I am flabbergasted to read this entire article about money Harper personally signed off on to wine and dine the global elite/1% in OECD contempt-fests.
But I am more stunned by the sentence quoted above, which appeared at the very end of the piece. Despite the tens of thousands of dollars spent on single events, why in the name of all that is not-so-contemptuous and oh-so-righteous, was the article NOT about the $90,000 that our federal government is giving to corporate washing machines to spin the austerity/theft of social programs that will cover the corporate tax cuts, prisons and F35s?
I think Dean Beeby dropped the ball here.
So here’s a suggestion: email the prime minister at firstname.lastname@example.org and let him know that you don’t want him to spend $90,000/day on spin doctors to sell us cuts to our social programs. Just because HE wants to get rid of government doesn’t mean we want to.
In sort of a break from the ever-so-boring federal election coverage that we’ve been bringing you lately, the City of Vancouver and its maybe-progressive governing party Vision Vancouver and former NDP MLA and now VanCity mayor (and Gordon Campbell endorser) Gregor Robertson have (almost) decided that any protests that have a literature table, tent, or even sign at them might well be charged $1,200 – a fee charged to citizens in order to exercise their (supposedly) constitutionally guaranteed right to assembly.
Sadly, it looks like the progressive Mayor Gregor Robertson is showing us what a Harper majority government would probably do to our “democratic rights.”
The country that has disappeared Ai Weiwei (艾未未) simply because he did try to exercise his (not guaranteed) free speech.
First, a bit of history. Those of you familiar with the city on the edge of Lotus Land may well remember the constant presence of Falun Gong protestors and their signs depicting the horrendous atrocities the Chinese government visits upon practitioners outside the Chinese consulate in Vancouver, which itself is situated in a residential zone. No one, as far as I am aware, is suggesting that the Falun Gong protest was violent or unruly. In fact, most Falun Gong practitioners I’ve known are calm, and quiet, and they almost, well, flow with the qi.
Well, one day the city decided to ban these protestors. They used a bylaw to prohibit any “structure” (the Falun Gong signs) on public property (the edge of the sidewalk) and evict the entirely peaceful protesters. Sue Zhang, one of the organizers, rightfully challenged the bylaw in court, and after a series of cases, the BC Court of Appeal struck down the bylaw, saying that blanket prohibitions were unconstitutionally restrictive on free speech rights and rights of assembly.
That being said, there’s a court order in place at the moment, preventing the Falun Gong protest from re-establishing itself, to allow the City to bring its bylaw to shape in order to pass constitutional muster. Effective April 19, the court would strike down the current law which bans any structure.
Let’s put this in plain and simple terms: charging $1,200 to have a table, or a sign, or a tent at a protest limits free speech. It restricts freedom of assembly to those who can afford it. There should not be a fee on democracy.
This is a ridiculous concept. One, a lot of protests and rallies involve a table for literature or refreshments. $1,200 permit charge. Two, a lot of protests and rallies involve a tent to keep rain off of speakers and sound system equipment. $1,200 permit charge. And it rains a lot in Vancouver. If you happen to stick a sign into the ground, $1,200 charge. Imagine that you put up an installation art piece. $1,200 permit charge.
The Falun Gong protestors set up a series of signs and a rain shelter on city property directly outside the Chinese Consulate. They couldn’t put the signs on the consulate property – that would be trespassing. They used public property for their signs. The same public property we use every day to walk on, to protest on, to rally on. However, they put up signs. Here, the city is trying to ban protests that occur on public property unless you can afford to pay a $1,200 fee for a permit to actually hold a protest this way.
The City won’t tell anyone what they discussed with China, bastion of free speech, because they signed a “confidential agreement” about the consultations.
The city says that this wouldn’t restrict sandwich boards for stores. That’s covered under other bylaws. In fact, according to the city, this proposed bylaw only impacts “non-commercial installations.” So, not only do I need to pay one thousand two hundred dollars to put up a table and show off my “PROTECT FREE SPEECH” signs – the store down the way can put up its signs and/or kiosks hawking whatever it wants for free?
Whose free speech is being protected there?
The message box emerging from Vancouver council appears to be as such: currently, the city bylaw bans all structures on public property. No tables, tents, or structures used in a political protest are allowed under the current Vancouver bylaw. According to the city, the proposed bylaw would actually enable people to do things that have been illegal all along. Gracious move by the city to save us?
No. The BC Court of Appeal said that the prohibition was illegal and it will strike down the prohibition as of April 19. This talking point will be moot in exactly 11 days. It’s also incredibly disingenuous. Yes, the current (as it exists) bylaw bans ALL structures on city property. But yes – the BC Court of Appeal has said that’s illegal. So, Council, you’re not rescuing people from the vagaries of an unfair law – the BC Court of Appeal has already done that.
