By Lynne Fernandez
First published in the Winnipeg Free Press December 18, 2018
As reported in the Free Press, Brian Pallister is “fixing the province’s finances”, with what he calls small, gradual funding cuts. Two questions arise from his claim: do our finances really need fixing, and what happens when these cuts accumulate?
There’s no fiscal mess in Manitoba that requires immediate action. Drastic action is required, however if we are to avoid massive future spending to deal with climate change, our infrastructure deficit, income inequality and to help Manitoba’s northern communities. To ignore these problems in the name of exaggerated concerns about government debt is irresponsible.
The combination of cuts to the public sector and obsession with debt reduction are hallmarks of an austerity agenda, regardless of how much the premier resents that reference. Take for example, his explanation as to why his government will not share cannabis revenue and why it cutting funding to municipalities: “That billion plus, for the first time, is going to go to happy money lenders in New York and Toronto”. The billion he is referring to is the amount the province has to pay to service its debt. Left dangling with no context, $1 billion delivers the shock effect Mr. Pallister is aiming at. But context makes all the difference.
With data from Finance Canada and Manitoba Finance we can compare Manitoba’s performance with the rest of the provinces. In the 1990-91 (Conservatives in power), Manitoba’s debt servicing charges as a per cent of GDP were 2.1 per cent vs 1.9 per cent for the other provinces. From 2000 to 2011 (NDP in power), charges were below the other provinces, where they have remained until the present day (ranging from 1.5 to 1.3 per cent vs 2.4 to 1.4 per cent for the other provinces). Debt management was, and is, on an even keel.
The Premier also frequently uses bond rating agencies’ ratings as proof that there is a crisis at hand. Manitoba’s Standard and Poor’s (S&P) credit rating was reduced from AA- to A+ in July, 2017.
Governments need to be careful not to be held hostage to these fluctuations because the agencies ignore the long-term value of government investments. Furthermore, the fluctuations don’t make a big difference in how much we pay. According to economists Trevor Tombe and Blake Shaffer “on average, each notch on the S&P ratings scale is associated with a 0.04 per cent higher yield on a 25-year bond”. Of course, governments must be responsible about deficit financing. The test should be if there is a net gain from the investment of borrowed money.
If a household borrowed money to buy a home and send a family member to university, it would build its assets and the student would have a better chance of getting a job that pays higher earnings over her life time. That strategy works for governments as well.
Take, for example, Manitoba Hydro’s investment in Keeyask and Bi Pole III – a sore point the premier is constantly rubbing. But it is perfectly reasonable to spread the debt for this infrastructure over the generations who reap the rewards of the affordable and reliable energy it will provide. Done properly, these investments should compensate Manitoba’s First Nations communities, and include agreements that make them active and prosperous partners. This sort of reconciliation would never be part of a bond rating agency’s calculus.
Other benefits of this is sort of infrastructure investment cannot be ignored, especially in light of our urgent need to deal with climate change. It is curious that the premier wants the federal government to acknowledge our investment in Hydro at the same time as he bemoans the cost of the investment.
Furthermore, Manitoba’s $11 billion provincial infrastructure deficit will only worsen. Even the business community plainly sees the folly in pulling back infrastructure investment by $230M in order to reduce the PST by 1%, thereby taking a further $300M from provincial revenues.
A smart-investment strategy applies to investments in social infrastructure too. According to economist Iglika Ivanova:
[. . . ] if a society fails to make such investments, it risks being much poorer over time. That’s why investing in poverty reduction, quality child care and early childhood education, more specialist teachers in the K-12 system, accessible post-secondary education [. . .] makes good public policy. Failing to make these investments [. . .] may make the books look good today, but it sets us on a path of lower productivity, increased social ills and higher total costs over the long run.
Rather than fretting so much over manageable debt and debt-servicing charges, the premier should be worrying about real problems like the loss of up to 1500 jobs in Manitoba’s North. With projected declines in regional economic activity of $300 million and income of $100 million, it’s hard to imagine how communities like Thompson and Flin Flon are going to manage, and there’s no immediate relief in the new economic growth action plan. Both municipalities could face significant revenue shortages as businesses shrink, and provincial coffers will take a hit as laid off workers quit paying income tax and reduce consumption. This will lead to more business closures, loss of population and falling real estate prices, all culminating in an economic downward spiral.
