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Ford sets Ontario education back 20 years

After just a few short days in office, Doug Ford has already made good on his promise to remove the liberal’s sexual education program and replace it with one that was literally published decades ago.

When Ford was elected into office he told the public that he would be removing the current sex-ed program, which focussed on important issues such as masturbation, same-sex marriage, cyber safety, and transgender people. It also taught kids about issues more prominent with today’s youth: contraceptives, STIs, and the notion of consent.

On July 11, Ford announced that schools would be reverting back to a 1998 curriculum that has no mention of the important issues highlighted in the current program. Education minister Lisa Thompson told reporters at Queen’s Park that “The sex-ed component is going to be reverted back to the manner in which it was prior to the changes that were introduced by the Liberal government.” She added that the party will be “moving very swiftly with our consultations and I will be sharing with you our process in the weeks to come.”

This decision came from Ford’s decision to consult parents on what they wanted to have taught to their children in schools and what they wanted to teach their young ones at home.

His opposition was quick to criticize the decision. NDP leader Andrea Horwath told reporters on July 11 that, “Going backwards in terms of keeping our kids safe and giving them the information they need to stay safe is not the right direction.” She added, “We worked hard to make sure that everyone in Ontario feels that they are respected, that they are able to be who they are, able to have opportunity, able to be free of violence and hate. And anything that starts to erode people’s ability to be themselves and be respected in this province is problematic.”

A petition is already in place to sway Ford into reverting his decision. The petition, called “Doug Ford: Keep Ontario’s Sex-Ed Curriculum, has already reached 54,283 signatures of their 75,000 goal to date. It reads: “The curriculum was designed and written by experts in child development, internet safety, police, and social workers, in consultation with roughly 4,000 parents. It emphasizes much-needed lessons of consent, acceptance for others and sexual health.”

While some are praising Ford for already living up to his promises, the ones that he’s put into effect will drastically alter the education of children and not the for the better.

Police resume normal operations after Toronto concerns

Normal police operations have resumed after Toronto’s force responded to threats of a van attack occurring at the CN Tower and surrounding areas.

On July 12, Toronto police received a threat suggesting that a copycat van attack would take place near the CN Tower and surrounding areas. Toronto was already struck with tragedy in April when Alek Minassian deliberately drove a rental truck into pedestrians near Yonge and Finch. He killed 10 people and injured another 16, making it one of the deadliest attacks in Canadian history.

The police report, which was obtained by several publications, stated that “On Wednesday, July 11th, 2018, the Toronto Police Service (TPS) received credible information regarding a potential vehicle ramming attack in the area of the CN Tower on Thursday, July 12th.” It continued that the TPS would increase the number of police patrolling the surrounding areas.

A tweet was published by Toronto police at 9:30 a.m. on July 12 stating: “We are responding to an unconfirmed, uncorroborated piece of information relating to the GTA. As a result of this information, you will see an increased number of police officers throughout the city and, specifically, in the downtown core ^sm”

Premier Doug Ford also released a statement on Twitter saying, “We are aware of the reported potential threat in the City of Toronto. While the information is unsubstantiated, the Premier has been briefed by the Provincial Security Advisor and is actively monitoring the situation.”

TPS added that a statement would be provided to reporters at 11:30 a.m. in Bobby Rosenfeld Park. Acting superintendent Mike Barksy spoke with reporters at the time.

“As such, we have increased what we call our ‘footprint of police presence’ in the downtown core,” he said. It was also said that police presence has already increased in the areas surrounding the CN Tower, Rogers Centre and Ripley’s Aquarium due to the playoffs.

When asked by reporters what specific buildings were targeted, police would not comment as it related to their investigation. “Whenever we have a report of a potential risk, we take that seriously. And because of that, we know that the downtown core of Toronto is a significant area for people who travel to the city, live in the city, and come to the visit the city,” Barsky told reporters. “And as such, we’ve called upon our partners from neighbouring police divisions to come and assist us in ensuring that people can continue to come down and enjoy those luxuries.”

