Sunday, September 30, 2012

Match point for the good folks

So BC Liberals put an end to Liquor Distribution Branch privatization. Rich Coleman's efforts withered under the scrutiny of one independent journalist and soon to be retired Liberal MLAs decided not to advance their party's legacy of fraud.

Bob Mackin is promising more news on the subject in weeks to come. He writes:
"I'm confident there is a story behind this story. This had the appearance of another BC Rail-style scandal in the making."
Mackin was already admired by observers of BC current affairs and his professional status elevated substantially in the past year.

He's not selling out by charging thousands to consult with and entertain vested interests affected by his coverage. Instead, he's diligently serving citizens. That's unique in a community used to journalists whose priority is favoured status with industrial and commercial fat cats.

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Abuse went beyond one person in one place

Laura Robinson's incrimination of establishment man John Furlong led to quick and predictable responses in local media. Vancouver Sun scribbler Daphne Bramham painted a sympathetic picture of the man she called BC's shaken local hero, a man who had been "powerful, respected and mythologized."

Bramham colleague Ian Mulgrew took the usual promedia position that commentaries outside approved places are dangerous and inflammatory. He claimed that after the Georgia Straight piece,
"a good old-fashioned lynching was underway on the Internet."
Friday, Bill Good's morning-after radio editorial began with a comprehensive defence of his long time friend. Throughout the show, Good suggested that abuse of children forty years ago was routine. He declared that mistreatment was commonplace in those days and wondered why people in the north would today raise allegations regarding decades old events.

The broadcaster might do a little reading on systematic abuse of children, particularly mistreatment within any institution that claims to provide moral leadership while it trains victims to silence. I recommend two worthwhile starting points:
Good offered a justification of abuse that is an element of blame the victim:
"Mother whacked me with a stick and I turned out fine. What's wrong with those native folks? They didn't complain long ago."
Good also featured disjointed words of a media lawyer who might have found the morning hour too early. Despite twice listening to David Sutherland's segment, I was no better informed about this threatened libel case.

I don't know Furlong, his accusers or freelance journalist Laura Robinson. From published reports, we conclude that Furlong refused to address or respond to Robinson's questions. The personal history he has been claiming seems incomplete, if not inaccurate. Of course, Furlong would not be the first person to hide uncomfortable moments from the record and to paint a self-serving portrait of himself. If those particular actions were crimes, most of us would have a record.

Another troubling element is Furlong's implication that the Georgia Straight newspaper made no effort to validate "any of the elements of this story" and that Robinson was guilty of a:
"shocking lack of diligence in researching the article..."
If Furlong and lawyer Marvin Storrow refused to respond to repeated communications from the writer, who spent years on the story, they might be accused of a shocking failure to clear the record.

Furlong hurts his credibility too by the imprecise accusations he made and implied against Robinson:
"Having experienced this reporter on many occasions in the past this feels very much like a personal vendetta. And finally let me just say on the very first occasion that this was brought to my attention prior to the Olympics I was advised [for] that for a payment it could be made to go away. And as such I reported this to the police."
A careless reader might assume that Laura Robinson had offered to drop the story if paid cash. Furlong did not say that but his words were crafted to leave the impression. Of course, if police investigated an extortion attempt prior to February 2010 and no charge was laid, we should be skeptical of Furlong's claim. We also note that the record of Robinson's writings shows no evidence of a vendetta aimed at Furlong the man and she reports contact with him in only a few public news conferences.

This story resonates for me. I feel long standing empathy for First Nations and other youth who were routinely mistreated in this province years ago. As a young teen, I witnessed the faces of New Denver children pressed to steel fences that imprisoned Doukhobor families who were "different."

I saw it in Powell River. My high school graduation class included the first aboriginal student to finish public school in District 47. Although every young white male expected to be able to choose work in the town's paper mill, not one aboriginal was allowed that expectation. In a relatively affluent community, one group of citizens was routinely excluded from opportunity and told to stay quiet.

