All posts by drbobabell

About drbobabell

A "driven" educator, environmentalist, humanist. Interactive media specialist, CEO, and author. Ballroom dancer, bird watcher, people watcher, motorcycle rider, downhill skier. Photographer and videographer. Movie Director/Producer. Systems thinker, and idealist.

Open Letter to City of Ottawa re Mosquito Control Program in North Kanata

To: Jena Sudds, local councillor, for Kanata, City of Ottawa; Lise Guevremont, Ottawa Land Use and Natural Systems; Dr. Nick Stowe, Senior Planner, City of Ottawa; Residents of Kanata:

19 November 2019

From: Scientists Concerned and Informed on the Environment Speak Out

It has been brought to our attention that the area of Ottawa known as North Kanata has just completed a four-year program of nuisance mosquito control which employed a “biological toxin” called BT toxin, which was dumped and sprayed on wetlands thoughout the area over the past four years. This program is being considered for renewal for a further period.

During the initial trial, the contractor did their own comparitive tests with adjacent areas to demonstrate that the toxin was, in fact, reducing the number of mosquitoes relative to these non-treated areas. At the least, some of these activities included independent citizen varification, but to the best of our knowledge the siting of comparitive tests was at the discretion of the contractor.

Futhermore, there was a study, paid for by the residents of Kanata and coordinated by the city and the proponents, and carried out by a graduate student from the University of Ottawa, which primarily studied the impacts of the spraying program on closely related insects which were important to the environment as part of the food chain but not a threat to humans either as disease vectors or nuisance bites.

Medlock and Snow (2008), in a review study of natural predators and parasites of British mosquitoes notes both the importance of prey species and the relative difficulty of quantitatively assessing direct effects. They review a number of studies, noting in their conclusions:

“It is important that any measures to control mosquitoes take into account the need to maintain natural predators and their habitats. Removal of predators from habitats could exacerbate a mosquito nuisance biting problem.”

However, in the local Kanata case, no study was undertaken of the impact of the spraying program on mosquito predators. Natural predators of mosquitos include bats, birds (primarily members of the swallow family), dragonflies, empididae, and amphibians; and for the lavae, many species of small fish, copepods, dragon fly nymphs, water-bugs, and even larvae of alternate mosquito species (Benelli, et al, 2016) . Benelli (2016) also notes that: “The potential of anurans (particularly frogs and toads) for mosquito control has been barely investigated”.

Since no baseline data was obtained on the prevalence or health of these natural predator species prior to the spraying program, there is no way, post program, to determine if there was a negative impact. During the discussions prior to the initial program, this issue was raised by Dr. Bob Abell with both Dr. Nick Stow and with then Councillor Marianne Wilkinson, but no action was taken by the City in this regard. Non-quantitative observation by the author suggests that the population of both swallows and dragonflies is drastically down in the area, and the mosquito problem is actually worse both in number and duration than in previous years. This has been reflected by others on local Facebook groups.

It has become clear though recent discussions that no study of higher predators was undertaken because City planners accepted as a given that (1) the role of predators in mosquito control is minimal; (2) that the mode of action of BTi is fully understood, highly selective, and has no effect on non-target species; and (3) that approval by regulatory agencies is rigorous, based on the best science, and serves as adequate assurance of safety.

Pesticides have been in vogue for approximately 70 years. Every pesticide that has come to market carries, at the time, the same statements from the proponent, that (a) they are perfectly “safe” if used as directed and (b) that they will not cause adverse effects for non-target species. Over time these same claims were made for DDT, 2-4D, glyphosate (round up), chlorpyrifos, and neonicotinoids – and all have been found over the long term to have unintended consequences ranging from thinning of the shells of birds eggs to massive losses of pollinators, to cancers in humans, and birth deformities in amphibians herbivores, and birds. It should be noted that:

  • all of these pesticides have been at one time accepted and approved by regulatory agencies;
  • environmental impacts of pesticides can take a very long time to manifest;
  • short term toxicology studies are seldom useful predictors of long-term low-dosage effects;
  • different agencies, different states, and different countries are often not in accord;
  • there is clear evidence in court records that there has been colusion between some regulatory agencies and pesticide proponents that led to understating the risks of pesticides, including herbicides.

In that same period of 70 years, there has been a precipitous decline in birds in North America – particulary in insectivores (birds whose primary diet is insects) – in amphibians, and in bats.

Many causes have been identified for these declines. Of course environmental stresses are multiplicative, reducing the ability of a species to survive by making them more susceptible to disease, sensitive to enviromental contaminants, infertile, and increasing the probability of infant death. In that situation, attibuting the decline to a single cause is unwise. There are, however, certain primary causes that appear to contribute in a major way to such declines. Most experts attribute habitat loss, agricultural intensification, and pesticide use as primary determinants.

Spiller and Dettmers (2019), examine this in detail. With specific reference to swallows, and the work of Twining (2016, 2018), Imlay (2017), and Morrissey ( 2015) they note:

“…results would suggest that changes in the availability of high-quality prey could be more important for aerial insectivore populations than overall insect abundance.” In the discussion they specifically reference the importance of “… high quality aquatic insects …” as a better predictor of breeding success than overall insect abundance. They go on to discuss extensively contamination of available food with insecticides, noting:

“Contaminants can bioaccumulate in insects exposed to pesticides or polluted aquatic sys-tems, and these contaminants can be transported up the food web to insectivorous birds.”

BT toxin, of course, is perfectly safe — according to the proponents. BT toxin is produced by certain soil bacteria – Bacillus thuringiensis. Bacillus thuringiensis is a member of the Bacillus cereus group of bacteria, which includes Bacillus anthracis (cause of anthrax), and Bacillus cereus, “a probably ubiquitous soil bacterium and an opportunistic pathogen that is a common cause of food poisoning.” (Helgason, et al, 2000)

BT toxins, of which there are many variants, including Bacillus thuringiensis serotype israelensis — the BTi specifically used in the Kanata area — appears to work on insects by creating what are termed Cry (crystal) proteins. These proteins effectively destroy the gut of the insect, leading to its rapid death. The overall safety and specificity of BT toxin is predicated upon the specifics of the mechanism and postulated unique proteins in the insect gut.

