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In early June, I wrote this post about the loss of the long-form census and what it means for those that produce and analyze census data to better understand demographics and plan for Canadians. We’re now finding just how destructive the decision to stop the long-form mandatory census was.

In my last post, I examined the Sun Media op-ed “Census cry was all elitist paranoia”, and how the author uses the roughest of population migration data to argue the data is unsullied, without offering any examination of the deeper issues the cancellation presented. Instead of examining skew and how the under- or over-representation different people groups makes the data utterly unreliable, he takes clumsy swipes at so-called “elites”, the only people that apparently care about the change.

Unfortunately this is only one example of insulting and uninformed opinion pieces on the issue. Another is this Sun editorial from February of this year, “Senseless census spluttering ceased”. In particular, this observation by the author:

Notice there are no screaming legions today trying to sell the notion that the census is now meaningless.

No, instead of carrying on with their condemnation of the mandatory long-form census’ departure, they are gleaning the important information the census continues to deliver.

As details of the census findings begin to roll out, there appears to be nothing of great significance lost for the marketers and the analysts to digest and, for governments, NGOs and the non-profits to formulate workable strategies for the future.

All that teeth gnashing was all for naught.

The author also argues that statisticians are quietly moving on with their business as usual with data that is as reliable as ever. Everything now being presented by Statistics Canada as they roll out the first set of data since the decision was made to scrap the traditional census completely contradicts such statements. Such editorials are now proving to be premature at best and at worst, purposefully misleading.

This weekend, these news reports came out, stating that the long-form census cancellation is rendering new StatsCan data unreliable and questionable. Halifax’s ChronicleHerald put it this way:

Data users are advised to exercise caution when evaluating trends related to mother tongue and home language that compare 2011 census data to those of previous censuses,” Statistics Canada states bluntly in a box included in its census material.

Those are strong words for a statistical agency, since they raise profound questions about how the data can be used reliably to come to conclusions about language trends. Officials have undertaken a thorough investigation, with a report to be published shortly.

As a student of information technology, I find the language StatsCan chose striking. It may not read as a glaring condemnation of the new methodology, but as the article observed, what has been said is very strong words for a statistics agency. For now, it seems that with some guessing (a word no statician should ever be found using!) and analysis of contextual evidence from past censuses, some approximation of reality can be gleaned. However, this in itself is a completely invalid method of producing data, and we will only be moving further into the wilderness of guesswork and supposition the more information comes out using this new voluntary method. As the Globe and Mail article stated,

…the method of gathering the new data makes it difficult to assess where Canada is going in comparison to where it has been. Experts say these questions will only grow more complicated as results from the voluntary survey start to roll in next year.

At the highest levels, this information will still be fairly reliable. As the Sun editorials observed, we can still see movement across the provinces and understand where growth is and isn’t happening. But this is far from a complete picture, and is far from the most valuable data. Professionals including urban planners, sociologists and community organizations rely on much finer, community-level data to do their jobs effectively, something that will become much more difficult as time goes on. Observations by Ivan Fellegi, the chief statistician of StatsCan until 2008 in this CBC article put it perfectly:

Even if big cities have high response rates, the swings in the data within smaller communities suggest to him that there may well be similar swings within certain groups in urban centres. Good data for the City of Toronto as a whole says little about how the Chinese population is faring, or whether low-income groups in the downtown core have enough daycare facilities.

My hope is that either the current federal government realizes just how damaging the decision to cancel the long-form census was for professionals working to understand the people they serve with the best possible data, or that the next government will reinstate the mandatory long-form census.

If you have an opinion on bringing back the mandatory long form census don’t forget to inform your MP, you can find their contact information here.


On Tuesday, Premier Dalton McGuinty stunned everyone by stepping down from his position as Liberal Party leader, and calling for the prorogation of Queen’s Park until a party leadership convention could be held. In an e-mail sent to supporters, he said:

“I feel very good about where we are as a party and a province. But as Liberals, we’re always driving forward. The opposition’s political games are holding Ontario back.”

“We’re also going to consult with the opposition about what they would support to freeze wages. To this end, I’ve asked the Lieutenant Governor to prorogue the legislature to allow those discussions with our labour partners and the opposition to occur in an atmosphere that is free of the heightened rancour of politics in the legislature. And when the legislature returns, we will either have negotiated agreements in hand or a firm sense of what the opposition will support.”

From this, you get the sense that he is taking a much-needed step back, putting the government back in order and ready to tackle the important business of governing our province. And there is no doubt that partisanship at Queen’s Park is at a fever pitch, however, there is a lot of ongoing business that Premier McGuinity needs to answer for, including the ongoing investigation of Ornge and Health Minister Deb Matthews, and the contempt investigation of Energy Minister Chris Bentley. He has now added to these (and past) scandals by proroguing our provincial legislature while his energy minister is under investigation for withholding documents, which could ultimately lead to the government being found in contempt.

What bothers me most about these circumstances is the partisanship behind it. I am a member of the federal Liberal Party, and a supporter of the Ontario Liberals, yet I’ve watched as scandal after scandal has happened in our province. There always seems to be an excuse, mostly that the opposition are out for blood and entirely unreasonable. Not that these complaints are entirely without merit, some sessions of Question Period do look more like a political circus than serious discourse on how to serve us, their constituents. However, the purpose of the opposition parties are to hold the government accountable, especially in a minority situations where less than a majority of the citizens of Ontario have confidence enough to support the Liberal Party.

