Don’t expect McGuinty Liberals to deal with poverty, says York prof

Despite Premier Dalton McGuinty’s promise to produce a poverty reduction plan, and the earnest hopes of editorial writers and anti-poverty activists, I believe the next four years will see little, if any action on poverty reduction, wrote Dennis Raphael, a professor in York’s School of Health Policy & Management, Faculty of Health, in an opinion piece for The Record (Kitchener, Cambridge and Waterloo) Oct. 30. I base this prediction, Raphael wrote, on my analysis of poverty and its public policy antecedents in Canada, and what we know about the forces that create poverty and maintain its presence.

Policy-makers and the public explain poverty in a wealthy nation such as Canada in four ways, one of which sees poverty as the result of an imbalance in the influence different sectors have in society…. Poverty is profitable because employers – by paying wages that keep people in poverty – increase their profits and increase tensions between the employed and unemployed. Such tension makes it less likely for low-income and middle-income groups to come together to recognize that the source of their economic insecurity is not their own shortcomings but [the shortcomings of] those benefiting from their insecurity. This view of poverty, and its causes, argues that reducing poverty requires recognizing and confronting the interests that benefit from poverty.

Why do I believe McGuinty will do nothing to reduce poverty? The "profit from poverty" view also argues that policy-makers are beholden to these poverty-profiting interests. Will McGuinty favour the interests of the poor and insecure in Ontario over those in the business sector who profit from poverty? I think not.

It is in this public policy environment that McGuinty has been re-elected with a strong majority government. He enjoys the support of those who profit from poverty and the general public remains unaware of these processes. McGuinty would be foolish to undertake anti-poverty action that would threaten this important source of support. Until the public recognizes how imbalances in influence and power shape their economic lives and confront these sectors and the policy-makers who bend to their influence, we can expect little public policy in the service of poverty reduction.

Raphael is also the author of Poverty and Policy in Canada: Implications for Health and Quality of Life, noted the Record.

The new face of labour

"The labour movement is in trouble," Sam Gindin, political science professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, told the Toronto Star in a story Oct. 27. Statistics Canada puts overall union membership down seven per cent nationwide over the past quarter-century, while marking a more precipitous decline among males 17 to 44 (15 per cent) and in Ontario’s commercial sector (13 per cent). "It’s not going to be revived," he says, "unless unions can get a foothold among the most vulnerable immigrant workers in our society."

Gindin sees an increasingly fragmented society in which people – and many unions – internalize their own particular problems, turning away from issues, such as rising TTC fares, that hit the poorest first and hardest. Ignore these issues at your peril, he warns. Abandon the union movement and it’s not that long a road back in this country to the bleak days of sweatshops and death-trap coal mines. In his opinion, society’s most vulnerable workers are stepping up to the fight.

More adults than ever celebrate Halloween

However you celebrate it, Halloween is as much for adults as children these days, reported The Gazette in Montreal Oct. 27. Long a rowdy night of hooliganism, Oct. 31 was redefined as a children’s holiday in the 1950s, said Nicholas Rogers, author of Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night (Oxford University Press, 2002). But adults – starting with gays – reclaimed it in the 1970s, said Rogers, a history professor in York’s Faculty of Arts. Today, the festival offers something for everyone. "There’s a holiday for each generation," Rogers said.

Halloween is thought to have its roots in the Celtic Samhain (pronounced sow-an or sow-in), meaning summer’s end. "The nights get darker. It’s a time of foreboding. Things die," Rogers said. In Celtic lore, it marked a transition from summer to winter, a time out of time when the normal rules don’t apply, he said.

Student’s film screens at Kingston horror film festival

There will be some local content at Kingston’s Danse Macabre International Horror Film Festival, reported the Kingston Whig-Standard Oct. 27. It’s a celebration of some 50 short horror films from around the world, including Domicide from Kingston filmmaker and York student Dan Sacco. In Domicide, punks invade a home, hoping to take advantage of the elderly couple living there, only to discover a homicidal maniac has beaten them to the punch and wants to add them to his list of victims. A Frontenac Secondary School and Queen’s University graduate, Sacco has just started in the graduate studies filmmaking program at York University and is taking screenwriting. He’s long been a devotee of the horror film genre and remembers exactly when the seed which became this film began germinating. "I was over at my girlfriend’s house upstairs when all of a sudden these strangers walked into the house," he says. "I think they were at the wrong address, but it got me thinking about home invasions." Sacco shot the film last year in four days during the reading week break.

