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If you don't have a secure job, academic freedom is meaningless

6 July 2017 - 9:58am
July 6, 2017OPSEU ramping up efforts to organize contract college instructorsThe summer months are providing little reprieve for staff and representatives at the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) who work with college instructors.

Canadian Taxpayers Federation's position on Khadr case exposes the group's partisan inclinations

6 July 2017 - 1:50am
David J. Climenhaga

If you have ever wondered if the Canadian Taxpayers Federation isn't really what it purports to be -- to wit, a "tax watchdog" -- but is in reality a partisan organization that acts in knee-jerk support of the electoral and policy objectives of Conservative Party of Canada, yesterday's press release by the group provides compelling evidence.

In the release, the CTF added its not inconsequential voice to the barking chain of denunciations emanating from Conservative Party circles for the Trudeau government's decision to compensate former child soldier Omar Khadr for Canada's role in the gross violation of his human rights during his imprisonment at the U.S. torture camp in occupied Guantanamo, Cuba, and afterward.

Now, the pros and cons of this case have been debated pretty well without respite since word of the compensation package became public on Monday, so I don't intend to dwell on that part at length here. Suffice it to say it's pretty clear Canadians fall into basic two camps on this issue: those who believe in due process, and those who do not.

Even conservative-leaning commentators who still have some faith in the idea of due process before the law recognize that the oft-cited "conviction" by an American drumhead tribunal of a 15-year-old child packed off to Afghanistan by his irresponsible father and caught in a firefight where something happened was the work of a legal tribunal that would have embarrassed a kangaroo. Many of them, like the National Post's Colby Cosh, have said as much, to their great credit.

Conservative partisans like Alberta Progressive Conservative Leader Jason Kenney -- possibly feeling some angst about his own role in the long torment of Khadr by a long line of Canadian politicians, including some prominent Liberal ones -- was quick to attack Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for the decision. In Kenney's judgment, I suppose, this is preferable to actually talking about the policies he would enact if he got the job he is running for.

Soon after the Alberta PC leader began to tweet, the CTF was Johnny on the spot with its press release, wherein Federal Director Aaron Wudrick called the payment "highly offensive" and directed readers to a petition ginned up by the organization to call on Ottawa to rescind the package.

Now, Wudrick is trained in the law, as are two of the CTF's six-member board of directors -- which also comprises, as has been pointed out on more than one occasion in this space, the CTF's only legal membership.

But really, all of the CTF board members are sophisticated people who certainly understand that Khadr's case before the courts stands a significant chance of success and, since his lawyers have been seeking $20 million in compensation, that without a deal like the one that appears have been worked out behind the scenes, might very well receive it.

So it is quite likely the Government of Canada does not have the option of simply rescinding the compensation package -- at least not without invoking the Notwithstanding Clause of the Constitution, an action that would stir up some opposition, one imagines, among those who still think the rule of law has a role in a civilized society.

Moreover, legal challenges like the sort that would be required to carry out the policies demanded by Wudrick and the CTF cost money too, if only to pay the lawyers who conduct them.

I've not seen a recent report of the cost of the serial efforts by the Government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper (in which Kenney served in several important cabinet posts) to keep Khadr out of the country and in jail, but it is bound to be significant.

In the fall of 2009, the Toronto Star reported that Ottawa had spent $1.3 million fighting the cases brought by Khadr's lawyers. More than seven years have passed since then, and I am prepared to bet quite a bit more money has been spent on this.

Now, I have never met Khadr, but I have met his lawyer, Dennis Edney, and Edney does not strike me as a man who gives up easily -- especially when he thinks he has the wind of righteousness at his back, as he believes in this case.

So if the government of Canada were to take the advice of the CTF -- the supposed "tax watchdog" -- the result almost inevitably would be to cost Canadian taxpayers an awful lot more money, both in the cost of the compensation package we would ultimately have to pay to Khadr, and in the cost of the government's response to his legal case -- significant parts of which would end up in the pockets of lawyers.

Never mind the cause. What kind of a "tax watchdog" starts a petition demanding that a government, which is acting prudently with our money, hose more of it away?

A "tax watchdog," of course, that is in reality a partisan organization acting in support of the Conservative Party -- which used Khadr's tragic case as a cynical wedge issue when Harper was prime minister and continues to do the same thing now that Andrew Scheer is its national leader and Kenney is the aspiring leader of its Alberta auxiliary.

If you ask me, that is indeed strong evidence the CTF is not what it says it is, but is a partisan political organization whose pronouncements ought not to be treated so reverentially by the media.

As for the Conservative Party, it seems clear it is an organization that has very little regard for the rule of law.

This post also appears on david Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Photo: Khadr family/Wikimedia Commons

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Leadership candidate Charlie Angus puts his political message to music

5 July 2017 - 10:19am
July 5, 2017Charlie Angus's journey from punk rock to activism to politicsCharlie Angus is perhaps best known as a passionate and articulate advocate in Parliament for Indigenous people. He wants to create a discourse that will cross the many lines of division in Canada.

Charlie Angus's journey from punk rock to activism to politics

5 July 2017 - 10:03am
Karl Nerenberg

Karl Nerenberg is your reporter on the Hill. Please consider supporting his work with a monthly donation. Support Karl on Patreon today for as little as $1 per month!

Charlie Angus was for many years an activist punk rocker with the bands "L'Étranger" (which took its name from the Camus novel) and the "Grievous Angels." As a musician, he was focused on social justice issues, such as South African apartheid and homelessness. In his own words, however, he was "peripheral to politics."

That changed in 1989 when Angus got involved in what he calls the Adams Mine War. (He wrote a book about it.) The nub of the dispute was the fact that the city of Toronto wanted to dump its garbage into an abandoned mine in Kirkland Lake, in northern Ontario.

"The project," he says, "would have had serious implications for the groundwater of our region and the people whose job it was to protect the public interest failed us."

Those "people" were elected officials. In response, Angus decided to get involved in party politics himself and took out an NDP membership. He remembers well the day he decided to take the next step and run for office.

"It was Thanksgiving night, 2000, when the police were storming on the road to come and arrest my neighbours who were farmers, First Nations people and miners," he recounts. "I made the decision that night that I would never, ever, be in a position again where a community would have to take the risk of forming a blockade to have their voice heard in a public process."

Angus says it was a wake-up call for him to see how lobbyists and corporate interests undermined the Adams Mine process. Jack Layton, then a member of the Toronto City Council, was a major ally of the northern Ontario protesters.

"That was not easy for a councillor from downtown Toronto," Angus says today, and it was Layton who convinced the northern Ontario activist to run for office in 2004. Angus won that election, in Timmins-James Bay, and the four elections since then.

A northerner who made a name for himself in Toronto

Charlie Angus is originally from northern Ontario -- his parents were both the children of gold miners -- but moved south when he was young. His dad taught at a community college in Toronto and took the family with him. Angus spent a good part of his youth in the Queen City, where he met Andrew Cash to form his first band.

It was his wife, Brit Griffin, who precipitated the move back north.

"She was from Alberta and did not want to live in Toronto," he says, "so in 1990 we moved to Cobalt just as all the mines were closing down."

Even the grocery store had just shut down. "It was not a town with a future," he laughs.

But there they were, and Charlie went to work as a chimney sweep and carpenter; and then became a journalist, founding a magazine, Highgrader, and working freelance for the CBC and others.

