Jason is back for a new season of the FTB Podcast! Panelists Mirna Djukic and Cem Ertekin discuss the Dakota Access Pipeline, the problems happening within the Canadian Green Party with an interview from Quebec Green Leader Alex Tyrrell and our News Roundup segment. Plus the Community Calendar and Predictions!
Host: Jason C. McLean
Producer: Hannah Besseau
Production Assistant: Enzo Sabbagha
There has been quite a bit of talk about money in politics lately. Thanks in part to Bernie Sanders, we all know about the obscene amounts of money donated anonymously through SuperPacs to political candidates in the United States.
But the problem isn’t limited to the States, and it’s also not limited to major national campaigns. In fact, it has permeated even the most basic elements of our representative democracies.
There’s a phrase I saw, or rather re-saw, recently in a meme, and I’ve been thinking about it for a few weeks, now:
“If it’s inaccessible to the poor, it’s neither radical nor revolutionary.”
I have been trying to reconcile this with my long-held view that internet media can be revolutionary. There are good arguments both for and against the notion. When it comes to party politics, though, things become a little more cut and dry.
Application Fees for the Top Job
On Monday, Projet Montréal, arguably the most progressive political party in the city, officially began its search for a new leader. There were, of course, rules. Understandably, you have to be legally eligible to be a candidate for Mayor of Montréal (because that’s what the job essentially is) and you have to have already been a member of the party (fair play, considering they want to weed out people running just to disparage the party).
But there’s more: you also need to have previously donated at least $300 to the party and must raise between $5 000 and $30 000 during the campaign. Yes, there are financial requirements for prospective candidates.
On one hand, I understand that a City Councillor who owes their better-than-average paying job, in part, to a party, should give a little back. I also realize that for many, $300 isn’t all that much money.
However, these requirements limit the field to those who are already elected or have enough money lying around to make that $300 investment. If someone doesn’t, sure they can borrow it off their friend, but then they will be beholden to their friend. Sure, it’s not like owing Walmart or Imperial Oil, but it’s still owing a contributor.
When it comes to raising money during the campaign, it does make sense that a well-funded campaign will do better than a poorly funded one, so I imagine any candidate for leadership will try to raise money. But making it a requirement effectively works against someone who has an idea of another way to succeed (an excellent social media campaign, for example).
It’s not that foregoing raising funds in lieu of another approach will work. It’s that someone who has that idea should be given the chance to succeed or fail with it.
That said, you do not have to be a member of a political party to become Mayor, you can run as an independent. That’s not the case everywhere, though.
You Need to Lead a Party to be Prime Minister
The Federal NDP will also be holding its leadership race in the near future. The NDP also has rules for candidates wishing to enter (at this point, just proposed rules):
Leadership hopefuls need to collect 500 signatures from party members in different regions of the country. Makes sense.
Half those signatures need to be from “female-identified members” and 100 need to come from “other equity-seeking groups” which means visible minorities, Aboriginal Peoples, members of the LGBTQ community and people with disabilities. Yes, sure, absolutely. The more representative, the better.
There is a $30 000 entry fee. Wait, what? Some people don’t make that in a year!
30 grand for a chance to be NDP Leader? That’s like taking three huge steps forward and then 30 000 steps back when it comes to inclusivity, especially when you consider that those the NDP is trying to include in the voting process are more likely to be those who can’t afford the leadership registration fee.
Former candidate Cheri DiNovo brought this issue to the forefront, refusing to officially enter the race and pay the fee. While she said she could probably raise the money, no candidate should have to in order to run.
And she’s absolutely correct. The only people who can afford to spend $30 000 on a job application when getting the job isn’t a sure thing (and a PM or MP’s salary isn’t either, even if you do get the job) are those who are already wealthy, are already elected officials, or those who know enough donors to raise the money from.
No matter how you cut it, there is a huge personal economic restriction placed on people not already part of the political process who want to throw their hat in the ring. Sure, anyone can get involved, but the limits to the higher levels aren’t based on experience, they’re based on personal finances.
And unlike municipal politics, you need to be the leader of a political party to become Prime Minister of Canada. Not sure what the other major parties charge to run for leader, but if the progressive, left NDP is any indication, PM is a job inaccessible to those who don’t have or can’t raise large sums of money.
Until someone with hardly any cash can successfully run for mayor or PM on a party ticket, party politics remain inaccessible to the poor and therefore cannot be considered radical or revolutionary.
Podcast panelists Casey Rosner and Cem Ertekin discuss the World Social Forum happening in Montreal, controversies surrounding the 2016 Olympics and our News Roundup including the Bylaw P-6, the good and bad at Osheaga and more. Plus the Community Calendar and Predictions!
Host: Jason C. McLean
Producer: Hannah Besseau
Production Assistant: Enzo Sabbagha
Podcast panelists Vincent Simboli, Jerry Gabriel and Cem Ertekin discuss Montreal’s Black Lives Matter protests, Mike Ward and the Just for Laughs season, the US conventions and our News Roundup including the Turkish coup, Pokémon GO and more. Plus the Community Calendar and Predictions!
Host: Jason C. McLean
Producer: Hannah Besseau
Production Assistant: Enzo Sabbagha
Panelists Der Kosmonaut, Cem Ertekin and Jerry Gabriel discuss the Mayday March protests and the violent police reaction in downtown Montreal, an update on the US Primary elections, Prince leaving us too soon and Peter Sergakis’ lawsuit against Peter McQueen. Plus the Community Calendar and Predictions!
Host: Jason C. McLean
Producer: Hannah Besseau
Production Assistant: Enzo Sabbagha
This week will go down in history as the week in which our Canadian government discovered the solution to climate change: an increase in CO2 emissions will save the planet! The brilliant idea is that the growth of the oil and gas sector will pay for our GreenTransition.
Climate Change shenanigans were all a problem of perspective. For so many years we were just looking at it the wrong way. It’s now obvious that the biggest polluters in the world were just asking for a concrete way to contribute and a listening ear.
