A different kind of stimulus package: How ending poverty can save the economy

Photo by Chris Bolin for the Globe and Mail

Friday, May 06, 2011 – Globe and Mail

Behind corridors lined with contemporary Canadian art, sitting at a dark wooden table in his downtown Toronto office, Ed Clark offers some economic advice that might not typically come from Bay Street.

Give the poor a tax break.

“I say, ‘Why don’t you cut the taxes of the most overtaxed people?’ It isn’t Ed Clark,” the Toronto-Dominion Bank CEO said in an interview earlier this year. “It’s the people at the low end, because they face the highest marginal tax rates.”

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Sarpoza prison break throws Canada’s Afghan legacy into doubt

Photo by Graeme Smith/Globe and Mail

Wednesday, April 27, 2011 – Globe and Mail

If there is to be a large-scale international move to boost Afghan security, following a subterranean Taliban-assisted escape from Sarpoza prison early Monday morning, it is not likely to come from Canada. That will probably fall to U.S. forces coming to pick up the pieces in Kandahar province.

Some note this week’s escape highlights the questionable legacy of Canada’s efforts in Kandahar just as troops prepare to hand over responsibility.

But Canadians who’ve worked near Sarpoza argue the audacious getaway also indicates just how Sisyphean a task it is to foster even a fragile sense of security in this volatile Afghan province.

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The price of democracy: Canada’s election costs have skyrocketed in the past decade

Saturday, April 2, 2011 – Globe and Mail

When Canadians vote on May 2, they’ll be paying for a federal election whose cost has grown 50 per cent in the past decade, thanks in large part to the money given to political parties.

This year’s election is expected to cost $300-million – up from $198-million in 2000.

The amount spent by Elections Canada covers everything it takes to rev up a cross-country electoral machine at the drop of a writ – from hiring and training about 200,000 people, many of whom will only be needed for a day or two, to renting polling stations and conducting campaigns to boost voter turnout (which dropped to only 59 per cent in 2008).

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Researchers are busy in Canada’s Arctic – but few are Canadian

Four explorers from the Catlin Expedition's team finished the first phase of their trek this Tuesday, reaching an ice base off the western coast of Nunavut's Ellef Ringnes island. The nearest airstrip is about 25 kilometres away, at Isachsen
(Photo by Martin Hartley)

Friday, March 25, 2011 – Globe and Mail

A series of holes hand-drilled into Arctic ice in the middle of a snowstorm at -40 degrees could shed light on everything from northern resource extraction to polar sovereignty to determining weather patterns in Western Europe and the South Pacific.

At least, that’s what a team of daredevil researchers is hoping.

The group has set up camp 25 kilometres offshore from a landing strip in Isachsen, Nunavut, to spend weeks studying the effects of ice melt on global ocean currents during the Arctic’s most punishing season. Their base consists of steel-and-nylon tents designed to maintain enough heat to keep equipment and humans warm amid a punishing spring squall and whiteout conditions.

“Because we’re there, intimately, on the sea ice, in spots that otherwise can’t be accessed, we’re potentially getting data that isn’t possible by any other means,” says Adrian McCallum, an Australian finishing his PhD at Cambridge’s Scott Polar Research Centre.

Over the next several weeks, he’ll sledge from the North Pole to Greenland, drilling holes through sea ice as he goes, measuring everything from ice thickness to the temperature and salinity of the water.

This expedition, now in its third year, is funded by Catlin Group – an insurer and underwriter that won’t disclose what it pays for the Arctic odyssey except to say the price tag runs well over $1-million.

It’s a smart PR move: It puts the company’s name on a high-profile scientific expedition with global appeal. But when you’re in the risk-management business, Catlin Group spokesman Jim Burcke says, it pays to know how a melting pole is going to change shipping, weather and ocean currents globally.

The work the company is backing is pricey and perilous, but researchers argue it is becoming increasingly imperative for anyone with a stake in what goes on up north.

That would include Canada. But despite recent increases in funding, Canada still lags its polar neighbours when it comes to scientific research.

“In some ways we’re doing, probably, better than we have been,” says Greg Poelzer, director of the University of Saskatchewan’s International Centre for Northern Governance and Development. “But we aren’t where we need to be.”

In 2005, Canada’s funding for Arctic research was about one-tenth that of the United States, which clocked in at $300-million for 2005-2006, says Louis Fortier, scientific director of Laval-based ArcticNet. It has since increased, but he still figures that Canadian researchers publish just over half the number of Arctic-related papers as their U.S. counterparts.

Meanwhile, corporate interest in the North is ramping up – so much so that researchers have trouble getting increasingly sought-after spots on icebreakers.

It’s not just fellow polar countries, either: Canadian researchers are vying with scientists from China and South Korea, who realize how important Arctic knowledge is to their own economic and strategic interests.

