Developers dominate 905 campaign funding, says York study

Local councillors in the suburban cities and towns bordering Toronto get the bulk of their campaign funds – in one case as high as 96.7 per cent – from corporate contributions, primarily from developers, reported the Toronto Star June 1. That’s one finding of a study being released by Robert MacDermid, political science professor in York’s Faculty of Arts. It shows corporate contributions in 2003 in nine suburban municipalities is double what’s given to Toronto councillors. The most extreme case is Vaughan where 80 per cent of all money donated to politicians in the 2003 municipal elections came from corporations. A detailed analysis of the money shows that across the 905 municipalities almost 70 per cent of all corporate contributions came directly from developers or companies that represented construction interests. In Toronto it’s 44 per cent.

But don’t be too quick to blame the corporations and the developers for hijacking or influencing council agendas in the 905 areas, MacDermid said. They’re simply filling a void left by individual citizens who don’t appear to want to become involved in the political act of giving campaign contributions, he said. “Citizens have a blame here,” MacDermid said. “In their absence from politics both as voters and as contributors, business and development interests fill that void.”

All this has again led to Ajax Mayor Steve Parish calling on the province to step in and reform campaign finance laws, the Star said. One reason Ajax has the second highest individual voter participation behind Toronto, said Parish, is they are the only municipalities to offer rebates for individual contributions. Starting this year, rebates in Toronto are available only for individual contributions. Unions and corporations will no longer receive rebates. Parish said the province should legislate such laws across Ontario. “It’s a way to level the playing field,” he said. MacDermid’s study, said Parish, is about “a subject area that is long overdue for factual analysis and for action by the province.”

MacDermid’s study was also featured in a column by John Barber in The Globe and Mail June 1.

What are we to do, asked Barber, about all these municipal politicians whose fundraising practices are equally dubious, although perfectly legal – and, considering that most of them are not only in power but almost permanently ensconced, far more effective? The question arises in light of a new paper released by York University politics Professor Robert MacDermid. One of the few academics to focus on the subject, MacDermid once again demonstrates the shocking predominance of corporate interests in that most elemental form of civic engagement: giving money to municipal politicians.

While other governments take measures to diminish corporate influence in elections, the locals continue to wallow in it. “In some cities, citizens are almost completely absent from election funding,” MacDermid writes, after analyzing more than $13 million raised by candidates in 10 Toronto-area municipalities to contest the 2003 elections. “Money comes almost exclusively from corporations and the development industry.” But it isn’t the City of Toronto that comes off worst in the survey. In fact, the city emerges as a model of rectitude when compared with the outer suburbs, where elections are driven by what MacDermid calls “astonishingly high concentrations of corporate funding.”

Combing through individual returns to trace the source of all this corporate largesse, MacDermid found not only that two-thirds of it, at minimum, comes from the development industry, but also that the contributions were “targeted in a manner that showed some co-ordination.” In other words, the shady fundraising networks exposed in Toronto’s Bellamy inquiry are still much in evidence.

Tech devices are polluting public space, says Congress researcher

The National Post continued its daily coverage of the 75th Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences being held at York this week, in the series “Oh, The Humanities”. Here is an excerpt of a story from June 1.

The woman who goes into gory details about her pregnancy, the man who makes business deals, the girl who gossips about her friends – and the 50 other people on the bus angry at being forced to listen to these cellphone conversations. Defenders of democracy and community say that all this jabbering about private matters on cellphones in public is not only irritating, it is polluting public space. Space, they say, that should be reserved for face-to-face engagement and discussion about civics, not South Beach.

“The common space that people share…is considered to be under stress for at least two reasons and both of them are connected to gadgets….One is that these gadgets, through rudeness or talking too loudly or just bringing personal things like pregnancy details into a place where my neighbour and I might talk about politics, it’s kind of corrosive to public discussion,” said Richard Smith, professor at the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University.

The second reason is that people often hide behind their gadgets. “They flip open their laptop or they get out their BlackBerry or they put in their iPOD and they withdraw from the public sphere,” said Smith, a presenter at Canada’s annual Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences at York University this week.

Witness immunity law needs revising, says Young

A court has ruled former Hospital for Sick Children pathologist Dr. Charles Smith cannot be sued by a woman once charged with murdering her daughter because of a centuries-old legal rule protecting witnesses from lawsuits, The Peterborough Examiner reported June 1. The unprecedented decision blocks Louise Reynolds from pursuing the $7-million lawsuit she brought against Smith, after a second autopsy revealed that Sharon, 7, died after being attacked by a pit bull in the basement of her family home in Kingston. Smith, who once headed the largest facility in the province for conducting autopsies on children, had concluded following the initial autopsy that Sharon’s death was the result of more than 80 stab wounds made by a knife or scissors. Reynolds spent two years in pre-trial custody, plus time in a halfway house, and was forced to put another daughter up for adoption before prosecutors withdrew the charge on Jan. 25, 2001. Alan Young, professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, said in an interview that witness immunity should be reviewed because “our legal system puts a premium on accountability and there was very little concern over accountability when the witness-immunity rule was developed centuries ago.”

Argonauts’ Johnson staying positive after Williams’ arrival

York alumnus and former player for the York Lions Jeff Johnson (BA ‘02) has no problem playing second fiddle to Ricky Williams, reported the Toronto Sun June 1. The York University product, who opened eyes with his strong play when he replaced the injured John Avery as the Argos’ starting running back last season, gave Williams and the team endorsements yesterday in his first comments on the matter. “I think it’s great,” Johnson said. “He’s a phenomenal athlete and I’m sure there is no doubt he is going to be able to help the team. I’m looking to have a great year with him and hopefully learn something.” Johnson knows his role will be downgraded. “That’s the way the ball rolls – I understand,” he said. “I’ve been up here seven years now. When somebody like Ricky Williams comes into camp against me, hey, it’s going to be Ricky Williams. That’s fine. Good things come to people who just stay positive and always try to make the best of the situation and that’s what I’m looking to do.”

Toronto company creates furniture from York’s waste trees

A Toronto-based company has found a way to take wood waste and transform it into contemporary furniture, reported the National Post June 1. Urban Tree Salvage, founded by woodworker and environmentalist Sean Gorham, takes wood waste from municipal waste sites and cleans it up for use in simple wood furniture and for lumber used by woodworkers. Sources of the wood include York University, Upper Canada College, Sunnybrook Hospital and the Queen Street Mental Health Centre.

On air

  • York Lions football star Ricardo Hudson, who is trying out with the Canadian Football League’s Calgary Stampeders, was featured on the Global TV breakfast show in Calgary May 31.

  • David McNally, professor of political science in York’s Faculty of Arts, and Sergei Plekhanov, professor and coordinator of the Post-communist Studies Program at York’s Centre for International & Security Studies, appeared on TVO’s “More to Life” program May 31 in a discussion about empires of the past.