I’m also greatly concerned to watch excuses being made for actions that are deplorable, as long as they’re being performed by the federal Conservative Party of Canada.

I’m also greatly concerned about the double-standards that seem to be appearing in the way our governments do business. When the provincial Liberals do things that we condemned in the federal Conservatives (e.g. prorogue to avoid trouble, omnibus bills) I am hearing the same excuses from the Liberal supporters that I heard last time from the Conservative supporters. Those excuses didn’t convince me under the blue banner, and I’m still not convinced hearing them coming from the red banner.

This excellent Macleans article by Mark Jarvis covers the prorogation:

Prorogation is not a mechanism designed to afford the current government a political advantage in the exercise of power.

Yet, in recent years we have seen first ministers misuse the power of prorogation to avoid confidence votes, delay reporting by officers of parliament, escape questioning and scrutiny, and side-step accountability for matters of public policy and administration.

This most recent prorogation terminates an ongoing investigation of contempt against one of McGuinty’s ministers and effectively precludes anticipated motions of contempt against an additional minister and McGuinty himself until a new session of the legislature, when McGuinty will no longer be premier.

There is also the contempt situation. With prorogation, “all bills and committees from this short session — such as the committee investigating Energy Minister Chris Bentley for withholding documents on cancelled power plants — die on the vine.” Many are questioning the motives of the premier proroguing this session, when it nullifies the contempt investigation of his energy minister.

And there is the matter of the contempt investigation itself. I have encountered many partisans that are calling the contempt motion an “opposition witch hunt”; yet, when the federal Conservative Party was under investigation for withholding documents on Afghan detainees and prorogued parliament December 30 2009, opposition parties argued the Harper Government was attempting to shut down democracy in Canada. In response, protests were organized across Canada (Sarah and I participated in the one here in London). The arguments I encountered is that the two situations are entirely different. However, I had this conversation with CBC’s Kady O’Malley (an excellent authority on parliamentary procedure) October 2 over Twitter:

Kady: It’s fun to watch Liberals who decried the Conservatives’ refusal to turn over Afghan detainee docs defend the ON Liberals’ contempt.

Me: I’ve been trying to untangle this issue, many have told me this issue is *completely different* than CPC doing it. I had my doubts.

Kady: Yeah, that’s crap.

Me: That was my suspicion, thanks Kady.

Kady: The power of parliament to order the production of papers, people and records is sublimely simple, and absolute.

Me: Makes sense. What I encountered was: documents were produced on time, document request interferred with business in progress etc. etc.

Kady: No, if the documents were produced in time, there wouldn’t have been a prima facie contempt ruling.

Kady: Also, documents are expected to be produced in original, non-redacted format.

Me: Good to know, to me it seemed exactly the same as CPC situation. So what is really different? Just partisanship?

Kady: Yup.

Finally, there is also the practice of passing omnibus budget bills. On this issue I was also reassured that when the Ontario Liberals did it, phrases like “an unfortunate but necessary tactic for a dysfunctional minority situation” were used. They didn’t want to do it, but it was the only way business was going to pass with such a ridiculous opposition.

Meanwhile, with the marathon passage of the last federal omnibus budget bill, the progressive consensus seemed to be something along these lines:

A second federal budget bill is being tabled today, with opposition parties already scrumming to discuss how these kinds of budget bills, crammed with government business that has no business being there, have no place in democratic discourse.

So what do we do with this? How do we move forward?

I understand the importance of parties in the political process. I understand that it is through parties that policy is built, and ultimately influenced in parliament. It is by joining a party that citizens can make their voice heard; sharing ideas, shaping policy and helping to choose candidates and the party leader. Ontario Liberals currently have the unique opportunity to help choose both the next provincial and federal leader of the party.

Yet, we’re frustrated with the partisanship of the party system. Facts become muddied when party loyalty trumps the truth. What should be strategy to best represent constituents becomes a race to forward ideology, with the worthiness of an idea often measured by merely who said it. Voter apathy is high at all levels of government, with only about 60% of Canadians able to vote actually casting a ballot.

How do we strike a balance? How do we promote political honesty, and foster a political environment all citizens are willing to participate in?

There are many problems plaguing Ontario’s public school system. The economy remains fairly stagnant and the provincial government is struggling to find solutions and cut costs, while battling with a minority government situation. For years the London community of Lorne Ave. Public School has been threatened with the closing of their school as resources become tighter and the school has struggled with under-population.

This spring, the provincial legislature battled through passing Bill C-13, the Accepting Schools Act, to tackle bullying, specifically the chronic problem of the bullying of LGBT students (as described here). The major obstacle for the passing of the bill was the Progressive Conservatives and the Catholic School Board opposing it, with the board saying that they would be forced to accept “behavior” that is against their religious teachings.

Things have only become more complicated since then. Over the summer the provincial government struggled to create a new contract with the different teacher unions as their previous contracts were set to expire. The McGuinty government accused the unions of dragging their heels over the summer, creating speculation about whether the school year would start on time. Eventually the government called an emergency session of the legislature, with the threat that they would legislate a new deal if the unions wouldn’t agree to the terms they were willing to offer.

The provincial government has just passed the controversial Bill C-115, The Putting Students First Act. As this article states, “It imposes a wage freeze, the end of sick-day banks and a two-year strike ban, over the objections of unions representing most of the province’s teachers and school staff.” Understandably, the unions are furious, saying that their democratic right to collective bargaining is being taken out of their hands, and are vowing to protest this action.

