Friday, August 24, 2012

RE: The Putting Students First Act. #ONpoli

Dear Yasir Naqvi, Member of Provincial Parliament, Ottawa Centre

I am writing out of concern for the “Putting Students First Act” that your government plans to pass in the provincial legislature. Two points of this legislation are very problematic:

Teachers will receive a zero per cent salary increases in 2012-13 and 2013-14. 

 All teachers will take a 1.5 per cent pay cut in the form of three unpaid professional development days so that younger teachers will continue to move through the grid according to their experience and additional qualifications.

Effectively, wage freezes are wage cuts as inflation raises the costs of living, in addition to the 1.5% pay cut before factoring in any potential inflation costs.

Mr. Naqvi, public sector wage freezes are unethical. Such policies insist that the working class must subsidize the incompetence of investment bankers when their actions cause economic difficulty; a recession is provoked by the concentration of capital in too few hands. During market uncertainty, capital owners guard their personal interests and stop investing when conditions for the proliferation of their wealth are compromised. A halt in investments results in a drop of private sector job creation.

Our reality is such that extreme income inequality causes recessions. Collective bargaining is a long-standing means to mitigate income inequality between workers and owners. It may not be the most efficient means to do so, but organized labour rights are entrenched in Canadian law and must not be usurped to serve a minority of wealthy investors.

Neoliberal austerity measures prescribe that a government should do whatever possible to bait capital owners to start spending money again. Governments tend to cut personal and corporate tax rates to attract investors who will ideally, but with little guarantee, create jobs. Lower tax revenue means that an even higher amount of spending will need to be cut to return to government surplus.

The Ontario government is facing an issue balancing the budget, as are many Ontarians in their personal lives. The two tools we have to reduce provincial deficit are to raise revenue and cut spending, but smart solutions are needed to remedy Ontario’s economic woes. I applaud the governing Liberals for cooperating with the New Democrats in creating a new tax bracket for Ontarians making more than $500, 000, but I am disgusted at the thought of holding school teachers to account for economic circumstances, which they did not create.

By freezing (reducing) public wages, the Ontario tax base also shrinks, further launching our books into the red. If the government of Ontario wishes to effectively reduce deficits and maintain some semblance of equity within the province, they must abandon the ideologically motivated call for teacher’s wages to be frozen (reduced). The province must investigate new streams of revenue such as carbon, luxury, or new income taxes on those Ontarians most capable of paying and what savings would be incurred if we chose to fund a singular secular public school board. I question the priorities of a government who would choose an inefficient duplication of services that insulate religious inequality, rather than offering hard-working teachers a fair settlement. We can build a better Ontario, but not by sacrificing the livelihood of our public employees.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

RE: Vertical Farms: A Solution to Northern Hunger

Dear John Duncan, Minister, Aboriginal and Northern Affairs
CC: Denis Bevington, NDP Critic for Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency
CC: Elizabeth May, Leader, Green Party of Canada
CC: Carolyn Bennett, Liberal Critic for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development and Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency


I am writing today out of growing concern for the food crisis Northern Canadians are presently faced with. Recent reports have shown that food prices in Canada’s isolated arctic and sub-arctic regions are having devastating impacts on low-income and aboriginal community members.

As conscientious Canadians we owe it to these citizens to alleviate any undue suffering exorbitant food costs may have created. We must work toward creative solutions that make our North more liveable, especially as the idea of a North-Eastern shipping route becomes increasingly feasible.

I am writing relevant ministers and critics to suggest an investigation into the construction of vertical farms in Canada’s North as a strategy to provide isolated citizens with food security. Essentially, vertical farms are stacked greenhouses that create ideal growing conditions for different staple crops on each floor of the building. This is a strategy already in practice on the opposite side of the world; the South Pole Food Growth Chamber provides fresh produce for the researchers living in extreme Antarctic isolation.

Vertical farming infrastructure development has many advantages if deftly applied in the North. Foremost, it can help provide the nutritional requirements of thousands of isolated and poor Canadians. Vertical farming also localizes food production meaning fewer environmental costs associated with long-distance air-cargo transportation. Finally, vertical farming means both high and low-skill job creation in the North. Engineers, botanists, as well as construction and agricultural workers will be needed to execute a strategy to feed the North.

I hope that this idea resonates with you as an effective means to alleviate poverty in some of Canada’s most vulnerable environments and communities, and that appropriate action is taken.

Who gets to define risk? The problem with #HIV activism

In response to Ottawa Citizen article: Risk assessment

As a queer-identified activist, I tend to keep my feelings about the criminal status of HIV non-disclosure more private than my thoughts on most other issues, but what kind of social issues blogger would I be if I shied away from contention? So here goes.

Firstly, I acknowledge that the legal and social models that construct HIV are often in conflict. I understand that the stigmatization of HIV creates a disincentive for both testing and disclosure. Activists struggle to reconcile the desire to include HIV+ persons equally into our society while also preventing the spread of HIV.

The legal doctrine vilifying HIV non-disclosure is fairly simple and largely accepted as the norm. A crime requires a guilty act and a guilty intent. Under these parameters a person who has tested positive for HIV has a legal requirement to inform their sexual partners because of the “significant” level of risk that partner is subjected to. To fail to do so is criminally negligent.

Some argue that the advances in medical treatments have reduced the level of risk in some sexual practices. Legally, this translates to into an argument that if there is no longer “significant” risk, then there is no victim and no crime.

Enter conundrum. Who gets to define risk? Is risk nit-picked details of viral load and which practices were performed, or do partners get to define risk as being robbed of informed consent?

I personally hold the belief that information does not exist to be censored. For the same reason I could never support a law banning sex-specific abortion, I have to support the criminal aspects of HIV non-disclosure. Depriving people of information about their bodies, or their sexual experiences, is not rational basis on which to make decisions.

To suggest that HIV has no place in a criminal court is to naively put faith in humanity; it is to suggest that HIV cannot be insidiously passed to another. This is a known fallacy; we need only look to Rwanda where HIV and rape are used as a cheap means of biological warfare to realize that the intent of some transmissions is both real and criminal.

HIV is definitively a public health issue that our governments are failing to ameliorate; our communities have real needs for support services and prevention outreach. This reality, however, does not refute the simultaneous criminal reality of HIV.

Unfortunately, the most effective means of HIV prevention is still fear, even if the condition is no longer a death sentence. I know that the sanctity of my bodily integrity is why I employ safer sex practices and get tested.

To conclude, I assert that the complexities of HIV are not best delineated by the Supreme Court of Canada. A small group of legal experts cannot asses the full social impact of HIV on our country; elected MPs need to make this decision on behalf of Canadians and democratically clarify the legal status of HIV non-disclosure.

Friday, August 3, 2012

RE: Pre-NB Day Thoughts on #Moncton & #NBpoli

Dear George LeBlanc, Mayor of Moncton
CC:  Robert Berry, Mayor of Sackville 
       Claude Williams, New Brunswick Minster of Transport
       Martine Coulombe, New Brunswick Minister of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour

New Brunswickers are a creative people. In trying economic times, this creativity is paramount; we need to address our social and economic challenges in a way that meets present and future needs of the province

The difficulties of the Greater Moncton Area are exemplary of social and economic tension. Currently, the only English degree granting institution in the GMA is Crandall. I refrain from calling them a university because of their compromised concepts of academic freedom. They operate under Christian fundamentalist ideas requiring that faculty have a personal faith in Jesus Christ, that one hold personal and professional views that are consistent with the Bible and the university’s Statement of Faith.[1] The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) concluded that Crandall’s concept of academic freedom is “significantly inconsistent with that of the CAUT and the majority of universities across the western world, and assurances that free enquiry is still possible within its constraints are unconvincing.”[2]

Further, they have a written policy prohibiting the hiring of queer faculty. Crandall is in no way a public institution and should not receive public funding to inculcate hate in our society.

Moncton has also experienced the failure of Highfield Square. The once bustling mall is crumbling and taking up space. Highfield’s redevelopment will be integral to the definition of the GMA as a modern world-class small city.  

All of the redevelopment concepts presented by city council emphasized how the proximity to the Moncton Central Train Station will be a driver for the complex’ continued success. That notion took a blow as Via announced a reduction in “The Ocean” route between Montreal and Halifax. Present concern has many Monctonians crying foul as they lose their weekend connection to Halifax.

We can do this New Brunswick; take these 3 bad things and make an awesome thing. We can organize our resources effectively to make Moncton an international example of small city living. Many things make the GMA a great place to live, study, and do business. Moncton boasts: a bilingual labour force, an accomplished French university, access to transportation, affordable rents, and both career and community colleges. The GMA has one obvious deficit: an English university. As noted, Crandall has an unflattering academic reputation, which prohibits it from fulfilling the economic and cultural potential of a university.  

The development of South-Eastern New Brunswick must include an emphasis on Sackville’s Mount Alison University. One of the most respected undergraduate institutions in Canada, MTA is only 50 km from Moncton. Further, Moncton and Sackville are connected directly by rail. While the Via Rail service cut may be an inconvenience, it frees up a lot of rail time.

I’m suggesting the development of a commuter train system in South Eastern New Brunswick extending from the Greater Moncton International Airport to the Central Station near Highfield Square, and to Sackville. This route has many strategic advantages; foremost, connecting the airport to the downtown core is great for tourism. It will also become increasingly valuable as a means of public transit as Dieppe continues to grow.

Connecting Sackville means integrating MTA’s world class English education into the urban amenities of the GMA. This blend of urban and rural-academic lifestyles will attract innovators and investors to the area. Further, the airport connection to the downtown core and Sackville makes both Universit√© de Moncton and Mount Allison more accessible to international and out of province students studying in either of our official languages.

I admit this sounds expensive, but it’s not infeasible. Consider that the redevelopment of Highfield is inevitable, and not connecting our air travellers to that development would be regrettable. The rail to Sackville is not only built, it’s becoming more available. Lastly, it would be entirely appropriate to reallocate funds once earmarked for Crandall to Mount Allison and the development of a South East railway. Seeing that since 1996 Crandall has regrettably received over $24 million[3] in public money, we can make this happen.

[1] Fleming, Berkely, and Jennie Hornosty. Report of an Inquiry Regarding Academic Freedom at Crandall University (formerly Atlantic Baptist University). Moncton, New Brunswick: Canadian Association of University Teachers, 2010. P. 20
[2] Ibid. P. 20
[3] Global Maritimes. Calls to cut funding for Moncton university that prohibits hiring of gays. May 28, 2012. (accessed August 3, 2012).