Tagged: Effervescent Bubble

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

This is a brilliant decision which everyone must read.

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

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

Reacting to the May 27th Leaders’ Debate

Yesterday morning, between 6:30 and 8:00 a.m. China time, I watched the Ontario Leaders’ Debate live on my iPad in our hotel room in Luoyang in central China. It was a great debate. If you didn’t catch it, I would urge you to see it for yourself on the internet. Undoubtedly, it’s there somewhere.

All three leaders did much better than previously. Doug Ford is “learning to play the game,” but is long-winded, bombastic, and suffers from lack of any concrete platform or experience. Watching Doug Ford talk about daycare was positively hilarious; hearing him tout his “experience” at Toronto City Hall (a downright lie) must have been embarrassing for his party. Andrea Horwath is positively spritely, quick-witted, aggressive, and clearly an talented parliamentary debater. She was onto Ford like a bulldog, and scored points against Wynne on hydro privatization, if nothing else.

Kathleen Wynne was superb. From her opening statement, where she said, “I am sorry that you don’t like me,” but, “I am not sorry” about all the things my government has done, she showed herself head and shoulders over the other two.

Ford railed on against a carbon tax; Wynne told how she has talked with business leaders about how best to deal with carbon emissions and then implemented a cap and trade system which is effective and which conservatives are happy with. (See Andrew Coyne, he agrees with Wynne.) Ford said he will consult with front line professionals about how best to reform the health care system. Wynne explained that developing policy required her government to consult with these professionals already; if Ford had done so, he might actually have a campaign platform by now. Ford complained about Ontario’s debt load. Wynne replied that the debt has been accumulated to build necessary infrastructure funding for the power system, for health care, for transit, all that previous governments neglected. Wynne challenged Andrea Horwath on her Achilles’ heel, her refusal to support “return to work” legislation against public sector unions, and gave the York University strike as an example of the need for government intervention when collective bargaining reaches an impasse where no settlement is possible. When does the public interest have to dominate over the interests of particular unions?

I was awestruck by Wynne’s cool, calm, and mature contributions to the debate. She is totally knowledgeable about all the issues on her plate, discusses them with intelligence and sensitivity, and presented as an absolutely wonderful leader who deserves our respect. Why people dislike her so is beyond me. I see her at 65 years of age, at the height of her powers. She may well endure the demands of political life and the rigours of this particular campaign because she runs daily. What a role model she is for all of us.



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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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Costa Rica #4: Touring the Northwest Beaches

Seen one beach, seen them all? Not so in Costa Rica. The ones we saw were all different. The interior I-21, which runs from south of Nicola to Santa Cruz and then to Liberia, is the spine from which numerous side roads head west to different beach areas. These main roads are paved, but access roads to many more remote beaches are not, and a 4WD is necessary to negotiate gravel and dirt roads, some surprisingly rough.

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The vast Playa Grande is across the estuary from Tamarindo and, apart from the surfers offshore, has practically no one on it. Crocodiles and caymans are said to live in the estuary and, as the beach and its hinterland are part of the protected Parque Nacional Marino las Baulas (Leatherback Turtle Marine National Park), development adjacent to the beach is prohibited. According to Lonely Planet, the area is one of the world’s prime nesting beaches for these leatherback turtles, which can live for 50 years and weigh up to 400 kilograms. Apparently, they come ashore at night to lay their eggs, which later hatch on the beach, and then go out to sea. We didn’t see any, but friends have.

Thirteen kilometres south is Avellana, a broad white sand expanse of remote beach with high waves and good breaks for advanced surfers. It was here, and at nearby Playa Negra, that Bruce Brown filmed his classic surfer film, Endless Summer 2, in 1994. Apart from the excellent surfing, the leading attraction is Lola’s bar and bistro, named after a succession of porcine mascots. It is an idyllic spot in the sand under the palms, great for good food and leisurely lounging. Those who don’t surf spend their time at Lola’s.

We made several trips north. Not far from Tamarindo is Playa Flamingo, Playa Potrero and, at the end of a more remote road that rises high above the coast, Playa Danta. Flamingo has a broad protected bay ideal for yachts, and another white sand beach along the open sea. On the beach, locals stretch colourful materials between the trees to stake out their space, I guess, and get a little shade. The sand at Potrero, dark coloured and apparently rich in marine life, attracts vultures and pelicans dive-bombing into the water for their food. Danta is a charming beach in a narrow little bay. Apart from the sand, flat rock shelves extend out of the water. Lucio recommends the area for snorkelling. At the moment, the bay is used almost exclusively by locals. There is, however, a huge high-rise development being built just inland from the beach. Once finished, this little local paradise will be inundated by occupants of the new resort, a classic example of the conflict between the natural beauty of Costa Rica and ongoing development for tourism.

On another trip further north, we spent some time at Playa Hermosa, considered one of the quieter and more beautiful bays in the area. Hermosa Bay is utterly delightful, a narrow semi-circle of water and grey sand with tall trees providing ample shade along the shoreline. There is no surf here, only water splashing into the bay. The scene seemed so inviting that I decided to wade in. Within minutes, a huge wave over my head surged in, totally swept me off my feet, and, before I knew it, my glasses were swept away. Silly “gringo.” I should have gone wading at the far end of beach where the “tico” children were swimming and playing on a more protected shelf of sand.

Losing my glasses meant that I could not drive. I had brought a spare pair which were at the apartment. But that prescription is 20 years out of date, so driving with those spare glasses was not possible. When I returned to Vancouver, I immediately saw an optometrist to get new glasses. She found cataracts I never knew I had. Now, I am waiting for an appointment with an ophthalmologist and, likely, cataract surgery. There is an ophthalmologist here in Vancouver who could see me in early March and do the surgery in late May. I’ve been seeking options back in Toronto. Who would have thought that a vacation in Costa Rica would lead to interprovincial negotiations between Canada’s health care systems? Moral of the story? Pay attention where you enter the sea in Costa Rica. And always travel with an extra, up-to-date, pair of glasses.

