Federal transit funds in gridlock

More than six months after the Harper government announced nearly $1 billion for public transit improvements in the GTA, not a penny has flowed from Ottawa to Toronto and other municipalities, wrote the Toronto Star Sept. 26. And the funds may not be available until next year.

According to Harper’s March 6 promise, the federal government plans to contribute $697 million toward the long-awaited extension of the Spadina subway through York University to Vaughan. At the time of the announcement, the federal government noted that Queen’s Park had already put $670 million in a trust for the project.

"I wouldn’t expect the money to flow until next year at the earliest," Toronto Mayor David Miller said of Ottawa’s share. "The TTC actually had to slow down its work on the extension this year because the financial commitments weren’t there."

The lengthy process appears to have little to do with Ottawa’s available resources, wrote the Star. Now that the accounting for the 2006-2007 fiscal year is complete, the Harper government is about to announce another whopping budget surplus, expected to be in the $10-billion range.

Nicole McNeely, a Transport Department spokesperson, confirmed that none of the total of $962 million announced by Harper in March has flowed to the GTA yet. She said it takes time because the funding requires extensive contribution agreements involving Ottawa, the province and municipalities. They spell out the projects, the distribution of funds and steps to meet financial and environmental safeguards. McNeely said the government hopes that agreements can be approved late this year.

Rape suspect wept in court

Justin Connort, 25, one of two young men charged in the dorm room rapes at York’s Vanier Residence on Sept. 7, could be heard sobbing from the prisoner’s box while his lawyer, Peter West, told the courtroom why his client should be released on bail, wrote Canadian Press Sept. 25. Connort turned himself in to police Friday afternoon, two days after his co-accused, 25-year-old Daniel Katsnelson, turned himself in. Katsnelson stood quietly next to the prisoner’s box for most of the four-hour proceedings.

"We are a long way from this matter being resolved," Katsnelson’s lawyer, Peter Dotsikas, said at the end of the day. "I know the city has been concerned about this episode, but obviously there’s a story that is evolving and everyone should back off and let the justice system take its course."

Southwestern Ontario a battleground

Ontario’s political leaders may not realize it, but they’re treading on fertile ground as they make their way across the struggling farming communities, distressed manufacturing centres and overburdened cities of southwestern Ontario, wrote Canadian Press Sept. 26. The region typically takes a back seat to the vote-rich Greater Toronto Area, but experts say the southwest is rife with ridings that could prove hotly contested battlegrounds leading up to the Oct. 10 vote.

The NDP, which has occasionally done well in places such as Hamilton, Cambridge and Windsor, could garner enough support in some ridings to thwart the leading parties, said Bob Drummond, political science professor and dean of York’s Faculty of Arts. "In other cases, the Conservatives might be spoilers of the Liberals’ chances, (which) might give a seat to the NDP," Drummond said. "So I think (the region) is certainly important to all three parties."

York student to receive a kidney donation from her father

Florence Tewogbade is preparing to receive a kidney donation next month from her father, Toronto Police Constable Ojo Tewogbade, wrote The Toronto Sun Sept. 26 in a story about the Save Our Sick 4000 cross-country torch run to raise awareness about organ donation. "I have the best dad anyone could hope for. He is saving my life. My brother and sister were also a match, but my dad insisted he be the one to donate," Tewogbade, a 25-year-old York student, said at the launch. "I’m more nervous for my father. I’ve had my share of surgeries, but he hasn’t."

Hey, it’s better than green eggs and ham

In order to help raise funds for their excellent Toronto Upstairs exhibition (on now, until Oct. 25), Art @ Liberty and the Side Space Gallery on St. Clair Avenue West invite you to eat your words, wrote Torontoist.com Sept. 26. This coming Saturday, Sept. 29, at 7:30pm, experience Baroque Poems For a Postmodern Age and Edible Poetry. Fill your belly with all that the title implies, and free finger foods besides. John Picchione, professor in York’s Department of Languages, Literatures & Lingusitics, Faculty of Arts, will be on hand, serving up readings of Italian baroque poetry seasoned with the tantalizing flavours of love, technology, writing and unreality. Sounds tasty. But the best bit is this: not all of the menu items are metaphorical! In keeping with Art @ Liberty tradition, this art is edible; according to the press release, "you can eat the letters and words of a poem and make your own new poem with what’s left.” Do rhyming couplets really taste sweeter than free verse? Here’s your chance to find out.

No relief for indebted students

Ontario students have been fighting for lower tuition fees or a freeze but leaders at Queen’s Park have not listened, wrote Paloma Migone (BA ’06) in an opinion piece in the Toronto Star Sept. 26. The platforms have been released for next month’s election and the two major political parties [Liberals and Progressive Conservatives] plan to do nothing to alleviate the cost of postsecondary education. The NDP and Green parties, unlike their counterparts, do plan to roll back and freeze tuition fees. But having two small parties listening to students is not sufficient.

The two leading parties have neglected to address a growing problem for our future. We don’t need a $300 grant for our books, we need a grant for our tuition. Liberal and Conservative candidates should stop hiding behind platforms that claim to help students and admit the truth. Neither of them is helping the future of Ontario because, after all, we are the future. Instead, students are being crippled by a growing debt load while low-income students’ access to postsecondary school will remain poor.

Investors concerned about environment

Peter Victor, a professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, has been involved with environmental issues for much of his career and wanted his investments to reflect that, wrote The Leader-Post (Regina) Sept. 26. As the father of two daughters, one of his particular socially responsible investment (SRI) interests was how companies treat women employees and he recommends working with an adviser who can address such specific concerns. However, Victor said he thinks the influence of SRI investing on companies is marginal. "It’s taken a long time to make the changes that we’ve seen," said Victor, who has been a social investor since the 1960s. "I’m not impressed with the pace of change."

York students document Tom Thomson mystery

York PhD candidate Gregory Klages of the Robarts Centre for Canadian Studies is research director on the project, "Death on a Painted Lake: The Tom Thomson Tragedy", wrote the Owen Sound Sun Times Sept. 25. It is one of three new case studies that will be funded through a grant of $450,000 from the Department of Canadian Heritage and is part of the Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History project based at the University of Victoria.

Klages and two York masters students in the York/Ryerson Joint Graduate Program in Communication & Culture are transcribing and archiving Thomson’s correspondence with friends, artists and patrons, newspaper reports about his trips and information about logging and tourism in Algonquin Park at the time, along with other types of original documents.

In addition to organizing a representative selection of documents and supervising their digitization and incorporation into a book-length educational Web site, they will also be compiling teacher support material that connects the Tom Thomson mystery to larger themes in junior high, high school and university curricula. The Tom Thomson mystery project is expected to be completed by early April 2008.

York grad in top 10 to become ‘premier’

A Cornwall native and environmentalist is in the running to be Ontario’s top female premier in a wish-list contest, wrote the CornwallStandard-Freeholder Sept. 25. Kim Fry (BES ’99), who was born and raised in Cornwall and now works for Greenpeace Canada as a boreal forest campaign organizer, is one of the top 10 finalists in Ontario’s Greatest Female Premier contest.

Fry is actually one of the lower profile names on the list, which includes Olivia Chow, federal NDP MP; Kathleen Wynne, education minister for the Ontario Liberals; and Elizabeth Witmer, former Ontario cabinet minister and deputy premier.

Fry figured she was partially nominated because she got the word out by sending a message through the Internet networking Web site, Facebook. Fry attended St. Joseph’s Secondary School and moved to Toronto in 1994 to attend York University, where she took environmental studies. She has been working for Greenpeace, her "dream job", for about nine months now, she said, and has a four-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Brighid.

Former exhibitor designs AGYU uniforms

New Threads celebrates the launch of the Art Gallery of York University‘s newly designed volunteer uniforms as their outfits hit the runway Sept. 26, from 6 to 9pm, wrote the North York Mirror Sept. 18. Volunteers at the gallery now have a new look created by up-and-coming Toronto fashion designer and artist Jeremy Laing, who has designed 20 uniforms. The 27-year-old artist and designer has been a fixture at the Steeles Avenue and Keele Street gallery for several years, having exhibited in the Toronto group exhibition Sinbad in the Rented World in 2004. But it was his debut show at New York Fashion Week in September 2006 that had secured the young designer as the one to watch.

Philip Monk, curator of AGYU, said the gallery is known for its "out there" vision of working with artists beyond exhibits. "We’ve known Jeremy for a long time and we thought it would be great if Jeremy would do the outfits for the volunteers," said Monk in an interview earlier this year with Mirror reporter Fannie Sunshine, "He’s not just a fashion designer, he’s an artist and an active member of the art community. We wanted to support him and we hope his career as a fashion designer takes off."

York student runs for Communist party in Toronto Danforth

Twenty-year-old York University student Shona Bracken is the Communist Party candidate in Toronto Danforth, wrote Insidetoronto.com Sept. 20. Energy conservation and generation, as well as the environment tend to be the dominant issues in the riding. The most evident debate is the Portlands Energy Centre (PEC), a 550-megawatt gas-fired energy generation facility currently being built in the port lands. Bracken said she opposes the Portlands Energy Centre and feels that sustainable land use and development policies must be created for public interest, not corporate profit.

She also said that Kyoto commitments are not just a federal matter but something that affects everyone. "Coal-fired plants must also be replaced with publicly owned energy sources like solar and wind," said Bracken, an advocate for raising the minimum wage to $15 and eliminating tuition fees. 

Local actor performs in Shakespeare classic

York graduate and Ossington and Bloor Streets-area resident Liz Pounsett (MFA ’98) can remember the adrenaline rush she felt watching theatre productions at the Stratford and Shaw festivals, wrote the Bloor West Villager Sept. 20. And, even though she performed in musicals and on stage throughout high school and university, she never contemplated becoming an actor as a profession. Instead, she leaned towards a medical career.

Pounsett, born and raised in Toronto, attended Columbia University where she received a bachelor’s degree in English literature with a concentration in pre-medical studies. "I had not considered acting until the end of university," said Pounsett, who was preparing for her role in The Prince Hamlet, a reconstruction of the Shakespearian play, which previewed Sept. 19 and continues to Oct. 21 at Toronto’s Winchester Street Theatre. "Because I had been doing [both] throughout university, I applied to theatre schools and applied to medical schools. I got into the theatre schools."

She pursued her passion at York University where she went on to complete her master of fine arts in acting – a real departure from what she was used to. "It was a big shock," Pounsett said. "I’d been in lecture halls and went right into the studio."

New head of law commission looks forward to the hot seat

Patricia Hughes has already demonstrated the necessary drive for her position as executive director of the newly launched Law Commission of Ontario (LCO), wrote The Lawyers Weekly Sept. 21. After all, she did drive half-way across Canada – about 3,500km from Calgary to Toronto over six days – to accept the job, which starts on Sept. 15. But how will she fare in the hot seat as director of a commission whose predecessor was a political hot potato in Ontario? “I won’t be shy to raise difficult issues,” Hughes declared at the ceremony to celebrate the establishment of the LCO at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto on Sept. 7.

Critics of the defunct commission denounced it as a hotbed of liberalism, wrote the Weekly. Indeed, the federal Conservatives under Prime Minister Stephen Harper axed its federal equivalent, the Law Commission of Canada alongside its more controversial sister, the Court Challenges Program – which funded equality rights litigation – in September 2006.

Asked for her perspective on the seeming political grudge match which successive Conservative and Liberal governments have waged over the fate of law reform commissions, Hughes appeared taken back for an instant.

“I can’t speak for the Harris government, but I believe that they saw the law reform commission as a frill and as something that posed a challenge to them,” Hughes responded. “Whereas the McGuinty government sees having an independent law reform body as playing a crucial function which will help them do a better job.” She added, “This government understands that they might not agree with everything we say.”

Arbour disqualifies herself as rights advocate, says columnist

Has Louise Arbour disqualified herself from her high office as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights by again giving credibility to the antithesis of human rights advocacy and performance?, asked columnist Harold Buchwald in the Winnipeg Free Press Sept. 25

What possessed Arbour, earlier this month, when she travelled from her headquarters in Geneva to Teheran, and by her presence, and her patronizing comments, gave support to Iran’s supremely oppressive regime. Has she turned her back on the UN Human Rights Charter and all that it represents and strives for?

Arbour attended what was described as a human rights meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement, currently chaired by Cuba, another paragon of human rights denial. The conference challenged the concept of universal human rights standards applicable to all human beings and substituted a different goal – cultural diversity – which would recognize the appropriateness of different behaviour in different states.

"All of which makes it astonishing that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights thought she should station herself anywhere in Iran, let alone in the front row of this assault on the raison d’être of her office," thundered Anne Bayefsky, professor and director of human rights treaties studies in York’s Faculty of Arts, in the National Review (Sept. 7).

Arbour is, of course, an extremely well credentialed Canadian, wrote Buchwald. A former professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, she has been a member of both the Ontario Court of Appeal and Supreme Court of Canada.

On air

  • Saeed Rahnema, professor in York’s Atkinson School of Public Policy & Administration and the Faculty of Arts, was interviewed on OMNI-TV about a petition he and more than 200 other academics and others have signed against funding for faith-based schooling, on Sept. 24.
  • Political scientist Leo Panitch, distinguished research professor and senior Canada research chair in York’s Faculty of Arts, spoke on TVO’s “The Agenda” Sept. 25.