When the Conservatives won an expanded government just three months ago, they probably felt entitled to as fiscally conservative a budget as they liked. Not so.The scene in the House on the 27th will be positively surreal: a largely sedated Cabinet listening to a respected colleague—a former minister in Mike Harris’ provincial government—announce program after program with the bow of stimulus on top. In his wildest dreams, Paul Martin wouldn’t have spent this much uncollected taxpayer money. Stephen Harper may have to glare at certain Tories to get them to applaud their own budget.The NDP reaction will be even more confounding. Jack Layton has spent his entire career trying to get a budget like this passed—he even expropriated Ralph Goodale’s finance department to try and write one himself. Yet he has all but publicly declared that the NDP will oppose the budget. Even with his reputation as the king of fake outrage and contrived anger, this will be a tough sell.Since the Bloc’s economic policies (inasmuch as they exist) could never be implemented even theoretically except as part of a coalition, their response is predictable. The Bloc will want more for Quebec, as they have with every single budget since their inception. Whether the amount is $2 billion, or $5 billion, or $10 billion, one thing is certain: it will not be enough to appease the separatists, ou sovereigntists if you insist, because Parliament Hill’s resident whiners-in-chief need work to do.And as for the Liberals, I’m sure that some of them bristle at the notion of supporting any Harper budget after what they perceive as a hatchet job on their former leader and his coalition. Yet no one forced Dion, a noted federalist, to create an (almost certainly abandoned) alliance, allowing separatists to “take control of the administration of the federal state” and “create a mechanism of permanent consultation empowering the Bloc Quebecois on every question of importance, notably concerning the adoption of the federal budget.” Fortunately given the current state of the Liberal party, any outrage over a budget that could easily be their own will be muted.But as Andrew Coyne noted in Maclean’s, there is one thing Harper could do to make all this fake outrage very, very real. The new budget will contain billions of dollars for industries that desperately need it—industries that employ tens of thousands of small-l liberal voters in swing ridings in Southern Ontario. Industries that didn’t need the money during the election campaign, but need it now. This will be the mother of all election budgets: spending will be spread over a huge swath of Canadian society. As a partisan Conservative, I think Harper should include the party funding cuts that set the whole coalition gong show in motion a month ago. Imagine the Liberal Party trying to fight an election over its own finances, while the constituencies that elected Liberals starve for the federal dollars promised to them in the defeated budget.
I prorogued Parliament, and all I got was this lousy budget
You win one, you lose one
Both the men’s volleyball university teams from Waterloo and Laurier invaded U of T’s Sports Gym this past weekend, leaving the Blues in exactly the same position statistically where they were over a month ago before the winter break.On Friday, the Blues rang in the New Year and second half of the OUA volleyball season by hosting and defeating the Waterloo Warriors 3-1 (21-25, 25-16, 25-21, 31-29). On Saturday, the Laurier Golden Hawks got revenge for their Waterloo cousins, defeating the Blues 3-1 (10-25, 25-22, 25-22, 25-18). Friday’s match also marked the return of Blues starting setter Deagan McDonald, who was been sidelined since breaking his foot on Halloween against Queen’s.The match had it all: close nail biting sets sandwiching a blowout set to a dramatic finale in the fourth where set and match points were thrown around like tequila at a Mexican wedding.In the end, the Blues prevailed. Head coach Ed Drakich couldn’t contain his excitement after the dramatic high scoring fourth.“Pretty exciting eh? The level of play was quite good. I think we’re going in the right direction,” said Drakich.Pleased about McDonald’s triumphant return and immediate impact to his lineup, Drakich couldn’t help but award him the prestigious Player of the Game honours.“Deagan’s our quarterback and we only had him for one of our first 10 matches. So we played nine matches without our starting setter and he really makes a difference.”Despite the appearance of blowing the Warriors out in the second set, 25-16, the Blues were actually down 12-7 early on and looked like they might fold and take the easy way out. But instead they did the exact opposite, going on an amazing 18-4 run to end the set and tilt the momentum in the Blues’ favour.“We were up in the first and then we found the tank. But it was a combination of Waterloo really going for it and we were tentative and they just sort of steamrolled us at the end of the first set,” said Drakich. “In the second set we were getting blown out, but the guys started to settle down.”Drakich admitted what impressed him the most about the match was the calm and maturity his players displayed during the wild fourth set.“The guys, they stayed consistent, they stayed level-headed and they fought and I’m really proud,” said Drakich. “That was a really nice win […] Waterloo is a very strong team and our guys showed a lot of heart today, a lot of fight.”Another player who put a smile on Drakich’s face were left side hitter, Jessi Lelliott, who stepped in to play libero.“He was making some digs that were just unbelievable. He was a difference maker for us,” said Drakich.Steve Kung showed why he leads the OUA in points per game with 21 kills on the match. Drakich also showered praise on freshman Kyle Konietzny.“I give him a lot of credit, he’s a freshman and he got put in a very difficult situation and he came out and passed some really tough balls and fought really hard,” he said.On Saturday it was a freshman from Laurier who put the hurt on Toronto.After looking like they were still on a high from the Waterloo win, the Blues quickly mopped up the Golden Hawks 25-10 in the first set.Then the Samuel Schachter show began.The rookie from Richmond Hill reeled off an amazing eight aces on the match, including three straight in the second set that left even refs laughing in disbelief. Even Schachter’s serves that didn’t drop for aces were plenty difficult to pass, resulting in several free balls for Laurier.Schachter also added 11 kills and eight digs. Another young star for Laurier, Greg Houston helped supplement Schachter’s attack with a team-leading 13 kills and the only other ace.For the Blues, Steve Kung was his usual serial killer self, finishing with match highs in kills (18) and digs (10).The Blues (5-7) will now face off against their striking rivals from York (2-10). Game time is scheduled for 8 p.m. Thursday night.
Polygamist pleadings fail to make a case
Unfortunately for Winston Blackmore and James Oler, the two leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS), polygamy is illegal in Canada. Following their arrests on polygamy charges, the two heads of the Bountiful, B.C. community are appealing to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. A fiery legal showdown is bound to take place—one that could eventually reach the Supreme Court of Canada and become a landmark case for the freedom of religion.But this is not only about religion. It’s about a lot of things: freedom of lifestyle and parental rights on one hand; criminal activities including sexual abuse, child exploitation, and the trafficking of teenage brides across the Canada-U.S. border on the other. The FLDS inspires a knee-jerk reaction in many of us, but legal judgments are different than personal ones. Instead, the Criminal Code’s provisions against polygamy might be at odds with religious freedom, with civil rights activists championing the cause. Michael Vonn, a spokesperson for the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, called the anti-plural marriage law enacted in 1890, a “Victorian anachronism.”But could a person legally practice a religion that required its followers to commit criminal activities such as sexual abuse and bride trafficking? Since Mr. Blackmore is a Charter of Rights enthusiast, we ought to consider this. Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the Charter under its second clause, “Fundamental Freedoms.” But its first clause, “Guarantee of Rights and Freedoms,” adds a qualifier: “The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” In the end, everything will boil down to the meaning of “reasonable limits.” It won’t be difficult to prove that the FLDS has long overstepped the boundaries of what’s acceptable in our free and democratic society.The Charter of Rights and Freedoms maintains a healthy democracy, where individuals are free and responsible. But according to many allegations, the FLDS’ practices seem tyrannical. In Bountiful, girls as young as 14 are forced into marriage. In many cases their education is terminated after grade 10, and university is not an option—women are meant to become wives, and to produce daughters who might be shipped off to the United States against their will. Clearly, a woman in the Bountiful community is not free.Still, Blackmore argues for his parental rights. He asserts that every parent in his community is concerned for their children’s welfare, and that, according to their beliefs, celestial marriages are better than college educations. Let us consider the crime of truancy: parents are required to send their children to school or give qualified private education in order to nurture free and responsible individuals, regardless of family beliefs. A society where Mr. Blackmore’s rituals of upbringing were systemized could be defended by the Charter—the raison d’être to create and maintain free and democratic society.It won’t be difficult to prove that the FLDS has long overstepped the boundaries of what’s acceptable in our free and democratic society
Sitting down with members of Newmarket’s Ruby Coast is a different experience from most rock interviews. For one, they’re among the few interview subjects I’ve had that are universally younger than I am—they all graduated from high school in recent memory, and one of them has yet to turn twenty.Another difference is how completely devoid of pretense the whole experience is. Guitarist and singer Justice McLellan (yes, that’s his real name), the band’s de facto spokesperson, is extremely courteous, self effacing, and maybe even a bit shy. It seems like nothing gets him upset. Well, maybe one thing, but even then he becomes only slightly annoyed.“Please don’t ask me any Tokyo Police Club stuff,” he requests at the outset. “I just get asked that a lot.”I can understand why. Journalists consistently lump the band in with many of their Toronto contemporaries, including TPC and Born Ruffians, though to be fair, elements of their sound resemble these acts more than a little. Ruby Coast’s three-chord riffs are dressed up with the same bouncy synths, gang vocals, handclaps, and plaintiff yelps that are paramount to the songs of their forebears. Critics, in particular, seem unwilling to give up on the shorthand of easy comparisons.But McLellan is hesitant to lump anyone together.“I don’t think of it as any kind of movement—I’m friends with all these people, but we don’t talk about what kind of music we’re making. We just don’t think about that.”Looking more carefully at their sound, Ruby Coast clearly share a deep affinity for power pop and dance rock in a way their contemporaries don’t. More than anything else, they’re one of those bands in love with the idea of being in a band in the first place.“There’s nothing else that gives me that sort of energy,” explains McLellan. “We have a lot of fun on stage, when we’re all up there together. Any anxiety from the day, it disappears when we’re up there.”It’s hard not to ask the group about their youth in the interview, since their music sounds so deeply connected to it. They make the songs that veteran acts would be criticized for. But Ruby Coast can’t be faulted for sounding like a bunch of friends having a ball making music—because that’s exactly what they are.“Maybe I’m not copying [bassist] Mark [Robert Whiting]’s notes in English class,” admits McLellan, when asked what’s changed with the pressures of touring. “I’ve learned to develop as a person [around these guys]. And when we get back from touring, we still hang out. We go back to our jam space and get wings.”But of course, there are normal pressures that come with being in any touring band.“If anybody had to hang out with the same people day in, day out, and had to sleep in beds with them, and on floors with them, I don’t care who they are, you’re going to get tired of them. But we love each other, so it works out. It’s marriage!”Between travelling, the band still hangs out in Newmarket, where they live to keep costs down.“We hang out at this barn and make music there. My father’s a musician as well, and bought this barn—it used to have height on the ground and everything. But now he’s converted it to a studio.”And how do their barn recordings sound, exactly?“The barn’s mostly for writing songs and stuff. We’re working in a professional studio…now,” he notes, dryly.But the guys don’t indulge in all of the frivolities of youth. One thing that sets Ruby Coast apart from many young bands is the sense of discipline they’ve built up. On tour, the band prefers rest to booze almost every time.“Sleep is something your body craves and needs. If we call it a night and go for breakfast the next morning, it feels great. Don’t include that—that’s not very rock star of me.”They even have a designated tour dad.“Mark, the bass player, is sort of a father figure. He kind of takes care of us and lets us know if we’re doing something we shouldn’t be doing. But he’s not too much like a dad. He joins in on the fun, and it’s not weird, like it would be if you were hanging out with your buddies and your dad was trying to be one of the guys. It’s just that we have a set of eyes on us all the time.”The band is in the GTA for now, recording a full-length album at Chemical Sound Studios (the site which formed the creation of TPC and Born Ruffians’ latest efforts, along with Canadian pop-rock classics like Sloan’s Navy Blues), which they hope to have mastered soon. But this spring, they’ll be back on the road, again with TPC, touring the United States and playing at Austin, Texas’ South by Southwest Festival.Reaching the end of our talk, TPC comes up again, and I ask the obvious question, largely to placate my torturing music journalist’s temptation to make obvious comparisons: who would win in a fight, Ruby Coast or Tokyo Police Club?“Definitely us. We have much more hair on our chests. They’re kind of scrawny,” says McLellan, in his sole moment of bravado.The Varsity’s Off the Record rock show starring Foxfire, Ruby Coast, and Boys Who Say No Thursday, January 22 / Hart House Great Hall / All ages, $5 / Doors 8pm
Palestinians in Toronto enraged at Canada’s support for Israel’s war
“This isn’t really a new war, it’s been going on for a long time,” says Abdel Karim, a Palestinian student studying finance at UTM. “Talk to any Palestinian here and he’ll say, ‘Okay, so they dropped some bombs, in a couple weeks it’ll stop and then it will happen again.’ It’s the same thing.”The sequence of events following Dec. 27 2008 when Israel launched its ongoing offensive attack against Gaza, was predictable. The Arab-Israeli conflict captured the focus of the international media. As numbers totaling the dead and wounded spewed from humanitarian agencies, calls for diplomacy from the international community went unheeded.The Palestinian student community here in Toronto has come to expect this usual unfolding of events.Like most third generation Palestinians living outside the territories, Abdel has spent time growing up in different countries. Born in Croatia, Abdel moved to the U.S. when he was three months old. Just six years ago, his family decided to immigrate to Canada. Despite never having set foot on Gazan soil, Abdel says, “I am Palestinian before anything.”In the past, when the territories succumbed to military violence, Abdel would contact his two cousins attending Khan Younis University. Any attempt to reach them since December has been futile due to electricity cuts, making communication impossible.Hamman Farah, a recent graduate of York University, has managed to maintain contact with members of his extended family in Gaza City including his grandmother, aunts, uncles, and other distant relatives. Relaying their sentiment since the attacks, he describes their fear: “They are terrified. There is a shortage of bread, and the water is dirty. They have to boil it to clean it up […] There is a constant debate whether to stay home, or go somewhere else.”“My family keeps telling me, ‘We are miserable here, we want to leave but we can’t.’ They describe Gaza today as hell on earth.”Hamman was born in Gaza City, and spent much of his childhood in Gaza and the United Arab Emirates before immigrating to Canada in 1991.Before the Israeli blockade made traveling to Gaza problematic, Hamman used to spend every summer there. According to him, Gazans lead a “ghetto life,” as most are poor and have little opportunity while constantly under surveillance.Both Hammam and Abdel find activism to be the best means to cope with the turmoil back home. Abdel is president of the Arab Student Association at UTM and Hamman participates in fundraising and awareness raising activities with the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid.Rafeef Ziadeh, a third-generation Palestinian, activist, and PhD candidate at York University, also identifies with the cause. “Most Palestinians are born into the Palestinian struggle from a very early age,” he says. “Whether they are born in Palestine or a part of the Diaspora, the issue touches Palestinians and non-Palestenians and it is resonates especially with students.”Ziadeh attests that the general sentiment of Palestinian students in Toronto is directed against the Canadian government and its decision to remain detached from the crisis while supporting Israel. Canada was the only nation on the U.N. human rights council to oppose a motion condemning Israel’s attacks.At the end of the third week of the Israeli offensive on Gaza, the death toll has passed 1,000. Israel has brought in reserve forces, pushing into more populated urban centers. Meanwhile, the Hamas rockets launched into Southern Israel and blamed for the invasion continue, casting a shadow on the success of the Israeli mission.A coalition of student groups opposing the Gaza invasion will be meeting today (Thursday) at Sid Smith room 1073 starting at 4:00 p.m.
Boys Who Say No
Boys Who Say No look the part of a Toronto indie band—scruffy, polite, and boyishly handsome, yet pleasantly wry and self-deprecating. But for a while back in 2007, it didn’t seem likely that this charming indie pop/country outfit would even exist.“I lost my voice,” says lead singer and guitarist Luke Correia-Damude over burgers and coffee at Dundas and Ossington diner The Lakeview Lunch. “I had a cyst on my vocal chord, and had to have microscopic surgery. I couldn’t sing for about a year, so I had a lot of time to think about music.”Correia-Damude’s inaudible soul searching managed to yield positive results. When he finally recovered, he recruited his old classmates from Etobicoke School of the Arts, drummer Frank Cox-O’Connell and Mike Lobel, who plays melodica and keyboards (among other “doodads”) to form Boys Who Say No. “We were all really worried [about Luke],” admits Cox-O’Connell. “We’d all known each other for almost ten years.”The Boys’ bond is quickly apparent as they joke about their days in former bands. Correia-Damude and Lobel reminisce about their Latin-reggae endeavor Civilian, while Cox-O’Connell refuses to reveal the name of a project he worked on with Luke. “It’s too embarrassing,” he says. “We were in high school.”After graduating, the guys followed their own paths. Cox-O’Connell headed to Montréal to attend the National Theatre School, Lobel starred in the hit Canadian TV show Degrassi: The Next Generation, and Correia-Damude opened College Street’s Whippersnapper Gallery. But they held onto their passion for music. “We all like going to see rock shows,” says Cox-O’Connell. “We wanted to put on the type of show we’d like to go see.”So when Correia-Damude gathered the guys to form the group, there was plenty of common ground. “We all listen to a lot of pop music,” says Cox-O’Connell. Correia-Damude elaborates: “That was a development for me, realizing that it’s okay to write a dance song or a pop song, and it doesn’t make it any less of an achievement.” But Lobel is quick to highlight the band’s cheeky disposition: “We’re being ironic with pop music, sort of poking fun at it.”With three guys collaborating on material, the group was almost complete. “People would come and see us and say, ‘You guys should have a bass player, like in a real band,’” laughs Lobel. They found one in guitar teacher David Stein, whom they pilfered from Toronto’s Key Witness (Stein now plays in both groups). “Dave is the professional—I’m the least skilled of all of us, musically speaking,” admits Correia-Damude. “We all lean on Dave for the technical stuff,” adds Cox-O’Connell.The four bandmates integrate unique influences into the group. “We’re not entirely like-minded about music,” says Lobel. “I listen to Goldfrapp and Nine Inch Nails, while Frank is really into lyrical country.” The guys do all cite Wilco’s albums Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Summerteeth as big inspirations, as well as Toronto band The Sun Parlour Players. “There’s a certain playfulness that I think we share with other bands in Toronto,” says Correia-Damude, as we discuss fellow indie-popsters Born Ruffians and Ruby Coast. “It’s about us having fun on stage and in the studio,” says Cox-O’Connell. “When people come see us, I think they can see we’re four guys having a lot of fun.”That exuberance translates onto the band’s self-titled six-song EP, which they are celebrating with a CD release party at the Whippersnapper on January 31 with Woolly Leaves, Provincial Parks, and The People of Canada. The guys are also psyched about their appearance at the Hart House Great Hall with Ruby Coast and Foxfire on Thursday, January 22. “I went to [The Varsity’s Off the Record] show last year and I had a great time, so we were happy to be asked,” says Correia-Damude. Lobel admits that he has ulterior motives: “I didn’t go to university, so I live vicariously through college students.”The band is even willing to answer all the frequent questions about their provocative name. “We are saying no to drugs, saying no to women,” jokes Lobel, but Correia-Damude is quick set the record straight. “It originally came from an anti-draft Joan Baez poster that Frank had.” In an effort to up the cool factor of dodging the draft, the poster’s slogan declared Girls Say Yes to Boys Who Say No. “But we’re not a political band,” he attests, and Lobel is quick to jump in. “We’re in the politics of romance,” he quips, grinning.While the boys are busy with their day jobs, they make as much time as possible for the band. “I love playing music, so I’ve been shaping my life to fit that,” says Correia-Damude. While Stein admits the band would love to go on tour, they have to take their schedules into consideration. But overall, Lobel says the band is optimistic about the positive buzz around the group’s catchy tracks and fun-filled live shows: “We’re going to ride this wherever it takes us.”The Varsity’s Off the Record rock show starring Foxfire, Ruby Coast, and Boys Who Say No Thursday, January 22 / Hart House Great Hall / All ages, $5 / Doors 8pm
Just the Facts: Get on Governing Council
Though cynics might have you believe the big decisions at U of T are made in smoke-filled rooms out of sight and off the record, this has not officially been the case for some time.The Governing Council, U of T’s highest decision-making body, is holding its annual elections to seat eight elected student representatives. Students, whether they be ambitious resume-padders or fiery reform advocates, have until Friday, Jan. 23 to enter the race.With students holding eight out of the 50 seats, the student voice has traditionally been muted at best. Despite years of efforts, student representation on the council has been pegged at 16 per cent of the vote ever since 1972, when the university balked at the original plan to give equal representation to faculty, students, and staff on the council. The group’s 50 members consist of the president, the chancellor, two presidential appointees, two staff members, eight students, eight alumni, 12 professors, and 16 provincial appointees. Needless to say, the annual turnover of student governors means many come into the job behind the curve set by the council’s more permanent members.Despite students being a small bloc, a seat on GC is a serious chance to change the university. Student governors must build alliances if they’re to make their voice heard. However in recent years, even they have not provided a meaningful dissenting voice. Only one of your representatives was opposed when GC voted to increase your fees by a 4.6 per cent on average last year.Just this year, the university’s controversial 21-year Towards 2030 plan passed without opposition amidst protest from student unions, approving drastic changes to the school’s basic direction and funding structure.Student governors will vote on everything that comes before the council. Take the time to read the many packages of privileged information you’ll receive about upcoming votes. You’ll have a say about the (very) big money at U of T, and in the policies that shape everyday life on campus.Any domestic student can run for GC. You can nominate yourself until Jan 23 by contacting GC. They keep a list of rules for running a campaign. and The Varsity will print your statement (basically, your platform boiled down to a paragraph).To run, or if you have any questions, contact the election’s Chief Returning Officer Nancy Smart at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Top of the class
The prospect of seeing a film in which an idealistic teacher spreads the gift of knowledge to a troubled, lower middle class school is not an enticing one. There are enough “inspirational teacher” movies to fill a whole section at Blockbuster, and not a single one is convincing. Thanks, but I’ve had plenty of fine teachers in my day, and all of them have had the courtesy to a) not stand on their desks, and b) not be Robin Williams.Laurent Cantet’s The Class, which won the Palme d’Or at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, is an adaptation of François Bégaudeau’s book about his difficult experiences as an idealistic teacher, starring Bégaudeau as a fictionalized version of himself. The Class begins with François’ struggle to earn the respect and cooperation of his seventh grade class—particularly a troubled, disruptive boy named Souleymane (Franck Keita)—in scenes that practically set the audience up for a French-language version of Lean on Me. But The Class doesn’t take the easy route. This is a film that follows François’ experiences as they would almost certainly occur in real life: uneven, sometimes inspiring, but often simply frustrating as he struggles to control and motivate his class.Among the greatest virtues of The Class is its authenticity. In contrast to the clichéd school age characters we see in most movies, the children in The Class are deeply rooted in reality. In an interview with Laurent Cantet, I mention that the character of Wei (Wei Haung), a studious Chinese boy whose parents face possible deportation, is particularly vivid.“Originally in the script the way it was written, there was a Chinese character, except his name was Ming,” says Cantet. “And he was a very shy boy, and he wouldn’t speak for fear of making mistakes in French. And then we met Wei, who was totally the opposite, because he loves to talk, and he loves a good argument, and he loves to speak, period. And there was no point in asking Wei to shut up and become somebody he’s not, so what was Ming in the original script became Wei based on the real Wei.”Cantet used elements of improvisation for most of the major roles, explaining that he developed characters “by working with the students for a very long time, getting to know them, and respecting who they are. And also by creating the characters on the basis of what the students put forward.”The drama about Wei’s parents’ deportation takes place largely in the background, operating like an intrusion on the school’s closed universe. “The idea was to show that the school was neither a sanctuary nor a fortress, and therefore everything that happens in the country has an effect on the school,” says Cantet. “The school is a wonderful place because it enables you to integrate these kids into the adult world, but at the same time it excludes a lot of the kids. This co-existence of the two is on the one hand inevitable, but at the same time is tragic. This is what I felt when I made the movie.”While François means well, he never becomes the “inspirational teacher” he clearly desires to be. I suggest to Cantet that the film is ambiguous in its depiction of François—is he really a good teacher, or does he fall prey to corruption (for example, downplaying his involvement in the film’s climactic conflict)?Cantet is more forgiving. “François is an idealist. He tries to create a level playing field between himself and his class, but it is the system that’s stopping him. If he’s got a dilemma, for instance, he keeps asking whether there should be a meeting of the disciplinary committee. But ultimately, he knows that he’s got the last word because of the way the system’s set up.”The Class opens Friday, January 16.