An Open Letter to the Deputy Premier of Ontario

Dear Minister Elliott,

I am writing to you as a citizen of Ontario regarding my deep and thoroughly-examined concerns regarding the direction of this province that I love and have been, generally, proud to call home. I have a particular perspective – as a former educator (from a family of educators) and as someone who now works within the public health care system – that I’d like to share with you.

Please note that this letter is directed to you as Deputy Premier, not as Minister of Health and Long-Term Care (although that is pertinent to my concerns, as you’ll see), since I see no value in writing to the Minister of Education or the Premier, as neither has demonstrated any depth of experience or pertinent insight in the roles to which they have, beyond all understanding, been elected and/or appointed. I’ll abstain from any further comment about their lack of overall competency, since such is self-evident and clearly demonstrated every time they open their mouths.

As health care workers and community members gather in front of Queen’s Park to demonstrate their outrage at the closing of overdose prevention sites, and as Ontario students prepare to use their informed and concerned voices and walk out of classes across the province this afternoon, I feel I can no longer remain silent without asking you – an experienced public servant – to provide the rationale behind your continued support of this government’s increasingly-egregious agenda.

Despite differences in political ideology, I have held you in a position of respect over the course of your career, particularly as you acted as Patient Ombudsman for the province of Ontario. In that role, you acted as a non-partisan representative of the people of Ontario, providing us with a strong voice to express concerns about the direction of our public-funded health care system. I watched the leadership race last year with the hope that your experience and preparedness would assure us of competent direction (despite our differences of opinion – the carbon tax, for one) as we entered a sure-to-be-contentious election.

I was dumbfounded and disheartened by your defeat – not least because, as a resident of Toronto I have far too much experience of the type of politics played and the “leadership” displayed by your opponent. The lack of relevant experience and sound-bite-based campaigning, along with ill-examined irregularities in the voting system, permitted a questionable ‘businessman’ to lead the Ontario PC Party to the Legislative Assembly.

I admit that I, like many who found this turn of events inexplicable, took some comfort in your appointment as Deputy Premier and Minister of the MOHLTC, counting on your knowledge and background to mitigate the most dangerous planks of the newly-elected Premier’s heretofore unexpressed platform. It has taken a remarkably short time for such hopes to be dashed, and I, along with much of the rest of the province, are left to wonder, with concern, at the silencing of the integrity and ethics you demonstrated previously as a long-time participant in public service.

I could go on for page after page regarding my concerns about the policy decisions this government has made (the change to our license plates would barely merit a paragraph – nonsense of that nature is hardly worth the effort of commentary – although I’d like to propose DoFoMustGo as an alternative to the crassly-commercial and self-interested ‘open for business’, since one is as nonsensical as the other), but I will focus on those two perspectives I referenced above – education and health care.

It is more and more apparent that this government is interested in preparing our children for futures that seemingly require no exposure to higher critical thinking skills or to a balance of STEM courses and humanities classes that teach important values that help to describe our society and to highlight the places that call out for improvement. In making cuts to university funding, and imposing online courses for high school students, this government seems to be supporting the creation a future population that would be disconnected from the larger community and what it means to be citizens of Ontario, Canada and the wider world, and blindly accepting of the political rhetoric used to defend policies geared toward the benefit of a minority of citizens.

In my time teaching undergraduate courses at a number of Ontario universities, I saw a steady decline in some basic skills – reading comprehension, argument-support, effective citation of sources, as examples – with the removal of grade 13/OAC under a previous Conservative government. I fear that the results of your government’s proposed changes to our education system will have deeper and more problematic consequences than even that decision.

That said, the students are best-placed to vocalize their concerns about their education, and, despite the claims of the Premier that the walk out is a political contrivance of ‘the unions’, they are making it clear that they will not be ignored when detrimental decisions are being made on their behalf. They demonstrated that with a similar walk out to express opinions regarding the province’s health education curriculum. They were heard then, and once again they are saying ‘no’ – emphatically – and if Ontario Conservatives decline to hear that declaration, I don’t believe that this government’s relationship with the people responsible for the education of our children – or the children themselves – will permit anything other than considered and intentional regression.