Angus did not run for the leadership last time, in the wake of Jack Layton's death, because he felt the NDP caucus, then the Official Opposition, needed some of its more experienced voices to stay focused on the work in the House. This time, he says, it was the election of Trump that prompted him to run.

"It shook us all," he explains, "that the progressive movement in the U.S could lose blue collar votes because they just did not bother talking to them. They felt they could speak for these communities without talking to them."

He sees the potential danger in Canada of the same, or at least a similar, phenomenon.

"Canadians are disconnecting from politics," he says frequently, "because they don't see politicians connecting to their reality."

When asked about concrete policies that would appeal to working-class voters, Angus tends to resort to general notions of establishing equilibrium in the economic order. As do other leadership candidates, he worries about the impact of the gig economy and precarious work, and points out that the working class, these days, includes white-collar professionals as well as blue-collar miners and factory workers.

Angus's main selling point to NDP members is mostly a matter of style, the fact that he comes from the working class and "can speak to people in their own language."

His specific policies include a tax break for the working poor and higher taxes, beyond the level to which the Trudeau government has raised them, on those who earn more than $250,000 per year. He also wants the federal government, as an employer, to set an example and hire more people full-time, rather than on term contracts. And he proposes extending employment insurance to "self-employed people in the gig economy."

In the course of the leadership campaign, Angus promises to unveil other tax policies, including a hike to the capital gains rate. The original intent of taxing capital gains at a rate lower than earned income, he argues, was to encourage industry to invest, especially in research and innovation. But industry is not doing that these days, Angus complains.

"There needs to be recognition that a great many corporations are not investing in research and have walked away from the benefits, such as health and defined benefit pensions, they used to provide to their workers. And so we're going to have to work on a revision of the tax code."

That's Angus's pledge, but we will have to wait for the details.  

Ending a colonial system

Charlie Angus is perhaps best known as a passionate and articulate advocate in Parliament for Indigenous people. His number 1 Indigenous policy priority is for the federal government to accept the ruling of the human rights tribunal that said child services for First Nations were dangerously and woefully inadequate.

He points out that this is a life and death situation, and evokes the case of the Wapekeka Reserve where two young girls, Chantel Fox and Jolynn Winter, took their own lives this past winter. They were both only 12 years old. When, in the wake of those deaths and fearing more, the community asked Health Canada for emergency funds to hire and train mental health workers, a federal official actually answered that it was an "awkward time" in the federal funding cycle.

The official was underscoring the absurd, archaic and unworkable contribution agreement system for funding basic services in First Nations communities. It is a system the Auditor General's office has condemned repeatedly, for more than a decade, and about which we have written much in this space.

The solution, Angus says, is that the federal government must provide assured, long-term block funding rather than grants. Further, he says, we must move away from the control of First Nations lives by the federal departments of Indigenous Affairs and Health. He characterizes the two as "colonial institutions." However, the northern Ontario MP recognizes that it would be wrong and foolish to simply transfer what are now the federal government's roles in education, health and other services to small, poorly resourced and isolated First Nations bands.

"You're going to have to work on economies of scale, whether by treaty or nation area," he explains. "How we will get there will come through negotiations. In my region, Treaty 9, it would be fairly straightforward to transfer education, health, housing and social services to the Treaty 9 Council. Enormous amounts of money are spent by Indigenous Affairs -- on consultants and bureaucracy, for example -- they are just spent on all kinds of things that do not reach the communities." 

Despite much rhetoric about reconciliation with First Nations and other Indigenous peoples in Canada, the Trudeau government has made little progress on the funding, management and, ultimately, self-government issues that are at the heart of the dreadful conditions among Indigenous peoples. There is a natural opening there for the NDP.

Appealing to diverse audiences

Of all the NDP leadership candidates, Angus is likely the one who has devoted the most time and energy to working, and fighting for, Indigenous Peoples. Just as going out on a limb in support of the Adams Mine protesters might not have been the best way for Toronto city councillor Jack Layton to curry favour with his urban constituents, one wonders how favourably non-Indigenous Canadians view Angus's preoccupation with Indigenous issues.

When asked what Canadians tell him about his preoccupation with Indigenous issues, Angus admits, a bit ominously: "I have heard it all."

He then adds, more hopefully, "I believe Canadians have moved dramatically forward. Canadians don't understand all the ins and outs of what went wrong on the treaties, for example. But they do understand that we need to move ahead and fix this. I think both blue-collar and middle-class Canadians want Canada to step up and do the right thing."

And that is the key to Charlie Angus's appeal.

He wants to plumb his own biography and grassroots experience to create a discourse that will appeal to people across the many natural and unavoidable lines of division in this country.

Can he succeed?

Well, this is a candidate who started his professional life plying the electric bass and performing politically aware punk rock on a stage. Whatever else you can say about Charlie Angus, he is almost certainly the only leadership candidate who knows what it mean to put his political message to music.

This article is part of a series profiling candidates in the 2017 NDP leadership race. Read the full series here.

Image: Facebook/Charlie Angus

Karl Nerenberg is your reporter on the Hill. Please consider supporting his work with a monthly donation. Support Karl on Patreon today for as little as $1 per month!

OPSEU ramping up efforts to organize contract college instructors

4 July 2017 - 4:41pm
Meagan Gillmore

The summer months are providing little reprieve for staff and representatives at the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) who work with college instructors.

The union recently filed to represent contract academic staff at the province's 24 colleges.

It's a "historic event of really incredible proportion," said RM Kennedy, the union's representative for college faculty. There are tens of thousands of contract academic staff at Ontario's colleges.

While each college is an independent body, they are considered one entity for the purposes of bargaining under the law, said Kennedy. This means the union has to organize all colleges at the same time.

OPSEU has been unsuccessful in organizing contract academic staff in the past. But Kennedy is hopeful this drive will work. Unionization, he said, is essential for contract staff.

"We really are at a tipping point," the professor at Centennial College in Toronto said. The vast majority of academic staff at colleges -- about 70 per cent, Kennedy said -- are on contracts. That means only 30 per cent of academic staff have full-time jobs.

This reliance on part-time, contract work threatens an already underfunded college system. Instructors can't give students their best when they're working from contract to contract. They often may not know they're teaching until days before classes start. In Toronto and the GTA, instructors may teach at several schools in the same semester. Students may not be able to find their instructors to ask for help. Professors may not know students well enough to provide reference letters.

Instructors may not have dedicated office space, or a working telephone. Kennedy, who said he is lucky to have never been a part-time instructor, said he shares his desk with part-time colleagues who can use the space when he isn't there. For many instructors, he said, their most stable office is their car -- if they can afford one. While the union has hired many organizers for this drive, Kennedy said a lot of work has been done by full-time faculty, who know where the part-time staff are and how to reach them.

Contract academic staff are grossly underpaid. They don't have access to benefits or pensions, even though they may have the same teaching load as their full-time colleagues. While rates of pay vary across schools, what is consistent is that staff are only paid for the hours they spend teaching -- not time spent marking or meeting with students.

"If you were to actually calculate it, it falls well below the minimum wage," said Kennedy, noting educators enter the profession because they love it, not to make money.

The financial stresses cause some to leave it.

JP Hornick had contract positions at George Brown College for years. Constantly reapplying for the same position, despite having won awards for teaching excellence was "demoralizing."

"My investment in the college actually wasn't returned," the labour studies professor said.

She got a full-time position at George Brown in 2002, but after she'd decided to leave teaching because of the uncertainty.

College administrations, and governments, like to say part-time staff are necessary for creating innovative education. Because instructors work in the industries they're preparing students to enter, the thinking goes, they provide industry insight.

