Blog

Accidentally green & inadvertently poor? The strange case of the District of Scarborough Ontario

First it was a community, then a city, then a municipality and now a District in the Toronto megacity. Scarborough is a very interesting place to live in the new millennium because it is accidentally green and inadvertently poor. When I began analysing the data on the working poor in Toronto for the Metcalf Foundation, I began to notice that the community I have lived in for 35 years was becoming poorer. Here is an excerpt from the Working Poor in the Toronto Region “Although increases and decreases are largely in balance west of Scarborough, far more increases in working poverty (increases of more than 10%) occur east of Yonge Street. More decreases occur west of Yonge Street. In other words, the … working poor seem to be moving eastward.”…
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“Minister Jeffrey: Tear down this wall”

In July 2012, I visited Berlin for the first time since 1972 when the Berlin wall was still standing. It was interesting to see how parts of the wall had been retained as an outdoor museum. No matter where I went, memorabilia celebrating the famous call by Ronald Reagan on June 12, 1987 were available. On that day, Reagan famously intoned “Mr. Gorbachev – tear down this wall”. On June 11, 2013, just one day short of the anniversary of Reagan’s famous speech, many of us will be celebrating the launch of Linda Chamberlain’s scrapbook: Not Anytime Soon – the life and times of Linda Chamberlain. We shall invite Ontario Housing Minister Linda Jeffrey to the event. Not Anytime Soon contains excerpts of a meditation I wrote in 2010 called…
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More thoughts on Ontario social assistance caseloads

Ontario unemployment and SA rates 1981 to 2008, 2009 monthly to February 2013 (Excel file) All appears placid when looking at social assistance beneficiary totals (i.e. men, women and children) in Ontario in early 2013. Since March to May 2012 when several categories in Ontario Works reached post recession highs, the Ontario Works totals have receded by about 12,000 while ODSP has inched up by a similar number over the same period. This means that the percentage of Ontario's population in receipt of social assistance remains stubbornly at about 6.5%, slightly higher than similar periods following major post-war recessions. It would make it easier to understand and communicate if there was one 'magic bullet' that explained it all - but alas, there are many interwoven reasons that explain what's happening 'under…
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Government is often more efficient than the private sector … So why do we still hate government?

Anyone living in Toronto with access to a car and phone can replicate the experience that I had recently. I drove downtown and parked on the street in one of those spaces that you need to get a parking voucher for the time you expect to stay.  While I was feeding the machine, a parking enforcement officer was stretching his neck to look for a voucher in my car. I yelled and hooted: “I’m paying now… don’t ticket me!” He backed off and waved. I attended a lunch but miscalculated the time I would require.  The mistake cost me $30. The ticket was time-stamped 8 minutes after the expiry of my voucher. Later that day, I phoned to make a variation in one Air Canada airline ticket while a second…
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Land of the 33 foot tall seniors

Can a blog create a ‘thought balloon infographic’? On the 17th slide of Frank Graves’ slide show on the 2011 federal election called The 41st Election: A Polling Retrospective Implications for Methodology and Democracy, the author notes the following fact: “Age is crucial with non-voters (those under 25 are six times more likely to not vote than those over 65)” Graves goes on to point out that seniors tend to vote Conservative and do so enthusiastically while young people tend to vote for the NDP and Liberals. He also notes that if ‘under 25’s’ voted proportionally the same as seniors,  the NDP would have received a majority in the last federal election. Many theories have been proposed why young people don’t vote in federal elections. They are all depressing and…
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Understanding ‘Deathwatch’

A deathwatch is nothing new. We had the real deal in 1975 when the world’s media literally waited for Spanish strongman Francisco Franco to die. Because of his slow decline and media interest, people would try to guess the day and the hour. Deathwatch became a parlour sport. Comedian Chevy Chase inaugurated the long running Weekend Update on ‘Saturday Night Live’ with his hilarious post-funeral news item: “Francisco Franco is still dead”. He milked it for months. But the deathwatch genre has evolved with the internet, smartphone technology and social media. Everyone can participate. It is highly entertaining and it no longer concerns real deaths of real people. Usually it is about companies, programs and individuals and their reputations, brand, and viability. But deathwatch follows a standard course and is…
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“We have not received a valid entry – Goodbye”

In the early part of each calendar year, I buy a copy of TurboTax and learn the tax changes for the upcoming year. From mid-March to the end of April, I spend a lot of time explaining the personal income tax system to people who complete income taxes for others, especially those who have low income. I also complete tax returns for a few low income pensioners who have trouble completing their returns.  For years, I took down all the information and then mailed each one a (pdf) copy of their return. They would dutifully attach all their information slips, copies of their medical expenses, sign and date the return, and mail a fat package of paper into the Canada Revenue Agency. One of the most difficult hurdles in convincing…
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An unsustainable program (by Guest blogger Pat Capponi)

It seems simple, and I can understand the frustration as the numbers continue to rise and few people labelled mentally ill appear willing to take the steps necessary to leave the ODSP rolls.  Without knowing this community, their history and their struggles, that frustration will continue. My experience is with those who are labelled seriously mentally ill, with schizophrenia, manic depression, and PTSD,  as well as those with long term addictions to drugs like crack cocaine. In this group, poverty is the norm, days are spent in drop-ins or waiting in packed agencies for assistance that never seems timely or appropriate. These aren't people who can hide the toll taken on their bodies, spirits, minds and hopes by years of exclusion, dependence, and 'otherness'.  They are carrying with them some…
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Stop wondering about under-subscription of benefits

Getting the Learning Bond and Education Savings Grants is really hard for low-income parents I have become mildly annoyed by those who can’t figure out why the Canada Learning Bond (CLB) and the Canada Education Savings Grants (CESG) are undersubscribed among low-income parents. There really should be no mystery. All you have to do is shadow a low income parent (usually a woman) through the process and it all becomes clear. The following is a composite (mix and match) of my shadowing activity with four very motivated young lone parents who had heard about these benefits and wanted them for their children. I get to their places about 8:00 a.m. and ask if they are ready for it. There is the usual last minute kerfuffle about getting a child to…
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What’s wrong with earmarked debit cards and lower benefits for long terms social assistance recipients?

What's wrong with debit cards for social assistance recipients?  Nothing as long as they are not earmarked! What's wrong with restrictions on debit cards e.g. no liquor or cellphones? 10 things that are wrong 1. The main reason is that the desired outcome of better spending of funds would simply not occur - no evidence is available that it would change spending patterns. 2. There would be a black market for cards just like food stamps in the US - they would be sold off at discounts driving taxpayer dollars into the hands of  card dealers. Is that what the taxpayer wants? 3. Restricting inadequate funds for necessities would mean that people may not be able to pay the rent and therefore get evicted 4. A system with 800 rules would be…
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