In fact the province overall could soon see an economic slowdown when these decent paying, unionized jobs losses are combined with others, including the loss of 900 jobs at Manitoba Hydro, reductions at various provincial healthcare agencies and other provincial crown corporations. By eliminating so many public-sector jobs, freezing wages and cutting back on infrastructure spending, the phantom crisis the government keeps referring to may materialize. And with unemployment so low in BC, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec, laid off workers may be lured away from Manitoba.
As Manitobans face all these challenges, hopefully the approximately $299 million increase in federal transfer payments for Manitoba will stem any more job losses from the education and healthcare sectors.
This government needs to recognize the damage it is inflicting by imposing austerity measures on a healthy economy that is facing some serious challenges. If it doesn’t adjust its course, we might really have to deal with a financial crisis.
By Mengistu Wendimu and Annette Aurélie Desmarais
This study finds milk is significantly costlier in First Nations communities than in Winnipeg and Northern Manitoba. The cost was higher in First Nations with and without access to an all-weather road. The study is based on a milk price survey in August and September 2016 in 26 stores located in 22 communities in northern Manitoba (15 First Nation and 8 non-First Nation communities) and 11 stores in Winnipeg for comparative purposes. The report also includes focus group interviews with residents in Northern First Nations.
The issues of low availability and high prices of food (including milk), limited access to and control over land, water and other natural resources can be linked to colonization. Action on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples to fully realize the human rights of Indigenous Manitobans is critical to the development of healthy, safe, just and sustainable Indigenous food systems.
Milk prices in Manitoba are regulated by the Milk Price Review Act and administered by the Manitoba Milk Price Review Commission. The Act is limited to one-liter containers of milk sold within a 240 km and 360 km radius from Winnipeg and Brandon. The report recommends extending current milk price regulations to include all First Nation communities in northern Manitoba. The report also recommends ensuring access to traditional foods, from which First Nations communities historically sourced nutrients essential for healthy human development and well-being. The study finds that Federal and Provincial freight subsidy programs are not effectively reducing the price of milk and other food to affordable levels in northern First Nation communities. The higher prices can be attributed to lack of competition of food vendors in First Nations communities.
By Lissie Rappaport
In Winnipeg there is a need for more affordable housing, as 21 percent of households (64,065 households) are living in unaffordable housing – according to CMHC’s definition of spending more than 30 percent of income on shelter. Additionally, there are approximately 1,500 people experiencing homelessness in the city. While affordable housing has traditionally been provided by federal or provincial governments, municipalities have a range of tools to respond to need and are most connected to the local housing market. Inclusionary housing (IH) is a one tool available to cities and was recently enabled by the Province of Manitoba.
This research informs the potential for IH in Winnipeg. Through examining existing literature and case studies in two American cities, learnings from how the policy is used elsewhere are summarized. Interviews with IH experts and those involved in local development help contextualize these learnings from elsewhere and inform key considerations for the local context. As IH is used most commonly used in fast-growing municipalities, this research explores how inclusionary housing could be implemented in Winnipeg, a city long considered to be slow-growth with a stable housing market. Read full report HERE.
What is Inclusionary Housing?
Inclusionary housing (IH) mandates or incentivizes private developers to include a certain percentage (often 6-20 percent) of units in new residential developments as affordable housing. Cost-offsets or incentives are often provided to help fill the gap between the costs of providing the housing and what the market can bear. These can include density bonuses, zoning variances, fee waivers or reductions. Policies can apply to developments of a certain size, type, or geographic location.
IH policies are used in over 800 jurisdictions across the United States, and have been identified as “the most prevalent of the regulatory initiatives used by US municipalities to stimulate the creation of affordable housing.” They have also been used, to a certain extent, in some Canadian cities, though on a more voluntary or case-by-case basis. While often used in fast-growing municipalities, more and more cities with moderate and mixed markets are exploring inclusionary policies to respond to growing unaffordability.
Key Considerations for Winnipeg
This research explored IH literature, situated with case studies in two municipalities in the US (Baltimore, MD and Boulder, CO). After exploring both cities, consultations with IH experts, and input from the local development industry, a number of key considerations for Winnipeg have emerged and are outlined below. These take into account recommendations on implementing IH in slower growing cities, and specific considerations in the local Winnipeg context.
I. Engage Stakeholders – Early and Ongoing
This research has only scratched the surface in consulting local stakeholders, and further engagement will inform a consideration of IH in Winnipeg. Local developers have an intimate understanding of the development process, and while some may not be in favour of IH, they must be a part of the conversation, providing insight to why, or how, the program could – or could not – work in Winnipeg. Similarly, local affordable housing providers, developers, and advocates must be consulted to understand current needs and how an IH policy can effectively respond to them. With the City’s Housing Policy up for review, the time is ripe for engagement, and following the process for the recently implemented impact fees, ongoing dialogue is required. This also warrants developers willing to come to the table and share their expertise to inform a policy.
