Next steps

Moving on from Ontario politics

There are few experiences in life to match announcing a milestone like a hospital expansion in your own neighbourhood, and knowing you played a role in getting the money and the mandate to build the facility. Thinking as one walks through the completed structure, “I helped do that” is a feeling that’s hard to top.

In December, 2020 after more time to reflect on my own wishes and aspirations within the Ontario Liberal Party, and for the northwest Mississauga community I served for 15 years in the Ontario Legislature than I expected due to the COVID-19 stay-home regime, Andrea and I came to the conclusion that I would not stand again for nomination as the Ontario Liberal Party’s candidate in Mississauga-Streetsville.

Back in the 1970s, a friend gave me a book called The Courage to Create. It begins by saying that the first act of creation is an act of destruction. This means that to do something new or innovative, you normally have to let go of something old or familiar. And now I have done that. The time since the 2018 election for us, like so many other Members who had the privilege of serving in four consecutive Liberal governments, was a time to re-learn the simple pleasures of home, community, friends and life, and to examine other opportunities and horizons that beckoned beyond provincial politics. I neither submitted nor requested nomination papers from the Party for the next election.

My journey with the Mississauga-Streetsville Provincial Liberal Association (then “Mississauga North”) began at the Riding Association’s 1996 Annual General Meeting, when a recommended list for the Riding Association’s Executive was acclaimed. Nearly 25 years later, and through three riding redistributions, six elections, four consecutive victories, and 15 years as the Member of Provincial Parliament, it is time to move onward. I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of Ontario party politics, and would not have missed a day of my adventure in the community and the Legislature. However, simply put, it was enough of a good thing.

I slept soundly the evening of the announcement, and woke up rested and certain that I had made the right choice.

A proud legacy

The moments to remember and the accomplishments to celebrate from my years in public office are many, and ones to be proud of. Politics being often defined as ‘the art of the possible,’ you can never be certain where the process will take you. An election campaign is about learning something new all the time. In realizing how morning traffic jams along our west-to-east roads were caused by commuters flocking to crowded GO trains at Meadowvale and Streetsville, I learned about railroad management and lobbied the daylights out of our government ministers, GO Transit and the Ministry of Transportation and Highways. Together with a Mississauga City Councillor, we got the Lisgar GO station build. Indeed, it came in seven weeks ahead of schedule and under budget, partly because we watched the project so closely, and resolved issues before they could become show-stoppers.

Over the years I was elected, five trains of eight cars each morning and evening became ten trains of 12 cars each. Each of our GO stations was upgraded and new parking added over the years the Liberals were in government.

Coming home from Queen’s Park on the train, sometimes Andrea would pick me up at Lisgar. I always got a personal thrill hearing the train staff call out, “Lisgar next stop, Lisgar!” I’d think to myself, “I did that!”

We needed a hospital expansion at Credit Valley. Then hospital president Wayne Fyffe invested time and effort in teaching me hospital issues, financing and administration. He introduced me to the doctors and nurses who regularly took me on the floor to learn how a hospital worked. When I got to announce the Credit Valley Hospital Phase 2 expansion, on a day that was coincidentally my birthday in August of 2005, I needed to step back as the capacity crowd that was present cheered the announcement because it literally took my own breath away. Together, we got Phase 2 and Phase 3 built, and increased base funding, bought new beds, put in an ambulatory surgery centre and much more.

After my first election in 2003, I had no Constituency Office to inherit. The first people to come and see me in my cold ex-campaign office that we used for the first few weeks were families of autistic children. It was an issue I knew little about, and visited ErinoakKids to know more. In 2007, I promised that “so help me God,” we would get a new ErinoakKids facility built. I didn’t know exactly how we would do that when we set out on this quarter-billion-dollar quest. It took longer than I thought, and again when I got to address the folks present in 2018, when the new ErinoakKids facility opened in Mississauga, I felt the emotion it took in the years-long quest to get the funding and mandate for ErinoakKids to open its state-of-the-art facility.

