Monday, September 28, 2009
In Niagara Region, the politics is so stale, I could leave the area and return fifty years later and I wouldn't miss a thing. If it's not the same old people at the helm, it is the same old family members of people at the helm. Many of the Niagara-based businesses are family businesses, which means the good jobs go to family. It isn't hard to guess who the bad or low-paying jobs go to.
One can learn about the groundhogs in Niagara by reading letters to the editor. Apart from my own tinge of sarcasm about the political backwardness of the people here, or the fact that Niagara has not yet grown up and developed itself a transit service yet, many people argue about the Bible.
The Bible is two thousand years old or more, and to me, there is no point arguing about it. The book is read, and it is time to move on. I am not that concerned about what is in the Bible. If all people have to think about or worry about is what the Bible says or what it means, obviously they are comfortable living in a perpetual Groundhog day. As for me, I want change.
To me, it is not about the people themselves, although a little bit might be about the people, but it is mostly the politics and how slow things seem to happen. Getting Regional transit in place here is like waiting for molasses to pour in the bitter cold of January. In the meantime, people like me lose money because we have to go places too, yet those of us that don't drive are not allowed to do so with comfort, reliability and affordability.
I have often been accused of attacking drivers. Well, taxpayers (which includes ME too) have been over-subsidizing their "privileges" for years. We subsidize drivers on a per capita basis more than we subsidize people on a per capita basis for our universal health care system. We pay for roads, traffic lights, traffic enforcement, highways, parking lots, environmental damages of highway building, pollution and its effects, and other things that keep cars on the road and drivers driving, yet we pay less than 20% of this figure on subsidizing transit users. Transit users pay taxes too, and yes - when I have to take a $70 taxi ride to and from Welland, I am sure they can take some of that out for my "share" of the roads. I just want to get around without giving up my first born each time.
Other than transportation, there are a lot of other issues that Niagara is lacking for ... probably because it wants to still think of itself as a township and not a region or network of cities. For example, my neighbourhood that I live in is okay. I own my own home, although people think I pay less than most do for it (which is about $1200 - $1500 a month including all utilities and costs). It is peaceful in my backyard ... we have built a small communal porch, a sitting area under a gazebo and a waterfall, as well as a compost area/garden. Our front porch which is sheltered from the elements is especially nice. The neighbourhood is quiet, which is probably a good thing after I leave the wingnuts of downtown.
However, that is it. They are just wingnuts. People without direction. People without political discourse. We have as much if not more poverty, disability and hardship as Toronto, yet there are very few protests or even community meetings to go to in order to discuss these things. People in Niagara take it up the tail pipe literally.
I am probably well known in this community for my outspoken manner and devil-may-care attitude. Why? I've never had an employer that bothered wanting to hire me for my skills, so I don't have to kowtow to anybody. If I had a good job with a good employer, I suppose the attitude would have to be kept at the door, and I've done that for years when I did work for others. It is not that my attitude is bad, as most people seem to like what I have to say ... I am actually not disrespectful of individuals, just political environments.
While it is true that people create political environments, I just feel that the folks involved in creating Niagara's political environment have to try harder to make this region a truly inclusive one. When they hear from people like me that at times I do not feel like I am even a citizen with rights in this region, the leaders need to ask why ... and I can rest assure them that I am not the only that has felt this way. I am just getting sad and my nose is getting out of joint because I am losing way too many friends to other cities, even provinces, where they have miraculously been able to find work or fit in better.
There are a lot of beautiful places in the region to go to, but I've never been to see these places in years. One needs a car to get to any of them. If Niagara wants to stand out as even a tourism destination, they should at least provide other ways for potential tourists to get around, as NOT EVERYBODY DRIVES ... I miss the Falls. I miss the town of Jordon. I miss Fort George. I miss most of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Maybe someday I will get there if I ever get my bike back on the road. But for now, these places might as well be on the moon.
What about jobs? Niagara has lost a ton of them ... entire companies have gone under and sent pink slips home to thousands of Niagara workers. No "white knight" is going to come to the region to replace these companies, and any new jobs that come out of our "new economy" aren't likely going to pay even half as much. So, those of us with mortgages, payments, kids, and other expenses, are not likely going to want to do these jobs, unless we can do three or four of them simultaneously (which gives us a new meaning for multi-tasking). As it is, most families need two or even three incomes to survive. Try surviving on just one! Mine!
Well, Liberal leader Michael "Rasputin" Ignatieff has finally turned against the present minority Conservative government in Ottawa. He wanted to create this hairy ass election over ... whatever. The other parties, the Bloc Quebecois and the New Democrats saw the nonsense in Ignatieff's move in his attempt to call an election that nobody wants ... so they sided with the Conservatives. It is not because they are now buddies with Stephen Harper, but this is minority government at work ... the particular ways and means bill was about implementing many of the popular aspects of the budget the Conservatives tabled last January, and by the way ... a budget that Ignatieff bought and supported (but now he doesn't support?).
This is just another example of the circus coming to town. We all know that Barnum and Bailey wouldn't make it in Ottawa, as there already is a "free" circus available to anyone at Parliament Hill. All somebody has to do is start singing, "Send in the Clowns" ... oops, they are already there. The animals are all there too, up to the usual parlour tricks, except they are all two-legged animals. It kind of makes you want to cozy up to groups like PETA and ZOOCHECK to protect the four-legged kind from being corrupted by this type of circus.
So despite the histrionics and hissy fit thrown by Michael Ignatieff in an attempt to push for an election that nobody wants, the whole tough talk that he gave over the summer seemed to have died down to a trickle. If I walked down the street here and asked everybody I see if they can identify the leaders of the three main political parties in Ottawa, I would bet the least identifiable would be the leader of the Liberals. Many would not even know how to pronounce his name!
However, over the radar of awareness is this new HST (harmonized sales tax) that is being shoved down all of our throats here in Ontario. It is supposed to be good for business, which I still fail to understand. I run a business. How is charging my customers 8% more for my services going to benefit ME or MY CUSTOMERS? They say there will be less paperwork. I don't give a flying hoot about paperwork. That's what I pay my accounting firm for. I am sure they aren't going to reduce their fees to do my annual corporate, HST and personal returns ... I am sure if you asked them they will tell you there is no less work in preparing these returns than there was before.
I am supposed to be able to claim more input credits. Well, what are input credits? This is something my customers don't give a horse's you know what about ... they just see the 8% hike on their bills. Sure I can now write off items that had PST on it before. Whoopie doo! Let's release the balloons. I will still be forking over more of this tax than I get to keep as a result of these inputs, or why else would the government force this HST down our throats in the first place? They have to be making big bucks off of this ... off of small business, off of consumers, off of anybody that comes through my door.
The government has PROMISED income tax cuts in return for us buying this tax. Who are my customers? About a third of them are individuals with disabilities, usually receiving an income that does not attract provincial (or federal for that matter) income taxes of any kind. The work I do involves making insurance companies, government agencies, large companies and other people do what they were supposed to do in the first place ... and even when we get paid in full, none of the proceeds are taxable to them anyways. We also have quite a few senior citizens on "fixed incomes". These are NOT the people with the GM or Teacher's Pensions to give their golden years more than just "fool's gold". Most of these people get at least some Guaranteed Income Supplement, and their own savings are either poor or non-existent, so I don't see these people paying much provincial income tax either ... but I am told I have to hit all of these people with an 8% tax hike!
Unfortunately, with this tax, there is no harmony at all ... so I prefer to call it what it is... the BST, initials for which you don't even have to ask. The Tories call this the Dalton Sales Tax, and the NDP call it the Unfair Tax Grab. Would love to give Hudak's head a shake, like wasn't it HIS federal Conservative cousins that just dumped $4.2 billion on the province to set up this new tax? I just don't get it anymore. Canada's politics are all screwed up.
Each time there is an election, there seems to be less and less people showing up to vote. I know that at some point in my lifetime, there will be an election called and nobody will show up. We will end up with a lot of empty ridings, as nobody will run either. So, we might just not bother with elections anymore. Maybe coup d'etats serve more of a taste for Canadians at this point. I don't know the answer.
But I think it is worth a discussion.
What about you?
Saturday, September 5, 2009
Unfortunately, nobody has sought to dig deeper into the problem. There are over thirteen million people living in Ontario, not all of whom are of driving age. If four million of those who are of driving age will not or cannot acquire a driver's license, we need to start asking deeper and more serious questions. The issue of identity is one issue. People that do not drive are deemed by many agencies and businesses to be non-citizens because they cannot produce the proper identification they require. These same businesses somehow feel non-drivers would somehow have a passport, but then again, non-drivers are even less likely to have one of those than any of the other forms of "acceptable identification". People who don't drive don't cross the border that often anyways, if at all. They cannot open bank accounts, pick up registered mail, identify themselves to the tax people over the counter, rent a video, etc. I had to threaten legal action at some of these places in order to access these services in the past ... but I still know some people who can't even get a bank account because they don't have a driver's license.
In Niagara Region, the powers that be have no trouble excluding members of this group, simply by ignoring their needs. They do not only use the same criteria for establishing citizenship, they deny non-drivers access to employment, recreation, access to low-cost shopping, education and other things. We are supposed to just accept that. We are supposed to accept our lot as minimum wage workers, or people who cannot access cost savings on life's necessities such as cheaper housing and discounts on the grocery bill. We are supposed to accept our lot as inferior workers, just because employers in the Niagara Region think we have no skills because we do not drive or do not have access to a car.
There are innovators here. It is not that everybody has their heads in the sand, although in my humble view, the leaders of this region do ... as most of them, like most drivers in this region, take this privilege for granted. They take the act of hopping in their car and going wherever they like in record time for granted, especially at the relative low cost per kilometer for costs. They do not even think about the fact that if they did not have the right to drive or access to their vehicle, they probably would not be holding the jobs that they do. They don't want to think about this, as it is people who don't drive who somehow "deserve" to work in the low-wage, unstable employment sector.
The message that non-drivers are low skilled or no skilled is obvious because even when the innovators act, they develop initiatives that connect more people to low-wage jobs than with middle and higher range levels of employment. The Job Bus that operated in our region until the recent bankruptcy of Opportunities Niagara connected workers in one city to another to low-wage hotel cleaning and dish washing jobs, while at the same time, the Canada Border Services Agency was seeking university educated workers to become Customs Officers at the border. No Job Bus was ever offered to take prospective workers there. Of course, anybody with skills above minimum wage has a driver's license, so we don't bother to worry about sending people to better paid and more stable employment.
The other message that non-drivers receive is that their time is worth nothing or very little when compared to that of drivers. There is some fractional inter-city transit operational within Niagara, but it takes too long to travel this way, and it is way too complicated for the average commuter to use. In order for me to travel a total of 12 km from my house to the Welland courthouse, which is about a 20 minute car ride, I have to: (a) board a city bus which is ten minutes from home (and takes twenty minutes to get downtown); (b) arrive downtown and transfer to the Brock bus (which takes another fifteen minutes to get to Brock); (c) once at Brock, sit around and wait for another twenty minutes until the Welland Transit bus arrives and transfer to it (and travel for another twenty-five to thirty minutes as it meanders across the region); and (d) arrive at Niagara College and wait another ten to fifteen minutes to get the downtown terminal bus to travel another five to ten minutes to the terminal, whereby the court is only a two minute walk. I tried it one time. With all the traveling, transferring and waiting, it took me nearly two hours to arrive to my destination, and I was in certainly no shape to do any work as I was completely exhausted! I can go to Toronto faster. The message to me from the region's fathers was that my time is worth nothing, so my efforts must be worth the same. And then, they wonder why nobody uses this route as a commuter option.
The only other option one has is taxi, which is anywhere from $60 - $70 for a round trip to the same place. Again, my money and time is worth nothing and I am certainly not welcome in some parts of the Region unless I pay to join the "club". I know of no driver that pays $60 - $70 for ONE trip back and forth between a single city within the Niagara Region. If this were the case, there would be a Third World War for sure, and maybe there should be ... as why should I be treated as an inferior entity simply because I do not drive and worse so, because of a disability? The most my colleagues pay to hop in their cars and take that trip to Welland is perhaps five to seven dollars, including parking. How does that make me even nearly competitive, if I actually charged for travel time (which I don't and I am forced to swallow)?
That means my colleagues that do the same work I do can take on almost twice as much work as I can for less cost. It is no small wonder that they have staff of their own, live in nice houses and most will retire with more than nothing.
One such person with an attitude commented on whether or not I should determine whether it would be worth it to remain in business. Okay, maybe that same person can point to me other job opportunities that exist within the Region where one is not required to have a driver's license and a vehicle and pays well enough for me to consider it worth my time and expense going to post-secondary education and other senior work experience I had prior to losing my license. There are many job boards if one wants to find work in Niagara Region. There is the HRDC Job Bank, the Job Gym, various company sites, public service site (although few of those jobs are for people living in Niagara), and the various classified ads. There is also word of mouth, but people who don't drive can't get to the events where word of mouth job information is shared.
Anybody reading this can certainly check this out for themselves. Almost every job that appears available to non-drivers is minimum wage or slightly above it, requires little to no skill at all (so why bother graduating high school if I wanted to work at any of these places) and usually has minimum to no benefits. My husband was given one of those jobs. It lasted exactly three days, not because my husband is a poor worker, but because they were looking for somebody to sell whatever it was they were selling to people that obviously do not want to buy. There are "good jobs" available, but they are usually only for those of upper middle to upper class standing in Niagara Region, as they usually ask for at least five to ten years experience doing the exact same thing elsewhere, or they want you to have a license and a car. Some of these jobs may not specify this, but they say they want you to work all shifts, which means you will be spending half your salary on cab fare to get either to the job or home, or the job is located in another community that you can't get to unless you have a car.
I had interviews for some of the "good jobs" I referred to above, some of them paying close to or even more than I used to make when I did drive. Unfortunately, they did not accommodate people that do not drive, even if the candidate can do everything else on the job. If you try to tell them how you can do the job without having to drive or own a car (and there are many workarounds for this), they just hire the next person that does drive, even if they have less experience or qualifications than you do. One has to live this in order to understand this.
I knew a PHd that spent five years on Ontario Works unable to find a decent job, until he came into some money through an inheritance after his father died. He naturally purchased a vehicle and within two to three weeks, he was employed. I know several other individuals who are professionals, such as teachers, social workers or technicians, that currently sit on Ontario Works or even Ontario Disability Support Program whose disabilities prevent them from driving, but not from working ... and they are punished for being in that position. They cannot earn and save enough money to escape from this area to go elsewhere where their skills would be wanted and appreciated, while at the same time this region does not want them if they cannot get behind the wheel of a vehicle to contribute to the increasing smog problem of the area. I actually count the number of vehicles that pass on busy streets with only the drivers in them, and vehicles of this type comprise over ninety percent of the traffic that is pumping out smog for me to breathe and pay for, while there is considerably more car-pooling, taxi and transit use in other communities I worked in.
My theories were confirmed when I spoke to some key people in Niagara Region, most of whom were employers themselves, or worked in human resources departments. In a non-consequential survey (and completed anonymously over the telephone), I asked the employer respondents if they ever considered a man or a woman for a job in their company that did not drive ... and if this was an issue at the interview, what did that person think was the reason these people did not drive ... For males, it was thought that if they did not drive or own a car, it was believed they likely lost their license as a result of drinking and driving or some related offense. For women in the same position, it was assumed they didn't really have to work and that they had a husband that was a primary earner and they did not really have a lot of skills, and sought basically low-skilled work. When asking if they would consider hiring a non-driver, most of these employers felt that having a driver's license was "necessary" for the job, when in fact a job analysis revealed most jobs could be done without a driver's license.
When I ask others who worked with people with disabilities or those who were unemployed, I learned that in one survey 93% of those who used the generic employment agency in Niagara (Employment Help Centre, September 2008) did not have both a driver's license and a car. Those familiar with people with disabilities know that transportation is a barrier, but unfortunately nobody does anything about it around here, and too many of these workers leave it up to the job seeker to negotiated these accommodations, which nine times out of ten doesn't work.
I can understand not hiring somebody without a driver's license for a job as a cab driver, a delivery person, a limousine chauffeur, a bus driver or even a residential contractor (that must provide their own tools). However, when I speak to people that do not drive, they are not applying for these jobs ... they are applying for jobs in offices, in stores, on computers, etc. that require skills that do not include chauffeuring people or goods to different places. They are still excluded. As far as I am concerned, if a person is working as a support worker, a social worker, employment counselor, therapist, or any other "people job", if somebody needs to be driven somewhere, there are plenty of taxi services available in the community which would cost less than paying a staff person at unionized wages to do this.
While not having access to most jobs is a major problem for non-drivers, governments at all levels at the same time do not mind extracting money from non-drivers for taxes to pay for highway expansions, road repairs, traffic conversions, parking lots, GM bailouts, and the list goes on ... and private retailers don't mind hiking the prices for drivers and non-drivers alike for the privileges only enjoyed by drivers for "free parking" at their premises. In one letter to the editor of the St. Catharines Standard, one of our frustrated taxpayer activists provided some useful information, as follows (Wednesday, September 2, 2009):
City spending and taxes are not 'moderate'
There is no end in sight to increased taxes with approval of the City of St. Catharines 2009 capital budget.
Unfortunately, 2008 financial performance results are still not published and we are almost through 2009 so we must rely on 2007 data that are available from the BMA survey of 87 regions/cities representing 85 per cent of this province's population.
In St. Catharines, the tax levy per $100,000 assessment is $1,615, 26 per cent higher than the survey average of $1,282.
The tax on an average bungalow in St. Catharines is $3,257, 16 per cent higher than the survey average of $2,819.
An average "executive" residence in St. Catharines pays $5,410 in taxes, compared to the survey average of $5,184 -- we are four per cent higher.
Look at our spending per capita.
We pay $145 for fire services, compared to $113 average. Cost of roads is $8,784 compared to $2,161.
Transit costs are $10; the average is $57.
Cultural enterprises cost $17, $6 more than the average.
Regional police costs $255 compared to $202.
Region roads: $1,407 to the average of $1,127.
Debt charges as a percentage of total expenditures is 6.5 per cent; the survey average is 4.1 per cent.
The average debt per capita is $608 and ours is $691 or 14 per cent higher.
The controller may claim our debt is moderate, but city spending is not and neither are our taxes.
Dave Bedwell St. CatharinesPay attention to what this gentleman just said: The cost of roads (per capita) is $8,784, compared to the average municipality as $2,161. The regional road cost is $1,407 compared to an average of $1,127. and the cost of transit is $10, when the average is $57. In other words, Niagara cares only about drivers and certainly less about transit users. Their excuse is that "nobody uses transit", but the truth of the matter is if it was offered in a convenient and accessible format, people would ... people don't use transit like the convoluted commuter route I described above because it is too time-consuming, complicated and exhausting. I had a discussion with one woman a couple of weeks ago that didn't want to see "her tax dollars" to to get "five people back and forth to Welland". I just said none of those five people want to continue to subsidize her access to the roads either. It might well be nigh to see more non-drivers speak up and force the issue into the courts perhaps, as to why we are paying all this money to prop up people that drive, while people that drive pay little or nothing towards those of us that need another way to get around. Maybe malls should stop subsidizing drivers as well by making me and other non-drivers pay more for our grocery and other consumer items we buy there. It might well be nigh that non-drivers stop shopping at these stores in droves until they lower their prices and start making drivers pay for their own damn parking!
Niagara can also be considered an ableist and ageist society, as it is generally disabled and very young adults or older adults that are the least likely to drive. I read one study one time that estimate approximately 50% of people with disabilities did not drive. Older people tend to give up on their licenses as they begin to lose their reflexes or visual acuity, but do they have less rights to access visits to family, recreational and shopping facilities than those that do drive? Do they have to be now put in nursing homes because they can no longer get around and do these things for themselves cost-effectively? Try to tell THEM that and see what they say. How about people with disabilities? Almost all of them want to live independently. They do not want some damned charity to send volunteers to pick them up and drop them off places. They want to find and catch a bus to go wherever they want within reason and within a reasonable period of time and as few transfers as possible.
How about if somebody passed a law and said that drivers will only have access to the road between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. but only on a half hourly basis and after six, on an hourly basis only? If you have to go somewhere in between, you have to wait until the roads re-open an hour later. What if drivers were told they were not allowed to go to certain communities because there were no usable roads in and out? They would be stamping their feet, throwing a fit and complaining about how much taxes they pay and why can't THEY get the service they pay for? How about non-drivers who pay the SAME taxes, but are getting LITTLE to NO service for what they pay?
I personally don't think transit options will improve until somebody important in Niagara loses their license due to disability or medical reasons and then finds themselves unable to do their job because of lack of transportation. I don't wish ill on people, but sometimes it might take personal experience with this form of discrimination before anything changes here and people start to realize they need to stop propping up General Motors and other aspects of the auto industry and just start to consider various ways of getting around so everybody can access the community and all the jobs it supposedly has to offer. Until then, this current recession will NEVER end for people with disabilities and for others that don't drive either for medical or financial reasons.