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Sidewalk Labs to improve Toronto living

Toronto is a great city and I am happy to have called it my home for over a decade. But there are flaws that have me thinking about moving to the suburbs and even to the Hamilton region. Mainly this has to do with the astronomical cost of living , and the unavoidable congestion on roadways and delays experienced on transit.  But even a move to the suburbs would mean a more expensive and time-consuming commute to central Toronto for work.

I dwell on the thought of moving for a moment, and I remind myself why I love Toronto so much- the culture, the activity and the people.

Organizations are stepping in to attempt to better our great city. Sidewalk Labs is a Google-affiliated high-tech company, which is pushing to develop a technological hub on Queen’s Quay. The Manhattan-based firm that specializes in urban innovation, seeks to use its technology to include sensors that will collect and analyze data. This will then be used to  assist with solving problems in Toronto — such as high housing costs, road safety and safety of citizens as well as other issues that go along with urban living.

This all sounds beneficial, but worries have arisen over how the data collected will be used. On the heels of the Cambridge Analytica case, which saw a privacy breach on 600,000 Canadians and over 80 million Facebook users, this is a growing concern. Questions as to whether the U.S. government will have access to private data were also posed.

Sidewalk Labs won a Waterfront Toronto contest last October to develop a live-and-work neighbourhood on 12 acres of land that stretches from Queens Quay to Parliament Street. The firm released a “summery report” on Wednesday.

In the report, residents said their wish is for any data collected to be “transparent and consensual.”

If the Sidewalk Toronto project is fully approved, it will be partially paid for by Canadian taxpayers through a public-private partnership. Any councillors who know insider details about the project have signed a non-disclosure agreement.

The pitch made by Sidewalk Labs last fall was quite attractive- proposing the neighbourhood would serve as “a hub for innovation-related companies and entrepreneurs,” while offering residents more opportunities to “live, work, learn and play.”

While some developers are concerned the benefits that may result if the plan is executed in a transparent  and effective way could be massive for the city.

Revised SmartTrack plan a GO

Plans don’t always pan out as expected, and although less sometimes means more, disputes can arise. This is the case with Mayor John Tory’s  initial SmartTrack proposal and the plan which has passed by city council on Wednesday.

 A recent announcement was made by the council confirming an agreement to spend up to $1.46 billion on SmartTrack. The plan put forth is an improved version of the one  Mayor Tory proposed during his 2014 election campaign.

 Federal and municipal governments are collaborating to fund this project. The city will raise $878 million of the total and the remaining $585 million will come from the federal transit fund. There was opposition to funding as some councilors believe that the province should pay instead of the city,  forgetting that the funds all come from the same source-tax dollars residents from across the region pay.

Despite worries of high costs and financing the plan, the decision was made to go forward with SmartTrack in a 37 to 6 vote.

Mayor Tory’s initial plan proposed 22 new stations and a link to Pearson Airport. The new plan will see 6 new stations to be operated by Metrolinx – the provincial transit body that operated regional transit service. The plan fuses SmartTrack’s use of existing GO stations and Metrolinx’s Regional Express Rail, and proposes integrated fares.

Mayor John Tory spoke about the much needed transit:

“This is the stage at which we are moving forward to start to build transit stations within the city of Toronto…Other municipalities are not proposing to build stations that the province would not otherwise have built to suit their local needs.”

Mayor Tory has consistently defended the plan noting the  33 million trips estimated on SmartTrack by 2041. The “cheapest transit we’re ever going to get inside the city,” he said.

There is a need for these stations to be built and Toronto municipal leaders are right to move forward with the revised plan put forth by Mayor Tory. Action means results, and as TTC Chair and councillor Josh Colle points out “Toronto has taken too many years off dwelling on the best way to improve the transit system.”

Facebook: a politician’s best friend

Gone are the days when Facebook was simply used to reconnect with old pals and to stay updated.  I’ll admit that sometimes I do still get sidetracked scrolling through old photos , but the platform functions have certainly changed.

The social platform is about far more than staying in touch with friends and creeping on old flames. Many businesses use it to promote their products and services. When poll time rolls around, politicians turn to Facebook to build their following.

Ontario residents are preparing to cast ballots in  the provincial election this year, and as June 7th approaches, many politicians are relying on Facebook, by posting ads that cater to individual interests of voters.

The platform now allows campaigns to micro-target voters based on age, location, interests, gender and political positions. This tactic is helpful to  parties because it targets a more widespread audience.

Facebook stores such a massive amount of data that outlines users’ interests and the new techniques used by politicians to capitalize on it. It’s for this reason that one person might see an ad from a political party about slashing taxes, and someone else, might see an ad from the same party focusing on health care.

Although political ads on Facebook were used by Canadian parties for a number of years, it is the variation and intricate targeting that has now reached a new level. The ads are much more sophisticated.

They are not only far-reaching, but are also extremely low in cost, which makes it an even more effective campaigning tool for politicians.

 I do find the pooling of information worrisome, especially after the Cambridge Analytica issue that brought Zuckerberg to a formal inquiry. The Cambridge firm had access to  private information of more than 600,000 Canadians, and over 80 million Facebook users globally while execs of the social media platform sat on the information knowingly until outed by a whistleblower.

I  am not a fan of the platform currently, because the ads and sponsored posts that are meant to target my interests, seem to have taken over my homepage. I miss the days when Facebook was for catching up and daydreaming over my friends’ travel photos and becoming nostalgic over relatives’ family photos. But the business and entrepreneurial  side of me gets it.

Is Ford a fudger?

Doug Ford  is telling people exactly what they want to hear. They want lower taxes- he claims he’ll give them lower taxes. They want rich guys out of Toronto Hydro- he claims he’ll fire all the rich guys. The promises of this politician are luring people into supporting him and polling has the Tories in the lead. Ford has made promises that many people across Ontario have wanted to hear, but the question is will he actually follow through?

Liberals have announced they will launch a new ad campaign to share all the ways Ford will fall short; with the party’s campaign team pledging to expose Doug Ford’s fake promises, and show what they believe he might actually do if elected. Critics are drawing comparisons between President Donald Trump and Ford- specifically the character attacks directed at Trump during his 2016 campaign.

The Liberals have said that attacks on Trump focused too much on his personality, and it is a mistake to take the same route with Doug Ford. They see many similarities between the two politicians and are hoping to learn from what they observed.

One ad that is to air on TV, online and radio, claims under Ford’s leadership corporate taxes will be lowered, minimum wage will go down and 40,000 public sector jobs will be slashed.


Other ads will show old footage of Doug Ford from 2014, including when he talked about a Rexdale Group  home for children with developmental challenges as “ruining the neighbourhood.”

Liberal campaign co-chair Deb Matthews said  “We think it’s really important that when people make the choice — and it’s going to be the starkest choice they’ve had to make provincially for a long time — that they have the full facts on who Doug Ford really is.”

Liberals have admitted that their decision to take this step does have to do with polling that has Tories in the lead.

Ford’s campaign officials responded to the new ads:

“[Liberals] have nothing left to offer other than fear and smear. We will keep campaigning for the people, and against Kathleen Wynne’s 15-year record of waste, corruption, abuse and mismanagement.”

The move by Liberals  to educate people on the emptiness of Ford’s promises, could entirely backfire if people see these ads as an attack on Ford’s character.

As the election approaches the attacks from each party will likely get more intense. It will be interesting to see if the Liberals manage to accomplish the education they hope for, or if their ads simply end up being the typical attack ads that so often drive voters away.

Minister Rochelle Squires’ #MeToo Moment, advocates protecting victim’s identity

The platform is changing for women when it comes to speaking up about moments in their lives when harassed, assaulted or demeaned by men they cross paths with. I’m thrilled about this, as many women across North America are, but also saddened that there are still negative repercussions that exist when women come forward on men with influence.

As someone who has experienced #MeToo moments, and spoken openly about them to friends and relatives, who are supportive, my wish is for every woman to be able to step forward in unity to gain the same support, without worrying about these negative repercussions that shouldn’t exist.

Politician and Minister Rochelle Squires, 47, is a woman who is truly inspirational, and recently made her #MeToo moment public.  She spoke with the Canadian Press about her story, after decades of bottling the experience up, because she blamed herself and was fearful.

Squires was raped at 13 and felt that she could tell no one.

“In the 34 years since then, every day of my life has been a journey towards recovery; sometimes a journey back into darkness,” Squires said Tuesday in a statement, marking Sexual Assault Awareness month.

“I have gone back in my mind…hundreds of thousands of times and talked to that 13-year-old girl and said to her ‘It’s not your fault, and you’re going to be OK. I don’t need to tell that 13-year-old girl anymore, and so I want to use my voice to help others.”

Rochelle explains that she waited until she was in her 30s before she told anyone and went to the police. She also discussed it with her therapist and stated that she felt completely at fault even at such a young age. She asks herself still “Why did I feel to blame?”

Why do victims of sexual assault, harassment, abuse etc.  respond, initially, similarly to Squires? Is it because of the fear that the perpetrator’s life will be ruined, or that the victim has somehow brought on the behavior?

Women self-blame because our male dominated society continually questions women; this need to change, society needs to promote, support and unite when victims do come forward.

Squires is advocating third-party reporting which allows a complainant to come forward and talk with victim support services, without having to be identified. The government programs work with women who step forward – buffering them from the often male-dominated police interactions.

 

Why the ‘peoplekind’ debacle is so insulting

When I first heard that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau interrupted a woman during a town hall meeting to suggest she say “peoplekind” instead of “mankind”, because it was more inclusive, I laughed. I assumed it was a mistake, as to my knowledge there is no word or term in the English language for “peoplekind”. He meant “humankind” right?

Apparently, that wasn’t the mistake he made.

“I made a dumb joke a few days ago that seems to have gone a little viral in the room, on the peoplekind comment,” Trudeau told reporters after the fact. “It played well in the room and in context. Out of context it doesn’t play so well, and it’s a little reminder that I shouldn’t be making jokes even when I think they’re funny.”

This is disappointing. Essentially, he was saying his mistake wasn’t the word, but rather the Canadian prime minister, someone who describes himself as a staunch feminist, said he was joking about inclusivity. Not only that, but he interrupted a woman with a legitimate question to do so.

This is not just a matter of a joke not playing well. It’s proof that even the Prime Minister still has a patriarchal mentality.

Oh, and the international media is having a field day.

Trudeau’s comment, in addition to the way he injected his opinion overtop of that of a woman, is the reason why no progress can be made in the feminist movement. Women are fighting to be heard, to be considered active citizens and get involved in politics. Yet, they are being shoved out, belittled with fake expressions of equality.

This woman’s question was about a policy that would see religious charities lose funding, not a light-hearted topic. However, the condescending way in which she was treated at the town hall meeting diminished the importance of what she was saying. It also acted as an embarrassment technique. This woman was essentially corrected in front of a couple hundred people, told she was being sexist and politically incorrect.

Trudeau’s boyish charm will only get him so far if he continues to act so cavalier when speaking with the people of Canada, especially women. It’s important to remember that everyone has the vote now — and this silly, stupid “joke” may have lost him some.

Featured Image: Justin Trudeau | by JustinLing

‘He said, she said’ physical intimidation in PC party

A story broke early this morning alleging Randy Hillier, the MPP for Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington, made unwanted physical contact with a female politician at a party convention in 2016.

The allegations were made by Goldie Ghamari, the Tory candidate in new south-Ottawa riding of Carleton. She says the two politicians went outside for a smoke and Hillier put his arms around her and dug his fingernails into her shoulders. As Hillier is a much larger man, Ghamari felt intimidated and threatened by the action. They had a brief exchange of words, and then Hillier left, after her laniard to read her name.

Ghamari said she went to the party executive director to discuss what happened. They investigated, but there were no security cameras pointed to the area where the two politicians were standing. And when asked, Hillier denied touching Ghamari, saying only they exchanged a few pleasantries before parting ways. With this information, Ghamari was told her option was to take him to court; otherwise, there was nothing the party could do.

Ghamari posted to social media leading up to the breaking of this story in the Ottawa Citizen, saying, “A sitting MPP harassed me, intimidated me, & used his body to bully & scare me out of getting involved in politics. I gave him an opportunity to apologize and recognize that his actions were wrong. He chose to deny it ever happened.”  She urged the person to acknowledge their actions and apologize.

In response, Hillier sent her a personal email and posted a statement on Twitter, saying exactly what he said two years ago:

The two politicians are telling very different stories, which is one of the leading challenges when investigating a harassment claim. History has shown that investigators tend to side with the accused, unless clear evidence presents itself — and this instance was no exception. It was clear the party executive made a slight effort to determine what happened (with the insistence of Ghamari), but when no concrete evidence could be found, Ghamari was left to decide on her own whether to take legal action, without any support from her party.

These kind of stories are not unique, especially in politics. More stories will be heard in the coming months, and while some may say women are using these instances as political leverage leading up to an election, others would argue they are pushing the #MeToo conversation forward and bringing awareness to the treatment of women in public service.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.

And they all come tumbling down

Politician after politician are resigning amid allegations of sexual misconduct.

It started with Ontario PC party leader Patrick Brown, who resigned in the early morning last week following allegations made by two women. Around the same time, Nova Scotia PC leader Jamie Bailie was forced out of his party following an investigation over “inappropriate behaviour”. The independent third-party investigation found that Braile had breached the Nova Scotia House of Assembly policy on the prevention and resolution of harassment in the workplace.

Details on the allegations were not released to the public.

And then, Sunday night, Ontario PC party president Rick Dykstra resigned. “It has a wonderful experience to watch the party’s renewal and over the next couple of months we will see the party coalesce around a new Leader,” Dykstra on Twitter “As this process unfolds, I have made the decision to step aside as President and take a step back for someone else to lead us through the hard work.”

The announcement was made a few hours before a story came out in Maclean’s Magazine alleging that Dykstra sexually assaulted a staffer following a party when he was serving as an MP in Ottawa.

Of course, not all of the resignations have come from the PCs. Federal Sport and Disabilities Minister Kent Hehr resigned from cabinet over the weekend after allegations of sexual harassment popped up on social media. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the resignation a “leave of absence” while an investigation is conducted.

“As a government, we take any allegations of misconduct extremely seriously, and we believe that it is important to support women who come forward with allegations and that is exactly what our government will do,” the statement read.

Every single politician and political leader is saying the same thing. They use phrases like “it is never okay” to threaten or make a woman uncomfortable or “we take any allegations seriously”. It’s as if my saying this phrases out loud, they are waving a magic wand and saying “nothing to see here.”

This influx of resignations is just the tipping point of a broader, more wide-spread issue — the old-boys club of politics. While the federal cabinet may be gender-equal, the rest of the political arena is not. Of 308 seats within the House of Commons, only 88 are women, a measly 26 per cent. For decades, Canadian governments were led by powerful, white men, and while that is slowly changing, attitudes are not. I imagine there will be numerous more allegations made in the next few months.

Municipal, provincial, and federal governments have all indicated a need for change. Gender lenses are being attached to budgets and trade documents — and yet, our government can’t seem to get a handle of the sexism within their own backyard. The simple solution is to elect more women, especially in leadership roles. But, it’s going to take more than that. There needs to be an attitude check on parliament hill. Enough with that “it is never okay” statements. It’s time to practice what you preach and weed out the old boys club and replace them with fresh faces who are willing to respect everyone equally.

Woman of the Week: Marie Bountrogianni

Marie Bountrogianni is the Dean of G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education at Ryerson University as well as a former Ontario parliamentarian. She has a wide variety of passions and a true desire to make a difference in the world, which makes her the ideal candidate for both government and academia.

Dr. Bountrogianni was a Liberal MP from 1999 to 2007, representing the riding of Hamilton-Mountain. During that time, she served as minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Democratic Renewal, Children and Youth Services, and Citizenship and Immigration. Prior to entering the public life, Bountrogianni was the chief psychologist for the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board. She has a doctorate in Applied Psychology from the University of Toronto and was recognized as one of the top 10 most influential alumni at the University of Waterloo. Last year, she was honoured with the Gabby Award in New York City for her contributions on behalf of refugees, minorities, and people with disabilities.

Bountrogianni reached out to Women’s Post following the Golden Globe’s and Oprah Winfrey’s inspiring speech to discuss women in politics. As an educator, she hopes to inspire young women to be more active in world affairs, and discusses why academics and leadership go hand in hand. 

Question: Do you think Oprah’s speech and presidential campaign rumour will spark an interest in politics in young women? Do you think Oprah should run?

Answer: I am hoping young women – indeed, women of all ages – will consider running. It is very important for a democracy to be truly representative of its citizenry. If Oprah’s speech inspires women to run, then she should make more speeches. As for whether or not Oprah should run, that is really up to her and the American people. The fact that, like Trump, she is a billionaire TV celebrity (similarities stop here) may actually be an obstacle for her. Will the people accept another wealthy celebrity or will they want someone more experienced in governance?

Why do you think more women don’t run for office here in Canada? What are the factors?

As a former parliamentarian I can say it is challenging for women – particularly those with young children – to run for politics, for obvious reasons. My advice to young women is this: do not think of it as a life long career. Think of it as a term of service (or two or three terms), much like a military service to your country. Do it when you can “give everything you’ve got”, then leave. You will not only have made a significant contribution to your community but the benefits of your political experience will stay with you for the rest of your life. You learn how the system works. How it REALLY works. You will be able to assist any organization you work in or volunteer at.

You have a background in psychology and education, what made you run for office?

I ran for office because at the time I was the Chief Psychologist with a large school board and was frustrated by the effects of cut-backs on children’s lives. I was also on a hospital board and was similarly upset at how the cutbacks were affecting patients. I did not hold a party two membership and was never involved in politics before I ran. I had to ask, “How do I run?” I highly recommend the experience.

Did you experience any challenges as a woman?

The challenges I experienced are faced by working mothers every day. The guilt of long hours away from home, combined with balancing work and family life, etc. I did notice that younger male politicians experienced similar challenges related to their familial responsibilities, as it was more practise common for both partners to be in the workforce.

What needs to change?

Society has to once again respect the role of the politician. It is a challenging role when done properly. Politicians need to continue to remember why they entered politics and go back to basics. It was not (or should not be) for the partisan fighting, career and games – it was to represent their constituents. Social media often makes this difficult as everyone is under “a not so always fair“ microscope. We will all be better off if we bring civility back to politics. This takes leadership, however; when a leader takes part in rogue, self-serving and pedantic tweeting, “he/she poisons the well”.

How do we compare here in Canada to the U.S.?

Canada and the U.S have very different histories and political systems. We were born out of compromise and negotiations — the U.S out of revolution. There are pros and cons in each country. I am biased, of course, but I have to say that I am proud of our “just society“. We are a serious country.

As Dean of The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education, you must witness the interests and drive of many students — do you think more women will run for politics in the future?

I hope more women will run. Ironically, what is happening south of the border has attracted more interest in politics and more chatter everywhere. I do believe, like Oprah, that things are shifting – the strong (finally) response to allegations of sexual aggression is a promising step in the right direction. This may lead to women feeling more empowered to enter fields that are predominantly held by men.

Why return to education after politics?

I don’t think I ever left education entirely when I was in politics and did not entirely leave politics when I went back to education. Politics comes from the Greek word that means “citizen”. We are responsible for each other and we have an obligation to one another. Education is a tool. Political knowledge is another tool. Both are needed to affect change. I have been very lucky to have both in my toolkit.

What advice do you have to women interested in politics?

Do it. Get support from family and friends. Be prepared to exhaust yourself. But I promise you this: it will be an experience like no other. You will potentially impact the lives of thousands of your constituents and if get into cabinet, millions of citizens. It will shock you. Next to being a mother, it is the best decision I have ever made. It was truly an honour.

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Dear Santa: the women of Toronto, Canada, deserve more

Dear Mr. Kringle,

The head office of Women’s Post is situated in Toronto; therefore much of our news coverage occurs in this city. Toronto is our home — and we can see it needs a little extra help. The staff at Women’s Post is hoping that you, Nick, may be able to help us all out.

This is what is on our Christmas list:

More women on boards: This was a topic of great debate throughout 2017 (yay!), but it doesn’t seem to have made much of a difference. The European Union announced a proposal to make it mandatory to have 40 per cent of non-executive members on company boards to be women. This, unfortunately, does not include managerial or executive roles on boards.

Meanwhile, in Canada, very few boards are gender equal (and even less female dominated). Women hold approximately 14 per cent of all board seats and only 26 per cent of open board positions are filled by female applicants. A McKinsey & Company study in 2016 showed that only six per cent of Canadian CEOs are women. A new organization was formed this year to help tackle this issue.

Nick, can you please help us! Instead of dreaming of sugar plums this year, can you help private and public leaders, CEOs, and board executives dream of a company that represents everyone? Let’s have people of all genders, sexualities, and races represented on boards — and not just in non-executive roles!

More funding for things that matter: Infrastructure, transit, education — three things that will help our country, and the people who live in it, grow. All levels of government have pledged a certain amount of money to help municipalities develop new routes and lines for public transportation, but it’s not nearly enough. People are desperate for housing, whose prices have skyrocketed throughout the year in big cities like Vancouver and Toronto with no hint of dropping back down.

Sure, the federal government has announced funding for a National Housing Strategy, and $4.8 billion in transit funding has been earmarked for Toronto, but all of these promises come with a) a timestamp and b) a political commitment. Politics always gets in the way. For example, the Ontario government refused to allow Toronto to collect money from tolls because it could affect votes in the 905 area.

Canada is a prosperous country, and Toronto is better off than other cities. But, there is still work to be done and our politicians may need a little bit of help. How about it Nick?

More women in politics: Canada may have a gender-equal cabinet within the federal government and the Ontario government, but there more to gender parity than representation within a single entity. For beginners, women are still underrepresented as elected representatives to begin with, sitting at only 26 per cent nationally.

More women need to be encouraged to run for all aspects of public government. Politics are unforgiving for women. There seems to be some strange double standard in which women are questioned about their capabilities (and wardrobe) much more than men. This scrutiny makes it very difficult for women to commit to a public service campaign. What if you change that Nick? Can you remove the gendered lens through which people view politicians? That would go a long way to encouraging more women in politics.

End sexual assault and harassment: Forget the celebrity aspect of the #MeToo campaign for a second and lets visit the statistics. Earlier this year, Statistics Canada released the rate of self-reported sexual assault in 2014, and it was about the same as it was in 2004. In 2014, there were 22 incidents of sexual assault for every 1,000 Canadians over the age of 15. This equates to 636,000 self-reported incidents.

This figure only gets more disheartening when you remember that only one in five cases report assaults to the police.

Now, I know you cant do much about this Nick, but is there a way you could spread your holiday spirit around a bit so that people are more kind and compassionate towards others? Maybe if people were more compassionate, they wouldn’t look at women as objects and treat them with such violence?

Nick, I know our wish list is long and complicated. I know it may be impossible to full fill these requests. But, it would mean the world if you could try. We believe in you!

Best,

The staff at Women’s Post

P.S. We promise we have been good this year!