Remembering Jack Layton

The CCPA-MB extends condolences to the family and friends of Jack Layton, federal leader of the NDP, who passed away early this morning.

Errol Black, chair of the CCPA-MB Board, remembers Jack Layton.

I first met Jack Layton in London, Ontario, when he was the President of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. I was impressed with him then, and was impressed with him as the leader of the NDP.

Jack was a person who got people excited about progressive politics. He was exuberant and positive and at the same time, he was approachable and open to new ideas. A lot of people in Brandon and in Manitoba supported him. Jack had a voice in North America that was very different, and that brought a new energy to political debate.

Under his leadership, the NDP achieved a big caucus, a diverse caucus, with lots of women, lots of representation from Québec, as well as lots of depth and a large number of people who will be good leaders in the future. Jack leaves the NDP in good shape, and it will continue to be a strong and effective opposition, committed to social democratic values and progressive alternatives.

You can read the CCPA national office’s statement here.

A couple of days ago, Jack Layton wrote a letter to all Canadians. You can read his letter here.


Spread the words: Inequality Agenda

In today’s Fast Facts about the march of inequality making its way throughout the world, Errol Black and Jim Silver use a term I like very much: the INEQUALITY AGENDA. This agenda – to ensure that wealth continues streaming up to an increasingly bloated privileged class – is being pushed by the Harper government and like-minded administrations around the world.

I’m glad that progressives are using hard-hitting, pithy terms like this. These two simple words capture the spirit (agenda) and devastating consequence (inequality) of free-market fundamentalism .

We see the results of income inequality in Canada, with the well-documented growing gap and attendant increases in societal problems. We see the deviousness of the agenda’s design in the “solution” to the US debt-ceiling problem (their solution will exacerbate the problems faced by every-day people). Indeed the very fact that the world’s economic problems are blamed on too much debt is in itself testimony to the ability of the inequality agenda to appropriate a situation, revise it to suit its purposes and then convince a “largely complacent majority” of the public to believe  utter nonsense.

The extreme Right has been very effective at this sort of revisionist economics and part of the reason is because they’ve captured terms like “tax burden” and “entitlements” that resonant with the public. We need to use terms like the “inequality agenda” until they become as much of the public discourse as “tax burden”.  I recommend that you take a moment to read about the inequality agenda as presented by Black and Silver. And spread the words: Inequality Agenda.

Lynne Fernandez

The Inequality Agenda and the Specious Ideas that Support It

In June, 1998, Toronto’s Centre for Social Justice published a report by Armine Yalnizyan on the dimensions and implications of growing inequalities in the distribution of incomes in Canada.

In November, 2006, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) established the Growing Gap project to track income trends “and policies that help or worsen the problem of income inequality in Canada.” Since 2006, CCPA has published many studies documenting the persistent growth in inequality, and the government policies that promote it.

There is now a considerable literature, both global and national, confirming the damage done by economic inequality. The evidence is overwhelming. Poor educational outcomes, adverse effects on health, economic dysfunction—all these are a product, in part, of the rise in recent decades of income inequality.

Yet in the May, 2011 federal election the Conservative Party campaigned successfully on a platform that included measures that will increase inequality, including cuts to both corporate taxes, from 18% to 15% by 2012-13, and government spending. Despite evidence that these measures will adversely affect the economy and most Canadians, the proposals and the party were endorsed by most major newspapers save the Toronto Star, which was also the one newspaper that raised the inequality issue during the campaign.

The Conservative government is now pushing ahead with this inequality agenda. The Globe and Mail reported on June 11 that Jim Flaherty intends to “make Canada’s income-tax system flatter by reducing the number of tax brackets – in order to give people more incentive to work.” There is no solid evidence that a flatter tax structure will strengthen the economy and enhance Canadians’ welfare. Indeed, there is some recent evidence suggesting that current compensation packages for corporate CEOs and associated taxation arrangements create perverse incentives that divert resources from long-term investments, to activities that raise share values and enrich senior corporate management.

Many economists argue that the inequality that already exists in Canada, the U.S. and U.K. serves as a drag on economic growth, job creation and rising incomes, which in turn leads to stagnation and slump. For example, in a recent article titled “Inequality and the Great Recession”, Barry Clark argues that the economic collapse of 2008 “has seriously discredited free market fundamentalism”, and that “support for  redistribution will grow” as people begin to understand the economic effects of ever-rising inequality. He concludes that to overcome current problems we need to create conditions that will raise  wages and reduce inequalities.

Yet the recent “solution” to the debt ceiling problem in the U.S.A is a stunning and irresponsible fiscal package that does the exact opposite, and that will magnify that country’s already massive inequalities. This outcome is the product of a climate of ideas —shared by Canada’s federal Conservative government—that diverges ever further from the real world, and from the clear evidence that we need to reduce, not widen, economic inequalities if our multiple economic and social problems are to be solved.

A big part of the problem is that governments have become, even more than ever before, the captives of big business, promoting policies that pump up the wealth and incomes of big corporations and the rich. These arrangements are then discussed — as if they were reasonable and benefitted the entire population rather than just big business— by the large corporations that comprise the print and electronic media.

Even in those rare cases when the corporate media identify the problem, they draw inaccurate and limpid conclusions that leave people thinking nothing can be done. This is exemplified by a July 20, 2011 article in The Globe and Mail in which Jeffrey Simpson poses the question: “Do we care that Canada is an unequal society?” Simpson presents data from a Conference Board of Canada study showing that from 1980 to 2005, earnings of the top 20 per cent in the income distribution “rose by 16.4 percent while middle-income Canadians’ incomes stagnated, and earnings for those in the bottom group slid.” He also cites some of the evidence showing that over the last 30 years policy changes have  contributed to a growth in inequality – a trend that will be much accentuated under a Harper government. In answer to his question Simpson notes that: “Committees of both the House of Commons and Senate have issued reports on poverty: neither stirred much interest. Income inequalities are apparently not deemed important subjects in this self-centered age.”

Simpson’s answer is wrong. Most Canadians do care. This was confirmed in a CCPA survey of Canadian attitudes toward income inequality published November 20, 2006, and has since been elaborated in important work done by the CCPA’s Trish Hennessey. It is the people who have the power in this country who don’t care. They like the new status quo, and so will continue to promote ideas that—in defiance of the evidence about their damaging effects—produce ever-growing inequalities of income.

These political and economic ideas, previously known to be the work of a wacky fringe element, are now taken seriously and are being implemented aggressively by the corporate-funded and media-supported far Right in Canada and the U.S.A alike. The self-interest of the powerful few has pushed aside reason; their political forces have run roughshod over those who would build a more egalitarian and socially just society; their policies will drive us even more rapidly toward economic crisis—and this is without making mention of their equally reckless refusal to deal with climate change.

Pernicious and self-interested ideas promoted by the powerful and fanatical few on one side; equality and social justice supported passively by a largely complacent majority on the other. This is a recipe for ever greater inequality, and all the problems that go with it. The only thing that will change this situation is ongoing demonstrations of outrage by Canadians who care about the future of this country. This needs to start now.

Errol Black and Jim Silver are CCPA Mb. board members.


Do Social Mixing Policies Work?

by Jonathan Hildebrand

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Does social mixing as public policy result in more equitable cities, more culturally diverse neighbourhoods, and less social marginalization? These are some of the goals to which social mixing policies have aspired, but they have often fallen drastically short.

In some cases, social mixing policies have even been shown to impede equality and encourage further urban ghettoization. While a more socially just and equitable city is worth working towards, some of the means by which policymakers, planners, and activists have attempted to get there – in this case social mixing policies – deserve close scrutiny.

For example, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s “HOPE VI” program, initiated in 1992, aims to introduce social mix in cities by dispersing lower income households across larger geographic areas and into wealthier neighbourhoods, through the demolition or rehabilitation of public housing projects into mixed-use and mixed-income developments. Although the redevelopments usually include some public housing units, most units are converted to market rate rents, meaning that public housing families are involuntarily displaced, and forced to find housing elsewhere. While they can be given subsidies to relocate, this involuntary dispersal doesn’t necessarily result in bringing people of diverse incomes into closer proximity: displaced households often simply move to other neighbourhoods of concentrated poverty, and often report less positive experiences in their new communities (Goetz 2003).

While dispersal programs seek to decentralize and scatter lower income households into more affluent areas, mixed-income development programs aim to bring higher-income groups into economically disadvantaged areas. Proponents of this approach argue that a mixing of incomes in one location ensures that any public housing will fit more seamlessly into that community and will not be viewed as a centre of poverty within an affluent neighbourhood. They also hold that low-income households will benefit from the inclusion of more affluent households, despite the fact that these developments often result in people from diverse income brackets merely living in proximity without much actual social interaction (Goetz 2003).

