Ontario politics: nothing to be smug about

I remember when the US election results from 2016 came out. So many Canadians were walking around all smug and confident that we would never elect a public official like Trump.

Wake up and smell your double double folks – Doug Ford has delivered a smack down to that smugness in the form of severe and crushing blows to marginalized and vulnerable citizens. There are a boatload of negative actions engaged in by the Conservatives since taking power which will affect the average Ontarian as well.

Some say much of the vengeance is emanating from Dean French, Ford’s Chief of Staff. The source doesn’t matter; the outcome does.

So let’s look at the slashing the Conservatives have dealt to the social fabric of Ontario:

  • rent Control for new builds – cause there’s not a rental crisis in major cities right?
  • elimination of Bill 148, the bill which gave wage protections for workers, specifically part-time workers; this bill included a minimum wage hike
  • withdrawing the pilot project for basic income
  • stopped the opening of safe-injections sites
  • eliminated the Child and Youth Commissioner (who monitors and investigates abuse with the welfare system)
  • dropped the plan to spend $100 million for repairing schools – the actual physical buildings
  • repealed the 2015 Health curriculum
  • stopped the sessions for the rewriting of Indigenous education curriculum – counterintuitive to the Reconciliation process – updates were a significant recommendation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
  • slashed the size of Toronto city council – reducing the levels of representation for the province’s largest city
  • eliminated the Environment Commissioner who makes sure the Province abides by environmental laws
  • scrapped the Cap and Trade program
  • ended the Green Ontario Fund
  • ended the Drive Clean program for emission testing
  • fired Molly Shoichet, Ontario’s Chief Scientist
  • cut the French Language Commissioner – along with scrapping a proposed French language university
  • withdrew funding for three satellite campuses for Ontario universities (Ryerson, Sheridan and Laurier/Conestoga College)
  • narrowed the program offering free prescriptions for children and adults under 25
  • pulled support for federal refugee resettlements
  • has delayed work around the police oversight law

But hey, you can buy beer for a buck and have open access to pot.

There is some confusion about exactly what happened yesterday regarding a resolution around gender identity. Originally news sources said the resolution passed; in fact, the resolution is being put forward for debate.

Either way, it sucks. To propose to debate the inclusion of gender identity in any way, shape or form IN 2018 is appalling.

The resolution says gender identity theory is “A highly controversial, unscientific ‘liberal ideology’; and, as such, that an Ontario PC Government will remove the teaching and promotion of ‘gender identity theory’ from Ontario schools and its curriculum.” 

Good grief, it’s like Trump is a ghostwriter for the Ontario PC party.

The Ford government is taking Ontario in a very scary direction and Andrew Sheer is attempting the same thing on a much bigger scale.

So, yes, what happened, is happening, will continue to happen in the States – negativity, intolerance, hatred, polarizing views – can and is happening here.

Peace on earth seems a rather tall order for Christmas this year.

From here to there: the medium fast way to Vancouver

After driving from Toronto to Vancouver (via Montana, Idaho, and Washington state), I can safely say – again – this land is amazing.

So many people – myself included – have been to many places around the world without fully exploring our own country. I have been to every province – some multiple times – but I have not been to the north. I have not visited even one territory.

I also don’t know the real history of this land. I’m trying to remedy that.

I want to say I will never drive that cross-country drive again; I said the same thing 35 years ago when we moved from Calgary to Toronto. Once across the prairies seemed like enough. But, I somehow did it again and enjoyed it.

Mostly. Not the snow. Or the cracked windshield.

But other than that, I’d say it was a success.

Good company helps; my best friend Maureen (Mo), who had been my constant companion on road trips with my children when hubby was unavailable, came along for this latest ride. She brought show tunes and was keeper of the TripTik. She’s comfortable with long silences and my tendency towards getting hangry.

She also swore there was a field of cow statues somewhere on the prairies, but that’s a whole other story.

