Author Archives: Ethan Phillips

About Ethan Phillips

Ethan Phillips, editor of Canada Fact Check, is an independent policy analyst with 35 years experience researching and writing on Canadian public policy issues.

Justin Trudeau’s big infrastructure mistake

port-mann-bridge-construction

It is a mistake to have private asset managers invest in projects funded by a new infrastructure bank expecting a return of 7-9% when the government can borrow long-term at 2%.

November 14 was a big day for the Trudeau government’s infrastructure plans.

In the afternoon, Prime Minister Trudeau attended a “summit” for foreign investors focussing on investment in areas like infrastructure, technology, natural resources, and renewable energy.

The summit was hosted by Blackrock Capital Investment Corporation, the world’s largest asset management company with $5.1 trillion dollars under management. All told, BlackRock brought two dozen of its clients to Toronto from around the world to meet with Trudeau. Blackrock clients include many of the world’s largest pension funds, sovereign wealth funds and other institutional investors.

Cabinet ministers attending the event included Finance Minister Bill Morneau, Minister of International Trade Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Natural Resources Jim Carr, Minister of Innovation Navdeep Bains, Minister of Infrastructure Amarjeet Sohi, Minister of Canadian Heritage Melanie Joly, and Minister of Health Jane Philpott.

Earlier in the day, the Liberals met with Canadian institutional investors such as the CPP Investment Board, the Caisse de dépôt , Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, OMERS, and Brookfield. Continue reading

Is a flat rate option for hydro coming to Ontario?

 

Ontario Morning News Round-up and Legislative  Agenda for Nov. 29.

Ontario News Round-Up for November 29.

  • On Monday, Ontario Energy Minister Glen Thibeault raised the possibility that consumers could opt out of time-of-use pricing for flat rates or other billing plans. Details will come in the government’s updated long-term energy plan being developed now with input from the industry and consumers. It will be released next spring, with any measures taking until after the 2018 election to be implemented.
  • Ontario will become the first province to launch pilot projects for self-driving cars. There will be two groups involved in the trials. BlackBerry’s QNX software development subsidiary and the University of Waterloo will work with Ford Motor Co’s Lincoln cars, while Erwin Hymer Group will test one of Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz vans, according to an Ontario government statement.
  • In a report tabled at Queen’s Park Monday, the Financial Accountability Officer projected a budget deficit of $5.2 billion this year and $2.6 billion in 2017-18. That’s in contrast to the government’s fall economic statement that forecast a $4.3 billion shortfall in 2016-17 and a balanced budget in 2017-18. The budget watchdog operates independently of the government and reports directly to the legislature.
  • According to the Toronto Star, officials in PC leader Patrick Brown’s office misled former Star reporter Richard Brennan over whether former MPP Garfield Dunlop was offered a job to resign his seat in order to allow Brown to contest a by-election and enter the legislature.

Ontario Op-Eds and Editorials

  • Martin Regg Cohn, citing Air Miles’ practice of wiping out points if they haven’t been used in five years, says that Ontario should ban the practice as they did the expiration date for gift cards.
  • In an editorial, the Star says that the City of Toronto’s anti-poverty plan needs to be fully funded to deal with the City’s growing poverty problem.

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Search up-to-date Canada Fact Check databases for the full text, approval status, committee hearings and other details of all Ontario bills from the current session here!___________________________________________________________________________________

Projected Ontario Legislative Business for Tuesday, Nov. 29

Main Chamber Business

9:00 a.m. – Third Reading of Bill 28, An Act to amend the Children’s Law Reform Act, the Vital Statistics Act and various other Acts respecting parentage and related registrations. Watch Live!

10:45 a.m. – Question Period. Watch Live!

3:30 p.m. – Second Reading of Bill 70, An Act to implement Budget measures and to enact and amend various statutes. Watch Live!

Ontario Legislature Committee meetings

9:00 p.m. – The Standing Committee on Government Agencies will meet to consider intended appointments.

4:00 p. m. – The Standing Committee on Regulations and Private Bills will meet to consider Bill 47, An Act to amend the Consumer Protection Act, 2002 with respect to rewards points. A full list of presenters is here.

