10.03.2006

degrees

Some things Canada does better, relative to the US, by differences of kind. Health care, personal freedoms (abortion rights, same-sex marriage), justice (no death penalty). A fair election system. Democracy!

Some things Canada does better only by degree. Those degrees are important, they represent real progress. But they're also areas crying out for attention.

There's a big food drive going on in the Toronto area right now. Daily Bread, the Toronto food bank, feeds 100,000 people each month. There's an excellent overview of their work on their website, as well as a detailed report (pdf) on hunger in the GTA.

No one should be hungry here. A greater percentage of people are hungry in the US, of that there's little doubt. But this many people going hungry in Canada's largest city means we're doing something wrong.

The Canadian Association of Food Banks says there's been a 79% increase in food bank use since 1995. So we're moving backwards.

One great cause of urban hunger is the confluence of high housing costs and low wages. People who work in low-wage retail or service industry jobs, forced to spend more than 50% of their income on rent, are often a food-bank visit away from malnutrition.

* * * *

When I read Barbara Ehrenreich's Bait & Switch, her excellent book on the disappearing middle class in the US, I was wondering how prevalent the displaced corporate employee is in Canada. I had heard (from someone with painful first-hand experience) that Canadian companies have been firing employees and hiring them back as "independent contractors," but I didn't know if the practice is widespread.

Thomas Walkom of the Star recently answered my question.
In effect, there are now two types of workers in Canada. The lucky ones have full-time, often unionized, jobs with good wages and benefits such as pensions. The less fortunate make do with non-standard work. They may work at two or three part-time jobs; they may be temporary workers, contract workers or those who, while doing the work of normal corporate employees, are listed on the books as self-employed.

In the past, the term "self-employed" was usually applied to well-paid professionals like doctors and lawyers. Now, all kinds of low-wage workers — from delivery people to television researchers — are treated by their bosses as self-employed. The reason? An employer does not have to pay employment insurance or Canada Pension Plan premiums for self-employed workers. Minimum wage and maximum hours of work laws do not apply to such workers. Nor are they entitled to the vacation or overtime pay that regular employees must receive by law. Unionization is near impossible.

Theoretically, bosses are not supposed to skirt Ontario's Employment Standards Act by arbitrarily reclassifying their workers as self-employed. But plenty do. Sometimes they are brazen. Sometimes they are sly; they fire well-paid unionized workers, contract out their jobs to another firm and let that firm break the law. (Full column here.)
Allan and I have been frankly amazed at the excellent benefits our current jobs offer. I knew that wasn't universal, but I was hoping it was widespread.

Fair employment practices for the working class is one measure of social progress. In this case, unlike in the US, the laws are decent, but enforcement is lax. Clearly Canada has some work to do.

* * * *

Donate to the food drive here, or drop off food at any Loblaws or firehouse.

13 comments:

Lone Primate said...

The fact that we need food banks at all is, I've always felt, a demonstration of a fundamental flaw in our social welfare system. Some things in life — like not suffering malnutrition — ought to be rights attended to by society before all else. Butter before guns.

L-girl said...

Hear, hear.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

A fair election system.

Um. No.

Sorry, I couldn't let that one stand--at least in the U.S., the proportion of seats bears *some* resemblance to the popular vote! This is purely accidental, of course, and doesn't mean that the U.S. electoral system is any better (mostly because it's essentially the *same system*), but Canada has "a lot of work to do" on the electoral system as well as on the things you point out.

L-girl said...

I also support proportional representation.

I meant a fair system in that everyone is able to vote, there are fair and uniform standards for voter eligibility, every vote is counted, the votes are counted accurately, and elections are overseen by one independent, nonpartisan agency.

This is very different than in the US.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Aha, yes. That's true--that part is better.

doug said...

in regards to the need for food banks I think it's a complicated set of confluences that will never be eradicated ...sadly so..first general public's perception that these individuals are on welfare, mother's allowance therefore are getting the funds to meet their needs, or rather they should get a job..a lot of these individuals want a job but are disabled, whether that be mentally or physically...only about 5% abuse the social programs

also as you so accurately portray the cost of living in a big city are exorbitant so in many cases many people need two jobs just to get by, throw in a couple kids etc. many people are stretched to the limit.

