Monday, July 24, 2017

A Taxing Time

(An earlier version of this story appeared in the Sherman Hub News and North End Breezes.)

I’ll receive my municipal tax bill in the mail this week.

Just about everyone has an opinion on taxes, right?

Take President Donald Trump. On paying taxes Donald apparently doesn’t.  “That makes me smart," he said during a debate last year.

Others have funny ideas about tax avoidance.  “Dear IRS, I am writing to cancel my subscription. Please remove my name from your mailing list.” (Snoopy - aka Charles Schulz)

I’m partial to Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.’s adage:

“Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.” 

In that context, most of us look for fairness in our tax systems.  What exactly “fairness” is remains subject to debate.  Indicators, though, should include simplicity, ability to pay and transparency.

That said, multi-residential property taxation in Hamilton fails the fairness test.

Today, there is a greater awareness by tenants that they pay taxes through their rent.   Ten years ago, the Clinic and community partners reached out through the I am a Tenant and I Vote Campaign to bring this reality to public attention.

At the time, tenant advocate Tom Cooper noted that many tenants were unaware that they were, in fact, paying much higher taxes than those in single family homes.

Writing in Raise the Hammer (https://raisethehammer.org/article/577/tenants_and_taxes), Cooper used real property to property comparisons.

Tenant tax rates were, in some cases, “three times higher than the 'residential property tax rate' their neighbors in the bungalow down the street are levied,” maintained Cooper.

More recently, Don McLean, co-founder and coordinator of Citizens at City Hall (CATCH), told a tenant’s conference that the tax rate on multi-residential units in Hamilton continued to be set at 2.74 times the rate on single-family homes.

“Tenants are effectively paying 20% of their rent in the form of municipal taxes,” said McLean in March 2016.

It is a fact that Hamilton is the one of the leaders in the dubious category of taxing tenants unfairly. While cities like Toronto have set out to address the disparity, Hamilton has turned a blind eye.

Finally, the province has taken note of this injustice and last year announced a review of the property taxation of multi‐residential apartment buildings. In April, they told municipalities that property taxes for new multi-residential apartment buildings must be charged at a similar rate as other residential properties.  It is thought that this will encourage developers to build more new purpose-built rental housing.  This is a good thing.

Meanwhile, some municipalities like Hamilton have had a freeze put on any increases in the property tax burden for multi-residential apartment buildings. The freeze is in place while the issue is studied.

Let’s see what happens.  Tenants have been waiting a long time for fairness. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Privatization and Long Term Care Concerns in Ontario

Recently I covered a community meeting in Port Rowan. The subject was hydro privatization and there was a good turnout for a nice summer evening.


Former New Democrat MPP Rosario Marchese was in excellent form in making the case to buy hydro back.  You can hear a portion of his remarks at https://soundcloud.com/user227575210/z0000032

 More Privatization

As the story mentions the meeting was sponsored by the We Own It campaign and  the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU).

After the meeting I had the opportunity to talk with Jeremy Thibodeau, 1st Vice-President Local 230: of OPSEU and asked him to elaborate on the situation In Grey County that he had referenced during his remarks.

Grey County was about to decide on selling off one of its Long Term Care Facilities to private interests.
Thibodeau and Marchese show what is happening to hydro prices.

Thibodeau told me that a vote was coming soon.  In fact, the vote had been scheduled for earlier in the spring and Councillors who were opposed walked out of the meeting to deny a quorum and buy time to develop other strategies to stop the sell off

Unfortunately,  the delay was only a temporary one. On June 29th the issue came to a vote.

This is complicated stuff and what follows is only a brief summary of the latest events.

Where is Long Term Care Headed in Grey County 

Grey County has three long term care facilities.  Grey Gables in Markdale, Lee Manor in Owen Sound and Rockwood Terrace in Durham.

Rockwood Terrace needs considerable work to bring it up to Ministry standards.

After a lengthy consultation process, staff came back with recommendations that were largely accepted by Council.  At that June 29th meeting, Council gave final approval to build a new 166 bed Long Term Care Facility in Durham to replace Rockwood Terrace.