In retaliation, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) is urging teachers to reconsider staying after school for extra-curricular activities such as sports and clubs, drawing criticism that though their complaint is with government, they’re only punishing students with this action. As well, “ETFO also wants its members to take part in ‘McGuinty Mondays’ in which teachers and educational professionals refuse to take part in school or system-level meetings.”

All of these issues combine into a very volatile situation for the government, educators and students. The government struggles to cut the massive provincial deficit, including by cutting back teacher wages and benefits, yet they seem to be avoiding a difficult but important step to cutting the cost of our education system as well as ensuring it becomes fair for all Ontarians.

To me, there is a very real solution to these issues available: amalgamate the Catholic and public school boards into a single, united secular school board. It would combine all of the schools already owned by the province, make much more efficient use of all of the school resources including buildings, staff and teachers, and produce a truly fair public system.

So far, the Green Party of Ontario (GPO) is the only political party willing to amalgamate the Catholic and public school boards. Though I am traditionally a Liberal supporter I am completely ready to say this, and to say I wish other parties would take the GPO’s lead. GPO leader Mike Schreiner’s views seem very similar to my own; he sees it as an issue of fairness and fiscal responsibility. In his words:

It’s an issue of fairness. In today’s world, it’s unfair to fund one religion school system at the exclusion of all others. The second is fiscal responsibility. When we have a record provincial deficit and we’re talking about cuts to education and attacking teachers, to not look at ending wasteful duplication –  I think it’s irresponsible to not look at those savings.

Right now, we have a public school system that contravenes the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, both by discriminating student entry and staff hiring by religion, and discriminating by sexuality. As well, in 1999 the United Nations Human Rights Committee condemned Canada and the province of Ontario for violating equality provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In this 2005 report, the Committee restated its concerns and observed that Canada continued to fail to “adopt steps in order to eliminate discrimination on the basis of religion in the funding of schools in Ontario.” Mr. Schreiner again:

I can’t think of any other place in society where we would allow two-thirds of our teachers to be denied employment opportunity. The Catholic board denies employment to non-catholic teachers and I don’t think you see that discrimination in hiring anywhere in Ontario especially by something that is funded by public tax dollars.

That doesn’t mean I believe we should completely eliminate religious teaching in our public schools. Far from it, I actually believe we should have more, as elective classes, and taught objectively instead of through a particular religious lens. As Mr. Schreiner says:

That doesn’t mean you can’t have religious education in the public system, you just can’t do it in a way that prioritizes one religion and excludes others.

This process would be a tremendous battle for our province, but it is absolutely the right thing to do. I hope that all parties will one day see this reality, and push to create a single, unified, fair and efficient school system.

Last Friday, I found out about the “new” abortion caravan organized by a group called the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform (CCBR) traveling the country from Vancouver to Ottawa to push for the re-criminalization of abortion in Canada. I heard about this because I found out it will be stopping in London tomorrow (Monday June 25).

Since learning this, I started to read about the original abortion caravan that also traveled from Vancouver to Ottawa in 1970, pressing for the legalization of abortion in our country. This caravan was started by a group called the Vancouver Women’s Caucus (VWC), and traveled across the country making many stops as they went, holding public meetings and listening to concerns they would aim to address in Ottawa.

The travels of the caravan culminated in the group’s arrival in Ottawa, where several protests were held. These protests weren’t without controversy, as the group carried a black coffin on Parliament Hill, and burned an effigy of then-PM Pierre Trudeau outside of 24 Sussex Drive. “The coffin represented pregnant women who’d died from back-alley procedures or their own horrific attempts with knitting needles or coat hangers” (as told in this story).

Most dramatically, on May 11, 1970 about 3 dozen women took seats in the galleries circling the House of Commons, and quietly chained themselves to their seats. Once ready, they began to read a speech the group had prepared. One article tells it this way:

Just before 3 p.m., one of the women stood up and started giving the group’s speech. As the guards closed in on her, another stood up in another gallery and continued. One guard told The Globe and Mail’s Clyde Sanger that the women were “popping up all over the place.” They shut down the House of Commons, and the Vancouver Sun reported it was the first adjournment provoked by a gallery disturbance in its 103-year history.

The caravan was also Canada’s first national feminist protest. It laid the path for the decriminalization of abortion in Canada in 1988, and marks an important part of Canadian history.

The new caravan aims to parody the original caravan, hijacking its associations and creating new ones. It too is doing a series of speaking engagements across the country, but the vehicles they’re using feature disturbing images of aborted fetuses (as does their website). The CCBR argue that the images force people to think about the issue and sparks conversation, while opponents to the caravan argue the images are being used irresponsibly to evoke emotion and stop people from thinking about the issue sensibly.

Tomorrow evening the new abortion caravan will be in London, at 254 Adelaide St S., London Youth for Christ. A group of activists that feel strongly about a woman’s right to safe abortion will be there to form a counter-protest, as has been happening across the country at every stop the CCBR has made.

Many people are getting involved. Among those that will be there to speak are Irene Mathyssen, NDP MP for London-Fanshawe and Megan Walker, the Executive Director of London Abused Women’s Centre. For more information, the Facebook page for the event is here.

This is a deeply complex and emotional issue. There is a time and a place for open dialogue and debate, but I believe it is irresponsible to use such traumatizing imagery, especially on vehicles where all members of the public will see it whether they wish to or not. As well, for my part, I believe in a woman’s fundamental right to have the option of safe abortion medically available to them.

