A Lot to Celebrate at ACORN Canada’s Year End Meeting

ACORN Canada Team

ACORN Canada Team

Pittsburgh   Twenty organizers from ACORN Canada gathered in the cold of Pittsburgh’s South Side for their annual Year End / Year Begin meeting, surprised to note that the first snow most of them were seeing for the season was coming in the United States rather than in the great north. What was not a surprise were many of the reports of progress from the offices and the serious, ambitious plans for the coming year.

Overall, after a successful biannual convention this year in Montreal, where ACORN also opened a new office in 2015, its fifth over the last dozen years, head organizer, Judy Duncan, reported that ACORN Canada had passed the 84,000 member mark with a budget and expenditures at the million mark for 2015 with $222,000 coming in direct dues income. As the great country and western song says, “that’s something to be proud of!”

High and low tech at ACORN Canada YE/YB

Serious Business on Future Plans

More importantly the members had fought — and won — on a number of fronts over the year as one office after another reported. British Columbia’s victory in overturning the claw-backs for welfare recipients in the province, forcing reductions in their meager checks whenever they received overdue child support had triggered similar campaigns in Ottawa and Nova Scotia. Payday lending zoning restrictions in Burnaby in 2015 had also encouraged other offices to launch municipal regulation campaigns, since the reality of the victory in British Columbia froze the number of payday outlets to only those already opened, and all of this influenced the direction of serious discussions on national campaigns and plans for the coming years. The national banking act is due for renewal in 2017 opening opportunities to try to turn the tables on installment loans, payday lending, and other so-called alternative financial products that tend to be predatory for our members.

Canada's Annual performance awards are a highlight

Canada’s Annual Performance Awards are a Highlight

 

Housing continues to be a flash point throughout the country. Hard work in Toronto has moved the Mayor and much of the council from almost studied disinterest in the housing crisis to support of the landlord licensing regime that has been a signature of ACORN’s work for over a decade in the city. Significantly, resources for outreach and enforcement of housing standards are on the verge of increases that can finally make a real difference in the quality of housing for Toronto tenants. There have been many milestones in this campaign, but Toronto head organizer, John Anderson, senses the opportunity for a capstone looming in coming years.

High and low tech at ACORN Canada YE/YB

High and low tech at ACORN Canada YE/YB

Political discussions were fascinating. A dialogue with the political director of the Pennsylvania Working Families Party helped set the stage in framing the discussion. The recent federal elections in Canada bringing the Liberals back to power after many years of Conservative Party government throughout most of ACORN Canada’s history offers the prospects of some openings on critical national campaigns that have long been stalled in addition to financial justice efforts. The Liberals serious consideration and positive responses to ACORN’s Remittance Justice Campaign proposals improved the prospects for real change in this area. Hearings being held by the Canadian radio and television regulators, that also govern the internet, open the door for us and the larger consumer coalition to look at capping the prices for internet access for lower income families and broadening the availability.

Nova Scotia ACORN steps up its game with a powerpoint

Nova Scotia ACORN steps up its game with a powerpoint

Internally, Scott Nunn from Vancouver was planning to hold the number of tax returns from our service center to about 4000 and Jill O’Reilly, Ottawa’s head organizer, was looking to break 2000 returns in 2016, but the real topics of the discussion were sustainability as the program navigates the critical transition from largely free to fee-for-service. Suggestions ranged from asking for a donation of one dollar for every thousand to any number of other hybrid mixes and matches, but whatever the pilots and decisions that evolve in the coming year, the program will progress and increase its status as a benefit for our members and a firm foundation of the organization’s long term sustainability.

No year of organizing is easy, but there were many milestones for ACORN in Canada in 2015.