I ask you, as Deputy Premier, to ensure that this government starts listening to the relevant stakeholders – with the most to gain or lose – regarding changes to education in Ontario. It seems that the Premier and Minister of Education are unwilling to do so, and it is increasingly apparent that they do not have the expertise to guide progressive reforms without more informed – and educated – support.

With respect to changes coming (regardless of input) to our health care system, I have only one request to share at this time. Please uphold the necessity of consultation with relevant stakeholders prior to the institution of Bill 74. Two-days notice (I’m being generous there) for public hearings – ONLY held in Toronto – is appalling. As is the fact that over 1400 requests to present were received, and 30 representatives were invited to participate. And the fact that the rush to pass this legislation seems unprecedented in its haste. To say more than that may endanger my current job, and being jobless in this government’s Ontario is a terrifying prospect.

I ask you, as one professional, engaged Ontarian to another, to hold to account the Premier and his Ministers in the same way that you have done in your past, much-appreciated, public service incarnations. If you cannot do so, I’d appreciate hearing your reasons why, outside of the environment that requires standing ovations and toeing of party lines, regardless of evidence-based assessment.

Many thanks for your time,

A concerned citizen of Ontario

 

Bureaucracy run amok

And from the files of the most recent example of reactionary politics and the elected leader of our country…

While I admit that our opinions sometimes differ, Alan Cross has had an undeniable impact on radio and music appreciation in my part of the globe.  And his mind works similarly to mine.  His Ongoing History of New Music and The Secret History of Rock link together music/musicians and the context and history in which they were writing.  During his tenure at CFNY the station was cutting edge in its programming and support of the music industry in Toronto.

Gotta give the guy his props.

I saw something about this particular situation last week and, while my original impulse was one of outrage, I set it aside to explore more thoroughly when I had a bit more time.  Alan has done a very good job of gathering the deets on his blog and explaining some of the whys and wherefores behind this ridiculous decision.

As he notes, while the Harper government has certainly not been shown to be a great friend of the development and preservation of programs meant to enhance the arts and culture, this ridiculous new fee that is to be levied on foreign musicians who wish to perform in Canada is actually collateral damage from a scandal that came to light last spring.

RBC- the largest financial institution in Canada- was taken to task (rightfully) for laying off Canadian workers and replacing them with foreign contract workers.  This resulted in the expected amount of backlash in the media, from Canadian labour groups and from the opposition parties in the House of Commons.

The Harper government’s response was that they were ‘working on’ the problems with the Temporary Foreign Workers Program.  Result?  This new $275 application for offshore workers who wish to apply for jobs in Canada.  And that Canadian workers MUST be offered the positions first.  All fine, on the face of it.

But, as Alan notes, whoever wrote this addendum to the Program rules did not think about the specific needs/realities of the music industry.  Alan is a music industry insider, and, as such, can (and does) speak far more clearly about the ramifications of this fee for bands (from other countries) who are signed to Canadian labels and other such intricacies.

I am pissed about what it will do to the diversity and availability of bands that come through this town o’ mine on a regular basis.  One of the things I love most about this city is the number of smaller venues that offer exposure to both local and touring bands that are not regularly found on the radio stations that are run by the huge, corporate and impersonal media conglomerates.

I love perusing the tickets lists on the sites run by independent record stores like Soundscapes or Rotate This.  For a few bucks you can see new music- or old favourites- at all kinds of cool joints around town.  Some of these bands are just starting out- and working hard to garner followings and gain some exposure.

I have been lucky enough to see a whole lot of hard working musicians in these small clubs, bars and taverns over my lifetime- sometimes little bands who later went on to command stadium crowds (and ticket prices).

But more often I tend to gravitate to those singer-songwriters who have made working careers of writing and playing their own music in dive bars and concert halls- touring for the love of the music and the interaction with the appreciative ears in their audiences.

