Category: Current Affairs

Flying During the Pandemic

Flying and the future of the airline industry have become major topics of discussion. The decision of Air Canada and WestJet to sell all their seats has provoked considerable controversy. The airline industry and some experts say that blocking the middle seats is unnecessary and that other new practices make an airplane flight safe enough. Taking temperatures at the airport, passengers wearing masks, staff clothed in PPE, enhanced cleaning of the aircraft interior, and more sophisticated ventilation systems, together, are considered sufficient to ensure that aircraft do not become hotspots for the virus if flights are full.

Both my husband and I flew back to Toronto from Vancouver in June, me on the l9th and my husband on the 30th. In both cases, the airport was virtually empty and preflight formalities were accomplished very quickly. There was little point in pre-registering as each passenger was required to complete a questionnaire about symptoms of COVID19 and prior flights taken, before checking their bags. There were few shops open at the airport, and no opportunity to buy even a newspaper. Sitting at the gate, most passengers wore masks and observed proper physical distancing. Loading into the aircraft was by zone; each lined up individually to keep passengers as separated as possible.

As for the flights themselves, both were cheaper than they have ever been and there was no extra tariff for fuel. Temperatures are taken before security, and everyone was required to wear a mask. Most importantly, all the centre seats were empty. That does not mean that there was a six-foot space between all passengers, but the large aircraft was at least one-third empty and the flight was quite pleasant. People did not physically distance as they were actually loading and unloading, but because there were many fewer passengers, there were fewer lineups, and the normally tedious process went much more quickly than formerly was the case. As the amount of hand baggage to be stowed up top was less, that cause for aisle congestion was also lessened. Waiting for luggage on arrival was quicker than normal, too.

Wearing a mask for the whole day, from arrival at the airport in Vancouver until leaving the airport in Toronto, was the one truly onerous requirement. Getting used to wearing a mask takes some doing. Staff would remind passengers to ensure their mask covered their noses if necessary. And to drink the water or eat any snacks, one had to improvise an alternative, if only momentarily. No food was provided on the flight, but most people had brought something to eat for the long flight across the country. Once seated in the aircraft, the staff provided personal kits containing several bottles of water, hand sanitizer, and gloves. The water was absolutely necessary; the rest was reassuring.

Canada is such a large country and cross-country connections are so extensive that flying is essential to the well-being of the economy and the populace. The future of the aircraft industry is a priority which takes some thought. Among my friends and associates, however, I have detected a strong disinclination to fly anytime in the near future. People would prefer to drive, even if it means driving long distances. The questions for the travel and tourism industries are: How will they entice people back to travel? What can they do to seduce Canadians back onto aircraft?

In my view, personal safety from the virus is the top priority of everyone at the moment. It strikes me that, for flying to become a viable option again, the airlines would be wise to make it as pleasant as possible at all fare levels. This may well mean continuing to block the middle seats for the foreseeable future so that the flying experience can be somewhat less congested than has been the usual case in recent years. I suspect that people would be willing to pay more money for the more space that this seating plan would provide. Certainly, my husband and I would have been willing to pay more in June for the service we received then.

The airlines need to gather data on why people are flying, what they think about current conditions, and what effects the various accommodations that the airlines are making will have. The more empirical data that is collected, the more future passengers may be inclined to fly.

When We Hear Music…

We hear music in our souls, and our spirits soar up like seagulls (I haven’t seen any eagles recently). Keeping cozy at home, which apparently is a national trait of Danes (which I claim as part of my ancestry through my maternal grandfather), I have a chance to listen to and learn about music. So I am discovering.

It is embarrassing to admit that only recently have I come to know the vast resources available on YouTube. How could I have missed it? My grandson has used YouTube for years. I gather that now there is even a YouTubeKids for music, videos, games, and all sorts of learning activities specially curated for children and youth.

Lori asks, “Why sleep, when there is so much to listen to on YouTube?” Where have I been all this time? There is even YouTubePremium, which is free for thirty days and gives ad-free performances even when your computer is off-line. And AppleMusic. And all those other streaming services which I am just beginning to appreciate. Wedded as I was (note the tense) to compact discs and the music I have downloaded to iTunes, I have never before taken the time to explore more modern means to access music. That was then; this is now.

The pandemic seems to have stimulated a cornucopia of creative activity waiting for us to share. I have already mentioned free access to the New York Metropolitan Opera videos which I gather can be converted into a subscription at a modest cost.

The Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra’s Ode to Joy, “From Us to You,” performed March 20, 2020 on YouTube was among the first. To date, over 2.6 million people have heard their rendition. A couple of days later, musicians from the Toronto Symphony Orchestra performed Appalachian Spring using the same “playing together although apart” modern technology. If you have not yet heard these, check them out.

I have since discovered that Canada’s 125-year-old Mendelssohn Choir has fifteen of its concerts since 2014 available as webcasts on its Vimeo/Livestream webpage. You can also visit their history blog.

Even Toronto Consort, Toronto’s outstanding early music ensemble which I have written about before, has preview tracks of its most recent compact disk “The Way of the Pilgrim: Medieval Songs of Travel,” on its webpage. You can purchase their CDs from Marquis Music, Amazon.ca and iTunes.

I am gearing up for the “One World: Together at Home” concert tomorrow (Saturday) evening April 18, 2020. It bills itself as the largest ever “broadcast and digital performance in support of frontline healthcare workers and the WHO.” Organized in cooperation with Lady Gaga, it will feature over one hundred artists including Canada’s Céline Dion and Justin Bieber. Check out your local schedules to see it on CBC, CTV, and a host of other channels, or catch it on your computer, beginning at 2:00 p.m. EDT. Enjoy.

This is Not an April Fool’s Day Joke

Apparently, the New York Times has cancelled April Fool’s Day. On whose authority? Did Trump order that? Governor Cuomo? It’s probably an illegal order. April Fool’s Day has never been a statutory holiday. It’s part of our freedom of expression as a culture. Since when can a newspaper dictate the cultural expression of the masses? Or Trump for that matter? What are they afraid of? Hackers taking over the world? I guess they could, but we desperately need a little levity. And, besides, I have never heard of such an order in Canada. We live in Canada.

But now we know that the COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020 (hopefully not extending into 2021) is not a joke. We are in it for a long haul. Who would have guessed that we would find ourselves in a period of cataclysmic historical change? I wonder if people felt this way at the beginning of World War One? Or on the fall of the stock market in 1929?? Or the start of World War Two? Maybe 9/11 is the closest in my generation. When we emerge from this pandemic, the world will not be the same. In an instant we will have pivoted to modernity.

“In these hard times,” to use my son Ben’s favourite phrase, we need to look for the bright spots. Already they are apparent.

In Canada at least, the tedious war between partisan interests, premiers and the federal government, and groups mobilized to pursue their own agendas, has ended. We are all in this together. We need each other. Our lives depend on good leadership and the cooperation of every citizen. This common experience will change our political culture and create a new climate of collaboration. We may be less wealthy, but we are already more cooperative and more nimble than we have been in decades.

Our Parliamentary system is working well. The government proposed to give itself the broadest possible powers necessary to fight an unprecedented epidemic. The Opposition challenged their draft legislation as over-reach. After hours of negotiation, but in historically fast time, all parties agreed to a compromise which appears to have given the government the powers it needed for a much shorter period. That Quebec was instrumental in proposing the compromise is a good thing for confederation. For all the last-minute drama, the parties did agree to an expedited process to approve the legislation in the House. And did you notice how quickly the Senate convened to approve the legislation? A refreshing reassurance that the Senate can move with expedition when necessary.

We are lucky to live in Canada. Our politicians of all stripes are rising to the challenge. Our civil service and public servants are professional and not gutted. We have a strong banking system and banks which owe a debt to the society which has sustained them. We have a public health care system and a social welfare infrastructure which provides the basis for speedy responses. We have the CBC which, for all its faults, is professional and brings the country together. We have business, cultural and community sectors which are innovative, energetic and willing to do what they can for the common good. For all our political and cultural diversity, we share common values and a sense of community.

We now know that we are living through a revolution. B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry noted that, in this age of modern technology, physical distancing need not mean social distancing. In World War One, young men and women left their families to fight abroad. Only the occasional letter or parcel arrived between family back home and the troops and medical personnel overseas. People lived in a state of dreaded anticipation. By World War Two, the telephone was commonplace at home, but less so across the water. Today, communications around the world are instantaneous over a proliferation of devices and apps. People (particularly those in the wealthy industrialized world of which we are a part) can see each other, conduct business, share common experiences of every possible kind, even write a book collaboratively with a host of experts located all around the continent.

Compare the spectacle of partisanship and dysfunction south of the border. Their response has been a horror show, and will lead to horrific results. Trump and the anti-science Republicans around him are doomed. What we are seeing is a massive human experiment, a comparison between how a pandemic should be fought versus how it is being fought in the USA. Canada’s going to come out looking good in this.

