Meeting with Ashley Wallis and Patrick DeRochie of Environmental Defence

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Invasive species. Algal blooms. Water diversion. Microplastics. Rising concentrations of pharmaceuticals. Risk of pollution from oil pipelines.

When asked, “In your opinion, what is the single biggest threat to the Great Lakes?” Ashley Wallis responded with an intimidating list.

Ashley, the Water Program Manager at Environmental Defence, and her colleague (and OLIP alumnus) Patrick DeRochie, Energy Program Manager, sat down with us last week to tell us about their work and the environmental challenges they see Ontario facing.

Environmental Defence is a non-partisan, non-government organization pursuing action by the public, businesses, and the government on four sets of issues: freshwater protection, climate change, healthy urban planning, and protecting consumers from harmful chemicals.

There is no single solution to all the threats faced by the Great Lakes, according to Ashley. She described how inter-jurisdictional collaboration among federal governments, states and provinces, and municipalities on both sides of the Canada – United States border is a necessary starting place, as is ensuring that Indigenous nations – who have relied upon the Great Lakes for food, drinking water, and transportation since time immemorial – are able to participate fully. In 2016 the governments of Canada and the United States committed to a 40% reduction in the amount of phosphorous – a driving factor causing algal blooms – entering Lake Erie, though the success of this initiative remains to be seen.

Microplastics are another issue of concern for the Great Lakes, as they may impact human wellbeing as well as the health of marine animals and ecosystems. Ashley described how Ontario has the lowest plastic bottle recycling rate in the country, and alongside Manitoba is among the only two provinces without a deposit return system for plastic bottles. Environmental Defence is advocating for the creation of such a system in Ontario, with the dual goals of reducing the amount of plastic waste ending up in marine ecosystems and generating revenues (from unclaimed deposits) that can be directed towards environmental remediation efforts.

Like Ashley, Patrick’s work takes place on multiple fronts. In his role as Energy Program Manager, Patrick helped governments across Canada adopt carbon pricing systems, including the cap and trade program here in Ontario. He participated in the political opposition to the Energy East pipeline, and is currently exploring ways in which environmental law can be reformed. Lastly, he is involved in initiatives that bring together blue collar workers and climate advocates, for the purpose of highlighting areas of joint interest.

This search for common ground also occurs in the political realm. Patrick described how he meets with political leaders from across the political spectrum, and that common cause may be found because of issues like local food, greenspace, and hunting.

This meeting left us with much to think about, from the state of Ontario’s environment to the best way to build coalitions around particular issues. Thank you again to Ashley and Patrick for sharing their insights!

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Meeting the Hon. Tracy MacCharles

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It is a busy day at Queen’s Park, and a small knot of people stand in the hallway of the second floor of the legislature discussing what it takes to be a Minister, current issues falling under the domain of Government and Consumer Services, and the unique riding of Pickering – Scarborough East.

The Honourable Tracy MacCharles kindly took time out of her day to share her reflections on seven years of holding elected office. Serving as Minister of Government and Consumer Services is just the latest in a career has had many twists and turns. Starting out as an intern with the Ontario Public Service, Minister MacCharles worked for ten years as a civil servant — including a stint in the Ministry for Government and Consumer Services — before transitioning to the private sector. She worked as the human resources Vice President at Manulife, eventually going on to start her own human resources firm.

Her political career began in 2011 to represent the riding of Pickering – Scarborough East. Since then she has served as both the Parliamentary Assistant and Minister of Children and Youth Services, as well as the Minister Responsible for Women’s Issues. Today, in addition to Government and Consumer Services, she also the Minister Responsible for Accessibility.

During our wide-ranging hallway discussion, Minister MacCharles spoke about having a good understanding of how government works is essential for a Minister. She also praised the initiative of fellow caucus members who have introduced private member’s legislation falling under the purview of Government and Consumer Services. The Minister described how she has worked with the aim of making Ontario a national leader on issues such as gender identity – it is now possible for those who identify as non-binary to get a driver’s license with “X” instead of “F” or “M”. Another area in which she sees Ontario leading is accessibility, and she is proud to help support the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005.

Minister MacCharles also spoke about her riding, Pickering – Scarborough East. It is unique because it is bisected by the City of Toronto boundary, and therefore encompasses part of Scarborough in the East and the City of Pickering in the West. The duality of her riding gives her two distinctive perspectives, and she makes a point of being present for both her Pickering and Scarborough constituents.

We’d very much like to thank the Hon. Tracy MacCharles for taking the time to speak with us, and we wish her all the best on the next stage of her career!

Retired Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin on “The Arc of the Charter: A Personal Perspective”

 

Ana, Mackenzie and Shireen had the privilege of attending York University’s 2018 Constitutional Cases Conference.

