Can we talk?? M-312 and the debate on debating.

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A large, and largely annoyed group of national columnists can’t fathom why it’s so difficult to have what they’d classify as a “civil debate” on the issue of abortion rights. Why won’t so-called “radical feminists” sit down and talk about an issue on which there’s such clear division in the country? The reasoning escapes them.

In an attempt to perform a public service to national columnists everywhere, I explain why the abortion debate isn’t really a debate at all. In fact, it’s more like negotiating the terms of women’s surrender.

Quickly, on the Princess of Wales closing…

My mind is really a jumble of thoughts about the announcement of the closing of the Princess of Wales Theatre and it’s replacement by a triplet of jumbo-sized Frank Gehry condo towers. I will attempt to boil down a couple of the thoughts here, for your enjoyment.

First, let me say that I really couldn’t care what was replacing the theatre. The fact that it’s condos is largely irrelevant. Being an ardent defender of condos has become nearly as hip as being a detractor them and I’d rather not have anything to do with any of that. It could be a shopping mall, or an aquarium, or a Home Depot. The net affect on the Toronto theatre business would be the same. It’s one less theatre, not matter how you cut it.

Now, what about David Mirvish’s contention that the city has more theatre’s than it needs?

At this moment in the history of Toronto’s theatre industry, with the addition of several qualifications, he’s not necessarily wrong.

  1. He is correct that the city currently has more theatres of that size than it can fill. The failure of Dancap at the Toronto Centre for the Performing Arts in North York (and later when he moved his show to the Four Seasons Centre) helps demonstrate that Toronto is having a hard time filling large theatres with audiences for larger shows.
  2. However, when you get the right show, like War Horse or Rock of Ages, you don’t have a problem at all. So, is the problem that there are too many theatres, or that Mirvish isn’t as good at picking the shows anymore?
  3. Also, if there are more seats in the downtown area than companies to fill them, the blame for that has to rest in part with David Mirvish himself, who’s spent the last 15 years buying up or forcing out anyone who might compete with him.

With Mirvish’s acquisition of the Pantages (aka Canon Theatre, aka The Mirvish Theatre), he now owns every major theatre in the downtown area, with the exception of the Elgin and Wintergarden, which are owned by the Province of Ontario through the Ontario Heritage Trust. Two of those theatres, (the Pantages and the Panasonic) he won in a protracted legal battle with Aubrey Dan.

I’m certainly I’m not alone in contending that Dancap’s loss of those downtown theatres contributed to the ultimate demise of his company. And it follows that the demise of the only remaining major competition to the Mirvish bought-in theatre empire contributed to the alleged excess of theatre space which David bemoned in The Star’s piece on his proposed redevelopment.

But let’s go back to the original statement, that Toronto has an excess of theatre space.

Toronto does NOT have an excess of theatre space. Just because there are couple of big barns sitting empty does not in any way equate an overall excess of space. Toronto, for example, has a dearth of good medium-sized spaces, in the 200-500 seat range, which is arguably the best sized space for Toronto’s market. All you need to do is look at the Young Centre, where Soulpepper is using a 200 seat and 400 seat theatre very effectively to know that good pieces presented in the right sized space can equal success for an independent company. The only downside is that in Soulpepper’s case they’ve done it so well they use the spaces too thoroughly and there’s no room for anyone else.

For independent companies, that leaves Harbourfront and maybe the Berkeley. The former being well equipped and busy. The latter being less well equipped and expensive.

The absence of spaces in that range means that Toronto has a limited ability to promote good companies within its own community. A great production at Tarragon, for example, is likely to live and die in that space because there’s no where bigger for it to go, should it find critical and audience success. Toronto lacks a clear Off-Off > Off > Broadway path and that not only limits how far a good small company can go, but also ensure that our larger spaces will only ever be occupied by bought-in American theatre. We have the scrappy independent companies, we have the big barns, and there’s precious little in between.

So, if David Mirvish were announcing today that he was replacing the Princess of Wales with another Young Centre-style complex, that would be cause for excitement. As it stands, we’re simply left with less. Less of something we aren’t using so much at the moment, but less nonetheless.

Oh…and what’s so great about getting the latest in a long line of late-90’s Gehry deconstructivism? Why don’t we just build a drive-in theatre next door, if outdated trends are what really define the city?