Ontario NDP Bill on Domestic Violence Gets Support of Minister, Unions

Ontario Morning News Round-up and Legislative  Agenda for Nov. 28.

Ontario News Round-Up

  • NDP MPP Peggy Sattler seems to have the support of Ontario Labour Minister Dennis Flynn for her Bill 26. The bill was reffered to the Ontario legislature’s Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly after receiving approval at Second Reading on October 20.   Bill 26 would amend both the Employment Standards Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Act to include up to 10 days of paid leave and accommodation for victims of domestic and sexual violence.

Meanwhile, the Ontario Federation of Labour is directing the 54 unions under its umbrella to negotiate paid leave for survivors of domestic and sexual violence in all collective agreements

  • The Ontario Government has announced that Howard Sapers, Canada’s correctional investigator, will be taking on the job of reforming Ontario’s troubled corrections system. On Jan. 2, Mr. Sapers will start as an independent adviser to the provincial government tasked with leading an external review of segregation policies.
  • The debate continues over the best way to implement toll roads in Toronto. Most experts agree that that a dynamic pricing model puts a fairer price on the road, which is more in demand at certain times of day than others. However, Toronto Mayor John Tory seems to favour a flat, $2 toll.

Ontario Op-Eds and Editorials

  • Martin Regg Cohn takes a shot at Provincial Conservatives for opposing road tolls when their former leader (John Tory), has come out for them.
  • Christina Blizzard says that there is a warning to the provincial Liberals in the fact that 127 new private schools have opened since 2015 — many of them faith-based.
  • David Reevely echoes Cohn in criticizing Patrick Brown’s Conservatives for their opposition to road tolls.

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Search up-to-date Canada Fact Check databases for the full text, approval status, committee hearings and other details of all Ontario bills from the current session here!___________________________________________________________________________________

Projected Ontario Legislative Business for Friday, Nov. 28

Main Chamber Business

10:45 a.m. – Question Period. Watch Live!

1:30 p.m. – Second Reading of Bill 70, An Act to implement Budget measures and to enact and amend various statutes. Watch Live!

Ontario Legislature Committee meetings

2:00 p.m. – The Standing Committee on General Government will meet to discuss Bill 45, An Act to amend certain Acts with respect to provincial elections.

2:00 p. m. – The Standing Committee on Social Policy will meet to consider Bill 7, An Act to amend or repeal various Acts with respect to housing and planning. A full list of presenters is here. Watch Live!

Ontario Morning News Round-Up and Legislative Agenda for November 25

Ontario Morning News Round-up for November 25

  • On the same day Toronto Mayor John Tory called for $2 tolls for the Don Valley Parkway and Gardiner Expressway and a new tax on hotel rooms, a City  staff report called for the implementation of a far broader range of revenue generators.
  • The Ontario Government has announced its next step in its ongoing efforts to reduce the gender wage gap – it’s creating a new working group  to advise it on the issue. The new group will provide guidance on how government can address specific issues and initiatives identified in the Gender Wage Gap Final Report, including:
    • Shared parental leaves;
    • A gender workplace analysis tool;
    • A social awareness strategy to help understand the effects of gender bias, the gender wage gap and the importance of closing the gap; and
    • Reviewing pay equity legislation.
  • The Ontario Federation of Labour is directing the 54 unions under its umbrella to negotiate paid leave for survivors of domestic and sexual violence in all collective agreements. The OFL was at Queen’s Park Thursday to talk with Labour Minister Kevin Flynn about enshrining such leave. NDP MPP Peggy Sattler currently has a private members’ bill at committee. Her Bill 26 would amend both the Employment Standards Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Act to include up to 10 days of paid leave and accommodation for victims of domestic and sexual violence.

Ontario Op-Eds and Editorials

  • Martin Regg Cohn believes that the constant accusations of corruption and criminality related to Liberal operatives’ activities in the Sudbury by-election that elected Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault, cheapen Ontario politics.
  • Bob Rae supports Toronto mayor John Tory’s proposals for toll roads but says low and moderate income Ontarians must be protected. The Star’s lead editorial also supports the mayor’s proposal while Thomas Walkom warns that while Tory’s proposal should be supported, the history of transportation planning in Toronto is such, that things may still go awry.
  • Bob Hepburn outlines the Wynne Liberals’ three-pronged strategy for re-election in 2018.

