Saturday, June 27, 2015

Grace in America

As I watched Obama's extraordinary speech yesterday, I was struck with a sense of sadness. Sadness at the senseless violence that once again was the form of expression chosen by an alienated soul, yes, but also a larger sadness. A sadness for what could have been. Obama was elected on a platform of hope and change. He embraced big ideas, and sought positive change for all. He cares about breaking cycles of poverty, and about creating a better life for everyone.

Yet all that hope, and all that change, were blocked at every turn by entrenched interests in Congress, fueled by money and engineered by lobbyists. A hatred of the President, racism barely below the surface, fed a childish tantrum that reflexively opposed everything the President suggested, everything he stood for.

Everyone is saying what a great week this has been for the President. But it's only a great week in the context of what has come before. Yes, the Affordable Care Act survived yet another court challenge. But the very fact that this watered down version of universal health care is the subject of so much opposition is troubling. Saving it is a small victory - introducing truly universal, single payer healthcare would have been worth celebrating. But in today's America, small victories are all that's on offer. Yes, same sex marriage is now legal across the country, but it is far from universally accepted. The vitriol in the Court's dissenting opinions, and from many of the Republican leaders, is baffling. This is an issue that will have no effect on their lives, yet could have profound, positive effects on the lives of others. Their strident opposition to something that costs them nothing can be born of only judgmental hate.

The President's speech was heartfelt. To me, there was a tone of desperation, of resignation, of exhaustion. It was the speech of a man who, free of the burden of re-election aspirations, could speak honestly. A man who has come to realize that despite all his efforts, most of what he wanted to achieve would be left undone. Like many eulogies given following a senseless death, Obama was searching for meaning, for a shred of goodness that might be gleaned from the pain. It was clear, though, that this searching transcended the Pastor's death. His earlier insistence that things had improved was no doubt true. That he felt he had to say it said so much more.

When the President spoke of grace, he intended to celebrate the extraordinary grace shown by the people of Charleston in dealing with the targeted attack on their community. But in doing so, he, perhaps inadvertently, highlighted the absence of grace in so much of modern day America. Few would use "grace" to describe the daily machinations in Washington. Few would use "grace" to describe the goals of the NRA, the defenders of the Confederate flag, the angry selfishness of the Tea Party. Grace, like much of Obama's presidency, represents what can be, what should be, but what still seems out of reach.

When the history of this era is written, will it be seen as a presidency ahead of its time, yet the start of a transformation towards an America that truly represents its ideals of "life, liberty and justice for all"? Or will it be seen as a last grasp at decency, before the moral and economic decay of a once great society accelerated so quickly it became irretrievable?

Sadly, for me, yesterday seemed to be a funeral not only for Reverend Pinckney, but for the hope and the promise Obama once symbolized.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

An Open Letter to My Conservative MP

I continue to receive fundraising calls & emails from the Conservative Party. I wanted to write to you to make it clear why I will not donate to the party.

Over the past several years, the policies of the Conservative Party have become increasingly harsh. There seems to be no compassion left in the party. There's a willingness to simply toss aside, or worse condemn, people who live in poverty, or people who have made mistakes. A "with us or against us" mentality has taken hold, with no room for compromise or forgiveness, and no interest in understanding the lives of those who do not fit into the mould of what the party appears to consider "real Canadians".

Instead of promoting policies that could benefit all segments of society, this government has promoted a culture of fear. Unprecedented surveillance of Canadians is now routine, and through Bills C-24 and C-51, this government has extended even more extraordinary powers to law enforcement & intelligence agencies, to be exercised largely in secret and without adequate oversight. This is in response to an exaggerated threat of "terrorism" (a word that seems to have a very flexible, result-driven definition). These laws, in my view, cannot survive a Charter challenge. The government has been unwilling to even listen to the reasonable concerns of the Canadian Bar Association, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, several Privacy Commissioners, as well as many other respected organizations and individuals. The Commons Committee hearings were a sham, and showed contempt for anyone who did not fully support the Bills.

