New Year Predictions

As the new year progresses, it’s probably a good time to make some local and not so local predictions for 2019 and beyond.

Where we are right now.

During the regimes of the late Rob Ford and current mayor John Tory, Toronto has suffered almost a decade of austerity. Now that we have a premier who operates on the same policies, it looks as if Toronto’s public realm will shrink at a more rapid pace. While John Tory looks and sounds like a moderate politician, he’s as radically right-wing as either of the Ford brothers.
Austerity at the provincial level will add to Toronto’s woes, particularly here in Weston / Mount Dennis, especially after Ford gerrymandered Toronto Council by halving the number of councillors and basing council seats on outdated demographics. The current council will have enough support for John Tory to continue the decline of our city. The only differences between Mayor Tory and Premier Ford involve jurisdiction and style rather than political leanings.

A feature of the Rob Ford and John Tory mayoralties has been ignoring the planners and making awful decisions based on dogma and pandering rather than actual need. (Scarborough Subway, Gardiner rebuilding, dangerous streets and the failure of Vision Zero, lousy transit planning, an ineffective and demoralized police force, uncontrolled development…). Added to that, the refusal to charge an appropriate level of property tax has resulted in a lack of funds for city initiatives along with a dilapidated and inadequate public housing inventory. The late British actor Peter Ustinov once called Toronto, “New York run by the Swiss.“. I wonder how he would have described the 2019 version of our city.

Prediction 1: Poverty is about to get real in Weston / Mount Dennis.

Ford has frozen the (already inadequate) minimum wage at $14.00 an hour. It was due to rise to $15 this January 1. This roughly translates to a $2000 annual loss for minimum wage earners, only slightly offset by a tax cut. Basically, general taxes subsidize the wages of minimum wage earners while companies keep the savings and remove them from the community. Other austerity measures include removal of funding for repairs to Toronto schools and public housing (the money would have come from Cap and Trade). Less money and fewer job opportunities will mean more poverty and crime.

What can we do to fight this? Patronize only those businesses that pay workers $15 or more hourly. Call out companies that don’t. Support organizations that fight poverty.

Prediction 2: Massive decisions based on hunches and rewarding friends.

Arbitrary decision making and cronyism has only just begun. When you have lots of friends and lots of jobs to fill, there’s no end to the possibilities. Ford is a big proponent of subways regardless of need, cost and location. He famously suggested building a casino at Exhibition Place and and a ferris wheel on the Port Lands. Now that he’s in charge, the sky will be the limit. The TTC’s subway system will soon be handed over to the hopelessly inept Metrolinx. These are the people who are bungling the Presto Card implementation  The subway takeover plan will involve selling building rights on top of subway stations. The TTC will become a bus service. Incidentally, Metrolinx seems to taking measures designed to suck up to Ford – things like removing electric vehicle charging outlets from GO stations.

Prediction 3: A fire sale of provincial assets.

In order to balance the books and pay for Ford’s re-shaping of Ontario, the private sector will be called on to provide financing. Obtaining private money will involve selling precious public assets such as the LCBO and Ontario Place.

Prediction 4: A two-tier health care system.

Our health care system eats up $53.3 billion or about 39% of the Ontario budget. Ford would dearly love to find ‘efficiencies’ here. He may want private companies and hospitals to set up shop in Ontario. He may also entertain the possibility of people jumping the queue for a fee. A big obstacle is the Canada Health Act and that is why Ford is openly campaigning against Justin Trudeau in the hopes that a Conservative federal government will repeal or amend the act to insert some private health care. The new system might look like the  U.K.’s National Health Service which runs alongside a private system. When the rich (and politicians) are able to jump the queue, you can guarantee that health care for regular folks will suffer.

Prediction 5: Less information and more secrecy.

Many decisions made by the Ford government are made to reward his cronies or appease his fringe supporters and don’t hold up well under scrutiny (1998 Health Curriculum, Ron Taverner…).  Look for Ford and his government to distance themselves even further from accountability and awkward questions from the press. They spread the word through Ontario’s taxpayer funded version of Pravda.

Prediction 6: Local lefty initiatives to end.

Now that Councillor Frances Nunziata has been re-elected, look for her pre-election moderate stance to be dropped. Lefty frivolities such as bike paths and pedestrian safety measures will be quietly shelved. Ms Nunziata will continue to be the councillor most likely to vote with Mayor Tory.

