Apartment Fire in Downsview: a local family’s story

Nadia and her two young children were victims of a fire that erupted on her balcony caused by a cigarette cast from a tenant above.

The fire did not enter the apartment but all contents within the unit were coated with a carcinogenic black soot.  What made matters worse was that she had never purchased tenant insurance.

Toronto Fire later invited the family to a local Fire Hall and provided them a cheque of one thousand dollars and various household items, clothing and toys to help them in the rebuilding process.

Damien Walsh, Vice-President of the Toronto Firefighters Association was on hand and spoke of this program which helps families in need, “When we think there’s going to be a need or there’s kids involved, it’s especially tough for our guys.  The fire’s out and they’re rolling up the hoses and getting ready to drive away and there’s a family standing there looking at their home and they can’t get back in. That’s why many years ago we started helping out families where we can. It’s just part of what fire fighters have always done, we’re part of the community and our help in community doesn’t stop when the fire’s out.”

Nadia contrasted the compassion of Toronto Fire and other first responders, with the way her landlord handled the situation.  Without a place to stay, the only accommodation her landlord offered was a different unit at a higher rent, but when she said she could not afford it, her family was immediately served a letter terminating the lease.

By signing the letter, her family would receive their last month’s rent deposit (paid when they first moved in), and it would also free them of their obligation to pay the March rent.  The letter would also relieve both landlord and tenant of further liability to one another.

The family hesitated to sign the document, but as the days quickly passed and they required a deposit to secure a new rental unit, they eventually signed.

Later insight from a lawyer at a local legal aid clinic revealed that the landlord did no favour to their tenant in this case.

As part of the lease, a landlord is required to provide their tenant a habitable unit.  The landlord should have offered alternate accommodation (such as a hotel) while the family was still under lease.  In Nadia’s case, Red Cross helped pay the costs for their temporary lodging.

Since the tenants were not responsible for the fire, they were within their rights to seek compensation for their lost belongings at the Landlord and Tenant Board.  This door was closed when they signed the letter.

Despite the fire, Nadia remained positive, “It’s good to know that there were people and organizations out there to help when we were in need.”  She also urged tenants in the community to consider insuring their belongings as she never imagined she’d be a victim of an accident like this.

If you need information on your rights as a tenant and the responsibilities of your landlord call the Tenant Hotline at: 416-921-9494.

For free legal aid (available to those in financial need) visit Jane Finch Community Legal Services located at 1315 Finch Avenue West or call 416-398-0677.


We will make every Vote count

It’s written right there on the Liberal’s Real Change website, posted during the 2015 election: “We will make every vote count.”

Right before the 2015 election, the Liberals wanted to change our voting system, and they wanted it done ASAP. In fact, they stated they were “committed to ensuring that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system.”

This is great news for our democracy.

Our current system is called, first-past-the-post voting. In this system, if the candidate you voted for in your riding doesn’t win, your vote is lost. As a result of this, more than half of all votes don’t count in current elections and majority governments are elected with less than 50% of the popular vote.

Thanks to our voting system, here are your options when the political party/leader you like best is in third according to polls:

  • Rather than vote, stay home because your vote won’t count.
  • Vote for the party you like most and accept that your vote won’t count.
  • Vote for second best because you don’t want your vote to be wasted…

Option (c) is called “strategic voting” which means you just wait around and watch the polls to figure out what everyone else is doing so you can figure out whom to vote for to block the worse option. Yes, make up your mind based on what you think other people might do. Not very inspiring, is it?

In the 2011 federal elections, and for the first time ever, the Liberals were a victim and not a beneficiary of strategic voting. It’s ironic, since Liberals always tell NDP and Green voters to vote strategically to block Conservatives. In the end, the Liberals ended up in third place for the first time ever. And man, were they bitter about it.

Thanks to our first-past-the-post system, the Liberals ended up with almost 20% of the votes but only 11% of the seats in parliament. That meant almost half of all Liberal votes were effectively wasted and ignored. Another silly by-product of the election was that Harper got a majority government when 60% of people voted against him. A majority government means that one party has 100% of the power until the next election.

So, the Liberals began talking about changing the voting system to make “every vote count”. It only took a historic colossal defeat for the Liberal establishment to finally talk about doing the right thing.

Proportional representation makes every vote count

Luckily, there is currently a voting system that counts every vote. That system is called proportional representation and it appears in far more countries than our system. In fact, 7 of the top 10 countries as ranked by the Legatum Prosperity Index have a form of proportional representation. Only one country, Canada (ranked 6th), uses first-past-the-post voting.

In proportional representation, the percentage of seats a party receives in parliament is proportional to the number of votes they receive across the province or country. That means if your candidate doesn’t win the seat, then your vote still has an effect on the make-up of government. No more wasted votes.

In 2011, under proportional representation, the Liberals would have received 20% of the seats because they received 20% of the votes. The Conservatives would have had a minority government with 40% of the seats in parliament. A minority government means politicians have to compromise with other parties in order to table a budget and make things happen. This means that even if the party you wanted loses, they (and therefore you) still have a say on policy.

Proportional representation makes every vote count, diminishes the need for strategic voting and only creates majority governments when they are deserved.

Will the Liberals improve our democracy or simply help themselves?

The results of this past election may in fact be a terrible blow to electoral reform. With a country-wide anti-Harper swing, strategic voting gave the Liberals a majority government (with only 39% of the vote!).

We saw that the Liberals became serious about changing the voting system when they thought it could benefit them. Now that our unfair electoral system has benefited them again, will they change it?

If they do, my bet is that they will go for preferential/ranked ballot because it is the system they believe will benefit them the most. In this system, you rank your first, second, third, etc. choice when you vote but it does not fix the fact that your first choice will likely get ignored. As such, millions and millions of first place votes will get wasted again. Ranked ballot systems are a terrible choice for creating multi-party democracy and easily create majority government even though the winner gets less than 50% of people’s first choice.

The Liberals like this because they believe they are everybody’s second choice and thus ranked ballot will benefit THEM the most.

In their platform, the Liberals said they would “convene an all-party Parliamentary committee to review a wide variety of reforms”. Sounds fair, right? They can easily stack the committee with politicians to get the result they want.

The real way to make every vote count is proportional representation, a system of government that respect’s people first choice on how they believe their country and province should be run. What the Liberals do on improving our democracy above all will determine if they are serious about real change.

It’s time to implement a HealthSafe program

by Tom Rakocevic

DA-site-IMGS-dividerHealth - safe nurseImagine going for a medical examination and contracting an illness from your visit. It has happened here in the GTA.

A Toronto Star analysis of inspection data posted by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) showed a staggering 1 in 7 clinics in Ontario did not meet inspection standards since 2011 (reported November 2, 2014 – Toronto Star).

The newspaper also revealed that serious illnesses such as Hepatitis C and meningitis have been contracted in Toronto health clinics, although this level of information was not readily available online to the public.Continue Reading