Another criticism of social mixing initiatives in low-income areas is that they risk pathologizing poorer populations, eventually displacing them altogether. This was demonstrated in a 2008 study by Martine August on Toronto’s Regent Park Revitalization Plan. That particular Plan purported that “Behavioural patterns of lower-income tenants will be altered by interaction with higher income neighbours. For example, social norms about workforce participation will be passed on to lower income residents” (Regent Park Collaborative Team 2002, quoted in August 2008). Such language evokes the overt paternalism of nineteenth-century urban moral reformers more than it does notions of social equality and economic justice.

August’s study also points out that many social mix initiatives, while seemingly motivated by equality and social harmony, are actually more driven by neoliberal economic factors. These factors – attracting capital investment and become competitive, while developing an image of the city as an safe, exciting, innovative, and livable place – often result in social mix policies that displace and exclude certain people in order to “achieve a desired social composition” (August 2008).

Are there any models that come closer to achieving social mix without the baggage of paternalism, gentrification, or elitism? Swedish social mix policies contain some stark differences from other North American and European strategies, particularly in their more general scope directed across all urban neighbourhoods, rather than on specific areas or groups of people. One implication of this wider scope in Sweden is that social mix is to be implemented through normal planning activities as opposed to specialized housing programs. With this focus on building a diverse housing stock for all people in all areas of the city, Swedish social mix policy can be seen as “enabling social mixing in all parts of the city, rather than directly creating it through relocating or directing households to other neighbourhoods” (Holmqvist & Bergsten 2009).

Additionally, unlike policies that have in the past sought to counter the segregation of certain ethnic groups, the Swedish policy is to address socioeconomic segregation, not ethnic segregation specifically.  The belief here is that, if socioeconomic segregation is targeted first, then an ethnic mix will follow, since, as one Swedish study pointed out, ethnic segregation of immigrants is rooted largely in their socioeconomic position (Holmqvist & Bergsten 2009). Although this example from Sweden might seem to avoid some of the pitfalls noted in other contexts, it is not without some unfortunate complications. Most notably, social mix goals in that country have sometimes been used to justify the denial of housing for minority groups in ethnically concentrated neighbourhoods (Bolt 2010) – a problem that once again brings up the issues of paternalism present in the social mix policies discussed earlier.

The rhetoric of social mixing seems to indicate a tempting way for policymakers and planners to help foster more equitable and diverse neighbourhoods without displacing people or diminishing affordable housing options. The track record of social mix policies discussed above shows that this might not be the case. Cities are facing issues such as the social and economic discrepancies between inner cities and suburbs, the loss of affordable rental units through gentrification and condominium conversions (under the guise of ‘rehabilitating’ inner cities), and the social and geographic displacement resulting from gentrification. Social mix policies might be a way of addressing these issues, but if cities wish to initiate such policies as a way toward social and economic justice, they should first ask whom might such policies favour, and whom might they ignore?

Jonathan Hildebrand is a graduate student in the City Planning program at the University of Manitoba. 

What is middle-class income these days?

On July 20th, CCPA- BC economist Iglika Ivanova posted her analysis of Statistics Canada data showing a breakdown of incomes in Canada and B.C on the BC blog, Policy Note

 We were inspired to examine how the distribution of incomes looks in Manitoba using the same data from Statistics Canada Cansim Table 202-0401.   The following table includes all income before-tax (including all government transfers, such as EI, welfare, GST credits) for economic families of 2 and more persons.

Income by Quintile – Canada and Manitoba

Canada

Income Range

Percent of Families

Description

Quintile 1

Up to $40,000

21.1%

Poor and near poor

Quintile 2

$40,000 – $60, 000

17.9%

Lower-middle or modest income

Quintile 3

$60,000-$85,000

20.4%

Middle income

Quintile 4

$85,000 – $125,000

21.4%

Upper-middle income

Quintile 5

Over $125,000

19.2%

High income

Manitoba




Quintile 1

Up to $40,000

19.8%

Poor and near poor

Quintile 2

$40,000 – $60, 000

17.9%

Lower-middle or modest income

Quintile 3

$60,000-$85,000

23.7%

Middle income

Quintile 4

$85,000 – $125,000

21.5%

Upper-middle income

Quintile 5

Over $125,000

17%

High income


What does this tell us about Manitobans?

Fully 19.8 percent of Manitoba families of two or more persons are earning less than $40,000, and depending on their family size, are living near the poverty line.   37.7 percent of families are earning less than what would be considered a middle-income.  Only 23.7 percent of Manitobans are in fact middle-income earners with the remaining 38.5% of earners in the upper-middle to high-income quintiles.  Bottom line? the middle class is not the norm.

