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Sarah Thomson

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An ode to librarians

This article was originally published in the summer of 2012.

From the beginning of recorded time, librarians have stored and protected knowledge to stave off the plague of ignorance that, like other plagues, doesn’t distinguish between poverty and opulence. I’ve just finished reading Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks. The lead character struggles to understand the world in a time when books and ideas are thwarted by religious belief and superstition. It is a terrific novel about life during the black plague and has me thinking about the amount of knowledge our librarians have collected over the generations and how important this knowledge is to understanding the world.

My family and I are currently visiting Costa Rica where the division between the wealthy and the poor is extreme.  The house we have rented is high up on a mountainside (Del Congo de Uvita) and it looks out over the coastal town of Uvita. The town has a small one-room open-air school; its windows lack glass and the shelves are empty of books. There isn’t a library in the town, but further north Librarians without Borders built an elementary school library in El Hum. Things move much slower here; roads are rough, most of them are unpaved, and in some places knowledge and the advancement it brings haven’t taken hold – there are internet towers and cell phones almost everywhere, but even this technology hasn’t had a huge impact on daily lives in most of the coastal towns.

While there are libraries here in Costa Rica, they are nothing like the public library system we have in Toronto, which has had much more investment, both financially and socially.  The Toronto Public Library system grew out of a campaign by city alderman John Hallam back in the late 1800s. It has become the largest public library system in Canada and has higher circulation per capita than any other public library system in the world.

But as Toronto’s city government reviews all areas to cut spending, this precious and priceless gem of a system could get whittled away by budget cuts so that its true value – not only the books, data, and information, but also the hundreds of librarians that protect and pass on the knowledge we’ve accumulated  – disappears. Too many people now mistake data for knowledge and wrongly assume that the internet can provide all the necessary information society needs. But it is the desire to further ourselves through literacy, and understanding, that our librarians, our custodians over knowledge, work to nurture and feed.

When I ran for mayor of Toronto, I learned quickly that the opposition hires fake writers to post bogus “articles” made to discredit their competition. The internet allows almost anyone to pose as a “journalist,” or to create fake “news” sites that distort the truth. One site went so far as to falesely report that I had suggested privatizing libraries – which goes against my core belief that having a strong public library system is essential to protecting knowledge from being distorted by private enterprise. And it is precisely because the internet enables both truth and misinformation to co-exist that the need to maintain a strong library system is so vitally important to our city.

Libraries must continue to collect and protect knowledge, and, as a society entering the internet age, it is essential that we continue to fund them.  Toronto’s public library system is one of the most important long-term investments our city can make. And it is our librarians who serve as custodians to protect our history and inform our aspirations.

 

 

Follow Sarah on Twitter at @ThomsonTO.

Follow Women’s Post on Twitter at @WomensPost.

 

The Democratic process is fundamental

Today, Toronto City Council has convened to decide on having a by-election or appointing someone to act as councillor in Ward 3 until the 2014 election.

For the first time in almost 4 years I have to agree with the Fords on the importance of having a by-election despite its $200,000+ cost estimate.

The importance of having a truly democratic process in place is fundamental. By appointing someone council will give them the unfair advantage of incumbency (the incumbent has both resources and status to quietly campaign prior to an election).  If council is going to appoint they must appoint someone who would not run in that ward — but it’s virtually impossible to ensure this legally.

With over a year until the next election prior precedent has called for a by-election to ensure that the people get the representative they want.

Although I have offered to fill the seat, it is if, and only if, council decides to appoint someone. I would not seek re-election in the riding although I may seek it elsewhere and want to be very clear of this. I also want to emphasize that a by-election is the only truly democratic way to handle the issue of filling the seat in Ward 3.  I encourage council to support a by-election there.

Toronto police officer charged with murder in the shooting of Sammy Yatim

Tragic. That sums up everything to do with an 18 year old boy bing shot and tasered  after he brandished a knife. The director of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the agency that probes civilian deaths that involve police officers, issued a press release earlier this morning.

