Guest Editorial: Kidnappings and killings abroad



Until the gruesome execution of John Ridsdel by the group Abu Sayyaf in the southern Philippines, Canadians kidnapped by thugs around the world have either eventually been freed, or at least have remained alive. Ridsdel’s killing puts us in grim company with other countries whose citizens have suffered similar agonizing deaths.

The death also raises fresh questions about government policy when a citizen is taken by a criminal gang in another country. Should we negotiate? Pay ransom? Do we have an obligation to take extraordinary measures?

Some say no: International law does not require a government to go to extreme lengths to ensure the safe return of a citizen who, after all, has chosen freely to be in a dangerous place. Diplomat Robert Fowler travelling to Niger; Journalist Mellissa Fung reporting from Afghanistan; writer Amanda Lindhout going to Somalia — each was an intelligent person who chose to go to a perilous place.

Indeed, extraordinary measures to help such people might endanger others, goes this argument. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the point Tuesday, vowing that Canada “does not and will not” pay ransom, because this allows “terrorist organizations” to continue their mayhem, including threatening other Canadians abroad.

But “Canada”, of course, is not the same thing as “families.” The latter are likely to pony up whatever they can to bring a loved one home; the official policy of a country is beside the point.

Real-world events, meanwhile, are rapidly overtaking judgmental thinking about the “they knew what they were doing” types of travellers. Our nationals work abroad — Ridsdel was a mining executive, for instance — or are dual citizens visiting their other country, or are doing good work for international NGOs. At any given time, millions of Canadians may be outside our borders. And while it seems obvious that travel to, say, Syria, is dangerous, modern events have shown that a night in the wrong Paris club or café can also be fatal, as can a flight through Brussels.

In such a world, Canada’s luck was bound to run out sooner or later. There are no pat policy pronouncements that can make this reality go away.

Long election campaign will be about leaders, not money

Complaining about the length of an election campaign is a very Canadian thing to do. It’s like griping about how long winter lasts, i.e. pointless. You can moan all you want, but February still comes every year. Just like Mother Nature, prime ministers are resolutely indifferent to your beliefs about the length of time certain hardships must be endured. Spring will come when it comes, and writs will be dropped when they are dropped. Been that way forever, so stop worrying about it.
But wait, some will exclaim. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to start the campaign so far from the fixed election date of Oct. 19 is pure calculation! The Conservatives changed the rules to allow parties to spend more money in longer campaigns!! The super-long campaign will benefit the Conservatives, because they have raised way more money than the Liberals and the NDP, and can therefore outspend them!!!
All true, but before the nation exhausts its supply of exclamation marks, ask yourself this: If, after the ballots are counted, the Tories are returned to power, will NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau dare to blame their losses on the parsimony of their supporters and their parties’ inability to raise funds?
No. They won’t.
And there’s this: Given that polls show a dead heat between the NDP and the Tories, it is conceivable at this point to imagine an NDP victory. Will money have earned them the right to govern?
Again, no.
This campaign will not be about money. It will be about the leaders’ performances on the hustings and in debates. It will be about getting out the vote on election day. And it will be about the issues, of which there are many.
It’s arguable, in fact, that a long campaign could work against Mr. Harper with regard to some of the issues. The economy, for instance. The Canadian dollar has tanked and growth has stalled in the first half of the year. The oil sands – the centrepiece of Mr. Harper’s vision of this country as an energy superpower – have been hurt by the drop in crude prices. Throughout the election, monthly Statistics Canada reports on employment, unemployment and economic growth will be landing. The future data, unknown until it is released, may throw Mr. Harper a lifeline, or drag him down. It won’t be easy to face daily questions about a compromised economy for which he, as prime minister, is nominally responsible.
The Senate scandal is another potentially harmful issue. The trial of Mike Duffy, the Conservative senator appointed by Mr. Harper, on fraud and bribery charges resumes in less than two weeks, and Mr. Harper’s former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, is scheduled to testify. If the Prime Minister is campaigning, he will have to show his face to reporters every day of the Duffy trial – something he has assiduously avoided doing so far.
But the opposition leaders will be under the gun, too. Mr. Trudeau has been tagged as too inexperienced to be prime minister – or so claims the Tory war room. The thing about the Conservative Party’s negative attacks, however, is that they always contain a seed of potential truth – think of Michael Ignatieff and “He didn’t come back for you.”
This is Mr. Trudeau’s chance to show otherwise. If he does well during a long campaign, he will be impossible to discount. He could even get an unintended boost by defying the low expectations set by the Tories.
And then there is Mr. Mulcair. He is hungry to campaign full-time, given his sudden, surprising rise to the top of the polls. But he, too, will have to negotiate a daily barrage of flak from his opponents – the NDP has never been a front-runner before – while maintaining the demeanour of a senior leader that has won him new respect. He also has to convince Canadians that a party that has never governed at the national level is ready and able to do so.
We don’t mean to ignore Elizabeth May, the Leader of the Green Party. She may be a solid politician and leader, but she won’t be the next prime minister under our first-past-the-post system. That job will go to one of either Mr. Harper, Mr. Trudeau or Mr. Mulcair.
Between now and Oct. 19, the three main party leaders will be beset by scandals and gaffes and surprises. There will be attack ads and, possibly, dirty tricks. The leaders will have to get their ideas out through a lot of competing noise. And their fates could turn on a single moment during a debate.
But by the end of a long and gruelling federal campaign that is twice as long as most in the recent past, the winner will have proven himself ready to lead.
So here is one final tip: Be a part of it. Make sure to vote. Turnout in federal elections is inexcusably low in Canada: Almost four out of 10 people don’t bother. While the leaders are doing their jobs, make sure to do yours. You can’t control the weather, but you can choose your government.

