Politics

2015-10-19 14.30.28

By Joan Baxter

stop-harper (1)It was bad enough watching Canada’s Immigration Minister Chris Alexander on CBC’s Power and Politics lying to Rosemary Barton, telling her that the media are to blame for the country’s pathetic response to the refugee crisis.

And it certainly wasn’t any easier listening to Alexander stonewall As It Happens’ Carol Off when she asked, repeatedly, how many of the 200 government-sponsored refugees from Syria had actually made it to Canada by June 2014. That was before he hung up on her, claiming later he’d been late for Question Period.

It was equally galling reading Alexander’s nasty attack on the Ontario government after it reinstated health care to all asylum seekers after the Harper Government stripped it away. And his dangerous, preposterous comment that this would make Canada “a magnet for bogus asylum seekers” raised questions about just how low Harper’s government could and would stoop.

But nothing — absolutely nothing — could possibly be as distressing as that soul-searing, heart-wrenching photo of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi dead on a Turkish beach and the awful fact that Aylan and his family might have been granted asylum in Canada long before they got on that boat. Earlier this year, the NDP Member of Parliament for Port Moody – Coquitlam, Fin Donnelly, hand-delivered to Chris Alexander a letter in support of the privately sponsored refugee application for some of the Kurdi family to join their relatives in British Columbia. Citizenship and Immigration Canada now says no application for Aylan’s immediate family was ever received.

Regardless, it’s too late. Aylan Kurdi, his mother and his brother are now dead, like another 6,000 refugees and migrants who have perished or disappeared en route to Europe since January 2014.

There is much blame to go around in this horrendous refugee crisis. But the blame for how poorly Canada has responded lands squarely on the shoulders of the Harper Government with its rhetoric about “bogus refugees”. Continue reading Shame on the Harper Government

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canadians pay

BY: Joan Baxter

Former Senate Page, Brigette DePape in 2011

Former Senate Page, Brigette DePape in 2011

Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper is spending immense amounts of taxpayers’ money to promote himself, his government, the oil and gas industry, his neoconservative ideology and his neoliberal big-dog-devour-little-dog economic dogma – and this kind of propaganda machine does not bode well for Canada’s or any country’s democracy…

One of the very first things I noticed when, in the 1980s, I lived and travelled in some decidedly non-democratic countries in West and Central Africa, was the over-the-top narcissism of some of the dictators and their obsession with absolute control of their political messages, which were almost exclusively about themselves and what great leaders they were.

It was relentless. Their portraits and political propaganda were ubiquitous, filling billboards, plastered all over the front pages of newspapers, and even their most insignificant comings and goings monopolized radio and television newscasts (and caused massive traffic jams). There were no such things as genuine press conferences; rather there were staged events with fawning reporters recording the great leader’s every word while political partisans applauded.

As a young, impressionable Canadian woman who had come of age during the “just society” years in Canada, never experienced first-hand conflict or the political turmoil, excesses and human rights abuses that abound in the absence of democracy, I remember how terrifying it all seemed.

Fast forward to 2015.

Most of those African countries I lived in are now democracies, not perfect ones, but far more democratic than they were two or three decades ago. And while there is still a long way to go in many of these young democracies, at least most of the signs are pointing in the right direction.

Full speed backwards in Canada

Not so Canada, where we’ve been moving in the wrong direction, full speed backwards. Continue reading Canadians pay the high costs of Stephen Harper’s Conservative propaganda machine

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BY: Joan Baxter

Stephen Harper with his friend & fellow hardline conservative, former Australian PM, John Howard

Stephen Harper with his friend & fellow hardline conservative, former Australian PM, John Howard

(I’ve decided to republish this Op-ed now because I believe it traces the early warnings and the beginning of the end of Canada as we knew it. It was first published in The Chronicle Herald in May 2006, a few months after Stephen Harper became prime minister.)