This is a "myth," said Kennedy. Instructors who teach on top of their full-time industry jobs are the exception. "The vast majority of contract staff need jobs," he said. He's told students they could earn more after they graduate than their instructors, even though these people are preparing them for the industry.

"Education is not a business. It's a process," said Hornick. A quality education "can't run on a strict business model … on the backs of precarious, contract workers with no rights and low pay."  

Contracts also limit academic freedom. Instructors work in "fear," not knowing if criticizing the school's administration could jeopardize their chances of being re-hired, said Kennedy.

"If you don't have a secure job," he said, "academic freedom is meaningless."

Meagan Gillmore is rabble.ca's labour reporter.

Photo: JasonParis/flickr

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Using our taxes to build the Canada we want

4 July 2017 - 2:04pm
Dennis Howlett

The tax system can be a powerful tool for redistributing wealth and reducing inequality and poverty. We all benefit (including the rich) from a more equal society with better population health, reduced crime, and better education. Recent research also now shows that lower inequality also means better employment opportunities and a more vigorous economy, again, from which we all benefit.

There are a number of ways that the tax system can be changed to address inequality and poverty in Canada. Key, however, is that inequality needs to be tackled at both ends of the income scale.

At the top end, while the federal government and several provincial governments have made the income tax system more progressive by taxing the very rich more, these reforms do not work very well because the tax system is riddled with unfair and ineffective tax loopholes and there is no federal or provincial tax on wealth (as opposed to income).

The loopholes often allow corporations and the wealthy to pay far less than their actual tax rate on much of their income, bleeding the government of revenue that could otherwise be used to fund government programs. A recently published study from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, found that 59 of 64 loopholes benefit mostly the wealthy at a cost of over $100 billion.  

Some key changes needed include:

  • Closing the most egregious tax loopholes. Canadians for Tax Fairness has identified over $16 billion in revenue that could be raised by closing these loopholes. The worst offenders include the Stock Options Deduction, the Capital Gains Deduction and the Business Entertainment Tax Deduction.

  • An inheritance tax for large estates. The federal government needs to get started on taxing wealth by introducing a progressive inheritance tax with a minimum of 45 per cent on estates valued above $5 million, similar to the estate tax in the U.S., which would net an estimated $2 billion annually in new revenues (see the Alternative Federal Budget 2017).

At the lower end of the income scale, it is possible to achieve ambitious poverty reduction targets by significantly augmenting many of the efficient and cost-effective delivery mechanisms that already exist in the federal and provincial tax and social transfer systems. These have been relatively successful in reducing poverty for seniors and more recently for families with children. But current inequality and poverty rates clearly indicate that much more needs to be done to bolster distribution of income at this end of the scale.

Some key changes needed include:

  • Child and family poverty: The federal government has taken a very positive step in reducing child poverty by introducing a new and improved Canada Child Benefit. However, Campaign 2000 estimates that even after recent improvements in the child benefit, it would still leave a million children living in poverty.

While a combination of measures including a national housing strategy and a national child-care program could contribute, annual increases of $1 billion to the CCB could do a lot of the heavy lifting and help us achieve the goal of ending child poverty.

  • Seniors poverty: Canada has had some success in reducing poverty among Canadian seniors to a low of 3.9 per cent in 1995. However, since then we have been losing ground and poverty rates have risen to about 11 per cent as more Canadians are retiring without adequate company pensions or retirement savings.

The government did increase the Guaranteed Income Supplement top-up benefit by 10 per cent in 2016. But we shouldn’t stop there when we have over 600,000 seniors still living in poverty. There should be annual increases of $670 million with the goal of eliminating poverty among seniors in the next 5 years.

  • Working-age poverty: More than 12 per cent of working-age Canadians live in poverty. Provincial minimum wages and social assistance rates fall far below the poverty line in most cases. While child and senior poverty has been the focus of government anti-poverty initiatives in recent years, very little attention has been given to addressing working-age poverty.

A very cost effective and efficient way to deliver benefits to many low-income Canadians would be to boost the GST/HST credit. The GST/HST benefit now costs about $4 billion. We recommend doubling this amount.

Another tax system-based program, called the Working Income Tax Benefit, was introduced in 2007 with the aim of helping low-income people on social assistance enter the work force. The benefit levels at $1,015 a year for single persons and about $1,844 per couple, depending on the province, are too low to do an effective job.

The maximum benefits should be doubled over four years, and the program should extend its reach higher up the income ladder so that it becomes a major income support for Canadians who work but remain poor. This would cost an additional $250 million a year.

Raising minimum wages so that a single person working full time would have an income above the poverty line would be an important complement to this program -- one that would not require any government expenditure and that could actually increase tax revenue. While the federal minimum wage covers less than 10 per cent of the workforce, reinstating a federal minimum wage at $15 an hour -- the rate recently targetted by the leading provinces -- could help to establish a national benchmark.

How to pay for boosting poverty-reduction measures

The enhancements described above would cost about $6 billion a year. The steps above could easily be funded by closing the $16 billion of unfair and ineffective tax loopholes that were identified by Canadians for Tax Fairness. And there would be funds left over to invest in a national child-care program and a national social housing program that would also help reduce poverty while boosting employment and the economy as a whole.

The priorities identified in this article would effectively begin the process of tackling inequality simultaneously at both ends of the income scale. Canada cannot afford to leave inequality unchecked. It can act now.

Image: Pixabay

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Instead of following Trudeau's agenda, the B.C. NDP can take the lead

4 July 2017 - 10:09am
July 4, 2017John Horgan's NDP can bring leadership to OttawaJohn Horgan wants to improve the quality of life in B.C. -- and many of the obstacles the incoming B.C. government faces originate in Ottawa.

John Horgan's NDP can bring leadership to Ottawa

4 July 2017 - 10:03am
ElectionsPolitics in Canada

Justin Trudeau invited John Horgan to come to Ottawa, shortly after the NDP leader was asked by the B.C. Lieutenant Governor to form a government.

The premier-designate agreed to talks with Trudeau that will take place once the New Democrat and his future cabinet are sworn in.

Though the B.C. legislature is not expected to resume sitting until September, Horgan plans to address three issues immediately: education, the epidemic of painkiller deaths, and U.S. protectionist actions against B.C. softwood lumber exports.

Team Trudeau will be running a whispering campaign to turn Horgan away from his pledge to stop the Trans Mountain pipeline, proposed by Texas-based Kinder Morgan.

Horgan is on solid ground in opposing the project. Three B.C. Liberal MPs are shy about supporting the expansion of an existing pipeline. The B.C. lower mainland population worries about what a seven-fold increase in tanker traffic bodes for B.C. coastal waters. 

Ottawa has other issues they want Horgan to support, including their Brian Mulroney-inspired campaign to make nice with Donald Trump by soft-pedalling the trade differences between the two countries.

Instead of responding to the Trudeau agenda, the B.C. NDP should be raising its profile in Ottawa.

John Horgan wants to improve the quality of life in B.C. -- and many of the obstacles the incoming B.C. government faces originate in Ottawa.

Tax expenditures benefiting the top 10 per cent of income earners and corporations are estimated to total $80 billion, enough to fund every promise any NDP leader has ever made in any province.

Ottawa collects taxes for the provinces (only Quebec has its own revenue agency) and the Trudeau government is doing a terrible job of limiting offshore tax loopholes.

Even the easy tax dodges were left in place by Finance Minister Morneau when he drew up his last budget.

Allowing professionals to incorporate and avoid personal income tax rates costs Canadians $500 million a year.

Horgan needs to take the initiative with Trudeau on tax reform. The NDP is going to be short of provincial allies on most issues; it can lead on the tax avoidance file.

Over the last 10 years of their 16-year reign, the B.C. Liberals refused to raise welfare rates. Single recipients now have $610 for lodgings, food, transport and other necessities.

An army of homeless people live on the streets of Vancouver. 

It was 32 years ago that the Chrétien Liberals abolished the Canada Assistance Plan, and with it, the national safety net.

In B.C. people are now routinely denied welfare payments; disabled and injured people make up 63 per cent of welfare recipients.

John Horgan needs to push Ottawa to restore the social safety net. Life in Canada can only get worse without a coast-to-coast-to-coast income security policy.

The Chrétien Liberals killed funding for co-operative housing. B.C. faces an affordable urban housing crisis of epic proportion.

At one time, the Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation provided federal government leadership on housing.

The NDP premier needs Ottawa to restore funding for affordable urban living.

Canada's students are getting a raw deal. Student debt payments grow, as steady job prospects diminish.

A properly federally funded post-secondary education system would allow for nominal or no tuition. Student grants need to replace the loan sharking now backstopped by Ottawa.

The NDP premier needs to challenge Trudeau: why should young Canadians by punished with debt for pursuing education that benefits all Canadians?

The recent modifications to the Canada Pension Plan are less than generous to seniors. The Canadian Labour Congress made proposals to double the CPP; these enjoyed wide support. Instead, payouts were increased from 25 per cent of average annual earnings to 33 per cent. These will take effect over nine years -- denying benefits to an important segment of the population.

Finance Minister Morneau, who inherited the family business of creating employee pensions that work for employers first, introduced Bill C-27, which would worsen pensions for federal, Crown corporation and private sector workers.

The federal government needs to hear that pensions represent deferred wages, and that guaranteed benefit pensions are cheaper to run and richer for the pensioners than the privatized defined contribution system the Trudeau Liberals want to sneak past its employees.

B.C. is a major destination for retirees with pensions. The finance minister has plans to impoverish retired public servants.

Through the failure of its American-sourced IBM payroll system, Phoenix, Ottawa has demonstrated it cannot pay its public servants. Now it plans to ruin their pension benefits.

Before meeting Trudeau, John Horgan should be canvassing youth, social and labour activists to determine what needs to be done to create retirement with dignity for working Canadians, provide a living wage to all, income security for those in need, and immediate debt relief for students.

Bringing a substantial agenda to Ottawa would be a welcome change from current photo-op, talking-point politics.

Duncan Cameron is former president of rabble.ca and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.

Photo: BC NDP/flickr

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B.C. politicsJohn Horganb.c. ndp governmentB.C. NDPhorgan governmenteconomic inequalityTrudeau governmentDuncan CameronJuly 4, 2017The next NDP leader needs to articulate changeMemo to NDP leadership candidates: please articulate what comes after austerity.NDP leadership candidates affirm support for labour in debateNDP leadership candidates reinforced their commitment to workers and the labour movement at a debate hosted by the United Steelworkers in Toronto on Thursday night.Liberals break pension plan promise with Bill C-27Bill C-27 establishes a framework for target benefit pensions in the federal private sector and Crown corporations. Why are the Liberals resurrecting the Conservatives' pension plan agenda?

Big Tobacco will be pleased as Derek Fildebrandt's 'liberty' video assails restrictions on flavoured cigarettes

4 July 2017 - 12:08am
David J. Climenhaga

Wildrose Finance Critic Derek Fildebrandt is continuing his party's tradition of supporting Big Tobacco's right to get children hooked on smoking by targeting them with mentholated and candy-flavoured cigarettes.

Naturally, that's not the way Fildebrandt, who has let it be known he is pondering a run for the leadership of the United Conservative Party, phrases it in a social media video for his "United Liberty" PAC -- sorry, but that phrase used the way the MLA for Strathmore-Brooks does just screams out for scare quotes. Just the same, it's what his attack on regulations banning flavoured tobacco really means.

In what is billed as opposition to the "nanny state," the self-described libertarian's fund-raising entity accuses Alberta's NDP government of "even deciding what flavours of tobacco are appropriate for adults."

In reality, Alberta's regulations concerning flavoured tobacco have precious little to do with adults and plenty to do with protecting children and youth from the use of flavoured cigarettes as a gateway to tobacco addiction.

As Fildebrandt presumably knows, about four per cent of adult tobacco users smoke, for example, mentholated cigarettes, while about a third of youth smokers do. "Menthol cigarettes are starter products that make it easier for youth to get hooked on tobacco," said Angeline Webb of the Alberta/N.W.T. Division of the Canadian Cancer Society when the government announced the flavoured-tobacco ban in May 2015.

What's more, some say Premier Rachel Notley's government has been too timid in its approach to tobacco regulation, banning candy-flavoured smokes in June 2015 but failing to add menthol cigarettes to the general prohibition until the following September.

Last week, the Campaign for a Smoke Free Alberta, a coalition of prominent health organizations, assailed the government for not yet banning all forms of flavoured tobacco and for failing, moreover, to actively enforce its ban on tobacco sales to minors.

During the 2014-15 school year, according to the Canadian Youth Tobacco and Drug Survey commissioned by Health Canada and cited by the coalition, more than 25,000 Alberta young people in Grades 6 to 12 had used tobacco products in the previous 30 days.

But defending tobacco industry wishes is nothing new for Fildebrandt or the Wildrose Party.

As reported in this space in November 2015, Fildebrandt appeared then to be drawing on Big Tobacco's playbook for arguments against higher tobacco taxes. In debate that year on the NDP government's amendments to the Tobacco Tax Act, Fildebrandt trotted out one of the tobacco industry's favourite arguments against higher taxes, the claim they encourage sales of contraband cigarettes.

Back in 2012, when he was Alberta spokesperson for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, Fildebrandt used the same argument in a handout on the supposed problem of contraband tobacco that was produced and distributed by the organization.

Most tobacco experts, however, dismiss such claims. A 2015 study by the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit, funded by that province's health ministry, debunked the argument tobacco taxes contribute to contraband smuggling, describing the claim as a "myth."

Moreover, according to estimates from other sources, contraband tobacco today accounts for less than 2 per cent of legal tobacco sales in Alberta, which has effective laws in this area, making a rise in smuggling here unlikely.

Also in 2012, then Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith was vowing never to raise taxes on tobacco -- or, in her defence, on anything else. In 2003, Smith was making the same arguments in her Calgary Herald column. "Tobacco companies are not to blame for the trade in contraband cigarettes," she wrote. "Unless governments realize high taxes are the real cause, the smuggling business will thrive."

In 2007, as Director of Provincial Affairs for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, she wrote to then health minister Dave Hancock to argue against the restrictions on retail displays of tobacco products then proposed by the Progressive Conservative government.

When Fildebrandt announced the creation of "United Liberty" on June 22, his press release called for the UPC to embrace "a new, liberty-conservatism that limits the role of government in both the economic and the social spheres, that respects the right of the individual to live their life however they choose."

With that in mind -- not to mention his stated wish to target Millennial voters -- Fildebrandt's "liberty" video complains that "people are being charged for consuming marijuana in the privacy of their homes" and "for daring to drink a glass of wine over a picnic at the park." Restrictions on the public consumption of alcohol, it says as a sinister soundtrack plays in the background, are happening "despite being legal in countries like France."

