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Sarah Thomson

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Tactics used to protect guilty men

In the case of the two women who have accused Patrick Brown of sexual misconduct, it will be interesting to see if his defence team follows the age-old tactics that are used to defend men accused of sexual assault. The public can be easily fooled by a slick PR strategy that capitalizes on the fact that nobody wants to believe their “good” guy has a bad side. From his latest behaviour it’s obvious that Patrick Brown now has a defence team in place whose first order of business was to repair the damage Brown did by showing weakness when he resigned.  They would likely have advised him that showing strength scares witnesses away and showing weakness attracts witnesses to pounce on him. There are four key tactics used to defend men who are charged with sexual misconduct.  

  1. Absolute denial combined with hints of defamation charges:  The accused is usually advised to come out loud and strong, denying everything and suggesting legal action. This is designed to gain public support – the public naturally follow someone who shows strength – but it is also designed to scare witnesses from testifying. Nobody wants to be on the wrong side of public opinion or get into a costly defamation trial. If the perpetrator can get public opinion on his side, and convince people he’s going to sue for defamation, witnesses will crawl into hiding. Patrick Brown has now come out strongly denying everything and suggesting he’ll sue CTV for defamation. Yet CTV claims they have not been notified by anyone from Brown’s team. Which indicates he is simply bluffing to scare witnesses into hiding. If he doesn’t sue them, it’s a strong indication that there may be some truth to the allegations.                                                                                                                                                 The first woman who alleged Patrick Brown assaulted her at a party said that she attended it with a friend, but now the “friend” doesn’t remember being there with her.  I’m told this happens a lot when public shaming occurs. Witnesses feign memory loss and make themselves out to be unreliable because they don’t want to face public shaming or stand up beside a victim who is being shamed. They would rather abandon her than tell the truth. We assume people will defend the truth, they will do the right thing because a just society needs people to stand up for the truth. The sad fact is few witnesses do, unless forced by the courts in a defamation trial, or criminal investigation.                                                                                                                                                Personally, I believe that the women who accused Patrick Brown are victims of his misconduct and victims of the court of public opinion (which can be even worse).  I find it highly unlikely that any woman would come out had she known in advance that her friend wouldn’t stand up beside her. That a very weak man calling himself her “friend” has backed out of defending the truth is the real shame.  That kind of immorality eats away at a person, I hope she takes comfort in the fact that his shame will haunt him for the rest of his life.
  1. Blame the victim: This includes attacking her entire history and showing her as promiscuous. I have no doubt the next stage of Brown’s strategy will be to get social media focused on the background of both his accusers.  They may try to “slut” shame them or create the idea that these victims somehow set Patrick Brown up as a political stunt. This serves two purposes. It  will stir up hate on social media and it will protect him from other witnesses who may be thinking of coming forward. Now is the time women, who may have similar experiences with him need to stand up for the truth. We must come together to push social change forward, and build a just society for our children.
  2. Elicit sympathy for the man accused:  This is the next stage that Patrick Brown will need to work at. Sympathy isn’t as easy to achieve for a powerful man as it is for a younger man. Remember the case of Brock Turner who was caught in the act of sexually assaulting a woman behind a dumpster? His legal team tried to focus on his accomplishments and the bright future he had ahead of him – they suggested the victim’s accusations would hurt Turner’s future. The same is being said about Patrick Brown. The victims are now being accused of ruining his future in politics, no thought or comment is given to their futures, and his media supporters would have us all ignore that Brown may have tried to force himself on two intoxicated women.
  3. Promote Doubt: By promoting enough doubt, the perpetrator aims to steer the focus off of the facts and onto the unreliability of the women involved. Evidence will be distorted, past events and statements taken out of context, their friends questioned, and witnesses scared into hiding – anything that will discredit the woman is fair game. Distorting evidence equalizes the victim and the perpetrator. The Toronto Sun has now come out with a story claiming Patrick Brown is innocent simply because one of the victims got the timing of the event wrong – the timing doesn’t change that he might have forced himself on her while she was intoxicated, or that another woman stated that she too had a similar experience. Both accounts suggest a predatory pattern. That he had an intoxicated woman employee alone in his bedroom is the issue everyone should be questioning. What employer would be fool enough to do that?

Memory of an event is usually triggered by the emotion a woman feels when facing sexual assault or misconduct. They might feel angry, or powerless, and it is that memory that stays with you no matter how much you try to forget it. Women who have had such experiences usually tell and warn their friends about it. The timing might blur and details surrounding the event might fade, but the actual event itself and those feelings of anger, frustration, and helplessness don’t fade away. Every time you hear about another woman experiencing sexual assault or misconduct you are reminded of your own experience.  To jump to the conclusion that the women were lying simply because one got her timing off, or because one of them was friends with a reporter doesn’t explain why Patrick Brown took an intoxicated female employee to his bedroom. These other issues are designed to promote doubt.

