Why hasn’t Canada responded to anti-gay violence in Chechnya?

If the Liberals are true allies to LGBTQ people, they must provide assistance to persecuted groups in Chechnya

Why hasn’t Canada responded to anti-gay violence in Chechnya?

Reports of extreme government-sanctioned violence against gay men in Chechnya have quickly spread around the world. Over 100 men have reportedly been detained in concentration camp-style prisons and subjected to brutal torture methods. Three men have reportedly been killed.

Although some gay men have successfully escaped Chechnya thanks to help from the Russian LGBT Network, gay men continue to find themselves in a position of danger within the country. And despite seeing itself as a compassionate country that takes its moral obligations to its LGBTQ people seriously, Canada has done nothing to assist Chechens in crisis.

This is hypocritical and concerning on a number of fronts. While LGBTQ people face danger and violence all over the world, gay men in Chechnya are facing authorities who have urged families to kill their own gay children, and a leader who has set out to kill the entire LGBTQ community before the start of Ramadan. This crisis is time-sensitive and could result in further tragedy, making it all the more prudent that the Canadian government prioritize its cases.

Canada has developed a rather noteworthy reputation for stepping in during humanitarian crises like this one. Yet if we as a country truly believe ourselves to be a beacon of tolerance and acceptance, why aren’t we doing the tolerant thing, like offering refuge?

It’s not impossible to imagine speeding up the resettlement process via the creation of special visas, or a program similar to the one used to bring Syrian refugees to Canada. Such proposals should be given serious consideration in light of the situation’s urgency.

Still, the Canadian government doesn’t show any sign of doing so. In a statement to The Globe and Mail, a spokesman for the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship said that these men do not qualify for refugee status, and did not mention the possibility of giving them special visas to allow them to come here. Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Ahmed Hussen also did not promise any specific action to help them.

As individuals facing extreme violence and persecution, it might seem like gay men in Chechnya are in a position analogous to some refugee cases. Yet the Canadian government has labeled them as unqualified for resettlement, because — given that Chechnya is a semi-autonomous republic of Russia — they have not left their country of origin, making them internally displaced people (IDPs), not refugees.

Nevertheless, it is important to note that IDPs are not necessarily in any less danger than refugees. As explained on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ website, IDPs “have not crossed a border to find safety. Unlike refugees, they are on the run at home.” This means that “IDPs stay within their own country and remain under the protection of its government, even if that government is the reason for their displacement. As a result, these people are among the most vulnerable in the world.”

In this particular case, Chechen individuals certainly face danger in Russia, which is known for its hostile attitude toward LGBTQ people. A 2013 Pew Research Centre study found that 84 per cent of Russians do not believe that society should accept homosexuality.

In the past, the Liberals have posted highly publicized photos of Prime Minister Justin Trudea marching in the Toronto Pride Parade and raising the rainbow flag on Parliament Hill in June 2016. On the latter occasion, Trudeau stated that “Canada is united in its defence of rights and in standing up for LGBTQ rights.” Knowing this, it’s surprising that the Liberal government is ignoring the crisis that gay Chechens face when the party has made such a show of their support for the LGBTQ community.

Canadians should be wary of politicians who present themselves as allies to the LGBTQ community yet fail to take action that would actually help the LGBTQ community.

In this case, action means accepting Chechen gay men who need to leave Russia as refugees, and doing so quickly. Students can put pressure on the federal government to take action by getting involved with political organizing and lobbying Members of Parliament. In turn, how the government chooses to navigate those regulatory waters is up to its discretion — but something needs to be done, and soon.

 

Adina Heisler is an incoming third-year student at University College, studying Women and Gender Studies and English.

Freedom of hate

Evaluating speech, the right-left divide, and the need for respectful debate in light of recent political shifts

Freedom of hate

The past few years have seen college campuses, with characteristically dramatic and maladroit gusto, thrust themselves back into the heart of our continent’s culture wars. The politically correct (PC) left of the ‘90s has come back with a roaring vengeance, mobilizing factions of both the left and right into a resistance against the policing of speech.

In one of his less controversial statements, Breitbart provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos bisected the battleground not along the traditional line of left and right, but rather of libertarian and authoritarian.

This alliance of ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives’ could very well be a novelty in the decades-old free speech debate; in the ‘60s and ‘70s, liberals fought against the speech-curtailing stances of their conservative opposition. But a blurring of the distinction between the two groups may not be wise. The alt-right insurgency has proven time and again that, for many on the right, the defense of free speech simply acts as a guise for more dangerous impulses.

Here at U of T, a number of student-led movements and Facebook groups created in the wake of the Jordan Peterson affair have adopted this façade. Whatever your stance on the issue, Peterson raised and continues to raise important concerns over compelled speech, governmental and social authoritarianism, and the influence of partisanship on culture.

The controversy galvanized the university, and provided classical liberals and so-called ‘cultural libertarians’ of both the left and right with an articulate and reasoned critique of PC ideology. But, as has been the case in all the clashes characterizing this feud, a sizable fraction of the coalition’s right side broke from valuable discourse on speech, and devolved into a consortium of Neanderthal memes and openly avowed racism and anti-Semitism. They perverted Peterson’s stance on preferred gender pronouns into an apologia of hatred for trans people, and they took the defense of free speech proffered by their moderate counterparts and weaponized it for use against Jews, Muslims, women, and other communities.

