Saturday, 29 August 2015

Trudeau-led government to invest in our children and educators

I wonder if the teachers' unions are still all gung ho to throw their support behind M. Mulcair. The NDP has made the interesting choice to run to the right of the Liberal Party  (and even to the right of the Conservative Party at times) during Canada's 42nd election. While this has put them at odds with much of their traditional base it does appear that Mulcair is sticking to his guns. More surprising, however, is M. Trudeau’s decision to embrace his new role as the leader of Canada's left. Never was this more demonstrated than when he announced a targeted tax credit for teaching professionals who purchase school supplies out of pocket.

In the heavily contested 905-area city of Newmarket, Ontario Trudeau said, “As teachers and early childhood educators prepare their classrooms for the upcoming school year, we are reminded that our children need positive and enriching environments in order to learn and grow. ... Yet our tax system doesn’t recognize the many out-of-pocket expenses that teachers and early childhood educators incur in order to set up their classrooms.”

He's not wrong.  This is a good policy. Most interesting, however, is the NDP criticism of it. Give M. Mulcair  credit where credit is due. Much like Prime Minister Harper is running as far left as he possibly can without any worry with regard to losing his right wing base, Mulcair is running as far right as humanly possible understanding  (and rightly so) that he need not worry about a left wing base so close to power it can already taste it. The problem is, should Mulcair become Canada's next Prime Minister New Democrats that remember the days of Douglas and Broadbent and even Layton may not like what they see - an NDP government that would rather balance the books than help teachers.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Tragedy in Israel after shooting at Pride

As members of the international community we can only extend our hearts to the six victims who were wounded at the Jerusalem March for Pride and Tolerance.

It is an unspeakable tragedy that on a day that intended to be of positivity and acceptance that the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer/questioning) Jewish community is once again mourning an act of senseless violence against LGBTQ people.

We were than informed the tragic news. Sixteen-year-old Shira Banki has died. 
As a member of the international LGBTQ Jewish community, my thoughts and prayers are with Shira's family and friends at this devastating time. 

In a statement issued today, her family said: "Our magical Shira was murdered because she was a happy 16-year-old – full of life and love – who came to express her support for her friends' rights to live as they choose. For no good reason and because of evil, stupidity and negligence, the life of our beautiful flower was cut short. Bad things happen to good people, and a very bad thing happened to our amazing girl. The family expresses hope for a less hatred and more tolerance."

There are no words to express what the Banki Family is going through. 

The World Congress of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Jews issued a statement, announcing, "Ignorance and fear will not discourage our uncompromising demand to live our lives as we are. Knives will not stop us. With pride and pain, with broken hearts and tearful eyes, with Shira's memory and our unanswered prayers, we will continue to march in Jerusalem."
Shira's tragic death is a cogent reminder of how much work still needs to be done in our communities to educate people about the acceptance of diversity, and the importance of inclusion and respect for difference. 

I will close on this note; there is a tradition in Judaism of Refuah Shlema. It is a prayer of healing. And it goes as follows:

Mi-sheberakh avoteinu v'imoteinu, Avraham v'Sarah, Yitzhak v'Rivkah, Ya'akov, Rachel v'Leah hu y'varekh et (recite the Hebrew name) v'yavi aleihem refuat hanefesh u'refuat haguf yachad im kol cholei amo Yisrael. Barukh atah Adonai, rofeh ha'cholim.

In English: May the One who was a source of blessing for our ancestors, bring blessings of healing upon (recite the name), a healing of body and a healing of spirit. May those in whose care they are entrusted, be gifted with wisdom and skill, and those who surround them, be gifted with love and trust, openness and support in their care. And may they be healed along with all those who are in need. Blessed are You, Source of healing. Amen

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

LGBTorys are coming out!

Following a successful first appearance at this year’s annual Toronto lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans(gender/sexual), queer/questioning (LGBTQ) Pride Parade the upstart LGBTory (also known as Rainbow Conservatives of Canada) will host their first pub night tomorrow (22 June 2015) and I will be there to catch every minute.

I have been involved in politics a long time now. I have particularly been involved in LGBTQ politics for even longer. I was part of the founding membership of one of this country’s first gay-straight alliance on the eve of what would be one of the most important debates in Canadian history. I remember where the six parties stood at the time. Just a day over ten years ago, the New Democratic Party and the Green Party were unequivocal in their support. This was criticized by some moderates who preferred the Liberal Party approach to a partial whip that would guarantee victory or the free votes of the Bloc Quebecois. The Conservative Party of Canada…?

History has demonstrated future Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s position as a defender of ‘traditional marriage’. But four Conservatives stood for equality in marriage. Belinda Stronach (who would later join the Liberal front bench), James Moore, Gerald Keddy, and Jim Prentice would cast their votes with Prime Minister Paul Martin’s government. These for MPs (and John Baird) laid the groundwork for a Conservative movement in Canada that believes in personal freedom of sexuality. LGBTory is their legacy. And whether it was his intention or not, Scott Brison’s initial run for leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada let Canadians know that there is such a thing as a gay Conservative.

