Why Toronto’s smartest women won’t run for office

Lorna Marsden, 63, Liberal policy chair under Pierre Trudeau, a former senator, and president and vice-chancellor of York University, made it clear to the Liberal party from the beginning that she wouldn’t “make the huge sacrifice” of leaving her family, reported the Toronto Star Dec. 4 in a feature about why so many of Toronto’s smartest, most powerful, most indefatigable women are not running in this or any other political campaign. “You give up your privacy, you give up your family, and for some people that’s fine, but if you look at the rate of failed marriages among politicians, it’s not for me,” Marsden said. “I admire people who do it.”

Marsden is a rarity in Canadian politics, continued the Star. She resigned from the comfort of the Senate, with its job guarantee until 75 and cushy lifetime pension, a few years back in order to accept a post as president of Wilfrid Laurier University. But serving in the Senate, an appointed post, is as close as she ever wants to come to official politics in Canada. She would rather work reasonable hours and spend time with her husband. “You go from breakfast until late at night in politics and every third week you are back in the riding,” she said. “It can be very, very complicated.”

However, Marsden has always been interested in making it easier for women to enter politics and speaks with passion about the need for a cultural shift. She wants to see proper child care, financial support and a better awareness among women about working to build a nest egg to give them greater freedom to make choices. One of her students at York recently completed a study on the differences in child care in Canada and Finland, with Canada coming up wanting. “That ‘taking a village’ concept is really true of politics,” said Marsden. “We have to all work especially hard to help more women get into politics. We have to do it for everyone.”

The problem now, she said, is that “I don’t think there is a big cultural commitment to do this. There are nice sentiments but no commitment.”

 Prof appointed to securities committee

Out of 140 people of who applied to work without pay to try to make capital markets friendlier to small investors, the Ontario Securities Commission has chosen 10 – including Poonam Puri, professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School – for its investor advisory committee, reported Canadian Press Dec. 3. The committee’s mandate is to provide advice and guidance on any aspect of the OSC that has an impact on investors.

 Don’t let worries run your life

“Worry is something we all do,” says expert Henny Westra, a clinical psychologist and a psychology professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, reported the Toronto Sun in a story also published Dec. 5 in the Calgary Sun and the London Free Press. “It’s a way of thinking into the future to anticipate ways of reducing threat.” But we could learn a thing or two from our pets about peace of mind. The ability to stay in the moment, is an excellent strategy for worrywarts. Westra says people are conflicted about worrying. They know it might compromise their health, but they also believe worrying can keep bad things from happening. “Worrying can also be a way of expressing caring,” Westra says. “Worrying shows children how much parents love them.” But if the negative beliefs of worry outweigh the positive, that’s when you need help, Westra says. Cognitive behavioural therapy, or CBT, is a proven success in managing anxiety disorders such as worrying. Not only does Westra employ CBT with patients, she’s also studying how motivational interviewing before CBT may improve treatment.

Gentrification frees us from suburban bland

In a Dec. 4 story about the restoration of Toronto’s Gladstone Hotel and objections to such gentrification, the Toronto Star cited Jon Caulfield, a renowned urban theorist in York’s Faculty of Arts. In a 1989 paper that evolved into his 1994 book City Form and Everyday Life: Toronto’s Gentrification and Critical Social Practice, he described the Toronto experience as hopeful, even ebullient. Caulfield’s term “emancipatory gentrification” suggested that the return to the city freed the new arrivals of the bland homogeneity of the suburbs from which they’d come. To many scholars, Caulfield’s view suggests an idealism where gentrification is the city’s saviour, a rising tide that lifts all boats, from the poorest to the arrivistes. “Old city places offer difference and freedom, privacy and fantasy, possibilities for carnival,” Caulfield wrote in his 1989 essay, quoting modern philosopher Walter Benjamin. “The city is ‘the place of our meeting with the other.'” Caulfield’s notion is one of diversity and integration, not invasion and displacement.”

Hooray for Jesus movies

One recent fall evening in Scarborough, about 50 parishioners at a tiny Anglican church, St. Bede’s, are among the first to see the Canadian-produced movie Left Behind: World at War starring Lou Gossett Jr. and Kirk Cameron, reported the Toronto Star Dec. 4 in a story about how Christian movie producers are bypassing Hollywood and distributing directly to churches. Alan Middleton, marketing professor at York’s Schulich School of Business, calls the strategy “simply brilliant”. “This is what I always tell my students,” says Middleton. “Don’t get the customer to come to you, go to the customer.” But Middleton cautions that the Christian market in Canada is vastly different from the American market. “In the US it’s identifiable and overt. It has a huge evangelical base and it’s a critical market that hugely identifies with being Christian. In Canada, we don’t tend to identify ourselves by religion.”

Hollywood has long discovered the ethnic market with films such as My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Christianity is just another target audience, says Middleton, who credits other industries, including the book publishing and music recording business, for being ahead of Hollywood. “They heavily promote Christian rock bands, but Hollywood is only now promoting Christian movies.”

 Downsview to York not bad place for a subway

For subways to make sense economically, you need dense urban environments, where there are lots of potential passengers and lots of workplaces they need to reach, wrote The Globe and Mail’s “Dr. Gridlock” in a Dec. 5 column. Which is why the TTC’s recently approved proposal to extend the Spadina line north to York University needs to be looked at very closely, if the city ever persuades Queen’s Park and whomever is in charge in Ottawa to come up with their share of the $1.4-billion cost. It’s not necessarily a bad place for a subway, to be sure. The University, which has 50,000 students, sees more than 1,000 buses roar onto its campus each day. The proposed northernmost station, at Steeles Avenue, would become a monster hub for York Region commuters, taking pressure off Finch station and the Yonge line, which at rush hour is almost at capacity. But there is little else there at the moment, between Downsview and York, to warrant a pricey subway, argued Jeff Gray, aka Dr. Gridlock.

A peace tree blossoms in Scarborough

It worried York grad Mitra Sen when pupils at her school were not allowed to take part in multicultural celebrations because their parents didn’t want them to be exposed to different cultural and religious beliefs, began a front page feature in the Toronto Star Dec. 5. Afraid these kids would be deprived of an enriching opportunity to learn about Canada’s diversity, the Scarborough elementary schoolteacher came up with an unthreatening way to broaden minds and encourage an appreciation for differences: the peace tree. Sen’s 48-minute movie about the project will be screened at Toronto’s Isabel Bader Theatre on Wednesday. It focuses on two young girls – a Muslim and a Christian – whose friendship is jeopardized because their parents forbid them to celebrate each other’s festivals, Christmas and Eid. They manage to get around those objections by creating a “peace tree” adorned with symbols of all cultures and faiths, to celebrate the beauty of “diversity in unity”.

Sen, who took a leave of absence to direct the film with her own Sandalwood Productions, hopes the movie can open a dialogue between children and their parents on the positive values of multiculturalism. “By exposing children to the kind of diversity unique in Canada, we help them develop an extensive base of knowledge of what exists around the world, beyond their home and culture,” said the 1986 York film production grad, who turned to teaching in the late 1980s after spending two seasons as an assistant director on CBC’s acclaimed “Degrassi Junior High”.

Confronting aboriginal anti-Semitism

At a Toronto conference organized recently by the legal community on combating hatred in the 21st century, Saskatchewan provincial judge Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond talked about the challenge of confronting the racism and anti-Semitism that exists among aboriginals, began a Toronto Star opinion piece Dec. 4 about the value of a common curriculum. The problem, which pops up almost anywhere, is especially acute in schools, a place that can offer aboriginal children a way out of their cycle of poverty. No one knows this better than Turpel-Lafond, who grew up in a home filled with alcoholism and violence. Eventually she realized that education was her way out, and obtained enough scholarship money to complete degrees at Carleton, York’s Osgoode Hall Law School (LLB ’85), Cambridge and Harvard Law School.

Is Michael Ignatieff really a liberal?

In a Dec. 4 profile of Liberal candidate Michael Ignatieff, the internationally acclaimed Harvard University academic, novelist and journalist, the Ottawa Citizen asked whether Ignatieff is really a small-l liberal and cited Howard Adelman, a political scientist in York’s Faculty of Arts and one of the few scholars to analyze Ignatieff’s work in detail. Adelman regards him as one of those rare intellectuals who are truly engaged in the world. In an essay titled “Michael Ignatieff’s Theory of Imperial Intervention,” Adelman argues that through his accounts of ethnic conflict in the 1990s, and the ill-conceived interventions of the west in those conflicts, Ignatieff developed “a grand overall theory of international affairs in general and of intervention of one state in the internal affairs of another in particular.” This theory, says Adelman, led him to support the doctrine of unilateral intervention promoted by the political right in the United States. At the same time, Ignatieff criticized the execution of those interventions because “he shared the strong sense and highest regard for respecting others’ rights, a position which tends to be the hallmark these days of soft liberals.”

At the core of Ignatieff’s work, then, is an attempt to provide moral justification for neo-imperialism, and to awaken westerners, including Canadians, to the necessity of empire, said the Citizen. But how can you advocate empire in a post-colonial era while, at the same time, insisting on the right to self-determination? The ideas seem contradictory. Small wonder Adelman detects an abiding tension in Ignatieff’s thought. To perceive this tension requires following the trajectory of his thinking going back more than a decade.

On air

  • Heather Lotherington, a professor in York’s Faculty of Education, is one educator who thinks that Xbox 360-type video games are good for learning, reported news programs on City-tv and affiliates across Canada Dec. 2.
  • Thabit Abdullah Sam, a history professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, discussed whether the United States should leave Iraq and the possibility of civil war, on TVO’s “Diplomatic Immunity” Dec. 2.
  • David Shugarman, political science professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, and director of York’s Centre For Practical Ethics, discussed the federal election campaign, on Rogers TV’s “Goldhawk” Dec. 2.