For the last few years, the spring peepers have been my cue to climb halfway out the window of my second-storey office, humming Oh Canada while I put up the Canadian flag. After a long winter, it warms my heart to see the maple leaf out there on the end of that pole, waving strong and free in the warm breezes. Last year, when I noticed the flag was showing its age and fading, I happily went to Canadian Tire for a new one. I wanted all my visitors, no matter what nationality, to know how glad I was to be part of a country that at least tried to sound like a force for good on this troubled planet.

For twenty-five years when I lived abroad, first in Central America and then in Africa, I had been proud to tell people – often before they asked – that I was Canadian. And people would often reply – without any prompting – that Canada was “different” and “good”. When I asked why, they would say Canada encouraged genuine democratic reform. Canada had no covert agents disguised as aid workers or deniable operatives toppling regimes, arming rebels and starting wars. Some Africans did complain about our restrictive immigration policies and the impossibility of obtaining even a visitor’s visa for Canada if you were not wealthy or highly educated. And a few noted that Canadian companies were involved in the new scramble for Africa’s oil and natural resources.

But generally, I found people in Africa thought highly of Canada and welcomed Canadians with open arms. Continue reading With friends like these, Canada is sure to make enemies

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Page Brigette DePape stands in the middle of the floor of the Senate as Governor General David Johnston delivers the Speech from the Throne in the Senate Chamber on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Friday June 3, 2011. Moore has posted a giant photo on his website of 21-year-old Brigette DePape holding up a “Stop Harper” sign in the Senate chamber during Friday's throne speech. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

BY: Joan Baxter

Dear Mr. Harper,

I am worried about you, I mean truly, deeply worried about you. It’s not that you haven’t worried me before. You and your political agenda cooked up to serve the wealthy made me leery long before you slipped, serpent-like, right through the schools of squabbling Liberals and NDP in 2006 to form a minority Conservative government.

But since you got your majority – even if only with a minority of the popular vote – it looks as if the power is doing very dangerous things to your head, as absolute power does. And like many of my fellow Canadians, I am sick with worry about what that means for the country.

Many democracies around the world limit the number of terms or length of time that elected leaders can stay in power. The idea is that no one person should taste power for too long; it is too addictive and it clouds judgement, brings on delusions of infallibility. Alas, Canada doesn’t have such a limit. And it doesn’t seem as if you have any in-built mechanism to tell you that enough is not just enough, it’s too much, that it’s time for you to quit. Retire gracefully. Watch lots of hockey and write another book about it, bang about on the piano, hang about at Tim Hortons, take up Tiddlywinks, whatever it is that turns you on – besides humiliating and destroying everyone that doesn’t agree with you, that is.

But it seems you’ve imbibed too much of the elixir of power and want to stick around, seek another mandate. At least that’s what you said in your recent interview with Peter Mansbridge on CBC, the public broadcaster that I fear will no longer be recognizable if you stay on as Prime Minister, just like Canada itself. Continue reading Dear Stephen Harper – please accept this invitation to resign (and repent)

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The magnificent ocean vista on Nova Scotia's Eastern Shore

BY: Joan Baxter

My dearly beloved, but bruised and much-abused Canada,

09.02.2005-parliament-from-gatineau-300x225I wish I were writing to you under better circumstances, and not when you are at such a low point in your history, so badly abused by the Harper Government. I can’t even say by the “Government of Canada”; that name has been stolen from you, replaced with that of the man who has taken you hostage.

Some would argue that because he was elected as prime minister, Stephen Harper can do what he wants with you. And if his regime wants to rewrite history, suppress science, reject reason, present lies as truth and war as peace, drag you back into the Dark Ages – to change you so much and in so many ways that you are no longer recognizable (as he threatened to do back in 2006) – that reflects the will of the Canadian people that elected the Conservatives.