Out to Thrill the World for charity

York student James Carson has a fetish for zombies so it was just natural she would be learning Michael Jackson’s Thriller dance Saturday in a bid to break a world record for the number of international dancers in the Thrill the World event, reported The Toronto Sun Oct. 28. There were more than 80 events, from Vancouver to Guinea, in more than 70 countries where wannabe zombies simultaneously performed the Thriller dance Saturday evening for a variety of not-so ghoulish charities. "I like dancing, I like Thriller and I like dressing up like a zombie, so this is perfect," said Carson, a third-year English student at York University, where the local event was held. "It’s also pretty sweet that we can help raise money for Sick Kids (Foundation) because they do good work and I know kids who have benefited from the foundation, which is great."

Carson, one of the 40 dancers at York, said the creepy Thriller performance is also getting her in the mood for Halloween – the timing of which was not lost on event organizers. Last year, former York dance student Ines Markeljevic decided to try for a Guinness World Record by getting a group of people to dance Thriller in a Toronto gym. After making the record book, she decided to organize an international event. "I just figured more people wanted to learn the dance and this year we expect 1,500 people to take part," Markeljevic said.

In Pittsburgh, a group performed in a driveway, and in Ireland, the event was held in pubs. Many of the events around the world were raising money for relief efforts in fire-ravaged southern California, said event organizer and York business student Polina Rogozhina. "Many are raising money for the Red Cross, but we were passionate to raise money for the Sick Kids Foundation," Rogozhina said.

New report lauds Stratford as second-most livable city in Ontario

In its Ontario Urban Sustainability Report, the Pembina Institute ranked Stratford as the second-most livable city out of the 27 Ontario municipalities it studied, behind Sarnia, reported the Toronto Star Oct. 27. "Stratford fares well in a number of key areas in our report," says Mark Winfield, project director and a professor of environmental studies at York University, who has written several major reports on urban sustainability and land use. "One of the crucial things for Stratford has been its ability to retain a very vital downtown, which leads to a cascading set of benefits. A lot of things flow from that."

And while Stratford was lauded for its stock of heritage buildings, Winfield also sees city planners and current local builders contributing, helping the city lead by example in mixing land uses, creating the functional pedestrian environment. "Stratford hasn’t done the classic suburban thing of strongly separating residential, commercial, office and industrial," Winfield explains. "Instead it’s intermixed so you don’t have to drive to everything. It makes more sense to mix things up so people can walk, or bike to work or to access recreation, school, shopping or whatever."

Industry funding may have led to shorter drug-approval times

As the rapid embrace of everything from the HPV vaccine to Vitamin D to trans-fat-free French fries demonstrates, we are a nation with an almost insatiable appetite for miracle drugs, super-vaccines and health foods. And both marketing and public-health policy are feeding our hunger at an ever-accelerating rate, reported The Globe and Mail Oct. 27. Less clear, however, is what’s really driving health care onto the fast track – consumer demand or companies pushing products. Joel Lexchin, a professor in York’s School of Health Policy & Management, Faculty of Health, notes that pharmaceutical companies now underwrite 40 to 50 per cent of the cost of the drug-approval process in Canada. And in a recent paper, he concludes that this reliance on industry funding may have led to shorter approval times on some new prescription drugs.

The men behind the purse strings

They grew up only a few miles apart, when Montreal reigned as Canada’s financial centre, wrote The Gazette (Montreal) Oct. 30. All are products of English Montreal schools, born within five years of each other. Before they were handed the finance portfolio by their respective parties, Conservative Jim Flaherty (LLB ’73), Liberal John McCallum and New Democrat Thomas Mulcair’s paths had never crossed. Now, as MPs prepare to deal with the mini-budget Flaherty is to deliver today, the paths of the three Montreal anglos will cross. A hockey scholarship took Flaherty to Princeton University at 16 in the mid-1960s. Then he did his law degree at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School.

