Thursday, September 21, 2017

One Green's Thoughts on the NDP Leadership Contest

I’ve been putting off writing this blogpost for far too long.  In part, my procrastination stems from a general feeling of boredom related to the subject matter – even though the subject matter is important.  I had been hoping that I might be turned on at some time over the past several months – turned on enough to write a real rah-rah piece about one of the contenders for the NDP’s leadership.  I’ve been following the contest fairly closely – I even attended the “debate” that was held here in Sudbury on May 28th.  But I’ve been unable to muster much interest in writing – and I fear that this piece will suffer as a result of my ‘meh’.

In all seriousness, I had hoped for the kind of leadership race that might prove to be inspiring – inspiring in a way that led to the election of Jeremy Corbynn as Labour Party leader in the U.K. – and inspiring in the way that led many to take a very close look at Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders during the U.S. Democratic Party leadership run.  I know I wasn’t the only one looking for something that none of us should be surprised just wasn’t in the cards.  The situations with the Labour Party and the Democratic Party are quite different than with Canada’s New Democratic Party.  In the U.K., Labour has been trying to wake-up from the Tony Blair/Gordon Brown era, and ultimately turned to a life-long socialist to re-invigorate the Party.  In the U.S., many have long felt (with plenty of good reason, in my opinion) that the Democratic Party is not all that different from the Republicans.  In both cases, significant space had been created for the right personality (er, actually a personality of the left) to step in and force change.

But Canada’s NDP hasn’t really ever been in that situation.  As much as it has drifted to the right of the political spectrum since Jack Layton took over, the NDP have remained a relatively progressive party – especially when compared to Canada’s Conservative and Liberal parties.   Here I’m talking more about the policies that NDP members have approved, rather than the way in which the NDP has approached elections and platform creation.  One of my own biggest issues with the NDP has to do with the way that the Party behaves as a populist political animal – playing politics rather than staying true to its principles and policies. I know that I’m not the only one who is turned off of the NDP because of their tendency to be hypocritical.


But how much further to the left would any candidate have been able to take the NDP while remaining serious in a way that Sanders and Corbynn were?  Because the NDP’s policies are already progressive, it really shouldn’t have come as a surprise that just about all of the candidates in the race to replace Tom Mulcair have stood up and said, more or less, the exact same things as one another.  With only a couple of exceptions, Guy Caron, Niki Ashton, Jagmeet Singh and Charlie Angus have all been singing from the same song sheet.  And there’s nothing wrong with that, because it’s a pretty good tune in my opinion.

Fact is, any one of these 4 will make an excellent leader of the NDP.  What I’m less certain of is whether any of them can make voters want to cast their ballots for New Democrats in the face of Justin Trudeau, who I continue to believe will remain a formidable force in 2019 with his faux progressive values.  What can any of the NDP contenders offer the public that’s new – besides more progressive policy?

And that’s got to be the key to this whole leadership discussion.  Which of the 4 leadership candidates can be the best salesperson for the job of selling Canadians on the superiority of the NDP’s policy approach to progressive Canadians?  If that sounds pretty shallow on my part, so be it.  But remember: under Jack Layton, the NDP won 103 seats.  Under Tom Mulcair, the NDP took just 44.  Sure, Layton was up against Harper, who was no Trudeau – while Mulcair was steamrolled by a slick campaign with a happy face.  But politics today really is mostly just a sales pitch – albeit one that clearly includes the ability to package and showcase key pieces of policy.

Which is why Trudeau and the Liberals will win another majority government in 2019.

The NDP: Now An Existential Question for Greens

But back to the NDP.  So, what does it matter to me, a member of the Green Party, whom I think would be the best leader of the NDP?  It matters a lot – because this decision of New Democrats actually represents an existential dilemma for my Party.  What the 4 NDP leadership candidates have been talking about out on the campaign trail (yes, the same stuff generally met with yawns from the mainstream media and the wider Canadian public) has been the same sorts of stuff that Greens have been talking about for years, for the most part.  In some respects, the NDP has moved ahead of where we Greens are at on issues that we have considered fundamentally our meatless-meat and potatoes.  Whomever emerges leader of the NDP is likely to embrace many of the policy positions of his or her rivals – and if not directly, you can bet that grassroots New Democrats are going to continue to push their party to adopt the truly progressive policy planks of defeated leadership rivals.

I’ll come back to all of this in a little bit.  Right now, let’s take a look at the four candidates – and what I think New Democrats ought to do.