I served in a government that delivered a bright future and a compassionate today to so many Ontarians. It is a precious memory, and a solid foundation for the next steps in life.

Flu Shot Time

Do you really want to risk the flu in 2020?

Bob getting 2020 flu shot

In the eerie autumn, of the year of COVID-19, an annual flu shot is more vital than ever! Not once in the 17 years I have taken the annual flu shot have I got the flu. Book an appointment at your local pharmacy to get your free flu shot now.

In this year of the COVID-19 social circle collapse, our lives have all focused on what is essential, almost to the exclusion of everything else: gatherings; events; friends; even family. This summer of 2020, our back yard garden was our sanctuary, pride, joy and the only place where we received others, carefully screened, masked,  socially-distanced, and two per occasion. Now it is autumn. The garden has gone away for the year, and we’ve moved inside.

Andrea and I also got our flu shot as soon as we could in October Read More…

Canada Day 2020

Happy Canada Day

Warmest Canada Day wishes, at a time we can’t share the holiday together in person. This June 30, 2020 picture was taken of a planter in the back yard.

The Canada Day 2020 holiday weather is perfect! It’s just that the parks will be fairly empty, and the few strollers should be individuals and family groups keeping a respectful distance from one another. Since mid-March, the whole year has felt like living the film Groundhog Day. As one of Andrea’s WhatsApp group friends observed, “In this stay-home time, what difference does it make if Sunday falls on Monday?”

The people who seem to be adjusting best are those who are comfortable in their own skin, who maintain a regular routine, see opportunity in the time to improve themselves, their home, or do things that normally stay on the perpetual back burner.

Mother Nature seemed to conspire to get Canadians to do the right things by providing spring weather that kept people inside despite themselves. Right into May, I’d get some fresh air in the back yard wearing my winter coat, scarf, gloves and hat. When, I wondered, would spring ever start? But it did. Andrea and I have planted, pruned and decorated the back yard garden, but in this bizarre COVID-19 year, its appreciative audience may consist of squirrels, birds, the occasional curious skunk, and our cat, Merlin.

New normal

Adjusting to the COVID-19 year

With the start of a new decade came the rising realization that something was seriously wrong in China with a new virus that seemed to have no cure and spread rapidly. As the spring of 2020 rapidly dissolved into summer weather (at last), we almost forget that the news event of the new decade started with the central Chinese city of Wuhan, and then seemed to spread to cruise boats.

Andrea and I normally attend a round of Chinese functions at the time of the Chinese lunar new year. With Chinese restaurants and Chinese people being either avoided or shunned, and often worse, we resolved to show our support to the Chinese-Canadian community, and attend the functions to which we were invited in the first quarter of the year. And we did, without harm or effect. A few large Chinese social functions scheduled for February were cancelled: at least one of them normally serving upwards of 1,000 people. Back then in mid-winter, one wondered whether our Chinese-Canadian community was being overly cautious. With the perspective of a few months of hindsight, one can see they were being careful, responsible and prudent.

The shut-down begins

Just before the general shut-down, life was pretty busy. The first weekend of March began with a family funeral, at which Andrea and I did our best to minimize our contact and maximize what would, within days, become known as ‘social distancing.’ The following day, the Ontario Liberal Party Leadership Convention began at the International Centre in Mississauga. I picked up one of my Riding Association colleagues on the Friday. We registered, cast what would turn out to be our only ballot, did a minimum of socializing with friends at the event, skipped all the receptions, and went home. We were not being anti-social at the time, but just careful. We went the next morning for the speeches and the vote counting of the first and only ballot. By this time, people were talking about COVID-19, but nobody knew anybody who had it, and the the phenomenon of the asymptomatic ‘super-spreader’ was then unknown. They announced that our Candidate, Steven Del Duca, had won on the first ballot, and my group bade a polite and expedient adieu to an event I would have otherwise enjoyed for a few more hours.

