Federal union members reject new organization for gig workers

With a growing number of Canadians engaged in precarious gig-style jobs, labour groups are trying to devise creative ways to protect workers.

 

One of Canada’s largest public service unions spent two years developing a proposal for a pioneering guild-style organization to represent professionals in precarious work, only to have the idea defeated by members in a recent vote.

The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) was pushing for the establishment of Professionals Canada, a nonunion labour organization that would only organize professionals doing gig work in the private sector. The idea was to help position the labour movement for the tidal wave of new technologies that will shift labour and the nature of work.

But the proposal was soundly rejected at PIPSC’s annual meeting last month. The strongest resistance came from the union’s 16,000 technology workers, who are keenly aware how new technologies could eliminate all or parts of many jobs – including theirs.

“Fear and pessimism won out,” said Steve Hindle, vice-president of PIPSC. “It will require more effort to break through the traditional union model and take that big, bold step. We had the opportunity to do that but we chose not to.”

Hindle said he’s disappointed PIPSC isn’t the first out the gate, leading the way with a new union model but, he said, it “won’t be long before someone else steps up to say this is a good idea and tries it.”

Professionals Canada would have started by offering dental, medical and vison-care benefits packages; advice; advocacy; and a “community” of interest. The long game, however, was to build a large membership, exploiting the power of numbers to become a “benefits hub,” a benefits bank, to which employees and employers would contribute. Workers could take those benefits from job to job.

“It would have replicated what employers used to provide, but in an association, because these workers are moving from job to job and those stable employers today are few and far between,” said Eddie Gillis, PIPSC executive director and the architect of the Professionals Canada proposal.

Professionals Canada is the type of new model that policy-makers and researchers are exploring to meet the challenges of precarious employment ─ how employers and employees can manage increasingly insecure work, and governments’ roles in regulating it.

It would have been a big shift for PIPSC. The union represents more than 60,000 professionals working in the public service, from scientists and engineers to auditors and technology workers — which is why it seemed perfectly positioned to target similar professionals outside government.

The resistance was rooted in PIPSC’s longstanding campaign to reduce the government’s reliance on contractors, especially technology workers. The government is one of the country’s biggest users of contractors, consultants, temporary help, term workers and casual workers for work that, the union argued, should be done by public servants.

After years of this campaign, members just could not reconcile Professionals Canada organizing contractors in order to protect their rights and offer them benefits, while PIPSC was campaigning to reduce the number of contractors.

Canada’s legal framework does little to protect precarious workers, who now account for 30 percent of the workforce. The Trudeau government revamped employment standards, but these apply only to employees—not to gig workers. The emergence of digital platforms, which connect the sellers and buyers of goods and services, brought the issue to the fore and is forcing a redefinition of what is work and who is an employee.

Photo: Shutterstock, by Daisy.

In the absence of legislation, courts in Canada and around the world are deciding whether Uber and Lyft drivers, and Deliveroo and Foodora workers who deliver food, are employees or contractors. If they are classified as employees, then gig workers are entitled to statutory employment protections and other benefits.

And companies are prepared to fight against this classification. Uber has consistently argued that it is a technology company and its drivers are independent contractors, not employees.

But, Gillis said, the tag “precarious worker” does not just apply to Uber and Lyft drivers.

It includes highly skilled professionals who work as contractors going from job to job and project to project. They are “dependent contractors” who work exclusively for a single company; they are employed full time in small or start-up companies that can’t afford to offer benefits.

Gillis said Professionals Canada was built on the founding principles of guilds. Guilds attracted independent skilled artisans who, as a collective, were able to set prices for their goods and services. He said today’s professionals need a model similar to that of workers in the construction trades, film and television industry.  These workers also work project-to-project, but their unions negotiate with multiple employers, and the guilds and employers contribute to and jointly administer pension and benefits plans that workers can take with them from job to job.

Gillis said legislation would be necessary in order to force thousands of businesses in the gig economy to contribute to benefit plans and allow an organization such as Professionals Canada to be the “benefit hub” that administered the plans. Until that occurs, employers might choose to voluntarily contribute to such benefit plans to give them a competitive edge in attracting and keeping workers.

The debate over how gig workers should be protected and represented is just beginning, says Lori Sterling, a former federal deputy minister of labour.

The Prime Minister’s mandate letter to Labour Minister Filomena Tassi instructed her to pursue a $15 federal minimum wage and to “develop greater labour protections for people who work through digital platforms, whose status is not clearly covered by provincial or federal laws.”