Could the same be said on April 2oth? Effective April 19, the bylaw that currently prohibits all structures is struck down, it ceases to exist. All structures would be legal. The Vision Vancouver councillors can get away with saying that this is a proposed bylaw that would enable people to protest, that would legalize protest, until April 19th. After that, they’re making a lot of protest illegal. Of course, any time you add opportunities when no opportunities legally exist, you’re adding. But when everything’s legal? Then you’re restricting.
Instead, the City of Vancouver is proposing that the following restrictions will apply to any protest that need a table, or a tent, or a free-standing sign:
Structures would only be permitted from 8:00AM to 8:00PM
There must be people attending the structure
Structures would not be permitted in areas of the city that are zoned residential or that have residential units on the ground floor
There could only be one permit per individual at a time.
There could only be one permit per ‘face’ (side) of a block.
You wouldn’t be able to get a permit for a kiosk and a sign and a tent.
Your permit would only be valid for 30 days, but you could only get a permit for an area for 30 out of 60 days. So, only one month out of every two. And once a protest has been permitted the same area couldn’t see a protest for another 30 days.
The size could not be larger than 2.1 meters high, 2 meters wide, and 1 meter deep.
It must be at least 5 meters from a building entry or exit, 5 meters from a bus stop, 5 meters from street corners, and 0.5 meters from a curb. A structure could not also cover more than 25% of the front of a building.
Interestingly, the area in which the Chinese consulate is located is in a residential area, so, of course, no protests with structures would be permitted there. Anywhere else where you can meet these proposed restrictions (that the City of Vancouver would likely prefer us to read as “enabling conditions”) you can:
Put down a $1,000 deposit
Pay a $200 license fee
Pay $25 for any renewals
And then you can put your sign in the ground.
The staff person presenting the report at the council committee meeting was very specific in saying that this wouldn’t prohibit protests where everyone held their own signs and banners, of course. This is because the city only bans structures at the moment, and this is what the court case centres on – Vancouver can’t constitutionally put a blanket ban on structures used for political expression. I also think that this restriction is in danger of being ableist – I’ve seen people with disabilities bringing signs and banners that are free-standing to protests. Do they need permits?
But what exactly is a structure? There was an interesting back and forth between Councillor Woodsworth and the city staff person presenting the report.
Q: Is it a structure if I stick a sign in the ground?
Q: What if I put a table on the side of the road and set up a tent around it?
In Vancouver, it rains. And most protests in Vancouver I’ve been to have a tent in case of that, to keep the sound system dry. $1,200 fee, only in certain areas. Plus, no bigger than 2m by 1m. You also won’t be able to set up a petition table at the back of the protest, without that fee and that permit. And only in certain areas.
One, that’s a pretty close interpretation of the COPE campaign during the Olympics that had t-shirts that read “I am a free speech zone.” Nice move, Vision Vancouver.
Two, Vision’s statement is kind of sad. It states that Vancouver is a free speech zone. Right, it is, under the constitution anywhere in Canada is. The statement says that the City is working to protect free speech, and that the party “will not accept changes to the law that restrict these critical social expressions.”
Here’s a key point, Vision Vancouver: no changes to the bylaw could restrict free speech any more than they already do. This is part of your message box – the bylaw right now simply prohibits structures as part of a protest, full stop. That’s why the Court of Appeal said it was unconstitutional. Very technically speaking, any changes you make – even if it were to only permit structures on the south east corner of the Art Gallery lot with a $1 million permit fee – would have the effect of “enabling” free speech MORE than is already the case.
With the logic that they won’t restrict free speech any more than it is already restricted, Vision could do a lot, seeing as how free speech with any structures are completely banned at the moment – until April 19.
Would the same logic hold up after that, when the law is struck down by the courts? Hard to say.
But again – charging $1,200 for any protest that would need a table isn’t democracy. Democracy doesn’t require an admissions charge.
Councillor Reimer and I had quite a civilized twitter chat, though she suggests that there’s a lot of misinformation and creative editing going on. I’ve given you sources for every claim I’ve made in this piece, and while all opinion pieces contain flair, I don’t think I’m going overboard. Ms Reimer even graciously acknowledged that her electioneering tent was on the street and 100% illegal.
I’ve offered Ms Reimer the opportunity to add comments, corrections, and even her own viewpoint on this article, which I will post directly at the bottom of this piece , without any editing. I’d invite any other Vancouver councillor to do the same, so that everyone in Vancouver can see what their elected representatives are thinking.
Now, Vision Vancouver is asking for public input on the proposed bylaw. I suggest that we all take the moment to send them an email with our thoughts, or send them a twitter message. According to their statement, you can email them at email@example.com.
