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What if Jagmeet Singh really did have a $5.5 million mansion? Should we care?

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Last week, a bogus article posted by an online advertising network on the Vancouver Courier website claimed that federal New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh lives in a $5.5 million-dollar luxury mansion. The click-bait post is hooey and raises questions to which, as the Tyee reports, we ought to get answers. It’s an election year, Singh is currently contesting a by-election that may determine his political future, and Canada is about to face a test that will reveal whether it is prepared to manage digital threats to its democracy. So, who made the ad, why, and how it managed to crawl out of the dark corners of the internet and into the light of day are important concerns.  

The post also raises another question: Why should anyone care if Singh does own such a home? (Again, he doesn’t.) Or, for that matter, why is it inconsistent for him to be a social democrat (or even a socialist) and wear custom suits and a Rolex while driving a BMW or riding a designer bicycle?  

 Last fall, rookie congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was photographed wearing an expensive suit. The right, suddenly discovering class politics, attacked her as a hypocrite. “How can a ‘socialist’ own something nice?” they howled. “Moreover,” they asked, “How dare she wear it for all to see?” The whole kerfuffle was as disingenuous as it was motivated by schadenfreude and other considerations born of complicated feelings. The suit Ocasio-Cortez wore was provided to her—on loan—for a photo shoot. But, again, the affair raised a question that we in North America have yet to ask answer: Why should anyone care if a socialist or social democrat owns something nice?

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There’s a perceived tension in contemporary leftist politics between old labour leftism as it’s imagined to exist on the factory floor, and the so-called champagne socialism of urban professionals. In the lazy mind, there’s a stubborn notion that if you’re going to advocate for equality, if you’re going to press for the democratization of the economy, then, boy, you’d better do it in sackcloth and ashes while strumming Woody Guthrie songs on a beat-up guitar. Some version of that debate does exist on the left but it doesn’t define the movement so much as complicate it, which is to be expected. Every association has its internal divisions. Externally, however, the left is held to a different standard than the rest. 

In Canada, it’s acceptable—though not compulsory—for prime ministers from the conservative and liberal traditions to be wealthy. And a few have been. The implication is that, if you’re going to lead a country, it’s all the better to have accumulated capital because it demonstrates competence. But the idea that a New Democrat might be well-to-do is a liability—it flags them as a hypocrite and, quite possibly, a class-traitor on their own terms.  

The wealth double-standard is silly. Socialism and social democracy aren’t premised on the idea that socialists and social democrats ought to play by different rules from the rest. Each is built around (sometimes different) claims about what is structurally just and desirable when it comes to ownership and redistribution. Socialists and social democrats don’t argue that Jagmeet Singh ought not to own a nice home (even a very, very nice one) or that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez ought not to own a designer suit; they argue that social, political, and economic spaces ought to be democratized to ensure basic standards of equality are met for everyone. They are more concerned with who tends to own the tools and resources used to produce wealth than who owns the run-off from that wealth.

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Questions about wealth and the left create image problems for a movement competing against well-heeled centrist and right-wing blocs. It’s an old strategy used to undermine egalitarian politics and it’s proven to be persistent and pervasive. Indeed, we are so far through the looking glass that these concerns are raised when considering even basic belongings—forget a luxury mansion or designer accoutrements. It’s common for socialists or social democrats who call for making the lives of the marginal better to be met with “How can you ask for that while you do or own this” where “this” tends to be the common trappings or ambitions of the vast majority of human beings around them, like a car or even a cell phone. It’s as if those who fight for egalitarian systems are meant to start their struggle by disadvantaging themselves and making their endeavour as difficult and uncomfortable as possible on principle.  

The left might never shake the perception that personal material success by a leftist in a system that encourages, expects and demands such an accomplishment is a liability. But it should try. And those from the centre and right who wish to engage in good faith should try, too. If, someday, socialism or deep social democracy are achieved, and those who advocate for egalitarianism then defect from the structures that make such an order possible in a bid to maintain their personal wealth, then it’ll be fair game to take them to task for hypocrisy.  

Until then, we should bracket the matter of who owns what and instead focus on what sort of systems and institutions are the most just, fair and desirable—and how we might go about building, improving and preserving them. 

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Virtual farmer’s market comes to Ottawa

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Ottawa first-ever virtual farmer’s market has begun delivering food from local farms straight to people’s homes.

Farm to Hand is making it easier for people who cannot access their local farmer’s markets to find local, fresh organic food by bringing ordered food right to their doors. 

“The difference between us and the farmers market is really just the convenience and the on-demandness,” Sean Mallia, the co-founder of the business, told CBC Radio’s In Town and Out.

“[Often times a] person wants to make the purchase but they don’t have the time on Saturdays to go to the farmers market. Everyone wants to eat local … so when it’s easy for them to do it, it just happens.” In Town and Out No time to drive to the farmer’s market but really want to eat local?

Connecting farmers with people 

The online platform allows farmers to list all their own products, and buyers can have the goods delivered. 

“What we really are trying to do is build that connection between farmer and consumer,” Mallia said. “When people fill up a cart … they’re not just filling a cart full of food, they’re filling a cart full of farmers and farms and their stories.”

Mallia said the aim is to connect people to the “vibrant food ecosystem” around them, and to local support farmers.

The virtual market is currently limited to the Ottawa area as a pilot project, but Mallia, 21, said the company is looking to expand.

“[We chose Ottawa because] Ottawa really cares. Ottawa really thinks about local [food] and thinks about sustainability,” he said. “It just made sense to come out of Ottawa.”

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Denley: Stonebridge and Mattamy show compromise is possible over development in Ottawa

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In Ottawa, development proposals too often end up in acrimony and trips to the provincial planning tribunal. That’s why it’s so refreshing to see Mattamy Homes and residents of the south Nepean suburb of Stonebridge work together to resolve a dispute in a way that’s likely to lead to a victory for both sides.

A little over a year ago, Mattamy created an uproar in the golf course community when it announced a plan to build 158 new homes on golf course lands and alter the Stonebridge course to make it shorter and less attractive to golfers. To residents, it looked like the first step in a plan to turn most, or all, of the course into housing.

It’s easy to see why residents were upset. When people pay a premium for a lot backing onto a golf course, there is certainly an implication that the lot will continue to back onto a golf course, but without a legally binding guarantee, it’s no sure thing.

Mattamy’s situation was understandable, too. This is a tough time to be in the golf course business in Ottawa. There are too many courses and not enough golfers so it’s no surprise that golf course owners would find the idea of turning a course into a housing development to be attractive, doubly so when the golf course is owned by a development company.

This is a tough time to be in the golf course business in Ottawa. There are too many courses and not enough golfers so it’s no surprise that golf course owners would find the idea of turning a course into a housing development to be attractive.

In the face of the local opposition, Mattamy withdrew its development application. When things cooled down, the company, the neighbours and the city started to work together on finding a solution that would satisfy everyone.

With the city-sponsored help of veteran planning consultant Jack Stirling, they came up with an unusual idea that will still let Mattamy develop its desired number of homes, in exchange for a promise to operate the course for at least 10 years and redesign it so that it remains attractive to golfers.

At the end of the 10 years, Mattamy can sell the course to the community for $6 million. To raise the money, the community working group is proposing a special levy to be paid by Stonebridge homeowners starting in 2021. The amount will range from $175 a year to $475 a year, depending on property values.

If the deal is approved by a majority of homeowners, Mattamy gets its development and a way out of the money-losing golf business. Homeowners get certainty about no future development. They can choose to keep the course going or retain the 198 acres as green space. It’s not a cheap solution, but it keeps their community as it is and preserves property values.

If a majority of homeowners backs the deal, both the levy and redevelopment will still need to be approved by the city, something scheduled for late this fall.

Stonebridge Community Association president Jay McLean was part of the working group that prepared the proposal and he’s pleased with the outcome. The community’s number one goal was preserving green space, and the deal will accomplish that, he says. Mattamy division president Kevin O’Shea says the deal “gives the community the certainty they are looking for.”

As useful as this deal could be for Stonebridge residents, it doesn’t provide a template to resolve a somewhat similar dispute in Kanata North, where the owner of the Kanata Lakes golf course wants to work with a group of local developers to replace the course with housing. In Kanata, a longstanding legal agreement saying the community has to have 40 per cent open space strengthens residents’ situation. In Stonebridge, there was no legal impediment to developing the whole course.

Golf course communities have become an anachronism in a city intent on intensifying within the urban boundary. Redeveloping those lands for housing is in sync with the city’s planning goals, but it’s not politically saleable to homeowners who thought they had a deal. If it goes ahead, the Stonebridge plan shows there is a reasonable middle ground.

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City eyes five big themes for Ottawa’s new official plan

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As Ottawa maps out its future for the next 25-plus years, city staff propose focusing on five major areas, including the places we live and the ways we move around the capital.

A staff report to the city’s planning committee lays out five themes for future public consultations, before city council finalizes the plan.

1. Growth Management: City staff say Ottawa should focus on building up, rather than out. Staff also suggest the city provide direction on the type of new housing developments, rather than focusing on the number of units in a development, to encourage a wider variety of housing types.

2. Mobility: Staff say the city should encourage active transportation — like walking and cycling — and transit use by better co-ordinating land use and transportation planning. The report also encourages designing streets to better accomodate pedestrians and cyclists, as well as improving connections to the O-Train and Transitway.

3.  Urban and Community Design: Because Ottawa is a major city and the nation’s capital, staff say the design of our city’s buildings and skyline should be a higher calibre to reflect that status. Staff also suggest the city provide high-level direction for better designed parks and public spaces.

4. Climate, Energy and Public Health: Staff say residents’ health must be foundational to the city’s new official plan, with policies contributing to creating more inclusive, walkable, and sustainable communities.

5. Economic Development: Because much of Ottawa’s employment is knowledge-based, the city suggests those employment spaces could be better integrated into neighbourhoods and along main streets and transit nodes, instead of being isolated in business parks. City staff also suggest the city encourage more business incubation and identify opportunities to increase local food production.

The city’s new official plan will map out the city’s growth to 2046. The five themes and the plan’s high-level policy direction will go before the city’s planning committee, next week.

Public consultation and fine-tuning is expected to happen before city council approves the final version of the new official plan in 2021.

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