Letter of the Week – January 14, 2018

Another interesting set of  thoughts from Anonymous is our Letter of the Week. Anon was responding to other comments on the image of the new Rockport apartments  but first made a public service announcement which is also worthy of a more prominent airing.

Interesting.

Interesting concerns..
..as always from “Fortress Weston”.

So, if I may, before I weigh in on the high rise rentals issue of concern, here’s some helpful news or at the very least, a public service announcement:

“The Community Police Partnership” group is looking for more members, ahead of an upcoming meeting between local police and community members who have already expressed interest in assisting in our troubled community.

The note comes from Councillor Nunziata’s office – sent out this morning – where she extends yet another invitation to anyone else still very concerned about the safety in our community, saying that there’s still time to join the group, if you’d like.

This call to join, stems back to the last major meeting she organized regarding the ongoing concern about “Community Safety in Weston” – the well attended meeting that was held at Weston Memorial Jr. PS, back in mid-November.

You may recall that this came shortly after the stabbing murder in town, ironically near Central United Church, in the Shoppers Drug Mart parking lot.

Many agree that it was an odd, tragic event, that appears as though it could somehow be linked to gang related activity, given the odd, unknown relationship between the players in this drama.

Risky business dealings?
Maybe.

But, no matter the reason, it was unsettling for most of us, even though the Staff Sargent and her team assured us that these types of violent crimes are gang related, unlike the nuisance crimes most complained about.

Anyway, the Councillor’s note this morning is an invitation to consider joining a group of like minded, worried or concerned Weston folks who would work with members of 12 Division in something called, “The Community Police Partnership”, which will try and maintain an ongoing dialogue regarding safety and policing matters.

She’d like to know if there’s anyone else interested in joining the group which will meet in a few weeks to come.

Worried, concerned or down right pissed off and want to do something?
Here’s your chance to reach out to her office and assist.

Make no mistake and no matter what, the members of 12 Division will continue to be on guard for our area, trying to address all concerns, even if many are deemed nuisance crimes, relatively speaking, of course.

But, it’s evident that the Councillor has 12 Division’s ear, and they could use some help in an obviously, concerned Weston community.

And, if you’re wondering, no. I don’t work for or represent the Councillor or TPS’s 12 Division in any way, shape or form.

Just hoping to see a better balance in an area that I still call home, amid extreme finger pointing.

Frankly however, I do appreciate it when I see someone who isn’t afraid of some heavy lifting and a little hard work.

No magic.
Often, just hard, thankless work.

Could it be as easy as that?

Well, maybe not cause here’s the problem. And, to paraphrase an ancient French philosopher who once uttered in jest:

“.. The problem with the world is that everyone thinks they know the way, or has the answer.”

(Insert sycophantic, uppercrust, powder wigged laughter here.)

Anyway, somehow despite what you or I think of the Councillor’s efforts – as a politician or person – she continues to reach out in this community which includes a very disparate group of beings. And, she serves, unlike you and me.

“Takes a licking, but keeps on ticking”, n’est pas?

No?

Run against her effort & record.
(She’s bound to lose one day.)

So, in the mean time, consider her invitation to join, if safety is top of mind.

Now, back to the topic of Rentals in this working class area that has longgggg had high rise rental accommodations with numerous precedents paving the way for even more demands for affordable housing, not always pleasing to many of us.

They’re here to stay, and more are needed.

So, given that, how to make them better – for the unit residents and in general, the Weston community which is going through it’s own form of gentrification.

Weston is still a pretty good buy – better yet with improved rail transit into the city.

Clearly, neighbourhoods need a relationship with a strong business and development community.

We understand that affordable housing is intended to assist the less than privileged types among us, who we hope are decent folks, and often are.

But sadly, perhaps too often they are sharing space with lawless types who hide out in their midst. (“Community Safety” issue?)

Now, as we know affordable housing is encouraged & later demanded by social activists in our city and community.

And, these activists are backed by other like minded altruists who attend these very kinds of information meetings, too when organized by the Councillor, which includes interested investors who want to see if Weston is worthy of their consideration, and investment dollars.

Fact is, more often than not these are pretty small and poorly attended meetings by the people who actually live in the area.

If we don’t go to meetings, the balance is thrown off.

And then, what we get is this – too much right wing influencing the debate or too much left wing winning the day for their needs.

We perhaps then, get what we earn when we don’t get involved, especially when invited.

