Ontario’s Growth Plan is reducing housing affordability

Written by Frank Clayton, Toronto Metropolitan University. Photo credit (Shutterstock). Originally published in The Conversation.

A building under construction in Toronto. According to Canada’s national housing agency, Ontario needs to build 1.8 million new homes to alleviate the housing crisis.

Few Ontario residents know how land use planning regulation shapes their physical environment, including where new housing is built, the size and type of buildings, and housing density. As a result, most people are only interested in the topic when a new housing project is proposed near their homes.

In reality, planning regulation has far-reaching influence on our lives, and especially on the housing crisis. It’s a primary reason for the high housing prices and rents in the Greater Golden Horseshoe — a massive region that is centred on Toronto and spans Southern Ontario.

Because of this, land use planning impacts certain parts of the population more than others, including the middle class, first-time house buyers, renters, immigrants and lower-income residents.

Although few pay attention to it, the development, regulation and impact of land use planning has more to do with the average person than they realize. A sweeping reform could reduce housing and rent prices, at no cost to the public purse.

The Growth Plan

The planning system is often criticized as time-consuming, overly bureaucraticuncertain and costly. In Ontario, land use planning is carried out by municipalities and shaped by provincial legislation.

But the Greater Golden Horseshoe has had an additional layer of bureaucracy in the form of a provincial planning policy called the Growth Plan. This policy places restrictions on what parts of southern Ontario can be used for development and infrastructure via the Planning Act

The Growth Plan became law in 2006 under Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal government. Since then, it has been adapted by successive Ontario governments, most recently Doug Ford’s Conservative government.

A map showing the Greater Golden Horseshoe Growth Plan Area in southern Ontario
Map showing the Greater Golden Horseshoe Growth Plan Area. Photo credit:Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2022.

The Growth Plan represents an ambitious effort to shape how residents live, work and interact with one another with land use regulations. Ensuring a sufficient housing supply to improve affordability is just one of many objectives the Growth Plan is intended to address.

Research shows more restrictive planning regimes result in higher housing prices. A 2017 study found that land use regulation in Auckland, New Zealand, could be responsible for up to 56 per cent of an average house’s cost.

Another study from California found that housing prices could decline by about 25 per cent in Los Angeles if its planning regulations were decreased to the levels similar in the least-regulated cities in California. Based on my own estimates, home prices in the Greater Golden Horseshoe could fall by a similar amount under a benign land use regulatory system.

Supply and demand disparity

While affordable housing is a stated goal of the Growth Plan, the interpretation and implementation of its policies will reduce housing affordability, not improve it. According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Ontario needs to build 1.8 million new homes by 2030 to get housing affordability back to where it was in the early 2000s.

While most Greater Golden Horseshoe homebuyers undoubtedly prefer ground-level homes, the Growth Plan prioritizes higher-density forms of accommodation, instead of single-detached houses.

This disparity between housing demand and supply sets the stage for housing prices to increase even more in the coming years. The four regional municipalities, Durham, York, Peel and Halton, around Toronto all face a marked disparity over the coming three decades between housing planned and the market.

The supply of single-detached and semi-detached houses will only be 25 per cent of the new housing, compared to a demand of 50 per cent.

The reverse holds for apartments: 50 per cent of the new housing will be apartments, while the market demand is just 25 per cent. The demand and supply of townhouses will be similar, at 25 per cent of the new housing.

The sizeable shift from single-detached houses to apartments over the next 30 years is expected to happen under the current provincial government’s version of the Growth Plan passed in 2020. In the earlier version of the Growth Plan passed by the last Liberal government in 2017, even fewer ground-related homes would have been built in the future, resulting in even more stress on affordability.

Countering adverse price impacts

To counter the adverse price impacts of the Growth Plan, I have two proposals for the provincial government. First, municipalities must offset any planned reduction of single-detached and semi-detached houses below market demand with an equivalent number of “missing middle” housing.

Missing middle housing includes townhouses and low-rise apartments with four storeys or fewer, like stacked townhouses, and are the closest substitutes for single-detached houses. These should be added in existing urban areas (mainly single-detached neighbourhoods) and on vacant fringe lands.

A row of townhouses in Cabbagetown, Toronto
Municipalities should ensure enough ‘missing middle’ housing, like townhouses, are built to offset the loss of single-detached and semi-detached houses. Photo credit: Shutterstock.

Second, the government should conduct an in-depth review of the land use planning regime to improve efficacy and minimize adverse impacts on housing affordability, as was undertaken in New Zealand.

What is needed is a sweeping overhaul to increase not only the numbers of new housing units built, but to accelerate approvals of all housing types, with particular attention paid to single-detached and missing middle housing.

Without these changes, housing costs will continue to rise and many households will face longer commutes as they move farther away from employment centres in search of less expensive single-detached houses and townhouses.

A prescription for health: City vegetable gardens produce more than just food

Written by Sarah Elton, Toronto Metropolitan University and Donald C. Cole, University of Toronto. Photo credit THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn. Originally published in The Conversation

Community vegetable gardens, such as this one in Pickering, Ont., support health and should be seen as part of the city’s food system.

It’s garden season, which means gardeners are beginning to enjoy their homegrown vegetables. However, for those who live in cities, urban life can reinforce the idea that gardens are a bonus, maybe a hobby, but not a necessity of life.

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, supermarkets were kept open because of the key role they play in feeding us. But the Ontario government originally shut down community gardens, ignoring that gardens also feed us. The gardens were only opened again after public pressure.

As public health researchers with a longstanding interest in food systems and health, we’ve found that, contrary to the idea of gardening as a hobby, gardens are essential to life.

We came to this conclusion based on interviews with diverse gardeners in Toronto, a survey of more than 100 people and extensive participant observation — which in this case meant gardening together. Study participants included yard gardeners, community plot gardeners, rooftop gardeners and even people tending to food-producing plants inside their apartment. Our findings are published in the peer-reviewed journal, Food, Culture & Society.

