Diverse Voices for Change Workshop Reflection

Diverse Voices for Change Workshop Reflection

i Jun 13th No Comments by

I signed up for the event:  “Diverse Voices for Change Workshop – Engaging Women in Municipal Government” with a simple goal: to meet people and hear their diverse stories. This goal was not only well achieved but also vastly exceeded after the two-day extensive and intensive workshop.

The workshop was compact in design and rich in content. There were activities for participants to talk deeply with each other; carefully-chosen municipal issues to discuss, and role play scenarios to experience door-to-door campaigning. There was also hands-on advice on how to run a campaign step by step. What’s more, we were very fortunate to have the opportunity to talk with three female city councillors discussing some challenges specifically facing women, such as how to balance between career and family and how to express oneself in a male-dominated political arena.

I learned so much from the workshop, but what was more rewarding was getting to know so many outstanding women participants. We have an entrepreneur who owns a consulting business and runs a NGO website as a single mother/grandmother; a strong woman who had suffered so much hardship in the past but strived hard to shape a better future, never thinking of giving up; and a 20 year-old young college student who has already been active in NGOs for years and has designed a detailed 10-year working plan toward her dream.

I always know that people, especially women are all incredible individuals, and as the Ancient Chinese Saint Confucius once said, “Three people walking together, there must be a teacher of mine among them”. That is why I’m always keen to talk to people. But this two-day interaction let me feel more convinced that everyone is each other’s teacher and what I learned from them will be beneficial for a lifetime.

Frankly speaking, I was not really in to politics. I’ve always been fascinated by culture and the humanities, which seemed warm and robust, and on the contrary, politics seemed cold and pretentious. But the talk with the three female councillors changed my view completely. Sitting in front of us were ordinary women just like us – mothers, wives – who never thought about entering politics. It was a love for community and a passion to improve the status quo that brought them to the seat of city council, where they are able to transfer that love and passion to real policies helping ordinary people like me. 

So I ask myself, and I’m sure many are thinking the same question, if they can achieve this, why can’t I? Maybe not entering politics at this moment, but there are so many things that I can do right now using my skills. I’ll certainly continue to do what I’ve always liked – networking, communicating with people, and participating in all kinds of grass root activities. And besides that, I’ll try to contribute by volunteering, with the first step as volunteering for Women & Politics, for immigrant employment, an issue facing most newcomers like me, or just writing this blog post. 

Small steps matter too. Small steps, when gathered together, pave a long way.

Yihan Li came to London from China in July 2016 with her husband. Before that, she also lived in Japan for seven years. She worked as an online sales & marketing manager in the tourism Industry for six years. Her interest areas include digital marketing, E-commerce, travel, and yoga. It is also one of her greatest passions to embrace new cultures and interact with people of different backgrounds.  

On Ranked Ballots: A One-on-One with Minneapolis councillor Linea Palmisano

i Apr 17th No Comments by

Councillor Linea Palmisano

In 2006, the U.S. city of Minneapolis, MN., voted to move away from traditional voting to use Ranked Choice Voting in municipal elections.  The city has held two elections using ranked choice.

Coun. Linea Palmisano is now running as an incumbent, four years after being elected through a ranked ballot vote. She spoke with Women and Politics about the impact ranked ballots had on her decision to enter politics.

W&P: You have said you wouldn’t have run for council in a traditional first-past-the-post voting system.

LP: Yes. I believe that to be true. I grew up in the Chicago area and saw how people get ripped down in politics. It can be kind of a nasty environment. I had a full-time job and a one-and-a-half year old at the time. I wasn’t ready to get into a ring and fight, but I wanted to do good. . . the more respectable, more civilized world of ranked choice lends itself to more people getting involved.

W&P: What makes it more respectable, more civilized?

LP:  In a more traditional campaign landscape, (campaign managers) quickly define who you are, get the people who they know will vote for you. . . .and then you attack (your opponent), push them into a corner.

The whole premise of ranked choice is that by nature, by strategy you’d have to be more friendly, because you are asking people to consider you as their second choice. You are speaking to to a wider audience  . . . You are getting their feedback, you are learning what they want, you aren’t trying to talk about such a polarizing campaign.

W&P: Some say ranked choice voting would lead to more women candidates and more women being engaged. What do you think?

LP: Definitely. I think it allows us to be thoughtful, to be who we are, to engage more people.The other woman who got into my race would do events at the park explaining ranked choice voting with favourite flavours of ice cream. You get to cast a wider net that way. It’s a way to increase participation, which is attractive to women who have informal networks, being on the block, their work networks, other moms at school, at the park. For some reason running around to different events is still mostly a women’s domain.

W&P: What is your political background?

LP: I didn’t grow up wanting to be a politician, but I want to do good and I feel like public service is a way I can do good in the world and govern well. The kind of environment ranked choice voting allows for enables you to do that, to be yourself. There’s a lot more space to be in the grey area.

