Northern Lights

by Barry Weisleder


The June 2007 edition of Northern Lights, a regular column from Canada by Barry Weisleder, appears in the San Francisco–based monthly newspaper Socialist Action. To subscribe to the newspaper, please find the details at the SA web site: www.socialistaction.org.

Socialism 2007 a Big Success

Over sixty people crowded into the Free Times Cafe in Toronto’s historic garment district on the evening of April 29 to celebrate International Workers’ Day with Socialist Action, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, the Free the Cuba Five Committee, the Toronto Haiti Action Committee and the NDP Socialist Caucus. Top quality live music and theatre performances, greetings, speeches and a raffle made for a memorable, quick-paced celebration.

The event capped Socialist Action’s fourth annual educational conference held in Toronto, April 27–29. The three day gathering, — “Socialism 2007: Canadian Imperialism and its Discontents,” drew participants from Halifax, Montreal and across southern Ontario. It featured panels, debates, discussions and displays on a range of compelling issues, including: the myth of Canada as peacekeeper, the nature of imperialism, the relationship of feminism and socialism, Venezuela’s challenge to the Empire, Palestine and the boycott of the Israeli apartheid state, and the present situation of the Québec sovereignty movement.

Highlights were the Friday evening session on the U.S. war/quagmire in Iraq, and the Saturday night panel on “Imperialism and Eco-catastrophe,” both of which featured special guest speaker from San Francisco, Jeff Mackler, national secretary of Socialist Action (US).

The weekend was so lively, informative and stimulating that it inspired three new participants to ask to join Socialist Action/Ligue pour l’Action Socialiste, and several others to subscribe to SA monthly newspaper.

What lies ahead?

The following excerpts from the SA message to the May Day Celebration suggest some pressing priorities.

“The burning issue of our times, literally, is climate change due to global warming. The escalating environmental crisis exposes the utter incompatibility of capitalism with the survival of life on Earth. The refusal of global big business and its governments to comply even with the pathetic emission reduction targets of the Kyoto Accord, with its scandalous mechanism for selling carbon credits, constitute an unfolding tragedy of epic proportions. The Katrina–New Orleans debacle, which showed who suffers first and most under racist, sexist, capitalist class rule, is likely to be repeated many fold, from Tierra del Fuego to Baffin Island — and it is sure to trigger a massive and widespread radicalization that only socialists can lead towards a progressive solution. The struggle against the cause of climate change — corporate power and greed — is already beginning to intersect with a rising tide of rejection of the neo-liberal agenda of global big business.

“In Québec, the Union des Forces Progressiste and Option Citoyenne united in February 2006 to form Québec Solidaire. Although not an explicitly socialist party, its pro-sovereignty and anti-neo-liberal policies have attracted Labour support, and help to advance the idea of building a labour-based workers’ party that fights for an independent and socialist Québec. The QS received close to 4% of the votes in the recent Québec provincial election, up to 29% and 26% in two Montréal ridings. The decline of the PQ, the rise of the ADQ, and the election of a Liberal minority government signifies massive disaffection with the political status quo. It also reveals the continuing strength of nationalist aspirations amongst the Québécois.

“It is premature to propose an NDP-Québec Solidarity alliance at the federal level. But the idea of a joint struggle for government by the workers’ organizations of Québec and English Canada is important. In the meantime, and at the upcoming federal election, the best available option to advance the idea of working class independence from the capitalist parties remains the fight for an NDP federal government.

“In the Ontario provincial election set for October 10, SA will campaign for an NDP government and fight for a Workers’ Agenda of democratic, defensive and transitional demands. We will urge a YES vote in the referendum on electoral reform in favour of the Mixed-Member Proportional Representation proposal on the ballot. At the same time we will explain our preference for Direct P.R., and for a 1% (instead of 3%) threshold for party representation. That is the best route both for gender parity in the legislature, and to ensure that every vote cast will be effective.”

All Out on June 29 — Aboriginal Day of Protest and on September 26 — Mass Anti-Poverty Action in Toronto

Tired of “waiting” for justice, angry aboriginal and poor people are gearing up for a hot summer of mass protest actions that deserve the broadest possible support.

