It is What it is

Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because y…

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Railroaded by Metrolinx: Green belt, tighten our belt: Contesting the Places to Grow Act

People living in vigorous cultures typically treasure those cultures and resist any threat to them. How and why can a people so totally discard a formerly vital culture that it becomes literally lost?
– Jane Jacobs, “Dark Age Ahead”, 2004

Toronto has been divided and conquered, its downtown core sold for $60, the cost of the vehicle registration tax, for the right of those in the subdivisions to drive downtown with impunity. Good bye road tolls and bicycle lanes.

There is not a single campaign promise that Rob Ford can keep, but loyalty came cheap from those who live outside the subway system, lured by Ford’s promise of extending the Sheppard line, and his campaign to end the “war on cars.” His electoral promises were flimsy and repetitive, but as former Liberal premier Bob Rae noted, Ford’s campaign was supported by the federal Conservative Party, and the hard-sell town hall phone technology developed by the ultra right Tea Party, and used to cull phone numbers from 7,000 would-be voters. Ford had lots of help, and he is paying off his campaign manager, Nick Kouvalis — the real brains of his outfit — with the position of mayoral chief of staff at City Hall (see CBC As it Happens’ phone interview for Ford’s first interview as mayor).

Rob Ford is the municipal piece of the Conservative puzzle, Tom Hudak, the provincial, and a majority with Stephen Harper would secure the Conservative trifecta for unregulated, rightwing government. Although Ford’s “Stop the Gravy Train” platform seemed simplistic at best, it spoke in a crystal clear voice to those who felt that they have been done a disservice by Toronto City Hall — you will save money under Ford, and you have been wronged by the downtown lefties, who have wasted money trying to establish sustainable transit systems, such as Transit City, and planting trees.

Stephen Harper partied gleefully at Ford’s victory party as the Gravy Train will be helmed by his man now — still a Gravy Train, but run by Big Business on the tracks of unbridled commerce, without restraint, or censure. The Conservatives are using the same penny-pinching campaign strategy in the TV ads for provincial candidate Tom Hudak, citing McGuinty’s EcoFee as the culprit. The provincial race could be won for even less than $60, for a tax, although badly conceived, which was revised immediately. How quick people are to form allegiances for tiny, temporary savings.

There was a less known campaign behind Ford’s 47 per cent vote win.

Regional developers footed 60 per cent of the bill for Ford’s campaign to ensure their future victory in contesting the Places to Grow Act in 2014. The Places to Grow Act was enacted in 2005 by the Liberal government to protect 1.8-million acres that form the Green Belt, including the Oakridge Moraine, and its freshwater aquifers feeding into Lake Ontario, from aggressive subdivision development. This act will become in jeopardy as Conservatives consolidate and contest its growth restrictions to pay back their Ford campaign supporters.

Disastrous environmental policy is not the sole domain of the Conservatives, however. The Liberal’s Legislative Framework for Modernization has also undercut the Places to Grow Act. On Oct. 21, the Open for Business Act was passed by the provincial Liberal Party, which ensures exponential environmental degradation as Big Business is permitted to monitor itself, without full disclosure or recourse to the Environmental Bill of Rights on the part of watchful citizen groups, like Lake Ontario’s Waterkeepers, headed by the extraordinary lawyer, Mark Mattson.

One hundred small amendments were hidden away to guarantee “competitive advantage” over our right to protect our commons, as part of this modernization act. Mattson sent the provincial government a 100-page defense of the citizens’ right to contest major projects through the Environmental Bill of Rights; it was completely ignored. Both parties are culpable for the environmental race to the bottom this electoral year.

What will the new Ontario look like, if Ford and his developer supporters — which, not coincidentally, include former commissioner for Ontario police, Julian Fantino, as the new Conservative candidate in Vaughan — have their way?

Developers own thousands of hectares of farm, lakeside and moraine land, protected by the Places to Grow Act, and they are waiting for the full changing of the guard to Conservative so that they can resume building massive tracts of suburban mansions, circumnavigating the act. In the 1980s, my grandfather, who worked in real estate, prophetically called these “the ghettoes of the future.”

As Ontario’s subdivisions are given renewed license to sprawl throughout the 905 region, they will add thousands of hectares of asphalt for highways to absorb heat, and enable toxic petroleum water to run off directly into the Great Lakes.

In the last three years, massive algae blooms have been seen from satellites in middle of our Great Lakes, a by-product of nitrogen fertilizer from the increasing number of lawns edging around the lakes from exurban development. Much of this fertilizer is used by golf courses, so that a tiny white ball can be better seen against bright green backdrop.

