Politicians ‘game’ election spending laws, says York prof

Prime Minister Stephen Harper pledged yesterday to scrap controversial election-funding practices in the next campaign if his party loses a court battle over the matter, wrote The Globe and Mail April 23. "Our position is we always follow the law, as we understand it," he said. "More importantly, we always follow the law as it has been interpreted. We were following it in the last election – the interpretations that were put on that law in the past. If those interpretations change, though, we’ll of course conform."

But Robert MacDermid, a professor of political science in York University’s Faculty of Arts, said the Canada Elections Act has been rewritten three times since 2004. "The parties are constantly trying to game the legislation," MacDermid said. "They try to get around it."

But Canadians will be paying attention to this particular scheme, he said. "If this is true, [the Conservatives] broke the spending limit on the central campaign," MacDermid said. "Canadians resolutely support spending limits on candidates because they don’t want a free-for-all that you get in America."

Librarian’s case ‘went on way too long’

Some legal experts say Ontario’s attorney general should have pulled the plug on the prosecution of Robert Baltovich long before yesterday, wrote the Toronto Star April 23.

The case against the 42-year-old librarian, considered flimsy by many criminal law analysts back in 1992, when Baltovich first went on trial, became weaker with the passage of time. But the prosecution forged ahead, waiting until yesterday to tell a jury it would call no evidence. "I feel sorry for him (Baltovich)," said Alan Young, criminal law professor and director of the Innocence Project at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School. "This went on way too long."

Although the Crown, by calling no evidence, has preserved its right to appeal Justice David McCombs’ pre-trial rulings on the admission of evidence, it would be tough to convince the Ontario Court of Appeal to order a new trial for Baltovich, Young suggested. "They (the attorney-general’s ministry) are not only going to have to show that Justice McCombs erred; they’re going to have to show it had a dramatic impact on their prospects of success," said Young.

‘Clean’ incinerators can still be a problem, say York environmentalists

Regardless of how good an incinerator’s emissions may be in isolation, it’s important to see how they fit into a larger context and might compound an already existing problem, wrote ReNew Canada magazine in its March/April 2007 issue. “Regulators only tally up all of the stacks from a single plant,” says Professor Mark Winfield, of York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, “they’re not dealing with the cumulative effects of all the region’s facilities.”

Proposed incinerator plants have promised to keep emissions below government standards, wrote ReNew. But some critics say government regulations for air quality [emission levels] are too high, so simply meeting them is not enough. “Generally, standards have not kept up with the science,” says Winfield.

Winfield says incineration only reduces the volume of waste by about two-thirds and can leave a far more toxic product that requires special landfilling.

Europe’s high-level vision, leadership and assistance for municipalities are extremely important, wrote ReNew. Using their waste hierarchy as a guide, York instructor Jose Etcheverry, who works part-time for the David Suzuki Foundation, affirms that European cities really do follow the three Rs – reduce, reuse, recycle – and only burn what’s left over. These priorities lead to strong laws around bans on toxins like mercury, packaging and extended producer responsibility, wrote ReNew.

Survey findings obscure supportive work by YFS, says Hillel

A survey at York University suggests that a “silent backlash” by a large majority of students is underway against the York Federation of Students (YFS) because of what the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) says is the council’s support for anti-Israel initiatives, wrote the Canadian Jewish News in its April 24 issue.

The poll, commissioned by the FSWC, found that 85 per cent of York students surveyed oppose the YFS using student fees to support anti-Israel campaigns. The FSWC commissioned COMPAS Research, a public opinion polling firm, to gauge student sentiment about protests on campus against “Israeli Apartheid.”

Daniel Ferman, president-elect of Hillel at York, said he’s not surprised that a vast majority of students are against the politicized and polarizing events on campus but he feels the FSWC is working on the false assumption that the YFS supports and funds anti-Israel events.

“The results do not reflect our experience with this year’s YFS, which has been working closely with us, focusing on student concerns, increasing its support for Jewish students on campus and removing itself from anti-Israel activities.”

Tilly Shames, Hillel of Greater Toronto’s associate director, said [a YFS sponsored bus to a protest at Hamilton’s McMaster University] was the only example of YFS involvement in an anti-Israel activity. “Although we strongly disagreed with the YFS decision to coordinate a bus to McMaster, this action is not reflective of YFS activities on campus or our positive relationship with YFS. This year’s York Federation of Students has made every effort to focus on student issues and remove themselves from anti-Israel activities on campus,” Shames said.

She added that the survey should have focused its attention on the role of the York chapter of the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG), which [receives funding from student fees] and routinely supports and promotes anti-Israel activities, wrote the News.

Rankings don’t measure real value of schools

The April 20 Toronto Sun article "Should we pay kids to learn?" unfairly singles out schools that serve Toronto’s most vulnerable students, characterizing them as this city’s "worst," wrote Gerry Connelly and John Campbell in a letter to The Toronto Sun April 23. The ranking ignores the important story behind each school and its trends over time. The ranking does not tell us anything about the circumstances that may affect achievement or how each school works to ameliorate the impact of poverty in its community.

Groundbreaking collaborations like the Westview Partnership in the Jane-Finch community, involving 23 schools working with York University, Seneca College and the provincial government, are giving our students the inspiration to pursue post-secondary opportunities, and our teachers the advanced training they need to serve our complex and changing communities.

Fiat CEO is a York grad who knows Ontario well

Osgoode alumnus Sergio Marchionne (LLB ’83), Fiat’s Italian-Canadian chief executive officer, "envisages making at least one Alfa Romeo model in North America" before 2012 and that sites across North America are being considered, said a company spokesperson, in a story about the automaker’s future plans, in The Globe and Mail April 23.

Marchionne has talked openly since December about building Alfa Romeos in North America, where they have not been sold since 1995. He would know the Ontario market well. He was born in Italy, but was raised and educated in Ontario, where he obtained a law degree from York’s Osgoode Hall Law School. His mother still lives in Toronto and he travels to the city about every six weeks to visit her.

On air

  • James Laxer, political science professor in York’s Atkinson School of Liberal & Professional Studies, spoke about the US presidential nomination campaigns as a contest to become head of the “American Empire”, on CBC Radio April 22.