“Radicals” need to turn up the heat.

By Lynne Fernandez

I was listening to the CBC Radio business reporter explaining what was happening at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He was impressed by the number of billionaires who were present (I don’t remember how many, but it was a lot). The other thing he found noteworthy was that the growing gap seemed to be a popular topic of conversation. He reminded us that only a few years ago, concerns about the growing number of poor contrasted with an increasingly bloated über-rich class were only highlighted by the “radical” left.

The radical left. That’s a loaded term if there ever was one. Today, most consider a radical thought or person or movement as unreasonable, way out there – downright loony. The business reporter did not offer any sort of explanation of how the topic migrated from the loony left to being worthy of attention by a bunch of billionaires and their political apologists. It might have something to do with the left not being so radical after all — in the popular definition of “radical” — or it might have to do with the left truly being radical in the original meaning of the word.

The Harper ‘apology’: Residential schools and Bill C-10

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by Shauna MacKinnon

We learn fairly early in life that when you apologize for something that you have done wrong, it is expected that your apology will be followed by a change in behaviour. The result of Prime Minister Harper’s meetings with First Nation Chiefs will tell us whether or not he has learnt this lesson.

In 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper publicly apologized for Canada’s role in the “aggressive assimilation” of Aboriginal children through the government-supported, church-run residential schools. The strategy was to separate Aboriginal children from their families, communities, languages and cultures, by placing them in institutions whose purpose was to “kill the Indian in the child”. The Harper apology was an admission that the idea was not only deeply flawed, but had caused a great deal of pain and damage for generations of Aboriginal families.

It was an important moment in Canada’s history, one that Aboriginal people had long waited for. Aboriginal leaders graciously accepted the apology, albeit some with a healthy dose of skepticism. The hope was that change would follow, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was seen to be a first step in the process of healing and moving forward. However, actions that have followed suggest the Harper government’s policy direction contradicts the spirit of the apology and moves us backward.

One such example is Bill C-10, the Crime Omnibus Bill.

On September 20, 2011, a few months after winning a majority election, Stephen Harper’s Justice Minister, Rob Nicholson, tabled Bill C-10, an omnibus bill titled the Safe Streets and Communities Act. The Bill combined nine separate bills that had failed to pass in previous sessions of parliament. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) says that Bill C-10 will “fundamentally change every component of Canada’s criminal justice system”.

There is also significant evidence to show that it will not accomplish what it intends. The CCLA states that “jail more often, for longer, with more lasting consequences – is a dangerous route that is unsupported by the social science evidence and has already failed in other countries.” Indeed, the research suggests that putting an individual in jail for longer will actually increase the likelihood of re-offending. It’s hard to see how this Bill will make streets and communities safer. What it will do is needlessly increase the number of people in prison, while producing skyrocketing costs and imposing unjust, unwise and even unconstitutional punishments.

While Bill C-10 does not explicitly target Aboriginal people, the implications for Aboriginal people cannot be ignored. Many argue that the Harper government policy is essentially creating a new form of residential school. As stated by Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (Winnipeg Free Press, Dec. 7, 2011), “Instead of investing in jails we need to invest in healing,”

It has long been understood that there is a strong association between severe poverty and crime. The government of Canada’s own website states that “Social and economic disadvantage has been found to be strongly associated with crime.”

The rate of poverty for Aboriginal people in Canada far exceeds the rate for non-Aboriginal people. Manitoba has among the highest Aboriginal populations in Canada, and the statistics here are staggering. The rate of Aboriginal poverty in 2006 was 29%, almost three times the overall poverty rate. Fully 37% of all Aboriginal people in Winnipeg are living in poverty — they make up approximately 10% of Winnipeg’s population yet constitute 25% of those living in poverty.

Aboriginal children under six years of age had a poverty rate (before tax LICO) of 56% compared with 19% for non-Aboriginal children. The median annual income for Aboriginal workers aged 15 and over in Manitoba was $15, 246 —63% of the median income of $24,194 of the overall population.

