Monday, November 30, 2009

Halton Does Copenhagen!

We're all very excited here in Halton that two of our Young Liberals have been selected as youth delegates to the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.

Ashley Bigda and Matt Juniper were recently featured in the local papers, and now they have their very own blog to share their adventures with us:

Halton Does Copenhagen

Drop in and say hi! Or better yet, come on down to their "Clean, Green, & Prosperous" event on Wednesday night here in Milton, where you can talk to them about what you would like to see accomplished at the conference.

Hope to see you there!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Orphan Drugs for Orphan Diseases: The Non-Profit Pharmaceutical Model

(This post was written for my two-hour blogathon for A Dare to Remember. Please sponsor me!)

Whenever I need a fresh injection of hope, I like to wander over to The Skoll Foundation. Partly because they always have great stories about innovative and inspiring people, and partly because.. well, I used to be friends with founder Jeff Skoll in high school. If only I'd known that my little slacker buddy was destined to become a billionaire philanthropist...

Anyway. One of the organizations funded by the Skoll Foundation is the Institute for OneWorld Health. Founded by pharmaceutical industry scientist Victoria G. Hale, OneWorld Health is a non-profit drug company.

You read that right: a non-profit drug company.

Will Uganda's New Anti-Gay Law Sabotage Anti-AIDS Efforts?

(This post was written for my two-hour blogathon for A Dare to Remember. Please sponsor me!)

Stephen Harper has joined Gordon Brown and other Commonwealth leaders in condemning Uganda's proposed new anti-homosexuality law, which would proscribe the death penalty for anyone engaging in a homosexual act in which one person has AIDS, and would also give harsh prison sentences to anyone publicly defending homosexuality or failing to report known homosexuals to the police.

“I did raise it directly with the president of Uganda and indicated Canada’s deep concern and strong opposition,” Mr. Harper announced at the conclusion of the 53-country meeting in Port of Spain, Trinidad.

“We deplore these kinds of measures. We find them inconsistent with frankly I think any reasonable understanding of human rights,” the prime minister said.

“I was very clear on that with the president of Uganda.”

Sadly, the Commonwealth appears somewhat divided on the issue, with some African and Caribbean leaders either quietly supporting the measure or dismissing it as "an internal matter".

Watch This Space For My 'Dare to Remember'!

At 1:00 pm today I will be following through on my 'Dare to Remember' - to blog for two straight hours on global health issues. However, as there are limits to my multi-tasking abilities, you'll have to go over to Canada's World to watch it all happen in real time. Once I'm done, I'll cross-post everything here.

See you over there!

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Blind Side

I was a little concerned when Murray picked 'The Blind Side' this month. I'm not keen on sports movies, especially those about football - a game I understand just slightly better than cricket.

Happily, 'The Blind Side' isn't really a football movie, and what football there is is explained in a very helpful "Football for Dummies" voice-over.

In most ways this is a pretty conventional feel-good movie, but a few things save it from becoming too saccharine. One is the understated but intense performance of Quinton Aaron as "Big Mike" Oher, whose gentle introversion makes for a startling contrast to his massive six foot ten inch frame.

Another is the careful attention paid to the relationships which develop between Mike and each member of his new family, giving us four unique stories of how disparate lives can intersect in unexpected ways.

For avoiding at least some of the expected stereotypes and leaving me with a smile at the end, I'll give it three and a half stars.

(Murray liked it even more.)

My Message for Stephen Harper

I finally got around to leaving that phone message for Stephen Harper today about the importance of taking serious action on climate change.

Unfortunately, I'm having some trouble uploading it to David Suzuki's website. I tried several times to register, but for some reason their email verification isn't getting through to me. I even tried a different email address - no luck. So if anyone has an account over at the David Suzuki Foundation, please upload my video for me. Thanks!

Please sponsor me for 'A Dare To Remember'!

