People we need to hear more (and less) from in 2021

From politicians and frontline workers to Twitter bots and a certain barbecue restaurant, everyone has an opinion. Here's ours

People we need to hear more from in 2021

Samuel Engelking

Health-care workers near St. Michael’s Hospital walk past a sign of encouragement.

Frontline heroes

As coronavirus numbers rise amid a second wave that’s turning out to be worse than most Canadians envisioned, the frontline heroes we all revered early on for their bravery and personal sacrifice have been sadly (mostly) forgotten. We keep thanking essential workers for going above and beyond, but our thanks is not enough. They also deserve our respect. And that means ensuring they are paid properly for the work they do.

Andrea Horwath / Facebook

Andrea Horwath

The Ontario NDP leader has been more visible lately as the Ford government grapples with public blowback over its handling of the pandemic. But for a while there Horwath was mostly MIA. It got so bad at one point that the Libs were polling ahead of the NDP, despite being without a leader. With the party coming off a second best showing ever in any provincial election – and facing the prospect of a snap runoff in the spring if Ford continues to tank – more will be expected from Horwath in 2021. Ditto for her federal counterpart in Ottawa, Jagmeet Singh.

Jagmeet Singh

Outside of the fireworks surrounding the Liberals’ Throne Speech back in October – and the possibility the opposition would force an election – the federal NDP leader has kept a low profile. But with the hangover and debt from a disappointing election result in 2019 mostly behind Canada’s third party, things are looking up. A big test awaits Singh, who’s still finding his feet in the nation’s capital, in 2021. Can he take another step and go from TikTok memes to serious contender? He’ll need to master more than talking points handed to him by his political advisers to make Canadians take notice.

Nick Lachance

Indigenous voices everywhere

The nationwide blockades in support of Wet’suwet’en opposition to pipeline development in northern BC looked to be setting a new agenda for relations between the federal government and Canada’s Indigenous peoples in 2020. Then the coronavirus hit and the nation’s attention was focused elsewhere. But the pandemic has also served to push other issues affecting Indigenous communities into the spotlight – including the lack of access to heath care services in remote communities. The election of a new national chief in 2021 will once again bring long-standing issues of Indigenous sovereignty to the forefront. 

Adam Scotti/PMO

Justin Trudeau 

The PM started the year presenting a new face to the nation – a beard with enough grey in it to suggest a new level of maturity. It was a needed reset after the Blackface shame. The COVID crisis provided the opportunity for Trudeau to show he has what it takes to captain the ship of state through stormy waters, and for the most part, he has delivered, despite what his critics on the right say. Most people have been on board with his government’s COVID response. But the pressure will be on to keep Canadians focused on fighting the pandemic as more variants of the coronavirus emerge and jockeying begins over global supplies of vaccines to curtail further spread of the virus in 2021. 

Tanisha Taitt

The writer, director, actor, educator and Cahoots artistic director has been a passionate, outspoken and urgent voice on equity and race issues and cultural representation in the arts since her time as a dramatic arts mentor with the Toronto District School Board. 


John Tory 

The mayor of Toronto has been forced to play third fiddle to Justin Trudeau and Doug Ford amid the COVID crisis. That’s worked for him in covering up some of the shortcomings in the city’s pandemic response, as well as on the poverty file. It’s not a given that he will seek re-election as potential challengers start kicking the tires. But there is a legacy for Tory to start thinking about. It’s time for him to fix Toronto’s homelessness problem once and for all if he wants to be remembered as more than the guy who (sorta) saved the city from Rob Ford.

Justin Trudeau/Flickr

Chrystia Freeland 

If Canada’s post-pandemic recovery is to be feminist – and green – then it will be up to Canada’s first female finance minister to push the right buttons in an increasingly uncertain global economy. 

Paul Taylor / Twitter

Paul Taylor

Foodshare’s executive director knows what it’s like to grow up in Toronto’s (mostly forgotten) suburbs without enough food to eat. It’s why he’s dedicated most of his adult life to activism around food security issues, which have only become more urgent during the pandemic as unemployment has spiked and the resulting reliance on food banks has led to empty shelves. Food is supposed to be a human right in Canada. We’re not there yet.

Masai Ujiri

The Raptors president is not only one of the best basketball minds on the planet, he’s also a global voice for social justice. From his Mandela-inspired Giants of Africa initiative to his work with Indigenous young people in northern Ontario, Ujiri’s dedication to the idea that “We must relearn what it is to be human,” is more important than ever.

