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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Caledon Councillors Get Cracking

To paraphrase Shakespeare and with apologies to Hamlet, I call upon Caledon Town Council to “Avenge this fowl and most unnatural by-law!”

Or perhaps. “To lay eggs, or not to lay eggs? That is the question.”

Alright, I may have been cooped up over my keyboard for too long, but this ongoing debate seems to be “full of sound and feathers, signifying nothing.”

Well, the chickens are coming home to roost, so to speak. On Tuesday, August 28, 2017, Caledon Councillors held a lengthy, confusing, and, at times, heated debate on the pressing issue of the right to lay eggs. Specifically, why does Caledon, a boastfully glorious rural area, not permit its citizens to have backyard chickens?

It is absolutely unnatural indeed for a rural municipality like Caledon to be dithering about whether residents should be allowed to keep backyard chickens. There are plenty of successful case studies elsewhere in Ontario. Kingston, Kitchener, Niagara Falls, Newmarket, and Guelph have all allowed backyard hens, although each municipality has slightly different rules. Urbane Brampton seems to be dealing with backyard chickens, and Toronto is wisely running a pilot project to see if it flies. So, why not Caledon?

The debate on Tuesday was very revealing. Most Councillors were trying to find a reasonable middle ground, looking to the Town staff for more details. However, there was also some disturbing misinformation and incomplete information coming from two councillors.

To save them total embarrassment I will refer to the two councillors in question only as Chicken Little and Henny Penny. Chicken Little is of course famous for “The sky is falling!” false alarm that threw the entire barnyard into a tizzy. In this case it is the threat of avian flu spreading from tiny backyard coops into the large factory chicken farms of Caledon. And, Foghorn Leghorn forbid, what if families started producing their own healthy egg supply. Why, all those huge factory chicken farms could go out of business!

Henny Penny had earlier clucked about her fears of death by salmonella poisoning. Oh, the horror! The Horror! And to the astonishment of every intelligent hen in the flock, Henny Penny added that it seemed a lot of fuss to go through this by-law process because the hens would only lay eggs for two years anyway. Hold the hollandaise!

When I started at the Mono Cliffs Outdoor Education Centre in 1986, we had a small agricultural program with a herd of Highland Cattle, and a coop of chickens. My favourite job was to gather the eggs in the morning. Some went to our kitchen, some to staff, some to friends. I got to know those Bantams and Rhode Island Reds and Guinea Fowl very well, and those girls laid eggs steadily from 1986 until I left in 1995. Sure, they slowed down in winter, and as they got older, but they had clean nesting boxes, a big run, the best of feed and lots of love from the over 20,000 students and teachers who visited our Centre over my tenure. And not a single case of avian flu or salmonella poisoning.

Of course, we washed our hands and cleaned our boots after every visit. That is exactly what the Centre for Disease Control recommends, along with not kissing your chickens on the beak, or rolling in their feces, and other common sense tips like that. So, both Chicken Little’s falling sky and Henny Penny’s egg production news were not eggsactly accurate.

When Foghorn Leghorn, the rooster responsible for the flock, asked for the names of the chickens in the flock who had been giving Henny Penny her information, she squawked, “No.” That really ruffled my feathers. So much for transparency.

I am going now to get my own protest flock from Frey Nurseries in St. Jacobs. I am naming my Golden Comets (also known as Golden Buffs, or red sex-links) after three women from Canada’s Famous Five: Nellie McCluck, Henrietta Eggwards, and Irene Plucky. The by-law officers will have to pry that organic free-range produce from my cold, dead fingers! I will not surrender their right to bear eggs.

The cluck stops here!

***

Skid Crease, Caledon

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Secessionists are Alive and Well

When Bannon and Trump began their rise to power, I thought that it was a bit of a bad joke. After all, what intelligent nation could fall for the alt-right fake news spewing from Breitbart and the ravings of a delusional megalomaniac who wanted to be King.

I was so wrong. It turns out there were enough disenfranchised, and/or ignorant, and/or unemployed, and/or alt-right white Americans and a dysfunctional Electoral College to elect a President who is now starring in the best rated comedy/drama/tragedy show on cable television. As one late night pundit observed, this is the first time in history we don’t have to write anything to get a laugh – we just show the video and play the audio and print out the tweets.

It would be laughable except for one thing. The white nationalist, white supremacist, alt-right agenda of this sad new truly White House is not Union but Secession. The enablers of this agenda included at one time or another Steve Bannon, Milo Yiannopoulos, Sebastian Gorka, Alex Jones, Dan Scaravino, Julie Kirchner, and of course Donald  Trump Jr. and Sr.

Milo Yiannopoulos from Breitbart News didn’t last long into Trump’s presidency, his extremism being too difficult to ignore. But Bannon, the true architect of Breitbart’s alt-right agenda continued to contaminate the national agenda until the horror in Charlottesville, Virginia revealed his true intentions: the revival and ascendency of white political supremacy – in other words, a new Civil War.

The mob of well-organized Nazis, KKK clansmen, and alt-right ideologues that marched to defend the glorification of defeated Confederate icons were not marching to support the United States of America. They were marching to advance white nationalism. The White House support for that cause was clarified by the president’s attempt to bring moral equivalency to the Nazis and those opposing the Nazis. Remember World War 2 when the Allies were the good guys?

When it became obvious that the tide of public opinion and political support from business and industry were turning, Steve Bannon was fired as a Trump advisor. Now a wiser man might have bowed out quietly to give thoughtful time to his next moves. But an unchained Bannon proved to be a megalomaniac equal to the president: he declared he was free to use his weapons (fake news hate speech from Breitbart), declared “the Trump presidency over” (actually that is going to take Impeachment and prosecution, or resignation), and promised to “crush the opposition”.  Make America Hate Again.

Now at this point it is hard to tell if Breitbart News, which I have renamed Reichbarf News, is going to attack just the Trump White House, or all those moderates who seek to protect the United States of America, and/or try to incite another secessionist civil war to promote white political supremacy. Or maybe, just maybe, it may just disappear in an ever decreasing spiral of negativity chasing its own hateful tail.

Never forget, the purpose of the secessionists of the Civil War was to preserve slavery, promote the independence of States over Union, and ensure political liberty for whites. When a Confederate statue stands, it celebrates those goals. When a Confederate statue is removed and stored in a history museum, it celebrates freedom, social justice, and political equality for all.

Be very, very careful America. The secessionists are alive and well, and more dangerous than ever now that they are wounded.

***

Skid Crease, Caledon

p.s. Breitbart roughly translated from the German means: to spread fake news

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The Perfect Storm

Once upon a time in the twentieth century, we had Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Stalin, and Tojo. It was not a great quintet for world peace.

Now, upon our time in the twenty-first century, we have al-Assad, Erdogan, Putin, Ayatollah Khomenei, and Jinping. This bad boy band of dictatorial supreme leaders could be the perfect storm for world chaos once again. Fuel for this fire comes with the rise of far right-wing extremism from France’s Marine Le Pen to the Netherlands Geert Wilders and all across Europe as the golden mean collapses. Fortunately, both Wilders and Le Pen lost the war.

Meanwhile, we have the two megalomaniac, narcissistic man-boys, Donald and Kim, taunting each other with nuclear annihilation. “Oh, yeah! My mother of all bombs is bigger than your mother of all bombs!” This mature level of diplomatic conversation, tweeted in the early morning hours across the Pacific, can only be fanning the winds of the perfect storm.

To add to this chaos theory of world political physics, stir in every extremist alt-right group in the U.S.A. broadcasting their terrorist propaganda from websites like 4chan, 8chan, Alternative Right, and Breitbart and you have the Sailer Strategy for dumbing down the American public and winning elections for the Freedom Caucus fanatics.

The solution?

First, in democracies, stop electing far right-wing governments and ignorant twits as leaders, and change the U.S. second amendment to read “the right to bare arms” ….

Secondly, turn off the black mirrors, remember the breaking news is usually not, stop reading reports from sloppy journalists, get a comfort pet, take long walks in wild places, and hang out with wise people.

Thirdly, learn how to grow food, care for animals, fish and hunt. As hockey legend Eddie Shack used to say, “You never know when they’re going to do it to you.”

Fourthly, love your family, love your partner, love yourself, love Earth and Fire and Wind and Water.

Fifthly, when the perfect storm is coming we had better know how to build the perfect shelter, and protect and feed the inhabitants.

And lastly, learned from the writings of my wellness mentor, legendary Samurai swordmaster, Miyamoto Musashi, (forgive my translation):

Practice your skills every day, a thousand days.

Perfect practice, until the execution of your skills is like breathing.

Then you will be at the centre. Peace, love, and crush your enemies quickly.

***

Skid Crease, Caledon

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