Poverty and Affordability

We hear a lot these days about the need for ‘affordable’ housing. A recent opinion piece from the building industry talked about an Ontario inclusionary zoning regulation introduced in April 2018. It allows for municipalities to “introduce planning requirements for the inclusion of affordable housing in new residential developments.” It goes on to say, “The basic premise is a partnership between developers, builders and municipalities to encourage the construction of affordable housing units that would not otherwise be built.” (emphasis added) And finally, the climax: the cost of creating ‘affordability’ is actually achieved through a subsidy from taxpayers – “Inclusionary zoning can only work as a remedy or solution for affordable housing when an equitable cost-sharing agreement is in place between the building industry and municipalities.”

I was suddenly struck by a basic question: Why is the development industry building unaffordable housing? Why do we need a planning regulation to require ‘affordable’ housing? How has the vaunted ‘free market’ gotten so twisted out of shape that a ‘cost-sharing’ subsidy is needed to provide a basic necessity like shelter? Really, the housing issue is just a symptom of a much, much bigger problem. Inclusionary zoning is an ineffective band-aid solution.

We have a peculiar situation where globalism has pitted societies against each other, sending jobs to low wage countries, cutting corporate taxes and making other concessions to keep what jobs remain. It has created enormous income disparities within and between countries, increasing poverty and the unaffordability of everything, while a small international elite controls the bulk of global wealth. According to Oxfam, in 2017, just eight individuals control wealth that exceeds the wealth of the bottom half of the world’s population, i.e. – 3.6 billion people!

Governments, like the current Ontario government, help to magnify the risk of poverty by stifling social reforms like minimum wage, basic income, and labour organizing. They magnify the negative impact of corporations by reducing their taxes, and financial, labour, and environmental oversight.  (Canadian banks save $60 million per quarter from Trump’s U.S. tax reduction which cost the US treasury about $1.5 trillion).

It doesn’t have to be this way. But our societies need a major overhaul. Muhammad Yunus, Nobel prize winner, founder of micro-credit and ‘banker to the poor’, has written a new book, A World of Three Zeroes – The new economics of zero poverty, zero unemployment, and zero net carbon emissions. At the core of his philosophy is a requirement to free ourselves from the oppressive idea of greed as the sole objective of corporations. He is counting on the next generation of youthful leaders to turn things around. Let’s hope he succeeds.

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Spring Into It

Have we had enough of winter? I think so. Some of us are starting to think about activities and community events that we look forward to every year. As a member, and board member, of the Innisfil Arts, Culture & Heritage Council, or (the mercifully shorter) IACHC, I didn’t think it was too soon to mention some spring dates where we hope to welcome and meet more Innisfil residents:

Saturday, March 30 – Seedy Saturday

The IACHC will be participating this year in Seedy Saturday at the Lakeshore branch, Innisfil IdeaLab & Library. There will be lots of seedy and crafty exhibitors to kick off the new garden season. Visit the IACHC table to find out more about our projects and enter our draw to win a garden arbour designed and created with help from IdeaLab.

Monday, April 8 – Innisfil Concert Series

IACHC has partnered with IdeaLab & Library to present four musical events throughout the year. The series starts with Ennis Sisters in Concert. All concerts are being held at the Lakeshore branch, Alcona. Tickets are available for individual performances, or for the full series. Complete information is on the IACHC website.

Saturday, May 25 – Planters Festival

Partnered with the Innisfil Garden Club as part of their annual fund-raising plant sale, traditionally held after the Victoria Day weekend at the South Innisfil Arboretum in Guilford. It’s an early morning start with plants, bake sale and barbecue as well as some related exhibitors and the IACHC.

June 1 & 2 – Cookstown Wing Ding 

Cookstown Wing Ding is a town-wide weekend yard sale that has grown into a fun family festival with food trucks & beverages, games, park area, music stage and bouncy castle. Never know what you’ll find but always fun.

A highlight is the Creative Challenge, open for all ages. This year’s challenge is to transform an otherwise ‘disposable’ cup into a work of art with a favourite quote, phrase, joke or whatever. Visit Creative Challenge for more information and an entry form. Visitors to Wing Ding vote for Challenge winners.

Plan to reserve the dates you’re interested in. Maybe, all of them?

Seeds of a Disaster

You would think that farming is already one of the most difficult and least rewarding occupations in existence. Climate change, pests and disease, natural disasters, pollution, transportation issues, tariffs and foreign competition – how could things get any worse? We are about to find out according to alarming information from the National Union of Farmers. They have started a national campaign – SOS – Save Our Seeds.

