Tag Archives: Ontario

(318) Ontario school streaming [Study]

Dunce_cap_from_LOC_3c04163uStreaming high school students, the process of deciding the level of study they pursue with their perceived abilities and life after high school in mind is firmly back in Ontario.  More precisely, it never really left.  Children from lower income families are still pushed toward applied programs and their better off classmates towards university preparation according to a new report.  The idea that schools in higher income areas simply get more extras and see their students go further isn’t new at all.  In the 1980s streaming students became quite controversial and the link between income and educational achievement has been the subject of study for decades all over the developed world.  Ontario is supposed to be the kind of jurisdiction that takes steps to ameliorate the worst effects of streaming.  It does, just not enough it would seem.  You can see how streaming probably sows the seeds of deeper inequality.  The lawyer’s son becomes a lawyer kind of thing.  Add in the high costs of a post secondary education and streaming begins to seem even more problematic when you consider that ability, in say mathematics or language skills, is pretty evenly distributed.  Anything that closes down options based upon where a child or youth started out has to be viewed as socially harmful.  You can put streaming on that list.

The trouble with course choices in Ontario high schools
People for Education with link to full report

“Streaming” slips back into high schools: higher ratio of low income teens in applied courses called “problematic”
The Toronto Star was given an exclusive on the the People for Education Report and produced a good feature article accompanied by a P4E map for Toronto

image: child wearing dunce cap in 1906, Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons

(317) Durham Region

OshawaThe Regional Municipality of Durham lies directly east of Toronto.  It’s almost a microcosm of Canada in that its 2500 square kilometers encompass serious suburbanization, some heavy industry, much commerical activity, farm land, rolling hills and areas where outdoor recreation including hunting and fishing is commonplace.  By and large the people of Durham Region are among some of the healthiest, best fed and most secure human beings in this unbalanced world.  Starting in the late 2000s, as the real estate/automobile industrial complex, so long the paymaster in Ontario, began to show signs of weirdness in terms of its future performance, a certain amount of poverty has come to be red flagged in Durham Region.

To take the understanding of suburban poverty beyond one-off profiles of people living in it requires detailed investigation and meaningful data attached to real experience.  That makes a recent document from the authorities in Durham of genuine interest.

The Price of Eating Well in Durham Region looks at one of the major impacts on family and personal well-being and concerns elucidated here can be found elsewhere.  The report looks at the cost of a simple, metaphoric basket of nutritious foods for a week for a family of four.  The cost of that metaphoric basket since 2009 has gone up by about $45.  Luckily, Durham appears to be a cheaper place to live than the rest of the province, for which there is also some comparative data.  Either way, about 8% of households in Durham experience food insecurity which generally means lowered quality and amount of food in those households.

Recipients of government support and low wages are under extra pressure in this respect.  More widely, the entire region is vulnerable to increases in energy prices, especially gasoline for personal motor vehicles (oversized, truck-style models are seen in abundance in Durham), and uncertainty exists over the future direction of real estate prices and the encroachment onto farm land of residential development.

The latter might seem a little ironic, the ongoing conversion of agricultural land into subdivisions and commercial property, in a place where food insecurity is now, pardon the pun, on the table.  Certainly, the laws for doing so are quite strict compared to past decades but perhaps real estate development has captured a little too much of the imagination in Durham, as in other places touching the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area.  As with the country at large, Durham has too much child poverty and food bank use is a permanent feature of life for many, including people with jobs.

This particular report, and ones like it, merits attention and represents the detail needed to understand poverty.

