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Religious (re)accommodation

There’s an old joke about how as long as there are math exams, there will aways be prayer in schools.

“Dear God, help me with this algebra.”

Many years ago, the public school system here in Ontario dropped the ritual saying of the Lord’s Prayer every day before class. I welcomed that. As a practising Christian, I don’t want people who don’t share my faith to be forced to repeat a prayer that is deeply meaningful to me, but not to them. In a public school system, everyone should feel welcome and valued.

The place for religion is at home, in the church, the synagogue, the mosque, the temple.

That said, there are some times when the calendars of various faiths intrude on the calendars of some schools. On Ash Wednesday, for example, as an Anglican, I would take my kids out of school for the morning – which they are permitted to do without being marked as absent.

And there are faiths that require adherents to pray throughout the day. I believe those children should be accommodated – but carefully. Just as non-Christians should not be required to recite the Lord’s Prayer, so  other faiths should conduct their prayers in private.

Students who need a place to pray should be accommodated in their own private classroom. Not in the cafeteria; not in the gym. Not in a place that inconveniences the rest of the student body.  And if they are in a public school, all the human rights rules apply. Girls are equal to boys. They should not sit in the back or be excluded if they are on their period,

Now shall we discuss how religious accommodation works in the Catholic school system – where prayer is a requirement?

Fodder for another post.


Grief porn

Prince Harry opened up recently about his near-breakdown as he struggled to cope with the emotional fall-out from the loss of his mother, Princess Diana.

It was a brave statement, and one that will, you hope, help others who have struggled with mental health issues find the courage to get help.

But you have to wonder just how much we, the public, and specifically those who need to grieve publicly for people they hardly know, contributed to Harry’s  despair.

In  the aftermath of Diana’s death, the world demanded the Royal Family put their grief on display for all to see. The Royals were at Balmoral when the tragedy happened – and nothing they said or did was enough to quieten the baying hordes. The Royals were criticized for (a) going to church as usual that Sunday morning; (b) Not returning to London quickly enough; (c) not lowering the Royal Standard at Buckingham Palace.

They were a family deeply shocked by Diana’s death. No matter what the broken relationship was between Prince Charles and Diana, the fact was there were two young boys who had tragically lost a mother they adored. And who adored them. Yet they were not allowed to grieve in private. We wanted to see them. We wanted them paraded before us in their moment of deepest, direst agony.

While the world obsessed over meaningless gestures – such as flying a flag at half-mast – two young children were going through the worst time of their lives. The Royal Family was clearly struggling to deal with that very personal grief. And the world didn’t much care about them.

The most comforting place for a family at a time of such sorrow is often church. The solemnity, the ritual, the still, small voices of calm, can provide great solace for those who are suffering.

Yes, possibly the Queen should have returned to London earlier – but this was a sudden and shocking turn of events. Don’t forget, this was a caring grandmother trying to help her grandsons through a massive tragedy.  Who in the same situation would board a train to London?  There was no PR manual to help them through it. Possibly one of the most poignant news photographs I’ve ever seen was that of Prince William and Prince Harry following their mother’s casket.

Yes, there were things the Royals could have done more elegantly. There were things that weren’t said right. But there were two young boys caught in the middle of all the finger-pointing and recriminations. As the world made its way to the gates of Kensington Palace to leave their bouquets, too few considered what was happening to them. We have a right to expect certain things of the Royals: they should attend public events; they should lend their names to charitable fundraisers. They should give leadership in times of war or when the country is suffering. They should also be there for times of celebration.

But the pomp and circumstance aside, they are still mortals. They should be allowed their private grief and not be judged on how they mourn.

Because 20 years on, you have to ask if the public’s need for the Royals to mourn in public  isn’t in some way to blame for some of what Harry went through.

Fixing Hydro

Call me crazy, but why is it PC Leader Patrick Brown’s job to fix the mistakes of Liberal premiers? Liberal spin doctors such as Scott Reid are trying to portray Brown as an empty vessel, because he hasn’t revealed his plan.

Hello? It’s the mess of Kathleen Wynne and Dalton McGuinty. They created it. They should solve it. Frankly, I think the mess is so enormous at this point that there is no solution. The Liberals’ best fix is to dump even more debt on future generations. That isn’t a plan. That’s a cop-out. It’s just pouring gas on the debt fire.