So while we do our part as troops in this environmental war, we are living through a total transformation of our society. It is our technological revolution. We are hurtling towards modernity in all sectors of our society and our lives. Governments are working collaboratively across the country (when did that happen last?) and with business and labour (both nationally and locally). Our public health care system will never be the same again. E-education is coming on a massive scale, whether we like it or not. Even the musty old legal system has stopped. When it gets going again, the old practices and culture that impeded reform will be swept away. Truckers and grocery staff are now recognized as essential workers. All sectors of the economy are joining in a communal effort.

Millions of people in lock-down and mandatory isolation are a captive audience who must find something to do to fill their time. In modern times, we are used to going out and about, shopping in the malls, using the gyms and the parks, visiting our friends and relatives in public spaces, restaurants, bars, discos. We are not used to being cooped up. How we deal with being housebound will be a major test. We need to find ways to divert ourselves in close quarters and in the physical presence of only our immediate family. It’s time to read the classics, take up an old or a new hobby, learn to play the piano, take up cooking, declutter the house. In the weeks ahead, we will talk about what people are doing, how they are doing it, and what resources are available to assist.

To survive, we are also going to need to learn about modern technology. Have you heard about Zoom? Two weeks ago, I knew nothing about it. Now I hear stock shares in Zoom are skyrocketing, and that it will sweep the world. Last Saturday, I was at my first Zoom gathering with my family. It was a hoot. I am meeting my close girlfriends for a Zoom date this coming Friday. Our next post will feature a Guest Blogger who will tell us how to set up Zoom and how to use it.

Did you pick up on the fact that Canada led the world in ensuring that the 2020 Olympics will be postponed until 2021? We had a great Winter Olympics in 2010. We know what hosting an Olympics entails. Good work to the Canadian Olympic Committee and the athletes who led that effort.

And did you notice that the Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to hear the appeal from the City of Toronto against Doug Ford’s arbitrary cut to the size of the Toronto City Council in the midst of the last municipal election? Maybe we will get some much-needed clarification of the modern law relating to the powers of municipal governments, and the standards of fairness that apply to the municipal context. This is going to be very useful.

It’s time to make lemonade out of lemons, everyone.

Happy Lunar New Year 2020

The Lunar New Year started this past weekend. Also called Chinese New Year or Spring Festival, this is the big annual holiday for over two billion people. More than a quarter of the world’s population, and many more than celebrate Christmas. In Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Indonesia, the Philippines, Viet Nam, North and South Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan, Singapore, and in cities around the world where these nationals now live, the “Lunar New Year” is a big event. So it is in Vancouver.

Red-coloured banners, ornaments, and lanterns abound. In Chinese culture, red stands for energy, happiness, good luck and success. Shopping malls advertise Lunar and Chinese New Year celebrations with all kinds of special features: night markets, food halls, musical performances, traditional dances, children’s craft workshops and art exhibits, lantern displays, a “Community of Castles” pop-up display illustrating different scenery and architecture, special sales, photo opportunities and door prizes. Supermarkets such as Osaka in Park Royal West Vancouver, which I have written about previously (here, and here), overflow with brightly coloured packages of special holiday sweets.

The 47th Annual Chinese New Year Parade took place on Sunday, starting at the Millennium Gate on Pender Street in the heart of Vancouver’s old Chinatown. It went on for two hours over a 1.3-kilometre route. Thousands lined the streets to watch the lion dances, traditional dance troupes, marching bands, and martial arts performances.

With a friend, I attended the Opening Ceremonies of the Lunar New Year on Saturday afternoon. This was the first day of the 15-day New Year festival. It was held at the International Mall, beside the Millennium Gate. Under bright red lanterns soaring to the ceiling, hundreds gathered to hear greetings, in English and in Mandarin, from Vancouver’s leading politicians and many of the local consular corps. I thought the speeches would go on forever.

Then a man wearing traditional costume threw red envelopes out to the crowd. Red envelopes signal the sharing of blessings and are traditional New Year’s gifts from parents, grandparents and older friends to children. Red envelopes normally contain money. These red envelopes contained lucky candies. An agile acrobat performed with hoops. And, finally, the Lion Dance began, with two giant multi-coloured dragon lions gyrating at length on the stage. The audience loved it.

The first day of the Lunar New Year changes every year. It is celebrated on the second new moon after the Winter Solstice and falls anytime between January 21st and February 20th on the Gregorian calendar (which we use).

Each year in the Chinese calendar is named after one of twelve animals. The animals rotate on a twelve-year cycle. In order, they are the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. People believe that the years represented by the animals affect the personalities of people born during that year.

This year celebrates the Year of the Rat. The years of the Rat include 1912, 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020 and 2032. Although rats are the smallest of the zodiac animals and may be scorned by many, they are recognized as an animal with spirit, wit, alertness, flexibility and vitality. If you were born in the Year of the Rat, you are thought to be adaptable, quick-thinking, intuitive, energetic and optimistic in outlook.

You can find which animal you are by inserting your Gregorian birthdate into this Chinese Zodiac Sign Calculator. 

Someone born in October 2009 was born in the Year of the Ox. According to the Chinese zodiac, oxen are “diligent, dependable, strong and determined. Also patient, methodical and persistent. Having an honest nature, they have ideals and ambitions for life, and attach importance to family and work. They achieve their goals by consistent effort.”

Most people born in 2007 were born in the Year of the Pig. But someone with an early January birthday (January 8, 2007, for example) is actually born in the Year of the Dog. This is because the previous year continues until the new year begins.

Dog is a symbol of loyalty and honesty. The Chinese zodiac says that people born in the Year of the Dog “possess the best traits of human nature. They are honest, friendly, faithful, loyal, smart, straightforward and have a strong sense of responsibility.” Although they may be “a bit introverted and timid,” they can make true friends for life.

Several times over the weekend, people wished me a happy new year. They said, “Gong hei fat choy.” According to Chinese new year etiquette specialists on the internet, however, using that phrase is technically not correct. That wish is actually for the recipient to become wealthy in the year ahead and is best used with fellow workers or in business. For your family and friends, better to say “Xin Nian (new year) Hao (good)” (pronounced: shin nee-an how). 

Xin Nian Hao, everyone.

 

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What has the Trudeau Government Done? An Update

In the heat of an election campaign, after months of the SNC-Lavalin affair, it is easy to forget what the Liberal government has actually done in the past four years. I wrote two earlier posts on the subject which list what they did until December 2016. See those posts here and here.

As my contribution to the current election campaign, it is appropriate to review what the Liberals have done since 2016. What follows is not comprehensive, and benefits from my reading Aaron Wherry’s Promise And Peril: Justin Trudeau in Power (2019 HarperCollins), which I highly recommend.

International Affairs:

From mid-January 2017 until late September 2018, the government was preoccupied with renegotiating the NAFTA agreement with the United States and Mexico. At first President Trump said that the relationship with Canada only needed “some tweaking.” By late April 2017, he was talking about “triggering a withdrawal.” Over the course of the negotiations, the US wanted to rebalance the trading relationship in favour of the US, impose a “rule of origin” which would require at least 50% of all auto parts to be produced in the USA, reduce the cap on autos exported from Canada to the US, do away with the Canadian supply management system which “unfairly” hurt American dairy farmers, include a sunset clause that would cause the agreement to expire after a certain time, and do away with the dispute resolution process.

In January 2017, Chrystia Freeland was made foreign affairs minister with responsibility for Canada-US Trade, including the negotiations about NAFTA. Born in rural Alberta of Ukrainian origin, now living in Toronto, she is an accomplished journalist who speaks five languages and has written extensively about income inequality. In June 2018, she was named Diplomat of the Year by Foreign Policy magazine.

In these negotiations, the government wanted the Americans to understand that Canada is “the signal largest market for US exports in all the world,” and that “at least a portion of their prosperity depended on (the existing) good trading relationship with Canada.” To do so, they decided that the best strategy was a united front at home. Cabinet ministers were assigned to chat up their counterparts in the Trump administration, the Congress, and in the states most dependent on Canadian trade (e.g.: Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Iowa, New York, Texas, California, and Florida). Freeland put together a bipartisan Advisory Council that included two former ministers of Stephen Harper’s cabinet (Rona Ambrose and James Moore), an advisor to NDP leader Jack Layton, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, and the president of the Canadian Labour Congress. Brian Mulroney offered to help, as did Jerry Dias, president of Unifor, the largest private-sector union in Canada. All spoke with whoever would meet with them in the United States.

The bipartisan lobbying proved successful. A Canadian suggestion that some percentage of each vehicle (ultimately 40-45%) should be made by workers earning at least $16 an hour, which favoured both Canadian and American workers, was adopted. The cap on cars that could be imported to the US from Canada was set at a level well beyond that ever attained by Canada previously. American dairy producers were given access to 3.59% of the Canadian market, slightly more than the 3.25% granted to the countries of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The existing cultural exemption for Canada’s use of foreign ownership rules and target subsidies to protect domestic broadcast, news, and culture was maintained. Chapter 19, which allows for independent arbitration of any “unfair tariff,” was retained. The sunset suggestion was dropped.

