Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Harper's gov't. fails on two cogent report cards

(W)e rated a D for working-age poverty and Cs for child poverty and income inequality, pulling down our average.(from Editorial, Toronto Star, February 5, 2013, below)
  • He (Environment Commissioner, Scott Vaughen) pointed to Canada’s lack of preparedness for a major offshore oil spill on its east coast and warned of a potential 300 per cent jump in tanker traffic on the west coast.
  • There are 200,000 fracking wells in the country today, but that number will hit 400,000 by 2032, and there are more than 800 substances used in the procedure, 33 of them known to be toxic, the overwhelming majority remain untested by the government, making the health risk to Canadians impossible to quantify.
  • The bill for the clean-up of environmentally contaminated sites in this country has risen to $8.3 billion, Vaughan reported. (from "Environment commissioner’s farewell audit screams the obvious: Tim Harper", Toronto Star, February 5, 2013, excerpted below) 
With two reports, one from the Conference Board of Canada, demonstrating a growing "income gap" and a "D" on child poverty, and the Environment Commissioner's Final Audit, after five years on the job, pointing to Canada's utter unpreparedness for an environmental disaster, “There are serious questions about the federal capacity to safeguard Canada’s environment,” he says, the government
of Stephen Harper is earning a failing grade on two of the most important government files.
Meanwhile, the government "fiddles" at Senate Reform and more "law and order" legislation, when the country's crime rate has fallen, continues to fall and shows no sign of rising. Clearly, we have the Canadian, twenty-first century version of Nero fiddling while Rome burned.
Hollow rhetoric, about balancing economic development with environmental protection, is nothing more than headline grabbing pomposity. It has no substance.
As for the gaping income disparity, and the government's arrogant insouciance in ignoring the file completely, there is only the tragedy of self-aggrandizement in the Conservative Cabinet.
One wonders if and when the Official Opposition will mount a sustained campaign using the quivver full of legitimate arrows of evidence offered almost daily from various authentic sources, for their policy, program and philosophy scorched-earth assault on the government's incompetence, arrogance, insouciance and failure to provide 'good government' the core of its responsibility.
The Harper government has to be one of, if not the most, insufferably out of touch gang of preening ostriches ever to hold meetings in the Cabinet room on Parliament Hill.
They must be turfed, and the campaign to remove them has to engage both Liberals and New Democrats, inspite of the resistance to collaboration on the part of the current band of applicants for the Liberal leadership.
Environment commissioner’s farewell audit screams the obvious: Tim Harper

By Tim Harper, Toronto Star, February 5, 2013
Scott Vaughan doesn’t have the profile of some of his contemporaries but as the environmental commissioner bowed out with a final report Tuesday, he reminded official Ottawa how much he will be missed.