However, various researchers have questioned this exact claim of specificity which is critical to the assumption of safety. Much of the scientific work in this area has been prompted by the introduction of BT-expressing plants through genetic engineering. However, such research has substantially greater impact in that it calls into question both the specificity and the mechanism by which Cry proteins act.

Hilbeck and Otto (2015), attempt to summarize the current state of knowledge re both specificity, and proposed action mode. With respect to specificity, they note that most early studies were centered around the single economic parameter “quick kill”, and that only 17% of Cry toxins have ever been tested with species from more than one or two orders.

“Yet, even for the most tested lepidopteran-active Cry1 toxins, only a little more than one third has ever been experimentally tested outside of that order.”

They go on to note that:

  • “the old definition of order-specifity of Bt-toxins … may no longer be regarded as a functional concept …
  • “…sub-lethal effects such as growth inhibition, changes in developmental time or other parameters which may affect fitness can be expected to occur at far lower effect-doses than those inducing a “quick kill.”

In examinining the recent literature on the action mode of Cry toxins, they note that:

“… the modes of action of Cry toxins are far from conclusive to date … that co-factors which naturally occur in the environment impact the efficacy and specificity of Cry toxins which may help explaining some of the effects of Cry toxins on non-target organismes reported in the literature.”

“… it is clear that the claim of no reported adverse effects of single Cry toxins on cross-order non-target organisms is not supported by the scientific evidence in the scientific literature. In fact, there is an increasing body of evidence suggesting significant effects of Cry toxins far beyond the originally postulated primary taxa of herbivorous target pest organism are possible. “

Other authors have undertaken studies into the potential impact of Cry proteins on the health of mamals, including haematoxicity, and effects on the immune system. Such studies were not a part of the early focus on the “single economic parameter”.

To characterize all of this work as “junk science” and attribute it to a vendetta against specific agribiz companies is myopic in the extreme.

What is quite clear is that all three of the basic assumptions held by the City in undertaking this mosquito control approach are questionable:

  1. the role of predators in mosquito control is significant, and in the words of Medlock and Snow (2008), “Removal of predators from habitats could exacerbate a mosquito nuisance biting problem.
  2. the mode of action of BTi is far from fully understood, is not as highly selective as formerly believed, and has the potential to effect non-target species; Hilbeck and Otto (2015)
  3. approval by regulatory agencies is not necessarily based on the best science, can be corrupted or slanted by commercial concerns, and seldom serves as adequate assurance of safety.

Given these concerns expressed clearly in the scientific literature, we, the undersigned advise that the current mosquito program not be renewed, and that alternate control methods and adaptations not involving pesticides be employed.

The city respondent to an earlier draft of this paper, took umbrage with the use of the term “controls” with respect to the following section. While we would argue that controls are generally understood to be any actions taken to reduce bites, we have organized the following under the term “control” with the explicit meaning of reduction in numbers of biting insects, and “adaptations” with the explicit meaning of ways to alleviate the nuisance and potential health impact of bites.

Alternate control mechanisms include traps, methods attacking the reproductive capacity of mosquitos by male sterilzation, and even hi-tech laser perimeter guards that use lasers to selectively shoot mosquitos out of the air. This latter technology was originally developed at the Lawrence Livermore Lab in the 1980. More recent work has been done, with the patent rights owned by Intellectual Ventures in California. Given Kanata’s prominence as a tech centre, this should be explored.

A second method of control would be to reduce the causes of the problem — largely self-inflicted by lax or ineffective land control and land use requirement within and by the City. This included allowing the clear cutting of large areas in North Kanata, in the absence of an agreed water management plan. Clearcutting and beaver dam destruction contribute to wet-lands issues, loss of predator species of all types, and to excessive flooding in the Carp River watershed – the most quoted source for the epidemic of flood-water mosquitoes in the past year.

An active program to provide appropriate habitat and programs to enhance the recovery of predator species, including predatory fish, and to monitor such species on a regular basis is recommended, as is improved regulatory oversight of development. This might involve breeding programs as well as habitat upgrades including dealing appropriately with watershed issues.

At the level of individual properties and local residents, there are many adaptations (controlling bites, not populations of insects) which include plants that deter mosquitos or whose scents disrupt their ability to locate prey, clothing protection when outdoors, repellents, use of screened enclosures, and area mosquito traps, of which there are many on the market. An active program to both educate residents and encourge such adaptations would be beneficial.


Robert A. Abell, Ph.D., B.Ed. B.Sc.

Document prepared by Dr. Bob Abell, Ph.D. Science Education, B.Ed., B.Sc., Kanata resident and founding member, Scientists Concerned and Informed on the Environment Speak Out.

Scientists Concerned and Informed on the Environment Speak Out is a closed group of approximately 60 international members, all with minimum B.Sc. and diverse skill sets as specialties. It was set up as a multidisciplinary group to discuss complex ecosystem issues.

Scieso members who have responded to date to support this position.

Emmanuel G. Moutondo, M.Sc.

Emmanuel is Operations Manager, Africa Global Vision (AGV), and spent 8 years as a staff member of UNEP’s Division of Environmental Law and Policy in Nairobi.

Judy Hoy, B.Sc.

Judy is biologist, wildlife rehabber, and author residing in Stevensville, Montana. Judy has spent 23 years in wildlife rehabilation, documenting and writing extensively on birth deformities in wildlife, including potential pesticide interactions.

David Loubser, M.Sc., B.Sc.

David is Managing Director at Ecosystem Services Ltd., Wellington & Wairarapa, New Zealand. David has over 30 years experience in the Environmental and Environmental Information arena in Africa, New Zealand, the Pacific and the Middle East.

Ila France Porcher, B.Sc.

Ila is a published ethologist and “Shark Behaviour Specialist Advisor” at Shark Research Institute. Her focus is on the behaviour of wild animals and marine life. A resident of B.C., most of Ila’s shark studies came from her direct experience swimming with wild sharks in Tahiti.