They added that shops and hot spots were still open in the surrounding areas at the time and that one of the biggest events of the night, the Foo Fighters concert, was not cancelled. Hondo Indy Toronto also tweeted out that their event remained open and they were following a site and security plan.

Around the time of the press conference, Metrolinx also released a statement saying, “safety of our customers and staff is central to everything we do at Metrolinx.” Their statement also included reassurance that transit safety officers were deployed in “important areas of service to ensure passenger and staff safety.”

Late Thursday evening Toronto police released a statement saying that they were resuming normal police operations in the area. “We know this heightened security can be concerning for the public. Our goal is always to be as transparent as possible while protecting the integrity of our investigations,” it read.

Talking about heavy periods and treatments

With the launch of heavyperiodtalk.ca, Dr. Yolanda Kirkham, an obstetrician and gynecologist, discusses her role in the campaign and why it’s recommended that women educate themselves on their menstruation.

Dr. Kirkham is an OBGYN at the Women’s College Hospital and St Joseph’s Health Centre in Toronto. Her role in the campaign is to do what she does on the job every day: educate, counsel, and treat women’s reproductive health concerns. “Through this campaign and website, women can quickly access factual information and peer-to-peer stories that encourage them to seek medical attention for a problem they may not have known was treatable,” she said.

She was a recent panelist at the Heavy Period Talk comedy show in Toronto, which she said was a great way to talk about a taboo topic in a fun and educational way. “The campaign also supports the Canadian Foundation for Women’s Health and local charities. I hope that women will know they don’t have to live with what they think is their ‘normal,’ and that there are so many individualized options for heavy periods,” she said. “They don’t have to live with the fear of leaking, missing out on activities, or feeling miserable each month. Heavy periods don’t have to cramp your style.”

This quote really stuck with me. I thought about myself and how I enjoy running. At times, I felt afraid of leaking and I would be constantly thinking about it on the course instead of my pace.  I found Dr. Kirkham’s information helpful.

If you suffer from heavier periods than you may be familiar with its older term: menorrhagia. Dr. Kirkham explained that heavy periods can affect a woman’s quality of life. “They are periods that are heavy, require pad or tampon changes every one to two hours or through the night, have clots, and last a week.”

“Heavy periods affect 1 in 5 women of all ages. But even one is too much,” she continued. “These can be young women who have just started their periods, are midlife, or nearing menopause. There are various causes, including bleeding disorders, hormonal changes and anovulation (not releasing a monthly egg) in puberty/perimenopause/polycystic ovarian syndrome, medications, other medical conditions, and cervical or uterine cancer.” She added that women in their forties have the highest rates for bleeding and associated conditions that lead to the heavy bleeding, such as polyps, fibroids, pre- or uterine cancer, or anovulation.

“All of these causes are treatable.  And it is important to treat to prevent anemia (low blood levels) that can affect concentration, energy levels, and ability for the body to function at its best,” she said. “Management of heavy bleeding can also reduce the need for blood transfusions, which are sometimes needed in dire cases.”

If you’re dealing with a heavier period or need more information, then Dr. Kirkham believes heavyperiodtalk.ca is a good place to start. “We hope that by sharing stories of how heavy periods affect them, more women will be encouraged to open up that conversation with each other and with their health care professional,” she said. “Stories shared on heavyperiodtalk.ca will benefit the Canadian Foundation for Women’s Health, which is a charity administered by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologist of Canada.”

She added that you should be turning to your family doctor or nurse practitioner if you need treatment or other individualized options that include medications, office procedures, or minimally invasive surgical procedures. “Something as simple as anti-inflammatories at the drug store can help,” she said. “But there are more sophisticated options such as medication to decrease flow (tranexamic acid) during heavy bleeding only, and all contraceptives also decrease flow (and pain).” She recommended hormone blockers, hormonal intrauterine device, or endometrial ablation procedures as well.

