Thursday, January 08, 2015

In the Year 2092

I try to make it a practice this time of year to look back on the past year’s writing efforts.   I started to do that recently but then I was sidetracked.  Nothing new in that.

I’m working on a story on David Halton’s fascinating biography of his father Matthew (Dispatches From The Front). My muddled writing approach to this and other projects found me fumbling around in a bookcase looking for Churchill’s Second World War series.  On the middle shelf next to The Gathering Storm, I stumbled onto a book my uncle had written.

It is entitled Modern Magazines.  At 238 pages, it was nicely bound and almost totally completed seventy-six years ago in 1936.  I’m quite certain there was never a final edition published.   J.J. Wood believed that magazines needed to be studied and enjoyed.  As Jack says in his foreword: “Undoubtedly, many people do not even know of the existence of magazines which would give them the greatest pleasure and profit."

For many years until his death in 1959, Jack taught English to vocational students at Westdale High School in Hamilton.  This particular book, one of many of his I have around the house, came out of his belief that students needed something more appropriate and accessible to their day-to-day lives than the standard English course fare. The book was comprehensive and through.  Uncle Jack wrote quite well.  While I’m not an expert I imagine that there have some courses offered somewhere on Modern Magazines.  It is probably fair to say though that they didn’t catch on like, say, Computer Science and Technology has today.

All this brought me back in my own self-centred way to my own writing.  Have I written anything this year that someone would look a back on in 78 years and even care about?

Let’s see.

Like others, I spent too much time following Toronto politics.  To justify this dalliance, I reviewed Robyn Doolittle’s book Crazy Town.  http://whenthemayorsmiles.blogspot.ca/2014/09/crazy-town.html.  I’m guessing that the antics of the leaders of  Ford Nation will prompt as much head shaking in the late 21st century as they have in the in the past four years.

What will our banking system be like in 2092? Will we even have one?  I’ve argued that right now we don’t have one that works for a good number of our citizens.  In a blog piece at www.hamiltonjustice.ca I came back to a theme that I’ve touched on before.  We need accessible banking services. Uncle Jack would find that amusing, I think, as he had a banking service in the post office in his day.  Here is one of those stories. http://www.hamiltonjustice.ca/did-you-know.php

At Forever Young Information, where I write a fair bit, much of my input leans to the “then the hilarity ensues” as my editor requests and I hope to oblige.  There were, however, some serious efforts like this one where I tried to capture why birding matters.  http://foreveryoungnews.com/posts/2641-birders-aflutter-on-ontario-s-south-coast

I believe, though, that my nomination for an article that is likely to make no sense in 2092 is a story I called Court Rulings of Significance for Ontarians with Low-Incomes.  A great title, right?  In this piece, I tried to shed a little bit of light on one court ruling regarding the social assistance system in Ontario.  This was my greatest challenge in the past year: making sense of the nonsensical.

I’m hoping in 2092 people will look at it and say that the system that the idiot blogger tries to describe doesn’t make any sense.  It doesn’t (make sense) and, hopefully, long before then someone will have figured that out.


Here it is from the blog of www.hamiltonjustice.ca

Court Rulings of Significance for Ontarians with Low-Incomes


Recently the Supreme Court of Canada made an announcement of significance for Ontarians with low-incomes.

The ruling related to what is known as the Surdivall Case.

Here is some history on this case.

Mr. Surdivall is a disabled senior.  He received Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) income support until he turned 65.

Mr. Surdivall made an innocent reporting error in 2009 which resulted in him being over paid.  By the time the matter reached the Social Benefits Tribunal, Mr. Surdivall had turned 65 and was no longer on ODSP. He was ordered to pay half the outstanding balance, at a rate of $10/month. This amount was more than he could afford.

The law in Ontario says that overpayments can be recovered.  A court (Divisional Court) ruled against Mr. Surdivall.  Their ruling basically said that social assistance recipients couldn’t challenge rulings for collection of overpayments, no matter how unfair the circumstances.