Make no mistake; this landmark group is well aware that the vast majority of the LGBTQ community identifies with another political party. They know they have their work cut out for them. But they are up to the task. The other parties; notably the Liberal Party and the NDP, should welcome them to the fray. No longer can these parties claim to be the only parties that have the LGBTQ community’s best interest at heart. And that is a good thing. The LGBTQ has never been of one mind when it comes to politics, nor should it be. Our community is as diverse as any other in Canada.

Full disclosure: I joined the Liberal Party of Canada in 2003 in large part because they were a party fighting for equality in marriage. I did not if I would marry a man or a woman but I wanted to be able to marry either should I choose to. The precursors to the modern Conservative Party of Canada were not willing to fight for this right. However, the Conservative Party than maintain status as Canada’s governing party has demonstrated a willingness to defend equal rights for the LGBTQ community both here and abroad. Opposition parties should never view such notions as a bad thing.

Much like their Log Cabin cousins to the south, ‘Rainbow Conservatives,’ are coming out in Canadian politics. And in October they will be given a chance to prove just how loud that voice can be when they put well known LGBTQ activist Julian DiBattista on the ballot in Toronto Centre, which houses the largest ‘gay village’ in the country.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Teachers' unions just don't understand.

For many parents and students the news that four school boards will not be releasing report cards; including the two largest boards in the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) and the Peel District School Board (PDSB), this is a  final straw. Please do not misunderstand. No one doubts the difficulty of teaching, but teachers' unions have been directing their members in an extreme direction since the 1990s. This incident with report cards will only succeed in angering parents and students.

As reported in today's Toronto Sun, "the salary range for teachers runs from $42,283 for a rookie, to $94,707 after 10 years for a teacher who does the required upgrading. Those who chose not to move up the grid make a top salary of $76,021. They also get hefty benefits and a lucrative pension that’s funded 50% by taxpayers. For that kind of dough, they should fill out report cards."

While the province struggles with a $10 billion deficit and debt nearing $300 billion teachers' unions demand more. Frankly, the Wynne government is the most teacher friendly government in Ontario history. Even the NDP government of Bob Rae was not as willing to bend to the will of the Sam Hammonds in Ontario to the degree that Premier Wynne has. The least teachers can do is let us see our children's grades.

As a parent to a special needs child I depend on those grades to gain insight into my daughter's educational development. I cannot do this as long as her grade are kept under lock and key.

So the question becomes, 'what can parents do about it?'

Simply put: nothing.

We are dependent on our trustees and MPPs to do what is right here. Unfortunately, to date, they are wrestling with a group of unions unwilling negotiate in good faith.

Friday, 5 June 2015

I’d like to talk to you all about the future of the Toronto District School Board...

I’d like to talk to you all about the future of the Toronto District School Board.

As many of you may know, I’m the proud father of a beautiful little girl on the autism spectrum. And, as much as it shocks me to say so, she will soon be turning seven.

My daughter is currently enrolled in the first grade under the TDSB's autism intensive support program (ISP). She is already excited for the second grade.

As parents to a child with special needs, my wife and I are asking ourselves some important questions.
Where should our daughter be going to school?

Where should our family put down their roots?

These are questions shared by families across Toronto. Like them, we want what’s best for our daughters.

To me, there’s no tougher question than asking why they should stay in Toronto.

When I ask myself whether my daughters should stay in Toronto, I find myself asking a much more troubling question: can they stay? Is it in their best interest?

I find myself asking, does our school board afford them the opportunities they need and deserve? Does our city’s public education system afford all Torontonians the opportunities they need and deserve?

If the TDSB continues along its current path, I’m very sad to say the answer isn’t as certain as I’d like.

With the coming federal election trustees should be calling on TDSB Chair Shaun Chen to step down in his role as chair and perhaps even trustee. Mr. Chen has already been confirmed as the federal Liberal candidate in Scarborough's North. This makes him an open target. This makes the TDSB an even easier target. More problematic, however, is that Mr. Chen has been dividing his time as Chair and candidate for months now. It is time for him to step aside, and his fellow trustees need to push him to do this.

With that in mind there are a handful of trustees that could replace him. Deputy Chair Sheila Cary-Meagher is the obvious choice. But with Cary-Meagher you carry the weight of a former ally of disgraced former Chair Chris Bolton. New blood is necessary. So who does this leave? Logically eliminating the 11 newest trustees, Chen, and Cary-Meagher we are left with 9 options. They are as follows;

Chris Glover, Ward 2
Pamela Gough, Ward 3
Howard Kaplan, Ward 5
Chris Tonks, Ward 6
Shelly Laskin, Ward 11
Gerri Gershon, Ward 13
Sheila Ward, Ward 14
David Smith, Ward 19
Jerry Chadwick, Ward 22

A handful are easily removed from this list. While I have developed a reasonable working relationship with Trustee Kaplan, it would be hypocritical of me to endorse a man whom I didn't see fit to serve as trustee only months ago. Trustee Tonks? He had an opportunity during the last Chair elections. He passed. Trustee Ward? As a former Chair, her time is passed. Trustee Smith? His attachment to recent scandal eliminates him.