The media seems to be glossing over an extremely important issue that is highly questionable, and something the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns are trying to address.  That Patrick Brown, or someone on his defence team, may have started a social media campaign designed to shame his two accusers.  This attack campaign released the names of the two women over social media. When it comes to sexual assault or misconduct the standard practice is to protect women who report the incident from backlash until an investigation has concluded. Most employers know this and take extra effort to protect their identity and create a safe work environment for all women. Why hasn’t the Ontario PC party called for an investigation into this? Why hasn’t Patrick Brown called in an outside investigator?

By identifying the women by name over social media, has Patrick Brown’s team crossed the line from civil to barbaric?

In a sexual misconduct or assault case, the perpetrator will often come up with a parallel story to explain why they were with the victim, and/or to fool the public into thinking them innocent. For example, Patrick Brown originally denied categorically that any of the events the two women spoke of had happened. But his former girlfriend has come out saying she watched him go to his bedroom with the woman employee, and then come down later to immediately drive her home. What girlfriend doesn’t think something is wrong when her boyfriend rushes out of the bedroom with a drunk woman and immediately drives her home?

I expect Patrick Brown’s strategy will involve all of the tactics above. The sad fact is that even if the women’s allegations are proven true, the court of public opinion has already shamed them, and once the masses take a position they don’t want to be told they were wrong.  Most people won’t remember that these women were forced to endure pubic shaming and social media attacks just because they came out with the truth. The public still sees strong women who stand up to powerful men as suspect, as women who “rock the boat for attention” –  instead of women who are trying to stop powerful men from abusing their positions.  

Social change is coming, but it will be a long time before the public understands the personal cost women endure by speaking up to protect others.

Media personality uses his position to gain sex

The #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns are empowering women to step forward to try to stop sexual misconduct, and to shape a better world for our children. To do this it requires that guilty men fall.  The question that many are asking is do these men need to fall so harshly? The court of public opinion can ruin careers, it is unforgiving and the media stokes the flames with every dirty little secret uncovered. Is this public shaming a necessary part of the change our society is going through?

I hope we will get to a day when it isn’t needed, but think, as the beginning of social change sets in, the public shaming is a necessary part of the social change. And I say this as someone who has experienced public shaming. 

By taking on the Mayor of Toronto in 2013, and being the first to talk about his drug use and sexual misconduct, I became a target for Ford nation. And I admit that I wasn’t prepared to go up against a very savvy and strategic campaign (led by Rob’s brother Doug Ford) to bury the truth. From the moment the news hit social media, Doug Ford was on the phone with all the media personalities in Toronto, calling in favours and working to gain their support for his brother. His goal was to get them to discredit me, to turn the public against me and make the Mayor out to be the victim.  A friend of mine was, at the time, hosting a talk show on Newstalk 1010 and he warned me that Doug Ford was calling all the key commentators and trying to get them to discredit me. Doug was able to manipulate many of them. Even those who knew me to be a legitimate community advocate turned against me.  They spent a week questioning my background, my authenticity, and making Mayor Ford out to be the victim. Doug Ford succeeded at manipulating the media to work on his agenda, and for a time they were so busy attacking me, they ignored the legitimate stories swirling around the Mayor. Ford’s strategy to deceive the public through the media worked – until it didn’t.

But the public shaming was a terrible experience and I understand now why so few came to defend me. I am thankful to the men who did – Mayor John Tory and Greg Sorbara – were two men who stood up in a sea of accusations to suggest that I wasn’t one to exaggerate. But for a week or two I couldn’t get on the subway or walk through a grocery store without a Ford fanatic following behind me screaming that I was a lying bitch.  So I know very well what the court of public opinion can do to someone. And I also know that eventually the truth comes out – as it did on Mayor Ford.

Today women are finally uniting and using their voices to shine a spotlight on the sexual abuse and misconduct of some very powerful public figures. The guilty need to fall. And I for one believe that the truth will protect those who are wrongfully accused, as it did me. I went through hell, but I am stronger for it. The time has come for men who abuse their power to pay for their actions.  

There is still one man whose actions haunt me. In 2010 when I was running for Mayor of Toronto, I was on a political talk show with the other top four candidates.  The show was widely watched and it helped my numbers in the polls, so the next time I saw the host I asked if I might get on his show again. Always kind and friendly, he suggested we meet over lunch to discuss.  My assistant and I met him at Grano’s on Yonge Street, and the three of us ordered our lunch. Not five minutes into the lunch the host asked me if I would sleep with him. My assistant almost spit his drink all over the table. I politely told the host that I loved my husband and would never do that. I then excused myself, went to the washroom and called my campaign manager. My manager was at first angry that I was alone with a talk show host, but when I explained that my assistant was actually sitting there with us and had heard the entire thing, his anger turned to shock. He was great at calming me down and  joked that if I didn’t want to “take one for the team” then I should excuse myself and leave.  I followed his instruction, and later asked my EA what he and the host had talked about while I was in the washroom. He told me he questioned the talk show host to see if asking directly for sex actually worked for him. The host said that it worked 50 percent of the time. I hope he was just bragging, but I’ve always wondered if the women who are frequent guests on his show have slept with him.