II. Conduct an Economic Feasibility Study
Once the City, developers, and affordable housing consultants are at the table, an economic feasibility study can help address the question of whether IH is possible in the local market, where it might work, and what kind of incentives or offsets might be needed.
This can explore what barriers and challenges exist to residential development in Winnipeg and help the City better understand development – with or without affordable housing. Additionally, the study can explore what affordable housing percentages, and at what level, might be feasible in the market. Finally, this must be informed by the City of Winnipeg’s Housing Needs Assessment which will hopefully identify what types of affordable housing are needed.
III. Explore a Phased-In or Geographic Application
Depending on the feasibility study, there is the potential for a phased-in policy, allowing Winnipeg to get ahead of growing unaffordability, and test a policy in the local market.
This could start with a low inclusion requirement, such as five percent, or apply only in certain geographic zones, such as neighbourhoods with stronger markets, tied to transit-oriented development, or certainly on government-owned lands or funded projects.
IV. Implement a Wider Municipal Housing Strategy
An IH policy will always just be one piece of a municipal response to housing, and may not be the best – or only – tool to respond to housing needs. Integrating this response with local tools, such as Tax-Increment Financing (TIF), partnerships with higher levels of government and non-profits, as well as exploring other tools can inform a Winnipeg policy. A committed housing strategy would outline what the City’s goals are when it comes to housing, look at all existing programs, and tools within municipal jurisdiction that can respond to them, along with dedicated resources. The Housing Needs Assessment being done by the Institute for Urban Studies will hopefully identify needs and help guide policy responses.
Lissie Rappaport is the author of Keeping Winnipeg Affordable: Exploring the Potential of Inclusionary Housing in a Slow-Growth City. She recently completed her Master’s of City Planning Degree at the University of Manitoba. She has worked in community development and community planning in Winnipeg’s Inner City for the last decade. Lissie’s Master’s Thesis, Incremental Inclusion: Exploring Inclusionary Zoning in Winnipeg, Canada, explored additional perspectives on inclusionary zoning from local city planners, politicians, and housing advocates. The document is available on the University of Manitoba’s MSpace at http://hdl. handle.net/1993/33367.
By Don Sullivan
Manitoba is poised to be a major Canadian player in providing large quantities of silica sand used in hydraulic fracking by the oil and gas industry. This presents major risks that should be fully explored before allowing shovels into the ground.
Canadian Premium Sand, a Canadian publicly traded company, is proposing to develop an open pit mine and processing facility to initially extract some 45 million tons of aggregate to produce roughly 26 million tons of frack sand over the life span of the mine. The company has stated it could expand its operation if demand warrants, as the company has the rights to 360 million tons of known frack sand reserves through its quarry lease holdings in the area.
This proposed open pit mine and processing facility will be the largest of its kind in Canada and one of the largest in North America. It is slated to be fully operational sometime in 2019. The proposed open pit mine and processing facility will be located adjacent to Hollow Water First Nation on the Eastern shores of Lake Winnipeg, some 210 km north of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Frack sand is used in the controversial hydraulic fracturing process in the oil and gas industry. The demand for frack sand is expected to grow by 300 percent in the coming years. The biggest challenge for producers to meet this anticipated increase in demand is in transporting enough frack sand to end users in more quantity, cheaper and faster. The largest markets for frack sand in North America are in the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin (Alberta and Northern B.C.) and the Bakken Region (Montana, North Dakota, Western Manitoba and South central Saskatchewan). If this mine becomes fully operational, it will have a significant market advantage over its nearest competitors in the USA centrally located in North America. It would have access to a major North American rail transportation hub, via Winnipeg, that can move large volumes of frack sand to key markets, thus substantially reducing transportation costs for both the company and end users of the product.
In large scale extraction projects the economic returns, in this case to the communities of Seymourville, Manigotagan and Hollow Water First Nation, must be balanced against the adverse social, economic and environmental impacts, which would be substantial. Laying aside for the moment the negative effects at the landscape level, there are three known adverse impacts with similar frack sand mines and processing facilities in the USA.
The first adverse impact is to human health, for both those working in and for those living near this type of development. Prolonged exposure to fine silica sand particulates can lead to silicosis and is a lung carcinogen.
