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Two-in-three low income Toronto families face food insecurity

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Food an issue for 80 per cent of families on social assistance

by Paul Cantin

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Two out of three Toronto families in low-income neighbourhoods are unable to get the food they need and community initiatives such as food banks and school nutrition programs are not able to arrest a problem of this size and scope, according to new research from the University of Toronto.

Food insecurity — the lack of access to food due to insufficient resources — was an issue for 80 per cent of families on social assistance in the studied neighbourhoods. Even among the employed, the rate was just under 60 percent.

“Despite the presence of food banks, an alarming number of people are going hungry, which constitutes a serious public health issue,” said Sharon Kirkpatrick, who undertook the research as part of her doctoral work at U of T’s Department of Nutritional Sciences. “There is a misperception that programs such as food banks are a panacea. Clearly, we need new strategies for confronting the root problem of poverty.”

The research, published in the current edition of the Canadian Journal of Public Health, was conducted by a team including investigators from the Department of Nutritional Sciences and Queen’s University, in collaboration with Toronto Public Health and the City of Toronto Shelter, Housing and Support Division.

The team found that for almost a third (28 per cent) of low-income families, the level of food insecurity is so severe it qualifies as food deprivation (e.g., adults and/or children not eating enough because they lacked food and money for food). While poverty and lack of access to food was all too common, few families obtained help from food banks and few had children participating in school nutrition programs. When faced with the threat of acute food shortages, families reported that they often used strategies like forfeiting services as basic as the telephone or not paying the rent or bills on time.

“A compromised diet has both short- and long-term effects on health and the strategies families resort to in order to mitigate food insecurity compound their vulnerability,” said Kirkpatrick, who is currently undertaking postgraduate studies at the University of Calgary.

The study involved interviews with 500 low-income families with children residing in 12 high-poverty Toronto neighbourhoods. The participants were recruited door-to-door and the interviews were conducted by research assistants who had personal experience with food insecurity and poverty. The study sample included families that relied on income from welfare (Ontario Works), the Ontario Disability Support Program and other government programs, but most were “working poor” families whose primary source of income was from employment.

Among the data collected by the researchers:

— In one in 10 families, there were adults who had gone whole days without eating because there wasn’t enough money for food.

— 45 per cent reported that they couldn’t always afford to feed their children a balanced meal.

— When faced with the threat of acute food shortages, 50 per cent of families had delayed paying bills, 31 per cent had given up telephone, Internet and/or cable television services and 23 per cent had delayed paying their rent.

— Only one-third of families with school-aged children reported participation in children’s food programs at schools or community agencies.

— Although food bank programs were available in the neighbourhoods studied, only 22 per cent of families had used a food bank in the last 12 months.

— Families facing severe food insecurity were more likely than others to use a food bank, suggesting that program use is a marker of desperation.

The problems of food insecurity documented in this study can only worsen with the current economic crisis, as the number of people requiring welfare assistance rises and low income families face a greater struggle to afford food and other essentials.

“It is imperative that all levels of government protect the health and well-being of Canadian families by taking steps to ensure that those reliant on low-wage jobs and those who are unemployed and reliant on welfare or other income support programs have the resources to obtain adequate food as well as meet their other basic needs,” said Kirkpatrick.

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December 26, 2009 at 11:27 pm

Budget Hits Will ‘Basically Gut’ AIDS Vancouver

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Lower Mainland HIV service groups say government funding cuts will end up costing public more.

by Tom Sandborn

Dr. Mark Tyndall

Dr. Mark Tyndall: Infections will go up The Vancouver Coastal Region Health Authority chose World Aids Day to announce it was cutting funding for community services to people with the HIV virus and AIDS.

 

Three weeks later, B.C.’s minister of health has declined to discuss the cuts with The Tyee, and health authority spokespeople say only administration costs will be trimmed without any impact on direct service delivery. 

But local front line workers and experts in the HIV/AIDS field say that the cuts will slam clinical services, leading to more disease and less effective treatment, and end up costing taxpayers more down the road. 

The head of AIDS Vancouver, the province’s longest running service provider to HIV positive people, said the cuts would ‘basically gut’ his organization. 

The provincial government has directed the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority to eliminate a projected $90 million deficit in its nearly $3 billion budget for this fiscal year. The cuts to Vancouver-area community-based HIV/AIDS groups announced Dec. 1 will account for approximately a million dollars of the hoped for savings in 2009-2010. 