And yeah, I don’t always go these meetings either.
(I pick my spots, too. Not good. But, that’s life.)

But, here’s the thing for me when it comes to rentals – I very much believe in something often referred to as “pride in ownership” which is something I don’t think you get from living in a rental space.

And yes, I suppose as a consequence, I don’t much like having my hard earned tax dollars carelessly squandered by politicians, bureaucrats, lobbyists or activists, of any persuasion.

Nevertheless, I fully understand that we sometimes have to spend shared taxation monies to improve societal needs, which hopefully benefits most involved & concerned.

A balance, a yin & yang influenced by those who choose to get involved.

So, like it or not, as it stands Weston has always been a working class neighbourhood which has given the have-nots of the world a place and a chance to start. A chance to improve, grow and move on up.

Many very proud Westonites from my past have moved on up & out.
(But, they always remember where they’re from, somehow in a prideful way.)

Some have grown to know the value of an opportunity to gain some ground. And others, will never know it because perhaps they’ve not had the good fortune of proper mentoring which clearly helps and begins in a family, who shows you the way.

My folks were working class stiffs originally from an Eastern bloc country, who bought their Weston home for $21,000 back in the day.

And, my in laws did so too, for about $5000 less, a few years prior to Mom & Dad’s closing date in the 60s.

They worked hard in the factory jobs available to them and knew the importance of saving, as best they could.

And, even though my folks had a real aversion to any left leaning politics given their life experiences in eastern Europe, they were involved in their workplace labour unions, working hard at obtaining some fairness, a balance in their workplace & community.

However, rhetoric goes only so far and like most, they sought better, too.

For them, apart from their mortgage, they never borrowed or used credit. Dad believed in paying cash for everything. Or would flex and consider a “lay away” plan for furniture & luxury items, a pretty much unheard of approach these days of instant gratification.

Life was relatively modest for us and people like us.

We were never middle class, but I never felt we were poor – just perhaps not as fortunate as others, never really coveting what someone else had in comparison.

I just had an awareness through my folks that if I truly wanted something I’d have to work carefully & hard to achieve it.

I was lucky – I had mentoring types from an early age.

Early in their journey, my mentoring types did have to rent many times before they finally could realize the dream of home ownership, and the pride that goes with ownership.

And so, thanks to them I hope I learned some important lessons well, that I might have shared with our kids, by example.

Also thankfully, don’t know what it means to have a good work ethic, but no where to earn a living the way many folks – young & old – are challenged these days.

Looking back, it did seem easier then, where even if you had no inclination for post secondary scholastics and what might materialize from those grand efforts – you could go off to a CCM, a Moffatts, construction trades or an auto mechanics job at a local dealership of which we had all brands represented in Weston.

It was tough then for working class folks and those who aspired to at least that level. But, probably tougher now.

The common denominator between then & now is that the community of Weston was and is more affordable than many other areas in the city of Toronto.

And, given the need for affordable rental housing everywhere, it’s not likely going to change too soon in the Weston area.

It will always be a growing concern.

Now, how to make it better?

Well, our web host once noted that, it is we the people who are the government, and it has a better chance to work & succeed if we people get involved, when these moments arise like they do in Weston.

Community Safety meeting, anyone?

Thanks for your time.

Child poverty report damns Weston

While the business world is a-tizzy with the minimum wage and the city consults on the budget in this election year, you should cast a glance today at the kids walking home from school. Four in ten of them are desperately poor. They are your neighbours.

40% of Weston children live in poverty; 37% of Mount Dennis children do, a number that has not budged in the last 5 years, according to a report done in November by Social Planning Toronto and other social agencies.

Map of child povertyAnd make no mistake: children in poverty are very poor indeed: their families make between $25,498 (one parent, one child) and $36,426 (two adults, two children). They are more likely to be Indigenous, visible minorities, recent immigrants or refugees, and members of single-parent families, according to the report.

% of racialized children in low-income families
Weston’s poverty rate is much higher than the rate in the city as a whole, which is, in turn, much higher than in the rest of the country. Toronto has the highest child-poverty rate of any city in Canada: roughly 25%—more than double the rate in Calgary or the Halton region.

Even in Toronto, though, child poverty is unequally distributed. North and north-central Toronto are rich because the poor are pushed to the margins, generally in the inner, older suburbs.

Unequal City has one simple recommendation: pay for all the things we’ve already promised:

In recent years the City has developed, and City Council has overwhelmingly approved, a range of strategies to improve access to training and good jobs, as well as key supports and services, by those who face the most barriers to success. However, many of these strategies have not been implemented because they have not been fully funded.

Doing so would be cheap: $66 million a year, if we don’t include housing, which “may be partly supported at the provincial level”. That, as the report points out, is less than 1% of the city’s budget.

 

Budget subcommittee presentations this afternoon and tonight.

This afternoon and tonight at the York Civic Centre, Budget Subcommittee members will hear public presentations on the 2018 Operating & Capital Budgets at the York Civic Centre, located at 2700 Eglinton Ave. W. on January 9, 2017. Included in the discussion will be proposed changes to user fees.

It will be interesting to see if the John Tory administration will continue to increase user fees to place more of the burden on users. If they don’t, it might indicate a leftward shift in time for next October’s election.

There will be two sessions; one beginning at 3 pm and the other from 6 to 8 pm.

Reasons to be cheerful.

Adapted from Real Style Network.

As the New Year opens, there are some hopeful signs that 2018 will be better and more cheerful than 2017. Here are a few in no particular order.

Minimum Wage and Paid Vacations.

From today, the Ontario minimum wage moves from $11.60 to $14.00. While this may be a tough slog for small businesses, for a large number of people in Weston / Mount Dennis and millions in Ontario, a 21% rise in hourly wages will be a great boost to their personal finances. Contrary to the debunked Trickle Down Theory, when poor people get money, they spend it, increasing growth.

Prescription plan for under 25 year-olds.

This little heralded plan will genuinely improve the lives of millions of Ontario children and young adults by ensuring that most prescriptions and health care supplies are provided at no cost. These two measures from the Ontario Government will provide a much needed boost to our local economy as disposable income rises. Better yet, they were implemented before an election.

Net Zero

The ongoing Net Zero initiative from the impressively well organized and determined Mount Dennis Community Association. 

It can only get warmer.

Our spell of Alberta weather has no end in sight and is no doubt providing a bonanza to plumbers and furnace repair companies. Our days are already getting longer so can spring be far away? Besides, there are surprising benefits that come with cold weather.

Election year x 2

Here at Weston Web we love elections. Not only do we have a provincial election in June but a civic one in October.

Ontario

In Ontario, Kathleen Wynne will be looking to hang on to power for the Liberals, battling the Tories’ Patrick Brown and Andrea Horwath for the NDP. Locally we have Laura Albanese who has gained in confidence and competence over the years and will be a formidable opponent. She will be facing Faisal Hassan who worked locally in former NDP MP Mike Sullivan’s office and Mark DeMontis whose compelling story and hockey background may resonate.

In Etobicoke Centre, Liberal Yvan Baker will probably hold his seat despite his seemingly limited thinking skills. In Toronto last year, around 50 people were killed by people driving vehicles, yet in spite of data showing distracted driving to be the major cause of deaths, Mr Baker chose to target pedestrians with his private member’s bill.

Toronto

In Toronto‘s civic elections in October, Ward 2 will see Mike Ford handily re-elected while in Ward 11, Frances Nunziata will no doubt achieve the same result. The big story will be who will win the mayoral election and thus decide the future of the city. Doug Ford is already pulling rank on nephew Mike – Mike’s Christmas message was hijacked by Uncle Doug. Frances Nunziata will likely be speaker regardless of whether Tory or Ford win since she has a foot in both camps. The big question will be if a credible centre-left candidate can run and pull the rug out from under ‘Rob Ford in sheep’s clothing’, John Tory. The Mayor has already moved his talking points sharply to the left in anticipation and will be vulnerable to Ford as a result.

Another reason for optimism is that thanks to ward distribution, the three additional council seats may not be so friendly to Mayor Tory should he be successful.

Pedestrian and Cycling Safety

Councillor Nunziata’s Pedestrian Safety and Cycling Committee will soon be releasing their recommendations for Ward 11.

Weston Hub

The Weston Hub will see artists able to occupy their studio spaces in July as work continues on the 30-storey rental apartment tower, community space and rental storage facility.

Sewer Relining Ends

Sewer work will be ending this year along the Humber and peace will return, (hopefully in October) to our parks after years of clanking disruption from heavy machinery. Cyclists and walkers will appreciate having the Pan Am trail to themselves once more.

We’re Safer than Ever!

The Economist recently placed Toronto as the fourth safest city in the world after Tokyo, Singapore and Osaka.