Meanwhile, an expert panel on modernizing the workplace is expected to deliver its long-awaited report to Tassi.  The panel is examining issues like a federal minimal wage, labour standards for precarious workers, portable benefits and a collective voice for nonunionized workers.

Sterling said Canada is the only country that does not have a definition of “employee,” so she wouldn’t be surprised if the expert panel recommended such a definition that would distinguish among employees, independent contractors and dependent contractors.

There has already been some discussion about a new employment classification and giving dependent contractors some protections, or the same protections as employees. In the spectrum between employees and independent contractors, dependent contractors are closer to employees.

The question is whether companies will change the way they operate so they fall outside the law and therefore don’t have to offer standard benefits.

“This begs the question of which protections are appropriate for the dependent contractor,” said Sterling.  “Also, will hiring bodies alter their contracts with gig workers so that they become more clearly independent contractors and without any protections?”

She said that, in addition to introducing more employment protections, the government could help precarious workers by finding new ways to offer them greater social security. This might include changing eligibility requirements for unemployment insurance or CPP, or exploring the creation of new federally regulated programs to address the lack of pension, benefit and training for contract work.

“There has been a very significant increase in [raising] the bar of employment standards in the last four years, but federal reform is not over,” said Sterling. “In the coming years, there will likely be clarification and expansion of protections for at least some gig workers.” SOURCE

 

 

When Climate Striking Stops ‘Sparking Joy.’ What Comes Next?

Youth activists pause to plan a fresh wave of action.

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Julia Sampson: Striking ‘opened up a window for youth to act.’ Photo by Theresa Duerr-Farrell.

On a cold Friday in Winnipeg two weeks ago, ten people gathered in a circle outside city hall singing “Happy Birthday.” They were celebrating the one-year anniversary of the city’s first student climate strike.

“We’re all a little burned out,” said Cam Beer, 17, one of the attendees. “We’ve been going at it for a while and some of these things are not sparking joy as they could.”

The Winnipeg group strikes every Friday and meets every Monday to organize. I got to know many of its members when I helped plan the global climate strike on Sept. 27. In writing this piece I spoke with many more youth strikers in other cities. What I heard repeatedly is they are weary, frustrated with the lack of government response. They are pausing this Christmas to regroup and strategize.

But they show no signs of stopping. In fact, it feels like they’re only getting warmed up.

Cricket Guest, 20, an Anishinaabekwe Wiisaakodewikwe land defender and one of the lead coordinators of the Toronto climate strikes, can relate. She said these days she’s mostly angry.

“The feeling of anger stems from a feeling of deep hurt. Myself and other student climate strikers feel deeply hurt people in power are not taking this issue as seriously as we are. If we are able to take the time out of our day, why is it not a priority for the adults who say they care about our future?”

Greta Thunberg expressed similar frustrations recently, when she told the United Nations, “Of course there is no victory, because the only thing we want to see is real action.”

“Youth being tired and angry is a completely legitimate response, and we should all be pissed. We should be outraged,” says Joe Curnow, a professor at the University of Manitoba who studies social movements. “Our elected officials are failing us, and the stakes could not be higher.”

She reminds that the civil rights movement and the anti-apartheid movement took decades to build. “I think one of the mistakes that could get made is for the youth strikers to think that because there hasn’t been meaningful action on climate change in the last year that it’s a failure.”

Curnow referenced the huge turnout of the Sept. 27 Global Climate strike, six million people from some 185 countries. Mass mobilizations of this scale are crucial in building power. During the year the students mounted their strikes across Canada, climate change became one of the top issues for the federal election. Even when governments fail to respond, that can help politicize more people. “Especially white middle-class people who tend to assume governments have their best interest in mind,” noted Curnow.

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‘We’re all a little burned out,’ says Cam Beer, far left, with fellow student strikers Courtney Tosh, Dominique Carriere and David Dannin. Photo by Sunny Enkin Lewis. 

Emma-Jane Burian, who is 17, said she felt alone in her fears before joining Climate Strike Victoria. “I knew there were problems, but I didn’t know how to go about fixing them. Striking gave me the opportunity to see I can be a part of trying to change things. When we work together we can really do a lot.” Working together included connecting with organizers all across Canada.

Cam Beer, who uses they/them pronouns, said they were struggling emotionally when they first connected with Manitoba Youth for Climate Action. They felt welcomed when, at the first meeting, the group went around the circle saying their names and preferred pronouns. “It was pretty cute,” they said.

