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Ariella Kimmel: Let my people go

Commentary

Arriving from Israel on a cold Sunday morning, eight family members of Jewish hostages currently held prisoner by the Hamas terrorist group in the Gaza Strip came to Ottawa to share their story and plead for Canadian support.

They visited Canada from October 29-31, just weeks after the Hamas terrorists murdered 1,200 Jews during a kill-and-capture raid against Israel on October 7. They met with politicians, spoke to the media, and appealed to ordinary citizens with one united message: “Don’t forget our stories. Bring our families home.” 

To those of us who spent time with these family members of the hostages, their stories did indeed become more vivid and real. Not social media abstractions but living human tragedies told by people longing to be able to hug their mothers, their nephews, their nieces, their uncles, and their aunts again. 

There was the story of Sapir, told by her family member Alexandra. Sapir had traveled to spend the Sabbath with her husband Alexander’s family at Kibbutz Nir Oz. Alexander’s father, Vitaly, 50, was murdered, while his mother Elena, 50, and grandmother Irina Tati, 73, were taken to Gaza as hostages. Aviv and Alexandra then learned of Sapir’s captivity by seeing a TikTok video of her paraded through the streets of Gaza, spit upon, beaten, and horrified.  

Then there is Aharon, who spoke so beautifully about his sister-in-law, Hagit, and her kindness, and the summer he spent with her and her children, Ofri, 10, Yuval, 8, and Uriah, 4, in Toronto. On October 7th all 4 were kidnapped from their home in Kibbutz Kfar Aza and taken to Gaza.

Itay and his mother Merav came to Ottawa to speak for her uncle and aunt, Avraham and Rute Munder, both of them 78 years old, who were kidnapped by Hamas terrorists along with their daughter Keren Munder, 54, and her son Ohad Munder Zichri. Ohad turned 9 while in captivity, rather than celebrating with his friends and family over a birthday cake, he is being held in cruel captivity.

Harel came to share the story of his niece Tiferet Lapidot. On October 7th, like any normal 22-year-old, Tiferet went to dance at the Nova music festival, before it turned into a site for terror and mass murder. Tiferet was murdered by Hamas terrorists at the Nova music festival where more than 260 innocent people were slaughtered.

And finally, there was Chen. Chen came to raise awareness about his mother Vivian Silver. Vivian was a Canadian, who moved to live at Kibbutz Be’eri where she built a beautiful life. She was a leader in the peace movement, committed to bringing unity to Israelis and Palestinians. On November 13th, Vivian was officially declared amongst the dead rather than missing. Listening to her son speak about her in the news conference, you learned about a woman who was full of light and kindness. Vivian devoted her life to the peace movement, building real and everlasting relationships with Palestinians in Gaza. It took five weeks to identify her body amongst the ruins of Kibbutz Be’eri, symbolizing the immense devastation caused by Hamas.

And yet amid the suffering, while listening to these stories, I felt ensconced by two emotions that seemed to be held by every single person present, Jew or non-Jew. Love: the kind of love we forget to feel so much of the time but streams powerfully from our hearts when our deepest sense of humanity is impacted. And will: Israel’s iron will to survive. To fight, win, and thrive. 

In the spring of each year, Jews around the world gather at the Passover table for Seder supper and recount the story of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. Through joy and song we remember that once we were slaves—without rights, without land—but now we are free, with our ancestral homeland in our permanent possession.

After spending precious, terrible moments with those whose loved ones are being held captive by the Hamas in Gaza, I also couldn’t help but reflect on the Seder meals I’m so grateful to have had and that I look forward to with my family.

The Haggada, the Jewish text that governs the Seder meal, gives considerable space to the hardships our ancestors faced—the bricks, the mortars, and the tears. It’s how we mourn and make meaning from our people’s suffering.

The next Seder, in Spring 2024, will become vividly and tragically personal for the Jewish community around the world as we meditate upon my people’s suffering and the meaning we make of it in moments of triumph, and in our stubborn refusal to be bullied, smeared, and eradicated.

