Saturday, December 10, 2016

Memo to Kathleen Wynne: Upload the Gardiner & DVP back to the province to stop tolls

There has been huge debate recently over Toronto mayor John Tory's proposal to impose tolls of some kind on the Gardiner Expressway and the Don Valley Parkway (DVP).

Lots of anger too, mainly from those motorists who will potentially get stuck with extra user costs for choosing to drive into the already-congested city of Toronto.

Some progressives argue that tolls are good because they ding the actual users of the roads to pay more for their upkeep.  Tory has said such tolls would also help finance the many public transit projects he hopes to build like Smart Track.

Of course, this follows his dumb decision, backed by the majority of councillors, to spend $3-4 billion and counting to extend by one stop the Scarborough subway.   How progressives can give Tory such a blank cheque to continue to find new money for his "priorities" remains a mystery to me.

Yes, Toronto needs more public transit that covers all the corners of the city and gives 416 residents better transportation options.  The now-dead Transit City would've seen high speed transit added to the far corners of Scarborough and Etobicoke.  Other light rail options to some of those areas may still see the light of day though.  The Eglinton Crosstown line will eventually be finished, I hear, with 2021 as the expected start date for operations. 

Had Mike Harris not cancelled the Eglinton subway in 1995, that line would've already been a reality today.  We might instead be seeing the near completion of the Scarborough subway extension or even the Downtown Relief Subway Line today, rather than years or decades from now.

Such is the continued toxic legacy of Mike Harris and his neo-conservative, penny-wise-pound-foolish approach to government.   The debate over Gardiner and DVP tolls is also a part of that legacy as it was Harris who stupidly downloaded the costs for maintaining those regional highways to the city of Toronto.

Yes, property taxpayers in Toronto (and that's everyone who owns or rents anything in the city) are the sole funders of upkeep for the Gardiner and the DVP.   Folks who live outside Toronto pay nothing for them, even though they are clearly major regional arterial highways.  This is wrong and Tory's proposal, in part, corrects that.  There are no other such highways in the province so important regionally that are only funded by local taxpayers.

Ever since the fiasco of Donald Trump's election, I've been thinking hard about how progressives have lost touch with the working classes they claim to represent. 

It's clear that the father-knows-best attitudes of some progressives, particularly those downtown folks perceived as "urban elites", are contributing to this phenomenon.  If our progressive policies like road tolls and carbon taxes are just making it more difficult for average folks to live, then we are pushing them into the arms of neo-conservatives with their easy answers.

That's got to stop.  We've seen an erosion of support for Kathleen Wynne due to the perception that she's out of touch with the hardships faced by ordinary Ontarians.  Skyrocketing hydro bills are a part of that.  Teary admissions of guilt won't do much to reverse the damage to her popularity.  Some major populist moves that prove she's re-engaged with those hardships and willing to make tough decisions just might. 

I do believe that if John Tory succeeds in implementing tolls on the Gardiner and the DVP, with the approval of Kathleen Wynne, this will mean a total collapse of support for Wynne's Liberals in the one area of the province she still has much potential support: Toronto and the surrounding 905.   Tolls might be the final nail in the coffin that all but guarantees a Patrick Brown government after 2018.

What's the solution?  Simply deny Tory the road tolls and do nothing else?  Or refuse tolls but increase funding for Toronto transit projects?  Perhaps.  But that one-time capital funding won't help Toronto's long-term operating costs for these two highways. 

A better choice would be to reverse the stupid decision by Harris to download the Gardiner and the DVP to Toronto, I think.

If Ontario uploaded responsibility and upkeep costs for the Gardiner and the DVP back to provincial taxpayers and continued to promise never to implement tolls on them or other existing Ontario highways, this would relieve local Toronto property taxpayers, and also remove the threats of tolls on 905ers.  Instead, all provincial taxpayers would be supporting these highways like they do all others.

Sure, John Tory might be miffed he lost a potential source of revenue.  But Tory put Wynne in this awkward position by proposing this in the first place, while also highlighting one of Wynne's least popular decisions (privatizing part of Ontario Hydro) by ruling out selling Toronto Hydro.  She owes him nothing on this issue.   

Sadly, the uploading option doesn't seem to have dawned on Wynne based on her most recent statements.  She's still describing the Gardiner and the DVP as "local roads." 

The Gardiner and the DVP are not local roads used by local residents only.  They are major arterial routes that bring traffic from miles away directly into the core of the city.  Estimates are almost half of daily users of the DVP and the Gardiner are not from Toronto.

Wynne's current reaction to the tolls proposal - that she would simply approve any city of Toronto request for tolls - is the wrong one.  Unfortunately, it's in line with some of her other tone deaf decisions that have created the impression she's out of touch with the average Ontarian.  She better get smarter if she doesn't want to hand power over to Patrick Brown's PCs. 

Uploading the costs for the Gardiner and the DVP back to the province would be a major win for the premier, who's got to be desperate for one these days.   It might even be the beginning of the recovery she so desperately needs if she's going to pull her Liberals out of the popularity basement and have any chance of hanging on to power in 2018.  Seems like a brilliant plan to me. 

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Electoral reform seems dead despite Trudeau's latest words

I've been a longtime advocate for dumping Canada's first-past-the-post / winner-take-all voting system.  It continues to shock me that otherwise intelligent people continue to support it. 

I remember being a rabidly anti-free trade teenager in 1988 during the early part of the federal election that year when I looked at polls showing Brian Mulroney's PCs with 45% support.