In the fall of 2018, 59% of Canadians told polls that the Trudeau government had achieved “as much as possible” in the NAFTA negotiations. There was a general consensus in the media and among the non-partisan Advisory Committee that the Liberal government did the best job possible and should be commended both for what was accomplished and the manner in which it was done. Aaron Wherry, at p. 162, concluded that, “In conspicuously expending great effort in and around the United States, the Trudeau government at least insulated itself against any charge that it should have done more to swing the negotiations in Canada’s favour. That effort also showed a government that was otherwise not always on display: comprehensive, nimble, proactive and well communicated.”

In March 2018, President Trump announced tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminum imported into the United States “as a matter of national security” but exempted Canada and Mexico “pending the completion of NAFTA negotiations.” Two months later, he changed his mind and imposed similar tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum, even as the NAFTA negotiations continued. Both Freeland and Trudeau denounced the tariffs. Although recognizing that tariffs only increased prices for consumers, the Canadian government had no choice but to respond in kind. Canadian tariffs imposed on a host of American products covered $16.6 billion in American exports. They were targeted at areas considered politically important, and were coordinated with similar tariffs imposed by Mexico and Europe. In Freeland’s words, this was “the strongest trade action Canada has taken in the postwar era.” By the fall of 2018, the Trudeau government also allocated $2.4 billion in support for Canadian steel and aluminum producers affected by the US tariffs.

Polls in 2018 indicated that 73% of Canadians were “extremely” or “very concerned” about “Donald Trump.” As of the fall of 2018, the American tariffs on steel and aluminum still remained in place and the new USMCA agreement was not yet ratified by the American Congress. Recognizing that the existing NAFTA agreement is still good for Canada, the Canadian government has taken the position that it will not ratify the new agreement until it is ratified by the US Congress. If the Congress delays or refuses to ratify it, NAFTA remains in place. In May 2019, the United States agreed to drop the steel and aluminum tariffs against Canada.

As for peacekeeping, the Liberal government finally sent a helicopter squadron to provide support for UN peacekeepers in Mali. Other Canadian forces were deployed in training missions in Latvia, Ukraine, Iraq, and the Middle East.

Domestic Affairs:

Wherry suggests that the “mantra of the Trudeau era… the middle class and those working hard to join it… [is] a statement of empathy and aspiration.” The Liberals focused on it initially and now all parties are doing the same. Under the Liberal government, federal income tax for those earning $200,000 or more increased from 29 to 33% while the rate for those earning between $45,000 and $90,000 dropped from 22% to 20.5%.

Of primary importance to the Liberal government was its reformed federal supports for families with children. The Canada Child Benefit transfers $23 billion to Canadian families on a progressive basis. A family with less than $30,000 income receives the maximum amount of $6,400 per child under the age of six. Families with higher earnings get smaller cheques; families earning $200,000 or more get nothing. In mid-July 2019, the Canada Child Benefit was indexed to inflation. Statistics Canada reported in February 2019 that the overall poverty rate in Canada declined to 9.5% in 2017 and that, as compared to 2015, 278,000 fewer children were living in poverty, in part due to the Canada Child Benefit payments. As Wherry indicates, this is “the most significant increase (of children out of poverty) ever accomplished by any government in Canada.” In the summer of 2017, the governor of the Bank of Canada also credited the Canada Child Benefit with being “highly stimulative” for the economy.

The Liberal government also put new funding into the Guaranteed Income Supplement and the Canada Workers Benefit, both of which were made automatic for eligible individuals who file a tax return. Student grants were increased for low and middle-income families. Money was also allocated for training for workers. New pay equity legislation has been enacted for employees under federal jurisdiction. The government also agreed with the provinces to spend $7.5 billion over eleven years on early learning and childcare.

The Trudeau government eliminated the Public Transit Tax Credit, the Children’s Fitness Tax Credit, the Children’s Arts Tax Credit and the Textbook Tax Credit. “Such micro-targeted… tax breaks were a hallmark of the Harper era, even as economists derided (them) as inefficient policies that generally rewarded people for behaviour that would have happened anyway.” (p. 83)

When the Conservatives left office in 2015, federal tax revenues as a share of GDP stood at 11.5%, a historic low and well below the pre-Harper average of 13.3%. Under Trudeau, tax revenues were set to settle at 12.4%, “exactly halfway between two different ideas of how much a federal government should properly need.” (p. 84)

Reflecting its priorities in spending, the Liberal government ran deficits of $17.8 billion in 2016-17, $14.9 billion in 2018-2019, and $19.8 billion in 2019-2020. It is argued that showing deficits in a period of economic growth is not a bad thing, and that the declining ratio of debt-to-GDP is an indication that federal finances are ultimately sustainable. In the mid-90s, the federal debt-to-GDP ratio reached 67%. Statistics Canada data as of March 2019 indicates that Canada’s overall debt-to-GDP ratio is now about 34%. To put this into context, it is interesting to note that, according to the US Bureau of Public Debt, April 17, 2019, the debt-to-GDP ratio in the United States in 2015 was 104.7% and in 2017 was 105.4%.

Wherry notes that the economy continued to grow at a decent rate (1.4%, 3.0%, and 1.8%) in the first three years of the Liberal government, and that the unemployment rate is the lowest in forty years. This is credited in part to immigration. Canada brought in between 221,000 and 280,000 immigrants annually between 2000 and 2014. In the last full year of the Harper government, Canada accepted 260,000 people. In October 2016 the Economic Advisory Council recommended that the federal government aim to increase immigration to 450,000 new residents annually. For economic growth and to counteract current demographic trends increasing the proportion of seniors per working people, the focus should be on economic immigrants and international students. The Trudeau government brought in 296,346 immigrants in 2016, 286,480 in 2017, and 321,065 in 2018. From 2010 to 2017, Canada’s population grew at a higher rate than any other G7 country. (p. 86)

 

Wherry reports that efforts to move infrastructure funding have been slow. The Parliamentary Budget Office found that only $7.2 billion moved in the first two years of the Trudeau regime, half of what was projected. The impact on real GDP was only 0.1%. In the spring of 2019, the Trudeau government moved to fast-track $2.2 billion directly to municipalities to get around the several conservative provincial governments that were moving too slowly to match the federal funds. (p. 85)

The Liberal government passed legislation more slowly than did the Tories, but their new legislative process included wide consultation beforehand and extensive review by the newly independent Senate after. Between the fall of 2015 and the spring of 2019, the Senate amended seventeen government bills, sending them back to the House for review. This compared to only one bill sent back to the Tories in the last four years of their government.

The Liberal government has faced continuing controversy on the pipelines as the political and legal scene has changed. Trudeau killed the Northern Gateway pipeline that was to go to Kitimat and banned large tankers from transporting crude oil along the north coast of BC. With the election of Donald Trump, TransCanada abandoned its Energy East proposal, which would have carried oil to Quebec and New Brunswick, in the expectation that their Keystone XL pipeline in the United States would be approved. That left only the Kinder Morgan proposal to twin its existing pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby on the BC coast which would triple the capacity of the line.

In November 2016, the Liberal government approved the Kinder Morgan proposal in exchange for Premier Rachel Notley’s reducing Alberta’s carbon emissions. Their intention was to mesh two ostensibly competing objectives: impose pricing on pollution to fight climate change in the long run, and build a pipeline to “create responsible and sustainable ways to get (Canadian) resources to market” in the short run. (p. 185). This delicate balance was undoubtedly difficult, guaranteed to concern environmentalists as much as it dissatisfied Albertans.

To win support of the BC government, the Trudeau government agreed to spend over $1.5 billion to improve marine safety and local spill responses and to protect the killer whale population. But, emerging from the May 2017 B.C. election, the NDP formed a government with the support of the Greens based on an agreement to oppose the Trans Mountain project. A year later, Kinder Morgan wanted to pull out of the pipeline project, and, to keep it going, the Liberal government bought the pipeline for $4.5 billion minus the capital gains.

In August 2018, the Federal Court of Appeal ruled that the National Energy Board had wrongly declined to consider the increase in tanker traffic related to the project and also that the Trudeau government’s consultations with the Indigenous were insufficient. In response to the court decision, the government ordered the National Energy Board to complete a review of marine impacts within twenty-two weeks, and appointed former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci to oversee new consultations with those Indigenous groups still opposed to the pipeline. The National Energy Board ultimately concluded that notwithstanding potential damage to the environment, twinning the pipeline was in the national interest and, in June 2019, the federal government again approved the Trans Mountain expansion project. The government committed that everything it earns from the pipeline will be invested in clean energy projects. Work is now underway on the pipeline, although legal appeals over the project continue.

In the fall of 2018, the Liberal government passed the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act (GHGPPA) which required all provinces to place a minimum price of $20 per ton on GHG emissions by January 1, 2019. Provinces have the flexibility to create their own solutions to deal with GHG emissions in their jurisdiction. If they do so, the federal government will not intervene. If they fail to do so, the federal government will impose a price on pollution and provide an annual rebate to families living within their jurisdiction. Although economists agree that putting a price on carbon is the most efficient way to combat carbon emissions, the newly-elected Jason Kenny government in Alberta, the Doug Ford government in Ontario, other conservative provincial governments, and the federal Tories are fighting what they call “the carbon tax” both on the hustings and in the courts.

The Trudeau government dealt with housing in two ways. For potential home buyers, it introduced between 2016 and 2018 the mortgage stress test which set stricter standards that federally-regulated lenders are to apply to borrowers seeking mortgages. The object is to ensure that buyers could still afford to carry their mortgages in the event that interest rates were to rise. In 2019 the Liberals also announced a $55 billion, ten-year National Housing Strategy led by the National Mortgage and Housing Corporation for renters. After several decades of little market attention to rental housing, the object is to create up to 125,000 affordable housing units and refurbish more than 300,000 public housing units.

With respect to the Indigenous community, the Trudeau government has taken initial steps to implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Long-term water advisories have been lifted in 87 First Nation communities as of August 2019. The government has also committed to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which includes provisions that protect Indigenous peoples from harmful and unwanted encroachment on their lands and resources without their free, prior, and informed consent. Putting that commitment into practice has been more difficult, leading to criticism of how these standards were not applied to the Trans Mountain project and to their support of the Muskrat Falls project in Labrador. In the spring of 2019, they enacted legislation providing support to Indigenous peoples trying to protect their languages, and also returning jurisdiction for child welfare services to First Nations communities.

It strikes me that the Trudeau government has done a great deal since it in came into office, notwithstanding drastically changing conditions both abroad and at home. The election of Donald Trump threatened the most important relationship Canada has with any other country. The Trudeau government has negotiated that to their credit. The cooperation which characterized federal-provincial relations in the first couple years of the Trudeau mandate has disappeared. Whose fault is that? Promoting change is not easy, takes time, and the results can be insufficient and even messy. I’m satisfied, however, that activism at the federal level on the various issues promoted by the Trudeau government is preferable to none at all. It will be up to Canadians to decide.

 

 

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Mastering the Paris Transit System

The highlight of our recent visit to Paris was, for me at least, two bus rides I took towards the end of our five-week trip. As a student in Paris over fifty years ago (is it really fifty years?), the Paris subway system seemed marvellously extensive and, to my mind, had to be one of the best in the world. Then, it was so easy, and I took it for granted.

Not this trip. This time, I found that using Paris public transit in my mid-seventies was a significant challenge and a disturbing mark of my aging. As the weeks of our visit passed, my mood was affected by my reaction to Parisian public transit. I found myself dreaming about crowded buses and endless trips on the Métro. And thinking that this city was too big for me.

Unlike in Toronto (where public transit has become child’s play for politicians, sabotaged by years of political interference), public transit in a truly world-class city like Paris is a rapidly expanding complex venture which is constantly changing and appears to be based on a rational assessment of public needs. In Paris, now, there are 16 Métro subway lines, five RER rapid transit train lines, two trams, and endless bus routes. All snake across the city, intersect at some stations but not at others, and are accessible using some tickets but not others. All are well-used. Learning how this system works and how to use it safely is a major challenge.

We initially decided to use the buses which ran up a major street not far from our 14th Arrondissement apartment. We know that buses are slow, subject to the congestion of the streets, and often crowded. But they seemed to go more or less directly to places that we wanted to visit. And since we were visitors with no particular deadlines, when we arrived was of little concern, and we could enjoy the sight-seeing en route.

Alas, different buses on the same street have different stops, and the official schedule (which is indicated at each stop) is more aspiration than reality. When one must wait too long, there is no choice but to take a cab or search for the nearest Métro stop. On one bus ride, there was some sort of demonstration on the street and, without prior notice, the bus driver just abandoned his route and dumped all the riders several blocks from where we wanted to go. As we walked to the Musée d’Orsay that morning, my husband swore that he would never again take a Parisian bus.

Buses also seemed to be dominated by older people, many with disabilities, some in wheelchairs and many young mothers with children in strollers. There is a reason for that. The subway system is comprehensive, relatively reliable, and in the process of being upgraded everywhere with the occasional rolling sidewalk, new security doors, escalators, and signage.

Notwithstanding these obvious improvements, we became acutely aware of the demands that the Paris Métro makes on its users. The Métro is built using long tunnels linking one line to another and using many steps, often on several steep staircases. For someone with mobility issues, using a cane or walking stick, or pushing a baby stroller, the Métro is decidedly difficult. We became very conscious of which Métro stations had escalators and where they were located. Elevators appeared to be non-existent. The stairs on the Métro became a factor which favoured the buses.

Another complexity of the Paris Métro system is the size of the stations and the variety of exits (sorties) provided. At Châtelet-les-Halles, for example, there are at least ten different sorties, some of which are accessible not in the station itself but via the nearby Les Halles shopping mall. The direction of the sorties is marked but finding them may require consulting the maps posted on the walls or help from one of the many English-speaking “volunteers” there to assist visitors like us. Going out the wrong sortie can put you a long distance away from where you want to go. Nobody wants to walk outside at length under a hot summer sun.

Since the RER lines were built after most Métro lines, RER stations will not necessarily be at exactly the same place as the Métro station with the same name. Everything is marked, but visitors have to be alert to the signage and take the time to follow it precisely. Miss the correct signage, and you will find yourself going on the wrong subway line, or the wrong direction on a Métro or the RER.

Learning to use the more modern and accessible light rail RER lines is a major step forward. The RER lines extend across the City and far into the exurban suburbs. The RER line we used when we lived in France thirty years ago goes from Saint-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse in La Vallée de Chevreuse to the west of Paris all the way to Charles de Gaulle Airport in the east. A “new” (to me) RER line now extends to Versailles Rive Gauche, a short walk to the palace and its gardens.

In the city, the RER lines act as an express train, stopping at fewer stops than the Métro and crossing the same area much more quickly and comfortably. So long as one’s route is in the city, the same ticket applies and there is no additional cost. It is more expensive if one is using the RER to go out of the city. To go from downtown to CDG airport, for example, costs about 10 Euros each way, but that cost covers all your Métro transport on that trip within the city itself. To get from downtown to St. Rémy costs 5.8 Euros. To go to Versailles costs 3 something Euros. If you are spending the day travelling the RER and the Métro, a day pass is cheaper than two one-way fares.

Clearly, those familiar with Parisian public transport use the RER system a lot. On our last day there, we used the Métro and the RER to go all the way from CDG to the Tuileries (near the Louvre) and back using a day pass. Each trip took less than 45 minutes (even with one change between the Métro and the RER and the need to use a long moving sidewalk at the exchange). Most of the way, it was comfortable and uncrowded.

In addition to the buses, the Métro, and the RER, Paris now also has at least two tram lines which are modern and accessible. I travelled on the T3A line from Pont du Garigliano near the Bois de Boulogne in the west to Porte de Vincennes in the east, and then on the T3B line from Vincennes to the new symphonic theatre at Parc de la Villette in the 19th Arrondissement in the northeast. That line extends further around the north of Paris all the way west to the Porte d’Asnières near Clichy. These are comfortable new light rapid transit lines which are above ground, have frequent stops, connect at no additional cost to the bus system, and provide public transit to more distant suburbs where the density of population does not warrant underground Métro service. They are also designed to accommodate crowds and wheelchairs.

The Paris trams are precisely what was planned and funded for Scarborough eons ago. In Toronto, they got scuttled by Rob Ford and other politicians of all persuasions who continually put their own interests above the needs of the public. Toronto imposed an extra 1% tax on everyone to pay for the extended Scarborough line and still squabbles about the nature of what should be built. While we have nothing, Parisians enjoy the use of their modern new trams in a timely fashion. 

The final weekend I was in Paris, I mastered the bus system. After visiting the new L’Institut du Monde Arabe, located near the Seine and east of Nôtre Dame, I found a bus stop (#89) right there which went to the Porte de France, a station on the new tram line. I knew that the bus which runs right near our apartment (#62) also went to the Porte de France. So I caught the #89. For my single ticket which cost 1.9 Euro, I rode to the end of the line, discovering many interesting new developments east of the massive National Library en route. I then transferred free of charge onto the #62 to take me back to the apartment. For much of the time, I had the bus to myself. When I didn’t, I was obviously the only non-local on the bus, and my fellow travellers were very helpful ensuring the I got off at the correct stop. I felt that I was back in the Paris that I once knew well.

It was apparent throughout all our use of the Parisian public transit that the French will always give up their seats (on the bus, Métro, RER or tram) to anyone who is disabled, using a cane or even just older. On the single occasion when this did not happen almost instantly, I was in a very crowded tram, confused about where to pay using my ticket (rather than the passes locals use) and rather abruptly asked a young teenage boy for his seat. He got up complaining about “the pushy American” who thinks she can take his seat. A French woman watching the incident admonished him that his complaints were totally unjustified; as a Frenchman, he should have given up his seat voluntarily. 

A related incident occurred at the beautiful Sainte-Chapelle on Isle de la Cité. I was sitting beside several young anglophone tourists who occupied five of the twenty or so chairs set up down one side of the chapel. An older, grey-haired French woman stopped in front of them and in polite French asked if she could have a seat. The girls stared blindly, did not move, and the senior went on her way. The youngest then turned to her companions and said that she did not understand what the woman had said. When I told them that she was asking for them to give her a seat, the five were embarrassed, got up and left. Clearly, it takes a village….

 

 

 

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A Solution to the Wilson-Raybould Affair

Further to my post on Thursday, see the excellent article by Adam Dodek, Dean of the Common Law section of the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law. The Globe and Mail published the article entitled “The impossible position: Canada’s attorney-general cannot be our justice minister” on February 22, 2019.

Dean Dodek provides the history of the existing two-hatted position, the background necessary to understand the context of the current “crisis,” and the need for Canada to adopt a new governmental structure like that in the United Kingdom. What he has to say accords with my own thoughts on this matter

In my view, at this stage in the ongoing saga, the Liberals could achieve the “solution” they need, both practically and politically, if they took advantage of the “new kind of politics” Jody Wilson-Raybould has brought to them, embraced her within the Liberal caucus where she properly belongs pending re-admission to Cabinet, and separated the Department of Justice and the Attorney-General, as both Wilson-Raybould and Dodek have recommended.

That would be a beneficial outcome of this very messy affair. It would cut through the ever-expanding witness list before the Justice Committee which, while fascinating for the inside dope it offers on how government works, is a colossal waste of time and money and cannot lead to a definitive finding, one way or the other. It would also undercut the partisan harping that the Opposition parties would undoubtedly like to continue until Election Day.

Once that initiative were taken, focus could shift to the ongoing court proceedings, and to the reports of the Justice Committee and the Ethics Commissioner when they are released. There could also be a calm discussion of the pros and cons of Deferred Prosecution Agreements in general, and of whether SNC-Lavalin should qualify for such an Agreement at some stage. Anything to reduce the inter-regional bad-mouthing, stereotypical name-calling, and credibility-bashing we’ve seen in recent weeks.

Such a reform would be a positive show of leadership on Trudeau’s part, and reverse the precipitous drop in his popularity caused by this affair. I, for one, don’t want the next federal election run by the Opposition on an “anti-Trudeau” campaign in the same vein as the “anti-Wynne” blitz which destroyed the Liberals in Ontario. There, the Tories ran a dubious leader with little political experience, no interest in policy, and offering no platform (except that offered by the social conservatives). Still, they won a majority government and defeated one of the most intelligent and policy-wise politicians ever seen in Canada. Trudeau may not be a Kathleen Wynne but his Cabinet has been replete with intelligent and talented politicians, such as Jody Wilson-Raybould, Chrystia Freeland and Jane Philpott. The country does not need a repeat of the Ontario experience at the federal level.

 

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My Two-Hatter Take on Wilson-Raybould, Trudeau, and SNC-Lavalin

Former federal Minister of Justice and Attorney-General, Jody Wilson-Raybould, testified for nearly four hours before the Parliamentary Justice Committee yesterday. Her testimony was riveting, thoughtful, precise, backed up by notes, her credibility impeccable, and her presence a paragon of integrity. Dramatic, yes? But “devastating to the Liberals,” no.

She related several instances over the five-month period between September 2018 and January 2019 when Prime Minister Trudeau, senior members of the PMO, and the civil service put what she described as “inappropriate pressure” on her and her staff, apparently in an effort to have her “change her mind” about supporting the Director of Public Prosecutions in her criminal charges against SNC-Lavalin for bribery in Libya, and her refusal to offer them a DPA (“deferrred prosecution agreement”) to settle the matter. In her view, their actions amounted to “a consistent and sustained effort to politically interfere” with JWR’s role as an independent Attorney-General.

JWR admitted that what happened did not rise to the level of criminal activity but, in her view, “it was inappropriate” and, but for her refusal to change her mind, could have amounted to a derogation from “the rule of law” in Canada. She went on to testify that she thought her removal from her Cabinet position as Minister of Justice and her role as Attorney-General was due directly to the stand she had taken on SNC-Lavalin.

If you have not seen her testimony, do not rely on press reports. Watch it yourself on the internet.

The opposition is having a field day. Leader of the Opposition, Andrew Scheer, called for the PM to resign and for the RCMP to start a criminal investigation. NDP leader, Jagmeet Singh, insisted on a full-fledged Judicial Commission of Inquiry. The Justice Committee wants the PM to extend the government’s waiver of cabinet confidence and solicitor-client privilege so that JWR can return and testify about what happened between her and the PM after she was demoted to Minister of Veteran Affairs. The Committee and the media agree that everyone who had contact with JWR and her staff must testify before the Committee and the Ethics Commissioner so that “Canadians can know the facts.”

In his press conference after JWR’s testimony, Prime Minister Trudeau forcefully denied that he and his staff did anything wrong. He totally rejected JWR’s characterization of what occurred. He agreed that his government was concerned about the consequences of the ongoing SNC-Lavalin prosecution on “jobs,” and on innocent employees, creditors and investors of the company. But he insisted that the decision about the criminal prosecution was for the Attorney General to make, and that, at no time, did anyone ever direct her otherwise. While respecting the role of the Attorney General and the primacy of “the rule of law,” he acknowledged, as JWR said, that his government wanted “a solution” to the SNC-Lavalin problem.

We’ve had three weeks of political turmoil in Ottawa and unprecedented testimony about how government works from the inside. Despite the drama, no one in the Justice Committee, nor in the national media commenting on the event later, picked up on the primary lesson evident from all that has occurred.

At the end of her testimony, former Attorney General Jody Wilson Raybould suggested that the dual role of Minister of Justice and Attorney General which exists in Canada should be divided, as it is in Britain. There, the Minister of Justice sits as a member of Cabinet, concerned with policy development and political considerations. The Attorney General is an independent office, does not sit in Cabinet, and is shielded from political influence by the separate structure created by the express division of responsibilities for policy development and for prosecutions. She suggested that such a structure would be useful for the Canadian government to consider. I totally agree.

In my view, this entire episode boils down to different views on the role of Canada’s two-hatted Minister of Justice/Attorney General.  The dual role requires different approaches and different actions. Inherent in the dual role is the potential for conflict. Positing both positions in the person of a single individual may well place her into an impossible conflict, as it apparently did with Judy Wilson-Raybould.

Everyone knew that the AG supported her DPP, and there is no evidence that anyone asked her to countermand her DPP and/or take over the prosecution (although in law she had the power to do that). When, in October, SNC-Lavalin received formal notice of the DPP’s decision not to offer them a DPA, the company immediately started a legal action challenging that decision. That legal action was the first such action on the new law and was pending at all relevant times. The focus of this litigation was on three key questions: could the courts review the exercise of her discretion? if so, what criteria did she use? And did she apply the criteria correctly? All are important questions on how the legislation is to work in the future.

That the matter was before the courts was useful for the government. As I have argued previously, this Liberal government doesn’t like to be labelled “soft on crime” and prefers to have the courts do their dirty work for them.

But while the matter proceeded before the courts, the Liberal government wanted its constituents to know that they had not forgotten the matter; hence the search “for a solution.” JWR admits that all the officials and staffers who pressured her were looking “for a solution.” What kind of “solution”? Since she said her refusal to interfere with the ongoing litigation was clear as early as mid-September, what kind of “solution” were the PM’s politicos after? I interpret this to mean alternative legislative or regulatory means which could mitigate the damage on SNC-Lavalin in the event of a conviction. An amendment to the mandatory ten-year ban on no-government contracts in the event of a conviction is one possible option; another may be providing a discretion as to what length of ban would apply.

As Minister of Justice, JWR was responsible for policy development related to the Criminal Code. In that role, “jobs” and the interests of “employees, investors, and creditors” would be legitimate and major concerns, and the PM, other officials, and staffers could well want JWR to use the resources available in the Department of Justice to formulate a proposed alternative solution. These were matters that could have been dealt with in the original legislation. For some reason unknown to us, that did not occur and now the government was faced with correcting the lacuna.

Apparently, JWR, wearing her Attorney-General hat, felt uncomfortable with discussion and actions that properly fell to her in her role as Minister of Justice. That she raised the need to separate the two roles before the Justice Committee indicates the dilemma and helps explain the context of what has occurred. For all the shouting from the opposition and the black ink in the media, the Liberals have learned a valuable lesson. I am confident that they have the wisdom and the experience to go forward with the structural solution that stares them in the face and could well resolve the problem.

 

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Asian New Year 2019

The fifteen days of Asian New Year have come and gone. Already. Where has February gone? It’s the Year of the Pig and, in West Vancouver where we have come to escape the worst of eastern Canada’s winter, the celebration was bright, cheery and more extensive than I remember it being ever before. I missed the big Asian New Year’s parade held in Vancouver on February 3rd. Next year. But I did catch the festivities held on the north shore.

On January 31st, at the Osaka Supermarket (originally bought by T & T and then by Loblaws), I was struck by the colourful decorations which greeted shoppers on arrival. Ah yes, it is Chinese New Year I thought. I wandered over to the multiple high piles of large boxes, bags, and packages full of cookies, candies, rice cakes, decorations, and other goodies that the Chinese buy in great quantities to share with family and friends during the holiday. There were so many, all so enticing, so mouth-watering, all seriously not recommended for my diet.

Then I found a variety of boxes full of kinds of oranges from all over the world. Among them was a pile of large red plastic baskets, each filled with mandarin oranges, all individually wrapped in paper and cellophane. Here was a Chinese New Years delicacy that I could indulge in. At $8.80 for a basket of 24 oranges, I thought them a bargain and bought a basket for myself. These proved to be the largest, sweetest, most delicious mandarin oranges I had eaten since I was a kid. I learned that oranges were a lucky food for the Asian new year, and that these oranges were especially imported from Japan. Later I bought two more baskets to take to my friends.

On the first weekend of February, just before the first day of the lunar New Year on Monday February 4th, West Vancouver sponsored two full days of festivities to celebrate Asian Lunar New Year. I was struck that the festival was not limited to the Chinese but extended to all Asian nationalities who celebrate the lunar new year. That gave my head a shake; so many cultures in the world take part. Bright red and gold balls, and placards full of facts about lunar new year traditions decorated the atrium of the West Vancouver Community Centre. People were everywhere, many dressed in red, eager to take part in the action.

I was fascinated. Young men did Kung Fu, others beat on drums, young girls and boys played on a grand piano, troupes of children dressed in lavish costumes performed intricate dances, and several young women played traditional instruments. Almost everyone present picked up an activity “passport” which led us to different stations where we could learn more about new year activities. We learned the names of the twelve revolving years of the lunar calendar, and about the qualities of The Year of the Pig. We learned what foods are traditional for the season, and why red packets are given as gifts. Two young girls designed and distributed elaborate sugar treats which we tasted with delight. Altogether, a totally delightful event.

On the first day of the Lunar New Year, the cashier at the Fresh Market, our local supermarket, handed a red packet containing a chocolate coin to each customer at the register. Yet another New Year tradition extended into the broader community. We are indeed lucky to live in a multicultural community where we can celebrate New Years many times of the year in many ways. Happy Lunar New Year.

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Response to the Political Scene in Ontario

Thanksgiving has come and gone, the leaves are in glorious colour, and the air is crisp. It’s a new school year, a new season of theatre, concerts and ballet, a Jewish new year. Like many others, it is also time for me to think of new directions ahead.

For months I have been overcome with an all-pervasive gloom which has left me anxious, dispirited, and anything but effervescent. I attribute it in part to the dismal political scene. The United Kingdom is in an existential crisis which has no obvious solution. In the United States, Trump and his Republican toadies continue undermining traditional American values, conventions and institutions in the name of what? Social conservatism? The wealthy who benefit from his tax cuts? The drama of dysfunctionality? The mid-term Congressional elections loom with the possibility of some improvement, but who knows?

Most discouraging has been the irrational Trumpism demonstrated by Doug Ford’s vindictive interference in the current Toronto municipal election. I come from a province which has had some wacky premiers. W.A.C. Bennett comes to mind, and Bill Vander Zalm. But even they never showed such contempt for the conventions of our democracy, nor for the opinions of voters, as did Ford in his recent actions.

To list what he did is to cringe:

1. an irrational and unfair interference in an ongoing municipal election

2. a total failure to consult with the voters involved

3. enacting legislation that contradicted the wishes of the City determined after several years and millions of dollars of consultation about appropriate ward sizes

4. demonstrating an abysmal lack of understanding about the role of the courts in Canada’s constitutional democracy

5. forcing an all-night legislative session trying to pass a Charter “notwithstanding clause” which former Ontario Premier Bill Davis and most other reputable politicians denounced. That Christine Elliott and Caroline Mulroney, supposedly thoughtful Conservative cabinet ministers who should have known better, supported his madness adds to the sorry nature of his enterprise

A week after Judge Belobaba accepted the argument of the plaintiffs that Ford’s Bill 5 violated s. 2 of the Charter, the Ontario Court of Appeal “stayed” his decision. In their view, Ford’s law may have been unfair, but it was likely not unconstitutional. This meant that Bill 5 creating wards in the city similar to those of M.P.s and M.P.P.s (unlike every other municipal jurisdiction in Canada) and reducing the number of councillors to 25 prevails for the election next week. The Court of Appeal (and perhaps even the Supreme Court of Canada) will consider the case in greater detail only after the election is long past.

The result was not surprising. But that the law permits the voters in the largest city in Canada, the economic engine of the province, to be treated so cavalierly is totally devastating. In my view, if our Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not extend to municipal governance, a huge lacuna cries out to be filled. A constitution which does not recognize how important municipal government is in the daily lives of contemporary voters is woefully out-of-date.

Mike Harris’ Conservative government in Ontario forced amalgamation on Toronto against the overwhelming wishes of the people in 1998, twenty years ago this year. Amalgamation has proven an expensive mistake. Within four months of assuming office, Doug Ford has used the same bullying strategy to impose on Toronto a City Council structure which was explicitly rejected by the city because it is unfair and will not work. He created a crisis where none existed. And the city will bear the cost for the foreseeable future.

This will be the last post that I write on politics for some time. The issues take too much out of me, and leave me too upset. In my self-interest, at an age when time is precious and good health is at a premium, I will focus on the good things going on in the world. Good news would be a welcome change.

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Justice Belobaba’s Decision in The City of Toronto et al v. Ontario

This is a brilliant decision which everyone must read.

I commend it to you. Check it out.  It can be found on the internet.

My comments will follow once I have finished the two further films I am seeing today at TIFF.

The Fight against Doug Ford’s Attack on Toronto has Begun

On Monday, the Toronto City Council continued its debate on their response to Doug Ford’s changing the ward boundaries and cutting City Councillors from 47 to 25 in the midst of a municipal election campaign. The law which purports to authorize Ford’s actions was not yet introduced at Queen’s Park when the debate on what is an existential issue for the City of Toronto had already begun.

“Bill 5, The Better Local Government Act, 2018” (who says?) was introduced for first reading only on Monday afternoon. Tuesday, second reading was delayed by an Opposition amendment. It is now scheduled for second reading tomorrow, Thursday, August 2nd. The expectation is that the government will use every effort to push the law through as quickly as possible without any Committee hearings or any consultation.

I attended the City Council debate on Monday and was struck by how much time the hard core of councillors who supported Ford’s actions spent pontificating about the advantages of reducing their number to twenty-five. “Twenty-five reps works well for the province and the federal government;” they said, “it can work well for municipal government as well. It’s “a welcome move,” “taxpayers will be happy,” “a first step to ending the chaos at city hall,” “there is no need for any referendum; that occurred on June 7th,” “the province has all the power, we can do nothing about it, move on.”

Another group of councillors supported reducing the wards and the number of councillors but were very unhappy with the process and timing. They made it clear that their constituents did not like arbitrary change mid-way through an existing election.

The majority of councillors were adamant that this was an arbitrary interference with the fundamental governance of City Council without consultation and in the middle of a municipal election, according to the existing law and set for October 22nd. Reflecting a multi-year Ward Boundary Review undertaken by the City in recent years and conducted with significant public and professional consultation, the existing law provides for 47 wards and 47 councillors. These numbers provide approximate voter parity and reflect changing voter populations in different parts of the city. Numerous diverse candidates from communities not previously represented at Council have already registered as candidates “for the right reasons.” Now no one knows what is going on. And the City Clerk has made it clear that it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to accommodate the proposed changes in preparations for the current election.

Several councillors spoke about the unique governance structure of the City of Toronto, the multiplicity of community councils staffed by local councillors, committees, commissions, boards, and institutions which now require councillor participation and already have trouble finding a quorum. Others spoke about the work of city councillors where they must be responsive to personal, local concerns, development applications, the desires of multiple Business Improvement Areas, residential associations, community groups, the nitty-gritty of city life which puts more demands on local politicians than on federal and provincial representatives. If immigration is the primary preoccupation of M.P.s, provincial M.P.P.s are preoccupied with education and health care issues. Everything else falls to the municipalities.

Others noted that the actions of Doug Ford were directed only to the City of Toronto. If the number of municipal councillors is to be determined by using provincial and federal constituencies, many Ontario cities would be reduced to one councillor, or perhaps a councillor they would share with another town. Councillor Shan noted that Scarborough, with a population of over 600,000, now has six Councillors and would be reduced to three under the new rules. Markham, with a population of 350,000, has twelve. Already under the existing rules, Toronto has more constituents per councillor than any other city in the province; under the new rules, the numbers would double. So much for voter parity which is supposed to be a fundamental principle of the right to vote in Canada.

Many councillors were particularly articulate about the significance of Ford’s attack on the city and what must be done. See Gordon Perks on YouTube. He is absolutely right. If we value our municipal government, and the work that city councillors do on our behalf, we have to respond.

City Council has voted its opposition to the reduced numbers, and has requested the provincial government to conduct a binding referendum before proceeding with the legislation or, alternatively, to permit the City to put a question on the 2018 ballot. It has also requested the City Solicitor to consider the validity and constitutionality of any provincial legislation, including its potential violation of the rights of the citizens of Toronto to fair and effective representation, the practicality of conducting the election, the Clerk’s capacity to implement the changes, and any errors or flaws in the legislation and to report back to City Council at a special meeting… on Monday, August 20, 2018 with options for City Council’s consideration. (Passed 31:10)

Former mayor David Miller, lawyer David Butt in the Globe and Mail, and I have called for litigation to challenge what Ford is doing in court. There is jurisprudence which describes the nature of the “right to vote” under the Canadian Charter, but my lawyer son tells me that that the Charter “right to vote” does not apply to voting at the municipal level. Previous efforts to use the courts to stop the amalgamation of the City of Toronto were unsuccessful. This case, however, is unprecedented. How the province has proceeded, the lack of any consultation with those affected, and the timing of the change of the law (in the middle of a current election campaign) all distinguish this case from prior jurisprudence. If ever there were a fact situation that demonstrates the most arbitrary provincial action against a major city within its jurisdiction, this it it. It would make an excellent test case.

In the meantime, we have to follow Councillor Perks’ advice and make sure that the provincial government (including the alleged “adults in the back rooms”) know that what they are doing is beyond the pale. As Councillor McMahon said on Monday, “It is simply wrong.”

Tomorrow, those who want to show their opposition are invited to attend Queen’s Park and be present in the public gallery when the government seeks to go forward with second reading. There is also a rally scheduled for the lawn of the Legislature at 11:30. See you there.

 

 

 

 

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Canada’s Donald Trump in Action

We were right. Doug Ford is a Donald Trump. He is so enamoured with his own self-proclaimed expertise in business that he thinks he can run the government as if it were his private company. Notwithstanding the apparent advice of more experienced politicians around him, he has DECLARED that Toronto’s current ward system for municipal government is obsolete and that Toronto’s amalgamated City Council will be cut from 47 to 25 councillors.

Let us put aside the pros and cons of a reformed City Council. Many may agree that reform at the city level is required. I would agree to that. But there is absolutely no consensus on what kind of City Council we require. How many constituents are best served by a single Councillor? What is the relationship between the overall City Council and local Community Councils? How can a reduced number of councillors serve on the local councils and all City committees as well? All these are issues for empirical data and for discussion.

DOUG FORD HAS PREEMPTED ALL THAT. Just as Mike Harris did in December 1996, when he announced that the City of Toronto would be amalgamated by provincial fiat.

In the face of the public outcry that followed, even the Mike Harris government was forced to have public hearings at Queen’s Park on the issue. As I remember, over 600 individuals, experts and groups made submissions to the Legislature; only four spoke in favour of amalgamation. But Mike Harris’ majority government went ahead anyway, and we have been living with the consequences ever since. Whatever one thinks of the amalgamated City of Toronto, there is no doubt that amalgamation did not save money.

BUT DOUG FORD HAS GONE A STEP FURTHER. In the midst of a municipal election cycle, after most candidates have already registered to contest Council seats in existing wards, are already raising money and putting together their campaigns, and on the precise day nominations were to close, Ford HAS CHANGED THE RULES OF OUR MUNICIPAL ELECTION SET FOR OCTOBER 22nd.

As reported in the press, he has “thrown a bomb into our current municipal election,” so that whether the city can actually conduct the upcoming election is highly problematic. No advance notice. No opportunity for consultation with affected parties and the public. No discussion of the pros and cons of the new system. No reference to recent reforms to make our ward system more democratic. No consideration as to how the change of rules can even be implemented. None of this.

The simple answer, for a simple man unschooled in the subtleties and sophistication of politics, is that the municipal affairs of the City of Toronto will be governed using the constituencies established for federal and provincial purposes. An easy answer… to save taxpayers money.

Oh yeah? Not if I can help it. The last time I was this angry was when Mike Harris made his similar arbitrary announcement about the amalgamation of the City of Toronto. The provincial government, especially with a majority, may have the legal power to change the laws affecting how cities are run. But legal powers exist in the context of legal conventions, many of which are not written.

Canada’s administrative law applicable to all governments and government agencies (over and above the Charter) recognizes that people ought not be deprived of their rights except in accordance with “principles of fundamental justice.” What are “principles of fundamental justice”?

  • the right to know the case against you
  • the right to make representations on your own behalf
  • the right to a fair hearing
  • the right to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure
  • and, more broadly, “principles of fundamental justice” also include the right to fairness and to freedom from arbitrary action

If these rights are applicable to persons accused of offences before the courts, and to other individuals in civil conflicts with the state, they are equally applicable to candidates in current municipal elections and to voters who expect that our current election will be conducted according to the rules in effect at the time the election cycle begins.

There is nothing fair about changing the rules of our upcoming municipal election less than three months before election date. Doug Ford’s announcement is the epitome of arbitrary action. He doesn’t yet have legislative authority for what he intends to do, and already the upcoming election is thrown into chaos.

Fairness and freedom from arbitrary action are conventions in our political and legislative process which are unwritten but important nevertheless. What is most disturbing about Donald Trump is that he is unaware of existing political and governmental conventions, or ignores them at his pleasure, and does so with little public or political protest.

Doug Ford’s arbitrary and unfair interference in the current City of Toronto municipal process is analogous. I, for one, will not stand by and let it happen. Nor should anyone else. Our fundamental rights as a democracy play out in the context of process. Process is important. The issue is not reform of the Toronto City Council. The issue is the arbitrary and unfair actions of a provincial government which thinks it can change the rules without any input from the people affected.

I will be at City Council Monday morning to hear the continuing debate on what the City plans to do about this matter. I would urge you to take whatever action you can to require that the current election proceed according to existing rules.

 

 

 

 

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“Hop in your Edsel! It’s time to honour Doug Ford!”

The Ontario election results left me in a funk somewhat analogous to that many experienced after Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. Doug Ford as premier of Ontario is now the new reality, and those of us who did not vote for him must find strategies for keeping sane in an era when many good policies and programs are destroyed. In the circumstances, humour may be the best medicine.

GEOFFREY STEVENS writes a weekly column which he circulates to his personal distribution list and publishes each Monday in the Waterloo Region Record. His July 16, 2018 column is, yet again, ever so timely. With thanks to Geoffrey, I commend it to you and share it here:

Hop in your Edsel! It’s time to honour Doug Ford!

(published July 16, 2018 in Waterloo Region Record)
BY GEOFFREY STEVENS

Hon. Doug Ford,
Premier of Ontario,
Queen’s Park, Toronto

My Dear Premier Ford,

Please find enclosed my application for membership in Ford Nation.

It’s my way of demonstrating my enthusiastic support for the work that you and your new Progressive Conservative government are doing.

You are a man of your word. You promised you would get rid of that $6 million man at Hydro One. Boom, he’s gone, and it’s only going to cost $9 million. Good job, Sir!

You are scrapping Kathleen Wynne’s Green Energy Act. You are eliminating subsidies on purchases of electric cars, ripping windmills out of the ground, and I’m sure you will soon be tearing solar panels off rooftops across the province.

You are doing a splendid job to prepare Ontario to confront the daunting challenges of the 1950s. Leslie Frost would be so proud!

You have rolled the clock back on other fronts. You have taken the sex out of sex education. Kids don’t need to know about gay and lesbian or bisexual and transgender or HIV and AIDS. They can still learn all they need to know about sex in the back seat of the family Studebaker.

Too much knowledge is a dangerous thing. That’s why you had the foresight to fire the province’s science officer. That may stop all the loose talk about human activity causing global warming. It is nonsense to suggest that Ontario’s cars and trucks, factories, mines and smelters create pollution. They create jobs, as we Ford Nation-builders know.

You canned Wynne’s “cap and trade” scheme. And you told that twerp from Ottawa, Justin Trudeau, where to put it when he came to warn you that if Ontario bailed on his national climate plan, he would impose his own carbon tax.

The effrontery of the man! Just because he is prime minister of Canada, he thinks he can speak for the people of Ontario. You, Sir, have a majority government. You and only you speak for Ontarians (we’ll overlook the inconvenient reality that Trudeau’s Liberals hold 80 of Ontario’s 121 parliamentary seats.).

You really told Trudeau off when he tried to con you into picking up part of the tab for resettling refugees who have flooded into Ontario in search of safety and a better life. He calls them “asylum-seekers,” but you set him straight. They are “illegal border-crossers.” If he wants to allow such criminals into Canada, let the feds pay.