According to Census Canada 2006, the Aboriginal unemployment rate was 15.4% in Manitoba, almost three times the rate for the overall population. On reserve, the unemployment rate was 26% in 2006. Although they make up less than 13% of the work age population, Aboriginal people represent over 30% of the total unemployed in Manitoba.

These statistics are particularly troubling in Manitoba when we look at demographic trends. The Aboriginal population is young and growing at a faster rate than the non-Aboriginal population. In 2006, the median age of Manitobans was 37.8 years, compared with 23.9 for those who identified as Aboriginal.

Aboriginal people continue to be among those most disadvantaged, and while the majority of Aboriginal people excel in spite of the obstacles they face, they are extremely vulnerable by virtue of being so disadvantaged. This accounts for the fact that 18% of people in Canada’s jails are Aboriginal, despite being only 3% of the total population (Stats Canada, 2006 Census). In Manitoba, where the Aboriginal population is approaching 15%, 70% of those in custody are Aboriginal, according to the Manitoba Governments own data.

It is particularly concerning that the involvement of Aboriginal youth in street gangs has increased in Canada and especially in the Prairie provinces. It is estimated that “twenty two percent of known gang members in Canada are Aboriginal and that there are between 800-1000 active Aboriginal gang members in the Prairie provinces” (Totten, 2008). While the vast majority of Aboriginal young people do not join street gangs in spite of their vulnerability, those who do are drawn to them for many reasons rooted in the legacy of colonial policies, including residential schools.

The Harper apology did not wipe away the damage done by residential schools and colonization generally, and policies like Bill C-10 will only serve to perpetuate the damage. What is needed, in keeping with the residential school apology, is a commitment to a new policy direction aimed at supporting Aboriginal people in raising themselves out of poverty. This must include investment in the long-term healing of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people through decolonization and cultural reclamation, together with increased and longer term investment in literacy, education and training, housing and job creation.

Shauna MacKinnon is the Director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

Social Justice in Canada?

By Errol Black

A 2011 OECD report on social justice in OECD countries ranks Canada, with a score of 7.26, in 9th place. The 31 countries were evaluated on the basis of six key measures: poverty prevention; access to education; labour market inclusion; social cohesion and non-discrimination; health; and intergenerational justice.

The top five countries and their scores are Iceland (8.73), Norway (8.31), Denmark (8.20), Sweden (8.18) and Finland (8.06). In contrast, our partners in the NAFTA, the United States and Mexico rank 27 and 30, respectively, with scores of 5.70 and 4.75.

When it comes to poverty prevention, however, Canada has a score of 7.00, which is just above the OECD average of 6.91, and good only for 18th place in the ranking.

While Canada’s ranking is still much better than the U.S. and Mexico (ranked 29th and 31st respectively, with scores of 3.85 and 2.11) the question that arises is: what accounts for the relatively poor ranking with respect to poverty prevention?

The measure for poverty prevention incorporates three variables, namely, poverty rates for the total population, children and seniors. Canada, with a poverty rate for seniors of 4.9 per cent ranks 4 of 31 on this variable (behind only the Netherlands, Czech Republic and Hungary with rates of 1.7, 3.6 and 4.7 per cent, respectively).

However, when it comes to the overall poverty rate and the poverty rate for children we have a different story. Canada’s overall rate of 12 per cent places us 21st in the ranking – but still ahead of the United States and Mexico at the very bottom with poverty rates of 17.3 and 21.0 per cent, respectively.

The child poverty rate for poverty in Canada is 14.8 per cent, placing us 23rd. Here again we continue to outrank the United States and Mexico with poverty rates of 21.6 per cent and 25.8 per cent. Unfortunately, we can take little comfort in this. On the contrary, the current situation in a rich country like Canada is scandalous.

In 1989, we pledged to eliminate child poverty. This didn’t happen. Instead we grew more tolerant of sustained levels of poverty, absolved corporations of virtually any responsibility for covering through their taxes the overheads of the general population and looked to private charities to take care of the homeless and the hungry, including increasing numbers of children.

We can’t blame this just on the federal government in Ottawa. It is also the responsibility of provincial governments, including NDP governments in Manitoba that have accepted a status quo dictated by neoliberal conceptions of the way the world works, and local governments that insist they are not responsible for the plight of the poor. And it is the responsibility of all the rest of us, who turn a blind eye to the plundering of the nation’s wealth by the rich and powerful at the expense of poor and needy.

