Inaugural Council Speech 

On November 22, 2022, Selwyn Township Council held its inaugural meeting. Council was sworn in and then each councillor, the deputy mayor, and the mayor were invited to make their inaugural remarks. Below is my speech.


Selwyn is a diverse community comprised of those who live on farms, in urban enclaves, in waterfront homes, and in a fully serviced urban Village. Mary, Brian, and I were elected in our wards but now, like Sherry and Ron, we must, and we will consider and represent the interests of all the people of Selwyn.

As a council and staff, we have two challenges before us. First, working as a team, we must be managers. We must manage the maintenance and enhancement of our services and infrastructure.

The second challenge is that while managing, we must also be leaders. Leadership is tougher than management because it entails dealing not with what is immediately before us, but instead, with all that lies beyond the horizon.

Leadership demands engaging in an existential conversation regarding who we are and who we wish to be. In many ways, the five of us are joining that conversation already in progress. The conversation is reflected in our official plan, in our strategic plan, and in the goals of our staff departments.

But part of that conversation should, I think, now become more intentionally focussed upon the pivot point at which we find ourselves due to the most fundamental issue that lies before us — growth. Everything else we address in the next four years will be affected, and informed, by growth.

Growth is necessary because we must play our part in addressing the nationwide housing crisis. We owe it to those in Selwyn now and those wishing to move here, to provide more and more affordable housing. Growth is necessary because we owe it to ourselves to be a vibrant community in which people can work, live, play, and invest. We must accept the responsibility to not just manage how we grow, but to lead it.

Over the next several years, growth will occur throughout the township with the creation of new lots on which new homes will be built. Our largest area of growth, though, will be Lakefield South. When completed, it will be home to 2,500 to 3,000 new neighbours – close to the current population of Lakefield. Let us begin the exercise of our leadership by considering Lakefield South a blank canvas. Let us establish a vision regarding the neighbourhood we wish to build there, within the community we wish to be.

Let us accept the leadership challenge necessary to create, through our development of Lakefield South, a process and showpiece that will inform the growth that will inevitably follow — more in and around Lakefield and Bridgenorth, and more spilling over Peterborough’s borders. Let’s do even more than that. Let’s accept the challenge to make Lakefield South a nationally recognized benchmark in how community building can and should be done. We can do this.

Let’s be clear, the Ontario government has committed to seeing 1.5 million homes built in the province over the next ten years. It has the power now to largely dictate the process through which those homes will be built. Its new Bill 23 proposes to increase that power. We must lead within those provincial parameters. Further, a lot of work has already been done to advance the development of Lakefield South and elsewhere in the Township and we must also lead while respecting that work.

But here again, is the fundamental question before us — we can manage or lead. Leading means that we do not bemoan the power that is not ours, but rather, responsibly apply that that remains. Responsible leadership, in this case, means seeing developers as partners who share our desire to create the best possible community.

We have an extraordinarily professional and skilled staff. We have an exceptionally strong council of which I am sincerely humbled to be a member. It is the strength of our council and the professionalism of our staff that affords me the confidence to propose what I have, and the assurance to know that we can do it.

I thank my wife Sue, daughter Jennifer, and granddaughters Kenzie and Anna who encouraged me to undertake this endeavour and then helped to realize the goal, the many volunteers who supported my campaign, those who engaged me in conversation when I knocked on every door in Village, twice, the staff and my fellow councillors for their dedication to community, and I thank Anita Locke for her years of public service.

I am looking forward to working with the other members of the council, staff, and others, as we critically assess the pivot point at which we find ourselves, and develop the processes and partnerships, based on transparency and trust, that will allow us, together, to lead our way forward.

All-Candidate’s Debate

Granted, it was really more of a joint press conference than a debate, but it still allows viewers to see;

a. what each of the candidates thinks about various issues,

b. their priorities as seen in their opening and closing statements,

c. how well they can express themselves and so how effective they will be in dealing with others on the council, staff, and the community

You can watch the September 29 debate at the link below. Please leave a comment regarding any part of the debate below or contact me at

I hope I can earn your support. Remember that voting begins online or by phone on October 11. You should have already received a letter from the Township with your pin number that will enable you to vote.


The Selwyn Township All-Candidates Debate took place on September 29 via zoom. The link to watch the debate will be available soon and I will place it here.

Below is my opening statement:

My name is John Boyko, and I am running for Selwyn Township’s Lakefield Ward Councillor. I grew up in Peterborough and have lived in and served the community for over 30 years and if you would like to learn more about me please visit my website at

The next council will address many issues and I hope we can address some of them tonight. But I believe the umbrella issue under which all others will rest, because it will shape our community going forward, is growth.

We are at a pivot point.

The Peterborough County and Selwyn Township Official Plans both state that Lakefield will grow through infilling, that is, building over 300 homes in the village by 2051. This determination begs questions regarding available property in the Village, the development off Bishop Street, and the future of Ridpath School.

The Official Plans also establish growth areas; one of which lies between the water tower and the 7th line, called Lakefield South.

If implemented under its current iteration, one preliminary development plan for Lakefield South would see the building of 966 units – houses, townhouses, and apartments. It would represent a doubling of Lakefield’s population.

We are fortunate that we have a fine Township staff who have been handling the development process for several years now and that the preliminary plan is by Triple T; a strong, local company, run by good people.

The next council must navigate this pivot point at which we find ourselves by establishing a clear vision for growth.

We cannot surrender our agency or forfeit our responsibility by saying it will be years before the developments are completed. We must instead acknowledge that we are at a pivot point and that decisions made by the next council will shape our community for generations. It is for that reason that Lakefield needs a strong voice on Selwyn Council. I hope to become that voice.

Pivot Points

We know the moments when our lives change. Sometimes we choose those moments such as when we marry, divorce, or change careers. Sometimes the moments choose us like when we suffer a life-altering accident or the death of a spouse. We recognize the moments as pivot points that split before from after.

Countries experience pivot points. They are sometimes sudden such as when 9-11 quickly changed how we swap inconvenience for security. Sometimes national pivot points arrive in slow motion like when the Great Depression led to new regulatory policies and social programs.

Communities experience pivot points too. Lakefield is at a pivot point right now. The Official Plans of Peterborough County and Selwyn Township both state that Lakefield will grow through building homes in the current Village and in the area known as Lakefield South — between the water tower and 7th Line. Plans now with the current council will, when completed, see the addition of people to our community approximately equal to Lakefield’s current population.

We are fortunate to have fine Township staff and that Triple T, a good, experienced, local company with good people, is presenting the largest of the currently proposed developments. A lot of good work has already been done.

The next council will be responsible for ensuring that growth happens in a way that is in the best interests of those now living in Lakefield — all of whom, after all, chose to live in a village and not a city or suburb. The next council must also consider the best interests of those who live in the rest of Selwyn and those who will be our new neighbours.

The next council must navigate the pivot point by ensuring that the next steps are informed by a clear vision of what Selwyn and Lakefield are and what we want our community to be. That vision must include acknowledging the climate crisis, the importance of a walkable, bikeable, community built for people and not cars, and the importance of parkland containing active elements for kids and families. The vision must include how those in the current village, on the 7th line, and in the new neighbourhood will interact as one community. The vision must include how the safety, lifestyle, and character of Lakefield will be positively enhanced and not negatively impacted by more people, traffic, and strains on already taxed infrastructure, police, fire, education, recreation, and healthcare services.

We cannot surrender our agency and forfeit our responsibility by saying that it will be years before the developments in and adjacent to Lakefield will be completed. Rather, we must acknowledge that decisions made by the next council will shape our community for generations.

Leaders recognize a pivot point when they see it. Leaders see the challenges and opportunities that pivot points represent. Leaders humbly seek to learn, understand, and consult, and then, with genuine, transparent communication, to lead.

Lakefield is at a pivot point and, consequently, needs strong leadership on Selwyn Township Council. I am doing my best to earn the support needed in the October election to become that leader as Lakefield Ward Councillor.

(I hope I can earn your vote. Please contact me with questions, suggestions, or offers of support at

National to Local in Two Minutes

Last Thursday I was humbled by a successful launch to my campaign to become Selwyn Township’s Lakefield Ward Councillor. Seventy-one people gathered at Lakefield’s Isabel Morris Park Pavilion on a beautiful warm evening. Lakefield’s former Reeve, Bob Helsing, was MC and introduced businesswoman Susan Twist and engaged-citizen Sue Bell-Gastle. All said positive things about my candidacy. Their words and the crowd’s presence left me humbled. Then it was my turn.

Part of my remarks addressed the issue that seems top of mind for most people I am meeting at their doorsteps: the planned neighbourhood between the water tower and 7th Line known as Lakefield South. Some people have told me that it’s been talked about for years and will never happen and others that we must stop it. My response to both is the same. It’s happening. Our task is to ensure that it’s done right.

In my speech, I said that we should consider the impending Lakefield South development from a broad then narrowing perspective. To begin, all of Canada is experiencing a housing crisis. House prices and rents are too high, partly because supply is too low. We need more housing across the country, including here.

The Ontario government has designated Peterborough County as part of the Greater Toronto Area, or Golden Horseshoe, in terms of development. Part of that designation makes new housing a priority as much here as Toronto, Oshawa, or Hamilton. The province can issue ministerial orders regarding development decisions.

Peterborough County and Selwyn Township have both submitted new Official Plans to the province for approval. Both have designated two areas in Selwyn for development. One is Woodland Acres, adjacent to Peterborough, and the other is Lakefield South.

So, Lakefield South is happening. We are fortunate that a large portion of the land that will be developed has been purchased by Triple T, the Turner family business. We are fortunate because the Turners are good people, the company is strong with a track record of good work, and it is local. The people who will be on the next Selwyn council matter because to them will fall the task of partnering with Triple T to plan our community’s future.

We must begin with a vision. The vision must be informed by community. We must consider who we wish to attract to live in Lakefield South and how we can help them to interact with each other and those already here in safe and healthy ways. We must enhance and protect the character of the Selwyn-Lakefield community and not simply build a Peterborough suburb.

The vision must be future-ready with considerations that include environmental sustainability, a recognition that the climate crisis is real, and a genuine dedication to doing our part, however small, to address it. Directly linked to that imperative is that we must make the new neighbourhood for people and not cars and so consider safety, walkability, sidewalks, bike lanes, green space versus concrete, and plans for recreation, trees, and landscaping.

We must consider traffic in and around the new neighbourhood so that the tense situation where Lakefield already experiences frequent traffic snarls from the downtown traffic lights to Clementi Street is not made worse. We must consider the challenges and opportunities that welcoming 3,000 or so new neighbours will have on schools, arenas, police, fire, ambulance, and other municipal services.

There is more that can be said about establishing a comprehensive vision and some of this work has already begun but the point, I hope, is clear. That is, the decisions that the next council will make will affect the future of Selwyn and Lakefield for decades. Like the national to local perspective regarding whether the development will take place, we must begin with a vision, let that vision inform the plan, and the let the plan inform the details.

We have a once in a generation opportunity before us. We owe it to those of us living here now, our new neighbours, and to generations ahead, to get it right.

(I hope to earn your vote in the election that takes place beginning on October 11. Please contact me at with questions or comments.)

Change is Coming to Lakefield

Lakefield will change more in the next ten years than in the last fifty.

After decades of talking about it, plans are now being made to build a new community in Lakefield South, between the water tower and 7th Line. Current plans call for 966 houses on 40 foot-lots, townhouses, and apartments/condos. When complete, the development will double Lakefield’s population.