Election Roundtable on the Aug. 3rd FMA

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On Aug. 1, Premier Jean Charest ended months of speculation and called an election for Sept. 4, 2012. If we were to say things like, “this election will prove to be incredibly contentious”, or “Jean Charest has a real fight on his hands”, well…we’d sound like every other crappy radio station in the province. In an effort to be different, I, the relatively new resident of Quebec (who’s voting in his first Quebec provincial election) will make some wildly irrational statements and our esteemed panel will call me names.

Undertaking this harrowing task is our Justice League of Independent Journalists:

  • Justin Ling, a veteran of the Friday Morning After and the record-holder for most f-words used in a single show, is a freelance writer who frequently appears in Xtra and OpenFile Montreal;
  • Adam Kovac is also a freelance writer who was part of the one of the best student strike/media-related Twitter wars I’ve ever seen. He also writes for Link Newspaper, Shtetl Magazine and OpenFile Montreal;
  • And Christopher Curtis has been described by…someone…as the Hunter S Thompson of Montreal journalists. He is also freelance and writes for the Gazette, OpenFile Montreal and Link Newspaper.
Important Links:

Andrea Houston and Jonathan Goldsbie on Aug. 3rd FMA

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Andrea Houston is in Montreal this weekend as a featured speaker at the 2012 Humanist Canada Conference, being held at the Hilton Bonaventure. The theme of this year’s conference is Sex and Secularism and that’s a topic on which Andrea is uniquely qualified to speak. Her tireless reporting in Xtra on the battle to force the Ontario Catholic School Boards to allow Gay-Straight Alliances in their schools has earned Andrea broad acclaim and played a part in her being named Honoured Dyke in this years Dyke March, part of the massive Toronto Pride event. She’ll be sharing the stage this weekend with the likes of Sue Johanson and Leanne Iskander, another prominent figure in the GSA fight.

Jonathan Goldsbie is a Toronto-based writer who has been alternately described as the resident communist at the National Post, the king of Toronto political tweeting, several things I can’t repeat, but most appropriately he’s an advocate for public space issues and a contributor to Spacing Magazine, Xtra, Torontoist, and The Grid, among others.

Important Links:





Ethan Cox on the July 27th FMA

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Ethan Cox came on the show this week to discuss his new article at in which he assigns grades to the various Quebec political parties based on their use of social media. We then went on to talk about the upcoming Quebec election in general and the best possible outcome for students.

Read Ethan’s piece:


Steph Guthrie and Emma Jenkin on the July 20th FMA

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This week was Comic-Con, the Dark Knight Rises came out yesterday and The Avengers is far and away the biggest movie of the year. The last release of the Call of Duty game franchise grossed $400 million dollars in its first day. By any measure, geek and gaming culture has escaped the basement. Despite its broad popularity, nerd culture doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to the depiction of women. Maybe you noticed that Scarlett Johansson was the only one on the Avengers poster whose rear-end was so prominently featured.

On the gaming side, the problems are well known. Many games, like the aforementioned Call of Duty series, don’t feature women at all. And then there are games like Grand Theft Auto where women are featured, but not in an empowering way.

In the last couple weeks there have a been a few examples of nerd culture showing is dark side and today’s guests found themselves right in the middle.

Stephanie Guthrie has, for the last couple weeks, been near the centre of a broad discussion on the gaming community’s attitudes toward women. She outed the maker of a game promoting violence against women and has spent a considerable amount of time since making her case to the trolls and goofballs of the interwebs. She’s a writer and organizer who founded WOMEN IN TORONTO POLITICS, a group which aims to generate ideas about how to include and support more female voices in online and offline conversations about Toronto politics. And Steph Guthrie is on the line from Toronto.

Emma Jenkin also knows what it’s like to experience the Internet Toughguy. Last week, a retweet from a high priest of geek religion led to flurry of abuse. She’s an accomplished designer, arts worker, and a marketing and communications specialist with a very impressive list of degrees. And, if I’m not mistaken, Emma is also a board member (coincidentally) of WOMEN IN TORONTO POLITICS. She also joins me from Toronto.


Blaming a House Fire on Wood

Having a 2 week old around the house doesn’t leave a lot of time for blogging, but there’s a piece on OpenFile Toronto’s site that’s been driving me nuts for the last few days, it’s clear that I can’t clearly state my objections on Twitter, and so I’m taking advantage of nap time to compose a quick response.

Also, and I say this regularly, I rarely comment on my own business and specifically, I haven’t said too much about the Downsview collapse. This is in deference to the friends and colleagues who worked on the show and my other close friends who are safely and successfully pulling off shows just like the Radiohead gig day in and day out.