While it's interesting to see Fildebrandt supporting Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's marijuana-legalization policy (which similarly conservative former prime minister Stephen Harper called "something we do not want to encourage") and the French approach to regulation (which the similarly conservative Washington Post condemned as 'a vast straitjacket holding back economic activity"), one suspects this isn't really what he has in mind at all when he says "liberty."

More likely, one imagines, the founder of the Reagan-Goldwater Society at Carleton University is thinking of the liberty of U.S. lung cancer victims to choose whatever level of health care they can afford to pay for under Trumpcare.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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Could Canadians finally get relief from high wireless prices?

3 July 2017 - 9:18pm
Technology

For decades, Canadians have paid some of the highest prices in the industrialized world for what is often sub-standard wireless service. But an encouraging new shift in policy direction by Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains could be about to change that.

There is no doubt that our current policies around wireless pricing and competition have failed Canadians. A Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) report last year revealed that average household spending on telecommunications increased for the third year running, to a whopping $215/month, with the largest increase falling on mobile services.

We know that sky-high prices hold back our economy and exacerbate our digital divide. Canadian businesses face monthly bills that are often twice as much as those faced by their overseas competitors. And far too many low-income Canadians are forced offline because they simply cannot afford the high cost of service. Another recent CRTC study revealed that one in three of Canada's lowest-income residents do not own a cellphone, compared with just one in 20 of high-income earners.

There's no mystery about the underlying cause of these steep prices -- Canada's wireless sector is woefully uncompetitive, with the Big Three providers controlling over 90 per cent of the market. With so little competition, there is no incentive to reduce rates, and every incentive to price-gouge Canadians. For years, we've been calling on the CRTC and government to lower prices by opening up the market to greater competition and choice.

That's why it was so encouraging to see Innovation Minister Bains order the CRTC to look again at whether smaller, affordable wireless providers -- technically known as wifi-based Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) -- should be allowed to enter Canada's wireless market.

Minister Bains was responding to a disappointing CRTC decision in March that permitted Rogers to block customers of Sugar Mobile, an innovative wifi-based provider, from accessing its network. That ruling sparked an outcry from consumer advocates, who argued that allowing Big Telecom to block smaller competitors is a licence to price-gouge Canadians. After all, where's the incentive to lower prices when you're allowed to simply shut out your competition?

As a result of Minister Bains' direction, the CRTC will now not only need to revisit its decision on Sugar Mobile, but also the wider question of whether Canada should join the many other nations around the world which have successfully lowered prices by enabling consumers to purchase wireless services from MVNO providers.

MVNOs are a powerful tool for increasing competition. Instead of having to build out their own networks and infrastructure -- which can be prohibitively costly for a small startup -- MVNOs purchase network access on behalf of their customers from large incumbents, thereby enabling those customers to roam on existing networks. This allows startup providers to compete effectively on a level playing field, with the increased competition resulting in significantly lower prices for consumers.

The U.K. is a great example of this model working successfully -- a country where unlimited wireless plans can be purchased for the equivalent of just $35 a month. Right now, those are prices Canadians can only dream of. But if Minister Bains and the CRTC do the right thing, Canada will finally be moving in the right direction.

David Christopher is Interim Communications and Campaigns Director for OpenMedia, a community-based organization that works to keep the Internet open, affordable, and surveillance-free.

Image: Pixabay

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Rethink 150: Indigenous Truth project brings awareness to Canada 150

30 June 2017 - 5:18pm
June 30, 2017Members of Okanagan-Syilx Nation are unsettling Canada 150. It's time for Canadians to listen.An Okanagan-Syilx-led collaborative awareness project called Rethink 150: Indigenous Truth bringing awareness to the work that Canada 150 does to erase and occlude current and historical injustices.

Members of Okanagan-Syilx Nation are unsettling Canada 150. It's time for Canadians to listen.

30 June 2017 - 5:13pm
Neil Nunn

The point is to make you uncomfortable.

If you drive east through the sage-spotted Similkameen Valley, between Keremeos and Osoyoos, you'll be confronted with a billboard that reminds travellers of the difficult realities of colonization. A large illustration depicts industry, residential schooling, resource extraction, ecological distress, and at the bottom, an Okanagan family agitated by flames; their bodies representing the land, their hair, the water. In the top-right corner of the billboard, set below a stylized medicine wheel, it reads: "Rethink 150."

This billboard is the first of two in the Okanagan Valley and is part of a larger Okanagan-Syilx-led collaborative awareness project called Rethink 150: Indigenous Truth.

A few weeks ago, I had a chance to chat with Dixon Terbasket, a friend and founding member of the Rethink 150 collective. In our conversation, he posed the important rhetorical question: "Settlers have no idea of our history, so how are they going to learn about it?" For members of Rethink 150, the performance of hyper-nationalism surrounding Canada's 150th anniversary highlights more than a need for education. Unsettling people this year is about bringing awareness to the work that Canada 150 does to actively erase and occlude current and historical injustices. For the Rethink 150 collective, their interventions are meant to be productive, by turning discomfort into resolve, rather than resentment. These challenging conversations provide a stepping-off point to build more respectful relationships across Turtle Island and create a stronger foundation to move forward together.

As we approach the sesquicentennial, it is nearly impossible to avoid being affronted by the promises of happiness that Canada 150 presents. Pop cans, T-shirts, online ads are common sites used to promote and publicize a specific point of view about this nation, and ultimately solidify a narrow agenda of what Canada should become. The truth is that our current political order relies upon these carefully crafted visions of Canada to promote support for a nation that is based on tenuous claims to sovereignty and national jurisdiction. This restless performance by the national government is even confirmed in Section 35(1) of the Canadian Constitution, which recognizes and affirms the treaty rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada.

These ideals put forward by Canada 150 make it easier to swallow some difficult realities: a nation that struggles with flagrant intolerance, eagerly privileges profits over people, and habitually disavows its most vulnerable.

The Canada 150 project does little to lessen these realities. In fact, it does the opposite.

Creating and sustaining this constructed vision of Canada is an expensive and labourious process. In the case of Canada 150, the price tag exceeds $500 million. And it is funded by the public.

Consider the vision put forth in the CBC series, "Canada: The Story of US," an initiative so Anglocentric in its bent that it compresses 14,000 years of Indigenous history and 150 years of New France into a single episode. And for the more than six million Canadians who are more comfortable engaging in languages other than English? Sorry. The series has been produced in just one.

This is not to say that the vision of Canada 150 has ignored Indigenous people wholesale. There have been some flashes of recognition for Indigenous people throughout, such as Indigenous music performances and storytelling at  celebrations. But as Dene scholar Glen Coulthard demonstrates in his award-winning book Red Skin, White Masks, in Canada too often simple acts of recognition are employed as a measure to justify inaction. Inequality and social constraint still exist through the government's relatively superficial efforts to reconcile. For proof of this, take a second to consider the governing bodies implicated in the mercury contamination at Grassy Narrows First Nation. Or how long it took, and what it took, for the Canadian government to commit to an official inquiry for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

For the late Secwepemc activist, writer, and visionary, Arthur Manuel, the ongoing violence and colonial constraint placed on Indigenous people in Canada is most visible in the fact that Indigenous populations are left with a reserve system that encompasses just 0.2 per cent of traditional Indigenous territories. The Crown controls 99.8 per cent. 