For these reasons, I will be there to observe and take part in the counter-protest. I ask anyone who feels strongly about this issue and is able to be there to please come.

As I wrote about in my previous post, “Why Bill C-13 Matters”, there has been a great deal of controversy in Ontario surrounding the Liberal government’s bill that would add new anti-bullying practices to Ontario public schools. The controversy has been specifically over Section 303.1, which states that every board will support pupils who want to start student organizations for people that are bullied, making specific mention of sexual orientation and organizations known as gay-straight alliances.

The Catholic School Board and members of the Ontatio Progressive Conservatives (PC) balked at this, with the Catholic School Board stating that this approach forces the Board schools to accept something they believe is against Catholic doctrine. They asked the government to remove any mention of gay-straight alliances, and a PC MPP, Lisa MacLeod, tabled Bill C-14, which proposes similar measures to C-13 without making any mention to sexual orientation.

The controversy grew as the Ontario NDP asked for amendments, including the following amendment to 303.1:

(2) For greater certainty, neither the board nor the principal shall refuse to allow a pupil to use the name gay-straight alliance or a similar name for an organization described in clause

Bill C-13 passed the provincial legislation last week, to a great deal of both applause and frustration. The goal is to have this new legislation in effect in provincial schools by the start of next September’s fall semester.

Part of the issue is that the Catholic School Board favours a top-down approach to teaching, and believes (along with parents) that this bill restrict the parent/teacher/principal role (despite their role being recognized in the legislation). According to a 15-page document released by Board trustees, Catholic clubs are encouraged to have teacher moderators and to designate principals to approve the group’s name and activities. It includes these words:

Student Activities or Organizations are not intended as (a forum) for activism, protest or advocacy of anything that is not in accord with the Catholic faith foundation of the school

At this time the Catholic School Board has signaled that it will not sue the government over this action, but there was a great deal of speculation about legal action before the bill passed, and it seems that it may happen in future, sinking public money into what could become a protracted legal battle.

As well, it seems doubtful the Catholic School Board will respect the new rules. Fred Collie, the Bishop of the Thunder Bay Diocese, made these comments to the Kenora Daily Miner:

Everything we do in our schools, every part of our curriculum, always has a Catholic component to it…We’re going say the Catholic church is not going to endorse or support homosexual lifestyles because we don’t see it as a proper lifestyle or a morally good lifestyle for people.

It begs the question: why does the province of Ontario still support a separate religious school as part of the public system?

The Catholic School Board is a public entity supported by public money, yet takes its utimate leadership from the Roman Catholic Church and the Vatican, not the province of Ontario. This means that a branch of the Ontario public school system, with a Vatican-led stance on homosexuality, is in breach of the Canadian Constitution, which guarantees that every Canadian is free from discrimination based on sexual orientation.

It’s also worth noting that in 1999 the United Nations Human Rights Committee condemned Canada and the province of Ontario for violating equality provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and and Political Rights. In this 2005 report, the Committee restated its concerns and observed that Canada continued to fail to “adopt steps in order to eliminate discrimination on the basis of religion in the funding of schools in Ontario.”

This issue, however, is much broader than that. I don’t believe that a single ideology or belief system should be taught at a public school as the “correct” one, to the exclusion of all others, regardless what that belief is. If parents want their children to be educated from a particular perspective they have every right to do so, but I don’t believe that this type of exclusive education should occur in the public school system. This is why I advocate for a single public school board for our province, without religious affiliation.

There are a variety of reasons to do this:

One of the arguments for continuing the Catholic School Board is that it provides an alternative to parents who don’t want to send their children to a private school yet want their children to receive a religious upbringing. I don’t believe it is fair for one religious perspective (Roman Catholic) to be supported on public money to the exclusion of all others. Ontario has many different belief perspectives/traditions, and though Roman Catholic is the largest denomination in Ontario (with 34% of Ontario identifying themselves as RC in 2001), it shouldn’t have special standing above all others (the beliefs of the other 66% of Ontario). For education equality, we should have one board.

However, I don’t believe this should mean that the entire Ontario public system teaches only secular ideas. I believe all religious perspectives could and should be available to students who want to study them. The Catholic School Board states that they are a “vital component of the province’s publicly funded education system” and the diversity it brings is part of what makes our system so successful.

I believe the opposite. I am proud of our public school system, but believe it could be so much better.

I believe that this merger would lead to a stronger system by creating a more unified, inclusive education structure and provide a more varied education to all Ontario students. By merging school boards and thereby students, teachers, buildings etc., all public school students would have more resources at their disposal. Instead of positioning our students in secular vs. religious schools, they would meet students with more varied perspectives and make more topics available for study.

Ontario Green Party Leader, Mike Schreiner, puts it this way:

We need to merge the best of the Catholic and public system into one publicly funded education system, French and English.

I also believe that this merger should happen for financial reasons, and should be an easy sell particularly to the Ontario PC in this regard as it would help lower the province’s deficit. Although this issue was avoided by the Drummond Report, it would help the public school system operate much more efficiently. I find it completely unacceptable that the province operates separate sets of schools with their own boards regardless of inefficiencies, especially considering the financial state that the province is in. A move to merge the public and Catholic school boards (starting with the management of the boards, and moving downwards to give the school systems time to adjust to the changes) would be a practical, achievable step in lowering the public cost of education in the province.

Mike Schreiner says it so well:

The public wants to have a conversation about whether it’s appropriate that we fund one religious school to the exclusion of all others. That’s an equity issue. It’s a fairness issue. It’s a fiscal responsibility issue. And, at the end of the day, it’s a quality-of-education issue.

