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Precarious jobs scar employees’ mental health

Posted on 23 March 2017 by admin

It’s a well known trope that millenials are permanently attached to their phones.

Stress, unhappiness and an unhealthy home life are the biggest consequences of unstable employment, according to a new survey of more than 4,000 workers by the Ontario Federation of Labour.

While financial insecurity was flagged as a cause for concern, respondents identified anxiety as the single most important repercussion of precarious jobs.

“I’m not surprised because it’s been happening for so long here in this province,” said OFL president Chris Buckley.

“My heart aches for people who are in this situation, because you can’t plan your day-to-day life. You can’t plan your future. You can’t plan anything.”

Some 31 per cent of survey respondents singled out their emotional health as the most significant casualty of precarious work.

An unreliable income made up the next biggest share of answers at 28 per cent.

A further 22 per cent said precarious work compromised their inability to plan ahead.

Respondents said other negative side-effects included lack of benefits, low wages and debt.

Some 52 per cent of workers in the GTA now experience some form of insecurity in their jobs.

Half of the respondents to the OFL’s survey of its members said they had been precariously employed in the past, and more than a quarter said they defined their current job as precarious.

Existing research conducted by United Way and McMaster University shows precarious workers are twice as likely as those in stable employment to report having mental health problems.

Indeed, low-income workers in stable jobs were found to report better mental health than higher-earning individuals in precarious jobs.

A 2012 University of Michigan study showed precarious workers in that state were five times more likely than those in secure jobs to be at risk of major or minor depression and three times more likely to report having an anxiety attack in the past month. Research from Sweden suggests precarious work has a “scarring effect” on young people’s long-term mental health.

The Ontario government is currently reviewing its employment and labour laws with an eye to providing better protection for vulnerable workers.

“Right off the hop, workers should have their schedule at least two weeks in advance. They should be able to plan their lives at least two weeks out instead of sitting by the phone. The number of temporary jobs in Ontario has grown by 45 per cent since the year 2000,” Buckley said.

“I think the government has a real opportunity to make changes here, and I just hope that they’re listening to people.”

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Stop assaults against nurses and other health-care workers

Posted on 16 March 2017 by admin

Attacks as severe as these ones are, thankfully, rare. But the incidence of assaults on nurses and other health-care workers – everything from spitting to hitting – are far too common. In fact, according to new research from the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, violence against health-care workers is a “daily” occurrence.

And, apparently, few are immune from the threat of it. The unions found that all but one of 54 workers interviewed for the study had directly experienced violence at work.

These numbers are disturbing, but not surprising. They are backed up by years of research into violence directed at health-care workers. What is surprising is that the unions say the attacks are “unacknowledged, dismissed, or tolerated by administrators and regulators.”

Such an attitude is unacceptable. For too long managers of health-care facilities have known about the threats against their employees, but little has been done to protect them. Precautions must be taken immediately, or sooner or later someone is going to get killed on the job by a patient or visitor.

Indeed, health-care workers already have the second highest number of reported injuries in the province, according to statistics from the province’s workers’ compensation board.

Other studies underscore the increasing risk of a violent attack on workers at Toronto’s health-care facilities. For example, violent incidents in the University Health Network doubled to 331 from 166 between 2012 and 2014. Reports of abuse against staff by patients and visitors jumped to 320 in 2013 from 140 in 2012 at Sunnybrook Hospital. And there were 453 physical assaults or abuse of health care workers at CAMH in one recent year.

“In no other occupation or walk of life would such abuse be tolerated,” notes union leader Michael Hurley.

Why are things getting worse? Workers surveyed for the new research said underfunding and understaffing are “significant contributors” to workplace violence.

As a result, the unions recommend that the ministry of labour audit all of Ontario’s health-care facilities to make sure effective protections are in place; ensure that workplaces have safeguards such as personal monitors, alarms and identification of violent patients; and ensure adequate staffing levels and the presence of trained security personnel where needed.

Labour Minister Kevin Flynn should act quickly on these recommendations. Then he should work on changing attitudes among managers so that violence against health-care workers is never considered acceptable.

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Ottawa wants tougher national standard for distracted drivers using cellphones

Posted on 09 March 2017 by admin

Transport Minister Marc Garneau is calling for the creation of a tough national standard to penalize distracted drivers using their cellphones on the road.

Garneau believes that having consistent national rules with stiffer fines and demerit points could address the growing number of incidents.

While dangerous driving is covered under the Criminal Code, cases involving distraction are a provincial responsibility with fines and demerit points that vary widely across regions.

Provincial penalties for distracted driving range from $80 to $100 plus three demerit points in Quebec to a maximum fine of $1,200 and five demerit points in Prince Edward Island, according to the Canadian Automobile Club.

Cellphones and hand-held electronic devices are banned while driving in all provinces, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories, but there is no prohibition on driving while using hands-free devices.

“I would like it to be treated very, very seriously because to put it in simple terms, I consider that driving requires 100 per cent of your attention,” Garneau told reporters before heading to Washington for a meeting with U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

The minister recently sent a letter to his provincial counterparts urging them to agree to tougher and uniform penalties for texting and talking on cellphones while driving.

“Having robust and nationally consistent enforcement measures and penalties will help mitigate the negative impact of this increasingly pervasive problem on Canada’s roads,” he said in the three-page letter dated Feb. 21.

Garneau said the growing prevalence of cellphones with many apps make distracted driving an evolving issue.

He told provincial transport ministers that 2014 National Collision Database findings showed that 19 per cent of fatal collisions and 29 per cent of incidents causing major injuries involved some form of distracted driving.

A 2005 study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that nearly 80 per cent of collisions and 65 per cent of near-collisions involved some form of driver inattention up to three seconds prior to the event.

The minister declined Wednesday to say if he would like to see cars taken away from drivers found guilty of distracted driving, but said stricter penalties are required.

“I personally feel it should be at the higher end rather than at the lower end.”

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The province must deliver long-term funding support to Toronto

Posted on 25 February 2017 by admin

The City of Toronto can’t afford any longer to limp along with budgets held together with duct tape and string.

After a marathon 15-hour debate last week, the city adopted a $10.5-billion operating budget after the usual battles over where to trim, which fees to increase, and how much of its rainy day reserve fund it will have to raid to patch over the gaps. Oh, and a voter-friendly increase in property taxes of just 2 per cent.

But it’s dawning on more and more councillors that none of this is enough to set a proper path forward for a city with the size and ambition of this one.

Toronto’s infrastructure and social housing stock is crumbling and it has $33 billion in unfunded capital projects. The city badly needs substantive and stable financial support from the provincial and federal governments if it is to be able to do any kind of long-term planning and fulfill its tremendous potential.

Happily, Mayor John Tory seems to have reached the same conclusion. Last week he went on a multi-day road show to push for long-term funding support for the city and urge a “vigorous” debate on how cities are financed. The mayor should get the full support of council and all those who share his view that Toronto has outgrown what he labeled the “prehistoric handcuffs” that are threatening to hold it back.

As he told a TV interviewer: “The days of being told that we have to limit ourselves to regressive property taxes that don’t grow with the economy, those days should be over .”

Tory signalled he does not intend to give up on implementing new revenue tools, such as road tolls on the Don Valley Parkway and Gardiner Expressway, despite Premier Kathleen Wynne’s refusal to give the city permission to do so.

More importantly, he served notice that he expects the province not to just approve new revenue tools for long-term financial planning, but to pony up its share of infrastructure costs.

It’s about time. For decades the federal and provincial governments have downloaded costs in areas like social housing and infrastructure to cities.

Consider the cost to the city of social housing, alone. Three years ago Toronto approved a 10-year, $2.6-billion plan to address the backlog of repairs for Toronto Community Housing that was supposed to be financed jointly by the city, province and federal government. But neither Queen’s Park nor Ottawa has stepped up to pay its share.

As a result, TCH expects to close 425 units this year because they are uninhabitable. In 2018, if it doesn’t get more funding it will have to shut another several hundred units. And this is happening when almost 200,000 people are on the wait list for affordable housing in Toronto.

Starving Toronto of ways to pay for its needs doesn’t make financial sense for the city, the rest of the province, or indeed the country.

As Tory told the Empire Club last Tuesday, the city is home to fully 20 per cent of all Canadians and generates more than 18 per cent of the national GDP . “And yet we make up just 1.3 per cent of general government expenditures in Canada.”

“A city that generates so much economic prosperity for our country, especially if denied the opportunity to address its own finances, cannot continue to receive so little investment in return,” he argued.

Tory has made five new demands of the provincial government. He wants it to share costs on large transit projects such as the Eglinton East light rail line, waterfront transit, and downtown relief line. He wants it to match costs for new investments in social housing and for tackling the massive repair backlog. He wants it to provide land for new affordable housing projects. He wants it to contribute significant funds to development of the Port Lands.

And he wants it to help the city pay for operation and maintenance of the Gardiner and DVP now that Queen’s Park has nixed his plan for tolls. These are the kind of big measures the city needs to get on a sustainable path to the future. When the Wynne government vetoed the city’s plan for tolls, it opened the door to demands like this. Its promise of an extra share in the provincial gas tax amounting to $170 million in a few years doesn’t cut it.

Tory has strong arguments to make in favour of much more significant funding for the city and this is the time to make them. A stronger Toronto will be good for all of Ontario, and all of Canada.

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Don’t abandon tax break to encourage jobs for young people

Posted on 15 February 2017 by admin

Justin Trudeau came to power with the enthusiastic backing of young people. They turned out to vote in huge numbers in 2015 and embraced his call for change in Ottawa.

It wasn’t just about style. Trudeau promised to create a lot of jobs for young people – specifically “40,000 good youth jobs” every year from 2016 to 2018. He even named himself Minister of Youth for good measure.

Now, though, one of the central promises that Trudeau’s Liberal party made to young people seems to have evaporated.

During the 2015 campaign the Liberals pledged to encourage employers to hire young people. The government would offer them a 12-month holiday on employment insurance premiums if they hired people aged 18 to 24 for permanent jobs.

The idea, similar to one a previous Liberal government tried with some success in the 1990s, was to counter the chronically high unemployment rate among young workers. It’s now running at 12.6 per cent, almost double the overall jobless rate of 6.9 per cent.

The promise of an EI premium break was included in the mandate letter that Trudeau gave his first employment minister, MaryAnn Mihychuk. And there were high hopes it would be included in Finance Bill Morneau’s first budget last March. But it was nowhere to be found.

Now the promise has disappeared entirely from the mandate letter given to the new employment minister, Patty Hajdu, who got the job in January’s cabinet shuffle.

Instead, the new minister was instructed to work with the government’s “Expert Panel on Youth Employment” to come up with ways of lowering the jobless rate among young people.

That sounds very much like a recipe for delay, delay and more delay. The promise of a temporary break on EI premiums was a focused measure that could be implemented quickly and give employers a concrete incentive to hire young people. In 2015 the Liberals estimated it would have saved employers who took advantage of it between $60 million and $80 million a year.

It’s still not too late for Morneau to include such a measure in this spring’s budget, though the fact that it is not to be found in Hajdu’s official job description doesn’t make that very likely.

The EI break was a relatively small-bore promise. But letting it fall by the wayside is problematic, especially since the prime minister is having trouble meeting the hopes that were raised when he named himself youth minister in addition to his day job of running the federal government.

It was great symbolism. But as the Star’s Alex Ballingall reported this past week, advocates for young people and students are starting to feel let down by Trudeau the youth minister.

So far his government has a mixed record in this area. It has increased student grants substantially for people from low- to middle-income families, raised the income threshold for repaying student loans, and created more summer jobs. At the same time, student debt continues to mount, tuition costs are rising, and youth unemployment remains at stubbornly high levels.

It’s asking a lot for a prime minister to also be an active, engaged youth minister, perhaps too much. One concrete gesture would be to revive his old promise and put the break on EI premiums to encourage jobs for young people back on the government’s agenda.

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Law society should clean up dubious legal ads

Posted on 08 February 2017 by admin

For years, Ontario lawyers were barred from advertising their services. Crass commercial pleas, it was thought, would reflect badly on the profession and undermine trust in the legal system. This prohibition was eventually – and reasonably – deemed an impediment to the public’s right to know what legal services are available and, in 1987, the Law Society of Upper Canada changed the rules to allow for ads as long as they were factually verifiable, accurate and generally preserving of the public trust.

Or, at least, that was the idea. Since the rule change, according to a Star investigation, the world of legal advertising has become a “wild west,” with firms regularly making false or misleading claims or otherwise flaunting the regulations. Meanwhile, the law society, which is supposed to regulate the profession, appears to be doing little about it.

With trust in the legal system and other institutions on the decline, these truth-bending advertisements threaten to compound the problem. It’s time the law society took another look at the rules and how they’re enforced.

One issue is the touting of dubious awards and other unsubstantiated accolades in legal advertising. The current rules caution against any one firm stating it is “qualitatively superior” to another. Yet, as Star reporters Kenyon Wallace and Michele Henry discovered, dozens of firms, particularly ones specializing in personal injury, regularly break this rule.

Another web address, www.bestpersonalinjurylawyertoronto.com , led directly to the Preszler injury firm’s site. Contacted by the Star, a representative of the firm said Preszler does not own the URL and, in any case, he added, “I don’t think the name of a domain suggests that somebody is better than the other.” But how else, one wonders, can bestpersonalinjurylawyertoronto.com be read?

The law society is currently reviewing the rules around advertising and is expected to report back with recommendations later this month, possibly including an outright ban on the use of awards, real or imaginary, in ads. Given how widespread this practice is – the Star found 25 examples with a perfunctory Google search – and how many of the awards appear to be invented or paid for, that would be a good start.

A second issue is enforcement. Between 2011 and 2015, the law society received 604 complaints about problematic advertising – 304 of which were initiated by the regulatory body itself. Yet not one lawyer has been disciplined. Most of the cases have been resolved through compliance, such as changing the offending advertisements. With this the law society seems content, telling the Star that better enforcement is not likely to be among its upcoming recommendations.

That’s a mistake. Lawyers should not be allowed to lie to or mislead the public with impunity. Serious or repeated transgressions should lead to some form of discipline.

Going back to an outright ban on legal advertising would be misguided, but neither can lawyers be allowed to mislead the public and undermine trust in the crucial institution they represent. The law society has a responsibility to impose more stringent rules and to discipline those who break them.

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Canada must stand strong in wake of attack on mosque

Posted on 01 February 2017 by admin

More than a million Canadians are Muslim, and in the wake of the horrific shooting at a Quebec City mosque many of them will be living in fear. They need to know that their fellow citizens are standing with them, not just in words but in deeds.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other political leaders found eloquent words on Monday in condemning the attack and expressing solidarity with Canadian Muslims. Trudeau called it a “terrorist attack… an attack on our most intrinsic and cherished values as Canadians, values of openness diversity and freedom of religion.”

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard and Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume also did the right thing by standing firm with the city’s shaken Muslim community. Couillard insisted that Canada and Quebec must remain “a beacon of tolerance” in a world that increasingly seems to be losing its head.

That’s all fine, but the fact is alarm bells have been ringing for a long time, warning of a rising climate of hate. The last thing Canada needs is to content itself with patting itself on the back for remaining an island of kindness in a hostile world.

Investigators are just starting to unravel the motivation for the attack, which they say involved a single shooter, a young Quebec City man named Alexandre Bissonnette.

But it has escaped no one that the shooting comes as hostility towards outsiders in general and Muslims in particular has reached fever pitch in many countries. The Trump administration’s crackdown on refugees and immigrants from selected Muslim countries sends a powerful message of fear and danger that will have toxic effects far beyond the borders of the United States. And of course, politicians throughout Europe have been fueling similar sentiments for years.

Closer to home, the signs of a darker mood have also been there for those willing to see them. Even as the Trudeau government opened Canada’s doors to refugees from Syria, that was far from the whole story in this country. In fact, hate crimes directed at Muslim-Canadians more than doubled over the past three years, while such crimes were actually down overall.

Quebec, in particular, has seen a growth in anti-Muslim feeling and a troubling inconsistency in the public response to it. Some politicians there have cynically stoked fear of Muslims or failed to condemn it when it reared its head.

It’s good to hear Couillard speak out strongly, but Quebec needs all its political leaders and opinion-makers to be firm on this. They should take the mosque attack as a dire warning to stop using issues like the niqab as a wedge to score cheap points with voters. As Couillard noted, words can have real impact in the real world.

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Donald Trump is out to write the script for his new reality show

Posted on 26 January 2017 by admin

President Donald Trump.

As improbable as it still seems to read those words, or to write them, they are reality. The one-time businessman took the oath of office Friday and is now the most significant political figure in the nation, and the world.

In a bleak inaugural speech laced with populist and nativist themes, the president said he would not let the country down. “We will face challenges. We will confront hardships. But we will get the job done,” he said.

Since the election, Americans and people worldwide have sparred over how the public should view the new president. Many insist Trump’s communication style and ideas are so far outside the mainstream he should be treated as unqualified and illegitimate.

We saw evidence of the widespread unease about Trump Saturday, when millions of Americans, most of them women, poured into streets and parks across the nation and the world. Their message, delivered in the best tradition of American dissent, was clear: President Trump should not be normalized.

Many of us are understandably worried Trump threatens long-standing democratic norms: free expression, the protection of minority and individual rights, the importance of debate and compromise. Much of his campaign and parts of his transition have amplified that fear.

But declaring this a failed presidency before it even begins won’t help our country. Like every president before him, Trump deserves a chance to succeed, and Americans should commit to giving him the opportunity to do so.

Part of our reasoning comes from principle. Like it or not, Trump is now the president for all of America. The nation faces enormous challenges: health care, wealth inequality, education, job creation, foreign relations. If Trump fails, we do, too.

If President Trump thinks he’s getting a fair shake, he may moderate his rhetorical approach and carefully consider different views on public-policy questions.

If not, a siege mentality likely will consume the White House, and he will do whatever he wants.

Of course, Trump may do whatever he wants, regardless of the circumstances. That means our willingness to give the president some running room has limits.

Trump’s endless tweet-storms are at best pointless and at worst dangerous. Twitter battles must stop. Governing America is serious business, not a 140-character rant delivered in the middle of the night.

Trump, to his credit, has pushed back against some of this extremism, promising to be a president for all Americans. If he can accomplish that goal, he’ll deserve our applause.

Similarly, if Trump can reverse the decline in U.S. manufacturing jobs without seriously harming foreign trade, that’s a win for America. If he can boost the farm economy, or bring growth to troubled inner cities, or stop the plague of violence that threatens police and minority communities, he will have helped his country.

We hope he can.

To be clear: We will take President Trump at his word. The suggestion we shouldn’t take his statements literally is absurd — how else are we to understand him? Guess?

And when he makes demonstrably false claims, he isn’t being “colorful” or “populist.” He’s lying.

The president’s words and actions will be judged by media and people.

If President Trump succeeds, you’ll know it.

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Stop deportations under defunct rule

Posted on 19 January 2017 by admin

Canada would be lucky to have Gina Bahiwal.

Since arriving here in 2008 the university-educated social worker from the Philippines has worked tirelessly as a farm labourer, housekeeper and McDonald’s employee to support her family back home — and still found time to fight relentlessly for migrant workers’ rights.

Now, in a cruel irony, the temporary foreign worker is being deported out of Canada under the so-called four-in-four-out regulations that she fought so successfully to revoke.

According to the rule, migrant workers had to leave after four years and could not return to Canada for another four. Though the policy was quashed by the Trudeau government in December, Bahiwal and other foreign temporary workers whose work visas had expired before that date were not grandfathered.

Her deportation would be a loss for this country. Canada’s new Minister of Immigration, Ahmed Hussen, should halt it before it occurs on Sunday — and reconsider the fates of other workers still in the country whose visas expired under the now defunct rule.

“Every victory that we have accomplished, from banning recruitment fees to ending the four-in-four-out rule, is attributed to the activism of Gina,” said Chris Ramsaroop of Justicia for Migrant Workers. “She is a leading force for a more compassionate, fair and inclusive society.”

While Bahiwal could apply for re-entry to Canada after deportation it would be difficult. She would need a rare authorization from the minister because she has overstayed her welcome which ran out in October 2015.

But there is still hope. In the spring of 2015, before forming government, Justin Trudeau said the Harper regime’s four-in-four-out rule was “yet another example of a government that lacks compassion and a flexible reasonableness around . . . some very vulnerable people.”

He now has a chance to prove how compassionate, flexible and reasonable his own government can be when it comes to the vulnerable. He can start by revoking Bahiwal’s deportation order and then look beyond.

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Economic challenges test Trudeau’s promise of more progressive path

Posted on 11 January 2017 by admin

Justin Trudeau came to power on the promise of more active government after a long period of austerity. Investments to stimulate growth, improve long-term economic prospects and fix our tattered social safety net – these were among the campaign commitments voters endorsed in 2015.

How would Ottawa pay for this new activism? Trudeau offered a welcome alternative to the longstanding orthodoxy of endless cuts and annual balanced budgets. The government would run deficits of up to $10 billion per year for three years before balancing the books in 2019.

Ah, the best-laid plans …

By December 2015, the Parliamentary Budget Office was warning that demographic factors and sagging commodity prices likely meant that the government would come up far short. By the middle of last year, Finance Minister Bill Morneau had abandoned any talk of a timetable for erasing the red ink. Now a new Finance Canada report projects a very different fiscal future: annual deficits through to 2050.

Trudeau’s promise of more active government without increasing taxes for most people clearly held political appeal – and most economists at the time said there was indeed both need and room for more public investment. So what is a self-proclaimed progressive government to do when the need remains, but the room has disappeared? How far does it back off its vision – and with what consequences?

That things have not worked out nearly as the Liberals predicted will of course be used as a club by small-government devotees to try to beat away Ottawa’s more progressive aspirations. Claims of fiscal mismanagement are already emerging from predictable corners. “In only one year, [the Liberals] have proved without a shadow of a doubt that they have no control of public spending,” said Conservative finance critic Gérard Deltell.

Not really. First, the factors darkening the economic outlook are largely beyond Ottawa’s control, and are certainly not the doing of a one-year-old government. Second, the fiscal situation is not as bleak as the critics claim.

To consider the sustainability of deficits in isolation from growth is misleading. As a share of the economy, the projected deficits are expected to max out at 1.1 per cent through 2050 – hardly disastrous. Moreover, federal debt is expected actually to decline as a share of GDP over the coming decades.

Nonetheless, it is no doubt true that the government can’t fund its progressive vision by racking up debt indefinitely; without the expected surpluses on which Trudeau pegged his promises the government will have to confront some very difficult choices.

Early signals suggest Ottawa may retreat. In response to the new projections, Morneau reiterated his commitment to “prudence” in health-care spending. That’s reason to worry. The provinces rejected the feds’ offer of a new funding formula that would decrease Ottawa’s already insufficient share of rising health costs, offloading risks to the provinces and ultimately to citizens. This also bodes ill for those hoping the upcoming federal budget will contain significant new investments for a range of pressing needs, from a national housing strategy to addressing infrastructure shortfalls.

There is, of course, another way – one the government seems open to exploring, but with no apparent enthusiasm. Namely, taxes.

The first: collect what’s owed. Canada currently loses tens of billions of dollars annually through tax evasion. Even if we could recoup a small portion of that, it would put a significant dent in our fiscal challenge. The second: deliver on the promise to review tax loopholes, many of which overwhelmingly benefit the rich with no obvious public utility. Morneau has vowed to find a plausible, if modest, $3 billion in savings by capping and closing the worst of these breaks. But under industry pressure, he’s done almost nothing.

In Toronto, we have seen up close the consequences of ignoring the revenue side of the tax-and-spend equation. The new Finance Canada report makes clear that Ottawa faces the same harsh choices of unwelcome and costly cuts or politically challenging tax increases. The choice this government makes will test its promise of a more progressive path.

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