Back in 2010 this meant that some of the male candidates had extra exposure on his show that I couldn’t get. They didn’t have to sleep with him to get on his show.  It was frustrating but in a busy campaign we didn’t have time to address it.  When I talk with younger women, they are shocked at the way the world was back then.  I realize that women of my generation were programmed to accept how it was. We had to joke about it because getting mad every other day wasn’t healthy. I remember a woman saying to me once when I complained about an editor who slept with interns that “boys will be boys.”  It wasn’t until I met my husband that I learned that some boys turn into caring and compassionate men concerned about building a fair and just society. 

In 2010 the host  made it harder for me to compete with the men I was up against, because they were invited to appear on his show while I wasn’t. He didn’t give a damn about how he impacted my future.   In the years since he’s approached me several times, usually at political functions, to suggest we “sleep together” and he always laughs about it.  I wonder if he does this so that if he is ever held to account he can claim that he was only joking? I also wonder how he would explain why he has never had me on his show, in a climate where talk show hosts complain that they can’t get women to appear on their shows?  And I wonder how many other women have had the same experience I did with him? How many women have not been invited back to his show simply because they won’t sleep with him?

I wonder too what our next steps should be? My assistant who sat with me at the table when I was propositioned by this host, remembers the conversation well. But my gut tells me we will need to gather a few other women who have shared a similar experience in order for his CEO to take this seriously. With two elections coming up this year the host will have many opportunities to prey on women candidates. I hope my words will stop him from abusing his power. So I shout them and warn women to be careful – avoid lunching with the host of a talk show!  If you have experienced the same situation, and know whom I am writing about, please contact me – sarah@sarahthomson.ca. We will protect your identity. 

And I warn him: we are coming. We aren’t rushing, but we are slowly gathering our facts and we won’t let up.  Do the right thing, and step down from your job.

Guilty men fear the truth

Finally women are coming out on sexual assault, and shining a spotlight on men who use their positions of power to exploit women. But, as with all change, there are people who don’t like this new world. They scream that it isn’t fair, that men in positions of power should continue to be protected, and the women who accuse them should be scrutinized. They ignore the flaws in the democratic system that allow the media to shame women into silence.  Studies show that 80 percent of sexual assaults are not reported, in most cases it is because women don’t want to face the shame and humiliation society hurls at them. Protecting these women is the first step toward moving our society forward.

Last week. when two women came forward to charge Patrick Brown with sexual misconduct, reporter Christie Blatchford, master of spin, came out ranting that the two women should have faced the media “because fundamental to a democracy is… the right to face your accuser and make full answer in defence.”  She didn’t explain why she believes that facing the accuser and defending yourself has to be done on a public stage for the media. Nor did she admit that it is the media that so often distorts the truth.  Finally our society is starting to realize that this shaming makes innocent victims suffer in silence rather than come forward. Exposing the accuser to ridicule and shame, to the spin that media personalities want to weave around them isn’t democratic – it’s archaic.

Make no mistake, Patrick Brown will face his accusers and he’ll get a chance to defend himself if he wants that. Every accuser puts herself at risk of being sued. Blatchford ignores this and laments that Brown has already been tried in a court of public opinion – she forgets it is the same court that has tried and hung so many women who sought justice. Take for instance, Monica Lewinsky – when it finally came out that she was telling the truth, the media refused to admit their own responsibility over the damage they had caused to her reputation.  Nobody paid a penalty but her, and the friends and staff who protected President Clinton walked away unscathed.  The media personalities who were directly to blame for damaging her reputation never had to be accountable.  They didn’t care what they had done, and they didn’t apologize.

Democracy isn’t perfect. It’s a constantly changing idea, a moving target that social change tries to improve. It is flawed. It allows people to hold positions of power over others, and if this power is held by someone who abuses it, people get hurt. It isn’t just men in power who cause harm, there are women like Blatchford who have a pulpit but no sense of responsibility, and they use their words to damage others. What she does too often isn’t reporting, or journalism… it’s public shaming.

Today our society is trying to make up for the decades of shame and public humiliation forced on women who reported sexual assault. Blatchford claims she is worried that all men in positions of power will become easy targets. And I worry too. I worry that the gutter style media is the very noose that will hang innocent men. 

Democracy is founded on the desire for fairness –  and it is this desire for fairness that is guiding the social changes we are seeing today. The far right accuses women of claiming victimhood, but today women have gone far beyond being victims. Women are angry, they don’t forget – they want to even the playing field.  If men in leadership are to be safe from false accusations, it will be up to the media to become more accountable for our role in shaping public opinion.

The two women who reported Patrick Brown have inspired other women. But what I find inspiring about them is the very thing Blatchford can’t stand — they have shown  women a path to reporting sexual misconduct that doesn’t involve being publicly identified, humiliated and shamed. I believe these two women have opened the floodgates, and the sad fact is that there are few women over 40 who don’t have a story, or two, to tell of men who abused their position of power.

I remember a time in 2010 when I was running for Mayor of Toronto and was on a show with the other top four candidates.  The show helped my numbers in the polls, so the next time I saw the host I asked if I might get on his show again. Always kind and friendly, he suggested we meet over lunch to discuss.  My assistant and I met him at Grano’s on Yonge Street, and the three of us ordered our lunch. Not five minutes in he asked me if I would have sex with him. My assistant almost spit his drink all over the table. I politely told the host that I loved my husband and would never do that. I then excused myself, went to the washroom and called my campaign manager. My manager was at first angry that I was alone with a talk show host, but when I explained that my assistant was actually sitting there with us and had heard the entire thing, his anger turned to shock. He advised me that if I didn’t want to “take one for the team,” then I should excuse myself and leave.  I followed his instruction, and later asked my EA what he and the host had talked about while I was in the washroom. He told me he questioned the talk show host to see if asking directly for sex actually worked for him. The host said that it worked 50 percent of the time.  Needless to say, I never got on his show again. His refusal to have me on his show simply because I wouldn’t have sex with him, made it harder to compete with the men I was running against who appeared on his show several times. 

And now, eight years later, I question if I should have spoken up. By keeping silent, have I allowed him to sexually prey on other women? If you are a woman and have experienced a talk show host who used a similar line on you, please reach out to me (sarah@sarahthomson.ca). Let’s talk. Your identity will be protected.  

As the publisher of Women’s Post, I believe there should be a way for women to report sexual misconduct without having to face shame and humiliation, and without having to drag men through the court of public opinion.  The world is changing,  you can fight the change or you can embrace it and try to make the world just a little more balanced for all.

But be careful of the likes of Christie Blatchford — she is the kind of person who will invite you to a party at her house and act like your friend. But, years later, when everyone is accusing you of lying and kicking you, she’ll sneak in a few kicks just to fit in with the guys – and then later, when  the truth comes out, she’ll hope that you didn’t notice how many times she kicked you. I noticed.

 

 

Doug Ford: King of cover up

Today, the worst candidate I can think of for leadership of the Ontario PC party – Doug Ford – has announced he is running. And I realize now why he didn’t come rushing to Patrick Brown’s side to defend him. Doug Ford is an overly ambitious man who would use his brother’s coffin to vault himself into the limelight.  Harsh words, but never have any truer words been written about the man.

Let me tell you about some of the secrets I’ve learned that happened in 2013, when I came out on Mayor Rob Ford’s drug induced grope.  Apparently, when the news hit social media, Doug Ford immediately started making phone calls to his “buddies” in the press. His strategy was to control and manipulate public opinion. He fed the press questions that cast doubt on me, he pulled the shadiest councillors he could find (from Vaughn) to twist the narrative, and finally he went on the Fords Newstalk 1010 radio show and made me out to be just another “crazy” woman.  Doug Ford knew that taking things out of context, and controlling the court of public opinion was the only way he could hide the truth. And for a while he managed to do it. 

But hiding the truth is a bit like trying to hold water in a broken bucket – it eventually leaks out. 

Doug succeeded in manipulating the public and hiding the truth about his brother and  his friends in the media made quick work of degrading me and making me out to be an opportunist.  They questioned my intentions and Newstalk 1010 in particular did some nasty public shaming. But that came to an end pretty quickly when the truth about Mayor Ford’s drug use finally came out.  That was when Doug Ford began claiming that he didn’t know anything about his brother’s drug use. By then most of the media realized they’d been used as his pawns. The Ford’s show on Newstalk1010 was cancelled and their power over the media went spiralling.  

When I learned about Mayor Ford’s drug dependency and the demons he was fighting, I forgave the Mayor. But I will never forgive Doug Ford for using his position of power to influence the media to demean and humiliate me.  I wonder how many women will actually support a man who demonstrated that he didn’t care about sexual assault, or that his brother was a drug addict?

I’ve always believed that Doug Ford’s lies put more stress on his brother than the truth ever did. Instead of encouraging the Mayor to tell the truth, I wonder if Doug counselled him to deny it?  When I think of the weeks that Mayor Ford had to carry the lie, and the pressure it must have put on him, I don’t understand how Doug couldn’t see what it was doing to him.

And make no mistake, there was a cost. Mayor Ford paid it. I paid it. But Doug Ford walked away relatively unscathed.  It is men like Doug Ford, men who abuse their power to twist and distort the truth, who need to be held accountable. He is a man so desperate for power he’s now decided that instead of running for mayor of Toronto, he’ll run for leadership of the Ontario PC party. 

The #MeToo campaign and #TimesUp campaign are a sign the world is changing, and women are no longer staying silent about corrupt men who abuse their power. It won’t be an easy road for men like Doug Ford.

Doug Ford is an example of a man who worked to hide sexual assault, drug use, and anything that might hinder his future ambitions. The world he once thrived in is changing and women are coming together to speak out.  Here at the Women’s Post we encourage women to step forward. To tell their story. If you have suffered, like I did, from the actions of Doug Ford please reach out to me. Let’s talk. Your identity will be protected.  

Never have the Ontario PCs needed a woman leader like they do today!

The need for change within the Ontario PC party is hitting them hard today as news that allegations of sexual misconduct have pushed Patrick Brown to step down as leader.

Many of the party faithful are wishing they had elected Christine Elliott, who challenged Patrick Brown in the 2015 leadership race. There is no doubt the party will have a tough time in the coming election. If they elect a man, the cloud of scandal won’t dissipate quickly and voters will go to the polls questioning his propriety no matter how clean his reputation.  So, they must find a strong woman willing to lead them out of the scandal, someone willing to challenge Premier Kathleen Wynne.

It’s not a job many woman would want. Chances of actually winning the election are much lower today than they were yesterday.  But, this morning Christine Elliott is probably giving it a lot of thought. Leadership candidates who don’t win are usually pushed out of the party by leaders who don’t like to be challenged. Patrick Brown didn’t like to be challenged, and Christine Elliott was pushed out of the party.

She has to know the chances of winning the election with just five months to go with the Patrick Brown scandal hanging over them are low.

Whomever steps up will have to work hard to build their recognition and public trust.

If Christine Elliott doesn’t step up, the party will have to think outside their conservative scope to find a woman with a voice big enough and strong enough to convince female voters that she is bringing big change to the party.

As I muse over who might be a strong candidate, some are suggesting Caroline Mulroney as a possible leadership candidate. She has a pretty terrific resume – a working mother of four, she has a degree from Harvard and a law degree from New York University. And she has experience in politics. She, like Justin Trudeau, will be accused of riding on her fathers coat tails when in fact she has a very strong resume and could make a very good leader. The only issue is that she may not have enough recognition to build the public trust the PC party needs to get out of mess they are in and actually win the election.  But recognition can be earned quickly if she comes out with strong ideas that earn her support in the urban markets  – like supporting dedicated transit funding.

Today I have no doubt that Ontario PC decision makers are frantically searching for the right leader – they’ll have to find someone with enough public recognition and trust to challenge Premier Wynne.

An out of the box idea might be to look further than the tip of their shoes to someone like Jenniefer Keesmaat. She has a solid reputation in urban centres. She has experience being under fire, and she understands the importance of building strong communities. And she is a woman who would give Premier Wynne some strong competition with her core supporters.  That kind of out of the box thinking is what the PC party needs to show voters they are committed to changing the old boys club image that is haunting them today.

There is no doubt the party must find a woman leader. Whomever steps up to the challenge will be doing the Ontario PC party a huge service – I just hope the old boys recognize it.

Hey Toronto – Loblaws is giving you $25 bucks!

Loblaw Companies Ltd. is offering customers a $25 gift card as a goodwill gesture after learning that their customers were overcharged for the cost of some packaged bread products.  The company participated in an industry-wide bread price-fixing arrangement. They were given immunity by the competition bureau because they came forward and admitted to doing it.

“This conduct should never have happened,” said Galen G. Weston, CEO, during a conference call with analysts Tuesday.

“The gift card is a direct acknowledgment of that to our customers. We hope that they’ll see it as a meaningful amount that demonstrates our commitment to keeping their trust and confidence,” he said in response to how the company arrived at the card’s $25 value.

Here’s how to redeem the offer:

Customers can visit LoblawCard.ca  and enter their email address to be notified once registration opens.

The company expects registration to begin on Jan. 8. 2018

Toronto’s Rita Skeeter is after TTC CEO Andy Byford

Why are certain journalists given leeway to sensationalize issues that are in fact non-issues? They twist words to create “a trap for fools” hoping to slingshot their career to international heights. Sensationalists get forgotten over time, while journalists dedicated to the truth, who don’t deal in opinion but report fact, always seem to survive the test of time. They don’t give in to the lure of fame by twisting words and creating controversy.