I’ve been following the news of Ontario’s Bill C-13, the Accepting Schools Act, with interest as the story has unfolded. This week, the legislation passed 65-36, with Liberal and NDP members voting for it, and all PC members voting against (as told here). It has become a very emotional issue, surrounding this portion of the legislation:

303.1 Every board shall support pupils who want to establish and lead,(a) activities or organizations that promote gender equity;(b) activities or organizations that promote anti-racism;(c) activities or organizations that promote the awareness and understanding of, and respect for, people with disabilities; or(d) activities or organizations that promote the awareness and understanding of, and respect for, people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, including organizations with the name gay-straight alliance or another name.

Perspectives towards this legislation have been varied, to say the least.

A sample of the support for the legislation has been posted on this government website. Among those speaking in support of the legislation are Nancy Kirby, President of Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association, Catherine Fife, President of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association, Gordon Floyd, President and CEO of Children’s Mental Health Ontario, and Kevin O’Dwyer, President of the Ontario English Catholic Teacher’s Association.

There are many detractors as well.

One prominent group has been members of Ontario Catholic School Boards. Many have pushed heavily for a generic name for student groups, not using the words “Gay-Straight Alliance”. They have accused the Liberals of being needlessly polarizing and forcing the schools to go against Catholic Church teachings, as shown here. Another example of religious complaints against the legislation is available in this release by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.

Another group vocally against the legislation is Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party. Randy Hillier, PC, MPP for Lanark, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington, shares his thoughts on the legislation here.

There are deep convictions on both sides of the issue. These are my thoughts on the legislation, and why it is important.

One of the arguments against this legislation is that it is up to parents to change their children, not the government. It is true parents need to step in and teach their children respect, respect for everything they think they need to bully another person for, including physical size, sex, age, race, religion, sexual orientation. The legislation does mention that this is an important component:

Acknowledge that an open and ongoing dialogue among the principal, school staff, parents and students is an important component in creating a positive school climate in which everyone feels safe and respected.

But what do we do when a parent refuses/is unable to do so, and the schoolmates suffer? Schools already have methods to deal with bullying, but it still is very persistent (with current estimates of 1/3 of entire student population bullied), and students have committed suicide because they can see no other way out of their torment.

Specifically, what is done for children that are victims of bullying because of their sexual orientation? Several people I grew up with are gay, but tried to mask that they were to avoid bullying while in school, and only came out after leaving Wiarton. No one should have to lie to themselves and others about who they are for fear of bullying.

Also, what if their parents are the bullies? Many homosexual people can’t even turn to their own family for support.

The creation of safe spaces for students, specifically Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs), is commendable. No school board or principal should be allowed to stop such a positive group from forming when students in their school want to create one. Post-secondary schools are already forming these (or similar) groups, to create safe spaces for people who are adults. I think it is that much more important that these groups are available to students that may have no other place to turn.

Comments by people like MPP Hilliers that this legislation is a waste of time overlooks the fact that at least one PC member believes that a similar legislation should be passed. PC MPP Lisa MacLeod (Nepean-Carleton) tabled Bill C-14, the Anti-Bullying Act (also known as the counter-Bill C-13) that is very similar to the one presented by the Liberals, except that it didn’t make reference to sexual orientation at all. I believe that the PCs believe in the importance of this legislation by the government, but without wanting to offend the Catholic School Board or their conservative base.

It has also been argued that these new clubs would be exclusive instead of inclusive. This argument ignores the nature of groups like gay-straight alliances, which encourages all people to participate in a respectful manner. I wish that these groups had existed when I grew up. I understand that they will not be a quick fix to deep-rooted bullying issues, but I feel that it is a positive step in bringing people of all sexual orientations together for discussion, with the goal of moving towards understanding and acceptance.

I am particularly troubled by the religious arguments against supporting this legislation. My understanding is that Christianity should accept any movement to protect persecuted and abused people, most especially vulnerable people such as children, and should not be leading the charge against that action. The fact that students in Ontario today can go to a public school that is dictated by the Vatican belief that homosexual acts are “acts of grave depravity” that are “intrinsically disordered” and “contrary to the natural law” demonstrates why this legislation is so important. It also begs the question of why Ontario still has a publically funded Catholic School Board.

I was bullied throughout my childhood, for being small for my age, for being artistic, and for enjoying reading. There were days I dreaded going to school, and felt trapped because I knew that if I turned to my parents or teachers for help, my life might only become worse by drawing further attention. Everyone is different, and anything that can be done to break down stereotypes and prejudice should be encouraged. That is why I think Bill C-13 matters.

Two years ago, the Harper Government scrapped the mandatory long form census. Shortly after, the then-head of Statistics Canada, Munir Sheikh, resigned in protest.

This leaves us as the only first-world country without a reliable census of our population. Unfortunately this is only one strand in a much larger narrative, as the Harper Government reduces and/or removes sources of information and protection. This is marked most recently by Bill-38, the 425-page budget omnibus bill (and the online protests happening today against it).

Why should we care?

One reason: there are many different professional groups that depend on reliable long-form census data.

My undergrad thesis, “Estimating Population: A Case Study of Accessibility to Outdoor Pools in London, Ontario, Canada”, relied entirely on Statistics Canada. The data was at the dissemination area level, broken down into neighbourhood-sized blocks, the smallest level Statistics Canada data is broken down into, to protect privacy. I studied the theory behind how we understand population and how people move in their environment, developing a new method of doing so in the process. I performed my research by studying how accessible London public pools are to young people but with application to other amenities like schools, grocery stores etc. The research goal was to develop a better understanding of our populations and plan for them.