Meanwhile, Canada’s High Arctic Research Station, first announced in 2007 and given funding in the 2009 and 2010 federal budgets, has only just completed its feasibility study this month, although it remains unpublished; design and building are expected to take years.

Research funding that spiked to $156-million over a six-year period spanning the “International Polar Year” in 2009 has since dropped. No funds are earmarked for Arctic research in the 2011 budget.

“Funding has not continued at the same level … enough that Arctic scientists are expressing concern, and in some cases they can’t actually do their research as they had been able to before,” UBC professor Michael Byers says. “We end up doing our science on a shoestring.”

For more than two years, Ottawa’s primary Arctic research body was without a president or a board. The Polar Commission remedied that last November, executive director Steven Bigras says, which will allow the federal agency to set a broad research agenda going forward.

But at the same time, Mr. Bigras says, things are changing so quickly that scientists’ models are outdated almost as soon as they enter a year’s data. “The models just can’t keep up with the rate [ice is] actually disappearing.”

Researchers have already found Arctic ice is melting at rapid rates. What they're still trying to determine is what that means – not only for business, transport and tourism in a newly navigable North, but also for oceans and climates around the world. If melting ice and warming waters change the salt- and heat-driven thermohaline currents traversing the globe, it could change sea levels and temperatures anywhere from Western Europe to islands in the South Pacific.
(Photo by Martin Hartley; text by Anna Mehler Paperny)

In the next phase of their trek, as they spend every day sledging from the North Pole to Greenland, researchers will drill holes in the ice to take data samples on everything from temperature and density to depth and current speed. They'll pass the results they get to the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, UK.
(Photo by Martin Hartley; text by Anna Mehler Paperny)

At the same time, researchers at the ice base are taking samples to get a sense of how carbon dioxide levels are affecting the fluctuating springtime ice.
"It's definitely a difficult time of year, but that's what makes the data so interesting and so critical," says Kristina Brown, a PhD candidate from the University of British Columbia. "There's not a lot of samples to compare to, so everything we’re doign is essentially helping us get a better idea of the picture because we’re adding to such a small body of it so far."
(Photo by Martin Hartley; text by Anna Mehler Paperny)

Research like this should be a priority for Canada, says Louis Fortier, the scientific director of ArcticNet. The Laval-based group is a national hub for northern research. Its seven-year funding was renewed late last year.
“The Arctic is the new frontier," Prof. Fortier says. "It’s where you have new resources you can exploit, geopolitical questions that are very important. … We’re going to shift the climate of the northern hemisphere the day the sea ice melts completely.
“We need to prepare for all these things. … We would look like a backwards country if we didn’t match up that effort internationally.”
(Photo by Martin Hartley; text by Anna Mehler Paperny)

Plenty of other countries are sitting up and taking notice: Other polar nations such as Norway, Finland and Sweden -- not to mention such powerhouses as Russia and the United States -- have extensive research networks. But so, too, do less obvious countries.
"Some of our non-traditional partners -- South Korea, China -- they're very interested in what's going on in the Arctic, as well," says Steven Bigras, executive director of the Canadian Polar Commission. "They've put substantial funds forward. They're looking at whate everybody else is: They're looking at climate change, they're looking at biodiversity, theyre looking at fishing stocks, therye looking at economic potential."
(Photo by Martin Hartley; text by Anna Mehler Paperny)

What researchers know

Ice is melting – and quickly. In a matter of years, the High Arctic could be ice-free during the summer months. At the same time, the permafrost on which northern infrastructure relies is vanishing, presenting new challenges for the most basic aspects of northern life.

What they don’t know

What that rapid warming and ice melt mean – not only for business, transport and tourism in a newly navigable North, but also for oceans and climates around the world. If melting ice and warming waters change currents traversing the globe, it could change sea levels and temperatures anywhere from Western Europe to islands in the South Pacific.

Why it matters

“The Arctic is the new frontier. It’s where you have new resources you can exploit, geopolitical questions that are very important. … We’re going to shift the climate of the Northern Hemisphere the day the sea ice melts completely,” says Louis Fortier, scientific director of ArcticNet, a national hub of northern research.

What Canada is doing

More than it has in the past, but not as much as other countries. Funding spiked around International Polar Year, when Ottawa pledged $156-million to Arctic research over six years.

The government has also pledged $75-million over five years toward a Geo-mapping for Energy and Minerals program; $8-million over two years for monitoring in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories and $22-million over five years for research informing potential oil and gas activities in the Beaufort Sea.

A $2-million feasibility study into a High Arctic Research Station was completed this month; Ottawa has put $18-million toward its design.

Anna Mehler Paperny

Canadian judge’s ruling clears way for Khadr trial

Saturday, July 24, 2010 – Globe and Mail

A court ruling that would have obliged Ottawa to repatriate Omar Khadr or intercede on his behalf while he’s in U.S. custody meddled with the federal government’s right to call the shots on foreign affairs, a federal appeal court judge says.