If you are a family of two or more with less than $60,000 income before-tax, you are earning less than middle-income.  As described by Ivanova, many of the existing and proposed federal government tax cuts benefit those with incomes exceeding $70,000.  Add to this the Conservative government’s disinterest in policy measures that will help low and middle income families, such as childcare and adequate pensions, and we will likely see a further increase in disparity between low and high income earners.

CCPA Manitoba congratulates board member Kathy Mallett – 2011 recipient of the Order of Manitoba

On July 12, 2011 long-time CCPA supporter and current board member Kathy Mallett was invested into the Order of Manitoba.

In addition to being on the CCPA-Manitoba board of directors, Kathy is the co-director of the Community Education Development Association, and has worked in the Winnipeg Aboriginal community for over 25 years. As a well respected community leader, she is most committed to social and economic justice for Aboriginal people, and has worked in the area of transformative justice, Aboriginal women’s development, and has donated countless volunteer hours to Winnipeg non-profits.

Kathy was also elected in the early 1990s as school trustee for the Winnipeg School Division #1 where she served a three-year term.

In addition to spending her time with the CCPA and CED organizations, Kathy is the mother of two grown women and is the grandmother to three boys and one girl.

The Order of Manitoba is intended to honour Manitoba residents who have demonstrated a high level of individual excellence and achievement in any field, “benefiting in an outstanding manner the social, cultural or economic well being of Manitoba and its residents,” and is the highest honour recognized by the Manitoba Crown.

CCPA Manitoba is honoured that Kathy’s shares her compassion and commitment for social justice with us through her role as a board member. 

Poverty Reduction and the Politics of Setting Social Assistance Rates

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by Shauna MacKinnon

Over the past ten years we have begun to see provincial governments across the country implement poverty reduction plans in various forms. Manitoba is the most recent to introduce anti-poverty legislation. The Poverty Reduction Strategy Act includes requirements for the government to take its poverty reduction and social inclusion strategy into account when preparing budgets each fiscal year.

The Act does not include the kinds of timelines and targets community groups have called for, but it requires that the government of the day “prepare a yearly statement, to be tabled in the Legislative Assembly along with the budget, which will explain how the strategy is implemented by the budget, what the financial implications of the strategy will be, and what indicators (as prescribed in regulation) will be used to measure the progress of the strategy.”

Although The Poverty Reduction Strategy Act is far from perfect, it moves Manitoba in the right direction. Reducing poverty, inequality and social exclusion will require a complementary mix of policy measures designed and delivered by all levels of government. In particular, it will require the restoration of a strong federal role and a comprehensive social safety that ensures all Canadians have access to things like housing, childcare, extended health benefits including pharmacare and homecare, public pensions and unemployment insurance.

We must also ensure that our provincial and territorial governments implement a transparent process to regularly assess and increase income assistance rates that allow all individuals to live in dignity.

In a report to the Manitoba Legislature in 2008, the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) identified a number of issues regarding Employment and Income Assistance (EIA) rates, including how rates are set. The report recommended that “the Department institute a formal documented process for reviewing and making recommendations for periodically updating basic and shelter rates, income and asset exemptions, and other income assistance allowances in a logical and equitable manner.”

In 2010, the Manitoba Ombudsman’s Report on Manitoba’s Employment and Income Assistance Program endorsed the OAG recommendation, adding that “in that process, program staff be consulted” and that “the rate-setting process be documented and made available to the public.”

Later in 2010, the Manitoba Government put forward the All Aboard Strategy, which highlighted a series of measures taken by the Province to improve the social and economic outcomes of low-income individuals and families. It did not deal with the fundamental issue that social assistance rates are severely inadequate

In a 2011 paper titled Improving the Adequacy of Social Assistance Budgets: A rationale for making current rates more adequate, retired Manitoba Family Services senior policy analyst Harvey Stevens makes a case for clearly defining and pricing budgets for a market basket of goods and the setting of social assistance (SA) rates at levels adequate to purchase those goods. Social justice advocates may have trouble with Steven’s methodology and final costing that leads to thresholds that are significantly below the Market Basket Measure (MBM), which he uses as a base. However, few would disagree with the basic premise of his argument—that we need a systematic process to create adequate social assistance budgets.

