I thought that I knew Paris well. We spent the first year of our marriage living in a sixth-floor walk-up apartment in the Second Arrondissement just off rue St. Denis. In l988-89, during a sabbatical year as a family living in La Vallée de Chevreuse, the lush green “Silicon Valley” to the west of the city, we were in Paris at least weekly. During that year, I drove all over the city and I didn’t think twice about showing the sights to my parents and their friends who were then in their early seventies.
But I have never visited Paris as a senior… and that makes all the difference. What a culture shock that has been. The city has certainly changed in the thirty years since we last lived here. (I’ll talk about that in another post.) More importantly, I have changed. Now approaching 75 years of age (which is only late “middle age” in the current era), our recent visit to Paris has taught me much about myself, and the perils of travelling as one ages.
First, I find it much more difficult adapting to change. It’s harder to travel, and takes longer to settle into a new environment, and to feel comfortable in new situations. Secondly, there are practical perils of big cities which I must recognize and learn to deal with for my own protection. Paris may be no different from any other big city but, for these purposes, it is the city which has made me personally aware of the challenges imposed by aging.
The biggest peril is falling. I have not had a problem with falling in the past. On this trip, I fell four times. Twice occurred in the same spot on the sidewalk to the nearby RER station, with no great consequences. The friends I was with the second time realized that I had tripped on a defective grate in the sidewalk. The third time was a major tumble on the sidewalk where I walked every day. This time, I was preoccupied with our conversation, stepped into the gravelled tree well of a tree lining the sidewalk and took a major tumble. I hit my head, broke my glasses, and suffered cuts and bruises to my face, hands, wrists, arms, and knees. Some stranger had to lift me up off the ground. The fourth fall was getting onto a bus on the tarmac at Frankfurt airport on our way home. I tripped on the entry to the bus, falling on all the injuries from before. Fortunately, I broke nothing. Probably one of the few advantages of being plump. (My brother, a family doc, once commented that the Canadian Health Care system would save significant resources if seniors could be bubble-wrapped. My bubble-wrap must be built in.)
My husband is the official “faller” in our family. Whenever he falls, he breaks something. He has gone through a series of tests over the years to diagnose the cause of his falling and has used a cane to aid his mobility for at least the last year. He had three falls in Paris, two not particularly serious, the other when he fell in the door of a brasserie, had to be lifted up by someone in uniform, and suffered sufficient injury and indignity that thereafter he ceased most sight-seeing.
Now, I am using a walking stick regularly, and am trying hard to concentrate on where I walk and how. I’ve learned that the sidewalks of Paris are remarkably uneven and that any construction (which seems as all-pervasive there as elsewhere) causes major changes to the surface of the sidewalks and roads nearby. I’ve learned that trees and the areas in which they are planted can be hazards, and that publicity posters can be dangerous distractions. The huge crowds of people who fill the sidewalks in the touristy areas and the popular museums are moving quickly and constantly jostling. The public transit system is full of steps, long corridors, and publicity which distracts from the need to pay very close attention to where I am going and what I am doing.
When I was younger, I used the Paris Métro with great joy and abandon. Now, I think twice about the nature of the transit I am going to use and the qualities of particular lines and stations. Which stations have escalators and moving sidewalks? Which stations have long steps to climb? Which exits will help me avoid the crowds? Or shorten the distance I have to walk? (I will do my next post on the Paris Transit system.)
Visiting museums and attending events has become a real pain. There are long lineups for security inspections and then to purchase entry tickets. Unless you like standing in a slow-moving line in the heat for long periods of time, it is necessary to pre-purchase museum tickets. There is a variety of Paris Museum Passes available, including ones for two, four and six days, which give priority access. I bought mine on the spot at the Paris Tourism Office located in the Hôtel de Ville. One can also buy passes and tickets on the internet. My friend bought hers from home and traded the voucher she received on the internet for an actual pass when she arrived. It is not necessary to have printed tickets. One can also use priority entrances by showing tickets that are stored on one’s smartphone. The bottom line, however, is that you really need a smartphone and to know how to use it.
Even with priority access for tickets, there is still the need to stand in the security lines. Security lines exist everywhere; most are reasonably efficient, but they do require standing with no place to sit down. And, at the Louvre, for example, the line outside the Pyramid entrance is in the hot sun. When one visits a particular museum or monument now depends on how long the security lines will be at any given time of the day.
As for the museums themselves, in the summer, they are very crowded, so much so that one feels no desire or ability to see what the museum has to offer. Too often, the museums have very few places to sit, and are full of steps to climb and rooms that have been closed “for renovation.” It is remarkable how poor the cafeteria and restaurant facilities generally are: few and far between, hard to find, under-staffed, with slow service (made worse by the fact that almost everyone uses bank cards to pay).
The Louvre, for example, prides itself on its “accessibility for the disabled” and its Museum Plan. After standing in the hot sun to get through the security line, I was invited to take a small elevator downstairs to the entry level. I visited the Disability Office to get a plan of the Museum and find out where everything was. These were welcome surprises, harbingers I thought of a good visit ahead.
Alas, not true. The Louvre was by far the worst of all the museums I visited on this trip. I found it impossible to find the elevators, and staff hired to provide “information” gave contradictory directions. The elevators that do exist are small, old-fashioned and dreadfully slow. Too many escalators were out of order. Signage was totally inadequate. I soon discovered that reading room numbers high above from a distance conflicts with my need to use reading glasses for the identifying information provided in the Museum Plan. In one area of the Museum where many of the rooms are empty for renovations, there was no advance notice of a dead-end corridor which required everyone to retrace their steps back through many rooms already seen. The restaurants and washrooms were lamentable and totally inadequate for the millions of people who pass through the Louvre every year.
Better to go to a smaller place which is less popular. I will never again go to the Louvre, even though the “Medieval Louvre” with its original foundations built in 1200 and 1385 is one of my favourite spots in all of the city. Were I to return to Paris, I would gladly revisit Le Petit Palais with its permanent collection of art owned by the City which is spacious, quiet, free of charge and has lots of places to sit. Or the Rodin Museum with its lovely gardens. Or even the Musée de l’Armée which has been modernized, and offers commentary in several languages and lots of movies (inherent places to sit). Or the spectacular new L’Institut du Monde Arabe with its banks of modern elevators and plethora of comfortable white leather sofas strategically located throughout the gallery.
As an older person, my priority has become my personal well-being and safety. To enjoy a museum, having places to sit has become important, to appreciate the artefacts, rest and, most importantly, to avoid falling. Having a readily available restaurant or café, without long lineups for payment, is a necessity to satisfy medical needs and prevent dehydration. These are new criteria to think about when travelling.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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 email@example.com.
It’s July and time to visit the blueberry patch. My father and mother started these visits as a family tradition years ago. They would go down the hill from East Burnaby, travel the highway across the Coquitlam flats, take the Mary Hill cut-off beside the Fraser River, cross over the Pitt River bridge and then turn left off the Lougheed Highway onto what is now called the Old Dewdney Trunk Road in Pitt Meadows. It’s an area of rich flat farm lands protected from flooding by dikes built along the Pitt River, the Fraser River and the Alouette River, all running beneath the peaks of the Golden Ears Mountains to the east. My parents met in nearby Hammond, a mill town by the Fraser River now incorporated into Ridge Meadows. In those days, this historical road through the farmlands was known as just the Dewdney Trunk Road.
Once my parents found the farm which they considered the best local blueberry producer, they’d buy forty pounds of freshly picked blueberries at a ridiculously low price, and take them home. Some they gave to their friends, the bulk they flash froze in their freezer for the winter. On my next visit to the west coast, I would load a camp freezer full of their frozen BC blueberries and haul them back to Toronto as my checked baggage on the airplane. All winter, my BC blueberries reminded me of home.
The tradition continues. On Thursday of last week, I made my annual pilgrimage to Pitt Meadows to get some blueberries, now for our Vancouver cottage. I googled “blueberry farms in Pitt Meadows, BC” and went with a list of local producers. I chose a couple that sounded great and set out to find them.
The first was the Middelveen Farms. When Old Dewdney Trunk turned at Harris Road, I knew that I should turn left. Then I drove along Harris, straining to read the street numbers on the farms I passed. But I was driving too fast, the road was narrow, there were too many cars, and I soon realized that I had missed the address I was looking for. When I saw a makeshift sign offering “local blueberries here,” I drove into another farm and bought twenty pounds of berries from the couple I found there in the barn. I knew nothing about the berries except that they were freshly picked and at $2.50 a pound, they seemed like a bargain. I decided that I would buy some from them and more from the others when I found them.
Then I turned around and very slowly retraced my steps looking for Middelveen. This time, I pulled the car over as close as I dared to the deep drainage ditch beside the road and put on my lights to warn others that I was travelling slowly and likely to turn.
After several stops and starts, I finally found the correct address and turned into the spiffy expanse of the parking lot in front of the well-kept home at Middelveen farm. Kerry Sully and Tom Middelveen, the son of the original owners who came to Canada from Holland, greeted me warmly but said that their family farm was primarily a “pick your own” operation.
They have seven varieties of blueberries which ripen at different times during the blueberry season. Sparkling clean white buckets are available for pickers. Tom drives pickers into the fields on his little green ATV, a Kawasaki Mule. When he tells newcomers that they would be going for “a mule ride,” children expect to ride on a donkey and parents enjoy the joke. The charge for blueberries is $2.00 a pound if you pick your own and $3.00 a pound if Kerry picks them. But they’d just sold their last picked berries for the day and had none left. Tom sampled the berries I’d already bought and thought that they were Spartans. He also used his smart phone to help me find the location of the second farm I’d chosen.
It’s a good thing he did. The second was Meadow Berry Farms on Wooldridge Road which was apparently on the south side of the Lougheed Highway, quite some distance away. When I finally found it, I drove into the front yard of what seemed to be a huge operation. There was a modern house at the front, greenhouses at the side, two huge buildings at the back and several parking lots all around. A sign on a door indicated that all visitors and drivers were to “use the front door” to report to the office upstairs. The only door I saw was the door to the house, so I knocked several times but there was no answer. The second building was much larger, and had several loading docks with a large transport truck parked in front. That building was in the midst of construction, with a row of would-be doors or windows framed into what looked like a second storey expansion.
A woman appeared in one of the openings and shouted at me that I was not to take photographs on the property. “This is a closed farm,” she said. I had no idea what “a closed farm” was. There was no sign barring entry at the gate. I explained that Meadow Berry Farms was listed on the internet and I was looking to buy some berries. She replied, “that’s Google, not us,” and Meadow Berry doesn’t sell to people like me, “we sell to the Superstore.” I beat a hasty retreat and left.
I still needed another twenty pounds of berries. So I returned to Old Dewdney Trunk Road and turned into the first farm I saw that had a sign for “fresh farm blue berries” and presented as welcoming to drive in customers.
I drove down a dirt road beside the field at back and found owner Davinder Thiara busy wrapping five-pound baskets of blueberries for repeat customers. He sold his berries at $2.00 a pound and was more than happy to sell me what I wanted. He told me that he has three varieties of blueberries: Dukes which ripen early, Blue Crop which are ready mid-season, and Elliotts which ripen later, are less sweet but have better anti-oxidant qualities. When I told him about my experience at Meadow Berry, he explained that they were a large wholesaler which sold blueberries all across Canada and that I would probably find the “Meadow Berry” label in stores in Toronto. Apparently, the local wholesalers also flash freeze blueberries for export to Asia.
Who would have guessed that a trip to the blueberry patch would open such a window into the blueberry industry? Clearly, the production and sale of blueberries is big business. No wonder. I think blueberries are the best fruit around. All who avidly ate all the blueberries I didn’t freeze agreed. Apparently there are several varieties of blueberries and the season extends to September. Enjoy.
- Middelveen Farms: 13472 Harris Road, Pitt Meadows, BC, V3Y2T3, (604) 459-8764, www.middelveenblueberry.com, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Hinda Farms: 18947 Old Dewdney Trunk Road, Pitt Meadows, BC, V3Y2R8, (604) 465-2310, email@example.com
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.
Squawking gulls and cranky crows are a sure sign of trouble. Moving briskly west on the seawalk below my Vancouver cottage, I was focused on using my Nordic poles to pick up the pace of my early morning walk. The idea was to extend the stride of my step and the length of my arm pull to enhance the benefits of the walk. But the noise of the seagulls and the crows diverted all my good intentions and I stopped to see what was the matter.
Sure enough, at the water’s edge where the tide was retreating from the rocks coated with kelp and rich green algae, a bald-headed eagle was standing on the biggest stone around. Not as large as others I’ve seen, his shiny black feathers and snow-white head still stood as a beacon to the eyes. He stood there as if glaring at the hoards of smaller birds advancing towards him.
At least three large well-fed gulls and three more black crows took up positions around him, all squawking madly as if in a fit of frenzy. A couple of gulls approached, flapped their wings and swooped just above him. Then two cocky crows dive-bombed him from two different directions at the same time. They repeated these actions over and over. It all appeared as a well-choreographed attack, perhaps to protect the favoured feeding grounds of the smaller birds. Eventually, the eagle lifted his large wings and flew away across the bay and high in the sky, the crows and one seagull in hot pursuit.
It occurred to me that this may be an example of allied interspecies coöperation against a common enemy. I would have to ask a naturalist about that. As a friend and I had seen a similar incident about the same time yesterday morning, it probably is a daily ritual at a particularly rich feeding site on the shore.
Still later on the seawall, I narrowly avoided being hit by a snail-shell dropped by a crow descending over the sidewalk onto the rocks. As there was a live snail inside, we threw the snail onto the seashore for the crow to recover. Alas he was two slow. Another crow which I had not seen must have been watching and waiting. Just as soon as the snail hit the sand, the second crow was on it for his breakfast.
Later on this same walk, I spied a tall heron fishing in a shallow pool between the rocks. He was standing silently and stately, moving slowly and stealthily in search of his food. A bevy of gulls and Canada geese grazed nearby, and a squadron of crows sat on a log watching over the scene. Obviously, these birds coexist peacefully. I guess only the bald-headed eagle is considered a threat.
Update on the litigation between CN Rail and the District of West Vancouver.
In February 2017, I published a post describing CN Rail’s efforts to have the public using the seawalk declared “trespassers.” Their aim is to monetize to the maximum whatever leasehold interest they can enforce against the District. Diane Powers, spokesperson for the District, advised me last week that the Canadian Transportation Agency held a two-day oral hearing in October 2017 on the District’s application for a declaration that it has a “right of way” on whatever the interest held by the railroad. The CTA agreed that they had jurisdiction to deal with the issue but adjourned their decision until the British Columbia Supreme Court ruled on the earlier lawsuit started by CN alleging that the public were “trespassers.”
Ms. Powers told me that it may take another three to five years for the matter to be concluded. In the meantime, the District has refreshed notices to the public indicating that so long as the litigation is ongoing, the District can only do maintenance on the seawalk that affects health and safety. They can change lightbulbs that affect lighting, remove trip hazards, and engage in any storm cleanup. “Cosmetic maintenance” is suspended for the duration. The gardens at 19th Street and 24th Street that mark the boundaries of the seawalk, and the narrow green areas at 21st and 22nd streets, are designated park areas at the foot of District streets. The District will still tend to them. Like most North Shore residents, I have a visceral personal interest in this dispute, and will monitor what happens.
For the Canada Day weekend, the Globe and Mail published a full-page Giant Summer Crossword. Like its Giant Holiday Crossword published during the Christmas season, this challenge is intended to engage all the family, or at least to absorb crossword enthusiasts during some holiday downtime. I have always wanted to do the puzzle, but am not a crossword regular and never found the conditions right. Canada Day weekend 2018 was a first.
My husband and I were visiting relatives in Campbell River, on the east coast of Vancouver Island, a couple of hours up-island from Nanaimo. The relatives included my sister- and brother-in-law, two of their adult children, six grandchildren, and other friends, all together for a weekend of family activities. With so much action both inside and out, who would have thought that the conditions would be right to do a giant crossword?
My sister-in-law noticed the “giant crossword” in the paper edition of the Globe which I had bought on the ferry. Apparently, their family do the giant crossword every Christmas and they even had an appropriately sized board for it. Normally, they divide the puzzle into quadrants, make copies of the relevant clues, and everyone takes a section. We were not so well-organized but, with the crossword taped to the board, and the board on the dining table, we were all set to begin.
It helped that my sister-in-law was chief cook for the weekend and, happily preparing dishes at the kitchen counter beside the table, was delighted with a mental diversion. I did what I could do on the puzzle, and readily responded to her invitation to “read out the clues.” She does crosswords, is super literate, and has “a mind that accumulates useless trivia,” as she puts it. Much of what I did not know, she did.
Notwithstanding the demands of the children, the other adults in the crowd joined in to fill in the blanks. The thirty and forty-year-olds knew the pop music references, and the sports clues. My brother-in-law, a former teacher, knew many of the scientific terms and the French-Canadian hints. My husband, a professional historian, contributed his two cents’ worth.
Every bit helped. Each new set of eyes that surveyed the crossword found words (both long and short) that had been missing and should have been obvious. Focused quiet times produced great leaps forward. We eventually recognized that there were certain words we could never get and gave ourselves permission to look them up on the iPad.
By Monday evening, we had completed all but seven or eight words. Among others which I can’t remember, we were hung up on “meet and greet, eg,” “pumpkin shell?” and “b-ball.” My sister-in-law took a late night bath, cleared her head, and returned to the puzzle with a new mind-set.
Rather than looking for a noun that would describe the networking activity implicit in the clue, she recognized that “meet and greet” were examples of simple “rhymes.” Of course. “Pumpkin shell?” does not refer to the nursery rhyme or any artifact of Hallowe’en, but is potentially a “piecrust.” The cross-clues had already given us the first and last letters and we should have thought of that. We knew that “b-ball” refers to basketball. She saw instantly that we had failed to consider “hoops” because I had misspelled “Riyadh” in the cross-clue. Doesn’t everyone know the correct spelling of Riyadh?
Crossword novice that I am, I was somewhat surprised that a Giant Crossword published on the Canada Day weekend did not have more Canadian references. Doing the puzzle, I had expected to learn much more trivia about my country. But maybe my expectations were unrealistic. I had overlooked the fact that it was only billed as a “great summer” crossword. My sister-in-law tells me that there is a big community of crossword enthusiasts out there who will have opinions about the pros and cons of the puzzle. That conversation would be fun to follow.
The completed Crossword will find its way to the recycling bin. Doing the crossword together was great fun, a good brain exercise, and, for my sister-in-law, multi-tasking par excellence. What more could one want?
GEOFFREY STEVENS writes a weekly column which he circulates to his personal distribution list and publishes each Monday in the Waterloo Region Record. His new June 5, 2018, column brings some last-minute Ontario provincial election insight.
With thanks to Geoffrey, I commend it to you and share it here:
This may be counter-intuitive, but would you believe Premier Horwath?
(published June 4, 2018 in Waterloo Region Record)
BY GEOFFREY STEVENS
“By throwing in the towel on Saturday, did Kathleen Wynne tip Thursday’s election to the NDP and make Andrea Horwath the next premier of Ontario?
“I think she did – and I think that was her intention.
“Wynne was close to tears when she announced that she knew she would not be premier after the election. Her declared intentions were to save as many endangered Liberal candidates as possible – by removing her personal unpopularity as an impediment – and to help elect enough Liberals to block either the Progressive Conservatives or the New Democrats from forming a majority government.
“Her real target, of course, was not the NDP – most of their platform could have been written by a Liberal committee. It was Conservative leader Doug Ford, whose bombastic manner, ignorance of government and simplistic policies she finds deeply offensive.
“Although most opinion polls show the NDP tied with the Tories or a percentage point or two ahead, conventional wisdom has it that the Conservatives could form a government, even a majority one, with fewer popular votes than the NDP.
“That’s because the Conservative vote, spread fairly evenly across the province, is considered more ‘efficient’ than the NDP vote, and because the over-45 crowd are deemed more likely to turn out to vote (for the Tories) on Thursday than are the millennials on whose support the NDP depends.
“That’s the conventional perspective. As of Sunday afternoon, the CBC Poll Tracker had the Conservatives one point behind in popular vote but with a 77 per cent ‘probability’ of a majority government.
“That could be the way it unfolds. However, there is another way of looking at it.
“All of the polls in the CBC tracker were completed before Wynne threw in the towel. The most recent one was from Abacus Data, which was in the field from May 29 (last Tuesday) to June 2 (Saturday morning).
“Abacus put the NDP ahead of the Conservatives by 37 per cent to 33 (with the Liberals at 23).
“The firm also asked respondents which party they would prefer to form a government. Sixty per cent said they would prefer the NDP to 40 per cent who said PC.
“Interestingly, 26 per cent of those who said they would prefer an NDP government also said they intended to vote Liberal. Whether that intention will change with Wynne’s capitulation is anyone’s guess.
In an analysis of their poll, David Coletto and Bruce Anderson of Abacus wrote:
‘Given Ms. Wynne’s admission Saturday that she won’t win the election, these voters represent a large potential pool of swing voters. Here’s what we know about them: six in ten are open to voting NDP, only 25 per cent are open to voting PC, and only one in four (26 per cent) of them would be dismayed if the NDP won the election.
‘Looking at this another way, among current Liberal supporters, almost eight in ten would prefer an NDP win over a PC win. And this holds across the province from as high as 90 per cent of Liberals in eastern Ontario to 74 per cent for those living in the GTHA.’
“At this late stage, the NDP has the largest pool of ‘accessible voters.’ But how motivated are NDP supporters? Will they turn out to vote in large numbers?
“The folks at Abacus believe they will – ‘Thirty-four per cent (of province-wide respondents) say they are certain to or likely to vote NDP compared with 29 per cent saying the same for the PCs … NDP supporters are as motivated, if not more motivated, than PC supporters.’
“So, what is going happen on Thursday? It looks as though it is going to be desperately close. I’m inclined to give the edge to Horwath, but as Coletto and Anderson observe: ‘Events over the weekend show anything can (happen), so this election is not over and predicting the outcome at this point seems like a fool’s errand to us.’ “
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
GEOFFREY STEVENS writes a weekly column which he circulates to his personal distribution list and publishes each Monday in the Waterloo Region Record. His new May 28 column is another good one.
With thanks to Geoffrey, I share his current column, right here:
Momentum lost, Doug Ford is reduced to promising Ontario One-Buck Beer
(published May 28, 2018 in Waterloo Region Record)
BY GEOFFREY STEVENS
“If desire for change is the most potent force in politics these days, momentum is the most unpredictable one.
“No one can predict when momentum will begin to build, how far it will go, or when it will end.
“Heading into Sunday night’s leaders’ debate, it was clear that momentum in the Ontario election had shifted, dramatically, from the Progressive Conservatives to the New Democrats. But no one could predict whether the momentum would be enough to carry Andrea Horwath into office, or whether it would stall or even shift again before June 7.
“Horwath did not need to ‘win’ the debate, the most meaningful three-way encounter of the campaign. But she did need to withstand the double-barrelled attack of Doug Ford and Kathleen Wynne. She needed to avoid making a ghastly mistake, and to emerge still standing as an attractive alternative.
“Although recent opinion polls show a clear trend toward the NDP and away from the PCs, most of the results are close. Conceivably, the NDP could win the popular vote, yet finish behind the Tories in seats. That’s largely because party support is unevenly distributed across the province. And if the Liberals retain enough of their strength in the GTA and southwestern Ontario – as they may – the result could be the election of Conservatives in places that would otherwise go NDP.
“To backtrack, the PCs are experts in losing momentum, having made blunders that cost them the election in 2007 under John Tory and again in 2014 under Tim Hudak.
“They are poised to three-peat in 2018.
“For months, all of the momentum was with the Tories. It gathered force under the flawed leadership of Patrick Brown, who moved the party to the left. It survived Brown’s self-immolation. It survived a defective leadership process in which Christine Elliott, the members’ choice, was denied in favour of newcomer Doug Ford, a pseudo populist, who yanked the party to the right.
“Despite a blustering campaign that betrayed the new leader’s inability to grasp provincial issues, the PCs continued to dominate the opinion polls, rising so high that a few reckless pundits predicted they would enjoy the greatest landslide since the days of Leslie Frost.
“That’s not going to happen now. The choice of Ford shapes up as the ghastly mistake that has derailed the Tory campaign.
“I think what happened about two weeks ago was that voters, initially obsessed by a desire to get rid of the Wynne government and to end 15 years of Liberal rule at Queen’s Park, started to notice the alternatives.
“Horwath appeared calm and reasonable. In Ford, they saw a leader who did not look or sound like a premier. He was too belligerent, too in-your-face, too contemptuous, too slow to reveal his agenda yet too quick to create policy on the fly. For a professed ‘man of the people,’ he displayed remarkably few people skills.
“Setting aside the issue of corruption in the nomination of party candidates – some of it Ford’s responsibility, some his predecessor’s – Ford did not present himself as a potential premier who could be trusted to govern wisely, with a steady hand and in best interest of all Ontarians, especially those who do not hail from ‘Ford Nation.’
“Speaking of that nation, while Ford may not know how to manage the province’s finances, he is sure he knows how to satisfy his base. He promised at the weekend that, as premier, he would mandate a reduction in the retail price of beer to $1 a bottle.
“If he thinks ‘One-Buck Beer’ is the path to power in Ontario in 2018, he is either desperate or out of touch with reality. Worse, he is insulting the intelligence of the voters. They know that what Ontario needs is affordable housing, an end to ‘hallway medicine,’ decent incomes for all, and equal access to opportunity in education and employment. Life is complicated. Issues are real.
“Cheap beer for all is just a cheap election bribe.”
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 email@example.com.