Tuesday, 12 September 2017 01:06

Wynne — Math or Sex Education

Commentary by: Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton

Time is quickly running out for this liberal government. With recent polls showing Kathleen Wynne’s approval rating hovering at 19 per cent within her home province, a historically low rate which stands below all other active Premiers.

Premier Wynne needs to step aside soon and allow another member of the party an opportunity to rebuild the Ontario Liberal brand at a time when they can still recover ahead of the next provincial election. If she waits any longer, she risks depriving her party of any chance to enjoy the grace period that is usually afforded to new leaders. On another tangent, refusal to leave could result in further economic hardships for a province that was once looked at as a prosperous financial state. 

Since that election, the gaffes and examples of Liberal mismanagement have been stacking up like cordwood and polls have shown that Ontario voters are ready for a change. The Tories have made significant gains, now finding themselves sitting at 38% in the polls to the Liberals’ 30% and NDP 24%. The recent Forum poll even suggests, say it isn’t so, that the Tories are ahead in Toronto! 

Wynne’s hubris is larger than the budget deficit she and her party have racked up under their leadership, yet she insists she will not relinquish her position of leadership. If that is the case, then I am convinced we are going to see a catastrophic meltdown of her party from which the Liberals are not likely to recover for some time. 

Liberal failures are beginning to add up: the “billion-dollar gas plant boondoggle”, the disastrously inept mismanagement of hydro in general, the more than $300 billion in provincial deficit, Wynne's costly handling of the carbon tax and environment files, the Sudbury by-election scandal, and the botched sale of Hydro-One; are all contributing to the province's mistrust of the ruling party.

The Wynne Government's recent report on Ontario education reported that hardly half of Ontario's Grade 6 students passed provincial standards in math this year. The lack of improvement has lead the party to suggest a curriculum overhaul. Education Minister Mitzie Hunter went on to say, "there's still more work to do, especially when it comes to math overall." 

Even with the additional $60 million provided to schools for improved Math curriculums, students continue to struggle with the subject. 

Ontarians and pundits alike are reaching the same conclusion that the Liberal party’s popularity and prospects cannot recover with Wynne at the helm of the government. 

Ontario’s economy is being subjected to damage, the likes of which it has never seen and may never recover from. Which may leave the citizens of this once great and prosperous province to struggle against epic currents just to keep their heads above the proverbial water.

Wynne’s terrible leadership and numerous failures have done real and lasting damage to the Province of Ontario. It is time for her to accept responsibility for her mismanagement, step aside, and allow another to take over. 

This is now Patrick Brown’s election to lose and he needs to step up and show he has what it takes to lead Ontario out of the bleak state of affairs that Wynne and her Liberals have dragged us into. 

Brampton-based Surjit Flora is a veteran journalist and freelance writer who has previously contributed to the Huffington Post, Toronto Sun and other publications.

Published in Politics
Thursday, 23 March 2017 00:45

Mayor Jeffrey’s Hypocritical Pandering

Commentary by Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton

I don’t know why hypocrisy by politicians still manages to surprise me. Recently, it was being paraded in plain sight by Brampton’s Mayor Linda Jeffrey when she waded in on the recent controversy around Muslim prayer in Peel public schools.

But before I comment on Mayor Jeffrey’s latest hypocritical pandering, lets revisit Her Worship’s own entanglement with prayer in a public institution – her own council chamber.

In 2015, Brampton’s newly elected Chief Magistrate and her council acted on one of Jeffrey’s own campaign promises and dropped reciting the Lord’s Prayer at Council meetings, killing a 163 year tradition that went back to the first Brampton village council meeting of January 1853. This was done after a public meeting to discuss the plan was cancelled in the face of fierce public outrage. 

More recently, the Peel District School Board attempted to implement changes to the practice of Muslim prayer in their schools by providing prepared sermon texts by local Imams for the youth to use. This did not go over well with Muslim students, and in the process of receiving public delegations, a number of people expressed their opposition to any kind of prayer in a public school.

Some remarks had racist overtones. Public delegations were eventually stopped and the changes shelved.

"Have your backs"

Recently, in an interview on TVO, Mayor Jeffery said that she felt her expression of support for the Muslim community was needed after hearing from religious leaders, who were anxious about the tone of comments on social media and elsewhere. “I want people to feel welcome in Brampton; I want them to feel safe. I want them to know I have their backs.”

