Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Return to “Normal” 15

Returning to normal after pandemic isn’t good enough

By David Suzuki with contributions from Senior Editor and Writer Ian Hanington

After months of disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, many people just want to get back to “normal.” We will overcome this crisis. But “normal” means continued climate disruption and species extinction, growing inequalities, increasing pollution and health risks and the possibility of further new disease outbreaks.

Gray oil rig during golden hour

More information on this can be found at:


Posted September 13, 2020 by allanbaker in Environment, Politics

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Return to “Normal” 14

Toronto’s COVID-19 recovery must address the climate crisis

Recovery plan should accelerate transition to zero-carbon city, write activists


Published in TORONTO.COM

Michael Polanyi

Michael Polanyi is a climate campaigner at Toronto Environmental Alliance.

Recent extreme heat, drought and flooding in Toronto and southern Ontario are stark reminders that we must not forget the mounting climate crisis as we forge a recovery from COVID-19.

The COVID-19 crisis has hurt people who have the fewest options to protect themselves — those who are homeless or underhoused, people living in long-term care, and front-line service workers who lack the option of working at home. In Toronto, these tend to be Black, Indigenous, racialized, low-income people, and the elderly.

Extreme heat — and other climate impacts — pose a major threat to these same populations. 

Both COVID-19 — and the climate crisis — challenge us to model a recovery plan that addresses deep-seated inequities and improves the health and well-being of all Toronto residents. 

Mayors around the world are rebuilding and reimagining their cities. Paris is installing 650 kilometres of new bike lanes. Seattle is banning tenant evictions for six months. Berlin is expanding access to urban food gardens to 50,000 residents. Milan is planting 3 million trees. 

Torontonians see some signs of hope that the recovery from COVID-19 will bring positive change here, too.

In May, Mayor John Tory joined other large-city Mayors in signing the C40 Cities COVID-19 Recovery declaration, committing to address the climate crisis, and “do everything in our power … to ensure that the recovery from COVID-19 is healthy, equitable and sustainable.” 

Also in May, the new Toronto Office of Recovery and Rebuild was mandated to include climate change and resilience in its recommendations this fall to City Council. Council also agreed to quickly complete the long-debated, 15-km Bloor-Danforth bike lane, and this month Mayor Tory indicated his support for fast-tracked construction of at least two of five proposed bus express lanes (on Eglinton East and Jane).

Now, the City needs to build on these important first steps by ensuring its COVID-19 recovery plan accelerates the transition to an equitable and resilient zero-carbon city.

We believe there is an unprecedented opportunity to forge an economic recovery that also reduces inequity and protects us from future climate shocks. 

Alongside member groups of the Toronto Climate Action Network, we are calling on Mayor Tory and city council to implement — with support from provincial and federal governments — the following cost-effective actions to kick-start a fair and sustainable economic recovery:

● launch a low-carbon jobs strategy focused on training and hiring equity-seeking groups including racialized youth; 

● ramp up energy efficiency retrofits of multi-residential buildings to reduce emissions, improve living conditions and create new jobs;

● expand green space, tree cover, and green roofs, especially in neighbourhoods most vulnerable to extreme weather;

● expand community-based gardens and food programs; 

● provide safe transit options by ensuring accessible and equitable transit service, protected bike lanes, and expanded Bike Share rentals;

● strengthen resilience and emergency preparedness by supporting neighbourhood-based hubs and resident networks. 

Our city will no doubt experience more harsh shocks in the future, whether from climate change or pandemics. Now is the time to build a more equitable and sustainable city that prepares us for what lies ahead.

Michael Polanyi, a climate campaigner at Toronto Environmental Alliance (, wrote this with Lyn Adamson, co-chair of ClimateFast (; and Madelyn Webb, director of community engagement at CREW Toronto (

Return to “Normal” (10)

What do we want “normal” to be when our society is stabilized after the pandemic has passed? How will we treat each other differently, ask just who our institutions serve, and how will we source and use “energy”?

The following “look forward” been composed by Emily Eaton.


The day after there will be a transition to a new normal. Economies that were fundamentally extractive, linear, and based on theft will be transformed. We will dislodge the power and interests that profit from the extraction and theft inherent in our pre-COVID carbon economies and rebuild ourselves based on reciprocity: caring for one another, both human and non-human.

