Saturday, June 30, 2007

Politics of the "Consumer/Survivor" Movement

This post is not going to be very popular among the so-called "progressive" folks that get involved with or support consumer/survivor organizations, not only dealing with mental health, but many other types of "consumer" based movements as well. I have no trouble with these organizations, but would appreciate their work more if there was better leadership and a bigger push that would benefit the whole, as opposed to the few.

In consumer-type movements, there is a void of leadership. Even when there are "leaders", the leaders are not the type to get it done or cause it to get done. They are more of the "charismatic" and self-important types that generate unearned credentials and act as though they are the only ones that are tapped into their communities. The unfortunate reason for this is that they can. Not enough "consumers" stand up to their "leaders" and call for them to account. Whenever they do, they are often turfed from whatever organization it is they are a member of. I know about this. I am aware of numerous situations where people have been very hurt by these actions. To me, in my work as a legal representative, at least I try to follow the motto "do no harm" and then the next, "listen to the client". Even if I worked with a client similar to the one before me in the past, I need to know about this one because to me, everybody is different and needs to be treated like an individual and respected for it.

Twenty or more years has passed since the dawning of the mental health consumer movement in Ontario and from the beginning of its time until today, I have not seen a single change in the following: (a) the unemployment rate among consumer/survivors in general; (b) the percentage of ODSP recipients that have as their primary disability, mental health problems (e.g. this has in fact gone up from 27% of all new ODSP recipients in 1988 to 36% today); (c) the number of mental health consumers being referred to and stuck in low-wage employment; and (d) the number of dollars spent on dealing with mental health issues per capita.

I remember in the late 1980's and the early 1990's, certain mental health consumer leaders would cite the statistic of over 85% of people with mental health problems were unemployed. Please note we are referring to serious mental health problems, not the everyday anxiety or depression that many "healthy" people feel. During recent Senate Committee Hearings, which wrapped up in 2005, these same people reported an 85% - 90% rate of unemployment among this same group. Through this longitudinal admission, the leaders of this movement are admitting they failed their people. To me, this calls for new leadership. No more of the same old, same old.

To me, poverty and unemployment are the two MAJOR issues impacting on people with mental health disabilities. If leadership from this population is unable to effect improvements, the times should be a' changing. My views are well known by many of the "leaders", but all I get is the brush-off. The fact of the matter is that as long as they have their positions and their well-paid jobs, they are "all right Jack". People with mental health problems want to work just as much as other people. Low OW and ODSP rates in fact are making people among this group and other disability groups much more desperate to find employment to top up their income so they can survive. Some are unable to and are resigned by this current government administration to live in poverty forever. For example, one case I am aware of tried working and has held 26 jobs over the past two years in a lame attempt to bring himself out of poverty. No doubt this desperate situation was not great for his mental health.

There are others that I am aware of that come from higher education and want jobs that exceed the typical low-paid entry level positions that consumers are usually referred to: food, filth, filing, fetching and flowers. I'm not saying people shouldn't work in these fields, but if they do - it should be a self-chosen career goal, not something that is imposed on them, or by its mere dominance in terms of being the only job opportunities offered. Those offering jobs in so-called "consumer-run businesses" aren't much better at alleviating this stereotype. While the leaders are the ones that hog the better-paid management positions, they only have the lower-paid part-time jobs in the five f's as earlier referred to offer others. The progressive community is silent on these issues. When you try to raise it with somebody, they say, "That's what these people want to do!". My response to that is: How can anybody be sure? Has each individual been truly consulted as to what their career aspirations are? I heard from hundreds of people who are not crazy about going for the low-paid five f's.

Further, the very idea that somebody received their training and work experience in a "consumer business" does not allow them the choice to NOT disclose to their next employer their status as a consumer/survivor at whatever point they may wish to move on. The names of the businesses are sometimes dead give-aways: Crazy Cooks, Raging Spoon. Or even if they don't have names like that, employers in these communities are generally aware that the business from which the candidate is leaving is 100% consumer-run. These businesses have an unusual amount of press coverage advertising to the world who they are and who works there, an unreasonable amount of government subsidy and generally low expectations of themselves when it comes to actually competing with similar businesses in their respective marketplace. This does not bode well for a person who may be seeking a supervisory or management position at new company - even if that person has gained the right training and experience to do that work in the "consumer business".