I think churches have not fully atoned for mistreatment of First Nations people in British Columbia. Accusations of specific failures ought to be objectively examined whether the alleged perpetrator was an ordained priest or an unqualified young missionary.
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Monday, September 24, 2012

Journalists slow to criticize colleague

Reader contributions at mainstream media sites are occasionally unreadable, occasionally delightful. Here's one of the latter type from the Globe & Mail after Margaret Wente defended herself on charges of plagiarism raised by an independent media critic:
"Margaret, you would have done yourself and the Globe a favour had you simply plagiarized Fareed Zakaria's contrite apology of a few months ago rather than write a passive aggressive non-apology apology."
Carol Wainio's Media Culpa is the website causing discomfort at Toronto's national newspaper. G&M editors have been reluctant to acknowledge this critic, preferring reference to "an anonymous blogger" as if they have no clue of her identity, despite frequent exchanges of correspondence before editors refused further contact.

Blogger and Ottawa visual arts professor Carol Wainio has been a particularly troublesome reviewer of the Globe because she is respectful, diligent and accurate. Extravagant rants are so much easier to ignore.

Mainstream media coverage of issues raised by Wainio has been reluctant and tardy. Like people in other occupations, journalists protect their own as long as possible. For the Globe's most divisive columnist, the line held five days.

September 23, Colby Cosh, Maclean’s man in Edmonton, wrote Globe and Mail, or Cut and Paste, an excellent recap. Chris Selley at The National Post wrote about Wente's disgrace today, Sept. 24. As I write, the CBC News website contains nothing about the issue, perhaps understandable given the network's reluctance to deal with its own problems with journalistic ethics, as demonstrated HERE and HERE.

Another reader comment from G&M public editor Sylvia Stead's feckless defence of Wente:
"Indeed, as the Kingfish would say, the Globe and Mail is not only denying the allegations, it is denying the allegator.

Further reading;
Wentegate, John Miller, The Journalism Doctor
The corporate media ethics machine, Dawg's Blawg
The Wente plagiarism question grows, Frank Moher,
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Another reason politicians so detested

Recipients of Kenney missive wondering how government knows their sexual orientation
"OTTAWA — An email extolling the Conservative government’s record on gay rights has some recipients wondering how Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney knows their sexual orientation.

"The email from Kenney’s MP’s office sent Friday trumpets the Conservative government’s initiative to help gay and lesbian refugees..."
In the mid seventies, my cutting edge small business computer used 8" floppy disks, each with ¼-megabyte of data capacity. Later, we added a 10MB hard drive. The cost of adding this "massive" data storage, in 2012 dollars: $3-million per gigabyte. Recently, I bought a 32GB microSD card for a digital audio player. The cost of data storage in 2012 dollars: $1.10 per gigabyte.

Information is collected and stored today with few costs incurred by the gatherers. That's fine if they're digitizing and circulating significant literary works, not so great if they're accumulating private life details on every citizen in the nation.

Last week, chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand was interviewed by The Canadian Press about personal information collected by Canada's political parties.
"What's been a surprise to me so far is how easy it can be misused. That, I think, has not been foreseen in these cases.

"We know also that parties are gathering a fair bit of information to target their activities toward various demographic groups. But again, little is known about how this information is gathered, how long it's retained, what happens when there's a breach ... what level of security does exist around access to this information, is it used only for the purpose of election campaigning?

"Generally, the data collected by parties is not subject to privacy legislation..."
Mayrand's investigators are looking at uses and misuses of the government party's Constituent Information Management System. That Conservatives collect detailed files on individual voters must stimulate at least a twinge of discomfort in Stephen Harper's soul, if he still has one.

Harper's roots are libertarian so vast collections of personal data ought to be anathema to him. Of course, as an opposition member, he spoke strongly against the Liberal government's use of omnibus bills. Now, Harper's gang is in love with kitchen sink legislation that minimizes debate and prevents scrutiny of Conservative lawmaking.

I wonder if Harper was a hypocrite from the start or if he ultimately succumbed to the lure of high office and is guided now by a single autocratic goal: stay in power.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Politispeak with simultaneous translation

The Guardian's Polly Toynbee was writing about Nick Clegg and Britain's Liberal Democrats but she could have been referring to the Campbell/Clark BC Liberals:
"a string of the same weary non-truths, exaggerations and political boasting that make politicians so detested."

