Spotlight: Building up Little Jamaica

Liam McCurry

In 2018 when Romain Baker and Dane Gardner-Williams saw the gentrification and erasure of black culture happening in Little Jamaica, they founded Black Urbanism TO.

Although Little Jamaica wasn’t the official name of the stretch of Eglinton Ave. from Allen Rd. to Keele St. until April 2021, it was unofficially acknowledged by the community for decades, says Gardener-Williams. “It needed to be branded as Little Jamacia,” he adds “But there is a want for more intentional work to be done beyond designation.”

Black Urbanism TO works to preserve and protect the community, “making sure these communities and their interests are spoken to,” he says, ensuring the culture and community of Little Jamacia continues to live up to the name.

“Pathways to Community Ownership,” the organization’s plan for the future of black businesses in little Jamaica, proposes strategies to, “reduce the barriers for black-owned businesses and increase access to property ownership for the residents of Little Jamaica through various wealth building models.”

The big question for Gardner Williams and Black Urbanism TO is, “how do we keep the soul, and how do we give these people the opportunity to actually participate in this economic growth of the area.”

“We understand condo and transit development will happen,” Gardner Williams says, “developers, city planners, people with no real connection to the area or community they’re not going to think about how we can allow these residents to maintain (their) living here.”

“Protecting and preserving black business as the city redevelops and develops staying rooted in the foundations of those businesses and communities allowing them to… have a place where Black economy in the City of Toronto can thrive.” Is the mission of Black Urbanism TO.

These communities have made Toronto attractive based on heritage and culture, and “business is the front face of cultural identification,” he says.

After all, concludes Gardener-Williams, “Without those communities, the City of Toronto is a pretty bland and regular place,”

Spotlight: Bringing the community to the ravines

Liam McCurry

InTO the ravines works with community leaders to activate the power and space of Toronto’s ravines. It’s a joint program between parks advocacy organization Park People and the City of Toronto.

Koa Thornhill, the program manager at Park People, says they are “finding ways for folks to joyfully engage in their local ravines or the Toronto ravine system.”

The program educates community leaders, and helps these leaders share their knowledge with the rest of the neighbourhood and then connect their neighbours to nearby ravines. Micro-grants enable these community leaders to host events such as walks, bird watching, scavenger hunts and indigenous knowledge-sharing.

By supporting the city of Toronto’s ravine strategy, this program looks to remove barriers for communities. Obstacles to enjoying Toronto’s ravines include concerns about the safety of the ravine and a lack of knowledge about the space. Sometimes people don’t even know they can go into a ravine, notes Thornhill.

The program is “not just about getting folks there, but the relationship they can cultivate that is essential for their well-being,” Thornhill says.

InTO the ravines is trying to “foster a sense of connection and belonging with the space,” Thornhill says, so “people are more likely to get involved and care over the protection of the space.”

The program is in its third year of running. The goals in the first couple of years, she says, were to see what happens when communities are provided with training and resources to go out into the space and to identify the needs and the barriers.

The program aims to break down these barriers, get people to understand and know these are spaces for the community to engage in and have people realize that going to a conventional park isn’t the only option in this city, she says.    

Rather than a top-down model, the program works by supporting local communities to come up with their own ways to engage with their local environment.

Instead of, “we’re doing something for the community. It’s really the community doing something for the spaces,” Thornhill says.   

Spotlight: Bringing the city together through art

Liam McCurry

“Art is a means of communicating things that are gritty and difficult to talk about,” says Alexis Kane Speer. “Art in public spaces is really important for communicating different stories and starting a dialogue for getting people to think critically about the spaces we travel.”

Speer is the executive director at STEPS, an informal collective of artists, planners, and community organizers.  Now in its tenth year of operation, STEPS (Sustainable Thinking Expression on Public Space) is a registered charity that uses art to bring people together in public spaces.

From the beginning, STEPS saw an appetite for public art from the community, Speer says.  Starting with a focus in the GTA, their reach has since expanded to five provinces. 

STEPS finds potential projects by responding to community needs or outreach, understanding the type of project that makes sense, then using their roster of over 200 artists.