W&P: What were your platforms in 2013?

LP: The big buckets were about building a more prosperous, sustainable and connected city.  By prosperous I do mean equity. Making everybody successful. Sustainable . . . I’m a bit of an environmental nerd. I could differentiate myself from my opponent with that.  Connected was about mass transit

W&P: So ranked choice is the way to go?

LP: An advantage of ranked choice is you get to define the conversation more. Define the issues, the talking points…You get to have more of a conversation.

Jennifer O’Brien is a journalist in London, Ontario.

Ranked Ballot Public Participation Meeting

Saturday, April 22
11:00 a.m.
City Hall

Ranked Ballots: The Case for Greater Diversity

i Apr 14th No Comments by

As London prepares for a public discussion on whether to become Canada’s first city to move to “ranked ballots” — a voting method that would change the way we elect local government — it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of an overhaul.

For Women and Politics, that includes looking at if and how ranked ballots can lead to more women on city council.

Are women underrepresented at the municipal level in London?

Only four of London’s 14 city councillors are women. So, yes. Yes, we are.

Can a new way of voting – one in which voters rank their choice of candidates – change that? Supporters say yes.

Not only is ranked ballot voting more democratic than first-past-the-post elections – through which you can win with only 30% of the vote (meaning 70% of voters didn’t choose you) if that’s more than each of the other candidates got – advocates say it encourages women women to enter municipal politics, and leads to gender equity, multiculturalism and diversity on city council.

“It’s not like women aren’t getting elected under a first-past-the-post system, but the number of women elected is desperately under-representative of the population,” explains Katherine Skene of Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto. “Just electing a women to the position of mayor doesn’t say we’ve solved our gender problem. A council with a few racialized candidates, it’s not good enough. We aren’t getting there fast enough. If we know the system is a barrier, we need to change the system.

“Ranked choice is a way to a better more representative government that is more diverse, that is gender balanced.”

 How ranked ballots work:

On voting day, citizens are asked to rank their choices for mayoral and ward candidates. Instead of putting an X beside one name, you’d put a 1, 2 or 3. It’s kind of how we make other decisions, such as what type of ice cream we want. (Gold Medal Ribbon, obviously, but if they don’t have it — and why doesn’t anybody carry that? It’s delicious! — chocolate will do the trick.)

 **It’s important to note, voters don’t have to rank candidates. You can still vote the traditional way – choose your top candidate and leave the rest empty.

 Once polls close, if a candidate receives at least 50% of the votes, he or she wins that race. If nobody gets half, the person with the least votes is dropped and “second choice” votes from that candidate’s ballots are redistributed. The cycle continues until someone ends up with half the votes and wins.

 Why are we talking about change now?

The province made changes to the Municipal Elections Act, giving municipalities the option of using ranked ballots. So far, no cities have taken the province up on its offer and cities have until May 1, 2017 to decide. Other cities have turned it down, saying it’s too costly. In London, staff has recommended against ranked ballots for the next election due to uncertainties about whether the city will have a working system in place by then.

Why ranked ballots could encourage more women and diverse candidates, including people of colour and people with different abilities, gender identities, ages and more

What happens in political races is this: People who want an incumbent out throw their support behind the candidate they want who is most likely to beat that incumbent. Candidates are already being groomed for London’s 2018 election. And often, a candidate that is seen as strong enough to get capture a good portion of the vote, but not a guaranteed winner is asked to step out of the race in effort to ensure the preferred candidate gets the maximum amount of votes.

“The candidates that tend to get asked not to run are often women and people of colour,” said Skene. “They are seen as candidates that can’t win, but can siphon of enough of the vote so the other (unwanted) candidate could win.”

“Non-establishment people tend to be women, people of colour, new Canadians, people from an economically disadvantaged background. They will say two years before, “I can’t run, because so-and-so is running and I don’t want to split the vote.’

“With ranked ballots, suddenly you have a race where you can’t split the vote.”

Critics, including Fair Vote Canada, say there’s no statistical evidence to back up the theory ranked ballots lead to greater diversity among candidates.

But ranked ballot supporters say the lack of evidence is linked to the lack of cities using ranked ballots. While provincial and federal parties use the method to elect leaders, and a few U.S. cities have gone that way, no Canadian cities use ranked choice.

So, they defer to common sense:

“Say you’ve got an unpopular city councillor and a whole bunch of people who want to defeat that councillor. The councillor still has a good chance of winning because the others will split the vote,” explains Dave Meslin, also of RaBIT.

“And the incumbent is often a white man, because white men still hold positions of power.”

Positive Campaigns?

Ranked ballots discourage mudslinging and negative campaigning, say supporters.

