Pioneer created film culture over five decades

Long before the Toronto International Film Festival, long before Hot Docs, before Cinematheque Ontario and before the Genie Awards, there was Gerald Pratley [DLitt. ’91], wrote The Globe and Mail April 30, in an obituary of the York honorary degree recipient.

Through five decades, in books, magazines and newspapers, on radio and TV, in lecture halls and cinemas around the country, Pratley did more to popularize the movies than any other Canadian. His knowledge of film, which was encyclopedic, was eclipsed only by his passion, which was boundless…. And he was an indefatigable champion of Canadian films and filmmakers, a voice for a nascent industry before it found its own voice.

Gerald Arthur Pratley died on March 14, at the age of 87, in Belleville.

In the late 1960s, Pratley persuaded the Ontario government to establish the Ontario Film Institute. He would serve as its director for the next 21 years, until it was absorbed by the Toronto International Film Festival and rebranded as Cinematheque Ontario. The OFI, then located in the Ontario Science Centre, boasted one of the finest facilities in the country, a 500-seat venue able to screen films in 16, 35 and 70 mms. The province’s film archive was also based there, filled initially mostly with Pratley’s own collection of books, films, clippings and cinematic memorabilia. Says Risa Shuman [BA ’73 and former senior producer of TV Ontario’s flagship program, "Saturday Night at the Movies"]: "He was a complete packrat. He saved everything."

But his tenure there was marred by constant battles against bureaucratic small-mindedness and budgetary thrift. While his own funds were being progressively squeezed, the province was lavishing new money on the Festival of Festivals, which already boasted other, generous patrons.

Still, film buffs recognized what he had created and flocked, from all across southwestern Ontario and upstate New York, to what became six-nights-a-week screenings. "I was a film student at York University in the early 70s," recalls Shuman, "and we had to take three buses to get there, but it was worth it. Every major distributor would preview films there. And the lead actors and actresses would also come."

In later years, as TIFF and Hot Docs grew in size and stature, Pratley felt somewhat marginalized. On the one hand, "he was proud," says Shuman. "He didn’t need the film festivals to validate what he’d done." On the other, "he was hurt when TIFF refused to make him a gold patron and asked him to apply for press credentials."

There were some honours, to be sure: Pratley was nominated by Norman Jewison as a Member of the Order of Canada in 1984 and then elevated to Officer in 2003. He received a special prize at the 2002 Genie Awards, in recognition of his life-long dedication to Canadian cinema, and earned honorary degrees from York University, the University of Waterloo and Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

Turnout is key, especially for the NDP

The following is a collection of comments by Bob Drummond and other York faculty members made prior to election day. Comments on election results will be in tomorrow’s York in the Media.

The surging support of the NDP in opinion polls could fizzle in a low-turnout election if young voters who have moved to support the party in disproportionate numbers stay home in larger numbers, as their age group tends to do, wrote The Globe and Mail May 2. The party’s officials say a high turnout would help them translate goodwill into seats.

York University political scientist Robert Drummond [Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies] says it’s true that younger people tend to vote in substantially lower proportions – and if turnout is high, it likely means a greater portion of young voters have voted.

But he said in this election, a number of factors could trigger turnout. If people want to see a majority government, Tory voters might get out more, and that an enthusiastic move for change leads to higher turnouts. In 2008, traditional Liberal voters stayed home, but it’s hard to say if the party’s slide in polls will discourage supporters, or propel them to vote out of a desire to save the party.

  • On the eve of Monday’s election, the federal party leaders made their final push to secure support from undecided voters across the country, wrote Global Television News online May 1. While polls indicate the Conservatives are leading in popular support, historic gains by the NDP have made this election one of the most fascinating in recent memory.

Robert Drummond is a professor of political science [Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies] at York University.

Drummond says the most likely outcome for the 41st federal election is a Conservative minority. "Least likely is a Liberal minority. A Liberal majority at this point looks extremely unlikely and a government formed by anyone else, even more unlikely," Drummond said.

In the event Harper loses confidence again, he can resign as the prime minister and invite the Governor General to ask the leader of the opposition to form the government.

Harper’s other option is to ask the Governor General to dissolve Parliament, effectively forcing another election. "The Governor General is likely to refuse that alternative unless considerable time, say a year or two, has passed. He is otherwise likely to call on the leader of the party with the next largest number of seats to see if he can form a government," Drummond said.

“Would the Liberals then agree to support a Conservative government rather than enter into a coalition or agreement with the NDP? Hard to say. I could imagine an actual split in the Liberal party over this issue,” Drummond said.

  • For years, experts have worried about low voter turnout in federal elections. But should they? Why not forget about the disengaged voters and leave democracy to those who are interested in participating?, wrote Postmedia News May 1. It’s not as if the disengaged are listening to lectures about the issue anyway, right?

"I’m afraid that may be true to some extent," says Robert Drummond, an expert on voting patterns who teaches at Toronto’s York University [Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies].

