Double Whammy on the Desperate in Ontario

ACORN Canada Board Meeting

Hamilton         The ACORN Canada board and annual general meeting was in full force before the biennial convention was scheduled to begin in Hamilton, Ontario. Hamilton is a former steel-making, industrial city along Lake Ontario, roughly midway between Toronto, the queen city of Canada, and Buffalo, New York.  Hamilton is having a revival of sorts, but that has also meant more pressure on affordable housing for low-and-moderate income families in the city.  It wasn’t long in the leadership meeting before these issues came front and center in the conversation.

Lower income families are caught in a double bind on housing between rapacious landlords trying to take advantage of galloping gentrification and new anti-poor policies of the conservative government in the province led by Doug Ford, something of a Trump-wannabe.  In Ontario clawbacks are still king, unlike British Columbia where ACORN led a victorious campaign to stop “clawbacks,” which are forced deductions in welfare-related payments to offset any income received by recipients of aid.

We’re not talking big money, but it’s critical for family support.  In Ontario, a single person on welfare receives $656 monthly; a single person with one child, $941; and a couple with two children, $1,173. A single person on ODSP or Ontario Disability Support Program receives $1,098 monthly; a single person with one child, $1,515; and a couple with two children, $1,791.  Getting a little bit extra in some month would be a godsend, and certainly if the policy were designed to support independence, rather than acting punitively towards the lower income, it would be seen as a godsend.

Landlords in Hamilton, like one of the largest in the downtown area, Malleum, with whom ACORN has been campaigning, specialize in evicting renters or renovictions, claims that apartment units are being renovated in order to remove tenants.   One of the main tactics in renovictions has been to offer tenants a couple of hundred dollars in moving or relocation money by making the case that they are going to be evicted anyway, so they might as well take the money to move because of the extra expense.

The Hamilton ACORN leaders told the story of one of their members, named Elizabeth, who had agreed with Malleum to relocate and find another place, and accepted the money to pay for the move.  She duly reported her changing address and the moving payment to the welfare.  The day she moved she went to collect her check and found that it was zero.  The province had clawed back every cent claiming that the moving money was actual income, leaving her with nothing but the double whammy of extra expenses for moving and relocation and no income support for the month.  Outrageous!

The leaders bounced around various ideas to stop this two-pronged attack on lower income families.  Could they block this at the Hamilton level, since it was unlikely that they could win at the provincial level?  Could they get a credit union to create an account or have some other third party, take the payments when negotiated fairly rather than used to facilitate evictions, so that the money would not count as income?

One-minute leaders were talking about policies like rent control, landlord licensing, inclusionary zoning, and other anti-gentrification measures to protect tenants, but the next minute they were dealing with the real-world immorality and family crises fomented by existing policies with little purpose other than to punish.

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Donald Ford, Doug Trump, Whatever?

TORONTO, ONTARIO (Photo by Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Toronto    When last I visited Canada and met with leaders and organizers of ACORN Canada everyone was still reeling at the horror of Doug Ford becoming premier of Ontario, the economic and political core of the country.  Ford was a well-known commodity having been a Toronto city councilor and the right-hand of his brother Rob Ford when he served as a controversial mayor of the city.  The argument then was whether there could be such a thing as a Canadian Donald Trump.  Yes, Ford would be bad, but was it even possible for him to be that bad?

Now almost six months later the answer seems to be, yes, it’s very possible.  Different of course, but horrible in its own way.  Like Trump, or maybe even better than Trump, he’s getting away with a lot of it.

For example, in a pure political power play he was successfully able to cut the number of seats in the Toronto council in half, eviscerating many of his enemies and settling scores in such an effective way that Trump would have been envious to achieve.  In the Canadian version of culture wars, one of his opening gambits was to slice the funding in public schools for sex education.  Not sure who that helps in his base, but it’s more like a dog bark than a whistle.   In another early move he pulled Ontario out of the cap-and-trade program that had been a hallmark of Canada’s climate leadership, claiming he was helping low income and working families.

There’s way more now with less pretense that it might be helping anyone other than business.  The minimum wage increase for Ontario was frozen which no one can pretend helps workers.  He abandoned the funding for retrofits that would have aided lower income families in social housing, so much for them as well.

Now among the $22 billion in cuts to provincial resources one of the most controversial has to do with cuts to health care, long a point of pride in Canada.  In this instance, Ford has proposed cutting the provincial contribution to Toronto’s public health service including to programs that are 100% mandated by the province and where they had been paying 100% of the cost.  At the confluence of math and politics, there’s no agreement of course, but the city is not stepping up to cover the province’s rollback, and the province is trying to argue that it wants to slice it’s share to 50% on programs it had been paying for previously at 100% or 75%.  As one councilor says, people in Toronto will die from this game of chicken.  Other are arguing that Ford is trying to also privatize some parts of Ontario’s public health care.

The beat goes on and on.  Legal aid providing assistance for low income families is being cut by one-third.  Indigenous affairs would be cut by half.  One-billion dollars will be cut from the Ministry of Social Services, and people are still speculating on which programs will be discontinued or crippled.

Donald Ford or Doug Trump?  You call tails, I’ll call heads.  What’s scary is that Ford, having some experience in government, may be able to get away with more of his shenanigans that Trump will.  Either way, there’s little good news coming from Queen’s Park for Canadians living in Ontario, so keep that in mind before any of you threaten to move to Canada if Trump wins again in 2020.

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