Monthly Archives: December 2009

Glen Murray’s move

Glen Murray and me at the November 25th Ben Wicks event, with Ralph Benmergui complaining about something in the background. Photo: Shaun Merritt
Glen Murray and me at the November 25th Ben Wicks event, with Ralph Benmergui looking annoyed in the background. Photo: Shaun Merritt

As you have likely heard, Glen Murray, who had been planning a run for mayor of Toronto, has announced that he will seek the provincial Liberal nomination in Toronto Centre to run in the inevitable by-election to replace George Smitherman, who is running for mayor. Glen’s new goal has earned him the support of Smitherman, as well as Liberal activist Todd Ross, who dropped out of the nomination race not only to symbolically support Glen, but also to staff him yesterday as he moved between media interviews. Anything can happen in politics, but taking these factors into account I don’t see any way that he won’t become the Liberal candidate.

A lot of people have asked me what I think of all this because just last week I hosted an event for Glen to help with his budding mayoral bid. In the event invitation I wrote that “I think it really matters that we elect the right mayor, and I’m excited about what Glen’s candidacy could bring.” Now, the questions I’m getting from a surprising number of sources generally fall into one of two categories: how I feel about this development, and do I have any inside information about it? So, here’s my reaction, with a warning: this post is even more self-indulgent than most.

The second question is easier to answer: no, I do not. I can tell you that he was 100% serious about running for mayor. He told the full group at Ben Wicks that he was very likely going to run, but in smaller groups told us that he was near certain. He has been talking to lots of people for at least a few months to lay the groundwork. More recently, however, he was obviously talking to provincial Liberals about this other possibility as well, and that’s the decision he ended up making.

How I know Glen Murray

Glen and I have known of each other for a few years, but have only become friends recently. I knew that he had voted for me (and displayed my sign in his window) in the March 2008 by-election, but we didn’t meet in person until this past May when we were on a panel together as part of the Architecture for Humanity lecture series at the Design Exchange here in Toronto. We got there an hour early and, along with Councillor Joe Mihevc, spent the extra time talking politics in the green room over sandwiches. After the panel Glen and I spoke briefly about each of our future political plans and agreed to meet for lunch or coffee to chat further.

We didn’t actually get around to meeting until October, when we sat in Lettieri at Church and Wellesley and talked for over an hour about municipal politics. It was then that I offered to help Glen with his pre-campaign (for lack of a better term) by hosting an event for him and inviting my contacts. At the event, he told people that he had voted for me (as he had also publicly announced during the panel in May) and that I had won his vote more quickly than any other politician.

He gave me a call yesterday shortly after making his official announcement. We had a brief conversation and agreed to talk more in the near future. He said he had intended to give me a head’s up before his decision became public but hadn’t been able to get in touch with me.

Glen’s decision

Here’s the interesting thing. I had almost no doubt about Glen’s ability to be a great mayor. In terms of ideas and policy he was overflowing with great stuff. From that perspective, Glen Murray may now have a claim to the “greatest mayor Toronto never had” title. However, I saw no evidence (and that doesn’t mean it didn’t exist, just that I didn’t see it) that he was assembling the organizational and fundraising capacity that he would have needed to win the mayoral race. In some ways, it seemed to me he was a platform without a campaign.

Enter George Smitherman, who at this early stage has been accused of being a campaign without a platform. In this way, the two men compliment each other: they each have what the other needs. Politically, therefore, I think this was a good move. The campaign for mayor was becoming pretty crowded and may have been a long-shot for Glen. On the other hand, his election to Queen’s Park now seems very likely.

Some people have commented that they don’t like the feeling that this is a “backroom deal.” I can empathize somewhat, but I don’t think there’s a lot to get worked up over (well, at least no more than usual). On Smitherman’s side, the mayoral race has barely begun. We will have many strong candidates to choose from and nothing resembling a fix is in. As for the Liberal nomination, sorry, but to a certain extent those things have always been determined in backrooms. That’s the way most parties work. (In fact, that’s one of the reasons I’m a Green. Heck, we take it so far in the other direction that we let people challenge our own leader’s nomination!) Then, in the by-election, voters will still have a choice between a large number of candidates and they can pass judgment on if Liberals deserve to hold on to the seat, or if it would be better to send a different message.

What imma do

I’ve let Glen know that I can’t follow him down this road in the same way I would have if he ran for mayor. I don’t think he was surprised, and told me he accepts and respects that decision. Unlike at the municipal level, provincial politics is definitively partisan, and I’m committed to helping elect Greens to Queen’s Park in 2011. That doesn’t mean we won’t continue to find common ground where we can cooperate and work together though, and don’t expect to hear me saying bad things about the guy either. If there’s one thing I’m sure I feel good about it’s that Glen Murray will continue to offer himself to public service. We need more politicians like him. (Don’t go putting that on a flyer though, ok buddy?)

As for the mayoral race, colour me undecided. As I’ve said, it’s early and I think there are some very strong candidates. Let’s see what each of them has to offer.

Government abruptly kills funding to NGO after 36-year relationship

KAIROS members at a climate rally at Queen's Park in Toronto on October 24, 2009
KAIROS members at a climate rally at Queen's Park in Toronto on October 24, 2009

KAIROS is a Canadian NGO which, among other things, provides international assistance and does human rights work in Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Central America. It is internationally recognized and respected and, either directly or through its predecessors, has been receiving federal funding since 1973. On Monday, KAIROS found out via a brief phone call from CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency) that their long-standing and effective partnership with the federal government had come to a sudden end. No specific reason was given.

The lack of official explanation from the government has forced others to speculate. News reports point out that some recent activities of church-based KAIROS aren’t exactly great ways to get onto Stephen Harper’s Christmas list:

Later this week, a KAIROS delegation is to travel to the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen to help lobby for an agreement that would include substantial cuts to greenhouse gas emissions.

Last May, a KAIROS delegation toured Alberta’s oil sands region to see how massive projects are affecting aboriginal people and to determine if the operations are environmentally sustainable.

The group met separately with officials from the four main federal parties in Ottawa last week and called for greater action on climate change and for a halt to new oil sands projects.

“We basically told our concerns about climate change and we thought it would be important for Canada to be represented [in Copenhagen],” Ms. Corkery said.

“In terms of the oil sands, we asked for a halt for new approvals – not to stop anything that is happening, but that there would be a halt to new approvals.”

Last year, KAIROS published a position paper that questioned the amount of taxes Ottawa allows the oil sands industry to defer on the capital cost of projects.

Is there a connection? It seems clear that the decision was made at the political level:

The KAIROS contract that just expired received a positive audit and excellent CIDA evaluation this year. KAIROS submitted its new program proposal for 2009-2013 to CIDA in March 2009. It went through a lengthy approval process within CIDA up until the Minister’s level and has been waiting for approval from the Minister since July 2009.

Maude Barlow, who points out that KAIROS has a long history of promoting human rights and sustainable environmental policies in developing countries, saysI believe that Kairos is being punished for taking a position on the eve of Copenhagen and on the tar sands. I think this is a declaration that they are not welcoming any criticism. They offended the agenda of the Harper government.”

In other words, this could be a shot across the bow for other NGOs as well: Canada only has one party line now, and it must be toed.

Similarly, others speculate that the funding may have been cut to make way for another international project that Le Devoir calls Harper’s “héritage politique.”

Whatever the reason, it’s a tragically damaging decision. “KAIROS has a long and rich history of advocacy and has been doing incredible work on behalf of those in need for decades,” says NDP MP John Rafferty. “There is simply no justification for bankrupting such a respected organization whose work should be supported and promoted by our government.”

In my opinion it would be a good use of your time to contact Bev Oda (full contact info, or send her an email) to ask her why this decision was made with such little ceremony (KAIROS Executive Director Mary Corkery writes, “I know of no precedent for the Canadian International Development Agency ending a decades-long funding relationship with a major Canadian organization without notice in writing, with no reason and no transition plan“) and, if you oppose the decision, tell her so. It wouldn’t hurt to write or email your MP as well. The folks at KAIROS would appreciate it if you would CC your correspondence to them as well. Thanks so much.