WiTOPoli Weekly: Friday, August 29

A roundup of some of the latest news in women, Toronto, and/or politics this week. What stories did you read this week? Tell us in the comments.

  • Etobicoke Centre councillor Glora Lindsay Luby announced she will not be seeking re-election, surprising council in a farewell speech on Thursday. Luby was frequently at odds with Mayor Rob Ford, who called her a “waste of skin” in 2005, and was one of the early voices calling for Mayor Ford’s resignation after his crack-cocaine scandal.
  • Canada’s premiers and aboriginal leaders are calling on the federal government to have key ministers meet with them for a roundtable discussion on the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women, after Prime Minister Stephen Harper ruled out a national public inquiry last week. Michèle Audette, the president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, welcomed calls for the roundtable as a first step in “a new chapter.”
  • After new data was released by a coalition of community activists and social agencies revealing that child poverty in Toronto has reached “epidemic” levels with 29 per cent of children — almost 149,000 — living in low-income families, three mayoral candidates spoke out on plans to combat child poverty, at a forum organized by local advocacy groups.
  • After the integrity commissioner found that Toronto City Councillor Maria Augimeri violated the code of conduct by calling political rival Gus Cusimano a “criminale,” Mayor Rob Ford expressed outrage that Torontonians would be footing the $5,000 bill to cover the cost of processing the complaint.
  • Playboy Magazine published a flow-chart that asks the question: when it is appropriate to catcall a woman in public? (Their answer: when she has consented the catcalling beforehand, or when she is literally a cat.)
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WiTOpoli Weekly: Friday, August 8

A roundup of some of the latest news in women, Toronto, and/or politics this week. What stories did you read this week? Tell us in the comments.

  • The Metro’s Matt Elliot has updated his colour-coded scorecard on Toronto city councillors’ voting records. Though the gist of the scorecard is to to illustrate which councillors vote more or less consistently with the mayor, it’s also a helpful overview of recent council issues.
  • Following a court hearing this week, two class-action lawsuits will move forward concerning the mistreatment of detainees during the Toronto G20.
  • A new pilot program aims to deliver health care services to Torontonians in multiple languages.
  • Brampton residents were appalled to find anti-immigration flyers in their mailboxes this week targeting the town’s Sikh community. The police are investigating but the flyers likely do not qualify as hate speech.
  • The Conservatives have been criticized for for appointing Dennis Savoie as the Canadian envoy to Vatican City, because of Savoie’s controversial comments about abortion, in which he compared abortion to the 9/11 tragedy. Despite the NDP’s request to withdraw the appointment, the Conservatives maintain that Savoie is entitled to his personal beliefs and promise not to open the abortion debate.

WiTOpoli Weekly: Friday, July 25

A roundup of some of the latest news in women, Toronto, and/or politics this week. What stories did you read this week? Tell us in the comments.

  • Earlier this week, the City of Toronto called off plans to allow disabled citizens to vote online or by phone in the 2014 election, citing a lack of time to build and test the system. Council voted 29-1 to approve the cancellation, but did give preliminary authorization for online and phone voting by all voters, disabled and non-disabled, in future elections.
  • Bylaw enforcement officers will be at the controversial Ford Fest this Friday, ready to stop Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and Councillor Doug Ford from engaging in any politically motivated activities in the city-owned Thomson Memorial Park. More than 100 Torontonians have complained to city ombudsman Fiona Crean, and at least another 100 directly to city hall since the uproar over the Fords’ annual barbeque began.
  • The Toronto mayoral race continues to heat up, with a recent Forum Research survey indicating a statistical three-way tie between the top candidates. Olivia Chow had the support of 29 per cent of survey respondents, John Tory boasted 28 per cent, while Rob Ford’s approval held steady 27 per cent. Karen Stintz and David Soknacki lag behind with 6 and 5 per cent, respectively.
  • Vancouver Parks Board candidate Trish Kelly has been forced to abandon her campaign following the emergence of an online video she filmed about masturbation eight years ago, and in doing so has opened up a debate surrounding the significance of political candidates’ online activities. “There will always be some boundaries of what we’ll accept in terms of someone who wants to take a leadership role,” says Kelly. “But we need to have those conversations.” Had Kelly won, she would have been the first aboriginal member of Vancouver’s Park Board.
  • Research and policy institute Guttmacher has challenged the recent US Supreme Court decision surrounding birth control – which allows employers to opt-out of paying for health insurance for contraceptive coverage – by providing a comprehensive list of studies that  find that in addition to the health benefits for women and families, all contraceptive methods save insurers money.
  • Saudi women will be allowed to vote and stand as candidates in the upcoming municipal council elections expected to take place next year. Women were not allowed to participate in the 2011 elections. While female candidates will now have the rights to address their voters in a manner similar to their male competitors, gender segregation in the polling centers will still be enforced.

