It would be interesting to know how the Ontario election campaign would be shaping up had it occurred a year ago. Last May 7, the province was coming down off its third and then biggest wave of cases. ICU occupancy had recently peaked at 889 (it’s currently 207); dozens were dying every day; fewer than 400,000 Ontarians were fully vaccinated. You couldn’t eat at a restaurant, even on the patio. You couldn’t shop in person for non-essentials. You couldn’t go to church. A lot of people were very seriously pissed off.
It likely would have made the election something of a referendum on Doug Ford and his government’s pandemic management. And that might not have been very useful, since the problems Ontario faced during the pandemic were decades in the making and will need decades to fix: Voting out Ford and in one of Steven Del Duca (Liberal) or Andrea Horwath (NDP) won’t make a world of difference in that regard.
But a spring 2021 election might also have focused our attentions on the central questions the pandemic is still asking us: Will we commit to the sorts of massive improvements in health care and long-term care that helped some of our peer jurisdictions weather the COVID storm better than we did? And will we commit to maintaining those improvements even if no other pandemic comes along for 25 or 50 or 100 years? What exactly would that look like, and how would we pay for it?
As it stands, it’s remarkable how little attention those questions are getting. All the parties have necessary proposals to expand hospitals, fund more home care and recruit more nurses and personal support workers and pay them better. The New Democrats hit on a fine idea in “requir(ing) annual reporting to the legislature of public health emergency preparedness.” If we’re going to learn the right lessons and act accordingly in the long term, we need somehow to keep these issues on the front burner.
But inflationary issues, especially in the housing market, plus the population’s general desire to turn the page seem thus far to have pushed health care and long-term care onto the back burner. On Friday, for example, the lead articles on the Toronto Star’s Ontario politics webpage are about Toronto-region public transit, new-home construction, the minimum wage, road tolls and a wholly unexpected Liberal proposal to bring back optional Grade 13.
Ontario’s ultimate non-issue issue got taken out for a spin this week as well: Its ludicrous school-funding model, which sees public and Catholic schools enjoy taxpayer support, but not those of other faiths. And Del Duca added a classic Liberal twist to it.
Minor, rote controversy erupted recently when it emerged Grade 8 students at St. Patrick’s elementary in Woodstock, Ont. had been assigned anti-abortion posters as part of the religious curriculum. This sort of thing happens once or twice a year: This school is “caught” busing kids to the March for Life in Ottawa; that one awarding volunteer hours for pro-life activities. They are, after all, Catholic schools.
For years the Greens have been the only party at Queen’s Park willing to propose a solution, namely amalgamating the public and Catholic systems. That would require a Constitutional amendment, but not the sort that requires other provinces to weigh in: Both Quebec and Newfoundland deconfessionalized their school systems after requesting the change from Ottawa. (The Star reported this week that the Greens had backed off their position, but a Green Party spokesperson claims misunderstanding: “Our position remains that unifying the Catholic and public school boards should be part of Ontario’s long term vision to strengthen public education.”) The Liberal position in government has essentially been to negotiate with Ontario’s bishops to find some kludge of a solution whereby Catholic schools behave just a bit less Catholically — or say they will — and then hope the media move on to some other issue, which we always do.
It’s always been a bizarre stance, a dead-basic violation of the separation of church and state. But Del Duca, who is Catholic and has two daughters in Catholic school, took it a step further this week: He actually criticized Ford for not criticizing Catholic schools that behave too Catholically!
“I don’t think it’s disruptive for a premier in this province to use a podium like this … to make crystal clear statements to everyone, including Catholic school boards across this province, that certain behaviours are not acceptable,” Del Duca told reporters in Hamilton, referring to anti-abortion school activities. Only a Liberal could boast of ignoring a problem more righteously than his opponents. It must be a great life.
An outsider might ask how this bizarre school-funding situation could exist in a modern, secular nation and province that’s obsessed with rights and equality. To which I can only say we’re well on our way to ignoring overstretched health care and long-term care systems, despite having just lost nearly 13,000 of our fellow citizens, many in horrifying conditions. Or maybe we just don’t think our politicians are up to fixing the problem, so we might as well stop worrying and enjoy the spring. We might be on to something there.
The core issue at hand is preserving their agency and autonomy over the ideological content of their children’s education
In the coming days, Canada will see heightened activity in the nation’s ongoing gender identity politics debate. The “1 Million March 4 Children” protest against how gender identity is taught in schools, is set to occur on Wednesday, with synchronized events in more than 50 cities countrywide. Two days later, separate Toronto rally will spotlight two figures prominent in the gender-critical movement: Chris Elston, colloquially known as “Billboard Chris” for his distinctive method of protesting against childhood medical transition, and Josh Alexander, a Renfrew, Ontario student who was expelled earlier this year after objecting in class to his school’s transgender washroom policy.
Organizers of these events bill them as a defense of the safety and wellbeing of children, though the protesters’ opinions span a wide spectrum of positions. While some desire personal discretion in how matters of gender identity are handled for their own children, others urge broader constraint on transgender-related discussion and accommodations for the entire student body. The perspectives reflect the diverse community backing the movement.
As parents’ voices grow louder, there’s a perception in the progressive left that all of these emerging movements are rooted and inspired by “far-right” extremism. Many in leftist circles suggest that parental rights advocacy is a dog-whistle: a veiled attempt to advance anti-transgender policies. A recently leaked video from an Ontario Federation of Labour meeting offers a glimpse into how some of the province’s most influential union members perceive these protests. As one member notably stated during the meeting: “The fascists are organizing in the streets … . This is far more than a far-right transphobic protest. They’re fundamentally racist, they’re fundamentally anti-union, they are fundamentally transphobic, and it’s just a matter of time before they come for us.”
Such language of a growing fascist movement, evoking images of 1933 Berlin, is more than a little unhinged, particularly when all they are discussing is parents uniting together to demand involvement in their children’s education. As a covert spectator in the union meeting, there was an undeniable sentiment among participants that if not for them democracy would surely collapse.
It’s a grave mistake to deride the parental collective pushing back against the status-quo as fascist sympathizers motivated by transgender hate. A glance past such alarmist rhetoric reveals that — while a fringe group of hate has always existed — the concerns many parents are championing are much more moderate than a “far-right” moniker suggests.
For many parents, the core issue at hand is preserving their agency and autonomy over the ideological content of their children’s education. They want transparency about what is being taught, the option to excuse their child from content they believe doesn’t align with their values, and the discretion to determine age-appropriateness for activities, such as certain reading material or events like drag queen performances at schools. Perhaps least surprisingly, parents want to be involved in the key decisions of their own child undergoing a social transition in the classroom.
Many of these matters have been surfacing in school board meetings for several years, largely to be ignored by Trustees and Education Directors. The shared sentiment among these parents is the perception that the education system increasingly sidelines them, diminishing their role in their children’s upbringing. This sense of alienation is leading a growing number of parents to take a stand, even if it means confronting accusations of extremism.
The matter of social transition behind parents’ backs in particular is so condemning of their role in upbringing that it has thrust the entire gamut of gender identity matters into the national spotlight, revealing just how out of balance transgender accommodation has become. The manner in which the left has responded — by doubling down in their rhetoric and deriding parents as militant zealots, has played powerfully into the rapid growth of this grassroots movement.
Many parents, even amid those who will stand in protest, have little desire to limit other families’ decisions regarding gender teachings and expression for their children. They realize that their objective of ensuring their own parental autonomy is intertwined with safeguarding those same freedoms for other families as well.
Over time, the persistent branding of even modest parental rights positions as far-right extremism does injury. As the left cries foul each time they encounter a perspective they don’t like, they desensitize the meaning in such a label. By regularly branding modest parental concerns as extremist, progressives may very well be shoehorning the adoption and normalization of more hardline positions that do straddle the line of the parental rights of others. As grassroots gain traction, a vocal minority have now taken to calling for sweeping bans on gender affirming teaching and accommodation for all children and families alike within the public education system.
So where do we go from here? What might a balanced approach to parental rights look like within the nuanced landscape of gender identity politics? Fortunately, we need not start from scratch; history offers us a model for the coexistence of diverse ideologies within our educational institutions. Look no further than religion.
For years, Canada has upheld an educational system truly inclusive of students from all religious backgrounds. The classroom approach to religious topics is robust; it sidesteps direct religious instruction, and when religion intersects with the curriculum, it is presented academically rather than doctrinally. Instead of dictating what’s “true” in religious contexts, educators shed light on what various groups “believe,” cultivating an environment of both choice and critical thinking.
Amid religious diversity, we teach acceptance. Students are taught to make space for varied faith expression among their peers, whether through clothing or other customs, and with a strong desire to maintain neutral, religious symbols are not adorned by the institution. The lesson for students is to embrace and include, even where personal beliefs diverge; Meanwhile, the guiding principle for the institution is to avoid actions that display favouritism toward any specific religious doctrine.
Such a solution could address a significant portion of the concerns fuelling the rising parental unrest. Moderate parents would applaud such an education system, and this would still be inclusive of transgender students. But in order for this to be realized, the two factions moving ever further apart will first need to come to the table and talk. Given the recent rhetoric from progressive quarters, the prospect of this dialogue anytime soon appears distant.
A month after Global Affairs Canada told CBC News it was looking into claims that the Polish government asked one of its diplomats in Canada to gather information on a former Alberta cabinet minister, the dismissed consul general at the centre of the affair says he still hasn’t heard from the department on the matter.
Andrzej Mańkowski told CBC News the only official he has heard from is a B.C. bureaucrat who asked him to return his diplomatic licence plates and identification.
“[Officials with Global Affairs] haven’t tried talking to me,” he said.
Mańkowski showed CBC News a copy of a letter dated Aug. 31 he received from B.C.’s Chief of Protocol for Intergovernmental Relations Lucy Lobmeier asking him to turn in his identity card and to return his diplomatic plates “within 30 days of this letter.” She also thanked him for his service.
Mańkowski alleges he was dismissed from his post in late July after he refused to carry out orders from the Polish government to gather information about Thomas Lukaszuk, a former deputy premier of Alberta who often provides commentary to CBC News about the province’s politics.
“It’s clear that Polish diplomacy during Communist times, the main responsibility was to collect information, to gather information on some Polish representatives abroad,” Mańkowski said, adding he felt as if the request was a throwback to that time.
“The analogy’s extremely evident.”
Last month, Global Affairs Canada said it was taking the allegations seriously.
Spying allegations ‘out of this world’: ambassador
In August, Lukaszuk said he believed he had been targeted by Poland’s department of foreign affairs over his activism against a controversial Polish pastor, Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, who has private radio and television stations in Poland.
Rydzyk, who has ties to the Polish government, has been criticized for delivering sermons featuring homophobic and anti-Semitic views and for preaching against the European Union.
Lukaszuk also shared what he said were encrypted messages Polish government officials sent to Mańkowski asking him over the course of a year to prepare notes on the former Alberta politician.
CBC News has not independently verified these messages were official government communications. Mańkowski did not dispute their veracity in his interview.
“Asking for my opinion about Lukaszuk was just a kind of trap, was just a political test of my loyalty,” he said.
Poland’s Ambassador to Canada Witold Dzielski called the allegation “totally absurd.”
“The idea of Polish diplomacy spying on a former provincial politician … it’s really out of this world,” Dzielski said.
He said he has never met Lukaszuk and did not know of his previous career in politics before Lukaszuk emailed him about an unrelated consular matter long before the reports about Mańkowski came out.
Dzielski said that if the notes cited by Lukaszuk are real, they were leaked illegally because they would constitute private diplomatic communications.
The affair has captured attention in Polish media, where the story first broke.
In July, Polish opposition politicians cited the messages released by Lukaszuk when they asked Piotr Wawrzyk, a secretary of state in the government’s foreign affairs department, whether Mańkowski was dismissed because he refused to spy on Lukaszuk.
In reply, Wawrzyk said the government could recall a diplomat who refused to carry out an assignment.
“The minister, Wawrzyk, was laid off because of a totally different subject,” Dzielski said.
He pointed out that those documents were cited by opposition politicians in the context of a heated election campaign.
Dzielski� also said it’s normal for diplomats to be asked to gather information on notable members of diaspora communities.
‘A very marginal conversation’
“We are working very closely with them,” he said. “It is obvious and natural, and it is an element of diplomatic workshops, that we provide and we build ourselves opinions about the quality of cooperation with particular actors.”
He said Global Affairs has spoken to him about the allegations. “We had a very marginal conversation on this which reflects the level of seriousness of this topic,” he said.
A NATO member, Poland has worked closely with Canada to help out its neighbour Ukraine ever since Russia launched its full-scale invasion last year.
Asked for comment, Global Affairs said in a media statement it “continues to work closely with security and intelligence community partners to assess the situation and identify next steps as appropriate.”
The department said last month it had contacted Lukaszuk and that it took the responsibility of protecting Canadians from “transnational repression” very seriously.
The Current20:05Putting politics aside to tackle the housing crisis
Political leaders of all stripes must find a way to work together to solve the housing and climate crises impacting Canadians, says former Conservative MP Lisa Raitt.
“Toronto is the best example. NDP mayor, provincial premier who’s Conservative, federal Liberal who’s the prime minister,” said Raitt, co-lead of the new non-governmental Task Force for Housing and Climate, which launched Tuesday.
“And if they don’t figure this out, one voter is going to punish them all.”
The new task force is concerned with accelerating the construction of new homes, while ensuring that’s done in a sustainable way. In a press release, the group of former city mayors, planners, developers, economists and affordable housing advocates said it intends to convene until April 2024 to develop policy recommendations. The work is supported by the Clean Economy Fund, a charitable foundation.
Raitt held several senior cabinet posts under former prime minister Stephen Harper. But as co-lead of the task force, Raitt said she won’t engage in the political partisanship that she thinks “poisons the well” around these issues.
“Part of the reason why we’re coming together as the task force is to have a real pragmatic and practical conversation about these issues instead of weaponizing it into a political arena, and finger pointing back and forth,” she told The Current’s Matt Galloway.
Justin Trudeau announced funding to build more housing in London, Ont., as he and Liberal MPs kicked off their caucus retreat. The agreement comes as the government faces growing pressure to help make housing more affordable.
Speaking in London on Wednesday, Housing Minister Sean Fraser called on municipalities to “legalize housing,” urging them to remove “sluggish permit-approval processes” and zoning obstacles if they expect federal investment in housing construction.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre took aim at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s housing plans Thursday, saying the Liberal government’s ‘inflationary deficits’ and ‘taxes and bureaucracy’ are holding back construction of new homes.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre criticized the government’s plans as not going far enough, while pointing out it echoes some of his party’s proposals. He’s proposed measures that tie federal funding to the number of housing starts. Funding would be withheld from cities that fail to increase the number of homes built by 15 per cent, while cities that pass that threshold would receive bonuses.
Poilievre’s proposals also include a “NIMBY” fine on municipalities that block construction because of opposition from local residents, and the sale of 15 per cent of federally owned buildings so the land can be used to build affordable homes.
Don Iveson, former mayor of Edmonton and co-lead of the task force, said he understands why partisan politics can creep into the debate — but Canadians expect more.
He said the task force intends “to help all orders of government” understand what’s needed to tackle these problems from an economic, technical and planning perspective.
“We’re not going to be able to solve the housing crisis [by] building housing the way we built it for the last several generations,” said said Iveson, who was mayor of Edmonton from 2013 to 2021.
Your kids need a place to live: Raitt
Iveson said the challenge of scaling up housing construction will require some new ways of thinking.
That might mean a greater emphasis on automation and building houses from components prefabricated off-site, which he described as “essentially a more factory approach” that could also reduce construction costs.
Raitt said the task force will examine where houses are built, and in what kind of density, to ensure scaling up can “get the most bang for the buck.”
That might mean Canadians might need to have difficult conversations, including whether to build multi-storey buildings instead of single-family homes.
Raitt said older Canadians who already own their own homes might not like the idea of taller buildings going up around them, but they should speak to their kids about it.
CBC’s Sohrab Sandhu reports on an unorthodox strategy where some people are deciding to buy homes with strangers.
“They don’t care if it’s going to be four, six storeys in a residential neighbourhood. They just want a place that they know that they can purchase,” she said.
“Talk about whether or not our kids are going to have a place to live, let alone rent, let alone own, let alone a house in the communities where they were brought up, because right now it’s not looking so good.”
Counting the cost of climate change
When it comes to climate change and sustainability, the task force’s goals come down to a “very simple equation,” Raitt said.
“Whatever we’re building now is going to be here in 2050. So if it’s going to be part of the calculation of our net-zero aspirations, whatever they’re going to be,” she said.
She said the task force will work to formulate ways to build housing that take emissions into account, but don’t include prohibitive costs that slow down the rate of construction.
“It’s going to be a little bit more costly to build with climate indications built in … but you’ve got to make sure that there’s policies surrounding that to make sure it still makes it affordable,” she said.
Officials say the fire, which is burning out of control as of Monday morning, is expected to grow.
Iveson said wildfires, floods, heat domes and extreme weather events are already disrupting the economy, as well as posing huge financial burdens for the Canadians caught up in them.
“Climate change is already costing us a fortune,” he told Galloway.
Building without those climate considerations “maybe seems affordable in the short term, but it’s false economy when it comes to the real costs ahead of us,” he said.