Thursday, June 30, 2016

Worth Reading - June 30, 2016

Apologies for a short list this week, I haven't spent much time online this week. 

From Steve Paikin, why is John Tory standing by the Scarborough subway

Critics of the Scarborough subway say that for the cost of one subway the city could build 25 LRT stops

Also from TVO, Janice Stein writes on the Brexit vote

From Royson James, Torontonians are hesitant to embrace new taxes because City Council cannot be trusted to spend it properly

CBC reports that Clinton is widening her lead over Trump in the electoral college

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Book Review: The Big Shift by Darrel Bricker and John Ibbitson

In 2013 Bricker and Ibbitson published a book that argued that Canada was undergoing a fundamental shift (the eponymous "Big Shift") that will result in a total shift of Canadian politics, governance, economy and values. The authors come to the conclusion that the Conservative Party is best poised to take advantage of this changing landscape and will become the natural governing party of Canada.

How does adding a Toronto every 10 years change a country?
Shortly after the 2015 federal election Paul McLeod of Buzzfeed wrote a satirical, mocking review of Ibbitson and Bricker's thesis. For a time The Big Shift became an easy punch line, even though Ibbitson and Bricker laid out the exact path the Liberals (or NDP) would take to get back to power.

What is the big shift? The authors point to the incredible level of immigration to Canada as the driving factor. Every ten years the country adds another Toronto to its population. Over 250000 immigrants arrive in Canada each year, a number which is increasing over time, and over ten years that is 2.5 million new residents who alter everything from the food in our grocery stores, the languages in our neighbourhoods and faces in our schools.

Most of these immigrants come from Asia, particularly India, China and the Philippines. As a result Canada is increasingly orienting away from the Atlantic World to the Pacific World, which is likely for the best. While Europe has stagnated Asia has boomed. It is easy to imagine why the future of the country is closer aligned to the Pacific nations and not Atlantic ones.

The new immigrants have been overwhelmingly drawn to British Columbia, the Prairies and Ontario, which have also increasingly grown as the economic hubs of the country. As the population of the West continues to swell as will its political and social dominance in the country. Canada (roughly) uses representation by population. By 2040 Alberta's population will roughly be on par with Quebec, this will have a seismic shift in the balance of power in this country.

One of the key concepts of this book is the notion of the Laurentian Consensus and Elites. Laurentian refers to the class of elites found in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and to a lesser extent Vancouver. They formed the bureaucracy, high positions in politics, academia, and business. They represent Old Canada, in a sense. The Liberal Party, they write, best aligns with the Laurentian ideology. Laurentianism is statist, anti-military, pro-peacekeeping, pro-federalism, anti-American, is concentrated on accommodating Quebec and thinks Canada is a fragile country. Ibbitson and Bricker write convincingly why that this view is out of step with the New Canada that is developing.

I was conflicted reading sections of this book because I have spent a great deal of time in Laurentian circles, if not myself a Laurentian, but I also identify with the emerging New Canada they talk about. One of the phenomena they cite that I have also noticed is a shift towards a more confident, proud nationalism that is taking root. Humble hand-wringing Canadian nationalism increasingly seems a thing of the past. Canadians seem a prouder people more willing to wave the flag than in years past.

Obviously the big prediction of the book is that the Conservatives will become the natural governing party in the 21st century. Many have laughed this off after 2015, but I think they make an interesting case. Here's the basic argument: immigration is driving tremendous growth in Ontario's cities and suburbs and Western Canada and more and more the interests of Western Canada and Ontario are aligned in a new voting coalition. The new divide in Canada, they argue, is not between West and Centre, but along the Ottawa River between provinces that have embraced immigration and growth and those that have not. Atlantic Canada is small and marginal and economically backwards and Quebec may reach an economic and demographic crisis point if they do not change course soon.

So, is the Big Shift disproven? I'd say no. So far in the 21st century the Conservatives governed 9 of the 16 years. Despite their losses the Conservative Party remains very strong in Western Canada, Ontario and is even showing new strength in Quebec. They are almost at the same place today the NDP was in 2011 and we thought then that they could be the next government. The Trudeau Liberals will be lucky that if in four years time the Conservatives don't start moving back into the suburbs of Ontario.

Even still, it's hard not to say the demographic transformation in this country isn't still impacting our politics. The faces of the Liberal caucus today are quite different from the ones we would have seen 25 years ago. The challenge to all parties will be to adapt to the big shift as it occurs. The Conservatives under Stephen Harper learned the implications first and seemed to have forgotten them in the 2015 campaign when they attacked Muslim Canadians. Right now another element of Ibbitson and Bricker's prediction has come to pass, an alliance of Quebec and Ontario with Atlantic Canada, but Quebec and Ontario are not as suitable bedfellows as they once were and we will see if this coalition can hold.

The Big Shift is a clear, concise and fascinating glimpse into the political, economic and cultural transformations occurring in Canada. Those who summarily dismiss its conclusions do so at their peril. Changes are occurring, they may not manifest exactly as the authors predict but this is one of the few books out there talking about this watershed moment. I'd highly recommend this book to those interested in Canadian politics, society and culture.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Worth Reading - June 23, 2016

I love this piece from The Onion because it ties so closely to my own experience. Revealing Spring Attire Reminds Man He is Nothing More Than Weak, Hormonal Ogre

The provincial government has announced plans to expand Go train service from Toronto to Waterloo (with Brampton in the middle). 

Here's a piece from Jane Hilderman of Samara talking about the role of young voters

Ashley Csanady explores gun culture in the United States

Oftentimes positive changes in a community doesn't come from radical big projects, but making small experimental investments. I really like the pitch Andrew Price makes here. I'm sure when you read it you can think of how it could be used to improve your own city.

From TVO, when will drivers stop blaming pedestrians for collisions

Aaron Wherry takes a look at the electoral reform committee after it first meets. 

The Toronto Star editorial states that with increasing costs the city should kill the Scarborough subway

Dr. Maureen Lux, my former supervisor at Brock University, has released her book about the history health care for Aboriginal Canadians. 

The Bramptonist calls the decision to convert lands dedicated to employment to housing a scandal

A new video was released in the style of Canadian Heritage Minutes on the topic of residential schools.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Sixth Anniversary of the Orange Tory

Tomorrow marks the sixth anniversary of this blog. It has been a long, fun and at times difficult project. I cannot count the number of times I have stared a the screen and the blinking cursor and have no idea what I'm going to write about. Before I go forward I want to thank my regular readers for continuing to visit this blog. Over the last year I've heard more from your than previously. Thoughtful comments are always a tremendous boost. Sometimes blogging can feel like yelling into the void and its nice to know someone is listening, even if they disagree.

Readership of the blog peaked in July 2015. For reasons beyond my understanding readership suddenly surged that summer and then immediately declined. It has been climbing again since January but I have long learned that building a readership is not a linear process. My recent post, Small Business and the Suburbs, is now my fifth most read post, so who knows? I obviously do not write to get a bigger and bigger audience, I write about the things that interest me and hope others enjoy it as well.

I thought the book reviews were a good addition to the blog. Sadly as I look at my reading list there is not a lot that will go on to the blog with one exception. I am nearly done The Big Shift by John Ibbitson and Darrel Bricker and a review should appear later this month. If you are interested in non-political book reviews I am posting my books on Goodreads. I am trying to read 50 books in 2016. I am watching some political fiction and think a review for some of that will be forthcoming as well.

Over the next year there are a couple of stories I assume I will be writing about more often than not. First is the NDP and Conservative leadership races. The outcome of these contests will shape our national politics for at least the next three years and easily longer. As I have written both are off to slow starts but they are long affairs. I hope to do more writing about urban issues perhaps using Brampton as a case study since that is my current home and hometown. To the process and outcome of the electoral reform committee is close to my heart and I have been following closely (with much trepidation). Over the next five months the American people will be holding their elections. I don't pay as much attention to the United States as I once did but this will be an important campaign to watch for sure. Especially given all the immigration applications we might soon be receiving.

Ultimately this blog is about ideas. It's about expressing opinions and collecting thoughts in one place. When I started writing I thought of it almost as a way of getting my personal philosophy down on paper (so to speak). It has helped refine my ideas and try to stake out my own bizarre place on the political spectrum. It may have also permanently doomed any dream I might have for public office (or general employment). From feedback I have received I know people appreciate the "Orange Tory" approach on issues, progressive/liberal/socialist on some issues and libertarian/conservative on others and just as often simply moderate. Thanks again to readers, new and old. Please continue to comment or reach out on social media, I'm @SLee_OT on Twitter, and I hope this blog continues to be a project worth sharing in its sixth year.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Worth Reading - June 16, 2016

Switching even a few of your trips to bicycle can save you money and improve your health

Transit does not reflect the modern precarious economy that many marginally employed people experience, and this adds additional stressors to their lives. 

In Brampton controversy erupted over the development of a parcel of land. The land was initially intended for commercial/industrial development but was turned over to housing.

Urban pioneers are the first wave of settlers that help to revive depressed urban areas. Chuck Marohn of Strong Towns asks, where are the pioneers

Kady O'Malley of the Ottawa Citizen advises us to calm down about the Senate amending the assisted dying bill, that's their job. 

I've been waiting for this news story to pop up this year. Every year a school imposes an unfair dress code and gets a reaction from female students and their families. 

Premier Kathleen Wynne has shuffled her cabinet. It is very bloated, but now 40% women. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Next NDP Leader?

It has been two months since the NDP convention in Edmonton and so far the NDP leadership race is still a relatively quiet affair. So far the NDP leadership race is a long list of no's and one sort of.

It is not unusual for leadership races to start off slowly. The Conservatives who have known longer that they will be in a leadership race have only three candidates declared and many of the major potential candidates have declined to formally enter the race yet. But unlike the NDP the major candidates for the Conservatives have not ruled out running.

The obvious place to begin with a leadership race is the last leadership race, especially given that it was only four years ago that Tom Mulcair was selected to be the leader.

Brian Topp came second to Mulcair and since then has been busy helping provincial parties, first in British Columbia and then in Alberta. He currently works for Rachel Notley. He was asked shortly after the convention and expressed no interest in leaving his current position in Alberta's government.

Nathan Cullen became the instant favourite and frontrunner. He came third in the leadership race proposing electoral reform and an agreement with the Liberals to win the 2016 election. He also had an easy humour and charm that appealed to New Democrats. I was one of his supporters at the convention. Cullen announced that he would not seek the nomination due to family concerns and that he wanted to focus on electoral reform in the House of Commons. That's admirable, in my opinion.

Peggy Nash was eliminated on the third ballot in 2012. Along with Brian Topp she was seen as the left-wing approach and was strongly supported by union activists. Nash lost her Toronto seat in the Liberal wave, which is certainly an impediment to a run. Perhaps more so is the fact that Cheri DiNovo (ONDP - Parkdale-High Park) has tipped her hat that she may enter the race. DiNovo backed Nash in the last leadership contest and it is unlikely that both women would not have consulted each other before making such a move.

Paul Dewar has not ruled out considering a run, but on April 28th he told the press that he "is not considering" a run. Dewar, like Nash, lost his Ottawa Centre seat in the Liberal wave. He was a serious and conscientious politician for the NDP but without a seat and his tepid interest I think it is unlikely that he'll enter the fray.

Martin Singh was the outsider who ran to replace Jack Layton. He was able to garner about 4000 supporters on the first ballot and immediately withdrew and threw in with Tom Mulcair. Singh used his profile to run for a seat in Brampton North, but was handily defeated, finishing third. It's possible he will run again.

Niki Ashton seems the most likely of the 2012 leadership contestants to run again. She represents a seat in Northern Manitoba and managed to hold on to her seat in the 2015 election. I'll do the foolish thing and predict that if she does enter she likely will not be the ultimate winner. In the 2012 race Ashton was a stiff, awkward performer. Watching her approach in the House I have a hard time imagining she has much improved on that front. Her pitch for the youth vote went nowhere.

Romeo Saganash was in the leadership race but withdrew from the convention. I was initially a supporter of his. However during the last session he had an incident on an airplane related to alcohol and admitted an addiction issue. Sadly I think that might preclude him from running again. Robert Chisholm withdrew from the race due to a lack of support and his insufficient ability in French.

Pretty dismal. So what about others?  

Peter Julian (NDP - New Westminster-Burnaby, BC) has not ruled out a run (as far as I can tell). He has been on the NDPs front bench for many years and is a prominent critic on important files. With Cullen out of the race that leaves British Columbia wide open.

Alexandre Boulerice (NDP - Rosemont-La Petitie-Patrie, QC) is Quebec's Peter Julian. He was elected in the Orange Wave and maintained his seat. He was an outspoken critic of the last government and passionate. He might be the only candidate to come out of Quebec for the leadership race, which is certainly an asset.

Jagmeet Singh (ONDP - Bramalea-Gore-Malton) was elevated to deputy leader in Ontario to prevent him running federally, or so the rumour goes. Perhaps the opportunity to give the big job a shot will be too much to resist. He is young and has a passionate following in Ontario, and certainly could pull voters away from Trudeau on that front.

I've already gone on a while but I just wish to conclude with what I want to see in the leadership race. I think the NDP needs to do a better job walking the talk when it comes to representing all Canadians. The current caucus is very white.  I want the leadership race to better represent the diversity of this country and perhaps select a leader who represents the New Canada, as it is sometimes called, that the NDP claims to speak for. One person I would love to see get into the race is Desmond Cole, he is an activist, commentator and writer in Toronto, but unlikely to enter the race. Laurin Liu was a Quebec NDP MP from 2011-2015, she was a passionate advocate and fluent in French, English and Cantonese. She's very young, but perhaps we should consider how much that matters at present. Jenny Kwan is a new MP from Vancouver, but has a long history in British Columbia. She has experience and might bring something fresh to the race. I'd also like to see Indigenous Canadians represented in the race, but no candidate comes to mind.

That by no means is an exhaustive list. I just wanted to propose some names because I am sometimes frustrated how many people seem to want to back the children of politicians in the NDP. Niki Ashton is the daughter of a NDP politician, Bill Blaikie's daughter became party president and his son is a MP, people are looking at Mike Layton to run and follow in his father's footsteps and Avi Lewis (of the Leap Manifesto) gets a lot of heft because his father is Stephen Lewis. I want fresh blood and new ideas, not a social club for leftists. Hopefully we some movement in the race in the next couple of months, otherwise the leadership may be the prize no one wants. 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Worth Reading - June 9, 2016

Related to my posts from the last two weeks, from Strong Towns how narrow streets let cities do more with less

Over 3.5 million people are expected to move to the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area. The Toronto Star reports that Ontario is ill-prepared to address the escalating costs to deal with the growth

The saga of the Scarborough subway continues and it is draining Toronto's coffers

Here's Andrew Coyne on the changes to the electoral reform committee

From the Globe and Mail, a profile of Brampton and its increasingly South Asian and minority in character and the negative connotation growing around that. 

As the Democratic Presidential Primary winds down there are those who are so committed to Sanders that they will not vote for Clinton to defeat Trump

Ian MacDonald writes on the state of the NDP leadership race

Cheri DiNovo (ONDP - Parkdale-High Park) is the first to toss her hat into the NDP leadership ring... sort of. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

What Works for Small Businesses? Strip Malls, Big Box, Corridors and Districts

Last week I wrote a post about starting a business in a suburban location. I received some feedback in person and from a commenter and I wanted to address some of that.

First, here is the comment from Mr. Milne:

I'm no expert, but maybe the willingness of suburbanites to drive to a particular place might have an impact on its viability? In my suburban hometown of St. Albert in Alberta, many of our businesses are concentrated along the main highway that runs through the city on its way into and out of Edmonton, or on roads that branch off it. While driving everywhere to shop isn't always ideal, sometimes it's necessary if you have something that's too big or unwieldy to carry on foot or on a bicycle. 
As for downtowns, Edmonton has its Whyte Avenue. However, I very rarely go down there because parking is such a pain in the ass, and traffic is so heavy. At the St. Albert strip malls, I find that I usually have more choice about which exit to use when I get back on the road. 
Just some thoughts from a suburbanite.

So, I followed up on his feedback. I've never been to St. Albert, Alberta, but with the power of Google Streetview I took a look.

This is Highway 2 in St. Albert. If I am not mistaken it is the road Mr. Milne was referring to. From the highway interchange to the middle of St. Albert the highway is mostly lined with commercial businesses. While the form is the strip mall that I talked about in the initial piece the city planners have clearly designated Highway 2 as a commercial corridor. A commercial corridor is a street that is overwhelming dedicated to retail, entertainment and other services. This has a certain beneficial effect. In essence a long, thin district is created that residents know can serve their needs. It is not dissimilar to the main drag of a downtown where the most prominent businesses are placed. A certain economy of scale kicks in because people looking to do shopping will be drawn to Highway 2. This concentrates customers and gives the businesses a larger pool of clients to work with.

However, many of my criticisms of strip mall development stand. I presume the speed limit on Highway 2 to be around 60 km/h. Even using Google Streetview I find it difficult to identify the businesses tucked beyond the parking lot, especially because other buildings at times obscure them. I also note that while there are a few independent businesses that the vast majority in this strip mall are chains/franchises.

My hometown of Brampton has a couple of commercial corridors, but they are not consistent and tend to be interrupted by residential areas or parks so that their corridor nature is impeded. The two strongest examples though are Queen Street and Kennedy Road. Below is Kennedy Road:

Kennedy Road between Steeles Avenue and Queen Street is dotted with commercial development. What makes it interesting to me though is that the vast majority of businesses are independent, small businesses. Follow the Streetview map north from where it began. You'll notice very few chains. You may also notice that the vast majority are owned or cater to the South Asian or West Indian communities. The parking lots are narrower on Kennedy Road so the businesses are closer to the street to it is easier to see what's inside. The units seem quite small and densely packed, particularly if you look at a complex at Kennedy and Clarencewhich is 2-3 stories.  Ironically what makes Kennedy Road work for small businesses is that it is undesirable. Kennedy is beside an industrial area, you may have noticed the warehouses, and is considered a less affluent part of the city overall.

As opposed to corridors there are shopping complexes. They are islands of commercial activity, usually along a highway. Here is one on Bovaird in Brampton near Mount Pleasant.

Not exactly easy to see what's inside without entering, is it? There is a slightly better building slightly to the east that's closer to the street and contains a number of independent businesses. However, these big box developments cater to large, well-established chains that work best when you know what a McDonald's or a Fortino's already is.  

I think when people read my criticisms about suburban life they think I mean we should all live in Toronto, that I am just one more millennial that wants to live in the big city and resents my dull suburban upbringing. That is not at all the cases. Sometimes I think the best urban environments I have been in are in small and mid-sized cities. In cities like this it is achievable to enjoy an urban environment with much reduced traffic and issues parking if you need to drive. Let's look at a city I know very well, St. Catharines.

This is St. Paul Street in St. Catharines, the main street of its downtown. The majority of businesses in the area are independent. Given that St. Catharines is a college town a good number of them are bars and restaurants, but that is not unusual for a downtown. If you look elsewhere you will find on King Street more service-oriented businesses, such as law firms and banks. Businesses are clearly visible from the street, the area is well served by public transit and pedestrians and cyclists have an easy time moving around. While it is a quiet time of day and year, you see many more people walking around Downtown St. Catharines than in either of the corridors or the complex above.

I am sure a planner or business expert could better explain the process but it seems to me that commercial districts (like a downtown) and to a lesser extent commercial corridors offer small businesses opportunity that isolated strip malls outside of corridors or large complexes do not. Buildings in a downtown tend to be flexible and can serve multiple purposes. They can have rental housing in them to help keep costs down and build up the local consumer market. Districts can cater to niche interests because they are gathering together a large group of people and not asking people to come to them. Close proximity to the street gives them free advertising that is missed if cars are whipping by at 60-80 km/h. If the drive is your primary concern it should be noted that wide avenues draw traffic and one has to drive from store to store, while in a denser setting it is reasonable to park centrally and walk between stops. When was the last time you walked store to store at a big box complex? Not to mention trying to make a left turn out of a strip mall onto a busy avenue is a personal nightmare for me. Putting aside any ideology or preferences just look at the numbers. Where are there more independent businesses? What message is that sending us, and then one should consider why it is occurring.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Worth Reading - June 2, 2016

At the Liberal convention they adopted a new constitution. Critics say that it concentrates power at the top, but it was overwhelmingly accepted

Tim Harper writes about the Liberal convention saying that the Liberal Party has now firmly become the Trudeau Party

At their convention the Conservatives examined why they lost the 2015 election

Sean Marshall writes about Brampton and the Etobicoke Creek

The New York Times has an article about gentrification and its impact on Harlem

I'm a great fan of Strong Towns. Recently the put out a list of their favourite Twitter accounts. You may wish to check it out.