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35 posts from January 2007

January 31, 2007

The Toronto Star's Call to Action on Poverty

SimplefairnessEven though The Toronto Star is writing specifically about the situation in Toronto (and, more generally, in Ontario), every Canadian needs to hear this call to action -- and every Canadian needs to note the long-term fallout that comes from asking the least fortunate citizens to subsidize tax cuts to the wealthy (particularly now that some of the architects of the so-called Common-Sense Revolution have hung out their "Tax Cut" shingles on Parliament Hill).

Here's what The Toronto Star had to say in its call to action on today's editorial page:

"Our supermarket shelves are packed with goods from the far corners of the world. Fresh local and exotic fruit, vegetables and meat are all widely available, regardless of the season. But this bounty isn't for everyone – especially not for those who depend on social assistance. Once rent is paid, and other basics are covered, many cannot afford a balanced diet....The province's poor have never recovered [from former premier Mike Harris 21 percent cuts to welfare rates]. Increasing welfare rates to the point where the poor can afford nutritious meals would make a good start. So would another measure urged by the Toronto board of health: boosting Ontario's minimum wage to $10 to help the working poor. Concern for the needy is rising in Toronto and across the province. And with good reason. Queen's Park must act."

Mike Harris' speech to the Empire Club, spelling out his vision for the Common Sense Revolution
These days some of the architects of the Common-Sense Revolution are holding down key positions in the Harper Cabinet: John Baird (Environment), Tony Clement (Health), Jim Flaherty (Finance Minister and Minister Responsible for the GTA).

Sylvia Sutherland to Dean Del Mastro: "Ditch the Little Missives"

MailboxesThis has to earn Dean Del Mastro a place in the Canadian Political Hall of Fame -- sending 8 postcards and 1 newsletter out to constituents in a single month.

Former Peterborough Mayor Sylvia Sutherland has some sensible advice for Del Mastro in tonight's Peterborough Examiner advice that is being echoed all around town: "Note to Del Mastro: I don't know who convinced you these little missives are the way to win the hearts and minds of the electorate, but you should ditch them."

Peterborough This Week: MP Wasting Taxpayers' Money
Peterborough This Week: MP Del Mastro Full of Hot Air
Dean Del Mastro Trading Cards: January 2007

A New Season of Bev TV!

KidstvbwThe folks over at StatusReport.ca have been carefully awaiting the launch of the new season of Bev TV. And now that they've got an air date, they're busy spreading the word.

On Feb. 1st at 3:30 pm ET Beverley Oda, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Status of Women will be appearing before the Standing Committee on the Status of Women (FEWO) to provide a briefing on changes to the Department of Status of Women Canada. Bev TV may not necessarily measure up to The Mercer Report in terms of entertainment value, but you should tune in anyway -- because it's good for you (and Canada, too).

The fallout from the Status of Women cuts is just starting to be felt and the response from ordinary women and highly respected organizations around the world has been pretty clear: are you guys (and Minister Oda) for real?

Sounds like someone has a lot of explaining to do.

New Federal Policies Affecting Women's Equality: Reality Check
Federal Minister Not Welcome at Provincial Meeting on Women's Issues
Straight.com: Women Kick Harper's Ass
Tories shutting Status of Women offices
Tories to cut off funding for women's lobby groups
WomenVote.ca: Cuts to Status of Women Canada

The $5.46 Meal Deal

I keep thinking about a letter that I read in The Peterborough Examiner this week -- about the $5.46 daily food allowance that seniors in long-term care facilities are being asked to live on each day.

As it turns out, I had the opportunity to have lunch with my grandmother at her seniors' residence in Toronto this week.

I imagine her daily meal allowance is higher than $5.46 per day (she has a bachelorette-style room in a homey facility which provides three-meals-per-day to its residents, and which has a nurse on site to administer medications to residents), but even on a higher-than-average budget, the food isn't what you'd find in even the most low-end chain restaurant these days. Don't get me wrong: The food is nutritious, but some of the "extras" you'd splurge for if you were shopping for yourself end up being sacrificed in the interests of economy. Things like fresh fruit rather than canned; "regular" cheese rather than cheese slices -- things many of us take for granted.

