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Monday, April 21, 2014

Free transit: Three reasons it is an idea whose time has come

On January 1, 2013, Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, became the largest city in the world to make mass transit free for its residents. While the effects of having done this are, of course, specific to the context of the city itself, it has shown that a major city can do it and that it is has been widely popular with its residents. It has also focused attention on a growing international movement of groups, activists and parties who feel that free mass transit in major urban areas is an important social and environmental goal to be worked towards in the near future.

In a culture such as ours, where cars are very deeply entwined with notions of personal identity and freedom, and where the right has convinced people (falsely) that government can afford to do nothing of any significance, free transit seems at first, no doubt, like utopian nonsense to many. But given the enormous amount government invests in subsidizing the infrastructure and gas that cars rely on, and given the environmental and social equality issues involved, this is not the case at all.

Free transit is an idea whose time has come and there are three truly significant reasons it needs to be front and centre as an ultimate objective in any left municipal agenda in Canada.

1) The environment and fighting car culture

It is impossible to overstate the devastating and ongoing effects that cars and fossil fuels have on the environment. A United Nations report released on March 31, 2014, painted a dire picture of the predicament we have gotten ourselves into globally and without immediate and drastic action it is only going to get worse.

Even setting future climate change aside for a moment, air pollution caused by cars is killing people in very large numbers right now. A University of British Columbia study in October, 2013 showed that car pollution causes the premature deaths of 21,000 Canadians annually; nine times as many as are killed in car accidents.

Writing yesterday in The Guardian, Desmond Tutu went so far as to call for an Apartheid-style boycott of the companies responsible for climate change and of the fossil fuel industry. He directly called for the ending of the massive government subsidies of fossil fuels that occur globally.

In Canada these subsidies to gas and energy consumption amount to $26 billion annually, which means that 4 per cent of all government revenues were spent on them. This is a staggering fact. It also clearly shows that claims that government lacks the money to finance expanded, adequate and free transit in major urban centres are simply not true.

When one factors in possible dedicated revenue streams like tolls, gas taxes or taxes on luxury vehicles, or the possibility of a dedicated income tax increase on people with incomes over a certain level, there is absolutely no reason that free transit is not a quickly achievable goal.

Our governments and parties lack the political will and have prioritized energy consumption, including fossil fuel consumption, as well as catering to the perceived needs of car driving voters, ahead of transit.

Car culture, admittedly, is deeply engrained in Canada. It is also clear that steps have to be taken now to change that. Free transit would play a direct and obvious role in getting people out of cars and onto transit and in changing our collective perceptions of how to get to work, schools, the grocery store and recreation.

2) Social inclusion

Since Tallinn introduced its experiment in free transit one of the most pronounced benefits of the first year has been a large increase in ridership in an outlying neighbourhood with high population density and poverty rates.

This makes sense. Free transit would be an obvious way to incorporate neighbourhoods with high poverty rates or population densities that are detached from the overall economic and cultural life of the city into the fabric of city life as a whole.

Museums, art galleries, cultural or political events, parks and waterfronts and so many other essential parts of the urban experience would be there to visit at no cost in fares. Fares can add up. A family of two parents with three kids in Toronto, for example, wanting to go to its iconic High Park on a weeknight or to the Art Gallery of Ontario (which unlike the park is not free) would pay $16.80 for the round trip by TTC. That is a substantial addition to any outing.

For workers whose incomes are already stretched to the breaking point by substandard and poverty level minimum wages, these kinds of fare levels are directly and demonstrably a contributing factor in social exclusion.

Beyond opening up the city to neighbourhoods excluded from full participation in it, the reverse is also true. It would open up neighbourhoods that few visit to new possibilities to host cultural or artistic events and to become destinations. This has profound potential economic benefits.

This is especially true when free transit is made a central component of transit expansion overall so that not only are fares free, but the routes are there to make the free fares effective and worthwhile.

3) Income inequality and economic justice

Free transit has a real role to play in issues of economic justice and income inequality.

As we have already seen, our government spends vast sums of money to subsidize fossil fuels and car usage. This does not even include the money that must be spent by municipalities and governments on the infrastructure cars require.

These subsidies are made at the expense of those on lower incomes and those living in poverty. Directly. They use government funds that could be utilized by transit and any number of other programs to fund and facilitate a lifestyle choice that is of far greater benefit to the middle class, the upper middle class and the wealthy. In this sense they represent a redistribution of government revenue from those of lower incomes to those of higher ones.

Even the International Monetary Fund noted that "subsidies were expensive for governments, and that, instead of helping consumers, they detracted from increased investment  in infrastructure, education and health care, which would help the poor  more directly."

One way that those on lower incomes and living in poverty can be more directly helped is free transit!

As one Tallinn resident put it, "I live on a tight budget since I don't have too much work right now. I need to save money wherever I can, so I'm very happy with the free public transit scheme. This is a good thing for the common person."

Transit fares, for those who have work, cut into these often substandard, poverty wages themselves in the daily commute to work. Free transit would facilitate the search for better jobs (or a job at all) outside of local neighbourhoods and would allow all of those using public transit to keep more of their income by choosing free public transit as opposed to driving or having to pay daily or monthly fares. It would be especially beneficial for those on fixed incomes or relying on social assistance.

We should not underestimate the impact that this can have on the daily lives of millions of people.

It is also an issue of basic fairness. For many decades urban residents who could not afford to or who chose not to commute by car have been subsidizing those who did. They have been made to pay higher and higher fares on in many cases inadequate and overcrowded transit infrastructure while the priority has been given to cars, even in spite of the environmental repercussions of this. Most Canadian governments and municipalities have shied away from the use of tolls or the imposition of car pooling lanes, essentially facilitating the singularly destructive act of driving wherever one wants, whenever one wants, on one's own.

This has to change.

There are other reasons free transit makes sense. It would end the need to police fares and the daily confrontations between transit workers doing their jobs and some transit riders. It would signal a shift in our society's priorities. It would also, like free health care, be inspiring and transformative of how many look at the role of government and it would be very hard for even reactionaries to fully reverse once put in place in major cities.

Very recently the Coalition of Progressive Electors in Vancouver, one the country's largest municipal political formations, voted at a policy conference to make free transit a plank of their upcoming municipal campaigns. By doing so they have taken an important idea out of the "fringes" and put it into the civic discourse of the country's third largest city.

Hopefully this indicates a shift in thinking that will ripple through left-wing and progressive parties and municipal candidates from Calgary to Toronto to Montreal and to Halifax. A shift that will help to begin to make free transit the priority for our movements that it needs to be.

Gratuité du transport en commun : trois raisons qui en font une idée dont l’heure est venue

Gratuité du transport en commun : trois raisons qui en font une idée dont l’heure est venue

This translation is courtesy of Réseau pour un transport en commun gratuit - RTCGratuit a Qubec City Free Transit Group. The website can be found at: http://www.rtcgratuit.ca/

Par Michael Laxer
(Rabble.ca)

Le 1er Janvier 2013, Tallinn, la capitale de l'Estonie, est devenue la plus grande ville du monde à rendre le transport en commun gratuit.  Bien que les effets de cette mesure soient, bien sûr, spécifique au contexte local,  cela démontre qu'une grande ville peut le faire et que c’est très populaire (1) .  Ça a également attiré l'attention sur un mouvement international grandissant de groupes, de militant-e-s et de partis qui estiment que la gratuité du transport en commun dans les grandes zones urbaines est un objectif social et environnemental important sur lequel travailler à court terme.

Dans une culture comme la nôtre, où la voiture est étroitement liée aux notions d'identité personnelle et de liberté, et où la droite a convaincu les gens (à tort) que le gouvernement n’a pas les moyens de faire quoi que ce soit de significatif, la gratuité du transport en commun semble être à première vue, sans doute, une aberration utopique pour plusieurs.  Mais, étant donné les sommes énormes que le gouvernement investit pour subventionner les infrastructures et le pétrole dont ont besoin les voitures et, compte tenu des enjeux d'égalité sociale et environnementale en cause, ce n'est pas du tout le cas.

La gratuité du transport en commun est une idée dont l’heure est venue et il y a trois raisons vraiment importantes qui font qu’elle devrait être mise de l’avant comme objectif ultime de tout programme municipal de gauche au Canada.
 
1) L'environnement et la lutte contre la culture de l'automobile
Il est impossible de surestimer les effets dévastateurs que les voitures et les combustibles fossiles ont sur l'environnement.  Un rapport des Nations Unies(2), publié le 31 Mars 2014, a peint un tableau inquiétant de la situation dans laquelle nous nous sommes globalement mis et, sans action immédiate et drastique, ça ne va qu'empirer.

Même en mettant de côté les changements climatiques pour un moment, la pollution de l'air causée par les voitures tue déjà des gens en très grand nombre.  Une étude de l'Université de la Colombie-Britannique (3) publiée en octobre 2013 démontre que la pollution automobile provoque le décès prématuré de 21 000 Canadien-ne-s chaque année;  neuf fois plus que le nombre tué dans des accidents de voiture.

Dans une tribune(4) publiée dans The Guardian le 10 avril dernier, Desmond Tutu est allé jusqu'à appeler à un boycott des entreprises responsables des changements climatiques et de l'industrie des combustibles fossiles comme celui qu’il y avait eu contre l'apartheid.  Il a directement appelé à la fin des subventions gouvernementales massives aux combustibles fossiles qui se existent un peu partout.

Au Canada, ces subventions au pétrole et à la consommation d'énergie totalisent 26 milliards de dollars par année(5) , ce qui signifie que 4 pour cent de toutes les recettes du gouvernement y ont été consacrées.  C'est un fait stupéfiant.  Ça démontre aussi clairement que les prétentions à l’effet que le gouvernement n'a pas l'argent pour financer un transport en commun gratuit et de qualité dans les grands centres urbains ne sont tout simplement pas vraies.

Lorsque l'on tient compte d'éventuelles sources de revenus dédiées comme l’instauration de péages, de taxes sur l'essence, de taxes sur les véhicules de luxe ou la possibilité d'une augmentation de l'impôt des personnes dont le revenu dépasse un certain niveau, il n'y a absolument aucune raison pour que la gratuité du transport en commun ne soient pas un objectif rapidement atteignable.
Nos gouvernements et partis n'ont pas la volonté politique et ont privilégié la consommation d'énergie, y compris la consommation de combustibles fossiles, ainsi que la satisfaction des besoins présumés des électeurs automobilistes, plutôt que le transport en commun.

La culture de l’automobile(6) est, certes, profondément ancrée au Canada.  Il est également évident que des mesures doivent être prises dès maintenant pour changer cela. La gratuité du transport en commun pourrait jouer un rôle direct et évident pour sortir les gens de leur voiture et les amener dans le transport en commun et changer nos perceptions collectives de la façon de se rendre au travail, à l’école, à l'épicerie et à nos loisirs.
 
2) L'inclusion sociale

Depuis que Tallinn a commencé son expérience de gratuité du transport en commun, l'un des avantages les plus marqués de la première année a été une forte augmentation de l'achalandage dans un quartier périphérique pauvre à forte densité de population.

C’est logique. La gratuité du transport en commun est un moyen évident d'intégrer les quartiers avec des taux de pauvreté ou des densités de population élevés, qui sont détachés de la vie économique et culturelle globale de la ville, dans le tissu de la vie urbaine dans son ensemble.

Les musées, les galeries d'art, les événements culturels ou politiques, les parcs et les secteurs riverains et tant d'autres éléments essentiels de l'expérience urbaine deviennent accessible, à visiter sans billet d’autobus à payer.  Mine de rien, les tarifs font monter une facture.  Une famille de deux parents ayant trois enfants à Toronto, par exemple, qui veut aller à High Park un soir de semaine ou à la Art Gallery of Ontario (qui, contrairement au parc n'est pas gratuite) paierait 16,80 $ pour le voyage aller-retour en transport en commun.  C'est un ajout important au coût de toute sortie.

Pour les travailleurs et les travailleuses dont les revenus sont déjà étiré jusqu'au point de rupture par un salaire minimum sous le seuil de pauvreté, ce genre de tarif de transport en commun est directement et manifestement un facteur contribuant à l'exclusion sociale.

Outre l'ouverture à une pleine participation à la vie de la ville pour les quartiers exclus, l'inverse est également vrai.  La gratuité du transport en commun ouvrirait de nouvelles possibilités d'accueillir des manifestations culturelles ou artistiques à des quartiers que peu de gens visitent et qui pourraient ainsi devenir des destinations.  Cela a des avantages économiques potentiels profonds.

C‘est particulièrement vrai quand on fait de la gratuité du transport en commun un élément central de l’amélioration globale du transport, de sorte que non seulement l’absence de tarif, mais aussi les trajets sont là pour rendre la gratuité efficace et utile.
 
3) Inégalité de revenus et justice économique

La gratuité du transport en commun a un véritable rôle à jouer dans les enjeux de justice économique et d'inégalité de revenus.

Comme nous l'avons déjà vu, notre gouvernement dépense d'énormes sommes d'argent pour subventionner les combustibles fossiles et l'utilisation de la voiture.  Cela ne comprend même pas l'argent qui doit être dépensé par les municipalités et les gouvernements sur l'infrastructure qu’exige l’automobile.

Ces subventions sont accordées au détriment des personnes à faible revenu et des personnes vivant dans la pauvreté.  Directement.  Elles utilisent des fonds publics qui pourraient être utilisés pour le transport en commun et un certain nombre d'autres programmes pour financer et  faciliter un style de vie qui profite beaucoup plus à la classe moyenne et aux nantis.  En ce sens, elles représentent une redistribution des revenus gouvernementaux de bas en haut.

Même le Fonds monétaire international(7) a noté que «les subventions sont coûteuses pour les gouvernements, et que, au lieu d'aider les consommateurs, elles nuisent à l'augmentation des investissements dans les infrastructures, l'éducation et les soins de santé, ce qui aiderait les pauvres plus directement».

Une façon d’aider plus directement les personnes à faible revenu et vivant dans la pauvreté est la gratuité du transport en commun!

Comme un résident de Tallinn(8) l’a dit : «je vis avec un budget serré puisque je n'ai pas trop de travail en ce moment. J'ai besoin d'économiser de l'argent partout où je peux, donc je suis très heureux avec le système de transport en commun gratuit. C'est une bonne chose pour le commun des mortels».

Les tarifs de transport en commun viennent souvent réduire, par des déplacements quotidiens pour aller au travail, des salaires sous le seuil de la pauvreté.  La gratuité du transport en commun faciliterait la recherche de meilleurs emplois (ou la recherche d’emploi tout court) à l'extérieur de son quartier et permettrait à ceux et celles qui utilisent le transport en commun de conserver une plus grande part de leur revenu en choisissant le transport en commun gratuit au lieu de conduire ou d'avoir à payer des tarifs tous les jours ou une passe mensuelle.  Ce serait particulièrement bénéfique pour les personnes à revenus fixes ou en s'appuyant sur l'aide sociale.

Nous ne devrions pas sous-estimer l'impact que cela peut avoir sur la vie quotidienne de millions de personnes.

C'est aussi une question d'équité fondamentale.  Pendant plusieurs décennies, les citadin-e-s qui n'avaient pas les moyens ou qui choisissaient de ne pas se déplacer en voiture ont subventionné ceux et celles qui le faisaient.  On leur a fait payer des tarifs de plus en plus élevés pour, dans de nombreux cas, une infrastructure de transport inadéquate et surpeuplée alors que la voiture avait la priorité, en dépit des répercussions environnementales.  La plupart des gouvernements et des municipalités canadiennes ont hésité à utiliser le péages ou l'imposition de voies de covoiturage, ce qui facilite essentiellement l'acte singulièrement destructeur de conduire où l'on veut, quand on veut, seul.

Cela doit changer.

Il y a d'autres raisons qui rendent la gratuité du transport en commun logique.  Elle mettrait fin à la nécessité de contrôler les tarifs et aux affrontements quotidiens entre les travailleurs et les travailleurs des transports qui font leur travail et certains usagers qui ne veulent ou ne peuvent pas payer.  Elle serait le signe d'un changement dans les priorités de notre société.  Elle serait également, comme les soins de santé gratuits, une source d'inspiration et transformerait la vision de plusieurs du rôle du gouvernement et il serait très difficile pour les réactionnaires d’inverser totalement la tendance une fois la gratuité du transport en commun mise en place dans les grandes villes.

Très récemment, la Coalition of Progressive Electors à Vancouver, une des plus grandes formations politiques municipale du pays, a voté en congrès(9) de faire de la gratuité du transport en commun un des thèmes de leurs campagnes municipales à venir.  Ce faisant, ils ont sorti une idée importante de la marginalité pour la mettre dans le discours civique de la troisième plus grande ville du pays.
Espérons que cela indique un changement de mentalité qui se répandra à travers les partis progressistes ou de gauche et les candidats municipaux de Calgary à Toronto et de Montréal à Halifax.  Un changement qui permettra de commencer à faire de la gratuité du transport en commun la priorité qu’elle doit être pour nos mouvements.
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Michael Laxer vit à Toronto où il dirige une librairie avec sa partenaire Natalie.  Michael a un diplôme en histoire du Collège Glendon de l'Université York.  C’est un militant politique, il a été candidat à deux reprise et organisateur électoral pour le NPD, c’était un candidat socialiste aux élections municipales de Toronto en 2010 (il se présente de nouveau) et il est membre de l'exécutif du Parti socialiste nouvellement formé de l'Ontario.

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Publié à l’origine le 11 avril 2014 sur le portail d’information de gauche canadien rabble.ca. Traduction : Nicolas Phébus pour RTCGratuit.ca

Texte original : http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/michael-laxer/2014/04/free-transit-three-reasons-it-idea-whose-time-has-come
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Notes :
(1) http://www.theatlanticcities.com/commute/2014/01/largest-free-transit-experiment-world/8231/
(2) http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/mar/31/climate-change-threat-food-security-humankind
(3) http://www.vancouversun.com/health/pollution+nine+times+deadlier+than+crashes+study+finds/9061897/story.html
(4) http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/apr/10/divest-fossil-fuels-climate-change-keystone-xl
(5) http://www.desmog.ca/2013/05/10/just-how-much-exactly-are-you-paying-subsidize-fossil-fuels
(6) http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/michael-laxer/2013/10/it-time-war-on-car
(7) http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/28/business/imf-calls-for-curbing-fuel-subsidies.html?_r=1&
(8) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/04/estonias-capital-introduces-free-public-transportation_n_3014589.html
(9) http://www.vancouversun.com/news/COPE+puts+free+transit+tenant+protection+platform/9679373/story.html

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Left behind: Ontario's politicians are abandoning minimum-wage workers and people living in poverty

Ontario is on the verge of indexing minimum-wage workers into perpetual poverty.

This is a political choice being made by politicians in the province. The Liberal party is calling for an $11-an-hour minimum wage indexed to inflation. The ONDP is calling for a $12-an-hour minimum wage two years from now also indexed to inflation. The Tories would simply leave workers exactly where they are.

Poor.

Both of the Liberal and ONDP proposals start well below the poverty line and this directly means that minimum wage workers will be, by any reasonable standard, indexed to stay below the poverty line forever. If it is pegged to a below poverty rate to begin with and then tied to "inflation" it makes it so that the minimum-wage workers can never, by definition, climb out of poverty.

This is why many business groups support this idea. Why wouldn't they? It allows them to pay poverty wages in perpetuity by law!

Meanwhile, social assistance rates remain at levels that are incomprehensibly sadistic and wrong.

Given this willingness to index poverty into law and to ignore the vicious reality of where social assistance is at, it seems worth noting that the inequality that exists between those in office making these decisions and those they are condemning it to is truly profound and obvious.

Even assuming that one can get full-time work, a worker working a full-time job at the new minimum-wage proposal of the Liberals would make a pre-tax income of $22,880 a year. A worker under the ONDP proposal would make $24,960 a year in 2016, even, again, assuming they got full-time work.

These are astonishingly low wages that are impossible to live on in Ontario, especially in a major city like Toronto.

A $15-an-hour minimum wage allows for a full-time income of $31,200 a year. A dramatic improvement that would have a clear and obvious impact on the lives of workers. Especially given that now the pre-tax income of a full-time minimum-wage worker is at most $22,360.

Meanwhile, a single person on welfare in Ontario receives, $7,512 a year.

Seriously. $7,512 a year.

Who is making these decisions about the minimum wage and welfare? Given that it is a minority parliament that has allowed this to continue for three years, all the parties have made this decision.

And not one of them is claiming to want to do anything differently in this regard.

So the people making the decisions are Kathleen Wynne who made $198,521.29. Tim Hudak who made $180,885.60. Andrea Horwath who made $158,157.96.

Rosario Marchese who made $129,720.00. Ted McMeekin who made $165,851.04. Peter Shurman who made $116,550.00.

Every single person making the choice, and it is a choice, to continue to legislate poverty for those on social assistance and working for the minimum wage made in excess of $100,000 a year. Every single MPP.

The contrast is very stark and very clear.

The question, in the end, is how many people in Ontario have to be working for the poverty wages that are less than $15 an hour or "living" off of cruel social assistance rates before any political party or MPP making over $100,000 a year cares?

What is the perceived electoral risk versus big salary for themselves ratio that is required before any MPP in Ontario will actually do something to prevent the indexing of poverty wages into law or before they will stand up for meaningful increases in what human beings on social assistance are forced to subside on?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Less than zero: Living in the 'real world' of the Left's retreat.

In Ontario another election season is at hand. A provincial election seems likely and municipal elections are occurring province wide. We have a bizarre situation where the Liberals are forcing the NDP to shift "left" on a number of issues like the minimum wage and now possible taxes, where "left wing" candidates for mayor in Toronto feel the need to couch policies in fundamentally reactionary anti-tax rhetoric, and where even what would a generation ago have been perceived as mildly social democratic notions like living wages, the idea of direct government intervention in the economy, new universal social programs or a comprehensive tax program to fund critically socially significant initiatives like transit, are now seen as incredibly "radical" and as hurting the "left's" chances of "winning."

But winning what, exactly?

After 25 years of constant retreat one might imagine that the left might think a new strategy is in order. Despite all the concessions to "reality" or doing what it supposedly takes to get elected, where are we? Does anyone seriously believe that we are better off than when we had an actual socialist political force in the country that advocated for demonstrably interventionist and meaningful social and economic policies?

We are in a society where poverty and inequality are at levels unparalleled in decades and where any possible or obvious solutions to deal with this are deemed to be fanciful or unrealistic. Often they are presented as if they are simply intellectual exercises that are encumbrances to supposedly "realistic" agendas aimed at making "practical change." Agendas floated by very well compensated elected politicians who, it would seem, equate what is beneficial to their careers with what is socially progressive or with what constitutes a "progressive" agenda.

The very idea of socialism has been framed as some kind of intellectual exercise that "academics" indulge in while the elected "realists" are out there getting results that never really seem to happen. "Radical" ideas are portrayed as little more than hopeless ideals that we know would be positive, but that we don't really think there is anything we can do about.

Often leftists are told in condescending ways that we have to live in the "real world."

But here is the thing. Making this political choice to get elected, and it is a choice, does have real world consequences.

When we toss aside our commitment to the idea of a society based on equality and social justice, when we abandon calling for an end to capitalism, it is not just abandoning an intellectual construct.

There are direct results that are not in anyway an abstraction.

Real people in the real world are suffering, living in or living on the edge of poverty, and facing grotesque exploitation directly due to corporations and the capitulation of the liberal left to the basic ideas of the right.

The new universal mantras of "tax relief" and "fiscal conservatism" or "responsibility" embraced by "progressives" have real world consequences that are not slogans, not ideological, but fact.

The fact is that poverty kills people and renders the idea of equality of opportunity a joke.

The fact is that millions of people are forced to work for wages that they cannot live on without assistance.

The fact is that social assistance rates are not just inadequate they are cruel.

The fact is that the minimum wage now is a poverty wage and we are about to index people into poverty under provincial plans.

The fact is that climate change may yet kill us all and we are doing next to nothing to combat the suicidal consumptive consumerism and car culture causing it.

The fact is that ideas like free education and transit will allow for far greater social inclusion and for a clearly better society.

The fact is that possible programs like Pharmacare or free dental care would make life demonstrably better for millions of people in very direct ways.

The list could go on and on.

But what it comes down to is that if we are not fighting for these things, if we are not standing up front and centre for them, they will not happen.

All the time we hear that talking about socialism and being "radical" is somehow quaint and silly while these appalling oppressions, as well as oppressions like patriarchy, colonialism, racism and homophobia endure, and while the insanity that is austerity and environmental catastrophe continue unabated.

These vicious real world cruelties and injustices happen every single day. The lack of new and serious social programs impacts the lives of real people every single day.

This is exactly why socialist ideas and leftist campaigns matter. Why they are not an intellectual exercise.

They matter because if they do not happen, these actual, real, demonstrable cruelties, injustices and oppressions that impact real people in the real world will simply continue.

It is the guaranteed outcome of not fighting for "radical" change.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A letter to Andrea Horwath

Dear Ms. Horwath;

Thank you for your letter to the Premier of Ontario asking her to make life in the province "more affordable, not more expensive".


It has, indeed, come to the attention of many that life for millions of people in Ontario is not affordable.

They do not make enough to make ends meet because they are not paid a living wage, the kind of living wage that would come from being paid a $14 or $15 an hour minimum wage. It is sad that no one in parliament advocates for this.

They are suffering due to inadequate social assi...stance rates across the board; rates barely raised for twenty years now while extremely well compensated politicians ignore the people made to endure nearly impossible hardship on them.

They cannot afford daycare or medications because we have cut personal taxes so much (and not just, as you imply, on the upper classes) that we have no hope of building universal Pharmacare or daycare programs. This leaves many citizens and residents of Ontario with nothing but lint in their pockets. Sadly, again, no one is advocating for universal Pharmacare or daycare.

While some advocate boutique tax cuts for "small" business and middle class homeowners, many find life unaffordable due to woefully inadequate public transit that keeps people in expensive and destructive automobiles and keeps fares too high for those without cars.

Free public transit would certainly make life more affordable. At the very least greatly expanded transit would make the lives of millions far better. It might help save the planet as well.

Strict rent controls and a public housing strategy would make life more affordable.

Lower and ultimately free tuition fees would make life more affordable. They would also greatly enhance equality of opportunity, which these days is mostly a myth.

Socializing the ownership of multinationals trying to move their factories out of the province and thereby preserving good jobs would obviously make life more affordable for the workers and communities devastated by corporate immorality and greed.

I can think of many other things that might make life more "affordable". And more just and fair. Like free summer and after school programs for kids, free educational and recreational programs for adults, stricter labour laws to prevent employer abuse of workers, laws to actually facilitate unionization or worker co-operatives and so many more.

Programs, increases and steps that, even a couple of which, would actually, truly, honestly, clearly make life more "affordable" for citizens and residents in Ontario. As well as making our society a better and far more just place to live in.

Maybe it is time to talk about a few of these ideas. To force the leaders of what we have always assumed were the parties of business, the Liberals and Conservatives, to listen and take notice. To force them to hear what a real People's Agenda would be about.

I would hope you would consider using your power to seek some of these concessions in the minority parliament and in office should you win the next election.

They would make life far more "affordable". They might even surprise you in how they could inspire the people of the province. They would also have the virtue of being the right thing to do.

All the best and In Solidarity.

Woody Allen and the persistent myths of rape culture

This article was originally published on Feminist Current.
 
By now the outline detailing the facts of the terrible story that Dylan Farrow tells of her sexual assault as a child by her father Woody Allen are well known.

After he was honoured at the Golden Globes for his work in film, Mia Farrow and Allen’s son Ronan Farrow tweeted comments that essentially called the Golden Globes and other celebrities out for having done this in spite of Woody Allen’s history of sexual assault, and his entirely and obviously inappropriate behaviour towards Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter whom he had known since the age of eight and began to have a sexual relationship with as soon as he was legally able to do so.

This led to a defence of Allen by Robert Weide in The Daily Beast on January 27th. Weide’s article was followed by a firestorm of criticism as well as by Dylan Farrow herself, after many years of silence, forcefully and powerfully speaking out about the abuse she had suffered.

