Murray Koffler’s Legacy

The Koffler Scientific Reserve, Joker’s Hill, King, Ontario, CANADA

The beginning of his obituary says it all: KOFFLER, Murray Bernard On Sunday, November 5, 2017 passed on at his home. Murray Koffler – A man who lived his vision to leave this world in a better place than when he entered it. A man who loved and was loved by his family, his friends and all those he touched globally regardless of race, religion, or status.”

One of those better places is at the Koffler Scientific Reserve right here in King. Most of us who love living or walking or just visiting in King know what a jewel it is, like a breathing, purifying oasis above the city of Toronto. And most of us want to protect it from the surging growth spreading north.

It was to that end originally that Murray and Marvelle Koffler decided to protect their Jokers Hill equestrian centre from development. The Kofflers first bought Jokers Hill in King in 1969, using it as their country home and the site of a variety of equestrian and charitable events.

The original patchwork of small 1880’s farms were consolidated in a purchase made by Major General Clarence Mann in the 1950’s. He and his wife, Billie McLaughlin, developed their new estate as a horse farm, putting in a race track, horse barns and opening up pastures.

Today those barns are being remodeled as research pods for University of Toronto students and professors. When I was there on the very cold morning of November 10, workers were just installing a new set of modern energy efficient windows on the old stables, much to the joy of the research staff. Beyond the building renovations, the race track and pasture lands have been turned into ecological science research sites to study the effects of accelerating climate change on evolving ecosystems.

As well as the Koffler Scientific Reserve that takes up most of the 350 hectares on the Oak Ridges Moraine, there are 50 hectares on the eastern portion off Bathurst Street that have a variety of public hiking trails. The main Reserve, however, is closed to the public for very good reason. It contains one of the largest stands of old-growth maple beech forests in Ontario, and an equally sized portion of second-growth forest that now serve as living scientific laboratories for the University of Toronto. Sacred spaces.

I had the privilege of touring the property with KSR director Professor Arthur Weis and Steph Schneider, the property manager who jokingly refers to himself as the onsite “gentleman scientist.”

Professor Weis took over from founding Director, Professor Ann Zimmerman in 2007, when he left the sun-drenched University of California and his role as Professor of Evolutionary Biology. Under his guidance, the former “racing barn” was turned into a state-of-the-art Laboratory for Biodiversity and Global Change Biology. The morning we watched the windows going in on the former stables to block out the -20ºC winds, I wondered if he was doing some California dreaming. But not at all.

Weiss showed me his current project, in layman’s terms what I will call a thermal acceleration experiment in the natural environment. Picture two identical growing plots side by side, with exactly the same species of plants growing in exactly the same pattern. While one plot is subject to the regular vagaries of weather; the other plat has infrared heaters that come on via a computer sensing system that adjusts the temperature over their plots by exactly +2ºC. This gives Weis an experimental, controlled window on the effects of accelerating climate change on plant growth and the variety of predators they attract.

Similarly, on the old pasture lands, the research team has set up cages of plants in fenced protected pods to study the growth patterns of different species as they respond to climate change variations. “We couldn’t do any of this on campus in Toronto,” said Weis. The inference being that without Koffler’s donation, this kind of research could not have taken place.

So unique is this site, that every year 100 – 150 professors, post-doctoral scholars, and students at both the graduate and undergraduate level, trek to the reserve to study the ecology and evolution of species ranging from slugs, to prairie grasses, to hummingbirds. ”

Not to be outdone, Steph Schneider was equally enthusiastic about the 36 identical mini-ponds that had been dug adjacent to a main pond. Here they study the variants in aquatic life and vegetation as they respond to changes in the ecosystem. Remembering the enthusiasm of my students for pond studies, it was refreshing to see this same sense of wonder in two adults marveling at the complexities of the greatest show on Earth – the evolution of natural systems in response to accelerating climate change.

Weis is not only completely immersed in the site and its potential, he feels deeply honoured to be carrying on the vision of Murray Koffler. He confided to me that when Murray and his wife Marvelle made the $18 million land gift to the University of Toronto in 1995, it was totally spontaneous. Originally, the Kofflers had offered it the Province of Ontario as a Provincial Park, but funding was tight and the Province was unable to provide the infrastructure to protect and conserve the area. During an event at Jokers Hill one day, the U of T Chancellor at the time suggested Koffler could always give the lands to the University. “Done,” replied the philanthropist, and the most valuable land gift ever given to a Canadian University was completed over a handshake.

Murray Koffler will be remembered for many things. Most of us knew him as the CEO of Shoppers Drug Mart, and an Order of Canada recipient. Many of us were aware of his philanthropy through innovations like the U of T’s Koffler Institute of Pharmacy and the Koffler Student Centre, the Marvelle Koffler Breast Centre and the Koffler Centre of the Arts in Toronto. Fewer still knew of his generosity towards the Toronto Outdoor Art Show and the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business.