The MBM was developed in 2000 by the Government of Canada in consultation with provincial governments. Prior to 2000, the Statistics Canada before- and after-tax Low Income Cut Offs (LICOs) were the most commonly used measures of poverty in Canada, although they have never been accepted as official measures and have not been used to set income assistance rates. The MBM is based on a budget for a reference family of two parents and two children and includes food, clothing and footwear, shelter, transportation and ‘other’ items such as personal and household items, recreation and education expenses. The MBM is priced annually for 49 regions across Canada. While provincial and territorial governments are increasingly using the Market Basket Measure to measure poverty there is currently no standard process in which the MBM is used to set social assistance rates.

Provincial and territorial governments in Canada are responsible for the delivery of SA programs. Legislation creating SA programs sets out lists of basic needs that SA budgets will provide funding for. But the manner in which provincial governments construct SA budgets is a bit of a mystery and the result has been that SA budgets continue to be far less than what is necessary to cover the basic needs set out in legislation. For example, Stevens (2011) describes the current pricing of social assistance budgets in Manitoba as dating back to a basket of goods including basic necessities identified in the 1970s. The items included were last re-priced in 1996.

As a program of ‘last resort,’ social assistance allowances have never been generous. They declined further in the mid-1990s when the federal government eliminated national standards with the abolishment of the Canada Assistance Plan (CAP), giving the provinces greater flexibility with the Canada Health and Social Transfer (CHST).(1) As social justice advocates predicted, flexibility did not result in improved incomes for recipients.

The Filmon government began their attack on social assistance through a process of cutbacks starting in 1993 that later escalated when the federal Liberal government eliminated CAP. The amendments to the Social Allowances Act in 1993 included (MacKinnon, 2000):

  • Reduction in exemptions from $240 a month to $130 for families and from $125 to $95 a month for single people (exemptions refer to theamount of money social assistance recipients are able to earn in addition to their assistance. Money earned beyond the exemption limit is deducted in full from the recipient’s social assistance payment.)
  • Elimination of the $205 monthly exemption on child support payments received during their first three months on welfare.
  • Elimination of income tax refunds from the list of exempt income.
  • Elimination of provincial income supplements of up to $30 a month per child in low income families and a provincial supplement of more than $100 every three months for people 55 and older from the list of exempt income.

Also in 1993, supplemental health insurance coverage for welfare recipients was cut back; medication and services previously covered for recipients were trimmed; major restorative dental services were subject to new dollar limits and new welfare recipients had a three month waiting period imposed on them for non-emergency dental and vision care. Special welfare programs for students ended, resulting in the return of over 1,000 people to social assistance.

Cutbacks continued to mount in 1994. Shelter allowances were cut by $14 a month for employable single people; the $30 supplement received monthly by single people and childless couples was cut; the income definition used to determine tax credits was broadened to include incomes previously exempt (including Social Assistance). In effect, tax credits for welfare recipients were reduced and therefore the supplement paid directly to Social Assistance clients through Family Services was reduced. Grants to welfare organizations, day care facilities and nurseries were cut; special needs policies which included newborn allowances, assistance to purchase appliances, moving expenses, school supplies, household start up needs, bedding, beds and other extraordinary expenses were eliminated; there were further cuts to the range of prescription medication covered by social assistance.

The long list of cutbacks to an already meagre program was highly criticized by anti-poverty activists as being punitive and mean-spirited. The Conservative government’s perception of the poor became most evident with the creation of the Welfare Fraud Line in 1994—a ‘service’ designed to encourage the reporting of suspected fraudulent welfare clients as if welfare fraud rather than the severe cuts was the problem.

The NDP government terminated the Welfare Fraud Line soon after they were elected in 1999. They also ended the clawing back of the National Child Benefit (NCB) supplement, which improved the income of recipients with children. They have implemented minor increases for persons with disabilities and Northern recipients; however they have not responded to CCPA-MB and Make Poverty History Manitoba’s requests that EIA rates be restored to inflation-adjusted 1992 levels and systematically assessed annually.

Both the previous Conservative government and the current NDP government would argue that their actions have served to reduce SA caseloads. However welfare caseload fluctuations are a function of various factors, an important one being economic performance. An increased focus on labour market training programs has likely helped as well, though a longitudinal assessment of the social and economic outcomes of individuals participating in short-term training and employment programs has yet to be done.

Building a Basket Toward Social Inclusion

A closer examination of current EIA caseloads shows a trend that requires a policy shift if we are to substantively tackle poverty and social exclusion.

Stevens’ paper provides data to show that the composition of the SA caseload today is very different than it was in the mid-1990s. A significant number of individuals on social assistance are long-term recipients for whom quick-fix approaches are not suitable. Stevens shows that:

  • In six of the ten provinces in 2007, 24 percent of those without a disability had been on SA for more than 2 years during their current spell, while 75 percent of those with a disability have been on for more than 2 years. When all spells on SA recounted over the previous six years, the proportion who have been on SA for more than 2 years rises to 46 percent of single persons without a disability, 60 percent of two parent families, 70 percent of lone parents and 85 percent of those with a disability in Manitoba.

The reality, as Stevens states, is that long-term dependency is “now the rule and not the exception.”

In light of this evidence Stevens proposes a policy focus on improving benefits for those incapable of finding employment; improving the SA program to ensure that basic needs budgets for long-term recipients include access to a broader range of everyday goods and services like replacement of household goods, entertainment, recreation, education supplies and services; and building capacity to adequately assess recipients with barriers to employment who do not ‘fit’ the existing suite of employment training programs which are focused mainly on the employable. Stevens takes the position that recipients of assistance for less than one year need less than those on assistance for extended periods. This sets in motion a policy proposal and costing method that comes with some challenges but nonetheless offers a useful contribution to the policy debate.

Developing an adequate social assistance budget using a market basket approach requires two important elements. First, it requires that the basket of goods include items that individuals and families need not only to survive, but also to participate fully in society. Second, it must be accurately costed and adjusted regularly. As Stevens points out, this has not been the case and the result is that “SA budgets bear little or no relationship to actual cost of purchasing the basic needs items they contain.”

Who decides, who deserves, and what should the rate be?

There is a political challenge when it comes to costing welfare budgets that dates back to the inception of income support for the unemployed. The policy tradition has been to keep rates meager, especially for those who are deemed ‘employable,’ to ensure that social assistance remains a program of last resort.

Stevens proposes that Manitoba adopt systems similar to those in place in Alberta and British Columbia, which differentiate between long-term, short-term and disabled recipients. BC, for example, has a three-tier structure that includes one rate for ‘employables,’ one for people designated with Persistent Multiple Barriers to Employment (PPMB), and one for people with disability status. BC anti-poverty advocates are critical of the model, which sets the rate for people with PPMB marginally higher than the basic rate. The three-tier categorization also raises concerns that those deemed to be ‘employable’ or ‘undeserving’ become further marginalized and not awarded the dignity that all individuals have a right to. So while the three-tier approach might seem pragmatic, it also moves away from a social justice approach to income security, toward the less humane model introduced through the British Poor Laws in the early 19th century, which were designed to punish people who were poor.

Although the idea of further categorization muddies the debate, the compromise that Stevens puts forward is an honest attempt to seek ways to reduce the number of Manitobans living in poverty. The OAG and the Manitoba Ombudsman concur that welfare budgets in general have not been regularly reviewed and revised. For example, rental allowances for all EIA recipients are far below market rental rates. The basic housing allowance for individuals in the single employable category is $243.00 per month while the current median market rental rate in Winnipeg is $665.00. EIA recipients who rent in the private market commonly frequent food banks and soup kitchens because they need to draw on their food budgets to cover the cost of rent. It should also be noted that many of these individuals are in the short-term category and are vulnerable to eviction, as are long-term recipients, especially in markets where the vacancy rate is less than 1 percent, as is the case in all Manitoba cities. When people lose their homes they are at greater risk of becoming dependent on social assistance. And this, as shown in the report The Cost of Poverty in BC, ends up costing us much more in the long-term.

It should also be noted that the three-tier approach begins with the assumption that providing a livable social assistance allowance is a deterrent to work. While this is a commonly held assumption, it is not clear that it is based on anything more than ideology. In fact a recent analysis of the 1970s basic income experiment in Manitoba (Forget 2009) shows that providing people with a basic livable income does not deter them from working.

Aside from the concerns with recipient categorization and concerns with the contents and costing of the basket that Stevens assembles (what it includes and how prices are determined) he, the OAG, the Ombudsman and social justice advocates agree that a process and method must be established to regularly price social assistance budgets. The Government of Manitoba has made positive steps forward with the All Aboard Strategy which has now been further enhanced by the Poverty Reduction Strategy Act. The next step will be to work closely with advocates for those living in poverty to ensure that income assistance rates are brought back to a level that allows all individuals to live in dignity.

(1) The CHST was later separated into two programs – the Canada Health Transfer (CHT) and the Canada Social Transfer (CST).