Julia Sampson, a 17-year-old from Halifax, said she knew very little about the climate crisis until a year ago. In February, she saw a video of Thunberg striking and decided to help lead similar action in her own city in March.

In addition to organizing the global climate strikes, Sampson and other youth engaged in sit-ins outside the legislative building. They were upset about Nova Scotia’s Bill 213. The bill proposed reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 53 per cent below 2005 levels, by 2030, and eventually net-zero by 2050. Sampson and her allies argued it wasn’t ambitious enough and needed to follow the recommendation of the Ecology Action Centre which advised a 58 per cent reduction by 2030.

For six hours Sampson and other teens joined 40 presenters making their case against Bill 213 to a legislative committee. Daily, youth mounted protests. Still, the bill passed with no amendments.

Sampson hasn’t given up. For her, the strikes “opened up a window for youth to put their frustration and act on their political motivations. A year ago, I wouldn’t be talking about the climate crisis with my friends. Now I think there’s a lot more youth realizing they can get involved in activism.”

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‘The frame of climate organizing has been blown wide open.’ Citizens march in Winnipeg on Sept. 7 of this year, one of many global protests involving youth held the same day. Photo by Matthew Sawatzky. 

Maya Menezes, organizer with No One Is Illegal in Toronto, said the strikes are part of a wider youth awakening. “Youth of colour — Indigenous youth, black youth, especially poor youth — have been mobilizing around these climate calls to action for a long time.”

Though the Fridays for Future movement is predominantly white, she is encouraged by the intersectionality she’s seen. Climate Strike Canada has included Indigenous rights and migrant justice in their list of seven demands. Many of the youth recognize and are naming that the root of the problem is capitalism and colonialism.

“I think one of the biggest wins is that the frame of climate organizing has been blown wide open,” she said. “Young people are changing that conversation and how it’s reaching out across a lot of movement lines is so critical.”

This year Amnesty International awarded its Ambassador of Conscience Award to Greta Thunberg and Fridays for Future, one of many recognitions the group has received. But the real prize remains out of grasp. What’s really needed next to avert climate catastrophe?

Menezes suggests youth strikers partner with unions in ways that disrupt “business as usual” and capture the attention of people in power.

Curnow thinks the student climate strikers could learn a lot from the HIV/AIDS movement in the ’80s and ’90s made urgent as people fell sick and died.

“They had nothing to lose,” she said. “They were willing to lock down anything, and they could turn out in huge numbers.” Curnow’s partner worked in HIV/AIDS organizing in Chicago, where they once went trick-or-treating in the neighbourhood of a pharmaceutical company executive and told all his neighbours about the negative impacts of the guy’s work. They also staged “die-ins” in his front yard.

Climate activists could learn from these tactics. “That might sound really confrontational,” said Curnow, “but honestly that kind of targeting and escalation is really effective in getting people to change what they’re doing.”

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Sarain Fox alongside Cricket Guest, an Anishinaabekwe Wiisaakodewikwe land defender who helped coordinate the Toronto climate strikes. ‘Anger,’ says Guest, ‘stems from a feeling of deep hurt.’ Photo by Jes Mason. 

Another effective strategy is to support Indigenous-led climate action, the way Pull Together has done by raising funds to wage legal fights against fossil-fuel projects that threaten First Nations sovereignty.

York University professor Lesley Wood notes that as a social movement takes off, the first push tends to be followed by an identity crisis within.

People are tired, some feel the movement has failed. And there is often disagreement about what the next step should be. Some members may want to run for political office, others to become more militant. “This is also the point where the public support for the movement is the highest it’s ever been,” emphasizes Wood.

According to Bill Moyers’ Eight Stages of Successful Social Movements, if the movement’s allies can support each other and be strategic in what the next steps are, it will achieve “majority public support.”

Anjali Helferty was a youth climate activist and now is pursuing a PhD, writing a dissertation about settler activists’ efforts to bring Indigenous solidarity into anti-pipeline activism. The climate crisis is incredibly urgent, she points out, yet also so huge it can’t be fixed with quick victories like a few policy changes. That breeds “an ongoing feeling of inadequacy.”

She recommends organizers try to find a “sweet spot” of involvement. Balance high-level work and efforts with a local, winnable focus. Stay connected with older, experienced organizers. Above all, be kind to each other.

Some of her advice is being heeded across Canada, as youth climate strikers pause and regroup. In Halifax, last weekend, instead of meeting, strikers went thrift shopping and out to eat. Winnipeg strikers are doing several self-care and “pleasure activism” workshops this month.

