First things first.  

Do I believe Justin Trudeau is a racist? No. 

Do I think he should have known better? Yes.

But when did Trudeau first realise that blacking up was racist? When did the penny drop? 

We learn he began to view blackface as racist after becoming an MP - in 2008.

In 2001, the 29 year old Justin Trudeau felt comfortable blacking up as Aladdin. 

Black and White Minstrels

The BBC’s Black and White Ministrel Show ran from 1958-1978 when it was pulled from the schedules. A stage version ran in London until 1988. By then it was widely acknowledged to be racist.

I am a fairly recent immigrant to Canada. Most of my life was spent in the UK which has seen huge changes in its demography and in attitudes to race. What was deemed to be acceptable by the BBC in 1978 is absolutely unacceptable now.

So it is difficult to disagree with today’s Toronto Star editorial

“For Trudeau himself, it speaks to a lamentable lack of judgment, not just when he was a callow teen but as a grown man of 29 with a responsible job as a teacher of young people at a Vancouver high school. And for it to take place not in the dark ages of the 1950s or 60s, but as recently as 2001, when blackface was universally condemned as racist, is truly staggering.”

Blacking up for Othello?

As it happens, I was in Stratford last week to see Othello, played superbly by the black actor Michael Blake.

Would Justin Trudeau, the drama teacher, have blacked up to play the part?

Indeed, should white actors ever play the part of Othello, the Moor? 

Of course they should. But they shouldn’t black up.

To prevent white actors from playing Othello would be racism in reverse. 

Impact on the election

So, will the revelations affect the trajectory of the election? 

Yes.

We are all talking about race in Canada.

But will it affect the result?

Who knows?

It gives reasons for those who dislike Trudeau, or have reservations about him, to vote for another Party on the left.

But if Trudeau is re-elected, there are certain things he won't be able to say in future. He cannot camp on the high ground. In this I agree with the Star's Chantel Hébert.

On the world stage he will be a diminished figure.

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Yesterday, I wrote to York Regional Clerk, Christopher Rayner:  

“I am writing to you formally to draw to your attention a breach of York Region Sign By-law 2015-36 which forbids election signs on regional property until “10am on the 28th day prior to the election day”. This would mean 23 September 2019. 

Lois Brown election signs have been put up at Leslie and Srigley and Leslie and Stackhouse (and elsewhere) in clear contravention of By-law 2015-36. I should be grateful if you could let me know what action, if any, you propose to take.”

Just after 5pm today (Wednesday) I received this response:

“Thanks for your email. The Region’s immediate concern is addressing signs that are affecting sight lines at intersections and possible safety concerns.”

The Region responds

At 15.03 this afternoon Mr Raynor sent the following email to election candidates:

From: Raynor, Christopher;
Sent: 18 September 2019 15:03
To: Raynor, Christopher;
Subject: Federal election signs on Regional roads

Dear Candidate,

The Regional Municipality of York enacted the Signs on Regional Roads Bylaw in 2015 to incorporate provisions for election signs for the purposes of increased public safety and to minimize the Region’s costs associated with enforcement.

The bylaw is in accordance with the current state of the law pertaining to the regulation of signs on public highways.

As a reminder, in accordance with the bylaw:

• Any signs installed contrary to the bylaw will be collected by York Region and returned to candidates following election day

• No more than two election signs will be permitted for each candidate per intersection, with a maximum of one sign per intersection corner

• Signs will be prohibited at certain intersections where there is limited space (Schedule A of the bylaw)

• Election signs will be permitted only from 10 a.m. on the 28th day before election day and ending 72 hours following the close of polls; for this fall’s Federal election, signs are permitted beginning 10 a.m. on Monday, September 23, 2019

Non-compliance with York Region’s Signs on Regional Roads Bylaw may negatively affect public safety. Election signs installed contrary to the bylaw can impede sightlines at intersections and interfere with transit stops, sidewalks and utilities.

Signs which have been removed for non-compliance will be held until after Election Day and will be available for pick up at no cost.  Any sign that is not reclaimed after Election Day will be recycled at Regional facilities that accept coroplast (corrugated plastic) election signs.

In the seven days following the October 21, 2019 election, candidates can bring their coroplast election signs to one of the following York Region Waste Depots for recycling:

                      • Elgin Mills Community Environmental Centre
                        1124 Elgin Mills Road East, City of Richmond Hill
                      • McCleary Court Community Environmental Centre
                        130 McCleary Court, City of Vaughan
                      • Georgina Waste Transfer Station
                        23068 Warden Avenue, Town of Georgina

On behalf of The Regional Municipality of York, thank you for complying with the Signs on Regional Roads Bylaw. More information on the Region’s Sign Bylaw can be found here.

