Monthly Archives: September 2014

London Yodeller Interview

Earlier this month – September 11, to be exact – The London Yodeller published an interview with yours truly.

I really enjoyed the opportunity to make more people aware of how I intend to make Ward 4 a better place to live.

Big thanks to Mary Lou Ambrogio – what would London do without this intrepid advocate for freedom and true social justice?!

The interview can be found on page 8.

– Paul

Heads Up

Over the last few days, I had some time between eating, praying and sleeping to reflect on the meaning of the Jewish New Year, which in Hebrew is called “The Head of the Year” and its connection to my run for Ward 4 city councillor.

What really caught my attention and got me thinking about life and the choices we make, was the stirring Hebrew liturgical poem Unetanneh Tokef, recited each of the two days of Rosh Hashanah and again on Yom Kippur.

Here’s an excerpt from one of the more well-known parts of it:

On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed – how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die; who will die at his predestined time and who before his time; who by water and who by fire, who by sword, who by beast, who by famine, who by thirst, who by upheaval, who by plague, who by strangling, and who by stoning. Who will rest and who will wander, who will live in harmony and who will be harried, who will enjoy tranquility and who will suffer, who will be impoverished and who will be enriched, who will be degraded and who will be exalted. But Repentance, Prayer, and Charity avert the severe Decree!”

Here’s an old-school cantorial rendition of this part of the poem which is the inspiration behind Leonard Cohen’s Who by Fire:

The religious message of the prayer means a lot to me – it probably doesn’t for many people in the ward, although I’d like to know what you think about its content. That being said, I believe there’s a secular value to this prayer which corresponds to our upcoming election.

Please bare with me while I preach politics for the next few lines…

Repentance, according to Judaism, has three main components: 1) Recognizing what one has done through regretting the behaviour 2) Resolving not to do the behaviour again through aspiring to accomplish positive goals 3) Actually doing the positive behaviour and not doing the negative behaviour when presented with the same situation which the person first stumbled in.

For Londoners, as for many people living in democracies, the last step is the most significant because it applies to voting, i.e. actually changing the negative behaviour rooted in apathy, and perhaps, dare I say, a sense of fatalism.

I think we all recognize how dismal voter participation has been in the past; it’s time that changed. Now we have the chance to do just that.

So “repentance” as mentioned in the poem would be getting out there and making your voice heard, standing up for what you believe in and changing not just the year ahead, but the foreseeable future. In digital terms, four years amount to generations of operating systems and radical changes in the ways humans relate to each other and the physical environment.

This election is definitely more than just another merry go-round for democracy.

“Prayer” can be said to correspond to the messages of hope and hopelessness we express to ourselves and to those around us when it comes to our elected officials and the state of Ward 4 and the city in general. Once again, positive “prayers” i.e. intentions, can help set the stage for greater voter turnout and a city council which reflects what the real majority decides.

“Charity” is given when people volunteer to help those they believe can make our collective home a better place.

My own personal prayer is that we can look past the issues that slowed down progress and move forward with a much clearer vision of how employment and other important issues can be resolved.

Happy New Year!

– Paul

 

 

 

The World’s Oldest Oppression

Today’s show contains content of a sensitive nature. I do not recommend this program for children or those who have difficulty listening to true stories dealing with violence and sex slavery.

You are going to hear testimony from someone l and countless others regard as a true spiritual warrior.

This person has endured unimaginable suffering, a living hell which many people continue to experience as a way of life, called prostitution.

We mourn for the victims of the world’s oldest oppression.

And in this vein, this podcast will not contain any music.

Listener discretion is advised.

Katarina MacLeod: A True Spiritual Warrior

Open For Business

Normally, I like to introduce a topic when I start a blog post.

Sometimes I’ll use a quote, or provide some history to bring everyone up to speed.

But when talking about unemployment in London, we’re all unfortunately too familiar with the history, current realities and seemingly uncertain future.

A recent Forum Poll suggests that finding and keeping a job is pretty much the number one issue that London voters are concerned with – another major issue is the city’s growth, which is connected to the jobs issue.

London is slowly recovering from the 2008-2009 economic crash, but we still have yet to restore the estimated 27,000 lost jobs.