After Christmas, they’ll start to plan the next day of action. It’s set to be sometime in April.  [Tyee] SOURCE

OPINION: The most courageous climate action isn’t national, it’s in the cities and streets

Image result for OPINION: The most courageous climate action isn't national, it's in the cities and streets

High school students hold placards and shout slogans during a protest to demand action on climate change as part of the Global Climate Srike of the movement Fridays for the Future in Athens in Athens, Greece, Nov 29, 2019. REUTERS/Alixis Konstandindis

It’s time to support young people as they wake up their elders. It may be the only thing that saves us. See you in the streets. I’ll be there, marching beside my daughter.

What happened in Madrid at the U.N. climate talks seemed like a giant game of chicken with no one willing to move. Actually, it was more like collective breakdown. Leadership by the top four largest emitters was completely absent.

China and the U.S. brought no new proposals to ratchet up their reduction of emissions. India argued for a deadline extension. Europe showed signs of leadership on net zero emissions, but its member countries, notably Poland and the Czech Republic, are holding the EU hostage, waiting for a big payout for their consent.

Sure, there were important little things that happened, but not the big things we need if we’re to preserve a hospitable planet.

A courageous group of countries, including Denmark, other Nordics, and Canada, announced intentions to adopt science-based targets. That’s a start. We are told that this group, along with 15 others, are ready to announce a net zero commitment early next year and that they plan to rally others to join them. Europe’s net zero agreement could come by March.

That’s better than nothing. And, in some ways, it’s similar to the momentum-building we witnessed at the Paris climate talks in 2015. There, a coalition of countries rallied others to keep warming targets to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures, which is what scientists say is necessary to avoid the worst of climate chaos.

But we’re nowhere near that target. Current national commitments would allow for warming of 3.2-degrees Celsius. The difference between 1.5 and 3.2 degrees is the difference between livability and ongoing catastrophes for the planet, millions of its species, and human communities.

This is where Greta Thunberg’s rage – and many others’ – is spot on. This is a horrendous failure on the part of national leaders.

That’s why we hoped we could rally national governments in Madrid to commit to more ambitious measures to keep warming to no more than 1.5 degrees.

Our window is closing. This moment – between the Paris climate talks in 2015 and the end of 2020 – is when national governments are supposed to proclaim goals that collectively keep the planet to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial temps, instead of 3.2 degrees.

And the only way we’ll be able to do that is if we agree to a goal of net zero emissions by 2050. That would require all four big emitters to set stronger long-term goals.

What’s holding them back, of course – in China, the U.S., India and Europe – are their fossil fuel industry interests and fossil-invested financial partners.

Meanwhile, everyone else gets it. Cities, states, regions, businesses, and youth get it. Leaders from each rallied as hard as they could in Madrid.

The city, state, and corporate determination to act is so inspiring. (Check out the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance’s game changers as just one example of the leadership here.) This community has grown by leaps and bounds since Paris. They’ve shown creativity and purpose in proposing their own levels of ambition required to solve the climate crisis.

Most inspiring of all, though, were the hundreds of youth that demonstrated inside Madrid’s conference center, on behalf of millions of youth demonstrating globally this year, demanding their elders do better. They are a powerful rebuke to fossil fuel interests and their bankers. In Madrid, their courage – when they were forcibly removed from UN climate talks, shoved out of the building, and banned from re-entering – is deeply inspiring. Imagine if presidents and prime ministers were this courageous.

Going forward, this is where the most interesting climate action will be. Youth leaders, discouraged by the lack of government response to the climate emergency, are training their sights on bad corporate actors. Woe to fossil fuel and banking executives who face demonstrations by Greta and her peers in the coming year.

She won’t be alone. We all need to stand with Greta outside financial and fossil fuel industry corporate offices, holding their feet to the fire. And governments must listen, too, and show up at the next climate talks with plans to avoid more than a 1.5-degree level of warming. Otherwise, these kids, and the rest of us, are toast.

It’s time to support these young people as they wake up their elders. It may be the only thing that saves us. See you in the streets. I’ll be there, marching beside my daughter. SOURCE

A flower for the prosecution

Ram’s Head Lady Slipper. Photography by Zack Metcalfe.

I found my first Ram’s Head Lady Slipper while on my hands and knees, along an obscure walking trail in Hants County, N.S. Its delicate purple flower, no larger than my fingernail, is now the focal point of a groundbreaking lawsuit in the province’s capital.