Paul Renaud, B.Sc.

Paul is an Executive Advisor, and former Ottawa resident. Paul has been very active in the past on local environmental issues, including the South March Highlands.

Venkatasamy Ramakrishna, Ph.D., M.Sc. B.Sc.

Ven is Director and Consultant at Enviro Solutions Ltd., Mauritius. His field of study at the Masters and Ph.D. level was in natural sciences – environmental biology and microbiology. He is active at the international level in the area of environmental law.

Stephanie Seneff, Ph.D.

Stephanie is a Senior Research Scientist at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. She has worked (with others) on extensive analysis of the relationship between chemical pesticide exposure and a wide range of chronic diseases.

Yomi Taiwo, Ph.D.

Yomi is a chemist in Sustainable (Green) entrepreneurship development / Food QC&A / Energy at Moshood Abiola Polytechnic, Nigeria

Sarel Van Der Merwe, M.Sc.

Sarel is a wildlife and biodiversity specialist, and for 20 years Chairman of the African Lion Working Group.

Dr. Michael White, President Hakono Hararanga Inc, Tongareva Atoll, Oceania. Dr. White has a Ph.D. in Marine Zoology, and a Masters in Marine Environmental Protection. He is Principal Investigator for Sea Turtles in the Cook Islands.

Other Signators

Sheryl McCumsey, formerly with Pesticide Free Alberta. Sheryl was a medical lab technologist for 13 years, and has spent most of the last five years studying pesticide issues and related research.

On Vaccinations

If one asks the wrong question, he or she should not expect to get the right answer.  If one looks for absolutes where no absolutes exist, which is pretty much true of all complex systems and particularly all life forms, one will not get ANY answer at all.  If one follows the money, the answers are seldom in the best interests of humanity as a whole.


To vax or not to vax? That is the question —

Whether ’tis wiser to suffer the pokers,
Or take arms against the phama jokers,
Who lace their stuff with neuro toxin
To maximize their profits lock in.

Surely executive compensation should
come with a level of compassion.
Should ask the questions, test assumptions,
Not just pretend we all are bumkins.

When greed and money taint results …
Ay, there’s the rub, should give us pause.
Slings and arrows launched at critics,
Make no attempt to address cause.

Doctor’s, trained to fix and cure us
don’t have time to master more, as
new research show interactions
not forseen by pharma technicians.

The heartache, and the thousand shocks
that follow on a sad prognosis
Are not assuaged by pious preaching,
Or graphs and charts as forms of teaching

To vax or not? That’s NOT the question!
The problem then, is no solution —
Not wholly right nor wholly wrong,
But desperately needing resolution.

Reducing to a “yes” or “no”,
is simply not the way to go.
When dealing with a complex system,
Knowledge silos fail — as wisdom.

We must expand the conversations,
Bring in many points of view,
Expand research, extend review,
and focus strictly on solutions.

An Open Letter to Minister of Agriculture Lawrence MacAulay

Dear Minister,

I met you personally prior to the election at an event sponsored by Karen McCrimmon, MP for Kanata Carleton.  Five generations back, my ancestors came from PEI, and a cape near Fortune Bay bears the Abell name.

I have an undergraduate degree in Chemistry from Acadia and Education from UNB, together with postgraduate level training in science, statistics, and data analysis, as part of my Ph.D. in science education from the University of Alberta. I have extensively studied the science related to current agricultural practices for the past 5 years, and I am concerned Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s new policy framework for agriculture is not recognizing the importance of thriving farmers, vibrant rural communities, a wholesome and varied home-grown food supply and a clean and healthy ecosystem.

In my literature research, what I have found is a consistent pattern of industry-funded studies that – in my scientific judgement – lack the independence and scientific rigor of good science, and instead whitewash clear indicators of problems.  This government promised to base decision making on science.  I want to see oversight and regulation of current and new Bio-economy products and players, and I want to see truly independent science-based decision making.

Everyone knows that the tobacco industry “led us down the garden path”, hiding the negative impacts of tobacco smoking which were first identified in Germany in the 1920’s but failed to get traction with regulators until over 50 years later.  Canada did lead in blocking the use of bovine growth hormone in Canada, one of the factors that has lead to widely differing public health profiles between Canada and our southern neighbours.  Just this week, Health Canada raised serious concern about neonicotinoids.

Meanwhile, prominent and very highly competent independent scientists have raised serious concerns over herbicide use, the increased use of which is strongly correlated with a whole range of chronic conditions that have been on the rise in North America since the 1990s and are costing us billions in additional Health Care costs.  I have substantial documentation at my disposal concerning these issues – virtually all of it seriously at variance with agribiz industry proclamations of safety.

I have also talked to major retailers, who are finding that humane and organic products are the fastest growing segments of their business.  Please don’t formulate policy that is going to be at variance with what has become a clear trend – as people around the world begin to realize the incredible cost of industrialized farming to security of our food supply, protection and regeneration of soils, and the financial and human costs of toxins in our environment, our soil, and our water.

Please take this opportunity to hit the pause button and reframe your policy proposals. Canada’s National Food Strategy must be at the centre of our next 10 year plan for agriculture. You must be sure to seriously consult with representatives of family farms, organic farming, environmental, health, food and food security organizations – and commission and support the independent research needed to ensure the health and safety of Canadians across the country.


Dr. Bob Abell, Ph.D., B.Ed., B.Sc.

The Great Swampian Canoe Race – Changing the Rules (Part 1)

Every four years or fewer, the inhabitants of the Swamp hold a great canoe race called “the reflection”, where they reflect on the performance of the Swampian parlé-ment, where much loud parlé takes place on a regular basis, and then – when everyone is dizzy from the reflectoric – each team piles into their canoes and races to see who will pass the post first…

Well, it seems it should be something out of Stanley Burke and Roy Peterson’s fertile political satire, but no.  Canadians are now faced with a massive exercise called electoral reform.  This is a good thing.