Periods were rarely spoken about years ago, and Dr. Kirkham believes this is one of the reasons why there wasn’t much education on the topic. “We are now in a society where people are more comfortable opening up about everything, and finding anonymous avenues to do so, such as online.  Women with very heavy or painful periods also tend to think that it’s normal for them and don’t realize their periods do not have to be dreadful,” she said. “I would encourage women to take time to look after themselves and seek attention for their periods if they are heavy or painful.  Blood is a precious commodity. Periods happen every month and over 40 years, that’s almost 500 periods! That’s something worth talking about!”

Visit your doctor or gynecologist if your periods are affecting your quality of life and keep the conversation going.

Toronto leaders speak out amidst current gun violence

After the weekend shooting in Toronto’s Kensington Market, Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders, Premier Doug Ford, and Mayor John Tory have released statements on the current state of the city.

On Saturday evening around 8:00 p.m., shots rang out at Peter Street and Queen Street West and left two rappers dead and one woman in the hospital. The two rappers were identified as Smoke Dawg (Jahvante Smart), 21, and Koba Prime (Ernest Modekwe), 28.

The violence didn’t end on Saturday, however. On Sunday, police were called to the College Street and Augusta Avenue area when shots rang out around 10:30 p.m. Reports say that four people were injured during the crime. After the shooting, four suspects were seen fleeing the scene but police have yet to release a description of them.

Since the shootings took place on Canada Day, one of the busiest times in Toronto, Chief Saunders spoke with CP24 about the gun violence. “This is not the norm,” he told CP24. “Right in broad daylight on some of the busiest intersections of our city where there is gunplay. The gunplay usually occurs at night in particular neighbourhoods where there is not as much capacity of people. The brazenness is a concern.”

He added that the violence can be traced back to gang violence. “This is pointed to specific people. A random person walking down the street, it is highly unlikely that they are going to be in harm’s way,” he added.

A statement released by Tory read: “The unacceptable gun violence we’ve seen in the last few weeks has left me incredibly angry but resolved to work with the police to stamp it out. As Mayor, the safety of our city is my top priority and one that I share with Chief Mark Saunders and the men and women of the Toronto Police Service. That’s why we’re hiring 200 police officers this year, why I’ve always advocated for tougher gun control and tougher bail conditions for gun crime, and why we’re modernizing the police service to ensure there are more officers patrolling the streets.”

He added that he spoke with Chief Saunders who said that police are working to get to the bottom of the crimes. He also said that he plans to reach out to Premier Doug Ford and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale to discuss how they can better their efforts to combat gang violence.

“As I said at City Council last week, we need to toughen up bail guidelines for those caught committing gun crimes. Countless police officers – from constables to the Chief himself – have told me how frustrated they are by the fact someone they arrest for a gun crime can be back out on the street on bail quickly and ready to cause more mayhem. That is not right and that is something we can stop right now,” the statement also read.

Tory added that the city leaders need to work together to deploy more police and support law enforcement to keep criminals behind bars.

On Monday Ford released a statement on Twitter saying: “My heart goes out to the victims of the shootings in Toronto over the Canada Day long weekend. This has been a very difficult summer in our city, and thoughts and prayers just aren’t going to cut it anymore. We need action.” He added that Toronto is home to the greatest police officers and “we need to make sure they have the resources to round up these criminals, build relationships in communities, and prevent these shootings.” He concluded his statement by saying he looks forward to meeting with representatives from Toronto police forces to city leaders and law enforcement can work together to end “this senseless violence.”

Hopefully, Toronto’s leaders can band together to successfully get to the bottom of the gun violence currently happening in the city and make its citizens feel safe again.

 

Woman of the week: Julia Barnes

When I ask Julia Barnes to tell me who she is, she says, “I am an animal on this planet that’s hoping to survive this century.”

Half expecting to hear a standard, “I’m a filmmaker,” or, “I’m an environmental activist,” her raw response instantly hooked my interest.

