Friday, January 19, 2018

Worth Reading - January 19, 2018

A long day and battling sickness made me miss the deadline yesterday, but better late than never. 

Chantal Hebert writes that the Parti Quebecois is facing another term on the opposition with the resignation of prominent MNAs

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh proposed to Gurkiran Sidhu, a fashion designer and entrepreneur. 

Jennifer Keesmat says that Canada's urban future is in our mid-sized cities, if they can seize their potential.
Brampton City Council is debating the site of the future university

John Michael McGrath writes about the Liberal fortunes in Ontario for the upcoming 2018 election

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Loathing of Kathleen Wynne

Recently the Toronto Star published a piece questioning whether or not critics were motivated by Kathleen Wynne's gender, or that it was tied to her unpopularity. The initial premise is, of course, ridiculous to my mind. Ontarians have plenty of reasons to oppose, or not support the Ontario Liberals and Premier Kathleen Wynne (OLP - Don Valley West).

The primary cause, from my perspective, is time. In democracies parties in power tend to only last eight to twelve years in office. Ontario's Liberals have been elected since 2003. They were nearly removed from office in 2011, but the execution was staid when Wynne gave a fresh face for a tired party.

All these years have allowed bad policies, scandals and entitlement to pile on to the government. With over fourteen years in office no one's hands are clean anymore. Long memories for tax increases, a lukewarm economy, and wasted money have eroded support. Anxieties about the high provincial debt and deficit are justified.

I have lived in Ontario for nearly all of my life, and came to political awareness mostly during the Dalton McGuinty years, Premier Wynne's predecessor. McGuinty was never truly popular from my recollections, but no alternative enticed Ontarians enough to make a change. McGuinty was premier when social media was present, and while he had critiques it hardly felt as toxic as the conversation around Wynne. Memes and images take aim at the Premier herself. My barbershop, as an example, posted pictures comparing her to Orville Redenbacher to explain why prices were going up. Critics seem to revel in mocking the Premier's appearance on top of her policies.

I have never voted for the Ontario Liberal Party. I am not a supporter, even if I agree with some of their policies. That said, Premier Wynne seems subject to a particularly harsh brand of criticism. This may simply be a product of politics of the 2010s. Things tend to have a more jagged, raw edge. Politics can be personal and mean. Like the case with Rachel Notley in Alberta, I cannot help but think the tenor of their detractors is nor partially drive by their gender.

Our first female, gay premier is positively hated by some in this province. That's not unusual, especially given the age of her government and the popularity of some of its policies. As we draw closer to the election this is only likely to intensify. I would hope that critics of the Wynne Liberals will stick to the substance and that the appearance, gender and sexuality of the Premier is not a factor in the debate and coming vote. 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Worth Reading - January 11, 2018

How are Ontario restaurants dealing with the increase in minimum wage? If you want to read more on the minimum wage check out my post on Tuesday and the links inside. 

The Bank of Canada says that minimum wage increases could lead to fewer jobs

The Toronto Star asks, is density a dirty word in Toronto? 

That story above follows on a report that says Toronto is well poised to take on more density

The Prime Minister is touring the country and holding town halls with Canadians. He is receiving some tough questions along the way. 

What's the secret behind Brampton Transit's success

Trump, defending his mental capabilities, referred to himself as a 'very stable genius.' 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Ontario and the New Minimum Wage

Ontario recently raised the minimum wage from $11.60 per hour to $14 on January 1st. Immediately following the announcement there was a story that caught national attention. Some Tim Horton's announced scaling back of the limited benefits their employees received in order to compensate for the increased wages they had to pay.

While Tim Horton's purports to be Canada's friendly, neighbourhood coffee shop it is in fact a massively successful corporation that makes immense profits. Each location is a franchise and it wouldn't be surprising that individual owners need to make decisions that would benefit their interests though. The Toronto Star broke down the numbers for the cost of the minimum wage increases for a single Tim Horton's and the results are here

Retail and service businesses are actually well placed to deal with the minimum wage increase. This is an increase that will hit across the entire provincial market. No competitor will be at a strategic advantage as a result. Tim Horton's doesn't need to fear that Starbucks is operating at a different wage structure. The costs will, of course, be borne by the consumers. A simple, modest increase in the price of a cup of coffee would easily cover the added expenses.

While I don't join the chorus of those who state that raising the minimum wage has no economic impact, or only a positive one, I think it's clear that small-scale businesses like these do not quite meet the threshold for this to be a dire outcome. Companies more adversely affected would be those who have to compete against companies outside the province with lower wage structures. You could point to the hospitality and tourism industries as suffering as a result perhaps, but most export/service industries that would be competing in that way don't primarily rely upon minimum wage workers as far as I can tell.

Living on minimum wage is tough. As two business-owners recently said in the Toronto Star paying a higher minimum wage can ultimately be to the benefit of the employer. Employee retention isn't something that should be quickly dismissed. On the other side of things too, I must admit that taking a minimum wage job has just become much more attractive for a person in my shoes who is underemployed.

Ultimately, I don't like the minimum wage. I don't think it's very good public policy, but I understand why it's necessary. I hope the minimum wage helps many people across the province and helps us move towards a system that better addresses the inequalities of our economic lives.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Worth Reading - January 4, 2018

Happy New Year, everyone. I hope that 2018 has gotten off to a promising start. It's a bit of a shorter list as I'm running low on time and I lost some of the links I put aside sadly. I hope you enjoy the six I put aside.

As I discussed in the Tuesday post there is some debate in Toronto over addressing homelessness in dangerous temperatures

Desmond Cole shared his thoughts on the recent homelessness shelter issue

The map for the Toronto election this fall has been set. 