But, I would argue, dear Canada, that this isn’t so. Continue reading Oh, woe, Canada – a tough-love letter to my country

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Previously: Billionaires at play in the fields of the poor (part 5) Chinnakannan Sivasankaran

There is a great deal of buzz about Africa’s economic awakening, with some countries experiencing substantial growth in gross domestic product that is being driven by waves of foreign capital, as investors from Asia, Europe, North America, the Middle East and also Latin America descend on the continent. Many of the investors are after natural resources, mineral and oil riches and also farmland. This raises the question: is the foreign investment benefitting the continent or is it just another scramble for Africa, the last stage of colonialism? In this, the last of six articles on the issue, Joan Baxter profiles another of five billionaire investors in Sierra Leone, French national Vincent Bolloré and his complex investment portfolio in Africa. The article concludes the series by looking at how even if the wave of foreign investment in Sierra Leone benefits the country.

 Billionaire investors and prosperity for whom?

P1011484-300x225Not even 50 kilometres from the disputed land lease taken out by the Siva Group  in Kpaka Chiefdom in Sierra Leone’s Pujehun District, where angry youth leaders and local chiefs are denouncing their Paramount Chief for signing away their precious farmland, there is similar discontent and dis-accord over a land deal in the Malen Chiefdom. There, Socfin Agricultural Company (SL) Ltd, or SAC, has leased 6,575 hectares and converted more than half of that into monoculture oil palm plantation. It is now seeking to lease and plant an additional 5,500 hectares, for a total of 12,000.[i]

SAC is 85 percent owned by Socfinaf,[ii] part of the extremely complex Socfin [Société Financière des Caoutchoucs] Group, with its contact address[iii] in Luxembourg, a ”major” secrecy jurisdiction at the ”dirty” end of the spectrum. [iv] Thirty-nine percent of the shares of Socfin are held by the Bolloré Group,[v] of which the prominent French billionaire Vincent Bolloré is Chair and Chief Executive Officer. Although the Group is listed on the Paris stock exchange, the Bolloré family holds ”majority control of the company through a complex and indirect holding structure”.[vi] The major shareholders of SOCFIN SA are all very much associated with the Bolloré Group, as they are controlled by the Fabri or de Ribes families, who are intertwined in the various interconnected companies.

Continue reading Billionaires at play in the fields of the poor (part 6): prosperity for whom?

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Previously: Billionaires at play in the fields of the poor (part 2) Beny Steinmetz

This, the third in a series of six articles on foreign investment in Sierra Leone profiles another one of  five billionaires,  Frank Timis and his investment in the country’s extractive sector.

King of Iron Ore

Another Ultra High Net Worth Individual — or Ultra HNWI in the curious shorthand of the wealth management industry — working in Sierra Leone’s extractive sector is Frank Timis, originally from Romania and now based in London, UK. In 2011, Timis made his debut on the Forbes List of billionaires.[i] He is said to be the richest Romanian, with a personal fortune in 2012 estimated at over 1.7 billion Euros or about US $ 2.2 billion.[ii] He’s also the owner of two Bombardier Challenger jets.

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Wet ore – or soil containing ore – is loaded into train cars and untold tonnes of it taken directly to port for export to China. Photo credit: Joan Baxter

Timis is a controversial figure, with two convictions for possession of heroin in Australia.[iii] In 2007, the Toronto Stock Exchange declared him an ”unsuitable” person to act as director or major shareholder of any companies listed on the TSX.[iv] In 2009 while he headed the UK-listed Regal Petroleum, the UK authorities fined the company close to US $1 million for issuing misleading statements about its oil reserves.[v] Today he is Chairman of the Timis Corporation, “a portfolio of businesses in the mining, oil and gas, life sciences and agricultural industries”.[vi] It is registered in Bermuda, which appears on the Forbes list of the world’s “top ten tax havens”. Continue reading Billionaires at play in the fields of the poor (part 3): Frank Timis

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There is a great deal of buzz about Africa’s economic awakening, with some countries experiencing double-digit growth in gross domestic product that is being driven by waves of foreign capital, as investors from Asia, Europe, North America, the Middle East and also Latin America descend on the continent. Many of the investors are after natural resources, mineral and oil riches and also farmland. This raises the question: is the foreign investment benefitting the continent or is it just another scramble for Africa, the last stage of colonialism? This, the first in series of six articles, Billionaires at play in the fields of the poor, investigates how foreign investment is playing out in one small African country. It looks at five billionaire investors, their big investments and at what’s in it all for Sierra Leone.