Julia’s journey as an eco-warrior began when she was just 16 years old while attending high school in Burlington, Ontario. With her post-secondary years looming, she was, at the time, weighing her options of pursuing a career in either biology or fine arts. Then, she watched Revolution, a documentary made by the late filmmaker and conservationist, Rob Stewart, about the dire state of the natural world. Always harvesting a deep connection to nature, the movie spun Julia off her feet with striking statistics and images that revealed the rapid deterioration of planet earth.

Within a week, she ditched the fork in her career path altogether, and instead, jumped head first into documentary filmmaking. She bought a camera, signed up for a scuba diving course and delved into research that would eventually become the backbone of her first feature film: Sea of Life.

With no prior experience in filmmaking, Julia set out to probe the greatest threats facing the world’s oceans today, including warming temperatures and overfishing. Although the learning curve was steep, she felt a duty to spread awareness and pay forward the same inspiration that initially sparked her own will to change the world.

“The ocean is so often out of sight, out of mind, especially for people living in Canada and landlocked places,” she says. “What I found was that all of the people around me in my everyday life really had no idea what was happening. I wanted to educate people about what was going on so that hopefully, if they knew what was happening, they would want to fight for the ocean too.”

Growing up in Southern Ontario, Julia herself had never visited the ocean prior to filming. Her first time setting foot on the sandy saltwater shores of the Atlantic was during one of her first dives for Sea of Life in the Florida Keys. “It was amazing. On that first trip, I had my first introduction the beauty of the ocean,” she says. “But I also had the realization that the ocean is in massive trouble and that things are changing incredibly quickly. If you even go back 50 years, you realize that the underwater world looked radically different.”

From Florida, Julia continued to capture these changes and their repercussions around the world, exploring marine ecosystems in the Galapagos, attending the COP21 Summit in Paris, and participating in the largest climate march in recorded history in New York City.

Swimming in a sea of discouraging information was perhaps the most challenging element, she tells me. But, with support from many leaders on the front lines of the fight against climate change, such as Sylvia EarleEmily Hunter and Rob Stewart himself, Julia’s message in Sea of Life, although urgent, is a hopeful one. Now, at the age of 22, she is content to say that she’s met all of her greatest heroes.

When I ask Julia if she’s currently enrolled in school, she flatly replies, “Nope. I’m full on changing the world,” ‒ an answer that’s unapologetically noble. Attending school would place her on a four to five-year plan, a timeline, she says, is much too long for the well-being of the planet. Her second feature film, which tackles potential solutions to the environmental crisis, is scheduled to be released by the end of this year.

Although she’s encountered plenty of trial and error on her journey, she says that her instantaneous plunge into the ocean, the world of documentary filmmaking, and the issues that plague the natural world was perhaps the best way to learn.

“Don’t wait. Go for it and know that you have so much more power than what you’re told or what you’re taught to believe,” she says as a word of advice to other young climate crusaders. “Let your passion guide you towards doing whatever you think will have the biggest impact, because no matter what we love, it’s in jeopardy right now.

The development cluster-fudge in Toronto

The public would be utterly shocked if they knew the length of time it takes for a building development to get approval from the City of Toronto planning department. The 9-month window that government has designated as the appropriate window of time for project approval never gets met. A report done by the C.D. Howe Institute shows that municipalities ignore this time window. In Toronto developers were forced to take projects to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) in order to get city planning to respond to them. Even with the OMB approval, most projects still took between 3 and 4 years to work their way through the planning department.

With the disbandment of the OMB, developers are scratching their heads and wondering who will hold municipal planning accountable to a time frame. No longer can they appeal to the OMB for help. With no accountability the approval process will likely climb to 6 or 7 years.

The provincial government announced the formation of the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) but their power is limited to issues around conformity to local or provincial plans. The goal was to give more power to the local municipalities, but decision makers seem to have ignored the fact that planning departments have ballooned in scope without the extra investment by local governments.

