Ontario just can’t afford more of Stephen Harper, writes Laxer

During the last few days, Stephen Harper has been trying to reassure Canadians that he is the steady pilot to see the nation through stormy economic seas. Since Harper was sworn into office in February 2006, however, his government’s economic policies have delivered a series of deadly blows to the Ontario economy, wrote James Laxer, political scientist in York’s Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies, in the Toronto Star Sept. 25.

Harper and his finance minister, Jim Flaherty, have bet the future of the economy on two major assumptions:

First, that the United States will remain the great engine of economic demand on which Canada can depend.

Second, that the petroleum sector will drive the national economy forward as have other staple sectors, such as fish, furs, timber and wheat, in the past. Theirs is a “back-to-the-future” gamble on staples and raw materials.

Ontario ’s economy, which rests heavily on manufacturing, is far too complex to be well-served by a federal government that is bent on taking us back to the days when this country was a “hewer of wood and a drawer of water”, wrote Laxer. 

Toronto appoints Fiona Crean as city’s first ombudsperson

Toronto has its first ombuds person, the latest in a list of oversight positions created at city hall, wrote the Toronto Star Sept. 25. Council last night appointed Fiona Crean to the position effective Nov. 17. Crean will be responsible for investigating and resolving public complaints on how city services and programs are delivered.

“Ms. Crean has the proven experience to serve as an additional point of contact between Torontonians and their government and to ensure services are provided in a manner that is fair and equitable to all,” Mayor David Miller said in a statement last night.

Crean was the first ombudsperson and director of human rights at York University.

  • The Toronto Sun and the National Post also noted Crean’s time at York in their stories on Sept. 25.

‘Ordinary people’ care about the arts

Since the Conservatives seem to underrate the role of the arts in a civil society, wrote Phillip Silver, dean emeritus of York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, in a letter to the Toronto Star Sept. 25, perhaps they should read the words of Gabrielle Roy (1909-1983), who wrote, “Could we ever know each other in the slightest without the arts?” And if Stephen Harper needs a copy of those words, he will find them printed on every Canadian $20 bill.

Glendon prof’s study of Quebec artists politics is cited in La Presse column

Less than 1 per cent of Quebec artists identified themselves as Canadian, wrote Montreal’s La Presse columnist Mario Roy Sept. 19, in a story about a study by Glendon Professor Alexandre Brassard Desjardins of support for Quebec sovereignty in the arts community. Why is this so? Peer pressure – or, more specifically pressure to conform – seems to be an important factor. “An artist is 96 per cent likely to share the ideas of an admired colleague,” writes Desjardins. In fact, wrote Roy, we know what it cost those rare artists who, one day, lost their faith in sovereignty: they were crucified in public.

US woes hand China excuse to slow reform

Now that Wall Street is in turmoil and American-style capitalism under a cloud, some experts say China is likely to slow or shelve reforms such as letting the its currency float, allowing more competition among domestic banks and making stock markets more open and transparent, wrote The Globe and Mail Sept. 25.

“The Chinese have never listened to the Americans anyway,” said Mitchell Bernard, a consultant on Asian business and professor emeritus in the Schulich School of Business at York University. “I think everyone in China is going to be more cautious, but I don’t think the fundamental policy will change,” Bernard said. “They’re going to conclude that they’re right to control the speed of change and the speed of opening.”

So much depends on gratitude, thank you very much

First it was lettuce. Then author Margaret Visser tackled dinner forks, high heels, beards, flight attendants and Santa Claus, among assorted other subjects, wrote the Toronto Star Sept. 25.

Now Visser, who has been called the anthropologist of everyday life, focuses on two not-so-simple words: thank you. Her new book, The Gift of Thanks, looks at the cultural roots and complicated meaning of gratitude. Visser, who taught classics at York University for 18 years, talked with the Star about accepting compliments, wrapping gifts and feeling the love on Malaysia Airlines.

Q: Were there any surprises in your research on gratitude?

A: One of the things that shocked me into writing the book was that I gave something big to some people without any intention of getting anything back or wanting them to be grateful. I gave it because it was obvious they needed it. Then they didn’t thank me after years and years of enjoying it. I was shocked at myself: Why am I so annoyed? That was the beginning of the book.

Everyone thinks thank you doesn’t mean anything until the day someone doesn’t say it. Then you’re suddenly outraged.

Q: What’s the function of gratitude in our society?

A: It’s recognition. Recognition is what holds our culture together. Gratitude is a positive, reaching into areas that laws and rules cannot reach. It gets people to do a positive act of recognition.

On air

  • Ian Greene, political science professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, spoke about a poll indicating a public lack of confidence in campaign promises, on Vancouver’s CKNW-AM Sept. 24.