York professor’s work aimed at getting voters to push for reform

Developers still dominate the financing of local elections, especially outside the 416 area code, numbers released yesterday by a York University political scientist show, wrote The Globe and Mail June 28.

Robert MacDermid, political science professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, said he hopes his study of 10 Toronto- area municipalities will spur citizens to ask their communities to investigate candidates who appear to have bent fundraising rules and push for sweeping reforms, including a ban on corporate political donations.

"It’s not something that gets a lot of exposure," said MacDermid, who released a similar study after the 2003 elections. "I think it’s an important way of understanding municipal politics, to understand where the funding comes from. And to understand how that influences how municipal decisions are made."

MacDermid’s numbers also tracked financial donations from unions, but they amount to just a fraction of the money raised, at 2.8 per cent of Toronto’s total in 2006, noted the Globe. He said he was releasing his data now because provincial law sets tomorrow as the deadline for citizens to request "compliance audits" of the finances of municipal candidates in last year’s elections.

MacDermid called for a list of reforms, including: forcing all municipalities to set up arm’s-length committees to rule on whether a candidate should be subjected to a compliance audit, something Toronto and some other municipalities already have; banning corporate donations; and making candidates disclose lists of donors before election day.

  • Brampton, the bedroom community west of Toronto, proved the worst of a bad suburban bunch in a survey unveiled yesterday by a York University professor who argues corporations – particularly developers – are exerting too strong an influence on how the GTA grows, wrote the National Post June 28.

"A number of candidates have well over two-thirds of their contributions coming from the development industry," said Robert MacDermid. "The next [thing], of course, would be to wonder how [the councillors] in fact vote."

Outside Toronto, he found that 19 politicians had gathered more than 90 per cent of their donations from corporations. Overall, however, the percentage of donations across the GTA that came from corporations or unions dropped, wrote the Post. MacDermid attributed most of that drop to Toronto, where reliance on corporate and union donations fell sharply.

"Clearly that has to do with commitments that a number of councillors made not to accept corporate contributions," he said, adding both Mayor David Miller and his rival, Jane Pitfield, took contributions only from individuals. Eight sitting Toronto councillors accepted no corporate or union donations, helping to reduce Toronto’s total of 41.1 per cent in 2003 to 22.1 per cent in 2006. "The candidates in the city of Toronto are leading on so many of these issues," MacDermid said.

  • Toronto Mayor David Miller relied on zero donations from corporations in his last municipal election win, in contrast to GTA counterparts who had half or more of their campaigns funded by businesses, wrote the Toronto Star June 28. That’s one of several findings in a study of campaign donations to 131 winners in the 2006 municipal elections.

The analysis by Robert MacDermid, a leading expert on Ontario elections, was released yesterday during a news conference held by Vote Toronto, a group committed to fair and open elections. Miller raised $848,226, 100 per cent of it from citizens.

MacDermid’s study found while there was an overall drop in corporate donations in all 10 municipalities in 2006 compared with the 2003 election, Toronto had by far the lowest percentage, wrote the Star. Aside from Miller, MacDermid found 16 other politicians in Toronto and the regions who took no business donations – "a salutary lesson for those who say they can’t win" without them, he added.

  • "I think an important way of understanding municipal politics is to understand where funding comes from – and to understand how that influences how municipal decisions are made. How council members, perhaps, even vote," said MacDermid in The Toronto Sun June 28.

He suggested that commitments – made by Mayor David Miller and several other Toronto councillors – not to accept corporate donations resulted in the over all reduction, when compared to the 2003 election.

Laissez-faire isn’t working

Canadian economic development has from the outset been dominated by resource development for export, wrote Mel Watkins, in the Ottawa Citizen June 28. There is a logic to Canadian capital finding its strength in those sectors where Canada has its comparative advantage. It would seem to make sense, if the Canadian business class and the Canadian state are serious about playing the capitalist game, that it would create and nurture national champions in its resource sector.

But, as York University political economist Professor Daniel Drache, associate director of the Robarts Centre for Canadian Studies puts it, Canada is a careless country. Rather than creating national champions, if one emerges anyway, like Inco slowly over the years, we stand idly by and actually invite its takeover. In the 21st century, with resources such as oil and gas and uranium and nickel becoming the jewels of the global economy, Canada’s non-policy is sheer folly. The great liquidity created by escalating commodity prices is being used to deprive Canada of ownership of its own resource industries. Somehow, this does not compute.

Looking and being seen are big parts of our culture

Girl-watching summer ’07 – harmless, pleasurable, hot weather rite? Or wrong – objectifying, sexualizing and degrading?, asked the Toronto Star June 28.

Observes York University sociologist Rhonda Lenton: "There definitely has been a change in what type of behaviours are encompassed within definitions of sexual harassment." Lenton says it also depends on context – a 14-year-old in an isolated location is likely to feel more threatened by a male stranger’s attention than a thirtysomething on a restaurant patio.

"Quite a few young women would almost feel offended if they were out in the evening and feeling positive about themselves and nobody noticed," says Lenton, dean of the Atkinson Faculty of Liberal and Professional Studies at York.

And yet, her paper, “Sexual Harassment in Public Places”, found nine in 10 Canadian women reported at least one incident of public harassment – defined as "unwanted attention" of any kind, including "being stared at in a way that made you feel uncomfortable."

A rich, somewhat unexpected approach to jazz

In classical music, cello and piano are a time-honoured combination, with a repertoire of works by Beethoven, Schubert, Franck, and Stravinsky, among others, wrote The Globe and Mail June 28. In jazz, however, performances by cello and piano are as rare as hen’s teeth, and pianist David Braid, who is about to release a duo album with cellist and York University music instructor Matt Brubeck, can’t help but wonder why. "I think we might be the only cello/piano jazz duo in the world," he says over the phone from his Toronto home. "If there are other ones, you could probably count them on the fingers of one hand. And it’s surprising there aren’t a lot more, because there seems to be a lot of potential there."

"Matt can approach it like he’s playing a bass, so it’s a more traditional sound where he’s playing a bass line and I’m playing over top of it," Braid says. "Or he can play like a melodic instrument, bowing up high so I’m accompanying more as if it were a horn player. Or Matt has got all these neat things he can do when he’s playing the cello like it’s a guitar, which will change the way I play the piano again. So there are many, many different ways we can contribute to the music to produce quite a wide range of textures, because of the flexibility of the cello."

Brubeck/Braid performs at the Toronto Jazz Festival tomorrow night, in Montreal on July 5 and in Halifax on July 18.

Budding teen stars get onstage with top performers at urbanNOISE event

The performances, tomorrow and Saturday on a stage next to Rexdale’s Kipling Community Centre, are the finale to a project known as urbanNOISE: Urban Arts Youth Training, wrote the Toronto Star June 28. Organizers and York graduates Chris Tolley (BFA ’95) and Laura Mullin (BFA ’94) of Expect Theatre (Romeo/Juliet Remixed) are running the project for the second year.

"Laura and I worked about four years ago in the Jamestown area," says Tolley, referring to the housing complex just south of the community centre, best known in the media as the site of a shooting or the residence of a victim of a crime. But that’s not what struck Mullin and Tolley. "We found the kids had this incredible connection to the arts. It was so genuine and something we’d never come across in the arts community."

The two directors formed their own theatre company right after graduating from the Theatre pProgram at York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, upon realizing that no one hires 21-year-old, newly minted directors. They formed Expect in 1996 and made youth-based programming one of their mandates.

Having observed such deep-rooted interests and abilities, they saw there was a chance to make opportunities in this far-flung part of Toronto. With the help of Arts Etobicoke, they formed urbanNOISE, designed as a family event.

Unpaid overtime more widespread than just the banks

Bank teller Dara Fresco recently filed a lawsuit against her employer, the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, which she hopes to have certified as a class action, wrote The Calgary Herald June 28. Fresco could be joined by some 10,000 other CIBC employees doing similar jobs, and thousands more who’ve retired. That’s because once a class action is certified in Ontario, those deemed to belong to the class must opt out if they are to be excluded from the proceeding, says Garry Watson, law professor and director of the Professional Development Program at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School.

Where a single case would be handicapped by legal fees, which, in all likelihood, would eclipse any compensation awarded by the court, a class action shares the fees across many plaintiffs. "Nobody can afford to buy justice retail," says Watson, "we are going to see a lot more people gain access to the justice system by buying wholesale (through class actions)."

Is the model schools program on the budget block?

The Toronto District School Board was poised last night to pass a budget with a deficit of more than $20 million, wrote the Toronto Star June 28. It was unclear last night if the board planned to increase funding for its innovative Model Schools for Inner Cities.

The highly successful program, which has already given three inner-city schools $1 million each year for three years, has seen schools spend the money on social workers, librarians, music teachers and even field trips. The project has been lauded not only by politicians, including city budget chief Shelley Carroll, but also veteran educators such as Paul Axelrod, dean of the Faculty of Education at York University.

York student gets research funding

Three Cape Breton university students were awarded prestigious research council graduate scholarships, wrote the Cape Breton Post June 28, including Cara MacInnis in social psychology at York University.

York graduate’s observation leads to a thriving Hong Kong business

In Hong Kong, a whimsical observation can quickly turn into a hard business plan, as Vancouver-born York alumna Candice Suen (BA ’94) discovered after wondering aloud why Hong Kong didn’t have any branches of BC’s famed Triple-O’s White Spot hamburger restaurant chain, wrote The Globe and Mail June 28 .

"Basically, every time we went home to Vancouver there were tons of Chinese people in the White Spot restaurants," recalls Suen, a graduate of York’s Faculty of Arts, who first came to Hong Kong in 1990. "I kept hearing Hong Kong-Vancouver commuters say that White Spot is their first stop off the plane, or ‘I gotta go to White Spot every time I’m back,’ so basically we figured why not bring it here?