STEPS facilitates projects such as murals, sculptures, participatory public art activations, cultural service art and workshops. 

In the 2017 revitalization of the Roncesvalles pedestrian bridge for example, what was formerly a slab of plain concrete crossing over the Gardiner and Lakeshore Blvd. West to the waterfront is now teeming with bright colours and abstract designs inspired by the great lakes thanks to STEPS and artist Justus Roe.       

Speers and STEPS look to engage as much as possible with underrepresented artists. “More than 70 per cent of artists STEPS has worked with in the last three or four years have been Black, Indigenous, racialized, LBGTQ, or disabled,” she says.

“We see public art as a way that we can help amplify perspectives,” Speer says, “and claim space for them.”

Beyond public art, STEPS has an artist capacity-building program, a business improvement area (BIA) program, and cultural planning services.

Speer also points to a current project to develop a toolkit to measure the impact of public art on the local economy and business districts.

The plan for STEPS in the future is to keep expanding nationally, especially in mid-sized cities that may not have a public art organization or culture plan. 

Spotlight: Getting Scarborough pedalling

Liam McCurry

Scarborough Cycles has been working to create a strong community of cycling in Scarborough, with the help of research and advocacy organization The Centre for Active Transportation. 

Marvin Macaraig is a health promoter working at Scarborough Cycles, now in its seventh year of programming. 

Scarborough Cycles was launched when data revealed an explosion in cycling in downtown wards from 2005-15.  But during the same period, Macaraig says, cycling declined in North York and Scarborough suburbs. 

“If you’re trying to move the needle on sustainability or biking or active transportation, you have to go where there is the most opportunity,” he explains, and Scarborough is where the opportunity is. 

Scarborough covers one-third of Toronto’s land mass and is home to some 650,000 people, but only had one bike shop before 2015. 

Scarborough Cycles maintains three bike hubs to help riders tune their bike, get the proper equipment, learn about their bikes, and even buy or earn a bike. 

They were the only bike hubs in the city that were able to stay open and help front-line workers during the onset of the pandemic, Macaraig says.  

The hubs are run out of multi-use buildings such as community and resource centres or in partnership with the City of Toronto and Toronto Community Housing.  

The most crucial part of what Scarborough Cycles does, says Macaraig, is “trying to find pockets and networks of people in the city that will never join a bike club but will ride every day.”

Macaraig says the program’s plan to keep building bike culture beyond downtown i “identify a population, newcomers, refugees, or youth and identify their barriers, then remove the barriers to ride and keep riding.”  

After that, the only barrier left is personal safety, he says. In 2022 the best option for personal biking safety is separated bike lanes. “It’s a political leadership problem.”

But Scarborough Cycles is ready, says Macaraig, “so that when it’s time for a consultation to put a bike lane in Scarborough, we know whom we can draw on for support.”

Spotlight: Stepping towards sustainability

Liam McCurry

Based out of Vaughan, the Sustainable Technologies Evaluation Program (STEP) is working to fill the gap between lofty climate commitments and the practical steps consumers can take to decarbonize by demonstrating technologies that work. 

STEP conducts pilot projects on new technologies and collects data on performance and experience. “This process de-risks new technology for potential adopters and overall helps accelerate the transition to low-carbon,” says Erik Janssen. An analyst for STEP, he has been working on various projects for almost ten years.

The City of Toronto has worked closely as a partner to STEP. “It’s a natural partnership,” Janssen says. “We have the same goal.” 

One of the program’s main goals is to raise awareness and break the myths surrounding carbon emissions and potential solutions.

As an example, Jansen notes, “awareness is very low that there are much greener alternatives to the conventional furnace and A/C systems.” 

Focusing on ground and air source heat pumps, STEP is engaging in multiple activities to raise awareness of low-carbon alternatives to heating and cooling your home.

Heat pumps are a more energy-efficient way to heat or cool your home. Instead of generating hot or cold air, heat pumps use electricity to transfer warm air to a cool place or cool air into a warm place.

The most significant source of carbon emissions in Toronto and the GTHA is not from industry or transportation but from natural gas used to heat homes and buildings. 

