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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.

Tory hits back at province for transit and relief line funds

Early Tuesday morning, Toronto Mayor John Tory sent a letter and a list of budget recommendations to Ontario Minister of Finance, Charles Sousa, calling on Ontario to become “a full partner in cost-sharing of major infrastructure investments going forward.”

The letter outlines Toronto’s infrastructure expectations given the province’s rejection of tolls. Tory said the province has an “obligation” to help the city pay for the maintenance of both the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Expressway, in addition to helping pay for new lines in the transit network, like the Yonge Relief Line.

Tory’s budget recommendation included the approval of a new revenue tool — a levy on hotel and short-term accommodation. The city of Toronto needs legislative authority from the province in order to tax lodgings; however, it doesn’t want this tool to interfere with the funding already given to Tourism Toronto. Tory is proposing a four per cent tax on hotels and short-term accommodations like airbnb.

In addition to a revenue tool, Tory has outlined a list of recommended items the province should fund, including $820 million to help rehabilitate the Gardiner Expressway, $3.36 billion for the transit network plan, $863 million for Toronto Community Housing, and $50 million for child care subsidies.

These recommendations follow a public exchange by Tory and Ontario Minister of Transportation, Steven Del Duca on Monday, in which Tory told the media the province was not acting like a “full partner” in their commitment to build transit. Tory stood at the Bloor – Yonge subway platform and said the province needed to come up with a plan to help contribute to the relief line and other transit projects. He suggested the province, as well as the federal government, each contribute 40 per cent of the funds for the project. Toronto would then pay for the remaining 20 per cent.

Del Duca responded with his own press statement, saying the Ontario government has “always been a strong partner with Toronto city council” and that they were “not going to play political games with transit.” With words bolded and underlined, Del Duca mentioned the measly $150 million the provincial government has already pledged to the relief line and claimed to be a “stable provincial funding partner at the table” unlike the federal government.

The reality is that Toronto needs billions to develop its transit network — a network that will benefit residents throughout the GTHA as more people use public transportation instead of driving on already congested roadways. The refusal of the provincial government to allow Toronto to fund its own projects through revenue tools like tolls puts projects like the downtown relief line in jeopardy. Toronto’s growth and development is, effectively, at the mercy of Queen’s Park.

Tory understands this and is fighting back. He is trying to make it abundantly clear that if the province doesn’t allow Toronto to explore and use its own revenue tools, then it has to step up to the plate and help pay for these important projects.

There are universal benefits to developing Toronto’s transit network. It will help reduce carbon emissions as less people drive into the city. It will help connect the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area so that people can get from their home to work in a seamless manner. And it will help reduce congestion for those who have no choice but to use their car to get around.

Funding this network is a win-win scenario — and if the province is not going play politics with transit, they would see that.

Green Party hopes to woo voters with honesty and revenue tools

The Ontario Green Party is working on a comprehensive revenue tool package that will help fund infrastructure and transit projects throughout the province. The package will include a plethora of options for drivers and transit users, including the use of tolls and congestion charges in addition to uploading the cost of maintaining and operating the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Express back to the province.

“One of the biggest challenges facing the GTHA is gridlock,” says party leader Mike Schreiner. “It affects our economy to the tune of $6 billion in lost productivity.”

According to Schreiner, the Green Party is willing to do something other political parties are not — explain honestly and openly what it will take to improve transit and quality of life in cities across Ontario.

“This is a situation where political self-interest is trumping the people’s interest,” he says. “There is a myth that somehow all this infrastructure is going to be built. Imagine if our great grandparents hadn’t paid for dams in Niagara Falls that generates electricity … or hadn’t agreed to pay for the cost of the 400 series highways that enabled us to ship goods to province and the US. It’s time for our generation to step up to plate and fund transit infrastructure desperately needed.”

As part of this plan, the Green Party is supporting dynamic tolling, where drivers are charged a larger cost for using certain roadways like the Gardiner and DVP during on-peak hours and less (or not at all) during off-peak hours. The hope is that this will encourage those who can use transit, to do so, and those who must drive, to carpool.

“A toll taxes people regardless of time of day when real problem is rush hour,” says Tim Grant, Green Party shadow cabinet minister for transportation. “The dynamic road pricing – although it sounds harsh at first glance – is really fair and equitable. It acknowledges that there is a higher cost to discourage drivers in rush hours.”

The money collected from these tolls would be dedicated to transit, ensuring that those who choose to use alternative modes of transportation are able to use a modern and well-maintained system. It’s a win-win scenario — the challenge is to convince people the long-term benefits are worth the cost.

“If you reduce traffic congestion, people have a higher quality of life,” Grant says. “Air pollution is reduced, fuel economy is reduced, which leads to higher air quality and more time on [drivers] hands.”

Grant says the problem with the current funding provided by both the provincial and federal governments to municipalities for infrastructures is that it only pays for the initial planning and construction of a transit project, but not to operate or maintain it. This results in poorer service and low ridership.