I did some research on this issue and found that there are other quality of life issues affecting seniors living in Ontario long-term care facilities. Consider this testimony from Ms. Alexandra Sacks, president of the residents' council at Leisureworld, Richmond Hill, who recently delivered a presentation in front of the Standing Committee on Social Policy (Wednesday, January 17).

Good afternoon, everybody. My name is Alexandra Sacks. I'm the president of the residents' council at Leisureworld, Richmond Hill location. I have been a resident here for the past three years and president of the residents' council for the last two years.

Leisureworld Richmond Hill is home to 160 residents and employs 150 staff members. As a representative of the residents at Richmond Hill, I would like to state that we support the abuse prevention and residents' rights portion of Bill 140. However, there are other areas which we do not support, and we have concerns regarding their negative impact on care and the home environment. We would like to increase the number of baths per week from two to three. But, with the increased demands for documentation outlined in this bill, this wish will not be realized. A third bath a week would improve the quality of life for all of us, but an additional bath could only be achieved by increasing the funding for staff, especially the personal support workers. Extra personal support workers would also assist in controlling other issues faced by our dedicated staff, such as improved response time to residents' requests and needs.

This bill is going to introduce more documentation to be done by the nursing staff. This is already in place in our home, and it is easy to see that so much time is taken up by this that the residents do not get the full amount of attention required. Therefore, when we require assistance, we will have to wait quite a while before help arrives. We need extra funding for additional staff so we get the care we deserve.

Another aspect of life that does not seem to be mentioned in this bill is food. Currently, the allotment for food funding is $5.46 per resident per day. We, the residents, have been working diligently at this home with the dietary department to achieve the best possible menu solutions with this amount of funds. However, frustration is mounting as we, the residents, want more than basic requirements. We would like to truly enjoy our meals. Some examples: We feel it is not too much to ask for salad daily. In addition, there is insufficient fresh fruit provided for each resident per day.

Generally, the description of food on the menu and what we actually receive is quite different. The food that's presented is often disappointing. For example, it is too cold when served, and the fish is usually too thin and dry and unappetizing. To improve our enjoyment of meals, we need to have better quality of raw food purchased and more options at mealtimes. This can be achieved through increasing the food funding per resident per day. While long-term-care residents receive $5.46 a day for food, prison inmates receive $7.09 for food a day. Surely, we elderly deserve more.

An idea that I would suggest is for our cabinet ministers to try the $5.46 meals for a few days. If you're wondering why I look so well-fed, that's probably because my family supplement my meals with Swiss Chalet etc., as do many other residents' families.

Another area that needs addressing is that of physiotherapy and restorative care. In our home, we originally had three days of short physiotherapy sessions, but this was cut back recently to two days because of the lack of funding. The times of the sessions are still very short, so that not every resident has an opportunity to participate.

In general, the residents of Leisureworld Richmond Hill are very happy with the range of activities and the care provided. However, there's always room for improvement.

I understand that the Ontario Long Term Care Association has given the committee a list of changes that would benefit us, the residents. It would be much appreciated if these matters could be given your serious consideration before this bill becomes law.

Ontario NDP: Seniors Can't Buy Dignity With $5.46 a Day
Ontario Association of Non-Profit Homes and Services for Seniors: OANHSS Funding Submission: Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs, December, 2006

January 30, 2007

Power Politics

I happened to tune into 1429Anna Maria Tremonti's interview with Michael J. Marzolini, Chairman and CEO of POLLARA on The Current this morning.

The two of them were discussing the role of attack ads in political campaigns and -- more specifically -- the Conservative Party's decision to launch "a premptive strike" on Stéphane Dion by airing negative attack ads before the Country is even into a political campaign.

Marzolini made two really key points:

1. Nasty attack ads are usually reserved for the latter phase of a campaign -- when a party is feeling that it really needs to shore up support by attacking the other guy.

2. The Conservative party of Canada has been relying on Bush's infamous political strategist -- Frank Luntz -- for advice on political strategy. (Some of his key tips, according to this article from last spring: rather than commiting to what you're going to do or answering tough questions about your policies, simply redirect attention to the previous government's record; and tap into national symbols like hockey.

This left me with two questions:

When did governments become more focused on holiding on to power than accomplishing anything of substance?

And when did political parties and individual candidates start begin abdicating responsibility for formulating policy and strategy to third-party consultants?