The Harper Government has demonstrated it doesn’t have time for anything that doesn’t confirm their beliefs. As Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird explains, fact should suit government opinion:

Why should taxpayers have to pay for more than 10 reports promoting a carbon tax, something that the people of Canada have repeatedly rejected? That is a message the Liberal Party just will not accept. It should agree with Canadians. It should agree with the government. No discussion of a carbon tax that would kill and hurt Canadian families. [Emphasis mine]

But in striking down the mandatory long-form census, the government went even further. Instead of disregarding unbiased research and suggesting government-funded work should twist fact to suit opinion, Statistics Canada should no longer be in the business of gathering reliable data on the Canadian population at all. This would eliminate the possibility of further credible Canadian social studies entirely.

Those in support of the change made it a case of personal liberty (although there are only a handful of complaints each time the census is distributed, and no one has been prosecuted for refusing to complete the census). They are assured that it is only “elitist” hand-wringing, whose precious data will be perfectly fine.

In fact, those in support of eliminating the mandatory census point out that the number of people that fill it out may very well go up as more people have the opportunity to opt-in, completely ignoring how skew is produced in data. Without a truly random sample of the population, the data becomes worthless as it cannot be verified that it produces a fair representation of the Canadian population. As people groups (be it by income level, race, gender, ethnicity, religion, etc.) become over- or under-represented, the data no longer presents an accurate picture, and makes the work of professionals like planners that much more difficult.

I’ve been frustrated by this since it happened, but have left it alone since the initial outrage. Until this Sun article, published this weekend, “Census cry was all elitist paranoia”, re-opened the wound.

The article describes how the government is still receiving a rough image of the country via Statistics Canada data (a lot of the information cited is available from the mandatory short-form census that every household fills out), and says therefore there was never a problem, just a lot of elites complaining.

First of all, what is an “elite”? There isn’t further mention in the article except stating that the concern over the value of future census data is just “elitist paranoia”, and as an irregular reader of Sun media I can only gather it means professionals, i.e. eggheads.

I guess I fit into that mold. As a student of planning and statistics, I am deeply concerned about research of the kind I performed in school, the kind my professors continue to do. I’m concerned about the work of every type of professional that relies on this data (planners, statisticians, social services etc.), who will no longer be able to say without doubt that the data they rely on isn’t corrupted, casting the value of their work into question. The article states that:

Editorialists opined that the government’s assault on the purity of the census would undermine public policy formation and “hamper Ottawa’s ability to solve social problems.”

Those editorialists would be right, though this ignores the larger (or perhaps smaller) picture. Ottawa relies on this data, but likely the provinces and municipalities far more so. The work our cities and provinces do at the micro scale to understand the people they work to serve rely heavily on the kind of data now rendered highly questionable, at best.

This attitude is unfortunately similar to the one repeatedly shown of late in London’s City Hall as city staff recommendations have been ignored by Council; despite stacks of evidence Council is pushing through decisions against the public interest. I’ve unfortunately been reminded more than once by those who think that they know better (present and past members of Council) that we elected our Council to do the thinking and to rely too heavily on the opinion of the unelected experts would be devastatingly undemocratic.

As an “elite”, I am offended both by the author arrogantly stating this is a non-issue without doing any kind of analysis of how the data is/isn’t compromised (“we’re still getting data, therefore everything is fine” is not a valid argument), and by the lack of respect for those that do the analysis. Planners use this data to understand the people they work to plan for and to serve them most effectively and efficiently. When knee-jerk, uninformed decisions like this happen, it only makes their jobs much more difficult.

As written in my previous post, water conservation advocate Maude Barlow spoke at London’s Aeolian Hall Wednesday night, joined by two local water, habitat and ecosystem conservation advocates. I was glad to be there for the talks, as well as the great performance that kicked off the event.

There was an enjoyable surprise start to the evening in the form of a performance by the El Sistema Aeolian, and a brief introduction to the program. The introduction included a video briefly explaining the El Sistema project’s beginnings in Venezuela, available to watch here. I was delighted by the skill of the young performers, and was interested to learn more about them, having seen the group open a City Council meeting a couple months ago. The main source of their talent is the neighbourhood surrounding the Aeolian, specifically students from Lorne Ave. Public School. The program began in London November 2011 and is already flourishing, I look forward to seeing it continue to grow and spread.

After the performance, a traditional native elder of the London region’s Chippewas of the Thames performed a traditional ceremony celebrating the natural world, and specifically the water we all depend on for survival.

Thom McClenaghan, the President of the conservation group Friends of the Coves Subwatershed then started the night’s talks. He spoke about their group as well as work happening throughout London to protect, preserve and educate about the Coves and the other subwatersheds in the city. He explained how subwatersheds such as the Coves connect to larger watersheds like the Thames River, which eventually drain into large bodies of water, in our case, the Great Lakes. This message tied in well with the other two presentations.

Patrick Donnelly, Urban Watershed Program Manager City of London spoke next. His talk echoed Thom’s message about connectivity, and also discussed London’s deep connection with the Great Lakes. As we became very aware of last week, London draws its municipal water both from Lake Erie and Lake Huron, a very unique water collection method, and one that kept the city receiving at least some new water to bolster reserves while the Lake Huron pipe was unusable. He outlines how people in every watershed depend on those upstream of them to preserve the quality of the water for those below them, and how the water ultimately returns to the sources we draw from, reminding us that we must be very careful of what we dump in our streams and rivers, as well as directly into the Great Lakes. He also outlined some of the ways the city is working to take care of our section of the Thames, including working with and encouraging neighbourhood projects to adopt and protect watercourses such as the Friends of the Coves.

This talk led well into Maude Barlow’s message. She spoke passionately about the Canadian, North American and global importance of the Great Lakes, as the largest group of freshwater lakes on earth making up 21% of the planet’s surface fresh water. She talked of how there are many trade and protection agreements between Canada and the U.S. outlining the protection of the Great Lakes, but voiced concerns that as American water sources such as the California Coastal Basin aquifer is depleted and threatens U.S. food security, fresh water such as the Lakes may become too tempting as the next major water source to adequately protect it.

Her message was a strong reminder of just how amazing the Lakes are, and how fortunate we are to have them to enjoy. She spoke about different perspectives/philosophies about water resources such as the Great Lakes (and the global environment in general), ranging from preservation/conservation-led beliefs that see resources both as a gift and a responsibility to be protected for future generations, and much more human-centric views that see the natural environment as available firstly for our use and as an economy driver. She said that it doesn’t have to be a case of the economy vs. the environment, but encourages all citizens and businesses to strive for creative methods to both boost our economy and preserve our natural world for future generations.

As Maude noted, this talk came at a very relevant time for our city, as we were under an outdoor water ban last week, and this article was published yesterday. It states “With a meager 21 millimetres of precipitation falling in May, it was the second driest May since the record was set for London in May 1954 at 13.8 millimetres, according to Environment Canada.”. As well, May was another month in what has been an exceptionally dry spring, with the Upper Thames Conservation Authority issuing alerts that the low precipitation levels is causing low river levels which in turn may harm water and habitat quality (though we were fortunate today to get a great deal of much-needed rain, which will hopefully reduce the impact of the spring drought).

I was glad to have been present for the talk, but was left somewhat at a loss. We can each work to lower our water consumption, but there seems to be many elements entirely out of our control or influence. As well, Maude Barlow and the Council of Canadians are a polarizing group in Canadian advocacy/politics, and one of a diverse group of voices on the subject. I hope to continue thinking and learning about the subject of water conservation, and writing about it periodically here.

I was struck by her message, but it is something she said after that has really stuck with me. As she met with the audience, she said “We only have one chance here, so should make the very most of this time”.

As we try to balance the various elements of our lives and attempt to live out our beliefs even as they continue to be shaped, we can easily be bogged down. This message is a fresh reminder that we have only one chance in this world, we should continue to work and do all we can, while we can.

Wednesday morning, Londoners awoke to the news announcement that the water pipeline that supplies 85% of the city and area’s water ruptured, which caused citizens and businesses to resort to only using water held in reservoirs as well as from the other pipeline into the city, from Port Stanley on Lake Erie.

Since then, we’ve had to make do without. The City urged citizens to restrict their water use while the pipeline is repaired, going without outdoor watering/washing and keeping indoor water use to a minimum.

The pipeline has been repaired but being eased back into service slowly to ensure it is functioning properly. However, water consumption apparently actually increased above average on Thursday evening, causing the City to impose mandatory water restrictions over the weekend while they struggle to replenish the reserves. The City has said that city by-law enforcement officers will remind residents not to water outdoors, but will hand out $95 tickets for those found violating the ban.

This move from restrictions to a ban may further expose problems with City Hall’s communication strategy. I was frustrated to see neighbours washing their cars/watering their lawns last night, but many Londoners may have missed the memo. With readership of the Free Press dropping and less people watching local news, without people telling them they may not know there is a problem. I now check local media regularly, but didn’t always. Is my level of attention average, or the exception?

This ban comes at a particularly hard time for the area. It was announced this week by the Upper Thames Conservation Authority that the Thames River watershed is continuing to face drought conditions after a mild winter with little precipitation failed to replenish the watershed. We continue to see little rain, and without it this restriction makes it that much harder for residents hoping to grow gardens and keep their trees healthy this spring.

Events like this can also be a harsh reminder of just how much water we consume. We try to do what we can to restrict how much water we use, but between laundry, dishes, watering the garden/trees and showers/baths, it can all add up quickly. It has been a tough but good reminder to us just how much we depend on clean, fresh water, and everything we use it for.

The restrictions this week has also reminded us how hard it is to do without it.

Next Wednesday, national and international water conservation advocate Maude Barlow will be speaking at London’s Aeolian Hall along with London “partners in watershed protection”, specifically about the vast resources that this area of North American has in the Great Lakes.

This is just a short post on what is an enormous issue with a great deal of debate about what is appropriate use for water, restrictions/supports that should be put in place when it comes to companies that consume large quantities of water, etc. I’m really looking forward to these talks, especially when they’re being delivered at such a relevant time for our city. Hope to see you there!

earth hour 2012

Tonight is Eath Hour 2012, when people all over the world will be turning off their lights, electronics and non-essential appliances to lower their energy consumption and make a symbolic statement, drawing attention to climate change as well as affirming they will try to lower their overall energy consumption and impact on the planet. The event started in Sydney, Australia in 2007 when 2.2 million people participated in the event, conceived by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Sydney Morning Herald. This is the website for the event.