Guy Caron

Caron started the leadership contest pitching a Basic Income policy very similar to the one that the Green Party has long advocated.  I happen to like the idea of a Basic Income – and so do many New Democrats.  To my surprise, however, there has emerged on the left serious opposition to any sort of Basic Income.  Mainly this appears to be out of fear that a Basic Income could lead to the state reducing services that promote equity. I get it, it’s not all about money, and certainly a poorly designed Basic Income would not be a benefit to the nation.  But Caron wasn’t pitching a poorly designed version.  Nevertheless, Niki Ashton felt compelled to oppose Caron on this – and she was wrong to do so.

When the dust settles from the leadership contest, Caron will not emerge victorious.  But his Basic Income policy will be a big winner with New Democrats – and you can bet that the Party will continue to push for promoting a Basic Income, to the chagrin of what I predict to be an unmotivated minority (meaning, a small number of extreme leftists in the party who won’t get all that worked up about this particular policy).
What, in my opinion, completely disqualified Caron from becoming the next leader was the position that he took on the rights of people, especially women, to wear what they want to wear vs. the rights of the Quebec Assembly to legislate racist laws that prohibit people from wearing religious symbols – laws that can’t possibly stand up to a Charter of Rights challenge.  Caron had the opportunity to defend Canada’s Charter, but instead he opted to defend what he views as Quebec’s right to give the Charter the middle finger.  Sorry, Caron – but that was clearly the wrong choice.  I know, I know – I’m over-simplifying the issue.  But really – not by much, not from where I sit in Sudbury, Ontario.
Not only would I not recommend Caron as leader of the NDP, but I think that most New Democrats are going to see things the same as me – and Caron will be the first one eliminated on the ballot (or receive the fewest overall votes on the first ballot).

Niki Ashton

Ashton really really tried to be Bernie Sanders.  She figured out a way to (mostly) talk the talk of the truly progressive.  But unlike Sanders and Corbynn, there has always been something about Ashton’s authenticity – and it’s not just because of the habit that she developed during the campaign of acquiescing and clarifying her position, leaving everyone with a muddled opinion of just where she stood on a good number of issues.  Rather, the lack of authenticity reminded me of Kellie Leitch.  Ashton appeared to wake up one morning and decided to put on a suit of clothes she never wore before in order to become someone she wasn’t.  Same as Leitch, whom I know is not as bad a person as she made herself out to be during the Conservative Party’s campaign.  Ashton became an actor – and never really looked all that comfortable.

And that’s too bad, because the real Niki Ashton does have a tremendous amount of authenticity when it comes to connecting with younger voters.  To make these connections, she didn’t have to go full lefty radical – and I think she and her campaign would have been better off.  Rather than channelling Bernie Sanders, she should have tried to channel Jack Layton.

Ashton is going to continue to be a strong asset for the NDP.  I just hope she puts away the faux radical and decides, instead, to be herself and build on her truly natural strengths of connecting with people.

I hope she decides to do an about-face on her Basic Income stance.  Her initial waffling on the Quebec religious garb issue was problematic, but she recovered – I get what was going on there, too – Ashton sees Quebec as an opportunity for herself for when Caron drops off the ballot, so she did what she thought was best to appeal to Caron’s voters for their second place preferences.  And who knows – it may have worked.  I do expect a lot of Caron’s people will move to Ashton – but not enough to see her make it through the second ballot.

Ashton will be the second leadership hopeful exiting the contest (or she’ll receive the second lowest vote count on a first ballot victory of another leadership contestant).

Singh and Angus

So that leaves Charlie Angus and Jagmeet Singh – two candidates who actually exhibited a little bit of a less-than friendly rivalry during the leadership contest, which is very uncharacteristic for the NDP.  But you know what?  I really think these two got underneath each other’s skin.  Singh’s jab about Angus not really caring about seniors was completely over the top and frankly not in keeping with reality.  Angus, probably realizing whom his real competitor was going to be early on, took jabs at Singh’s lack of commitment to universality for social security – and was right to do so, given the NDP’s long history here.  Perhaps Singh was thinking ahead to when he was going to have to face a broader electorate – and not just New Democrats.

Anyway, Singh doesn’t appear to have been harmed by these true missteps.  If Angus represents the Party’s historic core, Singh represents what the Party aspires to be – and if he really has signed up 47,000 new members, it’s quite likely that Singh will find himself leading the NDP when all of the ballots are counted.

Angus has a lot of passion, and I hope that Singh can find a way to reconcile himself with the MP from Timmins-James Bay.  Singh and Angus will make a great one-two punch for the NDP – and if Singh wins, he would be foolish to try to dim the light on Angus.

Of course, if Angus wins, it’s doubtful that Singh is going to stick around federal politics – not when there’s a provincial election coming up in Ontario in 2018, which is likely to be Andrea Horwath’s last as Ontario NDP leader.  In many respect, it’s really too bad that Singh is leading the provincial party right now.  But I digress.

Charlie Angus would make an adequate leader of the federal NDP – but his rumpled approach to party politics isn’t going to make much headway against Justin Trudeau.  I like a lot of the things that Angus was saying during the campaign – but I think that the NDP would be making a serious, albeit not fatal, mistake if Angus was selected as leader.

Gotta Go With Singh

Clearly, in my mind, the NDP has to go with Singh.  He may be the most lightweight candidate in the running (from both a policy and politics perspective), but if any of these four have what it takes to motivate voters, it’s Singh.  Look, I understand the fears about Quebec – and I suspect the New Democrats will take a hit in that province with Singh as leader (but I also expect they’d take a hit there with Angus or Ashton or Caron as leader, too), but Singh’s ability to connect with people can’t be overlooked.  He’s the only one that can out-selfie Justin Trudeau.

But that’s not the only reason that New Democrats ought to select Singh over Angus.  Angus has, quite frankly, just been too wishy-washy on a number of issues of growing importance to New Democrats – specifically on climate change and pipelines.  Don’t misunderstand me – I like Angus’ carbon budget – but it’s just not a winning policy when Angus is caught leaving the door open to pipelines (in a way that Singh has refused to do).  That might play well in Alberta – but it’s a problem in Quebec, and more importantly, in B.C.  And B.C. is ground zero for the NDP in 2018 – the lower mainland will be one of several primary battlefields where the NDP has a real chance to knock off some incumbent Liberals.

Why I Prefer Angus

So, as a Green, I’m rooting for Angus – because I believe that Angus will be the best choice the NDP can make (besides maybe Caron, which isn’t going to happen) for the Green Party to really grow our support. Angry Angus from mine-living Northern Ontario who won’t say no to pipelines will play well for Greens in B.C.

And it’s why a Jagmeet Singh-led NDP scares me, as a Green.  Remember: in 2014, Greens went into the election targeting maybe 20 ridings across the nation.  Just about all of them were on Vancouver Island or in the lower mainland.  And we got our hats handed to us –not by Justin Trudeau, but by the NDP.  When the Liberals were steamrolling New Democrats east of the Rockies, the NDP made gains in B.C. – in those very ridings that Greens thought we could figure out a way to win in.  And that was under a cautious, uninspiring Tom Mulcair.  What chance are we going to have in B.C. with Singh leading the New Democrats?

And that’s why the NDP’s leadership contest might be a bit of an existential question for Greens.  If the NDP has some (mostly) really good and progressive policy, why should we continue to fight them? I mean, ok, maybe the NDP has to do a bit of a reckoning with carbon pricing – but perhaps Singh could see the wisdom on revenue neutrality (especially if he continues to question universality of old age security).

The NDP: a New Green Party

What I saw during the leadership campaign were a group of people more than willing to turn their Party into a Green Party.  Maybe not exactly what the Green Party of Canada is today – but certainly something very recognizable to Greens.  And I think it would be incumbent on the part of we Greens to figure out whether we should be continuing to put our efforts into opposing the NDP – and ask ourselves if our time and resources might be better spent doing something different.

Since the massive disappointment of the 2015 election, I’ve stayed with the Green Party out of optimism that when Canada’s electoral system was changed, Greens might be able to figure out a way to have more influence – not to punch above our weight class, but instead to have influence equal to the will of the electorate – something Greens and Green supporters have been denied for too long, thanks to First Past the Post.  So the only saving grace coming out of 2015 was Trudeau’s promise to reform the electoral system.

Tough Conversations Ahead

With electoral reform off the table, where does that leave the Green Party?  Especially in the face of the NDP becoming a green party, likely led by a dynamic and likable leader who connects with voters, who surrounds himself with a strong team of former leadership candidates and a few others.  While I still don’t think that the NDP is going to be able to topple Trudeau from power in 2019, I see gains (and yes, likely some offsetting losses in Quebec – but enough gains to make the NDP more than viable come 2023.  And I see yet more nothing for a Green Party that has almost completely disappeared from the public consciousness outside of British Columbia.

I hope that my fellow Greens are following the NDP leadership contest as closely as I have been.  I think it’s time that we all had a bit of a discussion about our collective future.  We may not have seen a Bernie Sanders or Jeremy Corbynn emerge from the ranks of the NDP - but maybe we will see a Jason Kenney - someone who has the ability to make a case to his own Party that it's time to extend a hand of friendship, welcome and - dare I say it - love - to political rivals who perhaps shouldn't be.

And I suppose that’s yet another reason why I’ve been putting off writing this blogpost – because thinking about change is scary. It’s draining.  You don’t know where things are going to end up, you lose control. Who wants that? 

But ultimately, the one constant in life is that change is inevitable.

And maybe change is just what Canada needs right now.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Promoting Bigotry, Racism and Misogyny in Greater Sudbury, Part 2: Time to Talk About Taxpayer-Subsidized Discrimination

Promoting Bigotry, Racism and Misogyny in Greater Sudbury, Part 1: The Ever-Changing Public Realm

Is there a place for the expression of bigotry, racism and misogyny in Greater Sudbury?

No. There isn’t.

Yes, we tolerate these hateful sentiments among us, because we understand that people have the right to express themselves, even when their expressions are hateful and hurtful. As long as what people are expressing doesn’t cross the line into hate speech, it’s something that we have to live with.

But giving those who promote racism, bigotry and misogyny a public podium to promote their hate-filled agendas is something that we really ought not to be doing – not if we truly believe that we should be aspiring to creating a culture of that champions diversity and inclusivity – and especially if we belong to an organization that has a mission statement that lays that all out.

Our media has long had to grapple with finding a balance between permitting people to say what they want to say, and restricting access to the public realm because sometimes what people want to say is hateful, hurtful and harmful.   I know that editors often think long and hard when they encounter a piece that comes close to the line – to print or not to print? What is in the public’s interest?  Generally speaking, our media has been reluctant to provide a public podium to those who engage in the most egregious forms of bigotry, racism and misogyny – even when a letter to the editor is clearly not “hate speech” as defined by the law, but rather just “full of hate”.

I characterize it this way: Believe what you want and say what you like. If you’re not engaging in hate speech, those are your rights under our Charter.  But don’t expect me to hand you a microphone. You are not entitled to that.

Municipalities throughout Canada have adopted various policies wherein they iterate a desire to deliver critical public services to community members in a manner that is free of discrimination and harassment.  The City of Greater Sudbury has a Diversity Policy wherein it is described that the City values diversity, equality and inclusion.  Barriers, unintended or systemic, that prevent participation in municipal activities, need to be addressed.  It’s a pretty good policy. I think that municipal leaders need to dust it off and start taking it seriously.

The times are clearly changing. We don’t live in a static world.  Instances of bigotry, racism, intolerance and misogyny are entering the public realm like never before.  Even before Heather Heyer was killed in Charlottesville this summer, instances of hate – especially hatred directed towards Muslims – were becoming more common (see: “Hate crimes against Muslims in Canada up 60%, StatsCan reports,” CBC News, June 13, 2017).  In large part, blame is being laid on the doorstep of right-wing political ideologies that have mainstreamed bigotry and hate.

Here in Ontario, other cities, like Kingston and London are leading the way to ensure that their public spaces are free of discrimination and harassment.  In Kingston, in response to a hate-filled video posted on social media, the city is launching an anti-discrimination and anti-racism campaign.  Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson writes, “I want to state emphatically that hatred, discrimination and insults based on a person’s race are absolutely unacceptable in our city. Eliminating racism is a community wide effort and will take all of us working together.” (see: “Taking a Stand against Racism in our Community,” Bryan Paterson, August 10, 2017).

In London, in response to a rally organized by the racist group Patriots of Canada Against the Islamization of the West (PEGIDA), City Council under the leadership of Mayor Matt Brown adopted a motion of Council, “That civic administration be directed to prepare the necessary formal council policy to confirm the prohibition of activities of organizations whose ideologies is contrary to the City of London are not permitted in civic spaces, and/or facilities and spaces.”  The motion hasn’t been without controversy – but the City of London is under no legal obligation to hand out what amounts to a microphone to those promoting racism, bigotry and misogyny (See: “Policy advocate criticizing London council’s emergency motion as an “attack on free speech,” Global News, August 23, 2017).

Greater Sudbury Councillor Gerry Montpellier and others with Sudbury SOO Chapter members, August 2017 (Facebook)

And in Greater Sudbury, we have a member of our municipal Council posing for photographs with members of the anti-Muslim Soldiers of Odin (SOO) wearing their regalia.  Unlike Greater Sudbury Police Services Chief Paul Pedersen, who also posed for a photo with the SOO, Councillor Gerry Montpellier hasn’t (to my knowledge) publicly disavowed the photo or the Soldiers of Odin.  It’s not like he wasn’t given the chance – when contacted by local media, Montpellier appeared to laugh it all off, stating “I just don't know what to say because it's kind of a funny thing. … What do I say? … We pick up needles. We help seniors. We'll run the soup kitchen. We'll hand out hamburgers. Well, of course I want your help.” (see: “Sudbury police chief apologizes for photo with Soldiers of Odin,” CBC News, August 24, 2017).

Councillor Montpellier’s actions and subsequent pseudo-endorsement of the SOO hasn’t sat right with many in the community, including me.  But what’s clear to me – and perhaps less so to others in our community – is that our City just isn’t taking the presence of extremist groups in our community particularly seriously.

Since the late-August media blitz about the SOO in Greater Sudbury, a number of things have come to light.  SOO members have publicly indicated that they have been volunteering at the Blue Door Soup Kitchen.  On the surface, that certainly seems like a worthy thing to do.  But right-wing extremist groups are known to target the most vulnerable in our communities as a way of recruiting new members, while donning a veneer of public acceptance of their presence.  Whereas many other organizations around the City do good deeds without trumpeting their actions on social and mainstream media, it works to the SOO’s advantage to be associated with good public works – it helps mainstream their organization.

Of course, so does writing blogposts like this.  Keep in mind Oscar Wilde’s famous words about PR: “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”  But sometimes, we just have no choice – we’ve got to talk about these things, because the presence of groups that are founded on the principles of hatred just cannot be tolerated in our communities.   There is no place for them here.

I’m not going to get into all of the specifics about what SOO chapters across Canada have been up to. Others have been documenting the SOO for longer than I’ve been aware of their existence.  If you want to know more, here’s a good place to start – and you can read some other articles at Vice too (see: “Tracking the far-right,” Vice News Canada, February 2, 2017).  And yes, I understand that the Sudbury Chapter of the SOO takes a very typical Sudbury approach by claiming it’s different, and that the SOO has changed, and that they didn’t change their name because people had spent a lot of money on patches and stuff.  I’ve had the misfortune of interacting with a number of Sudbury SOO members on social media, and I know these people are not nice.  They use falsehoods to smear their critics, they lace their diatribes with misogynistic language and profanities, and they engage in the tactics of intimidation. Those are hardly the sorts of things that a harmless civic-minded support organization would do.

Earlier this summer, I sent a letter to Chantal Mathieu, Director of Environmental Services for the City of Greater Sudbury, alerting her to some of my concerns about SOO members using the City’s public spaces as part of their PR campaign to mainstream their organization (see: “Open Letter to the City of Greater Sudbury Regarding Anti-Muslim Soldiers of Odin in Our Community,” Sudbury Steve May, July 19, 2017).  I’ve followed up with Chantal Mathieu twice since July, looking for a response from her to the concerns that I initially raised.  I copied my local member of Council.

I haven’t received any response from the City on this at all.  Nothing.  Crickets.  Not even an email acknowledging receipt of my email.

As a member of the Green Party in Sudbury and Nickel Belt, I understand that the City has a policy in place which restricts the use of municipal facilities by political parties, based on the understanding that taxpayers’ money should not be going towards helping out partisan political organizations.  I fully support this policy.  It’s absolutely fair for the City to restrict the use of its taxpayer-supported facilities to some groups.  Again, the City does not have any responsibility to hand the Green Party, or any other political party or candidate, a microphone.  And I’m pretty sure that Conservatives, New Democrats, Liberals, Communists and others who pay taxes in this City are pleased to know that their tax dollars aren’t supporting the Green Party’s vegan pot-lucks.

I think it’s time that the City of Greater Sudbury follow the lead of the City of London, and expand these taxpayers protections to include other organizations. The City of Toronto took a little flack lately when it was revealed that former members of the odious, racist Heritage Front had booked a room in a library for a wake for a dead lawyer who did “some good work” for neo-Nazis (see: “Memorial for lawyer who represented holocaust deniers creates controversy for Toronto Public Library,” CBC News, July 12, 2017).  Clearly, the time for a conversation about this is Right Now.
And yes, I understand that a municipal park isn’t a library meeting room – but it’s still a restricted municipal facility that’s maintained by the City.  It is a public facility, and the City has the ability to restrict the use of parks through by-law. And it does. There are restrictions on timing, restrictions on open fires, even restrictions on smoking. The goal is to make the public facility a safe place for all users, and to limit liability to the City. The safety of users must be paramount.

Allowing the public to be exposed to messages of hate at a City-run facility decreases safety for all users.

Based on London’s experience, the conversation is going to be an uncomfortable one – when what are perceived by some to be seen as competing sets of rights going to head-to-head, it can certainly make some people nervous – me included.  But this isn’t about competing rights. No one in the City of London or elsewhere is suggesting that people shouldn’t be able to engage in hateful speech if they want – they’re only saying that perhaps its time we got serious about our municipal values of diversity and tolerance, and stop offering our taxpayer-funded municipal facilities to organizations that are promoting bigotry, racism and misogyny.

Public tax money pays for the maintenance of our municipal facilities, including parks.  Public tax money goes into municipal service delivery.  Our City has partnerships with organizations and businesses that deliver services.  What the SOO’s coming out party this past summer has shown me is that it’s now past time for the City of Greater Sudbury to get serious about Diversity and Inclusivity and the use of taxpayer funding to hand hate groups a microphone for their recruitment efforts.
If you agree with me, please let your Council member know.  It’s very important that we start this conversation in our community, because the SOO are here and unless we, as a community tell them emphatically that their presence here is not welcome, they’ll remain here.  Our City can’t be tacitly supporting the SOO through any means – and most especially by allowing the SOO to use taxpayer-funded municipal facilities and services to promote their anti-Muslim organization.

Is there a place for the expression of bigotry, racism and misogyny in Greater Sudbury?

No. None. Never.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

Promoting Bigotry, Racism and Misogyny in Greater Sudbury, Part 1: The Ever-Changing Public Realm

Is there a place for the expression of bigotry, racism and misogyny in Greater Sudbury?

The answer, of course, is clearly, “Yes” – there is plenty of space, on the sidewalks, in our restaurants and bars, and especially on local social media sites.  I see and hear these expressions of bigotry, racism and misogyny every day.  While I like to think that maybe I could be that guy that challenges those who express these views with facts and information in an attempt to get people to change their minds, or at least to stop saying and doing things that promote racism and misogyny, I know that I lack both the courage and the energy.  There’s just so much of it happening in my community, it’s almost as if bigotry, racism and misogyny were institutionalized (can someone write with tongue and cheek? ‘Cuz I think I just did).

This isn’t to suggest that my community is somehow uniquely blighted by bigotry, racism and misogyny. I don’t believe it is. Sudbury isn’t unique in this respect by any means.  Perhaps we’ve been seeing a little more intolerance bubble to the surface as the result of the shameful identity politics Canada’s right-wing politicos have been playing lately, along with the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. Presidency.  And of course, the coming out party that our local media uncritically threw for the Soldiers of Odin recently has had a little something to do with allowing some to feel free to express themselves in ways that others would condemn as bigoted, racist and misogynistic.
Hey, it’s all a part of free speech, right? If I don’t like it, I can just close my eyes and ears or block people from my social media feeds and go on about my day. Because ultimately, people’s ability to utter racist and misogynistic comments online and in the real world trumps my desire not to see and hear them or, more correctly, not to have had them said and written in the first place – because ideally, I’d really like my kids to grow up in an environment where people really aren’t bigoted, racist or misogynistic, rather than just pretending not to be.  But I have my doubts that’s going to happen.

So there you go – not only is there a place for bigotry, racism and misogyny in Greater Sudbury, it’s one that I – a keen supporter of free speech and Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms – should embrace.  Well, I guess this is going to prove to be a short blogpost after all.  I’ll just have to live with it.  Just like society learned to live with slavery.  Just like we learned to live with denying women the right to vote.  Just like we learned to live with pretending that one’s sexual orientation made some people sub-humans.  I guess there’s nothing wrong with any of that because, you know, free speech.

Ah, but it’s not my responsibility to police these sorts of things, right?  We’ve got hate speech laws in place that are policed by the police.  When someone steps out of line and incites violence against an identifiable group of people based on their gender, sexual orientation, skin colour, religious or cultural practices, well, the Law will do its job and protect us, ‘cuz hate speech isn’t free speech.  The Law is always courageous and efficient, after all – why should I worry?  It’s not my responsibility to clean up this town, to keep our public spaces free from abuse so that all users can feel safe when accessing municipal facilities, whether in the real world or online.

No, it’s not my responsibility. But it surely is the City of Greater Sudbury’s responsibility to provide services to the public which are free from discrimination and harassment.  The City has a number of policies about this – so although it’s quite easy to find expressions of bigotry, misogyny and outright racism throughout the community, you’re not going to find them at City Hall – or at any of a number of public facilities under the City’s administration, like arenas, libraries, community centres, fire halls, etc.  You can expect that when you interact with representatives of the City that you will not encounter any form of discrimination.  Our City, in my opinion, does an excellent job of ensuring that public services are delivered in a way free of discrimination, and that public facilities are accessible to all in a manner free of prejudice and harassment.

It’s 2017.  Do we expect anything less than that?

Of course, public services weren’t always delivered this way.  One of the best known of many examples of the delivery of discriminatory public services took place in Toronto in the 1920s, where Sunnyside pool, a public facility, limited the number of people of Jewish origin who could swim in the pool at the same time (see: “5 things you probably didn’t know about Toronto,” Alan Parker, Toronto Sun, July 19, 2009).  But sure, that was almost 100 years ago.  Times have changed. Sure, people hated Jews back then and maybe the haters had the upper hand.  But there’s been a slow evolution away from discrimination and towards inclusivity, and today there are still people who hate Jews, but they don’t get to dictate public policy.  Just look at where we are now.

Just look at where we are now.  Undeniably, things are a lot better than they were in the 1920s.  But it’s not like we’ve yet arrived at some sort of discrimination-free public realm nirvana.  We’ve still got a long way to go to overcome a lot of forms of discrimination in the public realm – including in our municipal facilities.  Recently, the City of Victoria, B.C., grappled with deciding whether or not to move forward with creating a transinclusion policy for the City, to protect the rights of transgendered and gender non-conforming individuals (see: “Media: Victoria votes to create first trans inclusion policy,” June 6, 2016).

Hmmm…is it right for me to compare the rights of Jewish people to the rights of transgendered people?  Haven’t those transgendered folk been in the news a lot lately, running around, stirring up hate, promoting a gay agenda?  And if not in the news, haven’t you seen a lot of posts on your friends’ Facebook wall about bathrooms and trans people?  I mean, you’re not a bigot, and you probably have some gay friends – but those memes about trans people in our bathrooms are kind of scary, right?  It’s not really discriminatory to believe that we should all use the bathroom based on the equipment that we were born with, right?  That’s not like discriminating against Jewish people, by telling them they can’t go for a swim, right? (or discriminating against Muslim women, telling them they can’t go for a swim, right? See: “Muslim Woman Denied Access to Public Pool Due to Attire,” 40AthleticBusinesses, October 2014).

The answer to the question of whether it’s right to compare the battles fought by Jewish people throughout the last century to achieve equal rights and the battles being fought by transgendered people today – the answer to that question can be answered by another question: Are Jewish people and transgendered people people?  If you believe that they are people, the question is answered in the affirmative.

And that’s good news, because Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects groups of people from experiencing discrimination on a number of grounds, including their religious beliefs, their skin colour, their gender, their sexual orientation, etc. If you’re people, you’re protected. That’s why they call them “human rights”.  The law, of course, is there to protect us all from discrimination.

A city, like Greater Sudbury, is a municipal corporation.  If it didn’t uphold our laws when delivering services, it could quickly find itself in all sorts of trouble, to varying degrees.  In Ontario, the City of Cornwall is currently being challenged for a policy in that municipality which at least one person believes to be discriminatory – and yes, it has to do with swimming pools.   Now some might think that the woman who is taking the City of Cornwall to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal over a policy which the Mayor of Cornwall has called “discriminatory and gender-based” that prevents her from swimming topless in municipal pools might be akin to what some call a First World problem (see: “Cornwall, Ont., reviewing topless policy complaint,” CBC News, July 11, 2017).  But I’m not one of them.  Discrimination is discrimination – and a municipality has a legal obligation not to discriminate when it comes to public service delivery.

And clearly, combatting discrimination continues to be a moving target.  Again, we’ve not yet arrived in a discrimination-free nirvana – not when it comes to our public spaces and facilities.