“Many of our communities have reached a breaking point,” Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine told the Canadian Club in Ottawa in mid-May. He warned that poverty, government inaction and the glacial pace of land-claim negotiations are breeding desperation and rage among native peoples across the country. “The anger and frustration are palpable.”

The Conservative federal government scuttled the Kelowna Accord, the 2005 agreement between Ottawa, the premiers and aboriginals that would have pumped $5 billion into native communities to improve education, housing, health and other services. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has put nothing in its place and the latest federal budget largely ignored natives.

Aboriginal leaders have set June 29 as a cross-country day of protest. Chief Terry Nelson of Manitoba’s Roseau River First Nation is threatening to block a major railway line through his community. Other blockades are expected. A YouTube video titled “When Justice Fails, Stop the Rails” provided instructions on sabotaging rail lines.

Meanwhile, Six Nations members continue a 15-month occupation in Caledonia, south of Hamilton, on land they claim. And in April, members of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte First Nation held up passenger and freight trains near Deseronto, Ontario, in another land dispute.

A Senate committee recently reported that more than 850 claims are waiting to be resolved, and that it could take 90 years to settle them all. Clearly, waiting won’t work.

At the same time, a widening income gap and deepening poverty in urban and rural areas alike condemn growing numbers of people to a desperate struggle for survival. For over twenty years welfare rates, the minimum wage and social housing have been virtually frozen. As a result, preventable diseases and deaths due to exposure are on the rise.

Toronto Anti-Poverty (TAP), which describes itself as “a non-partisan coalition of community organizations, trade union activists, health providers and low income people,” is organizing a Day of Action for Wednesday, September 26. Feeder marches across Toronto will converge that day on Queen’s Park, the seat of the provincial government, in the throes of the Ontario election set for October 10. The mass protest challenges all parties to immediately increase social assistance rates, increase the minimum wage and build affordable/social housing now.

Socialist Action advocates an immediate 40 per cent raise in welfare and disability rates, a $12.50 minimum wage in Ontario, and the emergency construction of 200,000 new units of social housing and 100,000 renovated units across Canada.

TAP says, “We believe there is momentum right now for real change in Ontario, and want to build a broad movement across Toronto, with low-income people, students, trade unionists, community workers, faith groups and others. We invite you to join us in organizing the next steps to win real action on poverty. To endorse the action and to get involved, please contact Toronto Disaster Relief at tdrc@tdrc.net.

York U. Protester Wins Victory for Free Speech

Pro-Palestinian activist Daniel Freeman-Maloy will be back at Toronto’s York University this fall, louder and more determined than ever to build a movement against war and occupation, following a dual victory over university officials.

In the spring of 2004, the Jewish political science major was suspended for three years for using a megaphone at two anti-Zionist rallies in a common public space on campus. While the university withdrew the suspension after three months, Freeman-Maloy went on to sue York and its President Lorna Marsden for $850,000 for defamation, economic harm, and limiting his academic freedom. That battle ended in May 2007 with a confidential agreement that Dan describes as “satisfactory.”

Along the way, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld his right to sue a university president for “misfeasance in public office.”

Canadian Federation of Students’ Ontario president Jesse Greener praised the settlement for “sending a message that students will be able to enjoy free speech on campus, without administrators acting unilaterally against students because of their political views.”

Farmers Squeezed by Rising Costs

Canada’s farms are dwindling in number and almost half of those that remain cannot cover their expenses, according to Statistics Canada. The number of farms declined by 7% in the past five years, leaving 17,550 fewer farms and 19,140 fewer farmers, according to a census agriculture report released in May. The drop was most pronounced in Newfoundland and Labrador, which lost 13% of its farms, and Saskatchewan, where the numbers fell by 12%. However, the total farm area in the country remained virtually unchanged at 67.6 million hectares. The report attributes that consistency to the “resilience” of farmers finding new ways to work, and to the growth of larger farms.

The number of farms with more than $250,000 in gross income increased by nearly 14% over the past half-decade and “million-dollar farms” grew by 33%. Small farms are still the most common in Canada by far, but their numbers are shrinking and they have a much harder time making ends meet.