In the days since, basically every point that Weide made in Allen’s defence has been completely demolished in one forum or another. Feminist Current’s Meghan Murphy called out Weide for his victim blaming and trying to make it all about Mia Farrow (a tactic Allen defenders consistently use) as opposed to about Dylan Farrow. Vanity Fair’s Maureen Orth responded to all the “articles containing incorrect and irresponsible claims” in defence of Allen by outlining the “10 Undeniable Facts About the Woody Allen Sexual-Abuse Allegation”. Legal analyst Lisa Bloom wrote of the “Six Reasons Why Dylan Farrow is Highly Credible”.  Slate’s Jessica Winter wrote about “just the facts” and how Weide had none on his side. There are many other examples, including the rather damning release of the actual custody judgement.

When Allen issued a statement in the New York Times, reiterating his long held contention that it was all “implanted” in Dylan Farrow’s mind by Mia Farrow, Dylan responded powerfully again by noting that “I have never wavered in describing what he did to me.”

Yet in spite of this overwhelming evidence legions of Woody Allen’s online defenders, (the majority of whom seem to be men, based on what I’ve seen in many online discussion threads), continue to insist that Dylan Farrow is the unwitting dupe of a plot by her vengeful mother. This despite the fact that many of them are also supposedly the educated, enlightened, liberal types who I think are broadly believed to be Woody Allen’s fan base.

Predictably, of course, some conservative journalists like the National Post’s Jonathon Kay got in on the act penning articles repeating many of Weide’s already discredited claims, while seeking to use ”personal experience” to imply that false sexual assault accusations are widespread or that one needs to be wary of similar accusations of child abuse. This is an old tactic, as, of course, undocumented and entirely one-sided “personal experiences” can be used to try to undermine the actually well-established facts about rape and child sexual abuse, facts to which we will shortly return.

This is due, no doubt, to the sad reality of the reflexive need of many to blindly defend their heroes, whether cultural, political, sporting or what have you. While they would obviously not see it this way, there is in practice little difference between the supposedly boorish defenders of any number of sports figures accused of sexual assault and rape or the allegedly bookish defenders of Allen other than, perhaps, the type of language they use. Sexism and rape apologism presented in more rarified form is not, however, any better, more excusable or less misogynist.

But is also due directly to rape culture and its persistent mythology as well as to the continuing and ongoing lies — and they are lies — about how common, widespread and prevalent false accusations are. It should come as absolutely no surprise that so many fall back on what are proven rape myths when convenient and are unwilling to acknowledge how deeply embedded rape culture is, as doing so forces one to ask many uncomfortable questions about sexual violence and the extremely gendered nature of it. It ultimately forces one to confront the widespread and extremely violent nature of Patriarchy and male behaviour found across cultures and countries; behaviour that men engage in across lines of class, race, education and other factors.

So fall back on the rape myths men (and some women) do. And again they must be confronted. The absolute and proven fact is that false allegations of rape or sexual assault are extremely rare, especially versus cases of sexual assault itself, and especially when compared to the legions of men who actually get away with sexual assault, which is sadly the vast majority of those committing it. Even those who write pathetic articles arguing that the tiny number of such cases should still somehow be regarded as a major social issue acknowledge that only 2-4% (at most) of all reported rape or assault allegations are false. Given that it is well established that the vast majority of sexual assaults, as many as 90 per cent, are never reported to the authorities, the actual, real occurrence (not all of those everyone knows from “personal experience”) of false allegations versus actual incidences are completely statistically and socially insignificant.

Does this mean they do not happen and are not devastating when they do? No. It does, however, mean that attempting to conflate them is simply a tactic and attempting to imply that their occurrence makes it more likely to be true than usual in any specific given case is inane. Allen’s defenders also completely ignore the reality that many of the terrible false convictions of people for actual rapes or for the insane wave of Christian conspiracy theories about “Satanic” sex rituals in the 80′s and early 90′s that they reference were due almost entirely to prosecutorial misconduct and are in no way analogous to the Allen situation. To say that claims made by women (or men) that are consistent over twenty years from childhood to adulthood, where they unequivocally can identify the person they are accusing, and that still turn out to be false and are proven to be so are rare, would be an enormous understatement. It strains belief to discredit someone on this basis.

But the realties of rape culture run much deeper than this. As men of any background can be the perpetrators of sexual violence, so can their victims. As Kirk Makin wrote in the Globe and Mail:

It’s a crime like no other. A violation of the self as well as the body — an assault on trust, on privacy, on control. It’s also an offence with an afterlife: a sense of bruising shame and guilt.
And it happens to women in Canada every 17 minutes.
Some of those women place calls to services such as the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter – about 1,400 of them last year alone.
“These are not just women who live in poverty or need,” says Summer-Rain Bentham, one of the counsellors who answers their calls. “These are women who are teachers, doctor or lawyers; women whose husbands may be police officers or judges.”
But if these women are hoping for more than support – if they are hoping for justice – the phones might as well keep ringing.
Less than half of complaints made to police result in criminal charges and, of those charges, only about one in four leads to a guilty verdict.
Sexual abuse and assault is a daily threat and actuality for all women. Men too are sexually assaulted both as children (and defenders of the Catholic Church initially attempted to use similar arguments to Allen’s defenders against emerging stories of the widespread assault of boys and girls when accusations were brought by the victims often decades later) and as adults. But what is in no doubt is who, regardless of the gender of the victim, the perpetrators of sexual violence and assault are.

They are men. Overwhelmingly men. As the latest statistics from Statistics Canada point out:
Regardless of the type of offence, males were consistently more likely than females to be the accused. Sexual offences showed the highest representation of males: 98% of all persons charged with sexual assault level 1, child pornography and sexual violations against children in 2011 were male.
In the end, one has to think that this gendered reality of rape and sexual assault and abuse, this indisputable fact that sexual violence is a male crime that flows from a society and a civilization founded on male supremacy and patriarchy, underlies much of the persistence of the defenses of the (too numerous to recount) cases of famous and powerful men accused of such crimes that many simply cannot believe are guilty. As well as of the literally countless similar defenses of the millions of not so famous perpetrators of these assaults who have never faced, and never will face, justice.
If we, as a society and as individuals, confront the reality of how prevalent, widespread and so often totally unpunished male sexual violence really is, then we also have to confront the reality of what patriarchy is — how it is an inextricable part of what allows men to continue to get away with so many terrible crimes against women and children. We have to confront the established fact that supposedly “good” men — priests, artists, intellectuals, activists, business people, “pillars of the community” — are just as likely to be sexual predators, pedophiles and violent towards women, boys and girls, as any other men.

It is easier to disregard and reject what women say or to imply that they are being emotional, irrational, petty or malicious. It easier to chose to think that it was all a vindictive lie by a scorned woman.

This is why so many do.

Where is the ONDP on a $14 an hour minimum wage in Ontario?

In an election year pledge that is both a woefully insufficient step in the "right" direction and an act of supreme political cynicism, Ontario's Premier Kathleen Wynne has promised an immediate hike of the minimum wage in Ontario to $11 an hour, after having frozen it since 2010.

It is a smart move. With the likelihood of the minority parliament falling in the coming months, it is a small, token gesture toward the large numbers of citizens worried about growing inequality. It also has the virtue, from a Liberal point of view, of being small. Other than putting up the usual resistance, very few, even in the business community, have gotten, or are likely to get, too worked up about it.

In part this is due to the ongoing effort by a coalition of labour groups and community activists to get the minimum wage raised to $14 an hour, a prospect that no doubt terrifies the business class, even though it really is the bare minimum needed to live above the poverty line in centres like Toronto. No doubt they realize that $11 an hour represents a victory of sorts.

While Sid Ryan of the Ontario Federation of Labour called the Liberal proposal of tying the minimum wage in future to inflation "revolutionary in a way," this is a proposal also supported by many business groups (and had been in advance of it),  and is especially appealing in the present context of relatively low inflation and the very real possibility of future deflation. This "revolutionary" proposal may likely not lead to a $14 or $15 an hour minimum wage for a generation.

More difficult to understand, for some, is the ONDP's apparent reluctance to take a strong stand on this issue consistent with its alleged social activist and labour allies.

To date, while some of its caucus members have been slightly more outspoken, the leader driven party has not strayed from its message of boutique appeals to minor consumerist middle class issues and its pandering to the fiction of the small business "job creator." While it is true that small businesses create many jobs, it is also true, especially in the absence of an industrial or neo-industrial state job creation strategy, that the jobs they create are often not even worthy of the term "McJob." They are, overall, without any question the lowest paying jobs and rarely have any benefits of any meaning.

The ONDP also distorts what a "small business" is. When it calls for a reduction in the small business tax rate, as it does, it fails to mention that this applies only to incorporated "small" businesses, which are often not even the romanticised vision that some have of "Mom and Pop" businesspeople toiling away long hours for their "community." Many incorporated "small businesses" are professionals attempting to minimize taxes, small landlords, etc. It is a designation that is about liability and tax law; nothing else. Many, many, small retail business people, like corner store owners, small coffee shops, independent online retailers, etc., are not incorporated at all and function instead as self-employed sole proprietorships or partnerships under tax law.

Not only does the ONDP's proposed "small business" tax cut not cover them (not that they actually need a tax cut, given that round after round of personal tax cuts have them covered), the party disingenuously claims to represent them with this policy when it does not.

Never mind that despite holding the balance of power, the ONDP has done nothing to force the minimum wage issue. Horwath and the ONDP have also been working for many years, however, to distance themselves from being seen as a programmatically leftist party backing systemic changes of any meaning, and have instead focused on traditionally right wing ideas of placing emphasis on the "cost of living" in a consumerist sense as opposed to on the traditionally leftist notion of alleviating poverty and social inequality through comprehensive social programs.

An Ontario voter forwarded me a reply that he received, after emailing the office of NDP MPP Jagmeet Singh and asking him and the ONDP to support a $14 an hour minimum wage. His office wrote back:
In regards to your concerns about the minimum wage increase, we understand the frustrations of Ontarians. Families are getting squeezed, their bills are going up, fees are rising, hydro costs are skyrocketing, and families just can’t keep up. Responsible working families who work hard for forty hours a week, should not be living in poverty. Hard work and responsibility should be compensated with a fair and reasonable wage. The ONDP has a long history of working with the OFL and applaud their grass roots work to have the minimal wage increased. We look forward to seeing what they bring to the debate, as many of their previous campaigns have helped shape the growth and betterment of Ontario.
This is very telling. Among other things, it perpetuates that awful fiction of the "worthy" versus "unworthy" poor, directly implying in its language that those who are not working, for whatever reason, have been laid off, or cannot find full time work (and many workers are forced to work what are legally regarded as part-time jobs) are not "responsible." One might ask, should "irresponsible families," or, heaven forbid, people without "families," unable to find work "forty hours a week," be living in poverty?

Beyond that, in seeking to avoid answering the inquiry, which it tried very hard to do, the response focuses on "bills," "fees," "hydro costs," etc., completely disingenuously implying that these are the reasons that people are feeling the "pinch" as opposed to the fact that many in the working class, and even the middle class, are not making a living wage.

By focusing on the consumerist issues the ONDP avoid tackling the actual underpinnings of inequality and injustice; the downward pressures on wages and the lack of a forceful commitment by any political party to living wages. By implying there is a "debate" as to what the minimum wage should be, they are directly saying that business people who feel the minimum wage should be kept low have a position worthy of consideration.

All one has to do, frankly, is look at the shockingly reactionary by-election ad for ONDP candidate Wayne Gates. The video ad talks about how Tim Hudak did not do enough in the great struggle of  "rewarding job creators" and making sure slot machines stayed in race tracks! This is an interesting vision of social democracy.

Nowhere does it talk about higher wages or economic equality issues.

Horwath and the ONDP, however, has been actively courting the "905" area code suburban vote by seeking to jump on the perceived coattails of Rob Ford style right wing "pocket book" populism. Hence their fixation on consumerist issues like HST hydro cuts, auto insurance rates, opposing obviously environmentally beneficial "car taxes" and the like, while having no alternative funding visions for important social objectives like Toronto transit expansion other than vague promises about "corporations" somehow paying for it all. They will, of course, pay for nothing.

The calculation is obviously that Horwath thinks Ford still has an appeal among 905ers and that the NDP can somehow harness this. This calculation is very open for debate. What is not open for debate is that it leaves workers in low wage jobs, the Precariat, entirely out of the equation.

Minimum wage and non-"middle class" workers do not primarily need small cuts to hydro bills, auto insurance rates (if they even own a car), or to have the worst employers in the economy "rewarded" for creating bad jobs, they need higher wages, expanded and free transit, universal daycare, pharmacare, and the types of universal social programs "progressives" and social democrats once actually fought for. They need a wage and job strategy that is not centered around the economy's worst and least reliable employers, "small business."

They need active parliamentary political representation that will fight for living wages and economic justice.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Letter to landlord.

Mr. #$$%%&^&***(

Natalie Lochwin and I have an order against #&^%(&^ Ontario Ltd. from the Landlord and Tenant Board for #$%^$$

This judgement is non-negotiable and payment in full was to have been made by October 4th, 2013 , according to the order itself. This has not occurred and this is a violation of Board's order.

As your legal counsel will advise you, and as the Landlord and Tenant Board's own website makes clear:

“An order issued by the Board is similar to a court order.  Most of the terms and conditions of Board orders can be enforced through the courts.  For example, an eviction order can be filed with the Court Enforcement Office (also known as the Sheriff’s office) to be enforced; or an order for payment of money may be filed with the Small Claims Court for enforcement.



Once the Board issues an order, it is final.  The Board will not change the order because a party does not like the decision or because a party believes that a different decision should have been made.”



If we do not receive the full amount owed to us according to the judgement within 14 days we will commence further collection and legal action against you at that time without any further communication.



Please send payment in full to %(&^ Lake Shore Blvd. W., Toronto, Ontario, $%^$%^.



We anticipate your prompt attention to this matter,

Pursuing a judgement against a landlord in Ontario and the case for landlord licensing

In the early part of 2013 my partner Natalie and I and our three children were evicted from the apartment we had lived in in west end Toronto and that was our home. It was well suited for us, with three bedrooms, a deck and being very close to both our work and the school  all our kids were enrolled in.

We had done nothing wrong. The building had changed hands, and the new owners claimed that they intended to live in the apartment, which was above a store where they supposedly planned to open a business. This is their right under the law, regardless of how long a tenant has lived there, or the tenant's circumstances. The owner at the time, our landlord, issued us an eviction notice so that the apartment would be vacant on the closing of the real estate deal.