Some of my blogging colleagues from Canada's World and I are taking on 'A Dare to Remember' for the Stephen Lewis Foundation.

We have each pledged to blog for two hours straight (at least!) on global health issues before World AIDS Day on December 1st.* The result will (hopefully) be a week-long blog burst of compassion, support, and education about health issues around the globe - but we need someone to dare us first!

The money we raise will go directly to African grandmothers, children, and women – ordinary people who are doing extraordinary things to turn the tide of AIDS in Africa.

To donate online now, please select a donation amount from the "Sponsor Me" section on my Personal Page. It’s simple, fast and totally secure and will make such a difference to the incredible men and women transforming lives and restoring hope to communities in Africa.

So please dig deep and donate now.

Thank you!

* UPDATE: Time has once again gotten away from me, and I won't be able to put in my two hours until Sunday. But that just leaves more time for more people to sponsor me! I'm already up to $50 - let's bump that up, shall we?

I'll make you a deal - I'll make a commitment now to start blogging at 1:00 pm Sunday, and update the blog post live so you can watch my convoluted writing process in action. Now THAT'S worth a Dare!

Monday, November 23, 2009

PMO Calls High School to Shut Down Environmental Protest

I posted a link on Facebook last week to a fun little contest/action that David Suzuki had set up:
1) Call Prime Minister Stephen Harper at (613) 992-4211
2) Leave a message about what you'd like to see Canada accomplish at the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference
3) Videotape yourself doing it, and
4) Post the video to the David Suzuki Foundation.

The best video gets a personal call from David Suzuki and a $400 MEC gift certificate. Cool, huh?

Well, it seems that some environmentally-conscious students at the Woodlands School in Mississauga heard about this and decided to give Mr. Harper a call - all at once. At which point someone at the PMO, who has apparently been getting sick of all these calls, actually phoned the school to ask them to stop.

The school's office manager, Gurpreet Bassi, says someone identifying themself as being from the PMO called urging her to "please have (the) students stop calling -- they are jamming up the switchboard."

The caller continued to inform her that they had "other important issues that could fall behind because these kids are calling and for the principal to go on the P.A. system and please don't make any more phone calls."

Because really - there are so many other people waiting to be ignored by Stephen Harper.

I think there's really only one thing we can do about this: everyone reading this, call Stephen Harper today (November 23rd). The number is (613) 992-4211

Sunday, November 22, 2009

With a Little Help From Our Friends

Not sure how I missed this one: a full page ad in Friday's Milton Champion denouncing Lisa Raitt and her recent U.S. 'Tar Sands Promotional Tour' - and it's not even one of ours!

Thanks, ForestEthics!

A Fair Country No More?

The always insightful Rick Salutin of the Globe and Mail has joined the chorus of criticism about our government's response to Richard Colvin's testimony this week. But he also goes a step further, drawing a rather uncomfortable line between our possible complicity in the torture of Afghan detainees, and the Americans' behaviour at Abu Ghraib prison.

[caption id="attachment_2499" align="aligncenter" width="350" caption="Abused prisoner at Abu Ghraib, Iraq (from Wikimedia Commons)"][/caption]

Yes, I know - stay with me.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I'm sure Monica was just "working constructively" with Bill Clinton, too

John Baird was in full 'Duck-and-Cover' mode today when confronted with the accidentally un-redacted correspondence between his Ministry and the major airlines.

Baird said there's nothing nefarious about the relationship, adding "we're been working constructively with the airlines."

Really? Is that what you call it? Because I can think of a couple of other terms for it, John.

But that's not even the best part. The best part comes later in the article when they start into the Conservative government's third favourite default position - right after "We didn't do it!" and "The Liberals did it first!":

"We did that already!"

In the House of Commons, Baird confirmed Wednesday he doesn't support the [NDP passenger rights] bill, but defended the Tory record on the file, saying the government has "put forward new public policy" in the area of passenger rights.