Shauna MacKinnon is the director of Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – Manitoba

References

CCPA-MB. (2010). The View From Here: Manitobans call for a poverty reduction plan. Available at www.policyalternatives.ca

Forget, Evelyn. (2009) Life in a Town Without Poverty. www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca/e/40308.html.

Ivanova, I. (2011). The Cost of Poverty in BC. Sparcbc, Public Health Association of BC, CCPA-BC. Available at www.policyalternatives.ca

MacKinnon, Shauna. (2000) Workfare in Manitoba, in Solutions that Work, Jim Silver Editor. Winnipeg: Fernwood

Manitoba Ombudsman. (2010) Report on Manitoba’s Employment and Income Assistance Program. Government of Manitoba.

Office of the Auditor General of Manitoba (2008). Report to the Legislative Assembly – Audits of Government Operations. Government of Manitoba.

Stevens, Harvey. (2011) Improving the Adequacy of Social Assistance Budgets: A rational for making current rates more adequate and a methodology for pricing budgets. Winnipeg: Social Planning Council of Winnipeg.

Youth Voices: Disenfranchised youth voters ditch polling stations

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By Jonny Sopotiuk

Canada’s 41st general election was one of the most exhilarating elections in recent years and the result is unprecedented change in the political landscape. The obliteration of the Bloq, decimation of the Liberal party and surge of the NDP had even the most seasoned political observers in shock. With a total of 167 seats, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has found the elusive majority his party has been chasing for years. That Conservative majority has lead many to call for a unification of the political parties of the left, namely the NDP and Liberals. The entrenched interests in both parties have effectively put these calls to rest for the time being. However, the debate around how to stop future Conservative majorities, possibly through a party merger, ignores the important reality that only 61.4 percent of the voting population bothered to cast a vote in this election.

In the weeks leading up to voting day, observers and pundits were projecting voter turnout increases due to the heightened engagement and excitement of the campaign period. Student-led ‘vote mobs’ swept across the country and social media was buzzing with youth-created videos and election debate. Elections Canada reports that 14.7 million, or 61.4%, of 23.9 million Canadians voted this year. This is just slightly up from the lowest ever voter turnout in Canadian history during the 2008 election where only 59.1 percent or 13.8 million Canadians voted. Although youth turnout for the 2011 election has not yet been reported, based on previous trends the results do not look promising. In 2004 only 43.8 percent of youth between the ages of 18 to 24 voted. In 2008 that number dropped to 37.4 percent. It’s likely that youth numbers stayed relatively the same with only a slight increase in 2011. So what happened?

Cynics will be quick to suggest that youth are apathetic, unengaged and uninformed. But myself and many of my peers see the results as a reflection of something else. The results show that many Canadians, especially young people, are disenfranchised by the electoral system itself. In my many conversations with young people I hear the same response over and over: they didn’t vote because they believe their vote wouldn’t make a difference or count.

So would a merger between the so-called political parties of the left solve these problems? Absolutely not. The idea completely disregards the existence of the Green Party and the many other smaller left of centre political movements and ignores the fact that many progressive people view the Liberal party as a right-of-centre governing party. As concerning as consecutive majority Conservative governments are, the real issue lies within the electoral system itself.

Across the ocean, a debate on electoral reform has been raging within the United Kingdom. In early May, 2011, a referendum was held to move away from the first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system, the system that Canada is currently modeled upon, to the Alternative Vote (AV) system that Australia has been using since 1918. The referendum ultimately failed with around 68 percent of UK voters rejecting the proposed AV system. During the campaign the anti-AV and pro-FPTP status quo campaign gained considerable support. Many progressive voices ignored the campaign altogether and criticized the AV model as being nothing more than a hybrid of the FPTP system. Criticisms of the system aside, the UK debate is at least focused on the right topic: electoral reform.

Fair Vote Canada, the leading voice on electoral reform in Canada, analyzed a report by political scientist Arend Lijphart that studied democratic models of political systems across the world. The study split the systems into two groups: the majoritarian model, the kind the Canadian system is based upon; and consensus democracies, the kind that countries including the Netherlands are based upon, which use proportional representation.

Lijphart’s study found that the consensus democracies have a diverse and increased range of political parties, increased voter turnouts and create an overall greater satisfaction with democratic systems compared to those countries that use majoritarian models. It was also notable that Lijphart found that the consensus democracies had higher percentages of women elected and represented within the governing systems.

The electoral reform movement is nothing new to Canada but it hasn’t received the attention and support it deserves. A referendum on scrapping the FPTP system in exchange for a Single Transferable Vote System was held and defeated in British Columbia in 2009. That same year, Fair Vote Canada launched a new initiative called Students and Youth for Fair Voting. SYFV is a self-directed and democratically governed campaign working with Fair Vote Canada to push for electoral reform. Following the recent election results, Fair Vote Canada held a national day of action on May 14, 2011. The event received little attention from both the mainstream press and from progressive movements across the country. Whether this can be attributed to a lack of excitement around the issue, election burnout and fatigue or general lack of vision or knowledge of an alternative system is hard to say.

So this election leaves progressives and young people with few options: we invest our energies in electing an NDP-led government, we admit defeat and boycott the system, or we work to change it. We cannot rely on the entrenched interests and mainstream political parties to start that conversation. If we cannot mobilize youth to participate in the existing system we need start engaging them in conversations and campaigns on electoral reform. It’s time for progressives to shift the debate and for youth to lead the charge. Whether the solution is a new system based on AV, proportional representation or some other model needs to be explored. But in the meantime, any solution that falls short of electoral reform is no solution at all.

Jonny Sopotiuk is a full-time student activist and artist living between Winnipeg and Vancouver. You can follow his writings and work at jonnysopotiuk.ca

CLOUT- Community Led Organizations United Together

by Shauna Mackinnon, Director of CCPA -MB

Community Led Organizations United Together (CLOUT) is a coalition of nine community-based organizations providing direct service to inner-city children and families. They are: Andrew Street Family Centre, Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, Community Education Development Association (CEDA), Native Women’s Transition Centre, North End Women’s Centre, Ndinawemaaganag Endaawad (Ndiniwe), Rossbrook House, Wolseley Family Place and Wahbung Abinoonjiiag.

Collectively, CLOUT organizations have been building capacity in the inner-city for many years. Their approach to capacity building is as grassroots as it gets.

In the 2010 State of the inner City Report title “We’re in it for the long haul” Carole O’Brien tells the story of CLOUT. The full 15 minute video is available at CCPA Manitoba.

Watch the preview: [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Wvjh6Crf5vE]

Youth Columnist speaks up on SAFE work environments

by Michael Champagne

Once upon a time, I did a presentation to a group of young people in the North End about health and safety. I told them about how hey had worker rights, about how workers compensation works, and how they can spot and deal with hazards in their workplace. I was able to work with this same group a couple of times and was able to build a nice comfy relationship with the group It also helped that I knew one of these young people from my other work that I do in the North End. Now, months and months had passed since this presentation had been done, but just yesterday, I received a text message from this young person and said he needed to speak with me urgently. He said: “im ok its just my friend he works at ________ and he has massive burns on his hands from working there…he doesn’t want to do anything about it cuz he doesn’t wanna lose his job“. At this point I tried setting a time in the next couple days to meet and chat about it.

I still haven’t had a chance to deal with it in person yet but this is something that enrages me. This is an example of an employer creating an environment of fear in workplaces where, when young people DO get hurt, they feel afraid to do something about it. They will continue to go through the injuries because they are afraid of losing a job.

I am of the opinion that there is no job that is worth your health and safety. A young people, we have a very important example to set. If we walk into a workplace (or any situation for that matter) and allow ourselves to be taken advantage of, injured or silenced, that makes us feel like crap. I don’t want my nephews and nieces, the little ones in my life, the next generation of workers to have to deal with any unsafe situations. Many people in workplaces that have been there a long time, will say things like ‘That’s just the way it is’ and imply that there is nothing that can be done to improve the unsafe situations that constantly cause harm to employees.

I will never be silent and will never accept that ‘that’s the way it is‘. The health and safety of our communities, of our next generation is too important for me to just give up and look the other way. I won’t. Because the young ones in my life deserve better. And so do you.

If you haven’t had a chance to learn about what is happening internationally with Canada and Asbestos, you should follow this link. (For the record; I am disgusted with Canada’s position on this issue.)

 Michael Champagne works for the SAFE Workers of Tomorrow, and is a member of AYO!, (Aboriginal Youth Opportunities), a network of young leaders from the North End.

A note from AYO!:

“We stand together and learn from each other. We began in March 2010 and committed to working together. This group is just us young people volunteering. Our method of operating is writing letters of support to see who we can work with to strengthen this network of young leaders that are committed to helping our community get better; to see who wants to provide Aboriginal youth with opportunities to be awesome.”