“The most significant challenge for sustainability in the city, therefore, lies in drastically reducing the natural gas consumption of homes and buildings,” Janssen explains. 

There are technical challenges to overcome, such as ensuring that the grid is up to the task and that electricity is being produced from low-carbon sources.  But, he says, the technology is there to reduce emissions.

Watch for STEP raising awareness on social media, speaking at workshops and webinars, developing case studies for actual retrofits, and creating a question-and-answer portal for homeowners. 

Canadian Conservatives are at a crossroads

Liam McCurry

Candidates Patrick Brown, left, Leslyn Lewis, Scott Aitchison, Pierre Poilievre, Jean Charest, and Roman Baber pose for photos after the French-language Conservative Leadership debate Wednesday, May 25, 2022, in Laval, Que. Brown was removed from the race in July. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Canadian conservatism is a constantly developing ideology. Right now, the party is in the midst of one of the most dramatic changes in its history, if not at least since the Conservative Party of Canada was founded in 2003. 

The transition may be seen as rapid, but the foundation for this shift has been percolating for quite some time. 

The finality of where Canadian conservatism is will be clear on Sept. 10, when the party holds its convention to pick a new leader.  

The reality of Canadian federal politics is that two ideologies dominate the landscape and form government, liberalism and conservatism. Conservatism, liberalism, and democratic socialism exist in the three major parties. The parties have factions within that battle to become the overarching ideological foundation Canadians use to elect a government. 

These foundations shift from time to time, but these foundations for the Conservative Party of Canada could now be shifting significantly. 

Matt James, a political science professor from the University of Victoria in British Columbia, said this conservative leadership race is “by far the most outwardly divisive leadership contest and the most starkly ideological one.” 

Political pundit Penny Collenette — who worked under Jean Chrétien in numerous positions, is a law professor at the University of Ottawa and is a recipient of the Order of Ontario — said in March that this Conservative leadership race is a “battle for the soul of the party.” 

The differing ideologies within the party have been somewhat subdued when the leaders have gotten together on stage for debates. Most are calling for unity and decorum so that when the general election comes around, any damage done during the leadership race has not disqualified the Conservative leader in the election. 

But at times, debate and discourse have boiled over into direct attacks on other candidates.   

Whether it is Jean Charest attacking Pierre Poilievre for supporting the “Freedom Convoy,” Leslyn Lewis attacking Poilievre for not supporting it quick enough, or Poilievre attacking Charest for working with Huawei or challenging his record as Premier of Quebec. 

It led Preston Manning, a Canadian conservative icon, to send a letter to leadership candidates stating fears that attacking each other during the race would deepen divisions within the federal conservatives and be detrimental to the party in a general election.   

The history of Canadian conservative thought is as vast and complex as the country itself and draws influences from outside the borders.  

The party’s recent history is a more robust brand of blue conservatism than the old way of red or blue Tories that thrived by occupying the centre of the political spectrum with some left-leaning policies.  

From Joe Clark to Preston Manning to Jean Charest to Stephen Harper to Pierre Poilievre, there has been an array of ideologies defining conservatism in Canada.

Populism isn’t new in Canadian politics what is different is the feel and intensity, Collenette said. 

Timeline of Conservatism in Canada

Chris Cochrane, a professor of political science at the Munk School of global affairs and public policy at the University of Toronto, said the current brand of conservatism in Canada has an American tinge to it. 

“There is a current of conservatism emanating from the United States,” he said earlier this year. “I don’t think he (Poilievre) is a Donald Trump, but that element of conservatism is a force to be reckoned with.” 

That was seen at the grassroots level when the “Freedom Convoy” occupied the streets of Ottawa for more than three weeks earlier this year. Poilievre is the candidate best able to bridge the gap between true blue conservative and populist type Trump conservative, Cochrane said.  

Poilievre brands himself as unapologetically a straightforward conservative, something other conservatives shied away from over the last 20 years, he said. 

In the past, conservative leaders in North America didn’t want to portray themselves as hardline true-blue leaders. George W. Bush called his brand compassionate conservatism, and Stephen Harper called his incremental conservatism, Cochrane said.  