With ranked votes, candidates do better when they run positive campaigns, get fresh ideas out there and reach out to community members, including their opponents, so people see them as a viable second choice, according to Jeanne Massey of Fair Vote Minnesota.

“It favours candidates who are more consensus building and collaborative in nature, and . . . In general, women are more more apt to run that way. They’ll win more often,” says Massey.

But . . .

Critics say the method is complicated and confusing to voters and can lead to spoiled ballots.

They say the confusion will lower voter turnout.

However, in recent months, city staff have held demonstrations with members of the public, using fruit as election candidates and asking people to rank their fruit of choice.

City Clerk Cathy Saunders tells Women and Politics the sessions were effective in simplifying the concept of ranked ballots for voters: “What we did at each session was manually did a count. We had people coming to sit down and do a count so they could clearly understand how it works. It’s complicated to explain, but once you do the count, it’s easy.”

What now?

The city has also produced a video – sadly using stick people instead of fruit – posted to the city website along with information about ranked voting at www.london.ca. You can add your voice to a public survey on the site too.

The city is holding a public participation meeting on ranked ballots, April 22, 11 a.m. at City Hall. Women & Politics hopes to see you there.

Jennifer O’Brien is a journalist in London, Ontario.

Women’s March: A Call to Action

i Feb 23rd No Comments by

Remarks originally delivered at the London’s Women’s March on January 22, 2017 by Suze Morrison.

I want to talk to you today about why we need more women in politics.

The United Nations has a bench mark. It’s a threshold of women in power that is needed for our issues, our needs, to be properly addressed in policy and decision making. This minimum representation is 30 per cent. In Canada, on average, whether you are looking at municipal, provincial, or federal levels of government, women only make up 25 per cent of our elected officials. In Canada, we are not meeting a minimum requirement in our government to ensure women’s issues are adequately represented.

When policy and decisions are made without us, they can not be informed by the realities of womanhood. By the realities and the lived experiences of my sisters who are not just women, but Indigenous women, Black women, immigrant women, women with disabilities, Queer Women, Trans Women, and two-spirted. Our voices – your voices – are needed. They are required.

If we have learned anything from our southern neighbours, it is that we can not rest. We can not pause. We can not say that 25 percent is enough. Because if we don’t keep fighting to gain equitable ground, the very ground underneath us will slip away and we will find ourselves moving backwards.

Backwards towards policy that excludes us, that seeks to take away our rights, and that minimizes the intersectional struggle of so many of our sisters.

My first ask of  you today –  is to run.

And, while I hope this call to arms is one that the young girls in this crowd will hear, I also know we can not wait for the next generation to stand up and stand in their power. Our work starts now, and I want every woman in this crowd to know that your voice is needed. That you can and should run. That you have the qualifications. That your lived experience makes you a better, stronger, leader. And that we need you.

I want every woman here, to silence any voices you hear that give you any seed of doubt. Know that you are powerful, and that you have every tool you need within you. And, that your sisters – your community – will stand with you when the time comes for you to put your name forward and say “It’s my turn.”

My second ask of you all today – is to ask her.

We know, that a woman needs to be asked three times more than a man before she will put her name forward for a nomination. Think of all the brilliant, passionate, loving women in your lives, and think about how much better our city, our province or our country would be with her in a position of power and influence.

Ask her. Ask her often. Ask her sincerely. Ask her from your hearts. Remind her constantly that even though the world eats away at her confidence in little slices and micro aggressions, that even though the world will try to grab her by the pussy, and even though the she will be constantly reminded of her ‘place’, that she is enough, that she can be successful, and she has a place – and it’s at the top.

My third and final ask of you today – is to vote.

Vote for her. Volunteer on her campaign. Help amplify her voice so she can in turn, amplify yours.

And I’m not here asking you to vote for a woman just because she is a woman. But because she can represent you in ways that men like President Cheeto to the south can not. Even men with the best of intentions, who are our best allies do not know what it’s like to walk in our shoes, and live in our lives. To live in a world where 1 in 3 of our sisters will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. To struggle to access healthcare. To survive in a time where our bodies are considered public property. To live with the heartbreak  that 1,200 missing and murdered Indigenous  women is not a priority of our government, because our government is not made up of women.

Today, I know many of us are in mourning. Many of us are triggered and hurting beyond words. And while I know we need space and time to honour that, I also know that as I look out at the crowd of women here today, and at marches of women across the globe, that we are powerful beyond measure.

Never, in my lifetime have I seen women unite on this scale. Carry this energy beyond today. Run. Ask her to run. And when the time comes, support her in every way you can.