In the weeks that unwound, we are not aware that anybody at either the family funeral or the OLP Leadership Convention tested positive for the virus. They were close to the last large events of their type that happened before the world shut down in the following week.

For me, it happened after Wednesday hockey. As I was getting dressed to play goal, a few of the guys rolled in talking about the ongoing Prospectors and Developers Convention in Toronto, and how a few people had tested positive. I asked if any of them had encountered anyone who was there. No, they said, they’d just heard it from others.

“Good,” I thought to myself, “I don’t need to run out of here and I’ll play this game.”

On the ice in goal, it occurred to me that a hockey rink was a pretty strong environment for any exhalation-borne disease to propagate, and I was glad to be in goal, away from the players’ benches. After the game, one of the guys asked me if I’d be available for a game with his group that Saturday night.

“Well, two things,” I said to him. “Yes, I have nothing on Saturday night, which makes me available, but we’d better talk tomorrow or Friday, because I am not sure if we’ll be playing.”

Sure enough, when we spoke the following day, he told me that the City of Mississauga had called and cancelled all his ice time for the balance of the year. I said I was on one hand disappointed because I was in peak condition for hockey, and on the other hand, I was a bit relieved. The previous day, the stay-home period was mandated across Canada, and the country-wide shutdown began.

The family’s signature cats

Though not from COVID-19, we suffered our losses in the family. Our younger cat, Bebe, had developed a very aggressive form of cancer in early March, and she met her merciful end on March 23rd, with her human Mummy and Daddy at her side. She had always been a healthy little cat, and we were not prepared for her very quick passing. At least Andrea and I could be together and at home during the mourning period that follows the loss of a loved member of the family, whether they talk on two legs or four.

The house was, and remains, emptier without our little Bebe cat on patrol, checking her territory, cuddling with Andrea on and off all day, and talking to us at key points. Particularly when I was elected, people often remembered our two cats who adorned every Christmas card: Obi-Wan (1999 – 2005) and Bebe (2005 – 2020). Now they are both gone, though alive in spirit and memory. Merlin, who adopted me at Pet Valu in Meadowvale in late February of 2016, remained healthy.

The following week, Andrea’s older brother passed away, also suddenly, from heart problems in Guyana. The funeral had to happen quickly and without the family members from Canada and the USA. We participated by video.

The days that re-occur daily

And then life settled into the stay-home pattern: shopping once every eight or ten days; no more in-person visitors; and the days sort of folded into one another such that one of Andrea’s relatives observed on their family WhatsApp chat group, “During this time, what difference does it make if Sunday should fall on Monday?” We started a blog page on Andrea’s family we site to record what was happening from week to week. We tracked what we had for dinner on each day, because the event of dinner seemed to mark the transition from the work day to personal time. We watched old movies on TV, learned how to use Zoom, called our friends and discovered we were all living more or less the same day each day, and took it one day at a time.

And it was cold! Into May, I had not put away my winter jacket, gloves, hat and scarf. Merlin would go outside and wander about, and I would sit in the gazebo to keep him company and get a bit of morning air – cold morning air. My own theory was that Mother Nature was doing her part to help Canadians maintain social distancing by making it uncomfortable and inconvenient to be outside together. In May, when new COVID-19 cases in major Canadian cities began to rise again, it turned out that my theory held water: as soon as it was warm and sunny enough for people to congregate too close together, they did just that, largely without masks or other protection. We just stayed home.

The garden provides a ray of sunshine

From what was indoors and had survived the winter, and from what we had in storage, much of the annual summer garden got started in April and May, when the weather permitted. It took a few careful visits to the Longo’s garden centre near where we live and to our favourite nursery (all suitably masked) to get the balance of the flowers and garden soil to finish the job. This year the garden is a bit more sparse and economical, but it’s there.

To work or study outside in the gazebo in the good weather of 2020 offers the songs of the household robins, the fragrance of our garden flowers, the comfort of a sleeping Merlin with me, and this view when I look up from what I am doing. Nice office environment!