The highlight was meeting Retired Supreme Court of Canada Chief (SCC) Justice Beverley McLachlin, who delivered a speech on “The Arc of the Charter: A Personal Perspective.”

When reflecting on the implementation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Charter), the Chief Justice stated: “Someday,  will be able to look back upon the Charter with the benefit of historical distance. But that day has not yet come. The whole story of the Charter, from its inception to this day, is contemporaneous: for many of us, it is a story entirely encompassed within our own lifetimes.”

While the Charter is no longer in its infancy, the Chief Justice indicated that the Charter is an “unfinished project.” Moreover: “The ‘story’ of Canadian law has been, and will for the foreseeable future continue to be, the story of the Charter‘s impact on Canadian law. But the Charter‘s impact does not end there. A major part of the Charter‘s story is its impact, not just on Canadian law, but on Canada itself.”

Why have Canadians embraced the Charter so thoroughly and affectionately? Why have so many asserted in the past few days that it has become part of Canada’s identity?

The Chief Justice asserted that Canadians have come to see themselves as ‘rights holders’, which aligns with the Charters ‘rights mindset’. The uniquely Canadian character of the Charter is reflected in its emphasis on three kinds of rights: individual rights, tied to a conception of tolerance and respect; collective interests, bound up with an appreciation of the relationship of support and obligation between individual and community; and group rights, tied to a recognition that of pluralism is one of Canada’s animating values.

In pith and substance, the Chief Justice’s speech could be summed as: “We have a Charter that reflect our most fundamental values, that tells us who and what we are as a people.”

We are privileged to have met someone who substantially contributed to the legal landscape of Canada.

 

Ana, Mackenzie and Shireen had the privilege of attending York University’s 2018 Constitutional Cases Conference.

The highlight was meeting Retired Supreme Court of Canada Chief (SCC) Justice Beverley McLachlin, who delivered a speech on “The Arc of the Charter: A Personal Perspective.”

When reflecting on the implementation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Charter), the Chief Justice stated: “Someday,  will be able to look back upon the Charter with the benefit of historical distance. But that day has not yet come. The whole story of the Charter, from its inception to this day, is contemporaneous: for many of us, it is a story entirely encompassed within our own lifetimes.”

While the Charter is no longer in its infancy, the Chief Justice indicated that the Charter is an “unfinished project.” Moreover: “The ‘story’ of Canadian law has been, and will for the foreseeable future continue to be, the story of the Charter‘s impact on Canadian law. But the Charter‘s impact does not end there. A major part of the Charter‘s story is its impact, not just on Canadian law, but on Canada itself.”

Why have Canadians embraced the Charter so thoroughly and affectionately? Why have so many asserted in the past few days that it has become part of Canada’s identity?

The Chief Justice asserted that Canadians have come to see themselves as ‘rights holders’, which aligns with the Charters ‘rights mindset’. The uniquely Canadian character of the Charter is reflected in its emphasis on three kinds of rights: individual rights, tied to a conception of tolerance and respect; collective interests, bound up with an appreciation of the relationship of support and obligation between individual and community; and group rights, tied to a recognition that of pluralism is one of Canada’s animating values.

In pith and substance, the Chief Justice’s speech could be summed as: “We have a Charter that reflect our most fundamental values, that tells us who and what we are as a people.”

We are privileged to have met someone who substantially contributed to the legal landscape of Canada.

From OLIP to Universities Canada: Meeting Paul Davidson

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As recent university graduates, we are grateful to have had the opportunity to learn more about Universities Canada–and from none other than an OLIP alumnus.

 

Today, Paul Davidson is the President of Universities Canada, a federal organization representing the interests of 96  participating institutions from across the country. However, in 1988-89, Davidson was an OLIP intern. He had placements with Peter Adams, the Liberal MPP from Peterborough, and Richard Johnson, the NDP MPP from Scarborough West.

 

His post-OLIP career has been wide-ranging, and includes working for the Ministry of Finance, leading a stakeholder relations firm, and serving as the executive director of both the Association of Canadian Publishers and the World University Service of Canada.

 

In his current role, Davidson is responsible for advocating on behalf of three major policy areas. First, Universities Canada is a perennial advocate on behalf of investment in research and innovation.

 

Second, there is a need – given the economic realities of globalization – for Canada to seize its international moment. For degree-granting institutions, this includes welcoming international students, recruiting faculty with international experience, and encouraging Canadian students to take advantage of opportunities to study abroad. Recent global events are changing the demographics of international students attending Canadian universities: Brexit in the United Kingdom and hardline immigration rhetoric in the United States have, respectively, contributed to increased application numbers from India and Mexico.

 

Lastly, Universities Canada is dedicated to advancing equity, diversity, and inclusion. Davidson observed that excellence is not possible without diversity, and that sexism is real and persistent in Canada, post-secondary education sector included. For example, relatively few – only 25% – of university presidents in Canada are women. Yet, even that number is a testament to progress, as it is also the highest-ever proportion of female presidents.

 

These issues coexist in a context of ongoing change for universities in Canada. Funding levels remain an ongoing issue of concern; according to Davidson, per capita funding in Ontario  today is less than it was 20 years ago. Also, recent emphasis on STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) corresponds to reduced in enrollment in the Social Sciences and Humanities. Davidson observed that the liberal arts teach valuable critical thinking and communication skills, and that programs teaching those disciplines will need to work hard to share their virtues with prospective students.

 

We want to thank Davidson for giving us a window into the issues facing universities in Canada, and for encouraging us to challenge ourselves and pursue adventurous careers.   

 

Talking about Civic Engagement with Samara

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Last Friday, we have the privilege of visiting Samara.

Samara Canada is dedicated to reconnecting citizens to politics, and has quickly become Canada’s champion of increased civic engagement.

While most interns were familiar with Samara, we were interested in learning more about Samara’s research and educational programming, which largely promotes increased political participation. Their mantra is that increased political participation will inevitably create better politics.

 Samara was established in 2009, as a non-partisan charity. To date, they have produced various research reports (which include, and not limit): electoral reform, the impact of young voters in the previous federal election, and lowering the voting age. However, Samara is largely known for their “Everyday Political Citizen Awards” which highlights regular people, who are making their communities better. During a time when many Canadians are disengaging from politics, this project highlights those everyday citizens. In addition, Samara published Tragedy in the Commons (which, coincidentally, we have in our OLIP Library). The book is based on eighty exit interviews with former Members of Parliament, who detail their experience in Parliament.

 Very frequently, we discuss the challenges facing our political system, but we struggle to find feasible and substantive solutions. Nevertheless, Samara is committed to studying these challenges, and finding innovating ways to encourage everyone, “to take responsibility for our political system and change it for the better.”

 By publishing these reports, and remaining engaged in media, Samara creates a conversation about politics and democracy.

 Thank you for hosting us!

A Discussion with Kevin McGurgan, the United Kingdom’s Consul-General to Toronto

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We recently met with Kevin McGurgan, the United Kingdom’s Consul-General to Toronto.  Our wide-ranging conversation began with discussions of managing relationships and liaising with governments.  
 
Given the historical connection between our two countries, it was great to have Mr. McGurgan’s perspective on the evolving relationship.  It was valuable to understand what this looks like in terms of trading relationships and investment.  We also covered current collaborations among governments and the private sector across these borders.
 
With the backdrop of Brexit, we examined differing approaches to trade agreements and how to attract investment.  We also broke down agreements such as NAFTA and CETA.  
 
One of the most illuminating parts of our meeting was the discussion of disruptive and transformative technologies, as well as the future of work.  No jurisdiction is immune to these trends, so it was rewarding to understand what role governments should play in tackling these challenges.  It was also interesting to learn of the cross-border initiatives existing between the UK and Ontario over autonomous vehicles, financial technology, and artificial intelligence.
 
We concluded by discussing the skillsets and attitudes required for work in public policy and diplomacy.
 
Thank you to Mr. McGurgan and your staff for your continued support of the Ontario Legislature Internship Programme.

OLIP in Yellowknife: Meeting with Mark Heyck, the 14th Mayor of Yellowknife

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All our meetings Yellowknife enlightened us to issues or themes present in the territorial level. We were excited to explore municipal governance and to that end, we met with Mayor Heyck, the 14th mayor of Yellowknife.

Mayor Heyck walked us through his journey which led him to run for public office. Completing his studies in McGill University, he developed an interest in politics and sustainability. When he returned to Yellowknife, he ran for city council in order to create positive change for Yellowknife and the sustainability issues the city was facing. His love for municipal politics stems from the ability to create change in a relatively short period of time. We were very surprised to learn that Yellowknife operates using an “at-large” system which means that the people of Yellowknife vote for all the councillors, as opposed to a “ward” system where voters in the ward vote for their respective councillor. Mayor Heyck argued that positive aspect of the large system allows councillors to plan and make decisions for the city as a whole.

Mayor Heyck walked us through some of his accomplishments as Mayor. This includes (but is not limited to): overseeing the adoption of Yellowknife’s 10-year plan to end homelessness, economic development and tourism strategies and advocacy bringing issues forward to the Territorial and federal levels. Mayor Heyck was very proud of how Yellowknife was recently awarded the 2018 Sustainable Communities Award in the energy category from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities — recognizing the wood pellet heating heating system Yellowknife implemented.

After our meeting, we were surprised to learn Mayor Heyck announcing he will not seek re-election. Thank you for meeting with us Mayor Heyck and we wish you the best of luck with what comes next!

Fun Fact: Did you know one of Yellowknife’s sister cities is The Sakha (Yakutia) Republic, a Russian port city in Eastern Sibera?