Category Archives: Canadian politics

Twitter handles for London’s new council

After last night’s stunning election results in London, Ont., engaged citizens may wish to adjust their Twitter accounts. Here’s a list of councillors to follow, ward by ward:

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 9.48.18 AMMayor: Matt Brown, @Matt_Brown_
Ward 1: Michael van Holst, @mikevanholst
Ward 2: Bill Armstrong, —
Ward 3: Mohamed Salih, @mohamedMOSalih
Ward 4: Jesse Helmer, @jesse_helmer
Ward 5: Maureen Cassidy, @MaureenPCassidy
Ward 6: Phil Squire, @SquirePhil
Ward 7: Josh Morgan, @mrjoshmorgan
Ward 8: Paul Hubert, @phubert1961
Ward 9: Anna Hopkins, @AnnaHopkins11
Ward 10: Virginia Ridley, @virginia_ridley
Ward 11: Steven Turner, @st3v3turn3r
Ward 12: Harold Usher, @iamsensational
Ward 13: Tanya Park, @tanneramma
Ward 14: Jared Zaifman, @JaredZaifman

Update (Nov. 28, 6:38 p.m.): Thanks to marketing technologist Mike Wickett for his correction on Ward 11 councillor-elect Steven Turner’s handle, which I misspelled earlier today.

Link to downtown Brantford study

Below is a link to the study on the effect of post-secondary institutions on the core of Brantford, Ont., roughly a decade after that strategy was implemented there. It’s the study to which I refer in today’s column in The London Free Press.

2012 Economic Impact

Ottawa issues warning to Canadian Mennonite magazine

When my electronic copy of the latest issue of the award-winning church magazine Canadian Mennonite arrived in my inbox last week, I was shocked while reading editor-publisher Dick Benner’s editorial. In it, he disclosed the magazine has received a warning letter from Canada Revenue Agency about its “political activities.” Additional details were published in a news story by board vice-chair Carl DeGurse in the same issue. The story disturbed me on two levels: one, sudden engagement of a government department with a magazine that has had a long history of provoking discussion about the interplay between church and state; second, the notion that Ottawa is, apparently, making subjective judgments about the political activities of Canadian charities, applying litmus tests by which their charitable status might be preserved or revoked.

Canadian Mennonite is the published under a partnership agreement between six different Mennonite bodies under the umbrella of Canadian Mennonite Publishing Service, which has charitable status so that individual church members (or others) may make personal donations. The magazine’s guiding principles, ownership and governance structures, bylaws and annual reports are all abundantly transparent and are available here. (Full disclosure: I served on the board of CMPS from 2004-2010; the last two years as board chair.) Throughout its existence, it has been a member of the Canadian Church Press and has regularly been recognized for excellence in editorial content and design.

Canadian Mennonite is, in fact, the successor to a tabloid newspaper called Mennonite Reporter, whose founding editor in 1971 was historian and church journalist Frank H. Epp. Owing to the nature of Mennonite experience and theology, both periodicals have a long history of reflecting the continuing struggle, within their constituents and readers, of what it means to be “in the world but not of the world.” Isolation from society, as reflected among the Amish (theological cousins to Mennonites) is one response; full engagement with it is another. There are many shades of grey in between. The point is that it is within the nature of the denomination, which sees peace and justice as primary motivators, to continuously grapple with the church-state relationship, including issues such as war, peacemaking, sanctuary for refugees, justice, humanitarian concerns, disaster relief, foreign policy and so on. Over the past century, Mennonite periodicals in Canada and the United States have reflected this. Many other denominations, such as the United Church of Canada, have had similar priorities.

I can appreciate the byzantine challenge that the CRA faces in trying to determine which applicants and holders of Canadian charitable status are legitimate. The task of separating the wheat from the chaff here must be complex and occasionally frustrating. And, indeed, it’s important for all of us, as citizens, that Canadian charities not be fronts from political organizations, fly-by-night operators, hate groups, foreign operatives and other schemes. To that extent, it’s appropriate for CRA to examine the nature and general activities of each Canadian charity on a regular basis.

But to issue a warning to an established church magazine over content that urges readers to carefully consider the voting records of MPs before casting their ballots, or opinion pieces that wonder about the Christian response to the killing of Osama bin Laden, smacks of administrative overreaching and interference, not to mention the chilling effect it has on religious press freedoms.

Application of the same type of monitoring to other Canadian charities would mean that CRA would begin vetting the homilies and sermons delivered in churches, synagogues and mosques (Canadian charities, all) or keeping a closer watch over the activities of AIDS societies, United Way campaigns, or community foundations for some sense as to their political leanings.

I’m glad Mia Rabson of the Winnipeg Free Press picked up this story yesterday, as have a number of other bloggers, writers, newscasts and websites over the past few days. Every Canadian charity should be concerned, even if Canadian Mennonite is the only member of the Canadian Church Press to have received such a letter of warning.

Update: Marcy Markusa of CBC’s Information Radio in Manitoba interviewed Benner regarding this issue on Nov. 9; that chat can be heard here.

Update 2: Here’s Dick Benner’s second editorial on the subject; this one in the Nov. 26 issue of Canadian Mennonite.

When your member of Parliament goes AWOL

Our Votes Count debate

Ed Holder’s seat sits empty at a London West candidates debate on April 26, sponsored by Our Votes Count.

When London insurance broker Ed Holder decided to run under the Conservative banner my riding, London West, in 2008, I was thrilled. I happen to be a big believer in the importance of integrity in local candidates, no matter their political stripe. Elect 308 scrupulous, principled and sincere candidates to the House of Commons and the rest, I figure, will take care of itself. It’s why, three years ago, I saw Glen Pearson, a Liberal in London-North-Centre, and Irene Mathyssen, a New Democrat in London-Fanshawe, as worthy contenders in their respective ridings.

I was especially delighted about Holder’s decision to run because I’d come to know him through my role as editor at The London Free Press. As chair of the newspaper’s editorial board, I kept a slot open for a community member, who would serve for one year. At one point, Holder was one of these.

I invited him to the post largely on the strength of his community involvement and leadership. He was regularly in the news, for all the right reasons — supporting important social causes, raising money to preserve a community tradition that was about to go extinct, and giving of his time in the service of local charities. I was pleased when he accepted and grateful for his sage advice.

What I remember most about his contributions to our meetings was his incisive mind and ability to probe, with business-like detachment, whatever happened to be the issue of the day. He was a stickler for precision, fairness and transparency. He insisted that politicians, chief executives and charities face scrutiny and be held accountable. He believed strongly in the importance of benchmarks and good, defensible standards by which to measure performance.

When voting day arrived in 2008, I was more sure of my vote than I’d ever been. His victory over longtime Liberal MP Sue Barnes, for whom I’d also voted more than once, seemed timely and deserved.

During the last Parliament, I called on Holder’s office for assistance on one occasion. I was serving as chairperson of charitable organization and was perplexed by some new rules being imposed by Ottawa. Within hours, Holder called personally to set me straight on a simple misunderstanding, brought about by a vacancy in our CEO’s office. Holder’s businesslike approach to the problem was exactly what I had expected of him.

Because he’d been such an proponent of accountability and openness, I looked forward to seeing him at candidates debates in my riding in the current campaign. I have been profoundly disappointed by his absences at many of them, including the one debate held specifically in London West riding for London West voters this week. Yes, he has participated in some meetings, such as the Rogers-sponsored debate that would be televised repeatedly through the campaign (best not to avoid that one). And he has appeared at debates in local high schools, where exposure to voting constituents with hard questions is minimal. He has not responded to my question about whether his absences are the result of a personal decision or party war room diktat.

I suspect it’s the latter. If so, London West’s MP must be chafing under the order. This is entirely unlike the Ed Holder I have come to know — the one who held up accountability in public life as an imperative. Absent other explanations, I resent the fact that the long arm of a control-obsessed prime minister appears to have absconded with my member of Parliament. He is absent without leave at precisely the moment — and I think he, in his heart of hearts, would personally agree — that he ought to be living out the notions he once so strongly advocated.

UWO debate posterUpdate: According to CBC.ca, Holder has also declined to attend the all-candidates meeting this evening at the University of Western Ontario, moderated by Huron University College political science professor Paul Nesbitt-Larking and sponsored by UWO’s Faculty Association, the Graduate Teaching Assistants Union and the University Students’ Council.

Update II: Indeed, Holder was a no-show at the UWO debate.

Update III (May 2): Holder was re-elected handily on election night, by a margin of nearly 9,000 votes over his nearest challenger, the NDP’s Peter Ferguson. Congratulations to Mr. Holder. Here’s hoping he finds effective and personal ways to stay in touch with his constituents.

Newspaper companies and elections: a modest proposal

Back in the mid-2000s, as federal lawmakers and bureaucrats were working out the details and regulations for the National Do Not Call List, the Canadian newspaper industry was in a bit of a tizzy. Telemarketing, after all, lay at the heart of every newspaper company’s strategy to build circulation and wage daily warfare against subscriber “churn” (the rebuilding circulation with new customers as the subscriptions of other customers lapsed and weren’t renewed).

As a result, the Canadian Newspaper Association undertook a concerted lobbying effort for an exemption. They argued for it on the basis that a well-informed citizenry was essential to the functioning of a vibrant democracy. And that, by the time the ink was dry on the regulations in 2006, was enough to earn them an out, alongside charities, pollsters and other organizations, on the exemptions list. (Plus perhaps the adage, ringing in the ears of federal politicians, that one should “never pick a fight with a man who buys ink by the barrel” — an aphorism often attributed to Mark Twain.)

The time has arrived for a quid pro quo. Newspaper companies have argued, successfully, that they are an essential gear in the clockwork of a healthy democracy. They’ve been granted special licence by the federal government in acknowledgment of that function. Meanwhile, voter participation rates in Canada have been plummeting. Voter turnout during the last federal election on Oct. 14, 2008, was a mere 58.8 per cent — an historic low. In Ontario, the rate hit an all-time low on Oct. 10, 2007, when only 52.6 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots. At the municipal level, the news has been even worse. While high-visibility municipal campaigns last fall in places such as Toronto garnered participation rates that edged over the 50-per-cent mark, many cities, such as London, Ont. — at 39.9 per cent — saw a positively miserable voter turnout.

So here’s a modest proposal: During the writ period for federal and provincial campaigns, as well as the final weeks of municipal elections (between the close of nominations and voting day), publishers of Canada’s daily newspapers should provide their full electronic editions, to readers who request them, free of charge.

I’m not referring here, of course, to the websites maintained by most newspaper companies which are already free and carry a sampling of that day’s editions. Instead, I’m referring to the more comprehensive electronic editions published by many of Canada’s dailies and distributed on platforms such as personal computers and iPads, via apps and software such as PressReader. Postmedia Network Inc. provides iPad apps for all of its major dailies; PressDisplay.com makes dozens of additional titles available to Canadians and other readers worldwide, usually via subscription to e-editions. Titles such as The Globe and Mail provide their products in discrete electronic formats (e.g. Globe2Go).

If newspapers are indeed part of the national conversation that informs citizens in a viable democracy, organizations such as the Canadian Newspaper Association, part of Newspapers Canada, should seize upon such an opportunity to demonstrate that fact. Federal legislators would be very much interested in seeing whether the faith they placed in these companies, through the NDNCL exemption, continues to be merited. And it should be the aim of such an experiment to see voter participation rise.

There would be an upside for newspaper companies, too. Additional electronic editions would impose only marginal added costs. Yet what greater treasure trove of potential subscribers might there be than the account information of hundreds of seven- or eight-week e-subscribers — readers who have already proven their interest in civic engagement and dialogue through media that portend the future of the news business?

Politics, journalism and Toronto’s G20 weekend

Quite the weekend in Toronto. As anyone who has followed the history of multinational summits and anarchical protest over the past two decades could have predicted (and did), millions of dollars worth of damage and hundreds of arrests accompanied the G20 meetings at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

In my view, face-to-face meetings of world leaders are a useful thing, both to promote discussion of foreign and fiscal policies and to advance rapport and understanding. Multilateral summits have always required extensive security preparations, but the large-scale protests that began to accompany them in the latter 20th century increased the costs enormously. For more than 20 years, anarchists have used large and well-meaning protests as cover for their own destructive and criminal activities. Any legitimate protest group or movement that thought things would be different in Toronto was simply naive. Essentially, large-scale protests and demonstrations provide the cover and anonymity anarchists need to operate. The Harper government, the province of Ontario and the integrated security force operating before, during and after the summit understood this; hence, the $1.2-billion security tab.

Given these realities, meetings such as the G20 ought either to go virtual (a severely limiting option) or be permanently located at purpose-build venues that can reasonably accommodate leaders and their accompanying delegations and hangers-on (which can number into the many hundreds per country). The United Nations comes to mind; in the world of graphic novels it might be a Fortress of Solitude. In any case, to spend more than a billion dollars on security for a one-off set of meetings is unsustainable and borders on immoral.

A few critiques of the news media, which on the whole provided fair and balanced coverage of events inside and outside the security perimeter.

First, the use of social media and new technologies as part of the news-gathering process added another dimension to reporting of events, especially on the streets of Toronto. Tools such as Twitter provided an immediacy in reporting that approached real time. Yes, some tweets and posts were inaccurate or misleading, but the work of journalism behind the scenes has always consisted of a process of sorting accuracy from fiction in the context of fast-moving events. With social media, it merely happens more publicly.

But there’s a downside too. Any reporter who has ever covered a rally or strike knows that the mere presence of a still or video camera can alter events. Where a picket line might be peaceful before the arrival of news media (or even after the arrival of a print journalist), it becomes noisy and agitated with the arrival of radio or television. The ubiquity of cameras in cellphones and webcams — in the hands of thrill-seekers, protesters, police and others — raises the stakes and exponentially distorts the event itself, as various actors in the unfolding drama seek their million hits on YouTube or an adrenaline rush they can take away as a virtual souvenir.

Second, the degree to which news media, mainstream and otherwise, provided any type of historical context for the mayhem that began to spill out onto the streets of Toronto was at first remarkably low. Not until Sunday did coverage more frequently begin to include mentions of multilateral meetings and their accompanying protests in places such as Seattle, Quebec City or Kananaskis (the latter as a setting where nature and geography did part of the work of security). Again, background and context seemed more afterthought than preparation.

Finally, there was a bit of a “homer” element to some reports, as national Toronto-based news organizations, with Toronto-centric news sensibilities, staffed by Toronto residents, wrung their hands in distress and worried aloud about the impression their coverage of violence in the streets of Toronto the Good was leaving on the rest of the world.

Can Sun TV provide a ‘third way’ in Canadian TV journalism?

As was widely expected, Quebecor Inc. CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau has announced plans to launch Sun TV News Channel across Canada beginning Jan. 1, 2011. Speculation that Quebecor would bid to become a national news broadcaster has soared in recent weeks with the appointment of Kory Teneycke, a former spokesperson for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, as vice-president development of Quebecor Media and seasoned multimedia journalist David Akin as Sun Media national bureau chief. Veteran Astral Media radio broadcaster Brian Lilley was named a senior correspondent.

The first few moments of the June 15 press conference, featuring Péladeau and Teneycke, follow below.

Media watchers have already dubbed the Quebecor venture “Fox News North,” given its declared intention to be decidedly colourful and provocative in its news coverage, along with a political orientation that will sit to the right of centre. As if to fire a shot across the bows of news channels operated by the CBC and CTV, Teneycke said he’s leave the “boring” and “condescending” approaches to news to his competitors.

Quebecor faces some difficult challenges in getting its proposed venture off the ground. The first is regulatory: The Category 1 licence required from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to compel cable operators across the country to carry the Sun TV signal on at least one of its tiers is by no means a lock. The second lies in the way of infrastructure: Although Quebecor runs newspapers and cable systems across the country through divisions such as Osprey and Sun Media, it has no video newsgathering apparatus with which to feed a beast as voracious for moving visuals as a specialty news channel. Finally, the experience of the National Post — at its inception, a national newspaper dedicated to serving readers with a conservative, right-of-centre orientation — has been less than a runaway success. Some media experts have speculated about the wisdom of building a TV news channel on the same down-market sensibilities on which much of Canadian talk radio depends.

And what of the Fox-News-North moniker? Here I find the Canadian media establishment just a little condescending. Yes, Quebecor publishes newspapers in which Sunshine Girls make daily appearances and in which reporters, columnists and editorial writers sometimes seem slavishly committed to the political right, no matter what the issues or the nuances within them. And yes, U.S.-based Fox News often seems to revel as much in its ability to provoke anger and controversy as in its ability to unearth and cover a great story with balance and integrity.

But let’s concede two things. First, another national news organization determined to aggressively compete with existing TV news franchises can be a very good thing, both for citizens and journalism. Second, let’s not pretend existing news channels don’t have their own political biases. The test of good journalism and public service should be on the quality of the stories they deliver: in their accurancy, balance and impact. Let’s not deny that the CBC sits slightly left of the political centre, and that CTVglobemedia tries to cover the great yawning middle ground, so long dominated in the political sphere by the federal Liberals. And that’s to say nothing of the Toronto Star, where the Atkinson principles and a left-of-centre sensibility still guide the newsroom — and produce some truly great journalism.

We should not allow political orientation to prejudge the issue of whether or not a new enterprise could make a significant contribution to Canadian journalism. Let the test be its performance.