I am old enough to remember the USSR, and the stories of people being spied on by the government, being arrested without charge and detained without recourse. We in the west were appalled at their tactics, and felt quite smug about our freedoms. It is deeply disturbing to me that our government no longer views such surveillance and detention as intrusive and excessive, and seems to be following in the Soviet footsteps.

This is not my Canada. It is not the Canada I grew up in, and it is not the Canada I want to live in. It is not the Canada I want to hand over to my children.

Instead of donating to the Conservative Party, I will be offering my money, my support, and my help to organizations who are fighting to reverse these trends, and to restore the compassionate Canada I believe the majority of Canadians want and deserve.

Yours truly,

David Harvey
Burlington, Ontario

Thursday, March 12, 2015

While Patients Needlessly Die, Ontario Won't Account For $132 Million Earmarked For Hepatitis C Treatment

People in Ontario are dying from Hepatitis C because they can't afford the drugs that can cure the disease. The provincial government won't cover the cost, and has not accounted for $132 million it received from the Federal Government earmarked for Hepatitis C treatment.

On November 4, 2014, Brenda Peever from Ottawa died from complications of Hepatitis C contracted from a blood transfusion she received in 1979. Mrs. Peever was eligible for a new drug that has a 90% cure rate, but she could not afford the $55,000 cost. The province would not fund the treatment. Her story can be found here:

Now word that a man in Windsor is facing the same issue:

This should not be happening. In 2002, the Ontario government signed an agreement with the Federal government which transferred to Ontario $132 million to provide health care to people who were infected with hepatitis C through tainted blood received before 1986. The funds were provided over 10 years. The final payment of approximately $21 million was scheduled for this fiscal year (2014/15). 

The Agreement states:

"WHEREAS there are health care services for Hepatitis C that are not fully insured by publicly financed health care systems in Canada;"

"The parties agree that their shared policy objective is to ensure that persons infected with Hepatitis C through the blood system prior to January 1, 1986 and after July 1, 1990 have reasonable access to therapeutic health care services indicated for the treatment/cure of Hepatitis C."

"The parties agree that the federal transfers will be used for health care services indicated for the treatment of Hepatitis C infection, and medical conditions directly related to it, such as current and emerging antiviral drug therapies, other relevant drug therapies, immunization and nursing care."

The agreement also required the Ontario government to issue reports to the public every 5 years on how the money was being spent. The government issued a report in 2007. Although a report was due under the agreement in 2012, it does not appear that any such report was issued. 

The 2007 report, which also attaches a copy of the agreement, can be found at:

It is unacceptable that a person in this province died because there was no funding for a drug that could have cured her, when the province has received millions of dollars from the federal government specifically earmarked for such treatments. The Ontario government has not accounted for those funds, despite a written agreement requiring such reports.

I raised the issue of the transfers, and the missing report, directly with then Health Minister Matthews in February 2014, but never received any followup.

Where is the money? Why is Ontario 3 years late in accounting for how it has been spent? Why won't the government spend that money on drugs that can cure the disease?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

I'm Convinced the Ontario Liberals Broke Ontario's Campaign Finance Laws

I'm convinced the Ontario Liberals broke Ontario's campaign finance laws, but Elections Ontario won't do anything about it.

You're limited by law as to how much you can give an Ontario political party in a year. However, you can give as much as you want to that party's leadership candidates. When the Liberals held their leadership campaign in 2013, one of the party's rules was that all candidates had to give 25% of all funds they raised to the party. The annual donation limit for contributions to a party at the time was $7500. But if you gave $7500 to the party, plus $10,000 to a candidate, 25% of your donation to the candidate went to the party. So your donation to the party was $7500 + (25% of $10,000=$2500) = $10,000. You clearly donated more than the $7500 limit to the party that year.

In law, there's only 2 ways to look at this: either the candidate was acting as a fundraising agent for the party, in which case the individual donated more than the legal limit, or the money became the property of the candidate upon donation, and therefore the candidate donated more than the legal limit to the party. Either way, it is a violation of the Ontario Election Finance Act to accept a donation from anyone that is in excess of the legal limits.

