Advocates struggle to grab attention of public, politicians

A vast array of advocacy groups representing causes such as the disabled, child care, poverty and the mentally ill have been staging news conferences, all-candidates meetings and public forums, and releasing polls and report cards in an attempt to elbow their way onto the public agenda and influence the parties’ tightly scripted campaigns, wrote the Toronto Star Sept. 22, in a story about the Ontario provincial election.

But none of the advocates are having much success, notes York University political science Professor Robert MacDermid [Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies].

A provincial government in deficit, a politically disengaged constituency and charitable status that hamstrings many groups from taking overtly political positions are just some of the problems, he says.

"These groups represent people who are on the lower end of the equality scale and they don’t have the power or the time or the money – despite the fact that some are employed on low wages – to fight for these issues," MacDermid says.

Charitable status also serves as "a powerful silencer during elections for many of these groups," he adds. So their messages tend to be less politically charged and therefore less newsworthy.

Politicians feel they can afford to ignore these groups because the people they represent – tenants, the poor, single parents, the homeless, immigrants – often don’t vote.

"It’s difficult to mobilize that community, so groups have to try to mobilize the issue in front of middle-class people and try to appeal to people’s sense of fairness and sympathy," MacDermid says. "Meanwhile (the middle class) is being told they are paying too many taxes and that government services are bloated."

Space junk to hit Earth this week, but where?

Skywatchers may be craning their necks for a glimpse of a dead NASA satellite expected to return to Earth on Thursday or Friday, perhaps creating a spectacular light show as bits of it burn up in the atmosphere, wrote the Toronto Star Sept. 22.

The Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS), which measured ozone levels, is supposed to leave its orbit and enter the atmosphere Friday, give or take a day, according to NASA spokeswoman Beth Dickey.

UARS was launched in 1991 from the space shuttle. It was helped in its mission by a Canadian-French instrument: a wind imaging interferometer.

Designed at the Centre of Research in Earth & Space Science at York University, the instrument was expected to last only 18 months but ended up working for 10 years.

  • Gordon Shepherd, professor emeritus of space science in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, spoke about the end of the WINDII space instrument he helped design, on Global Television News Sept. 21.

Teens invited to take law into their own hands

An innovative law-themed education and mentoring program will be helping students from two schools near Jane Street and Finch Avenue to better understand the justice system and to pursue a potential career in law, wrote Sept. 21.

The Law in Action Within Schools (LAWS) program announced a partnership with York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School on Tuesday, Sept. 20, allowing the initiative to expand to include high schools in low-income neighbourhoods such as C.W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute and Westview Centennial Secondary School.

With Osgoode Hall Law School now a partner in the program, about 120 law school students have volunteered to tutor high school students after class.

"Our law school is just up the road and we’re part of this community," said Lorne Sossin, dean of Osgoode, who attended the launch to endorse the program.

Several other distinguished guests were in attendance, including Justice Kofi Barnes [LLB ’91], an Osgoode graduate and now an Ontario Court of Justice judge, who spoke highly of LAWS and encouraged students to be strong and persevere as he did growing up.

"As I look at you, I remember myself. The school system didn’t seem to work for us. We wanted the nicest things but we couldn’t afford it. We knew how to get it, but none of it was legal," said Barnes, recalling a time when he hung out with the wrong group of friends but ultimately decided to choose education. "What happened to my buddies? They’re either dead or they’re in the pen. That is why I believe in LAWS. That is why I want to encourage you to pursue your dreams."

Former chief justice of Ontario [and York Chancellor and Osgoode grad] Roy McMurtry [LLB ’58], who co-wrote a report on combatting youth violence after the shooting death of 15-year-old Jordan Manners at C.W. Jefferys in 2007, said a collaborative program like LAWS between the school and the community was one of their recommendations.

On air

  • Leo Panitch, Canada Research Chair in Comparative Political Economy and distinguished research professor of political science in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, spoke about the Ontario election campaign on AM640 Radio Sept. 21.
  • Gail Fraser, professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, spoke about the impact of a mud spill from an off-shore drilling rig, on CBC Radio in St. John’s, Nfld. Sept. 21.