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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.