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Search up-to-date Canada Fact Check databases for the full text, approval status, committee hearings and other details of all Ontario bills from the current session here!___________________________________________________________________________________

Projected Ontario Legislative Business for Friday, Nov. 25

Main Chamber Business

There is no House business scheduled for today.

Ontario Legislature Committee meetings

There are no Legislative committee meetings scheduled for today.

 

 

Federal News Highlights and Parliamentary Business for November 25

Federal Morning News Round-up

  • The Liberals have introduced new legislation that repeals changes the Harper government made to Canada’s Election laws. Amongst the changes being made under Bill C-33 are: the reinstatement of  voter information cards as identification; allowing vouching; and creating a national register of electors to pre-register youth aged 14 to 17.
  • According to anti-poverty group Campaign 2000, Canada’s child poverty rate has jumped from 15.8 per cent in 1989 when parliament passed a resolution to abolish child poverty, to 18.3 per cent today. According to its annual report, for those under age 6, the rate is almost 20 per cent nationally and closer to 45 per cent for young children in Nunavut.
  • Canada’s premiers intend to push the Trudeau government hard on increasing health care transfers when the Premiers meet the Prime Minister in two weeks ostensibly to talk about climate change.
  • The Liberals are admitting that more could be done to plug holes in the new CPP enhancement – but that does not include amending the bill that includes the omissions. Responding to pressure from New Democrats in the committee studying Bill C-26, regarding omissions that hurt Canadians who temporarily drop out of the workforce to raise their children or to cope with an illness, the government admitted there was a problem but promised only to consult with the provinces when federal and provincial Finance Ministers meet in December.

Op-Eds and Editorials

  • Gerry Caplan makes the case that despite ratifying the United Nations Convention against Torture in 1987, Canada is guilty of many of the practices banned in the convention. Caplan says that “Torture – physical, psychological or both – has been inflicted by our prisons and our security and intelligence services on many Canadians – a disproportionate number of them indigenous or people with a Middle Eastern background – as well as on foreign citizens”. Caplan gives as an example, Adam Capay, the young indigenous man kept in solitary for more than 1,500 days in an Ontario correctional facility.
  • Thomas Homer Dixon says Donald Trump is “a bizarre hybrid of an idiot savant and a Mafia don” and that these personality traits are likely to result in constant “bedlam”. You think?
  • John Ivison takes a swipe at the Trudeau Liberals’ “cash for access” fundraising tactics.

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Search up-to-date Canada Fact Check databases for the full text, approval status, committee hearings and other details of all Federal bills and regulations from the current session here!

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Projected House Business for Friday, Nov. 25:

Main Chamber Business

The House is meeting between 10:00 – 7:00 p.m. today.

  • 10:30 – Government Business – Second reading debate on Bill C-18 An Act to amend the Rouge National Urban Park Act, the Parks Canada Agency Act and the Canada National Parks Act.  Watch Here!
  • 2:15 – Question Period. Watch Here!
  • 3:15 p.m.  – Government Business – Second reading debate on Bill C-30 – Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement Implementation Act. Watch Here!
  • 5:45 p.m. Private member’s Business. Bill C-274 – Mr. Caron (Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques) — An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (transfer of small business or family farm or fishing corporation). Watch Here!

Projected  House Committee Business for Friday, Nov. 25

  • There are no Committee meetings scheduled for today.

What’s really behind Ontario’s rising electricity prices

hydro-lines

Ontario’s high hydro prices reflect a breakdown in the Ontario Government’s electricity planning process resulting in contradictory policies that add to costs.

On September 12, the Ontario Government announced in its Throne Speech that it was rebating the provincial portion of the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) to residential and small business electricity users. The initiative is expected to cost $1 billion/yr. and is funded out of the provincial tax base. On September 15, Bill 13, the Ontario Rebate for Electricity Consumers Act, was tabled to implement the initative.