Editorial:The Globe and Mail

Election will be interesting one

So the federal election has been formally called, 42 days early but not a moment too soon. The politicians have been campaigning for many weeks now, and it is good that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has dropped any pretence about what is going on.
It made sense to come up with a fixed date for elections. The plan to have an election on the third Monday of October every fourth year was established in an amendment to the Canada Elections Act in 2007, but with minority governments, we have not seen Parliaments last long enough for the requirement to kick in.
Until now, that is. For four years, since the Conservatives won their majority in May 2011, we have known that Monday, Oct. 19, would be the date we head to the polls.
Think we would have received funding for a new intersection in Saanich if we weren’t in election mode? It’s hard to believe that the federal government just noticed the traffic tieups at the McKenzie Avenue intersection.
By law, an election campaign needs to be at least 36 days long, which allows time for all the behind-the-scenes election machinery to be put in place. At 78 days, this campaign will be the longest since 1872.
This election will result in 338 seats in the House of Commons, up from 308. British Columbia will get six new constituencies, with one of those on Vancouver Island.
But enough of the technical stuff. What will the election mean to Greater Victoria and Vancouver Island?
Much of the attention will be on Elizabeth May, the leader of the Greens and the MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands. She easily defeated incumbent Tory Gary Lunn in 2011, and despite a couple of minor stumbles, she has done much to raise the profile of her party.
She has also proven to be one of the most knowledgeable and capable debaters in the House of Commons, and has won the respect of people from throughout the political spectrum. It is important to have her voice on the national scene.
That is why it is a shame, an insult to Greens across the land and damaging to the electoral process to see that she has been excluded from at least two debates of national leaders.
One of these debates, on the economy, is sponsored by the Globe and Mail newspaper and Google Canada. Another, on foreign policy, is sponsored by Munk Debates. We know where all of these organizations stand on May: They don’t want her around.
In Greater Victoria, we wonder whether May’s profile and popularity will help the other Green candidates, such as photographer Frances Litman in Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke and former broadcaster Jo-Ann Roberts in Victoria. Both are up against strong NDP incumbents, Murray Rankin in Victoria and Randall Garrison in Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke.
Two Island MPs, New Democrat Jean Crowder from Nanaimo-Cowichan and former Conservative James Lunney from Nanaimo-Alberni, are retiring this year. Their retirements, along with the new constituency, mean that at least three of the seven MPs elected on the Island will be new.
As the election campaign gets into high gear, we will gain a better sense of the possible impact of the national leaders on the local results. The May factor is only one to consider.
Will Thomas Mulcair’s popularity strengthen the traditional NDP support on the Island? Will Justin Trudeau make believers out of skeptics? Will Harper be able to convince voters that despite all they have seen, there is a warm, caring person beneath that cold exterior?
This is shaping up to be one of the most interesting elections in decades. Hang on for the ride; it will be a fun one.



