Category Archives: Canada

Eulogy for Eryl Court


by Barry Weisleder

Eryl Court, a devoted peace activist, a staunch feminist and a long-time supporter of Rebel Films in Toronto, passed away on November 28, at 94 years of age.   Like Moses, she lived a long time, imbued with a profound sense of hope in the potential of humanity.  Alas, like him, she was not able to witness the birth of the better world for which she strived.  We miss Eryl.  We miss her wit, her impish laugh, her zest for public discourse.  These memories are her lasting gift to us all.

I knew Eryl in a political capacity.  As the federal secretary of Socialist Action, I had the pleasure of greeting her at many of our events over the past decade.  Invariably, she sat in the front row.  That was not only so that she could better hear the proceedings.  It was there that the diminutive but indomitable, irrepressible, and eloquently outspoken Eryl could quickly gain the attention of the chairperson, and so be among the first to be called upon to speak in the open floor discussion time.

At our gatherings, Eryl would often conclude her remarks with the words: “We need a world in one piece.  That is spelled P I E C E and P E A C E.”

She was for nuclear weapons disarmament, without hesitation, without pre-conditions.  Like Tony Benn and Jeremy Corbyn, she was for unilateral disarmament by the west.  She knew that passing the buck on disarmament only ensures more wasteful military spending.  And worse, it paves the road to oblivion, and that is simply not an option.

Eryl was born in London England to the family of Samuel and Esther Levers on August 7, 1924.  She was the youngest of 3 children.  Her eldest brother, Peter Dennis Levers, died about 10 years ago in Carleton Place, Ontario.  The younger brother died in the UK quite a bit earlier.

According to the Birth Registration Certificate, the family lived in North Finchley, a suburb of London.  Subsequently they lived in a south coast town called Bognor Regis.

At the outbreak of war in 1939, in the face of German air raids, the British government decided to evacuate children to North America.  Eryl was one of the evacuees.  Her host was a family living in Wisconsin.  It seems that over the years she maintained a relationship with her host family.

Eryl traveled back to the UK at war’s end to be with her birth family.  Eventually, she returned to North America to attend the University in Toronto.  That is where she met Abe Roytenberg.

Abe had mustered out of the RCAF in late 1944.  With veteran’s grants, he attained a Bachelor of Social Work at the University of Manitoba.  He then went to the University of Toronto for a Master’s degree, where he and Eryl met and then married in 1946.

They lived in Toronto all of their married life.  Eryl gained employment as a social worker for a part of that period.  She was always concerned with social causes and they were both actively involved in left wing politics and the peace movement.

After they were divorced, Eryl married William “Billy” Court.

Eryl traveled a great deal in her advocacy for the peace movement.  She visited India and Japan in her eighties. She traveled extensively in North America, frequently attending peace conferences.  She also visited friends in the U.K.

Eryl was a constant and extensive contributor to a variety of charities and self-help promoting organizations.  She had a lengthy list of these groups which had monthly pre-authorized access to her bank account.  She gave constantly, and in death the giving continues.

Eryl’s health declined sharply in her last few months.  Fortunately, she had a dear friend, Everett Barclay.  He was her constant companion, right up to the end.

Here are some of Rett’s recollections about Eryl Court.  Rett says that Eryl studied at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.  She obtained an MA in social work.  She has always been interested in socialism.

During the bleak McCarthy era, she was active in Social Workers for Peace in Toronto.  She suffered for that professionally.  Eryl always had a lively mind.  Her interests were Shakespeare, George Bernard Shaw, and live theatre of all kinds.  Rett got to know her through a mutual interest in the Russian language.  Eryl visited the Soviet Union many times.  She was there during the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. When she returned to Canada, she appeared on the CBC television program Front Page Challenge and told of her experiences.

Rett traveled with her to Cuba, in or around the year 2000.  They were members of the Canada Cuba Friendship Association.  Eryl travelled all over the world on behalf of the peace movement. She visited Rio de Janeiro, which she described as wonderful and horrible.  She was a representative of the Unitarian Church at the United Nations in New York.  Dutifully at her computer keyboard, Eryl kept in touch regularly with peace activists.  Talking to her was like attending a university lecture.  She was also interested in world religions and philosophies.  As mentioned before, she married twice.  Her first marriage to Abe Roytenberg unfortunately ended in divorce.  She married again to Tommy Court, but that ended with his untimely death.  Later, when Abe was very ill, he came to live with Eryl and she took care of him until his death.  She maintained a very close friendship with Abe’s brother Harry and his wife Jeannette.

Thank you, Rett, for those fine recollections.

