Toronto Elections Goes Canada Crazy, Notwithstanding

Woodhaven, Ontario       In Paraguay the frame of reference was constantly back to the end of the dictatorship thirty years ago and the process of rebuilding civil society, institutions, and a democratic tradition in their country.  Suddenly in Canada for the annual fall organizer training sessions and management meetings for ACORN Canada, I found myself trying to unravel the wildness of the Toronto election crisis precipitated by new, rightwing populist Trump-wannabe Ontario Premier and former one-term Toronto city councilor, Doug Ford, against a frame of reference that seemed more common to Paraguay’s history than that of Canada’s.

What’s going on here?  City council elections were set in Toronto since the spring in the city’s 47 districts.  Candidates lined up, declared, and away they went.  Ford, the new Premier of Ontario, seems to have become confused about whether he was elected or enshrined to the throne, and unilaterally ordered the 47 districts cut to only 25 without so much as a never mind it seems.  Commentators, pundits and politicians seem to ascribe it mainly to old feuds from his time on the council and his late brother’s raucous ride as Mayor of Toronto.

Of course, there was legal action by the councilors and not surprising there was a judicial ruling, and this is where it really starts getting weird as Ford channels his inner-Trump to the outer extreme.  The court ruled that the move abridged the Charter of Rights and was unconstitutional.  Judge Belobaba wrote in his decision that “It appears that Bill 5 was hurriedly enacted to take effect in the middle of the city’s election without much thought at all, more out of pique than principle.”  The Toronto Star summarizing the judge’s decision added that he “blasted the province for failing to justify the cut to council, saying it submitted little evidence to support a hastily prepared argument that the legislation would result in more effective representation or that it would make council more efficient and save money.”  So, the October elections in a little more than a month were back on in 47 districts.

The court’s decision upset Ford, whose understanding of an independent judiciary seems in tune with President Trump’s.  According to the Star story, he claimed,

“I was elected. The judge was appointed. He was appointed by one person…A democratically elected government, trying to be shut down by the courts — that concerns me more than anything,” he said, adding the courts have made him feel like “I’m sitting here handcuffed, with a piece of tape over my mouth, watching what I say.”

So, he claims he’s going to fix that and overrule the Judge using the “notwithstanding” clause passed initially to prevent the secession of Quebec from Canada and only designed for extraordinary circumstances, and never used previously in Ontario though it has been employed once in Quebec, Alberta, and Saskatchewan.

So, in the Canadian circus, Ford is calling the Ontario parliament into session to pass a bill to overrule the judge and is appealing Judge Belobaba’s ruling to the higher court.  It’s a US Senate kind of problem though, because Ford has the party line majority to muscle through his new bill, so no one knows what and who will really be before the voters in October so the only thing certain is that lawyers will be running in and out court.

When this whole democracy and basic democratic rights thing is not just under fire in Hungary, Poland, Turkey, India and elsewhere around the world, but in the United States and, oh my god, even Canada, we’re really in the middle of a citizen rights’ conflagration totally out of control.


Doug Ford, the Trump of the North, is No Populist Either

New Orleans       Doug Ford, brother of the former Mayor Toronto and a former Toronto council member, became Premier of Ontario, the most populous province of Canada a shade over a month ago at the end of July 2018.  He’s no Donald Trump everyone said, but he would be the Canadian version of the Trump phenomena.

Well, our friends and members are learning that he may be closer to the Trump playbook than they wanted to believe.  He has started pushing back on immigration and trying to put the onus on the national government for the costs associated with dealing with new immigrants in the steadfastly welcoming Canada.  He has pushed back at a sex-education program.  He has force the resignation of the Hydro director and board despite having no authority over the body.  His scrapping of cap-and-trade and the revenues that come from it have led to a $100 million rollback in education.

ACORN Canada is standing firm in the Canadian resistance.  Here’s a public statement and letter to the editor from Marva Burnett, ACORN’s president in Canada, pushing back on the impact of his program on lower income families who are tenants in social housing that will give you a sense to the developing fight in the north.

Scrapping of cap and trade revenues a big loss for Ontario tenants badly in need of apartment retrofits by Marva Burnett, Chair of ACORN Canada

ACORN started door knocking in 2004 in Toronto, Ottawa and Hamilton. Since then we have facilitated 20 – 40 minute house visits with over 150,000 of the lowest income tenants across these three cities. During each visit we ask, “What is the biggest issue you would like to see changed?” Undoubtedly, the most common issue we hear about is the substandard state of both public and private housing. Leaking pipes causing mice, rats, cockroaches, bedbugs, and mold; as well as poorly insulated windows leading to freezing temperatures in the winter and extreme discomfort due to heat in the summer are common issues experienced by low-income tenants.

For many vulnerable people, substandard units lead to negative health outcomes, such as asthma, stress, diseases carried by bugs, and more. In addition, it is incredibly difficult for people to even consider carbon emissions when they have no option but to heat their apartment with their oven or have faulty windows that need to be left open while running air conditioning units. In the previous government’s Climate Change Action Plan, tenants were promised $385 million to $500 million for social housing retrofits, plus $300 to $400 million in incentives for retrofits in other private apartment buildings, funded through cap and trade revenues.

The diversion of this money away from retrofits represents a huge loss for hundreds of thousands of tenants across the province. We are concerned about the ripple effect that substandard housing will have on tenants and anticipate an increase in socioeconomic and health inequality as a result of this funding cut. Research has shown that every $1 million spent on social housing retrofits generates energy savings of $1.3 million – $3.9 million, as well as additional benefits to residents, such improved wellbeing. Without this money, the province’s most vulnerable tenants will be forced to continue living in substandard units that are up to 25% less energy-efficient than houses.