Category: Current Affairs

Is the Worm Turning?

The last couple of days I have spent learning about Twitter. It’s an amazing world out there which I did not understand until this week, when I became highly motivated.

When I started my blog in 2013, I registered on Twitter to promote my posts. My website settings routinely “tweeted’ to the Twittersphere every post I put on effervescentbubble.ca. Mine was a passive attachment to Twitter which allowed me to pass the time on the streetcar or waiting for the bus scrolling through the latest tweets to see what was going on in the world.

Now, I am very anxious to master the medium… to defeat Doug Ford. Nothing scares me more than the idea that Doug Ford might be the future premier of Ontario.

And the problem is that my husband and I are leaving for our first trip to China tomorrow. For eighteen days. I will be far out of the country for most of the campaign. We return to Toronto just in time to vote on June 7th.

I hope you have read the posts I have written on the election in recent weeks, and the very fine column by Geoffrey Stevens entitled “Does Doug Ford know about Walkerton?” which we published on Tuesday. Over the next few weeks, Geoff will likely write more columns about the election which we will publish on effervescentbubble.ca in my absence.

I have installed a Virtual Private Network (VPN) on my laptop, iPad, and cellphone, in hopes that I can follow the election campaign while I am away. I hope that it will work.

When my daughter-in-law, who served with the Canadian forces in Ukraine for eight months this winter, suggested last September that I put a VPN on my computer so we could email securely while she was away, I totally failed in my effort to install it. When we did exchange a few emails in February, all the porn sites, prostitution rings, and bitcoin dealers in Ukraine and Russia flocked to my insecure email address. Ever since, the spam filter on my Gmail account has been filled daily with their wares. To get rid of them, I will eventually have to change my email address.

A long digression. To get back to the point, if the VPN works and I have access to reliable WiFi (which may be more problematic), I will be able to use Google from China and will be able to carry on with effervescentbubble.ca, as usual. If not, Geoff, my blog editor Lori Myers, and other friends are committed to publishing his election columns on effervescentbubble.ca themselves, and to get them out on the broader social media of Facebook and Twitter.

Now we come to the crunch. Social media will be definitive in this election. If we want to stop Doug Ford, we have to use Facebook and Twitter.

We have to work with all those people out there who are coming out of the woodwork against electing Doug Ford. They are doing so on a variety of Twitter sites which I have just learned about: @NeverDoug @NeverFord @VoteABC @NotDougFord @FordBeGone @NotFord4Ontario. They include lifelong Conservatives who are alarmed at how their party has been hijacked by Doug Ford and his cronies.

Individuals with a large number of followers are throwing their social media resources into the anti-Ford movement. See Nickie @MuskokaMoneybag. She’s got 6,155 followers and introduces last week’s Toronto Star story about Walkerton with the comment: “Want to see what a PC Ontario looks like!” She has 6,155 followers on Twitter.

Also Carmel @CaramelCatsby. She has more than 800 followers and a “STOP FORD” icon on her Twitter page. When I searched for “StopFord” on Twitter, I expected to find more of Carmel’s very relevant tweets. Not so. The @stopford page said “This account’s tweets are protected. Only confirmed followers have access to @stopford’s Tweets and complete profile.”

This sounded familiar.

When I was looking for a title for my post “Not Doug Ford (@NotFordOntario),” last week, a friend and I found the @AnybodyButFord site. It had a note saying, “@AnybodyButFord hasn’t tweeted. When they do, their tweets will show up here.” Really? I guessed that the PCs had blocked the obvious Twitter handle as soon as Ford became leader.

Today, two of my more recent tweets appear there. Twitter says that @AnybodyButFord has 0 tweets, 0 Following and 0 Followers. I don’t know who did what to this site, but I just pressed the “Following” button, and 1 “Follower” appeared on the site. If this site is now open, I wonder how many will join. And whether we can turn this election around.

(Caveat: I don’t know who is behind the @AnybodyButFord Twitter handle. Maybe it’s a trap which will divert people from the other grass roots movements already well underway. If you are going to use the @AnybodyButFord Twitter handle, don’t forget to tweet to the others as well).

All this in addition to the LeadNow campaign which focuses on the extreme right candidates running with Ford. A retired family doctor I know sent me their ad by Messenger this morning. I hardly know how to use Messenger. My friend is so encouraging. A couple of weeks ago she didn’t know what to do in this election. Her note this morning applauded our posts on EB and attached the LeadNow ad. I put it up on my Facebook page. I love it.

Watch to see if strategic voting against Ford doesn’t become big in the campaign. If it does, who can possibly guess the result?

 

 

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“Does Doug Ford Know About Walkerton?”

GEOFFREY STEVENS writes a weekly column which he circulates to his personal distribution list and publishes each Monday in the Waterloo Region Record. His column, entitled “Does Doug Ford Know About Walkerton?,” published yesterday, is particularly timely.

With thanks to Geoffrey, I commend it to you and share it here:

“Does Doug Ford Know About Walkerton?

“Is there an Honest Broker in the Progressive Conservative party of Ontario?

“If so, please take Doug Ford aside, sit him down, and suggest he hush up while you explain some of the facts of political life, Ontario style.

“Be patient, Honest Broker. Ford is new and a bit brash. He won’t like it when you recall what happened two decades ago when the province was won by a leader wedded to a platform of rooting out so much waste at Queen’s Park that he could simultaneously slash taxes and eliminate the deficit without, as that leader promised, touching any basic services.

“That leader, of course, was Mike Harris, premier from 1995-2002, in whose caucus Ford’s father sat for one term. Before going into some of the nasty nitty-gritty (28 hospitals closed, 6,000 nurses fired, $1 billion chopped from education), please remind Ford about Walkerton. Walkerton remains the most enduring and tragic monument to the folly of Harris years.

“Tell Ford he must read the moving account of Robbie Schnurr on the front page of Saturday’s Toronto Star. Schnurr, a former OPP officer, took his own life through doctor-assisted suicide two weeks ago, making him the most recent known victim of the Walkerton tainted-water scandal.

“It was a hot, muggy day in May 2000 when Schnurr drove to Walkerton to visit friends. While there, he chugged down a pitcher of tap water. He did not know that the municipal water supply had been contaminated with E. coli bacteria. No one in the town knew. But they knew it soon enough, as 2,300 residents, half of the town’s population, fell ill. Seven died and many others suffered permanent health damage.

“Robbie Schnurr knew it when he got home to Mississauga and collapsed, bleeding, on the floor of his condo. “I had blood coming out of both ends,” he told the Star. He lay there for two days, too weak to summon help. The next 18 years were a downward spiral: constant pain from a degenerative neurological disease, unemployment, and, as the end neared, he was unable to walk or even open his medication bottles.

“If you are still with us, Honest Broker, you might give Ford a copy of Mr. Justice Dennis O’Connor’s inquiry report into the Walkerton tragedy. The judge found that proper chlorination could have prevented the outbreak. But budget cuts had left the provincial environment ministry without enough inspectors to oversee the system of checks and balances that had previously ensured the safety of municipal water systems.

“When O’Connor’s report was released in 2002, Premier Harris went to Walkerton to express his ‘deep regrets’… [saying] I, as premier, must ultimately accept responsibility for any shortcomings of the government of Ontario. … I would also like to say that I am truly sorry for the pain and suffering that you have experienced.’

“Expressions of regret and sorrow are welcome, but they do not bring back the dead or retroactively relieve a Robbie Schnurr of a life of pain. The effects of bad government policy can be irreversible.

“It can reasonably be argued that hospital wait times would not be out of sight today or hospital beds in such dire shortage had it not been for the damage inflicted on the health system by the Harris government. It has taken a generation to recover and the recovery is not complete yet.

