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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Fighting for Affordable Housing on All Fronts in Toronto

Toronto    The fight for affordable housing is global, but Toronto and ACORN Canada have been at the forefront of this war for the last fifteen years, and even while winning major victories, including recently landlord licensing or RentSafe, as the city calls the program, ACORN members want much more and are committed to fighting to get it.  Listening to an ACORN housing forum with fifty members in the Scarborough area of Toronto last night, there was no question about their determination on a number of fronts.

On the RentSafe program, Marva Burnett, ACORN Canada’s president and the president of ACORN International, was clear, saying “We want more!”  The inspection program only guarantees that apartment complexes will be visited every three years. Burnett made the point that when it came to health no one said only check your temperature or teeth every three years, why is your housing so unimportant.  She and ACORN also advocated red, green and yellow signs after the inspections similar to what a restaurant receives if it passes.  She added that ACORN members were lucky to eat out twice a year, but lived in their units every day, so safe and healthy housing was a higher priority.

 

The real issue the members argued is that the City of Toronto defines affordable market rent as $1200 per month, and that is “not affordable.”  One of the bulletins being discussed in the small strategy groups at the forum zinged the fact that only one in forty units of housing being developed in Toronto is affordable even under that definition.  One speaker after another said the word “condos” in the same way others would spit out curses.

One part of the campaign now demands “inclusionary zoning,” and this has been a huge battleground.  ACORN is demanding that 30% of developments on private land be affordable rental units and 40% near transit stops, fully recognizing that even on private land developments cannot succeed without public support, infrastructure, zoning allowances, and amenities.  On public land, ACORN is demanding that 100% be rental, and 50% be affordable.

After an explication of the issues still unresolved and the ongoing housing crisis for tenants and low-and-moderate income, the members broke into smaller groups to devise action plans for moving the campaign forward at the next stages.  This is going to be a long, hard fight.

Toronto has always been a tenants’ city in the fifteen years of ACORN’s organizing here, but as the wealth gap increases, areas, like Scarborough, are increasingly condo-and-mall-construction zones.  Driving to the new City of Toronto Hilltop community center where the forum was being held it was hard to recognize some of the areas I remembered years ago when Judy Duncan, ACORN Canada’s head organizer, and I first drove through the neighborhood plotting the early organizing drives.  ACORN leaders and members were spot on:  this is a fight for survival in the city!

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