Thankfully our new prime minister was capable of enlightening us all, and bridging public and private interests together. After all, it’s a known fact that problems are always best resolved by the initiative and the savvy of the private sector.
Case in point, one of the biggest problems multinational Canadian mining and energy corporations were confronted with was named Berta Cáceres, a renowned political leader and Honduran environmental activist. Her struggle to uphold indigenous rights, to put a hold on the destruction and pillage of Honduras, was put to a brutal end this week.
In this case the ingenuity, the constant push for innovation, private initiative and all those buzzwords at the heart of what makes the private sector the most competent problem solver, were missing. Apparently within the entrepreneurial world , simplicity is virtue: hire a bunch of thugs to ransack the person’s house, use the centuries old technique of cold steal and assassinate a dissenting voice in cold blood. Problem solved.
Although the death of Berta Cáceres, her activism and the struggle she ultimately gave her life for, unfolded thousands of kilometers from Canada, her death couldn’t be closer to home. The implications of her life struggle and its brutal end weigh heavily on the Canadian government and Canadian foreign policy.
Her blood indelibly stains Canada’s conscience, like the deaths of so many other activists killed in the name of private interests. First of all, it was Canadian corporate interests that she was at odds with and campaigned against.
The role of the previous Harper administration in the Honduran coup which ousted Manuel Zelaya, who was in favor of redrawing jurisdiction around foreign mining interests in the country, is unclear. One thing is certain, though: Canadian multinational companies have benefited the most from the trade deal that was signed between the military junta and the Canadian government in 2014.
Careces’s death and struggle sheds light on the unbearable lightness and lethal naïvité manifest in the idea that Climate Change is merely a “scientific” problem. This enables the idea that with the right equations, calculations, mechanisms put forward by the private sector the question of Climate Change will be resolved.
The abstraction of the talk about climate change revolving around targets and fancy conferences, with standing ovations, blueprints filled with buzzwords like “incentives” and “corporate solutions” and “private sector initiatives” omits the most important factor of climate change: its inherent violence. Climate change when disembedded from the social and geopolitical factors is seen at a fraction of its face value, as a scientific phenomenon, at best an environmental process, but not as a whole, as an environmental process that enables and fosters a social and geopolitical process.
The violent death of Berta Careces and the 100 plus deaths of environmental activists in Latin America, Africa and Asia are the figurative manifestations of the violence inherent to Climate Change. We know that indigenous communities and populations within the “global south” will be tenfold affected by the disasters brought about by environmental deregulation. It is also embodied by large scale violence employed in the commodification of resources and diverse natural environments.
Yet the discourse of Trudeau & co, of the COP 21 and similar conferences, sanitizes the horrific violence that is at the heart of Climate Change. It creates an unintelligible discourse that silences and ostracizes the voices of those most affected by it.
This “scientific” discourse that sees Climate Change merely as a warming of few degrees here and there, a rise in sea levels, a destruction of ecosystems, doesn’t take notice of the underlying social-historical structures, systemic racism and neocolonialism that make the bed for Climate Change as an environmental phenomenon to exist.
Without tackling the power structures that feed-off Climate Change: neocolonialism, racism, imperialism, there will be no solution.
The vision Trudeau champions, that the private sector offers the best solution to climate change, is the direct cause of Berta Cáceres’ death and the death of several hundred environmental activists and entire communities throughout the globe.
The private sector solution to Climate Change is that of giving a price to nature. The idea is as simple as it is flawed: a price tag to everything in nature, to the natural beauty of beach, the existence of species, the natural habitat of an indigenous community, will somehow help to preserve it.
This opens the door to the commodification of nature which allows for speculation, the creation of derivatives and other innovative financial products. Ultimately the usefulness, the value, of a given ecosystem or a species or the livelihood of a community, of a culture will be determined by how it fairs on the stock exchange.
This idea of “price tagging” nature coexists alongside two other private sector innovations: cap and trade, which relies on the dispossession on a massive scale of communities within the global south to function and the continued pillage of resources to satisfy the cult of perpetual and masturbatory growth.
As long as the cult of growth is upheld, so will the constant commodification of all living things, the massive disenfranchisement and continued violence, the continued mobilization of neocolonial, racist and imperialist attitudes and ideologies be upheld as well. A poignant example is the racist rhetoric used by the “decayists” of pseudo-intellectual European right, towards Syrian refugees.
In Disaster Apartheid: A World of Green Zones and Red Zones, the last chapter of The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein refers to the idea that the neoliberal shock doctrine is reshaping the world in its image, dicing up the world into Green Zones (reference to the Green Zone in Baghdad) and Red Zones. There’s a relationship of domination between these zones; for Green Zones to exist there must be Red Zones.
For Canada and the rest of the “global north” to theorize a way to salvage the capitalist system and the cult of growth, many more Berta Cáceres’ must die. For the corporate Green Transition to work, the disenfranchisement of First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities within Canada must continue, the denial of their rights to auto-determination must be upheld.
Cáceres’ blood wasn’t shed in vain. Like the hundreds of environmental activists that have died before her, Cáceres knew that within the struggle against Climate Change exists the extraordinary potential to dissolve the toxic power structures, the structures of domination, of oppression, that are the biggest polluters in the history of humanity.
As a migrant, I’ve started to think about the concept of ‘belonging.’ I never truly felt like I belonged to any particular piece of land. Similarly, I never thought of myself as ‘entitled’ to any land. And before I go any further, don’t worry. I will not say anything about ‘feeling like a world citizen.’ This is not what I have in mind.
Belonging, in the sense of holding a nationality, is a strange concept. If you think about it, you will realize that it’s very arbitrary. Some people are born in Canada, others are born in Russia, yet others are born in Turkey. This is a spatial concept of nationality, in which it is implied that you are meant to spend your life where you were born. No one really explains why.
Is it not absurd, though? Let’s take Canada, for instance. All humans born in Canada are called Canadians. I’ll just skip the question asking why that’s the case. Instead, let’s ask: “Since when is this so?”
