There really isn’t any other way I can spin the current direction of Toronto City Council. This week, three areas of concern have been brought to Council, and all three have a direct impact on low-income families in our city.
First, he voted against every motion related to funding specific community-based initiatives. Included in these grant requests were organizations working “on issues related to race, gender equity, literacy, disability, sexual orientation and Aboriginal affairs,” and those that “advance council’s strategic goals and priorities by working to improve social outcomes for vulnerable, marginalized and high-risk communities.” He and his brother, Councillor Doug Ford, essentially voted against meeting the outcomes of the City’s strategic plan in doing so. Thankfully, in this instance, all motions carried, but our mayor has made it clear that he does not think the security of vulnerable populations is a priority for “his” Toronto.
The next area of concern for me is the potential for attack on those in our city who use city-run child care centres, as well as those who currently qualify for childcare subsidy. KPMG released an audit Monday stating that a good way to cut costs so the city meets its budget numbers is to cut 2 000 child care subsidy spaces. It also recommended that city-run centres be sold off to private companies. If the city goes with this recommendation, it will be a huge mistake, and here’s why:
1) With a waiting list of over 18 000 children in the city already, removing 2 000 subsidized spaces from the pool will mean an increased need for services from other agencies. Childcare costs, depending on age, number of children, and type of care, may be not only more than the cost of a family’s housing for a month, but may actually be more than the family’s entire net income. If you can’t afford child care, you can’t afford to work. Losing 2 000 subsidy spots therefore means that the families of 2 000 children will be forced to seek assistance through Ontario Works, local food banks and shelters, and they may put their names on the equally long list for housing subsidy in an effort to reduce their costs as best they can. Additionally, for those who cannot qualify for assistance, less safe child care options will be used out of desperation – unlicensed providers who don’t follow the regulations of the Day Nurseries Act, or leaving young children alone with only slightly older siblings to care for them.
And you can be certain that further restricting access to childcare subsidy will have a negative impact on the number of people (women in particular) struggling to leave abusive intimate partnerships – if there’s little hope of getting her head above water on her own due to lack of available support resources, staying in an abusive situation may seem like a safer option from a “meeting the basic care needs of children” perspective.
2) Private child care options are not as good. Sure, they’re cheaper, since the city doesn’t have to do anything financial with them. But. Studies show that non-profit centres attract workers with broader experience and more training. They “develop a culture of quality.” According to this 2007 report, about 8% of child care centres in the city of Toronto are municipally run, 22% are commercially run, and the remaining 80% are non-profit agencies. A study included in the report found that commercial centres provide quality child care at a lower level than non-profit centres. There are more Early Childhood Education (ECE)-trained teachers in non-profit centres, and these trained teachers are paid an average of $4 more per hour than their colleagues in commercial centres. Of note, municipal centres were not included in the numbers, as the environment is not comparable, since municipal centres require 100% of staff to be Early Childhood Education certified, and pay an average of $5 more per hour than both commercial and non-profit centres.
It only makes sense: trained care providers who earn a living wage that reflects their training and experience will lead to a higher quality system of child care. City-run child care services require a universal level of trained teacher, and have been willing to pay for this level of expertise. Cutting almost one-tenth of the higher quality care in this city reduces the options for parents, the quality of care for children, and also has a negative impact on the quality of life of the teachers currently employed in those centres who will have to take significant pay cuts to keep their jobs once the centres are privatized (which then puts them more at risk of poverty as well, given that ECE teachers are not highly paid to begin with).
The third strike against the poor this week is today’s decision to remove the Jarvis bike lanes, as well as two lanes in Scarborough (Pharmacy and Birchmount). While Council also voted to create a bike lane on Sherbourne Street (only a few blocks over from Jarvis), the cost to shut down three sets of lanes and open another are untenable at a time when we’re being told the City needs to tighten its belt. The fact that safer bicycle lanes are seen as expendable (just like public transit) shows that the majority of Council does not understand the cost of travel. For the cost of a monthly TTC Metropass, I can buy a helmet and an annual Bixi membership, allowing me to rideshare a bicycle for the majority of the year. Or I could buy a used bike outright for that cost, and take on the maintenance costs myself (which would still be significantly less expensive than a monthly pass). Not having bike lanes makes it less safe for cyclists. And yes, there are many cyclists in Toronto (and elsewhere) who do not follow road rules. But there are likely just as many drivers who fit that personality profile, and no one in power has argued that drivers need to be kept off the roads.
We are not legally able to ride our bicycles on sidewalks (nor, as a committed pedestrian, do I think that’s appropriate anyway). Cyclists are legally allowed to take up the full space of a lane of traffic and not be pushed unsafely to the side by motorists, but the reality is that cars are big and cyclists are vulnerable to injury if they assert their legal right to those spaces on the roads. So many choose to not even try, because in spite of it being an affordable, sustainable method of transportation that even the poorest of us can access, if it’s not safe to do so, many of us are going to make other, harder choices.
Not being able to afford a car or public transit, and not being able to ride a bicycle safely, drastically reduces the radius in which a person can find work. Making the decision between bus pass and groceries is one that too many individuals and families have to do in order to avoid homelessness.
In the end, I guess that means that not only does Mayor Ford not like poor people, but he likes them** so little that he never wants them to be any other way.
* Thanks, Kanye.
** Them? Us? Am I currently including myself as “poor?” Sure. Poor with acknowledged privilege.