What the initiative means is that as of January 1, 2017, the Province will reduce residential and small business electricity bills by an amount equivalent to the 8% provincial portion of the HST.

 

Why the HST rebate benefits the affluent more than average hydro users

What is often overlooked is that the HST rebate provides a benefit proportionate to electricity spending meaning that the more you spend on electricity, the bigger your rebate. And, of course, the bigger your residence, the more you are likely to spend on electricity.

On September 27, Ontario’s Financial Accountability Officer (FAO) issued a report showing that the burden of home energy costs, as measured by share of income spent on home energy, falls more heavily on lower income Ontario households in spite of their lower overall energy spending. In 2014, the lowest-income 20% spent on average 5.9% of their pre-tax income on home energy, while the highest-income 20% spent only 1.7%.

Continue reading

Ontario News Highlights and Legislative Agenda for October 27

queens-park-dailyOntario Government introduces strict, new rules for campaign donations.

 

 

 

Provincial riding associations will receive public money for campaigns and MPPs and candidates will be banned from attending political fundraisers under campaign finance amendments announced by the Ontario government yesterday.

The amendments are to the Election Finances Statute Law Amendment Act, which was reintroduced in the legislature on this fall. The bill has passed Second Reading in the legislature, and has been referred to the Standing Committee on General Government for review.

During the committee process due to begin next week, the government intends to introduce two new legislative amendments that, if approved by the committee, will be added to the bill:

  • Banning MPPs, candidates, party leaders, nomination contestants and leadership contestants from attending political fundraising events. This restriction would not apply to non-fundraising events or events where tickets are sold only to cover the cost of the event. It would also not impact funds raised by other means, e.g., by phone or email.
  • Providing an allowance to constituency associations to offset fundraising revenues that they would no longer receive due to the reforms in the bill. Registered constituency associations in each riding would divide $25,000 per year (indexed annually), based on the proportion of votes each registered candidate received in the most recent election.

With 122 ridings up for grabs in the June 7, 2018, election, that means it will cost an additional $3 million annually.

That’s atop the annual $2.71-per-vote subsidy the major political parties will receive beginning next year.

Under that formula — based on the results of the 2014 election — the Liberals, with 1,863,974 votes, would get $5.06 million annually, the Progressive Conservatives, with 1,508,811 votes, $4.09 million, the NDP, with 1,144,822 votes, $3.1 million, and the Green Party of Ontario, with 232,536 votes, $630,000.

The public money for riding associations is designed to help parties and riding associations deal with the fallout of annual riding contribution limits being cut to $1,200 a person — down from the current $9,975 — and the outright ban on union and corporate donations. Donors may also give $1,200 to central parties and another $1,200 for by-elections.

The new law would also limit third-party advertising – such as direct union or corporate donations – to $100,000 in advertising during elections and $600,000 in the six preceding months. There would be a $1-million spending limit during that period for political parties.

Opposition politicians expressed concern that because political staffers — such as chiefs of staff and ministerial policy advisors — would still be allowed to attend fundraisers, the proposed reforms would be undermined.

The opposition also criticized the fact that elected officials and candidates would continue to be allowed to engage in fundraising by phone or email.

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Projected Ontario Legislative Business for Thursday, Oct. 27 

Main Chamber Business

Ontario Legislature Committee meetings for Thursday, Oct. 27

Search the full text, approval status, committee hearings and other details of all Ontario bills from the current session here!

Ontario News Highlights and Legislative Agenda for October 26

queens-park-dailyOntario Minister changes mind and moves man held in solitary confinement for four years without a trial

 

 

A day after the minister in charge of Ontario’s prisons told the media he wouldn’t release from solitary confinement an inmate who has spent four years in isolation without trial, the minister apparently has had a change of heart and moved the prisoner out of isolation.

Community Safety Minister David Orazietti was under intense pressure to let Adam Capay, a 23-year-old First Nations man, out of the Plexiglas-lined cell at the Thunder Bay Jail where he is confined alone under 24-hour-a-day artificial light. This morning he stood up in Question Period in the Ontario legislature and announced that Mr. Capay had been moved.

