Archive for the ‘Act Locally’ Category

Aug. 31, 2013: Two of the Winnipeggers who gathered at the Canadian Human Rights Museum to oppose military intervention in Syria. Photo: Paul S. Graham

Aug. 31, 2013: Two of the Winnipeggers who gathered at the Canadian Human Rights Museum to oppose military intervention in Syria. Photo: Paul S. Graham

By Peace Alliance Winnipeg

As the United States moves closer to a direct military strike on Syria, the world draws closer to a conflict that could spread well beyond the boundaries of that war-torn nation.

The pretext for an American strike is an allegation, as yet unproven, that Syrian government forces used sarin gas on opposition forces and civilians. A UN weapons inspection team is on site to determine if chemical weapons were used, though it has no mandate to determine who might have used them. Regardless of what the UN might say, the American government has decided to press on with “punishing” the Syrian regime. No such action is mandated by the 1925 Geneva Protocol on chemical weapons, and an attack would violate international law.

Despite the US government’s assertions of overwhelming proof, only France has said it will join the US in an attack. The British Parliament, last week, voted against military intervention. The UN Security Council has refused to authorize a strike. NATO has ruled out military action.

British MPs voted against military action because the British people were well aware of the falsified British and American intelligence reports that were used to justify attacking Iraq in 2003. That invasion caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and almost 5,000 coalition troops. Four million Iraqis became refugees, the country’s infrastructure was destroyed and Iraqi society was fragmented by sectarian violence that continues to this day.

Canada has funneled more than $5 million to opposition forces and endorsed the use of military force. PM Harper has ambiguously stated that, “at the present time the Government of Canada has no plans, we have no plans of our own, to have a Canadian military mission.” Although Canada has said that it doesn’t intend to send troops, it has provided the US government with consistent political support. We must pressure the Canadian government to reverse that support and we must express our opposition to the US war drive.

The Syrian war is widening

The people of Syria have already suffered over two years of a devastating war, with more than a hundred thousand Syrians killed and millions driven from their homes. What began as a nonviolent protest and then civil war has expanded to sectarian and even more dangerous international conflict.

Syria is a battleground where conflicts are being fought out between regional powers (Saudi Arabia and Iran) and global powers (the US and Russia). A US military attack would worsen the conflict between heavily armed and powerful forces, seriously escalating the war and further destabilizing the Middle East.

Attacking Syrian forces with cruise missiles and drones, which is what the US military is likely to do, will only add to the death toll and delay the peace negotiations that must ultimately bring this war to a close. Even if, through some miracle, the violence remains contained within Syria, the price will still be paid by the Syrian people.

Antiwar sentiment is strong and growing

Last weekend there were antiwar demonstrations around the world. Protests were held in more than 12 Canadian cities, including Winnipeg.

This attack can be prevented, but only with a huge global response. We need to show our solidarity with the people of Syria and stop the US from launching its missiles under the guise of humanitarian intervention. The lives of tens of thousands more Syrians are at stake.

What can we do, here, in Winnipeg?

There are positive, constructive steps we can take to show our support for the people of Syria. We can contact our Members of Parliament. We can insist that they reconvene Parliament and take the following constructive steps:

1. Provide genuine humanitarian aid to the victims of the civil war in the form of food, medical supplies and financial contributions to the reputable humanitarian aid groups that have been stretched to the breaking point by this crisis.

2. End all forms of material and political support to opposition forces.

3. Adopt a genuinely neutral position on the world stage and press for peace talks that involve all of the contending forces.

Parliament must be reconvened to reverse the damage that our government has done by taking sides in this civil war. Canada has to become a responsible voice for peace in the Middle East and the world. If you don’t know how to get hold of your MP, here are some phone numbers.