Many of you know that Canada was not even a thing until July 1, 1867. Before that, the various provinces that make up Canada today were colonies of the British Empire. Then on Canada Day, Canada became a country. United forever, all of its citizens proud bearers of the adjective: “Canadian.”
Is it that simple though? Especially in the case of a settler colonial country. The name “Canada” is not necessarily what the Indigenous peoples call this land that Canadians call “ours.” The adjective “Canadian” is certainly not what they call themselves.
Unfortunately, I cannot claim to be an expert on the semantics of Canadianness. I would, however, like to get you to start thinking about it. As far as I’m concerned, I want to talk about migration and belonging. I bring up the colonial history of Canada for that very reason.
Before Canada, before Britain, before Europeans, there were people living on this land. Through the cunning use of treaties, this land was converted into a political entity, which, in turn, authorized itself with the right to give away citizenships. Long story short, any European settler who came to this New World was an expatriate, or simply put, a migrant.
Unless you are an Indigenous person, you are a migrant on this land – just like I am. But still, because you were probably born here, you are Canadian and I am not. Absurd isn’t it?
I’ve been studying in Canada for the past three years. That also means that I’ve been living here for three years. I’ve been experiencing this land just like any other Canadian – and in fact, I’m probably more Canadian than a three-year-old baby whose parents are Canadians. Yet still, that’s not the case.
There’s something missing in this analysis – or whatever it is that you would like to call this. You see, nothing can prevent me from feeling Canadian if I so darn please. I can freely feel like I belong here, if I so desire. But that means nothing!
Canada is a country and a political entity, not the land it happens to occupy. If the borders of this political entity were placed elsewhere, then that place would be Canada. This political entity has the monopoly over the power to give away citizenships and declare nationalities. It is because of this political entity that a three-year-old baby born to Canadians is Canadian and I am not.
A political entity does not care about feelings. It does not care about historical context. It does not care whether it’s right or wrong. It cares about legitimacy and legality. What determines the legitimacy and legality of a political entity? Curiously enough, it itself does that job. It declares that it is the legitimate representative of Canadians and that it has the legal power to determine who gets to be Canadian.
“But that’s what countries are supposed to do – that’s literally how the current world system works!” Interesting, isn’t it? Surely, this system was once based on the idea that communities should have the inherent right to decide who gets to live with them. But the current world system, as my strawperson has so eloquently put it, is not really a system of communities. A community implies intimacy – a country can hardly be an intimate being.
If intimacy was still a thing in the current world system, I’d be able to go be a contributing member of the community – you know, pay taxes, join the labour force, do community service – and then I’d be declared a bonafide Canadian. But because the current world system is based on countries I have to jump through so many loops. I have to have myself declared legitimate and appeal to appropriate legal customs in order to become Canadian.
My point is, when you’re celebrating Canada Day, make sure you distinguish the land from the country, and the community from the state. Most of us are migrants on this land; but some of us have more rights than others. Why should I allow some artificial entity tell me whether or not I belong here? Why should I have to pamper some artificial entity to grant me acceptance?
La Coalition opposée à la tarification et à la privatisation des services publicshas declared this week a week of action. More than 15 demonstrations will take place in the Greater Montréal area alone. As they say on their Facebook page, The Non Aux Hausses coalition invites everyone, everywhere to join in on the demonstrations against the austerity measures of the Liberal government.
Today is already the second day of actions. Yesterday at Place Émilie Gamelin, at least 500 people attended the gathering held by the teachers, protesting the Liberal government’s austerity measures. The main point was the state of the education system and how the Liberals are leaving it into shambles. There was also interventions from social groups on how the recent measures are directly affecting the welfare of the poorest in our society and especially women. The speakers also indicated that today’s action was but a shadow of things to come with actions to be taken on a weekly and even daily basis throughout the province.
The event closed off with a march accompanied by the SPVM intervention squad.
Click on the image below to see a gallery of photos from Sunday’s event. All photography by Gerry Lauzon.
Anti-Austerity Teacher Protest
Today’s Anti-Austerity Demonstration
Today at 11:30, a group of protesters occupied the offices of the Bankers Association of Canada in downtown Montreal. The protesters met at McGill College and Sherbrooke, and walked towards Place Montreal Trust. The protest lasted roughly an hour.
When sections of a website are labelled “Entitlement Princess of the Month” and “13 reasons women lie about being raped”, it’s usually easy to tell the website belongs to an angry internet troll – someone who never leaves their house and whose opinion no one gives much thought to. Unfortunately Mike Buchanan is no anonymous troll.
Researching Buchanan quickly becomes infuriating. Not because he claims to fight for the rights of men and boys. It’s infuriating because Buchanan is a hypocrite. Buchanan continuously argues online and in the media that feminism is nothing more than a hate-filled ideology. But Buchanan then uses his Justice for Men and Boys website as a personal arena to attack and belittle women.
A quick scan of the J4mb website shows that Buchanan posts emails from the type of fans that compare feminists to dogs. Buchanan argues in his party’s election manifesto that more women in the workplace have collectively ruined pretty much every industry in the UK including medicine, education and policing. He even declares that female genital mutilation has less impact on women then circumcision does on men.
“The law in the UK forbids all forms of female genital mutilation – FGM – including those which have less impact on females, than male genital mutilation – MGM – has on males. FGM is justifiably regarded as a human rights issue, and the law makes no accommodation for religious or cultural considerations.”
Statements like these (and much, much more) are just on the J4mb website. Buchanan has also written three books on anti-feminism including The Glass Ceiling Delusion: The Real Reason Women don’t Reach Senior Positions (spoiler alert: it’s all a conspiracy orchestrated by militant feminists). But the twice-divorced Buchanan insists he’s not a misogynist. “Insinuations of misogyny invariably come in the wake of my presentations of reasoned arguments,” Buchanan writes on his website.