The groups whose funding has been reduced include Aids Vancouver, the Dr. Peter Centre, Youthco, and the Positive Outlook Program at Vancouver Native Health Society. 

Written by thecanadianheadlines

December 26, 2009 at 9:57 pm

Montreal goes from glamorous to a corrupt, crumbling, mob-ridden disgrace

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by Martin Patriquin [Excerpted]
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Montreal is a disaster

MACLEAN’S – It says something about a city when tales of bravery in the face of organized crime are apparently a prerequisite to governing it. Five weeks into an increasingly bizarre election campaign dominated by scandal, graft and good, old-fashioned backstabbing, Gérald Tremblay had wanted it known that he is scared for the well-being of his family.

While other Canadian cities grapple with garbage collection, snow removal and other humdrum realities of municipal politics, Montreal has, in the past several weeks, become a chaotic and dirty throwback to its bad old days. Allegations of mobbed-up favouritism, brown envelopes stuffed with cash, wildly inflated city contracts, an aggressive blue-collar union perpetually at odds with the mayor’s office: these, not its many charms and joie de vivre, are Montreal’s stock in trade these days.

Montreal has become a chronically underperforming city burdened by an archaic governmental structure, a bloated public sector (Montreal’s city council has twice as many elected officials as New York City), and what many say is an endemic culture of corruption. More and more of its citizens are taking refuge in the suburbs, while big business continues to flee for Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary. Montreal is saddled with the largest debt of any major Canadian city, and its infrastructure is a leaking, potholed mess. It costs 30 per cent more to build a stretch of road in Quebec than anywhere else in the country, and a recent multi-million-dollar water contract was cancelled after its cost ballooned from $154 million to nearly $356 million.

The city’s political culture, one of its disgraced former politicians said recently, is hopelessly, institutionally crooked, “infected with gangrene.” Meanwhile, the province’s language hawks are yet again glancing sideways at the supposed creeping English presence among the city’s immigrant populations. The parade of bad news afflicting what a La Presse columnist once dubbed “a beautifully messy Latin city” has raised the question: how could something so beautiful go so wrong?

Montreal’s political and social landscape didn’t look nearly as grim eight years ago, when Gérald Tremblay rode into office with a promise to bring democracy and transparency to Canada’s second largest city. A former perfumer, hockey agent and provincial cabinet minister in Robert Bourassa’s Liberal government, Tremblay has cultivated the image of a squeaky-clean (if somewhat bland) politician whose idea of excitement, until his knee surgery three years ago, was a nice, long run through his neighbourhood of Outremont.

And Montreal welcomed him, in large part because he was so beige. The city has long been considered Quebec’s existential nightmare, “the rottenest city on the continent,” according to religious pamphleteer Evanston Hart in 1919, a place where every vice and threat—games of chance, naked flesh, the lion’s share of English people in the province—could be experienced in abundance. Though the city has since been rehabilitated somewhat, its reputation for secretive, top-down governance à la Jean Drapeau (who took power in the 1950s and ruled for nearly three decades) remained, all the way to Tremblay’s predecessor, Pierre Bourque. In his first two years in office beginning in 1994, Bourque’s party pleaded guilty to 122 counts of electoral and campaign finance charges. “Ever since Drapeau, Montreal mayors have had the tendency to last a couple of terms and then get into trouble,” says Harold Chorney, a professor of public policy at Concordia University in Montreal.

For years, it seemed Tremblay would buck the trend, thanks to Montrealers’ yawning indifference to municipal matters: barely 35 per cent of voters bothered to cast a ballot in the 2005 election. Whiffs of scandal—the city’s real estate corporation, run by Tremblay’s former chief of staff, was found to have made a sweetheart land deal to a well-connected developer—bounced off the mayor, as did the news that the city’s consultant and outsourcing budget had nearly doubled over six years.

Tremblay managed to withstand the revelation last April that Frank Zampino, his former right-hand man on the city’s powerful executive committee, had twice vacationed on the yacht of Tony Accurso, whose firm was ultimately awarded a $356-million water- meter contract without any debate in city council. “Frank Zampino didn’t make the best decision,” the mayor said of his lieutenant’s choice of vacation. The mayor nonetheless defended the water-meter contract, only to cancel it when an auditor general’s report said it was rife with “irregularities [and] deficient management.”