Diverse Voices for Change Initiative

i Sep 12th No Comments by

Since the inception of Women & Politics, we have advocated that local government policies need to be more inclusive of all women and genders. Whether it be the London Plan, the Municipal Budget, or any policy/service that the City provides, the voices and experiences of  all women need to be included in a more meaningful and concrete way. In addition, this work  needs to go beyond gender  to centre racialized, Indigenous and newcomer women who are noticeably absent from many decision-making processes and leadership roles. While white women make gains (albeit incrementally) in many of these areas, women from diverse communities are left even further behind.

So, we are excited to share that London has been chosen as one of the communities for the Diverse Voices for Change Project through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. This initiative is to  increase the number of women from diverse communities who are actively informed by, and engaged in, local government decision-making. Five municipalities, including London, Sioux Lookout, Montreal, Halifax and Edmonton will engage racialized, Indigenous and newcomer women in local decision-making processes and leadership roles.

The City of London, along with Women and Politics as a community partner, will work with women from diverse communities to implement strategies, recommendations, policies and procedures within the city that better represent women from racialized, Indigenous and newcomer backgrounds.

We are excited that the City of London has made the commitment to this project and is taking steps forward in becoming more inclusive and representative of all Londoners. This is just one step of many that needs to be taken, and we will continue to push our local government to be more responsive to gender and diversity needs in our City on all fronts. Stay tuned for more updates as this project moves forward and get in touch with us if you are interested in learning more or being involved in any of the work we do.

Women and Politics statement

i Jun 22nd No Comments by

The past week has been a trying time for our city, and in particular, for the family members impacted by this situation. We are grateful that the Integrity Commissioner has provided his report so promptly, which will hopefully allow London to move forward, and continue with the business of running our city.

As the Integrity Commissioner has stated, “the public nature of these disclosures and the resulting public comment and criticism is in and of itself a significant penalty.” While some Londoners will be satisfied with this, some will not, and the calls for resignations continue.

We hope Councillor Cassidy continues to contribute to our community whether through her continued role on Council or in other capacities. She has been a strong voice for Ward 5 and an effective Councillor. Nevertheless, we are disappointed by the Mayor and former Deputy Mayor’s multiple breaches in the code of conduct, and we must move on from here. We cannot afford to lose momentum on critical priorities for our community.

As we move forward, we need to continue to commit to diversity on Council. We need more women on council, not less. We also need more diversity in the leadership roles at the top. Diverse lived experiences at the table means that decisions made by council represent the full spectrum of Londoners. Diversity makes the decisions better grounded and more informed. As council moves forward in the selection of a new Deputy Mayor, we highly encourage them to consider diversity – including gender – as a priority for the role.

How we write about Indigenous news matters

Last week, I had the opportunity to connect with a reporter from the London Free Press to talk about critical initiatives coming to London that will help address homelessness in our city – particularly for the most vulnerable populations. The published article, “Help on the way for aboriginal homeless”, probably looks like an accurate and balanced piece of reporting to most people in London. Through Indigenous eyes though, there are key contexts missing, and in some ways this article contributes to outdated stereotypes about Indigenous peoples and Nations – stereotypes we need to continue to call out and address.

I came to this conversation as an Indigenous woman with the lived experiences of colonization and homelessness, and from the lens of my work with the Mayor’s Poverty Panel.

As an Indigenous woman, sitting down with a reporter is never an easy thing to do. Too often, well-meaning reporters simply lack the education or context to the stories we are trying to tell them. We spend more time in an interview educating about the histories of colonization, oppression, and racism, and how these histories colour the message we are trying to convey.

Sometimes no matter how on-message we are in an interview, the most critical pieces of information get missed, because a journalist may not have the lens to hear it.

This is not the fault of individual journalists, but signals a broader problem with the education journalists have access to, and how they are equipped to enter into Indigenous communities to tell our stories.

The article completely sidesteps racism as a social determinant of health and a barrier for Indigenous peoples seeking affordable housing – despite the lengths I went to trying to convey this key message.

Through the engagement sessions of the poverty panel, I’ve heard over and over again that race, not income, employment, or education is one of the biggest barriers Indigenous peoples face in London to accessing housing. While we absolutely need funding for programs and initiatives, money alone will not solve this city’s race problem. And mark my words, we do in fact have a race problem. When Indigenous peoples tell us again and again about rental ads stating “no natives” – we have to accept that we have a bigger problem than money can fix.

Additionally, the idea of help being “on the way” for Indigenous peoples further perpetuates the myth that as Indigenous peoples, we are dependent on our colonizers. We do not need to be saved. What we need are partners at the table who will help us address racism, colonialism, and the legacies of government-sponsored assimilation policies.

It is by no means my intention to slap the author of this article on the wrist. I sincerely hope we can work together again on future stories. What I’d like to highlight is a systemic problem with Indigenous storytelling in the Canadian media.

My intent here is to challenge all journalists to thoroughly commit to education on Indigenous history and colonization – and on more than a surface historical level.