Which brings us back to the question that I kicked this blogpost off with: Is there a place for the expression of bigotry, racism and misogyny in Greater Sudbury?  In Part 2 of this series, despite having answered “yes” at the outset of this blogpost, I’ll offer my opinion on why a City like ours and our elected and public officials need to get their collective acts together to combat bigotry, racism and misogyny in our public realm.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Hurricane Harvey A Poignant Reminder for Why We Must Decarbonize Economy

The loss of life and property damage from Hurricane Harvey has been a very real human tragedy for those living along the U.S. Gulf Coast.  For the rest of us, the impacts from Harvey have largely been felt at the gas pumps.  With Harvey shutting down almost a quarter of U.S. oil refining capacity and several critical transport pipelines, filling up our cars has suddenly become more expensive.  Here in Sudbury, over 2,500 kilometres from Houston, the price of gasoline has spiked by about 10 cents a litre in just a week and a half (see: “Hurricane Harvey: US petrol prices rise as key pipeline shut,” BBC News, August 31, 2017).

We understand how supply and demand works. What we sometimes forget is that globally our governments are using our taxes to subsidize the fossil fuel sector to the tune of $325 billion annually (see: “World Energy Outlook 2016,” International Energy Agency, November 30, 2016). Further, the price consumers pay at the pump for gasoline does not cover the true costs of carbon pollution – costs like those accumulating thanks to a weather system super-charged by the addition of fossil heat to our atmosphere (see: “With “True Cost” Of Emissions Factored In, Gasoline Would Cost $3.80/Gallon MORE Than The Pump Price,” James Ayre, CleanTechnica, March 8, 2015).  Our broken marketplace is contributing to the climate crisis.

We can’t stop the planet from warming, given all of the carbon pollution that we’ve already put into the atmosphere (see: “Ex-NASA Scientist James Hansen: There is a Clear Link Between Climate Change & Stronger Hurricanes,” Democracy Now! August 30, 2017).  But we can try to slow things down by holding global warming to just 2 degrees Celsius.  That’s what the signatories to the Paris Accord resolved to do – although international commitments made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions still have the world tracking for up to 4 degrees of warming by the end of this century (see: “Earth Almost Certain to Warm by 2 Degrees Celsius,” Scientific American, August 1, 2017). The world our children and grandchildren inherit from us will be one unrecognizable to us.

We know what we have to do to minimize the negative impacts of a warming planet: stop burning fossil fuels.  However, the political will to take aggressive actions to decarbonize our economy is clearly missing.  In Canada, our federal and provincial governments pay lip service to the climate crisis while continuing to champion new fossil fuel infrastructure, like pipelines for expanded tar sands production.  Earlier this year, our own Prime Minister told a group of Texas Oilmen, “No country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and just leave them there.” (see: “'No country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and just leave them': Justin Trudeau gets a standing ovation at an energy conference in Texas,” Jeremy Berke, Business Insider, March 10, 2017)  And yet leaving fossil fuels in the ground is what we know we will have to do if we are going to avoid the very worst impacts of climate change – and ultimately save the Texas Gulf Coast from being permanently wiped off the map.

In 2015, scientists, faith leaders, indigenous rights advocates, and social justice and labour movement leaders came together to create the Leap Manifesto – a document that provides a clear and equitable roadmap for societies to confront the climate crisis in a way that reduces wealth inequality, bolsters democratic institutions and ultimately has a positive impact on global economies (see: “The Leap Manifesto,”, 2015).  Ending fossil fuel subsidies and putting a progressive price on carbon pollution are market-based tools recommended by Leap to help aggressively decarbonize the economy.

Economists have long seen the value of ending fossil fuel subsidies and pricing pollution to create a more level marketplace for renewable energy and conservation initiatives (see: “Poor Vic Fedeli,” Dr. David Robinson, Economics for Northern Ontario, January 4, 2017).  Prices have to be high enough to shift consumer choices away from fossil energy.  The public, however, won’t buy into any scheme where all they see are rising prices and no relief (see: “The Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change has its Head in the Sand,” Dr. David Robinson, Economics for Northern Ontario, December 26, 2016).  That’s why carbon pricing initiatives like Ontario’s Cap and Trade program are doomed to fail.  To offset rising prices, revenues collected from fossil energy sales must be returned directly to consumers through a fee and dividend approach to carbon pricing (see:“What Glenn Might Be Saying if He Understood,” Dr. David Robinson, Economics for Northern Ontario, December 3, 2016).

Hurricane Harvey provides us with a poignant reminder of why we need to quickly decarbonize our economy – and shows us how we can use the marketplace to accomplish that very task.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

An edited version of this post originally appeared in the Sudbury Star, as ""May: 'Harvey' reminds us why we must decarbonize," online and in print, September 2, 2017 - without hyperlinks.