The first truly devastating bombshell came a few  months ago, shaking Montrealers of their indifference: a Radio-Canada investigation into the province’s construction sector uncovered a wide-ranging price-fixing scheme in which 14 construction companies colluded to fix bids on public construction jobs, and in some cases used Hells Angels muscle to intimidate rival firms. One of these contracts included the refinishing of the facade of Montreal’s city hall, though most were for road construction and repair in and around Montreal.

These firms, the investigation alleged, would typically pay three per cent of the value of the public works contracts to what one former Transport Quebec official dubbed “the Montreal Italian Mafia.” Coincidentally or not, an ensuing La Presse investigation found that a former Union Montreal fundraising official named Bernard Trépanier was in charge of a scheme that saw three per cent of the value of contracts distributed to political parties, councillors and city bureaucrats. (Mr. Trépanier, dubbed “Mr. Three Per Cent” by La Presse, denied involvement in the scheme.)

Furthermore, La Presse noted, 16 of the 272 firms who worked for the City of Montreal since 2005 received nearly half the city contracts. The overwhelming majority of them went to . . . Tony Accurso, the yacht-owning friend of Zampino, and a politically connected businessman who has extensive construction interests in both Quebec and Ontario. Accurso also had business ties to Claude Blanchet, husband of Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois. In 2007, Accurso allegedly picked up the $14,000 tab for an Action Démocratique du Québec fundraising dinner held at Accurso’s restaurant. Zampino himself left city politics to work for Dessau, which was part of the consortium* with an Accurso-owned company that was awarded Montreal’s water meter contract, in January 2009 (though he left the position three months later).

“Tremblay is either crooked, incompetent or just lacks the courage to attack difficult problems,” says John Gomery, he of the Gomery commission on the sponsorship scandal, who now serves as honorary chairman of Bergeron’s Projet Montréal.

But Tremblay’s party certainly hasn’t had a monopoly on scandal. Louise Harel promised to clean up city hall “with a broom”—en français, bien sûr, given her triumphant inability to speak English. She chose as her running mate Benoît Labonté, who kindly stepped aside as leader of her party, with a promise from Harel that he would become president of the city’s powerful executive committee if she was elected. Armed with near-instant favourable polls, Harel depicted Tremblay as dithering, clueless and willingly blind to the corruption going on under his nose. She called Labonté, a borough mayor, formerly with Tremblay’s Union Montréal banner, “a man of principle” who left Tremblay’s side because he couldn’t stand the stench.

The Harel-Labonté juggernaut (such as it was) lasted four months—until a journalist for the online newspaper Rue Frontenac found that Labonté himself had met with and solicited money from none other than Tony Accurso on several occasions in 2008. Labonté peppered his subsequent, vehement denials with threats of lawsuits against Frontenac. By way of her Twitter feed, Harel denounced the “false accusations.” Her indignation lasted all of 24 hours, however; the next day, Labonté was fired.

Labonté soon found himself in a nondescript hotel room in front of Radio-Canada’s cameras, wearing what might be described as post-catastrophe casual, admitting to everything he’d denied over the last week. Yes, he’d lied. Yes, he’d met with Accurso several times. Yes, people close to him accepted cash from Accurso on his behalf. Moreover, Labonté said, there is corruption of this sort at every level of government—even in Harel’s Union Montréal party, where “sectoral finance” was code for soliciting campaign donations from big business, illegal under Quebec law. “The reality is that every party, municipal as well as provincial, and there are no exceptions, collects cash and gives it to front men, who then write a cheque to the party in question,” Labonté said.

Put off but undeterred, Harel stashed away her broom. She would need nothing short of a vacuum to clean up this mess, she said.

That’s an understatement. Even beyond all the corruption, Montreal has become unruly and dysfunctional. It’s perhaps easy to see why it’s so difficult to get things done when you consider the city has four levels of municipal government and 105 elected representatives—by comparison, Toronto has 45; New York City, 51. It’s also saddled with one of the largest public sectors of any North American city. Tremblay put this system in place to keep several recently (and forcibly) merged boroughs from separating. It didn’t even succeed in that aim; in 2005, 15 mostly English boroughs voted to leave the amalgamated city. Result: these boroughs pay taxes to the city of Montreal, yet their citizens cannot vote in the municipal election. It also means these boroughs have become de facto fiefdoms that regularly stymie island-wide projects like expanded rail service and highway access. The city’s governing structure is “a Swiss-cheese mess,” says Concordia’s Chorney.