So yes, we’ve all heard the bad news…

Now what, exactly, is the good news?

Here’s what I propose: let’s work with our available tools to facilitate employment growth by cutting the existing red tape that inhibits new businesses from getting off the ground.

  • Let’s work with business owners and make it easier for them to get permits by shortening long process times. If someone has a business plan, they’d like to implement it right away, not five years from now. I know there’s been lots of frustration along these lines.
  • Development charges have been lowered but they’re still too high. The city should opt to waive them for first time developers. And if that same developer wants to do more, implement a reasonable increase to help generate municipal revenue. We want to keep developers and others involved in the process happy; once they are able to conduct their project without feeling overly-burdened, the city’s reputation as a viable development centre will spread and bring more potential customers.
  • Jump-start the current unemployment lull by giving small business loans to entrepreneurs with a sound business plan.  We need to remember that two-thirds of the private sector generates employment opportunities at the local level. I think it’s really important to not waste this opportunity by allowing the brain drain from Western and Fanshawe to continue, simply because certain people on council fail to have the vision necessary for economic progress.
  • A blog post about two students who received awards and university scholarships at a prestigious science fair is the most basic example of the type of ingenuity that needs support, even in its infancy – it’s never too early to invest in future start-up stars but always too late to reclaim them once they’re gone.

As a person involved in business in Southwestern Ontario, I know that if I don’t hustle to get more customers and sales, my companies ROI (return on investment) will be little or none at all. A city the size of London can’t afford that scenario on any scale or the impact will be felt on a wider level. The closing of GM Diesel and other sites were tell tale signs that jobs were simply not going to fall from the sky, and that every good thing must be sustained through effort and ingenuity in order to continue.

And while the city can’t create jobs, it can certainly relinquish its bullish restrictions and have a positive impact in jump-starting employment opportunities.

We need an open arms approach to anyone willing to set up shop in London; this hasn’t been the case until now.

If you remember, former Mayor Joe Fontana vowed to bring 10,000 jobs to London – a promise that neither he, nor his former lackey, Ward 4 incumbent Stephen Orser have ever, nor will ever follow through on.

Our first and foremost goal is to elect a new council. In a new environment, and with the tools that are granted to me, I will do everything in my power to nurture and grow business in Ward 4 and in the rest of our collective home that is London.

Renters vs. Owners: A False Dichotomy

I’m proud to say that I own the house I live in.

I’m also proud to say that I spent many years renting an apartment.

There is a common view among different renters and homeowners, that renting is somehow a subordinate form of paying for one’s living space, even though owning entails often burdensome responsibilities such as seemingly endless mortgage payments, property taxes, maintenance costs, insurance, etc.

That said, I do believe that ownership brings greater freedom and would love to see renters own their own property; it would give them a sense of empowerment and pride – even as stressful as that can sometimes be. The only thing is, renters’ current cost of living and future financial ability to own a home (or lack thereof), has nothing to do with established homeowners – this is true socially, fiscally and historically.

Ward 4 city council candidate Jesse Helmer’s fair tax proposal is anything but. It merely passes the buck from property management companies and the provincial and federal governments to homeowners.

Gigantic property management companies such as Lionheart, conduct business by making money for the services and living space they provide – this is true in several cities including Toronto. That’s fine, and I have no problem with that.

But if London homeowners wind up paying 5.37% more in property taxes, as Helmer is proposing, they’re not only going to be subsidizing renters’ costs, but will become de facto sponsors of huge property management companies. I just don’t see how that is fair or makes any sense at all.

When people struggle to make ends meet, and then wind up spending 85% of their earnings on housing that is sometimes substandard, there’s no question that’s a serious problem. But that problem wasn’t created or sponsored by homeowners, and therefore, they have absolutely no obligation or reason to somehow back renters – their property taxes, etc. already fund programs and infrastructure that renters and everyone else, benefits from.

