompasses a duty to refrain from public criticism of the Government of Canada but 2) However, the duty of loyalty is not absolute, and public criticism may be justified in certain circumstances.

But those circumstances have to fit into specific categories:

  1. the Government is engaged in illegal acts;
  2. Government policies jeopardize life, health or safety; or
  3. the public servant’s criticism has no impact on his or her ability to perform effectively the duties of a public servant or on the public perception of that ability.

In this case the public servants would need to explain publicly that they believe that one of these circumstances apply, presumably that the government was engaging in illegal acts. It would be difficult to argue that tax evasion either jeopardizes life, health or safety or that this criticism would not impact their ability to perform their duties.

The facts of these case seem to require an investigation, as the Tories are calling for, though there is a chance that the anonymous public servants would be vindicated in an investigation.

On COP21 and the missing mandatories

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The signing of the climate change agreement by 196 countries this month was hailed as historic. Canada’s new Prime Minister called it ‘ambitious.’

The actual agreement is only 31 pages long and the signatories agreed to a goal of limiting the rise in global temperatures to 2 degrees or less above pre-industrial temperatures.

Living in Canada’s capital, where meteorologists are forecasting a green Christmas at 15 Celsius – which would mark the warmest Christmas on record for Ottawa – I have to wonder what the Paris signatories might actually be ready, willing and able to accomplish.

I have in the back of my mind the Kyoto agreement. Jean Chretien’s Liberal government signed on to the agreement in 1997, didn’t ratify it here until five years later and then failed to create any changes to help this country abide by that agreement’s targets before. The Liberals were then duly outraged when the Harper government when they pulled out of it in 2011 after announcing that Canada would not enforce any climate change regulations before 2015.

And here we are, in 2015 with a new government and COP21.

I first became concerned about Paris when word spread that the word indigenous had been taken out of the main text of the agreement. Indigenous peoples are now referred to only in the preamble and indigenous rights are not included in any of the legally binding text. This should be of great concern to Canada since our Inuit are the first and most affected by climate change.

Luckily it seems that Prime Minister Trudeau does understand the need to include indigenous peoples in climate change discussions, and hopefully he and his Minister of Environment and Climate Change will bring First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples into the conversation here at home.

You can read more about the basics of the COP21 agreement here. This article notes that the goal is a carbon neutral world sometime after 2050 but before 2100. So that’s a good long time but there are a whole lot of attitudes and behaviours to change. In fact, according to a Suzuki Foundation climate change policy analyst, it would require a change to around 100 per cent renewable energy in the next 35 years.

That switch would require major investment in greening the economy. There are almost 33 million vehicles registered in this country and the vast majority of those are not hybrid or electric. Most provinces and all three territories rely on non-renewables for electricity and heat, which are necessities in Canada. The territories, in particular, will need help transitioning.

And all of this in one generation.

Of course, the agreement allows for individual countries to set their own emissions targets and those targets are non-binding. But they will have to publish their targets and update them every five years, which allows citizens and NGOs to hold governments to account, but there is the obvious problem that governments can and will change over the next 35 years.

Like so many other things in politics, actions will speak louder than words.

Related reading:

Vice: We spoke to the Indigenous protestor who called the Paris climate conference on its bullshit

CBC: ‘Historic’ Paris climate deal adopted

 

93, 118 or 135

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During a town hall with Vice on October 5 Justin Trudeau announced that his Liberals are committed to helping First Nations communities get clean drinking water. He said:

“We have 93 different communities, under 133 different boil water advisories across the country. Chief Isadore Day has called for within five years there should be zero, and I’ve told the chief and I’ve told First Nations many times we agree with that, and a Canadian government led by me will address this as a top priority because it’s not right in a country like Canada that this has gone on for far too long.”

Trudeau’s announcement, though, was a bit of a surprise because the party had just released a platform and that promise, which has an estimated cost of $10 billion over 10 years, was not in it.

The Liberal platform did include $275 million in 2016-17 for Indigenous peoples, and a total over four years of just over $1.6 billion, which includes a stated goal of ensuring that the Kelowna Accord is “embraced.”

The Kelowna Accord, a Private Member’s Bill introduced by former Prime Minister Paul Martin in 2007, did include funding for clean water needs in some communities, but the cost provided was $400 million.

It was also surprising that Trudeau said during the town hall that the Liberals were prepared to work with “all 93 communities.” In March 2015 the number of First Nations’ communities under boil water advisories was listed at 135.

According to APTN, Trudeau was excluding 25 communities in BC because the province, rather than the federal government, now reports on the state of their water. Assuming then that only 118 communities need funding to replace or upgrade their water systems, $275 million amounts to around $2.3 million per community. Considering that money, according to the Liberal platform, is also supposed to support First Nations’ education, other infrastructure in First Nations’ communities and health and mental health services, it would not go very far at all.

The question then becomes whether the infrastructure line item in the platform, worth just over $5 billion in 2016/17, includes funding to help provide First Nations’ reserves with clean drinking water.

That $5 billion is, of course, part of Trudeau much touted deficit. That deficit he says will fund infrastructure and “social infrastructure” projects across the country.

Infrastructure on First Nations reserves is included in the new Minister’s mandate letter. That letter instructs her to work with the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities “in consultation with First Nations, Inuit and other stakeholders.” It also includes instructions to work with the Minister of Finance to create “predictable and sustained funding” for First Nations communities, which may allow these communities to invest in their own infrastructure needs.

It remains to be seen whether real steps will be taken. This is a matter of political will, but with record numbers of Aboriginal voters and Aboriginal MPs political will might grow.

Further reading: 

APTN: PM Trudeau to meet with Aboriginal leaders before end of year

Toronto Star: Carolyn Bennett: Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs