Hunter Gatherers in Toronto: “What a long strange trip it’s been”

 “As soon as the rent is paid, first thing I do is stock up on food, which generally means I’ve got three days’ worth of food. For the rest of the month I hit soup kitchens, food banks. And I’m allowed to hit the food bank four times a month.  The clothes exchanges provide the clothing, but the problem is, because I haven’t been eating healthy for the last ten years, I’m pretty underweight. So finding clothes that fit, pants especially, I’m currently taking like a 26/30 which is almost impossible to find.”

59 year old single male social assistance recipient in Toronto


A hunter-gatherer is defined as follows by

“A member of a group of people who subsist by hunting, fishing, or foraging in the wild.”[1]

Single welfare recipients in the city of Toronto have become modern hunter-gatherers   that  subsist for up to three weeks per month foraging in the ‘wilds’ of Toronto’s soup kitchens, food banks and clothes exchanges.

Like hunters and gatherers before the advent of agriculture, it is an outdoors life that depends now on a lot of walking and biking. Like the 59 year old male quoted above, single welfare recipients often have ruddy complexions from a life outdoors. And they are often undernourished.

The single social assistance rate in Ontario goes up by $25 a month on November 1, 2015 to $681, a 3.8% increase. But if the single rate had kept up with inflation since 1995, it would now be $962 a month. And had it been kept up with inflation after the 21.6% rate cut in 1995, it would now be $754 a month.

The designated amount for shelter as of November 1, 2015 is $376 a month and if we assume for a moment that a $376 a month rental is possible in Toronto, the amount left over will soon be $305 a month for everything else.

The 59 year old welfare recipient in my example pays $500 a month in rent and will soon pay a payday lender $21 to cash his cheque. His ruddy appearance regularly results in him being stopped by security when he enters a bank.

This will leave him $160 in cash to pay for everything else.

I recently wrote about the 20 year anniversary of the welfare diet, a diet that now costs almost $190 a month[2]. The diet is highly flawed. It is not nutritious and cannot sustain a minimally healthy lifestyle. He also can’t afford it.

A TTC pass to look for work and to travel about town costs $141 a month[3] . Our 59 year old cannot even dream of owning one.

From time to time, he fills out a participation agreement that attests he will attempt to get work. The lowest paid service entry positions are not available to him as any public facing job has basic requirements for appearance and behaviour which are hard to meet if you are constantly hungry. Besides, 30% of Canada’s cashiers have a university or college degree; so the competition is tough.

On October 26, 2015, Toronto Public Health presents its costs of a nutritious food basket to the Board of Health in Etobicoke[4]. The relevant presentations are footnoted here.[5]

In one of their scenarios, they point out how a single Ontario works recipient would need $280 a month to consume a minimally nutritious diet. For our 59 year old, the figure is somewhat lower at $275 a month.

Before the rate cuts of 1995, the single welfare rate was $663 a month. On November 1, it will go from $656 to $681 a month surpassing the $663 amount for the first time on the 20th anniversary of the cuts. Core inflation since 1995 has increased by 45% and the welfare diet has gone up by 107%[6].

These are just numbers. It means something different on the ground. Our single 59 year old cannot now afford transit and cannot afford a bad diet, let alone a minimally affordable nutritious diet.  As he puts it:

“I’ve never been able to panhandle. It just …I just can’t do it. A day in the life for me means a lot of travelling around. I’m doing it because I’ve learned to cut back on my needs. I’m used to going hungry.  My health in the last five years?  I’ve   aged ten years in the last five years, basically. So it’s like I’m stuck with riding my bike, that’s it.”

“I mean ideally I should weigh 155 pounds, and I weigh anywhere between 125 to 130 at any given time. So any extra money would definitely go on food. I mean I still spend money at No Frills or Price Choppers now, but I got to be very careful about what I spend there. So like pasta, I go to Dollar Stores; things like that.   Spices ?-it’s the Dollar Store.”


For Toronto’s new cohort of hunter gatherer’s, a raucously funny exchange in the Ontario legislature must have a curious ring to it now. Exactly 20 years ago today, MPP Dwight Duncan (Windsor-Walkerville) stood in the Ontario legislature and had the following observations[7]:

“I’d like to speak about bologna today.

Some people in Mike Harris’s Ontario are finding aspects of the Common Sense Revolution a little hard to stomach. So to assist the weak at heart in digesting the Tories’ recipe for disaster, the Minister of Community and Social Services has served up a $90-a-month meal plan, which at less than $1 per meal consists primarily of a lot of wishful thinking.

Despite reports that there is little value in the Tsubouchi diet, either nutritionally or otherwise, the Premier himself has shown support for the plan by stating that he knows what it’s like to live on a diet of baked beans and bologna. That’s why he worked so hard to get ahead.

Well, flavourful tales of the Premier once living on a lemonade budget have turned sour by accounts of a younger Mike Harris’s champagne lifestyle. It now appears that bologna was never a popular dish in the Harris household, which, according to some sources, resembled the Royal York at dinnertime. As a result, today the Premier’s eating his words along with his fictional diet.

The Premier’s right about one thing, however: He’s full of baloney. We just wish he and his Minister of Community and Social Services would stop serving it up to the province of Ontario. We find the whole thing unpalatable.”

And unpalatable as it may have been, it would take a $73 a month increase to the single welfare rate to get us back to where it was following the 21.6% cut that took place eight days after Mr. Duncan made his remarks.

What a long strange trip it’s been!


Js/oct.24, 2015








Comments Off on Hunter Gatherers in Toronto: “What a long strange trip it’s been”

Scarborough Wants In!

Toronto Tourism growing in importance

In the afterglow of the Pan/Parapan Am Games, Toronto residents have fixated on tourism revenue and city building as important dividends arising from our successful hosting job. And now that the Games’ success has bolstered support for other hosting opportunities, new infrastructure projects and unprecedented levels of tourism are now within sight.

Torontonians recognize the benefits of drawing visitors to the various attractions, businesses and neighbourhoods that define our city and showcase its unique character.   Toronto is home to an enviable array of urban and natural enclaves, diverse cultural experiences, food, entertainment and world-class retail.

Tourism Toronto guide is the official guide but shortchanges Scarborough

That’s why visitors and locals turn to the Official Toronto Tourist Guide produced by Tourism Toronto, the official destination marketing organization for the city. For many, this Guide serves as a go-to compendium of nearly 700 attractions located across our proud metropolis.

However, even the most cursory read of the Official Guide raises important concerns, especially for Scarborough residents.


SEE OUR MAPS HERE (click below)

Tourism Toronto Attractions by Census Tract 

Tourism Toronto Attractions – Toronto CMA

The food example

In March 2015, American economist Tyler Cowen, author of An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies, offered a personal assessment of Toronto’s diverse attractions, stating:
“Scarborough is the best ethnic food suburb I have seen in my life, ever, and by an order of magnitude.”

Interestingly, he expressed hope that his readers would have the chance to visit – not the familiar downtown core—but the less glamorized district of Scarborough.

Cowen’s praise shed light on the fact that unique attractions are located in all corners of Toronto, not just in the downtown core. But a search of the Official Guide’s nearly 200 culinary venues for some of the restaurants Cowen enjoyed reveals the Mandarin buffet and Tim Horton’s as two of only three spots found in Scarborough.

The sad fact is that only 23 of the attractions listed in the entire Guide are found in Scarborough while one mall (Yorkdale) accounts for 29. If the total number of Scarborough’s entries were proportional to its 22% share of the city’s population, there would be 153.

Despite comprising 30% of Toronto’s geographic area, Scarborough is only represented by 3% of recreational attractions, 3.7% of all accommodations, and less than 1% of retail options.

A flawed approach to governance and funding

Wishing to understand how the ‘Official’ Guide’s content is chosen, we reached out to the federal, provincial and municipal government departments listed as partners and learned that the Guide receives 20% of its funding from the Ontario government.

We also found out that Tourism Toronto takes as its responsibility to showcase Toronto’s best and most unique attractions in the context of a competitive world of cities vying for potential visitors from a variety of places around the world including Germany, Japan and New York State.  Tourism Toronto appears to believe that it has to choose to highlight those venues that will maximize the attractiveness of Toronto to those particular audiences and others.

There is nothing to argue with here. But one reason Scarborough receives such light coverage is that its associations and venues are not members of Tourism Toronto or have not paid the $400 fee that would have to be paid to be represented.

The combination of these two explanations is nothing short of scandalous.

On the one hand, Tourism Toronto strategically chooses the venues to include and highlight but if you join up and pay $400, you can get included in the Official Guide. Is this why two of only three of Scarborough’s restaurants in the guide (chosen from many hundreds) are The Mandarin and Tim Horton’s?

Is it Checkbook or strategic tourism?  It’s can’t be both.

Is Tourism Toronto’s model a strategic model or a checkbook model? It simply can’t be both unless if distinguishes between ‘bought participation’ and those strategically chosen.  The Official Guide emphatically does not make that distinction.

But what’s worse is that a guide that calls itself the Official Tourist guide (with the logos of all three levels of government clearly displayed inside the front cover) will accept payment from a restaurant or an entertainment venue not on the basis of whether the food or entertainment is good but because it paid its dues and fees.

This results in a muddle of strategic choices and checkbook tourism where the latter has nothing at all to do with the quality of the offering.

Governments allow their logos to be used but have no role in choice of attractions

We now know from written responses from two levels of government (City of Toronto and Government of Ontario) that they have absolutely nothing to do with the choices made respecting the attractions included. In Ontario’s case, literally hundreds of thousands of Scarborough’s residents pay Ontario income taxes to support an Official guide that fails to represent Scarborough interests and deprives them of the significant commercial and economic activity that governments proclaim that tourism generates.

By allowing Tourism Toronto to use government logos to promote the guide and its proclamation of officialdom, it might be a surprise to tourists and Torontonians alike that neither the City nor the Provincial government has chosen to have any oversight whatsoever in what is chosen as an attraction or the business model that governs those choices.

What if other Official Guides used the Tourism Toronto model?

For just a moment, let’s think about what it would mean to extend the Tourism Toronto model to other Official Guides.

In the realm of Sports, would we perhaps see an Official hockey guide that omitted coverage of teams that were either playing poorly or generating poor fan attendance? Would we see an official football guide with its official logo that provided a few paragraphs to one team and several pages to another because the franchises had differences in their market share and fan popularity? Or perhaps a major league baseball guide that excluded coverage of the Minnesota Twins because they didn’t pay a required fee to be in the guide?

In the realm of official guides to national monuments, can you imagine an Italian Guide funded in part by taxpayers that excluded the Leaning Tower of Pisa because the town of Pisa didn’t pay a membership fee for its inclusion?

The reason that the above examples are so absurd is that the Tourism Toronto model of officialdom is broken. We are told that the CN Tower and other signature venues are in the Guide because of their unique and iconic attractiveness to potential tourists.

How would the Scarborough Bluffs get in the Official Guide when the City of Toronto is a partner, but does not fund and has no role in tourism choosing attractions?

Did the CN Tower pay its $400? And Scarborough Bluffs and Bluffer’s Park which is excluded from the guide: is it not included because it’s not considered an attraction or because it did not pay its $400? How would Scarborough Bluffs go about paying its entry fee for inclusion? 

Remember that the City has already said in writing that it does not pay anything to Tourism Toronto as part of its partnership arrangement. That being said, how would the Scarborough Bluffs get in?

Would a group of ratepayers or a local Business association have to raise the money to include a (City owned and maintained) park in the Guide?

A flawed aspiration to officialdom

The essential problem surrounding the aspiration to officialdom for a model that combines strategic and checkbook tourism (without distinguishing between the two) is that government sponsored officialdom would appear to presuppose at least some sense, however small, of representativeness and governance.

The unsuspecting tourist who sees a restaurant included in a government sponsored official guide just might have the idea that it is included in the pages of the guide for reasons other than the restaurant paid a fee to be there.

But if the intention of the Guide is to lead visitors and leisure-seekers to Toronto’s unique businesses and sites, it is effectively saying of Toronto’s eastern third:  “Move along, folks; there’s nothing to see here”.

Not chump change! Tourism is about real money

Besides building and promoting Toronto’s distinctive ‘brand’ on the world stage, tourism also generates real money for local businesses and neighbourhoods. According to the City of Toronto’s website, Toronto received 25 million visitors in 2012 who spent $5.1 billion adding $3.8 billion to Toronto’s GDP and $2.5 billion in labour income.

Assuming that the Official Guide is successful in directing tourist spending and that the City’s figures for 2012 are not just the usual boasting, Scarborough is missing out on almost $1 billion a year that it would have received had it benefitted from its proportional share of “official” promotion.

Real consequences to Scarborough being left out

People living in Scarborough are not children of a lesser God despite the omnipresent whispers that translate to the names you hear smirked in common parlance or relentlessly on the pages of Toronto Life:  Scarberia, Scarlem and Scareborough.

To be clear, we know that the largely suburban Scarborough does not have has the same concentration of attractions as the dense downtown core. However, judging by the inclusion of common franchises noted above and a noticeable absence of the Scarborough Bluffs, we can’t help noting an anti-Scarborough bias.

Who decides where the attractions are? Is it the Hotel association?

In fact, we were puzzled to learn that the content in the so-called ‘Official’ Guide has no formal government oversight whatsoever despite conspicuous government partnerships and the Ontario government’s role in funding it.  The remaining 67% of funds comes from the Greater Toronto Hotel Association and other partners. For this, one assumes that they may play a significant role in determining what gets promoted. We wonder how accountability for promoting Toronto’s sites and businesses is ensured under such an arrangement and how their model of ‘officialdom’ basically a self-appointment, is determined.

The fact is that the unfair under-representation of Scarborough is probably only a small part of the picture. As tourism flexes its ever increasing economic muscle through international events and a lower Canadian greenback, it is high time for the Official Toronto Tourist Guide and government-funded tourism promotion more generally, to mirror and support the city and the region as a whole.

What can Scarborough do? One option is to ‘lean in’.

So yes, Scarborough ratepayers and businesses can step up to the plate, pay their dues and swing for the fences. Scarborough can buy the representation it needs and so can everyone else. But that does not change the fact that it is a fundamentally flawed model that would  swell the pages of the Guide with even more  checkbook tourism with no standards respecting quality or attractiveness all with the complicit support of  three levels of government along for the ride  as  ‘blind bankers’ or silent partners.

We need to reassess the narrow and outdated strategy employed by tourism authorities. Maybe our Official Guide should encourage exploration of our great city and pay more attention to the Tyler Cowens of the world who venture beyond officialdom to find Toronto’s real internationally renowned treasures.    Now that just might be the beginnings of a real plan for 2024.

John Stapleton and Jamille Clarke-Darshanand – October 8, 2015

Comments Off on Scarborough Wants In!

A reply to Martin Regg Cohn’s column: “Gambling on Horses hasn’t paid off”

It’s hard to know if Toronto Star columnist Martin Regg Cohn is trying to use horse racing as a way to ‘spank’ the Provincial Liberal party. Maybe he is showcasing what he believes to be a “dying Liberal brand” through the Ontario government’s attempts to revive horse racing in Ontario.

Regardless, Cohn’s column in the Toronto Star[1] of June 16, 2015 fails at both.

I won’t take the time here to retell the story of the rise and fall of the Slots at the Racetrack Program (SARP) or the Wynne’s government’s work to breathe life back into the industry. We all know the story and we have heard it countless times before.

So let me tell a bit of a different story.

When the McGuinty government pulled the plug on SARP, it became clear that it was a government that felt itself to be under siege respecting its failures to practice timely oversight over e-health (Twinkies), ORANGE (lavish trips to buy helicopters), wind farms (rural opposition) and nuclear plants (a vote loser).

In each of those cases, the government understood that it had not acted fast enough and decided it wasn’t going to make the same ‘mistake’ again.

Instead, it pulled the plug on SARP and placed a world class horse racing industry into complete disarray on the mistaken view that acting in haste would somehow be more decisive and result in less negative political fallout than on other files.

What Cohn gets right is that SARP was a good and generous program that helped horse racing thrive in Ontario and to maintain its world class product and reputation. What he gets wrong is that ending SARP was simply not an “uncharacteristically gutsy decision to rein in a horse racing sector run amok”.

Imagine for a moment how sad it is that all across Canada and elsewhere, libraries are closing[2]. Librarians are laid off, doors are bolted shut, and the books are placed in boxes and sent to storage. Reading and learning are both stymied. Expertise is lost. Memory is lessened and a generation of children is forced to turn away from books, to whatever small degree, to obtain the education they require.

Library closures are a tragedy of the commons, a testament to poor planning, and a failure to understand both the future and the past.

But as sad as library closures may be, the books are not alive, none of them are pregnant, none of them need exercise nor sustenance and no book will ever be euthanized or be sold for food.

The “uncharacteristically gutsy decision” lauded by Cohn in its surprise, its depth and its execution resulted in utterly needless and widespread disruption of an industry, lost jobs, closed doors, bankrupted owners and farms,  and the death or sale of  an untold numbers of equine athletes. And as in the case of the libraries, it looked as if it was destined to become another tragedy.

Cohn appears not to understand the difference between careful cost containment and ‘plug pulling’. In calling it gutsy, you get the sense that he revels in the hubris and testosterone of the grand moment, however ill-advised or ill-conceived. Careful planning just doesn’t have the cut and thrust of a sword piercing armour or the boom of a cannonball shot across the bow.

But Cohn goes on to mistake the mitigation of a preposterously unplanned slash and grab at horse racing as yet another instance of recklessness. In successive paragraphs, he characterizes Premier Wynne as “throwing more money back at the tracks”, “throwing McGuinty under the bus” and leading a “crusade to give horse racing a higher profile”.

In Cohn’s world, we are invited to understand   McGuinty’s recklessness and rash impetuosity as “gutsy” and Wynne’s thoughtful attempts to bring a steadier hand and to undo a headlong and impulsive wrongdoing as a ‘crusade’.

May we understand that this columnist is neither a fan of horse racing nor Premier Wynne?

But he does get it right that horse racing is an ailing industry. But that’s the same as hitting someone over the head and blaming them for falling.

Arguments pro and con aside, would Mr. Cohn perhaps have a slightly different view of history if I could play the equivalent of Dickens’ ghost of Christmas past and have him follow me through the weeks of agonizing decisions to find good homes for racehorses that had become uneconomical to race, literally overnight?

How would he view the long days of planning and interviewing to make sure that these horses did not become someone’s dinner an ocean away?

What would he think of the long months of writing letters of recommendation for the friends who, in an instant, had no choice but to leave the industry?

Perhaps I would refrain from telling him – in my role as ghost – that his own print industry is ailing and ask him if he thought that ‘pulling the plug’ should be chosen as an alternative to carefully planned downsizing of that industry. Would he see mitigation of a reckless move as ‘throwing money at an ailing industry’?

Are there no smartphones? Are there no tablets? Are there no laptops?

In the final analysis, Cohn’s column is about a mistake that hobbled an industry and a new government that is still, three and half years later, trying to correct the excesses of its predecessor. It is not the story of a gutsy move followed by any form of crusade.  He just has it wrong.

js/June 23, 2015



Comments Off on A reply to Martin Regg Cohn’s column: “Gambling on Horses hasn’t paid off”

We are the 61%

In the May 2011 federal election, voter turnout was 61%. In the same election, all other parties except the winner received 61% of the vote.

In other words, of the 61% of us who voted, 61% of us voted against the majority government that took power.

Usually 61% runs the show; but not now.

And it looks like it will happen again. Why? To quote ABBA: “The winner takes it all!”

The Conservative strategy is a 39% strategy. They need 39% of Canadians not to vote in 2015. And they need 39% of the popular vote to get a majority again. These are modest goals.

They also need progressives to split their vote as equally as possible between the other two mainstream parties.

The Conservative government has announced a Budget with two big initiatives they knew their 39% supported but their opposition particularly disliked – and for the same reasons.

Both opposition parties have vilified the $10,000 TFSA and income splitting because they favour a rich minority. They split evenly on other issues. Their leaders are equally strong.

With equal messages and equally skilled players, the opposition parties are racing towards equal showings. But in this poker game, a single ‘3’ can beats a pair of 3’s.

The big problem for all of us as voters is that we are not wired to play games where winners lose. This is why the lead-up to this election is so confusing.

But we need to get used to it.

Both opposition parties appear as if they do not understand the game they are in. They are both trying to woo the 61% with the same message. And it’s so disheartening that perhaps only 61% of us will vote in the fall.

Perhaps something will change after the next election. After all, we are the 61%.



see also:

written 5 months after this post


Comments Off on We are the 61%

The plight of low income hardworking seniors

This is the year that I become a senior citizen for the first and only time. I wrote a blog when I turned 60 for an online newspaper called ‘The Mark’ on what it means to turn age 60 when you are poor[1].

I spent the next four years on a self-motivated project called ‘Retiring on a low income’. I know from my ‘Google analytics’ that it is very popular as the material has been accessed about 45,000 times, mostly from new users. My blog on the subject, written in 2013, was the most popular blog on the Vibrant Communities website in 2014.

I now want to set my sights on the issues that beset those who have already turned 65 but continue to live on a low income. Catherine Porter has greatly assisted this cause with her front page article from Sunday March 29, 2015:

In an earlier blog from 2014, I attempted to point out that the very poorest seniors are taxed the most[2]. This just seems to be the way things are. The poorer and more voiceless you are, the higher the rate of confiscation from income taxes or programs. The earlier blog covers this well and others have written about the phenomenon[3]. So I won’t go on another rant about that topic here.

What I want to talk about here is how very hard it is to be a hardworking low income senior in Ontario today. If you have to go out and earn money to make ends meet, you can only earn $3,500 in any tax year[4] before you face a 100% taxback rate on the old age money that you get from Canada and Ontario.

If you are a poor single senior without any other income outside of your Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS), you can only work until the middle of March or so (at minimum wage) before your earnings reduce your GIS by 50 cents on the dollar.

But that’s not all! The provincial Guaranteed Annual Income System for the Aged (GAINS-A) also starts to reduce the benefits it provides by 50 cents on the dollar at the same point[5]. Footnote 5 links you to a really helpful excel file provided by the Ontario Government that reveals that for the first $1,992 that you earn after the $3,500 exemption you will lose that 50 cents on each dollar earned.

But fifty plus fifty equals one hundred. As our unsuspecting poor senior toils through the middle of March to the end of April, every single cent of her earning will be clawed back in equal measure by the governments of Ontario and Canada. With her GAINS-A payments exhausted, only 50 cents on the dollar will be clawed back for the rest of the year.

This is why I advise active low income seniors to work for two and a half months a year and then leave their employment. It’s just not worth it.

It’s also delicious to juxtapose a 100% rate of confiscation with the 15% Old Age Security clawback rate for seniors hauling in six figure incomes[6].

In April of this year, I am going to make my usual rounds of fast food joints and try to spot the women who look like they are my age or older. They usually work in these places because they have little or no other income. They are often single. I get inspired to look into the real faces of poor women who are working all of April for absolutely nothing. It’s an April fool’s joke but this time it’s for real and the joke’s on them.

So you may think it can’t get worse than this? Guess again.

Some active low income seniors take on speaking engagements. There are lots of programs like the Dream Team[7] where some members have reached age 65.  Like all low income speakers, they receive small honorariums from well-meaning agencies for their insights into their own lives. Some are very good at it. The idea is that the poor senior receives the honorarium to help defray the costs of travel and meals and maybe take home a small bit of income for themselves

But honorariums are not earnings. There are no CPP deductions taken off an honorarium – no EI deductions and no taxation at source. Accordingly, the honorariums do not qualify for the $3,500 exemption that relates to the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) or GAINS-A.

Now what happens? You guessed it! The first $1,992 in honorariums received in any tax year are reduced by the Old Age income system at 100%.  So if a poor senior receives $500 in honorariums for four speaking engagements in a year, every single cent of it will be deducted from their Old Age income.

Thinking this through, it means that these unsuspecting senior speakers are paying the cost of their own speaking engagements. They have to prepare the material, get to the venue, pay their own way back home and receive a net benefit of absolutely nothing.

So has it always been like this? The answer is no.

Over the past few years, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has begun to insist that community agencies, governments, educational institutions and non-profits issue T4A slips for honorariums. T4’s are for earnings. T4A’s are for what’s called ‘other income’ and other income (as noted) does not qualify for the seniors’ earnings exemption of $3,500 a year.

In one case where I have personal experience, a poor single woman (aged 65) received $3,700 in honorariums all of which triggered the issuance of T4A’s. The result was that she lost $2,846 off her seniors’ benefits (the first $1992 at 100% + $854 at 50%)

The moral of the story is once again that if you are really poor, you will be faced with the highest rate of confiscation that our governments can collectively dish out.

The obvious solution is to give voice to injustices like these. More and more seniors are going to have to find new ways to make ends meet and 100% clawbacks from the first dollar is just beyond senseless.


Mar 27-2015



[3] Mike Veall





Comments Off on The plight of low income hardworking seniors

A funny thing happened on the way to the middle ages: Boethius and the ‘Identity of Indiscernibles’

It takes a long time following retirement from the public service after which you realize that you can write about anything you want. I had always wanted to publish a limerick that I wrote with a friend (now deceased) over 40 years ago.  In this blog, I take another item off my intellectual bucket list.

I was reading PhD level courses in philosophy in 1973 at York University (Social and Political Thought) when the course material required that the class read the Consolation of Philosophy by the mediaeval philosopher Boethius[1].

Boethius, born in 480 A.D., was an influential sort who reported directly to Theodoric the Great. But he got himself imprisoned for trying to navigate the difficult and treacherous process of bringing Constantinople and Rome closer together. Theodoric eventually had Boethius killed along with members of his family.

His Consolation of Philosophy, written while in prison was one of the ‘great reads’ of the dark ages and Dante includes references to Boethius in his Divine Comedy[2].

And it was while in prison that Boethius really hunkered down to investigate some of the major issues of his time.

The one that really got to me was the ‘identity of indiscernibles’. For people born in modern times, the identity of indiscernibles is a fantastically difficult concept[3] but even when you figure out what the intellectuals and exegetes were all in a sweat about, it is a head scratcher. It is almost impossible to even conceive of how or why anyone could get in a lather about it.

OK – so here goes! At the great risk of oversimplification, the principle of identity that comes from the Greek philosophers states that for one thing to be different from another, it has to have some property that distinguishes it; bigger smaller, heavier lighter, blue green etc.

If something is exactly the same in every respect, the principle of identity would begin to say that the two things are one and the same thing. But that is easily dealt with because any object is located spatially. Two identical iron balls for example cannot be the same ball because, even if side by side, they would have the property of being located in a slightly different place in relation to a person or a third object. They would therefore be ‘discernible’.

But Boethius took it a step further and posed the idea of a separate universe temporally and spatially distinct from our own and asked the question about the iron balls again. In other words, if two identical iron balls were in their own universe where nothing else existed, would the principle of identity not have to admit that the two balls were in fact just one iron ball since there would be absolutely nothing to distinguish between them?

As you can imagine, if you are a 23 year old student thinking about Watergate, Viet Nam, the breakup of the Beatles and whether Trudeau could beat Stanfield with the slogan ‘the land is strong’, the identity of indiscernibles as a pressing issue is not high up on your list of interests.

It is only today that I can start to see what old Boethius was getting at when trying to meld the doctrines of 5th century Europe. I start to think of religious headgear and begin to ask the question if one form is really different from the other when all the various antipathies are cast aside.

Forty two years later, I finally get what Boethius was talking about. Or at least I think I do.

And now the surprisingly prescient alcohol-assisted limerick that allows me to place another check mark on that long list of things I told myself I would do if I ever got the time:

“There were two sisters I knew

Who so identically grew

That they could not converse

In their own universe

For to say there were two wasn’t true.”


//js-Mar 22,2015


I am fairly certain that not many people read Boethius nowadays but I am hoping that some desperate mediaeval philosophy students will google ‘Boethius and the identity of indiscernibles’ and come upon this limerick and use it in their term papers. It won’t help them pass but at least their professors will get a laugh out of it.





[2] Now if thy mental eye conducted be

From light to light as I resound their frame,

The eighth well worth attention thou wilt see.

The soul who pointed out the world’s dark ways,

To all who listen, its deceits unfolding.

Beneath in Cieldauro lies the frame

Whence it was driven; from woe and exile to

This fair abode of peace and bliss it came.



Comments Off on A funny thing happened on the way to the middle ages: Boethius and the ‘Identity of Indiscernibles’

Much of my life I have been a struggling low income person: Guest blog by Pamela Chynn

I am talking today as  a struggling  university  and  journalism  student, as  a  person  who has  on and off  been on  social  assistance,  as a person who  has  been  on  unemployment insurance a  few times, as  a  person who  has  a  couple  of times  been technically homeless  and  has  been through the surreal  roller  coaster nightmare  of  couch  surfing, as  a  temp worker, as a minimum  wage  worker and  currently  after  having   endured several  years  of  bullying  that resulted in suffering  a  long  and  hard  battle with  depression  and anxiety – temporarily  on  ODSP.

Because of this, I  know  all too  well the  struggles  of  being  in  poverty,  of having  had to live in   inadequate  housing  that was  detrimental  to  both  my  physical , mental and emotional  health, of  having  to rely  on  food  banks  and sometimes community  drop ins  for  meals, of  dealing  with threatening  intimidating , demonic -like  calls  from  creditors, of   having  spent  several  years afraid to file  my  taxes  because  of fear that  I  owed  money  and having  heard rumours  and  hearsay  of  what  could   happen  to  people  who  owed   money   in taxes  and  moreover  what could  happen to people who  didn’t  have the  money  to   pay  what they  owed  in taxes.

Not to mention how often there were times when I felt that I really had reason to worry about being able to come up with funds to pay my rent and worry over being tossed out into the street like a bag of garbage instead of being treated like a human being that mattered.

Feeling like I have been through the often seemingly ludicrous labyrinth of the social system – I turned   to social activism   for healing and for a sense of empowerment. Through social activism – I have learned that empowerment is something that we can only really truly gain by giving to others.

I was so very grateful to learn about this course:  “Financial Literacy “

I felt after all the financial stress I have gone through, as a person living below the poverty line this was an opportunity that I could not afford to miss.

A favourite quote of mine from Benjamin Franklin states “An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”

Through this  program  I  have  come  away   feeling  more  confident   about my  future  because    I  feel  that   I  am  much  more  armed  to  deal with  my  financial  issues  than  before. I   don’t  feel   like I  am  blindly  stumbling  in the  dark  when  it  comes to  dealing with  important  financial issues.

I  realize  now that  having  a sense  of  security   about one’s financial  health  does  not  necessarily  have  to  come from  having  a  plush   bank  account  but  more   importantly  feeling  secure  about  your  future  regardless of  whatever your  economic circumstances might be  comes from having  taken the time  and effort  to  make “an  investment in knowledge”  and   when  it  comes to  securing  your  financial  health,  this  applies across the board to everyone  including  both the non-poor  and  those  living  below the  poverty line.

Through having participated in this  program, the three most important things  that  have stuck out for me  in taking care of  my financial  health is to:

  1. know what  my  rights  and entitlements are
  2. know  what my  financial responsibilities  and obligations  are
  3. take control of instead  of  hiding or running away from my financial  worries

The third lesson- take  control   of  my  financial  circumstances  is really  and  most truly the  most important thing that  I  have  learned from this  program.

Taking  control  of  your   financial  situation  involves  if you  have debts   or feel  that  you  may  have  an unsettled  debt,  find  out to whom and how  much money  you  owe . Making  sure that  even  if you  have  had a  loan  paid off that it  is discharged  so it doesn’t affect other financial  decisions  you  may wish to  make in the future.

I also learned to   be wary of how little consumer protection banks have.

Other  important things that  I  learned through this  program  are:

– the  differences  between  mandatory  and  discretionary  benefits  when  dealing with  OW and  ODSP and also what are the differences  between  allowable  assets  and exempt  assets;and

– what  benefits one  may be entitled to  when one leaves  OW or  ODSP and for  how long   and   how to  appeal  benefits that  have  been  denied   and the  process involved.

Another thing that I learned  when taking this program when dealing with  one of the only two  certain things in life  “taxes” what I   am as a low-income person entitled to and the differences between   refundable and non-refundable tax credits.

And last but not least, I learned how to secure one’s financial health as we move towards our retirement. We live (as John Stapleton used the term), in a “parallel universe.”

Much  of the  media  information  regarding financial retirement  advice  is  geared  towards  the  non-poor  and  the  advice on  investing  in RRSPs  that  we often  hear  about in the  media  is  geared  towards  people  in the  non-poor income  bracket but  that  people  who   are  in the low income bracket  would  often  in  this “parallel  financial  universe “  be well advised to  do  quite the opposite.

The program “Financial Literacy” has   definitely proved to be for me “an investment in knowledge.”

I would  like  to  take this opportunity to thank  Houselink, John Stapleton  and other instructors  who  helped  teach  this  course.

Thank -You.

Pamela Chynn

(Note: Pamela gave this talk on Friday February 27, 2015 at West Neighbourhood House as part of the panel for the Launch of Welcome to the Financial Mainstream? The applause was long and loud from the 100 or so  people who attended.)

Comments Off on Much of my life I have been a struggling low income person: Guest blog by Pamela Chynn

Guest Blog from Tess: When your child turns 18 on a low income: Three big changes for a lone parent

This guest blog from Tess underscores the problems faced by families living on a low income in subsidized housing. It goes back to an essay I wrote for Metcalf titled ‘Why is it so tough to get ahead?’ While today’s parents know that their children may have to live with them long past the age of 18, our social welfare institutions continue to adhere to the Age of Majority Act that was passed into law 44 years ago, a time when many 18 year olds could realistically pursue independence.//js 

This month my relationship with three policy programs is going to change.  I have not done anything myself to alter these relationships.  The lived circumstances of my life have not changed.  Rather, my son, Troy (pseudonym) celebrates his 18th birthday. These changes will have a dramatic impact on my family.

The most noticeable change will be the cessation of the federal and provincial child tax credits.  For a single, low-income mother, this is a significant share of our family’s income.

Currently, I am in receipt of Ontario Works and I am also marginally employed.  In addition to my child tax credit, my Ontario Works entitlement will also change as a result of this birthday.  Specifically, Troy will now be considered an adult and my family will move from the sole support parent caseload to the ‘single persons’ caseload.  A new worker will be assigned to us.  Our monthly entitlement will increase which will somewhat offset the loss of our monthly child tax credits, but not fully.  The change in income is still significant and will be felt in our quality of life.

But the most important change is that up until Troy turned 18, any of his earnings were fully exempt income; after turning 18, they are not.  Until he turns 18, Troy could choose to save his earnings (for post-secondary education, for example), or spend it as he deemed fit.

Had Troy chosen to attend post secondary school directly after completing high school, his earnings would continue to be exempt.  However, Troy chose to take a gap-year so that he could work in order to pay for music lessons.  Troy is a talented musician and wants to attend a post-secondary program in musical composition.

However, he must audition and attain a certain level of excellence in musical theory and advanced practical aptitude in order to qualify for the post secondary program.  And because we lived in poverty throughout Troy’s primary and secondary schooling, he did not receive music education that fully met his needs.

We could only access adequate music instruction if I paid for it privately.  This was not always possible.  In order to afford the education he needs to get into the post-secondary program of his choice, Troy has decided to work.

Since Troy is working instead of being in school, a portion of his earnings will be deducted from our Ontario Works entitlement.  Between Troy’s earnings and my own, our total income may cause us to no longer be eligible for income from Ontario Works.

Should we reach this OW threshold, our rent in subsidized housing will no longer be set at the pay-scales for OW recipients.  Therefore, Troy’s 18th birthday will cause a change in my family’s relationship with a third policy program: Rent-Geared-to-Income housing.  For the first time, Troy’s income will be taken into account when determining my family’s rent.  Our rent will be raised by 30% of Troy’s income.

These deductions and accounting of Troy’s earnings from our monthly family income assume that our collective earnings are distributed equally within our family.  This is a drastic change in the policy assumptions of how our family works and is causing a drastic change in our family dynamics.

Previously, I held control of our family finances.  When Troy turns 18, I will have to depend on him to contribute a portion of his earnings toward groceries and household expenses in order to offset the deductions of Ontario Works.  I will have to depend on him to contribute 30% of his earnings toward rent to offset any rent increase.

But since we have a parent-child relationship that will not instantaneously change on his birthday, Troy could interpret my requests for such large chunks of his income as parental demands, not a social policy change.  Further, he will certainly regard such demands as unfair and unreasonable in their magnitude.  This will certainly create friction in my relationship with my son.

Beyond our personal family dynamics, the above three changes mean that Troy and I may still not be able to afford the education he requires to qualify for his post-secondary program.  His earnings may be deducted too aggressively and we will have no support in the form of child tax credits.

Consequently, Troy will be relying upon the kindness of extended family members to house and feed him while he works and concentrates on his musical education for one year.  Fortunately, we are privileged to have this support.  However, I question the fairness of my son and I being forced to live separately so that he can use his income to help him get into school.

We are being forced to live apart because we live in poverty.  It is not uncommon for families of means to have a dependent adult in their household well into his or her twenties.   Young adults may not be children, but they still deserve support as they embark on their adult lives.  Such support may make the difference in breaking the cycle of poverty for the next generation.


Tess: January 13, 2015

Comments Off on Guest Blog from Tess: When your child turns 18 on a low income: Three big changes for a lone parent

Twenty Eight Canadians

Twenty eight Canadians returned to Italy to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Italian campaign that took place during World War II from July 1943 to April 1945.

They ranged in age from their later eighties to their mid-nineties.

They were in the minority of the living well enough to go.

They were a remarkable group and the Canadian government has taken great care to ensure that we don’t lose track of them in the way we lost track of Canadian veterans of the Great War. In that case, it seems as if they were suddenly gone.

But what do we really know about this group of veterans who travelled to Italy from November 22 to November 30th as part of the official delegation?

What does the twenty seven men and one woman share outside of their common experience of war and extraordinary longevity?

Do they have other things in common?

As one of the caregivers on the journey, I decided to find out.

First there is the obvious. Just to have made it to Italy, it means that they were screened to go overseas in the first instance. They had no obvious impairments or disabilities at the time.

Secondly, all were volunteers and that alone makes a big difference. It was their choice to sign up and that says a lot about willingness and bravery especially as it relates to one’s country. Nine of the 28 entered the invasion of Sicily while 19 others joined the campaign in Italy.

The third easy point is that all of them were chosen to be part of the expeditionary forces to go into Sicily and Italy. In other words, there was another winnowing process that saw many soldiers screened out during the basic training that largely took place in the UK.

Two other important points regarding longevity were apparent. I did not observe any smokers among the group and many noted that they had never smoked. Others mentioned that they had given it up often decades earlier.

In addition, all drank in moderation or did not drink alcohol at all. Some admitted to being alcoholics but in those cases, they had beaten the addiction long ago.

But do those five characteristics explain what binds these 28 veterans together as robust and long survivors of a brutal campaign they experienced as young people mostly in their late teens and early twenties?

Not by a long shot!

Over those remarkable eleven days that we spent together, many of the caregivers and staff discovered a whole set of other characteristics of which anyone seeking a long life may wish to take heed.  Here they are in no particular order:

A Positive Outlook

For these 27 men and one lady, the glass was perpetually half-full. They all looked at events for the good you could take from them. It was hard to pull a negative thought from any of them. Sure, some have health difficulties and various barriers but in each of their minds, the barrier was made to be surmounted.

An absence of anger

Anyone who spends a considerable amount of time with the very elderly knows that they can be prone to anger. Sometimes it can be sudden.

But with these 27 gentlemen and one woman, I don’t think any of us saw a single outward display of upset or anger. I talked to a few of them who said sometimes you have to work at not being angry but they suggested that anger was never worth it. Anger was seen as a weakness – something that gets in the way.

An orientation towards others – others always first

Among the very elderly, it is often the case that they can shut out the outside world and only think about themselves. That was not true of our 28 veterans. On many occasions, I watched them survey the room to see if there was anyone who needed anything. A coat or hat on the floor…someone appearing to look for something… would quickly attract the attention of one or more of the 28.

“Did you lose something?” or “Your hat was on the floor. Here it is.”

A strong sense of self-control

On a number of occasions, we heard the 28 talking about the world of yesteryear and the world of today. They saw how weather and events could affect timetables.

We were late to Cesena. The venue was shortened. The skies were black. The rain fell. A chill was in the air. Was this a problem? Did anyone say a word?

No! In their minds, things not going to plan is always part of the plan, because things don’t necessarily go to plan.  It takes a modern mentality to be frustrated by this state of affairs.

You have to keep your own counsel. Listen closely. Things will work out.

Go with the flow. We will get there.

Of all those who worried about things going to plan, the 28 would not be counted among them. They knew about adapting.


The 28 veterans were uniformly proud throughout the commemoration. Proud of their country. Proud of their regiments and associations. Proud of coming back. Proud of their children and families.

Pride is always countered with humility.  And there was always two parts of humility to go with every measure of pride.


The 28 veterans of the Italian campaign exercised in old age what many cannot do at a younger age. They exercised discretion; what to say and when to say it. But more than anything, they believe in discretion and the importance of saying the right thing at the right time and to avoid indiscretion.

Many at a younger age do not value discretion. They say what they mean and mean what they say. No BS; no matter how it may hurt or how it may upset. But the 28 understood discretion and they all had it down to a fine science.

And finally, a couple of funny things. One is a great sense of humour. They all had it. All their war stories came with great bursts of laughter describing the impossible, the absurd and the nuts.

Liberty (driver’s licenses & political parties)

The fact remains that in their 90’s, most of them continue to hold a valid driver’s license and many still drive. Many have uncorrected vision – still – after all these decades. That puts them at the top of some sort of strange elite that their younger caregivers – sons – daughters – grandchildren and wives have no idea.

Few belonged to political parties preferring to vote for their own man (or woman) caring strongly for the liberty to choose the man or woman or their choice.

Closing thought

“And so this is Christmas……………………..

………..and what have you done?”

Nothing much… Just a meditation for the 28 brave and smiling Canadian souls that graced Italian soil for a brief moment at the end of November 2014.


John Stapleton

Caregiver to Allan Edwin Stapleton (age 94)

1st Canadian Division

Royal Canadian Corps of Signals 

Official Delegation

Italian Campaign

November 21, 2014 – December 1, 2014



Comments Off on Twenty Eight Canadians

We are going! the 70th anniversary of the Italian Campaign

Al Stapleton, 94, is visiting the fields of battle in World War II Italy this week as a member of Canada’s Official Delegation to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Italian campaign. He is our father.

This is his third visit to Italy. The second time was ten years ago for the 60th anniversary. His first visit was seven decades ago.

For the first four decades of our lives, we heard little about his wartime experience in Italy. It took a long time for the painful stories of war to emerge.

He arrived in July 1943 under the cloak of darkness and raging storms as part of one of the largest expeditionary forces in history. Departing from a troop carrier, he waded ashore on a beach in southern Sicily close to the sleepy villages of Pachino and Ispica. For the next 20 months, the Canadians, made their way north fighting the Germans in a historic war of attrition. The Allies won but there was a heavy price to pay – and not only for those who didn’t return.

Beyond frequent exposure to the loss of young lives, Al’s memories of his daily regimen on his first visit endure in sharp contrast to his present experience of comfortable hotels and restaurants, enjoying carpaccio and caprese.

During the war, meals consisted of ersatz fare served erratically while accommodations consisted of tents and slit trenches exposed to two cold, wet winters and the sweltering summers of 1943 and 1944. After he returned, he experienced years of undiagnosed illness that is now well known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). At the time, he was advised to deal with whatever it was on his own.

This week Al will visit three of the places where he experienced brushes with death – Cassino, Ortona and Rimini.  At Cassino, Al was part of a major troop movement that inadvertently took a wrong turn when the officer in charge of the convoy misread the road signs and moved within range of the enemy. Dumbfounded Allied soldiers looked up in horror from their slit trenches as the Canadians entered into harm’s way. German soldiers looked down in confusion at the spectacle. An order was given to reverse course. Not a shot was fired.

At the Moro River in 1944, Al lived in a pup tent on the same field for two months during the wettest coldest winter in memory. Every Saturday night, two men received a pass to go south to the nearest town to see the movies. When Al got his turn, he returned to his camp to find that shelling had killed some men in his camp. The Germans used self-propelled guns that they would run up to the front line and set them in motion to shell the roads.

Near Rimini, in the small town of Russi, Al spent his off-hours in a local shoe repair shop that had thick stone walls. One day, enemy sympathizers directed shellfire from adjacent rooftops. He recalls being thankful for those stone walls. As an aside, Al also remembers the shoemaker yelling choice newly-learned English language epithets at a picture of the Pope when he hit his fingers with a hammer.

History tells us that the Canadian troops did themselves proud.

At the 60th commemoration in 2004, an Italian reporter asked:

“Did the Germans respect the Canadian army?”

Always one with high expectations of interviewers, Al replied,

“The German used volunteers against Canadians.”

Only when pressed, he explained, “elite soldiers”.

In the end, Al’s first return to Canada was not that noteworthy. Most Canadian soldiers in that campaign avoided spending eternity on Italian or Sicilian soil. What is remarkable is that he is participating in the 70th anniversary commemoration, one of 28 former soldiers out of the 94,000 that served in the Italian Campaign, a 1 in 3000 chance to return after 70 years.

Truth to tell, when he was there, he was just a number, an everyday soldier; however, time raises and equalizes status and those who endure  return as  28 very important people, now equal in stature, to commemorate Canadian glory.

Al was one of the lucky ones. He was in the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals maintaining the equipment that decoded messages from the German Enigma machines behind Allied lines. But risk for a soldier is relative. Two of his buddies in the Signal Corps never made it beyond the second day in Sicily. They were shot dead not far from Al when a German Focke-Wulf 190 strafed the Sicilian shoreline with 50 caliber guns on July 12, 1943. Their bodies were not returned to Canada and Al visited them for the first time at the Canadian graveyard at Agira in 2004. If Al had not huddled beside a tough cactus plant, he would have joined the two men buried at Agira with whom he signed up at London, Ontario on September 10, 1939.

Without these chance events of survival, Al would not be here. And neither would we, which brings us to reflect on the vagaries of war. Our existence today is a matter of dumb luck. If Al had been killed on any of these three occasions, someone else could be telling this tale. We are grateful for this turn of fate.


Paul Stapleton is an associate professor at the Hong Kong Institute of Education.

John Stapleton, is a social policy analyst in Toronto.

Comments Off on We are going! the 70th anniversary of the Italian Campaign
WildStar Gold | WildStar Platinum | ESO Gold | Tattoo Supplies | Fashion Guides | EDU Tips | Fashion News | Design Tips | FIFA 14 Coins | Guild Wars 2 Gold | Diablo 3 Gold | RS Gold | Fashion Guides | WoW Gold