Now, with the rise of Trumpism, the same people see their casual violence reflected in the conduct of the most powerful person on Earth. I see no fault in a rebellion against the speech standards of the modern left and, as a true liberal, I am alive to the dangers posed by a relentless retrenching of ‘what is okay to say out loud.’ But absolutely nothing excuses the mendacity and malevolence of the student alt-right. To call these nascent social-media uprisings defenses of speech is frankly absurd.

I have idly observed a handful of the Facebook groups born from support for Professor Peterson’s initial comments through to the rise of President Trump, and watched as the groups morphed into hateful echo chambers. Many were created with the intention of stimulating useful conversation on the nature of speech, but none have so remained.

More than anything, these groups now serve as Trump fan pages at best, and havens for the most ideologically backward opinions out there at worst. Much of what is posted in the way of prejudice comes as an agitated response to the left’s undue proclamations of racism and bigotry: this is not to say that these injustices no longer exist, but rather that the left has grown increasingly reactionary.

Some portions of these online postings are thus attributable to trolling, tongue-in-cheek criticisms of the predominately liberal cultural hegemony. It is only natural, especially for younger people — who happen to make up a substantial segment of the online alt-right movement — to reject commanded behavior, and brashly do the opposite.

This is doubly true for those that hold political opinions on the more conservative side of the spectrum, as the left’s apparent hold on morality becomes more and more absolute. Today’s rebel isn’t the Mao-toting hippie or sexual libertarian of the 1960s: it is the alt-right troll. People with legitimate concerns about illegal immigration, government overreach, the infusion of Marxist dogma into the left’s platform, and Islamic extremism, tired of being demonized for their beliefs, become self-caricaturizing just to get under the skin of their accusers.

This form of satire is a reasonable rejoinder to oppressive social norms, and, in my opinion, even has a place in a well-functioning democracy. But the line between it and genuine hatred is ill-defined and far too easily crossed. The danger comes with the ease of slipping from one to the other. And what’s more, in its more extreme forms, this protestation is indistinguishable from bigotry.

I would unequivocally identify myself as left of centre, but even I am often moved, by their sheer ridiculousness, to parody my side’s arguments. I do not, however, use this as an excuse to pollute the evolving dialogue on the nature of free speech. This is where I feel the distinction between the left and right halves of the ‘cultural libertarians’ becomes important. The old demons of the right are on full display in its modern incarnation.

The left-leaning, anti-PC crowd seems motivated only by an expansive view of free speech: they see speech as John Stuart Mill did, as a means of arriving at the truth, and as a means to expunge outdated and ineffective thinking from society. Their alt-right counterparts, on the other hand, have transformed a much-needed debate on the limits of expression into a vindication of poisonous trolling. They have found in President Trump a champion of the unverified, and defender of all that falls under the banner of what is considered ‘non-politically correct,’ however vitriolic it may be.

If this debate and revolt against the stultification of the regressive left is ever to yield a constructive outcome, the shrinking moderate right needs to reel in their growing extremist wing. This conversation is far too important to be destroyed by an autocratic politician and his trolling multitudes.

Sean Goldman-Hunt is a fourth-year student in Chemical Engineering, Environmental Engineering, and Sustainable Energy Development.

The sociability of socialism

Evaluating the permissibility and popularity of an inchoate ideology on campus

The sociability of socialism

The University of Toronto has three registered socialist-affiliated student organizations: International Socialists, Socialist Action, and the NDP Socialist Caucus. Their professed political programs are to be expected. Undergirded by a desire to construct a social movement and inculcate a revolutionary spirit, these groups’ enunciated goals include the abolition of capitalism, an emphasis on socioeconomic class inequities, the centrality of labour’s role in their endeavors, and international solidarity with the oppressed.

According to Oxford University’s Socialism: A Very Short Introduction, “The fundamental characteristic of socialism is its commitment to the creation of an egalitarian society.” Infused with notions of global solidarity and cooperation, the essence of socialist thought is a critique of capitalism, privilege, ownership of capital, and the concentration of power among the wealthy. Since its modern inception in the early 19th century, socialism has appeared in many different incarnations. While Bernie Sanders’ democratic socialism is in vogue, Cuban Castroism, Chinese Maoism, Soviet Stalinism, Venezuelan Chavismo, and Cambodian Communism each represent unique strands within a family of ideas under the umbrella of socialism.

What is unsettling, then, among the platforms of the university’s socialist student groups is their alacrity in disavowing themselves from socialism’s worst offenders, whilst simultaneously reflecting the intellectual foundations of these specific cases. Despite couching their rhetoric upon the analogous tenets of class consciousness, worker solidarity, social engineering, and, most importantly, a centralized economy, the ideology carries a great degree of appeal within university circles.

This, I believe, stems from two possible scenarios: either a lack of awareness about the history of twentieth century socialism, or a disingenuous attempt to obscure any accurate manifestations of the ideology’s ills. Tracing socialism’s contemporary history can demonstrate exactly why it has failed.

The consolidation of socialism within Russia, following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution — under Lenin, who was subsequently succeeded by Stalin — provides a telling example of the implementation of such ideas. Stalin’s initiatives included simultaneously collectivizing agricultural landholdings while eliminating class distinctions among the propertied, relatively affluent peasantry, or kulaks. This ‘classicide’ resulted in the deaths of over 3 million kulaks.