But for me, as an environmental educator and science journalist, his greatest legacy will be the gift of Jokers Hill. The mission of the Koffler Scientific Reserve at Jokers Hill is very clear:

“toward a sustainable future through research and education on the environment, in the environment.”

 Yes, Mr. Koffler, I believe that you have indeed left this world in a better place than when you entered it. Your passion, humility and philanthropy are an inspiration to your family, friends and community. And, in the current darkness of deniers. the Koffler Scientific Reserve at Jokers Hill will be a beacon of scientific literacy for generations to come.


Skid Crease, Caledon


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Caledon: Creating a Climate of Truthiness

On the evening of Monday, October 23, 2017, at the Caledon Centre for Recreation and Wellness, Regional Councillor Annette Groves held a public information meeting, attended by Regional Councillor Barb Shaughnessy.

At that meeting Regional Councillor Groves informed a small group of attendees that the taxpayers of Caledon were on the hook to the tune of $70,000+ dollars to provide a private transportation service to bring workers from Brampton to the new Canadian Tire Facility in Bolton. In response to a question from the audience about warehousing rumours, she further informed the group that a local farmer’s gift of land to build a medical facility was being jeopardized because the Town was negotiating multiple use options. Not only are both of these pieces of information false, one of them is prohibited from public disclosure because it is reportedly the subject of ongoing private in-camera negotiations by Council and is therefore prohibited from public discussion by the Town’s Code of Conduct.

Unfortunately, this transportation misinformation and disclosure of private Council matters were seized upon by certain supporters of Regional Councillor Groves and circulated on social media in a series of rants against the Town that bordered on a “burn the witch” mob mentality. More unfortunately, neither Groves nor Shaughnessy made any attempt to correct this misinformation, nor did Groves make any apology or retraction. Instead she went into print on November 9, courtesy of an inaccurate news report by Matthew Strader for Metroland’s Caledon Enterprise, Strader’s second such inaccurate report on the October 23, 2017 public meeting. In the first he got his information off social media sites, a very reliable source for “fake news.”

That first news report on November 2, 2017 highlighted the misinformation on the “private transportation” issue in which he failed to contact both the Town and Canadian Tire for clarification. In the second, he failed to contact former Mayor Marolyn Morrison for clarification on the erroneous and misleading statements provided by Mr. Bryon Wilson and current Regional Councillor Annette Groves. Had he done so, as any responsible reporter is required to do by the Canadian Press Code of Ethics, he would have discovered the following.

Transportation Issue: in 2010, the Town entered into an agreement with Brampton Transit to extend Route 30 Airport Road into the Tullamore Industrial Area within the Town of Caledon, with a total of six trips per day. The cost of this venture was $48,000 with monies to be recouped through ridership fares. Nothing at all to do with the Canadian Tire Facility in Bolton, and $20,000+ short of the amount now being erroneously circulated by Regional Councillor Groves’s friends on social media. A quick email to Joscelyn Dosanjh, the public relations and media contact at Canadian Tire received this response in a few hours:

Canadian Tire very recently piloted a shuttle bus service for employees to and from our distribution centre that is fully funded by Canadian Tire Corporation. We successfully began operations at the DC and are planning a more formal grand opening in the spring.

So, not only is the shuttle service to the new facility totally funded by CTC, the Bolton operation is quietly up and running at 100%, with nary a complaint.

Regarding Strader’s second erroneous report on November 9, a quick email to former Mayor Marolyn Morrison, whose contact information is easily available (so clarification by the Editor of the Enterprise could have been quickly achieved) produced this result, for the record.

The actual size of the original land offer was actually 16.35 acres, and it wasn’t an outright gift – it was conditional on a severance deal – a quid pro quo arrangement. Next, the Town has no jurisdiction over the approval of hospital or medical care lands – not expected in Caledon until 2041 if our population growth projections hold true. Also, the minimum size of land to be considered for a hospital is 50 acres.

Now, Bryon Wilson’s claim that Morrison, according to Strader, “was the first to turn down the offer, or want nothing to do with it” is perhaps clouded by time in farmer Wilson’s memory. In a quick fact checking email, I received this comment approved by Marolyn Morrison for publication:

I definitely would say that [the 17/11/09 Strader report quoting Wilson] is totally inaccurate.   Bryon Wilson told me to keep it confidential until he was ready to move forward, which I did. For him to say I turned the offer down is a complete misrepresentation and he didn’t offer 20 acres, he talked about 17. I do not understand why he would fabricate such misinformation.   What is he trying to do?

And more to the point, what would be the purpose of issuing and reporting so much false information?

Further, after contacting the Region of Peel, I received this information from a very helpful Legislative Services. In Bryon Wilson’s original letter to the Region of Peel dated September 26, 2016, he offered 16.35 acres as a “gift” with strings, as well as a request to have 55 acres of his property in the north portion of Option 5 to be included in a ROPA/OPA settlement boundary being negotiated between Peel and Caledon.

In the same Sept. 26 letter, the true purpose of his “gift” in exchange for a severance package was revealed with this request: “Dividing the property will allow me to move on with my succession plans which need to happen soon as I am 66 years old. If they reject this, I will accept this without complaint. I have been trying to do this for four years and would greatly appreciate any help to get a decision one way or another.

In a second series of offer letters on November 13 and 15, 2016. Mr. Wilson removed those requests, but increased the size of his “gift” to 20.05 acres. All on public record at the Region of Peel. That search took three days via the dedicated staff in the Legislative Services Department, who revealed to me that the only time this came up at the Region of Peel was when a letter was mentioned as correspondence in an agenda. They could find no record of it ever being discussed in public sessions, as claimed in Strader’s article.

Well, Bryon Wilson, the reality is that by 2041 you will be either be 91 years old or composting, and the factors determining the location of an urgent care/ambulatory facility in Caledon may favour a different location entirely. The reality of that decision will have nothing to do with a former Mayor or the Town of Caledon. And in this current state of global chaos, who knows what kind of a world our children will inherit in 25 years. How could we have possibly predicted 25 years ago that our children would be taking pictures on a cell phone and instantaneously sending them to us from halfway around the world.

At least we can help to ensure that the world we live in now is governed by principles other than power, profit and corrupted politics. We can ensure that our Press upholds principles of accuracy, integrity and honesty. We can ensure that citizens who spout unsubstantiated gossip are ghosted. Now there is a succession plan worthy of the next generation.

Lest we forget: if there is no truth in words, there can be no understanding among peoples. It’s time to take back the higher ground.


Skid Crease, Caledon

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Municipal Madness

We have Municipal Elections coming up in Ontario in 2018, and there’s a new sheriff in town.  That sheriff comes in the form of the recent Modernizing Ontario’s Municipal Elections Act 2017. The Act took a particularly close look at Accountability and Transparency, at least according to their website where they claim:

“Ontario aims to make rules clearer, more effective and responsive to local needs. These changes will:

  • Require municipalities to establish codes of conduct for members of municipal council and certain local boards, which could include rules that guide the ethical conduct of those members. This requirement would help ensure that every municipality in Ontario has a code of conduct for council members, as well as for members of certain local boards.
  • Give the public and municipal councillors access to an integrity commissioner, with broadened powers to investigate conflict of interest complaints and provide advice to councillors.
  • Enhance justice by providing a wider range of penalties for contraventions of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act.
  • Update the definition of “meeting” in the legislation to help ensure that rules would be clearer for municipal officials, local board members and the public.
  • Set out how municipalities may allow for electronic participation by council, local board and committee members at meetings that are open to the public. Participants would not be counted towards quorum and members would not be able to participate electronically in meetings that are closed to the public.”

These fine tuning adjustments would be wonderful except for one thing. The qualifications to become a candidate are so minimalistic as to be laughable.

To be a candidate, say in my hometown of Caledon, you must be eligible to vote (18, Canadian, breathing) in a municipality in order to run for a position on council. Specifically, on the day you file your nomination, you must be a Canadian citizen aged 18 or older, and qualify as a resident or non-resident elector. You must also be eligible to hold office on the day you file your nomination. For example, a person who is 17 years old but will turn 18 before voting day must wait until he or she has turned 18 to file.

There are also some new rules. In 2018 a candidate must provide signatures of 25 eligible Caledon electors supporting the nomination.

It is important to note that a candidate does not have to live in the Ward i which they run for office. If your municipality has wards, you can run in any ward – you do not have to live in a particular ward in order to be its councillor. However, if you run in a ward where you do not live, you will not be able to vote for yourself. Having a campaign office or a business in a ward where you would not be otherwise eligible to vote does not make you eligible to vote in that ward.

Who is NOT eligible to be candidate for Municipal Council? The following people are disqualified from being elected to municipal office:

  • any person who is not eligible to vote in the municipality
  • an employee of a municipality who has not taken an unpaid leave of absence and resigned
  • a judge of any court
  • an MP, an MPP or a Senator
  • an inmate serving a sentence in a penal or correctional institution

You can, however, be a scientific illiterate who believes that the Earth is flat or only 6000 years old, and humans walked with the dinosaurs. That will truly help your municipality to drive at high speed into the accelerating climate change of the 21st century looking in the rear view mirror.

I propose a new set of rules and qualifications.