Saddling this province with such massive debt is not the way out. And they are making it impossible find a solution. But in their spin about Brown, you can once again see the Liberal play book getting re-written for next year’s election.  Scare voters into voting once again for their ruinous governments.

Foolishly, the Tories insist on telling the truth in elections. Tim Hudak didn’t actually say they were going to fire 100,000 civil servants in the last election. They said they’d eliminate 100,000 positions. There’s a big difference. It needs to be done – but no one will dare promise fiscal responsibility in this province any more. Why? Because balancing the books and living within your means are measures that are just too scary.



Ask the Canadian nerd

A young university student from Oakville has UK television viewers sitting up and taking note.

Eric Monkman, 29, an economics student from Oakville, is the latest star  of the nerdy UK TV quiz show, University Challenge, in which teams from universities across Britain compete for the top prize.

Monkman’s acquired something of a cult following as he spits out answers  in rapid-fire succession. His intense frowns, odd mannerisms and unique way of blurting out answers have captivated quiz show lovers in the UK.  This week, he led his team from Wolfson College, Cambridge to the semi-final of this year’s season of the show, and acquired adoring admirers on social media along the way.

Britain has a fascination with quiz shows and other programs that invite viewers to pit wits with contestants. And smart people with encyclopedic knowledge frequently become as famous for their nerdy know-how as pop stars do for their music in North America.

If Monkman were, say, a soccer player who was tearing up the turf at Wembley, we’d be feting him back here in Toronto and bragging of his prowess. That fact he’s a smart, well-educated kid means he’s just cruising under the radar.

Hey, good luck Eric. Nerds across the GTA are cheering for you!


Breast before date

The bizarre column by Globe and Mail writer Leah McLaren that purported to describe how, as a twenty-something and not a lactating mother, she contemplated breast-feeding Wellington-Halton Hills MP Michael Chong’s baby underscores once again the odd attitude North Americans have with breastfeeding.

Those of us who are of my generation (read old) and from a background that is not from the uptight, tightly-wound, well-heeled North American middle class (read poor-ish) are quite puzzled at the weird preoccupation people like McLaren have with breast-feeding.

Growing up post-war in Britain, it was perfectly normal for families to breastfeed their children. Unless you were royalty or very, very wealthy and hired a wet nurse, that was what you did. I can remember visiting school friends and watching as their mothers nursed babies.

Why? Certainly not because it was trendy. It was cheaper, easier (once  you get the hang of it) and you didn’t have to go through the whole routine of sterilizing bottles. And it was that connection of watching mothers nurse their babies that kept the connection for their daughters. Why did we breastfeed? Because it never occurred to us to do anything else.

In North America, for some reason, there’s a prissy attitude that breasts are not for feeding. Is it that women here are so conditioned to the notion that their breasts are sexual appendages and not to be used for the purpose they were intended? Who knows? Do their husbands find it repulsive? Don’t know. But they need to get over it.

Where did we lose that connection with our mothers who breastfed? And why do we now aggressively have to make such a noisy debate about reconnection? The militant La Leche League and other organizations guilted women into breastfeeding. They, too, were just as ridiculous. Bottle-fed babies do just as well. Let’s not name and shame those who don’t or can’t. Besides, fathers can have a greater part in the baby’s feeding when the baby is bottle-fed.

Breastfeeding is one of the most natural things in the world. Except, of course, when you’re at a party and you’re contemplating breast-feeding a baby which is not yours with milk you do not have.

And then you go on to embarrass that family – an possibly yourself –  by later writing a column for a national newspaper talking about your disturbing thoughts.

Look: It’s a breast. If you can and want to breast-feed, terrific. If you can’t – or don’t want to – that’s fine too.  Pick your poison – so long as the baby gets fed. A friend of mine once wanted to listen in church to a sermon by a visiting bishop. She had a small baby. She sat at the back and when the baby fussed, she put a blanket over her shoulder to hide any offending “parts” and simply nursed the child.

The baby was quiet. The congregation didn’t realize what she was doing. And the bishop smiled happily, knowing that baby was happy and his sermon was uninterrupted. And she didn’t write a column for the Globe and Mail about it.

Possibly the greatest act of maternal love I’ve ever seen was a woman whose baby was in the neonatal unit at Women’s College Hospital. She was from Northern Ontario and had just given birth to a premature baby. She had children back home and had to return to care for them. She made arrangements to express milk every day and Air Canada agreed to fly it   to Toronto.