How do we change this shameful legacy?

Errol Black is a member of the CCPA-MB board.

Francophone Immigrants and the Housing Crisis in Winnipeg

PDF version

The full report is available here.

Le rapport complet est disponible ici.

by David Alper, Halimatou Ba, Mamadou Ka, and Bintou Sacko

Many obstacles confront newcomers in their efforts to integrate into Canadian society. Their search for employment is often frustrated by the failure to recognize their qualifications and education, and their lack of “Canadian” experience. Many immigrants arrive here with little knowledge of English. Finding adequate housing is also a challenge, especially given the large number of children in many newcomer families. Lack of access to suitable housing is perhaps the most daunting obstacle facing Manitoba’s francophone newcomers.

A research project conducted by the authors and funded by the Manitoba Research Alliance examined the specific housing concerns and circumstances of Winnipeg’s francophone newcomer community. The study considered the numerous studies demonstrating that access to decent, affordable housing is an important factor in the successful integration of newcomers into Canadian society. The housing crisis is severe in Winnipeg, with some 37% of tenant households facing core housing need, meaning they are paying more than 30% of their income on rent.

The study’s main goal was to examine the housing conditions of francophone newcomers in Winnipeg, its impact on their health, and their ideas of collective solutions to the housing crisis.

Some 85% of francophone newcomers now originate from Africa. These newcomers carry “triple” minority status, as immigrants, francophones and visible minorities, and their integration into Canadian society is hampered by discrimination.

Of the twelve families interviewed, seven were refugees from the Congo and Rwanda, and tended to have much larger families. The five other families were immigrants from Morocco, Guinea, Ivory Coast and Togo. Most refugees had been unemployed for over two years; those with jobs worked part-time or on call.

Participants’ housing experiences were varied. Most refugee families transited through government-funded housing facilities, such as Welcome Place, before finding their own housing. Immigrant families had to find their own accommodation upon arrival in Winnipeg. Most newcomers end up in inner-city neighbourhoods characterized by cheaper, run-down housing stock. One participant stated, “The window in the bedroom was broken and held together by scotch-tape…the heater in the children’s bedroom made a terrible racket… in the shower, there was a hole in the ceiling that leaked water from upstairs. The landlord promised to repair things, but hasn’t done anything”.

Families complained of the many obstacles they faced from landlords, including racist attitudes: “I once called and then went to look at an apartment in Windsor Park. When I got there, they saw that I was black and they told me the apartment was no longer available”.

As many newcomers have large families, overcrowding in apartments was a common problem: “Having four girls share the same bedroom, they all catch the same cold at the same time…”

Most families reported health problems related to their housing conditions, including stress, insomnia, headaches and allergies. These problems are in addition to many pre-existing health concerns arising from war-related trauma. “You encounter stress everywhere. When you first arrive here, there’s culture shock. Then you face all sorts of barriers and obstacles. There’s the language barrier. If you don’t speak English well, you can’t find a decent job. Then there’s all the prejudice arising from the fact that you are a visible minority. Even if you are just as good as the next guy, you always have to prove yourself. The stress is never-ending”.

Living in sub-standard housing leads to a general feeling of stress and frustration, especially when such a large part of household income goes towards rent, making it necessary to cut the food budget to the point where children go to school hungry. A number of respondents complained of vermin, or inadequate heating and ventilation systems that contributed to problems like asthma. “There were mice everywhere, and they were a constant source of fatigue”.

Parents also spoke of the demoralizing effects of being unable to adequately support their children, due to the high cost of rent. “Being unable to offer things to your child that all his friends have is upsetting to him. He becomes like a caged lion, furious all the time”.

When asked how they thought their situation could improve, participants saw an important role for government. They saw it as responsible for the housing crisis, but also holding the capacity to solve it. They believed that their difficulties in finding decent, affordable housing represented a formidable obstacle to their successful integration into Canadian society. They spoke of government action that would include “a short and long term housing policy …facilitating home ownership”, and also “building affordable housing… either housing cooperatives or low-cost housing”.

