Eye Weekly: Inconvenient vote

August 18th, 2010 by Chris Bilton - Eye Weekly

How do you get the half of Torontonians who don’t own property to actually vote?

There are over 250 candidates running for either mayoral or councillor positions in the municipal election, and yet we only really hear about a handful of prominent players (and far too much about Rob Ford). But this disproportionate coverage seems even more out of whack considering how little attention is paid to the upcoming election’s largest pool of players: the nearly 1.5 million voters.

In particular, tenants — and especially tenants in low-income housing — tend to get overlooked during election campaigns. Some tenants have even gone without having a reasonable place to cast their vote. This problem is more or less systemic, rooted in the fact that tenants are, by the very fact of their tenancy, one step removed from the political process — homeowners have a direct interest in voting during a municipal election since whomever wins will be determining financial realities like property taxes and utilities. Tenants, on the other hand, pay these same fees through a middleman: their landlord. That tenants have a disturbingly lower voter turnout than the rest of the city is almost secondary to the idea that they don’t really get a fair chance to vote.

But since approximately half of potential Toronto voters are tenants, the large problem is relatively simple to target. In the 2010 election, the city hopes to have 647 polling stations serving high-rise buildings (about 43 per cent of the total number of stations), some inside the buildings they serve and none more than 800 feet from them. The total number of stations, however, is actually down from previous years, due to a new accessibility requirement for voting locations (one that’s meant to eliminate barriers like stairs at entrances, etc.). Some groups think we need to do better.

Late last month, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, Canada (ACORN Canada) was at City Hall calling for more polling stations in high-rise apartment buildings, citing Ontario voting regulations that state that any building with more than 100 units can have its own polling station. This is residual outrage from February’s provincial by-election, during which there were only three polling stations among the 18 buildings of St. James Town (serving around 10,000 potential voters). Combined with the nagging feeling of neglect that plagues low-income tenants during the municipal election season, this recent example of unfairness perfectly underlines ACORN’s year-old Tenants Vote 2010 campaign, which is raising awareness not only about how important it is for tenants to vote, but how much power a group comprised of half the city’s voters can actually wield.

Of course, the provincial regulation doesn’t apply to municipal elections. Instead, the similarly worded Toronto rulebook says that landlords must provide the space if the city clerk wants to put a polling station in their building. So why doesn’t the city clerk request polling stations in more high-rise buildings?

ACORN member Natalie Hundt, says that the elections office has a goal of adding more polling stations, but can’t do it right now, though they are not forthcoming with the information about what the current barriers are. “They said the funding was not available, but that they wouldn’t be able to share the information about why not — not until after the 2010 election,” she explains.

According to Janet Andrews at Elections Toronto, it’s not quite that simple. Since we are only about two months away from the election, even if they wanted to add more polling stations, there is no way to get more tabulation machines in time. What the department, and especially its newish outreach unit, has been doing instead is focusing on trying to make the election and information about the election more accessible. Over the past year, they, like ACORN, have been raising awareness in low-income areas: partnering with Toronto Community Housing to  go out and actively engage residents in the hows and whys of voting. They’ve made voter registration forms available in buildings and trained staff to help people fill and file them.

This grassroots effort to get tenants registered is essentially the first step forward after the two steps back in 1999, when door-to-door voter registration was scrapped and the whole process was handed off to the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation. They’ve been good at keeping homeowners on the voting list (they deal directly with anyone who buys a home), but terrible at ensuring tenants get the same attention. This is, of course, a painfully familiar tale of a big government organization taking over, whose ineffectiveness forces the city to create a new mini-organization to pick up their slack. At least the elections office is moving in the right direction, even partnering with ACORN to focus on more improvements for the 2014 election.

Supposing that the city is successful in encouraging more people to get involved in this municipal election and ensuring that they have a place to do so, it will only be a matter of time before voters — even tenant voters — will begin to reclaim the attention they deserve.

Original article at:

Inside Toronto: Smitherman vows 'all-out war' against bedbugs

August 13th, 2010 by Mike Adler - Inside Toronto

George Smitherman says as Toronto's mayor he will "fight the all-out war" that must be waged against bedbugs.

"And some of that will be tough love too, because in some of these buildings our neighbours won't let us in to do what's necessary," said Smitherman, who added the city hasn't done enough to remove the blood-sucking insects in private or public housing.

Other mayoral candidates and hopefuls for council or school board seats gave their views on tenant issues to dozens of activists at an outdoor rally this week.

Organizers from ACORN - the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now - said they are determined to raise the city's low tenant voter turnout this fall and let renters know which candidates share their views.

"We want to let every candidate in the city know that we refuse to be ignored," added Edward Lantz, organizer of the group's St. Jamestown chapter.

ACORN, which last month lobbied to get more polling stations in Toronto apartments, said it sent members into nearby highrises to talk to residents during the Thursday afternoon event on a lawn behind Wellesley Community Centre.


Toronto Sun: Tenant issues need voice, rally told

August 12th, 2010 by Kevin Connor - Toronto Sun

Tenants’ issues must be front and centre in the next municipal election, a rally heard on Thursday.

“We are having this action to encourage tenants to vote and we have invited mayoral candidates and council candidates to hear their views,” said ACORN’S Edward Lantz, adding the organization has three main issues for the October vote.

First, the Association of Community Organization for Reform Now wants changes made to the city’s licence standards department.

“These people audit highrise buildings. To date, there are 6,000 highrises in the city and 80% are in disrepair. Over the last two years the inspectors were only in 300 buildings and that is because there are only 13 inspectors. It is going to be a long time to get up to code,” Lantz said.

“In the units with the real problems we need to add more inspectors. Slum lords in Toronto must be regulated.”

ACORN also wants landlords to pay a tenant protection fee to fund the expansion of the inspection program.

“It wouldn’t cost the city a cent,” Lantz said.

Put polling stations in high rise buildings

July 15th - Toronto ACORN members are holding an action at city hall to draw attention to the need for greater accessibility to polling locations in high rise buildings in the upcoming municipal election. 

We are calling on election officials to utilize their power under Section 13.4 of the Ontario Elections Act and place polling stations in all buildings containing 100 or more units where accessible space is available.

Providing increased accessibility in large buildings by providing polling stations is another tool election officials have to help address the endemic low voter turnout in these polls. 

ACORN member Cathy Birch who uses a scooter expresses her reliance on a polling station in her building, saying:

“I live in a building with 300 units and if there wasn’t a polling station I just wouldn’t vote.  There are too many places that are not accessible.  To get in and out of a place that has stairs is impossible, and that essentially takes away my ability to vote.”

ACORN member and St. Jamestown resident Edward Lantz comments:

“They just had a by-election in my riding.  My building has over 400 units and didn’t have it’s own polling station, none of the buildings here did and we have 30,000 people living here.  A lot of people didn’t even know there was an election.”

This event is part of Toronto ACORN’s “Tenants Vote 2010” campaign.  This campaign is working to increase the tenant voter participation rates in areas with high concentrations of low income renters in the upcoming municipal election.

Toronto ACORN win on polling stations

July 25th - Members of Toronto ACORN met with the director of elections for the City of Toronto last week over concerns about the accessibility of polling places in low income neighbourhoods in Toronto.

At the meeting he committed to dramatically increasing the number of high rise building that would have their own polling stations.  The City now hopes to have polling stations in 647 of the high rise buildings with more than 100 units, and that no polling place should be more than 800 feet from a high rise.

This meeting followed an action at City Hall in early July where tenants voiced their concern the City wasn’t doing enough to ensure that high rise tenants would have the same level of access to polling places that are found in many condo towers.

Statement on National Day of Action for Affordable Housing

July 8th, ACORN Canada members are coming together today for a National Day of Action to call on the Harper Conservatives to support private members Bill C-304 for a national housing strategy.

Currently the Bill has support from both the Liberals and the NDP.

ACORN Canada members will be holding rallies, press events, and petitioning in Metro Vancouver, Hamilton, Toronto and Ottawa.

Miloon Kothari, the United Nations special rapporteur on adequate housing, came to Canada in 2007 and recommended that Canada adopt a comprehensive and coordinated national housing policy based on indivisibility of human rights and the protection of the most vulnerable.

In June 9 2009 the federal government accepted the UN recommendations on housing, and stated:

"Canada acknowledges that there are challenges and the Government of Canada commits to continuing to explore ways to enhance efforts to address poverty and housing issues, in collaboration with provinces and territories."

It's time to make good on these commitments.

Bill C-304 would require the federal government to consult with the Provinces and Territories to develop a National Housing Plan that would "ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians".

It's time for a national housing strategy

When Parliament recessed earlier this month Bill C-304 for a National Affordable Housing Strategy had made impressive progress, having passed second reading, but still wasn't law.  The Bill would require the government to consult with the provinces and establish a national housing program. 

ACORN Canada members across the country are excited by this progress but frustrated by the delays and Parliamentary gridlock preventing it from becoming law.  Since the Federal Government's decision in 1996 to remove CHMC from the process of building affordable housing, Canadians have been without a meaningful national housing plan. 

On July 8th, ACORN members and supporters are planning action in a number of cities across Canada to build support for this important piece of legislation.

For details on the Toronto action click here

For details on the Ottawa action click here

For details on the Metro Vancouver action click here

For details on the Hamilton action click here


Ottawa Metro: ACORN promotes poverty reduction as election issue

June 16th, 2010 by Tim Wieclawski -Ottawa Metro

Poor people don’t vote. So why should politicians care about their issues?

That’s an attitude Michelle Walrond, a member of the ACORN’s tenants’ advocacy group, has run into in the past, but times have changed.

“When we got poor people to vote, and it was noticeable, they started paying a little attention,” she said yesterday at a rally at city hall, where ACORN released its platform for the upcoming municipal election.

ACORN is hoping to push poverty reduction to the forefront in the buildup to election day on Oct. 25.

The platform consists of a number of points aimed at making Ottawa a more affordable city for low-income earners. Candidates who support things like the living wage policy for municipal employees and holding transit fare increases to the cost of inflation, will get an endorsement from ACORN and its 5,000 members in Ottawa.

“It’s absurd that people work for the government of a city that doesn’t pay you enough to live in that city,” said Walrond. “If a candidate wants our vote, then they need to support the issues and policies that we believe are important.”

After seeing bus fares rise seven per cent per year for the previous three years, Jean-Dieu Muhamzi said it’s time they keep to the rate of inflation.

“It needs to be affordable to low-income families,” he said.

Read the original article at:

Ottawa Platform Launch

Today, members of Ottawa ACORN are releasing a 4 point plan to reduce poverty and build an Ottawa we can all be proud of. 

The plan has a focus on measures to reduce poverty and break the cycles of community decline that are impacting Ottawa's working family communities.  ACORN members from across Ottawa are gathering on the steps of City Hall to release the platform.

A Living Wage for Ottawa
Ottawa should enact the draft poverty reduction plan that was passed by Council in the spring, including the living wage policy.  We are calling for a living wage policy at $13.50 per hour that would cover all direct city workers, contractors, and firms receiving economic development money from the city.  New Westminster, BC recently passed the first Living Wage policy in Canada - setting an important precedent for this type of policy.

Making Housing Work
Ottawa should lobby the province to include inclusionary housing enabling legislation as a part of the upcoming long term affordable housing strategy.  Further, the city should commit to enacting an inclusionary housing policy once the province grants it the powers to do so.

The city should also act on the declining quality of housing in the city by enacting stronger tenant protections, in particular the adoption of a system of landlord licensing that would require landlords to pass routine inspection in order to continue to operate.  In cases of extreme neglect by landlords, the city should be able to direct tenant rent into an escrow account that would be used to pay for repairs.

Civic Engagement
The city should publicly commit to honoring section 6.1 of the Ontario municipal elections act that requires there to be polling stations in all residential building containing 100 or more dwellings.

Improving Services
The city should consider the following:
-Partnering with Hydro Ottawa to deploy energy efficiency projects that help low income families reduce their cost of living.
-Partnering with the School board to ensure additional resources are dedicated to high-need school in low income communities.
-Freezing transit fares to the rate of inflation for the next council term.

Progress on Affordable Housing

Bill 58, amendment to the planning act passed second reading at Queen's Park yesterday.  If passed the bill would give Ontario's municipalities the power to enact 'inclusionary zoning' policies.  Inclusionary zoning works by granting developers increased density in new residential developments in exchange for including a percentage of affordable housing units.