(click image to sign petition)
The immediate threat comes to those who work at the mine and processing facility. Frack sand also carries a potential risk to residents near these sites, along transport routes, and for the transport crews who move the cargo because the fine particles of silica will be wind borne.
Intense exposure to fine crystalline silica particulate matter can cause health problems within a year, but it usually takes at least 10-15 years of exposure before symptoms occur. This is particularly troubling for those living in proximity to frack sand mines and especially so for the elderly or families with young children, as they are more susceptible to disease. Fine silica particulate exposure has also been linked with other lung ailments, including emphysema and bronchitis. It has also been linked with a variety of autoimmune diseases, such as scleroderma, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune hemolytic anemia, chronic thyroiditis, and hyperthyroidism, among others and to kidney-related diseases, such as chronic renal disease, and those with high exposure are more likely to die from renal disease.
Then there are water quantity and quality impacts, as the total amount of water withdrawn and/or consumed by frack sand mining operations and processing facilities can vary, and much of the variation depends on whether the mine and processing facility uses an open or closed loop process system. In terms of water volume, site withdrawals can range from roughly 1.6 million litres per day to 7.6 million litres per day according to data obtained by the Wisconsin Dept of Natural Resources in January 2012.
The concentration of the polyacrylamides used in the frack sand washing process is often unknown or may vary substantially. Polyacrylamide levels must be continuously monitored, because although polyacrylamide is itself nontoxic, unpolymerized acrylamide is a known neurotoxin and can occur in low concentrations within sand washing solutions.
An emerging and potentially highly damaging water pollution problem is the issue of acid mine runoff that could contaminate groundwater and surface water. Acid mine runoff is normally associated with mineral mining. However, data on heavy metal content in sand wash ponds adjacent to frack sand mines obtained in the USA demonstrate the same issue arises in frack sand mining. The more acidic water allows heavy metals at toxic levels to leach into water supplies, such as arsenic, cadmium, aluminum, lead, manganese, copper. This water contamination problem also extends to reclamation processes.
Finally, it is also important to discuss the scale and impacts of truck hauling traffic that accompanies frack sand mining operations. For example, the Minnesota Department of Transportation determined the average frack sand mining operation will move from 250 thousand to a million tons of sand per year. The Department assessed this as requiring the concentrated flow of 70-250 heavy truck trips per day. The frack sand mining operation proposed near Hollow Water First Nation will be hauling 1 to 2 million tons per year, which equates to (using the above figures to estimate) approximately 250 to 500 heavy truck trips per day every day for ten months of the year.
The most direct route for this massive increase in heavy truck traffic would be Hwy. 304, a single lane road either way from Hollow Water First Nation to Hwy. 59, also a single lane road either way to South Beach Casino. This will most certainly lead to increases in traffic accident rates on Hwys 304 and 59. It is especially problematic for the tens of thousands who travel Hwy. 59 regularly to the East Beaches communities to enjoy summer cottages and for the additional thousands who come to enjoy the many beaches, such as Grand Beach, on a daily basis.
Increased accident rates related to the increase in heavy truck traffic will also lead to an increase in costs to provide first responders, such as EMTs, firefighters, and police officers. Likewise, increased traffic flow in winter months may require additional plowing and road salting to accommodate truck traffic operating at off-peak hours while non-commercial traffic patterns tend to wind down.
Finally, the replacement times and associated costs of road repair will be accelerated as the volume of truck traffic, hauling heavy loads of frack sand, will lead to much higher road wear than is currently the case.
Before the company can build and operate its mine and processing facility, it must first receive a licence following a review process by the Province of Manitoba and possibly by the Federal government under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA).
Under the Manitoba Environment Act, quarry activities, under which this mining development project is classified are not subject to review as quarry activities are not defined as a Class Development. The processing facility, to be located at the mine site location, is considered a Class 1 Development under the Manitoba Environment Act and the access road that will need be constructed may be a Class 2 Development for the purpose of Manitoba Environment Act. It is quite possible that the company may seek to licence the entire development in stages, by separating it into three projects: the access road, the mine and the processing facility, thus avoiding the need for the government of Manitoba to review the cumulative impacts of the entire project as whole and/or possibly avoiding the need to hold a public panel review process by the Clean Environment Commission.
There is however, a possibility that this resource development project may be designated a project under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) and the company will need to comply with the provisions of this Act, which may include the need for a possible joint federal/provincial review process. The company could take steps to try and avoid the review, for example by underestimating the volume of material extracted in order to avoid the automatic CEAA trigger threshold.
Another issue that has yet to be addressed, with respect to this resource development project, is that of the legal obligation of the Crown to undertake Section 35 consultations with the affected Indigenous and Métis Peoples when their rights may be potentially impacted. This consultation must occur at the earliest possible stages of planning and is independent of any review, licencing or approvals process undertaken by either the provincial or federal government. To date this Duty to Consult has not occurred.
Whether or not one supports this proposed resource development project for Manitoba is a moot point. What is important, and something that all Manitobans should agree on, is the need for a transparent public review process that considers the entire proposed frack sand mining, processing and transport development for both its benefits and adverse impacts prior to any government approval or licensing, and further, that the Crown undertake its fiduciary obligation to consult with Indigenous and Metis rights holders in the affected communities.
Don Sullivan is published landscape photographer, the former Director of the Boreal Forest Network and one time Special Advisor to the Government of Manitoba working the Pimachiowin Aki UNESCO World Heritage site portfolio. Don is also a Queen Golden Jubilee medal recipient.
THE CROWN LANDS AMENDMENT ACT (IMPROVED MANAGEMENT OF COMMUNITY PASTURES AND AGRICULTURAL CROWN LANDS)
How will the changes reflected in Bill 35 affect the Community Pastures Program, part of what was the federal government’s Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration initiative? Referred to as “Canada’s greatest success story” – the program started in 1935 to deal with the devastation the Dust Bowl brought to the southern prairies. It included initiatives to deal with erosion, water access, irrigation and grass management through the Community Pastures Programs. These pastures are found in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba and cover over 2 million acres in total.
This program gave farmers and ranchers access to valuable public land which benefitted from the cattle’s natural grazing behaviour. Pasture managers were trained in soil and water conservation and native plant management and understood the crucial role these processes play in protecting the endangered species that live on these ancient ecosystems. As reported in the Globe and Mail:
As rare and ecologically important as coastal old-growth forest, the PFRA grasslands are listed by the World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) as lands that Canada has made a commitment to protect.
The Harper government axed the program in 2012, and control of the pastures was ceded to Saskatchewan and Manitoba (Alberta’s were always under provincial control). Although Saskatchewan’s Agricultural Minister claimed in 2013 that there would be a requirement that the pastures would have to remain whole (no cultivation; no drainage), many were worried about a lack of regulation and enforcement of these stipulations.
Manitoba’s 400,000 acres fell under the control of the provincial government which continued renting them out to patrons under the management of a non-profit organization – the Association of Manitoba Community Pastures (AMCP). Trained pasture managers stayed on staff with the AMCP. The government of the day agreed to support the program, understanding that the pastures help the province fight climate change and protect biodiversity. It pledged over a million dollars to the project.
In order to understand the current commitment to ‘modernize’ the program, we have to unpack a couple of the purported improvements highlighted in the consultation backgrounder. The first one concerns “facilitating interprovincial trade, and complying with the principles of the New West Trade Partnership Agreement and the Canadian Free Trade Agreement” (CFTA).
Manitoba signed on to the New West Trade Partnership Agreement soon after your government took power. Although the agreement ostensibly lowers trade barriers between the provinces, critics argue that such barriers are few and far-between and that its primary purpose is to streamline industry, labour and environmental regulations to the lowest possible denominator. The CFTA came into effect in July, 2017, also with the promise to harmonize regulations across the country, and with international trade agreements like the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) with the European Union. Agreements like CETA are notoriously pro-business to the detriment of environmental protection and the interests of dairy and poultry producers.
In the case of the community pastures, regulatory harmonization is a real problem. Saskatchewan recently completely abandoned its community pasture program, stating that “We don’t believe that looking after privately owned cattle is a core function of government”. This statement from Saskatchewan’s Agriculture Minister demonstrates a lack of understanding of the full purpose of the program, adding to what seems to be a long running disregard for the prairie ecosystem. A blog by prairie naturalist Trevor Harriet explains that “the Saskatchewan party has sold 1.1M acres of crown lands in the prairie ecozone”. It is not clear how the pastures will be regulated once the province has fully withdrawn.
Talking to Manitoba cattle producers who support the current program revealed that concerns go beyond the loss of environmental stewardship. The stated goal of “removing the previous requirement that applicants had to be Manitoba residents” opens up the possibility that cattle will be shipped in from other provinces, then shipped home for processing, leaving no economic value added for Manitoba.
