Monahan talks to CBC Radio about Jean’s impact as governor general

Patrick Monahan, York vice-president academic & provost and an expert on the Canadian constitution, took part in a discussion about former governor general Michaëlle Jean and her handling of a request to prorogue Parliament, on CBC Radio’s “The House” Oct. 2. The discussion was moderated by host Kathleen Petty.

Petty: So, take us back to that time. You were advising the Clerk of the Privy Council – how much uncertainty was there around what the governor general wouldn’t and could do?

Monahan: There was an incredible amount of uncertainty…but at the time, we had no idea, really, what was going to happen…. There were some people who said the Governor General should follow the prime minister’s request and allow prorogation, but there were many others who were criticizing that and saying she shouldn’t exercise that power and shouldn’t prorogue the House. I think that, more than anything, what that episode left us with is this: the governor general is an office-holder who actually does have real power. Because Michaëlle Jean actually had to make that decision. It was her decision and I think it was the right decision, but it was an incredibly difficult decision and required a very sound judgement, on her part. And I think she proved herself, in that sort of test, to be a kind of defining moment of her term, but as a very capable leader in difficult times.

I think, in this context, the basic principle was that you, as governor general, don’t want to be determining political outcomes. And I think, without getting into all the details, the decision that she made really said ‘Let’s take a timeout, here; the government’s going to come back in January of 2009 and face the House.’ And I think, ultimately, that was the sound and the prudent decision.

I think, looking back at Michaëlle Jean’s term, in many ways, she will be seen, I think, as one of our strongest governors general. She made some critical decisions around prorogation, but she was also a very public person, who connected with Canadians, really, from coast, to coast, to coast.

Province scraps programs for students whose parents didn’t go past high school

Queen’s Park has scrapped funding to dozens of university outreach programs for children whose parents never went beyond high school – many in high-need neighbourhoods such as Jane-Finch – to focus on programs that keep them from dropping out once they’ve landed on campus, wrote the Toronto Star Oct. 2.

The change flies in the face of new research that shows these so-called “first-generation students” – the first in their family ever to pursue higher education – aren’t dropping out of postsecondary education more than their peers, but do need encouragement earlier on to even consider higher learning.

York University has lost funding for outreach programs in Toronto’s Jane-Finch neighbourhood that encouraged children as young as 7 to see themselves coming to university, said Jackie Robinson, coordinator of the programs run jointly by York and the Toronto District School Board.

Gone is the Summer Arts program that bussed 80 children aged 7 to 13 to York for a mix of arts, mentoring and pep talks on education. Gone is Higher 5, a program that brought Grade 5 classes onto campus for a day. Gone is an after-school program in which York students served as role models in local schools. Gone is Readers to Leaders, a one-day program in which student teachers from York prepare students for the Grade 10 literacy test. (In 2005, they helped raise the pass rate to 62 per cent from 45 per cent.)

Young acknowledges moral objections to prostitution law fight

Alan Young, the Osgoode Hall Law School professor who was lawyer for those challenging the laws, said he knows some people will be “aghast” that prostitution has been deemed “even more legal than it was before,” wrote The Sault Star Oct. 2. “There are a lot of people who have moral objections to what we did, but let me just tell you that this case is all about protecting the security and safety of people who work in the sex trade, regardless of what you think of sex-trade workers,” he said.

  • James Morton, adjunct professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, spoke about the recent court decision striking down Ontario’s prostitution laws, on CBC Radio’s “Ontario Today” and answered questions about legal matters during the phone-in hour Oct. 1.

New meters not to blame for rising hydro bills

The new fall session at Queen’s Park has seen the opposition parties take aim at smart meters, wrote Mark Winfield, professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, with co-authors Stewart Fast, a PhD candidate at the University of Ottawa, and Brendan Haley, a PhD candidate at Carleton University, in the Toronto Star Oct. 3.

The real political issue is that hydro prices for consumers have increased in the last few years (4.3 cents/kWh in 2002 to 6.5 cents/kWh in 2010) and will continue to do so. The government has admitted this and the opposition has been clever in tying inevitable price hikes to the rollout of smart meters. In this way, the larger social debate on appropriate energy sources and on minimizing disproportionate impacts on those who can least afford higher energy costs is sidestepped. Instead, we are left pinning the problem on the new meters.

A more fruitful debate would centre on helping consumers by developing energy/poverty strategies, cutting bills through energy efficiency and enabling consumers to more fully benefit from time-of-use pricing by installing smart/programmable energy and appliance systems in households and businesses.

Smart meters may be fated to be a central part of the political energy debate as we move closer to an election year. If so, we must not conflate rising energy prices with the smart meter. To do so would forfeit an unfamiliar but promising gadget to a lacklustre discussion on our shared energy future.

Green energies

Ontario has become the “epicentre” of the green energy market in all of the Americas, says Jose Etcheverry, a professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies and president of the Canadian Renewable Energy Alliance, an umbrella organization of non-profit groups promoting energy conservation and efficiency and low-impact renewable energy, wrote 24 Hours Oct. 4.

