Friday, December 09, 2005

Why I’m Mad at Olivia Chow

“Anyone can be angry; that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right reason, and in the right way, this is not easy.” (Aristotle in Nicomachean Ethics).

would acknowledge that my today is appropriate. He said that only persons who are “slavish” never feel angry. Anybody who has integrity and cares about other persons or issues will want to defend them and will feel outraged if they are wrongly treated. Well, I am a peace and I feel outraged today.

was, until a couple of days ago, a Toronto city councillor. We’ve been slightly acquainted for over twenty years, since she worked for Don Heap, then a who let me come to his office to phone peace activists across Canada, gathering news for Peace Magazine. I know Olivia’s husband, , somewhat better. (At least I guess so; he hugs me instead of shaking my hand, if that counts for anything.) I was invited to their wedding. Jack’s the leader of the , Canada’s own social democratic movement. We’re in the midst of a federal election campaign in Canada now and Olivia just resigned from to run for parliament – her third attempt. Three weeks ago I attended her $150 a plate fundraising banquet. It was billed as a celebration of her twenty years as a politician.

Well, I have also been busy over the past twenty years. As a university professor I ran a program in which up to thirty students majored. I also participated in NGOs in Canada and abroad, especially Science for Peace, a Canada-wide organization of some 300 scientists and other intellectuals headquartered at the University of Toronto. (I understand that its members have included all Canadian Nobel laureate scientists since it was created.) I have edited Peace Magazine, firmly convinced that the most valuable way of contributing is to identify and show how to curtail .

Evidently Ms. Chow does not agree, for she has refused to write a letter saying so. I cannot help regarding her dismissive response as an affront. To be sure, one way of reducing conflicts is to learn not to take issues personally, but sometimes that would miss the point. (There’s a scene in an early comedy when his girlfriend decides to break up with him. He asks why she’s dissatisfied. She replies that he’s no good in bed — “but don’t take it personally.”)

I take peace personally because that’s been the main aspect of my life for twenty-two years — especially when it involves Peace Magazine. Like virtually everyone else in the organization, I have worked without pay the whole time and, indeed, have often paid from my own pocket to keep it going, especially in the early years. (I stopped counting such expenditures long ago, after I’d covered $60,000 of its costs.) In the early years we published an issue every month, but gradually decreased publication frequency to quarterly, with a current print run of 3,000 copies. Our editorial committee meets twice a month in my home, after which I design the pages on my Macintosh. Besides volunteers, the staff consists of one employee whom the magazine pays for approximately eight hours per week. (Most magazines have a paid staff, of course.) In recent years my able assistant, Ken Simons, has shared the time-consuming work of production with me.

In the early days the magazine had considerable financial support. During the nuclear movement of the 1980s, the federal government supported an institute for peace research, which in turn helped pay the magazine’s expenses, sometimes to the tune of $30,000 per year. Our founding honorary patrons included Toronto’s mayor, Art . From the outset and always thereafter, we have sent a free copy of every issue to every city councillor, every parliamentarian in Ontario and Ottawa, and every senator. The magazine is an open forum. Naturally, there is considerable agreement among contributors and readers, but occasionally articles (and especially letters) take positions that are at odds with the average Canadian peace activist. Our publication is absolutely consistent with the political and social values of the NDP.

In the 1990s the disarmament movement declined, probably because the Cold War ended and people mistakenly believed that weapons were no longer a threat. Subscriptions to dwindled and we faced insolvency, though activists appreciated the work we were doing. Eric , the founding president of , proposed a contract between the magazine and SFP, which had charitable status and was therefore eligible for a lottery license to run bingo games. I was on the board of directors of SFP and have served three times as its vice president.

Like most other peace activists, I have felt frustrated that universities and other government-funded institutions support research on strategy, but not peace research institutes. However, there was a chance to use the provincial government’s provisions for charities to hold bingo games. I suspended my misgivings enough to explore the opportunity and found it less repugnant than expected. The average player seems to regard the hall as a social club where one can spend three or more hours for about $15. I didn’t see anyone who appeared to feel desperate about winning or losing, and indeed I found a British study showing that bingo players have greater life expectancy than their stay-at-home counterparts. (Simply going out is healthy for people and helps keep old people mentally alert.) (See photo.)

In any case, for the past decade I have regularly officiated, as a director of Science for Peace, at bingo games about eight hours per month. From the proceeds, SFP pays for publication of peace-related research books and certain pages in our magazine. Two members of the Peace Magazine board of directors are appointed by SFP. In each issue, twelve pages are now devoted to material selected by editors representing Science for Peace; the magazine is paid $5,400 per issue, which has enabled the publication to continue, with funding from the heritage ministry. The remainder of the proceeds constitute a significant part of the money that Science for Peace spends on its research and extensive public education program.

Nevertheless, a few years ago the province approved the establishment of casinos, and this has drawn away part of the bingo clientele. A number of bingo halls have closed, though an increasing number of charities request licenses. Several months ago the municipal administration of licensing was consolidated and everyone was told to expect closer reviews of renewal applications. Science for Peace has an excellent record of compliance with the regulations, such as submitting game reports promptly. Nevertheless, the new official in charge of recommending renewals decided not to support our application. It seems that a new criterion had been adopted without notifying us: the proceeds must be spent mostly in Toronto. Nevertheless, we have managed to adapt our circulation arrangmenets to comply with this rule.

Still, in his letter to the Mr. Frank Cuda, the provincial authority who actually rules on such matters, the municipal manager, Mr. Gary White wrote: “…it would appear that the organization is ineligible due to a lack of programs and/or services that directly benefit the residents of the City of Toronto. Currently lottery proceeds are spent on the publication of the magazine “Peace Magazine.”

Since all city councillors have been receiving Peace Magazine since its inception, several members of the Science for Peace executive committee met with the assistants of three of them, Councillors Chow, Giambrone, and Pantalone, requesting that they write to Mr. Cuda, explaining that Torontonians do benefit from the magazine and the numerous public events that Science for Peace organizes at the University of Toronto. Councillor Pantalone has replied that he defers to the decision of Councillor Chow, in whose ward the University of Toronto (and hence Science for Peace itself) is located. But Councillor Chow has declined our request.

Unlike Olivia Chow, I do not want a banquet to celebrate my twenty years of public service. I do not want celebrities to give speeches about how wonderful I am. I already know that what I do is valuable. I want much more modest levels of recognition than she does: I just want a letter acknowledging that the work I do, along with the other good members of Science for Peace, counts for something. We want to be able to continue working for peace and publishing facts and opinions that will inform Torontonians and their leaders about how to preserve the world.

As an active member of the New Democratic Party, I normally contribute hundreds of dollars per year and have participated in numerous advisory consultations. I can no longer participate with integrity in the party. Confronted by this insult, I must resign my membership and work instead through non-political activities. As Aristotle recognized, there are times when one must either feel anger or act as an obsequious slave. I believe one has an actual duty to express indignation when that is the . Now is one of those times.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I understand this correctly, your angry at Olivia Chow, and the NDP party because Olivia would not right a letter stating how wonderful you are?

Jeez, get over yourself.

4:52 PM  

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