Monday, December 31, 2018

A Note of Thanks To A Very Important Group



I am currently reading a book by Seymour Hersh called Reporter. If you are unfamiliar with him, click on the link I have attached to his name, and you will see what a long and distinguished career he has had as an investigative reporter who first notified the world of the My Lai Massacre, one of the mos egregious war crimes committed by the United States during the Vietnam War.

Although I have read only about 100 pages thus far, the book serves as a reminder of the very hard work, determination and integrity that are the foundations of true journalism. I highly recommend the book.

Since this is the end of the year, may I also suggest that you read this Star editorial, which begins as follows:
When U.S. President Donald Trump, the purported leader of the free world, calls members of the media “enemies of the people” and refers to anything critical of him as “fake news,” it’s clear that freedom of the press, one of the pillars of democracy, is imperilled.

And so are the lives of too many journalists.

Indeed, Reporters Without Borders says 63 professional journalists were killed around the world in 2018 as a result of doing their jobs, a 15 per cent increase over the previous year. It blamed their deaths on “the hatred of journalists that is voiced, and sometimes very openly proclaimed, by unscrupulous politicians, religious leaders and businessmen.”
The editorial then goes on to list the names of those killed this year, It is a sobering read.

Also in today's Star is a piece by the public editor, Kathy English, well worth perusal. Entitled What readers should know about journalism, it should be especially instructive to those who disdain contemporary journalism as "fake news" or adamantly refuse to pay for one of the true pillars of democracy.

I will leave you with an excerpt of a recent piece by Paul Berton, the Hamilton Spectator's editor-in-chief, in which he enumerates some of the reasons people should subscribe to a newspaper, reasons that should resonate with all of us:
1. A newspaper subscription, whether it's for print or digital editions, helps keep you informed.

2. It allows you to better understand the world around you.

3. It helps you live your life productively by giving you a glimpse of opportunities and new ideas.

4. It keeps you safer by reminding you of risks or pointing out new threats.

5. A newspaper — digital or print — is more reliable than an increasing number of other popular news and information platforms today. Reliable information is increasingly lost in the new wave of misinformation and disinformation.

6. Once you start reading the news regularly, it's a joy you'll look forward to and a habit that's hard to break.

7. It is said children who grow up in households where a newspaper is delivered are more likely to attend post-secondary education.

8. Journalism helps shape public policy, by telling you stuff governments often don't bother to, or indeed try to hide.

9. Journalists hold public officials to account.

10. Newspapers connect communities.

11. Newspapers tell us about each other.

12. Journalism helps us help each other, by sharing stories that spur action or charity.

13. Newspapers put the world in perspective, describing people who aren't as lucky as we are, whether they are sick neighbours or homeless people downtown, or refugees in far-off places such as Syria or Myanmar.

14. Journalism takes you places you've never been and places you may never go, whether these places are just down the road in an off-limits building, or in a remote valley in the Himalayas or a city in North Korea.

15. Newspapers tell us how we can aspire to something greater, by showing us what is possible, what can be done, who can do it, and how.

16. Journalists ask questions many are afraid to ask. They demand answers from people who are often reluctant to provide them.

17. Journalists tell us they've at least asked questions we are all curious about, even if answers are not forthcoming or available.

18. Responsible newspapers, and good journalists, believe in a balance of views and equal time for all reasonable viewpoints. We may not agree with all of it, but we try to reflect all views.

19. Good newspapers decry increasing polarization in society and try to promote healthy debate.

20. Journalists make the world a better place, despite increasing utterances to the contrary.
Happy New Year, everyone, and here is to a better informed, more critical-thinking 2019 populace.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Think Again, Canada

I sometimes feel that many Canadians are complacent about climate change, assuming that we will somehow be protected from the worst of its effects. As this CTV 2018 weather review amply illustrates, such thinking is unforgivably naive:


Friday, December 28, 2018

Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Climate Year In Review

Go ahead. Tell me that climate change is an unproven theory.



Meanwhile, if you live here in Ontario, 2019 will likely prove at least as depressing as the second part of 2018 has been:
In the midst of this season of giving, a precious treasure is being taken from Ontarians; the hard-won tools that protect our environment are being stolen in broad daylight by a provincial government that claims the need to do this to fight “red tape” and make Ontario “Open for Business.”

It has taken Ontario’s current provincial government remarkably little time to sweep away an array of laws and policies that are crucial to the protection of Ontario’s natural environment and farmland. It took decades of discussion by previous Ontario governments, academics and other experts for these environmental safeguards to be finally put into place.

The heart and soul of the Environmental Bill of Rights Act is the oversight provided by the creation of an independent environmental commissioner. A bill to cut “red tape” strips the commissioner of many of her powers and much of her independence.

Similarly, the Greenbelt Protection Act, intended to give permanent protection to this area, became law in 2004 after decades of studies, planning and debate. The act was intended to give permanent protection to an ecosystem of forests, streams and farmland surrounding the Golden Horseshoe. Less than six months after their election, the Ford government has introduced legislation that opens the door to development within the Greenbelt.

It has also taken decades for governments, including Ontario’s, to accept that harmful climate change is real and to take action to slow its acceleration. Ontario’s cap-and-trade program was introduced less than two years ago by the former Liberal government.

By July of this year, the Ford government had repealed those regulations and quickly replaced them with a scheme which the environment commissioner considers only a fraction as effective as the one it replaced.

If this were a movie, it would be called How Doug Ford Stole Christmas.

The effects of the Grinch’s theft of Christmas presents were at least limited to inhabitants of the small village of Whoville. The same cannot be said of Doug Ford’s theft of some of our most precious gifts of a clean and healthy environment. The harm will be felt throughout Ontario by both present and future generations. Nor is there any evidence that the eventual redemption of Dr. Seuss’ Grinch will be replicated by Ontario’s Grinch. This movie is not likely to have a happy ending.

John Swaigen, Toronto

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Payment Is Now Due

For those who don't want to be saddled with additional costs such as carbon taxes to battle climate change, may I humbly suggest that the price of doing nothing is even greater, as the following amply illustrates.

Start the video at the 4:15 mark:



Clearly, payment has come due.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

On Demagogues Debasing Language



“[The English language] becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts... if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”

― George Orwell, Politics and the English Language

The language sins of politicians are many, but there is surely a special place in hell for those whose distortions, lies and hyperbole ultimately render words meaningless. Such are the sins of demagogues like Donald Trump and Doug Ford.

While a single post cannot hope to address all the complexities of language abuse, I'd like to offer a very limited exploration of why language is so regularly debased today, especially by the aforementioned culprits:

1 - Neither Donald Trump nor Doug Ford is very bright. As Orwell said, our language becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish. The truth of this is readily apparent if, for example, one notes the fondness with which Donald Trump abuses the mother tongue.
Trump uses a pretty small working vocabulary. This doesn’t seem to be a conscious strategy, though it works as well as if it had been. Much was made during primary season of the way in which reading-level algorithms (unreliable though they are) found his speeches pitched at fourth-grade level, ie the comprehension of an average nine-year-old.
The workhorses of his rhetoric are charged but empty adjectives and adverbs. Things are “great”, “wonderful”, “amazing”, “the best”, or they’re “crooked”, “fake”, “unfair”, “failing”. He sprinkles intensifiers liberally: “a very, very, very amazing man, a great, great developer”.
Concisely put, the simple language mirrors a simple mind or, as the NYT succinctly put it, Trump has the intellectual depth of a coat of paint.

Like Donald Trump, Doug Ford's language reveals a paucity of intellectual heft, a fact reflected in his use of hyperboles, absolutes and superlatives. Consider his statement about chum Ron Taverner (found at the two-minute mark on the linked video):
"There's never been a more popular police officer in this province than Ron Taverner..."

"The front-line police officers, the OPP, are more excited than anyone. They're looking forward to actually having a commissioner that actually cares about the front-line people."

He will be the best commissioner that the OPP has ever seen."
And then there is this whopper:
He also praised Taverner as “a cop’s cop” and insisted OPP officers have been ringing his phone off the hook.
Sadly, people like Ford and Trump, as I wrote in a recent post, are oblivious to their limitations, instead fancying themselves to be the smartest person in the room. This delusion prompts them to make the kinds of statements that invite only ridicule and dismissal from discerning minds, while having a totally different effect on their base of supporters.

2 - A coincident fact is that supporters of demagogues tend to like language that is simple and direct. It helps to solidify their world as one of absolutes, either good or bad, black or white. Real thinking entails hard work, but because we tend to be a rather lazy species, when a politician offers the 'answers' without requiring any cerebration, many will readily swallow the Kool-Aid. A world of absolutes can be very comforting, and helps to demonstrate that the demagogue is 'a man of the people.'

Consider the above examples in this light: "great",“amazing”, “the best”. "He will be the best commissioner that the OPP has ever seen." There is no room for doubt in such language, is there?

