Posts tagged ‘Politics’

November 1, 2013

Advocacy lessons from American race politics for Canada

“It is eerie and unsettling to hear the same issues in country after country. It lifts our common challenges in ways that are sobering,”

Angela Glover Blackwell said, after listening to each person’s introduction.

Squeezed into an early morning session, the walls at the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI) were lined with people from the non-profit sector and advocacy groups, funders and even a former Cabinet Minister, all concerned with racial equity. The Colour of Poverty/Colour of Change had invited us to hear Blackwell, Founder and CEO at PolicyLink, and Dr. Manuel Pastor, Professor of Sociology and American Studies & Ethnicity, University of Southern California, both speaking at a recent conference in Toronto, and here to share lessons on how to advance the equity policy agenda.

“We need to continue to look for ways to capture the weary, to inspire those with goodness in their heart,” Blackwell explained.

“There is an immediate need to think long-term”

To do this, advocacy efforts must be attached to the issues which are the currency of the times, Blackwell explained. She drew examples from the 60s, 70s through to the present economic crunch. As an example, PolicyLink has shifted its most recent advocacy efforts from the Promise Neighbourhoods of Obama’s early days to an economic inclusion “All-In Nation” economic plan.

“Early on we framed what we’re doing as equity, allowing people to reach their full potential. Equity is the essential thing to do. In the U.S., your address is literally a proxy for your life opportunity:  what kind of schools you will attend, the job you will have, even your life expectancy,” Blackwell continued. “So, for instance, we attached equity to transportation – it is responsible for access to education, health, and jobs. Neighbourhood environments determine obesity. All of this is  connected to equity.”

“So be clear about the goals, but attach that to whichever issue is in currency,” Blackwell said, giving the example of how Policy Link attached the equity agenda to ideas of job preparation and entrepreneurialism after the 2008 crash. “That became the nation’s agenda,” she explained, so we developed America’s Tomorrow.”

In short, Policy Link is successful in pushing for racial equity by working in three steps, Blackwell said. First they begin by talk to People of Colour and advocacy groups about a strong narrative with People of Colour at the centre. Second they look for ways to attach these things to a national agenda. Lastly, they find ways to change the conversation.

Policy Link also works with allies, Blackwell explained, such The Center for American Progress which is “inside the beltway” to set a national agenda. “We’re showing if you just get rid of inequity, a lot of things will move forward,” Blackwell concluded.

Professor Pastor waded in next, offering his advice to those in the room.

“Race matters,” Pastor continued, “so it is important to put it into the conversation. There is a lot of talk about inequality, yes, but we have to answer the lasting legacies of racism.

To get race behind, we have to put race up front.

Pastor cautioned about concentrating only in the past, though. “Frame forward. Focus on 2042 when the majority of the population and the majority of the workforce [in the U.S.A.] will be people of colour. In 2019, the majority of youth will be. In 2012, the majority of births were.”

“Inequity has a dampening economic effect,” Pastor continued, explaining this was being said by many outside ‘the usual suspects,’ pointing to the IMF and the Cleveland Reserve. Both, he said, have stated that the single most dampening effect on the economy is inequality.

“The process of conversation is important,” Pastor continued. “The real problem is disconnection. So we need empathy.

A neighbourhood can be angry enough to burn itself down without being able to channel that.”

A good model of how to do this is the young, undocumented American residents who organized as the DREAMers. They have a forward focus, using others’ successful narrative of “coming out”. They have captured the narrative, the moment and the imagination,” Pastor explained. They are able, he said, to bridge different issues, be forward-looking, use moral & economic arguments, and have a values-driven narrative which successfully shifted the discussion to how Americans were related to each other.

‘Rock the naturalized vote’ is another successful example of visioning forward, Pastor said. 71% of Latinos and 73% of Asian vote went to Obama because wanted to “punish ‘stupid shit’. Immigration was central.

“The Economic Bureau has said that the debt would be reduced $1 trillion over 20 years if immigration was reformed. Does it make sense to pay $36-40 billion ( = one agent every 100 yards) to protect another border while we only spent $150 million on settlement?” Pastor continued.

Successful advocacy efforts must make a two-pronged argument, Pastor explained.

“To make the case for equity, both moral and material arguments are required,” Pastor continued. “Organize your work by addressing both areas, that is

  • Economic – episodic, interest-based
  • Moral – values, sustained, deeply held

“So first, to build the material case, consider framing and data issues. For instance, a California report looked at the number of undocumented Californians. Re-frame it. They are Californians. Half have been here for 10 years+. Immigration reforms help the next generation of Americans.

