Sarah Thomson


Voters fear Liberal bureaucracy is too powerful

Provincial Liberal strategists are blaming their losses in the August 1st byelection on the gas plant scandal, and while this is a big negative issue it’s important to understand what people are truly reacting to.

I should disclose that I am am a past candidate for the Liberals in the 2011 election. So I come at this with a bit of experience and a little insight into how things run within the party.

My advice to Premier Wynne is to make sure that she addresses the true issue around the gas plant scandal: it isn’t just about what was done but more about who did it.  The public is upset because the Liberal election campaign team seemed to have more control than those who were elected.  That the campaign staff had enough power to stop the gas plants is what truly upsets people. The feeling on the street is that the bureaucracy has become far too powerful and devious.  That is the true issue the Premier has to deal with and voters will be watching closely to see how she handles it.

Replacing staff is a good first step but if the Premier doesn’t curtail their power it will amount to very little.  Liberals lost three of their held ridings because the candidates they put into those ridings lacked the authenticity needed to overcome the devious image the gas plant scandal has cast over the Liberals.

As things currently stand the Premiers campaign staff are selecting too many of the candidates they want. This is a huge mistake and one that will have big consequences in the next election.

Allowing campaign team staff to have control over the elected politicians, over government policy, and extending it to choosing the new candidates gives them far too much power and influence not only over the new candidates,  but also over MPPs who need their help to get re-elected. It shows how strong the bureaucracy has become.

You wouldn’t run a company and put your staff in charge of selecting their supervisor or managers and as the leader of the Liberal party the Premier should not be allowing her staff to hand pick the candidates they want. Not only is it bad for government but it will also hurt her chances of winning.

Why? Because staff will pick people most likely to do their bidding, to cover up their mistakes, and to bend to their will. This means that a whole group of excellent politicians, will not have an opportunity to run.

Gone are the vocal candidates, and anyone who would stand up to the staff.

Gone are the community activists who don’t always agree with the a policy position and drive the party to change – keeping the party relevant to voters.

Gone are the candidates who worried openly that the campaign team was getting too powerful.

When the Liberal campaign staff control the candidate selection process it becomes insular – they get other staff or past staff in as candidates, or bureaucrats they know will do as they are told. But in doing so they risk voter support – as the past byelection demonstrated.

For example, take the byelection in London West – a riding that has been held by Liberals for a decade and where Ken Coran, former head of the Teachers Union, was announced as the candidate with all other possibles shunned. Coran the man who took credit for pushing the Liberals out in the Kitchener byelection in 2012. Among staff he was seen as the man who beat them, and he was treated with awe and respect. Among Liberals he was seen as a big gun for the NDP – a wolf the farmer thought a dog and mistakenly put in to guard the hens. Liberal voters refused to come out and vote for him. He lost by a whopping 9,637 votes to the NDP and even trailed the Conservatives by 6,256 votes

Or look at Windsor-Tecumseh riding which has been held by the Liberals since 1995. Liberal candidate Jeewan Gill won a nomination, but his experience working as special assistant to a former MP hurt him on election day. Voters saw Mr Gill’s background and connected him — albeit in error — to those devious election staff behind the Gas Plant scandal. The NDP had a landslide win with Percy Hatfield taking the seat away from Liberals easily.

In the riding of Etobicoke-Lakeshore – which has been liberal for a decade  – the campaign team hand-picked their candidate dissuading all others. But they picked Councillor Peter Milzcyn a candidate who was viewed by most voters in the community as being a Conservative and served on Rob Ford’s executive. The general public didn’t look at his history as a Liberal Party riding president, it’s only party insiders who noted that but less active Liberals didn’t trust him and stayed home on election day.

The role of the politician is to represent what voters want. But when party staff show up as political candidates voters worry that their loyalty will be to the party bureaucracy first and because of the gas plant scandal, the next election campaign is sure to focus on the issue of Liberal Campaign staff having too much power.  If it does any candidate who is or was a political staffer will have a tough time winning.

