Monthly Archives: October 2010

Perspectives: A Loss for the U.N.

After two rounds of voting last Tuesday, Canada withdrew its bid for a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council, a seat which it deserved to win. It was the first time in over 50 years that Canada did not win its campaign for a seat. Canada not only lost prestige by losing the election, but also a chance to use its foreign policy record as a supporter of human rights and democratic regimes as an example for other member states.

The seat is supposed to go to a country that has made significant contributions to international peace and security. During Canada’s last stint on the council, in 1999-2000, it led the fight against blood diamonds, promoted the creation of the International Criminal Court, helped protect civilians caught in armed conflicts and promoted smart sanctions against uncooperative regimes. Canada used its chairmanship of the G8 to reach out to leaders from Africa and the Americas and to secure an agreement to enact the Muskoka Initiative for maternal newborn and child health. Canada clearly has the necessary skills to steer the UNSC in the right direction. During its campaign for the seat this time, it made particular mention of its leadership in Afghanistan as evidence that it can take a leading role in international affairs.

In the last 10 years, Canada has become a new presence in world affairs-a shift from its previously passive image. Canada has condemned the nuclear ambitions of Iran and helped promote sanctions against it. In early June, Canada agreed to implement the measures outlined in UNSC Resolution 1929 and confront the Iranian nuclear threat. With a seat on the Security Council, Canada might have had the opportunity to encourage the international community to follow suit.

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff said last month that he didn’t think that Canada deserved to win the election for the seat. He is wrong. If there is one country that has earned the right to be on the Security Council, it’s Canada.

Ignatieff fails to recognize Canada’s efforts in the international arena during the last 10 years. Increases in Canadian aid to Africa, efforts to improve the health of mothers and children, and working to fight HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria are only a few of Canada’s recent accomplishments. As a potential future leader of Canada, Ignatieff should be the first to proclaim these achievements and support Canada’s increased involvement in international affairs, no matter who the current government is. It is a sad day for Canada and for the UN when a chance to bring open discourse, transparency, and a re-focused agenda is taken away.

Successive Canadian governments have said that the integrity of the UN must be maintained through a process of reforms to eliminate its debilitating partisanship. In December 2004, Canada encouraged General Assembly members to focus on more constructive resolutions rather than focusing on a single area: the Middle East. This would enhance the credibility of the UN and make its organization more influential globally. A year later, Prime Minister Paul Martin vowed “to eliminate … the annual rite of politicized anti-Israel resolutions” at the UN. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has also pledged to pursue UN reform to make the system more transparent, accountable and effective.

The potential to implement such reforms has disappeared along with Canada’s bid for the Security Council. It is a serious loss for Canada, and even more serious a loss for the UN.

This was published on the McGill Tribune as part of my bi-weekly column, Perspectives.

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The Harsh Reality of Competing for Unpaid Internships

One topic that interests most students is the dilemmas of unpaid internships. Read my article below, posted on TalentEgg.ca, for the scoop.

Competing for a job is never easy when you’re stacked against other successful candidates with the same education, skills and experience—and it’s even harder when those other applicants are willing to work for free.

Employers and students are calling internships the new entry-level job. In difficult economic times and tough sectors, employers are laying off workers and replacing them with unpaid, or low paid, interns.

Although it’s controversial among employers, students and their parents, internships are common and expected for university students and graduates who bulk up their resumés and get their name known in their industry of choice.

In the 1980s and 1990s, many companies began hiring interns to save on labour costs. It was a phenomenon that was popular in fashion, entertainment and creative industries, where getting a job out of university was near impossible and stellar networking could land an intern a full-time job.

Nowadays, from accounting to marketing, communications to engineering, employers are hiring and students are applying, for unpaid internships.

The idea of an unpaid internship is shocking to some parents. I grew up in a family that values hard work. It didn’t matter what type of work I did, as long as it was honest. The idea of working for free, even in exchange for enhancing my resumé, was not understood.

Students across the country have long expressed frustrated views on this issue. Unpaid internships are seen asexploitative, elitist and beneficial only for wealthy kids who can afford to pay expenses while doing unpaid work.

Others see it as necessary for advancing a career and a worthwhile opportunity to break into a field while having a meaningful experience.

Marisa Baratta, a former intern at Sweetspot.ca and 29secrets.com, studied book and magazine publishing and was recently hired by Sweetspot.ca.

She completed her fourth full-time unpaid internship this summer and she says each one has been a great experieence. “All my internships allowed me to learn things about the magazine industry that I could not have learned in university, and I was able to experience what I had learned in school in a real work setting.”

Baratta finances her internships with her savings—she’s had summer jobs since Grade 11.

Searching for a summer internship or a full time position as a graduate is not easy. I began looking for positions that interested me way back in January. I applied for 18 paid and unpaid internships, interviewed with six organizations and was offered three positions for me to choose from.

The process was exhausting but it paid off.

One organization accepted me into its internship program but was located in Washington, D.C. It was an unpaid position and there were no funds for any living expenses.

Even though it was a great organization and it might have introduced me to wonderful people in my field, I couldn’t justify spending thousands of dollars to work for free to myself or to my parents.

I turned it down even though I had no other job prospects at the time. Luckily, other positions pulled through, but that’s not always a chance most students are willing to take.

Cara Eng, a communications intern at CTV, was required to complete internships to graduate. Although most of the coveted intern spots were unpaid, she says it’s still possible for students to find relevant, paid experience. “It isn’t impossible. I think it’s about looking in the right places, and knowing how to do that is what they don’t teach in school.”

She stresses that internships are a way for you to get you noticed in a fast-paced field. “You really have to prove your abilities and skills before you’re given meaningful tasks. Even if your internship isn’t exactly what you hoped for, students have to realize their networking may land them a job in the future,” she says.

According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), 21.7% of summer 2009 graduates who were in employment six months later had been taken on by an employer with which they had previously completed some kind of work experience.

At the end of the day, students have to do what’s best for them. If you can afford the time and money to complete an unpaid internship, the experience is usually worthwhile. You can even ask employers to cover some expenses, like transportation.

If you can’t afford to take on an unpaid position, there are still paid opportunities out there. They require more time and energy to search and apply for these jobs.

Start early, brush up your resumé and you might be able to avoid competing for an unpaid internship.

The Culture of Fear

When the G20 summit came to Toronto this summer, it promised a weekend of discussions about economic outlooks, foreign policies and international communications. Its unexpected consequences were the fear and backlash that stayed in Toronto after the G20 left.

In the aftermath of the G20, rather than remark on the progress made during these international talks, instead media focused on the story behind-the-scenes: the invigoration of Canadian politics.

Prior to the Summit weekend, the Ontario government passed a new regulation which allows police to take drastic measures to maintain the utmost security at the G20 events. Under the new regulations, anyone who came within a five meter radius of the security zone (which included the Metro Toronto Convention Centre and along the security fence) was obliged to give the police their name and state the purpose of their visit if asked. Anyone who failed to provide identification or an insufficient explanation could be searched and arrested. This new regulation passed in Ontario’s cabinet on June 2 without legislature debate.

The G8/G20 Integrated Security Unit assured the public that the new regulations were precautionary measures to ensure the security of the G20 officials.

Over the course of the weekend, over 900 people were arrested, although few were actually charged and prosecuted, Toronto streets were destroyed as banks and commercial chain stores were broken into and police cars were set on fire. One billion dollars in security, 20,000 law enforcement officials and 1,000 private security guards failed to securitize this city.

Those arrested claimed they didn’t want to lose their free speech or freedom of assembly simply because prominent members were in town. Suddenly, a city that rarely sees such political activism, a country known for its peace-keeping nature, transformed into a protest zone. In only 24 hours, more people were arrested than during the October Crisis in Quebec 40 years ago.

Back in the early 1960s, the government of John Robarts tried to pass a similar law (Bill 99), which would have given the police powers similar to what they had during the G20. The government concluded the law was inappropriate and inconsistent with Canada’s democratic traditions. Premier Robarts’ attorney-general, Fred Cass, was forced to withdraw the bill and resign.

Behind the prestige of a world conference is the criticism that this event was a corporate-driven excuse to make a profit. This event brought together Canadian state security agencies with a Canadian multinational corporation which gained millions in public funds. The contract to build up the security in downtown Toronto was given to a Montreal-based engineering company called SNC-Lavalin, who has a history of seeking global contracts. In 2004, its subsidiary, SNC Technologies, managed to make a deal to manufacture over 300 million bullets for the US military in preparation for the war in Iraq. A year later, SNC-Lavalin’s annual general meeting was met with a barrage of protests, condemning the participation of Canadian corporations in the US war on terror. As public rage increased, the contract was dropped.

Another one of SNC-Lavalin’s big contracts is in Afghanistan, where it works with the Canadian military in Kandahar. Its role is to develop infrastructure that can help assist Afghanis with the transition change in their government. The corporation was selected to rebuild a dam on the Arghandab River, a 50 million Canadian accomplishment in Afghanistan, which is now taking a turn for the worse.

SNC-Lavalin works directly within the militarized compound of Ahmed Wali Karzai, the younger half-brother of Afghani leader Hamid Karzai, and recent paramilitary clashes over the project facing a ballooning budget have forced Canadians overseeing the project to leave Afghanistan. New developments by US investigators indicate that officials linked to Karzai may be conspiring with local insurgents in order to maximize profits by securing a development project on the brink of disaster.

SNC Lavalin is a beneficiary of the post-9/11 global security demands. However, these security developments may not be protecting Afghanis or Canadian interests in Afghanistan at all. Private security companies and engineering contractors have relied on this climate of fear to maximize their profit by keeping fear and security needs at bay. Following 9/11, over 130 billion was invested into private contracting companies by the US Department of Homeland Security. Perpetuating a climate of fear only ensures that a city can play into the security needs and hand over millions of dollars to support it.

The need for a billion dollars of security in a post- 9/11 world is rooted in this cycle of fear. Rather than open up the doors to discourse and freedom of thought, Canadians closed the door to those democratic ideals under the guise of maintaining security. The new regulations and security preparations developed for the G20 summit only entrenched the idea of a new security culture in Canada.

Ontario police prepared for violent behavior at the G20 summit, and encouraged a belief that the only way to protect citizens is through the removal of certain rights. This occurred in the city that Statistics Canada examined had the second lowest overall crime rate in all 27 metropolitan areas. Canada’s national crime rate has been declining for the past three years although the media doesn’t show it.

Torontoist magazine studied the homicide statistics in Toronto and found that Toronto was a relatively safe city to live in. Despite statistics like these, Canadian newspapers like the Toronto Sun make vivid reports of the “summer of the gun… again” (2007 and 2008), even though the number of people killed by any type of weapon went down 28% in 2008. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) stated that the risk of terrorism is low. Yet protesters at the G20 were not allowed to express their opinions and instead the city prepared to stifle them. Companies like SNC-Lavalin benefited from the militarization of Toronto’s culture.

In the post G20 Toronto, citizens are now confronted with a climate of fear that they must accept or refuse. The sensationalism of Canadian politics only serves certain interests, not those of private individuals. Perpetuating this climate only allows the cycle of fear – real or not – to continue.

This article was published in Futuréale‘s online magazine.

Perspectives: Confidence and Female Achievement

When it comes to diversity in politics, Canada has a long way to go.

This is true even compared to the United States. Only one woman has ever been elected as a premier in Canada, and we’ve had only one female prime minister. The U.S., on the other hand, currently has eight female state governors, and 22 states have had female governors. When it comes to representation by immigrants and visible minorities, Canada falls even further behind. The U.S. has one governor of South Asian descent, a Latino governor, and, of course, an African-American president. Comparably, Canada’s ministers are almost uniformly white males. The two most notable Canadian female political figures, Adrienne Clarkson and Michaelle Jean, were both Governor-General, a largely symbolic role. Despite a relatively liberal immigration policy and more female births than male, Canada’s political institutions remain overwhelmingly comprised of males of European descent.

Not surprisingly, this can negatively affect how confident women are in their own abilities. As I found out in my political science class last week, even though women now excel in many “male” fields, they tend to feel less confident, often negating their own skills and expertise. I was struck by this paradox: women have advanced their careers, achieved political milestones like equal pay, voting rights, and acceptance to previously barred fields. Yet even as women become more capable and more confident, they are rarely as confident as men.

It seems that this research hits close to home at McGill. I haven’t had the opportunity to conduct a study to determine if women and men are equally secure in their abilities as students and educators, but there is a clear discrepancy between the two in higher-level positions. For instance, out of 13 student senators on the university senate, only four are women. How can we expect women to feel equally confident when there are so few apparent examples of female achievement? Luckily, there are efforts to overcome obstacles to female political involvement. McGill’s Women in House is a great program that encourages women to get involved in politics. It offers female students a trip to Ottawa to hear politicians speak and to shadow an MP. Through this program, McGill encourages its young women to develop their interests and achieve the expertise necessary to give them confidence in their own abilities. It’s time we spend more on programs that encourage political engagement from all backgrounds and introduce new voices to the student body.

Canada prides itself on being a multicultural, inclusive, and tolerant society. But the leaders of our political parties are far from diverse or multicultural, especially when compared to the leaders in American politics. Canada is proud to be a country where political representation does not depend on money or image, as it often does in the U.S., but it too often seems to depend on something else entirely: irrelevent biographical details like gender or ethnicity. It’s time we see more female faces representing our diverse society.

This article was published in the McGill Tribune as part of my column, Perspectives.