Buchanan’s idea of proving he’s not a misogynist includes praising the website “Women against Feminism.” He congratulates these women on their “independent minds” as oppose to “miserable whine merchant” feminists. His comments begs the question has Buchanan actually read the website WAF?
Because as I pointed out in my last post, while many WAF posters don’t want the stigma of being called a feminist, they do in fact support many of the same issues feminists do. Could it be that Buchanan is grasping at straws to make his points that he’ll simply praise anything that claims to be against feminism?
Buchanan’s ideals are especially troubling in regards to his political ambitions. The Justice for Men and Boys party is currently running for three seats in the May 2015 general election in Nottingham, England. Effective political leaders need to work towards the good of everyone in their community, not a narrow-minded view of what the right kind of people are. While it’s hopefully doubtful anyone in the J4mb will be elected, it’s important for Nottingham voters to be reminded on some of issues Buchanan will be running on the following topics.
Rape: The manifesto declares that the allowed time for abortions should be cut down from 24 to 13 weeks. It makes compensations for abortions when the woman’s physical health is at risk, but not mental health. So who cares if you were raped or the victim of incest, have an unwanted child already.
“Women should be held morally accountable for the children they conceive… There’s no evidence to support the thesis that abortion reduces the risk to mental health of women with an unwanted pregnancy, and clinical trials to investigate the matter would, of course, be highly unethical.”
Education: Gender stereotypes on the types of careers men and women should have need to be enforced, and how dare the British government try and encourage otherwise!
“We also take issue with governments continuing to spend large amounts of taxpayers’ money ‘encouraging’girls and young women into STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine) subjects and careers. These subjects were historically the routes to careers for many young men, yet the government is spending £30 million ‘encouraging’ women into engineering careers, although women have for decades expressed little interest in engineering as a career choice.”
Family: The entire notion of family has been ruined by feminism. Feminists are destroying fatherhood, and women are solely to blame for society’s high divorce rate. All these feminists family-destroyers really want to do is use our sperm and become lesbians.
“In only forty years or so, the entire institution of the family, underpinned by a lifelong commitment to marriage, has been overturned. This was driven by feminist politicians such as Harriet Harman and Patricia Hewitt […] Divorce is at an all-time high, having increased by 800% since 19603 and almost half of all children now see their parents break up by the time they are 15 […] Furthermore, women are the principal agents in ending their marriages – at more than three times the rate men are.Fatherhood is deemed unnecessary by the state, so taxpayers are subsidizing sperm banks for single women and lesbians.”
All this being said, Buchanan does bring up certain points that I agree with. Raising awareness and helping prevent male suicide, supporting male victims of domestic and sexual abuse, creating more balanced custody arrangements after divorce, and ending stigma around homelessness are all issues of Buchanan’s that I support. But where he loses my respect is when he twists each of his arguments around to demonstrate how things were just fine under a patriarchal society, and feminism has subsequently managed to ruin it.
That’s when Buchanan becomes less of an activist, and more of a man who’s upset about more women becoming doctors, women who have abortions after the mental trauma of being raped, or single women deciding to have a child without a father. Instead of Buchanan, let’s praise real activists and politicians in the UK who fight for HUMAN rights. And for god’s sake don’t vote Buchanan into office.
Student politics may not seem like the most interesting of ‘current affairs’ to follow. That’s understandable. After all, if you are not a student, a lot of the things that students care about don’t really matter to you. That can be contested, however.
I have two strands of student politics in mind. One of them actually takes place within campuses, with elected student representatives doing their business. There is, however, a broader sphere of student politics, which actually involves lobbying governments, provincial and even federal.
Let us focus on the federal level for today, because what is happening right now is some Westeros-level political intrigue. The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) is the largest student association in Canada. Basically, student unions from universities are able to become members of CFS; just like how individual labour unions can unite under a larger confederacy. From the Pacific to the Atlantic, 81 student unions are members of CFS; but here’s the kicker, not all of them want to be members anymore.
What usually happens, if you feel like you want to stop being a member of a federation? If you are a large union yourself, you hold a referendum, asking your constituency, “Hey, do we want to keep on being members of this thing?” Your constituency says either yay or nay, and then you go on your merry way.
See, that’s not how CFS rolls. In CFS, first you need to hold a petition, collecting hand-written signatures of 20 per cent of your members. Then, you need to send this document full of hand-written signatures to CFS, where CFS will count the number of signatures, and determine whether or not the signatures are ‘legible.’ That is, if they receive the petition and that it doesn’t get ‘lost.’
Anywhere during this, CFS may just declare your petition to be invalid on any of the reasons I’ve stated above. In the case of McGill University’s Post-graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) – the case I’m most familiar with – the invalidation of the petition was brought to the Quebec Superior Court; where the judge presiding compared the situation to a ‘bad marriage.’
But that’s not all! Even if you manage to get the petition in, and force CFS to recognise its validity, holding a membership referendum itself is extremely restricted. Everything and anything that the people campaigning to leave CFS say must actually be approved by a CFS appointed overseer before it’s released to the public. The rules of the game are set by CFS. If there is any violation, CFS will declare the referendum invalid. And then, you cannot petition for a referendum for another five years!
I’ll get to the financial aspect of this entire spiel momentarily.
On their website, CFS says that there are four student unions in Quebec that are its members. What it doesn’t say is that all four of them are struggling really hard, or have been lucky enough to leave CFS. Concordia’s student unions also are struggling with CFS, and they’re in much more of a pickle than PGSS.
The University of Toronto’s Graduate Student Union (UTGSU) also tried to leave CFS, and last November they held their own referendum. Allegedly, 66 per cent of the eligible voters voted no to CFS, but they failed to meet the quorum of 1606 people, by seven people. Because seven people failed to vote, UTGSU cannot hold a referendum for another five years.
There are a bunch of other examples, but I’m not gonna bore you with details. You can find details here, and here if you want to be bored, or if you are genuinely curious about this, for which I thank you.
