Jane-Finch Residents Needed for Neighbourhood Improvement

Toronto is the richest city in one of the richest countries on Earth, but that isn’t so obvious in many of its neighbourhoods. After decades of neglect by local governments, poverty has become entrenched in many areas. In an effort to address this, in 2011 the City started the Toronto Strong Neighbourhoods Strategy 2020 (an unwieldy name so this article will call it TSNS). The idea is that by 2020, TSNS will improve these poverty-stricken neighbourhoods to the level of the rest of the city. The neighbourhoods were ranked according to five criteria: physical surroundings, economic opportunities, healthy lives, social development, and participation in civic decision-making. Originally called “priority neighbourhoods”, the city now calls them “Neigbourhood Improvement Areas” (NIAs). The City has identified 31 NIAs. Unsurprisingly, Jane-Finch scored the lowest among all of them.

TSNS sounds good in theory, but in practice, it’s a heavily bureaucratised way for the City to appear as if it’s doing something to address endemic poverty. TSNS has produced many reports but, without proper investment, poverty will still be widespread in all NIAs. Despite this, participation by residents is still necessary as low interest will be taken as a lack of desire for improvement and will lead to a lack of investment by the City. In response, residents in the Jane-Finch area collectively organized and wrote their own report, Community Response to TSNS. By interviewing Jane-Finch residents, community organizations, social service agencies, and grassroots groups, the Jane-Finch TSNS Task Force identified five main areas of concern: housing and physical surroundings (including public transportation), education, employment, health care, and access to healthy and affordable food. This has led to the formation of working groups on Housing, the Health Care Action Committee, and the Economic Opportunities Committee. An already existing group, the Black Creek Food Justice Network, was invited to deal with issues related to food security, food education, and growing your own food.

The Jane-Finch TSNS Task Force meets every other month at Yorkgate Mall’s York University TD Community Engagement Centre. The meeting is held on the third Monday of the month from 6:00 to 8:00 PM. Food, TTC tokens, and childcare are provided for all attendees. The working groups meet on the months in between, with varying locations and times. Send an email to jftaskforce@gmail.com for more information, including copies of the reports above mentioned.

Ontario’s Workers Demand Justice

“Why hasn’t Canada signed, ratified, and implemented the UN’s Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and Their Families?” asks a plum. “I demand dignified treatment, respect, and guarantees of my rights as a worker”, says a pear. An apple notes that, “It is legal for farmers and employers to exploit migrant farm workers in Canada.” Meanwhile, grapes from the Niagara region join in with “Ice Wine: Pride and Luxury with a Canadian label, one of the most expensive but produced with the exploitation of migrant labour with the worst salary and without protection.” These fruits are not actually talking but are simply packaged in small paper bags with a card, with a question, or statement. Migrant workers in Ontario were asked, “If the fruit you were growing could speak, what do you wish they would say?” This traveling exhibit, Speaking Fruit, collected their answers and has been on its way to Ottawa to raise support and demand a response from our government.

Many Ontarians are unaware that most of the produce grown in Ontario comes from a small town near Windsor called Leamington. Leamington has a vast series of greenhouses growing food for sale to big and small grocery stores in this province. Calling itself the Tomato Capital of Canada, Leamington has the largest concentration of greenhouses on this continent. The farmer-owners of these greenhouses employ migrant worker to do most of the gruelling labour. Most of these workers are from Mexico and the Caribbean and they are brought in with promises of rich-country wages. However, they arrive to learn that they have to pay their employer for their housing (at several times the market rate) and they would be living with as many as 20 people in one house and would have to sleep in shifts. These workers are not given safety training or equipment and they are adversely affected when working with pesticides and chemical fertilizers. If migrant workers complain, they lose their jobs. Since their work visas are tied to their employment, they are also then immediately sent back to their home countries. In many cases, even their final pay-cheques are withheld by their employers or they are not paid the full amount. If one of them dies or is injured on the job – an all too common occurrence – they (or their corpse) are swiftly sent home to their family with no recompense or even apologies. Ontarians should be ashamed that this happens in our province.

What can be done to help? Currently, Bill 148 (Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act) is under consideration by the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, the mandate of which is to raise the minimum wage and improve workplace conditions. However, there are no provisions to improve conditions for migrant workers – or temp agency workers, for that matter. There cannot be two classes of workers: one treated fairly under the law and one for exploitation. Call or visit your MPP and let them know that Ontarians demand fair treatment for all workers.

Liberals Abandon Electoral Reform

Early in February, the newly-appointed Minister of Democratic Institutions, Karina Gould, announced that she was informed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that “Changing the electoral system will not be in your mandate”. This move surprised many, as one of the key campaign promises by the PM was that 2015 “will be the last federal election conducted under the First-Past-The-Post voting system”. By one count, Justin Trudeau personally voiced this promise over 1800 times during the campaign. Many were angry at the announcement, with hundreds showing up to a protest in Toronto alone and NDP democratic reform critic Nathan Cullen calling it, “One of the most cynical displays of self-serving politics.”

Perhaps the move should not have been a surprise. In January, Mr. Trudeau suggested that Canadians were less interested in electoral reform because they were now under a Liberal government that they liked. How the Prime Minister was able to determine Canadians’ interest in electoral reformm was not mentioned. The Special Committee on Electoral Reform (ERRE) –a diverse body of elected officials commissioned by the government to study the issue – finished six months of consultations with experts and the public in a series of town halls across the country, and came back to the government with a recommendation: a referendum on whether or not to move to some form of proportional representation. The government rejected this recommendation, claiming that there was no clear consensus on what Canadians wanted, that a referendum would be too divisive, and that extremist parties would proliferate under a proportional representation system. The fact that 88% of testimony to the ERRE was in favour of proportional representation and that Canadians could have made their wishes clear in a referendum, was apparently not taken into account by the Prime Minister. (Along with the fact that fringe parties could be kept out by a minimum vote threshold).

Cynics have suggested that the reason for the rejection was that the committee did not recommend the Liberal Party’s preferred system of ranked ballots. This system would have led to the centrist Liberals being the second-choice for many on the right and left and guaranteed the formation of successive Liberal governments. Whether or not this was the case cannot be determined from outside the party’s inner circle.

One direct product of this broken promise will be an increase in general voter dissatisfaction. When combined with other broken Liberal promises: the approval of the Trans-Mountain pipeline, no free, prior, and informed consent from communities affected by pipeline construction, and a refusal to ratify the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – distrust of the government and in politics increases. This may have led to the results from a recent poll where only 43% of Canadians said that their government could be trusted.

Most people are familiar with self-interested leaders strengthening their position at the expense of their organization. By acting in their own self-interest, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberals may well have damaged democracy in Canada.