Manitoba’s Climate & Green Plan: Catastrophic Failure of Leadership

By Mark Hudson

Last week, the Manitoba government announced it would amend Bill 16, the “Climate and Green Plan,” to eliminate its flat $25/tonne carbon tax, leaving it essentially empty of any real action on climate change. Just a few days later, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—the UN body in charge of informing policy-makers about the science of climate change—issued a landmark report saying that without urgent and unprecedented action to rapidly bring down greenhouse gas emissions in the next dozen years, we will face catastrophic consequences. The contrast between the call by the UN to rise to our moral responsibility to mitigate climate change, and Premier Pallister’s gutting of the already-too-weak Bill 16 couldn’t be more jarring, or speak any louder about the failure of leadership in our province.
Climate change is the defining challenge of our time. Dealing with climate change is not equivalent to, say, achieving a balanced budget—whatever the merits of that goal, but about the survival of entire species and hundreds of millions of human lives. The statement about staking our future is easy to let wash off, because we hear it so frequently. But in this case, it is not catastrophism or scare-mongering. It is a clear-eyed reckoning with the increasingly ominous signals being read by a vast community of earth and climate scientists, and by people on the front lines of warming. So, we have an array of facts before us as follows, some of which are, to the government’s credit, palely reflected in the preamble to Bill 16.

1) Climate change is manifesting itself now. Model projections for many of the consequences of warming have proven conservative in terms of their timing and scale. This is not a fight we can put off—and in fact we should have been engaging in it decades ago. We are late as it is.
2) The consequences of our failure to engage meaningfully are difficult to overstate. They are too many to list here, but to summarize the vast field of research on this, they are civilizational in scale. Should we continue to pussy-foot around climate change, there will be hundreds of millions of victims—victims of dislocation, sickness, and death. Already, just to take one small indicator, the World Bank estimates that there will be 140 million internally displaced people resulting from climate change by 2050, and millions more internationally. Also of note for those whose pulse is quickened by costs expressed in dollar figures, rather than human lives and ecological destruction, is that we’ll be knocking 13% off of global GDP by 2100, even sticking to a 2 degree target. The costs of adapting to increased severe weather run into the hundreds of billions. A failure to comply with the goal of keeping the world below a 1.5 degree average warming will result in much, much worse. A conservative estimate of the global costs of just coastal flooding is $14 trillion.
3) We are well aware of what’s causing this. The hard math that drives the arithmetic of climate change is unforgiving and unambiguous. The IPCC’s carbon budget makes it as plain as it can be. If we continue to allow people to dig up and burn fossil fuels without a clear and rapid plan to transition off of them we are headed for catastrophe.

What these facts mean together is that in refusing to hold to account those responsible for continuing to pump out greenhouse gases we are knowingly contributing to the dislocation, misery and death of hundreds of millions around the world. It is happening now and will accelerate in the near future. These are not comfortable facts, and a less comfortable conclusion, but they are unassailable, and confronting them is the burden of leadership.
Leadership is required here because a meaningful response to climate change (despite the Climate Plan’s repetition of the myth that for individuals, there is “always a greener choice”) actually requires collective, policy-led changes. Getting off of fossil-fuels—an absolutely necessary condition of staving off the consequences we have been warned about and are now beginning to experience—does not entail individual decisions to simply turn off the carbon tap, because our economies, our physical infrastructure, and the ways we move ourselves, feed ourselves, and keep warm are soaked in oil. We often hear people who point out this reality go on to say “so, fossil fuels will be a part of how we do things for a long time yet,” and certainly many organizations behave as though that’s true. Large emitters will continue to behave that way unless compelled to do otherwise. Fortunately, there are feasible, though difficult at this point, ways of transitioning off fossil fuels.
These can and should entail the up-skilling of workers in currently high-carbon sectors, as, for example, oil patch workers in Alberta are doing through the organization Iron and Earth, and the protection of low-income families who will have some of the costs of transition passed onto them. Some cities and states elsewhere are showing what can be done: Paris’ climate plan, to take just one example, has over 500 initiatives to make it a vibrant, livable, carbon-neutral city by 2050. Local and sub-national governments are using public purchasing power to encourage transitions to low carbon vehicles, investing in efficient public and active transportation to move people through our cities, encouraging zero-carbon energy systems through targeted public investment, providing subsidies or support for demand side energy management, retraining workers in carbon-intensive sectors like pipeline construction, putting them to work in good jobs building the new infrastructure required for a zero-carbon economy, and providing research and extension for zero-emissions or net-negative agriculture. These bottom-line requirements of our collective responsibility for climate change require policy leadership.
If the “Climate and Green Plan” is the sum total of Manitoba’s response—and so far it seems to be—it represents an epic, even catastrophic failure of such leadership. If we are in a fight with climate change, we’re sending a kindergartener out against a title fighter, and should only expect a beating.
There was much to say about the insufficiency and poor design of the carbon tax that initially appeared in Bill 16, but which has now been cut out. It was utterly insufficient to produce any meaningful change, had no plan to use revenues in innovative ways to encourage a shift off of fossil fuels, and failed to protect low-income Manitobans from regressive effects. However, it was a signal that Manitoba was at least willing to take a baby step. With the removal of the carbon tax, we now have a bill utterly devoid of significance or effect.
Of course, Manitoba is not in this alone. We are, on the grand scale of greenhouse gas emissions, a small player. We contribute about 3% of the national total, and Canada as a whole emits about 1.6% of the global total. That’s not to say we are carbon-pinchers. On a consumption basis, Canada is the 9th largest emitter globally. Per capita, each Canadian in 2016 contributed over 20 tons of CO2—masking huge regional inequality, with Alberta pumping out by far the lion’s share. Premier Pallister justified the removal of the carbon tax by saying that we should be given credit for our investments in Hydro. Our electricity source is, indeed, relatively low-carbon. Yet still in 2016 Manitobans managed to produce about 16 tons of CO2 equivalent per person—well over 10 times the global equitable level. Looking at territorial emissions, our neighbours to the east in Ontario and Quebec perform much better. Our emissions from agriculture, after some small progress from 2008-11, have been on the rise since, and are almost 40% higher than they were in 1990. On transportation, our other major emissions source, emissions from 1990 are up as well, almost 70%. There is simply no basis for the claim that we are already pulling our weight—and one can only imagine how such claims are heard in a place like Tuvalu, being swallowed by rising seas, by people in the Philippines, hammered by superstorms made more powerful and frequent by climate change, or in the arctic, which has already warmed 3.5 degrees on average since the beginning of this century, and where communities are slumping into the sea.
Due to our small size, we might say that there are others who should be leading the way–others who are more culpable than us. The problem with this logic is well-known, and derives from the global and collective nature of climate change. The necessary political condition for a coordinated and global response to climate change—one that is adequate to the enormous nature of the challenge—is visible cooperation. Everyone must see that everyone else is pulling as hard as they can pull toward the objective. Laggards—the most obvious being the Trump administration in the US, but also the Manitoba government’s comrades in resisting climate action, like Premier Doug Ford and Opposition Leader Jason Kenney—don’t just undermine the project through their refusal to reduce their own emissions. They undermine it by signalling that efforts won’t be reciprocated, encouraging others to minimize their efforts in turn. While we can’t do anything about Mr. Trump and his Canadian counterparts, we can send a different signal—one that demonstrates that we are willing to lead, rather than foot-drag.
If everybody follows the climate resisters’ lead, the logical endpoint is crystal clear. A provincial government concerned enough about the deficit situation to cut funding to education and health care should be very concerned about the ballooning future costs to the public of adapting to the 3.2 degree warming forecast for this province under even a low-carbon scenario. Now is not the time for penny wise, dollar foolish public policy. If we peg our ambition to those who do nothing to combat climate change, the future economic costs will be astronomical.
The global effort to combat climate change is already well behind schedule. Funding for mitigation and adaptation has not materialized. Reductions are less than needed. This global effort, of course, is composed entirely of policies and programs like this one. It is ultimately legislation and action at local levels that make up the global effort.
Refusal to join this fight is not protecting Manitobans. It consigns us to an unsustainable and laggard economy from which future investment will shy. In June, a group of 288 global institutional investors controlling $26 trillion in assets called the G-7 members out for their lack of ambitious climate change action. Investors are looking for policy environments in which green investment is welcome. The Manitoba government’s stance on climate change generally and its withdrawal of the carbon tax in particular not only costs us millions in the short term, but sends a loud signal that Manitobans prefer to stick with the fading and destructive fossil economy of the 20th Century.
It is well past time to acknowledge the stakes of climate change not in substance-less preambles but in the form of policy that will actually make a difference. The current generation should not have to face the 3 degree average warmed world in store should governments limit themselves to the current national pledges under the Paris Agreement. Nor should our children have to deal with the 6 degree warmer planet that we are actually on target to realize, as governments put forward tragically insufficient legislation like Bill 16. I urge this government to look straight on at these stakes, acknowledge our moral responsibility in doing our part to avert the worst, and to deliver to Manitobans a piece of legislation that intends to make a meaningful contribution. That contribution should embrace and support a just transition off of fossil fuels, help us move toward a 21st century economy, and be reflective of our unwillingness to make others suffer on our behalf.