Pastor offered some other concrete examples of how framing works, such as the idea of developing regional equity profiles for municipal areas highlighting how rental tenancy is higher by people of colour in Fair Housing & Equity Assessment – HUD’s new frame used disaggregated data. Pastor also pointed to the access provided through San Francisco’s place-based initiative Communities of Opportunity.

At the most technical level, data disaggregation is important, Pastor said, because it reveals race neutrality is not real.

Similarly, “Nerd to Nerd” relations are key to laying an evidence base.

Those technical discussions that identify the right geographic focus, or compare the outcomes for various populations, or which match database variables, can open whole new perspectives on complex social problems, to understanding the layers of poverty.

Finally, Pastor said, the moral frame is vital too. Understand the moment, he advised, and consider the strategic target within the universal good, that is targeted universalism. Appeal to the larger value because

As Van Jones reminds us, Martin Luther King didn’t say “I have an issue.”

read more »

September 26, 2011

A critical look at international city rankings

“Well, big deal,” the Montreal Gazette sneered in Montreal and its place in the world, its editorial response to a recent international survey on urban quality-of-life. Montreal was behind Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary. As a native Montrealer, I have to concur with the Gazette’s summary:

…rankings tend to favour an ideal, cleanly scrubbed and tidily tended city – which is essentially a suburb.

The editorial consoled readers, throwing in that New York City came 56th on the list.

So how accurate is the measuring stick for the wide range of surveys which rank cities?

This is the question that Toronto’s Intergovernmental Committee on Economic and Labour Force Development (ICE Committee) asked when it commissioned a review of the various urban ranking surveys last year.

As expected, the final report found methodological weaknesses in the comparisons and poor interpretations of the findings by the media and public creates more confusion than clarity when it came to grading the world’s cities. The report author reviewed forty-four rankings and identified seven key lessons:

  • Audience and purpose matter
  • Beware of over-simplification
  • Look at the scores, not the rankings
  • Be wary of data that has been overly manipulated and processed.
  • Longitudinal data are more useful than one-off “snapshot” studied, but watch out for iterative studied that change the rules as they go.
  • Stale source data may leave a false impression.
  • Make sure that apples are being compared to apples.
Probably the fairest explanation for why these studies continue to pop up in the media is attributed to Joel Garreau:
 “These lists are journalistic catnip. Fun to read and look at the pictures but I find the liveable cities lists intellectually on a par with People magazine’s ‘sexiest people’ lists.”

(Still, if you lean towards parochialism, patriotism, or partisan, if you believe Toronto is the centre of the world, you will be glad to know that Toronto generally does well on these international scorecards.)

June 1, 2011

Toronto District School Board 2011 budget deliberations begin

The head office of the Toronto District School...

Image via Wikipedia

 

 

 

A useful e-mail is circulating around the Toronto District School Board, summarizing some of the early budget deliberations, as trustees face another year of shortfall. The Board’s Budget Committee met on Monday, May 30. Here is the synopsis. The conclusion provides some useful steps for concerned parents and advocates:

The Committee members defeated the Staff recommendations to balance the 2011-2012 Budget, which included the following:

  • Shifting $30m (million) from large capital repairs to smaller projects
  • Permit Fees Increase – 22% as of Jan. 2012 — $ 1.60 m
  • Department Budget Reductions $3.70 m
  • Using savings from previous years   $13.10m
  • Transportation (no impact on students) $.25 m
  • Reduction to central departments casual replacement budgets $1.00 m
  • Purchasing of utilities $.80 m
  • Auditing for enrolment and class size efficiencies $ 1. 00 m
  • Broader Public Sector Directive and reduction of meeting expenses $ .20 m
  • Reducing of External Consultants $3.70 m

Possible total (short-term) savings found:   $ 55. 35 million

After this recommendation was defeated, the Budget committee agreed to meet Wednesday June 8th (time to be confirmed) to look at recommendations again. They asked staff to look at the possibility of lessening the $30 m cutback from capital funding (to $20 m or $25 m for example), and balance the remainder from items from another document presented (Appendix “B”) which lists items which are either under or unfunded items by the Ministry of Education.  Here is the list from Appendix “B”:

  • Outdoor Ed  $6.7 m
  • Regular Ed. Assistants  $ 22.6 m
  • Literacy Teachers  $15.2 m
  • Library Teachers   $ 6.25 m
  • Guidance Teachers  $5.59 m
  • Classroom Consultants, Central Coordinating Principals etc. $3.5 m
  • School budgets   $10.27 m
  • Elementary supervision  $9.31 m
  • School safety monitors   $6.13 m
  • School office  $8.06
  • Vice Principals  $8.34 m
  • Special education    $15.4 m
  • Model Schools   $8.5 m
  • Safe Schools   $3.05 m
  • Board Administration  $18.48 m
  • Transportation  $ 2.49 m
  • Permits   $11.2 m
  • Vision of Hope  $1.00 m
  • Aboriginal Education  $438,284
  • Continuing Education  $8. 01 m

Total:  $170,633,755.00 million under or non-funded items

Why does the TDSB have a funding gap?

