Scanners, internet, telephone voting: elections are now a “giant leap of faith”

While we pause briefly between the June 2nd Ontario general election and the October 24th municipal elections, it seems as good a time as any to address the idea that without Scrutineers, these elections have now become “a giant leap of faith,” to quote one Elections Ontario official.

By “Scrutineers,” I mean those who volunteer at elections events to stand and watch as ballots are counted by paid election workers.

In elections past, Scrutineers representing each of the campaigns watched as the ballot boxes were emptied, ballots unfolded by officials and sorted into piles according to candidate. A few might be ruined or questionably marked, and in those cases the Returning Officer would show them to all of us so that we could discuss how it should be dealt with, even if only to make note of the fact that it had been challenged.

Personally, I have never challenged a ballot, but I know that sometimes Scrutineers do. After the 1995 Quebec referendum, there was some discussion about the idea that it was only the aggressive challenging of questionably “ruined” ballots that saved Canada in the 50.58 per cent to 49.42 per cent vote. I cannot confirm this is true, but it certainly provides a dramatic example of the importance of the job Scrutineers do in close elections.

In June 2022, I volunteered to Scrutineer for my local candidate at both the Advance Poll count and on Election Day. Both were disturbing events, as I learned that kind of questioning or challenging done by Scrutineers from any Ontario party is a thing of the past.

When I showed up 20 minutes before the scheduled “Advance Ballot Counting” on May 31, I was surprised to find that the ballot boxes had already been opened, the ballots already opened and sorted. I was allowed to watch, from six feet away, as the Elections Officers counted and wrote down the number of votes. I could not see what was marked on the ballot; I could not have challenged anything even if I wanted to. I really had to count on those Election Officers to be on their honour; I hope they were. They seemed like nice ladies.

On Election Day, June 2nd, I turned up early again to Scrutineer the counting of the Special Ballots which included ballots sent in by mail or by hospital visit. This time, I didn’t see any ballots at all.

This time, the Election Ontario officers were each armed with a black machine about the size of large book. From this machine, they printed a paper receipt that had a number on it. The EO officer then showed me the number, and wrote it down on a paper form which contained the numbers that had been printed off earlier.

The sweet gentleman explaining this demonstrated that when he hit “total” on the machine, the “total” printed out on the machine’s paper receipt was the same as the total on his hand-written page. He was pretty pleased about this.

“What does that mean?” I asked, mystified. “How would I know that the numbers you have printed off correspond to ballots that have been cast? I never saw any of the ballots.”

“Well, each of these numbers is the number of the ballots we totalled on all of the other nights we counted. They add up to the same total the machine is printing here!” he said proudly.

I sighed. “We used to watch you guys count the ballots. Now, I’m seeing numbers printed on a paper. You could have typed those in yourself, for all I know; the whole idea of Scrutineering now seems to have become…something of a leap of faith.”

The Elections Ontario officer at the next table, a senior woman, nodded her head in agreement and repeated emphatically: “That’s exactly what it is now: a leap of faith. A giant leap of faith.”

Epilogue: about six hours after I finished writing the blog above, I received this email from my local municipal government:

“You are receiving this email because you currently sit on one of our Boards or Committees. The 2022 Clarington Municipal Elections are being held electronically by internet and telephone this October and we are looking for your help to make the election a success! This is a great opportunity to learn new skills and be involved in the election process.”

I don’t remember voting for internet voting. This isn’t even “a leap of faith.” It’s just a leap, into the vast unknown.





The apologies owed to cab drivers

Feb. 12 Update: My column below ran in Taxi News in November, 2017. I did not post it to my website or Facebook because, as I noted a few times in the piece, nobody cares about the plight of taxi drivers.

However, Douglas Schifter’s suicide in front of New York City Hall last week was so sad and so compelling that I decided perhaps it was worth posting.

Additionally, I have decided that any politician or public person who promotes Uber and Uber’s criminal business model and then hypocritically runs out to support mental health causes and events should be called out and shamed. John Tory, come on down…


New York City taxi driver blows his brains out with a shotgun in front of City Hall

Early Monday morning, Douglas Schifter, a longtime New York City livery driver, posted an emotional 1,700-word note on Facebook.

Later that day, Schifter took his life outside of City Hall in Manhattan. His suicide has underscored the financial and emotional challenges for professional drivers, whose industry has been disrupted by companies such as Uber and Lyft.