BIG NEWS: The WiTOpoli POSITION PRIMER is here!

We interrupt our regularly scheduled Ask Your Candidate series because we can’t keep this exciting news under wraps anymore…

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Help us empower Toronto voters with the Position Primer!

Today, we are launching a crowdfunding campaign to build the Position Primer, an easy-to-use website that will help Torontonians make informed decisions in the upcoming City Council race. We’re really excited about it!

Toronto voters who visit the Position Primer need only enter their postal codes to access a ward-specific chart that details their Council candidates’ stances on city-wide issues such as transportation, childcare and affordable housing, as well as major concerns that are unique to each ward. Learn more by visiting our crowdfunding page.

By simplifying the decision-making process, Women in Toronto Politics founder Steph Guthrie believes this tool will encourage more Torontonians to get out the vote. Guthrie also argues that the Position Primer “will provide equitable opportunity for all candidates to share their campaign platforms with a wider audience, regardless of the resources at their disposal.”

The Position Primer has already accrued impressive endorsements from supporters like Alison Loat, co-founder of non-partisan democracy think-tank Samara Canada. Loat says the Position Primer will “provide Toronto voters with the trusted, impartial information they need to feel confident about exercising their democratic voice.”

Funds raised from the crowdfunding campaign will support the design, development and promotion of the Position Primer, ensuring that it is user-friendly and reaches as many voters as possible.

Women in Toronto Politics hosts a launch party for the Position Primer crowdfunding campaign on July 29th from 7:00-9:00pm at the Monarch Tavern. We hope to see you there. And in the meantime, please check out the campaign and spread the word!

Ask Your Candidate: Labour

By: Cherise Seucharan

Issues related to labour, such as wages and employment, are generally governed at the provincial level, but city councillors can still have significant impact on labour conditions. Recently, the Ford administration has claimed the drop in Toronto’s unemployment rate as one of their major achievements, and while this may have been true for the first three years of Rob Ford’s term, statistics show that unemployment has actually been on the rise since May 2014, coupled with increased in the number of precarious workers. Sandy Houston, President of the Metcalf Foundation, which recently released a report on Toronto’s workforce, says that, “The increasing numbers of people working and poor in the Toronto Region paints a troubling picture. When people can’t fully participate in society, it costs us all.”

Women are especially affected by labour policies. The gender wage gap in Ontario is currently 28%, which means female workers earn 72 cents to every male worker’s dollar. Women are also more likely to be employed in the service sector, which is more vulnerable to cuts, and are more likely to be supporting families on their income. Ask your candidate about how they plan to address these issues.

2009 City of Toronto inside and outside workers strike Mel Lastman Square. By CeciliaPang (Public domain), via Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A2009TorontoStrikeNY.jpg

2009 City of Toronto inside and outside workers strike Mel Lastman Square. By CeciliaPang (Public domain), via Wikimedia Commons.

Do you plan on making improvements to the City’s Fair Wage policies? Will you introduce policies to support the growing number of precarious workers, and address the gender pay gap?