And unfortunately, it can be very effective. In his 2016 book, “Enough Said: What’s Gone Wrong with the Language of Politics?”, Mark Thompson examined effect of Donald Trump's fractured pronouncements:
“Trump’s appeal as a presidential candidate depends significantly on the belief that he is a truth-teller who will have nothing to do with the conventional language of politics,” warning that:

“We shouldn’t confuse anti-rhetorical ‘truth telling’ with actually telling the truth. One of the advantages of this positioning is that once listeners are convinced that you’re not trying to deceive them in the manner of a regular politician, they may switch off the critical faculties they usually apply to political speech and forgive you any amount of exaggeration, contradiction, or offensiveness. And if establishment rivals or the media criticize you, your supporters may dismiss that as spin.”
Without doubt, this analysis is equally applicable to Mr. Ford's acolytes, who show cult-like to their man, despite his manifest incompetence, an incompetence that Martin Regg Cohn addresses at some length in his column today:
Our embattled premier is uniquely accursed because he is so often the author of his own misfortune. At year-end, Ford keeps running the ball into his own end zone — colliding with allies, trampling on teammates, fumbling at every turn, blinded by hubris.
Unquestionably, my post barely scratches the surface of how demagogues abuse language. Clearly, however, an informed awareness is the best defence against such debasement succeeding, but that awareness can only come with an engaged and thinking electorate, the greatest enemy of people like Doug Ford and Donald Trump.


Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Is The List Another Piece Of Fiction From Doug Ford?

My guess is "yes'"
“I could sit here and give you all the items that weren’t accurate in that letter and there’s endless ones. I could give you a list of all the Police (Services) Act that was broken throughout that whole letter, but none of you want to report on that,” Ford said, blasting the media for being “a little slanted” in its coverage.

The Gift That Keeps On Giving


H/t Theo Moudakis

Meanwhile, Martin Regg Cohn reminds us why Doug Ford is not fit to lead the province:
Never mind, for now, the potential misdirection of law enforcement and miscarriage of justice as the premier’s office rammed the appointment through, potentially skewing or shielding him (if not others) from future police probes.

Forget, for a moment, that no one stood up to him in cabinet — not the chief law officer of the Crown, Attorney General Caroline Mulroney; nor the minister of community safety, Sylvia Jones, who supposedly oversees policing; never Greg Rickford, the minister ostensibly responsible for Indigenous affairs.

Spare a thought, instead, for those most affected by Ford’s manipulation of the OPP if his latest gambit works.

Think of our Indigenous peoples.
At the very time Ford tried to foist Taverner onto Ontario’s biggest police force — North America’s third-largest — Ontarians were learning about the recurring racism (politely and technically described as “systemic racism”) in the Thunder Bay police force in recent years. Why would Ford perpetuate that kind of disconnect by installing as commissioner a crony from Etobicoke with no feel or familiarity for the issue that overlays OPP challenges?
And Star letter-writers weigh in on the fiasco that is the Ford government:
Doug Ford governance

Looks like this consists of making up two lists: one of all the people and institutions that he has a grudge against, so that he can pass legislation and take steps to get even with them; and another of all the people he considers as friends, so that he can offer them choice, unqualified appointments.

John Marsh, Scarborough

I wish to comment on the impending appointment of Ron Taverner as the commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police, and to express my dismay at the way Premier Doug Ford and Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli and the government you lead continue to sacrifice integrity to ego and reason to expediency.

It is my perception that one of you is not smart enough to know the difference between self-gratification and the common good. That the one who knows better — Fedeli — continues to stand by and take no principled stance is breathtakingly shameful.

Please do something to stop the Ontario Provincial Police and every fine thing that they stand for in this province from being dragged to the sleazy level of political cronyism that you and your government inhabit.

Perhaps one of you even has the courage to pick up the telephone to speak with an actual average citizen in this province about this very compelling issue.
Frank Petruzella, North Bay
The government of Ontario may be exceedingly weak, but the vox populi is still strong, the latter something to be very thankful for at this and any other time of the year.

Monday, December 17, 2018

What They Don't Know Can Hurt Us All



My good friend Dave, who lives in Winnipeg, has a very keen mind and makes it a steady practice to be well-informed about public matters. Consequently, at times he is overwhelmed by the political corruption and ineptitude that, as a citizen, he must bear witness to. Sometimes, in a sardonic moment when confronted with and seized by especially egregious examples of said shortcomings, he says to me, "Lorne, I wish I had been born an idiot!"

I empathize with how he feels, but while both Dave and I know that ignorance can be bliss, we also are acutely aware it can be dangerously destructive, especially when that ignorance exists in high office.

One of the most distressing aspects of contending with people's significant educational and intellectual limitations is that all too frequently, they think they are the smartest person in the room. For such individuals, problems are easily defined, and solutions simple. All the time others spend on lengthy and detailed analysis is time wasted to such people. In the best of situations, the espousal of such misplaced arrogance is limited to family and friends; in the worst, it infects government, and you wind up with ones led by the likes of Donald Trump and Doug Ford, both of whom regard themselves, no doubt, as brilliant, but who others see as manifestly incapable of heading a hot dog stand, let alone a government.

And so we find ourselves in Ontario led by a buffoonish premier, Doug "Backroom Dealer" Ford, taking the province down a path of national ridicule and lost opportunity. It can only get worse.

