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[l] at 9/13/19 10:32am
September 13, 2019 Green Party Leader Elizabeth May. Image: University of the Fraser Valley/Flickr Climate crisis presents urgent existential threat this election We should consider this election a privilege. For the first time, the top issue in voters' minds is the main threat not only to Canada but to organized human life: environmental crisis.
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[l] at 9/12/19 9:29am
September 12, 2019 Wab Kinew/Facebook Manitoba election brings mix of outcomes for NDP The good news was that although the total number of NDP seats only rose by four over the last election, many more new NDP MLAs were elected, and NDP Leader Wab Kinew acquitted himself well.
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[l] at 9/11/19 9:54am
September 11, 2019 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Image: Adam Scotti/PMO Trudeau kept some important promises but broke many big ones Now that we're in a new election campaign, it might be instructive to look back and see how many promises the Liberal government kept.
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[l] at 9/11/19 9:48am
Karl Nerenberg Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Image: Adam Scotti/PMO

On October 20, 2015, the morning after the last federal election, rabble.ca published a list of 16 of newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's many promises. 

Now that we're in a new election campaign, it might be instructive to look back and see how many of those promises Trudeau kept.

Have a look at the full list below and judge for yourself. 

You will see immediately, of course, that Trudeau and his Liberals flagrantly failed on promise No. 1: Electoral reform. That is all-too-well-known. But they also failed to deliver on a number of other major promises. 

Take promise No. 7, for example: To legislate an end to the use of omnibus bills. 

The Harper government made an artform of stuffing widely disparate pieces of consequential legislation into massive bills, especially budget implementation bills, thus evading any serious debate or discussion, and preventing amendments. Trudeau pledged to abolish the practice, but instead used it himself. 

Here is one glaring example. The Liberal government got itself into big trouble when it introduced the new law that allows deferred prosecution agreements -- the root of the SNC-Lavalin scandal -- not as a justice bill, but almost as an afterthought, at the end of a long budget bill. 

The Trudeau Liberals' motive for proceeding in this stealthy and undemocratic way was exactly the same as the Harper Conservatives' when they snuck through such measures as the abolition of the Navigable Waters Act or radical changes to federal environmental review in omnibus bills. Both governments wanted to hide controversial measures -- designed mostly to help their well-connected corporate friends -- from public view, and avoid any sort of serious debate or discussion. 

In the case of deferred prosecution agreements, it did not work out as planned for the Liberals. And yet, based on their public statements, it boggles the mind that the Liberals do not seem to have learned their lesson. Since the SNC-Lavalin scandal broke, not a single senior Liberal has said they will never again use the omnibus ruse to hide major legislation from the Canadian people.

Mail delivery and access to information 

Then there is promise No. 3: To restore home delivery of mail. 

This reporter heard the Liberal leader make that promise to rapturous applause from a room full of Liberal partisans at the same campaign-style event where he solemnly pledged 2015's election would be the last under first-past-the-post.

Justin Trudeau promised to fully restore home mail delivery, not merely freeze the process of ending it the Harper government had started. But what did Trudeau do once in power? He did put a stop to the cuts to home delivery, but he did not reinstate it for a single Canadian. 

Or how about promise No. 4: To extend the access to information law to the prime minister's and cabinet ministers' offices. That did not happen. In fact, the current PM continued the practice, going back to his father's time, of highly centralized, out-of-public view, Prime-Minister's-Office-dominated government. 

The revelations of the SNC-Lavalin affair drew back the curtain on some of this centralized control. Those revelations resulted in the resignation of Trudeau's chief backroom manipulator and enforcer, Gerald Butts. 

Butts has now returned to his former position of influence, with a key role in the Liberal campaign. 

There are many more promises on the list and, in fairness, the Trudeau government has kept a good number of them, including bringing in 25,000 Syrian refugees in a single year. 

As well, whether or not voters choose to support the Liberals this time will depend on a lot more than promises kept or broken. For one thing, there is the matter of the alternatives to the Trudeau Liberals. Since we still have first-past-the-post, many voters might, again, feel impelled to vote in a notionally strategic way. They might want to use their vote to block the party they fear and loathe -- even if that means not voting for the party with which they most agree. 

The 2015 list of promises

The campaign will last more than five weeks. There'll be plenty of time to consider one's options. 

For now, it might be useful to at least consider what Justin Trudeau promised when he asked for your vote last time.

Here is the full list from October 2015:

1. To create a special, all-party parliamentary committee to study alternatives to the current first-past-the-post electoral system, and, within 18 months, introduce legislation to replace first-past-the-post, based on the committee's recommendations.

That is a key promise, and one that the power brokers and insiders of the Liberal party will not want the new prime minister to keep.

It will take determination and fortitude on Justin Trudeau's part to resist the many who will advise him to shelve that particular pledge.

The cynics are already saying we can forget about electoral reform.

On election night, when one member of a Radio-Canada television panel evoked Trudeau's electoral pledge, there were snickers all around.

When has it ever happened, the panellists said almost with one voice, that a party wins a majority under a voting system and turns around and changes the system?

Those who voted for the Liberals with hearts full of hope -- especially those who said theirs was a strategic vote necessitated by our unfair and unrepresentative electoral system -- might want to get ready to start actively encouraging their party of choice to honour this particular promise.

If enacted, electoral reform would change the face of Canadian democracy for generations to come. It would be a true and lasting legacy project for Justin Trudeau's new government.

2. To get the Canada Revenue Agency to "pro-actively" inform Canadians who have failed to apply for benefits of their right to do so; and, more important, to end the Harper government's politically motivated harassment of charities.

3. To restore home delivery of mail.

4. To extend the federal access to information law to the prime minister's and cabinet ministers' offices.

5. To institute parliamentary oversight, involving all parties in the House, of Canada's security agencies.

6. To appoint a commissioner to assure that all government advertising is non-partisan.

7. To end the odious and anti-parliamentary practice of stuffing disparate pieces of legislation into massive omnibus bills. This was a trademark of the Stephen Harper regime.

8. To have all parliamentary committee chairs elected by the full House, by secret ballot. Currently committee chairs are purely partisan appointments of the prime minister.

9. To end Stephen Harper's war on science and restore the compulsory long form census.

10. To name an equal number of women and men to the cabinet.

Those are just some of the many Liberal promises that relate to democratic reform. Justin Trudeau announced those reform commitments, and a number of others -- with much fanfare -- this past June (in 2015).

Trudeau and Liberal party have also promised:

11. To restore healthcare for refugees and reinstitute family reunification in immigration. They would allow, for instance, elderly parents to join their families in Canada as permanent residents, entitled to health care and other services. The Harper government has consigned such folks to precarious status on annually renewable visitor's visas.

12. To make a major investment in on-reserve First Nations education, without imposing Harper's humiliating and draconian conditions on First Nations communities, all in the context of a renewed nation-to-nation relationship with Canada's First Nations, Inuit and Métis people

13. To find a consensus with the provinces to achieve real progress on greenhouse gas reductions. It is notable that Trudeau has not yet set any emission reduction targets for Canada. But he has long described himself as an environmentalist, and says he is committed to seeing Canada take a leadership role in the fight against climate change. Canadians who worry about global warming might want to watch carefully how the new government performs on this file. The UN Conference of the Parties on climate change will start in barely more than a month, in Paris.

14. To restore funding for CBC/Radio-Canada. The Liberal record on this -- going back to the Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin days -- is not encouraging. But Montreal MP and former leader Stéphane Dion has taken a strong, well-articulated and committed position on this dossier. And one hopes the new government will recognize that federal support for public broadcasting involves more than the CBC alone. It must also include the National Film Board, Telefilm Canada and the full range of federal funding mechanisms for the production and distribution of programs and films that tell Canada's story.

15. To end Canada's participation in bombing raids on Iraq and Syria.

And finally:

16. To bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of this year.

There you have it. Four years on, the 2019 campaign is now officially on and much of the chatter will be about all kinds of ephemera and nonsense. 

We will have a tweet here, an unfortunate photo there. There will an embarrassing off-hand comments and social media posts, ill-considered campaign ads that backfire, hyped so-called knock-out blows in debates, and all the rest of the theatricality of what we call politics.

Once in a while it might be useful to spare a moment to consider what political leaders promise vis-à-vis what they actually do.

Karl Nerenberg has been a journalist and filmmaker for more than 25 years. He is rabble's politics reporter.

Image: Adam Scotti/PMO

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[l] at 9/10/19 2:53pm
September 10, 2019 Olivia robinson/rabble The public library and Indigenous reconciliation To move forward with reconciliation in the library, more Indigenous librarians are needed at higher levels to create spaces for the revitalization and renaissance of Indigenous cultures.
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[l] at 9/10/19 1:53pm
Olivia Robinson Olivia robinson/rabble

A farming suburb north of Toronto seems like an unlikely place to start up a series of Indigenous programming, but the Whitchurch-Stouffville Public Library took up the call to action in 2018. The library wanted to engage its patrons with Indigenous content. It felt that non-Indigenous patrons had a crucial role to play in the reconciliation -- and that the library was the ideal place for this to come about.

Whitchurch-Stouffville is located in the riding of Jane Philpott, former federal minister of Indigenous services. The new initiative had Philpott's backing but was brought to life by library manager Shonna Froebel.

For Froebel -- incorporating more Indigenous programming is personal. Her adopted brother, who is Indigenous, was part of the Sixties Scoop. In the mid-20th century, the Canadian government took Indigenous children from their families and placed them in foster homes or up for adoption.

Philpott was actively involved with the process, sending contacts and ideas to the library and how they might be helpful in incorporating reconciliation into the library sphere -- such as the Blanket Exercise.

The Blanket Exercise was developed after the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in 1996. An interactive experience, The Blanket Exercise walks participants through Indigenous rights through history -- going from pre-contact with settlers, to treaties, to colonization, to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report. Participants walk on colourful blankets made to represent the land. They read prompts to help experience what First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples endured during colonization. Facilitators and Indigenous elders play the part of European settlers. Offered through the Whitchurch-Stouffville Public Library, library card holders participated in the Blanket Exercise for $10 for the session.

Just 25 people out of Whitchurch-Stouffville's population of 45,837 identified as having Indigenous ancestry. Fifteen were First Nations, while 10 were Métis.

Despite the demographics, Froebel says circulation of materials by Indigenous authors -- as well as the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission report -- has been steady, meaning non-Indigenous residents are taking up an interest in the library's Indigenous collection. Other events at the library's Indigenous programming include presentations on the Williams Treaties -- where Stouffville is situated, the Huron-Wendat -- the people who lived there -- and the history of residential schools.

"The library's role in the community is kind of multifaceted but part of it is kind of informal education and offering those opportunities to learn," she says. "Making that information available is really, really important so it's easily accessible for people from all walks of life."

Froebel says her staff looked to the University of Alberta's "Indigenous Canada," a massive open online course for inspiration, but wanted to localize the content to Whitchurch-Stouffville. Archaeological digs show that the municipality is now on the land previously occupied by the Huron-Wendat.

"One of the things with libraries is you can't always look at what other libraries are doing because you have to be responsive to your community," she says. "We don't have any kind of reserve within our town limits or anything like that, but I want to look to topics that would be relevant."

Whitchurch-Stouffville isn't the only Greater Toronto Area suburb looking to engage non-Indigenous patrons with Indigenous materials and resources at the library. Last fall, the Mississauga Public Library ran a book club-type discussion with library patrons in the fall of 2018 to read sections of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, led by Cat Criger, the elder in residence at the University of Toronto.

Over the course of several months the book club met in a small room -- next-door to the Open Window Hub -- to discuss a different section of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report each week. Of the 12 attendees present at the book club's second-last meeting, the majority were female, white and middle-aged, and expressed a keen interest in educating themselves about residential schools and intergenerational trauma. They read highlighted passages from their notes and articulated their surprise that Indigenous history wasn't taught during their school years. Librarian Diana Krawczyk also sat in on the meetings, providing information on items in the library's collection could further their understanding of one of the darkest chapters in Canadian history.

In 2017, the Toronto Public Library released a report on strategies for Indigenous initiatives as a response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's 94 Calls to Action a few years earlier, listing 42 strategies for Indigenous initiatives like organizing an elder-in-residence program, or incorporating medicine gardens into future library landscaping. The library sought more supports such as recruitment and retention of Indigenous library staff members. The Toronto Public Library board endorsed the strategies on the condition that the library would engage with Indigenous communities and have those results presented back to them.

On Spadina Road -- the street that got its name from the Ojibwe word for hill -- a Toronto Public Library branch neighbours the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto and boasts a robust "Native Peoples collection." The Spadina Road branch got its start in 1970 when staff and community members at the Native Centre approached the library to ask for a branch specifically designed for the Indigenous community.

Melanie Ribau, a library specialist in Indigenous community connections at the Toronto Public Library previously worked out of the Spadina Road branch. Now, she works at the Toronto Reference Library with Cynthia Toniolo, who manages adult services and program development at the Toronto Public Library.

Toniolo says that the Toronto Public Library is creating a place that is safe and welcoming for everyone -- and that includes Indigenous communities.

"We seek ways to convey the message that our doors are open, our services are available and that you, too can find things here that are meaningful to you," she says.

For non-Indigenous people -- the settler community -- she says education and awareness are key. Ribau says her goal is to make the settler community aware that their predetermined attitudes about Indigenous awareness could be harmful.

"It's the people who make demands of their governments," she says, hopeful that the public will ask more of their elected officials to include more Indigenous programs and services at the library and elsewhere.

The library has its own Indigenous advisory council -- made up of Indigenous community members and representatives from Indigenous services agencies across Toronto to provide input on things like the Indigenous strategies that they felt were important to them, like the elder-in-residence program that ran in the fall of 2018. It also gave advice on the library's "Read Indigenous" campaign, which includes hand-selected Indigenous book recommendations.

Through the first elder-in-residence program, anyone could contact the library to arrange face-to-face time with husband-and-wife elders Patrick Etherington and Frances Whiskeychan, who would answer questions or offer teachings to library patrons. Both Etherington and Whiskeychan are survivors of residential school.

Etherington is soft-spoken and chooses his words deliberately when talking about his inaugural role as elder in residence. He says the library branching out into Indigenous programs and teachings has been vital. There's no word in the English language to describe how he feels, instead he uses the word "nanaskomin," which he says roughly translates to "acknowledgement to all."

Although the elder-in-residence program ended last year, the library is looking at other ways to respond to its Indigenous patrons. In a survey last fall about a renovation for a library in Toronto's east-end, many respondents asked if it could be a place where smudging could be permitted in the buildings. They also wanted to see more Indigenous artwork and designs in the library.

"We realize that we're a pretty mainstream institution -- about as colonial as you could possibly get," says Toniolo. She says the library has its blind spots -- but employees must take responsibility to further their education to make the library more accessible to Indigenous peoples.

"We need to start at a certain level of knowledge and awareness. We're not asking them [Indigenous peoples] to spell everything out for us," Ribau says.

Toniolo agrees -- the library has "to do the heavy lifting." While the increased Indigenous components in the Toronto Public Library have been well-received, Toniolo said they got "a few questioning emails" from people about the validity of the library's land acknowledgment from a legal standpoint. There are some critics of the land acknowledgement practice who argue that land acknowledgements could open up a complicated legal situation that would allow for some First Nations to affirm legal rights to the land.

"We don't expect everyone to agree but those statements are important to us. And we did it for a reason. We worked with community members in developing them and we stand behind them," she says.

Toronto's 100 library branches extend from as far east as the Humberwood branch near Pearson International Airport and as far west as the Port Union branch near the Toronto Zoo in Scarborough. Because of the geographic sprawl of the library system, the Toronto Public Library has three different land acknowledgement statements, written in consultation with the Indigenous advisory council. The library also has a general statement posted on its website.

"I don't think I would still be in this position if it wasn't personal. That's what keeps me here," says Ribau. "I have been kept awake at night oftentimes thinking about some of the challenges that we face. There's a lot of self-doubt in there as well. Is this the right direction to go in? Are we doing the right thing?"

For Desmond Wong, who works out of the University of Toronto libraries, there is a difference between tangible steps to include reconciliation in the library space and those who do it as an afterthought. When librarians fail to consult with Indigenous community members, he says, it's a failing of librarianship.

"I think it's a check mark," says Wong of libraries trying to justify reconciliation without that relationship-building. "That's not what reconciliation is. It's not a checkmark."

Other southern Ontario libraries are naming spaces after local Indigenous history to varying levels of community engagement.

In 2017, the Markham Public Library opened its Aaniin branch. "Aaniin" means "hello" or "welcome" in Ojibwe -- chosen to coincide with Canada's sesquicentennial celebrations and according to its site, "in honour of our First Nations people" without mentioning any specific relationship between First Nations people and the City of Markham. However, earlier that year the city signed a "Cultural Collaboration with Eabametoong First Nation," to promote "harmony and goodwill for the betterment of their residents" as well as collaboration socially, culturally and economically.

In Barrie, Ontario, the downtown branch recently underwent a renaming ceremony for one of its spaces -- now known as the Enji-Maawnjiding Gathering Place. The space was renamed on April 4, and commemorated with a drumming ceremony with the Barrie Native Friendship Centre. The Georgian Bay Métis Council was also present to commemorate the renaming of the new space in the library.

To move forward with reconciliation in the library space, Wong says more Indigenous librarians are needed at higher levels within the system to create spaces for the revitalization and renaissance of Indigenous cultures. This is, in large part, because libraries have played a part in the erasure and the destruction of Indigenous identities.

Even with regular items in Toronto Public Library's collection, it can be easy to assess whether an item is valuable to the collection based on how many times it's circulated, or for events, how many people have attended programs to justify the cost. Ribau says this quantifiable way of tracking the items isn't necessarily the best case for Indigenous titles -- despite that there's a flourishing literary scene of Indigenous writers -- many of which have long waitlists.

"In some cases when it comes to Indigenous content for our collections, we can't use the number of times it's circulated because we should have that stuff there whether or not it's circulated," says Ribau.

The Toronto Public Library says there have been complaints about subject headings, classifications and cataloguing, but it's bound to the wider authority of Library of Congress and the American Library Association. Now, there's a push in the library community towards revamping the Dewey Decimal system in favour of call numbers that would better reflect items in the Indigenous collection. For example, some books about specific Indigenous cultures and traditions may still be categorized under 201 -- the Dewey Decimal System classification for general mythology.

Even if those who have had a negative experience in the library space, Wong says that libraries have an indescribable quality of bringing people back.

"If I get burned by an iron, I'm going to be far less willing to touch it thereafter. That doesn't seem to be the case with the library."

Last week: Part 4 of rabble's series: "Decolonizing the Public Library"

Next week: Part 6 of rabble's series: The Future of the Public Library. 

Olivia Robinson is a writer, journalist and book publishing professional. She is rabble.ca's Jack Layton Journalism for Change Fellow in 2019

Image: Olivia robinson/rabble

 
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[l] at 9/10/19 7:51am
Zaid Noorsumar ​Image: Maryam Nazemi

As an early childhood education (ECE) teacher at a private school in Toronto, Maryam Nazemi had a physically strenuous job. The school was located in a church, and classrooms had to be dismantled every Friday and put back together on Monday mornings, requiring her to lift heavy furniture.

Combined with the arduous task of managing an autistic child along with groups of young children, the job took a physical toll on Nazemi, ultimately leading to a spinal cord injury.

Unlike workers whose employers are covered by Ontario's Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), Nazemi was not eligible to continue receiving her wages or any other form of compensation.

Shortly after her spinal cord surgery, her employer called to say that her next cheque would go through despite her missing work, but that they would need to find a way for her to pay it back in the future.

The lack of a social safety net at this crucial juncture in her life was traumatic. The cost of medication, the debilitating pain and inability to care for her children profoundly impacted her well-being.

"I was just kind of taking that first step towards dying, losing life, being isolated," Nazemi says. "But at the same time, I had two young kids, four and a half and eight years-old. And therefore, I think the love that I had for them [helped me move forward]."

The uninsured 

The Ontario Compensation Employees Union recently launched its Cover Me WSIB campaign, advocating universal coverage for all injured workers. OCEU is a CUPE local that represents over 3,400 WSIB employees.

Ontario and Nova Scotia are the only two provinces that have an "inclusionary" workers' compensation system, whereby legislation specifies industries that are mandated to provide coverage. All other industries are subsequently left out.

In other provinces, all workers are automatically covered by the compensation board except those employed in exempted industries.

OCEU estimates that 23 per cent of Ontario's workers, nearly 1.7 million people, are currently uninsured by WSIB. The case of Maryam Nazemi is a chilling example of the kind of devastating impact workers can face due to lack of coverage.

"We've had a number of cases where [injured workers] come to us and it's unfortunate that their industry is not covered," says Harry Goslin, president of OCEU.

In addition to providing income insurance for disabled workers, WSIB also covers rehabilitation and retraining services. Uninsured employers may not provide those services as they are not obligated to do so.

Goslin says that for workers fortunate enough to be unionized, bargaining for insurance shifts focus away from other important requirements.

"They have to try and bargain that as part of their collective agreement," Goslin says. "And usually there's something that they end up trading to try to gain that right."

The economic case for employers 

The OCEU commissioned an economist to look at the impact of universal coverage on businesses. The economist's report makes the case that it would be financially beneficial for both current employers on WSIB and many of those who are outside its purview.

WSIB pays $258 million for province-wide health and safety programs that benefit all businesses, including those not part of the compensation system. That cost can be distributed among a larger group of employers.

Moreover, universal coverage would lower WSIB premiums across the board as more employers paying into the pool would spread the risk of injuries more equitably.

Currently, employers not mandated to provide compensation have one of three options: voluntarily sign onto WSIB, buy private insurance or do nothing.

Goslin says that for employers who opt for private insurance, WSIB is a cheaper option.

"What we find is when employers actually do [sign onto WSIB] it ends up costing them less than it would be for their disability insurance by a private carrier," he says. "Once they find that out, a lot of them jump on board."

But until employers come to that realization, workers are left to fend for themselves.

And then there are employers who provide no type of insurance at all, such as in the case of Nazemi.

The burden on taxpayers

Goslin says that uninsured workers end up costing more money to taxpayers as they rely on publicly-funded programs such as OHIP, Ontario Disability Support Program and Ontario Works for medical costs and income security. OCEU estimates that universal coverage would result in OHIP savings of $128.5 million.

The monetary impact on social assistance programs is tough to calculate, Goslin says.

In Nazemi's case, she was rejected for ODSP and OW due to her husband's income being just above the threshold for eligibility -- eroding her own financial independence.

A long-standing demand

Injured workers' groups and their advocates have long demanded universal coverage. They argue that women workers are often most marginalized by the system as they tend to be over-represented in the uncovered service sector.

According to OCEU, of the approximately 1.7 million uncovered workers, about 330,000 workers are employed in the finance and insurance sector, a similar number of people in the health care and social assistance, and about 130,000 in the private education system.

Demands for universal coverage among injured workers have been supported by multiple reviews, including the government-commissioned Jackson report in 1996 and the WSIB-sponsored Brock Smith report in 2002.

However, the Liberal government admitted in 2006 that it wasn't considering universal coverage when pressed by NDP's Andrea Horwath in a legislative debate. It did expand coverage in 2008 to include independent operators and some construction workers.

The OCEU's campaign includes a petition to legislate universal coverage, as the Ontario government reviews WSIB.

The Ontario minister of labour declined to be interviewed.

Zaid Noorsumar is rabble's labour beat reporter for 2019, and is a journalist who has previously contributed to CBC, The Canadian Press, the Toronto Star and Rankandfile.ca. To contact Zaid with story leads, email zaid[at]rabble.ca.

Image: Maryam Nazemi

 

[*] [-] [-] [x] [A+] [a-]  
[l] at 9/10/19 7:51am
Zaid Noorsumar ​Image: Maryam Nazemi

As an early childhood education (ECE) teacher at a private school in Toronto, Maryam Nazemi had a physically strenuous job. The school was located in a church, and classrooms had to be dismantled every Friday and put back together on Monday mornings, requiring her to lift heavy furniture.

Combined with the arduous task of managing an autistic child along with groups of young children, the job took a physical toll on Nazemi, ultimately leading to a spinal cord injury.

Unlike workers whose employers are covered by Ontario's Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), Nazemi was not eligible to continue receiving her wages or any other form of compensation.

Shortly after her spinal cord surgery, her employer called to say that her next cheque would go through despite her missing work, but that they would need to find a way for her to pay it back in the future.

The lack of a social safety net at this crucial juncture in her life was traumatic. The cost of medication, the debilitating pain and inability to care for her children profoundly impacted her well-being.

"I was just kind of taking that first step towards dying, losing life, being isolated," Nazemi says. "But at the same time, I had two young kids, four and a half and eight years-old. And therefore, I think the love that I had for them [helped me move forward]."

The uninsured 

The Ontario Compensation Employees Union recently launched its Cover Me WSIB campaign, advocating universal coverage for all injured workers. OCEU is a CUPE local that represents over 3,400 WSIB employees.

Ontario and Nova Scotia are the only two provinces that have an "inclusionary" workers' compensation system, whereby legislation specifies industries that are mandated to provide coverage. All other industries are subsequently left out.

In other provinces, all workers are automatically covered by the compensation board except those employed in exempted industries.

OCEU estimates that 23 per cent of Ontario's workers, nearly 1.7 million people, are currently uninsured by WSIB. The case of Maryam Nazemi is a chilling example of the kind of devastating impact workers can face due to lack of coverage.

"We've had a number of cases where [injured workers] come to us and it's unfortunate that their industry is not covered," says Harry Goslin, president of OCEU.

In addition to providing income insurance for disabled workers, WSIB also covers rehabilitation and retraining services. Uninsured employers may not provide those services as they are not obligated to do so.

Goslin says that for workers fortunate enough to be unionized, bargaining for insurance shifts focus away from other important requirements.

"They have to try and bargain that as part of their collective agreement," Goslin says. "And usually there's something that they end up trading to try to gain that right."

The economic case for employers 

The OCEU commissioned an economist to look at the impact of universal coverage on businesses. The economist's report makes the case that it would be financially beneficial for both current employers on WSIB and many of those who are outside its purview.

WSIB pays $258 million for province-wide health and safety programs that benefit all businesses, including those not part of the compensation system. That cost can be distributed among a larger group of employers.

Moreover, universal coverage would lower WSIB premiums across the board as more employers paying into the pool would spread the risk of injuries more equitably.

Currently, employers not mandated to provide compensation have one of three options: voluntarily sign onto WSIB, buy private insurance or do nothing.

Goslin says that for employers who opt for private insurance, WSIB is a cheaper option.

"What we find is when employers actually do [sign onto WSIB] it ends up costing them less than it would be for their disability insurance by a private carrier," he says. "Once they find that out, a lot of them jump on board."

But until employers come to that realization, workers are left to fend for themselves.

And then there are employers who provide no type of insurance at all, such as in the case of Nazemi.

The burden on taxpayers

Goslin says that uninsured workers end up costing more money to taxpayers as they rely on publicly-funded programs such as OHIP, Ontario Disability Support Program and Ontario Works for medical costs and income security. OCEU estimates that universal coverage would result in OHIP savings of $128.5 million.

The monetary impact on social assistance programs is tough to calculate, Goslin says.

In Nazemi's case, she was rejected for ODSP and OW due to her husband's income being just above the threshold for eligibility -- eroding her own financial independence.

A long-standing demand

Injured workers' groups and their advocates have long demanded universal coverage. They argue that women workers are often most marginalized by the system as they tend to be over-represented in the uncovered service sector.

According to OCEU, of the approximately 1.7 million uncovered workers, about 330,000 workers are employed in the finance and insurance sector, a similar number of people in the health care and social assistance, and about 130,000 in the private education system.

Demands for universal coverage among injured workers have been supported by multiple reviews, including the government-commissioned Jackson report in 1996 and the WSIB-sponsored Brock Smith report in 2002.

However, the Liberal government admitted in 2006 that it wasn't considering universal coverage when pressed by NDP's Andrea Horwath in a legislative debate. It did expand coverage in 2008 to include independent operators and some construction workers.

The OCEU's campaign includes a petition to legislate universal coverage, as the Ontario government reviews WSIB.

The Ontario minister of labour declined to be interviewed.

Zaid Noorsumar is rabble's labour beat reporter for 2019, and is a journalist who has previously contributed to CBC, The Canadian Press, the Toronto Star and Rankandfile.ca. To contact Zaid with story leads, email zaid[at]rabble.ca.

Image: Maryam Nazemi

 

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[l] at 9/9/19 2:13pm
September 9, 2019 Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna. Image: Chatham House/Flickr 'Inauthentic activity' on social media, abuse of progressive women in politics … is there a common thread? Use of violent and abusive language on social media, sometimes translating into actual violence, is becoming a particular problem for women in politics, especially progressive women.
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[l] at 9/8/19 10:33pm
David J. Climenhaga Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna. Image: Chatham House/Flickr

Is there a common thread running between reports Friday that a spike in "inauthentic activity" on social media just before the Alberta provincial election came from unidentified backers of the United Conservative Party and news stories Saturday about harassment of federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna?

It would be impossible to make an evidentiary link between the use of disinformation bots on social media by supporters of conservative political parties and violent threats directed at women candidates and activists.

Still, there's something more than timing that suggests the stream of false stories designed to rile up the conservative base, often reposted by high-profile conservatives, and the toxic abuse that sometimes threatens to overwhelm women candidates and office holders -- liberal ones in particular -- both have their roots in the role social media plays in the ecosystem of conservative activism.

The analysis of the Alberta election by Rapid Response Mechanism Canada made headlines when it identified "inauthentic, coordinated behaviour" not just by "known national far-right and hate group actors" but from within "the community of UCP supporters."

The group behind the report -- an initiative of the G7 industrialized nations to coordinate identifying, preventing and responding to foreign efforts to subvert Western democracies -- was very careful to note political parties could not be tied to this activity. But then, that's why such accounts use anonymous bots, isn't it?

It's a shame the RRMC chose not to name the sources of this activity it had identified.

Still, the many connections among members of Canadian Conservative parties' strategic brain trusts and social media organizations associated with false news, hateful speech, and "lock 'er up" rallies are pretty well understood.

Likewise, while the story about McKenna's recent encounter with a threatening man calling her "Climate Barbie" -- a term that may have been first tweeted by former Saskatchewan MP and Harper government cabinet minister Gerry Ritz -- is appalling, it's not a particular surprise to anyone who has followed Alberta politics since the elections of Alison Redford and Rachel Notley.

Of course, this is not just a Canadian phenomenon. But the use of violent and abusive language on social media, sometimes translating into actual violence, is becoming a particular problem for women in politics in North America, and, statistically, especially for those who hold progressive views.

It's unlikely we'll ever be told, but it would be interesting to be able to compare the statistics for threats against the current, male, Alberta premier -- Jason Kenney -- and his two recent female predecessors.

Add to this the propensity of prominent male conservatives not merely to be driven over the edge by women who disagree with them, but to think encouraging supporters to join in highly personal attacks on them is a legitimate political tactic.

Consider Kenney's use of a poster labelling environmental activist Tzeporah Berman as "an enemy of the oilsands."

"Since @JKenney announced his $30 million warroom to attack environmental advocates & this poster of me was held up at his press conference I have had death threats, misogynist & sexual attacks on social media," Berman tweeted in June. "This is what that kind of fear mongering & hate does."

Consider People's Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier's recent tweets calling 16-year-old Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg "clearly mentally unstable," which may have been a reference to her Asperger's diagnosis or simply vituperation, and telling supporters "she should be denounced and attacked."

Or consider Matt Wolf, Kenney's executive director of issues management, who published an unflattering screenshot of Edmonton climate justice activist Emma Jackson at an education rally, and accused her of working to "sabotage our economy" for her views on the environment.

"Cool to see Kenney's Executive Director of Issues Management doxxing me on the internet, really love the way he captured my 'before and after the UCP' look," Jackson shot back with better humour than Wolf deserved.

It's unclear if Wolf is considered part of the premier's war room, about which little has been heard lately, or if the quality of his social media comments reflect the tactics it is likely to deploy.

But it should by now be obvious to everyone the dangerous responses such attacks provoke among parts of the conservative base. This behaviour by people in responsible public positions needs to stop.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: Chatham House/Flickr

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[l] at 9/8/19 1:47pm
Brent Patterson Sri Lankan Parliament. Image: Nigel Swales/Flickr

George Lakey is a well-known Quaker peace activist, sociologist and writer.

The Guardian notes that among his many actions, "He helped sail a ship to Vietnam filled with supplies for peace activists during the Vietnam war, led workshops sponsored by the African National Congress to keep the peace in South Africa's first multi-racial election in 1994, acted as an unarmed bodyguard for human rights defenders in Sri Lanka and has campaigned for same-sex marriage and LGBTQ rights."

That time in Sri Lanka as an "unarmed bodyguard" was with Peace Brigades International, which had a team there from 1989 to 1998.

PBI volunteer Melissa Butcher has noted, "In Sri Lanka, the Bar Association asked PBI to send a team after a series of kidnappings and murders of civil rights lawyers."

"In three months of state of emergency in Sri Lanka in 1989, as many as 4,000 people were believed to have been killed or are still missing."

"Lawyers who represent detained and disappeared persons become targets themselves. By October 1989, six had been murdered."

"When PBI arrived, few lawyers were taking cases on behalf of people thought abducted, and some had left the country. With the protection of PBI volunteers in November 1989, the office of a leading civil rights lawyer was reopened."

Pat Coy, a PBI volunteer in Sri Lanka, has also explained, "When Peace Brigades went to Sri Lanka in 1989, they went there to protect the lawyers who were the last bastion of protection against the state."

In February 2019, Lakey reflected, "In 1989 -- I joined the first Peace Brigades International, or PBI, team in Sri Lanka."

"Our job was to act as unarmed bodyguards for lawyers who were threatened with assassination because they were standing up for activists' human rights."

"Each of us followed the directions of whichever lawyer we were assigned to. In one case I was told to live with the lawyer's family and answer the doorbell at night after curfew, on the chance it was the hit squad there to kill the lawyer."

"Whatever delaying tactics I used, enhanced by my American white skin privilege, might give him the margin of safety he needed. He readily agreed to PBI's policy that he needed to lock up his gun, believing that nonviolent intervention gave him a better chance than a shoot-out."

"After I moved into his house, he took me on a 'social call' to drink tea with the family of a colleague. On the way home he told me that the colleague was acquainted with the controller of the hit squad. 'By tonight,' he said, 'the controller will know all about PBI and possible repercussions if he kills me. He'll think twice about dispatching the next hit squad.'"

And in 2006, Lakey commented, "Every day we risked our lives as we accompanied human-rights activists who were targeted for assassination by hit squads. We were unarmed bodyguards whose presence raised the threshold for attack. The fact that we were internationals gave some protection."

"I'm not a particularly brave person, and I doubt I would have gone to Sri Lanka if this kind of work had not already been tested in violent El Salvador and Guatemala, where Peace Brigades International (PBI) assisted local democracy advocates. There were some close calls, but no team members were killed."

And while still in Sri Lanka in August 1991, Lakey observed, "Each leader who stays alive and working is also valuable symbolically in the larger struggle between hope and despair. Keeping the hope alive is a condition of eventual peace."

Now 81 years old, Lakey remains committed to hope, peace and justice.

In May 2012 (at 74 years of age) he walked 320 kilometres across Pennsylvania as part of an Earth Quaker Action Team that stopped the PNC bank financing coal companies that practice mountaintop-removal; in March 2018 he was arrested in the Power Local Green Jobs campaign demanding that the regional energy utility start a community solar program for low-income neighborhoods; and in December 2018 his new book How We Win: A Guide to Nonviolent Direct Action Campaigning was released.

Brent Patterson is the executive director of Peace Brigades International-Canada. This article originally appeared on the PBI-Canada website here.

Image: Nigel Swales/Flickr​

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[l] at 9/6/19 10:31am
September 6, 2019 Peter Hershey/Unsplash Why Indigenous and minority languages matter Linguistic issues do not make headlines every day, but the struggles of communities working together to bring greater attention to the concerns of ethno-cultural minorities are very real.
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[l] at 9/6/19 7:42am
Lorenzo Vargas Peter Hershey/Unsplash

The United Nations has declared 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages in order to raise awareness about the importance of linguistic diversity in relation to sustainable development, culture, knowledge and collective memory.

People's ability to communicate in their own language is one of the cornerstones of communication rights. Everyone should be able to use their own language to share knowledge and information, access media content, resolve conflicts, and share their concerns so they can participate in decision-making and in processes of social progress.

Linguistic rights are particularly important for ethno-cultural minorities -- without them they may not be able to exercise all of their human rights and to preserve their distinct cultural identities.

The need to think about linguistic issues is exacerbated by the growing centrality of the Internet and digital communication platforms in most countries around the world. It is a phenomenon whose dark underbelly is the digital divide that excludes billions of people -- including Indigenous people and linguistic minorities -- from the global communication ecosystem.

About four billion people, mostly from developing countries, still don't have access to the Internet, according to the World Economic Forum. Furthermore, only 10 languages dominate the Internet, with English accounting for 54.4 per cent of the top 10 million websites, according to the World Atlas. The UNESCO Atlas of Language in Danger classifies 2,465 languages as endangered.

Even if linguistic rights issues do not make headlines every day, the struggles of communities working to bring greater attention to linguistic issues are very real, and should be part of the communication rights agenda.

For example, when Canada's federal government introduced Bill C-91, a legislation to preserve Indigenous languages, it caused quite a stir among Indigenous rights advocates. While First Nations and Metis groups mostly praised the legislation, Inuit groups called it a symbolic and colonial gesture.

Natad Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK, an Inuit research institute) said the bill was "in no way co-developed with Inuit" and does not address their concerns, especially around accessing public services like health care, education and justice in Indigenous languages. The Senate's standing committee on Aboriginal Peoples later adopted an amended version of the Indigenous Languages Act, to reflect changes sought by the Inuit. The ITK welcomed the changes, but said it was "regrettable that not all of the well-reasoned and thoughtful considerations put forward by Inuit were included" in the amended version.

Indigenous academics from the Yellowhead Institute, a First Nation-led research centre based in Ryerson University, said Bill C-91 "is not really a language rights law at all," since it avoids implementing "the kinds of language rights, obligations and enforcement mechanisms found in the Official Languages Act or the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms."

They also said that "any law that is serious about revitalizing Canada's Indigenous languages must enact the right of Indigenous parents to educate their children in their ancestral languages in publicly-funded immersion schools."

The importance of Aboriginal language rights as fundamental parts of Canadian society was cited in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's (TRC) final report in 2015. The commission's set of recommendations included policies that recognize the linguistic diversity of Aboriginal communities and funding to preserve and revitalize Aboriginal languages.

