Tag Archives: Ontario

(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

(283) Natural capital near the GTHA [Report]

new high point mall 200Something like half of Canada’s best farm country can be seen from the top of the CN Tower.  Sure, that Toronto edifice is the world’s tallest free standing structure but that doesn’t make for a lot of farm land for Canada to feed herself from.  Both of these ideas are cliches that have been in circulation since the mid 1970s.

What you can also see from up there is a zillion dollars worth of suburban development.  In a growth-crazed Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area few can imagine life any other way.  In time, we may come to ask if exchanging all that good, green, food-producing land for a brittle horizon filled with worn out, low grade garbage architecture was all that good an idea.  Better the questions start now while there is something to conserve.  This is what the Suzuki Foundation has in mind with its most recent report.  An opinion piece in the Toronto Star introduces the report, a document deserving wide readership.

From the report:

“Some regions of the country, like the Golden Horseshoe surrounding Toronto, have been blessed with an abundance of Class 1 soils. But an increasing proportion of the best soils in the Golden Horseshoe and in most urbanized regions of Canada now lie beneath sprawling housing developments, highways, strip malls and other infrastructure. As urban communities have grown over the years, agricultural lands and natural areas have far too often been drained, dug up and paved over.
…our growing cities sprawl over what once was mostly farmland. Only 5 per cent of Canada’s entire land base is suitable for growing food. At the same time, urban uses have consumed more than 7,400 square kilometres of dependable farmland in recent decades.”

Urban sprawl is destroying Ontario’s farmland star.com

Nature on the Edge: natural capital and Ontario’s growing Golden Horseshoe
davidsuzuki.org for full report as a 31-page .pdf file

(282) It’s more than poverty [Report]

UnemployedMarchThe hollowed out nature of many working lives in the Greater Toronto-Hamilton area is the subject of a new report from McMaster University Social Sciences and the United Way.  Using Statistics Canada data, interviews and previous United Way research the authors delve into one of the major determinants of the quality of life in Ontario: precarious employment.  This should be a major embarrassment to the system.  Working people with serious intentions who do their part remain in poverty or in fear of poverty.  They work for cash, have intermittent, insecure employment arrangements in the form of limited hours of work, temporary and on-call status and a weak grip on wages let alone pensions and benefit plans.  Even university lecturers live this way.  The result is a depressing under-utilization of human capital and a reduction in the resilience of our society and a reduction in the standard of living.  Precarious employment places a negative slant on nearly all aspects of the individual’s life and these effects become manifest in the public realm.  The 120-page report is available at the link below in .pdf format.  If any single issue in the life of this province needs to be brought out of obscurity for clarification and remedy it is this one.  The Toronto Star devoted a good amount of space to the report with numerous personal profiles.  Other mainstream media outlets have covered the report but its release just before the mindless hype and over commentary driven by the Oscars may not have been such a hot idea.

It’s more than poverty: employment precarity and household well-being
via globeandmail.com

Insecure Jobs Destabilize Communities
United Way press release

Half of GTA and Hamilton workers in ‘precarious’ jobs
Toronto Star – see profiles link on left navigation

PEPSO: population and employment precarity in southern Ontario
research project

image: unemployed single men’s march in 1930s Toronto – via Wikimedia Commons

(275) Brampton 2

Züm_Queen_Kennedy_NWThe suburban-poverty.com Lear Jet finds itself touching down in Brampton, ON …yet again!  The Toronto Star’s urban affairs columnist Christopher Hume continues to blaze a trail across suburbia a step or two ahead of us.  Hume is realistic, dry and barely contains his sarcasm in the land of clothes line bans and monster homes.  Locals counterattack viciously in the comment boxes, advising Hume to stay downtown with the other density-loving, latte sipping yuppies.  Almost the inverse of the previous posting’s problem this time the issue is a housing form with too much visibility.  A massive monster home grows in an older suburb.  The owner/builder wants his extended village-sized family under one roof.  To do this he has to go big.  It could get ugly.  Well, actually, ugly it already is.

The point is not what is going on at a single address in Brampton.  Larger issues present themselves.  Again, if this is the best the culture can do to get started working out the housing challenges of the twenty-first century then it doesn’t say much for us.

Now, where did we put our latte spoon?

Brampton monster home controversy exposes suburbanites’ fear of density

Monster homes are here to stay despite Brampton’s new bylaw

image: a taco establishment behind one of Brampton’s groovy new bus stops by Secondarywaltz via Wikimedia Commons

(274) Illegal apartments

800px-Bungalow_(PSF)A form of second class citizenship results from having a bad landlord.  It is remarkably stressful for working people when a property owner is outside the law regarding the state of repair, provision of heat in winter, increases in rent, fire and electrical safety, lighting, ventilaton, crowding, cleaning, and snow removal reasonably expected by a rent paying tenant.  Anecdotes about bad landlords and substandard/illegal apartments, particularly in the basements of houses designed for single family living, are never hard to come by.  Students, immigrants, low income workers, the mentally ill and retired persons often find themselves in substandard housing because they are economically vulnerable.  Exaggerated real estate values also compel property owners to consider shoddy installations of poor quality suites and basement apartments at least as much as simple greed does.

Even a casual use of Internet search terms such as “illegal apartments” followed by virtually any North American suburban place name yields a peek into a massive social change for the worse taking place in North America. This is true from Vancouver to Boston.  Such a change represents the mainstreaming of substandard housing and is another feature of poverty associated with traditional urban social difficulty now fully rooted in suburbia.

To wit: Brampton, Ontario, Canada.  In 1998 Brampton banned basement apartments.  They were cited as unsafe and not appropriate to the single-family ideal of a fast-growing, low-density suburb.  Basement apartments were said to be fire hazards that also bring an unwelcome increase in vehicle parking, create unplanned demand for schools, police, libraries, parks and garbage removal.  Extra basement-dwelling tenants are even cited for lowering water pressure at certain times of day!  There is truth in all these things but the story does not end there.  Brampton is now thought to have about thirty thousand illegal basement apartments.  Some houses have had such apartments for decades.

Brampton’s situation can hardly be unique.  Suburbs all over North America are being forced to adapt to change.  A basement apartment represents a cheap, unimaginative, fast, minimalist approach to keeping people housed.  The single-family home-based suburb is obsolete. Super-sized monster homes and rooming houses encroach on moderate homes and the result is uneasy.  Thing is, where is the alternative?  We have barely begun to conceive of what it might look like.

Brampton residents battle over basement suites-which are illegal, apparently
Toronto Life

Jan Wong: the simmering class war over basement apartments in Brampton
Toronto Life

Brampton, to the northwest of Toronto, has just over half a million people and is one of Canada’s fastest-growing communities.  In the early 1970s much of it was still agricultural land.  Older Queens, New York, home to more than two million, finds the issue of illegal apartments similarly tough.  To crack down on all the illegal housing in Queens would make life harder for many tenants who need cheap, basic places to live.  At the same time, the illegal units can be burdensome.  They represent unsafe conditions, can be crowded, their owners are not paying proper taxes, and tenants may be exploited.  What to do?

Housing: illegal conversions
Queens borough president official illegal conversion page

Fire Reveals Illegal Homes Hide in Plain Sight
NYT

How about the introduction of the rule of law to basement land and substandard landlords?  Respect for tenants is already enshrined in the law in Canada and the United States.  Slack standards and a lack of inspection endanger people.  We have the meltdown in the British and American banking systems to remind us that market-driven openness can be taken too far.  A tenant is not a colony to be exploited, they are in a buiness reationship with their landlord.  A little more balance at City Hall would help tenants get value for their money.

Landlords have rights and concerns yet many may be in a position to legalize and improve their suites with relative ease and at reasonable cost.  Others will need to be shut down, tossed in jail even.  The system must enforce existing, reasonable laws.  After that, a little imagination and a lot of investment, public and private, should be leveraged to support good housing alternatives.  Right now, it seems like North Americans can’t even imagine how to economically house themselves for a world of cultural changes, super storms, global warming, financial difficulty and energy scarcity.  This will change one way or another.

image: Scott Forseman via Wikimedia Commons

(265) Downtown core sees office jobs returning [Report]

It looks as if jobs may be starting to follow people back into urban centres.  At least, this appears to be the trend for the Greater Toronto Area according to a new report from one of the big banks.  According to its author, “New business creation, employment gains and population growth in the downtown core are now outpacing that in the surrounding suburbs, reversing a decades-long trend…”  Some 4.7 million square feet of office space were added to downtown Toronto between 2000 and now, according to the report.  This compares to 3.9 million square feet over the same period for all four regions surrounding Toronto (Halton, Durham, York, Peel).  These regions pursued aggressive economic development strategies that cost Toronto jobs and population over the years.  Banks, for example, were often found locating new office space and facilities in suburban areas.  Their work forces were also keen on living in detached housing in those areas.  The so-called Echo Boomers and Millennials, the future office work force, by all accounts, prefer downtown locations and this must surely also be incentivizing employers and office developers.  Interesting, …if worrisome for the economic prospects of suburbia.

Toronto – a return to the core 3-page .pdf file from TD Economics

See also: (261) A great inversion [Book review]

image: French postcard via Wikimedia Commons