Premier Wynne needs to prove to voters that she is strong enough to curtail the bureaucracy, to take control away from her staff and put it back into the hands of the elected officials.

I recommend three actions to the Premier:

First — set up a campaign selection committee of politicians who can and will stand up to the campaign team and work to dissuade staff or former staff from running as candidates.

Second — have the candidate selection committee review the candidates her staff have already put in place. There are ridings that now have current or former Queens Park staff as candidates, that have had staff pack the nomination meetings in order to get their guy in. As things now stand they are very likely to lose those ridings for the same reason they lost so many in the byelections … voters will see staff or former staff as the bureaucracy weaseling in to gain even more power. Staff should be encouraged not to be involved in any way in the nominations.  I have met many of these “staff” candidates and know them to be good solid people —  but unfortunately the trust voters have in Queens Park staff or former staff or anyone tied to the bureaucracy is at an all-time low.

Third — have the candidate selection committee entice strong active community advocates to run for them. They need to select people who aren’t afraid to say what they think, who have name recognition and are active in their communities. Voters need to trust that their candidate will not only represent their issues, but stand up to the powerful bureaucracy that a decade of government has enabled.

My nightmare about Toronto’s Mayor

I had a nightmare last night.

I dreamt that I was running for Mayor again and was at a debate, it was ending and I had to stand beside Rob Ford for the usual pictures. We were lined up on the stage and as we organized I was trying to carefully put someone between myself and him because I had noticed that his eyes were glazed over, he’d been repeating the same line “stop the gravy train” over and over again, and I knew he was wasted.


I worried that he might grope me again, and tried to put someone between us but at the last minute they moved and I had to stand beside him and smile. I had trouble smiling thinking how much I’d grown to dislike him. I kept telling myself he’s an addict have sympathy. The next thing I knew his hand was on my butt. The cameras were clicking and I froze again. I wanted to punch him – but I had to control my anger. If I hit him a photo of it would be on the front page of the all newspapers – and it would set a terrible example for my sons. I controlled my anger.


I stepped away and looked behind me to see if anyone had witnessed it. Nobody seemed to be looking our way. I turned back to him and he had the same salacious grin on his face I’d seen once before. All the worries I’d felt then came rushing back to me.  What if a video of it appeared online? Would it look like I “liked” it. I was after all smiling for the camera’s. How would the press spin it? Would they frame it as a secret tryst between us? I could never let my husband be humiliated with that sort of thing. Should I get out in front of the story? But if nobody had seen it then wouldn’t it be better to stay quiet especially after what happened to me the last time I accused him.


Then it was suddenly the next morning and my phone was ringing. A  reporter was asking me if I was having a fling with Rob Ford and my heart started beating fast. i repeated the question loudly and my husband jumped out of bed and was on his laptop in no time. I excused myself from the call and looked over my husbands shoulder the headline read “Dirty Secret between Rob Ford and Sarah Thomson” and there was a picture of a meaty hand on my butt.


I screamed “No” and sat bolt upright in bed, me heart still racing from the nightmare. The boathouse was quiet and I could hear a loon call in the distance.


Political spin and subway propaganda

Despite the Liberals committing close to $1.4 billion for the subway in Scarborough, Mayor Ford is out on the campaign trail with PC candidate Ken Kirupa claiming that Liberals don’t back subways and dismissing Mitzie Hunters claim of being a subway champion as a “bunch of malarky.”

The issue comes down to who to believe? As far as I know Mr. Kirupa does not smoke crack, does not hang out with drug dealers, but like Mayor Ford he claims to want subways although he has never been part of the push for subways in Toronto.

I do know that Mitzie Hunter is a transit advocate, and have heard her speak dozens of times as CEO of Civic Action on the need for regional transit.

Rob Ford claims that Conservatives will build subways but to date the only money that has been dedicated to the Scarborough subway has come from the Wynne Liberals, and it doesn’t appear that Ford has managed to get any financial commitments from the Federal Conservatives. This seems extremely odd, since most large infrastructure projects across Canada are split 3 ways between, city, province and the federal government.

