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.


                                  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

Friday, September 12, 2014

Crazy Town

Robyn Doolittle’s excellent and entertaining book Crazy Town (Penguin Canada) came out earlier this year.

I read it in the spring and wondered at the time about the author’s prediction that her subject, Rob Ford, could win the October election.

In her closing chapter, she suggested it was possible.
As I write today, Ford is in a hospital bed hospitalized.  Not a good spot to run a campaign from, or so it would seem.

However, as the former Star reporter now with the Globe and Mail wrote:
 “…if it were possible to run from prison, I think he would.” 

So, using Doolittle’s logic, the hospital shouldn’t be a problem.

In fact, since Doolittle’s book was released, Ford has had troubles that might have landed other mere mortals in prison.  But, as Doolittle noted his approval ratings are always up after bad publicity.  And, with the help of his goofy Campaign Manager Brother Doug and other members of Ford Nation, it is pretty certain we can expect more bad publicity.

Doolittle’s supports her argument by citing -Bricker and Ibbitson’s book the Big Shift. (The Big Shift: The Seismic Change In Canadian Politics , Business, And Culture And What It Means For Our Future by Darrell I Bricker, John Ibbitson Harper Collins Publishers, 2013)
Here they argue that a lengthy period of conservative rule is coming because of New Canadians moving into metro areas.  These people are more religious and socially conservative and averse to debt. The authors call them “strivers.” 

They want to own a home in a safe neighbourhood as opposed to “creatives." Creatives (who the privileged Fords would likely call "elites") are more concerned with “community supports, the environment and international engagement.”

That’s why Ford and politicians of his ilk will be more and more successful according to the Big Shift.

I took a look at the Big Shift and don’t agree with the authors.  Time will tell, I suppose.

Back to Crazy Town though.
Having followed the sordid Ford saga over the last few years I wondered what I’d find that was new in the book.

Quite a few things actually.  For example:

On telling the truth

Clearly, Rob Ford is challenged in this area.  He comes by it naturally, however, as his father Doug basically airbrushed” his partner out of history as it relates to developing the Deco label business

On ambition

Ford lost in his first attempt at electoral politics.  Was he discouraged?  Was he finished?

After this 1997 loss, a caller to Ford’s mother Diane to offer condolences received this response.

“Oh, no, no, Robbie’s a career politician.’”

On chutzpah

In the 2000 municipal election, the Fords approached 15-year incumbent Gloria Lindsay Luby suggesting that she run in another ward.  They’d even help her.  Lindsay Luby declined.

On my own reading off the public

Doolittle argues that Ford has a “natural gift for reading the public mood.”  Up until now, I haven’t bought this argument.  But at a George Smitherman focus group midway through the 2010 campaign, mayoral candidate Smitherman’s handlers knew their man was done when they got this comment from an attendee:
“If I have to choose between someone who wastes our money and someone who beats their wife, I’ll choose the person who beats their wife.”

On how the media is better able to track down these stories.

The author talks about a 2009 Supreme Court of Canada decision which created “a new defence for libel” that helped and guided the Star in their investigative reporting.

The decision meant that Journalists were permitted to tackle contentious issues where hard evidence was not available if reporters could prove that they:
  • ·         acted professionally
  • ·         did their best to verify info
  • ·         attempted to get both sides of the story.

For Doolittle this all lead to the night of  May 16th 2013 “the day before my life changed forever…..”  Pictures from the famous crack video went public that day.

Toronto politics hasn’t been the same since.  Many hope that after October 27th it will return to pre-Crazy Town days.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Fighting McDonald's in Burlington - A Look Back

Almost 40 years ago there was an attempt by McDonald’s, the fast food giant, to put one of their stores in a small plaza in south east Burlington.

It is hard to believe but in 1975 there was only one McDonald’s in Burlington.
McDonald’s preferred location was at Kenwood and Lakeshore near what is now called Lakeside Shopping Village (it was then the Skyway Plaza) was clearly not appropriate.

Residents objected. A five year battle followed.

To the best of my knowledge there has been no comprehensive documentation of this struggle.

Jim and Judy Ryan, who were front and centre in the fight, kept a scrapbook and a few years ago I copied a 150 or so clippings from that scrapbook.

I had hoped/still hope to do something substantial on this story. I’ve made little progress.

Recently, however, I organized my notes a bit and put a very small story together. You can find it at http://foreveryoungnews.com/posts/2655-bob-s-blog-case-study-of-long-ago-community-project-

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Canada Day and the Bus

For some Canada Day evokes memories of loons at the lake or fireworks in the park or perhaps an outing with the family. 

My Canada Day memories primarily involve a bus.

I’m going back to July 1, 1993.  That was the first Canada Day that my wife and I rented a City of Burlington bus.  We did it to provide a service and we did it to make a point.

Then, we lived in a town where decision makers did not think public transit was important.  “Get a car or get out of town” was the mantra.  In fact, a survey of Sunday transit users had been done a few years previous. The survey determined that many riders were using the service for some purpose other than going to church or work.  Imagine!  The survey provided justification to cut Sunday service.

It seemed then, and for many years later, that there was really no reason to provide what, some would argue, is a necessary service on Sundays and holidays.  (See my 2008 blog piece at http://whenthemayorsmiles.blogspot.ca/2008/02/greetings-on-family-day.html)
It was in that context that I could be found dawdling in Sheldon Park that July 1st.  I’d been unsuccessful at persuading my Council colleagues of the need for holiday service so I decided to do it myself.  A route was designed that would run hourly covering the southeast portion of the City.  The route would run past seniors’ residences, go to some regular stops, past Sheldon Park and loop over to Spencer Smith Park.  Annual Canada Day celebrations were taking place there.  The bus was free.

I was in that east end park as I was somewhat apprehensive about actually being on the first run of the bus.   There had been a fair bit of media attention and I’d placed an ad in the local paper.  If I were to be its only passenger, well, it would probably be better for me if the bus were empty.   

From a distance I recall see it chugging down Pinedale and as it passed me I was relieved to see it carried many passengers. I believe I allowed myself a small fist pump not having the flexibility even then for a self-congratulatory pat on the back.  
Over the course of the day, it was a busy route. 

We learned that there were many different reasons for people to take that bus.

Some visited family at Joseph Brant Hospital.  There was no other way for them to get there on that day.  One woman I spoke with was headed over to the park to see a band she used to dance to at the Brant Inn.  She had no other way to get there.   Some people were riding the bus to get to Oakville although Oakville, at the time, had no transit service on holidays so there were left high and dry at the Pig and Whistle.

Another positive of the day was that people who never rode public transit tried it out and found it a positive experience.

We ran that bus for the next four years and as I recall it was busier each year.  One thing about renting a bus is when you’re paying you plan the route.  Call me childish, but road construction one year provided an “excuse” to take the bus right past the house of a Council colleague who was a strong opponent of public transit.  (Yes, some Councillors didn’t like buses running on their street in those days.  It is still the case, I’m told.) 

After I left Council in 1997, several Councillors asked staff to make arrangements so that they too could have their own free bus service on Canada Day.  Instead, a city-wide service was provided at city expense.  Now Burlington has service on most statutory holidays.

It still isn’t the level of service we ought to have though.