Others may not offer consumer businesses, but provide exclusive training opportunities for their "members" or "consumers" to pursue. The clubhouse movement is great for this. The clubhouse is set up on specific work units, which give its "members" an opportunity to learn the skills to partake in a work-ordered day. Again, the work units are usually based on the five f's: food, filth, filing, fetching and flowers. While there may be some advanced clubhouses I am not aware of that may offer more, the ones that I do know don't stray far from the five f's. When I raise this with the staff - many of whom are not necessarily from the dinosaur era in understanding the impact of stigma on employment opportunities - they deny this is job training or intended to route people in these specific directions. However, for those clubhouses that do offer off-site employment opportunities, the jobs are not much different than what was offered in the clubhouse environment.

A third example is a specific one that is available in my community and a few other communities across Canada. That is the BUILT Network. While I have never worked there or participated in its programs, I know people who have, either locally or via the Internet. Again, this is another one of those programs that thrive on placing people into low-wage, entry-level jobs, regardless of the person's education or aspirations. The people who run the BUILT Network locally seem nice enough and probably motivated by solely good intentions, as are likely the people who run its other offices across the country. However, based on the training given and career directions offered post-program, the average wage is $8 - $10 an hour. A few make a bit more, but in general - one is not going to get into the door of a high paying career using BUILT Network as a stepping stone. One thing I did consider when I first learned of this program is that it is obvious that program staff and its leaders are making considerably much more than the average wage of its participants. I have no doubt many of them are educated, but then again - so are many "consumers" that come to them for help.

I have no idea of the success rates of these programs, because basically there is really no way an outsider can ascertain if a program is successful or not. I have seen programs across Ontario that claim a placement rate above 90%, but there are no actual empirical studies to back these figures. I suppose if I run these programs, I would know more accurately how successful we actually are and may find ways to present the statistics to make it look like we are doing even better than we are, but that's not the point of this article.

This article is to state there is no real leadership among this particular movement. Yes, perhaps "leadership" can be defined in different ways by different people, but when I envision "leadership" - I think of someone who is able to make an impact, effect change and support and/or advocate for a diversity of opinion and strengths. I already shown that nothing changed with respect to the unemployment and poverty among consumer/survivors, despite valiant attempts by its "leaders" to fix this. So there's been no impact or effective change in these areas. What about other areas?

I want to be gentle on this next point because I am not trying to attack people; however, many consumer "leaders" have adopted what more conservative folks may deem to be a "politically correct" paradigm. To me, people are free to believe what they want - but when they purportedly represent a larger group of people than themselves and their own personal networks, it is time to throw that paradigm out the window and actually LISTEN. I have attended various conferences in the past where consumer "leaders" were featured as presenters. I did this as part of my own work as the executive director of a mental health agency - an agency that consulted broadly with both its members and non-members on a variety of issues. I simply let them talk and me listen. However, when I attended these workshops, I noted particularly offensive comments made by many of these "leaders" about: (a) educated people, many of whom are also consumers themselves; (b) conservative people, which also includes a significant swath of the consumer population; (c) traditional lifestyles (e.g. consumers who choose to become married, consumers who are heterosexual and traditional in their orientation, consumers who seek employment in a traditional business setting); and (d) consumers who do not believe the mantra that it is only possible for men to be violent against women and not the other way around.

I personally have no problems with people whose political views differ from my own, because we need diversity and a variety of ideas in this world. In fact, many of my own friends are rabidly "left wing" in their perspectives and they enjoy my company because there are *some* issues we may agree on, such as the lack of a social safety net and the increasingly pervasive level of poverty among people in one of the richest countries in the world. I also have no problems with people who live non-traditional lifestyles (e.g. in a same sex relationship, no children, living common law, etc.). However, we are not going to wipe out prejudice and stigma by creating further prejudices of our own - by marginalizing members of one's own community by pretending there is no such thing as a "consumer" who is also a professionally trained service provider, or pretending that "consumers" cannot possibly last and thrive in a traditional heterosexual marriage and have children, etc. I also felt marginalized when consumer "leaders" talked down to many of their consumer audience members like they were two years old and didn't understand anything. This is a bold assumption that one can only be a "true consumer" if one were uneducated, illiterate and ignorant of the ways of the world. Further and probably most important is the assumption that "consumers" only want to live with and/or work with other "consumers". By making these bold statements, my members who attended these conferences or who heard the tapes from the conference and/or read the minutes, were very turned off by what was said - and 90% of these folks were also people who were "consumers" and a few were family members of consumers!