The Price of Eating Well in Durham Region
7-page .pdf file

Poverty report raises red flags for Durham groups
Durhamregion.com

Social Planning Network of Ontario: CDC Durham
Links to a variety of reports 2007-2011

image: Two vistas from near Oshawa, one of Canada’s rock capitals and commercial centre of Durham Region via SeRVe61 & Rick Harris – Wikimedia Commons

(314) Youth & work in Ontario

Newsboy_in_1905Tip stealing, outsourcing, illegal unpaid internships, low wages, unsafe conditions, harassment.  Young workers face these and other challenges here in Ontario too often.  Luckily, those same workers have a friend in Andrew Langille, a Toronto-based labour lawyer.  His website Youth and Work spells out his commitment to them.  The blog in particular is a worthy effort, full of deft and detailed discussion of the pressures facing young workers.  Youth and Work names and shames government officials, media outlets and all kinds of businesses that impose upon students, recent graduates and other young workers – often in clear contravention of employment law.  Mr. Langille has also posted a number of interviews on the site and they are educational, powerful reading.  This is no rusty sword in the fight against precarious employment, questionable business practices, low standards of living and exploitive tendencies.

Youth and work: a website about youths, workplace law, economics, labour markets, education, & public policy

image: Toronto newsboy selling Toronto Evening Telegram in 1905 via McCord Museum/Wikimedia Commons

(307) Changing numbers in Peel

Cryptanalytic_BombeThe trend for Peel Region is towards suburban poverty.  Recent numbers collected by an ongoing effort to assess social conditions in Canada at University of Toronto provide the story.  Decline in real incomes, growth in accommodation costs, rising car-related expenses like gas and insurance and a weakened picture for employment have moved many into poverty despite continued population growth and the vast sums invested in the artefacts of sprawl (roads, houses, commercial strips).

Peel seems to be developing a pinched class where once there was a middle class.  Growth in population appears to be stressing social services and draining prosperity.  “In 1980, Peel had just two low-income neighbourhoods. Three decades later, 45 per cent of neighbourhoods were considered low-income or very low-income, nearly the same proportion as in the city of Toronto,” says a recent item on the large, suburban area immediately west of Toronto, linked below.

This must be tough to swallow in a place that prided itself on growth, was a vast construction site for decades, where it seems like the 80s never ended if you were a property speculator, a builder or a municipal bureaucrat.  The elected representatives in the communities making up Peel region tend toward conservatism and have not begun to strategize for the future.  The two large city governments within Peel, Mississauga and Brampton, are at odds with each other regarding the formulas used to determine their share of regional spending.  Mississauga’s mayor, facing a renewed legal approach in regard to conflict of interest with the development industry, is in her nineties now and will leave behind a dysfunctional and underachieving city council when she leaves office shortly.  Brampton presents a very mixed picture as well.

Low crime rates in Peel are appreciated by its residents.  The place is neither Bangladesh nor Detroit.  A big, expensive, impressive plan for light rail transit for Highway 10 is on the books, too.  But…

…a lack of political imagination has helped build the present in Peel Region, as surely as any demographic development.  The faster a relationship is discovered with the former the sooner those demographic developments can be responded to in a meaningful way and bigger problems ameliorated.  The political culture of easy income through rubber stamping development permits won’t be put to rest without pain we suspect.  So, expect more findings like the ones in this article.

Peel changes as poverty moves into middle-class suburbia

photo: Cryptanalysis computer in the 1940s taken by J Brew via Wikimedia Commons

(304) Guns are classy in Toronto

BulletAcademic and social observer Richard Florida writes in the Star that gun crime in Toronto seems to map to class and cultural environments in a disturbingly close fashion.  If you are in North America’s fourth largest city (the GTA edged out Chicago for that spot in terms of population just recently) try to hang around the green zone, where Florida’s so-called creative class live.  Florida says,  ” …the recent uptick in gun violence in Toronto mirrors the same fault-lines of economic and social disadvantage that exist in U.S. cities.”  In terms of actual numbers of people killed by guns Toronto still remains remarkably safe, having only about a tenth of the firearm homicides of Chicago, according to statistics in the article.  Those in the green part of the map are protected from gun violence because they are educated, economically connected, properly employed people.  Florida points out that because gun violence is something happening to other people somewhere else, many a privileged Torontonian seems quite complacent about it.  Removal of barriers to  “living green,” as it were, is essential to eliminating gun violence and protecting the total quality of life in the city.

…look at all the dots on the map accompanying the piece indicating a gun murder in a suburban location.

