The world’s most poor and vulnerable nations experience climate change as a present reality, while we tend to talk about it as a future abstraction. They’re already suffering, but can’t do much about it. We could do something about it, but we’re not yet suffering.
I became aware of that distinction in Copenhagen during the COP15 climate talks three years ago. At the time, I wrote:
The context of the conversation that’s taking place in Copenhagen is entirely different from that in North America. Instead of arguing about if climate change is a real and serious concern or predicting future consequences if we don’t act, the narrative here is that dangerous climate change is already a reality…
Today I listened to a man from the island nation of Tuvalu, which is emerging at this meeting as a symbol of why we must act. The highest point in Tuvalu is 4.5 meters above sea level. In other words, unless we aggressively reduce the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, this nation will slip beneath the waves. Negotiators from Tuvalu have been strongly pushing for tough, binding targets in plenary, and the tiny state has captured the imagination of many of the NGO delegates, particularly the youth.
Through this lens, the Canadian government’s pathetic non-participation in the negotiations is seen as not just embarrassing, but cruel. The world’s poorer countries believe they are already suffering, and that people are already dying, because of the actions of the world’s richer countries. For them it is as if the United States, Canada, and Europe are turning a giant tap that slowly drowns them while they cry out in vain. The immorality becomes blatant and blaring. And yet they continue to chose hope over anger; it’s remarkable.
I was reminded of that today when I saw this article and video of the lead negotiator from the Philippines issuing a tearful plea to the COP18 plenary in Doha. Three years later, and all that’s changed is Canada’s climate plan is more pathetic and lacking than ever. In 2009 there was lots of criticism that the government’s targets were way too low, today we’re not even on track to meet those targets.
We didn’t talk about this much in the last federal election. Let’s do better next time. Talk is the least we can do.
Many political observers in the Canadian province of Ontario are calling for a change to the law after a mandatory minimum penalty was accidentally applied to a powerful white man.
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s seat has been declared vacant by a judge after Ford was found to have violated the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, which also contains the harsh requirement that he lose his job.
“It just doesn’t seem right,” said area man Scott Johnston, who noted that he was more comfortable with mandatory minimums being used for laws typically prosecuted against poor people, black people, and generally “people who, I don’t know, aren’t like me?”
Frank Rashton, political science professor at the University of Toronto, said that enforcing the MCIA sets a dangerous precedent for other laws meant to hold political leaders to account. “I mean, what’s next,” Rashton asked, “we start enforcing election laws too?”
“I don’t think we’ve seriously considered the implications of going down that road,” he said.
Others argued that the real problem is not the law itself, but that in this particular case there weren’t enough loop holes designed to be exploited by powerful people. Columnist Sarah Simmer, who called the decision “Conrad Blackian*,” said that while it’s true enforcing other similar laws would be dangerous, it’s unlikely to create a rush on the courts since most of those laws already have built-in exceptions. “Look at Ontario,” she said. “A minister was set to be held in contempt by the legislature, but the premier was thankfully able to step in and stop it.”
Simmer said it would be dangerous to simply get rid of the MCIA’s penalties, because they’re “important for the appearance of accountability.” It would be better to instead ensure the penalties are never applied, she said.
When asked, outgoing Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty disagreed with Simmer’s interpretation. “We’ve been very clear. Using power to avoid accountability is only wrong when Conservatives do it. In the case of Rob Ford, it would not be appropriate.”
* The author and publisher of this post would like to make it exceedingly clear that they don’t believe Conrad Black has ever done anything wrong ever and that that Simmer person was totally out of line, even for a fictional person employing parody.
When things go wrong, those with the least power usually suffer the most. Football players at the bottom of a pileup have the most weight pressing down on them, and can’t get up unless others do so first.
This holds true with the numerous scandals involving football coach and occasional mayor Rob Ford’s inability to keep his professional and volunteer responsibilities separate. Most recently, Ford and police together requested that a special TTC bus be sent to pick up the mayor’s football team after a game ended early. The fallout has affected the many parties involved to varying degrees.
The players, high school students with the least power of anyone involved, have taken a lot of heat. When one player bragged on Twitter that the team had benefited from their own private TTC bus because “our coach is the mayor,” a Vigilante Rapid Response Team sent him some nasty messages. That’s nothing, however, compared to what they’ve had to endure from their coach. Ford has taken numerous opportunities to disparage the players and their families, saying that they don’t have supportive parents or families (of course they do), that they are difficult to control (and that only he can control them), that the state of leadership within the black community is so pathetically lacking that no one has done more for black youth than this white part-time coach.
The TTC is also taking all sorts of abuse and doing everything it can to set the record straight. TTC CEO Andy Byford, already faced with the challenge of trying to mend his organization’s damaged reputation, has gone so far as to publicly scold the mayor by saying that he shouldn’t have called him for what Byford considers to be a personal matter and that he should not do so again. (His frustration is understandable; all the TTC did was respond to an urgent police request. They have no choice but to take such requests seriously.)
Those who instigated this whole mess and continue to hold the most power are saying very little. The police will not explain with any clarity what justified making the “urgent” request that resulted in two buses being diverted during rush hour, leaving riders stranded in the rain. The mayor will not explain why he treated Byford like a glorified taxi dispatcher. Neither will explain why their versions of events contradict those of the school board, which maintains there was no apparent need for special treatment. After all, who’s going to do anything about it? The school doesn’t have authority over the mayor of Toronto, nor can they easily accuse the police of lying about how things went down.
But even those with less power are not powerless. (After all, at the bottom of a pileup, one of Schrödinger’s players is holding the football.) There is an obvious source of these never ending headaches, and a solution. One man, a volunteer, has done a lot of good work, but is now causing more trouble than he’s worth. Every organization that depends on volunteers knows that as difficult as it is, sometimes you just have to say goodbye. It’s time to call that play.
Don Bosco can’t fire the mayor. But they can fire the coach.
The voters of Toronto Centre have always felt divided. The federal riding includes some of the richest (Rosedale, Yorkville ) and poorest (St. James Town, Regent Park) neighbourhoods in the country. At an all candidates meeting in St. James Town during a recent election one audience member accusingly asked if any candidates lived “south of Bloor,” in other words, if they could identify with and represent him. Likewise, some Rosedale residents have lamented that they can never get the representative they really want because they’re out-voted by their less affluent and more left-leaning neighbours to the south.
As a result, centrist Liberals have comfortably held the riding since 1993. (Before that it was held by the most Progressive of Conservatives, namely David MacDonald, who later joined the NDP, and David Crombie. Before them, more Liberals.) The north half of the riding has always been a Liberal-Conservative contest and the south half a Liberal-NDP one. As the only party with significant support throughout the riding, Liberals take it every time.
Now, that could change. The Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission has proposed new boundaries that would split the riding in two. If adopted after a period of consultation, the south half of the riding will absorb some of Trinity-Spadina to the west and become the new Toronto Centre. The north half of the riding is to acquire the north-east portion of the current St. Pauls to become the new riding of Mount Pleasant. And the Liberals are in serious danger of losing both.
The new Toronto Centre
In fact, I think they might as well kiss the new southern riding of Toronto Centre goodbye. In 2011, that half of the riding favoured the NDP candidate over the Liberal by 3%. Add in the votes from the section of Trinity-Spadina that’s to move over and the NDP margin increases to 5%, or 1,700 votes.
That may not sound like an orange nail in the red coffin, but keep in mind the NDP earned that much support in the current Toronto Centre without any reasonable prospect of winning. With these improved odds will come a more high-profile candidate, more motivated voters and volunteers, and increased money. Liberals, on the other hand, will have moved their money, volunteers and best candidate north to the new riding of Mount Pleasant.
Here Liberal prospects aren’t quite as bleak, but I still think the party has reason for concern. Looking at votes from the north half of Toronto Centre and the new area from St. Pauls, Liberals had a 10% lead over the Conservatives in 2011. So far so good; that’s not as comfortable as the 18% lead they had over the Conservatives in all of Toronto Centre, but not anything to panic about either.
But let’s take a closer look at the nature of that Conservative support. Right-leaning voters in the current Toronto Centre and St. Pauls ridings are extremely demoralized. In the face of Liberal giants Bob Rae and Carolyn Bennett, they’ve known their votes won’t make a difference and many have opted to stay home. Organizationally, the Toronto Centre Conservatives have burned through six different candidates in the past four elections (two of them never even made it to the ballot) and have a very thin volunteer base. Further, their 2011 candidate was not ideally suited to appeal to the north half of the riding, in part because he lived and was almost exclusively active in the south half.
Given all that, the fact that Conservatives would still have only been 10% from victory against such a strong Liberal campaign is impressive. Next time around, like the NDP to the south, Conservative donors, voters and volunteers will be reenergized, and, with the prospect of a victory, the party will be able to recruit a higher-profile candidate capable of taking on a Liberal heavyweight.
Anything could still happen
Some caveats apply, of course. These proposed changes wouldn’t come into force for three years, which is an eternity. And in reality, what happens to party support at the federal level will be the most significant factor in how these ridings get decided. Still, with opportunities for the NDP to pick up another downtown Toronto seat and for the Conservatives to establish a beachhead in central Toronto, these new riding boundaries could really shake up the electoral map.
Data for this post came from Elections Canada’s poll-by-poll results of the 41st General Election held in 2011. Individual polls from current ridings were then assigned to new ones using the maps on Pundits’ Guide. You can download the Excel file I used for my calculations here. The map at the top of this post is from Rabble user Krago. Also note, I was the federal candidate in Toronto Centre for the Green party in the 39th General Election in 2006 and again in a by-election in March 2011 2008.