This is the role you have to play in reconciliation – and as story tellers – this role couldn’t be more important.

Stories are how we define our identity together as settlers and Indigenous peoples, and how we create a shared history together moving forward. Let’s start telling these stories in the right way.

Vanessa Ambtman-Smith is a member of the Mayor’s Poverty Panel and lives in London with her husband and two young children.

Candidate survey results – Kate Young, Liberal Party of Canada, London West

i Nov 23rd No Comments by

How do you think our current electoral system (FPTP) impacts women and minority groups? What difference would a proportional representation model or other electoral reform make to these groups?

Our current electoral system impacts women and minorities in two ways. First, as potential candidates and elected officials. Both groups are already under-represented politically in Canada. As we see in Europe, countries with proportional-representation have a higher representation of women within government. In Canada, parties and leaders dominate the public discussion; so, if there is no political will to ensure that a fair representation of women and minorities exists, then it is impossible to translate that to a ruling government. In other electoral systems, there is room for further nuances which can better and more accurately represent the values of the population voting. I believe we need a new electoral system that better represents all Canadians. The second impact is on the voter who must choose only one candidate and then, either feel as if they’re not represented at all, or worse, there is no one on the ballot who speaks to their values and experience as a woman, an immigrant, someone of First Nations heritage, etc. This further disenfranchises voters. Every vote counts and all Canadians deserve a voice in Ottawa. When every one is heard, then we can have policies and laws that truly reflect our country.

The Fair Elections Act removes the provision for people to vouch for those with no ID. This has the potential to disproportionately impede people such as those experiencing homelessness from voting. What is your plan to ensure these individuals are able to vote?

Canada depends on immigration and our Canadian values embrace our social responsibility to refugees. It is in our best interests to ensure that all newcomers to Canada have access to the resources they need on their path to becoming Canadians, if they choose. We believe that immigrants should be reunited with their families abroad as quickly as possible. We also believe that refugees must have access to the health care, especially mental health care, they often need urgently after leaving countries in the midst of war and other tragedies. The recent debate over allowing more Syrian refugees into this country is an indication of how the present government’s views of refugees is not in step with the citizens of Canada.

Newcomers to Canada experience high levels of social isolation and often have multiple barriers to receiving optimal healthcare. If elected, how will you and your party address these challenges?

Canada depends on immigration and our Canadian values embrace our social responsibility to refugees. It is in our best interests to ensure that all newcomers to Canada have access to the resources they need on their path to becoming Canadians, if they choose. We believe that immigrants should be reunited with their families abroad as quickly as possible. We also believe that refugees must have access to the health care, especially mental health care, they often need urgently after leaving countries in the midst of war and other tragedies.

Please comment on Bill C24, the legislation that gives the government the power to revoke Canadian citizenship and also makes it more difficult to become Canadian.

The Liberal Party is opposed to Bill C-24. Processing times for all major categories of immigrants, as well as for visitors, have skyrocketed over the past five years. At the same time, the bill proposes to increase the fee for new citizens from $100 to $300. This means would-be new citizens are getting double the waiting time for triple the fee. Further, while we agree with that Canadian citizenship is a privilege and that new citizens should be genuinely committed to our country, we disagree with their decision to extend language tests from those aged 18-54 to the broader age range 14-64. The age 14 is too young, while 64 is too old. We also believe that the Bill will actually devalue citizenship by making it harder to obtain and by providing the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration with extraordinary discretionary powers to revoke a Canadian’s Citizenship with limited access to judicial appeals. While we agree that individuals charged with serious crimes like terrorism or treason should face the severest legal penalties, it is a basic principle in our democracy that those making the laws cannot also be the ones enforcing them. This is the role of Canada’s judicial system, not politicians.

How would you address the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada? Do you support an inquiry?

We can only move forward by acknowledging the failures and egregious wrongs of the past. This issue has gone on too long and without facing this head on, we have failed our entire country with this ongoing national tragedy. A Liberal government will immediately launch a national public inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada. We will work with First Nations and Aboriginal partners to develop a process by which it is established. That process will be fully inclusive, designed to find justice for the victims and healing for their families. An inquiry would seek to recommend concrete actions that governments, law enforcement, and others can take to solve these crimes and prevent future ones. We must acknowledge and accept the truths of why this has happened. Only then can we understand the root causes and take action to ensure it does not continue.

Education funding levels in First Nations have long been noted to be sub-standard to what is provided across Canada. On average on reserve education spending is $2000 less per student than what is offered by the provincial education systems. What steps would you take to begin closing the funding gap for First Nations students on reserve?

We are committed to closing the gap for First Nations students on reserve. An initial, immediate new investment of $515 million per year in core annual funding for kindergarten through grade 12 education for First Nations. This will rise to over $750 million per year by the end of our first mandate. It includes not only the funding promised and never delivered by the current government, but an additional $325 million annually.