As May drew to a close, and the first wave of summer heat descended, I tried my summertime outdoor office again in the gazebo, where I had studied for my Canadian Securities Course in 2019. I can bring out a portable table, set up the computer, bring out a cordless phone, my cell, and all my books and notes, and I largely set up. The Wi-Fi from the house can be a little spotty in that corner of the garden. This year, the songs of the resident families of Robins are more evident due to the still-unearthly quiet in the neighbourhood. Merlin and I had not been able to get to the neighbourhood park for our walk not so much due to the virus, as we seldom encounter anyone at the park, but because the park was either too cold or too wet to make the 600-metre stroll enjoyable for me or for 17-year-old Merlin, who remains a healthy, active and handsome cat.

Shopping adventures

Andrea didn’t want to run the risk of grocery shopping, so we found a great substitute. Longo’s has high-speed Wi-Fi for its shoppers, so after I have run down the list, I go over to the fresh meat and fish counters, plug my Bluetooth headset in, use the video function of WhatsApp, and let her virtually shop with me for a few minutes. It has worked out perfectly.

Now really: if we had encountered anyone dressed like me, and now just about all the grocery shoppers, before the corona virus period, wouldn’t this look like somebody who wasn’t in the store just to pick up groceries?

At the stores, we never yielded to the compulsion to hoard at any stage. Sure enough, paper products were back in abundance, and soon on sale. The same for such items as chicken and dried pasta. Our local Longo’s became a progressively weirder place to visit, as the shoppers increasingly were masked (as was I after the first two trips). On Twitter, I observed that if I had showed up at the grocery store pre-COVID-19 attired in the mask I now wore, I would likely have encountered a skeptical police officer by the time I got down the second aisle. Now, I am just another masked face pushing a shopping cart.

Flour and yeast were products that we had purchased a few weeks before the run on the stores began, and we were fine for our yeast supply through the spring. Flour supplies were sporadic for a while as the whole world seemed to start baking. Yeast vanished for nearly three months. In the end, Longo’s offered a 20 kg bag of unbleached flour for $18.79, and one such purchase solved our flour supply for the indefinite future. It’s about equal to eight of the normal bags we buy. A friend of mine found yeast at their summer place near Niagara, and the next day (as it always happens), we saw yeast also at Longo’s: in 450 gram packages, again nearly eight times what was in a single bottle we generally bought. Now we are good to bake anything we want for most of the rest of the year.

And so life goes on. We continue to be careful and to stay apart from the family, friends and other people we’d normally have over for dinner and visit. That part hasn’t changed from the year of the Spanish Flu a century ago. At that time, some 500 million people were infected, and that corona virus killed more people than the recently-completed Great War of 1914 to 1918.

Praise at 15

Happy anniversary, Praise Cathedral

One of my favourite annual events was the first Sunday of May, simultaneously the anniversary of both the Hindu Heritage Centre in Streetsville, and Praise Cathedral Worship Centre in Meadowvale. Speaking among the Praise congregation is always fun! Lead Pastor and Bishop, Lennox Walker is a superb speaker, so it means setting aside the traditional slightly-understated address for a few minutes of pure rhetorical fun with a group of people whose company I have always enjoyed.

This year of 2020, with COVID-19 having closed the churches – all of them – my anniversary greetings were recorded in late April in our back yard gazebo. And by the way, it was cold that day!

So Happy 15th Anniversary Praise Cathedral. You are a credit to the community and a foundation to our thriving black and Caribbean neighbours and culture. I am proud to have helped the church get its services onto the web from day one of the stray-home period with its web site. Andrea and I look forward to being with our good friends in person, and safely, once again at Praise Cathedral, just near the Meadowvale GO station.

Today's Quote

The longer you can look back, the farther forward you can look ahead.

— Winston S. Churchill (1875 – 1965)

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