  • Niki Ashton (Churchill): 204-677-1333
  • Joyce Bateman (Winnipeg South Centre): 204-983-1355
  • Candice Bergen (Portage-Lisgar): 204-822-7440
  • James Bezan (Selkirk-Interlake): 204-785-6151
  • Rod Bruinooge (Winnipeg South): 204-984-6787
  • Steven Fletcher (Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia): 204-984-6432
  • Shelly Glover (St. Boniface): 204-983-3183
  • Kevin Lamoureux (Winnipeg North): 204-984-1767
  • Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre): 204-984-1767
  • Joy Smith (Kildonan-St. Paul): 204-984-6322
  • Robert Sopuck (Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette): 204-848-7000
  • Lawrence Toet (Elmwood-Transcona): 204-984-2499

For more complete contact information, go here.

What else can we do?

Get educated. There are excellent sources of critical analysis on the Internet. Here are a couple:

Centre for Research on Globalization

Middle East Research and Information Project

Get involved. You can find No War With Syria (Winnipeg) on Facebook. Peace Alliance Winnipeg is also on Facebook, and on the Internet.

Please contact us. Together, we can do our part to work for peace.

Reposted from Peace Alliance Winnipeg News


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Winnipeg, April 21, 2013: Some of the participants in the 10th annual Seventh Generation Walk for Mother Earth, at the Oodena Circle at The Forks. Photo: Paul S. Graham

Winnipeg, April 21, 2013: Some of the participants in the 10th annual Seventh Generation Walk for Mother Earth, at the Oodena Circle at The Forks. Photo: Paul S. Graham


Despite the inclement weather, this year’s Seventh Generation Walk for Mother Earth was a lively celebration that began at Central Park and ended at Thunderbird House, with stops along the way at the Manitoba Hydro headquarters and the Oodena Circle at The Forks.

Held on Sunday, April 21, this year’s walk was in support of the Voices of Indigenous Women and in solidarity with the growing Idle No More Movement.

Speakers included Susanne McCrea of the Boreal Forest Network, Ko’ona Cochrane, Alberteen Spence, Judy da Silva, Kristen Andrews, Myrle Ballard and Diane Maytwayashing.

Here’s my video report.


whose winnipeg posterMarch 14, 2013: The Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, in partnership with OURS Winnipeg, For the Love of Winnipeg and Planners’ Network Manitoba, held a well attended public forum at the Millennium Library to discuss how decisions about land use are made in Winnipeg.

In a wide ranging discussion, Winnipeg’s civic government was criticized for lacking vision, accountability and transparency, along with a tendency to favor the private interests of developers over those of citizens and communities.

Topics included the Armstrong Point Residents Association fight to prevent private school expansion, the OURS group fight to preserve green space and City owned golf courses, the Parker Lands Preservation campaign to preserve the Parker wetlands, the Corydon Residents’ Association who had their secondary plan process suddenly cancelled, and the campaign to restore Victoria Park as an important historic site.

Here is my video report.


April 4, 2013, Winnipeg: Opponents of the Reed Lake Mine in northern Manitoba confront HudBay Mineral's officials. Photo: Paul S. Graham

April 4, 2013, Winnipeg: Opponents of the Reed Lake Mine in northern Manitoba confront HudBay Mineral’s officials. Photo: Paul S. Graham

Opponents of Hudbay Mineral’s planned copper mine at Reed Lake, Manitoba held a peaceful demonstration at an information meeting held by the company at a Holiday Inn in Winnipeg. The demonstrators, many of whom are active in the Idle No More movement, confronted HudBay officials for about 15 minutes to voice their opposition and to demand a halt to the project.

Reed Lake is in the Grass River Provincial Park, about 110 kilometres east of Flin Flon. The mining project is a joint venture of HudBay Minerals and VMS Ventures, Inc.

The fact this mining operation is under construction in a provincial park has outraged environmentalists and First Nations communities alike.

