Saturday, September 24, 2016

Canadians Need Access to Reasonably Priced Financial Services

(Here is a letter to the editor I sent recently to a number of newspapers .)

Dear Editor,

Good communities provide residents and businesses with easy access to reasonably priced financial services.

Such access is eroding in Canada.

The big five chartered banks have been exiting downtown cores of major Canadian cities for years.

Many small communities, have no banks or credit unions at all.

Moreover, fees are an issue. Only thirty years ago, banks did not charge fees but now these charges are amongst the highest in the world.

“Fringe” financial institutions like Money Mart and the Cash Store have stepped in to fill the void and make big bucks while charging exorbitant fees.

There is some regulation of these fringe institutions. In 2008, for example, the Ontario government, concerned about excessive charges, brought in regulations. These controls were inadequate so the government is in the process of setting new rules.

Meanwhile many Canadians don’t have bank accounts.

The solution to this problem (and others) is to bring back postal banking.

Canadians had access to Postal Banking for more than one hundred years. When the Post Office Savings Bank ceased operations in 1968, nearly 300,000 accounts closed down. At its peak in 1908, deposits in the bank totalled 47.5 million (equivalent to $1 billion in today’s money). Meanwhile postal banking is thriving in other parts of the world. Japan Post Bank, for example, has $2 trillion in assets.

The government is currently conducting a public review of Canada Post, Postal banking is an idea whose time has come again.

Bob Wood
Port Rowan

Interested readers can learn more at

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Six Council Votes that Show why Hamilton Ward Boundaries Need to Change*

(This story appeared originally in August at 

Here is some history most of you will know.

In 2001 amalgamation of the City of Hamilton with Ancaster, Dundas Flamborough, Glanbrook and Stoney Creek took place. The amalgamation resulted in eight council seats for the 70% of residents living in old Hamilton. Seven council seats were set up for the 30% percent in the five former suburbs. Sixteen years later it seems that important council votes support the minority (30%) over the majority (70%).  For example:

*Households in the former suburbs continue to pay only about a third of the transit taxes that residents of the old city pay.

*Harbour cleanup has been delayed. Suburban Councillors (and then Mayor Bratina) did not support speeding up the cleanup of the Randle Reef. A proposed meeting with federal and provincial politicians might have done that.
*Nearly all suburban councillors voted in May to defer a decision on whether Hamilton wants the billion-dollar provincial investment for Light Rapid Transit (LRT).
*Suburban councillors (and Terry Whitehead) voted against looking at the possibility of tolls for “out-of-town” truck traffic on the Red Hill and Linc expressways.
*The King Street bus-only lane was killed by suburban councillors and three Hamilton mountain councillors.
*In April 2015 those 7 suburban councillors (along with Councillor Whitehead) voted to postpone the often delayed ward boundary review.  Fortunately, this vote lost on a tie.
That tie vote means that there is now an opportunity to change ward boundaries.  Contact your elected municipal officials to Make Change.  Tell them those boundaries must respect the important democratic principle of fair representation by population.
*CATCH (Citizens at City Hall) is a volunteer community group that encourages civic participation in Hamilton.  Their articles which were the prime source for the above can be found at

Monday, August 01, 2016

Ontario Government to Help Tenants - But Hold on a Minute

(This story originally appeared in July at

This looks like a classic case of government responding to an interest group at the expense of the broader public interest.

We are talking about the consultation paper recently put out by the provincial government.  The paper is called Consultation Paper on Proposals to Encourage Small Landlords to Provide Rental Housing.

This paper purports to be looking for input to improve the Ontario Government’s Long Term Affordable Housing Strategy (LTAHS).

The government has floated a bunch of ideas.  They claim these changes would help small landlords create more housing and address barriers that these potential affordable housing creators face.

Unfortunately, these ideas, if implemented, would “contribute to further homelessness and erode hard-won tenant protections.”

That is the opinion expressed by the Advocacy Centre for Tenants of Ontario (ACTO.)  ACTO is a legal clinic which works to better the housing situation of Ontario residents who have low incomes including tenants, co-op members and people who are homeless.  ACTO put together a forceful submission to the Ministry of Housing. A few examples of the kind of ideas floated in the paper and ACTO’s responses follows.

Ministry Idea:      
Require tenants to disclose any issues that they intend to raise at rental eviction hearings prior to the hearing.

ACTO Response:  
This proposal would bring back procedural barriers to justice for tenants.

