Monthly Archives: October 2018

The Ford government’s war against children and women

In a series of announcements in recent weeks, Ontario’s Doug Ford government has made changes to programs and policy that are harmful to women and children.

 

Ontario’s Doug Ford government doesn’t seem to like women and children much.

Witness the following:

An internal memo the Ministry of Education sent to day cares, highlights changes coming to child care programs, including the reversal of a key protection for not-for-profit day cares.
Advocates say the removal of the For Profit Maximum Threshold opens the door to the expansion of big-box corporate day cares in Ontario.

The cap was put into place two years ago and limits how much funding the government can provide to for-profit daycares.

In late July, the Ford government announced that social assistance rates will only increase by 1.5 per cent, not the scheduled 3 per cent, which is below the rate of inflation. As part of the social assistance announcement, the government said that a number of other social assistance changes will occur under a “100-day review” and the basic income pilot project will be cancelled.

Most people who benefit from the province’s two key social assistance programs, Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program, are women and children. Continue reading

Ontario calls it quits on fighting climate change – and both the budget and the environment take a hit.

At the same time that the U.N issued a stern warning that there are only a dozen years for the world to deal with global warming, the Ford government has killed its key program dealing with climate change.

 

Doug Ford has cancelled Ontario’s cap and trade program and in addition to abandoning Ontario’s fight against climate change, it is going to cost the Ontario treasury a lot.

Cancellation of the cap and trade program coincides with a warning by the world’s leading climate scientists that there are only a dozen years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.

The authors of the landmark report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) say urgent and unprecedented changes are needed to reach the target, which they say is affordable and feasible although it lies at the most ambitious end of the Paris agreement pledge to keep temperature increases between 1.5C and 2C. Continue reading

How social media platforms are threatening democracy and what the Trudeau government can do about it.

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, testifies in Congress following the uncovering of the Cambridge Analytica scandal in which it was revealed that Cambridge Analytica harvested the personal data of up to 87 million Facebook users and subsequently used the profiles to help the Trump campaign.

Introduction

There is a growing sense that Facebook and other social media platforms are a significant factor in the increasing polarization of our politics and even a real threat to democracy in countries such as the U.S. and Canada – countries with historically strong democratic institutions. This post explores how the business model chosen by the biggest platforms  has contributed to the weakening of our democratic institutions and what can be done to curb the socially destructive consequences of the platforms’ current operations.

The Facebook business model

The problem with  Facebook is that it is fine-tuned to be an addictive site in which politics – and information more broadly – are indistinguishable from entertainment. Of course, much the same could be said of cable TV news and the tabloid press. However, the engagement and immersion in social media is more intense  than the kind that television or print delivers. It encourages people to associate only with those who share their opinions, creating information filters regarding politics and general views of the world. By training its users to place greater importance on feelings of  agreement and belonging (“friends”, “like/dislike”) than on objective truth and facts, Facebook has created a gigantic forum for tribalism. Or more precisely, a forum for tribalism that contains a multitude of tribes that define themselves in terms of politics, race, ethnicity, religion, cultural/consumer preferences and social status. And because they are tribes existing in an information bubble with news of the outside world delivered to them primarily by Facebook’s algorithms through its newsfeed, members of any given tribe are increasingly oblivious to any views other than their own. They are also increasingly oblivious (and even hostile) to the notion of objective truth and facts more generally.

Moreover, Facebook’s algorithms are designed to feed users, over time, ever more extreme material that plays to these tribal identities. In strictly business terms, this increases the average time a user stays on the platform thereby increasing Facebook’s advertising revenue. In political and social terms, it leads to a polarized electorate and society.

98% of Facebook’s revenue comes from selling ads and the company has every incentive to continue to collect as much private data as it can on its users in order to keep them engaged on the site and to allow ad buyers to effectively target their ads. The potential impact  of a business model driven by this combination of intense immersion and surveillance manifested itself when it was revealed that the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica had obtained information about 50 million Facebook users in order to develop psychological profiles to assist the Trump campaign. That number has since risen to 87 million. Yet Facebook seems incapable of accepting the fact that its relentless pursuit of growth, which Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg characterizes as encouraging “openness and connection” globally, has been socially destructive.

But concerns over tribalization and the debasement of truth and facts caused by social media, should not stop with Facebook. Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Google, also share an aspiration to become the primary lens through which we both view the world and participate in it. And Google, in particular, suffers from many of the same problems as Facebook. Continue reading

The real story behind the NAFTA negotiations on autos and labour standards.

 

None of the governments of the three countries involved in the NAFTA auto and labour standards discussions have told the real story on the tactics and strategies they are using in the negotiations. In the absence of straightforward communication on the trade negotiations, the public in all three countries has a right to be suspicious until the full legal text of an agreement is publicly released.

 

There is no question that Donald Trump rode a wave of anti-trade sentiment to victory in the 2016 presidential election. This included a threat to rip up NAFTA, which he called “the worst trade deal in the history” of the United States.

Trump’s was a populist message that tapped into long-simmering resentment over the loss of American manufacturing operations – including the loss of auto assembly and auto parts plants – to Mexico. And it resonated strongly with voters in the leading manufacturing states – including the states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania  that ultimately gave Trump his victory.

Therefore, it should be no surprise that at the start of the NAFTA talks, Canadian trade officials believed the success of the NAFTA renegotiation hinged on Trump’s ability to claim a win on the auto front. Further, they believed the route to that victory would be through stricter labour standards to minimize Mexico’s low-wage advantage in attracting auto investment.

In theory, reducing the Mexican advantage in auto wages should have been an area where  Canadian and American interests are largely aligned. Statistics compiled by Unifor, the union representing autoworkers in Canada, explain why:

  • Mexico buys just eight per cent of North American-made vehicles but employs 45 per cent of the continent’s auto workers;
  • Since NAFTA came into effect in 1994, four assembly plants in Canada and 10 in the United States have closed; eight new plants have opened in Mexico.
  • U.S. and Canadian vehicle and auto parts trade deficits with Mexico have grown exponentially – a four-fold increase for Canada, from $1.6 billion pre-NAFTA to $8.7 billion now.

Those  numbers are explained by another stark statistic: Mexican autoworkers earn an average of about $4 per hour, compared to $30-$35 per hour in the U.S. and Canada. As such, using NAFTA re-negotiations to rebalance the North American auto industry so that all three countries get a fair share of investment and jobs would seem to be a no-brainer. Continue reading