Wednesday, April 28, 2010

BC Municipality Enacts Canada's First Living Wage Bylaw

It's New Westminster, which has been at the forefront of other poverty-reduction campaigns.
Living wage bylaws set a wage 'floor' above the minimum wage for workers who work directly for the city, for firms that receive contracts from the city, and firms that receive economic development money from the city.

"Once the policy is implemented, all direct and indirect workers (contract workers, etc.) performing work on City premises will earn a wage no lower than $16.74," [Dave] Tate [of BC ACORN] said in an email.
How about other BC municipalities and the province following New West's example? Heck, why not municipalities and provinces/territories throughout Canada?

Monday, April 26, 2010

On Liberals' Proposed National Food Policy

Don't be fooled by the big numbers. Here's what the Liberals propose to be included in their national food policy as reported by the CBC:

* $50 million to improve food inspections and ensure imported foods meet domestic standards
* $80 million to promote farmers markets and local food
* $40 million to help 250,000 low-income children get healthy food (my emphasis)

Let's look at that last one, shall we?

Any program has administrative costs, so it's not clear that the entire $40 million would go to 250,000 children. However, let's assume it does.

The numbers reduce to this: $160 per year per child, or $13.33 per month, or 44 cents per day.

Wow.

Food costs are higher where people of low income live. Most of us haven't the means - a vehicle or bus fare - to get to where the bargains are. We must walk everywhere or transport ourselves in a four-wheeled scooter (if we're so fortunate to have one and live in a building that provides plug-in facilities). If we've a scooter, then accessibility to, from and in stores becomes a further barrier.

How much do you suppose someone can buy for 44 cents in a neighbourhood where there's only one grocery store and accessibility for people with disabilities is an issue?

Here's another bone to pick. Children under a certain age don't have income. Their parents or guardians do.

You can bet that hungry children have even hungrier parents. Parents will deprive themselves of food before they'll let their children starve.

Politicians and poverty activists should stop the "child poverty" crap. Because you can't lift a child out of poverty unless you treat the whole family - hell, unless you treat the whole community.

Incidentally, by the time the Liberal plan would come into being, inflation would have eaten up all or a good chunk of that 44 cents.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

New Vaccine for TOADS

Kittimati, Cascadia
UnAssociated Press

The Union of People with Uteri United to Reduce Savagery (UPURS) met last week in Kittimati, Cascadia to confer on findings from researchers at the International Medical Science Institute (IMSI) and reports from UPURS. IMSI researchers have concluded that symptoms of the debilitating Testosterone Overload Associative Disorder Syndrome (TOADS), that affects 87 percent of the worlds' male population, can be drastically reduced by injecting the medically proven vaccine under the foreskin of pre-pubescent males. Human volunteers at the IMSI tested with the new vaccine have shown that few side effects are evident.

It has been recommended by UPURS, who have studied the research in depth, that immediate distribution of the new vaccine be made available for treating the world's male population against TOADS.

Consensus within UPURS is pending.

And from other sources:

Anti-Choice Law

Anti Choice Bill
Ban on Insurance Coverage for Abortion

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Self-Publishing OR How to Avoid Misrepresentation

From an article by Joan Bryden of The Canadian Press, regarding bogus reviews that appear on the cover of Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff's latest book:

"It is common practice for movie and book promotions to use snippets of reviews that often bear little resemblance to the original critiques."

It is also common knowledge that book publishers almost always have far more control than authors over a book's title, distribution, promotion, cover design and content, and so on. Even what goes between the covers can be, and often is, heavily influenced by a publisher.

Which makes me glad that no publisher got back to me when I was hunting for one for the WISE book.

We ultimately published the book ourselves.

The reviews that appear on the WISE book's back cover are accurate and unsolicited. Further, I'd sought and obtained written permission from each of the commenters prior to quoting them. It never occurred to me to do otherwise.

Despite our being women in the lowest decile of income and locally-bound; despite our having no academic, promotional or other network to tap into; despite our having only electronic means to promote our book, our book more than beat the odds - and we accomplished the feat ethically.

With self-publishing, the situation described in Bryden's article can't happen unless it's intended by the author. As soon as a publisher becomes involved, authors lose much of the control over what happens to their book. They can - and publishers expect them to - promote it at book signings, online, through networks, and so on, but that's about it, unless it's explicitly placed into the contract that the author will have final say over cover design and content.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Doc Martens!!

A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from someone who reads this blog regularly. She'd heard about Daphne's and my writings through a listserv and had been following my hunt for good footwear. The latter, built for punishing demands, is a must for people who have physical disabilities, cannot afford public transit fare and must walk everywhere.

"You say you wear a 7? I have a pair of lightly-used soft black leather Doc Martens boots which are too big for my ... feet ... and I'd be happy to ship them to you if you'd find them useful.... I was going to eBay them but I'd just as soon ... send them directly to a good home!"

DOC MARTENS! Oh, my poor aching feet!

Well, I received the parcel today and it contained a further bonus: one pair of casual burgundy flats, suitable for more dress-up occasions (relatively speaking - I avoid truly dress-up events like the plague). I'd been wearing my black shoes, the ones with the great slashes in the soles, for that. Like my old runners, also with great slashes in their soles, after I'd picked up a gently-used pair of Sauconys recently, the old black flats are headed for the trash bin.

Now I have SIX pairs of decent shoes: brown winter hiking boots, burgundy casual flats, black Reeboks, light grey Saucony's, black Doc Martens (they are soooo soft, like butter, and surprisingly light), and the copper brown Rockports I've had for several years and have poorly abused, requiring them to do extra, very wet duty.

Am still on the hunt for durable, comfortable sandals, suitable for hiking-walking-trailblazing. Should probably also get a pair of Wellingtons or some such footwear for walking in the rain.

Still, if I never got those I'd still be happy, having gone from owing three pairs of shoes, two of which were ten years old and had 3" slashes in their soles - and only one of which was any good for walking -, to six pairs of really good shoes. With care, those six pairs should last me the rest of my walking days. That's the goal, anyway.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Tiny Houses, Sublime Nature

Over at one of my favourite blogs, the administrator includes a weekly feature Tiny House in a Landscape. It's a photo of a tiny house captured in its natural settling.


As I just commented over there, I think the series should be up for an award. The nostalgic photos pull at the heartstrings. They evoke both the yearning for home and the awe of nature’s sublime beauty.

Almost every week, I download the featured photo and use it for my desktop background. 

Friday, April 16, 2010

To Vegan

In a previous post, I said I would talk about how I came to embrace a vegan diet.

When I left home, in my late teens, eating 'red' meat was a once a week occurrence, if that. Eggs, chicken and cheese were the regular fare. Often our meals were vegetables only. Fine by me.

When I married, I found that my partner wanted pork, almost unheard of in my nuclear family. I learned to fry chops or purchased 'cured ham' for the dinner table. This was not what I wanted to eat.

So began my quest for an alternative.

Why? Health. Economics. Ethical. Environmental. And spiritual.

For years, I continued to consume meat, all the while loathing what I was doing to my body and to animals raised for food. Eventually, after much research, I decided that a 'vegetarian' diet was as close as I could come and still stay healthy. Dairy and seafood were often on the table in those days.

Not until I met my current room-mate, did I know about a vegan diet. Switching from vegetarian to vegan took two years. Two years to stop the imagined craving for sardines, cheese, eggs and butter. That was well over twelve years ago. I've never looked back.

Last summer, I began leaning toward an all raw vegan diet. It's been easier than I anticipated, perhaps because I was already content as a vegan.

Almost immediately I noticed positive differences. I've lost a few pounds, feel brighter, have fewer troubles with the dreaded 'change of life' symptoms, reduced the grocery bill and am enjoying new un-cooking experiences in the kitchen.

I value the choices I've made concerning my diet.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Commentary

On April 14th, we received two items from our readers.

The first, from a Public Health Nurse working in the 'Healthy Living Service' of a regional health authority, who reads our posts via the CLICK4HP listserv. This person wants the list administration to eliminate anything written by Ocean, but wishes to hear from all other contributors. There was no reason given.

The second, from someone who, after reading our posts on economics ridiculous, wrote that s/he is "only two pay cheques away from there." This person wants us to keep up the good work. This person wants to make a difference and intends to lobby his/her local Member of Parliament and provincial counterpart to make some positive changes regarding the many others who are living on the edge.

It is interesting to me that the 'professional' does NOT want to hear from the people s/he is supposedly serving. Meanwhile, the working poor person cheers us on.

My conclusion is that the one who needs to hear this message from those living the experience has a closed mind. It makes me wonder about other 'professionals' who would rather not hear our story - or the stories of others - dismissing us, without listening to our solutions.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Three Housing Proposals - Three Rejections

... because neither political entity, city or province, would commit before the other would.

An article out today, written by Monte Paulsen for The Tyee, backs up my comments in yesterday's economicus ridiculous post regarding tiny homes. I wrote then that the problem is not a shortage of ideas for extremely low-cost, low-maintenance, environmentally-friendly shelter for permanent housing. The problem is politicians without the courage of vision or the willingness to act.

Paulsen writes of three great proposals made to provide CHEAP dwellings to house people who are homeless or of low income in Vancouver. That is, truly 'affordable housing' for anyone, not just affordable for the middle class.

The proposals went to the province for consideration. All three proposals were turned down.

The city wouldn't commit because the province wouldn't commit. The province wouldn't commit because the city wouldn't commit. And round and round we go ... as people die.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Sweet Tiny Homes

Yes, more sweet, tiny, extremely low-cost, low-maintenance homes. But people of low-income need not apply.

Am always on the lookout for a tiny place of my own, with a bit of land to grow my own food. Most recently, I inquired about a fifth wheel already on-site in a mobile home park about one and a half hours north of here.

As I've written elsewhere, there's no shortage of great ideas that would, if there were the political will, address the housing shortage virtually overnight. Daphne's Caravans is just one tiny part of the rapidly growing global tiny house movement.


Many of the tiniest of these tiny dwellings haven’t a washroom or toilet, although most do have a range and kitchen sink. Were it possible to get government to free up land or for private developers to be given the incentive, block neighbourhoods or tiny villages could be created of these tiny homes; and all built using recycled or scavenged materials. They’d surround communal food gardens and a commons building containing washrooms, laundry, recreational and exercise facilities, and a kitchen for community meals.

Such developments could be built along the lines of the co-housing principle (not the same as co-op housing). However in this case, the goal would be to make the living spaces cheap enough that anyone, even those living in the lowest decile of income, could afford their own tiny place.

I’ve yearned for a tiny cabin or trailer all my life, a place just like one of those tiny caravans and where I and my furry animal companions can live in peace. One hundred square feet would be ample for me. However, at age 60, I doubt I’ll realize that dream.

Our politicians, all the way from local to federal, lack the courage of vision.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Guergis Resignation Doesn't End the Questions

How will Helena Guergis, now former Minister of State for Status of Women Canada, pay for that $890,000 mortgage, without the extra $50,000 a year cabinet pay and its associated cushy expense account out of which she bought shoes, socks and other clothing? - items that women for whom SWC is supposed to be a champion must hope to get gently used and free?

Don't think Guergis' resignation is the end of this and other questions concerning her conduct. While fresh reports (by one of my favourite journalists, Kady O'Malley) say Guergis is also out of the Conservative caucus, which means she must sit as an independent or move to another party - not that any party would want her - she is still a member of Canada's Parliament.

The reports also indicate that the RCMP and ethics commissioner will be investigating. Good.

And the media and public should continue turning up the heat. With the RCMP called in, Stephen Harper will be quick to play the 'no comment' card. However, the questions shouldn't only be about Guergis, but also concern the judgement of the Conservatives with respect to the candidates they accept to run on their party's behalf.

By the way, the new minister for Status of Women Canada? That would be Rona Ambrose, whose former chief of staff is Darrel Reid of Focus on the Family fame - an anti-choice, fundamentalist organization. Reid is now the policy chief in the Prime Minister's Office.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

UPDATE: Status of Women Minister Buys $880K Ottawa House

On Helena Guergis' husband Rahim Jaffer, see this outstanding investigative report that appeared on the front page of today's Toronto Star. If you don't get the Star in your area, you might want to take a look at this PDF capture of the Star's front page.

I wonder if the Liberals' request for the ethics commissioner to review Guergis' mortgage deal, which was arranged in her husband's former Edmonton riding, might not now be granted? Alternatively, she could resign, as she should have done after her airport tantrum.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

UPDATE on Tweeting the HST

From the Globe and Mail today, about the Nova Scotia's NDP government and its recent move to raise the HST to 15 percent:

The Nova Scotia NDP under Darrell Dexter are that rarest of political birds: the tax-and-cut party. They are increasing consumption taxes while cutting civil servants and their perquisites.

Take their budget issued this week, which raises the harmonized sales tax two points to 15 per cent from 13 per cent, while cutting income taxes - particularly for those with very low incomes and in the $93,000 to $150,000 range - and laying off 10 per cent of the civil service.

Like many other provinces, Nova Scotia is moving away from income taxes and toward consumption taxes to stimulate the economy and create jobs.

For HST opponents in the NDP, like federal leader Jack Layton, Ontario leader Andrea Horwath and B.C. leader Carole James, this is a real challenge. One of the two provincial NDP governments are not only in favour of the HST, they are actually increasing it. [my emphasis]

It would seem that when in opposition, the party that favours more public services will oppose any taxes to pay for those services, unless those are corporate taxes. But while in government, leaders of the party haven't the same concern.

I'm fine with NDP governments facing economic realities. My objection is to any political party that opposes merely for the sake of opposing, as the BC NDP did with the carbon tax and is now doing with the proposed HST. If that's the (Carole James') NDP method of redefining itself, then the leadership should think again.

[Cross-posted at Challenging the Commonplace]

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Tweeting the HST

The opposition NDP in British Columbia has been making a concerted effort, joined now by former premier Bill Vander Zalm, to organize British Columbians against the coming Harmonized Sales Tax. Vander Zalm is trying to get enough signatures to require the Liberal government to hold a referendum on the tax.

Am putting this out there because I just don't get why certain progressives are against the HST.

Or maybe I do.

Here's a series of tweets I posted a few minutes ago:

Re BC-HST, 1) ppl will ALWAYS protest a new/chg'd tax 2) NDP = big gov, more services/progs, more taxes 2 pay 4 same 3) HST gd 4 very poor

4) w/ rebate, HST gd for lowest 2 economic classes. Only 'bad' for incomes above mid-range & only if u BUY STUFF.

5) HST - like PST/GST - is a consumption tax. IMO, that's better than inc. taxes. W/ cons. tax, u get more stuff, u pay more tax.

So, Y is NDP against this tax, if not due 2 opportunism, to take advantage of knee-jerk reaction against all tax?

If you've trouble reading Twitter-ese, the long version goes like this:

As night follows day, people will always protest the introduction of a new tax. It doesn't matter that the proposed tax is meant to cover the costs of providing new or enhanced services x, y and z. People just hate taxes, period.

The NDP supports the provision of public services by government; not, or much less so, by business. It supports tighter and more regulation, a flatter incline among classes, and so on. The party therefore supports bigger government, and less business or corporate influence, control and interference in public affairs. (So far, so good; am pretty much in agreement with this.)

For government to provide more or enhanced public services, it must raise revenue. That means raising taxes - or fees, which amounts to the same thing.

The proposed HST comes with a rebate for the lowest two economic classes. The poorest in the province will get the most.

I, for one, am really looking forward to my quarterly rebates. Am already better off thanks to the carbon tax, which the NDP also protested in its failed 'Axe the Tax' campaign.

The NDP is purportedly the champion of the underdog, the homeless, and the desperately poor.

I don't consider middle-income earners and the wealthy to be underdogs. Yet they are the only ones who ultimately may pay more under the HST. It all depends on HOW MUCH STUFF THEY BUY.

The HST, like the PST and GST, is a consumption tax. So is the BC carbon tax. The more you buy, the more you pay in tax.

Well, boo hoo!

Unlike income taxes - which I prefer to see axed - consumption taxes are useful sticks to curb people's behaviour. That's the fundamental principle behind a carbon tax, which most industry leaders support.

It's no accident that the majority of politicians don't support a carbon tax ... publicly, that is. They haven't the courage. Former Liberal leader St├ęphane Dion was one of those rare exceptions. Too bad the party elite lacked the spine to support him.

Anyway, given the foregoing arguments regarding the HST, it begs the question why the NDP is so against it. Unless that party's protestations have nothing to do with the tax at all and everything to do with political opportunism.

[cross-posted at Challenging the Commonplace]

See also this update.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Treat Welfare System Like Criminal Justice System

Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.

The Blackstone ratio guides our criminal justice system. The same theme has appeared in one version or another throughout human history, including in the writings of the 12th century philosopher Maimonides and in the Bible.

Would that poverty were treated like a crime. In that case, the same principle would justify a guaranteed annual income for all. That it doesn't, and the overwhelming reason why it doesn't, is among the ironies.

Certain conservative types fear that a GAIA would discourage people from working. They imagine the default human condition is to do nothing, to contribute nothing and never to strive for a better life.