I am not saying these consumer leaders are mean-spirited or intend to attack many of their own with their comments. They are likely not aware of the vast diversity among their own people. I am also saying these leaders are either not listening to their followers or being very selective as to who their followers are - only allowing people who are more like they are into their tents. Now, doesn't this sound very much like what many of these same people accuse the broader society of doing to mental health consumers? These leaders have their own refined sense of their experiences and by their comments, actually believe others share the same experiences in the same way and have come to terms with its meaning in exactly the same way. They also do not seem to think there is a need for a diversity of leadership or a periodic rotation where a set of leaders retire to be replaced with new leaders with a new vision that better reflects changing times and changing ideas. Unfortunately, the same people who were "speaking for" the so-called consumer/survivor movement in the 1980's are the same people who are doing this today ...

I actually researched the web, spoke to members over the Internet of various "consumer/survivor" organizations across the province. Fifteen to twenty years ago, our provincial government poured a pile of money into funding these organizations. I don't know why because none of these organizations appear to be doing much lobbying and advocacy for change in the quality of life for its highly impoverished membership; henceforth, many do not seem to seek the most qualified people to run their organizations. I personally would rather have none of these groups funded than allow sanctioned mediocrity to continue and proclaim to be representative of this part of the population. Remember the anti-education stance that many of the leaders have taken over the years, that being a consumer/survivor in itself was sufficient to be a manager, supervisor, program developer, or spokesperson. I directly confronted a few of the directors of these groups at a conference for the CMHA a few years back about why there was not much emphasis on employment and poverty reduction on their agendas. I was told that their members did not want to lose their disability pensions. Yet, at the same time, I hear only minimal squealing from this gallery about the push for changes in employment supports and other initiatives that may well lower this risk for this group. Consumer members of anti-poverty groups tend to be from other disability groups, than from the organized "mental health" movement.

Among the hundreds of consumer/survivors in my region, 99% of them do not and will not join a "consumer" group, but some have told me on numerous occasions that the only three people who seem to be speaking up for people who have been through the mental health system or who have mental health problems are me, the director of a progressive community development agency next door to my office and another individual who is active with the Canadian Mental Health Association. In my opinion, I don't have to have an organization to be considered credible on these issues. I think we rely too much on the word of people that head organizations about what their respective constituencies want and need. There is scant proof that leaders in these organizations are always aware of what their people want and need; it appears many of them tend to govern and speak up only on the basis of their personal opinions or on the opinions of those closest to them - but certainly not on behalf of those they are paid to work with. While there is nothing wrong with expressing one's own opinion, but when you are paid to work with a large group of people - it is the concerns of your people and not you that need to be heard.


Friday, June 22, 2007

Two Incomes, Two Cars and the Joneses

Many times, I am tired of living in the community I live in.

In the Niagara Region, the legions of the poor are quite large: one in five, I heard. However, Niagara is different than other regions, such as Toronto and Hamilton, in its approach to dealing with it. We have major food banks, leadership of which is only glorified and revelled. We have agencies that pursue "middle class" solutions to 'help' the poor. They recognize the problems, but want to get poor people to mingle more with rich people with the hopes that some of the wealth just might be contagious. Niagara is known like many other places for its addiction to charity ... every week, somebody is chopping off their hair to donate to Wigs for Kids or some related cause. It is getting old. People organize walks for MS, Heart and Stroke, Cancer Research and even recently, a walk was held to raise awareness about schizophrenia. One thing Niagara never has walks for is anything to raise the awareness of the plight of its poor.

Niagara Region is a study in contrasts. There are very wealthy people living among us. Niagara-on-the-Lake is known to be a haven for the wealthy, particularly the retired wealthy. Social class is very structured in Niagara as well, meaning people who are in each class know which class they "belong" to and what opportunities are availed to them. Niagara's tourist economy reminds me about the feudal system as I learned about it when I first studied law and the history of real estate and property rights. There are the Owners, those who own those lovely hotels, tourist attractions and cinemas and so forth ... There are the Managers (or the Landlords), Petite Bourgeoisie, those that own the largest farms and wineries, as well as a few smatterings of those among the Merchant class. Finally, there are the workers ... most of those who work for the Owners, Petite Bourgeoisie or the Merchant class are almost always low-waged and seasonal labourers.

Another industry that is designated along class lines is the Auto Industry, which is a weakening, though still present concern in this Region. There are the Owners/ General Managers, the Union Workers and those who are unable to even set a foot in the door because all the jobs have been long since hogged by the Union Workers and members of their families. The latter group are often shunted off to work for places like call centres, large retailers (such as Wal-Mart) or Tim Horton's. Niagara's fathers want to keep the Auto Sector moving, even though its presence appears to be declining. However, the force among the Auto Industry is not missed by even the least observant person. Whole lots are being ripped apart and flattened out throughout the Region to do one of two things: (a) Create parking lots; or (b) Create more automobile sales firms. After all, we need to create an outlet for the Union Workers, Petite Bourgeoisie, Merchants and the Owners to purchase new cars year over year, don't we? It is this class of people that are probably the only people that can afford to purchase them anyways.

If you are somebody in Niagara that is not an Owner, General Manager, Union Worker, Petite Bourgeoisie or a Merchant, or married to one, you are likely not likely going to become one of them. Why? Because Niagara Region, as well as many regions of similar size and scope, accepts a very rigid class structure that is based upon membership to the above groups, or association with the same (such as through marriage) - but if you are NOT - if you are one of the one in five people in the Region who are considered poor, your chances of EVER climbing that supposed ladder to the next level are nil and none. It's the Family Compact or nothing in Niagara.

The fact of the matter is that job hogsmanship is very much of a reality here in Niagara. If somebody is a Teacher, for example, they are most likely married to an Owner, General Manager, Union Worker, Petite Bourgeoisie or a Merchant. They are less likely to come from single income families. These are the people that will have the vast majority of pension funds available to them upon retirement. These are the people who think nothing of taking a drive and going to a cottage somewhere north of Toronto most weekends in the summer. They usually have a backyard pool and their children are the first to get the best "summer jobs" the system has to offer them because these families have the contacts.

Unfortunately, these are also the very same people who are part of the new movement to "simplify things", "become green" and "give to the poor" (usually meaning African poor and not local poverty). They try to imagine or make the rest of us imagine that life can only be simpler if we all had our own little gardens and grew our own vegetables, cooked everything from scratch and cut coupons. These are all good ideas, but the one in five people I spoke of earlier are not: (a) likely to have a yard, let alone room to put in a garden; (b) have the time to play in the dirt to develop one even if they had a yard (e.g. most are working two or three minimum wage jobs just to pay the rent and feed the kids); (c) have the time or energy to cook from scratch; and (d) most do not have a vehicle in which to travel from one end of town to the other to "catch" various specials and use different coupons to save a dollar or two on the price of milk. Poverty is indeed expensive.

Poor people do not have the money to start and maintain a garden. They do not have the transportation to pick up the essentials for a garden, nor do they have the capacity to even retrieve free or low-cost items others may have for sale or give-away on the Internet or through the newspaper. Poor families in Niagara that do not have a car stay poor, regardless of how well educated and skilled they are. Employers do not want anybody who does not share the values and lifestyles of the Owners, General Managers, Union Workers, Petite Bourgeoisie or Merchants. Employers cannot relate to people who do not have an easy pick-up-and-go type of the lifestyle that they enjoy. People want to hire other people who are just like they are.