There is currently a $150,000,000 million difference between what the TDSB receives in “directed grant” monies from the Ministry of Education (i.e., for things such as Full Day Kindergarten etc.) and what we choose to spend. Sometimes, the Ministry does not send enough money to cover an initiative that they direct the board to do, for example, adequate funding for teachers’ salaries to fully implement Full Day Kindergarten. This means money must be found elsewhere to cover this cost.

Sweatered vs. Unsweatered Grants from the Ministry of Education (MoE):   Grants from the Ministry are either sweatered (meaning they have to be spent on a certain program or in a certain way), or unsweatered (meaning the board has flexibility about how they spend the money).  For example, special education funding is sweatered by the MoE and can only be spent by the TDSB on special education programs and services.  The TDSB must also be accountable and track these monies to show the MoE they were spent as directed.

However, the Learning Opportunities Grant (LOG) is an unsweatered Ministry grant, which means the TDSB has flexibility in using these funds event though the LOG is intended, in theory, to fund programs and services for students who are deemed “at risk” due to poverty and other factors, and/or who are aboriginal. While some of the LOG funding does indeed go to support students ‘at risk’, much of it is used to pay for under or unfunded items through the MoE’s funding formula and initiative funding.

The Inner City Advisory Committee (ICAC) and the Learning Opportunities Grant (LOG)

The ICAC has always argued that the Model Schools for Inner Cities Program (MSIC) should be funded by the LOG because that is what the grant is supposedly for. The Model Schools provides a holistic and innovative program in 105 schools across Toronto, and does this on a budget of $8.5 million that has not changed since 2006, in spite of inflationary pressures, salary increases, rising food costs etc.   Next year, in an effort to reach more underserved students, staff have decided to expand the MSIC to reach 125 schools across the city.  Last night the ICAC motion, asking for a 5% increase (approximately $425,000) to the MSIC funding, was defeated. (The motion is attached in pdf above.)

What can you do?

1.     Email or call your/all trustee(s) to ask that the motion be reconsidered at the June 8th Budget Committee meeting. (www.tdsb.on.ca click on “boardroom” to find a list of 22 trustees)

2.     Request a deputation (speaking for 5 minutes) spot for the June 8th Budget Committee meeting (http://www.tdsb.on.ca/_site/ViewItem.asp?siteid=88&menuid=310&pageid=239)

3.     Attend the June 8th Budget Committee meeting and the Board meeting where the Trustees debate the budget – June 22nd

4.     Advocate for a fully funded education system which meets the needs of all children and supports each and every one in achieving their highest potential.

read more »

May 2, 2011

The habit of voting: start early, vote often

rick mercer makes a pursed point

Image by clang boom steam via Flickr

Rick Mercer has been suggesting youth take a date to the federal election today. His earlier rant, at the beginning of the campaign, sparked vote mobs on campuses across the country. His words carry the weight of research.

Being eighteen-years-old is about the worst time to introduce youth to voting, according to a University doctoral student I met recently at a farewell reception for the now-defunct Centre for Urban Health Initiatives. Likely to be at a more tumultuous time of their lives, living in a new community, eighteen-year-olds are less likely to vote than the former age-of-majority, twenty-one-year olds. And when we don’t vote, she explained to us gathered around, it becomes a habit.

So the call to drop the voting age to sixteen makes a lot of sense. Youth, normally still living in familiar surroundings, would make their first foray into voting on more stable ground.

In fact, our grad student’s own research focuses levels of voting among immigrants. She is finding that those without the culture and habit of voting are less likely to exercise their franchise when they come to Canada. 

“If  I were king of the world,” she said, “I would make voting at least once a pre-requisite for citizenship.” Her doctoral work, not yet complete, gives weight to calls to allow city residents, despite their citizenship status, to vote in municipal elections.

December 1, 2010

How scared should we be about bed bugs?

Adult bed bug, Cimex lectularius

Image via Wikipedia

Knowing I work at WoodGreen Community Services, which has been on the forefront of the bedbug issue for a while, a friend asked me how nervous she should be about going to a movie theatre that night.