This flower is endangered, listed alongside 70 other at-risk species under Nova Scotia’s Endangered Species Act (ESA), each entitled to timely conservation measures depending on the severity of its case, such as the establishment of expert recovery teams to speak on its behalf, the drafting of recovery plans outlining its rescue and the identification of its core habitat so it might be protected. The Ram’s Head Lady Slipper was owed all of these things within a year of being listed.

That was 12 years ago.

To date, this flower enjoys nearly none of the aforementioned protections guaranteed by the Endangered Species Act, and by no means is it alone. Of the 71 species listed under the ESA, the majority have in some way not been fully accommodated despite legally mandated deadlines.

This ongoing lethargy has been the subject of critical reports from both the East Coast Environmental Law Association and the province’s auditor general, released in 2015 and 2016, respectively, with the latter concluding that “species at risk need to be a greater priority for (Nova Scotia).”

That hopelessly fragile flower I found one crisp morning in May, its petals wilting prophetically, was in sore need of a good lawyer.

A full year

The Endangered Species Act of Nova Scotia, and the government’s widely recognized failure to uphold it, became the subject of legal action in January 2019, when lawyer Jamie Simpson of Juniper Law set into motion an application for judicial review, a lawsuit intended to force the province to fully accommodate species at risk. The suit centres on six species in particular, their various crises illustrating the department’s alleged failings — the eastern moose, Canada warbler, eastern wood peewee, black ash, wood turtle and, of course, the Ram’s Head Lady Slipper.

All lawyers need clients, and in this case, Simpson represents the Federation of Nova Scotia Naturalists, the Blomidon Naturalists Society and the Halifax Field Naturalists, organizations which, in their habitual admiration for the flora and fauna of their home province, have witnessed concerning trends in regional biodiversity.

“We’re probably like many naturalist clubs, in that when we were founded, there were no activists in the group, and I think that has changed,” said retired population ecologist Soren Bondrup-Nielsen, a veteran of Acadia University’s biology department and current president of the Blomidon Naturalists Society.

While naturalists are a traditionally quiet bunch, Bondrup-Nielsen has been advocating a culture change for some time now, encouraging his fellow lovers of nature to step beyond their comfort zones and share their uniquely relevant perspective. Their vote to join in the prosecution was unanimous, with one abstention.

“We naturalists are the ones who, when we’re outside, can see things and interpret them, like clearcutting, soil erosion, the works. If we don’t try to educate people and tell them what’s going on here, who will?” Bondrup-Nielsen said.

This case saw its first round of hearings in spring, then another this past July, all preamble to the main event before Justice Christa Brothers on Sept. 23 in Nova Scotia Supreme Court, Halifax. A followup session on Oct. 1 became necessary to accommodate all arguments from Simpson and the province’s lawyer, Jeremy Smith.

“I think we made a solid case,” Simpson said, speaking in early December while anxiously awaiting the verdict. His impression is that Brothers was receptive to his points and had done her homework, and he’s confident the record — composed of government documents concerning the management of species at risk thus far — clearly demonstrates the ESA violations he has alleged.

 

Smith argued two points in particular: first, that the provincial government has made significant strides toward fulfilling the ESA by establishing recovery teams for many of its listed species — all since the lawsuit was filed in January — and second, that naturalists, specifically those bringing this lawsuit against the province, had not adequately demonstrated their right to force government action on species at risk, a nuanced argument concerning the legal mechanism “mandamus.” To this, Brothers reportedly asked Smith if he expected the eastern moose to come before court and exercise this right for itself.

While Simpson originally hoped for a decision from court in November, now he admits it could arrive any time in the next few months, at which point, he or the province will have the opportunity to appeal.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Simpson said. “We’re hoping that if the court orders the government to get up-to-date on its current legal obligations, it will be sufficient to essentially shift the culture of the department to one where they are on top of things, creating the necessary infrastructure to make sure they’re doing what they’re legally required to do.”

A melancholy truth

Canada’s federal Species At Risk Act (SARA) was established in 2002, containing many of the same provisions as Nova Scotia’s 1998 ESA and more. Recognizing the need for complimentary regional legislation, most provinces shaped acts of their own in the late 1990s and early 2000s, all of which have suffered from a chronic lack of enforcement ever since. As a consequence, while the lawsuit of Juniper Law is the first of its kind in Nova Scotia, and the Maritimes, it is not the first in Canada.

