John Baglow

John Baglow is a former Executive Vice-President of the Public Service Alliance of Canada. He is currently a writer, researcher and a consultant in the fields of public and social policy
You can read his blog at

Jul 082013

France requests Lebanon-born Canadian for interrogation, on dubious grounds.

by John Baglow

Hassan Diab is in the news again. He’s a Canadian citizen whom the Conservative Minister of Justice, Rob Nicholson, wants to extradite to France to face — what, exactly?  Widely reported as being a suspect in the bombing of a Paris synagogue more than forty years ago, Diab isn’t even facing charges there, as it turns out.  But here in his own country, Diab has faced a massive railroading by the judicial system, including prosecutorial and even judicial bias.

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Jun 172013

Fuss over Mulcair's parking blown all out of proportion.

by John Baglow

OTTAWA, June 13 ,2013  —  NDP leader Tom Mulcair waved and drove past a security checkpoint yesterday as he has always done. Turned out there was a new RCMP officer at the post who didn’t recognize him. An officer was sent after him, who drove to Tom’s parking spot, where Mulcair, surprised, said “Don’t you know who I am?” A respectful conversation ensued, and then Tom headed down to make things right with the RCMP commander.

Enter the corporate media shills.

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Jun 102013

Longtime friend and supporter recalls abortion doctor's saga.

by John Baglow

A great Canadian is dead.  I first met Henry Morgentaler in 1964, when he spoke at the founding meeting of the McGill Humanist Association. The next time was 1970: the Abortion Caravan, which had traversed the country to protest restrictive and dangerous abortion laws, pitched up in Ottawa. They and their local supporters trooped into the House of Commons for a speech session in, if I remember rightly, the Railway Committee Room.

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May 272013

Judge found 'an orchestrated effort to suppress votes'.

by John Baglow

A victory wrapped in a defeat, the judgement in the “Robocalls” case (which actually included live calls too) should be no cause of sorrow for the Council of Canadians, who brought the results of six closely-contested ridings to court hoping to see the results annulled.

Mr Justice Richard Mosely has ruled that the election results stand. But read on.

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May 202013

Harperites' difficult week opens serious fault lines between collaborators, media.

by John Baglow

Nigel Wright, Stephen Harper’s chief of staff, has resigned.

This caps what must have been the week from hell for our Conservative rulers. And it has been particularly satisfying, yet galling at the same time, to behold the usually complacent Parliamentary Press Gallery turn in lockstep against the government, penning reams of hostile commentary, from scathing criticism to angst to amazement to open ridicule.

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Apr 012013

Discerning any kind of thread in Canada's foreign policy is difficult.

by John Baglow

Does Canada actually have a foreign policy? Alone in all the world, we have now pulled out of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, the latest in a confusing series of muddled moves that appear only to have accelerated since we were denied a seat on the UN Security Council.

We are left attempting to divine a coherence where none may exist. Relating foreign policy objectives to business profitability, one apparent thread in the tangle, is no simple matter, but no overall strategy suggests itself — only piecemeal measures. Uncritical support of Israel’s Likud party seems unrelated to any broader policy goal. Leaving Africa high and (literally) dry makes little geopolitical sense, but maybe it’s just that there isn’t a buck in it. We should never look for complexity when it comes to Conservative motives.

But the government does enjoy creating little mysteries, lowering curtains that may conceal little or nothing. And so CTV reports:

Baird’s office forwarded questions about the withdrawal to the Canadian International Development Agency, but CIDA did not respond to interview requests.

In an email statement, a spokesperson for International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino said “membership in this convention was costly for Canadians and showed few results, if any for the environment.”

Fantino’s office would not say how much money was being saved by withdrawing from the convention, but documents show that the government committed to providing around $350,000 a year to the convention.

Which brings us to the CIDA-DFAIT merger. We know that CIDA has been drifting this way and that for some time. A recent example of uncoordinated decision-making was the freezing of aid to Haiti without letting DFAIT know. As The Globe & Mail reported:

Haiti’s ambassador to Canada, Frantz Liautaud, said he heard about it through the news media.

“I’ve had no communication from CIDA so far, but I’ve asked right away for a meeting with Mr. Fantino,” Mr. Liautaud said. He said he called Canada’s ambassador to Port-au-Prince, who didn’t know about it, either. “He also learned about it from the press,” Mr. Liautaud said.

Of course, this sort of problem could be resolved by Julian Fantino, the minister responsible for CIDA, having a chat with John Baird, the minister responsible for foreign affairs. But it’s perhaps simpler, given the personalities involved, to put Baird in charge of it all.

Will we see the activities of the former CIDA take a new direction? Very likely — in fact, a direction of any kind would be welcome. But do we know, overall, what the hell we’re doing? That question remains open. And to the rest of the world, Canada must seem, to repurpose the words of Winston Churchill, “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.


Mar 222013

Election rhetoric and tiny commitments predominate, slashing and burning may await in omnibus bills.

by John Baglow

OTTAWA , March 19, 2013 (Straight Goods News) — The word "poverty" appears only once in the 442-page document that is the Harper government's new budget plan-and the reference is to poverty abroad. It is packed with self-congratulatory comments about the Harper government's record but vague about the future, other than its numerous references to "keeping taxes low" and its promise of a balanced budget by 2015. By no coincidence whatsoever, that's our next federal election year.

Indeed, this was more a lengthy pre-election statement than anything else. There is no slashing and burning, as Finance Minister Jim Flaherty put it, but there is a maddening lack of detail on every front. Chris Aylward, National Vice-President of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, notes, for example, the promise to pursue aggressive tax avoidance. He wonders what resources will be allocated to do this when the Canada Revenue Agency has just slashed 1,000 jobs.