However, the Canadian government withdrew from the creation of social housing in 1993, contributing to the worsening of the housing crisis throughout the country. In fact, the Canadian government is the only G-8 country without a national housing strategy. The government’s attitude is in stark contrast to that of francophone newcomers from Africa, who come from cultures that value community and collective practices.

The participation of newcomers to movements fighting for social housing represents a source of hope for social change. With the increase in francophone immigration to Manitoba, new community resources and institutions have sprung up to help integrate these newcomers. However, civil society is incapable on its own to meet the challenge of finding decent, affordable housing for these newcomers. As with all low-income communities, comprehensive government programs must lead the way. The government is aggressively recruiting immigrants to settle in Manitoba; it is high time that it tackle the housing shortage head on so that these Manitobans can build decent lives.

David Alper, Halimatou Ba, and Mamadou Ka all teach at Université de Saint-Boniface, and Bintou Sacko is director of Accueil francophone du Manitoba. They are co-authors of the full report: Les immigrants face au logement à Winnipeg : Cas des nouveaux arrivants d’Afrique francophone.

Where’s the Compassion? The Harper Government’s Approach to Employment Insurance

by Errol Black

Canada’s Employment Insurance (EI) System has been much in the news in recent weeks. The main issues are long delays in processing EI claims resulting from the Harper government’s attempts to automate and depersonalize the way claims are processed, and increases in EI premiums effective January 1.

A December 17 report in The Globe and Mail by Gloria Galloway, titled “EI cheque delays fuel pre-Christmas client outbursts,” tells the story of how the service provided by Service Canada workers has been undermined because of the elimination of hundreds of jobs in 2011: “[Service Canada] workers say the federal government’s [elimination of processing agents] is forcing some jobless Canadians to wait months for their first benefit cheques. And the shrinking staffing levels at Service Canada call centres have created phone lines so overloaded just one in three callers actually reaches an agent. That means more people are turning up at the centres to find out when they will get paid.” Galloway notes that Diane Finley, Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, claims the elimination of jobs is part of an effort to move from a “paper system to one that is automated.” Service Canada employees who are providing the service suggest this is not true; the system has been automated for four years, now they’re getting major cuts to jobs.

In an interview with Bruce Owen of the Winnipeg Free Press (“Welfare fills gap as jobless wait for EI,” December 30, 2011), Neil Cohen, executive director of Winnipeg’s Community Unemployed Help Centre, confirmed that it is the Services Canada employees who are telling the truth about what’s causing the EI claims crisis, and not Diane Finley. Cohen also explained that one of the consequences of the long delays in getting their claims processed is that many unemployed workers are forced to turn to Manitoba’s social assistance program to tide them over until they get their EI cheques. When Cohen was asked if there was a solution to the problem he said there was: “They’re laying off staff. They’re closing call centres. They’re closing claims-processing centres. They’ve prohibited staff from working overtime, so yes there’s a fix…”

The comments made by Service Canada workers and Neil Cohen were echoed by Pat Martin in a story in the Winnipeg Free Press on December 31, 2011 (Bruce Owen “Claim-filing logjam has MP furious with feds“): “Our office has been inundated with complaints from people who simply can’t access [EI]. You can’t consolidate and cut back Service Canada and not have a corresponding [negative] impact on service.”

This is indeed a sad story, especially for the tens of thousands of workers who are dependent on EI to tide them over the rough patches in their employment experiences. To add insult to injury, on January 1 the Harper government raised the price to employees for these deteriorating services to 1.83 per cent per hundred dollars of insurable earnings from 1.78 per cent.

It seem clear that the Harper government doesn’t give a damn for the misery and grief its policies and practices have caused unemployed workers. Nor apparently do most provincial and municipal governments that also have unemployed citizens in their jurisdictions. The City of Brandon did raise the issue of cuts to staff and services in a letter to Ottawa in June 2010. Ottawa dismissed the concerns as unfounded and said that service to unemployed workers would be improved.

What is to be done?