Winston Churchill once said “The farther backward you are able to look the farther forward you are likely to see.” I would add that good governing is about making hard decisions for the long-term. Bad governing occurs when politicians make short-term decisions to gain votes.

Unfortunately the provincial Conservatives have demonstrated bad government over the past two decades. Starting with the Mike Harris government, like Mayor Ford they offered immediate tax cuts, but ignored the long-term impacts. Their decision to sell highway 407 to balance their budget was a lesson in complete short-sightedness. The Harris government sold the 407 for only $3.1 Billion, estimates three years later valued it at well over $12Billion.

When it comes to subway and transit expansion what worries me most about the provincial Conservatives is their history of short-term decision making. Take the Harris government decision in 1995 to halt the extension of the Yonge line to Downsview as well as the Eglinton subway project. Current leader Tim Hudak was a key player in the Harris government when the Eglinton subway line, estimated to cost $2.6 Billion in 1995, was cancelled and buried in. Today we are paying close to $8.2 Billion for the Eglinton crosstown line.

The short-term decision to cancel transit expansion projects across the GTHA by the Harris government created the gridlock we have today. The C.D. Howe Institute estimates that gridlock is costing residents and businesses well over $12 Billion per year.  The Progressive Conservatives have a long history of short-term decision making that have costly long-term impacts on Ontario residents and businesses.

So today if Rob Ford reaches your door and promises that Conservatives will deliver subway expansion ask him why they cancelled it in the 90s, and why the federal Conservatives haven’t come through with any funding — and check to see if his eyes are glazed over.

Rob Ford the taxman

Toronto city council voted in favour (28-16) to replace the worn out RT line with a subway from Kennedy station east on Eglinton north on McCowan to Shepperd Avenue East. By approving the subway council has cancelled the $1.8 billion LRT it had approved last year, which was fully funded by the province. It is expected that the under ground subway option could cost close to $1.1 billion more than the LRT.

The subway expansion requires the Federal government contribute at least $418 million and that the province contribute $1.4 billion., and the city make up the additional funds with a 1.1 – 2.4% tax increase along with new development charges.   This places most of Toronto’s portion of the additional funds needed for the subway expansion onto homeowners as development charges get passed on to them as well.

Council approved a series of motions to try to limit the cities risk, and asked that the province and Ottawa commit to funding by September 30.

But perhaps the most momentous event of the past week was that Rob Ford has changed his tune from the “No Tax” man to calling for an increase in taxes to pay for transit in Scarborough.  Like many politicians before him his desire to get re-elected has caused him to change his most sacred position. Rob has spent over a decade raging against any and all tax increases, and yet for the past 3 years done very little hard work — while taking credit for the work of other councillors. Without bothering to do a line by line analysis of all city departments, without finding the efficiencies he promised, without stopping the “gravy train” Rob Ford has chosen to embrace taxes.

Some may accuse him of trying keep his promise of subways, while other might point out that he also promised not to raise taxes, to find efficiencies and stop the gravy train – but to whatever people say Rob Ford has grown into a true politician, authentic to the core he has shown that he is not only a lazy charlatan , but also a hypocrite willing to say whatever it takes to get re-elected.

Rob Ford is calling for higher taxes and I can hear Mayor Miller chuckling…



Toronto’s next Mayor must come from outside city council

Toronto needs a vision, with lack of leadership we  haven’t had a strong long-term encompassing vision in decades.  Without this vision Toronto gets pulled from extreme left to far right of the political spectrum with each election.

It doesn’t help having opportunistic politicians using our differences to divide rather than unite us. Toronto has fallen far behind other cities precisely because we haven’t united, but constantly fall into division.

You only have to look at Toronto’s decaying transit system to see what years of indecision have done. Transit and subway expansion have fallen dramatically behind from a point in the late 70s when Toronto was once a world leader in subway development.  Commute times in the GTA are now the worst in North America at an average 80 minutes. Add to that the cost of gridlock that is estimated 6 billion dollars in lost productivity per year and there is not just a philosophical argument but a strong economic case to be made for ending the partisan division and uniting behind a strong vision.