The event has already begun in Australia and Asia at the time of this post, as observed in this article. The article also states that Canadian utilities are getting involved:

B.C. Hydro made a pitch on its website, urging consumers to join in and also make plans to reduce energy use year around. Last year’s response shows what people can do, the utility said on its website. “British Columbians turned off the equivalent of 7.8 million 15-watt compact fluorescent light bulbs for the hour,” the utility said. “If everyone in B.C. implemented the same conservation measures for just one hour every evening, the combined savings would be enough to power close to 4,000 homes for an entire year.”

Ontario electricity provider Hydro One said it would mark Earth Hour by turning off non-essential electrical equipment at its office facilities across the province.

This event is lauded by many. As one example, the National Post published this article today by Canadian celebrity contractor Mike Holmes, titled “Honour Earth Hour, every hour”. In it, Holmes describes the impact that this event makes as a statement to our governments, that participants are focused on the importance of sustainable practices and lowering our carbon footprint. He also points out that everyone can make responsible choices in their professional and personal lives. He says:

In 2009, I attended the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. I had the honour of being the eminent advisor to the Canadian government on sustainable building technology and its effect on climate change. It became clear to me that we all need to make a commitment to change. Building green and building sustainably are part of my future as a contractor. It should be part of any responsible builder who cares about the kind of future we’re building.

Many city governments, energy utilities and corporations around the world mark Earth Hour, with more countries participating in the event every year. Even some groups that air television during the event are participating in some way – for example, the NHL is taking part by turning off non-essential lighting at all games scheduled for Saturday night, and the league’s New York City headquarters will also observe Earth Hour.

There is also a great deal of criticism for the event. It has been pointed out that candles are made from paraffin wax, a fossil fuel derivitive, and could be more harmful than just continuing to use electric lights. The event has also been argued to be anti-technology, as posted here and here. In the latter article, the Ayn Rand Centre wrote:

Participants spend an enjoyable sixty minutes in the dark, safe in the knowledge that the life-saving benefits of industrial civilization are just a light switch away… Forget one measly hour with just the lights off. How about Earth Month…Try spending a month shivering in the dark without heating, electricity, refrigeration; without power plants or generators; without any of the labor-saving, time-saving, and therefore life-saving products that industrial energy makes possible.

As well, a movement started by the libertarian think-tank Competitive Enterprise Institute, called the “Human Achievement Hour” (HAH) encourages the opposite at the same time as Earth Hour, to “celebrate the achievements of humanity such as eating dinner, seeing a film, driving around, keeping the heat on in your home”.

I can see the point of these kinds of arguments, questioning the usefulness of the Earth Hour movement. Does sitting in the dark for an hour raise awareness? Does this action achieve perceivable results, or is it more akin to greenwashing – creating the perception instead of a reality of doing something for the environment?

However, I think these articles and actions like the HAH miss the fact that the event isn’t calling for a renunciation of electricity or any of the modern marvels humanity have produced. My understanding is that the event attempts to show us how we can be less energy dependant and work to lower our individual consumption. I am proud of where humanity is and all that we have achieved, but I think we can always do better. Locally, London Hydro has been distributing electricity to our city for over 100 years, but we can always find better ways to produce, distribute and consume that energy. But how?

We could have a “use a little less energy hour” but that kind of action isn’t likely to draw much press or attention. In the end, it is all about personal choice and personal responsibility. Does Earth Hour shape people’s perceptions of the environment and encourage them to make more informed energy decisions?

I believe it certainly doesn’t hurt to try. I honestly love Earth Hour, both for the experience and for recognizing the lifestyle I want to continue to lead. I think that part of the appeal is the opportunity to turn off the lights, turn off all the electronic devices, and spend quality time with the people important to us (similar to Adbuster Magazine’s TV Turnoff Week). It’s also an affirmation of my attempt to consume less resources – not just in the focused hour, but in my everyday life as well. I try to keep my consumption of resources like water and energy low, produce less waste by purchasing as little packaging as possible, composting etc.; Earth Hour is a great reminder of that. Lowering my energy consumption for an hour won’t likely have much of an impact, but I believe having communities across the world sharing in this experience is a great global affirmation of what our entire planet can do to lower our impact on the planet.

My  beliefs about this event have also been shaped by the year I spent working for London Hydro. My school and work experience is entirely outside the realm of energy, so I was very interested to find the entire corporation was geared towards the event, and works to advertise both for Earth Hour itself as well as for lower energy consumption, both as a means of reducing strain on the distribution system as well as lowering the environmental impact of energy production. While I was there, I watched as the head of engineering worked with a local solar panel distributer as well as Fanshawe College and UWO to place panels throughout the city as a green energy initiative. There are now panels providing energy to the main London Hydro office as well as other high-visibility city/college/university properties throughout the city, including an array of panels on the rooftop of the Covent Garden Market (more information available here). I find this kind of project very encouraging, and signals LH’s intent to partner with others and produce energy in the city using renewable resources instead of relying entirely on energy distributed to us by Hydro One.

As I said, I believe we can be proud of our technological achievements while working to use that technology to find better ways to meet our energy needs. We can and should be proud of what we’ve produced, while aiming to leave our province, country and world in the best condition possible for future generations. With 7,000,000,000+ people on the planet and more joining us every moment,  we need to be serious about preserving our planet as we struggle to share our limited resources with an ever-increasing amount of people. Any effort to raise awareness and to limit each individual’s long-term impact is commendable and to be encouraged, in my opinion.

Tonight, I’ll be turning off my electronic devices, turning off the lights and spending a quieter, focused night with friends. I hope that you’ll give it a try too.