Happily, there are still those souls (notably outside of government or in the opposition ranks) unwilling to turn a blind eye, resolutely insisting upon a public accounting. Rob Ferguson writes:
The odds are against Toronto police veteran Ron Taverner ever being able to effectively lead the OPP because controversy over his friendship with Premier Doug Ford has done irreversible damage, policing experts say.

Concerns about potential conflicts of interest will always linger, several law enforcement sources said Sunday.

“You’re not doing any favours putting him in that job,” former RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson told the Star, echoing remarks from others in the field.

“I don’t see how this can be fixed,” said a retired senior police executive who requested anonymity to speak freely.

“If there’s any perception of a linkage like the pictures of him arm-in-arm with Premier Ford, how is the public ever going to have confidence?”
The fact that Taverner has temporarily stepped aside should be the occasion of only limited relief. Until his appointment as the new OPP Commissioner is unequivocally quashed, there is still public peril:
Should the appointment proceed, “he’s going to have trouble, subject to the members of the OPP looking over his shoulders wondering about every inquiry he might make,” Paulson predicted.
Because the OPP conducts investigations of politicians, (the gas plant investigation is one well-know instance) any hint of an unseemly relationship with those in power is anathema to public confidence:
“There’s investigations into the government, into the bureaucracy or into departments, things that if they’re not the government that the government would surely want to know and be able to manage,” Paulson said.

“The government knowing about things in advance is not a good idea, particularly in those kinds of investigations. Because then you get into all sorts of shenanigans of tainting evidence and tainting your investigation.”
Michael Armstrong, a retired chief superintendent of the OPP’s organized crime division, had this to say:
“One thing I took out of being in a leadership position is people want to look up to you. Don’t be somebody that they’re making jokes about. They want you to be the person they can look up to and aspire to be.”
I don't envy what lies ahead for the OPP's reputation, practices and morale should Taverner ultimately become commissioner. But I worry more about what such an appointment will do to the people of Ontario. And it will just be more evidence that they elected a man wholly unfit to lead this province in any but a downward direction.


Sunday, December 16, 2018

Why Are We Complacent On Climate Change?

That is the question posed in this Global News report, which offers some interesting insights on the issue. My only quibble with it is that too much emphasis is put on climmate change being a far-off problem when, in fact, it is on our collective doorsteps right now.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

UPDATED: For Your Consideration



If you have been reading my last few posts, you will know that I have been gripped by outrage over the corruption and cronyism surrounding the Rob Ford appointment of longtime pal Ron Taverner to the OPP's top post. Not content to simply write about it, I have started a petition which reads as follows:

ON Monday, December 17, Ron Taverner is to be installed as the new commissioner of the OPP. Premier Doug Ford must delay his installation for the following reasons:

- Because the OPP is charged with investigating allegations of wrongdoing on the part of provincial politicians, all such investigations must be impartial. Because of the Ford family’s longstanding friendship with Mr. Taverner, it is a valid public concern whether this would be possible.

- Several questions have been raised about political interference at the highest levels in the selection of Mr. Taverner. The perception of bias, whether real or imagined, is destructive to public confidence in the rule of law and the impartial administration of justice.

- Concerns have also been raised about the qualifications of Mr. Taverner for this post. During the candidate search, the requirements for the job of OPP Commissioner were lowered after the original posting, some alleging this was done to favour Mr. Taverner’s selection. A position of such importance and responsibility must be assumed by someone who is fully qualified and experienced.

Please join me in my petition to convince Premier Doug Ford to do the right thing and suspend Ron Taverner’s appointment as OPP Commissioner until a full investigation into the selection process can be conducted.

If you are interested, you can sign the petition by clicking here. As well, feel free to pass it along to anyone who might also be interested in expressing their disgust over this impending appointment.

UPDATE: iPolitics reports the following:
The Ford government is delaying the appointment of its controversial pick for the province’s top police officer until the appointment process can be investigated.

The dramatic reversal comes after weeks of mounting criticism of the appointment of Premier Doug Ford’s family friend, Ron Taverner, to the post of OPP commissioner.

Friday, December 14, 2018

What Is An Authoritarian Bully To Do?



It is perhaps to state the obvious that political strongmen (I'm sure this applies to women, too) tend to surround themselves with those who will readily do their bidding. It is also true that they are very sensitive to criticism. Indeed, they do their utmost to discourage the latter. For compelling evidence, one has only to look at the long list of people Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin have disposed of.

Things are not quite as straightforward for the authoritarian bully ruling in a democracy. To be sure, such a person surrounds himself with sycophants, those willing to do his bidding in the hopes of maintaining and advancing their stations in life. For evidence, one has only to look at the supine nature of people like Caroline Mulroney and Christine Elliott serving the whims of Ontario premier Doug Ford.