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Renewal without reform?

A skilled and practised word hunter, Ian Reid can flush out sources from behind stone walls. Thursday, he scooped the Legislature's press gang and published Mea culpa, mea culpa, the release that Christy Clark was not allowed to issue.

Visit The Real Story for the whole story.

Premier Clark explained her revelation that no real people live in Victoria. Apparently, Christy didn't mean that the entire city, its citizens and their sick culture were unreal. Only parts.

In the mea culpa, she clarified,
"You want to know about unreal? Ever seen Kevin Falcon’s “hair” up close? Not that real."
That's kind of unfair. Right now, renewing and strengthening is a high priority of BC Liberals and Kevin Falcon's hair is merely following its own scheme of renewal. These pictures show the success to date. On the left is the 2006 Falcon, on the right is the 2012 model.

Apparently, Falcon's hair is progressing satisfactorily through the levels but is some years from reaching the Thetan form of renewal enjoyed by the hair of octogenarian Ralph Sultan, a long time backbencher elevated to Cabinet in the Liberal Party's latest round of youthful regeneration and renewal.

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

The rumour mill

Here's a quick one that came my way today from a decent source.

Within the next four months, Christy Clark will decide to focus on the important duties of a single parent and will resign as Premier, MLA and leader of the BC Liberal Party.

Stockwell Day will be elected the new BC Liberal leader.
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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

September summer

The Spider’s Web

The spider, dropping down from twig,
Unfolds a plan of her devising,
A thin premeditated rig
To use in rising.

And all that journey down through space,
In cool descent and loyal hearted,
She spins a ladder to the place
From where she started.

Thus I, gone forth as spiders do
In spider's web a truth discerning,
Attach one silken thread to you
For my returning.

(E.B. White)

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Words to ponder

"In any society where wealth and income concentrate overwhelmingly at the top, the affluent will almost always come to sneer at public services and the men and women who provide them."
- Sam Pizzigati
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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Investigating BC's new police investigator

With the Independent Investigations Office (IIO) now at work on the RCMP shooting of Greg Matters, it is worth reconsidering a Northern Insights article written nine months ago. Following appointment of Richard Rosenthal as IIO chief, sources advised me that his record as Portland's police watchdog was tarnished by a too-cozy relationship with law enforcement personnel.

The Prince George homicide of Greg Matters is the first test of BC's new IIO. It seems not to be an auspicious opener. Thursday, 250 News reported IIO Independence Questioned:
"...The IIO team members have been making full use of resources of the RCMP, including conducting interviews at the North District headquarters, home of the ERT unit which was involved in the incident.

"...The use of local resources also includes the use of the RCMP’s forensics experts.

"...With IIO investigators working so closely with the RCMP, using their experts and in some cases their vehicles, the question of independence in this investigation comes to the forefront..."
The following is my piece from December 2011:

A decade ago, Richard Rosenthal left the Los Angeles prosecutors' office to lead Portland's new Office of Independent Police Review. L.A. Deputy District Attorney Jim Cosper said it was a good choice. However, attorney Stephen Yagman, remarking also on Portland's selection of police chief Mark Kroeker, had the opposite view,
"Portland's loss is L.A's gain. Portland has become a toxic waste dump for Los Angeles law enforcement."
Rosenthal had been a key prosecutor in the Los Angeles Ramparts police scandal where many officers were accused of unjustified shootings, beatings, lying under oath, stealing, dealing drugs and planting evidence.

According to Willamette Week,
"...the Rampart probe today is widely viewed as a fiasco. None of the convictions has held up on appeal. Attorneys, including prosecutors, have attacked its handling, saying only a fraction of the likely police misconduct has been punished."
The Portland weekly also wrote,
"Charles Lindner, a past president of the L.A. criminal defense bar, says Rosenthal has tremendous legal skills and high integrity, but may be too quick to believe authority figures like judges--or police.