Last night, we attended a “town hall” hosted by Liberal MP Karen McCrimmon as an information sharing/information gathering event.  Let me first congratulate Ms. McCrimmon on facilitating an open dialogue on the topic, and for her candid comments and apparent full support for electoral reform, as promised in the Liberal Platform (as well as that of the NDP and Green Party).  Other than technical problems with the roving microphone, there was lots of input.

At the same time, it was apparent that such “consultations” can easily miss the mark.  There has been no effective discussion of electoral reform in mainstream media, and confusion and misinformation is rampant.  As a result, input is often, in my mind at least, not particularly helpful.  I sincerely doubt that those coming into the discussion last night without prior study of the various voting methods were really that much better informed when they left than when they entered the room.  Nor can the collective input they provided be considered “high caliber” informed advice.

This is not the first such meeting I have attended.  Back in early February, the Senate Liberals held an Open Senate Caucus on electoral reform, attended by members from all parties, with a discussion panel that included Jean-Pierre Kingsley, Canada’s Chief Electoral Officer from 1990 to 2007; Dennis Pilon, Department of Political Science at York University , Author of “Wrestling with Democracy: Voting Systems as Politics in the 20th Century”; and Kelly Carmichael, Executive Director at Fair Vote Canada.

These initiatives by the Liberals are good in and of themselves, but without detailed “backgrounders” and information follow-up, most participants, both public and politician, seem to be floundering.

At that earlier event, I talked privately to a number of politicians of different stripes.  Almost uniformly they had little understanding of some of the proposed voting systems. The discussion panel members – as would be expected – were very well informed, and shared useful information.  But in that type of a forum there was little room for elaboration, so many of the key points seemed to wash over the heads of many in attendance.

There are a number of issues, and problems.  In part we can analyze them using the example of last night.

In preparation for last night’s meeting, Ms. McCrimmon sent out in a “householder” and also posted to the web a series of questions in the form of an opinion poll.  It consisted of the following questions:

“From the list below, please indicate the principles that you believe should be of primary importance in the design process.

1. A system that has a higher chance of creating coalition governments
2. Increase election spending
3. A system that has a higher chance of creating majority governments
4. Easy to understand and quick results
5. Reduce the power of political parties
6. Increase the power of political parties
7. Decrease election spending
8. A system that encourages and rewards cooperation and collaboration
9. Regional representation: Multiple MPs to a region
10. Includes an element of direct democracy: recall/plebiscite/citizen generated motions
11. Direct representation: 1 MP to 1 riding
12. Provide independent candidates an opportunity to earn a seat
13. An element of Proportional Representation by political party common vote
14. An element of Proportional Representation by Gender
15. Other”
(Note: the original poll had check boxes and no numbers.  I added the numbers for easy reference.)

A poll is a noble idea, IF everyone really has the information they need – BUT they don’t.  In addition, some of the questions are biased.  I don’t think this is intentional on the part of the poll creators, but can creep in when one has an opinion, and clearly the person or persons constructing this poll had an opinion.

So I am going to use these questions to try to shed some light on the issues of electoral reform.  And I am going to let my biases hang out in the process.  Because, (as usual) I have an opinion too.

The questions seem to me to fall into three groups:

A. The structural issues of the actual representation and vote – questions 9, 11, 12, 13, 14
B.  Impacts of the change – question 1, 3, 5, 6, and 8
C.  Noise – questions 2, 4, 7 and 10

I am going to deal with these in reverse order.

Why do I call questions 2, 4, 7, and 10 “noise”.

Numbers 2 and 7 deal with money spent in elections.  There are two distinct ways that money is used in elections, and they are very different in purpose.  This was pointed out by another participant last night.  One is the money that parties and candidates spend to spread their message pre-election.  The second is money that the Government spends to actually hold the election – everything from announcements to voter registration to elector ID cards to ballots to scrutineers and polling station personnel.  Clearly money spent by parties and money spent by Government are very different fish!

Question 2 is ludicrous.  What taxpayer wants to spend more money on anything, let alone an election?

And question 7 doesn’t clearly identify the target.  Are we talking about reducing “dark money” that influences voters (and more so politicians) or are we talking about reducing Government electoral expense – even as we necessarily make the process more complicated?  If the latter, there are efficiencies that could be put in place, with or without electoral reform.  So both of these are just “noise” and should be disregarded.  Not that they are not important topics.  They just don’t belong in a discussion about electoral reform that seeks to replace “first past the post”.

BUT, by even raising these questions, we SCARE a lot of taxpayers who fear that changing the system will drastically effect the expense.  That’s noise that we don’t need in the debate.  And “dark money” is an issue, with or without electoral reform.

Ms. McCrimmon did comment on the late (but not lamented) Harper government’s (negative) changes to the election money rules in an (ill fated) attempt to cling to power, but raising these money issues does not contribute to improving the voting system.  This is just noise in the electoral reform to replace “first past the post”.

Question 4, “Easy to understand and quick results”.  More noise.  First off, “easy to understand” has no meaningful relationship with “quick results”.  Everybody thinks they (more or less) understand the current system.  So “easy to understand” biases the discussion toward the status quo.  It also biases against some of the best systems, like Single Transferable Vote (STV), because we get caught up in what happens after the ballot is marked.  That is “nice to know”, but not necessary to cast a vote (or votes).  It is part of the role of Elections Canada to make the voting process understandable – easy or not.  “Easy to understand” is noise.

And what is “quick results” about?  Last time I heard, we have these things called computers that can crunch numbers.  So we have the same number of physical ballots.  Why would a proportional system, even with STV, take longer to get results?

There is one system that can have the effect of delaying results – which is run-off balloting.  Some countries use that for Presidential elections.  The process is flawed, given to under the table deals, and costs time and big money.  No one I have heard speaking intelligently about election reform in Canada is talking about separate run-off elections.  So “quick results” is noise.