Mr. Capay was charged in 2012 with killing another inmate in a fight, and has not yet come to trial.

Mr. Capay has become an example of the crisis in the province’s corrections system, where a lack of resources has left hundreds of prisoners locked in solitary confinement for weeks, months and years on end.

On any given day in Ontario, there are approximately 8,000 adult men and women in provincial custody. On average, seven per cent of these inmates (roughly 560) are held in solitary confinement.

“I cannot commit to releasing any individual from segregation,” Mr. Orazietti said at Queen’s Park on Tuesday. “That is not a decision that politicians are making. That is a decision that is made by the individuals operating our jails. I will not take individual action on a specific circumstance.”

Mr. Capay’s situation became public after a prison guard tipped off Renu Mandhane, the head of the province’s human rights commission, when she was visiting the jail earlier this month. Ms. Mandhane found Mr. Capay alone at the end of a range on a windowless floor. After 1,500 days in solitary, she later told reporters, he suffered from memory loss and difficulty speaking. Because of the continuous artificial light, he could not tell day from night.

Ms. Mandhane’s data showed that, between October and December of last year, 1,383 Ontario prisoners had spent more than 15 days in solitary confinement, a threshold the United Nations calls a form of torture.

Mr. Orazietti said he is awaiting the results of a third-party review due next year. He ordered it earlier this month after a previous 19-month review.

Ombudsman Paul Dubé is also considering launching an investigation.

On October 17, Ontario announced a series of incremental reforms that critics say fail to deal with severity of the problem.

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Projected Ontario Legislative Business for Wednesday, Oct. 26 

Main Chamber Business

Ontario Legislature Committee meetings for Tuesday, Oct. 25

  • 12:30 p.m. – The Standing Committee on Public Accounts will meet to consider Long-term-care Home Quality Inspection Program. Watch here! 
  • 3:00 p.m. – The Standing Committee on Estimates will meet to review the 2016-2017 Estimates of the Ministry of Energy.

Federal News Highlights and Parliamentary Business for October 26

parliament-daily-news-updateTrudeau holds out hope for CETA but is a change in strategy called for?

 

 

 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is holding out hope for a last-minute breakthrough that will allow Canada’s trade deal with the European Union to be signed, despite objections from Belgium that have put the agreement in doubt.

But the signing ceremony planned for Thursday appears in jeopardy as Belgium appears to be unable to endorse the trade agreement because of ongoing objections by the regional government of Wallonia.

Belgium is the single holdout among the 28-nation union, but the country’s inability to ratify the deal effectively puts the trade pact on hold.

International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland is making it clear that the Canadian government  believes that it’s up to the Europeans — not Canadians — to engage in last minute bargaining to resolve the concerns that have stalled the agreement.

However, putting the ball back in Europe’s court may prove to be short sighted given that Canada has an obvious way out of the impasse – it could offer to drop the controversial Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provision in CETA entirely. The ISDS provision allows large corporations to sue government’s if they think their economic interests are hurt by government legislation.

Why this might save the deal is that the main objection of the economically hard-hit Wallonia province in Belgium that is single-handedly holding things up, is precisely the controversial ISDS provisions.

A bold move by the Trudeau government to drop the ISDS provisions from a high profile deal like CETA would also signal a return to the original intentions of trade deals – the lowering of protectionist tariffs. It is the expansion of trade negotiations from agreements that once focused primarily on tariff reductions to far broader agreements that require governments to change local laws and establish dispute-resolution systems such as ISDS, that have undermined support for trade agreements worldwide. This enlarged approach to trade deals, which is a staple of trade agreement like NAFTA and the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, run the risk of surrendering domestic policy choices to other countries (or more precisely, the corporate interests of other countries).

The truth of the matter is that if CETA were limited to tariff reductions, it would be relatively uncontroversial in Europe. Again, the objections to the agreement lies in the mandated changes to domestic laws and the creation of a dispute settlement mechanism (ISDS) that place corporate concerns over local laws.