"More questions than answers," says Robyn Benson, PSAC National President. Claude Poirier, president of the Canadian Association of Professional Employees, makes a similar observation: the budget is "full of words, with a lack of meaning."

PSAC President Robyn Benson says the Budget leaves many questions unanswered.
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My own conversation during the budget lock-up with a member of the Treasury Board Secretariat was symptomatic of the difficulty so many of us were having. I tried to get some specifics about proposed changes to the Public Service labour relations regime. It was like talking to a wall-or, rather, it was like listening to the wall itself spout platitudes and vague bromides while refusing access to any doors or windows. The man must have practised his talking points for days. It was all "taking a look at the practices in other jurisdictions," and "consulting with the bargaining agents," and "improvements." In vain I asked for details-for example, the implication in the budget of structural changes in the labour relations process. Nothing doing. A tight smile and more empty general statements.

Finally, pressed for examples, he mentioned sick leave-safe enough, given its prominence in the media over the past few days. There would be more "consultation," more efficiency, more effort in getting people back to work.

He looked pleased with himself, like a schoolchild who has just successfully completed a recitation. I wandered off into the fog.

There is the usual saupoudrage in the budget, money tossed hither and yon to develop an "entrepreneurial culture." Several measures are targeted at First Nations and Inuit, but on closer inspection, the specific amounts are picayune–$10 million over two years to support post-secondary education for First Nations and Inuit youth, $4 million over two years for on-reserve mental health services. And they've got a workfare program for young Aboriginals, too: if reserves don't enforce that, there will be no money for jobs or infrastructure. Meanwhile the government continues its battle to retain the billions of dollars it has been withholding from on-reserve children.

Other than the relentlessly upbeat tone, there is an over-all lack of focus in the budget. What are we supposed to make of abolishing tariffs on golf clubs, for example? The emphasis on business, however, is consistent. Everything seems linked to it. The resources of the National Research Council have now been harnessed to the notoriously short-term aims of the private sector. $121 million will be spent over the next two years "to invest in the strategic focus of the National Research Council to help the growth of innovative businesses in Canada."

The NRC, once a world-class theoretical research site, is "currently undergoing a fundamental transformation in how it does business. Work is well underway to position the NRC to provide businesses with technical services, support for applied research and development projects, access to sector-specialized laboratories and testing facilities, and connections to leading applied research organizations around the world."

The lack of a social policy dimension in the budget concerns Dr. Anna Reid, the President of the Canadian Medical Association. While she approves of the measures to address homelessness and mental illness, and build municipal infrastructure, she would have liked to see a wider recognition of the social determinants of health, such as income disparity. Herb John, president of the National Pensioners and Senior Citizens Federation, echoes this concern. There are no measures to protect pensions in case of company bankruptcies, he notes, and he decries the lack of a national pharmacare program. Poverty, he says, remains a huge issue among seniors, who too often have to choose among filling a prescription, paying rent or buying groceries.

For whatever reason, the post-budget gathering in the Railway Committee Room of the House of Commons, packed in past years with various organizational representatives bustling about to meet the media, was sparsely attended this year. Perhaps it has simply become more difficult to formulate detailed and informed responses to the increasingly woolly political documents that federal budgets under the Conservatives have become. Want the deets? You'll just have to wait for another massive omnibus bill, bulldozing its way through the House of Commons. That's how it's done these days.

Mar 142013

Dark days of Argentinian junta haunt Pope Francis' past.

by John Baglow

Jorge Bergoglio, aka Pope Francis, is no sooner seated on the Petrine Throne than a controversy surfaces. It’s not one likely to blow over quickly.

His predecessor, Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger, was a member of the Hitler Youth; but in fairness all German boys his age were enrolled on a mandatory basis. The new Pope will have a harder time explaining away his past in Argentina, however, under one of the cruelest and most bloodthirsty regimes in Latin American history.

Jorge Rafael Videla, president of Argentina from 1976-1981, oversaw a reign of terror in the country: thousands of murders, the kidnapping of children for adoption, the routine use of torture.

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Mar 042013

Spectacular flame-out triggered by fairly tame comments, as Tom Flanagan's comments go.

by John Baglow

There are hardly any bones left to pick over this morning, but l’affaire Flanagan calls for some sober reflection after a pretty spectacular flame-out and the virtual supernova of Schadenfreude that followed it.

So rapid was Tom Flanagan’s implosion that it reminded me of a similar one a few years ago: respected FN leader David Ahenakew spewed a few words of anti-Semitic hatred into a reporter’s mic and lost everything — his standing in his community, his Order of Canada. A lifetime of achievement was erased in a moment. In the same way, Flanagan lost his university post, his CBC gig, his wise counselor status for the Wildrose Party, a speaking engagement at the Manning Centre, and his reputation. In a matter of hours he became a creepy old has-been.

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Jan 282013

Idle No More faces sexist as well as racist resistance.

by John Baglow

Idle No More was the brainchild of four young Saskatchewan women, concerned about the treaty-breaking implications of Stephen Harper’s omnibus Bill C-45. The notion quickly went viral, nationally and internationally, a single spark falling on dry tinder. Closely interrelated with the eruption of the Idle No More movement was the (yet ongoing) hunger strike of Chief Theresa Spence, from the remote northern reserve of Attawapiskat. And it has been given substantial intellectual force and effect by indigenous Constitutional scholar Pam Palmater.

In this brief article I want to look at the past few weeks of controversy through a gender lens, and offer up some observations for consideration and discussion. Let me be self-critical, to begin with: until now, I have failed to foreground gender in my consideration of the movement and the strident media reaction against it. The frame of “race” has been consistently deployed: one consequence of the protests has been to reveal a shockingly deep and visceral, but perhaps not surprising, racism in settler Canada. But this is only a part of what appears to be at stake.

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