The bill was brought forward by NDP MPP Cheri Dinovo, and won support from a number of Liberal MPP's as well.  ACORN Canada as been calling the Ontario Government to make inclusionary zoning legislation a key plank in the planned Long Term Affordable Housing Strategy.

Many thanks go out to all of you who sent a message to Municipal Affairs Minister Jim Bradley - his Deputy Minister for Housing MPP Donna Cansfield was one of the Liberal MPP's who voted in support of the bill.  There will be more to come as this campaign progresses.

Making History

April 26th - Today, the City Council of New Westminster British Columbia made history by voting to pass Canada's first living wage policy. 

BC ACORN members are ecstatic that New Westminster has taken the lead among Canadian municipalities and set a new national precedent for the municipal role in establishing wage floors above the provincial minimum wage. The Chair of New Westminster ACORN, and National Board Member Dave Tate had this to say:

"New Westminster has taken a stand for working families today by setting this powerful precedent.  This gives working people hope that the tide of stagnant wages is receding in Canada and that New Westminster is the first of many cities across the region, province and country to pass a living wage bylaw.”

BC ACORN worked with a broad coalition of over 40 organizations under the banner of  "A Living Wages for Families" in pushing for the policy.

Recently BC ACORN members turned in 1200 petition signatures of residents of New Westminster in support of the campaign and held a well attended forum on the subject to build public support.

Members of the press are encouraged to contact John Anderson, Head Organizer BC ACORN for comment from an ACORN member or more background on the campaign:

c) 778.385.43.85
o) 604.522.8707

There are currently a number of campaigns underway across the country aimed at enacting living wage bylaws including one being spearheaded by Ottawa ACORN.

Tri-Cities News: More pay, more taxes: a win/win

June 18th, 2010 by Mary Woo-Sims - Tri-Cities News

FACE TO FACE: Should cities dictate ‘living wage’ as New Westminster has?

Congratulations to New Westminster city council, which in late April voted in Canada’s first “living wage” bylaw. This bylaw effectively raised the minimum wage paid by the municipality to about $16. 70 — more than double the minimum wage in B.C.

According to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, “a living wage is a level of pay which enables someone working full-time to earn enough to meet their basic needs and build some savings for the future.”

B.C.’s current minimum wage of $8 an hour can hardly meet one person’s basic needs, let alone a person who might be supporting a family. The movement for a living wage, which started in the U.S., has now branched into Canada and cities across the country are being asked to adopt living wage policies. New West is the first to do so.

My colleague says the living wage is a nice sentiment but it is taxpayers that have to foot the bill. But he doesn’t stop there. He’s critical of the law because it’s “another manifestation of special treatment for unionized city workers.” I take issue with that statement.

When people like my friend opposite complain about public sector or unionized workers’ wages, I wonder if these same people think these workers are exempt from paying taxes. I am glad workers, unionized or not, get as much pay as they can. The more they earn, the more taxes they pay. In addition, the more money earned, the more is spent on family, friends, goods, services, facilities, etc., and that spending keeps our economy going.

New West’s living wage law doesn’t just apply to unionized workers. The living wage also applies to workers with firms, unionized or not, that receive contracts from the city as well as companies that receive economic development funds. This ensures the living wage initiative extends far beyond the reaches of New West city workers.

Fundamentally, however, one can’t discuss the concept of a living wage without discussing the issue of B.C.’s minimum wage, which now ranks as the lowest in Canada. And let’s not forget that first-job/entry level position minimum wages start at a paltry six bucks an hour.

It’s time to make the minimum wage a living wage.


Maple Ridge News: Municipalities to look at living wage

March 4st, 2010 by Phil Malnychuk - Maple Ridge News

Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows soon could have their own versions of the living wage bylaw, adopted for the first time in Canada last week by New Westminster.

The bylaw, passed unanimously by New Westminster council, requires all workers, either those directly employed, or working for a company contracted out by the city, be paid $16.74 an hour.

The term “living wage” is used to describe the minimum hourly wage necessary for a family of four with two parents working full-time to meet the necessities of life. In Metro Vancouver, it is currently calculated to be $16.74 per hour.