Bhairavi Desai, the executive director for the New York Taxi Workers Alliance notes: “I’ve been organizing taxi drivers since 1996, and I’ve never seen the level of desperation. I’ve started to receive so many calls from drivers seeking resources for suicide prevention and talking about homelessness and eviction notices, and so, something has to be done here. This is not accidental, working people have a right to be protected.”

I had to laugh when these brave and determined men launched a 4 day hunger strike, during which they slept every night on the cold concrete in front of Toronto City Hall, were told by security that they had to remove their tents because they had no permits. “They are Uber tents!” one of the drivers replied merrily. Even faced with financial disaster, there was still humour.

Taxi drivers are owed giant apologies by so many groups, it’s hard to keep track any more.

I have read so many ridiculous, misguided, inaccurate and plain pathetic media articles about Uber in the past 4 years, I am at risk of becoming inured to the lunacy. I’ve lobbied politicians and pleaded with cops. I’ve debated family members and friends. I’ve pestered media members until they ran away from me.

Their minds are impenetrable; people want so desperately to believe you can get something for nothing, you can’t overcome their magical thinking.

We should never give up thinking skeptically, though, and challenging the lunacy; because what happened to taxi drivers could happen to anyone in any industry. The corruption and massive breach of business and political ethics that have infected the vehicle for hire industry can – and will – affect EVERY industry in future. Uber’s business model and philosophy is a cancer that must be removed from commerce.

Cabbies, unfortunately, have been the canaries in the coal mine. I’m so sorry.

 First, on behalf of women, I apologize to taxi drivers.

It appears that Uber’s terrible, horrible, very bad year was triggered by a blog post published in February by Susan Fowler, a female engineer at Uber. Her treatment was so egregious that her recounting of it set in motion a chain of events that forced CEO Travis Kalanick to resign.

What, you may ask, could possibly have happened to motivate Uber to send Arianna Huffington off on a fact-finding mission and hire former US Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate its toxic culture?

Well, this woman’s boss sent her an online message saying he would like to sleep with her. Instead of replying “Fuck you,” or even just “No,” or perhaps taking documentary evidence in the form of a printed chat message to a lawyer, she went to Human Resources, which did not help her. She was sad. She did not quit, though.

The next event, in a display of sexual discrimination so breathtakingly cruel I cry just thinking about it, Uber bought leather jackets for a team of male engineers, but they did not buy any for the women.

I think that largely, consumers do not realize that taxi drivers whose incomes are destroyed are not like workers being laid off from an office or a factory. Every one of these owner/operators pays for their own car and all expenses including commercial insurance. A man who puts an Accessible vehicle on the road already owes about $80,000 before he picks up his first fare.

I contrast these dire circumstances with those of cab drivers whose stories I have heard over the past four years: one driver I met had his own apartment in spring of 2014. By summer, he was sleeping on a friend’s couch. By fall, he was homeless.

I wish the legal, licensed taxi drivers who’ve had their lives decimated by Uber got even the tiniest percentage of the media attention female engineers get when propositioned or deprived of leather jackets – but nobody cares. Not even Susan Fowler, who is clearly completely comfortable with the thought of wrecking the lives of thousands of law-abiding cab drivers and their families, but doesn’t have the guts to say “no” to a lecherous boss. I am sorry for the pain she was content to cause taxi drivers, and I am sorry we are even the same sex.

Second, cab drivers are owed an apology by technology writers at every outlet that covers Uber.

These writers are supposed to be smart and prescient and have their finger on the pulse of all the trends which are going to affect us in the years ahead. In fact, they are so out of touch with business reality that they shouldn’t even be allowed to predict whether VHS VCRs will overtake Betamax, or whether online music shopping might be more popular than vinyl records.

Here’s a quote from a ReCode article on self-driving cars written by Johana Bhuiyan:

“Uber’s future depends greatly on solving self-driving. It’s what will keep the ride-hail company relevant as more automakers produce their own autonomous vehicles. But taking drivers out of the equation would also increase the company’s profits: Self-driving cars give Uber 100 percent of the fare, the company would no longer have to subsidize driver pay and the cars can run nearly 24 hours a day.”


Let’s just skip over the fact that Uber has NEVER turned a profit, and is on track to lose more than $3 billion in 2017.

Uber doesn’t own, or maintain, or insure, ANY cars.

The cars are owned by the drivers, who absorb every dollar of the cost of maintaining them no matter how much or how little revenue they generate.