Ecojustice is a registered Canadian charity dedicated to upholding environmental law, and species at risk have kept its staff very busy. In 2010, it sued the federal government over its failure to identify critical habitat (the federal equivalent of core habitat) in the recovery strategy (recovery plan) of an endangered shore bird, the piping plover. That case was settled outside court with the stipulation that government also address a backlog of recovery planning for more than 50 other endangered species. When the federal government failed to follow through on this commitment, Ecojustice took them to court again in 2014, this time for 162 recovery strategies which were grossly overdue under SARA, some by as many as five years. This lawsuit was a success and our federal government was ordered to catch up.

Eastern Moose. Photograph by Zack Metcalfe.

I reached out to Ecojustice senior scientist Liat Podolsky this November for an update, and while our federal government has made meaningful strides toward addressing these overdue recovery strategies, she said they remain extremely hesitant to identify and protect the critical habitat of threatened and endangered species, and routinely refuse to use the special powers granted them by SARA for those species in immediate peril. These include the issuing of “emergency orders” and “safety-net orders,” which extend SARA protections onto private, provincial and territorial land.

In 2017, Ecojustice took Ontario’s natural resources and forestry minister to court for failing to produce long overdue recovery strategies for 37 listed species, a requirement under the province’s Endangered Species Act of 2007. This legal action forced the minister to settle, committing to quarterly updates on remediation efforts.

“Biodiversity is almost always sacrificed when there’s money to be made, unfortunately,” Ecojustice staff lawyer James Gunvaldsen Klaassen said. “Complaints that the protection of species interferes with industry come up in every province. It’s very difficult to make the case for protecting a small ecological niche if there are powerful industry forces aligned against it.”

In 2018, Ecojustice opened an office in Halifax, intent on addressing the widespread species-at-risk shortcomings across the Maritimes. They are presently serving as “interveners” in the ongoing lawsuit of Juniper Law.

A 2012 report from Ecojustice entitled “Failure to Protect,” which examined the strength and enforcement of species-at-risk legislation in each Canadian jurisdiction, concluded that “across the board, Canada’s federal, provincial and territorial governments are doing an abysmal job protecting our at-risk species and the habitat they need to survive and recover… No jurisdiction should be satisfied with its performance.”

Precedent

The World Wildlife Fund’s 2017 Living Planet Report concluded that a full 50 per cent of Canada’s monitored wildlife populations were in decline between 1970 and 2014, and declining populations had done so an average of 83 per cent.

“At the federal level in Canada, the primary legal mechanism for protection of imperiled species is the Species At Risk Act, or SARA,” the report points out. “SARA was adopted in 2002, but our analysis has shown that since that time, listed populations have continued to decline by an average of 28 per cent. Our results suggest that the rate of decline of these at-risk species may have actually increased despite protections afforded by SARA. We need to take steps now to make sure that our protected species are exactly that: protected.”

Canada Warbler. Photography by Zack Metcalfe

This report and others signal the ongoing degradation of Canadian biodiversity, a fact made clear by Simpson and his clients in the course of their lawsuit. Failures to uphold species-at-risk legislation, they said, are taking their toll. As the final decision of the court approaches, Simpson is only too aware of the precedent this case may set, either reinforcing the results of Ecojustice’s 2014 case against the federal government, or contradicting them, and carrying enormous implications for similar legal actions in the future.

“It’s both exciting and nerve-racking,” he said. SOURCE

 

Civil rights groups want to challenge Quebec religious symbols ban in Supreme Court

Muslims to contest religious law at Canada’s top court

Civil rights groups challenging Quebec’s controversial ban on religious symbols want to take their case to Canada’s top court.

Quebec’s Court of Appeal last week rejected a request to suspend portions of the law, known as Bill 21, pending a ruling on its constitutionality.

In a statement Wednesday, the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, along with plaintiff Ichrak Nourel Hak, said they will seek permission to appeal at the Supreme Court of Canada.

“We told Quebecers and Canadians that we would not stop our work until this unjust law has been defeated,” said Mustafa Farooq, executive director of the NCCM.

“While teachers and other public sector workers are being forced out of their jobs, we will seek leave from the SCC to halt the serious and irreparable harm that Bill 21 causes.”

In a 2-1 decision, the appeals court said last Thursday the law should be allowed to stand until the challenges are heard in Quebec Superior Court.

All three justices, however, said there is evidence the law is causing harm to Quebecers who wear religious symbols.

The law is being challenged in four separate lawsuits, three of which are expected to be heard together in October 2020.