We did not contest the eviction. There really would have been no point. Instead we went through the process, an always stressful and costly one, of finding a new home, packing up all our things and moving.

This could have been the end of the story, but, instead, only a couple of months after moving we noticed a "For Rent" sign in the window of our former apartment. The new owners, obviously, had not moved in! With a little sleuthing we found out that they were renting it out, and had upped the rent by $300 a month, something that is legal on vacant apartments under our Mike Harris era Ontario "Rent Control" laws. This allowance obviously provides an incentive for new owners to evict existing tenants claiming that they or a family member intend to move in so as to jack up the rent on an apartment they think they can get more for. Otherwise, with tenants who are already in place they can only increase rent according to a regulated guideline, this year at only 0.8%.

This is a provision that clearly should be changed and full rent controls should be put back in place on vacant apartments as well.

It was the previous owner who had evicted us, so we took the numbered company (with lots of helpful advice from a friend involved with the Federation of Metro Tenants' Associations)  that had been our landlord to the Landlord Tenant Board for having evicted us in bad faith. If proven, a tenant is allowed to claim for all moving expenses and can claim for any difference in rent for every month of one year if the new apartment they have moved into is more expensive. In our case, for example, the difference in rent was $100 a month more for our new apartment, so we were able to try to claim for $1200 in damages. ($100 X 12 months).

This is done by filling out a T5 "Landlord Gave a Notice of Termination in Bad Faith" form. This can be found on the Landlord and Tenant Board website along with the relatively easy steps for how to go about filing it. You will have to have documentation for all claims, like rent receipts/lease agreements, receipts for movers/moving trucks, evidence that they are renting it (we had a photo of the "For Rent" sign in the window) etc. If you are ever evicted for this reason, hold on to these and any screengrabs or newspaper ads, etc.

We and our former landlord received a hearing date notification from the Board and then argued our cases at the hearing itself. You can have a lawyer represent you, but this is expensive and in most cases like this, simply not worth it. Obviously if you can have a lawyer or experienced paralegal do it. This is always advisable. We represented ourselves. Be aware that your former landlord is not only allowed (as they should be) to be present at the hearing, but that they can ask you questions. If you are not prepared or willing to have this happen, and it can, of course, be stressful, then you cannot pursue them. On the positive side, the adjudicator at the hearing will not tolerate interruptions, angry attacks or insults, so you need not worry about these.

A month or so after the hearing we received the verdict. We had won! We had been awarded the $1200, plus moving expenses, plus some damages we had not even requested. It was an across-the-board victory and vindication. The Board Order was mailed to both us as tenants and the landlord. They were given a specific date to pay by, and told that the decision was final and binding (it is only in very rare cases that a Board judgement can be appealed).

The payment date came and went. Eventually they sent a small fraction of what we were owed and made it clear that this was all they intended to pay.

And nothing, at all, happened.

This is when you discover that in Ontario, there is absolutely no enforcement arm for Board decisions. The landlord or tenant is ultimately responsible for enforcement. While landlords have obvious ways to enforce a judgement, as the tenant still lives in the apartment and as eviction notices, for example, can be enforced by the Sherriff, a tenant, especially a former one, cannot do this. You have to find a way to collect the judgement yourself, and this is not easy to do.

The Landlord Tenant Board has a "help" line and when we called it after the landlord refused to pay, we were politely told that there was nothing they could do. On three separate occasions I was told personally that I was "wasting my time", that pursuing the landlord would cost more money than it was worth, that I should likely hire a collection agency to pursue them and, as one helpline worker told me, "hope for the best".

Hiring a collection agency is an option. For a percentage of your judgement they will attempt to collect it and, if it is high enough (they can be up to $25,000), they might even pursue it in court for you. If you have no time to pursue it yourself, this may be the best option. Our judgement was for under $2000 total however, as many will be, and a collection agency is unlikely to pursue this in court. They may succeed in harassing your former landlord into submission, and they do not get paid unless they do, but a landlord can simply ignore them and wait them out.

Alternately, of course, if you have access to a lawyer or paralegal and if it is either pro bono for you or worth it to pay the fees, then you should take advantage of this and have them take action on your behalf. This is, when possible, always the best course of action.

But it is not always possible, and Natalie and I certainly could not afford this, and even if we had been able to, it would not have been worth it for a judgement that size.

After a considerable amount of digging around, and again with the helps of friends, I found that there is another option. What you have to do is have the Board Order converted to a judgement in Small Claims Court. First, send your landlord a letter telling them that they have failed to make restitution as required, and tell them that if they do not pay within 14 days you will take further action. I have posted a copy of the one I sent (with some information redacted) here.

Assuming they do not pay, you need to take the Order to the Small Claims Court office in your community in Ontario and do this in person. In Toronto this is located at 47 Sheppard Ave. E. A full list of office addresses can be found on the website of the Ministry of the Attorney General.

This will cost you $100, but you can claim this as a cost later and recoup it from your landlord when and if you succeed in getting what you are owed. You need to go with identification and proof of address. The key thing that you also need, if you wish to be able to proceed to immediate garnishment and enforcement of the decision, is your landlord's banking information. Usually you will need to get a cancelled rent cheque that has been cashed by your landlord from your bank.  This will have your landlord's bank's stamp on it, which contains the banking information (bank, account number, branch number, etc.).

If you do not have or are not able to get your landlord's banking information it becomes far more complicated as you will have to serve forms to have a hearing held to compel your landlord to provide the information for garnishment or you will be required to, if they have one, compel their employer to enforce the judgement by garnishing their wages (if you had or have a numbered company landlord, this can obviously not be done). Otherwise, you have to seek other types of property seizure/liens that are very difficult to pursue.

Assuming you do have or can get this banking information, and it is generally not that hard to obtain, you will need to fill out and file at the Small Claims Court office a Form 20E "Notice of Garnishment" along with a Form 20P "Affidavit for Enforcement Request" with a clerk at the court office. These forms can be found at the government website along with instructions for their completion. The clerk will stamp the notices.

You want to claim for your full Board order amount, plus the $100 cost of the judgement conversion, plus any interest available to you for late payment. The interest you can claim and from what date you can apply it will be included in the original Board order.

You will then have to serve the stamped Notice of Garnishment on the financial institution where they have their account and on your landlord. You also have to send your landlord a copy of the 20P form. It is critical to note that you do not have to serve your landlord until 5 days after you have served their bank. This prevents them from removing the money from the account. While other methods are allowed, and are detailed in the form instructions, I advise serving the documents via registered mail to have a paper trail.

When you serve the stamped 20E Notice of Garnishment with you landlord's bank you also have to include a blank "Garnishee's Statement Form", form 20F, that they will send to you filled out when they have either enforced your garnishment or are attempting to claim that they cannot do so.

Once you have served the bank and your landlord, you will have to complete and return to the court, very promptly, a form 8A "Affidavit of Service". This must be, as the form says, "signed in front of a lawyer, justice of the peace, notary public or commissioner for taking affidavits", meaning that you will have take it to a lawyer's office and have this dome, generally for a fee of around $20, (and then mail it to the Small Claims Court) or to take it back to the court office and do it there. It is critical that you take this step, or you will not get your garnishment.

Small Claims Court offices have free legal clinics available to people of lower or medium income (and I suspect anyone doing this on their own is almost certain to qualify) who will give you advice and even fill out the forms for you. Take advantage of this. I would have had a much harder time without them. The forms are confusing if you are not familiar with them, and they have to be filled out properly or they are not valid.

Expect, especially in major centres, to spend a long time at the court office. If at all possible, go as early as you can in the day.

If you follow these steps, and if your landlord has the money in their account, the bank will garnish it, will send it to the Ministry of the Attorney General, and, barring a very unlikely appeal of this, you will be issued a cheque within 30 days of the ministry getting the money (which generally happens within 20 days of you serving the bank.)

We finally got our cheque, and restitution, in early January 2014. While this was a very satisfying moment, it took months and many hours of effort. If I were not self-employed and, to be honest, driven by a sense that my family and I had been wronged, I probably would have just given up. If reading the steps involved seemed a frustrating and tedious effort, this is what the actuality of it is like! I can honestly say that had I known the effort involved, I am not sure I would have done it.

This is wrong. The fact that it is so difficult for tenants to get the restitution and justice that they are due after a Board order is simply wrong. The power relations and resources of landlords and tenants, in the overwhelming majority of cases, are not the same. Landlords in the vast majority of cases have far greater  resources and far more that they can do evade compliance with an order.

Ontario needs to implement an enforcement arm for the Board in conjunction with both landlord registration and landlord licensing. Landlords should be required to adhere to the various codes and acts, including the many appalling cases of lack of maintenance, or face losing the privilege to be landlords. There should be direct consequences for slumlords, including provincial and municipal legislation allowing the expropriation of their property and its conversion to public or cooperative housing. All landlords should be made to place their banking information on file with the government so that in the event a tenant gets a judgement, they can act on it without all of these hurdles. 

This is a basic issue of fairness. It is simply unfair to expect tenants to do what is now required to get the money they are owed from what are often wealthy individuals or corporations. These are judgements made by government boards in the interest of social justice and the enforcement of government enacted regulations and laws. The reality that the government then leaves it to the tenant to enforce the order entirely on their own is a real injustice.

It is very clear that the vast majority will not be able to do so. This makes one wonder if that is, in fact, the government's intent.

This article outlines the specific case and steps that Natalie and I had to take. Every case, of course, is somewhat unique. If you can, you should always try to get the help of a lawyer or paralegal if this is possible for you. For further help and advice, please also check out these organizations:The Federation of Metro Tenants' Associations

Community Legal Education Ontario



Friday, January 3, 2014

Michael Laxer for City Councillor Ward 6: Opening Statement

Sisters and Brothers;
 
As a long-time resident of and small business person in Ward 6, and as a lifelong resident of Toronto, I am announcing today that I am running for election to seek to serve the people of Etobicoke Lakeshore Ward 6 as your City Councillor. I have lived in the Ward and worked on the Lakeshore every single day for over twelve years. 
 
I feel that, as a city and a society, our governments and many of our politicians have lost track of the principles of equality, justice and community that so many of us see as a fundamental part of what kind of a place we want to live in. 

The programs and freedoms that our foremothers and forefathers fought for are being sold off and whittled away on the altar of corporate greed in order to generate greater wealth for the already wealthy.

We need to turn things around in Toronto. We need, together, to work towards a new direction for our city and its government.

We need a real alternative.

For too long we have been led by one version or another of austerity and cutbacks. Fewer services, lower wages, higher user fees, while the rich get richer and the city becomes impossible for many to afford to live in. For too long the agenda has been set by and for the rich, powerful and privileged, like Rob Ford, instead of by an agenda centred on the interests of the working people and residents of the city and Ward 6.

As a candidate for City Councillor I want to help to change this. I want to work with you around issues like:

1) Economic Justice and Equality: We need a new Toronto. A more just and inclusive Toronto. A Toronto that leaves no resident behind. To do this we need the fight for economic justice to be front-and-centre and as a City Councillor I will fight to make higher wages a part of the business standards expected of retailers and businesses who wish to operate in the city, will actively fight for higher wages and benefits for all people and for stopping wage cuts for city workers or workers under contract to the city. Our city does not benefit by pushing the wages of any workers down.

Instead we will fight together to raise the wages of all.

I will actively advocate as a Councillor for a $15 an hour minimum wage in the city and province.

2) Transit: As Ward 6 City Councillor I will fight to see the Waterfront West LRT plan brought back to connect our Ward with Toronto's downtown in a faster and easier direct route. I will work to see transit expanded city wide and to have revenue tools put in place to finance and maintain this expansion. I will work to integrate GO Transit and TTC routes within the city so that people can use the Lakeshore line as if it was a subway.  I will also fight against any agenda to raise fares and will work towards FREE transit, which should be the environmental and social goal of any government.

3) Housing: Toronto needs a serious housing strategy with the building of more co-op and community housing and fighting to get the province to implement stricter rent controls, especially in high rise and condo buildings. We need to bring in landlord licensing so that landlords who consistently fail to keep units in good repair and meet basic standards of conduct lose their right to be landlords. Public housing, which has been neglected and allowed to fall into disrepair over the past 20 years must be raised to a higher standard. We need to end homelessness in Toronto. Housing is a basic human right that needs to be made more affordable. Far too many Torontonians are homeless or one paycheque away from homelessness. This is unacceptable.

We also need to continue the fight to abolish the pro-developer Ontario Municipal Board.

4) Police Accountability: The police in Toronto are meant to serve and protect ALL the citizens and residents of Toronto. There are simply too many cases where some police officers think and seem to be treated as if they are above the law. This has to stop. As a City Councillor I will work to fight for greater civilian oversight of the police and greater police accountability. No one should be above justice.

5) A More Democratic City Hall: For too long our City Hall has seen many of the same faces backed by the same interests. It is time for a more democratic City Hall, more open to change and new ideas and voices. For too long highly paid City Councillors have made cuts to the programs, wages and services that those making far less than they do depend on.

As City Councillor I will fight to see term limits implemented, so that no Mayor or Councillor can serve more than two terms, to see stricter rules around campaign donations implemented, including limiting the ability of wealthy candidates to donate to themselves, and I will pledge to make no more in income than the average resident of the city does, donating the rest to charity and social causes. If City Councillors are going to make decisions affecting the lives of the people of the city, they should have to make ends meet on the wage of an average resident to truly understand the impact of their policies!

6) Fighting the Ford Austerity Agenda: When I ran in 2010 I was the only candidate in this Ward, and one of the few in the city, to stand up against Rob Ford publicly. His pathetic and dangerous personal behaviour aside, it was his agenda I most opposed. Together we need to fight this agenda, an agenda that goes beyond Rob Ford and that is the Capitalist agenda of service and wage cuts. We need a real and forceful Socialist alternative to this agenda. A Socialist alternative built around people and not profit, built around community and not the rich.

This is just the start of our shared platform. There is so much to work towards in so many areas. As a candidate, and as a Councillor if elected, I will hold meetings every month open to all members of the community and anyone from anywhere in our city to get your input and your ideas for how we can, together, build a better, more equal and more just Toronto.

A Toronto whose government is centred around our collective goal of ending injustice, inequality and oppression.

A Toronto that will be known internationally not for a dangerously out-of-control reactionary mayor, but for its dedication to building a new society and a better world, starting right here in our own neighbourhoods and communities.

A new Toronto.