These are not necessarily musicians who are likely to make it to the stadium level or regular airplay on local radio station morning drive times.  But the rapport with the audience and the pure energy that is generated with a smaller crowd in a smaller venue is something that should be experienced- and it is that which is threatened by this reactionary and unexamined application of a rule meant to crack down on the bad publicity that arose with the RBC situation.

The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern is one of my favourite music venues in town (seriously, check out the ‘History’ section on their website.  There’s some pretty cool stories in there).  In addition to the annual Skydiggers Christmas show (which is a holiday tradition with some of my peeps), I have seen an number of great bands there over the years.

Almost exactly three years ago I had the opportunity to first see this guy live:

It was during TIFF.  The Boss was in town in support of “The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town”, so there was a whole lot of speculation about whether or not he might put in an appearance at Jesse’s show at the Horseshoe.

Largely because of this:

Tickets, that I had bought at Soundscapes for $14, started selling for crazy prices on Craig’s List and Kijiji.  My friend, who first introduced me to Jesse, is also the biggest Springsteen fan I’ve ever known, so there was a fairly high level of hope and anticipation (though he was convinced that it wasn’t to be) in the air as we showed up for the gig.

The Horseshoe was PACKED.  Like I’ve never seen it before.  And it was filled mainly with film industry douches who were there only on the off-chance that Bruce would stop by for a set.  When Jesse and the band took the stage, I set aside my frustration that a large percentage of the audience was there only to be seen and/or in case of a Bruce appearance (they continued to talk on phones- and occasionally to each other- as the band began their set.  Honestly.  The rudeness.  Put the damn phones away and give the BAND your attention and respect) and let the music flow.

Jesse and the band were electric- and full of personality that would have been lost in a less-intimate setting.  At one point Jesse climbed across the heads of the crowd to the bar to grab a tequila shot from the incomparable Teddy Fury.

All things considered, the band handled the gig with grace and respect- for those true fans who were there to see THEM (Bruce never did show- to the surprise of almost no one who was actually there to see Jesse and the St. Mark’s Social).

I’ve since seen him twice- both times back at the ‘Shoe- and both times with a more modestly-sized audience (one was a January show and it was so freakin cold outside that I could hardly blame people for not coming out).  Though there might have been fewer of us, the enthusiasm (of the audience and the band) was engaged and completely together.  At one point Jesse had us all sitting in a circle on the dance floor singing along to his great cover of the Replacements’ Bastards of Young.  It was like a camp out.  In the Horseshoe.  With Jesse Malin.

Those are the kinds of shows- and the type of venues for live music- that are threatened by the arbitrarily applied rule that has been put in effect by Harper’s Conservatives.

As Alan Cross points out, Canada is NOT closed for business and exposure to great, working musicians from all over the world.  While some people may be content with spending hundreds of dollars to see mainstream acts (I hesitate to call them all ‘artists’) at massive venues, I remain part of the music buying (and appreciating) public that likes to see new music in smaller places without having to take out a bank loan (likely negotiated by someone from overseas who was hired before the rule went into effect).

There are certainly bigger concerns in the world at the moment.  The issue of intervention or non-intervention in Syria tops the discussions that are happening in the rooms of power around the world.  I understand that.  It’s making both my heart and my brain hurt.

But this issue, close to my very soul since it is a big part of the soul of the town (and country) I love, is another example of programs/rules/procedures being instituted by a bureaucracy/government without analysis or insight into larger or longer-term consequences.

It’s Monday, and the week is likely to see some pretty big decisions that will have ramifications for us all.  I’ve already started my reading list with this and will continue on from there as I try to get a handle on the push for military intervention in Syria.  But I plan to ease back into the week.

Jesse puts it nicely in NY Nights:

“On my TV they’re still playing god.  I’m sick of politricks.”

Sigh.

But.  As I keep emphasizing, it is our responsibility to stay awake and aware of what our politicians are up to- and speak up when it isn’t acceptable in our reasoned assessment of the situation.  Whether the proposed actions are an attempt to halt thousands of people killing other people in the name of ideology and power, or a ridiculous surcharge for musicians who enrich the already rich life we are privileged to have here in Canada.

Proportion matters, but so does participation.