It bans public school teachers, government lawyers and police officers, among other civil servants, from wearing religious symbols at work.

Premier François Legault has argued the law protects secularism in Quebec and will put an end to long-running debates about how to accommodate minority cultural practices.

Legault has repeatedly told Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to stay out of the legal battle.

“I can understand that he’s against Bill 21, but I’m asking him to respect a decision that has been taken by a majority of Quebecers, by a nation,” he said last week.

Trudeau hasn’t ruled out the possibility of federal intervention in the case but has so far stayed on the sidelines. SOURCE

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Muslims to contest religious law at Canada’s top court
Rights groups want to take Bill 21 to Supreme Court after ‘harsh blow’

Opinion: Kicking Off The First 100 Days Of My Green New Deal

Elizabeth Warren outlines how she’ll begin the Green New Deal in the opening months of her presidency.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren on a campaign stop in West Des Moines in November.  Scott Olson / Getty Images

The point of no return for climate change “is no longer over the horizon,” the UN secretary-general recently warned. “It is in sight and hurtling toward us.” This was a blunt summary of a new report showing that the world is nowhere on track to prevent the worst impacts of the climate crisis.

America needs a president who won’t just recognize the urgency of this crisis, but one who will lead the country toward a clean energy future at the speed and scale that science demands, while also attacking income and racial inequality head-on. We need a Green New Deal — and here are some of the things I will do in the first 100 days as president to achieve it.

On day one, I’ll issue a sweeping executive order rolling back all of Donald Trump’s disastrous pro-fossil fuels policies, banning new fossil fuel leases offshore and on public lands, and committing the United States to rejoin the Paris Climate Accords. During my first 100 days as president, I’ll introduce 100% Clean Energy For America legislation that will set bold and ambitious sector-specific standards to power our economy with clean energy, and create millions of good new union jobs.

And that’s just the beginning. It’s not enough to merely say we need to act, which is why I have put forward the most detailed climate plans of any presidential candidate. After Gov. Jay Inslee called for a full government mobilization to defeat the climate crisis, I took his advice and adopted his vision with a comprehensive plan to complete the transition to clean energy by decarbonizing our electricity, our vehicles, and our buildings by 2030. My plan for green manufacturing would invest in R&D and federal procurement to develop and manufacture the clean energy technology we need right here at home, creating good middle-class manufacturing jobs across our country. My Green Marshall Plan would export those American-manufactured clean energy products around the world.

My plan for climate risk disclosure would hold corporations accountable for their role in worsening the climate crisis, using market forces to accelerate the transition away from dirty fossil fuels. From trade to agriculture to affordable housing, I have woven ideas to fight climate change while rebuilding the middle class throughout my plans — and I’m not done yet.

Some in Washington question the cost of addressing climate change. But the truth is that the cost of inaction is already impacting millions of Americans, with low-income and communities of color being hit first and worst. Wildfires rage in California. Crops are flooded in Iowa. Climate refugees fleeing natural disasters arrive on our southern border. I’ve seen the effects of environmental racism firsthand, in communities like Detroit and Rosemont, South Carolina. My proposals will lift frontline communities and address decades of discrimination and environmental racism — because in a Green New Deal, we will leave no community and no worker behind.

Inaction in Washington continues, even as our communities suffer. What’s more, too many of the proposals being put forward in Washington and in the presidential race lack the ambition and the urgency required. Today we have a government, and an economy, that works great for the rich and powerful, and not very well for the rest of us. Fossil fuel billionaires like the Koch Brothers and big corporations like Exxon Mobil pay hundreds of millions to lobbyists, so-called think tanks and politicians so that they can keep drilling — and they’ve made record profits along the way. For too long, the fossil fuel companies have gotten away with pouring fuel on the fire of the climate crisis. This ends in a Warren administration.

It’s time for politicians to be honest with the American people about what it will take to defeat the climate crisis, because when Americans decide to go all in on solving a problem, there is nothing we can’t achieve together. Just like we mobilized to defeat the Nazis and put a man on the moon, we too can solve the climate crisis. Just like FDR helped create the modern middle class with the New Deal, we too can rebuild the middle class with a Green New Deal that equitably creates millions of good, union jobs. As president, I’ll unite the nation around a national climate effort, and call on everyone to rise to this challenge. We must dream big and fight hard again, and that’s what my campaign is all about.