That’s well above the $8 an hour minimum wage that’s been in place in B.C. for the past decade.

The topic is on its way to Maple Ridge’s social planning advisory committee, said Coun. Linda King, while Pitt Meadows Coun. Bruce Bell will raise it with his councillors.

Coun. Craig Speirs wants the item discussed.

“I intend to bring this up. I’m not sure how far it would go.

“I think we should be talking about what a living wage looks like. “It also needs a broader discussion, about a society that’s obsessed with the bottom line. He cited the ongoing labour dispute involving Extra Foods on Dewdney Trunk Road as an example.

“I think $16 for anybody who works for the District of Maple Ridge is not an onerous amount.”

Pitt Meadows Mayor Don MacLean was not keen on the idea.


Surrey Leader: A call for affordable housing in Surrey

July 9th, 2010 by Black Press - Ottawa Metro

Members of ACORN Canada held a National Day of Action on Wednesday to encourage all Members of Parliament to support the National Housing Strategy: Bill C-304.

In Surrey, more than 35 people gathered at the constituency office of Surrey-North Conservative MP Dona Cadman to protest her vote against the bill – which has passed first and second readings, and has yet to reach the third and final reading – and to urge her to change her mind.

"We want her to do the right thing," said Canada Drouin, a North Surrey resident who is on a waiting list for affordable housing. "It's just wrong to represent this community and not see the need for affordable housing."

MP Libby Davies' private member's Bill C-304 would require the federal government to bring all levels of government together to enact a plan to increase safe, affordable housing across Canada.

Along with Cadman, Tory MPs Nina Grewal (Fleetwood-Port Kells) and Russ Hiebert (South Surrey-White Rock-CLoverdale) also voted against the bill.

Newton-North Delta Liberal MP Sukh Dhaliwal voted in favour.

Pearl Nunns, spokesperson for ACORN Canada, notes Canada is the only G-8 country in the world without a national housing strategy.

"And it shows," she says.

It is estimated there are 150,000 to 300,000 homeless Canadians, and a further 450,000-900,000 "hidden" homeless.

ACORN Canada is an independent national organization of low- and moderate-income families working together for social and economic justice.


New West Newsleader: New West city council adopts living wage bylaw

April 28th, 2010 by A Flemming - New Westminster Newsleader

The Royal City notched up one for the history books on Monday by becoming the first city in Canada to adopt a living wage bylaw.

In a unanimous city council vote, a motion passed that will direct both city employees and contract employees to be paid at or above an hourly wage substantially higher than the current provincial minimum wage.

The term “living wage” is used to describe the minimum hourly wage necessary for a family of four with two parents working full-time to meet the necessities of life. In Metro Vancouver, it is currently calculated to be $16.74 per hour.

Coun. Jaimie McEvoy, who initially brought forward the motion, said the city was especially concerned about child poverty.

“In British Columbia, half of children who are currently living below the poverty line have a parent working full-time,” said McEvoy. “We don’t want to be like Scrooge and have employees struggling to take care of their families. It is the right thing to do.”

“We live in a city that has the lowest average income in the GVRD,” said Coun. Bill Harper. “What we’re doing is setting an example and maybe other cities and corporations will do the same.”

The new bylaw is similar to those taken up in over 140 American cities after a recent campaign by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), whose local chapter turned in a petition to city hall with the signatures of 1200 New West residents supporting the initiative.

Inside Toronto: Downtown rally calls for affordable housing

July 13th, 2010 by Justin Skinner - Inside Toronto

Concerned over the lack of a national housing strategy, a group of local activists gathered in Toronto's financial core on Thursday, July 8.

A small group of housing advocates from the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, Canada (ACORN Canada) took their pleas to the streets, urging the Harper government to support Bill C-304, tabled by Vancouver East MP Libby Davies.

The bill calls for more funding for safe, affordable housing to help combat homelessness across the country.

Edward Lantz, chair of ACORN's St. James Town chapter, said they opted to lobby at the corner of King and Bay streets because it would be the best place to reach Conservative supporters.

"We don't have a Conservative MP in Toronto, but the majority of the support for the Conservative government comes from down here," he said.

