Friday, October 27, 2006

City Elections means little to Workers

Working people in Toronto have been offered little this year, despite having seen at least two, and in some areas three elections this year.

This fall, 44 new Councillors and a new Mayor will be elected for City Hall.

The prospect of any change is minimal, as the main opponents to David Miller are disorganized and have little base of support other than small pockets of people who want to see even more cops on the street, homeless people in jail and privatized social housing.

The likes of Jane Pitfield, Cesar Palacio, Peter Lipreti and others have spent most of their time pushing for these things and other policies that keep pressure on working people.

However, it is becoming increasingly evident, even inside Miller’s campaign that 3 years of a Miller lead City Hall has left a lot to be desired in the minds and wallets of Toronto workers.

Miller’s City Hall has made some positive steps in addressing some environmental concerns, but it has also put more money to Police at a time when police brutality and corruption are being exposed more than ever in this City. It has also increased user fees on services such as the TTC, made little or no progress on issues of addressing affordable housing, and moved to ban homeless people from sleeping in City Hall.

City Hall for its part, like every other level of government, blames another level of government. And while other levels of government are also to blame, the sentiments of Toronto workers is undeniable – Miller’s priorities are out of whack.

Faced with no mayoral race and very little discussion of actual issues, it is likely that voter turnout will not increase beyond last elections 35%.

Nonetheless, people can still raise awareness about issues such as affordable housing and social services, and a real answer to the difficulties faced by working people and families.

Organize the block for better housing!

Toronto Community Housing Corporation has begun a series of ‘consultations’ around proposed plans to tear down and re-build Lawrence Heights, in a similar way as was done in Regent Park.

There is no question that Lawrence Heights needs repairs and investment from government. However, Lawrence Heights residents should be active and should ask questions to find out how this will TRULY impact working people of Lawrence Heights:

Where will people be moved to?

In the case of Regent Park, residents were given the option of either staying in Regent and moving houses, going to another TCHC property, or getting out of TCHC all together. Some people had to move as far as Hamilton. Where will people be forced to move?

Will TCHC, or another level of government pay for moving expenses?

Moving is a difficult and expensive process. Moving can easily cost a few hundred dollars plus whatever costs are associated with missing work. Will residents have to pay for this out of their own pocket?

Are the number of Rent-Geared to income housing going to be increased?

In Chicago, similar public housing re-developments have lead to a decrease in the real number of RGI units. In Regent, the number of RGI units has stayed the same.

Are families going to have more space in the proposed new development?

The Regent Park redevelopment was expressedly designed to pack people into a tighter space. Since Lawrence Heights is less dense than Regent, is TCHC going to try and do the same at Lawrence Heights?

Are there going to be measures taken to ensure that reconstruction does not have negative affects for the health of the community?

Demolition can release a lot of debris into the air, and with old buildings there may be building materials that can have detrimental affects on the health of people in the community.

Is there guaranteed funding for the reconstruction, and what are the consequences of money being pulled mid way through?
The Federal government has recently made it clear that they will only give half of the $2.2 Billion that they had previous promised the Provincial government for housing. The Provincial government in turn is not releasing any of that money to the City, much of which is earmarked for Regent Park.
What will happen if something similar happens? Will people be pushed out and more space be turned over to condo developers?

Will re-development make TCHC more responsive to the community?

In every TCHC block, working people know about the lack of responsiveness of TCHC when it comes to repairs and security. The TCHC tenant representative organs have little power to influence things so that this continues.

So how will this re-development make Toronto a better landlord?

Many other questions need to be asked about how this may impact the community, and any proposals for re-development have to answer these questions.

The Community also needs local jobs and economic development that can be achieved if plans for re-development incorporate these through measures such as setting up micro-credit investment to give locals first crack at setting up bakeries and other small business.

Working people of Lawrence Heights cannot afford to sleep on this issue. We have to assert ourselves and demand that our needs be addressed, otherwise the so-called ‘consultations’ will be little more than public relations campaigns for the plans that TCHC and others already have.

* Organize the block!
* Demand Better, More affordable housing!
* Make TCHC act on repairs

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Captive Nations: Ombudsman Slams Justice System's Treatment of First Nations

The Office of the Correctional Investigator released a report on Monday blasting the federal Correctional Service for its treatment of the First Nations in Canada. First Nations peoples make up 18.5 per cent of the prison population despite being only 2.7 per cent of the population of Canada and are nine times more likely to go to jail than the population at large. In Western provinces the situation is even worse, where Natives make up 60 percent of the inmate population.

Once inside the justice system, First Nations fare worse than non-First Nations. They are less likely to get sentenced to community supervision and are frequently "over-classified" - ie. sent to maximum security instead of medium - forcing them to serve their time far from their homes, families, elders, and communities. They have less access to rehabilitative services, such as education, job training, or addictions counseling. They are released much later into their sentences and are more likely to get their parole yanked and sent back to prison on technical grounds.

While this injustice has grown worse in recent years, it is hardly new. "Despite years of task force reports, internal reviews, national strategies, partnership agreements and action plans, there has been no measurable improvements in the conditions for aboriginal offenders during the last 20 years," Sapers said. The pattern of sweeping the problem under the rug continues, as Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said he would "take the report under consideration" but denied that there was any evidence of systemic discrimination against First Nations in the prison system.

Such avoidance makes sense, since having impoverished and locked-up First Nations communities benefits powerful interests in our society. The First Nations have repeatedly and consistently struggled to defend their sovereignty and land rights, arousing the ire of the government and their corporate backers. Traditional, unceded First Nations territory includes lucrative fishing areas on the East and West coasts, massive oil and uranium deposits in the prairies, hydroelectric projects in northern Quebec, rich logging areas all over Canada, and more. Even those lands that lack natural resources are still be considered useful - as dumping grounds for solid or toxic waste that would be politically unacceptable in richer, whiter, parts of the country. As long as we have a government in power that views strong, vibrant, First Nations communities as a threat to their power and control - rather than allies in the struggle for justice - we can look forward to another decade of government stonewalling, sabotage, denial, and repression.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Congratulations DPR Korea!

On October 9th, the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK) announced “with 100% of sheer indigenous wisdom and technology… under secure conditions… at a stirring time when all the people of the country are making a great leap forward in the building of a great, prosperous, powerful socialist nation” the successful underground testing of a nuclear bomb. Predictably, the United States blasted the test as a “provocative act threatening international peace and stability” and threatened sanctions.

The corporate media has been demonizing Kim Jong Il, calling him a "madman" for wanting a nuclear bomb. But given the world situation, wouldn't he be insane not to? Look no farther than Iraq. The Saddam regime in Iraq destroyed their stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons (supplied by the United States during the Iran/Iraq war it should be noted), agreed to weapons inspections, and never had a nuclear weapons program. Yet for the crime of nationalising its oil production, the United States killed 1.5 million Iraqis through a decade of sanctions and bombings, then invaded and occupied the country, established a puppet government, and fomented civil war, killing an additional 600,000+ in the process. The United States (along with Japan) has been threatening to do the same to the DPRK since the end of Korean War in 1953. The DPRK has repeatedly sought one-on-one negotiations with the US to end hostilities and to sign a mutual non-aggression pact. In other words, they want peace. The US has rejected these calls and continues to maintain tens of thousands of its troops in South Korea, along with aviation, artillery, and armoured brigades. In these conditions, the only way for the DPRK to maintain its national sovereignty is to have sufficient military force to deter the United States from turning them into another Iraq.

That the United States would rattle its sabers over the DPRK's testing of a nuclear bomb is beyond hypocritical. The US has a stockpile of over 10,000 nuclear weapons - more than enough to destroy all life on Earth - and have conducted 1,127 nuclear tests of their own. They are the only country in the world to maintain a "first strike" policy and under the Bush regime have amended that policy to include "first strikes" against even non-nuclear adversaries. They are also the only country to actually use nuclear weapons in warfare. They bombed the civilian cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki even though they knew that the Japanese were attempting to open surrender negotiations via the Soviet Union. If nuclear disarmament has to start anywhere, it's in the United States. Until then, countries targeted by imperialism have the right to defend themselves!

Tories All Talk, No Action On Climate Change

The calls of environmental scientists and activist groups have been unanimous: Steven Harper's government must take immediate action to limit greenhouse gas emissions. More than 50 environmental groups united in a letter sent to Harper demanding regulation of big-industry emitters by 2008 and re-commitment to the Kyoto Protocol. Harper's response? More talk and little action.

The talk itself sounds great. While promoting new legislation, Harper claimed that "Canada's Clean Air Act will allow us to move industry from voluntary compliance to strict regulation. It will replace the current ad-hoc patchwork system with clear, consistent and comprehensive national standards." So why are the environmentalists still not happy?

The problem is that Harper's new Clean Air Act is just a stalling tactic. The federal government already has the power under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act to enact strong regulations on industry that would force them to immediately reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. By bringing in new legislation, Harper has guaranteed inaction on the climate change issue until the legislation is fully enacted, which can take years. In the meantime, industry gets to keep their profits up by not investing in new, cleaner technology and proper pollution control and reduction. Steven Harper and the previous Liberal governments have put the short term interests of polluting corporations ahead of dealing with what is now undeniably the single greatest crisis facing humanity as a whole.