Canadian Conservatives have moved away from the party that traditionally worked to preserve what has worked in the past and shied away from being expansionary or visionary.  

This leadership race could change the fabric of the party, remaking in ideational terms if Poilievre wins the leadership, Cochrane said. The candidate has a broader vision than simply reacting to Liberal policy proposals.

Traditional values such as less spending and limited government have stayed the cornerstones of conservatism in Canada and will continue to after this leadership race, he said.

There is a bit of a paradox, maybe it’s the unapologetic nature or toughness being displayed by some candidates, but conservatism still leans on those values of limited government and less spending. Still, Poilievre and candidate Roman Baber make true blue Tories like Preston Manning and Brian Mulroney look more like their red Tory counterparts. 

During the May 5 debate in Ottawa, Baber said, “we can’t run to the right during leadership, and the left during the general election.”

Charest and Scott Aitchison say they want to unite the country, while Baber, Lewis, and Poilievre have set out to make Canada “the freest nation on earth.”  

Moving on the fly in the general election could cost a leader their job. Just ask Erin O’Toole. 

O’Toole campaigned as a true-blue conservative but became more progressive after he was picked as the leader in 2020, Cochrane said. 

Hugh Segal, the former chief of staff to Brian Mulroney and author of The Right Balance, said in his book that the loss of “perspective on any issue is the most unpardonable sin for any conservative.” 

Victoria University’s James agrees.

“Changes in ideology influence the party could influence ideology,” he said. “It is difficult to disentangle the ideology and the party. 

Andrew McDougall, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, said the party has some historical divides geographically and division between fiscal and social conservatives. Western Canadian conservatives are “more individualistic and less communitarian and more socially conservative in many ways.”  

The new split in the party appears to be those who are sympathetic to the trucker message and everyone else, he said. This has created an environment where social conservatism seems to have taken hold in the party. 

Harper was sympathetic to the views of social conservatism but was able to keep those voices somewhat subdued when he was leader, McDougall said.   

But the re-emergence of social conservatism is not all that surprising. Maxime Bernier was one per cent off winning the leadership of the Conservative Party before he splintered off and founded the People’s Party of Canada, taking a few percentage points of the popular vote with him in the 2019 general election.

This makes Poilievre “perfectly positioned” to take some of these Conservative votes, Cochrane said.

On paper, the ideology of a conservative like Poilievre does not seem to command significant support from Canadians at large, James said.   

But elections are hardly ever won on ideology alone, he said. 

The factors that go into a general election are immense, including favourable media coverage, public perception of the leader, possibly a general feeling of fatigue, and overall campaign strategy are almost always more critical factors to win an election in Canada, James said. 

“If Conservatives win or lose the next election, it will not be because of ideology,” he said. The ground for this battle between progressive and social conservatism had been laid down well before this leadership race, James said. 

The previous leadership races, especially the one that picked O’Toole, foreshadowed this coming age of this version of Canadian conservatism, he said. 

Poilievre, “running as someone who is almost sympathetic to conspiracy theories does not seem to be holding him back,” McDougall said. 

When the leadership race concludes on Sept. 10, all Canadians will have a clearer understanding of conservatism in Canada.  

How will the ‘Freedom Convoy’ affect the Ontario provincial election?

Photo Credit/ Liam McCurry. Freedom Convoy supporters at Vaughan Mills as the convoy passes through Toronto, Ont.

While Ontario Premier Doug Ford was announcing the removal of tolls on highways in the Durham region, a massive police response to the occupation of Ottawa began.

By the end of the weekend, thousands of police officers from across the country had arrested some 170 protesters and removed hundreds of vehicles that had ground the downtown core of Ottawa to a halt for weeks.

Sam Andrey, the director of policy and research at the Ryerson Leadership Lab in Toronto, Ont., said, “the Ford government, despite Ottawa being in Ontario, sort of got away with taking a back seat on it, even though policing is their jurisdiction.”

“The feds felt compelled to invoke the emergencies act because when the province did it, it didn’t have its intended effect.”

Robert Bothwell, a historian and professor at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto, called the convoy an “insoluble dilemma.”

“The basis for conversation is absent. There are no common facts,” he said.   