Opinion: Three things everyone should know about autism in Canada

Until recently, the federal government has done little to address the crisis faced by autism families across the country and has left the issue to the provinces to manage. But things are starting to change — for the better.

Earlier this month, the federal government appointed an “Autism Spectrum Disorder Working Group” with a $2 million budget to develop a plan for a “Canadian Autism Partnership” that will address autism research, early detection, diagnosis and treatment, among other issues.

It’s a good step forward, but much more is needed, particularly on the health and educational services side of the issue, so that real families get real help, now.

As governments across the country tackle the gap between need and resources, here are a few things everyone should know:


  1. Autism is not a mental illness or a learning disability. Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is characterized by impaired verbal and social communication; rigid, restrictive and repetitive behaviours; uneven intellectual development; sensitivity to sensory input; challenges with fine and gross motor skills, among other characteristics.

Autism is more accurately referred to as “autism spectrum disorder” (ASD) because each person on the spectrum can exhibit a differing array of these characteristics with wide-ranging severity.

  1. The rate of autism in Canada is not yet fully known, but we have recent estimates. Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Preventionestimate1 in 68 children in the United States has ASD. Since autism is five times more prevalent in boys than girls, they estimate 1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls has ASD in the U.S.

So what are the rates in Canada? And are they on the rise?

“Our best estimate at this time is that ASD affects 1 in 94 children six to nine years of age,” according to Dr. Hélène Ouellette-Kuntz, Professor in the Department of Health Sciences at Queen’s University and Director of The National Epidemiologic Database for the Study of Autism in Canada (NEDSAC). The estimate is based on diagnostic and services data from Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island and Southeastern Ontario from 2003-2010.

What we know from NEDSAC published materials suggests that autism rates are on the rise in Canada, though they vary widely across the studied regions. Even when you factor in increases due to the identification of previously undetected cases and other factors, “we cannot rule out the possibility of a true increase in incidence,” says Ouellete-Kuntz.

  1. Families often wait several years to access autism services covered by the public health-care system. It is not uncommon for families to wait several years to receive a diagnosis of autism for their child from publicly funded health services in most provinces. Once a child is diagnosed, interventions with a strong evidence base, such as behavioural therapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy, have wait times of several months up to several years in most places across the country. Once services are received, families have access to these therapies for only limited time periods and often beyond the window of time most experts believe optimal.

The wide range in disparity of publicly funded services for autism across the country has even generated a kind of “medical migration” with several published accounts of families leaving their home provinces to move to Alberta or British Columbia, where services are more readily available and more flexible.

It is also no longer uncommon to find Canadian families using crowd sourcing campaigns to fund their children’s therapies.



Published on: July 28, 2015 | Last Updated: July 28, 2015 1:17 PM EDT

Kathleen O’Grady is a research associate at the Simone de Beauvoir Institute, Concordia University and managing editor, She is based in Ottawa and has two young sons, one with autism. \

When Corporations Sue Governments

In 2004, the Pacific Rim mining company applied to dig for gold in El Salvador. Pacific Rim (since acquired by the Canadian-Australian company OceanaGold) assured the government of then-President Antonio Saca that its work would be eco-friendly and would generate jobs. But with 90 percent of the country’s surface water contaminated, and fearing damage to the Lempa River — an essential source of water for El Salvador’s 6 million people — the administration failed to approve the proposal.