Mark Hudson, CCPA-Manitoba Research Associate; Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Manitoba.

This article is Hudson’s committee presentation on Bill 16: The Climate and Green Plan. A Fully referenced version available upon request.

What we heard: Frequent, Affordable, Safe and Accessible – keys to achieving a more equitable transportation system

By Ellen Smirl

Key Findings:
• Access to affordable, reliable, safe, and accessible transportation options is an important tool to help people lift themselves out of poverty and build a healthier city.
• Greater investment in transit and active transportation by all levels of government is needed
• Ensuring the benefits of investment are equally distributed needs to begin in the design stage
Transportation options in Winnipeg are not meeting the needs of the people who need them most. While significant discussion around transportation in Winnipeg is occurring, much of the current discussion focuses on how to attract new ridership and/or reduce congestion and greenhouse gases (GHG). Many people in Winnipeg however are struggling simply to get to work, school, grocery stores, medical appointments, and social activities.
While statistics for transportation disadvantage by neighbourhood cluster does not exist for Winnipeg, one recent study concluded that residents of the North End are more likely to be transportation disadvantaged than the rest of the city. The following table shows the connection between lower income neighbourhoods and reliance on public transit. Indigenous people and visible minorities are also more likely to rely on public transportation. Major indicators of transportation disadvantage include non-ownership of a vehicle, low-income, and minority ethnic identity.


Many transportation advocates are calling for increased equity when it comes to transportation planning. Transportation equity is the fair distribution of the benefits and costs, and in a way that meets the social and economic needs of the greatest number of residents, and especially those most vulnerable. Ensuring that everyone, regardless of physical ability or ability to pay has access to public transit and active transportation options is an important part of fighting poverty and inequality in Winnipeg.
To build a transportation system that works for most vulnerable we need to fully understand the challenges. The State of the Inner City Report 2018 (forthcoming) spoke with twenty people living in Winnipeg’s inner city and asked them about the barriers they experience in getting where they need to go. We also hosted a townhall discussion at the Thunderbird House on September 25th 2018 where all inner-city residents were invited to attend. This is what we heard.

Challenges
When it comes to taking transit, many people spoke about not being able to afford the fare. In January 2018 Winnipeg Transit raised fares by 25 cents in response to a $10M operational budget shortfall, which occurred when the Province froze their contribution to Winnipeg Transit at 2016 levels. Many people we spoke with said that they would sometimes go without food to afford a bus pass so they could get to work, while others said they would sometimes walk long distances so they could afford to buy groceries. This is a trade-off no one should have to make.
All of the people we spoke to said that schedules and time represented a major barrier in getting where they needed to go. Many spoke about buses not being on time. This is supported by statistics with weekday on-time reliability declining from a high of 80 per cent to 74.8 per cent in 2017. One young man spoke of the challenge in taking the bus to get to his workplace. His worksites would vary throughout the city, sometimes in areas with poor bus service. Despite getting up very early he would sometimes be late to work because late buses often resulted in missed connections. Transit needs to get people to where they want to go when they need to be there.
Many people we spoke with talked about fears about walking alone at night as well as waiting at bus stops, and some spoke about concerns about safety while riding the bus. Some young women spoke about being solicited for sex in exchange for fare by cab drivers. One young Indigenous women even spoke about how she was almost abducted walking by herself at night in the inner city.
I don’t feel safe at night. Once, I was walking around and this guy, he pulled up close to me, and he tried to grab me so I punched him and I just ran.
Incorporating equity into the transportation system means that we bring in a historical understanding of the history of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls into the planning of the system and ask ourselves, “How can we design systems to better protect Indigenous women and girls?”.
Accessibility is another major barrier for community members. We spoke with six seniors with various mobility issues and one person that is wheelchair dependent. Again, affordability and scheduling were the two biggest barriers. Many seniors and people living with a disability have fixed-incomes, which makes getting where they need to go, at times, unaffordable. Many spoke about feeling isolated and lonely, especially during the winter months. Those with mobility issues and the elderly often struggle to carry groceries which means food security is also at risk.
For people using Handi-Transit, scheduling was a major issue. Staff at a senior’s home we spoke to said that many of their residents depend on Handi-Transit to get to medical appointment but because of the high demand for services, people are often required to get to their medical appointment hours early and wait long after they are done. For people with diabetes who need to stick to a scheduled eating time, or even for those with incontinence issues, this presents dangerous and humiliating challenges.