Growing food in the city

To grow food, you have to be committed. There’s the weeding and watering, and dealing with squirrels and raccoons who might get to the food first.

You must invest in seeds and equipment and there could be a fee paid to the city for access to an allotment plot if you don’t have space of your own. If the garden you tend isn’t near where you live, you also must consider transportation time. And after all that, the crop might fail.

A church with city buildings behind it and a garden in the foreground.
A community vegetable garden in downtown Toronto. Photo credit: Sarah Elton/Author provided

Although prices are rising, produce is ample in grocery stores. So to better understand the role of gardening in the city, we asked why do people do it in the first place?

The most common response was that gardening was perceived to boost health. One retired worker summed it up well:

“In wintertime, it’s necessary to do more workouts. But summertime, if I miss the gym, I don’t feel bad because I am doing more.”

Others noticed that gardening supported their mental health. They felt calm with the plants, their mind alert. In some cases, the gardens gave participants a reason to wake up in the morning at times when they were experiencing mental health problems.

To several people, the plants were even seen to provide companionship. “I’m living a healthy life because of my garden,” said one participant. Gardening contributed to their happiness.

Food and food security

Another reason why people told us they gardened was, not surprisingly, for food. Most gardeners grew a wide selection of food-producing plants, with 31 per cent of respondents to the survey reporting that they grew as many as 10 to 20 different kinds.

Importantly, several of the gardeners who provided interviews and who also identified as low-income, stressed the importance of gardening to their food security. One gardener, who has a small plot on church-owned land, told us she grew so much food that she didn’t have to go to the supermarket in the summer, and that helped with her family’s finances.

Cropped image of person in striped shirt with hands laden with tomatoes, cucumber and other vegetables.
People who grow food in the city not only eat their own produce, but share it with friends and family. Photo credit: Pixabay

Another gardener said he was able to make a significant contribution to his family by producing enough vegetables on his allotment plot to not only eat in the summer but to freeze for winter. And one woman grew the organic food she couldn’t afford at the store.

People not only kept this food for themselves, but they shared it with friends and family.

Cultural connection

For gardeners who have cultural ties to other countries, some of whom are newer immigrants, growing their own food is a way to ensure access to the kinds of vegetables they grew up eating.

“We left but we still want the taste,” one man said of why he grows a kind of spinach from South Asia. At the store, these vegetables — if they are available — are expensive and aren’t as fresh.

Our findings reflect what other researchers have found about the cultural, health and food security benefits of gardens.

Gardening and urban health

So if growing food in gardens in the city is central to health, food security and culture, how might policymakers think about gardening differently?

We argue that gardens should be considered essential parts of our food system. Gardens are important to the people who tend to them — and also to the many people whose names are on waiting lists for space to grow food in the city, who may not have space of their own.

In our survey, people who owned their homes were more likely to report that they’d been growing food for more than 10 years. Homeownership often includes outdoor space in the form of a yard or balcony, which others may not have access to. The pandemic reminded us how many of our eco-social systems are inequitable and fragile, and other researchers have documented how people turned to gardens at this time.

Various levels of government and other institutions with jurisdiction over land (such as those that oversee hydro corridors as well as schools, religious institutions, apartment and condo land owners) must take action to broaden secure access to garden space, in particular for people who don’t have a backyard.

We should be investing more in publicly accessible gardens as an essential part of our food system.

COVID-19 is disrupting the migration of new talent to Canada

Written by Stein Monteiro, Ryerson University. Photo credit: ukblacktech.com. Originally published in The Conversation.

Canada’s tech sector, in particular, is in need of highly skilled tech workers if it’s to maintain momentum.

The major world economies of today are innovation-driven knowledge centres. To move innovation forward, an economy cannot operate from a limited pool of local knowledge and skills. It must be able to access the larger pool of global talent.

Foreign knowledge and skills bring new ideas, new perspectives and links to new markets that benefit Canadian employers enormously. A recent study by Statistics Canada shows that immigrant workers contribute significantly to business productivity over the long term. This impact is even stronger among firms in technology-intensive and knowledge-based industries.

Multinational corporations play a major role in the world economy by connecting knowledge resources through the placement of skilled people at branches around the world. Intra-company movement of skilled workers improves the overall productivity of the firm but also allows for countries to participate in the exchange of knowledge and ideas.

Canada’s tech sector, in particular, is in need of highly skilled tech workers if it’s to maintain momentum. Photo credit: Unsplash.

On a similar note, international students in Canada alone contribute to $21.6 billion in tuition, accommodation and other expenses, and also contribute in non-monetary terms by connecting Canada to the world economy through cultural exchange. International students and study-abroad programs introduce new perspectives into the classroom and create future global citizens.

Leadership required

Sustaining knowledge exchange requires stability and leadership. COVID-19 makes stability very difficult to achieve at the moment, but the right leadership can keep the innovation economy on a steady growth path.

In 2017, the federal government launched the Global Skills Strategy to expedite work permit applications by highly skilled foreign workers within a two-week processing window. In addition, foreign researchers and highly skilled workers on short-term work assignments don’t require a work permit.

Today, this two-week window has remained mostly closed during the pandemic to non-essential and non-support workers, leaving many employers at a competitive disadvantage in terms of attracting talent.

Similarly, international students who come to Canada to earn a Canadian credential and work experience are well-placed to obtain permanent residency. About 27 per cent of international students will become permanent residents. However, things can change quickly.

Many Indian international students initially bound for the United States and Canada have enrolled in universities in Europe instead, predominantly due to early entry restrictions in the U.S., Canada and Australia. Canadian universities are largely hosting classes online for first-year courses. For some international students, this doesn’t justify the tuition fees — about five times higher than what domestic students pay.

This will severely disrupt the momentum that has been built over the last few years in building Canada’s innovation economy.

Some Indian students opted to study at European universities this year. Photo credit: Wes Hicks/Unsplash.

Artificial intelligence

Cloud computing, the internet of things, 3D printing and artificial intelligence (AI) are major areas of modern-day technological advances, all of them part of what’s called the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Each of these technologies are developing rapidly and being used in a wide array of industries. But AI is expected to have the biggest impact on the labour market.

AI discussions are focused predominantly on its potential to displace workers. But AI can also work alongside existing employees to make them more productive without decreasing the total number of jobs available. That is, AI complements high-skilled workers.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution demands a large technical skill base. Local labour markets are in short supply of highly skilled workers given the current pace of growth in the technology industry. For this reason, highly skilled migration is an important source of sustained growth in Canada’s innovation economy.

Using data from LinkedIn and the World Bank, I can see the types of skills that employers have imported from abroad. LinkedIn’s membership mostly consists of white-collar workers in knowledge-intensive sectors. The figures below are not meant to represent the entire migration landscape of Canada, but only how foreign workers contribute their skills to the tech sector.

In 2015, less than one per cent of foreign workers contributed skills in artificial intelligence. By 2019, this figure increased to five per cent. Similarly, there’s been increasing demand for foreign workers with specialized skills in development tools, computer graphics, data storage technologies and web development over the past five years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic:

A graph showing the top five skills held by foreign workers in Canada in the past five years.
The top five skills held by foreign workers in Canada. Net migration (inflow minus outflow) figures are based on the number of LinkedIn members multiplied by 10,000.

Tech sector shows some resilience

A report by Brookfield Institute in 2015 finds that Canada’s tech sector represented $117 billion in economic output.

The sector has been consistently larger than the finance and insurance industry since 2007, and even outpaced annual growth of the mining, quarrying and oil and gas extraction sectors. The tech sector is the largest contributor to research and development, product innovation and organizational innovation, and is the second-largest contributor to process innovations in Canada.

The tech sector has shown some resilience dealing with the economic effects of the pandemic. Many existing tech workers in Canada were able to make the move to remote work more easily than those employed in other sectors. While employment levels decreased by 15 per cent between February and April 2020, tech employment decreased by only 4.2 per cent. But this doesn’t remove the need for new foreign workers in the tech industry to build on the momentum created over the last few years.

Despite the health of Canada’s tech sector, tech workers from abroad are still in urgent need. Photo credit: Unsplash.

Canada recently showed leadership in reopening its borders to international students while ensuring that post-secondary institutions do their part to keep students and the community safe.

The Canadian government understands that students’ and community safety are of prime importance, but also that students want to complete their studies in a timely manner.

The federal government should extend this leadership to foreign workers. To ensure that foreign workers continue to view Canada as a place to live, work and contribute to the innovation economy, the government must keep Canada’s borders open not just to foreign workers in essential services but to all workers essential to the post-pandemic economic recovery.

Trump has made America nostalgic again for a past that never existed

Written by Cheryl Thompson, Ryerson University. Photo credit: AP Photo/Matt York. Originally published in The Conversation.

President Donald Trump supporters wave a flag during an election watch party Nov. 3, 2020, in Chandler, Ariz.

As a Canadian, I sit at the edge of my seat every election night in America.

Even though it is not my country, like many, I feel the magnitude of what’s at stake in a country increasingly divided over issues of race, gender, the economy and the coronavirus pandemic.

While this has been the narrative of the past four years, America has always been a nation divided. This division was thoroughly examined in the New York Times 1619 Project, which sought to reframe the country’s history by placing plantation slavery and the African American experience at the centre of American history.

Despite historical facts, what has made the Trump era unique in its divisiveness is the way in which his presidency has been marked by a stark failure to disavow white supremacy while discrediting African American attempts to reclaim their place in American history. He condemned the 1619 Project while paradoxically claiming that he has done “more for the African American community than any president with the exception of Abraham Lincoln.”

While we may not know the winner of the election for some time, what was clear on election night is that Trump did better than pollsters predicted. Why was this race so close?

Different ideologies

Trump and Biden could not be more different in terms of ideology. But when it comes to nostalgia, both candidates relied on a similar notion of returning America to a different time.

For Trump, “Make America Great Again” has not only functioned as a political slogan, it has also morphed into a battle cry for his followers who yearn for a past that has never existed.

Through repeated invocations, the slogan is not only a reference to the past but also a “structure of feeling” — a term cultural theorist Raymond Williams coined in the 1950s. The term describes the paradox between the reality of people’s lived experiences — with its intangible and undefined parts of cultural life — and the official, material and defined forms of society.

In other words, MAGA has nothing to do with policy — hence why Trump’s re-election campaign had undefined policy objectives — but everything to do with how and what his followers “feel” and think about MAGA.

President Donald Trump gestures to supporters after speaking in the East Room of the White House, Nov. 4, 2020, in Washington, as he and Melania Trump leave. Photo credit: AP Photo/Evan Vucci.

Biden also has a brand of nostalgia and has played on the trope of an industrial America of yesteryear, where people work hard, love their families as they do their neighbours. It’s a place where “honest Joe” can acknowledge that some of the neo-liberal policies of the Democratic Party that he endorsed, including the 1994 crime bill, might have harmed African Americans — the very people whose votes he needed — but for which he, unlike Trump, is at least able to apologize and show some modicum of empathy.

Biden’s selling point, then, was that “at least” he cares. Was that enough to win over African Americans?

Black men iffy about Kamala Harris

Even with Kamala Harris, a Black woman (who also identifies as South Asian) on the ticket, African Americans have been divided about her loyalty.

While Black women were excited about Biden’s pick, many Black men were not. That wasn’t because of policy decisions as a California senator, but because of her former job as California’s attorney general, and before that, as district attorney of San Francisco where, under her tenure, Black people made up less than eight per cent of the city’s population but accounted for more than 40 per cent of police arrests.

So unlike the narrative of community organizing and activism that was attached to Barack Obama during his 2008 presidential run, a narrative that seemed to supersede his work as a senator, Harris’s past has seemingly overshadowed her Senate work, even as her votes have been in aid of Black America.

The closeness of the 2020 election has much to do with the way in which both Trump and Biden have invoked an imagined past, a narrative that suggests America needs to perpetually look back instead of looking forward.

Looking backwards

Obama’s 2008 slogans — “Change we can believe in” and the chant “Yes We Can” — were so powerful because they projected an air of possibility about the future, that things could improve and that voters had the power to make it happen.

Trump’s “Make America Great Again” and Biden’s “Battle for the Soul of America” have nothing to do with the voters or their ability to create a future; instead, both slogans send the same message — there was a time in America where things worked, where the nation was untainted by division, and that it must return to.

This act of forgetting reality by clinging to a fictive, golden-days past is reminiscent of the title-track of the 1973 film The Way We Were, starring Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford. The song, performed by Streisand, was a huge hit, No. 1 on the Billboard Year-End Hot 100 singles in 1974.

Most people don’t remember that Gladys Knight & The Pips also released an R&B cover of the same song in 1974. In the collective memory of The Way We Were, the song belongs to Streisand; it’s hard to even imagine anyone else singing that song. In other words, people forget details, but what gets remembered is the iconic. Streisand is an icon. (Knight’s an icon in her own right, but primarily among African Americans.)

Trump is iconic

Similarly, Trump is an iconic figure whose fan worship has managed to literally trump the Republican Party itself. He has convinced his loyal following to cling to the past because it was simpler then, and it gives people a chance to live out that simplicity — however fictional Democrats believe it to be — over and over again.

Our memories of the past do not matter; what matters in the Trump era is the rewriting of every line of actual historical fact. Biden has relied on empathy and sentiment to win back the presidency, to bring back a kind America with his numerous folksy “Bidenisms” while Trump has done what nobody thought was possible — he has confused the citizenry to the point where many likely can’t remember what the U.S. was like before 2016.

While Trump likes to evoke Lincoln’s name, it was Lincoln who famously said: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

America is divided. But the question is, when the dust clears and the ballots are all counted, will it still aspire to become the nation it so desperately tells itself (and the world) that it can be?

What a Trump win or loss will mean for feminism

Written by Peggy Nash, Ryerson University. Photo credit: AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh. Originally published in The Conversation.

A woman holds a sign as she attends the Women’s March in downtown Chicago, Oct. 17, 2020. Dozens of Women’s March rallies were planned to signal opposition to President Donald Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the United States, polls are pointing to a Joe Biden, Kamala Harris win on Tuesday. Media pundits are unusually cautious about polls and projections about the election outcome, and women want so badly to see the end of the “pussy-grabber-in-chief” that they almost dare not give voice to their dire wish.

If Donald Trump loses the election, he will blame everyone but himself.

If Biden becomes the next president, he needs to show women that he understands the value of their votes by making his campaign promises for women a reality. A Biden win signals to women that all their organizing, fuelled by anger and opposition to the Trump presidency, has paid off.

Demonstrators hold placards in front of the Supreme Court during the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. Photo credit: AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana.

A Trump win, on the other hand, will be demoralizing, and the anger from citizens will be unpredictable. It may once again lead to massive protests, organizing and a determination to block him that is even more fierce than before. But that anger might also turn inward in a depressing spiral as people disengage from politics and deal with profound sadness. Hopefully, that demobilization is short-lived.

Seldom has a U.S. election featured such a gender divide with such huge consequences for feminism hanging in the balance. As a former MP and leadership candidate, I teach a course that encourages young women to get involved in politics. A Trump loss signals to them that women’s votes really do matter.

The resistance

First and foremost, a Trump loss signals that the indefatigable efforts of American women to defeat this president have paid off. White working class and suburban women were criticized for supporting Trump in 2016. Immediately after Trump’s inauguration, the feminist resistance took hold, with women marching across the United States. The women’s marches of January 2017 were some of the largest demonstrations in the country’s history. Women who never thought they would attend a rally came out to protest.

The midterm elections saw more women running for office than ever before. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., left, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., are seen in U.S. Congress in February 2020. Photo credit: AP Photo/Alex Brandon.

Women’s fury was again channelled into the midterm elections when an unprecedented number of women ran for elected office and an unprecedented number won, with many firsts for diversity.

Women like Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have added their strong voices to public civic life and in the policies of the Democratic Party. Grassroots organizers from #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter mobilized tens of thousands of new activists. If this organizing pays off on Tuesday, and Trump is defeated, activists across the country will have wind in their sails and a spring in their step.

A much-needed boost

A Trump loss will steer the U.S. towards a better COVID-19 playbook. The pandemic has disproportionately impacted marginalized women — both medically and economically. It has sparked what some are calling a “she-cession.” A Trump loss would likely mean added attention to assisting women workers and providing family support, and possibly a much-needed infusion of funds.

A Trump defeat also means the U.S. elects its first woman and its first racialized vice-president. This will be a huge morale boost for feminist movements and Harris will be a role model for everyone as a woman of colour takes on the second-highest job in the land.

This may be especially inspiring for racialized American women who are disproportionately suffering from COVID-19 and economic inequality right now. Racialized women have traditionally voted Democrat.

Jackie Simmons wears a mask with a message as she attends the Women’s March in downtown Chicago on Oct. 17, 2020. Dozens of Women’s March rallies were planned from New York to San Francisco to signal opposition to President Donald Trump and his policies. Photo credit: AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh.