This transition will be three-dimensional working towards decolonization, democratization and decarbonization.

1) Decolonization will not be understood as a metaphor. It will mean, quite literally, returning land, jurisdiction, and environmental decision-making to Indigenous Nations and communities. We will start with ‘crown lands’ and move on to consider how to return private property. We will manage the commons as if our children’s futures mattered.

2) Democratization will also require redistribution. We will wrestle our economies and our workplaces away from a small elite who are enriching themselves off of our labour and our environments. We will tax and redistribute their wealth, we will strengthen solidarity, cooperative, and socialized economies. We will recognize and value the labour of so many people who had been unpaid and poorly paid (women, undocumented workers, frontline service and care workers, racialized workers, and so on).

3) Decarbonization will be necessary to rescue a habitable world. Climate change is the next curve we will flatten. Supply chains, kin networks, and production will all become more local. Private sufficiency will be augmented by public luxury: fare-free, accessible public transit and low-carbon public amenities. Fossil fuel production will be phased out in a way that allows workers to stay in their communities and enjoy dignified lives.

The day after, when this transition begins, we will draw on the lessons we learned from caring for one another during the COVID-19 pandemic and we will recognize the need for a transformation in all three dimensions.

Emily Eaton is an associate professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at the University of Regina whose currently research focuses on the influence of the fossil fuels sector in Saskatchewan.


Return to “Normal” (9)

The pandemic, and Covid-19, have exposed many fissures in Canadian society. We cannot return to “normal” without seriously addressing many of these issues. If we do, our society will be closer to what we say we value as Canadians. The following article originally appeared in Canadian Dimension.

Why ‘changing minds’ about race

is not enough

“What happened to ‘All Lives Matter’?”, a sign at a protest against Donald Trump in Eugene, Oregon. Photo by David Geitgey Sierralupe/Wikimedia Commons.

Many people are having ‘hard conversations’ right now about anti-Black racism and social change. These conversations with others and ourselves are confronting the routine ways non-Black people rationalize and excuse the violence inflicted on Black people, and then take issue with the protests that periodically erupt in response. Many who are engaging in them see these conversations as necessary for ‘changing hearts and minds’ and ultimately addressing anti-Black racism.

When anti-Black racism is confronted, the responses are typically defensive, derisive, dismissive, and/or deflective. We hear them repeated by countless different sources on news channels and social media feeds. Yet somehow these responses remain so consistent, so patterned, so predictable: You know he had a criminal record? But what did she do to make the officer respond like that? We don’t really know what happened. They should protest peacefully like Martin Luther King Jr. if they want to be heard. Black on Black violence. All lives matter.

Much of the time, we think of these formulaic, anti-Black views as misinformation, prejudice, bias, or ignorance. But they need to be understood in another way as well—namely, as ideology.

The word ideology is used in different ways, but one of the specific ways sociologists and political scientists use it is to point to belief systems and viewpoints that arise from the existing power relations in a society, and that serve to shield and protect those power relations. Ideologies, in this sense, provide us with the ideas and arguments that rationalize and justify our hierarchies, inequalities, and relations of exploitation, or at least allow us to proceed in spite of them. They are beliefs that just happen to secure or advance our material interests. In short, ideology is when the mind comes to the aid of the pocketbook and the property deed.

To think in terms of ideology is to emphasize the function of arguments rather than their content; what the words are doing rather than what they are saying. To think about ideology in the present context is to take seriously that a characteristic set of viewpoints, arguments, excuses, deflections, and rationalizations serve as a front line defense for the many tangible ways non-Black people profit and benefit from the subjugation, exploitation, oppression and brutalization of Black people. We encounter similarly consistent, and often overlapping, sets of responses when confronting misogyny and other forms of oppression and exploitation.

Understanding these anti-Black views to be part of an ideology shifts how we think about them in a couple of important ways. First, while we usually think about misinformation, bias, or ignorance as residing in an individual’s mind, we recognize ideology as being rooted in, and emanating from, our collective social relations and political-economic structures.