What people need
Most other major Canadian cities have a low-income bus pass and Winnipeg should not be the exception. Ensuring that people can get to their jobs and other opportunities is an important tool in fighting poverty. Additionally, ninety per cent of attacks against bus drivers involve fare disputes which demonstrates that a low-income bus pass will not only make fares more affordable, but also make a safer workplace for drivers.
Winnipeg is currently planning for the development of a coordinated and integrated transit plan that includes a Frequent Service Transit Network, Rapid Transit and electrification. This is to be applauded. Winnipeg can do even better by integrating the Transit plan with Winnipeg’s Pedestrian & Cycling Strategies to encourage inter-modal travel. Many low-income residents supplement their transit use with walking and bike riding and they frequently said they don’t feel safe riding bikes alongside cars, nor walking through certain areas especially at night. Greater discussion about how to improve safety-besides simply throwing more police at the problem-also needs to take place.
The report of the Task Force Reviewing Handi-Transit Issues adopted by Council on Sept 21 1994 stated that the characteristics of a transportation service for physically disabled persons should be reasonably equivalent to the service provided to able-bodied persons by the regular fixed route system. Disability advocates have been vocal that the quality of Handi-Transit services is not a reasonable equivalent. Many people we spoke with said that service has eroded since the City has contracted out this service to private companies and advocates say they would like to see Handi-Transit brought back in-house.

Big picture
Other cities are investing in transit and it’s paying off. While Winnipeg spends approximately $200 per person on transit, Edmonton spends closer to $300 and Ottawa spends over $400 per person. Ottawa residents take 40 more trips per year than Winnipeggers.


Encouragingly, in June 2018 the Federal and Provincial governments announced a bilateral cost-sharing agreement that will see a $530 million investment to public transit infrastructure for Manitoba municipalities. This is great news although questions remain as to whether this agreement will be affected by the Province’s recent decision to scrap the Carbon Tax. Regardless, investment dollars in infrastructure needs to be met with investment in the operational budget. Province needs to step up and restore the 50/50 funding agreement for Winnipeg Transit operating costs. A recent poll shows that four out of five Winnipeg voters are in favour of this.
From a revenue perspective, the recently scrapped Carbon Tax would have represented an incredible opportunity to raise revenue for investment in Winnipeg Transit operations as well as improving active transportation options like developing more bike lanes and pedestrian infrastructure to get people where they need to go. While the Province’s Made-in-Manitoba Climate and Green Plan states that one of its goals is to ‘support greater use of active or public transportation’, how remains unclear.
Finally, investment in transit and active transportation needs to be undertaken with a mind towards distributing the benefits in an equitable manner. Other cities are doing this. In 2004, Denver voters approved FasTracks, a $7.8 billion transit expansion. Mile High Connects (MHC) was formed shortly after to help ensure that considerations of equity went into the planning of newly built transit lines. MHC is a cross-sector collaborative of non-profits, foundations, businesses, and government leaders in the Denver region that makes an explicit connection between public transit and health equity. Their goal is to ensure that Denver’s new transit development benefits low-income communities and communities of colour by connecting them to the services they need the most such as jobs, healthcare providers, schools, grocery stores, parks and other essential destinations.
We currently have an incredible opportunity to develop more equitable transportation policy in Winnipeg. The Winnipeg Transit Master plan request-for-proposals just closed and the Our Winnipeg plan-which includes a section on sustainable transportation- is currently being updated. The City should ensure that these plans are developed with an eye to equity so that accessible and affordable transit options are created for everyone, especially the city’s most vulnerable. With increasing suburbanization of poverty in Winnipeg, the time to embed equity policies into transportation policy is now.

Ellen Smirl is a researcher with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – Manitoba. Transportation equity is the theme of this year’s State of the Inner City Report. The full report and findings will be launched in December 2018.

Drop the Stereotypes and deal with the real problem

By Jim Silver

First published in the Winnipeg Free Press September 28, 2018

In August the Free Press published an article (Safety complaints at Lord Selkirk Park, Aug. 24, 2018) that painted a very negative picture of Lord Selkirk Park, a large Manitoba Housing complex in Winnipeg’s North End. The story claimed that safety complaints had doubled in 2017, and that despite investments in the community, residents “are not seeing improvements.”

I found this disturbing, since there have been many positive changes in Lord Selkirk Park since 2005. These have been documented in various publications and in the film A Good Place to Live.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, many described Lord Selkirk Park as a “war zone.” It was a place to avoid. Starting in 2005, community development work and public investment produced dramatic changes. Lord Selkirk Park became a good place to live, with a range of educational initiatives and a strong sense of community.

So, what has happened? Have all the gains since 2005 been lost? Over a recent three-day period I spoke with 18 residents, asking them to tell me what’s happening. I also spoke with two long-time community workers, three educators, and three Manitoba Housing staff, all but one of whom work daily with residents of Lord Selkirk Park—a total of 26 people.

What became apparent is that all the previous gains are still in place. Staff at Kaakiyow, the adult learning centre, said “we’re thriving now.” The Resource Centre is a vibrant hub of community activity. Residents say the Resource Centre staff  are “fabulous,” as are local Manitoba Housing staff.

There continues to be a strong sense of community. You can feel it walking around, and the people I spoke with confirmed that feeling. One resident said: “I think it’s awesome. People look out for each other.” Another said “I love the people who live here.” A community worker told me, “It’s far better than it was when we started in 2005. There’s far more good than bad here.” A resident told me that securing housing at Lord Selkirk Park was “like a godsend” to him and his family, and added that the sense of community here is “unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in my life.” Another, when asked what it’s like living here, said “it’s beautiful.”

But there is a problem. Those I spoke with are virtually unanimous that the problem is meth. “It’s a different animal,” I was told by one person. “It’s a beast,” said another. An educator told me: “What we’re seeing is a shift in the reason for crime,” which is now being “driven by meth.” Incidents of erratic, meth-fueled violence were described. It’s “making people crazy,” one resident told me. Police and social workers and community workers are all “overwhelmed,” and “everyone’s inundated.” Nobody has a real solution, and the resources to deal with the meth problem are just not there. It “came out of left field and just blew up,” one worker told me. The problem is city-wide, although it hits people who are low-income and dealing with trauma particularly hard.

The Free Press article made only passing reference to meth, even though it’s clear that meth is the real issue. The reporter spoke with two people only. Everything about the story was negative. Not a positive word was included. There is of course a long history of reporting only the negative about the North End. The old newspaper maxim, “if it bleeds, it leads,” has long applied here. All the usual stereotypes were present in the Free Press story.

People I spoke with say the story did not accurately portray their community. The article implied that Lord Selkirk Park is a failed community. This is simply not the case. The claim that residents are not seeing any improvements is false. The housing complex is full, has a wait list of people who want to live there, and has some 60 newcomer families who are doing well. The sense of community is strong, and most people I spoke with are grateful and happy to be living there.

The problem is meth. Residents and community workers are pretty much unanimous in saying so. And they told me over and over that they need treatment facilities and supports in the community.

What we’re talking about is a healthy low-income community being hit by a problem that is not of their making.

