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


Income Range

Percent of Families


Quintile 1

Up to $40,000


Poor and near poor

Quintile 2

$40,000 – $60, 000


Lower-middle or modest income

Quintile 3



Middle income

Quintile 4

$85,000 – $125,000


Upper-middle income

Quintile 5

Over $125,000


High income


Quintile 1

Up to $40,000


Poor and near poor

Quintile 2

$40,000 – $60, 000


Lower-middle or modest income

Quintile 3



Middle income

Quintile 4

$85,000 – $125,000


Upper-middle income

Quintile 5

Over $125,000


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


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

Forget, Evelyn. (2009) Life in a Town Without Poverty.

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

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

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=]

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.”

Bi Pole III: Winnipeg Free Press and the Conservative campaign of misinformation

by John Ryan

On July 5th, 2011 I submitted a letter to the Winnipeg Free Press in response to information they presented in their July 4 editorial “Best use of Hydro’s millions”

The Winnipeg Free Press chose not to publish my letter.

I am very concerned with the lack of clear and honest information being presented to allow for an honest debate on an issue that has significant economic, social and environmental implications for all Manitobans. In the Fast Facts titled “Bi Pole III – Winnipeg Free Press and the Conservative Campaign of Misinformation” I show, as did Errol Black and Lynne Fernandez in the CCPA Fast Facts titled “McFadyen’s Crazy Numbers Won’t Fool Manitobans” that Hugh McFadyen’s cost estimates are ‘all wet’. I also argue that the Winnipeg Free Press editorial failed to shine a light on some major flaws in the arguments put forward by East Side proponents. By doing so they effectively advance the Conservatives campaign based on misinformation and a deliberate distortion of facts. As Manitoba’s largest newspaper, The Winnipeg Free Press should endeavour to try and ensure that their readers get all the relevant facts.


The Winnipeg Free Press editorial “Best use of Hydro’s millions” (July 4) obfuscates several straightforward matters on Bipole III. The editorial states that Manitoba Conservatives claim that Bi Pole III’s west route “wastes” $3.2 billion (actually $3.62 billion is the latest claim by Hugh McFadyen on June 28). The editorial says the Conservatives “appear to reach their number . . . by throwing in every conceivable expense, including the kitchen sink.”

What the Free Press does not make clear is that the Conservatives don’t arrive at their costs by some innocent procedure of including various questionable expenses.

First, they cite the overall cost of the west route as being $4.4 billion, asserting that this is based on a Manitoba Hydro estimate, without disclosing the exact source so it is impossible to verify this number. Second, they cite the east route’s cost as being $800 million and subtract this from $4.4 billion. They then claim that the resulting figure of $3.62 billion is the cost of the extra 500 km within the west route – and that this constitutes “waste” and will cost each Manitoba family $11,748.

This disingenuous argument has no foundation in fact. In the first instance, on March 31, 2011 Manitoba Hydro released a report citing the overall cost of the west route to be $3.28 billion, not the unverified Conservative claim of $4.4 billion. Secondly, in citing the cost of the east route as $800 million, the Conservatives omitted the $1.83 billion for the necessary converters, which are required for both routes. This calculated manoeuvre leads to the preposterous claim that the extra 500 km of the west route transmission line would cost $3.62 billion or $11,748 per family. What they haven’t said is that this would work out to $7,240,000 per km, as opposed to the actual cost of $910,000 per km, which is the identical figure for the east route and the usual cost of a DC transmission line.

On May 30, at a legislature committee meeting, Mr. Brennan, Hydro President and CEO, reported that for the extra 500 km in the west route, over a 60 year period (the lifetime of a line), the actual costs per Manitoba household would be $13.68 per year. He also stated that since Manitoba households account for only one-third of the total power in the line, this should be divided by three. Although Mr. Brennan did not include line losses, this could be rectified by adding one-third more to Mr. Brennan’s adjusted figure. Overall, on the basis of his figures the annual cost should be about $6.00 per household – somewhat less than Mr. McFadyen’s figure of $11,748.

