Archive for the ‘Act Locally’ Category

Last week, anti-poverty activists in Winnipeg released a report aimed at encouraging the City of Winnipeg to develop a strategy for reducing poverty in the city. They called on the mayor to champion poverty reduction, observing that the most promising civic antipoverty programs in Canada (in Edmonton and Calgary) are promising specifically because of the leadership of the mayors in those cities.

I read the report with a mixture of despair and frustration. My despair was stimulated by the depressing and familiar litany of statistics that describe the depth and breadth of poverty in my hometown. The frustration was rooted in the knowledge that this well-intentioned report would, like its predecessors, consume the energy of its proponents but ultimately lead nowhere unless we focus on challenges unacknowledged in the report.

The report is worth reading. It is particularly strong in illustrating the shocking extent of poverty in the city.  When it gets around to policy prescriptions it’s a mixed bag. There are some good ideas, and there are others that will do little more than create busywork for government and NGO bureaucrats.

In trying to be comprehensive, the report is often superficial. But more problematic is the elephant in the room that does not get a mention. We live in a capitalist political economy that benefits from the existence of poor, unemployed, under-employed or under-paid working people. This “reserve army” of poor workers helps depress wages, dampen labour power and discipline the working class, all of which serves the interests of the capitalist class – that unacknowledged elephant.

If we accept that proposition as a starting point it follows that any decent anti-poverty strategy has to focus on creating jobs that pay living wages. Nothing is more empowering than a good, secure job with a decent salary.  However, we can’t rely on capitalist market forces to create jobs; our governments must take steps to foster these developments.

I would have liked to have seen a section of this report devoted to exploring how the City could support the development of worker co-ops, social enterprises, and new, innovative industries that would create green products and services while training and employing inner-city residents. Without a serious economic strategy that focuses on creating industries and jobs for the 21st century, all we are left with are social work solutions which, up to now, have failed to contain poverty, much less eradicate it.

Poverty in one of the richest countries in history is unacceptable. Despite my misgivings about the report, I hope people get behind the campaign to get the City to step up to the plate. A place to start is to sign this petition. But this is just for openers.

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In two recent announcements the Manitoba Government has revealed how it intends to regulate cannabis when it is legalized in July 2018. In short, the province will source and regulate it and the private sector will retail it. So far, so good. Unhappily, Manitobans will continue to be criminalized if they grow their own for non-medical purposes and, in a bid to protect children that is doomed to fail, the province will prohibit citizens who are otherwise considered adults (able to vote, join the military and consume alcohol) from partaking until their nineteenth birthday. You can read the details here and here.

Since quitting drinking around the turn of the century I have come to appreciate the ability to think clearly. I am amazed that Younger Me was so eager and willing to abandon clear-headedness so easily and frequently. For various reasons, I’ve come to prefer the joy of experiencing the world as it is to stumbling through drug-induced alternate realities. It logically follows, then, that I am not a consumer of cannabis. I have no skin in this game. Still, I have to wonder what Brian Pallister was smoking in his Costa Rican retreat when he came up with this half-baked plan.

Winnipeg, Dec. 5, 2017: Manitoba Justice Minister Heather Stefanson announces how the province will regulate cannabis consumption in 2018.

In announcing Manitoba’s plans, Justice Minister Heather Stefanson said “This new legislation sets out the regulatory framework, enforcement structures and compliance provisions that will help keep cannabis out of the hands of our youth and away from the black market.”

At best, this statement suggests she is hopelessly naive. If current enforcement efforts have not kept pot out of the hands of kids, it is difficult to see how this government’s plans will address this. Canadians love their dope. Despite government expenditures of $500 million per year on cops and courts, more than two million Canadians consume an estimated 770,000 kg annually. On average, they begin to toke up at age 15 and a quarter-million kids aged 12 to 17 smoke it daily.

Along with setting the age of consumption at 19, Manitoba’s legislation will restrict where retail outlets can operate (away from schools and parks, for example) and allow municipalities to outlaw retail cannabis sales by holding a plebiscite.

