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.