During discussion, someone raised Senate Reform.  Ms. McCrimmon cut that off at the knees, but without sufficient clarification.  She was right to cut that discussion off, but how many attendees know why?   The answer is pretty simple. The government in power has the right to modify the election process for the House of Commons – without referendum, by the way.  (At the earlier event I mentioned, that was made clear by constitutional experts who were present.) The Senate is a totally different can of worms.

The Senate was originally conceived as conferring power on the Provinces.  This is, as I understand it, enshrined in the Constitution.  So opening up Senate reform – at least in the context of how the Senate is elected or appointed, is opening up the Constitution.  Does anyone really want to go there in the short term?  That needs to stay off the table until electoral reform of the lower house is completed.  Then, maybe, we can look at the Senate at a later date.  For now, any discussion of the Senate is noise.

Question 10, “Includes an element of direct democracy: recall/plebiscite/citizen generated motions.” I think this is a great idea, but for the electoral reform discussion, it is noise.  This is not part of electoral reform.  It is part of parliamentary reform.  That is a whole other can of worms.  Yes we need to deal with it.  But one discussion at a time.  It is noise in the discussion of electoral reform/proportional representation.

And that is a great segue to the Group B questions – Impacts of the change.

Questions 1 and 3 are opinion pieces about the importance of majority vs minority governments.  We have strange notions about these.  Under the Westminster parliamentary system, with an ineffectual or party affiliated Senate, majority governments are a form of four-year-duration dictatorships.  We just had two of those in a row, and the results for Canadians – fiscally and emotionally – have been very bleak.

In the past, majority governments gave us an opportunity to totally destroy the independent Canadian Aerospace industry, and to implement a form of regressive taxation on the middle class called G.S.T.  Over the past eight years, we have sold off critical assets of resources and infrastructure to foreign entities like there was no tomorrow, decimated environmental protections, and run the country 35% further in debt.  That kind of majority government no country needs.  I am convinced that one more term would have killed Universal Healthcare, and given us a privatized prison system, with a profit motive to incarcerate more people and keep them there longer – as is happening south of the border right now.

By contrast, our most progressive moments in Canada – peacekeeping and national health care – came under minority governments.  Minority governments tend to cooperate, and bring forth the most acceptable long term solutions.

“But we need stability”.  “Look at all of those other countries that are a mess.”

Yes, those are the arguments, but I don’t buy them.

The “stability” problem with the current system is the notion that if a budget bill is defeated, the government of the day resigns and calls an election.  This is, to call a spade a spade, patently stupid.  So a parliamentary reform is needed to make this idiocy a thing of the past.  If the budget is broken, in the eyes of a majority of MPs – FIX IT!  And fix it again until it passes.  But make sure that the rules are that the money bill is a money bill, not an omnibus bill with a whole bunch of pork barrel add on’s or other sleight of hand such as destruction of 30 years of environmental protection gains.  Oh yes, and if a money bill can’t be passed in a reasonable length of time, all MPs shall have 50% of their salary set aside until after the bill passes.  That would eliminate political posturing.

So again, this is not really that relevant to the discussion of electoral reform, but rather another issue for Parliamentary reform.  That has to come after electoral reform is settled.  Four years between elections, with internal processes in Parliament to avoid impasse and honour the will of the majority, and we would actually save money on elections.  In addition, this would allow us to get rid of the “whipped” vote – another anachronistic anti-democratic holdover from a primitive past to be consigned to the dustbin of history.

This is also a parliamentary system that addresses question 8, “A system that encourages and rewards cooperation and collaboration”.  At the meeting, during the post-it straw poll, this particular one received a huge majority of green, yellow, and red “dots”.  It is a great slice of apple pie, to go with God and motherhood.  Now if all those people who voted for question 8 could just explain how that will come about ….

Questions 5 and 6 – cummon now!  Really?  Only inner circle party members and bag-men would think increasing the power of the party is a good idea.  In an ideal democracy, in theory, there would be no parties at all.  Like most ideals, that is not going to work.  But the current party system is the complete antithesis of “cooperation and collaboration”.  The question here is how this plays out in the actual electoral reform strategy.  The inclusion of these questions implies a form of mixed-member-proportional representation (MMP).  If we steer away from MMP, then these questions are moot.

However, Ms. McCrimmon is, and stated as much at the meeting, currently biased toward some form of this MMP model.  I am not a fan of MMP – for a host of reasons.  From most of the electoral experts sitting outside government, in Political Science Departments, for example, STV is generally given the nod over MMP.  Now if we just understood STV!

But now we are ready to talk about the actual approaches to electoral reform, absent discussions of parliamentary reform and absent “noise”.  The remaining questions are:

9. Regional representation: Multiple MPs to a region
11. Direct representation: 1 MP to 1 riding
12. Provide independent candidates an opportunity to earn a seat
13. An element of Proportional Representation by political party common vote
14. An element of Proportional Representation by Gender

But that discussion will have to wait for my next blog – Part 2!

This is how freedom ends.

(Not quite how Yeats or Eliot spoke it, yet clearly in their awareness.)

This is how freedom ends.

Headpiece filled with straw.  Alas!
We whisper, ‘fraid to shout,
lest our oppressors threaten.

Our dried voices, when
we whisper together,
are quiet and meaningless.

Hollow men we are, when,
faced with clear choice,
right or wrong, we still the voice.

Deferential, glad to be of use.
Fear to eat a peach,
or disturb the universe.

Those who turn back heaven’s clock
to a black time of endless servitude
care not that we agree or disagree.

Only that we obey.

Alchemy – A Key to Fixing Canada’s Debt Problem

Since my undergraduate degree is in chemistry, I have an ongoing interest in things chemical, and in the history of science, much of the early work being Alchemy. The alchemist Robert Boyle is considered by many as the “father” of modern chemistry.

One of the major quests of the Alchemist was to “transmute” base metals like lead and iron into precious metals – gold and silver. Alchemists had many mystical beliefs that accompanied their intense focus on observing natural phenomena, and these beliefs were an underpinning of all of their efforts. In modern terms, we would say they sought ways to “add value” to things of “low value”.