April 4, 2013, Winnipeg: At a news conference announcing opposition to HudBay's Reed Lake Mine - (l-r) Grand Chief David Harper, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, Chief Arlen Dumas, Mathias Colomb Cree Nation, Grand Chief Derek Nepinak, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and Eric Reder, Wilderness Committee. Photo: Paul S. Graham

April 4, 2013, Winnipeg: At a news conference announcing opposition to HudBay’s Reed Lake Mine – (l-r) Grand Chief David Harper, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, Chief Arlen Dumas, Mathias Colomb Cree Nation, Grand Chief Derek Nepinak, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and Eric Reder, Wilderness Committee. Photo: Paul S. Graham

At a news conference held earlier that evening, representatives of the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak and the Wilderness Committee pledged to oppose the mine because it is being built within the traditional territory of the MCCN without their permission.

Here are my video reports.


Jo Seenie Redsky: "we’re your last resort." Photo: Paul S. Graham

Jo Seenie Redsky: “We’re your last resort.” Photo: Paul S. Graham

If your only source of information is the mainstream news media you can be forgiven for wondering what the Idle No More movement is all about. Since it burst on the scene late last year, media attention has darted from demonstrations to blockades to the fasts of elders and chiefs — with an occasional sustained flurry of excitement when the PMO tried to smear Chief Theresa Spence.

Discussions of the abrogation of historic treaty rights or the corporate pillaging Stephen Harper has buried, like poisonous turds, in his omnibus budget bills, do not lend themselves to the tidy sound bites that nourish the media and feed the news cycle.

Having spent last Sunday afternoon at a panel discussion sponsored by Peace Alliance Winnipeg and Project Peacemakers, I can assure you that Idle No More is about nearly everything that is wrong with our society, but fundamentally it is about love. Love of family, friends, complete strangers, future generations, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the earth we walk on.

Feb. 24, 2013: Jerry Daniels speaking about Idle No More in Winnipeg. Photo: Paul S. Graham

Jerry Daniels: ” The issue is sustainable development.” Photo: Paul S. Graham

Idle No More is inclusive and green. As panelist Jerry Daniels puts it, “A sustainable future is important to not only aboriginal people, it is important to all of us . . . the issue is sustainable development – sustainable futures for our children.” For Leah Gazan, “it’s not just about indigenous people of Canada any more, it’s about all of us. It’s about all of us sharing this land in a really good way.”

Idle No More is about redressing the damage we have done to ourselves and the environment, and preventing more of the same. Chickadee Richard sums it up in as tidy a sound bite as you could find anywhere: “As you heal, you heal Mother Earth.”

Chickadee Richard, Feb. 24, 2013

Chickadee Richard: “As you heal, you heal Mother Earth.” Photo: Paul S. Graham

Michael Champagne: "An injustice to one is an injustice to all." Photo: Paul S. Graham

Michael Champagne: “An injustice to one is an injustice to all.” Photo: Paul S. Graham

Idle No More is about aboriginal youth, says Michael Champagne, but about aboriginal youth unlike those of previous generations: “not only are we educated in Western institutions . . . , we are also educated by the Chickadees of the world, by our elders and our ancestors and our community and we are able to learn about the strength and resilience of our ancestors and our nations.”

Idle No More is about human solidarity. Champagne continues: “We’re able to hear those teachings within the medicine wheel and understand that we are all related regardless of the colour of our skin, and like a circle, it is not complete if one of you is missing . . . if you’re hurting, I’m hurting . . . and if I’m hurting, so are you . . . An injustice to one is an injustice to all.” Champagne was consistent; he included Stephen Harper in the company of those damaged by the system Idle No More seeks to overturn.

Lori Mainville: "no fear, no surrender, only love." Photo: Paul S. Graham

Lori Mainville: “no fear, no surrender, only love.” Photo: Paul S. Graham

Idle No More cannot be contained or controlled says Lori Mainville. “The media poses a skewed version – always trying commodify or standardize or put it in a dichotomy and this is a people’s movement. The definition rests with the people and our relationship with the people, our allies, our brothers and sisters in each moment as this energy reveals itself. There’s no way you can cap [it].”