However, unlike North Korea and Russia, true democracies have an obstacle to brazen, unlimited abuse of authority. It is called a free press, something Doug Ford is doing his damnedest to evade and vilify. But try as he might, the press is proving indefatigable.

Consider some of the latest revelations and commentary. Today's Star reports that Doug Ford was desperate to reward (for services rendered?) his good police pal Ron Taverner:
Toronto police Supt. Ron Taverner was offered the top position at the Ontario Cannabis Store and considered for a deputy minister post in the months leading up to his appointment to the job of Ontario Provincial Police commissioner, sources have told the Star.

Taverner, a close friend of Premier Doug Ford, rejected the idea of running the government cannabis store, and longtime bureaucrats at Queen’s Park made it clear the veteran Toronto police divisional officer did not have the normal qualifications to oversee the massive Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services.

“Doug wanted to do something for Taverner. That is what we were hearing,” said one source.
The NDP’s community safety and correctional services critic, Kevin Yarde, asks a salient question, one that we should all be asking:
“If Taverner’s swearing-in goes ahead on Monday, what will Ford be demanding of him?... It’s critical that police forces operate without political interference and without conflicts of interest — real or perceived.”
The Star is not the only news journal keeping tabs on Ford's Machiavellian machinations. The Globe and Mail is also deeply troubled. One of the red flags it has identified is the unseemly and wholly inappropriate alacrity with which pal Tavener leapt to Ford's defence over the demand that the OPP provide a large camper-style van whose purchase was to be "kept off the books":
Instead of looking into the substance of these very serious allegations, including a claim the Premier’s office asked police to break the law, the man on the verge of becoming Ontario’s top cop appears to have focussed his inquiries on what really matters: the size of the van.

He told the Toronto Sun that the vehicle Mr. Ford’s office wanted was more of an “extended-size van” than a “large camper van." And anyhow, the Premier – the man who didn’t hire him – is “a big guy and it would have more room for he and his team to work while on road.”

Great detective work, chief.
Writes Marcus Gee:
Democratic countries put a wall between leaders of the government and leaders of the police for a reason. If the police are beholden to those in power, it opens the door to political arrests. Police become guard dogs for the rulers instead of guardians of the public. People stop believing that the police will enforce the law without favour.

Even in a fortunate country like Canada where a descent into authoritarianism is remote, it is unwise to have a top cop who is the chum of a premier. Police sometimes have to investigate government leaders accused of lining their pockets or playing loose with election rules. How is the public going to trust the police to probe potential crimes or misdemeanors of the Ford government with Mr. Taverner in charge?
And while strongman Ford is happy to vilify the acting OPP Commissioner Brad Blair of sour grapes in his complaint about Tavener's appointment, he is by far not the only one to see peril here. Former RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson is also calling for an investigation:
“What you need here is someone with complete integrity and confidence to be able to go in and review the whole process, all of the outstanding issues, and report publicly to say, ‘No, no, you’ve got it all wrong, this is a good guy, he’s the guy.’ Or, ‘This stinks and ought not to have ever happened.’”
The press and concrned officials are clearly doing their jobs in seeking to hold Backdoor Dealer Doug to account. However, the rest is up to us, the citizens of Ontario.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Which Will It Be, Apathy Or Outrage?



In my previous post about the Doug Ford OPP scandal, I wondered if people are still capable of collective outrage. It is a concern shared by The Star's Martin Regg Cohn:
... Ontarians are facing their own moment of truth as the layers of deception are peeled back from the premier’s alleged secret meddling over the next OPP chief. Doug Ford’s loyal chief.

The outgoing OPP chief has blown the whistle on Ford and Taverner. But are we listening?

Are Ontarians to be governed by the rule of law, or by the misrule of a miscreant who bends the rules and rewrites our laws? Shall our premier indulge his personal peccadilloes — in a customized camper paid for “off the books” to deceive taxpayers and lawmakers — and then cover his tracks?
And without question, there is much to be concerned about:
People of all political stripes and partisan colours cannot but be disgusted by the whiff of favouritism, the smell of meddling, and the stench of coverup, for this is not merely a matter of right or left, but reckless wrongdoing. This is not about ideology but idiocy.
Maybe he will get away with it. Possibly the public will put up with it. Perhaps the press will move on. Presumably the opposition will go on holiday. Ultimately the OPP will be transformed into the Ontario Premier’s Police.