"Richard tends to believe the good guys, or the guys who are supposed to be the good guys," Lindner says. "There's a sense among my colleagues that he doesn't ask the hard follow-up questions. I think if he sees [misconduct] he will be tenacious in going after it. The question is, will he see it?"
Rosenthal's 2001 salary in Portland was $67,000 (equivalent to $82,500 in 2011). When he departed for Denver in 2005, he earned $89,000 ($99,600 in 2011 dollars). His new Colorado position paid $110,000 at the start ($123,000 in 2011 dollars). His salary in British Columbia is said to be $210,000, an amount that will be far higher after pension costs, relocation and other expenses.

Predictably, Rosenthal's near four year term in Portland was controversial. He was critical of the official responses to police shootings and exposed other officer wrong-doing but five members of his citizens' Independent Police Review committee resigned, saying Rosenthal was too cop-friendly. Asked to name his major achievements in Oregon, Rosenthal included one that seems incredibly modest. It was,
"the creation of a "management information system where complaints don't get lost anymore."
I contacted Dan Handelman of who had these views on British Columbia's first independent police monitor:
"Mr Rosenthal's tenure here was mostly characterized by his efforts to minimize the power and authority of our system's Citizen Review Committee, a 9-member panel whose role includes hearing appealed complaints of police misconduct. Rosenthal helped create the original rules for the CRC, then started rewriting those roles to minimize the citizen body's impact within two months.

"Within a year, when a high-profile case came before the body (involving an indigenous Mexican day laborer who was beaten by police after being 20 cents short of fare, then shot and killed two days later inside a mental hostpital), Rosenthal and other city officials told the CRC that if they wanted to hold a hearing, it would happen with no staff or other support from Portland. Shortly after that, he worked with the Auditor (who oversees our system the Independent Police Review Division, or IPR) to change the ordinance so that the CRC members would no longer be able to choose new volunteers for their Committee. Then, after the first (and only) case that was appealed past CRC to City Council, Rosenthal took the side of Internal Affairs and the Police Bureau rather than supporting the CRC. This led to 5 of the 9 members resigning.

'His shut out of the general public was not limited to the CRC; when we at Portland Copwatch asked for copies of the case files being reviewed at the CRC's public meetings, Rosenthal agreed to give just one copy to the entire community (which Portland Copwatch accepted, but demanded that such paperwork be shared with all).

"To his credit, he did also ask Council to add review of lawsuits (tort claims) into the IPR's authority. (And, it's my understanding that he welcomed his power in Colorado to participate in officer involved shooting investigations, even though he and the Auditor fought to keep shootings cases out of both the IPR and CRC's purviews when he was in Portland.)

"While things have improved in many ways since his departure, some of the issues are clearly institutional. We are currently about 5 weeks into a process of trying to expand the CRC's powers and duties based on recommendations made in December 2010. There were at least 18 proposals about improving IPR and CRC, but the current Auditor and IPR Director only put 4 of them into their proposed new ordinance.

"Overall, I hope that the community members in Vancouver who are interested in police accountability and oversight are able to fully participate in whatever system you have in place there now, and if not, that they work with Mr. Rosenthal and whoever oversees his program to ensure that the public can be part of holding police accountable. Our system, while termed "Independent," still relies on police Internal Affairs investigating other police accused of misconduct. IPR provides some over-the-shoulder review, and occasionally releases information to the public in an effort for transparency, but the more citizens can do that makes a system truly independent and that reflects community concerns the better."
Readers will note a considerable difference between the information reported here and that provided by Postmedia, doing its usual Liberal cheer-leading. For example,
"Rosenthal gained a reputation as a no-holds-barred critic of police abuse of force in Portland, Oregon and Denver, Colorado after he set up police oversight units in those cities.

"...He exposed the Rampart scandal, a corruption case that led to charges against 70 Los Angeles police officers in the Rampart division's anti-gang section."
In my opinion, other than preventing the watchdog's investigation of past tragedies, the first warning signs that Rosenthal is hired to be a paper tiger were happy statements of senior police officers at the press conference introducing our new 'independent' police monitor. A person such as Robert Holmes, Q.C., President of the BCCLA, would have been appropriate if independence and public trust were true goals. Reported by Ian Bailey at the Globe and Mail:
“It’s a great day for policing,” [RCMP Acting Commander for BC Fraser] MacRae said.

