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:


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)


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)


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


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.

Bringing Our National History to Life on Parliament Hill

Commemoration on Parliament Hill

Canada’s Parliament buildings were constructed on Old Barrack Hill now commonly known as Parliament Hill. Construction began in 1859 and was finally completed in 1876, grossly over-budget and surviving countless delays. When new provinces joined the federation in 1905, expansion of the building began once more. in February of 1916, fire broke out and destroyed all but the Library of Parliament as its gigantic iron doors had been shuttered in time to save the room and its priceless contents. Parliamentarians, sitting in the House that evening, escaped after hearing of the fire and Prime Minister Borden crawled through the hallways to safety. By 1920 the Centre-Block was rebuilt and by 1927 the Peace Tower was complete. In 1952 the Library caught fire though was not destroyed and repairs quickly began. Maintenance has continued on all buildings since.

Surrounding the buildings today on the grounds of Parliament Hill are several statues and monuments commemorating the contributions of some of Canada’s greatest citizens. Seven Prime Ministers are honoured with their own statues: Macdonald, Mackenzie, Laurier, Borden, King, Diefenbaker, and Pearson. Two Queens, Victoria and Elizabeth II, are honoured. Two fathers of Responsible Government are honoured: LaFontaine and Baldwin. Two slain Fathers of Confederation, McGee and Brown, also have statues. They are joined by another Father of Confederation, Cartier. And one other monument, dedicated to the Famous Five which it represents: Nellie McClung, Irene Parlby, Emily Murphy, Louise McKinney and Henrietta Muir Edwards.

Cartier’s statue was the first to be installed and was done so at the personal direction of his long time friend, Prime Minister Macdonald. Affected deeply by his death in 1873, Macdonald ordered a state funeral and a statue for the Hill. Alexander Mackenzie’s statue was installed in 1901 after being on display in Paris, as was Queen Victoria’s. Brown’s was erected in 1913 and Baldwin and LaFontaine’s joint monument in 1914. Wilfrid Laurier’s monument was decided on in 1922 and his successor Borden’s in 1957, the largest gap in installations to that point.

In 1967, the Centennial year, four statues were to be commissioned to celebrate 100 years of Canada. They were to be of Arthur Meighen, WLM King, Richard Bennett and Louis St. Laurent. All but Bennett’s were constructed, the design for his being rejected. However, in the more stylized 1960s, all but King’s statue were seen as unfit for the Hill. King’s statue was erected, Meighen’s sent to the town he was buried in, and St. Laurent’s left in storage.

It would be another 18 years before a new statue was brought to the Hill. In 1985, a statue of Diefenbaker was raised and four years later joined by a statue of a seated Lester Pearson. 11 years later, a monument to the Famous Five, the women involved in the Persons Case, was installed on Parliament Hill.

R.B. Bennett and the Calls for a New Statue

There has been no Prime Minister purposely ignored more than Richard Bennett. Leading during the Great Depression, he is not simply forgotten like some Prime Ministers before him, but openly derided for things that were largely beyond his control. The lone Prime Minister without a statue despite one being called for, his absence from the Hill is notable.

Former Liberal Prime Minister John Turner and Conservative Senator and historian Hugh Segal have both called for a statue to be commissioned of the millionaire Prime Minister. A teenager from Bennett’s home province of New Brunswick named Jordan Grondin is actively pushing for a statue of Bennett. He has apparently swayed the sitting Prime Minister on the issue which suggests his efforts will likely bear fruit.

I support Turner, Segal and Grondin is their calls but wish to make one of my own. Instead of calls for individual Prime Ministers to be honoured, why not bring history alive on the Hill by creating a fully supported historical walk with informative plaques and brochures to guide participants? Why not support the project with legislation to determine who receives a statue, when and what the guidelines are for its construction? Why not include the path beneath Parliament Hill as a way to commemorate the Premiers who ushered their provinces into Confederation whether it be in 1867 or 1999?

Commemoration Circuit

The grounds of Parliament Hill and surrounding areas beyond should boast statues of every Prime Minister Canada has ever had, not necessarily to celebrate their politics or personal legacies but Canadian history in general and the time in which they played a heavy role in shaping.

Calls for a statue of Bennett should be echoed by ones for Abbott, Thompson, Bowell (yes even Bowell) and Tupper. It should include the underrated Meighen and St. Laurent and continue with Trudeau, Clark, Turner, Mulroney, Campbell, Chretien, Martin and one day, Harper. Each Prime Minister has their official portrait hung in the halls of Parliament and should receive similar treatment on its grounds. Though, it should be noted, Meighen’s portrait was only recently hung despite his service as Prime Minister ending in 1926.

It might be hard to argue the merit of installing a statue to Bowell yet his time in office reflects the issues of his time and mark the only time a Prime Minister was forced to resign because his Cabinet would not support him. That history is worth knowing and sharing.

Trudeau likewise presided over historic times and Patriated the Constitution yet does not have a statue. Campbell was Canada’s first ever female Prime Minister and nearly 20 years after her time in office, still lacks a monument.

Canadians tend not to celebrate their history and at times seem quite adverse to monuments. But if we are to be aware of our mutual history, if we are to celebrate it, and if we are to share it with the world, there is no better place to commemorate our past than on Parliament Hill. But that commemoration should be selective or biased. We should tell our national story in its entirety and that begins with remembering those who have led us.

Path of the Premiers

At the foot of Parliament Hill there lies a walking trail next to the river. It is a nice place to get some exercise and fresh air or just a view of Hull across the water. However, because of its location at the foot of Parliament Hill I think the trial can do more for our national narrative and our awareness of our collective past.

Thirteen different Premiers either initiated their province or territory’s inclusion into the Federation or became the first representatives of that province or territory after that inclusion. I believe that this pathway should be used to share the history of Confederation, from 1867 until 1999. By understanding how our federation came to be, we can better understand how to navigate its sometimes complicated waters and work to make it stronger.

The combination of Commemoration Circuit and the Path of the Premiers would help bring Canadian history to Parliament Hill to the necessary degree that has not yet been carried out. Canadians need a stronger relationship with their history and our government can help.

Attack Politics and the Future of Canadian Political Discourse

Trine Skei Grande, Leader of the Venestre (Liberal) Party of Norway

Children and the Political Environment

In March I attended the Equal Voice conference in Ottawa and sat in on a wonderful keynote speech by the Norwegian Liberal Party leader, Trine Skei Grande. Equal Voice is of course a Canadian organization promoting the inclusion of women in politics. Grande began a wonderful, inspiring speech by mentioning how out of the seven most supported parties in Norway, five are led by women. Gasps rang out in the hall as these words were spoken in Canada where only one out of the five major parties are headed by a woman and where, at the time, women made up less than 25% of Members of Parliament.

Grande tried to explain why there was such a great difference in gender representation between Canada and Norway. She largely argued that Norway had encouraged its women to be integral members of society for years, both at the polling station and in the workforce. I’ve heard the same argument be made of the women of Newfoundland, a province where each of the political parties are currently run by women. Women in Newfoundland played an enormous role in the day to day life of the province in war-time and never let up afterward. The women of Norway similarly entrenched themselves in the fabric of their society.

The most interesting thing that Grande spoke about was the perception children have of their broader social world based on what they see go on within it. From 1990-1996 Norway had a female Prime Minister. Grande recounted how at that time, canvassing politicians could arrive at a door and speak to a boy and a girl and receive a response totally foreign to Canadian politics. Grande mentioned asking a little boy what he wanted to be when he grew up. The boy said ‘Prime Minister’. The young girl next to the boy laughed and said, ‘You can’t be Prime Minister. Only girls can be Prime Minister’.

Youth and the Political Environment

Only a few weeks earlier I attended a youth political convention and gained a lot of different experiences and insights but one that stayed in my mind after hearing Grande speak weeks later was about how engaged youth often respond to politics.

I spoke with a number of the youth who attended and conversations typically found their way to the topic of the coming federal election and what youth needed to do for the party when it arrived. At one point I witnessed a conversation in which someone suggested making attack videos featuring the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, some mention of a terrible action he undertook in office, and finishing the whole piece off by calling him ‘Stephen Mubarak’, referencing the Egyptian leader who at the time of the convention had just been ousted.

Attack Ads, Imprinting, and Limbo Politics

Society laments the lack of participation of youth in general but specifically in the political process. When teenagers (and those slightly older) do get involved, they often join youth wings of political parties. I’ve noticed that youth involved with political parties almost instinctively turn into pitbulls for those parties, mindlessly parroting party talking points and (viciously) attacking their opponents. Not only do they take up this role, they relish it. And the older party members seem to both expect it and count on it so that they may stay slightly above the fray since they are the respectable ones in office.

This is not true of all youth in politics nor of the older members of parties. But it does happen. While this is a problem in itself, it is worsened by the fact that older politicians seem to be increasingly crouching deeper into the mud that politicians now regularly sling at one another. If politically involved youth are to be even more aggressive than their elders to fulfill their attack dog role, they will come to understand politics as a purely negative environment. They will decide that the rules of limbo are applicable to politics, that the lower one goes the better.

This does not begin when youth join the youth wing of their preferred party. It begins much earlier and to a much broader audience, that being whole generations of Canadian citizens. When Grande spoke of a little girl who thought only a woman could be Prime Minister the girl thought that because it was the only reality she had known in her short life. She looked out at society and saw the political configuration at the time and inferred the rules of that society. Canadian children are no different.

Youth involved in political parties in Canada today seem to be increasingly showing signs of the psychological concept of imprinting, best seen in the animal world where infant animals learn specific survival behaviours from their parents simply by watching and mimicking the actions of those parents. Youth today have grown up in a political climate of televised Question Period, minority government (until this year), and attack ads. And they have so far seen no proof that parties are punished for their antics in the House, on the airwaves or in politics in general. They have been raised in a politically negative climate and are reproducing that environment in their own political actions. It is no surprise that youth now compare the Prime Minister of Canada with dictators because only months later during the election, Members of Parliament themselves made the same comparison towards an opposition leader.

Raising the Bar on Political Discourse

Instead of pursuing limbo politics, politicians and Canadians in general should aim for a political discourse that better resembles high jump. It seems that at this point in our political society, most have given up on the current crop of politicians and expect the youth of today to somehow drag the entire political process out of the mud and back to respectability. However, it is hard to see this happening when they are learning and being trained by those who have the power to demand enlightened discourse right now but aim for sound bites instead, as if a 30-second clip is the stuff from which legacies and countries are built.

The negative impact our current political environment has on our society is upsetting. But it pales in comparison to the future political world it is informing and imprinting on the next generation of politicians and voters. If today’s politicians do not step up and demand legitimate, respectful discourse, the ones that follow them won’t know how to.

1841 and the 4th Riding of York

In Sharon, a small town in Ontario located not far from Toronto, there exists a historical site housing a building of historic, religious, and political significance called the Sharon Temple.

The history and significance of the building can be told through many different lenses but perhaps the most important is the political as the Sharon Temple played a significant role in the creation of our country.

I have previously written of LaFontaine and Baldwin and their contributions to Canada. I have also written of how these two men, despite the enormous debt Canadians owe to them, have largely been forgotten in our modern society. Even at the Sharon Temple, where Baldwin stepped aside to allow LaFontaine, a Montrealer, to run in the 4th Riding of York and be elected as a reformer to Parliament, there is no marker recognizing either man. LaFontaine’s election paved the way for he and Baldwin to reform Parliament and our country, ultimately resulting in the creation of Responsible Government.

LaFontaine’s election in York was not easy as he was from out-of-province, he was French and of a different religion than the local Quakers who would elect him. Political opponents in the area threatened violence but LaFontaine was invited to the riding anyway and after hours on the muddy roads arrived in the riding for the first time at night on September 3rd, 1841. He stepped into the Sharon Temple, lit up with candles for a biannual feast, and was welcomed by locals he was introduced to. This was followed by his attendance at a service the following day which led to further appearances throughout the riding as support for LaFontaine began to spread. When he was eventually victorious in the election on September 21st, he had dinner with Baldwin in Sharon before being led to neighboring Newmarket along Yonge Street by a throng of supporters.

In 1843 Baldwin completed the switch by getting elected in Rimourski, Quebec as an English-speaking Torontonian. Baldwin and LaFontaine would eventually form a reformist government that LaFontaine would lead as Prime Minister in 1848. The road from 1841 to 1848 was not easy, nor was life for either man after the introduction of Responsible Government. Many attempts were made on LaFontaine’s life and Parliament itself was burnt to the ground during his leadership but he and Baldwin responded the same way to each threat: with peaceful defiance.

Baldwin would die in 1858, nine years before Confederation. LaFontaine would eventually follow him in 1864, just three years shy of the realization of a new country they had an enormous hand in building. While their story did not begin in Sharon at the Temple, it certainly made an irreversible turn for the historic that rainy September 3rd in 1841 where LaFontaine first met the constituents that he and later Baldwin would represent. The election of LaFontaine in York marked a turning point for the entire country where lines of unity were no longer drawn on the basis of language or religion but instead the shared vision people had for their society.

Despite how important the Sharon Temple was to the election of LaFontaine and with it, the founding of this country, there exists no marker on the grounds to celebrate the event or the man. The provincial marker mentions the role of locals in the 1837 Rebellions but leaves out LaFontaine and Baldwin.

The federal marker speaks of the religious importance of the site but offers no hint at its political and national importance.

Why does it matter? It matters because LaFontaine’s election and the subsequent events that followed are some of the most important moments in our young history. Pre-Confederation history is often forgotten in Canada (along with most post-Confederation history, admittedly) and political leadership before John A. Macdonald is rarely acknowledged as if Macdonald alone ushered in Canada as a united nation. While Macdonald played an extremely important role, it is important to remember that while he was a freshman MP attempting to start a duel with another MP in Parliament, LaFontaine was Prime Minister of the United Canadas. Even Macdonald had to learn the ropes and he did so in a system shaped by LaFontaine and Baldwin. Macdonald has a plaque, LaFontaine and Baldwin do not.

There is always a reason for not raising a plaque. In good times funds are allocated for important programs. In tough times, they are taken away from important programs and no hope exists for any further funding for heritage recognition. There is simply never a convenient time for heritage projects and so they must be fought for despite this because our history really is priceless and the cost of forgetting it is too high.

I believe LaFontaine and Baldwin should be recognized in Sharon and across Canada for the contributions they made to this country. It is not wrong to point out that if a gazebo costing $100,000 can be built ‘for’ a G8 summit and $800-$7000 can be spent per sign on creation and installation of Economic Action Plan signs (that do nothing for the economy and act as partisan campaigning with public funds) then surely money can be allocated to honor these two men and the importance of Responsible Government. Though such a concept may be lost on those funding gazebos and advertising campaigns instead of actually governing.

No government in Canadian history has taken up this effort and it is a shame. Yes, there is a statue on Parliament Hill for LaFontaine and Baldwin and yes a Heritage Minute was crafted. But a statue in the back corner of the grounds does not create an intimate connection between Canadians and their political founders as much as a plaque commemorating those men in the very places they walked would do.

As of today there is no plaque for LaFontaine and Baldwin at the Sharon Temple. However, there does stand three Economic Action Plan signs directly next to one another at the very front of the property facing the road, several feet away from the existing plaques for the Temple. I suggest the people of Sharon, Newmarket and surrounding areas as well as all Canadians across the country demand Responsible Government be returned to its rightful home. It’s time to scrap political advertisements on such important grounds. It’s time to celebrate politics at its best. It’s time to recognize LaFontaine, Baldwin and the sorely missing concept of Responsible Government.

Toronto and Canada’s Forgotten History

I have spent much of the last year in Toronto and am soon to become more of a casual visitor again than pseudo resident. On this last day in the city, I wanted to do something I’d been meaning to do for some months which was encounter some of the most important history in our country and I would argue, the modern world. I wanted to go on a walk on this Sunny day in the city and encounter some remnants of the life of Robert Baldwin. But the only record of this important man’s time in this city is a plaque near a Starbucks. Heritage Toronto is not well-funded (and unlikely to become any more well-funded) but the loss of recognition for this important part of our history is not a modern event.

Canadians need a better relationship with our history. I know there is an appetite for it as I saw at the ROM sponsored debate series this winter called History Wars. But in a city where heritage buildings literally crumble as citizens walk by, I think both our politicians and we as citizens must do more to protect our historical narrative as a country and as a people.

The Toronto Star: Forgotten Founders (Video)

Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine created the Canada we know, but their names and the places they lived and worked have been all but forgotten. The Star’s Christopher Hume explains.

LaFontaine Mansion in Montreal

An important part of the Baldwin story is the story of his friendship with LaFontaine of Montreal who together with Baldwin instituted Responsible Government in Canada. The men share a statue on Parliament Hill but are otherwise largely forgotten. Two students of Concordia University in Montreal are currently attempting to have LaFontaine’s Mansion restored and recognized as an historical site. To sign their petition you can follow the above link.

Attack Ads versus Fair Game Ads

“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it – even if I have said it – unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.” ~Buddha

When you hear the words ‘attack ad’, you immediately think of extremely negative and largely untruthful ads that come out during elections. More recently in Canada, these ads are a year-round event. It is argued that they work in solidifying political opinions in the voters but also that they drive down turnout overall. Attack ads are a terrible component of modern ‘democracy’ which place winning at all costs over serving the public good by having enlightened, reasonable debates about policy direction in this country. Attack ads treat the general public as stupid and suggest that voters cannot handle the truth or serious, full-scale discussions about the future of this country.

What an attack ad is not is a critical evaluation of the policies and promises of one’s opposition. ‘Going negative’ does not mean taking the low road. It is great to have positive ads which outline your party’s beliefs and their promises to the electorate but it is not wrong to point out the flaws on the policies and promises of another party or the deficiencies in their delivery of those things.

Personal ads generally bother me but at times it is important to point out the poor record of a politician in doing the job they’ve been appointed or elected to. As long as the criticism focuses on the performance and not the person, the ad is not an attack. It’s an attempt to generate discourse about the reality of how well a given person is doing their job. And that is a discussion that should always take place, especially when the salary is paid by taxpayers.

In the work world, one can be fired just like a politician can be in their job by losing an election. Similarly, we may face performance reviews at work and person-specific ads are the political equivalent to this. But they again must be about performance and not the person.

I think too often critical analysis is lumped in with the term ‘attack ad’. Attack ads are distasteful, untruthful and bad for democracy as they take the debate outside of reality and make politics about partisan gamesmanship instead of pursuing the public good. I know many would consider me naive for this viewpoint but politics doesn’t have to be cheap and dirty. It can be enlightened and make a real difference in society beyond turning voters off from the whole process in general.

I encourage all parties and all voters to be as critical as possible about politics but to not be cynical or let that cynicism take over the debate through attack ads. I would even suggest those with entrenched partisan views to take a more careful eye to the actions and policies of their chosen party or candidate(s) and not blindly accept talking points or spread ridiculous attack ads intended to dupe not help the voting public.

“In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.” ~Bertrand Russell

Conservative pre-writ,  personal attack ad on Michael Ignatieff stating that he once formed a coalition government and would do so again. This was despite the fact that he never did this and was not even party leader when what was only a proposed coalition was suggested but never realized as the doors of Parliament were shuttered before a Confidence vote could be held. Additionally the background image clearly shows the three leaders who were prepared to make a deal. None are Ignatieff.

2008 Election personal attack ad by the Conservatives on Stephane Dion which showcased an animated puffin defecating on the Liberal leader. Completely classless and without any sort of point to it, this ad was a particularly low point in Canadian politics.

Conservative 2008 Election personal attack ad on Stephane Dion suggesting the Liberal leader was out to trick Canadians into pay higher taxes on literally everything. The ad was beyond hyperbolic and played on radio and TV non-stop.

2006 Election personal attack ads by the Liberal party about Stephen Harper stating he would put Canadian troops on the streets of Canadian cities. The ad was a ridiculous attempt at portraying Harper as so interested in defence that he would militarize Canada within our own borders.