The Jews’ exodus from Egypt began with four simple words from Moses: “Let my people go.”

Today, that message is directed to the terrorist cowards hiding behind 239 Jewish hostages—and, let’s not forget, innocent Palestinian civilians—as they rain rockets down on the world’s first and only Jewish State. 

Moses got his people back. And so will we.

Steve Lafleur: Doug Ford is blowing it on housing

Commentary

Ontario is in the midst of a housing crisis. It didn’t start yesterday, and it will take a long time to fix. For years, federal and provincial governments were reluctant to get involved in housing policy, which was seen as a largely municipal issue. 

Over the last two years, that has changed dramatically. Senior governments across the country have begun to recognize that they have the tools to increase housing production. If municipalities won’t do it, they can step in. 

Premier Ford deserves a lot of credit for getting the ball rolling. His was the first big provincial government to take substantive action to get more housing built. But right now, he’s blowing it.

I’ve stuck my neck out a number of times to support many of Premier Ford’s reforms—even when they were imperfect and controversial. I want him to succeed in his target of doubling housing construction in Ontario. Lately, things have been going in the wrong direction. 

I won’t dwell too much on the specifics of the provincial government’s recent housing challenges. The Greenbelt politics loom large, but I think they’re a symptom of a bigger problem: a focus on ad hoc decisions rather than broad rule changes. 

Political discretion is a big part of the reason why we’re in a housing crisis. A lot of people tend to assume that housing has traditionally been a free-market industry. That politicians sit back and let developers do what they want. That can’t be further from the truth. 

Building anything other than detached houses in most places has been illegal since the dawn of modern zoning. You couldn’t even build a duplex in most of Toronto until last year! Even where denser forms of housing are legal, they still need to gain city approval. Since city councilors are highly responsive to their constituents, the approval process often gets dragged out, increasing the cost of projects, and often reducing the number of units ultimately built—if they get built at all. 

The Ford government has in many cases fought discretion with discretion. Ministerial zoning orders have been their tool of choice to push through housing that met with municipal opposition. Bill 23 was a move towards a broader policy approach. Imposing new rules on municipalities, rather than fighting over individual projects, is a welcome approach. 

The new approach was buttressed by the report from the province’s Housing Affordability Taskforce. The report had 55 recommendations, calling for 1.5 million houses to be built over a decade. The report is a credible roadmap for that goal. 

The government has made some progress in implementing the report’s recommendations. According to their progress report, 23 recommendations have been fully implemented and 14 are in progress, with 37 under review. That’s not bad. Still incomplete, but a good start. 

Unfortunately, the premier has gotten sidetracked recently, arguing with the feds. The bone of contention is that the federal housing minister has been going around making deals with municipalities to upzone in exchange for federal dollars through the Housing Accelerator Fund. I can’t speak to the Premier’s motivation for this fight, but it’s shortsighted. 

The federal minister is giving the premier political cover here. He’s getting municipal governments to make tough reforms the premier hasn’t thus far been willing to impose. Indeed, many of these reforms are straight out of the Housing Affordability Taskforce report. The premier doesn’t have to drive the bus, but he really shouldn’t stand in front of it. If the premier doesn’t like that the federal minister is stepping on his turf, he can solve his issue with a single press conference. He can fully commit to implementing all of the Housing Affordability Taskforce’s recommendations in a timely manner. If he doesn’t, the next premier will. All of the major candidates for the Ontario Liberal Party leadership have vowed to implement the task force recommendations. He can get back in the driver’s seat and be the man who fixed Ontario’s housing crisis. Or he can be remembered as the last gasp of Toronto NIMBYism. 

The premier’s legacy is on the line here. He played a crucial role in the unfolding housing policy revolution in Canada. If he wants to be remembered as a builder, rather than a status quo politician, it’s time to go all-in on meeting his stated goal of building 1.5 million houses over a decade. That means embracing all of the recommendations of the Housing Affordability Taskforce, and not getting fussed if the federal minister wants to do some of the work for him. It’s time to build, not to slow down.