Maybe it’s why so many people and so many businesses continue to leave. According to a recent Quebec government report, 21,000 Montrealers decamped for off-island suburbs between 2007 and 2008—a bigger exile, percentage-wise, than from Quebec’s desolate, perpetually destitute North Shore, and the sixth year in a row that the city lost more than 20,000 people. Head offices, too: Montreal, according to a recent Fraser Institute report, continues to lose them to other parts of the country—even though the threat of separatism, Montreal’s eternal albatross, has been practically non-existent for some time. People who remain, according to statistics, are less likely to finish school (the city has a 45 per cent dropout rate), more likely to be unemployed, less likely to get a physician, and more likely to become pregnant at a younger age than anywhere else in the province. And the usual tussles over multiculturalism continue. Former Péquiste premier Bernard Landry, decrying the fact that immigrants and anglophone students now outnumber their old-stock French counterparts in Montreal-area schools, recently called for the provincial government to modify Bill 101 so as to restrict access to English colleges, known as CEGEPs, for recent immigrants. Old ghosts, it seems, die hard.

The man who wants desperately to hang on to all of this is still standing—shaking in his boots, maybe, but standing nonetheless. At one moment, Mayor Tremblay denies knowing anything about payoffs, price fixing or mob connections within city hall; the next, he says he is scared for the well-being of his loved ones because he has stood up to these very influences in the past. He has even brought his non-denial-denial shtick to the airwaves. “One of your colleagues at work decides to do something a little shady,” Tremblay says in one radio advert. “Do you think they’re going to tell their boss or you? Face it: they’re not going to tell anybody.”

His dithering might be serving him well for now. The Gazette, whose journalists broke several key stories about spending irregularities within Tremblay’s government over the years, endorsed the outgoing mayor regardless. “[T]he least distressing candidate in an unprepossessing field,” read an editorial earlier this week. Tremblay also has boots on the ground: come election day, Union Montréal has the (unofficial) use of the Quebec Liberal party’s formidable vote-getting machine, the very same one that has helped deliver three successful elections for Premier Jean Charest. Internal Union Montréal polls suggest Tremblay will likely squeak back into office, albeit by a greatly reduced margin. “They’re taking advantage of the fact that [Montrealers] have been asleep,” says former Montreal police chief and one-time mayoral candidate, Jacques Duchesneau.

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Written by thecanadianheadlines

December 26, 2009 at 9:49 pm

Toronto: We need a mayor who’ll set us free

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by Frank Touby

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PHOTO: Skyline of Toronto, Canada’s largest city, and the world’s most multicultural city as indicated by a United Nations rePORT..

There’s a chance for renewal and revitalization in Toronto with the hope we will elect an effective, rational new mayor unburdened by politial correctness or ideology. What stands in the way is the Mike Harris curse. Among the many evil legacies that dimwitted tool of the neocon establishment dumped on us are a giveaway of Highway 407 to foreigners and amalgamation of the former cities surrounding Toronto and calling that mess “Toronto.” He and his handlers constructed the precise big government they claimed to oppose. Remember their first pronouncement when they took power? It was, “We’re not the government. We’re here to fix the government.” As if we elected an ungovernment to unstrap us from control freaks and bureaucrats.
 
Then, by making it a monstrous conglomerated government, the Tory hypocrites handed control to a tidal wave of bureaucrats to produce what Tories claimed they oppose: huge government. Toronto is an ungovernable amalgamated mess with a massive council that sometimes seems on the brink of devolving into fisticuffs like parliaments in Bolivia or Azerbaijan. It makes it very easy for the well connected to have their ways at Toronto city hall without effective opposition. And now that the McGuinty regime has anointed our mayor of all the conglomerated former cities with near-presidential powers, that’s the most lucrative power spot in Canada: ruler of millions, elected by more voters than any premier or prime minister. Wow. That’s what a bozo can bring on cities to deprive citizens of democracy: destroy their municipalities and lump them into one gigantic pork barrel.
 
And premier Dalton McGuinty has ratified that abuse. So unlikely as it is, who Toronto really needs as mayor is one who will pledge to fight for the deamalgamation of our cities. Toronto must be released from the dissimilar suburban municipalities that overwhelm it, and those former cities should be given back their individual sovereignties. Close to home, the government that governs the fewest governs best.

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Written by thecanadianheadlines

December 26, 2009 at 9:24 pm