There is no plan protect children. The government knows it as should anyone who reviews the colossal failure otherwise known as the War on Drugs.

However, undeterred by the lessons of history our provincial government is determined to keep the costs of law enforcement unnecessarily high by prohibiting home cultivation of cannabis for recreational purposes. Even though citizens may lawfully make beer and wine at home, they will not be able to grow their own weed without the fear of cops kicking in their doors.

Of all of the measures in this bill, this is the least defensible. It serves only to protect the government’s monopoly, which is not a sufficient justification in my view.

As Moses would have said to Pharaoh under these circumstances, “Let my people grow!”


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Today (on the 13th day of Christmas), Make Poverty History Manitoba rallied at the Manitoba Legislature to call on the provincial government to ensure that the basic material needs of every Manitoban are met. Despite the -20 C weather, the mood was upbeat and the music merry.

Specifically, the coalition is demanding that the provincial government:

1. release a comprehensive poverty reduction plan in its 2017 budget that is developed in consultation with community members
2. include in this plan an increase in the basic needs benefit that ensures each Manitoban has an income that is at least 75% of the poverty line

Make Poverty History is conducting a postcard campaign to convince the provincial government to adopt a poverty reduction strategy with measureable, meaningful goals.

Make Poverty History is conducting a postcard campaign to convince the provincial government to adopt a poverty reduction strategy with measurable, meaningful goals.

Organizers are conducting a postcard campaign aimed at convincing Premier Pallister to do something his NDP predecessor, Greg Selinger, was unable to do — devise a poverty reduction plan that contains targets and timelines. (The NDP’s All Aboard poverty reduction strategy was widely criticized as ineffective and lacking in meaningful evaluation criteria.) They are also asking the public to send emails to Premier Pallister directly.

North End Stay and Play, a program for infants and young children and their families in Winnipeg’s North End, is getting closer to the day it can move into new digs on Selkirk Avenue. For the past seven years, it has been running on a modest budget and has only been able to operate one afternoon a week, usually out of a donated church basement. However, they have acquired land at 681 Selkirk Avenue, raised money and gotten pledges of free labour from the Carpenters Union and operating funds from the provincial government.

Their new, custom-built play house on Selkirk Avenue will operate five or six days a week. It will be called the Little Stars Playhouse.

This is the project I wrote about a year ago. At the time, the proponents were hopeful that construction would begin late in 2015. Gerrie Primak, of Woman Healing for Change, says they now hope to break ground early in 2017, but that first they must raise more funds for construction. In the meantime, as you can see in the video, they have taken some time out to celebrate their progress and the people who have contributed to this worthwhile project.

If you want to make a donation:

  • Make your cheque payable to “Woman Healing for Change Inc.” and send to Assiniboine Credit Union, 655 Henderson Hwy, Winnipeg, MB, R2K 2J6, Account no. 100101102192. WHFC,a registered nonprofit charity, will provide a receipt for all donations over $20, or
  • Make your cheque payable to United Way Winnipeg and note on the cheque that your United Way donation is for “Woman Healing For Change, Charitable no. 891621864RR0001 for Little Stars Playhouse.”

If you want to become more involved, you can find them on Facebook.

Manitoba’s Progressive Conservatives won a majority government last week, leaving many left-of-centre citizens feeling somewhat shell-shocked and adrift on a sea of uncertainty after 17 years of predictable but increasingly unsatisfactory NDP government. Even though the outcome had been foreseen for many months by all but the most optimistic Dippers, many professed shock that the same people who had voted last fall to oust the federal Harper Conservatives would turn around and vote in their provincial kissing cousins. (Many of the same folks have expressed surprise that Sunny Ways Trudeau is beginning to break their hearts, but I digress.)