“It seems to me, Honest Broker, that the high purpose of government is not to cut taxes or balance budgets. It is to serve and protect its people – to keep them safe from contaminated food and water, safe from violence when they venture into streets and other public spaces, safe from accidents on dangerous highways or in shoddy buildings.

“And to serve them by making sure all citizens have an equal opportunity in terms of education, decent housing and access to public services to make their way in the world, according to their abilities.

“Does Doug Ford understand this?”

GEOFFREY STEVENS, author, former Ottawa columnist and managing editor 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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Second Ontario Leaders Debate on North well worth watching

Unlike the initial leaders’ debate on Monday, the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities and the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association ran a great debate from their convention in Sudbury this morning. The leaders were well-placed behind podiums, the questions thoughtfully reflected a range of northern concerns, and the format was tightly controlled to permit the leaders to speak and the audience to hear. Bravo to those responsible.

I am so glad that I was able to watch it this morning on CBC.ca/news/canada/sudbury/ontario-election-northern-debate. If you missed it, I suspect that it will be available as a podcast on the internet somewhere. When I find out where, I will update this post.

This was an excellent debate. All the leaders did well.

Doug Ford is improving. But continually resorts to his standard slogans, his complaints about “the downtown Toronto elites” and the “extreme environmentalists,” his concern “for the little guy,” “how much” he loves “the north, and doctors and nurses, firefighters and other front-line emergency staff,”  how the other parties only know “tax, tax, tax… spend, spend, spend,” and how ”help is on the way on June 7th.”

Andrea Horwath is an ardent advocate who built on the northern MPP strength the NDP now has to tell us about the “built-in northern lens” they now apply to all northern issues. She thinks a permanent Northern Committee should exist. Her general theme is that the PCs will cut and that the Libs haven’t done enough already in the 15 years they have been in office. And of course, “If you want change, don’t go from bad to worse, get change for the better.”

Kathleen Wynne showed that she is the only one of the leaders who speaks fluent French (20% of northerners are French). She shone, drawing on her depth of personal experience and her broad knowledge of the precise issues raised in the questions. When permitted to speak (as she was in this debate, unlike that on Monday), she is a goldmine of information about what her government has already done in the north, how that will continue in the future, rich in context and nuance. Very impressive.

The debate taught me a great deal about Northern Ontario. I learned about what has been done for regional infrastructure and what remains to be done. About 800 new schools, 24 new hospitals, about a net 1000 new nurses, and 400 new doctors, the strengths and weaknesses of the existing Northern Travel Grant Pass system which brings patients from small northern communities to Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children and Sunnybrook for the best available care. I learned how the last PC government downloaded many health-related costs to the municipalities, how the Libs have gradually resumed provincial responsibility for some of those costs, and how that process is continuing. I learned about the shortage of personal support workers. 

I learned about the Environmental Species Act and the competing concerns of environmentalists, locals and indigenous groups. I learned about developing the Ring of Fire. The objective is to extract 60 billion dollars’ worth of minerals from the ground while ensuring benefits to the locals and without degradation to the environment. The process has been slow but it is happening. New roads need to be a series of bridges. Social supports and infrastructure must be in place to sustain the development. Apparently seven mines have opened in the north in recent years, many of them centres of excellence by global standards. What Doug Ford labels “unnecessary red tape” Kathleen Wynne considers “planning to ensure that mining development is ‘done right,’ for the benefit of all.”

I learned about recent regulations affecting firefighters and their impact on small town fire departments that depend on volunteers. Kathleen Wynne acknowledges that the provincial effort to improve safety standards across the province has created costs for municipalities responsible for training. Apparently, the Tories downloaded firefighter training to the municipalities when they were last in office. Given the difficulties they now face, the LIbs have promised to upload safety training for firefighters and relieve municipalities of that cost.

I learned about the life and death (or not) of the Northlander train, about the expansion of integrated bus service across the North, and about the refurbishment of the Cochrane-Moosonee train. I could go on.

It was a superb debate which shows that these three leaders do have the capacity to debate together if they are properly placed on the platform, if the questions put to them are intelligent, and if the format is strictly controlled. Check it out.

 

 

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Not Ford Ontario (@NotFordOntario)

Why let the polls dictate the results of the election? Convince everyone that a PC majority is inevitable, people won’t bother to vote and, with a low “progressive” turnout, the Tories will come up the middle, probably with a majority government, and Doug Ford will be the next premier of Ontario. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Less than nine short weeks ago, the PCs held the most embarrassing leadership convention in national history. Then everyone was asking, “If they can’t run a leadership convention, how can they run the province?” The Interim PC Leader was talking about “the rot” in his own party. Thanks to the extreme social conservatives led by Tanya Granic Allen, Doug Ford was elected leader. Ford courted her at the leadership convention; last weekend he disavowed her. “Flipflop Ford” he should be called.

Ever since the PC convention, we’ve heard about nothing but “the polls.”

The amorphous “public desire for change,” and the early polls, are all that the PCs have going for them. They have nothing else. They have no platform. They seek a blank cheque to use for whatever they want. Their leader is a populist “outsider” with no experience in provincial politics. As was clear in the first leaders’ debate, he has no knowledge of the details needed for an intelligent discussion of provincial policy issues.

His only political experience is as a City of Toronto municipal councillor for one term. In that political gambit, he showed beyond any doubt that he lacks the personal traits needed for the second most important political office in the country.

Rob Ford had a ten-year track record of questionable competence, and still was elected mayor of Toronto. Not by his “Ford nation” base, but by many “swing” voters who were part of what Doug Ford derides as “the elites.” These included business and professional people who wouldn’t vote for Joe Pantalone (because he was NDP) and were turned off by George Smitherman (the Liberal). Many lived and/or worked downtown. They thought that Rob Ford couldn’t do any real harm and that “stopping the gravy train” was a sufficient basis to vote for him. We learned differently. We know the part Doug Ford played in that debacle. If we don’t, we’d better learn about it.

Doug Ford is quite fairly compared with Donald Trump. He may not share all Trump’s characteristics, but he is exactly the same type of politician, using the same style and the same techniques.

There are, however, two differences noted by Thomas Walkom in the Toronto Star today.

1) He is more popular than Trump: “An EKOS poll… shows Ford and his PCs scoring highest among almost every category of voter… [and] The Ford Tories led their rivals in every area of the province except Toronto (where the Liberals did best). … this means… that the Ford phenomenon is not just based on the resentment of a Trumpian working class that feels hard done by… it is far broader.”

2) “But it is also shallower…. Trump’s appeal was based… on who he was…. By contrast, Ford’s appeal is based on who he is not: He is not Kathleen Wynne. Many voters know little more about him than that. And so he is more careful than Trump. In Monday’s televised debate, he avoided saying anything unduly outrageous…. So too was he careful in his flip-flop on the green belt… for a party leader anxious to avoid being labelled an environmental troglodyte, it was politically wise.” Ditto for the contradictions within his own party. “He was happy to accept the help of outspoken social conservatives… to win the PC leadership. But, like other Tory leaders before him, he balked at the idea of allowing such social conservatives to define the party…. In short, Ford–unlike Trump–is pitching to the centre.”

