Blog Archives

Special Report: Fracking Nuclear Waste, Say What? #cdnpoli #onpoli

Ontario residents have been kept in the dark, but Canada’s most populous province is about to become an unlikely and international battleground. After all, how many times does the Great White North threaten the drinking water of more than 40 million people, including their neighbours in America?

 

Legislators from south of the border have already taken issue with plans for a deep geologic repository. Less than a mile from the shores of Lake Huron, Bruce Power intends to store 200,000 cubic meters of nuclear waste within the natural rock formation. Senators and congressmen shared their dissent with the Canadian government, but the fed responded by sending police to the homes of eco protesters, in what some would call an act of intimidation.

 

013opg

(photo credit: Ontario Power Generation)

 

It will take at least 300 years for the nuclear waste to decay, to a point that radioactive catastrophes are not a threat to human populations. This Kincardine, Ontario location was also chosen for its low seismic activity, reducing the likelihood of water and soil contamination by earthquake.

 

This much we’ve always known, due to the federal environment assessment that required public consultation. The Harper government has since levied time restrictions to speed the process along, but this is one project that was too big and too perilous to keep from the radar at all.

 

Seemingly unrelated, the controversy over fracking and in-situ technologies to harvest oil has been raging around the world. Ohio experts claim it causes earthquakes. Texans say it releases benzene and hydrogen sulfide in the air, causing everything from cancer to nosebleeds and skin rashes. British scientists say it causes radioactive contamination. Researchers at Duke University say it makes water flammable in Pennsylvania and New York, where investigators cite enough contamination to blow up homes with families in them. In Canada, the Idle No More movement continuously defends First Nations from plans to frack their tribal territory and there’s still the argument of numerous toxic chemicals used in the extraction process.

 

014Gasland

(photo credit: HBO, GasLand)

 

The topic of hydraulic fracturing is so polarizing that countless provinces, states and cities have sought a moratorium. The mayor of New York City added his voice to the opposition, with strong reservations about the impact to water safety. By contrast and north of this shared water source, scientists from Canada were abruptly silenced by the federal government and environmental laws were gutted, so there is no mechanism or freedom to complain above the forty-ninth parallel any longer.

 

This much we also knew, but how could it possibly relate to a nuclear waste dump?

 

Critics warned that sweeping changes to de-monitor water, curtail public input and failure to assess smaller power projects would have a grave and lasting impact on the Canadian ecosystem. They denounced newly legislated secrecy and threw their hands in the air when the government conducted a good old-fashioned, scientific book burning. They went so far as to accuse the Harper administration of oppressing Canadians for the sake of Alberta oil profits, meant to benefit the Prime Minister’s friends at a cost to every other industry in the country. With few studies or consultations required anymore, the public wouldn’t be privy to projects that conflict with each other either.

 

It was a Nostradamus moment that wouldn’t take a thousand years to come true. It’s just that our first example arises in Ontario, further east than they predicted when pitted against bitumen, LNG or coastal pipelines as the likely candidates. When people think about oil, they don’t naturally imagine the Great Lakes region as an epicenter for this development.

 

No one can blame residents for being remiss, when information became inaccessible to the public and for that matter to Americans who are impacted by Canadian activity. Former Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty claimed there would be no fracking until the province studied evidence to determine if the practice was safe. The new premier has never commented and no elected officials have alluded to anything different.

 

With all this government subterfuge from provincial and federal levels, the only way to learn about energy projects is through private company investor reports and knowing which ones to research now.

 

Bruce Power, meet Dundee Energy Limited. The former is an Ontario nuclear giant and the latter has the largest stake in Ontario oil. The two may operate side by side, but you’d never know from asking any level of government including municipal managers. These companies also favour the same rock formation, but for very different reasons.

 

Nuclear proponents believe the shale is strong enough to store radioactive waste, while oil competitors have chosen the area due to rich deposits and the porous nature of the same rock, making it a perfect specimen for fracking. It’s hard to see how both could be correct, but everyone drinking water along the Great Lakes is in the crosshairs of this corporate aggression.

 

From Neil Young to Yoko Ono, concerned stars have raised alarm bells regarding each of these topics, but no one thought to consider the impact of running these operations together. Fracking beside nuclear waste is a new concept for sure. The consequence of either practice is still a new frontier and combining them won’t be studied in Canada, nor will anyone be informed to care.

 

This situation is complicated by a few key players. Nuclear behemoth Bruce Power is technically owned by TransCanada Corp, that is better known for the KeystoneXL oil pipeline and tribulations visiting the White House. It’s also owned by Cameco, recently accused of tax evasion related to uranium sales. This partnership is completed by the retirement funds of municipal employees and the Power Workers Union, otherwise known as an affiliate of the left-wing labour movement and CUPE. As these strange bedfellows negotiate long term destruction of the environment for short term gain, the public is none the wiser because every brand of elected official appears to have taken a vow of silence.

 

In the case of Dundee Energy, it’s a subsidiary of the Dundee Corporation and federal Labour Minister Kellie Leitch was implicated in an alleged conflict of interest with this very consortium. While sitting on a board of directors for Dundee (REIT), Leitch was also debating legislation that impacted her environmentally averse tenants. In addition to meeting the needs of numerous oil clients under the Dundee real estate umbrella, this MP’s company position included an asset-based relationship with the National Energy Board (pgs 20-26).

 

The National Energy Board is Canada’s environmental regulator and the body that oversees public consultation in a situation like the Bruce Power nuclear waste dump. It no longer needs to conduct environmental hearings related to Dundee’s oil pursuits, as a result of the Labour Minister and Conservative government’s plight to de-monitor water and “streamline” approvals.

 

It’s now come to light that Leitch’s business associate was buying considerable land for oil extraction, with an eye for the riding she continues to represent. Dundee Energy also purchased junior speculators with rights to harvest oil in Ontario, around the same time she was named a trustee to the sister company with shared executives.

 

For context, the Labour Minister’s family established the Fort McMurray oil sands town in Alberta, before her career was transferred to Ontario where the process may be repeating. This time brings us to Collingwood, Ontario and begins with thousands of acres around Blue Mountain that the oil industry took an interest in.

 

This location boasts a farming heartland and world class ski resort, with waterside tourism in the summer. It’s unlikely Intrawest realizes the surrounding property is on the fracking horizon. It doesn’t bode well for stable snow formations if earthquakes are indeed caused by fracking. Yacht owners may pull their boats from oil-slicked waters and tourism around the protected Niagara Escarpment Biosphere may soon resemble the tar sands on this deregulated trajectory. The groundwaters sustaining agriculture in the bins at your local grocery store may also become poisonous if the experience of early adopters is any indication.

 

To manage a complex and conflicting set of developments, here’s a recap to give clarity that illuminates who might have known what.

 

1857 – 1863: Canada’s first shale gas operation was founded in Collingwood, Ontario. It originally supplied the market in Toronto. This enterprise eventually failed due to competition from Lambton County and this local history would be forgotten, until the present day when it’s repeated.

 

April 2008: Bruce Power begins drilling boreholes to test Collingwood, Blue Mountain, Georgian Bay and Manitoulin shales, in preparation for the nuclear waste deep geologic repository. A layout of the project is included, depicting the proximity to Lake Huron and a railway passing directly above the proposed radioactive location.

 

September 2008: Mooncor begins aggressive acquisition of Ontario shale oil assets. They have access to 23,000 acres with the ability to develop Collingwood and Blue Mountain formations.

 

November 2008: The Ontario Petroleum Institute holds an annual conference. Sponsors include Talisman and Torque Energy, as well as Enbridge, Haliburton and the US Energy Development Corp. Exhibitors include the Government of Newfoundland and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. The latter presents “Shale Gas Opportunities in Ontario” during the session dedicated to fracking. The Ontario Power Generation also speaks about the Bruce Power waste site. That seminar is sandwiched between the effect of petrochemicals and how to fight back against eco protesters.

 

February 2009: A Calgary based oil and gas consultant is hired to conduct seismic testing for the Ontario Bruce Power nuclear site. Data is borrowed from a nearby Texaco well and Shell oil pipeline. Many gas wells are noted in the area and previous studies failed to indicate a seismic fault line. With newer technology however, faults were discovered around the nuclear site and this information will be submitted to the National Energy Board.

 

May 2009: The federal government finalizes a process of environmental review for the proposed Bruce Power nuclear waste site.

 

November 2009: The Ontario Petroleum Institute holds an annual conference. Sponsors include Torque Energy, Talisman Energy and Enbridge. Shale gas opportunities are promoted in Ontario and the Minister of Natural Resources is a keynote speaker this year. Numerous reps from the Ontario government provide seminars as well as a report for oil companies, enticing hundreds of new explorations. The Collingwood and Blue Mountain deposits are given special attention, closest to the nuclear waste site. Health Canada is also an exhibitor.

 

March 2010: Central Ontario oil was predominantly owned by Mooncor and Talisman Energy. The Dundee Corporation purchases “the largest accumulation of oil and natural gas assets in Ontario” for $131 million from Talisman, to overtake their interest in the area.

 

May 2010: Kellie Leitch becomes a trustee at a Dundee company that oversees real estate. These portfolios include a considerable roster of oil companies and the National Energy Board.

 

June 2010: Simcoe and Bruce Counties experience an uncharacteristic earthquake. The area surrounding a proposed nuclear waste dump and fracking locale, shakes enough to startle half the province awake.

 

October 2010: The Ontario Petroleum Institute holds an annual conference. Sponsor information was withheld this year, but exhibitors include the Canadian Consulate General and various members of the Ontario government. Keynote speakers include disgraced Congressman Chris Lee (R-NY) and seminars are provided by the Ministry of Natural Resources, in addition to the Ministry of Northern Development. Dundee Energy updated their progress in purchasing Ontario shale assets, as the government updated its list of shale assets for promotion. Additional seminars were offered regarding hydraulic fracturing and the difficulty moving enough sand, water and chemicals to supply the fracking industry.

 

April 2011: The Bruce Power nuclear site tests for the presence of gas. It’s found in the Collingwood, Blue Mountain and Georgian Bay formations, among others. Upon detailed analysis, the highest concentration of oil is noted in the Collingwood shale samples (closest to the nuclear repository), while the highest gas concentrations can be found in the Blue Mountain companion. This study and many more were submitted to the National Energy Board.

 

April 2011: Mooncor creates spinoff company DRGN Resources to handle its Ontario shale oil and gas assets. The long term strategy includes overtaking smaller companies to become a major player in the province.

 

May 2011: Kellie Leitch is elected Member of Parliament for Simcoe-Grey, after accusations of being parachuted from out of town. This riding consists of Collingwood, Blue Mountain and much of Georgian Bay. She still works with Dundee REIT and will not resign the executive position until the end of the next quarter, representing both the public and a corporation at the same time.

 

June 2011: Dundee Energy Limited establishes 100 percent ownership of its Ontario oil assets, further retained by the Dundee conglomerate as the parent company. New horizontal wells are planned for extraction.

 

June 2011: Several fish begin dying in Lake Simcoe. It’s part of the same glacial movement that created the Great Lakes system and it’s a 30 minute drive from the shores of Lake Huron. A magnificent amount of oil and gas tests are occurring at the same time (from government, the fracking and nuclear industries), but this is not considered a possible culprit because the public is unaware.

 

August 2011: Dundee Energy purchases Torque Energy – a former sponsor of the Ontario Petroleum Institute and a remaining holdout competitor. Torque Energy includes oil assets in Ontario and the acquisition helps to pad Dundee’s dominant market share.

 

September 2011: Mooncor retains a small amount of stock in Torque Energy, now owned by the Dundee corporation (pg. 12). At the end of this month, Member of Parliament Kellie Leitch resigns from her position with Dundee’s real estate branch as well.

 

October 2011: The Ontario Petroleum Institute holds an annual conference. Sponsors include Dundee Energy, Torque Energy (under Dundee ownership) and Mooncor (with stock interest in Dundee). Keynote speakers include the Mayor of London and First Nations elders. Seminars are provided by the federal government’s Indian Oil and Gas Canada agency, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and the Ontario Energy Board. Topics covered Aboriginal affairs and fracking, with a hydrofracturing demonstration to close the event.

 

October 2011: Six thousand dead birds and fish scatter the shores of Wasaga Beach. It’s the longest freshwater beach in the entire world and lines much of Georgian Bay, connecting to Collingwood at Lake Huron. Both shale formations were being tested for oil and gas reserves, but botulism is the suspected culprit with little explanation regarding changes to the lake’s chemistry. The area never saw a die-off like this before and experts were left to guess a reason.

 

November 2011: Mooncor engages the Dundee conglomerate for help to raise $5 million toward expansion.

 

November 2011: An executive lawyer for Bruce Power and the nuclear waste site is appointed to the Ontario Centre of Excellence, to guide the provincial economy. This centre is funded by the Ontario government and Bruce Power continues to be owned by the same curious partners.

 

May 2012: Thousands of dead fish appear on the shores of Lake Simcoe. The second time is worse than the first. The Ministry of Natural Resources waited a number of months before informing the public of a widespread infection and no detailed cause was ever given.

 

September 2012: The Ontario government promotes shale fuel extraction at a conference in the United States. Collingwood, Blue Mountain and Georgian Bay formations are the focus, with 31 percent oil saturation and 77 percent gas saturation to encourage deeper investment. One of the wells cited is adjacent to the Bruce Power nuclear waste site. (A similar situation between oil wells and nuclear generators occurs in the Pickering location on Lake Ontario.)

 

September 2012: Dundee Energy invests $13.7 million in Ontario assets. Another $3.4 million is spent to acquire maps with seismic data, needed to plan the next harvesting sites. Inland extraction has become a priority to increase production, that offsets lower gas prices affected by greater American penetration and the Canadian petro dollar. A rig is purchased to assist with new drilling, allowing expansion in the Toronto gas market. In the process, they reserve $3.3 million for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, in anticipation of future environmental costs.

 

October 2012: The Ontario Petroleum Institute holds an annual conference. The sponsor list is excluded again, but the Ministry of Natural Resources, Conservative MPP Bob Bailey and a National Post editor were mentioned as speakers. Embattled Liberal Energy Minister Chris Bentley was invited to give the keynote address and topics narrowly focused on pipelines, fracking and promoting Ontario’s shale assets for exploration.

 

November 2012: The Ontario government releases a comprehensive report (490 pages) meant to attract investment, reform applicable laws and assist corporations in negotiating with First Nations. Shale gas and oil in the Collingwood, Blue Mountain, Georgian Bay, Nottawasaga and Manitoulin areas is given special attention (pgs. 222-240), with specific mention of fuels (pgs. 275-286). Each is promoted as having the best potential for fracking related extraction. At least 360 samples were tested from wells and new boreholes in the years preceding, as part of the larger “shale gas assessment project” the public was never informed about. Groundwater mapping for Simcoe County is thoroughly noted (pgs. 295-306) and includes data from Lake Huron to Georgian Bay, Lake Simcoe, the Nottawasaga River, Newmarket Till and Oak Ridges Moraine. It is further identified as one of the most significant glacial aquifers, responsible for drinking water obtained from the Great Lakes and every connecting path from Canada to Chicago, Illinois.

 

November 2012: At the same time Ontario promoted shale extraction, Premier Dalton McGuinty informed the media there was no reason to worry about fracking in the province. He offered this reassurance despite public objection to Dundee Energy and Mooncor buying land for the same purpose. This message was supported by the Ministry of Natural Resources when they confirmed one new shale well was drilled, but denied any knowledge of plans to continue. All political parties responded as if the premise of fracking was hypothetical, but each shared a connection to this series of concrete developments. The Liberal government spent millions to encourage fracking extraction and accepted millions from interested companies. Elected Conservatives spoke at fracking events and/or occupied an executive table with the most aggressive corporation. The NDP also enjoys considerable input from the labour movement, as business partners with an oil giant involved in testing the area.

 

December 2012: The federal government passes controversial legislation to de-monitor Canada’s water and reduce environmental assessments, in favour of oil lobbyist demands.

 

June 2013: Dundee Energy plans to invest $13.2 million in new Ontario wells and exploration to increase production. Another $2 million will be spent to map 314 kilometers of prospective shale opportunities. The corporation pays an extra $270,000 to the Ministry of Natural Resources in anticipation of future abandonment costs (pgs. 8, 28). This expansion is again reported to offset losses incurred by the American market and complication from the petro dollar (pgs. 10-13).

 

September 2013: Dundee’s rig is used in Lambton County, Ontario to fracture-stimulate a new well. Additional projects are planned for summer the next year.

 

October 2013: The Ontario Petroleum Institute holds an annual conference. This time it’s at the Windsor casino and sponsors are dwindling as companies are bought up, but Dundee Energy has attained the gold level. Seminars are provided by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Dundee itself, regarding radial jet drilling and its benefits to the fracking industry. This talk was followed by a presentation regarding the Blue Mountain shale formation and the majority of that day was dedicated to hydraulic fracturing topics. The smaller event was then closed by the Ontario Minister of Rural Affairs. It should be noted that a few days earlier, First Nations made international news with a government standoff against fracking. A Chief close to Bruce Power was also protesting the nuclear waste dump.

 

In other curious developments, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources defers to the oil industry as its spokesperson. Visiting the government internet page to learn about provincial resources not only misinforms about Ontario’s history (forgetting Collingwood as the first producer), but it also directs readers to the “Discovery Education Centre” as the government’s source for facts.

 

It just so happens the Discovery Education Centre is owned by Discovery Drilling Funds. They were purchased by LongBow Energy Corp and this business is steeped in the Alberta oil sands. Head office is located in Calgary, Alberta and one of the key executives is a former Koch Petroleum manager (of Koch Industries fame). It’s unclear why a private group of five western oil companies is now speaking for the Government of Ontario.

 

Regarding competition between fracking and nuclear waste, the town of Walkerton, Ontario is located at the midpoint between them. Driving half an hour west, residents will arrive at Bruce Power and driving half an hour east, they’ll arrive at the heavily promoted Collingwood oil deposits. If they dare to drive south, they’ll arrive at Sarnia’s petrochemical industry and advanced plans for fracking in Lambton County as well.

 

This tiny hamlet was foisted to world news when the water supply was contaminated and more than 2,300 residents became severely ill. Several died. Criminal charges were laid. The Conservative government of the day was blamed for legislation that privatized the testing of water safety. Now the same families may serve as a test, to see what happens when government policy allows fracking beside nuclear waste, fourteen years later in a repeat performance.

 

Everyone who obtains drinking water associated with the Great Lakes will also be affected, if any part of this experiment goes wrong. And despite Ontario denying plans to frack, taxpayers footed the bill to produce widespread tests for shale oil, in addition to yearly seminars designed to entice extraction.

 

These water tables come from one of the most important Precambrian aquifers. It supplies the local area and stretches deep into the United States. This underground water highway also supports Toronto and all the towns branching out along the way. The only thing that doesn’t appear to support 40 million North Americans, is politics north of the border and its friends in the energy industry. If all bureaucracies have skin in the game, who’s left to speak for the water?

 

Ontario Poverty Overview, The Finer Points

(Originally published by Open Government projects and universities in 2010, but mainstream media wasn’t interested in the topic to amend for newspaper format.)

Poverty is a growing epidemic in the province of Ontario, costing us billions of dollars across a wide range of government ministries.  Normally we hear critiques focused on philosophy, program names and groups of people; but while many debate the grander principles, I’d like to discuss the finer points.  No matter anyone’s focus on reducing poverty, there still remains great conflict in the way we deliver patchwork service and agendas.  It is through a collaboration of competing interests, motivations and tunnel vision that cycles of dependency are born and further nurtured by our oversight.  The following is an overview of these conflicts and their impacts on society.  We mustn’t downplay its importance, for this is the very foundation upon which all else is built.

Contributing Factors:

 

1.  Public assistance rates – Are calculated in accordance with the inflation level of 1995.  In 16 years the amounts allotted for rent, utilities and food have not been adjusted to address current reality.

2.  Ontario Works and ODSP lost frontline funding for children – When the Ontario Child Benefit was created, the Basic Needs portion of public assistance was literally clawed back to zero, for anyone under the age of eighteen.  Welfare no longer provides food, clothes, personal care or school supplies to children.  Under the new funding module, the government expects families to access this income via tax returns (OCB), in theory to make it more accessible (ex. working poor).

However, the “new” groups were only accounted for by taking directly from our most vulnerable.  At the end of the day, those on public assistance saw an average increase of $1 – $19 while working families gained closer to $350 per month.

3.  The recession – Placed a considerable amount of new clients into our social welfare system.  The middle class has been chipping away but the last few years have made a stunning impact on the gap between rich and poor.

http://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2010/12/06/GapKiller/

4.  Housing inflation – Has been uncontrollable since our move to a market fetching system.  This practice makes it near impossible for low income families to afford living anywhere at all.  The vast majority of those on public assistance only receive enough to pay the rent with their entire month’s income.  The same is true of many working minimum wage, part time, contract and seasonal positions.

5.  Near abandonment of subsidized housing – Has been the norm as counties see little incentive to invest in this protection of community.  This is an issue that’s been placed in local hands, where the greatest bias has the potential to exist, conflicts of interest and no motivation to act charitably.

6.  Total abandonment of the Poverty Reduction Strategy – Painstaking consultations were procured by government, remedies were put in place, promises were made, but very little has been enacted.  Here’s a copy of that mandate:

http://www.children.gov.on.ca/htdocs/English/breakingthecycle/index.aspx

7.  Uninspiring wage penalties via OW and ODSP – The public assistance system has been revised countless times, in the name of progress and yet always at a cost to its recipients.  The current method actually deters people from working and sets up an atmosphere of all or nothing.  It also divides families believe it or not.

Anyone on welfare who obtains employment pays deductions from their monthly allowance.  In the case of ODSP, a client will pay the same taxes, EI premiums, CPP contributions and union dues just like anyone else.  They are further penalized 50% from their gross earned wages by ODSP in the following month, so they’ve lost well over 75% of their take-home pay by the time government is done.

Ontario Works is worse yet.  The client pays all taxes like everyone else and then faces 100% deduction of gross pay, thereby leaving them with even less than if they hadn’t worked.  This happens for the first 4 months and if the client has managed to maintain the same position for consecutive months, they will finally be converted to the 50% deduction schedule.

If children in these low income families attempt employment (even part time at McDonald’s during high school) it will be considered family income.  They will face the same deductions as their parents and be forced to support the adults in their family.  Therefore we can assume they will never be able to save up for a class trip, extra curricular activity or proper clothing.

While it’s not entirely a provincial issue, recipients of CPP Disability are only allowed to make $4200 per year without being disqualified from benefits.  This speaks for a great amount of mentally ill, terminally ill and physically challenged persons.  If they manage to recover for a period of time and make an effort to seek employment, they may find themselves abandoned from support and forced into the regular welfare system.

In any event, all methods discourage participants from working, as they stand to receive less income for even trying.  And so the cycle is born.

8.  No access to social care – Exists in smaller communities.  These “towns” account for the majority of Ontario and struggle with lacking support systems.  Most do not have a domestic violence centre or transportation to one.  They don’t have soup kitchens, Out of the Cold programs, parenting courses, child counseling or a host of other interventionist measures.  They also don’t have community resource agencies connecting them with information and referral.  In cities with better access there are waiting lists and countless thousands turned away.

 

Complications and Mounting Costs:

 

1.  Cost of living is insurmountable – And has resulted in numerous consequences.  When incomes don’t nearly reflect basic expenses, we find our vulnerable population living on the very fringe of existence.  The onus of getting families by has been placed on the shoulders of charity and grassroots, who are not capable of being responsible for an entire province alone.

 

The Winter Warmth program runs out of funds in its first month every year for the last 3 years running (locally).  This means anyone who is facing heat disconnection will have to go without if they didn’t apply for help by the end of December.

The Barrie, ON food bank recently invested in a warehouse twice the size because it can’t keep up with local demand.  They’re serving 21,000 families per year and turning away an average of 800 per month.  Smaller communities have to export their poor to the nearest urban centre because they are isolated from support in the vast in-between.  In the meantime, small town food banks appeal to their municipalities for thousands more when their cupboards run bare:

http://anewsvideo.ca/play.php?vid=322

(Watch at 9:25 for newscast on food banks & 10:13 for confirmation of amount without service)

We know 100% of income is going to shelter in many cases and the only sustenance families receive comes from the food bank.  Except these supplies weren’t designed to last more than a week and records show around 1/3rd of visitors are children and 1/3rd are senior citizens.  Many people think food bank users are lazy or spend their money on drugs, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Here’s a copy of an especially thorough report titled The Cost of Poverty.  It was written by the Ontario Association of Food Banks at the end of 2008 and is the first study of its kind to tie the majority of elements together.  They’ve calculated poverty-induced, health related costs at $2.9 billion alone.  They find our methods of ignoring poverty come with a price tag of $13.1 billion annually, which trickles down to $2895 per Ontario household.

 

The report goes on to look at the characteristics of our system and determines 45.4% of single mothers struggled with poverty in 2001.  But the recession has since hit our economy and numbers have only skyrocketed.   Whereas minorities might have been able to secure available part time positions, today the competition is fierce.  At the time, 40% of Ontario’s disabled were skimping by at the lowest possible income quintile as well:

http://www.oafb.ca/assets/pdfs/CostofPoverty.pdf

2.  Ontario children no longer have access to emergency food, clothing or personal care– Since basic needs were removed from the public assistance structure, there is no ability to provide them with immediate support outside of foster care.  This is forcing countless families to remain in abusive situations.

Here is a prime example:  A husband and wife or common law couple has children together.  She’s a stay-at-home mom and he earns a good wage at $80K per year.  They don’t qualify for the Ontario Child Benefit together when claiming income tax.

The husband is abusive however and the mom enters a shelter with her children.  She technically has no income and applies to Ontario Works so they can find a home and begin rebuilding, until she can develop skills and secure employment.

Because the Ontario Child Benefit (OCB) and National Child Benefit Supplement (NCBS) are processed by Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), mom will have to file for separation from her husband and 6 months to a year must pass before the government accepts their new family structure.  Even so, it may take longer before a full year’s income tax will reflect what she’s entitled to, as CRA calculates from the year prior.  Countless months will pass before this newly single parent will be able to access “baby bonus” (to provide food for her children) and she may feel she is not able to afford leaving the situation.

In the meantime the only contingency is what’s called the Transitional Child Benefit (TCB), administered by public assistance.  A client must first prove they’re not entitled to baby bonus which can take months in itself.  Welfare can then loan $189 per month to make up for the shortfall.  If the family receives money from any source in the future (child support order, baby bonus, inheritance, insurance, EI, gifts), they will have to repay the amount “borrowed” in full however.

This was the most oppressive policy against children in recent memory.  Taking funds from the frontlines put them directly in harm’s way and more than 350,000 kids had to line up under a Salvation Army sign for dinner last year.  In rural communities they don’t even have that.

http://thecapitalworks.cusjc.ca/2010/11/16/food-bank-use-sets-13-year-high/

The Children’s Aid Society has also seen an influx of calls.  As mentioned, when a family can’t provide the necessities of life, the state has an obligation to step in.  Here is the Canadian Bar Association’s depiction of the overload.  It also illuminates a lack of access to Legal Aid.  Since that program was clawed back it added even more complication:

http://www.cba.org/CBA/National/junjul03/feature1.aspx

3.  Social Services require complete loss of all worth before stepping in – This has only taken the recession and made it worse.  Countless families are trying to cope with job loss and the death of our traditional manufacturing sector.  They’re running out of EI benefits now.  They’ve missed as many payments as possible before the bank gets cranky and we’re standing at the precipice of foreclosure due to unpaid property tax (normally spanning 3 years of non payment).

These are oftentimes educated people who were directly impacted by illness or a cutthroat economy.  A former Director from Queen’s University befell the same fate, demoted from an executive lifestyle to homelessness because of disability:

http://www.tvo.org/TVO/WebObjects/TVO.woa?videoid%3F756011455001

We expect them to sell their homes and live off the proceeds until there is truly nothing left.  They must be near a state of bankruptcy before public assistance will qualify anyone.  This policy destabilizes the population directly, at a time when it is trying desperately to rebuild and reinvent itself.  An Ontario mother and former Bell executive explains in her own words:

http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/906127

4.  Homelessness is frighteningly on the rise – Families carry the highest rate of homelessness today.  There was a 51% increase in those housed at shelters and a 60% increase of children taken into foster care “as a direct result of housing deficiencies”.  If only I could surround those numbers in neon lights to grab your attention.The Registered Nurses Association of Ontario offers a more concise look at the characteristics of this situation:

http://www.rnao.org/Page.asp?PageID=122&ContentID=2085&SiteNodeID=398

In areas outside the city, we don’t have Out of the Cold programs or shelters, nor can any low income family technically afford market rent.  The only alternative is hospitalization to the tune of $2500+ per month:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/toronto/homeless-patients-cost-2500-more-per-hospital-stay-study-finds/article1933517/

5.  Affordable housing is not a priority for municipalities – A good example is Collingwood, ON who just disbanded their housing committee, or Toronto who suggests getting out of the business entirely.  Placing subsidized options in the hands of municipalities makes it hard to convince one neighbour to dish out the $2895 to support the fellow next door (amount of tax burden per household).  Despite any government subsidy, this is what the situation amounts to and why we’ve lost so many units.  From 1995 to 2003 the affordable market cut 127,680 offerings while 158,456 families joined the waiting list.  Since the recession we’ve only seen more needing assistance and a brazen unwillingness to respond:

http://www.thestar.com/news/torontocouncil/article/952130–new-tchc-director-has-criticized-management-and-said-the-city-can-t-afford-social-housing?bn=1

Please view the attitude Ontario’s most vocal mayor is sharing with his constituents (26 sec):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8YZQ4oQjxgc

Just today a new report was released by the reputable Wellesley Institute to confirm the federal government is quashing affordable housing of every type as well.  They’re cutting another 50,000 spaces in addition to dissolving the home repairs fund.  This means families who manage to find an abode will be forced to live in dilapidated conditions and the cuts will be unanimous by every level of government:

http://www.wellesleyinstitute.com/uncategorized/latest-federal-spending-estimates-confirm-sharp-cuts-to-national-housing-homelessness-investments/

6.  Forsaking the Ontario Poverty Reduction Strategy – Is destroying the base by which we can be measured.  When contemplating the economic recovery of Ontario, we must consider our reputation to business.  Our statistics dropped so dramatically that we were rebuked by UNICEF and the UN.  Canadian children are worse off for shelter, food and clothing than those in Portugal or the Czech Republic:

http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/900891–rich-countries-let-poorest-children-fall-behind

In 2007 we ranked 15th and have since fallen to 17th place.  In more detailed categories like family relationships we sadly scored dead-last.  Hopefully these are warning signs the good people of Ontario will take to heart:

http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/Canada/20070214/child_wellbeing_070214/

7.  Our poverty help system is punitive in nature – Promoting patterns of absolute breakdown and continued dependency.  “Zero Dollar Linda’s” story went viral amongst health and social work groups and she’s a perfectly good example of this conundrum:

http://www.thestar.com/news/article/894037

Adding to the confusion is the method in which we collect deductions from public assistance.  When a recipient of OW or ODSP works in March they will report their earnings before the end of the month.  The penalty won’t be taken until April 30th however.  This delay only leaves a client vulnerable if they can’t maintain the status quo.  This happens frequently to seasonal, temp and disabled workers, where an entire month will have to lapse before their family could receive support.  It doesn’t matter if they paid bills or lived responsibly.  The qualifier is going 30 days without any income first.  And by the time benefits are reinstated, the family is already receiving disconnection notices.  This will result in being a month behind for the rest of the entire year.

We have threatened our most vulnerable population in the most intimate of ways.  They must live without food, shelter and without their children for trying to make the climb out of poverty.  Their health and stability will be affected and the cost of putting kids in state care is astronomically greater than providing the basics to their parents.

8.  Isolating communities from social support – Turns early intervention opportunities into full blown emergencies.  When a woman can’t seek counseling for domestic violence or information about getting out; this can result in terrible injuries, police, court involvement and tremendous cost to public agencies.  According to the OPP these charges have doubled since the recession.

When a wayward parent can’t access a Triple P parenting program (the gold standard in correcting discipline issues, promoted by every regional health unit), an issue that could have been resolved with education may grow into child abuse.

When they can’t access Legal Aid they end up in a holding cell for 6 months for stealing a loaf of bread.  And when they can’t access counseling for their troubled children, they too grow up through the court system instead.  Despite the social safety we’re so proud of, it’s not within reach for Ontario’s in-between places.  Our services have eroded so far that they’re only offered in larger cities.

Strategies to Make a Real Difference:

 

1.  Establish the $100 Healthy Food Benefit – As outlined at PutFoodInTheBudget.ca, this would directly infuse our most vulnerable households with an increase in groceries.  It must be calculated per person and would make sense to expand to children.  It should also come with protections so no corresponding clawbacks could defeat the purpose (ex. further deductions from the Basic Needsportion of public assistance cheques).

2.  A strong commitment to affordable housing – Is imperative to avert an epidemic in homelessness, especially that of families who constitute the heart of a stable society.

3.  Put children’s Basic Needs back in frontline funding – And enable families to deal with their own fundamental survival.  By canceling coverage through Ontario Works and ODSP offices, we knowingly oppress our own kids from eating for months at a time.  The Ontario Child Benefit did nothing to alleviate our most poor and put them in greater danger, just because of how the program is administered.  This is hardly different from Third World countries where residents obtain “rations” from federal government and aid agencies now.  It also goes a long way to explain the troubling spike in young food bank visitors.

The Ontario Child Benefit may provide relief at the end of a tax year, but it doesn’t help with the onset of an emergency.  In fact, 5% of eligible, low income families haven’t managed to access “baby bonus” at all.  This means imperative funds are diverted to government coffers to collect interest, while more and more children go without.  It’s also a good indicator that federal management of our provincial poverty initiatives is strikingly ineffective.

http://www.moneyville.ca/article/939401–roseman-benefits-go-begging-when-rules-unclear?bn=1

4.  Increase public assistance rates to reflect current inflation – 16 years of tax and rate increases have gone by without recognition.  Back in those days gas sold for 45 cents a liter and bread was 49 cents a loaf.  Today those amounts have tripled and they’re only going up.  Most families are afraid to even mention the word hydro.  It’s just not possible to afford basic staples in the present market with a pay schedule from 1995.  With respect, I feel this expectation is rather curious.

5.  Restructure the way deductions are taken from public assistance recipients – So the program will encourage families to make more frequent attempts at employment opportunities and allow them to contribute to their own support in a fair and just manner.  Remarkably, no one else in Canada pays a higher rate of combined “taxes”, penalties and deductions.  No other group of children is required to support their parents either.  By deducting 100% of children’s wages, we only teach them not to participate in the workforce.  And so the cycle continues.

6.  Provide reasonable access to childcare – And maintain full day kindergarten.  Canada has one of the lowest birthrates, producing only 1.5 children per household.  The biggest part of the problem is mom and dad can’t afford to raise a family.  The average cost of daycare is $200 – $300 per week, per child and that’s over half a family’s income in many cases.  So if childcare is $1000 per month, rent is $900, hydro $200 and groceries at $500; the couple would have to earn $5200 per month to surpass the Low Income Measure.  This doesn’t account for telephone, internet, tv, vehicle, bus pass, insurance, personal needs or clothes.  If they add a second child to their home they will have to boost their income to $7200 per month to live without risk of homelessness or hunger.  If one of them fell sick for 2 weeks it would be enough to put the family unit in danger.  By comparison, the most this family would receive from welfare is $1062 if times ever got tough.  (The LIM suggests spending 50% of income to cover basic needs is too uncertain.  To qualify for a mortgage banks stipulate these expenses can only account for 30%.)

 

Childcare is the Achilles Heel of every working family, but it poses the greatest barrier to those still looking for a job.  This is the future of Ontario and we need to invest in its care more wisely.

7.  Allow those on public assistance to apply for student loans – otherwise we have yet another cog in the cycle of dependency.  Any person has a greater chance of employability with education and again, this is the only group barred from equal access.  If they accept a student loan for books and course fees, they will become disqualified from Ontario Works and ODSP for food and shelter in return.  This particular discrepancy contributed to the death of a Sudbury, ON woman:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kimberly_Rogers

By denying education to the impoverished we are only teaching future generations the same, unengaged behaviour.  We also prevent a great number of disabled persons from a life of productivity, showing them barriers instead of a method to overcome them.  We take ready minds, able bodies and shut them down instead of providing the tools to flourish and earn returns for our province.  Then society points fingers and claims this group made a choice not to participate, when some of them have literally died trying.

8.  Implement a Guaranteed Annual Income strategy – For all adults, not just senior citizens.  This method has proven successful with the target group and a past pilot project in Dauphin, Manitoba produced the same results for families in poverty:

http://www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca/e/40308.html

Dr. Evelyn Forget conducted the study on behalf of government with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research from 1974 – 1979.  Despite its success however, politics and economy of the day brought a swift end to poverty reduction concerns.  This option has been debated for 30 years by members of every political party and Conservative Senator Hugh Segal is the Guaranteed Annual Income’s most current proponent:

http://www.hughsegal.ca/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=126%3Asocial-inclusion-and-poverty-reduction&catid=21%3A2010&Itemid=27&lang=en

While I understand there are drawbacks to implementing such an overhaul, the payback is worth its weight in gold and healthcare.  The latter raises particular concern when we consider changes to Ontario (and Canada) demographics on the horizon.  In the near future 1/3rd of our population will have to support the remaining 2/3rd of aged residents.  The older group will be subject to a higher rate of illness while the younger workforce won’t have access to pensions or benefits for their own growing families.

We have to expect some bumps in the road and making it impossible for the working class to recover from challenges will be at our own peril.  Food, utilities and shelter have become precious luxuries already.  Add the cost of carrying the majority of our population with the smaller, remaining tax base and compound that with 50% – 100% deductions from gross wages, along with no childcare and we have a recipe for disaster.  At the end of the day a Guaranteed Annual Income appears to be the most successful answer to circumvent countless oppressive policies, encourage productivity and maintain the health of families as they take on this daunting, historical task.

9.  Promote a provincial structure to provide community resource in rural areas – This will make great strides in coping with isolation.  With the least amount of dollars we can accomplish the most good, by making our social safety net accessible to a larger audience.

This would require a parent body to oversee grassroots providers in smaller populations, where they could tap into core programs essential to their communities.  They may include parenting courses, educational material in elder issues or other staples of community support.

Community resource acts as a satellite for information and referral.  It is often early intervention in a wide array of social challenges and saves a heavy burden on more expensive responses like 911, OPP, ER, CAS and the court system.  It’s a vessel to solutions and a catalyst of self sufficiency when residents are faced with difficult events.

I’ve mentioned how poverty and homelessness relate to health care, but our population is about to experience its greatest growing (shrinking) pains in history.  This will be a new phenomenon as baby boomers age out of the workforce and become more dependent on their much smaller group of offspring.  They will be adapting to changes such as ill health, lost pensions and widowhood.

In the case of the latter, perhaps a husband did the banking and drove all these years so his wife would be at a disadvantage without him.  Or a wife cooked and looked after her husband’s medication, but he lacks culinary skills and isn’t sure what the pink or blue pill was for.  They are now lost without their partners.

With access to community resource we can teach the woman pertinent life skills and arrange for volunteer drivers.  We could also teach the gentleman how to cook in a group with others who are facing the same challenges, so he remained independent and developed the support of friends.  We could further arrange plans through his local pharmacy to manage the medication safely.  In these 2 examples we’ve saved the cost of a nursing home, ER and putting stress on CCAC homecare before it was truly necessary.