There has been 8.5 per cent loss in the Great Lakes of water through extraction for suburban development and golf courses, which use a staggering amount of groundwater. The Open for Business Act opens possibilities for water exploitation, even as lake levels go down and our population grows.

The cost of the increased infrastructure for this 905 exurban development for water mains, electricity, and highways will be passed on to the taxpayer in the downtown core, as well as increased commuter traffic, although none of these residents are benefiting from these services.

Good bye tax cuts by Rob Ford; this exurban expansion all but guarantees a higher cost of taxation to guarantee developers’ profit at civil society’s expense, as Ford cuts municipal services. Our streetcars are the envy of municipalities throughout the world, and we are getting rid of them? Why?

When the green belt will no longer be able to naturally cleanse and generate water, its aquifers destroyed by containment, extraction or diversion, development will create a loop in which we are forced to use electricity or gas to do artificially what nature, such as the Great Lakes, or the Green Belt around the Oakridge Moraine, does without human intervention. We have not developed the science or technology more efficient than nature, despite the ridiculous claims of climate engineering scientists. All of these costs to purify water will be passed on to the taxpayer, an additional gift from the developers to the downtown core. And as the Boreal forest in the 905 becomes fractured by expanding highways, it will become prone to disease, just as the Asian pine needle invaded the forests in British Columbia as logging roads cut through their stands.

In 2004, in her last work, “Dark Age Ahead,” Jane Jacobs predicted the newly enacted “Legislative Framework for Modernizing Environmental Approvals” with frightening accuracy describing the undermining of the “five pillars of our culture that we depend on to stand firm”:

“Bad science is the elevation of economics as the main ‘science’ to consider in making major political decisions;

bad governments are more interested in deep-pocket interest groups than the welfare of the population;

and bad culture prevents people from understanding the deterioration of fundamental physical resources, which the entire community depends on.”

Any contestation to the Environmental Assessment Act is refuted as a conflict to competitive advantage by the government, and protected by the Freedom of Information Act, and “competitive advantage,” so immune to public scrutiny. Jacobs extrapolated from observing the lobbying tactics of Big Business that we would lose our right to protect future generations from asthma, birth defects and learning deficiencies, such as autism, all of which are on the rise, and directly linked to our environment.

It takes seven generations to judge precautionary measures for major infrastructure developments as recommended by indigenous peoples, but it has only taken one generation to lose our farms, our lakes, and our health through bad policy.

On Oct. 27, C-300, a private members bill by Liberal John McKay, which made mining, oil and gas companies accountable for their abuse of human rights and environmental violations, was defeated 134-140 votes in the House of Commons, a vote which the world watched in horror.

This is the quality of federal legislation which the Conservative Party will try to bring down the rungs through their provincial and municipal candidates. By allowing companies to self regulate, we have lost our international reputation, and a place on the United Nations Security Council. Michael Ignatieff did not appear for the vote, to show support for McKay — and he wonders why the politically engaged do not consider him as a viable candidate?

We will be faced with the same aggressive tactics as the mining lobbyists from developers pushing for urban expansion, and the selling off Ontario’s green space, as the 100 amendments in the Open to Business Act whittle away our right to protect our commons — clean water, land and air.

This is Rob Ford’s true Gravy Train, directing profits to his campaign supporters, developers. The rights for self-determination in central Toronto were sold off for $60, and false election promises, to suburban voters in a campaign, which deliberately misrepresented City Hall’s state of finances. As Atom Egoyan said, “This city is the envy of the world and we’re acting like it’s falling apart.” I feel a lot less safe riding my bike in this new Toronto.

Provincially, if voters are not careful, we will sell off even more of our environmental rights to penalize the Liberals for the HST, Green Act, and EcoFees, although by supporting Conservative candidates, we will not profit a penny from the profits of businesses to support education, healthcare or community services.

This is the saddest legacy from this municipal election, an aftershock which will reveal itself slowly to those who voted for Ford to be known as a betrayal, but predicted by those who did not vote for him.

There are dark ages ahead, and I intend to ignore Ford, and support progressive city councillors to enable the City of Toronto to plan itself, and protect the Places to Grow Act, and support the recent United Nations vote for the international right to clean water and sanitation.

No doubt when the recent verdict on the Places to Grow Act in Pickering is eventually contested, we will see if there are any teeth left in it as it goes head to head with the Opportunities for Business Act.