However, later a higher court took a different view.  The Court of Appeal confirmed that both the Director of ODSP and the Social Benefits Tribunal do, in fact, have the ability discretion to waive collection of overpayments in appropriate circumstances.

Legal Aid Ontario’s blog notes that “the court recognized that people on welfare often receive overpayments for reasons entirely beyond their control and, potentially, because people with power over them have abused the system.”  http://blog.legalaid.on.ca/2014/04/17/victory-at-ontario-court-of-appeal-protects-rights-of-people-receiving-social-assistance/

Following this ruling, the Director of ODSP asked the Supreme Court of Canada for permission to appeal.  On September 25th of this year, the Supreme Court refused that request.

Mr. Surdivall was represented by Jackie Esmonde and Cynthia Wilkey from the Income Security Advocacy Centre, a Specialty Community Legal Clinic.  Others involved in presenting the case were ARCH Disability Law Centre and Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children who were represented by Cynthia Pay of Parkdale Community Legal Services. The Court of Appeal decision can be read here: http://www.canlii.org/en/on/onca/doc/2014/2014onca240/2014onca240.pdf

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Rupert Hotel Fire - December 23, 1989


Today is the 25th anniversary of the Rupert Hotel fire that killed one woman and nine men in Toronto.  

Those who lost their lives that day were:

Donna Marie Cann, Vincent Joseph Clarke, Stanley Blake Dancy, David Didow, Edward Finnigan, John Thomas Flint,  Dedomir Sakotic, Ralph Oral Stone, Vernon Stone, and Victor Paul White

The Rupert was located at 182 Parliament Street close to Queen Street East.

In 1989, the Rupert was overcrowded and badly maintained. 

A plaque erected at the site in 1993 notes that the fire "sparked action by municipal and provincial governments and community organizations to improve conditions in rooming houses."

In the years following the tragedy, about 500 units of Toronto housing were created or upgraded to meet or exceed the already existing standards. Not long after the plaque was installed, though, the funding that supported the upgrades and advocacy ended. The year 1995 brought Common Sense to Ontario and the building of all affordable housing came to a crashing halt.

What has happened since then?

On the positive side, the legislation has changed over the years so that most residents in rooming houses are considered to be tenants and have rights and responsibilities of tenants. 

However, licensing of rooming houses that would be a benefit to tenants and would help to reduce the chance of fires continues to be problematic.

 
One reason for this is that rooming houses are popping up in the suburbs where they are not legal but also not usually subject to appropriate regulation.

Lisa Freeman, a postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Geography at Simon Fraser University, has done extensive research on Toronto’s rooming houses.  In a twenty-seven page paper published by the Wellesley Institute (Toronto’s: Suburban Rooming Houses: Just a Spin on a Downtown “Problem?”) she looks at the lack of regulation of this housing in much of the City of Toronto.

In researching her subject, Freeman conducted 73 interviews with tenants, housing and settlement workers and Toronto city staff. 

Freeman points out, as we and others have often argued, that rooming houses: 

“… represent both a step away from, homelessness and a step towards stable and secure housing.  Though often depicted as temporary housing for transient individuals, the majority of tenants rely on rooming houses for long term dwellings, spending 2—30 years living in multiple rooming houses.”  (page 5)

In Toronto, rooming houses are licensed and permitted in the downtown city and in south Etobicoke.  But, they are explicitly prohibited in Scarborough, North York and East York.

This inconsistency is actually written into Toronto’s new zoning by-law.

One impact of this variation is that there are now fewer licensed rooming houses areas where they are permitted but more unlicensed unregulated houses in the areas where they are not allowed.