"There you have it, they can't pass free trade because the Liberals and NDP have a combined 55%," I said to my parents.

They shook their heads and explained that Canada's voting system doesn't align to the popular vote; parties need only to carry the majority of seats by winning the most votes, usually with much less than half of the popular vote.

In truth, most parts of the democratic world embrace proportional voting (PR) systems where the seats won in Parliament align with the will of the people.  When new democracies have been established around the world, PR systems have been put in place to avoid the dangers of extremists winning total power with as little as 30-40% of the vote.  This has been civilized.

But not in Canada.  Recent Canadian elections have seen one party win a majority of seats with less than 40%.  This used to be rare, even under winner-take-all, but now it is commonplace.  

Just last month, the world was thrown into craziness with the "election" of Donald Trump, thanks to the U.S.'s own archaic winner-take-all Electoral College voting system.  The people voted for Hillary Clinton by 2.5 million votes (and still counting), but they've been overruled by a rigged system that has handed victory to a racist, whiny buffoon.   Despite attacking the electoral college when he wasn't a candidate, Trump now supports it because it handed him victory.  

Such is the case with any political party in Canada that actually stands a chance of winning elections.  The NDP, when it's been in power in the provinces, has never moved to implement PR voting systems.  Indeed, the British Columbia NDP has been most vociferous in its opposition to previous PR options in that province.  This is ironic considering the status quo has ensured B.C. New Democrats have been completely shut out of government and decision-making power for 31 out of the last 41 years.

Chantal Hébert is absolutely correct here that the federal parties continue to put their own partisan interests ahead of the public interest in this current debate.   

Despite Justin Trudeau's election promise and his current unwillingness to abandon it publicly, it now seems clear electoral reform isn't going anywhere federally anytime soon.  

The Liberals on the parliamentary committee that reported this week refused to cooperate with opposition colleagues on proposing a way forward for the debate, even calling Trudeau's promise to reform in time for the 2019 election as "hasty".  

Those same Liberals could've made a deal with the New Democrats to implement the only system that would actually be an improvement over the status quo - proportional representation - but they clearly refused.  

Thus forcing the NDP and Greens to side with the Conservatives on proposing a referendum on proportional representation versus first-past-the-post.  

Yes, the Conservatives have agreed to a referendum that could see the implementation of a voting system they would hate.  But they have done so simply because they are confident, based on recent Canadian history, that PR would be voted down by the public in favour of the status quo.  That's been the case in every recent referendum on the issue with the exception of a Prince Edward Island plebiscite this year where PR won with 52% (but now the PEI government plans to hold another binding vote on the same subject.)  

With the Trudeau Liberals in charge, it seems they've lost their appetite for change.  As Hébert points out, they've done nothing to promote the one voting system Liberals seem to favour the most - instant runoff or ranked ballots - at public meetings held by MPs or the parliamentary committee.

Trudeau's Liberals are clearly laying the groundwork to abandon this pledge.  They'll do so with the support of a majority of Liberals, unfortunately.  

When I campaigned in favour of Mixed Member Proportional during the Ontario 2007 election, the reactions I got from most Liberals were largely hostile.     

That crushing 2007 defeat, along with various other voting reform defeats, convinced me Canadians, like Americans and Brits, simply don't embrace the values of fairness and equality as much as I hoped.  To the majority, stability and the ability of governments to act with autocratic control and decisive action seemed more important than ensuring parties with 10% of the vote get 10% of the seats. 

I've argued ad nauseam that the current voting system essentially ensures that 3 + 3 = 9, while 2 + 2 = 3.   Sometimes it even ensures that 4 + 4 = 7, while 3 + 4 = 10, when it hands victory to the popular vote loser.  It's broken!

People just shrug their shoulders and their eyes glaze over.  Canada seems pretty strong and stable with the current system, so let's just keep it, they say. 

You can't win such arguments with those who value power and stability more than justice. 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Open letter to Bill Morneau: Stop Bill C-27, an attack on the middle class and all workers

While the Trudeau government has done some good to help out the middle class in this country, they have failed a specific group of workers who are employed in federally-regulated industries including Crown corporations with the introduction of Bill C-27, an Act to Amend the Pension Benefits Standards Act, 1985.

Quietly introduced a couple weeks ago with no public statements, clearly the government is trying to sneak this into law without much notice, even though the impact on workers who are counting on their employers to deliver on their promised defined benefit pensions could be horrendous.   I'm one of those workers.  Like many, I have made a deliberate decision to stay in my current employment (which I do enjoy) partly because of this benefit, generally unavailable for my generation in the private sector.

For more information on how Bill C-27 will hurt workers, check out this page set up by CUPE. 

I penned this open letter this weekend to Liberal Finance Minister and Toronto Centre MP Bill Morneau about my concerns, urging the government to stop this attack on middle class workers.  I urge anyone impacted by this bill to write their MPs as well:

****************************************************************************

Dear Bill Morneau --

As my MP for Toronto Centre, I am writing to express my frustration and disappointment in you as a member of the Trudeau cabinet that introduced Bill C-27, an Act to Amend the Pension Benefits Standards Act, 1985. 

Your government was elected in 2015 to support and help the Canadian middle class, which has seen its earning potential grind to a halt the last 30-40 years.  Wages have stagnated barely ahead of the rate of inflation, and today, most average Canadian families include two adults who both must work full-time in order to simply survive.  Few of them earn enough to save in insecure RRSPs and defined contribution pension plans to adequately ensure a secure retirement.