Imagine what Uber’s bottom line would look like if, in addition to buying leather jackets for female engineers, they also had to purchase, insure and maintain their own cars. And then pay drivers. Uber’s business model is based upon persuading car owners to share their cars with Uber, while those drivers assume 100% of the risk of the business. While this appears to be far too futuristic a concept for a tech writer to grasp, P.T. Barnum was able to sum it up succinctly over 100 years ago: “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

9 determined men slept outside for 4 nights hoping to attract attention to their fight against Uber. One man, Huq, had a heart attack and was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital. Media on scene did not feel that was worth reporting.

Third, the mainstream media.

There aren’t enough column inches in Taxi News for me to recount the ways in which the mainstream media missed the boat on Uber.

I’ll just focus my comment on one recurring inaccuracy which is repeated in almost every article I read about Uber around the globe (England, Australia, Canada, the US, India and various Asian and African nations): how fairly or unfairly Uber “pays” its drivers.

“Uber doesn’t pay drivers!” I groan every time. “Drivers pay Uber! The driver does all the work, invests all the time, pays all the vehicle maintenance, and gives Uber 25 per cent of the money he earns. Without drivers, Uber has nothing. The drivers are Uber’s only source of revenue. Uber doesn’t pay drivers; drivers pay Uber!”

If they don’t understand that, they don’t understand anything about Uber. Why would we trust anything else they report? I am sorry we can no longer trust the mainstream media on much of anything.

Fourth, politicians.

Where to start? The betrayal of the taxi industry by politicians around the globe has been complete, quick and starkly hypocritical.

From John Tory in Toronto to David Cameron in England to Daniel Andrews in Australia, politicians who are either air-headed or corrupt just rolled over backward for Uber, re-writing or eliminating safety standards that have been decades and millions of dollars in the making and shredding the social contract with drivers that supported consumer protection.

Nobody puts it better than Hamilton taxi driver and writer Hans Wienhold:

“All of the most expensive elements of a secure taxi industry were never about safety at all. Now we see clearly that none of these things ever had anything to do with safety: they were just power grabs and cash grabs. No one will ever buy the politicians’ BS again.”

Finally, consumers.

People like cheap, there’s no arguing that.

Behrouz Kahmsa and Asafo Addai fought long and hard at City Hall, to no avail. Asafo eventually sold his taxi plate and left the industry, which is exceedingly unfortunate as he represents the exact kind of intelligent, dedicated man of integrity the city WANTS to be driving. I was so sad when I heard the news. He has moved on to a career as a truck driver.

When Uber first arrived, there was much ado about cartoon cars on cell phone screens and free ice cream and free puppy cuddles and hot women drivers.

Really, though, what it all comes down to is that Uber is cheaper than taxis, and people like cheap.

For the first two years after Uber arrived we read lots of stories about free water and candies in the car and happy grandmothers driving for extra cash.

When the first stories of sexual assault started showing up, a little dark cloud appeared on the horizon.

When an uninsured Uber driver killed a 6 year old girl in San Francisco, concerns were raised.

When London, England announced they were averaging almost one sexual assault per week and Londoners began referring to Uber as “rape roulette,” things began looking serious.

And then, when a woman in Texas was made a paraplegic in an accident in an uninsured Uber, people sat up and took notice.

Back in the day, when I was reading dozens of articles per day about Uber around the globe as part of my job, I felt some sympathy for these people.

Now, I confess, sympathy has evaporated. Now, when I come across complaints about Uber in my Twitter feed (“My Uber driver refused my service dog! My Uber driver left me at roadside! My Uber driver showed up at my apartment and told me he has feelings for me!”) I tend to reply sarcastically, “But you saved some money, so it’s all good, right?”

I particularly love the fact that there is a campaign underway by some women right now to get security cameras in Uber vehicles….now, consumers want to combine “cheap” with “safe.” They want it all; but as Austin Powers would say, “Some things just aren’t in the cards, baby.”

So on behalf of women, tech writers, media members and politicians, I apologize to all honest, law-abiding taxi drivers. You deserved better from everyone, and we let you down.

I’m so sorry.
























Back when everybody doth protested too much

I have taken to identifying myself in recent columns as “one of the most protested political staffers in Canada’s history.”

I am not sure this is a title to which anyone really wants to lay claim, but I’m putting this out there and if you know someone who has been the press flack/communications director for more protests than me, I will happily give up the title.

Working in the Mike Harris government from 1996 to 1999, I was the point-person for the second OPSEU Day of Protest, which resulted in calls for my Minister’s resignation (over an episode which was completely my fault, which made the whole nightmare even more painful).

I was the point person on the Doctor’s strike which saw obstetricians withdraw their services one day per week. (It was during those meetings that I learned from a negotiator, “Take it or leave it is not a choice.” I still live by those words.)

I was the point person on numerous Teachers’ actions at the Ministry of Education while Ontario brought in equal per-pupil funding, standardized curriculum, and standardized testing. Most notably, I was on Comms for the illegal Teachers’ strike that kept two million kids out of school for two weeks; more about that later.

At Corrections, I was on Comms for a Correctional Officers strike. That was a surpisingly quiet affair, as the prisons simply lock down the prisoners and assign managers to the CO positions for the duration. (This was where I first heard the term “lockdown,” and I never heard it used anywhere else until government started using it during COVID).

A much bigger deal was the opening of Ontario’s first privatized prison in Penetanguishene, the only Town Hall meeting I ever managed that needed police dogs.

I was held hostage by Teachers at what was supposed to be a positive event in Don Mills – a team of police had to come and extract the Minister and me.

I crossed a picket line of 2,000 protesting teachers surrounded by a SWAT team of police in Guelph, and perhaps most disastrously, I was exposed to an Anthrax scare in the Ministry of Education building. The powdery white substance which flew into the air when an envelope was opened turned out not to be Anthrax, but the stress of the quarantine gave me instant, overnight shingles: an ugly red rash and blisters running down the left side of my body. In a panic, I thought I was succumbing to Anthrax.

When I called the Ministry the next morning to check in on whether anyone else in the quarantine had developed a red rash and blisters, the fellow who answered the phone told me blithely,

“Oh, that was just a hoax, didn’t you see the press reports?”

“OF COUSE I SAW THE PRESS REPORTS!”  I hissed through clenched teeth. “I wrote the fucking PRESS RELEASE!!”

Ah, the good old days!

In 1997, people who protested hated politicians and the policies they introduced were admired and encouraged – certainly by the media, who loved the drama, and also by many residents and voters.

In 2020, when the same citizens were told they couldn’t gather to protest, not even to go to church, the vast majority acquiesced without a peep.

Personally if I had a choice, I’d go back to the good old days of giant crowds and raucous protests. I felt safer.




“Like stones cast by God” Polish children fell on the barricades in the Warsaw Uprising

The Szare Szergi Monument in Barry’s Bay, Ontario. All photos, Rita Smith

When I posted this haunting photo for Easter Sunday, I was surprised at the quick, emphatic response it attracted from my friends on social media. A few people notified me to tell me they were “stealing” my photo and many others commented on it.

Let me take a few moments to tell you the story of the Szare Szergi Monument. It is located in Ontario, on Old Barry’s Bay Road just outside of the town of Barry’s Bay in the Madawaska Valley, home of Canada’s first Polish settlement.

If you have Polish friends or family, you are probably aware of the pride taken in the “Polish Boy Scouts” organization. Perhaps it is not as prominent now as it was just after World War II in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, but it is still active and Ontario is dotted with camps dedicated to serve the Polish Scouts; if you drive back country roads, you may have passed a weathered wooden sign at a rural driveway entrance and wondered what it was about.

“In North America in the 1930s and 40s, the Boy Scouts were something for city kids to learn about the country,” a Polish friend once explained to me. “In Poland, the ‘Scouts’ were a para-military organization; they were an unofficial part of the Polish military during the war. Kids running messages got around more easily than adults did, and so children were used to do these jobs precisely because they didn’t arouse the suspicion of German soldiers.”

The Szare Szergi Monument pays homage to the 10,000 Polish boys and 8,000 Polish girls who laid down their lives to fight for freedom during World War II as part of the “Gray Army.” This bas-relief detail is on the back side of the shrine facing away from the road.

Thousands of children, girls as well as boys, died fighting in the Polish war effort. I spoke to one woman in her 80s who proudly showed me an aged photo and said, “I was a pretty girl, a very pretty girl. People let me pass.

“Once, shooting erupted and while I was running through it, a bullet took my pony tail right off of my head!” she exclaimed, waving her hand in the air behind her now-grey head. “It missed my head by an inch, but I lost my pony tail.  I did not notice it until I arrived safely and friends said ‘Your hair is gone!! Where is your pony tail?’”

When thousands of Poles left Poland for Canada after the war, they brought their history, their gratitude, and their pride in these children with them. The Szare Szergi Monument was built in 1995 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising.

Here is the text engraved in Polish, English and French at the monument:

“This monument was erected by the Polish-Canadian community to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising and to enshrine the memory of the young scouts and guides, known as the Szare Szergi (Gray Ranks) who fell during the uprising or lost their lives in Nazi concentration camps during the occupation of Poland (1935-1945).

Szare Szergi, consisting of 10,000 scouts and 8,000 guides, who without regard for their own safety, took an active part in all aspects of the resistance. Two battalions, Zoska and Parasol, distinguished themselves through their outstanding bravery and valour. One of the youngest armies in the world, the flower of the Polish nation, has written itself into the annals of history in gold letters. Over half of them fell fighting to free Poland. Through their deeds they have proclaimed to the world that the Poles value a free homeland above all.

With the words of the great visionary poet Julius Slowacki (1809-1849) from his poem My Testament, we dedicate this monument to the patriotic and unselfish youth known as SZARE SZERGI.

And so I cast the spell – let the living keep hope

And carry the torch of wisdom before the nation

And when necessary, go to death one by one,

Like stones, cast by God onto barricades!


Marek M. Jagla, scoutmaster

For the monument building committee

July 9th, 1995″

Text posted at the monument is in Polish, English and French.


The Polish scouts are still a very active organization in Canada. Photo: ZHR Polish Scouts of Canada, FB 2021

Think for yourself

Should you ever lie to kids? This became a topic of conversation in my life in the last few years, because I’ve been around kids so little, they were just beginning to grasp the fact that there are such things as “real” and “pretend;”  “good” and “bad;” and “true” and “false.” Those are big concepts.

I was brought up around adults who did not mind quizzing, teasing, and “fooling” kids. Often, in fact, what they were doing was pushing and challenging me to see if I would back down and abandon my own initial judgement on any issue.

Their point was, if your eyes and your common sense and your own good judgement tell you something, trust your own judgement before you trust other people. Trust other people AFTER they have proven to you they are trustworthy, and not before.

The kind, intensely Christian man who gave me a second mortgage on my first house (a Vendor Take Back mortgage he extended from his personal funds to a single working mother with three kids), once asked me, “Would you lend me $10,000 if I asked you for it?”

“Of course, if I had it,” I answered without hesitation.

“Would you loan $10,000 to a total stranger?” he pursued.

“No,” I answered, assuming that was the answer he was looking for.

“So, what does that tell you?” he persisted.

I was drawing a blank; was I not a kind and generous enough person to pass this test?

“If you are ever going to get swindled, it will be by someone you know and trust!” he sighed in evident exasperation.

This little clip from the James Randi biopic “An Honest Liar” about what magicians have to teach people sums up the idea perfectly:

“Some people cannot believe that a magician can fool them in such a way that they can’t figure it out. But magicians can, and magicians do. Swindlers do; con men do it all the time. They’re not magicians, they’re fakes. They’re lying to us. They’re deceiving us.

“It’s okay to fool people, as long as you’re doing it to teach them a lesson, which will better their knowledge of how the real world works.”

Ironically, when I contacted the director of the film for permission to use the video clip above in this post, he replied:

“Rita –

Thank you for asking. Most people would just take it. You have our permission to use the quote on your site.”

The idea that I – or anyone else – would have stolen a clip about swindling people made me laugh a little sadly. It’s a big world full of people who will swindle, steal, cheat and lie. Even kids and trusting adults need to be alert to this: it’s how the real world works.

Teaching kids to trust their own good judgement is perhaps one of the most important thing parents ever do.

I call Bullshit

I started bartending in 1979, when I was 18 years old.

(Ontario law said you needed to be 19 to serve alcohol, but the bar manager decided I could work the service bar where only the waitresses picked up, so long as I was not actually serving customers. This was Bullshit. But it did give me a useful professional head start in the fields of both alcohol and Bullshit.)

In the 1970s, there was a popular game called “Bullshit Poker.” It was played with American $1 bills, and it really was fun. I lived in Sarnia, where there were always lots of American $1 bills around; you could always find two or more people to play a hand of Bullshit Poker at the bar.

The serial number printed on the face of your American $1 bill was your poker hand, with zeroes as aces. Every player took turns studying the number on their dollar before calling their hand: “A pair of 3s.” “Ace high.” “Three card straight.”

(Ostensibly, using dollar bills instead of cards made gambling in the bar legal. This was Bullshit, of course, but everyone ignored that.)

In Bullshit Poker, it was not only fair but expected that players would bluff. Tension mounted with the start of each round, as it became obvious that one of the players was going to have to put up or shut up. Somebody was lying; somebody was going down. Who would it be?

On dull days, Bullshit Poker was just a quiet game for bored barflies. On raucous nights, the whole bar would be involved, cheering and placing side bets on the eventual winner.

What quickly became obvious was that the consistent winners in Bullshit Poker weren’t the ones who lucked into $1 bills with great poker hand serial numbers. The consistent winners were the best liars.

For example, Ray was almost unbeatable. Ray’s instincts were amazing: he knew when to fold, and when to Bullshit. But, he Bullshitted in such a convivial way, tipsy bar mates didn’t mind losing to him. Also, tipsy bar mates were not aware of Ray’s lucky dollar, the one with five 9s on it, which he carefully placed back in his wallet after cleaning all the other players.

Except Will, the bar’s owner, who was always sober and who noticed how often Ray won with five 9s.

“Get those ringers out of here!!!” Will would shout angrily when he saw Ray’s “lucky” dollar come out. Will called Bullshit before the game even started.

For two years now, since COVID-19 and governments’ astonishingly unscientific response to it changed life in Canada, I have had the eerie feeling I am living in an incredible, unending game of Bullshit Poker. The stakes get higher every day, but no one ever calls “Bullshit.”

Instead of bluffing “three 5s” or “straight to 8,” players call things like “two weeks to flatten the curve,” “we’re all in this together,” “masks stop the spread of infection,” “your business needs to be closed but Wal-mart can open,” or now, “kids are at risk for COVID.”

None of this has ever been true, but Canadians can’t bring themselves to call “Bullshit!”

It’s like we know Ray is playing his ringer “lucky” dollar, but we play game the anyway.

Why are Canadians doing this? Where is sober Will when we need him?

I call Bullshit.


Germany had one of the hardest lockdowns in the winter and Sweden had none, look at this graph: Sweden and Germany had exactly the same Covid deaths and Germany had no excess mortality.




Whose right is it anyway?

“I’m not cold; I don’t need gloves.”

Parents hear this every winter: “I don’t need a coat.” “I’m not cold.” “My hat? I left it in my locker at school. I wasn’t cold.”

I was brought up hearing “Kids don’t feel the cold.” It’s true, they don’t – not to the same degree adults do, anyway. The perennial fight over getting kids who aren’t cold dressed for the cold is probably as old as parenthood.

On December 4th, I attended a protest outside the Australian consulate to protest the outrageous emergence of tyrannical government in what was once one of the world’s most successful democracies. The people were some of the most concerned and considerate I have ever met.

Two of the protesters were a father/daughter duo. Upon meeting them, I noticed the little girl was not wearing any gloves.

“Honey, aren’t your hands cold, holding that sign?” I fretted. “I have some brand new gloves in my car, let me go and get them for you,” I offered.

“No thank you! I’m not cold, and I don’t need them,” she replied firmly.

Behind her, her father sighed and rolled his eyes comically.

“We have this conversation every weekend,” he laughed. “I pack everything. She has gloves and hats and scarves, but she leaves them in our car. She won’t wear them.”

He gave his daughter an affectionate squeeze, and I smiled recalling the exact same debate with my kids. They all survived their gloveless, hatless, scarfless winter days, this girl would, too.

What struck me most was her father’s respect for her choice: she said she wasn’t cold. He took her at her word. He packed gloves, but he wasn’t going to wreck their Saturday arguing over whether she was smart enough to judge for herself whether or not she was cold.

It did not occur to me until later that to some degree that conversation was actually symbolic of why we were there, protesting. Governments in Australia and indeed Canada want to tell citizens what is best for their bodies.

Citizens, on the other hand, believe they have the right to decide this for themselves.

Could that dad have wrestled a pair of gloves onto his daughter’s hands, or a scarf around her neck? Well, he could have tried. I doubt he would have succeeded, but I can guarantee the anger and hard feelings that would result would have ruined their day and eventually, their relationship.

Dad could have even packed a thermometer so he could prove how cold it was; I don’t think that would have changed his daughter’s mind one iota. They weren’t debating facts and data: they were debating her right to decide.

Can Australia – or Canada – force people who don’t want the COVID shot to take one? Clearly, they are willing to try. As a result, the relationship between citizens and government is being ruined.

Now, we are not arguing whether Canadians need the shot any more than kids need gloves in winter. We are arguing whether a human being has the right to decide what they want for their own body.

Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms says we do. This is still the law of the land.

No matter how cold it gets.






Repeat, Repair, Recycle: an endless loop that actually helps

I recently read a Bible verse that made me laugh out loud. It reminded me of a government flowchart I’d been given which “flowed” in a perfect, endless circle.

No resolution, no objective to achieve, no logical conclusion: it just went around and around in an endless process of collecting information to make a decision about an action that would never, according to the flowchart, actually take place.

Even more hilariously, the professional bureaucrats who created the flowchart saw nothing wrong with it.

So in conversation with a friend facing challenging times, I referred to this Bible verse – Romans 5:3 – but to cheer him up and illustrate the idea, I transferred it into a flow chart. An endless, rrepetitive flowchart which I think goes on for an entire lifetime; except that hopefully this one is actually helpful to human beings.

John’s Memorial Garden

On the day Eli asked me to draft John’s obituary it was Sunday about 8am. I threw myself into writing it, which took a few hours. By the time I realized it was noon already I was late to pick up some snapdragons I had arranged to buy from a woman in Oshawa.

I pulled into her drive way about 3 hours later than she was expecting me. She was quite flustered because she had promised to be somewhere else at 2pm, and waiting for me made her late leaving. I was afraid she was going to be angry and dump all over me; you never know, when you meet people online, what they might be like in person. You take a risk, meeting them in person.

“I am so sorry!” I blurted out. “My good friend died suddenly, and his partner asked me to write his obituary. I got so caught up, I was late leaving home. I am so sorry.”

The woman was immediately distressed for me, and so kind: “Oh! I am so sorry you lost your friend! Don’t worry about it!” She had WAAAAAY more snapdragons than I was expecting, a big box full of them in really good, dark, heavy soil. The real garden kind of dirt, not the store-bought potted plant kind.

“I just dug these up now,” she told me, “when I saw you pull in. They will grow back every year. But don’t move them right away,” she advised. “They are disturbed right now. Let them rest a day or two before you move them again. Plant them for your friend.”

I am spending a lot of time trying to figure out this “new” world we live in now…I don’t think John or Rob would be putting up with it for a minute. I need a “WWJ&R do?” bracelet, I think.

I let them “rest” a few days before re-planting them, and they have been growing like gangbusters ever since. I liked having a little corner of my garden dedicated to John, so I painted a rock with a “J” on it. Then I decided the corner needed a crucifix – or two – and a lantern, and then a bench. And some more rocks to remind me of other people we have lost, and also, my mother’s Madonna statue.

So, the corner of my yard has become a little memorial garden. It started with John but grew as summer progressed.

It has been a such disturbing year. It’s nice to have a little place to rest, and see that things are still growing, as God intended.



Elections Canada needs to clarify how mail-in ballots are handled

Photo by Mikaela Wiedenhoff on Unsplash

11am Sept. 19 Update: Elections Canada sent me the message below. Now I have heard from 3 campaign managers who have never seen this info yet during this election; that could be the fault of their Party.


We thank you for your email.

Special Voting Rules ballots are counted at local offices and at Elections Canada headquarters.

Deputy returning officers (DROs) and poll clerks verify outer envelopes and count Special Voting Rules (SVR) ballots cast by local electors, including electors in acute care hospitals and external service point (ESP) offices, at the office of the returning officer.

No ballots are counted in additional as SVR assistant returning officer (AARO) offices.

Ballots from other categories of SVR electors are counted at Elections Canada headquarters in Ottawa.

  • A service point supervisor oversees the verification of outer envelopes but is not present during the counting of the votes.
  • Candidates or one of their representatives can be present at the verification of the outer envelopes and counting of special ballots.

The verification of outer envelopes begins on election day before the polls close.

The DRO and poll clerk perform the following tasks:

  • They verify all the outer envelopes to determine whether the elector is entitled to vote in the electoral district. Outer envelopes which do not meet the requirements of the Canada Elections Act are set aside unopened (e.g. if not signed by the elector).
  • They count and open the valid outer envelopes, remove the anonymous inner envelopes and place them in a sealed ballot box. The outer envelopes are retained separately.
  • After the polls close, they open the ballot box, open the inner envelopes and count the votes and rejected ballots.

SVR ballots received at Elections Canada headquarters include ballots from:

  • Canadian Forces electors who voted from Monday
  • national and international electors
  • incarcerated electors

To be counted, ballots from these electors must be received at Elections Canada headquarters in Ottawa by 6 p.m. on polling day.

Counting SVR ballots at Elections Canada headquarters begins no later than September 12.

An SVR administrator oversees the verification and counting of ballots.

Special ballot officers work in pairs with another service agent who, as much as possible, was recommended by a different candidate, association or registered party. They perform the following tasks:

  • They verify the outer envelopes and count the SVR ballots by electoral district.
  • They set aside the rejected outer envelopes and leave them unopened
  • They count and open the valid outer envelopes, remove the anonymous inner envelopes and place them in a bag. The outer envelopes are set aside. They open the ballot bag, open the inner envelopes and count the votes and rejected ballots.

After the close of polls on election day, Elections Canada headquarters sends the number of SVR votes cast for each candidate and the number of rejected ballots to returning officers.

For more information about the Canadian federal electoral system, visit our website at, or call 1-800-463-6868, toll-free in Canada and the United States. Our hours of operation are Monday to Sunday, 7:00 a.m. until midnight (Eastern Time).

Public Enquiries Unit

Elections Canada

I used Elections Canada’s online form to ask a clear questions:

“What is the process for opening and counting the mail-in ballots in Ottawa?”

The answer they sent does not mention mail-in ballots. It’s gonna be a long week, Comrades.


We thank you for your email.

Photographs and audio and video recordings are not permitted in polling places. These restrictions apply to everyone, including established media outlets—except, with the permission of the Chief Electoral Officer, when filming party leaders in the process of voting. Photographing one’s own marked ballot is therefore prohibited. However, behind the voting screen, electors with a disability are allowed to use their cellphone as an assistive tool to help them vote.

All ballots are counted on election day. Elections Canada does not use automatic ballot-counting machines to count ballots or tabulate results. Ballots cast at ordinary and mobile polls must be counted after voting hours end on election day. The count for ballots cast at advance polls may begin one hour before voting hours end on election day.

People allowed to attend the count are:

  • Deputy Returning Officers (DRO) who count the ballots
  • Poll clerks (PC) who tally the votes counted and help the DROs complete paperwork
  • Candidates or their representatives (up to 2 representatives for each candidate) can witness the count.
  • If no candidates or representatives are present, at least 2 electors or election officers should be present to witness the count

The procedure for the counting of ballots is as follows:

Note that only the DRO can handle ballots.

  1. The DRO unseals the top of the ballot box
  2. The DRO takes out one ballot out of the ballot box and makes sure that DRO initials and (A)PD of the polling station are on the back. Note DROs can compare initials on ballots with the initials of previous DROs on Log of poll workers – Events Log (page 2-3) EC 50060 to make sure the ballot was issued by a DRO working at that polling station
  3. The DRO unfolds the ballot and says out loud which candidate is marked. The ballot is shown to everyone present
  4. The ballot is put in its appropriate pile
  5. Each time the DRO calls out a candidate’s name, the PC puts a mark under that name on Tally Sheet EC 50090. If the DRO rejects a ballot, the PC puts a mark in the rejected column
  6. Steps 2-5 are repeated until every ballot has been placed in a pile
  7. The DRO makes sure there are no ballots left in the box and shows it to everyone present
  8. The PC writes the totals in each column of the Tally Sheet EC 50090
  9. The DRO and PC sum the totals, and verify that it matches the Total from line 3 of the Last Page of the List (the number of Voted ticks)
  10. On each envelope, write the total number of ballots is written. The DRO puts each pile of ballots inside its appropriate envelope
  11. The DRO and PC complete the Statement of the Vote EC 50100
  12. The PC prepares Copy of Results for Candidates EC 50110 and gives a copy to each of the candidates or representatives present
  13. The Statement of the Vote, the ballots in sealed envelopes, and all other related documentation are sent back immediately to the Returning Officer who will validate the results at a pre-determined time shortly after election day.

For more information about the Canadian federal electoral system, visit our website at, or call 1-800-463-6868, toll-free in Canada and the United States. Our hours of operation are Monday to Sunday, 7:00 a.m. until midnight (Eastern Time).

Public Enquiries Unit

Elections Canada