Her fear sprang from the furor causes when a tweet wrongly accused Scotiabank Theatre of harbouring bed bugs and the widespread media coverage how the bugs are sweeping Manhattan’s toniest locations.

“Or how about subways and street cars?” she asked.

“Go,” I said. “If you’re nervous, strip off when you get home, bag your clothes and then launder and dry them.”

We are not (yet) at the point you have to stop going out into public spaces.

Some activities are riskier, such as

  • moving residences (especially if it’s into an apartment building — so make sure to ask),
  • travelling (check those head boards and mattress seams), or
  • picking up second-hand furniture off the street (no more boulevard shopping).

I still trust the Toronto Transit Commission – especially safe in the winter when most of its vehicles sit outside overnight, freezing. And I think movie theatres – and other entertainment venues – were so shaken by the Twitter furor, that I expect discreet inspections are done regularly.

The good news, this week, was the attention that bed bugs generated at the municipal and provincial levels. If we manage our own surroundings cautiously and if coordinated and proactive actions are taken, bed bugs will be well-managed.

A community bed bug committee, composed of residents, tenant associations, non-profits, government reps and broader networks recently adopted a “Bedbug Mani-pest-o” outlining five key points:

  1. Build a public education campaign to raise awareness on the rising incidence of bed bug infestations, the methods of dealing with them and to de-stigmatize bed bugs
  2. Establish standard protocols for treatment of bed bugs
  3. Develop and promote a consistent community response that includes funds to support vulnerable populations to reduce financial barriers to eradicate bed bugs
  4. Conduct widespread monitoring of bed bug incidences across the Province
  5. Draft and enact legislative policies that support quick and effective responses to bed bugs

Liberal M.P.P. Mike Colle has taken almost all of these and built them into his recommendations to the province, only shying away from the legislative piece.

N.D.P. Cheri DiNovo has introduced a bill to license landlords.

The Toronto Board of Health and the City of Toronto are both lobbying for more resources, arguing that early interventions will ensure bed bugs don’t spread further.

Solutions are emerging.

For the moment, we can sleep tight. Just don’t let the bed bugs bite.

read more »

September 19, 2010

The big tent of Toronto City Summit Alliance

Voluntarily, small groups have been meeting through the summer, producing backgrounders, developing position papers, and generating options, all with the aim of bettering the region of Toronto. Preparation for Toronto City Summit Alliance‘s (TCSA) 4th regional summit has begun in earnest.

ELN7

Image by Shaun Merritt via Flickr

The workgroups, roundtables and the summit, to be held in February 2011, draw people from a broad range of sectors, public, private, non-profit and citizen advocates. (The idea of working in concert, across sectors, is so engrained with TCSA’s work that I often mistakenly call TCSA the Toronto Community Summit Alliance.)

The work is like, one workgroup member explained, erecting a large tent where community conversation space is created, to discuss hard issues. Participants are looking for common ground on which to move forward together.

When the last summit was held, in 2005, one of the outcomes was the taskforce for Modernizing Income Security for Working Age Adults (MISWAA) which convened corporate heads with low-income people with community groups with economists with policy wonks. The result was the work that found how few Torontonians benefit from current income security programs, such as Employment Insurance, and the strong political pressure to improve access.

This time round, six free-standing workgroups have been convened to talk about the economy, the labour market, transit, income security, arts & culture, and neighbourhoods, social capital & housing. Each of these smaller groups leads to a larger roundtable, in the summer and fall, where ideas are tested and solutions sought. All this then rolls towards the regional summit.

ELN3

Image by Shaun Merritt via Flickr

Deliverables are already being realized. The Housing workgroup is assembling a regional data book — something wider than the data currently collected at the municipal level or CMA level, but more focused than provincial data. The transit workgroup, also early off the mark, delivered a discussion paper to its roundtable in July, looking at road tolls, among other issues.

These semi-structured and ongoing conversations participants together to address complex challenges, issues which are admittedly entwined so that the solutions also have to be integrated. Transit issues are woven to housing, labour market structures give form to income security, and cultural policies strengthen neighbourhoods. This is happening as the summit draws closer.

Unwieldy though the approach seems, everyone erecting tent poles, pulling canvas and moving chairs, to create a metaphorical tent, it is a hopeful activity, creating common space and emergent wisdom.

TCSA’s model of convening moves political activity from divisive battles, at the ramparts, to a more modern and civil version: in-person crowd-sourcing.

%d bloggers like this: