Category: Posts

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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The Wonders of Cataract Surgery

In recent weeks I have experienced the wonders of cataract surgery extended to correct myopia. Like so many I know, several dates with the ophthalmologist, two remarkably short visits for surgery at the highly efficient Kensington Eye Institute,  a rigorous regime of multiple eye drops every day, and voilà: almost instantly, I can drive without glasses.

It is amazing what I now see. Street signs appear as if in large font primary print. Left-hand turn prohibitions are now legible. I now notice how the traffic is proceeding (or not), three or four street lights ahead. I can drive down Don Mills Road which is unfamiliar to me and still scan the signs of all the passing plazas looking for the one remaining Tilley store in Toronto. My command of the road and navigating the passing environment has never been better. It’s clearly time to get my driver’s license, which requires that I wear glasses, changed.

Apart from the luminosity of what I see, the detail I now notice makes me realize how much I missed before. I never appreciated, for example, that there were old-fashioned triple street lights lining the sidewalks along Bay Street beside the Manulife Building. Or that many downtown buildings have elaborate murals at the skyline. Or that the wooden fretwork on the chancel at Trinity-St. Paul’s Jeanne Lamon Hall is as elaborate as it is. Or that the fur on the tail of my black cat has a textured pattern that I didn’t know existed.

Of course, there is a downside to this new-found visual acuity. I now see cobwebs on the ceilings, plaster which needs repair, paint to be redone, and many other defects of an old house which I blissfully avoided up until now. Clearly, replacing my eyes will entail new costs for home repairs.

Having the eye surgery has been a learning experience. With one eye fixed, and the other not, I took one lens out of my glasses (the first one I’d had surgery on) and assumed that using the glasses with the other, I could read and work on the computer. Alas, that was not the case. With one eye corrected and the other not, I could read if I held whatever I was reading up close, but the distortion between the eyes made working on the computer very difficult.

Now that both eyes are fixed to improve my distance vision, I must adjust to the need for reading glasses. Before I wore glasses all the time and never thought twice about it. Now, reading labels in the grocery store, the program at the theatre, menus in a restaurant, and even the Globe and Mail is impossible without reading glasses. No big deal, you say. Everyone needs reading glasses once they hit forty. Maybe.

But there are strategies to consider. Some people carry their reading glasses on a cord around their neck. My husband, who had this surgery a couple of years ago, has at least a dozen pairs of reading glasses he bought cheaply at the local pharmacy. But he is always looking for them, never seems to have them when and where he wants them, and they are always breaking.

I’ve decided that it will work best for me if I invest in a couple of decent pairs of better fitting generic reading glasses which I can leave permanently located beside the computer and another in the kitchen where I typically read the newspaper. A friend also advised me to wait until the second eye is totally healed and then invest in a good pair of reading glasses which are bifocals (with plain glass on top) to carry around with me in my purse. I have also learned that, with an optometrist’s prescription, my favourite optical shop on College Street can likely fit bifocal lenses into one or more of my old glasses frames, and that the frame of my old prescription sunglasses could be recycled for reading glasses.

Cataract surgery (and the related opportunity to correct other vision defects at the same time) is one of the miracles of modern medicine. Commonplace, but oh so effective in improving our quality of life and public safety.

 

 

 

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Midwives and Maternity Care: The Wave of the Future

Our niece and her husband from Vancouver, who are now living in Toronto, had their first baby in late December. When I met the little one in February, I learned how pregnancy and birthing have changed since my day. My niece had a wonderful experience using midwives, an option now available to pregnant women and their partners.

Midwives? I have heard about midwives, but certainly didn’t know what they did. Now I appreciate that they have a marvellous role in health care for women that hopefully will increase in the future.

Last spring when my niece and her husband wanted to start their family, they needed to find a family doctor. She used the Ontario Health Care Connect program to find the names of doctors taking new referrals. There weren’t many but, three months later, she found one in a clinic five minutes from their home in Toronto’s east end. Once she became pregnant, the family doctor advised her that she could give care for only up to ten weeks. Thereafter, health care to do with the pregnancy would be provided by either an obstetrician or a midwife, both funded by OHIP. The doctor recommended a midwife as they do home visits and provide ongoing support.