A strong vision needs a strong effective leader who can build consensus and who will work tirelessly to unify the city. I don’t believe that leader can be found on city council. Here’s why: I’ve spent the past few years working on getting the east west relief subway line on TTC and Metrolinx plans; I’ve also worked to push the idea of dedicated transit funding to pay for the subway and transit expansion in the Toronto region.  This required hours spent at city hall, in committee rooms, councillors offices and at city council meetings.  It gave me first hand experience at city hall with city councillors. I have watched councillors interact, play political games and fight for what they believe in. There are some who truly want to make the city a better place, some who pretend to want to, and others who can’t seem to see beyond their ward.

I’ve watched councillors I thought had leadership potential ignore many opportunities to lead, especially when it comes to subway and transit expansion.

For example Councillor Karen Stintz, chair of the TTC, has changed positions on the Danforth subway line, and the Big Move transit plan, so many times that I doubt anyone knows what her “vision” will be next week let alone a year from now.

Karen is learning, she is determined, and she carries enough doubt to question everything around her. She makes a good councillor, but her constant position changes don’t provide the stability needed for leadership.

If Councillor Stintz had supported the Big Move plan, and instead of announcing her own divergent plan, if she had worked to add the transit lines she believes necessary to the Big Move plan, she would have earned much more credibility and demonstrated the consistency needed for leadership.

In 2012, Councillor Stintz broke ranks with Mayor Ford and  supported Transit City with plans for above ground LRT to replace the aging Scarborough RT.  However in the past month, with thoughts of a mayoral run in her head, she now seems to be backing a subway to replace the RT in a move that looks more like pandering for Scarborough votes than strong leadership supporting underground transit.

But what truly lost my belief in Councillor Stintz was her refusal to take a strong stand on funding tools for transit.  When leadership on revenue tools was needed earlier this year Councilor Stintz, played political games declaring the tools she would NOT support instead of sticking her neck out and backing the tools that she would support. It’s a subtle difference with a huge impact.

As Chair of the TTC Councillor Stintz could have shown leadership by strongly stating to the Province the tools she and council supported to fund subway and transit expansion, but instead she backed away from taking any responsibility. Her actions and those who supported them set the move toward dedicated transit funding back months, perhaps years.  Toronto should have led the region on laying out the transit funding tools that we, as a city, accept. This would have set the stage putting the Province government in the position of having to support those tools or risk looking unresponsive to the need for transit expansion.

By abdicating her responsibility Councillor Stintz delayed and added to 40 years of political indecision around transit funding.

Over the past term I haven’t seen any councillors step up and fill the leadership void at city hall. I’ve made no secret of my support for John Tory. He’s a leader who can unite the city and he understand the importance of dedicated funding for transit expansion.

Transit funding has become a political football at the Provincial level. Dedicated revenue streams for transit expansion are crucial, but it is important that we secure the funding with something like a sunset clause to restrict politicians from using the funding for anything else thus removing it from the political arena. Dedicated transit funding must survive beyond changes in government.

My vision for Toronto is to build an expansive underground transit (LRT & Subway trains) system that supports the Big Move regional transit plan.  To do this the Toronto region will need secured and dedicated transit funding – from a 1% sales tax, to development charges and tolls — we have many options, but we lack politicians with the balls and tenacity to stand up for it








Understanding Toronto’s biggest bullies

Annual spring-clean up in our house means our boys each have to fill a large box with toys for charity — and it always brings back memories of my childhood. My twin brother and I didn’t have a lot of toys.  My parents put everything they had into buying our farm, and building our home.  Any money my father made went into buying shingles, wood or paint.  Our home was an eclectic place and reflected the values of my parents – my father built polished oak bookshelves, but our living room had plywood where the door to the garden should have been.  Our clothes were patched up hand-me-downs from our older siblings, but our house was filled with books.

In the late 70s most of the major banks wanted to get rid of what was they viewed as high-risk farm mortgages. They called in a lot of these mortgages and owners were expected to come up with the funds in 30 days. But once a bank called a mortgage, no other bank would touch it.  A lot of people lost their farms and our family was one of them. We lost almost everything when the bank foreclosed and sold our farm for the value of mortgage owed (not even 1/4 of its value), but we were allowed to keep our furniture … and our books.

We moved from our farm into run-down house in the city.   The house was in what was then the poor area of Burlington in the downtown core, filled with boarded-up old homes, low rent apartments, and community housing. At the age of 11 my brother and I found ourselves in a very different world; we went from building forts in the fields and forests, to exploring abandoned houses filled with drug addicts. At the farm school, most of the kids came from lower-income families and like us, they wore second-hand clothes, but there was more wealth in the city where the upper and middle-class kids came to school in designer jeans.

I was picked on, beaten up and bullied until I learned how to throw a punch, to stand up to the bullies and never back down.  It only took a few good punches before my reputation began to spread. I discovered that most bullies are cowards, and by standing up to them, and yelling just as loudly, I could destroy their status. By high school they avoided me completely.

Like many kids from my neighborhood, I landed my first job in grade nine and worked every day after school, this separated me from the middle-class and rich kids who enrolled in after school sports. But my job gave me confidence and my vision expanded quickly beyond the vast majority of high-school kids who were pre-occupied with a need to fit in.

Back then the middle-class dominated, and kids from wealthy families were as much a minority as the low-income kids.  The kids who focused on their studies were dubbed the school nerds (both low and high income). There was also a small group of wealthy kids who used their wealth to impress and insert themselves into every group.  Driven by their misguided belief in their own superiority, they needed to be popular and enjoyed their influence over the majority of middle-class kids. Bullies to the core they would pounce on anyone who threatened their position. Spoiled by wealth they never excelled at anything, their only goal to hold influence over every group – jumping between the jocks and the druggies – they fit into both groups by amplifying their basest and most common attributes. From the class clown, to cool jock, to drug dealer they needed popularity and would do whatever it took to get it. As they aged they fell behind their peers, never having to achieve, their adult lives are a constant attempt to mimic their high-school years.

Even now I can spot the older versions of those high-school bullies. They still don’t fit in, often with radical views and poor judgment. Inheriting their wealth with no need to work hard for anything, they have bravado but lack the confidence that comes from true success. This stunted development (often noticeable in their vocabulary) leads to addiction issues with alcohol and drugs giving them bursts of false confidence. Some are drawn to politics for the power and influence they so desperately need.

These political bullies claim to speak for the average person, pretending to be just like them, they hide their sense of superiority behind crass language and campaign slogans. They loathe minorities, outspoken women, and anything that challenges their status. They pretend to hate the press but need the attention and are drawn to the media, like a moth to a flame. Their lack of personal development puts them at odds with their peers and often embroils them in scandals that seem to be self-inflicted. They work to destroy anyone who stands up to them, deflecting scrutiny, and denying anything that might compromise their support.

Unfortunately they know how to appeal to those with below average intelligence. Using slogans and propaganda, they stir up negative emotions – jealousy, division and hate – to fuel their supporters.

Like any bully, the only way I know to stop them is to punch them back, expose their lies, and never back down. Eventually their supporters will see them for the privileged and spoiled charlatans they are and abandon them.




THOMSON: Compromise, consensus and casinos

In Toronto, political ambition and partisanship  get in the way of our ability to unite around anything truly visionary or significant. There is  a growing division between suburban and downtown, between wealthy and poor, between drivers and cyclists. But there is also an opportunity to end the division, and it rests in the shared issues that arise as Toronto grows as a city and urbanism reaches out to the suburbs.

It is hard for politicians to step out of the divisive political arena, but compromise is the key to uniting the city, and to compete on the world stage we must have a strong, united city or risk falling behind.