Given the title of this Blog, I must quickly provide some context, before you decide I have finally caved in to the pressures of the modern world and “lost it”. This story from my youth just might provide the necessary context.

The occasion was an assembly at Saint John High School, Saint John, New Brunswick. We had an entertainer visit – a musician who played a guitar. I don’t know his name, and I can’t even tell you his music style. What I do remember vividly is that part way through his program, he stood and held up his guitar.

You see this guitar? It is made out of Canadian wood. We Canadians shipped two dollars worth of Canadian wood to Sweden, and those clever Swedes turned it into a guitar and sold it back to us for four-hundred dollars.”

That I remember it clearly, decades after the event, is a testament to the trans-formative impact that simple example had on my young mind. It has shaped my thinking about national economies to this day.

I didn’t have the concepts and language of systems theory, lean enterprise, economics, or business back in nineteen fifty-nine. Today I would draw on all of those to explain the “alchemy” that is the simple fix for our economy. But in that instant, I “got it”.

In Salvaging Capitalism / Saving Democracy, I use the “box game” to describe the economies of North America. The box game is a way to explain the concept of an open system with capital and resource flows, and to poke fun at a certain politician who either doesn’t understand, or doesn’t want to understand, the simple logic that was so clear to that musician, and by extension, me – at sixteen years of age.  (to download for free the chapter containing the “box game”, see my earlier post:

Curiously enough, there is clear historical evidence that at least one politician did “get it”. And during his time in office, he worked diligently to fix the systemic problem. He did not succeed in effectively communicating to the population as a whole, including me, just what he was about.  Only in the last few days have I learned the true extent of his (temporary) transformation of Canada’s economy, in a book called Toward a Just Society. The impact was staggering. But successive governments, and foreign governments and individuals, quite deliberately undermined and reversed many of the gains of that period in our history.

As we talk over the next while about the Canada that we would like to see, and leave to our children and grandchildren, we can only hope that particular politician’s son also “gets it”, and with the help of broader media choice and a technically literate population, the son will succeed in implementing and communicating what his father began – the conversion of an economic “colony” into a prosperous, independent, land of hope for all that toil – and a bright beacon for the world.

Update: Stategic Voting to Turf Harperman

It SEEMS to have WORKED!  Canadians have Canada Back!

And Justin’s message to the rest of the World: “We’re back!”

But now the real work begins, and we can’t all go back to sleep until the next election.  We need to continue to hold the feet of all politicians and all parties to the fire to make the changes that are necessary to get to what Justin’s father once called: “The Just Society”.  We have a long way to go, and the 1% are formidable enemies.  And they truly are “enemies” because they share none of the humanitarian urges common to most human beings – instead demonstrating only unsurpassed greed.  And we are the ones that hold them up, that work for them, buy their goods, let them get away with everything – up to and including murder.  It is time for a sea change.

And here are two videos re-posted from my earlier blog today called:

“The Ministry of Un-Finance and Tax Games”


Here are two short videos, the excellent original based on U.S. data and then a later adaptation showing the situation in Canada. Unless you are one of the 87 most wealthy families in Canada, you owe it to yourself, your family, and your country to view and think about these short videos before you vote.

Wealth Inequality in America (length 6.23 minutes)

Wealth Inequality in Canada (length 4:14 minutes)

The Ministry of Un-Finance and Tax Games

(No, this title is not “Orwellian”, but the consequences are!)

As we close to within one week of what may well be the most significant election of my lifetime, and possibly in Canada’s history, I am continually confronted in discussions by our confused and conflicted political positions around money, where it comes from, and where it goes. This includes massively widespread confusion and contradiction about taxation.

Chapter two of my book, Salvaging Capitalism / Saving Democracy, entitled R.I.P. Middle Class talks about wealth transfer, and Chapters three and four specifically talk about the true role of money, and the irrational love of money and worship of those who have money – regardless of how they got it.

I spent far less time on taxation – a nasty and unpleasant topic for most of us. In hindsight, I see that as a regrettable omission, but in part a result of my limited understanding at that time. I have learned a lot more since publishing that book, both through additional reading, and through feedback and discussion of topics in the book.

Why is this significant during an election? Because what politicians say about taxation and what they actually do has massive impacts on our well being and on our long term future. And when things go well in the economy, politicians are quick to take credit. When things go badly, it is ALWAYS the fault of external factors they could neither foresee or control – or so they would have us believe.

Today, October 9, 2015, Canada is 600 Billion dollars in debt. And that debt is today some 151 Billion dollars higher than it was in 2006. That is an increase of about 31%, very nearly one third – by a government that promotes itself as fiscally competent.

EVERY DAY, we Canadian taxpayers collectively pay about $160 Million in interest payments on this debt, mainly to the commercial banks! If you are a family of four, that works out to $18 per day out of your pocket, about $6600 per year just in interest payments, and the Harper Government is responsible for the last 31 percent of that. Put your (fully-taxable) child care benefit in that context! Give with one hand and take away with the other.

Now of course you don’t see that $6600 taken from your pocket directly. You see it in government services you just don’t get, whether that is decreased money for healthcare and education, less money for government scientific research, less aid for other countries, or a poorly equipped military. That part is all about priorities.

So how did we end up with this debt, and why? Some claim it is because we are living beyond our means, and have to learn to live with less. The international financiers pressed the Chretien/Martin governments hard on this, and some of the resulting cuts to actually balance the budget were pretty draconian and poorly thought out..

When it comes to our environment, there is something to the “live with less” argument because our current rate of resource consumption and environmental degradation is not sustainable. But in my experience, those who preach constraint are generally the worst in actually practicing it. Conspicuous consumption, also called “keeping up with the Joneses” became a hallmark of life in the twentieth century.

And the living-beyond-our-means argument also assigns that mystical character to money that Chapters three and four of Salvaging Capitalism / Saving Democracy debunks. Money has no function or intrinsic value except as a medium to facilitate the exchange of goods and services.

