Tag Archives: Canada

(222) Norway for Canada: a role model? …Duh!

We’d like to think that despite the influence of neoconservatism, capital export, a colonial heritage, general public apathy and the pressures of a global economy that our fellow Canadians are reasonable and intelligent enough to find the best possible approaches to the issues of the day by themselves.  Should confusion set in we could seek an external role model.  We could choose much, much worse than Norway.  In comparing the two a mix of similarities and differences emerges, both countries are wintery places with powerful neighbours in which natural resources play a big role in the economy, especially oil.

Canadians better feel a little uneasy when comparing their management of resources to how it’s done in a much smaller, more socially and politically cohesive Norway.  Norway has managed to amass a money chest via its oil resources in the form of a $600 billion dollar bank account.  Alberta is sitting on less than twenty.  The royalty charged on a barrel of oil from Canada is a fraction of what Norway charges.

As the comparison expands, the greater the need for Gravol becomes on the part of the Canadian reader.  Norway is plowing its oil wealth into health, education, culture and infrastructure.  Oh to be in their shoes and have their problems!  Canadians are  standing around carping about their taxes, buying lotto tickets and racking up credit card debt, selling resources cheap to whoever comes along and praying the real estate market doesn’t crash.  Norway, meanwhile, develops itself in substantial ways for the long term.

While looking into this topic, suburban-poverty.com came across a series in The Tyee, a west coast publication.  If suburban-poverty.com could sponsor a major journalism award with a fancy gala evening, speeches and $100,000 prize, well, this series would be exactly the type of thing we’d nominate.

Secrets to Norway’s Petro-Wealth: Lessons for Canada?
Nine part series – The Tyee

(218) Panhandling

As near as the Research Department can tell, panhandling refers to begging for food for a man’s family in North America during the Great Depression.  Holding out a cooking pot for passersby to place spare change in told others the intentions for the money were honourable.  Certainly begging has been around as long as human society has.  Out on the highway off ramps of suburbia it seems to have arrived, just a little later than the rest of us maybe…

As poverty gets pushed to the suburbs so does panhandling Open File

image: Ed Yourdon via Wikimedia Commons

(217) Inequality

Lady Justice atop the Old Bailey in LondonThe I-word is rapidly becoming one of the defining terms of this era.  Inequality certainly spurred on the Occupy movement and with a little research can be seen to have a powerful skewing effect on just about everything from high levels of student debt in Canada to the American mortgage crisis.  The enhanced inequality we are talking about also comes at a time of bank bailouts, disaster capitalism, rising food and commodity prices, the offshoring of manufacturing from North America and Europe to China and elsewhere.  Even a child can deduce that the neoconservative policies favoured in the West for almost four decades now are the engine of inequality.

Against this nasty picture it was heartening to read the item linked below from the iPolitics site.  It was written by one Diana Carney.  She is a VP at Canada 2020 a progressive think tank based in Ottawa.  Ms. Carney takes a look at Canada’s data and finds the picture not quite as bad across the board as the general public feeling would suggest it is.  Youth and single people are worse off than families in Canada in terms of income gains in recent years, for example.  The Americans are also much worse off than Canada for inequality.  Still, there’s no reason to be smug here or in the other mature industrial democracies, let alone in developing countries.

Perhaps Mrs Carney, and not her Goldman-Sachs alumni of a husband should be running the Bank of England?

Inequality: defining the defining issue of our time

(216) NEWS FLASH: Ford gored & Toronto floored

Conflict of interest has torpedoed Rob Ford.  Like a vacuum cleaner sucking up a budgie, a Toronto judge today ordered that city’s mayor out of office.  Many observers of life here found that this bicycle-hating mayor, an inarticulate, privileged and robust fellow, previously a councillor for Etobicoke, represented one of the worst possible choices for high office in the largest city in the country.

Indeed, goodbye Mayor Ford! Hopefully this is a major nail in the coffin of neoconservatism in Canada.  For decades now these politicos making forays into public office from the right wing just turn out to be bullies and dishonest idiots with no respect for government or the people they are supposed to serve.  They sucker middle class voters and small business owners with promises of tax cuts and simplified solutions to the crises of the moment. No sophistication, no vision, no intelligence just cranky reactionism. And then what do you get from them in office? Mediocrity and bullshit is what. Shame on Toronto for electing this man in the first place, shame on him for being him. Here’s hoping the largest city in the country, the nation’s business and media capital doesn’t go Ford itself ever again.

This shows us that the neoconservatives are not purveyors of some natural, sensible philosophy.  When it comes to municipal life, the layer of government having the most direct influence on the most number of people, they are brutally unsophisticated players on a reactionary mission that is totally inappropriate.  This includes their relationships with business.

This is why power and privilege are given to judges in a liberal democracy where the laws are based on a British system.  That power and privilege may not always be used well or in ways we immediately comprehend and that make us happy.  In this particular case, all three of these things are present.

Cyclists are a pain in the ass YouTube “I will retract the word ass.”

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford brought ouster on himself Toronto Star editorial

photo: Martin Addison via Wikimedia Commons

(213) Highway to wherever

Few single artefacts symbolize the transitional state of major communities in 2012 as much as the elevated expressway.  Conceived in the 1930s, they altered most of North America’s major urban areas in fairly deep ways on behalf of suburbia and automobility.  By the 1960s the glamour of it all was being eclipsed by accidents, energy issues, pollution, congestion, and the social issues associated with exurban growth and the battering ram effect on the physical fabric of cities of highway construction.  Decades after Jane Jacobs (and others) began to propagate an important take on urban reality and autmobile fantasy many cities remain stuck with expressways.

In Canada the undertaking of highway construction was less epic than in the United States because the population was smaller but here in the Greater Toronto Area we have a prime example of a 1940s style dream becoming if not a full on nightmare then at least an expensive pain-in-the-ass called the Gardiner Expressway.  In the picture above stand several support columns from a short stretch of the expressway dismantled about a decade ago and left behind for their raw sculptural value.  How static a fate for an artefact once so full of intentions of movement and dynamism as an expressway.

The Gardiner was possibly the single most important piece of infrastructure in the GTA’s initial transformation from a modest nineteenth century, grid-based city into a sprawling megacity.  Lumps have been falling off of it forever, every few years it gets major rehabilitation work and recently an engineer’s report about the condition of the expressway caused public alarm and much media comment.  Plans to make plans to tear it down and start over come and go frequently.  Keeping the Gardiner is expensive but a tear down and replacement package would be even more expensive.  A situation reproduced in many places where the golden age of automobility and suburban sprawl is past by a full generation or more.

What to do is made all the more important for those with a social conscience or concern for the environment that supports life.  Continued spending on expressways retards the ability of a community to adapt to a changing climate or injustice in its social environment.  Where are the hundreds of millions of dollars going to come from to adapt to a more walkable, cleaner, less carbon producing, quieter, safer, smarter type of city and suburb if we are plowing vast sums into maintaining a way of life dreamed up decades ago that no longer really fits reality and produces all kinds of injustice, including suburban poverty?

Tough choices yes, don’t know if we are exactly seeing a “teardown movement” yet.
A lot of municipalities in the United States are bankrupt or have been in dire financial straits for some time now.  Maybe through neglect and lack of money we’ll see more of a “fall down movement.”  In Canada there seems to be a reluctance to embrace very large and expensive public infrastructure projects in a number of locations.  Fiscal prudence is cited in these cases but we wonder if there is not also a problem of deeper mentality?  Either way, the future is rushing up faster than we think.

Tear down the Gardiner before its too late Royson James in the Toronto Star
See links accompanying article

Toronto’s ghastly Gardiner offers no easy fix CBC News

photo: George Socka via Wikimedia Commons

(211) Poverty Scorecard from CPJ

Citizens for Public Justice is a political advocacy group based in Ottawa taking a stance on social issues informed by a Christian/left/centre perspective.  They have been around for some fifty years, recently producing a report read with much interest at suburban-poverty.com.

The Poverty Trends Scorecard Report analyses Canada’s social landscape.  If you want to know who is in poverty, and where to start to respond, this is a smart, up-to-date document.  The idea is that poverty is wrong because it does harm and we can do something about that harm.  CPJ calls for a national poverty elimination strategy and the scorecard is designed to influence that.  Reading it could make you angry.

CPJ’s Sarah Shepherd, Communications Coordinator for the agency, told suburban-poverty.com yesterday that, “If we could decrease poverty at the same rate we’ve decreased cigarette smoking, it would have been eliminated by now.”  Isn’t that something?  Two decades ago who could have imagined that cigarette smoking would have retreated the way it has?

Shepherd told us the Scorecard’s chart showing a rising general trend for poverty in Canada over the last thirty years was upsetting to see.  “Much has changed since 1981,” she said. “When CD players hadn’t been invented, and only zero-point-five percent of households had a computer but the number in poverty in Canada is still stuck near ten percent.”

“Working-age individuals living alone can be seen as Canada’s forgotten poor with almost one-third of this group in poverty,” Shepherd continued.  “They are the farthest below the poverty line: while just under one third of low-income people lived alone in 1981, this has increased to over half. Not coincidentally, this is the group whose government support has been cut back since the 1990s.”

CPJ and Shepherd are not all doom-and-gloom.  She mentioned a particular development, the all-party panel discussion on Parliament Hill held in February this year.  That discussion led to the establishment of the All-Party Anti-Poverty Caucus, which has over 40 members from the House of Commons and the Senate.  That’s high level, high profile support.  Hopefully their work will be informed by the content of the Scorecard.  The Scorecard deserves to be read within the system, really by all Canadians, …and acted upon!

Poverty Scorecard Canada 2012 25 page .pdf file

Citizens for Public Justice

(205) Our own backyard

Mississauga, the muscular central-westerly expanse of the Greater Toronto Area, has been getting media of late.  Architecture critic and urbanist Christopher Hume of the Toronto Star wrote the other day that he felt as if Alberta begins on the Humber River.  Like others, Hume was reacting to the newness, the commerce, the construction, the hustle-and-bustle found where there was previously an unsatisfying incompleteness of place.  Even those deeply critical of Mississauga’s unimaginative planning and the cozy relationships found there between developers and city hall are taken aback at the sheer scale of things now.

As for the poverty, well, it’s pretty much always been there.  Mississauga is home to a fringe working class, many born Canadians not doing so hot and now joined by newcomers with their own difficulties.  Some new data is available and it got mention in the Mississauga News recently.  A publication primarily acting as a sleeve for advertising flyers is to be encouraged when it devotes even a few square centimetres to those not living in monster homes or ripping up and down Highway 10 in a Lexus SUV.  Cooksville and Malton are the two worst parts of Mississauga if you want to know where the poverty is in this sizeable slab of real estate.  Around the corner from this blog’s offices are neighbourhoods with child poverty rates of twenty and thirty per cent.

Malton, Cooksville among poorest communities

image: Ian Mutoo via Wikimedia Commons

(204) Guelph, ON

Guelph is a city of about 120,000 people located an hour’s drive west of the Greater Toronto Area on the Speed River.  It’s generally a well thought of example of a small city with a good sense of itself.  Statistically, Guelph holds a position many North American communities would deeply envy.  Crime is low, incomes are reasonable, the environment is in pretty good shape.  A university town, Guelph is situated near good agricultural land.  Other employment is found there in retail, government offices, and services along with a certain amount of manufacturing, something that helped build Guelph from the nineteenth century on.  Nonetheless, there are some issues.  How could there not be.  Among them are ones familiar on this blog: growth in inequality, over-emphasis on far-flung and unremarkable suburban development, concerns for the older downtown’s physical and economic well being, declining vacancy rates and public transit and traffic issues.  A source of research and perspective is the Guelph & Wellington Task force for Poverty Elimination.  We enjoyed their 2010 report on public transit and poverty in Guelph.  One of the most consistant findings around here has been in regard to the importance of public transit as a deliberate response to community poverty.  In September the task force released findings on housing issues, another big one for suburban-poverty.com.

The Impact of Public Transit Fees on Low Income Families In Guelph
gwpoverty.ca – also other resources

Guelph Community Foundation Vital Signs Report

image: Wikimedia Commons

(203) ISARC: Ontario faith communities resist poverty…

…and so they should!  The Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition began life in 1986 to contribute to a review of social assisstance being conducted in Ontario at the time.  Here we are in 2012 considering another major review of social assistance.  If you were born in poverty in 1986 you could be having your children in poverty right now.  ISARC represents an attempt by faith communities in answering to their imperatives to respond to poverty.  None of the world’s great faiths let their members or leaders off the hook when it comes to helping others.  ISARC is actually kind of fantastic in that contains elements from Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.  Hindus, Unitarians, Salvation Army and Buddhists as well.  All to the good that they are prepared to add weight to a broad approach to improving life in Ontario.  Later this month they hold their 2012 religious leaders’ forum.  Details on their website along with a variety of other resources.  Take a look at their project in suburban Halton Region.


(199) Burned in Burnaby

Central City, Surrey, BCLower mainland British Columbia has seen pockets of poverty arising in the suburbs (Burnaby, Richmond, Coquitlam, Surrey) while pockets of increased wealth have appeared in the downtown east side.  The latter notorious for the worst social conditions in Canada for as long as anyone can remember.  As is increasingly found in the United States recent immigrants are tending to go directly to suburban areas and suburban poverty.  This item from the Globe & Mail gives the details.  Did you know that Coquitlam got its first permanent homeless shelter this year?

B.C.’s hidden new face of poverty

photo: Surrey, BC via Wikimedia Commons