Canadian Politics (Federal), Canadian Politics (Provincial), Environment, Published Articles

U of T president criticized for rejecting fossil fuel divestment

Jeremy Appel
Originally published at Humber News Online

University of Toronto President Meric Gertler came under fire Thursday after rejecting environmentalist calls for Canada’s largest university to divest wholesale from companies involved in fossil fuel extraction.

Instead, Gertler, a geographer by trade, pledged to divest from companies strictly “on a firm by firm basis,” according to the CBC.

The strategy would target only those who “blatantly disregard” environmental norms, the Globe and Mail reported.

He didn’t elaborate further on what criteria the university would use to determine which companies should be targeted for divestment.

Fossil fuels – primarily coal, natural gas and oil – are sources of energy formed from decayed plants and animals that are regarded as a major contributor to climate change.

Last December the Financial Post said U of T “has $32.4 million of its endowment fund invested in fossil fuel companies.”

“The fossil fuel industry has an enormous amount of control in the governance of our institutions across Canada, whether it’s the government or a public institution like our universities,” Katie Rae Perfitt, with the environmentalist organization 350.org, told Humber News.

For this reason, groups like 350.org and the Sierra Club have called on universities to lead by example and divest.

“Students are turning up the heat because we can’t wait for our institutions to take the action that we need. We have to push them to do it,” said Perfitt, who is the Canadian divestment organizer with 350.org.

She said Gertler is involved in “greenwashing” the school’s investment policies.

“They’re using really flimsy wording with no criteria to try and placate people and make themselves look good,” while doing nothing in practice, Perfitt said.

In response to Gertler’s decision, Toronto 350.org issued a statement pointing out that the president is rejecting advice from a committee he established.

The committee concluded in December after a year of research that “fossil fuel firms engaging in activities that blatantly disregard the 1.5-degree threshold (for limiting global warming) are engaging egregiously in socially injurious behaviour. The university should, in a targeted and principled manner, divest from its direct holdings in such firms,” specifically oil extraction, Arctic drilling and fracking.

U of T professor slams administration inaction

University of Toronto environmental historian Laurel MacDowell told Humber News she is “amazed that the leaders of the university seem not to be aware of how very serious climate change is.

“In 2015 leading scientists and economists publicly stated that in order to keep the rise in temperatures at 2 C, which is very important for our safety, 75 per cent of fossil fuels must remain in the ground. That means that the need to change the energy regime was and is upon us,” said MacDowell.

The president’s expert committee used an even lower threshold of 1.5 C, suggesting even more urgency.

“Politicians seem to be having difficulty grasping this fact and responding to the problem. But you would think that academics, particularly at a university that has a large environmental studies program and many scientists researching environmental issues, would know better,” she said.

Gertler seems to be missing the point with his apparent conflation of pollution and climate change, MacDowell added.

“Pollution is a huge problem, but climate change is about the continuing production of fossil fuels for energy purposes. If the production ends the pollution will also end but the environmental focus is production not pollution,” she said.

A university spokesperson declined Humber News’s requests for comment “due to the volume of media requests.”

The University of Calgary, McGill University in Montreal, Dalhousie University in Halifax and the University of British Columbia have each rejected similar divestment initiatives.

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Published Articles, Toronto Politics

Former Toronto mayor Rob Ford dead at 46

Jeremy Appel
Originally published at Humber News Online

Rob Ford, Toronto’s controversial ex-mayor whose drug use and erratic behavior brought the world’s attention to Toronto municipal politics, has died at age 46 at Mt. Sinai Hospital after a 18-month struggle with cancer.

The Ford family released a statement Tuesday morning confirming the death of the former mayor and requesting privacy.

Mayor John Tory issued his own statement in the wake of his predecessor’s passing.

“I have known Rob Ford for many years. He was a man who spoke his mind and who ran for office because of the deeply felt convictions that he had.  As a councillor, mayor and private citizen, Rob Ford reached out directly to people across the city with a phone call, an offer of advice or support, and I know there were many that were affected by his gregarious nature and approach to public service,” Tory said.

Ford won the 2010 mayoral election as an underdog against former Ontario Liberal cabinet minister George Smitherman. His victory was the product of a strategy of pitting the oft-neglected suburbs – Etobicoke, Scarborough and North York – against hated “downtown elites.”

He was elected on a platform of fighting the “gravy train,” a populist vow to cut government spending and taxes.

He would freely give out his cell phone number to constituents and would answer calls from anyone, which earned him a group of diehard supporters dubbed “Ford Nation.”

Ford, son of former Progressive Conservative MPP Doug Ford Sr., was first elected as city councilor for an Etobicoke ward in 2000. He was re-elected in 2003 and 2006.

As mayor, Ford championed building a subway in Scarborough, as opposed to a light rail line funded by the Ontario government. Ford raised property taxes by 1.6 per cent to help pay for an extra $1.5 billion in costs.

He also privatized garbage collection in the city’s west end, a response to the unpopular garbage strike that occurred near the end of his predecessor David Miller’s term.

His victories were not without their political costs. Council was deadlocked throughout most of Ford’s tenure, with right-wing and left-wing councillors battling over taxation, transit and labour issues.

Ford’s international notoriety began on May 16, 2013, when Gawker and the Toronto Star reported on the existence of a video of Ford smoking crack and making homophobic remarks about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

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“I do not use crack cocaine, nor am I an addict of crack cocaine,” said a defiant Ford in a press conference the next week. “As for a video, I cannot comment on a video I have never seen or does not exist.”

Ford continued to deny the video’s existence for nearly six months.

On Oct. 31 then-police chief Bill Blair (now a Liberal MP) said police had recovered a video that depicts images of Ford “consistent with those previously reported in the press.”

Ford himself was not charged with a crime, but his friend and occasional driver Sandro Lisi was charged with extortion in relation to his efforts to recover the tape, which he will face in court this summer.

After a week of intense media scrutiny, Ford held a news conference.

“You asked me a question back in May and now you can repeat that question,” he told reporters.

“Do you smoke crack cocaine?”

“Exactly. Yes I have smoked crack cocaine,” Ford confessed. “But do I? Am I an addict? No!”

He said the event transpired in “one of my drunken stupors.”

Prior to the crack admission, Ford had been criticized for his heavy alcohol use.

He has twice been ejected from Toronto Maple Leafs games for intoxication, once in 2006 and again in 2014.

The month before the crack scandal broke, Ford was asked to leave the Toronto Garrison Ball, an event celebrating the Canadian armed force, due to his visible drunkenness.

His crack confession opened up the floodgates. Reports emerged from former staffers that Ford was often intoxicated at work and drank while driving to Don Boscoe, where he coached football throughout most of his mayoralty. He also allegedly brought a prostitute into city hall and sexually harassed a staffer.

In response to the latter allegation, that he asked to perform cunnilingus on Olivia Gondek, Ford infamously remarked that he has “more than enough to eat at home.”

He apologized later that day with his visibly unimpressed wife Renata at his side.

Council overwhelmingly voted to strip Ford of his mayoral powers on Nov. 18, which Ford compared to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait.

That same day Ford knocked over Councillor Pam McConnell, as he ran across the council chamber to confront protestors.

The city’s integrity commissioner has since ruled that Ford was “unnecessarily reckless” and his actions were “lacking in decorum” when he knocked McConnell over.

The crack admission and ensuing fracas brought Ford’s demons to the world’s attention, making him a global celebrity of sorts.

He appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live, where Kimmel had Ford watch videos of himself intoxicated, including a bizarre incident where a visibly inebriated Ford spoke Jamaican patois in Etobicoke’s Steak Queen restaurant.

Through it all, Ford insisted on running for re-election in 2018, vowing “Ford More Years.”

He maintained that the crack smoking was an isolated incident, but was forced to take a break from the campaign trail to enter rehab on April 30 after the Globe and Mail uncovered then-recent photos of him smoking crack in his sister Kathy’s basement.

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Ford emerged from rehab on June 30, adamant in his desire to run for re-election, but it was not to be.

On Sept. 10, with a bit more than a month to go until the election, Ford was brought to the hospital after complaining of pain in his abdomen.

Doctors discovered a tumour infected with malignant liposarcoma, a rare form of cancer that latches onto the body’s soft tissues – muscle, fat, tendons, joints, etc.

Ford dropped out of the mayoral race on Sept. 12. Brother Doug, who represented Rob’s old Etobicoke ward on city council, ran for mayor in his place, while Rob ran again for council.

Rob won Ward 2 handily, with almost 10,000 more votes than Luke LaRocque, who finished in second.

Doug ultimately finished second place to Mayor John Tory, with former NDP MP Olivia Chow placing a distant third.

Ford is survived by his wife Renata, mother Ruth, brothers Doug and Randy, sister Kathy, children Stephanie, 11, and Doug Jr., 7, and the denizens of Ford Nation, who supported him throughout his travails.

 

 

 

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Published Articles

The 519 opens Firefly Pub for St. Patrick’s Day

Jeremy Appel
Originally published at Daily Xtra

Finally, there’s a way to get drunk and raise money for an LGBT community centre.

The 519, Toronto’s LGBT community centre,  is kicking off its new pub series just in time for St Patrick’s Day.

“The 519 grand ballroom will transform into a decidedly queer Irish pub, complete with pub-appropriate decor and food, a whiskey bar and giveaways,” according to a release on the 519’s website.

There will also be live music, with Irish band Ugly Horse and fiddlers Sammy V and Ticky Ty taking the stage.

“The Firefly pub is a new concept that we’ve come up with. The idea was to create an inclusive community engagement opportunity and to raise some funds for The 519 and have a really fun event,” says John R Farrell, director of philanthropy for The 519. “St Patrick’s Day seemed like a very pivotal day in which to launch our pub event.”

There’s also a symbolic element to the choice of date.

St Patrick’s Day hasn’t always been queer-friendly, Farrell adds, noting that LGBT people were barred from participating in New York City’s official St Patrick’s parade as recently as last year.

”We wanted to conceive an event that is fun and welcoming for everyone,” he says.

“The 519 operates a host of programs and services,” says Farrell, who primarily oversees The 519’s fundraising initiatives. Supporting LGBT refugees, newcomers, seniors and parents are just some of the services that benefit from support.

“A lot of our work is externally facing. We do a lot of education and training work to advance issues of diversity and inclusion,” he says.

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Canadian Politics (Federal), Environment, Global Affairs, Published Articles, U.S. Politics

Trudeau, Obama meet to talk climate, borders and trade

Jeremy Appel
Originally published at Humber News Online

The strength of the Canada-U.S. relationship was on display as U.S. President Barack Obama met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prior to a glittering state dinner in Washington.

Environmental policy, border security and trade were the big three issues on the agenda for a meeting in the morning in the Oval Office.

“Canada and the U.S. will stand side by side to confront the pressing needs that face not only our two countries, but the entire planet,” Trudeau said at a joint news conference with Obama outside the White House afterwards.

Obama said the Trudeau government has “the right values, enormous energy, enormous commitment and passion to their work and perhaps most importantly, it’s clear that they are keenly interested in engaging Canadian citizens in the process of solving problems. And I think that is how democracies are supposed to work.”

This is the first state dinner for a Canadian prime minister since then-prime minister Jean Chretien visited president Bill Clinton in 1997.

Greg Inwood, a political science professor at Ryerson University, attributed this near-20-year hiatus to the relatively strained relationship between former prime minister Stephen Harper and Obama.

“There was an erosion of the relationship during the Harper years. It was a bit of a discomfort or disconnect between the two governments over the Keystone XL pipeline project,” Inwood told Humber News on Thursday morning.

Environmental goals announced

Trudeau and Obama announced a plan to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40 to 45 per cent less than 2012 levels by 2025.

Environmental historian Laurel MacDowell told Humber News that any agreement concerning the environment would necessarily be limited in scope.

“Coming out of the Paris conference, it was agreed that every country would set their own goal. If they actually have some agreement about North America and that they’re going to cooperate on some projects,” she said.

“That’s progress to some extent,” said MacDowell. “But I don’t think it’ll be anything binding. It’ll just be saying what they intend to do.”

Canada still hasn’t met its carbon reduction targets from 1997’s Kyoto Protocol, MacDowell added.

Obama and Trudeau also announced they are seeking to limit carbon emissions from ice melting in the Arctic, but MacDowell said that it might be too late for significant action.

“The problem is I don’t think they’re going to completely stop the melting … because it’s happening so fast and as a result there will be a (further) release of methane.”

Pre-clearance will streamline border crossing

In terms of borders and trade, the two leaders are expected to announce a pre-clearance program for the U.S.-Canadian border.

Toronto’s downtown Billy Bishop airport, Montreal’s central train station and Quebec City’s Jean Lesage Airport will join nine other locations where travellers can go through U.S. customs prior to leaving Canada.

Emily Gilbert, director of the University of Toronto’s Canadian Studies program, said the goal is to ease congestion.

“The trend, especially since 9/11, is trying to pull back the border clearance so it’s not all happening at the line of the border, but at more distant sites,” said Gilbert.

For goods traded across the border, this means getting security clearance prior to leaving the factory, she added.

What happens in 2017?

Questions remain about the viability of any policies discussed in the twilight of Obama’s presidency with a general election looming in November.

“There is a big question looming over this visit as to how much can actually be accomplished,” said Gilbert, noting that the Republican-controlled Congress must approve any major agreement.

“Trudeau is shortly going to face a totally different administration, whether it’s Democrat or Republican, after the next U.S. election,” Inwood said.

“From Obama’s point of view I think it’s more about legacy building … so people can look back and say during his presidency he maintained strong relationships with key allies.”

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Labour, Published Articles, Toronto Politics

CUPE inside workers ink tentative deal with City of Toronto, avoid strike

Jeremy Appel
Originally published at Humber News Online

Toronto’s city workers represented by Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 79 reached an agreement Thursday morning with the municipal government, avoiding a strike or lockout.

The union leadership agreed to a four-year contract for their 20,000 inside workers who staff community, child care and fitness centres, along with ice rinks and indoor pools operated by the city.

Local 79 President Tim Maguire was evasive regarding the deal’s contents.

“It was a tough round of negotiations. We moved forward on some issues and were able to push back on deep concessions,” Maguire said in a mid-morning news conference.

“I’m not going to get into the particulars of the deals…that will be recommended to the members,” he repeatedly told reporters.

Maguire credited the union’s work-to-rule campaign for laying the groundwork for the agreement, but again would not get into specifics.

“We’ve had some tough-slogging negotiations over the past two weeks,” he said, decrying the city’s “aggressive approach” to collective bargaining.

“While this was a very difficult round of negotiations, we believe we have secured the best possible collective agreements for our members, ensuring they will continue to be able to deliver the great services Toronto residents depend on,” Maguire said in an early morning statement.

Details publicly posted by mayor’s office

Mayor John Tory posted the city’s “final offer” online Sunday, a move characterized by Maguire as “disrespectful.”

The publicly released offer included a five per cent increase in base pay throughout the next four years and a decrease in the amount of benefits for workers on long-term disability, to 70 per cent from 75 per cent.

Another provision guarantees that no full-time employee with 15 years of seniority as of Dec. 31, 2019 can lose his or her job as a result of contracting out or privatization.

Coun. Joe Mihevc (Ward 21, St. Paul’s West) said it’s common for details to be leaked during the collective bargaining process, whether it’s by the union or employer.

“Negotiation is a combination of dialogue, garnering public support for your position (and) applying external pressure,” Mihevc told Humber News. “It’s a mucky process.”

“Sometimes I have seen the union publish what they’ve got on the table and sometimes I’ve seen management do it,” he continued. “It’s nothing I haven’t seen before, especially if it’s highly contentious.”

Councillors do not get briefed on the agreement’s specific details until it’s put for a vote in city council, Mihevc added.

Precarious employment is the issue: labour leader

John Cartwright, president of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council, said it’s important to look at the agreement in the context of the precarious employment situation for so many workers, including those employed by the city.

“Although people think of city work and city jobs as stable and secure, in fact nearly half of CUPE Local 79 members are working in temporary or part-time positions, many without any benefits, many with scheduling issues that make it difficult for them to have a second job,” Cartwright told Humber News.

“I’m sure there was some work done on those key issues.”

The union had been without a contract since the beginning of this year.

The city had already reached an agreement with CUPE Local 416, representing the city’s 5,400 outdoor workers, which was unanimously approved by council Monday.

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Canadian Politics (Provincial), Labour, Published Articles

Farm worker rights in Alberta

Jeremy Appel
Originally published in the Monitor (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives) 

Alberta’s NDP government has encountered fierce opposition to its efforts to extend basic workplace safety and labour regulations to the province’s farms and ranches. Prior to the introduction Bill 6, the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act, Alberta was the only province where farms were not bound by mandatory occupational health and safety standards. As of January 1, Alberta’s farmers now have the right to refuse unsafe work, receive overtime pay, apply for workers’ compensation in case of injury, and unionize.

The bill, passed by the NDP majority in Alberta’s parliament on December 10, amends four pieces of previous legislation—the Employment Standards Code, Labour Relations Code, Occupational Health and Safety Act, and Workers’ Compensation Regulation—to bring farm workers under the same regulatory regime as other workers. Each of these laws had exemptions for farmers and ranchers. Bill 6 repeals these provisions, applying labour and safety regulations across the board.

The changes were spurred by the death, last October, of three girls on a farm in the Central Alberta hamlet of Withrow. The three sisters, aged 11 to 13, suffocated under a truckload of canola they were playing in. Alberta’s agriculture minister, Oneil Carlier, responded by calling for measures to enhance farm safety with the stated goal of protecting rural children. In late January, Carlier announced the creation of six working groups, made up of a dozen people each, who were to begin developing a rollout plan for Bill 6 at the end of February.

“Years of promises made and promises broken by Conservative premiers is enough,” wrote Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan in November. “Agricultural workers can now expect a minimum wage. Hazards in the workplace will have to be labelled. Workers will have the right to refuse unsafe work without penalty…. In the event that someone dies at work, there will be an investigation.”

Opposition critics and some agricultural associations, on the other hand, challenged the government as trying to impose unnecessary labour laws under the guise of protecting public safety. The legislation also stoked outrage from family farmers who felt their bucolic work methods were being trampled on by a social democratic government few of them voted for. Bill 6 “appeared to disregard the traditional community approach to farming in Alberta, in which family members are active on the farm and neighbours help neighbours with various tasks,” wrote Michael Hughes, a lawyer who advises employers on labour issues, in December.

As a direct response to this criticism, the government amended the bill to preserve family farming. “Alberta farm and ranch producers with paid employees who are not the owner or related to the owner will be affected by Bill 6,” reads a government statement. “This means that family members can continue to contribute to farming operations as they always have and neighbours can still volunteer to help each other out.”

Still, many are calling it a bad communications blunder for the government. Wildrose party leader Brian Jean, who as recently as March 2015 told CBC he supported new farm safety regulations, is using the opportunity to denounce the NDP as anti-democratic. Generally the right in Alberta is using dissatisfaction with the government’s handling of the bill to whip up wholesale opposition to the NDP’s policies—namely the carbon tax and a recently wrapped-up oil royalty review.

Though the Alberta Federation of Agriculture (AFA), which represents the province’s farmers, ranchers and other agricultural workers, supports the broader goal of enhancing farm safety, it, too, has reservations about the way the bill was rolled out.

“AFA’s position on Bill 6 is that while we welcome some of the changes in the proposed legislation, more consultation and communication are essential,” reads the organization’s website. “The quick implementation schedule and unclear communication about the scope of this legislation has meant a significant learning curve for farmers.”

Bob Barnetson, professor of labour studies at Athabasca University, staunchly supports the bill, which he says represents “a long overdue change that brings Alberta employment law for farm workers into the mainstream.” Barnetson atributes farmers’ opposition to the legislation as a desire to squeeze every bit of profit out of their employees.

“Farmers are no different from any other business owner,” he says. “They typically dislike the additional costs associated with paying workers living wages and offering them safe workplaces. They would rather externalize those costs onto the workers.”

Barneston points out small family farms are untouched by the legislation, but their plight is being used as a wedge issue by the two conservative opposition parties to mask their support for big agribusiness.

“Who’s really affected by Bill 6? There’s about 43,000 farm operations… in Alberta, but only about 13,000 of those have paid workers, so only about 30% of farms are affected by Bill 6, and those tend to be the biggest farms.”

Barnetson concedes the government failed to convince Albertans that the legislation is in the public’s interest. “Much of the opposition to this bill is frankly hysterically misinformed,” he says. “I would think if the NDP could do this again, they would adopt a different communications strategy…. Even the premier has publicly accepted that the communication was bad.”

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