Part 1. Sierra Leone on a silver platter?

Africans and their leaders have every reason to be fed up with the negative way their continent has been portrayed and viewed by the outside world. It is definitely time that they tried to undo the damage by painting pictures that highlight the continent’s many strengths and riches.

PVB-GN_06-002-300x225So it was that in late 2009, Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Bai Koroma took the podium at the Sierra Leone Trade and Investment Forum at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in London, England. The country was still better known internationally for “blood diamonds” and a brutal civil war they fuelled, than for its impressive peace-building efforts in the ten years since the war ended. President Koroma wanted to change that.

“Our soils are fertile and our land under-cultivated, offering ideal investments in rice, oil palm, cocoa, coffee and sugar,” he declared.  “Our ground is rich in minerals: iron ore – the third largest deposit in the world; bauxite, rutile, gold and yes, diamonds. Our shores boast 400 kilometres of white sandy beaches, just waiting to be developed for tourism . . . Our seas are some of the most well-stocked and under-fished in the world”. Continue reading Billionaires at play in the fields of the poor (part 1): Sierra Leone on a silver platter?

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photo credit: CBC

photo credit: CBC

When Prime Minister Stephen Harper weighed in on the tragic story of Rehtaeh Parsons, the 17-year-old Nova Scotian who was driven to hang herself in April 2013 after months of bullying following an alleged sexual assault, he echoed the national revulsion at the event, saying he was “sickened” by the story. He also said he thought that it was time to stop using the term “bullying” for some of these things because that connoted “kids misbehaving”, when some of these circumstances were “simply criminal activity”. That they may be. But no one can deny that it is the bullying itself that in recent years has been driving so many young Canadians to depression, despair and suicide.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that Mr. Harper wants to downplay the term “bullying” by suggesting it’s just the kind of shenanigans that children get up to in a sandbox. If he were to admit that bullying was morally wrong and deeply dangerous, a pervasive social ill that has become common in all walks of modern life and among all ages, he might have to change the way his Party does politics and fights elections. Bullying, which has become such a scourge in our schools, workplaces, social media and arenas, is now also a political tool in this country. Continue reading Conservative attack ads are bullying

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In 2002, even if Mali wasn’t literally my home, my native land it sure felt it was. At that point my family and I had been living in Bamako, the Malian capital, for five years. On summer visits back to Canada to visit with family and friends, my son usually gave it two or three weeks before he started telling me that it had been a “nice holiday” but now he thought it was really time we went “home” to Bamako. He missed the group of friends with whom he played soccer on the narrow dusty roads near our house, dodging vehicles and regularly retrieving wayward soccer balls from fetid gutters. My daughter greatly missed her friends, who hailed from all over West Africa, and the weekends when they all headed off to explore the crazy markets or just to make the rounds of each others’ homes sampling wonderful African dishes and trying out new dances they were learning in a Senegalese dance troupe.

I had no interest in ever leaving Mali. I was working as a journalist, reporting for the BBC World Service and any other international media that showed an interest in the country, its fabulous history, culture, music, or its politics and the already worrisome meddling in its internal affairs of foreign powers, particularly American, French, Algerian, Libyan and Saudi.

But — barring the BBC World Service that broadcast to Africa and enjoyed its largest audience growth on the continent — few international media outlets seemed very interested in Mali. At that point, the country was not generating the kinds of stories that editors in distant newsrooms seemed to expect from Africa. These tended to star bloodthirsty youths in rebel garb hacking off limbs of innocent civilians, white saviours trying to stem the outbreak of some new and awful disease, or perhaps a Western celebrity cuddling a starving child. Continue reading Grieving for Mali

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