But nursing someone else’s baby without their consent? Hmmm. Might want to get some help with that.




Defining terror. Defying terror

We are told never to jump to conclusions after an attack such as the one that happened in Westminster today. We should not call it terror until we know what happened.

Terror comes in many forms and has a broad definition. Terror is when someone – anyone – attacks a community, a state, a nation, a people at its very heart. When places that are ancient and familiar and treasured are under attack, then it is terror – whether it’s the IRA, the Red Brigades or ISIL that has committed the act of violence. Last year, Britain was rocked to its core by the assassination of British Labour MP Joe Cox by a fanatical political opponent.

And Britain has a history of dealing with terror. Queen Victoria survived at least eight assassination attempts. When I was young, the IRA was terrorizing London with random bombings.

In World War II, what was the Blitz if not a nightly terror attack by the Nazis on the British capital? My parents survived that, although they were bombed out of their house one night – all the windows in their house shattered. Were they frightened? Of course, I’m sure they were. Did it weaken them? Not at all. It made them more determined to survive , to win and to say they were proud to do so.

Terror doesn’t intimidate Londoners – not the Cockney market stall sellers; not the swanky folk in Knightsbridge. It strengthens their resolve to carry on with heads held high and preserve what they hold dear.

We don’t know what happened in Westminster today. We don’t know who did it or what crazed ideology – if there was one – was behind it. What I do know for sure is that normal service will resume as soon as possible in London. It always has.

Deconstructing Greg Sorbara

My, but Greg Sorbara is one canny political operative.

There he was on TVO’s flagship The Agenda show with Steve Paikin last night, giving a very savvy run-down on the upcoming election.

“This is going to be a very difficult campaign,” opined Sorbara. He should know. He is largely credited with masterminding some of the Liberals’  greatest election campaign triumphs. He’s one of the most politically astute operatives around. When he speaks, politicians listen. Reporters turn on their recorders. TV camera lights go on.

“It doesn’t look good for the Ontario Liberal Party,” he went on. But then he went blithely on to praise the good job the Liberals have done.

“This Liberal government has done a really good job,” he said – mentioning schools, the economy, healthcare and infrastructure spending as centres of excellence. He mentioned in passing the government’s battle with doctors – but slid over it as a hiccup on the road to greater Liberal glory.

Okay, let’s take a look at that record. This province is the most indebted sub-national government in the world. The Liberal government has tripled the accumulated debt since they took over in 2003. It’s not for a lack of spending. The Liberals have hiked taxes time and time again – through their “health care levy,” the introduction of the HST, eco fees, hikes in user fees on licences and now through cap and trade.

Yet they still can’t balance the books. Their handling of the electricity sector leaves you wondering if this province can ever recover from their mismanagement. The manufacturing sector of this province, the great industrial heartland that produced thousands of good blue-collar jobs, was fuelled by cheap, abundant electricity. The mainstay was always the Sir Adam Beck plant at Niagara Falls that produces the cleanest, greenest, cheapest electricity on the planet. With the ruinous Green Energy plan, the province at times spills water at the plant in order to buy electricity from expensive wind turbines and solar sources.

That is not good management.

Healthcare is a mess. We have seen massive spending boondoggles in eHealth and Ornge. Meanwhile, nurses are laid off and doctors in this province are threatening job action.

Education? Well, rural schools are being closed, so kids have to take long bus rides to school. And Newstalk 1010 is running a series this week that talks of violence and other problems in schools.

But you have to hand it to Sorbara. He’s an old hand. He knows how to say utter rubbish with a knowing look and with great authority and pretend everything in the garden is lovely.

“I don’t understand why the people of Ontario are so down on the Ontario Liberals,” Sorbara told Paikin, “and particularly Kathleen Wynne.”

There are “grave, grave,” problems ahead, he said.

I suspect that statement has more to do with internal Liberal politics than for broader public consumption. Is he sowing the seeds of dissent within the party to make way for a snap leadership contest? Sorbara is a powerful voice in the party. And he doesn’t like losing. When Sorbara whispers, Liberals listen. Does he have a new leader  in mind?

Sandra Pupatello? Steven Del Duca? Yasir Naqvi? Michael Coteau?

The possibilities are endless.