We need to do this right and so we need strong leadership on Selwyn Township Council.

Growth must be fiscally responsible and environmentally sustainable. Growth must protect our community’s safety, character, and quality of life.  Growth must be in the best interest of Lakefield’s current residents and our future neightbours.

I am now enjoying conversations with a great many people about Lakefield’s challenges and opportunities. The most frequent questions I hear, however, are about what will happen to our Village when about 3000 people move in next door.

I am running for Lakefield Ward Councillor to be Lakefield’s strong voice on the Selwyn Township Council. I hope I can count on your vote.

(Please contact me with questions or suggestions:

Five Rules Candidates Should Obey

The municipal campaigns in Selwyn and elsewhere are now underway. Mercifully, though, we’ll not see or hear much until after Labour Day. Selwyn is like all municipalities in that staff has informed candidates of the rules regarding fundraising, where to place signs, and more. But perhaps we could make the experience a little more valuable for everyone if all Ontario’s municipal candidates considered obeying these five additional rules:

  1. Don’t call us voters or taxpayers. We are citizens. Citizenship is a profound concept that informs our collective identity, individual rights, and responsibilities to others. Don’t cheapen citizenship’s nobility by confusing it with voting and paying taxes. They are but two of its duties.
  2. Don’t offer false choices. The most obvious example is the old chestnut of picking either a thriving economy or environmental sustainability. Respected scientists, economists, and urban planners have argued for years that we’ll have both or neither.
  3. If you say something brilliant or dumb or contradict a previously stated stand, social media will instantly let us know. Admit mistakes, apologize when you should, and insist that sometimes more information leads to a more nuanced and perhaps different point of view. We’re grown-ups. We’ll understand.
  4. Don’t underestimate us. Kim Campbell once said that campaigns are not a time to discuss complicated issues. She was wrong. Trust our intelligence and attention spans by engaging us with complex ideas and grand visions. We just may surprise you.
  5. Don’t forget character. Leadership is about character. In fact, in the final analysis, that’s all it’s about. Show it. We’ll recognize it. We’ll reward it.

I am a candidate for Selwyn Township’s Lakefield Ward. I will, of course, follow the Township’s written rules. When asking for support in the soon-to-commence campaign, however, I will also obey the additional five.

(Please check that you are registered to vote. If you would like to support or even help with my campaign, please contact me at

Why Would Anyone Be a Candidate?

It’s a hard slog. People running for municipal, provincial, or federal offices work for months to apply for a job that entails long and thankless hours. Inevitably, half the people think you’re wrong no matter what you do or say. When running and in office, many people insult you, lie about you, and assume the worst about you. Consider the sexist attacks endured by Peterborough mayor Diane Therrien or the invective lobbed at Prime Minister Trudeau when all he did was get a haircut.

Attacking politicians is as old as politics itself. The invention of social media, the erosion of public decorum, and the Trumpian destruction of a foundation of agreed upon facts have made a bad thing worse. So, again, why would anyone be a candidate?

I concede that some people run for the wrong reason. Some run for the money and some to feed their ego. Others run to build their brand for future opportunities. I sincerely believe, however, that they are the minority. I believe that most candidates and, consequently, most who serve, do so for noble reasons.

Consider what Robert Kennedy said in 1964. Months after his brother was assassinated, Kennedy resigned as Attorney General to run as a Senator for New York. He was asked during a raucous event at Columbia University why he was running. I like his answer. Kennedy said, “I don’t need the title because apparently I can be called General for the rest of my life, and I don’t need the money, and I don’t need the office space…frank as it is, I’d like to be a good United States senator, I’d like to serve.”

Robert F. Kennedy

Kennedy offers an important reminder that a public office is public service. When serious people run for the right reasons, they do not do so because they think they are smarter than others, have better vision, or are better able to make important decisions. They run because they care about their community, have thought deeply about the challenges and opportunities before it, and believe they have something to contribute to help make it a little better. The right people run because, like Kennedy, they want to serve.

I am running for Lakefield Ward councillor in my hometown. It’s certainly not as lofty an office as United States Senator and I am certainly no Robert Kennedy. But if I can paraphrase him: I don’t need the money, title, or office space. I am running because I want to serve. I know that sounds corny and perhaps even naive in our world of vicious politics and alternative facts, but it’s true.

Perhaps as we consider the municipal candidates whose signs will soon sprout on lawns around town we might temper our skepticism a little and consider that maybe most of them are running for the right reason.

(If you liked this article, please consider sharing it with others.)

Are We Taxpayers, Consumers, or Citizens?

Introspection matters. It is important for the health of our democracy to occasionally consider how we see ourselves in our relationship with our elected representatives and how they see us. Are we consumers, taxpayers, or citizens?

Are we consumers?  Consumer capitalism developed over many years and became the bulwark of our economic system by the 1920s. The prosperity of our nation became dependent on stuff being made and services being provided for us to buy. We, in turn, were paid for making all the stuff and providing all the services. It was a nice, symbiotic circle. We were in trouble when things stopped being made or became too expensive, or when we stopped buying. That’s what happened in the Great Depression of the 1930s and the Great Recession of 2008-’09. Our leaders understand. That is why after the tragedy of 9-11, the first advice President Bush had for Americans yearning to demonstrate resilience was to go shopping.

When our buying stuff became an economic imperative and patriotic duty, then it is unsurprising that some of our leaders began to think of us as nothing more than consumers. We consume Corn Flakes and health care. We consume iPhones and education. The thought becomes that because everything is a commodity, government exists only to provide things to be consumed that private capitalists don’t or won’t. Our leaders, therefore, promote themselves as providers and we look at ourselves simply as consumers of what they have on offer.

Consumers, Taxpayers, or Citizens?