Guns and class in Toronto: the vast majority of Toronto’s gun murders since 2000 took place where members of the service and working class live  

image: 1888 photo of a bullet in flight taken by Ernst Mach via Wikimedia Commons

(296) Minimum wage: medicine wage [Report]

Both_Cabinet_Respirator_in_WWIIAbout this time last year the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario published a report called Advocating for Vibrant Communities.  The document acted in part as briefing notes for submission to the provincial government representing the wisdom of nurses when it comes to social conditions and health.  The nurses called for an increase to the minimum wage in 2011 because they see a direct relationship between bad health and social difficulty.  The report helps to demolish arguments about the alleged immediate negative effects of increases to the minimum wage.  When it comes to health and poverty we can pay now or pay later.  Really, who is going to stand up and argue this one with nurses?

Advocating for vibrant communities 52-page .pdf file

image: AJ Faithful/Australian War Memorial via Wikimedia Commons

(295) Ontario minimum wage

nothing 2 fear from fairnessWith a new premier installed as leader of a party that is making the electorate and  the opposition a little restive there might be opportunity for Ontarians to see an increase in minimum wage.  This item from left-of-centre magazine Rabble makes the case for the economic benefits of a raise to $11.75 per hour from the current minimum of $10.25 per hour.

Boost the minimum wage, boost the economy

A coalition of labour and anti-poverty groups are saying $14.00 per hour is more like a living wage.  With over half a million workers in Ontario trying to provide for themselves on the present minimum wage you could expect resisting any increase to be a vote loser for any premier.

Action now to raise Ontario’s minimum wage acorncanada.ca

Counter-arguments to minimum wage increases are typically about the damage done to small businesses, prices and competitiveness.  End-of-the-world stuff.

That makes the clear enunciation of arguments in favour of better wages in terms of economic benefit welcome and useful.  The minimum wage in Ontario was first introduced back in the 1970s.  When you adjust the current minimum wage for inflation and currency fluctuation you find it to be worth just over $2.00 per hour.  In other words, it’s the same as it was a middle-aged person’s lifetime ago.  What else is?  The price of clothing, gas, electricity, a haircut, a bus ticket, food, rent?  No, they have all risen.  If there is disinterest in the moral argument for living wages in certain quarters then perhaps the economic case needs to be made more often …and more forcefully.

This last link is to a piece in the New Yorker that reflects on the situation in the United States regarding minimum wage and includes a few really interesting links to external references.  President Obama thought enough of the issue to include it in his last state of the union address.  It isn’t like he has turned out to be an anti-business president.  American minimum wages are even lower than those in Canada.

The case for a higher minimum wage newyorker.com

Hopefully Kathleen Wynn, Ontario’s new premier is open to increasing her literacy in the minimum wage vs living wage debate and will support lifting up the level of survival of working people in her province.

See also: (288) Living wages

(293) Students out there

800px-Old_Finch_and_Kengate_in_Scarborough_RougeStudents usually form a portion of most communities when those communities reach a certain size and come to host insitutions of higher learning.  Generally, this is all to the good.  To be in any way a progressive and economically competitive society, education is advised.  Part of that equation means keeping students, housed, fed, clothed and healthy while they study.  We see friction developing out there on the perimeter where housing is concerned.

Last month in the Toronto Star there was a piece about a city raid in Scarborough on a rooming house near a University of Toronto satellite campus and a Centennial College campus.  Inspectors entered a fairly ordinary-looking home designed for a single family and apparently found “…11 people …crammed together paying $500 to $700 per month each for spaces created by subdividing rooms at 1289 Military Trail.” (GTA section of the Star February 11, 2013)

This conversion is alleged to have been done without permits or inspections and without reasonable regard to the provision of fire exits, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors or proper heating and ventilation.  The owner of the property mentioned above, at the time of inspection, was potentially liable for fines of up to $70,000.  They, and other owners of ad hoc student residences seem reluctant to talk to the media.  Perhaps they may see themselves merely as housing entrepreneurs responding to increased enrollments at nearby schools.  On a bad day, however, they could be seen as slum landlords, taking advantage of a group who may find themselves in a weak position because of their status as students.

Many communities have come to cherish the “eds and meds” portion of the post-industrial economy.  It seems that suburban communities in particular value the presence of colleges and universities for the good paycheques and prestige associated with them.  Schools in turn may find a variety of incentives for expanding in ex-urban areas including cheaper land, physical space and a student-age population ready to study.  Housing in the communities near satellite schools simply may not have adapted quickly enough to student housing needs for a variety of reasons and the schools themsleves may not have invested in their own, on-campus housing infrastructure.  The results seen in the article below model what is happening all over North America in proximity to places of higher learning.  Is it really a great idea to leave housing our future taxpayers, voters, citizens, entrepreneurs, professionals and tradespersons to the random, frequently sloppy efforts of unknown landlords?

No, of course not.  This phenomena must be seen as part of a pattern of suburban-poverty.

Scarborough homeowners charged with running illegal rooming house: bylaw enforcement officers have charged a trio with illegally housing 11 students in a Scarborough home.

(291) Don’t get out of the car!

Diplodocus_Heinrich_Harder
Another jarring sideswipe to Canada’s self esteem.  A World Health Organization report says we aren’t doing enough for pedestrians and cyclists.  This is bad news because transportation issues are interweaved with suburban poverty.  Easier conditions for walkers and cyclists reflect better designed, pro-social communities but they require well thought out, properly funded infrastructure projects.  Walking and cycling is cheap, good for people and contributes to sustainability.  A culture of non-motorized transportation doesn’t just stem from accidents of geography like flat land in Holland or warm weather in California, though undoubtedbly these things don’t hurt the cause.  Social vision and political will are just as important.

Curiously, we came across a consideration of the report in the section of the Toronto Star that normally concerns itself with automobiles (reviews of new models, road congestion issues and so forth).  This is a major section of the weekend edition of the country’s biggest newspaper in terms of readership eyes and advertising revenue and is a double section on Saturday.  This weekend, for example, the Wheels section contained a worthless review of a Lambourghini sports car – a psychotic artefact few of us will ever see let alone drive or purchase – yet was unable to completely ignore the WHO report.  Maybe this is a sign important messages about liveability, safety and alternatives to the car are sinking in around the Greater Toronto Area?

Smackdown: Is Canada friendly enough to cyclists and pedestrians?
Toronto Star

Global status report on road safety 2013
WHO

Police Ticket Cyclists While UN Slams Canada for Failing to Design Safe Streets raisethehammer.org

image: Diplodicus by Heinrich Harber, 1916 via Wikimedia Commons

(288) Living wages

386PX-~1A direct approach to easing suburban poverty would seem to be found in wages.  If suburban poverty is about precarious employment in dispersed, lower wage jobs, thin transportation resources, weak access to social services, and lack of affordable and appropriate housing options then why wouldn’t wages be a good place to start?  In the UK a movement for living wages is edging into the national debate just as the country appears poised for brutal austerity and economic contraction which will be very difficult for the poor.  Certainly, the idea of living wages has been kicking around social policy circles in most developed countries for decades and perhaps the economic craziness of the last few years has brought it forward.

In Canada, we see British Columbia’s Simon Fraser University adopt living wages as a specific policy …and finding itself able to afford to do so.  It seems a sensible argument can be made that living wages are good for people and what is good for people is good for business.  The very idea of a minimum wage is simply obsolete.  Not only can few live on them but business interests and their lobbyists, at least in English-speaking countries, tend to take offence to notions of raising minimum wages.  It’s harder to argue against living wages, which are an expression of justice in an age where a job doesn’t protect you from being poor.

CBC’s The National visited Hamilton, ON in 2012 to look at what a transition from minimum to living wages might mean.  That clip, and other material, is available on the Living Wage Hamilton site.

Living wage will cost SFU less than 0.1 per cent of budget: report
The Tyee

Living Wage Foundation UK

Beyond the Bottom Line: Challenges and Opportunities of the Living Wage  
77-page .pdf file resolutionfoundation.org January 2013

image: Bundesarkiv via Wikimedia Commons