Wednesday, July 19, 2006

City Politicians Trying to Hike Own Pay

Toronto city council's Policy and Finance Comittee is pushing forward a proposal to raise the salaries of all councillors and the mayor, to be decided on mext week. David Miller, Howard Moscoe and a host of other municipal politcians are publicly supporting this move. Presently a Toronto councillor salary is 87,000 (around three times the average Canadian income) and the mayor's salary is 147,856 (around five times the average Canadian's income). The self-serving rationale being offered by the mayor and councillors is that such a move is necessary in order to attract talent to the positions. This is an outrageous claim as these positions are supposed to be a public service, not a position for personal advancement at the public expense. In reality this is nothing more than a display of these politicians culture of entitlement.

Wage Still Too Low! Rent Still Too High!

Canadian politics seem to have been dominated by a few, select issues in the last couple of years. While these social topics get played up by media and others, the basic issues that affect most people get little attention.

Take for example rent and pay. Every person in Toronto, and indeed in World, needs a place to live and a way to pay for it. For too long, working people in Toronto have been faced with the dilemma of having to pay exorbitant rents on low wages.

Since both of these rent and wages are dependant on government policy in Ontario, as the provincial government sets the minimum wages and sets how much rent can be increased by (or can order rents to be frozen, meaning not increased), it is almost astounding that there has been so little mention of these issues in the media or by the mainstream political parties at election time or elsewhere.

However, it isn’t that surprising when realizing how the lack of public spotlight on these issues has lead to making working people poorer. During the early years of the Harris Conservatives, a lot of noise was made (and with justification) about the increases in rents that were taking place. A report by the Canadian Mortgage and
Housing Corporation in 2003 revealed that between 1993 – 2003, rents had increased
41% overall in the GTA. One can certainly assume that this figure is higher, since this report was based on figures voluntarily submitted by landlords!

Similarly, many pointed to the lack of increase to the already too low minimum wage throughout this period, which remained at a measly $6.75/ hr. The Liberals took advantage of the anger around the affect that these issues were having on working people and promised to bring solutions. In reality though, they have continued the policies that people in Ontario voted them to overturn.

The Liberals have refused to institute rent freezes, have cut into social assistance and have not addressed the issue of living wages for many workers and their families.
Minimum wage isn’t only an issue for those who make it, as a low minimum wage depresses the wages of the rest of the population. While an estimated 621 000 people in Canada work on or below a minimum wage, more than 1.2 Million workers in Ontario worked in jobs that paid below the poverty level in 2000.

McGuinty and his cronies argue that their meager increases to the minimum wage, which will be up to $8/hr by the end of 2008, are a solution to this problem. Their math doesn’t add up! Earning $8/hr for 40hrs per week, equals a before-tax total of $320 dollars per week. This would mean that the gross amount of money earned by a worker on minimum wage for a month would be $1280 before taxes.

With huge waiting lists for subsidized housing in the City and with the average cost of a two bedroom apartment at $1027 per month, there are thousands of Toronto families living cheque to cheque. In a 2005 submission to the government, the Vanier Institute of the Family said the minimum wage in now “not even close” to being a living wage, and added that “even two minimum wages in a household will not protect its children from the short-term and long-term consequences of poverty.”

Indeed, taking into account the average cost of a two bedroom apartment and factoring in minimum $524 grocery allowance needed by a family according to Toronto Public Health, a $99.75 MetroPass to commute to work, plus ‘luxuries’ such as clothes and home supplies, a living wage cannot be lower that $14/hr!

Implementing an actual living wage has a positive ripple effect on the economy, as people have more disposable income to spend. Even many economist agree that this is will have a positive effect on the economy. So why is it that there has been so little action on this? Truth is companies have an interest in keeping wages down, and keeping people poor. Having low minimum wages coupled with unemployment means that overall wages can be kept low, and people will still work for them because they need to try and provide for themselves and their families. In short, low minimum wages means more profits for big businesses and the people who own them.

Moreover, it must be said that most politicians either have no idea what the reality of most working people is, or simply don’t care. This is even reflected in the bureaucracies of the state. In a report on poverty, the Chief Statistician of Canada declared that in terms of income, “being significantly worse off than the average does not necessarily mean that one is poor.”

A huge portion of working people, particularly those in cities and immigrants, do not vote and are not the sources of campaign donations for the elections campaigns of those sitting in Queen’s Park or Parliament Hill. With City elections around the corner, and Provincial elections next year, those of us who know this reality need to create movements that will ensure that these issues are front and center.

Rents must be immediately frozen. Minimum wage must be increased to living wage levels of no less than $14/hr in order to actually address to the main problems that working people face every day!

Climate Change: The Real Threat to Our "National Security"

The science is in: climate change is real, it’s caused by man-made pollution, and the impacts could be catastrophic on a global level, up to and including the destruction of human civilization. Yet despite this threat the Conservatives plan to do even less than the Liberals!

Instead of vigorously implementing the Kyoto Protocol, a modest international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to six percent below 1990 levels, the Harper regime has proposed a vague program of voluntary, non-binding (and therefore toothless) “targets” in cooperation with “industry” and the provinces. This strategy, despite its promotion as a “Made In Canada” solution, is actually straight out of the policy book of George W. Bush. While the Conservatives love to point out that the US has had lower increases in emissions than Canada in recent years, they neglect to mention that much of our rise in emissions comes from increased extraction of oil and natural gas for export back to the US.

To understand the government’s lack of concern, look at who suffers the most immediately due to climate change. It’s not the people who finance the politicians’ election campaigns. It won’t be the CEOs of the oil and gas companies, nor the ad agencies that encourage endless consumption as a means to personal fulfillment.
They are not the ones living in substandard housing that gets decimated by extreme weather, or get E-coli poisoning from contaminated water, or die prematurely due to poor air quality. The people who set the government’s priorities exist in a highly sheltered and custom-made environment, able to afford the best air conditioners and water filters, organic food at triple the normal price, and flights to vacation beach resorts unspoiled by toxic waste dumping. They have made sure that the costs of their polluting has been dumped on working people. It is these narrow interests that Harper wants to “cooperate” with in setting our country’s response to climate change.

The good news is that climate crisis can be solved. Our society has the tools available to fix the problem. Wind, solar, geothermal, and tidal power are hardly new technologies. Neither is the streetcar, bus, or subway. Combining already existing technologies with a commitment to sustainable urban planning, higher efficiency standards in industry, buildings, and consumer products can drastically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions well beyond the targets set by Kyoto. What is needed is an anti-imperialist environmental mass movement capable of forcing such changes.

The environment is a national security issue not Afghanistan! Implement
Kyoto as a first step!

Canada’s Role in Afghanistan

Stephen Harper’s government is desperately trying to justify the war in Afghanistan, claiming that we are in Afghanistan to “defend our national interests, ensure Canadian leadership in world affairs, and help Afghanistan rebuild” (presumably by destroying it more?). As usual the corporate media bombards us daily with reassurances that Canada should remain in Afghanistan and that it is playing a noble role. The truth could not be further from those claims.

In reality neither Canada, nor the other invading NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Alliance) powers are wanted in Afghanistan. The Afghani people have expressed their discontent through continued resistance in the countryside and multiple uprisings in Kabul, triggered by abuses by foreign soldiers and the fact that Canada is helping prop up a puppet warlord drug regime. These uprisings have been violently repressed by the U.S., Canada and other foreign powers.

This war represents Canada’s participation in George W. Bush’s “war on terror”. Pretensions of rendering humanitarian services are a secondary window dressing to what is in fact a combat mission. Canadian troops are being sent to Afghanistan in order to free up American soldiers for the continuing war in Iraq. The U.S. government considers Afghanistan important because it has sought for years to build key oil pipelines from neighbouring Turkmenistan (part of the Caspian Sea Basin which is estimated to contain as much oil as Saudi Arabia) through Afghanistan. Picking up on this Harper is cynically throwing away more Afghani and Canadian lives to angle for a piece of that market for Canadian based oil and gas companies.

To complete this aim, Canada and other powers are propping up an unpopular puppet leader in Afghanistan’s capital city of Kabul and attempting to expand this colonial government by recruiting drug warlords in the countryside. The thugs of these warlords are then referred to here in the press as the “Afghan Security Forces”. All for oil pipelines and the continued foreign occupation of Iraq, Stephen Harper is willing to sacrifice the lives of countless thousands in this escalating role as an unwanted occupying power in collaboration with George W. Bush.

Harper’s claims that Canada must not back down from its commitments are cynical and wholly unbelievable, as he had no problem canceling the popular commitment to both the national childcare program and Kyoto. In reality there was no commitment from the Canadian people to this war. We were never consulted. The Liberals and now the Conservatives have simply thrown us into this mess without one iota of public consultation and the NDP has voted to stay as well. It’s fallen to us to raise our voices: Canadian troops out of Afghanistan now!

Who’s Who in the Harper Regime: a people’s guide

Despite the “modern” and “inclusive” image the Conservatives tried to push during the elections, Harper’s cabinet is overall rich, white, rural and male. It is unlikely any of these people have ever had to worry about paying the rent or how they were going to pay off their student loans since they come from backgrounds of wealth and priviledge: lawyers, bureaucrats, CEOs, businessmen and corporate flunkies. Let’s take a closer look at a select few of the Conservative Party’s “best and brightest”:

Minister of International Trade
A former bureaucrat and CEO of a bank, airport, and logging company, Emerson revealed both his own lack of principles and the minimal differences between the Liberals and Conservatives when he jumped ship to Harper government immediately after the election, keeping the same cabinet position he had under Martin. This from the man who less than a year ago referred to the Tories as “blatantly opportunistic, partisan and misleading the Canadian people.”

Minister of Public Works
A wealthy banker, lawyer, and backroom Conservative organizer in Quebec, Fortier couldn’t get elected to the House of Commons so Harper appointed Fortier as a minister and Senator, meaning the person in charge of the multi-billion dollar Public Works ministry won’t have to face questioning by opposition politicians in the parliament. So much for Harper’s talk of “democratic accountability.”

Minister of Health
Clement got his start as a conservative student “activist” when he invited the ambassador of apartheid South Africa to speak at the University of Toronto. He went on to play a key role in drafting Mike Harris’ “Common Sense Revolution”. His role as health minister in the Tory government earned him the nickname “Two Tier Tony” for his support for the privatization of health care, closing of public hospitals, and laying off thousands of nurses right before the SARS crisis.

Minister of Public Safety
The person now in charge of the government’s secret police (RCMP and CSIS) believes that the Earth is only 6,000 years old and that dinosaurs walked the earth at the same time as humans. Day showed his diplomatic skills when he refused to send condolences on the death of Yasser Arafat because David Frum, George W. Bush’s speechwriter, speculated (without foundation) that the Palestinian leader may have died of AIDS. Day calls himself “pro-life” but he criticized the then Martin government for not joining in the US’ bloody war of bombing and occupation in Iraq. His greatest achievement was turning the Alliance Party into a laughingstock during the 2000 federal elections with his awkward media stunts. Anyone remember the jet-ski incident?

Minister of Finance
One of the most right-wing members of the former Mike Harris provincial government, Flaherty oversaw budgets that slashed services to working families while giving massive tax cuts to the rich. During the 2002 PC leadership campaign Flaherty proposed throwing the homeless in jail, tax credits for private school tuition to undermine public education, and privatizing the LCBO.

Minister of Citizenship and Immigration
Solberg’s qualifications? He owns a meat packing plant in south eastern Alberta, an almost entirely white rural riding. This means that not only does he have no experience with the issues that immigrants face, he also won’t have to face the backlash of outraged constituents directly impacted if his policies hurt newcomers to Canada.

Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
A former lawyer and Minister of Labour in Manitoba, Toews is known for his anti-worker, proprivatization policies. In 2005, he pleaded guilty to violating elections laws by overspending during his 1999 provincial election campaign. A vocal homophobe, Toews opposes same sex marriage and giving gays and lesbians protection under hate crimes laws. He is also against decriminalizing marijuana, so we can look forward to seeing more youth in jail and more tax dollars going to chasing down potheads instead of dealing with real crimes that harm communities.

Minister of the Environment
In a time of climate change, environmental degradation, and the highest rate of species extinction since the dinosaurs, who does Harper pick as the head of the ministry of the environment? An MP straight out of the Alberta oil patch with no record on environmental issues and little experience in general, other than having been an advisor to Ralph Klein’s government (which opposes the Kyoto protocol). Her only claim to fame is for her opposition to providing working families with an affordable national daycare program on the grounds that “working women want to make their own choices, we donʼt need old white guys telling us what to do.” Way to stick up for the sisterhood, Ms. Ambrose.

Minister of Defense
Former occupation: Lobbyist for the arms industry, including such defense contractors as Airbus Military, United Defense, General Dynamics Canada and BAE Systems. Current job: in charge of “rebuilding” the military (in other words buying guns and bombs from the same people he used to work for so that Canada’s military will be better equipped to help the USA occupy Third World countries). Harper is against politicians becoming lobbyists, but lobbyists becoming politicians is apparently just fine.


Almost three years ago, the people of Toronto elected a mayor who projected himself as the saviour for communities who suffered under the Federal Liberal, Provincial Conservatives and Mel Lastman crooks. Not only were we promised an end to corruption, but also social housing, improved transit and more. Three years later, with another Municipal election looming at the end of the year, what exactly did Mayor Miller do for us?

Let’s look at the track record.

Organizations such as the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) have pointed out that while having been elected as the ‘people’s mayor’, the one who would focus attention to improvement of services and programs for communities, Miller has instead cozied-up to the very people he was supposed to be against. While drop-ins such as the one at 60 Richmond have closed, no new social housing units have been built in the City at all. On the contrary, the shelter by-laws that limit the amount of beds in shelter within given communities as well as gentrification projects such as the Regent Park re-development will ensure that Miller’s legacy will leave Toronto with less housing and shelter for poor and working class people.

Over the last couple of years, there have not only been significant Police scandals involving corruption and abuse, but also extreme cases of police brutality. In some of these cases, the Police have even murdered. Such was the case for example of Jeffrey Reodica, a Filipino youth who was shot in the back by undercover police. Despite this, Miller’s City Hall has rewarded these unprecendented abuses with the largest ever increase in Police funding for the City of Toronto.

Miller campaigned hard on affordable Public Transit. Over the last couple of years, TTC fares have increased dramatically and are facing another hike in April. We are told that despite the City’s $8 Billion budget, there is no money and so this is necessary. The reality is that the Mayor and his City Hall have chosen to increase their revenue on the backs of the poor and working class through property tax increases, fares and other user fees. With these revenues, they have chosen to prioritize massive increases in dollars to a repressive and increasingly corrupt Police force, instead of social services and community programs that act as preventatives to crime.

Some say that he can deliver on those social promises with another term.
This is highly doubtful if we look at who will be running his re-election campaign.
Among those who will be organizing to get David Miller re-elected are former Conservative cabinet Minister David Crombie, former Ontario Liberal Premier David Peterson and John Laschinger, Belinda Stronach’s Conservative Leadership race organizer as campaign director.

Miller has made it evident that the interest of working people are not his priority.
With almost 10 months until the election and no alternative candidate who even pretends to care about working people and the poor, people have to build to show that they want substance, not empty promises.

Regent Park: Renaissance or Rip Off?

400 Households have been demolished and almost 1200 residents have been relocated. With the new developer yet to be announced as of publication, it isn’t clear whether the new Stephen Harper government will even follow through on the previous arrangements for Federal funding to urban centres. That’s no small problem when one considers that the entire redevelopment plan concocted by the Toronto Community Housing Corporation and City Hall, depends on 90 million dollars in Provincial and Federal funding. Many remain justifiably skeptical about the motives behind this. As it stands, the whole plan will actually reduce the number of rent geared to income units in Regent, and turn over sections of the Park to private condo developers and commercial businesses.

The first phase is no exception as most of the units built will be for market rate sale. While the idea of a new look and some building upgrades has appeal, was it really necessary to sneak in a back door partial gentrification? Is this the pill we are supposed to swallow just in order to get building disrepair addressed? It’s high time, and still not too late for an organized community response.