Sunday, October 7, 2007

Against All Odds: Winning Electoral Reform in Ontario

By Dennis Pilon, published in Relay (Sept/Oct 2007)

Against All Odds: Winning Electoral Reform in Ontario

Dennis Pilon

On October 10, 2007 Ontarians will go to polls in a provincial election. But this time, in addition to casting a ballot for a politician, voters will also be asked to make a choice about the kind democratic institutions they think the province should use. On a separate referendum ballot voters will be asked whether they prefer to keep Ontario's traditional ‘first-past-the-post' or plurality voting system or would like to switch to the Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP) model as recommended by the Ontario Citizens' Assembly. Depending on the commentator, a victory for MMP would mean electoral disaster or democratic renewal for the province. Yet few Ontarians seem to know what the referendum is about or why the public is being asked to vote on this issue. So far, the politicians have shied away from the debate while the media have remained largely indifferent, occasionally drawing attention to some minor implication of the proposed alternative MMP system. Even the more independent media has offered little commentary, no doubt because they are generally suspicious of elections as largely empty charades. If this continues, the whole referendum may end up falling beneath the public radar.

Electoral Reform in Historical Perspective

The upcoming referendum on the voting system may be the most important breakthrough for a more substantive democracy in Ontario's history. To understand why, progressives have to reorient how they understand the relationship between electoral activity, institutional rules, and capitalist democracy. There is a tendency on the left to treat the institutions of the state as mere instruments of class rule, as if they were unproblematically designed and implemented to allow those with power in civil society to exercise it over the state as well. But this ignores the actual historical development of these institutions. Comparing state institutions across western countries, it is interesting how different each configuration is, reflecting the different patterns of social and political struggle within each country. Decisions over voting systems were also a part of these struggles. In fact, in most European countries around World War I, the voting system became the key front in the struggle between right and left to either limit or expand the potential of the emerging minimally democratic governments. Though contemporary Ontario is far different than World War I era Europe, the voting system referendum is nonetheless an opportunity to push the boundaries of the province's limited democracy, if progressives take up the challenge.

Needless to say, the governing Liberals do not see the referendum as such an opportunity. How the referendum became government policy is a complicated story but an instructive one on the state of contemporary politics. Historically, governments have maintained tight control over institutional arrangements like the voting system. Because the voting system is the link between organized political activity in parties and the exercise of state power through control of the legislature, the tendency was typically to make the rules as exclusive as possible, thus allowing only the most popular forces to gain election. This would assure that only those financed by capital would control the state. But with the rise of popular left wing parties, ones with a credible shot at gaining such exclusive state power electorally, voting system reform became a popular method of limiting their influence.

In Canada, voting system reform emerged continuously from WWI to the 1950s, whenever the electoral left appeared on the rise. For instance, BC adopted a new voting system in 1951 expressly to prevent the left CCF from gaining provincial office. More recently, voting system reform re-emerged internationally as part of struggles to either resist or entrench the neoliberal reorganization of national economies in New Zealand, Italy and Japan. Neoliberalism is also a factor in recent Canadian reform efforts, though more indirectly. Canadian governments have had less trouble restructuring the economy but the effects have led to great public dissatisfaction with the political system, and that has fuelled some of the interest in democratic reforms.

Electoral Reform Across the Country

By 2005 five of Canada's ten provinces were considering some kind of voting system reform. In Quebec and BC, interest was partly fueled by a number of seemingly perverse elections results, ones where the second most popular party ended up gaining power, combined with a major party fearing that the rules of the electoral game might be stacked against them. In both provinces, analysts claimed that the pattern of Liberal party support meant that the party had to gain a much higher percentage of the vote than its main opposing party in order to win the election. Thus both Liberal parties were prepared to consider looking at the voting system. In the Maritimes a number of contests had returned only a marginal complement of opposition members, far fewer than their electoral support might suggest should be elected. The resulting embarrassment moved governments in PEI and New Brunswick to entrust commissions with examining the problem.

From Liberal Commitment to Liberal Reluctance

The situation in Ontario resembled both patterns in some ways. The Ontario Liberals, despite consistently being the second most popular party in the province, had seldom been in government in the postwar period. This reflected the uneven dispersion of the party's support across the province as well as a vote-splitting problem with both the NDP and the Conservatives, depending on the region of the province. After the party's disappointing loss to the Harris Conservatives in 1999, the Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty initiated a far-reaching policy renewal process, one plank of which involved democratic reforms.

When the Ontario Liberals won a majority of the legislative seats in the 2003 provincial election there was little blocking them from acting on their policy promises. Various aspects of their democratic reform package, like fixed election dates, were quickly introduced. But other aspects, like their promise to examine the voting system, kept missing the order paper. Midway through the government's term in office they were still dragging their feet on the issue, while cabinet ministers and backbenchers grumbled that the whole thing was an albatross around their necks.

Finally, in 2006, the government established a citizen body to examine the question and make recommendations. The Ontario Citizens' Assembly (OCA) was modeled after a similar process in BC and they came to similar conclusions -- the existing plurality voting system was antiquated and undemocratic. In the spring of 2007 they recommended that Ontarians adopt a mixed-member proportional (MMP) voting system, one that would retain the traditional single member ridings but would add an additional pool of seats that could be used to bring the overall legislative results into line with the popular vote for each party. Unlike plurality, where 40% of the popular vote for a party might result in 60% of the seats or 30% of the seats, depending on the state of party competition, under MMP parties would get seats roughly equal to their voting support. Thus 40% of the votes would pretty much always result in 40% of the seats -- no more, no less.

While the Liberals may be credited with (finally) honouring their pledge to allow a citizen-driven examination of the voting system, they have broken another election promise -- to remain neutral about which voting system choice should triumph. In numerous ways they have tried to rig the process so as to favour keeping the plurality voting system. First, they waited far too long to establish the OCA, thus limiting the amount of time to educate the public about the issue. By the time the OCA reported their decision there was less that six months before the referendum had to be held, with most of that coinciding with the summer decline in active media coverage. Second, they lumbered the referendum with a super-majority rule to pass. Thus voters wanting change need 60% of the total votes and a majority in 60% of the ridings to displace the current plurality system. This inflates the voting power of one side in the contest and dilutes the voting power of the other, hardly a neutral decision rule. Third, they have manipulated the referendum question, shifting from a simple yes or no for the proposed new MMP system to an alleged choice between the current plurality system and the MMP alternative. Yet, as pointed out above, this choice is hardly fair when the votes for one side are plumped and the other side are diminished.

The Pressing Need for Change

Clearly, the Ontario Liberals have decided that their losing streak is over. Not surprisingly, they want to retain to retain our traditional plurality voting system, one that typically awards a legislative majority to the party with the largest minority of the vote. The point is to reduce the scope of democratic pressure to just the election day and force all the public wants into a single ‘all or nothing' X vote. While the wealthy are free to use their resources to lobby on a myriad of issues all the time, the public are largely limited to being heard on election day, and even then can only ‘choose' on the basis of, at best, just a few policy positions.

But it is no longer just voting system reformers who are unhappy with the present state of electoral competition. Many voters are frustrated with an electoral process where so many votes do not count toward the election of anyone, where there is constant pressure to vote ‘strategically' (i.e. not for their first choice but for one of the top two contenders in their local area) and where governments continually promise one thing at election time but do another in office. There are also factions within all the major parties that are unhappy with the current state of things. It is often forgotten that parties are actually coalitions, ones where not all members have equal influence. Some of the push for a focus on electoral reform ® in the various parties has come from those elements that feel marginalized within their own groups, like the social conservatives on the right or the socialist caucus in the NDP.

Now that the OCA has declared against plurality and for MMP, there is some pressure for the provincial parties to clarify their positions in the coming referendum. At present, only the NDP has come out solidly in favour of the new MMP voting system. There are a few high profile Liberal supporters of MMP like Toronto-area MPPs George Smitherman and Michael Bryant but most of the government caucus is opposed or not talking. No provincial Conservatives have indicated their support but many have spoken out against any change.

Yet, as the referendum approaches, the parties have largely remained fairly quiet on the issue. The public debate, such as it is, has been mostly in hands of media and various MMP advocates. And this explains why the public knows very little about the issue: the media are not in the business of educating the public on complex matters of public policy and the MMP groups do not have the financial resources to launch the kind of media campaign to get through to voters. The challenges in such an initiative are considerable. For instance, in BC, where the voting system issue was in the public realm much longer and with more positive coverage, polling before the 2005 discovered that few knew about the referendum or understood the proposed alternative voting system. Still, in the end, nearly 60% of BC voters supported the change, largely because it had been recommended by their fellow ‘citizens'. Not surprisingly, media opponents of voting system change in Ontario learned from this experience and have expended a great deal of effort trying to discredit the legitimacy of the OCA as a proxy for the public.

To the extent that media have taken up the issue, the coverage has been slanted in favour of the status quo. A number of reporters and columnists have trotted out alarmist accounts of the instability that would result from switching from our present unrepresentative plurality system, with speculative and largely uninformed predictions of party fragmentation, the rise of single issue and extremist parties and weak and indecisive government. The fact that most western countries already use some form of proportional representation -- with fairly stable results -- seems lost on these commentators. Or media analysts and politicians wax romantic about how great our system of constituency representation is and how the alternative MMP system would diminish this or strengthen than hand of oligarchic parties. Never mind that few voters make their voting decision on the basis of local issues or the local member (study after study demonstrates that people vote on the basis of party, not the individual candidate or locale) and that parties are a force in all political systems, including our present one.

What might be gained from change is seldom highlighted -- like accurate election results, a more competitive political environment that responds more quickly to public concerns and governments that must gain a real majority of support to push through their agendas. Those opposed to change have so far effectively managed the agenda of the public debate, focusing the public discourse on aspects of the new system that could be considered controversial (like the party control in nominating candidates for the extra pool of MPPs). In this they may have been helped by the pro-MMP forces, who decided to build their campaign around the idea that the proposed new voting system represents just a modernization of Ontario's electoral system rather than a break with a history of undemocratic practices. The inference of the strategy is that the change is not all that major -- it's just bringing Ontario up to world standards for democratic procedures. Pro-MMP supporters, worried that Ontario voters might be less populist and anti-system than BC voters, think that an evolutionary message will get them past 60% support. But they appear to have forgotten a truism of politics: that governments are typically defeated rather than being elected. In other words, the failure of what people already know is often more persuasive than the promise of what they don't know.

A campaign focused around the failures of the present plurality system would have accomplished a number of things. First, focusing on the system people already have some experience with would be more concrete than attempting to sell the details of a new system that people have never experienced. Second, focusing on the existing system would have highlighted aspects of its performance that most of the public is unaware of. For instance, nearly 50% of Canadians believe that legislative majority governments also enjoy a majority of the popular vote -- even though almost none ever do. The last government in Ontario that had the support of over 50% of the voting public was elected in 1937. Nonetheless, most governments since then have controlled a majority of the seats in the legislature. Finally, focusing on the flaws in our current system would have focused the agenda around the issues that will be crucial in gaining 60% of the vote on election day -- issues like the distorted results of our present system, the artificial barriers to political competition it raises and the role that phony majority governments play in limiting electoral accountability to voters. By their strategic choices, the reformers have taken a tough situation and arguably made it tougher.

While the odds may be against victory for MMP on October 10, success is not impossible. There is always an unpredictable aspect of politics and given that there will be a specific referendum question on the voting system, the issue may break out into the public consciousness. But for that to happen, people have to start talking about it. Progressives need to take the initiative on this by getting their networks to focus activist attention on this question of voting system reform. Though a shift to a more proportional voting system will not bring about any revolution, it will dramatically alter the space in which we fight for a more substantive form of democracy. And as Marx noted long ago, there is a radical kernel embedded within any notion of democracy -- even capitalist democracy -- that remains a constant threat to those with power.

Dennis Pilon's new book, The Politics of Voting: Reforming Canada's Electoral System, is out now from Emond Montgomery.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Hugo Chavez Turns Back Time....Literally

What is this man not capable of doing?

John Tory to lose Don Valley West?

This Ottawa Citizen article suggest that John Tory might not be able to knock of Kathleen Wynne in Don Valley West. If Tory does end up losing this riding, he'll have no one to blame but himself and his silly plan to segregate Ontario's school system.

John Tory's promise to fund faith-based schools is so deeply unpopular with voters that the Ontario Conservative leader is facing defeat in his own riding, trailing his Liberal opponent by 15 points....

....The poll shows Mr. Tory with the backing of 37 per cent of decided voters in the race for the riding of Don Valley West, well behind the 52 per cent for Liberal Kathleen Wynne.

Decided voters in that Toronto riding are giving the Green party six per cent support and the NDP five per cent. The poll, which surveyed 333 voters between Sept. 25 and Sept. 29, is considered accurate within 5.6 percentage points 19 times out of 20.

John Tory's "Bait and Switch"

Ian Urquhart looks a bit deeper in to John Tory's political past.

Encountering a sympathetic voter while campaigning door-to-door in London West this week, Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory asked her if she would put a "small" sign on her front lawn. She agreed.

As he stepped away from the house, Tory turned and chuckled to the entourage of media following him: "You always ask them if they want a small sign," he said, "but then you come back with a big one and say you ran out of small ones."

Leadership matters? With deception like this, can Tory really be trusted?

Ontario Party Leaders: Is a picture worth a thousand words?

This picture is from the Toronto Star's homepage. I guess this counts as an informal endorsement.

There is a popular phrase stating that "a picture is worth a thousand words." Needless to say, most of the words used to describe both Hampton and Tory would be synonyms of 'unflattering.' Meanwhile, Dalton McGuinty is looking allright

Monday, October 1, 2007

Leave Stephane Dion Alone!

Jason Cherniak wears his heart on his sleeve and lets it all out in this one.

h/t to UncorrectedProofs

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Is Stephane Dion a Leader?

I don't think Stephane Dion is much of leader. Depending how he responds to this debauchery, we'll see what kind of leader he is. Needless to say, more bad news for the Liberal party.

Stephane Dion's palace guard was under seige today by members of his own party who are calling on the Liberal leader to dismiss one of his closest aides over alleged remarks about Quebec.

Several MPs and senators from the province have been pleading privately for him to fire Jamie Carroll, the Liberals' national director and one of the key players in Dion's leadership victory.

They are now making their demands public.

Witnesses at a closed-door meeting this week say Carroll was dismissive when some Quebec Liberals suggested their leader's entourage needed more people who were bilingual and from the province.

According to witnesses, Carroll remarked that if he hired more Quebecers, then he'd have to hire more Chinese.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

UAW recesses National Strike of General Motors

A tentative agreement has been reached. Details to follow a ratification vote.

Apparantly American Workers have it pretty damn good...

I stumbled across this article on MSN. It attempts to compare the American workforce to the global average (hours, wages, unemployment etc.), but relies more on Mexico and Korea as examples to illustrate that, comparatively, American workers have it pretty damn good in relation to most. They seem to gloss over most other western, liberal-democratic, capitalist countries in their analysis. A selective interpretation indeed.

If you think you're working too much and getting paid too little, consider that the average Mexican worker puts in about 100 more hours of work each year than the average American, yet only makes the equivalent of $2.63 per hour (Americans average $23.65), or that Koreans, who work almost 600 more hours per year than the average American, still make about $10 less than us per hour. Feel better yet?

...See how America's labor force compares to its international counterparts, and perhaps you'll gain a new appreciation for your own job situation.

And when they did use other western, liberal-democratic, capitalist countries in their analysis, they were rather dismissive of the progressive nature of employment relations in these countries. For example,

Norway and Netherlands recorded fewest hours worked with 1360 and 1368, respectively...It hardly seems fair that the workers who enjoyed the highest hourly rate of compensation in 2005 also worked the fewest hours: Norwegians topped the list, earning an equivalent of $39.14 per hour.

That actually seems pretty fair to me.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Minority Government in Ontario??

Unless the Liberals get a little boost in support over the next two weeks (or another party gets a giant boost of support), it looks like Ontario might be in a minority government situation. Mr. McGuinty is prepared to accept such a result, meaning that he likely won't be pulling a Joe Clark. If a minority government does occur, it looks like the NDP will potentially be the kingmakers.

Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty says he is prepared to accept a minority government if that’s the will of the voters. “The electorate will do its own thing in its own course and I accept that and that’s fine by me,” McGuinty said today after re-announcing the restoration of GO service to Barrie from Toronto by the end of the year...

According to the survey of 500 Ontarians, the Liberals are mired at 41 per cent, the Progressive Conservatives holding at 33 per cent, the NDP at 18 per cent and the Green Party stuck at 8 per cent support. If those numbers hold, the Liberals might be looking at forming a minority government. The margin of error for the SES polls was plus or minus 4.4 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

638 Ways to Kill Fidel Castro

Capitalists rejoice! Tune into the CBC's Passionate Eye for a documentary exploring the various ways to kill Castro. Apparently there are 638 of them.

Some claim that there are 50 ways to leave your lover, but how many ways are there to kill off a political enemy? According to the former head of Cuban Intelligence, Fabian Escalante, there are no less than 638.

638 Ways To Kill Castro is a political documentary exploring the history of the relationship between the U.S. government and Cuba, told via the countless attempts to kill Fidel Castro. From exploding cigars to femme fatales; a radio station rigged with noxious gas to a poison syringe posing as an innocuous ballpoint pen, those who tried to kill Castro reveal every conceivable method of assassination.

On the trail of Castro's would-be killers, the filmmakers meet a series of extraordinary characters, including two men accused of being terrorists, but living free in America. Orlando Bosch, who many consider to be the greatest terrorist in the northern hemisphere, is found living peacefully in his Miami home, with his adoring family. Antonio Veciana, the Cuban American who got the closest to killing Castro on three occasions, now runs a marine store in Miami. Both men were supported and funded by the United States, and the CIA even sought the help of the Mafia, hoping they would be able to succeed where Bosch and Veciana had failed.

A exciting detective thriller, 638 Ways To Kill Castro is a Silver River production for Britain's Channel 4.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Liberal Masterplan Exposed: Liberals won Outremont

Oh wow. In what is possibly the best political power play in Canadian history, the Liberals are now revealing that they didn't technically lose Outremonet because a Liberal was elected anyways! Kudos M. Dion and company, you had us all fooled. We really thought that you suffered a serious loss in Quebec. And to think, this whole week New Demoracts from coast to coast have been jumping for joy for thinking they finally gained a foothold in Quebec. Jokes on them, because it turns out that a Liberal was actually elected in Outremonet. Ha. As "What Do I Know Grit" explains:

So Dion's getting ripped all over the media for losing not one, but three by-elections in the Province of Quebec....With the exception of Outremont - where they elected a Liberal anyway - the other ridings weren't exactly Liberal bastiens. In fact, those ridings have long since seen better days for Liberals. Yet, if you listen to the media reports, it was the Liberals and Dion that were crushed in all three ridings.

I guess when this guy stated that it smelled like Liberal victory in Outremont he was right after all! It turns out that "What Do I Know Grit" knows significantly more than the rest of us. Thanks for sharing this Liberal masterplan.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Ontario and the Funding of Relgious Schools

Courtesy of the Bullet....

In what might turn to be the defining issue of the Ontario provincial election set for October 10, Conservative leader John Tory proposed that faith-based schools be fully funded. In a province that already funds Catholic schools through the high school years. The Tories are claiming the mantle of 'fairness' by extending funding to other religious schools. This position, indeed, is being heatedly debated.

Socialists and the Education System

The debate has raised a number of issues for socialists, with respect to both religion in a complex multicultural society, and the demands for a more democratic and egalitarian education system in Ontario.

Socialists have long critiqued religion as an aspect of the power structures that support the existing social and political order. Religion has also underpinned many patriarchical practices that oppress women. And religious majorities have often suppressed religious and national minorities. Socialists have, therefore, been uncompromising on the demand for a secular state and the end to public subsidies of religious institutions. The insistence on a secular state has gone along with firm support for the protection of the rights to practice religion in private life without discrimination, as part of rights of freedom of assembly, and a vigorous defence of religious minorities.

Socialists have also favoured an educational system as a means to develop the capacities of working people. These are not only the technical capacities for work, but also capacities for democratic self-government, and deepening cultural, scientific and political understandings. This is also the special role of teachers in the public school system: they are not merely conveyers of required knowledge, but the facilitators for building critical democratic citizens in the broadest meaning of those ideas.

A universal public school system has been a crucial objective. It is the reason that the private school system that the capitalist and professional classes often resort has been a fundamental target for reform and incorporation within the public system. And it is why socialists have to continually engage in criticism, debate and engagement with public schools and their curricula. Teachers' unions have often been key allies in Ontario in raising issues of both funding and social justice in Ontario schools. Education in capitalist societies has to be continually contested as it is not ground the ruling classes will ever willingly concede.

In the case of Ontario, there clearly should be no funding of any faith-based schools, and this would include the present funding of separate Catholic schools. The public system is already starved for resources and funding religious schools will further weaken it. Full funding of religious schools flies in the face of some of the most elementary principles of modern democratic societies such as the separation of church and state. It reinforces conservatism and weakens equality and human rights. It undermines the integration of students from diverse backgrounds so necessary in today's Ontario.


The Conservative proposal, in some estimates, would take $500 million out of an already cash strapped public education system. Expanding public funding for religious schools would undermine the resource base of the entire public school system. After years of underfunding -- first by the Harris and Eves' governments and by the McGuinty Liberals -- the school system cannot afford a diversion of funds to religious schools. Resources would have to be effectively cut to fund this initiative. There are currently 52,000 students attending independent religious schools, including Jewish, Muslim and some Christians (more than 10 times that number are in the separate Catholic schools, and in total accounting for just about a third in religious schools in Ontario). The funding of faith-based schools would dramatically expand these numbers and the variety of religious schools. The economics of funding public schools (as well as some of what is ! taught) would be dramatically altered. There would be further difficulties in sustaining public schools infrastructure, and wide community access to the facilities of schools. There is a general crisis in public education in Ontario. This debate needs to be widened to take up that issue as well.

Defending Public Education

Private religious beliefs have no place in a public education system. The separation of religion and state is a key element of democratic politics. Every individual has a right to practice religion as they wish -- or to be atheists. But the public education system is not the place to do this. It is a place that students from all backgrounds to mix and learn together and to become critical thinking and informed citizens. Parents are, of course, free to send their children for after-school or weekend instruction as they wish. Such teaching should be privately funded and separate from the public system.

The funding of Catholic schools was the result of a constitutional compromise in Canada in the mid-19th century. It dates from an era where national and linguistic rights between French and English were identified with religious rights. This same identification hardly fits Ontario today; it has no place in a modern, secular, liberal democratic society. The extension of funding to Catholic secondary schools in 1984 was a coldly calculated political move by then-Premier Bill Davis, made just as he was about to retire. It was a deal originally cut in private between himself and the then Roman Catholic Cardinal for Toronto. Even Davis's cabinet was unaware of this decision, but the rigidities of Cabinet solidarity pushed into legislation. The deal was hardly an emblem for democratic decision-making. It was sealed by further backroom deals with the Liberals and NDP, scrambling for advantages in minority legislatures, not to reopen ! the funding issue.

While politically arduous, funding for separate schools in Ontario can be ended without a major constitutional crisis. The existing constitutional clause can be amended by simple pieces of legislation passing the Ontario Legislature and the Federal Parliament. This has been the case in recent reforms in Newfoundland and Quebec. In Newfoundland, the existence of an education system split along religious lines was seen to fuel sectarianism within the larger society and stretched the capacity of the province to provide quality education. With a referendum, all that changed and Newfoundland left 19th century education behind.

It is a shame that neither the Liberals nor the NDP have challenged the funding of Catholic schools in Ontario or the principles on which it is based. Their avoidance of the issue is not based on principle but on vulgar electoral calculation. Their mutual conformity neither advances democracy nor serves the public interest. To their credit, the Green Party is the only party of any size to propose the complete secularization of public education (and it is a crucial factor in their rise in the polls, alongside the clear support for a proportional representation voting system).


John Tory's proposal is both an ideological statement and cynical electoral ploy. Much of the teaching in currently existing religious schools feeds conservatism: some religious schools argue against the equality of men and women and call for the denial of women's reproductive rights; some teach homophobia; some call for denial of the national rights of Palestinians, others teach creationism as an alternative to science. Should we subsidize these ideas as we welcome religious schools into the public system? If religious schools become part of the public system, there is little leverage to keep these noxious ideas out of schools even if a core Ontario curriculum is required to be taught.

The Conservative position is also a cynical attempt to bribe votes from religious people in different communities. Relying on traditional stereotypes of immigrants, it directly appeals to the most conservative elements in all of Ontario's communities and strengthens the voices of those right-wing spokespeople who have tirelessly argued for full funding of religious schools. It correspondingly weakens the progressive forces across Ontario -- in immigrant communities, amongst Canadian born and within different religious traditions -- who support the secular education provided in the public school system and want real equality.

A dangerous precedent would also be being set. Full funding of religious schools implemented would re-open the attempts by the Conservatives and their wealthy supporters to establish further public funding of private and charter schools. They, too, have been claiming to being left out of appropriate public funding. The separate status of these class-based schools should also be challenged, and be brought into the public system on an equal basis with other schools.

Building a respectful and solidaristic future

Funding religious schools would encourage the separation of children from across the spectrum of communities and cultures that make Ontario's schools such exciting places of learning. Expansions of faith-based schools would represent a tremendous step backwards: it would move Ontario away from the kinds of schools where students from all of the diverse communities and traditions can learn together in a pluralistic environment of mutual respect and solidarity. That's the kind of environment where kids can grow into the kind of inquisitive and open-minded individuals who can help change the world. It is also why the discriminatory separate system for Catholics should, at last, be abolished to history. Ontario's working people should have the option of ending all funding or religious schools, and also addressing private schools, to form a single public school system, allowing linguistic access in French and English. This could be done direct! ly through a programme put before the people of Ontario and then the legislature. But it also could be done through a referendum that would allow wider education and debate about the benefits and kind of unified secular school system we should be building.


Ontario Educators for Democratic Inclusive Public Schools

In the few weeks of the Ontario election campaign that will end in a vote on October 10, citizens of Ontario will be subjected to a debate between the parties and in the media about the extension of the public education system to include faith-based schools. These schools teach about 2.5 percent of the total student population of Ontario based on curriculum that incorporates central principles of their religions.

The present educational system in Ontario extends privileges to one faith group in a separate school system. The Ontario system is considered to be discriminatory by the United Nations Human Rights Commission. Two of the main parties -- the ruling Liberal Party and the NDP -- are proposing to maintain the status quo, while a third -- the Conservatives -- wants to extend funding to all faith-based schools that follow the Ontario curriculum.

The divisions of faith-based schooling would further compromise a secular-based education. Modern democracy partly rests upon a separation of church and state. An Ipsos-Reid poll of Ontarians has found that 62 percent of respondents opposed the Conservative promise to have "Government extend full funding to these faith-based schools and others of a similar nature."

Ontario is a multi-lingual, multi-racial, multi-cultural, society. Citizens hold many religious beliefs, and many are without established faiths, including atheists. The 2001 Canadian census reports that 16 percent of the population does not identify with any religion.

An education system for a richly diverse and democratic society must bring together students from all faith, ethnic and economic grouping and backgrounds to learn respect and understanding, and to equalize educational resources and opportunities for all Ontario students. Faith-based school systems build barriers to the equalizing role that a common public school system promotes between citizens. Many parents are rightly concerned about the negative impact of the divisions that faith-based schools necessarily entail for social cohesiveness. The continued growth of a parallel private schooling system in Ontario is an equally formidable obstacle for a democratic education system.

A democratic education is an education for democracy. It requires a dialogue in which students and teachers critically assess their own assumptions and beliefs about religion, society and politics. This is the invaluable resource that a common public educational system -- from pre-kindergarten through grade 12 to an expansion of access to post-secondary education -- provides.

1. We call for Ontario to complete the project of building a democratic, inclusive public educational system, and to end the discriminatory practice of funding faith-based school systems.

2. We insist that all religious instruction in any faith be outside regular school hours.

3. We maintain that private schooling helps sustain barriers of income and class to a democratic education and citizenship and equally requires inclusion within a universal public system.

4. We suggest that a referendum be put before the citizens of Ontario on completing a single, inclusive, universal educational system free from all forms of discrimination and barriers.

If you would like to sign the petition, please go to:

Education Equality in Ontario

Education Equality in Ontario is a non-governmental human rights organization and education advocacy group. We seek the elimination of religious discrimination and duplication in the Ontario school system through the establishment of a single publicly-funded school system for each official language (English and French).

The Government of Ontario currently funds two parallel school systems for each official language; one a public system open to all without discrimination, and the other a 'separate' system that often denies admission to non-Catholic students and is essentially closed to non-Catholic teacher applicants. Only Roman Catholics are guaranteed access to both systems. They alone enjoy publicly-funded school choice and they bear no additional tax burden for the privilege. Roman Catholics in Ontario suffer no disadvantage that might warrant such preferential treatment. By allowing this blatant discrimination to continue, the Government violates the equality rights of over seven million non-Catholic Ontarians, discriminating against them on the basis of their faith or their lack of a faith.

Fundamental equality rights should enjoy primacy over non-fundamental denominational privilege. Publicly-funded choice in education and access to related employment opportunities should be non-exclusive and non-discriminatory in nature, fully respecting the equality 'guarantees' in the provincial, national, and international human rights instruments that are supposed to protect us.

Finally, the costly duplication in the Ontario school system has been and continues to be a significant contributor to the steady decline in the quality and quantity of programs available in our publicly-funded schools, both public and separate alike. That duplication must end so that more education dollars can make their way into classrooms, enabling all children to reach their maximum academic potential.


The Canadian Civil Liberties Association is asking community leaders to sign a joint statement that the CCLA and a number of other organizations have put together. This statement calls upon the government of Ontario and all political parties to reject the proposal to publicly fund religious schools in Ontario. If you wish to add your name to the list of signatories, please send your response to:

St. Catharines union rallies against homophobic music

I found this article in the Toronto Star, and found that it had a local connection. The article is in regards to a human rights coalition that is urging Ottawa to ban two Jamaican dancehall artists from coming to Canada to perform music it says incites violence against gays and lesbians.

The musicians, O'Neil Bryan, a.k.a. Elephant Man, and Miguel Collins, known as Sizzla, are set to embark on a Canadian tour in a few weeks. They were scheduled to play the CAW local 199 hall in St. Catharines, Ontario. In light of the homophobic and violent nature of the lyrics, the union has pulled the use of their venue.

Offensive lyrics include lines such as "Battyman fi dead! Tek dem by surprise," "Log on and step pon chi chi man" and "Shot battybwoy, my big gun boom." (Battyman and battybwoy are derogatory terms for gay men in Jamaican patois.)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

John Tory supports private health care

First creationism and now private health care? Someone really wants to lose an election.

Ontarians waiting for surgery should be able to go to private clinics and have the government pay for it, Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory says.

Patients would present their Ontario health card at private clinics and the government would pay the clinic the same rate it pays public hospitals for procedures, including knee and hip replacements, under the plan Tory outlined today.

Secret Shoppers Exposed!

Have a look at thisarticle on

If your idea of satisfying work is to get paid in products, services or a small amount of money on a piecework basis for tattling on low-waged service industry workers, secret shopping just might be your dream job.

Many retail and hospitality sector corporations now turn to secret shoppers, also known as mystery shoppers, to spy on their service employees and report every detail of the transaction back to management. They rate the entire shopping experience, from store presentation of products to employee compliance on the use of scripts and upselling techniques.