The expression "keeping up with the Joneses" has been around for a long time. People who have money have the means to compete with other people with money. People who are poor watch this happen and only feel left out of the game. The Joneses do not know that poor folks exist in Niagara, even though the Joneses may once in a blue moon drop off a non-perishable food item to the Food Bank or hand over a quarter to the occasional panhandler, but nobody in the Jones family or those who try to keep up with them have ever bothered to ask why there is so much poverty in Niagara Region, or if they do, why it is okay for the poor to accept their crumbs and not share the same opportunities for upward mobility that they have. People who are dual income earners tend to believe other adults come from the same background. I've met teachers that assume all parents can afford to send their kids to various field trips and pizza days. When they don't, the fault of course rests with parents or with the child who may not be "responsible enough" to bring in the required money for these things. Unfortunately, while our Board of Education pretends to respect all students equally, they in fact, do not. They expect low-income parents to beg for financial assistance from the schools in order for their children to be treated equally ... thus requiring these parents to give a type of personal disclosure that is not expected of other parents. They do not think for a minute that such disclosure only labels them as "damaged goods" and serves as a barrier for people to succeed in the community on their own merits. Receipt of "charity" is not as confidential as you think. People who accept "charity" are not the same people who get hired for the good jobs.

There are probably more cars per capita here in Niagara Region than anywhere else. There is absolutely nothing policy-wise or environmentally that is being done to curb the use of private vehicles. Niagara Region has a substantial amount of gridlock on most of its roadways, as well as highways. The Niagara Region is the only incorporated Region that does not support ANY inter-municipal transit. Why, do you ask? Because the leaders of this Region actually believe that EVERYBODY drives. If you don't, they assume there is something wrong with you. If you complain about discrimination in jobs, they say jobs are plentiful in call centres, cleaning hotels, picking fruit and doing other menial tasks, regardless of your education or career aspirations. Yet in the same breath, these same people complain about the lack of population growth and the fact that young college and university graduates LEAVE while they can. People do not use transit in Niagara unless they are: (a) one of the one in five people who are poor and marked for life; (b) mentally challenged (because we don't expect developmentally delayed adults to drive cars, do we?); (c) frail seniors (usually in their 70's and 80's); and (d) students, who are usually landlocked by student loans and cannot afford to keep up with the Joneses right now (though many of them come from these same types of middle income families from elsewhere that will eventually get them set for life). Unfortunately, this is a stigma that is carried over to employers and others in the Region, which has only further castrated our population into solid social classes and cultural division.

The reality that society has to face is clear. Not everybody has family support. I can count the number of my hundreds of clients I worked with over the years who are on social assistance or some other financial support who have families assisting them on my left hand. While this is true, governments continue to focus only on those people on my left hand who have families who are (a) available; (b) able; and (c) willing to provide financial support to their disabled relatives. There are whole workshops dedicated to issues like the Henson Trust, Registered Education Savings Plans, Registered Disability Support Plans, Segregated Funds, etc. To the vast majority of my people, these things mean absolutely nothing. It does not apply to their reality - because their loved ones may be dead, fragile themselves or they simply turned their backs on them years ago when the going got tough. Many of these people never settled into their first jobs and they are now in their 30's and 40's. Some have never driven a car. This is not going to happen for them without concerted and ongoing efforts on the part of government and community support organizations to get their heads out of the sand, to stop trying to keep up with the Joneses (as in my view, the Joneses do not need any more government help than they already get - which they do in fact get) and walk a mile in the shoes of my clients. We need to return the learning curve to normalization and integration, as opposed to marginalization and segregation, which is what we are doing so wrong today.

My clients want exactly the same thing everybody else wants:

1. They want to live in a home that is clean, safe and secure (e.g. poor people do not *need* staff to babysit them or tell them how to spend their money);

2. They want enough money to allow them to make a reasonable number of choices with respect to their lives (e.g. housing, food, transportation, telephone, entertainment, and support services that they choose). If they make mistakes, they want the right to accept the consequences and move on;

3. They want the right to continue their education, receive additional training and skills and have them count for something (instead of being blithely turned away from every job opportunity because they don't already have their own vehicles, know somebody who already works for the employer or belongs to the union already);

4. They want the right to access employment opportunities that reflect their actual skills, education, training and work experience, as opposed to low-wage ghettos they usually get referred to;

5. If they cannot work at all or are limited in their capabilities in working, they want to ensure that they have an income that can be counted on to cover ALL of their costs of living a reasonable lifestyle; and

6. They want the right to retire at some point in their lives without having to accept a McJob to subsidize the pithy government pensions they will be expected to live on.