Plus the biggest factor is that governments have slashed social service programs as well as the direct amount individuals receive in support each month, a single male on welfare gets $520 from $615 10 years ago, it's decreased....the Liberal provincial governments in Ontario and B.C. are not true Liberal governments at all in their philosophy they are little C-conservatives and it shows in their policies...

their should be no need for food banks but the governments in fact use them as a crutch to cut-back they know they exist therefore can cut support to the needy...it's a sad policy...the governments should be funding food banks as it's their poliicies that make their existence necessary.

L-girl said...

Doug, thanks for the info, very good stuff.

their should be no need for food banks but the governments in fact use them as a crutch to cut-back they know they exist therefore can cut support to the needy

Many progressive people oppose charities like this for precisely this reason - that they're doing the govt's job for them, instead of forcing them to pay attention to people's needs.

In the US, however, I find that an impossible argument, since without the voluntary/non-profit orgs, people would just starve! Same for many social-service orgs.

doug said...

here's some info from London, Ont and the games this federal gov't is playing and the total lack of logic in decision making

The desperate plight of London agencies awaiting $600,000 in federal homelessness funds has prompted concerns the city will see more begging, more crime and more people sleeping on city streets this winter. The situation has prompted Irene Mathyssen, the New Democrat MP for London-Fanshawe, to appeal to Diane Finley, the federal minister of human resources and social development, to get the money flowing to nine cash-strapped organizations“This will have a huge ripple effect,” said Janine Luce of the AIDS Committee of London, which is looking for $75,000 to continue working with homeless youth, both HIV-positive and not.

In the past year, she said the agency helped 700 young people by helping them find accommodation, food, training, welfare and social services.

Her agency had to lay off two outreach workers, which means youth are not being helped.

How is withholding $600,000 helping the community when these people will turn to crime, homelessness, and other means to survive, it's ludicrous...I hope the Liberals get their act together soon so we can get these short-sighted conservatives out of office, and this with a minority government imagine a majority,

Klite said...

you still have food banks !!!
i remember being shocked to see these in 97&98 in Ottawa - -a capital city.I always put in extra cans whenever I went shopping because it was a social responsibilty. I was also heavily taxed (over 50%), but i didn't mind because I felt it would it help those who needed more than me.
but now to find out that 10 years - why haven't things got better? i feel ike asking for taxes back so that i can give them to an organisation that actually gives a damm.i actaully don't believe in charity as i would rather people recieved help as a right than a privilege which is how charities may be percieved when govt. should be upholding their obligations. it sends the message "we don't care, you are a burden rather than a contributor to our society"

L-girl said...

I hope the Liberals get their act together soon so we can get these short-sighted conservatives out of office, and this with a minority government imagine a majority

Bad. Scary.

i actaully don't believe in charity as i would rather people recieved help as a right than a privilege which is how charities may be percieved when govt. should be upholding their obligations. it sends the message "we don't care, you are a burden rather than a contributor to our society"

I agree with you in principle, but if the government is not doing its job, people cannot be allowed to go hungry. We're obligated to give, and if our taxes aren't doing it, we have to give to charities in addition.

Woti-woti said...

Klite said "you still have food banks?"

That's an interesting take, since when they first appeared in the late 80's they had 'emergency' in the title. Now they've become institutionalized. The 3 levels of government would not know how to replace their function if they disappeared overnight, yet no direct funding is given. The same is happening to the homeless men's shelter system in Ontario big cities (don't ask about homeless women shelters). There is nowhere else for most of these men to go, but at least they're partially funded through municipal per diems.
The jobs the 'working poor' do are never going to go away--when you think 'service', don't think restaurant, think of who cleans offices, hospitals etc., who prepares the food (not the chef)who shifts the tremendous amount of dirt and garbage we generate. Think of a provincial minimum wage that bears no resemblance to the cost of shelter. Then think of what the difference should be between that and an amount that allows people who, for whatever reason don't work, to survive. Very thorny question. The Harris Gov.'s solution was gut (and demonise) welfare so that the gap was wider from the bottom. Very compassionate.
George Bush says Americans won't do these jobs. Funny how they're getting done up here. My info. is a few years old, but when I last checked, Ontario Legal Aid would not take cases involving employer/employee relations. Illegal firings abound to people who don't have a pot to piss in to start with, and have no recourse because they can't afford it. Yep, there's a lot of work to do.

L-girl said...

Thanks, Woti. Good stuff.

Masnick96 said...

Some things Canada does better only by degree.

...but those degrees make all the difference