Normally, landlords raise the rent according to inflation, which is set by Stats Canada. However, a landlord can ask for a special increase when ‘major repairs’ are required; of course, proof must be provided by the landlord. A tenant has recourse to challenge the rent increase by going to the Landlord Tenant Board. Again, this is just another indication that the issues renters face, are between the property managers and renters – homeowners are not part of this dynamic. And if major repairs are approved of, and the rent is raised, Helmer’s proposed tax raise won’t only be unfair, it will be useless.

The rental problem occurs when families or individuals are either underemployed, on social assistance or on a disability pension or old age pension. These kinds of income do not keep up with inflation.

I think the solution should be based on a two-pronged approach: generating sustainable employment opportunities within the ward and the entire city, and more subsidized housing for the working poor (this program existed provincially a few years back).

The focus in this city needs to be on employment. The issue about raising rents has no correlation to home owners/property values.

Like many other North American cities, London has lost well-paying semi-skilled jobs, and we need to focus on long-term solutions that will empower everyone, whether renters or owners.

As I said, I’m all for rent supplement when it’s needed on a case by case basis. I’m also in favour of subsidy programs for young families with minority-age children, or the disabled, as examples. But these types of assistance have traditionally been under the purview of the federal and provincial governments.

The fact that such programs have been minimized or abandoned, once again, has nothing to do with homeowners, who pay their fair share of taxes to support the infrastructure of the city through schools, roads, etc.

Moreover, property ownership does not influence the market value of rentals, so why should I, and all the other homeowners, subsidize a situation that I have no connection with? It can’t be because I own property…if anything, that would exempt me from the equation because I am in a completely different sphere where I am the owner AND the property manager.

So, either it’s an argument about welfare payouts being too low, or that there’s not enough subsidized housing (programs), or that long-term employment solutions need to be created. The bottom line is that homeowners have nothing to do with this.

A good degree of tension exists between renting vs. owning, but one thing is clear: absolutely no issues exist between renters and owners.

I, for one, would like to keep it that way.

 

Not always a labour of love

I’d like to wish everyone a happy, fun and restful Labour Day!

This day presents us with an interesting paradox: on the one hand, Labour Day comes out of workers’ struggles for fairness, safety and everything else that defines our country as a beacon of democracy in this morally blighted world of ours. But on the other hand, because of all our hard work, and the impending chaos that ensues with students’ (our kids) return to school, we pretty much forget about the meaning of this day and seek out a little corner to put our feet up before the summer’s finally over.

London is not immune to breaches in worker safety, as the recent case involving 60-year-old Rob Willmott demonstrates – Willmott was subsequently fired for holding the alleged assailant’s accomplice on the bus; he was offered his job back, but had to admit wrongdoing which he believed was not accurate and so declined the offer.

Last week, I joined ATU Local 741 members who were protesting the incident and the fact that workers receive little legal training from the LTC for dealing with difficult and even traumatizing scenarios.

PaulGray

For those who think I’m being hyperbolic by using the “T” word, just imagine going to work and being spat in the face, cursed at and intimidated. This doesn’t have to occur on a regular basis for this situation to be intolerable because even once in simply unacceptable.

While at the protest, I had the chance to speak with Brian Tansy, President of ATU Local 741 who updated me on the issues facing workers, especially as concerns their safety and how the LTC is handling this issue.

This is from his official statement:

“We’re here tonight just to show the London Transit Commission that we want to be seen as employees, as workers, we are not a part of the equipment – that what is happening to our drivers is not acceptable,” said Tansy. “Our employer is quick to have a damaged bus repaired and ready for the road; we want the same consideration for their employees, they are far more valuable than the equipment.”

As mentioned in the statement, a significant stride forward for safeguarding bus and taxi drivers is Senator Bob Runciman’s proposed bill, S-221.

There’s no question that our city’s drivers need to be afforded the same respect and safety we all expect at our own workplaces. I am currently in touch with Mr. Tansy, trying to figure out what role I can play in helping improve worker safety.

In the last few years, and especially now that I’m in the running for city council, I’ve really started seeing this last day of the summer holiday more and more as a squandered opportunity for recognizing the contributions of workers and the ongoing challenges workers face – especially the physical and psychological dangers they unfortunately encounter.

I believe the worst thing to do in a situation where someone’s safety is compromised, is to stand idly by.

I, for one, am already on the move.

– Paul