Second, especially in so-called democratic societies, we often think that the views of the public determine what our public policies and social arrangements look like. In other words, we usually think of our beliefs, values, attitudes and viewpoints as the cause of our relations of oppression and exploitation. It follows that in order to transform an injustice in our society, we need to go to the root cause and change people’s minds. But when we think in terms of ideology, we see that values and viewpoints can also be the effect of existing power relations. They often reflect and reinforce our unequal social arrangements and the distribution of material resources produced by those arrangements.

So what does this shift mean for current attempts to confront anti-Black racism? What it tells us is that we can’t just count on changing people’s minds without simultaneously transforming our collective political-economic structures. The causal arrow of social change doesn’t just go from changed social beliefs to changed power relations. It also goes from changed power relations to changed beliefs.

Of course, enough non-Black people’s minds do need to be changed in order to gain sufficient power to start transforming our political-economic structures. This can and is happening, especially amongst those whose livelihoods are less immediately reliant upon the oppression and exploitation of Black people. This also speaks to the importance of foregrounding the work of Black people in this struggle, as they are the ones who are least likely, relative to others, to be actively invested in reproducing anti-Black ideology and the social arrangements upon which it is based.

For many non-Black people, ‘tough conversations’, while daunting, are more palatable than deep political-economic restructuring of our social arrangements. Reparations, expansive universal social programs, and defunding the police sound far too radical. I’d rather just have a tough talk with my racist uncle.

Those conversations are important. Just keep in mind that the ideological viewpoints and beliefs of many won’t start to give way unless and until we start to transform the social arrangements that make those beliefs materially beneficial to them.

Jakeet Singh is an Assistant Professor of Political Theory at York University in Toronto.

Return to “Normal” (8)

The Pandemic Presents The Chance To End Homelessness In Canada For Good

It’s hard to social-distance at home if you don’t have a home.


There is a story about homelessness in that is part of After The Curve. This is an ongoing HuffPost Canada series that makes sense of how the COVID-19 crisis could change our country in the months and years ahead, and what opportunities exist to make Canada better. The story can be accessed at:


Doug Johnson Hatlem, a worker at The Sanctuary, a respite centre in Toronto, carries tents to be distributed to members of the homeless community on April 19 2020.

Housing is a human right! Now is the time to use our resources to make truly affordable housing available to everyone in our communities. Governments are demonstrating that there is no shortage of money, just a dearth of “political will”, or what used to be called “intestinal fortitude”.

Return to “Normal” (4)

Dr. Kwame McKenzie dreads returning to “normal”. In his view, the old “normal” wasn’t working for the majority of people.

In this blog posting on the Wellesley Institute website, Dr. McKenzie writes about what the old “normal” looked like; and proposes a vision of how a new “normal” could benefit the majority of people by taking care of the common good.

A new normal

Kwame McKenzie – May 13, 2020

I am told that we are preparing to slowly get back to normal. That fills me with dread.

I remember normal.

Normal was when Ontario had its highest ever GDP per capita, but at least 350,000 people used food banks and social assistance rates were so low that those considered too sick to work were living in poverty.

Normal meant a business model where many jobs were precarious, had no pension or benefits and the provincial government thought that $15 an hour and paid sick days were an unreasonable burden for employers. It was where young adults earned less than they did 40 years ago and GTA immigrants had not had a pay increase for 35 years.

Normal was a real estate market so out of control that the average family could not afford to buy a Toronto condo. It was when the majority of long-term care homes were private, for-profit and the provincial government had scaled back inspections.

It was when Ontario was the second lowest spender on health in Canada and our health services were cut back so far that people were dying in hallways. Health service workers could not have a cost of living increase and public health was to be cut by 10% provincially and 20% in Toronto.

Normal was when we spent 30% less on mental health than recommended leaving services for people with serious mental illness underfunded. It was when the target of ending homelessness by 2025 had been shelved.

Normal was the problem.

It allowed government to put industry’s interests ahead of the people. It made it acceptable to know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. It was bad for our health.

It increased the rates of chronic disease and slowed our gains in life expectancy. It led to 20 years difference in life span between rich and poor in some Cities. It led to indigenous and racial disparities in health, social care and policing. It left workers with fewer protections and produced epidemics of loneliness and mental health problems.

It left us more vulnerable to COVID-19.

It left families overcrowded and unable to physically distance. It left personal support workers underpaid, undervalued and resigning in droves and our long-term care homes understaffed and vulnerable. It allowed COVID-19 to prey on our elders.

It left us with so little hospital capacity that we had to develop new, poorer quality alternatives. It may decrease COVID-19 survival rates.

It left our public health system weaker, demoralized, and with the lowest rates of COVID-19 testing in Canada.

It led to people with serious mental illness swelling the numbers of homeless, or living in shared rooms separated only by a curtain, and it led to homeless shelters resembling refugee camps with just 2.5 feet between beds. It led to COVID-19 outbreaks.

I do not want to go back to that normal. It was wrong, and it will delay our recovery and have a huge economic impact. The truth is it was not normal at all and it reversed the gains we have made over the last 40 years.

We need a new normal.

A new normal where we put people first – not say we will and then do the opposite. A new normal which aims to increase affordability, equity and inclusion. A new normal where people thrive, rather than just survive.

This means we need: good jobs, employment rights and wages which ensure that people thrive; a revitalized benefits system based on a universal basic income which ensures that we never again allow people to live in government sponsored poverty; and, a housing strategy that makes homes affordable.

We need to: right-size our health and social services sector; look at how B.C. is improving standards for long-term care homes; and, reconsider the shelter system and find homes for the homeless.

We need to do this to honour the people who have died because of COVID-19, those who will die because they do not receive proper care, and the families who have not been able to properly grieve. We need to honour the essential workers who have put themselves and their families at risk, the employers who have lost their livelihood, the people who have lost their jobs and the students who have had their education disrupted.

If we just go back to normal we are disrespecting these sacrifices, we are ignoring what COVID-19 has taught us, and we are leaving ourselves vulnerable to the next pandemic.

A Return to “Normal”? (2)

Rejecting the death instinct in a pandemic age:

by Matthew Behrens, April 21, 2020

Image: Amanda Slater/Flickr

Matthew Behrens has shared his thoughts on what we choose to happen as we “return to normal” after COVID-19. He begins by writing that:

“The ongoing pandemic epoch has exposed a clear duality marked both by increasingly obvious and blatant inequalities, hypocrisies and systemic failures as well as beautiful, loving and creative responses in the form of mutual aid communities and direct action to save lives.

What happens when — or if — this epoch comes to an end is anybody’s guess, but there are clearly two paths forward, with a thankfully growing consciousness developed long before COVID-19 that our present path is one leading directly to disaster. Indeed, the 24-hour news cycle dominated by masked faces, hospital images and infection charts has almost obliterated from memory everything from January’s apocalyptic Australian brush fire scenes that served as yet one more warning about planetary peril to the grotesque armed invasion of Wet’suwet’en territory by paramilitary RCMP units.”


Which path will we, individually and as a society, choose to follow? The whole of Matthew’s article can be found at:




Lenten Quote #2, 2019

“Refugees are reasonable people in desperate circumstances.”

The Economist, February, 2016



Homeless in Toronto – left behind

The following article was originally published on at:

Homelessness requires a state-of-emergency response

Crowded conditions in one of the second-tier shelters in Toronto shows rows and rows of cots where 200 people sleep. Photo courtesy of Cathy Crowe.

Graphic secret video footage released this week showed Toronto shelter conditions that are inhumane and clearly violate international human rights.

In 1998 the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee declared homelessness a national disaster. Toronto City Council and municipalities across the country made the same statement.

We won a federal homelessness program but not a national housing program. Despite the federal Liberal government’s promises of a National Housing Strategy, homelessness has worsened in nearly every community across the country. It remains a disaster and Toronto is the epicentre. There is not one crane hovering over Toronto’s skyline that is there for social housing.

  • Close to 7,000 men, women and children remain in emergency shelters.

  • Roughly 1,000 people are forced to sleep year-round in a second tier of shelter including the now 33-year-old volunteer and faith-based Out of the Cold program, overnight drop-ins for women and the ironically named “respite” centres.

  • The city is now relying on disaster relief structures as respite centres.

  • The city issues eviction notices to people who are visibly squatting outside in parks or under the Gardiner Expressway.

