Thursday, February 19, 2009


Canada's first food bank opened in 1981.

Remember 1981? The U.S.S.R was the enemy, Exhibition Stadium the home of the Blue Jays and Eaton’s was a great place to shop.

The country, the stadium and the retailer are long gone. But the Edmonton food bank, billed at the time as a temporary solution, is still here and about 650 others have been added across our affluent land.

And it is getting worse.

A situation reported by the Belleville Intelligencer this week is illustrative.

The number of new clients at Gleaners Food bank (which serves the Quinte Region of South-Eastern Ontario) doubled this December over December 2007.

The number of food hampers issued this past January is up 43% over the previous January.

The Board is considering increasing the hours the food bank is open.

On Tuesday 240 dozen eggs came in. At closing there were only about thirty dozen left. There was fighting among clients.

On Wednesday a man and his son are alleged to have threatened staff. Police were involved.

Could this have been foreseen?

“We were afraid something was going to happen today because we had clients fighting yesterday,” Suzanne Quinlan, the Centre’s Director told the Intelligencer.

Now the Board, already struggling to meet client needs, has to consider adding security staff.

Carol Goar’s opinion piece in yesterday’s Toronto Star puts the food issue in context.

The average weekly food bill in Canada is $140 or 10.4% of income. If a mother of two on welfare:

“ spent 10.4% per cent of her income on food, as other parents do, her weekly grocery budget would be $25.14. She would have to buy a lot of bread, pasta, rice and other cheap starches and get whatever she could at the local food bank.”

Political Solution Needed

But food banks, a temporary solution, have reached their limits. I’m not stating anything new or profound when I say that people shouldn’t go hungry in this country; parents shouldn’t have to count on a food bank to feed their children.

There are political solutions to these matters. The Harperites aren’t interested. Their recent budget proved that. Let’s hope McGuinty’s government shows some leadership in their March budget.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


When you're alone and life is making you lonely
You can always go - downtown
When you've got worries, all the noise and the hurry
Seems to help, I know - downtown
Just listen to the music of the traffic in the city
Linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty
How can you lose?

OK, Petula Clark wasn’t singing about Ontario cities when she scored a big hit in 1974 with Downtown.

But why did that song come to my mind reading Ontario papers this week?

First, let’s look at Sault Ste. Marie, the third largest city in Northern Ontario with a population of 75,000.

Tuesday the Sault Star reported that Council had voted 9 - 3 (one member absent) to approve 42,000 square feet of office space outside of the downtown area.

Who cares, you say?

Well this approval:

1. Insulted the Official Plan.
2. Was uncalled for when about 500,000 square feet of available commercial space currently exists.
3. Was contrary to the Planning Department’s recommendation.*

Writer Elaine Della-Matta noted that those voting for the office space had their reasons.

One said “he's been shut out of (downtown) businesses because he can't get in with his wheelchair.”

Another Councillor noted it is “difficult to find large accessible spaces in the downtown area.”

And, finally, it was argued the downtown shouldn’t be sold short but the rest of the town shouldn’t be forgotten.

I’m thinking Mayor Roswell (who opposed the change) got it right:

"Council's decision tonight is going to change things. This is a major shift in where our community is going."

Meanwhile, this week the Intelligencer in Belleville (population 50,000) talked about what happened to their downtown.

Apparently when the Quinte Mall opened in the early 1970s “merchants were skeptical that it would take away customers but they soon learned the truth.”

"That knocked the hell out if us. "It was difficult. Some people thought it wouldn't hurt us," Charlie Kammer, a downtown merchant for 42 years told the paper.

Kammer remembers seven hardware stores and eight drugstores operating in the core.

Consultants have addressed the downtown problems says reporter Brice McVicar.

A revitalization program, co-ordinating the resources of various departments was suggested by du Toit Associates Ltd in 1980.

An emphasis on waterfront recreation, free public transit and a the placement of a banner near the Quinte Mall that would say something like "Experience Shopping in Downtown Belleville" was recommended by Alexander V. Crate Consultants in a 1984 report.

And in 1992 (Loughheed and Associates) wanted to close streets and develop an Apr.-Oct./ pedestrian promenade.

Apparently things are slowly improving. Mayor Neil Ellis believes “that downtown merchants are carving their own niche, rather than competing against bigger rivals.”

Belleville consultants: Check your Blackberries, the Soo’ll be calling soon.

*This raises a larger question: Why do we really need planners with their big salaries, large offices and strange vocabularies when we have politicians who can do the job. We’ll save this one for another day.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Games People Play

The Ontario Senior Games Winterfest 2009 kick off in Brockville this Wednesday. GTA types who promote the Pan Games should pay attention.

According to a story in the Brockville Recorder and Times by Michael Jiggins the local economy will be helped by the games.

Games general manager Laurence Bishop says that athletes will provide an $850,000 boost to the economy before they head home after Fridays’ closing ceremonies.

Jiggins quotes restaurant owner John Ackerman who believes the Games "are a great idea in these economic times.”

"Especially for the restaurants, January and February is your slow time of the year. ... And it will help all of the other businesses, too, people will be out shopping. I'm all for it."

Local hotels are fully booked. Occupancy rates typically run around 35 per cent in February. As well up to 70% of the 850 participants will stay an extra night after the games finish. Many participants will enjoy the town and come back.


Meanwhile in the GTA politicians and George F. Babbitt booster types like the Hamilton Spectator fantasize about the supposed benefits of the 2015 Pan Games. In fact, there is much evidence of the detrimental effects such mega events have on host cities. (see Helen Lenskyj’s “The Best Olympics Ever?)

The Pan Am games began in 1951. Popular in Central and South American. sadly, few North Americans – including many top athletes and TV networks - seem to care today..

I don’t always agree with Hamilton Councillor Sam Merulla. This time I do.
Last week Merulla argued unsuccessfully to strike the $235 million Pan Am Games bid from a list of city of Hamilton infrastructure projects. A big part of those dollars would build a new stadium as the current facility - once called Civic Stadium built for the 1930 British Empire Games track events.- can’t accommodate track and field. Is this the kind of “infrastructure” we need for our cities?

Back to Brockville

Longtime Brockville hotelier Bhagwant Parmar tells reporter Jiggins that the Games are about much more than dollars and cents. Winterfest encourages active, healthy lifestyles that improve people's quality of life.

The advantage of that type of tourism, he noted, is it doesn't require millions of dollars to build attractions (bolding mine).

As I said we could learn something from this week’s games in Brockville. These smaller community building events should be the way to go.