Tracing socialism’s contemporary history can demonstrate exactly why it has failed.

Moreover, according to the eminent historian Timothy Snyder, instituting grain requisitioning and sealing the borders of Ukraine produced the artificial “silent genocide” — known as the Holodomor — that claimed roughly 3.3 million lives. To compound the Soviets’ reputation, from 1931 to 1957, two million prisoners from the USSR passed through the Gulag system in Vorkuta alone — nearly three million died in gulags. The Communist Party purged its three million member party in ‘The Great Purge’ of the 1930s, and approximately one third were killed.

As per The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terrorism, and Repression complied by European scholars in 1997 and translated to English in 1999, as well as The Gulag Archipelago, the sum total casualty rate of the Soviet experiment was 20 million lives.

Under Mao, China was even deadlier. As Niall Ferguson reiterated in Kissinger: The Idealist, “Mao alone, as Frank Dikötter has shown, accounted for tens of millions [of deaths]: 2 million between 1949 and 1951, another 3 million by the end of the 1950s, a staggering 45 million in the man-made famine known as the ‘Great Leap Forward,’ yet more in the mayhem of the Cultural Revolution.” The Hong Kong-based historian, Dikötter, describes Mao as overseeing “one of the worst catastrophes the world has ever known.”

Maoism blended the distrust of urban industrialization — a potential source of bourgeois elitism — and the conviction that revolution should gestate among the rural peasantry, “who would later join with their proletariat comrades in the cities to form classless paradises.”

There are many cases that echo the failures of socialism defined by collectivization, classlessness, social engineering, and the centrally planned economy. In North Korea, the Kim dynasty adopted collectivization and implemented other socialist policies that have resulted in the starvation deaths of up to three million people. In Cambodia, between 1975-1979, the Khmer Rouge, a communist paramilitary group, perpetrated a genocide killing up to two million.

There are many cases that echo the failures of socialism defined by collectivization, classlessness, social engineering, and the centrally planned economy.

More geographically proximate cases include Chavez’s Venezuela and Castro’s Cuba. In Venezuela, ‘chavismo’ exemplified “other revolutionary authoritarian Marxist ideologies”, repackaging the concepts of socialism, revolution, and the global left. Under the auspices of Chavez, Venezuela experienced mass food shortages, rolling electrical blackouts, skyrocketing inflation — exceeding 700 per cent — a shrinking economy, and nationalization that spelled national disaster.

In the Cuban context, Castro’s recent death — which inspired much equivocation on the part of socialists — masked his troublesome reign. Purging political opponents from the government, silencing media outlets, expropriation of all private property, launching political crackdowns, and perpetuating Cuba’s one-party political system all illustrate the severity of such shortcomings.

A comparative analysis between East and West Germany provides perhaps the best example of the vicissitudes of socialist policy. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, GDP per capita in West Germany was more than double that of East Germany; their life satisfaction was higher, and unemployment was lower. More than 10 per cent of East Germans emigrated following the unification of Germany.

Our study could extend to India, Chile, Vietnam, Eastern Europe, Afghanistan, and some countries in Africa. Yet, what should be abundantly clear is the convergence between U of T socialist groups and the aforementioned case studies in terms of their ideological underpinnings. Both campus groups and the historical experiments that have so tragically failed are grounded in revolutionary change, collectivization, classless societies, and centralized economies, which represent undercurrents beneath the unifying wave of socialism.

One caveat is in order. The West, loosely defined by varying degrees of market-oriented economies, was embroiled in many acrimonious chapters throughout the Cold War. Under the leadership of the US, coup attempts in Cuba, Chile, Iran and foreign intervention in Grenada, Vietnam, and Cambodia, among others, represent the darker side of the Western Bloc’s involvement throughout the Cold War. Complicating such matters include the legacy of race relations, the Red Scare, and the growing bifurcation of society along socioeconomic lines.

What should be abundantly clear is the convergence between U of T socialist groups and the aforementioned case studies in terms of their ideological underpinnings.

Nonetheless, the absence of gulags, mass starvation, one-party states, cults-of-personality, and large-scale expropriation of private property — and in turn, the erosion of freedom of mobility and freedom of expression,  to name a few civil rights — reaffirm the superiority of market-based economic policies and their efficacy in distilling prosperity to broader society, beyond any socialist ideological incarnation.

Only democratic socialism — which neither Toronto’s International Socialist or Socialist Action groups subscribe to — acknowledges the advantages of a market-oriented framework, and advocates for greater government intervention in easing society’s ills.

Mindful of such considerations, it is essential to review the development of many of these case studies following their transition away from socialism. China, which under Deng Xiaoping began a reformist agenda in the late 1970s, which included the decollectivization of agriculture, foreign direct investment (FDI), an increase in entrepreneurship, and the removal of price controls. These policies have helped lift 800 million people out of poverty.

Following independence in 1947, India, under the tutelage of Nehru, initially embraced socialist-inspired economic models. Declining growth rates and per capita income, food shortages, and the devaluation of currency are few of the problems wrought by such policies. India’s economy liberalized in the 1990s, espousing more market-oriented strategies. Between 1994 and 2012, according to the World Bank, 133 million Indians were lifted from abject poverty.