Many believe that Canada 150 is about orienting ourselves to the future: "Sure, we have had an unfortunate past... But we have worked hard to reconcile, and it's time to move on." If you find yourself in this "get over it and move on" camp, it's worth remembering that the last residential school -- Saskatchewan's infamous Gordon Residential School -- only closed its doors in 1996. Or the recent, and now thoroughly documented, shameful racially targeted practice of "starlight tours" carried out by the Saskatoon RCMP.  Legacies of colonialism are not in the past. Not even close.

As plans ramp up for what is anticipated to be possibly Canada's largest publicly funded party, the work of the Syilx-led Rethink 150 collective and a chorus of other grassroots resistance efforts remind us, as Terbasket states, that it's "not a big happy party for the Indigenous people." Neither is it for any of us who reject the tired promises that Canada 150 offers.

It's not that we cannot be thankful this Canada Day. There are many things to be grateful for. Rather, it is incumbent upon us as settlers to understand what Canada 150 does in relation to the history of this country, the voices and struggles it erases, and the ideological return anticipated from the Canadian government's decadent investment.

The work of the Rethink 150 collective urges us to not simply accept the promises that 150 offers. Questioning 150 will lead to a place where we are building a stronger, inclusive and democratic Canada. My sincere thanks to the work of all those who have amplified this meaningful dialogue. This is a discussion that offers the real possibility for stronger sustained relationships across Turtle Island and beyond.

Now that is something worth celebrating.

Neil Nunn is a first generation Canadian committed to being a respectful guest on unceded Indigenous territory. Neil is a PhD Candidate in Geography and Planning and a Lupina Senior Doctoral Fellow at the School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto. His research examines the relationship between mine-waste and structures of colonialism in B.C. Twitter: @neil_nunn

Photo credit: Zeus Helios

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Algonquin elders hold Faith Is Peace walk to save sacred site Akikodjiwan

30 June 2017 - 10:10am
Albert Dumont

A special moment in my life took place last Friday June 23, when Algonquin elders took part in the Faith is Peace walk from Victoria Island to Parliament Hill. What made this walk so profoundly joyful and memorable for me is the fact that many of the region's faith leaders walked with us in support of our struggle for sacred Akikodjiwan (Chaudière and Albert Islands). Together we stood as one! Shoulder to shoulder, heart to heart, Indigenous roots intertwined with settler roots, the walk became a moving, breathing statement to Canada. All present were in agreement: First Nations spirituality is a faith. And as a faith with its own unique foundation and creation story, the First Peoples' places of worship must be protected. Shielding them from abuse must be done with the same force and vigour Canadians would put into motion to protect a synagogue, a temple, a mosque, a church or any house of worship in a free world, if it came under attack by people who had no respect for it. Are we not duty-bound by Canada's Constitution to do so? We all enjoy a "right" enshrined in the Constitution which guarantees freedom of religious expression. The First Nations are no longer excluded! So back off, NCC (National Capital Commission)!

I see a faith leader as the sparkle of a firefly, offering the depressed and downtrodden of their community hopeful light, on even the darkest of nights. It was with enormous pride in my heart that I heard such faith leaders eloquently express their support for our cause, the saving of our sacred site Akikodjiwan. Words from Archbishop Prendergast, Rabbi Bulka, Imam Samy Metwally, the Very Reverend Shane Parker and many others gave us renewed hope that Akikodjiwan will be saved. The words of the faith leaders were spoken, written and recorded on film and will be posted online in the near future. It truly was a humbling time for me and one I'll always remember.

First Nations spirituality was outlawed until almost 1960. This terrible act of oppression was in my opinion, the worst of the many outrageous actions Canada took in her efforts to destroy the culture and identity of the First Nations at a time now referred to as "a dark chapter" in Canada's history. Today we often see media-produced photos or film footage of politicians partaking in a smudging ceremony. For most of the politicians who do so, it is nothing more than a photo-op. Anyone who really respects these ceremonies would never vote yes, allowing a developer to defile, desecrate and destroy Akikodjiwan, a sacred site of the Anishinabe since time immemorial. Look around! Terrorism and catastrophes are taking place in all areas of the planet. The world does not need more condos! We need more sacred sites, not less of them. It is not too late, we can still save Akikodjiwan from destruction. The Faith is Peace walk was all about that!

As difficult as it might be for the good people of this country to emotionally digest, the truth is that the First Peoples are still fighting every day against oppression. We fight to regain our languages, we fight for a share of the riches being removed from our territories each and every day so that our impoverished communities can grow an economy and build schools. But it is the struggle to revive our ancient spirituality which is of greatest concern for me and many, many more Algonquins and their supporters. Our spirituality was our way of life! Is it too much to ask to have it there once again for those of us who respect and honour it?

There wasn't much media attention for the Faith is Peace walk. Very strange, considering the fact that this rally was the first of its kind -- where interfaith groups rallied to support Indigenous spirituality -- so far as I am aware. It is extremely puzzling to the walk's organizers as to why the media chose to stay away. In a free country, both sides with opposing views are heard. It is only fair and just that it is so. Then why is it that with Akikodjiwan, the only voice being heard is that of politicians and Algonquins who support the destruction of a sacred site? In Canada, money is power and in this case, money dictates that Akikodjiwan will be lost to us. Not so fast! Let the people decide.

If the walk was a success then it was made so by the many dedicated people who pitched in to make it so. A special Migwech to Algonquin elder Jane Ann Chartrand for her generous contribution to this cause and for her steadfast dedication to Akikodjiwan.

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It's time to work towards meaningful reconciliation with the true founding nations of this land

30 June 2017 - 9:39am
June 30, 2017Systemic oppression of Indigenous peoples is no reason for celebrationAs a white settler enjoying life on stolen land and broken promises, I'm unable to join in this celebration. We must work towards meaningful reconciliation with the true founding nations of this land.

At a milestone in Canada's history, the vital role of trade unions remains overlooked

29 June 2017 - 4:22pm
Ed Finn

As we approach Canada's 150th anniversary, our country's political, economic, and social institutions -- and their leaders during the past century-and-a-half -- will be thanked and honoured.

There is one institution, however, that is being overlooked: the labour movement. Acknowledgement of the substantial contribution trade unions have made to Canada's development and progress is nowhere to be seen.

This lack of recognition is understandable. Considering the mainstream media's invariably negative depiction of unions, the notion that they have been social and economic builders rather than strike-happy wreckers draws disdain and derision.

Given a word-association test, the response of most Canadians  to the word "union" would be "strikes."

How else could they be expected to react? The only time they hear about unions in the media is when their members are walking the picket lines. The automatic assumption is that all unions ever do is go on strike.

In fact, the average union member is on the job 96.4 per cent of their working life. Since unions negotiate 97 out of every 100 collective agreements at the bargaining table, a strike is an exceptional event.

If unions received even one-tenth as much publicity for helping enhance our society as they get for the occasional strike to which recalcitrant employers force them to resort, their public profile might reflect something closer to reality.

As someone who has worked for and with labour organizations for more than 40 years -- and written a column on labour relations for the Toronto Star for 14 years -- I never think of strikes.

I think of the grievance procedure that helps union members unjustly treated by their employers to regain their jobs, get their back pay, or have their vacation or sick leave credits restored.

I think of the union programs that help rehabilitate workers with depression, alcohol and drug addictions, and other personal problems.

I think of the unions' campaigns against racism and discrimination.

I think of the union locals that compete with one another to raise the most money for the United Way and other charitable agencies.

I think of the unions' ongoing efforts to improve workplace health and safety and reduce the carnage of workplace deaths, injuries and disease.

I think of the high priority so many unions have given to the elimination of pay and hiring discrimination against women and Indigenous peoples.

What unions are all about

These are just a few examples of what unions are really all about. Of course bargaining with employers on wages and benefits is a core responsibility, but it's far from an exclusive one. Most of the activities of unions, unheralded and unsung, have nothing to do with strikes. They have to do with helping workers -- and not just their own members -- cope with life's hardships and uncertainties, both on the job and off.

If you were to follow most union representatives around for a few months, you would probably never see one of them involved with a strike. You'd see them assisting a union local's officers in processing grievances. You'd see them helping workers file their claims for unemployment insurance or workers' compensation. You'd see them spending many nights at pre-negotiation planning meetings in union halls or hotel rooms, instead of being where they'd prefer -- at home with their families.

Certainly, strikes do happen. But few deserve the bad press they get. Most strikes are forced on unions when management refuses to bargain in good faith. Most people tend to forget that the right to strike as a last resort is an integral part of the free collective bargaining system. In most plants and offices, it's the only leverage unions have to counter a powerful and aggressive employer. It's a weapon that unions are careful not to abuse, and used only when they are left with no other choice.

Labour's historic benefits

All Canadians, whether they know it or not (and most don't), live better lives because of the achievements of the labour movement -- usually just because unions have the right to strike, not necessarily because they exercise it.  

If you look back at Canada's 150-year history, you'll find that many of the basic rights and benefits we all enjoy were initially fought for and won by unions. Organized labour was in the forefront of the struggles for public health care, for public education and pensions, for improvements in employment conditions and the minimum wage.

Most employees today work 40 hours or less a week instead of 50 or more, because the railroad unions went on strike for a shorter work week with the same pay in the 1950s. They won that historic battle despite the railway companies' mendacious claim they'd never be able to afford it. It was a labour victory that led in a few years to the adoption of the 40-hour work week as a standard schedule across the country.

Later, the provision of year-long legislated paid parental leave was sparked by a breakthrough at the bargaining table by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, which made it a priority in negotiations. This gain, too, like the 40-hour work week, soon became a universal benefit.

Some of the other major improvements in our social programs were similarly pioneered by the Steelworkers, Canadian Auto Workers, and other industrial unions.

Without the unions, striving arduously over the years in so many ways, in so many provinces, cities and towns from coast to coast, the socioeconomic strands that hold our country together today would not be nearly so strong. 

Unlike most Canadians, who lack the insights I have had into what unions actually do, I never think about them in terms of the infrequent strikes that get all the media coverage. I think mainly of the unions' ongoing commitment to the protection and advancement of the interests of working people -- including those who are not union members. It's a shame that, at this milestone in Canada's history, the labour movement will still be denied the recognition it deserves for making this country a better place to live.

Ed Finn was Senior Editor at the CCPA and editor of the CCPA Monitor from 1994-2014. Formerly, as a journalist, he worked at The Montreal Gazette and for 14 years wrote a column on labour relations for The Toronto Star. He also served for three decades as a communications officer for several labour organizations, including the Canadian Labour Congress and the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

 Image: Library and Archives Canada/flickr

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The importance of social movements at national, provincial and local levels

29 June 2017 - 10:39am
June 29, 2017Organizing social movements -- from micro to macroThe world is changed when we all work together. But how do we do that? A look at ways to organize people at the national, provincial and local levels.

What the Rental Fairness Act means for renters in Ontario

29 June 2017 - 10:24am
June 29, 2017The Rental Fairness Act: What does it mean for renters in Ontario?The Rental Fairness Act makes some key amendments to the rental law in Ontario. Here's what they mean for affordable housing in the province.

The Rental Fairness Act: What does it mean for renters in Ontario?

29 June 2017 - 10:17am
EconomyPolitics in Canada

The Rental Fairness Act, (the "RFA") is part of Ontario's Fair Housing Plan, a strategy released in April 2017 to promote affordable housing in Toronto. The RFA, which received Royal Assent on May 30, 2017, eliminates the exemption to rent increase rules and requires landlords to compensate tenants if they wish to terminate a tenancy for personal use. Below are some of the key amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act, (the "Act") and what they mean for affordable housing in Ontario. 

1. Rent increases

With the proclamation of the RFA, units that were previously exempt from the rent control rules prescribed by the Act will no longer be exempt. The following units will now be subject to the guideline amount outlined by the RFA:

a. Units that were not occupied before June 17, 1998;

b. Units that were not rented since July 29, 1975; and

c. Units that were not occupied for residential purposes before November 1, 1991.

For these previously exempted units, landlords may no longer increase rent unless at least 12 months have lapsed from the date on which the tenancy began or the rent was last increased, will not be permitted to implement a rent increase of more than the guideline amount, and will be required to give at least 90 days' notice in order to implement the increase. If landlords wish to increase the rent by more than the guideline amount ‑- which will rise from 1.5 per cent to 1.8 per cent for 2018 ‑- they will be required to apply to the Landlord and Tenant Board (the LTB), the tribunal that administers the Act.

2. Transition period for rent increase

Though the RFA received Royal Assent on May 30, it sets April 20 as the date on which rent increases can take effect. Specifically, if the landlord of a previously exempt rental unit has given notice of an above‑guideline rent increase, and the notice is given before April 20, 2017, the previously exempt rental unit continues to be exempt and the amount of the new rent will be the amount set out in the notice. If the notice is given on or after April 20, 2017 and new rent takes effect before the exemption repeal date (May 30, 2017), the amount of new rent is to be decreased by an amount equal to the sum of the amount of rent charged before the rent increase took effect and a rent increase equal to the guideline increase. In the case of notice given on or after April 20, 2017, the landlord must, within 60 days of the repeal date, pay the tenant the amount of new rent paid before the exemption repeal date that is in excess of the amount that would have been paid had the rent increase been equal to the guideline increase for the calendar year.

3. Terminating tenancies

Under the RFA, landlords can still terminate the tenancy for "personal use" if they, their spouse, child, or caregiver intend to move into the unit. However, the RFA requires the landlord to compensate the tenant for one month's rent, or offer another unit that is acceptable to the tenant, in order to do so, and no eviction order will be issued until the required compensation is paid. If a landlord fails to pay the required amount, tenants are entitled to apply to the LTB. Unlike the amendments regarding rent increase, which are effective as of April 20, this amendment has not yet come into effect, a delay which has been criticized by the NDP. 

If at any time between delivering the notice of termination and one year after the tenant vacates the unit, the landlord advertises the rental unit, enters into a separate tenancy agreement, demolishes the rental unit, or takes any step to convert the rental unit, the RFA creates an inference of bad faith, and the tenant may apply to the LTB within a year for:

a) All or a portion of any increased rent incurred for a one-year period after vacating the rental unit;

b) Reasonable out-of-pocket moving, storage, and other expenses;

c) Abatement of rent;

d) An administrative fine for an amount up to $25,0000.00.

By introducing the compensation requirement and requiring landlords to rebut the presumption of bad faith (rather than requiring tenants to prove that landlords have acted in bad faith), the RFA will, hopefully, dissuade landlords from illegally evicting tenants from rental units in order to increase rental prices.