A place we might start is to organize unemployed workers, trade union members and others to make formal presentations to MPs, MLAs and Municipal Councillors and informal representations through information picketing. We must demand immediate improvements in service, and also the adoption of reforms to the EI system as proposed by the CLC and affiliated bodies. This would not only be a timely response to the plight of the unemployed, but it would also be a useful way to prepare ourselves for the intensifying struggles yet to come as the Harper government moves forward with austerity measures that will undoubtedly see a further downsizing of government in addition to further changes to the tax system that will disproportionately benefit the rich in Canada. 

Errol Black is a member of the CCPA-MB board.

Revolutionary Health Care

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by Errol Black and Jim Silver

Each of us read Steve Brouwer’s Revolutionary Doctors (MR Press, 2011) the same week the media reported average gross fee-for-service earnings of Manitoba doctors at $298,119. The media also reported, again, that many Canadians do not have access to a family doctor; that some specialists are in short supply; and that health conditions in many Aboriginal communities are appalling.

While we are fervent supporters of Canada’s Medicare system, we think there is much to be learned about health care from Brouwer’s book.

First, Cuba produces large numbers of high quality health care providers, including doctors—more doctors per capita than any country in the world. This is a tribute to the quality and cost—free tuition—of their entire education system. The benefits to the Cuban people are reflected in two key health indicators: average life expectancy in Cuba at 77.7 years, while behind Canada at 81.4 years, is on a par with the U.S. and higher than most countries in the Americas; the infant mortality rate (number of deaths of children under one year per 1000 live births) at 4.90 is the same as Canada at 4.92, and less than the U.S. at 6.06.

Moreover, at Cuba’s Latin American School of Medicine, established in 1998 as part of the Cuban vision of a “caring socialism” rooted in international solidarity, large numbers of international students are studying to be doctors. This includes 23 Americans who enrolled because they are unwilling to take on the $150,000–200,000 in debt to pay for a U.S. medical degree, and are attracted by the obligation, in return for free tuition, to return home to practice medicine in poor communities.

Second, large numbers of Cuban medical personnel are sent around the world in response to natural disasters. Cuba’s medical team was particularly important in responding to Haiti’s January, 2010 earthquake, for example, although it earned them virtually no media coverage. The highly publicized U.S. hospital ship that anchored off Haiti, the USNS Comfort, performed 843 medical operations; Cuba’s medical brigades performed 6499. Meanwhile 547 Haitians graduated from Cuba’s Latin American School of Medicine between 2005 and 2009, and more will continue to graduate year after year.

Third, and the main focus of this book, Cuba sends physicians and other health care professionals to Venezuela in return for much-needed oil. Cuban medical practitioners work and live in Venezuela’s barrios. From 2004 to 2010 one Cuban program “continually deployed between 10,000 and 14,000 Cuban doctors and 15,000 to 20,000 other Cuban medical personnel—dentists, nurses, physical therapists, optometrists, and technicians,” to work among the poor. In the barrios the Cuban health care workers practice primary health care, and promote a holistic and preventative approach—Medicina Integral Comunitaria (MIC), or Comprehensive Community Medicine (a concept, Brouwer notes, that appealed to health experts and some medical schools in Canada and the U.S. when first proposed 1978, but that was abandoned in the pursuit of profits in ‘health care markets’).

Cuban doctors work directly with Venezuelan medical students in the morning; the students take medical classes in the afternoons. The medical training, which is state of the art, is extremely demanding. Yet large numbers of Venezuelans—30,000 as of 2011, including many of the poor who have longed to be doctors but have never had the chance because of the huge cost of medical education—are now studying to be doctors.

Most want to practice as the Cubans do: meeting the needs of low-income people in the low-income communities long neglected by the Venezuelan medical establishment; promoting a holistic and preventative form of medicine; and working in the context of the values that are a central part of Cuban medical practice.