These are things that folks with two incomes, two cars and an obsession with keeping up with the Joneses do not understand. They do not understand there are people who will not get to retire at all due to the declining value of public pensions (which do not keep up with the actual cost of living) or get to choose where they live, who their friends are or where they work. These are people who are quite often bullied at work, but say nothing about it because they know the only alternative is living on the streets, which is something apparently enshrined somewhere in Ontario Works legislation - that people in receipt of it should be pleased to even have a home, even if it is a garbage dumpster or a homeless shelter.

But most of all, this group does NOT understand that the reason that they are able to do so well is because so many others are not. Many middle, upper-middle and upper class families have the poor to thank for their positions, because if they had to pay their employees decent wages, pay the kind of taxes they really should be paying, or to cover the full cost of their consumption habits (like the poor seem to be expected to do) - they would not be able to keep up with the Joneses, or perhaps there may not even be any Joneses to keep up with. Other middle class folks, by virtue of their jobs, rely upon the existence of poor people to keep them in business. They certainly don't want to see poverty eradicated. As one of my readers, this should be easy for you to understand by now how one is ethically tied to fighting for one's own elimination if you happen to be one of those people who work to "serve" the poor.

Thursday, June 14, 2007


By now, all of my readers likely heard about former U.S. Vice-President Al Gore's fanciful tour about the planet ranting on and on about the "inconvenient truth"; how global warming and climate change is all our fault and that it is pretty well too late. The planet is doomed.

Nevertheless, despite this gloom, more and more of us are becoming "green". We are joining the "green train" of sorts, whereas everything we buy, ingest, bathe in, drive or ride in, or become a part of must be environmentally correct. That is, we must reprimand fast food outlets that dare to still use styrofoam packaging for their high trans-fat treats they continue to sell unabated to a knowing, but evasive population. The least they can do is wrap their toxins in biodegradable packaging!

At the same time, most of us continue to drive our cars to these fat food places, use their drive throughs, idle our engines to no end and as we leave, we bitch to the passengers beside us about the high gas prices. In fact, people like this are all over the Internet. People are becoming quite manic about the rising price of gas, yet at the same time they do not blink an eye when they drive their SUVs to the corner store or around the block to their children's school. Nobody walks or takes the bus anymore. The interesting thing is none of these folks seem to associate the rising rate of obesity among certain populations with this very behaviour.

Once, a friend of mine tried to get me to pass along a major protest against gas prices to other people on my address list. They wanted EVERYBODY to boycott the big oil companies and only use "independent" gas retailers during some specified day or week or month or so. I wrote my friend back to tell them the only way the price of gas is going to come down is if people drive less. Gas is like a drug. People use gas for almost anything. We heat our homes with it, drive our cars with it, power our lawn mowers with it, operate our boats with it, etc. It just seems to me whenever I tell people that the ONLY way to cut the price of gas is to drive less, they get into a real frenzy. Well, as long as people are addicted to the wheels of their car, the suppliers of fuel will hike their prices to whatever they think people will pay to keep this circus moving along.

There are websites like and that allegedly tell people via the web where the cheapest gas prices are in town, encouraging every man, woman or small child in a gas powered trike to drive over there to fill up. That is also stupid too, because all you are doing is increasing demand at that one source, which will eventually have to hike their own prices imminently to protect their supply. Are we really being smart anyways with all these gas price protests? When we learn that all of our petty protests fail to bring gas prices down, we turn to the government. Can politicians *really* do something about the price of gas? Put it another way. Can government *really* control the prices of anything else, ranging from chocolate bars to ice cream to clothing to furniture? If they can't do anything about these other prices, why do people think the government can wave it's invisible hand over the gas markets and force the prices down? Bad news, folks. Gas prices are expected to go up even further.