Like any government agency the planning department constantly fights the urge to expand their reach into the public sector, and haven’t had much success in Toronto. The planning department has inflated their authority far beyond the role of ensuring buildings are safe and built to code. Unbeknownst to taxpayers the planning department has taken on the role of architecture and design supervision – a role that belongs in the private sector. Few city planners have a full education in architecture or design and yet they have spread their authority to a point where they can completely change the architectural designs of a building. The amount of time spent by Toronto’s planning department doing work that should be done by the private sector is costing Toronto taxpayers millions of dollars, not just in wages, but in housing costs.

Another problem with this expansion of authority is that when a public servant starts choosing the shade of beige they want for a wall (yes, they do this in Toronto) or imposing the shape, size and design of a building (they think it should match everything else around it) they go beyond the scope of their education or ability and no one can stop them. They literally dumb down architecture in the city and truly magnificent buildings never get built.

In Toronto the process of getting a building development approved is a complete cluster-fudge of repetition, with the plans moving between so many city divisions and external agencies (building, roads, parking, water, heritage, etc.) with each having their own silo of authority.

The problem with this overreach of authority is that it adds time (years) to the building approval process, and time has a direct cost that is added to the cost of housing.

The more time a developer has to put into upfront planning the more expensive the overall cost of a building

As more time gets added the more likely it is that developers will choose not to develop. Add to this the fact that development charges in Toronto have nearly doubled over the past year and the cost of housing dramatically increases. Now add in the fact that property prices in Toronto have skyrocketed and it is easy to see why housing prices have increased so dramatically.  Time is the real culprit. Toronto planning must refine the process a development application goes through, and city planners need to curtail their desire to weigh in on design and architecture (which they are not educated in) and focus on the job of ensuring buildings are safe and built to code.

The bottleneck of development applications at city planning today is increasing and slowing down construction of new homes all across Toronto  Toronto’s new Chief planner, Gregg Lintern, has quite a challenge ahead of him. Not simply because the approval process needs a complete overhaul, but also because there is a “closed-door” culture running rampant at the planning department. It breeds an “us against them” mentality that pits city staff against the city’s development industry. It will be interesting to see if Mr. Lintern is able to change the culture, reach out to stakeholders, and make the changes that will impact housing affordability. If he simply carries on with the status quo and allows even more time to be added to the development approval process, he will push the cost of housing even further out of reach for average families.

The Intuitive activist ~ Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva’s photos do more than entertain the eye‒ they provoke the mind. Scrolling through her portfolio is an experience that pulls at your core and demands your attention. Each compelling image tells a story of the people she’s met, the places she’s been and the moments she’s lived; a journey, which she says, was guided by none other than intuition itself.

As a photographer, filmmaker, conservationist and activist, Danielle has catered her career to producing stories that rouse interest and inspire change. In 2009, she founded Photographers Without Borders (PWB), an organization that connects visual storytellers with grassroots initiatives, nonprofits and non-governmental organizations around the world. She is the sitting CEO and, since PWB’s creation, has connected over 175 storytellers with over 175 organizations, all the while addressing all of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals in over 35 countries.

“Storytelling helps us visualize and imagine new possibilities,” reads a quote from Danielle on her website. “That way we can manifest new realities.”

Growing up, Danielle says she was always filled with a burning sense of curiosity. Having a Portuguese mother and a British father of Indian-Pakistani descent, she said, prompted her to carry forward a quest of identity that was passed on from the generations before her. Her circumstances manifested into various solo travels at a young age, but it wasn’t until 2008 when she visited Kerala, India and worked with the Swami Vivekananda Medical Mission that she was truly propelled on a path of self-discovery.

“I took photos the entire time I was there and produced these amateur images that people seemed to really like when I came back. And that kind of struck a chord in me,” she said. “With those images, we were able to raise money to build nine schools in little villages. And that was a huge indicator to me of the power of storytelling.”

