Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Top 10 Stories of 2014

Reflecting back on the previous 12 months it is easy to focus on the negative. The nature of the news is to report tragedy, conflict and controversy. The events that shaped this past year will undoubtedly have a a tremendous impact on years to come.

#10 Airline Tragedies

Three high-profile airplane crashes in 2014 drew the attention of the wold. The mystery of the disappearance of the Malaysian Air flight somewhere in Indian Ocean was the topic of rampant speculation. The shooting down of another Malaysian Air flight in eastern Ukraine drew the conflict in that country to other countries.

#9 Scottish Referendum

There was a time this year when people wondered if the United Kingdom had a future and whether or not it would be plunged into constitutional crisis. To be clear, just avoiding Scottish independence does not mean that questions about the country's future has been settled. This story is definitely ongoing.

#8 Shake-ups in Alberta Politics

In the course of the year Alison Redford became a scandal-ridden premier, resigned as party leader, was replaced by Jim Prentice and then, THEN, the leader of the Official Opposition joined the governing party. Alberta politics has been accused of being exceptionally boring, not this year!

#7 Ontario Municipal Elections

Rob Ford. His banishment from the mayoral office has relieved many Torontonians of the embarrassment of his tenure. John Tory will use his mandate to, hopefully, advance Toronto and the GTHA's interest. There are many new leaders across Ontario, including in Mississauga where Hazel McCallion retired and Brampton where Susan Fennell was kicked out. Change was in the air and will have impacts in the years to come.

#6 Fair Elections Act

Sigh. It spawned an intellectual and political upheaval. This story ranks so highly because the changes will impact an election scheduled for 2015. It's possible we will see more complaints and more voting issues. Fraud is a legitimate risk moving into 2015. The public, media and election officials will have to be vigilant.

#5 Quebec and Ontario's Provincial Elections

Quebec elected a new Liberal (federalist) government and Ontarians (reluctantly?) re-elected a Liberal government. The federalist government in Quebec takes the risk of separatism off the table for a time, again. Ontario's voters made an unusual choice in re-electing the government promising more spending and taxes. The fallout for the Progressive Conservatives and ONDP have shaped provincial politics, municipal and federal politics since.

#4 Feminism and Women

The cultural conversation about women, equality, gender and discrimination continued this year. More and more I see this conversation in the mainstream. Frustratingly it feels like for every step forward it's sometimes two steps back, but a number of news items, such as "Gamergate" and Jian Ghomeshi shows that these issues are cropping up in all sorts of places and being met critically and thoughtfully.

#3 Race Relations in the United States (and elsewhere)

Ferguson. For some people they will never forget the name of Ferguson, Missouri. It has shined a blinding light on police violence and militarization, race relations, equal justice and some of the issues at the heart of America's communities. Canadians should take a pause before feeling high and mighty. Issues in our cities, minority communities, and among Aboriginal Canadians echo the experience to the south. 

#2 Ukrainian-Russian Conflict

This was something I didn't expect to see again. A great power invaded a neighbouring country for territorial gain. The chaos in Ukraine, the human suffering and the threat of wider war has raised fears unknown in many ways since the Cold War. I hope this does not portend a trend for geopolitics or will be repeated in 2015.


ISIS exploded on the international scene this year. The revolutionary ideology of that movement threatens to destabilize the entire Middle East. The draw of radicalists around the world has caused renewed concerns in local terrorist actions that had died down in recent years. The sympathizers' attacks against soldiers and Parliament in this country was a sharp, sad moment for the entire country.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

CdnPoli Twas the Night Before Christmas

Happy holidays, I hope everyone is able to enjoy the upcoming break. Normally I try to write something seasonally appropriate for my last post before Christmas. This year in my travels I strung together a few parody lines for the "Twas the Night Before Christmas" poem for Canadian politics and decided to see if I could finish the rest. I hope you like it, take care. 

Twas the week before Christmas, and quiet in the House
Politicians were back in their ridings, home with their spouse.
The next election was less than a year away   
But they worried not and in their ridings they did stay.

The citizens ignored the politics for their own sake
And tried to enjoy their all-too-brief break.
Round the dinner table politics was banned
Until too much to drink had passions fanned.

The pollsters and consultants were all snug in their beds,
While visions of campaigns and controversy danced in their heads.
The media panels met one more time to recap
And name the year’s winners and also the saps.

Canadians everywhere would take the time to gather,
Discuss what matters, working themselves into a lather.
But “Canadians don’t care” was often the quote,
Citing the evidence of the declining vote.

The glow of the T.V. and news of the year
Filled the heart with fondness, anger and fear.
On the screen for all to see were our servants and pols,
But most of us were too busy, shopping at malls.

The cynics and nerds declared with great passion and fear,
“I wish that everyone would pay attention next year.”
The stalwarts and hacks worked and made plans
Ready to war against the other parties’ clans.

Mayors, councillors, MPs and Minister,
All politicians both honest and sinister,
Will be held to account by the public at large,
For that is the citizen’s duty and ours to discharge.

Democracy, it is said, is the greatest gift,
But citizens must work to stop it going adrift.
Sickness at the heart of our nations sources of power
Will be the soil for a democratic revival to flower.

One does not have to be Prime Minister to make the world change,
It starts with caring and taking part in the exchange.
There is a simple truth, for all to know, and an absolute fact,
The people have power and can make change when they act.

Happy holidays to all, and keep your democracy aflame,
It means more than which party and politician to blame.
There is far more to see than scandals and brawl
Our system should be the voice for us all.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Worth Reading - December 18, 2014

Reading over the articles below it becomes quite clear there is a great deal going on politically in this country even if most of its citizens are rushing around preparing for the holidays. Let's get started. 

Sean Marshall, whose website I featured in last week's post, has an interesting piece suggesting that the results in Wards 1 and 2 may offer something hopeful

I am sure it is a common enough experience to be sitting somewhere and people start swapping (bad) medical advice, often inspired from something on TV. Vox has a piece discussing the value of advice from television doctors, ex. Dr. Oz. Ready yourself for those discussions with family.

I missed when this story broke due to work but I could not believe it when I read it. Danielle Smith (PCAA - Highwood) abandoned her own Wildrose Party, WHICH SHE WAS LEADING, crossed the floor, and joined with the Progressive Conservative government. Madness,

Lately it has been a lot of bad news for New Democrats. This piece perked me up and reminded me of my own feelings about both the Conservative Party and the NDP. Ethan Rabidoux writes why he has jumped from the Tories to the Dippers.  

A piece was published in The Economist defending the suburbs, here a writer dismantles their argument

Someone on Twitter commented on this article that it was nice to see that Calgary can make boneheaded decisions too. The National Post's take on Calgary's horrendous policy history on second units. 

Former Senator Hugh Segal writes on the ongoing leadership troubles for the Manitoba NDP and whether or not they fit with the constitutional framework of the country.

A report states that Ontario's Greenbelt faces major challenges going forward if it is going to fulfill its mission to protect farmland and water.

A federal New Democrat is planning to run for the provincial Liberals in a by-election in Sudbury. Here is Steve Paikin's take and a fuller story from the Toronto Star.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Reining in Uber

The unregulated taxi-cab market has exploded over the last few years. The most prominent, Uber, has been since engulfed in controversy. Initially the controversy was over the legality of these unregulated app-based cab services. I remember the harsh penalties imposed on unlicensed cabbies driving university students home while I was a student, and while some municipalities have tried to stamp out these companies none have had any meaningful success.

As opposed to the people trying to earn a few dollars by shuttling intoxicated undergrads home companies such as Uber are protected as multi-billion dollar companies who can hide behind their apps and cater to a more affluent crowd than those in the unlicensed cab space. I’ll let the class implications of that one speak for itself.

While Uber is joined increasingly by competitors such as Lift it remains the frontrunner, but its status might soon be threatened by a number of internal scandals and public relations disasters.

The most extreme case is at least two incidents where Uber drivers have been accused of raping female passengers, one in Chicago and another in New Delhi. Uber has been blamed for improperly screening its drivers and given the nature of Uber’s service makes these crimes more possible compared to traditional cabs. As an app Uber has a great deal of personal information about its clients. At a private party Uber executives “joked” about using their data to embarrass journalists opposed to their business practices. This is the terrifying part of the privacy-less tech revolution - that someone might use it against us.

Couple with this that Uber’s employment strategies might cast the company in an even worse light. First Uber has been taking a greater share of its drivers’ revenue. According to a recent episode of “This is Only a Test”, the podcast of Tested.com, it was stated that Uber now charges drivers 35% of their fare. Worst still, Uber is aggressively marketing predatory loans, subprime loans to its drivers. Not long after news surfaced of a student loan program seemingly designed to fleece students/drivers. Uber seems to have quickly bridged the gap between feisty upstart and predatory corporation in record time.

Uber and its cohort proved that major innovation was and is desired in the taxi-cab market. However, Uber’s behaviour justifies the existence of these regulations. Clearly municipal governments should examine the pricing structures used by taxi companies to ensure greater flexibility in the market. On the other hand the immoral and unethical behaviour of Uber demonstrates that the state has a role in protecting its citizens as employees and customers.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Worth Reading - December 12, 2014

Apologies for the delay, I did not have the time yesterday to finish this. I hope it was worth the wait.

MP Craig Scott (NDP – Toronto-Danforth, ON) has a piece in Maclean’s outlining the proportional representation position of the NDP

From the Brampton Guardian, Peel has selected a new regional chair and will confronta long list of issues.

From the Economist, why is the price of oil falling

CBC’s That National had a conversation about white privilege. It’s great to see this discussion on national media.

Copenhagen is considering building artificial islands to create new neighbourhoods, but the idea is not without controversy. 

An interesting piece that compares military spending in Canada and Australia. Summary: Australia is kicking our butts.

John Ivison has had the chance to meet some of the Liberal candidates in 2015. His impression is that despite the talent they might have they seem to have limited mission

Sean Marshall has been posting really great maps from the Toronto election. Check them out at his new website

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Sinking Oil

Noted Canadian historian Harold Innis spoke of the long legacy of Canadians as the hewers of wood and drawers of water; dependent upon the staple economies. In the centuries after European settlement began it is remarkable how little that has changed. Despite industrialization and the development of the knowledge economy it still seems like Canada is a county built upon its natural resources.

In the last decade or so the strength of the Canadian economy has been built upon fossil fuels. The tar sands boom, the Hibernia fields off of Newfoundland and the growth in Saskatchewan are all tied to the opportunity tied to the high-cost energy market. As many of you may have noted the price of oil (and therefore gasoline) has declined lately. While consumers might cheer the relief on their pocket books it comes at a price.

Several Canadian provinces are dependent upon the energy economy, especially their governments who use it as a major source of revenue. Royalties from resource extraction will be down and there have been reports of the multi-billion dollar shortfall Alberta is expecting. Here in the Northwest Territories it means there will be a decline in development given the high costs and lower price.

It is important to note that the world’s energy economy has adapted to the $80+/barrel economy. While Canada will struggle the impact on other countries could be dramatic and dangerous. Discovery’s Test Tube channel recently discussed the impact here: 

In developing and fragile economies unrest and instability is entirely possible.

From my brief research it seems that increased production in the Middle East and North Africa and declining demand in Europe and Asia the price for oil has tipped lower. Canadian oil is generally expensive and cannot compete well below $70/barrel.

Despite critics of Canada’s petro-economy the simple fact is that it forms the current backbone. As wise and necessary as it is to move on and diversity our economy we’re not there yet and nothing competes with its profitability. The interesting this is that this price dive has shown how big a part of our economy the fossil fuel industry is. Its decline has caused sharp dives in the Toronto Stock Exchange.

A strange part of this is that it reveals we have more in common with other petro-nations than we might like. As a result I hope it proves to government officials the need to move away from the boom and bust oil economy and find something more sustainable for the nation’s economy. Relying on the golden goose is marvelous as long as it’s fat, happy and laying eggs, but we cannot control when it will ultimately stop, and it will inevitably stop. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Worth Reading - December 4, 2014

John McGrath on TVO's blog writes about reforming Toronto's City Council. Should elections be reformed? Should the number of councillors increase? Decrease? Would that impact the debate at City Hall?

Martin Regg Cohn writes in the Toronto Star that Premier Kathleen Wynne (OLP - Don Valley West) and Mayor John Tory are aligned politically and should usher an era of more peaceful relations. I'm of the opinion that there are institutional difficulties between Queen's Park and City Hall that means things may continue to be difficult.

The Last of Us is a video game that I very badly want to spend some time playing, but I do not own a Playstation 3 or 4. This article discusses how realistic the fungal zombie-style outbreak is presented in the game's universe.

This is an article about the transformation of Chicago's economy and its impact on its transit system. It's a really interesting idea that the modes of the economy shape transit usage and distribution.Chicago and Toronto share a lot of DNA so I'm sure much could be applied to the other.

Women are woefully under-represented in our legislative bodies. Obviously there are barrier to women getting elected, but Scott Gillmore asks if women should shoulder more responsibility for their absence and intervene.

Edward Keenan wrote a scathing piece in the Toronto Star suggesting that Mayor John Tory has already abandoned his commitment to unite the city. Mr. Tory has named his team and has excluded the progressive members of Council. I think Mr. Keenan is being too hard on the new mayor. I am happy to give him his honeymoon period for a while longer.

The NDP put forward a motion in the House of Commons on mixed-member proportional representation this week.This issue ranks as one of my passions so I was pleased to see the NDP's position made clear here.

Marcus Gee in the Globe and Mail writes on the suburban transit development around Toronto. I think Gee might be a tad too optimistic, but the construction and development is encouraging.

From NOW Toronto, Jonathan Goldsbie writes about Toronto's City Council's race problem. While the piece is about Toronto it be applied to many other contexts.

Desmond Cole travelled to Ferguson, Missouri to cover the stories there for the Walrus. Check them out.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Pushing Against the Sea and Fighting for Change

The twelfth century ruler of England, Denmark and Norway, King Cnut, stepped out onto the beach and commanded the waves not to rise. But the tide rolled in and wet his feet and in that moment he proved to his flattering courtiers that kings cannot bend the elements and the power of God. Though the story is perhaps apocryphal it is illustrative of not just of the limitations of our rulers, but the power of human beings to shape events.

I am writing this because lately I feel like I have lost a bit of hope that change can occur. The power of incumbency over interesting and dynamic challengers, the broad populace’s disengagement and apathy, and our political institutions’ inability to deal with a myriad of complex issues in sophisticated ways is... uninspiring.

To me, and I’m sure others, the idea of making positive change can seem so insurmountable. Perhaps most distressing is that it isn’t just global issues that seem out of reach, but international issues, national issues and sometimes even local issues. How much can we each do to make a difference that counts? I accept the position that each of us making changes can have cumulative effects that will improve our communities but sometimes it’s not about cutting down on water waste or recycling, it’s about urban design, or making our economy fairer or helping to lift people out of bad circumstances.

Ignorance might be bliss because soon as you start to recognize the greater causes of our socio-cultural and economic issues the challenges become so much more daunting. I have been going down this mental path lately because I have been thinking about the issues confronting the Northwest Territories. A couple of weeks ago I participated in a budget consultation with the territorial government with members of the community of Fort Smith. Minister Michael Miltenberger (MLA – Thebacha) painted a somewhat bleak future for the Northwest Territories: the territory is too dependent upon government, the big mines only have a few years left, the territory has overwhelming infrastructure problems/needs, climate change is having a growing impact and the traditional way of life is facing extinction. How to approach these problems and put the territory on a positive path is a difficult set of questions to address.

But it’s not just the North. I could say similar things about my hometown in Ontario: how does the city sustain itself and transform out of being ‘just a suburb’, how will it pay for extensive infrastructure costs, can transit be developed to serve the city, will the people allow the city to evolve and become more urban, will Canadian multiculturalism evolve and develop to ensure everyone feels welcome, how will we reduce growing poverty in the city, will affordability ensure no one gets pushed out or gets excluded? These are just some of the issues confronting one city none of which a single person can do much about, at least so it seems. I am confident a similar list could be made for nearly every community in Canada, big or small, regardless of geography.

What I am trying to articulate is the conflict between the desire to make change against the frustration of the status quo (or decline) and pessimism that things can change. One of the few things that gives me hope is that I see evidence here and there of people who are making a meaningful difference: people I know who have stood for office, people who are activists, people who are journalists, people who are writers and thinkers and advocates. I see them and I believe the work they are doing is doing good and I want to take part. Ultimately I suppose that’s what fueled this blog as a project but I find more and more that I want to make a bigger contribution and I am not sure how to do that, whether it’s working for an organization whose mission I believe in, starting my own business/organization, becoming more involved in my community, or getting more involved in politics – or some combination. Frustration is natural, change is not uniform nor in a single direction, I’m just trying to find the right place to push against the water. 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Worth Reading – November 27, 2014

Steven Fletcher (CPC – Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingley, MB) has been getting attention lately for the right to die. Fletcher is the first disabled cabinet minister in Canadian history.

San Grewal in the Toronto Star reports that only one of the 23 incoming councillors in Brampton and Mississauga is a visible minority. Grewal reports that 40% of Peel is visible minority, and in Brampton that number is 67%.

Andrew Coyne reflects on the honesty of our politicians

Jon Lorinc writes that Premier Kathleen Wynne (OLP – Don Valley West) and Mayor-elect John Tory need to intervene in the dysfunctional Toronto District School Board

Richard Florida reflects on a report suggesting transferring powers to cities in the United Kingdom. There are obvious implications for Canadian cities.

The Agenda is calling for people to talk about The Simpsons. What a wonderful world.

Joshua Hind writes a very late election piece for the Toronto mayoral election. Writing from a left-wing perspective he theorizing how the opposition to Rob Ford will have to change to deal with John Tory.

I would not be surprised that most people don’t know what a grand jury is, but many heard about them following the decision in Ferguson. This piece looks at their history in relation to Ferguson

Gracen Johnson writes on what the impact of driverless cars might be on our cities and towns. 

Finally, a piece positive about millennials. This piece suggests that millennials are poised to be strong leaders. Now if only they could find work... 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Tax Imbalance and Funding Our Cities

I really like cities and I really like city-states. The fact that a city of five million people in Southeast Asia has its own navy and foreign policy (Singapore) on top of being a great city is vaguely amusing. Most of us think of countries as large, continent-spanning states and not so easily confined to a single city. Sometimes I wonder how differently some of our cities would look if they were unshackled from their “senior” levels of government.

Cities are chronically underfunded in this country. There is a twisted perversion of our funding scheme. The maximum power to collect taxes is held by the federal government which in many ways has the fewest responsibilities to discharge. A great deal of the spending is in the form of dedicated transfer payments to the provinces. In effect, redirected taxes. One of the fundamental hallmarks of our politics is the provinces demanding funds from the federal government. Provinces have less of an excuse than cities as they have the power to increase their own taxes, but often lack the political courage to do so.

Cities and local governments have taken on a greater and greater role in providing services to the public as well as capital expenses but have the least ability to pay for them. Property taxes are a poor cousin to other forms of taxation and often mean that struggling communities will continue to struggle in perpetuity.

This might have been acceptable when things were less dire, but the growing infrastructure deficit and backlog of repairs means that more and more of the strain falls on cities. The maintenance of basic water and sewer pipes, roads, highways, and transit is borne by cities. Cities lack the resources to properly fund these projects as they are currently structured so they must beg and plead with the level of governments above them for the funds to function. In my current community there are deep concerns about the health of the pipes that support the town’s water service. Repairs in one part of the town took months to repair and resulted in frequent water outages for that section of Fort Smith. What if the aging system breaks down in a catastrophic manner this winter? Will the territorial government be there to fund the repairs without the town and public begging?

Organizations such as Strong Towns has been highlighting that our cities have a long way to go before they can be said to be using the money wisely, however that does not mean they are not being starved for cash. Capital and operating expense for transit and infrastructure in general would simply overwhelm the existing fiscal capacity of any city. Municipalities have far too often demonstrated mismanagement, sometimes criminally so, of their funds. Local governments are treated by their provincial masters as inept and unprofessional therefore justifying the paternal relationship between these divisions.

In these moments I am compelled to imagine a world where if all the revenues currently raised in these cities stayed within their boundaries. If I recall correctly Toronto pays out $9 billion in taxation more than it receives back. What would they look like today with all of those funds, or more of those funds? Or maybe more importantly, what would they look like 20 years from now? Plans could be enacted beyond the whimsy of three (or more) party negotiations which frequently fall apart. Cities desperately need consistent investment and research shows more and more that they are the drivers of our economy. Perhaps it’s time to treat our localities like the national priority that they are.

On a related topic check out Spacing’s article on infrastructure costs in Canada

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Worth Reading - November 20, 2014

John Ivison reflects on the by-election results from this week in Whitby-Oshawa and says that the NDP are in trouble if they cannot gain traction in Ontario’s suburbs. Sigh. By-elections are not great predictors, but...

Recently the Ontario New Democratic Party met in Toronto and its leader, Andrea Horwath (ONDP – Hamilton Centre), was approved at its convention despite deep dissatisfaction with the last election’s campaign. I like how the author in this piece describes the disbelief in Ms. Horwath’s turn to the left, as I feel the same.

Martin Regg Cohn writes a piece on Ms. Horwath’s conversion

$3.1 billion. That’s what the federal government cannot account for at present and are offering no explanation. 

To log into the annals of evidence for reforming Electoral District Associations – Dean Del Mastro’s riding association used tax-subsidized funds to defend him

Edward Keenan congratulates Brampton’s City Council for dealing with part of the spending scandal.

From the Northwest Territories, the legislature is no longer sitting and so CBC tells us what they will be working on over the break. Sadly they left out junior kindergarten.

An editorial from the Toronto Star calls for regionally thinking in the Greater Toronto Area. If the region is to prosper the municipal leaders and province will need to work together and put aside petty differences.

Idil Burale, a candidate for Toronto’s City Council in the last election, offers up detailed analysis saying that Ford Nation is far from dead

CBC reports on research that suggests that university students know shockingly little about Aboriginal issues. I both am not surprised and saddened. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Revival of Government Propaganda

“Canada’s Economic Action Plan”. That is probably a familiar phrase to Canadians across the country. However identifying what the Economic Action Plan actually is is a more difficult task. The slogan has been assigned to the federal budgets over the past few years and so basically everything the federal government has done since the “program’s” inception has been part of it. More narrowly it has been used to label infrastructure projects and various funds to support... something. I trail off there because the Economic Action Plan is often more about the appearance of action than real results. Take for example the promises of trades’ education. The last time I spoke to someone in the field the promises of support result in nothing in reality. Yet the ads continued to play hyping programs that support training that essentially do not exist.

The millions of dollars spent on the Economic Action Plan ads have far more to do with comforting the public that the government is combating the recession than actually providing information or creating programs. As outrageous as the advertising is, and skewed to show the federal government in a positive light, it has become part of the norm of Canadian political life for the last few years. 

Lately though it appears the federal government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper (CPC – Calgary Southwest, AB) is preparing to set the groundwork for the next election through public funds to support his party. The first advertisement is from Health Canada offering dramatic and frankly frightening consequences of marijuana use on children. The ad is unprecedented as far as I am aware and its arrival is clearly targeted at Justin Trudeau (LPC – Papineau, QC) and his party’s support for the legalization of marijuana. The Conservatives have run ads attacking Trudeau’s position and often uses his position as a talking point. Using public funds to clearly attack the policy of a rival is wrong and an abuse of power.

Yesterday, however, I saw the new Economic Action Plan ad touting tax cuts. Why do tax cuts require advertising? The simple truth is they do not. Most will happen automatically so it's not as though Canadians need to be prompted to apply for them. This is an effort to celebrate the government and boost its popularity. It damages the non-partisan nature of the Canadian government itself and further deteriorates the health of our democracy.

Propaganda has always been part of politics, but there were certain understandings about what was and was not proper. I think most people would suggest that if the government of the day has not crossed the ethical line then they have blurred it significantly. This isn’t the government advertising tourism, or a public health campaign, or some other justifiable plan, it is a celebration of government policy. These are increasingly partisan ads. They may not violate any laws but they violate the spirit of our system of government.

For further reading on this I strongly recommend John Ivison’s piece on this. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Worth Reading – November 13, 2014

Apologies for the brevity, but sometimes being concise is better.

Paul Wells miserably summarizes the bad year in Ottawa

Laura Payton of CBC writes about how Parliament Hill’s harassment incidents highlight the dark side of power.  

It is fair to say that there is a crisis on the international scene for displaced people, particularly in the Middle East. The Toronto Star argues Canada should be doing much more

Gentrification is a curse word to some people, but is part of the natural cycles of cities. City Lab writes about one city that might be doing gentrification properly, Columbus. 

Andrew Coyne on mandatory voting

Bohemians, artists and other creatives were found in what are now beloved neighbourhoods. New Geography asks where the next bohemian districts might, or should, be

Jon Ivison writes about the growing gulf and animosity between the NDP and Liberals

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Future of Our Past

First I would like to thank everyone for the positive feedback on my piece on feminism last week. I heard back from a lot of people who do not normally comment on my blog, and virtually all that feedback was positive. Negative feedback seemed to come from those more inclined to spam their own point of view and may not have even ready my piece. I hope to write pieces like that again in the future.

Given that today is Remembrance Day I want to take a moment to reflect on the future of this civic holiday. For decades now Canadians have marked the end of World War I, that bloody and damaging conflict. Canada emerged a quite different country than the one that entered. I believe that we scarcely understand the social, cultural and mental trauma that war had on the countries involved.

To great extent while our public consciousness for World War I has faded dramatically it still is at the core of Remembrance Day. For many reasons the Second World War has eclipsed the First World War and it did so remarkably early on. Remembrance Day has principally been built upon these two wars. The Korean War (1950-1953) was called the Forgotten War in its time and its comparative impact is so much smaller. The various missions Canada has participated in are abstract and intangible.

We live, almost, in a post-war era. Canada may not go to war with a nation-state as it did in the world wars again. Our enemies are diffuse and are just as likely now to kill a soldier in Canada as one in a warzone in a distant land. The wars of the early twentieth century drew the nation’s resources to the singular purpose in a war of survival and no other conflicts have replicated those stakes. Wars of the twenty-first century are entirely different creatures and look very little like our past.

But as time marches on and our veterans pass on the glories of the early part of the last century fade from memory, to story, to history, to intangible. How will Canadians speak of World War I fifty years from now? Or the Korean War? I believe World War II will always capture popular imagination, but those other conflicts will fade, like the Boer War or the War of 1812. Today at the Remembrance Day ceremony the Reverend referenced 2014 for being the bicentennial of the last year Canada was invaded and the centennial of the beginning of World War I. It struck me in that moment that both of those facts are relics of history and connect less and less to anyone alive today.

I am forced to wonder what this holiday will mean to future Canadians. How will they feel connected to servicemen and women and our shared past? How will they remember?

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Worth Reading – November 6, 2014

European cities look quite different from their North American counterparts, until relatively recently. Trends indicate that poverty is growing in the suburbs as the urban core grows richer, reversing the status quo in this continent. This raises real problems of addressing poverty in low-density environments. 

Voting for school board trustee is painfully overlooked. A writer as Spacing suggests that it might be random.  

Though Hallowe’en is over Steve Paikin proposes a true horror story: Doug Ford as leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario. 

From the Toronto Star, the case for municipal political parties

In the Strong Towns blog Chuck Marohn advocates for dynamic height restrictions to encourage sustainable urban development. This idea received a lot of commentary so he offered a second piece responding to those ideas.

Martin Regg Cohn writes on the political football that is the outdated sex ed curriculum in Ontario. 

Jon Lorinc writes about Naheed Nenshi’s recent visit to Toronto and lessons on political leadership. 

This piece partially inspired what I wrote on Tuesday. How do progressives respond to Jian Ghomeshi’s alleged crimes? 

Again, from the Toronto Star, Tim Harper asks what distinguishes a terrorist and a murderer

Justin Ling writes on his personal experiences during the gunman’s attack on Parliament Hill. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Reflections on Feminism in Modern Culture and Media

I try to think of myself as a progressive man, but I fall within many categories that place me in a privileged position in society. I am perceived as white (despite not having a purely European background). I originate from a middle-class family and currently earn a comfortable living. I am heterosexual and cisgendered, and, most importantly to my comments that follow, I am male. I offer this as a prelude because on this topic I feel disclosing how a person self-identifies is a valuable piece of information for understanding their comments and perspective.

I am not sure if it is because of the growth of critical analysis of more topics in popular culture, or the fact that I am more interested and so follow up on articles that discuss these topics, but regardless I have read many more feminist or gender-issue articles over the last year on popular culture. Popular feminist figures in new media such as Laci Green and Anita Sarkeesian have helped to broaden my perspective, along with the formal education I received at university.

As far as I understand it the basic premise of feminism is that all people are equal and that historic prejudices and power structures exist within our society and institutions that disadvantage certain groups. As a historian this is a very difficult premise to disagree with. I do not have the space here or the knowledge to outline the historic development of this important movement, but it is fair to say that how this end is accomplished has been hotly contested.

I’ve wanted to write on this topic for a while. My interest in writing about this topic has been spurred on by three issues that pointed out that social problems are more imbedded than most of us are comfortable admitting.

GamerGate. Sigh. GamerGate is the catchall term to describe the vociferous attacks, online and real-life, directed towards women in the video game industry and the media outlets that cover them. These attacks are perpetrated under the banner of “ethical journalism” that doesn’t even provide a fig leaf’s worth of decency for the most horrendous misogyny the internet can offer up. For example, Ms. Sarkeesian has been targeted with threats to her life and public talks where she is critical of tropes of video games damaging depiction of women.. Several women have been harassed and had their private residences shared on the internet forcing them to leave their homes.

GamerGate is particularly disturbing because video games have done a lot in the last few years to shed the “boy’s club” and overtly sexist appearance. A growing cast of interesting video games, designers and studios are creating experiences and characters much more relatable as human beings and not just digital eye-candy. Still, the medium has a lot more work to do. There are real questions of ethics in the video game industry, but this has been made irrelevant in the witch hunt. Sex sells and there are more than enough depictions of elf-maidens in bikini-armour out there to depress anyone hopeful for the future of video games.

In Canada media the firestorm swirling around Jian Ghomeshi once again highlights how we deal with prominent, powerful men accused of sexual assault or violence against women. For various other crimes large segments of the public would unquestionably consider the allegations against Mr. Ghomeshi, but as is tragically typical of rape/assault cases the character and credibility of the victim is the first questioned. I am embarrassed to admit that my mind first went there. While I am not a fan of Mr. Ghomeshi I have listened to and enjoyed his interviews and thought he was a valuable contributor to Canadian media. The only protection his accusers seem to have is that they are not alone and that Mr. Ghomeshi has left a trail of women behind in his life who are now ready to stand together.

When a similar story happens to, for example, a college football player I can easily and comfortably dismiss the defenders because that person is not part of my cultural tribe. As a Toronto-based media icon and progressive the willingness to accept Ghomeshi and openly reject his victims at face-value proves that elements of rape culture and misogyny are not too difficult to find when the perpetrators of these crimes are people we ourselves are fond of. The treatment of these victims and how these crimes are handled makes it no surprise that they go underreported.

The third piece of media I wanted to share was the video recorded of a woman walking down New York City’s streets and the endless parade of catcalls made after her. See the two-minute video below.

In my heart of hearts I hoped that brash New Yorkers were more inclined to this behaviour. However my opinion was heartily rebuffed when I was told by a journalist that his female friends often experienced harassment and a former co-worker of mine reported serious, and threatening street harassment twice in the space of a week. And upon reflection I can remember how my friends were sometimes treated as we walked down the street and suddenly this video did not feel so alien.

It should not matter what any of these women were wearing. No one deserves to be harassed. No one deserves to be assaulted. No one deserves to be attacked. In the cool, dispassionate mind many would accept this. Except we don’t. Many of us still cannot help but blame the victim because we are socialized to believe that women are not in control of their own bodies.

One of the reasons I am writing this piece is that I deal with these contradictions. Do I respect women more or less because of their appearance? Do I judge a woman on how she’s dressed rather than who she is? While I think a woman should dress as she pleases do I still quietly slut-shame her? It’s the contradictions in our culture that further confuse and problematize these issues. A popstar dancing in limited clothing in front of a giant lit sign reading “FEMINIST” seems to drip with hypocrisy to me, but conflict among the intelligentsia can’t seem to determine whether or not this is a betrayal of feminism or celebration. At least it’s not as dumb as a young actress declaring that she’s not a feminist because she “loves men.” 

Some of the most ardent misogynists are those who say this is a settled issue. That sexism is “fixed” and that only those ardent man-haters are the ones that want to talk about it. This is not a settled issue. Across our culture and entrenched in our media are symbols and exploitation defined by gender. More and more men are openly the victims of sexism as well are their depiction in media becomes more masculinized and dissociated from reality. Perhaps the great curse is that progress means both genders are blatantly objectified now.

This is by no means a “correct” opinion. Given the diversity of opinions and approaches I am confident that I have failed to properly articulate these various perspectives in some way. Try as I might to be a proper 21st century feminist man I am burdened and conflicted by a socialization and culture and reinforces misogynistic values towards many different groups. So far the only solution I have found is to actively challenge the status quo both external to the world around me and, perhaps more importantly, the world inside my head.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Worth Reading - October 30, 2014

I hope you will forgive my Torontocentricism in this week’s Worth Reading. In the wake of the election I have been reading a lot of the aftermath pieces.

Edward Keenan in the Toronto Star discusses the divisions in Toronto revealed in Monday’s vote. 

Much was written about the divide referenced in the previous article. I think it would be valuable to take a look at this piece from City Lab. It turns out that America’s most liberal cities are the most difficult for the lower-class to survive in. I think there is evidence to suggest that Toronto is undergoing the same process and that it explains the voting result to a certain extent.

A break from municipal politics, with the Ontario municipal elections out of the way focus for politicos in that province shift to the 2015 federal election. Alice Funke writes about the nominations.

A nice little resource from BlogTO comparing election maps from the last few Toronto elections, since amalgamation. 

TVO’s The Agenda had an episode last night about the new right-wing movements across Europe. The rise of the far-right has definitely been a concerning trend since the start of the Great Recession. 

Desmond Cole in the Torontoist has a longer piece on the issue of white privilege and why it is critical to discuss. 

Back from my hometown's wards 3 and 4 has two new faces at city and regional council. 

Jon Lorinc in Spacing postulates how we might expect John Tory to govern once he becomes mayor. Lorinc is likely on the right track given the olive branch he has extended to Olivia Chow, David Soknacki and Karen Stintz.

The Toronto Star wrote “what you need to know” after Monday’s election. 

Morgan Baskin was one of the better-known minor candidates for mayor. Now that the election is over she writes about what’s next for her and reveals the mental and physical strain of running for office. It’s a topic not nearly given enough thought.

In the Globe and Mail we get a break down of some of the economic reasons for the divide in Toronto’s vote on Monday. 

The Guardian in the U.K. writes that multiculturalism in Toronto is failing as it prepared to elect another white, upper-class male

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Ontario’s 2014 Municipal Election: The Next Morning

Coming up with a narrative that describes what happened in Ontario’s municipal election last night is probably a fruitless venture. Drawing commonalities between the 444 local governments that selected leadership last night is even more meaningless than developing a common narrative during federal elections.

On the one hand observers, including myself, could talk about a new era in politics, but that would ignore the overwhelming strength of incumbents in all local elections. That being said I think it is appropriate to think of this as a new era in Ontario. There are four new mayors in the province’s five largest cities: Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton, and Hamilton. There are also new mayors in Kitchener, Waterloo, London and Windsor. This alone will change the dynamic.

Toronto has elected John Tory as its chief magistrate. Many are hoping this brings an era of peace to municipal politics and progress on a number of policy areas (see transit) that have been languishing. However, most of Toronto’s City Council has been re-elected so aside from the mayor it is mostly the same cast of characters.

Brampton’s political class has been radically remade. Only five of the incumbents were returned to City Council, though two of the new councillors are sons of former political leaders. Linda Jeffrey takes over as mayor from Susan Fennell, but she was the representative for Brampton-Springdale at Queen’s Park for many years. It will be interesting to see how issues play out in Brampton in coming years with fresh leadership.

While I have yet to look into it at any depth I’ve heard that London might have been an interesting election where incumbents were tossed out in favour of a new class of progressive councillors. How will they change London to deal with its problems in the coming years?

While people wake up this morning and start to consider their new roles in our lives as public servants and how they will work together there are other considerations in place as well. At Queen’s Park Premier Kathleen Wynne has many new partners to develop relationships with and work with to solve the provinces problems. In the approaching federal election the parties will probably find candidates from those who made a good showing or councillors and mayors who won and are sympathetic to their causes.

Ultimately I hope that peace, order and good governance takes root in our municipalities, particularly in our largest cities. Congratulations to the winners and thanks to all those candidates brave enough to put their name forward.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Worth Reading – October 23, 2014

In the wake of yesterday’s events in Ottawa I would like to refrain from commenting extensively at this time. I would like to share Jonathan Kay’s article from the National Post about adapting without compromising our public space

Royson James from the Toronto Star tepidly throws his support behind Bonnie Crombie and John Sanderson in the upcoming municipal elections. 

From the New York Times, American political parties are very different animals from their peers elsewhere in the world. In this opinion piece the author argues that stronger political parties would reduce partisanship. 

Also from the New York Times, why are young people attracted to the frivolous start-up in Silicon Valley while engineering tech companies struggle to recruit? This article provides a lot of great insight to Silicon Valley and the current culture there.

Jon Lorinc writes about strategic voting, which has become a hot issue as the municipal elections come to a close. 

Ashley Csanady lays out what’s ahead at Queen’s Park. 

Tim Harper writes about which events could upset the dynamic leading to the federal election. 

Dammit Premier Wynne! The Liberal Ontario government has made it possible to raid the transit fund... 

The Toronto Star has been running a series called “10 Big Ideas” on how Toronto could be made a better place. In this piece, what if the provincial government took over transit from the City of Toronto. 

This is an old one, but Dan Gardner was referencing this piece so I gave it a look. Why a higher birth rate is good for the environment

In perhaps what will be the biggest technological change in decades – Skunk Works might be close to a fusion reactor

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Endorsements - Brampton 2014 Municipal Election

This is perhaps the most interesting set of municipal elections in Ontario in quite some time. On October 27th voters across the province will be electing their local officials. While the mayoralty race in Toronto has garnered the most attention there are contentious elections in Mississauga, Brampton, Hamilton, London and Sudbury. My hometown, Brampton, has a significant number of open seats as a large number of councillors retired this year as well the controversial mayor of Brampton faces serious challengers. Some people back home have asked for some help picking out candidates so here are my suggestions for Brampton’s elections. There are a huge number of candidates running so making an informed decision is challenging. I would appreciate any feedback and wish all the citizens of Brampton good luck in making their choices.

I did not do school board endorsements because finding information for those races is very challenging.


While Mayor Susan Fennell protests her innocence and threatens lawsuits to her critics it seems clear that her time and office will and should end. Even before the spending scandals began I was no fan of Mayor Fennell. Her leadership style and position on issues has been troubling for me. Brampton has severely lacked in leadership to manage the transformation from a sleepy suburb to an urban community. Leadership has been far too reactive and not enough proactive to meet challenges the city faces. Fennell faces two realistic opponents, current regional councillor John Sanderson and former Liberal MPP for Brampton-Springdale Linda Jeffrey. Polling suggests Jeffrey is in the lead. To be honest I am not entirely satisfied with either Sanderson or Jeffrey. Both candidates are still appealing to the auto-oriented development style that can no longer help Brampton. Both discuss highway and road expansion/widening. The Hurontario LRT is one of the most important issues to my mind and both are non-committal or critical of the current route.

Reading the platforms it seems to me that Jeffrey offers vague promises that rely to a large degree on action by the provincial government.  Sanderson offers greater detail within the scope of a municipal mandate and a far more detailed platform. Sanderson has been pushing for greater accountability in city hall and his experience as a member of council should serve him well as mayor of the city. For me, John Sanderson is the best choice for Brampton’s next mayor.

City Council

Looking at the candidates for city council was more difficult than I had hoped. Far from Brampton I had to rely on the information I could find online. Many candidates seem to have no internet presence at all and a brief description on a webpage of Facebook page is hardly enough to base an informed decision. Given that some of the following should be considered under the caveat of incomplete information.

Wards 1 & 5

City Councillor Grant Gibson and Regional Councillor Elaine Moore are seeking re-election. I’ve met with Elaine Moore and think she is deserving of another term. I am less familiar with Mr. Gibson, but none of his opponents seem credible enough for me to recommend unseating the current city councillor. Given how many new councillors there will be in the next Council it will be valuable to have a few experienced hands.

Wards 2 & 6

An open race for the city council seat will mean a competitive election. Reviewing the available websites I was intrigued by Mr. Sukhminder Singh Hansra. I think he has some misguided policies, like increasing policing, but he actually addresses issues like poverty and affordable housing, which is depressingly rare. His experience as a journalist and long-time resident of the city makes him a strong candidate in my opinion.

For regional councillor John Hutton is seeking re-election for regional councillor. Mandeep Jassal looks like an interesting challenger for the incumbent. Jassal’s platform indicates that he is an urban progressive with interesting policy ideas. His support for a city-wide bike network and expansion of transit services and fair representation for Brampton makes a compelling case.

Wards 3 & 4

Bob Callahan is retiring this year which has led to a wide range of candidates seeking to replace him. More challenging to voters in Wards 3 & 4 is that John Sanderson is running for mayor making an opening for regional councillor too. 

Looking at the candidates putting their names forward in 3 & 4 for City Council Michael Freeman stands out to me. Given his experience and platform I think he has a reasonable, thoughtful vision for my home community. While I am not in favour of his proposal, Freeman has a detailed plan for the Hurontario LRT and how it can form the basis for a stronger transit system. Outside of the big picture policies he also has nice planks on important local issues, like modernizing Peel Village Park. I recommend checking out his platform positions. In addition I would like to recommend looking at Jeff Bowman, a businessman, community volunteer and life-long Bramptonian. Freeman and Bowman share a great deal in common in their platforms. I like what Mr. Bowman has to say about affordable housing and he has a novel notion for a re-routed Hurontario LRT to the new hospital complex. I think the biggest highlight to me is Mr. Bowman's reference to Brampton's "unbridled growth" and the employment issues and affordability of this approach. Jeff Bowman is passionate about his community, that much is clear, and is worthy of consideration. 

For regional council I would cast my ballot for Kevin Montgomery. Kevin is passionate advocate for re-examining transportation and urban design practices in Brampton. He also has platform planks on a wide array of important topics such as poverty and mental health. I think he would be a valuable voice at city hall and regional council.

Wards 7 & 8

For city council in Wards 7 & 8 I would like to throw my support behind Veenay Sehdev. Veenay might be the candidate I am most familiar with in this election. Full disclosure, a friend connected us so I could offer some advice on his campaign. I found Veenay passionate, intelligent and bold. He is also young, which would be a valuable voice compared to our last city council.

There was insufficient information for choosing a candidate for regional council. The incumbent Gael Mills was the only one with a website that I found. That being the case I am uncomfortable endorsing anyone.

Wards 9 & 10

The city council race is pretty narrow in Wards 9 and 10 compared to the others. Vicky Dhillon is the incumbent and he is seeking re-election. Of the candidates available I would lean towards voting for Gurpreet Dhillon, who was the recent ONDP candidate for Brampton-Springdale. Unsurprisingly I am in favour of more progressive voices at city hall.

For regional council John Sprovieri is seeking re-election. I have a tough time picking an endorsement for this race. I would encourage voters in these wards look at Michelle Shaw or Gurratan Singh. I like what Mr. Singh has to say, but his platform is not fully fleshed out, on the other hand Ms. Shaw has more platform planks, but lacks in details.


Brampton, hopefully, has reached an inflection point. The old-style of doing things has come to an end and if the city is to make progress moving forward it means changes in leadership. Brampton can’t think of itself as a sleepy suburb, it is a city of over a half-million people. Evidence and case studies around the world show us that sprawling suburban development is not the way to build successful, healthy cities. Brampton will look very different fifty years from now, but it will take time and thoughtful politicians and citizens to get us there. Hopefully the next city council can lead this transformation for a better Brampton.

A full list of candidates in Brampton can be found here. Best of luck to the candidates who put their names forward.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Worth Reading - October 16, 2014

One of the big issues in any municipal election in North America is dealing with the issue of congestion. Michael Keenan makes the point that virtually all the promises the candidates make will not reduce congestion, only congestion pricing does that. 

Jon Lorinc writes about the role class and race has played in the Toronto municipal election. 

Most of the criticism you read about the suburbs comes from the political left, or a progressive criticism. Chuck Marohn of Strong Towns writes an example of the conservative critique of suburban development

From the Strong Towns blog, a guest writer talks about the importance of places versus non-places in determining the strength and vitality of a community. 

So-called “Gamergate” has caused a firestorm in the video game community as well as threats and intimidation for its major personalities in real life. This long article from Deadspin lays out the background of the story as well as its other socio-political comparisons like the Tea Party. 

The source of the “angry gamer” is up for debate. I really enjoy this take on how gamers (a term I generally dislike) perceive games criticism and video games

The Toronto Star has endorsed seven candidates for City Council. It’s a great list and I hope to put out some selections for Brampton’s elections on Tuesday.

Justin Trudeau’s (LPC – Papineau QC) management of the ISIS debate and Canadian intervention has hurt him politically

Mayor Hazel McCallion, the spirited and forceful mayor of Mississauga, is about to retire but in her interview with the Toronto Star suggests she has plans for the future. 

One last bit about video games, from The Atlantic the rise of the blockbuster video game and its negative impact on the medium

The Globe and Mail takes a look at the business dealings of Doug Ford and his “strengths” as a businessman. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Choosing to Die

The Supreme Court of Canada is hearing a case on euthanasia this week. The case was advanced on behalf of two British Columbia patients who are arguing for the right-to-die. Quebec’s National Assembly earlier in the year passed a law to allow doctor-assisted suicide after extensive study. Quebec now joins a growing rank of jurisdictions in North America that has approved of euthanasia

Euthanasia is a delicate subject. Those in favour make a compelling case. There are those who are suffering from terminal disease and wish to die with dignity sometimes do not have the means to end their own lives. One of the plaintiffs, Gloria Taylor, had ALS, which robs its victim’s the ability to move, could not end her own suffering and so required medical help.

As we continue to advance medical science and life expectancy continues to rise we must come to confront the reality that more and more of us will die in long, drawn out diseases. Perhaps more frighteningly, our minds may give out well before our medically-assisted bodies. 

The problem is compounded by simple issues, like the fact that suicide is legal. So it is perfectly lawful for an able-bodied young adult to die, but an infirmed, terminally ill one cannot with the assistance of a doctor.

There are social and cultural implications to this. Opponents of the right to die say that sick patients may be pressured, actively or passively, to end their lives early. Governments have campaigns launched to stem elder abuse, could hospital personnel really be able to tell if a patient wants to die willingly, or is thinking about the good the inheritance would do for his/her beneficiaries?

There is a question of life as well. If we validate that people can terminate their own lives and that others can assist them with it (when medically appropriate), what are we saying about the value of life itself? This isn’t merely a question of the religious perspective on humanity, but on the value we assign each human being. Are the sick a burden upon whom we wait to die? What if euthanasia becomes commonplace for certain illnesses? Will those who choose to die naturally face additional pressures? Will this curb valuable medical research?

I am a big fan of the television program House so whenever I use the phrase “die with dignity” I hear Dr. Gregory House yell (paraphrasing), “There is no dignity in death! There’s only dignity in life!” The truth is, of course, that doctors across the country quietly provide medically-assisted death. Once the patient is ready a little too much morphine eases their passing. It is not pleasant, but it is the truth. The truth is that we live in a society paralyzed by a fear of death and aging and sickness and yet a cavalier relationship with life. It is parliament and our elected leaders who should be deciding this issue, not the Supreme Court. Emmet Macfarlane writes about the case before the Supreme Court far better than I ever could, check it out here

I personally don’t know what the answer is. Doctors should be able to help their patients, even when that means they are beyond help. The rules should be strictly written and guidelines very clear for when it is and is not appropriate. Other jurisdictions have models Canadian provinces could use, and I need not lay out any details. Ideally, like something like abortion euthanasia should be available but exceedingly rare and unnecessary in an ideal world.

It should be in our great house, the House of Commons, where an issue like this, as painful as it is, should be decided and discussed. Sadly leadership has been lacking, but perhaps the Supreme Court will once again force our politicians’ hands.