Archive for the ‘Civil Society’ Category


YRT Strike Enters Week Number Ludicrous

I have a confession to make:

I knew nothing about the YRT system. My kids use it to get to school every day and I confess, it never occurred to me that there was something wrong with that system.

Until five weeks ago when the drivers went on strike.

Now I’ve come to realize that, like so many of the systems we trust to keep our society running, once you lift up the corner and peek underneath – there’s something rotten going on.

Even when the strike started my first feeling was, ‘Okay, it’s another strike, they’ll sort it out and everything will be fine.’

And then a week went by, and another week, and another. And then I started to wonder what was really going on. And I started to hear the stories behind the story.

And then I saw this video, a deposition by Lori Rose recorded at Monday’s Newmarket Town Council meeting, and it became much clearer to me what was really happening.

We’ve allowed a system to be created that is funded by public money, where no level of government can be held responsible because the labour has been outsourced and where those most in need of protection are left with none.

It now appears that transit riders dutifully pay their transit fares and that the transit workers earn significantly lower wages than other systems. It leads me to wonder, ‘So, where is the money going?’ Sure, some of the money is for maintenance and for keeping the system running. And some of it is profit. And that’s totally okay. Let’s be clear. I like profit. Private enterprise deserves profit. But how much? And at what cost to social justice. There is a difference between profit and profiteering. And when the workers are forced to bear the burden of the employers greed, something has gone wrong.

Those who use transit most – the students and youth, senior and working families – have been left without their main transportation source. Transit workers have sacrificed their income to fight for their rights, and most of the Region has gone on as if nothing had happened. Something is deeply wrong.

The transit workers are on strike, not because they want outlandish wages, but because they want to START approaching pay parity with other transit workers in the GTA. York Region is one of the wealthiest areas in Canada with a very high standard of living and yet we have some of the lowest paid transit workers in the GTA. Workers with no paid sick days, no pension plan and full-time wages that keep them close to the poverty level in this area. Something is wrong, don’t you think?

The workers are asking for binding, neutral arbitration. I urge the Region and YRT to pressure the bus companies to get back to the table and re-start negotiations.

And I urge you to contact your Regional Councillor and ask for the same.

Posted by Vanessa on December 1st, 2011

Filed under Civil Society, Labour, Newmarket-Aurora, Poverty | Comments Off

Cap & Trade and Ontario

I was privileged to hear Bob Willard speak today on economic issues and engaging businesses with sustainability strategies at the Green Connections Sustainability Conference at Earth Rangers at the Kortright Centre.

Among his many excellent topics, Bob mentioned that we all need to understand Cap & Trade. Why? Because Ontario is part of the Western Climate Initiative and their main goal is a C&T system. Here’s a great primer from Annie Leonard, the creator of the Story of Stuff, on Cap and Trade.

Is C&T the solution to climate change that we’ve been waiting for? Not if the gamesmanship that currently happens is allowed to continue.

As informed citizens, it is our job to learn these issues, and then ask our elected representatives what they are doing to ensure that they system works to reduce our impact, not worsen it.

Posted by Vanessa on October 18th, 2010

Filed under Civil Society, climate change | 1 Comment »

Becoming a Hyperlocavore

I am so impressed by Liz McLellan’s efforts to build a community of yard-sharers and her website Hyperlocavore. The general idea is that if a locavore focuses on food grown within 100 miles than a hyperlocavore focuses on food grown with 100 yards. I just had to make sure I preserved this link where I could find it.

It is a great initiative and I totally think we should get something like this going in Newmarket and Aurora. Maybe through the York Region Food Network (YRFN) who already takes care of the food bank and community gardens. Or we could, y’know, just do it up grassroots-style.

I’ll be having my groundbreaking garden-planting party sometime in May. Join my Facebook page if you’d like an invite. Until then, stay warm and dream of fresh, local produce with these yummy titles:
The Edible Garden
Food Inc.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
Gaia’s Garden: A Guide To Home-Scale Permaculture
Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly
The Locavore Way: Discover and Enjoy the Pleasures of Locally Grown Food

Posted by Vanessa on March 23rd, 2010

Filed under books, Canada, Civil Society, environment, Green, Newmarket-Aurora | 1 Comment »

If democracy doesn’t function, it isn’t the fault of politicians

[Letter number 2 in what will most likely be a series of Letters to the Editor of the Era-Banner that I am not allowed to send because I am a declared candidate for an election that will happen sometime in the future. I wish I had realized that when I declared for the Green Party I would lose my voice at the Era-Banner but such is life. Now I get to make my letters longer. Ha!]

Dear Editor,

Re: Voter turnout low because politicians lie, letter from Mr. L. Rothwell, Feb 11 / Re: If you care about democracy, vote, editorial, Jan 28

With all due respect to Mr. Rothwell I must challenge his hypothesis that when “80 per cent of voters… stay at home. Then, maybe, politicians will get the message.”

While there are a few directions my disagreement could take – including my belief that when 80% of voters stay home we will live in a true oligarchy where only the select few have any say in government and tyranny will reign and Canada will weep. Though, this scenario is fairly close to the mark with respect to municipal elections. Anyways.

That was not the point.

What I really wanted to dispute was Mr. Rothwell’s obvious anger towards ‘politicians’ and his categorization of them as “people who lack integrity and ethics.”

Of course, as a recently declared political candidate I take it a little personally that because of my political choice I suddenly have no integrity nor ethics. I actually consider myself to be a person possessing both integrity and a high ethical standard.

But that is still not the point, though closer to it. The point is – there are no politicians. There are merely people, just like Mr. Rothwell and myself, that have chosen to join in the political process.

Politicians are not usually born. They are made. They are people who have decided to pursue a public life – hopefully in the service of their country and the best interests of the electorate.

Do these people sometimes lose focus and become swayed by the pretty, shiny danglings of lobby groups? Yes.

Do they sometimes pursue power to the exclusion of everything else. Yes.

Do these people sometimes let us down? Yes. Often.

Do we have a democratic crisis in Canada? Yes. I believe we do.

But my point is that sitting at home and whinging about it is not the best use of one’s time.

Stand up. Get engaged. Make your voice count.

And if you can’t find a single political candidate that you can trust – then take the leap and become a candidate. For municipal, provincial, or federal politics quality candidates are desperately needed.

Of course, it would be super-spiffy if you would support me and my bid to be the first Green MP for Newmarket-Aurora, but if you can’t, then get your butt out there and run against me.

I also have an issue with your contention that “the population is a lot more educated these days.” Hardly. When the anti-proroguing rally was being organized most people did not even know that our democracy had been suspended. They didn’t understand what it meant. And they didn’t know why they should care. Some were happy to get the ‘liars’ out of Ottawa for a while. People know far more about what Britney Spears is up to than what our PM is doing showboating in Vancouver.

But that isn’t the politicians fault. If there are issues with our democracy it is because we expect ‘someone else’ to take care of it for us.

We are the change we wish to see. We are the smallest unit of a democratic society. And it is up to us to keep it safe and keep it strong. If we don’t have anyone to vote for then it is up to us to find them – or to become them. That is what I did. And it is what I encourage everyone else to do.

That is why I am so proud of local organizers like Liz, Neale, Nick, Carter and everyone else who helped make the January 23rd rally such a success – and who are now organizing a public meeting in Aurora on February 25.

Holding the Line on Democracy will take a frank look at what is happening in our society and, hopefully, send people away feeling more educated, more empowered, and more motivated to take action to keep our democracy strong.

Mr. Rothwell, I am personally inviting you to join us. It’s kind of fun to be around other people who care as passionately as you obviously do.

Posted by Vanessa on February 14th, 2010

Filed under Canada, Civil Society, Democracy, Newmarket-Aurora, politics | 2 Comments »

Our Charter rights under threat?

Just in case you don’t read this blog yourselves, I thought I’d share. is run by Osgoode Hall students to keep track of what is happening with the Supreme Court of Canada – it’s funky cool (well, for a law junkie).

This post is about section 24(2) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which is the one that protects us from illegal search and seizure – the procurement of evidence in court by means that violate our rights. The author, D. Silva, contends that a couple of recent rulings by the Ontario Court of Appeals totally negate 24(2) in cases where a gun was found.

I realize that there is a gun problem, and yes, it would be nice if something could be done about it. However, I’m not sure I’m ready to sacrifice my Charter rights in order to be ‘safer’. Actually, I’m pretty positive about that.

Of course, I feel pretty much the same way about a lot of the ‘security measures’ put in place to combat terrorism. For me, it boils down to the question of security – and what that means. It seems that we are trying to create a society where everyone is always safe all the time. The image I get in my head is of a society of people in bubbles – totally protected but totally isolated and looking pretty stupid with no real freedom.

Here is my own personal version of security:

There is no way that the state is ever going to be able to protect me from every nutjob out there who wants to hurt me. If someone wants to kill people, they will find a way. Harm done to a person that way is a violation of their rights, no question, and needs to be dealt with by the justice system – but we will never have a totally safe society. You can’t produce a society with no risk if people are to have any freedoms.

BUT when the risk to my personal rights and liberty is posed by the state itself and has been made a part of the system – now that’s scary.

The willingness of citizens to give up their rights and freedoms because they are scared is the biggest threat to my sense of security.

Section 24


  1. Anyone whose rights or freedoms, as guaranteed by this Charter, have been infringed or denied may apply to a court of competent jurisdiction to obtain such remedy as the court considers appropriate and just in the circumstances.
  2. Where, in proceedings under subsection (1), a court concludes that evidence was obtained in a manner that infringed or denied any rights or freedoms guaranteed by this Charter, the evidence shall be excluded if it is established that, having regard to all the circumstances, the admission of it in the proceedings would bring the administration of justice into disrepute.

Posted by Vanessa on February 29th, 2008

Filed under Canada, Civil Society, Higher Self, human rights, integrity, justice, law, Ontario | 1 Comment »

Cuba: really an island prison?

Here is my response to Theo Caldwell’s column on Cuba and Canada’s relationship and tourism to said country.

“Dear Theo, I look forward to reading your next article on the Chinese dictatorship and an equally strong exhortation to the Canadian public and government to not only sever trade relations but to also boycott the 2008 Beijing Olympics, an act of appeasement that gives me the shivers.

Or, if not, here is my actual comment. I am disappointed, but sadly not surprised by Theo’s article.

It is the venom with which Castro’s regime is discussed by many ideologues (neoliberal, neocon) that I do not trust. If that level of vitriol were equally directed at other dictatorships I would find it easier to accept – it’s the adjectives that get to me.

Generally, dictators who have allowed liberal market policies and have repressed ideologies that the ruling classes find offensive have been tolerated if not embraced. On the other hand, Castro has always been vilified and targeted. What I am trying to say is that ill treatment of one’s populace has rarely been a criteria for trade policies and Canada has cozied up to regimes that are far worse than Castro’s.

I’d just like to see the same standards applied across the board – not just to countries who are so resource poor that all they have to offer is a warm beach.

Having said that, I agree with you. Cuba is not at the top of my list for warm holidays. As a matter of fact, the whole “sunny holiday to desperately poor nations” obsession of Canadians leaves me cold.”

I’m still reeling from the idea that I joined the forums at The Post, but one does what one must to join the conversation.

Posted by Vanessa on February 23rd, 2008

Filed under Canada, China, Civil Society, Cuba, foreign aid, Higher Self, integrity, IR, Olympics, Theo Caldwell, travel | Comments Off

One final, historical example of exclusion

Again from Hopgood’s article, a few quotes on the project to assimilate ‘the Indian’ in the U.S. back in the 1800s and early 1900s.

The native peoples of America were considered to be like children by the governments in the U.S. during this time period. They were deemed incapable of taking care of their own land and behaving in a civilized manner, therefore, their lands were held in trust until they showed their capacity. Those who could pass the competency test were given “fee-simple titles to the land and thus citizenship during elaborate and heavily symbolic ceremonies conducted by the Indian Office:”

“The crowd would look on while their ‘competent’ brethren were summoned individually from inside the lodge. The candidates for land titles were dressed in traditional costume and armed with a bow and arrow. After ordering a candidate to shoot his arrow into the distance, the presiding officer… would announce ‘You have shot your last arrow’. The arrowless archer would then return to the tipi and reemerge a few minutes later in ‘civilized’ dress. ‘Take the handle of this plow’, the government’s man would say, ‘this act means that you have chosen to live the life of the white man – and the white man lives by work’ ” (from Frederick E. Hoxie, A Final Promise: The Campaign to Assimilate the Indians, 1880-1920. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989: 180).

This process of “cultural suicide” was continued through institutional schooling which in the words of Captain Richard Henry Pratt aimed to “Kill the Indian in him and save the man” (David Wallace Adams, Education for Extinction: American Indians and the Boarding School Experience, 1875-1928. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1995: 212, 52).

“Education serves to both clean the slate and replace it with a new lesson” (Hopgood, 18). The trick is that back in the 1800s, the elites were open and proud of this mission – to replace the savage with the civilized, to create an individual who would be worthy of citizenship and participation in civil society. Today, this intention has had to remain part of the subtle background, elite members of a society can no longer openly proclaim their project to erase the savage and preserve the man but, instead, attempt this aim through the promotion of supposedly universal human rights.


Posted by Vanessa on January 15th, 2008

Filed under children, Civil Society, education, indigenous, integrity, justice, law, politics | Comments Off

A Practical Example of Exclusion

I realize that yesterday’s post may have been a wee bit confusing so I thought I’d provide an example – but first a tiny bit more explanation. Civil society, in the sense that I am using it, is a space in which members of a society can engage in free and constructive debate to determine what type of society they want to live in. Citizens (however that is defined) or more generally, members of the society ideally would all have equal access to this space. To me it seems obvious that anyone who is excluded from this discussion suffers a loss of standing in their level of citizenship – a hierarchy is created between those whose opinion is valuable and acceptable and those whose ideas are not.

On with the example. Back in 2006, there was a controversy about a book that had been well-researched and well-written and that dealt with an important topic. The book I am talking about is Three Wishes: Palestinian and Israeli Children Speak by Deborah Ellis. This book has been restricted in many school districts, including Toronto, because of a campaign by the Canadian Jewish Congress after the book made the Silver Birch award finalist list. This article by Mary-Lou Zeitoun provides a quick introduction to the situation from one side, here is an article from the Toronto Star posted by the CJC. The issue was whether this book was appropriate for children, and whether it should be made available through schools.

Another book which has been restricted, or banned outright, from various school boards is The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman as well as the other two books in his Dark Materials trilogy after a campaign by the American Catholic League and the release of the major motion picture in 2007 (although the books have been available since 1995). In this article from the CTV, the reason for the removal is explained – Pullman is an admitted atheist and his values do not fit with those of the Catholic School Board. The best part is that in Halton, the review board okayed to book for Grade 7 and up but the trustees voted to ban it entirely. After all, students can always go the “public” library to get the book. Interesting, where exactly does the Catholic School Board of Halton get its funding?

Okay, the point of this is not that books get banned, after all, we’ve been allowing library boards to do that for decades but that these bannings, I think, point very strongly towards the groups whose views are acceptable and whose views are not. Palestinians, nope, not acceptable. Atheists, nope, gotta go. And, above all else, children must be protected from reality, from the fact that there are terrible things that happen in the world and that there may be people who disagree with the ones educating them.

In order to have a truly open debate we need to hear from all points of view, be able to critically engage with those views, and come to new understandings about why and how we are to live our lives. I’m not sure how this is supposed to happen if we limit the participants of dialogue only to those people and groups with whom we agree and who support our point of view.

To me, that’s pretty weak.

Posted by Vanessa on January 14th, 2008

Filed under books, children, Civil Society, Deborah Ellis, education, Philip Putnam | Comments Off

The Hypocrisy of Modern, Liberal Civil Society

I finished Stephen Hopgood’s article, “Reading the Small Print in Global Civil Society” (Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 2000. 29(1): 1-25) today and he raises some interesting concerns about the displacement of morality and virtues from discussions in civil society to a position of sub-text that underlies the more acceptable “rights” discussion occurring in the world today. The idea is that back in the 1800s and early 1900s, in order to be a citizen and acquire the rights of that position, one would have to meet certain criteria of civilization. Those criteria would include certain moral values, in the United States these would mostly be the Protestant virtues of “industry, piety, parsimony, and self-reliance” (16).

Today, it is accepted that it is incorrect to expect everyone to have the same values so instead we talk about universal human rights. The trouble is that within this distribution of rights is the assumption of a certain moral basis – instead of openly constructing societies with the same moral basis, liberals now try to sneak them in the back door, at least, according to Hopgood.

It makes me wonder if there is any chance for a truly open space of discussion (or discourse) to exist. If we all bring our own moral choices to the discussion, how can we remain open to what others will say? Moreover, if global power elites insist that all those included in the discussion have the same sets of values, how will we ever move past the ideas that divide us? How can we come up with truly universal rights when only a select group of people with similar values is allowed to participate in the discussion?

Posted by Vanessa on January 13th, 2008

Filed under Civil Society, IR, politics | 1 Comment »