Ever since scientists started tinkering with the genetics of life, the people who own the scientists – corporations and institutions – have been working on how to exploit this ability for profit. This led to the creation of the “International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants” (UPOV). This international protocol established “Plant Breeders Rights” (PBR) that awarded intellectual property rights internationally, similar to a patent, over new plant varieties.

When PBR legislation was first introduced in Canada under a 1978 framework, a royalty must be paid on the initial seed purchase, but farmers have the right to freely save seed from the first year’s crop for planting subsequent crops. Varieties that have been on the market for over 18 years are no longer subject to PBRs, so they are in the public domain, meaning there are no restrictions on their use.

Canada adopted a new Plant Breeders Rights Act based on a revised 1991 UPOV. This new PBR Act gives plant breeders who register a new variety (PBR holders) the exclusive right to produce and reproduce seed, condition (clean and treat), sell, stock (store), export or import seed and to authorize any of these uses of seed for a period of 25 years for trees and vines, and for 20 years for all other plants. PBR holders are entitled to demand a royalty payment when authorizing a farmer’s use of the seed. Continue reading

Some Taxing Decisions

It’s budget season again in Innisfil. That means Council is busy allocating almost $80 million for operating ($34.9M) and capital projects ($45M) for 2019 and a little over $63 million total for 2020. Over the two-year period, a total of $45.9 million is being allocated to various road projects.

In previous years, the budget was organized according to municipal departments. The problem with that approach was that the cost of a particular service might be allocated to multiple departments – for instance, customer service, human resources, maintenance etc.) That made it difficult to identify the overall cost of a specific municipal service.

This year staff presented a budget organized by service categories. Some of the larger proposed budget allocations for 2019 and 2020 were recently reported by Simcoe.com:

  • $15 million – urbanization of the 7th Line, from 20th Sideroad to Lake Simcoe
  • $5.8 million – 7th Line improvements, 10th Sideroad to Yonge St.
  • $5 million – playground, water play area, landscaping, and pathway in Alcona core
  • $1.5 million – new park in Sleeping Lion development
  • $916,000 – repairs to parking lot, Innisfil Recreation Complex
  • $550,000 – rescue/firefighting boat with $500,000 donated by Friday Harbour
  • $318,000 (2019) + $1 million (2020) – new docking facility, Innisfil Beach Park

Overall, that means an ‘average’ Innisfil household (assessed at $423,000) can expect an increase of $98.23 on the 2019 property tax bill. Innisfil’s budget is scheduled to come forward for approval on February 27 but could be discussed further prior to that.

Innisfil Concert Series

The Innisfil Arts, Culture and Heritage Council (IACHC) is sponsoring a concert series in 2019 in partnership with the Innisfil IdeaLAB and Library. Tickets are available for the series and for individual concerts. A discount is available for active members of IACHC.

All performances are being hosted at the Lakeshore Branch, Innisfil IdeaLAB & Library. Concerts start at 7:30 pm (Doors open at 7 pm). This concert line-up consists of:

concerts

 

  • The Ennis Sisters – April 8, 2019
  • Suzie Vinnick & Rick Fines – June 10, 2019
  • John Prince & The End of The Road – September 23, 2019
  • The Travelling Mabels – November 18, 2019

Read more about these performers at IACHC / events

 

The New Farm – Regenerative Agriculture

I had the privilege of hearing Brent Preston, a Simcoe County organic farmer and author of The New Farm, give a talk in Barrie (Third Age Barrie) about the struggle that he and his wife made to build, after 10+ years, a highly productive and profitable agricultural business cultivated on twenty acres (out of 100) near Creemore. He is an engaging speaker and his book is an informative, entertaining, sometimes funny, and often painfully honest account of what they have learned and achieved. He speaks from genuine experience, having learned literally from the ground up after moving from Toronto.

Now Mr. Preston is on an urgent mission to promote the concept of Regenerative Agriculture – a system to restore and improve the natural productivity of farms without a crippling dependence on machinery and chemicals. Why? Because ‘sustainable’ agriculture – maintaining the status quo – just continues the current system of industrial agriculture that is degrading the environment, undermining the production of healthy food, impoverishing farmers, and destroying small family-farms. (Statistics Canada says the number of farms in Canada has declined by more than 10,000 over the past five years. – Sept. 2017)

Brent quotes one rural sage in his book who said, “Sustainable agriculture means a job driving a snow plow for the township in the winter, and a wife teaching school.”

He makes some very important observations: the crops grown locally in Simcoe County are primarily corn, canola, soy and wheat, used mainly for animal feed. There is nothing grown in area fields that is directly edible by humans. In comparison, The New Farm earns about 50 times more per acre growing organic vegetables than the roughly $840 per acre commodity price of corn. How can that be? Continue reading