But the piece up on OpenFile Toronto (link) (and the Rolling Stone piece it references) is so full of bad conclusions I have to weigh in.

There are 3 main points I want to address from the article:

  1. Aluminum is an unsafe building material
  2. Steel stages are safer than aluminum ones
  3. The number of contractors involved in building a stage necessarily has an impact on safety.

The above image is featured on the OpenFile site at the top of the story in question and it shows part of the stage structure at Downsview after the collapse. The opening line in the piece, found directly below this image is, “It’s all your fault, aluminum.” The author (Jamie Bradburn) then goes on to quote an old Rod Stewart roadie who opines that aluminum is too flimsy to meet the weight requirements of modern rock shows, and that steel is a better material for this kind of work.

Here’s the problem: the structure in the above picture, at the Downsview site, is almost certainly made out of steel. Whether or not the central roof portion was made out of steel is to be determined, and no roadie (no matter how good) can tell the difference just by looking at it.

What we can tell is that the majority of the structure is comprised of all-round scaffolding, which is a steel product. (If you want to see a huge example of all-round steel scaffolding in action, go down to the Indy site. It’s used to build all the massive bleacher units.)

My first job in the Toronto entertainment industry was working for Optex, the contractor who it’s reported supplied the stage at Downsview, and I’ve lugged enough all-round to know the difference between aluminum and steel. That heavy stuff is steel. Anyway..

Without the guidance of a structural engineer, it would be irresponsible to suggest that any one form of structure might have better survived the windstorms in Ottawa, Indiana or Alberta than any other. And since we don’t know why the Downsview roof collapsed, it’s impossible to know if another material might have prevented tragedy.

Also unsaid by the author and the Rod Stewart roadie is that the Downsview stage, the Ottawa stage and the Indiana stage are all different types of stage. The Ottawa stage was a large truss-supported mobile stage, while the Indiana stage was a truss roof system. They sound similar, but are actually quite different. Certainly different enough in their design and construction to call into question any easy attempt to relate their failures.

So, while it’s true that both Ottawa and Indiana used aluminum, it’s not apparent in either case, nor to the best of my knowledge has it been reported, that an alternate material would have better withstood the wind. So, despite the thin reasoning of the author and the Rod Stewart roadie, there’s no EVIDENCE that any material would have prevented the weather-related collapses in Ottawa, Alberta, or Indiana. And since we can’t even seem to agree (prove) what material was used in the Downsview stage, arguments for or against the structure don’t carry much weight.

The second point about whether or not steel stages are safer than aluminum ones is a bit of a canard, since there is a large number of both in use today and both have suffered collapses. The Pukkelpop stage, for example, was a steel all-round scaffolding stage that was felled by weather. The OpenFile story goes on to site a statement by the Ottawa Bluesfest saying that they’ll be using a different structure this year. The statement seems to indicate that the stage will be steel all-round scaffolding, and I suppose we’re meant to believe that it will be much more resistant to environmental factors. But, don’t tell that to people at Pukkelpop.

The point is, whether steel is better than aluminum is better than steel, blaming a stage collapse on aluminum is like blaming a house fire on wood. Material does not misuse itself. Since we’re reasonably confident the Downsview stage was not felled by wind; whether it was improper loading, incompetent construction, old gear or bad luck, in the absence of acts of God, we can conclude that it was the use of material that caused the failure. Using a material that can better withstand improper loading doesn’t change the fact that it’s improperly loaded. Build a stage out of whatever you like, wrong remains wrong.

The problem is therefore not the material, but how it’s used. The Rod Stewart roadie almost comes to this conclusion, but instead of acknowledging that sometimes you have to work within material constraints, he instead suggests we change the material. Again, there’s no evidence that would make a difference, but it sounds like progress.

Unable to prove its points about material choice, OpenFile suggests that the number of firms involved in a project may also have created a safety hazard; which is absurd. A major construction project can have dozens or hundreds of contractors involved and as far as I know, there’s no upper limit at which the number of contractors is automatically considered a safety risk. Much like the material, it’s not what you use but how you use it.

How do huge building projects keep it together even when they have more than 2 sub-contractors working on one job site at one time? It’s the job of the General Contractor (GC) to organize, and the city building department and Ministry of Labour to oversee. The question we should be asking in the Downsview case is, who was the GC (hint: technical requirements start with the band’s British design team and are managed through the promoter) and where were municipal or provincial inspectors before the show?

I have worked in the entertainment business for 15 years now and have done fairly well for myself. I’m currently a designer and project manager for Cirque du Soleil (whose views I do NOT represent here) and have worked on more hot, sweaty outdoor shows than I care to remember. As I mentioned above, I’ve built stage exactly like the one at Downsview and in all my time, on all my shows I have never met with a building inspector. Ever. Electrical Inspectors from Ontario’s notoriously strict Electrical Safety Authority are a regular sight at big shows. But structural…never in my experience.

I agree with OpenFile’s conclusion that stronger standards are required. But we should not conclude that Ontario entertainment industry is unsafe.

When a young man, working on a large rock show, fell from a considerable height at Skydome back in the 90’s and was killed, the Ministry of Labour suddenly realized there was a huge industry operating without regulatory oversight, and they stepped to affect change. Now we all wear our hardhats, steel shoes and safety harnesses. The regulators woke up, the industry woke up and now Ontario’s entertainment business is among the safest, best educated in North America. (Something I suspect will be proven out when the story of Downsview is told in full.)

Yes, there are fly-by-nighters out there who rent gear cheap and pull off shows without much thought to standards. They are not the majority, they wouldn’t have been anywhere near the Downsview show, and there are whole lot less of them than there was 20 years ago. Why? Because of the Ministry of Labour’s efforts to regulate and monitor entertainment work, and the Electrical Safety Authority’s mission to rid Ontario of crappy lighting and electrical gear. If OpenFile or Rolling Stone are really concerned about the safety of temporary stages, maybe they should been looking at local and provincial government, who are completely absent on this issue. More regulatory oversight drives up the insurance rates, which in turn pushes up rental rates, and nothing’s more effective at getting shifty characters out of our industry.

It’s simply too easy to blame the inanimate material. Aluminum, it’s not your fault. You’re just a metal, after all.

FMA Special Podcast – RED SQUARE RADIO

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On this week’s Friday Morning After on CKUT 90.3FM in Montreal (worldwide at we held a special roundtable to talk about two very important aspects of the ongoing student strikes. First, we talk to Montreal journalist Justin Ling about the escalating numbers of arrests at the night protests and about whether or not the SPVM are following the rules of arrest.

Then we speak with François-Olivier Chené, otherwise known as the man who brought the casserole protest to Montreal, about the growing popularity and influence of that grassroots form of decent.

And finally, a special feature from the May 18th edition of FMA in which I break down the constitutionality of Bill 78 on the very day it was passed by the National Assembly.

For more information on the Friday Morning After, go to

Joshua Hind (@joshuahind)
Sara Shaltony (@sarashaltony)
Rana Alrabi (@RanaAlrabi)
Adam Bemma (@adambemma)

Justin Ling (@justin_ling)
François-Olivier Chené (





The Action Items – “Are you a revolutionary or a jerk?”

From the May 11th edition of the Friday Morning After on CKUT 90.3FM in Montreal and worldwide at, recently voted the BEST RADIO STATION IN MONTREAL, by the readers of Montreal Mirror!!

On this week’s Action Items, we ask a critical question, “What good is staging something like a smoke bomb attack if you don’t tell us why you did it?” In my estimation there are 2 kinds of people who do things like throw smoke bombs in a subway. First is the person who does it for a cause. The second is a jerk, who’s only doing it to mess up someone else’s day. Which kind of person was responsible for last week’s crazy Thursday?

We also look at the SQ and comment on the speed with which they cleared themselves of wrongdoing in Victoriaville, the best ways to shoot down Russian fighter planes and we take on certain national columnists who think giving in to student demands risks delegitimizing the democratic process.

For more information on the Morning After shows, go to

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Action Items – A Few Light Topics

From the April 27th edition of the Friday Morning After on CKUT 90.3FM in Montreal and worldwide at

How do the police determine when a protest has become a riot? Why does the legal definition of violence differ so greatly from the way the word is used in the media? In the first part of this week’s Action Items, we crack open the criminal code and discover all the ways in which both the police and the media are getting it wrong.

In part 2, we tackle Bill M312, the private member’s bill that seeks to reopen the abortion debate. Is there something hypocritical about demanding Stephen Harper quash the discussion? How do we balance the desire for an open Parliament against the risks of reopening critical rights issues?

For more information on the Morning After shows, go to

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