That's a decidedly un-Christian perspective of the human being, which was purportedly made in a certain deity's image. For Christians, in fact, it's an illogical point of view, one that's inconsistent with other Christian principles. (Not that consistency and formal religion inhabit the same space usually.)

Charity is another argument used against a GAIA, even against having a public welfare system at all. Charity and charitable institutions are supposed to take care of 'the needy', 'the less fortunate', 'the vulnerable'.

Again, there's an underlying inconsistency.

How might one fill one's charity quota if a public system exists to ensure there are no impoverished unfortunates?

Charity preys on need. Its very existence requires a class system and people who are without.

Those two religiously historical concerns, for 'the work ethic' and 'Christian charity', are why the principle that underlies our welfare system is opposite to the one that guides our criminal system. It's the principle:

Better that ten innocent suffer in poverty than one guilty person escape.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Walking a Mile for Free Shoes

Actually, it was 10.2 kilometres, round trip.

Am stiff, sore, and my bad hip is worse than it has ever been. It began grinding something fierce when I was about two-thirds of the way there.

No matter. Am happy as a clam on a sandy beach.

This morning someone posted an offer on my local ReUseIt network, for a pair of gently used women's size 7 Sauconys. Original price for these high-quality runners was $119, plus tax.

So I walked that long distance because: i) the bus doesn't go that far, ii) I'd only a $20 bill; no change for the required exact fare, iii) I was loathe to spend money for bus fare anyway, and iv) the return bus wouldn't be by until three hours later.

Standing is worse for my back than walking, so using the bus seemed rather pointless. (As it happens, few Cowichan Transit stops have benches, let alone shelters.)

The choice, therefore, reduced to walking that ten kilometres or missing out on a free pair of Sauconys. I walked.

When I got there, I found the shoes under the carport, where the woman said she'd leave them for me. They were still in their original box.

My ten-year-old runners, the ones with great slashes across both soles, are by the door, ready for the trash bin. Only the shoe laces have been saved.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Status of Women Minister Buys $880K Ottawa House

... and mortgages it for the full purchase price of $880,000. No money down. House was bought in November.

Helena Guergis, Minister of Status of Women Canada, gets a salary of $157,731. That includes a $56,637 top-up for her Cabinet position. As far as I know her husband, one Rahim Jaffer, is currently unemployed. He will begin receiving a lucrative pension at age 55, thanks to his brief career as a Member of Parliament.

Normally I consider the personal lives of MPs to be off-bounds, but this case points to two issues that I think cross over into the public sphere.

First, what was the woman thinking?! Has she no sense of economy? Has she no clue what it's like to maintain a budget? Even to consider buying a house that's six times one's annual salary, one that's subject to the fickle political winds of change, seems ludicrous to me.

And I have to laugh at the irony, given something that happened to me a few days ago. It highlights the stark differences between life for many women in Canada - women for whom Status of Women Canada is supposed to be a champion for change - and those few like Guergis.

I live in the lowest decile category of income. I've a lifelong dream of owning my own tiny home, on a tiny piece of land. To keep the dream alive, I occasionally visit mls.ca, run a search, and see if anything comes up. Then I check the ads out and run a bunch of 'what ifs' in my head. That's how I keep the dream alive.

A few days ago, I found an ad for a 5th wheel, sited in a mobile home park about two hours by car north of here. Asking price: $11,500. I contacted the realtor and we exchanged emails back and forth. Right away, I contacted friend Daphne; we discussed the pros and cons via emails and one Skype call. We talked and talked some more. I agonized over the possibilities. Ultimately I decided against, before ever going to see the trailer.

Even assuming I could get the price down to under $10,000, it would take more than half of my remaining savings; and my income, beginning in July when I turn 60, will be approximately $8,000 per year. The issues to be considered weren't just the price of the trailer, but the pad rent ($334/month), the security of the pad (might the owners be thinking of selling?), security in the other sense (is it a safe area?), the maintenance costs (does the roof need replacing? if not now, when? what else needs fixing/maintaining?), heating, the cost of products locally (is it more expensive to buy there than here?), accessibility to shopping and services for someone with no vehicle, and so on.

Which brings me to my second point...

How can Guergis possibly relate to the problems women like me face when she has no clue how to manage her own finances? And what the HELL is she doing overseeing any government Ministry, let alone the Status of Women Canada?

I ask, because unless there's a rich daddy somewhere, Guergis & Co. will be heading to bankruptcy court in the not too distant future.