Toronto’s Fair Wage Policy, established in 1893, guarantees that people employed by contractors for the city are paid market wage rates and benefits for their respective fields. The policy needs to be continually updated to account for inflation and other factors, but in 2013 the policy had its first update in 10 years. Despite the fact that wages now take into account the new minimum wage rates and market levels, many of the wage rates still fall below, $16.60, the rate recommended by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives as a living wage in Toronto. Ask your candidate if they will push for continuous updates to the Fair Wage Policy, and for wages that take into account the high cost of living in Toronto.

The Fair Wage Policy also represents the type of initiatives that can work with provincial and federal labour policies to improve worker conditions, especially for minority groups. As noted above, women in Ontario still earn less than men overall. Additionally, racialized workers earn 77.5 cents per dollar, while immigrant women earn even less, and are more likely to be working for minimum wage. Ask if your candidate would support expanding these policies to include provisions that help close the gender pay gap and support immigrant and racialized workers.

Would you privatize more city services?

While there are pros and cons to the privatization of city services, deciding to privatize any service would have a major impact on the labour force. With the numbers of precarious workers steadily rising across the GTA, unionized services address this issue by providing steady employment and a living wage for thousands of Torontonians. Under privatization, city workers have less power to negotiate and less protections overall, which have already come under fire during the past few years.

Ask if your candidate aims to privatize city services, and if so, are they willing to prioritize the right of workers in the process.

Does you support funding for Toronto’s libraries and public services?

Cuts to the infamous “gravy train” of funding to libraries and public services often translate to reductions in the staff that keep those programs running. The result is that public service workers have to take on a greater workload with the same resources. Often, full-time positions are downsized to part-time, non-salary jobs. In 2012, cuts to libraries reached a tipping point when Toronto Public Library workers held an 11-day strike in reaction to the increasing funding cuts, which greatly affected the employment of part-time workers (who were primarily women). The strike highlights the need for greater worker protection at these services which benefit many people across the city.

Ask if your candidate supports maintaining or increasing funding to Toronto’s public services.

Ultimately, the candidates we elect to City council are responsible for creating the labour climate that many of the city’s unionized workers will live in for the next four years, from outside workers to parks and recreation staff, from police officers to garbage collectors to library workers. Electing a council that will be fair and just when dealing with labour issues should be a priority for Toronto voters.

 

Ask Your Candidate: Youth

By: Lauren Simmons, with files from Ali Chatur

Electoral candidates often talk about making Toronto better for the “citizens of tomorrow”, but concrete action from City Council on issues that impact youth in Toronto can be hard to come by. While youth under 18 aren’t able to vote, those who we elect on their behalf will make many decisions that affect them. Here are few ways you can glean just how supportive of youth your potential City Councillors are. One on One 1. What do your candidates plan to do about youth homelessness? Recent evidence suggests that more and more young people in Toronto are using the city’s homeless shelters. This trend, coupled with the increase in need for youth-oriented mental health services and more support for LGBTQ youth in shelters in Toronto, presents a problem on which City Council can no longer remain inactive. Ask your candidates what they plan to do increase affordable housing and transition support for youth in Toronto, especially those with mental health concerns and those who are members of the LGBTQ community.

2. What are your candidates’ strategies for supporting youth who are immigrants or who belong to racialized groups? Data from the Ontario Trillium Foundation suggests that more than one-third of youth in Toronto are immigrants and more than half of youth are members of a racialized group. These young people are often underserved by the current settlement supports for newcomers, which are themselves underfunded and difficult to navigate. While we regularly see media coverage about youth violence (sometimes with racist undertones), we hear less about the degree of support City Council offers for youth activities and programs in racialized communities. Do your candidates have any specific ideas for supporting newcomer and/or racialized youth in your Ward? If so, how do they plan to fund and implement them?

3. What are your candidates’ views of lowering transit fares? Many young people travel on public transit to school and work. The young people we spoke to clearly emphasized the need for Council to work to keep fares low so that youth, many of whom are only able to find precarious or part-time employment, can afford to travel in Toronto. What do you the potential candidates in your ward think about the idea of low transit fares? Are they interested in lowering fares, keeping the status quo, or raising them to pay for improvements? If they propose to keep fares as they are or lower them, how do they intend to pay for services in the future?

4. What are your candidates’ views on the Youth Equity Strategy? Earlier this year, as a result of a motion from Councillor Josh Matlow, Council received the Youth Equity Strategy, which included 28 concrete suggestions to improve life for youth and to reduce violence amongst young people in Toronto. Among the suggestions are the creation of a “youth equity champion” position, to be appointed from within Council, and the creation of a city-wide committee to combat the problem, which would include members from all the other committees of council. The initiatives proposed by the Youth Equity Strategy do amount to additional budget expenditures, but they’re ones that youth in Toronto are clamouring for. Do your council candidates support the Youth Equity Strategy? Are the dedicated to working at Council to advocate on behalf of youth to see it through?

Council candidates should be voices for all Toronto’s marginalized citizens, but arguably no one needs to have Council on their side more than our youth. Ask the right questions to find out if your prospective Councillors are indeed onside.

Ask Your Candidate: User Fees

By: Seb FoxAllen

User fees are charges people pay to access services the City feels are important to provide but cannot afford to pay for with taxes alone. These can include anything from fees for sports leagues, community centre classes, and zoo admission, to road tolls, TTC fare increases, or a Vehicle Registration Fee. It’s not just so-called “optional” activities that are funded this way: several core City services, including garbage collection and water, are also supported with user fees.

The City of Toronto charges over 3000 different user fees, representing $2.8 billion in revenues each year.

Tom Raftery Licensed under: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic; https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/

Tom Raftery
Licensed under: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic; https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/

In order to keep delivering services at the same levels as today, the City will need more revenue over the next several years. Are new user fees or increased taxes a better way to achieve these increases?

This year, City Manager Joe Pennachetti told City Council that “[i]nflationary rates aren’t going to maintain services into the future.” This means that the next City Council will have to increase the amount of money it collects from Torontonians.

Taxes and user fees represent different ideas for how government should collect money from residents.

Taxes spread the financial burden for providing services across the entire population. They allow the City to collect more money from high-income earners and ask people to indirectly fund even services they don’t use. The result: higher taxes for everyone, but cheaper and more accessible services for users.

User fees are based on the idea of charging individual residents directly for the specific services. This is a less efficient way to collect money, because the money comes in a bit at a time. In addition these fees disproportionately impact groups (including women and low-income earners) that typically use city services. The result: taxes do not need to be raised above inflation, but service-users bear more expensive out-of-pocket costs.

As an example, the TTC is funded by both tax revenue (in the form of a yearly municipal subsidy) and user fees (in the form of fares, metropasses, etc.). Increasing the contribution from taxes would maintain the price of individual fares and metropasses, but require a tax increase for everyone (even for those who never use the TTC). Increasing the contribution from user fees would mean a lower tax bill for everyone, but would significantly increase the cost for TTC users in the form of more expensive tokens and metropasses. In the case of transit specifically, data shows that a user fee model places a disproportionate burden on women, who are the primary users and purchasers of fares and metropasses.

Ask your candidate what types of user fees they support and what, if any, types of services they think might be better-secured by a pooled tax base model.

Are there ways to make current user fees fairer?

A common argument against user fees is that they are harder to apply fairly across different income groups: A computer class with a $50 user fee costs the same for a lawyer as it does for a service worker, even though the $50 represents a much higher percentage of the service worker’s income.

Ask your candidate whether they consider this gap to be a problem and, if so, what kinds of tools (subsidized spaces for low-income participants, youth and senior rates, etc) can be used to apply current user fees more fairly.