Governments around the world, together with some mysterious power called “market forces” conspire to mess with the money system to advantage themselves over others on a daily basis – including schemes that are outright theft – such as the Libor scandal of 2012, or seriously distort trade through currency valuation. But that is tangential to the discussion of taxation and debt.

So returning to deficit, debt, and taxation – and at the risk of stating the obvious – we need to define some things, because for many these ideas are hazier than they need to be.

One confusion is between debt and deficit. Most of us in our daily lives understand debt. When we want to buy something and don’t have the cash in the bank, we go into debt. We put it on a “credit” card, or take out a loan. We increase our debt. (Interesting how marketers use Spin words to deliberately confuse us. If those first magic pieces of plastic had been called “debt” cards, one wonders if they would have caught on as fast, or in such a massive way.)

So our total debt is the sum of all our future obligation to pay, all those I.O.Us, from our car loan, to our mortgage, to our education loan, to the “debt” card payments that we owe for “stuff”.

We don’t tend to use the term “deficit” in our lives, but most of us understand that if we spend more money than we take in, we dig ourselves into a bigger hole. We either spend less, or we have to make more. So people take a second part time job, work overtime, or even steal to try to bring in more money. The lack of balance between what we spend and what we take in is either a surplus ( we have money left over at the end of the month) or we spend more than we take in, and run a deficit. So even though we don’t use the term, we do often run a personal deficit – sometimes for good reasons, and sometimes for not so good reasons.

Governments don’t make a wage, and can’t take a second job (although they do often steal and extort). Governments get their money by taking some of yours. They then give it back – in theory – by providing services (such as healthcare, police, border security), or building and maintaining infrastructure (roads, bridges, utilities, etc.). Governments at all levels get their money by a combination of taxes and user fees. Here is where the rubber hits the road, and where ideology, monetary theory, and worldview make a huge difference in the approach.

More progressive governments prefer “progressive” taxation. We are all familiar with the concept of tax brackets. The higher your tax bracket, the greater percentage of your “income” you pay. This is based on (1) religious teachings and (2) clear evidence that money has – as German economist Karl Marx put it “…the occult ability to add value to itself.” – i.e. The rich get richer not by effort but because money “grows” in and off itself.

Progressive taxation then, is based on the notion that we have a moral obligation to help those less fortunate than ourselves but is also a pragmatic attempt to re-balance wealth distribution, which in the absence of such measures will very quickly concentrate into the hands of a very few, leaving the bulk of the population totally landless and subservient – a return to the feudal times that western democracies presumably left behind a couple of centuries ago, and from which some countries in Africa and the Middle East have yet to escape. This is the so-called “wealth inequity” we occasionally hear about but don’t really understand.

The middle ground would be a so-called “flat” tax. This means that the percentage of income you contribute to government coffers is a constant. For example, if the rate was 10%, for every $10 you took in, you would pay $1 in tax. This seems very simple, and intrinsically “fair”, but makes the assumption that everyone also benefits equally from government services – a notion that does not stand up to the most cursory examination of reality. Those most disadvantaged in our society get little benefit from superhighways, modern airports, and similar infrastructure.

The flip side of progressive taxation is “regressive” taxation. Such schemes are never called regressive by their proponents, but the effects are clearly to deliberately put (or leave) more money in the hands of the already wealthy, or to extract a disproportionate percentage of total income from those who make less.

This is the most insidious form of taxation, and one very much in favor with right-wing governments, in part because most of the people who pay this tax don’t understand they are being gamed by the system. Consumption taxes like Mulroney’s GST fall in this category, for the simple reason that lower and middle class consumers spend most of their money, thus making it subject to consumption tax. The wealthiest hoard most of their money, investing it, banking it off shore, and buying “stuff” in jurisdictions where there is no consumption tax. So as a percentage of income, the wealthiest contribute very little to consumption taxes.

Problems are compounded by lower rates of taxation on money made from investments compared to money from wages, together with hugely complex systems of deductions that keep an army of tax accountants employed.

So when the Harper Government announced income splitting and a child tax credit, their opponents had difficulty having people understand that this plan represented “regressive” taxation, disproportionately benefiting those in higher tax brackets.

People tend to see only the apparent direct impact of such schemes on their immediate family situation, and don’t factor in long term costs like the annual cost of servicing Canada’s debt. Because when we implement regressive tax regimes there is only one possible outcome – the rich get richer and the poor get poorer!

And if you make $100,000 – $150,000 a year and consider yourself among the “rich getting richer” you have no idea what RICH means, or what is really happening to your slice of the pie. (see links below.)

Just as Mulroney did, at the same time as Harper cut taxes for the wealthiest, he continued to spend like a drunken sailor on things of little or no benefit to ordinary Canadians and to cut money for research, social programs, and transfers to the provinces. The result is shortfalls that then force local and provincial taxes to go up. It is important to recognize that such changes are ideological and political – not based on what is ultimately best for the country. That is very clear from my reading of Harper’s thesis – written in the right-wing school of economics at the University of Calgary.

This tax-cut-and-spend places a burden disproportionately on some provinces and benefits others. For example, unilateral short term changes to Healthcare funding benefit Alberta and provinces with a younger population and put a huge additional burden on provinces like Ontario, already reeling from the loss of 400,000 manufacturing jobs under Harper. This tax policy is purely political, buying friends and punishing “enemies”. It is wedge politics at its worst, and can only lead to more of a downward spiral in our total economy and increased wealth inequity. We hear this last term thrown around a lot, but just how bad is it?

Here are two short videos, the excellent original based on U.S. data and then a later adaptation showing the situation in Canada. Unless you are one of the 87 most wealthy families in Canada, you owe it to yourself, your family, and your country to view and think about these short videos before you vote.

Wealth Inequality in America (length 6.23 minutes)

Wealth Inequality in Canada (length 4:14 minutes)

Of course there are lots of “Cheerleaders” (as defined in my book) for an alternate point of view. This is the usual right-wing spin from places like, home of Forbes Real-Time Billionaires site. Just gotta know who made $292.71 Million in the market today!