Referred to The Midwives Clinic of East York, my niece learned about their services. They would see her every month until twenty-eight weeks, every two weeks until the 35th week, and then weekly. They offered several options for the actual birth: with a midwife at home, with a midwife at the Toronto Birth Centre on Dundas in Regent Park, or with a midwife in the local hospital, in this case the Michael Garron Hospital (formerly Toronto East General). After delivery, the midwife would visit every two days for the first ten days, see her at the clinic every two weeks until the baby was six weeks old and then they would transfer her back to the family doctor. If there were problems at any time, she would be transferred to an obstetrician. My niece was introduced to two midwives who would give continuity of care throughout the pregnancy and make sure that one or the other would be available when the time came to deliver.

Her pregnancy went well. The only issue was that the baby was late, six days after her due date. When my niece’s waters broke late one evening, she called the midwife, who asked questions to make sure that everything was okay, and told them to call back when her contractions started. Once they did, the midwife was at the house 45-60 minutes later, did an exam to see how far she was dilated, and then stayed with her for another hour of labour. She then left her to continue labour into the morning, but was available by telephone for updates throughout. Ultimately, the midwife instructed them to meet her at the hospital. Now sufficiently dilated for admission, my niece was given an epidural, the baby transitioned into the proper position and at 1:38 in the afternoon, the baby was born. Two midwives attended the delivery, one to attend to the baby, the other for the mother. The baby’s father was present throughout. The only contact my niece had with any doctor was with the anesthesiologist who administered the epidural she requested. Post-delivery, the midwife was at their home to help with the baby.

My niece loved the process, felt very supported, and never rushed. She had assumed that midwives would push the home birth experience but found that they never did. Her midwife delivered seven babies that same week and was, to quote my niece, ” incredibly knowledgeable.” At all times, my niece considered herself well-informed and knew that she had the power to make the decisions that were best for her.

I had not appreciated that midwives have been a self-governing regulated health profession in Ontario for over twenty-four years. They are subject to standards, guidelines and risk-screening protocols set by the College of Midwives of Ontario. According to the Association of Ontario Midwives, as of 2016, there were 839 midwives in the province, 89 midwifery practices, 77 communities where midwives provide care, 93 hospitals where midwives have privileges, and three community-based midwifery-led birth centres. Canadian Association of Midwives statistics show that from April 1, 2015 to March 31, 2016, there were 21,224 midwifery-led births in the province, 15.2% of the total births.

That same year, there were 8,987 midwife-led births (21% of the total) in British Columbia, 3,400 (3.9% of the total) in Quebec, 2,815 (4.9% of the total) in Alberta, 1,110 (6.4% of the total) in Manitoba, 132 (15.4% of the total) in Nunavut, 87 (12.7% of the total) in the Northwest Territories. and 247 (2.18%) in Nova Scotia. In Yukon, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland, there were none. These figures come from the latest statistics of midwifery data available on the internet

Seven universities across Canada: the Université de Quebec at Trois Rivières, Laurentian, Ryerson, McMaster, the University College of the North in Northern Manitoba, Mount Royal University in Calgary and the University of British Columbia, offer Four-year Bachelor of Health Sciences degrees in Midwifery. In addition, Ryerson offers a part-time degree program that is completed in five to six years, and an eight-semester post-Baccalaureate program for health professionals with earlier maternity care experience. Apparently, eighty new midwives graduate from Ontario programs every year.

It is ironic that, although women helping women with pregnancy and birthing occurred historically, midwifery is now one of the new professions which did not exist in Canada before. As with new technology, new approaches to providing health services need new knowledge and new skill sets.

Having midwives as an essential part of the health care team makes so much sense. Their ongoing support and specialized expertise can only enhance women’s pregnancy and birthing experiences. Given that their role providing maternity care in other countries is well-established, it is surprising that midwives are not in greater demand in Canada. Perhaps Canada’s health care systems across the country need to show greater leadership. Maybe more midwifery training programs are needed. Maybe people like me need to catch up on what is actually going on in the field. Undoubtedly, this is the wave of the future.

 

 

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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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What to do when relentless rains drench Vancouver?

I spent several weeks in Vancouver this January. Average rainfall at YVR in January is 168 millimetres. This year, there were 249 millimetres, making it the fourth wettest January since records were first kept in 1937.

I can handle the light rain, what my mother called “the Scottish mist,” intermittent showers, and the fog. I can even deal with the occasional tropical deluge or pineapple express which blows the rain horizontally. In these circumstances, locals generally don a Gore-Tex, grab a handy umbrella and carry on doing whatever they planned anyway. I can do that, too. We all know the local secret. So long as it rains for any period of time at any time of the day, the news will report “rain in Vancouver,” and easterners who hear the weather reports will chortle and stay away.

But when the rainfall becomes relentless, so that it goes on for forty days and forty nights of soaking rain, even locals become depressed. So I learned in January. I never thought I would ever say that, but I found it to be true.

The challenge was that we had a visitor from Toronto coming for several days. Originally from Colombia, he came west to help a friend move to Victoria. Since he was coming anyway, we encouraged him to come to Vancouver and stay in our Vancouver cottage. Why not? He had never been to the west coast before and nothing gives me greater pleasure than to show the sights of Vancouver to a newcomer. But what sights do you show a newcomer when you can’t see the sea or the mountains, and walking outside leaves you drenched and miserable?

The first day, he came from Victoria by ferry through the Gulf Islands, and by public transit on the bus and Canada Line to our apartment. That’s an adventure in itself. On his arrival, he joined a small dinner party which my husband had prepared for a few guests. That’s easy, and fun, and a warm welcome to the local scene. The next day, two mutual friends en route to New Zealand had a long stopover in Vancouver. They had rented a car and, as the sun actually came out for a few hours, we toured the North Shore to see the beaches at Whytecliff Park, the fresh snow on the mountains above Horseshoe Bay, and the view of the city and beyond from the lookout up the Cypress Mountain Parkway. But the clouds were coming in, the winds were blowing, and the view was so unsharp that I failed to identify the new Port Mann bridge on the horizon.

The next day, the dreaded deluge returned. That’s okay. We drove through the west end, around Kitsilano and along the shoreline out to the Museum of Anthropology at UBC. There, in addition to the usual treasures, we saw a special exhibit of indigenous woven carpets from the 19th Century. Our tour around UBC by car was a washout, but we headed to Granville Island for lunch. Parking was easy and we had no problem finding a comfortable table beside the windows in the Farmers Market food court. Protected from the rain, we could watch the birds and the boats on False Creek and enjoy the buskers while we ate. The ambiance gave the illusion of a bright day and we loved it. We then drove back over the Burrard Street Bridge, along English Bay and home. A good first day.

The second day, we took the bus very early and got off at the first stop after Lost Lagoon on Georgia Street. In a light rain, we set out to walk the Vancouver harbour to the Convention Centre and Canada Place. Before we even reached Jack Poole Plaza, the rain was pelting down, and we took to looking for any kind of shelter along the way; an occasional glass overhang, an inset doorway, a glassed-in staircase, an outdoor café (closed of course) beneath a building above, anything to protect us. Ultimately, near the Convention Centre, we spied a waterfall leading down into a food court in an underground plaza. Over a hot cocoa, we considered our course of action. What to do?

We learned that underground tunnels connected the food court to the SkyTrain at the downtown Waterfront Station. The reconstructed historical concourse of that station is worth a visit. I then decided that I wanted to see the new Evergreen extension of the Vancouver’s SkyTrain system which goes all the way out to Lafarge Lake in Coquitlam. If I can ride the new extension of the Toronto subway, I can ride the Vancouver addition as well. And I thought that our friend could get a view of my old stomping grounds in Burnaby, New Westminster, and along the Fraser River. So we got on the original Expo Line and did the circuit, transferred to the extension that passes through a long tunnel to the new stations in Port Moody and Coquitlam, and then took the newly configured Millennium Line back downtown. The views were disappointing, but I was impressed by the potential of the new extension. It took us one hour to travel the entire route and cost me only $2.80.

The highlight of our trip was meeting the falcon. As we transferred onto the Expo Line at Commercial Drive and found a seat in a crowded car (thank goodness we are seniors), we noticed that we were surrounded by a crew of young people carrying fancy cameras and a big box which they carefully put down on the floor beside me. When I asked what was in the box, they said that it was a falcon. A falcon? Yes, they had a six-week contract with the city to document how the mere presence of their falcon on the SkyTrain platforms would scare away the pesky pigeons. They told us that in the six station span of their project, it worked every time, except for one station where the pigeons roosted too far away to pick up on the falcon’s presence. We were amused and wished them well.

By the time we returned to Waterfront, the rain had abated enough to allow us to visit the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden and to walk the streets of Gastown. We then took the SeaBus to the Lonsdale Quay and a bus back to West Vancouver. Altogether, not a bad day.

Day three was a challenge. I decided that, depending on the state of the weather once we got outside, we would take the Skyride up Grouse Mountain, or drive the Sea to Sky Highway to Squamish. Since the local mountain was invisible, we took to Highway 99 up the east side of Howe Sound, past Lions Bay, Porteau Cove Provincial Park, Britannia with its Mine Museum, Shannon Falls, and the world-famous mountain face known as the Stawamus Chief. The new Sea to Sky Gondola nearby was open, but who wants to hike trails at the top of a mountain in the rain? At Squamish, there was no rain. We proceeded up the highway to Brackendale where the signs advertise “bald-headed eagles.” Oh yes. That’s right. I suddenly recalled that, every January, volunteer naturalists come to Brackendale to count the eagles feeding at local rivers. I’d heard of that before but never been there.

So, we turned west and drove the streets of tiny Brackendale until we came upon Eagle Run Park on Government Road. There we found numerous interpretive displays, an Eagle Watch Interpreter Program, and a well-maintained dyke viewing area which is accessible via a ramp at the south end. We learned that the spawning of chum salmon runs in the Squamish, Cheakamus and Mamquam rivers provides an ideal habitat for feeding bald eagles. In 1994, the Brackendale-Squamish area set the world record count with 3,769 eagles counted in a single day. We saw our share of eagles: big adult birds, black with white heads, and the motley brown youngsters, sitting on the logs and rocks at the river’s edge, roosting in the trees, and sweeping across the skies. We were ecstatic. It was the totally serendipitous highlight of our week.

If any readers have suggestions for rainy day activities in Vancouver, please use the Comment section below to enlighten the rest of us. My cousin suggested we could have hiked in Lighthouse Park where we would have experienced an old growth forest as it really is. Or we could have hiked in Pacific Spirit Regional Park on the UBC campus as I described in an earlier post. Good suggestions. Are there any more?

 

 

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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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ETHEL’S TOQUES

How do you see yourself at 96 years of age? On Monday, my sister and I visited an old family friend who is truly aged, has many medical issues, and needs full-time caregiving support. She now lives with her daughter and son-in-law in their expansive Markham home which accommodates her walker, has a stair-lift climbing the staircase to the second floor bedrooms and, on the main floor, a kitchen table looking out to a backyard busy with birds at the feeder, bushy black squirrels and even the occasional fox.

When we arrive, Ethel is in the family room watching the Olympics on the television. She rises to greet us. Her freshly made up face lit up with a radiant smile, her white hair immaculately coiffed, and wearing a stylish black checked jacket, she looks twenty years younger than her age. Before long, she opened up a plastic bag and gave us each a soft, hand-crafted woollen toque, navy blue with a white pompom, which she had made for us. We were thrilled.

Ethel has been making toques for about ten years. She saw a woman at Eglinton Square in Scarborough working on a round plastic frame called The Quickie Loom. Intrigued, she bought one right away and took it home to show her husband, Vic. Before long, they had two frames, one for toques and one for scarves, which both made for family and friends. One year they made forty toques and gave them to a church which distributed them to street people. So far this year, Ethel has made more than a dozen, two for us and the others which also have been collected and given to people in need.

When we asked, she was eager to show us how she makes the toques. The trick is using an inexpensive frame called The Quickie Loom which can be bought at a craft shop such as Michaels or even Walmart. She uses Bernat Roving acrylic and wool (hat weight), which she also buys at Walmart.

Several videos on YouTube provide simple instructions for what is called loom knitting. Ethel begins with a slip knot placed on an anchor peg on the plastic frame. She wraps the strand of wool around each peg on the frame to make one row of loops, and then continues the same thing to create a second row. Once she has laid down two rows, she uses a pick to hook the bottom strand over the one above. She repeats the process of hooping and hooking, two rows at a time, until she has completed sixty rows for a large size toque and forty rows for a medium. As she loops and hooks the wool on the frame, the toque forms itself.

It’s easy. She can make one in an evening while she is watching television. And she didn’t have to be a knitter.

Looms come in many sizes with increasing numbers of pegs to make toques and scarves for dolls, babies, toddlers, and adults. There are YouTube instructions for making different types of hats; unisex slouchy beanies, pussy-hats, a rib-stitch hat, and also scarves. There are instructions for changing colours, making pompoms, and adding a flower to the hat. For the toques she made for Kath and I, Ethel added white pompoms. Making those pompoms for the first time required the ingenuity of all three adults in the household, but now she has the hang of it.

Loom knitting hats is easy for children. Ethel told me that when her pastor’s young daughter was diagnosed with cancer, Ethel gave a Quickie Loom and some wool to both her and her sister, to make hats for themselves. She told them that when they showed her the hats they’d made, she would give each of them $5.00. Two days later, on Sunday morning, they met her at church with big grins on their faces, and their finished hats on their heads. Ethel was delighted to depart with the $10.00. The girls went on to make dozens of hats for their friends and for the church.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone. 

***** Photos with thanks to Keith Carbert *****

 

 

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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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Dior Divertissement: Haute Couture as Therapy

Searching out the upbeat. Choosing what we can control as a diversion from a world run amok with negative news. These are recommended strategies in the age of Trump. If you are feeling anything like me these days, then the Christian Dior exhibit now on display at the Royal Ontario Museum is for you. It’s wonderful.

The haute couture house of Christian Dior opened in Paris in February 1947. The exhibition uses the ROM’S collection of Dior fashions to illustrate the first decade (1947-1957) of designs created for a “clientele of habitually well-dressed women.” Holt Renfrew, the sponsor of the exhibition, obtained the first license to sell and make Christian Dior designs in Canada. These are the actual day dresses, afternoon dresses, and evening dresses worn by Canada’s elite and donated to the museum. They are spectacularly beautiful.

Curator Alexandra Palmer has created a remarkably interesting show. It describes how the house of Dior functioned and how it achieved its international influence in a short ten years. We learn about “The New Look” and how it reflected (and added to) the aspirations of the post-war period. We learn how the house resurrected skills from the 18th and 19th centuries and adapted them to modern designs and materials. We visit the dressmaking atelier, see how the dresses were actually constructed, and what it took in both skill and materials to make “the look.” We see the difference between the original design concepts and the end product. We meet the tradespeople and suppliers of exquisite textiles, sequins, ribbons, and hand embroidery. We learn how their businesses operated and how they flourished with the success of Dior. We come to appreciate the relationship between the designer, the artisans, the models, the suppliers and ultimately between the design house, the merchants, and the clients. We see how the house stimulated other businesses to produce shoes, stockings, handbags, gloves, costume jewellery, and perfumes which promoted Dior’s design principles and added to the lustre of the label.

For a small exhibit with what seems like a modest footprint, it packs a wallop. It’s a fascinating insight into an amazing world.

To get full benefit from the show, make sure to read the electronic placards which describe all the dress designs on display. Klutz that I am with new technology, it took me awhile to figure out how to manipulate the touch screens. Once I did, I was enchanted. The placards describe the name of each design, the collection, the primary dress-maker, the model for whom the design was created, the significance of the design, the choice of the textiles and embellishments, and some of the clients who purchased the dresses. Here you will find copies of the original design drawings which are intriguing and beautiful works of art in themselves. There are also samples  of textiles from which the dresses could be made.

Also, sit down and watch the film. Apart from resting your feet, to see the real images of Dior working with the dressmaker and the model to perfect the dress in its last stage is to understand the relationship between them. Join the world’s major fashion buyers and their exclusive clients as they watch the models presenting a new collection of designs on a 1947-1957 runway. Some of the designs we saw on the original runway are on display in the exhibition.

Everyone I heard talking at this show had opinions on what they liked and what they didn’t. All were awestruck by the care put into the creation of the designs and the exquisite workmanship on display.

I took in the exhibit with ease in about ninety minutes. I left with impressions and questions which diverted me for hours. I consider that good therapy. The show runs on the fourth floor of the ROM (using the new elevators to the left of the entrance foyer) until mid-March. See rom.on.ca/whatson for talks and workshops on the subject.

 

 

 

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