References:
Jacobs, Jane. Dark Age Ahead. New York: Random House, 2004. Print.
CBC As it Happens’ phone interview for Ford’s first interview as mayor at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mHJGR4i7fhw
Kelly Grant, “Nick Kouvalis, the man behind the Ford campaign”
at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/toronto/city-votes/nick-kouvalis-the-man-behind-the-ford-campaign/article1738989/page2/
Places to Grow Act at https://www.placestogrow.ca/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1&Itemid=5
Legislative Framework for Modernizing Environmental Approvals
http://www.ebr.gov.on.ca/ERS-WEB-External/displaynoticecontent.do?noticeId=MTA5MDI3&statusId=MTYzNzE1
Mark Mattson, Waterkeeper.ca Weekly http://www.waterkeeper.ca/2010/10/27/why-did-ontario-kill-public-participation-rights/#more-19106
‘The End of Suburbia’, a documentary directed by Gregory Greene, describes this in detail at
http://www.endofsuburbia.com/
Open For Business Act Passes at
http://news.ontario.ca/medt/en/2010/10/open-for-business-act-passes.html
Bill C-300 – Corporate Accountability for the Activities of Mining, Oil or Gas Corporations in Developing Countries
http://www.miningwatch.ca/en/bill-c-300-corporate-accountability-activities-mining-oil-or-gas-corporations-developing-countries
John McKay’s Speech Moving 3rd Reading of C-300 at http://www.johnmckaymp.on.ca/newsshow.asp?int_id=80681
Province rejects proposed Pickering growth:Urban expansion onto valuable agricultural lands out of step with provincial limits on sprawl http://www.thestar.com/iphoneapp/article?assetId=882142

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DTK: Arguing About Hate Crime

Once it had been explained to me, I found it pretty simple. When you single out a group of people as a target for hatred and violence, you assault a whole community (where “assault”, legally speaking, includes “threatening”). So we made a law to make it clear that inciting hatred

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DTK: Arguing About Hate Crime

Once it had been explained to me, I found it pretty simple.When you single out a group of people as a target for hatred and violence, you assault a whole community (where “assault”, legally speaking, includes “threatening”). So we made a law to make i…

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DTK: Arguing About Hate Crime

Once it had been explained to me, I found it pretty simple. When you single out a group of people as a target for hatred and violence, you assault a whole community (where “assault”, legally speaking, includes “threatening”). So we made a law to make it clear that inciting hatred

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The Roundhouse: PC AGM Part 3 – Final thoughts

I should begin this post about the weekend’s PC party AGM in Calgary with a pair of disclaimers. I am not, nor have I ever been, a member of the Alberta Progressive Conservative party. I am also not a reporter. I am an analyst and an academic, but those are very different things, and there were a number of ‘real’ reporters in the media room this weekend whose work you should read if the event interests you. What I am interested in, and writing about here, is more thematic and impressionistic than the “who, what, where, when and why” of traditional journalism. Such are the privileges of being your own editor.

One of the most noticeable features of this year’s PC AGM was the change in tone and attitude from a year ago. Where a year ago the PCs were visibly distracted by internal frictions and a real sense of threat the mood this year was definitely more positive and combative. The choice of ‘Team PC’ as the event slogan, and I expect as the ongoing slogan for the party and campaign, is certainly indicative of the awareness that one of the party’s first priorities had to be an emphasis on unity. As I have said before, however disoriented the PCs may have been by the initial onset of the Wild Rose in combination with the impact of the recession, they had a lot of time before the next election to pull themselves together. The party appears to have made a lot of progress on that front.

In combination with the ‘Team PC’ theme the primary message would appear to be the success of Alberta under PC management. The successes of Alberta under PC management featured prominently in the Premier’s speech on Friday night, through the Q & A sessions on Saturday and many of the speakers at policy sessions as well. Hardly surprising that this is the message that the party would want to go with as their central message and the basis of the campaign, but what is interesting is the very real feeling that, only two years into a mandate, the PC party and government are starting their next campaign. In addition almost everyone I spoke to on the issue emphasized the unity of the party, which certainly speaks to the awareness that infighting hasn’t done them any favours in the recent past.

Alberta is possessed of an active and engaged online political community. The invitation of bloggers to attend the AGM, in addition to the various ‘in-house’ PC bloggers, strikes me as the beginnings of an institutional acknowledgement that the PC party will have to go where the conversation is. Bloggers each have the ability to build an audience, and an audience self-selected based on interest at that. In addition in a world where search engines are so important to how people find information it will often be a blog entry that matches someone’s search terms most clearly, with the implications that can have for the dissemination of information on a specific case or issue.

Twitter hashtags like #pcagm, or even more so #ableg, are excellent opportunities to engage with people of varied views through a shared link. The very publicity of anything said over twitter means that no matter how hard a single partisan group might try to dominate a topic or a tag they can never keep other individuals or viewpoints out. Throughout the weekend there was a constant interaction between attendees of the AGM, observers present (including myself), interested PC members who were unable to attend and people interested in the event or the issues discussed. Thinking of it now I should have checked the total number of tweets exchanged on the #pcagm and #ableg hashtags this weekend, but a quick check of my tweetdeck shows over 600 tweets using #pcagm alone. This doesn’t include any of the untagged tweets to and from attendees, or those using other tags. A number of very lively exchanges took place on each of the relevant hashtags, and it is important for both organizers and interested citizens to realize that these events are now more public than ever before, and are playing to the world in real time!

This evolution in the information environment, and the implications it is already having on political communication, led me to spend the weekend talking to people about how they feel that PC party will change. In particular I was interested to talk to the volunteers who really make the party work at the constituency level. I talked to over 40 of these volunteers about communication, both within and without the party, party organization and their concerns and views of the prospects for change. As you would expect there were a wide variety of responses, but they grouped themselves rather neatly. I have several more people who have agreed to talk to me about these issues in the near future, so I hope to be able to build a better image of the visions of change in the PC party.

First, there were those who felt that the party would have to make substantial changes to its structure and methods. While some felt that the party needed to make immediate changes, there was little sense of urgency. Those advocating these changes rarely gave existential reasons for their concerns, rather the conversation tended to be one of competitive advantage. The greatest sense of urgency was to be found among those engaged in communications and election readiness, but even in those groups there was a general sense that the roughly two years until the next election would provide more than enough time.

Second, there were those who felt that all the talk of change was simply window dressing. The campaign messaging from the Premier about the success enjoyed by Alberta under PC management certainly resonated with these individuals. Interestingly it was also this group that evinced the most discontent with the Premier, though criticisms were inevitably followed by the disclaimer that they were committed to making things work.

Finally, and the largest group, there were those that felt that the party was structured and operating effectively, but needed some fine tuning here and there. I heard from several people that they felt very comfortable with the party’s methods for disseminating information internally, with one consistent exception. That exception was a perceived failure to make best use of the expertise of grassroots members of the party. Several health professionals in particular felt that their expertise was receiving short shrift. There was also a consensus that the party was going to have to increase and improve its utilization of non-traditional media; the Nenshi campaign’s victory here in Calgary seems to have made quite an impression in that regard.

I have to thank the AGM’s attendees for their hospitality and willingness to talk to me, and Brent Harding, Janice Harrington and Joey Oberhoffner in particular for their efforts in managing the media room and supporting its occupants. The realities of media are changing, and political commentary and analysis is immensely more open-source than it has been in the past. It is my hope that accreditation of bloggers as media to this AGM sets a precedent, and that the active online and twitter political community is embraced by all parties and organizations at their events moving forward.

Fundamentally what I saw this weekend was a prototypical establishment party, comfortable with itself and the world as it is. I mean neither that as neither an insult nor a compliment, merely a summary of the zeitgeist. There were the expected cri de couer marginal groups, and the passionate crusaders for change (in one direction or another), but the dominant feeling was one of satisfaction. I wouldn’t call it complacent, not after the last year, but there was a definite sense of returning purpose and order after a scare. The PC party remains unchallenged in fundraising, as the recently released numbers for last year demonstrate, and there is no other provincial political entity capable of bringing together over a thousand members for a weekend. The human capital and intellectual resources of the party remain formidable, and if they ‘team PC’ meme catches on with the party’s membership those resources may be deployed much more effectively in the year to come than they have been over the last few. We shall see, as there are more than a few factions within the party that have in the past struggled to cooperate effectively.

For further comment see:
Dave Cournoyer – http://daveberta.ca/2010/11/dont-write-an-obituary-yet/

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Crazy Bitches R Us: First Nations accountability story – now this is more like it.

In response to A toronto Star article criticizing chief’s salaries – as if that were the only accountability issue in Indian Country I wrote: "Yet no one shames the Minister of Indian Affairs or his army of bureaucrats – lawyers, policy analysts, spin doctors – many of whom earn more than the average chief — and who are also on the tax payers dime." Well, I pleased to note this excellent follow

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