“Since many rooming houses exist beyond a licensing and regulation regime, the living conditions can quickly become unsafe and a threat to tenants’ health. If annual fire and safety inspections do not occur, there is a greater possibility that unlicensed rooming houses will deteriorate and risk becoming fire hazards that lead to fatal fires,” says Freeman (page 6)    

This is undoubtedly occurring in other cities.  For example, the number of licensed rooming houses in Hamilton dropped significantly beginning in the early part of the 21st century.

Freeman believes that “the inconsistency in municipal regulations across the city leaves tenants in a vulnerable position and at risk for unhealthy, unsafe living conditions with little protection and oversight.” (Page 1)

So, exactly how many unlicensed rooming house are there?   

Following a fatal rooming house fire in the Kensington area of Toronto in March of 2014, Michael Shapcott, director of affordable housing and social innovation at the Wellesley Institute, was interviewed by Erin Ruddy for Canadian Apartment Magazine.

In that story, Shapcott said, “there is no way to know for certain how many unlicensed rooming houses exist.”  The waiting list for subsidized housing “provides a good indication” and it is huge and growing.

Appropriate regulation and licensing of rooming houses is imperative.  There is much work to do.

 

Sources

  1. Lisa Freeman Toronto’s: Suburban Rooming Houses: Just a Spin on a Downtown “Problem?” at http://www.wellesleyinstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Suburban-Rooming-Houses-FINAL-Sept-24.pdf
  2. Rooming Housing Fire Highlights Safety Concerns from Canadian Apartment Magazine.  http://www.reminetwork.com/articles/rooming-house-fire-highlights-safety-concerns/
  3. From the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic’s website http://www.hamiltonjustice.ca/blog/?post=Tenant+Safety+Must+be+a+Priority&id=237)

 

 

Monday, December 08, 2014

Memories of a Deputy Mayor

Toronto has a new one.  Or, do they have four of them? 

 

There is a real one (Denzil Minnan-Wong) with significant responsibilities. There are also three area ones (West, East and South) whose jobs are largely symbolic.

 

For a year, the previous Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly assumed most of the duties of the elected Mayor.  So, we knew what he was doing.

 

But what does a Deputy Mayor really do?

 

Some will remember the American TV series (Spin City) where Michael J. Fox played Mike Flaherty, the Deputy Mayor.  Flaherty was a staffer who had real power. Your local Deputy Mayor in Ontario usually does not.

 

I can speak from experience.

 

Yes, your blogger was a Deputy Mayor.

 

Back in the nineties in Burlington, I was usually DM duties in the month of November.

 

Then I would go to ribbon cuttings, bring greetings from the City and attend other ceremonial events that the real Mayor wasn’t interested in attending.

 

One November I carried a teddy bear around for the entire month.  This was to highlight National Diabetes Awareness Month.  I was simulating being diabetic by checking my blood sugar and injecting pretend insulin into the bear at appropriate times.  I learned a lot about diabetes that month.  Strangely, though, no one ever asked me why I was carrying around that silly teddy bear.

 

Another time I was subbing for the Mayor at a function where I was seated at the head table with the much better-known local MP and local MPP.   A friend of mine was in the audience.  After the meeting, the friend came up and spoke with me with something like awe in her voice.  “I didn’t know you were Deputy Mayor, `` she said.  I fessed up.

 

My most significant assignment as a Deputy Mayor came in 1997 when I accompanied the Burlington Teen Tour Band to Holland for ten days.   I was privileged to have the opportunity to make this trip and represent the City of Burlington in a number of events that commemorated the 1945 Liberation of Holland and our country`s highly regarded participation in that liberation and the loss of 7,600 Canadian  lives.

 

The trip did have its later moments though.

 

One such moment arose in Groningen when I was repeatedly referred to and addressed as “The Burgermeister from Burlington.” The Dutch, like us, didn’t seem to understand the concept of Deputy Mayor.  

 

In this northern Dutch city, I took part in a parade commemorating that day three hundred and twenty five years earlier when the city was freed from the siege by the Bishop of the German city of M√ľnster.