When you do so, remember:
The official message is that any changes to the bylaws would be an improvement, because the current bylaw (which is unconstitutional) prohibits all structures. However, the quasi-emancipatory changes proposed by the City include a $1,200 fee for permission to have a structure – anything from a sign in the ground to a table to a tent – at a protest. Democracy doesn’t have an admissions fee.
All structures for political protests would be perfectly legal after April 19th – after April 19th, these proposed bylaw changes would be restricting speech that had been made free by the courts.
These restrictions only apply to non-commercial messages, because other bylaws already permit commercial (ie advertising, etc.) signs under specific conditions.
No function of democracy should have a price tag attached to it or restrictions as to when or where democracy can be practiced.
This isn’t just a municipal issue. It’s our right to free speech, with a table for our signs and petitions, or a tent for the rain.
Democracy doesn’t have a price tag. Certainly not one that is $1,200.
Here’s where I’ll add any corrections, clarifications, or comments from any Vancouver City Councillor who wants to clear up any ‘misinformation’ or ‘creative editing,’ and I’ll post them without any editing on my part. Post your comments in the comments below, or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
No real public profile in cabinet, so a leadership run can help her get a higher profile cabinet position.
Gordon Campbell is her mentor means she won’t even attempt to distance herself from that toxic element, which will alienate her from everyone except the party elite that loves Campbell, but can help her as a real loyalist who deserves a better cabinet position with the leader.
Her social media posture is horrible with her Facebook and Twitter presence stalled as of before the May 2009 election still stating that she’s running to be an MLA, with an unmanaged Facebook page filled with snake oil sales ads.
The National Post is consistent in its criticism of the “usual outrage” of people who still believe in public healthcare. In today’s editorial they normalize marketized solutions to the healthcare crisis. Then they blame universalists for wanting to create misery. There is one glaring problem with their editorial line, though:
Change will come. Governments can help facilitate it, or continue to enforce delays to everyone’s detriment.
Neoliberal governments have done more than facilitate it, they have caused it.
Thirty years of continental, national and provincial neoliberalism, particularly in tax cuts and privatization, have defunded governments’ ability to fund healthcare properly.
Then in proper Shock Doctrine style, the right wing media asserts the crisis, calls on the market to solve it, then criticizes people who think it’s a human right for all to have the best healthcare possible as stodgy.
Then they use rhetorical spin to make it sound like government policy is to perpetuate delays: “continue to enforce delays to everyone’s detriment.”
All the media has to do is neglect to mention the massive tax cuts, largely to the rich, that have created the problem in the first place.
It’s called the Shock Doctrine. Naomi Klein wrote about it. Gordon Campbell worships it with his golden straightjacket fiscal knives, and even after he “resigned” he will steer that policy until the very last day he is in charge.
Another example of corporate moral whitewashing emerged yesterday when I found out that a small elementary school in Vancouver is not worthy of a Scholastic book fair this year because their order last year was only $800, much much lower than the $1200 necessary for the corporation to bother with them.
Of course, it would be inappropriate to hold this corporation to any kind of significant moral standard as a champion of literacy. They are a corporation with a bottom line to worry about, after all.
The neoliberal defunding of public education in BC that we are struggling under for this decade is in part designed to open up space for private corporations to take over aspects of public education. Early in my teaching career, before I really started to think of the political implications of this kind of corporate intrusion into public education I used the Scholastic order forms in my classroom to give students a chance to order books. My “commissions” were in extra books that I would keep for students to read in the classroom or cycle over to the library.
For every venture like this, we see one more government excuse for why it is just fine to continue defunding education: people and corporations will pick up the slack.
In Vancouver, there are a number of annex schools, small sites located between larger elementary schools to allow younger students an opportunity to have more of a neighbourhood school as opposed to travelling too far. Small schools have many intrinsic advantages, but lack economies of scale to the point of falling under the profit radar of Scholastic.
Part of the reason I left teaching was to work more in the political arena to oppose the forced fundraising for schools that comes from the intentional defunding of the system to justify massive tax cuts. Not coincidentally, one week ago, the desperate, haggard BC premier just tossed out the province’s second largest tax cut in history which will go mostly to the rich, to shore up his pathetic level of support.
This will create another funding crisis for public services which will lead to the “tough choices” required to balance the budget with a voluntary reduction in revenue. It’s quite shameful.
Back to Scholastic and their slogan, “Helping Children Around The World To Read And Learn,” they are more than happy to trumpet noble claims about pursuing literacy, but like many corporate social responsibility projects, that kind of altruism is not at the expense of profit goals; they aren’t a non-profit, after all.
But it’s when I read how Scholastic defines themselves that I become even more disturbed with the funding crisis and back-door privatization of BC’s public education system:
For over 50 years Scholastic Canada has introduced young people to the joys of reading, and has enlarged their understanding of Canada and the world.