I am certain Brampton residents join me in wishing Mayor Jeffrey truly “had their backs” at Council. Given the endless squabbling and complete lack of cooperation among all Council members and Jeffrey’s inability to lead, Brampton has lurched from one debacle to another since Mayor Jeffrey was elected.

And many Bramptonians have been telling me they are fed up with Jeffrey’s constant taking credit for achievements that are in fact largely the work of her predecessor Susan Fennell and the previous council.

The funding of the Peel Memorial Centre for Health and Wellness, the original University plan, Brampton’s significant investment in expanded public transit, major infrastructure investment – all under Fennell. Jeffrey’s administration began with the failure to secure the approval to complete the LRT line through Brampton with the loss of $300 million in funding, and her record has not improved. 

Religious accommodation

Religious accommodation has been a fixture of life in Canada for years. Sikhs have worn kirpans, Muslim women the hijab, and for the most part Canadians have accepted diversity and gotten on with their lives.

While we must all defend the rights of our fellow citizens regardless of race, creed or colour, I believe politicians like our own Mayor need to remember their own public record before they wade in on any issue.

Jeffrey banned prayer in City Hall, and now supports it in Public Schools. Mayor Jeffrey needs to be reminded that, try as they might, even politicians can’t suck and blow at the same time, and voters have long grown tired of the hypocrisy of it all.

Brampton-based Surjit Singh Flora is a veteran journalist and freelance writer. 

Published in Commentary
Monday, 20 March 2017 00:15

Refugees from U.S. are Breaking the Law

Commentary by Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton

For many Sikhs in Canada today, the Komagata Maru incident still looms large in our consciousness.  

For anyone not familiar with this event in our nation’s history, in May 1914 the Komagata Maru sailed from Hong Kong bound for Vancouver, carrying 376 passengers.  Most of the passengers were from the Punjab, India. All were British subjects.  

At that time, Canada had a regulation referred to as “continuous passage” which stated that immigrants must "come from the country of their birth, or citizenship, by a continuous journey and on through tickets purchased before leaving the country of their birth, or citizenship."

The regulation had been brought into force in 1908 to curb Indian immigration to Canada. The passengers on the ship intended to challenge this regulation.  On their arrival, the ship was denied docking privileges, and eventually the ship was escorted out of the harbour by the Canadian military in July 1914 and forced to sail back to India, where 19 of the passengers were killed by gunfire upon disembarking and many others imprisoned.

The Komagata Maru story is an example of what was then the ultimate expression of colonial bigotry, exposing Canada’s deliberate process in controlling immigration by excluding those people the government of the day deemed unfit to enter. These justifications were couched in racist and ethnocentric views of "progress", "civilization", and "suitability" which all were used to support the view that Canada should remain a "White Man's Country".

Greener pastures

In terms of immigration policy, the Canada of today is the complete opposite of still colonial pre-World War I Canada.

Today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has declared that our borders are open to anyone. But this “openness” is now being tested.  Refugee claimants reacting to U.S. President Donald Trump’s tougher stand on immigration have begun to head north to what they may see as greener, more accepting pastures.  They are now daily crossings at the border, flouting the Canada – U.S. “Safe Third Country Agreement”, under which refugee claimants are required to request refugee protection in the first "safe" country they arrive in.  

In landing in the U.S., but crossing our border as refugees, they are in fact breaking the law and this has become a difficult situation for Prime Minister Trudeau, while simultaneously making many Canadians very uneasy.

Many of us applauded our new government’s efforts to bring Syrian refugees to Canada.  I believe a big part of the general acceptance of this policy was rooted in public perception that the process was well organized, refugee claimants were thoroughly screened and upon arrival the housing, schooling and other necessary supports were well in place.  The latest development is the opposite of organized, with claimants crossing Canada’s porous and largely uncontrolled border with no pre-screening and no homes and sponsors waiting to receive them.

Asylum shopping

Canadians are now watching to see how our government will react to this new refugee situation. If Canada does not exert its sovereignty, honour the Safe Third Country Agreement, and deter these opportunistic attempts at what can only be seen as “shopping for a yes” by claimants, this trickle will become a wave.

Canada is ill prepared for uncontrolled refugee claimants streaming into this country, and I believe the majority of Canadians expect our government to act in Canada’s best interest. This means not merely reacting to claimants crossing our borders, but to act by deterring it.  We are a country that values fair process and the rule of law.  

Today, Canada has a compassionate, principled approach to both immigration and refugees. Our government’s inability to control this developing situation may ultimately do harm to our current refugee system, ultimately causing Canadians to have a lack of faith in the system, and ultimately in the government that is charged with managing it.   

Prime Minister Trudeau will need to step outside of his comfort zone and put in place firm measures to respond to this looming crisis.  At times like these, his usual “sunny ways” approach will have to give way to more firm leadership.  

The Prime Minister is being tested here, and his next move may finally provide Canadians with a true indication of just how fit to lead Justin Trudeau really is. 

Brampton-based Surjit Singh Flora is a veteran journalist and freelance writer. 

Published in Policy
Tuesday, 21 February 2017 19:11

Trump and the Rise of Islamophobia

Commentary by Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton

I believe it is fair to say that since 9-11, Islamophobia has been on the rise in North America.  With the rise of ISIL and attacks in this country and other nations, terrorist movements have given rise to a greater distrust of all refugees and immigrants, most of whom are Muslims fleeing the violence in the Middle East and North Africa.  

As an immigrant myself, perhaps I feel the impact of this trend more than my fellow Canadians whose journey to this country may have been many generations in the past.  As I watch the news, and particularly the fledgling and, to a degree, struggling administration of U.S. President Donald Trump I am growing even more troubled.

Trump’s recent Executive Order banning Muslim refugees or travel to the U.S. from a select list of seven countries has run afoul of the nation’s constitution and its courts.  But as Trump searches for a new way to achieve what his executive order has failed to do, I believe there will be long-term consequences. I believe Trump’s actions will encourage otherwise constrained and silent movements within the U.S. and in countries around the globe who have long wished for a legitimate platform to express their racist or xenophobic views in the hope that these views become the policy of their governments.

Meanwhile, here in Canada, we have two recent, troubling incidents that illustrate a very different response from our government.  First of all, this past weekend in Toronto, anti-Semitic notes were found on the doors of several units at a Willowdale condo building in Toronto.  In addition, notes with the statement “No Jews” were found on the front doors of several Jewish residences in a building on Beecroft Road, close to the Yonge Street and Park Home Avenue area.

Some of the notes contained anti-Semitic slurs and some neighbours reported that their mezuzahs – blessings traditionally posted on the doorways of Jewish homes – had been vandalized.  Mayor John Tory condemned the hate-motivated vandalism and said those actions do not reflect the city's spirit. “Anti-Semitism has no place in Toronto."

Anti-Islamophobia motion

This comes after the recent tragic murder of six Muslims at prayer in a Quebec City Mosque. Our government’s response to this tragedy was to debate Motion 103 in the Canadian Parliament.  Introduced by MP Iqra Khalid, the motion asked MPs to “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.” 

Locally, Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie is strongly supporting Mississauga-Erin Mills MP Khalid in her push to end systemic racism in Canada. Mayor Crombie also said “Eliminating systemic racism, religious discrimination and Islamophobia is a national call to action. No one should ever have to think twice about calling Canada home.”

Substance, not symbolism

While I feel this a well-meant act in the face of unspeakable violence and tragedy, racism affects a broad spectrum of people and it is short-sighted of our government to single out Islamophobia in their motion. Racism is in itself an act of violence and the murder in that Quebec City Mosque is that racist violence made manifest.  It is an act of extreme cowardice, and an insult to God.

Our government should condemn all racism equally, and with total conviction. Symbolic acts like Motion 103 should be backed up with a new, comprehensive review of the legislation and enforcement powers that can give meaning and force to such well-intended symbolic gestures.

I know from personal experience the sting of distrust, disrespect, and prejudice that racism inflicts on those who are new, or different, or who worship in a different way. Racists ignore the reality that you cannot judge a race or a religion, but that if we are judged at all, it is based on our own behavior, our own actions.  

President Trump’s anti Muslim, anti-immigration and refugee rhetoric may not, in itself, lead to the rise of Islamophobia and xenophobia, but the fact that a sitting President has stoked such sentiments should be reason for great concern for us all. The response of our Canadian government should be one of substance, not symbol. 

Brampton-based Surjit Singh Flora is a veteran journalist and freelance writer.
Published in Commentary

Commentary by Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton

Taxi drivers in Brampton will no longer have to pass English tests or go through geographical knowledge training after City Council removed all requirements for them to do so.

This is a decision that defies simple logic. Think about it for a moment. Can anyone with poor English and little knowledge of the city they work in be an effective taxi driver?

Of course not.

Brampton is over 260 square kilometers of residential subdivisions, industrial parks and an historic downtown core.  It has over 3,500 streets, boulevards, crescents and roads. 

Imagine for a moment you are newly arrived in Canada.  Chances are you speak your native language, and a few words of English. 

Understanding geography

You hail a taxi at the airport, and provide the driver with an address. You have no idea where the address is.  You have no cell phone to call the family whose home you are staying in. You must depend on the taxi driver to get you to your destination, taking the quickest, most safe and direct route possible. 

Now let’s assume your taxi driver has little in the way of training, speaks little English, and your driver can’t read a map book, won’t have a clue how to set up his GPS device, and can’t read  the address written on the piece of paper you have handed him. 

And even if he understood the address, the driver has had little in the way of geographic training because standards have been all but eliminated. 

My advice is you will need to buckle your seatbelt and settle in for a long, expensive and frustrating ride. 

Basic skills

There are three simple factors that make for a successful taxi driver: good driving skills, the ability to communicate effectively with clients and an excellent knowledge of the city, its roads, landmarks and amenities. 

There is only one way to ensure that every taxi driver possesses these three skills – test them against a minimum standard. 

Except in Brampton, there is now no longer a reasonable minimum standard. 

Gurmeet Singh, a local Brampton lawyer, observed that cabbies have had to pass a written taxi license test and have a proven driving record to qualify as a taxi driver.

This has been an acceptable standard for years, so why the change now? Who is council pandering to at our expense?

It is true that most of the taxi drivers come from countries where English is taught as a second language.  While Brampton has a very diverse population, understanding basic English remains a core skill that ultimately unites us all. 

Councillor Gurpreet Dhillon, one of the backers of the proposal, was quoted as saying in the Toronto Star, “The taxi industry came to us and said they want to make the system like Toronto’s, where English is mandatory, a requirement, but there is no testing for it.”

Ambassadors for the city

Of course, technology help us find our way around, but taxi cabs are often more than just a means of transportation. 

To someone who is new to Brampton, a taxi driver is often the first ambassador to our city. 

 I’m glad that Councillor Gael Miles who made the point that our cabbies must know English to communicate with their passengers.

And when I spoke to Lakhbir Manak, owner of Paparazzi Kids children’s clothing store which has many outlets in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), said,  “Toronto is a world class tourism hub. Thus, English should be a basic requirement for cabbies who represent us as the first contact for tourists in our region.

“Taxi drivers should have knowledge of major tourist attractions and act as a source of information for people coming to the city.” 

This would be impossible if we don’t hold our taxi drivers to a high standard. 

However, in Brampton, where mediocrity has become the standard, yet another important service to our citizens has been dumbed down, and we will all suffer for it.

Brampton-based Surjit Singh Flora is a veteran journalist and freelance writer. 

Published in Commentary
Wednesday, 30 November 2016 00:23

Wynne and Jeffery: the Powerful and the Powerless

Commentary by Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton

Kathleen Wynne, the current premier of Ontario, and Linda Jeffrey, the past Wynne Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing and Brampton’s current Mayor, are a study in contrasts.  

As Ontario’s 25th Premier, Wynne is both at the height of her power and the low depths of popularity. But even with her popularity at below 20 per cent, she remains a powerful politician in control of her cabinet and caucus and with the ability to set and implement her political agenda. 

This is despite Wynne’s now self-admitted mismanagement of our province’s electricity system, which she now concedes has caused such hardship in the province that some are forced to choose between feeding themselves or heating their homes. 

It is a sad reality that Premier Wynne and her Liberals are looking more and more likely to hold on to power in the 2018 election as both the NDP and Conservatives appear to be parties struggling to seize any of the public’s attention, let alone imagination. 

On one hand, Andrea Horwath and her NDP seem to have little ground to stand on, given that the Liberals have all but assumed much of the left’s territory, leaving the NDP with few policy options and little to say. 

And, then, there is Patrick Brown, who with so many opportunities to pillory a Liberal government mired in scandal, continues to squander his opportunities to effectively hold this government to account while failing to be consistent in publicly expressing his own party’s policies and platform. 

The recent by-elections in Ottawa and Niagara were an indictment of an ineffective opposition that bodes well for Wynne going into her pre-election year. 

Contrast Wynne with Brampton Mayor Linda Jeffrey. Like Wynne, Jeffrey served as an Ontario Liberal Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, as well as Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing.  Her predecessor, Susan Fennell, had presided over a virtual renaissance in Brampton. 

During her tenure as Mayor, Brampton saw major investments in public infrastructure, and a massive $300 million expansion of public transit funded jointly by all three levels of government despite the fact that, at the time, there was no formal program in place from the Federal and Provincial governments to fund it. 

All of that travelling to Ottawa paved the way for the single largest provincial/federal investment in Brampton’s history, but was ultimately part of what I have always believed to be an organized campaign to run her out of office. 

Her frequent travel was at the heart of unfounded accusations, innuendo and vicious allegations that lasted all of two years. After having been cleared of all but two ridiculously minor issues just days prior to the 2014 municipal election, Fennell lost to Jeffrey, who promised to clean up City Hall. 

Two years later, under Jeffrey’s leadership, Brampton's reputation has sunk to new lows. Jeffrey presides over a fractious Council that cannot agree on anything.  An LRT line that had unprecedented public support was defeated despite over $300 million in approved provincial funding. 

A search for a new chief administrative officer attracted only one candidate, who, since being hired has been on a rampage at City Hall that has seen virtually the entire senior management fired, drawing comparisons to a mini “reign of terror” with blood-soaked corridors and a civil service in disarray. 

And even when she wins, Jeffrey loses.  After recently scoring a coveted nod from her former Liberal government colleagues to locate a university in Brampton, it was revealed that even that effort is plagued with a lack of organization and little in the way of a plan, leaving Council slack-jawed, asking, “What do we do now?”

Wynne and Jeffrey are Liberals, but complete opposites: Wynne is powerful and blessed with a weak opposition; Jeffrey, powerless and cursed with a fractious and ineffective Council. 

But both have one thing in common: they both need to be replaced and 2018 can’t come soon enough.

Brampton-based Surjit Singh Flora is a veteran journalist and freelance writer. 

Published in Politics
Tuesday, 01 November 2016 14:26

Bramptonians Sucking on a Lollipop

Commentary by Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton

A few weeks before Brampton Council begin debate on the latest budget, the city and province delivered a big lollipop to the citizens of Brampton in the form of a University to be built in our city.

At the risk of sounding cynical, I can’t help but suspect this little bit of theatre is meant to divert the attention of Bramptonians away from the poor economic performance of our city, the recent tax increases, stagnant municipal services, and the provinces’ ruinously expensive and incompetently handled hydro mismanagement.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I, like many, believe a university campus is something Brampton needs, and needs badly. In fact, I know many parents are excited at the thought of their children obtaining a quality post-secondary education in their own city.

Downloading to taxpayers

But for anyone who listened to what was said at the Brampton press event, while Brampton has been chosen as the site of one of two new university campuses, there was no specific timeline or details about where or when this facility will be built, how it will be funded, or how much of the cost the province will download onto the backs of Brampton taxpayers in order to make the announcement a reality.  

What we do know is that there is a $90 million allotment for each of the two municipalities approved in this round of funding. Let’s remember that when then Premier Dalton McGuinty wrote his infamous letter to the Brampton citizens promising that Peel Memorial Hospital would not be closed – just before he closed it − the replacement facility’s phase I costs were over $300 million and Bramptonians were practically extorted into paying $60 million towards the project.  

If you think this is an isolated occurrence, think again.  When the province promised to finish highway 410 north to highway 10, it was only accomplished after the Region of Peel was forced to pony up over $40 million to the province.  

Citizens in the dark

Will $90 million build a university campus?  I highly doubt it.  I am convinced we are going to be put in the position of shelling out millions more from municipal coffers – your tax money – to provide land and capital funding in order to make this happen. How sweet does that lollipop taste now?

Let’s face it, we have no idea what we are getting out of this latest deal.  We know from the past the province promised to keep our original hospital open, then closed it, then tore it down.  The slogan for the new Peel Memorial was “More than a Hospital,” but in fact this too was a lie.  The new Peel Memorial will be much less than a hospital.  It will house outpatient services, clinics, dialysis, and will not have an emergency department.  Instead, it will have an urgent care centre that closes down at night, and while some services now housed at Brampton Civic are moving to the new building, Brampton is getting much less than it deserves in terms of health care services.  This does not bode well for our university.

Brampton Councillor Gurpreet Dhillon says this council worked hard work to make this university happen and Mayor Linda Jeffery maintains this is exciting news for Bramptonians. This from a council that turned down $300 million in funding for a light rail line up Main Street that over 70 per cent of the citizens wanted.  

I think the citizens of Brampton have some fundamental issues with trusting this council and these concerns are well justified.   

So, I think we can all look forward to a future that will see more tax levies for health care, our university, and whatever other lollipop the city or province thinks up to throw at Brampton, in an attempt to win our votes with our own money. That makes us all a bunch of suckers.  

Brampton-based Surjit Singh Flora is a veteran journalist and freelance writer. 

Published in Education
Friday, 23 September 2016 18:21

Brown Playing with Browns

Commentary by Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton

In the run up to a recent Scarborough by-election, Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown spent much time making speeches and handing out press releases supporting his candidate, as political party leaders often do. Towards the end of that political contest, he made a pledge that, should his party form a government, he would scrap Ontario's revised sex education curriculum.

However, all of this effort proved to be nothing more than toying with the emotions of poor parents for no other purpose than to grab their votes.

But, lets step back for a moment. In 2015, Patrick Brown wanted to win the leadership of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party win a seat in the Ontario parliament.  In order to do this, he needed strong support from a broad range of people across the Conservative party, and in the riding he ran in to gain a seat in the legislature. 

Consistent theme

One theme that came up numerous times was his criticism of the Liberal Wynne Government’s controversial sex education curriculum, which was received by a section of parents with serious reservations and mixed feelings.  Brown and his party seized on this uneasiness, and as the Conservative leader, he has repeatedly spoken of revising it or scrapping it altogether.  

And, in my opinion, he and his party have benefited by taking this position. 

And now, back to the recent Scarborough by-election. In the final days of this contest, we saw a huge flip-flop by Brown.  

First, a letter “pops up” at the end of the campaign repeating the party position that he as leader would scrap the curriculum. Then comes the flip-flop and Brown’s denials, complete with a watering down of the much promoted “scrap the curriculum” platform.

In the mean time, voters were bombarded with newspapers and television news broadcasts repeating the original Conservative pledge.  

By the time Brown flip-flopped, his party had a new seat in the legislature and any hope parents may have about seeing the controversial curriculum dealt with flopped with Brown’s flip, leaving many confused about what the leader of the Progressive Conservative party actually stands for. 

Questionable leadership

Patrick Brown’s now famous flip-flop is, to paraphrase former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, is like politicians who promise to build bridges, even where there is no river. In this case, Brown would have us believe he was asleep at the switch when all of this was going on.

First, he was unaware of the highly organized tactic that saw 13,000 copies of the now famous letter, in both English and Chinese, delivered to homes at the end of the Scarborough by-election. Then, he denied any part in it, suggesting the letter was the product of the party. Then he flip-flopped on the policy itself, saying he will at least review the curriculum.

Brown needs to be reminded of the old story about the boy who lived in the jungle and decided one day to play a prank on nearby villagers by screaming, “help me, help me, lion, lion!!”  

The villagers stop what they are doing and immediately grab their tools and rush to the boy’s aid only to find him laughing, and admitting it was all a joke. The villagers left confused and a bit angry.  The next day the boy played the same prank, the villagers ran to his aid, and again, he had to admit it was all a joke.  The villagers left very angry.  

The next day, a lion did appear and the boy screamed for help, but the villagers were tired of his pranks and no one came to help him, so the lion ate him.  

My point:  Mr. Brown, you can’t continue to treat the voters of Ontario like that boy treated the villagers.  

In 2018, there is going to be a provincial election.  As leader of the Conservative Party, Mr. Brown, you either have a platform and policies or you don’t.  The voters of Ontario are not looking for a party or a leader that plays fast and loose with his promises, or compromises his party’s policies.

People are looking for a friendly and honest leader who is prepared to make commitments and deliver on them.

I question whether you are that leader. 


Surjit Singh Flora has lived in Brampton, Ontario for the last 25 years. He is a guest-column writer, news reporter and photographer who has been published all over the world in more than 100 newspapers, magazines and online. 
Published in Politics
Saturday, 05 December 2015 22:07

Brampton Mulls Curbs on Diwali Fireworks

by Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton, Ontario

A Brampton city councillor has persuaded colleagues on the city's community services committee to recommend a ban on the sale of fireworks — including storing them in homes — in the wake of a fire that engulfed a home during the Diwali celebrations last month.

On the evening of November 11th, two homes in Brampton were gutted by a fire that may have been sparked by Diwali firework celebrations, the South Asian festival of light.

According to Brampton fire officials, the blaze spread to two adjacent homes, forcing the evacuation of the adjoining residences. Damage from the fire is conservatively estimated to be $1 million according to the fire department.

The cause of the fire

Brampton Fire and Emergency Services (BFES) was called to scene on Binder Twine Trail, near Williams Parkway and Chinguacousy Road, just before 11 p.m. By the time they arrived, they found the house at 190 Binder Twine Trail fully enveloped in flames.

The fire apparently started in the garage and quickly spread throughout the house. It then also spread to the neighbouring home, 192 Binder Twine, which at the time was occupied by its residents.

All six members of the neighbouring Mangat family were forced to leave the house. The family of eight at 190 Binder Twine Trail also escaped unharmed. Out of the three homes that suffered damage, one is completely gutted and another is badly damaged.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The city received 281 complaint calls about Diwali fireworks in 2013 — up 86 per cent from 2012 — while it only received 46 on Canada Day.[/quote]

Peel Police and the Brampton Fire Department say they are still trying to determine what caused the blaze, but indications are that it's connected to the "improper disposal of fireworks.”

The homeowner at 192 Binder Twine Trail, Inderjit Mangat, told fire and police officials that the neighbours discarded their used fireworks in a black garbage bag and stored them in the garage, which most likely sparked the blaze.

Celebrating safely

Brampton Mayor Linda Jeffrey said in a statement that the City of Brampton takes public safety and the safe use of fireworks in the city “very seriously.” 

She added that city staff continues to work closely with BFES to ensure that City of Brampton By-Laws, policies and enforcement keep residents safe while allowing them to “express their enjoyment on holidays and culturally significant events.”

One in three Brampton residents identify themselves as either Sikh or Hindu, according to the 2011 National Household Survey. As a result, celebrations during Diwali are quite extensive throughout the community.

The city received 281 complaint calls about Diwali fireworks in 2013 — up 86 per cent from 2012 — while it only received 46 on Canada Day.

While Brampton has previously allowed individuals who live on wide lots to set off personal fireworks, they introduced a new system in 2014 that requires individuals to apply for permits. In 2014, the city only gave out 88 permits despite receiving over 675 applications.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]One in three Brampton residents identify themselves as either Sikh or Hindu.[/quote]

According to Jeffrey, City Council will continue to discuss this issue with local authorities in an attempt to find a safe and fair way forward.

“Our Communications team is working closely with BFES and Enforcement to further emphasize to all Brampton residents the Fireworks By-Law, permit process as well as the potential dangers of fireworks use in a residential or park setting.

“I strongly urge all residents to make sure they fully understand all safety measures required to safely use fireworks and ask that all Brampton residents exercise extreme caution when using, storing or disposing of any fireworks,” she concluded.

Potential ban on fireworks

For one Brampton city councillor, education is simply not enough. Shortly after the fires, Councillor Grant Gibson proposed a citywide ban on fireworks at the community services committee.

Gibson said, citing the failure to educate individuals on the danger of fireworks, “This (Binder Twine Trail) is a perfect example of people being careless.”

“I don’t (want to be) the councillor that turned his back on safety,” he said. Gibson’s motion passed, and now the city must consider how to effectively ban the sale of fireworks along with their use on residential properties.

Staff has been directed to look at further methods of enforcement as well as what it would cost for the city to host their own fireworks displays. This would expand the current municipally-sponsored events from Canada Day and New Year’s Day to include Victoria Day and Diwali.

“Fireworks aren't like what they used to be. They are now basically explosives and there’s been a lot of mishandling of them across the city and that’s a major concern for our constituents,” said Gibson.

Journalist Jagdeesh Mann mentored the writer of this article, through the New Canadian Media mentorship program.

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Published in Top Stories
Wednesday, 02 September 2015 22:12

What Makes Brampton Voters Tick

by Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton, Ontario

With campaigning for the 42nd Canadian federal election on October 19 gaining momentum, the issues uppermost amongst voters in the ridings of Brampton, a city in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), are no different than that of others across the country. 

In 2011, the Conservatives had a strong showing in the GTA and its surrounding areas by winning 19 new seats. This boost effectively secured the party its 11-seat majority in the House of Commons.

This breakthrough may be giving the Tories an edge this time around, as well as the ridings they won a special status on the hustings.