The head of the B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police noted the organization unanimously asked the government to create this kind of operation three years ago. “I’m happy we have arrived,” said Peter Lepine, also chief of the West Vancouver Police Department.

“[Mr. Rosenthal] brings the right skill sets, the right talents, the right desire and the right attitude to his office,” he said. “What’s important here is public confidence.”
Read about Portland policing in 2004, while Rosenthal was monitor, from Northern Insights' State sanctioned violence.

An excerpt:
William T. Grigsby, 24, was shot by bullets 13 times, hit 22 times with beanbags and Tasered four or five times, after running from Portland police. Although he was unresponsive after numerous shots were fired, police made no effort to provide medical aid, even when one officer noticed that it appeared Grigsby was "bleeding out" Thirty-seven more minutes passed as officers fired rounds at him from a Sage 37 mm projectile-launcher, a police dog bit and dragged him, and officers fired two additional Taser rounds at Grigsby, who hadn't moved for nearly an hour. Medics pronounced him dead at the scene. The medical examiner found that immediate medical care probably would have prevented Grigsby from bleeding to death because none of his wounds was immediately fatal.
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Monday, September 10, 2012


The next photo surprised me for its location. It wouldn't be out of place in an elementary school washroom but this was photographed at a washroom in the Buchanan Building at the University of British Columbia. Apparently today's youth are not life-ready when they arrive at university and still need a few basic instructions.

I presume there are more instructions for students in the stalls.

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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Tax avoidance, crippled services, monster deficits

"The Republicans have got the facts backward. A rising tide definitely raises all boats. They somehow believe that rising boats raise all tides."

William O. Beeman, commenting on Bill, Barack and Us by former NY Times editorial pages editor, now Op-Ed columnist, Gail Collins:
"Isn't it clear that the Republicans believe that everything can be achieved through privatization and individual effort, whereas the Democrats espouse communitarian effort, especially for those projects that are beyond the scope of the individual? The Republicans have got the facts backward. A rising tide definitely raises all boats. They somehow believe that rising boats raise all tides.

"Today I am writing from Europe--a place the right wing despises. Every public facility is planned with care, anticipating the needs of the public. Whatever it is--public parks, transportation, medical care, education--the public gets far more than it puts into the system.

"In the U.S., the raw market-driven economy tries to give people as little as it possibly can for their money in order to maximize private profit. If you got rich by shorting the public, that's fine for you, but for the rest of the country the end of the stick is very short.

"The Europeans have lots of wealthy people among them--they are just not quite as wealthy as the American gazzilionaires and the result is no overt poverty, housing for everyone, care for the unemployed, no need for private transportation for most people and longer life-spans. Isn't that worth the sacrifice of a second or third yacht? Apparently not for the Romney/Ryan crowd, for whom sickness, homelessness, and unemployment are seen as character flaws rather than artifacts of a broken social contract and badly skewed economic system rewarding greed."
H/T: Susan H.

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School begins again

Forty-eight years ago this week, I departed small town Powell River and took up residence at UBC's still under construction Totem Park student housing. In those days, males and females on campus were housed separately and during the evening, the tender types disappeared behind locked doors, secured by high walls and steel gates. For folks lacking a Y chromosome, late nights were discouraged and regulated.

That lifestyle has changed, I suspect. I'll find out about that and other changes in weeks to come. With a new student number and new objectives, and no 8:30 am Saturday classes, I returned to the Point Grey campus this week for Tuesday's start of classes.

Actually, for me there is at least one similarity to 1964. Then, I didn't know what I wanted to do when I grew up. Now, I still don't know.

I registered for three courses this term and I've already been tossed from one, without even an opportunity to miss a deadline for assignments. The UBC Graduate School of Journalism, after accepting my online registration for a course in media law, decided I was not a worthy participant. I've been displaced in favour of an empty chair. I was Eastwooded.

Oh well.