Time and again Brouwer recounts examples of the egalitarian values that guide the Cubans’ medical practice. He describes the shameful policy implemented in 2006 by George W. Bush, called the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program. It is aimed at inducing Cuban medical personnel practicing grassroots medicine in poor communities in more than 100 countries to defect. Brouwer estimates that a mere 2 percent of Cuban medical personnel practicing outside Cuba have accepted offers of much more money. The rest, the vast majority—not the Occupy Movement’s 99 percent, but a close 98 percent—reject these monetary inducements. They believe in what they are doing, and in the values that are such a central feature of their practice.

We wonder if Cuba’s world class medical emergency team should be invited into Attawapiskat and other Aboriginal communities in which Canada has long violated residents’ human rights. (The Cuban team was poised to assist victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005. George W. Bush, whose lackadaisical response to Katrina is well known, rejected the offer. Would Prime Minister Harper similarly refuse a Cuban offer?) We wonder why many more Canadians are not being trained—without amassing huge debts—to become doctors, so that all Canadians who need health care can receive it, and all Canadians who want to do meaningful work, and who have the necessary abilities, can do so. We wonder why the values that inspire Cuban doctors and health workers—and that inspired the creation of our Medicare system in Tommy Douglas’ Saskatchewan—can’t be adopted by governments and the medical establishment in Canada.

We don’t know what is likely to happen in Cuba in the future. But for over half a century and against overwhelming odds, Cuba has developed educational and health care systems that stand head and shoulders above anything practiced elsewhere in the Americas, including the U.S. and that are a tangible expression of a system committed to the egalitarian principles of developing the capacities and capabilities of all people.

In these hard times, this book and the work it describes are an inspiration for everyone seeking alternatives to the dominant values and practices in our health care system, and in Canadian society generally.

Errol Black and Jim Silver are members of the CCPA-MB board.

CCPA Mb./Manitoba Research Alliance Release New Report

Community transformation from an economic costing perspective: The link between area of residence and places of employment in a disadvantaged community, by Dr. Linda DeRiviere and Jeffrey Brojges is our latest report.

This report, funded by the Manitoba Research Alliance/Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, looks at the potential of state-led demand-side strategies to generate employment and contribute to a higher level of economically active residents in Winnipeg’s inner city.

Anyone interested in labour-market policy and strategies to fight poverty and social exclusion will be interested in this report. Here is a taste, from the conclusion:

“We propose that, as part of a broad effort to shape an important urban labour-market in Winnipeg, an overlooked demand-side strategy would involve wage-subsidy incentives offered to private firms and community social-service agencies, which would be directed at raising the share of local employment within Lord Selkirk Park. Moreover, a labour-market intermediary is a much needed formalized solution that would merge the demand and supply sides of the labour market in the LSP area and its surrounding neighbourhoods.”

Download the full report here.

Selling City Golf Courses to Developers: A Permanent Loss

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by Dave Hall

October 26, 2011 was the deadline for developers to make proposals for seven large pieces of prime real estate scattered across Winnipeg. Unsurprisingly there were lots of proposals, although the City won’t let us see them yet.

The potential sale of so much public space should be of great concern to Winnipeggers. Why sell it? Who wins and who loses? What alternatives may there be to selling these properties? These questions need to be answered before any decisions are made.

The lands under the hammer are seven City owned golf courses: Windsor Park on the Seine River; Crescent Drive, Canoe Club and Kildonan Park on the Red River; and John Blumberg on the Assiniboine River, as well as Harbourview in North Kildonan and Tuxedo across from Assiniboine Park. Taken together, they are the most attractive opportunities Winnipeg developers have seen in decades. It doesn’t take a property developer to imagine the upmarket condos on the riverfront lots, or the suburban housing across from Assiniboine Park, or even the new strip malls or shopping centres. There’s clearly a lot of money to be made.

The decision to sell off these urban green spaces we have collectively owned for decades and in some cases almost a century flows from a consultant’s report commissioned by this administration. The report concluded that “Winnipeg has a surplus of open park space…” and that “…surplus property can…be sold for commercial or residential development.” It’s not clear what ‘surplus’ green space means, but it is easy to know what ‘sold for commercial or residential development’ means. And it won’t be low income housing or rental accommodations for the working poor.

Our current Mayor and Council were eager to hear this song. They responded by putting out requests for “Expressions of Interest” for the use and development of these seven properties. In various statements in Council and to the media, the City’s leading politicians and administrators have made clear that they have in mind the sale of the properties for commercial and residential development.

Little more than a month to put together proposals and a $50,000 deposit requirement ensured that the process didn’t get cluttered up by proposals from sports associations, golfers, community clubs or naturalists. In fact, it appears that only the Nordic Ski Association, which currently operates out of the Windsor Park Golf Course, made a non-commercial proposal.

Mayor Katz and Chief Administrative Officer Phil Sheegl have argued that selling the property would bring in cash that could be used for other good purposes as well as increase the tax base. Both are doubtless true, at least in the short term. The same could be said for selling every inch of green space in Winnipeg.

The question is why sell these properties and why now? Perhaps they hoped there would be little sympathy for golfers. Perhaps they think Winnipeg has become so poor under their guidance that we can no longer afford the amenities that we could afford in the 1920s or 1960s, when these courses were built. Perhaps they just see a once in a lifetime opportunity for someone to make a stack of money off a quick sale of some prime real estate. Not themselves, of course, but perhaps they can think of people who would like to do this.

For residents and wildlife, these are priceless community resources. And there is no doubt that any decision to sell and develop these lands will be permanent. Once they have been built on, there is no way future generations will be able to afford to buy them back for recreational use.

But there is another approach. Instead of asking who we should sell them to, we could ask some different questions first. And instead of limiting the discussion to developers and City Hall, we could involve the community in finding answers.

Are golf courses the best use of these lands? If they are to remain golf courses, can we find more imaginative mixed uses – such as the Nordic Ski Club’s use of the Windsor Park course in the winter? Could the courses be modified to make them friendlier to wildlife, hikers and riparian ecosystems? Just thinking about these questions shows how outrageous the City’s plans for these urban gems are. It’s good to periodically review our common possessions, such as these golf courses and rethink how we use them. But that is the discussion we should be having as a community.

Let’s have some real consultation, where all of us have a chance to put forward suggestions, so we can be proud when we pass these lands on to future generations. Let’s look at ways to make them the focus of healthy communities, where people want higher densities, because it allows easy access to such wonderful green spaces. And let’s look at how to create opportunities for new housing through developing some of the decaying or abandoned commercial and industrial areas of the city, even – dare we dream it – the Weston Rail Yards.

A local group has been formed to fight for just such a public discussion. Outdoor Urban Recreational Spaces (OURS) is fighting this attempt to sell off these urban jewels on the quiet. They are gathering signatures calling for a halt to these sales until a proper community discussion can take place. Anyone interested in OURS or their petition can find them at: www.ours-winnipeg.com.

This proposed sell off will not survive a public debate. Only slipping it through quickly and quietly will work. It’s up to Winnipeggers to react fast enough to stop to it.

Dave Hall is retired, and spends his time enjoying family, friends, and Winnipeg’s green spaces. He doesn’t use a golf club in his walks, but understands those who do.

State of the Inner City Report Launch

For a full copy of the State of the Inner City report, click here

Yesterday the CCPA-MB launched its seventh State of the Inner City report, entitled Neoliberalism: What a difference a theory makes.

The report examines the policy context that structures life in the inner city with a focus on three key areas: Employment and IncomeAssistance (EIA), housing, and second-chance education programs.

About 100 people attended the launch, which was held at Thunderbird House. A panel made up of Marianne Cerilli (West Central Women’s Resource Centre), Haven Stumpf and  Kim

Embleton (Urban Circle Training Centre), and Kathy Mallett (Community Education Development Association)  spoke to the report, explaining what they see as the impact of neoliberal policies on day-to-day operations and on the people they serve.

Shauna MacKinnon moderated the discussion, after which Together We Have CLOUT, a film about the inner city coalition Community-Led Organizations United Together (CLOUT), was screened.

Today, EIA rates are extremely low, quality affordable housing is increasingly hard to find, and second-chance education programs struggle with inadequate funding. For inner-city communities, these are daily realities that are directly influenced by the neoliberal approach to policy-making.