In 2008, Mr. Saca instituted a moratorium on new mining permits; to date, this has been maintained and is widely popular.  Pacific Rim fought back in 2009, filing a $77 million lawsuit with the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (Icsid), a World Bank-affiliated institution in Washington that facilitates arbitration between governments and investors. The case was brought under a 1999 Salvadoran investment law, according to which foreign companies could take the Salvadoran government to international arbitral tribunals.  Pacific Rim raised its suit to $301 million and the final Icsid hearing opened in September; a verdict is expected in 2015.  International arbitration is considered by its proponents to be relatively objective.

Indeed, over 150 nations have consented to arbitration at Icsid. But corporations are increasingly using investment and trade agreements — specifically, the investor-state dispute settlement provisions in them — to bring opportunistic cases in arbitral courts, circumventing decisions states deem in their best interest. And now investor-state dispute settlement provisions may be enshrined in two new treaties: the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and Trans-Pacific Partnership, currently under negotiation between, respectively, the United States and the European Union, and the United States and 11 Asia-Pacific nations. If the final agreements contain these mechanisms, we can expect a flood of cases like Pacific Rim v. El Salvador.

Investor-state dispute settlement provisions feature in many significant pacts, including the North American Free Trade Agreement, and nine U.S.-E.U. bilateral investment treaties. Foreign investors can sue over alleged violations of myriad “investor protections,” including public-interest regulations that would reduce their profits. But it doesn’t cut both ways: Governments or communities affected by foreign investors cannot bring claims. Equally troublesome, tribunal operations are often opaque.

Today, countries from Indonesia to Peru are facing investor-state suits. Mexico and Canada have lost or settled five each under Nafta, paying hundreds of millions of dollars to foreign companies. In the largest award to date, Icsid in 2012 ordered Ecuador to pay $1.77 billion to Occidental Petroleum for canceling its contract with the corporation. And this October, it ordered Venezuela to pay $1.6 billion to Exxon to compensate for nationalizing oil projects. Nearly 200 disputes are pending at Icsid alone. Continue reading the main story Continue reading the main story Continue reading the main story  American and European claimants have brought 75 percent of recent investor-state cases, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. Unsurprisingly, Washington seeks to include investor-state-dispute provisions in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

But opposition is growing. The European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, refuses to accept that European courts “be limited by special regimes for investor-to-state disputes.” Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s vice chancellor and economy minister, has warned of states seeing “policy objectives circumvented by the threat of damages.” Last month, the French trade minister, Matthias Fekl, too, came out strongly against investor-state settlement provisions: “We must preserve states’ rights” to “set and apply their own standards,” he told the French Senate. British politicians have made similar statements amid fears that such cases could solidify the increasing privatization of Britain’s national health service.  Such thinking is not unfounded, particularly concerning environmental policy. In 2012, the Swedish energy company Vattenfall sued at Icsid following Germany’s decision to phase out nuclear energy; though figures have not been made public, it allegedly claims billions from Berlin in compensation for shuttered power plants. And modification of a single set of regulations can trigger a flurry of litigation: In the Czech Republic, one change in energy policy yielded seven claims in 2013; in Spain, six.  Investor-state dispute provisions need not be extended in new treaties. The European Union should continue to demand the removal of these provisions from the T.T.I.P. They must also be expunged from the T.P.P.  For El Salvador, a $301 million loss — just under 2 percent of its G.D.P. — would significantly reduce funds available for health care and education. And even if Pacific Rim’s claim fails, as many expect, the suit has cost El Salvador almost $13 million to date — which amounts to nearly its entire environment and natural resources spending in 2013. Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia have officially denounced the Icsid convention. Though El Salvador likely fears a retraction of Washington’s substantial financial assistance if it withdraws, it should consider doing so as well.  The investor-state dispute settlement mechanism is like playing soccer on half the field. Corporations are free to sue, and nations must defend themselves at enormous cost — and the best a government can hope for is a scoreless game. As the T.T.I.P. and T.P.P. negotiations continue, Pacific Rim vs. El Salvador should remind us not to privilege foreign investors to the detriment of the national — or global — good.