Ministry Idea:      
Allow landlords and tenants to file the unsworn statements in support of  applications and motions, rather than affidavits.                                  

ACTO Response:
Clearly the impetus for this proposal is a desire to expedite landlords’ eviction applications.              

Ministry Idea:  
Explore whether any changes should be made to the process for appealing  decisions of the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) to Divisional Court.

ACTO Response:
Based on the widely–reported actions of a few criminals, landlord organizations are attempting to limit the effectiveness of the Superior Court’s supervision of the LTB by making it even more difficult than it already is for tenants to exercise these important and rarely-used appeal rights.                                                            

So, you’ll get the idea from these brief excerpts that the government’s proposals will be of no help to tenants.  And one other thing we should mention is this.  By and large the proposed changes would apply to most tenants not just those renting from small landlords.  

You can read ACTO’s full submission at!AvRzOEPfSVfDk3a5u5WgjoU8Rgff

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

City of Hamilton Moves Forward with Poverty Initiative

Earlier this month Hamilton City Council supported Mayor Fred Eisenberger’s motion to commit $50M towards poverty reduction.  Eisenberger (right) had brought the motion to the City's General Issues Committee in April.

Among other things Council approved:

  • A $20 million allocation to increase affordable housing and improve the state of good repair of housing.
  • $3 million a year over 10 years for poverty reduction with the funds coming from the merger of Horizon Utilities Corporation and several other local utilities.
  • Engagement with partners to help develop a strategy.                                                                                 
  • Leveraging of funding commitments. Loans and grants from senior levels of government, school boards, and foundations as well as other potential contributors from the private sector will be sought.

City staff have been directed to develop a detailed 10-year integrated poverty reduction plan by October.

Mayor Eisenberger attended a conference in Edmonton recently. The conference, called Cities Reducing Poverty - When Mayors Lead, obviously inspired Eisenberger to do just that.

(Here are some reflections from Danielle Klooster of the Central Alberta Poverty Reduction Alliance on the conference

Back to Hamilton, where there was some opposition in the community and from two members of Council to the city taking some leadership.  Predictably, such opposition is based on myths and misunderstanding and/or just plan ignorance about poverty.

You’ve heard them.

These problems are the responsibility of senior governments.

You are encouraging more generational welfare and poverty by making more money available.

It will duplicate services.
 Howard Elliott did a fine job of addressing these myths and others in an editorial in the Hamilton Spectator.

You can read it at

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

London Ontario Endorses Poverty Plan

 (This post originally appeared at 

Earlier this month Last night City Council in London Ontario gave unanimous support to a report called London for All – A Roadmap to End Poverty.

An eight member panel including former Hamilton Deputy Medical Officer of Health Chris Mackie (pictured to the right) produced the report after six months of consultation. It contains 112 recommendations.  

Remarkably, many of these recommendations are intended to be acted upon within twelve months.

Here is a sampling of the recommendations.

Eight Recommendations from the (London Ontario) Mayor’s Advisory Panel on Poverty that Impressed Us

**Increase the number of organizations providing Indigenous Cultural Safety training.
**Become a Basic Income Guarantee pilot site.
**Engage landlords in keeping more people housed.
**Allow children under 12 to ride public transit free.
**Leverage funding and invest in the regeneration of existing London and Middlesex Housing   Corporation (LMHC) properties.
**Increase the number of licensed childcare spaces.
**Reduce the wait time to receive childcare subsidy
**Engage people with lived experience in democratic processes and institutions.

You can read the full report at

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Local Leaders Talking about Reducing Poverty

It is encouraging to see that the Tamarack Institute is running a conference in Edmonton this week dedicated to looking at how municipal governments can and should make poverty reduction a major priority.

The Event is called Cities Reducing Poverty: When Mayors Lead.  Organizers are billing the conference is as a milestone event. I’m watching it from afar on twitter (#MayorsPovertySummit) and can say that the billing seems on the mark. It began yesterday and wraps up tomorrow (April 7th).

Pam McConnell
Participants in the Conference include Mayors of major cities like Don Iveson of Edmonton, Brian Bowman, Winnipeg’s first Aboriginal Mayor, Fred Eisenberger of Hamilton and others. 

Pam McConnell, Deputy Mayor of Toronto who leads Toronto's Poverty Reduction Strategy, is a presenter.

I’m hoping the conference will get the wheels turning faster to tackle problems like the impacts on gentrification on communities (and particularly on people with lower incomes) and also look at human rights issues.  We’ve written about the Right to an Adequate Standard of Living before  Municipalities undoubtedly have a role to play here.

Calgary's Mayor Nenshi
The Calgary Herald ran a story yesterday talking about Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s involvement in the conference and his call for a guaranteed annual income.  You can read that story at

Following this event on twitter yesterday it was encouraging that when speaking about poverty participants were going beyond the idea of reduction and actually talking about the “elimination” of poverty.  Good to see.


Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Finding a Way to Fight Big Mac at the OMB (A bit of Burlington Community History)

Do we need the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB)? 

Citizens, developers and many municipalities have called for it to be dismantled.

The Ontario government has given a big “No” to that notion. 

Ted McMeekin, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, told CBC last week that "we need a body like the OMB because sometimes people break the rules."

So, McMeekin’s Ministry is going to review the OMB with an eye to reform it by foiling those rule breakers.  McMeekin is looking for ideas.

He’ll get no help from me. I ought to have an opinion but my views are a bit muddled.

That’s likely because I’ve become far too familiar with a long ago OMB hearing.  That hearing dealt with an attempt by a developer to put a McDonald’s restaurant in Parkwood Plaza at the corner of Kenwood and Lakeshore in south east Burlington.  In fact, not just one, but three OMB hearings were held.  At the end of the third one a resident’s group was successful in blocking this inappropriate use of a small plaza.  Their success came thirty-six years ago this Friday (April 1, 1980).

Using accounts from local and national papers, I’ve been slowly putting together a bit of a community history of this seven year battle.  Following is a small excerpt from that work in progress.  The excerpt deals with some of the barriers residents faced in trying to cover the costs of an OMB appeal.  The difficulty for residents and municipalities in mounting a case at the OMB remains a concern. Something, perhaps, for McMeekin to consider.
Some of the Cast of Characters

*Jim Ryan - east end resident and frequent spokesperson for residents. Later elected as City Alderman for Ward 8.
*The Committee Against The Establishment of a Restaurant in Parkwood Plaza (CAERPP) - residents' group.
*Herman Turkstra - well known lawyer and former Member of the City of Hamilton Board of Control.
*Doug Brown - Solicitor for the City of Burlington.
*Joan Allingham - Chair of Council’s Development.  Perhaps better known now as Joan Little, columnist for the Hamilton Spectator.
*Dalewest Construction - Owner of Parkwood Plaza.

For many years the City of Burlington’s Community Services Committee had convened a January meeting to consider funding requests.  Typically, the requests came from recreational, sports or cultural groups.
Parkwood Plaza in the '70's- Burlington Post

Three sessions of the committee would be held in 1979 to look at 35 requests totalling $386,164.

But January’s meeting would consider a request from a resident’s group.  The Committee Against
The Establishment of a Restaurant in Parkwood Plaza (CAERPP) wanted help to foot a portion of their legal bills.

Committee Chair Jim Grieve expressed concern.
“This is a whole new thing.  We could end up financing someone who is suing us.”

At Saturday’s third meeting of the Committee Grieve ruled that the request should go to the Administrative Committee for consideration on the following Tuesday. That body met in camera for half an hour and when they convened in a public session determined in a 3-2 vote that CAERPP should receive $7,500 for their legal costs.

This was a first – a request from a citizen’s group fighting a development proposal.

Recently elected Mayor Roly Bird defended the decision.
“We have been given to understand that the city’s case will be greatly enhanced by their continued participation.”

Bird proposed a $7,500 grant as a compromise after an earlier motion for more money by Alderman Linda Pugsley had failed receiving support of only one other member of the committee, Walter Mulkewich of Ward One.

Mayor Bird was known as a man of strong opinions.  So there must have been many surprised citizens when 6 days later he had a different one.

Bird told Council that “a number of advisers” he had in the in the city told him they did not support paying the residents’ lawyer.
“I don’t feel the city’s case and the residents’ case will be that much jeopardized by the non-participation of their legal person.”

A strange statement indeed.  Bird continued: 
“We have to ask is this the City’s fight.”

With that Council rejected the position of its Administration Committee.

Ward 8 City Alderman Bill O’Connell called Council’s position “pitiful.” 

Other Council members claimed that if the City joined with CAERPP they could expose the city to legal action.
“The City could have been liable for many thousands of dollars for last revenues by Dalewest and McDonald’s," Jim Grieve claimed.

Grieve, a realtor, said this legal advice was received last year.

