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Australia votes to legalize same-sex marriage

More than 12.5 million Australians took part in a non-binding postal vote to decide whether or not same-sex marriage should be legalized. The results were overwhelming, with 61.6 per cent of respondents voting in favour of legislation by Christmas.

The vote took a long eight weeks, with the results announced Wednesday by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Australians were asked the following question: “Should the marriage law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” Participation in this survey was voluntary, which is why the 79.5 per cent response rate was shocking.

The survey, which participants had to mail to their representatives, took place because there were twi previous failed attempts by the government to hold a national vote. The debate has been controversial, with many Coalition party members being whipped into voting against the legislation. Instead of holding a national vote, the government created a loophole and spent $122 million sending out voluntary surveys to all residents in order to gauge public opinion.

A bill was introduced to the Senate on Wednesday and will be up for discussion and amendments. Australia’s Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has said that he will support the public’s preferences and hopes to get the bill passed before the New Year.

“[Australians had] spoken in the millions and they have voted overwhelmingly yes for marriage equality,” Turnbull said at a press conference. “They voted yes for fairness, yes for commitment, yes for love. And now it is up to us here in the parliament of Australia to get on with it, to get on with the job the Australian people asked us to do and get this done.”

Those opposed to same-sex marriage may try to tack on an amendment that will enact “religious freedom protection” for commercial businesses who oppose same-sex marriage, but Turnbull said there is little change an amendment like that would pass.

As the results were announced, hundreds, if not thousands, of people flooded the streets, waving rainbow flags, singing, dancing, and hugging their partners. While the vote isn’t binding, it proves with incredible clarity that the Australian people want this change in legislation. If the government ignores this vote, there is bound to be backlash.

Same-sex marriage was banned in Australia in 2004 when the Marriage Act was amended to define the union as being between a man and a woman. The government has received a lot of pressure to change the Act, especially after Ireland voted to legalize same-sex marriage in 2015.

What do you think? Will the government pass the bill or will amendments cause delays?

Do you care about the sex appeal of your Prime Minister?

It’s started already. The “who’s hotter than who” rhetoric surrounding Canada’s political leaders. Apparently, if your Prime Minister isn’t old and balding (or orange with a toupee), this is what the press focuses on. It doesn’t matter what his or her policy is, whether or not they kept their promises, or what their plans are for the future. It’s all about their hair and winning smile.

Don’t get me wrong! I’m a woman who can appreciate a person’s good looks — but when it comes to the people who represent my interests on a national and international level, I tend to think values matter more. But, that’s just me.

It all started with the election of Justin Trudeau as Prime Minister. The world exploded with jealousy, talking about how sexy he was and how gorgeous his hair is. Newspapers, magazines, and tabloids all posted pictures of him boxing or taking his shirt off for a charity event. They even made some cringe-worthy jokes involving maple syrup. To this day, the media go into a frenzy whenever our Prime Minister steps on foreign soil. There is no escaping those selfies.

Canadians could deal with one good-looking politician. Sure, the press may love to take his picture, but after the first month of his term, most Canadians were over Trudeau’s charm. But now, Canada is in trouble. There are now two — yes, I said two — good-looking political leaders vying for the position of Prime Minister in the next election.

Newly-elected New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh has been praised for his ability to connect with young people. He is charismatic, and fashion-forward. Take a look at any of his photos and you can see a man who knows how to work a camera.

Earlier this week, Singh made a comment about his own luscious locks hidden beneath his turban, saying “I have more hair, and it’s longer, and it’s nicer.” Now, people are going crazy again. Articles have popped up calling those “fighting words”, making the correlation between hair and a vow to defeat Trudeau in the next election. Poor Conservative Party Leader Andrew Sheer has to read articles that compare his sex appeal to that of his colleagues. Yes, apparently sex appeal is the newest factor for a political leader. May I suggest a catwalk for the next televised debate?

While this whole debocle is pretty funny, it’s also a big problem.

First of all, as editor of Women’s Post, I must question whether or not this kind of talk would be the same if a woman were elected as party leader. Would sex appeal be as big of a factor? Would the mere inclusion of that kind of discussion be labelled inappropriate? Would reporters get in trouble for talking about a woman’s hair and makeup instead of her policy platform? No one is talking about Elizabeth May’s appearance, so why are we talking about Singh’s? If anyone was confused about the double standard between male and female politicians, they don’t have to look much further.

While a fight over luscious locks seems entertaining, and may be a good PR tactic to gain the attention of potential voters, it also distracts from the bigger issues facing our country. Unemployment, health care, education, and Indigenous reconciliation are just a few of the important issues our political leaders need to be knowledgeable of. Those are the issues that our leaders should be discussing. Instead, voters are treated to a pageant contest, where the contestants have to dress up, smile, and describe their ideal date.

This is not my kind of democracy, and I think a lot of Canadians feel the same way.

To be fair, a lot of this is the media’s doing. Politicians know that catering to the press is how they get coverage and reach voters — and journalists love to write about sex and controversy. But, the worst mistake a politician can make is to assume voters are stupid and easily distracted. Talking about your hair is not going to make Canadians forget to ask about your policies.

Being charismatic is a good thing. Being able to genuinely connect to Canadians is even better. But at what point do we stop talking about it and focus on the real issues?

Hopefully, it’s before the election.

Thanks Trump! You just created a new age of activism.

The election of U.S. President Donald Trump has sparked anger, resentment, and hate — and people aren’t standing for it. In fact, they are doing even more. They are marching.

While 2017 is proving to be even worse than 2016, at least one good thing has sprung from it all. The continuous bigotry fuelled by American politics is bringing about a new age of activism.

As a millennial, I’ve never truly experienced the power of global activism. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve witnessed some powerful demonstrations over the last two decades. There was the Arab Spring, the lesser but effective Maple Spring and, of course, the Occupy movement. But, I’ve never seen so many people, from all walks of life — ethnicities, religious affiliations, and economic statuses — come together to condemn such a wide array of issues on a global scale.

On Feb. 4, over 5,000 people gathered in front of the United States Consulate in Toronto to protest the American immigration ban and Islamophobia. At the same time, thousands of people got together across Canada and overseas, all marching and chanting in unison: “No Muslim ban on stolen land.”

 

There were families with their children, students and seniors standing hand in hand, sharing samosas and taking photos of each other’s carefully crafted signs. When organizers asked the crowd to part so that the Muslim participants could be closer to the stage for a prayer, everyone did it. People smiled and opened their arms, leading their allies and fellow Canadians (or Canadian hopefuls) to the front, remaining silent while they prayed for those fallen in the Quebec mosque shootings a few weeks ago.

Above everything else, people were polite, inclusive, and tolerant — but also strong, powerful, and loud. It was truly something to witness.

Photo by Katherine DeClerq
Photo by Katherine DeClerq

In January, more than 60,000 people marched in Toronto  — along with millions in the United States and throughout Europe — for women’s rights and to protest the inauguration of Trump, a man who has repeatedly used sexist remarks in speeches and disregarded the rights of women on the political stage. The march may have been the biggest demonstration in U.S. history.

I know what you are thinking. These are people who are just marching because “it’s cool”, right? They won’t actually work to enact change.

Photo courtesy of Madeleine Laforest

But this new age of activism is not limited to marching. Within hours of an executive order signed by President Trump, there are over a dozen Facebook events created for smaller, more pointed demonstrations indicating their displeasure over his political actions. American citizens are calling their representatives at every level of government, telling them what they think of the cabinet confirmations or a political document that was released. When the telephone voice mailboxes are full, people start using the fax machines to reach their political offices. A few people even tried to send their representatives pizzas with notes attached to them.

For example, so many people called their Senators regarding the confirmation of Betsy DeVos, the candidate for Secretary of Education, that she almost wasn’t confirmed. Two Republications changed their votes and the Vice President had to be the tiebreaker, a first in American history.

People are fired up. Normal citizens who never would have considered becoming politically active are making signs and marching to Capitol Hill. They are listening and they are informed. For the first time in my lifetime, people actually care. And not just specific groups of people — all people.

The west has forgotten the true meaning and functionality of democracy. Politicians are supposed to fight for their constituents, not for their own self-interest. If their constituents say they want them to vote against their party, technically, they should do it. That is how representative democracy works. A politician must represent the views of their constituents.

This concept has been lost, fuelled by the complacency and ignorance of a population willing to let other people run their country. But, with the rise of this new age of activism, that can change.

The Republicans (under the leadership of Trump) are forcing citizens to reconsider their own beliefs and be more aware of what they want of their country. Without meaning too, they are inspiring real democracy, a system in which the people decide what they want their politicians to do.

All I can say is this: stay strong my fellow democratic participants! Change will not happen over night. It will be a long process, and it will take a lot of screaming, chanting, marching, and phone calls to make our politicians remember that we, the people they serve, have a voice too.

But trust me, the end game will be worth it.

Why the term “fake news” is so dangerous

What is “fake news”? That’s a question a lot of people are asking these days. It’s also a question a certain President-Elect SHOULD be asking before he takes office; although, I’m sure he won’t.

As a journalist, this phrase makes me cringe. News, by its very definition, cannot be considered “fake”. It can be sensationalist, maybe sometimes biased, but not fake. “Fake News”, therefore, isn’t news at all. It’s just garbage on the Internet or the tabloids that way too many people are gullible enough to think is true.

The Internet is big. Anyone can create a free website and start to write, upload photos, and create video. They can even make their site look like that of a news organization. It’s not that difficult. This fact is an amazing thing, but it does create a few problems. Who do you trust? What information is real and what is, as we call it now, “fake news.”

This is where journalists and news organizations come in.

It is their job (and mine) to sift through all of the false claims, tall tales, and outlandish stories that exist on the Internet. A journalist will confirm facts with numerous, legitimate and reliable sources. Their work is then edited by a number of people, including fact-checkers. If, in some cases, those sources and fact-checkers are not available, a news organization may use the word “unverified” or “alleged” until such time where the facts can be confirmed. This ensures transparency. This does NOT mean the information is falsified by the media with a nefarious purpose.

Cue President-Elect, Donald Trump.

At a press conference on Jan 11, Trump refused to answer a question by CNN veteran reporter Jim Acosta.  This happened after CNN reported that intelligence officials briefed Trump on an unverified dossier alleging Russian officials had compromising information about Trump.

“Your organization is terrible,” he yelled when Acosta tried to ask him a question. “You are fake news.”

And that was it. The term was redefined.

Since then, Trump has used the term “fake news” to describe every story he’s had an issue with. Most recently, on Jan. 18, he tweeted a news story from NBC.

 

Essentially, the term “fake news,” once used to describe a false story on the Internet that suddenly started trending to the point of believability, is now used to label a media organization is wrong and untrustworthy.

What Trump hopes to do is perpetuate this myth that the media is out to get everyone — that they would do anything or say anything for a headline and a few clicks. This is outrageously insulting, not to mention a dangerous sentiment for the future President of the United States to make. The job of the media is to keep people of authority accountable; to inform the public about what is happening in the world; and to shed light on important issues that require attention.

Just because you don’t agree with a story, or you don’t like what it says, doesn’t make a story, or a news organization, “fake.” It also doesn’t mean it’s wrong — unless you can show the data and prove it.

To throw this phrase around haphazardly, without forethought or understanding, creates real problems for the media and destroys its essential purpose.  I’m guessing this is exactly what Trump wants — but the public should be wary.

It’s good to be critical. It’s smart to question whether something described as fact is, in actuality, true. However, it’s just as important to question the way politicians attack the press and the real message they are trying to send stop from spreading. The President-Elect’s use and abuse of “fake news” is another of his bullying tactic to deflect and suppress non-Trump generated news. The public should not allow this abuse to continue.

Freedom of the press is an essential part of a democracy. As Barack Obama, soon to be former President of the United States, said to the media in his last press conference Wednesday, “You’re not supposed to be sycophants, you’re supposed to be skeptics. You’re supposed to ask me tough questions.”

“Democracy doesn’t work if we don’t have a well-informed citizenry, and you are the conduit through which they receive the information about what’s taking place in the halls of power. So America needs you and our democracy needs you.”

The use of the term “fake news” to delegitimize the media is an affront to that very concept — and it’s up to every single citizen of North America to ensure politicians don’t take advantage of this term for their own gain.

What do you define as “fake news”? Let us know in the comments below.

Is the government scared of an informed youth?

*UPDATE: Since the publication of this piece, Women’s Post has been contacted by Paris Semansky, Senior policy advisor to Premier Kathleen Wynne, via Twitter. She insists the provincial government is not considering cancelling civics classes and will be keeping it as a distinct mandatory course in high school. Women’s Post will be keeping this piece online as it does represent an important discussion about youth involvement in politics, but note this update as you read.

 

“Today’s youth are too apathetic and lazy. They don’t care about politics. They don’t understand how their own government works.”

I’m a millennial, and despite my intense interest in the news, my teachers and political leaders often told me that I was not doing enough. My generation, they said, was too apathetic. They didn’t vote, they didn’t get involved, and they simply didn’t care. And whose fault is that, they would ask? Entirely yours, they would say.

It’s been almost 10 years since I graduated high school, and those statements are still thrown in the face of young people across the country. It’s not a politician’s fault they can’t engage with youth, right? These kids spend too much time on Snapchat and not enough time reading the newspaper, ect. ect.

But then, after all of the nagging and the finger pointing, the Ontario government has the gall to consider cancelling civic classes.

Civic class represent a mandatory half credit in Ontario high schools, and is paired with a half-credit “careers” course. It teaches the basics — how our government works, how to vote, and what people’s rights are as a Canadian citizen. The careers course, on the other hand, essentially teaches kids to write a resume and not to chew gum during a job interview.

These are two integral and important classes, classes that should not under any circumstance be dismissed. In fact, I would argue that each course should be a full credit. Kids should be taught how to budget, file their taxes, and negotiate a sale. They should be taught how to submit a deposition to city council, hold a legal protest, and where to find information on the bills being discussed in question period. They should be taken to see question period!

And yet media sources report that the provincial government is considering removing these critical classes from the high school curriculum. How much do you want to bed that they will still blame kids for not understanding how their own government works?

The province has a right to be scared. Civics is breeding a new generation of informed citizens, kids who understand that they don’t vote for a leader of a party, despite what every political campaign tells them. These kids understand that most promises are smoke screens for hidden agendas. They get it! They ask questions. They are skeptical!

And that’s a scary thought. All of a sudden, MPPs have to focus their political capital on a generation they previously ignored. They have to pretend to care. Their career could depend on the vote of a single 18-year-old entering university for the first time.

No wonder the province doesn’t want to invest in informed citizens. An informed citizen is dangerous to the entire political system. An informed citizen will vote, take part in the discussion, and advocate for change!

It’s much better to just knick that pesky habit before it even develops.

 

civics

Canadian government finally lets its youth speak

When I was in university, my biggest pet peeve was how politicians completely ignored youth. I was a political science major, and more than anything I wanted the people sitting in Parliament to ask for my opinion — what did I think about the cost of tuition; what did I think about the latest tax increase; what did I think about the democratic process?

But no one ever asked me. This is why young people are so apathetic. They want to speak — if only someone would listen.

Well, it looks like someone finally has. Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that he was spearheading a Youth Council, consisting of 30 people between the ages of 16 and 24. These youth will meet a number of times a year, both in person and online, to discuss important issues and then propose recommendations to the Prime Minister’s office.

According to the government website, the council “will advise the Prime Minister on national issues such as employment, access to education, building stronger communities, climate change and clean growth.”

The council is supposed to be non-partisan.

I would like to give Justin Trudeau a hug — a very big bear hug — for not only coming up with this idea, but for ensuring it is actually put into practice.

During the 2015 federal elections, I went to a debate held in my riding. It was a town-hall style debate, where constituents could ask questions of the candidates. To my surprise, a large number of young people showed up.  They asked about what the candidates could do for them and most could not give them answers. They had all prepared stump speeches that were relevant to working moms, single parents, and old people with a pension. They didn’t know what to do when a 16- or 17-year-old asks about transit or funding for education — despite the fact that most of these young people pay taxes and deserve to be part of the conservation. This type of question-shock shouldn’t be possible in 21st century democracy.

The average young person is informed. They read the news online and they talk about it with their parents and friends. They are involved in school clubs and university groups, and they advocate for freedoms and rights others may not have. They WANT to be active in politics, but they also want to feel as if what they say (or ask) matters.

This Youth Council should, hopefully, provide these young people with a national platform to voice their opinions. They can finally contribute to national policy in a meaningful way. Who knows what kind of results will arise from these council meetings, but if anything it is the first step to altering political stereotypes of apathetic youth. And that is an amazing thing.

Write your councillor! Non-profits may have to register as lobbyists

Non-profits and small community groups in Toronto are growing angrier as City Council continues to discuss the possibility of requiring them to register as lobbyists in order to speak with their local councillor.

A request for a report on whether non-profits should register as lobbyists was approved in City Council last week. When a business representative wants to lobby, they must sign up in the Lobbyist registry and adhere to a set of strict requirements to be applicable. Within three days of meeting an official, it is necessary to update the registry to keep lobbyist meetings transparent or a $100,000 fine will ensue. Registration and complying with the set of standards requires extra resources and manpower, and many non-profits have a limited set of means for additional costs.

The Lobbying bylaw motion states, “City Council request the City Manager, in consultation with the Lobbyist Registrar and the City Solicitor, to review the requirements for not-for-profits organizations and labour unions…. and their associations to register, and report to Executive Committee with amendments to Toronto Municipal Code Chapter 140, Lobbying as required.”

The Lobbying registry exists to track financial information of companies that are interacting with city officials and maintains transparency. Lobbying groups are financially viable and registering is possible with their deep pockets. Non-profits that are looking for research grants outside of the formal application process are also already required to register, and demanding other non-profits to take part additionally is unnecessary. Including non-profits as lobbyists increases the scope of political control over other types of advocacy groups and questions the concept of open communication between groups with no financial investment. Is this democracy?

Limiting access to local councillors and government agencies will create competition for the attention of decision-makers and prevent those people from helping the important causes of non-profits. Comparing non-profits with lobbyists and placing them under the same regulations limits the ability for important groups to effect change without a substantial financial backing.

The motion decreases the level of communication between concerned constituents and non-profits looking to make a difference, and is dangerous to the democratic system in Toronto. This is not the first time city council has discussed adding non-profits to the lobbying law, but hopefully it is the last.

Email your local councillor if you are a concerned citizen or non-profit, and help Toronto cross this motion off the list permanently.