 

 

How NOT to plan a city

by Lynne Fernandez

Two issues of concern have recently arisen at City Hall – the twenty-cent transit fare hike — just passed by council — and a new policy to share water and sewer services with exurban municipalities. Both issues are of note for three reasons: there will be significant financial implications for Winnipeggers; they will encourage unsustainable, environmentally damaging behaviour and, the means by which these policies are being implemented lack transparency and thwart any sort of democratic process.

We contrasted these developments with the recommendations by the City’s own citizen consultations in the Call to Action report. The report reflected a strong commitment to community; the belief that growing economic inequality is unacceptable; and, the understanding that modern cities must reverse environmentally unsustainable growth patterns. The voices of those who participated in this report were included in the City’s final municipal development plan, Our Winnipeg, which sets the course for future development. Our Winnipeg is premised on commitments to environmental sustainability and complete communities.

The 40,000 Winnipeggers who participated in the Call to Action will be disappointed to learn just how far the City is deviating from their desires and recommendations. Report participants expressed a strong preference for:

  • Commuting responsibly by expanding rapid transit and human-powered traffic;
  • Enhancing urban spaces through increased urban density, preservation of agricultural land, development of pocket parks and expanding local businesses;
  • Switching to “smart” infrastructure to reduce costs and stress on the environment. Natural systems could include storm and waste-water filtration;
  • Working to bring all Winnipeggers to an acceptable living standard through access to essential services and promotion of strategies like urban gardens.

In what appears to be a return to outdated city planning ideas, the City is thumbing its nose at all of these preferences.

Council’s continued flip-flopping with provincial and federal officials is responsible for the lack of funds to complete rapid transit, making its insistence on passing the cost to low-income earners mean-spirited and counterproductive. The twenty-cent transit fare hike will not only discourage people from taking public transit, it will actually prevent many — who cannot afford a car — from being able to move about the city. So in one fell swoop council has managed to undermine any movement towards responsible commuting, and cut marginalized Winnipeggers from access to an essential service: transportation.

In order to ensure that low-income Winnipeggers would have access to reliable transportation to get to school, work, medical appointments, recreational centres — in short, to live their lives — the City should be lowering transit fares for them. The city could sell low-cost tickets to the provincial government so it could then distribute them to Winnipeg social-assistant recipients.

The proposed policy (to be voted on by council on December 14) to grant authority to CAO Phil Sheegl to negotiate with exurban municipalities for the expansion of City water and sewer services represents yet another step away from the kind of development Winnipeggers want. First of all, deals of this sort may have significant impact on Winnipeg’s revenues and development patterns, two concerns which should fall under the watchful eye of city councilors who are elected to protect our best interests. By removing their ability to learn the details of future contracts and debate their implications, there will be no transparency or oversight to ensure these deals make financial or environmental sense. Winnipeggers should be worried on both counts.

Many people move from Winnipeg to municipalities like West St. Paul so they can enjoy more luxurious homes while paying lower taxes. Most of these people still work in Winnipeg and so use our infrastructure heavily without contributing to its upkeep by paying taxes to the City. Although we do not yet know what sort of costing will be offered to these municipalities, it is likely that they will be able to “free ride” on Winnipeg’s lower costs to provide water and sewer services without contributing a fair portion for its upkeep. So not only do Winnipeg tax payers end up subsidizing exurbanites, but our tax revenues diminish every time a Winnipegger relocates. Without elected official oversight, we just don’t know if these deals will be a win-win situation for exurbanites, and a lose-lose situation for the rest of us.

Modern cities should be increasing density and preserving surrounding farming and wild areas. This proposed policy will make it easier for bedroom communities to flourish and enlarge our environmental footprint. More cars will commute back and forth on more regional roads, and fewer people will use (and contribute to) less-polluting public transit. It is unlikely that these contracts will have a mechanism to encourage conservation of water, thereby allowing the municipalities to drain precious resources even further.

The 40,000 Winnipeggers who participated in the Call to Action and Our Winnipeg consultations were hopeful that the City would take concrete action towards a more sustainable, democratic, equitable and modern city. If these two policies go through, the City will go a long way to making sure that doesn’t happen.

Lynne Fernandez is a political economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

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