Working with Community

The Toronto Community Benefits Network (TCBN), DUKE Heights BIA and Osgoode Hall Law School organized the March 23 and 24 Creating Opportunities Summit to take a good hard look at what truly makes great communities. In our efforts to find the perfect solutions, we often ignore big problems and make matters worse by doubling down on things that aren’t working. Whether it’s capacity building in marginalized communities, local policy making in neighbourhood improvement areas (NIAs) or just plain racism, no one answer fits all. If the summit had one great takeaway for me, it’s that finding shared prosperity will come through working with community and not for community.  

The summit was an amazing chance for communities to come together with agencies, government workers, thought leaders and entrepreneurs, to really drill down and explore community benefits together. The two-day event kicked off with a bus tour that took delegates along the future Finch West LRT route. The route holds much promise for investment where there has been so little for nearly 40 years. There was a short detour to the future Woodbine Racetrack redevelopment, another possible place for community benefits. An incredible “poster exhibit” on community benefits was moved to Day-2 because of the strike at York University and even the strike didn’t put a damper on the success of the event. The bus tour was followed by a celebration dinner at York University’s Underground restaurant. The dinner included a speech from Senator Ratna Omidvar who will sponsor the Community Benefits Bill when it reaches the Senate from the House of Commons.

The conference which took place the next day at Jackman Law Building at the University of Toronto was full of timely information on what community benefits can mean and how they can be achieved. The opening panel discussion included a passionate address from Hamilton City Councillor Matthew Green who has been at the forefront of the community benefits movement in Hamilton. Other incredible speakers included lawyer Anthony Morgan who spoke on racial justice issues in Canadian law and policy. Climate change and its impacts on communities were also covered. There were case studies on community benefits in action and there were new friendships hatched and plans for future cooperation laid out. I’ve only scratched the surface here of all the amazingness that happened over the 2 days – I can’t wait to see what they have in store for us next year.


MIND diet could reduce cognitive decline in stroke survivors

The MIND diet (short for Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) is a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets. Both diets have been found to reduce the risk of cardiovascular conditions such as heart attack, hypertension and stroke. Researchers at Rush University Medical Center created the diet, and according to preliminary findings, the diet may help slow the cognitive decline in stroke survivors. The discovery is significant since stroke survivors are twice as likely to develop dementia when compared to the general population.

“The foods that promote brain health, including vegetables, berries, fish and olive oil, are included in the MIND diet,” said Dr. Laurel J. Cherian, a vascular neurologist and the lead author of the study. The MIND diet has 15 dietary elements, including ten brain-healthy food groups, and five unhealthy groups which include red meat, butter, cheese, pastries and sweets, and fried and fast food.

From 2004 to 2017, Cherian and colleagues studied 106 participants for the Rush Memory and Aging Project who had a history of stroke associated with a decline in their ability to think, reason and remember. Participants were assessed every year for an average of 5.9 years, and their eating habits were monitored using food journals.

The researchers grouped participants into three groups: (1) those who were highly adherent to the MIND diet; (2) those who were moderately adherent; and (3) those who were least adherent. Participants whose diets scored highest on the MIND diet grading scheme had substantially slower rates of cognitive decline than those who scored lowest. “The Mediterranean and DASH diets have been shown to be protective against coronary artery disease and stroke, but it seems that the nutrients emphasized in the MIND diet may be better suited to overall brain health and preserving cognition,” Cherian said. According to Cherian, studies have found that folate, vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, carotenoids and flavonoids are associated with slower rates of cognitive decline, while substances such as saturated and hydrogenated fats have been linked with dementia.

To adhere to the MIND diet, you need to eat at least three servings of whole grains and two portions of vegetables every day, one of which must be a leafy green; you must also snack most days on nuts, have beans every other day, eat poultry and berries at least twice a week and eat fish once a week.

Cherian cautions that the study had a relatively small number of participants and its findings cannot be interpreted as a cause-and-effect relationship. Although further research is needed to understand the link between this style of eating and its positive effects on the brain, “For now, I think there is enough information to encourage stroke patients to view food as an important tool to optimize their brain health,” says Cherian.

Our Community Deserves Fair Auto Insurance

It’s 2018 and the Downsview community still pays some of the highest auto insurance rates in the country.

I raised the issue of auto insurance company discrimination towards our community as far back as 2012 when I co-hosted a crowded town hall meeting with Ontario NDP leader, Andrea Horwath. Local residents were angry about sky-high premiums and a lack of government action on this important issue.

At the time, the Ontario NDP conducted research on the matter and showed that the same person would pay a premium of $1,153 if they lived at Lawrence Park, but $2,517 if they lived at Jane-Finch. I dug deeper and found that we faced this cost discrimination despite the fact that our neighbourhood had neither the highest rates of vehicle crime nor accidents.

With pressure from the NDP, the government promised a reduction of 15% on auto insurance rates. In 2016, when the government was criticized for not delivering on the reduction, Premier Wynne referred to her promise as more of a “stretch goal”.

In early 2017, with pressure for action mounting, the government released the Marshall Report.  Local disability and personal injury lawyer Juan Carranza is skeptical of this report, saying “The government’s report does little to address the power imbalance between insurers and accident victims and assumes the insurance industry will act out of the goodness of their hearts.”  Mr. Carranza further cited a lack of transparency around auto insurers’ profits and the amount of money they spend fighting to deny the claims of accident victims.

A year after the report’s release, local residents have yet to see an improvement in the auto insurance system. Once again, this past March, I co-hosted a local auto insurance town hall meeting with Ontario NDP leader, Andrea Horwath, to give our community the opportunity to voice their concerns on this important issue. Residents packed the room and watched online, expressing frustration with the government and stating that their insurance rates continue to rise.

Andrea Horwath spoke strongly for better government oversight, stating “An NDP government will deliver the 15% savings the Liberals refused to deliver and we won’t allow your postal code to determine how much you pay.”

Auto insurance relief is long overdue, especially in our community where families struggling to pay the bills also pay the country’s highest auto insurance premiums. In fact, many local residents who can afford a car cannot afford the insurance, so they face needless hours of daily commute times to distant jobs. The auto insurance industry is government regulated and the people deserve better government oversight and accountability rather than broken promises and “stretch goals”.