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Costa Rica #2: Adapting to the Heat

"The Ocean" on Tamarindo Beach

“The Ocean” on Tamarindo Beach

Renting the Tamarindo condo for two weeks was our first experience of living in a hot country for an extended period with no fixed agenda. Many people go south every winter. Most go for a short beach holiday, for a respite from the cold. Some retirees we know spend several weeks or even months in Florida, Mexico or Costa Rica every year. Theirs are extended stays where they live in the heat, in a different country and culture, for long periods of time. 

When I have travelled before in hot countries, I was either working or touring. Working in Africa, we taught in the morning from seven until noon, came home to a main meal prepared by our French-trained housekeeper, took a siesta for two hours, showered an in the late afternoon-early evening, did our errands about town on our Mobylettes, or had cocktails with our friends. It was early to bed, early to rise, and the routine was fixed. On weekends and on school vacations, we toured or socialized.

Touring in hot countries, hitchhiking and using local transport as young people, or more recently in small tour groups, the goal was to “see the sights.” As young people, we had things to do and places to see, the more the merrier, whatever the temperature. As older adults, our touring timetables were set by skilled travel guides, and all we had to do was to follow along. Airports, buses and hotels are typically air-conditioned. A good tour guide mixes up the experience so that, from several different base locations, there is a good balance between sight-seeing and “down time.”

I had anticipated visiting the cloud forests, canopy hikes, volcanos and hot pools around Arenal and Monteverde in the mountainous interior. This was my stereotypical view of Costa Rica. For a variety of reasons, including the vagaries of aging, and a mishap I will discuss later, we were unable to go there. Next time. And none of us were into the surfing, snorkelling, sailing, deep-sea fishing and late-night partying that makes Tamarindo such a hot spot for sun-loving young people and sports activists. When touring is not the goal and we are not surfers, I initially wondered what we would do. How it is that our ex-pat friends spend their time abroad?

Adapting to the heat is a shock and imposes its own imperatives. Local trips in the car or hiking on the beach start early and end early. Midday, it is wise to be in the shade, in a beachside bistro bar or at home on the balcony. Walking at that time is foolhardy. Even the surfers go home until late afternoon. Once the sun goes down, nightfall comes quickly. Driving or walking in the dark didn’t seem a good idea and we hadn’t yet learned how to use the local cabs. The best time of day is the early morning when we wake up to the birds singing, and the reverberating guttural roars of the alpha male howling monkeys saluting the dawn. Then, a leisurely breakfast is in order. That’s the key. Leisurely.

It took me several days to slow down and learn that the heat liberates us to pursue our normal daily activities, but at a slower pace than at home. We sink into what we most like to do: eating, drinking, cooking, socializing, sleeping well (for a change), swimming in the pool, reading, learning how to use my new camera, writing posts for Facebook, checking our favourite sites on the iPad or computer. All at leisure, without any pressing daily activities, and in a sublime setting with a warm climate, it can become a great life.

Today’s howling monkey photos were taken by Lucy Ramos. Thanks, Lucy.

***** My first Costa Rica post omitted photos I intended. I’ve now inserted them. Have a look. *****


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A “Life Changing” Costa Rica Vacation: Setting the Scene

It’s been over a month since I last put up a post. Where has the time gone? The cliché that time goes faster and faster every year as we age is all too true. In the interval, my husband and I have been from Petawawa to Ottawa to Vancouver to Costa Rica and back to Vancouver. No wonder posting has fallen by the wayside. I hope to make up for it in the weeks ahead.

Costa Rica was a new venture for us. For two weeks, we rented a charming apartment high on a hill, overlooking Tamarindo, on the northwest Pacific coast of the country. Tamarindo is located in the region of Guanacaste, about an hour and half drive southwest from Liberia, the home of Daniel Oduber International Airport. The coast is a plethora of bays and beaches which attract tourists and expats from all over the world. Inland, the high hills are covered with dry forest; the plateaus and valleys used for growing sugar and cattle ranching. This is Costa Rica’s “cowboy country.”

The apartment is owned by friends from the YMCA in Toronto who, three years ago, retired from their west end real estate business to take up residence for part of each year in Costa Rica. It has an expansive 180° view over the Playa Grande (beach) and the Playa Tamarindo, and the canopy of green over the town below and the nearby hillsides. It is a short walk on a dirt road down the hill to the paved main street of Tamarindo with its colourful jumble of shops, hotels, bars and restaurants, all hidden by the trees from our sight, in our aerie above. A thriving hotspot which attracts surfers from all over the world, Tamarindo apparently has a raucous night life. High above, we heard little of it.

Our apartment is located on the penthouse floor of a 17-unit pseudo-German-Spanish château called La Residence Colina. It is a massive four-storey white cement structure with a large wood roof with red tiles, and balconies across the facade. Beneath the balconies is a large undulating swimming pool, surrounded by a garden of tropical plants, some with bright coloured blooms. The pool and the garden, and the view from the balcony, are a constant refreshment to the eyes and the spirit.

Inside the apartment, there are two bedrooms, two baths, a large fully equipped kitchen and living room area and then the balcony which extends across the width of the apartment. The ceilings are high with hanging fans turning constantly under the massive wood roof. On the white walls, an artist had painted brightly coloured motifs of fish, flowers, plants and pots in exchange for her rent. There are wooden doors and windows, tiles on the floor, and wrought iron gates strategically placed to provide privacy for the individual units.

When the breezes are blowing, it is delightfully cool. When the breezes drop, it is very hot (33° Celsius), but we never thought to close the windows and doors so we could turn on the air-conditioning. Sometimes, great gusts of dry, dusty wind blow our furniture across the patio, or slam shut any shutters not locked open. Late afternoon, the western sun is so hot that it forces us to retreat indoors from the balcony.


I am going on at length about the apartment because we spent a lot of time there, most often on the balcony. That will be the subject of further posts.

As always, click on any photo above to see larger files in a carousel format.

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Voter Suppression?

The Official Advance Polls for the 2015 federal election opened at noon today. As I wrote previously, this election campaign has gone on far too long and I wanted to cast my vote and forget about it. My experience was an interesting and totally novel one.

In the old days (way back when) municipal, provincial and federal elections were held at the local school. Typically, a large room near the front door was set aside for several polls. The rooms were spacious, airy, and perfectly comfortable. Tables with the election official and the party scrutineers would be set up at each polling station around the room, to process the voters. Voters formed a line and, with the help of assistants, approached the appropriate tables as they cleared. As each voter gave their name, accompanied by their voter information card or other identification, the official found it on the voters list, provided a ballot, and the voter went behind a screen to vote. It was a congenial process, civilized and comfortable.

That was not my experience today. Two advance polls were located in a stuffy little room on the main floor of a local church partially renovated for commercial and residential uses. Voters entered the building into a narrow corridor and were first directed to a table where officials checked their voter’s card, their identification and the list. Then they were directed to stand at the end of a line of voters waiting to enter the little room where the two polls were located.

I arrived at the voting station at 12:15, shortly after it first opened. Already, the line up of voters pre-screened for voting extended into the narthex of the church. Several older folk, including myself, were permitted to sit in the few chairs jammed along the edge of the corridor. It was hot, stuffy, and already congested, as we waited patiently to be admitted into the actual room where voting took place. An assistant guarded that door, letting three voters per poll in at a time. Although people were generally congenial, the process was cumbersome and uncomfortable. Clearly the venue was far too small for those waiting to vote and all the officials.

When it came my turn, I presented my card and identification to the two officials at the polling desk as I had been instructed to do. One turned over the pages of the voters list, found my name, and expressed concern. My name was already crossed off, not by pen or pencil as would have been the case if it had been done by a live official, but apparently there was a computer-generated line through my name. You can imagine my surprise! The official indicated that the line through my name meant either that I had voted already, or that I had requested that my name be removed from the list. Clearly not the case. What is this? How come I was struck from the list? Was there now a ban on bloggers voting?

The returning officer had a problem. He took my voter info card and went to check the list at the identification table where I had already been cleared. He asked me to accompany him. On that list, there was no line through my name. He could give no explanation for why my name had been struck from one list and not the other. Nor for why my name had been struck from one list at all. He produced a form for me to fill out, attesting to how long I have lived in the riding (since 1977), and requesting that my name be added to the list. They gave me my ballot, I voted and that was that.

Moral of the story: This was the first hour of the first day of the advance polls. My companion and I required nearly 40 minutes to vote. And there was a problem. I would be interested in knowing if other people have problems voting. And how long it takes you to vote. And whether all voting stations are so cramped and crowded. Be warned.

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Turning the Page on a Dreadful Federal Election

This dreary and unduly lengthy election campaign has turned dark and dangerous. That the Prime Minister of Canada is stoking the flames of xenophobia (with his anti-niqab antics, two-tiered citizenship, and a snitch line against “barbaric practices”) has made me so down-hearted that I can barely sleep at night. It has literally made me sick, and sick at heart, a feeling I share with so many of my friends and associates.

I thought Canada was beyond that. In the past, the state and our prominent public institutions (including our churches, universities, hospitals, and workplaces) felt no embarrassment practicing overt discrimination against particular groups or railing against the perceived evils of vulnerable minorities. Once it was the Catholics, the Irish, the Italians and the Greeks, then the Chinese, the Jews, the Japanese, blacks, gays, the Doukhobors, the Sikhs, and the Roma. Once it was women, period, then married women. Now it is women who wear the niqab, a religious practice of Wahhabism, that sect of Sunni Islam promoted by the Saudi Arabians, our trading partners, to whom Stephen Harper is more than happy to sell the military vehicles we produce.

I had thought that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, enshrined as part of our Constitution in 1982, and universally recognized as the best in the world, represented our common values: a society where freedom, equality, diversity and multiculturalism would flourish and be protected under the law. Instead, we have an incumbent prime minister whose track record has been to enact one law after another, one policy after another, obviously in breach of the Charter. When the Supreme Court of Canada ultimately overturns his unconstitutional laws, he maligns the courts as “unrepresentative of the people.” I ask you, who is representative of the people? A prime minister who seeks re-election promoting divisiveness and fear? Or the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which all the other leaders know in their bones cannot, and should not, be perverted for partisan advantage?

That is my last word on this federal election campaign. I am voting in the advance poll on Friday and then closing my ears and eyes to all the superfluous advertising until election day. Maybe we should all do the same.

For all the sound and fury of the federal election, ordinary life in Toronto goes on in peace and harmony. The return of school brought the Toronto International Film Festival and thousands of people into the streets and the theatres, catching glimpses of the stars, and watching free movies under the stars. I saw many films at TIFF this year, which I will write about in the weeks ahead. Late summer also brought the last of the neighbourhood festivals. One sunny weekend in late September, the Roncesvalles Polish Festival, a fall extravaganza, just east of High Park, competed for fair-goers with the Ukrainian Festival further west in Bloor West Village. The following weekend, Word on the Street drew thousands of authors, booksellers and readers lingering over the stalls and stalls of books on offer. Who says people don’t read anymore? Last Saturday night, it was Nuit Blanche, an all-night extravaganza of art installations all over the city. My younger friends were out on the town on what could well be described as an effete, super sophisticated, artistic pub crawl. It’s no wonder people love Toronto. There is so much going on, and so little time to take it all in. All a much-needed diversion from the current Canadian political scene.

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You Want Change? Strategic Voting is a Must

The election is three weeks away and the logjam in the polls may be breaking up. A new Mainstream Research poll reported in the National Post on Thursday said that, in Ontario, the Tories were leading at 38% among decided and leaning voters, the Liberals at 34% and the NDP at 22%. An EKOS poll the same day, in the Toronto Star, showed that the Tories have pulled ahead with 35.4% of voters nationally, the Liberals at 26.3 % and the NDP at 24.5%. Pollster Frank Graves is quoted as saying, “If (the Conservatives) keep those numbers up they’re very close to a majority—if not there already.” They apparently lead in British Columbia, Alberta, the prairies, and Ontario.

These polls are a reality check. People who are not political junkies are waking up to the election. As they do so, they are facing promises of a ‘tax lock,’ perpetual balanced budgets, and ‘a ban on the niqab.’ They may forget the well-documented track record of the Harper government itemized in “the Harper Abuse of Power Compendium” published by The Tyee. Without these facts, will the Tories get their vote? If not, will their votes be squandered in our “first past the post” electoral system?

This election has boiled down to two issues:

  • Are you for Stephen Harper and his ten-year track record?
  • If not, which of the two main opposition parties (for all their individual flaws) should lead the alternative?

Because of three-way (or four-way) splits in the vote in particular swing ridings, Harper could return for an unprecedented fourth term in office. He could even pull off a majority. As I quoted Will McMartin in an earlier post, “… compared to other parties (the Tories) are rich in ‘safe’ seats (123… won by Harper’s Conservatives in 2011, with over 50% of the popular vote).”

If 70% of the population really does want change, the best case scenario may be that the Tories are held to a low plurality of seats in the Commons. This result would force the Liberals and the NDP to defeat Harper in the House at the earliest opportunity, form a coalition or an accord on the 1980s Ontario model, and offer a joint government, with the support of the Greens, that could achieve much of what they share in common. Who would lead would depend upon how they divide the seats between them.

Change is possible only if electors in their local ridings make getting rid of Stephen Harper their priority. Where a Conservative could take the riding (because the riding voted for the CPC last time), will those who might prefer the NDP or Liberal leader/platform actually adopt an ABC or ABH strategy? This means voting for the opposition party which has the best chance of defeating Harper, whether Liberal or NDP, in the particular area. Without their strategic vote, their splitting the vote will have the effect of electing a Harperite.

Vote Together released the results of Wave Two of their Swing Riding Polls on Tuesday. In Eglinton-Lawrence, they predict that the outcome will be very close. At the moment, the Liberal candidate has a slight lead over Finance Minister Joe Oliver, with the NDP rising. They note that a non-Conservative candidate can win if people vote together. Etobicoke-Lakeshore is another traditionally Liberal riding which the Tories took in 2011 with 40% of the popular vote. Ditto Don Valley West, where the Conservative incumbent won in 2011 with 43% of the popular vote over 42% for the Liberals. In British Columbia, Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge-Mission is a new riding like that Tory MP Randy Kamp has held since 2004. The current polling shows the NDP with a slight lead. Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country has new boundaries in a traditionally swing Conservative-Liberal area held by Conservative MP John Weston since 2008. In what may be ‘an emerging battleground riding,’ recent polling shows a slight lead for the Liberals. There are hopeful signs that, if voters pay attention, strategic voting could make a difference.

Find your riding on the Vote Together webpage and learn the history and recent polling (if any) in your riding. It makes for sobering reading.

***** P.S. A reader forwarded another webpage with recommendations on which party in each of the 338 Election District Districts is most likely to defeat Stephen Harper.  Check out Strategicvoting.ca.   

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What the Election Campaign has Taught me about Social Media, and Vice Versa

I guess I am slow, inherently conservative, or a coward. After nearly two years of blogging, I have finally learned the incredible utility and power of social media. This federal election campaign has reinforced the point.

Last year I set up a Twitter account and began to experiment with the medium. I follow 133 people, institutions and agencies and have learned how useful and fun it is to plug into what’s going on in real-time. Riding on the streetcar, waiting for the bus, standing in a TIFF line, I can flip through the latest tweets very quickly on my smart phone and find out what is happening. I can catch newspaper articles or videos I missed, interesting analyses, news about TTC delays or local emergencies, notices of upcoming events. All in 140-digit bites.

But for a tweet I received while waiting for a TIFF film last week, I would not have known about the Up For Debate event on women’s issues Monday evening. It would have passed me by. That would have been too bad. It was great fun to see people whom I had “lost” from my past. I loved meeting women whose names I recognized but had never actually met. I would have missed hearing the new leaders of the women’s movement, and seeing the vitality of the many young activists present. I likely would not have known that the discussion was live streamed and videos of the participating leaders (everyone but Stephen Harper) are available for your viewing at the Federal Election 2015 women’s issues page of the Toronto Star website

That tweet allowed me to plug into the modern women’s movement and consider how the position of women has improved, or not, since my activist days. The vocabulary used today is different. Equality now extends to diversity and the complications of multiculturalism. The current controversy over wearing a niqab during a citizenship ceremony is an example. What precisely are the rights at issue? And what harms have been attributed to Zunera Ishaq because of what she chooses to wear?

When speakers talk broadly about “the oppression of women” in Canadian society, I can’t help comparing contemporary opportunities for women with what existed in the 1960s and 1970s. And when “the big news” of the event was that Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau volunteered that they were “feminists,” what’s the big deal? My husband, our sons, and many of their cohort have called themselves “feminists” for years. Of course, there are many definitions of feminism and different perceptions of how it should be manifest in practice. That’s the rub.

I understand that “the glass ceiling” and tokenism, sexist environments and sexual harassment, economic insecurity and dependence, primary responsibility for child care and for elder care, the high cost and paucity of quality care for children and seniors, under-representation of women in Parliament, violence against women, particularly aboriginal and First Nations women, these and many other issues remain. Although labelled “women’s issues,” these are really human issues affecting everyone. But the services, structures and institutions which previously existed to encourage advocacy and give federal support to these issues have been defunded, closed down, or relegated to the private sector. Clearly. there is much work to do, and the Up For Debate campaign is to be commended for holding our politicians to account.

Getting back to Twitter, I was greatly impressed by how Elizabeth May and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi used Twitter during the Globe and Mail debate last week. On Friday, a friend and I came up with the hashtag #Maysin, trying to start a trend that would encourage Harper and Mulcair to take part in the proposed “consortium” National Leaders Debate, including Elizabeth May. Alas, using Twitter for such a purpose requires effort and a basic modicum of skill about the medium. What’s the best “hashtag”? What “handles” to address? How to do direct messages? When to retweet? Apparently, it is quite easy.

I now understand why so many public figures tweet so often, and why they have so many followers. What better way to keep in touch, and to share ideas and interests with others? A friend reminded me of the importance of Twitter on the international scene: bringing down the government of Egypt, challenging the government in Iran. As he said, if Twitter has so much utility in these circumstances, we should understand how it works.

I am now inspired to do just that. I have now tweeted 120 times and have 25 followers. Not many, but a start. It is so much easier (and faster) to “retweet” something of interest than to prepare a post on a blog, send out emails, or use the telephone. It is the difference between email and texting, multiplied by the number of followers you have. Had others in my circle been on Twitter last week, I could have retweeted news of the Up For Debate event to my followers instantly and we could have gone together. Or we could have joined forces to get our demand for “the real National Leaders Debate” organized by the national media and including Elizabeth May out to a broader audience.

If you are at all interested in learning about this technology, you might want to set up a Twitter account, search for my handle, MarionELane, and then follow me. Or tweet me @MarionELane. I will follow you and then we can share tweets.

Those who have been on Facebook for years will know that Twitter is likely an extension of Facebook, providing shorter, more instantaneous, more focused communications, from many more sources. Because of this experience, I am finally moving onto Facebook as Marion Lane. I have sent out some “Friend” requests and would welcome such requests from you. Just as computers, iPads and iPhones are best suited for particular uses, I look forward to comparing which of these two best serves different purposes. Please join me in this venture and let’s discover social media together. If you have any tips, don’t hesitate to use the Comment section below.

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Real Change? How about Principles ahead of Partisanship?

So, are you going to watch the second Leaders Debate tonight? It begins at 8:00 p.m. EDT (6:00 p.m. MT) and will continue for two hours. You can see it on CPAC. As the Globe promo says, “you can find the CPAC channel in your area at www.cpac.ca.Or you can “livestream the debate on globeandmail.com, on GM apps, and on YouTube – The Globe’s channel as well as the YouTube Canada Election 2015 Hub.” Welcome to new age “access to politicians,” everybody.

But if the cheap cable channel and the new technology is too uncomfortable, don’t worry. Again, according to the promo, “The Globe and Mail is… offering a live feed of the debate to any broadcaster who wishes to air it on their own channel.” Maybe one of the other networks will pick it up. Has anyone heard one way or the other?

Sponsored by the Globe and Mail, focused on “the economy,” this debate is supposed to be one of those “new format” debates that would bring greater diversity and democracy to our Canadian federal election campaign.

Quite the contrary. The current schedule of English-speaking leaders debates is a sham, symbolic of all that is wrong in the political culture of Canada today. Three leaders (all men) agreed to terms which excluded the fourth. All three, Harper, Trudeau and Mulcair, agreed that the one English-speaking federal leader who personifies the environment which is essential to our economy, the one who is perhaps the most articulate of the bunch, and the only one who is a woman, could/should/would not take part in a national “leaders” debate on the economy.

How could they do that in this day and age? How can we not call them to account? Why have they all put their personal partisan interests ahead of public access to our politicians?

We have come to expect that our current Prime Minister, who should personify “Canadian values,” always stages his access to the public. Limited public appearances. Vetted audiences. Non-attendance at all-candidates meetings. “Talking points” instead of spontaneity. Press conferences held rarely. Questions curtailed, and preferably pre-approved. Partisan practice ahead of public access. It is one of the most pernicious anti-democratic characteristics of the current government.

The schedule of “leaders debates” is only the latest example of how the Harper government has manipulated the media to limit their own access to the public. And the media have bought into it, taking whatever crumbs they can get. 

Mulcair and Trudeau, vying for our vote in the name of “change,” have become enablers in the same game. Is this the new norm? Is this the standard we expect of our politicians?

Actions speak louder than words. Who is standing up for principle? For public access to our politicians? Elizabeth May? Forced off stage by common agreement among our wannabe PM’s, she has had the wit to organize her participation in the debate using her Twitter account. Hers is a brilliant response to a sad situation. Check out her simultaneous commentary on http://twitter.com/ElizabethMay. I understand that you don’t need a Twitter account to get access to her comments. I, for one, will watch the debate on my computer and follow May’s comments on my iPad.

Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau apparently see nothing wrong with a debate that excludes Elizabeth May. Tom Mulcair has also refused to debate when Stephen Harper does not take part. A debate organized for months on “women’s issues” (note the label, as if “women’s issues” have no effect on men), is cancelled as a result. And “the National Leaders Debate” organized by the major media networks for decades, with an established audience of over ten million, and scheduled for October, is apparently not going to happen.

I don’t know about you, but I am tired of “information suppression.” These leaders debates are no different from muzzling scientists, controlling public servants from the PMO, and whipping Parliamentarians to pass deliberately misnamed laws that fly in the face of all the evidence.