First, candidates have to submit three letters of reference from qualified citizens, and a personal letter of application as to why they want the position of responsibility for which they are applying, along with a current, fact-checked Résumé for Councillors and Curriculum Vitae (CV) for Mayors.

The résumé/CV must include educational, employment, and service experience, along with any awards and special skills, and be accompanied by a current police background check. Note: lack of formal education should not be a barrier, but lack of literacy should. Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs, Dave Thomas, and our own Ryan Gosling seemed to do just fine. On the other hand, University degrees can be bought – just ask the current President of the United States.

Secondly, the candidates must be able to demonstrate competent literacy skills in reading, writing and speaking.

Thirdly, the candidate must sign an Agreement to Participate, indicating that they have read, comprehended, and agreed to the Code of Conduct, and that they will have chosen to remove themselves from Council immediately should they violate the Code of Conduct.

Fourthly, any Candidate found to be in collusion with development interests contrary to the Town’s majority interests will have chosen to remove themselves from Council and Regional Council immediately.

Lastly, the Candidates agree to submit themselves to a public shaming should they be found to be guilty of deliberately or accidentally (without correction) giving misinformation to their constituents, or of being found guilty by the Integrity Commissioner of violating their Code of Conduct, or of having colluded with hostile development interests. This same public shaming will be applied to any members of the Press who enable the spread of innuendo, gossip and misinformation among the citizens of Caledon.

The public shaming will be carried out at a central location in their Ward, as well as running the gauntlet along the Great Trail behind the Town Hall. And “NO”, I’m not kidding.

Follow these simple new qualification guidelines and consequences for the 2018 slate of candidates, and we’ll be sure to have the most accountable local Government and media coverage in the country.


Skid Crease, Caledon

Next Political Humour Blog: The dangers of a “Family Compact” on Council.

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Defamation and Libel and Smears, oh my!

I was approached by an irate politician the other day who said to me, “You know you can defame someone without mentioning their name.” To which I replied, “It’s not defamation if it’s true.” The response was, “You’d better be careful.” To which I replied, “You had best be careful too.” The unsatisfied politician turned away and told me to “Go to Hell.”

This all took place in the waiting area outside of the official chambers and rather than return to continue my regular reporting, I chose to sit outside and do some research on defamation. I was right. In the Province of Ontario and across most of the civilized literate world, if you say something about someone that is true, it is NOT defamation. If you say something about someone that is false, but does not damage their character or reputation, it is NOT defamation.

The main difference between defamation and libel is that the former is in speech and the latter is in print. Since my stories were in print, the politician concerned already had it wrong. Beyond which, it is beneficial to have character and a good reputation in order to make libel and defamation claims credible.

Here’s an example. Let’s say a politician has been repeatedly found guilty of violating their political Code of Conduct by the local Integrity Commissioner. The factual reporting of this may, and should, cause damage to that politician’s reputation. However, it is NOT libel. Nor would it be defamation to discuss these factual charges by the Integrity Commissioner in a public forum. The truth shall set you free.

Further, if one reported that this same politician engaged in tantric meditation during phases of the full moon, while not true, if not damaging to the person’s reputation is not considered libel, or defamation if spoken. That’s the law.

Now, a smear is something else indeed, usually associated with the less factual and more viral human condition called “rumour mania.”  Rumour mania takes place when misinformation begins to be circulated by word of mouth or social media, gets repeated and amplified, and takes on the aura of “truthful hyperbole”, or “fake news” as it is known in the Trump era.

When misinformation gets circulated as truth and drives the madding crowd into a “burn the witch” frenzy, it can cause untold harm and damage not only to personal reputations, but to the social fabric of community itself. If a person in a position of responsibility gives out that misinformation, intentionally or accidentally, they are duty bound to correct their error and apologize. Unfortunately, in this day of Facebook posts and reposts, the damage is already out there and morphing into a monster in cyberspace.

And with daily examples of this to the south of our national border, where the leader of a country can lie and sue until he wins, we have to go to higher ground for inspiration on how to lead, and speak and write.

I need to find higher ground after that  assault on my journalistic integrity, so today I’m planting garlic at the Albion Hills Community Farm. Tomorrow I have an interview with Professor Art Weis who is taking me on a tour of the Koffler Scientific Reserve in King, an environmental legacy donated in 1995 by business innovator and philanthropist Murray Koffler. This University of Toronto scientific reserve is home to Professor Weis’s studies of natural ecosystems evolutionary responses to climate change. Koffler recently passed away and this interview will be to honour his devotion to scientific research and education.

The nice thing about science is its veracity. As famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson wrote recently: “To be scientifically literate is to empower yourself to know when someone else is full of shit.

Now ain’t that the truth.


Skid Crease, Caledon



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