The latest witch hunt has been led by Jennifer Pagliaro at the Star – she’s determined to find scandal to build her name and slingshot into international fame, and now that the Toronto Transit Commission’s CEO Andy Byford is heading to New York, she has found the perfect opportunity to get recognition south of the border.

Pagliaro has taken a line that Byford quickly sent in a text message and twisted it out of context to such a degree it would make even the trashiest tabloid journalist squirm.

The text she is trying to make into a scandal was written in haste by Byford as he was preparing for his usual grilling at city council. Note the word preparing and think about how challenging it would be to face 40 councillors all with extensive questions (some whose lips move when they read, and others who grandstand on anything that could turn into an issue). Remember that Byford has to give council a full accounting of every decision he makes. His staff prepare briefing notes to help him prepare for committee and council meetings. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t be consumed with “preparing” prior to such a grilling!

The text that Pagliaro and Councillor Matlow are trying to build into a scandal was sent by Byford to Matlow over a year ago as he was preparing for a council meeting. It reads “We have prepared a BN (briefing note) at the Chairs request and for the Mayors office.” This was an obvious mistake, and most at city hall knows the TTC does not prepare briefing notes for the mayor. In fact, it likely was meant to say “We have sent a BN at the Chairs request to the Mayors office.” If one were in the middle of preparing for a large council debate, it is easy to see how the word “prepared” might slip into a text sent in haste. But, it is also common knowledge that TTC staff prepare briefing notes for their CEO. Anyone who’s spent time at city hall knows the TTC does not prepare briefing notes for the Mayor!

I find it impossible to believe that Matlow would not have realized Byford’s text message had errors in it. It’s no secret that Councillor Matlow has yearned to be on the board of the TTC. I’m sure the man salivates over the sensitive information he’d have access to if he had a board position, and dreams of ways he could twist and sensationalize it. Instead of questioning Byford on the obvious mistake in his text message – which most councillors would have done, Matlow hid the text message, putting it into his arsenal to be used at a later date. (Who would save a text message for over a year if they didn’t want to use it for something devious?)

But, let me take this back to journalistic integrity – because the real issue is apparent on any given day at city hall. Those of us in the media cringe when we see Councillor Matlow and reporter Jennifer Pagliaro whispering and snickering together in council chambers. Don’t get me wrong, councillors and reporters talk all the time, but to see the two of them together constantly sends off warning bells. And to read an article today by Pagliaro that so obviously props up Matlow by sensationalizing this ridiculous text message has me shaking my head.

Many of us in the media have watched Matlow try to stir up controversy over the Scarborough subway, he’s suggested scandal and corruption since he first realized it would get him on the news. I wouldn’t doubt he’s behind those who pushed for an Auditor General investigation – but that issue backfired on him! The auditors report clearly states that there was no evidence that the TTC CEO Andy Byford or his staff deliberately misled council, or were influenced in any way by the Mayors office. It found that in fact there was no political interference at all.

Instead of chalking Byford’s text up to a typo, Pagliaro has become enthralled by Matlow’s grandstanding … like a hen attracted to a peacock. Determined to create scandal out of an error in a text message, she has never questioned why Councillor Matlow did not clarify the text message with Byford, or why he held on to it for so long, or the fact that this typo led to a witch hunt that proved completely vacuous. I’ve seen her at city hall whispering to Matlow too many times to count, so I know that she’s had plenty of time to question him. In fact, I’m beginning to wonder if the real scandal at city hall may lie between this councillor and reporter!

But what bothers me most is that one of the best CEO’s of the TTC that Toronto has had is leaving our city with very little recognition of the fantastic job he has done in improving our transit system. From timing to signalling, efficiency to improving overall customer service, Andy Byford moved the TTC ahead decades.

He was accessible and responsive to a fault, and I think he trusted that any typo he might make in a text message sent in haste would not be secreted away and used to create a scandal. That Jennifer Pagliaro and Councillor Matlow are trying to use Byford’s good reputation to slingshot their own careers is beyond pathetic.

It’s all about people – Mitchell Goldhar: The Giver

I’m building this unique luxury tent and cave resort concept in the Caribbean, and as most of my friends and family will attest, I live, breath, and sleep it.  My days are spent inspiring people. One day it’s our engineer who is designing the hydraulic system that will support our tents (and fold them up in case of hurricane), and on another it is our architect who has to figure out a design that will keep our cave units dry and bright.  And almost every day I work to inspire investors to believe in me and my concept of a luxury cultural “safari”, where affluent guests can stay in a peaceful natural setting, yet still access golf, fine dining, shopping, movie theatres, and all the urban amenities they love.  

I’ve never had to search for investors before. In the past, I’ve relied on bank loans and my own funds to build my businesses. So when I started out, I made some mistakes. I learned from them and carried on.  

One of my first investment pitches was to Mitchell Goldhar.  His background can be intimidating.  At the age of 28, Walmart recruited him to secure locations for their warehouse club division in Canada. He believed that expensive landlords were driving up the cost of goods and he was determined to bring fair prices to Canadians by building facilities with lower rents. But, Walmart changed their strategy and decided to go to Mexico instead. Goldhar, like most passionate entrepreneurs, refused to give up. He continued for almost a year, bringing together more properties and leaving voice messages for his Walmart contact – messages that didn’t get returned. Sure enough, almost a year later, Walmart finally called him back to say they had reconsidered.  Goldhar became their development partner and led conversion of 122 Woolco locations into Walmarts.

Through his company, Smart Centres, he has developed more than 200 shopping centres across the country. His enterprise was founded on his desire to give back to the world by creating conditions that help the average family get better prices on the goods they purchase.  He understands the power spaces  have to shape habits and actions. He’s a community builder. Needless to say, I was very nervous going into my meeting with him.

But, Mitch came into the room in jeans and a t-shirt, he put his phone on the table face down and asked me about my background, my history, my family. He put me at ease. In hindsight, I wonder if he could tell how nervous I was and wanted to help me find my footing before giving my pitch.

Over the years, I’ve begun identifying people, putting them into two different categories. I call them the “takers” and the “givers.”  The takers are people who are driven by status and shackled by fear.  They build walls around themselves pretending to know everything, but their lack of real engagement in the world shelters them from the mistakes and harsh realities that build wisdom. They tend to undermine anyone with a strong spirit, anyone who might challenge or question them.  They are easy to identify – they avoid direct, intimate conversation, and in meetings they check their cell phones every five minutes to avoid real engagement. They take from those around them, and waste their opportunity to significantly contribute to the world. I try to avoid these people as much as I can.

Then, there are the “Givers.” These are people who are driven to do things that will make the world better. Mitchell Goldhar is a giver – he believes in people and isn’t afraid to show it. Mitch understands how just a little bit of encouragement can go a long way. His encouragement and interest in my concept is something I hold on to whenever I come up against negativity.

Mitch is a true leader, but he is also very humble. He doesn’t place himself above those pitching to him, but listens intently and thoroughly.  This is perhaps the key to his success.  He heard everything I said in my pitch, and the questions he asked filled in the information I hadn’t yet given him. His ability to understand and intuitively pick up on my vision was startling.  

Givers draw strength and confidence from their actions and interactions. They have courage and engage with the world. They make mistakes and learn from them, and this produces confidence. Mitch exudes confidence, he is wise, but not too wise.

My father used to say that courage is about facing life and all its adversity with honour. And being honourable is about living up to a moral code that protects and enhances civil society.  Mitchell Goldhar has a lot of courage, and I’m looking forward to working with him in the very near future.

AirBNB is the driver of change in travel

AirBNB has become the largest “hotel chain” in the world and it’s having a huge impact on hotels  in tourist destinations like the Caribbean.  It’s hard to say what the exact conditions were that enabled AirBNB to succeed.  Some argue the knowledge the internet brought into our homes gave travellers a stronger sense of security, while others believe that government legislation making all beaches in the Caribbean public opened up the market to AirBNB, while still others argue that the desire for more local experiences was crucial to their success. I tend to think it was a convergence of all of the above. The playing field for the hospitality industry was significantly changed, and hotels can either change with it, or fade away.

Change isn’t easy, especially to those who have spent there careers in the industry.  As AirBNB expands people begin to demand more from their vacations, they learn that having a view of the ocean, is better than not having it, that having a kitchen to cook in is better than having to eat out every single night.  If travellers can rent a home with a view of the ocean and access to a beach – they are more likely to rent it than a hotel room that doesn’t have a view of the ocean. I would argue with any hotel developer out there that having a property with an ocean view, kitchenettes, and beach access,  is far more valuable than a hotel room located on a beach.  And until the industry begins to take AirBNBs influence on travellers seriously, they’ll miss out on opportunities driven by the change.

The first victims of AirBNB are the “garden view” hotel room suites. Why would anyone choose to pay for a small garden view room, when they could rent a large room in a home with a view of the ocean for far less, and get free access to a number of beaches?

In Barbados a family can rent a 4 bedroom home through AirBNB with a pool, an awesome view of the ocean, and public beach access 5 minutes away, for just under $300/night. Compare this to one Superior room at the Marriot hotel in Barbados for $220/night and it is easy to see why the hospitality industry is in turmoil.

Add to this the rise of “Beach Clubs” like Nikki Beach and there is little reason to rent a room at a large corporate hotel.