I am tired of politicians telling me whom I can and cannot see, and what subjects “they” will or will not discuss. Why is “the economy” okay? And “women’s issues” not sufficiently important to warrant public debate? Is it because the track record of the Harper government on women’s issues is abysmal and, since Harper refuses to discuss it, Mulcair won’t either? Ridiculous! Politicians are supposed to be servants of the people, not the other way around.

If you want my vote, let’s see some principles in action.

***** If you are as tired of partisan “information suppression” as I am, please share this post using email or social media sharing buttons just below.

The Toronto Star has just announced that the women’s coalition, We’re Up for Debate, has obtained pre-recorded interviews about women’s issues from Mulcair, Trudeau, May and Duceppe, but not Harper. The interviews will be screened, debated by experts and televised live from the Isabel Bader Theatre in Toronto on Monday September 21st at 6:30 p.m. Free tickets are available from We’re Up for Debate. It’s not a “national leaders debate” on women’s issues, but it is a grassroots response to unprincipled political actions.

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Is ABC a “Tsunami” in the Making?

The federal election is half over and the parties are neck and neck. The CBC Poll-Tracker, compiled by Eric Grenier, is keeping a rolling tab on the polls, the polling preferences by popular vote and by projected seats, nationally and by region. It is excellent fodder for everyone interested in what is happening in this totally unprecedented federal election campaign. 

Seven weeks ago, everyone was surprised by Harper’s calling so long and unnecessarily expensive an election campaign. How had we missed this possibility in earlier discussions of the misnamed “Fair Elections Act’? How had we not appreciated the partisan advantages an unusually long election campaign would give to the Tories with the most money and the greatest vulnerability to third-party campaigning?

So, what have the extraneous six extra weeks provided to the Tories? At this point in the campaign, they are in third place in the polls and even conservative columnists in the national press are writing Harper off.

On September 10th, Andrew Coyne wrote in the National Post that “This is the great achievement of the Harper government. Not only has it made itself unelectable, but it has made even conservatives indifferent to its fate. It did not invest its political capital in difficult but necessary changes to national policy. It frittered it away on pointless vendettas, sideshows and gewgaws, all the while congratulating itself on its cleverness. Yet for all its aimless vote-chasing, it has managed to make itself more unpopular than if it had actually done anything worthwhile…. It is a remarkable feat, is it not—to have discredited conservatism without actually practising it.”

And the same day Margaret Wente in the Globe and Mail, under the headline “Why Stephen Harper is toast,” wrote how “Stephen Harper has hit the ditch…. (The refugee crisis has shown that) Harper is not a man who alters course. What you see is what you get, as he told CBC’s Peter Mansbridge the other night. And that’s the problem. We’ve seen Mr. Harper, and we get him. He’s the man without a heart. When he’s gone, not even the most diehard Conservatives will miss him very much. And gone he will be. A majority government is beyond his reach. He will resign, or the opposition parties will bring him down, and he’ll go quietly. The question now is what, and who, comes after.”

The polls and the pundits scare me. It is too easy to write off Stephen Harper at what is effectively the beginning of a normal federal election campaign. To conclude that he is a goner at this stage is to underestimate the onslaught of Tory electoral advertising that is to come. Or the cumulative effect of “slice and dice” domestic and foreign policies designed to win over particular blocks of voters. Or the impact of the “Justin is not ready” ads. The Tories are masters at subliminal advertising. That everyone refers to Trudeau as “Justin” or says “they don’t like Justin,” for whatever reason, shows the extent to which we have all been sucked in by the Tory diminutive. If our priority is getting rid of Stephen Harper, we must not lose sight of the ball.

I am mindful of a very perceptive analysis by Will McMartin that appeared in the Tyee.ca on August 17th. McMartin is a long-time political consultant associated with the Social Credit and Conservative Parties in British Columbia. His article reminds us that, in our federal election, we elect individual local MPs in 338 ridings across the country. He notes that “Harper’s Conservatives may trail in national polls, but compared to other parties they are rich in “safe” seats. Those are the redrawn electoral districts where they dominated the vote in 2011 (see sidebar) and, in many cases, previous elections as well.” On his analysis, there are 123 seats won by Harper’s Conservatives in 2011 with more than 50% of the popular vote. He concludes that “Conservatives will almost certainly keep them, barring a historic election tsunami rewriting Canada’s political map.”

He also notes that the all-pervasive attack ads on Trudeau are readily explained by the fact that the ridings which are least “safe” for the Tories are ridings where the Liberals have the greatest strength. These are ridings where the Tories won by the smallest margins in 2011, and in which votes for the NDP will divide the opposition and allow the Tories to win on the splits. We can be sure that the “Wizard of Oz” whom Harper has imported from Australia to help pull this election out of the fire will be concentrating on these types of details.

McMartin concludes that both the Liberals and the NDP must do well for the Stephen Harper government to be defeated. If defeating Stephen Harper is the primary goal, voters must be aware of which of the opposition parties is in the best place to defeat him in each individual riding and vote accordingly. More on this theme in another post.

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Communicating with the Crows

Cranky crows are common in Ambleside. When we first arrive at our apartment on the seventh floor overlooking the outer Vancouver harbour, we pull the drapes, slide open the window to the balcony and step outside to enjoy the view. Inevitably, there are one or two crows sitting on the banisters, squawking wildly because we have invaded their domain. Obviously, in our absence, they have taken to using our balcony as an observation post over the neighbourhood.

Last year we noticed what we thought was an owl on the balcony of an opposite apartment. We were totally intrigued until, with the help of binoculars, we realized that the “owl” was one of those fake birds people put out to deter pigeons, seagulls and, undoubtedly, crows.

This year, we are developing a curious relationship with the crows that come to visit our balcony. They have become increasingly bold the longer we have been here.  Now they sit on the banisters even when we are on the balcony, often two at a time, cawing at each other. They seem to have no fear of us whatsoever, quite willing to carry on their conversations as we watch inches away. They jump onto our chairs and walk around on our floor almost, but not quite, approaching the door.

When I watch closely, I have observed that they are attracted to the green plastic wires which attach our Christmas lights to the balcony all year round. And then I noticed that they can spot scraps of food on the floor which I had not even seen. Of course. We eat on our balcony regularly, usually three meals a day, and our crumbs are probably inevitable. Trust the crows to show us what sloppy housekeepers we are.

A crow is a crow is a crow, and we have no idea if these are the same crows that come visiting daily, or whether our balcony is just a popular way-by on the local community route. Whatever. We are enchanted by them, and think of them as pets. In the first year of our marriage, my husband said we should have a bird. He knew nothing about birds, but put out the suggestion to counter my desire to get a kitten. It has taken nearly 45 years of marriage and we finally have our pet bird. And it’s not one, but several crows. Who would have thunk it?

Today would have been my father’s birthday. He was a bird lover who kept a fully stocked bird feeder hanging from his clothesline to watch from the kitchen window. It provided endless pleasure for years. He would have liked this post.

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Emily Carr at the AGO

I thought I knew about Emily Carr. After all, she comes from British Columbia, her iconic paintings of totems and trees are familiar, and I own (but have not read) a book she wrote that I was given in high school. Everyone knows about Emily Carr, right? Wrong. The new Emily Carr exhibition which opened at the Ontario At Gallery last week is full of surprises. The co-curators have pulled together the best of her work, from across the full span of her career. They have set it all in context, and made her come alive as never before. Juxtaposed with her paintings are magnificent examples of the First Nations art which inspired her. Put together, they leave a lasting impression. The show comes fresh from a four-month stint at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in South London. This was the first ever exhibition of Carr’s work in England and it won rave reviews. No wonder.

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Emily Carr is a heroine of the first order, a painter of remarkable sensitivity, who brought Post-Impressionist Modernism to the unique west coast Canadian scene. She was also a prolific writer who, late in life, won a Governor General’s Award for non-fiction. Strong, independent, self-willed and determined, she was a feminist, an environmentalist, and a friend of indigenous First Nations long before these terms were invented.

Born in 1871, her personal story is compelling. Although her parents died when she was in her teens, she still managed to leave her home in Victoria and travel to San Francisco, London and later to Paris to learn the latest trends in contemporary art. She returned to the B.C. coast and, between 1899 and 1912, made many trips up Vancouver Island and then further north up the B.C. coast, to Haida Gwaii (then called the Queen Charlotte Islands), into the interior east of Prince Rupert, and then up the Alaskan panhandle. A recently discovered 1907 diary of her trip to Alaska, with her sister, is full of delightful stories and colourful drawings, one of the highlights of the show. On her travels, she fell in love with the art and culture of the indigenous coastal people, and with the haunting wilderness of the coastal forests. She had found her sense of place which then inspired her entire career.

Making a living from her art was difficult and for 15 years she was preoccupied with running a boarding house and breeding dogs. Then, in 1927, the Director of the National Art Gallery, Eric Brown, asked her to put some of her paintings in a show on Canadian West Coast Art. She came east for the show and met painters from the Group of Seven. Their love of nature matched her own, and their approach to their painting accorded with her perspective. She became a close friend of Lawren Harris who encouraged her, at 56 years of age, to return to painting full-time. She did so with a passion. She made more trips up the coast, and painted while living in a trailer in the woods, with only her menagerie of animals to keep her company. Her vision and style changed to express the spirituality she found in nature. Many of her most searing, most important and, later, most valuable, paintings date from this period.

When health issues (a couple of heart attacks and a stroke) curtailed her painting, she turned her attention to her writing. In just a few years, she published three books: Klee Wyck (1941), The Book of Small (1942), and The House of all Sorts (1944). After her death in 1945, there were four others, including Growing Pains (1946).

I was thrilled by the show, the power of her paintings, the beauty of the First Nations art, and the example of her story. Now where is that book I got in high school? I need to read it. The show runs to August 9th. Don’t miss it.

Photographs courtesy of the Art Gallery of Ontario, with thanks.

***** You may be interested in my second post about the Mike Duffy trial.
See Cameras in the Courtroom? at Re-view from the Bench, April 19, 2015.

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A Canuck on Cannabis in Colorado

Just to set the scene, a conference brought us for a short visit to Colorado Springs, Colorado. The Springs, as it is called by the locals, is the second-largest city in the state, with a population of more than 400,000 in the city itself and 800,000 in the area. Set in the foothills and on a high plateau on the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, the local scenery is spectacular. I shall put up another post or two on that, with some pictures, soon. 

For the locals, The Springs is considered more laid-back than the state capital of Denver. Living costs are cheaper, and it has a reputation of being more conservative. Several decades ago, the government encouraged fundamentalist religious groups from southern California to relocate to the city to help boost the local economy. There is also a large military presence. One estimate is that 50% of the locals have some connection with the military or are retirees from the military. In recent years, the legalization of marijuana has attracted a flood of immigrants, many unable to access medical marijuana in their home states.

The state of Colorado legalized marijuana for medical purposes in 2000. On January 1, 2014, the state also became the first in the Union to legalize the purchase and sale of weed for recreational use. They did so on two conditions. One, that local cities and towns had an option to approve, licence, and then tax under the legalized recreational marijuana regime or not. And, two, that no one could smoke marijuana in public. We were told that 90% of local governments opted to ban the purchase and sale of recreational weed within their jurisdiction. I have not verified the figure. But we do know that the state capital of Denver approved it; The Springs did not.

This past weekend, in both cities, 4/20 Celebrations extended over three days. Placards spanning the freeway warned drivers, “Drive Hi, Get DUI.” (As an aside, I learned that Vancouver had its own 4/20 celebration which drew thousands to smoke pot in Robson Square. I don’t think that this annual festival occurs in Toronto, but I may be wrong.) We saw a lengthy CNN special on weed which aired on Sunday evening and again Monday, probably to coincide with 4/20 Day. The program describes the problems created when marijuana is legalized in some states and not in others and is still banned under US federal law. It profiles many patients with serious medical conditions who have benefitted from using the substance. It also illustrates the research studies now underway to prove (or not) the long-term effects of marijuana on a range of conditions and on the human brain. Although the program attempted to be balanced for a national audience, Colorado experience has been the most extensive, and figures prominently in the show. Since the legalization of marijuana is an issue in our own upcoming federal election, any reruns of this CNN show would be worth watching.

For all its conservatism, Colorado Springs has a remarkably vibrant marijuana scene. The Colorado Springs Independent touts itself as the “largest independently owned newspaper” in the city. Its April 2015 edition, called “ReLeaf,” is said to be “a guide to all things marijuana in the Pikes Peak region.” That it is. It is full of ads from cannabis producers and retailers. There is also a seven-page catalogue listing in alphabetical order 90 cannabis dispensaries in the city which sell cannabis for medical purposes. Each listing gives the address, telephone number, top strain, top edible and unique features. There is a two-page feature with pictures on how to roll a joint under the heading, “Rolling joints can be tough. We tried to take the mystery out of it.”

The Springs is also the home of the cannabis club movement. KC Stark opened Studio A64, believed to be America’s first private cannabis club. He is quoted as saying that “Colorado Springs is the Silicon Valley of cannabis. Denver is the Hollywood — we’re more technical, more conservative.” Griffin Swartzell, writing for the Independent, agrees and adds, “While Denver is testing the public-perception limits… with weed-friendly events like movie screenings, concerts and tour buses, the Springs is exploring new business models.” According to Billie Stanton Anleu, in Sunday’s Gazette (the mainstream paper of The Springs), “Denver has recreational pot stores galore…. Colorado Springs residents can drive a few miles to Manitou Springs and choose their favourite flavors at Emerald Field or Maggie’s Farm retail outlets….” In the Springs itself, “residents wanting to imbibe [sic] away from the children or out of a no-smoking apartment… can find like-minded people at one of several cannabis clubs….”

Griffin Swartzell reviewed the merits of six new cannabis clubs in town for the Independent. “Studio A64 feels like any other corner bar or café. And that’s what is great about it.” “Club History Vape Lounge feels like a quality concert venue and dive bar” with a dance floor, a stage, “infused eats” and, “because the bar serves weed instead of alcohol, expect a mellower crowd.” Speak Easy Vape Lounge “feels nothing like a speakeasy. It’s more like a Midwestern events center — you could host a wedding reception here.” 410 Speakeasy “has style (and) goes from arcade to new restaurant to ’50s diner without blinking….” Mr Nice Guy Private Cannabis Club has “its smoking area… behind a locked door — reception has to buzz visitors in,” but, “It feels like a classy private lounge, with an inviting dab bar, movies… and a dark game lounge… (and) good ventilation.” The Lazy Lion has a “no-frills approach,” “gets most of the details right” but “felt… a little too much like a doctor’s office.”

The clubs are new, unregulated and controversial. To get around the state ban on public consumption and the city ban on the purchase and sale of pot for recreational use, they are structured as private clubs. They say that they don’t sell marijuana, they only serve it. Advocates hail this model as “the way the industry should go,” but would like a licensing regime with some regulation like that for bars and saloons. Opponents argue that they are illegal, “pure and simple,” and call for state and city enforcement of existing laws. Watch for further developments on this ever-changing marijuana scene.

All this is fascinating reading for a Canadian, especially one originally from B.C. At home, the possession and sale of marijuana is still illegal. We make an exception for marijuana used for medical purposes, but our medical marijuana regime is highly regulated, hardly mainstream, and certainly does not command prime time television coverage. In Colorado, the production and distribution of cannabis for medical purposes has flourished into a highly profitable and increasingly sophisticated free enterprise business. In Canada, the federal government has restricted legal producers to a few licensed corporations. Maybe the Colorado model for medical marijuana reflects their free enterprise health care system. What does ours reflect? Health care provided by the state, linked to large pharmaceutical companies, both controlling the market?

For the upcoming federal election, the Liberals have promised to legalize marijuana, and even the Tories are talking about reducing the possession of marijuana to a regulatory offence. Neither particularly wants to promote the use of marijuana. The Tories are primarily interested in reducing the law enforcement costs. The Liberals undoubtedly want to access the lucrative tax revenues that legalization of marijuana would divert from the existing underground economy. In the 1970s, the Canadian Le Dain Commission on marijuana recommended that marijuana should be legalized. Gerald Le Dain was dean of Osgoode Hall Law School and a future justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, hardly a raving pothead. That was over 30 years ago. Are we finally getting serious about the issue?

In the United States, the federal government is funding research projects to ensure that marijuana presents no long-term health hazards. In the meantime, the local Colorado Springs airport has a sign at the front door saying that possession of marijuana in the airport is a federal offence. At the state level, Colorado has moved beyond that. Marijuana for medical use is mainstream. As for pot for recreational purposes, the issues are now around the meaning of “public” for the purposes of the continuing regulation. Where local governments like Colorado Springs have opted to maintain a ban on the purchase and sale of “rec pot,” the debate is around loss of potential tax revenues on one hand and licensing on the other. Is Colorado the wave of the future in the United States? And in Canada? It’s time to inform ourselves everyone. It is a really big issue.

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