Monthly Archives: May 2006

Two Visions of the Future

Yesterday’s TTC strike serendipitously coincided with the opening of Toronto’s Bike Week. For the annual kick-off event, cyclists from across the city converged on Yonge and Bloor (conveniently close to where I live) for a “group commute” down Yonge St, then over to City Hall for a free pancake breakfast.

The group left the intersection of Yonge and Bloor around 8am; I got the time wrong and showed up at 8:20. As I began my trip, cars clogged the streets. I slowly weaved through near-gridlock as frustrated drivers leaned on their wheels. Taxi passengers watched meters tick on as people on the sidewalks passed them. Confused commuters waited at the corner for buses that weren’t coming. A friend of mine later told me that Bay Street was the same. This is Toronto without transit.

It only took a few minutes, however, to catch up with the group commute as they headed down Young street. Hundreds of bikes took up the whole right lane for as far as I could see. The cars were stuck behind me–a distant memory–leaving only cyclists and pedestrians. I came up to a friend of mine and we started chatting. Others were deeply engaged in conversations with strangers. Torontonians were enjoying their city, their public space. This is Toronto without cars.

At an event I attended today, Toronto Star columnist Christopher Hume put it another way. “The greatest shame,” he said, “was that all of those people who filled the street were taken from subways, buses and streetcars instead of from cars.”

I’m not saying we should get rid of all cars (yet). It’s just that, for a moment, I saw Toronto without them. And it was a beautiful sight.

Men In Suits

Two days ago, at the Green Party of Ontario‘s Annual Policy Conference, someone approached me from across the lobby.

“Hi Chris. Look, no suit!”

It was David Chernushenko, Green Party of Canada leadership contestant and, apparently, a Chris Tindal Blog reader.

It took me a second to realize that David was referring to a post I’d made just two days earlier explaining why I’m supporting Elizabeth May for leader, in which I’d described David as (among other things) “a man in a suit.”

It took me a few more seconds to realize that he’d been genuinely offended by the comment. I matched that with some genuine surprise; I had not intended the comment to be an attack. David explained that he felt like I was accusing him of being boring, and someone who “would toe the corporate line instead of towing corporations into line.” (Good soundbite!) I apologized–David is not those things, nor do I have anything bad to say about him–and after a constructive conversation he accepted my apology.

That left me to think about the harder question: what specifically did I mean, and why did I think the comment was worth saying?

Just so there’s no confusion, I’m a man, and I own a suit, which I have occasionally worn — most notably, when I’m politicking. And after David walked away, I realized that I’d felt targeted by very similar comments in the recent past. During the election campaign, the Green candidate from Montcalm, PQ, Wendy Gorchinsky, posted a two-part, 3000 word email called “Boy! Was I mad…It needs to be an All Women’s Party” to a Green Party mailing list.

It’s a difficult letter to summarize, in part because of how personal and nuanced it is. For example, I could selectively quote things like her description of a scrutiner’s meeting as a “Cock’s Den” full of “carefully groomed, greased up and tailored men.” Or I could only focus on her descriptions of “wonderful men, doing courageous and admirable work for the Earth Mother.” You can see how you’d get a pretty different idea of what she was trying to say.

Either way, after describing a day full of bumping up against “men in grey business suits” who didn’t take her seriously, Wendy ultimately concludes that, “there is NO WAY in hell that Jim Harris or any other man for that matter, in the Green Party, will ever be able to win an election,” and calls for men in the Green Party “to step aside and let women take their place for awhile” in order to realize “an All Women’s Party.”

I was personally offended. I felt stereotyped and trivialized. Thinking back, it became much easier to understand why David had reacted that way to my comments.

The key difference, of course, is that when I identified David in that way, I wasn’t listing it as a reason not to vote for him. On the contrary; I was giving voice (much to my embarrassment and shame) to the part of me that’s more accustomed to seeing men in charge, as opposed to women. In my post, I linked the words “man in a suit” to the Google cache for a Wikipedia article that no longer exists about the term “Homo politicus” (even the cached version has now been overwritten). I first learned those words from June Macdonald at a Fair Vote Canada seminar on electoral reform. She used them to describe the kind of candidates that tend to be favoured by our electoral system: namely wealthy, white men. I was applying it to David because, as he explained to me, he has successfully learned how to talk to that world. I did not mean to suggest he’d been co-opted by it.

In the 2006 Federal Election, 7/8 of the Toronto Centre candidates were white, and 7/8 of us were men. When challenged at our first debate in St. James Town, I responded that while I wasn’t ashamed of the colour of my skin, I wasn’t proud of the lack of ethnic and gender balance at that head table.

Does that mean I’m going to “step aside” as Wendy suggests? No. Still, I do recognize that I’m part of an unjust statistic, and need to be aware of how I play the game, and how I need to help change it. Wendy’s other challenges to men (“Are you capable of working for a woman?; of supporting a woman candidate?; of being their secretary?”) are more helpful, and are good questions for us to consider. Without speaking for David, I suspect he feels the same way.

The point is, I don’t think David’s a boring guy in a suit. I think he’s a great, interesting guy who just happens to own a suit or two.

ps. At the sake of ending up back where I started, I’ll add this last thought. Whoever wins the leadership race is (hopefully) going to have the challenge of going up against 3 other men in suits in the next televised leaders’ debates. The job of the Green Party leader will be to not sound like just another politician with the same focus-grouped one-liners and polished, perfected dullness. In other words, to sound like more than just a suit with a man in it. Both David and Elizabeth are fully capable of doing that, I just happen to think Elizabeth will do it better. There are lots reasons. Her obvious head-start is only one of them.

Elizabeth May for Leader

I’ve already told my friends and family (hot tip: announce things to your friends and family before the blogosphere), but I wanted to also let everyone else know that I am supporting Elizabeth May for leadership of the Green Party of Canada.

As previously mentioned, the other main contestant is David Chernushenko. (A third candidate, Jim Fannon, has since announced on an unofficial Green Party mailing list that he will also run.) While I stand by my statement that David would make an able leader, I’ve come to believe that we need Elizabeth to take us to the next level as a party.

The importance of breaking free from our current plateau cannot be overstated. If we don’t start electing MPs soon, in the minds of voters we will become a perpetual fringe party. On the other hand, if we capitalize on our momentum, we will become a serious player within one or two elections.

I did not rush into my decision to support Elizabeth, which is one of the reasons why I’m now so comfortable that it’s the right one. I first spoke with David and his supporters, and had the impression that he would be a “comfortable” or “safe” choice. That was largely based on the fact that he’s done a good job as a deputy leader and candidate, and on his own description of himself as someone who’s steady and matter-of-fact. (“If you’re looking for a leader who’s going to get all fired up and give impassioned speeches,” I recall him saying to me, “I’m not your guy.”) On top of that he’s a man in a suit, which for better or worse (well, ok, worse) cues my cultural stereotypes to tell me that he’s respectable, professional, etc.

In retrospect, I also felt that way because, since David had been involved in the party for some time, I knew more about him than I did about Elizabeth. I don’t mind admitting that I had a number of questions and concerns about whether or not she’d make a good leader, including:

  1. Does she speak French?
  2. Is she more than a famous environmentalist?
  3. Does she understand the Green Party platform?
  4. Will she respect and support participatory democracy in the party?
  5. Is she a strong public speaker?

I was very excited to discover, though watching, listening, and reading about Elizabeth in the media, exchanging some emails and telephone calls with her, and seeing her speak at her book launch in Toronto a few weeks ago, that the answer is a resounding “yes” to all of the above, and then some. (For example, she’s also very funny.) She has already begun to articulate an exciting vision for this party and the country, and has, in my assessment, generated more media attention for the party outside of an election campaign in the past month than we’ve had in the past year — and she’s not even leader yet!

Not that I’d want to suggest she’s a shoe-in; she needs our support. Donate, join, vote, volunteer, and convince others to do the same. And continue to follow her website, campaign blog, and the media coverage she generates. After the Green Party of Canada National Convention in Ottawa this August, politics in this country will change for the better.

Beyond Caledonia

“Somewhere beyond the barricade is there a world you long to see?”
-Les Misérables

If you only got your information about the Caledonia land-rights dispute from the news, you might get the idea that the government owns the land that’s in dispute, and that the native protesters were a bunch of rogues with no rationale for their position.

If you traveled to the non-native side of the barricade, you’d have to acknowledge that this country still has a lot of racism to deal with. One man carried a sign that said “Where’s John Wayne when you need him?” A woman on the radio news a few weeks ago reasoned that “these people have already said they’re not Canadians, and if you’re not a Canadian you’re a terrorist.” Makes you wonder what comments were deemed too stupid or offensive to broadcast.

You may also have started to get an idea of why the UN continues to criticize Canada for the way we treat Aboriginal issues.

It’s only when you travel beyond Caledonia to the Six Nations reserve that you start to see a more complete picture. That’s what I did about a week after this latest dispute became inflamed. I learned that the Six Nations have hand written records of meeting minutes going back to the 1800s, clearly documenting that the banks of the Grand were leased, not sold, to the government. (As far as they can tell, at one point someone in the government unilaterally decided the agreement was a sale, not a lease.) They also have a strong cultural context indicating the near impossibility of the elders at the time agreeing to a sale. I also learned that many of the natives at the barricades aren’t uneducated rogues, but rather treaty experts.

Now that the barriers are coming down in Caledonia, we have to remember that this is far from over. As the Green Party of Ontario recently outlined, and as John Ibbitson further explains today, urban sprawl means that we are encroaching on more and more treaty land, with little regard to the agreements of our ancestors. Beyond today, there are hundreds more Okas, Ipperwashes, and Caledonias waiting to be encroached upon.

Our choice is clear. We can either deal with (ie, acknowledge and respect) treaty rights at the provincial and national levels, or continue like this, case by case, barricade by barricade.