How the Tories hijacked Stéphane Dion’s image

In modern televised election campaigns, image is everything and, unfair or not, once an image starts to stick, ungluing it is tough, wrote The Ottawa Citizen Sept. 27 in a story about the Conservatives’ campaign to discredit Liberal leader Stéphane Dion. Most political leaders who fail to get the top job don’t last that long.

“Leaders obviously had images before TV,” says communications Professor Emeritus Fred Fletcher, director of the Communications & Culture Graduate Program in York’s Faculty of Arts. “They came from their radio voice or newspaper accounts but people didn’t pay much attention. We didn’t focus on image until television. I’ve been talking to people during this campaign and they all have this false image of Dion. It’s distressing for those who believe in democracy.”

Political debates are all about performance

The process of getting candidates debate-ready is even more of a three-act play south of the border, wrote the Toronto Star Sept. 28. US strategists are highly professional about prepping even the most experienced candidate, says political scientist Daniel Drache of York’s Robarts Centre for Canadian Studies. They know they’ll have an audience of 40- to 50 million, undoubtedly more for this years’ historic race. “Americans believe you can improve performance, that a rehearsal isn’t a rehearsal, it’s showtime! But then, their politics is partly showtime, it’s a reality show.”

Tory candidates tight-lipped

The PM’s communications director says there’s no reason local Conservative candidates should be talking to national media, wrote the Toronto Star Sept. 27. A more pressing problem, however, appears to lie with local Tory candidates who won’t appear at local events or speak to local media. The Registered Nurses Association of Ontario quickly received acceptances from the Liberals, Greens and NDP to attend their Oct. 8 debate on health issues at York University. Still nothing from the Conservatives, even though they sent the invitation to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office.

‘If the US sneezes, we catch a cold,’ York economics prof cautions

News of the bankruptcy of a number of US financial companies and a $700-billion government bailout has Torontonians keeping a closer eye on their pocketbooks, wrote The Toronto Sun Sept. 29. The bailout package negotiated by US legislators is aimed at stabilizing a banking system reeling from losses in the mortgage market.

It’s money well spent, says one York University economics prof. “Clearly something had to be done otherwise the financial system would have been handicapped,” said Professor Bernie Wolf, director of the international MBA program at the Schulich School of Business at York University. “You can’t have a viable economy without a good, solid banking system.”

Wolf predicts the US economy will still enter a recession, regardless of whether the government bailout package passes key Senate and House votes early this week. That could translate into bad news for the Canadian economy.

“Any time something goes wrong with the US, it impacts Canada,” Wolf said. “If the US sneezes, we catch a cold.” The impact will be felt across the entire economy and consumer spending will be down as people are less sure about their jobs and wealth, Wolf says.

Welsh reader cites York bilingualism research

It is natural that some have concerns about bilingual education but there is a good deal of evidence to suggest it has benefits, wrote J.W. Thomas in Cardiff, Wales’ Western Mail Sept. 27, in a letter about Welsh language instruction. Canada has done a great deal of research on French-English bilinguals, wrote Thomas. Last year, the Western Mail referred to research at York University in Canada, which suggested that elderly bilinguals remained mentally sharper for longer than their monoglot counterparts.

Peace treaties have reached iconic status for Mi’kmaq

Treaties the Mi’kmaq signed to maintain peace with the British following the final siege at Louisbourg attained iconic status for aboriginals as they looked to better their lives and overcome mistreatment, a conference at Cape Breton University heard Friday , wrote the Cape Breton Post Sept. 27 .

William Wicken, history professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, was a keynote speaker at a symposium on the consequences of the final siege in 1758. Wicken spoke about the Mi’kmaq perspective following the event.

When the Constitution was patriated in 1982, it recognized the treaties signed with aboriginals, the Métis and Inuit, Wicken said. “We know why they’re important today, because of the Constitution, because the courts have to recognize them, but why is it they are so important for the Mi’kmaq?” he said.

The Mi’kmaq have had a dual strategy in pursuing their treaty rights, he added – both proceeding through the courts and also taking part in the political process. Since 2002, there has been ongoing federal-provincial-Mi’kmaq negotiations in Nova Scotia over how to resolve outstanding disputes, a process Wicken expects will take another decade. “It’s a way to keep it out of the courts because the Supreme Court of Canada has said, ‘You know, guys, settle it, grow up’.” he said.

A publishing success turns into a three-book road

While it had taken Joseph Boyden (BA ’91) almost five years to write his best-seller Three Day Road, it had always been conceived as just the first part of a trilogy about the multigenerational adventures of the Bird family from Moose Factory/Moosonee, wrote The Globe and Mail Sept. 27 in a review.

By the time Viking Canada published Three Day Road, Boyden was well into shaping the second instalment, Through Black Spruce, Boyden’s just-published second novel, easily one of this season’s most-anticipated books and, as of Sept. 15, one of the 15 titles on the long list for this year’s Scotiabank Giller Prize.

If Boyden, 41, was experiencing any symptoms of “the sophomore jinx” or anxiety about the prospect of the 65-day tour his publishers had dreamed up, they weren’t apparent during his interview. There’s pressure, yes, but, “I can’t let that get to me. The good thing, as far as the writing goes, is as soon as the characters start speaking to me, the pressure all just kind of goes away, and I just get lost in the world I’m creating.”

Boyden is already working up the final novel in his trilogy – “one character will be very young, a daughter, the other quite ancient, an old man” – but he’s complicating the process by simultaneously starting another book, a history about the Catholic martyr Jean de Brébeuf and the arrival of the Jesuits in Canada’s Iroquois and Huron country in the 17th century.

Nino Ricci on the origins of his latest novel

The Origin of Species, by Nino Ricci (BA ’81), is considered within the industry to be among the fall season’s most important publishing events, wrote the National Post Sept. 27. It will reach bookstores on Tuesday and has already been long-listed for the Giller Prize.

Nino Ricci had known since the mid-’80s that he’d one day write about Esther, a university friend who had multiple sclerosis, and the transformation she underwent in real life has found its way into Ricci’s new novel. He calls The Origin of Species his Esther book, and the novel is dedicated to her. Another key inspiration came in 2002, when Ricci visited the Galapagos Islands. Packed away in his luggage was a copy of The Voyage of the Beagle he’d had since his under-grad days at York University, where he’d first been captivated by Charles Darwin and his ideas. “I kept thinking, I gotta figure out a way to do something with this man,” he says. “I knew there was something in his thinking that coincided with a strain in my thinking.”

The world of air kisses and $70-million paintings

Some of the most interesting parts of Don Thompson’s exhaustive examination of the contemporary art market involve descriptions of the art itself , wrote the National Post Sept. 27 in a review of his book The $12 Million Stuffed Shark. Thompson asks many questions, including: Who sets the prices? How is value determined? and How does the entire process, from auctions and art fairs to museums and technicians, really work? We are ushered into the world of air kisses and $70-million paintings, where a canvas’ pedigree includes not just the artist, but former owners and exhibitions.

Thompson, the Kraft Foods Chair in Marketing and Nabisco Brands Professor Emeritus at the Schulich School of Business at York University, takes a good-natured approach to the subject, frequently inserting both humour and incredulity throughout, and interviewing a wide range of colourful players.

The $12 Million Stuffed Shark sucks much of the romance out of the art industry, but that might be inevitable once something becomes a high-priced commodity. The transactions at galleries, art fairs and auction houses might as well take place on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange for all of the sentimentality involved.

  • The Globe and Mail also noted Thompson’s book in its Sept. 27 edition: On a lighter note (perhaps), The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art may be worth a perusal. It’s by Don Thompson, a business and economics professor at York University.

Former trader is living example of why hiring should be about ability

Rich Donovan (BBA ’98), the 33-year-old Newmarket whiz kid and graduate of the Schulich School of Business at York University who has taken Manhattan by storm, clearly has cerebral palsy, wrote the Toronto Star Sept. 27. It is also abundantly clear that he couldn’t be more comfortable in his own body. Striped shirt open casually at the neck, tailored jacket lying easily across his shoulders, the former Merrill Lynch trader and founder of not-for-profit employment specialist Lime Connect is out to do nothing less than rebrand disability.

The current brand, rooted in medical terms and do-gooder expressions of pity, “is so negative, it’s radioactive,” he tells his audience. “Nobody wants to come near it.” The result is “a mainstream view that people with disabilities are unable to produce and must be cared for.”

Lime’s approach? “Simple,” Donovan says. “Kill the current brand with quality.” Get the message out that “people with disabilities can, and will, deliver.”

Escape film more than just escapism

Up-and-coming local filmmaker Scott Boyd (BFA ’07) knows there’s no rule saying that documentary films can’t still have the seat-of-your-pants excitement typically associated with big-budget blockbusters, wrote Insidetoronto online news Sept. 25.

Boyd’s latest work, a documentary short titled The Escape Clause, follows the journey of escape artist Scott Hammell as he prepares for a death-defying leap. For the 21-year-old Hammell’s stunt, he decided to jump out of an airplane while wearing a straightjacket, then break free of his bonds, somehow catch a parachute that has been thrown out of the plane and make his way safely to the ground.

“(Hammell) was looking to launch his motivational speaking career by jumping out of the aircraft in a straightjacket,” Boyd said. “When I heard what he was planning, I thought it would make for a great story.” Film festival organizers obviously agreed – The Escape Clause has been accepted at the Edmonton International Film Festival, the Mississauga Independent Film Festival and Toronto’s Student Shorts Film Festival, where it will be screened alongside other films from young filmmakers from around the world this weekend.

Students find their own reasons to join Ahmadinejad protest

York alumna Eve Seni (BA ’08) is standing in a line outside the Bathurst Jewish Community Centre’s dimly lit parking lot in Toronto, waiting to board a bus that will take her on an overnight 10-hour ride to protest Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s address to the UN General Assembly, wrote the National Post Sept. 27.

When she first moved to Canada from France as a teenager, Seni was so neurotic about how people might react to her being Jewish that she didn’t tell anyone for the first eight months. “Before I came to Canada, I never had a real conversation with a non-Jew,” says Seni, now 21, and a recent history graduate from York’s Faculty of Arts.

There is certainly no need for secrecy here, as she waits with two busloads of university students who are milling about. The whirlwind trip – more than 1,600 kilometres in less than 48 hours – was organized by a collaboration of Jewish community and student leaders and funded by the United Jewish Communities Federation of Greater Toronto.

Fighter manufacturer offers deal if Canada commits to purchase

Martin Shadwick, a strategic studies professor in the York Centre for International & Security Studies, said that he expects Canada’s purchase of Lockheed-Martin’s high-tech Joint Strike Fighter to proceed, despite concerns about cost increases, wrote CanWest News Service Sept. 28. “Politically and industrially we’ve thrown our lot in with the JSF,” he said. “It would be difficult to go elsewhere now. The question is how many, when and what model.”

VPD should investigate neck wounds

Earlier this year, as a number of perjury charges were tried against Canadian police officers, James Morton, a Toronto lawyer and adjunct professor in York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School, offered the following to a Canadian Press reporter in January, wrote the Vancouver Province Sept. 29: “I have not seen this many examples of perjury charges brought against police officers. I don’t think this means that police are lying more than they used to. It used to be that people just didn’t believe policemen would lie. That sort of restriction has disappeared now.”

Martin brings her excitement to songs

York student Leigh-Anne Martin makes her second public performance this week at Barrie’s Colours of Music festival, wrote the Barrie Examiner Sept. 29 . Prior to last month’s fundraising concert gala for a local theatre company, Martin’s only previous performances were for school concerts (York University) and Toronto festivals, such as a classical competition hosted by the music teachers of York, where Martin won the fourth-year classical singers in the province category.

Still, she’s been singing long enough to have developed a few tricks to quell stage fright. “When I first started, it was nerve-wracking. You get used to it, learn little tricks to not psyche yourself out,” said Martin, who was relaxing at her Barrie home between working in a local bar and studying for her last two elective courses to finish a Fine Arts degree in music, classical voice performance specialty.

On air

  • Gordon Roberts, financial services professor in York’s Schulich School of Business, spoke about the bank failures in the US, on CBC Radio’s “Radio Active” Sept. 26.
  • York education alumna Eva Gelberger (MES 2002) spoke about bullying prevention software on London, Ont.’s CFPL-TV