With the appointment of right-leaning Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court, the president has tried to ensure he survives, zombie-like, past any political death. Her appointment doesn’t change if he’s defeated. But one way to try to defend Democratic priorities important to women, such as Roe vs. Wade and Obamacare, would be to see if her appointment could be buffered by a President Joe Biden expanding the size of the court and appointing additional judges.

A better future

A second Trump term would be demoralizing for millions of women. Many will ask how far their country can regress and unravel before righting itself.

Some will ask if the U.S. has not already fundamentally changed with respect to democracy and human rights to the point that it’s unrecognizable. The thought of four more years of unravelling may be too unbearable to contemplate.

Demonstrators hold signs during a Women’s March on Oct. 17, in Los Angeles. Thousands of women rallied in U.S. cities to oppose President Donald Trump and his fellow Republican candidates in the Nov. 3 elections. Photo credit: AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez.

With abortion rights, Obamacare, housing policy and so much else at stake at the U.S. Supreme Court, a Trump second term would likely increase economic, racial, gender and democratic polarization. Many women fear not only a loss of rights but a loss of democratic freedoms and civil liberties.

Perhaps the worst outcome of a Trump win would be his triumphalism in the face of so much hard work and organizing by women to defeat him. He would not be able to resist a boastful Twitter campaign extolling his brilliance and charm.

Women are not monolithic. Trump still has many women supporters. But many other women have poured their hearts and souls into fighting for a better future. And most of them believe this hinges on a Trump/Mike Pence loss and a Biden/Harris win. If their goal becomes a reality, the new administration will need to signal that it understands who was key to putting them in office and recognize their priorities.

‘We need each other’: Black classical musicians are building supportive communities

Written by Gloria Blizzard, Dalhousie University, and Gillian Turnbull, Ryerson University. Photo credit: Pexels. Originally published in The Conversation.

An orchestra can be a hostile place for a lone Black classical instrumentalist.

Music has been significant for many during COVID-19 isolation, and in these same months Black musicians have amplified the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement.While pop or hip hop music are genres whose agility and responsiveness make them natural sites for popular commentary, this threatens to neglect other arenas of music making.

Some arts organizations in Canada have pledged support for Black Lives Matter, turned their platforms over to Black artists or spotlighted their work. Recently a virtual event aired, “Black Opera Live: Canada,” featuring acclaimed sopranos Measha Brueggergosman, Othalie Graham and Audrey DuBois Harris, produced by Black Opera Productions, a U.S. documentary film company. But what of a wider and cohesive community of Black classical instrumentalists in Canada today?

While there is a long history of professional classical musicianship in the Black community, there are gaps of knowledge about Black classical artistry in Canada.

Black classical artists may spend their careers in majority-white orchestras and small ensembles across Canada, without knowledge of others who share their experience. But this may be changing as Black classical artists are starting to tell their stories, change the trajectory of their careers, challenge how arts communities are defined and step into leadership roles where they call for systemic change.

Black classical Canada

In the United States, a 2016 study by the League of American Orchestras found that less than two per cent of musicians in American orchestras are Black.

Similar data isn’t available in Canada. A study commissioned by Orchestras Canada about orchestras’ relationships to Indigenous peoples and people of colour published in 2018 found that systemic inequity and coloniality underpinning Canadian classical music creates hierarchies reinforcing racism and cultural appropriation. Ethnomusicologist Parmela Attariwala authored the study with writer Soraya Peerbaye. Attariwala notes that because of Canada’s privacy laws, they could not compile race-related statistics about who is part of orchestras. She is now exploring the idea of orchestras taking voluntary statistical surveys.

Some prominent Black classical artists have gained newfound attention through work by Black Canadians: Conductor Brainerd Blyden-Taylor founded the Nathaniel Dett Chorale in 1998, honouring the Black Canadian-born composer and pianist. Classical singer and Nova Scotian Portia White has been the subject of several Black artists and writers and became more commonly known in 1999, through the introduction of a memorial stamp.

Although research has been broadly conducted into how colonialism, diversity initiatives and post-secondary hiring practices have affected Black participation in classical music, we have yet to see a comprehensive study of Canadian Black contributions to Canadian classical music history.

Absence of colleagues, mentors

There is no comprehensive listing of contemporary Black classical instrumentalists in Canada. As the co-authors of this story, our shared interest in classical musicianship emerged through discussions, and an interest in reporting on Black classical instrumentalists came to the fore. Of the five Black classical instrumentalists whose work we were aware of, three were available to participate in interviews.

Bassoonist Sheba Thibideau. Photo credit: Sheba Thibideau.

Black classical instrumentalists often experience their successes, as well as the subtle and overt blows of anti-Black racism without the support of colleagues and mentors who might help navigate such terrain. All were pleased to have their experiences brought to light.

Negative experiences can start early.

Bassoonist Sheba Thibideau was told that her lips were “too big” to play the flute and that she was “not suitable” for violin by the principal of her elementary school in Vancouver.

Tanya Charles Iveniuk, who is on faculty at Axis Music, the Regent Park School of Music and the University of Toronto, had an easier entry. Surrounded by the sounds of her older brother practising the piano, she announced, at age three that she wanted to play the violin. And so it was.

In university, however, both musicians described impacts of anti-Black racism. It often appeared as mysterious absence of access: to the appropriate performance-level student orchestra, to mentorship and information on how to navigate the invisible pipeline to professional life as a classical musician. They experienced micro-aggressions, at times, outright hostility or a lack of awareness of different economic circumstances.

Both question how their careers might have been different if they hadn’t spent considerable energy navigating, explaining and protecting themselves within the pressure cooker of predominantly white environments and power structures.

“I have a great career now,” says Iveniuk, “and yet, I’m haunted by that question.” This is psychic and emotional work that white (and often Asian peers) aren’t required to do.