As a former service sector worker, I can certainly relate to the fears that workers have of being 'secret shopped.'

Liberal blogger silent about Outremont by-election loss

Controversial Liberal blogger "What Do I Know Grit" spent Monday blogging about a Liberal victory that just never came to be. His blog tag lines included "Coulon Victorious" and "Crushing Mulcair." This guy is rarely silent on anything, but he hasn't posted since the debauchery that was Monday night's defeat. Perhaps he thinks it is all a bad dream? Wake up Grit, you've lost Outremont, and who knows what else come next federal election.

Here's a look at what he said on Monday:

Monday, September 17, 2007
Outremont is Beautiful Today

Lots and lots of sunshine. Perhaps the NDP will get their Bloc vote out...or not.

Posted by James Curran at 8:15 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Labels: coulon wins, crush mulcair

Sunday, September 16, 2007
I'm in Outremont

Smells like Liberal victoy.

If you're here, or planning to be, drop me a line!

Posted by James Curran at 11:39 AM 6 comments Links to this post

Labels: coulon victorious, crush mulcair

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

New Poll Suggests Virtual Federal Deadlock

According to a Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey:

Conservatives had 32 per cent support, compared with 29 per cent for the Liberals. That spread is covered by the poll's margin of error, which is 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The poll found the NDP had the support of 17 per cent of respondents nationally, while the Green party had 14 per cent and the Bloc Quebecois five per cent.

It seems as if no one is moving to a 'majority' level (which is at worst high 30s).

MMP and Progressive Voters

Linda McQuaig notes that voters who identify themselves as progressive should be in favour of MMP. Indeed, a more proportional system would allow greater electoral choices and would prevent progressive voters voting for the lesser of two evils (which has generally been the Liberal Party in an effort to stop the Conservatives from gaining power.

So while polls show strong support among Canadians for social reinvestment and the environment – preferences that should logically attract voters to the NDP or the Greens – these parties remain small or even marginal.

One reason for this is our skewed electoral system. With our first-past-the-post system, progressive voters have been afraid to vote NDP or Green, for fear of splitting the vote on the left and letting the right win.

Not only does she argue that MMP is more progressive, but it is also more democratic.

In Canada, where the electorate is fairly progressive, the result would generally be more progressive representation in the legislatures. (As Tom Flanagan, a strategist for Stephen Harper in the 2006 federal election, noted in his recent book, Harper's Team: "Neither the philosophy of conservatism nor the party brand comes close to commanding majority support.")

She concludes that:

Anyone who has a problem with that has a problem with democracy.

I can't for the life of me figure out why so-many so-called progressives are opposed to mixed member proportionality.

University of Florida student Tasered at Kerry forum

Land of the free? I guess not. Nothing stops free debate like heavy handed cops.

St├ęphane Dion and Jocelyn Coulon

So much optimism....Call these the good ol' days. That is, the days before the Liberals were the laughing stock of the blogosphere and the Canadian media.

Cherniak's Excuses

At least he's willing to admit that the results are disappointing. Of course, he's got a laundry list of excuses, including:

1) Not too long ago, I was surprised to learn that Liberals in Quebec do not use lawn signs. That is an assumed part of campaigning in Ontario. It must be fixed.

2) Monday night, I learned that Liberal signs in Outremont cost about $17 each. In Richmond Hill, we buys signs for about $2.50 each. How did that happen?

The Liberals seem to have won Outremont in the past without lawn signs, what's the big deal this time?

Overpriced signs...I'd have to assume that the other candidates would have paid a similar rate. That, or either the Liberals are wasting even more money in Quebec. Isn't overpriced advertising what got them in trouble in the first place? Has sign-scam has arrived?

Number 6 is a surprise:

6) Dion has been leader for less than a year. While this is a comment on his organization in Quebec, it will have no effect on his leadership of the party.

No effect? Really? I don't think so.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Adorable Kittens for Electoral Reform

How can you possibly vote against electoral reform when adorable kittens support it? (you must log in to facebook to see it)

Outremont in 30 seconds

The Liberals didn't get it done...ahhh...they didn't it done.

Unfair? No, it's a great day.

Stephane Dion is not a leader.

Outremont Analysis: Liberal Blogger gets it dead wrong

Liberal blogger and almost Liberal politician "the What Do I Know Grit" thought he smelled a Liberal victory in Outremont today. Hell, he even went to the riding to see the party get crushed first hand.

What was he smelling earlier today? The only smell in Outremont was Liberal defeat.

Oh, wait, I forgot, the results were apparently good for the Liberals. Is this guy for real?