Regards

Christopher Raynor | Regional Clerk, Regional Clerk’s Office, Corporate Services Department

Sightlines

So why is the Lois Brown sign at the northwest corner of Mulock and Bayview still there? It's 6 to 8 inches back from the sidewalk and clearly affects the sight line of a vehicle turning to the right.

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Update on 20 September 2019: and this is how Newmarket Today reports the latest developments.

I meet Walter Bauer for a mid-morning coffee at the excellent Cardinal Press Espresso Bar in Newmarket’s old Main Street. 

He asks for hot chocolate served up in a “real cup”. I follow suit, immediately impressed by his green approach to the smallest of things. 

Walter, the relaxed and affable Green candidate for Newmarket-Aurora, is wearing a lapel badge telling us to Be Brave and Vote Green. 

On Monday the Greens published their election platform so we shall have lots to talk about. It runs to over 80 pages - with arresting photos and graphics. I print out only the contents pages and plan to ask him to pick a topic and we’ll take it from there.

But first I suggest the document is a hostage to fortune. There is a long list of commitments and they’ve got to be paid for. And the Parliamentary Budget Officer who has been asked to cost the proposals won’t finish the math until next week.

I suggest the Green’s slogan:

Not Left. Not Right. Forward Together

(apart from being clunky) is disingenuous. It seems to me they are putting forward a platform that most left-of-centre people would feel very comfortable with.

Walter reminds me it also calls for a balanced budget. I suggest this is something political parties feel obliged to promise or risk being seen as reckless and profligate. As we all know, the national debt rose relentlessly under Stephen Harper and Conservative Governments in Canada routinely live with deficits if the alternative is hiking up tax rates. 

Walter wants to go after those who evade tax who increase the tax burden on everyone else - those who play by the rules. Speculators and house flippers are also targets. He wants to see a “Guaranteed Livable Income” to lift people out of poverty. (The details are in the Platform at page 59). Seems to me the Green commitment is to fair taxation.

Expert witness

Walter is a professional engineer who is semi-retired. He also acts as an expert witness focussing on the consequences of delay for any given project. He also deals with productivity issues. When he retired from engineering he lived on the land for five years, building his own home and raising chickens. He wanted to vote Green but there were no candidates – so he got in touch with the Party and offered to become one. He stood in Richmond Hill in last year’s Provincial election.

We are now talking about global heating and I suggest the political climate has, perhaps, never been better for the Greens. The Canadian north is now heating up four times as fast as the rest of the planet and people seem to be listening to the arguments in a way that never was the case before. He agrees.

He says he is getting a terrific reception on the doorstep and voters are genuinely concerned about climate change. He has 78 lawn signs ready to go into the ground and is confident the Greens will do well. (He tells me the Greens had to pay a non-refundable $500 to the Town for a permit to put up election signs! With their meagre resources, this represents a big slice of the money the Party has to fight the election.)

Is a Green vote a wasted vote?

But what about the wasted vote? In a riding like Newmarket-Aurora, dominated by the old duopoly for as long as anyone can remember, why should people vote Green?

He says we should vote for people who will make a difference – not the same old, same old. He says he is angry at all the bull we get from the main parties.

He says Andrew Scheer’s proposed tax credit for people using public transit is not as generous as it sounds since so many people using public transit, like students, don’t pay tax. 

“Scheer makes my blood boil.”

I tell him he is coming across as the angry man and he just laughs.

He says his campaign is trying to shift opinion, move the needle, on some of the most pressing challenges we face, here in Canada and around the globe.

Straight-talking

We cover a lot of ground with me dipping into the Green Platform wherever I see commitments which to me appear controversial or pie-in-the-sky. But Walter gives as good as he gets.

His home page is the CBC (which he says is underfunded) and he devours books like there is no tomorrow. I could talk to him for ages but he has to go and meet the students at Pickering College’s Green Club. He hopes the international students will talk about green initiatives being taken in their home countries. Sounds good.

We shake hands and I thank him for being so open with me. When I fire questions at Walter he doesn’t duck and dodge or hesitate or equivocate. He gives straight answers to straight questions. I find this very refreshing. Too many politicians seemed trained from birth to tell you what you want to hear rather than tell you what they really think.

As we leave Walter says he is going to be making a big announcement at the Newmarket candidates’ debate. 

There is a theatrical pause as he waits for me to ask what it will be. 

And, on cue, I do. 

He just laughs.

This is one secret he is keeping up his sleeve, for now.

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Newmarket’s Deputy Mayor Tom Vegh yesterday waded into the election signs controvery, telling a constituent the Region’s election sign by-law: 

“re timing of the erection of signs applies to municipal elections, not provincial or federal elections.”

Many will consider Tom Vegh an expert on election signs. 

Last year Vegh blanketed the Town with election signs from the word go, leaving his opponents struggling to catch up. They never did.

The Town’s by-law defines an election sign as

“a sign advertising or promoting a registered candidate in a federal, provincial or municipal election, including an election of a local board or commission.”

What happens now?

Yesterday Vegh said

 “Town and Regional staff are meeting to determine next steps in regard to any discrepancies between the two municipal by-laws and how other municipalities are interpreting the regional by-law.”

What an absurd state of affairs! Didn’t they compare and contrast the Regional and Town by-laws before now? Didn’t they know a Federal Election was coming up?

Yesterday I wrote to the Region drawing their attention to the Lois Brown signs which have been erected in clear contravention of the York Region Sign By-law 2015-36. I asked if they would let me know what action, if any, they propose to take.

I am waiting to hear.

Money grab

The Town requires candidates to pay $500 (non-refundable) to get an election signs permit. But what on earth is the purpose if they don’t enforce their own by-laws? Is it just a money grab?

And what about the smaller political parties – and independents – for whom $500 is a big chunk of cash which could be used for campaigning? 

And another thing…

All this begs the question of whether the Town’s by-law is actually enforceable in a Federal election. Under the Canada Elections Act political parties can have electoral district associations and candidates. But independents can also stand for election. By definition, they do not have associations. The Town's Election Sign By-law defines a candidate as:

“...a person who has been nominated under the Canada Elections Act, the Election Act or the Municipal Elections Act.”

Political Parties will say that once they have held a nomination meeting they have a nominated candidate. But what about the independent candidate who has no association and no nomination meeting?

To be “nominated” the independent candidate must file his or her nomination papers with the returning officer. The earliest date for doing this is, I think, tomorrow, Thursday, September 19th.

Election signs are everywhere

But elections signs are now appearing everywhere. This is because the political parties believe the Town's by-law permits them to put up their elections signs on the day after the writ of election was issued – not after they have lodged the candidate’s nomination papers with the Returning Officer.

This means that candidates running under the banner of a political party can put up signs now. But independent candidates (and I don’t know if we are going to have any here in Newmarket-Aurora) cannot put up their signs until their nomination papers have been filed. This is the only "self-nomination" process recognized by the Canada Elections Act.

At the moment there is no level playing field between candidates representing political parties and those who are standing as independents. The answer is to have one date – the date for filing nomination papers – applying to both categories.

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Photo shows Tom Vegh, Bob Kwapis and Kelly Broome enjoying breakfast with Lois Brown and Christine Elliott on 4 April 2018.

The Elections Canada website says this:

When are campaign signs allowed to be displayed?

“The Canada Elections Act does not regulate or prohibit displaying campaign signs outside a federal election period. However, provincial or municipal laws may regulate campaign signs placed on public or private property before or during an election period.”

Conservative candidate for Newmarket-Aurora, Lois Brown, has flouted a key York Region by-law which says election signs should not be erected on regional roads before 23 September. (Regional Roads are major highways operated and maintained by York Region and not the local municipality, in this case the Town of Newmarket.)  

Lois Brown election signs have been put up at Leslie and Srigley (right) and Leslie and Stackhouse in clear contravention of York Region Sign By-law 2015-36 which forbids election signs on regional property until:

“10am on the 28thday prior to the election day”

Why is this important?

Other political parties who obey the by-law are disadvantaged. Lois Brown signs are placed in high visibility locations for a full week before their signs start appearing. It is all about fairness and ensuring a level playing field for all the candidates.

What should happen now?

The signs should be removed immediately. York Region has the power to remove any election sign “placed in contravention of this by-law”. The Town of Newmarket is authorised to act on behalf of the Region and should do so now.

What happens if they are not removed?

The by-law at section 12.4(a) warns a first conviction means a fine of $100 and not more than $10,000.

But a second or subsequent conviction for the same offence means:

“a fine of not less than two hundred dollars ($200) and not more than one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000.00)”

The signs should come down today.

I am posting this at 11.15am on Monday 16 September 2019.

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Update on 17 September 2019: And this is how Newmarket Today covered the story.

Regional Roads in Newmarket-Aurora