City budgets for work on bus rapid transit to York in 2008

Toronto’s proposed capital budget for 2008 includes projects in all parts of the city, wrote the Toronto Star Oct. 30. One of the items featured in a list of proposed items included construction of bus rapid transitways, from Downsview Station to York University, and Yonge Street from Finch to Steeles (combined $16 million).

  • Toronto’s capital budget will end up between $1.5 billion and $1.8 billion – depending, said budget chief Shelley Carroll, on whether intergovernmental funding comes through on several big-ticket Toronto Transit Commission items, including the construction of a subway to York University and the purchase of new streetcars to replace the commission’s aging fleet, reported Metroland’s Oct. 26.

‘Romance’ burgeons between musicians

York education student Kristin Wilkes may not have much time to dream of romance these days, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t interested, reported the Barrie Examiner Oct. 27. The Barrie singer has had her nose buried in textbooks since September, studying to be a teacher at York University. But she’s surfaced for a one-evening foray into the wiles of love with a certain tenor, Kelly Robertson, in Orillia. Their show on Nov. 1, A Fine Romance, is sold out. But keep an eye on Wilkes because she has been building a local following for her shows and hopes to stage one of her new ones – a multi-character musical – in her hometown soon.

York student gets a shot at music stardom

An Uxbridge,Ont., woman could be the next big thing in the music world, reported the Uxbridge Times Journal Oct. 27. Lauren Christoff, 18, is hard at work on her debut album, yet to be named, set for release in the spring. Christoff grew up listening to the music of Sammy Davis Jr., Etta James, Carol King and Ella Fitzgerald. "My (parents) introduced me to Elton John at a very young age and I have been singing and playing the piano ever since," she stated. Christoff began vocal lessons at the age of four and performed in the musical Annie at the age of seven. She also passed all Royal Conservatory of Music vocal exams and received a silver medal for highest examination mark in all of Ontario and Quebec. While creating the album, which may land her in the Cayman Islands for some of the recording, Christoff is also attending York’s Communications Studies Program. "It’s a very hectic schedule but I am excited to be following my dream," noted Christoff.

Tough tactics causing student-loan defaults, rights advocates charge

Hard-nosed customer service tactics used by administrators of Canada’s national student loan program are causing students to default unnecessarily, reported The Globe and Mail and Canadian Press Oct. 29.

Julian Benedict, founder of the Coalition for Student Loan Fairness, says his organization has received hundreds of calls about Edulinx, the student loan service division of Resolve Corporation. "They advertise this as the affordable way to make things work, but it’s certainly no better than getting a loan from your bank," said York graduate Mike Brintnell (BES ‘99, MES ‘03), who is working at the Toronto Humane Society while paying back a $23,000 loan he took out while earning both an undergraduate and a master’s degree from York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies. "They charge an amazing amount of interest. With all the extra headaches, it’s basically a part-time job just straightening [the loan repayment] out."

Artist’s library images win York award

The flash of colour you may have seen headed down Ontario Street recently was Bluebelle, Maeve Hanna‘s summer wheels and trusty steed during her brief hometown hiatus to work at the Grimsby Public Art Gallery, reported Niagara This Week Oct. 27. The award-winning young artist and York University grad (BFA ’07) brought her wheels and a round of notoriety in her wake as the recent winner of a Site Specific Art Contest at York.

Hanna did a series of self portraits while on exchange in England during the fourth year of her bachelor of fine arts in visual arts and English. The images – shot in the Brotherton Library at the University of Leeds – were all about exploring spaces in an uninhibited manner. (After Claude Cahun) Intervention is an installation of five intriguing large-scale black and white photographs that exhibit a figure moving through the space in an unmediated fashion. Simply put, she climbed over the circulation desk, tucked herself underneath into an unconventional position and didn’t even raise an eyebrow from the librarian.

Hanna captured the prestigious award in the York contest for her interpretation of intervening in a most unlikely space.