What does that mean? I promised I’d talk about finances, so here’s finances. CFS charges its member unions $13 per student per year. UTGSU has roughly 16 000 members. That makes $208 000 per year. UTGSU cannot hold another referendum for five years. The cost of failing to leave CFS, therefore, is $1 040 000.
But wait, there’s more! I mentioned before that some student unions take this to the court. You can imagine, easily, that legal fees for running years long legal battles against a federation the size of a medium city (CFS has a total of roughly 1.5 million students under its umbrella). Conversely, CFS also needs to pay legal fees. Where does that money come from? That’s right! The very students they are suing!
But why do student unions want to leave CFS? What the hell is wrong with it? To be perfectly fair, CFS does have some interesting campaigns. For instance, they have a campaign called “Let People Vote,” which essentially involves CFS lobbying against the federal Bill C-23. Bill C-23 is law now, so clearly their lobbying did not work – perhaps, along with other reasons, but still.
I’m just going to give you a few seconds to let the irony of having a campaign called “Let People Vote” while making it extremely difficult for people to hold referendums sink in.
Going back to Quebec in specific, CFS has not been active in la Belle Province since 2010. That year was crazy in terms of CFS politics, because some internal leadership disputes caused the provincial wing of CFS – aptly called CFS-Quebec – to leave CFS. Or rather CFS disowned CFS-Q. Or perhaps CFS-Q transformed into something called Rassemblement des associations etudiantes? It was more or less all of this.
CFS did create a new Quebec wing, however the actual members from Quebec (namely Dawson Students’ Union, Concordia Students’ Union, Concordia Graduate Students’ Association, and PGSS) were not part of this new wing. So there was no Quebec representation in the National General Meeting of CFS.
Also, CFS has a national general meeting, where they make decisions about the regulations regarding leaving CFS. With no Quebec representation, it’s obvious why problems may arise.
I’ll cut to the chase. If this was about the small labour unions or local political parties trying to leave their federal umbrella organizations, but actively denied their right to free association (that is, freedom to become or stop being a member of any organization/club/whatever of your desire), it would make top news – political party more so than the labour union, but I digress.
There are unimaginable political games happening within the realm of student politics, and it is mostly going under the radar. If these stories ever appear in mainstream media, they are treated as trivial. In fact, CFS still retains its title as the ‘legitimate’ voice of student concerns on a federal level, yet with all these legal battles against it, its lack of accountability, and overall shadiness shows to me that it should be otherwise.
What is austerity? Very simply put, it is when governments decide to ‘tighten the belt’ in order to resolve ‘debt crises.’ A government starts running a deficit, and thus has to review its budget. While that sounds like a very basic accounting job, it is inherently extremely political. Why? Because you have to decide on which expenditures to cut, or which sources of income to raise.
Two large scaleanti-austerity protests have taken place in the past couple of months. All around Montreal, you can still see ambulances, firetrucks, and police cars covered with “On n’a rien volé” stickers. Clearly, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Parti Libéral du Quebec’s (PLQ) cuts are real, but they are in no way new, or unexpected.
Of course, the PLQ’s decision to raise tuition fees was not out of the blue. Quebec was (and curiously, still is) facing a rising debt crisis. What happens when you find out that your balance is in the negative? You try to break even. This sounds all logical and rational. Yet, breaking even can turn out to be problematic, if you have your priorities set wrong.
In 2012, PLQ assumed incorrectly that students could be made to bear the burden of the provincial government’s debt crisis. The Maple Spring was the students’ response to this misjudgment, and it was without a doubt very polarizing. While there were hundreds of thousands of students taking to the street almost every week, there were others who wanted none of this.
The problem with the pacifist mind frame is that not everyone can afford to be apathetic. To some, an increase of a thousand dollars over the course of five years might not be too much; but for others it effectively means that higher education is barred to them.
At any rate, after the Maple Spring, the PLQ was replaced by the Parti Québecois (PQ), which declared that the tuition hikes would not take place. However, the PQ decided to cut university budgets by $123 million. So instead of directly barring education to some students, the provincial government succeeded in reducing the quality of education for everyone.
Similar to Bill 10 which would overhaul Quebec’s health bureaucracy, and Bill 3 that will overhaul municipal pensions, the cuts to university budgets are part of the same austerity regime based on all the wrong priorities. The provincial government finds itself in a debt of about $3.9 billion and figures that the solution is cutting social services.
The Maple Spring showed that students were more than willing to fight a government that encroached on its basic rights. And more recently, the past two months have shown that mobilization against austerity is not just a possibility, but a reality. It is a little disappointing that people start caring about the consequences of austerity only after they themselves are affected, but that does not matter anymore.
“While they reach for the last pennies in our pockets, federal and provincial governments increase military spending, invest in prisons, police, and security measures, and roll out the red carpet for the extraction industries. People with friends in high places, the rich, large companies, multinationals, banks and lobbying firms are running the show. A small minority is strangling the community. If the interests of the majority do not orient the actions and priorities of the government, it is illusory to continue to speak of this as a democracy. In a just and equitable society, wealth should not be accumulated at the expense of our environment and should be fairly redistributed among all.”
There is nothing innocent about austerity. It is not simply an apolitical economic decision to break even; mainly because there can be no such thing as an apolitical economic decision. Governments have priorities, and this government has shown us that their priorities are not social justice, social equality, or even simply social services.
It is clear that the governments of this province, both PLQ and PQ, have got their priorities wrong. It then falls on us to collectively fight against austerity and stand in solidarity with one another.
Of course, none of the political choices available might be pleasing. In fact, you might be completely against the system to begin with. But the realistic choice is fighting one battle at a time; while keeping the dream of social justice and social equality alive. It is realistic, because at least we know we can fight the good fight.
This is not just the students’ fight anymore; although I daresay students have led the charge, and are still leading the charge. But it is time to realize that austerity affects us all. As such, it is our collective responsibility to stand in solidarity, and say no to austerity.