THIS ELECTION IS LIKELY THE MOST IMPORTANT ELECTION IN MODERN ONTARIO HISTORY. The Liberals, to their credit, enacted the Ontario Election Financing Law, effective January 1, 2017. This is the strictest election financing law in Canada. It reduces the limit on individual financial donations and bans contributions from unions and corporations. It also provides that the major political parties (PCs, Liberals, NDP, and Greens) would receive quarterly allowances based on their vote in the previous election. The initial rate was set at $0.678 per vote. This is the first Ontario election under these new rules. Can you imagine if the election results on June 7th are as predicted today by the CBC Poll Tracker: PC 86 seats, NDP 25 seats, Liberal 13 seats, Green 0? That would mean that the PCs would have a permanent stranglehold on all the public financing for the NEXT provincial election, and maybe the NEXT. Of course, Ford says that he opposes public financing for political parties, and will abolish the practice when he becomes premier. Oh yeah? Once he tallies the bucks that accrue to his party if he gets a majority, you can be sure he will change his mind. Flipflop Ford changes his mind all the time.

The time has come for people like me, retired, passionate about politics but not politically active, to get off our duffs. We need to stop being depressed and start working. I don’t want to have to tell my grandchildren that I did nothing to oppose Doug Ford in the 2018 Ontario political election. I have to become engaged. Not going door to door, but using whatever social media access I have… against Doug Ford. And talking about the election with everyone I meet.

That the PCs have offered us Doug Ford as “the next premier of Ontario” has totally changed this election. The “90.3% probability” (CBC Poll Tracker, May 08, 2018) that he will secure a majority government has become the most important issue facing voters in the province today.

THIS IS NOT A PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION. Ours is a parliamentary democracy. We have many more subtle tools at our disposal to express our concerns with the existing government than by giving a majority to a political party that does not deserve it.

If we want change, we need to work for a MINORITY GOVERNMENT (less than 63 seats). Of whatever stripe.

A PC minority would reflect badly on Doug Ford, he couldn’t run amok in office, and we would likely have another election in the not too distant future. That would not be a bad thing. The next time, the PCs may choose a leader who is appropriate for the role of premier. If the Libs got a minority, they would be chastened, and likely could work with the NDP for at least a couple of years, just as they did in the mid-’80s and prior to 2014. Ditto for a NDP plurality supported by the Liberals.

Historically, election polls have often been wrong, and the broadly based polls we hear about in the press may well be misleading. A riding-by-riding analysis indicates that redistribution of the electoral districts has created many new ridings, many seats are too close to call, and even Doug Ford may have difficulties in his own riding.

Voters who do not want Ford as the next Premier must educate themselves on their local candidates and vote strategically. In traditional Liberal ridings, voting Liberal may be necessary. In ridings where the NDP has the best chance of electing their candidate, all “progressives” ought to vote NDP. If the Greens have a chance of gaining a seat, then vote for the Greens. Where there is any chance that the PC candidate can come up the middle between two equally divided “progressive” parties, defeating Ford means voting for the party that has the best chance of beating the PCs. If this produces a minority government, so be it. Minority governments keep all parties honest.

Take heart. The election is one month away. We don’t have to wait for Ford to commit a gaffe. But we all must work for his demise in whatever way we can.

Follow my other posts on the 2018 Ontario election @marionelane and at: 

https://effervescentbubble.ca/2018/04/30/so-what-is-the-tory-platform/

https://effervescentbubble.ca/2018/05/03/the-inside-dope-on-the-2018-ontario-election-riding-by-riding/

https://effervescentbubble.ca/2018/05/06/first-televised-ontario-election-leaders-debate-monday-night/

 

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First Televised Ontario Election Leaders Debate Monday Night

The writ will drop this week and the Ontario provincial election will officially be underway. Leaders’ debates are key events in any election campaign, perhaps no more so than this year in Ontario.

The “network consortium,” CBC, TVO, Global, CTV, CHCH, CPAC, will air their “official” consortium debate on May 27th. Coming as close as it does to election date on June 7th, it will undoubtedly attract widespread interest. Tomorrow evening, CityNews is offering a preview, beating the big boys to the punch.

MONDAY, MAY 7th, from 6 to 8 p.m., CityNews will host the first televised leaders debate between the three major candidates to become Ontario’s next premier. It will air commercial free on City TV, CityNews.ca, the CityNews Apps for iOS and Android, and the CityNews Facebook page. It will also feature on OMNI2 at 6 p.m. in Punjabi, and 10 p.m. in Mandarin.

The focus of this debate will be on issues of particular concern to the city of Toronto: policing, drugs, transit, education and real estate. The leaders have already chosen the order in which they will respond to six questions posed from the audience on these issues. Each will be able to ask one other question themselves.

Although organized with apparently little advance public notice, this first debate between the key leaders is a high stakes affair. The sponsor may be a minor player in the Canadian media scene but the computer and social media exposure means that the images created in this early debate will be readily available to a wider audience in the month ahead. And the focus on non-English-speaking voters is a healthy reminder of the changing nature of the Ontario electorate.

Several weeks ago, the Toronto Black Community organized a leaders’ debate in the city. Kathleen Wynne, Andrea Horwath and Green Party leader Mike Schreiner participated. Doug Ford did not; he said he was already occupied touring Ontario’s north country.

This time, Doug Ford will be debating, in the open, unprotected by his handlers, in a format where he has not shone in the past. The pressure will be on him to show if he has any real interest in, or knowledge about, policy issues and, equally important, whether he has the capacity to be “premiersorial” (as opposed to “presidential,” in the American context). Kathleen Wynne is an experienced debater who used the consortium leaders’ debate in the last provincial election to skewer Tim Hudak’s higher polls. Can she do it again? Can she reverse the prevailing polls, which presently predict a Tory majority? Andrea Horwath will be attempting to prove herself as an “alternative agent for change.”

Already, the nature of this debate, and that projected by the “consortium network” on May 27th, has come in for criticism. Martin Regg Cohn wrote a column in the Toronto Star on Thursday entitled “Green snub shows TV in the past,” which I highly recommend. His complaint? That Mike Schreiner, leader of the Ontario Green party, has been excluded from participation.

He writes: “To their credit, the Liberals and the New Democrats have previously agreed to invite the Greens into the studio. They also issued challenges to hold several televised debates. But Ontario’s TV networks are trapped in time… running their own shows without public accountability. This isn’t the first time they have conspired to exclude the Greens, but this time the exclusion is more egregious than ever.…. Today with Ford’s Tories vowing to dismantle cap and trade, and block any form of carbon pricing to reduce global warning, excluding the Greens from the discussion will deprive voters of an important voice.”

Cohn goes on to rebut the networks’ arguments against including the Greens: that they don’t yet have a seat, that they have no prospect of winning power, that adding a fourth leader will render the debate unwieldy. He quite rightly asks: “How is a political movement supposed to make headway without having a way to be heard?” He also points out that, in earlier federal elections, “the networks… invited the Western-based Reform party and the Bloc Québecois to participate, despite their narrow regional power bases,” and that these five-person debates were not particularly unwieldy.

He writes that “the Greens have consistently run candidates in every riding in Ontario, and attracted significant voter support in past elections, ranging as high as 8 per cent. That’s far more than any fringe party.” He adds that “there is one new factor that changes the calculation. Like the three biggest parties, the Greens receive a per-vote public subsidy, as part of the campaign finance reforms brought in before the election to curb the influence of corporate and union donors… it is manifestly unfair to deprive [the Greens] of the chance to attract voter support—and the financing that follows—during a debate. It is also anti-democratic to deny voters the chance to scrutinize the performance of any publicly subsidized party.”

I agree totally. Leadership debates are important. A well-functioning democracy (a rising concern in this age) depends on an informed electorate. Excluding the Greens is a betrayal of the professional responsibility and the trust that the media owes the public. To CityNews and the “network consortium,” I say: “Get with the times.”