OK readers, your turn. What makes you cheerful about 2018?

Letter of the Week

Letter of the Week

This letter of the Week comes from: Five things that need to change in Weston / Mount Dennis. Part 5.

Anonymous wrote:

Mr. Murray, out of the goodness of your heart, do you voluntarily make extra property tax payments? I would hope so.

 

This letter came in reaction to an opinion in the article that the poor are suffering thanks to the needless austerity imposed by our low Toronto property taxes; the lowest in the GTA.

The whole point of taxation, especially progressive taxation is to make a collective effort to look after the needs of all citizens. Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. said that, “Taxes are the price we pay for civilization.”

Here in Toronto, a voluntary tax payment scheme was set up in 2011 at the height of the Ford mayoralty. No doubt the idea was to deflect pressure for higher taxes by saying, ‘If you’re so keen on higher taxes, pay more yourself’.

Do we really wish to go back to the days of voluntary contributions to pay for services? The days of unpaved streets, private education, private health care and  fire companies who only fight their subscribers’ fires?

We’re all better off when we work as a cohesive society. If I believe that employers should pay a higher minimum wage, as an individual I can’t top up every wage packet but I can cheerfully pay any increased costs.

So, the answer is no, I don’t make voluntary contributions because they would be a drop in the bucket. The whole idea of taxation is that millions have agreed through the democratic process to pay a progressive and reasonable amount to provide services and infrastructure. If we are at the stage of relying on donations from property owners, then the tax structure isn’t working and should be changed so that they pay more.

The measure of a good society is how it treats its poorest citizens. Samuel Johnson put it well when he said,

“Where a great proportion of the people are suffered to languish in helpless misery, that country must be ill policed, and wretchedly governed: a decent provision for the poor is the true test of civilization.”

Along the same lines, here’s a quote from Mayor Tory during a recent Inside Toronto interview with David Nickle. The Mayor in spite of regularly punishing the poor and homeless with austerity during his term, now astonishingly claims to be their saviour.

“What you come to realize is that really what you’re here to do … the people who are comfortable don’t need too much help from me,” he said. “It’s the people who are struggling who are most in need of better transit so they can get to a job situation that’s better for them, good housing so they’re not in substandard housing or living in a shelter. That’s when you realize that’s got to be your priority.” Mayor John Tory

Lord knows when this lightning bolt hit Mayor Tory but he seems blind to the fact that he helps the comfortable every day by ensuring that they pay the lowest property taxes in the GTA. He claims that the poor are his priority but his actions and voting record tell another story.

In fact, Canada has some way to go when it comes to public social spending.

From Twitter; @artsifton

Lastly and food for thought; one more quote from Johnson via his biographer:

What signifies, says some one, giving halfpence to beggars? they only lay it out in gin or tobacco. “And why should they be denied such sweeteners of their existence (says Johnson)? it is surely very savage to refuse them every possible avenue to pleasure, reckoned too coarse for our own acceptance. Life is a pill which none of us can bear to swallow without gilding; yet for the poor we delight in stripping it still barer, and are not ashamed to shew even visible displeasure, if ever the bitter taste is taken from their mouths.”

Five things that need to change in Weston / Mount Dennis. Part 4.

As we approach the year end, here are some things that seem to be holding us back locally. This is the fourth of a five part series.

As always, your comments are welcome.

4. The Democratic Process.

From aguafund.org

Next October will see city council elections for councillors and and mayor. Barring a cataclysmic upheaval, few seats will change hands in 2018. One positive note comes from the recent redrawing of ward boundaries to better reflect the changing population densities. The boundaries, in place since 1999 needed updating since ward populations had become uneven during that time. For example, downtown has many more residents thanks to the ongoing condo boom. This change was fought by the likes of Justin Di Ciano and Giorgio Mammoliti who presumably felt threatened by a more democratic redistribution. The OMB, (needing to act quickly and not known as a fan of democracy) in a surprising decision, rightly smacked down the appeal.

Ward 11 (along with only 6 others) will be unaffected as the population in our area has remained relatively static but four additional wards will be created in time for the elections; three of them in the downtown core. Downtown wards are often quite left leaning so the good news is that this may signal a more progressive council in the next term

We have a ‘first past the post’ system for all Canadian Elections including local council seats and mayor. A simple majority determines the winner. Unfortunately, the first past the post voting system favours incumbents and many people stay home, knowing that their candidate is disadvantaged. This is why we have so many career-politicians in Toronto. Some are elected term after term, often with the votes of a tiny fraction of constituents.