Blogging will continue of course. After consciously avoiding and ignoring most media during my summer break, even the good stuff by fellow bloggers, I'm keen to resume. Christy Clark and friends offer an irresistible surfeit of low hanging fruit for commentators. There is much political action happening offstage and it will continue until the wealthy old men in suits have installed new leadership in their beloved coalition. Interesting times ahead.

In closing, thanks to all the messages of encouragement from readers. While stage one of our home rebuilding moves toward completion and we'll soon have a kitchen again, stage two is just beginning. Cabinets are arriving today and appliances next week. We're hoping the weather stays warm because the new furnace is in transit, likely a few weeks away from providing heat.

Today, I know more than I want to know about TJI's, point loads and underpinning, about insulation and window installation and building codes and plumbing rules. However, I remain ignorant about electricity, stuck at the level of comprehension attained in grade eight shop class.

Between schoolwork and home construction, there will be future blips in the Northern Insight opinion feed. Probably though, the world will continue on its course.

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Not so free speech

Piper Super Cub threatens Otawa
Labour Day weekend, RCMP arrested the pilot of a Piper Supercub flying near the Gatineau Quebec Hot Air Balloon Festival. Not because Gian Piero Ciambella was in restricted airspace or violating laws of aviation. RCMP grounded him for displaying a banner they construed as hate speech.

The malicious and malevolent message was:
That translates as "Stephen Harper hates us." Its sponsor was Public Service Alliance of Canada, Quebec Region.

In the disingenuous style now common for a police service compromised by partisan politics, RCMP denied interfering with the Aerogram pilot. They initially blamed air traffic control provider NAV Canada, a private company, but later said they acted out of fear the humble plodder posed a threat to Parliament Hill. Now that's a statement to please admirers of ancient tail draggers first constructed in the 1940's.

Another RCMP story has attention of the BC Civil Liberties Association. During a raid in August, six officers executing a search warrant in a criminal case of defamatory libel, seized electronic devices from a blogger. That person had raised claims of police corruption and may have provided information about an RCMP officer accused of engaging in controversial conduct on a sexually explicit website.

Readers might recall that blogger Alex Tsakumis has written about clear and implied threats to him by RCMP officers concerned about his disclosures related to political corruption associated with the sale of BC Rail.

RCMP Watch is a site with media links to stories about Canada's still troubled police force. The republished items are accompanied by rational, if not objective, discussions involving people inside and outside police services. I sense that while regulars ache to support and defend rank and file officers, they wish the management level deserved wholehearted respect as well.

Here's part of one reader comment after the Gatineau banner flyer was grounded and after RCMP commanded on-duty "volunteers" to serve as a colour guard at Commissioner Paulson's wedding:
"We outright lied, and when we were caught in that lie, we lied again to attempt to cover our last lie. And not until we were pressed for the truth, did we finally offer some truth."
Toronto Sun Parliamentary bureau chief David Akin, commenting about years of dysfunctional police leadership, wrote RCMP still searching for leaders of 'impeccable ethics' :
"One would think, after more than a decade of this, the current generation of top RCMP leaders would make it their top priority to have themselves described as "officers of impeccable and irreproachable ethics." Can't do that yet for too many of them."

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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Serving the real masters

"Royal Dutch Shell PLC has begun construction on a $1.35-billion project to capture and bury greenhouse gas emissions, the first of its kind to sequester carbon from Canada’s oil sands. The project is largely funded by government..."
So, under rules of our current corporatocracy, foreign private enterprises are welcome to extract this country's natural resources and earn massive profits without risk, in markets dominated by a handful of players. However, if the extraction results in harm, Canadian taxpayers are on the hook for remediation.

By the way, Shell's gross income is almost $10 billion a week. It competes with ExxonMobil for rank as the world's largest corporation, by revenue.

Canadian Conservatives determine the public shall pay a single proect subsidy near $900 million to an extravagantly wealthy European oil company with an unsavoury record of bribing public officials.

Meanwhile, the lives of coastal mariners will be at risk when the Tory government closes Canada's busiest Coast Guard rescue station. Reason? No money. At least no money to serve people who don't hire legions of lobbyists.
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