Allow me to add a few parting thoughts.  In so many ways, Eryl was an extraordinary person.  As someone famously said, “The philosophers have, hitherto, interpreted the world; the point, however, is to change it.”  Eryl set out to change the world, not to accept it as it is, not to observe its turmoil and social struggles at a safe distance, but to roll up her sleeves and work to change it for the good of us all. Eryl was a socialist and a feminist, which is why my party, Socialist Action, is so blessed to have enjoyed her company.

Eryl was a feminist long before the second wave of feminism shook the world, and true to her principles, feminists continue to expose the hypocrisy of the current federal government.  By her enduring example, Eryl answered the question:  What is the purpose of life?  It is to make life better for all.  It is to unchain the human genius from the shackles of the profit system.  It is to put an end to exploitation, plunder and war, and by our unfettered ingenuity, to fill existence with knowledge, love and beauty.

Thank you, Eryl, for sharing your life with us.

Bill 66, Ford’s latest assault

by Kurt Young*

Since it came to government, Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative Party has been in a mad rush to ram through as much legislation as possible. Ford claims a mandate from the 2018 Ontario election where the Tories won 76 of 124 seats, but received only 40.5% of the votes cast. Their new laws are an attack on the poor and working class people of Ontario. Nothing exemplifies that better than the proposed omnibus Bill 66.

The many Schedules of Bill 66 are replete with attacks on workers’ rights. Schedule 1 removes the right of ornamental horticultural workers to form a union by adding that industry to the Agricultural Employees Protection Act. Schedule 9 states that collective agreements pertaining to construction workers will no longer be binding on public institutions, like school boards or hospitals. The bill removes protections against excessive hours of work and unpaid overtime. It makes it harder for workers to learn about their rights on the job.

Bill 66 attacks public oversight. In Schedule 8 all references to public consultation within the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care Act have been removed, save for one, which leaves the power to call public hearings with regard to Long-term Care facilities solely in the hands of an appointed bureaucrat. In Schedule 4 all references to sub-meters, a device used to monitor the power usage of individual units in an apartment complex, have been removed. Potentially, that removes apartment units from the purview of the Energy Board.

As egregious as are the above provisions, the Conservatives outdo themselves by attacking public safety. Schedule 2 of the Bill repeals the entirety of the Pawnbrokers’ Act removing the need for pawnbrokers to be licensed and removing legal guidelines when potentially dealing with stolen goods. Schedule 5 repeals the Toxic Reduction Act and Schedule 7 eliminates Ontario’s requirement for labeling upholstered and stuffed articles which will leave Ontarians ignorant of potentially harmful materials contained in the pillows, sofas and stuffed toys that consumers buy for their children. These are only a handful of the harmful provisions contained in Bill 66.

The Conservative government and Bill 66 should be opposed at every instance. But a big problem is the antiquated first-past-the-post electoral system that enables a party to gain the majority of the seats without receiving the majority of the votes. When we take to the streets to stop the Ford agenda, we should also demand proportional representation so that no government can exercise absolute legislative control against the will of the majority of the people.

* Kurt Young is a member of the Sheetmetal Workers’ Union and Socialist Action.

Cross-Canada Day of Action for Palestine set for May 18

  • Across the Canadian state there is a new majority…
  • against Israeli war crimes,
  • against the Occupation,
  • for the Right of Return for Palestinian Refugees,
  • for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions,
  • to End Canadian Complicity with Israeli Apartheid,
  • for Self-determination for the Palestinian people.

The Canadian BDS Coalition, with the clear aim of celebrating this new majority by making it visible on the streets of this country, appeals to everyone seeing this message, to every working class and progressive organization, to demonstrate on Saturday, May 18 in solidarity with the above demands.

Please plan street actions to occur in your city, in your community on May 18. You may wish to initiate activities prior to that date, in the week that marks Nakba 71. That’s great. But please undertake to organize powerful, visible manifestations of our solidarity with the Palestinian people on the common target date, May 18.

Please let us know that you endorse this Call to Action. Tell us what your group, coalition or campaign plans to do, so that it can be posted on our website, and shared widely across social media. See the poster on the website: Local activity information can easily be added by you in the space provided at the bottom.