Ian Scott, SIU director “has reasonable grounds to believe that a Toronto Police Service officer committed a criminal offence in relations to the shooting death of 18-year-old Sammy Adib Yatim in July of 2013,” said the press release.

Sammy Yatim was shot nine times by police while on board the westbound Dundas  streetcar near Trinity Bellwoods Park just after midnight on July 27.

Constable James Forcillo was the lone subject of the SIU investigation.

This is a tragedy not only for the friends and family of Sammy Yatim, but also for those of the constable. An incident like this must bring change to the way officers are trained and overseen at each and every crime scene

Voters fear Liberal bureaucracy is too powerful

Provincial Liberal strategists are blaming their losses in the August 1st byelection on the gas plant scandal, and while this is a big negative issue it’s important to understand what people are truly reacting to.

I should disclose that I am am a past candidate for the Liberals in the 2011 election. So I come at this with a bit of experience and a little insight into how things run within the party.

My advice to Premier Wynne is to make sure that she addresses the true issue around the gas plant scandal: it isn’t just about what was done but more about who did it.  The public is upset because the Liberal election campaign team seemed to have more control than those who were elected.  That the campaign staff had enough power to stop the gas plants is what truly upsets people. The feeling on the street is that the bureaucracy has become far too powerful and devious.  That is the true issue the Premier has to deal with and voters will be watching closely to see how she handles it.

Replacing staff is a good first step but if the Premier doesn’t curtail their power it will amount to very little.  Liberals lost three of their held ridings because the candidates they put into those ridings lacked the authenticity needed to overcome the devious image the gas plant scandal has cast over the Liberals.

As things currently stand the Premiers campaign staff are selecting too many of the candidates they want. This is a huge mistake and one that will have big consequences in the next election.

Allowing campaign team staff to have control over the elected politicians, over government policy, and extending it to choosing the new candidates gives them far too much power and influence not only over the new candidates,  but also over MPPs who need their help to get re-elected. It shows how strong the bureaucracy has become.

You wouldn’t run a company and put your staff in charge of selecting their supervisor or managers and as the leader of the Liberal party the Premier should not be allowing her staff to hand pick the candidates they want. Not only is it bad for government but it will also hurt her chances of winning.

Why? Because staff will pick people most likely to do their bidding, to cover up their mistakes, and to bend to their will. This means that a whole group of excellent politicians, will not have an opportunity to run.

Gone are the vocal candidates, and anyone who would stand up to the staff.

Gone are the community activists who don’t always agree with the a policy position and drive the party to change – keeping the party relevant to voters.

Gone are the candidates who worried openly that the campaign team was getting too powerful.

When the Liberal campaign staff control the candidate selection process it becomes insular – they get other staff or past staff in as candidates, or bureaucrats they know will do as they are told. But in doing so they risk voter support – as the past byelection demonstrated.

For example, take the byelection in London West – a riding that has been held by Liberals for a decade and where Ken Coran, former head of the Teachers Union, was announced as the candidate with all other possibles shunned. Coran the man who took credit for pushing the Liberals out in the Kitchener byelection in 2012. Among staff he was seen as the man who beat them, and he was treated with awe and respect. Among Liberals he was seen as a big gun for the NDP – a wolf the farmer thought a dog and mistakenly put in to guard the hens. Liberal voters refused to come out and vote for him. He lost by a whopping 9,637 votes to the NDP and even trailed the Conservatives by 6,256 votes

Or look at Windsor-Tecumseh riding which has been held by the Liberals since 1995. Liberal candidate Jeewan Gill won a nomination, but his experience working as special assistant to a former MP hurt him on election day. Voters saw Mr Gill’s background and connected him — albeit in error — to those devious election staff behind the Gas Plant scandal. The NDP had a landslide win with Percy Hatfield taking the seat away from Liberals easily.

In the riding of Etobicoke-Lakeshore – which has been liberal for a decade  – the campaign team hand-picked their candidate dissuading all others. But they picked Councillor Peter Milzcyn a candidate who was viewed by most voters in the community as being a Conservative and served on Rob Ford’s executive. The general public didn’t look at his history as a Liberal Party riding president, it’s only party insiders who noted that but less active Liberals didn’t trust him and stayed home on election day.

The role of the politician is to represent what voters want. But when party staff show up as political candidates voters worry that their loyalty will be to the party bureaucracy first and because of the gas plant scandal, the next election campaign is sure to focus on the issue of Liberal Campaign staff having too much power.  If it does any candidate who is or was a political staffer will have a tough time winning.

Premier Wynne needs to prove to voters that she is strong enough to curtail the bureaucracy, to take control away from her staff and put it back into the hands of the elected officials.

I recommend three actions to the Premier:

First — set up a campaign selection committee of politicians who can and will stand up to the campaign team and work to dissuade staff or former staff from running as candidates.

Second — have the candidate selection committee review the candidates her staff have already put in place. There are ridings that now have current or former Queens Park staff as candidates, that have had staff pack the nomination meetings in order to get their guy in. As things now stand they are very likely to lose those ridings for the same reason they lost so many in the byelections … voters will see staff or former staff as the bureaucracy weaseling in to gain even more power. Staff should be encouraged not to be involved in any way in the nominations.  I have met many of these “staff” candidates and know them to be good solid people —  but unfortunately the trust voters have in Queens Park staff or former staff or anyone tied to the bureaucracy is at an all-time low.

Third — have the candidate selection committee entice strong active community advocates to run for them. They need to select people who aren’t afraid to say what they think, who have name recognition and are active in their communities. Voters need to trust that their candidate will not only represent their issues, but stand up to the powerful bureaucracy that a decade of government has enabled.

My nightmare about Toronto’s Mayor

I had a nightmare last night.

I dreamt that I was running for Mayor again and was at a debate, it was ending and I had to stand beside Rob Ford for the usual pictures. We were lined up on the stage and as we organized I was trying to carefully put someone between myself and him because I had noticed that his eyes were glazed over, he’d been repeating the same line “stop the gravy train” over and over again, and I knew he was wasted.

 

I worried that he might grope me again, and tried to put someone between us but at the last minute they moved and I had to stand beside him and smile. I had trouble smiling thinking how much I’d grown to dislike him. I kept telling myself he’s an addict have sympathy. The next thing I knew his hand was on my butt. The cameras were clicking and I froze again. I wanted to punch him – but I had to control my anger. If I hit him a photo of it would be on the front page of the all newspapers – and it would set a terrible example for my sons. I controlled my anger.

 

I stepped away and looked behind me to see if anyone had witnessed it. Nobody seemed to be looking our way. I turned back to him and he had the same salacious grin on his face I’d seen once before. All the worries I’d felt then came rushing back to me.  What if a video of it appeared online? Would it look like I “liked” it. I was after all smiling for the camera’s. How would the press spin it? Would they frame it as a secret tryst between us? I could never let my husband be humiliated with that sort of thing. Should I get out in front of the story? But if nobody had seen it then wouldn’t it be better to stay quiet especially after what happened to me the last time I accused him.

 

Then it was suddenly the next morning and my phone was ringing. A  reporter was asking me if I was having a fling with Rob Ford and my heart started beating fast. i repeated the question loudly and my husband jumped out of bed and was on his laptop in no time. I excused myself from the call and looked over my husbands shoulder the headline read “Dirty Secret between Rob Ford and Sarah Thomson” and there was a picture of a meaty hand on my butt.

 

I screamed “No” and sat bolt upright in bed, me heart still racing from the nightmare. The boathouse was quiet and I could hear a loon call in the distance.

 

Political spin and subway propaganda

Despite the Liberals committing close to $1.4 billion for the subway in Scarborough, Mayor Ford is out on the campaign trail with PC candidate Ken Kirupa claiming that Liberals don’t back subways and dismissing Mitzie Hunters claim of being a subway champion as a “bunch of malarky.”

The issue comes down to who to believe? As far as I know Mr. Kirupa does not smoke crack, does not hang out with drug dealers, but like Mayor Ford he claims to want subways although he has never been part of the push for subways in Toronto.

I do know that Mitzie Hunter is a transit advocate, and have heard her speak dozens of times as CEO of Civic Action on the need for regional transit.

Rob Ford claims that Conservatives will build subways but to date the only money that has been dedicated to the Scarborough subway has come from the Wynne Liberals, and it doesn’t appear that Ford has managed to get any financial commitments from the Federal Conservatives. This seems extremely odd, since most large infrastructure projects across Canada are split 3 ways between, city, province and the federal government.

Winston Churchill once said “The farther backward you are able to look the farther forward you are likely to see.” I would add that good governing is about making hard decisions for the long-term. Bad governing occurs when politicians make short-term decisions to gain votes.

Unfortunately the provincial Conservatives have demonstrated bad government over the past two decades. Starting with the Mike Harris government, like Mayor Ford they offered immediate tax cuts, but ignored the long-term impacts. Their decision to sell highway 407 to balance their budget was a lesson in complete short-sightedness. The Harris government sold the 407 for only $3.1 Billion, estimates three years later valued it at well over $12Billion.

When it comes to subway and transit expansion what worries me most about the provincial Conservatives is their history of short-term decision making. Take the Harris government decision in 1995 to halt the extension of the Yonge line to Downsview as well as the Eglinton subway project. Current leader Tim Hudak was a key player in the Harris government when the Eglinton subway line, estimated to cost $2.6 Billion in 1995, was cancelled and buried in. Today we are paying close to $8.2 Billion for the Eglinton crosstown line.

The short-term decision to cancel transit expansion projects across the GTHA by the Harris government created the gridlock we have today. The C.D. Howe Institute estimates that gridlock is costing residents and businesses well over $12 Billion per year.  The Progressive Conservatives have a long history of short-term decision making that have costly long-term impacts on Ontario residents and businesses.

So today if Rob Ford reaches your door and promises that Conservatives will deliver subway expansion ask him why they cancelled it in the 90s, and why the federal Conservatives haven’t come through with any funding — and check to see if his eyes are glazed over.

Rob Ford the taxman

Toronto city council voted in favour (28-16) to replace the worn out RT line with a subway from Kennedy station east on Eglinton north on McCowan to Shepperd Avenue East. By approving the subway council has cancelled the $1.8 billion LRT it had approved last year, which was fully funded by the province. It is expected that the under ground subway option could cost close to $1.1 billion more than the LRT.

The subway expansion requires the Federal government contribute at least $418 million and that the province contribute $1.4 billion., and the city make up the additional funds with a 1.1 – 2.4% tax increase along with new development charges.   This places most of Toronto’s portion of the additional funds needed for the subway expansion onto homeowners as development charges get passed on to them as well.

Council approved a series of motions to try to limit the cities risk, and asked that the province and Ottawa commit to funding by September 30.

But perhaps the most momentous event of the past week was that Rob Ford has changed his tune from the “No Tax” man to calling for an increase in taxes to pay for transit in Scarborough.  Like many politicians before him his desire to get re-elected has caused him to change his most sacred position. Rob has spent over a decade raging against any and all tax increases, and yet for the past 3 years done very little hard work — while taking credit for the work of other councillors. Without bothering to do a line by line analysis of all city departments, without finding the efficiencies he promised, without stopping the “gravy train” Rob Ford has chosen to embrace taxes.

Some may accuse him of trying keep his promise of subways, while other might point out that he also promised not to raise taxes, to find efficiencies and stop the gravy train – but to whatever people say Rob Ford has grown into a true politician, authentic to the core he has shown that he is not only a lazy charlatan , but also a hypocrite willing to say whatever it takes to get re-elected.

Rob Ford is calling for higher taxes and I can hear Mayor Miller chuckling…