Rain in Vancouver in January is the normal daily forecast. 70%, 80%, 90% chance of rain is what the weather reports will say.
What the locals know is that the rain seldom goes on all day long. Watch the sky. It will seem to brighten, if only in the west. The cloud cover will lighten; distinct dark clouds may move on and maybe an instant of blue will appear in the sky. The pitter-patter of rain on the windows will stop. Pedestrians will appear on the sidewalks without umbrellas. All signs that the rain has stopped.
At those times, the seawalk in Ambleside will be full of people, particularly people with dogs. Now is the moment to get the dog out for a walk or a run on the beach or the boardwalk. The off-leash area for dogs is awash with a diversity of dogs, many chasing balls. One of the dogs I saw was a tiny thing with fluffy white fur, so pristine that it almost shone in the dreary day. I asked his owners how often they had to clean it. “Every day,” they smiled.
It’s a mistake to be lured into these breaks in the rain with the expectation that “the good day” will continue. It can be bright one moment and raining heavily the next. I was leaving the Seniors’ Centre on Monday in a drizzle. A man leaving with me, wearing only a zippered fleece, explained that it hadn’t been raining when he left home. Of course not. He hardly needed to explain.
But yesterday, on my first of the daily walks I intend to take here, I tried to lower the weight I was carrying. I brought my keys, my wallet, and my iPhone, thinking that would do.
No way. Twenty minutes out, I could take a rest on a bench on the beach and do some email while watching the water. I could stop and take photos of new developments, particularly ones that could be a potential topic for a future blog post. I could talk with strangers and they were happy to engage in a short conversation. Twenty minutes later, the rains came again.
By the time I reached Park Royal and found the entrance, I was soaking wet. I had to find a chesterfield in the mall, take off my supposedly water-resistant jacket and hang it to dry. All of which took some time. I should have known that you never go anywhere on any day in Vancouver in the winter without taking an umbrella.
A Vancouverite friend responded to my post with tips about “rain management” that only a local would know. She said that many prefer jackets with hoods rather than using an umbrella. “Good for dashing from cars when your hands are full or walking shorter distances.” Although some stores have umbrella stands by their doors, “you don’t want a damp umbrella in your pack or purse!”
She said that living in Kitsilano, you never “leave the house without your small umbrella and a reusable shopping bag.” Umbrella lovers have a collection of umbrellas of different weights, sizes and designs. “And because we use them so much we choose their colours and patterns carefully. They are a year-round accessory!”
So it is. Yesterday, on the seawall in a slight rain, I noticed that many, younger walkers particularly, were in rain gear with hoods. Older folk tended to stick with umbrellas. I was somewhat proud that I had not yet used the umbrella I carried in my pack.
Alerted to umbrellas as a “wardrobe accessory,” I noticed umbrellas that stood out. One was a collection of cartoons from the Vancouver Sun. Another was a strikingly colourful motif of a couple each carrying an umbrella. According to the owner, this was from a famous American painting she had seen in the Chicago Museum of Modern Art. She bought it years ago from a family-owned umbrella store that existed on Granville Island for decades. The store had made their own umbrellas which were more expensive but more sturdy than others. She expected that this umbrella would last longer than she does. She also spoke ruefully of a summer parasol (made of material that could not be used in the rain) which she had bought from the store. That umbrella had been stolen and she still missed it. I never would have thought how much one can learn from umbrellas.
For years, Aziza Café on College just west of Dovercourt has been a favourite for all-day breakfasts, brunch, and lunch. This past summer, the café moved to a new location two blocks east of Dovercourt, at 870 College Street. Two weeks ago, I was delighted to find the new Aziza Café and to talk at length with Lina Fonseca, and her daughter Amy Fonseca Reis, who are co-owners of the business. Theirs is a fascinating story, and their café is one to watch. It’s a work in progress which promises great things in the future.
The move has brought a more upbeat ambience. A Buddha sits in the window. A wall of wooden shelves and mirrors dominates the room, adopted from the hairdressing salon which was the previous tenant. The walls are hung with art. At the moment, it is a coffee shop (and tea emporium) that serves the same wonderful food made from the finest fresh ingredients that marked the café in the past. Apart from dining in the café itself, their menu is now available for corporate catering at Food-ee/Aziza Café and also for home delivery via Doordash and other residential delivery services.
In the future, the plan is to use the large patio out back, which becomes an oasis of green in the summer, and to encourage a casual vibe where people could come with their computers. They also see their café as becoming Toronto’s first bodega, a grocery store that sells food, as is popular in New York City. See the New York Times story by Julia Rothman and Shaina Feinberg entitled, “We Spent the Night at a Bodega and Wrote It All Down.”
Lina Fonseca, 53 years of age, was born in Mozambique to a Portuguese father and a mother from Malawi. Lina’s father came from a wealthy family and was an officer in the Portuguese Army for thirty years. Her mother came from an African village and had no formal education. She became the mother of nine children and also manager of the large family farm with over two hundred employees. Lina’s father did a great deal of entertaining and insisted that his wife and four daughters learn French cooking. When Mozambique became independent in 1974, the new government seized all her parents’ assets and the family moved to Portugal. There, Lina’s father bought his sister’s family farm, with no running water and no electricity, and the girls grew up having to make everything including all their cheeses and sausages.
Lina came to Canada by accident, alone, at 18 years of age. A Portuguese cousin who spent her summers visiting relatives in Canada broke her leg and could not use her airplane ticket. Lina’s father asked all his sons whether they would like to travel on the ticket, but none wanted to go. Lina said she would like to go to Canada and, because the visit was to family and would only last the summer, her father agreed. By that fall, Lina had tasted life as an adult and had no desire to return. She telephoned her parents and told them she wasn’t coming back. Two years later, she secured permanent residency status.
Since then, she worked as a chef and as a waitress in numerous restaurants and bars, some her own; one she operated for three years in a hotel in Gibsons, British Columbia. She has also helped run a large bakery. She has three children, including a son who is interested in a military career like that of his grandfather and has just joined the Canadian army. She talks to her sisters in Portugal almost every day on FaceTime. She admits that it was her children who inspired her effort to resurrect Aziza Café after her previous business partnership ended with significant debts and a new landlord took over the property.
Lina’s daughter, Amy Fonseca Reis, at 25 years old, is now co-owner of the business. Amy considers herself an introvert, in contrast to her mother who is a “people person.” Amy is an expert in modern technology. She takes care of the books and deals with all the apps which must be used nowadays in the business. She is also an “idea person” who has a vision of where Aziza could go, and what they could do in the future. It’s an ideal combination, one partner with years of experience in the industry, the other skilled in technology and a visionary. At the moment, the two of them run the café themselves. They look forward to hiring more staff and moving forward.
Visit their café, or order in for delivery at home or at your place of business. Their phone number is 416-516-9909. I think you will agree that their fare is excellent.
The bright yellow neon sign in front of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church at King and Simcoe in downtown Toronto drew my attention as I left Roy Thomson Hall after the Vivaldi concert a couple of weeks ago. It cycled through several messages: “A Christmas Carol Read by Tenor Ben Heppner and other GREAT voices,” and then, “An Evening of Readings, Carols & Gingerbread, Sat, Nov 30 at 7 p.m.,” and finally, “FREE Admission, Give generously to our Refugee Program.” I thought that this would be a wonderful way to start the holiday season. And so it was.
I took my new favourite TTC route downtown, using the Bathurst streetcar southbound to the marvellous King streetcar, which runs constantly without any waiting. The dark wooden balconies of the beautiful old church were bedecked with evergreen boughs and bright red bows. A large Christmas tree covered in white lights stood at the front, as white candles lit the floor below the podium. I was greeted by a lovely usher wearing the yellow T-shirt of the Refugee Sponsorship Program (STARS), a long scarf in seasonal colours and a Christmas bow in her hair. A brass quintet and a pianist on the grand piano played Christmas music as we waited for the program to begin. At the conclusion, we all went to the Great Hall for a Gingerbread and Cider Reception.
The Dickens story was divided into five staves, stave being another word for chapter, and also for staff in musical scores. The internet dictionary indicates that Dickens used the term “because each individual stave is a stand-alone story with its own distinctive mood. When taken together, all five staves combine to form a harmonious whole… as if the book is a Christmas carol, and each chapter is part of the song.”
Ben Heppner, who retired from professional opera five years ago and still hosts “Saturday Afternoon at the Opera” and “Backstage with Ben Heppner” on CBC Radio, began the readings. He was followed by Patricia Garnett-Smith, a British actress who came to Canada in l954 and has appeared in numerous theatre productions, films and commercials. Then came Kwagiulth and Stó:lo First Nations mezzo-soprano, Marion Newman, who has sung numerous roles including the lead in the world premiere of the First Nations opera “Giiwedin.” Canadian soprano Neema Bickersteth, who was raised in Alberta by parents from Sierra Leone, continued the story. She specializes in contemporary opera and musical theatre, is a Dora Mavor Moore award winner, and is slated to play the title character in Scott Joplin’s reinterpretation of “Treemonisha,” one of the world’s first Black operas. Rick Phillips concluded the readings. He is the producer of SOUND ADVICE, a guide to classical music and recordings heard weekly on CBC Radio One and Radio Two, author of “The Essential Classical Recordings—101 CDs,” and a well-known lecturer, consultant, and musical tour guide. Needless to say, the readings were stellar. Between each stave, the audience joined in singing Christmas carols accompanied by the glorious organ.
The event was a fundraiser for the St. Andrews Refugee Sponsorship program which has brought two Syrian Kurdish families to Canada: Gulistan and Abdulrazzak Abdo and their four children from Aleppo, Syria in 2016 and, in 2019, their relatives Abdulrahman, Amina and Roushin who were then living as refugees in Turkey. The extended family now live on different floors of the same apartment building, and are busy integrating into Canadian life. They have signed up for ESL and other courses, the children are in school and daycare, the older ones have gone to summer camp. The family gives back by helping with the coffee hour after church and volunteering in the Out of the Cold program. The success of this sponsorship has encouraged STARS to raise funds to sponsor another family. Learning the details of what these families and STARS have experienced encouraged me to think again about what I can do to help in the effort. The need remains as desperate as ever.
For me, the Christmas season is well underway.
The hot tub located in the women’s locker room of the West End College Street YMCA in Toronto is one of the highlights of the Y experience. (The men have a hot tub, too, but I know nothing of what happens there.) Unlike some Ys, where access to the hot tub is limited to members who pay a premium, the West End Y hot tub is open to everyone. Many love the warm luxury of the hot water and the “water therapy” provided by the jets. Together with the steam room, sauna and showers, the swimming pool, sports facilities, and the Zen deck on the roof, it provides “the ultimate spa experience” for those who like to treat it as such, even for a day.
The current hot tub is a pool clad with white tiles, up three stairs from the showers, sauna, and steam room. These stairs make the hot tub inaccessible to those in wheelchairs, hardly conducive to the Y’s commitment to physical accessibility. How this was missed during a relatively recent renovation escapes me, but it was. Putting that aside….
The tub holds a maximum of eight people at a time, sitting on underwater tile-clad benches, with jets on two sides. Sometimes when I use the hot tub, I have the hot tub to myself. Other times it is full. Each time, I wonder what my hot tub experience will bring that day. Consistent with the prevailing etiquette, sometimes all the bathers like to talk. Other times, it is apparent that some individuals want quiet time and it is best not to clutter their serenity with chatter.
I have met the most interesting people in the hot tub. One day, I was the sole fluent anglophone among four Portuguese women of a certain age, all talking to each other in Portuguese. I discovered that they had immigrated to Canada thirty or forty years ago and worked as cleaning ladies. They were talking about their summer vacations “back home.” All had second and even third homes in Portugal, near their families, which were opened up and aired out every summer in anticipation of their arrival. They all had at least one luxury car, a Mercedes, or an Audi, or a BMW, which they kept in Portugal for their use. I loved the fact that these modest immigrant women were so successful and that Canada had given them the means to be so.
Another time, I shared the pool with a trio of much younger women from Vietnam. In faltering English, they described how they came to Canada recently and, having learned about the Y from their friends, came to “use the spa.” Two had lived in Cambodia during the Vietnamese war; the third came from Ho Chi Minh City. Another Vietnamese woman told me that she worked long hours as a nurse and, although not a Y member, she spent her days off at this Y as a guest, because of the spa. When I admired the very distinctive flowered green bathing suit worn by yet another woman, also from Viet Nam, she told me that she had made it herself. She was the very first person I have ever met who made her own bathing suit.
The hot tub has become a font of invaluable information which consistently improves my life. A woman who was a writer told me about a legal book she published which was available as part of a series for young people from the Toronto Public Library. Although I have been very active in public legal education during my career, I did not know about the series and went to borrow her book right away. She also told me about a book store on Bathurst near Bloor which I did not know existed.
Just last week, I met a woman from Porto, in Portugal, who sews for a living from her studio on Vaughan Road. Among her clients is Malabar, Toronto’s pre-eminent costume emporium on McCaul Street. I figured that anyone who works for Malabar must be good. I told her about the sewing I needed to have done and she invited me to visit her studio. I gathered up some old jackets and dresses which have languished unworn for years and brought them to her. She pinned everything carefully and suggested several design remakes which were simple but which updated the outfits dramatically. I think I have finally found a fashion designer/seamstress/tailor who is more than a worthy successor to my beloved Frank the Tailor, who retired several years ago. (See my post about Frank, here.) After spending two hours with Naty, I went home and wrote this post on the YMCA Hot Tub which I have wanted to do for years.
Like traditional “waters” and community wells of old, the hot tub is the locus of the best that that Y has to offer. Where else could I meet such a variety of people and, by asking just a few questions, learn their stories, and become their friend or at least their acquaintance? It’s a marvellous means for cross-cultural interaction. By its mere existence, it reflects and builds the community of which it is a part.
The headline of John Terauds’ rave review of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s recent “Vivaldi’s Four Seasons” concert in the Toronto Star on Tuesday said it all: “Downsized TSO upsizes the pleasure.” Led by violinist and TSO concertmaster Jonathan Crow, the strings were augmented by a harpsichord, flute, oboe, bassoon and, in earlier parts of the program, a horn and a piano. Terauds gave the performance four stars, reflecting the repeated standing ovations from the nearly full house at Roy Thomson Hall.
I was so enthused by the review that I immediately phoned the RTH box office and secured a single ticket for Thursday night’s performance, the last of four. I could not have imagined a more splendid evening.
The theme was bringing nature into the theatre, particularly inviting on a dark and rainy November night. First up was the chamber orchestra version of Carmen Braden’s “Songs of the Invisible Summer Stars.” Thirty-four-year-old Braden was born in Whitehorse, Yukon and is now based in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Her “Songs” was originally composed as a septet for flute, oboe, horn, two violins, viola, and cello and premiered with the TSO Chamber Soloists in the 2017 Toronto Summer Music Festival. The version last night was expanded to evoke even more graphically the colours, textures, and sounds of her sub-arctic northern home. Her five-movement imaginative exploration of what the stars do when they disappear from the northern skies in the summer was “magical,” to quote my neighbour, and “one of the finest pieces of new music I have heard in a long time,” to quote Terauds. The RTH audience agreed. Imagine how thrilled this young Canadian composer must have been to have her distinctively northern suite played by the professional musicians of the TSO over four nights in Toronto, the last night in the presence of the Foundation donors who had commissioned her work.
American composer Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” ballet suite followed with a 13-member ensemble of double string quartet, double bass, piano, flute, clarinet, and bassoon. Composed for new Martha Graham ballets in 1944 and referred to as “Ballet for Martha,” Copland wrote “that it had to do with the American pioneer spirit, with youth and spring, optimism and hope.” When the score picked up the tune of “’Tis the gift to be simple, ’Tis the gift to be free, ’Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,” their rendition of the familiar Shaker hymn only highlighted the energy, simplicity, and purity of the entire performance. An utter delight.
The entire second half was a brilliant performance of Antonio Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 8” published in 1725. As familiar as parts of this music are to everyone, this performance was outstanding. I have heard the music before played on historic Baroque instruments. It was the first time I had heard it played on modern instruments. It was a different sound and it sparkled. Another addition was the reading of four Petrarchan sonnets, one at the beginning of each season, introducing the scenes which the music went on to so aptly describe. The delicacy and virtuosity of Crowe’s performance, and that of the rest of the group, were mesmerizing. The emotional impact was such that, on its conclusion, there was total silence in the house before the crowd jumped up in sustained applause.
Jonathan Crow, a native of Prince George British Columbia, got his Bachelor of Music in Honours Performance at McGill in 1998, joined the Montreal Symphony and became “the youngest concertmaster of any major North American orchestra” in 2002-2006. He joined the TSO as concertmaster in 2011 and teaches as an associate professor of violin at the University of Toronto. In 2016, he became Artistic Director of Toronto Summer Music for three seasons. He is a founding member of the New Orford Strong Quartet which promotes the Canadian string repertoire throughout North America. I was so proud to hear so talented and passionate a musician and to learn that he came from British Columbia. Like many, I left the Hall with a smile on my face feeling warm and cozy. No wonder.
In the heat of an election campaign, after months of the SNC-Lavalin affair, it is easy to forget what the Liberal government has actually done in the past four years. I wrote two earlier posts on the subject which list what they did until December 2016. See those posts here and here.
As my contribution to the current election campaign, it is appropriate to review what the Liberals have done since 2016. What follows is not comprehensive, and benefits from my reading Aaron Wherry’s Promise And Peril: Justin Trudeau in Power (2019 HarperCollins), which I highly recommend.
From mid-January 2017 until late September 2018, the government was preoccupied with renegotiating the NAFTA agreement with the United States and Mexico. At first President Trump said that the relationship with Canada only needed “some tweaking.” By late April 2017, he was talking about “triggering a withdrawal.” Over the course of the negotiations, the US wanted to rebalance the trading relationship in favour of the US, impose a “rule of origin” which would require at least 50% of all auto parts to be produced in the USA, reduce the cap on autos exported from Canada to the US, do away with the Canadian supply management system which “unfairly” hurt American dairy farmers, include a sunset clause that would cause the agreement to expire after a certain time, and do away with the dispute resolution process.
In January 2017, Chrystia Freeland was made foreign affairs minister with responsibility for Canada-US Trade, including the negotiations about NAFTA. Born in rural Alberta of Ukrainian origin, now living in Toronto, she is an accomplished journalist who speaks five languages and has written extensively about income inequality. In June 2018, she was named Diplomat of the Year by Foreign Policy magazine.
In these negotiations, the government wanted the Americans to understand that Canada is “the signal largest market for US exports in all the world,” and that “at least a portion of their prosperity depended on (the existing) good trading relationship with Canada.” To do so, they decided that the best strategy was a united front at home. Cabinet ministers were assigned to chat up their counterparts in the Trump administration, the Congress, and in the states most dependent on Canadian trade (e.g.: Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Iowa, New York, Texas, California, and Florida). Freeland put together a bipartisan Advisory Council that included two former ministers of Stephen Harper’s cabinet (Rona Ambrose and James Moore), an advisor to NDP leader Jack Layton, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, and the president of the Canadian Labour Congress. Brian Mulroney offered to help, as did Jerry Dias, president of Unifor, the largest private-sector union in Canada. All spoke with whoever would meet with them in the United States.
The bipartisan lobbying proved successful. A Canadian suggestion that some percentage of each vehicle (ultimately 40-45%) should be made by workers earning at least $16 an hour, which favoured both Canadian and American workers, was adopted. The cap on cars that could be imported to the US from Canada was set at a level well beyond that ever attained by Canada previously. American dairy producers were given access to 3.59% of the Canadian market, slightly more than the 3.25% granted to the countries of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The existing cultural exemption for Canada’s use of foreign ownership rules and target subsidies to protect domestic broadcast, news, and culture was maintained. Chapter 19, which allows for independent arbitration of any “unfair tariff,” was retained. The sunset suggestion was dropped.
In the fall of 2018, 59% of Canadians told polls that the Trudeau government had achieved “as much as possible” in the NAFTA negotiations. There was a general consensus in the media and among the non-partisan Advisory Committee that the Liberal government did the best job possible and should be commended both for what was accomplished and the manner in which it was done. Aaron Wherry, at p. 162, concluded that, “In conspicuously expending great effort in and around the United States, the Trudeau government at least insulated itself against any charge that it should have done more to swing the negotiations in Canada’s favour. That effort also showed a government that was otherwise not always on display: comprehensive, nimble, proactive and well communicated.”
In March 2018, President Trump announced tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminum imported into the United States “as a matter of national security” but exempted Canada and Mexico “pending the completion of NAFTA negotiations.” Two months later, he changed his mind and imposed similar tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum, even as the NAFTA negotiations continued. Both Freeland and Trudeau denounced the tariffs. Although recognizing that tariffs only increased prices for consumers, the Canadian government had no choice but to respond in kind. Canadian tariffs imposed on a host of American products covered $16.6 billion in American exports. They were targeted at areas considered politically important, and were coordinated with similar tariffs imposed by Mexico and Europe. In Freeland’s words, this was “the strongest trade action Canada has taken in the postwar era.” By the fall of 2018, the Trudeau government also allocated $2.4 billion in support for Canadian steel and aluminum producers affected by the US tariffs.
Polls in 2018 indicated that 73% of Canadians were “extremely” or “very concerned” about “Donald Trump.” As of the fall of 2018, the American tariffs on steel and aluminum still remained in place and the new USMCA agreement was not yet ratified by the American Congress. Recognizing that the existing NAFTA agreement is still good for Canada, the Canadian government has taken the position that it will not ratify the new agreement until it is ratified by the US Congress. If the Congress delays or refuses to ratify it, NAFTA remains in place. In May 2019, the United States agreed to drop the steel and aluminum tariffs against Canada.
As for peacekeeping, the Liberal government finally sent a helicopter squadron to provide support for UN peacekeepers in Mali. Other Canadian forces were deployed in training missions in Latvia, Ukraine, Iraq, and the Middle East.
Wherry suggests that the “mantra of the Trudeau era… the middle class and those working hard to join it… [is] a statement of empathy and aspiration.” The Liberals focused on it initially and now all parties are doing the same. Under the Liberal government, federal income tax for those earning $200,000 or more increased from 29 to 33% while the rate for those earning between $45,000 and $90,000 dropped from 22% to 20.5%.
Of primary importance to the Liberal government was its reformed federal supports for families with children. The Canada Child Benefit transfers $23 billion to Canadian families on a progressive basis. A family with less than $30,000 income receives the maximum amount of $6,400 per child under the age of six. Families with higher earnings get smaller cheques; families earning $200,000 or more get nothing. In mid-July 2019, the Canada Child Benefit was indexed to inflation. Statistics Canada reported in February 2019 that the overall poverty rate in Canada declined to 9.5% in 2017 and that, as compared to 2015, 278,000 fewer children were living in poverty, in part due to the Canada Child Benefit payments. As Wherry indicates, this is “the most significant increase (of children out of poverty) ever accomplished by any government in Canada.” In the summer of 2017, the governor of the Bank of Canada also credited the Canada Child Benefit with being “highly stimulative” for the economy.
The Liberal government also put new funding into the Guaranteed Income Supplement and the Canada Workers Benefit, both of which were made automatic for eligible individuals who file a tax return. Student grants were increased for low and middle-income families. Money was also allocated for training for workers. New pay equity legislation has been enacted for employees under federal jurisdiction. The government also agreed with the provinces to spend $7.5 billion over eleven years on early learning and childcare.
The Trudeau government eliminated the Public Transit Tax Credit, the Children’s Fitness Tax Credit, the Children’s Arts Tax Credit and the Textbook Tax Credit. “Such micro-targeted… tax breaks were a hallmark of the Harper era, even as economists derided (them) as inefficient policies that generally rewarded people for behaviour that would have happened anyway.” (p. 83)
When the Conservatives left office in 2015, federal tax revenues as a share of GDP stood at 11.5%, a historic low and well below the pre-Harper average of 13.3%. Under Trudeau, tax revenues were set to settle at 12.4%, “exactly halfway between two different ideas of how much a federal government should properly need.” (p. 84)
Reflecting its priorities in spending, the Liberal government ran deficits of $17.8 billion in 2016-17, $14.9 billion in 2018-2019, and $19.8 billion in 2019-2020. It is argued that showing deficits in a period of economic growth is not a bad thing, and that the declining ratio of debt-to-GDP is an indication that federal finances are ultimately sustainable. In the mid-90s, the federal debt-to-GDP ratio reached 67%. Statistics Canada data as of March 2019 indicates that Canada’s overall debt-to-GDP ratio is now about 34%. To put this into context, it is interesting to note that, according to the US Bureau of Public Debt, April 17, 2019, the debt-to-GDP ratio in the United States in 2015 was 104.7% and in 2017 was 105.4%.
Wherry reports that efforts to move infrastructure funding have been slow. The Parliamentary Budget Office found that only $7.2 billion moved in the first two years of the Trudeau regime, half of what was projected. The impact on real GDP was only 0.1%. In the spring of 2019, the Trudeau government moved to fast-track $2.2 billion directly to municipalities to get around the several conservative provincial governments that were moving too slowly to match the federal funds. (p. 85)
The Liberal government passed legislation more slowly than did the Tories, but their new legislative process included wide consultation beforehand and extensive review by the newly independent Senate after. Between the fall of 2015 and the spring of 2019, the Senate amended seventeen government bills, sending them back to the House for review. This compared to only one bill sent back to the Tories in the last four years of their government.
The Liberal government has faced continuing controversy on the pipelines as the political and legal scene has changed. Trudeau killed the Northern Gateway pipeline that was to go to Kitimat and banned large tankers from transporting crude oil along the north coast of BC. With the election of Donald Trump, TransCanada abandoned its Energy East proposal, which would have carried oil to Quebec and New Brunswick, in the expectation that their Keystone XL pipeline in the United States would be approved. That left only the Kinder Morgan proposal to twin its existing pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby on the BC coast which would triple the capacity of the line.
In November 2016, the Liberal government approved the Kinder Morgan proposal in exchange for Premier Rachel Notley’s reducing Alberta’s carbon emissions. Their intention was to mesh two ostensibly competing objectives: impose pricing on pollution to fight climate change in the long run, and build a pipeline to “create responsible and sustainable ways to get (Canadian) resources to market” in the short run. (p. 185). This delicate balance was undoubtedly difficult, guaranteed to concern environmentalists as much as it dissatisfied Albertans.
To win support of the BC government, the Trudeau government agreed to spend over $1.5 billion to improve marine safety and local spill responses and to protect the killer whale population. But, emerging from the May 2017 B.C. election, the NDP formed a government with the support of the Greens based on an agreement to oppose the Trans Mountain project. A year later, Kinder Morgan wanted to pull out of the pipeline project, and, to keep it going, the Liberal government bought the pipeline for $4.5 billion minus the capital gains.
In August 2018, the Federal Court of Appeal ruled that the National Energy Board had wrongly declined to consider the increase in tanker traffic related to the project and also that the Trudeau government’s consultations with the Indigenous were insufficient. In response to the court decision, the government ordered the National Energy Board to complete a review of marine impacts within twenty-two weeks, and appointed former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci to oversee new consultations with those Indigenous groups still opposed to the pipeline. The National Energy Board ultimately concluded that notwithstanding potential damage to the environment, twinning the pipeline was in the national interest and, in June 2019, the federal government again approved the Trans Mountain expansion project. The government committed that everything it earns from the pipeline will be invested in clean energy projects. Work is now underway on the pipeline, although legal appeals over the project continue.
In the fall of 2018, the Liberal government passed the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act (GHGPPA) which required all provinces to place a minimum price of $20 per ton on GHG emissions by January 1, 2019. Provinces have the flexibility to create their own solutions to deal with GHG emissions in their jurisdiction. If they do so, the federal government will not intervene. If they fail to do so, the federal government will impose a price on pollution and provide an annual rebate to families living within their jurisdiction. Although economists agree that putting a price on carbon is the most efficient way to combat carbon emissions, the newly-elected Jason Kenny government in Alberta, the Doug Ford government in Ontario, other conservative provincial governments, and the federal Tories are fighting what they call “the carbon tax” both on the hustings and in the courts.
The Trudeau government dealt with housing in two ways. For potential home buyers, it introduced between 2016 and 2018 the mortgage stress test which set stricter standards that federally-regulated lenders are to apply to borrowers seeking mortgages. The object is to ensure that buyers could still afford to carry their mortgages in the event that interest rates were to rise. In 2019 the Liberals also announced a $55 billion, ten-year National Housing Strategy led by the National Mortgage and Housing Corporation for renters. After several decades of little market attention to rental housing, the object is to create up to 125,000 affordable housing units and refurbish more than 300,000 public housing units.
With respect to the Indigenous community, the Trudeau government has taken initial steps to implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Long-term water advisories have been lifted in 87 First Nation communities as of August 2019. The government has also committed to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which includes provisions that protect Indigenous peoples from harmful and unwanted encroachment on their lands and resources without their free, prior, and informed consent. Putting that commitment into practice has been more difficult, leading to criticism of how these standards were not applied to the Trans Mountain project and to their support of the Muskrat Falls project in Labrador. In the spring of 2019, they enacted legislation providing support to Indigenous peoples trying to protect their languages, and also returning jurisdiction for child welfare services to First Nations communities.
It strikes me that the Trudeau government has done a great deal since it in came into office, notwithstanding drastically changing conditions both abroad and at home. The election of Donald Trump threatened the most important relationship Canada has with any other country. The Trudeau government has negotiated that to their credit. The cooperation which characterized federal-provincial relations in the first couple years of the Trudeau mandate has disappeared. Whose fault is that? Promoting change is not easy, takes time, and the results can be insufficient and even messy. I’m satisfied, however, that activism at the federal level on the various issues promoted by the Trudeau government is preferable to none at all. It will be up to Canadians to decide.
Last week, I had the most amazing experience in Emergency Care at the Toronto Western Hospital. About 7:45 that evening, after getting up from my couch at home, I felt a sudden onset of dizziness, chest pain, and a continuing compression in my chest which made me feel “winded.” It was like nothing I had ever felt before. When the condition continued, I called to my husband to drive me to the nearby hospital. I feared a heart attack and knew from the experience of several colleagues that it was imperative to get to the hospital ASAP. We were there within minutes.
Fifteen minutes after I signed into the emergency ward, I was called to the triage nurse. He heard my story, found my blood pressure to be high and noted that I had an abnormally fast heart rate, and immediately sent me for an ECG. That showed an arrhythmia in my heart and I was taken right away to what I later learned was the “Resuscitation Room.” I totally bypassed the normal Registration process which was done by the staff on their own while I was seeing the doctor.
The resident physician gave me a once-over and concluded that I had Atrial Fibrillation (AFib) which can cause a stroke or a heart attack. He gave me two aspirins and ordered immediate blood tests. To slow down and correct the rhythm of my heart rate, I had two choices. I could take a drip treatment which takes some time and which may or may not work, or they could do an immediate Electrical Cardioversion. He explained that an Electrical Cardioversion was a brief electrical “shock” to the heart using a machine (later I learned called a defibrillator) which uses two sticky pads that are put on the chest and back. During the procedure, I would be given meds to make me feel comfortable. Since my nephew on the west coast is an electrocardiologist and works with these procedures, I was more than willing to consent to the “shock” treatment.
Within an hour of my arrival, a senior doctor on the ward was doing the procedure in consultation with another doctor, and in the presence of two residents and two nurses. I was left in the Resuscitation Room for a while and then moved to the back of the ward for another three hours. They then took more blood tests and did another ECG. Although I later learned that my systolic blood pressure at one point had been over 200 and my heart was stressed for about an hour, the blood tests taken on my arrival and again three hours later showed no damage to my heart and, as the nurse said, I (now) had “the ECG of a 16-year-old girl.”
I was discharged with a prescription for blood thinners, a referral to the Atrial Fibrillation Quality Care Program (AFQCP) at Women’s College Hospital for the next Wednesday, and a recommendation that I see my family doctor within two days. I was able to see her at 7:00 p.m. later the same day.
I was blown away by the quality of the care. I consider myself most lucky. This AFib Incident identified my current cardiac condition and steered me onto a path of treatment which may avoid a major heart attack or stroke down the road. Although the AFib condition must now be managed, my chances of living a longer life and without stroke-induced disabilities just improved. Because I went to the hospital immediately, the “shock” treatment was an available option to stabilize my condition.
NOTE THAT THE “SHOCK” TREATMENT IS ONLY POSSIBLE FOR A SHORT PERIOD AFTER THE ORIGINAL AFIB INCIDENT. Should you suspect a heart attack, go ASAP TO YOUR LOCAL EMERGENCY DEPARTMENT so that you too might qualify for this treatment.
I have subsequently learned that it may be better to call an ambulance immediately. The paramedics would monitor your condition en route to the hospital and you would be given a priority in triage on arrival. On the other hand, the ambulance may not take you to the nearest hospital; they decide where you go depending on how busy the different emergency wards are.
The incident taught me even more.
First, I saw that emergency care nurses have the most demanding of jobs. They work twelve-hour shifts. How they do it I do not know. They are constantly on the run, working in crisis situations, and responsive to many people who are difficult, impaired or addicted, and who make unreasonable demands like shouting that they want to go home when they clearly cannot.
One of my nurses is 62 years of age, has two grandchildren and a constitution which allows her to sleep only five hours a night. She “loves her work” and would miss it if she were to retire. She told me her name, and showed me pictures of her grandchildren. The other nurse is 30 years old. He came from Gander, Newfoundland, and spent the first two years of his career as a Flight Nurse working in Nunavut. He also told me his name and we talked about my forthcoming trip to Newfoundland in October. Both were extremely pleasant and resilient, with incredible patience and warm compassion. That they shared so much of themselves made me most comfortable. I very much appreciated that they kept me informed about my condition and what was happening as we went along. When I was discharged, one took me to the lobby and showed me how to call a cab.
Secondly, I learned that it is still common practice among medical professionals to refer to women patients as “my dear.” When the attending resident referred to me as “my dear,” I asked him not to call me that and to call me by my first name. I told him that I was surprised that young doctors are using that term in this day and age, that the only other doctor who had ever called me that before was an older cardiologist I consulted years ago, and that the term was well-recognized even then as being demeaning. The two very wonderful nurses admitted that they too used the term; one never thought anything of it, the other used it when she was looking for deep veins and thought she might be hurting me. The doctor concluded our interaction by saying that he learns something new every day. How is it that medical schools and institutions are not addressing the issue?
Thirdly, going home alone from the hospital in a cab at 5:00 a.m. is not to be feared. As we talked en route, the cab driver showed that he knew quite a bit about medical procedures in emergency wards. When I got out of the car, he added, “Marion, don’t forget to drink lots of water.” He was absolutely right to know that I might be dehydrated, and I was happy to take his advice. He waited at my doorstep until I was in the house.
My husband and I have lived in Toronto for forty-nine years and, until Labour Day this year, we had never once fished in Lake Ontario. Like most everyone else I know, we assumed that the lake was too dirty and the fish were inedible, or at least so toxic that consumption would need to be limited.
Not true. The lake has been cleaned dramatically in recent years. The government stocks the lake with salmon and rainbow trout. Every year the Toronto Sun sponsors the Great Ontario Salmon Fishing Derby which this year ran from June 29th to August l7th. During the derby, big prizes are offered to those who catch the biggest fish each week, the biggest fish during the derby, and the charter boats that catch the most fish. Winning fish can weigh twenty-seven to forty pounds.
My husband has been a fly fisherman most of his life; in B.C. as a youth, in the Wyoming mountain wilderness, and in northern Ontario rivers years ago. His catches were generally no more than a foot long and eaten immediately. We often salivate over stories of our relatives out west who go on big fishing trips in the salt chuck or on the big rivers of the B.C. interior. Once my brother caught a halibut well over 100 pounds near Tofino. It took over an hour to land and fed family and friends all winter. Two of my mother’s cousins fished for salmon up the B.C. coast until well into their eighties, canning the fresh salmon on the beach before they brought it home. People who live on the west coast are preoccupied with the size and health of the four-year salmon run. In Toronto, we didn’t even appreciate that there were salmon in Lake Ontario, also living a four-year cycle before they go upriver to spawn.
To celebrate my husband’s birthday, my younger son arranged to charter a fishing boat for a morning from Epic Sportfishing in Scarborough. At 6:00 a.m. on September 2nd, my husband, two sons, and I met skipper Aaron Flavell in the pre-dawn dark at Bluffers Park Marina. Before long, we were out in the water opposite the Scarborough Bluffs and Aaron began to let out what became eight lines, all set for different lengths and depths according to where his fish-finder indicated the fish could be. Fishing has obviously become a very sophisticated high tech affair.
Within a half-hour of leaving the dock, I caught our first fish, a rainbow trout well over five pounds and well over two feet long. Within minutes, Bill and Carl each caught, almost together, a couple of salmon of about the same size. Aaron said that they were two years old. We were utterly delighted. These were the biggest fish we had ever caught. It was Ben’s turn to reel in the next catch which turned out to be a yearling which we decided was too small to keep; our first catch and release. Ben’s next was another rainbow trout of a good size which ended up in the cooler. Over less than five hours, we caught nine fish: three rainbow trout and six salmon. We kept the six over five pounds to take home
Throughout the morning, Aaron filled us in on the mechanics of modern sports fishing, how the fish finder and the bottom feeders worked, and the advantages of different types of lines and reels. He told us about the big summer salmon-fishing derby, and how many of his clients had been winners. He was somewhat disappointed that we hadn’t pulled in a twenty-pounder. By contrast, we were ecstatic. Even more so when he filleted the fish for us as we returned to the marina. We brought our share home to put in the freezer.
It was a beautiful day for fishing. Not too hot nor too sunny. Apart from the fishing, the early morning air, the shining waters, the waves of monarch butterflies we saw flying south, and the vistas of the shore and the city were invigorating. The easy camaraderie between us was great fun. This was undoubtedly the beginning of a new tradition.
Further to my post on Thursday, see the excellent article by Adam Dodek, Dean of the Common Law section of the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law. The Globe and Mail published the article entitled “The impossible position: Canada’s attorney-general cannot be our justice minister” on February 22, 2019.
Dean Dodek provides the history of the existing two-hatted position, the background necessary to understand the context of the current “crisis,” and the need for Canada to adopt a new governmental structure like that in the United Kingdom. What he has to say accords with my own thoughts on this matter
In my view, at this stage in the ongoing saga, the Liberals could achieve the “solution” they need, both practically and politically, if they took advantage of the “new kind of politics” Jody Wilson-Raybould has brought to them, embraced her within the Liberal caucus where she properly belongs pending re-admission to Cabinet, and separated the Department of Justice and the Attorney-General, as both Wilson-Raybould and Dodek have recommended.
That would be a beneficial outcome of this very messy affair. It would cut through the ever-expanding witness list before the Justice Committee which, while fascinating for the inside dope it offers on how government works, is a colossal waste of time and money and cannot lead to a definitive finding, one way or the other. It would also undercut the partisan harping that the Opposition parties would undoubtedly like to continue until Election Day.
Once that initiative were taken, focus could shift to the ongoing court proceedings, and to the reports of the Justice Committee and the Ethics Commissioner when they are released. There could also be a calm discussion of the pros and cons of Deferred Prosecution Agreements in general, and of whether SNC-Lavalin should qualify for such an Agreement at some stage. Anything to reduce the inter-regional bad-mouthing, stereotypical name-calling, and credibility-bashing we’ve seen in recent weeks.
Such a reform would be a positive show of leadership on Trudeau’s part, and reverse the precipitous drop in his popularity caused by this affair. I, for one, don’t want the next federal election run by the Opposition on an “anti-Trudeau” campaign in the same vein as the “anti-Wynne” blitz which destroyed the Liberals in Ontario. There, the Tories ran a dubious leader with little political experience, no interest in policy, and offering no platform (except that offered by the social conservatives). Still, they won a majority government and defeated one of the most intelligent and policy-wise politicians ever seen in Canada. Trudeau may not be a Kathleen Wynne but his Cabinet has been replete with intelligent and talented politicians, such as Jody Wilson-Raybould, Chrystia Freeland and Jane Philpott. The country does not need a repeat of the Ontario experience at the federal level.
Former federal Minister of Justice and Attorney-General, Jody Wilson-Raybould, testified for nearly four hours before the Parliamentary Justice Committee yesterday. Her testimony was riveting, thoughtful, precise, backed up by notes, her credibility impeccable, and her presence a paragon of integrity. Dramatic, yes? But “devastating to the Liberals,” no.
She related several instances over the five-month period between September 2018 and January 2019 when Prime Minister Trudeau, senior members of the PMO, and the civil service put what she described as “inappropriate pressure” on her and her staff, apparently in an effort to have her “change her mind” about supporting the Director of Public Prosecutions in her criminal charges against SNC-Lavalin for bribery in Libya, and her refusal to offer them a DPA (“deferrred prosecution agreement”) to settle the matter. In her view, their actions amounted to “a consistent and sustained effort to politically interfere” with JWR’s role as an independent Attorney-General.
JWR admitted that what happened did not rise to the level of criminal activity but, in her view, “it was inappropriate” and, but for her refusal to change her mind, could have amounted to a derogation from “the rule of law” in Canada. She went on to testify that she thought her removal from her Cabinet position as Minister of Justice and her role as Attorney-General was due directly to the stand she had taken on SNC-Lavalin.
If you have not seen her testimony, do not rely on press reports. Watch it yourself on the internet.
The opposition is having a field day. Leader of the Opposition, Andrew Scheer, called for the PM to resign and for the RCMP to start a criminal investigation. NDP leader, Jagmeet Singh, insisted on a full-fledged Judicial Commission of Inquiry. The Justice Committee wants the PM to extend the government’s waiver of cabinet confidence and solicitor-client privilege so that JWR can return and testify about what happened between her and the PM after she was demoted to Minister of Veteran Affairs. The Committee and the media agree that everyone who had contact with JWR and her staff must testify before the Committee and the Ethics Commissioner so that “Canadians can know the facts.”
In his press conference after JWR’s testimony, Prime Minister Trudeau forcefully denied that he and his staff did anything wrong. He totally rejected JWR’s characterization of what occurred. He agreed that his government was concerned about the consequences of the ongoing SNC-Lavalin prosecution on “jobs,” and on innocent employees, creditors and investors of the company. But he insisted that the decision about the criminal prosecution was for the Attorney General to make, and that, at no time, did anyone ever direct her otherwise. While respecting the role of the Attorney General and the primacy of “the rule of law,” he acknowledged, as JWR said, that his government wanted “a solution” to the SNC-Lavalin problem.
We’ve had three weeks of political turmoil in Ottawa and unprecedented testimony about how government works from the inside. Despite the drama, no one in the Justice Committee, nor in the national media commenting on the event later, picked up on the primary lesson evident from all that has occurred.
At the end of her testimony, former Attorney General Jody Wilson Raybould suggested that the dual role of Minister of Justice and Attorney General which exists in Canada should be divided, as it is in Britain. There, the Minister of Justice sits as a member of Cabinet, concerned with policy development and political considerations. The Attorney General is an independent office, does not sit in Cabinet, and is shielded from political influence by the separate structure created by the express division of responsibilities for policy development and for prosecutions. She suggested that such a structure would be useful for the Canadian government to consider. I totally agree.
In my view, this entire episode boils down to different views on the role of Canada’s two-hatted Minister of Justice/Attorney General. The dual role requires different approaches and different actions. Inherent in the dual role is the potential for conflict. Positing both positions in the person of a single individual may well place her into an impossible conflict, as it apparently did with Judy Wilson-Raybould.
Everyone knew that the AG supported her DPP, and there is no evidence that anyone asked her to countermand her DPP and/or take over the prosecution (although in law she had the power to do that). When, in October, SNC-Lavalin received formal notice of the DPP’s decision not to offer them a DPA, the company immediately started a legal action challenging that decision. That legal action was the first such action on the new law and was pending at all relevant times. The focus of this litigation was on three key questions: could the courts review the exercise of her discretion? if so, what criteria did she use? And did she apply the criteria correctly? All are important questions on how the legislation is to work in the future.
That the matter was before the courts was useful for the government. As I have argued previously, this Liberal government doesn’t like to be labelled “soft on crime” and prefers to have the courts do their dirty work for them.
But while the matter proceeded before the courts, the Liberal government wanted its constituents to know that they had not forgotten the matter; hence the search “for a solution.” JWR admits that all the officials and staffers who pressured her were looking “for a solution.” What kind of “solution”? Since she said her refusal to interfere with the ongoing litigation was clear as early as mid-September, what kind of “solution” were the PM’s politicos after? I interpret this to mean alternative legislative or regulatory means which could mitigate the damage on SNC-Lavalin in the event of a conviction. An amendment to the mandatory ten-year ban on no-government contracts in the event of a conviction is one possible option; another may be providing a discretion as to what length of ban would apply.
As Minister of Justice, JWR was responsible for policy development related to the Criminal Code. In that role, “jobs” and the interests of “employees, investors, and creditors” would be legitimate and major concerns, and the PM, other officials, and staffers could well want JWR to use the resources available in the Department of Justice to formulate a proposed alternative solution. These were matters that could have been dealt with in the original legislation. For some reason unknown to us, that did not occur and now the government was faced with correcting the lacuna.
Apparently, JWR, wearing her Attorney-General hat, felt uncomfortable with discussion and actions that properly fell to her in her role as Minister of Justice. That she raised the need to separate the two roles before the Justice Committee indicates the dilemma and helps explain the context of what has occurred. For all the shouting from the opposition and the black ink in the media, the Liberals have learned a valuable lesson. I am confident that they have the wisdom and the experience to go forward with the structural solution that stares them in the face and could well resolve the problem.
The fifteen days of Asian New Year have come and gone. Already. Where has February gone? It’s the Year of the Pig and, in West Vancouver where we have come to escape the worst of eastern Canada’s winter, the celebration was bright, cheery and more extensive than I remember it being ever before. I missed the big Asian New Year’s parade held in Vancouver on February 3rd. Next year. But I did catch the festivities held on the north shore.
On January 31st, at the Osaka Supermarket (originally bought by T & T and then by Loblaws), I was struck by the colourful decorations which greeted shoppers on arrival. Ah yes, it is Chinese New Year I thought. I wandered over to the multiple high piles of large boxes, bags, and packages full of cookies, candies, rice cakes, decorations, and other goodies that the Chinese buy in great quantities to share with family and friends during the holiday. There were so many, all so enticing, so mouth-watering, all seriously not recommended for my diet.
Then I found a variety of boxes full of kinds of oranges from all over the world. Among them was a pile of large red plastic baskets, each filled with mandarin oranges, all individually wrapped in paper and cellophane. Here was a Chinese New Years delicacy that I could indulge in. At $8.80 for a basket of 24 oranges, I thought them a bargain and bought a basket for myself. These proved to be the largest, sweetest, most delicious mandarin oranges I had eaten since I was a kid. I learned that oranges were a lucky food for the Asian new year, and that these oranges were especially imported from Japan. Later I bought two more baskets to take to my friends.
On the first weekend of February, just before the first day of the lunar New Year on Monday February 4th, West Vancouver sponsored two full days of festivities to celebrate Asian Lunar New Year. I was struck that the festival was not limited to the Chinese but extended to all Asian nationalities who celebrate the lunar new year. That gave my head a shake; so many cultures in the world take part. Bright red and gold balls, and placards full of facts about lunar new year traditions decorated the atrium of the West Vancouver Community Centre. People were everywhere, many dressed in red, eager to take part in the action.
I was fascinated. Young men did Kung Fu, others beat on drums, young girls and boys played on a grand piano, troupes of children dressed in lavish costumes performed intricate dances, and several young women played traditional instruments. Almost everyone present picked up an activity “passport” which led us to different stations where we could learn more about new year activities. We learned the names of the twelve revolving years of the lunar calendar, and about the qualities of The Year of the Pig. We learned what foods are traditional for the season, and why red packets are given as gifts. Two young girls designed and distributed elaborate sugar treats which we tasted with delight. Altogether, a totally delightful event.
On the first day of the Lunar New Year, the cashier at the Fresh Market, our local supermarket, handed a red packet containing a chocolate coin to each customer at the register. Yet another New Year tradition extended into the broader community. We are indeed lucky to live in a multicultural community where we can celebrate New Years many times of the year in many ways. Happy Lunar New Year.
Thanksgiving has come and gone, the leaves are in glorious colour, and the air is crisp. It’s a new school year, a new season of theatre, concerts and ballet, a Jewish new year. Like many others, it is also time for me to think of new directions ahead.
For months I have been overcome with an all-pervasive gloom which has left me anxious, dispirited, and anything but effervescent. I attribute it in part to the dismal political scene. The United Kingdom is in an existential crisis which has no obvious solution. In the United States, Trump and his Republican toadies continue undermining traditional American values, conventions and institutions in the name of what? Social conservatism? The wealthy who benefit from his tax cuts? The drama of dysfunctionality? The mid-term Congressional elections loom with the possibility of some improvement, but who knows?
Most discouraging has been the irrational Trumpism demonstrated by Doug Ford’s vindictive interference in the current Toronto municipal election. I come from a province which has had some wacky premiers. W.A.C. Bennett comes to mind, and Bill Vander Zalm. But even they never showed such contempt for the conventions of our democracy, nor for the opinions of voters, as did Ford in his recent actions.
To list what he did is to cringe:
1. an irrational and unfair interference in an ongoing municipal election
2. a total failure to consult with the voters involved
3. enacting legislation that contradicted the wishes of the City determined after several years and millions of dollars of consultation about appropriate ward sizes
4. demonstrating an abysmal lack of understanding about the role of the courts in Canada’s constitutional democracy
5. forcing an all-night legislative session trying to pass a Charter “notwithstanding clause” which former Ontario Premier Bill Davis and most other reputable politicians denounced. That Christine Elliott and Caroline Mulroney, supposedly thoughtful Conservative cabinet ministers who should have known better, supported his madness adds to the sorry nature of his enterprise
A week after Judge Belobaba accepted the argument of the plaintiffs that Ford’s Bill 5 violated s. 2 of the Charter, the Ontario Court of Appeal “stayed” his decision. In their view, Ford’s law may have been unfair, but it was likely not unconstitutional. This meant that Bill 5 creating wards in the city similar to those of M.P.s and M.P.P.s (unlike every other municipal jurisdiction in Canada) and reducing the number of councillors to 25 prevails for the election next week. The Court of Appeal (and perhaps even the Supreme Court of Canada) will consider the case in greater detail only after the election is long past.
The result was not surprising. But that the law permits the voters in the largest city in Canada, the economic engine of the province, to be treated so cavalierly is totally devastating. In my view, if our Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not extend to municipal governance, a huge lacuna cries out to be filled. A constitution which does not recognize how important municipal government is in the daily lives of contemporary voters is woefully out-of-date.
Mike Harris’ Conservative government in Ontario forced amalgamation on Toronto against the overwhelming wishes of the people in 1998, twenty years ago this year. Amalgamation has proven an expensive mistake. Within four months of assuming office, Doug Ford has used the same bullying strategy to impose on Toronto a City Council structure which was explicitly rejected by the city because it is unfair and will not work. He created a crisis where none existed. And the city will bear the cost for the foreseeable future.
This will be the last post that I write on politics for some time. The issues take too much out of me, and leave me too upset. In my self-interest, at an age when time is precious and good health is at a premium, I will focus on the good things going on in the world. Good news would be a welcome change.
On Monday, the Toronto City Council continued its debate on their response to Doug Ford’s changing the ward boundaries and cutting City Councillors from 47 to 25 in the midst of a municipal election campaign. The law which purports to authorize Ford’s actions was not yet introduced at Queen’s Park when the debate on what is an existential issue for the City of Toronto had already begun.
“Bill 5, The Better Local Government Act, 2018” (who says?) was introduced for first reading only on Monday afternoon. Tuesday, second reading was delayed by an Opposition amendment. It is now scheduled for second reading tomorrow, Thursday, August 2nd. The expectation is that the government will use every effort to push the law through as quickly as possible without any Committee hearings or any consultation.
I attended the City Council debate on Monday and was struck by how much time the hard core of councillors who supported Ford’s actions spent pontificating about the advantages of reducing their number to twenty-five. “Twenty-five reps works well for the province and the federal government;” they said, “it can work well for municipal government as well. It’s “a welcome move,” “taxpayers will be happy,” “a first step to ending the chaos at city hall,” “there is no need for any referendum; that occurred on June 7th,” “the province has all the power, we can do nothing about it, move on.”
Another group of councillors supported reducing the wards and the number of councillors but were very unhappy with the process and timing. They made it clear that their constituents did not like arbitrary change mid-way through an existing election.
The majority of councillors were adamant that this was an arbitrary interference with the fundamental governance of City Council without consultation and in the middle of a municipal election, according to the existing law and set for October 22nd. Reflecting a multi-year Ward Boundary Review undertaken by the City in recent years and conducted with significant public and professional consultation, the existing law provides for 47 wards and 47 councillors. These numbers provide approximate voter parity and reflect changing voter populations in different parts of the city. Numerous diverse candidates from communities not previously represented at Council have already registered as candidates “for the right reasons.” Now no one knows what is going on. And the City Clerk has made it clear that it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to accommodate the proposed changes in preparations for the current election.
Several councillors spoke about the unique governance structure of the City of Toronto, the multiplicity of community councils staffed by local councillors, committees, commissions, boards, and institutions which now require councillor participation and already have trouble finding a quorum. Others spoke about the work of city councillors where they must be responsive to personal, local concerns, development applications, the desires of multiple Business Improvement Areas, residential associations, community groups, the nitty-gritty of city life which puts more demands on local politicians than on federal and provincial representatives. If immigration is the primary preoccupation of M.P.s, provincial M.P.P.s are preoccupied with education and health care issues. Everything else falls to the municipalities.
Others noted that the actions of Doug Ford were directed only to the City of Toronto. If the number of municipal councillors is to be determined by using provincial and federal constituencies, many Ontario cities would be reduced to one councillor, or perhaps a councillor they would share with another town. Councillor Shan noted that Scarborough, with a population of over 600,000, now has six Councillors and would be reduced to three under the new rules. Markham, with a population of 350,000, has twelve. Already under the existing rules, Toronto has more constituents per councillor than any other city in the province; under the new rules, the numbers would double. So much for voter parity which is supposed to be a fundamental principle of the right to vote in Canada.
Many councillors were particularly articulate about the significance of Ford’s attack on the city and what must be done. See Gordon Perks on YouTube. He is absolutely right. If we value our municipal government, and the work that city councillors do on our behalf, we have to respond.
City Council has voted its opposition to the reduced numbers, and has requested the provincial government to conduct a binding referendum before proceeding with the legislation or, alternatively, to permit the City to put a question on the 2018 ballot. It has also requested the City Solicitor to consider the validity and constitutionality of any provincial legislation, including its potential violation of the rights of the citizens of Toronto to fair and effective representation, the practicality of conducting the election, the Clerk’s capacity to implement the changes, and any errors or flaws in the legislation and to report back to City Council at a special meeting… on Monday, August 20, 2018 with options for City Council’s consideration. (Passed 31:10)
Former mayor David Miller, lawyer David Butt in the Globe and Mail, and I have called for litigation to challenge what Ford is doing in court. There is jurisprudence which describes the nature of the “right to vote” under the Canadian Charter, but my lawyer son tells me that that the Charter “right to vote” does not apply to voting at the municipal level. Previous efforts to use the courts to stop the amalgamation of the City of Toronto were unsuccessful. This case, however, is unprecedented. How the province has proceeded, the lack of any consultation with those affected, and the timing of the change of the law (in the middle of a current election campaign) all distinguish this case from prior jurisprudence. If ever there were a fact situation that demonstrates the most arbitrary provincial action against a major city within its jurisdiction, this it it. It would make an excellent test case.
In the meantime, we have to follow Councillor Perks’ advice and make sure that the provincial government (including the alleged “adults in the back rooms”) know that what they are doing is beyond the pale. As Councillor McMahon said on Monday, “It is simply wrong.”
Tomorrow, those who want to show their opposition are invited to attend Queen’s Park and be present in the public gallery when the government seeks to go forward with second reading. There is also a rally scheduled for the lawn of the Legislature at 11:30. See you there.
We were right. Doug Ford is a Donald Trump. He is so enamoured with his own self-proclaimed expertise in business that he thinks he can run the government as if it were his private company. Notwithstanding the apparent advice of more experienced politicians around him, he has DECLARED that Toronto’s current ward system for municipal government is obsolete and that Toronto’s amalgamated City Council will be cut from 47 to 25 councillors.
Let us put aside the pros and cons of a reformed City Council. Many may agree that reform at the city level is required. I would agree to that. But there is absolutely no consensus on what kind of City Council we require. How many constituents are best served by a single Councillor? What is the relationship between the overall City Council and local Community Councils? How can a reduced number of councillors serve on the local councils and all City committees as well? All these are issues for empirical data and for discussion.
DOUG FORD HAS PREEMPTED ALL THAT. Just as Mike Harris did in December 1996, when he announced that the City of Toronto would be amalgamated by provincial fiat.
In the face of the public outcry that followed, even the Mike Harris government was forced to have public hearings at Queen’s Park on the issue. As I remember, over 600 individuals, experts and groups made submissions to the Legislature; only four spoke in favour of amalgamation. But Mike Harris’ majority government went ahead anyway, and we have been living with the consequences ever since. Whatever one thinks of the amalgamated City of Toronto, there is no doubt that amalgamation did not save money.
BUT DOUG FORD HAS GONE A STEP FURTHER. In the midst of a municipal election cycle, after most candidates have already registered to contest Council seats in existing wards, are already raising money and putting together their campaigns, and on the precise day nominations were to close, Ford HAS CHANGED THE RULES OF OUR MUNICIPAL ELECTION SET FOR OCTOBER 22nd.
As reported in the press, he has “thrown a bomb into our current municipal election,” so that whether the city can actually conduct the upcoming election is highly problematic. No advance notice. No opportunity for consultation with affected parties and the public. No discussion of the pros and cons of the new system. No reference to recent reforms to make our ward system more democratic. No consideration as to how the change of rules can even be implemented. None of this.
The simple answer, for a simple man unschooled in the subtleties and sophistication of politics, is that the municipal affairs of the City of Toronto will be governed using the constituencies established for federal and provincial purposes. An easy answer… to save taxpayers money.
Oh yeah? Not if I can help it. The last time I was this angry was when Mike Harris made his similar arbitrary announcement about the amalgamation of the City of Toronto. The provincial government, especially with a majority, may have the legal power to change the laws affecting how cities are run. But legal powers exist in the context of legal conventions, many of which are not written.
Canada’s administrative law applicable to all governments and government agencies (over and above the Charter) recognizes that people ought not be deprived of their rights except in accordance with “principles of fundamental justice.” What are “principles of fundamental justice”?
- the right to know the case against you
- the right to make representations on your own behalf
- the right to a fair hearing
- the right to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure
- and, more broadly, “principles of fundamental justice” also include the right to fairness and to freedom from arbitrary action
If these rights are applicable to persons accused of offences before the courts, and to other individuals in civil conflicts with the state, they are equally applicable to candidates in current municipal elections and to voters who expect that our current election will be conducted according to the rules in effect at the time the election cycle begins.
There is nothing fair about changing the rules of our upcoming municipal election less than three months before election date. Doug Ford’s announcement is the epitome of arbitrary action. He doesn’t yet have legislative authority for what he intends to do, and already the upcoming election is thrown into chaos.
Fairness and freedom from arbitrary action are conventions in our political and legislative process which are unwritten but important nevertheless. What is most disturbing about Donald Trump is that he is unaware of existing political and governmental conventions, or ignores them at his pleasure, and does so with little public or political protest.
Doug Ford’s arbitrary and unfair interference in the current City of Toronto municipal process is analogous. I, for one, will not stand by and let it happen. Nor should anyone else. Our fundamental rights as a democracy play out in the context of process. Process is important. The issue is not reform of the Toronto City Council. The issue is the arbitrary and unfair actions of a provincial government which thinks it can change the rules without any input from the people affected.
I will be at City Council Monday morning to hear the continuing debate on what the City plans to do about this matter. I would urge you to take whatever action you can to require that the current election proceed according to existing rules.
The Ontario election results left me in a funk somewhat analogous to that many experienced after Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. Doug Ford as premier of Ontario is now the new reality, and those of us who did not vote for him must find strategies for keeping sane in an era when many good policies and programs are destroyed. In the circumstances, humour may be the best medicine.
GEOFFREY STEVENS writes a weekly column which he circulates to his personal distribution list and publishes each Monday in the Waterloo Region Record. His July 16, 2018 column is, yet again, ever so timely. With thanks to Geoffrey, I commend it to you and share it here:
Hop in your Edsel! It’s time to honour Doug Ford!
(published July 16, 2018 in Waterloo Region Record)
BY GEOFFREY STEVENS
Hon. Doug Ford,
Premier of Ontario,
Queen’s Park, Toronto
My Dear Premier Ford,
Please find enclosed my application for membership in Ford Nation.
It’s my way of demonstrating my enthusiastic support for the work that you and your new Progressive Conservative government are doing.
You are a man of your word. You promised you would get rid of that $6 million man at Hydro One. Boom, he’s gone, and it’s only going to cost $9 million. Good job, Sir!
You are scrapping Kathleen Wynne’s Green Energy Act. You are eliminating subsidies on purchases of electric cars, ripping windmills out of the ground, and I’m sure you will soon be tearing solar panels off rooftops across the province.
You are doing a splendid job to prepare Ontario to confront the daunting challenges of the 1950s. Leslie Frost would be so proud!
You have rolled the clock back on other fronts. You have taken the sex out of sex education. Kids don’t need to know about gay and lesbian or bisexual and transgender or HIV and AIDS. They can still learn all they need to know about sex in the back seat of the family Studebaker.
Too much knowledge is a dangerous thing. That’s why you had the foresight to fire the province’s science officer. That may stop all the loose talk about human activity causing global warming. It is nonsense to suggest that Ontario’s cars and trucks, factories, mines and smelters create pollution. They create jobs, as we Ford Nation-builders know.
You canned Wynne’s “cap and trade” scheme. And you told that twerp from Ottawa, Justin Trudeau, where to put it when he came to warn you that if Ontario bailed on his national climate plan, he would impose his own carbon tax.
The effrontery of the man! Just because he is prime minister of Canada, he thinks he can speak for the people of Ontario. You, Sir, have a majority government. You and only you speak for Ontarians (we’ll overlook the inconvenient reality that Trudeau’s Liberals hold 80 of Ontario’s 121 parliamentary seats.).
You really told Trudeau off when he tried to con you into picking up part of the tab for resettling refugees who have flooded into Ontario in search of safety and a better life. He calls them “asylum-seekers,” but you set him straight. They are “illegal border-crossers.” If he wants to allow such criminals into Canada, let the feds pay.
You drove that argument home when you sent Lisa McLeod from your cabinet out to Winnipeg to slap down federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen at last week’s ministerial meeting.
Poor Hussen was not happy. He called your attitude to refugees “irresponsible… It’s divisive, it’s fear mongering and it’s not Canadian,” adding: “The track record of collaboration between Canada and Ontario is being challenged by the new (Ontario) government.”
Yes! Of course! That’s your point, isn’t it, Premier Ford? The cozy days of collaboration between levels of government are over. Ontario is darned mad and isn’t going to take it any more. That’s the message you will be delivering this week in Saint Andrews, N.B., at the annual summer gathering of premiers (now tarted up as the “Council of the Federation”).
You are ready to lead us back to those heady days when provincial leaders like Joey Smallwood in Newfoundland, “Wacky” Bennett in B.C., and Ross Thatcher in Saskatchewan, stood up for provincial rights. They relished a good fight with Ottawa. And let us not forget “Old Man Ontario,” Leslie Frost, who made a such valiant effort to seize control of income tax from Ottawa.
Premier Ford, please hurry with my Ford Nation membership card. I’m enclosing a 5-cent stamp to cover postage. As soon as it comes, we will fill the bathtub with your one-buck beer, crank up the Elvis, and have ourselves a rip-roaring “Back to the Fifties” bash in your honour.
So hop in your Edsel and come on down!
Your huge fan,
GEOFFREY STEVENS, author, former Ottawa columnist and managing editor of the Globe and Mail, resides in Cambridge, Ontario, and teaches political science at Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Guelph. He welcomes comments at email@example.com.