Another aspect of the Green Party’s revenue plan is to upload the costs of operating and maintaining the DVP and Gardiner Expressway back to the province, something that was promised over 10 years ago. This would free up a couple billion dollars worth of funding the City of Toronto could use to build better transit infrastructure and maintain other roads within the city.

The key, both Schreiner and Grant say, is to actually listen to experts and communicate that information honestly to the public, without political agenda.

“Part of the problem is that political parties prepare their platform and policies based on a calculation of what voters think – and it’s a sad state because the alternative is for a political leader to go out and be honest and say, you won’t like this, but you will love it afterwards,” Grant said. “It needs political leadership willing to get out in front of all this and say we are doing this because people will get to work faster, kids will have better transit, and this will be a benefit. Vote for me or not – but I will try to make life better.”

The Green Party will discuss their platform and comprehensive revenue package in May in preparation for the 2018 election.

Lest we Forget: remembering and thinking about the future

Cosmo DeClerq, my grandfather, Canada-Belgian SAS
Cosmo DeClerq, my grandfather, Canada-Belgian SAS

My grandfather was a paratrooper during the Second World War. He never spoke to us about his experiences—and, frankly, we never asked. I was too young to understand what he had gone through. I never really knew he was in the military until he passed away and I met some of his colleagues at the funeral.

That’s why it was refreshing to see so many young faces at this year’s Remembrance Day ceremony.

Queen’s Park was crowded with young students and families with their children. Most were wearing black overcoats and the bright red of their poppy pins could be seen despite the drizzling rain. There were no whispers among this crowd; no snickers or horseplay. It was the most silent and respectful crowd I’ve seen in a while. The exception was the young girl behind me, who was quietly explaining what was happening for three international University of Toronto students who decided to attend the ceremony. Why? They wanted to learn more about Canadian culture and heritage.

These ceremonies are meant to give us time to remember the past—the men and women who served our country both at home and abroad, who died to protect our freedom and our way of life. But, maybe it can do more. Maybe, it can help us look into the future.

I spent a few minutes after the ceremony speaking with groups of students, most of whom weren’t native to this country. They were all fascinated by the ceremony, and all could relate to this idea of “remembrance.” Some came from war-torn countries, others from Europe, South America, or Asia. One young man was from Japan, and he spoke of the atomic bomb. He felt compelled to come to Queen’s Park and listen to the words spoken by our politicians and military leaders.

And really, what better place to learn about what it means to be Canadian? Our military forces—at least our current military forces—are so diverse. There were men, women, and people of various ethnic and religious values, all marching together as one unit. That’s Canada.

When I decided to write a piece about Remembrance Day for Women’s Post, I automatically thought of the women in service. I think Brigadier-General Lowell Thomson, Commander 4th Canadian Division, said it best when he gave homage to his military upbringing. He said his father was a long-time soldier, but then went on to say that he was the son of a woman who had served “during a time when her service wasn’t recognized.” That’s when I noticed there were very few women in uniform sitting in the crowds. About 600 WWII veterans die a day around the world, so this isn’t surprising. Perhaps most of them ventured to Ottawa to partake in their larger ceremony by the War Memorial. I have to admit, I was a little disappointed. As Managing Editor of Women’s Post, I was hoping to speak with them and share their stories.

2015-11-10 16.55.35Instead, looking around the crowds, I noticed the number of young women taking part in the ceremony, specifically a young girl who was leading the cadets through the parade. She was independent, kind, commanding and strong. “If you feel cold, wiggle your toes and fingers. If you feel sick, let me know,” she said slowly while her fellow cadets looked at her nervously. Throughout the ceremony, she addressed her group, told them to stand tall, proud, and smiled when appropriate. She was the prime example of the type of woman younger girls could look up to.

I didn’t understand what Remembrance Day meant until I was a teenager. And even then, I feel like it was my circumstance—the death of a loved one—that suddenly gave me the desire to remember all of those who gave their lives in service. These young people, the cadets, students (international or Canadian native), and children who attended today’s ceremony, are all ahead of the game. I can only hope they truly take away the meaning of remembrance.  Just because the WWII veterans are fading, doesn’t mean their memories should be lost. There will always be war or conflict—it’s the nature of human beings and the sad reality of living in a world where people don’t always agree. But, if we forget where it all began, if we ignore our own history and heritage, there is no way to understand how OUR Canada was shaped. And that understanding is crucial to the future of not only this country, but the world.

And that’s worth a minute of silence, don’t you think?

2015-11-10 18.22.10

 

Reasonable political discussion in Ontario, RIP

Today I had the good fortune of coming across an old friend’s post on Facebook as it floated through my news feed. It wasn’t much more than what he usually posted: extreme support for the Ontario NDP, for whom he does work, and a stream of trash talk about the other political parties in the province.

Today’s posting happened to be a screen grab of the Toronto Star’s Facebook page where someone had forgotten to put quotation marks around an excerpt from an editorial, leaving it looking as if the Star had suddenly taken a caustic and personal stance against the ONDP leader Andrea Horwath.

His sentiments were along the same lines as everything else he’s ever posted. The Toronto Star has long been accused of being a mouthpiece for the provincial Liberal party, he explained, and this just goes to show that they harbour a resentment for Horwath that would go so far as to find fault if she saved a baby from a burning building.

Commentary on commentary.

I’ve never had one true political allegiance, having voted both Liberal and NDP in the past and even supporting some Conservative policy. More than anything I find the discussion and conversation around politics to be the most interesting part of the political cycle.

I found it particularly interesting that he himself would take issue with what he thought the Star was doing since his comments and postings might as well be dyed orange.

“As opposed to you,” I commented, “who would simply neglect to post on Facebook if Horwath went on a killing spree, eh?”

I even threw in a tongue-out smiley emoticon for good measure.

Commentary on commentary on commentary.

“His Facebook isn’t mass media,” came the quick response from someone else.

“No, the last major newspaper to share his views thankfully closed down shortly after the dissolution of the USSR.”

A cheerful jab. Maybe a bit sharp, but that is how old friends get on. A few milliseconds later I see a private message from my old friend pop up. “I don’t allow personal attacks on my wall. Would you prefer to take a minute to correct it or should I just remove your ability to post on my wall?” Uh oh.

I think about what to say here. Is he so closed minded that he actually can’t stand anyone disagreeing with him or even, as I did, lightly ribbing him? Is he so high on his sense of self righteousness that he actually, truly believes that everyone who works hard in the Liberal government and who works hard in the PC opposition are actively seeking to destroy our province? Is he so incredibly fragile that the slightest whiff of a differing opinion will destroy his whole world?

I figure he’s probably had a rough morning and give him the benefit of the doubt. I tell him my love for discussion and tell him one of my favourite quotes: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

A tirade of disagreements. “Just because there is an open forum for discussion doesn’t mean that you should take it to the limits,” he says shortly before deleting me.

While I was still reeling — not over the loss of a friend mind you, we were friendly acquaintances at school who hadn’t interacted in person for several years and he hadn’t crossed my mind since I had an awkward conversation with his boyfriend on Grindr last year — it dawned on me that this is the current state of political conversation.

This is the type of conversation I might expect from an American redneck perhaps, chewing on a strand of tall grass while lamenting that the president is a socialist Muslim out to destroy the country. This stark us versus them mentality isn’t just the property of the lowly masses of the right, either. I remember a time when George W. Bush was the president of the United States and people really truly thought that he was going to singlehandedly dismantle the country and that his policies were crafted with the specific aim of hurting people.

Here it has been adopted by on the far left like my old friend. The rhetoric is downright exhausting.

WE MUST STOP STEPHEN HARPER BEFORE HE DESTROYS CANADA! WE NEED TO END THE EVIL CORRUPT LIBERAL DYNASTY! WE NEED TO GET THE NDP INTO OPPOSITION SO THEY CAN CHANGE

So they can change…

So they can change their own constitution to remove any references to socialism to become more palatable to centrist voters. At least, federally. Here in Ontario where the NDP hold the crutches under the Liberals the chant goes something like:

WE NEED TO STOP WYNNE! WE NEED TO STOP HUDAK! …Eventually.

Behind the scenes at Queen’s Park and Parliament Hill the situation isn’t quite as nasty as people on the street (or Facebook) might assume. Friendships exist across the aisles, parliamentarians and senators working together in committee with those you’d think would be enemies sworn by blood.

What is so surprising about the serious tone my old pal took is that, as someone who works greasing the gears, you’d think he might have some more insight into the true workings of the political world. The attack-ad attitude is designed to appeal to the lowest common voter, someone who isn’t likely to do their own research and just follow the other lemmings off the proverbial cliff and into the voting booth.

The kind of blind, stupid passion he exerts as a tireless support for anything and everything NDP is more in place with a hockey fan than a politico. His total dismissal of discussion and conversation as important to the political process is frightening. Apparently the commentary from the Star was wrong and shouldn’t be allowed. However his commentary on this matter was correct and should be accepted as fact. And my commentary on his commentary got me silenced through deletion, the online equivalent of being removed from the room. What a great friend. Keep your fingers crossed he never winds up being your MPP.

It seems that the ONDP can be added the list of people so “enlightened” that they never want to hear another word contrary to their beliefs, joining such rub-it-in-your-face-smug company as Green Party supporters, militant atheists, and Habs fans.

In the end the irony of silencing someone for a comparison to Soviet newspaper Pravda appears to have been lost on him.

This is the current landscape for political discussion in our fair province. I’m right and you are wrong and la-la-la-la-I’m-not-listening.

Reasonable political discussion in Ontario, may it rest in peace.