At the same time, employers have seen their profits surge to historically high levels.  The wealth of our nation is not being shared equitably with the workers whose labour has greatly made that wealth possible.  You should know this full well - as these realities were often referenced by your leader during the 2015 election campaign.  

Defined benefit pension plans have sadly disappeared from most private sector industries, including federally regulated industries.  In the private sector, they only exist for certain older employees whose defined benefits have been grandfathered while younger employees have been forced to accept defined contribution plans, if any at all.  

This has been yet another reason why the rich 1% at the top have seen their wealth skyrocket in recent decades, while the middle and working classes, after seeing their pay stagnate, now realize they have to face 20-30 years of retirement not knowing if they'll be able to afford food or pay their bills in their elderly years. 

This is all part of the unfair deal that the neo-conservative/neo-liberal agenda has hoisted onto working people, exasperating unfairness and injustice, allowing the rich establishment to get richer and richer. 

The folks who run industries or Crown corporations effected by Bill C-27 are getting paid so well that they never have to worry about their retirements.  The salaries, stock options, bonuses and other perks ensure they'll be alright.  Many even continue to have defined benefit pensions.  Even Member of Parliament like yourself will enjoy bloated defined benefit pensions most Canadians can only dream of. 

The vast majority of the employees who will be hurt by C-27 include civil servants who work for Crown corporations. I'm one of those people.  We've chosen to work in organizations to promote the public good.  We've foregone more lucrative careers in the private sector in order to serve the public. 

Part of the deal was, at least, people like me would be able to count on knowing how much retirement pension money we'd receive every month following a long career serving the public interest.   Now your Bill C-27 would betray us, giving employers or former employers the power to pressure us to give up those pensions and lose retirement security, with little or no ability to transition or prepare for these losses.   If you're an employee in such an industry or corporation who is 10-20 years from retiring, how can we now change our careers or earn enough to make up for the potential losses that C-27 will bring?  

This is disgusting considering the waste and mismanagement that is still rampant in my own corporation, as it is in most federally regulated Crown corporations, despite these tight fiscal times.  And let's not even get started about the corporate excesses at the top of the private sector, who now also stand to benefit even more from C-27. 

A very well paid manager of mine very recently gave himself a cross-country, all expense paid national tour, visiting dozens of offices of the corporation including those in Northwest Territories, at great expense to the department, all paid for by the corporation.  This happened shortly after he laid off dozens of workers due to tight "fiscal realities."  The manager said his cross-country tour was necessary to meet the people in the regions working for him.  However, this same manager planned to and indeed did retire just a few months later, thus making his in-person visits fairly pointless.  All of this spending was approved by the corporation.  

Other managers throughout the private and public sectors continue to spend recklessly.  Corporate waste at the management level is rampant.  Giving those managers the option of peeling away their defined benefit pension obligations to their employees only will inspire this culture of waste and mismanagement to continue and even accelerate.   These corporations are not in financial difficulties.   Banks, for certain, are seeing record profits, as we know. 

Now Bill C-27, if passed, will put pressure on more workers to take on all the risks with regard to their retirement savings.  It will undermine the most vulnerable people in Canada - the individual workers struggling to make ends meet - while rewarding those at the top running these corporations, who've already shown little fiscal responsibility and now will be even more empowered to legally steal retirement benefits away from their workers. 

Your party has no mandate to legislate this bill.  Even Stephen Harper didn't go so far as to allow employers to betray their workers and pressure them to give up their hard-earned pension benefits. 

During the 2015 election, Justin Trudeau wrote: "I continue to believe that while they may make sense in certain circumstances, any changes to (defined benefit plans) should be made on a going-forward basis.  (Defined benefit plans) which have already paid for by employees and pensioners, should not retroactively be changed into (Target Benefit plans)."

Now your government is doing the exact opposite you promised in the 2015 election.  C-27 would allow retroactive changes to pensions.  Target Benefit plans, as would be promoted under C-27 if passed, are exactly like Defined Contribution plans - workers take on all the risks while their employers, who profited immensely from the labour of those workers, keep all of that profit for their own ends, ensuring an uncertain future for those workers after they retire.   Target Benefit/Defined Contribution pension plans free up managers to continue to make bad fiscal decisions without consequence to themselves, while workers will bear all the burden.

Yes, the least powerful and able to bear the burden, will bear all of it, thanks to your government.    

Canada needs more defined benefit pensions that will ensure a dignified retirement for workers, not fewer such pensions.  We've already seen workers' rights stripped away at every level for decades, including the stripping back of retirement pensions.  Now those few federally-regulated workers who still have defined benefit pensions are being put at risk by your legislation.  This is an attack on the middle class and all workers in federally-regulated industries, and by extension, all workers who aspire to a dignified retirement. 

While I support strengthening and increasing the Canada Pension Plan, as your government has done, these improvements will not even come close to helping those employees who stand to lose so much by your Bill C-27.   In reality, this move will ensure that more Canadians struggle in retirement while their rich managers become empowered to abandon those same workers and continue to spend recklessly and with fewer consequences. 

I urge you to abandon this attack on the middle class and all workers.  This bill would be yet another stake through the heart of working Canadians and the dignity of retirement. 

Sincerely,
Matt Guerin
Toronto-Centre resident

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Will America avoid its 'Rob Ford' mistake next week?

Comedy Central meme interview with Trump supporter.
Over two weeks ago, Canadian columnist Andrew Coyne wrote this insightful article entitled, "How does Donald Trump still have supporters?"

In it, Coyne wrote, "The actual Republican nominee is a man who has shown himself unfit, not just for high office, but for any office; not just in his abilities as a leader, but in
his qualities as a man; not just occasionally, but on every day of the campaign.  He is not just deficient in this or that respect - knowledge, experience, judgment, tact, decency, integrity, leadership, policy - but utterly lacking in all.  Donald Trump is not just the worst candidate for president ever nominated by a major party, he is very nearly the worst candidate it is possible to imagine, and was even before it was revealed he was a serial sexual predator."

I love it when decent conservatives like Coyne show integrity and turn on horrible standard bearers like Trump.   Many also turned on another grossly flawed conservative in Toronto by the name of Rob Ford, once those flaws were exposed after he won the mayor's chair.

I'm not the first person to compare the Trump phenomenon south of the border with Toronto's own former and late mayor.   As the U.S. campaign finally winds down, I thought I'd compare the two men. 

The dynamics in this 2016 U.S. race and the 2010 mayoral election which saw Ford take the top job at Toronto city hall are eerily similar.  But there are also some major differences, which I believe will produce a different kind of result next week.   

Trump is an outsider with zero political experience.  Rob Ford was already an elected councillor with ten years experience at city hall when he ran for mayor, and a well-established record for local constituency service.  Although Ford still had a reputation for being an 'outsider.'

While Trump's bombastic campaign designed to shake up the establishment this year proved effective at vanquishing his mostly weak opponents in the GOP primary, including his pandering to racism and xenophobia in the Republican base, it has been less successful at winning over mainstream Americans.

Instead, Trump has proven to be an inept campaigner, following his shallow, stupid instincts like getting into a week-long Twitter war with a former Miss Universe after falling into every debate trap launched by his more experienced opponent Hillary Clinton.

Trump's been tone deaf and has failed to exploit Clinton's perceived weaknesses, usually going over the top in his attacks.  By contrast, Clinton's attacks on Trump have defined him as a sexist, racist jerk who is fundamentally unfit for the presidency.

In 2010, by contrast, Rob Ford's campaign was laser-like in its focus on "fighting the (imagined) gravy train" at Toronto City Hall and reducing taxes.  It was exactly what Toronto voters wanted to hear that year, at least on taxes.  Ford's main opponent was George Smitherman, an openly gay, former Liberal cabinet minister with a provincial record perceived by some as scandal-plagued and wasteful.

Sadly, Smitherman proved to be far less adept than Clinton at exposing his opponent's weaknesses.  Sure, many of us on the left knew that Ford was homophobic and racist, based on his previous comments.  Still, that didn't seem to matter to the 47% of voters who decided to give him a try in the mayor's chair.  In the end, the best theme that Smitherman could muster was essentially "I'm not Rob Ford."  That wasn't good enough to stop the Ford juggernaut that swept across Toronto's inner suburbs.  

When they voted, Toronto voters didn't know about Ford's drug and alcohol addiction problems, plus his apparent ties to criminals.   When his crack cocaine scandal emerged in 2013, many in Toronto were genuinely shocked.  Had a crack video emerged during the 2010 election campaign, it's easy to assume that Ford's campaign would've fallen off the rails like Trump's did following the release of the infamous Access Hollywood video. 

Instead, Toronto had to endure four lost years as Rob Ford spent more time smoking crack in the basements of gang members instead of governing at city hall.  It was a shit show we won't soon forget.

This year, it seems that Clinton has been able to successfully define her opponent as unacceptable to the vast majority of Americans.  Despite her own flaws and history, she is widely regarded as capable.  She's mostly won over the progressive left, aided by the generous support of her Democratic primary opponent Bernie Sanders.  And now she seems to have won over the majority of independents and even some moderate Republicans who've looked on in horror as Trump's enormous flaws have been exposed.

In spite of last Friday's bizarre announcement by the FBI that they've found more emails that may or may not be pertinent to the Clinton email server scandal and subsequent fall-out, it does seem that most Americans have already made up their minds.  They're not going to hand the nuclear codes to someone as obviously unfit as Trump.
@thelaynee: Trump supporter hangs black mannequins in tree.

Yet, Trump's bigoted base persists in supporting him.  Why?  In my mind, because they're largely racist and don't care much about whether Trump is otherwise unfit for office, or aren't smart enough to notice.  They've been won over by Trump's attacks on Muslims and Mexicans, and don't seem to mind his admitted history of sexually assaulting women enough to change their votes.   

Like Trump, Ford too had his diehard supporters who stuck by him and his brother despite the crack cocaine scandal as well as his failure to "stop the gravy train".  They stuck by Ford because they knew, like them, Ford hated LGBT people and spared no opportunity to show disrespect to them.  In Ford, they saw a kindred spirit.

Perhaps in some ways, Ford was a lot like his supporters.  Trump, on the other hand, is a billionaire philanderer who never gave a crap about the poor or the uneducated until he wanted to seize power with their votes.  

A very effective Clinton campaign seems to have stopped the Trump monster in its tracks, I'm glad to say.  Of course, we'll see how it goes next Tuesday.  But I'll be hoping the U.S. avoids its Rob Ford mistake.  

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Social conservatives elect young twink to be Progressive Conservative candidate in Niagara West-Glanbrook

19-year-old PC candidate Sam Oosterhoff (Facebook)
I've been busy with work and life these last two months, so my apologies.  A few topics, mostly around the ongoing U.S. election, have been on my mind lately, which will inspire some posts in the very near future.

But I couldn't let this day go by without marveling at the mindless audacity of most social conservatives, particularly those still hard at work in the grassroots of Patrick Brown's Ontario Progressive Conservatives.

Yesterday, local Tories voted to select a successor to Tim Hudak to run in the provincial byelection Nov 17th in Niagara West-Glanbrook.

They chose 19-year-old, first-year university student Sam Oosterhoff, pictured on the right, whose experience seems to be little more than graduating high school and working briefly as a junior staffer for a Conservative MP on Parliament Hill. 

By they, I mean the social conservatives who reportedly swamped the local membership to back this inexperienced yet undeniably handsome young man.   He's the perfect definition of a young twink if there ever was one.

In taking the nomination, Oosterhoff beat out party president Rick Dykstra (a personal friend of leader Patrick Brown and former MP for St. Catharines), as well as local businessman Mike Williscraft and Niagara regional councillor Tony Quirk (who was the preferred choice of outgoing MPP Hudak.)   Thus, local Tories were not bereft of highly qualified choices.

Yet the so-cons chose this kid, who's now promising to be “a voice for common-sense, pro-family policies and concerns” when he squares off against Liberal lawyer Vicky Ringuette and New Democrat retired cop Mike Thomas next month.

“I will never waver in my support of parents as primary educators, and I will strive to ensure that parental rights are respected in education,” said Oosterhoff, echoing the concerns expressed by mostly homophobic opponents of Premier Kathleen Wynne’s updated sex ed curriculum.  


Such is the extremism of socially conservative wingnuts.  It seems no lack of experience in a candidate is preposterous enough to earn their passionate support. 

Look at Donald Trump in the U.S. who has also won widespread support from social conservatives, despite the fact that he's a philanderer and has flip flopped on all the important issues these folks claim to care about.  

Oosterhoff's strange win also points to more serious chaos inside Patrick Brown's party.  How on earth did Brown's office manage to screw up the local nomination so badly?  And allowed this kid to emerge victorious?  

This, of course, follows the controversy during another byelection fight in August in which 13,000 letters were circulated to Scarborough residents - in English and Chinese and bearing Brown's signature - promising to "scrap" the sex ed curriculum if he becomes premier in 2018.  Brown then reneged on that pledge, alienating social conservatives.   Brown insists he supports the modernized sex-education curriculum and is pro-choice, despite his long pro-life voting record as a MP. 

Perhaps Brown has little ability to run his own party?  The result in the Niagara nomination race would suggest that's the case even though I'm sure Brown's allies will argue this is just healthy local democracy at work.   

Yet how healthy can the grassroots of the party be when they elect someone this inexperienced simply because he spouts what social conservatives want to hear? 

As far as I'm concerned, this is just more proof the far-right, socially conservative wing of the Ontario PCs is stronger and more organized than leader Patrick Brown would have us believe.  This is not a mainstream, moderate party, by any means.

***ADDENDUM***

I must say that, by using the term "twink," I am referring only to Oosterhoff's age and body type.  I am not implying anything else about him as I do not know him.  Some have interpreted my use of this word to mean I'm implying he's gay.  I am not doing that.  Not that there's anything wrong with being gay, of course!   

"Twink" is not the kind of word usually used to describe nominated political candidates, I agree. That's my point.  I'm mocking the social conservatives who looked past his obvious inexperience and put him in this position.  Social conservatives like Oosterhoff have been mocking folks like me with words far more insulting or belittling for generations, so it is more than fair for me to respond and use words they may not appreciate to describe them.   This is a gay-themed blog so I used the word to be playful, comedic and provocative. 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Has flip-flopping Patrick Brown just handed the 2018 election back to Kathleen Wynne?

Sean Kilpatrick / THE CANADIAN PRESS
I've never liked Patrick Brown.

He's a good organizer who knows how to put in the miles to attend meetings, suck up to the right people, sell memberships, and construct an internal party organization good enough to deliver those votes in a leadership race. 

But those skills don't make him a good political leader for the province.  Instead, since he swamped the more qualified Christine Elliott to seize the Ontario Progressive Conservative leadership last year, he's shown himself to be a chameleon, changing his positions often on crucial issues.  

Brown used to be one of the most socially conservative MPs sitting on Stephen Harper's backbenches.  He voted to reconsider same sex marriage in this country long after most Canadians had put the issue to bed.  He's on the record opposing abortion and relied heavily on anti-abortion voters to get him elected Ontario PC leader.  

But after winning that leadership, he started attending LGBT Pride parades, trying to re-position himself as a centrist.   He even promised to implement some kind of carbon tax. 

Brown's not a great orator.  He doesn't have any special personal story that most Ontarians will find compelling.  He basically got his law degree at U of Windsor and then went straight into politics.  Like Jason Kenney, he's still single.

For a guy with virtually no political accomplishments, how he decides to define himself on policy is crucial.  Yet Brown is now showing fairly unattractive cards as he announced late last week he's flip-flopping on the new school curriculum, bowing to ignorant parents in a rush to win a by-election in Scarborough-Rouge River on September 1st.

In an open letter, Brown wrote, "a PC government would scrap the controversial changes to sex-ed introduced by Premier Wynne and develop a new curriculum after thoughtful and full consultation with parents."

This is the second flip flop by Brown on the curriculum.  He was initially opposed to it during the leadership race (in order to win those socially conservative votes, of course.)   Then he backtracked, saying he could live with it (this was during his "move to the centre" phase.)

But now he's back opposing it in the vaguest of terms, calling the open letter he sent out outlining his latest position as "a form letter that was used in a byelection. What I'm committed to doing is making sure that in the next curriculum, that we would engage parents and that parents would be given a voice."

So is he scrapping the sex-ed curriculum now or waiting until the next curriculum to do it?  It's unclear.  

This is opportunistic and confusing.  Brown is an emperor without clothes.  These are not the qualities we want in our leaders.

Suddenly, Kathleen Wynne's chances in 2018 got a whole lot better.

Brown's ploy may help his local candidate in the by-election.  I'm not sure.  But what this crass move says about his judgment isn't flattering.    

The greater battle that lies ahead in 2018 is starting to shape up a lot like 2014.

***ADDENDUM***

I just want to add this thought.  The Ontario PC Party has spent the last 13 years in opposition trying to figure out how to best re-define itself post-Mike Harris.

The neo-conservative tilt to the right under Harris eventually caused a big backlash among Ontarians who switched back to the centre under Liberal Dalton McGuinty in 2003.  Ontario voters understood full well that big tax cuts mean big cuts to public services on which we depend. 

When the Ontario PCs elected John Tory as leader in 2004, it seemed to signify the party was moderating itself again in the same vein as Bill Davis.

However, Tory screwed up big time by promising to fund religious schools.   It was an attempt to placate social conservatives, but it backfired and he got creamed in the 2007 election.  Since then, hard-right Conservatives in the Ontario PC party have done their best to push the party back to the right (even though it was a very right-wing policy funding religious schools that sank it.)

Under Tim Hudak and now again under Brown, the party is more Mike Harris than Bill Davis.  But this is a gross miscalculation.  Ontarians don't want another far-right, Conservative government like the one Mike Harris led.  If they are to kick out the Liberals, they want a moderate, socially liberal/fiscally conservative option.  The kind of which Christine Elliott would've provided.

Now under the unimpressive chameleon that is Patrick Brown, it seems the party is in danger of repeating 2014 all over again.

*******UPDATE Aug 29, 2016*********

Patrick Brown has now announced today in a Toronto Star op-ed that the open letter the Tories sent out last week to Scarborough residents was a "mistake" and that he does not plan to "scrap" the Liberals' sex-ed curriculum after all.  His only pledge remains to consult more parents before the next curriculum is approved (even though consultations on this curriculum were extensive). 

This is a bit dizzying.  I must admit I do prefer this flip flop over the last one as at least he's (currently) landing on the right side of the issue now.  Still, this doesn't help build credibility he so desperately needs to convince voters he's premier material.  But he did squash this controversy rather quickly.   There is something to being willing to admit a mistake. 

Regardless of this Thursday's byelection results, we'll see how he continues to perform going forward and if this kind of policy snafu can be avoided in the future. 

Monday, July 4, 2016

Black Lives Matter protest at Toronto Pride provokes backlash

The demands of Black Lives Matter during Pride 2016 protest
There has been much debate in the last 24 hours since Black Lives Matter-Toronto held a sit-in protest during Sunday's Toronto Pride parade.

The surprise protest shut down the parade for about 30 minutes yesterday, causing confusion and frustrations for many others along the route, myself included.

The group had been invited to participate in the parade as honoured guests.  Pride Toronto stated it hoped to show unity between the similar causes of LGBT and Black liberation.  Black Lives Matter (BLM) reportedly did not give advanced warning of their planned sit-in during the parade which included a touching tribute to the 49 victims of the recent Orlando mass shooting.  Instead, they took the opportunity to promote a fairly modest list of demands for better inclusion of people of colour in Pride festivities, claiming Pride Toronto is "anti-black" and has routinely threatened funding for people of colour-inclusive spaces during the festival.

Those arguments are, at best, debatable.  Reviewing the many years of inclusive programming, including the 17th year of Blockorama this year, not to mention the invitation of Rupaul to speak last night, there's no doubt that Pride Toronto has gone to great lengths to make itself an inclusive space for all in the diverse LGBT community.

Is it enough?  For many, yes.  For everyone?  Clearly not.

If Black Lives Matter believed that Pride Toronto has been "anti-black," one has to wonder why did they agree to participate in Pride Toronto's parade?

While Black Lives Matter clearly has important and extremely valid points to make about police violence and racism in our society, there's no doubt some of their tactics are controversial.

I've read comments from many LGBT folks in the community online in the last 24 hours, ranging from knee-jerk support, to thoughtful support, to indifference, to great frustration, to outright racism.

I have to say that I've been torn about how to react to this.  But for the most part, I do sympathize with the Black Lives Matter activists and find there was nothing wrong at all with their decision to do what they did.

As has been stated by some, the Pride parade, itself, was originally an unpopular and radical protest against widespread ignorance and homophobia in society.

If BLM felt it important to hold a sit-in during the parade to get its points across, they had every right to do so.  The occasion seems wholly appropriate for such an action considering its history.

Were all of their demands important enough to bring the parade to a halt?   Looking at their list - including more funding and community control over diverse spaces during Pride, more diversity in Pride Toronto's staffing, to banning official police floats in future Prides - I'd say no.

Shouldn't have Black Lives Matter made these demands of Pride Toronto before accepting the invitation to be honoured guests?   I'd say yes.

But clearly, BLM had other things in mind and planned to use the platform they were given to cause an action and start a huge public debate.  To that end, they have succeeded enormously.

However, in doing this, BLM has risked a huge backlash.  I would suggest that most of that backlash is coming from folks who are largely indifferent or even hostile to the core issues raised by BLM.

But of course, we can't write off all negative reactions to yesterday's actions as just racist.

As one fairly progressive person (race unknown to me) on Facebook stated:

"This was an epic fail. Sure, the ambush worked but so what? A symbolic banning of the police from having floats at Pride does nothing to curb police racism and violence. 

"I generally support guerilla tactics like the sit in, and were BLM merely one of many groups marching, I would have been 100% fine with interruption of the parade. But BLM accepted the offer of being the Honoured Group at Pride. Turning on one's host -- another group with a long history of fighting institutionalized violence and intolerance -- is more than being simply rude. It spurns the attempt to build bridges and it betrays trust."  

I do support most of the demands that BLM made of Pride Toronto yesterday.

But the blanket demand that police floats be banned from future Pride Toronto parades is unacceptable.  It didn't even have a time limitation on it, such as "until the Toronto Police Service proves to the community that it is taking serious action against systemic racism," or something else more quantifiable.

Even Donald Trump put a time limitation on his ludicrous and racist promise to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. until he can "figure out what the hell is going on."

But BLM seems contented to ban police from Pride parades forever.  That's anything but a productive suggestion.

Both LGBT people and people of colour have had much reason to mistrust the police based on how they've been targeted in the past and present.

But outright bans of the police from participating in the parade sends the wrong message.

As one openly gay police officer has stated today in reaction, "Exclusion does not promote inclusion."

All in all, BLM used the platform they were given to ignite a firestorm of dialogue, most of it not overly positive or helpful to their cause.  They will have to live with these consequences, which might include further isolation as a group from would-be ally organizations.

Did they have a right to do what they did?  Absolutely.

Was it the best way to promote their cause?  I have serious doubts.   But time will tell how effective or unproductive their actions were.

Is most of the ongoing backlash against BLM justified?   Some of it is, but a good chunk is not.

At this time, I'm reminded of the eloquent and powerful words made by Jesse Williams recently at the BET Awards:  

"If you have a critique for the resistance, for our resistance, then you better have an established record of critique of our oppression...If you have no interest in equal rights for black people, then do not make suggestions to those who do."

I have considered myself an ally of the black community, as well as all people of colour communities in fighting racism and discrimination in our societies.

There is no doubt that the LGBT community needs to do more to promote diversity and fight racism within it.  Sadly, many white LGBT people can be as racist as white straight people in our societies.  All of that has to change.

It's possible that yesterday's events, while chaotic and controversial, might have done some good to that end.  I certainly hope so.

Monday, June 20, 2016

New Health Canada rules for gay men donating blood welcome, but still fundamentally flawed

Health Minister Jane Philpott (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)
The long-standing rules barring men who have sex with men from donating blood in Canada are no longer valid.  They haven't been based on serious science for years.

The old rule enacted in the 1980s after the tainted blood scandal barred all men who have had sex with men even once since 1977 from donating blood for life.  I was well aware of this rule before I came out.  Thus I donated much blood before I became sexually active.

At first, it didn't seem to me like Health Canada or Canadian Blood Services were picking on just gay men as they used a similar sledgehammer approach to banning thousands of other Canadians for the smallest of reasons, like for a time those who had eaten certain meat products in the U.K.

But in recent years, it's become clear that science had less to do with the rule barring gay men.  Rather, the rule was kept in place simply to calm paranoid or prejudiced Canadians worried about the blood supply and maintain the "perception" that the blood supply was super-safe.   

Health Canada, wary to make the same mistakes of the past, stubbornly refused to budge on the issue until recently, when it changed the lifetime ban to a 5-year no sex ban.   Meaning gay men had to abstain from sex for five long years before becoming eligible to donate blood.  

Today, the rule has been changed again, bringing Canada in line with many other countries, lowering the sex threshold to just one year for gay men.  But for many, that's still going to disallow most gay men from donating, including those who are probably the least susceptible to getting sexually transmitted diseases or HIV: monogamous gay couples.

So there is more work to be done on this file.  If the Trudeau Liberals are intent on ensuring evidence-based policy decisions, it seems clear they should keep their promise to end the blanket ban completely and instead target actual behaviour.

Yes, the rates of HIV infection and other STDs are higher amongst sexually active gay men who aren't in monogamous relationships.  But the risks of similar infections amongst sexually active straight people (for whom, let's face it, condom use still remains less than common) have got to be higher than monogamous gay couples or gay men who always practise safe sex.   

It's time to stop targeting gay men unfairly like this.  Today's announcement is a step in the right direction.  Let's hope it's just the beginning of the end for this discriminatory policy.  

Sunday, June 12, 2016

50 tragic steps back in Orlando, 1000 steps forward in Kyiv

Today's Gay Pride parade in Kyiv (SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images)
I'm numb with the tragic news coming out of Orlando last night.  According to reports, a lone gunman, in an act of vile hatred, last night around 2 am open-fired inside Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, killing 49 people and injuring dozens more before U.S. police shot him dead. 

In 2014, I visited Orlando with my partner Sam and attended a different gay nightclub called Parliament House one evening.  (I had to re-check the name today after hearing this horrific story.) 

Just last night, I went out myself with another friend here in Toronto to another gay nightclub.  This tragedy hits very close to the bone for me as I could easily imagine myself in such a place at 2 am.

Investigations into this horrible act of terror continue in the U.S.  There are reports the gunman was sympathetic to the evils of extremist religion.

I can only say that we should not take this tragedy and use it to gain political points or to marginalize or stigmatize religious moderates, be they Muslim or Christian or any religion.

On the other hand, those who promote hatred and violence, including those who do it in the name of their extremist religions, have blood on their hands today.

So too do those who fight for the easy distribution of assault rifles in the U.S.  The gunman last night reportedly used one, hence why the casualties of innocent people inside the Pulse nightclub were so high. 

As we struggle to comprehend this horrible action, let's celebrate the way the Orlando community and indeed all decent people of all sexual orientations might come together to mourn and move forward.

And let's ignore the conservative scumbags who will use this incident to whip up hatred against all Muslims, demand the greater distribution of guns and a complete shutdown of allowing Muslims into the U.S. (as no doubt Donald Trump will repeat, proving once again he's not a leader.)

Meanwhile, this story about Kyiv's Gay Pride march today gives me hope.

"Around a thousand people turned up on Sunday for Ukraine’s first major gay pride march which was held amid tight security measures..." 

Kudos to those brave activists and community members who are asserting their value as human beings amid a vile conservative culture. 

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Federal Conservatives freaking out over today's Liberal-NDP-Green cooperation on electoral reform

After mostly botching the launch of their democratic reform committee earlier this month when they originally stacked it with a majority of Liberals, the federal government has fixed it considerably today with this move.

Now, the Liberals will hold only 5 seats on a committee of 12, handing the opposition a majority of votes on the committee that will study and make a recommendation on a possible change to our voting system.

I wrote when the committee was launched that moving unilaterally to change the system, perhaps to a ranked ballot (as seemed the case based on the Liberals' actions), would be a huge error by the Trudeau government.  Such a process would be tainted and threaten to de-legitimize any possible change.

But by agreeing to add one NDP MP to the committee, plus give Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and one Bloc MP voting rights, it seems the federal Liberals have fixed the process and put this issue back on track.  The NDP and Greens seem quite happy.   

But Conservative Scott Reid seems to have blown a gasket.   As we know, any kind of change away from First-Past-The-Post would hurt narrow Conservative partisan interests as ranked ballots would force all parties to appeal outside of their grass roots base, while proportional representation would make it impossible for Conservatives to impose their will on the country with only 39% of the vote.  

Reid calls today's compromise a "backroom deal" which has left him "mighty ticked off."

Conservatives remain desperate for a referendum to scuttle any possible change.  They love the current system as is because it hands them 100% of the power with as little as 39% of the vote.

Reid strangely calls today's move to change the make-up of the committee to closely match the popular vote in the 2015 election "wildly undemocratic."  Reid also claims any change the prime minister favours "will be unconstitutional."

Can you say 'hyperbole'?  Can you say 'bullshit'?   That's all the Conservatives' Reid is offering today on the issue.

While the initial launch of this process seemed flawed, dooming the whole process perhaps to failure, today's move actually saves the process.   By opening up the process to give more say to the NDP, the Greens and the Bloc, the Liberals have won a huge amount of legitimacy.

Furthermore, the chances of making a change to proportional representation have just gone up.

If the Liberals come to an agreement with the NDP and Greens on a new system, the government will have great latitude to implement it without an expensive referendum.   Perhaps the Liberals and the NDP could agree to hold a referendum after one or two terms under the new system.

It still remains uncertain where this process will lead us and how serious the Liberals are about changing the system.   But today's news is good news for those who favour dumping Canada's antiquated voting system.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Conservatives are not the party of social justice progress

In my opinion, the Conservative Party of Canada, like all other similar conservative parties in the western world including the Republican Party in the U.S., fight primarily for the maintenance of establishment power.

Conservatives, by and large, always favour policies that will strengthen the powerful at the expense of those without power.  If you're rich and inherited tonnes of money or your daddy's business and have always had easy access to the power brokers in your community, the Conservative Party is your party.

If you don't fit that description, you probably shouldn't be voting Conservative as you're actually voting for a party that will never look out for your interests.   Why do conservatives still garner much support from middle class or working class people?  Bigotry, primarily.  Conservatives have loved to stoke hatred of "others" and we saw many examples of this in the 2015 federal election where Stephen Harper tried to stoke fears of Muslims to win votes.  Donald Trump south of the border - a billionaire lout - has done the same thing on a grander scale, actually convincing dummy poor people that he's on their side.

When it comes to social justice and correcting historical discrimination, conservatives have always stood in the way when it counted most.  If vulnerable people had long been denied their rights, it was conservatives who supported that discrimination and usually fought tooth-and-nail to keep it in place.

Think of the fight to end slavery.  Conservatives wanted slavery to continue because it profited their primary constituency.  Women's equality.  Conservatives also fought against it.

Every single social justice cause in history has been hampered by conservatives working hard to maintain the injustice.  Why?  Because conservatives believe in maintaining things just like they've always been.  If this group of people have all the power, they probably deserve it or worked hard for it, they foolishly assume.   In truth, most people with power achieved that power through unjust systems or pure luck.  Today, there remains huge swaths of people who will never achieve real power in our society no matter how hard they work at it.   But such facts are not the concern of most conservatives.

Yesterday, the Conservative Party of Canada finally voted to end its official opposition to marriage equality in Canada.  This is a good thing.   It's also 11 years too late and almost of no consequence to LGBT Canadians.   For me, it symbolizes perfectly why the Conservatives are not and can never be the party for people who truly care about social justice and true equality.   Conservatives are followers, not leaders, on issues of social justice.