Ministry of Peace

(Also euphemistically named the Ministry of “Defence” or “ Defense” in the U.S.   Continuing along the line of my last post about the Ministry of Truth, in Orwell’s 1984, the ministry responsible for perpetuation of continuous war between the three superstates was – of course – called “The Ministry of Peace”)

In this week of the 9th Annual Ottawa Peace Festival, do you ever question what we are “defending”?

I’ve had a long fascination with history, and much of recorded history is war. My birth in the early days of World War II was an event that might have never happened, had my father not been diagnosed with Tuberculosis by military doctors when he and his only brother Claude went together to enlist in the fight against Hitler. My only uncle on my fathers side, Major Claude Abell of the North Novas is buried in a military cemetery in Cape Gris Nez, France, one of the approximately 42,000 Canadian servicemen and women that did not survive that war.

As a young boy, I listened to the radio show about the heroic Horatio Hornblower, of Her Majesty’s Royal Navy, based on books by C.S. Forester. I was drawn to study weapons, and their role, from the siege weapons of the Romans, through the long bow vs crossbow battle of Agincourt immortalized by Shakespeare in Henry the V, to the Spitfires and Hurricanes of the Battle of Britain, and the howitzers, machine guns and mines that were a part of modern warfare. I was a Queen’s Scout – an organization that arose out of the Boer War, and an army cadet, where I learned to parade, to salute, to shoot, and to read military topographical maps.

It was not until my college undergraduate studies in the early sixties, that I began to seriously look at the political side of war. This included a very thorough study of Hitler, the situation, tactics and forces that brought him to power, through to his final sociopathic rant against the German People for letting him down.

This was also the 60’s, of the Dawning of the Age of Aquarius. The U.S. was embroiled in the Vietnam War, wars raged in Burma, the Congo, Guatemala, in fact in some 56 countries around the world, but mainly in Africa, Asia, and Central America. Cast on one side as a fight against godless communism, and on the other as wars of liberation from colonial oppression, these became proxy wars between the superpowers – funded, armed, and heavily propagandized by the United States and the U.S.S.R. – often with direct or covert involvement of armed forces from the superpowers and/or from their respective allies.

When opposition to this extension and deployment of U.S. Military forces arose in the context of the Vietnam War, a huge political polarization occurred, which tended to drown out any discussion of paths to peace and reconciliation. It also resulted in a right-wing backlash that bedevils the U.S. and Canada to this very day. The result has been over sixty continuous years of a World at War, with the poorest and most vulnerable nations the inevitable victims, with millions of civilian deaths and hundreds of millions displaced – living in poverty and misery.


There is no moral high ground in the real history of this period of continuous warfare from the 1950’s – inaccurately called the “post-war period” – to the present day. The more I study and come to understand the root causes and progression of these hundreds of conflicts, the more disappointed and sometimes furious I become with the leadership of what is inaccurately called “the Free World”.

And we have such leadership because we, the people, buy into their fear and division tactics, and let them get away with wrapping themselves in the flag, even as they work against our best interests.

The Ministry of Truth (or Look at the Bloody Dates!)

(Note – update as of 27 Sept.  The page referenced below has changed somewhat since yesterday, and I confirmed that with someone else, to make sure it was not my imagination.  Some of the missing data was restored, even though the headings continue to be deliberately misleading.   RA  26 Sept 2015)

As is typical of my prose, this blog was triggered by a real event – an observation of a CBC website, ( – which was originally published on April 21, 2015 and was then updated on September 16, 2015.

I saw the earlier version, and recorded data at that time. So I was shocked to see the “revision of history” that occurred in September, conveniently one month prior to a national election in Canada.

When Orwell wrote the dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty Four – only 4 years after the end of the Second World War – he imagined three Super-States in a world of perpetual war. Control was maintained through total public surveillance in what was a police state, with complete control of media and total manipulation of the public by a government and political system set up to provide a life of luxury and privilege to a very few. Critical to this whole scheme was a cult of personality around the Party Leader. Critical to the whole structure was the Ministry of Truth.

The role of the Ministry of Truth was to revise history. The protagonist, Winston, is employed to rewrite records, alter photographs, and dispose of original documents which were incinerated in a “memory hole”.  Any dissenting opinions were punished by the Thought Police.  If Orwell were to drop in on us today, he would see that in some of his inventions, he was very wrong. But in Canada at least, the Ministry of Truth exists. It goes by other names, but the effect is the same. History is being rewritten, and inconvenient truths dumped in a memory hole.

Where does the Ministry of Truth kick in?

So what do we see when we go to that CBC website?  We see a smiling picture of the current Prime Minister, Steven Harper, and two big black boxes signifying a $13.8 Billion Dollar Surplus and a $1.9 Billion Dollar surplus.

If you click on the little arrow to open the display, you see the same box duplicated again (so it appears twice now), followed by two black boxes beside a picture of Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin, again with two black boxes and almost identical amounts of 1.4 Billion Surplus and 13.2 Billion Surplus. Chretien managed a Black box of $10.6 Billion and a Red Box with a $38.5 Billion Deficit … but I bore you with details. You can see it for yourself.


So what went into the memory hole? SIX YEARS OF RED INK!  Harper’s surpluses are for 2006-2007 – when he was a minority government, and for 2014-2015 – a time period not fully finished and therefore not presumed accurate – only a forecast.  The heading of the CBC piece claims to be the deficits and surpluses from 1963-2015, but SIX YEARS ARE MISSING!  Until Harper’s Thought Police come to get me, and scrub my websites, here is the missing data:Canadian Deficits 1963-2014

From 2008 until 2010, Harper ran a deficit – a BIG deficit, in fact the second largest in real dollars in Canadian history – $94.7 Billion.

From 2011 until 2013, Harper ran another deficit – another BIG deficit. $71 Billion in red ink.

Over the period from 2006 to 2014, the “Harper Government” added $158.9 Billion to taxpayer debt.

Of our total debt of approximately $600 Billion, Harper is responsible for almost 25%.

No wonder the Ministry of Truth wanted to put this in the Memory Hole.