And Ontarians will grow accustomed to their chief executive interfering in law enforcement at the very top, just like in America. Trump fired Comey, and Ford hired Taverner.
Fortunately, not everyone is giving Ford a pass on something that is looking increasingly felonious. In The Star's print edition, Ted Green of Ariss Ontario writes:
Re OPP head calls for Taverner review, Dec. 12

Rather naively, I have frequently thought how fortunate I am to live in a province absent the concerns of a turbulent, frightening leader as one can witness south of our border. My smugness is gone and we see more and more similarities in leadership styles now within the governance of our province and the U.S. The most recent concern is the government’s appointment of Premier Ford’s good friend Mr. Taverner as OPP Commissioner. This appointment is so far removed from passing a ‘smell test.’ One hopes the Office of the Ombudsman can remedy another area of a slippery slope that the premier seems to be leading us down.
As well, in another reminder of the vital role the press plays in a healthy democracy, The Star editorial board weighs in:
Of all the destructive things that Doug Ford has wrought since his government took office at the end of June, surely none is worse than the damage he has inflicted on the credibility of Ontario’s most important police force.

Of course, there’s an awful lot of competition. Weakening rules on the environment, axing crucial watchdog positions, sabotaging Toronto’s municipal election, undermining Hydro One... the list goes on.

But naming an old Ford family friend to be commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police, manipulating the rules along the way and putting the independence of the force at risk, takes the cake.
So what will it be from the citizens of Ontario? Will it be apathy or outrage, a submissive shrug of the shoulders or a long-lasting and productive anger at a man (and his minions) who now sees the entire province as his and his backroom friends' personal fiefdom?

The answer to that question is of vital consequence both to the province and to the state of democracy today.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

UPDATED: Backroom Dealer Doug Meets With Resistance



Doug 'Backroom Dealer' Ford, the buffoon currently occupying Ontario's premier's office, is likely surprised that his appointment of personal pal Ron Taverner, one that reeks of cronyism and corruption, is meeting with resistance. As reported in The Star, the interim OPP commissioner has filed a complaint to Ontario’s ombudsman, asking for a review of the appointment.
The 11th-hour move by interim commissioner Brad Blair is the latest development in a roiling controversy over the appointment, and comes less than a week before Taverner, 72, a close friend of the Ford family, is scheduled to be sworn in as top cop of one of the largest police services in North America.

In a lengthy letter to Ontario ombudsman Paul Dubé, Blair asks for Taverner’s installation to be delayed pending a review of the appointment and makes serious allegations against the Ford government.
The letter's disturbing allegations point to a covert politicization of the provincial police force that should worry all of us, given that any investigation into wrongdoing by politicians is its domain. The reek around Taverner's appointment is only the most visible part of this subversion:
His letter claims the decision to name Taverner as commissioner was made prior to a Wednesday cabinet meeting where the decision was said to have been made; that the job posting was “changed without convincing justification,” and that the hiring panel had “questionable authority” and the interview panel members changed at the last minute.

The letter also claims that Ford’s chief of staff specifically requested that the OPP purchase a “large camper type vehicle and have it modified to the specifications the premier’s office would provide us.” According to the letter, there was a request that these costs be “kept off the books.”

Such a request, asking for “monies spent to be hidden from the public record” is at minimum a violation of the Ontario government’s financial policies, the letter said.
But wait! There's more, as they say, including
... asking for specific police officers to be in his security detail — ones that Ford “would feel comfortable with.” Blair goes on to claim that Ford requested a face-to-face meeting over the issue, and said that if then-commissioner Vince Hawkes would not address the issue, “perhaps a new commissioner would.”

“Ultimately, the premier’s request was approved and implemented by the OPP,” according to the letter.
Only the dimmest and the most ideologically ardent could look at these allegations and see nothing wrong.

Let's hope the ombudsman does his job. Let's also hope that our collective capacity for outrage still exists.

UPDATE:
Andrea Horwath is calling for the RCMP to investigate Ford's SUV demand with the best quote I have seen thus far about the scandal:
"It's a bad episode of 'Pimp My Ride,' where the premier actually asks the OPP, or one of his operatives, Dean French, whoever it was, to put together a camper-style vehicle that is pimped out with all the premier's specifications, and that the supplier of said vehicle is somebody that the premier is going to choose," she said.

Monday, December 10, 2018

The High Price Of Willful Ignorance



The other day I wrote a post entitled The Cost of Disengagement. Today's post might be considered a companion piece, inasmuch as disengagement and ignorance often go hand-in-hand. And sadly, much of that ignorance is willful.

I have been a lifelong reader of newspapers; my first memory of them is when my mother would read the comics to me. As soon as I mastered reading, because our house always had a newspaper, I naturally gravitated toward them, initially only in a superficial way that, over the years, grew to include reading stories on local, provincial and federal politics. At about the age of 12 I started what became a lifelong habit of writing letters to the editor. Engagement for me was never a problem.

It therefore pains me that this latter stage of my life has been witness to the decline of news journals. Many have abandoned them in favour of newsfeeds on social media that reflect rather than expand their worldview; others feel there is no need to pay for the news, that it somehow materializes out of the ether, gratis. And still others say that their lives are so busy, they have no time for either politics or any form of news, a complete cop-out for most, in my view. (Even at my busiest as an English teacher, I always took time for papers, either at breakfast, at school, or after work - it is the price of responsible citizenship.)

These sorts of thoughts go through my mind almost every morning over breakfast as I read my print edition of The Toronto Star. Almost every day there are stories in it that are of importance on either the provincial or the national level. Today is one such day, as the implications become clearer of the impending Bill 66, the so-called “Open for Business” act that, in typical Doug Ford hyperbole, will create all kinds of jobs. They are jobs, however, that will potentially come at a very high cost.

Jennifer Pagliaro reminds us of an earlier period of deregulation that led to disastrous results in Walkerton, Ontario:
The tainted-water scandal in Walkerton in the spring of 2000 devastated the community, with thousands falling ill and seven people dying. It was one of the worst health epidemics in the province’s history.

According to the conclusions of an inquiry into the Walkerton tragedy, in May 2000, some 2,321 people became ill from two types of bacteria, including a type of dangerous E. coli, after heavy rainfall caused flooding that flushed the bacteria from cow manure near a farm into one of three groundwater wells that was the source of water for Walkerton.

The number of people who fell ill represented about half the town’s population.

It was concluded after much investigation that the water coming out of the taps in Walkerton had not been properly treated so as to kill off the deadly bacteria, and the tragedy could have been prevented if proper monitoring, protections and oversight had existed.
And now, history seems prepared to repeated itself under Ford's Bill 66:
The stated purpose of the proposed bill, called the Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act, is to cut “red tape” around planning approvals for businesses looking to invest in local communities.

Under the proposed legislation, if a development has the support of both the municipal government and the province and can demonstrate it would create 50 new jobs in areas with populations under 250,000, or 100 jobs for bigger cities, it could get the green light despite possibly being detrimental to the environment.
One of the key problems with the bill is that it will roll back protections legislated in the Clean Water Act, which came about as a direct result of the Walkerton tragedy.
On Friday, Theresa McClenaghan and Richard Lindgren, respectively the executive director and counsel for the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) ... said the attempt to prevent a particular section of the Clean Water Act from applying to certain types of new development is both “objectionable and risk-laden.”

The particular section of the act that would not apply to new developments approved under the “open for business” rules is not some “obscure” provision in the law, but the key part of the act that requires land-use planning decisions in the province to protect safe drinking water, they said.
So that's what I got today from reading a newspaper to which I subscribe. I could go on and tell you how Bill 66 also imperils Greenbelt protection, as Tim Gray, executive director of Environmental Defence, writes in the same paper today, but I'll let you read that for yourself.

That is, if you are one of those willing to pay for the news.




Saturday, December 8, 2018

The Cost Of Disengagement



I have reached a point in my life where I hold out little hope for our collective future. It is one of the reasons I post less frequently these days. Writing about the word's ills often seems futile.

But that is not to say that I have lost my capacity for outrage. And outrage is what I feel today.

While today's topic pertains to what is happening in Ontario, there is an issue here that has a much wider application: the cost of political disengagement.

It seems to me that Ontario serves as an object lesson for what happens when people either completely ignore politics and don't vote, or vote on the basis of ignorance, anger or the seductive nonsense offered by a demagogue. The typical result is what we see in the Doug Ford majority government, a government purportedly "for the people" that is systematically stripping away workers' rights, French language rights and environmental protections, to name but three, while operating in a way that is costing taxpayers billions of dollars in lost cap-and trade revenue and hundreds of millions owing to its ineptitude.

The occasion of my current outrage is the impending Bill 66, “Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act” an omnibus bill that will do tremendous damage on a number of fronts, damage that the people Ford is 'for' will have to contend with. Writes The Star's Edward Keenan:
The omnibus bill quietly plans to amend dozens of pieces of existing legislation affecting 12 different ministries, all to “cut red tape that’s standing in the way” of “making Ontario competitive again.”

Sounds harmless enough.

Until you read about what is actually being cut: labour regulation, child protection, clean water safeguards, even the greenbelt legislation the provincial Progressive Conservatives promised on the campaign trail they would protect “in its entirety.”
And the damage it will inflict is extensive:
Child-care protections: Bill 66 changes the number of babies — children under the age of 2 — that can be cared for by a single adult in an unlicensed home-based daycare from two to three. The existing regulation came into effect in 2015, after children died in unlicensed daycares.

Environmental and planning protections: The bill would allow municipalities to pass bylaws under the Ford government’s beloved “Open For Business” slogan (literally, they would be called “open for business planning bylaws”) that would exempt developers of commercial or industrial uses such as factories from a whole slew of regulations. Among them are those contained in the Greenbelt Act and the Places to Grow Act, the environmental protection anti-sprawl legislation that Ford famously promised not to touch [after he was caught on video promising developers that he would open it up] during the election campaign.
Also at risk under this bill is our drinking water:
... it could exempt developers from are those that protect the Great Lakes and other sources of drinking water, including the Clean Water Act, which was brought into force after the Walkerton tragedy that killed seven people and sickened thousands of others through contaminated drinking water. The bill also repeals the Toxics Reduction Act meant to reduce pollution by preventing industrial uses of certain toxic chemicals.

Labour protections: Among other changes weakening employee protections, this bill would exempt municipalities, hospitals, universities and other big public institutions from rules requiring them to use unionized contractors for infrastructure projects. If the government wants to debate the merits of collective bargaining, it can do so, but it shouldn’t sneak big changes to worker protections through on the misleading premise that it is just clearing away red tape.
I could go on, but I think you get the emerging picture, one that immorally imperils the people Ford claims he is 'for', all in the service of uncontrolled development and deregulation that will serve the interests of the people he is really for.

And I don't think you need me to spell out who that is.

Friday, December 7, 2018

A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Waste

Not to mention a once-proud country.


Thursday, December 6, 2018

Refusing To Go Along To Get Along



The stench of corruption and cronyism that permeates the Ford government here in Ontario is hard to ignore. (See Martin Regg Cohn's column on the latest example, the appointment of Ford pal Ron Taverner as the new and egregiously unqualified head of the OPP.) And while the times are indeed dark in this once proud province, with Ford cabinet members such as Christine Elliott and Caroline Mulroney regularly prostituting themselves, it is heartening to know that some people will not go along to get along, refusing to surrender their integrity, even when that refusal comes at a high cost.

One such person is Cindy Veinot. She deserves both our attention and our respect.
The Ontario government’s chief accountant resigned earlier this fall because she refused to sign off on Finance Minister Vic Fedeli’s inflated $15 billion deficit, the Star has learned.

Cindy Veinot, the provincial controller, quit in September because she “did not agree with accounting decisions made by the current government.”
The issue revolves around the purported size of the provincial deficit, team Ford contending it is $15 billion, while others regard the government co-sponsored Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union Pension Plan and the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan as assets, lowering the deficit by about $5 billion.

It would seem that Ms. Veinot is well-qualified to offer an informed assessment:
Veinot, a leading expert on pension accounting who finished first among 63,000 candidates in the 1998 certified public accountants exam in the U.S., contends the holdings are an asset.
So afraid are the provincial Tories of her truth that they have blocked her from testifying at the 'transparency' standing committee examining the state of the province's finances:
Tory sources, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal deliberations, admit there has been concern over what Veinot might say under oath.
And so it goes. Corruption and cronyism continue apace at Doug Ford's hectoring hands, with most willing to do what they can to curry and maintain his favour.

How it must gall the premier and his disciples that not all souls can be bought.

Monday, December 3, 2018

UPDATED: An Incisive Medical Assessment

This needs no commentary from me.



UPDATE: And here's further proof:



Sunday, December 2, 2018

How Many People Really Care?



Tony Burman writes that worldwide, democracy is dying:
In October, a Stockholm-based international institute updated its report on “The Global State of Democracy” — a study of the performance of 158 countries since 1975. It reported an “alarming” decline in the past year in the health of democracy worldwide, warning that “democracy’s global rise has come to a halt.”

According to the study, “the number of countries experiencing democratic decline is now greater than the number experiencing democratic gains,” the first time that’s happened since 1980.
Some of the key features of democratic societies are being unraveled by the state:
... its basic tenets — including guarantees of free and fair elections, the rights of minorities, freedom of the press and the rule of law — came under attack around the world.”
One of the worst offenders is Hungary, as The New York Times reports:
In many ways, Hungary has foreshadowed the democratic backsliding now evident in different corners of the world. Since winning power in 2010, Mr. Orban has steadily eroded institutional checks and balances, especially the independent media. His government now oversees state-owned news outlets, while his allies control most of the country’s private media sources, creating a virtual echo chamber for Mr. Orban’s far right, anti-immigrant views.
The results have been devastating for democracy. A leading news website called Origo, once one of the Orban government's most incisive critics, is now one of its biggest boosters:
“Let’s look at the affairs of Laszlo Botka!” a headline blared this month in a salacious take on the only mayor of a major Hungarian city not aligned with Mr. Orban’s party, Fidesz. “Serious scandals, mysteries surround the socialist mayor of Szeged.”
Taken for granted, democracy has always been fragile. The need to nurture and protect its traditions has never been greater. Unfortunately today, both internationally and domestically, far too many are content to ignore the depredations of government as long as their own backyard is tended to. People ignore their responsibilities as citizens. Voter turnout is poor. The free press in North America struggles for relevance and revenue as more and more seek their news for free from Twitter and Facebook feeds, both notoriously susceptible to manipulation and fake news.

All the signs of impending democratic disaster are there, but ultimately, the question becomes, "How many people really care?"