If the choice were between having more uninformed people voting, or restricting voting only to those who were well-informed, "I suppose we’re better off to be guided by the well-informed," he says. "I’m not sure, however, that’s what we’re really getting."

Apathetic people are sometimes very well-informed, and people who vote sometimes aren’t, he says. "My preference is to have more people vote and be better informed."

A lot of non-voters argue that they don’t want to cast a ballot because they are only one vote among thousands and won’t have much voice in the outcome, Drummond says. Some non-voters are well-informed about issues but decide not to vote because they don’t feel one party reflects what they believe, he said.

Making voting compulsory, which more than 30 countries have done, isn’t necessarily going to make things better. While it would ensure that people vote, it’s not clear whether they would feel any more engaged, he said. "It would ensure a lot of uninformed people went to the poll, I guess," Drummond said with a laugh.

  • The late-election NDP surge may be the surfacing of a submerged hope for something better from Ottawa, wrote the Toronto Star May 2.

“Skepticism about government is nothing new, it’s been there since World War II, when government expanded so much and the expansion was sometimes poorly considered,” says political science Professor Ian Greene of York University [School of Public Policy & Administration, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies].

“The basic principle of democracy is mutual respect. But fewer people have been thinking along those lines. It’s a reflection of increasing self-centredness in society. There may be a desire for change, but it depends on leadership.”

  • Some political insiders say an especially confrontational Parliament recently and this election’s nasty tone may have opened the door to what some are saying is a higher level of election-related vandalism and dirty tricks during this campaign, wrote Ottawa’s Hill Times, May 2.

Ian Greene, a York University professor in its School of Public Policy & Administration [Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies], said the increasing use of negative ads, particularly by the Conservatives, has set a tone of nastiness that opens up space for people to think dirty tricks are okay and the end justifies the means.

Greene said bad behaviour could come from overzealous campaign workers or breakaway vigilante-type groups.

  • Will being caught by the cops at a suspected massage parlour hinder NDP Leader Jack Layton’s campaign?  asked The Toronto Sun May 1, [in a follow-up article to a story it published just before election day containing comments by a retired police officer about the 1996 event].

According to York University political science Professor Robert Drummond [Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies], it depends on how Canadian voters feel about the incident. "It may have some detrimental effect in some quarters but others will say it’s not a big deal," he said.

Layton’s reaction will also play a part in how his campaign continues the last few days before voters cast their ballots on Monday, Drummond said. "It depends on how he reacts. I think people who planned on going out and voting for him are less affected by it than those who weren’t planning to vote for him in the first place."

Layton labelled the story a "smear campaign" and said there was no wrongdoing.

  • Drummond also brought up former US president Bill Clinton’s White House scandal as a reference, wrote Sun Media May 1. "It didn’t hurt Clinton’s image, particularly with those who supported him," he said. "I don’t know how it would play. Canada is a little different, but it happened 15 years ago."
  • Alexandre Brassard, political scientist and director of research at York’s Glendon College, spoke about the federal election campaign, on Radio Canada International April 30.

Asleep at the well: Can Canada handle a Gulf-style oil disaster?

If a monster iceberg (like those now being formed from the melting of the Greenland ice shield) was to collide with the Hibernia platform, says Michael Klare, a noted American oil expert, author and academic, it could prove to be far more devastating than last year’s BP spill, which dumped almost five million barrels into the Gulf of Mexico, wrote Tanya Gulliver, a PhD candidate in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, in Reader’s Digest’s May 2011 issue. That’s because Hibernia – one of the world’s largest drilling platforms, weighing over a million tonnes – is located in one of the most inhospitable environments on the planet, rife with high waves, fog and violent storms. The disaster would push cleanup crews to the absolute limit; plugging the leak might be nearly impossible.

Are we prepared? Hardly. Most Canadians still don’t see Canada as an oil-producing nation, even though this country is the seventh-largest producer of crude oil in the world: We produce 2.8 million barrels a day, a number that is expected to grow to 4.3 million barrels a day by 2025.

As a result of this perception, many are clueless about the risky oil exploration and production activities occurring here every day. And without the drama of a catastrophe or heartbreaking images of oil-covered birds, it’s all too easy for Canadians to remain blissfully unaware.

I know this because until recently, I was one of those Canadians. I consider myself an environmentalist, but also a realist. I recycle and turn off lights, and I drive a car and eat processed food. I understand that we can’t live without oil – at least not right now. Furthermore, as a researcher studying disasters, vulnerability and risk at York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, I thought I was fairly informed about the risks stemming from offshore drilling.

But travelling around New Orleans after last year’s Deepwater Horizon explosion exposed me to the impact that spills can have on land, people and wildlife. It wasn’t pretty, and it inspired me to dig deeper into the dangers back home. What I discovered scared me.

But being realistic means recognizing that short of imposing a moratorium on offshore drilling (not a bad idea), we need to ensure that our technologies, teams and training are tough enough to prevent a Deepwater Horizon-style spill from happening in Canada. And at the moment, they’re not.