Our states and our cities have made it clear to our allies that while our current president may not be in the fight, the American people are still in. And outside the halls of the UN’s climate summit, young people around the world continue to strike for their future. They deserve elected leaders who will fight as hard for them as they are fighting for our future. It’s time for the next president to answer their call. It’s time for a Green New Deal. SOURCE

 

The Ford government ends 2019 with a lesson in the limits of changing the tone

OPINION: After a bruising spring and summer, the Tories tried to end their year on a calmer, respectful tone — and then had their plans ruined by stubborn facts

Banner at protest reads "No cuts to education"

Teachers picket in Guelph earlier this month, demonstrating the limits of a change in tone from the Ford government. (Stephen C. Host/CP)

If we’re honest, the first reaction of most Torontonians watching Premier Doug Ford cancel a light-rail project in Hamilton is very likely, “Hey, at least it’s not us.” Construction continues on Toronto’s Eglinton Crosstown project, and even the Finch West LRT line is still nominally proceeding. Light-rail plans in other cities, like Ottawa, Waterloo, and Mississauga are also either operating or in progress. But Ford has an extensive record of opposing light-rail transit, and he found in Hamilton a project that he could kill without incurring prohibitive penalties (financial or political), so its fate was always uncertain under this government.

Formally, the Tories say the Hamilton LRT was halted because of spiraling costs that the previous Liberal government knew about and concealed from the public. This wouldn’t be a hard claim to prove, given the decidedly uneven record the Liberals had on transit planning. So it’s notable that the government isn’t trying to prove it: they say the decision is based on a third-party assessment (that is, not done by Metrolinx or Infrastructure Ontario, the agencies responsible for executing these kinds of things) that they aren’t sharing with the public. So we can’t scrutinize its math, its assumptions, or its conclusions.

It’s an odd ending to a very long year for the Tories. They’ve been on the backfoot for most of the last 12 months, starting in January when the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark announced the province was abandoning a controversial section of Bill 66, the Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act. The section in question would have allowed municipalities to bypass numerous environmental protection laws including the Greenbelt Act. Things got worse with the presentation of the spring budget, which included retroactive cuts to municipal transfers that were only announced after the fiscal year had already begun, and specifically targeted Toronto for pain. Once again, the government was eventually forced to back down. Amidst all that was the constellation of patronage scandals the government endured before Ford fired his chief of staff and shuffled his cabinet.

Things were quieter after the cabinet shuffle, in part because of the prolonged witness protection program the Tories (both provincially and federally) put the premier in while Andrew Scheer tried to win the October federal election. Scheer’s loss was, for a few minutes, Ford’s gain as the premier tried to portray himself as the new champion of national unity.

For a brief time, Queen’s Park observers (including this one) were talking about “a change of tone” from the premier’s office: no longer was the government going out to find new fights to start wherever it could. Our own Steve Paikin noted the premier’s good grace when he unveiled the official portrait of his predecessor Kathleen Wynne earlier this month. While the change in tone was real enough, the news of the last few weeks illustrates the limits to what tone can do.

The government has to do real things and make real choices, and despite what political spin doctors tell themselves to justify their invoices, tone can’t hide the real impacts of government decisions. The Hamilton LRT is one example of this: Minister of Transportation Caroline Mulroney can try to convince Steeltowners that she’s sad about the unfortunate need to find budget savings in Hamilton’s transit plan, but numerous groups and businesses had started to plan their futures around an LRT that isn’t going to be built now. No number of cleverly worded press releases is going to change that.

The government has the same problem on two other big files they’ve been trying to handle at the end of the year: education and autism. There are two very different contexts, and two different antagonists for the government — teachers’ unions and the parents of children with autism. And the nature of each argument is different: the unions are using the legal tools they have to pressure the government, while parents are using more informal but no-less-effective methods.

But in both cases, the government faces the same basic problem. The ministers responsible for these files — Stephen Lecce and Todd Smith, respectively — are decent enough communicators and haven’t been outrageously inflammatory in negotiations, but this is a real disagreement over the facts of public policy: advocates want the government to spend more money, and the Tories really, really don’t want to. Spin and tone aren’t going to change the facts, which suggests we haven’t seen the last case of parents bursting into tears at government announcements, like we did this week.

So 2019 ends with the Tories looking at a bunch of regrets from the past year and few good options in the year ahead. Meanwhile, polls rate Ford as the least popular premier in the countryunloved even by other conservatives, and the party overall is struggling against even the leaderless Liberals. If Progressive Conservative MPPs didn’t love this year, they may not love what 2020 has in store for them. SOURCE