On the March 5, 2013 Paulo Portas, the vice prime-minister of Portugal, and leader of the Partido Popular (the right-wing neo-liberal member of the austerity governing coalition) visited India for a business trip. The objective of this short visit on behalf of the vice admiral of a sinking Portuguese vessel was to insure a safe route for the influx of foreign capital — in this case Indian capital — to reinvigorate the ailing Portuguese economy. There, in New Delhi, and in front of flashing cameras and journalists Paulo Portas gave out the first ‘Golden Visa,’ which has become quite infamous in Portugal over the past weeks.
Now this ‘Golden Visa’ might seem like the Golden Ticket in the fable of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and that idea isn’t that far off. The system of Golden Visas was implemented, in the words of its promoters, to facilitate foreign investment in Portugal, and to boost the economy with innovative projects. Thus any foreign citizen with enough money and a project to invest in some section of the Portuguese economy a considerable amount of money was given access to the Via dei Fori Imperiali, a sort of express lane without tolls which would allow the rich and the affluent, in other words, the job creators of this world to come and spread their magical dust, and spread economical healthiness throughout the land of Lusitans. It was the magical solution to resolve of Portugal’s economic woes, insourcing entrepreneurship and the audacity of the foreign masters of capital.
The only problem with the entire scheme is that things didn’t quite work out according to plan. Thus on November 13, a political earthquake shook Lisbon. Four public offices became the targets of special anti-corruption unit raids: Portuguese border services agency, the entity which was in charge of directly issuing the Visas; the Ministry of Justice and the Institute of Registries and Notaries, the equivalent of our Ministry of National Revenue; and the Ministry of Internal Administration, the equivalent of our Ministry of Public Works and Governmental Affairs.
The heads of all these institutions have been questioned by Portuguese police, and have been accused of, corruption, trafficking of influence and money laundering, among other things. Two companies Golden Visas Europe and JMF-Projects and Business Inc. offered services for foreign private investors looking to dry their money in the sun on some picturesque Portuguese beach.
A travel agency for capital, Marx would have been delighted!
Both of these companies had direct ties to the legal public authorities, who were quintessential in the issuing of the infamous Golden Visas. For example Miguel Macedo the Minister of Internal Administration had a direct stake in Golden Visas Europe; he had been the founding partner of the enterprise — even though he was already minister at the time — with a young lady by the name of Luísa Oliveira Figueiredo, who happened to the daughter of António Figueiredo, the head of the Institute of Registries and Notaries.
It was all a coincidence obviously!
In the year 2013 alone, 110,000 Portuguese of all ages, and from all walks of life migrated and initiated ajourney whichwe call saudade, the longing for the return to the mother land. Austerity measures continue to hit Portugal hard, but at least some at the top of the Portuguese political ladder have understood the mechanisms that will allow them to profit from the suffering and the misery of the common Portuguese Joe or in this case João.
Some authors in the past spoke of monopoly capitalism when referring to the uber concentration of capital within the orbit of a few corporations, multinational enterprises, of wealth. For Paul Sweezy, capitalism under Pax Americana in the mid-1960s was far from being the rule of the ‘free-market’ that Adam Smith had theorized. Rather it was an oligarchy, a saturated orgy of the rich and powerful that always reproduced their power through new business ventures and “created” new markets when necessary.
The scandal of the ‘Golden Visas’ underlines the hypocrisy of the extreme right-wing rhetoric, which is in vogue throughout Europe, and is represented in Portugal by the Partido Nacional Renovador (PNR). Hundreds and thousands of poor and toiling African immigrants amass at ‘Fortress Europe’s’ borders; the “wretched of the earth” as Frantz Fanon said. Upon their arrival in Europe they join the ranks of the lowest of the lowest classes, yet form the invisible and voiceless backbone of an economy in shambles.
We demonise them, tarnish their image. They are the incarnation of all the wrath that the laborious people of Portugal feel. In the meantime multi-millionaire gangsters have made a paradise, coached in the misery of both the Portuguese and the migrant working classes. The focus that the extreme right puts on immigrant populations is a diversion tactic, used as a veil to hide the real illegal immigrants that capitalize on the economic crisis: The ‘Golden’ immigrants, the avatars of the ‘free’ circulation of capital. Unfortunately for them, this inherent contradiction has been unveiled and the emperor is revealed to be naked.
The Golden Visas and the story of Portugal since 2011 is the perfect example of the rise of a new form of capitalism, which can be called ‘casino capitalism.’ It is a mix between libertarian paradise and state-capitalism à la Xiaoping. Its most brutal manifestation is this system of Golden Visas; a rigged lottery which only favours the ‘free’, and the automatization of capital servant of the markets and financial cartels pushed through by a neo-liberal state — the state after all isn’t that bad when it serves the interests of capital!
Within this new economic world everything becomes possible. While millions of young and talented Portuguese leave toiling to put an end to their precarity, the country is being stripped to pieces and sold to the highest bidder. Soon every aspect of Portuguese life will be liberated from the constraints of the state — no regulation whatsoever. In this brave new world modeled through the lense of Atlas Shrugged, everyone will be under the yoke of those that have enough influence and power to make and break the market, those that write the laws of an unfree market.
The news that came after the ‘grand’ deliberation of the jury last night in response to the shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, MO wasn’t one bit surprising. It did, though, feel like an electroshock of seismic magnitude.
Although it’s obvious that a judicial system that gives the same definition of ”personhood” to multinational corporations as it does to an actual person is rigged and corrupt to the core, it was a shocking verdict given the public outcry revolving around the case, the popular mobilization and the massive sensitization campaign that swept like wildfire throughout communities in the United States.
It seemed more like a sermon on the benefits of the system: St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch’s tone was that of a bureaucrat, dishing-out bunches of reports, pharisaic evidence and physical proof, in his attempt to make us believe that officer Darren Wilson was right to murder in cold blood an 18-year-old Afro-American male for the crime of stealing a box of cigarillos. McCulloch said time after time that the accounts conveyed by the witnesses were contradictory, that it was all speculation and that, all in all, the legitimate fear that Afro-Americans (and others) have of the judicial system (one that not that long ago was the firewall of segregation) were unfounded, in other words, ridiculous.