The provincial party and their leaders had a hard time cutting through the noise during the freedom convoy fighting with many stakeholders and storylines, Andrey said.

There is speculation that Ford and his cabinet must be at odds with each other on what to do with anti-vax protests. Cabinet meetings go on for long periods must mean there is some disagreement on how to react, Bothwell said.

Could there be an opportunity here for the smaller fringe parties of Ontario?

It’s possible the Freedom Convoy’s coverage increased the number of people aware and sympathetic to the cause, but it is also likely their actions turned people off as well, Andrey said.

He also believes there are more questions than answers surrounding the small fringe parties such as the New Blue party of Ontario or the Ontario Party.

“Will they have candidates in every riding? If you assume that’s the voting base of the parties, will they split it even further?” Andrey asked. 

“I think you saw it play out federally with the Peoples Party that got a notable number of votes but still relatively small,” Andrey said.

These parties may try to create a wedge in right thinking conservatives, these parties will run almost exclusively on anti-vaccine, and against restriction measures, he said.

Andrey said it’s not very likely any of these parties will win a seat. But it still is “a noteworthy phenomenon.”

Election donations tell a similar story. The Ontario Party has a similar amount of 2022 donors and funding as the Green Party of Ontario, and the New Blue Party is lagging both in the number of donors and the amount of funds raised.

“Party membership does not mean party activism. What you need is people who will actually pound the pavement,” Bothwell said.

The current leadership for anti-lockdown measures is suspect, he said.

Randy Hillier, an MPP that, was kicked out of the conservative caucus and a prominent voice against public health measures. He mirrors the extreme problems with the right-wing in the U.S., “the delusions are pretty well the same,” Bothwell said.

Ford’s latest approval ratings from the Angus Reid Institute show he is currently at the lowest of his tenure, with a 30 per cent approval rating as of Jan. 2022.

“I do think Ford will try to end restrictions to try and scoop up votes that could’ve gone to the other parties, but still will come at a time when restrictions would’ve been lifted anyway,” Andrey said. “And try to position the other parties as the parties of lockdowns.”

The fringe parties will undoubtedly claim these lifting of restrictions as a win for the anti-public health measures movement, he said.

“They haven’t announced enough of their plan to know where they are running and know exactly how much of a factor they will be,” Andrey said.

A problem for Ford would be if a new variant or any backsliding could change the campaign come May, he said.

Evidently, the province took a back seat in their jurisdiction to the federal government. Maybe they didn’t want to be the bad guy, “I’m not sure if the rest of the province will remember that, but certainly Ottawa will,” Andrey said.

Zelenskyy addresses Canadian Parliament asking for help, no-fly zone

Courtesy: Government of Canada

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged that Canadian politicians “need to do more” against Russia during a virtual address to the House of Commons on Tuesday.

Zelenskyy came with a message and a request, “please do not stop in your efforts. Please expand your efforts to bring back peace in our peaceful country.”

The President explained to Parliament the difficulties facing Ukraine.

“Imagine cruise missiles falling down, and your children asking you, ‘what happened?’” he said.

“Dear Justin, dear guests: can you imagine that every day you see memorandums about the number of casualties, including among women and children? You heard about the bombings: currently, we have 97 children that died during this war,” Zelenskyy told the House.

Canadian politicians, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Interim Opposition Leader Candice Bergen, each expressed their gratitude to the Ukrainian president for his courageous leadership against Russia and in the defence of democracy.

Arguably the most moving response to Zelenskyy came from Green Party member Elizabeth May, who urged the world to find the tools needed to achieve peace.

Zelenskyy acknowledged the House for supporting Ukraine with military and humanitarian aid and “serious” sanctions on Russia, but he also pled with them to, “please, close the sky.”

David Cortright, a peace scholar, author, and director of Policy Studies at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, was not optimistic Canada would grant Zelenskyy’s request to close the sky.

He called it a “non-starter” with “potentially horrendous consequences.”

Robert Austin, a professor at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, who specialises in eastern European politics and relations, said granting a no-fly zone would be considered, “an act of war,” and would, “widen the war immediately.”

Interim Conservative Leader Candice Bergen said Canada and its allies must do more to at least secure some air space to allow refugees to flee the country.

“We need to protect, at a minimum, the airspace over the humanitarian corridors,” she said.

Canadians are split over supporting a no-fly zone over Ukraine. A Leger survey of 1,515 Canadian adults conducted between March 11 and 13 found 47 per cent would support a no-fly zone over Ukraine, even if it risks escalating the conflict. The survey reported a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 per cent.

Zelenskyy also called for stiffer sanctions against Russia as current military support and sanctions imposed on Russia by Canada and its NATO allies “unfortunately, did not bring an end to the war.

“Increase sanctions so they will not have a single dollar to fund their war effort,” he said.

Cortright agreed, saying that a continuing enforcement of sanctions is important.

But Austin said increased sanctions might just be what Putin was preparing for, as “isolation is a long-term goal” along with eliminating all western influence. It could assist Russia in anchoring itself into a new reality.

Deflecting blame for the hardships the Russian people will face on the west, will become a problem, if it isn’t already, Cortright said.

Today, the average Russian is facing severe repercussions from the Kremlin for any dissenting opinion, he said.

Although Cortright is optimistic diplomatic channels to peace have remained open, others such as Austin and Zelenskyy don’t share the same feelings toward the on-going peace talks.

“Peace talks are a fraud,” Austin said, “Russia is not willing to put anything on the table that Ukrainians can swallow.”

The bombing of civilian targets reveals Putin’s goal, and that is not to build a relationship with Ukraine, he said.

Zelenskyy was blunt in his assessment of Russian initiatives in Ukraine in his address to the House.

“It’s an attempt to annihilate the Ukrainian people, an attempt to destroy everything that we as Ukrainians do,” he told the House. “It’s an attempt to destroy our future, to destroy our nation, our character.

“This is their main objective,” he said.

Canadians struggle with mental health worsens as COVID-19 continues: survey

Credit: Pexels/Tima Miroshnichenko

A recent Angus Reid survey found more than a third of Canadians are struggling with their mental health.

The survey of 1,509 Canadians between Jan. 18 and 20 reported that 36 per cent reported mental health struggles before Omicron became the dominant variant. That reflects an increase of more than 10 per cent since the variant became the dominant COVID-19 strain in mid-December, the survey said.

The survey also found 23 per cent of Canadians are twice as likely to report they are feeling “depressed,” compared to the 12 per cent who would say they’re happy.

The online survey, which reported a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 per cent, found Canadians are seeing struggles with anxiety worsen within their families and social circles as the pandemic drags on.

In addition, 66 per cent of respondents reported depression and anxiety in their social circles worsened during the pandemic, and 35 per cent indicated it’s a significant problem in their circle.

Canadians are pessimistic about the outlook for 2022. Seven per cent say they are “barely getting by,” and half of Canadians, 51 per cent, believe the pandemic will not end in 2022, the survey said.

Dr. Melanie Badali, a registered psychologist at North Shore Stress and Anxiety Clinic in Vancouver, B.C., doesn’t put all the blame on Omicron and COVID-19.

“Mental health and illness do not occur in a vacuum,” Badali said. “When we talk about mental health, we need to consider social determinants, economic factors, other health status, racism, gender identity, sexual orientation, culture, and generation, among other factors.

“There are multiple intersections of wellbeing and factors beyond an individual’s control,” she said.

This has created issues for people who care for others, said Dr. Taslim Alani-Verjee, the founder, director and clinical psychologist for Silm Centre for Mental Health in North York, Ont.

She said caregiver burnout is an issue that has been exacerbated during the pandemic.

Alani-Verjee said there is less predictability and more stress.

“We all just have our own stuff. And it makes it so much harder to take care of other people’s stuff,” she said.

But, doing the little things such as making a meal or ensuring a caregiver is taking care of themselves goes a long way, Alani-Verjee said.

A key is providing anyone who needs it a space to feel their feelings and not trying to change the way they are feeling, she said.

“It’s not our job to cheer people up, it’s not our job to help them see the bright side,” Alain-Verjee said. “It’s all perspective but, if a situation is crummy or the situation is hard, they are allowed to feel crummy and frustrated about it, make sure they feel that their emotions are ok and valid.”