To ensure this project is viable for rural communities the province would need to provide central management of core resources.  The cost of operating this way comes with savings in itself and any common programs or literature can be shared amongst regional areas.  This structure can accommodate the hiring of 1 course provider to float between grassroots offices, from month to month.  In January they can run a 6 week course in Collingwood and in the middle of February the same person can spend 6 weeks in Wasaga Beach etc.  In another area 1 employee could be responsible for Ancaster, Stoney Creek, Grimsby, Winona and West Lincoln.  It’s a cost effective means of reaching far more isolated people.  The alternative is providing transportation to “the city” and Social Services already complain that’s one of their most overwhelming budgets.

I’m not suggesting we provincially mandate all social groups, but providing a small office filled with information to populations of 10,000 (grouped or alone) seems like a good option to manage dwindling resources.  It’s a social emergency location where clients will be met by a guidance counselor of sorts.  If we don’t give people a place to speak and be counted, they will find it on the other end of 911.

I know there are many “solutions” to poverty, but the important part is that we take action on some of them.  Access to life sustaining employment is obviously the foremost concern in everyone’s minds.  But while our economy rebuilds and numerous families have found their way to the margins, we have a duty to ensure the whole process of recovery is cohesive and productive, as opposed to conflicting and punitive.  In reflection of these fears, TVO reported social services ranked in the top 3 issues according to the electorate.  It notably surpassed both healthcare and education:

http://www.yourvote2011.ca/?p=1222

And finally I’ll leave you with the 2010 report card on child and family poverty in Ontario:

http://www.campaign2000.ca/reportCards/provincial/Ontario/2010OntarioReportCardEnglish.pdf

Was Rob Ford Talking Drugs On The Danforth?

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/amy-macpherson/mayor-rob-ford-danforth-disaster_b_3737576.html

 

Was Rob Ford Talking About Drugs on the Danforth?

Posted: 08/11/2013 9:18

 

This weekend marks a staple celebration in Toronto, and the mayor of Canada’s largest city was there. Rob Ford attended Taste of the Danforth; not as a proper ambassador, but rather as a patron intent to enjoy the festivities intoxicated.

 

YouTube users have been flooding the site with video evidence of their concerns, prolonging the mayor’s woes with media inquiries into his suspected struggles with substance abuse. The Toronto Star as well as the Globe and Mail have addressed the recent spectacle, but what seems to be overlooked is a poignant entry that may indicate a reference to cocaine.

 

As Ford poses for pictures with festival goers on the street, he comes across a fellow who he repeatedly refers to as “brother”. Amid the intoxicated slurs, the mayor appears to ask if someone in the group is looking for “blow” and confirms that he has some (although what he claims to possess is unproven).  See this clip at 0:17 (UPDATE: The Toronto Star enhanced this audio and found Rob Ford said “cologne” not “blow”)

 

(Video now removed from source, a copy can be found at the Toronto Star)

 

Blow is a nickname for cocaine, raising new suspicions about the infamous crack video first covered by Gawker. The fallout has claimed numerous members of the Ford political entourage, as they departed from City Hall and the world at large encouraged the mayor to seek help for drug addiction.

 

The newest “drug video” has been viewed nearly 18,000 times on some sites, as listeners attempt to discern a controversial quote attributed to Rob Ford,

 

“You want some blow? I’ll get you some blow. I have it, seriously!”

 

These words do appear to be uttered by Toronto’s mayor and whether Ford raised the issue of drugs with constituents or one of them inquired about his troubles, it should be noted that he didn’t condemn the conversation. Instead it was a jovial and carefree moment that substances can induce, when a user isn’t sober enough to realize the consequence of their words and actions.

 

Toronto is a world class city that deserves to be represented in kind and regardless of any smack talk about illicit drugs, there is still the issue of alcohol to contend with. Sarah Thomson previously accused the mayor of inappropriate behaviour while under the influence and despite his denials, the Danforth reinforces similar concerns.

 

Another resident posted video citing worries the mayor was drunk and had driven to the festival. In fairness to Ford he does say that he isn’t driving when pressed on the issue, but others reported him by the vehicle later in the evening.

 

 

Ford used his party time to seek the spotlight while posing for countless pictures. He knew all eyes were on him because he was smiling for the attention. He knows the cloud of suspicion that surrounds him is darkening the city’s reputation and causing dysfunction within city council. He didn’t use this opportunity to speak about responsible drinking or provide a good example, nor did he address the economic and cultural benefits that come from hosting events like Taste of the Danforth.

 

That was too much to ask from a man who is tasked with managing the concerns of millions and the only business Rob Ford wishes to discuss is where to find the next venue with mind-altering substances. In lieu of drumming up support for business and community, the mayor was concerned with partying. He promoted public intoxication over public safety and couldn’t see beyond enjoyment of self in what some would call a slurring stupor.

 

So the question begs to be asked, is this the face constituents want to represent their interests while attracting committed business to the metropolis? Is this how the mayor behaves when negotiating deals with corporate friends? Are these the actions of a leader or truly Conservatives ideals? Is Ford’s judgement sound or is it really shaded by addiction?

 

Let us not forget the mayor is a fishing buddy to our Prime Minister and a previous party to celebrate their pursuit of a Tory trifecta was attended by the most powerful CPC personalities.


 

They say we’re judged by the company we keep and to date the mayor is alleged to be friendly with convicted, stabbed and/or dead drug dealers.  Stephen Harper considers Ford to be part of his inner circle and our country’s leader was surrounded by Mike Duffy, Nigel Wright, Patrick Brazeau, and Mike Sona as well.  All individuals are innocent until proven guilty, but can we name another Prime Minister who was dogged by so many illicit allegations in his entourage, or intoxicated partners who repeatedly star in questionable videos?