Lantz noted both the Liberals and New Democrats have supported the idea of a national housing strategy. The Conservatives' refusal to support such a strategy, however, has left Canada as the only G8 country without one.

He said the recent G20 Summit showed where the Harper government's priorities lie.

"The current Harper government spent $1.5 billion on the G20," he said. "That could provide 16,000 new (affordable housing) units in the City of Toronto."

With waiting lists for affordable housing at an all-time high - the wait is currently at least 10 years - too many Canadians are forced to spend 30 per cent or more of their monthly income on rent, he said, adding that does not even take into account the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who are homeless, or those living in overcrowded spaces or substandard housing.

"We want landlords to be held accountable and we need rent controls," Lantz said. "The average rent in Toronto for a one-bedroom apartment is $800 to $900, and when you get most people making $13 or $14 and hour, prices have escalated too much."

Fellow ACORN member Carmen Respondek said the need for housing was critical. She echoed Lantz's sentiments that the money spent on G20 security should have gone toward housing instead.

"I was shocked when I heard about the fake lake," she said. "Who needs a fake lake when we don't have affordable housing?"

New Westminster Record: First in the nation

April 30th, 2010 by Theresa Mcmanus - New Westminster's The Record

The City of New Westminster is taking action to become the first Canadian municipality to adopt a living wage policy.

A living wage is often defined as being the minimum hourly wage that's necessary for a family of four, with two parents working full-time, to pay for food, shelter and other daily needs. City council voted unanimously to establish a living wage policy.

"I am very pleased," said Coun. Jaimie McEvoy, who encouraged council to adopt a living wage policy.

McEvoy said the policy would apply not just to unionized city employees but to people who work at city properties on a contract basis. This includes people working in security at the library and the cafeteria at city hall.

While the city doesn't yet know exactly how many people the policy will affect, McEvoy said it won't bankrupt the city.

"We still have work to do to clearly identify those who are involved and the potential costs," he said. "The finality of the details still needs to be worked on. We have made a decision in principle that this is our principle and our goal.

"At this point, we don't know for sure how many people it will affect," he said.

McEvoy said New Westminster is a small city of 66,000 people so the policy has to be something that's manageable and is something that people can understand.

Le Droit: Le logement abordable au coeur de la campagne électorale

June 16th, 2010 by François Pierre Dufault - Le Driot

Le regroupement des organismes communautaires pour la justice sociale à Ottawa enjoint les candidats aux élections municipales du 25 octobre prochain à s'engager à créer davantage de logements abordables.

C'est le message que l'Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) entend marteler tout au long de la campagne électorale. Le groupe demande la construction d'au moins 1000 nouvelles unités de logement abordable par année, seulement pour répondre à la demande.

« Les listes d'attente pour du logement abordable ne cessent de s'allonger », de constater Éloi Proulx, un membre fondateur de l'ACORN.

Selon les plus récents chiffres de l'Alliance pour mettre un terme à l'itinérance (AMTI), quelque 10 000 familles vivent dans l'attente d'un logement subventionné par la Ville d'Ottawa.

Jusqu'à présent, seul le conseiller municipal et candidat à la mairie, Alex Cullen, s'est formellement engagé à créer plus de logements abordables.

« Je veux y consacrer la moitié des 23 millions $ que le gouvernement de l'Ontario versera à la Ville d'Ottawa pour ses programmes sociaux. Ça ne va pas régler le problème, mais ça va donner un sérieux coup de pouce », a déclaré M. Cullen au Droit.


The Tyee: New West enacts Canada's first living wage law

April 27th, 2010 by Monte Paulsen - The Tyee Blog

New Westminster has become the first city in Canada to pass a "living wage" bylaw, effectively raising the minimum wage paid by the municipality.

"New Westminster has taken a stand for working families today by setting this powerful precedent,” said Dave Tate of BC ACORN, one of 40 organizations that lobbied for the bylaw.

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," Tate said in an email.

BC ACORN presented a petition with 1,200 signatures in support of the bylaw. The New Westminster campaign was just one of many underway across the country. A similar bylaw was recently rejected by the City of Calgary.

"This gives working people hope that the tide of stagnant wages is receding in Canada," Tate said.

Original article at: