Columnist comments on missing Tory at York health meeting

The moment I’ll remember from Campaign 2008 came in a chilly lecture hall at York University, wrote columnist Carol Goar in the Toronto Star Oct. 13 in a column about a reluctance by Conservative candidates to appear at meetings or give interviews during the campaign. Roughly 65 students had taken the time, despite midterm exams, to attend an all-party dialogue on health care sponsored by the University’s Faculty of Health and the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario. I was the moderator, wrote Goar.

The Conservatives had agreed to send Steven Fletcher, a Winnipeg MP with an insider’s understanding of the health-care system. He is paralyzed from the neck down. But the day before the event, the Conservative party informed the organizers that Fletcher was unable to travel and could not attend the meeting. A statement would be sent on his behalf.

I was handed Fletcher’s statement when I arrived. The organizers were unsure whether to read it. "Let’s ask the audience," I suggested. So we had a vote. I explained the situation and asked how many people wanted me to read the statement. Seven hands went up. I asked how many did not wish to hear it. At least 50 hands went up.

That settled it. But the memory unsettles me. Why should first-time voters have to choose between propaganda and silence? The three-party dialogue was thoughtful and civilized. Most of the students stayed for the full two hours. One told me afterward: "Don’t worry. All universities are no-go zones for the Conservatives."

Strike talk surrounds York TAs, contract professors

Teaching assistants and contract professors at York University could be on strike as early as the end of October if a collective agreement with the North York post-secondary school isn’t signed soon, wrote the North York Mirror Oct. 10. "We have been negotiating two days a week for the last two months and have made very little progress," said Graham Potts, chief negotiator for the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 3903, which also represents graduate teaching assistants. The union, representing about 3,200 members, will be conducting strike votes.

  • Several Ontario radio stations also mentioned the York-CUPE 3903 contract negotiations Oct. 14. 

York student survives double murder

The brutal deaths of a churchgoing grandmother and her daughter early yesterday have stunned a northeast Toronto neighbourhood. A third woman, who neighbours said was the 20-year-old granddaughter, was injured and is recovering in hospital, wrote the Toronto Star Oct. 14.

Neighbours said the granddaughter is Sarah John, a student at York University. The family is said to be from Kerala state in India and attend the Church of South India on Lawrence Avenue West and Jane Street.

Bobby Harrilal, who lives three houses away, heard from neighbours that Sarah ran out screaming for help, pounding on doors and left a trail of blood on the walkway and porches.

  • The Globe and Mail, CanWest News Service and Global TV also mentioned that Sarah John was a York student, in their reports Oct. 14.

Cancer survivor and York staff member, Fields is a fundraising dynamo

Leona Fields, pension fund manager in York’s Office of the Vice-President, Finance & CFO, walked with her husband and daughters as one of thousands of breast cancer survivors last Sunday in the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation CIBC Run for the Cure, wrote Oct. 9.

But, what set the Thornhill resident apart from other participants were her sagging pockets, weighted down with donations from her incredible fundraising efforts.

Fields raised more than $17,000 for this year’s run/walk and since being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002 and fighting the illness for the past six years, the mother of two has raised more than $65,000 for breast cancer research. For her dedication to the cause, Fields was presented with the Determination Award, recognizing her as the top individual fundraiser for this year’s Run for the Cure.

Sunday’s walk/run in Toronto raised more than $5 million for breast cancer research in Canada – research that has saved many lives, including Fields’. She was originally diagnosed with cancer in 2002 and underwent a complete mastectomy. Three months later, another cancerous lump was discovered and the mother of two underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

This experience, she said, and the thought of her daughters having to endure something similar is what motivates her to do all that she can for cancer treatment. “It took so long to recover from my treatment, it was the worst time of my life,” Fields admitted. “I never want my girls to go through what I went through.”

Grad talks about arid harvests for migrant women

The difficulties of migrant farmwomen in rural Ontario that York grad Evelyn Encalada Grez (BA ’98, MA ’03) plans to describe to UN workers this week may come as a surprise to her audience, and to people here, wrote the Toronto Star Oct. 14.

She is one of four members of the Guelph-based Rural Women Making Change organization invited to the United Nations building in New York on Thursday. Encalada, 33, says she will have only seven minutes to draw on her seven years of research. So she intends to focus on the story of one woman, whose leg was broken by a tractor and who only got treatment after Encalada called police to take her from the farm to hospital.

Encalada is herself an immigrant from Latin America, arriving 27 years ago with her parents, who were escaping the political violence in Chile that claimed thousands of lives during the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. "Canada had a door much more open to the world then," she said. "Now, Latin Americans have to sell themselves as migrant workers to come here.

"The guest worker programs are not about a shortage of (domestic) workers. They are about creating a certain type of labour force, in agriculture and in construction, with limited rights that are easier to exploit," said Encalada.