Samuel Engelking

Trailblazers, wherever they may be

For all the misery in 2020, the pandemic has given new meaning to the ancient truth that necessity is the mother of invention. We have seen it in science, with the development of vaccines to fight the coronavirus, as well as locally with increasing diversity in the arts and emerging fields like artificial intelligence.   

Samuel Engelking

Black Lives Matter-Toronto

Almost a decade after arriving on the scene as the new voice of Black activism in Toronto, BLM-TO tactically took on the role this year of mentoring a new generation of activists involved in the spearheading of summer protests around the issues of police brutality and the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet. With Toronto in the throes of a search for a new chief of police – and a simmering debate on the future of police budgets coming to a head – 2021 will be a pivotal year for changing the conversation on police accountability.

Lewis Parsons/Unsplash

Young climate strikers filled the streets of Toronto in September 2019.

Climate action activists

Global warming, the other crisis of our times, has taken a backseat to the COVID emergency. But while the pandemic has exposed the gaps in our social safety net, it has also reinforced the need to do more about the link between poverty and climate change. The planet is also feeling the crush of a growing crisis in plastics. Time to recognize that we can’t just continue to be a throwaway culture.

People we need to hear less from in 2021

Erin O’Toole (and the assortment of ne’er-do-wells in his shadow cabinet)

To say there were high hopes for more civilized debate in Ottawa when O’Toole took over as leader of Canada’s conservatives would be overstating it. But there was some optimism that O’Toole would set a more business-like tone as opposed to the vitriol that marked the tenure of his predecessor, Andrew Scheer. But the opposite has proved the case. O’Toole, who cast himself as the “true blue” Conservative in the leadership, has given into misfits and malcontents in the party (see Pierre Poilievre, Derek Sloan, Michelle Rempel Garner) whose idea of broadening the base is giving voice to anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists who troll the internet. The Canada Proud folks behind O’Toole are partly to blame. And no doubt the rise of the Wexit-cum-Maverick Party out west has required O’Toole to cover his right flank. But it’s also beginning to look like O’Toole’s more snide tone is a matter of self-preservation. It could be one and done for the CPC leader who promised to deliver Ontario but is looking more like he’s headed for a big loss in a widely expected spring election.

Jason Kenney

The premier of Alberta has gone rogue – even by his standards – in the fight against COVID. On the one hand, he’s not requiring Albertans to get vaccinated. On the other hand, he’s calling on the feds to set up field hospitals as ICU wards in the province fill up. His approval ratings have taken a nosedive even among his base in the oil and gas industry as Ottawa has lent generous support to Alberta to manage the economic fallout from the COVID crisis. Still, Kenney persists with provocations, playing footsies with separatists in Alberta as he continues on his course to set up an independent police services and pension plan for the province.

The White House / Flickr

Canada’s Donald Trump lovers

The bully who gave clowns a bad name will no longer have his pulpit as president of the United States to spew his hate-filled lies come January 20, 2021. Unfortunately, the stink from the four years of corruption (the presidency was always about money for Trump) and mayhem unleashed while he was in office – not to mention, the damage done to notions of democracy – will take much longer to disappear. It has already infected our politics on a stupefying scale. (See Erin O’Toole.) Canadians have long thought of themselves as different from Americans. Turns out, we’re not.


That includes anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers who think their personal freedom not to heed public health advice extends to the freedom to make other people deathly ill. 

Adamson Barbecue guy

How did the owner of a middle-of-the-road BBQ joint in Etobicoke end up becoming a martyr for the far-right? It didn’t take long after Adam Skelly chose to defy provincial lockdown orders that money for his legal defense started pouring in from across the country and even south of the border. Toronto police and city bylaw enforcement officials didn’t help matters with their keystone cops bungling on the matter – showing up to lock Skelly out of his restaurant only to watch him slip in through the side door. It turns out Skelly was operating his business without a licence all along. Still, Adamson was recently allowed to reopen for curbside pickup. Opportunism pays.  

© Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2020

Doug Ford

It seems obvious to say that the premier is one person we’d all like to hear less from in 2021, given recent revelations on his mishandling of the coronavirus during a second wave. But it’s worth remembering – despite misguided opinion in some circles of a new, improved Ford – that before he became a calming influence in the early days of the pandemic, DoFo was unleashing an unprecedented attack on Ontario’s health care system and social safety net. The premier is reverting back to his divide-and-conquer ways as questions about his politicizing of the pandemic grow louder. Recently, attention has turned to his government’s inability – or unwillingness – to get the COVID vaccine out to those who need it. Some of Ford’s advisers have been urging him to pull the trigger on an early election with the Liberals and NDP in disarray – and before the economic fallout from the COVID crisis comes back to bite. It looks like we’re headed in that direction as Ford increasingly turns his sights on blaming the feds for rising COVID numbers. 

Brian Lilley

Between Conrad Black and Rex Murphy, the Postmedia chain of newspapers have two of the most loquacious – and toxic – columnists in the land. Black and Murphy are both arguably past their best before date. But it’s over at the sister Sun Media chain of newspapers that a new low on public discourse has been set by Brian Lilley. The former Rebel News mouthpiece (and co-founder) left the far-right outlet over its coverage of the neo-Nazi Charlottesville rally back in 2017. But that was more a decision based on preserving any credibility he had left as a journalist rather than a philosophical difference of opinion with Rebel’s coverage. But Lilley has continued some of his familiar noxious ways as the Sun’s Queen’s Park columnist, prompting Toronto Councillor Gord Perks to remark on Twitter recently that Lilley “is addicted to the joy of whipping up irrationality and hatred.” Perks went on to describe Lilley as “a disease vector of the ugliest impulses in our society.” 

Sara Kurfeß / Unsplash

Folks on Twitter who follow 100 times more people than they have followers 

Cuz chances are they’re bots or trolls.

Dan Bilzerian (and all the bro entrepreneurs looking to make a quick buck in the weed biz)

The American trust fund billionaire and Instagram “influencer” thought his celeb status would be enough for his Ignite cannabis brand to take over the weed market in Canada. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Bilzerian’s brand of toxic masculinity would crash and burn. But the weed biz being what it is in Canada, there will always be someone looking to make a quick buck based on branding rather than actual product. Enter Namaste, a subsidiary of CannMart Inc. Turns out the Toronto-based cannabis brand gambled on the wrong guy. While every other company on the planet was making cash during the pandemic, Bilzerian’s Ignite line was losing tens of millions of dollars. Namaste parted ways with Bilzerian in October. What’s next in 2021? Bilzerian is off on his new venture to become a poker star.

CBC/Bell Media

CBC host Wendy Mesley (left) and Elaine Lui have both recently admitted to incidents of racism.

White people who think it’s okay to use the n-word

Even before the recent controversy surrounding award-winning filmmaker Michelle Latimer’s Indigenous ancestry, issues of white supremacy were making a mark on 2020. Controversies surrounding the use of the n-word by CBC TV host Wendy Mesley – an otherwise respected journalist – exposed the depths of white privilege in Canada. Ben Mulroney ended up resigning his position as host of CTV’s eTalk after his wife Jessica had her reality TV show pulled over threats she made to Black lifestyle writer Sasha Exeter. But apparently white supremacy can infect non-white people as well. Gossip blogger Elaine Lui was among those forced to apologized for “racist and homophobic” comments on her blog in the 2000s. There’s still a long way to go, it seems, for reckoning on white privilege.  

With files from Glenn Sumi, Kelsey Adams and Richard Trapunski.


Comments (1)

  • Frank Sterle Jr. December 31, 2020 02:00 PM

    Re: “Canada’s Donald Trump lovers” …

    I seriously doubt that most of Trump’s ardent supporters truly believe that, as they adamantly insist, he won the election but was cheated from his victory due to (not little but) massive electoral fraud—a claim they cannot factually support.

    Just the loss on its own seems to be proof enough that a vast ballot-fraud conspiracy had occurred. Meanwhile, they’ll vehemently deny that any form of electoral fraud may have unjustly put Trump into the White House four years ago.

    To me, it’s mindboggling and scary.

    Might it be that the said group of Trump supporters consciously or subconsciously believe that he MUST remain in office for some perceived greater good—notably to save America and make it great again—regardless of his democratically-decided election loss, and all those in the majority who voted against Trump (which should not at all be a surprise) can frankly go suck on it?

    It may be a case of that perhaps most dangerous of ideologies: the ends justify the means.

    Although I’m not equating Trump to Hitler, etcetera, the most frightful example of that philosophical justification is the genocidal pogrom, the implementers of which know they’re committing mass murder yet still genuinely perceive it all as part of an ultimately greater good.

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