In particular, the five ridings in Brampton – Brampton North, Brampton Centre, Brampton South, Brampton West and Brampton East – are considered the best to micro-target and win.

With a population over half a million, Brampton’s growth of late has been fuelled by immigrants who now account for half the number of people living there. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][A]ll the three major parties ... are paying careful attention to Brampton ridings, with leaders making multiple campaign stops over the past few weeks.[/quote]

As two-thirds of the immigrants are visible minorities, hearing Punjabi or Urdu is as common as English. Other languages heard in the city are Portuguese, Gujarati, Spanish, Hindi, Tamil, Tagalog, Italian and Polish. 

The babel of languages combined with a significantly younger population at times makes Brampton an enigma for outsiders. And it is no different for political parties. 

To crack the code, all the three major parties have fielded a large number of visible minority candidates and are paying careful attention to Brampton ridings, with leaders making multiple campaign stops over the past few weeks. 

But exactly how easy is it to win over Brampton voters?

“Many times I have heard our political leaders making sweeping statements, particularly when an election draws near,” says Solomon Naz, a professional writer and author.

“They say come to me any time with problems of the riding. But as voters we need to go beyond that and start asking candidates about their political agenda and party manifesto.” 

Naz says candidates should be aware of problems facing a riding instead of soliciting them from constituents. “If they simply tell us what they have done over the years for a riding, they do not have to beg for votes and canvass.” 

Federal support 

Many in Brampton see the sinking value of the Canadian dollar against its U.S. counterpart as a sign of a weakening economy and the inevitable increase in prices of imported food and fuel. 

The delivery of the expanded Universal Child Care Benefit cheques to parents, just before the start of the election campaign, doesn’t seem to have softened the blow.   

“We were so happy when we got [the] big cheque and we thought [the] Harper government is really helping the poor people, and thinking about Canadian families,” recalls Surjit Gunraj, a mother of two, who lives in Brampton West. 

“But just after a week or so we come to know from TV and newspapers that much of the money would be taken back as tax.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“To improve standards, federal, provincial and municipal governments need to work together for Bramptonians.”[/quote]

Macro economic issues are not the only ones to bother Brampton residents. There are a host of local issues too.

“No matter which party comes to power, as a Brampton resident, I want to see more nurses, more doctors in our hospitals, better and safe service,” says Ajinder Singh, expressing distress at the current state of medical services in the city.

“To improve standards, federal, provincial and municipal governments need to work together for Bramptonians.”  

Singh’s sentiment resonates with Mayor Linda Jeffrey.

“City council and residents are keen to know how the federal government will be supporting growing cities like Brampton as our transit and infrastructure demands continue to be a burden on the property taxpayer,” says Jeffrey.

She says the federal government has an important role to play in providing affordable housing. 

“Along with my large urban mayor colleagues I am concerned by the gradual and systematic withdrawal of federal financial support of new projects as well as the maintenance of existing facilities. I would like to see all party leaders commit the federal government to take on a leadership role in affordable housing and working closely with municipalities across Canada and more specifically Peel Region to address this growing backlog.”

Immigration matters

Brampton being what it is today because of its new Canadian demographics, issues around immigration remain on community members’ minds.

“We have seen the Liberals in the past and now the Conservatives proclaim themselves as best for immigrants,” says Gurvinder Kaur Virdi, a long-time Brampton resident who runs her own graphic design shop. 

“But they are not. The current government has made its immigration rules so tough that even sponsoring a spouse is a difficult process. Yes, they need to put a cap on fake marriages, but because of just a few cases, everybody is suffering. Put something else in place to detect fraud, instead of making it difficult for everyone.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“There must be a clear and well defined policy to guide the way Canada accepts immigrants.”[/quote]

Dr. Balwinder Singh, host of the local Sargam Radio, says the immigration system should not be run on an ad hoc basis.

“There must be a clear and well defined policy to guide the way Canada accepts immigrants,” he says. “Obviously, people expect more officers deployed for timely disposal of the applications.”

Gursimrat Grewal, the editor of Punjab Star weekly newspaper, maintains that Brampton constituents must elect the party that can best look after immigration matters.

“Because the Liberal government made the Canadian system so liberal, the Conservatives made excuses about needing time to clean up the mess left behind by the Liberals. Now everybody can see what they have done to immigration policies and some other sectors,” says Grewal.

“It is inevitable that we now give the NDP a chance.”

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Published in Politics
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