Something is rotten

One of Iveniuk’s students, a boy of Vincentian background, like her, told her that he didn’t know that it was OK to pursue the violin until he had her as a teacher. Rarely are white musicians questioned when they explore and become expert in music from historically Black traditions. But Black children learn early what is and is not for them.

“Orchestras have a lot of work to do in this area,” says Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser, principal education conductor and community ambassador of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. He has developed some guidelines in his role. Through outreach, educational support and other consistent work in the community, orchestras can become a place where people go to hear their children and neighbours perform.

Until that work is accomplished, the orchestra can be a hostile place for the lone Black musician.

Real change

“Black people are all exhausted. I was completely burnt out after George Floyd,” says Bartholomew-Poyser. He suggests that instead of asking what to avoid saying to Black people, put them on the board or in positions of power.

As artist in residence and community ambassador of Symphony Nova Scotia, he received a call from Christopher Wilkinson, the CEO. “He asked me, ‘Do you think we could do a concert with Maritime Bhangra Group and Symphony Nova Scotia? I thought about it for three seconds. I said, ‘Yes.’”

Bartholomew-Poyser envisions the orchestra as a library of sound that can be applied to music from all over the world, not just the European canon. He arranged bhangra music for the symphony. The concert was a success.

“That is what inclusion looks like. That is vulnerability on his (Wilkinson’s) part. That is respect. That is handing over responsibility. Putting people of colour in positions of power. And trusting them with it,” he says.

Bartholomew-Poyser insists artists need to be able to talk about their experiences of micro-aggressions, “othering” and more overt harm, with each other and with their organizations. The Stratford Festival and the National Ballet of Canada were recently called out by Black artists.

The power of many

Iveniuk relished experiences of working south of the border and the opportunity to be one of many Black people in an orchestral setting. “Mind blown!” she laughs. “A whole orchestra of us?”

Thibideau has yet to have that experience. She’s dedicating 2020 to creating her own projects including a performance package to be used to entertain people in the prison system.

Iveniuk’s many projects include the Odin Quartet. and planning to train as many BIPOC kids as she can.

Bartholomew-Poyser plans to catch young BIPOC players coming up. He says support looks like money, as well as mentorship, lessons as well as transportation to and from concerts. It also looks like Black classical artists keeping in touch, he says, because “we need each other.”

In Canada’s already spread-out classical community, these vital connections will be the key to increasing the participation and visibility of Black instrumentalists.


Why hard-core Trump supporters ignore his lies

Written by Ron Stagg, Ryerson University. Photo credit: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik. Originally published in The Conversation.

Supporters cheer as U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at a Nevada rally on Sept. 13.

The United States is in a mess.

COVID-19 is raging out of control in many areas of the country. Black Lives Matter protests are disrupting cities, in some cases themselves disrupted by counter-protesters. Debates over gun control continue across the country, tornadoes, hurricanes and wildfires seem to increase in numbers and size each year.

Could matters get worse? Yes, they could, in large measure due to Donald Trump’s core supporters.

Who are these people and why is it possible, indeed likely, that they will make the situation worse?

The 20 per cent or so of Americans who follow Trump no matter what, as opposed to the other 20 plus per cent who vote for him as a Republican or because they believe he’ll cut their taxes, are largely the forgotten, the ignored, the disrespected.

In the early 20th century, those in the southern and western United States resented the federal government, largely controlled by politicians from the northeastern reaches of the country.

The West was underpopulated and felt ignored; the South was angry over the loss of the Civil War, the harsh terms of Reconstruction and the end of slavery, which had fuelled the southern economy.

The West, especially California and Texas, is now an economic powerhouse, and no longer feels ignored. In the South, however, there is still a degree of resentment that southern views are not reflected in national policies. Trump has been trying to amplify this resentment with his defence of statues of Confederate heroes and of keeping the names of Confederate officers on military bases.

Evangelical Christians

Trump’s followers are a diverse alliance. Southerners who feel ignored are just one faction within a broad alliance of citizens who feel that the national government does not serve them. One other easily identifiable group are evangelical Christians.

Non-Americans tend not to realize the scope of evangelical Christianity in the United States and are often puzzled by the many references to God in speeches by politicians, especially federal politicians.

In this January 2020 photo, faith leaders pray with President Donald Trump during a rally for evangelical supporters at the King Jesus International Ministry church in Miami. Photo credit: AP Photo/Lynne Sladky.

These are references to the idea that Americans are God’s chosen people. This is, however, not a homogeneous group, despite media generalizations. Not all are anti-abortion and anti-gay, but many have a sense that America is sliding backwards morally.

That explains why a segment of the movement supports a president who is almost certainly a serial adulterer — his speeches and his actions correspond with their concerns.

Trump was the first president to attend the annual March for Life this past January, and supporters also welcomed his appointment of social conservatives to the Supreme Court, bringing it closer, they believe, to overturning Roe vs. Wade, which legalized abortion.

Xenophobes, the economically disadvantaged

Another segment of hard-core supporters feel strongly that America is under attack by foreigners, including Central Americans crossing the southern border. They also falsely believe the Chinese sent COVID-19 to kill Americans.

Sixty years ago, these supporters would have been in the “my country right or wrong” camp supporting American involvement in the Vietnam War. They believe they are supporting traditional American values, free enterprise, hard work and white society against destructive change.

For these supporters, Trump promised the wall along the southern border to keep out “rapists,” talks often about “the Chinese virus” and says kind things about counter-protesters, even excusing the actions of the young man, Kyle Rittenhouse, accused of killing two people at a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Wisconsin.

A sizeable segment of Trump supporters, and the ones who often get the most attention, are the economically abandoned. When Trump was elected, some in the media were quick to dismiss his supporters as lacking education, and therefore unable to grasp that Trump lied, embellished the truth and stoked bigotry.

Supporters wait for Trump to speak at a Nevada rally on Sept. 13, 2020. Photo credit: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik.

That’s unfair on several levels.

