18 June 2008

Letter to Liberal Urban Caucus Committee

Here's the PDF report I refer to in the email below. I hope for a positive response.

I was Founder and Coordinator of WISE, a former group and national movement of low-income women. WISE folded in April 2008 due to changes made to Status of Women Canada.

I've just finished reading the UCC's May 2008 discussion paper and have some questions and comments.

First the questions.

There has been indication that the consultations by the UCC are to continue. Will these consultations be open to any member of the public? If so, will consultations be accessible to people who live in rural or small communities and cannot travel? That is, is there accommodation being made to reach interested members of the public who would like to participate but for reasons of affordability cannot?

Regarding the report, I've the following comments.

The overall tone was disappointing. It comes across as cloyingly paternalistic; frankly, it made me want to take a shower.

The UCC is recommending that the federal (Liberal) government continue dictating to communities (albeit, in "partnership") what they should do, how they should do it, and what resources they should use to accomplish specific federal-mandated goals.

Such an approach does not empower communities to set their own path, which citizens in communities should have a right to do. It does not encourage active citizen engagement in identifying their community's problems and coming up with ideas to resolve them. When citizens are so engaged, the glue which holds communities together strengthens and thus supports them even during the bad times.

Another disappointment with the report, again within the paternalistic theme, is the mere lip service paid to the One Cent Now campaign supported by the FCM (see Emergency Resolution BCMC07.2.01 adopted at their 2007 annual conference). The One Cent campaign is mentioned in the UCC report, then brushed off and used to support UCC recommendations which have no direct relation to it.

"The 'One Cent Now' campaign led by Toronto Mayor David Miller and endorsed by FCM and the Big City Mayors' Caucus, dramatically underscored the very real problems that municipalities across the country are having as a result of provincial downloading and the increasing infrastructure deficit...

"The mayors' demands are not unreasonable. During much of the 1990s, provincial and federal governments downloaded responsibilities for various social needs onto lower levels of government... Ultimately, municipal governments were left to pick up the slack without any significant or systemic help from other levels of government. Now that federal and provincial governments across the country are recording record surpluses, the time has come to re-examine the funding of Canadian municipalities." [As though we must first look to the care and feeding of upper-tier governments before supporting the communities in which people live. CO]

"Canada's cities are being asked to deliver services that redistribute income and resources from high-income Canadians to low-income Canadians, without any access to revenue from income or sales taxes" (p18f)."

Having stated the above, this is what the UCC recommends:

17. A Liberal government engage provincial governments and municipal officials to study ways the funding model for municipalities can be improved. [The FCM proposed one. It's called One Cent Now.]
18. A Liberal government invite municipal representatives to all intergovernmental discussions that affect their interests.
19. A Liberal government provide seed money to a pan-Canadian program that would allow seniors the option to defer paying their property taxes until after their homes are sold.

The UCC has looked at the problems and come up with one-size-fits-all solutions that continue to support federal interference in community concerns. Between this and the paternalistic theme of the report, one might charge the Liberals with trying to emulate the NDP.*

You may wonder why I, as former Coordinator of WISE, am bothered by this.

The one issue which WISE pushed the hardest, since we considered it to be the most crucial for addressing inequalities in health, income, housing, inclusion, and so on, was that of democratic and electoral reform. We were not pushing anywhere near so hard for housing measures and supported not at all campaigns for more money for food banks, women's shelters, homeless shelters, etc., all of which are bandaid solutions.

Disempowerment and the inability to influence change in our communities were our greatest barriers.

In "democratic reform," we sought most to see more control and associated resources placed into the hands of communities, in the places where we live. We considered this to be one sure step of encouraging greater citizen engagement and empowering communities to develop sustainable, robust, local economies.

WISE was proposing the retention of a portion of the GST by municipalities before David Miller came forward with his resolution to the FCM. Of course we supported that resolution, although we didn't think it went far enough.

In our proposal, it would have been two cents of the (then) seven cents collected in GST (or one cent from GST, one cent from the provinces), and those two cents would be RETAINED by communities. That is, the communities' portion of the sales tax wouldn't travel to the federal government to be doled out at some future date, perhaps with strings attached and as though communities are beggars. It would be taken at source, with the rest forwarded to Ottawa.

We saw this reversal of how communities are supported by upper-tier governments as crucial to a necessary paradigm shift. The Star would seem to agree, as evidenced in this June 15th editorial.

Chrystal Ocean
* The vast majority of WISE members did not support the NDP or its big government solutions.

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