The editorial’s claim that Manitoba Hydro’s official estimate was determined by “throwing out every conceivable cost, save the kitchen sink” is unmitigated rubbish. Hydro’s overall estimate of $3.28 billion for the west route consists of $1.83 billion for two converters, $1.26 billion for the transmission line, and $.19 billion for extra apparatus. To determine the cost of the extra 500 km of line on the west route, the $805 million cost of the east transmission line is subtracted from the $1.26 billion cost of the west line. The result is $455 million, and to this should be added the line losses of $232 million (Hydro’s data) – for an overall total of about $690 million.

For the Conservatives to claim that instead of less than $700 million, the cost of the extra 500 km of line would be $3.62 billion is absurd. Yet, for the past several months, this is what has been steadily presented to the Manitoba public. By failing to address these inaccuracies, the Free Press editorial continues to advance the Conservative’s campaign of misinformation.

The editorial errs further by accusing former premier Gary Doer of a decision “seven years ago to prevent Hydro from negotiating with east-side communities.” In actual fact, the Manitoba government and Manitoba Hydro conducted negotiations with First Nations for several years. After some 80 meetings, stakeholders were unable to reach a consensus.

When these meetings came to an impasse because of lack of unanimity in allowing a transmission line to pass through their territories, and because of the possibility of a UNESCO world heritage designation for this area, in 2007, confronted with these seemingly irreconcilable problems, the Province decided to direct Bipole III along the west route.

In its concluding remarks the editorial makes the argument that the money spent on the additional costs of the west route would be better spent on the people on the east side. While concern for the people on the east side is a welcome progressive move since previous concerns have been focused solely on ‘savings’, the editorial loses credibility by perpetuating the false argument that this money could be used “to build a road along an east-side corridor”.

In actuality, an east side transmission line would veer away as far as possible from the settlements of the First Nations, whereas roads are required to go directly to these settlements. Such roads are now being built. Moreover, no road is necessary for the construction of a transmission line, other than a caterpillar trail to haul the cable and cement for tower pads. In all likelihood, the steel towers would be brought in by helicopter and fastened by guy wires to the cement pads. So although the editorial opens the door slightly on the prospect of monies going to east side people, it drops the ball in lacking a concept on what is really involved. It also fails to note that proponents of the east route have never acknowledged that substantial funds may have to be paid as compensation to First Nations in order for a transmission line to pass through their territory.

There are legitimate advantages and disadvantages that could be put forward in debating the east and west routes, but deliberate distortion of facts is not helpful. As Manitoba’s largest newspaper, the Winnipeg Free Press should try to ensure that their readers have all the facts so that they can decide for themselves what makes best sense.

John Ryan, Ph.D. Retired Professor of Geography and Senior Scholar, University of Winnipeg

Fast Facts: The expiration of operating agreements in social housing

by Carole O’Brien

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One of the most pressing issues facing social housing providers is the on-going expiration of long-term operating agreements. These subsidies, created by the federal government in the 1970s in light of the high operating costs of various housing projects, were meant to give social housing providers some breathing room while they paid the debt on their mortgages. These agreements were struck for periods between 25 and 50 years depending on each situation. Some subsidies also assisted with operating deficits. When the program was designed, it was presumed that once mortgages matured, cash flow requirements would fall and housing projects would be able to continue operating with affordable rent levels, without subsidies. While the presumption that projects would become viable at expiry may be true for some housing providers, it has not been the case for all.

A study of the operating agreements was commissioned by the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association (CHRA) in 2005. It found that most social housing projects implemented after 1986 were most likely to be non-viable once the agreement expired. This was the year federal subsidies began to decline in Canada, leading to many shifts in social housing policy, including a gradual adoption of neoliberal economic ideals and Ottawa’s retrenchment from housing in 1993. While social housing providers were experiencing funding cuts, the number of homeless people in Canada was also increasing. More importantly, the needs of households living in poverty deepened, as did the needs of rent-geared-to-income (RGI) households, especially urban Aboriginal households.

The end of operating agreements means that once the mortgages expire, housing providers must survive on their rental revenues alone. This is especially problematic for agencies who serve a majority of people on RGI who, by definition, cannot pay full market rents. Most worrisome, however, is that even with subsidies, some agencies are experiencing yearly deficits because inflation is increasing operating expenses faster than revenues. In their case, the annual subsidy they need is greater than their mortgage payments, a defining characteristic of non-viable housing projects.

Housing providers serving urban Aboriginal households with a high proportion of people with very low income levels and in need of deep RGI subsidies – in most cases, 100% of their tenants – are especially vulnerable when their operating agreements expire because the rental revenues they can realistically collect are insufficient to cover the operating costs of the housing projects. The assumption underlying the operating agreements, that once mortgages were paid off projects would become viable, does not account for this reality.

The purpose of the CHRA study was to help social housing providers, funding agencies and governments understand the implications of expiry, and to adopt some corrective measures before the agreements expired. Here is a list of possible solutions offered:

a) Increase market revenue

b) Explore opportunities to transfer surplus from one project to another

c) Increase RGI revenue

d) Increase rents for social assistance tenants

e) Increase the RGI ratio charged to tenants to a higher percentage of income

f) Move RGI units to market rent – raise the num­ber of market units

g) Negotiate a new rent supplement agreement with funders

h) Reassess the need to retain non-viable projects also in poor state of repair

While these possible remedies were presented to protect the availability and viability of social housing assets over the long term, they have a definite neo-liberal flavour in that the overriding concern is to increase revenues with market-based mechanisms. Without the financial support offered by operating agreements, and with limited rental revenues, some Aboriginal housing providers are now being forced to look at these options to create more revenue. Some have had no choice but to replace their RGI tenants with tenants who can pay full market rent values – a solution that deeply contradicts their mandate to provide affordable housing for all. More to point, the lack of governmental support will only increase the number of homeless people, and create an even greater need for affordable housing.

The CHRA study calculated that once all the operating agreements expire, around 2040, federal, provincial and territorial governments would economize about $3.5 billion annually. This raises questions about what to do with the dollars in reduced expenditures. The study called for a reinvestment into housing projects experiencing viability issues, or assisting them with capital replacements, given that these housing assets are paid for and it would be less expensive to reinvest in them than replace them. Given the current homelessness issue, another use would be to expand the affordable housing stock, especially where the need is greatest. So far, there has not been any movement by the federal government. Housing activists are also raising questions about what to do with the CMHC surplus, which could be used in a similar manner since it was collected through housing activities in Canada.

Given the new federal political landscape, housing activists will need to redouble efforts to sensitize politicians into developing housing policies that reflect the real affordable housing needs of all Canadians. The argument that government programs and taxes are effective methods of redistributing wealth and creating social justice may, however, fall on deaf ears for at least the next four years. In frustration, some housing activists are looking at other courses of action, such as seeking donations from the private sector to set up trust funds targeted for housing. Will corporations be more amenable to the argument that all Canadians have a right to housing than all three levels of government? It will be a sad day in Canada if, and when, social housing solutions become dependent on that.


Carole O’Brien is a student in the Master of City Planning program at the University of Manitoba.

Fast Facts: Lessons of the Canada Post lockout

by David Camfield

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Recent events tell us a lot about some of the challenges facing working people in Canada today.

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) began rotating strike action on June 2nd, after over seven months of negotiations with Canada Post Corporation (CPC) for a new contract covering some 48 000 postal workers. CUPW members had voted almost 95% in favour of authorizing a strike if necessary, with a turnout that set a record for the union.

The reasons why postal workers were so determined to strike if need be are not hard to understand. Starting in Winnipeg, CPC management is introducing new machinery and reorganizing work. Under the new system letter carriers must now carry two or more bundles of mail, leading to more work-related injuries. Inside workers face cuts in full-time positions, more evening and night shifts and a faster pace of work.

CPC has been a profitable Crown Corporation for the last 15 years yet management was insisting that workers make major concessions. As postal worker Cindy McCallum Miller put it, the employer was aiming to “gut our collective agreement for the next wave of workers as they plan for a future where workers have weaker rights, benefits and protection” (“What’s at stake at Canada Post?”).

Postal workers’ past struggles won a living wage (approximately $50 000/year on average), benefits and rights for what was once low-wage work. CPC went into negotiations demanding that new hires receive lower pay and a worse pension than current workers. Management also wanted workers to give up their sick leave rights and accept an inferior Short Term Disability plan. These concessions would be steps towards the goal — shared by Conservative and Liberal federal governments — of a privatized postal service whose workforce is smaller, cheaper and has many fewer rights.

Many media commentators initially claimed that the strike wouldn’t have much impact. But the rotating local strikes did affect some businesses and therefore CPC’s revenue, without causing much disruption to most people’s postal services. CPC tried to provoke CUPW into calling an all-out strike but failed. So on June 14 CPC locked out the workers.

The next day the Conservative federal government announced it would bring in legislation to force an end to the dispute. It appears that CPC’s goal all along was government intervention to impose the kind of settlement on postal workers that it was unable to achieve through collective bargaining. The lockout gave the government the excuse it was waiting for.

It’s no secret that the Conservatives hate CUPW — the union has consistently opposed the corporate agenda, defended public services and supported social justice struggles. So it was no surprise that when the final vote on the back-to-work bill was held in the House of Commons “the Conservative benches erupted in cheers and back-slapping” (“Mail could resume within days as back to work bill for Canada Post passes”).

What wasn’t as predictable was just how aggressively anti-worker the legislation would be. Many media reports have mentioned that it imposes wage increases lower than CPC’s previously-tabled offer (also well below the inflation rate for consumer prices). But that’s not its worst aspect by any means.

The law dictates that the new collective agreement for urban postal workers will be determined by an arbitrator appointed unilaterally by the Minister of Labour, using a method called final offer selection (FOS). FOS is uncommon in Canada, and is very rare in back to work legislation.

In this case, the union and the employer are each required to submit a final offer covering the many disputed issues. The arbitrator will then select one offer or the other in its entirety. In addition to allowing the Conservatives to handpick whoever they want as the arbitrator, the law includes guidelines that the arbitrator must follow in choosing a settlement. These are clearly designed to weight the outcome in favour of weakening postal workers’ rights and benefits, including their pension plan. This puts intense pressure on CUPW officials to submit a final offer that includes concessions they would never have agreed to in bargaining, in the hope that the arbitrator will pick their offer rather than an even-worse one from the employer.

With this law the Conservatives are sending a signal to unionized workers: if you resist the concessions that employers demand you risk ending up with an even worse outcome. The Harper government’s move against CUPW encourages provincial governments to intervene in similar ways against striking or locked-out workers in their jurisdictions.

The legislation threatened earlier this month against workers at Air Canada – a private company, unlike CPC – who had just gone on strike sent the same message. Public sector workers are not the only ones who should be concerned about governments intervening yet again on the side of employers to suspend the basic democratic right of workers to collectively negotiate their wages and working conditions.

Just how hostile the Tories are to unions isn’t the only lesson here. Another is that unions confronted by governments need much more solidarity action by other people than CUPW received in order to avoid defeats. The sympathy strikes that took place in British Columbia to support hospital workers in 2004 and teachers in 2005 point to what’s needed to improve the odds for unions attacked by governments. For this reason the call by the Fredericton labour council for a National Day of Action to support CUPW and Air Canada workers was a small step in the right direction.

David Camfield teaches Labour Studies at the University of Manitoba and is the author of Canadian Labour in Crisis: Reinventing the Workers’ Movement.