  • Deaths mount with four violent deaths recorded by the third week of January.

  • 181,000 people are on Toronto’s Centralized Waiting List for social housing. The wait list is at minimum 12 years for a one-bedroom. Another 14,000 people await supportive housing.

  • Renovictions rise as landlords take advantage of a 1.1 per cent rental vacancy rate.

In December an array of groups formed the Shelter and Housing Justice Network. Operating under the mantra of “Shelter rights, housing rights, human rights” the collective’s number 1 demand is that the City declare a state of emergency as it relates to the homelessness crisis in the city.

Toronto City Councillors Kristyn Wong-Tam and Gord Perks, both who have strong backgrounds in social justice, support community advocates call for homelessness and the housing crisis to be declared a state of emergency.

From their motion that will go to City Council January 30, 2019:

“We are just a few weeks into 2019, and already four Toronto residents, who experienced homelessness, have lost their lives on our streets. A homeless Indigenous man died in an alley. Crystal Papineau died trapped in a clothing donation bin; she was also homeless. Hang Vo was crushed by a garbage truck, as she lay sleeping in a laneway. She was 58 years old and homeless. Another young homeless woman died of an overdose in a 24-hour respite facility.”

The Province of Ontario Emergency Response Plan defines an emergency as “… a situation, or impending situation that constitutes a danger of major proportions that could result in serious harm to persons or substantial damage to property or other health risk”. It goes on to say that “These situations could threaten public safety, public health, the environment, property, critical infrastructure and economic stability.” It is clear to us that Toronto’s situation meets several of these criteria.

The Government of Canada’s Emergency Management Act states “A government institution may not respond to a provincial emergency unless the government of the province requests assistance or there is an agreement with the province that requires or permits the assistance.”

It is imperative that we, as a Municipal government, declare that homelessness is a humanitarian crisis, which we do not possess the resources to manage alone in Toronto. We must call on the Provincial government to assist us. The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services is tasked with this response, under the Emergency Response and Civil Protection Act. Should the Province also find itself without the resources to adequately contain the crisis, a Provincial Emergency should be declared so that the resources of the Federal Government may be brought to bear.


1. City Council affirm its commitment to complying with its obligations under International Human Rights Law to take all appropriate measures to address homelessness as a human rights crisis.

2. City Council declare homelessness a human rights disaster akin to a Municipal Emergency or a national emergency and an urgent human rights crisis, and seek assistance from the Province under the Emergency Response and Civil Protection Act.

3. City Council request the Provincial government to apply to the Federal Ministry of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, and alert the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development and his Parliamentary Secretary, to seek the establishment of an intergovernmental table with participation of those affected and their representatives tasked with addressing the housing and homelessness crisis in Toronto, and in any other similarly affected municipalities throughout Ontario.

4. City Council convene an emergency meeting with representatives of the federal government including the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister, the Provincial Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, and persons who are homeless and precariously housed in Toronto and their representatives to develop an urgent plan of action.

5. City Council request the Office of Emergency Management take immediate steps to augment services for homeless individuals and seek the support of the Red Cross in managing the harm inflicted by the housing and homelessness crisis.”

Toronto Mayor John Tory has refused the community’s calls to declare a state of emergency in the past and he hasn’t budged this year either.

Watch for news on the city council vote January 30. If you’re in Toronto please help us fill council chambers. Please sign this petition.

In addition Councillor Wong-Tam’s petition will be presented to council.

Cathy Crowe is a street nurse, author and filmmaker who works nationally and locally on health and social justice issues. She has fostered numerous coalitions and advocacy initiatives that have achieved significant public policy victories. Her website is Follow her on Twitter @cathyacrowe.

Photo provided by Cathy Crowe

Our Choices Will Determine if We are Toronto the Good

An op-ed in the Toronto Star, written by Devika Shah, Adina Lebo and Cameron Watts, published on January 23, 2019, spoke about the choices that Torontonians are making. It argues that if Toronto truly is a “world-class city” or “Toronto the Good,” we must choose to move beyond slogans to action. Too many Torontonians are hurting.

This raises the question about how we are taking care of our neighbours, as many of our faith communities call us to do.

The opinion piece can be accessed at: