Monthly Archives: February 2019

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Reports: Japan’s prime minister under pressure to resign next month over tsunami, budget

TOKYO – Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, criticized for his handling of the tsunami disaster and the country’s sluggish economy, is under pressure to resign next month after budget bills are passed by parliament, reports said Monday.

Kan is being pushed by senior members of his party to step down after the passage of a second extra budget for the current fiscal year, which ends in March 2012, according to the Kyodo News agency and public broadcaster NHK.

Passage is expected in mid-July.

Kyodo and NHK said Kan is expected to announce details of his intentions soon, after meeting with the party leadership. NHK said it is not clear whether he will agree to step down next month or try to hold on longer.

Kan has said he is willing to resign after the country’s recovery from the disaster takes hold, but has not specified when.

No clear successor has pulled away from a pack of potential replacements, though the Japanese media have focused on Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda, a fiscal expert who shares many of Kan’s policies.

Kan’s resignation would be an embarrassment to his ruling Democratic Party of Japan, but his rivals in the party apparently believe it would be better off without him at the helm.

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Kan has been under increasing pressure to resign because of his perceived lack of leadership following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that devastated the country’s northern coastline and left about 23,000 people dead or missing.

Damage is estimated at $300 billion, making it the most expensive natural disaster in history.

He has also been hammered for his handling of the crisis at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, which was severely damaged by the tsunami.

But Kan was deeply unpopular even before the disasters as he struggled to find policies to boost the economy, lower unemployment and deal with the public debt.

Kan assumed office just over a year ago. Japan has had five prime ministers in the past four years, and its parliament is mired in gridlock.

The disasters have been a major test for Kan.

Factories throughout the region were damaged, leading to shortages of parts and components for automakers and other manufacturers. Consumer spending has plunged and the crippled nuclear power plant has caused widespread power shortages that could worsen in the months ahead.

Last week, the International Monetary Fund slashed its outlook for Japan, predicting its economy will shrink 0.7 per cent this year instead of growing 1.4 per cent.

Half of workers and managers have faced mental health issues, study suggests

OTTAWA – Susan Jakobson, of all people, might reasonably have been expected to recognize and act on the signs of mental illness.

A nursing supervisor with a long history in managing human resources, Jakobson nonetheless was slow to seek help when cancer treatment and a suicide in her family combined to send her spiralling into depression.

“I think when you’re actually the person who has the illness, you might have all the academic knowledge around it and all the things you think you should know – but when it’s about you, it’s a totally different situation,” Jakobson said in an interview.

“It’s different being the patient than being the health-care professional in these situations.”

Mental illness in the workplace is a huge issue hiding in plain sight, a situation made clear in a new report by the Conference Board of Canada released Monday.

The report, “Building Mentally Health Workplaces,” is based on a national survey of more than 1,000 employees – including almost 500 front-line managers, with follow-up interviews for some. The findings bookend a new initiative by the Mental Health Commission of Canada to establish national standards for psychologically healthy workplaces.

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“When it comes to mental health, misinformation, fear and prejudice remain far too prevalent,” says the Conference Board report. “It is time for a change.”

The report says that in 2009-10, “78 per cent of short-term disability claims and 67 per cent of long-term disability claims in Canada were related to mental-health issues.”

The personal and financial cost is staggering.

Jakobson, a Toronto-based health professional who is the principal of Healthy Minds at Work, says she was 53 and at the top of her game – “going strong, working at a job I absolutely loved” – when things began to unravel.

A breast-cancer diagnosis which coincided with the suicide of a beloved niece turned her life upside down.

“The problem was my symptoms actually got worse because of the way my situation was managed at work by one particular senior manager,” she told a news conference in Ottawa last week.

“Unfortunately this person didn’t recognize that there was an impact of my physical illness and the loss of a loved one on my mental health, and that – even though I was back at work – I was still trying to recover.”

Jakobson was “increasingly disorganized” and unable to concentrate, and worked longer hours in a fruitless effort to compensate. She became short-tempered with co-workers and family, couldn’t sleep and lost her appetite.

“I started believing I was incompetent,” she said.

“I remember actually having to bargain with myself to get out of bed in the morning.”

Hers is hardly a unique situation.

The Conference Board found that 12 per cent of its survey respondents were currently experiencing a mental-health issue and another 32 per cent said they’d faced one in the past.

The report found “a significant disconnect” between the perceptions of executives and employees about how well their workplaces deal with mental illness. Four fifths of executives felt their companies promote mentally healthy work environments, yet just 30 per cent of employees felt the same way.

Almost half of all managers – 44 per cent – had no training in managing workers with mental-health issues.

The report states that despite the challenges, “most solutions are relatively inexpensive to implement, but require flexibility and creativity on the part of employers.”

For Jakobson, it took her the better part of a year to come to terms with her mental illness and “accept treatment.” After switching jobs within her company and getting support from friends, family and senior managers her health improved “fairly quickly.”

“My situation has brought home the need for supports for both employers and employees,” she said.

“If I’ve learned anything to help employers it is this: That an actual important part of recovering is being at work, is going to work. But don’t expect the employee to be 100 per cent when they get back.”

Jakobson said “you need a thoughtful, supportive, planned way to return someone to work.”

The Conference Board report suggests changing corporate culture is one of the more difficult challenges in this regard.

“Like any successful venture within an organization, the full support and involvement of senior leaders is required for change to occur …. It is still relatively uncommon in organizations for senior management to openly discuss the importance of mental health.”

But the report doesn’t spare co-workers or unions.

The survey found some employees returning from a mental illness “felt isolated, ignored or shunned by colleagues,” a reception that increased feelings of shame and embarrassment.

The survey also found that “somewhat surprisingly, employees are no more comfortable disclosing a mental-health issue to a union representative or shop steward than they are to their supervisor.”

Louise Bradley, the president and CEO of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, said publicly airing workplace mental-health issues is the place to start ending the stigma.

Bradley compares it to the early years of AIDS “and even around breast cancer, for Pete’s sakes, people didn’t talk about.”

Jakobson is doing her part, putting a public face on an illness that too often lurks behind the cubicle next door.

“It still is about a three-year journey for me, but I’m in a good place now,” she said.

Disasters, economy top agenda as western premiers gather in Yellowknife

YELLOWKNIFE – Disasters, such as spring flooding and forest fires, will be on the agenda when Canada’s western premiers hold their annual meeting.

The political leaders from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, B.C., Yukon, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories start a three-day meeting Monday in Yellowknife.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger want to talk about how the provinces can press Ottawa for a new national disaster strategy.

“Most disaster damage and rebuilding costs are entirely preventable,” said Wall.

“Investments in prevention provide a four-to-one return on investment and they limit the misery and anguish these disasters cause our families.”

Both Saskatchewan and Alberta have faced serious flooding this spring.

In fact, Wall’s arrival at the conference will be delayed because he’ll spend Monday touring communities in southern Saskatchewan that have been flooded by a deluge of rain. Up to 75 millimetres of rain fell on southern parts of the province between Friday and Saturday, causing significant swelling of the Souris River.

Selinger said the serious challenges facing the agricultural economy on the Prairies, such as the amount of unseeded land, will also be discussed.

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The Canadian Wheat Board said last week that somewhere between 2.4 million and 3.2 million hectares of farmland will go unseeded in the West, mostly in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. That could suck $1.5 billion to $2.5 billion out of the prairie economy.

Tapping into new economic markets and trade will top the agenda for Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach.

“Our future prosperity will be determined by our ability to tap into rapidly growing Asian economies,” Stelmach said in a news release.

“If we’re going to sell our products in countries like China or India, we need to be able to get those products to market. It’s critical that we in the West work together to ensure the infrastructure we need – the pipelines, the ports, the railways – is in place and up to date.”

This is Stelmach’s last western premiers conference before he steps down from office in October.

Some of the other faces around the premiers’ table have already changed – this is the first meeting for British Columbia Premier Christy Clark and Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski.

Trial begins of Indonesian militant accused of procuring weapons, setting up terror camp

JAKARTA, Indonesia – One of Indonesia’s top terrorism suspects went on trial Monday on charges of helping set up a terrorist training camp for a group that plotted attacks on foreigners and assassinations of the country’s moderate Muslim leaders.

The trial of Abu Tholut began days after a hard-line cleric was sentenced to 15 years in prison for supporting the same jihadist camp.

Tholut, 50, is accused of procuring M16 assault rifles and other weapons for the camp, which was raided early last year in westernmost Aceh province, prosecutor Bambang Suharyadi told the West Jakarta District Court. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Arrested in December, Tholut is one of more than 120 alleged members of the “Tanzim Al Qaeda in Aceh” group to have been captured or killed since the camp was uncovered. More than 50 of those men have been sentenced to prison.

Radical Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, co-founder of the al-Qaida-linked Islamist movement Jemaah Islamiyah, was last week sentenced to 15 years for supporting the camp.

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Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, was thrust onto the front lines of the battle against terrorism in 2002, when Jemaah Islamiyah militants bombed two crowded nightclubs on the resort island of Bali, killing 202 people, many of them foreign tourists. There have been several attacks since then, but all have been far less deadly.

Police have said the Aceh group was plotting Mumbai-style gun attacks on foreigners at luxury hotels in the capital of Jakarta and assassinations, including of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, to punish the government for supporting the U.S.-led anti-terrorism fight.

Tholut, also known as Mustofa, became one of Indonesia’s most wanted fugitives after master bomb-makers Noordin M. Top and Dulmatin were gunned down early last year in police raids.

He was convicted for involvement in a 2001 bomb blast at a shopping plaza in central Jakarta that wounded six, and he served five years of an eight-year sentence after getting remission for good behaviour. Like dozens of other convicted Indonesian extremists, he returned to his terror network after he was released.

Nasir Abas – a former militant who has helped police track down and arrest several members of his network – said Tholut had been a combatant in Afghanistan and an “excellent instructor” who helped train Islamist militants in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao.

Judges adjourned the trial until next week, when Tholut’s lawyers are due to respond to the charges.

EU harshly condemns worsening violence in Syria, threatens new sanctions against regime

LUXEMBOURG – The European Union condemned in the strongest terms Monday the worsening violence in Syria and said it was preparing to expand its sanctions against the regime.

But it stopped short of announcing new penalties, and it did not call for President Bashar Assad to step down. Any new sanctions would be an effort to bring about “a fundamental change in policy by the Syrian leadership without delay,” it said.

The sanctions in place so far have not had that effect. In late May, the EU expanded sanctions to include Assad himself after earlier travel bans and asset freezes on 13 people with links to the regime failed to stop the killing of anti-government protesters.

Monday’s statement gave no indication of who might be targeted next, other than to say that they would “target individuals and entities responsible for, or associated with, the violent repression against the civilian population.”

The statement made no mention of Assad’s televised speech Monday, in which he said his regime would consider political reforms but also said that “saboteurs” were exploiting legitimate demands for reform.

On the way into the foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg, British foreign secretary William Hague said Syria’s leader had to reform or go.

Hague also said he hoped that Turkey, Syria’s northern neighbour, would play an influential role in conveying to Assad the will of the international community.

“I hope our Turkish colleagues will bring every possible pressure to bear on the Assad regime with a very clear message that they are losing legitimacy and that Assad should reform or step aside,” Hague said.

The opposition estimates more than 1,400 Syrians have been killed and 10,000 detained as Assad unleashed his military, pro-regime gunmen and the country’s other security forces to crush the protest movement that erupted in March, inspired by the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt.