2019 Federal Election – Week 5: Strategic Voting

It should come as no surprise in an election where the parties have refused to engage on the actual issues that they are all now asking for your strategic vote against someone else rather than making their own case for support.

Strategic voting is really hard to do in Canada. When you cast a strategic vote, you usually base it on national polling numbers that have little to do with the reality on the ground in your own riding. You’re also betting you have a good handle on the voting intentions of the 100,000 or so other voters in your community. And you’re assuming that everyone else trying to vote strategically won’t create a wave that ends up going in a much different direction than anyone planned.

There are many good-faith arguments for strategic voting, but most of what you see online is being spun by political operatives and partisan supporters with little regard for truth or good intentions. Their goal is simply to elect their candidate, leader, and party – at all costs.

Blue Door vs. Red Door

In 2011, Michael Ignatieff kicked off his election pitch to voters by saying they only had two choices – a blue door or a red door. He argued that the only parties likely to form government were the Conservatives under Stephen Harper, or the Liberals under Michael Ignatieff. But what politicos forget (despite the province of Quebec proving it every single election) is that you can’t tell a voter what their options are. They will show you at the ballot box just how wrong you are. And in 2011 (led by Quebec), they did.

Partisans from both NDP and Liberal circles use the 2011 election, and the 2018 Ontario Election that resulted in ‘Premier’ Ford, as examples of strategic voting gone wrong as a result of partisan selfishness. NDP supporters tend to argue that in both cases we could have had a progressive government if Liberals had just fallen in line and voted NDP. Liberal supporters point out that in both cases not a single NDP member was elected by taking over a previously conservative seat.

Both parties have made the ‘lend me your vote’ argument and both have been angered when many voters refuse to switch after this ask has been made. The request ignores the fact that the biggest partisans are unlikely to ever switch (and that’s the case in both parties) and that many supporters of both parties do not necessarily swing the same way during close elections. There are many in both parties who actually switch to conservatives when presented with the likely election of a candidate from the opposing ‘progressive’ party.

Failed Democratic Reform

One big thing being talked about in all this progressive infighting is the failure of the Trudeau Liberals to introduce electoral reform after stating that the 2015 election would be the last conducted under First-Past-the-Post. I’ve never been a fan of proportional representation, which many of the activists wanted, because I believe local representation matters and list-based election of a politician is unlikely to hold them to account.

One argument trotted out in favour of PR is that it improves voter turnout. Countries like New Zealand and Germany are cited against Canada as having higher turnout. But turnout in these countries in more recent elections versus those of decades past show that turnout is actually down around the world, and, actually declining faster in PR-based countries.

My own view is that the combative nature of our politics and growing disinterest or disillusionment in our electorate is why people are not rushing to the polls anywhere around the world. And the solution may not require a constitutional answer – it may be possible to address these problems with a simple design change to the ballot.

Approval voting – a system where you mark an X or check mark next to any candidate you approve of and leave blank the box next to any candidate you don’t approve of – encourages campaigns to try to attract more voters from other sides. It also has the benefit of being simple to tally (the candidate with the most votes wins) and provides clear understanding to voters of how the vote they cast helped reach the final result.

Most candidates who win under this model are supported by a majority of local voters and yet the campaign often remains competitive and not a forgone conclusion, two elements voters routinely say they wish were present in more elections. You still have the power to hire and fire your local representative and you don’t need to open up the constitution to put it in place.

We should continue to have a conversation about democratic reform after this election, however my advice to any government pursuing it is that they first ask a clear question about whether Canadians want reform and then ask a clear question on what that reform should look like. I think there is greater appetite for reform than we saw in votes taken in some provinces but the failure to separate the question of reform from the question of what kind of reform undermined those debates.

How to Vote

Given we have the voting system we have right now, it’s fairly useless to talk about how great it would be if we had a different one right now. Voters have to make a choice in the system that we have right now.

I won’t tell anyone who to vote for. Ultimately it’s up to each of us to weigh our options and make our decision based on what choice we think has the best shot of creating the Canada we want to live in. In 2018, I voted for my local Liberal candidate because I knew her, was deeply impressed by her, and thought she would do a great job. I thought she might be one of only a handful of Liberals to win in that election. And given my riding votes overwhelmingly Liberal, she was also my best shot at preventing a conservative being elected as my new MPP. In the end the vote did split but the NDP won. I can live with that.

I wasn’t always so sure who I might vote for in this federal election. I had worked on the housing file in Ontario and was unimpressed with the federal Liberal response on that file and the health care file for a long time (they ended up stepping up on the former). I thought the government was too centrist for my liking and that it was taking an incrementalist approach to nearly every crucial issue facing our country.

But given how close this election is, and given the type of person Andrew Scheer has proven himself to be, I was also reminded of the day I spent in 2016 in front of Constitution Hall in Philadelphia while the roll call of Hillary Clinton’s nomination was broadcast live from the lawn.

As they called out numbers state by state, a Bernie Sanders supporter walked up and down the street shouting that she would now vote for Donald Trump in the general election. Others ended up joining her at the polls while still others, who couldn’t stomach another Clinton, chose a third-party candidate on Election Day.

No matter what, my overarching values are more important to me than the specifics of how to reach them or the party that will deliver on them. It’s why I decided I couldn’t be a Jill Stein type of voter and needed to really weigh the best option in my riding and across the country for a more progressive Canada.

That’s the choice facing all progressive voters and it will lead to different conclusions in ridings throughout Canada. So as you’re making your own choice, tune out the partisan voices, learn about the party platforms, take a look at past results in your riding, and check out any available information you have about how things might turn out locally. Some progressives are furiously checking sites like http://338canada.com/ and https://votewell.ca/ to help inform their choice.

Just remember, no matter how you vote, cast your ballot in a way that you can feel good about your choice no matter what the outcome ends up being. Four years is a long time to live with regret.

2019 Federal Election – Week 4: Political Tribalism

Earlier this year I painted all but one room of my apartment over five or so days. It seemed to go by in an instant because I listened to some podcasts and some audiobooks.

One of those podcasts made a sociological argument that human beings are conditioned to be unable to cooperate in groups larger than 50 or so people. The reason being that in hunter-gatherer times, that was more or less the maximum amount of people that could work together and be fed by the fruits of the collective at a given time. The argument went on further to say that we’ve never grown out of this ‘tribal’ mindset and that our modern-day squabbles on twitter and elsewhere reflect this hardwiring.

Whether this is true or not, I think all of us watching this election certainly feel like it could be. The polls are so frozen that journalists are frantically tweeting slight changes in numbers as if they aren’t still within the margin of error (and therefore no real indication of anything).

Meanwhile, partisans from all parties continue dunking on each other and each other’s leaders as if any of the insults they trade are giving Canadians reason to vote for them. We’ve long been warned about what would happen when the social media generation ran for office. The result is a campaign driven entirely by dueling war-rooms whose only goal is to suppress the other side’s votes. Prospective first-time voters have little reason to show up and mark an X.

So, how did we get here?

When the Loudest Voice Wins

The first audiobook I played during the week I spent painting was Political Tribes by Amy Chua. The most striking part of the book focused on why the Americans lost the Vietnam war so badly despite having some of the ‘smartest brains in America’ making decisions about the war effort.

Chua maintained that despite their individual and collective brilliance, none of them understood the tribal loyalties in place on the ground. They presumed the people they were supposedly liberating would cheer their arrival. They were simply wrong.

But how do groups become so uniform in the first place? The simple answer is that once in-group values are set, they are very hard to break. And that’s because the loudest voices keep anyone wavering in line. In my time in politics I’ve seen this first hand but it is not exclusive to political parties.

Within the political discussion about our energy future, the oil and gas sector has been very good at sticking to the theme that expansion is the only answer and any attempt to diversify or plan for the day when the market dries up is strictly prohibited. None of those arguments are about the workers, they are about the CEOs and shareholders.

The workers themselves aren’t so much attached to their sector as they are to getting a cheque that allows them to put food on the table. But in order to keep putting that food on the table for the time being, they fall into line by not biting the hand that is currently feeding them. It’s a reasonable response to a tough situation. And they aren’t alone in being boxed in by their tribe.

Last week I attended the Catholic Vote Debate in Toronto that was broadcast across Canada. Here again is a group that is kept in line by its loudest voices. I grew up in a social-justice parish and know countless Catholics who recognize if Jesus was a voter in this election his top issue would not be abortion.

And yet in the crowd of 1200, a few loud voices pretended the Conservatives would reopen the abortion debate simply because Garnett Genuis, MP for Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan, said Andrew Scheer would allow MPs to bring Private Member’s Bills to the floor of Parliament.

What he wouldn’t tell them was that, for the vote to move forward, the government of the day (regardless of party) would have to send it to committee. Scheer has committed to not doing so. Whether the commitment is real or not, Genuis knew how to pander to the group – by going through the loudest voices in the room.

His strategy was amplified by the poor moderating job done by Don Newman who proclaimed, as the neutral moderator, that the voting decisions of those in the room would be exclusively decided by the topic of abortion.

The same loud voices that both men amplified booed a candidate for making an Indigenous land acknowledgement, hissed at the far-right being called out, laughed at any mention of climate change, and (like toddlers) used flashing lights and loud coughing to disrupt Liberal, NDP, and Green candidates while they spoke.

These voices didn’t speak for all in the room but they did egg each other on to ignore the values they supposedly hold, namely the Golden Rule. When groups close ranks like this, there is no room for free-thought or debate. The only action left is to follow the mob. And that’s what we’re seeing across our political system as a whole.

Going Against the Grain

The last audiobook I listened to while painting was The Last Campaign by Thurston Clarke about Bobby Kennedy’s 82 day campaign for the presidency before his assassination. Read side by side with Chua’s book, it provided interesting insight into what happens when the most famous member of a political tribe sets out firmly against the tribe’s popular expression of its own identity.

Throughout his campaign, Kennedy challenged sacred cows and disappointed Democrats who assumed he’d share their biases. When he visited college campuses he would tell the (largely white) students they should not be receiving education-based deferments from the Vietnam War just because they could afford college unlike their poorer (largely of colour) fellow citizens. He toured Republican strongholds like South Dakota when other Democrats wouldn’t bother and visited the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation instead of hobnobbing with local democrats ahead of a primary.

We seldom see this in modern politics. Mostly we see more of the same tribalism that demands supporters defend their leaders even when they know they are wrong. Sometimes people take this so far that they won’t call out racism, sexism, or homophobia and other transgressions in their own ranks. When a rabid response is the norm, few are willing to stick their necks out for fear of damaging the brand and, more importantly, of being cast out of the group. But our system is stronger when more people do.

You only have to look at the Republican Party in America right now to see what putting party before people looks like in practice. It isn’t pretty and we aren’t as far off as we’d like to hope.

In his Capetown address (much better known for a different line), Bobby Kennedy provided some important advice for all of us during these tribal times:

Few men are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change the world which yields most painfully to change.  – Bobby Kennedy, 1966

What to Do Now

The times we live in seem incredibly bleak and are reflected by a common saying in politics that voting is about choosing the best of bad options. Absent a debate on some truly big ideas, it certainly feels that way.

But voting in this campaign, as always, is an act of hope with an outcome that has yet to be written. In contrast, we already know the outcome of not voting: more of the same. As Bobby Kennedy went on to say in the same speech:

Few will have the greatness to bend history; but each of us can work to change a small portion of the events, and in the total of all these acts will be written the history of this generation.

Drawing change from this election will be painful. But it is crucial for our future that we try. And the only way to do that is to vote.

2019 Federal Election – Week 3: Changing Climate

Thanks to global climate strikes around the world and here in Canada, week three of the federal election campaign was all about the environment and solving climate change. At least for voters.

Thousands joined together to form what might be the largest protest rallies we’ve seen in Canadian streets in decades. All week, it really felt like we’ve finally hit the tipping point where older generations are finally accepting that something is happening and young people are tiring of inaction from government and business when it comes to their future.

Most of the party leaders joined in and made promises throughout the week about how they were going to respond to this moment in a serious way. The Liberals said they’d work to get to net-zero emissions by 2050. The NDP said they’d cut emissions 37% between now and 2030. And the Greens went even further by saying they’d cut emissions by 60% by 2030.

The Conservatives, like their leader at the climate strikes, are missing in action. Their plan ignores Canada’s existing commitments to the rest of the world and sets no new targets in their place.

It’s hard for the voters who stormed Canadian streets in protest to feel much hope in any of these plans.

The Greens have the loftiest goals but failed in every category of responsible fiscal management set by the former Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page. Their plans simply aren’t worth the recycled paper they’re written on.

The NDP plan for a 37% reduction in emissions by 2030 begins from a 2017 baseline, even though the commitments Canada made under the recent Paris Agreement require us to reduce emissions by 30% from 1990-levels by 2030Giving ourselves a 27-year handicap in our own grading just isn’t good enough.

The Liberals have a great track record on committing to environmental agreements but a mixed record on delivering. Kyoto was signed and ignored (then cancelled by Stephen Harper) while Copenhagen was signed by Stephen Harper (and ignored by the Liberals). The Liberals then signed on to the Paris Agreement and a commitment to reduce emissions to 80% below 2005-levels by 2050. Now they want to get to net-zero by the same year. But commitments are easier made than delivered on.

Andrew Scheer has spent much of the campaign recycling old ideas from Harper’s losing 2015 election platform but has somehow failed to latch on to the words his mentor once used to describe climate change when he called it “perhaps the biggest threat to confront the future of humanity today.” Scheer’s plan would see big corporations offset their pollution addiction by investing in green technology rather than, say, actually reducing pollution. Don’t be fooled, this is no longer the party of Brian Mulroney.

Canadians will end up paying for this lack of ambition one way or another: either through our wallets or with our lives. Either way, we all lose.

Turning in Harper’s Homework

Beyond climate change, the other big trend this week was Andrew’s Scheer’s continued inability to present any new ideas in this campaign. The parties and the media love to suggest that we see more or less the same platforms each election year. But this is rarely actually the case. Sure, progressives will endlessly promise childcare but the specifics usually change from one four-year cycle to the next. And sure, the conservatives will always promise tax cuts that have a tendency to skew to the already well-off, but the specifics often differ here, too.

Not so with Andrew Scheer. So far he has campaigned to bring back the following Harper policies:

  • A tax credit for transit pass users
  • A tax credit for parents with kids enrolled in sports
  • A tax credit for parents with kids enrolled in arts programming
  • Removing the GST (this time on heating instead of percentage points)
  • Re-opening an Office of Religious Freedom
  • Removing stress tests on mortgages
  • Increasing insured mortgages to 30 years

And those are just the ones that have been in the news. It’s clear from the last week that Scheer’s conservatives are only willing to offer a return to the Harper years that Canadians soundly rejected four years ago. The only difference might be that Scheer wants to do even less to address the climate crisis.

2019 Federal Election – Week 2: Our Racist Country

I have been trying to figure out what to write since Time posted that now famous article about Justin Trudeau.

It was a week that, by Monday, had already seen The Globe and Mail platform Ezra Levant, the Leaders’ Debate Commission give Maxime Bernier a spot on its stage, and the Conservative Party of Canada use white supremacist Faith Goldy as a co-signer on a campaign attack.

By Tuesday CTV ran an article about an NDP supporter not wanting to vote for Canada’s first national racialized Leader Jagmeet Singh because of his ‘hat’. And by early Wednesday evening, Canadians were getting their first glimpses of their Prime Minister in brownface. An image of him in blackface followed by a video of him in blackface would shortly follow. Before the weekend had even started, Elizabeth May admitted one of her candidates also had put on blackface in the past.

The campaign about nothing suddenly became a campaign that questions the self-constructed Canadian identity so many of us hold dear of a nation of inclusive, diverse people who are a beacon to the world. That Canada never existed anywhere but our minds, and certainly not in our politics or our communities.

The Fallout

The fallout has been different for everyone. In the Liberal circles I spend so much time in, the feeling is mixed. Some can no longer support the leader but want to continue to fight for the progress they helped deliver.

Others are disappointed but quick to point out the threat of a Conservative alternative led by Andrew Scheer who is staffed by former Rebel employees and supported by too many white supremacists for comfort. They’ve talked about the government actions taken by Trudeau and point to how that, plus his sincere apology and general lack of discriminatory intent, outweigh his racist actions.

After all, Scheer is said to have told Indigenous people in his own community that he doesn’t need their ‘Indian votes’. And we already know what he thinks of a woman’s right to choose and the supposed canine-likeness of same-sex marriage.

Partisans outside that Liberal bubble have a different take. The Conservatives have ignored calls for Scheer to apologize, turf his campaign team, and clean up his candidate sign-off process while suddenly growing a desire to call out racism everywhere but within their own ranks.

The NDP and Greens have pointed out there are more than two options on the ballot. But this too has its complications after some NDP organizers have spent months trying to undermine Jagmeet Singh because of his race and Elizabeth May made repeated calls to dump those involved in SNC Lavalin’s corruption and fraud charges into Indigenous communities to carry out ‘community service’.

The almost entirely white press pools traveling with each of the leaders have done little to investigate how this supposedly sudden wave of white supremacy and racism sprung up, choosing instead to focus on whether any of the leaders will pay a price at the polls. For political journalists, the horse race must always come first. Big societal questions that form the core of who we are as a nation can continue to take a back seat.

Lost in all of this are the only people who should really matter in any of it – the people of colour who Justin Trudeau decided to play-act as (at least) three times, who Andrew Scheer refuses to defend against his own campaign team and candidates, who Elizabeth May condescendingly talks about as a charity case, who Maxime Bernier vilifies on a near-daily basis, and who the rest of the electorate cherry-picks responses from to justify their own opinions on this entire mess.

People of colour are not a monolith. Differences in opinion, experience, and day-to-day reality exist like they do for anyone. And knowing one person of colour or multiple people of colour who share an opinion about all of this does not give anyone license to speak on their behalf or put forward ‘my black/brown’ friend arguments.

To Vote or Not to Vote

What decision to arrive at in this election, like every election, is each voter’s alone to determine. People who live with daily microaggressions do not need to be told which party is more or less racist and therefore who they should support. Every political party in Canada has had racist policies, racist histories, racist leaders, and racist members. What so few of them actually contain are clear ideas about how to decrease the systemic racism within them and clear platform policies to do the same Canada-wide.

Canada is a country formed out of the original sin of genocide. It is a country that coined the term ‘final solution’ before the Nazis ever made such dark use of it. It is a country that stole children from their families for decades and tried to destroy the very heart of their people until it no longer beat inside them. It is a country whose national anthem was written by a minstrel performer. It is a country that sterilized Indigenous women by force well after wrapping itself in a new flag and official multiculturalism. It is our country and it is racist because too often… so are we.

The non-stop revelations of racism, sexism, and homophobia in this campaign are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to our shared past. But these revelations are not a reason to stay at home on Election Day. We may not be better than the version of ourselves we have been forced to come to terms with in the last week. But on October 21 we have a chance to start acting like we could be.

2019 Federal Election – Week 1

This is the first time in over a decade that I will not be spending all my time in a campaign office during an election that’s taking place where I live.

When you’re working on a local campaign in support of a potential member of parliament, you pay little attention to the province-wide or national race. When you’re embedded in campaign Headquarters (depending on your role), you feel every little news item and soundbite reverberate through the office.

Now I fall somewhere in between – aware of what the top news of the day has been, but not all the other smaller items that didn’t pique the media’s interest. Essentially, I’ve become an interested everyday voter.

And for people like me, and those paying even less attention, week one of this federal election has been a disaster. With a fixed election date this campaign has been revving up for well over a year. And now that it’s here, we’re already one week down and not any closer to knowing what Canada could look like after October 21.

It’s All Sausage to Journalists

When an election takes place in Australia, voters often leave the polling station with a sausage or piece of cake in hand. So-called ‘Democracy Sausage’ selfies fill twitter on election day as voters stop by the polling station and then the sausage stall outside after they exercise their mandatory vote.

It’s become so ingrained in Australia political culture that the last national election saw the creation of a website to track stall locations for voters to visit. Why do Australians do this? I’m not sure even they know beyond simple tradition. But it’s a mix of sausage and politics I can fully get behind.

The kind I’m not as interested in is the kind I saw from journalists across the country all week – story after story about campaign process issues that don’t matter one bit to Canadian voters. There’s an old saying about politics that like sausages, no one wants to see how laws are made. The same is true about how a campaign is being run when the future of the country is at stake.

And yet coverage of the first week of the campaign focused on a light scrape between the Liberal plane and a media bus, the fact that Jagmeet Singh’s communications team sent out a media-copy of a speech he gave with staging notes still included, and that Andrew Scheer’s tour team chose a venue for an event where Doug Ford once posed for a photo with Faith Goldy.

Literally none of this matters to anyone beyond campaign teams looking to pump themselves up for the campaign at the expense of their opponents and the media who love process stories and then wonder why voters are so turned off by elections, political parties, and the media.

Rob Benzie from the Toronto Star smartly quoted Susan Delacourt in summarizing this entire approach by the press:

The one journalist who has been on top of everything in the first week is the CBC’s Katie Simpson who has doggedly pursued candidates who have done or said problematic things in the past and have yet to own up to them or demonstrate the kind of real growth that most Canadians want to see. One of those candidates was Andrew Scheer himself.

There is still plenty of time for journalists to dive further into whether candidates really represent the views of the people whose votes they’re vying for and what kind of Canada each of the parties hope to build. In week one they were largely spoon-fed the former from campaign war room teams and barely touched on the latter.

A Campaign About Nothing

While the journalists have been disappointing, the campaign teams have provided even less hope that this campaign might actually reflect the concerns of Canadians by October 21.

The party who had the best week was the NDP. Jagmeet impressed many in the corporate media leaders’ debate, there were no major gaffes (stage direction notes don’t count), and some of their policies actually broke through in the news.

Of course, their week was made better by the absolute disaster that was the Green’s first week. After being puffed up by journalists and pollsters ahead of the campaign launch, they spent the first week defending candidates who didn’t merit a defense, Elizabeth May failed to grasp the basic details of the sovereignty movement in Quebec, and it became very clear to many progressives that a commitment to the environment doesn’t always come with a commitment to social liberalism. Many people thought the first week might end with voters wondering whether women’s healthcare would be under threat under Andrew Scheer. What they didn’t have on their bingo sheets was the possibility of the same reality under Elizabeth May.

Andrew Scheer also had a terrible week as his only policy that got any coverage was his tax cut that gives a small amount back to lower-income voters while also rewarding millionaires with tax breaks they don’t need. But even that announcement was marred by his inability to apologize for his past comments comparing same-sex marriage to the tail of a dog and refusing to kick out racists, homophobes, and misogynists from his slate of candidates in this election.

Fueling most of the controversy Scheer faced was the talented Liberal War Room team. But with Trudeau (rightly) skipping the corporate media debate and little new to say on policy so far, the Liberal team didn’t offer enough to voters to get them into a polling station to re-elect their government.

In 2015, a mix of nostalgia and hope (and some hard work) propelled Trudeau and his team into office. Some of that is still there for die-hards but swing voters, especially the ‘what have you done for me lately’ type that decide elections from their communities in the 905, have very little to latch on to so far. A lot of the Trudeau record is strong (child poverty numbers as just one example) – but voters who feel like they’re just scraping by won’t coast on the fumes of ‘what’s just been’. I’m not convinced tweaks around the margins of existing policies (first-time home-buyer incentive) will do the trick.

The Bottom Line

When you look at each of these campaigns all together, it’s clear that so far this election is about absolutely nothing. And unless something changes, the polling stations will be just as empty on Election Day.

50 Meals to Fight Back Against Ford

Today I made a donation to the Daily Bread Food Bank. And I’ll tell you why.

When I first got involved in politics, I thought political service should go hand-in-hand with community service. While a lot of good can come from government, you don’t have to be in government to make a real difference in people’s lives.

So we raised money for the Daily Bread Food Bank. Their headquarters was in the same community as our young Liberal club and it felt right to fight not just for our Liberal ideals but to deliver on them by giving back to our community.

Eventually I got more involved in politics and had the privilege of working on Ontario’s Poverty Reduction Strategy. I finished undergrad just as the Great Recession began. It was in response to that downturn that the Strategy was created.

When times get tough, the first and worst impacted are those who are already don’t have much. People with disabilities, single parents, and people who are already looking for work. The list goes on. In those times, donations help, but they only go so far. You need a government that will put an arm around its people and see them through to better times.

As of January, child poverty in Ontario decreased by 24.4%. That means 123,000 children were lifted out of poverty in our province. That’s a population equivalent to the City of Kingston. And it will have a life-changing impact on the trajectory of each one of those children, their children, and their grandchildren. But it didn’t happen by accident. It happened because of deliberate decisions taken by government.

As of April this year, nearly 240,000 students are receiving a post-secondary education without having to spend a cent on tuition.  That’s like sending a city the size of Kitchener to school for free. It’s thanks to the recent redesign of the Ontario Student Assistance Plan that is helping more low and middle income families afford post-secondary education.  Still countless more are learning post-secondary is an option for them thanks to a simple aid calculator on a government website.

Having had the privilege to work on the rollout of this policy change there’s one thing that still really stands out for me. And that’s when we talk about reducing child poverty, we can’t ignore how approximately 13,000 single parents have been able to enroll in post-secondary because of the new OSAP system. This too will have a life-changing impact on the trajectory of each one of those parents, their children, and their grandchildren.

We’ve also learned that food bank usage dropped during the tough post-holiday period for the first time in four years. As reported in May, the Daily Bread Food Bank credited the drop to “easing of provincial welfare rules over the past year, indexing of the Canada child benefit last July, and Ontario’s minimum wage boost to $14 on Jan. 1.”

In short, government put an arm around its people and their lives improved.

So why did I donate today?

Today a new government is being sworn in at Queen’s Park. One that has committed to billions in ‘efficiencies’ that will target tangible services that have kept struggling families afloat. And the new government will make those cuts in uncertain economic and geopolitical times where the only certainty seems to be that hard times, including a possible recession, are on their way back.

Government has done a great deal in recent years to insulate all families from a future downturn. But it has certainly not done enough. And as of today, it will begin doing less despite its people needing it to do more. And the first place we’ll see the impact of those decisions is at the food bank.

So if you can, I encourage you to step up where this new government won’t and put your arm around those who need you now more than ever if they are going make it through the next four years and beyond.

To make a one-time or ongoing monthly donation to the Daily Bread Food bank, visit their website here:

https://www.dailybread.ca/

The History Inside Mt. Pleasant Cemetery

Mt. Pleasant Cemetery was designated a National Historic Site in 2000 and with good reason. The cemetery marks the final resting place of nearly 170,000 people, including:

  • Sir Frederick Banting and Dr. Charles Best, discoverers of insulin and heroes to millions of diabetes sufferers and their families
  • Dr. Allan G. Brown, Physician in Chief at the Hospital for Sick Children and partly responsible for the development of pablum
  • Herbert Bruce, 15th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario in 1932
  • Henry John Cody, Chancellor and President of the University of Toronto and Provincial Minister of Education
  • Charlie Conacher, former NHL player for the Toronto Maple Leafs
  • Timothy Eaton of the famous department store chain
  • George Howard Ferguson, Premier of Ontario from 1923-30
  • Glenn Gould, famous pianist
  • George S. Henry, Premier of Ontario from 1930-34
  • Foster Hewitt, famous hockey announcer
  • George ‘Punch’ Imlach, coach of 1962, 1963, 1964, and 1967 Stanley Cup winning Toronto Maple Leafs
  • John Kelso, reporter for the Globe who founded organizations that would lead to the creation of the Toronto Human Society and the Children’s Aid Society
  • Warring Kennedy, Mayor of Toronto from 1894-95
  • William Lyon Mackenzie King, Canada’s longest serving Prime Minister
  • J. Keiler MacKay, 19th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario from 1957-63
  • Albert Matthews, 16th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario from 1937-46
  • Samuel McBride, Major of Toronto from 1928-29 and 1936 when he died in office
  • William Barclay McMurrich, Mayor of Toronto from 1881-82
  • Sir Oliver Mowat, Father of Confederation, 8th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario (1897), Senator (1897), and Premier of Ontario from 1872-96
  • Alexander Muir, author of ‘The Maple Leaf Forever’
  • John Andrew Pearson, architect who designed the main block of the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa and the University of Toronto’s Convocation Hall amongst other famous Canadian buildings
  • Dr. Jennie Smillie Robertson, Canada’s first woman surgeon and founder of Women’s College Hospital
  • Robert H. Saunders, Mayor of Toronto 1941-44
  • Clifford Sifton, Minister of the Interior that oversaw the expansion of the west and the creation of Saskatchewan and Alberta
  • William J. Stewart, May of Toronto 1931-34, Speaker of the House (Ontario) 1944-47
  • Augusta Stowe-Gullen, first Canadian woman to study medicine and graduated with a degree in medicine from a Canadian university
  • Donald Summerville, Major of Toronto 1963 (died in office)

Highlights

I spent around two hours walking around the grounds bust mostly focused my time in the east end of the grounds. The cemetery is split in half by Mount Pleasant Road. The visitation centre, Garden of Remembrance and Cemetery Office are all located in the eastern half of the grounds towards Bayview Avenue. The Mausoleum Crematorium and Chapels, as well as the bulk of historical figures mentioned above are located in the west side of the grounds towards Yonge Street. The grounds are a very short walk from Davisville Subway station and about a 15-20 minute walk from St. Clair Subway station.

It was a particularly gorgeous day when I went – 17 degrees Celsius and lots of sun. Here are some of the highlights of my walk:

Banting and Best – located near one another in section 29 of the eastern half of the grounds (Banting faces section 27 and Best faces section 28)

Banting and Best

Alexander Muir – located in section X of the western half of the grounds (facing section L)

Clifford Sifton – located in section 10 of the western half of the grounds (facing section V and not marked on the history tour map provided by the office)

Sir Oliver Mowat – located in section W of the western half of the grounds (facing section 7)

Right Honourable William Lyon Mackenzie King – located in section L of the western half of the grounds (facing section K)

Hemlock

Tonight the unthinkable happened in Canada: a Canadian was murdered at the scene of a political rally in Quebec. As Pauline Marois took the stage in Montreal to thank members of her Party for their victory in the Quebec provincial election, shots rang out leaving at least one dead as I write this.

Canada is not a country that was born out of violence like revolutionary countries that dot this globe. Canada is a country that evolved into the nation it is today through respectful discourse and the adoption of Responsible Government, which places the need for peaceful, deliberative consensus directly at the centre of our political system. When LaFontaine and Baldwin first campaigned for Responsible Government they stared down loyalists in the streets of Montreal, watched as Parliament burned, and did nothing as repeated attempts were made on LaFontaine’s life, as Prime Minister of what was then the United Province of Canada. They did not turn to violence themselves but instead used politics as a positive and lasting tool to counter the hatred hurled at them. And they won.

This is Canada’s legacy: a politics that does not resort to violence but instead champions peaceful discussion between rational citizens. Today is a sad day for Canada and for the legacy of a mostly peaceful political history in in our country.

The Sacrifice

As Pauline Marois was whisked off the stage by her security team, my thoughts turned to my own experiences in politics. If you’ve ever knocked on a door while canvassing, called a constituent of your riding, answered a voter’s email, or had any other interaction with the public because of your involvement and interest in the political process you will know one thing: the time, effort, and concern political volunteers and professionals put into the political process is often met with great disdain by the general public. Politicians are bloodsuckers, they often say, only in it for themselves. Sometimes politicians even turn on one another and say these things about their opponents, despite knowing first-hand the sacrifices involved in political life whether you’re simply a volunteer or the Prime Minister of Canada.

I have spent the last week knocking on doors all day and night, talking to voters about their concerns and their hopes for a better future in Ontario. I truly appreciate these conversations because for me, politics is all about that interaction and really getting down to what matters most to actual people. That’s why I’m involved in politics and it’s why I like to hear from other Canadians about politics. Every once in a while you will step up to a door where the resident will thank you for your effort and your interest in the political process. That’s when politics is the most rewarding.

But it can be a far darker place. I’m not talking about getting an earful at a door or even being exhausted after a long day of volunteering. Those are real sacrifices made every day. But many people devote their entire lives to the political process because they believe in something much bigger than themselves. It is those Canadians who will go to any length to ensure a better tomorrow for all of us, and often do. It is those Canadians who are willing to make great sacrifices on behalf of those around them so that collectively we may all leave this world better than we found it.

We have seen Canadians pay the ultimate price before in service to all of us as citizens of this country. Thomas D’Arcy McGee was assassinated shortly after leaving Parliament one night after a long day of peaceful debate. His funeral in 1868 in Montreal drew nearly the entire population of the city. In 1970 Pierre Laporte was kidnapped and murdered by the FLQ, leading to a second funeral in Montreal for an assassinated Canadian politician. With violence erupting in Montreal once more this evening, it serves as a painful reminder that politics is about service to others and sometimes those involved pay the ultimate price.

The True Gravity of Choosing to Serve

Violence in Canadian politics is uncommon which is why we are so shocked on nights like tonight. But just because tragedy is uncommon does not mean there is not a constant risk in being involved in politics. I do not say this to be dramatic, as Canada is clearly one of the safest countries in the world and perhaps the safest country to get involved in the political process. We decide political differences at the ballot box, respectfully decline or agree to support candidates and parties at our doorsteps, and do not take up arms when our political opinion is not shared by others.

Most of the time. For every rare story of Canadian political violence there are hundreds of frightening threats that never come to fruition. There are aspects about my own job in politics I usually have no interest in discussing. In my position I attend a lot of events but also receive a great deal of feedback from the electorate. It is not an easy thing to receive death threats at your workplace that are directed at your employer and sometimes even at you and still go on about your day as if nothing as happened. To still wade into crowds of people as if the threat doesn’t exist. But I have done that and so have many other people I know.

Most days I hardly think about it. When threats come in I do pause for a moment. But it’s really not until a day like today that it really hits home how very real threats can be. There are few workplaces where such threats are so common and probably fewer still where they are more likely to be followed through on. When I stood with the Premier of Ontario at an event last month, his security detail behind us, I felt no worry at all about what might happen despite knowing full well the threats we receive. This is Canada, after all. I have been present at events with heavy police presence and extremely angry protesters where violence could have easily broken out at any moment. When you choose to involve yourself in something bigger than yourself, whether you are a just a staffer or the leader of the province, fear comes second and hope first.

If we worried about the price we might pay for simply believing in something, very little would be accomplished in the world. And while the politically involved are rarely called on to pay that price, it is important to remember that risk is a serious sacrifice that those in politics make on a daily basis. If there is nothing else learned from this tragedy tonight let it be this: let us show respect for one another and the peaceful legacy of our politics because while some would knowingly sacrifice their lives for our well-being, they should not have to. Senseless violence is only the fault of those who carry it out, but we could all do a little more to ensure our discourse about the political process is constructive and respectful of the very real sacrifices made each day by every day people like you or me.

10 Lessons from the 2012 Liberal Biennial in Ottawa

 

I attended the recent Liberal Party of Canada Biennial Convention in Ottawa (as a delegate and a member of a campaign) and came away with a few lessons learned.

  1. You can run an honourable campaign and still win.
  2. Paul Wells is right. The team having the most fun has the best shot at winning.
  3. When you form a really strong team they will be your friends for life.
  4. The greatness of most people is amplified in person.
  5. The perceived flaws of most people are diminished in person.
  6. You don’t have to be enemies with those you are competing with. You can learn to respect them greatly in contest and become friends regardless of the outcome.
  7. Your potential is your own to come short of, meet or exceed. If you simply ask to play a role you will usually get to.  If you simply act, you will often accomplish. You can determine the impact you will have.
  8. Talent is important but kindness and respectfulness are most important of all. If you campaign that way, volunteers and voters alike will flock to you. If you work that way, candidates will fight over you.
  9. Journalists are human beings, and often not just lively people, but kind ones too.
  10. Relentless faith in the merit of your cause can and does pay off.

The Fundamental Importance of Libraries to Civilized Society

I rarely comment on municipal affairs in Toronto as I am not an official resident but eventually there comes a time when the assault on reason grows so strong and offensive that one cannot stay silent. June Callwood once said that “if you are an observer of injustice you are a participant”. I would add that if you are an observer of ignorance you are a participant. Ignorance is bliss only for the ignorant. It is hell for all students of rational thought.

But remember that the Captain belongs to the most dangerous enemy to truth and freedom, the solid unmoving cattle of the majority. Oh God, the terrible tyranny of the majority. We all have our harps to play. And it’s up to you now to know with which ear you’ll listen.

– Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

Anti-Intellectualism

Councillor Doug Ford, brother of current Mayor Rob Ford, has suggested that in order to tame the municipal budget of Toronto, public libraries may be on the chopping block. The Ford brothers have attacked intellectual institutions and persons before and the proposed scrapping of libraries comes as no shock. As revealed in a Globe and Mail article:

Mr. Ford, a rookie councillor who has quickly gained a reputation for headline-grabbing statements, said Tuesday he would close a library in his ward “in a heartbeat,” characterizing a growing movement to save branches backed by Margaret Atwood as an “over-reaction,” led by “library groups.”

Yes, those reactionary library groups, stirring up trouble as they have so viciously and violently for centuries. Please.

The Spark

What could he say in a single word, a few words, that would sear all their faces and wake them up?

~ Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

Libraries have been around for thousands of years, first beginning as archives for city states. At their beginning, libraries were meant to be collections of information to be referred to and passed down through the ages. The continuation of knowledge this allowed for is directly responsible for every great achievement in human history since. The recognition of the value of libraries began at a personal level when Greek citizens began to keep private collections. This came on the heels of the construction of beautiful and epic libraries began all over the world. Library building, compiling and appreciation dates back as far as the emergence of the first truly great civilizations and that is not by accident. Libraries, whether we recognize it or not in modern day society, are the most important institutions we have.

With the invention of the Gutenberg Printing Press, perhaps humankind’s greatest invention, the printed word was able to reach more people than ever and an explosion of library building occurred that is now commonly known as the golden age of libraries. The presence of an impressive library was the mark of a great nation during this time. The wider availability of cheaper books expanded the intellectual pool in society and created a golden age in art, music, literature and philosophical thought. It is not surprisingly that the mass availability of books for the first time in history and the construction of the world’s most magnificent libraries came at the same time as the Renaissance. Libraries and the books they housed were integral to that cultural and intellectual leap forward.

The Flame

In the 20th  Century, the library has been a staple of society. Publicly operated and accessed, libraries have remained that way despite the privatization of almost every other aspect of modern society. I have heard it been argued that if public libraries as an institution were not created in the 1500s but instead in today’s society, they would be private. Thankfully for civilization, libraries came into mass appeal at a time of wiser minds.

Today, libraries are still a part of our everyday lives. Schools are incomplete without them and most homes have a personal collection, no matter how small. Even with increased use of the internet, people still flock to sites like wikipedia, the well known online encyclopedia which functions as encyclopedias always have; as a general knowledge resource when one is in need of a quick answer. Wikipedia is authored by the public and not always accurate but is a modern representation of society’s thirst for knowledge and the turn to text to gain that knowledge.

When I was a child not that long ago, my mother would take her children to the local library almost daily to look at books, master reading, and gain knowledge to be used later in life. It is probably as a result of these walks to the library that I still have such an unquenchable thirst for knowledge now.

The voices talked of everything, there was nothing they could not talk about, he knew, from the very cadence and motion and continual stir of curiousity and wonder in them.

~ Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

The Fireball

In February of 1916, a massive fire engulfed Parliament Hill while politicians fled the building. As Prime Minister Borden crawled out of the building on hands and knees to safety outside, someone had the foresight to close the Library of Parliament’s enormous iron doors and save the precious contents inside. In 1952 the Library caught fire but was saved again, as was the important historical information of our nation within it. If the Library had burnt to the ground, Canada would have been set back greatly.

Libraries are important. They are important to the young minds in society who may go to a library and without cost, drink up all the knowledge they can contain. They are important to the narrative of society so that we can remember the mistakes we have made and continue the path of the right actions we have taken. They are important to the development of a better future for all human beings as so much of our knowledge stems from the expanding foundation we have built within the walls of libraries.

We have known a world without libraries or the written passing on of knowledge before. We still call that time the Dark Ages. A future without libraries and without intellectual thought could certainly be called the same.

Let you alone! That’s all very well, but how can I leave myself alone? We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?

~ Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

The Dousing

This may seem like an overreaction to the threat of closing a library in Etobicoke ‘in a heartbeat’. But the death of intellectualism is something achieved brick by brick until something so integral to a reasoned way of life as libraries is taken for granted and then dismantled. And when the libraries disappear, so to will the intelligent minds so necessary for society.

In Ray Bradbury’s famous 1952 work Fahrenheit 451, the main character Guy Montag lives i a world where libraries do not exist and books are illegal. Guy is a fireman whose job is not to put out fires but to start them with the pages of illegal books and sometimes even the homes they are hidden in.

If there is no public outcry about the assault on libraries and by extension, reasoned thought, then I fear the following quote from Bradbury’s book will feel more authentic than it already does now:

Remember the firemen are rarely necessary. The public stopped reading of its own accord.

 

Click here to see images of some of the greatest libraries in the world today.