Others, like Joan Allingham and Rob Forbes disagreed that such an opinion had been offered.
Joan Allingham Little

On becoming aware of the City’s rejection of financial support for his group, Jim Ryan had sharp words.
“The mayor indicated that the city is well qualified to handle the situation.  Maybe we’ll just let them handle it.”
Ryan went on.
“I wish I had as much confidence in them.  They blew it last time and they’ll blow it again.  They don’t have the specialized expertise McDonald’s and Dalewest have.”

What now? Alderman O’Connell thought that the residents would end their fight.

Doing the City’s Job

The residents convened the night after Council’s decision.
“It was a hell of a blow,” Ryan told the Spectator.

The committee had already accumulated $13,000 in legal bills and the meter was still running.  What fundraising opportunities were still open to them?  More garage sales, dances?
That’s a hell of a lot of dancing and garage sales,” said Ryan to the idea of raising $8,000 more.

The group decided that a lottery could bring in money and be an indication of broader community support. CAERPP members began to sell tickets for a Valentine’s Day draw.  First prize would be $500.

The Committee knows they need lawyer Herman Turkstra, who they had engaged a year earlier.
While the City’s position was similar to the residents, the city’s lawyer can’t really represent the residents’ interests.
“We need our own solicitor.  To be successful, the city needs our lawyer,” Ryan asserted. It wasn’t just Ryan who felt this way.
East End Resident Jim Ryan addressing City Council in 1978-
Burlington Post Photo 

Alderman O’Connell talked to city solicitor Doug Brown and came away feeling the City has little hope. “If the residents pull out we might as well forget it.”

As lottery tickets were being sold speculation continued as to what the City should do.

The Burlington Post editorialized that if sufficient funds were not raised in the lottery the city had to make a choice. 

Would they mount an effective opposition to McDonald’s/Dalewest and could it present the necessary arguments “without leaving itself open to future confrontation?"

The Post seemed to think that this was about property values.  In their view, the city would put itself in a bad spot if it argued that putting a McDonald’s in the plaza would lower property values.  The Post misunderstood the issue as did many citizens then and now.  While residents are concerned about such things as property values, the OMB and municipal planning in general are not.

But the residents had no intention of giving up. Perhaps other Burlington observers thought as much.
“There was no intimation we’d drop out, even if we had to go without our solicitor,” said Ryan.

Advertisements for the continuation of the hearing ran in the Post on the same day that another story broke.  Now the province was going to review the legality of CAERPP’s lottery. Lawyers for Dalewest Construction had written the Ontario Lottery Corporation (OLC) claiming that the lottery had contravened Ontario’s regulations.

Don Speight, assistant to the director of the OLC, said that a lottery must be for charitable purposes. It must go for relief of the poor, the advancement of education or religion or “any purpose that is of benefit to the community.”

While the OLC’s investigation was going on, lottery organizers were told not to spend any of the lottery’s proceeds.  CAERPP had put down $14 for the licence in November although there were some questions about it at the time. 
“When they first came to me I was not prepared to issue a licence,” claimed City Clerk Don Briault.

But City Solicitor Doug Brown said it was legal.
Doug Brown, City Solicitor

Three thousand, two hundred and thirty-two (3,232) one dollar tickets had been sold to people who, Ryan said, bought the tickets to help with the legal bills.  From Ryan’s perspective the draw was legal because the city had licensed it, Dalewest’s complaint could result in the money being handed over to a charity.  People would be angry.
They did not donate to a charity or a religious organization, they donated to cover our legal expenses,” said Ryan.

With the OLC studying the matter one might have expected silence from government officials.  Not so. 
A spokesman for the Ministry of Consumer and Corporate Relations told the Burlington Post that the lottery was probably illegal.
“Let’s face it. I’ve never heard of a lottery licence being issued to a group espousing a political viewpoint,” said Ed Ciemigap whose department was apparently exploring legal precedents.

Turkstra was incredulous that none of the parties involved in the determination of the lottery issue had contacted the residents.
The Ministry seem to have the idea the (citizens) group is engaged in a political process.  What they are doing is supporting the position of the City.”

Soon (March 21st) the Attorney General’s office told the Post that the chances of CAERPP being charged were fairly remote.
“Presumably Turkstra and his clients have nothing to worry about," Julian Polika ventured.
Bob Wood grew up not far from the Parkwood Plaza.  He hopes to have the whole story complete later in the spring.