Please contact us at: 647-986-1917

Labour rallies downplay job action to stop Ontario Tory agenda

by Sam Cheadle

Over 800 labour activists from across the province responded to the call of the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) on March 25 to attend a “Take Back Ontario Conference” at the Metro Convention Center, just a few blocks from the Toronto Stock Exchange. The event was billed as a discussion to initiate a coordinated fightback against the Conservative Doug Ford government. But it was not a decision-making body — more like a public forum. Since Ford’s election last June labour and activist groups like Socialist Action have been calling for an emergency OFL convention where elected delegates could set policies and make plans for a general strike. With the “Progressive” Conservatives holding a majority of seats in the Legislature, many on the left emphasized that we cannot afford to wait until the next election to challenge this government directly. It is imperative that labour make the province ungovernable and thwart the hard-neoliberal austerity agenda, before irreparable damage is done. SA members Julius Arscott and Barry Weisleder spoke early from floor mics to argue for escalating actions towards a general strike to oust the Tories. Many folks applauded. To deflect this sentiment, former UNIFOR staffer and current OFL President Chris Buckley asked “Can we mobilize 100,000 people tomorrow in Ontario to fight the Ford government?” But isn’t this the wrong question? What we need to know is: How do we prepare to mobilize 100,000 people? Sending activists back to their communities, to have tea with their neighbours, is not going to reverse the Ford agenda. An effective response from labour is needed. It is time to draw a line in the sand, to unequivocally state that the movement will defend every union local and every public service from further privatization and theft. That means when Ford tells teachers “don’t even think about strike action”, the response should be “See you on the picket line!” It means when a PC politician’s office is messed up, don’t make sappy apologies; double down and denounce the violence inherent in taking over $3 billion in wages away from Ontario workers when the planned $1/hour increase in the minimum wage was cancelled just before Christmas. It also means putting resources into community groups to engage in direct actions, not telling rank and file activists to go build the movement, while the labour brass thinks about getting on board. The labour leadership has been putting the rank and file to sleep for the past 30 years. Now witness the full consequences of that.

What are some highlights of the conference? Injured workers issues were discussed, the idea of an OFL rapid response network was promoted, and one speaker, migrants’ rights activist Preethy Sivakumar laid out some stunning truths that are not often aired in official union gatherings. She spoke about the connections between racism and inequality, how right wing political leaders use racism to divide the working class and maintain economic equality, and how union members are not immune to these types of narratives. She maintained the number one job of unions is to “eliminate competition between workers and lift the floor for everyone.” Massive support was pledged for a health care rally on April 30 at Queens Park. Attacks on the construction unions were analyzed. Again, for effective actions to come from these discussions we need uncompromising leadership. Organizers of the April 30 rally should look to shut down Queen’s Park and fan out from the lawn, stop traffic, push aside the barriers, and take over the front steps. Who knows, workers might decide to address the legislature. Union leaders representing members in the construction trades who tacitly supported Ford during the June 2018 election need to be replaced.

The OFL conference was followed by an evening “Stewards Assembly” convened by the Toronto and York Region Labour Council, with attendees seated by electoral district. While it was interesting to connect with local area activists, the assembly severely limited cross-city input (there were no mics on the floor). By the end of the evening the mood of disappointment was palpable. Chris Buckley gave another tiresome speech, dolling out a few contradictory and self-serving phrases. After the event organizers released a statement that accurately reported the “massive turnout for yesterday’s Stewards Assembly spoke volumes about the appetite to get organized and build solidarity.” But the nearly one thousand rank and file activists in the room received little more than platitudes. Exceptional was a speech by author Linda McQuaig and some short videos featuring rank and file activists who are battling austerity within their workplaces.

Nonetheless, the small opening offered by the labour bureaucracy should be seized. Resolutions passed in community and labour groups that call for mass action are needed. Support striking workers. Defy back to work legislation. Confront and shut down alt-right and white supremacist groups where they appear. Occupy spaces that are under threat from the Thug Ford government. The slogan of ‘educate, agitate, organize’ must take on a more radical meaning, and come to life, to spark mass resistance and force an entrenched labour bureaucracy to join us on the street as we confront the major assault on the working class in Ontario that is taking shape at breakneck speed.

Liberal Federal Budget: Feast for the Rich, Crumbs for the Rest

by Barry Weisleder

Justin Trudeau’s undeserved reputation as a ‘progressive’ is now officially in tatters. His one-day wonder of a federal budget, calculated to overshadow the ongoing SNC Lavalin scandal, quickly shrank to a footnote. Still, there is plenty of fiscal anguish, even in Liberal ranks.

At the Toronto Star, a media pillar of liberalism, there is much hand wringing. The March 20 lead editorial was titled “Morneau’s Budget – Liberals can be bolder.” Star columnist David Olive later wrote, “since it came to power in 2015, the (Justin) Trudeau government’s progressive instincts have weakened… this week’s budget should have Grits worried that their party is losing its soul.”

Well, if there be such a thing as a soul, the Liberal Spiritus Sanctus is comfortably dwelling deep within the Canadian Corporate Corpus. The pre-election 2019 federal budget sprinkles bread crumbs on the sea without raising a ripple against the vessel of capitalist private profit. While the captains of industry and commerce continue to enjoy public subsidies and tax havens abroad for their billions, here are some conspicuous acts of neglect and omission on the domestic landscape.

Pharmacare: About 20 per cent of Canadians are uninsured or under-insured for prescription drugs. One in ten goes without prescribed medications due to cost. The Parliamentary Budget Officer estimates that universal pharma care would save more than $4 billion a year if the government exercised its purchasing power as the sole buyer. (Even more would be saved if a public enterprise did the research, production and distribution of medical drugs.) But Finance Minister Bill Morneau kept such a scheme out of the budget. He prefers to wait for the final report of an advisory body he appointed, which may recommend only filling in the gaps left by Canada’s current hodgepodge of pharmaceutical plans. That would keep Big Pharma happy.

Skills training: The budget says workers between the ages of 25 and 64 will be eligible for a training allowance of $250 a year, to a maximum of $5000. Not much training can be purchased for that paltry amount. Worse, the allowance can be accessed only if the provinces change their labour laws to let workers take re-education breaks without losing their jobs. Furthermore, adults who take time off work for re-training will be eligible for a mere four weeks off the job at just 55 per cent of full pay, and only once every four years. Is this the definition of useless, or what?

Childcare: For just one child it can cost as much as $12,000 a year. The government’s Canada Child Benefit has reduced the child poverty rate, but that doesn’t build any daycare spaces. It doesn’t enable many more women to go to work, or reduce the debt burden that is weighing down so many people. Canadians have accumulated more household debt than the residents of almost any other country. Debt dismay fuels right wing populism.

Housing: Young workers are shut out of the home ownership market. Many are couch surfing, some even living rough and dying on the streets. Trudeau/Morneau’s answer is a “shared equity” mortgage plan. It raises the amount people can borrow from their RRSP (if they have one) to put into a down payment. But the plan effectively caps the price of a home to be purchased this way at around $500,000. Experts say this no help in big markets like Toronto and Vancouver. Queen’s University real estate professor John Andrew calls the move symbolic. “They’re trying to appease the real estate lobby… to appear as though they’re doing something for first-time home buyers.” After WW2, the state built affordable housing to accommodate the baby boom and subsequent waves of immigrants. Socialists demand the creation of a public land assembly and housing construction corporation with a mandate to build 500,000 energy efficient, affordable, quality units within five years. Venezuela built 2.5 million homes in eight years. But hey, that’s a government Ottawa wants to overthrow, not emulate.

Energy – The feds opt for a mix of electric cars and dirty oil pipelines. Seriously. To be precise, the Liberal budget allocates $435 million in incentives for electric or hydrogen-fuel-cell vehicle buyers in order to nudge hitherto unwilling auto makers – after spending $4.5 billion to buy the Trans Mountain Pipeline (and double that to build a new parallel line). Trudeau refuses to convert the extensive Canada Post delivery fleet to electric — much less nationalize job killing GM in Oshawa or Fiat/Chrysler in Windsor to produce the trains, buses, freight hauling and personal vehicles for a green, sustainable future. Environmental scientists say it’s twelve years to irreversible climate catastrophe.

Farmers – The supply management system in Canada protects farmers in dairy, poultry and egg sectors by limiting imports from abroad and setting quotas for domestic production and sales. But Trudeau/Freeland signed trade agreements with the EU and the Pacific Rim that opened up these markets to foreign competition. Will the $3.9 billion support program for these farmers keep them operating?

Low income seniors – Folks aged 65+ have been falling behind for decades. The budget promises to spend $1.76 billion over four years to increase the Guaranteed Income Supplement – beginning in 2020. It will also increase the amount of income seniors can make without shrinking the supplement payouts they receive. In other words, low-income seniors are encouraged to keep working. O joy!

Pinch the Rich? — Hardly. In 2017, 2,330 Canadians ‘earned’ more than $1 million and claimed stock options tax deductions (i.e. bought company stocks, only half of which is taxed). The budget caps at $200,000 the use of this tax dodge at large “mature” companies (which exempts millionaires at start-ups). Clearly, this measure does nothing to fund social needs, much less close the gap between the super-rich and the working class. According to author Linda McQuaig, top CEOs receive 2,000 times the earnings of the average worker.

And what about electoral reform? Indigenous reconciliation? Feminism? Better forget about it, so long as Colonel Sanders is in charge of the hen house.

Forgive the pun, but under capitalism, big business greed trumps workers’ needs. “Affordability anxiety” preoccupies 57 per cent of Canadians, according to the Abacus Data polling firm. With appropriate leadership, it could power a challenge to capitalist rule.