Just let’s be clear here. Parents, families, public library, communities and schools are the ones introducing young people to the joys of reading. Scholastic offers inexpensive books that, among a small percentage of really good literature, largely promote popular entertainment brands already bombarding students in other media. In one sense, the books could be free because they are essentially ads for Taylor Swift and Captain Underpants.
By the way, yesterday, Scholastic’s stock price on the NASDAQ exchange rose by US$1.02 to close at US$30.59. This makes their 34.5 million shares worth just over one billion dollars. Clearly, the private delivery of books into public schools is big business around the world. Scholastic should be sending kickback “commissions” to the BC Liberal Party.
By the way, yesterday on the NASDAQ, Microsoft closed at only US$27.39.
So while the BC Liberal government is contributing to manufactured funding crises in public education, many schools’ Parent Advisory Committees have turned into de facto fundraising committees to soften the blow. But one of the social costs of this arrangement is a massive disparity in funding, which undermines the universality principle: one Vancouver west side school’s PAC last year collected 30 times more revenue than a school only one-fifth its size on the east size.
One solution might be to turn Parent Advisory Committees from fundraisers into the other kind of PAC, Political Action Committees. As the Liberals’ massive defunding of the education system forces school boards to choose which schools to close, perhaps we need more political action, even from schools that aren’t facing closure in 8 months.
A little solidarity can go a long way. And we desperately need it now.
And while fundraising and funding crises are not unique to BC or to public education itself, our solidarity must span the sectors where citizens are having to make the difference when governments want to cut taxes for the rich.
The sooner we get organized, the sooner we can stop the fiscal beatings.
There is nothing new under the sun with the BC Liberal government constructing misleading charts, graphs and visuals to spin “factoids” into something covered in roses, like this piece of fiction from the premier’s TV infomercial Wednesday night.
One of B.C.’s leading experts on tax policy says the charts Premier Gordon Campbell used in his TV address gave such a misleading picture of tax rates in this province that, had they been turned in by his students, he would make them do the assignment over again.
“If a student did this, I would say this is deceptive, maybe intentionally deceptive,” said Jon Kesselman, an economist with Simon Fraser University’s School of Public Policy.
Before we explore how the BC Liberals are going to spin their extended lie about not having the HST on their radar before the 2009 election, based on FOI records released Wednesday, let’s first take a look at how the National Post bungled its BC reporting today.
In this piece, they pick up the Jordan Bateman story, where Minister Coleman’s riding president wrote a blog piece calling for Hansen’s resignation.
That part they got right.
Then they decided to not follow the story, for like an hour, when it became a much bigger story as Bateman retracted his piece and apologized to the minister after a personal phone call. But the National Post stopped caring and let that part of the story go. Maybe it’s because they are run from 3 time zones away.
The minister is Colin Hansen, who is not the person in the picture.
Finally, lacking insight, information, context and background, the Post decided the precipitating event of Bateman’s call for Hansen’s resignation was the $780k wasted on the HST pamphlet, not the FOI release the day before proving that the Liberals had been lying for 14 months.
Fail. Monstrous fail. But not surprising.
So now, on to the Liberals’ spin factory, the point of which is to let everyone know that if we let this blow over by September 13, it’s our fault for being our part in a bigger failure.
The minister personally phoned a bunch of reporters on Wednesday. I don’t expect that made them feel special, but the personal touch is touching.
There was a 4pm embargo of the release of the FOI story on Wednesday. If the media who issued the FOI request arranged that, that’s their business. If Hansen orchestrated the 4pm time, that’s some hefty spin.
Does the premier’s office interfere with the timing of FOI records release? If so, releasing the information on a Wednesday before Labour Day has some advantages.
That leaves one day for media juice. Fridays are dead in the news cycle; doubly so for Fridays before long weekends [Note the millions who aren’t reading this post this afternoon!]. If the government set up the 4pm embargo [doubtful], they eradicate most of Wednesday for blowback.
A long weekend happens and everyone’s brains reset. Last year they released a budget before Labour Day when billions of British Columbians were still at the cabin.
Next week is school. The media will be obsessed with full-day kindergarten and other traditional fluff and not-so fluff back to school stories.
Then when Bateman went rogue and lit a fire, he got a call from the minister. Bateman was converted and born again to the righteousness of the minister, apologized to him on the phone and in a blog piece, and he took down his rogue blog piece. Was Bateman threatened? Was he rationally convinced in a way that he chose not to explain in his apology blog piece, which has no explanation as to why he felt the FOI release was irrelevant to Hansen’s integrity? Will Bateman become a Liberal candidate at some point?
All this means that if we still care about the HST lies by Monday, September 13, 2010 and the media decides to continue caring and the BC Recall campaigners can stoke the embers, the Liberals will have failed at spinning the FOI evidence into oblivion.
If we don’t, it’s our own fault for letting the media let the government bury this.
De-Spinning the Political and Re-Spinning it for Social, Economic and Political Justice