Glimmers of hope for Weston /Mount Dennis:

The Weston Hub will open in February along with many new residents in the 360+ rental units. A small colony of artists will occupy the live / work spaces. Construction on the site will end allowing the area to flourish.
The Weston Farmers Market will have an attractive new home in the centre of Weston that will attract people from outside the area. Two cultural organizations, Shakespeare in Action and UrbanArts hold anchor positions in the new Hub and will also attract visitors to our community.

More businesses are opening up as the UP Express provides a rapid and regular link to downtown.

On Weston Road, retail stores are being renovated and a payday loan company has closed.

A small number of affordable units at 22 John Street will be made available through a lottery held between eligible applicants. Use this link to apply (the link becomes live on Monday January 14; the application process will close January 28).

Interesting Possibilities:

Prime Minister Trudeau will perform a minor cabinet shuffle on Monday and unpopular York South-Weston MP, Ahmed Hussen may be moved laterally or demoted. A lateral move might be part of an effort to distance Mr. Hussen from the burdensome immigration file and boost his chances in October’s general election.

Hussen is well known, but not well liked

Ahmed Hussen, our MP, is well known but not well liked, according to a survey by Angus Reid.

Angus Reid asked those voters who could identify the ministers whether they were doing a good job or a bad job–thereby screening out the less informed.¹ They subtracted the bads from the goods, getting ratings between -36 (Amarjeet Sohi) and +20 (Chrystia Freeland).

From Angus Reid

Among the ten most-recognizable ministers, Hussen came in last. Liberal voters gave him a +18 rating, but 61% of non-Liberals think he is doing a bad job.

From Angus Reid

Hussen is the Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship, and likely suffered because he has a tough portfolio. As Angus Reid notes,

This was a year when Canadians voiced significant concern about immigration and asylum claims, with many saying immigration levels were too high, and that the surge of irregular border crossings was reaching crisis levels.


¹ Like me. Can you name the Ministers of Democratic Institutions and Public Services, Procurement and Accessibility?

MP Hussen’s Sunday meet and greet

York South-Weston MP Ahmed Hussen is holding a ‘holiday’ Meet and Greet this Sunday, December 2nd, at Pelmo Park Community Centre (171 Pellatt Avenue) from 12-2pm.

Mr Hussen will be providing ‘updates to the community’ during the two-hour session; whether this will be as comments to individuals or as a speech is unclear.

Light refreshments will be served.

His office is asking that you RSVP to 416-656-2526 or via email to [email protected]

Meet and Greet with MP Hussen on Saturday.

Come and glad-hand with the Minister and York South-Weston MP himself this Saturday in his office at 99D Ingram Drive. It all gets going at 12 noon and ends at 2:00 pm. Mr. Hussen will be ‘providing updates to the community’ at this event.

His office is asking residents to RSVP by calling 416-656-2526 or emailing [email protected] if you have any questions. 

Padovani: TD to keep ATM in Weston for now.

The TD Canada Trust branch at 1979 Weston Road. Note the Rockport rental apartment building in the background that will be home to hundreds of new residents when it opens in the coming months.

Toronto Council candidate Chiara Padovani has managed to wrestle a concession from TD Canada Trust, set to close its 1979 Weston Road branch on September 21. The building’s ATM will remain open for ‘the time being’ after the branch closes. The bank’s WiFi hotspot (who knew?) will not continue past the closing date.

Ms Padovani also wrote to the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada; the 120-employee independent agency that according to its own site,

“ensures federally regulated financial entities comply with consumer protection measures, promotes financial education and raises consumers’ awareness of their rights and responsibilities.”

These are the people who sit on their hands while predatory payday loan companies fill the void left by departing bank branches. Apparently they’ve educated the public about those things so it’s ok. In their reply to Ms Padovani’s letter, FCAC alleges that TD provided adequate consultation with the community before announcing the closure. As a result, FCAC won’t compel TD to hold a community meeting.

If a letter announcing the closure counts as adequate consultation, then yes, the community was consulted adequately.

Undaunted, Ms Padovani also tackled TD who have relented somewhat by agreeing to keep the ATM open past the closing date. In the meantime, she is working with TD Canada Trust to set up a permanent ATM in the vicinity.

So far I have received confirmation that the ATM will remain at the current location while they search for a permanent home in the vicinity. While TD is hosting sessions on digital banking and financial literacy in the community, they have not committed to installing a WiFi hub to facilitate the use of such services for people who don’t have access to the Internet.