Idle No More is an obligation for those who love Mother Earth. “I guess you could say in . . . protecting the land, the waters, we’re your last resort,” says Jo Seenie Redsky. “I know the world is watching our people here, in the country of Canada, to see us rise up and protect what everybody needs to protect and that’s the land and the waters and those yet to come.”

Leah Gazan: "Idle No More is the newest version of a 500-year struggle." Photo: Paul S. Graham

Leah Gazan: “Idle No More is the newest version of a 500-year struggle.” Photo: Paul S. Graham

At its base, says Redsky, Idle No More is about love. “There’s an unconditional love that we have for our kids. That protection that we have for them is the same protection that we need to have for Mother Earth.” For Lori Mainville, whatever the risks, “I keep remembering that the greatest equalizer is love . . . no fear, no surrender, only love . . . For me, it’s about love as a mother and a grandmother and a sister and a community member.”

My reduction of this discussion to a matter of love aside, it is difficult to sum up a discussion of this importance in a few paragraphs.

Fortunately, I brought my video camera.

If you want to get involved, you can find Idle No More on Facebook and on the World Wide Web. As the weather warms, I have a feeling you’ll be able find it and join it in the streets. Don’t hesitate, because I’m sure you’ll receive a warm welcome.


A poverty “shoe-down” at the Manitoba Legislature
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Jan. 4, 2013: Demonstrators calling for an increase in rental rates for income assistance recipients, left dozens of pairs of shoes on the steps of the Manitoba Legislature. Photo: Paul S. Graham

Make Poverty History Manitoba rallied at the Manitoba Legislature on Friday to demand that the provincial government increase the rental allowance provided to recipients of provincial Employment and Income Assistance (EIA). Recalling the kindness of a Winnipeg Transit driver who gave a homeless man a pair of shoes, demonstrators left dozens of pairs of shoes on the steps of the Legislature to send the message that they no longer wish to depend on isolated, random acts of kindness.

EIA recipients are provided with a rental allowance that has increased only slightly over the past two decades. During that same period, rents have gone up by 60 to 70%.

According to Kirsten Bernas, Make Poverty History Manitoba is asking the Province to increase the rental allowance to 75% of median market rent, a move the provincial government estimates would cost approximately $18.5 million annually.

In this video report, Ms. Bernas explains why this increase is long overdue.

Poverty on the increase in Manitoba

According to the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, “While the national poverty rate has remained relatively stable since 2006, the child poverty rate in Manitoba has been gradually increasing and remains 6.4 percentage points higher than the national average.” The SPCW reports that Manitoba had the second highest child poverty rate in Canada in 2012, with over 20% of our children (about 54,000) living below the poverty line as defined by Statistics Canada’s Low Income Measure After Taxes.

In Manitoba, the fastest growing banks are the food banks. Some statistics gleaned from the Winnipeg Harvest food bank web site tell the story:

  • Winnipeg Harvest provides emergency food assistance to nearly 64,000 people a month across Manitoba. Therefore, Winnipeg Harvest clients are Manitoba’s second-largest city. This figure is up more than 14% over the same period last year.
  • More than 47% of its clients are children. For each of the last two years, Manitoba is the #1 province for food bank use.
  • Winnipeg Harvest feeds more 30,000 children each month. Ten years ago, that number stood at 5,500 children.
  • Seniors and refugees have more than doubled in food bank use since 2010.
  • 1/3 of families experiencing hunger are dual wage-earner families, i.e, the working poor.
  • Winnipeg Harvest distributes food to more than 330 agencies throughout Manitoba
All Aboard