McCulloch, a white, middle-aged man, was standing in front of the cameras last night speaking from the top of his altar down to the amassed crowds of Afro-American residents of Ferguson. It was the perfect metaphor for the hypocrisy of the entire situation. The subaltern can’t not speak. That was the message that rang out, the message that was supposed to quell once and for all the riots that had engulfed the impoverished St. Louis suburb since mid-August.
McCulloch was merely the avatar of a system, the message wasn’t his or that of the members of a jury, it was the message of law. Once McCulloch, from his prestigious position, with all the lights and the cameras driven on him, spoke, that was the word of ”god”: the word that would twist, turn and bend reality to fit its image that we had adjusted for it. In this reality, the people of Ferguson — their anger, their sorrow, their sense of alienation, their profound frustration — don’t fit within the canvas. It’s almost as if this new deity of law could remake events to suit its own pre-established narrative.
It was a thorough investigation, they say, and out of the 162 000 cases that involved grand juries in 2010 only 11 decided not to return an indictment. But beyond that, there is a profound difference between indictment and conviction. In no measure was it the Grand Jury’s role to convict officer Darren Wilson of murder or manslaughter, voluntary or involuntary but to examine if there were grounds to… Were there grounds? I wonder…
Is the fact that a police officer shot an unarmed teenager several times with forensic evidence that the teenager was shot in the back considerable grounds for indictment? Is the fact that there are several contradictory accounts of the events sufficient grounds for a more in depth investigation through a full trial? The fact that the corner store from which Michael Brown supposedly stole the infamous box of cigarillos that would cost him his life denies that they called in law enforcement, is that grounds for indictment? Maybe the fact that his corpse was left 4 1/2 hours in broad day light, terrorizing the entire community, is reason for indictment on the grounds of negligence?
Forget all of that. There are sufficient grounds in the fact that every 28 hours, an African-American is shot dead by American law enforcement or vigilantes. Let’s shed a bit of light here. Michael Brown’s death is not the first and not the last brutal murder of a young Afro-American at the hands of the police and thus Officer Wilson should have been indicted and convicted within this framework. Unfortunately, the message sent back from the grand jury’s non-indictment was clear: it’s okay for the police to use lethal force against subaltern groups.
It’s okay for Americans to exploit the working force of millions of ”illegal” immigrants and treat them inhumanely. It’s okay for American law enforcement to kill in cold blood young and poor African-Americans, such as 12-year-old Tamir Rice who was shot dead while in a playground, playing. It’s okay to take the poor and toiled to court when they fraud welfare, but when the banks make millions in bonuses and stash them off in the Bahamas to avoid taxation, it’s also okay. It’s illegal in most places to smoke or deal weed to a make a few extra bucks but when too-big-to-fail financial institutions launder blood money from cartels, that’s okay.
This is the state of our judicial systems, that the mainstream media uphold this veil of ideology that casts law as the ultimate truth and the maker and breaker of reality. What is law is truth, what is law is real, all the rest is nonsense…
But ”law” is nothing else than the crystallization of subjective interests. You only have to look at those who benefit from the law, you only have to take a look at the barriers that allow some to have a greater access to justice than others, to see that law is merely the crystallization, in many ways, of ideology.
In this sense, the grand ideal of the American Dream found its wreckage on the rocks of the grand jury. The ideology that uses the symbols of equality, liberty and freedom in practice abides by the notion that some are more equal than others, that everyone has the right to speak but only a few to be heard and if you’re never heard, the question is did you ever speak in the first place?
Law is always the structuring framework of ideology. Example laws vary in countries with different ideologies and forms of law vary in different times, but law is always the subject of the reigning ideology and the economic and social elites. That’s why banks used tight debt laws as leverage on the poorest sections of American society and yet no law could jail the bankers that knowingly, maybe even willingly, instigated the economic downturn.
Law is a silex shaped by ideology, a tool of legitimization of violence, used to keep the subaltern under the grip of the ideological apparatus. Law defines what violence is legitimate in Webberian terms and what violence isn’t, what special interests can use coercive force and what forces have to be denuded of their coercive force.
That’s why the tears, the anguish, the blood, the misery and the voices of the subaltern are rarely taken into account in ”legal” terms. We are tricked into believing that Lady Justice is blind-folded. Justice isn’t blind, it’s blinding.
This past Monday, November 17, marked the 41st anniversary of the Athens Polytechnic Uprising, which pitted young Greeks against the oppressive regime of a military junta.
Fast forward 41 years, and once again young Greeks are up in arms, not against a military junta, but against a technocratic junta, which has imposed severe austerity measures and liberalization policies across the board. 41 years ago, the protesters were met with the bone-cracking force of the military. On Monday, the protests were met with a similarly lethal force; but this time it was disguised under the mantle of so-called ‘responsible’ economic management.
The revolutions of the 1970s brought about the downfall of dictatorships, such as those of Salazar and Franco in the Iberian Peninsula, and of military juntas, such as those in Greece and Cyprus. This marked the start of the velvet revolutions. The term velvet revolution is usually used for the Eastern European uprisings of November 1989, but it can also be used for the Southern European revolutions of the 1970s.
As seen through the lens of official historiography the velvet revolutions signified the overthrowing of antiquated socioeconomic structures; By which, we are to understand an amalgamation of Communist regimes, fascistoïd dictatorships, and military juntas openly supported by the ‘free world.’ History has re-framed these revolutions, and portrayed them as the vindication of economic laisser-faire and liberal democracy. Thus the bells of have history rung, the curtains fell. The play was over chaps!