Vaughan is leaving after five years of what he calls — in typical understatement — identifying “gaps” in the environmental policies of the Conservative government. More often than not, those gaps are more like chasms.
He also departs at a time when the environment and the economy has never been so intertwined in this country, a point he hammered home before taking his leave.
As he pointed out, about 30 per cent of Canada’s gross domestic product is fuelled by exports, and natural resources account for half those exports. More than 750,000 Canadians were working in the resource sector in 2010 and that number is growing. Ottawa estimates more than 600 major resource projects, representing $650 billion in new investments, are under way or planned across the country for the next decade.
“We know that there’s a boom in natural resources in this country and I think what we need now, given the gaps, given the problems we found, is a boom in environmental protection in this country as well,” he said.
As Vaughan delivered his final environmental audit to Parliament, Alberta Premier Alison Redford and New Brunswick Premier David Alward met to discuss moving oil from west to east, Redford sits on a revenue-sapping “bitumen bubble,’’ the Keystone XL pipeline was the subject of U.S. Congressional hearings and Canada’s First Nations are demanding both environmental protection and revenue-sharing from the valuable resources on their lands.
None of this will happen unless we match the environment and economy in lockstep, Vaughan said.
He listed some stunning “gaps.’’
He pointed to Canada’s lack of preparedness for a major offshore oil spill on its east coast and warned of a potential 300 per cent jump in tanker traffic on the west coast.
He reminded us the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 spilled 4.9 million barrels of oil and the clean-up and other costs of civil damages has hit $40 billion.
In Canada, the corporate liability for such spills is $30 million on the east coast, and the liability for the nuclear industry is $75 million and has not been updated in more than 35 years, something Vaughan called “pretty shocking.” The liability limit in the U.S. for a nuclear accident is $12 billion.
Environment Minister Peter Kent, who received this report weeks ago, signaled that liability limit will rise considerably, so score another victory for Vaughan.
The commissioner said environmental oversight of the number of mining projects in the booming north is lacking and he pointed to another boom, this one in hydraulic fracturing, known generically as “fracking.”
There are 200,000 fracking wells in the country today, but that number will hit 400,000 by 2032, and there are more than 800 substances used in the procedure, 33 of them known to be toxic, the overwhelming majority remain untested by the government, making the health risk to Canadians impossible to quantify.
The bill for the clean-up of environmentally contaminated sites in this country has risen to $8.3 billion, Vaughan reported.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper maintained his government will continue down a road of “responsible resource development,” and he called Vaughan’s report a “useful piece of advice.”
Vaughan is leaving two years before the end of his mandate to take a post with for a Winnipeg-based public policy institute, but he denies he is leaving with any frustration.
Instead, he points to a series of measures the government had taken in response to his reports, including better pipeline inspections and better preparedness for oil spills from vessels in Canadian waters.
One is left to wonder where this government’s environmental policies would be without the constant push from Vaughan.
After five years of probing those “gaps,” he says he can draw a cumulative portrait and it is one frightening work of art.
“There are serious questions about the federal capacity to safeguard Canada’s environment,” he says.
Toronto Star Editorial, February 5, 2013
Canada may bask in its five-star image as a nation where the roads are paved with silver, if not gold. But for many of us the reality is less rosy, the Conference Board of Canada finds in its latest report on How Canada Performs. In fact, our national performance is downright “troubling for a wealthy country” when it comes to some key social indicators including the rich/poor gap, and the number of working-age adults and children living in poverty.

“Canada’s middle of the pack ranking means it is not living up to its reputation or its potential,” the board found after surveying 17 industrial nations.We earned a B average and a middling 7th place ranking.
Although we chalked up A's in a number of areas including life satisfaction, income mobility between generations, diversity, and support for the elderly poor and the disabled, we rated a D for working-age poverty and Cs for child poverty and income inequality, pulling down our average. And these are the very factors that “put stress on a society and on the economy,” the board warned.
Like them or not, the Occupy protesters were on to something.
So what, then, is Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government focused on as Parliament resumes? Well, that would be Senate reform and yet more tough-on-crime laws, two issues that play to the party’s grassroots even though most Canadians worry more about jobs and the economy.
As the Tories fret about the Constitution and courts, Canada is doing a “mediocre job” on income equality, ranking 12th of the industrial club. The richest fifth of Canadians is the only group to have increased its share of national income in the past 20 years, and now takes home 39 per cent of it. Everyone else, including middle-income groups, has lost ground.
ot surprisingly, the child poverty rate has gone up to 15.1 per cent from 12.8 in the past 15 years; working-age poverty rose to 11.1 per cent from 9.4 and poverty among the elderly went to 6.7 per cent from 2.9. “The rise in child poverty is particularly disheartening,” the board found. Not only is it socially reprehensible; it also risks being a drag on the economy for years to come.
All this drew pointed questions in Parliament this week. Rather than obsess over Senate reform many of us don’t want and crime laws we don’t need, the Conservatives should take the Conference Board’s findings to heart and pay some attention to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s prescriptions for a healthier society.
Government can and should address growing income inequities by stepping up tax benefits and transfers to low-income people, and by opening more doors to better jobs, the OECD recommends. With respect to jobs there are three key areas where government can be especially helpful.
Better education. It’s the key to social mobility, economic growth and equity. Government should make sure children from disadvantaged backgrounds have access to early childhood education and to post-secondary education and training.
Make work pay. Government can give the working poor a hand by increasing tax credits to low-income wage earners.
Ease child poverty. The best way to ease child poverty is to help mothers work by providing more child care, parenting support and by promoting flexible employment.
To this list might be added: More affordable housing.
These are the nuts-and-bolts policies that earn other countries A's. Granted, Ottawa and the provinces have programs to address some of these problems, but the rising poverty rates confirm that they are not nearly enough. As a nation we are sufficiently wealthy to invest more in these areas, especially given the economic payback. All that is lacking is political vision, and will.



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