GTA’s low-income voters finding a stronger voice

Official statistics for Tuesday’s federal election may be skewed by an out-of-date voters’ list, wrote the Toronto Star Oct. 12, quoting a suggestion by York University law student Sarah Stackhouse, 22, who lives at 836 Roselawn Ave., a four-storey building in the poll. "I know I’m still listed with my parents in Mississauga and I know there are lots of students in these buildings who are probably not on the voters’ list (here) either," she notes. Technically, voters should be casting their ballots where they live.

York grad runs for Conservatives in North Bay riding

Joe Sinicrope (BA ’89) says he wouldn’t be running in the federal election if the Nipissing-Timiskaming riding had strong leadership, wrote the North Bay Nugget Oct. 11.

The lawyer was nominated last year to represent the Conservative Party of Canada.

Since the writ dropped, Sinicrope has been knocking on doors, meeting voters and visiting schools throughout the region.

Sinicrope said all he’s asking is for voters to give him a chance. “If I’m elected, I promise I will secure that 10,000-foot runway at Jack Garland Airport and if I don’t, I hope every voter remembers that and throws me out in the next election," said Sinicrope.

Sinicrope was born and raised in North Bay. He is married with six children. The West Ferris Secondary School graduate obtained a bachelor of arts degree from York University before entering law.

York grad runs in Oak Ridges-Markham

The riding of Oak Ridges-Markham was cobbled together with pieces from four prior ridings and includes Whitchurch-Stouffville and parts of Markham, King and Richmond Hill, wrote the King Era-Banner Oct. 11. Markham resident Andy Arifin (BA ’08) is running for the NDP. A graduate cum laude of York University’s political science program, Faculty of Arts, Arifin ran in nearby Markham-Unionville in the 2007 provincial election.

York prof sees Greens voting strategically

The final vote total for the Greens will largely depend on whether supporters migrate to other parties, as many have on voting day in past elections, wrote the Toronto Star Oct. 14. It’s a difficult choice for Greens concerned about doing what’s best for the environment, says Mark Winfield, a York University political scientist in the Faculty of Environmental Studies, who has analyzed Green voting patterns in Ontario.

In hotly contested ridings, Greens will be asking themselves: "Do I want to be the person responsible for putting Stephen Harper back in the Prime Minister’s Office?" Winfield said in an interview yesterday.

Short-selling stocks is democratic, says Schulich professor

The Ontario Securities Commission followed the US Security and Exchange Commission’s lead and placed a temporary ban on short-selling some financial stocks, wrote the National Post Oct. 11. The ban expired this week.

For market purists, banning the short-selling of bank stocks makes things less honest.

"A financial world without short sales is like a democratic society without freedom of speech," says Moshe Milevsky, finance professor at the Schulich School of Business at York University. "As long as these traders are not manipulating the price in either direction, I don’t see why we are persecuting a group who were able to accurately predict the mess financial companies got themselves into."

Political scientist’s study looks at votes and campaign contributions

A new study by York University Professor Robert MacDermid of the Faculty of Arts paints a fascinating picture of the relationship between developers and suburban politicians, wrote The Globe and Mail Oct. 11.

In general, he found that Vaughan politicians get a lot of money from developers – as a percentage of their campaign funding in the 2006 election, it was at least five times higher than the figures for Toronto municipal politicians, where the top mayoral contenders and many council candidates refused corporate and union donations.

Even more striking was what MacDermid learned about Official Plan Amendments, which are granted by city hall to developers who want to deviate from the municipality’s planning legislation. In virtually every case, the requested change makes the developer more money, typically by allowing increased density.

MacDermid tried to clarify the murky connection between campaign donations and amendment approvals by studying 40 requests made by developers between 2004 and 2006.

Thirty-seven of them were approved, a rate of 92 per cent. MacDermid was able to establish that at least half of the developers who got their amendments approved had given money to Vaughan councillors in the previous election. "I think the numbers speak for themselves," MacDermid says. "There’s a huge amount of money at stake."

Santa expands into role as global icon

"Christmas is becoming the first global consumer holiday," says Russell Belk, marketing professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University, in a story by the Toronto Star Oct. 14. "It is secular and it is all about consumption."

Christmas shopping and gift giving has been successfully separated from religious life to the point that non-Christians can join in without feeling guilty, he says. Plus: "It comes with all the iconography, even in lands that are not snowy."

This "global consumer ethic" has resulted in American-style traditions that sometimes swamp older festivals, Belk says. In the Netherlands, Santa Claus can’t make a public entrance until after Dec. 5, when the traditional Sinter Klaus celebration has been held. This, despite the fact our modern Santa derives from earlier Father Christmas and Old Man Winter figures in established European cultures.

Different cultures have their own way of celebrating, explains Belk. He cites Japan, where Christmas is a time for young people to go out to bars and hotels rather than the North American-style family gathering.

On air

  • Bridget Stutchbury, biology professor in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, spoke about her book Silence of the Songbirds on CBC Radio’s “The Current”, Oct. 10. York student Elizabeth Gow was also interviewed for the story.
  • Moshe Milevsky, finance professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University, spoke about Canadian banks’ plans to cut interest rates on CBC Radio’s “Windsor Now” Oct. 10.