Regulatory provisions in CETA outside the ISDS mean that both Europe and Canada face the prospect of changing national laws to accommodate foreign businesses. For example, CETA requires Canada to expand patent protections, largely due to demands from European pharmaceutical companies such as Bayer. Over time, the required changes could potentially add billions to Canadian health-care costs by extending the term of protection for popular drugs.

Moreover, there are real issues related to the enforceability of ISDS provisions – particularly in the European context. The ISDS may be challenged on various grounds by European national and sub-national governments, all of which relate to the fact that its very design grants foreign investors a privileged legal status. Essentially, the whole purpose of the ISDS provisions is to grant corporate investors with enforceable legal rights that are superior to the rights available to everyone else under the current legal system. In other words, ISDS effectively places foreign investors above the law.

No doubt, a move by the Canadian government to drop the ISDS provisions would face fierce opposition from powerful corporate interests in both Canada and Europe who benefit from such mechanisms. Moreover, such a move by Canada would certainly delay ratification. But while the political temptation of  trying to somehow salvage the current deal is understandable, the long-term political interests of the Liberal government may very well be served by a change of tactics. At the very least, proposing to drop ISDS from CETA would earn kudos from Canada’s labour movement and other progressive groups, and further move the Liberals into political territory once owned by the NDP.

Over the past 35 years, governments have ignored the protests and concerns associated with trade agreements that have moved far beyond their original intention of reducing tariffs. But as opposition to these agreements steadily increases in the form of Brexit and the Trump  protest vote, ignoring concerns with trade agreements that many view as unfairly tilting the balance between the public good and corporate interests, is proving to be very dangerous and a serious threat to global economic and political stability.

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Projected House Business for Wednesday, Oct. 26:

Main Chamber Business

The House is meeting between 2:00 – 7:00 p.m. today.

Projected  House Committee Business for Wednesday, Oct. 26

Search up-to-date Canada Fact Check databases for the full text, approval status, committee hearings and other details of all Federal bills and regulations from the current session here!

Federal News Highlights and Parliamentary Business for October 25

parliament-daily-news-updateFederal Government announces new Food Health Strategy to revamp Canada Health Guide and improve food labelling.

 

 

 

Health Minister Jane Philpott announced Monday a new food strategy  comprised of policy measures that include revamping the Canada Food Guide, making the nutrition labels on food more readable, reducing harmful food additives such as trans fats and sodium, and restricting the marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children.

The main components of the strategy are as follows:

Firstly,  she has asked Health Canada to come up with a replacement for the venerable Canada Food Guide in the form of a “suite of products” – from the classic chart you can stick on the fridge to an app – that are: Evidence-informed, relevant, written in plain language, easy-to-understand and follow and adaptable to food preferences. There will be a 45 day public consultations process beginning October24.

The second major initiative is to improve the Nutrition Facts labels on food. The plan here is to modify the labelling rules so there are standard serving sizes, more info on sugars, identifying additives such as dyes with common names and making the ingredients easy-to read, and actually put labels on the front of packages.

The third initiative in the minister’s food program is a plan to restrict the marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to children, something Quebec has has been doing for over a decade with some success.

The fourth element in the strategy is the reduction of harmful food additives such as trans fats and sodium. In a written statement , the Heart and Stroke Foundation said it was “especially pleased to see regulations forthcoming to prohibit artificially produced trans fats in our foods and restaurants. This is important because although we have made great progress, there are still high levels of trans fats in baked products and foods often consumed by children.”

All of the actions announced by the minister were part of the Liberals campaign platform and her ministerial mandate letter.

In developing and implementing the details of the policy, Philpott will have to contend with intense behind-the-scenes intense lobbying from groups such as Food and Consumer Products Canada (FCPC), the lobby group for Canada’s packaged food industry. In its release in response to the food strategy announcement, the industry lobbying group said that the strategy represented “an unprecedented amount of change that will require an unprecedented level of investment and resources (on the part of the industry) in an unprecedented timeframe. This will change what’s in our products, what’s on our product packaging and how those products are marketed”.

In an excellent article in the New York Times published October 5, noted food expert Michael Pollan detailed the enormous resources that the American food industry threw into derailing President Obama’s healthy food initiatives.

Continue reading