I also want to know: Is it the networks who are responsible for excluding the Greens? Or have the PCs made it a condition of their participation? If so, that would be consistent with Doug Ford’s position that he will abolish the public subsidy for political parties. Whatever else one might say about the Ontario Liberals, they brought in Canada’s toughest political financing regulation, with the political party subsidy as the quid pro quo for curbing corporate and union donations. This will be the first Ontario election run under the new rules.

***** ADDENDUM: The second televised leaders’ debate will be on northern issues.  It will be live streamed at CBC.ca/Toronto at 11:00 am today, Friday May 11th.  Short notice but probably well worth watching. 

 

 

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The Inside Dope on the 2018 Ontario Election, Riding by Riding

If you are concerned about the upcoming provincial election, you owe it to yourself to get beyond the polls and the media’s painfully inadequate coverage. There is a third source which I have just discovered. It’s called the Election Prediction Project and is found at www.electionprediction.com.

The website offers an analysis of the local factors affecting the election campaign and the likely results in each riding. It lists the candidates in each riding (or lack thereof, even at this late stage). It describes the nature of each constituency, and earlier voting records (both provincial and federal).

Particularly useful is the information it provides about the many ridings reconfigured since the last provincial election. You will find a list of the incumbents affected by the redrawn electoral boundaries, and the previous results in the old ridings transposed to the new ones. There have been significant changes in many ridings since the last election and, if you are anything like me, you may not know the precise details of how the changes affect your riding.

Apart from these mechanics, the website is a window into current conditions and personalities running in each riding. Ordinary members of the public offer periodic submissions, based on their insight and experience, about what is going on locally and who they expect to prevail. The rules for posting require that each submission give some concrete reason for the view expressed and conform to specified standards. We cannot know the political persuasion of the authors, but diatribes and ideological debates are discouraged. Reading the posts is like sitting in on a discussion among local political junkies about the ridings they know best. Based on the submissions posted to the site, a panel of editors of diverse political backgrounds predicts the likely result.

For political junkies like me, and for anyone who wants to understand what is happening at the riding level in this election, The Election Prediction Project is invaluable.

There is a map breaking down the province and allocating each constituency to one of five regions in the province: The City of Toronto (416), The 905, Eastern Ontario, Southwestern Ontario, and Northern Ontario. You can find your own and neighbouring ridings, and other key ridings of interest across the province.

The latest “Current Prediction” (effective 2018-04-28) put the projected results in seats as follows: Liberal 20, Progressive Conservative 49, New Democratic 16, and Too Close to Call 39, for a total of 124 ridings. Given the polls we hear, even 39 seats considered “too close to call” surprised me. That offers some hope for a variety of scenarios.

Just to see how the website works, let’s look at Beaches-East York, which is a Liberal seat as yet too close to call. Apparently, the strong NDP candidate who ran there last time is not running this time, and, absent strong local candidates, this is said to be a riding that could vote for a leader like Wynne over Horwath. On the other hand, the close split in the vote last time could bleed votes from the Liberal incumbent to the NDP, making this riding an NDP pickup.

Or, take Mississauga Centre, where Tanya Granic Allen secured the PC nomination last week. This is a new riding cobbled together from four earlier constituencies, all of which voted Liberal in the last provincial election. If the post-Ford-win polls correctly show a massive switch to the Tories, this riding and its adjacent seats could turn on a dime and the Liberals could be wiped out in the region. But this riding is not considered socially conservative and many Tories are annoyed that the new leader overturned the nomination of the previous PC candidate in favour of a “parachute” candidate.

Check out the discussion of Etobicoke North (Doug Ford’s riding) and Don Valley West (Kathleen Wynne’s riding). Both could be tight races, depending on who turns out to vote. 

***** ADDENDUM: Yesterday’s NOW published a very interesting analysis called “Ontario Election Watch: Your Primer on 20 Make-or-Break Races in Toronto and the 905,” including a piece about “Why is Doug Ford Running Scared?” They have also launched an online hub at nowtoronto.com/election2018 to monitor all 124 ridings across the province leading up to June 7th. As they say, “Now more than ever, it’s important to be informed.” I agree and intend to bookmark it.

 

 

 

 

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So What is the Tory Platform?

If you are anything like me, relentless media predictions of a Tory majority in the upcoming provincial election, with Doug Ford as the next premier, are super depressing. 

“A desire for change” is seen as sufficient excuse to elect a government led by a novice of questionable reputation with a penchant for divisiveness and “doing his own thing.” Chosen by courting the extreme social conservatives in his own party, his first action on assuming the leadership was to shred his party’s platform unilaterally. Apparently “The People’s Guarantee” was a personal frolic of the discredited Patrick Brown and did not represent the considered intentions of the Ontario Conservative Party. If it didn’t, then what does? What does the Tory party with its new leader offer to the people of Ontario? Apart from some vague notion of “change,” we’ve heard nothing. Nada. It’s been two months since the Tory party leadership changed and still no platform.

Only a general call “to find efficiencies” in government. What efficiencies? To what programs and services? Doug Ford and the Tories do not say.

But Ford does promise to “fire the C.E.O. of Ontario Hydro,” which business commentators universally dismissed as “naïve, amateurish, and of no utility” in solving the problems at Ontario Hydro. And he promises to “audit the finances of the Liberal government,” an exercise independently completed last week as required by legislation passed by the Liberals themselves and now biting them back before the election itself. But if the Libs went into greater debt than they claimed to finance a reduction in hydro prices, Ford will add to the debt by promising to reduce hydro bills by a further 12%. Duh?

He has absolutely no policy on the environment, but will oppose any carbon tax, and will cut the highly successful cap-and-trade system, which is earning good money for green initiatives in Ontario. And he promises to “shut down” the newly opened drug addiction clinics, which all medical, legal, and law enforcement experts across the country support. Oh yes, and, despite years of parental and professional consultation, he will scrap the existing sex education curriculum for Ontario students. He has to do that, because he must repay the Granic Allen social conservatives who gave him the leadership.

Doug Ford knows nothing about provincial policy and has a track record at the municipal level of disliking the detail and collaboration that good policy development requires. What he seeks is a blank cheque to do what he wants, whatever it might be. Leave it to Ford to “stop the gravy train” in Toronto (and in Ontario), just as Americans were to rely on Donald Trump to “drain the swamp” in Washington.

As it turned out, there wasn’t a gravy train in Toronto, the executive in the White House is a revolving door, and Washington DC is full of Republicans “swamped” by the unpopularity of their own ostensible leader. Doug Ford may not be totally analogous to Donald Trump, but the Ontario Conservative Party has sold its soul to the same inexperience and populist bombast as did the Republicans in the United States two years ago. Former Ontario Premier Bill Davis must be appalled at what his strong and principled political party has become. 

If there is a need to curb the current Liberal government, there are other ways to do so than by giving a majority government to a political party that its own interim leader, less than three months ago, said was full of “rot.”

Have you noticed how the Tories are reining in their new leader, clearly scared silly that he might go off message? There is a Tory campaign bus, but the media has been denied access to it. “The media can attend my campaign meetings,” says Doug Ford, but he won’t facilitate their being there. That reminds me of how Mayor Rob Ford, with the support of his enabling brother Doug, denied the Toronto Star notice of the mayor’s agenda. Why? Because the Toronto Star exposed Rob Ford for what he was. Informed journalism is not what the Fords wanted when they were in earlier political office. And apparently not when Doug Ford is running for provincial election either.

When the Tories get their act together, and Doug Ford can be brought up to speed, maybe they will resurrect “The People’s Guarantee” which Ford so abruptly rejected. Saturday’s announcement that the PC’s are proposing a tax-rebate plan for child care may be the beginnings of that. If and when they do, we can look at their platform in greater detail. For the moment, the Tories are offering a pig in a poke, and one wonders why so many people are willing to buy in.