For one, as corporations move their manufacturing offshore and the U.S. economy relies more on high-tech jobs, the less educated have lost their jobs, whether in the coal mines of West Virginia or the industrial areas of the Midwest.

Understandably, they’re attracted to a president who slapped tariffs on foreign countries, including China and Canada, in the hopes manufacturing jobs will return to America.

Not surprisingly, people who believe they’ve watched the American dream of “work hard and you will succeed” vanish have lost patience with politicians on Capitol Hill who seem only to care about power. And so they’ve turned to a populist, someone who seems to understand. A lot of them don’t care about Trump’s lies; they only care that he talks about their problems.

And not all of those suffering economically are manufacturing or industrial workers service with poor education. There are middle-income earners who have been hurt by the flight of industry, which resulted in regional downturns in the economy.

The news industry

Fifty years ago, a sizeable portion of the American population would tune in every evening to the nightly news on one of three networks and listen to a trusted anchor deliver the news. Now many choose either CNN or Fox, throwbacks in many ways to newspapers of the 19th century that supported one political party and framed the news to favour that party.

This combination photo shows, from left, Fox News personalities Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity. The three reach three million to four million people per weeknight with a full-throated defence of Trump. Photo credit: AP Photo.

Not surprisingly, this approach reinforces existing views of what is going on in the United States. The traditional networks have lost the large audiences of earlier years and local news in most markets has become infotainment.

Many people, even those who didn’t bother watching news in past, now get a quick fix from the internet, the source of much of the “fake news” that Trump claims the mainstream media circulate, but really originates in the minds of internet fraudsters.

How many times, for example, have we heard that COVID-19 is a Chinese biological weapon, sent to destroy the American population?

Can we blame lack of education for Trump support when even well-educated individuals have their views of the world reinforced by what they see on the internet or on a cable news channel?

Throw in a number of militant supporters of small government and lower taxes, and you have the hard-core Trump supporters.

Violence a real possibility

Many who identify with these different groups may fall into more than one category; for instance, evangelical Christians who are angry about the de-industrialization of America.

Why are Trump supporters likely to make the situation worse this election?

The answer should be obvious. When a group feels that something critical has been denied them for a long time, its members will protest. If the protest still does not bring about change, some or all will resort to violence to try to force change.

Among the staunch Trump supporters are those who will merely vote for him, those who will demonstrate for him — something Trump encourages — and those who will use violence in order to ensure the re-election of the man they see as their only potential saviour. Violence is a real possibility as the campaign progresses.

Should Trump lose to Joe Biden, the new president must quickly show sympathy towards the economic issues embodied in the pro-Trump movement and empathy towards the more contentious goals of Trump’s supporters, or it is almost certain the violence will escalate.

Call in the women! Chrystia Freeland and Kamala Harris’s new roles respond to the times

Written by Peggy Nash, Ryerson University. Photo credit: The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld. Originally published in The Conversation.

Chrystia Freeland became the Finance Minister after Bill Morneau resigned in the wake of the WE scandal.

What a groundbreaking week this has been in North America, with great excitement about two appointments that shatter glass ceilings.

In the United States, Senator Kamala Harris, former California attorney general, has just been nominated as the running mate for 77-year-old Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. Harris is the third woman be nominated for such a position, and as the daughter of Indian and Jamaican parents, she is the first racialized woman.

Also this week, Chrystia Freeland has been named as the first woman finance minister in Canada. I had dreamt that I would be the one breaking through that particular glass ceiling when I was the official opposition finance critic for the NDP. It was not to be, but I am delighted for Freeland. There have been women who’ve run the finances provincially in Canada, but never federally, until now. These changes offer hope to girls and young women everywhere.

But change takes such an awfully long time. As we look around the world there are only 16 elected world leaders who are women — about 10 per cent. Neither Canada nor the U.S. has ever had a woman elected to the very top position. Corporate board rooms don’t fare much better: only 17 per cent of CEOs globally are women.

Both Harris and Freeland assume their positions in the midst of troubling times, leading some to ask why does it take a crisis to promote women? And the answer seems to be because they perform very well.

Fumbling missteps

The current U.S. administration has mismanaged its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in more cases and deaths than any other country. The Black Lives Matter protests have challenged the racialized impact of policing and the continued dominance of white privilege in political, corporate, economic and social life. In the U.S., there are fears that their very democracy is at risk due to the actions of President Trump.

Harris breathes life, generational change, energy and excitement into the Democratic campaign to win back the presidency. She should motivate progressive, young, racialized and women voters to get out and unseat the current president. And while her nomination in this election is ground-breaking, if she can make it to the next level, to the presidency, she may well help the United States fully recover from its bout of ill temper and instability.

Here, in Canada, how unfortunate that the Liberal government is mired in its third major ethics scandal. Having been found in violation of ethics rules twice before, the prime minister was desperate to change the political channel, but just when the government released thousands of documents about the WE scandal, the former finance minister, Bill Morneau, resigned. Freeland, a former journalist and author, then replaced him; she remains as the deputy prime minister.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appears as a witness via videoconference during a House of Commons finance committee on July 30. The committee is looking into government spending, WE Charity and the Canada Student Service Grant. PHOTO CREDIT: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Freeland has demonstrated her negotiating chops in renewing the NAFTA agreement and as the point person on intergovernmental affairs. She is talented, competent and experienced. She can do the finance job, and many are seeing her as a future prime minister — so it’s sad that she is seen by some as a political fig leaf.

Send in the cavalry

Without question, both Harris and Freeland are strong, accomplished and up to their new jobs. Perhaps this is the best time to call in the women to fix so much of what is wrong with politics. Some argue that if we compare the record of women leaders during the pandemic, these women perform very well, especially when compared with strongman leaders.

Even with a gender-equal cabinet, Canada ranks 61st in the world for the representation of women in national parliaments. This is shameful and we need to elect more women MPs who represent the broad diversity of Canada.

