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Pesticides : un lanceur d’alerte congédié par le gouvernement du Québec

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Fort de 32 ans d’expérience au ministère de l’Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l’Alimentation du Québec (MAPAQ), l’agronome Louis Robert est une sommité dans son domaine. Le fonctionnaire au bureau de Saint-Hyacinthe avait même fait l’objet d’un long reportage de l’émission La semaine verte cet automne.

En 2017, le conseiller expert dans le secteur des grains avait osé dénoncer, à l’interne, l’ingérence du privé dans la recherche publique sur l’utilisation des pesticides. Insatisfait de l’écoute de ses supérieurs, il s’était tourné vers Radio-Canada. Le fonctionnaire avait partagé, en toute confidentialité, des documents accablants.

À partir des informations et d’une dizaine de témoignages, notre enquête « Pesticides : quand le privé administre la recherche publique québécoise », publiée en mars 2018, avait permis de faire la lumière sur la crise au Centre de recherche sur les grains (CEROM), qui avait entraîné la démission de nombreux chercheurs.

Une note ministérielle faisait par exemple état de tentatives d’intimidation des chercheurs et d’ingérence dans la diffusion et l’interprétation des résultats de recherche.

Le conseil d’administration du CEROM est dominé par des représentants du secteur privé, alors que plus des deux tiers de son financement (68 %) viennent du ministère de l’Agriculture. Le MAPAQ n’a qu’un représentant observateur, sans droit de vote.

Chasse au lanceur d’alerte

En septembre, quelques mois après la diffusion du reportage, le ministère convoque tour à tour les fonctionnaires qui ont pu avoir accès à la note interne. À chacun, la direction demande s’il est à l’origine de la fuite. Quand vient son tour, Louis Robert choisit d’assumer et d’avouer.

Relevé de ses fonctions avec salaire, il a fait l’objet d’une enquête administrative durant plusieurs semaines qui s’est conclue par une dernière rencontre, à la mi-janvier, lors de laquelle il n’a fait part d’aucun regret à ses supérieurs.

Le verdict tombe le 24 janvier : congédiement pour avoir transmis un document confidentiel à un journaliste et pour avoir contrevenu aux obligations de discrétion.

La décision a été personnellement autorisée par le ministre de l’Agriculture André Lamontagne. Ce dernier l’a révélé à l’entrée du caucus de la Coalition avenir Québec, mercredi.

C’est ma décision, alors je suis très à l’aise avec ma décision.

André Lamontagne, ministre de l’Agriculture du Québec.

M. Robert n’a pas souhaité faire de commentaire, puisque nous avons appris qu’il comptait faire appel et contester son congédiement.

Deux autres agronomes suspendus sans salaire

Deux autres fonctionnaires ont été suspendus, cette semaine, dans le cadre de cette affaire. Le premier a écopé de trois jours sans salaire pour avoir parlé à une journaliste du quotidien Le Devoir sur le même sujet, sans l’autorisation de ses supérieurs, en contravention de la politique de relations avec les médias.

Le deuxième a eu une sanction de cinq jours sans salaire pour avoir parlé à plusieurs journalistes, dont un de l’hebdomadaire La Terre de chez nous.

Ces deux autres agronomes ont également fait l’objet d’une enquête administrative et sont relevés de leur fonction avec salaire depuis le 16 novembre.

La mise à l’écart des trois conseillers a été remarquée par les agriculteurs ces derniers mois, puisque le MAPAQ dispose d’une douzaine de ses professionnels sur le territoire de la Montérégie.

Des lettres de soutien aux fonctionnaires

On voit M. Robert dans un trou creusé dans le champ. Il s'adresse au groupe qui se tient près du trou.Louis Robert, agronome au MAPAQ et spécialiste des sols, s’adresse à un groupe lors de la journée « Caravane des sols » du 12 juillet 2018 à la ferme de Martin Berger, de Saint-Aimé, près de Sorel. Photo : Radio-Canada

L’Union des producteurs agricoles (UPA) de Rouville a envoyé une lettre au ministre de l’Agriculture André Lamontagne, dans laquelle elle fait part de ses inquiétudes concernant cette affaire.

[Des producteurs] ressentent de l’indignation et trouvent injuste que trois agronomes expérimentés du MAPAQ, experts dans leur domaine, aient été relevés de leurs fonctions en raison des pressions de la part de l’industrie et du secteur privé.

Lettre du Syndicat de l’UPA Rouville envoyée au ministre de l’Agriculture du Québec

Dans la lettre, l’UPA mentionne que plusieurs producteurs dénoncent les « pressions politiques indues qui les empêchent d’exercer leur profession d’agronomes en toute liberté ». Le Syndicat de l’UPA Rouville demande au ministre que les agronomes puissent « diffuser leur savoir facilement et en toute liberté d’expression, dans l’intérêt du citoyen québécois ».

L’Association des conseillers en agroenvironnement du Québec a également pris la défense des fonctionnaires sanctionnés. Dans une lettre adressée à la direction régionale du MAPAQ, elle écrit que ses membres trouvent la situation « préoccupante ».

Les conseillers déplorent « le manque d’information et de transparence » du ministère dans le dossier, ainsi que « la perte d’expertise » découlant de la mise à l’écart des trois agronomes.

Le soutien de ces conseillers ainsi que leur grande rigueur scientifique étaient appréciés et indispensables.

Lettre envoyée au MAPAQ par l’Association des conseillers en agroenvironnement du Québec

Les limites de la loi pour protéger les lanceurs d’alerte

Richard Perron, président du Syndicat des professionnels du gouvernement du QuébecRichard Perron, président du Syndicat des professionnels du gouvernement du Québec Photo : Radio-Canada

Le Syndicat des professionnels du gouvernement du Québec déplore que la loi ait permis ce congédiement. « Il voulait dénoncer une situation répréhensible qui met à mal la santé et la sécurité alimentaire du public, invoque le président du SPGQ, Richard Perron. Il a voulu bien faire. »

Il a voulu respecter son code de déontologie qui lui demande de protéger le public et d’éviter que des pesticides soient répandus pour des intérêts commerciaux, à l’encontre de la sécurité publique.

Richard Perron, président du Syndicat des professionnels du gouvernement du Québec

Le président du syndicat dit comprendre l’importance du devoir de loyauté des fonctionnaires ainsi que le respect de la confidentialité de certains renseignements, mais il juge que, dans cette affaire, le fonctionnaire mérite d’être défendu « jusqu’au bout ».

Que dit la loi?

La Loi facilitant la divulgation d’actes répréhensibles à l’égard d’organismes publics (Nouvelle fenêtre) est entrée en vigueur le 1er mai 2017. Elle permet de protéger les lanceurs d’alerte contre les représailles quand ils dénoncent la situation auprès du Protecteur du citoyen ou de son organisme. La loi prévoit également qu’une personne peut divulguer au public des renseignements, mais seulement si elle estime qu’il y a « un risque grave pour la santé ou la sécurité d’une personne ou pour l’environnement ». Toutefois, le divulgateur doit au préalable communiquer ces renseignements à la police ou au Commissaire à la lutte contre la corruption.

Avant de s’adresser à Radio-Canada, Louis Robert avait dénoncé la situation dont il avait connaissance par une divulgation d’acte répréhensible auprès de son ministère. Ce dernier a jugé qu’aucun acte répréhensible n’avait été commis, selon ce qu’on peut voir dans le rapport annuel de gestion du ministère.

La FPJQ dénonce le congédiement

« Ce n’est pas la première fois que ça arrive », regrette le président de la Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec (FPJQ), Stéphane Giroux. « Chaque fois, on se retrouve dans une situation où la personne qu’on attaque, c’est le lanceur d’alerte, sans se pencher sur la raison qui pousse cette personne à dénoncer. »

« La loi est mal faite, affirme M. Giroux. Elle n’a aucune force. » Il rappelle que le rapport de la commission Charbonneau recommandait qu’on protège les lanceurs d’alerte qui décident de parler aux journalistes pour mettre en lumière des situations inquiétantes.

Les lanceurs d’alerte, quand ils vont aux médias, c’est parce qu’ils ne peuvent pas être entendus par leurs supérieurs. Et c’est là que leur travail devient si important pour révéler des choses qui doivent être connues du grand public.

Stéphane Giroux, président de la Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec

La loi québécoise ne protège même pas les divulgateurs des représailles lorsqu’ils travaillent au sein d’une municipalité.

« Les lanceurs d’alerte sont essentiels à la démocratie », conclut le président de la FPJQ, qui mentionne au passage que la loi canadienne est encore « pire » pour les lanceurs d’alerte de la fonction publique fédérale.

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Catabolism: Capitalism’s Frightening Future

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“Out of the frying pan, into the fire” is an apt description of our current place in history. No matter what you think of globalization, I believe we’ll soon discover that capitalism without it is much, much worse.

No one needs to convince establishment economists, politicians and pundits that the absence of globalization and growth spells trouble. They’ve pushed globalization as the Viagra of economic growth for years. But globalization has never been popular with everyone. Capitalism’s critics recognize that it generates tremendous wealth and power for a tiny fraction of the Earth’s seven billion people, makes room for some in the middle class, but keeps most of humanity destitute and desperate, while trashing the planet and jeopardizing human survival for generations to come.

Around the world, social movements believe “Another World Is Possible!” when neoliberal globalization is replaced by a more democratic, equitable, Earth-friendly society.  They assume that any future without globalization is bound to be an improvement. But now it appears that this assumption may be wrong. In fact, future generations may someday look back on capitalism’s growth phase as the dynamic days of industrial civilization, a naïve time before anyone realized that the worst was yet to come.

The Return of Scarce Oil and Peak Debt

Today, rising energy prices and ballooning debt are poised to strangle the global economy once again. These suffocating conditions brought the economy to its knees in 2008. Afterward, fracking helped increase the supply and lower the price of oil and gas temporarily. Meanwhile, debt-dependent cash infusions in the form of bailouts, low interest rates, corporate tax cuts and leveraged stock buy-backs were injected into the economy to prop up stock prices and profit margins. [1]

But now, despite emergency infusions of hydrocarbons and cash, debilitating debt and rising energy prices are returning with a vengeance. Governments have used every trick at their disposal to keep growth alive and profits high. But debt-driven trickery cannot overcome the underlying reality: growth cannot survive without cheap, abundant energy. Fueling growth with debt instead of real energy is a disaster in the making.

Economists and politicians refuse to admit it, but Age of Fossil Fuels has reached its apex. The rapacious flight to the top was powered by the Earth’s dwindling hydrocarbon reserves. From these lofty heights, the drastic drop-off ahead appears perilous. As fossil fuel extraction fails to meet global demand, economic contraction and downward mobility will become the new normal and growth will fade into memory. But this new growth-less future may bear no resemblance to the equitable Green economy activists have been calling for.

Can Capitalism Survive Without Growth?

Optimistic Green reformers like Al Gore, Jeremy Rifkin and Lester Brown see a window of opportunity at this historic juncture. For years, they’ve jetted from one conference to another, tirelessly trying to convince world leaders to embrace their planet-saving plans for a sustainable, carbon-free society before it’s too late. They hope energy scarcity and economic contraction can act as wake-up calls, spurring world leaders to embrace their Green New Deals that promise to save capitalism and the planet.

Their message is clear: rapid, fossil-fueled growth is burning through the Earth’s remaining reserves of precious hydrocarbons and doing untold damage to the biosphere in the process. Businesses must lead the way out of this dangerous dead end by adopting renewable energy and other planet-healing practices, even if it means substantial reductions in growth and profits. But, despite their dire warnings, hard work, innovative proposals and good intentions, most heads of state and captains of industry continue to politely ignore them.

Meanwhile, more radical activists also hope climate chaos, peak oil and economic contraction will become game changers. Many assume that globalization and growth are so essential that capitalism must fail without them. And, as it does, social movements will seize the opportunity to transform this collapsing system into a more equitable, sustainable one, free of capitalism’s insatiable need to expand at all costs.

Both the green growth reformers and anti-growth radicals misunderstand the true nature of capitalism and underestimate its ability to withstand—and profit handsomely from—the great contraction ahead. Growth is not the primary driving force behind capitalism—profit is. When the overall economic pie is expanding, many firms find it easier to realize profits big enough to continually increase their share price. But periods of crisis and collapse can generate huge profits as well. In fact, during systemic contractions, the dog-eat-dog nature of capitalism creates lucrative opportunities for hostile takeovers, mergers and leveraged buyouts, allowing the most predatory firms to devour their competition.

Capitalism is a profit-maximizing economic machine. It is not loyal to any person, nation, corporation or ideology. It doesn’t care about the planet or believe in justice, equality, fairness, liberty, human rights, democracy, world peace or even economic growth and the “free market.” Its overriding obsession is maximizing the return on invested capital. Capitalism will pose as a loyal friend of other beliefs and values, or betray them in an instant, if it advances the drive for profit … that’s why it’s called the bottom line!

Growth is important because it tends to improve the bottom line. And ultimately, capitalism may not last without it. But those who profit from this economic system are not about to throw up their hands and walk off the stage of history just because boom has turned to bust. Crisis, conflict and collapse can be extremely profitable for the opportunists who know where and when to invest.

But how long can this go on? Can capitalism’s profit motive remain the driving force behind a contracting economy lacking the vital energy surplus needed to fuel growth? Definitely, but the consequences for society will be grim indeed. Without access to the cheap, abundant energy needed to extract resources, power factories, maintain infrastructure and transport goods around the world, capitalism’s productive sector will lose its position as the most lucrative source of profit and investment. Transnational corporations will find that their giant economies of scale and global chains of production have become liabilities rather than assets. As profits dwindle, factories close, workers are laid off, benefits and wages are slashed, unions are broken and pension funds are raided – whatever it takes to remain solvent.

Declining incomes and living standards mean poorer consumers, contracting markets and shrinking tax revenues. Of course, collapse can be postponed by using debt to artificially extend the solvency of businesses, consumers and governments. But eventually, paying off debts with interest becomes futile without growth. And, when the credit bubbles burst, the defaults, foreclosures, bankruptcies and financial fiascos that follow can paralyze the economy.

Without the capacity for re-energizing growth, the recessions and depressions of times past, that temporarily disrupted production between long periods of expansion, now become chronic features of a contracting system. On the downside of peak oil, neither liberal programs to increase employment and stimulate growth nor conservative tax and regulatory cuts have any substantial impact on the economy’s descending spiral. Both production and demand remain so constricted by energy austerity that any brief growth spurts are quickly stifled by resurgent energy prices. Instead, periods of severe contraction and collapse may be buffered between brief plateaus of relative stability.

Catabolism: The Final Phase of Capitalism

In a growth-less, contracting economy, the profit motive can have a powerful catabolic impact on capitalist society. The word “catabolism” comes from the Greek and is used in biology to refer to the condition whereby a living thing feeds on itself. Thus, catabolic capitalism is a self-cannibalizing system whose insatiable hunger for profit can only be fed by devouring the society that sustains it.[2]As it rampages down the road to ruin, this system gorges itself on one self-inflicted disaster after another.

The riotous train scene in the film The Marx Brothers Go West captures the essence of catabolic capitalism. The wacky brothers commandeer a locomotive that runs out of fuel. In desperation, they ransack the train, breaking up the passenger cars, ripping up seats and tearing down roofs and walls to feed the steam engine. By the end of the scene, terrified passengers desperately cling to a skeletal train, reduced to little more than a fast moving furnace on wheels.

In the previous era of industrial expansion, catabolic capitalists lurked in the shadows of the growth economy. They were the illicit arms, drugs and sex traffickers; the loan sharks, debt collectors and repo-men; the smugglers, pirates, poachers, black market merchants and pawnbrokers; the illegal waste dumpers, shady sweatshop operators and unregulated mining, fishing and timber operations.

However, as the productive sector contracts, this corrupt cannibalistic sector emerges from the shadows and metastasizes rapidly, thriving off conflict, crime and crisis; hoarding and speculation; insecurity and desperation. Catabolic capitalism flourishes because it can still generate substantial profits by dodging legalities and regulations; stockpiling scarce resources and peddling arms to those fighting over them; scavenging, breaking down and selling off the assets of the decaying productive and public sectors; and preying upon the sheer desperation of people who can no longer find gainful employment elsewhere.

Without enough energy to generate growth, catabolic capitalists stoke the profit engine by taking over troubled businesses, selling them off for parts, firing the workforce and pilfering their pensions. Scavengers, speculators and slumlords buy up distressed and abandoned properties – houses, schools, factories, office buildings and malls – strip them of valuable resources, sell them for scrap or rent them to people desperate for shelter. Illicit lending operations charge outrageous interest rates and hire thugs or private security firms to shake down desperate borrowers or force people into indentured servitude to repay loans. Instead of investing in struggling productive enterprises, catabolic financiers make windfall profits by betting against growth through hoarding and speculative short selling of securities, currencies and commodities.

Social benefits, legal and regulatory protections and modern society itself will also be sacrificed to feed the profit engine. During a period of contraction, venal catabolic capitalists put their lawyers and lobbyists to work tearing down any legal barriers to their insatiable appetite for profit. Regulatory agencies that once provided some protection from polluters, dangerous products, unsafe workplaces, labor exploitation, financial fraud and corporate crime are dismantled to feed the voracious fires of avarice.

Society’s governing institutions of justice, law and order become early victims of this catabolic crime spree. Public safety is stripped down, privatized and sold to those who can still afford it. As budgets for courts, prisons and law enforcement shrivel, private security firms hire unemployed cops to break strikes, provide corporate security and guard the wealthy in their gated communities. Meanwhile, the rest of us will be forced to rely on alarm systems, dogs, guns and – if we’re lucky – watchful neighbors to deal with rising crime. Privatized prisons will profit by contracting convict labor to the highest bidders.

As tax-starved public services and social welfare programs bleed out from deep budget cuts, profit-hungry capitalists pick over the carcasses of bankrupt governments. Revenues for social security, food stamps and health care programs are chopped to the bone. Public transportation and decaying highways are transformed into private thoroughfares, maintained by convict labor or indentured workers. Corporations scarf up failing public utilities, water treatment, waste management and sewage disposal systems to provide businesses and wealthy communities with reliable power, water and waste removal. Schools and libraries go broke, while exclusive private academies employ a fraction of the jobless teachers and university professors to educate a shrinking class of affluent students.

A Dark Alliance

Cannibalistic profiteers can thrive in a growth-less environment for quite some time, but ultimately, an economy bent on devouring itself has a dismal, dead-end future. Nevertheless, changing course will be difficult because, as the catabolic sector expands at the expense of society, powerful cannibalistic capitalists are bound to forge influential alliances, poison and paralyze the political system and block all efforts to pull society out of its death spiral.

Catabolic enterprises are not the only profit-makers in a growth-less economy. Even a contracting economy must extract energy and other resources from the Earth. Unless the profit motive is removed by bringing these assets under public control, corporate real estate, timber, water, energy and mining corporations will deploy their lobbying muscle to completely privatize these vital resources and enhance their bottom line with government subsidies, tax breaks and “regulatory relief.” The growing capital, energy and technology commitments needed to commodify scarce resources may cut deeply into profit margins. As less solvent outfits fail, the remaining politically connected resource conglomerates may maximize their profits by forming cartels to corner markets, hoard vital resources and send prices soaring while blocking all attempts at public regulation and rationing.

The extractive and the catabolic sectors of capitalism have a lot in common. An alliance between them could put irresistible pressure on failing federal and state governments to open public lands and coastlines to unregulated offshore drilling, fracking, coal mining and tar sands extraction. Scofflaw resource extractors and criminal poaching operations proliferate in corrupt, catabolic conditions where legal protections are ignored and shady deals can be struck with local power brokers to maximize the exploitation of labor and resources. To pay off government debt, national and state parks may be sold and transformed into expensive private resorts while public lands and national forests are auctioned off to energy, timber and mining corporations.

As globalization runs down, this grim catabolic future is eager to replace it. Already, an ugly gang of demagogic politicians around the world hopes to ride this catabolic crisis into power. Their goal is to replace globalization with bombastic nationalist authoritarianism. These xenophobic demagogues are becoming the political face of catabolic capitalism. They promise to restore their country to prosperity and greatness by expelling immigrants while carelessly ignoring the disastrous costs of fossil fuel addiction and military spending. Anger, insecurity and need to believe that a strong leader can restore “the good old days” will guarantee them a fervent following even though their false promises and fake solutions can only make matters worse.

Is Catabolic Capitalism Inevitable?

So, what about Green capitalism? Isn’t there money to be made in renewable energy? What about redesigning transportation systems, buildings and communities? Couldn’t capitalists profit by producing alternative energy technologies if government helped finance the unprofitable, but necessary, infrastructure projects needed to bring them online? Wouldn’t a Green New Deal be far more beneficial than catabolic catastrophe?

Catabolic capitalism is not inevitable. However, in a growth-less economy, catabolic capitalism is the most profitable, short-term alternative for those in power. This makes it the path of least resistance from Wall Street to Washington. But Green capitalism is another story.

As both radical Greens and the corporate establishment realize, Green capitalism is essentially an oxymoron. Truly Green policies, programs and projects contradict capitalism’s primary directive – profit before all else! This doesn’t mean there aren’t profitable niche markets for some products and services that are both ecologically benign and economically beneficial. It means that capitalism’s overriding profit motive is fundamentally at odds with ecological balance and the general welfare of humanity.

While people and the planet can thrive in an ecologically balanced society, the self-centered drive for profit and power cannot. A healthy economy that encourages people to take care of each other and the planet is incompatible with exploiting labor and ransacking naturefor profit.Thus, capitalists will resist, to the bitter end, any effort to replace their malignant economy with a healthy one.

Would the transition to a sustainable society be expensive? Of course. Our petroleum-addicted infrastructure of tankers, refineries, pipelines and power plants; cities, suburbs, gas stations and freeways; shopping centers, mega-farms, fast food franchises and supermarkets would have to be replaced with smaller towns fed by local farms and powered by decentralized, renewable energy. But the cost of making this Green transition is a priceless bargain compared to the suicidal consequences of catabolic collapse.

Is Resistance Futile?

Before we decide that resistance is futile, it’s important to realize that the converging energy, economic and ecological disasters bearing down on us all have the potential to turn people against catabolic capitalism and toward a more just, planet-friendly future. The approaching period of catabolic collapse presents some strategic opportunities to those who would like to rid the world of this system as soon as possible

For example, in the near future, energy scarcity and economic contraction may manifest themselves as a paralyzing financial meltdown. Interest-based banking cannot handle economic contraction. Without perpetual growth, businesses, consumers, students, homeowners, governments and banks (who constantly borrow from each other) cannot pay-off their debts with interest. If default goes viral, the banking system goes down.[3]

When the banking system finally implodes, credit freezes, financial assets vaporize, currency values fluctuate wildly, trade shuts down and governments impose draconian measures to maintain their authority. Few Americans have any experience with this kind of systemic seizure. They assume there will always be food in the supermarkets, gas in the pumps, money in the ATMs, electricity in the power lines and medicine in the pharmacies and hospitals.

During a financial meltdown, government officials find it difficult to retain public confidence; people blame them for running the economy into the ditch and suspect that their pseudo-solutions are actually self-serving schemes designed to keep themselves on top. Consequently, this crippling crisis could serve as a powerful wake-up call and a potential turning point if those who want to abolish catabolic capitalism are prepared to make the most of it.

But crises don’t necessarily incite positive responses. Power will be decisive in the unfolding struggle over the future of our species and the planet; and those that benefit from the status quo are bent on holding on to it. Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine warns us that those in power will exploit the traumas caused by major catastrophes to rally support for their own disastrous agenda (like invading Iraq after 9-11 or expelling the Black community from New Orleans after Katrina).

In the midst of shocking disasters those in power play upon our fears and prejudices to keep us passive, turn us against each other and under their control. If we resist all attempts to keep us apathetic, distracted and divided, they seldom hesitate to use every method at their disposal to keep themselves on top, including intimidation, coercion and brute force. Each time they succeed, life becomes more miserable for everyone but them.

Crisis only becomes our ally when popular anger is channeled into transformative insurrection against the system that causes it. How people respond to systemic disintegration will be pivotal. Who will be blamed? What “solutions” will gain support? Who will people listen to, trust and follow in times of extreme hardship, insecurity and unrest? To turn the tide against catabolic capitalism, activists must prepare people for the cascading crises that lie ahead. They must become trusted responders: defining the problem; organizing grassroots resilience and relief; and building a powerful insurrection against those who profit from disaster. But even this is not enough. To nurture the transition toward a thriving, just, ecologically stable society, all of these struggles must be interwoven and infused with an inspirational vision of how much better life could be if we freed ourselves from this dysfunctional, profit-obsessed system once and for all.

Climate chaos alone will impose many hardships, from extreme droughts, water scarcity, farm failures and food shortages to forest fires and floods, rising sea levels, mega-storms and acidified oceans. Movement organizers must help people anticipate, adapt to, and survive these hardships—but social movements cannot stop there.  They must help people mount the kind of political resistance that can strip the fossil fuel industry of its power and leverage their own growing influence to demand that society’s remaining resources be re-directed toward a Green transition.

Notes.

[1] Despite record corporate profits and cash flow, at least a third of the buyback shares are being purchased with borrowed money, bringing the corporate debt to an all-time high, not only in an absolute sense but also in relation to profits, assets and the overall size of the economy.

[2] The term “catabolic capitalism” used here is somewhat different from the theory of catabolic collapse developed by John Michael Greer.  Greer looks at the demise of all civilizations (capitalist and non-capitalist) as a catabolic process.  How Civilizations Fall: A Theory of Catabolic Collapse .

[3] Banks’ retained earnings and shareholder capital only amount to 2-9% of their loan portfolio, so it doesn’t take much of a loss to put them under.

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Clark: Preserve Ottawa’s Kilmorie house as a heritage and cultural hub

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On Thursday, Nov. 14 at 9:30 a.m., the City of Ottawa’s planning committee votes on an application to approve a subdivision for a unique property at 21 Withrow Ave.

Kilmorie, a unique historic property, is situated in the middle of the city, a block off busy Merivale Road. This piece of land is the last remaining evidence of the early settlement of Nepean. It is a landmark for the City View and Nepean community dating back to the 1840s. It is one of the area’s most cherished heritage properties.

Kilmorie house is the second-oldest stone house in Ottawa. The property still contains more than 100 mature trees in a variety of species. To enter this property is a touch of magic in a whirlwind of traffic just a block away.

In 1915, the house was bought by William Wilfred Campbell. Campbell was known as one of Canada’s renowned Confederation Poets. Some famous poems of Campbell’s that were studied in our school days and continue to be enjoyed today are: “Down the Merivale Road,” “Indian Summer” and “The Woods at Kilmorie.” “The Mother,” acclaimed internationally, was read out loud in Parliament. Campbell himself, related to the Royal Family, wrote poetry in these gardens, entertained future prime ministers and coached the young militia preparing to serve in the First World War. He was a fervent Canadian patriot and a renowned artist.

Kilmorie house is the second-oldest stone house in Ottawa. The property still contains more than 100 mature trees in a variety of species.

The City View Community Association and the Kilmorie Heritage Society have been working to save this property as a community hub and an arts and cultural centre. Other educational undertakings could be held in the gardens of heritage flowers and where citizens are welcome to sit to enjoy the surrounding natural beauty.

What does the City of Ottawa think of this idea? It thinks that a subdivision of élite homes that would sell for close to $1 million each, located on a private road, would be better use of this land. And what will happen to the Kilmorie heritage house?  It would be tucked away on a private road, where only this small group of élite homeowners would see it. This house has been a focal point of this area for almost 200 years. Are we just going to let it be hidden forever?

Joan Clark is shown at the estate on Withrow Avenue in 2016. Wayne Cuddington / Postmedia

There are many people who support the preservation of this heritage site. Is the administration of the City of Ottawa acting in a short-sighted manner? Is City Hall more concerned about profit and the taxes to be gleaned from a few more high-priced houses? Has it lost its vision of the future for our young people, who are promoters of green spaces and ecological settings?

Our councillor is currently not active. Who will advocate for us? As citizens of Ottawa, we currently have no representation at City Hall. Councillors have been assigned to help us but do not have the background needed. Our councillor, MP and MPP are all supportive. Many people at City Hall are quietly supportive. We know that they see the merit in what we are trying to accomplish on behalf of our community and our city. Do we really need another subdivision with 14 detached dwellings shoehorned into a unique plot of land that has the potential to be a special setting which values our historic heritage?

Let’s keep Kilmorie in its whole and natural setting.

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Ottawa specialty bakery grows beyond owner’s dreams

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Much like baking, business can be a lot of trial and error before you get it right.

Six years and many sweets later, Jacqui Okum, owner of Strawberry Blonde Bakery, continues to tinker, even though the concept remains much the same.

More than a decade ago, the new vegan had been working in television in Toronto, however, she quickly ran into a problem: when it came to baked goods, she was left to make her own, as vegan-friendly options at that point were few and far between.

“I found myself making stuff at home because I still wanted to eat everything, but I couldn’t really find it,” Okum said in an interview with OttawaMatters.com.

Wanting to make a change from TV and with her new acumen for baking, Okum decided to enroll in a pastry program at George Brown College, one that included a focus on entrepreneurship.

Okum’s husband then got a job at the University of Ottawa, so she moved to the city and began to make offerings to the public, mostly through market stands like the ones at Lansdowne Park.

While her vegan offerings were popular, she began to get feedback about other products customers were looking for, including gluten-free and nut-free products.

The wheels slowly started turning.

After getting a job at Rainbow Natural Foods, Okum met her original business partner who was baking similar things, and the two decided to “go for it.”

At first, Rainbow allowed the two to bake out of its kitchen for a reasonable rate, but within six months the pair had already outgrown it, with orders surpassing space.

In 2013, the two opened their first shop on Grange Avenue in Hintonburg, which would include vegan-friendly, nut-free and gluten-free products to accommodate all dietary needs — something important to Okum.

“Being vegan myself, I knew what it was like to go somewhere and not have anything, or to have one option and it’s a sad looking option, or a piece of fruit,” Okum said.

“I’m still the person who wants the delicious cupcake or whatever it may be, so I really empathize with people who are celiac or maybe have a nut allergy. I took it really seriously.”

The challenge of making everything “just as good” as other offerings also drove Okum and she takes great pride when someone enjoys something from the bakery and doesn’t realize the limited ingredients.

“There’s nothing better. We get customers all the time where say they’re husband and wife and the wife comes in because she doesn’t want to eat gluten and the husband’s like ‘I don’t want it,’” she said. “And then he comes back and says, ‘My wife forced me to try this,’ but now he wants to come back because it’s so good. That’s the whole point of this business, is to make sure things look and taste similar to conventional bake goods.”

The passion and work to build up the offerings at the bakery has taken on a life of its own since the opening of the Grange Avenue location, which moved to Richmond Road as of two weeks ago, to include a coffee and sitting space. The business has now extended to the suburbs as well, with a Kanata location that opened this past June, with possible lunch offerings on the docket for 2020.

Okum said she couldn’t have dreamed that the venture would have been successful as it’s been so far almost seven years on.

“We have 40 employees, which is crazy to me and to think it was just me and business partner six years ago. It’s been a huge learning curve.”

When it comes to running a business, Okum offered to those looking to go down the same path to keep their minds open and to be flexible.

“What you think might happen isn’t what actually is going to happen but don’t be rigid,” she said, noting the original thought was that the bakery would mostly for wholesale use.

“Be kind to yourself, you’re going to make mistakes,” she said.

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