Senate Audit Not ‘Thorough’

A spot audit of the Senate, the first of its kind since 2012, will exclude “thorough assessment of the expenses”. Members of the Senate budget committee ordered the audit June 13 following disclosures staff breached contracting rules: “It’s long overdue.”

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Falsified Best-Before Labels

A labour arbitrator has ordered a one-year suspension without pay for a supermarket clerk caught falsifying best-before labels. Managers disclosed they’d fired three employees for similar offences under the Food & Drugs Act that prohibits “misleading or deceptive” labeling: “These sorts of things get published in the media.”

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43% Have Bank Troubles

Nearly half of consumers in a federal survey report problems with their bank. The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada that commissioned the poll earlier hired 200 “mystery shoppers” to pose as customers in scrutinizing bank practices: “They feel they can do whatever they want.”

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Won’t Release Trudeau Files

The Privy Council Office will not release cabinet minutes from Pierre Trudeau’s last tumultuous term as prime minister though records were to be unsealed this year. Files won’t be disclosed until after the October 21 election campaign: “We certainly have nothing to hide.”

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Fake Work Claim Dismissed

A federal labour board has upheld the suspension of a Canada Revenue Agency clerk who claimed a conspiracy to pay staff for “fake work”. There was no evidence employees pointlessly shuffle paper, an adjudicator said: “It was very boring.”

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“Icky” Biden Jibe OK: Panel

A radio commentary depicting U.S. presidential candidate Joe Biden as “icky” with small children does not breach Canadian broadcast standards, says a national panel. However regulators faulted the same program for portraying Muslims as inherently intolerant: “It’s very disturbing.”

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Feds Investigate 2017 Suicide

The Department of National Defence is investigating the suicide of a long-time employee described as an alleged victim of gross mismanagement. The staffer ended his life only hours before a disciplinary hearing, and left a lengthy suicide note concealed by police: ‘It poses a serious threat to public confidence in the integrity of the public service.’

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Poem: “Tightrope Walker”

 

Ottawa’s mayor
shows courage.

He stands up
to the powerful, deep-pocket owners
of the Chateau Laurier,
telling them
their proposed addition
to the landmark hotel
is as ugly as a shipping container.

He then prepares
for the city council’s meeting
where he votes to approve the design.

“That is leadership,”
he tells reporters,
wearing his dark blue suit
and a matching, black-and-blue tie.

 

(Editor’s note: poet Shai Ben-Shalom, an Israeli-born biologist, examines current events in the Blacklock’s tradition each and every Sunday)

Book Review: The Nazis & Tin Foil

Read this book and you’ll never think the same way again in reaching for a roll of kitchen foil to cover your Thanksgiving turkey. Authors in searing detail document aluminum production from open-pit Third World bauxite mines to toxic refineries to the $2.90 kitchen convenience. The supply chain is coldly efficient.

Aluminum Ore is stark and meticulously researched. Authors Robin Gendron of Nipissing University and two faculty members at Norway’s University of Science & Technology tell the very human story of an everyday commodity we only think we know.

Making one ton of aluminum requires 1,380 tons of water; produces 85 tons of industrial waste; and ten tons of greenhouse gas emissions. Its main source, bauxite, can only be refined through heating and cooling with caustic soda in a process that annually produces 120 million tons of toxic discharge the industry calls “red mud”. In Hungary, the 2010 collapse of a red mud reservoir at an alumina plant flooded villages, caused 131 casualties and nearly poisoned the Danube. In India, bauxite labourers are paid $2 a day and hundreds of thousands of villagers have been displaced to make way for strip mines and refiners’ plants.

“Bauxite has never been sold for a price commensurate with the damage done by mining it,” notes Aluminum Ore.

Best known as the misnamed tin foil, aluminum refined from bauxite has a long and compelling history rife with conflict. The process was patented in 1888; by 1916 a single corporation Aluminum Company of America exercised “autocratic control” over the industry, as one U.K. cabinet memo put it. Alcoa survived three anti-trust investigations between 1912 and 1937; its largest stockholder Arthur Vining Davis is recalled not as a ruthless tycoon, but as the philanthropist who created a namesake charity best known for subsidizing TV shows on PBS.

Aluminum in early years was costly and had no obvious indispensable purpose; as late as 1914 the French Army used it mainly to manufacture uniform buttons. With technology it became a strategic raw material, a secret weapon “the supply of which could possibly decide the outcome of wars,” as Aluminum Ore puts it.

How indispensable? In 1935 France, then Europe’s largest bauxite miner, slapped export controls on sales to Nazi Germany. In 1940, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt dispatched troops to Dutch Guiana to guard bauxite mines that accounted for two-thirds of the supply used to produce aircraft: “If this supply were interrupted in any way it would most seriously delay the production of aircraft which are so urgently needed,” FDR said.

Aluminum ore was rated so crucial to victory, Germans dispatched U-boats to the sunny Caribbean in 1942 to sink freighters loaded with bauxite from Trinidad. Nazi wolf packs destroyed nearly a quarter of the bauxite fleet, prompting U.S. Army Chief of Staff George Marshall to write: “The losses by submarines off our Atlantic seaboard and in the Caribbean now threaten our entire war effort.”

Aluminum Ore recounts all this turmoil, environmental disaster and human conflict in a crisp narrative. A simple roll of kitchen foil will never look the same again.

By Holly Doan

Aluminum Ore: The Political Economy of the Global Bauxite Industry, edited by Robin S. Gendron, Mats Ingulstad & Espen Storli; University of British Columbia Press; 400 pages; ISBN 9780-7748-2533-7; $34.95

Bailout Worth $115K A Week

The largest daily newspaper in Canada, the Toronto Star, yesterday estimated its take of federal media bailout money is worth the equivalent of $115,385 a week. Payroll rebates will see publishers awarded up to $13,750 per newsroom employee: ‘They got what they wanted.’

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Never Heard About Rebates

Most Canadians have never heard of cabinet’s carbon tax rebates and find the concept difficult to understand, says in-house research by the Canada Revenue Agency. Rebates were to offset consumers’ out-of-pocket expenses for the tax, scheduled to rise to 12¢ a litre for gasoline by 2022: ‘It is not easy.’

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‘God Save Queen’ Complaint

A rights tribunal is scheduling hearings on whether recital of God Save The Queen in public schools breaches Charter rights. It follows a complaint from an Iron Bridge, Ont. math teacher who identified herself as a secular humanist: “I am surprised any school is still playing God Save The Queen.”

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CMHC Loan Is Scrutinized

CMHC insured a mortgage worth twice the value of a home, according to Court records. Agency practices were detailed in a New Brunswick foreclosure as CMHC prepares to launch a billion-dollar equity loan program nationwide: “Who will be responsible if the homeowner defaults?”

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Gov’t Finds Apology Fatigue

Canadians in federal focus group research complain the “government made lots of apologies” this term without solving problems. The Department of Finance commissioned the questionnaire entitled What The Government Has Handled Poorly: “All talk and no do.”

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