For over a year now, it’s been clear that the election was Brian Pallister’s to lose. There are many reasons for this, but Pallister’s charisma and charm were never factors. Even though Pallister runs behind his party in terms of popularity, Manitobans so disliked Greg Selinger and/or the NDP that they were even willing to vote Progressive Conservative if that is what it would take to get rid of them. And vote Tory they did, giving the Pallister PCs 53.4% of the vote and 40 seats in a 57-seat legislature. While the NDP were reduced to 14 seats, the Liberals overcame the many rookie gaffes of the feckless Rana Bokhari to win three seats. Even the Greens saw an improvement in electoral fortunes, very nearly winning the riding of Wolseley, long an NDP stronghold.

Not surprisingly, anxiety stalks the land — at least that portion of it occupied by folks who believe in a major role for the public sector and/or those who depend upon it for programs, services and employment. That fear is probably justified. Tory times typically have been tough times and Pallister’s promises to protect the jobs of front-line government workers have not been particularly convincing. Still, as challenging as this situation is, I think it offers some exciting possibilities for Manitoba’s Left, broadly defined.

For progressive thinkers within the NDP, the party’s electoral humiliation offers the opportunity for critical reflection and the possibility for renewal. This will not be easy in a party that is as divided and beaten up as this one has been. It will take years and a willingness to confront some ugly truths about what the party has allowed government to do in its name. I hear distant rumblings that this process is beginning.

Unaffiliated Lefties are faced with choosing between involvement in party politics (and not just within the NDP) and perhaps escalating their involvement in movement politics (labour, indigenous rights, environmentalism, human rights, peace, feminism, LGBTQ, etc., etc.) A new player is emerging on the scene called Solidarity Winnipeg which seeks to unite progressive elements to oppose the anticipated Tory austerity project and promote the Leap Manifesto. It is early days for Solidarity Winnipeg, but I’m reminded of CHOICES!, a loose association of lefties that did some very creative and productive political work in the 1990s but dissolved as soon as the NDP regained power.

Another choice for progressive Manitobans lies with the Green Party of Manitoba. While it is fashionable in some Left circles to dismiss the Greens as “conservatives who compost,” this criticism is usually made by people who have not taken the time to read, much less understand, the party’s platform. (Full disclosure: I’ve been a Green for a few years now.) If they had, they would easily conclude that federally and provincially the Greens are to the left of the NDP on most issues.

In Wolseley, the provincial riding where I live, we doubled the Green vote and very nearly toppled the NDP incumbent. Greens made gains in numerous other constituencies as well. Our growth was based, I would argue, on a platform that was fundamentally more progressive than anything on offer from the other parties. These gains show that there is a growing appetite for a politics that promises to care for the earth while caring for each other.

What’s a Lefty to do in Manitoba? You’ve read my take. I’d love to read yours.

 

Green Party of Manitoba candidate in Wolseley, David Nickarz. Photo: Paul S. Graham

Green Party of Manitoba candidate in Wolseley, David Nickarz. Photo: Paul S. Graham

Next April, Manitobans will elect a new government. Based on recent polling, if that election were held today, the winners would likely be the Progressive Conservatives. A September 2015 poll of 1000 Manitobans by Probe Research indicates 45 per cent of decided voters province-wide would vote PC; the governing NDP was tied for second place with the Liberals, at 20 per cent.

Of course, having the most votes doesn’t guarantee one the election in our antiquated first-past-the-post electoral system. Support for the PCs is overwhelming outside of Winnipeg (where the Tories have 59 per cent of decided voters and NDP holds third place with 16 per cent). But in Winnipeg, where a slim majority of the seats are, the situation is more competitive; the Tories and Dippers are in a statistical tie (35 and 32 per cent respectively) and the Liberals are beginning to challenge at 27 per cent.

Despite being almost invisible, the Liberals have shown steady growth among decided voters both outside and inside of Winnipeg. NDP support has declined in lock step with Liberal advances while Tory vote in and outside Winnipeg has remained fairly stable. If the Tories do win next year it will likely be because the NDP hemorrhaged crucial support to the Liberal Party.

Given that the Liberal Party has not done anything to date to distinguish itself, the NDP could still win this one if it can convince soft supporters that a Liberal vote is not only a wasted vote, but a dangerous vote because it will lead to victory for the dreaded Tories. At this point, it’s anybody’s guess.

Whether the next government is formed by Dippers or Tories, the outcome will be the same in at least one very important respect – it will be business as usual. Neither party has shown real interest in or capacity for discussing the major issues of the day, much less offering solutions. (The same goes for the third party in the Legislature, with its promise to allow Uber to compete with taxi companies, but I digress.)

By major issues, I’m talking about the failure to address widespread poverty and inequality in Manitoba society that manifests itself as the thousands of children in provincial care (we have one of the highest rates in the world), the growth of food bank usage, the epidemic of homelessness  and our nation–leading homicide statistics.

As serious as these are, they pale in comparison to the existential challenge posed by climate change. Whether or not Manitoba matters in the overall scheme of things, the province has consistently failed to meet its own carbon emissions targets and, recent announcements notwithstanding, shows no sign that anything is about to change.

As well, the province has shown no interest in stopping the TransCanada Energy East Pipeline – a project that is will enable the expansion of the Alberta tar sands. Not only is tar sands expansion a driver of global climate change, the pipeline itself is an environmental menace that should have no place in Manitoba.

So, as you may have guessed, I’m not at all optimistic about the outcome of the next election. I do, however, have reason to hope that we will see the beginning of change in my little part of the province.

I reside in the provincial constituency of Wolseley – a neighbourhood in central Winnipeg where the Green Party of Manitoba has placed second in each of the last three elections.

This time around, the Green candidate is David Nickarz. I like him and think he’d make a great MLA. He’s youthful, mature, energetic, intelligent and a seasoned environmental campaigner. You can read his bio, here.

I’ve decided to support his bid for office because we need to have at least one Green voice in the Legislature. Neither of the likely winners will provide this. The NDP has had more than a decade to deliver on the environment and in some regards we have moved backwards. As for the Tories, the environment is not even on their radar.

And so Dave Nickarz will have my vote and my volunteer time. If the Greens will make a breakthrough anywhere in Manitoba, it will be in Wolseley. As shop-worn as the phrase is, it really is time for a change.

architect rendition

Who, aside from the occasional professional grump, has not taken delight from the sound of children’s laughter and marveled at their ingenuity as they play at being pirates and princesses, artists and acrobats, witches and warriors? Child’s play is fun to watch and fun to join in (even with the aches and pains my grandfatherly body suffers from after a visit with the grandkids).

There is a serious side to play, though, one I had never considered until I met with some remarkable women who are in the midst of an ambitious project in the heart of Winnipeg’s North End.

For the past seven years, they have been running a program called North End Stay and Play, the objective of which is to provide children and their families a place to play together and together to learn the benefits that play provides.

NESP has been running on a modest budget and has only been able to operate one afternoon a week, usually out of a donated church basement, but they have a dream that they are working very hard to fulfill – a new, custom-built play house on Selkirk Avenue that will operate five or six days a week. It will be called the Phoenix Sinclair Little Stars Playhouse.

The facility’s name commemorates the life of Phoenix Sinclair, a little girl who was murdered in 2005 under circumstances that demonstrate the need for building strong, healthy families. You can read the report of the Hughes Inquiry into the circumstances surrounding her murder here.

I made this little video to introduce the concept and to help them raise the money they need to build it. Please watch the video, share it with your friends and consider making a donation.

To make a donation:

  • Either make your cheque payable to “Woman Healing for Change Inc.” and send to Assiniboine Credit Union, 655 Henderson Hwy, Winnipeg, MB, R2K 2J6, Account no. 100101102192. WHFC,a registered nonprofit charity, will provide a receipt for all donations over $20, or
  • Make your cheque payable to United Way Winnipeg and note on the cheque that your United Way donation is for “Woman Healing For Change, Charitable no. 891621864RR0001 for Phoenix Sinclair Playhouse.”