But history is not destiny.

Looking around the world, there is a new generation of women leaders such as Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand and Sanna Marin and her coalition of five young women leaders in Finland, who have been providing excellent leadership.

Whether in Canada, the U.S., New Zealand or Finland, we expect that this next generation will not only aspire to power for themselves, but they will open the doors of power to better representation. Enough of shattering glass ceilings: just equality please.

Trump’s attempts to ban TikTok and other Chinese tech undermine global democracy

Written by Philip Mai, Ryerson University. Photo credit Shutterstock. Originally published in The Conversation.

Banning TikTok in the United States poses a threat to global democracy.

The Trump administration aims to purge Chinese tech companies from the United States, and that has consequences for all of us.

U.S. President Donald Trump and his administration recently issued three new national security measures: an expansion of the State Department’s Clean Network initiative and two executive orders. The Clean Network initiative forbids the use of Chinese tech in the U.S. telecom system and prevents app stores such as Google Play and the Apple App Store from offering certain Chinese apps.

The two executive orders ban U.S. persons and businesses from doing business with two Chinese companies: Tencent Holdings, owner of the WeChat app, and ByteDance Ltd., owner of the viral video-sharing app TikTok.

A man wears a TikTok shirt.
The Trump administration has been taking measure to ban TikTok and other Chinese technologies from the U.S. Photo credit: AP Photo/Ng Han Guan.

Dancing into trouble

At first glance, it seems strange that a social media app aimed at teenagers could be at the centre of a global controversy over national security and privacy concerns. TikTok is best known as a platform for teens and young adults to share short videos of themselves dancing or lip-syncing to their favourite songs.

According to Trump, TikTok is collecting and sending personal data about Americans directly to the Chinese government. The administration is also worried that, in the future, the app can be used as a conduit for spreading disinformation to Americans. At this point, all these fears are hypothetical. TikTok has consistently rejected these accusations — even the Central Intelligence Agency agrees that the app does not pose a threat.

Since 2018, TikTok has been downloaded two billion times worldwide. Its success represents the first real challenge to dominant U.S.-based social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. In the U.S., TikTok has been downloaded 165 million times.


According to a new survey report, the “State of Social Media in Canada 2020,” TikTok is now one of the top 10 most popular social media apps in Canada. Fifteen per cent of online Canadians over the age of 18 reported having an account; TikTok is the only Chinese-owned social media platform to achieve a 10 per cent adoption rate in Canada.

Tech fault lines

These actions by the U.S. government represent a major break along a geopolitical and technological fault line between China and the U.S. that has been building for over 20 years and could signal the beginning of a new Cold War between the two states.

In recent years, privacy has become a national security concern in Washington. U.S. policy-makers have been alarmed about the volume of personal data gushing out of the U.S. via social media apps, computer hacking and foreign acquisitions of American firms. This treasure trove of data can be used to build profiles of Americans, commit all manner of financial fraud and even be used for blackmail.

In 2018, the U.S. prevented a company owned by Chinese billionaire Jack Ma from buying MoneyGram over fears that American banking data would be leaked to the Chinese government.

In 2019, the U.S. ordered another Chinese company, Kunlun, to sell Grindr, a dating app for gay, bi, trans and queer people, to an American investor group. The argument was made that the app’s database contained sensitive personal information such as a user’s location, messages and HIV status.

According to the U.S. Department of State, these latest decrees are part of “the Trump Administration’s comprehensive approach to safeguarding the nation’s assets including citizens’ privacy and companies’ most sensitive information from aggressive intrusions by malign actors, such as the Chinese Communist Party.”

A ‘digital Berlin Wall’

At first glance, these measures look like a reasonable response against a repressive government with a reputation for using electronic data to control and imprison its own citizens. But in a bid to divide the online world between itself and China, the U.S. government might have inadvertently started the construction of a new “digital Berlin Wall.” And like all walls, this new digital wall can lock people in just as well as it can keep people out.

This lays the groundwork for the end of an open and free internet and may accelerate the creation of a splinternet, whereby a country or groups of countries fracture the world wide web into a series of walled sections shaped according to their own politics. The splinternet is becoming a reality. These crude measures by the U.S. brings U.S. tech policy in line with China and other authoritarian regimes.

In response to these moves, the Internet Society, a group founded in 1992 by internet pioneers Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn, warned that “[h]aving a government dictate how networks interconnect according to political considerations rather than technical considerations runs contrary to the very idea of the internet. Such interventions will significantly impact the agility, resiliency and flexibility of the internet.”

Challenge to global democracy

With these attempts to extend control over foreign ownership of social media apps and platforms, the internet becomes a tool to limit democratic freedoms. These actions will further legitimize and embolden governments around the world to interfere with or shut down the internet whenever it is politically expedient. Long-term and frequent internet interference can cause the systematic and structural erosion of freedom of expression and freedom of speech.

Platform ownership matters, especially the foreign kind. Trump’s action against TikTok is a gift to Facebook, which recently launched TikTok copycat feature Instagram Reels. Forcing the sale of TikTok in the U.S. will also be a win for whichever company purchases it.

In the long run, however, these executive orders likely will remind regulators around the world, but especially those in the European Union, about the strategic importance of foreign ownership of communication platforms. Citing data privacy and national security, many countries will likely pass new cyber-sovereignty laws, making it more difficult for foreign companies to operate. Long-term fallouts from this policy include increased operating costs, which in turn will impact large tech companies such as Google and Facebook the most.

With litigation pending and talks of fire sales and shotgun weddings to Microsoft or some other western tech company, the fate and legality of Trump’s executive measures are still in doubt.

If cyber sovereignty and the splinternet take root, we are in for some troubling times ahead for global democracy. Whether Trump intended to or not, he has set in motion changes that might fundamentally undermine the internet as we know it.