With no real formal training behind the lens, Danielle’s knack for photography came about rather organically. Following her trip to India, she was urged to pursue this apparent gift, and slowly, she began to merge her newfound passion for storytelling with her education in science and global development. Her work was met with a strong momentum, and has since carried her to more than 80 countries working with humanitarian groups that assist women, children, marginalized communities and conservation efforts.

In 2016, after a trip to Indonesia with PWB, Danielle co-founded the Sumatran Wildlife Sanctuary, which works to conserve rainforest habitat near the Gunung Leuser ecosystem. That same year, she also co-founded a local non-profit called The Dandelion Initiative, which, after witnessing cases of harassment in her field and experiencing the trauma of assault herself, advocates to end sexual violence through community action.

Throughout this dynamic journey, she’s mastered six languages and garnered the inspiration for two powerful TED Talks. But, the real goal in each of her ventures is to produce a narrative that evokes something visceral. “My photography is very, I think, unsettling sometimes…and I find that that’s something that’s really necessary right now. We’re so overloaded with information and imagery…and I think that my images make people look twice,” she said. “I think that can have an impact on people’s emotions, how they view different situations in the world and how they view their relationships to them.”

Danielle believes that it’s this exact push and pull between photograph and viewer that can reshape perspectives and breed positive change. Her motivation for setting the stage, so to speak, is rooted in her intuition‒ a natural, instinctive feeling that tells her what’s right, she said. Using this guiding force to navigate through the world, she hopes that her content continues to shed light on her own self-discovery, and not only inspires the communities that are featured through her work, but also other female storytellers who are awakening to the true potential of their art.–

“Don’t let anything get in the way and always follow your intuition because we [women] have a very strong sense of it. It’s something that a lot of men don’t have or have to work hard at, and I think that that can really be a good guide,” she said. “Using that intuition will help you flourish and thrive, and reimagine what the industry can be.”

 

Green isn’t just a dream

The Ontario election is just days away and with so much up in the air there seems to be a vacuum when it comes to smart government leadership. Moderate voters looking for balanced leadership are wondering who to vote for.

 As I sit on the GO train heading back to Toronto, I’m reminded of all the transit work the Liberal government has done over the past decade. As a transit advocate I know that they did their best to build as much as possible. But Wynne let a lot of people down in Toronto when she refused to approve the tolls Mayor Tory’s council asked for.  Tolls that would have been dedicated to funding transit expansion and relieving some of the enormous debt burdening our province.

I spent the weekend carefully analysing all the platforms –  and the quality of the party leaders. My experience as a candidate opened my eyes to the control and power the leader has over the rest of the party. Don’t be fooled by those who suggest you can avoid the leader and vote for the local candidate – the leader has total control over what the party does in government.

As a long-time Liberal I was surprised to hear Wynne give a concession speech this weekend, and I wondered why she wasn’t fighting to the very end. I have to admit that she pushed me to look outside the party for other options.

Who can moderate liberals realistically vote for?

After checking the positions each party put forward I have to admit that I was impressed with the support of the relief line that the NDP have touted as well as the huge list of all the other transit they plan to support. But read through the entire platform and their ability to pay for all the items comes into question. There are literally hundreds of special initiatives the NDP promises to make, as if trying to give each and every voter something. With promises so extensive, delivering on them would be impossible, and the level of debt it could bring on is worrisome.  I admire Andrea Horwath. Her character and contribution to this province is without question, but I worry over the lack of fiscal accountability the NDP platform reflects.

Looking over the Conservative platform I also see a lot of promises without any clear explanation for funding them.  Add to this Ford’s suggestion of selling the Greenbelt – which could devalue house prices across the GTHA – with his retraction of this policy, and it’s obvious he has little understanding of economic forces.  Doug Ford has a somewhat shady history – who can forget the ease at which he lied publicly about his brother never touching drugs? He lacks integrity, and I worry he’ll make backroom deals that would threaten the open and just system of balanced government we have achieved in the last decade.

