Election coverage features York commentators and candidates

Five weeks of campaigning, thousands of phone calls, handshakes and all-candidates meetings have failed to change much when it comes to federal politics in the GTA, wrote CBC News online Oct. 15. What will make a difference is the makeup of the Liberal caucus – which will now hold six former leadership rivals to Stéphane Dion, including Martha Hall Findlay (LLB ’87).

But as the results started to come in, it became clear that although the Liberal fortunes were in trouble in other parts of the country, the situation in Toronto wasn’t going to be part of the party’s problem. “It was an interesting night. I don’t think it resolved very much,” said Robert Drummond, York political scientist and dean of the Faculty of Arts. “I think the Conservatives wound up doing a little better than the polls suggested they would, in terms of popular vote,” Drummond said in an interview with CBC News.

“This is a city that hasn’t been very supportive of the Conservatives for the past little while…. I’m guessing that inside Toronto there isn’t very much sympathy for them,” he said.

Drummond said the Conservatives have a credibility problem with voters in Toronto. “I think it [the election result] says they don’t find much in common with Stephen Harper and what they think of as his view of the country,” he said.

  • Successful Liberal heavyweights from the Toronto area – including Osgoode grad Martha Hall Findlay (LLB ’87) – would make for an exciting leadership race, said commentator Myer Siemiatycki of Ryerson University, wrote The Canadian Press Oct. 15.

However, Robert Drummond, dean of York’s Faculty of Arts, cautioned that in order to win over more Ontario votes in the future, the Liberals may need to shift their focus toward rural areas, including looking for a leader from outside the Toronto area. The Conservatives picked up seats around Toronto’s borders where swing votes aren’t uncommon.

“Some of those it was surprising to see the turnaround, but there were other places where one might have expected to see a turnaround and it didn’t occur,” Drummond said. “The Liberals…to win an election are going to have to start making gains in rural Ontario.”

  • A key ballot question became which leader was best able to steer through the tumult in the world’s financial markets, wrote The Canadian Press Oct. 15. “I suspect it was (the parties’) economic policies more than anything else,” said analyst Robert Drummond, dean of York’s Faculty of Arts. “There was a sense in which Stéphane Dion was not seen as being the strong leader the Liberals would like to see.”
  • Arguably, nobody in power foresaw the cataclysmic global meltdown of financial markets midway through the election campaign, wrote the Toronto Star Oct. 15. A pox on both their houses, says Ricardo Grinspun, a political economist in York University’s Faculty of Arts. He sees Liberals and Conservatives as equally to blame in the downward spiral of deregulation that began in the mid-1980s.

Grinspun suggests public protest at least slowed and likely stopped former finance minister Paul Martin’s goal of allowing Canadian bank mergers in the mid-1990s. The Liberals and Conservatives didn’t act alone, says Grinspun. As late as last year, the International Monetary Fund was still pushing mergers among Canadian banks, a move that might well have left them far more exposed in the current meltdown.

Still, Grinspun wants Canadians “to take everything with a grain of salt.” There is no transparency in the global financial system, he says, after a long period in which bad – or toxic – debts were bundled into vehicles and sold by one institution to another.

Grinspun says it’s impossible to know the real state of economic institutions, as well as what – if anything – Conservatives aren’t telling Canadians about their own and Ottawa’s economic situation.

  • Ian Greene, political science professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, spoke about the federal election on CBC Radio Oct. 14.
  • Patrick Monahan, dean of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, reprised his role as election-night commentator for Barrie’s A-Channel News Oct. 14.

Conservative winner promises support for a medical school at York

They always said it would take Superman to crack the Liberals’ GTA armour. That was close – it actually took an old newsman named Kent to do it, wrote The Toronto Sun Oct. 15. High-profile Conservative candidate Peter Kent won Thornhill last night, his second attempt to earn a seat since he left the anchor chair. Kent vowed to build partnerships with pharmaceutical companies to help construct a medical school at York University.