 

 

 

 

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When is the Trudeau Government going to get rid of Mandatory Minimum Sentences?

I hate to pile on the Liberals when they are down, but a recent editorial in the Globe and Mail and a series of articles by justice writer Sean Fine have raised the outstanding issue of what the government is doing to cut the number of mandatory minimum sentences which are now clogging Canada’s criminal courts.

Historically, Canada had a very few mandatory minimums in the Criminal Code, primarily for serous offences upon which everyone would agree. By 2006, there were 40. By 2016, the number rose to 80 plus another 26 related to drugs under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

Stephen Harper’s “tough on crime” agenda more than doubled the number of mandatory minimums, primarily to satisfy his political base. The Tories pursued this minimum sentence mania as a direct attack on the traditional discretion of judges to impose sentence in the criminal justice system. Historically, judges exercised their discretion based on the facts of the individual case and according to established principles of sentencing in the common law and in section 718 and related provisions of the Criminal Code. All criminal justice professionals, police, corrections and rehabilitative experts agreed that this traditional judicial discretion best serves the interests of victims, offenders, the criminal courts, and public safety. In the face of this expert advice, the Harperites did the opposite.

What has happened post-Harper is a trend which was widely predicted and should be addressed as quickly as possible. For lack of action by Parliament on the issue, Sean Fine reports that judges across the country and at all levels have been left to deal with the situation on an ad hoc basis, as best they can. The Supreme Court of Canada in 2015 struck down the three-year minimum for illegal gun possession in R. v. Nur, and a year later the one-year minimum for a second drug trafficking offence in R. v. Lloyd. They found that the statutory minimums were so excessive in the circumstances that they violated the offender’s 12 Charter rights against “cruel and unusual punishment.” Subsequently courts at all levels, including various Courts of Appeal who define the precedents applicable in their provinces, have made similar findings in cases before them.

The most recent is that of the B.C. Court of Appeal which struck down a six-month minimum jail sentence, and instead imposed a nine-month house arrest, for an Indigenous man who offered his niece $100 in exchange for a sex act. In that case, the Court emphasized its statutory and common law duty to consider the consequences of the sentence on Indigenous people. Now the Attorney General of B.C. is appealing the case to the Supreme Court of Canada arguing that the minimum jail sentence is necessary to protect Indigenous victims.

This case-by-case litigation in courts across the country is costly, counter-productive, and a colossal waste of time and money. A patchwork of contradictory decisions apply different penalties to different people in different provinces and territories. Crown attorneys for the provinces and the federal government waste thousands of dollars defending minimum sentences which did not before exist. Courts are clogged with cases which cannot be resolved because the constraints imposed by the minimum sentences impede plea negotiation. The existing uncertainty encourages unnecessary litigation at great expense to the public and taxpayers alike.

Rationalizing the minimum sentence regime in Canada’s Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act is a no-brainer. The Prime Minister and his Minister of Justice would be wise to make it a priority.

There are many problems facing Canada’s criminal justice system: delay in the courts, the lack of juries representative of the people, a Criminal Code which reads like the Income Tax Act. All can not be addressed at once

The government has developed new procedures for appointing Supreme Court and Superior Court judges. It has filled many judicial vacancies. Money has been allocated to promote the training of police officers who investigate sexual assault cases so that the rate of cases determined to be “unfounded” declines. This is part of a move to promote “best practices” in Canada’s criminal courts.

If “best practices” is the name of the game, Parliament must deal with the excess of mandatory minimum sentences as soon as possible. The next election will come all too quickly. I would hate to see this promise relegated to the list of the “undone.”

 

 

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“Trade Wars and Tightropes”

GEOFFREY STEVENS, former managing editor of the Globe and Mail, writes a weekly column which he circulates to his personal distribution list and publishes in the Waterloo Region Record. His column entitled “Living with the fool next door; trade wars and tightropes,” published yesterday, says it all.

With thanks to Geoffrey, I commend it to you and share it here:

“Living with the fool next door: trade wars and tightropes

“’Trade wars are good, and easy to win’ – President Donald Trump, by tweet, 5:50 a.m. ET, March 2, 2018.

“Excuse me, but Donald Trump is a fool – a blithering, dangerous fool.

“This is the 21st century. Trade wars are never good. In today’s interdependent world, they may be impossible for any nation to win, even the United States, which is no longer the economic colossus that Trump, stuck in an isolationist time warp, believes it is.

“As Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman put it on Friday, ‘You could survey a hundred economists – both liberal and conservative – and not one would tell you that “trade wars are good, and easy to win.’

“On Thursday, Trump, who has the power to do so by executive order, announced he will impose tariffs of 25 per cent on imported steel and 10 per cent on aluminum. ‘The immediate beneficiaries will be the American steel and aluminum industries, while the victims will be . . . well, anyone who buys anything that’s made with steel or aluminum, which is pretty much everyone,’ Waldman wrote.

“The New York Times noted on Sunday that the American mills and smelters that would directly benefit from the new tariffs employ fewer than 200,000 workers, while the companies that would bear the burden of the higher prices the tariffs would bring – firms that manufacture everything from trucks to chicken coops – employ more than 6.5 million.

“Trump’s tariffs, announced without warning, are not only bad economics, they are bad politics. They aim to please a corner of his base at the expense of much larger numbers of blue-collar workers in manufacturing.

“It may make no sense, but that does not matter. Some Trump analysts argue that he suffers from gelotophobia, the fear of being laughed at. He seems convinced that America’s trading partners, led by China, are laughing at the United States and, by extension, at him personally. China, which accounts for 65 per cent of the U.S. global trade deficit, is the primary enemy in the trade war.

“After China, Canada is the United States’ largest trading partner. Trump, who betrays no comprehension of trade statistics, complains about a deficit with Canada. Yes, in terms of goods alone, the U.S. ran a deficit of US $18 billion in 2017. But when financial and other services are added to the ledger, the deficit becomes a surplus for the United States ($12.5 billion in 2016).

“Justin Trudeau and his emissaries have been making this case in Washington and state capitals for months. They argue that Canada and the United States enjoy the world’s best balanced and mutually beneficial trading relationship. The object should be to strengthen it, not to tear it down, as by renouncing NAFTA or by raising new tariff walls. The governors get that and so do congressmen from states that trade with Canada.

“For the moment, China is taking a cautious approach to Trump’s tariffs, downplaying the anticipated impact on Chinese exports. Beijing is waiting to see what happens next. Is Trump serious? Can he get his way? Or will he perhaps change his mind at dawn tomorrow?

“Nothing is ever certain with the erratic Trump, but all available indicators suggest that, yes, he is serious. Yes, he can most likely get his way, unless members of his Republican party find the courage to stand up to him. But although he is not likely to change his mind on trade, he could be diverted in his next tweetstorm. Perhaps he will be so outraged by something at the Oscars that a trade war will be driven from his mind – until it returns.

“Canada can hope so. Propinquity makes dealing with Trump especially difficult, and the fact that NAFTA is hanging in the balance adds urgency to the challenge. Trudeau needs to keep walking a tightrope – humoring the president while making it clear that Canada is not about to be bullied. The blithering fool next door is Canada’s problem, too.”

 

 

 

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A Spring Tease in Toronto Brings Signs of Hope

Reading the Sunday Star this weekend brought small signs of hope for better times ahead. It’s nice to read some good news for a change.

* The White House released the Annual Report of Trump’s Council of Economic Advisors, his own appointees, which clearly shows that Trump’s trade figures on NAFTA are out to lunch. They make the point that the US had a trade surplus with Canada when services are included in the calculations. Now that his own advisors have formally stated what Canada has said all along, will it make any difference in the NAFTA negotiations to Trump? to his lackeys in Congress?

* School children and youth in Florida are leading a campaign for gun control. Where their parents have failed, maybe the younger generations will succeed. I love the slogan in one photograph at a recent demonstration: “How dare you push legislation protecting us before we are born and not after the fact!” This may be the beginning of something good, particularly as they are calling for consumer boycotts against the NRA and against states with lax gun laws. David Hogg, a survivor of the recent shooting, is calling on tourists not to take their spring break in Florida.

* Is the National Rifle Association beginning to lose its lustre? American companies are said to be responding. Delta, United Airlines, Avis, Hertz, Enterprise, the Best Western hotel chain, Wyndham Hotels, and global insurance company MetLife have apparently all ditched the discounts they previously made available to NRA members. Other major companies are cutting their ties with the NRA: the First National Bank of Omaha, one of the largest private banks in America, cut its “Official Credit Card of the NRA,” Symantec is leading the boycott movement into the software industry, and Chubb Ltd announced it will no longer underwrite its “NRA Carry Guard,” popularly known as its “murder insurance.” #BoycottNRA is the new rallying cry. Can social media give this plea the same power that #Metoo has gained? Let’s hope so. In Canada, members of MEC are now calling for the co-op to boycott purchases from a company with a division which makes high-powered rifles. So they should.

Economic sanctions led to the end of apartheid in South Africa. Maybe economic sanctions by each of us, and by the companies we patronize, can be the answer to the carnage caused by American gun laws.

* The donnybrook of the current Ontario PC leadership race has highlighted the questionable capacity of the party to govern the province. Their current interim leader has admitted “the rot” in the party and is trying to clean it up. Until Patrick Brown withdrew on Monday, to the audible relief of his competitors and the rest of the party, he seemed hell-bent on discrediting the four candidates who are seeking to replace him as the future Premier of Ontario.

The first leadership debate made it painfully obvious that none of the newcomers has any grasp of policy issues facing the government of the province, and none favours a carbon tax. Patrick Brown at least approved of the party platform which was generally conceded to have been cribbed from the Liberals and he, at least, recognizes that a carbon tax is coming, like it or not. This upcoming election campaign is going to be very interesting. Have the Liberals been so bad that we need to trade them in for this bunch?

* Last but not least, Jean Terauds wrote a marvellous review entitled “Handel’s Alexander’s Feast a marvellous musical meal in Tafelmusik’s hands.” I heard the concert at Koerner Hall on Sunday and was thrilled. This was the first time the Tafelmusik Baroque orchestra and Chamber Choir have performed this oratorio. Secular, taken from John Dryden’s 1697 ode, “Alexander’s Feast or The Power of Music,” it included a concerto for the harp played by harpist Julia Seager-Scott using a triple-strung harp, a concerto for the organ played by Neil Cockburn from Calgary, wonderful arias, stirring recitatives, invigorating choruses, and many highlights by different instruments in the orchestra. The soloists, American soprano Amanda Forsythe, British tenor Thomas Hobbs, and British-Canadian baritone Alexander Dobson, were splendid. Under the deft direction of Ivars Taurins, it was an utterly marvellous performance, wildly received by the audience. And, according to Tafelmusik’s new musical director, Elisa Citterio, next season will feature three full performances by the Choir. That’s just what I need to hear to put joy in my heart and a spring in my step.

 

 

 

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Trudeau’s India Trip and the Convicted Attempt Murderer

The Liberal Government fraternizing in India this week with a high-profile Indo-Canadian convicted years ago of attempt murder has stirred up a hornet’s nest. Rightly so. It is shocking that Jaspal Atwal, a businessman from Surrey, B.C. who was once an extremist for Sikh separatism who was convicted of attempt murder, appears in a photograph taken in Mumbai with Sophie Grégoire Trudeau and Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi. Worse still, Atwal was invited to an official dinner at the Canadian High Commissioner’s Residence in Delhi, and then, when the story broke, un-invited. Appropriately so.

I agree with the domestic and international press that both were serious diplomatic gaffes which the Trudeau government should have avoided. Canada, of all countries, should not be seen, or perceived to be seen, as supporting separatist aspirations anywhere abroad. 

Smelling fresh blood, The National Post ran several background stories Friday and Saturday on Jaspal Atwal. Christie Blatchford and John Ivison provide alarming details of his early membership in the International Sikh Youth Federation, which Canada banned as a terrorist group in 2003. The federation’s objective was separatism for Khalistan which John Ivison says is “the would-be Sikh homeland in the Indian state of Punjab.”

Atwal has a very serious record of criminal activity in Canada, promoting separatism in his homeland. In 1985, Atwal was charged with a vicious near-fatal attack on prominent B.C. politician Ujjal Dosanjh, who publicly opposed Khalistan separatism. Although Atwal was later acquitted in court, Dosanjh remains convinced that Atwal was his attacker.

In 1987, a B.C. court convicted Atwal and three others of attempting to assassinate a visiting Indian state cabinet minister who was attending a family wedding on Vancouver Island. Atwal was sentenced to twenty years in jail, a sentence upheld by the B.C. Court of Appeal in 1990. He actually served five years in prison before he was paroled. All this was in the context of the extreme Sikh terrorism, which included the worst mass murder in Canadian history, the 1985 Air India Flight 182 bombing which killed 329 people over Ireland. Sikh terrorists based in British Columbia planted the bomb which took down the airplane.

Atwal’s assertion that he has been rehabilitated from his youthful lawlessness is belied by his recent criminal record. In 2010, while working as a car salesman, Atwal was convicted of an elaborate automobile fraud against the B.C. Insurance Corporation. Two years later, his appeal against that conviction was denied. Under the current rule for pardons (ten years) imposed by the Harper government, he may not yet be eligible for a “pardon.”

In the face of his criminal record, his close ties with the Liberal party are cause for concern. Maura Forrest in The Post catalogued Atwal’s relationship with both the provincial and federal party. He was an executive member of a federal Liberal riding association in Surrey from at least 2011. He was invited to watch the budget speech in the B.C. legislature in 2012. He attended many fundraisers for the Liberals. He has been photographed with Michael Ignatieff, Justin Trudeau, Public Services Minister Carla Qualtrough, and Brampton Liberal MP Sonia Sidhu. B.C. Liberal MP Randeep Sarai admitted that he facilitated Atwal’s request to attend the High Commissioner’s event, actions which Trudeau has now said he will investigate further. Apparently, Atwal had been on a list of extremists banned from entry into India. Yet here he was, admitted to India and intimately interacting with the Canadian delegation.

How embarrassing for Trudeau, the government and our country. It is almost as chilling as the picture of the Queen in the company of Colonel Russell Williams, a photo taken before Williams later pleaded guilty to multiple counts of first degree murder. At least, Williams’ crimes were not yet known; the Liberals have no such excuse about Atwal’s history.

The incident raises all sorts of very serious questions. Why was Atwal not vetted by officials at Global Affairs, ISIS, CSIS, or other Canadian intelligence and security? How is it that India lifted the ban against his admission to the country? How is it that the Liberals have been so close to him in recent years?

Maybe this will be a lesson for all Canada’s political parties. They cozy up to anyone for political purposes at their peril. If sexual misconduct is a no-no, surely an existing criminal record and a history of extremism and fraud should also raise a red flag. The pursuit of votes must not come by compromising Canadian values nor, more importantly, safety and security.

This incident is also a useful reminder to all Canadians, and particularly to newcomers to the country who may not know the details of our history, that violent extremism in Canada did not start with the Islamofacist jihadists we fear today.