I rode in a (covered) carriage with the real Burgermeister and his lovely wife while giving the royal wave (I didn't know the correct Burgermeister wave.) to the tens of thousands people gathered along the route.  It was absolutely pouring rain and the hard working and drenched chaperones from the Teen Tour Band were not amused as my carriage passed them repeatedly and I waved.  The joke was on them as they were the ones who had embellished my Burgermeister bonafides.

Someone took a picture of me and I was looking down with an appropriate disdainful scowl that I'm sure I affected again when the Burgermeister's wife pointed out the Communist member of Council waving at us from his doorway.
  
I could go on………………

(This story originally appeared at http://foreveryoungnews.com/)

 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Building Organizational Capacity Could Bring Change to Ontario Municipal Politics



McMaster Political Science Professor Peter Graefe* talked local politics on a recent episode of CFMU’s In the Neighbourhood.


Peter has a keen analytical mind and a unique ability, in my experience, to apply theory to what is actually going on out there in the community.

You can listen to the interview here.  


While the interview related to the Hamilton (Ontario) municipal election, I think Graefe’s comments are applicable to the politics now being played out in many municipalities where the “no new taxes” mantra has held sway now for more than 20 years.

In the Ambitious City, for example, the mayoral race seems to have focussed on two issues:  Light Rail Transit (LRT) and leadership.

Other quality of life issues like poverty, housing and urban sprawl have fallen by the wayside.

Graefe argues that “(w)e don’t organize well enough as citizens for municipal politics.  So, our politicians can make decisions about what the issue is going to be..  One or two themes ” then dominate the debates and become the ballot box question.

To change this we need to have organizations that have long-term commitment and capacity.

While some see politicians following the prevailing opinion.  Another notion, Graefe asserts, is that “without organizations that are really putting specific issues onto the agenda …it is not too hard for politicians to organize us into politics by saying this is what is important to us.”   Politicians do this strategically.

The discussion on In the Neighbourhood seemed to suggest that poverty, as an issue, made it onto the agenda in the 2010 Hamilton election as a result of such organizing efforts.  This time is hasn’t.   I’m not sure I agree with that view.

Nevertheless, we continue to avoid so-called adult conversations on big picture matters like what it costs us to “urban sprawl.”

Maybe this can change.

Graefe holds out hope as there will at least four new Councillors on Hamilton’s 16-member council.

Council work is about making decisions.  These decisions can be “risky.”’  With a new dynamic on council and newer ideas, “what is considered risky and what is considered normal may begin to change.”

Meanwhile, let’s hope that groups like the People’s Platform Initiative (http://www.peoplesplatform.ca/) develop and maintain the long-term capacity required to make politicians listen and thus bring about real social change in our municipalities.

I believe it would be worth your time to listen to the interview.  It runs about 45 minutes.  
    
*Peter Graefe is an Associate professor in the Department of Political Science at Hamilton’s McMaster University.  Mac’s website notes that “ Graefe's research interests flow from a broad interest in Canadian political economy and public policy, and include: social and economic development policies in Quebec and Ontario; provincial social assistance policies; and federal and provincial intergovernmental relations strategies.”

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

HOPE Wants You to Vote for a Poverty Free Hamilton

(Here is a story I posted last month at www.hamiltonjustice.ca) 


Last week the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction and the Clinic co-hosted a Community Conversation with Mayoral Candidates at the Central Library.  We focussed the Conversation on five issues.


You can read about the event on our website’s make Change page at  http://www.hamiltonjustice.ca/make-change.php Interestingly and not surprisingly, Hamilton Organizing for Poverty Elimination (HOPE) is shining a light on some of the same issues in their continuing campaign for a Poverty Free Hamilton.


HOPE was founded in 2008. This volunteer group brings together leaders in anti-poverty activism from Hamilton and the surrounding areas.  Their goal is to make “poverty part of Hamilton's history, not part of its present.”
They’ve put a neat little two page flyer together that looks at issues in the October 27th election.


Here is the flyer:   http://1drv.ms/1pmpO3r


In it you’ll find current and helpful background information on affordable housing, safe and affordable public transit, and food security and on Hamilton’s Living Wage Campaign. In addition, there are “sample questions” for candidates.  These questions can be asked of any would-be representative who comes to your door or posed in public at any all-candidate events in your area.
There are lots of such meetings coming up.  For example, there is a Mayoral Debate at St Giles united church this Wednesday October 1st at 7 p.m.
Joey Coleman, “Hamilton’s Own Local News Source 24/7,” live streams some of these events.  He also keeps readers informed of upcoming debates at http://joeycoleman.ca/

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Letter Home

Hi All,

Here is a story I wrote four years ago just after the 2010 municipal election. It was titled: "Will Burlington's New Council be Transit Friendly?" At the time I was pessimistic about how the 2010-14 Council would do on the Public Transit file.

Midway through this Council term, when I moved away from Burlington, they were cutting routes, moving money out of the capital budget that would pay for new buses, ignoring consultants reports, canning a Steering Committee etc. etc.... Did things get better?

You can read some of my "rantanalysis" from On the Bus (
www.burlbus.blogspot.ca/) ,
 a blog I wrote from 2010-12 that focussed on suburban transit - particularly Burlington. Now would seem an appropriate time to ask how the outgoing council did. What do you think? And how will the new council do? There is still a chance to influence that.


Regards,
Bob
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

                                  Will Burlington's New Council be Transit Friendly?

                                                              (October 29, 2010)

The last one wasn't.

As the election results rolled in on Monday there was speculation at a local watering hole as to whether the new "team" will be better.

One could check out the survey on Community Development Halton's website (cd.halton.ca).

Put together by Poverty Free Halton candidates were asked about their support for transit and canvassed on other issues.

Unfortunately only two of seven victorious Councillors answered.

Rick Craven, who is generally supportive of public transit, responded positively.

Veteran Coucillor John Taylor, who isn't a supporter, continues to demonstrate his lack of understanding of how transit works.

Taylor is disappointed with what he says are poor results " despite millions of dollars invested."

Taylor's analysis runs counter to that of the IBI Group who studied Burlington Transit two years ago.

These transit experts said that:

*Burlington provides a low service level and as a result has low ridership.
*Taxpayers pay less for transit in Burlington than most other cities.
*Burlington Transit needs to significantly increase it service levels.


I'm hoping new Councillors will look at this report (TT 47-08 - Transit Operational Efficiency Review).

Some returning Councillors might benefit from a re-read.

What do you think?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Barriers to Finding Housing - One Senior's Story

(Here is a story I've adapted from one I wrote that originally appeared at www.hamiltonjustice.ca)
 
Today we are talking about the barriers faced by one Hamilton senior.  Mary Sinclair spent 18 months trying to find housing that was appropriate for her.


We know Mary.  Over the years, Hamilton Community Legal Clinic staff have worked with her on various advocacy groups and committees.   Last year we were pleased to write about Mary’s much deserved recognition when she received the Diamond Jubilee medal. http://www.hamiltonjustice.ca/blog/?post=Housing+Advocate+Receiving+Diamond+Jubilee+Award&id=219


Mary’s story of that 18 month housing search made necessary by health challenges  has been documented in a video put together by Anju Joshi and John Kumpunen with help from Denise O’Connor.  It is Mary’s unique story.  However, it is an important one since, as Mary says in the video, “I’m not the only senior in the City.” 


Countless others have faced and are facing the same “brickwall.”


What did Mary find most frustrating during her housing search?..."to be told that such and such is in place but when you try to take advantage of it, it is not there.  It is only ‘on paper' or it is part of ‘future plans." 


We hope you’ll watch the video.  Here is a bit of a spoiler alert. There is a happy ending to this video.


You can find it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EmmPDQfcdeg