Auto sector is a remnant of Ontario’s manufacturing past, says FES prof

Manufacturing as a source of employment has been in decline in Ontario since the 1970s wrote Mark Winfield, professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, in a letter to The Globe and Mail April 2. In many ways, it may be more accurate to say the auto sector is the last significant remnant of major manufacturing activity here.

What has set Ontario apart from the US "rust belt" states is that the province has seen tremendous job growth in service- and knowledge-based sectors that has more than made up for the losses in manufacturing. (Unfortunately, that growth has been very concentrated regionally.) Even optimistic pre-collapse projections were indicating no growth in manufacturing employment for the foreseeable future, and a continued concentration of employment growth in the service sectors.

The real question for Ontario, in addition to the need to manage the transition, is whether the province is going to lose serious ground in what have been the high-employment growth sectors. If that happens, Ontario may well be on the road to the rust belt. Admitting that traditional manufacturing jobs are likely gone forever remains a third rail in Ontario politics that gets in the way of focusing on a strategy for employment growth in the future.

A marriage of fear and xenophobia

Is there a way to square the decriminalization of polygamy with our international commitment [in signing the international Women’s Convention in 1980] in a way that does not prey on our fear of those who are different from us, asked Susan Drummond, family law professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, in The Globe and Mail April 6.

The Criminal Code’s polygamy section, from its inception through its bizarre history of virtual non-use, has always been shrouded in an aura of xenophobia and racism. The provision itself was drafted in 1892 under pressure from the US government, busy enacting its own criminal law targeting fundamentalist Mormons. We had no shame in similarly tailoring our polygamy law to single out this religious minority – a piece of blatant religious discrimination rectified only in 1954.

The conjunction of Canada’s lonely conviction of an Aboriginal man under the polygamy provision and this view of fundamentalist Mormons as race traitors should signal to us that the "family values" underpinning the section are poised to operate as a form of discipline for socially and politically marginalized people.

There are other ways of protecting women and children from abusive marriages (polygamous or monogamous) that don’t lead us into these perilous waters. Many of these mechanisms are already at our disposal.

The Criminal Code clearly prohibits sexual activity between adults and children under the age of 16. If there is a shred of credible evidence that this criminal activity has been going on in Bountiful, BC, then it is woefully lamentable that charges were not laid under these provisions. If wives are vulnerable to abuse in Bountiful, domestic abuse is a criminal offence under our assault provisions in the Criminal Code. Yet, the only charges coming out of Bountiful are under the anachronistic polygamy section.

Time for federal Liberals to put on their thinking cap

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff has called for a "thinkers conference" to help set a new policy course for the Liberal party, wrote Reg Whitaker, Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus in political science at York University, in an article for the Toronto Star April 5 about similarities with a similar conference held in 1933.

There are eerie parallels between 1933 and 2009. A scandal-plagued Liberal government had been displaced three years earlier by the Conservatives led by a prime minister from Calgary. A global economic collapse had engulfed Canada. In the United States, a discredited Republican administration had just been replaced by a new Democratic administration under a charismatic leader who pledged to use the federal government to put America back to work and restore prosperity.

How do Liberals respond when Conservatives suddenly move to the centre? In the 1930s, the leader of the opposition, Mackenzie King, was far more interested in raising campaign funds and getting back into power than in considering new ideas about what to do about the crisis.

Nevertheless, the head of the National Liberal Federation, Vincent Massey, pushed for an annual conference that would bring together people from various fields to thrash out new thinking on the pressing issues of the day. This task was particularly urgent for the Liberals. The Cooperative Commonwealth Foundation (the predecessor of today’s NDP), which held its founding convention in the summer of 1933, was challenging the Liberals from the left.

Whitaker is the author of The Government Party about the Liberals in the King and St. Laurent eras, noted the Globe.

Red Rose honours York benefactors

York benefactors Ivan Fecan (BFA ’01), chair of York’s 50 to the Power of 50 alumni group, and his wife Sandra Faire, as well as York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri and his wife Susan, were pictured in coverage of the St. George’s Society Red Rose Ball, in The Globe and Mail April 4.

The urban plot thickens

Former York student Gayla (Saunders) Trail is one of a growing breed: the city-dwelling food gardener, wrote The Globe and Mail April 4. A Parkdalian, and creator of the wildly popular urban-gardening Web site, she has learned to take any adversity the mean streets throw at her and roll with it.

Well, almost any – she is pretty sick of bar-hoppers peeing in the sidewalk plot she tends beside her Dufferin-and-Queen area apartment building. “I don’t grow food there," she says. "It wouldn’t be a good idea."

However, her other two gardens – one on the roof of her building, the other a community plot tucked behind a downtown beer store – have been producing plentiful harvests for a decade.

Trail, who was an aspiring scientist before leaving her hometown of St. Catharines to do a fine arts degree at York, put in a few years as a graphic designer before launching her Web site in 2000. Now, she is a guru for urban gardeners not only in Toronto, but also in the United States (she is big in Brooklyn) and the UK. In 2005, her first book, You Grow Girl, was published; next year Clarkson Potter is publishing her second book, on the topic of urban food gardening, and not a moment too soon. "Last year was the first year that sales of vegetable seeds outsold flower seeds since the fifties," says Trail. "And that’s continuing. It’s rising."

Absolutely not

Ponderously titled, The Book of Absolutes: A Critique of Relativism and a Defence of Universals (hereinafter The Book) targets the spawn of Friedrich Nietzsche and Jacques Derrida, those postmodern zanies in the groves of academe who are responsible for the death of God, history, literacy and, if William D. Gairdner, former English professor at York University (1971-1973) can be trusted, much else besides, wrote Chris Scott in a review of The Book of Absolutes for The Globe and Mail April 6.

The Book is a rant against postmodernism, wrote Scott. (A better subtitle might have been Postmodernism Deconstructed.)

York’s civility efforts need to tackle underlying causes, says rabbi

The attempts that York University is reported to be making to promote civility in the Israeli-Palestinian debate, and avoid the kind of atmosphere that has of late plagued it, are laudable, but probably insufficient, wrote Dow Marmur, rabbi emeritus at Toronto’s Holy Blossom Temple in a column in the Toronto Star April 6. For it’s not enough to deal with symptoms without tackling underlying causes.

Lions pick up a pair of Terriers

Many from the Orillia Terriers Junior A hockey graduating class of 2009 will move on to play hockey at the university level, wrote the Orillia Packet & Times April 6. Mackenzie Micks and Brad Ouskun will play for York University.