When I was growing up in British Columbia in the 1950s, the radical Sons of Freedom Doukhobors, a religious sect from Russia who settled in the B.C. interior, bombed electricity power lines in the province and their women demonstrated in public places in the nude, against compulsory public education among other things. The B.C. government responded by arresting the bombers and rounding up their children to make them attend school. I don’t know if they had residential schools for Doukhobor kids; the topic would be worth some research.

During the 1960s, the Quiet Revolution in Quebec prompted the growth of the FLQ (Front de libération du Québec), a Marxist, paramilitary separatist group which used violence to promote its aims. In 1969, the FLQ bombed the Montreal Stock Exchange causing massive destruction and seriously injuring 27 people. The group set off a further series of bombs over the summer which culminated in their bombing the home of Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau. In October 1970, they kidnapped Quebec Deputy Leader and Minister of Labour, Pierre Laporte, whose body was later found in the trunk of his car. This began the October Crisis, when Prime Minister Trudeau the elder invoked the War Measures Act, to the horror of civil libertarians across the country.

When I was a judge sitting in Scarborough from 1995-1999, Tamil gangs, who brought their civil war from back home with them when they immigrated to Canada, plagued the community. Rival gangs were before the courts on many charges. I remember the day when one gang leader, charged with many crimes of violence, attended court with a can of gasoline under his arm. He apparently intended to immolate himself in the court room. When he was stopped by the strict airport-like security set up at the courthouse door, he threw the can of gasoline across the corridor, causing the building to be evacuated. He later received nine months in custody for charges arising out of that incident. This violence ended only after vigorous prosecutions and the intense involvement of the law-abiding Tamil community.

If Sikh separatist extremism is on the rise (who knew?), then it behooves all of us to make sure that we are not seen to be soft on violent extremism, either at home or elsewhere in the world. All politicians should take note.

 

 

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Afghan Migration Goes Personal

I met Mujeeb at Costco before Christmas. He was pushing a dolly which held a half-dozen deep grey plastic bins, some more full than others. When I asked him what he was doing, he explained that he was filling orders for an on-line computer shopping site. He was using an iPad to keep track of the orders. Apparently, people choose what they want to buy on the website. He is their personal shopper who fills the orders and later delivers them. He told me the name of his company but I have lost the note on which I wrote it down. (I should have used my iPhone “notes,” as I normally do to record such information. Perhaps I was so excited about meeting Mujeeb that I forgot.)

Sensing that he might be new to Canada, I asked where he was from. He replied that he was from Afghanistan, and that he had come to Canada with his parents and his siblings. I told him about my son and daughter-in-law in the Canadian army who had deployed several times to Kabul and/or Kandahar. He told me that all his family were now working in Canada and that his sister was a student at the University of Toronto. He also told me that there was a book written about his family.

No kidding? I had vaguely heard of a book written by CBC journalist, Carol Off, about an Afghan family whom she befriended and had helped come to Canada. Apparently, four months post-9/11, Off was in Afghanistan gathering information for what later became a very successful CBC documentary. Among her most significant sources at the time was Mujeeb’s father, Asad Aryubwal, who provided her with information about war crimes by Afghan warlords. His forthright cooperation with a western journalist however came at a cost. After numerous threats to his life, he had no choice but to flee to Pakistan which, as the political circumstances continued to change at home, he did four times before he was forty. In the fall of 2007, Off learned that Asad needed her help. Contrary to customary professional journalistic practice, she felt she had no choice but to become involved.

Needless to say, I rushed off right away to find Carol Off’s book, All We Leave Behind: A Reporter’s Journey Into the Lives of Others (Random House Canada, 2017). Reading it was a revelation, a totally compelling view of how a single family dealt with the turmoil in their homeland and their seemingly-interminable seven-year wait for permission to immigrate to Canada. Off’s description of their travails will break your heart.

This book is an absolute must for everyone who wants to understand what it means to be a refugee from a society such as Afghanistan.

Carol Off now co-hosts the CBC Radio current affairs program, “As It Happens.” Several weeks ago, this book won the prestigious $40,000. British Columbia National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction. Jury members praised it as “a timely memoir that offers both context to, and a closeup of, uncomfortable truths: the failures of the West’s involvement in Afghanistan, the hurdles confronting refugees who seek safety in Canada, and the dilemma of a combat journalist expected to maintain professional distance from her sources.”

It’s a wonderful book. The Timeline of Major Events and the Cast of Characters at the back of the book are in themselves an invaluable thumbnail guide to Afghanistan’s history. I am thankful that my chance meeting with Mujeeb brought his family’s story and this book to my attention.  I wish them all the best.

 

 

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Toronto’s Christmas Present: A New Subway Extension

It’s Boxing Day, that treasure from our British past which I cherish. For those of us who have no inclination to seek bargains, it’s a time to relax, sit around the fireplace, read a book, eat leftovers, and sink into the sublime serenity of a day with nothing on the schedule.

Before settling down to an evening of binge watching The Crown, I want to share with you my reaction to Toronto’s new subway extension. Last Thursday morning, I rode Toronto’s Number One subway line from Queen and Yonge Street downtown all the way up the old Spadina line to Sheppard West station (the end of the previous line at Sheppard and Dufferin), and then to the new terminus at Vaughan in York Region. It took me 51 minutes to make the trip. Without leaving the system, I then did a tour of each new station, to the extent I could see them without going out of the turnstiles. I did not see the exteriors of the new stations. But I took photos, talked to TTC staff and passengers, and left utterly exhilarated by what I saw.

The terminal station, Vaughan Metropolitan Centre, is a Transportation Hub which connects to the York Region Viva bus rapid transport north of Highway 7 and to York Region Transport (YRT) buses at the SmartCentres Place Bus Terminal. With seven knockout panels as part of the design, it is also intended as the centre of a planned downtown to feature a large park, condo towers, shopping and entertainment facilities to be constructed in the next decade.

I loved the spectacular colours of the upper level windows; such bright colours will lift the spirits on the most dreary of days. As in all the new stations, there are shiny new elevators making the system wheelchair accessible to all levels, glistening escalators which are lit at foot level and which go up and down (if not side by side, at least at different ends of the platform), and solid metal handrails in the middle of the staircases. For those of us who take stairs, such handrails will be a godsend. As an incentive, the SmartCentre which runs the local parking lot is free until January 1st.

Approximately five minutes south is the next station, Highway 407. Located just west of Jane Street, south of Highway 407 on the west bank of Black Creek, it connects with York Region Transport and Brampton Transit, and includes a commuter parking lot with 585 spots, plus a passenger pickup and drop-off area. Parking is free until April 1st, 2018; obviously an effort to entice commuters with cars onto the subway. An attendant told me that, since the extension opened last week, the parking lot has been full each morning by 7:30 a.m.

Commuters can also park at the third station, Pioneer Village, at Steeles Avenue West and Northwest Gate, to the west of York University. There, the parking lot can accommodate 1500 cars, and is free until April 1st. The ceiling lighting installation called LightSpell over the subway platform is already controversial. The design of the fixture is distinctive in itself. What I failed to appreciate, until I read about it in the Toronto Star, is that five keyboards on the platform allow passengers to type eight-figure messages that will be reflected in the lights for the edification and/or amusement of their fellow travellers. The TTC has apparently delayed full implementation of the fixture until they can develop software to prevent hate messages, an enterprise that has provoked complaints of censoring free speech. That the installation is provoking controversy already heralds a notable future for the site.