I’m committed to continue to advocate for accommodations for the members of the community who will be negatively impacted by the bank’s imminent closure.

Access to fair banking and financial services is especially important in Weston, given the increase in predatory lending that has sever consequences on socioeconomic health of our neighbourhood. As a social worker in the community, I’ve seen far too many hardworking people get trapped in debt through pay day lenders.– Chiara Padovani

Read more from the candidate here.

Read Adam’s excellent take on the issues here.

Banking in Canada is regulated federally. Incidentally; crickets from MP Ahmed Hussen’s office on the branch’s closing.

Hussen loses a page from his portfolio

Having laboured over my last post, I see that it was mostly for nought. Justin Trudeau shuffled his cabinet this week. Ahmed Hussen, our MP and the minister of immigration, refugees, and citizenship, has had an important page taken from his portfolio.

Bill Blair, Toronto’s former Chief of Police, is now the minister of border security and organized crime reduction. Blair will oversee irregular migration and refugee claimants and will also serve to antagonize Doug Ford—a job I covet.

Hussen responds

Responding, doubtless, to WestonWeb’s recent post, Ahmed Hussen wrote an article in the Toronto Star explaining what his government is doing about an increasing number of asylum seekers.

I’m trying not to be churlish—I really am—but I just don’t think his answer measures up.

Two issues have been in the news. The important one is the Safe Third Country agreement, which governs our commitment to refugee claimants. The unimportant one is how Hussen is getting along with his provincial counterparts. Hussen wastes a lot of pixels patronizing his opponents, but he never mentions the important issue: the STCA.

To understand the STCA, imagine, if you can, that you are a refugee claimant. You arrive in the USA, and realize that it is looking increasingly like the newly hard-hearted immigration authorities will deny your claim. You decide to try a more welcoming country: Canada. You pack your bags, board a bus, and make your way north.

And here you face a choice. If you cross at the Rainbow Bridge, you’ll be sent back to New York within a day or two. Canada’s Safe Third Country Agreement says that you get only one shot at claiming refugee status, and you have to do it wherever you land first. That’s the USA. No do-overs.

But, bizarrely, if you decide to cross into Canada at a place that is not a ‘port of entry’ (through a farmer’s field, say), the STCA does not apply, and you are free to have your case (re)heard in Canada. The STCA  simply doesn’t cover the possibility that people might walk across. I’ve read it, and it sure looks like the authors of the agreement simply forgot our long, undefended border.  You can literally hike through this loophole.

Tens of thousands of people have done just that. It’s very far from a crisis, but it is causing problems.

In his column, Hussen says, basically, ‘No big deal. We’ve got this’:

Let me be clear: those who do not qualify for Canada’s protection are not allowed to stay. We’ve been clear about this in our outreach, both at home and abroad. For more than a year now members of our government, from the prime minister on down, have been bluntly reminding people that the asylum system is not a free ticket to Canada.

I’m inclined to believe that we do, in fact, got this. I trust our civil servants to assess claimants fairly, and I know we can afford to duplicate the work of our American counterparts. No big deal.

Hussen and I part ways on what follows, though:

Attempts by Conservative politicians to distort and mislead on this point are irresponsible. Like they did during the last federal campaign, they are playing to the politics of fear…. It is time for the misleading, divisive, and dangerous political rhetoric to end.

I think Hussen is saying that Conservatives are racist. At the very least he’s saying that the PCs are facilitating racism in a cynical political ploy.

First of all, I doubt it. Second of all, ad hominem. (That’s Latin for ‘cut that crap out’.)

Conservatives have legitimate complaints, though Hussen never mentions what he’s doing about them:

  • Border staff say the backlog is causing misery, and wait times to hear refugees overseas are increasing. Very few claimants in Canada are being processed quickly, and a hearing now takes about 2.5 years.
  • The STCA has a loophole. The Conservatives say that the whole border should be considered a port of entry. Maybe it should.
  • There’s a case that provinces and municipalities shouldn’t have to spring for this. And shelters are full.

Reading Hussen’s article, you’d think the PCs are dog whistling their rabid base. You’d never know that Canada is failing the very people he sincerely wants to help: refugees, both in Canada and abroad, seeking asylum.

Ahmed Hussen should recognize an obvious fact: friction creates sparks. He will have better ideas if he debates, and never dismisses, his opponents.