There is a better way. Ranked balloting allows voters to choose their first, second and third choices and gives more voting power to electors whose first choice doesn’t win. It also prevents fringe candidates from winning through a split vote. In the last mayoral election for example, Doug Ford could well have been elected if Olivia Chow had run a stronger campaign and split the centre-left vote between herself and John Tory. As an aside, other than bluster and the occasional ferris wheel popping up, one can be forgiven for wondering if anything would be different had Mr. Ford won in 2014.

From rcvmaine.com

It would seem obvious that anyone interested in a better democratic process in Toronto would support ranked balloting. The province is in charge of such legislation and would need a request from City Council to make the change. Sadly, our own councillor voted against studying the use of ranked ballots and effectively (with a group of other councillors) killed the possibility for the near future.

At council meetings, our councillor along with a cadre of nodding deputy mayors is obliged to vote the Mayor Tory line on most matters since she is Council Speaker and wants to keep her prestigious job. Sadly, this means that she and the rest of the Tory bloc often vote against the interests of Ward 11. The councillor cannot serve two masters effectively and it would probably be better for Ward 11 to have a councillor with no such conflicts.

Voter participation:

As the saying goes, all politics is local. We are lucky enough to have local politicians who consult with the people on a regular basis on matters of importance. If we do or don’t like what’s going on, we need to attend the meetings and express our views. Shy folk can send emails or write letters but it’s vital that people express their opinions because no matter what the issue, you can be sure that corporate interests have already made their cases strongly and often.

Lastly one final thought: we need a better turnout for elections. In 2014, fewer than 51% of eligible voters bothered to cast a ballot.

From garyvarvel.com

Part 5 of this series (The Planning Process) may be a couple of days what with Christmas festivities and all.

 

Five things that need to change in Weston / Mount Dennis: Part 3.

3. The Public Domain.

Yesterday’s article covered the state of retail in Weston / Mount Dennis.

One of the factors that makes a big difference to an area is the public domain. Anyone who has been to Europe will know how well the public domain is looked after.

A car free street in Cartagena Spain. Note the lack of high-rise buildings and overhead wiring.

Far less public domain money is spent here in Toronto and especially in Weston / Mount Dennis where spending is further suppressed as our BIAs have smaller budgets, our Section 37 money is scarce and our politicians have an unfortunate obsession with keeping property taxes (the lowest in the GTA) at or below the rate of inflation. Spending initiatives that could improve public facilities are often voted down.

From Jennifer Pagliaro via Twitter. Click to enlarge.

As a result, the things that can help iron out differences between rich and poor are suppressed. The homeless are treated with contempt. Public housing is in disrepair; cycling and walking are dangerous, our library, recreation and and parks system are underfunded and garbage and leaf litter, is allowed to accumulate. Cars dominate our streets while the TTC receives the lowest subsidy of any major city in North America. Climbing the social ladder is harder than ever because politicians worry that they’ll be voted out of office if they support tax increases. A recent study by the World Bank has discovered that when inequality goes up, there is a corresponding increase in the murder rate.

What has to change? Our political system is a shambles – more on that tomorrow. We need leaders at all levels of government who understand the connection between adequate public domain funding and helping people move out of poverty. Gentrification is often seen as a solution to our problems in WMD. It’s not. It simply forces poor people to relocate instead of helping them climb the ladder out of poverty.

The answer is more money spent on helping the poor help themselves. More money, for example,  to fix the appalling repair backlog at Toronto Public Housing, more money to properly fund our public institutions and spaces. We also need to beautify our streets here in WMD and reduce the enormous amounts of real estate given over to the car. Will it be Weston or Mount Dennis that gets the first traffic free street in Toronto? (Toronto is one of the few cities in the world without a public pedestrian / bike only street.) We also need to find ways to improve access to the beautiful Humber River that meanders through WMD.

In summary, we need to tell our elected representatives that our priority is improving the public domain and not keeping taxes low. Poverty sucks and feeds on itself. It won’t go away without heroic efforts.

From Twitter.

The constant, artificial shortage of tax dollars puts the squeeze on the most vulnerable among us; people who traditionally don’t apply political pressure and can’t make generous campaign contributions. Even more insidiously, the constant trimming of budgets is designed to make public institutions fail and the private sector look good by comparison.

Make no mistake, underfunding the public domain impoverishes us all and lowers our quality of life.