The trip started with taking a photo with me and the car that was heading for its new West Coast home. Then I headed to the Beaches/Beach area of Toronto where Mo lives and it didn’t take long to be reminded: Ontario is SO BIG.IMG_7152.jpgMississauga, Ontario: traditional land of the Anishinabewaki and Huron-Wendat and Haudenosauneega Confederacy. 

The first night was spent in Sault Ste. Marie at one of the many really nice hotel/motels we stayed in. Simple, clean accommodation – that’s all I care about. I forgot my water bottle after the first night so we stopped in a place called Pancake Bay. Inside a little store attached to this wood carving shop there were water bottles and bait, and all things hunting and fishing.IMG_7195Pancake Bay, Ontario: traditional land of the Metis and Anishinabewaki.  

The tourist complex also had a bathroom – my teeny tiny bladder often was the motivator for our stops throughout the day. Mo, on the other hand, is like my daughter: she can go all day without a series of bathroom breaks.

Often the bathrooms were, well, basic.IMG_7224.jpgThunder Bay, Ontario: traditional land of the Metis and Anishinabewaki.  

It took us two days to get from Toronto to Thunder Bay. Not full-out driving, but about eight hours per day. Although it was late September, there was a significant chill in the air, and it frequently poured rain, but we did pop out once in a while for shots of the incredible skies and water.nbg6HRBgSA6G9Di9MpgThunder Bay: traditional land of the Metis and Anishinabewaki.  

You cannot go to Thunder Bay without stopping by the Terry Fox Memorial. It’s not exactly at the spot that Fox’s run ended but the memorial is very well done and it is in a beauty of a location.IMG_7217.jpgIMG_7221.jpgThunder Bay: traditional land of the Metis and Anishinabewaki.

After Thunder Bay, we still had more Ontario to go, but it was a gorgeous day to start. IMG_7231.jpgMachin, Ontario: traditional land of the Metis and Anishinabewaki.

Once you hit the Manitoba border two things happen: the roads get very rough and the land gets FLAT. IMG_7237.jpgSte. Anne, Manitoba: traditional land of the Metis and Anishinabewaki and Očeti Šakówiŋ (Sioux)

We stayed in Winnipeg for the night, shortly after passing through the longitudinal centre of Canada. Yup, it’s a thing. I didn’t get a photo, but really, it’s a thing.

An unexpected treat in Manitoba, Neepawa to be exact, was seeing the home of Margaret Laurence. Laurence is a bit of a hero of mine. Her book, The Diviners, was the first non-children’s book I read – I literally graduated from Harriet the Spy to The Diviners. Laurence made me fall in love with complicated characters and stories.IMG_7265.jpgNeepawa, Manitoba: traditional land of the Metis and Anishinabewaki and Očeti Šakówiŋ (Sioux)

Saskatchewan held its own surprises in the form of SNOW.IMG_7276.jpgOrkney, Saskatchewan: traditional land of the Metis and Očeti Šakówiŋ (Sioux)

This is not the snow at its heaviest; at that point I was calling hubby and asking him to check the weather radar to see if we needed to pull over.

Side note: we had chosen our driving route based on a couple of factors. Firstly, we wanted to stay in Canada as much as possible. Secondly, we wanted to visit family in both Edmonton and Calgary. Lastly, and the biggest wrinkle, we had to avoid driving through BC other than the Lower Mainland because it is required that you have snow tires as of October 1st on BC highways. Theoretically, the snow tires for this car were already in Vancouver (and they weren’t but that too is another story).

So, on this day in Saskatchewan, we were driving with all season tires and the cars approaching us were very heavily covered with snow. Hence the call to the hubby to ask how long this snow was likely to last. Funny enough, he said 20 minutes at most and it was about 17 (I mean really, who was watching the road while I was watching the clock?).