With great fanfare, the Manitoba government announced its ALL Aboard: Manitoba’s Poverty Reduction and Social Inclusion Strategy in 2009. In 2011, the The Poverty Reduction Strategy Act became law, committing the Province to include a poverty reduction strategy in its annual budget. In April, the Province released it’s four-year poverty reduction plan. While the strategy appears, upon first reading, to take a comprehensive approach to tackling poverty, two serious shortcomings are immediately evident:

  • The authors appear to believe that poverty rates in Manitoba are shrinking; they make the claim that the number of Manitobans living in poverty went down by 6,000 between 2000 and 2009. Research from the above-cited sources suggests that the opposite trend is more likely.
  • There are no concrete goals against which the government’s performance can be evaluated. Instead, we are given vague indicators against which progress will be measured.

A second reading of the strategy reveals it to be a glossy, feel-good kind of document which does little to instill confidence that the provincial government is seriously committed to poverty reduction. But don’t take my word for it; read it yourself.

Déjà vu all over again
Child Poverty in Manitoba and Canada

Source: Statistics Canada (2010). Income in Canada, CANSIM 202-0802 as cited in the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg’s “Child & Family Poverty 2012 Report Card.”

Manitoba’s child poverty rates have remained above the national rate since 1989 when Canada’s House of Commons passed a unanimous all-party resolution to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000. Canada’s national poverty rate remains pretty much where it was in 1990.

In 2009, the House passed another unanimous motion to “develop an immediate plan to eliminate poverty in Canada for all.” The Manitoba government seems to have bought into the legislative zeitgeist. However, unless there are some significant changes in their approach, nothing will change. The rich will get richer and the poor poorer — all of this occurring in the heartland of one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

A good place to start would be to acknowledge that poverty is growing and to act accordingly. This would include setting real goals and dedicating more resources to meet them. It would also mean backing away from its failed strategy of regular tax reductions so we have more resources to allocate to alleviating poverty. It would mean educating the public about the true nature of poverty and taking the risk that an honest dialogue would win over all but the most diehard reactionaries in the province.

Finally, for starters, why not increase the funds allocated to housing in the EIA budget, so that disabled, unemployed and other immiserated Manitobans don’t have to choose between paying the rent or putting food in their bellies?

The Riverview Hoop House was one of the projects on display during a walking tour of urban agricultural projects organized by the Sustainable South Osborne Community Co-op in June in Winnipeg. Coordinator Scott Harrison explains how it works. Photo: Paul S. Graham

Where does your food come from? If you’re like most of us, your reach is truly global. Tomatoes from Mexico. Grapes from Chile. Oranges from Florida. Lettuce from California. And that steak on the barbecue? It may have started life on a Manitoba farm but it was probably fattened, slaughtered and processed in Saskatchewan, Alberta or the United States.

While some of our food is grown and processed locally, most of it travels several hundred to several thousand kilometres before it lands on our plates.

Our food doesn’t walk. Ocean going vessels, rail cars, and long haul truckers carry the bulk of it, with some luxury items travelling by air. This far-flung, complex transportation network enables us to enjoy an almost limitless variety of foods from around the world, regardless of the season.

This abundance is a relatively new phenomenon. While the peoples of the world have traded foodstuffs from one region to another throughout recorded history, it was only after the development of fossil fueled modes of transport that our globalized food system became possible.

That era will soon be coming to an end because the energy source that made it all possible is running out. As oil consumption continues to outpace oil discovery and production, energy prices will continue to rise. Because every aspect of our food system, from production, to processing and transportation depends on oil, the prices on our global menu will continue to grow, and they will grow beyond the reach of most citizens.

Simply put, our existing globalized food system is not sustainable. The sooner we begin to make the transition to a more rational system the better.

While governments appear to be largely unaware of this looming threat, small groups of citizens have recognized the problem and are beginning to look for solutions.

One of these is the Sustainable South Osborne Community Co-op, located in Winnipeg, MB. In June 2012, I joined a walking tour of projects the co-op has going in its neighbourhood.

Here is my video report.