The fourth station, at the heart of York University’s Keele Street campus, is the reason for the subway extension in the first place. The platforms are busy with students using the new station. It breaks my heart to think of the hundreds of thousands of students and staff who have endured years of commuter time and inconvenience travelling to the university since the extension was first proposed decades ago. The lack of political vision, persistent partisan bickering, constant changes, and construction delays which have plagued extending the subway even to York University is a shameful history which we must remember but cannot dwell on. The extension to York University is finally built and everyone is exultant.

The York University station has an elaborate Information Centre on the concourse at the turnstiles. The walls are festooned with promos that would be of interest to students, the signage in the concourse specifically identifies York University sites of interest, and there are two pay telephones for those who need such amenities. (There is always someone.) Most engaging of all was the TTC customer service representative who was knowledgeable about the extension and keen to answer my questions. I may not have fully appreciated the “exciting” Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) artwork which the TTC touts at the station. For me, as for most students, getting to the campus quickly and comfortably is such a treat; everything else is superfluous.

The next stop is Finch West station, located under Keele Street, north of Finch Avenue West. This station will also feature a bus terminal, commuter parking lot, passenger pickup and drop-off, and secure bicycle parking. Again, the bright red of the corridors and brightly coloured windows at the concourse are delightful. Already, many people are using this station.

The last of the new stations is Downsview Park, the first stop west of the old Sheppard West station. An attendant told me that the station is in Downsview Park, very close to the rebuilt hanger called HoopDome, a gymnasium facility used for several years for basketball, indoor soccer, volleyball, and many other activities which attract athletes from across the city. The station is also a five-to-ten-minute walk from the entrance of the Downsview Canadian Forces Base to the east. Effective January 2018, the GO train on the Barrie line will stop at this station. Passengers will be able to transfer there onto the TTC and get a half-price discount on TTC fare.

There have been complaints that the subway extension does not include a washroom at each station. However, there are washrooms at: Sheppard East, the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre, and on the top floor (the bus bays) of the Highway 407 station. TTC riders can access these washrooms without leaving the system. 

It’s been so long since the TTC has generated genuinely good news. And maybe even longer since it has won any awards as the North American “Transit System of the Year.” We’ve finally done it. The system is beautiful, shiny, new, accessible, well-marked, and efficient. I am very excited about what is a world-class extension of the system which can make us proud. Check it out for yourself.

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Remembrance Day in West Vancouver

When the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month finally reached the west coast this morning, Marine Drive was closed and a huge crowd of folk was assembled in front of the arch in Memorial Park. It is located across the street from the West Vancouver Memorial Library which opened on November 11th, 1950, as a living war memorial to promote literacy and equal access to education for all. The annual Remembrance Day ceremony is organized by the local branch of the Canadian Legion, but it is fitting that Jenny Benedict, the Director of Library Services, was the “Master of Ceremonies.”

Just before eleven, the West Vancouver Youth Band played and the crowd clapped as an honour guard of flag-bearers led into formation a parade of veterans, alarmingly few remaining it seems, and ranks of local cadets, first responders, scouts, guides and cubs. Then, as four Harvard training aircraft flew overhead, there was the Last Post, two minutes of silence, the Lament and the Rouse. It is always stirring when so many people of all ages, children and dogs among them, stand in perfect silence to mark the ritual of remembrance. Whenever I hear the familiar words of In Flanders Fields, recited as they were today by two students, I think of the thousands at home and abroad who serve in our military and related services. Out of sight, they are not out of mind. Never more so than on November 11th.

At the end of the ceremony, the local Legion, the West Vancouver Lawn Bowling Club, and the Friends of the Library invited everyone to Open Houses. I went to the Library where the Book of Remembrance was on display, as were examples of the Research to Remember Project which accumulated documentation relating to all local participants in the two World Wars. With coffee and cookies at hand, the Dundarave Players led everyone in a sing-along of First World War songs. We sang the repertoire: The White Cliffs of Dover, It’s Long Way to Tipperary, Lili Marlene, Pack Up Your Troubles, There’s a Long Long Trail, A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square, and on and on. It was spirited, sentimental, and great fun. It occurred to me that the days of such sing-songs are likely numbered. Even without the words on the overheads, the crowd in the library knew the words and the tunes; few young people and new Canadians will know them now, or in the future. 

To end the day, I attended “One Last Song,” the 25th Annual Remembrance Day concert of the seventy-voice Chor Leoni Men’s Choir. Directed by Erick Lichte and accompanied by pianist Ken Cormier, they sang a rich collection of music, one piece after another, interspersed only with poetry readings from Siegfried Sassoon, Rudyard Kipling, and others. From the Scottish traditional “Will you go to Flanders?” and “Un Canadian errant,” through Alberta Celtic song-writer Lizzy Hoyt’s “Vimy Ridge,” adapted for choir and accompanied by a guitar, to a première performance of a new tune to “In Flanders Fields.” Then, Mendelssohn’s “Beati Mortui,” Kenneth Jennings’ music to the Dylan Thomas text “And Death Shall Have No Dominion,” Siegfried Sassoon’s text “Armistice: 1918 (Everyone Sang).” The concert concluded with the Last Post, two minutes of silence, and the entire congregation joining in the singing of “Kontakion,” with text from the Eastern Orthodox Memorial Liturgy. There was not an empty seat in the large West Vancouver United Church where the concert took place and few left unmoved by what we had heard. Such music seems so very right on Remembrance Day.

 

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Toronto Sings for Gord Downie

On October 24th, I joined the masses gathered on Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto, to honour Gord Downie by singing his songs. Daveed Goldman and Nobu Adilman (aka “DaBu”), the founders in 2011 of the weekly drop-in singing group, Choir! Choir! Choir! in Toronto, organized and led what was a communal hootenanny. Most everyone knew the music and lyrics by heart; the rest of us sang along using words we’d downloaded from the internet. It was a very stirring event.

I went because I knew so little about the man and the band which has become a national phenomenon. I needed to fill the gap. The Tragically Hip is a familiar name. When they played the Dawson City Music Festival years ago, I knew that my sister had hosted the band in her home at the after party. Gord Downie’s actions, since his diagnosis with a brain tumour in December 2015, quite properly made him a national hero. I admired the Secret Path graphic book and also the album designed to tell the story of Chanie Wenjack’s tragic escape from an Indian Residential School, and promoted on the Hip’s last national tour. All proceeds from the Gord Downie/Chanie Wenjack Foundation go to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba.

For all that, I knew very little about Downie’s music over time; neither the tunes which made him and the band popular nor the lyrics which often read like poetry. I’m not alone. I’ve since learned that many of my cohort are equally oblivious to the impact he had on younger people, especially on those now in their late thirties or forties. People like the Prime Minister.

I now appreciate why his work has been so appealing. “I am a stranger… on a secret path,” the lead poem/song on his Secret Path album, released in tandem with the graphic book, is haunting and emotional. “Bobcaygeon,” where he “saw the constellations reveal themselves one star at a time,” resonates among those who know the north. “Ahead by a Century” speaks to who he was and what he stood for. “New Orleans is Sinking” and “Wheat Kings” speak of that which is familiar in ordinary life: “Bourbon blues on the street,” “hands in the river,” “Sundown in the Paris of the prairies,” “wheat kings and pretty things wait and see what tomorrow brings. “Late breaking story on the CBC.” “You can’t be fond of living in the past, Cause if you are then there’s no way that you’re gonna last.” “Courage” sings of the human condition: “No simple… explanation for anything important… . Any of us do and yeah the human… Tragedy consists in… the necessity Of living with… The consequences Under pressure. Courage… it didn’t come… it couldn’t come at a worse time.”

Mike Downie spoke to the crowd about the Downie Chanie Fund. In Gord’s honour, Don Kerr adapted “Fiddler’s Green for Gord.” The lyrics can be downloaded online. Beautiful.
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