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Politicians Silence Advocates and Organizations

10816511New Orleans   There is no doubt by anybody anywhere that the Fight for $15 and in general the fight for living wages has been led by unions and community organizations in every country where the campaign has been fought: the United States, the United Kingdom, and, certainly Canada. No matter the tactics and strategy the targets have been moving corporations and public bodies and elected politicians to sign on and support the workers’ demands for living wages. As we have discussed, some public bodies, including city councils in Los Angeles, Seattle, and New York in the United States as well as particularly Vancouver and Toronto in Canada and even the national government in the United Kingdome have moved substantially on these issues after sufficient organizational and popular pressure. This is how it should be. This is the work we do. Ostensibly, this is how countries subscribing to some level of democratic norms should work.

Well, think again, my friends, not in the age of state and corporate partnerships in the age of neo-liberalism.

The ACORN office in British Columbia received a message marked URGENT from the British Columbia Federation of Labor because we are an active member of course of the Minimum Wage Working Group. The message was pleading that all “Fight for $15” activities would have to be suspended until the mid-October federal elections, a period of almost 3 months since Prime Minister Harper had “dropped the writ,” or called for the election, unusually early in order to trigger the expenditure freezes for the election, favoring the incumbent party. Normally for ACORN the time to increase the pressure on our issues is during election periods when politicians and parties are most vulnerable and our leverage is at its highest! So, what the frick?

I’ll let the message speak for itself:

TO: MINIMUM WAGE WORKING GROUP

As you know Prime Minister Harper has called the election earlier than expected. Additionally new rules have come into place regarding the participation of third parties during an election.

As a result of these changes the BC Federation of Labour is very limited in how it may participate during the writ period, specifically related to advertising. Due to the similarity of our Fight for $15 campaign to the Federal NDP’s platform promise of a $15 per hour federal minimum wage, any traditional or on-line paid advertising that we engage in to support the campaign may be considered election advertising under the Elections Act.

This in itself wouldn’t present a problem. However, the BCFED and all other federations of labour and labour councils are considered by Elections Canada to be one entity under the Canadian Labour Congress. Therefore, we are not permitted to register separately as a third party. This means we are caught in the same spending cap as the CLC. There is no additional room within that cap.

Due to these restrictions we must limit our Fight for $15 campaign activities to those activities that are not considered to be election advertising. This means we are limited to on-line engagement without placement costs and direct communication with our members. We can also submit letters to the editor and op eds.

We are not permitted to petition, leaflet, hand out buttons, distribute t-shirts or participate in any activity that advertises this issue to the public until after the election period. That means we will need to postpone many of our upcoming activities until after the election in October. We are very disappointed by this news and will be developing a new strategy to mobilize the campaign in an on-line capacity that complies with the legislation.

We are asking you to not distribute any materials including petitions, buttons, signs or leaflets that were produced by the BCFED during the campaign period. You, of course, may use your own materials, but please be aware of the requirement to register as a third party advertiser should you incur more than $500 in costs.

You get it? One of the parties, the National Democratic Party, had succumbed to the pressure and made $15 a part of their platform, therefore continuing to organize, advocate, demonstrate, and agitate for $15 suddenly was reclassified as not only electioneering, but advertising rather than action. A similar perversity was recently part of the rules in the United Kingdom federal elections with about the same limitations except 5000 pounds per group rather than 5000 Canadian dollars. Not much doubt that the Canadian Conservative Party might have gotten the idea from the UK Conservative Party, eh? Of course in the United States where anything about money in elections is dysfunctional, the one effort by the IRS to reign in 501c4 social welfare organizations on their political activity, despite the fact that the 501c4 status curtails such activity, was immediately derailed by Congress and then postponed and pulled by the IRS until after the 2016 election, despite the fact that c4s as social welfare front groups and SuperPacs are already flooding campaigns with money, taking over their management, and flaunting every known rule.

But the perversity of organizations being prevented from advocating for change so that politicians can dupe voters into whatever is past the pale. If there were ever rules that were made to be ignored, which is to say, broken, here is a prime example. When government attempts to silence people, it is time to roar.

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