So, people - we are facing another inconvenient truth. We are facing the truth about the price of ownership and operation of motor vehicles. At one time, Henry Ford stated with pride about how he can reproduce his product more efficiently and cheaply by inventing the assembly line ... but today, we need to question why so many gas guzzlers are still coming off the line and why so many people are still buying them. Somebody told me that gas guzzling cars like SUVs and Hummers have actually increased their sales by over 20% over the year prior ... and yes, right after we were shown Al Gore's piece of rhetoric, many people just went out and did what they want anyways. That is probably why people like Gore say it is too late.

What about other things that people do to waste environmental resources? I walk up and down our main drag several times a day to meet with clients, check on existing files, take pictures (where relevant to a case), or do banking. In addition to the usual assembly line of dope deals and graffiti artists that run when they see me coming, I notice variety stores that continue to keep their air conditioning on full blast and keep their front doors wide open ... symbolically, I suppose, in a lame attempt to lower the temperature of the outside. Sorry, that isn't going to work. I also notice large garbage bins behind many business establishments that contain way too many recycleables for my liking. I've seen the following items being disposed destined for our landfills: old computer monitors, old floppy disks, burnt out light bulbs, plastic grocery bags, radios, televisions, organics, etc. Obviously, 90% of us do not practice the 3 R's: reduce, reuse and recycle.

Further along, I walk into our friendly neighbourhood courthouse to drop off some documents. After passing through security and avoiding the body cavity searches one more time, I approach the civil counter and find myself freezing all of a sudden. The court clerks all have coats on and people are running around wearing mitts and gloves ... I was surprised nobody tried to start an indoor snowball fight! There's no need for air conditioning to be kept at such low levels that winter-time memories are so near. Christmas is over. Give it a rest.

I then walk towards my bank. On my way naturally, I encounter the friendly neighbourhood hot dog man who uses natural gas to fuel his grill. I ask him about his suppliers. He told me he found a fine place in a city an hour's drive from here. Hmmm, there are no local suppliers? Anyways, I ordered a grilled sausage with all the fixings and a diet Coke and walked away. I ate on the run; after all, I do have to burn off the calories I am taking in with something, right? By the time I reached my bank, I noted there were no trash cans around to put the napkin and the Coke can away, so I walked a few metres to find one that was overflowing, leaving more on the ground than in the actual can. Recycling bins are nowhere to be seen, of course. It must be the city workers' day off.

At the bank, I grab enough cash so that I can go grocery shopping the next day. I then stop on my way back to my office at the office supplies store across the way. I pick up a number of items (on plastic as usual), including a toner cartridge (something that seems to perpetually run out, even in my laser printer), more pens (because clients perpetually steal them from the office when I have them in to sign documents), more disks and CDs, as well as a table fan. It seems the people that run my building don't believe in air conditioning, so I have to use my own air cooler (which by the way takes up more kilowatt hours than a regular air conditioner, but I have no choice). I then drop off the items to my office, take a sugar-free Red Bull drink from my small efficiency fridge and drink it to catch up on sleep I never get.

My office is on a street that time forgot. The downtown revitalization types believe that all we need to do is make St. Paul Street two ways again, instead of the one way traffic direction it is now. I don't see how that will help, other than give people an opportunity to see old, broken down buildings, graffiti and the engrained drug culture of the Garbage City two ways instead of only one. Besides that, I know from riding the bus that this street isn't even wide enough. One way traffic is difficult enough to manage with the hoards of delivery vans, people trying to park and others on foot trying to cross the street. If it becomes two way, cyclists will only drive their bikes more often on the sidewalk, which only further marginalizes pedestrians. This will only make St. Paul Street even more unsafe than it already is, which to me, only drives people away from downtown instead of attracting them to downtown. The two-way street advocates claim this is good for the wine route. In my view, would this not be better to be rebuilt into a pedestrian roadway instead of reverting to two-way traffic? The last time I heard, it was not safe to drink and drive anyways.