I wrote to Elections Ontario about this issue. At first, they wrote back saying they didn't understand the concern I was raising, so I wrote back and explained it again. They then wrote back and said there was nothing in the Elections Act that prohibited a leadership candidate from transferring funds to the party, so they didn't think there was any violation of the Act. I thought they were still missing the point, so in May, 2013 I wrote the following to try to make it crystal clear. I never heard back from them.

Section 28 of the Election Finances Act reads:

"28. No political party, constituency association or candidate registered under this Act and no person on its or his or her behalf shall knowingly accept any contributions in excess of the limits imposed by this Act."

Given the 25% transfer rule applied by the Ontario Liberal Party to its leadership contestants, in my view the leadership contestants were accepting contributions on behalf of the Ontario Liberal Party.Accordingly, the leadership contestants would be in violation of section 28 if they accepted any contribution which would result in a transfer to the party of an amount exceeding the contributor's annual limit as set out in the act. For example, if a leadership contestant accepts a contribution of $40,000, he or she would know that $10,000 was collected on behalf of the party, and that that amount is in excess of the limits set out in section 18. Accordingly, accepting the donation of $40,000 would be a violation of section 28.

Further, your position that transfers from leadership contestants to parties is not prohibited by the Act depends on determining that such transfers are not contributions. However, it is section 27 that sets out what transfers are not contributions. That section does not include transfers from leadership contestants to parties. It reads:

"27. A registered party and any of its constituency associations or official candidates registered under this Act may transfer or accept funds, goods and services to or from each other and all such funds,goods, other than goods held in inventory for any candidate for use during a campaign period, and services accepted by such political party, constituency association or candidate shall be considered notto be contributions or campaign expenses for the purposes of this Act but shall be recorded as to source and any funds accepted shall be deposited in the appropriate depository on record with the Chief Electoral Officer."

Since section 27 does not list leadership candidates, it must be assumed that transfers from leadership candidates to parties are contributions, and therefore are subject to the limits in section 18,and prohibition in section 28.

If your position were correct, that leadership candidates were permitted to transfer funds because there is nothing in the act that prohibits it, section 27 of the act would not be necessary.
The only provisions in the Act which directly authorizes monies to be paid over from leadership candidates to parties is subsection 42(5).This applies only to surplus following a leadership contest. Where 25%of monies collected are specifically for the purpose of transfer to the party, they cannot be considered surplus.

Please directly address these 2 issues, which in summary are:

1. Were the leadership contestants collecting money on behalf of the party, due to the application of the 25% rule?

2. What provisions of the Act state that transfers of funds from leadership contestants to parties are not contributions, and therefore exempt from the limits in section 18?

Monday, March 2, 2015

If I were on Hamilton City Council, here's the motion I'd put forward

Many of Hamilton's City Councillors seem hesitant to wade into the controversy surrounding the Integrity Commissioner's report into the incident between Lloyd Ferguson & Joey Coleman. They have raised concerns about interfering with the conclusions of the Integrity Commissioner where the intent of setting up the office of the Integrity Commissioner in the first place was to separate the politics of council from issues regarding the Code of Conduct. While I understand these concerns, I do not believe that means Council has no recourse when it receives a deficient report following what appears to be an incomplete investigation. Ultimately, it is Council who has the authority and responsibility to ensure that its Code of Conduct is adhered to. If their chosen process (Integrity Commissioner) proves inadequate in any particular circumstance, they have an obligation to revisit the issue. 

I believe there is a way to address this while avoiding the concerns raised by some members of Council. If I were on Hamilton's City Council, here is the motion I would put forward:

WHEREAS on February 26, 2014, an altercation took place at City Hall involving Councillor Lloyd Ferguson & Mr. Joey Coleman;

AND WHEREAS two separate complaints were made by members of the public to the Integrity Commissioner for the City of Hamilton concerning whether Councillor Ferguson’s behaviour was in violation of the City’s Code of Conduct;

AND WHEREAS a report on the incident was delivered to the City by the Integrity Commissioner on February 25, 2015;

AND WHEREAS that report was delivered 9 months after the initial complaints were made, despite by-law provisions requiring such reports to be delivered within 60 days of the initial complaint;

AND WHEREAS the Integrity Commissioner advised the City that his ability to deliver the report in a timely fashion was hampered by his personal medical issues;

AND WHEREAS the Integrity Commissioner interviewed Councillor Ferguson regarding the incident, but did not interview Mr. Coleman or any of the other several witnesses to the incident as part of his investigation;

AND WHEREAS the circumstances set out above have raised questions about the adequacy and fairness of the investigation undertaken by the Integrity Commissioner;

AND WHEREAS the report delivered by the Integrity Commissioner lacks the type of thorough review of evidence, findings of fact, analysis, reasoning and discussion of an appropriate sanction expected in such reports;

AND WHEREAS it is essential to preserving the integrity of the City of Hamilton that the investigation of complaints regarding possible violations of the Code of Conduct are seen to be thorough, fair and balanced;

THEREFORE, be it resolved that the City of Hamilton retain an independent person other than the Integrity Commissioner to conduct a new investigation & report with respect to this incident.


FULL DISCLOSURE: Joey Coleman is a personal friend of mine.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

A radical proposal to fight cancer

I have a radical proposal to make for Canada. Here's the idea: Canada should eliminate its military, and redirect all military spending towards cancer research. It's not as crazy as it sounds.

Here's how it would work: The current military would establish a search & rescue force, and a humanitarian aid force. Appropriate personnel and equipment would be allocated to those forces. Then, all current offensive military equipment (fighter jets, tanks, artillery, gunships) would be sold. The proceeds of those sales would be used to assist transition of all military personnel who were not retained as part of the search & rescue or humanitarian aid forces.

From that point forward, the entire budget previously allocated to the Canadian military would be redirected to cancer research. We'd make a deal with the rest of the world: if you support and defend us, you can have royalty free licences for any advancements in cancer treatment and prevention we discover. I recognize this requires a renegotiation of our NATO membership, but the benefits accrue to every country willing to support us.

Let's face it: Canada's offensive military capability currently exists to fight wars in other parts of the world. While there are tangential benefits to Canadian security, our forces are most often used to stabilize situations in areas far from our borders. We have not had occasion to use military force against another nation on Canadian soil since the War of 1812. Given our geographic location, the only real threat to our sovereignty is the United States. No country in the world other than the US would dare attack us on our soil, not because they fear our military, but because they assume the US would bring its military might to our defense. In the event the US decided to attack us, the reality is our military would be unable to repel them.

I do not, in any way, wish to belittle the men and women in our military. They are dedicated, well trained, and by all accounts as good at what they do as any in the world. Rather, I simply question whether their mission is the best use of resources.

Canada spends $19 billion per year on the armed forces. It spends about $250 million per year on cancer research. The total spent in Canada on cancer research, including all private & public funds, is approximately $550 million. By redirecting military spending, we could increase cancer research spending over twenty fold. The impact could be astonishing.

Each year in Canada, almost 200,000 people are diagnosed with cancer. Over 75,000 die from it each year. Over 800,000 Canadians are currently living with a cancer that has been diagnosed in the past 10 years. Two out of every five Canadians will develop cancer in their lifetimes. One in four will die from it. Globally, there are over 14 million people diagnosed with cancer each year, and over 8 million deaths. As the population ages, it is expected that soon cancer will surpass heart disease as the number one cause of death in North America.

Canada's national health care system could help position us for one of the most promising area's of cancer research - data analysis. We now have tools available to cross-reference and analyse enormous amounts of data. The answers to cancer prevention and treatment may lie in the analysis of the sequenced genomes of millions of people with and without cancer, or in the analysis of proteins, environmental factors, or other health markers. If anonymized, detailed health and demographic data could be pulled in from all of the provincial health care systems, we could have a large enough data set to find the keys to unlock the mysteries of cancer that have so far been eluding us.

In addition to the obvious benefit to global human health, the economic benefits to Canada could be enormous. The development of Canada as a world leader in high tech biomedical research could reposition our economy away from cyclical resources and unsustainable manufacturing. We would attract the best and brightest in the world, and create spin-off industries in pharmaceuticals, data analysis, laboratory testing and biomedical manufacturing.

There is no doubt that our military assists people around the world. We help solve problems. The question to be asked is how can we devote our resources to have the maximum impact on problems relevant throughout the globe. The Gates Foundation has shown that with targeted dedication and resources, significant impacts can be made in improving global health. In 1980, the World Health Organization targeted smallpox, and eliminated it from the earth. Targeted, all-in efforts yield results.

Our withdrawal from overseas military work would likely have a minimal real world impact, as other countries would no doubt continue on. Our full commitment to cancer research, with a scale of resources never before marshaled, could do more global good than is possible with our armed forces. The military might of the US has led many to call it the "world's police". Let's make Canada the world's oncologist.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Pre-Campaign Book That I Want To Read

It seems obligatory that every aspiring candidate for president or prime minister write a pre-campaign book, then do the talk show circuit promoting their book. Inevitably, these books are titled something like "What I Believe" but the content is "I Am So Great!".

I can't imagine a scenario where I'd be so bored that I'd actually pick up and read Justin Trudeau's "Common Ground" or Hillary Clinton's "Hard Choices". Being forced to read the upcoming tomes from Ted Cruz or Mike Huckabee would be cruel and unusual punishment.

Since these books are almost always ghost written anyway, I thought I'd help out those who have not yet committed their oh so important thoughts to paper. Here's the table of contents of the political book I'd actually read:

Chapter 1 - The List of People I'm Currently Sucking Up To

Chapter 2 - The Jobs, Grants & Regulatory Changes I've Promised To the People Listed in Chapter 1

Chapter 3 - The People I Pal Around With That I Actually Can't Stand

Chapter 4 - A Prioritized List of the People I Will Throw Under The Bus The Moment They're No Longer Useful To Me (most of Chapter 3's list, plus others)

Chapter 5 - The List of Campaign Promises I Have No Intention of Keeping

Chapter 6 - The Electorate Are Too Stupid To See Through My Bullshit

Chapter 7 - The People Who Know Too Much About Me, and How I Will Silence Them

Chapter 8 - What I Really Think Of My Predecessors & Opponents

Chapter 9 - The Beliefs & Opinions I Hold But Will Never Say Out Loud

Chapter 10 - How I Pretend To Sympathize With Every Interest Group

Chapter 11 - How I'll Live A Rich & Comfortable Life After I Leave Office

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

An Open Letter to CBC News

Throughout my career, I have been involved in issues that have made national, and sometimes international headlines. As a result, I've been exposed first hand to most of Canada's news organizations. I've dealt with reporters & columnists from all of the major newspapers & networks, and I can say that no news organization can match the caliber of people I've dealt with at the CBC. They have been intelligent and committed, and have shown the utmost in professionalism. They have followed issues in depth. The same reporter or reporters have been assigned to stories long term, and have taken the time to learn about their subjects. In short, compared to most of its peers, CBC news has been excellent.

But ...

Recent revelations of conflicts of interest are damaging to your credibility. More damaging still are the defensive responses of CBC management. Narrowly construing conflict of interest policies to claim that "technically" there was no breach does not inspire confidence. 

You are being held to a very high standard. This is appropriate. You have established a standard of excellence that you should be proud of, and you should defend it, not by dismissing or attacking critics, but by acknowledging that any reasonably perceived conflict of interest is, in fact, a conflict of interest. Reputations for journalistic integrity are built over generations, but can be quickly destroyed. They are fragile, and must be protected with the utmost care.

Accept the criticism. Resolve to do better. Canadians rightly expect it.