Manuel Pérez-Rocha is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington.

New York Times

Editorial: Amrik Virk should do the honourable thing and resign

The Province Newspaper

If Advanced Education Minister and former Mountie Amrik Virk doesn’t understand why he should resign his portfolio, Premier Christy Clark should ease him of that intellectual burden and fire him from her cabinet. Continue reading Editorial: Amrik Virk should do the honourable thing and resign

Remembrance Day binds Canadian public together

Remembrance Day has become one of the Canada’s cultural touchstones. One of very few.

On the morning of November 11th, veterans will have paraded along streets in thousands of towns and cities across the nation. The ceremonies will be strikingly similar – wreaths laid at cenotaphs, the haunting bugle strains of the Last Post will drift across crowds of onlookers.

At 11 a.m. each of those parks and public spaces will fall silent in honour of the men and women who died for our country. Millions of Canadians at work, at home, at school will also respect the moment of silence.

It should be a pleasant day, for November, in most of the country. But weather won’t be a big factor. Wars don’t stop for sun or rain or snow. Neither do peace, or remembrance.

When else does this country bind so tightly together? A gold-medal hockey game? Probably. Any other event? Not likely.

The impact of Remembrance Day is so broad that there is a natural desire for people with other causes to tap into it. The battle to improve the federal government’s flawed system of lump-sum compensation for wounded veterans, for example, has gotten publicity in recent weeks.

More controversial is the appearance of white “peace” poppies that some say conflict with the Royal Canadian Legion’s red poppy campaign.

Many would argue that wounded veterans should be the focus at this time, and that the peace movement should stay respectfully quiet. Others respond that veterans fought for freedom, including the freedom to say and do what some might consider wrong, bad-mannered or worse.

There is no unequivocal right or wrong in that discussion, not in terms of what it means to Remembrance Day. More than 1.7 million Canadians have served in wars overseas; more than 115,000 have died. They would have had as many different viewpoints as you would find in a sampling of 1.7 million current Canadians.

But they did have one thing in common. When duty called, they answered. They went to war on behalf of their country. They willingly risked their futures to secure those of their countrymen and generations that would come after.

That commitment and the terrible price so many of them paid is what we remember and honour on this Remember’s Day. They fought for peace and we are the benefactors.

The purest expression of our gratitude is two minutes of silent remembrance.

Guest Editorial from Toronto Sun

While remembering thousands of brave soldiers who gave their lives for Canada, this Remembrance Day we will also remember Corporal Nathan Cirillo, a Canadian soldier, who was killed while serving as a ceremonial guard duty at the Canadian National War Memorial, in Ottawa, on October 22, 2014. Corporal Nathan and his young family will be on the minds of Canadians as they pay their respects to those who sacrificed their lives for Canada.

Building stronger partnerships between B.C. and India


By Amrik Virk

Minister of Advanced Education


VICTORIA – International trade and investment are key priorities for our government – and India is one of B.C.’s emerging trade partners.


We share close economic, cultural and social ties with India. Not surprising, as more than 5% of our population have a South Asian heritage.


Last week, I had the privilege of accompanying Premier Christy Clark and a delegation of more than 70 companies and post-secondary institutions on a trade mission to India. The purpose was to promote the strength of key B.C. sectors, including liquefied natural gas and other natural resources, clean technology, life sciences, film, digital arts, finance and education. The education delegation included representatives from nine B.C. post-secondary institutions. Continue reading Building stronger partnerships between B.C. and India