  • To chants of “Judy! Judy!” Liberal incumbent Judy Sgro entered a packed banquet centre last night to claim her fifth consecutive federal election victory in York West, wrote the Toronto Star Oct. 15. Sgro said she intends to champion the cause of seniors, pushing for an increase in widows’ pensions. She will also push for more job creation. With hospitals and York University in her riding, she’s looking for more spinoff jobs and research and development programs for the area.
  • It was a dogfight in Mississauga-Erindale, where Conservative challenger Bob Dechert was trying to unseat Liberal incumbent Omar Alghabra (MBA ’00), wrote the Toronto Star Oct. 15. Born in Saudi Arabia to Syrian parents, Alghabra has built a solid support base among new Canadians, wrote the Star. He earned a master’s in business administration from the Schulich School of Business at York University.

Alghabra likes to tell the story about how he worked the graveyard shift at a Scarborough doughnut shop to pay for tuition. It’s where he said he learned what ordinary folks face on a daily basis. “We often become self-absorbed about our families, our careers, our own aspirations,” he said. “Sometimes it’s very difficult to be sensitive or aware of others.

New yoga instructor studied at York

New this fall, children’s yoga classes are now being offered at the Heal Thy Self yoga studio in downtown Woodstock, wrote Woodstock’s Bugle-Observer Oct. 14. Heal Thy Self founder Jen Rowett is excited to welcome yoga instructor Tamara Fisher (BA ’03, MA ’06), who teaches both adult yoga and a specialized children’s yoga class on Saturday mornings. “Tamara brings a unique combination of her passion for yoga and young people into the studio,” says Rowett. “The feedback that I have received from parents has been extremely positive.”

It was a long and winding road which brought Fisher to Woodstock. Born in Southern Africa, Fisher grew up in Singapore where she attended a Canadian international school. Attracted by the educational programs offered in Canada, Fisher attended York University, graduating with two degrees, one in psychology and the other in developmental (child) psychology. By this time, Fisher was already a licensed fitness instructor and a licensed yoga instructor, and had been teaching yoga on campus alongside her studies.

Harder to get loans, credit

Post-secondary students, long the target of credit card companies, may soon find it harder to get their hands on that little piece of plastic, wrote Toronto’s Metro Oct. 14. “What we’re finding is there are fewer credit card offers being made around universities nowadays,” says Fred Lazar, a professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University. “And the credit cards that are being offered are probably coming with much smaller limits.”

Banks looking to eliminate risk have also made it harder for students to get loans, unless they are guaranteed by family, schools or government. “If it’s simply a student who may need to borrow money to go to school and repay it with the money they get from work, those types of students are less likely to get a loan nowadays from a bank,” says Lazar.

Director pays it forward at York centre

The Jane Street and Finch Avenue corridor isn’t quite the Compton-esque war zone that gets portrayed on the 11-o’clock news, though crime plagues its residents more than those living in the city’s more affluent neighbourhoods, wrote Toronto’s Metro Oct. 14.

That’s part of the reason for the establishment of the York University – TD Community Engagement Centre, a new outreach facility at Yorkgate Mall on the northwest corner of Jane and Finch dedicated to developing the area through education and career counselling, connecting the student body with its surrounding community. The centre offers tutoring, mentoring, tax preparation clinics, guest lectures and legal advice seminars.

It’s a win-win situation, says York grad Sue Levesque (BA ’90, MA ’95), executive director for the centre, which opened last month. Jane-Finch residents get access to York’s resources, while students get out of the class and learn by doing.   

Levesque knows the importance of such a venture first-hand. A university education was the key to getting out of the small northern Ontario town where she grew up. As one of the few to do so, she says this is her way of paying it forward. “I know personally how a university education can change your life,” she said. “And I feel obligated to make that opportunity available to anybody who wants to take it. This is a fantastic community, so I have the best colleagues and the coolest job at York.” 

Neighbour charged in fatal stabbings

Nathaniel O’Brien, 31, of 79 Rotary Dr., in the Meadowvale Road-Sheppard Avenue East area, appeared in court yesterday charged with two counts of first-degree and one count of attempted murder, wrote the Toronto Star Oct. 15 in a story about an incident involving York student Sarah John, who was injured in the attack. O’Brien was remanded in custody until Nov. 28

  • A Scarborough man accused of fatally stabbing two women and wounding a third on a quiet residential street early Sunday was free on bail on two counts of aggravated sexual assault at the time of his arrest, wrote The Globe and Mail Oct. 15, citing court records.  

On air

  • Bernard Wolf, economics professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University, spoke about declining auto sales in North America, on CBC Radio Oct. 14.