Similar success stories include East Germany, which eventually converged with West Germany’s standard of living, along with Estonia, Chile, and South Korea. Cases like these, which highlight global trends of decreasing poverty, and a rising standard of living all substantiate positions held by the World Bank, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the World Economic Forum — that free trade, economic liberalization, and reducing trade barriers “is a great enabler for reducing poverty, curtailing hunger, improving health, and restoring the environment.”

Apologists like Noam Chomsky and others will never be convinced. This reflects an unwillingness to acknowledge the shortcomings of socialism, and embodies the “No True Scotsman” logical fallacy, where their reasoning is unfalsifiable due to the lack of purity of criticisms. As U of T’s student groups attest, Stalinism, Maoism, or socialism’s other failed experiments neither represent nor reflect ‘true’ socialism.

The popularity of such groups on campus shows an alarming trend. Apart from iterations of socialism claiming more lives than fascism, it would be ostensibly inappropriate for universities to offer corresponding student groups. There would be outrage, protests, and wholesale condemnation — justifiably so. We are left, then, with an unsatisfying question: why has such a historically invalidated philosophy flourished and accrued social capital?

Ari Blaff is a student at the Munk School of Global Affairs.

The Obama effect

Reflecting on the political economy of charisma in light of recent events in the US

The Obama effect

Charismatic liberal politics and mass media often collide to manufacture culture and public perceptions in a way that contradicts underlying grievances — especially those that affect youth. This collusion is based on the ‘charisma economy,’ where liberal elites use popular images, narratives, and appeals to gain short-term power and profit.

This charisma economy is not sustainable. Ignoring mass grievances and the public’s needs ultimately feeds into disillusionment. This occurs until reactionary politics exploit the charisma economy to gain power in the name of anti-establishment ‘change,’ a ‘change’ ironically marked by identity cleavages that only deepen the oppression of the most vulnerable.

Consider the final days of the Obama presidency. On December 16, 2016, Netflix released Barry, a biopic that follows a young Obama navigating through his competing identities, to the public. On social media, people latched onto the ‘Thanks, Obama’ event this January. Liberal media outlets sensationalized unsubstantiated allegations of Russian hacking during the American election, by which Obama’s actions against Russia, including the expulsion of diplomats, asserted the power of his leadership. Finally, before leaving office, the apparently heroic and benevolent Obama signed numerous executive orders meant to soften the horrific effects of the incoming Trump presidency.

Obama’s memorialization was a concerted move by the politico-media complex to reinforce the narrative of Obama as a ‘cool,’ intelligent, and ‘progressive’ leader. Obama was portrayed as a man whose charisma and racialized background exemplified the fruit of inclusionary American nationalism, compared to the authoritarian Putin and Trump, who would soon rule the world.

Yet, was it not Barack Obama who expanded the draconian surveillance state in the Snowden era, accelerated the criminally imperialist drone strikes program, bailed out the top one per cent in light of a recession they caused, and deported more immigrants than any of his predecessors? The imperialist, neoliberal, authoritarian demon that the liberal media projects onto Trump already exists in the status quo. Where leadership can appeal to hegemonic standards of charisma, objective reality is swept under the rug.

This was true, at least, until a reactionary force developed in the form of the so-called ‘alt-right,’ characterized by an alliance of white nationalism, patriarchy, and anti-globalist capitalism.

While the corporate liberal media supported the Obama-Clinton Democratic establishment throughout this election cycle, the alt-right, pioneered by voices like Donald Trump, Bill O’Reilly, and Dinesh D’Souza, mythologized Obama in recent years as a socialist, anti-colonial, Kenyan-born Muslim with a dubious, anti-American agenda.

The bottom line, then, is that two competing projections of Obama — both myths — became the basis of a charisma economy. On one hand, competing media outlets grabbed audiences by regularly sensationalizing these projections and misinforming the public; on the other, these myths became the fault-line for the Democratic and Republican parties and their competition for legitimacy.

The media failed to critically scrutinize Obama and all of his anti-democratic policies, under which an equally false, racist, alt-right insurgency accumulated. While the charisma economy legitimized the rhetoric of an orange face promising to take back the country for the white majority — the alt-right’s actual policies align with deepening elitist structures. This includes repealing Obama’s healthcare advances.

It is the media’s primary responsibility to critique and challenge power, yet the media became complicit in the events leading to today’s outcomes. From the disproportionate airtime he received to receiving daily mockery instead of serious scrutiny, Trump, too, took advantage of the charisma economy that legitimized, advertised, and consummated his leadership.

Likewise, Canada is in danger of prioritizing charisma over widespread grievances. While Tom Mulcair’s NDP was more committed to meeting the needs of the working class, Trudeau’s youth and charisma made him a brighter alternative to the Harper government in the 2015 election. The media chose to underplay Trudeau’s right-wing, neo-Harper activities, from his support for the racist Barbaric Cultural Practices Act, to his suspicious claims about balancing the economy and the environment. In spite of his charisma, he stands today as a neoliberal candidate who backs anti-democratic free trade deals alongside anti-Indigenous and anti-climate pipelines, and calls precarious employment for youth a “new reality.”

Just like Obama’s own racial background did not stop him from harming racialized peoples domestically and abroad, Trudeau’s youth does not stop him from compromising the future of young Canadians. However, he does take his time to play on his charisma, whether by boasting that he’s a feminist at international conferences, taking selfies, or appealing to the myth of inclusionary Canadian multiculturalism. Perhaps the Conservatives were correct that, in place of substance, he really only “has nice hair, though.”