(Image: UGA Career Centre)

Are we taxpayers? American Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “Taxes are what we pay for living in a civilized society.” I don’t much like paying taxes but I get his point. I pay for things from which I draw benefit. I benefit from living in a society in which there are assumed and enforced modes of behaviour. For example, I can go to a restaurant knowing the food is safe and the kitchen has been inspected and my card or currency will be accepted. I have never left a restaurant without paying. After all, I benefitted from the meal and service and all the government regulations behind the scenes. In the same way, I believe that I benefit from living in a society in which people are educated and healthy. So I may grumble from time to time but I pay my taxes to support public education and health care even though I don’t have a child in school and my last operation was when I had my tonsils out when I was four.

Are we citizens? Citizenship is more than both consumer and taxpayer. It is a more noble concept. It derives from ideas born in ancient Greece and seen in the Iroquois Confederacy. Citizenship suggests membership in something akin to a club or even, at its best, a family. It’s why we carry a membership card – a passport – sing the anthem and celebrate our founding each July. Some of us are born into the family and others can join and become equal members. We too can leave and become a citizen elsewhere. So, in that way, citizenship is not about birth and blood but choice.

As with clubs and families, citizenship involves rights and responsibilities. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms spells them out. They suggest that we not cherry-pick but, as citizens, respect and live according to them all. The Canadian Supreme Court exists to remind us of that fact even if, occasionally, we are infuriated by its decisions. Even when we disagree, in fact especially when we disagree, citizenship means that we are in this together with responsibilities to and for each other.

Buying stuff and paying taxes are only slivers of what it means to be a citizen. When political leaders rally us as consumers and call us taxpayers they cheapen the concept of citizenship. It tears at the fabric of who we are and places in jeopardy the core of our democracy.

It matters whether we see ourselves as visitors to a mall, the government’s ATM machine, or members of a national and local family. Perhaps as we move into muncipal elecctions this fall we should reflect the difference between how we see ourselves and how others see us by listening carefully to how those who lead or aspire to lead, speak of and to us. If among the greatest gifts the ages have bestowed upon us is the concept of citizenship, then let us respect and protect it and elect those who will help with that important work.

(I am running for Selwyn Township’s Lakefield Ward Councillor. Online and telephone voting begins October 11 and ends October 24. I hope everyone votes for the candidate of their choice in their community.)

Joe Erickson and the New Underground Railroad

Joe had a decision to make. It was 1968. He was married and a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota. As required by law, he had registered with the United States Selective Service System. The Vietnam War was escalating. Joe and Mary agreed that he would not fight in a war which they believed was morally wrong. He could portray himself as a conscientious objector but that would be a lie. He could go to prison. But there was a third option. After many long and difficult discussions, he and Mary decided that they would escape to Canada.

            In March, Joe and Mary packed what little they had into their old Chevy and drove north. They watched with great relief as the Canadian border agent stamped their forms and wished them luck. Hours later, with the sun setting, they pulled into Winnipeg; a city in which neither knew a soul. Joe had become a thief, having stolen government property by depriving the state of his body.

(Photo credit unknown)

            Joe had joined an army of those rejecting the army. Many moved to rural and remote areas, living alone or in small groups of resister enclaves while others formed communes. Most though, settled in cities and most of them, like Joe after a couple of years, ended up in or near Toronto.

            Many war resisters, like Joe and Mary, made the trek and settled on their own. Thousands of others were helped by resister organizations. Canada’s most influential resister support group was formed at the University of Toronto in 1964 as The Student Union for Peace Action. The ongoing waves of resisters shifted its focus from protesting nuclear proliferation to helping young Americans to settle and find work. In 1966 it became the Toronto Anti-Draft Program.

            Many resisters found that adjustment to Canadian life led to heartaches, regret, and, for some, clinical depression. Some experience trivial problems akin to the discomforts felt by American tourists discovering that corner stores didn’t sell Marlboro cigarettes or beer. Resister Jack Todd later wrote that his compatriots initially assumed that Vancouver’s overall quiet, gentleness, and politeness were insincere but that they learned to accept and enjoy it. They adopted Canadian idiosyncrasies such as celebrating Thanksgiving in October and adding the letter ‘u’ to words like colour and neighbour. They agreed, though, that it would be time to leave if they ever fell into the Canadian habit of ending sentences with “eh?”.

Resisting the Resisters

While many Canadians, especially church groups, welcomed the resisters, others did not. A 1968 poll indicated that 58% of Canadians believed war resisters should not be allowed into the country. Many Canadians saw them as even more dangerous than the growing number of long-haired young people with odd clothes and annoying music because they were outsiders. Like so many of the rebellious children, the appearance, actions, and very presence of these hordes of young Americans seemed to be tearing down the old while offering nothing new.

            Toronto Mayor William Dennison spoke for many when he said in 1968, “A few hippies and deserters are Toronto’s only problem.” Vancouver Mayor Tom Campbell said on CBC TV: “We’ve got a scum community, that have organized, have decided to grow long hair, and decided to pretend to be hippies…Half of them are American draft dodgers who won’t even fight for their own country.”

            The number of draft dodgers and deserters who settled in Canada has been estimated at between 40,000 to 60,000. When, in 1977, President Jimmy Carter offered amnesty, American film crews rushed to the border to film the mass exodus back home. They were disappointed. Some returned. Most, however, like Joe Erickson, were already home.

            Joe and a friend had formed a company specializing in the restoration of pre-Confederation rural historic buildings. Joe and Mary split but he found love again. He eventually settled on a southern Ontario farm where he renewed his love of theatre and horses. Like the thousands of others, he was changed by Canada and, in turn, the massive influx of so many predominantly well-educated young people had changed Canada. They had forced Canadians to consider who they were and who they wished to be.

            In September 2012, Joe was at the American border on the way to a high school reunion. The guard looked at Joe’s Canadian passport and frowned. Joe was in his 60s and the 60s was seeking revenge. Joe was about to experience the shock of his life.

(Erickson’s story and that of the war resisters is one of many in my 8th book, “The Devil’s Trick: How Canada Fought the Vietnam War.” It will be published in Canada and the USA by Knopf Penguin Random House on April 13, but can be pre-ordered now through Chapters, Amazon, or, as Stuart McLean used to say, sensible bookstores everywhere.)

The Day JFK Visited Toronto

There was no welcoming crowd. There were no reporters. Although the 1960 presidential election was three years away, Senator John F. Kennedy had been vigorously campaigning and so he must have found his silent arrival in Toronto on that slate grey November afternoon either amusing or disconcerting.

Throughout 1957, he had been a frequent and entertaining guest on American political chat shows. His office flooded newspapers and magazines with press releases and articles he had written or at least edited. He accepted 140 speaking engagements. The herculean effort to render his already famous name even better known had spilled over the border, as these things do, and so Canadians knew of him and his ambition.

The Day JFK Visited Toronto.

John F. Kennedy (photo:

Twenty female University of Toronto students certainly knew of him and were waiting. They were outside Hart House, where Kennedy was scheduled to participate in a debate. Since Hart House was opened in 1919, its lounges, library, and recreational facilities had become the university’s social and cultural hub. The impressive gothic revival building was a gift from the Massey family that had insisted on guidelines stipulating that within its stone, ivy-covered walls, Hart House would allow no studying, drinking, or women.

The first two rules were often and flagrantly broken but Margaret Brewin, Judy Graner, and Linda Silver Dranoff led a contingent hoping to end the third. They asked the Hart House warden to allow women to see the debate. When rebuffed, they gathered friends and created placards and greeted Kennedy with chants that alternated between “Hart House Unfair” and “We Want Kennedy”.

Kennedy smiled but said nothing as he was escorted through the drizzling rain and noisy protesters. Beneath its towering, dark oak-panelled ceiling the Debates Room could seat two hundred and fifty. It was packed. A scuffle interrupted introductions when a sharp-eyed guard noticed a guest’s nail polish and removed three women who had snuck in disguised as men. With the women locked out, the men inside prepared to argue: “Has the United States failed in its responsibilities as a world leader?” Kennedy was given leave to present remarks from the floor in support of the team opposing the resolution.

Reading from a prepared text, he offered that Americans did not enjoy immunity from foreign policy mistakes but that the difference between statesmanship and politics is often a choice between two blunders. He expressed concern regarding the degree to which public opinion sometimes dictated sound public policy and admitted that the United States had misplayed some recent challenges. Regardless of these and other errors, he argued, American foreign policy rested on sound principles and his country remained a force for good.

The Day JFK Visited Toronto

Hart House (photo:

The address was well written but poorly delivered. Kennedy read in a flat tone and seldom looked up. The student debaters tore him apart. Leading the team against him was a nineteen-year-old second-year student named Stephen Lewis. As a member of the four-man U of T debate team, he had competed at various Canadian and American universities and won accolades, including the best speaker award at a recent international competition. Lewis argued that the United States consistently acted in ways that violated the tenets of its Constitution and Declaration of Independence. He accused America of trying to be, “policeman, baby-sitter and bank to the world.” The audience offered good-natured ribbing throughout the debate. Cheers rewarded good points and witty rejoinders. Kennedy seemed to enjoy himself and was heckled along with the rest.

The audience gasped in disbelief when adjudicators scored the debate 204 to 194 and declared Kennedy’s side victorious. Afterwards, at a participants’ reception, Lewis and others spoke with Senator Kennedy and expressed confusion as to why a Democrat such as he would defend the hawkish policies of the current Republican administration. Kennedy startled them by confessing that he was a Democrat only because he was from Massachusetts. He agreed with the suggestion that if he were from Maine, he would probably be a Republican.

Kennedy was not through raising eyebrows. When leaving Hart House, a reporter asked his opinion of the women’s loud but polite demonstration. He smiled and said, “I personally rather approve of keeping women out of these places…It’s a pleasure to be in a country where women cannot mix in everywhere.”

Although his side won, Kennedy had impressed few with his speech, fewer with his confession of political opportunism, and fewer still with his flippant dismissal of women and the concept of gender equality. His brief meeting with a small group of the protesting women the next morning changed no minds. Kennedy’s Toronto flop was surprising because by 1957 he had become quite adept at handling gatherings that demanded a blend of political chops and charm.

The next time Kennedy visited Canada it would be a president. In pursuit of his Cold War goals he would ask Prime Minister John Diefenbaker to meld Canadian policies with his own. Diefenbaker’s response offered Kennedy an even rougher reception than he had received three years before on that chilly November evening in Toronto. Diefenbaker wanted Canada to be more sovereign. Kennedy wanted a satellite. And there it began.

If you enjoyed this column, please share it with others. The above is among many stories found in Cold Fire: Kennedy’s Northern Front. Published on February 2, 2016, it is available at bookstores everywhere, Amazon, Barnes and Noble,, and at Chapters Indigo right here:

Santa, Trudeau, and the Acceptable Lie

We lie to our children. The biggest lie, of course, is that we adults know what we’re doing. Right up there with our major league whoppers is Santa Claus.

We know that Santa began as a 3rd century Turkish monk named St. Nicholas who gave his inherited wealth to the poor. The Dutch perpetuated the legend but called him Sinter Klaas. We also know that in 1823 American Professor of Oriental and Greek Literature Clement Clark Moore wrote a poem for his daughters that invented the notion of a fat man, chimneys, sleighs, and reindeer. Only much later was it entitled “T’was the Night Before Christmas.” In 1881, Harper’s Weekly political cartoonist Thomas Nast gave pictures to the poem and Santa got his red suit. We also know that in 1931, the Coca Cola Company hired illustrator Haddon Sundblom who, stealing from Moore and Nast, initiated a decades-long ad campaign based on Santa as a jolly, wholesome, kid-loving, and Coke-drinking Christmas mainstay. Cue the malls and parades.

Santa, Trudeau and the Acceptable Lie..

The Nast Santa

We know all that. But we lie anyway. And maybe that’s OK. Santa is the flimsy link between the magic of Christmas and parenthood’s delicate dance. He is among the gifts we offer our children to balance our warnings about holding hands crossing the street, not talking to strangers, secret code words, and practicing fire drills at home and lock downs at school. We scare the hell out of them to keep them safe so maybe it’s alright if we temper fear with fun through a few years of Santa, the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, and our invincibility.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is now enrapturing the country and many others around the world with his sunny disposition and deft ability to humanize the office that seems designed to suck the humanity from any who enter. Good on him. Canadians have known him from his birth – on Christmas day by the way – because his father was Prime Minister from the late ‘60s to early ‘80s. Canadians were reintroduced to Justin on September 28, 2000, when he delivered a touching eulogy at his father’s funeral. Consider a story he told:

“I was about six years old when I went on my first official trip. I was going with my father and my grandpa Sinclair up to the North Pole. It was a very glamorous destination. But the best thing about it is that I was going to be spending lots of time with my dad because in Ottawa he just worked so hard. One day, we were in Alert, Canada’s northernmost point, a scientific military installation that seemed to consist entirely of low shed-like buildings and warehouses.

Let’s be honest. I was six. There were no brothers around to play with and I was getting a little bored because dad still somehow had a lot of work to do. I remember a frozen, windswept Arctic afternoon when I was bundled up into a Jeep and hustled out on a special top-secret mission. I figured I was finally going to be let in on the reason of this high-security Arctic base. I was exactly right.

We drove slowly through and past the buildings, all of them very grey and windy. We rounded a corner and came upon a red one. We stopped. I got out of the Jeep and started to crunch across towards the front door. I was told, no, to the window.

So I clamboured over the snow bank, was boosted up to the window, rubbed my sleeve against the frosty glass to see inside and as my eyes adjusted to the gloom, I saw a figure, hunched over one of many worktables that seemed very cluttered. He was wearing a red suit with furry white trim.

And that’s when I understood just how powerful and wonderful my father was.”

Santa, Trudeau and the Acceptable Lie

Justin and his Dad (Ottawa Citizen Photo)

Let our leader be our guide. While we can, let’s enjoy the lie. This Friday my granddaughter will open presents that came all the way from the North Pole. Her eyes will sparkle. And that’s just fine.

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Teachers, the Taught, and F*#k Week

Fuck Week taught me well. You see, the first school at which I taught was for teenagers troubled by significant difficulties with learning, families, or the law. Many others were newly arrived immigrants suffering the effects of bad education systems or culture shock. Most kids were great but fights, gangs, weapons, and threats were commonplace. And there I was, fresh from teacher’s college and only about five years older than my charges.

By the end of the first month I had grown weary of the word fuck being used as verb, noun, adjective, and, most commonly, punctuation. I made a deal with a grade 12 class that if they could erase the word from our classroom for four days straight there would be pizza and music on Friday. It took several weeks, but a Friday finally celebrated booming bass, greasy hands, and wide smiles. While cleaning up I suggested that next week we could try eliminating the word shit. An earnest boy asked, “Sir, does that mean we can say fuck again?”

Teacher, the Taught and F#*k Week..


The question taught me the power of humility and importance of small victories. Reflecting upon that lesson brings to mind two men who played significant roles in my career. A sage and inspirational leader named David Hadden once told the story of a father urging a lost son to find his way home. The son confessed that he lacked the strength to make the whole journey. Don’t worry, assured the father, go as far as you can, I will meet you there, and we’ll complete the journey together. Another of my mentors, John Potts, once observed: “The most important thing to remember when you’re working with kids is that you’re working with kids.”

Beyond those important ideas, my years have also taught me this:

  1. Essence

New technology and pedagogy that enhance teaching and learning should be sought and welcomed. However, a group of teenagers in a room with an adult in 1980 is, at its core, the same as a group of teenagers in a room with an adult today. Blackboards to smart boards, encyclopaedias to Google, and binders to laptops don’t matter. Never confuse the art with the tools. Relationships and reciprocal respect are what counts. In fact, they are all that counts. True, valuable learning only happens when they are present and is never possible when they’re not.

  1. Fads

Early in my career I had Grade 11 students learn to write, research, and create persuasive arguments by learning to write an essay. After a few years the education ministry in our province determined that all students needed to complete an independent study. I had my kids write an essay. Then, it was decided that students needed to complete a cumulative assignment. I had them write an essay. Then teachers were told to flip their classrooms so students would learn certain tasks at home while allowing for in-class support and collaboration. I had them write an essay. Teachers need to embrace positive change and base their pedagogy on established and current research. However, they must also trust and be allowed to trust their professionalism to avoid surrendering to transient fads, authors, or obfuscating vocabulary.

  1. Fun

Anyone who believes that teaching does not involve entertainment understands neither. Teachers must always allow kid’s voices to be heard more than theirs. However, teachers still call the shots and set the tone so while curiosity and questions must be the two-lane road down which every lesson travels, fun should be the vehicle. Without fun, kids may memorize but not really learn. They will attend but not engage. Teachers must always take their jobs seriously but never themselves. Their training should involve comedy and improv workshops.

  1. Partnership

Teachers are an essential part of the education of a young person but only one part. Parents are a crucial part of the team. Further, in every good school, everyone, whether typing letters, mopping floors, keeping accounts, or providing administrative leadership know they are serving students. Students win only where we/they and leaders/led are absent from language and perspective, where characters and character are celebrated, and where all adults respect the hard work done by all others while sincerely seeing themselves as members of one team.

