Politicians on board for York subway line

Behind the scenes, there is a concerted effort under way to get one particular project off the ground – extension of the Spadina subway line to York University and beyond, wrote the Toronto Star’s Ian Urquhart in a June 20 column about Ontario’s infrastructure deficit. In April, a meeting of a high-powered “working group” to promote the subway took place at Queen’s Park. In attendance were Finance Minister Greg Sorbara, Infrastructure Minister David Caplan, Toronto Mayor David Miller, York Region Chair Bill Fisch, York University President and Vice-Chancellor Lorna R. Marsden, and TTC chief general manager Rick Ducharme, among others. There was general agreement at the meeting that the subway should be built, with a terminus on the north side of Steeles Avenue on a site owned by York Region and a possible future extension further north to the new Vaughan city centre.

The subway would provide the triple benefit of convenient access to York University from the south for the more than 50,000 students, faculty and workers on campus; vastly improved transit service for the residents of northwest Toronto; and a gateway for commuters from the north heading for the city, wrote Urquhart. It was one of the four new subway routes approved by Bob Rae’s NDP government before the 1995 provincial election. However, all but one of them – the Sheppard subway, probably the least economically justifiable of the four – were killed by the penny-wise and pound-foolish Mike Harris government after the election.

Although Harris is long gone, there remain some naysayers on the York subway, including, surprisingly, TTC Chair Howard Moscoe and certain environmentalists, who are enamoured of “light rail” alternatives. But these are not insurmountable obstacles. The TTC itself says the York subway extension is its top priority capital project and the mayor is onside.

Rather, the chief obstacle is, as always, money. The extension would cost up to $1.5 billion. The province can be counted on to contribute the lion’s share of this cost, especially with the finance minister firmly committed to the project. (The extension would serve the southern end of Sorbara’s riding and he is a York alumnus.) Ottawa might also chip in. Although there was no representative of the federal government at the working group meeting in April, efforts are being made on this front, and Prime Minister Paul Martin is in a giving mood. York Region has said it is prepared to contribute.

And the working group heard from two British experts in financing projects through the “recapturing” of land values (and, hence, property taxes) inflated by the proximity of new transit lines.

As for the city, continued Urquhart, its involvement in the York extension is conditional on other money being available for what it calls “the state of good repair” of the existing TTC system – that is, the repair and maintenance of the subways, buses and street cars now in use. Last week’s announcement of new federal money for transit will go part way toward meeting the city’s state-of-good-repair bill, but not all the way.

Offsetting this financial roadblock, however, is an overwhelming political desire at Queen’s Park to get the York subway extension built, both to show that the infrastructure plan is more than an abstraction and to add to the list of accomplishments for the Liberals heading into the 2007 provincial election. In other words, this is a project whose time has come.

It’s an honorary degree…

York’s illustrious honorary-degree recipients have received lots of ink and airtime from media this year.

  • The National Post featured a photo June 18 of Michael Wilson, finance minister from 1984 to 1991 in the Mulroney government, receiving an honorary Doctor of Laws degree Friday from York University Chancellor Peter Cory, at a ceremony at the Schulich School of Business. Wilson, said the caption, is a strong advocate for mental health issues and was recently appointed as the special adviser to the health minister on mental health in the federal government workplace.
  • The Toronto Star published a photo June 18 of retired supreme court judge Frank Iacobucci receiving an honorary Doctor of Laws degree Friday.
  • CP24-TV’s “Megacity News” carried the news June 17 that 80-year-old female pilot Daphne Schiff received an honorary degree.
  • OMNI Television’s “Studio Aperto” also reported honorary degrees for Iacobucci and Wilson.

Dropout Callaghan drops in for diploma

George Chuvalo and Barry Callaghan were classmates at St. Michael’s College in 1950, but, although they were part of that first graduating class, neither man hung around long enough to graduate, wrote the Toronto Star’s Joe Fiorito in a June 20 column. George preferred the sweet science to your regular sciences. He left St. Mike’s early and went on to write his thesis on the ribs of Muhammad Ali. These days, in a fierce and deeply personal campaign against drug use, he tours the country speaking to students an average of 100 times a year. Callaghan, a promising high school basketball player and a cheeky freethinker, was shown the door before he reached his final year. He went on to become an author, journalist, publisher, translator, university department head and now he is a professor emeritus at York University. This year marks the 50th anniversary of that first graduating class, and this is also the time of reunions. Because they did not graduate, both men were recently asked if they would come back to St. Mike’s and accept honorary high school diplomas. I guess they did okay for dropouts, concluded Fiorito.

Theatres won’t fly flag for films

While it’s laudable that a Canadian company now controls more than 60% of our cinemas, industry experts don’t think it will do much to boost the market share of Canadian films – 4.5 per cent of the box office in 2004, reported The Edmonton Sun June 19, referring to the Cineplex Galaxy LP purchase of Famous Players. “I don’t think theatre chains operate on grounds of patriotism. They’ll show whatever they think will make money,” said Seth Feldman, director of York’s Robarts Centre for Canadian Studies. There’s never been as much talent in the Canadian film industry, but there’s very little money for promotion, he said.

Doubts about Canada’s new tourism campaign

Envision an electronic billboard message in New York’s Times Square: “Turn left where you used to turn right. Canada. Keep Exploring.” Imagine similar quirky statements on ads in London subway cars, banners in Paris train stations and even on German bread bags. It’s part of the rebranding of Canada, a new marketing plan designed to inspire travellers to create their own adventures – and a strategy stirring up some controversy long before the campaign takes off next year, reported the Calgary Herald June 19. “It’s a wonderful, warm-fuzzy feeling – they probably should play it in Quebec instead of the sponsorship stuff to get Canadians to travel around,” said Alan Middleton, a professor of marketing at York University’s Schulich School of Business. “But I’m not sure it’s going to bring hordes of Americans across the borders, or Chinese or Japanese or Brits.”

Tattoos a mark of company hipness

Monica Belcourt, a human resources professor at York’s School of Administrative Studies, thinks hiring people with tattoos provides a corporation with a more modern image, reported the Toronto Star June 18. More conservative organizations may even benefit from allowing piercings and tattoos to be visible at work. “A young lawyer with piercings indicates a young, cool and happening firm,” explained Belcourt. “It makes the employer (appear) fun-loving and cool.”

Justice minister can achieve ambitious agenda, says law dean

Patrick J. Monahan, dean of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, believes federal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler has shown the capacity to handle his ambitious agenda, reported The Ottawa Citizen June 20. But “the danger is that if you try to spread your efforts too broadly, you fail to get enough things actually done. I think that’s the challenge.” Weeks after being named federal justice minister in 2003, Cotler unveiled a weighty agenda. It included more rigorous prosecution of war criminals, hate speech, animal cruelty and traffickers of women and children, as well as aboriginal justice, non-discriminatory application of the anti-terrorism laws and promotion of constitutionalism.  “The prospects look good for him to be able to get results on a number of these items,” said Monahan. “The same-sex bill will undoubtedly pass if it can be brought to a vote before the house rises. A number of other initiatives have broad support as well. He comes to this late in his career and he’s obviously not going to be spending 10 or more years in Ottawa. I’m sure he’s looking at this and saying he has the good fortune in being appointed the minister of justice and wants to make his mark and not waste a lot of time.”

  • The Citizen also included Monahan among lawyers who saw the Supreme Court’s milestone medicare ruling as audacious. “The health care system has sacred status. I didn’t expect a majority of the court to uphold (Chaoulli’s) claim, even though I thought there was merit to the claim, because the court would be criticized for being too activist,” said Monahan.

Debt can be very good, says finance prof

When a real estate agent dropped her card in Moshe Milevsky‘s mailbox, the finance professor couldn’t resist chasing her down to ask how much the value of his home has increased, reported the Toronto Star June 20. “I cornered her and said give me a wealth assesment of what this house is worth,” said Milevsky, a professor at York University Schulich School of Business. The house, near Bathurst Street and Sheppard Avenue, has jumped $150,000 in value in the two-and-a-half years since he bought it, according to the agent. “I said ‘That’s wonderful. Now I’ll finish the basement,'” Milevsky said.

On one hand, the heady increases in stock prices and housing values are illusory, unless someone decides to cash out. But on the other, as long as people have enough employment income to service added borrowing, leveraging higher asset values isn’t an inherently bad decision, said Milevsky, whose teaching schedule includes a class on personal finance. “Debt is not necessarily evil. Debt can be very good. I like debt,” he said, adding that a $150,000 rise in his household wealth inspired the $30,000 basement reno.

Jazz legend reluctant to toot his horn

The idea of 74-year-old jazz legend Sonny Rollins making his own travel arrangements is startling, suggested the Toronto Star June 20. But Rollins, who helped to define hard-bop tenor, has never followed the path of self-importance. “Part of his legacy is that he has been so willing to make decisions based on the art or craft of the music instead of the success of his career,” said Michael Coghlan, Chair of the Music Department in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts. “He’s interested in the real expression of the individual spiritual shape of the soul.”

Prof expects little to change after Iranian election

As Iran went to the polls to elect a new president, CTV News interviewed political scientist Saeed Rahnema June 18. Ultimate power will continue to rest with Iran’s religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khomenei no matter who wins, he suggested. “Nothing will happen in a big way, both internally and externally,” said Rahnema. And “unless Canada pushes very strongly and also Europe and other countries, Iran will not going to respond to the [Zahra] Kazemi case,” he said, referring to the Montreal photographer who died in an Iranian jail.

  • The Globe and Mail also quoted Rahnema in a June 18 editorial titled “Iran’s phony war.” He said within such a system, “you cannot have a truly open election, you cannot have democracy.”

Don’t believe the tax-free hype

Any day now, Vancouver’s Fraser Institute will trot out its annual news release trumpeting the arrival of “Tax Freedom Day,” that glorious dawn when millions of overworked, over-stressed and certainly over-taxed Canadians can finally stop “working for the government,” a June 19 editorial began in Halifax’s Daily News. According to a recent study for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives by Neil Brooks – a widely recognized tax expert who teaches tax law and policy at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School – the Fraser Institute’s figures are “preposterously exaggerated. Their calculations understate the income of Canadians, overstate their taxes, misuse the concept of averages and are often misleadingly applied only to families with at least two members.”

Author imagines Thomas Wolfe through her father

I rented Thomas Wolfe’s old suite at the Chelsea Hotel in New York this spring to touch base with an early mentor, wrote Susan Swan, novelist and humanities professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, in the National Post book section June 18. He was one of the great mid-20th-century American writers whose books inspired me to become a writer. Wolfe was only a year older than my father, continued Swan in an essay published the day before Father’s Day. Like my father, he was too young to enlist in the First World War. And like my father, Wolfe was a giant, at 6-foot-8. It’s because of my father that I can imagine Wolfe pacing up and down in these rooms writing late into the day before an evening of heavy drinking.

Like Wolfe, my country doctor father threw himself into his work absolutely, wrote Swan. He spent little time with his children. Fathers of that generation tended to be like that. My father said he was doing it for us; Wolfe said he was doing it for his art. But were they really?

Neither Wolfe nor my father when I was a child was good at intimacy, although both men may have sensed they were cheating themselves. Toward the end of his life, my father spent more time with my mother and became skeptical about the way he had worked. Wolfe died too young to reach that stage of self-doubt. How do you excel at your work and be good to those you love? What would either of them say about it now, I wonder?