His office later pointed to the Flight Rights campaign to educate air travellers of their rights. The promised rollout last September of "prominent signage" at key airports has never materialized. Transport Canada confirmed $3,640 has been spent on the initiative, limited to information posted on the departmental website.

I guess all the "prominent signage" got used up for "Canada's Economic Action Plan".

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Conservative Hypocricy (#147 in a series)

In tonight's episode, it is revealed that the Conservatives publicly supported and voted in favour of a Passenger Bill of Rights that was sure to win them votes... all the while secretly working behind the scenes to encourage the airlines to lobby harder so they could kill it.

Wow. I'm shocked. No, seriously. Shocked and appalled.


You're not buying it, are you?

(The real kicker: the only reason this has come to light is that somebody forgot to redact the document before turning it over to Canwest. Oops!)

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Gun Registry Post I Wasn't Going to Write

I wasn't going to say anything about the gun registry on this blog. Because seriously, who needs that kind of abuse?

Of course my reticence didn't stop me from spending the past week leaving comments on every blog post and media article I found on the subject. And it wasn't like I actually thought I was going to convince anybody one way or the other.

I just got fed up with seeing the same old misinformation making the rounds.

The problem is, there really is an urban/rural divide on this issue, but it has nothing to do with who does or doesn't benefit from the long gun registry - it has to do with who has firsthand knowledge of our firearm licensing and registration system. City folk, by and large, do not own a lot of rifles or shotguns. So even if they support the long gun registry, their arguments tend to fall apart when those against it start pulling out authentic-sounding facts and figures. They have no way to contradict these people because they have never themselves registered a firearm.

I have. So let me clear up a couple of things for you.

1) There are three categories of forms we're talking about here: the gun registry (which is for the gun but connects it to the person), the hunting license (if that's why you want a gun), and the firearm license, which is either a Possession and Acquisition License (PAL) or a Possession Only License (POL). You need one of those last two in order to purchase, own, or temporarily possess a firearm, and you need to take a firearms safety course before you get one.

2) There are no 'intrusive questions' on the gun registry form, unless you consider the length of your barrel to be nobody's business but your own. The only questions that might be considered intrusive are on the two firearms license forms. These are questions like, "Have you recently ended a long-term relationship?" and "Have you ever been diagnosed with a mental illness?" Personally, I think these are important things to know, but they have nothing to do with the gun registry.

3) Registering a non-restricted rifle or shotgun is FREE. I'll repeat that: there is NO CHARGE for registering a non-restricted long gun. Anyone who tells you different has obviously not registered a weapon since 2006 when the fees were eliminated.

4) The elimination of the registration fees was the direct result of complaints from people who owned multiple guns. It is also one of the main reasons why the gun registry came to cost so much to taxpayers.

5) You do not need to renew the registration on a long gun unless it's modified in some way. You do have to renew you PAL or POL - there is a fee for that, but it has been waived until next spring.

6) You cannot have a gun for 'home defence' in Canada. Legally. You can have one for hunting, sport shooting, or as a collector, but you aren't allowed to have one just so you can pull a Clint Eastwood on your front lawn. If you write in anything except hunting, sport shooting or collecting under 'reason for applying' on your PAL or POL form, they will not give you a gun license.

There are lots more facts and statistics at the RCMP's Firearms Program website, which you can browse at your leisure. The same website has all the licensing and registration regs just in case I've missed anything.

I did want to say something about this notion that 'criminals don't register their guns'. Frankly, I don't worry so much about criminals, or at least not the kinds of criminals most people are thinking of when they make statements like that. Even when I lived in some of the worst neighbourhoods in Toronto, I knew that when there were shootings it was generally just the bad guys shooting at each other.

But here in Milton, we just don't have a lot of gang-bangers or drug dealers or bikers or Mafia-types, or any of the sorts of scary career criminals you see on American TV (well, we do, but most of them are locked up in Maplehurst up the road).

What we do have in this quiet little town are drunks, abusive spouses and bored teenagers. Some of them have access to firearms. Most of them are upright, law-abiding citizens - right up until they're not. So for me as well as for all those other people trying to defend their 'rural lifestyle', the odds of getting shot by a previously law-abiding spouse, or a drunken neighbour, or some kid showing off his dad's .22 to his friends are much, much higher than the chances of getting shot by a gang member with an illegal handgun.

In other words, the people who tend to be the most vocal against the long gun registry are also the ones who potentially benefit the most from it.

As for exactly how effective the gun registry is in preventing domestic crime, protecting police, or keeping illegal guns off the street... I don't know. I'm just a gun owner, not a police officer, so I'll let the police themselves answer that question for you.

There. I've said my piece. Have at it.

UPDATE: Here's a chart based on homicide stats since the homicide peak of 1991, from the Department of Justice. The firearms registry was started in 1996. I'll let you draw your own conclusions.

Friday, November 6, 2009

When I say 'Puffy', I'm not just talking about his weight

Watching Senator Mike Duffy's disgraceful performance on CBC yesterday, it's hard to imagine how he managed to keep all that bombast and vitriol in check for all those years as a journalist. It must be such a great relief for him to finally be able to let loose and tell us what he really thinks.

This is, of course, only the latest in a long series of embarrassing episodes since the appointment of His Puffiness to the Upper Chamber. From his crude and belaboured musings on the imaginary bedtime antics of the Premiers of P.E.I. and Newfoundland, to his participation in a fake 'town hall' promoting his Glorious Leader's political policies, Mike Duffy has probably done more to damage and denigrate the institution of the Senate in his few months tenure than years of attacks by those dedicated to its abolition.

And that, of course, is why he was appointed in the first place.

Meanwhile, Liberal MP Glen Pearson tells us about the real Peter Stoeffer, and points out exactly who is the faker here.

Prescription Drug Ads Come to Canada

I saw something rather disturbing this evening: an ad talking about erectile dysfunction. Hardly an uncommon sight in itself - except this one was on a Canadian station. I believe it was CTV NewsChannel.

Unlike those endless, annoying American drug ads, this one didn't mention any specific drug - just informed the viewer that (apparently) 40% of men over 40 suffer from E.D. and referred them to a website: But when you go to the website and dig through the fine print, you discover that the whole thing is the work of pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly - makers of Cialis, an E.D. drug.

The whole thing is pretty subtle. After you get through all the information about how common E.D. is and rate your tumescence with their handy self-diagnostic tool, you get to a chart detailing the pros and cons of the three major oral treatments - with Cialis listed first, of course, and highlighting the fact that it's the only one you can take once a day. There's also a chart of the considerably less appealing non-oral treatments such as 'vacuum therapy' and 'transurethral insert'.

Still, it all seems pretty balanced. Right?

The trouble is, Eli Lilly has pulled this before - in England. Like Canada and almost everywhere else in the world, the U.K. doesn't allow 'Direct-to-Consumer Advertising' (DTCA) for prescription drugs. Ever. So Eli Lilly tried to sneak these '40 Over 40' ads through as 'disease awareness' campaigns.

The British weren't buying it.

Eli Lilly is to be reprimanded by the UK pharmaceutical industry watchdog for “unbalanced” promotion of its anti-erectile dysfunction drug Cialis, in violation of ethical rules.

The Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority has ruled that the US-based company “brought discredit” on the industry through a marketing campaign on television, the internet and in brochures in GP surgeries in the UK.

It said the company had presented information on its medicine that failed to cite the side-effects or risks, and in a way that would have encouraged patients to seek a prescription for Cialis.

The judgment, triggered by an FT article highlighting the campaign, is to be released shortly and has been accepted by Eli Lilly, which stopped using the criticised aspects of its campaign last month.

Interestingly, the British version of the campaign was even more subtle than the Canadian version. Prohibited from naming the drugs in question, they were listed only as Product A, Product B and Product C. Of course, those anonymous products were identified by name in the brochures supplied to doctors' offices by the company.

Canadian law is a bit more lax than that, and has unfortunately been getting even more lenient in recent years. Despite years of lobbbying by both the pharmaceutical industry and Canadian broadcasters, no actual changes to the law have been made. However, loopholes in the Canada Food and Drugs Act have led to an increasingly broad interpretation, as pointed out in this Canadian Medical Association Journal article:

There are 3 types of prescription drug advertisements aimed at the public: product claim advertisements, which include both the product name and specific therapeutic claims; reminder advertisements, which provide the name of a product without stating its use; and help-seeking advertisements, which inform consumers of new but unspecified treatment options for diseases or conditions. All 3 forms of advertising are permitted in the United States. In Canada, although all 3 forms appear to contravene the Food and Drugs Act, reminder advertisements and help-seeking advertisements are now everyday events in broadcast and print advertising, with little or no regulatory response.

... In 1996, a policy statement that set out to define the boundary between information dissemination and advertising suggested that Health Canada was ready to relax its interpretation of the Act.4 It stated that Health Canada "recognizes the importance to the pharmaceutical industry and to the general public of being able to disseminate and access nonpromotional information regarding drugs for human use." The effect of this statement was tacit approval of help-seeking advertisements for serious diseases. A policy paper released in November 2000 suggested an even more liberalized reinterpretation of the Act.5 It explicitly stated that help-seeking and reminder advertisements, but not product claim advertisements, were legal.

I guess it's surprising that we haven't seen even more of these ads, although I'm sure with the uncertain future of health care profits in the U.S. and all the whining the Canadian broadcasters have been doing over their financial situation lately, the pressure will only increase to have even more American-style ads hitting a TV screen near you.

I must say, though - the elephant is pretty cute.

(for all the many reasons why Direct-to-Consumer prescription drugs ads are worse than annoying - and especially bad for women - there's some great information here.)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

This Could Get Ugly

The Star's Linda Diebal is beginning a series of investigative articles today on Toronto's beleaguered Port Authority. Today's piece includes some pretty specific accusations by former TPA board chairs against former TPA president Lisa Raitt.

Raitt accused of expense abuse

Federal cabinet minister Lisa Raitt signed off on her own expenses on at least one occasion – more than $3,000 spent on a trip to London, England – when she was president and CEO of the Toronto Port Authority.

Raitt signed on the line reserved for the board chair on the February 2008 claim, according to correspondence with the agency's auditor, Deloitte & Touche LLP, obtained by the Star.

"(The London trip) was not pre-approved and she signed off on it when I would not," Toronto lawyer Michele McCarthy, who was in her second term as chair in February 2008, said in an interview.

She says port authority policy requires the chair's signature, adding: "I was waiting for a justification of the expenses. ... Expenses are either right or wrong."

... Documents also show nobody signed off on $50,000 spent at Harbour Sixty Steakhouse in the port authority building, including a $9,000 lunch for about 50 people, and another for $1,000 at a Sept. 11 "internal management lunch."

Other expense claims appear to bear Raitt's signature, and two unsigned claims for February 2008 have notes attached: "Chair refused to sign. No reason given."

Raitt's tenure at the TPA has been the subject of no end of accusations of misconduct over the years, from constant attacks by the anti-Island Airport group CommunityAIR to attempts during the last election to raise the issue. Up until now, however, it's been nearly impossible to make anything stick because the specifics of Raitt's expenses have been a closely guarded secret, and because those making the accusations have had their own reasons for doing so.

The only reason these specifics are coming to light now is that four former TPA directors have been trying to get Auditor General Sheila Fraser to take a look at Raitt's expenses. An earlier, internal audit had uncovered these and other irregularities, but failed to conclude that anything was amiss. That wasn't good enough for these directors, so they took the documents to Fraser and to John Baird, asking them to investigate.

Fraser insists that the AG doesn't have a mandate to conduct such a specific investigation. Baird just refused to answer.

I'm looking forward to the rest of the series.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Never-Ending Conservative Obstructionism Over Climate Change

Last week, the TD Bank and the Pembina Institute came out with their report on the cost of achieving Canada's climate change goals - both those that would meet the government's somewhat lax standards, as well as the more stringent ones that would bring us in line with our Kyoto commitments.

This is important information to have if we are going to know where we stand going into Copenhagen in December. And yet, our own government immediately condemned the report - apparently without having actually read it.

“The conclusions [the report] draws are irresponsible,” said Mr. Prentice in an interview with The Globe and Mail from Kingston, where he was meeting with provincial and territorial environment ministers. Specifically, he said Canadians will not accept the report's advocacy of emission targets for 2020 that would reduce Canada's gross domestic product by 3 per cent nationally and 12 per cent in Alberta from business-as-usual estimates.

That sure does sound like a very bad thing, aside from the fact that it is a complete misrepresentation of the report's conclusions. Despite the rather alarmist headline on the Globe & Mail story, the report itself is quite clear that the effect on the economy under either scenario would be to slow growth. Not reverse it. Not stall it. Slow it.

Canada’s GDP is projected to grow 23 per cent between 2010 and 2020, or an average of 2.1 per cent annually, while meeting the 2°C emissions target. By comparison, under business as usual conditions, Canada’s GDP is projected to grow 27 per cent between 2010 and 2020, or an average of 2.4 per cent annually, with GHG emissions in 2020 rising to 47 per cent above the 1990 level.

Got that? They're not talking about crashing the car or putting it in reverse - just slowing it down from 27 kph to 23 kph. And since Alberta is the worst "speeder" by virtue of having both the highest rate of projected growth and the highest percent of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions, under any scenario they are going to have their growth slowed the most.

And so the shrieking from the West begins.

“We would be extremely opposed to any kind of a carbon tax or some other kind of tax that would result in a significant wealth transfer from our province to any other province or area of the country,” said Saskatchewan Energy Minister Bill Boyd.

Listening to this sort of petty, obstructionist attitude from our poltical leaders is unbelievably frustrating, especially given the sort of forward thinking coming from other world leaders and economists. Almost every day, otherwise sane, buttoned-down publications like the Financial Post are taking about the economics of carbon reduction as a given - and a potentially profitable one to boot.

Even the Americans are starting to get it.

Several countries are plowing significant portions of their stimulus packages into "greening" their economies. In the United States, US$94-billion of the United States' $787-billion stimulus package qualifies as green spending, according to a UN study.

The U.S. is pouring stimulus cash into everything from helping states use more renewable energy, to modernizing the electric grid and developing batteries for electric vehicles.

On Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama compared the development of clean technologies to the space race of the Cold War era: "From China to India, from Japan to Germany, nations everywhere are racing to develop new ways to [produce] and use energy. The nation that wins this competition will be the nation that leads the global economy. . . . And I want America to be that nation," he said.

Canada is spending roughly 8% of its stimulus package on green measures, placing it 10th among the 13 countries reviewed by the UN. South Korea led with 79%, followed by China, with 34%, and Australia, at 21%.

Europe, of course, is leading the way. But while they're all about innovative economic incentives and cutting edge technologies and finding ways to prosper in a post-carbon world, the Canadian government is still putting all its eggs into two highly discredited baskets: carbon capture and storage, and corn ethanol.

This isn't sound economics. It isn't even cautious pragmatism. It's like watching your parents put off buying a DVD player long after everyone else starts switching to Blu-Ray, knowing you're going to be stuck with their collection of VHS tapes.

It's a complete denial of reality, and it will come at a devestating cost to not only the planet but our economy as well.