“The renewable energies sector is growing at different rates across Canada, and growing exponentially in Ontario,” Etcheverry says, due mainly to industry-friendly government policies. The province’s Green Energy Act, which passed in 2009, features a number of programs for supporting this emerging sector. A primary goal of the act is to create more than 50,000 jobs in renewables by 2012.

“Ontario has become the most important jurisdiction from Patagonia to Alaska, because it has an open market to provide renewable energy and lots of government support, so entrepreneurs can develop projects without fear of the market collapsing,” says Etcheverry, who is also a chairperson of the World Council for Renewable Energy.

Arthurs to head review of workers’ compensation board funding

The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), whose workers’ compensation system currently has a $14 billion unfunded liability, has announced that the 2011 premiums paid by Ontario employers will rise by an average of 2 per cent, wrote Truck News Oct. 4.

As part of the announcement, the WSIB also indicated that it would be undertaking a comprehensive review of funding for the WSIB system headed by Harry Arthurs, former dean of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School and president emeritus of York University.

Obese but healthy? Gray area confounds science

A study published last year in the journal Diabetes Care found there was no difference in the age of death between metabolically healthy and metabolically unhealthy obese people over a follow-up of nine years, wrote The Ghanaian Journal, and Oct. 4.

Part of the reason, said Jennifer Kuk, a professor in York University’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science in the Faculty of Health, who led the study, seems to be that obese people are more likely to die of cancer and trauma-related causes regardless of their metabolic status. Cancer may claim lives, because obese people are more reluctant to see their doctors, Kuk said, and trauma injuries may be more difficult to treat in people with greater body mass.

Kuk’s findings suggest weight loss might be beneficial no matter what your cholesterol levels tell you. But given research showing that most people fail to maintain weight loss (and findings that yo-yo weight loss and gain may be psychologically and physically harmful), the best message for the metabolically healthy subset is unclear. “Whether we should be actively promoting weight loss knowing that over 90 percent of these individuals are going to fail is a question that I don’t think anyone can answer at this point,” Kuk said.

Osgoode prof coauthors book on billionaires

Journalist and author Linda McQuaig has long been fascinated with economics and society’s financial elite, a topic she lays on the table in her new book The Trouble with Billionaires, wrote Coauthored with Neil Brooks, professor of tax law at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, the book was released last month.

Schulich grad deals in microfinance

Down at the bottom of India’s economy, York University graduate Aviral Saini (MBA ’08), 29, is planting the seeds of what could be an entrepreneurial revolution among the hundreds of millions of poor people, wrote the Toronto Star Oct. 2 in a story about the thousands of "reverse immigrants" who are forging vital new economic bridges between Canada and India.

He’s vice-president for business development and finance at Light Microfinance, an Ahmedabad-based company that is profiting from small loans to village women, normally around $225. The women can’t get credit from banks or other traditional institutions, so they jump at the chance to start earning money by buying a buffalo to milk, or setting up a cottage industry like sewing up old clothes for resale, Saini said.

Saini always intended to come back to India, but had toyed with the idea of staying in Canada for at least a few years after graduating in 2008. Instead, he flew out the day after picking up his degree from York’s Schulich School of Business. “I saw that the opportunities were just way too exciting in India to let them go by,” he said. “When you look at India, you can just dip your hand in anything and you have an opportunity out there.”

Africa’s famous artist offers a provocative take on the slave trade

El Anatsui thinks it’s apt that Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum is the premier venue for a major retrospective of his work that will be touring North America over the next three years, wrote The Globe and Mail Oct. 2 in a story about the exhibit titled “El Anatsui: When I Last Wrote to You About Africa”.

Toronto, after all, was the first city the Ghana-born artist “came to when I travelled out of Africa for the first time,” he recalled during an interview earlier this week. That was in the summer of 1978, when, as a 34-year-old aspiring sculptor and lecturer in the Department of Fine and Applied Arts at the University of Nigeria in Nssuka, he attended the 10th International Sculpture Conference at York University.

Film festival organizer wants new institute in York Region

After a successful first year, the Multimedia Film Festival of York Region is seeking entries for its second go-round, wrote the Aurora Banner Oct. 1. The festival won’t take place until May, but the call is going out early for films and photographic works about York Region.

The effort has been spearheaded by Michael Bowe, supervisor of diversity & outreach for the York Region Children’s Aid Society. He worked with both local school boards and York University last year and hopes to establish a film institute in York.

On air

  • Michael Connor, a professor in York’s Muscle Health Centre and the School of Kinesiology & Health Science in the Faculty of Health, spoke about claims by three-time Tour de France cycling champion Alberto Contador that his positive test for the stimulant clenbuterol was due to tainted meat, on CBC Radio in Montreal and Ottawa Oct. 1.
  • Rob Bowman, professor of ethnomusicology in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, spoke about the top 10 Canadian singles of all time, on Vancouver’s CKNW AM980 radio Oct. 1.