What a brutal awakening it must have been for those who have said, time after time, that no matter how bad the dictatorial measures of austerity might be, that “we’re still better off”, that “we’ve got freedom now”, when they saw the images of the central campus of Athens Polytechnic under a cloud of tear gas. A subliminal image, almost as if it were looped. In 41 years we had traveled only to wind-up back at square one. It was a bone-chilling reminder for those who want to impose their neoliberal model, that the shadows of the unfulfilled revolutionary aspirations will not be quenched so effortlessly.
The velvet revolutions were the amalgamations of various dissident movements ranging from liberal movements, to left-wing socialist and communist movements. However, the official discourse is that that liberals and conservatives were the ones that caused the velvet revolutions. We must not forget that the instigator of the velvet revolutions in Eastern Europe was a libertarian socialist trade union named Solidarność(Solidarity). Similarly, the bulk of the opposition against military juntas and dictatorships alike was made up of militant left-wing movements, which had no intention of trading the direct dictatorship of the few, for an invisible dictatorship of the few.
From the Iberian Peninsula, through Eastern Europe, and thence to Greece and Cyprus these velvet revolutions had the objective of creating new structures, in which economic and social rights were guaranteed. Adequate housing, social housing and land reform were the central objectives of the Portuguese, Spanish and Greek velvet revolutions. New forms of direct democracy were put in place during a brief period of time in many Eastern European countries during the post-velvet revolution period — a heritage of the anti-authoritarian Budapest and Prague uprisings.
The clergy of austerity and neoliberal policies has claimed that its ideology was vindicated by such velvet revolutions, and that such velvet revolutions were produced by the fact that the oppressed peoples of Eastern and Southern Europe ‘wanted in’ on Western capitalism. This clergy argues that these people wanted complete market liberalization, mass privatizations, and now massive unemployment; and that they wanted to ‘liberate’ the job market and their stock exchanges.
In the wake of the velvet revolutions, the peoples of the newly ‘liberated’ Europe said that they were in awe of another form of liberation. They wanted liberation from hunger, liberation from homelessness, liberation from poverty, liberation from precarity, and liberation from the brutality of state sanctioned violence. And they set these demands in stone, by putting them in their new constitutions.
Today, as millions of young Greeks, Portuguese, Hungarians, Czechs, Cypriots, and Italians are protesting, they carry the revolutionary flame of the past generations of 1973, 1974, 1975, and 1989. Austerity in this case is a strategy. It is a strategy to remove from these states all of their social aspirations; a strategy to transfer the public wealth, amassed through the struggle of many generations to build a social structure that would provide for everyone, into the hands of an elite. Austerity is thus a form of ‘new’ primitive accumulation, as Marx would call it, and the transfer common capital into the private sphere. Austerity is a direct assault on the established social rights that are the heritage of such velvet revolutions.
Austerity is nothing more, and nothing less, than rhetorical prowess capable of legitimizing systemic robbery. Austerity is thus a synonym for kleptocracy!
Recently, a headline caught my eye. It said, “Minister of Immigration Chris Alexander tables Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act.” I had to read the it twice because frankly I thought it was satire. Silly me. I should have gotten used to the Harper regime’s xenophobic extravagance by now.
Journalists, commentators, and pundits with some sense of decency have brushed aside the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act, treating it simply as another one of those wacko Conservative acts. This act is just like a fading smoke signal to the Conservative voter base.
“If we had 100% of the power this is what we do, vote for us, and we’ll abolish the Supreme Court so we can pass such iniquitous laws,” Harper seems to be saying.
One of the things that Toronto’s mayoral race proved is that racism can still garnish some political ground in Canada, if it is intertwined in an insidious manner with right-wing populism. Maybe what didn’t work in Quebec’s provincial elections might work for the Neo-Tea Party in Ontario, if Doug Ford becomes the leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party. It most certainly was an essential factor of his mayoralty bid.
What both elections have in common, to a certain extent, is that there exists in Canada an electoral base that might be swayed by some blatant demagogic xenophobia – in the vein of the France’s Front National. The Conservative government, through their anti-immigration rhetoric and their metaphor of barbaric cultures has turned to a page right out of the extreme right-wing playbook.
Up until now, the way the Conservatives have been handling the immigration issue has essentially been economic. Their discourse has been one of unbridled exploitation. “Immigrants are only good, if they generate profit for the Canadian economy. On the other hand if they don’t, they are useless and we must get rid of them,” goes their discourse.
There are other examples to this discourse and its politics: the Bogus Refugee claims, refugee health care, the temporary migrant workers program etc. In this sense, the Conservative party has many similarities with the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and its leader Nigel Farage, who has used the anti-immigrant rhetoric to undermine the traditional hegemony of the British Conservative Party on the British right wing. Doesn’t that ring any bells? Reform Party, anyone?
But it seems like the Conservative Party ,with their two last bills, has gone further than UKIP and its politics of “soft extreme-right,” which plays on immigration, but not on identity matters. The hard extreme-right, a constellation of all of humanity’s demons, has this visceral need to define identity. To them identity is based on the exclusion of those that are not like us, those that are not part of the “nation.’’ Such is the political agenda of the Le Front National in France or the extreme-right Dutch Party for Freedom.
The Conservative government is clandestinely, through their debate about “Barbaric Cultural Practices,” calling for a debate about the true nature of Canadian identity. Etymologically speaking, barbarian means the other, the person that isn’t us, and by extension not part of Canada. And beyond this, the blanket statement “Barbaric Cultures” also refers to some sort of hierarchy of cultures. It perpetuates the idea that some cultures on that ladder are inferior or superior to others.
It seems that the cultural practices that stem from Western or European groups are quite alright, but “other” cultures have to be put under the loop for their barbaric cultural practices. Thus, with this rhetorical ingenuity, the Conservative regime has redefined Canadian identity.
Too long have we comforted ourselves with the idea that Canada, and Canadians aren’t racist, and because of this we have this false idea that we haven’t let racism creep into the highest spheres of power. The Conservative move to introduce legislation that bans “barbaric cultural practices” is no different than the extreme right-wing proposals on the European continent. Unfortunately in our case, the Conservative party has managed to achieve power, and its threat is very real.