Canada is the only G8 country without a national housing strategy. Where do you stand on creating such a strategy?

The Liberal Party of Canada believes that every Canadian has the right to safe, adequate and affordable housing. We understand that affordable housing is a possible solution to many of our society’s challenges. Child poverty, struggling veterans, high student debt, and the precarious lives of people experiencing mental and addiction issues are all addressed with better housing. Our platform will include measures to encourage the construction of new, affordable, purpose – built rental housing, investments in innovative programs for supportive housing, as well as predictable and sustained new funding for affordable housing. Liberals will prioritize significant new investments in affordable housing as part of the Liberal’s historic ten-year investment of nearly $20 billion in social infrastructure. We will provide $125 million per year in tax incentives to increase and substantially renovate the supply of rental housing across Canada and we will finance the construction of new, affordable rental housing for middle and low income Canadians. Tackling the housing shortage requires collaborative planning between all levels of government, meaningful engagement with community stakeholders and Canadians, as well as sustained funding. A Liberal government will work collaboratively with all our partners to increase the availability of affordable housing.

Federal funding for homelessness through the Homelessness Prevention Strategy (HPS) has not been increased since its inception over a decade ago. As the rates of homelessness have increased significantly since that time, would you increase funding? What other strategies might you recommend to reduce homelessness? As well the steady decline of low cost housing is contributing to the homelessness problem. What suggestions would you have to address the issue of increasing access to affordable housing?

As discussed in the previous question, the Liberal Party is committed a National Housing Strategy. We also called on the government to recognize the continued need for the HPS. As elected representatives, our duty is to stand up for all Canadians, especially those who do not have the basic neccessities. The purpose of the Homelessness Partnership Fund, originally created by the Liberal Party of Canada, was to provide funds to allow the provinces and cities to determine where funds were most needed. This partnership and the funding must continue. Only by providing people who are homeless with the services they need, from housing, to training, and addiction and mental health treatment can we lift them out of their circumstances, giving them a fair chance to feel the same dignity that all Canadians deserve.

Candidate survey results – Peter Fragiskatos, Liberal Party of Canada, London North Centre

i Nov 23rd No Comments by

How do you think our current electoral system (FPTP) impacts women and minority groups? What difference would a proportional representation model or other electoral reform make to these groups?

When individuals and groups lack representation in parliament, they lack a voice. Proportional Representation (PR) has the potential to improve representation among women and minorities. As such, it would obviously strengthen our democracy by granting a greater role to those who so often find themselves excluded from the formal political system. The experiences of other countries – and the Nordic states in particular – affirms this. But while FPTP falls short in ensuring fair representation, I don’t think we can expect or rely on PR to serve as some kind of panacea. As far as electoral systems are concerned, we need to make sure that the way we vote creates the conditions for the kind of democracy we want. Voting is just one aspect – albeit a very important one – of democracy. For me, a genuine democracy is one that allows for active engagement, participation and respect. PR would benefit Canada as far as formal parliamentary representation goes, but my concern is that it fails to provide incentives for greater civility. This is why I support preferential voting (the Alternative Vote, or AV, variation), which can allow for proportionality but is not designed to guarantee it. In my view, the benefits of AV outweigh concerns about the fact that it cannot ensure a proportional parliament. The key reason I favour AV over PR has to do with its potential to generate a kinder and more civil politic. Ranked balloting – the central feature of preferential voting – pushes those who are running to engage each other in a more respectful and cordial manner. When such incentives are in place, constructive debate and genuine citizen engagement become possible. And if we want to create a society where traditionally marginalized groups feel included and valued, then we need to look at systems that encourage their participation. In short, we need to be worried about more than just seat counts. The Liberal Party of Canada is committed to enacting electoral reform within eighteen months of forming a government. While we want to move away from the unfairness of the First-Past-The-Post system, we will not commit to a particular reform until the matter has been studied thoroughly.

The Fair Elections Act removes the provision for people to vouch for those with no ID. This has the potential to disproportionately impede people such as those experiencing homelessness from voting. What is your plan to ensure these individuals are able to vote?

This (Un)Fair Elections Act is an affront to Canadian democracy and that is why the Liberal Party has committed to repealing it. Because it will prevent the use of vouching and the use of voter information cards as a means of legitimate identification, more than one hundred thousand Canadians could be turned away at the polls this October. According to the Conservatives, there are 39 options for identification allowed at the polls. The truth is that voters need ID that has their photo, name and current address and very few of the acceptable forms of identification provide an address (an exception is a drivers’ licences and paper copies of utility bills). Many advocacy organizations and respected commentators have criticized these reforms because it will make it difficult – even impossible – for marginalized and under-represented citizens to vote (including seniors, the disabled, indigenous peoples, the poor, and students or youth) simply because they do not drive or have their name on their household’s utility bill. The Liberal Party has committed to restoring the voter-ID cards that Elections Canada accepted at voting stations prior to the introduction of the act. I will work with any local organization or citizen-led effort trying to help those who are likely to be impacted by making sure they know what pieces of ID will be accepted on election day.

Newcomers to Canada experience high levels of social isolation and often have multiple barriers to receiving optimal healthcare. If elected, how will you and your party address these challenges?

We need to strengthen the ability of settlement agencies to do their job. Their staff are equipped with the expertise to help newcomers access the healthcare system. The Liberal Party also feels strongly that reuniting families is a crucial part of a successful immigration policy and essential in attracting the best and brightest. Just as important is the fact that family reunification provides newcomers with a support network, such as family involvement in childcare. When strong support networks are in place, health challenges – and this includes mental health concerns – can be mitigated. Although Mr. Harper’s Conservatives present themselves as the party of family values, placing limits on reunification to 5,000 each year has caused serious harm. In essence, the federal government has put a stop to the family reunification dreams of tens of thousands of Canadian families. This began with a dramatic increase in wait-times and has persisted under the false pretense of addressing a backlog they created. The result is that they are keeping families apart. On top of all this, rather than ensuring that there exist are sufficient resources to process immigration files, the Conservatives have been closing visa offices abroad and within Canada.

Please comment on Bill C24, the legislation that gives the government the power to revoke Canadian citizenship and also makes it more difficult to become Canadian.

 The Liberal Party is opposed to Bill C-24. No government should ever have the ability to take away an individual’s Canadian citizenship. Any Canadian who commits a crime ought to be punished. Yet, the revocation of citizenship crosses a line that we must never accept. Without citizenship, the rights and equality we enjoy become meaningless. I also want to add that while this position reflects my stand and that of the Liberal Party, it was John Diefenbaker, a Conservative Prime Minister, whose government changed the law in 1957 to ensure that no Canadian would ever be stripped of their citizenship. Until recently, this is an issue that all parties agreed upon. But Mr. Harper has changed this. Bill C24 is another example of the Harper Conservatives using fear for political gain. As far as other reforms addressed by the legislation, it needs to be pointed out that the government’s own data shows that processing times for citizenship applicants have doubled under their watch, from 15 months in 2007 to 31 months in 2012. The government acknowledges that inadequate resources are the main reason for this increase. Indeed, processing times for all major categories of immigrants, as well as for visitors, have also skyrocketed over the past five years. At the same time, the bill proposes to increase the fee for new citizens from $100 to $300. This means would-be new citizens are getting double the waiting time for triple the fee. Further, while we agree with the government that Canadian citizenship is a privilege and that new citizens should be genuinely committed to our country, we disagree with their decision to extend language tests from those aged 18-54 to the broader age range 14-64. The age 14 is too young, while 64 is too old.

How would you address the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada? Do you support an inquiry?

The extraordinarily high disappearance and homicide rates faced by indigenous women in Canada is unacceptable and part of a systemic problem that requires careful scrutiny. Our party fully endorses the need for an inquiry and completely supports the recent recommendations published by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The Liberal Party won unanimous parliamentary support in 2013 for a motion in the House of Commons for a special committee to investigate this issue and suggest solutions addressing the root causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls across the country. Unfortunately, the Conservative government used their majority on the special Parliamentary committee to do away with its report.

Education funding levels in First Nations have long been noted to be sub-standard to what is provided across Canada. On average on reserve education spending is $2000 less per student than what is offered by the provincial education systems. What steps would you take to begin closing the funding gap for First Nations students on reserve?

Only one in three First Nations youth living on reserve graduate from high school and the funding gap is a key reason why. Reversing this unacceptable situation will require strong leadership and our party is ready to provide it. Whereas Mr. Harper’s Conservatives have only committed to improving the graduation rate by eight percent by 2018, Liberals will commit to doing better. It was a Liberal government that negotiated the Kelowna Accord in 2005. That agreement – turned aside by the Conservatives – was built on a foundation of real engagement with First Nations leaders and communities. It would have provided $1.8 billion over five years to improve high school graduation rates so that they matched with those found in the rest of Canada. It also aimed for a fifty percent increase in the number of students graduating from post-secondary education. Mr. Harper’s government did commit funds to address the gap. However, their approach failed because it ignored the need for a grassroots approach that consulted a wide range of voices and perspectives among First Nations. It is therefore no surprise that the reforms introduced by Conservatives have gone nowhere. Bringing about a different outcome will require MPs to begin a dialogue with First Nations communities in their riding as to how the problems plaguing First Nations students can be addressed. I am ready to engage in that dialogue.

Canada is the only G8 country without a national housing strategy. Where do you stand on creating such a strategy?