Gender and age gaps among those who seek or receive help persist in Canada. Something that is not uncommon but hopefully is changing, Alani-Verjee said.

Canadians over 55 are less likely to open up to friends or loved ones about mental health, and men in general are less likely to talk about these types of issues, the survey said.

“There is a lot of stigma around men’s mental health, especially among certain age groups and cultural groups. It’s up to us to help reduce the stigma,” Badali said.

Alani-Verjee said she is more likely to see women and younger people at her practice. However, she said she has recently seen more referrals for older men during the pandemic.

“Men are socialized not to pay attention to their emotions and push through to be strong and tough,” she said. “The idea of needing to talk to someone about feeling is new, uncomfortable.

“The capacity to be strong and to just get through it is starting to wane and men are realizing that is not a sustainable strategy for them,” Alani-Verjee said.

She hopes mental health care will continue to be a priority after the pandemic but says there are barriers to care she wants to see addressed, hopefully by the government.

Alani-Verjee said there should be more subsidised mental health care and mental health coverage by OHIP, or at least greater access to mental health care for individuals under a certain income bracket.

People in the community are struggling, and doctors, including Alani-Verjee, see people for free, something she said is not sustainable.

Other health professions don’t have these financial barriers that exist within mental health care, Alani-Verjee said

“I would love to see the government do something about that,” she said.

Biden seeks to sway key Dems in senate vote to protect voting rights

Courtesy: White House

By: Liam McCurry

U.S. President Joe Biden issued a bipartisan warning to lawmakers: history has not been kind to those who work to suppress the right to vote.

Despite his promise to challenge the voting restrictions in front of students and reporters at the Atlanta University Center Consortium on Jan. 11, those who support at least 33 state-level laws stemming voting remain defiant.

Also notably absent were leaders and activists from the voting rights movement.

Cliff Albright, a co-founder of Black Votes Matter, said he’s tired of words.

“What we need now is action,” he said on Twitter.

Biden, acknowledging his silence the previous year in the fight for equal voting rights, agreed. “I’m tired of being quiet,” he said.

Last year 19 states enacted laws that restrict voting rights. This year, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris said they are willing to fight back, by any means necessary, against attacks on voting rights in the United States.

What used to be a bipartisan issue has become increasingly partisan and in recent years the Supreme Court weakened the Voting Act of 1965 in a 2013 ruling, Biden said. The ruling allows states to alter their voting and election laws without prior approval from the federal government.

The recent laws subvert elections to “turn the will of voters into a mere suggestion,” he said.

Biden called the new laws Jim Crow 2.0 by promoting voter suppression and voter subversion.

Georgia is one of the 19 states that have made voting by mail or by drop box more difficult and with the history of the Civil Rights Movement in the state made the location fitting for the address, said Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary.

Biden, a self-proclaimed institutionalist, is willing to change Senate rules, specifically the “arcane” filibuster, to ensure two voting rights bills are enacted, he said.

Without amending the filibuster’s 60 vote threshold, Biden and company run the risk of having their voting rights bills obstructed and delayed by the filibuster and republican senators.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) has shown support for changing the rules

“The filibuster has shut down debate,” he said, “It’s designed for people who want to say no.”

“That’s what the filibuster is all about. It’s stopping us from doing anything substantial on voting rights,” Durbin said.

Amending the Senate rules around the filibuster has created a major roadblock to success for Biden, particularly by two democratic members of the Senate, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

Although Sinema and Manchin support voting rights bills overall, they do not want to see the filibuster weakened.

Sinema made a statement Jan. 13 that all but killed proposed amendments to the Senate rules.

“I will not support separate actions that worsen the underlying disease of division infecting our country,” Sinema said.

Biden spoke with Democratic senators on Jan. 13 to further convey his message, Psaki said.

In a midterm election year, Biden views this fight as a defining moment for his presidency.

“The battle for the soul of America is not over,” Biden said. “Do you want to be on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace? John Lewis or Bull Connor? Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?

“This is the moment to decide to defend our elections, to defend our democracy,” he said.