From autism to public health, a year of backtracks in Ontario politics - National Post - Canada News Media
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From autism to public health, a year of backtracks in Ontario politics – National Post

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TORONTO — Doug Ford’s government has backtracked on about a dozen policies and promises this year — an unprecedented amount symptomatic of an on-the-fly style of governing that marked his early days in power, critics and observers say.

From a wildly unpopular Ontario autism program to cuts to municipal public health and childcare funding to a promise to upload Toronto’s subway, the year has seen many significant plans yanked back, often after outcry reached a fever pitch.

“I think the bottom line is their cut-first-and-think-later approach to governing simply isn’t working,” said Green party Leader Mike Schreiner. “They’re essentially admitting it’s not working either, given how many things they’ve backtracked on.”

Early this year, the backtracks began when the government scrapped an element of a then-proposed law that could have opened up the province’s protected Greenbelt to development. The Tories had faced criticism over it, but nowhere near the level that was still to come over a new autism program announced the following month.

Then-social services minister Lisa MacLeod announced that the government would clear 23,000 children from the waiting list by giving everyone up to either $20,000 or $5,000, depending on age and family income — far short of the amounts needed for intensive therapy. Condemnation was swift and furious, with parents staging sustained protests over a program they said would ensure children couldn’t access the amount of treatment they need.

After initially standing firm, by the next month the plan had essentially been scrapped, and in June so was the minister, demoted in a cabinet shuffle.

That shuffle, which saw many top ministers moved around and many new faces promoted into cabinet, marked a reset of sorts, said Jamie Ellerton, principal at Conaptus public relations and a former Tory staffer.

“I think if you look at the combative defiance that defined the early tenure of this government it was clear it wasn’t resonating with the province,” he said. “There was a lot of on-the-fly, learn-as-you’re-going processes in this government and I think they kind of changed out of necessity.”

The day after the cabinet shuffle also saw the departure of the premier’s controversial chief of staff, Dean French. The new chief of staff, Jamie Wallace, has been credited for ushering in a more constructive and professional environment.

“They just kind of came out guns blazing in those early days,” Ellerton said. “They didn’t do the homework to kind of line up and listen to where people were at. One of the things they’ve gotten a lot better at doing in recent months is listening.”

That sentiment is echoed by the premier’s office.

“After moving at an unprecedented pace in our first year, we have demonstrated that we are a government that listens,” spokeswoman Ivana Yelich said in a statement.

The government also initially stood firm on municipal funding cuts to public health and child care, but after weeks of backlash from mayors including through news conferences, petitions, and a public campaign, the province reversed course — partially.

It cancelled the in-year, retroactive cuts that were the focal point of mayors’ anger, and later announced that most of the rest would go ahead, just on a longer timeline.

Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser said that was one example in which the Tories “softened the edges.”

“Some of the reversals, I describe it as they’ve taken three steps backward and one step forward,” he said.

Cuts to legal aid funding caused a huge uproar eariler this year, and recently the new attorney general announced that while this year’s $133 million — or 30 per cent — cut would go ahead, further cuts of $31 million planned for the next two years would be cancelled.

Teachers were upset by the government announcing plans to increase high school class sizes from an average of 22 to 28 and require students to take four e-learning courses to graduate. The new education minister has since partially walked that back to a class size increase to 25 and two e-learning courses.

“They’ve taken things from bad to much, much worse and now they’re walking it back a tiny bit, but it’s still gone from bad to worse,” said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.

Genevieve Tellier, a political science professor at the University of Ottawa, said next year may see more reversals.

“My guess is that people will still fight because those who have been opposing the government kind of won,” she said. “So others will try the same tactic, I believe, because there are potential gains to be made…Will the government do it again? That’s where I’m not too sure.”

Other notable backtracks include deciding not to upload Toronto’s subway system, as promised during the election, un-cancelling plans for a French-language university, and swiftly revoking two lucrative foreign appointments after reports emerged they had personal ties to Ford’s then-chief of staff, Dean French.

In a more unusual scenario for this government, a backtrack just this month caused outrage, rather than the other way around.

Municipal politicians and transit advocates in Hamilton were incensed after learning the government was backing away from a promise to support a light-rail transit line there, citing rising cost estimates. The critics showed up to a scheduled press conference by Caroline Mulroney, which was soon cancelled, with staff blaming security concerns.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 27, 2019.

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Jean Charest, Jean Chrétien and other political throwbacks in the news – Maclean's

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Welcome to a sneak peek of the Maclean’s Politics Insider newsletter. Sign-up at the bottom of the page to get it delivered straight to your inbox.

How did VW avoid criminal charges in Canada over its emissions cheating? Stephen Maher writes in Maclean’s that Volkswagen, which will plead guilty to illegally importing cars that were rigged to beat emissions tests, was never charged criminally, unlike in the U.S.—and there’s no evidence, he writes, that the Mounties even investigated the company.

Maher also raises questions about a meeting between a Volkswagen lobbyist and the prime minister’s office. He received varying descriptions of the meeting from Volkswagen, the PMO, and the former PMO official in the room, Mathieu Bouchard. Whatever happened behind closed doors, the automaker will likely pay the biggest environmental fine in Canadian history. But don’t celebrate just yet, writes Maher.

Before anyone pops any bubbly, there are a series of unpleasant questions that should be answered, ideally by officials testifying in parliamentary hearings, because otherwise we will likely never learn why Canadians are so much worse than the Americans at investigating and prosecuting this kind of terrible crime.

Indigenous people are now over-represented in Canada’s prison system at historically high levels. Dr. Ivan Zinger, the correctional investigator of Canada, announced the alarming stats yesterday. When Zinger’s term started four years ago, Indigenous people represented 25 per cent of inmates. That number has since jumped to 30 per cent—and could rise to 33 per cent in three years. Indigenous people make up five per cent of Canada’s population. Zinger called the trend a “national travesty.” [APTN News]

“Checkmate,” says Stephen Harper, presumably. Former Quebec premier Jean Charest told Radio-Canada he will not pursue the federal Tory leadership. Last week, Maclean’s reported Harper stepped down from the party’s fundraising arm so he’d be freed up to quash a potential Charest bid. Well, that was fast. (Charest’s statement said he wasn’t running because the contest rules don’t favour “external” candidates and the party has “undergone deep changes,” including on social issues, since he was a Progressive Conservative.)

Every so often, a prominent political player, reliably from decades past, will pipe up about how Canada should be dealing with China. More than a year ago, Paul Wells wrote presciently about that particular brand of advocacy. Eddie Goldenberg, once the right-hand man to former prime minister Jean Chrétien, made the rounds last week to urge a “prisoner exchange.” Canada would trade Meng Wanzhou for Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig. At the end of his three-day cabinet retreat, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau firmly rejected the idea. On this, Wells sides with the PM.

I find myself wondering why logic that is so obvious to the Chrétien wing of the party is so unpersuasive to Justin Trudeau’s government. (I’m often nostalgic for Chrétien’s government these days, but on this case I disagree wholly with the Chrétien claque and hope Trudeau’s stubbornness endures.)

Best for last? Trudeau told reporters that ratifying the “new NAFTA” is a parliamentary priority for Liberals. The U.S. and Mexico have already signed on the dotted line, and the PM says Canada will follow suit in short order. Kudos to Trudeau for ditching the nomenclatural tussling over CUSMA/USMCA/ACEUM and reverting to terms everyone understands. There once was an old NAFTA. Now there’s a new one.

Trudeau also addressed another matter of grave importance that’s gripped the nation for weeks. Alas, he had no update on just who would end up paying for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s security costs when they live in Canada. British tabloids, which certainly think they know better, say the PM has already agreed to foot the bill. They say he “privately assured the Queen.” He says he hasn’t talked to her. The drama endures.

Only a day after the Public Health Agency of Canada’s reassurance that coronavirus would likely not appear in Canada, the United States confirmed its first case. And that patient is in the border state of Washington, no less. [New York Times]

Partying with plutocrats: Finance Minister Bill Morneau is in Davos, where the annual World Economic Forum confab is coalescing around a “manifesto” brimming with corporate bafflegab about social responsibility. Morneau joins a panel tomorrow on “shaping the global growth agenda.” The minister’s opposition back home will surely listen to his response to the panel’s central question: “What level of debt, inflation and interest rates are healthy for economies to grow?”

Lucky number 13: The Canada Border Services Agency says just 13 out of every 100,000 travellers into Canada have their digital devices examined by border agents. CBSA says 27,405 people had their phones, tablets or laptops looked at between Nov. 20, 2017 and Dec. 31, 2019—and 40 per cent of examinations led to customs-related offences. Of course, that means 16,443 examinations were fruitless. The agency admits Canada’s privacy commissioner found two breaches of privacy. (Earlier this month, the commissioner had a variety of complaints about the CBSA’s conduct.)

Also, #doughnutgate happened yesterday. If you missed it, consider yourself lucky. But if you want unrelated doughnut journalism, we have doughnut journalism.

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Manera: To tackle climate change, take the politics out of it – Ottawa Citizen

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It’s time we accept, and politicians admit, that fighting climate change is not going to be painless.


A wind turbine is seen at the Pickering Nuclear Power Generating Station near Toronto.


CARLOS OSORIO / REUTERS

It’s time we accept, and politicians admit, that fighting climate change is not going to be painless. There will be costs to individuals, businesses and governments. While Canada’s contribution to overall planetary climate change is very small, we have a responsibility to address it by doing not just our share, but more than our share. That’s because, by world standards, we’re a rich country.

Unfortunately, too much of the debate about tackling climate change has focused on how high a carbon tax has to be to achieve a specific reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. This is the wrong way to tackle the issue. Its premise is that human behaviour can be predicted by economic models. But economics is not an exact science, and human behaviour is fiendishly complicated. That’s why it’s impossible to predict the stock market, interest rates, GDP, inflation and a host of other economic measures. There are just too many variables at play. We don’t know how to quantify them all and we don’t fully understand the complex relationships among them.

So the notion that a reliable relationship can be established between a specific level of carbon tax and a consequent greenhouse gas emission reduction is questionable at best. Rebating the tax seems counterproductive. It undermines the premise that it’s intended to discourage fossil fuel consumption when the optics imply that, for most people, the tax is revenue-neutral or something close to it. This doesn’t make a carbon tax a bad idea; it only means that we need to think very carefully about how it’s levied and to what use the revenue it generates is put.

Too much of the debate about tackling climate change has focused on how high a carbon tax has to be to achieve a specific reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

We know that a big part of the climate change problem is emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. Hence, it appears logical that we should reduce those emissions as much as possible. Carbon sequestration and more efficient combustion can play a role. Alternative, clean and renewable energy sources can play a larger role. Canada is blessed with far more hydro, wind and solar energy than we can possibly use.

No scientific breakthrough is needed to harness hydro, and it makes sense to maximize its use wherever possible. Nuclear produces no greenhouse gas emissions, but is costly and suffers from the problem of what to do with its radioactive waste. Wind and solar offer the best prospects for the rest, but their intermittent nature poses challenges. What we really need are better ways to store such energy until it is required.

Energy extracted from the sun and wind can be stored in batteries, pumped hydro and hydrogen. We should look for ways to improve the efficiency and lower the cost of these storage techniques. We must also build the required infrastructure, such as smart grids and refuelling stations. This calls for a massive engineering undertaking. Revenue from a carbon tax to complement private capital dedicated to these types of projects would make a logical investment by government.

One approach would be to establish a panel largely made up of engineers, technologists, physicists, chemists, agricultural and forestry experts. Such a panel would oversee the allocation of revenue from a carbon tax to projects most likely to help us achieve our emission reduction targets. Its work and conclusions should take place in a transparent fashion. In other words, take the politics out of it.

Tony Manera is a retired professional engineer.

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Blood and politics in India – MIT News

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Mahatma Gandhi, an icon of nonviolent resistance who helped lead India to independence by force of will and strength of mind, rather than physical power, might not seem like a person preoccupied with corporeal matters.

In fact, Gandhi endlessly monitored his own blood pressure and had a “preoccupation with blood,” as MIT scholar Dwai Banerjee and co-author Jacob Copeman write in “Hematologies,” a new book about blood and politics in India.

Gandhi believed the quality of his own blood indicated his body’s “capacity for self-purification,” the authors write, and he hoped that other dissidents would also possess “blood that could withstand the corruption and poison of colonial violence.” Ultimately, they add, Gandhi’s “single-minded focus on the substance was remarkable in its omission of other available foci of symbolization.”

If India’s most famous ascetic and pacifist was actually busy thinking about politics in terms of blood, then almost anyone could have been doing the same. And many people have. Now Banerjee, an assistant professor in MIT’s Program in Science, Technology, and Society, and Copeman, a senior lecturer in social anthropology at the University of Edinburgh, look broadly at the links between blood and politics in “Hematologies,” recently published by Cornell University Press.

The book encompasses topics as diverse as the rhetoric of blood in political discourse, the politics of blood drives, the uses of blood in protests, and the imagery used by leaders, including Gandhi. Ultimately, the scholars use the topic to explore the many — and seemingly unavoidable — divisions in Indian politics and society.

For progressives wanting a pluralistic society, the rhetoric of blood has often been used to claim that people are essentially alike, no matter their religious or social differences. The notion is that “if you bleed and I bleed, we bleed the same color,” Banerjee says. “In the first few decades after India’s independence [in 1948], there was this idea that blood would unite all different kinds of Indians, and all these years of caste discrimination and colonial rule that had divided us and pitted us against each other would now be fixed.”

But the idea that different groups in society are divided by blood is also a powerful one, as Banerjee and Copeman note, and as India has moved away from pluralism in recent years, a very different rhetoric of blood has regained popularity. In this vision, different ethnic or religious groups are separated by their blood — and bloodshed may be the price for disrupting this supposed order.

“What’s become clear in the last five years is that this other valence of blood, that it divides us [and has] more violent connotations, is becoming much more inescapable now,” Banerjee says.

That is not what many expected in an age of technocratic and globally integrated economics, but it is a reminder of the power of narrow forms of nationalism. 

“The whole idea of modern politics is supposed to be this transcending of blood [and] ethnic religious nationalisms, and that modern contractual politics is based on less biologically based forms of cohabitation,” Banerjee says. “That never seems to work out.”

Focused on Northern India, where Banerjee and Copeman did their fieldwork over several years, “Hematologies” explores these issues in everyday life and with fine-grained detail. As they examine in the book, for instance, political protesters sometimes use their own blood as a medium of expression, to signal both their own commitment and the serious of the issues at hand.

The authors look closely at an advocacy group for survivors of (and residents near) the site of 1984’s Bhopal chemical plant disaster, which wrote a letter in blood — collected from young adults — to the prime minister, asking for a meeting. Somewhat similarly, Indian women have gained attention using blood in the imagery they have created to accompany campaigns against sexual violence and gender discrimination. In so doing, “they deploy the substance as a medium of truth and a mechanism of exposure,” Banerjee and Copeman write.

Even blood drives and blood donations have intricate political implications that the authors explore. While supposed to be separated from politics, some blood drives are de facto rallying points in campaigns and expressions of political solidarity. Blood drives also serve to highlight a tension between science and politics; some medical experts might prefer a more steady flow of donated blood, while a politically prompted donor drive can produce an unnecessary surge of blood.

“Educational campaigns talk very strategically about this,” Banerjee says.

While writing the book together, Banerjee and Copeman initially had slightly different research areas of interest, but before long both discovered they were fully engaged with a whole range of connections between blood and politics.

“To me, it seemed we found this synergy in the way we worked and thought, and I can’t think of a moment where we ever significantly doubted the process we were going through,” says Banerjee. “Constantly bouncing ideas off another person keeps it interesting.”

“Hematologies” has drawn praise from other scholars in the field. Emily Martin, an anthropologist at New York University, has called it “an extraordinary exploration of the multitudes of meanings and uses of blood in northern India.” 

Banerjee notes that India is hardly unique in the way the rhetoric of blood spills into politics. “There is a global similarity in which blood is always a political substance,” he notes, while adding that India’s own unique history gives the subject “its own flavor” in the country.

Ultimately the story of blood being traced in “Hematologies” represents a distinctive way of examining divisions, conflicts, and tensions — the very stuff of contested politics and power.

“Again and again we see that blood always gets caught up with division and divisive politics,” Banerjee says. “It never escapes politics in the way that reformist and secular imaginations hope it will.”


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