Last month’s Free Press story missed all of this. It missed the good news story about how real gains continue to be made in this low-income community. And it missed the bad news story that recent problems are caused by meth, for which insufficient resources are being made available.

We should drop the old stereotypes, and listen to what those who are closest to the issue are telling us—meth is the real problem; community-based resources are needed.

 

 

Winnipeg: Where the buildings have no names and the streets have no crossings

By Doug Smith

Nearly forty years ago, in March 1979, Winnipeg city councillor Joe Zuken led a band of a dozen or so pedestrians in what is likely to have been city’s most celebrated act of jaywalking. The day before, city council’s ban on pedestrian crossing of Portage and Main had come into effect. Zuken was making good on his promise to defy the ban by leading supporters on a short but windy trek that saw them complete a circuit, walking from each corner to the next.

 

Photo:  Front row, left to right –  John Robertson, Joe Zuken, Grant Wichenko, Leonard Marco, Evelyn Shapiro. Behnd Zuken: Jim Maloway. Courtesy of Winnipeg Tribune Photo Collection, University of Manitoba. March , 1979.

Photographs of the day constitute a stern reminder that Portage and Main’s reputation for being a cold and windy place is not undeserved. Most of Zuken’s supporters are wearing bulky parkas and have their heads tucked into fur-lined hoods and toques. Only Zuken, presumably accustomed to the cold by his years of sailing against the political wind, stands out in this regard. Hatless, he determinedly leads his band clad in an overcoat.

No one was arrested, no one was charged for this act of civil disobedience. The attorney general of the day said he did not wish to give the protest any additional publicity.

What Zuken and his supporters were protesting was not simply a ban on surface crossing—although there was plenty to protest about that ban, including the shameful lack of attention that had been paid to the needs of people with disabilities.

The true object of Zuken’s protest was Winnipeg city council’s longstanding inability to resist the siren song of the property developer. The ban on pedestrian crossing was part of a much larger exercise in corporate welfare, in which the city provided extensive support to a multinational development company, despite the fact that the developer continued to constantly change the nature of its proposed development. In the process pedestrians were reconceived as potential consumers. Banned from the public pathway, they were to be funneled through developer-owned underground shopping malls.

The closure of Portage and Main is wrapped up in the history of the building that looms over the southwest corner of the intersection. In 1971 the Trizec Corporation, a high-profile development company that brought together British, U.S., and Canadian money announced that along with the Bank of Nova Scotia, it was interested in developing a bank building, an apartment tower, a hotel, and a shopping mall on the site where the city was planning to construct an underground parking lot.

Zuken opposed the deal from the outset, pointing out that the city would be obliged to assemble the land and build the parking lot and the building foundation without any guarantee that Trizec would, in the end, build anything. By 1975, the City had bought and cleared the land still without receiving any guarantee as to what was to be built. Trizec then threatened to drop out of the project if the city did not agree an underground pedestrian concourse (and pay 80 per cent of the construction costs and 100 per cent of the maintenance costs of concourse) and ban surface crossing of the intersection (to force people into the concourse). By this point, opposition to the project was mounting: the 1976 vote to ban surface crossing passed city council by a single vote.

Two years later Trizec revealed its final plans: gone were the hotel and the second office tower (for which the city had built foundations) and the shopping mall was scaled back. Most of the land that the city accumulated has sat empty for the past forty years: part of it was the bleakest of urban “plazas” imaginable, while the rest of the surface area was covered with the flat roofing of the mall below. It is such a dead no-go zone that it is doubtful many Winnipeggers even noticed it. The development’s failure to find a place in the city’s life—a significant failure for any project of so-called ‘urban re-vitalization’—is that few Winnipeggers could identify the name of the 31-storey high-rise at the heart of the story. Given the project’s controversy it was known informally for many years as the Trizec Building. Its formal name was the Commodity Exchange Tower, since it was the home of the Winnipeg Commodity Exchange. But since 2008 it has simply been known as 360 Main Street.

The pedestrian barriers at Portage and Main are a symbol of a failed corporate development model for the city. Removing them will certainly enliven the downtown by putting more people on the streets and serve as a sign of greater openness. But symbols can be diversions: the real questions facing too many Winnipeggers is not where they can cross the street, but where they will lay their heads. On this score city council still finds the call of the developer more attractive that of community organizations. The city’s decision not to grant tax increment financing to Gas the Station redevelopment in Osborne Village obliged that organization to drop its co-op housing component. IKEA, on the other hand, not surprisingly had no problem getting a tax financing break from the city for its “Seasons of Tuxedo” project.

Doug Smith is the author of Joe Zuken: Citizen and Socialist. (Toronto: James Lorimer and Company. 1990).

Joe Zuken (1912 – 1986) served for 42 years as school trustee and City Counsellor in Winnipeg. CCPA Manitoba is proud to be supported in part by the Joseph Zuken Memorial Fund and hosts the Joseph Zuken Activist Awards.

Should the City of Winnipeg subsidize high-end housing downtown?

By Shauna MacKinnon

On Thursday September 20, Winnipeg City Council will vote on a motion to clear the way for True North Square (TNS) to receive an $8 million subsidy through the City’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) program. Council will be asked to waive TIF rules that would require 10% of the 324 TNS rental and condo units to be developed on Hargrave and Carlton Streets to be “affordable”.

TIF is a financial tool that allocates future increases in property taxes for a designated area to pay for improvements within that area, for a specified period of time. TIFs are used in cities across North America as a revitalization tool, and they often include a requirement that housing development include a percentage of affordable units. In Manitoba, TIFs are allowed through provincial legislation. Winnipeg’s official development plan identifies TIF as a strategy for neighbourhood revitalization, including the facilitation of “safe and affordable housing …”. Aligned with this is the City’s Live Downtown – Rental Development Grant Program By-law referred to in the report to Council. The by-law requires that a minimum of 10 % of housing units subsidized through TIFs must be ‘affordable’, which means that rents would be set at or below median market rents, for a minimum of 5 years.

In addition to affordable rent guidelines, the Live Downtown policy outlines specific geographic criteria for TIF.  It currently does not include the proposed site of the TNS development.  City Council is being asked to support an expansion of the designated area to ensure that TNS qualifies for TIF. If Council supports the proposal that has been endorsed by Executive Policy Committee (EPC), TNS will sidestep the rules, and qualify for a subsidy to develop high-end condos and rental units on property outside of the TIF zone, with no affordability component.

This sets a dangerous precedent for future development, and it defeats the purpose of a TIF program focused on the city’s ‘vision’ of downtown revitalization that includes affordable housing.

For its part, the provincial government has already agreed to a deal. Its contribution to the residential component of the project will be $8 million over 20 years. If the City proposal passes, it will match that amount, giving $16 million in subsidies for housing that won’t be affordable to many, if not most, Winnipeggers.