My career has taken me from that tough inner-city vocational school to what is widely accepted as among Canada’s finest independent boarding schools. I am proud to have contributed to one and of my continuing contribution, albeit outside the classroom now, to the other. Along the way I have reinforced my conviction that all lives are better in a society of readers, critical thinkers, and life-long learners. We all benefit through sharing a basic understanding of our culture, geography, and history. A country is better and democracy stronger when young people are instilled with an intellectual curiosity that burns insatiably throughout their lives.

If any of this rings true, then this is equally true: teaching is a honourable profession. It is an invaluable profession. Teachers are honourable people. Let us celebrate the best and encourage the rest because all children are our children.

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The Rich Man’s Riot and Democracy’s Dawn

Like each of us, a nation’s character is forged by triumphs recalled and tragedies we choose to forget. On an April evening in 1849, a Montreal mob burned Parliament to the ground. The fire and ensuing riots are among many largely forgotten incidents suggesting that Canadians are not what we like to think we are.

Canada is not the meek and peaceable kingdom of our collective mythology. It’s more complicated than that. We are more complicated than that. If we wish to understand who we are as Canadians, who we truly are, then we must understand and acknowledge the ugly but transformative power of riots whose fires, blood, and mad destruction dot our past and colour our character.

The flint that lit the 1849 flames lay in the muskets and determination of farmers who, twelve years before, marched down Toronto’s Yonge Street and up the road to St. Denis. They understood power. They knew they had none. A small, rich, urban elite – we would call them the one percent – was making all the rules and ruling only for themselves. A British governor held executive authority and he appointed only rich business and clerical leaders to his cabinet then heard only the advice of London and those well-heeled friends. The people and its elected assembly were routinely ignored.

William Lyon Mackenzie, in what is now Ontario, and Louis Joseph Papineau, in what is now Quebec, harnessed the people’s righteous indignation and led armed rebellions. The Toronto fight ended quickly with gunfire where Maple Leaf Gardens would later stand. Papineau’s rebellion was longer and bloodier but it too was crushed. Three hundred and thirty died, 2,000 were arrested, 151 were banished to Australia, and 12 were hung. The leaders fled to the United States.

The foppish Lord Durham was dispatched to find out what happened. He grumbled through five months of high living and then wrote a report revealing that he had learned little. Thinking the rebellions were inspired wholly by religious and ethnic tensions, he recommended joining the two colonies under one administration to overwhelm the pesky French Catholics. However, he also recommended that the new colony’s governor rule according to advice from Canadians rather than London.

The old conservative elite rigged the new game to keep their old power. People like Toronto’s Bishop John Strachan and Montreal brewer John Molson still called the shots. Reform politicians Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine, however, forged an unlikely alliance. They insisted that members of the executive council – the cabinet – be appointed not from among the rich and clerics but, rather, from among those elected by the people.

After two violent elections that were corrupt even by 19th century standards, and then shifting priorities in Britain, a new Governor arrived. Lord Elgin allowed democratic reforms that farmers and urban merchants were demanding. The 1848 election afforded Reformers a parliamentary majority and Elgin asked Baldwin and LaFontaine to become co-premiers and form a cabinet. The 99% had won. The 1% were out – and they were mad.

Among the new government’s first legislation was the Rebellion Losses Bill. It pledged to compensate all those whose property had been damaged in the 1837 rebellions, including the rebels themselves. The old conservative elite was outraged. Their petition to the governor was dismissed. Although Elgin disagreed with the bill, he said that the people’s government had legally passed it and so he must sign it. At five o’clock on April 25, in the presence of the members of both houses of parliament, he affixed his signature.

As Elgin left the legislature, elegantly dressed business people and Conservative (Tory) MPs pelted his carriage with rocks. An egg smashed his face. With horses at a gallop Elgin escaped the melee. Drunk with indignation, 1,500 angry Tories and their supporters gathered at Champ-de-Mars. Holding torches aloft they marched, shattered windows, and chanted their way to the opulent St. Anne’s Market building that housed parliament.

The legislature was in session but members scattered as rocks smashed through windows. Sandford Fleming, who would later plot the railway route through the Rockies and invent standard time, grabbed a portrait of Queen Victoria and ran it out a back door. Several legislators, including John Sandford Macdonald, who would later be Ontario’s first premier, blockaded the large front entrance. Led by a well-known lawyer, the mob stole a 35-foot ladder and used it to crash their way inside. Legislators were knocked down and kicked. A fat man in an expensive waistcoat jumped atop the speaker’s chair and yelled, “I dissolve parliament!” Furniture was smashed. Gas pipes were broken and then torches thrown. Bankers, lawyers, and clerics cheered the collapse of the roof as the screaming, leaping flames licked the sky. The fire quickly engulfed a neighbouring house, two warehouses, and a hospital. And the cheering went on.

Rich Man's Riot.


The next night, men left their fine homes, expensive sherry, and imported cigars to reassemble downtown. There were more speeches about race, religion, class, and the natural order of things and power lost. This time their spitting anger was focused on the homes of political enemies whom they blamed for stealing what was considered rightfully theirs. LaFontaine’s house on rue de l’Aqueduc and Baldwin’s boarding house were among those attacked with torches and rocks.

As the mad violence threatened to fill a third night, the military assembled. General Gore warned of the arming of police constables and that the 71st regiment had rifles and cannon ready. There were scattered incidents of violence but a tense and eerie calm gripped the city.

Everyone knew the riot’s instigators. Everyone knew who had thrown stones and set flames. But Baldwin and LaFontaine restrained their reaction. They did not meet violence with violence. They ensured that some arrests were made but also that all were freed. They carefully enhanced security and for weeks there were flares of politically inspired violence but a bitter peace eventually prevailed. The army retired to base and the police locked up their guns.

Over the next weeks, Parliament was moved to Toronto. A Tory petition to London demanding an overturning of the Rebellion Losses Bill was denied. The payments were made. A Conservative movement demanding Canada’s annexation to the United States was initiated by new voices of the old Tory elite, including some who would later be fathers of confederation. It was allowed a natural death.

Most importantly of all, those still raging at the shift of power from the one to the ninety-nine percent fought not on the street but through committees, editorials, and speeches. The government remained in office with executive power, then and forever afterward, held not by the privileged, handpicked few but determined by the votes of the many.

The 1849 rich man’s riots did not signal Canada’s independence from Britain, but it was a crucial step. They did not give birth to true democracy, but parliament’s flames illuminated its dawn. Perhaps we are well served to recall incidents such as the Montreal riot to better understand ourselves and who we truly are. Further, perhaps we should ponder if the old fights regarding whose voices should be heard and interests served will be, or maybe even should be, re-fought. If so, let us listen for the voices of this generation’s Baldwin and LaFontaine, lest torches be lit again.

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Percy, Poppies, and a Pledge

He wasn’t a movie star. He wasn’t a famous athlete or the latest singer whose catchy ditty momentarily captured a spot in the charts and teens’ hearts. And yet, there it was. At Lakefield College School, tucked in the woods by the lake about halfway between Toronto and Ottawa and, in the 1940s, also halfway between 19th century British elitism and 20th century Canadian ruggedness, a boy took a knife in hand. In the windowsill of the little library he carved the name Percy Nelles.

The other boys, and at that point the school was all boys, understood. Nelles awed. He inspired. Nelles had been one of them but now belonged to the world. Teachers turned a blind eye to the vandalism for they understood too. And so as they passed the window each day the boys glanced down, some whispered the name, and in silent reverence many drew fingers over the defiant tribute.

Nelles had been a Lakefield student when the school was young but the values upon which it would thrive were already firmly established. He was a skilled cricket player and an enthusiastic member of its army cadet corps. Upon graduation in 1908, he joined the Fisheries Protection Service. With the creation of the Canadian Navy in 1910, Nelles became a midshipman in HMCS Niobe. Promotions came quickly. He enjoyed service in many ships and during the First World War at the navy’s Nova Scotia Head Quarters as flag lieutenant and director of the Naval Service.

Peacetime saw the navy shrink but his career flourish. Nelles was captain or commander in a number of ships and served at the Imperial Defence College. In 1934 he became Canada’s chief of naval staff – the first Canadian-born and trained to do so. Four years later, with Hitler’s mad ambitions about to plunge the world back into war, Nelles was promoted to rear admiral.

Nelles had not forgotten his old school. He played an instrumental role in an initiative that in 1939 saw the Canadian Navy officially recognize the newly formed Lakefield Royal Canadian Sea Cadet Corps (RCSCC) St. George – Canada’s only school-based sea cadet corps. Boys were divided into four platoons and a band. In crisp blue uniforms they trained for a half hour or more each day, learning skills needed to become naval officers. For five years they also enjoyed sessions on Georgian Bay’s Beausoleil Island. They knew that Nelles had helped establish the Sea Cadet Camp facilities and its fun but rigorous program.

Meanwhile, Nelles was reassigned to Britain where, as the senior Canadian flag officer overseas and head of the Canadian Naval Mission, he oversaw the Canadian Navy’s preparations for the June 1944 D-Day invasion of France. He coordinated 110 ships, 10,000 sailors, and 15 air force squadrons for the successful landing of 14,000 Canadians on the heavily fortified Juno beach. D-Day was the turning point in the war that reminded all that evil is sometimes incarnate in a man or movement. Evil’s enemy can sometimes be a kid from a Saskatchewan farm, or Calgary street corner, or even a little school in Lakefield.

Percy, Poppies and a Pledge


The library is gone now. The space became a classroom, then staff room, and is now a slick new Admissions office. But the windowsill is still there and so may also be the boy’s carving that was so simple and yet represented so much.

It is the same simplicity represented by the little poppies we wear each November. They express our devotion to those who offered their full measure of devotion for causes perhaps forgotten but in support of values that endure. They proclaim our insistence that the sacrifice and service of those who died, of those who returned whole or broken, and of those still in uniform, shall not be forgotten. Our remembering is as simple as the little felt poppy, or the windowsill carving, but as complex as citizenship itself.

For a few days each year we are asked to transcend our lives’ minutia and the exhortations of some politicians and all corporations and become more than voters, taxpayers, and consumers. We become citizens. And as citizens we bear the burden of remembrance.

To remember all who served is overwhelming and so this year I will offer respect for all by remembering one. This year I will remember Percy Nelles. In my moment of silence on the 11th at 11, I will curse war but revere the warrior. I will hate the hypocrisy, greed, and stupidity of wars of choice but honour the value of service-above-self.

But even this is too easy. Perhaps his memory is better honoured not by a forgotten carving or soon discarded poppy. Maybe this year we can summon the courage to act as Nelles did, as they all did, and let the values that inspired their service more fully inform our lives. These are the values, the essence of informed, engaged citizenship, that we saw on vivid display in Canada’s recent election. We see it every day in the acts of selfless volunteers. We see it in those whose courage and convictions broaden the circle of community. We see it through actions that demonstrate not just tolerance but acceptance and by acts and attitudes that show a willingness to trust a little more and take a little less.

Engaged citizenship is hard. It is a hell of a lot harder than wearing a poppy for a few days or standing silent for a minute a year. But let us compare the challenges of engaged, values-based citizenship to the difficulties and sacrifices of those for whom we don poppies.

Rear Admiral Nelles, this year, I pledge to do my best.

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