You drove that argument home when you sent Lisa McLeod from your cabinet out to Winnipeg to slap down federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen at last week’s ministerial meeting. 

Poor Hussen was not happy. He called your attitude to refugees “irresponsible… It’s divisive, it’s fear mongering and it’s not Canadian,” adding: “The track record of collaboration between Canada and Ontario is being challenged by the new (Ontario) government.”

Yes! Of course! That’s your point, isn’t it, Premier Ford? The cozy days of collaboration between levels of government are over. Ontario is darned mad and isn’t going to take it any more. That’s the message you will be delivering this week in Saint Andrews, N.B., at the annual summer gathering of premiers (now tarted up as the “Council of the Federation”).

You are ready to lead us back to those heady days when provincial leaders like Joey Smallwood in Newfoundland, “Wacky” Bennett in B.C., and Ross Thatcher in Saskatchewan, stood up for provincial rights. They relished a good fight with Ottawa. And let us not forget “Old Man Ontario,” Leslie Frost, who made a such valiant effort to seize control of income tax from Ottawa.

Premier Ford, please hurry with my Ford Nation membership card. I’m enclosing a 5-cent stamp to cover postage. As soon as it comes, we will fill the bathtub with your one-buck beer, crank up the Elvis, and have ourselves a rip-roaring “Back to the Fifties” bash in your honour.

So hop in your Edsel and come on down!

Your huge fan,

etc., etc.

GEOFFREY STEVENS, author, former Ottawa columnist and managing editor of the Globe and Mail, resides in Cambridge, Ontario, and teaches political science at Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Guelph. He welcomes comments at geoffstevens@sympatico.ca.

 

 

 

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A Friday the Thirteenth Commuters’ Nightmare

Never have I crossed the Lions Gate bridge so quickly. It was 6:30 a.m. yesterday morning, and I was on my way to drop off a parcel to cousins in upper Kitsilano. As I approached the north end of the bridge, traffic was going so fast that the cars did not even stop as they merged into the single lane with the green signal to cross the bridge. Merging four lanes into one at top speed was a unique experience which made me nervous. But once I was on the bridge, I marvelled at the wisdom of commuters going into the city so early. I turned off the Stanley Park causeway at Prospect Point, took the excursion around the park, past English Bay and over the Burrard Street bridge to my destination near Broadway and Vine. It took only twenty minutes, a record in my experience.

That was the trip there. The trip back was another story. As I left my cousins’ home at 8:30, I called my husband to tell him where I was and my plans for the morning. I assumed that I would be back at Park Royal by 9:00, would do several errands and be home shortly. It was a lovely drive east on Broadway, back over the Burrard Street Bridge and around English Bay, then north on Denman. Three blocks south of Robson, I came to halt behind a line of cars. I thought that it was the normal backup for the left turn lane from Denman onto West Georgia to go back over the Lions Gate Bridge. But the lights kept turning green and not a single car moved.

Finally, I decided to pull into the empty lane on Denman which required a right hand turn onto Robson. My idea was to get onto West Georgia at the next major light to the east, at Cardero. There, heading down the hill, I was the fifth car in line to turn left and I congratulated myself on my brilliant advance closer to Georgia. Alas, I soon realized that even a green light only allowed a single car to get through the intersection. Not only that, the one car was required to position itself in one of the two lanes of traffic apparently backed up on Georgia going west. Finally, it was my turn. I pulled into the far lane and joined the queue of vehicles. I was so preoccupied with the news on the car radio about the American indictments against the twelve Russian military officers that I scarcely paid any attention to the passing of time as I crawled west on Georgia.

By this time, I learned on CKNW that there was a “police incident” on the Lions Gate Bridge. Commuters to and from the North Shore were warned to use the Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows bridge over the harbour. All very well and good to know when I was stopped on Georgia heading west.

It was an hour by the time I reached the head of my lane on Georgia and Denman. There, I found a police car straddled across the road behind the traffic ahead, orange pylons blocking my own lane, and a police officer directing traffic to go south on Denman or north the short distance towards the water. As I hesitated turning right, the officer yelled at me to “move along, you can’t stop there.” I yelled back, “How are we supposed to get back on the bridge eventually?” He replied, this time somewhat more politely, that “it would be faster to go over the Ironworkers Second Narrows Bridge.” OK, I could do that, so I continued my turn.

I had never been on this street before but knew that there was a road going east along the downtown waterfront and hoped that I could find it. Sure enough, I followed a couple of other cars as we turned right, and then left, and then right, and then left again through the maze of condos, hotels and office towers near Coal Harbour leading back to Cardero and onto the Convention Centre. This was not the street I was looking for, but I soon found myself on Hastings Street heading east. It was clear sailing across the city. Past Granville Street and Seymour, skirting Gastown, past Victory Square at Cambie and into Vancouver’s famous East Side, across Main Street, and into the port lands. As there were few cars on the street, I could notice the landmarks as I passed, and the colourful characters on the sidewalks.

Until I hit Powell Street. There my flight of fantasy came to an abrupt end and I found myself joining a single lane of traffic heading east bumper to bumper.

By this time, CKNW reported that traffic was backed up on the freeway leading to the Second Narrows Bridge, all the way to Capilano on the north shore, Sprotte Street in Burnaby, and Powell Street in Vancouver. Tell me about it. I was on Powell Street, a long way from the freeway. Apparently, the four North Shore bus routes that normally go over the Lions Gate Bridge were diverted to the foot of Lonsdale in North Vancouver where there was a four-ferry wait for pedestrians to cross the harbour on the seabus. As I sat, hardly moving at all, I saw huge transport trucks moving back and forth on an elevated roadway beside the port installations beyond the railroad tracks. Too bad that road was closed to the public.

Inching my way east on Powell, I saw two cars pull off on a quiet street that angled to the left. There was a sign saying, “No left turn 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. Monday to Friday,” and another saying, “Local traffic area.” I also noticed a group of four or five adult cyclists emerging from the same street heading west. It occurred to me that they may have come on a bicycle path over the bridge from the North Shore, and that this might well be a short-cut to the freeway. What the heck? I had nothing to lose and made the turn.

I found myself on a pleasant street lined with nice houses built to enjoy a spectacular view of the port facilities, the harbour and the North Shore. As I travelled east on the street, I revelled at how quiet it was, how few cars there were, and how I could slow down to take in the view. Eventually, I found a park where I could stop and take photos of the Second Narrows bridge and the mountains across the water. What a glorious spot which I never before knew existed. I spoke to a couple of locals and asked if the road did lead to the freeway further on. “Yes, it does,” they replied, but, “it dipsy-doodles around corners and you have to pay attention.” Great, I got back into my car and headed east. Just think of all the cars I was passing.

A few blocks further east, the road turned right and appeared to climb the hill. But a sign for the Portside Bicycle Path pointed to a road going east and I decided to follow it instead. Alas, it soon ended in a cul de sac with a “private road” leading off down the hill on the left, an empty roadway curving past below, and what I assumed was McGill Street with the cars lined up bumper to bumper above. What to do? Surprisingly, I never thought to turn around and take the road mounting the hill.

Instead, I descended down the private road and found myself outside the front gate of a huge Self Service Storage facility with a big sign warning about the perimeter security system and cameras in use in the area. I pulled up and again considered my options. Coming down the “private road” may have been a mistake.

I looked at the empty roadway curving right beside me but had no idea if the road went both directions. One car came along the curved road heading west. Eventually, another came up behind me, went over the curb and headed east. So I followed him, drove east, past the storage yards and into the parking lot of yet another park. I saw the Portside Bicycle Path leading off to the east and other trails as well. A woman in the park told me how to get onto McGill. If I wanted to go east, she said that I had to take a left at the first light, turn around and then come back onto McGill.

I did as she instructed and soon found myself heading south on North Renfrew street beside the Pacific Coliseum Racecourse and Slots. This was a Vancouver landmark which I had heard about all my life but never before seen. I realized that had I taken this road up the hill, I could have made a direct left-turn onto McGill going east. Where I was now, I saw only a long line of cars stretching south as far as the eye could see. All were going north, waiting to make to make the right hand turn onto McGill. I turned around in the Pacific Coliseum parking lot, and waited to see if some kind soul would let me in. Someone did. Grateful for the generosity of this driver, I joined yet another queue heading for the Second Narrows Bridge. This time, the line was moving at least, and within what seemed like a relatively short time, I was over the freeway, onto the bridge, and back onto the North Shore heading home at full speed.

It took me two hours and fifty minutes to make the trip which had taken twenty minutes only a few hours before. But what I had discovered about the city in that time was worth every minute.

When I got home, Lions Gate Bridge was still closed in both directions as the “police incident” continued. Apparently, the bridge was closed both ways for over four hours and hundreds of thousands of morning commuters were affected. In the Vancouver Sun this morning, there was no mention of the incident. The local policy is not to encourage copycats.

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