By chance I found a printed copy of the Green Party 2018 election platform left on a bench at the Burlington GO train station. I read through every page and found it both a smart and a balanced platform that doesn’t over promise, and has a clear and concise explanation of how their initiatives would be paid for.

The Greens are the only party openly willing to consider using tolls or congestion charges to create dedicated transit funding. As well, Green Party leader Mike Schreiner told me that the relief line is their top Toronto priority.  I’ve known Schreiner for years. He’s consistent, steady, smart and dedicated.  Just the sort of leader Ontario so desperately needs. Anyone who has done their research will note that the Green party also has some of the best local community candidates in the province.

The Green party platform points out the serious transit issues that commuters have, with the average daily commute in the GTHA sitting at 80 minutes (equivalent to eight 40-hour work weeks each year).  Gridlock costs the economy $11.5 billion in lost productivity and congestion delays in trucking cost Canada $650 million per year.  The Greens plan to invest $1 to $1.5 billion per year and fund 50% of the operating costs of municipal transit systems – which would be a huge relief on our local municipalities – and they plan to pay for it all by implementing revenue tools such as congestion charges, parking levies and land value taxes, which will raise over $3.9 billion per year.

With so many people wondering who to vote for in this election I’m guessing the Green party may well get a surge of support – if they can get their platform out to voters in time. Their 2018 platform is one of the best I’ve evaluated. They will provide grants and interest-free loans to help homeowners, renters and businesses invest in energy conservation. And even better, they will pay for it by closing the Pickering Nuclear station and replacing it with the much lower cost of water power from Quebec which will save $1.1 billion per year!Ontario needs smart leadership and the vast majority in the middle need a party that can represent them. The Green party has put forward a well-balanced platform, they have a reliable smart leader in Mike Schreiner, and when combined with the excellent local candidates (52% are women) representing them, they are an excellent option for those in the middle who want an open and balanced government.  

Liberals have lost their chance of winning and the only hope for moderate voters is to go Green. It is time for Ontario residents to stop thinking that the Green Party will never get elected and start thinking about what Ontario could achieve if they did.

Advice for first-time solo travel

Lining up a travel buddy isn’t always a feasible option when planning that dream adventure. There’s certainly no shortage of countries to explore and sights to see but finding the ideal person to share those experiences with requires compatible schedules and travel styles and a shared interest on the same destination. That can prove to be difficult. For many (like myself) it can be easier to just set out alone. Travelling on the lonesome – be it for an extended period or a one-week vacation – can be a great way to go. That said, before landing in the destination, there are a few things to keep in mind. As someone who’s giving the whole solo wandering a shot this year, I have some recommendations from my first few months abroad.

Become a “yes” person. Be open minded to all offers and invites that arise. Even if something doesn’t seem interesting right away, taking part in that activity can prove just the opposite. Accepting new offers is often just the thing to enrich travel experiences and hey, they might uncover an unexplored passion. However, becoming a “yes” person shouldn’t mean following along without thinking independently. Rather, it means being unbiased and truly considering the offers instead of automatically shooting something down just to watch Netflix.

Know when it’s better to branch off alone. Yes, solo travellers should consider new opportunities but at the same time, knowing when to branch off from the crowd is key. Say, for instance, the group dynamic doesn’t exactly fit your vibe or the itinerary conflicts with your schedule. Go your own way. Sometimes following the crowd is only going to damper your mood. Early in my travels, I made hiking plans with a woman whose demeanor was… less than friendly. On the day of our hike, her messages seemed unhelpful and abrupt. When she failed to find me at our meeting spot and suggested I instead make my way to the trail, I changed course. I hit a different trail alone enjoying incredible views, a satisfying workout and a hot bowl of fresh trout soup by the river afterwards. In this case, it was wise to change my plans when I felt uncomfortable.

Trust that you are, in fact, capable. Before I left, I read a book of essays by female travellers in Latin America. The common theme seemed to be that everyone felt intimidated until they recognized that they were capable of more than they thought. Travelling means getting outside that well-established comfort zone – especially if doing it alone. Like the female writers I read, I too underestimated myself. At first, it was daunting to do anything alone. Slowly, I came out of my shell. Now, I’m writing this after having spent the past few days in the coffee region alone. I toured a coffee farm, I saw a cloud forest, I cooked a meal and kicked back in a cabin alone and I travelled the nine hours back alone. When travelling solo, trust that you are, in fact, a capable human.

Don’t be attached to items or itineraries. Letting schedules and material objects hold little to no importance will grant freedom. Not being attached to things like a weekend itinerary or perfectly coordinated wardrobe enables travellers to better fall into a go-with-the-flow way of thinking. Recently, my mini four-day vacation turned into a nearly three-week road trip. I wore the same outfits over and over and I unexpectedly got to enjoy parts of the country I hadn’t planned on seeing. It has been one of the highlights of 2018 so far. I’m so glad I tossed out the original plan.

Accept cultural differences. Though it may be hard, don’t use cultural standards from home to judge those who you meet abroad. In the long run, accepting culture shock is going to be easier than fighting it. Keep personal values close of course, just don’t expect others to think in the same ways. Now that I’m travelling, I have to accept that opinions are going to be much different in Colombia than in Toronto. I wouldn’t expect otherwise.

Spend time doing what you actually want to do. One of the beauties of travelling alone is that there’s no need to compromise with travel buddies with differing interests. When experiencing a new place, solo venturers are spoiled by getting to do exactly what they want to do and when they want to do it. If afforded this type of freedom, take advantage. Pay attention to personal interests and spend time doing those things. Don’t let travel blogs or opinions of fellow travellers on what visitors are “supposed to do” cloud that vision.

Not taboo – period

That dreaded “time of the month” often means dolling out extra cash to ensure comfort and sanitation. Products needed to manage menstruation and make it less terrible, such as tampons, pads and pain relief capsules, can add up in cost each month. Those who have the means to buy these seemingly accessible items, perhaps don’t think much about what it’s like for those who do not. Periods are terrible enough, even when all those products are available and affordable. But for those without the funds to purchase necessary menstruation products, it can mean health risks, missing out on day-to-day necessities, like work and school, and can result in unnecessary embarrassment.

In Toronto, pads and tampons are made available, but at a cost of $8 to $10 a box, on average. Those from low-income families or living on the streets or in shelters, are often prohibited from having access. The Period Purse, is an organization that provides purses filled with pads, tampons and menstrual wellness items to homeless and impoverished individuals across the nation in need of the items. The founder of the organization, Jana Girdauskas, shares about the reality many women face and the options they are left with.

“The reality is, many people experiencing homelessness are using newspaper or homemade tampons, or they resort to stealing,” she said. “What other choice do they have when menstrual products aren’t even a line item in the budget for our city’s shelters or drop-in centres? Any products that are available have been donated and supply can be sporadic. You might get one or two tampons for your entire cycle.”

Public restrooms make soap and toilet paper available, but there is clearly a need for pads and tampons to be as well. Heavy Flow podcast host Amanda Laird went so far as to point out that the lack of menstrual products made accessible to those who can’t afford the cost in drug stores and grocery stores, indicates who is making the decisions in Toronto and even on a global scale.

“Boys aren’t taught about menstruation in health class and it’s still such a taboo topic. Periods are just not something you’re supposed to talk about,” Laird says. “If you’ve never had a period or you don’t know anything about them you’re not going to think about how a lack of menstrual products might impact your day; about how being caught unprepared when your period starts might affect you.”

The Period Purse is holding a fundraising drive on June 8th to bring awareness to the issue while also collecting items like tampons, large purses and backpacks. Donations can be dropped off at Tokki, at 3124 Dundas St. West in Toronto.

Menstruation has somehow become a taboo topic. But why? It’s a necessary part of a cycle that prepares a woman to give new life. All are alive because of menstruation and all women need to have access to appropriate sanitary products that will allow each to live their lives without worry, fear and embarrassment.