While the City and Province clear the way for public subsidies for the creation of high-end housing downtown, mid and low-income families in Winnipeg are struggling more than ever to find safe affordable housing.  The number of Winnipeggers in “core housing need” increased from 10 percent in 2010 to 12.1 percent in 2017. And the affordable supply continues to shrink. In the downtown alone, close to 300 units of low-cost rental housing have disappeared with the demolition of social housing on River Ave. and Mayfair Place, and with the sale of the provincially owned 185 Smith St.

Enforcing the affordability clause as a requirement for TIF would not create housing for low-income households –median market rents are far more than many households can afford. For example, the median for a two bedroom is $1100.00 per month. At best, enforcing the affordability clause would ensure a small number of new units would be available to moderate income earners. It may not be much, but if all new downtown developments included affordable units, it would make downtown living more accessible.

The City and Provincial government’s enthusiasm to provide public funds for this high-end housing project raises important questions. What is it about this project that justifies overriding an important element of TIF policy? How does it align with the intentions of the Province’s Community Revitalization Tax Increment Financing Act and Winnipeg’s Live Downtown policy? Why offer TIF at all if the project will proceed without it? How does this use of public finances fit with the more important public policy priority—creating more affordable rental housing?

The provincial government is the primary level of government responsible for addressing the housing needs of low-income households. The Province does not currently have a strategy. If it did, ensuring that provincially subsidized developments like TNS include a reasonable number of affordable units would be a reasonable component.

The City of Winnipeg does not have an affordable housing strategy either. It appears to defer to the non-profit End Homelessness Winnipeg initiative to address the housing needs of the most vulnerable. But End Homelessness Winnipeg has no power, and no financial resources to increase the housing supply.

The case for a comprehensive, well financed, intergovernmental strategy to address the shortage of social and affordable housing in Winnipeg has been made for several years. The use of TIF alone won’t solve the problem – not a in a long shot. But TIF is one small tool that can be used to ensure affordable housing is in the mix. The very least private sector developers can do as good corporate citizens, is to abide by the rules if they wish to access public subsidies.

The extent to which governments should subsidize private development in the downtown is a larger debate. But when it comes to subsidies for housing, the City and the Province need to get their priorities straight. Winnipeggers concerned about inequality need to ask ourselves— who benefits when millions of dollars of public funding is used to subsidize high-end housing in a city where an ever-growing number of individuals and families can’t finding housing that they can afford?

Shauna MacKinnon is Associate Professor in the department of Urban and Inner City Studies, University of Winnipeg, a long-time member of the Right to Housing Coalition and a CCPA Manitoba Research Associate.

Legacy of departed life-long activist at risk with possible reversal of pesticide ban

By Anne Lindsey

I went to visit a friend and colleague recently – someone I hadn’t seen for awhile. Sandra Madray was in the final stages of cancer. She was dying. I was shocked and deeply saddened to see the physical changes the disease had wrought on my beautiful friend. She was so thin, and in so much pain.
Cancer is horrific in every circumstance but the cruel irony in Sandra’s situation is that she worked much of her adult life in a volunteer capacity to prevent cancer and other illnesses. In particular, those caused by and associated with environmental and industrial chemicals.
As a co-founder (with Margaret Friesen) of the local group, Chemical Sensitivities Manitoba and an advisor to the national organization, Prevent Cancer Now, she participated as a citizen/environmental representative in countless government consultations on laws and regulations regarding chemicals. She sat on the National Stakeholder Advisory Council for the Chemicals Management Plan and on the Canada-United States Regulatory Cooperation Council. She served on the Board of the Manitoba Eco-Network for several years, and was active in the Children’s Health and Environment Partnership.
Sandra educated herself (and others) on the science and public policy of chemical exposure and what it means for human health. Studying reams of documents, she did the arduous and often thankless work that many of us have neither the patience, nor the appetite for, as we trust hopefully that our governments will make the right decisions in the public interest.
Because she did that work, she knew that our hopeful trust is misplaced and that most regulatory decisions about chemicals are not taken with the utmost care to protect health or the environment, but rather, lean heavily toward maximizing commercial profits and expedience. She knew that as a result, we inhabit a chemical soup of hazardous exposures to pesticides, cosmetics, plastics, vehicle and power plant emissions and other by-products of the hydrocarbon society.
Sandra’s cancer may or may not have been attributable to environmental or workplace exposures, but many cancers are, and in all those cases, the pain and suffering, the unmitigated sadness and loss for family and friends is probably preventable.
Always kind, generous and with good humour and deep conviction, Sandra used her knowledge to advocate tirelessly for better solutions to society’s problems. She campaigned especially for the most vulnerable – for children, the elderly, the chemically-sensitive (of which she was one) and the immune-compromised. A quiet warrior, she never sought special recognition for her work.
Some of the efforts she engaged in were successful – one recent example being the Manitoba law to prohibit many chemical pesticides in lawn care. With her own urban yard – an oasis of gorgeous native plants, buzzing and bright with butterflies and pollinators – as an example of better, healthful solutions for green space management, she worked with a coalition of groups to end unnecessary exposures to so-called “cosmetic” pesticides, some of which are linked in epidemiological studies to a variety of diseases, including cancer, respiratory and neurological/developmental problems. When Manitoba joined numerous other provinces in legislating against lawn chemicals, it was a small, but significant step forward in preventive medicine.
It is beyond sad that in Manitoba, it now seems destined to be reversed. Even though recent polling shows that most Manitobans consider pesticide-free to be the best approach, powerful forces support chemical solutions for weed control, and they appear to have the ear of the current government behind the scenes. Possibly acting on inside-knowledge, one lawn company owner was quoted in Home Décor and Renovations Magazine as saying that the (regulation) would be amended for 2019, and that he was optimistic that it would allow “licensed lawn care professionals to resume the use of more effective weed control products.” We can only surmise that he was referring to substances like 2,4-D, dicamba and mecoprop.
As citizens, not only must we make every effort to avoid unnecessary products like cosmetic pesticides and scents, we must also continue to encourage our government not to take this terribly backward step. In fact, it would actually be more appropriate to strengthen the law by adding glyphosate-based compounds, such as Roundup, a weed control product with links to cancer, to the list of prohibited substances. Round-Up’s sordid history of cover ups by its manufacturer, including the fact that its carcinogenic properties were long known about and hidden, is steadily being revealed in court challenges brought by cancer victims.
Sandra will not be with us to see a possible reversal of the policy that she contributed to, and once again, have to endure the impacts of lawn pesticides on her chemically-sensitive body. But if this change of policy comes to pass, so many will be impacted, including the children and all the other vulnerable people that she worked so hard to protect. How many of them will have to sicken and perhaps die before a clean, common sense and precautionary approach to green spaces is adopted once and for all in Manitoba? For Sandra Madray’s sake, let this number be zero.
Sandra passed away at the age of 68, on August 17, 2018, with her beloved husband Winston and family members at her side.

First published in the Winnipeg Free Press September 8, 2018

Anne Lindsey is formerly the Executive Director of the Manitoba Eco-Network, a long-time activist, a member of the group, Cosmetic Pesticide Ban Manitoba and a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Manitoba Research Associate.

Indigenous language revitalization and child care

By Binesi Boulanger

Indigenous peoples have a troubled relationship with the systems that have been imposed by settler colonial populations. The imposition of education through the residential school system was devastating to Indigenous peoples, with the legacy living on in Canada’s child welfare system. Part of ending this cycle of the removal of children means providing culturally relevant and quality child care. Quality, affordable, accessible and culturally relevant publicly-funded child care would provide Indigenous families with additional supports while parents advance their educations and obtain meaningful employment.

An innovative way to support Indigenous people’s language revitalization movement would be through Early Learning and Child Care (ELCC) programs. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) 12th Call to Action directly addresses the need for relevant ELCC programs for Indigenous children.  The right to have language-based education programs for Indigenous children is also protected in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous (UNDRIP) People article 14, section 3. It is important to view ELCC programs as a significant part of a child’s education and integral to their development.

The federal government is responsible for maintaining a working relationship with Indigenous people in Canada. The federal government is required to fund on-reserve projects/initiatives/services as many on-reserve families lack licensed child care. Indigenous children experience a gap in access to culturally relevant Early Childhood Education (ECE) programs off-reserve as well. UNDRIP and the TRC’s 12th Call to Action mandates the expansion of Indigenous ECE programs as a responsibility of the federal, provincial, and territorial governments wherever there is an Indigenous population in need of child care.

Indigenous languages in Canada have been endangered for decades. Residential schools prevented their students from speaking their native language. 25 Indigenous languages in Canada have less than 500 fluent speakers.

It is important to give children the opportunity to learn another language while in ELCC programming. This is especially important for Indigenous children, as many of their families and those in their community had their languages and cultural practices suppressed by the government, and by extension the education system. Incorporating Indigenous language programming within a child care setting and funding the creation of new programs is an act of reconciliation, offering both children and their families the opportunity to heal.

Language gives speakers knowledge about their culture, which helps children to develop a sense of belonging through their cultural identity. Children who learn a second language develop better problem-solving skills and better critical thinking skills. The most important way to keep a language alive is teaching younger generations.

In response to aging populations of language speakers, Indigenous peoples in different parts of the world developed ‘Language Nests’ as their response to the crisis. Language Nests are child care programs where children are exposed to an Indigenous language extensively to create a new generation of fluent speakers to keep the language alive. Language Nests also encourage children’s parents to learn the language and use it at home.

There are Indigenous Language Nests around the world and they have been very effective in helping Indigenous peoples to maintain their language(s). In New Zealand in 1982 they began ‘Te Kohanga Reo’, a child care program geared towards teaching children the Maori language. This program was extremely successful and today there are more than 460 programs in New Zealand. In 1984, Hawaiians began their process of opening up Language Nests, with the first Punana Leo opening up in Kekaha, Kaua’I.This program increased the number of speakers under 18 from about 50 in 1982 to over 10,000 today. In Canada, there are numerous examples of Indigenous communities implementing full immersion language programming. British Columbia, Ontario, and Mohawk communities within Canada have been very active in developing and providing immersive language-based early childhood education.

While there are Indigenous led child care centres and licensed ELCC programs in Manitoba both on and off-reserve, there are no fully funded language specific programs modeled like the Language Nests being run as an option for parents seeking child care.

Encouraging the federal government to begin offering education incentives to support Indigenous people to work in early childhood education would be a step in the right direction. Offering language-based programs at colleges and universities for free in order to further equip the Indigenous population with the tools they need to run language-based culturally relevant Early Learning and Child Care (ELCC) programs would be an act of reconciliation. Providing adequate funding for communities both on and off-reserve to manage Indigenous language-based ELCC programming is important as well. These steps, along with increasing the number of publicly-funded child care spaces to meet the significant demand for child care, would help revitalize Indigenous languages and be a meaningful step towards reconciliation.

Binesi Boulanger is a law student at the University of Manitoba and was the summer Childcare Research and Engagement Coordinator at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Manitoba and the Child Care Coalition of Manitoba.

A fully referenced version is available upon request to ccpamb@policyalternatives.ca

 

Hope on the horizon? What the federal poverty plan means for Manitoba

By Molly McCracken

The federal government released its national poverty reduction strategy “Opportunities for All” last month. The plan has implications for the soon-to be released Manitoba poverty reduction plan. The federal and provincial governments must take serious action to bring down poverty rates in Canada. Incremental change will make little difference in the lives of those struggling in poverty.

Poverty reduction plans are advocated by anti-poverty activists to set a clear path to ending poverty using a measured and accounted for government-wide coordinated approach. Please see the CCPA National blog on the federal plan for an overall analysis. The new federal plan assembles programs and commitments related to poverty in one document, but with no new money announced for implementation.

Manitoba’s poverty challenges require radical investment to end suffering and promote justice, particularly as it relates to Truth and Reconciliation.

The federal government has legislative and treaty responsibility to provide programs and services to Indigenous people on reserve, and in some cases off reserve. The disastrous consequences of unfulfilled federal obligations for adequate social services, housing, water & more hugely impact Manitoba. Manitoba’s on-reserve child poverty rate is a shocking 76% and 39% off reserve – the highest in the country (MacDonald and Wilson, 2016). Indigenous Manitobans on reserve are more likely to rely on federal welfare, called Income Assistance, 46.9%, compared to 33.6% average in Canada in 2017 (Clark, 2017). Federal Income Assistance rates are tied to provincial Employment and Income Assistance rates and woefully inadequate. Income transfers combined with economic development are key to bringing down poverty rates on and off reserve.

Community-led solutions to poverty are all around us, and it is our hope governments seriously listen to community in the creation of, and investment in, action plans to end poverty.

The View from Here: Manitobans call for a Renewed Poverty Reduction Plan includes 49 evidence-based community responses to poverty. This report was endorsed by 150 organizations, including Make Poverty History Manitoba (MPHM). MPHM worked with community groups to prioritize five areas for action based on The View from Here.

In the Manitoba 2016 election, all political parties campaigned on reducing poverty. To date the provincial government has done little and even reduced Rent Assist benefits and other programs that help to reduce poverty. The provincial poverty plan is a year and a half overdue from its planned release, in violation of the Poverty Reduction and Social Inclusion Act.

 

Manitoba should not ride on the coattails of the federal poverty reduction plan but invest real money to maximize impact. To this end, here’s what the federal plan means for the MPHM provincial priorities:

  1.  Basic Needs for those living with low incomes

Welfare rates are sorely inadequate due to government decades-long holidays on inflationary increases. In Manitoba single adults on social assistance are 47% below the poverty line (Market Basket Measure, MBM) and people on disability are 33% below. Each year, assistance slips further and further below the cost of living. Another major problem with welfare for those who are able to get paid work: any earned revenue is clawed back 70% (after the first $200) and benefits such as dental and prescriptions are lost when one starts working. This makes it very hard to leave welfare.

In response to these problems MPHM announced its “Livable Basic Needs Benefit” campaign last February. MPHM proposes a provincial benefit set to the poverty line that tapers off with earned income, established outside of welfare.

MPHM’s provincial policy recommendation could be boosted with support from the federal government for implementation. Federal support for Make Poverty History Manitoba’s program could come in the form of an increase to Manitoba’s transfer payments to help bring basic needs benefits up to the poverty line. The 2018 CCPA Alternative Federal Budget calls on Ottawa to create a new $4 billion annual federal transfer payment to provinces/ territories tied to adequate social and disability benefit rates and positive outcomes in reducing poverty. Unfortunately this is not in the new federal plan.

      2. Child care

The cornerstone of the federal government’s poverty reduction plan is the Canada Child Benefit (CCB). Campaign 2000 rightly pointed out that the Canada Child Benefit is not an anti-poverty program; families with children who receive this benefit are still below the poverty line. On top of this, CCB transfers money to parents but there is a terrible lack of quality affordable childcare. Manitoba is 10th out of the 11 provinces and territories with child care for only 31% of children according to Child Care Deserts in Canada. Manitoba’s wait list grew from 12,000 in 2016 to 15,487 children waiting for licensed childcare as of February 2018.

Canada’s economic productivity would increase if those unable to work for pay due to lack of childcare were able to join the workforce said Stephen Poloz, head of the Bank of Canada. The federal government must work with provinces and territories to create a universal publicly accessible child care system for all ASAP. Families require child care to earn money or get an education. And it’s important for child development and school readiness.

  1. Minimum wage

Much of the federal government’s efforts are on the “deserving poor”- families with children and seniors. But most of the poor are not those on assistance, but working poor according to CCPA’s Alternative Federal Budget. There is nothing in the federal plan about increasing the federal minimum wage to a living wage, adopting a federal government living wage policy or encouraging provinces to increase their minimum wages to $15 or a living wage. These actions would lead by example on the importance of paying a fair wage and put pressure on provinces to do the same.

  1. Mental Health and Addictions

People can find themselves struggling with poverty due to mental health concerns or addictions. Poverty is extremely stressful and can exacerbate these as well. High meth use in Manitoba is impacting crime rates (see “Meth is a Symptom, Poverty is the Crisis”. )To combat the negative impacts of meth use, government poverty plans must deal with the root causes of addictions and mental health concerns via comprehensive poverty reduction plans including social housing and inadequate social assistance rates. A lack of treatment facilities and no cost community supports are only exacerbating the crisis. MPHM recommends an increase in provincial mental health spending by 40 percent over three years. Additional federal funding for the opioid crisis will help, but should be no substitute for provincial investments.

  1. Social Housing

The Right to Housing Coalition and Make Poverty History Manitoba have long called on the province and the federal government to each commit to building hundreds of units of social housing per year. The National Housing Strategy launched last November provides $40 billion over 10 years to provinces to reduce core housing need. After decades of neglect, the new federal plan is a promising step, but much more is needed. The Manitoba government has not committed to building any new social housing since elected in 2016, and has sold off some of its stock to the private market. Two years after beginning consultations, we are still waiting on the release of the provincial housing strategy.

 Manitoba should match federal funding in order to maximize impact. Housing is the cornerstone of poverty reduction. Those in quality affordable housing, in study after study, can escape poverty and improve health and educational outcomes. Manitoba cannot afford to skimp on social housing investment.

The National Housing Benefit will be a rent supplement to those in need, with a planned implementation date of 2020. Under development by the federal and provincial governments, the Benefit will look different in each province. The federal government has stated the new National Housing Benefit is not meant to replace existing rent subsidies like Rent Assist, but to meet the “unique needs” of Canadians. With expiring operating agreements and high and rising rental rates, Rent Assist is not going far enough to bring Manitoba renters out of core housing need. The National Housing Benefit should be designed to close the affordability gap for those in greatest need and those who are most vulnerable.

The five MPHM priority areas are part of the puzzle of solving poverty in our province and country. The federal and provincial poverty plans rely on each other to truly reduce poverty.

New investments in Manitoba will be needed to do this and not rely only on the National Housing Strategy and other federal programs. MPHM and its supporters are looking for a solid plan in Manitoba to substantially bring down poverty rates by targeted dates with strong accountability mechanisms.

MBM: measure of low income based on the cost of a specific basket of goods and services representing a modest, basic standard of living developed by Employment and Social Development Canada

LIM AT: household low income if its after-tax income is less than half of the median after-tax income of all households in Canada.

Sources: Statistics Canada, 2016 Census of Population, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98-400-X2016148.

Statistics Canada.  Table  11-10-0018-01   After-tax low income status of tax filers and dependants based on Census Family Low Income Measure (CFLIM-AT), by family type and family type composition

Molly McCracken is the director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Manitoba and a member of the Steering Committee for Make Poverty History Manitoba.

 

Municipalities must prepare for climate change

By Lynne Fernandez

First published in the Winnipeg Sun September 8, 2018

In response to Jonathan Alward’s piece on municipal overspending, small business owners are not the only ones paying attention to municipal election platforms this fall. Those community members who participated in the 2018 Alternative Municipal Budget bring a very different perspective from the CFIB’s.

Mr. Alward complains of unsustainable spending growth, but provides few details.  He refers to a CFIB report that found the main culprit to be municipal employees. Simply stating that labour costs take up 59% of any budget doesn’t really tell us anything.  Workers are a crucial part of any municipality’s activities, so we should expect the wage bill to be substantial.

The real crux of the matter is an antipathy towards unionized workers. That workers should have benefits and make decent wages is a constant irritant for the CFIB, despite the fact that these wages are spent in CFIB member businesses. But if we take a closer look at where Winnipeg’s budget line is the highest, we’ll see that it is with the one group of workers business owners are reluctant to criticize: the police.

Between 2000 and 2016, the police budget increased from $115 million to $280 million – a 145% increase, compared to a 40% increase for public works. As the largest and fastest growing budget line in the Winnipeg’s operating budget, it may well be time for the Winnipeg to examine the cost of policing, especially when money for para-military equipment could be spent dealing with the root causes of crime. Departments that work to decrease social marginalization saw increases of only 13% in the same time period.

In the latest round of bargaining for CUPE 500 City of Winnipeg workers, increases were 0%. So when inflation is factored in (something the CFIB agrees should be), these workers’ salaries decreased 1.6%.

Wage increases in 2017 for other CUPE members working for Manitoba municipalities ranged between 1.0 and 2.5%, with the average being 1.89% – close to Manitoba’s 1.6% rate of inflation for 2017.

It is true that many cities in Western Canada do not have a business tax per se, but this is compensated for with higher rates on non-residential property taxes. When the business tax as a category was eliminated in Calgary and Edmonton, the non-residential commercial property tax was increased to ensure no loss in revenue. Businesses pay a similar total amount of tax in those cities as they do in Winnipeg. Furthermore, Winnipeg’s business tax has decreased every year from 9.75% in 2002 to 5.14% in 2018.  A 2016 KPMG report found that Winnipeg had the lowest business costs of a sample of major North American cities.

The Alternative Municipal Budget agrees that budgets have to be sustainable, but we are referring to the need to deal with climate change and environmental degradation. These are the most pressing problems of our day and they require a heroical response that all sectors of society, including business, must be part of.

For example, we recommend implementing Mobility Pricing which would shift the unsustainable cost of road maintenance to drivers and investing in public transportation so that commuters have a viable, affordable option to single-occupancy vehicle use. Doing so would also lower greenhouse gases.

The CFIB does not consider the $1.4 billion that is needed to upgrade Winnipeg’s North End Water Pollution Control Centre, the lack of an organic diversion program in Winnipeg, its outdated and inadequate transit system, or offer any solutions for the infrastructure deficits all municipalities face.

It is not clear how Winnipeg will deal with a $6.9 billion infrastructure deficit when its yearly capital budget hovers around $430 million.   The sixteen-year tax freeze imposed on Winnipeg by previous administrations made it impossible to borrow the money required to keep up with repairs.

Winnipeg has the lowest property taxes of Canada’s major cities. Between 1999 and 2017 property taxes increased 77% in Calgary, 84% in Edmonton, 63% in Vancouver, and 73%. In Winnipeg they increased 11%. Now compare the infrastructure in those cities with Winnipeg’s.

Even if we had kept up with inflation and population growth, Winnipeg couldn’t have maintained the status quo. Aging infrastructure must be kept in good repair, a monumental task given that developers, likely members of the CFIB, continually push for new infrastructure to accommodate urban sprawl.

Finally, does Mr. Alward advocate against CFIB members when they increase prices to cover their costs?  The insurance sector warned of the effects of climate change as early as 1973, and continues evolving its business model, including increasing rates, to adapt to the changes. The Fort McMurray fire cost the industry between $5 billion and $9 billion, a cost passed on to property owners and businesses.

If the CFIB thinks that any municipality can prepare for climate change – including the disproportionate impact it will have on the poor, and deal with ageing infrastructure – all without somehow increasing revenues, it needs to get a reality check from those CFIB members who understand the new world we find ourselves in.

 

As the wealthiest speed past the rest of us, Manitoba needs to fight income inequality

First published on CBC online July 8th, 2018

A Ferrari cruises down Portage Avenue past people lining the streets on lawn chairs on Sunday evening in Winnipeg. The $250,000 car purrs along the road, a symbol of incredible wealth.

Meanwhile, other Winnipeggers struggle to find bus fare to use our underfunded transit system.

The wealth of upper-income earners compared to the rest of is growing in Manitoba and Canada.  When a segment of people drives way ahead, many others are left behind. But this is not inevitable; there are public policy remedies.

The top 10 per cent of earners are wealthier than ever – 44 per cent more so in Manitoba in 2014 than in 1976, according to a new study based on Statistics Canada data.

Last month the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – Manitoba released Manitoba Inequality Update: Low income families left behind by Ian Hudson and Benita Cohen, which studies income for families with children and finds the majority of market gains in the past several decades have gone to the top earners.

While this might be good for the wealthy who like expensive cars, the data finds a growing gap between the rich and the rest of us. Market income is income from employment earnings, investment income but not government income. Economists use market income as a measure of inequality. The study finds lower-income people’s made more market income in the 1970s than in 2014. So this means low income people’s ability to earn money has been reduced over the past 30 years.

In 2014 the bottom 10 per cent earned 11 per cent less than in 1976 and the next lowest 20 per cent were also worse off. The middle deciles saw moderate gains.

Returning to the cruise-night analogy, this means 20 per cent of Manitoban families are standing still by the side of the road — the working and middle class are walking along the sidewalk and the wealthiest 10 per cent of families are speeding away at an accelerated rate.

Our economy and society are losing out as a result. Those at lower levels of income cannot realize their full potential. Being from a lower income household impacts social mobility: children from low-income families are less likely to graduate high school on time and go on to post-secondary education. This, coupled with the rise in precarious, part-time work, results in stagnant wages for young people.

Recent policy changes in Manitoba will make it harder for low-income and working-class students to get ahead. The Manitoba government recently allowed post-secondary institutions to increase tuition by five per cent annually, plus the rate of inflation. Tuition could double in the next decade and along with this, the hope of social mobility for those with lower incomes is squashed.

But with more progressive public policy, this need not be the case.

A recent Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Manitoba study, Rising Tuition: Impacts for Access and Career Choice by Jesse Hajer and Zac Saltis, compared graduation rates from Organization for Economic Co-operative Development (OECD) countries. They find that increasing tuition brings down enrolment for low income students. Student loan programs do not increase enrolment from low-income students.

But countries with needs-based grant programs have increased post-secondary enrolment among low-income students.

At recent graduations across the province, families and friends witnessed the thrill of having a new degree in hand.

Imagine how different our province would be if everyone who wanted to go on to post-secondary education or training had the chance to do so without being burdened by student debt.

The human and economic potential if everyone had post-secondary education is significant: higher productivity, a stimulated economy and unleashed human talent.

Government has an important role to play to mitigate the huge disparities created by market inequality. Hudson and Cohen found that once government taxes and transfers are considered, the average income of bottom 10 per cent of Manitoban families with children increased from $4,500 to $23,000.

While this is an improvement, it is still below the poverty line of $28,000 for couple with children and $24,500 for single parents as measured by the Low Income Cut-Off After Tax measure, which Statistics Canada defines as the “threshold below which a family will likely devote a larger share of its income to food, shelter and clothing than average”). This is hardly enough to survive day to day. It is virtually impossible to go back to school for better education and training.

Rising inequality is not inevitable. Those who were around between 1940 – 1980 will remember we didn’t have this big a gap between the wealthy and lower income people. This was due to progressive income tax transfers and strong public services to the poor and middle class.

Government took action to increase incomes of working people by allowing for unionization. Other important measures that would help are a minimum wage set to a living wage of $15/ hour, improvements to Employment Insurance and liveable basic needs benefits for those on assistance.

But recent changes in Manitoba will increase inequality, not alleviate it. Bill 7  – the proposed Labour Relations Amendments Act –  makes it more difficult for workers to unionize in Manitoba. The Carbon Tax credit does little to help low-income people, returning only 20 per cent of the cost of this tax to those below the poverty line, according to new analysis by Harvey Stevens published by CCPA Manitoba.

But this need not be the case. We need truly progressive public policy and redistribution of resources so that those who drive Ferraris pay bit more in taxes and those of us along the side of the road can at least get on the electric bus.

By Molly McCracken, Director CCPA-MB