So what is the answer? How can corporate hotel chains survive when AirBNB has so completely changed the playing field?

They have to start adapting to the change and offer more than just a room. They need to take a lesson from the small boutique hotels that are succeeding by attracting travellers with “experiential” opportunities. For starters, the land costs for a boutique hotel smart enough to know they don’t have to be right on the beach, are much lower. Boutique hotels offer travellers the chance to experience local culture and many of them set up partnerships with local businesses. Successful boutique hotels provide on site programming (yoga and cooking classes, nature hikes etc.) giving travellers more than just a room on the beach, but a memorable experience.

Corporate hotels have to change the way they do business. Sweeping policies that once guided their developments need to be strategically evaluated. For example here is a quote given by a development manager at the Marriott “We are currently interested only in a beach location for a luxury or an upper-upscale brand in Barbados.” That kind of  thinking is why so few of the large hotel chains succeed on islands like Barbados, where boutique hotels owned by private families control the luxury market.

Corporate hotels have a choice – change now or slowly watch their profits wither.

Love will conquer all

Today is our 15th wedding anniversary and my husband, Greg Thomson, started our day by playing a video on his Iphone of the Flintstones singing “Happy Anniversary, Happy Anniversary.”  Like our wedding day, today started with reckless giggling.

My husband is an amazing man. In that quiet time just before we get up in the morning, I sometimes feel as if there is an angel beside me.  He is man who has made it his goal to balance compassion, tenderness, strength, wisdom and grace — and he has succeeded.  Greg has never chased after power or fame, and he doesn’t need social status or wealth to define him – but he makes allowances for those who do.

Greg is rarely critical of people or ideas, he doesn’t possess the arrogance that too often develops in men who achieve success. Greg believes in human potential – in that ability people have to achieve things that others think impossible.

Greg would never hurt anyone and he would never try to limit or undermine someones confidence. He is wise and knows that those who think they know best are fools (although he’d never say that to them). He is a man who feels a duty to give back the world, to tackle mediocrity, and conventional thinking. In his work, he studies the social impact of charities hoping that he can help the small charities who have a large social impact. He gets frustrated over the amount of funds that get wasted by charities that have little social impact, but are filled with influential board members.

When I think about our marriage, I believe our happiness rests on our willingness to give up our individual selves to become part of something bigger. I remember when we were just married, I used to write about my love for him; about the things he did that inspired me, about the awe that I had over this man who chose to share his life with me. Today, I realize that my love is now weaved together with the love Greg has for me. It is constantly expanding. It encompasses our children, and, like a warm breeze, it spreads out over our family and friends. I think our love grows with the choices we make, with the friendships we have, and the experiences we gain. By living up to the people we want to be we are able to feel more deeply, and experience things more richly.

When we were first married we talked about what we wanted in our future. Greg wanted to feel more, to do more and to make a difference in the world. Back then I couldn’t understand what Greg meant by ‘feel more” because I had been raised to put both my heart and mind into everything I do. At the beginning of our marriage I realized that Greg put his head and thoughts into what he did, but not his heart.  He learned to be cerebral, to hide his feelings, but part of him knew he was missing out on something. Over time as our love weaved together Greg let himself feel more, he put his heart and not just his head into everything he did. He allowed himself to go beyond just thinking about the world to sensing it. I learned to see the world through Greg’s eyes just as he learned to see it through mine. Our world became much bigger, more vibrant, sensual, and beautiful. We are soaring above the ground we walked as individuals.

A few months ago a man told me that I should be much more afraid of failing than I am. I’ve thought about his words a lot since then; about what he thinks is failure, and about the limitations his kind of thinking has placed on him. In the world of keeping up the Joneses he’s succeeded, but in the world that Greg and I live in, he seems shackled by fear, limiting his involvement in things that might expand his world because he fears failure.

The love that Greg and I have has allowed us to embrace the world. Together we can take on any challenge. And the only true failure that either of us could have is to fail to live up to the moral code that guides our lives. Our love has made us free, and has given us confidence. Together we experience life, we set out to achieve our dreams and we live every moment to the fullest.

When our eldest son was born, I remember sharing that moment when we both realized that our duty extended beyond just what we could give to the world, but to provide our children with love, compassion and a value system that will allow them to find the love we have managed to build.

Everyday I wake up and I know how lucky I am to have such an amazing man in my life. Greg is the strongest man I have ever met. He would never compromise himself for gain, or use “business” as an excuse for hurting someone. I think he would actually be physically sick if he thought his words had hurt someone. He is kind, compassionate and every day he defines what it means to be a gentleman.

The vision of who Greg wants to be captures all the qualities that go into making a true hero.  He is a part of how I define myself, the pulse inside me that drives me forward and makes me want to put everything I have into everything that I do —  so that one day I just might be good enough for him.