The past five years have been “the worst for farm incomes in Canadian history,” said Terry Pugh, executive director of the National Farmers’ Union. The Stats Canada report acknowledges that between mad cow disease, difficult weather and shifting product demand, prices have been “somewhat like a roller coaster.” However, the snapshot shows that gross farm earnings are on the rise — along with expenses.

Canadian farm receipts (including earnings on products sold and government program payments) totaled $42.2 billion in the most recent census, up almost 9% over the previous figures. In the same time period, farm expenses were $36.4 billion. Fertilizer and fuel prices alone jumped 35% and pesticide costs rose by 19%.

This means Canadian farmers spend an average of 86¢ for every dollar they make, but that figure does not include depreciation — something Terry Pugh said is a major cost and a significant oversight. All told, 44% of Canada’s farms were unable to cover their expenses in 2005 (financial figures for the previous year were reported on the census), a fact the report attributes to a large number of very small farms. About 71% of farms with receipts of less than $25,000 were in the red — slightly less than during the previous census — and 14% of the million-dollar operations also found themselves in debt.

The census also shows more farmers are looking for work off the farm and working longer hours. Nearly half (48%) now have some employment off the farm, up from 45% in 2001.

McBreakfast Could Kill You

A single fast food meal can cause your blood pressure to spike, says a new University of Calgary study.

And such an instant jump could be a key to how high-fat meals produce heart disease over time, according to the lead researcher.

“We can measure this response after only one meal, which is remarkable,” said Tavis Campbell, a health psychology professor at the school.

“Most Canadians eat these sorts of fast-food meals on a fairly regular basis…and, if we can see the effects after one sitting, it’s really striking to think about people who do this (two or three times a week).”

Campbell’s paper was published in May in the Journal of Nutrition.

In the study, subjects who ingested high-fat meals saw their blood pressure go up 1.25 to 1.5 times higher than counterparts who ate low-fat offerings when both were submitted to several standard stress tests. The tests, administered about two hours after eating, included public speaking assignments, math tests and immersing their hands in icy water.

The subjects were 30 young, healthy individuals, none of whom had any history of blood pressure or heart problems.

The high-fat meal was basically a large McDonald’s breakfast, consisting of hash browns, a Sausage McMuffin and an Egg McMuffin. The low-fat menu included Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes and Fruit Loops, a fruit bar and Sunny Delight orange drink.

“We already know that a high-fat diet is linked…to cardiovascular disease, certain kinds of cancers and so on,” Campbell said.

“This is maybe an additional way that a high-fat diet can have a negative impact on cardiovascular health.”

Female Grads Get Paid Less

Nowadays, women outnumber men at universities, overall they get better grades, and yet women get paid less than men after graduation.

Surprising to many is not the well-documented existence of the income gap, but that it starts so soon.

According to a new study by the American Association of University Women, women already earn 20 per cent less than men at the same level and in the same field one year after college graduation. Right at the beginning, before taking time off for childbirth or child rearing, women find themselves behind.

And then it gets worse. Women are paid about 77 cents for every dollar a man is paid, according to U.S. census data, a figure that has remained steady for about a decade.

Ten years after graduation, women fall further behind, earning 69 per cent of what men earn.

A 12 per cent gap appeared even when the AAUW Education Foundation, which did the research, accounted for hours, occupation, parenthood and other factors known to directly affect earnings.

The remainder of the gap is unexplained by any other control factors. That may mean, said Catherine Hill, director of research for the AAUW, that discrimination is the root cause.

And to discover the deeper root of that “root cause” one needs only to answer the question, “Who benefits by paying women less?”

NDP Wins Historic Third Majority in Manitoba

The labour-based New Democratic Party in Manitoba won a historic third majority government in the province’s 39th general election on May 22.

The NDP, under Leader Gary Doer, elected 36 members, equaling a record set by the Conservatives under premier Duff Roblin in the 1960s.

The NDP picked up two Winnipeg seats from the Tories: Kirkfield Park, which was a former Conservative leader’s riding, and Southdale. Both ridings had elected Conservatives since 1990.

The Manitoba Liberal Party held on to its two seats, failing again to win the four seats required to obtain official party status. With 1.3 per cent of the popular vote, the Green Party elected no MPPs. The NDP dominated northern and Winnipeg seats, while the 19 ridings won by the Conservatives were mostly in southern rural areas.