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
Saturday, 05 November 2016 17:11

Sex-Ed Front and Centre — Again

by Ainslie Cruickshank in Ottawa

Social conservatives are hoping two anti-sex education candidates will split the vote in the upcoming Ottawa-Vanier byelection, leaving Progressive Conservative Andre Marin out in the cold.

“I don’t think it’s realistic that they will win without a large party machine behind them but they can certainly get enough votes to cause the pro-radical sex-ed PC candidate to lose if it’s a close race,” said Jack Fonseca, a senior political strategist with Campaign Life Coalition.

The coalition is a national anti-abortion organization and a vocal opponent of Ontario’s new sex education curriculum. It’s putting its support behind both Elizabeth de Viel Castel, a candidate running for the new single-issue political party Stop the New Sex Ed Agenda, and Stephanie McEvoy, who is running for the Canadian Constituents’ Party and also opposes the sex-education programming the Wynne government introduced last year — the first update to the sex-ed curriculum since 1998.

The new curriculum includes updates on healthy relationships, same-sex relationships, consent, mental health, online safety and the risks of “sexting”.

Marin has expressed support for the new sex-education curriculum, telling the Toronto Star that PC leader Patrick Brown “fell on the right side of the issue” after the party flip-flopped on it in the run-up to the Scarborough-Rouge River byelection. Requests for comment from Brown and Marin were declined Friday.

“The goal is to send a message to the PC establishment that you can’t win by alienating social conservatives. The social conservative wing of the party is very important and this is an issue you can win on,” Fonseca said.

The new curriculum is “age-inappropriate” and will put children in “harm’s way,” he said.

“Candidates owe it to the public to be open and honest and forthright on their position on such issues,” said Liberal campaign co-chair and Advanced Education Minister Deb Matthews.

While Matthews said she disagrees with their position, she added she gives members of the new anti-sex ed party credit for making their views on the issue clearer than Brown has.

“Parents want their kids to learn how to protect themselves from sexual predators, from online predators. We want kids to understand what healthy relationships are. And I think the public is with us on that,” she said.

In Ottawa-Vanier, Fonseca said Campaign Life Coalition will encourage its supporters to not only vote for either de Viel Castel or McEvoy, but also to volunteer and donate to their campaigns.

Queenie Yu, the force behind the new Stop the New Sex Ed Agenda party, is running under its banner in Niagara West-Glanbrook. She previously ran as an independent on an anti-sex ed platform in the Scarborough-Rouge River byelection, coming in fourth with 575 votes.

While some parents do support the new curriculum, many have concerns, Yu said.

“Each child is unique. Just because a child reaches a certain age doesn’t mean they’re ready to learn about certain subjects. Parents know their kids best. Parents – not the government – should be deciding when, what and how much their children should be learning about sex,” she said.

In Niagara West-Glanbrook, Fonseca said Yu is a “supportable” candidate but Campaign Life Coalition would be happy to see Sam Oosterhoff, the PC candidate, win the seat given the support he showed for parental rights during his nomination campaign.

While Yu said she hasn’t spoke with Oosterhoff, she said she has been assured by mutual friends that the 19-year old candidate shares her values.

“I’d vote for him if I lived in the riding,” she said, noting her goal for the anti-sex ed party isn’t necessarily to win seats but rather to keep the issue in the public eye.

Charles McVety, the president of the Canada Christian College, warned a split with social conservativescould cost the PCs the 2018 election after Oosterhoff won the nomination over party president and former Conservative MP Rick Dykstra and Niagara regional Councillor Tony Quirk.

That’s a message Fonseca repeated Friday.

Pursuing a more liberal approach to social issues risks alienating the conservative base and invites the creation a new, “formidable” conservative party in the province, he said, adding that could result in Liberal governments for years to come.

By arrangement with ipolitics.ca

Published in Politics
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

by Surjit Singh Flora (@floracanada) in Brampton, Ontario

It is surprising that the Ontario government has launched an advertising campaign about the controversial sexual-education curriculum, instead of engaging parents more directly and responding to their concerns.
 
Queen’s Park is using electronic and print media and some advertisements have already been released. The government surely hopes the campaign will lay to rest any remaining questions on the controversial curriculum change, but in my view, parental concerns run much deeper.
 
[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“It’s a sign that we understand that there’s a lot of misinformation out there,” Education Minister Liz Sandals was quoted as saying.[/quote]
 
The government’s curriculum has many shortcomings, written in a language that makes it difficult to forecast the outcome – all in the name of “education”. Protesting organizations have called this curriculum "indoctrination". But at this juncture, the government sees the advertising campaign as the solution, adding more public spending to an already indebted government.
 
Not listening
 
“It’s a sign that we understand that there’s a lot of misinformation out there,” Education Minister Liz Sandals was quoted as saying. “This is a case where there’s enough misinformation out there that we believe that we actually need to get more accurate information into the public discussion.”
 
The government has shown that it is incapable of paying heed to the many parents who consider this curriculum a risk to the raising of their children. Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government appears keen to implement its agenda by all means. There is a chance this fight will be waged over a long time.
 
website advocating for parents claims it has been threatened with legal action by the Peel District School Board, which I find condemnable. This raises the following question: will the right of freedom of expression be taken away? Will legal action be taken to silence the voice of those who oppose this controversial curriculum?
 
Trust in the public school system has weakened over the last several months. The people’s trust in public institutions is much more important than the stick of law-and-order. The people’s trust can be regained through transparent dialogue and consultations, not through advertisement campaigns and the threat of legal action.
 
Mainstream media bias
 
The discriminatory behaviour of the mainstream media is also worthy of condemnation. In my experience, the mainstream media are so biased that they do not want to listen to anything or cover anything against the curriculum, with many journalists aiming to completely bury opposition.
 
Whenever protests were held, the mainstream media either failed to report them or have tended to downplay coverage.
 
[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Is the protection of our children “homophobia”? Will this topic that is of crucial importance to immigrant parents now be left in the hands of the government and mainstream media?[/quote]
 
The mainstream media may have different perspective on other subjects, but they seem united in opposing the protesting parents and favouring the government on the matter of the sex-ed curriculum.
 
At this point, it seems clear to me that the Wynne government and mainstream media want to suppress the voices of parents who oppose the curriculum, labelling their objections as “homophobic” or motivated by sheer ignorance.
 
Is the protection of our children “homophobia”? Will this topic that is of crucial importance to immigrant parents now be left in the hands of the government and mainstream media?
 
The government and mainstream media are ignoring a petition that has 185,000 signatures.
 
The same media ignored the “cultural genocide” of Indigenous children because it was considered an Indigenous matter; similarly, opposition to this controversial curriculum is being presented as driven by new immigrants only. In fact, all communities have been opposing it and the protest held at Queen’s Park on June 7, 2015 is proof enough.
 
Even if we were to grant that the issue is primarily a “new immigrant” concern, are new immigrants not also parents? Don’t they have a right to safeguard the well-being of their children?
 
Dubious authors
 
It is a matter of shame that the overseer of this curriculum, Benjamin Levin, has recently been convicted on charges related to child pornography. Levin was Ontario’s deputy education minister from 2004 to 2007 and a Wynne supporter, playing an important role in her transition team.
 
Levin frequented a website with discussion forums on the sexual exploitation of children and police found numerous images of child pornography on his computer. On July 8, 2013, Toronto police charged him with child exploitation and on May 29, 2015 the court sentenced him to three years in prison.
 
The mainstream media did not consider it reasonable to ask the government about the relationship between Levin and this sex-ed curriculum. The government repeatedly claims the curriculum will protect children from sexual exploitation and diseases, but more likely it is a case of “Jackals guarding the hens” as a Punjabi saying goes.
 
The government should immediately withdraw this sex-ed curriculum or make the necessary changes requested by parents. Further, all information about the people who helped draft the document should be made public. This issue is crucial to the security and future of our children. It is the government’s duty to reassure parents that this revision is in the kids’ best interests.

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. He is also the editor and publisher of the weekly English news magazine Asia Metro Weekly.
 
{module NCM Blurb}
Published in Commentary

by Robin Brown (@RobinBrown) in Toronto, Ontario

In 1988, at the age of 21 in my native England, I marched through London to protest against the introduction of a law called Clause 28. The law, introduced by the Conservative Party, banned the “promotion of homosexuality” in British schools.

We saw it as discrimination. The use of the term “promotion” was disingenuous. It would prevent gay teachers from being honest about their sexuality and it would prevent teaching children the facts about sexual orientation.

A lot has changed since then. A couple of years ago, my son, aged 11 and at school in Ontario, casually mentioned his teacher was gay, with no judgment or surprise. That change is a result of what has been called a “culture war” that has occurred in Europe and North America in the 27 years since I joined that march. That “war” has involved ongoing debates about gender roles, sexual freedom and discrimination. 

At this point in history, it seems that I and the tens of thousands of others who marched that day have, at least to some extent, won. Clause 28 has been repealed in England. My children’s teachers can present them the facts about sexual orientation without fear of the law. They actively prevent bullying and discrimination based on sexual orientation. I am proud of being part of a generation who helped bring this about.

The Return of the “Culture War”?

So when I heard that parents in Ontario were opposing the new Health and Physical Education curriculum, my immediate reaction was, “Oh no, here we go again.” I felt the progress we fought for was being threatened.

I immediately reverted to the culture-war paradigm. Within that paradigm, there are always two sides. From the progressives’ perspective on one side, there is progress, enlightenment and freedom. On the other side, there is intolerance and ignorance. And the debate around the curriculum now is being framed within this context.

So, it came as a surprise to me when one of my Chinese colleagues said that she and many of her friends are opposed to the curriculum. She did not fit the mould of my culture-war opponents. She is not motivated by religion. She said she opposes discrimination based on sexual orientation and absolutely supports the right to same-sex marriage. Nor does she want to revert to the norms of her native China where she believes that sex education is inadequate.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]As we spoke I realized that, although I was viewing this issue through the culture-war lens, she was not. Growing up outside of the “West,” she did not share the same frame of reference.  Nor do many of the immigrant parents in Ontario who oppose the curriculum.[/quote]

As we spoke I realized that, although I was viewing this issue through the culture-war lens, she was not. Growing up outside of the “West,” she did not share the same frame of reference. Nor do many of the immigrant parents in Ontario who oppose the curriculum.

Time to Reframe the Controversy

Many Canadians are surprised by the strength of opposition to the curriculum from the foreign-born population in Ontario. And the Canadian-born tend to try to understand it in the context of the culture war.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The media have framed it in classic culture-war terms: “socially conservative” or “religious” immigrants standing in opposition to Western, secular liberalism.[/quote]

Many assume that is it driven by prejudice. No doubt, sometimes it is. The media have framed it in classic culture-war terms: “socially conservative” or “religious” immigrants standing in opposition to Western, secular liberalism.

But many of the foreign-born parents who oppose it do not see themselves on either side of a culture war. That frame of reference simply does not exist for many of the Ontarians born outside of Canada. To debate it on those terms does not help those wanting to either understand their opposition or to engage them in debate.

To date, the allegedly socially conservative foreign-born populations have largely avoided picking a side in Canada’s culture war. They have not organized against same-sex marriage or any other progressive changes in Canada and polls do not show them keen to do so. Conservative attempts to motivate them using decriminalization of marijuana as a wedge issue have largely fallen flat.

The Health and Physical Education curriculum issue is unique. And to understand its uniqueness, you have to attempt to truly understand differing ethnic cultural values.

Yes, some of it is due to religion, but that tells only a small part of the story. Much of the opposition is driven by differing perspectives, rooted in ethnic culture, on parenting and the role of the family and the child within it. Studies of ethnic culture have shown vastly different attitudes on that aspect of human life. That topic alone could expand this column into a book, but the key point is that it does not necessarily relate to attitudes to sexual orientation in the way that looking at the issue from a Western culture-war perspective would lead you to assume.

Dismissing Difference Is Not the Answer

I support the new curriculum one hundred percent and will argue strongly in its favour. I hope it prevails, as I do see it as a necessary continuation of the progress we have made since I joined that protest almost 30 years ago.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]I urge the government of Ontario to truly try to understand the perspective of parents who oppose it and not to drown out the voices of those who object. Many of them are engaging in a true civic debate for the first time since their arrival in Canada. [/quote]

But I urge the government of Ontario to truly try to understand the perspective of parents who oppose it and not to drown out the voices of those who object. Many of them are stepping up to make their voices heard and engage in a true civic debate for the first time since their arrival in Canada. Dismissing them as ignorant or intolerant is neither useful nor just.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]It requires that we jettison some of the frames of reference that we find so comfortable when making sense of the world.[/quote]

Multiculturalism is not always easy. It doesn’t simply mean a few extra “exotic” items on restaurant menus. It requires genuine understanding and respect for ethnic cultural differences. And it requires that we jettison some of the frames of reference that we find so comfortable when making sense of the world.

In this case, for me, that means standing down in the culture war to try to understand a truly different perspective. 

Isn’t that also progress?

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Commentary
Friday, 29 August 2014 00:05

Sikhs Vow to Litigate Helmets Issue

The Canadian Sikh Association says it will consider whatever legal options remain, if lobbying efforts fail to reverse a decision by Ontario last week to reject a motorcycle helmet exemption for devout Sikhs. The CSA has been working on the exemption for years. It argues the law indirectly discriminates against devout Sikhs, who do not remove their turbans outside the home.

As a result, the law indirectly prevents them from riding motorcycles, according to the Canadian Lawyers Magazine. In a letter dated Aug. 14 and sent to the CSA, Premier Kathleen Wynne sums up the province’s decision: “After careful deliberation, we have determined that we will not grant this type of exemption as it would pose a road safety risk. Ultimately, the safety of Ontarians is my utmost priority, and I cannot justify setting that concern aside on this issue.”

Manohar Singh Bal, the CSA’s secretary, says he was dismayed by the decision, particularly given the years of work and promises made by the Liberal Party that it would work with the community to resolve the issue. “Last year, when we met with the minister of transportation,” says Bal, “he himself suggested that he had two bills ready in his drawer.” One bill would offer a general exemption to Sikhs; another would provide an exemption for all roads except 400-series highways. Bal says the organization would have been comfortable with such a compromise, but was told, given the Liberal party’s minority position, they would also need the support of the New Democrats and the Conservatives. Now Bal says the province has flip-flopped — despite being handed a majority government and having received support for the exemption, in writing, from the other political parties.

First challenge

In Ontario, the helmet law as it applies to Sikhs was first challenged in 2008, when the Ontario Human Rights Commission took up the cause of Baljinder Badesha, who was fighting a $110 ticket he received a few years prior for refusing to wear his motorcycle helmet. Scott Hutchison, a constitutional lawyer at Henein Hutchison LLP, represented the OHRC in that case, arguing reasonable accommodation is justified for Sikh motorcyclists, given that observant Sikhs would otherwise be unable to access a standard mode of transportation. Ontario Court Justice James Blacklock, however, ruled against Badesha and the OHRC, issuing a 35-page decision. In it, he writes an exemption would render the helmet law unwieldy, since anyone violating it could simply claim they were devout. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“The officer wouldn't know if he was dealing with a devout Sikh or not, unless he took the word of the accused.”[/quote]

The original challenge brought by the Ontario Human Rights Commission in 2008 sought an accommodation exemption based on the province’s Human Rights Code. A subsequent appeal of the decision to the Ontario Superior Court in 2011 upped the ante, focusing on Charter rights violations. In the end, Justice John Takach found no error in the lower-court ruling.

In Wynne’s letter to the Canadian Sikh Association, she was quick to bolster the legality of her decision by referencing the previous rulings: “As you know, the issue of balance between religious accommodation and public safety has been considered by the courts in Ontario which, on this issue, have found that Ontario’s mandatory helmet law does not infringe on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, nor the Ontario Human Rights Code.”

But exemptions to the helmet law already exist in British Columbia, Manitoba. and the U.K., so there’s some question as to whether the province’s decision will stand up to political pressure.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]But exemptions to the helmet law already exist in British Columbia, Manitoba.[/quote]

Compelling arguments

Hutchison believes the issue will be litigated if it can’t be resolved at a political level. Reasonable accommodation, he says, is based on the idea that if you can, without undue hardship, allow somebody to have an exemption from the general rule, then you are normally expected to do that. “Keep in mind that all of the things that are being said about why it’s so important that we deny this exemption were said 25 years ago — that you couldn’t be a Mountie and wear a turban, or you couldn’t be a construction worker and wear a turban.”

He says a Sikh helmet exemption poses a minimal risk. “Listen, there’s a compelling argument to be made that nobody should be allowed to ride motorcycles at all,” says Hutchison. “Or nobody should smoke cigarettes. Or any number of things that are dangerous activities that are engaged in by a relatively small group of people. You could make that argument, but that’s not really the way we’ve decided to organize ourselves as a society.”

Still, Hutchison says a political solution would be preferable to some kind of new appeal. “Pursuing it in the courts is an expensive and time-consuming way of advancing public policy,” says Hutchison. It’s a sentiment shared by Bal at the CSA: “Maybe one of the political parties will introduce a private member’s bill. That would be one possibility,” he says. “If we see light at the end of the tunnel, we will continue to pursue that. Failing that, we will have to look at legal options. . . . We will simply challenge the law as they have done in British Columbia.” 

This report is published in New Canadian Media with permission from South Asian Post, where this story first appeared. 

Published in Top Stories
Wednesday, 04 June 2014 15:10

Leaders Debate Fails Immigrants in Ontario

by Maryann D’Souza in Toronto

Am I the only one in Ontario who feels as if immigrant issues have been cast aside in favour of the same old rhetoric? Before the Toronto debate, polls indicated that 38 per cent of voters were still undecided and I suspect that many newcomers figure among them. Why am I not surprised?

Although a flash poll conducted by Ipsos after Tuesday’s debate indicated that only 10 per cent of viewers doubted who the winner was, in my opinion, the three-way encounter brought little clarity on any of the issues, let alone addressing the concerns of new Canadians. Presented with the dark reality of no-confidence in any of the parties and their leaders, I am almost tempted to decline my ballot (as suggested by host Steve Paikin in the dying moments of the debate).

While the parties fall over themselves to court the various ethnic communities at any opportunity they get, the debate between the three premier hopefuls in Toronto was loudly silent on immigrant issues. It almost seems like we can expect more of the same no matter who occupies the premier’s chair: a continuing struggle to find the right jobs among the many opportunities the candidates were promising to create.  One immigrant I met at the gym yesterday perhaps echoed what many feel, “What’s the point of voting?”  

A matter of trust

At the heart of the race is trust. I was delighted to see a visible-minority voter by the name of "Suresh Naik" speak up so eloquently and almost frame the debate with the first question thrown at the three contenders. He cut to the chase when he asked, 'How can I trust the Liberals with my retirement money in light of the gas plants scandal?' (see video below). To that I might add, or ‘any other government?’ Immigrants have often been accused of not being involved. Apathy, though, may not be the only reason. Perhaps it is the continual neglect of issues that are of critical importance to them.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Apathy, though, may not be the only reason. Perhaps it is the continual neglect of issues that are of critical importance to them.[/quote]

It is critical to engage immigrants given their low turnout rate at elections. And, this is done not just by fielding ethnic candidates to get their votes but by building trust, which comes from making them feel “heard” and listened to. Education, healthcare and energy bills are high priorities for all Ontarians, especially struggling immigrants, but what is hurting immigrants most right now is jobs: the lack of opportunity to use their skills and experience in the right way; to be able to earn enough money to afford higher education for their kids and pay those energy bills. Not surprisingly, none of the job creation plans had a concrete strategy to resolve this problem.

The Liberals may claim to have created jobs, but unfortunately more and more of these employment opportunities are turning out to be part-time. As a result, many newcomers are working two and three jobs just to be able to survive. With their previous credentials not recognized and the lack of “Canadian experience” they are often forced into low-paying jobs and find themselves at the mercy of unscrupulous employers who are ever willing to exploit the situation.

Promises galore

Less than three weeks ago, Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak was courting new immigrants by promising to create jobs in Ontario and make it their No. 1 destination (something that the NDP touted way back in 2012). “I want to cut the red tape holding back new Canadians from putting their professional experience to work," he said. That gave me some “hope”. I thought that perhaps he had a real plan to have their job skills and credentials recognized. But just like his million jobs promise, Hudak failed to back it up with any concrete roadmap of how he would go about doing this. I’m inclined to agree with Horwath, who said during the debate that Hudak has little to show from his leadership over the last three years.

Kathleen Wynne was not to be left behind, and fought back with her “One Ontario,” plan which would include a “number of initiatives” to attract skilled immigrants to the province, provide more culturally appropriate health care, invest in bridge training programs that help integrate new Canadians into the workforce. A glimmer of hope once again and new Canadians were waiting to hear more on how she was going to integrate them into the fold. Unfortunately, just like Hudak, that was all she was willing (or had) to say.

Perhaps, I thought, NDP leader Andrea Horwath was the most honest in her lack of promises to new immigrants. Or, is this a preview of what is to come if she becomes Ontario’s premier? Can we look forward to the day when parties formulate policies based on the needs of the people and their demands, rather than undoing what has been done by the previous government.

Survival jobs

Politicians ought to realize that few immigrants have the stomach for local politics or community issues mainly because many of them are struggling to keep their heads above water. Fielding ethnic candidates who do no more than mouths the lines already overused by their leaders certainly strikes a chord, but perhaps not the way they are intended. They encourage divisive, personality-based politics that cement newcomer bonds to the "home country," instead of helping them assimilate and truly accept Canada as their country. Without 100 per cent buy-in from immigrants, Ontario can hardly hope to move ahead or thrive.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Without 100 per cent buy-in from immigrants, Ontario can hardly hope to move ahead or thrive.[/quote]                                    

The talk of increasing immigration and attracting newcomers to Ontario might seem attractive, but only to Hudak and Wynne. The results from CBC's Vote Compass two weeks ago indicated just 16 per cent of respondents support increased immigration to the province. Even newcomers would have trouble wrapping their heads around letting in more immigrants in a shrinking job market.

Let’s be realistic. Can any of these politicians really create jobs? Can they stop companies from outsourcing to be more competitive, even viable?

Tim Hudak says “hope is on the way.” Andrea Horwath promises to “invest tax dollars in your priorities.” And Premier Wynne claims she will “invest in people and skills” to move Ontario forward. They sound to me like empty promises to win power. Immigrants tend to be a lot more cynical. Their vote might cost two of these politicians the election.

Maryann D’Souza is a Toronto-based journalist who has been in Canada for 10 years.

You can watch the full televized debate here.

Published in Commentary
by Toronto Editor Ranjit Bhaskar
 
The 2014 Liberal Plan for “One Ontario” will include a number of initiatives to attract skilled immigrants to the province, provide more culturally appropriate health care, invest in bridge training programs that help integrate new Canadians into the workforce and help more local companies win business outside Canada.
 
Outlining her party’s plan at a media briefing over the weekend in the build-up to the June 12 provincial elections, Premier Kathleen Wynne said “One Ontario” is at the core of her value system. “We are going to stand up for diversity because we believe in One Ontario. New Canadians deserve the same opportunities and the same protections as those who were born here,” Wynne said. “The Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects our rights no matter who we are or what we believe. That is an important principle in Ontario and across Canada, and it is what makes us stronger.”
 
She said the Liberal government has taken several measures to ensure Ontario’s diversity continues to be its strength, including:
• Passing the Accepting Schools Act, which promotes a positive school climate that is inclusive and accepting, regardless of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, marital status, family status or disability.
• The Provincial Nominee Program that helps Ontario employers attract and retain the skilled workers they need for today’s knowledge-based economy.
• Covering refugee health care when the federal government walked away from its responsibilities.
• Passing a motion in the legislature re-affirming Ontario’s commitment to respect diversity. The motion opposes any bills that would restrict people’s freedom of expression and religion in public places.
 
Global trade strategy
Elaborating on the Liberal economic plan that will be of interest to immigrants, Wynne said if re-elected her government will expand its Going Global Trade Strategy by investing $5 million a year over the next two years in the Global Growth Fund, which will help more Ontario companies win business outside of Canada.
 
With so many people from around the world choosing to call Ontario home, there is tremendous opportunity for Ontario-based businesses to expand the reach of their exports, she said. “By partnering with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, local chambers, and chambers representing Ontario’s diverse ethnic communities, businesses will be able to tap into Ontario’s diverse population to access international markets and showcase their goods and services to international buyers.”
 
Taking a swipe at her opponents, Wynne said the Andrea Horwath-led NDP (New Democratic Party), by choosing not to support her government’s Budget for the year put the expansion of the global trade strategy and newcomer programs at risk.
 
The Premier said the approach of the Tim Hudak-led Progressive Conservatives in supporting the newest Canadians would be to fire 100,000 public sector workers that would result in a cut to programs and services that they rely on, such as settlement programs and bridge training programs.
 
[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The Premier said the approach of the Tim Hudak-led Progressive Conservatives in supporting our newest Canadians would be to fire 100,000 public sector workers that would result in a cut to programs and services that they rely on, such as settlement programs and bridge training programs.[/quote]
 
On the issue of bills that have ‘died on the Order Paper,’ (i.e., did not become law) as a result of the current election, the Premier said if re-elected her government will re-introduce them, including the Ontario Immigration Act “to ensure we attract skilled immigrants to fill labour market needs.”

‘Referendum on the economy’

A re-elected Liberal government will continue to invest in the talent and skills of Ontarians through initiatives like the 30 per cent Off Tuition grant, she said. The tuition grant will help up to 260,000 low- and middle-income university students save up to $1,780 per school year. Students attending college can save up to $820 per school year, as part of the grant. In fact, when adjusted for inflation, students who receive the full grant amount will be paying less in net tuition than students 10 years ago, Wynne said. Hudak’s PCs have promised to cancel the tuition grant immediately, increasing the cost of a university degree by at least $7,120 per student, she pointed out.

Listing out the achievements of the Liberal government, she said Ontario has been recognized as the top place in North America for foreign direct investment and had created 459,000 net new jobs since June 2009.
 
Face off with Hudak and Horwath
 
Wynne said Ontario raises $11 billion more in federal revenue than is invested back into the province. Stating that this year Ontario will receive $641 million less in major transfers from the federal government, she said while the Harper Conservatives continue to invest in regional economic opportunities elsewhere in Canada, they have refused to invest in the development of the Ring of Fire in Northern Ontario that would create jobs and make Ontario one of the major world producers of chromite.
 
On the Ontario PC's accusing her government of secretly approving $317-million to bail out a real estate development for a downtown Toronto research centre, Wynne said the deal was confidential because it isn’t finalized and would actually save taxpayers money in the long run.
 
She said the MaRS transaction is good for the government, as it will allow the consolidation of several offices in one place. The government helped the organization get the project started with a loan and a grant. But when it became apparent MaRS couldn’t make the completed tower viable, the government agreed to buy it instead. Wynne said she has not discussed the details of the deal, saying it is not yet final.
She charged that the leaked cabinet documents is being used by the PC's to deflect attention from Hudak’s Million Job Plan that has been derided by eminent economists from across Canada as “an absolute disaster that needs to be redrafted.”
 
Apart from the MaRS transaction, Wynne will be defending a slew of other questionable dealings by the Liberal government when she faces off with Hudak and Horwath at 6:30 p.m. local time on Tuesday (June 3) for the only televised debate ahead of the election. It could be a turning point.
 
{module NCM Blurb}
Published in Top Stories
Sunday, 09 February 2014 15:17

Tamils emerge from the shadows

by Toronto Editor Ranjit Bhaskar
 
If an immigrant community’s coming-of-age needs to be gauged in Canada, the way it is courted by politicians is a good indicator. Leaders of all hues, from the federal to the municipal level, put on an unabashed display last month at the Canadian Tamil Congress (CTC) gala held in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) city of Markham to celebrate Pongal, the Tamil equivalent of Thanksgiving Day.
 
Those present to woo the 300,000-strong community concentrated mostly in the GTA included Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, federal Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, Ontario PC and Official Opposition Leader Tim Hudak, and Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti.  The pride of place at the event, however, went to Liberal leader Justin Trudeau. Heralded as the “future prime minister,” the gathering gave him a standing ovation. Seemingly carried away by the adulation, Mr Trudeau briefly showed off his Bollywood dance moves and regretted not coming dressed in a traditional South Asian outfit.
 
“Thirty years ago, there were a handful of Tamils in Canada, but today this country is home to tens of thousands of them who have established themselves with their values of hard work and determination,” he said. “These are not Tamil values; these are Canadian values,’’ he said amid rounds of applause.
 
Seeking international investigations into human rights violations by Sri Lanka in the last phases of the ethnic war in 2009, the Liberal leader said Canada would stand by the Tamil community in seeking justice on global platforms, including the UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva next month. This sentiment was echoed by Mr Alexander, who said “Canada will be at the forefront to ensure that accountability comes.”
 
Both the federal politicians were on cue as the session in Geneva is of huge importance to the community. The Canadian Tamil Congress, as part of its advocacy work, will be sending a delegation to Geneva and wants the UN to take decisive action against the Sri Lankan government for violating human rights.
 
Poll calculations
 
While Ms. Wynne said the strides made by the Tamils are “a great Canadian story,” Mr. Alexander said the community has been “a huge success for the Canada’s immigration program.”  That’s a big shift in stance by the Conservative Party, which has been trying hard to undo the harm done by its anti-Tamil rhetoric during the 2011 federal election after two ship loads of asylum seekers from Sri Lanka came ashore on the B.C. coast. Canada’s recent boycott of the Commonwealth summit hosted by Colombo was seen by many as an attempt by the ruling party to curry favour with the Tamils.  
 
Its need to garner support of the community along with that of other immigrant groups in the GTA has grown in importance as the 2015 election nears. The area, dubbed as the “905” after the telephone code that sets it apart from Toronto city, is expected to be a major battleground for votes.  The 905 is believed to have helped the Conservatives form a majority government despite the party doing badly in Québec. Significantly, both the Liberals and the New Democratic Party (NDP) have also stepped up their efforts in the area.
 
[quote align="center" color="#999999"]A recent opinion poll has suggested that the going will not be easy for the eight Conservative MPs from the area if an election were held right now. The poll, conducted by Mainstreet Technologies and released exclusively to iPolitics, said three could lose their seats and the five others could find themselves in tough battles.[/quote]
 
“It’s not surprising that given the national popularity of Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party currently that these numbers are showing this, that there is a Liberal resurgence for sure,” Quito Maggi, president of Mainstreet Technologies, was quoted as saying. “On the other side, it doesn’t show a complete Conservative collapse as well. The Conservative base is alive and well in Peel region [consisting of Brampton and Mississauga].”
 
Tamil Heritage Month
 
At the CTC gala, almost all the leaders competed to promote Tamil culture. Mr. Hudak said he would be reintroducing a bill in the Ontario legislature to declare January as Tamil Heritage Month. Rathika Sitsabaiesan, the NDP MP for Scarborough—Rouge River riding, said she would be pressing ahead with her private bill, C-471, to designate the month as such across Canada. She said this month is celebrated throughout the country by Canadians of Tamil heritage, “as we recognize the cultural, political and economic contributions of Tamil Canadians in our communities.”
 
Ms Sitsabaiesan made no mention of her alleged intimidation by Sri Lankan authorities during her recent visit to the island. Her fellow NDP MP from the Toronto area, Prof. Craig Scott, was honoured with the “Leaders for Change” award at the event for his role as the founding member of the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice.
 
 
Apart from this gesture, the Tamil community has been trying hard to reach out to the mainstream. As in the past four years, the CTC once again raised money through its annual walk-a-thon for a Canadian charity. With the cheque for $65,000 presented to the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital Foundation, the organization has raised over a quarter-million dollars for five charities in the past five years. Only time will tell whether this is yet another sign of an immigrant group emerging from the shadows to gain the “good immigrants” moniker as suggested by Premier Wynne and Minister Alexander or a cynical attempt to gain political clout.
 
{module NCM Blurb}
Published in South Asia
Sunday, 09 February 2014 03:50

Tamils emerge from the shadows

by Toronto Editor Ranjit Bhaskar
 
If an immigrant community’s coming-of-age needs to be gauged in Canada, the way it is courted by politicians is a good indicator. Leaders of all hues, from the federal to the municipal level, put on an unabashed display last month at the Canadian Tamil Congress (CTC) gala held in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) city of Markham to celebrate Pongal, the Tamil equivalent of Thanksgiving Day.
 
Those present to woo the 300,000-strong community concentrated mostly in the GTA included Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, federal Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, Ontario PC and Official Opposition Leader Tim Hudak, and Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti.  The pride of place at the event, however, went to Liberal leader Justin Trudeau. Heralded as the “future prime minister,” the gathering gave him a standing ovation. Seemingly carried away by the adulation, Mr Trudeau briefly showed off his Bollywood dance moves and regretted not coming dressed in a traditional South Asian outfit.
 
“Thirty years ago, there were a handful of Tamils in Canada, but today this country is home to tens of thousands of them who have established themselves with their values of hard work and determination,” he said. “These are not Tamil values; these are Canadian values,’’ he said amid rounds of applause.
 
Seeking international investigations into human rights violations by Sri Lanka in the last phases of the ethnic war in 2009, the Liberal leader said Canada would stand by the Tamil community in seeking justice on global platforms, including the UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva next month. This sentiment was echoed by Mr Alexander, who said “Canada will be at the forefront to ensure that accountability comes.”
 
Both the federal politicians were on cue as the session in Geneva is of huge importance to the community. The Canadian Tamil Congress, as part of its advocacy work, will be sending a delegation to Geneva and wants the UN to take decisive action against the Sri Lankan government for violating human rights.
 
Poll calculations
 
While Ms. Wynne said the strides made by the Tamils are “a great Canadian story,” Mr. Alexander said the community has been “a huge success for the Canada’s immigration program.”  That’s a big shift in stance by the Conservative Party, which has been trying hard to undo the harm done by its anti-Tamil rhetoric during the 2011 federal election after two ship loads of asylum seekers from Sri Lanka came ashore on the B.C. coast. Canada’s recent boycott of the Commonwealth summit hosted by Colombo was seen by many as an attempt by the ruling party to curry favour with the Tamils.  
 
Its need to garner support of the community along with that of other immigrant groups in the GTA has grown in importance as the 2015 election nears. The area, dubbed as the “905” after the telephone code that sets it apart from Toronto city, is expected to be a major battleground for votes.  The 905 is believed to have helped the Conservatives form a majority government despite the party doing badly in Québec. Significantly, both the Liberals and the New Democratic Party (NDP) have also stepped up their efforts in the area.
 
[quote align="center" color="#999999"]A recent opinion poll has suggested that the going will not be easy for the eight Conservative MPs from the area if an election were held right now. The poll, conducted by Mainstreet Technologies and released exclusively to iPolitics, said three could lose their seats and the five others could find themselves in tough battles.[/quote]
 
“It’s not surprising that given the national popularity of Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party currently that these numbers are showing this, that there is a Liberal resurgence for sure,” Quito Maggi, president of Mainstreet Technologies, was quoted as saying. “On the other side, it doesn’t show a complete Conservative collapse as well. The Conservative base is alive and well in Peel region [consisting of Brampton and Mississauga].”
 
Tamil Heritage Month
 
At the CTC gala, almost all the leaders competed to promote Tamil culture. Mr. Hudak said he would be reintroducing a bill in the Ontario legislature to declare January as Tamil Heritage Month. Rathika Sitsabaiesan, the NDP MP for Scarborough—Rouge River riding, said she would be pressing ahead with her private bill, C-471, to designate the month as such across Canada. She said this month is celebrated throughout the country by Canadians of Tamil heritage, “as we recognize the cultural, political and economic contributions of Tamil Canadians in our communities.”
 
Ms Sitsabaiesan made no mention of her alleged intimidation by Sri Lankan authorities during her recent visit to the island. Her fellow NDP MP from the Toronto area, Prof. Craig Scott, was honoured with the “Leaders for Change” award at the event for his role as the founding member of the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice.
 
 
Apart from this gesture, the Tamil community has been trying hard to reach out to the mainstream. As in the past four years, the CTC once again raised money through its annual walk-a-thon for a Canadian charity. With the cheque for $65,000 presented to the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital Foundation, the organization has raised over a quarter-million dollars for five charities in the past five years. Only time will tell whether this is yet another sign of an immigrant group emerging from the shadows to gain the “good immigrants” moniker as suggested by Premier Wynne and Minister Alexander or a cynical attempt to gain political clout.
 
{module NCM Blurb}
Published in Top Stories
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