Federal Court of Appeal judge Pierre Blais’ ruling released this week effectively clears the way for the 23-year-old Canadian detainee to face trial in Guantanamo Bay next month.

Mr. Justice Russell Zinn of the Federal Court earlier this month gave the government a week to come up with a list of ways to help protect Mr. Khadr’s rights. Ottawa appealed that ruling, and this week, Judge Blais sided with the government. Judge Zinn’s order “results in a kind of judicial supervision over any diplomatic action that Canada may take in relation to [Mr. Khadr],” he wrote in the court’s decision.

“I am not at all convinced that Justice Zinn does effectively have the power to ‘impose a remedy.'”

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Failure to tap into immigrants’ skills costs billions

Thursday, June 10, 2010

In Nigeria, he helped design the athletes village for Abuja’s All-Africa Games.

But three years after moving to Canada in 2007 with a pregnant wife and big dreams, Yisola Taiwo has yet to land his first architecture job. His wife, Bunmi Sofoluwe-Taiwo, still hasn’t been able to find work after leaving her career with the Lagos government.

“Last year was terrible,” Mr. Taiwo said. An internship ended; he spent more than a year on employment insurance and working for no pay at a Toronto architecture firm.

In May, he started a two-month contract at the Diebold Company of Canada, working with architectural drawings to design building security systems in Mississauga. It’s not a bad gig, but he longs for something in his field.

The Toronto region has long boasted about its role as Canada’s diversity hub. But Toronto is doing a worse job of integrating immigrants than it was two decades ago, and it’s costing the economy estimated billions of dollars a year, according to a report being released Thursday by the city’s Board of Trade.

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Haiti’s cultural capital a hub of Canadian involvement

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The epicentre of Canada’s post-quake relief efforts is a once-picturesque, Carnavale-crazy seaside city on Haiti’s south coast. Artsy Jacmel’s burgeoning tourist industry was supposed to be leading the country toward economic independence before the city was devastated by the earthquake – schools, hospitals, storied architecture and brand-new hotels flattened.

The port city of 40,000 has an obvious Canadian connection as the family home of Governor-General Michaëlle Jean. But it has also been a significant centre of Canada’s public- and private-sector involvement in Haiti for more than a decade. And the thousands of troops and millions of dollars in Canadian aid pouring into devastated Jacmel could be as strategic as altruistic.

For Fanes Boursiquot, however, Jacmel is simply “the most beautiful place in Haiti.”

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Canada to give immigration priority to Haiti earthquake survivors

Anna Mehler Paperny
Globe and Mail Update
Saturday, January 16, 2010
New rules make it easier for Canadians to sponsor Haitians who have been devastated by disaster

Canada is giving immigration priority to Haitians “significantly and adversely” affected by the earthquake that shattered the country.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said today it will be easier for Canadians to sponsor Haitians for immigration, including family members, “protected persons” and children being adopted by Canadians.

“Immigration Canada will respond on a priority basis to those directly affected by the disaster; we will prioritize processing of new sponsorship applications made by Canadian citizens,” he said, adding that applicants “must identify themselves as being directly and significantly affected by the earthquake” and “must of course meet the standard admisssibility requirements of Canadian law.”

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1,415 Canadians still missing, days after Haiti earthquake

Saturday, January 16, 2010 – Globe and Mail

The frantic hunt for survivors in the Port-au-Prince rubble is becoming a recovery of corpses – with close to 1,500 Canadians among the missing.

A hotline set up on the night of the earthquake has gotten calls from the anxious family members of 1,415 Canadians, all of whom are now registered as unaccounted for. Amid the chaos of emergency recovery their fate is unclear. But that staggering figure hints at this disaster’s unprecedented potential human toll for Canada, which for decades has demonstrated a special affinity for Haiti. More than 150,000 Canadians trace their roots to the crisis-racked country, which is second only to Afghanistan in the amount of Canadian aid it receives. Officials believe that at least 50,000 people perished in the earthquake.

The Department of Foreign Affairs says reconnaissance missions are under way and officials are in frequent touch with the families of the missing.

But even as aid begins to pour in, time is running out for those trapped by the quake.

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Deadly attack signals growing struggle for troops

Friday, January 1, 2010 – Globe and Mail

TORONTO and QASSAM POL, AFGHANISTAN — It was a targeted attack, a massive bomb detonated via remote control, that tore up the road just four kilometres from Kandahar city and killed four Canadian soldiers and a journalist in one of the deadliest attacks on Canadian troops since the country’s Afghan mission began.

The brazen attack so close to Canada’s base in Kandahar indicates just how challenging it’s going to be for Canadian troops to secure what Brigadier-General Daniel Ménard called a “ring of stability” in the area directly surrounding Kandahar city – and how far the troops have to go to win not only the hearts and minds but the trust of Afghans living there.

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