Council also set the wheels in motion to sell Grey Gables to a private operator “based on an approved project plan for a new home, staff prepare a detailed project plan to support the sale of Grey Gables in Markdale as a retirement/assisted living facility and that this conversion happen in alignment with the completion of construction of the new long term care home.”

Additionally, staff are being asked to prepare Request for Proposals to obtain services of a management company which will input into how the new LTC Care Home will operate in Durham. This same company would administer the day to day operation of the current homes and the new facility.


My sense is that this kind of debate must be ripping Grey County apart.  Sure, there are lots of complexities to the issue but Ontario’s cities, towns and villages will continue to feel these kind of pressures as senior levels of government carry on implementing their austerity agendas.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

No Real Change to Payday Loan Lending Rates in the New Year

(This story originally appeared at www.hamiltonjustice.ca)

Maybe you missed this announcement in December from the Ontario government? 

"Our government is committed to protecting consumers and helping people in their everyday lives. This includes lowering the cost for taking out a payday loan, and further changes to ensure that financial services are fairer and more transparent for all. " — Marie-France Lalonde, Minister of Government and Consumer Services

This is how the Minister characterizes lowering the maximum total cost of borrowing for a payday loan from $21 to $18 per $100 borrowed.  That new protection will happen on of January 1, 2017.  This move, after years of dilly dallying, lowers the interest rate that predatory lenders can charge from 546% to 390% per annum.  The Criminal Code says charging anything above 60% is a crime. But Ontario and most other provinces believe an exemption is in order for this so-called industry. (We’ve written before on this.  See http://www.hamiltonjustice.ca/blog?post=Province+Getting+it+Wrong+on+Payday+Loans&id=369)

Legislating the Banks

Prior to the Ontario announcement, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives put out a report developed through a survey of ACORN Canada members who have accessed payday loans.

In A Survey of High Interest Alternative Financial Services, author Joe Fantauzzi concludes that banks “through denying low and moderate income families access to credit, are driving people to access fringe high interest products like payday loans, installment loans and more.”

So, the federal government should insist that banks be more responsive to low and middle-income families.  The report suggests that access to low interest credit for emergencies and low interest overdraft protection be legislated.  Lowering NSF fees from $45 to $10 and ensuring no-holds on cheques would be positive changes.  Alternatives to predatory lenders like a postal bank and credit union products geared to moderate and low income households are also called for.  Here is the report.
https://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/reports/predatory-lending

Together with the payday loan industry the Ontario government has become a partner in predation. 

Perhaps the federal government can change this.  The CCPA’s report shows how.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Hamilton Politics



Boundary Making*


                     Sixteen blinkered decision makers in the city of ambitions


                                                  Advised by experts to create more democratic conditions


                                                   Know, of course, what`s best for the municipality


                                                   Yet their views are fraught with illogicality


                                                   We need leadership not colouring competitions.



* http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/hamilton-city-councillors-will-try-to-redraw-ward-boundaries-themselves-1.3824643


Saturday, September 24, 2016

Canadians Need Access to Reasonably Priced Financial Services

(Here is a letter to the editor I sent recently to a number of newspapers .)

Dear Editor,

Good communities provide residents and businesses with easy access to reasonably priced financial services.

Such access is eroding in Canada.

The big five chartered banks have been exiting downtown cores of major Canadian cities for years.

Many small communities, have no banks or credit unions at all.

Moreover, fees are an issue. Only thirty years ago, banks did not charge fees but now these charges are amongst the highest in the world.

“Fringe” financial institutions like Money Mart and the Cash Store have stepped in to fill the void and make big bucks while charging exorbitant fees.

There is some regulation of these fringe institutions. In 2008, for example, the Ontario government, concerned about excessive charges, brought in regulations. These controls were inadequate so the government is in the process of setting new rules.

Meanwhile many Canadians don’t have bank accounts.

The solution to this problem (and others) is to bring back postal banking.

Canadians had access to Postal Banking for more than one hundred years. When the Post Office Savings Bank ceased operations in 1968, nearly 300,000 accounts closed down. At its peak in 1908, deposits in the bank totalled 47.5 million (equivalent to $1 billion in today’s money). Meanwhile postal banking is thriving in other parts of the world. Japan Post Bank, for example, has $2 trillion in assets.

The government is currently conducting a public review of Canada Post, Postal banking is an idea whose time has come again.

Bob Wood
Port Rowan

Interested readers can learn more at DeliveringCommunityPower.ca



Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Six Council Votes that Show why Hamilton Ward Boundaries Need to Change*

(This story appeared originally in August at www.hamiltonjustice.ca) 

Here is some history most of you will know.

In 2001 amalgamation of the City of Hamilton with Ancaster, Dundas Flamborough, Glanbrook and Stoney Creek took place. The amalgamation resulted in eight council seats for the 70% of residents living in old Hamilton. Seven council seats were set up for the 30% percent in the five former suburbs. Sixteen years later it seems that important council votes support the minority (30%) over the majority (70%).  For example:

*Households in the former suburbs continue to pay only about a third of the transit taxes that residents of the old city pay.

*Harbour cleanup has been delayed. Suburban Councillors (and then Mayor Bratina) did not support speeding up the cleanup of the Randle Reef. A proposed meeting with federal and provincial politicians might have done that.
*Nearly all suburban councillors voted in May to defer a decision on whether Hamilton wants the billion-dollar provincial investment for Light Rapid Transit (LRT).
*Suburban councillors (and Terry Whitehead) voted against looking at the possibility of tolls for “out-of-town” truck traffic on the Red Hill and Linc expressways.
*The King Street bus-only lane was killed by suburban councillors and three Hamilton mountain councillors.
*In April 2015 those 7 suburban councillors (along with Councillor Whitehead) voted to postpone the often delayed ward boundary review.  Fortunately, this vote lost on a tie.
That tie vote means that there is now an opportunity to change ward boundaries.  Contact your elected municipal officials to Make Change.  Tell them those boundaries must respect the important democratic principle of fair representation by population.
*CATCH (Citizens at City Hall) is a volunteer community group that encourages civic participation in Hamilton.  Their articles which were the prime source for the above can be found at



Monday, August 01, 2016

Ontario Government to Help Tenants - But Hold on a Minute

(This story originally appeared in July at www.hamiltonjustice.ca)

This looks like a classic case of government responding to an interest group at the expense of the broader public interest.

We are talking about the consultation paper recently put out by the provincial government.  The paper is called Consultation Paper on Proposals to Encourage Small Landlords to Provide Rental Housing.

This paper purports to be looking for input to improve the Ontario Government’s Long Term Affordable Housing Strategy (LTAHS).

The government has floated a bunch of ideas.  They claim these changes would help small landlords create more housing and address barriers that these potential affordable housing creators face.

Unfortunately, these ideas, if implemented, would “contribute to further homelessness and erode hard-won tenant protections.”

That is the opinion expressed by the Advocacy Centre for Tenants of Ontario (ACTO.)  ACTO is a legal clinic which works to better the housing situation of Ontario residents who have low incomes including tenants, co-op members and people who are homeless.  ACTO put together a forceful submission to the Ministry of Housing. A few examples of the kind of ideas floated in the paper and ACTO’s responses follows.

Ministry Idea:      
Require tenants to disclose any issues that they intend to raise at rental eviction hearings prior to the hearing.

ACTO Response:  
This proposal would bring back procedural barriers to justice for tenants.

Ministry Idea:      
Allow landlords and tenants to file the unsworn statements in support of  applications and motions, rather than affidavits.                                  

ACTO Response:
Clearly the impetus for this proposal is a desire to expedite landlords’ eviction applications.              

Ministry Idea:  
Explore whether any changes should be made to the process for appealing  decisions of the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) to Divisional Court.

ACTO Response:
Based on the widely–reported actions of a few criminals, landlord organizations are attempting to limit the effectiveness of the Superior Court’s supervision of the LTB by making it even more difficult than it already is for tenants to exercise these important and rarely-used appeal rights.                                                            

So, you’ll get the idea from these brief excerpts that the government’s proposals will be of no help to tenants.  And one other thing we should mention is this.  By and large the proposed changes would apply to most tenants not just those renting from small landlords.  

You can read ACTO’s full submission at https://1drv.ms/b/s!AvRzOEPfSVfDk3a5u5WgjoU8Rgff