After my day is done, I go home. I usually walk home or bus it home. I do have a bus pass, so I never have to dig for change when I need to get on. If I do work late or the weather is inclement, I use a cab, as it is fifteen minutes from the nearest bus stop to my house. I wish other people used the bus too; if they did, the bus service would be more frequent and have more routes covering a larger geographic area. However, because no matter what public transit is available in our region, people still insist on polluting the environment with their SUVs and Hummers, while the rest of us have to breathe the air and put up with their "road hogging" behaviour, even when pedestrians or cyclists lawfully have the right of way.

Anyhow, the next day I do my grocery shopping. I don't have a grocery store in my neighbourhood (because I choose to live far away from certain parts of civilization I tolerate each day at the office). Therefore, we have to either take a bus to the grocery store - which is hefty if all of us go. It is cheaper and probably better for my waistline if we walked, although the walk can be forty-five minutes in length. The interesting thing is that our government and public health people try to cram down our throats that we MUST eat more fruits and vegetables and keep our shopping to the outer tier of the aisles. I live in a Region that includes a substantial number of farmers and agricultural businesses. Niagara's tender fruit industry is among the best known in the world. These same farms also produce a full range of vegetables as well. However, when you set foot in the grocery store, do we see any Niagara fruits and vegetables for sale? Of course, not!

We are told we can travel (meaning only drive) to Vineland or Jordan or Merritville Highway or wherever else to find ubiquitous fruit and vegetable stands put out by farmers or go to various markets located on the other side of Fourth Avenue or downtown as well. This is not practical unless you have a vehicle, which again is polluting the air as you get to the fruits and vegetables that are locally grown, so if you don't drive you are stuck purchasing fruits and vegetables that have been transported from even further away in order to get our daily requirements. Greenhouse gases increase the further one must drive to deliver what they have to deliver. Grocery stores that call themselves "fresh" anywhere in their name are lying to you.

Anyhow, it doesn't really matter what you eat anyways. You have to wash everything off the best you can, unless you can afford to purchase 100% organic product - however, even the term "organic" can't be relied upon anymore. In my household, we frequently run out of food before the next grocery day, two weeks' away. I will simply not purchase anything in between. It is the fault of people who eat too much during the first week if it can't last during the second week. Try to live on a budget for $850-$1,000 per month for groceries, only to have them run out on you before the end of the first week. I end up having to get fresh fruits and vegetables from the market uptown, or from the corner store, as I have to eat properly even if others in my household choose not to.

But, everybody wants to go "green", I hear. That could have fooled me. Until the day I see packed buses taking people to every corner of this city and this region, with less cars on the road and less use of fossil fuels for things like air conditioning to be blown full-blast to the great outdoors, I will believe this Inconvenient Truth is only too inconvenient for those among us that have the money to blow on higher fuel costs anyways, though it continues to be the Canadian way to bitch about these things, but do nothing. Personally, I wouldn't mind if gas for cars went up to $5 a litre, with an exemption only for those that use their vehicles for business or courier purposes. In many European countries, gas is running at about $3 -$4 a litre and probably getting higher; in addition, many of these same cities charge toll fees for private automobiles coming into the city. If our cities suddenly decided to take this turn and use the extra fees towards transit, people would throw a fit ... the Boston Tea Party and the American Revolution would mean nothing at that point. We would be taking the drug away from the addicts to a point that there would have to be a black market somewhere.

Our own Region wants to extend two different highways, add more lanes, as well as get the province to increase the number of lanes from four to eight on the Queen Elizabeth Way, as well as build a brand new Niagara-GTA corridor at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. To me, it just means more smog in the air for me to breathe, not a good thing for a region that already has a higher proportion of persons suffering from respiratory conditions, as well as more tax dollars sucked away from people like me for things I will not likely use. Big box stores will continue to dominate the market, forcing more and more people to stay in their cars to go to shop. Parking is "free" or so they think. Yet, people like me pay the same prices as those who park their cars at the same stores ... even though I didn't benefit from the "free parking" that I indirectly paid for like they did. People who drive continuously bitch that people that use transit do not cover the full cost of fares; yet, those who drive do not even come close to covering the true cost of their own addiction. Someday, I may just ask for my money back.

But then again, the Truth that I am telling you may just be too inconvenient for you to understand. You may be "green" in principle, but know absolutely nothing about what it means to actually BE "green". As Al Gore said, it may already be too late ...