Teacher, volunteer, fashionista – and York grad

Peggy Rees [BA ’80, BEd ’86], was born July 5, 1922, in Toronto and died on Feb. 21, 2011, in Toronto of complications from pneumonia, aged 88, wrote her daughter Jayne Rees, in a Lives Lived column in The Globe and Mail May 1.

Although her father wanted her to go to business school, Peggy attended Normal School and began her teaching career in 1940. She was a gifted teacher, successfully maintaining order while teaching in a rural one-room schoolhouse at the age of 20. Later in her career, she taught and mentored children with special education needs as a teacher librarian for the North York Board of Education. Many of her former students kept contact with her throughout her life.

Peggy met Frank Rees in 1941…. They married in 1945 and celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary in 2010.

During her 13 years as a stay-at-home mom with her son Don and daughter Jayne, Peggy kept herself busy as the president of the United Church Women, among other volunteer positions. When she returned to teaching full-time, she began night classes to complete her BA at York University, graduating at 53. She subsequently completed her BEd.

Osgoode prof says tax-free accounts are part of Tories’ larger plan to remove gains tax

While corporate tax cuts have been fiercely attacked in recent weeks as giveaways to big business, the Conservatives have managed to avoid controversy over another costly election promise that seems poised to deliver an even bigger windfall to the Bay Street crowd, wrote Linda McQuaig in the Toronto Star April 30.

The promise involves Tax Free Savings Accounts (TFSA), which the Conservatives introduced in 2009 and now plan to greatly expand. The opposition parties have avoided attacking the program, which the Conservatives have carefully pitched as a way to help moderate earners build their savings.

But Neil Brooks, a professor of tax law in [York’s] Osgoode Hall Law School, says the program does little for moderate earners and is really about eliminating taxes on capital gains and other income from capital – something the financial community has long lobbied for but been unable to achieve.

Brooks argues that the TFSA program has far-reaching implications, moving Canada away from the income tax – which taxes income from both capital and wages – towards a system that taxes only wages. That will shift the tax burden away from investors, and increasingly onto the backs of wage earners, he notes.

Brooks notes that, by shielding capital gains from taxation, the program will exacerbate Canada’s already high level of inequality.

The revenue losses from the TFSA program also threaten to be huge, although not immediately visible. Already, almost $20 billion has been socked away in some 4.8 million TFSA accounts. Brooks believes this is "part of the Conservatives’ long-term plan to defund the welfare state."

Canadian court rules against farm workers

The Canadian Supreme Court of Canada has upheld an Ontario law barring agricultural workers from forming unions, wrote United Press International May 1.

The high court ruled 8-1 Friday that the Canadian Charter of Rights guarantees employees "meaningful" negotiations with employers, The Globe and Mail reported. But the Toronto newspaper said the court found there is no guarantee of a specific vehicle for those negotiations.

Allan Hutchinson, a professor at Osgoode Hall Law School at York University, said the court has refused to extend rights guaranteed by previous decisions: "What good is a recognition of rights if the least advantaged and most disenfranchised in society – agricultural workers – cannot access them?"

Inclusion policy discussion at separate school board turns ugly

The meeting at Our Lady of Lourdes is really a continuation of an April 18 information session about the [Toronto Catholic District School Board’s (TCDSB) draft equity and inclusive education] policy that turned “pretty ugly,” says Chris D’Souza, a lecturer at York University [Faculty of Education] and, previously, the equity and diversity officer for the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board, wrote Xtra April 30. “I was verbally attacked by seven or eight people.”

He was asked to speak about protections for all identities in the Ontario Human Rights Code. He was met with shouts and anti-gay attacks. “They attacked me because I openly supported groups that will protect students,” he says. “I am perfectly comfortable talking about same-sex marriage, which is a right in Canada. They don’t seem to be able to understand and reconcile how I can be a practising Catholic and still promote vociferously the rights for all identities. So, they voice their opinions angrily.” The forum was cut short to stop the heckling.

D’Souza is also the reason why a March 26 TCDSB information session on the policy was abruptly cancelled, following angry and vocal complaints from parents who called the board demanding he be removed from the speaker list. “I believe it was cancelled because of me,” he says. “I was scheduled to speak at the forum on the equity strategy.” D’Souza adds he was one of the experts who helped draft the equity and inclusive education strategy.

“I think they are really struggling, trying to balance a really strong desire by teachers and administrators in Catholic school boards to meet the needs and ensure students are indeed protected and balancing that with the public perception of what school boards should be doing,” he says.

On air

  • Fred Lazar, economics professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University, spoke about Air Canada Express, a regional service between Toronto Island Airport and Montreal, on CBC Radio (Toronto) April 29.
  • Alan Middleton, marketing professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University, spoke about the value of the “Royal” brand label on products, on BNN-TV April 29.