4. Above‑guideline rent increases

A landlord could previously apply to the LTB for an above-guideline rent increase due to an "extraordinary increase" in municipal taxes, utilities, or both. With the proclamation of the RFA, landlords may no longer impose above‑guideline rent increases on account of the cost of utilities. Moreover, as part of any application of an above-guideline rent increase, landlords must now submit any item in an outstanding work order relating to one or more elevators in the building, unaddressed orders made by the Technical Standards and Safety Act, 2000 relating to elevators, and any specified repairs or replacements ordered by the LTB with respect to elevators in the residential complex. The effect of this amendment is to prevent landlords from increasing rent in an amount above the guideline where they have failed to keep their elevators in a state of good repair. This addition says nothing about the landlord's failure to maintain other aspects of the building. Moreover, like the rule requiring landlords to pay compensation to the tenant if they intend to move into the unit, this amendment has not yet come into effect.

Conclusion

Ontario remains ahead of a number of Canadian provinces, including Alberta, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, which have little to no rent control, and British Columbia, where the laws allow for considerable increases to rent (the rate of inflation plus 2 per cent). The RFA -‑ once enforced in full -‑ represents another step in the right direction. Still, tenants in Ontario remain vulnerable to staggering rent hikes in between tenancies. Economists have long been skeptical of imposing rent caps to promote affordable housing, and if Berlin is any example, their skepticism is justified: in that context, it is upper-income households who have benefited from the imposition of rent caps. In addition to passing legislation to protect tenants in the private rental market, the province would do well to renew its commitment to the non‑profit housing sector, which is an important source of housing for low- and middle-income households.

Iler Campbell LLP is a law firm serving co-ops, not-for-profits, charities and socially-minded small business and individuals in Ontario.

Pro Bono provides legal information designed to educate and entertain readers. But legal information is not the same as legal advice -- the application of law to an individual's specific circumstances. While efforts are made to ensure the legal information provided through these columns is useful, we strongly recommend you consult a lawyer for assistance with your particular situation to obtain accurate advice.

Submit requests for future Pro Bono topics to probono@rabble.ca. Read past Pro Bono columns here.

Photo: Kurt Bauschardt/flickr

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fair housing planaffordable housinghousing rightstenant rightsLandlord and Tenant Boardcanadian lawpro bonoSafia J. LakhaniPro BonoJune 29, 2017Parkdale tenants take action on affordable housing with rent strikeAt the beginning of May, a group of tenants in Toronto went on a rent strike, taking a creative and courageous stand to fix the issue of affordable housing.Taking the fight for housing rights to courtLast week, the Ontario Court of Appeal released its decision on a landmark Charter application on housing rights. Safia Lakhani considers what it means for the housing rights struggle in Canada.Does the right to housing belong in Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms?This week, the Ontario Court of Appeal is hearing an appeal of a 2013 court decision on the right to housing, which raises the question of whether housing rights are embodied in the Charter.

Ghostkeeper focuses the light on Indigenous rights

28 June 2017 - 8:08pm
Doreen Nicoll

Shane Ghostkeeper and Sarah Houle are partners in life, art and music. Their band, Ghostkeeper, has been invited to play at Nathan Philips Square in Toronto as part of the Canada Day Sesquicentennial Celebrations on July 1. This Metis couple have quite the story to tell about their journey together.

Shane came to music late in life after high school and welcomed the new challenge. He enjoyed writing funny songs to make his peers laugh and really enjoyed doing old country covers. Then, at age 20, he met Sarah and fell in love, "With a very practicing, established artist."

Shane's encounter with Sarah was the first time he had met a legitimate artist and that was a big deal for a bush kid living eight hours north of Edmonton on the Metis settlement of Paddle Prairie, Alberta.

Sarah, born with a nomad's spirit, moved around a lot during her early life and later for her schooling. She is a city girl, but with roots firmly planted in her home base of Paddle Prairie. High school was in Victoria, British Columbia. Then, there was time spent at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax, as well as additional studying at the Alberta College of Art and Design. 

Sarah, an established visual artist, dramatically changed life as Shane knew it. Sarah focused on mixed media, photography, visual arts as well as music, which made her ideal for creating art for the band's record covers, T-shirts, and Aboriginal masks.

It was after meeting Sarah that Shane became serious about his music. Her influence made their music more meaningful. With four original songs and the goal of becoming musical artists the pair moved to Calgary to perform at open mics. With the unexpected help of some very good people they were able to realize their dream.

Because he was older when he began composing and playing music, Shane hadn't learned traditional Metis and Indigenous styles. Instead, the couple eagerly dove into their own sound, creating original music which incorporates mystical sounds.

Their naive approach to music meant the band was making records before they really knew how to play. It was a fantastic learning experience that allowed them to focus a light on the modern Metis experience. Ghostkeeper really romanticizes and glorifies the Metis experience.

On their first album, Sheer Buffalo 7, the couple created the characters Sheer Blouse (Sarah) and Buffalo Knocks (Shane). Buffalos Knocks is the literal benevolent warrior. He is a non-violent singer, songwriter, protester, set on peacefully sabotaging the development of the oil sands. In essence, Buffalo Knocks is a revolutionary. Sheer Blouse is his partner in every sense of the word. They are the consummate couple.

Their second album, Sheer Blouse and Buffalo Knocks, continues the journey of both the literal and figurative couple. The love story comes through Shane and Sarah as much as through Buffalo Knocks and Sheer Blouse.

Shane grew up knowing he was Aboriginal which led to an honest and real perspective of life in Canada and the current 150 celebration. The band's celebration is not patriotic, nor born of hatred, instead it's an impactful non-celebration of Canada's 150th that is executed in a catchy, fun, entertaining, sincere, non-angry way.

According to Shane, Ghostkeeper's artistic agenda is, "To become better musicians, achieve label support, increase their audience, and dig deeper into a reflection on both the historical and modern Metis people's participation in artistic culture."

Always looking to the future, Shane and Sarah have a five-year-old son, Vittal, named for Shane's paternalistic great grandpa, Vital. Vittal is already an artist in his own right having created wonderful pieces of art, movies, videos and music. Vittal is also expressing an avid interest in science.

Ghostkeeper has a realistic pragmatic view for our collective future. As Shane describes it, "The Truth and Reconciliation recommendations have influenced our music and art. Our art is global in its reach with the aim to get to know each other in the name of survival. Unity is the desired goal."

In his view Shane believes that settlers of Canada can, "Reflect on the truths of the past and educate themselves. The gravity of the residential school system is unimaginable for non-Indigenous people. Racism dehumanizes Metis, First Nation and Inuit people."

"When you see an Indigenous person living on the street try to imagine yourself in their situation. When children are removed from a community to attend residential schools the outcome can only be disastrous. Whether they are a man or a woman, they are down and out. Street Aboriginals have a different perspective. But, also try to connect with the progress Aboriginal communities are making. There is a lot of strength and family values in Metis, First Nation and Inuit people."

Shane believes that, "Too often the media focuses on the darkness. It’s time to focus on the light."

Sheer Blouse Buffalo Knocks picks up the narrative laid out in last year's Sheer Buffalo 7 and continues the dystopian story of the characters Sheer Blouse and Buffalo Knocks, spiritual explorer of realms and benevolent warrior chronicling their battle against environmental destruction and the burden it places on their homeland in northern Alberta.

Ghostkeeper will perform:

July 1 - Toronto at Nathan Phillips Square (Discovery Stage)

July 2 - Peterborough at The Garnet

July 5 - Toronto at The Baby G

July 6 - Hamilton The Casbah

This is a loving Metis family to be reckoned with. Hear their message and spread the Ghostkeeper word.

This article originally appeared in the June edition of The Anvil, a quarterly newspaper from Hamilton, Ontario.

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