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.



  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.


                                  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.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Giorgio Mammolitti

With the outrageous comments made by Toronto Ward 7 Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti this week I thought it might be worth recirculating a birthday "tribute" I paid to him nearly three years ago.  I'm not going to dignify his current remarks with comment.  However, Joe Fiorito has a nice piece in today's Toronto Star that is worth the read. http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2014/06/18/this_thumbs_for_you_giorgio_mammoliti_fiorito.html

Here is my story from September 2011.

We are sensitive at When the Mayor Smiles

From the grave we hear former U.S. Vice President Spiro T. Agnew calling out those “nattering nabobs of negativism” and we know of whom he speaks.

So today we’ll take the high road and recognize someone who stands out from the norm in the world of local government.

That would be Giorgio Mammoliti. Today is his 50th birthday.

For those of you from a planet other than Toronto you need to know that Councillor Mammoliti represents Ward 7 (York West) in the centre of the universe.

He’s been in politics pretty much consistently since he was 28. Following a time as a union leader Mammoliti began his political career as part of the Ontario NDP government of Bob Rae.

Mammoliti now recognizes that unsuccessful attempts were made to “try to brainwash me in my early career by communists.” He mentions no names but it is clear from recent comments that there remain, even now, many “well-bodied able to work” types who make a career of “asking for money from the taxpayers” who are still operating. He can smell them.

Back in those formative days the member for Yorkview was not intimidated into toeing the “party line” likely leading to his defeat in 1995. Some will argue, wrongly I believe, that his vocal opposition to same sex marriage was a contributing factor in his loss to Liberal Mario Sergio in the 95 provincial election.

Not one to be discouraged though Mammoliti was successful soon after in a by-election run for North York Council. There he replaced the man who knocked him off as MPP (Sergio) by beating the man (Claudio Polsinelli) he had defeated in 1990.

Immediately the rookie Councillor got to work in trying to attract an NHL franchise to North York. The ideas just keep coming; grand ideas; big picture stuff. Here are a few:

  • Transforming the Gardiner Expressway into a park featuring a privately operated Light Rail Transit line  running from the CNE to the DVP.

  • Building a floating casino in Ontario Place Harbour.

  • Bringing in the army to crack down on drug dealers in his ward.

  • Making the ward safer through the creation of special zone for legal brothels on the Toronto Islands some distance from his ward.

  • Tolling the Lakeshore.

  • Giving guns to by-law officers thereby making parking regulations easier to enforce and additionally making taxpayers’ days by rubbing out Toronto’s horrendous graffiti problem as well.

  • Filling the lottery void we have in this country by starting a municipal one.

  • Hanging a 40 metre wide vinyl Canadian flag from a 125 metre flagpole at the corner of Highway #400 and Finch Avenue West. Oh Canada!
It is comforting to know that such long term thinkers still function in the local realm that is so often dominated by short sighted, pothole obsessed ward politicians.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Shift Happens and Four Other Good Ideas to Tackle Inequality

(Here is a story I wrote that originally appeared at www.hamiltonjustice.ca)

From time to time, we do book reviews.

Well, on reflection, we’ve only done one that we can remember (http://www.hamiltonjustice.ca/blog/?post=Briefs+on+Books+%231&id=151).

Today we thought we’d do something similar.  Recently, we attended a Maytree Foundation Lunch and Learn Workshop.  We participated in the live stream.  Therefore, this will be a Lunch and Learn Workshop Live Stream Review. We have no illusions that we are the first to attempt this.

Armine Yalnizyan was the speaker at this workshop.

Armine is a senior Economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
You’ve probably seen her on TV or heard her on Tuesdays and Thursdays on CBC Radio One’s Metro Morning.

Her presentation dealt with Income Inequality. We won’t get into the details.
You’ll know that inequality in incomes and wealth is increasing in this country. It is often referred to as the Growing Gap.

There has been a real change in recent years.  It used to be that inequality came from recessions and the bottom falling out of the economy.  Now, according to Ms. Yalnizyan, “in good times and bad times the rich get richer.”

So what to do?  Here are some snippets from her five good ideas.

Don’t Make Things Worse

Axe some of those bad ideas.  The Temporary Foreign Workers Program is one that needs to return to its original purpose.Income splitting - “inequality by policy design” is another.  Similarly, those Tax Free Savings Accounts (TFSAs) don’t benefit those they were designed to help. We need to stop allowing the demonization of unionized workers and halt the weakening of employment laws as well.

Boost Economy from the Bottom Up

Why not boost the economy from the bottom up?  Raising the minimum wage isn’t just a poverty reduction strategy.  It is good for the bottom line of business.  Better wages raise productivity, increase investment and employee retention.   There are other methods such as increasing the GST credit that can also be implemented which will help those with the lowest incomes.

Tax is not a four Letter Word

Armine Yalnizyan takes this notion from the book by Alex Himelfarb (http://www.wlupress.wlu.ca/Catalog/himelfarb.shtml).   There is lot that can be done with taxes that would help.   For example, raising the rate on incomes over $250,000 to 35% (from 29%) generates 2.5 billion dollars.  A financial transaction tax, call it an ATM fee for corporations, could net $4 billion. What could $4 billion get you?  A national pharmacare program or a $10 a day childcare program or a 50% reduction of the number of poor seniors in the country.  Take your pick.

Support the Sagging Middle Class

Many things can be done to help the middle class that will help those at the bottom as well.Ms. Yalnizyan talked about how Canada continues to bring more people into a country that is without a housing plan.  We have a housing crisis in regards to affordability but also in the amount of housing. Expanded rental stock and better development codes are imperative.

Shift Happens

Ms.  Yalnizyan emphasized the power of journalism; how writers can “shed a little light on (inequalities) and get a bit of shirking away from bad behaviours.”One example of this kind of writing is Hugh Mackenzie’s annual review of CEO’s salaries. (https://www.policyalternatives.ca/newsroom/news-releases/canada%E2%80%99s-ceos-ring-new-year-bang)

Citing the activism of fast food workers in the U.S.A. that is resulting in higher minimum wages, Ms. Yalnizyan challenges us to get involved and make shift happen.You can listen to the presentation at http://maytree.com/fgi/five-good-ideas-tackle-inequality.html

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Hamilton Declared a Sanctuary City

(Here is an update on last month's Sanctuary City Story.  It was originally published on http://www.hamiltonjustice.ca/ where you can find more information on the Sanctuary City movement.)
The City of Hamilton has become the second Canadian municipality to declare itself a Sanctuary City. Hamiltonians cheered Wednesday night as City Council voted unanimously to ensure that municipal and municipally-funded services are accessible to Hamiltonians without full immigration status documents.

"This is the beginning of treating people equally, no matter what their immigration status is. Today is a first step on a long journey. It’s a commitment not just by City Hall but by service providers and Hamiltonians at large to work together to ensure justice for our undocumented neighbours, noted Maria Antelo, Community Development Coordinator with the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic. 

The move to make Hamilton a Sanctuary City has been spearheaded by the Hamilton Sanctuary City Coalition (HSCC) of which Antelo is a member. HSCC was formed in June 2013 with support from Toronto’s Solidarity City Network.  (Toronto became Canada’s first Sanctuary City last February.)
Some History

In June 2013, in response to requests by members of the community, Hamilton City Council directed staff to engage with local agencies.  The goal was to investigate how undocumented individuals are treated in Hamilton.  A report was forwarded to the Emergency and Community Services Committee. 
The City of Hamilton subsequently partnered with the HSCC to document the experiences of those living with precarious status in Hamilton.


The HSCC research and consultation found that: 

·         access to health care and police services remain the primary concern of those with precarious status.

·         fear of detection, detention and deportation is a major obstacle preventing many from obtaining services to which they would otherwise have access.

·         precarious status disproportionately affects women. Women are vulnerable because they often come to Canada using temporary visas and family sponsorships.

·         women with precarious status are often vulnerable to domestic violence and exploitation. 

·         children are the most severely impacted by precarious status.  This status restricts their access to the nutritious food, recreational programs, and daycare activities that are necessary for a healthy development.

Looking Ahead

Council’s decision means that the City of Hamilton will revise its anti­racism training.  Soon all staff will be aware of and support the City’s commitment to serve Hamiltonians living with precarious or undocumented immigration status.   Hamiltonians will become aware of their rights under the new policies. 

Caitlin Craven from the Hamilton Sanctuary City Coalition expressed her delight with the outcome:
“Today Hamilton has begun the process of becoming a Sanctuary City. Access without Fear means that all residents of the City would be able to access city services without fear of deportation or detention.”

In the future people accessing city services will not require any immigration status documentation. If that documentation is necessary for providing the service it would not be disclosed to federal immigration agencies.

The Coalition must be commended for its advocacy work.  Hamilton now joins a growing movement of municipalities rallying to put the interests of their community ahead of those of federal immigration policymakers and enforcers.

The Hamilton Sanctuary City Coalition is a made up of individuals and community organizations. Agencies supporting the initiative include the  Hamilton Community Legal Clinic (HCLC), Sexual Assault Centre Hamilton and Area (SACHA), Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion (HCCI), Immigrant Women’s Centre (IWC), Hamilton Safe Communities Coalition (HSCC), Good Shepherd, Micah House, Neighbour 2 Neighbour Centre (N2N), The Well, LGBTQ Wellness Centre of Hamilton, the Ecumenical Support Committee for Refugees, Community Information Hamilton, the Canadian African Multicultural Association, Refuge Hamilton Centre for Newcomer Health, the Neighbor to Neighbor Centre, and Anti Racists and Allies of Hamilton.