Meanwhile, non-mainstream, right-wing media outlets like The Rebel Media are not slow to create an alternative image of Trudeau, criticizing him for being anti-oil and soft toward “Muslim terrorists.” It is precisely within this context that Kevin O’Leary — groomed by the CBC for years — makes a fertile Conservative candidate. He claims that Trudeau is a menace who compromises economic growth and competitiveness, and vows to recapture the youth vote and invest in Canadian energy independence. O’Leary’s commitment to an anti-climate, fossil fuel economy is not unique; Trudeau himself just applauded Trump’s re-invigoration of the Keystone XL pipeline project.

Amidst the caricatures and myths that political characters and competing media outlets manufacture, it is the youth who are affected the most. Our so-called precarious employment, concern for the environment, and responsibility to reconcile with Indigenous peoples push us to demand meaningful justice — whether by challenging the ‘progressive’ candidates we elect in Canada or the United States, or by vocalizing our anger through solidarity marches, like those following Trump’s inauguration.

Yet, leadership and media are clearly not responsive or accountable to us. As the greatest stakeholders of the future, we have little control over current political discourse dominated by neoliberals and ultranationalists. Geographer David Harvey, recently hosted by the Department of Geography and Planning on campus, warns that ruling class policies are “foreclosing the future.” Ironically, in Barry, Obama voices that the President is merely an actor, and that it must be “…people [who create] change.”

Liberal, inclusionary nationalism is fundamentally unsustainable when it ignores systemic grievances under smiley-faced, popularity-based leadership. Where widespread appeal fails, particularistic and specialized interests dominate. If we are to transcend this pattern of falsehoods and myths, the mass media needs to critique power and actively inform the public as opposed to being subservient in the name of ‘neutrality.’ Meanwhile, political leadership needs to represent widespread democratic interests.

On the other hand, if today’s elites continue to profit from this volatile charisma economy, the people, especially the youth, are disabused of institutional processes, and are left with one choice: to imagine, struggle, and create a radically alternative world.

 

Ibnul Chowdhury is a second-year student at Trinity College studying Economics and Peace, Conflict, and Justice Studies. His column appears every three weeks.

Wynne shuffles provincial cabinet

Premier announces seven new ministers and more women in cabinet

Wynne shuffles provincial cabinet

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announced a shuffle and expansion of her cabinet, which will now contain more female ministers. Wynne stated, “These ministers bring experience, energy, fresh ideas and diversity to the cabinet table.”

Some of the long-term ministers who were also part of former Premier Dalton McGuinty’s cabinet will remain, including Charles Sousa as Finance Minister, Eric Hoskins as Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, and Glen Murray as Minister of the Environment and Climate Change.

Ontario’s cabinet will be expanded from 27 to 30 minister positions.

“Wynne expanded the size of the cabinet so she could appoint more women,” said Nelson Wiseman, U of T professor of Canadian politics and director of the Canadian Studies program. “I think Wynne felt pressured after Trudeau appointed women to as many cabinet portfolios as men.”

In comparison, Wynne created a 40 per cent female cabinet, and Trudeau created a 50 per cent female cabinet.

Wynne’s expansion also creates three new portfolios, as she divided some of the larger ministries. There are now separate ministers for Housing, International Trade, and Infrastructure.

Included as new members of the cabinet are: Laura Albanese, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration; Chris Ballard, Minister Responsible for the Poverty Reduction Strategy and Minister of Housing; Marie-France Lalonde, Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs Minister and Minister of Government and Consumer Services; Kathryn McGarry, Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry; Eleanor McMahon Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport; Glenn Thibeault, Minister of Energy; and Indira Naidoo-Harris, Associate Minister of Finance (Ontario Retirement Pension Plan).

These changes to the cabinet come after four ministers recently announced their departure, including former Attorney General Madeleine Meilleur and former Chair of Cabinet Jim Bradley.

According to Wiseman, “Election campaign planning begins much earlier now so that MPPs are asked to commit now to whether they will run again in 2018. Since some cabinet ministers were not planning to run, [Wynne] had them resign now to open up some cabinet posts.”

The announcement also included Deputy Premier Deb Matthews’ new appointments as Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development and Minister Responsible for Digital Government.

“Wynne trusts her advice, judgement, and competence,” Wiseman stated.

Matthews’ appointment to Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development will see her take on the responsibilities of the recently revamped Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. Previously, Reza Moridi served as Minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities; Moridi will now serve as the Minister of Research, Innovation, and Science.

Within her new role, Matthews will be overseeing the launch of the Ontario Student Grant program in September 2017, which is expected to lower or cover the costs of tuition for university students. In addition, Matthews will be charged with equipping the Ontario workforce with the necessary skills in order to compete within the global economy.

Is Canadian science back?

The federal government has promised to improve transparency and funding of Canadian research; if done right, it could be a pivotal moment for scientists

Is Canadian science back?

In late 2015, Kirsty Duncan, Member of Parliament (MP) for the riding of Etobicoke North, was appointed Minister of Science in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet.

Duncan has no direct predecessor to emulate. The position was introduced by Brian Mulroney in 1990 and existed until 1995, when Jean Chrétien nixed it and added the new title of Minister of Industry to his cabinet. Stephen Harper reintroduced a Science and Technology portfolio to his cabinet, but demoted the person in this position to Minister of State, which is a lower cabinet rank. It was therefore a significant change when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed Duncan with a full mandate. The move seemed to reflect the Liberal Part of Canada’s campaign promise to restore the voice and funding given to Canadian researchers and scientists.

With $1.1 billion in research funding granted at U of T in 2013–2014 — 31 per cent of which came from federal agencies — there is no doubt that the university is a major player in Canadian research. It educates thousands of students hoping to participate in research each year. Many from the U of T community will be watching as the new federal government attempts to change the political climate surrounding research in Canada.

Money and ‘muzzling’

Under Stephen Harper’s government, scientists across Canada reported a variety of challenges related to the government and their work. A common grievance was the reduction in federal research funding to various  programs and facilities. In January 2014, CBC News reported that 2000 government scientists had been laid off within five years, and that research in climate change, water quality, and other areas had seen dramatic financial cutbacks. 

In recent years, Canadian researchers have also expressed concerns over political censorship in the publication of data. The Harper government was accused of preventing scientists employed by the federal government from sharing information that did not align with the goals of the administration. Public scientists’ interactions with the media were carefully controlled by government media managers.

In particular, climate change research conducted by government scientists allegedly did not reach the general public. Some groups, including the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada and the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists, called these practices ‘scientific muzzling.’

The new government seems eager to distance itself from these criticisms and to prioritize transparent scientific research. When asked about the goals of the new Ministry of Science, Duncan said, “The goal is to return science to its rightful place and to return science to its rightful place in government. We have two ministers with science in the title, and it I think it shows the importance this government places on science.”

Duncan is a scientist first and isn’t afraid to admit that. She is a U of T geography and anthropology alumnus, holds a PhD in geography, and is known within the community for her research on historical epidemics. Her work focused on understanding the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, as the world worried about an outbreak of another global flu in the late 1990s. 

Duncan taught meteorology, climatology, and climate change at the University of Windsor from 1993 to 2000. Her research led to the publication of a book called Hunting the 1918 Flu: One Scientist’s Search for a Killer Virus in 2003. She entered politics in 2008 and won her riding, even as the federal Liberal Party failed to win nationally.   

It is Duncan’s opinion that the government should not influence scientists’ communications with the public. “Scientists should be able to speak freely in an official capacity where they have direct responsibility or expertise, or scientific and technical matters related to their work. That’s what science is about. Scientists share their work; they have to be able to do that. Part of my mandate is to ensure that government scientists can talk freely about their work, that government science is made available to Canadians and that we have this evidence base to inform decision making,” she said. 

The Conservative Party of Canada maintains that its stance on science has been fair. Marilyn Gladu, MP for the riding of Sarnia-Lambton and Conservative Party of Canada science critic, said, “My view is that scientists are free to speak about their work, but they do not speak for the government on issues of science policy.”

Gladu also defended the Conservatives’ record on science. “Canadian Science never left the main stage while the Conservatives were in power. A lot of very positive things happened, in fact, like a Canadian research team finding a cure for Ebola, that just simply never got a lot of media attention,”she said.

The tension between government regulation and scientific expression was enough to prompt students to speak out about the right to free expression of scientific findings. At U of T, a group known as Students for the Right to Know was started in response to the alleged muzzling of scientists by the Harper government. The group, led by Emma Pask, continues to advocate for the freedom to disseminate scientific findings. 

Pask felt that awareness of the importance of transparency in research has increased. “More professors are presenting their work through alternative avenues, instead of having it written up by public relations representatives or journalists, as dictated by the mandates for government funded research [under Stephen Harper].” To ensure the free expression of their work, Pask said, “Academics are creating more direct ways of sharing their work by starting blogs and appearing on shows, such as TED Talks, to ensure the transparency that their work requires and to secure the proper communication of the scope of their research.”

These measures may no longer be necessary if the new government begins to dismantle the policies put in place by the Harper government, but the lengths researchers go to secure free expression of their findings is representative of how important transparency is to Canadian researchers. 

The ‘Gross Research Product’

The budget allocates an additional $30 million for NSERC and CIHR, and an additional $16 million for SSHRC. As well, an additional $19 million has been granted to the Research Support Fund, a fund “to support the indirect costs borne by post-secondary institutions in undertaking federally sponsored research.” The total increase in funding for research is $141 million in 2016-2017. In total, the final budgets will rise to $1.12 billion for NSERC, $1.03 billion for the CIHR, and $720 million for the SSHRC. Smaller increases were provided to other institutions, like Genome Canada and the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics.

While more generous than previous budgets, an increase of $141 million dollars does not spread well over an entire country and is not likely to significantly improve the ability of researchers to obtain grants for their work

Canada’s research and development expenditure as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) remains significantly lower than those of many other top research countries. In 2013, Canada’s per capita GDP spent on research was 1.62 per cent; Israel’s was 4.21 per cent. France’s expenditure on research was 2.23 per cent of GDP in 2013. 

Kennedy Stewart, MP for the riding of Burnaby South and New Democratic Party science critic, thought more should be done to improve research in Canada. “Stephen Harper and the Conservatives undermined scientific research in Canada by reducing funding, firing and muzzling government scientists, and eliminating key tools such as the long form census. As a result, our global reputation took a severe hit and we dropped on most key comparative tables concerning scientific output and innovation,” he said. 

He added that the increases in research funding under the Liberals failed to meet his ideals: “In a recent letter to the new science minister I asked Dr. Duncan to increase funding to our tri-councils by $1.5 billion over the next four years and to tie these increases to inflation to [guarantee] adequate funding over the long term. While a good start, the recent Liberal budget fell short of these goals.”

While researchers would like greater funding, governments are understandably constrained by their budgets. The scarcity of government funding begs the question: should governments prioritize research that is likely to be economically productive? 

Duncan said that the 2016 budget delivers on a mandate to increase funding for “fundamental” science, rather than just research for commercial gain. “Under the framework of the previous government, [researchers] felt that funds were being tied, that there had to be a commercialization aspect to their research to get funding. The example I’ll give is with SSHRC. Between 2000 and 2006, there was 0% tied funding. In 2006, it was 9%. Today it stands at 37%. We heard repeatedly that [increases in research funding] should be unfettered, and [these increases are] unfettered money,” she explained.

Dr. Vivek Goel, U of T’s vice president of research and innovation, noted that U of T researchers enter into funding agreements that guarantee their ability to publish their results and therefore have not been subject to censorship by the government. He hopes for Duncan and the Liberals to implement improvements to the process of applying for funding, which can sometimes be burdensome. 

“Right now… in order [for researchers] to maintain their research programs, their labs, and their support, their graduate students, post docs and so on have to write multiple applications for the same project to different organizations,” he explained. Goel wants this process to come under the Ministry of Science review that was also announced in the 2016 budget. He also wishes that the government can improve access to funding for new scholars and increase international collaborations.

Dr. Edward Andrew, professor emeritus of the U of T political science department is in favour of research for the sake of research. “My view is that governments should be strong supporters of research, even if it is not economically productive,” he said.

He warned of what can happen if governments fail to support research, regardless of their potential payoff. Andrew predicted, “The alternative to government funding is that all research will be funded and controlled by capitalist corporations. To avoid researchers becoming lackeys of corporations or governments, a multiplicity of patrons or funding agencies is essential.”

Meanwhile, funding agencies have been struggling in recent years. In 2013, both the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Science and the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy were shut down due to a lack of funding.

While research funding rarely improves the national bottom-line immediately, research should not be undervalued. Rock-solid research is needed to maintain Canada’s position on the global stage. National research and development strengthens our medical care and often leads to new ways to make complicated procedures more effective and cost-efficient.

The National Research Council (NRC) funds a number of medical technologies that improve the way our federally-funded physicians conduct life-saving procedures. Government funding of globally-renowned Canadian health non-profits, like Grand Challenges Canada, also saves thousands of lives abroad. The Defence Research and Development Canada agency conducts important research on how to improve military technology.

While these investments may not pay off immediately, it’s important that a global leader like Canada takes the necessary risk of investing in research, regardless of the outcome.

Goel echoed these sentiments: “Government[s]… can fund fundamental research without having to make the case that it’s going to be economically productive.” Furthermore, he made it clear that governments have a role in funding research for the “social good.”

“[Governments fund] research for which no single entity on its own, particularly a private sector organization, would necessarily invest in because it’s so fundamental [that] it doesn’t lead directly to products and commercialization,” continued Goel. “So, [the] particularly important role for government[s] is to fund the research that nobody else or nowhere else in society would be funded.”

Goel also said that the importance of research in the humanities should not be forgotten or ignored. “I think another part of this [that is] really important for the university is research in humanities and in the social sciences, [which] quite often [are] not directly related to economic activity in the way that people think about it.” noted Goel. In particular, he drew attention to the role the social sciences have in national security. “It is fundamental to our society and understanding social forces within society. Understanding why, for example, people might get radicalized… If we took an economic lens, [that research] might not get funded, [which] can often end up being the most important for us as a society.”

While it is clear that the Liberal government is attempting to improve the Canadian research climate, it remains to be seen whether the measures they have proposed will be enough to realize substantial change. Duncan seems to be hopeful. She concluded, “I just hope that science is back, and that there is respect for science and scientists and the important work they do.”

Correction (April 5th, 2016): An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the 2016 federal budget allocations for research. The Varsity regrets the errors.

Virtues: could they be the key to political influence?

New study shows virtuous politicians more successful leaders than those prone to vice

Virtues: could they be the key to political influence?

It has been debated for centuries whether political leaders who exhibit cold and calculating traits are more likely to succeed than those who are empathetic. A recent study, co-authored by Christopher Liu from the Rotman School, might shed light on this dispute. The study shows that politicians who tend to be more virtuous make more effective leaders. 

The researchers focused on two competing models of influencing people. The model is based on the idea that virtuous qualities make a leader more influential, and a more Machiavellian model, where what they call ‘vices’ play the dominant role. The goal of the study was to see how these two social strategies affected political leaders’ abilities to influence their peers after taking on a leadership role.

The researchers examined videos of 151 US senators from different political parties and congresses who were active between January 1989 and December 1998. They watched the first minute of each randomly selected video to detect exhibitions of virtues or vices in the senators. Coding guidelines, based on standard behavioural traits, were used to assess the verbal and non-verbal behaviour of the senators for vice and virtue. The data collected was compared with the number of colleagues the senators recruited as collaborative co-sponsors on bills that they created. The correlation data enabled the researchers to make inferences based on behaviour.

The research found that senators with virtuous behaviour, when promoted to a committee chair role, were more likely to get other congress members to co-sponsor proposed legislation. On the other hand, senators exhibiting vices were no more influential, and in some cases less influential, than they were before getting the leadership role. Leaders who value others garnered more support from colleagues, while those who were manipulative, self-centred, or competitive did not.

This begs the question: could a politician prone to vice simply fake being virtuous to gain support? Liu says that while attempts to fake virtuous behaviour might happen, it is extremely difficult to mimic all of the associated behaviors effectively. In the case of the senators included in the study, Liu says it would be very difficult for them to maintain a false behavioral profile across such a long time period.

“There are so many behaviors to control — verbal content, vocal cues, nonverbal behavior, and emotional expression,” said Liu.  “One’s true personality is likely to be revealed, even if a person tries to conceal it.”

The researchers also found that there were not many correlations between education and age with the possession of vice or virtue. They also found no correlation based on party affiliation, suggesting that vice or virtue are personality traits independent of political ideology. 

While decoding behaviour may sound like a complicated task meant for seasoned researchers, everyday voters are capable of picking up on important cues too.

“For example, courageous individuals are more likely to speak loudly and emphatically, express their emotions freely, and do not engage in speech hesitations (um, ah, er),” explained Liu.

Considering politician’s virtue may be rewarding for voters, as virtuous elected officials might care for their supporters and make more progress in government. 

“I do believe that [the research] may apply to present-day politics, but I would be cautious in extending it to Canadian politics,” said Liu, explaining that Canada’s parliamentary system is very different from the US legislature.

Liu’s next project will be investigating influence dynamics within the US Senate through language use.

The root of all evil?

Cashing in on the alleged threat of campaign financing

The root of all evil?

For quite some time Donald Trump has been the frontrunner for the Republican nomination to the US presidency. After hitting a brief setback in Iowa, Trump won in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and then Nevada. Heading into ‘Super Tuesday,’ he is favoured by 12.9 per cent nationally compared to Ted Cruz, and by 16.5 per cent over Marco Rubio.

Conventional wisdom would have it that Trump, the billionaire real estate magnate, would surely outspend the Republican field, to the detriment of democratic politicians. After all, we’re told that money buys politics, especially in the US.

The reality is that in eight months of campaigning Trump and his allied political action committees (known as PACs) have raised $27.3 million. This is tied with the relatively unknown John Kasich for the least amount of financial contributions to candidates in either party. To put this in perspective, consider that Cruz, Rubio, and their respective PACs have raised a combined $188.8 million, yet are in all likelihood just a few weeks away from losing the nomination to the controversial political amateur, Trump.

Furthermore, the Trump campaign and pro-Trump PACs have spent $25.5 million, which is the second least among the remaining candidates.

In Canada, we have also been told that money taints elections; however, election results have not shown this to be the case. In the 2015 federal election, the Conservatives had a fundraising advantage, and yet the Liberals won a majority.

If campaign financing is not the corruptor of all things democratic, how, then, should we understand its role in politics?

Campaign financing is a neutral and legitimate form of political expression, just like any other.

When it comes to advertising, there is merely a difference in degree, not in kind when comparing the running of a 30 second television commercial and, say, speaking into a microphone at an event. The only thing money decides is how many people hear the speaker.

Additionally, there is more than enough cash to go around so that no single candidate, party, or political ideology has an insurmountable advantage. For every Koch brother, there’s a George Soros. Small but enthusiastic donors can still prove formidable, as Bernie Sanders’ unlikely success has shown. His campaign has raised $96.3 million thus far, without the aid of a PAC.

Campaign spending is not a determinant to voter turnout either; in 2012, Mitt Romney outspent President Obama and won the white vote by 20 per cent, but Obama scored decisive victories among the black, Hispanic, and Asian votes, who together made up almost 28 per cent of the electorate, their largest share ever.

Finally, thanks to traditional grassroots activism and social media, those with limited funds can achieve national recognition without ever having to buy a billboard or television spot. Donald Trump has more followers and fans on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram than any of his competitors, and other than Bernie Sanders, he is the only candidate whose rallies can fill professional sports arenas.

The power of social media and on-the-ground organizing has also been demonstrated by the activist movement Black Lives Matter.

An election, after all, is a competition of ideas, and consequently we should ensure that more of them are shared.

Through sustained social media campaigns as well as protests, Black Lives Matter has managed to drive the conversation around criminal justice reform for over two years, with no signs of slowing down.

This is not to naïvely say that politics is free of corruption, or that money has no influence on our leaders. But if we want to clean up politics, perhaps we should look deeper into what happens after elections. This includes staying vigilant and redirecting our attention to when foreign interests make donations to a cabinet secretary’s private charity, when a justice minister’s husband works as a lobbyist, or when the banking industry and its federal regulator share a revolving door.

That is the kind of money in politics we should be vigilant of: the money that trades hands during governance, not during campaign season. A campaign, no matter how loud, ugly, or chaotic it gets, is still the heart of democracy. An election, after all, is a competition of ideas, and consequently we should ensure that more of them are shared.

Emmett Choi is a fifth-year student at Victoria College studying philosophy and American Studies. His column appears every three weeks.