Apparently, attack ads have been part of the political landscape in the U.S. since the early 1990s: "In a recent survey of consultants, 44 percent (of political consultants) agreed (with the following statement): 'When it comes to setting issue priorities, candidates are neither very involved nor very influential.'" (Peter Levine, Research Scholar, Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy, University of Maryland, 1994). But what about in Canada?

It seems to me that if you have to ask for help in figuring out what you stand for, maybe you shouldn't be running for public office in the first place.

Wikipedia: Attack Ads
From Bush, Unprecedented Negativity
Do Political Consultants Harm the Electoral Process?
The Dark Art of Elections
Political Branding
The $2 Billion Election

January 29, 2007

Two Conferences About Women and Ideas

GraffitigirlWomen Writing and Reading: Past and Present; Local and Global sounds like it's going to be an amazing conference -- an entire conference devoted to women, writing, and reading. If you decide to go (or to submit a paper), you might also want to consider looking into Rooms of Their Own: Women in the Knowledge Economy and Society, too (the call for papers can be found here). The two conferences are both taking place at the University of Alberta during the first week in May. In fact, they overlap by one day.

January 28, 2007

Green is the Colour of Political Envy

GreenandyellowswirlsWhat does it say about a party's commitment to environmental action when they want to change the subject because they aren't scoring political points as quickly as the other guy? Not much. Launching political attack ads that are aimed at trying to neutralize the environmental issue (the issue that matters most to Canadians) and discredit Stéphane Dion speaks volumes about the Harper government's approach to governance.

"Stéphane Dion’s free ride on the environment is over,” Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney told The Toronto Star. “We want to demonstrate that the only thing green about Stéphane Dion is his inexperience as a leader."

Who knew there were so many shades of green? Environmental green, inexperience green, and -- of course -- political envy green.

Thomas Axworthy on How the Environmental Issue Will Play Out in the Next Election

GreenpaintedwoodThomas Axworthy -- chair of the Centre for the Study of Democracy at Queen's University -- discusses how the political jesturing is likely to play out during the next election in this piece in today's Toronto Star. In his piece, the makes this really key point: "The critical electoral aspect of an issue is not the raw figures of whether the public approves or disapproves, but how important is the issue to a voter. Is the issue sufficiently important or salient enough and are distinctions between the parties clear enough to move behaviour?"

January 27, 2007

Environmental Tipping Point is Here: Globe and Mail

Globalwarming_1This story confirms what was almost tangible a few weeks back -- a major turning point in the history of the modern environmental movement.

When Canadians look out the window these days, they say they're seeing global warming. An overwhelming 78 per cent of respondents to the Globe poll, nearly four out of five people, say they've personally noticed climate change. The same number fear it is going to harm future generations. And nearly as many — 73 per cent — say the warming is due to human activity and isn't a natural phenomenon.

Note how this compares to the results of a public opinion poll on climate change that was conducted in the U.S. six months ago:

Americans generally agree that the earth is getting warmer, but there is less consensus about the cause of global warming or what should be done about it. Roughly four-in-ten (41%) believe human activity such as burning fossil fuels is causing global warming, but just as many say either that warming has been caused by natural patterns in the earth's environment (21%), or that there is no solid evidence of global warming (20%).

Obviously, the past six months have had a significant impact on how a great many people feel about environmental issues -- both Americans and Canadians. So when Martin Mittelstaedt writes in his article in yesterday's Globe that an environmental tipping point has been reached, his observation is bang on. See comments related to this story at The Globe's website

January 26, 2007

Think Green on Valentine's Day

Noway_1Valentine's Day is just a little over two weeks' away, so this might not be a bad time to let your Valentine know that it would be okay to skip the over-hyped and over-packaged Valentine's merchandise in favor of something a little more meaningful and a whole lot less expensive: perhaps dinner out at your favorite local restaurant, a treasure from your favorite second-hand store, a donation to a publication or project or cause or charity that makes his/her heart beat faster, or simply the gift of spending time together. Of course, this assumes that you and your beloved are on the same wavelength when it comes to environmental issues. But then again, if Mr. or Ms. So-Called Right couldn't care less about environmental issues, he or she may not even be your Valentine by Valentine's Day.

Love, Factually
The Green Guide: Have a Heart -- How to Have a Valentine's Day with a Conscience
A Not So Golden Gift for Valentine's Day
Activists Target Chocolate, Gold on Valentine's Day