This makes our new updates list as;

Chris Glover
Pamela Gough
Shelly Laskin
Gerri Gershon
Jerry Chadwick

The reality is none of these individuals has built the kind of resume that gives me confidence to believe they can take on the job at hand. But given that new elections should be coming I would have to say that Pamela Gough seems to have put together the best potential resume. Chair Gough? Perhaps not the most ideal, however, she is certainly the best option available at this point in time.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Michael Sam already has a legacy

Michael Sam has become an inspiration to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community everywhere. Drafted by his hometown St. Louis Rams, Michael Sam installs himself as a beacon to his various communities.

Originally projected to go as high as late in the first round, Sam saw his stock fall to the 249th pick overall. Should this be considered a disappointment? Absolutely. However, what is relevant is that Sam was drafted at all. Ultimately Sam never made the Rams roster. Following a tryout with the Dallas Cowboys he found himself outside the NFL.  But where the NFL failed, the Canadian Football League (CFL) has stepped up. The Montreal Alouettes' signing of Michael Sam instantly makes him the most famous athlete in today's CFL. Is this on par with baseball's Jackie Robinson or Hank Greenberg? Perhaps.

Sam has an opportunity to bring down walls that other openly gay athletes in traditionally 'macho' sports have not been able to do. Jason Collins has come out in the twilight of his basketball career. Professional wrestlers Orando Jordan and Fredrick Rosser (known by his ring name Darren Young) have yet to prove that they are anything more than mid-card draws. Despite being considered relatively small in stature and a step slower than the average DE-OLB swing man, Sam was able to put together a top tier career at the college level. He can still prove himself an all-star caliber athlete on par with Robinson and Greenberg.

I grew up in Toronto. My grandfather was an Argonauts' season ticket holder. He made a huge Argo fan out of me. His influence led me to follow the careers of men like Nate Burleson, Igor Olshansky, Doug Flutie, and of course, Michael "Pinball" Clemons. But as a member of the LGBT community, there was no one like Michael Sam in my youth. Michael Sam offers young men an opportunity to see themselves succeed at a professional level.

His college career proved him a man with a great degree of talent. He should be able to earn himself a shot on the Alouettes' defence. That could very well give him an opportunity to succeed. And if his college career was any indication he should be contention for the CFL's most outstanding defender.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Barriers to quality and accessible education

A 2001-02 study by the Ontario Human Rights (OHR) Commission found 100,735 students at the secondary level received special education programs and/or services in the publicly funded school system. It stands to reason that many of these students have gone or will go on to a post-secondary institution. Barriers to education can take a variety of forms. They can be physical, technological, systemic, financial, or attitudinal. They can arise from an education provider’s failure to make available a needed accommodation, or to provide one in a timely manner. In Eldridge v. British Columbia (Attorney General), the Supreme Court of Canada found that “once the state does provide a benefit, it is obliged to do so in a non-discriminatory manner.... The principle that discrimination can accrue from a failure to take positive steps to ensure that disadvantaged groups benefit equally from services offered to the general public is widely accepted in the human rights field.”

In order for persons with disabilities to receive equal treatment in education, they must have equal access to educational opportunities. The duty to accommodate includes identifying and removing barriers that impede the ability of persons with disabilities to access educational services. The OHR Commission’s Disability Policy affirms the duty of education providers to structure their programs and policies so as to be inclusive and accessible for persons with disabilities, and to take an active role in the accommodation process. Throughout the consultation, the Commission heard that students with disabilities continue to experience physical barriers to educational services. As stated by the KIDS’ Coalition: “Students may be unable to attend their local school due to lack of physical accessibility. Many schools are multi-level and the installation of elevators may be impractical or too costly. Parts of the school may be inaccessible due to lack of ramps, heavy doors, site elevation or playground features. Many schools do not have washrooms suitable for students with disabilities.”

It was the OHR Commission’s policy position, as outlined in the Disability Policy, that “when constructing new buildings, undertaking renovations, purchasing new computer systems, launching new Web sites, (or) setting up new policies and procedures... design choices should be made that do not create barriers for persons with disabilities.”

Where barriers already exist, the duty to accommodate requires education providers to make changes up to the point of undue hardship to provide equal access for persons with disabilities. If, after making the required changes, persons with disabilities are still unable to participate fully, education providers have a duty to accommodate any remaining needs up to the point of undue hardship.

Potential solutions could be had in the way of: (1) That the Ontario Building Code be amended to reflect the legal requirements set out in the Human Rights Code; and (2) that, irrespective of when the Building Code is amended, post secondary institutions comply with the requirements of the Human Rights Code and the principles outlined in the Disability Policy when constructing buildings, making renovations, and designing programs and services.