I thought about this when studying the casino proposals for Toronto. The casino issue is working as a wedge to divide our city. It has strong support among the suburban councilors and strong objection from many in the downtown wards. Support is focused on the jobs and income potential the casino complex could bring to the city while objection aligns around the evils of gambling and the harm a casino complex could bring to the surrounding community.

I, for one, don’t support either position. I understand the positive arguments suggested by the pro-casino advocates, but I also worry about the negative aspects pointed out by those in opposition.

Looking closely at the jobs that an entertainment resort and casino might bring to Toronto one might think it fantastic — but the sales pitch around the project sounds a little too good to be true. For example MGM’s proposal is suggesting its entertainment resort and casino on the Exhibition grounds will bring thousands of “high-paying jobs” in the hotel and services industry. But resort casinos in other cities often reduce the price of hotel rooms and meals in order to attract customers into their casino. If a resort casino at the Exhibition grounds did this, it would very likely cannibalize from existing hotels and restaurants in Toronto’s core, drawing customers to the resort for cheaper meals and rooms. This means job loss in the core – which translates more to a shift in job location rather than a large gain in overall jobs. As well the average wages being bandied about in the discussions seem inflated, with suggestions of approximately $60,000 average wage, but the average wage casino workers in Toronto earn closer to $25,000.

While I don’t buy into the casino sales pitch I do see the potential, and the positive impact such huge investment could have on Toronto. But there is also a huge risk that a box-like casino would turn the area into a slum. The only solution is a tight and stringent design plan that recognizes the importance of the surrounding community.

With an issue like the casino it is easy, and almost second nature for some politicians, to jump to partisan positions in order to create the political controversy needed to unite supporters in time for the next election. The lines are being drawn, the insults are starting to fly but now is the time to tread carefully. There are a core group of councilors who are weaving their way carefully through this minefield. They see the political posturing for what it is, and they want to have more insight into the actual casino proposals. It is these Councillors who can and will set the stage for a new approach to city building — they have the opportunity to unite the city through their actions, their words, and their ability to compromise.

Nobody can ignore the huge empty parking lots at Exhibition Place and the need for redevelopment. Investment dollars could turn the space into a hub of activity.  Instead of trying to shut the entire project down, we should focus on creating strict design requirements to gain as much as we can from the investment dollars brought to the city, and provide the best possible outcome for all residents in Toronto. The first step is to outline conditions for consensus and I recommend each and every councilor write out the conditions that would allow them to support the huge investment that an “entertainment resort and casino” would bring to our city.

For example would they support a resort casino complex if it had these conditions:

  1. The resort would be built at Exhibition Place and the first requirement before any buildings go in would be to tunnel Lakeshore Road and create a park and pathways over it from the Exhibition grounds to Ontario Place.
  2. The land would remain under city ownership with a long-term lease issued to the developer. Exhibition Place is one of the most valuable pieces of property that Toronto owns and ownership of the property must be kept for future generations.
  3. A height limit of 10 stories on all buildings so that sunlight and views to the lake would not blocked to residents in the Trinity-Spadina area.
  4. All parking to be built underground.
  5. Toronto is losing too many historic buildings (100+ years) and the design requirement for the casino resort must be unique and stand out from all other resorts. Each structure built must reflect design features of the Beau Arts style of architecture (Liberty Grand) or the Art Deco Style (Horse building) that were originally built on the Exhibition grounds.
  6. The resort would have to have mixed use and allow 7% space for artists studios and start-up offices for tech/media at significantly reduced rents to create an arts and innovation hub for the city.
  7. The casino portion of the resort would not exceed 7% of the entire complex.
  8. All work (construction) to be done by trades registered in Ontario.
  9. A community garden with fish pond and greenhouse, producing local food demonstrating cutting-edge green technology, should be part of the resort complex, kept and maintained by the resort.
  10. Full accessible transportation must be provided around the resort complex and tie into the transit already coming into Exhibition grounds.
  11. All historically significant buildings must be kept and maintained.

Creating requirements like those above are a small step toward building consensus. There will be councilors from both sides who oppose but it is those willing to enter into the discussion who show their true leadership

THOMSON: Standing up to the bully in the schoolyard and in the city

“Courage isn’t the absence of fear but the belief that something else is more important than fear.”

In public school I was bullied. I was the prime target for one freakish girl who intimidated all the other kids. Her tactic was to have her victims ostracized by making up lies and turning others against them.

Everyone knew what the bully was doing but scarce few wanted to challenge her. It was easier to go along with her tyranny than to try to stop her. Her abuse got physical when she punched me in the stomach, pushed me down and kicked me until I was swollen and bleeding.

My father decided that enough was enough and spent a weekend teaching me how to stand up to a bully. He taught me that a bully is just a thug hiding behind bravado. Bullies never gain true courage — the only way to stop them is to stand up to them.

My father taught me how to duck and throw a punch; to make a fist and to close my eyes just before I swung so that I wouldn’t pull back; to use my foe’s weight and balance against them. He told me that speaking out was like a lion roaring, that I could use my voice and words to stand up to her as well… but if that didn’t work I should aim at her nose, punch her hard, and then run like hell.

The following week I walked the halls a changed person. My bully taunted me like before, but I threw her words right back at her. Furious at my audacity, she told me she would punish me after school. By the time the final bell rang there was adrenaline coursing through my veins. I felt the fear but focused instead on my anger.

Outside the school kids had gathered around the bully and were chanting “FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!” The circle closed around me as she began hurling insults. I stared silently at her, my eyes focused on her every move with my fists clenched and ready to fight.

She threw her first and only punch and I stepped aside. As she fell forward I aimed, closed my eyes, and hit her square in the face. I could hear something crunch.

When I opened my eyes again I saw her on the ground with her nose bleeding all over the white snow. Everyone was quiet. I stepped towards her and she scrambled away. I yelled for her to get up and fight but she was frozen with fear. I turned to the crowd and asked if anyone else wanted to have a go at me. They all backed away.

In that moment I felt powerful. I wanted to hurt someone. Right then I could have kicked her on the ground the same way she’d done to me. Then a wave of disgust passed over me. I felt dirty, like a thug.

The seconds ticked by in silence until I roared that if she ever picked on anyone again she’d have to answer to me. I walked away and held my tears back until I was a block away, but I felt two inches taller that day. I’d found the courage to stand my ground.

Today there is much more education and awareness around the issue of bullying. Kids are informed at school about the problems bullying causes and are taught better ways to deal with a bully.

Recent events have, however, reminded me that school yard bullies often grow up to be adult bullies. Some people never fully mature and they continue on, stunted, pushing people around with their words and actions, and for some reason a lot of these grown up bullies end up in politics.

The most recent experience I have had was with an impulsive bully. Despite the consequences he had a hard time restraining his behavior. His arrogance and lack of respect for women is concealed behind an act of awkward shyness but it comes to the surface when he gets intoxicated.

I won’t forget the look Rob Ford gave me as I stood in the middle of a party, pawed over and speechless. It wasn’t the leer of a horny drunk after a quick grope, but the malicious smile of a bully who wanted to demonstrate that he could have power over me. His courage was fake, brought on by whatever drug he’d consumed.

I missed my chance to punch him in the nose… and if I had it would have set a terrible example to my sons. But I was not going to let him get away with it. There are different ways now for women to roar. Social media provides us a microphone that wasn’t available even 10 years ago. But it is a double edged sword. It can help the truth come out, but it can also spread the worst sort of lies. After I posted Rob Ford’s grope on Facebook, he and his brother used their influence over the media to brand me as a “crazy” opportunistic woman who simply wanted attention. They used my own words – that I thought Rob was on cocaine – against me, because (at the time) it was crazy to even suggest that the mayor would use narcotics. The court of public opinion was not fair, although eventually as the truth came out about the Rob Ford’s drug habits people realized I was telling the truth.

Silence is the veil that enables a bully to flourish. But out voices, if we have the courage to use them, will stop a bully in their tracks.

Emotional poverty

In Canada the law around sexual assault is designed to protect women from “secondary wounding” that can escalate when the accused holds a position of power and influence. Secondary wounding occurs when people respond to a woman who has been sexually assaulted by making her feel ashamed for coming forward, or blaming her for fabricating the assault.  From minimizing the magnitude of the event, to implying the victim desired financial gain or attention, secondary wounding turns the victim into the criminal and forces the woman to defend her allegations.

In Canada any victim of sexual assault can report an incident to the police in complete anonymity. The victim’s name and picture are protected and will not appear in the press or be released by the police unless she chooses to go public. With municipal political figures a complaint should be made to the OPP rather than local police, who risk being in a conflict of interest.  By making a complaint with the police the offense gets registered and if another is made the police take the previous offenses into account. Sexual assaults often lack the evidence needed to convict the assailant and without proof many women choose not to go to the police fearing that their lack of evidence will only result in dismissal of their claim and work to empower the accused even further.

While I like to think Toronto is a very progressive city there are still old notions of how women must behave that dominate conservative thinking.  Pundits promote the myth that women should never claim sexual assault without proof, ignoring that most sexual assaults occur when eyes are turned the other way. Sadly, if a woman does go public the backlash can be cruel – especially from those who cling to archaic social structures, spewing their opinions with no regard to the secondary harm they cause to the victim.

Social media (facebook/twitter) is creating a more transparent world, challenging the social structures that protected male entitlement.  Women who speak out about sexual assault represent an affront to the old way of doing things. The establishment insists women should deal with sexual assault privately through the police — but without proof charges usually get dropped and the criminal walks away justified. Studies show that the recidivism rate (reoccurrence) of sexual assault can be as high as 88.3 per cent.

With enough exposure calling someone out through social media will put the incident on public record and can serve to bring other victims forward.  The accused has every right to sue the victim for defamation, but this is unlikely because those who commit assault usually have a lot more to hide than their victims.

Studies have shown that there are shared personality traits among men who commit sexual assault. They are men with terrible role models like Chris Brown, or O.J Simpson; they are men raised to be thugs. They cling to anything that focuses on male strength; they hide their emotions, and claim not to “understand” women. Men convicted of sexual assault have an overwhelming sense of privilege that extends not only to the world around them, but into their personal relationships. The respect they show for others is a performance rather than a true understanding of civility. Their relationships aren’t fulfilling or empowering because they aren’t taught the value of respect for themselves, their influence in the world, or their impact on others. They view women as objects rather than equals.  Their exalted belief in their own male perfection dampens their natural drive to mature and develop as individuals. Without this drive emptiness haunts them, drugs and alcohol numb them, and their relationships are chaotic.

These thugs have children, and their daughters grow up believing their fathers’ misconceptions and sharing the same view of success – power, money and men.  They use their sexual power over men and cling to it because in a world of male entitlement it’s the only power they have — but as they age their relationships fail, they become less attractive, and they lose their sexual power over men, turning into sad bitter women lashing out at women who don’t conform as they did.

I could never hate someone with this level of emotional poverty. They are people who are raised without ever understanding the importance of civility or respect. They are deprived of ever having strong meaningful relationships. They rarely question themselves or their limited version of the world around them. And they fight against anything that doesn’t conform to their myopic sense of male entitlement.

There are times when it is important to speak out. When a thug attains power their sense of entitlement escalates, they become falsely confident, demanding and taking more from all those around them. They justify their illegal behavior (drugs/assault/drunk driving) by claiming the “stress” of their position drove them to it.

It is never easy to stand up to the tide of male entitlement that floods our society but unless we do there will be a new generation of emotionally stunted thugs who shun challenge, who expect the world to serve them, and who don’t understand how to have respect for themselves or others.

Civility is the glue that holds us together in a safe, fair and just society. Civility requires respect for others, the ability to accept the truth no matter how it is presented. Civility doesn’t force people into silence, or shame those who refuse to follow custom. Civility stops us from harming each other and allows a deeper understanding of the human condition.