Speaking of next year's election, Brampton Mayor Linda Jeffrey says her rivals have failed residents

The Toronto theatre industry has been rocked by a sexual harassment scandal. Albert Schultz has stepped down in the midst of accusations

I really enjoyed this episode of Canadaland with Adam Gopnik. I think his perspective on New York is really quite interesting, and likely reflects the case of many major cities. 

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Housing First in the Deep Cold

On December 30th I visited some friends. It was a cold night, a very cold night. We were in relative comfort and spent an evening playing board games and enjoying each other's company. I even managed a second place finish in Lords of Waterdeep, which is a rare feat. I tell this story for what happened at the conclusion of the evening.

When we were all done I climbed into my vehicle, started the engine for a moment and began to drive. My friends live ten minutes away from me, so waiting for the car to heat up for such a short drive seemed silly on the face of it. So I got in and drove. I made it a few hundred meters when despite a nice coat, hat and gloves I started shivering in the car. It was -24 degrees centigrade.

During the recent cold weather an error was made at a Toronto emergency shelter and people were turned away while there was still space available. During my brief ride from my friends to my house I was deeply uncomfortable, though not in any serious danger. I can scarcely imagine sitting out in the cold all night. The consequences could be, and often are, lethal.

Canadians rightfully complain about living in one of the coldest countries on the planet. Our major cities, I'm sure, are some of the coldest in the world for their size. As a result, our urban leaders have to confront a simple truth: if we do not provide adequate housing in the winter, people will die.

It's conversations like this where we need to separate questions about general housing affordability from the crisis that is homelessness. A person with an addiction, or mental illness isn't a family making $42000 who can't afford to rent in Toronto. Increasing supply or rent control will not ultimately get us to address this particular problem.

Cities in Canada need to adopt a housing first strategy. It is unconscionable to rely on temporary and emergency housing and turn these people out into the streets. Housing first means that people in bad situations are given a stable place to live. It makes the provision of care and social services much simpler. Experts argue that it costs less in the long run, but it is by no means cheap. Worst still any housing first program would disproportionately benefit those that society currently pushes as far to the margins and away from our mental landscapes as we can. Moral choices are not always cheap or easy ones, but acting in immorality for the sake of some savings at the cost of human suffering is difficult to stomach. 

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

2017 in Review

It is a tremendous understatement to say that 2017 was an unusual year. For most people in Canada I'm sure it was a relatively normal block of time. People carried on their usual lives, marching through the seasons of their life one day at a time. However, I think current events likely intruded on people's lives more than they often did in the past.

Last year as 2016 came to an end it was hard not to feel like the world was in a bad place. It is difficult to articulate, or summarize the feelings. Thinking back I feel the word might be dangerous, or unstable. As the year went on it was easy to feel uneasy as a person paying attention to the news of the world. Any number of natural or manmade disasters were present to hurt the confidence one might have in the future. Admittedly, I am a pretty cynical person so I'm sure those who reflect on 2016 as a wonderful time.

In contrast 2017 has felt quite different to me. It has felt like a time where we have bounced from crisis to crisis. Sometimes they are relatively minor ones, little embarrassments or missteps by governments, people, or corporations, but far too often they threatened something far larger. I'm sure most people reading this would naturally draw connections to the White House and the terrible year the United States has had, but it is easy to look to Europe, Asia, and elsewhere and feel worried for the future. Good news doesn't feel like victories, more like narrow avoidance of deeper defeats. The French and German elections, as an example, raised as many doubts as they salved. The chaos going on between Catalonia and Spain is worrying.

Within Canada things continue to go on fairly well. Sometimes when I think of Canada I cannot help that we are some real-life equivalent of the Shire: a tiny protected enclave in a world being consumed in disorder. We can blissfully ignore it for the most part, though we are under threat her as well at the forces present around the world. I think some incidents and reporting indicates we have to be aware that we are not immune from extremism and violence here either.

Within the country I'm not sure if it is disingenuous to say I've been disappointed by Justin Trudeau and his government because I never had high hopes for his government. The abandonment or betrayal of key promises and general mismanagement of some files has me questioning basic competence on more than one occasion. While the Liberals continue to poll well I have real questions on whether or not the voting coalition that elected them remains held together. Canadian politics will be shaped by key decision made this year, principally I mean the election of Andrew Scheer and Jagmeet Singh to lead the Conservatives and NDP respectively. Barring unforeseen events these three men will lead the contest to form government in 2019.

Closer to home Ontario has struggled politically. Kathleen Wynne leads a tired, and unpopular Liberal government, but Ontarians have proven wary of change before. Ontarians, whether they like it or now, have spent the year in an election season. Next year is also the date for the next set of municipal elections, which will have important consequences for the people of this province. It will also provide some content for this blog.

Speaking of the blog, 2017 was not an easy year to keep writing. I addressed this directly in a post this year. I've considered hanging up my keyboard a couple of times. I know some people truly enjoy this blog and appreciate the time and effort I put into it. However, the last year (and couple of years before that) have been difficult and finding the motivation to write has been very challenging at times.

The human spirit relies on hope and a basic sense of optimism more than a cynical person like me probably naturally assumes. To have hope snuffed out is a very difficult thing, be that personal, local, national or international. With that said, I pray that 2018 is a more hopeful year. That light outshines the darkness and elevates us all as people rather than driving us into darkness in fear and despair. Individual actions make a difference, even more so when organized into group strength.

Thank you for reading in 2017 and my best wishes to you and yours for the coming year.