Indigenous community media have an important role to play not only in preserving Indigenous languages, but also in pursuing reconciliation. They could shed light on key issues, engage previously disengaged audiences, and give visibility to people whose voices are rarely heard.
Even if they were not explicitly mentioned in the TRC's calls to action, it must be noted that community-based Indigenous media have a lot to offer to promote dialogue and achieve respect, trust, and ultimately, reconciliation.

From Canada to Nepal to South Africa, Indigenous rights activists are mobilizing to defend their ancestral languages. Advocates of communication rights and freedom of expression should take note of their struggles, and join the celebrations this International Year of Indigenous Languages. Click here to get involved.

How can we work together to preserve Indigenous and minority languages?

Lorenzo Vargas is a communication for development specialist and researcher on citizens' media. Lorenzo coordinates WACC's communication for social change program, which supports community media and citizen journalism initiatives in Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, the Pacific and Africa.

Image: Peter Hershey/Unsplash

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[l] at 9/5/19 1:16pm
September 5, 2019 Sebastian Dooris/Flickr Non-violent civil disobedience -- why is this a hard concept for Canadians to understand? Rocky Petkov, organizer with Extinction Rebellion Toronto, talks about ER's approach to the climate crisis, and how it’s different from ER Europe.
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[l] at 9/4/19 12:42pm
Zaid Noorsumar Alexis Fawn

While handing out #UniteAgainstRacism stickers for Fight for $15 and Fairness at the Labour Day parade, I was encouraged that most people gladly adorned the message. 

Disappointingly, there were some exceptions too. Some people walked by stone faced, or vigorously shook their head as if the message was an affront to their self-interests. 

In my personal experience, these represented a minority of the marchers but it goes to show that the labour movement still has work to do in ridding itself of national chauvinism. 

In any case, I spoke to a few people who wore the sticker to get their thoughts on what #UniteAgainstRacism meant to them. 

Luke Mulenga, United Steelworkers

"I believe in uniting against racism because I'm definitely the minority," said Luke Mulenga, a marketing professional represented by United Steelworkers.

"In these times we're living right now, it's more important than ever. You know, it's just people needing to wake up and just coming to that realization that racism is there, it is real," he said.

Mulenga, who immigrated from Zambia seven years ago, said Toronto's diversity was refreshing to see even as he expressed concerns about the ongoing political climate.

Brian Chang, NDP federal candidate and PSAC member

"It's really important that we stand up as in our workplaces as well as demonstrate to others that labour union stands for equality and fighting for our communities," said Brian Chang, federal NDP candidate for Toronto Centre, who is also part of the Public Service Alliance of Canada.

Chang pointed out the harassment against NDP MPP Gurratan Singh by a white supremacist the day before at the MuslimFest as indicative of the current political challenge. 

Singh was accosted by a man who asked him if he believed in Shariah law and "political Islam," even though the politician is Sikh and not Muslim. 

Chang noted that Singh acted in solidarity with Muslims and refused to pander to the white supremacist. 

"That's what we need - people who are leaders like Gurratan (Singh), who are willing to stand up and fight back against racism and take a principled stand and be like, this is not okay, this is not the Canada we want."

Karen, SEIU and Unite Here 75

She was so shocked to hear anti-Black racial epithets when it happened the first time at work, that she walked away from the room to calm herself down, said Karen.

The nursing home and hospitality sector worker didn't feel comfortable giving out her last name, or posing for a photo, which speaks to the real concerns workers have when speaking out, even when protected by unions. 

Nursing home workers often face sexual violence and racial abuse at work, as was documented in CUPE's Breaking Point report earlier this year. 

Karen said the racism typically comes from residents and their family members, but also sometimes her colleagues.

The problem isn't absent in the hospitality sector either.

"There are occasions when the police has to escort [hotel customers] out," she said.

Rob Gill, Foodora courier

Rob Gill, who has been working as a Foodora courier for the past year and a half, was unequivocal in condemning the growing echo of racist right-wing fear mongering. 

Gill said that the tenor of politics in Canada had changed.

"As far as I'm concerned, [white supremacy] needs to be the number one issue, that and the climate," he said. 

"These are the places I just automatically go when any kind of conversation comes up about our political system. So just inevitable and becoming increasingly urgent by the moment."

Zaid Noorsumar is rabble's labour beat reporter for 2019, and is a journalist who has previously contributed to CBC, The Canadian Press, the Toronto Star and Rankandfile.ca. To contact Zaid with story leads, email zaid[at]rabble.ca.

Image: Alexis Fawn​

 

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[l] at 9/4/19 12:04pm
September 4, 2019 NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh at a Labour Day parade in Toronto. Image: Jagmeet Singh/Facebook NDP can successfully fight back after New Brunswick defections History teaches that parties can survive all kinds of internal strife and turbulence to do quite well when the voting actually starts.
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[l] at 9/4/19 12:01pm
Karl Nerenberg NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh at a Labour Day parade in Toronto. Image: Jagmeet Singh/Facebook

It's not a good day for a political party when 14 former candidates in one province bolt the party to support another. That's what happened to the New Democrats the day after Labour Day. There was a coordinated, public exodus, en masse, of former provincial candidates in New Brunswick, from the NDP to the Greens.

This was particularly hurtful, because, on that very day, New Democrats were launching their campaign slogan and first television ads. The ads seem, at least to experts in the field, to be quite well done. As for the slogan -- "In it for you" -- it consists of two prepositions and two pronouns. It has neither verbs nor nouns. Perhaps it was not so bad that other news overwhelmed the slogan's unveiling.

We should not read too much into the New Brunswick defection story and it is still far too early to be writing the New Democrats' obituary. 

By the time the election rolls around, in late October, the New Brunswickers' exodus could well be a barely-remembered incident, a blip. Indeed, the story started to change character within hours of the day-after-Labour-Day announcement, and not in a good way for the Green party or its new adherents. 

One of the defectors told the Canadian Press that the main motive for the group defection was not any kind of high principle. It was rather NDP leader Jagmeet Singh's race. Green Leader Elizabeth May will not be happy answering questions about that as the campaign gets started. 

The lessons of history

More broadly, history teaches that parties can survive all kinds of internal strife and turbulence to do quite well when the voting actually starts. 

The Ontario Conservatives of 2018 are one case in point. 

They precipitously dumped one leader because of a personal scandal and then chose another in haste, and in circumstances that were, at best, dubious -- the victorious candidate did not even win the most votes in the leadership race -- and yet, a few months later, went on to win a majority.

Then there are the Jean Chrétien Liberals of the 1990s.

When Chrétien won his party's leadership in 1990, two Quebec Liberal MPs immediately bolted and joined the separatist Bloc Québecois. Their move reflected the fact that many Quebec Liberals were deeply unhappy with the new leader's studied ambiguity on the Meech Lake constitutional accord, which sought to confer on Quebec the status of distinct society. During the leadership campaign some Quebec Liberal militants went so far as to accuse Chrétien of being a vendu, a sellout.

At the moment of his leadership victory, many observers said Jean Chrétien looked like a hobbled leader, a yesterday's man, not even able to command the full support of his home province. Nonetheless, under his leadership Liberals went on to win the next federal election, and two more after that.

For its part, the NDP has had its share of schisms, divisions and floor crossers. 

In 1960, Hazen Argue became leader of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, just before it reinvented itself as the NDP in 1961. When the new party decided to choose Tommy Douglas as its leader rather than him, Argue, in a fit of pique, jumped ship to the Liberals. 

In the election of 1997, Angela Vautour became the first federal NDP member for the New Brunswick riding of Beauséjour-Petitcodiac. She was part of a mini Orange wave in Atlantic Canada under leader Alexa McDonough, a Nova Scotian. Then, before the next election, Vautour switched allegiances to Joe Clark's Progressive Conservative party.

In the 2000s, two former NDP provincial premiers, one from British Columbia and the other from Ontario, decided to run federally -- but for the Liberals rather than the New Democrats. One came very close to winning the federal Liberal leadership. 

The list could go on. 

Political parties are amorphous, constantly changing and evolving entities. They inevitably shed some old supporters as they take on new ones.

Greens have taken a bite; Singh should put policies up front 

Having said that, Elizabeth May's Greens do, in truth, pose a particular challenge for the NDP. 

The Greens took a British Columbia seat from the New Democrats in a byelection last May, and, in recent provincial elections in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island (P.E.I.), they did far better than the New Democrats. In P.E.I., the Greens catapulted from nowhere to second place, leaving the NDP far behind.

This writer has picked up signals that there are some long-time New Democratic activists who are now moving to the Greens.  

When I reported on Paul Manly's byelection victory for the Greens, last May, I quoted an erstwhile NDP activist in Ottawa who had moved to the Green party, largely because of her high opinion of Elizabeth May's leadership qualities.

"Elizabeth May is clearly the strongest, most articulate and sage leader," the one-time NDPer said at the time. Nothing has happened since to change her view. 

Earlier this summer, former Ottawa city councillor and two-time progressive mayoral candidate Clive Doucet announced he would be running for the Greens this year, in one of the federal ridings in Cape Breton, where he now lives. 

Way back in 2005, when the New Democrats were seeking a new candidate for the Ottawa Centre riding to replace the retiring Ed Broadbent, Doucet turned up at the nominating meeting to support Paul Dewar over Jamie Heath. Heath had been a part of leader Jack Layton's inner circle. 

Doucet argued, then, that the Ottawa Centre New Democrats needed a candidate with strong local credentials to head off the Greens, who were nibbling away at the NDP vote. Now he has switched sides, which is probably more of a blow to the NDP than the 14 New Brunswick party switchers.

There is no simple advice one could give Jagmeet Singh at this point, except, perhaps, to double down on the fact that the NDP is the only party that proposes a full-blown progressive program. 

The New Democratic leader has to hammer on the message that his party stands for vastly expanded health care coverage, a $15/hour federal minimum wage, and, most important, a vigorous climate change strategy accompanied by tangible, just-transition measures for those most affected.

Singh could also underscore the fact that the Greens disingenuously try to appeal to small-c conservative, pro-capitalism supports by claiming to be "neither left nor right." That claim, the NDP leader could rightly say, is an opportunistic ploy, and, in real-world terms, a chimera. 

The NDP leader could point out that no Canadian government will ever achieve significant reductions in greenhouse gases, in a way that does not harm millions of working people, by being wishy-washy on social and economic policies, by endeavouring to be neither left nor right. 

Environmental success, which also achieves social justice aims, will require a clear leftward shift. It will necessarily entail interventionist measures to radically redistribute income and provide training and re-employment for displaced workers. 

One word for such a program might be "socialism." 

Karl Nerenberg has been a journalist and filmmaker for more than 25 years. He is rabble's politics reporter.

Image: Jagmeet Singh/Facebook

 

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[l] at 9/3/19 4:43pm
September 3, 2019 Jared Tailfeathers sits at a table in the Elders' Guidance Circle at the Calgary Public Library. The piece is one of several furnishings called "Tina Dik’iizh | clear road or clear trail," created by Glenna Cardinal, a Saddle Lake Cree Nation member. Image: Olivia Robinson/rabble Decolonizing the public library Canadian libraries are trying to reconcile the institution's colonial history and how to address the needs of patrons previously neglected by the library -- including Indigenous peoples.
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[l] at 9/3/19 4:35pm
Olivia Robinson Jared Tailfeathers sits at a table in the Elders' Guidance Circle at the Calgary Public Library. The piece is one of several furnishings called "Tina Dik’iizh | clear road or clear trail," created by Glenna Cardinal, a Saddle Lake Cree Nation member. Image: Olivia Robinson/rabble

Public libraries in Canada now purport to be for the whole public, but for some provinces in Canada this wasn't always the case. Lorne Bruce, author of Free Books For All: The Public Library Movement in Ontario, 1850-1930 wrote that the term "public library" fell out of favour as libraries evolved to an educational tool for lay persons and a "professional cadre and as a modern service ethic," from "a grand Victorian vision of beneficial societal change." In 1901, James Bain then-president of the Ontario Library Association spoke to this shift in the library's image.

"The time is propitious," he said. "With the beginning of a new century we venture to look forward to new lines of work, to vast increase in the number and sizes of our libraries, and to extension in every direction which aims at the development to their true end -- the mental advancement and culture of the people and of this province."

Although libraries are often thought to be champions of banned books and the freedom to read, that wasn't always the case either. Egerton Ryerson, a public education advocate in Ontario was all for tax-supported libraries -- just as long as his personal standards were met for the collections. According to Bruce, the "range of political literature was restricted on the basis of immortal, controversial, subversive, risqué, or sectarian grounds."

Ryerson is a complicated character in Canadian history. Although a fervent supporter of public education, he was also one of the architects of the residential school system, which erased the language and culture of many Indigenous children. Like the public schools across Canada, many of these residential schools were equipped with libraries of their own.

Now, libraries in Canada are trying to reconcile the colonial history of this institution and how to best address the needs of marginalized patrons previously neglected by the library -- including Indigenous peoples.

Librarian Desmond Wong saw this first-hand even before he started on his path to librarianship. Before completing his master of library and information studies degree at McGill University, Wong worked in Oujé-Bougoumou, a Cree community in northern Quebec. He also worked as a librarian at the land claims office of what was then called the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs in Ontario. While with the Archives of Ontario, Wong became involved with the Indian Residential School settlement, tasked with digitizing materials to send to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

During his formal librarian education, Wong recalls that library school wasn't necessarily a place of critical thought, that there wasn't much instruction in the way of working with Indigenous communities or how the library could become a reconciliatory space. Now, Wong serves as a liaison between the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education's library system and Indigenous users or Indigenous studies students. He also serves as the chair of the Indigenous matters committee.

In 2017, Wong co-wrote "Moving in the Circle: Indigenous Solidarity for Canadian Libraries" -- an article reflecting on the Indigenous peoples-settler relationship in the context of the library, published in The Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research. Although he works out of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, an academic library at the University of Toronto, Wong says public librarians offer incredible benefits to the masses since they work directly with the public -- not just with academics, researchers and students.

"It's just so important that we are prepared to even come to the table to talk about services like programming and the way we collect things and the way we describe things and how we interact with Indigenous people," he says. "But in order to do all of those things we need to understand our role in colonialism."

In June 2018, the Ontario government cancelled a rewrite to its public education system that would have increased the amount of Indigenous content taught in classrooms. As a response to the cancellation, Wong published a resource for teachers called "Infusing Indigenous Perspectives in K-12 Teaching" on the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education website. According to the site, it's designed to "help teachers find materials to supplement First Nations, Métis and Inuit worldviews."

"Personally, as a librarian, I think public libraries are the sites of intervention that are the most important and most critical in librarianship," he says.

According to Wong, one of the biggest challenges librarians face when diving into reconciliation is an "absolute paralysis" and wanting to do something but feeling overwhelmed. He says this "non-action" actually perpetuates harm to Indigenous library users.

"[They've] been unequivocally clear that what is currently going on, that the status quo is not working for them," he says. "In not doing anything we're actively promoting the maintenance of settler-colonialism and oppression of Indigenous peoples."

Wong says many elders and knowledge-keepers he's met with don't expect librarians to know all of their cultural practices by memory. Instead, they should understand terms like colonialism, treaties and the history of the lands where they live and that librarians who are resistant to change or development can often be in "vocational awe."

The term, coined by librarian-activist Fobazi Ettarh in early 2018, explains that vocational awe is a "set of ideas, values, and assumptions librarians have about themselves and the profession that result in beliefs that libraries as institutions are inherently good and sacred, and therefore beyond critique."

The Toronto Public Library was scrutinized in July 2017 for allowing a controversial event to take place on its grounds. The memorial was for Barbara Kulaszka -- a former librarian and also legal counsel for Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel and white supremacist group leader Marc Lemire. Since then, the Toronto Public Library has changed its policies so it can now refuse the space for groups that promote discrimination or hate. 

As a queer, Asian man, Wong says he's not sure what he would do if he had to work in a library that was "fundamentally unsafe" because groups such as white nationalists could use the library space to organize events.

"That's not my library," he says, matter-of-factly. "I really see libraries as a space for social justice activism, as a space that is inherently not neutral. Libraries are inherently political. But I think we delude ourselves with these ideas of objectivity and neutrality that do harm to our communities."

Library collections "are not a neutral act," Wong says. He says the decision to purchase or not purchase a book for the library's collection could be influenced by the purchasing librarian's perspective and personal understanding of Indigenous issues. This could mean buying a disproportionate number of books by non-Indigenous authors about Indigenous history, whereas Indigenous-authored books may have less copies on library shelves.

Libraries have to push themselves to be more inclusive and diverse their collections, but it can't all be accomplished by just one person -- and that's the problem. Librarianship as a whole is about 87 per cent white "leaving the 13 per cent of us to fight tooth and nail to be heard," says Wong.

"Working on Indigenous programming -- especially when we're doing cultural revitalization -- is an important topic, but it can't be led by a non-Indigenous person at the front of the room," says Teneya Gwin, a Cree Métis woman working in the Calgary Public Library as the Indigenous service design lead.

Gwin says the library hadn't done a lot of Indigenous programming prior to her hiring in January 2017. When she started, she was the only self-identifying Indigenous person of nearly 800 employees at the Calgary Public Library.

She recalls looking around at her co-workers and thinking, "Do I feel comfortable? Do I feel safe?" After the library changed its hiring practices, Gwin says the library now has nine Indigenous staff members -- leading to a bigger conversation about the library spaces and Indigenous placemaking.

Gwin went out into the community around Calgary such as the Treaty 7 reserves and listened to elders and community members about how the library could become a more inviting place for them. She heard that the number one thing was language.

"To revitalize a culture you need that connection to language," she says.

She also noticed that many groups, such as the Aboriginal Friendship Centre in Calgary, were doing grassroots language programs with Indigenous communities and she wanted to find a way they could support each other rather than "reinvent the wheel all the time."

Many activities are partnership-led, like Igniting the Fire, a joint program with St. Mary's University in Calgary. Each class starts with a meal and prayer with an elder. The program specifically looks at different formats to traditional storytelling -- like through beadwork or through song and building of the drum. In the library space, three pieces of Indigenous artwork greet library-goers as they enter the front doors: "Survival Harvesting (Past)" by Roland Rollinmud, "Sharing the Knowledge (Present)" by Keegan Starlight and "Spiritual Changes Through Indigenous Teachings (Future)" by Kalum Teke Dan and can be seen through the large glass windows facing the street.

The inclusion of First Nations culture in the library is momentous considering that before 2016, First Nations people living on reserves, or Métis people living on settlements were not able to access public libraries unless they paid a fee to libraries in Calgary or Edmonton. Thanks to a $700,000 grant program from the Public Library Services Branch of Alberta Municipal Affairs -- non-resident fees for people living on reserve and settlements were eventually nullified.

With these physical impediments for Indigenous patrons at the Calgary Public Library now gone, Gwin had her own questions about barriers in the construction of the new central library -- would smudging finally be allowed?

While she was initially met with some pushback from the library, Gwin said it was an opportunity for the library to be more inclusive in designing its space.

"We did a lot of research and we were able to come up with a ventilation system that rolls around to each meeting room so you can smudge anywhere in the building," she says. "We call it the 'smudge-eater machine.'"

Making the space more inclusive extended to artwork, serving as an educational piece for non-Indigenous people to get to know the history of the Treaty 7 territory.

"There's a lot of history beneath the building," she says.

Indigenous library patrons expressed that they would want to see artists, or their language reflected throughout the library. Gwin said one artist was so thankful for the project because it was specific to Treaty 7 artists, bringing them a newfound confidence to their work.

The Elders' Guidance Circle is a significant accomplishment for Gwin because it removes the burden from one person and allows for opportunities for intercultural learning. She says that non-Indigenous people have a "thirst to learn more," especially when it comes to being guided in the reconciliation process.

"I haven't heard anything negative yet," she says. "It's been very well received by both [Indigenous and non-Indigenous] audiences."

The decolonization of the library is a concept that has been explored by several academics — the idea that the library is naturally exclusionary to Indigenous peoples because for centuries it was built on the written word. The Canadian Federation of Library Associations even called for the decolonization of libraries following the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report.

"With this colonial structure, Western culture is very literature-based, everything is written down, whereas especially in Treaty 7 territory, everything is very oral," says Gwin.

Indigenous languages and cultures were both erased from Calgary for so long during the age of residential schools. Even now, she says it's still difficult to find books written by Blackfoot authors.

Gwin wants people to change the way they perceive the library's collections, that "they're not always books" and that even the Elders' Guidance room can be considered part of the library's collection.

"We're missing that part of history down here in the collections and our collection reflects a certain viewpoint, which isn't Indigenous," she says.

To capture stories from diverse communities, the new central branch of the Calgary Public Library is starting a story studio in collaboration with Richard Van Camp a Dogrib (Tlicho) Nation member. Van Camp is tasked with interviewing elders, then sharing their stories while respecting their traditional cultural practices.

Gwin has some help with the Indigenous placemaking process -- Jared Tailfeathers assists her with this undertaking. He was hired for a contract position during the art process for the first phase of Indigenous placemaking. Tailfeathers is also a practising artist and musician.

Tailfeathers self-identifies as mixed -- his dad is from the Blood reserve, part of the Blackfoot Confederacy, while his mother is Caucasian, which he says has impacted his artistic works to "help people sort with identity crisis."

"It can be hard to navigate a world where your dad's family is mad about your white family being here," Tailfeathers says. "Sometimes it can be a little bit troublesome."

This mélange of identities is reflected in the traditional practices of the library, punctuated with reminders that the Calgary Public Library is on Treaty 7 land. On the fourth floor, there's a tipi adorned with Blackfoot designs beside the "Calgary's Story" section -- a reminder that the city's history is more complicated than some books may say. None of these Indigenous placemaking projects are hidden away in the library -- the Indigenous Elders' Guidance room has a rectangular window that looks out onto the stacks, while Indigenous artwork is scattered throughout the library, instead of being restricted into one area.

Of all the pieces, Tailfeathers' favourite is the buffalo sculpture -- a symbol for prosperity for Indigenous peoples. The life-sized metal structure, crafted by Lionel Peyachew has been placed in the heart of the library, at the top of the stairs so it can't be missed. The "word search" buffalo sculpture -- as Tailfeathers calls it -- comprises Indigenous words from the languages of Treaty 7.

"There was a little Caucasian kid that came out [to the library] and he said, 'Hey, where's Moh-kíns-tsis?' which means Calgary, it means elbow," he explains. "It shows that the education for non-Indigenous people is also becoming better and people are really trying to see from each other's eyes and sort of develop relationships."

The second phase of Indigenous art in the library space will continue to grow the permanent installation of Indigenous art into the children's area of the library. Tailfeathers says Calgary is "sort of a transient place" in that there are Indigenous peoples not all originally from Treaty 7 who have made Calgary their home -- but it's important to also showcase their work and share their stories.

Now, the Calgary Public Library is getting an extra financial boost for language revitalization. In late January 2019, the provincial government in Alberta announced it would give $1 million to fund the Indigenous Languages Resources Centre. This new hub will be based out of Calgary's new central branch to help with the promotion and preservation of Indigenous cultures and languages.

For libraries considering including Indigenous placemaking and Indigenous art, Tailfeathers says it's imperative to include Indigenous communities in the decolonization of the library space.

"Talk to the communities. Make sure you do your real community engagement and you make sure they're part of the process."

Desmond Wong echoes this sentiment, especially in the context of librarianship.

"It's a big profession and one where these harmful views are really inherently baked in to some of our perceptions," he says. "And everyone needs to be willing to see them for what they are and improve on them."

Last week: Part 3 of rabble's series: "How Canada's Largest Library System is Removing Barriers and Advancing Inclusion"

Next week: Part 5 of rabble's series: The Future of the Public Library. 

Olivia Robinson is a writer, journalist and book publishing professional. She is rabble.ca's Jack Layton Journalism for Change Fellow in 2019

Image: Olivia Robinson
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[l] at 9/3/19 12:52pm
Zaid Noorsumar Prime Minister Justin Trudeau marches with The Labourers International Union of North America during the Labour Day Parade in Hamilton, Ontario. Image: Filomena Tassi/Twitter

Three paid sick days, three paid bereavement leaves and better scheduling rights are some of the major changes to federal labour laws that came into effect on September 1, 2019. 

The protections and rights apply to approximately 900,000 workers in federally regulated industries including banking, telecommunications, airports, railways and certain First Nations communities.

The changes are part of the Trudeau government's plan to modernize labour standards, which have been left largely unchanged since the 1960s, according to a government press release.

The government has promised another wave of reforms in 2020 that include prevention of workplace harassment and violence, pay equity, and greater protections for interns as well as addressing the misclassification of employees as independent contractors. 

A snapshot of the changes

The changes that came into effect on September 1, 2019 include:

  • Five days of personal/sick leave (including three paid days)

  • Employees' right to not provide a medical certificate of leave unless they take three consecutive days off

  • 10 days of domestic violence leave (including five days paid)

  • Five unpaid days leave for traditional Indigenous practices

  • Employers are required to give workers advance notice of 96 hours before the start of shifts

  • Increase in vacation entitlements (three weeks after five years of service; four weeks after 10 years of service)

  • Employees will have access to various types of leave including medical and parental from the first day of work

A long time coming

Workers' rights advocates have welcomed the changes, noting that they offer better protection and flexibility for employees that have long been needed. 

Hassan Youssef, president of the Canadian Labour Congress, said that many of these changes were advocated by the Harry Arthurs report in 2006, which was based on wide consultation.

The report was commissioned by the Paul Martin Liberal government to review the federal labour code. But as Youssef pointed out, the Stephen Harper regime (2006-2015) ignored the recommendations of the report, resulting in workers missing out on vital reforms.

Youssef highlighted the importance of these changes to non-unionized workers who are not covered by the organized labour movement.

Nil Sendil, from the advocacy group Workers' Action Centre, said the reforms were essential but fairly basic and modest improvements, as evidenced by the introduction of three paid sick days and a 96-hour scheduling notice.

Setting a precedent for provincial laws

While federal labour standards apply to nearly a million workers, the work of most Canadians is governed by provincial law.

Sendil said the federal standards could set a new precedent for the provinces to emulate. She cited the example of paid sick days, which are virtually inaccessible for any worker operating under provincial law across Canada.

Workers in Nova Scotia are entitled to one paid sick day if they have worked for over five years for the same employer. Ontario's workers briefly enjoyed many labour protections including better scheduling rights and two paid sick days for nearly a year before the Ford government rolled back reforms enacted by the Liberals.

Citing a Campaign Research poll that showed 77 per cent of Ontarians favoured two paid sick days, Sendil said that the popularity of basic workplace rights was a major reason why the federal government had introduced reforms.

"That's an important reason in why we are now getting these federal improvements because politicians are seeing how widely needed and how widely supported these changes are," she said.

Employer pushback and post-election concerns

In context of the rollbacks in Ontario, Youssef highlighted that the labour movement would have to guard against the possibility of going backwards by electing a Conservative government. 

"The employers starting to make all kinds of noise that it's not done properly, that we didn't do enough consultation, which is a pile of crock," he said. 

The government had consulted employers, labour-advocacy groups, academics and others while making changes through two separate pieces of legislation in 2017 and 2018.  

"The kind of noise they are making, can only be reflected by a right-wing regime that comes into the fall, who will want to roll this back as we saw happening in Ontario."

Sendil argued that in light of employers' historical pushback against labour reforms, their current lobbying efforts have to be viewed skeptically. 

"Businesses crying that the sky is going to fall and these changes are going to make business impossible -- it's simply not true," she said. "And we should not let them get away with such things."

Zaid Noorsumar is rabble's labour beat reporter for 2019, and is a journalist who has previously contributed to CBC, The Canadian Press, the Toronto Star and Rankandfile.ca. To contact Zaid with story leads, email zaid[at]rabble.ca.

Image: Filomena Tassi/Twitter
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[l] at 9/1/19 10:40am
Fred Wilson Ewe Neon/Flickr

Canadian workers should be boiling mad this Labour Day. The economy is apparently on the uptick, but instead of the promises of working class progress, only a few have made any real gains.  Precarious work is trending towards the new normal, and new workplace laws that were intended to give a hand up to vulnerable workers have been stalled or rolled back. For the big majority of workers, those $15 minimum wages are still a long way off.

There will be speeches and a few picket signs on these and other grievances, of course, when Canadian unions rally members for marches and picnics on this Labour Day weekend. But it's not clear exactly where the frustrations and indignation of workers is being directed. My union, Unifor, will hold separate Labour Day events in many places, underscoring the continuing differences with the largest CLC unions.  And only weeks out from a crucial federal election, a unifying message to rally the labour movement seems to be missing.

There are a few modest gains for workers in 2019 to be noted this Labour Day. B.C. has new labour laws offering increased protections for workers trying to organize and stronger successorship provisions for contact workers. Non union workers have beefed up inspections on wage theft, and hospitality workers will get to keep their tips. But there was no breakthrough in B.C. for worker rights which retained mandatory elections to unionize and steered clear of any structural reforms towards sectoral or broader based bargaining that would make unionization practical for millions of workers in the new economy. 

New workplace laws also take effect September 1 in the federal jurisdiction which increase minimum vacations entitlements, allow the right to refuse overtime because of family responsibilities, and improve scheduling and notice provisions.  

One issue on which there was a progressive wave in 2019 was leave provisions for domestic violence, formerly only available in Manitoba.  Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland, PEI and the federal jurisdiction all brought in paid leave for victims of domestic violence, while B.C. and Alberta provided unpaid leave.

But against these patchwork of incremental gains, Ontario and Alberta each enacted commonly named "Open for Business" Acts that shredded new and hopeful advances in worker rights before they could be consolidated. Ontario began 2019 by cavalierly eliminating wholesale the important reforms that had resulted from a historic two-year, comprehensive review of precarious work and the new economy.  In Alberta the reforms to allow organizing by signing cards (with a super majority of 65 per cent) and other key provisions to benefit workers are also now repealed. There are rumblings in Alberta of anti-union laws inspired by the attacks on unions by Trump's U.S. Supreme Court.

And what about those minimum wages, the floor by which society attaches a value to the dignity of work?  Alberta is the only place in Canada with a $15 minimum, thanks to the former Notley government that actually implemented $15 rather than a promise for the by and by. But Alberta students had it cut back to $13. The $1 an hour increase promised this year to bring Ontario workers to $15 was cancelled. B.C. has promised $15, but not until 2021. Five other provinces have paltry minimums below $12 hour -- Saskatchewan winning the award for cheap labour which will increase its minimum wage to $11.32 in October.

In 2019 we remembered the Winnipeg General Strike, but on balance the centenary of that historic struggle has been a year without meaningful working class political or economic progress.  

It could get much worse. Labour Day launches a federal election campaign that is a toss up, after several months of a clear Conservative Party advantage. If the Conservatives regain the government, the federal jurisdiction would quickly follow Alberta and Ontario into the backward column. The labour movement appears stuck in neutral, neither gearing up or down to meet the challenge. Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff told the Winnipeg Free Press in May that the labour movement has a "grab bag" of political strategies for the federal election from union to union.  

2019 seems eerily reminiscent of the foreboding in 2011 that was the genesis for the decision to create Unifor, founded on Labour Day 2013 with a mission to change the labour movement and the country. By the end of 2015 most of labour's worst enemies were out of office, and a new period of progress seemed to be opening. But that opening is today being slammed shut, while labour is mired in internal divisions and business-as-usual unionism.

This Labour Day will not rock with excitement. But it is a time for reflection and an urgently needed jump start towards a new kind of union movement with bigger ambitions and a much stronger force to change political and economic outcomes for Canadian workers. 


Fred Wilson is the retired director of strategic planning for Unifor, and author of A New Kind of Union, published in 2019 by James Lorimer and Company.

Image: Ewe Neon / Flickr

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[l] at 8/30/19 10:54am
August 30, 2019 Andrew Scheer speaks to crowd. Image: Andrew Scheer/Flickr Talk of affordability conceals real problem -- capture of wealth by the rich The term "affordability" hides the stasis or fallback of the last 40 years and the failure of neoliberalism to deliver even a sustained status quo.
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[l] at 8/29/19 10:05am
August 29, 2019 Graffiti art depicting millionaire character from Monopoly game. Image: Sean Davis/Flickr Denounced in media, taxing the super-rich turns out to be popular with Canadians A wealth tax has received little media coverage -- beyond denunciations in the National Post, which surely has nothing to do with the fact the media is largely owned by billionaires.
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[l] at 8/29/19 10:05am
August 29, 2019 Graffiti art depicting millionaire character from Monopoly game. Image: Sean Davis/Flickr What's stopping us from taxing the rich? A wealth tax has received little media coverage -- beyond denunciations in the National Post, which surely has nothing to do with the fact the media is largely owned by billionaires.
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[l] at 8/28/19 5:16pm
Pamela Palmater

Dear rabble readers:

It's a frantic time, I know! But because it's really important to me, I'm going to take this moment out of my day to urge you to help keep our movements strong by supporting rabble.ca at the end of their summer fundraiser.

As a mom, lawyer, professor, author, activist, a Mi'kmaw citizen, and member of the Eel River Bar First Nation, I'm worried, angry, motivated, and of course, active. We face incredible obstacles towards achieving justice and reconciliation. And time is of the essence, with a climate crisis across all Indigenous territories.

There are many things we can do. For me, one way to make a concrete contribution is to make a concrete contribution to rabble.ca. It really does matter. If you can please, please support rabble.ca's independent progressive journalism right now at rabble.ca/donate then you can help them make their $65,000 summer fundraising goal. All of the proceeds will help rabble maintain a firm hand in standing up for media democracy and underrepresented voices in the September/October election months. 

We need rabble.ca to tell the stories that need to be heard.

When it comes to media, in the early days of the Idle No More movement, and even before, rabble was a key resource for people to learn about, share, and discuss the movement. That's still true to this day. From resistance to the Trans Mountain pipeline construction to the crisis of murdered and missing Indigenous women, rabble.ca is our great forum for debate and real information. I'm happy to report that rabble has been a strong supporter of my work for years, and has helped share the work of many other Indigenous activists. This includes my current column on rabble, as well as the on-going coverage of my Reconciliation Book Club (I hope you will join us there).

A good example of the rabble.ca difference in reporting is in the current Liberal government's portrayal in mainstream media around its relationship with Indigenous communities. The truth that needs to be told is that Trudeau has betrayed First Nations, and therefore all Canadians.

The fact is that Trudeau told Indigenous people that he would recognize our legal right to veto any development on our territories. That means the right to say no to pipelines. This, as we know, hasn't happened, with a complete overhaul of consultation process, and purchasing of a pipeline. 

Fortunately, rabble.ca has not let up on speaking truth to power. And will not let up on a dedication to real, and fair reporting for indigenous communities. Whatever the outcome this coming election, rabble will be there to continue to push the issues and debates from the perspective of frontline communities, and help Canadians to hold federal leaders to account.

I'm asking you to please do what you can to support rabble.ca. rabble is a great forum for debate and real information, and if you can contribute, please do so now at rabble.ca/donate. If you can't afford a donation, please encourage a friend or colleague who can. Word of mouth means a lot in grassroots struggles, and that is what this is.

What we need in Canada is an independent media system that is tuned to the activism that fights for a more just, wise, and equal world. That's what rabble is. Please help us on our path at rabble.ca/donate.

Thanks,

Pam Palmater

Pam Palmater has been a practicing lawyer for 20 years and is currently an Associate Professor and the Chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University.

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[l] at 8/28/19 12:25pm
August 28, 2019 Roy/Flickr Let the children vote? I'm not seeing much evidence that adults are any better at making political decisions than young people. So many grown-ups are electing politicians who don't even accept climate science.
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[l] at 8/27/19 4:25pm
August 27, 2019 Aly Velji (left) and Rahma Hashi (right) participated in a packed panel discussion at the Ontario Library Association’s Super Conference in January 2019. Image: Olivia Robinson/rabble How Canada's largest library system is removing barriers and advancing inclusion The Toronto Public Library is continually looking to extend its reach beyond its four walls to connect with people, including those who may never have stepped inside the library before.
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[l] at 8/27/19 4:16pm
Olivia Robinson Aly Velji (left) and Rahma Hashi (right) participated in a packed panel discussion at the Ontario Library Association’s Super Conference in January 2019. Image: Olivia Robinson/rabble

Where some Canadian library systems have emphasized on the ground counselling and meeting with patrons in the library space, the Toronto Public Library has taken a different approach for its 100 branches.

The Toronto Public Library is the largest public library system in Canada. In 2018, it had a $201-million budget and more than 912,991 active library cardholders.

Toronto took a step back to see how it could improve its programs for vulnerable and homeless patrons through an approach that would permeate through its entire library system -- not just at one or two branches.

The fall of 2018 marked the first time that the Toronto Public Library hired a social worker as a permanent staff member, overseen by Aly Velji. He's the manager of adult literacy services at the Toronto Public Library based out of the North York Central branch -- a newly renovated yet well-used facility that turns 50 this year.

Velji says hiring a social worker wasn't the result of one, isolated incident at one of its branches, but rather that library staff noticed housing was becoming a real issue with some of the library's patrons. He felt that it was the right time to have a social worker join their team now that the library's new strategic plan emphasizes reducing barriers and increasing inclusivity in the library. While anyone can come in and use the library space, the Toronto Public Library makes the special distinction between people who may not have stable housing or who are homeless without a permanent address. As long as they have name identification, they are eligible for a 12-month library card allowing them to borrow up to five items at a time and access library computers.

This isn't the first time that a social worker has been added to the Toronto Public Library's staff -- the first case was a temporary, one-year position funded by the Toronto Public Library Foundation, focused in the Malvern area of Toronto. It was a more traditional social worker role in the sense that the position was created to focus on frontline work, like counselling, at a youth gathering space in the library called The Spot.

The Toronto Public Library has created a new, full-time social worker position for Rahma Hashi, funded through the library's operational budget.

"It's part of a bigger movement of bringing the human service to the person as opposed to expecting them to knock on your door," says Hashi.

One barrier to accessing services is that some people may not have stepped into a library for years for fear of overdue fines. As such, they didn't know what the library had to offer. In some instances, the library was able to waive fines for some people participating in the Toronto Employment and Social Services program.

"We just have to go back to our core values: libraries are free and a welcoming space for everyone," Velji says. Without library access, Hashi and Velji can't imagine what some of their patrons would do, especially in colder weather.

People fearful of homeless or vulnerable patrons in the library could be because of a lack of exposure to people in socio-economic groups dissimilar from their own.

"It's not coming from a place of hate; it's coming from a place of unknowing," Hashi says.

The reality of homelessness and the library was envisaged on the big screen last fall, when The Public, an Emilio Estevez-directed film, debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The plot of the movie is not too distant from the severe winter Toronto suffered through in 2019. The fictional storyline is set in Cincinnati, Ohio, at the downtown library branch where homeless patrons organize a sit-in at the library to protest overcrowding at emergency shelters that has led some to freeze to death in the streets. The film centres around this complication, offering a nuanced perspective of the library's most vulnerable patrons and how a librarian must reconcile his patrons' demands with the rules and regulations of the library.

During the film festival, the Toronto Public Library Foundation organized a viewing of The Public. Hashi says that the movie not only spurred a conversation about flagrant homelessness and invisible homelessness -- like couch surfing -- but how all types of homelessness directly impact the library.

A September screening of The Public during TIFF at the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre proved popular with library staff from across the province. One of the first scenes was met with knowing nodding from the audience -- familiar to many who work in downtown library branches -- when homeless men gather to shave at the bathroom sinks.

Many attendees sported their library's logo or their library's uniform -- emblazoned on brightly-coloured T-shirts. They shouted and applauded at several crucial moments in the film that spoke to the importance of the library. The biggest response came at the climax of the film, when the homeless occupiers are threatened with arrest and Estevez himself declares: "The public library is the last bastion of true democracy that we have in this country."

Librarians such as Velji find truth in that line. The library is more than just a free space, Velji says. It's an equalizer.

The Toronto Public Library is even considering the idea of partnering with universities and getting practicum students in the library so that they have the opportunity to do frontline social work.

"It's really my life calling," says Hashi. "I feel at home here."

For Velji, helping people learn how to read and write eventually expanded to working with vulnerable populations, including partnering with correctional facilities, and developing a Wi-Fi hotspot lending program for low-income families.

"Letting people in on the secret of the value of libraries is really cool," he says.

Going into meetings with different agencies and other partners, Velji often gets people asking, "Why is the library here?" but ultimately, he says that these conversations with community members reveal more about what the library has to offer.

At the Ontario Library Association conference in late January 2019, Velji, Hashi and Kevin Berry from the Mississauga Public Library shared their experiences on how other libraries could incorporate social work in their own library systems.

The Toronto Public Library is continually looking to extend its reach beyond its four walls to connect with people outside the library, including those who may never have stepped inside the library before.

The Toronto Public Library has six specialized community librarians that complement Hashi's social worker role. They look at how they can get people involved in the library who may have no prior knowledge of the space -- starting with signing people up for library cards out in the field or connecting them with programs that may fit their needs. Two librarians are embedded with Toronto Employment and Social Services, one works in the shelter system, one with the refugee system, one in digital innovation services in the Albion Road area -- and another working with correctional centres.

For some transient patrons, "it could be pretty easy for some patrons to fall back into their old patterns," says Velji. Some Toronto library branches may be open seven days a week -- meaning it could be the one stable place they visit each day. Velji and Hashi are hopeful that the librarian-social worker partnership will help provide a cushion, an array of social service resources, for these patrons facing difficult periods in their life.

"And it's all free," Hashi exclaims.

Last week: Part 2 of rabble's series: "How Canada's Libraries Are Bridging Social-Service Gaps"

Next week: Part 4 of rabble's series: The Future of the Public Library. 

Olivia Robinson is a writer, journalist and book publishing professional. She is rabble.ca's Jack Layton Journalism for Change Fellow in 2019.

Image: Olivia Robinson/rabble 

 

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[l] at 8/26/19 5:27pm
Zaid Noorsumar Locked-out USW workers picketing in Sudbury, Ontario. Image: USW

CarePartners is failing its employees and clients, according to two unions that represent workers for the home care service provider. 

The for-profit firm that provides home care for seniors across Ontario has been negotiating with SEIU Healthcare since March. SEIU represents about 2,600 CarePartners' employees.

According to Tali Zrehen, SEIU's director of home and community care, the employer's behaviour has been disrespectful towards its workers through the bargaining process.

Low-wage work and poor scheduling

Most personal support workers (PSW) represented by SEIU get paid between $16.50 and $19 hourly. The majority are employed part time without benefits.

Workers are on duty for eight hours a day, but are only paid for the time they are booked by CarePartners to spend with clients. That can mean being paid for three or four hours while being booked from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. 

The erratic scheduling can translate into inconsistency for clients who often have to deal with new PSWs as opposed to familiar caregivers.

CarePartners referred rabble.ca to its public relations representative, who didn't respond to requests for comment.

Zrehen says that CarePartners, which has rejected the proposal of having more reliable working hours, doesn't even bother informing clients when PSWs are unable to visit them. 

As part of its campaign to raise awareness about the employer's practices, SEIU says it has received negative feedback from clients. 

"The clients say that these PSWs are amazing: 'We love the care that we receive from these individuals, but the company that they work for is awful,'" Zrehen says. 

Dog bites, bed bugs and violence 

Providing care for seniors is a challenging task -- a fact that can be attested to by hospital and nursing home staff. But providing care at their homes can be particularly difficult.

Zrehen says that health and safety is a critical issue for personal support workers who face risks at work, but can't fall back on sick days in the event of an injury.

"We're talking about members going in and getting dog bites," she says. "And then they have a decision, 'Do I go to work the next day? Or can I not go to work? Because I'm injured or could I lose out on that income?'"

Zrehen points to other issues such as dealing with bed bugs, when visiting hoarders hampered by severe mental health issues, or stepping on needles when caring for addicts since the employer doesn't provide safety boots. 

Like nursing homes, where seniors suffering from dementia can act violently against care providers, home care presents the same risk. 

Often times in those circumstances, personal support workers can benefit from additional hands on deck, but Zrehen says that the employer wouldn't spend money on more staff. 

Schedulers still locked out in Sudbury

For the past 12 weeks, 30 CarePartners administrative employees who schedule shifts for PSWs have been locked out since bargaining failed with United Steelworkers local 2020. 

Mike Scott, a USW representative, says workers are seeking to modestly increase their wage, retain their pensions plus benefits and the inclusion of protections against harassment.

The workers get paid around $16 an hour or less, despite many of them having college diplomas and university degrees, according to Scott.

"I think they've got less than a $1 raise in five years," he says. "And they went through a period of about five years prior to that with no raises before we organized."

The company is looking to get rid of their pension, says Scott, which they had through a previous employer before CarePartners took over.

He says that in order to maximize profit, the company pressures the workers to make as many bookings as possible. 

"We want some joint investigation language that looks into the workplace harassment and bullying. Especially from management to our members," Scott says. "That's all, nothing really big."

The union has reached out to Christine Elliot, Ontario's minister of health, only to hear that the government won't intervene in the bargaining process. 

Scott says that NDP politicians such as local Sudbury MPP Jamie West have been supportive of the workers, but no other party has been helpful.

"An unregulated industry"

Zrehen points out that while home care is funded by taxpayer dollars, companies like CarePartners exploit workers for profit.

Over the years, as the government has promoted home care as an alternative to nursing homes, businesses have taken advantage of weak government regulations.

"It's [a] massively growing system. It's unregulated, and is really being run by a class of working class women who are bearing the brunt of our healthcare system," Zrehen says.

Zaid Noorsumar is rabble's labour beat reporter for 2019, and is a journalist who has previously contributed to CBC, The Canadian Press, the Toronto Star and Rankandfile.ca. To contact Zaid with story leads, email zaid[at]rabble.ca.

Image: USW

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[l] at 8/26/19 7:24am
Maya Bhullar Burning rainforest in Brazil. Image: NASA/Wikimedia Commons

Videos and images of fires raging across the Amazon can be seen from space. The deforestation of the Amazon has been raising alarms for decades. There had been efforts to curb the devastation, but then Jair Bolsonaro was elected in Brazil. Throughout his campaign and since he took office, he has been publicly dismissive about concerns over protecting the rainforest. As president, he has encouraged logging and farming in the rainforest and this year the Amazon has experienced a record-setting number of fires -- with nearly 73,000 fires in 2019 so far, an 83 per cent increase from the same time last year.

The following suggestions have been compiled from blogs by Melissa Locker on Fast Company and by Tiffany Diane Tso on Refinery 29. Please click through and read their blogs for additional suggestions. 

  1. Support the land rights of Indigenous peoples of the Amazon. Amazon Watch and the Rainforest Action's Protect-an-Acre program  are working on the ground with Indigenous activists to support them. Another effective effort to buy rainforest land and train rangers to protect the land is run by the Rainforest Trust. If there are other ways to directly support the organizations resisting deforestation, please let us know.
  2. Reduce your paper and wood consumption or buy rainforest safe products certified by the Rainforest Alliance. The app Buycott has become increasingly sophisticated and user friendly and makes responsible consumption much easier.
  3. The cattle sector of the Brazilian Amazon, incentivized by the international beef and leather trades, has been responsible for about 80 per cent of all deforestation in the region, or about 14 per cent of the world's total annual deforestation, making it the world's largest single driver of deforestation. Domestic meat producers in Brazil work with international companies that 'are committed to zero-carbon standards, in principle" and are more susceptible to public outcry than Bolsonaro. This recent report by Amazon Watch, also identifies companies and investors with links to illegal deforestation in Brazil. Get involved and target these companies in campaigns. We need people to use their market power to send a signal to Brazil's leadership that the global community will not tolerate the policies of the new administration.

I know it feels hopeless, so let's act to build hope.

Image: NASA/Wikimedia Commons

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[l] at 8/23/19 2:41pm
August 23, 2019 Ontario Premier Doug Ford announcing funding for road project in Pelham. Image: Premier of Ontario Photography/Flickr Ford sells out his base with reversal on sex ed This week, Ontario's education minister announced that the province's sex-ed program was going back to the future. The new curriculum would be almost identical to the 2015 curriculum.
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[l] at 8/22/19 10:15am
August 22, 2019 Elections Canada poll sign. Image: Dennis Sylvester Hurd/Flickr Ethics and truth in election advertising Ready or not, we are embarking on an experiment to see whether Harper's legacy of election laws can support an actual election. For example, take the ethics commissioner.
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[l] at 8/22/19 10:04am
Zaid Noorsumar The Mearns Centre at the University of Victoria. Image: Page DeWolfe/Flickr

Sarah (not her real name) has been teaching at the University of Victoria for over 15 years. Unlike many of her colleagues, she is lucky enough to be teaching full-time with benefits. 

However, as a sessional lecturer, her job is not secure. Like some of her colleagues, she fears she could be demoted to part time. 

According to the union, as some full-time instructors have lost courses and faced demotion, they have been forced into other part-time jobs and increasing precarity.

Bargaining for job security

Job security is the main goal for the 450 sessional lecturers and music instructors currently in negotiations with the university, according to CUPE 4163 president Greg Melnechuk.

On Friday, August 9, the two sides reached an impasse within two days of another round of bargaining talks. The talks have been ongoing for five months, under the looming threat of job action. 

The membership has already voted overwhelmingly in favour of a strike, if the need arises.

Only 70 out of the 450 members of the bargaining unit have a "measure of job security," according to Melnechuk. They are called "continuing sessional lecturers," who have a full-time course load.

The more common type of lecturers are "term sessionals" who typically work part time, potentially teaching one or two courses a semester. They may qualify for benefits, depending on their course load, but are constantly competing for courses against other instructors. 

"For the term instructors, it can be pretty tough. They're working at UVic, but they're most likely working elsewhere to be able to pay the bills," Melnechuk says.

Graduating to "continuing sessional" and maintaining that status requires a certain number of courses within a five-year period. 

But that can be easily manipulated by the university, says Melnechuk, as the administration can award and withhold courses to save costs.

Hence, according to the union, the number of term sessionals has increased over the past several years.

"We have some proposals around job security. And the university is not taking them seriously," Melnechuk says. 

He says that one of the union's proposals would have cost the university only $23,000 annually, but even such modest overtures continue to be ignored. 

BC government's bargaining mandate

Melnechuk says UVic is in a solid financial place. The university posted a $34 million surplus, according to its 2017-2018 financial statements.

In an emailed statement, Kane Kilbey, UVic's vice president of human resources, said, "The total cost for the renewed contract must not exceed the BC government's financial mandate."  

The government's mandate applies to public sector employers, and limits them to providing 2 per cent annual wage increases. The wiggle room for employers is limited, with some flexibility in negotiating "modest and conditional" funding.

However, according to B.C.'s Ministry of Finance, universities manage their budgets independently, including how they allocate staff. 

The myth of the well-paid lecturer

According to Melnechuk, one of the reasons UVic can get away with treating its workers so disrespectfully, is that most people have no idea about the hierarchy within academic ranks. 

"I went to UVic 20 years ago, and I had no idea really about the difference between faculty and sessionals," he says. "And now I think back and go, 'Wow, half my favorite instructors were actually sessional instructors.'"

"[Most people] probably assume that everybody that's teaching them at UVic is making a really good wage and that's not true."

Systemic issues

Melnechuk says that the increasing precarity at the university stems in part from post-secondary funding cuts by the previous provincial Liberal government. He says while instructors are more likely to be working part time, the size of the university administration continues to grow.

"I think [the current NDP] government should really take a look at how the universities are being run, because, you know, the manager class is growing and growing. And their wages don't seem to be suffering at all."

Pointing to increasing class sizes paired with increasing workloads for instructors, Melnechuk says that an in-depth study of the way universities operate would be revealing, and potentially 'shocking' for the government.  

Zaid Noorsumar is rabble's labour beat reporter for 2019, and is a journalist who has previously contributed to CBC, The Canadian Press, the Toronto Star and Rankandfile.ca. To contact Zaid with story leads, email zaid[at]rabble.ca

Image: Page DeWolfe/Flickr

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[l] at 8/21/19 11:11am
August 21, 2019 Vladvictoria/Pixabay When corporate interests hijack government, beware claims about 'public interest' Nearly any democratic institution in Canada is susceptible to manipulation by corporate interests, making claims about serving the "public interest" or "public security" highly dubious.
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[l] at 8/20/19 11:54am
August 20, 2019 The new central branch of the Calgary Public Library is 240,000 square feet and has more than 600,000 items in its collection. Image: Olivia Robinson/rabble How Canada's libraries are bridging social-service gaps Public libraries are changing how they serve vulnerable and marginalized patrons -- and proving that they're home to more than just books.
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[l] at 8/20/19 11:41am
Olivia Robinson The new central branch of the Calgary Public Library is 240,000 square feet and has more than 600,000 items in its collection. Image: Olivia Robinson/rabble

A quiet intersection in Calgary's East Village is marked by a futuristic, oblong building. It's meant to resemble an oil lamp, evoking knowledge and wisdom. The exterior is decorated with hexagonal shapes like a honeycomb, with the Salvation Army flanked in its shadows next door.

It's a sunny, December morning. A woman parks a shopping cart filled with her belongings near the building's entrance. Students with bulging backpacks meander at the top of the steps, while parents hold squirming toddlers in their arms and wait for the building to open.

The entrance of the new central branch of the Calgary Public Library -- which opened on November 1, 2018 -- doesn't really feel like a library at all. The airy $245-million space is packed with more than just books. It boasts a recording studio, interactive history exhibits, a book escalator that shuttles books from the drop bin up to a sorting room and an interfaith room where patrons can pray or meditate. The building feels like an amalgam of a library and an architect's attempt to earn a spot on a tourist's must-see list. But to some, it represents much more. It is a vision for public libraries to come. Cities like Ottawa are looking to replicate Calgary's success with its own forthcoming central library branch, and Edmonton, whose new central branch will open in February 2020.

Users of the third-floor computer station offer up a smorgasbord of demographics normally found at any public library: a female library staff member teaches an elderly man how to manipulate a mouse to check his emails; young professionals work through an online distance course together; a man speaks to someone over Skype -- raising his voice slightly -- as he recounts how his clothes were taken from him at a nearby shelter.

But hiding amid the blinking computer screens and between the pages of the books there is one truth about the library -- it's an institution greater than that of just the Calgary Public Library -- a public institution that has survived centuries. 

For more than two decades, public libraries in North America have had to prove their worth to sustain funding. Their mere existence hinged on pushing back against budget cuts. They've countered questions about their relevance in a digital age and where access to information — regardless of whether or not it's accurate — has permeated the mainstream.

The library has its champions, but politicians rarely include more funding for libraries as one of their top campaign promises. According to Eric Klinenberg, author of Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization and the Decline of Civic Life, elected officials think that a public institution that lends out printed resources in the 21st century seems almost quaint, if not obsolete. Regardless, he believes that "the library is among the most critical forms of social infrastructure that we have."

And he's not alone.

While the types of materials in a library's collection and how they store them may fluctuate over time -- depending on things such as the condition of the books, new technologies and passing literary trends -- the framework to support vulnerable library patrons has shifted considerably in the past decade.

According to a 2015 Pew Research Center study about the perception of libraries in the United States, the public supported removing books and shelves from the library in favour of new technologies -- a ripple also felt in Canada as book publishers pivoted towards pushing out more ebook content. But just a year later, Pew had found that attitudes on discarding physical books had cooled, suggesting that the digital takedown of libraries wasn't as widespread as previously thought.

Meanwhile, the traditional guardians and curators of information -- librarians -- have been stretched beyond the confines of their traditional roles. Each day they work with patrons struggling with mental health issues, homelessness or addictions. Librarians do what they do best -- trying to connect these patrons with resources and information, but increasingly many are realizing they just can't do it alone.

Social workers began teaming up with librarians nearly a decade ago with a trend that started on the West Coast of the United States where higher homeless populations had begun to change the clientele of libraries in states like California. According to the 2009 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, there were 133,129 homeless people living in that state. That same year, the San Francisco Public Library was the first North American library to hire a social worker after serious safety concerns, such as drug use, violence and people having sex in the library's washrooms could no longer be ignored. Adding more security personnel wasn't a sustainable long-term solution for the well-being of these vulnerable library patrons. Now, there are more than 30 public libraries with social workers in the United States. At least eight public libraries have social or outreach workers in Canada -- the city of Edmonton having one of the oldest and most well-established of these programs.

In high-density urban centres, daily interactions with someone sleeping on city streets is just part of what it means to be a modern-day librarian in Edmonton.

"I really like the hustle and bustle of things downtown -- there's adrenaline," says Richard Thornley. He's a former biochemist turned librarian -- the current manager of the downtown Enterprise Square branch at the Edmonton Public Library.

"I've been assaulted, and while I don't welcome that, those situations really force you to think about what you did to contribute to the situation. Working downtown really tests me every day," he says.

Thornley is intimately acquainted with the stereotypes that plague libraries, but he prefers to look at it as if each branch "has its own flavour and culture," having worked not only at the downtown branch, but at libraries in the west and south ends of the city.

Edmonton's Lois Hole branch in the west end, for example, serves a diverse group of patrons, including new Canadians and vulnerable populations, while the Idylwylde branch in the Bonnie Doon neighbourhood -- a nod to Alberta's first premier Alexander Cameron Rutherford's Scottish roots -- has a high number of Francophone patrons.

The Abbottsfield–Penny McKee branch in northeast Edmonton doesn't quite resemble a traditional library from the outside. It's housed in a strip-mall style building, although later this year it'll move to a new location one block east. The colourful rectangles of the Edmonton Public Library's logo, meant to resemble book spines, stands out against the concrete backdrop.

The branch serves many vulnerable individuals living in a lower socioeconomic neighbourhood with a diverse ethnic make-up. The neighbourhood also has one of the largest First Nations, Inuit and Métis populations in the city.

Inside the building, all the desktop computers are in use, but some users are hunched over their keyboards, nearly asleep in their chairs.

"It really is a third space, particularly in an area like this where we have so many people experiencing homelessness, this is literally their living room," branch manager Margo Till-Rogers says. "If you're coming into your living room, you're going to expect that you can be comfortable, you can trust that you'll be safe and that you'll be heard."

The room is small, but cozy -- dotted with colourful library book displays, bright red computer chairs and interactive children's activity stations. The gaming and computer consoles are usually a big hit with children and teenagers at this branch because they may not have access to these devices at home. Some don't even have Internet, says Till-Rogers.

"At this branch in particular we are extraordinarily relationship focused," she says. "We greet everyone that comes here. We often can do it by first name."

Calling people by their first name can be used as a security precaution -- making it clear to patrons that they are physically seen by staff as they walk in, but also as a means of recognizing them as an individual. It could also be the only human-to-human interaction they have that day.

"It may be the only time they hear their name in a day," Till-Rogers says. "That's pretty powerful, and that's what makes me want to come to work. That's why I'm a librarian."

Back at Enterprise Square, Thornley not only deals with day-to-day issues within the library -- from broken toilet seats, to exhaust fumes coming up from the parkade below the library, to classic library questions, about book availability, Wi-Fi access or help with research. In addition to overseeing his staff, Thornley is tasked with managing the outreach team -- a group of social workers based out of the library.

The outreach team was conceived as a limited three-year pilot project in 2011 funded through a provincial program called the Safe Communities Innovation Fund. The project required a stringent evaluation process and expected a high return on investment in the program, which was reported back to the provincial government. The program wasn't without its critics -- people who thought it would attract problems to the library, says Thornley.

"The goal wasn't actually to bring more vulnerable people to the library, but to work with the vulnerable people who were using the library anyway," he says.

Since 2015, three full-time outreach worker positions have been added to the library's staff, based mostly out of the Enterprise Square branch, but they do occasionally work at other branches. Initially, the outreach worker would wander through the library to connect with patrons. Now the outreach team has its own office space to allow conversations with more privacy.

According to Thornley, people who use the library's outreach services are usually going through multiple stressors at the same time such as addictions, mental health, food security or divorce -- but it's not up to the library to define what issue should be tackled first. It's about letting the patron express to the outreach worker what their needs are at that moment.

For Thornley, it's difficult to define a typical day. He walks around the library and talks with patrons, paying special attention to those he's been concerned about, interacting with the security team, and handling patron complaints "about the size of the library: it's not big enough or it's too big, there aren't enough computers or that there are too many of 'those people' in the library."

By those people -- Thornley refers to homeless patrons or other vulnerable patrons that may be dealing with addictions or struggling with mental health disorders. The Edmonton Public Library will often work with people who have been banned because of bad behaviour from Alberta Hospital -- a mental health institution in northeast Edmonton. So long as these patrons haven't done anything wrong in the library, Thornley says, they are still welcome here.

For homeless patrons -- each day is fraught with challenges, like finding a safe and dry place to sleep at night, accessing healthcare for chronic illnesses or knowing where they can spend their days without being asked to leave for loitering. While Thornley says it's not against the rules to carry knives in the library, patrons aren't allowed to take them out while in the building.

"People are carrying knives in the downtown and it's not because they're looking to rob people -- it's a defensive thing because of the life they lead. They have to defend themselves," says Thornley. This could mean bringing most of their belongings into the library space with them.

Although library rules differ by library system across Canada, some libraries have imposed strict bag checks and scans using metal detectors.

Winnipeg's downtown Millennium branch recently levied stricter security measures in February in the hopes of catching people carrying weapons before they enter the library.

The reaction from Winnipeggers was swift. Millennium for All -- a community group who opposes the recent library security changes -- organized a read-in to protest the new security measures on April 2, saying that these bag checks disproportionately affected homeless individuals. It's not uncommon to see homeless patrons lugging a buggy, stroller or wheelie bag containing clothes, food, a hot plate and other necessities into the library with them.

Two days after the read-in where protesters peacefully demonstrated in the library's lobby, a city committee ordered a verbal report about security incidents at the library be delivered back to the city. 

Joelle Schmidt with the City of Winnipeg's communications team said the decision to add security measures was based on a marked increase in the severity of incidents in the library, though she did not say how many incidents occurred or the nature of these incidents.

"The Millennium Library remains a welcoming place for all," Schmidt replied in a March 12 emailed statement. "The front lobby area is open extended hours where people are able to take shelter from the elements. In addition, the library also has two community crisis workers on staff who are qualified to assess and assist as required. Staff and crisis workers continually reach out to social organizations to discuss ideas on how to reduce harm and better reach vulnerable people in the library."

The Winnipeg Free Press reported in late June that an advocacy group accused library management and city staff of having "deliberately exaggerated incidents of violence" as grounds to implement security scans, not unlike those found at an airport.

Other Canadian libraries have introduced library policies that could disproportionately affect homeless people navigating the shelter system. In 2016, libraries in Newmarket and Kingston, Ontario, were criticized for new policies that banned foul body odour -- which many advocacy groups said mostly impacted the homeless who use the library.

In Mississauga, librarians at the central branch began noticing that some of their patrons were going through the shelter system while grappling with mental health issues or dealing with substance abuse.

Librarians at the Mississauga Public Library knew some of their patrons were hurting. So, they took action.

"It was increasingly stressful on staff to be seeing this diverse group of people who they weren't feeling they could help or give them the supports they needed," says Laura Reed, a Mississauga library manager. "We aren't social workers, we don't have that background, and don't necessarily have that same skillset."

With cooperation from the city's recreation department, staff at the library drafted a proposal for Innovative Solutions to Homelessness, a microgrant offered by Employment and Social Development Canada. The competition was open to non-profits, municipal governments and Indigenous groups whose projects set out to reduce and prevent homelessness in Canada.

Peel Region -- an area that includes Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon — reported in 2017 that nearly 17 per cent of its residents lived below the poverty line.

Of the 50 microgrant recipients across the country, Mississauga was the only library system to receive a grant from the organization. With $122,524 in federal financing, Mississauga created the Open Window Hub. The one-year program offered a drop-in space and support for Mississauga's homeless populations, as well as training for library staff to help them de-escalate verbal and physical confrontations in the library.

Mississauga Public Library's drop-in sessions are held in a small room furnished with four matching red arm chairs and a blue loveseat. At first glance, the space looks more like a teacher's lounge than a counselling space. But a box of tissues on an end table hints at the difficult conversations that unfold here.

Kevin Berry is the lone social worker with the Open Window Hub program. He's been the social worker at the library since the program launched in September 2017. Berry is proficient in "system navigation," able to connect people who may be homeless with social services in the city.

In the library, when Berry would approach someone who may be homeless to see how he could help, most were wary of a stranger coming up to them.

"From there, it's about getting a little piece of their story and providing support," he says.

Berry has compiled a number of success stories from library patrons: the 27-year-old man with a schizoaffective disorder who barely made eye contact is now enrolled in an adult math course; the man who uses a wheelchair who slept in bus shelters now has a housing subsidy; the young pregnant couple who slept behind the library was eventually connected with the library's youth services program.

Mississauga's Open Window Hub program caught the attention of the Ontario Library Association in the winter of 2018, which asked Reed and Berry to share their knowledge with other librarians through a webinar. Berry says that Ontario seems to be at the vanguard for mixing social service programs into library space.

Through the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport's Ontario Libraries Capacity Fund, a $10-million grant offered over three years that ended in March 2018, the Windsor Public Library received $200,000 to launch the Library Hubs Meeting Community Needs program. It was a program similar to Mississauga's Open Window Hub and equipped with a social worker, acting as a blueprint for other libraries in Essex County.

Reed predicts that more social workers will be stationed in libraries in the future. Although Mississauga's microgrant only financed the Open Window Hub until the end of 2018, the library received a donation from the P. and L. Odette Foundation for $390,000 to continue the program for another three years.

"It just makes so much sense now for public libraries. It's a way for us to connect with the community in a new way and it's really positive for staff, too," Reed says. "That pressure and stress on staff seeing people in need and not being able to help -- you can't overstate that."

Working with homeless and vulnerable populations can lead to burnout for library staff -- especially in urban centres where librarians voice that emotional and physical fatigue is a common complaint.

The Edmonton Public Library offers counselling support for its staff. This, in tandem with crisis intervention training, focuses on how to de-escalate confrontational situations in the library space. The library also offers job exchanges, allowing library staff who have experienced distressing situations in the workplace the opportunity to work in another branch to decompress.

"You have to be the kind of person who can work with the guy in three-piece suit who's looking for stock market stuff but you also got to be ready to talk to the guy who you know you suspended last week because he urinated in a garbage can in the library," says Thornley. "But today he's back, he's sober, he's no longer suspended and he's looking for a copy of the newspaper. You've got to treat him with the same dignity and respect that you treat the other guy and vice versa."

"I don't feel that the library is an unsafe place but there are unsafe situations that arise," he says. "But they're just as likely to arise on the streets, in the mall or in city hall."

These unsafe situations could manifest themselves as violent outbursts or drug use; seemingly heightened in the library because it's a natural gathering place for people from differing socioeconomic groups. Unlike another transient spaces such as a coffee shop that may kick out homeless people for loitering, the library welcomes that people spend their entire day in the library -- so long as they abide by the rules.

Thornley rattles off situations in which he has been snubbed by patrons: given the silent treatment for handing out a suspension to a patron for viewing pornography on a library computer; to being followed home; or someone becoming irate at being suspended for being visibly intoxicated. Meth use in the library is also an issue and one mirrored in Edmonton's downtown core.

"We do genuinely care about people who've done some awful things in the library," he says. "Oftentimes it's not their fault."

In some cases, Thornley says patrons may forget they were suspended, only to realize it when they can't log into a computer. People living in and out of homeless shelters are just trying to survive day-by-day. Even if verbally informed of their suspension, sometimes their mental health impedes them from remembering that a suspension has been handed out in the first place.

But when Thornley looks at the bigger picture, he says other issues may complicate things.

"Maybe you are a residential school survivor or maybe your family is scattered to the winds. Maybe there was alcohol and child abuse. All of these things play into who that person is."

Thornley says the library is in the early stages of developing a restorative justice approach for youth at the Edmonton Public Library -- a strategy that takes into account a rehabilitative versus punitive approach. Some restorative justice methods look at remedies that emphasize healing the harm and rehabilitation to avoid repetition of these actions, often in concordance with Indigenous practices.

All in all, Thornley enjoys working with such a diverse group of library-goers.

"I really wanted to work with real people," he says. "These are my neighbours this is my community and personally I feel much more rewarded."

Last week: Part 1 of rabble's series: "The Future of the Public Library is Under Attack."

Next week: Part 3 of rabble's series: The Future of the Public Library. 

Olivia Robinson is a writer, journalist and book publishing professional. She is rabble.ca's Jack Layton Journalism for Change Fellow in 2019

Image: Olivia Robinson/rabble
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[l] at 8/19/19 2:19pm
August 19, 2019 Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. Image: Government of Alberta/Flickr UCP purges NDP appointees from Alberta's boards, agencies and commissions The changes, and the way they were made, are harbingers of both how radical the UCP program is likely to be and the shock strategy it will use to implement them.
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[l] at 8/17/19 11:50pm
David J. Climenhaga Alberta Teachers Association president Jason Schilling. Image: David J. Climenhaga

Almost completely missed in media coverage of Friday's purge of NDP appointees to agencies, boards and commissions by Alberta's United Conservative Party government was the revelation that the same day the government abruptly cancelled a three-year-old memorandum of agreement with the Alberta Teachers Association to co-operate on curriculum development.

While all eyes were on the Friday Morning Massacre, the government informed the ATA late in the day that it was pulling the plug on the curriculum agreement, ATA president Jason Schilling revealed in a statement yesterday. It was done "without meaningful advance notice or any consultation," he said.

"The decision followed on statements made by Premier Kenney the previous day that made unfounded claims about the content of the draft grades K to 4 curriculum and about Alberta student achievement," Schilling's statement said.

Schilling, according to the statement posted to the ATA website, "received the news with disappointment and resignation."

Schilling was sworn in as president on July 1 after beating incumbent Greg Jeffrey in a contested election. So this will probably not be his last difficult day with the UCP government.

The ATA, which acts as both the union for 40,000 public and Catholic school teachers and their regulatory and disciplinary college, is nowadays a bête noir to the united Kenney party, which resembles the Progressive Conservatives of yore in name only.

The PCs of old had many teachers in their ranks and an often mutually satisfactory relationship with the ATA over many years. So much so, indeed, that I've teased the ATA in this space by calling them "the Alberta Tory Association." Even under Ralph Klein's premiership, teachers were influential in the government. The late Halvar Jonson, an ATA president before entering politics, served as Klein's minister of education and in other important portfolios.

But that seems to have ended with the departure of most traditional progressive Tories from the UCP's ranks under Kenney's leadership. As a private-school-educated religious zealot with strong anti-union leanings, Kenney would have been less sympathetic to the ATA than previous Conservative premiers even if it hadn't dared to sign a memorandum of agreement with an NDP government.

But since the UCP narrative is that election of Rachel Notley's NDP in 2015 was a fluke at best, and that any legislation or policy of the New Democrats is therefore not legitimate, the willingness of any group to work with that government was bound to be treated as ideological unsoundness bordering on outright betrayal.

Moreover, under Kenney, the UCP made common cause with the operators of private religious academies, including overtly homophobic groups that objected to PC and NDP policies on gay-straight alliances, as a wedge issue to split the NDP from religious voters.

In an apparent response to Schilling's statement, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange tweeted Saturday afternoon: "By withdrawing from the MOU Alberta Education now has the ability to work equally with all partners in #abed, including @albertateachers." Interestingly, there was no statement making this point on the government's website Saturday.

Schilling said the ATA "rejected the notion that the Memorandum excluded participation by other stakeholder groups," arguing the government could have done that anyway without walking away from co-operation with the ATA. "This decision and this government's approach seems to be motivated more by ideology than by a desire to ensure authentic engagement to benefit students."

Friday's slap at the ATA is unlikely to be the end of the organization's troubles with the Kenney government.

The ATA has determinedly defended its professional conduct function, a dual role that is controversial not just in conservative circles but in the union movement as well. Past Conservative governments have often talked about splitting the ATA into separate regulatory and collective bargaining organizations, but with its connections to the PCs the organization has always been able to forestall any action on that front.

Many observers of the UCP believe it will now move ahead with such a change, which ironically could have the effect of creating on the union side a collective bargaining organization much less inclined to accept the depredations of the government with just disappointment and resignation.

Since Kenney is an acolyte of the blitzkrieg political tactics of Sir Roger Douglas, author of New Zealand's failed experiment with radical market fundamentalism in the late 1980s, we may soon discover that Albertans other than the ATA are also reeling from unexpected announcements made at the last moment. And if not, they likely will be as soon as that pesky federal election is out of the way.

Curriculum 'expert panel' being cobbled together

Meanwhile, we know Kenney's promised "expert panel" on school curriculum is in the process of being cobbled together, but we don't yet know who will be on it.

Here are some of my bets for potential panel members:

  • Donna Trimble, executive director of Parents for Choice in Education, an advocacy organization influential with the UCP that describes itself as supporting "maximum parental choice."
  • Brian Coldwell, a member of the PCE board, pastor of New Testament Baptist Church in Edmonton, and chair of the Independent Baptist Christian Education Society, which defied the law requiring GSAs to be allowed in all schools.
  • Neil Webber, president and founder of Calgary's Webber Academy private school, a former four-term Calgary-Bow MLA and PC cabinet minister first elected in 1975.
  • Jeff Wilson, former Wildrose MLA who is now board chair of the Foundations for the Future Charter Academy in Calgary.

Whatever happens next, it seems likely there will be serious consideration of topics like "creation science" and abstinence-based sex education in Alberta school curricula.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Image: David J. Climenhaga

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[l] at 8/17/19 11:45pm
David J. Climenhaga Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. Image: Government of Alberta/Flickr

You almost have to admire Alberta's United Conservative Party government for the thoroughness of its sudden purge of NDP appointees to government agencies, boards and commissions on Friday.

The Friday Morning Massacre began with news the UCP was clearing out NDP appointments on the boards of 10 post-secondary institutions and the Banff Centre.

Through the day the purge extended to governing boards of the Workers Compensation Board, the Alberta Health Services Board, the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission, the Human Rights Commission, the Municipal Governance Board and sundry similar bodies.

Premier Jason Kenney, Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides and other ministers appear not to have been around to defend the dramatic restructuring, leaving that task to the premier's press secretary.

New appointees included a former Ottawa crony of the premier, a member of Kenney's transition team, a failed UCP candidate, a lawyer for the Ethical Oil Institute, and a former Canadian Taxpayers Federation chair and signatory to the notorious 2001 sovereignist Firewall Manifesto that called for Alberta to withdraw from the Canada Pension Plan and the Canada Health Act.

At least 18 of the new UCP appointees were donors of significant sums to the party or UCP-friendly PACs set up to skirt election-financing laws. A scan of financing disclosures by Duncan Kinney of Progress Alberta showed 16 donors who together contributed more than $100,000 to various conservative political causes were appointed to post-secondary boards yesterday. Progress Alberta will publish a more detailed report on Monday.

In truth, though, something like this is what the NDP needed to do when it came to power in 2015.

After 44 years of Conservative government, an NDP premier would have had considerably more justification to act decisively as well, given the depth to which agencies, boards and commissions, not to mention the senior levels of the civil service, were packed with Conservative sympathizers.

The government of Rachel Notley, however, chose to do what it believed to be the responsible thing and left much of this potential Conservative fifth column in place to do what it could to derail or delay the NDP program.

Not only did the NDP leave likely Conservative sympathizers in senior public jobs where they could do real damage, it waited politely to fill board, agency and commission governing boards until vacancies came open.

The NDP also professionalized the selection process -- holding interviews and insisting applicants were genuinely qualified for the role they were selected to play.

This showed either commendable respect for the Canadian tradition of a disinterested public service as a key democratic norm -- or a degree of naivety that suggests there's something to the old adage nice guys finish last.

The UCP, by comparison, are not nice guys. Whether you like it or not -- and some Albertans do, of course -- that should be quite evident by now.

Nevertheless, Friday's events in Alberta can also be a teaching moment for progressive parties that come to power in Canada’s provincial capitals, and in Ottawa.

It is all very well for progressives to defend the idea of professionalism in the civil service and on public boards. But it's also important to remember that if a government wants to implement even a moderately progressive agenda, it had better be prepared put in place people who will carry it out.

As for the UCP's very, very angry base, it will be delighted -- even though the events it presages may blow back in their faces. It will be hard to feel much sympathy for them when it does -- when rural hospitals are closed, for example -- but I suppose we'll have to summon up the effort.

For their part, most Alberta New Democrats will be outraged -- and therefore risk learning little or taking the wrong lessons from the purge.

The Kenney Government's changes yesterday, and the way they were made, are harbingers of both how radical the UCP program is likely to be after the October 21 federal election, and the strategy it will use of making swift changes hatched in secret before its opposition has a chance to organize.

That said, NDP appointees who claim to have been blindsided by yesterday's events have no excuse. It was obvious from before the April election that the UCP would do this if given the chance, and some of those NDP appointees' friends said just that and were scoffed at.

Looking ahead, if you are a health care worker like a nurse, don't expect the Alberta Health Services Board to oppose a government attack on your pay and working conditions.

If you're a public employee of any kind, don't expect the so-called "blue-ribbon" panel to conclude you deserve fair pay and a decent pension.

If you are a student, don't expect your institution's board to defend you when tuition fees rise stratospherically.

If you are injured at work under the new setup at the Workers Compensation Board, you can count on it being just like the old corporate setup before the NDP came along, only worse.

If you're trapped in precarious work, don't expect the minimum wage "expert panel" to discover that the majority of economists are right after all in their view your $15-per-hour minimum wage does no harm to the economy and plenty of good.

And even if you're a UCP supporter who imagines your government is doing battle with "elites" on your behalf, I expect you won't have to wait long before discovering the big money and perks like golf club memberships are being restored to the UCP apparatchiks who run government ABCs.

But if you're any of these things, don't despair either.

The complete absence of moderate, restraining voices in the organs of this government clears the decks for the only response that is ever effective against an authoritarian regime: solidarity and direct action.

Democracy doesn't only happen in the polling booth.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Image: Government of Alberta/Flickr

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[l] at 8/16/19 1:01pm
August 16, 2019 Police tape. Image: British Columbia Emergency Photography/Flickr Imagine Canada's response if the B.C. murder suspects were Muslims Why do we tolerate certain actions when it comes to violating the rights of Muslims but hate groups get a free pass no matter how violent the ideologies they espouse?
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[l] at 8/14/19 2:42pm
August 14, 2019 NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh. Photo: Obert Madondo/Flickr Canadian health care will be front and centre in both Canadian and U.S. elections Many Canadians perceive our system to be more socialized than it actually is, because they think of health care only as doctors' visits and hospitalization.
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[l] at 8/14/19 2:39pm
Karl Nerenberg NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh. Photo: Obert Madondo/Flickr

This year, the Canadian health-care system will be a contentious issue in both the Canadian and U.S. election campaigns.

In Canada, health care is a perennial top-of-mind issue, but the nature of the conversation has changed over the years.

In the 1960s, the focus was on getting it done; on implementing universal health insurance across the country, following the example of Saskatchewan. Spurred by the NDP, Liberals and Progressive Conservatives alike -- at both the federal and provincial levels -- embraced the idea of a system of publicly funded insurance that would cover all basic health needs. At that time, basic needs included doctors' visits, surgery and hospitalization, but not medical drugs, eyeglasses, hearing aids or dentistry.

In the decades after the implementation of the notionally universal system, the battle for health care took on a defensive posture. The main fight was to preserve what we had, not expand the system.

By the 1980s, many provinces had allowed the system to erode. They permitted practices that undermined the principle of universality and accessibility. One of those was extra billing, which meant doctors would collect the fees paid by the public insurance and then turn around and send patients a bill for additional charges. 

When I went under the knife for an emergency appendectomy at Ottawa General Hospital in the early 1980s, a friend who worked as an anesthesiologist there told me their team at Ottawa General ran a closed shop. They systematically blocked access to any anesthesiologist who refused to extra bill. 

That meant that I could expect to pay a fairly hefty charge for the anesthetic part of my life-saving surgery. I was in excruciating agony, and did not protest. 

Not too long after that day, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's health minister, Monique Bégin, brought in the Canada Health Act, which used the federal financial contribution as a lever to push the provinces to end practices that eroded the system. Extra billing was one of those practices. 

Since that time, the prevailing political discourse on health care in Canada has been almost exclusively about maintaining, protecting -- and paying for -- the system as it is.

Head-to-toe coverage -- NDP 

This year, however, the party that championed health care in the original instance is pushing not just to defend the status quo but to significantly expand it. 

The NDP wants to grow the concept of universal coverage to include eye care, dental care, audiology, pharma care, physiotherapy, foot care and psychotherapy -- in short, what it calls head-to-toe coverage.

The Liberals, too, have jumped on the health-care expansion bandwagon. They focus mostly on bringing in some form of pharma care, over time, taking a more step-by-step and gradualist approach than the NDP. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's minions say NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is being unrealistic, selling pie-in-the-sky to the voters. In the past, mainstream parties routinely leveled that accusation at every proposal to expand Canada's welfare state, from public pensions to unemployment insurance to supports for families with children.

Even Andrew Scheer's Conservatives have gotten into the "we-support-universal-health-care" act. Earlier this summer, Scheer wrote all provincial premiers to promise that, if elected, he would increase the federal health and social transfer by at least three per cent per year, every year he was in power. 

For the Conservatives this is, in fact, playing defence. They can expect the parties to their left to accuse them of having an agenda of cuts to health transfers, which would open the door to more privately provided health services and a two-tier system. The example of the Ford government in Ontario is not helpful to Scheer. 

More important, however, is that fact that even Canada's party of overt anti-environmentalism, restrictions on refugees, lower taxes and overall fiscal restraint believes it has no choice, politically, but to affirm some sort of commitment to the "socialistic" principle of universal health care. Health care as we know it seems to have become something approaching a political sacred cow in Canada.

Others join Bernie in pushing for Canadian system for the U.S.

While the Canadian conversation on health has moved from protection to enhancement, in the U.S. support for the Canadian system -- or something that appears to resemble it -- has become more politically mainstream than ever before. The majority of candidates vying for the Democratic party's presidential nomination say they support what they call "Medicare for all" -- which has many features of the Canadian system.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders -- an avowed democratic socialist -- has been advocating this idea for decades and frequently cites the Canadian model, but, until recently, his was a lonely voice. 

Now Sanders has been joined by Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, California Senator Kamala Harris, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, and a number of other, lesser-known candidates. 

There is no unanimity among Democrats, of course. 

The current leader in the opinion polls, former vice-president Joe Biden, opposes "Medicare for all," as do a number of other supposedly centrist Democrats, such as Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar. 

Canadians should note that in the U.S. the term Medicare -- which is what we in Canada used to call our system as a whole -- denotes the publicly funded federal health insurance plan for seniors, which president Lyndon Johnson instituted in the 1960s, as part of the vast expansion of social programs he called the Great Society. 

Unlike Canadian Conservatives, U.S. Republicans do not even pay lip service to the goal of providing universal coverage. They want to move in the opposite direction and undo the gains for the millions of uninsured achieved by president Obama's Affordable Care Act.

Hardly anyone portrays Canadian system accurately

In the U.S., and to some extent even here in Canada, everybody who evokes the Canadian system tends to exaggerate the extent to which it is public. In fact, the way Canada delivers health care is a blend of public and private. The same is true in comparable countries such as Germany, France, Sweden, Australia and the Netherlands.

Per person, Canada spent between US$4,500 and US$5,000 on health services in 2016.

Seventy per cent of that was public money; 30 per cent private. 

This ratio is very similar to that of other countries such as Australia and Israel. In fact, Canada's private sector in health care is larger, in proportional terms, than that of most other countries with comparable systems.

In France, the public portion of spending is over 75 per cent, as it is in Finland. In the U.K., Japan, and Germany the public share is over 80 per cent. 

Many in Canada perceive our system to be more socialized than it actually is, because they think of health care only as doctors' visits and hospitalization. 

Most other health-care systems similar to Canada's cast a far wider net for their coverage. They include health-care goods and services, such as the key ones of pharmaceutical drugs and dentistry, that Canada mostly excludes.

The truth is that, in Canada, as in almost all similar developed countries, health care is a mixed system. Countries that aim for something close to universal coverage might choose different ways to mix their systems, but all have vigorous private sectors, including private insurance.  

U.S. politicians who refer to the Canadian system -- whether negatively or positively -- would do well to recognize its true nature as a mixed, public-private enterprise. 

In fact, even the U.S., which prides itself as the bastion of private enterprise in all fields, has a mixed system. That is because of the huge public sector presence via Medicare, Medicaid (the similar program for low-income people) and publicly funded health services for the military.

In the U.S., in 2016, per capita public spending on health care was US$4,860. Private spending, per capita, was only slightly more: US$5,032. 

The glaring statistic for the U.S. is not the public-private split. It is for total spending, which is considerably in excess of that for all other countries -- while achieving only fair to middling results. 

Average life expectancy in the U.S. -- to cite just one important health measurement -- is one of the lowest among developed countries. 

The U.S. ranks number 31 in the world for average life expectancy, more than four years less than Japan, Switzerland and Singapore, and more than three years less than France, Sweden, Italy, South Korea and Canada. 

Clearly Americans are not getting their money's worth for health care.

Presidential candidates who propose moving the U.S. in a more public direction might want to emphasize not just how doing so would cover the millions of uninsured. They could add that a larger public presence in the health sector would mean better health outcomes for all, at a far lower cost.

Karl Nerenberg has been a journalist and filmmaker for more than 25 years. He is rabble's politics reporter.

Photo: Obert Madondo/Flickr​

 
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[l] at 8/13/19 10:25am
August 13, 2019 Gerd Altmann/Pixabay The future of the public library is under attack As libraries across Canada face mounting challenges and funding cuts, the question asked by skeptics is the same: does the public library still matter?
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[l] at 8/13/19 9:52am
Olivia Robinson Gerd Altmann/Pixabay

Imagine a place where you can sit, read, eat, write, learn or create -- all without having to pay $6 for a latte or a flaky pastry, or without feeling guilty for camping out in a coffee shop for an afternoon. Wildly diverging populations continue to seek out an elusive sanctuary, a great equalizer where parents, toddlers, teenagers, seniors or even someone sleeping rough on city streets at night can spend the day.

Chances are that you, like the majority of Canadians, have a card that can access a place like this and all its resources. But unlike the other plastic cards stuffed in your wallet, it's free.

It's your public library card.

Public libraries have long been considered a vital "third place" -- a term coined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg in his 1989 book The Great Good Place -- a space where people come to meet and congregate regardless of socioeconomic status. Since 1800 when the first public library opened in Niagara-on-the-Lake, pre-Confederation public libraries in Canada have attempted to elevate and educate the masses through access to books -- often as a complement to traditional education. In the last decade, there has been a marked push from libraries to prioritize the mental, spiritual and emotional well-being of their patrons. Instead of focusing on an outreach-based approach, Canadian public libraries are moving to a community-development model to give their most vulnerable patrons access to life-changing and life-saving services in what's being called the third generation of public libraries. Across Canada, libraries are at the frontlines for the homeless; they are the sites for social work amid mental health crises and the opioid epidemic, while others are decolonizing their spaces for marginalized patrons as Canada moves towards reconciliation.

This is the future of the public library -- but the institution itself is under attack.

In Ontario, many grant programs facilitate the start-up of outreach programs to help vulnerable patrons, such as the former Ontario Libraries Capacity Fund or federally, like through Employment and Social Development Canada.

In that province, municipal councils appoint public library boards, which in turn provide funding for libraries based on municipal tax dollars, whereas the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport manages the Public Libraries Act. While some provinces have clearer commitments to funding libraries for now -- including programs and initiatives aimed at vulnerable and marginalized communities -- the forecast for Ontario's libraries under Premier Doug Ford does not look promising.

In a March 18, 2019, email to rabble.ca, media relations for Ontario's Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport said they were "unable to accommodate [the] request" to interview then-minister of tourism, culture and sport Michael Tibollo about the provincial government's future funding opportunities and for libraries.

This comes after repeated and consistent attempts to speak with the culture minister following the Progressive Conservatives' election win on June 7, 2018 -- initially with then-minister of tourism, culture and sport Sylvia Jones, then her successor Michael Tibollo, and now the current minister, Lisa MacLeod. During Tibollo's tenure, he made just a handful of appearances at various library functions across the province. Twice he called libraries "important hubs in communities across the province" on Twitter but did not offer insight on how the Progressive Conservatives would maintain this vision for the province's libraries.

Then, on April 11, 2019, the Ontario PCs tabled their first budget.

Though a library was featured on the cover of the 382-page document, there was no mention of public libraries or libraries of any kind within its pages. In contrast, the Ontario Liberals' 2018 budget promised to increase the public library operating grant by $51 million over three years. The lack of details caused concern in the library community that service cuts would soon follow -- and they weren't wrong.

A day after the budget was unveiled, the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport contacted the Southern Ontario Library Service and Ontario Library Service -- North to inform them that both of their budgets had been reduced by 50 per cent. Both organizations are tasked to help public library boards with training, development and cooperation between libraries and through programs like inter-library loans -- a means of accessing books from another library's collection by shipping them to another library for free. Interlibrary loans have suffered the most because of the budget cuts, especially in small, northern and rural libraries. The library community is upset, bemoaning the sudden cuts.

In an August 12 emailed statement to rabble, a ministry official said that it "strongly believes in Ontario's libraries and appreciates everything that libraries do to enrich the lives of Ontarians." 

The statement further said that as of June 1, 2019, a "solution was found to restore the interlibrary loan services" across Ontario. 

In reality the beleaguered interlibrary loan service hasn't been fully reinstated in all Ontario public libraries.

SOLS and OLS-N released a joint statement in June that both organizations would provide "partial reimbursement to libraries for delivery costs through Canada Post" for interlibrary loan materials. This partial reimbursement means that some library systems still can't afford to take on any added costs associated with interlibrary loan service. Others have reinstated the interlibrary loan program, but have restrictions on the services that they offer and how long the program will be put in place. The King Township Public Library, is one of them. Now, they don't allow interlibrary loans on children's books or books that have been released in the past year.

Halting interlibrary loans means that an elderly person living in northern Ontario who reads large print books thanks to an interlibrary loan from a larger library system will no longer be able to do so. In rural communities, people who use mobility aids or low-income young families with no access to a vehicle are limited to their home branch's collection. 

Ford spokesperson Laryssa Waler said in The St. Catharines Standard that although "the concept is admirable, couriering books on demand by vans between different library boards all across southern and northern Ontario is actually slow, inefficient, environmentally unfriendly and expensive, especially now that digital resources are available."

The PCs' statements suggest that all printed materials are also available online, so interlibrary loans are redundant -- when this isn't true of all books. They incorrectly assume that all library users are also e-readers or have access to that technology in the first place and that all materials found in the library can also be found online, which is not true of rare books and other borrowable archival materials. This is amid public libraries across Canada lobbying major book publishers to lower the cost of their ebooks and electronic audiobooks, because the cost for a library to purchase an ebook is three to four times the price of the physical version.

While libraries in Ontario receive the majority of their funding through their municipality, they depend on programs, grants and services such as interlibrary loans to supplement their services. Although slashing interlibrary loan service is a blow to small, rural and Indigenous public libraries in Ontario, it wasn't all that surprising when tracking Ford's tempestuous history with libraries.

In 2011, Ford, a then-city councillor in Toronto, and his brother, then-mayor Rob Ford, both had strong opinions about libraries. Doug promised to close libraries "in a heartbeat" after a consultant's report suggested reducing service at some library branches or shutting them down completely -- such as one of the three libraries then-located in his Etobicoke North ward. (Ford also falsely stated that there were more libraries in Etobicoke than there were Tim Hortons franchises.)

One Toronto Public Library employee feared that Ford's provincial bill to reduce the size of Toronto's city council would affect public libraries -- meaning councillors might be unable to devote enough time to serving on the Toronto Public Library's board.

While the future of funding opportunities like grants remain uncertain in Ontario, librarians are pushing harder than ever to prove their worth to the likes of Ford and others who question the library's significance in the digital world. 

And it's not just Ontario libraries that face uncertainty -- Alberta's provincial government announced earlier in August that funding to its public library system would be suspended until late October. 

But all libraries -- even ones within the same library system -- have their own unique set of challenges based on their community's needs. Some have a higher density of immigrants and newcomers to Canada or are in close proximity to homeless shelters. Others may be at the epicentre of an opioid overdose crisis.

For Ontario public libraries outside urban centres, the issues may be more hidden, like in Haliburton County. The region is speckled with lakes and it's a quaint cottaging destination in the summertime when it swells from a population of 18,062 to almost 45,000 people. For Haliburton County Public Library CEO Bessie Sullivan, there are three distinct challenges for her library system: vast geographical regions and limited transportation options, lack of broadband technology, and the poverty that is a reality for many of the county's year-round residents.

"We're fighting a very low tax base so that means a lack of resources," she says.

For libraries in rural areas across Canada like in Haliburton County -- this base funding comes from the municipality, so when there's a smaller amount to begin with, they're already at a disadvantage. Sullivan says her municipality is trying to do what it can to help those in the community who may face financial and social setbacks while trying to balance the cost of keeping the branches open.

"I've always thought that as a public service, our job was to find those gaps," she says.

But convincing politicians that they need to fund the library is another issue.

"We're arguing if we fill that gap, we're helping with economic development. We're giving you a workforce," Sullivan says.

She points to the popularity of return on investment in the library -- the idea that every dollar invested in the library gives back to patrons and community members in some way. The Toronto Public Library's first economic impact study was done in 2013, concluding that for every dollar that goes into the library, there is $5.63 of economic impact in the community.

Regardless of whether a patron visits the Dawson City Community Library in the Yukon or the Carbonear Public Library in Newfoundland -- the question asked by library skeptics is the same: does the public library still matter?

The answer is complicated or naively simple, depending on who you ask. For some who haven't stepped into a public library in many years, their belief is that since the emergence of ebooks, printed books are becoming obsolete, although new data suggests that ebook sales have started to plateau. The library has been about more than just books -- and those who think otherwise likely have a lapsed library card and haven't visited any public library in decades.

Critics assume that the library's services are non-essential so it's easy to make budget cuts. The library doesn't douse flames, organize search-and-rescue teams or chase after criminals. 

The library's purpose may be more subtle, but it is no less of a social necessity: it's a shelter, a respite, a classroom and even a counsellor's office. In a digital age where the validity of information is constantly questioned -- the public library remains one of the few places with the tools to distinguish between what is real and what is fake. It's an institution with its own troubling colonial roots, trying to do good where it was once complicit in erasing cultures. In its third generation, the library has returned to its Victorian roots -- promoting beneficial social change for its patrons -- and it's still a keeper of books and a meeting of minds worth protecting.

Next week: Part 2 of rabble's series: The Future of the Public Library. 

Olivia Robinson is a writer, journalist and book publishing professional. She is rabble.ca's Jack Layton Journalism for Change Fellow in 2019.

Photo: Gerd Altmann/ Pixabay

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[l] at 8/12/19 8:52pm
August 12, 2019 Brent Patterson Mohawk land defender Ellen Gabriel on the continuing struggle for land and territory Peace Brigades International visited The Pines in 1991 and takes note of the escalating tensions over land ownership in 2019.
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[l] at 8/9/19 9:57am
August 9, 2019 Former prime minister Stephen Harper in 2013. Photo: michael_swan/Flickr Stephen Harper's still in the game -- and looking to score n Harper is still writing the conservative playbook. The clues are everywhere, as Harper makes stops on his tour of the rubber-chicken circuit.
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[l] at 8/8/19 2:10pm
August 8, 2019 Pro-choice activists stage counter-protest. Photo: Zhu/Flickr The pro-choice movement will defeat any threats to abortion rights Canada's pro-choice movement is in good fighting form, and stronger than ever. That's the undeniable conclusion after living through ongoing anti-choice activity over the last three months.
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[l] at 8/7/19 2:59pm
August 7, 2019 Dunk/Flickr Deniers deflated as climate reality hits home Those who continue to spread doubt and confusion about climate science are starting to look even more ridiculous with their many conflicting, insubstantial arguments.
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[l] at 8/6/19 9:33am
August 6, 2019 Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. Photo: David J. Climenhaga Kenney pledges 'I will never give up on Canada' while stoking Alberta separatist sentiment Being exposed as a politician willing to put our country's future at risk isn't a good look for a guy who still harbours his own prime ministerial ambitions.
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[l] at 8/2/19 8:42am
August 2, 2019 Leo Gerard speaks at a Capitol Hill trade deal protest in 2010. Photo: AFL-CIO America's Unions/Flickr Leo Gerard reflects on 54 years in the union movement -- and what lies ahead As he retires from his job as president of the United Steelworkers, Leo Gerard looks back at his half century in the trade union movement and makes the case for why unions are needed more than ever.
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[l] at 8/1/19 9:53am
August 1, 2019 Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. Photo: Government of Alberta/Flickr Alberta targets foreign 'special interests' -- but omits Big Oil As the debate over climate change intensifies, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney's refusal to shine the spotlight on the real foreign meddlers grows ever more absurd.
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[l] at 7/31/19 11:40pm
David J. Climenhaga Premier Jason Kenney cutting red tape. Photo: Government of Alberta/Flickr

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has a well-known propensity to blame Justin Trudeau for things that were done by Stephen Harper, as the debate over who is responsible for the time it's taken to complete the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project nicely illustrates.

So condemning Liberal Prime Minister Trudeau for the $2.5-million federal grant for an academic study of concentrated power and influence in Canada's fossil fuel industry was obviously too tempting to resist for Kenney or whoever does his tweeting for him, even though they ought to have known the grant by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada was approved on Conservative PM Harper's watch.

Quietly deleting the tweet -- "why did the Trudeau Liberals give $2.5 million to a left wing special interest group to attack our energy industry?" -- without acknowledging the error or apologizing when it prompted a flurry of corrections on social media is pretty much standard operating procedure for Kenney's party.

Kenney's tweet included a link to an op-ed in a Postmedia newspaper written by a couple of Canadian Taxpayers Federation operatives, Franco Terrazzano and Kris Sims. The CTF and the Fraser Institute apparently nowadays comprise a significant part of the Kenney government's research department. The record of the CTF indicates the mysteriously funded anti-tax lobby group has long had a bee in its bonnet about the SSHRC.

In reality, given the way the federal social sciences and humanities research-funding agency has operated since the government of Pierre Trudeau created it in 1977, SSHRC grant recipients are chosen by panels of their academic peers, who volunteer their time. There is no political oversight, nor should there be. This has been true under all prime ministers, Liberal and Conservative, for the past 42 years.

In 2015, when the Corporate Mapping Project received the now controversial six-year grant, it was one of the top-rated proposals for research projects involving groups outside the academy among more than 100 applications for that kind of support from Canadian scholars, CMP director Bill Carroll told me last week.

The outside groups involved in the project was the CTF's objection, and apparently the basis of Kenney's accusation, since one of them was the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, a progressive think tank partly funded by union donations. The CTF also has many anti-union links.

By the time more-detailed proposals were submitted by short-listed research groups that year, the CMP had moved up to No. 1, recalled Carroll, a professor of sociology at the University of Victoria, the project's sponsoring institution.

A key intention of the proposal and a key reason he believes it succeeded with the peer-review panel, Carroll noted, was that part of its concept was to dig out "knowledge of value to citizens in the democratic process" and then get "that analysis into the public sphere."

That is why the proposal included research into key influencers in the fossil fuel industrial ecosystem, its intricately interlocked corporate directorships, and its international connections, he explained.

The CTF broadside will likely not be the last, or the most intemperate, attack on the CMP now that it has appeared on the radar of the political right. A response by the CMP reflects the views expressed by Carroll in our conversation.

Jack Mintz, the conservative University of Calgary economist who was vice-president and chair of the SSHRC's governing council at the time the CMP grant was awarded, defends that approach to selecting grant recipients.

"It was never politically reviewed," Mintz told me last week, arguing that SSHRC grants cannot be described as being approved by either Harper's or Trudeau's government, since the process is scrupulously independent. "I didn’t know anything about it until it did become public."

That said, Mintz indicated he had reservations about the CMP project when he learned of it -- "I have to admit, my eyebrow went up" -- and wasn't particularly pleased to be identified in a CMP database as one of the key influencers behind the fossil fuel industry.

"If I was so influential, I could have stopped the grant," he said, adding quickly that he never raised the issue in council. "I didn't think that would be appropriate."

Still, Mintz worries the grant to this project sets a bad priority, and warns that "a grant like this could happen on the right."

Well, perhaps. Many scholars believe the SSHRC program under which the CMP application was made was set up to encourage partnerships between universities and industry. In other words, you might argue, more to grease the wheels of capital accumulation than to benefit ordinary Canadians.

Nevertheless, it was open to more than one kind of non-academic partner, allowing SSHRC to fund at least one project that was intended to help encourage a more robust democracy.

The SSHRC says on its website it "remains committed to engaging its stakeholder communities and demonstrating that the research it supports leads to benefits for Canadians."

The work it supports, it says, "spurs innovative researchers to learn from each other's disciplines, delve into multiparty collaborations, and achieve common goals for the betterment of Canadian society. Research is shared with communities, businesses and governments, who use the new knowledge to innovate and improve people's lives."

By that definition, the CMP is not a bad precedent at all. Do you think we should give Harper some of the credit for it?

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Photo: Government of Alberta/Flickr

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[l] at 7/31/19 1:41pm
Zaid Noorsumar SEIU

Service Employees International Union members in Ontario have been protesting wages and working conditions outside the offices of long-term care corporations.

SEIU represents 25,000 workers in the long-term care sector in Ontario, including nurses, personal support workers and dietary aides. 

Corey Johnson, a union spokesperson, says the actions have been organized in conjunction with its bargaining with around 100 nursing homes, mostly in the for-profit sector. 

Johnson says the main issue is short-staffing, as there aren't enough people to care for the residents.

"It's taking a toll on both -- the residents who aren't getting the care they deserve," he says. "And on the workers who are doing far more than they should be doing. They're burning out." 

In March this year, a CUPE-commissioned report called "Breaking Point" delved into the extensive violence long-term care workers in the sector face due to inadequate staffing. A related survey, also commissioned by CUPE, revealed that over 90 per cent of nurses and personal support workers (PSWs) face violence at least occasionally. 

"They're risking injury every day at work. And it's not fair to them at all," Johnson says.

A long festering issue

Concerns about staffing levels in Ontario's long-term care homes were raised as far back as 2002, when the Ontario Health Coalition warned that privatization of the sector was having an adverse impact on an aging population. 

In 2008, a study by York University and Carleton researchers blamed low staffing for the increasing rates of violence in nursing homes, which pitted aging residents against an overburdened workforce.

Ontario has three types of long-term care homes. Currently, 58 per cent of homes are for-profit, 24 per cent are non-profit and 18 per cent are municipally-owned. Research has shown that for-profit homes fare worse due to lower levels of staffing, leading to fewer hours of care per resident and higher rates of mortality and hospitalization

In 2018, a CBC Marketplace investigation named 40 of the worst nursing homes in Ontario, split evenly between those with the highest levels of intra-resident violence and those with the most staff-to-resident violence.

A rabble analysis shows that 15 of the 20 homes on the list with the highest levels of resident-on-resident violence were for-profits. Of the 20 homes facing the worst staff-to-resident violence, 13 were for-profits.

Low wages, high profits

The recently concluded Long-term Care Inquiry heard testimony that for-profit homes pay lower wages, which is contributing to a staffing shortage of registered nurses and PSWs in the province.

PSWs, who are responsible for clothing, feeding and bathing residents among other tasks, are typically paid in the range of $16 to $20 an hour.

Johnson says that non-profits and municipal homes invest money back into homes -- including for employee compensation -- while private homes use surplus funds for profits.

Extendicare owns 34 long-term care homes in Ontario, and manages 42 others. The company earned $18.8 million in profits from its long-term care business across Canada in 2018. Tim Lukenda, the outgoing CEO of Extendicare, earned $5.1 million in 2018.

Chartwell's CEO, Brent Binions, earned $2.5 million last year while his company posted $18.5 million in profits.

Taking action

SEIU's members have been engaged in rallies, protests and other forms of action since April.  

They have also created a letter writing campaign asking health-care companies to invest more money into care.

"It's about putting the profit into the care for the residents. It's about giving the residents better care, giving them a better experience, giving them more dignity. That's really what our whole campaign messages are about," Johnson says.

Zaid Noorsumar is rabble's labour beat reporter for 2019, and is a journalist who has previously contributed to CBC, The Canadian Press, the Toronto Star and Rankandfile.ca. To contact Zaid with story leads, email zaid[at]rabble.ca

Photo: SEIU

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[l] at 7/31/19 10:40am
July 31, 2019 Sivanesan/Flickr It's our choice: turn down the heat or cook the planet There's room for discussion about the most effective ways to address the climate crisis, but ultimately we have to deploy every solution available and keep developing new ones.
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[l] at 7/30/19 4:09pm
David Suzuki Sivanesan/Flickr

No amount of evidence is ever enough to convince climate science deniers -- including the politicians among them. But new studies and observations should at least persuade those who profess to understand global heating but appear not to grasp its severity that it's time to start deploying the many available solutions.

We've already pumped such huge volumes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and destroyed so many natural systems that sequester excess carbon that we're missing the window to shift gradually to renewable energy and lighten our impact on Earth's natural systems.

This year, Europe has reeled under the highest temperatures ever recorded, the Arctic is burning, cities in Africa and India are running out of water and more than half the U.S. has been under excessive heat warnings. Scientists say global average temperatures for June and July are the hottest on record. NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report that nine of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 2005, and the past five years were the hottest -- mainly because of human activity.

Do these records simply reflect natural cycles, as the "skeptics" would have us believe? No. Three recent studies published in Nature and Nature Geoscience show temperatures have not risen this quickly and extensively for at least 2,000 years. By examining evidence from proxy records such as tree rings, pollen trapped in lake mud, cave formations, ice cores and sediment from all continents, researchers concluded that periods like the Little Ice Age and the Medieval Warm Period were not global phenomena but localized shifts that affected less than half the world and varied over time and geography.

Many previous climatic shifts were caused by volcanic eruptions, which triggered different changes -- mostly cooling -- over different regions, but those don't match the scale and speed of heating over the past few decades.

The research also confirms, along with many other studies, the 1998 "hockey stick" graph devised by scientists including Michael Mann at Penn State University, which showed a sharp spike in global temperatures starting in the 20th century.

"The familiar maxim that the climate is always changing is certainly true," University of Minnesota, Minneapolis paleoclimatologist Scott St. George wrote in a Nature article. "But even when we push our perspective back to the earliest days of the Roman Empire, we cannot discern any event that is remotely equivalent -- either in degree or extent -- to the warming over the past few decades." (St. George was not involved with the research.)

Despite the overwhelming evidence, many people we elect to represent our interests aren't acting quickly enough -- and some not at all. Even those who speak to the necessity of reining in global heating continue to promote further fossil fuel development, ignoring alarming statistics about temperature rise and atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations.

Youth climate activist Greta Thunberg recently told French politicians she never hears journalists, politicians, or businessmen mention the dire numbers. "It's almost like you don't even know these numbers exist. As if you haven't even read the latest IPCC report, on which much of the future of our civilization is depending. Or perhaps you are simply not mature enough to tell it like it is. Because even that burden, you leave to us children," she said.

Rather than advocating for economic diversification and growing clean tech opportunities in the face of climate chaos and declining prospects for coal, oil and gas, many Canadian politicians continue to exaggerate the economic importance of dirty bitumen and fracked gas and downplay the negative consequences of processing, transporting and burning them. Even proven methods for slowing global heating, such as carbon pricing, have become contentious.

We no longer have time to piss around. There's room for discussion about the most effective ways to address the climate crisis, but ultimately we have to deploy every solution available and keep developing new ones -- including energy conservation and efficiency, carbon pricing, public transit, vehicle and industrial electrification, clean energy technologies, education and family planning to empower women and slow population growth, reducing consumerism and more.

If we want Earth to remain habitable for humans and other life that makes ours possible, we must make tough choices, promote solutions and become more politically engaged.

David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor and Writer Ian Hanington. Learn more at davidsuzuki.org

Photo: Sivanesan/Flickr

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[l] at 7/30/19 10:28am
July 30, 2019 Photo from Reclaiming our Past, Present and Future Facebook page Attawapiskat water crisis continues despite urgent calls from community Three weeks after Attawapiskat declared a state of emergency over its water quality, there are no signs of concrete actions from the federal government to address the community's water crisis.
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[l] at 7/29/19 10:19am
July 29, 2019 Pengrowth Saddledome and the Calgary skyline. Photo: James Teterenko/Creative Commons Postmedia pours it to bring home the bacon for Calgary's hockey billionaires If Calgary city council had been paying attention, someone might have asked: Does Mr. Calgary really want to go down in history as the Peter Pocklington of Southern Alberta?
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[l] at 7/26/19 9:14am
July 26, 2019 Ontario Premier Doug Ford attends the Greater Oshawa Chamber of Commerce, the Whitby Chamber of Commerce and the Ajax-Pickering Board of Trade Luncheon. Photo: Premier of Ontario Photography/Flickr Ford keeps popping up, to Conservatives' chagrin You have to wonder if federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer wishes he could push Ontario's Doug Ford down and out of media range between now and the federal election in October.
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[l] at 7/25/19 10:33am
July 25, 2019 British Prime Minister Boris Johnson back in the day. Photo: EU2017EE Estonian Presidency/Flickr How much damage will Boris Johnson do to the U.K.? Meanwhile, back in Alberta, Premier Jason Kenney has been strangely silent about his enthusiastic support for the Brexiteers two years ago.
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[l] at 7/25/19 10:09am
Karl Nerenberg Downtown Vancouver. Photo: Magnus Larsson/Flickr

Rental housing has become prohibitively expensive for millions of Canadians in most of the country's urban centres. That is the stark and frightening conclusion of a report just released by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA). 

The author of the report, the CCPA's senior economist, David Macdonald, examines the situation of rental housing in Canada generally. He points out that when the federal government stopped investing in rental housing, in the 1990s, it became increasingly more expensive and less available. 

But Macdonald focuses primarily on the ability of full-time workers on minimum wage to afford reasonable rental accommodation. In 2015 there were more than one and a quarter million Canadians earning the minimum wage or less

In Vancouver, the minimum wage is $12.65 per hour; in Toronto it is $14.00. Based on the generally accepted principle that you should spend about 30 per cent of your income on rent and no more, you would need to work 84 hours a week in Vancouver and 79 in Toronto to afford a basic one-bedroom apartment. That amounts to about 15 hours per day for a five-day week. Not much time for sleep, let alone anything else.  

In Victoria, a working person would need to work 67 hours at minimum wage to pay rent on a one-bedroom home. In Ottawa it would be 61 hours, while in Calgary it would be 56. Those workers would get a bit more sleep than their counterparts in Vancouver and Toronto, but would still be working 12 hours a day or more.

The only glimmer of good news comes from Montreal, where, at a minimum wage of $12 per hour, a working person would only have to work 47 hours per week to afford a basic one-bedroom apartment. David Macdonald points out that not only does Montreal have the largest stock of affordable rental units in the country, it also has the best public transit. Quebec's largest city is not exactly a renter's paradise, but it is way ahead of nearly all other major metropolises in Canada.

Majority of neighbourhoods in Canada are unaffordable for low income renters

The CCPA economist analyzes rental affordability and availability by neighbourhood and finds that in most Canadian cities there are zero neighbourhoods -- none whatsoever -- where it is possible for a minimum wage earner to afford either a one- or two-bedroom apartment.

This is as true of the Greater Toronto Area's 117 neighbourhoods as it is of Barrie or Guelph's four neighbourhoods. 

And it is true right across the country from east to west. 

There are 23 neighbourhoods in Halifax, but there are none with affordable rental units for full-time minimum wage workers. The same is the case for Lethbridge, Alberta, with its 11 neighbourhoods, or Abbotsford-Mission, B.C., with its five.

Saskatoon has 16 neighbourhoods, but not a single one with affordable rental housing for full-time workers at minimum wage. Working-class Hamilton has 22 neighbourhoods -- not a single one with rental housing within reach of the minimum wage group. Same for St. John's, Newfoundland, with three neighbourhoods, Vancouver with 65 and Ottawa with 27.

It is a grim picture, relieved only by a few (somewhat) bright spots, such as Windsor, where a full third of the 13 neighbourhoods offer rents within reach of full-time minimum wage earners, and London, Ontario, where 14 per cent of its 22 neighbourhoods are affordable. 

The majority of affordable neighbourhoods for rental housing are in Quebec. 

In Montreal, 18 per cent of the city's 97 neighbourhoods offer rental accommodations minimum wage workers can reasonably pay, while in Quebec City it is 27 per cent. The rental affordability champions are Trois Rivières, Quebec, where 92 per cent of the neighbourhoods offer affordable rental housing, and the municipalities of Saguenay and Sherbrooke, where 100 per cent of the neighbourhoods are affordable for renters. 

Quebec might be friendlier to renters because, traditionally, home ownership has not had the same sacred status there as in the rest of Canada. For many decades, it was considered quite normal and respectable in Quebec to raise a family in a rented flat or apartment. At one time, the majority of Montrealers lived in rental accommodation. The city's urban landscape was filled with small-scale, multi-family units -- duplexes, triplexes and quadruplexes -- not found anywhere outside Quebec. That is now changing. Each day, rental units in Quebec are converted to condominiums, while newer housing in the burgeoning suburbs is mostly of the single-family-owned kind. Quebec is becoming more like the rest of Canada, but it is not there yet. 

The public sector must do more to deal with crisis for renters

The big takeaway from Macdonald's study is that a society cannot count on the private sector alone to provide rental housing. The government must play a major role.

As he puts it: "The construction of purpose-built rental units is heavily dependent on public policy as opposed to market forces. As public funding collapsed in the 1990s, both through the end of tax incentives and funding for affordable housing, so did the construction of new purpose-built rentals."

Macdonald adds that "public funding from provincial and new Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) programs recovered somewhat in the 2000s." As a result, there was an uptick in rental starts.  Still, even if the provinces and federal government keep up the current momentum, new rental housing will fall far short of the growing need. 

"If the remaining targets for CMHC programs roll out as planned over the next eight years, and if on-reserve new unit construction continues apace and unilateral provincial programs are maintained, this would result in 15,400 new affordable units a year," Macdonald explains. 

But here is the down side: "While this is more than any year since the early 1990s, it is also still less than the 20,000 high-water mark of the 1970s and '80s."

In 1975, Canada's population was a bit over 23 million. Today it is closing in on 38 million. 

The housing picture is complicated by the fact that much new multi-unit construction is aimed at the affluent or relatively affluent. It consists of condominiums and high-rent luxury units. 

Aside from reviving support for low- and middle-income rental construction, the Trudeau government also seeks to mitigate the crisis for renters through its new Canada Housing Benefit (CHB). It is now in the process of negotiating implementation of that program with the provinces. 

Macdonald explains the CHB this way: "The cash transfer to families who rent is aimed at providing an average benefit of $2,500 to 300,000 families … [But] capping the program at that number leaves far more than 300,000 spending above 30% of their income on rent. In 2020, of the estimated 4.8 million families who will rent their homes, 2.4 million will be considered in core housing need" -- that is, paying more than 30 per cent of income for rent.

The report concludes that not only is the CHB an inadequate response to the challenges facing renters but that rent subsidies are not the best way to go. 

"Ultimately," Macdonald says, "there is no substitute for building new dedicated affordable housing, which would cool down rental prices and increase the stock of housing available to the millions of families who choose or who are forced to rent."

Karl Nerenberg has been a journalist and filmmaker for more than 25 years. He is rabble's politics reporter.

Photo: Magnus Larsson/Flickr

 
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[l] at 7/24/19 8:56am
July 24, 2019 Green Party Leader Elizabeth May at a Trans Mountain pipeline protest on Burnaby Mountain. Photo: Elizabeth May/Facebook Will Greens ever compromise climate for power? Never. The stakes are too large for a typical political cop-out. Greens will never agree to support any government that fails to address the climate emergency.

As of 9/15/19 10:06am. Last new 9/13/19 1:07pm.

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