The Liberal Party’s stand on this question is as follows: Canada faces a stark shortage of affordable housing – making it harder for Canadian families to make ends meet. But we need more than just affordable housing. We need housing that’s accessible and available to the people who need it. Liberals believe the federal government should invest in the development of more affordable housing units to help Canadian families ease their cost of living. Every Canadian has the right to safe and affordable housing. Current programs to provide affordable housing are short-term and under-resourced. Every year, 1.8 million Canadians are in need of housing, including approximately 300,000 homeless. Yet, the government is in the process of ending rent-geared income subsidies to co-operative housing and other social housing projects that make affordable housing more accessible. Tackling the housing shortage requires collaborative planning between the orders of government and sustained funding. On a personal note, I also want to say that housing is essential if we are to address the issue of mental health and its consequences. According to a recent study that appeared in the Globe and Mail, for each $1 spent on housing and assistance for the homeless, more than $2.00 is saved in prison, hospital and shelter costs. In other words, housing is not only a morally appropriate policy but an approach that is fiscally responsible.

Federal funding for homelessness through the Homelessness Prevention Strategy (HPS) has not been increased since its inception over a decade ago. As the rates of homelessness have increased significantly since that time, would you increase funding? What other strategies might you recommend to reduce homelessness? As well the steady decline of low cost housing is contributing to the homelessness problem. What suggestions would you have to address the issue of increasing access to affordable housing?

More will be said about this issue in our platform. In the meantime, the Liberal Party believes the following: Canadians deserve a high quality of life and are committed to a poverty reduction plan for Canada. Canadians deserve a high quality of life where everyone is given a real and fair chance to succeed. Liberals are strongly committed to a poverty reduction plan for Canada. Little progress has been made in reducing the poverty gap under the Conservative government.

Candidate survey results – Irene Mathyssen, New Democratic Party of Canada, London-Fanshawe

i Nov 23rd No Comments by

How do you think our current electoral system (FPTP) impacts women and minority groups? What difference would a proportional representation model or other electoral reform make to these groups?

Proportional representation would indeed help both women and First Nations. It’s essential that our governments reflect the population.

The Fair Elections Act removes the provision for people to vouch for those with no ID. This has the potential to disproportionately impede people such as those experiencing homelessness from voting. What is your plan to ensure these individuals are able to vote?

We would repeal or amend the so-called Fair elections Act. It might be possible to introduce changes like the changes proposed by New Democrats at committee.

Newcomers to Canada experience high levels of social isolation and often have multiple barriers to receiving optimal healthcare. If elected, how will you and your party address these challenges?

New comers need social agencies that can support and connect them to the services and professionals they need. There are not enough settlement services and workers in Canada. Good community connections help families to integrate and make the best use of all service providers. family re-unification is also key to good integration.

Please comment on Bill C24, the legislation that gives the government the power to revoke Canadian citizenship and also makes it more difficult to become Canadian.

This bill creates two classes of citizens; this is not acceptable. New Democrats have indicated we would withdraw this bill.

How would you address the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada? Do you support an inquiry?

There must be an inquiry so that we can look at the systemic causes of this violence. New Democrats have promised we would call an inquiry within 100 days of our taking office as government. First Nations, Metis and Inuit people know and are ready to address the solutions to the tragdey of poverty, violence and lack of opportunity in their communities. We must have nation to nation dialogue and a firm commitment to respecting the treaty, land and resource rights of indigenous people. We also must make sure there are financial resources to address the need for education, decent housing and access to services and opportunities.

Education funding levels in First Nations have long been noted to be sub-standard to what is provided across Canada. On average on reserve education spending is $2000 less per student than what is offered by the provincial education systems. What steps would you take to begin closing the funding gap for First Nations students on reserve?

The cap on First Nations funding must be lifted immediately. We need open, clear dialogue on a nation to nation basis will allow First Nations to articulate their needs. They must be our partners in resolving these issues. Patriarchal governments have not been successful in this very important area.

Canada is the only G8 country without a national housing strategy. Where do you stand on creating such a strategy?

We would create a national housing strategy because decent, affordable housing is the foundation of strong communities and healthy families.

Federal funding for homelessness through the Homelessness Prevention Strategy (HPS) has not been increased since its inception over a decade ago. As the rates of homelessness have increased significantly since that time, would you increase funding? What other strategies might you recommend to reduce homelessness? As well the steady decline of low cost housing is contributing to the homelessness problem. What suggestions would you have to address the issue of increasing access to affordable housing?

The current programmed HPS is condescending and is a short term approach. Because of the NDP, there was a national housing strategy from 1971 to 1993. We need to bring back that staratgey and ensure there are affordable, supported units available to familes and individuals of all ages and needs. CMHC is a good resource in regard to the funds needed to restart this vital programme.