It was slushy and slippery and gross. But then, it wasn’t. It was just dry, flat highways. IMG_7283.jpgPrairie Rose, Saskatchewan: traditional land of the Metis and Anishinabewaki and Očeti Šakówiŋ (Sioux)

The next day, after a night in Saskatoon (and some pretty good sushi), we headed out to more flat landscapes and GRAIN ELEVATORS!IMG_7292.jpgLashburn, Saskatchewan: traditional land of the Metis and Cree and Očeti Šakówiŋ (Sioux)

We tried to capture provincial border signs whenever possible. Just because that’s what you do.IMG_7268.jpgManitoba/Saskatchewan border: traditional land of the Metis and Anishinabewaki and Očeti Šakówiŋ (Sioux)

But when you travel a more northern route between Saskatchewan and Alberta, you go through Lloydminster and you simply cross over a street with a large marker. Some time later you see the Welcome to Alberta sign. It’s one of those quirky things of the prairies.IMG_7293.jpgLloydminster, Saskatchewan/Alberta: traditional land of the Metis and Cree and Očeti Šakówiŋ (Sioux)

Along with big Ukrainian Easter Eggs (pysanka).IMG_7294.jpgVegreville, Alberta: traditional land of the Plains Cree and Métis and Cree and Očeti Šakówiŋ (Sioux)

One of the BEST sites while travelling came shortly before we arrived at my sister’s home. Elk Island is a National Park east of Sherwood Park and Edmonton. Elk Island is home to a lot of wildlife and has the highest concentration of hoofed animals but the coolest – in my opinion – are the bison. There are currently more bison in the park than there were in all of North America in the late 1800s. There was a concerted effort on the part of Parks Canada to increase the bison population. The area was first created to protect Elk, hence the name.

Thanks to Wikipedia and the Elk Island Parks Canada site for info. IMG_7299.jpgIMG_7306.jpgElk Island, Alberta: traditional land of the Plains Cree and Métis and Cree

When Mo and I were at the site, there was such a noise coming from the bison. I tried to capture it but instead, I caught Mo and I discussing how they sounded like snoring (a bit of theme for our trip!).

Elk Island, Alberta: traditional land of the Plains Cree and Métis and Cree

A few days later, I headed to Elk Island again with my daughter (who had flown to Edmonton to meet us) and my sister. It was a beautiful day and it made me super happy to have two of my favourite women hanging out. IMG_7325.jpgIMG_7328.jpgIMG_7300.jpgElk Island, Alberta: traditional land of the Plains Cree and Métis and Cree

After a few days of rest and relaxation at my sister’s home – where it felt like we were in a luxury hotel – and visits with my mom, we headed south to Calgary for a lunch with my sister by choice and my niece and then into Montana.

Calgary had a huge amount of snow, but the roads were clear for the day. We woke up the next morning in Browning, Montana. The two lane highway with a very high speed limit was pretty empty and the scenery was amazing. IMG_7355 2.jpgIMG_7362.jpgBrowning, Montana: traditional land of the Métis and Niitsítapi (ᖹᐟᒧᐧᒣᑯ, Blackfoot) and

The day was spent rushing along through Montana and – blink! we pretty much missed Idaho. We landed in Spokane for the night. It was Mo’s birthday and I had found a restaurant where the chef also had celiac. Not that I wish that on anyone, but it meant we were assured ‘safe for us’ and delicious food. It was amazing.  IMG_7372.jpgIMG_7373.jpgSpokane, Washington: traditional land of the Spokane and Pend d’Oreille and Ktunaxa 

I’ll be honest – my mouth is watering remember the delicious meal.

Our last morning was a sign of the day to come – clouds and mist. It poured rain most of the day. We crossed the border and things cleared up and we admittedly cheered. We were happy to be near the end, even though it had been a great trip. IMG_7242.jpgAfter the windshield was fixed and the paperwork to transfer the car complete, I flew back home. I love Vancouver so much (and especially my favourite newlyweds!) and if I didn’t have a job to go back to, I probably would have stayed a while. IMG_7394.jpgVancouver, British Columbia: traditional land of the Tsleil-Waututh (səl̓ilwətaɁɬ) and Skwxwú7mesh Úxwumixw and S’ólh Téméxw (Stó:lō) and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm

Leaving my daughter is never fun, but this time there was a bonus the day after I got back: my son moved home from Boston after living and working there for five years. My hubby had taken a road trip to pick him up and similar to five years earlier, I was on the West Coast with my daughter and hubby and my son were moving him to a new job. IMG_7413.jpgMississauga, Ontario: traditional land of the Anishinabewaki and Huron-Wendat and Haudenosauneega Confederacy. 

Yes, this land is pretty amazing.

Acknowledging that it has a history and a meaning to it that is not what we have been taught and believe is something that needs to change.

If you wonder about the real history of where you live and travel, I have found this website useful as a starting point.

Podcast mood: my view of the world will never be the same and that’s a good thing

I recently began commuting using only public transit or my own two feet. This means that I have plenty of time to have my mind broadened and my heart broken by podcasts.

Podcasts are the way in which I am learning more about the world, the real world that I have known nothing about because of who I am, how I look, and the fact that I have been afforded good fortune that has surrounded me throughout the vast majority of my life.

I recently listened to the description of the brutal death of Helen Betty Osborne on the podcast Someone Knows SomethingI stood at the GO bus terminal, looking at the sky, and cried.

Why? Why did her story have to be this way?

Helen Betty Osborne was a young woman from Norway House, Manitoba. She had been sent to residential school; she later attended an “integrated” high school (Indigenous and non-Indigenous students) where she faced considerable racism. One of the people who harassed her eventually killed her.

Helen Betty is one of countless murdered and missing Indigenous women in Canada.

Listen to her story.

Another CBC podcast, Missing and Murdered: Finding Cleoexplains the story of Cleo Nicotine Semaganis who was taken from her family during the Sixties Scoop.

Listen to her story.

These stories, these lives, these women and girls – they deserved more. They deserved better. They deserved people beyond their own communities taking a stand and demanding change.

I had a prof once say that the story of anthropology ruins everything – you can’t unhear or unlearn what it brings to your life and your mind. That’s how I feel about these podcasts.

The real question is how do the families go on, continuing to fight for justice in a system that seems to be more interested in denial of culpability than seeking the truth?

I live with these stories for moments while listening to them. These women, their families – it’s a life sentence.

Another podcast, Out in the Open, recently talked about what it means to be an ally.

When the #metoo movement had a major resurgence last year, my daughter reached out and told me “I hear you”. It meant so much to me – I felt supported and loved and heard. It was more than enough. It was everything.

That’s why I have made a commitment to, as much as humanly possible, listen to women’s stories. Many stories end in tragedy, in lives cut short by people who cared nothing for the potential of women’s lives. Even when the story does not result in a woman’s death, too many result in a woman’s future – and that of her family – being negatively impacted.

I have struggled with understanding what being an ally means in the context of other situations though. Is it enough to send money, donate items, walk in a protest? Is that being an ally?

Is it when I call out people for their actions and remarks?

All those mean I care. But is that enough? If I can’t help to affect change what good am I? Am I doing this to alleviate my guilt? Have I asked what it is I can do or am I imposing my version of help on someone else?

There was a line in the Out in the Open show about how as an ally you can walk away – I can support someone’s cause but I can choose to take a break. I don’t have the lived experience of being from a marginalized group – of being a person of colour – of being LBGTQ – of being homeless – of being disabled.

I don’t get it.

On the Out in the Open show, Feminista Jones shared her perspective of what real support looks like – not doing something to get a pat on the back or that feel good moment – but being a ‘co-conspirator’, someone who “just does the work with the communities they are trying to help” without trying to tell those communities how to do it, or be recognized for doing it. Someone willing to work to break down the systems which oppress – even if those systems are ones in which you benefit from yourself.

What I do get is this: hearing those lived experiences expressed on podcasts or in books or on Twitter – I am confronted by my ignorance of people’s lives and their day-to-day (moment to moment) realities, challenges and heartaches.

And sometimes I do hit stop. I can walk away and not have to deal with the harshness.

That is truly where my privilege resides.