Changes will also remove the advantage currently given to younger Manitoba producers who need access to crown lands to build their herds. The modified application process will favour the wealthiest producers who can put in the highest bid, allowing out-of-province producers with deep pockets to elbow out younger producers of more modest means. There are concerns that the desire to “modernize” the program will result in more intensive cattle production that is controlled by big business, and that small producers will fall victim to corporate farming the same way other agricultural producers have.
Finally, these changes fly in the face of economic reasoning. Cattle over-production is causing prices to fall, but the province is ushering in changes so cattle production can expand. And such expansion could put pressure on less agriculturally productive areas such as marsh and/or scrub land that needs to be protected so it can continue providing important environmental services.
Many worry that changes to the Community Pastures Program will be a variation of a familiar theme: the tragedy of the commons. That becomes clear in reading the March 2018 report by the International Institute for Sustainable Development, which concluded that:
Community Pastures were a policy response in a time of crisis. The pastures provide patrons with tangible benefits to their operations, yet the sustainable management practices used have provided benefits to the wider society. Some of these benefits are only now becoming valued by society through policy: carbon sequestration, for example, was until recently a benefit without clear value, yet in the near future the mitigation potential of pastures and other uncultivated landscapes could reach a broader audience and inform understanding of the complete value of these places (28).
Climate change and species extinction represent the greatest crises facing us today. Hopefully this government will show more leadership than Saskatchewan’s, and protect these lands for future generations.
We recommend that amendments be made to Bill 35 and its regulations to ensure that Manitoba’s small producers are allowed access to this land and that the environmental considerations of the original program are respected.
Lynne Fernandez, Errol Black Chair in Labour Issues, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, October 31, 2018
By Rebecca Blaikie
Good Morning. It is an honour to have been asked to join you today, and to be a part of this great event to celebrate and pay tribute to a great friend and mentor of mine Judy Wasylycia-Leis.
When I was reflecting on what to share here today it struck me that one of Judy’s greatest strengths is something that we can all benefit from doing more of in our lives, and that is the seemingly simple act of just showing up.
Because let’s be clear – Judy shows up for all of us, and to everything all the time! This is one of her many gifts, and it’s one we would be wise to emulate. It matters that we show up for one another in this life, and in this struggle, and it matters that we show up for all our relations to demand and make change, to listen, to follow and sometimes to lead.
In this respect, I hope you might concur when I say that during the recent municipal election, the progressive community in Winnipeg might well reflect on whether it really showed up, particularly in some neighbourhoods of traditional strength, and in the mayoral race, and if we, by our absence, have allowed legitimate grievance to find itself expressed in a politics that is not ours. A politics that cares little if any for those bearing the brunt of the grievances.
Because while it is crucially important to show up for demonstrations, protests, workshops, lectures, picket lines, and all other myriad of non-electoral ways in which we show up. It’s just not enough.
It is equally important that we show up at election time, with candidates, and with support for those candidates, not just for ideological satisfaction, but to give people the choice that they deserve.
Needless to say, Judy is one who embodies this insight.
It is an insight that is a part of the legacy of the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919, the 100th anniversary of which we will celebrate next year!
Then as now, the Labour movement worked to strengthen society through collective action. The Union at its core is a great example of the power we create when we decide to keep showing up for one another.
The 1919 general strike was one of the finest examples of this Solidarity.
It was ordinary people seeing reflected in themselves and the struggle of their neighbours and of newcomers and strangers, the insight that we are all in this together. And that if we intend to survive we must come together, put our egos aside, and use our collective power to rally against injustice. The 1919 general strike was a call to drastically change the system. I believe 100 years later this same call is required of us now.
Even though the Strike was not technically a victory, it was a “victory” in many ways – and one of those ways was that it led to people running for office, and winning–forming the legislative seeds of what would eventually grow into the CCF and the NDP, electoral political movements that arguably, whatever their shortcomings, played a major role in creating much of what is admired about contemporary Canada.
The thing about the strike was that, using the language of the 99% the organizers brought everyone together. United behind a common vision of their right to organize for themselves to advocate a better life for all.
This was real populism, not the fake populism of the current right wing politics that tries through various issues to divide the 99% into factions that fight among themselves while the rich and powerful concentrate on consolidating even further their already perverse grip on the levers of power and their growing share of the wealth.
Indeed, it is hard to imagine a populism more fake then the “For the People” fake populism of an Ontario Conservative government led by a so-called populist Doug Ford and his millionaire buddies. A bunch of guys who rejoiced a few days ago in the rescinding of 15 dollar an hour minimum wage legislation that had been passed by the previous legislature. Whatever joy might be found in such a move is a joy as perverse as the populism it falsely, purports.
These are the same people who rush to hire foreign workers, pay them less, profit from that and then take delight in supporting politicians who exploit fear and our lack of connection to one another to create a dangerous anger against these same foreign workers.
In an era where we hear a lot about fake news, a potentially more dangerous problem is fake populism. I believe that we should be able to build a real and critically important left wing populism out of the solidarity that issues like climate change, and economic inequality should be creating within the 99%. Our differences should not matter if we are focused on the commonality of our need for a livable planet and a world not besieged by the ever more obscene gap between the richest, and the rest of us.
But let’s honest we are not always the most welcoming bunch on the left. We expect a lot of each other. We are too prone to righteousness and not prone enough to understanding and forgiveness. We need to expand our reach, be more forgiving and work hard to create the space for access to ideas, for sharing and learning.
We need to stop expecting that everyone who might want to show up already has all the right catch phrases and all the latest lingo – we need to be less judge-y and more welcoming. Because if people don’t feel like a sense of belonging is available to them on the left they can easily find it elsewhere.
Knowledge is power. And not everyone has had access to the same knowledge and so as we work to grow our movements and build collective power we must focus some of our effort on popularizing access to knowledge and creating the space for learning and growth again. This was an important part of the work done in 1919. And we must stop moving so quickly to the other-ing and rejection of those who might make mistakes, because they do not yet have the benefit of exposure to all of the same knowledge and ideas as we do.
Fortunately, that knowledge and those ideas are available. In an era where we are more and more in need of the ethic of evidence based policy making, and of evidence itself, we have the benefit of the CCPA.
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives some years ago did research which showed that the poorest ten percent of family units experienced a 28% decline of wealth in the preceding 20 years, while in that same period the top ten percent have experienced an increase of 122% in wealth.
A report by Oxfam claims that the richest 85 people in the world own more than the approximately 3.5 billion people who make up the bottom half of the global population. And the Broadbent Institute published a study showing that the wealthiest ten percent own almost half of all the wealth in Canada, with the bottom thirty percent owning less than 1%.
On the issue of inequality the CCPA has been and continues to be reliably front and centre. I have seen the benefit of such research in my own work throughout the years and currently at Mount Carmel Clinic.
Thanks to the CCPA Manitoba, I know that the life span of Winnipeggers can differ based on neighbourhood by anywhere from 10-20 years.
It’s rough out there. These are not good days for a lot of people who share this bit of land with us. People are really struggling. The ongoing trauma of colonization, past and present, is a daily reality on our streets and our relatives are literally dying.
Because of the nature of this poverty and the intensely spatial and racial dimension of it in our city, it’s too easy for many to avoid or forget this truth. But those who live this truth every day can’t avoid it. So we all need to show up and listen to the voices of those in struggle who are telling us what they need and work together to make it happen. We do no favours to anyone by trying to pretend every thing is getting better, or by glossing over the most glaring injustices of our time. Because while it is true that progress is being made here and there, the level of persisting inequality is unconscionable.
But people are fighting back.
I am inspired every day by the people in our North End neighbourhood. It is a vibrant and diverse community, with great strength and a cooperative spirit. It is a community that cares about it’s neighbours and works hard to create opportunities for it’s children. It a community of people who have each others back.
Winnipeg’s North End is a place at the front-lines of what happens when governments lead in the interest of a privileged few, and leave everyone else behind. People know what needs to happen, there is so much community wisdom about what works and what needs to be done to create real opportunities for us all. All of us need to make more room for that wisdom to shine and for those teachings to be shared. Every day I am humbled by the teachings I encounter through my work at Mount Carmel Clinic.
Situated at main and Euclid the clinic is a community hub, providing primary care and social supports to some of Winnipeg’s most marginalized community members, the vast majority of whom are Indigenous. I am constantly inspired by the community spirit of our Indigenous relatives and the way they invite all of us to be a part of the community, by meeting at the Bell Tower or walking with the Bear Clan.
We, the broader we, those of us who go home to warm beds, good food and healthy relationships, need to do a much better job, collectively, of accepting the invitation. Of showing up for those experiencing the brunt of these systems that benefit the 1%. Because these systems can only be changed if we all show up and journey together to make that change possible. In this work are many opportunities for reconciliation. To really seize those opportunities we need to physically show up and build relationships so we might embark on a journey of collective healing together. The love and the courage – and the ceremony – that this will require, will, I hope, be the medicine we need to help strengthen our resolve to heal the planet.
Because let’s be clear friends, our collective resolve is in great need of strengthening on this one. It’s now the largest elephant in every room. It’s there when we run the tap, breath the air, enjoy the sunshine. Or when here in Manitoba we comment on the lack of mosquitos, and can’t help but rejoice just a little. Considering how bad things are I find it profoundly disturbing how little we all talk about it with each other, (although I do feel this is starting to change a little), and that’s because it’s terrifying.
And because it requires the kind of all out systems change that we’ve all be conditioned for far too long now to believe is impossible. Luckily, hard and impossible aren’t actually the same thing. A lot of good stuff has been hard.
One of the experiences Judy and I both share is the opportunity to have worked internationally doing workshops with women in countries where their involvement in electoral politics is still new. Courageous and determined women undaunted by the enormity of the task before them. I found it inspiring to get to work with these women. It made me reflect on how far we have come here in Canada with regard to women’s involvement in politics, and it also made me sad that after all this time it is still such a struggle for women to run and win and to be treated as equals when they achieve success.
Judy was a trail blazer in this regard and she continues to share her experience through her work with the National Democratic Institute. Indeed, as many will know from Facebook, she just returned last night from a week of such work in Liberia. This work is a great privilege in that it really requires us to leave our comfort zones and to build relationships that break down our assumptions and expand our capacity for having difficult conversations. Conversations that respect the impact of perspective and social location.
Respecting the impact of perspective and social location is something Judy has also done at a local level over the years with her constituents. Because as she has always known, the same kind of openness to dialogue that we seem more prone to internationally is also required in our own back yards. Indeed we don’t need to go far away to get out of our comfort zones and seek constructive dialogue, those difficult conversations are all around us here to be had in our city every day – at the coffee shop, the hockey game and the yoga studio, at the soup kitchen, the clinic and the library.
So, in that back yard vein let me take a few minutes to tell you about some of what’s happening at Mount Carmel Clinic. Mount Carmel Clinic’s Community Services department provides a variety of targeted services. Sage House is a drop-in centre and outreach program providing a safe space and access to support services for sexually exploited women, working in survival sex. Women come to Sage House to take a nap, eat some food, have a shower, and to build community with friends and advocates.
We also run a Housing First Program – the Assertive Community Treatment program, works with more than 85 chronically homeless individuals struggling with intense co-occurring mental health and addictions challenges to get them housed and then support them to stay housed long term. In our Community Wellness programs we have a team of social workers focused on providing access to crisis counselling, peer support programs, ceremony, teachings and workshops to our indigenous, newcomer and refugee community members. On the horizon we are working to expand the hours of Sage House to ensure there is a safe space available for the Sage community in the evenings and on the weekend too. And as part of the MCC Foundations’ landscaping project, working with Indigenous community elders, Mount Carmel Clinic has been visioning and planning for how to bring food and land based programming onto our campus and into our services. The Clinic is a natural gathering place, a safe zone. The landscaping project will be a way of honouring that by turning the grounds of MCC into a more welcoming, nourishing and healing urban green space, a place for connection with one another and with the land. Food security is a problem that will only intensify as climate change worsens.
This is why we know this work is crucial to improve health outcomes in the community. Our vision includes a walking path and a resting place, vegetables and fruits, berries and medicines. It is a place where neighbours from Sandy Bay and Syria, Island Lake and Sagkeeng, Duck Bay, the Ukraine and the Congo can share their skills and grow sustenance and solidarity. Working out their trauma and healing together on the land. It’s a place of learning and growing, a social enterprise where participants can learn the skills of canning and preserving. It’s a community kitchen with two massive steam pots that volunteers prep ingredients to fill, sharing in labour and laughter enjoying hot and nourishing food together.
So stay tuned for more good work at MCC. Before I close, I want to thank you all once again for being here this morning. For showing up to support the CCPA and in so doing showing up to support an institute that ensures the truths and perspectives of those that are struggling get heard, and facilitates research and writing that gives voice to those with the solutions to those struggles.
There is a well known verse in the Talmud that reads: Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it. And this is why we show up–because we must. Thank you for showing up today. Let’s keep showing up for one another, so that together, we might realize the limitless power of our collective action. As a good friend used to say, don’t let them tell you can’t be done.