Socioeconomic Pressures on the Elderly and Newly Homeless in Toronto

Socioeconomic Pressures on the Elderlyand Newly Homeless in Toronto

The upcoming 2012 City of Toronto budget seeks to drop spending levels ten percent across the board (Dale, 2011), regardless of the need for services, increasing demand or consideration on the effects to the most marginalised within our city. One such cut will see the closure of homeless shelters gears to the elderly poor – a group that is considered one of the most at risk for abuse, neglect and health issues on the street or at other generalised shelters. This decision comes on the heels of the largest ever cohort of people entering old-age – the baby boom generation (MacDonald, Dergal & Cleghorn, 2007), – and on the cusp of the financial downturn that eradicated a large part of peoples’ retirement savings. Even those with proper housing are facing dramatic increases in property value and, in turn, property taxes based on new assessments that may be well outside any structured retirement plan they have in place (Gillespie, 2007). Persistently high unemployment along with near stagnant economic growth, leaves the elderly, along with the young, as the first groups to be rejected as potential candidates for hiring due to their age and perceived long-term value to a company which denies them the ability to supplement their retirement income (Cohen, 1999). This perfect storm of socioeconomic conditions sets the stage for what might be the largest influx of elderly homeless on our streets at a time when we callously rollback services.


The pathway to homelessness in the elderly is not unlike that of street youth in that it consists of multidimensional factors including the lack of affordable housing, employment or institutional services (Stegiopoulos & Herrmann, 2003) – but the risk factors are different, including the of loss of stable income, death of a spouse or significant other, lack of a proper caregiver or eviction (Crane, 1999). Others that have been institutionalised for a long period for physical or mental health issues and have lost their housing within that time (Hecht & Coyle, 2003) and are often released to shelters as a last resort. Further still, some have become homeless in their middle-age as they were living with elderly parents – due to economic or health concerns – who since passed away leaving their offspring little-to-no social safety net (Crane & Warnes, 2000). All of these factors are pressured by past economic ability – with many surviving in poor or near-poor conditions most of their lives – and never having the benefits that full- and long-time employment provides, such as personal saving or pensions (Cohen, 1999). While the relative population of this subgroup is falling when compared to all homeless people, in absolute numbers it is in fact increasing and expected to climb in North America by an estimated half million people (Cohen, 1999) in the next fifteen years as our general population ages.


Many studies argue that the defining age for elderly homeless be decrease by 10 to 20 years than in the average population since the physical and mental health effects of living on the street causes the appearance and behaviour of being older (Crane & Warnes, 2000). It is expected that a homeless man over the age of 45 were twice as likely to die prematurely than the average male and that “the cost of being homeless in North America is losing about 20 years of your life expectancy” (Wright, Rubin & Devine, 1998, 167). Unlike the rest of the homeless population, women outnumber men –  possibly due to life expectancy (Cohen 1999) but also because men spend 50% more time on the street in comparison (Crane & Warnes, 2000) and women tend to enter street life in their later years (Crane, 1999). The lack of adequate and safe hospice for the elderly in shelters tends to bring the on-set of street sickness – a combination of a number of issues including respiratory problems, skin afflictions and malnutrition from exposure to the elements and poor hygiene (Higgitt, et al, 2003) – that further accelerates physical and mental health issues already progressing in the elderly population. This can lead to an increase of degenerative diseases and chronic conditions such as hypertension, anaemia, cardio- and cerebro-vascular diseases (MacDonald, Dergal & Cleghorn, 2007). Unlike other homeless groups whose mortality is more often caused by AIDS, suicide or homicide, the elderly tend to die early from cancer and heart diseases and mostly alone in a hospital or residential setting (Hwang, 2000).


Mental health issues are often sited as a driving factor to homelessness in the elderly population, such as the on-set of early dementia or Parkinson’s disease (Stegiopoulos & Herrmann, 2003), but often the conditions from living on the street and isolation from family and friends are the catalyst for these issues. One third of older homeless men were found to be clinically depressed (Cohen, 1999) which stresses am already weakened immune systems and physical health. Elderly women tend to be even further debilitated depending on age: with 57-75% reporting depression over the age of fifty in comparison to only 10 % under the age of twenty (Crane & Warnes, 2000). The lost of a long-time partner, isolation from a community or the inability to adapt to a life of poverty leads to an entrenched feeling of isolation and loss of pride that leads to depression, hostility, poor self-esteem and psychosomatic illnesses (Rokach, 2003). Males are four times more likely than women to engage in long-term alcohol abuse which follows them to the street and increases with age (Cohen, 1999) and is often neglected upon medical review, being incorrectly attributed to physiological changes due to aging or dementia (MacDonald, Dergal & Cleghorn, 2007).


The lack of services and support is sited as the causation and continuance of both mental and physical health issues and reliance on the street. Often, without encouragement, physical ailments go undiagnosed because of the lack of a family physician, inability to recognise the severity of the issue or fear, either of being shunned by or directly suspicious of, the medical community and potential institutionalisation (Crane & Warnes, 2000). Others were barred from seeking medical help because of the lack of a health card or insurance and from the reluctance of health providers to register homeless people because of their multiple inflictions and transient nature (Hwang, 2000). The Daily Bread Food bank also notes that 40% of their older recipients of their service often had difficulty paying for their prescription medications every month with as many as 27% declining outright to purchase them simply because of affordability (2001). The newly elderly homeless also tend also to stay with services familiar and close to them, such as onsite clinics where they take shelter, but are seemingly oblivious to community outreach programs and drop-in centres (MacDonald, Dergal & Cleghorn, 2007). They are also subject to more victimization within these shelters from other residents due to their frail condition, including physical assault, thief and rape (Cohen, 1999).


Traditional services to aid the homeless rely on as methodology of crisis intervention and attempt to focus on building independence and self-sufficiency (MacDonald, Dergal & Cleghorn, 2007) a program better geared to youth and young adults. Elderly homeless require greater access to mobility and care during the day, often unavailable in shelter as they only operate during the evening hours (Stegiopoulos & Herrmann, 2003). Mental health issues – including depression, requires constant and static care to stymie isolation – and chronic and multiple physical health conditions need support and aid for medication (Cohen, 1999). While income among older homeless people is reportedly two times higher than their younger counterparts due to social assistance, old age security and past pensions (Cohen, 1999; Crane & Warnes, 2000) their ability to find alternative sources of income from temporary employment or street services is limited by their physical abilities and public perception (Crane, 1999). The MacDonald, Dergal & Cleghorn study in Toronto also showed that 50% of the recently elderly homeless also are immigrants to Canada and have suffered from family breakdowns and little communications with ex-spouses and community. Those who are moved immediately out of standard social programs to dedicated, specialised shelters where they can obtain services and a proper network suffer less from chronic health issues and are more likely to survive longer and find permanent homes (2007). Regardless of who, where, when and how they arrive, the elderly homeless population struggle with differing needs that require much more substantive and long-term care and need for these programs, particularly when socioeconomic conditions are pushing more into old age and near poverty, has never been more prevalent. The audacity to close services rather than opening more seems ludicrous, untimely and wholly unpalatable.




Cohen, C. I. (1999) Aging and homelessness. The Gerontologist, 39(1). 5-14.

Crane, M. (1999) Understanding Older Homeless People. Housing Studies, 15(2). 325-327.

Crane, M & Warnes, A. M. (2000) Lessons from Lancefield Street: Tackling the needs of older homeless people. National Homeless Alliance. London.

Daily Bread Food Bank (2001) Aging with Dignity? How governments create insecurity for low-income seniors. Toronto.

Dale, D. (2011, Dec. 7) Environmentalists, child-care advocates speak out: Follow it Live. The Toronto Star. Retrieved from:–environmentalists-child-care-advocates-speak-out-follow-it-live

Gillespie, K. (2007, Sept. 27) Who can rescue seniors from property tax trap? The Toronto Star. Retrieved from:

Hecht, L. & Coyle, B. (2001). Elderly Homeless: A Comparison of Older and Younger Adult Emergency Shelter Seekers in Bakersfield, California. American Behavioral Scientist, 45(1). 66-79.

Hwang, S. (2000) Homelessness and Health. Canadian Medical Journal, 164(2). 229-233.

MacDonald, L., Dergal, J. & Cleghorn, L. (2007) Living on the Margins. Jornal of Gerontological Social Work, 49(1-2). 19-46.

Rokach, A. (2003) The Lonely and Homeless: Causes and Consequences. The Institute for the Study and Treatment of Psychosocial Stress, Toronto.

Stergiopoulos, V. & Herrmann, N. (2003, July) Old and Homeless: A Review and Survey of Older Adults Who Use Shelters in an Urban Setting. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 48. Canadian Psychiatric Association. 374-380.

Wright, J. D., Rubin, B. A. & Devine J. A. (1998). Beside the golden door: Policy, politics and the homeless. Aldine de Gruyter, New York.

Homelessness in Canada

Homelessness in Canada

Describe and discuss the challenges and policy implications of defining homelessness

The common stereotype of the homeless is based on those in direct visibility – often unwashed, crazed individuals that roam aimlessly through the streets seeking whatever pittance afforded to them by the passing public. This is a reflection of absolute homelessness – those who live on the street or in emergency shelters – but it is argued that this only represents the “tip of the iceberg” (Echenberg & Jensen, 2008) not to mention begin facetious and misinformed. Two further categories that should be considered or those that are concealed and in relative homelessness – living in places not of their own or are in conditions that are unfit or intermediate (Girard, 2006) – and can be given temporal qualities such as the chronic, cyclical or temporary (Being, et al., 1999). While this may expose more of the issue and help delineate between particular groups in order to define policy approaches, it remains broad and too exclusive definition whereas members can easily move between or out of groups over time depending on a number of factors (Springer, 2011).


The definition of homelessness also hinges on the bias of those whose responsibility it is to develop policy and approach the issue – often influenced by the perception of the public who prefer to pass blame to the homeless rather than adopt social and fiscal responsibility (Layton, 2008, 42-44). This creates a schism between those in the position to provide aid and those who are in need of it – with governments creating a minimalist construct of the issue as to limit negative public response (Chapham, 1990). Neo-conservatives Mulroney, Harris and Lastman took views to appease the public sentiment (Layton, 2008, 39-45) and curtailed social assistance, distancing themselves under the premise that homelessness is a “choice” and it is up to the individual to mete out their own fate (Fallis & Murray, 1990) or by out-right dismissing the argument – insisting it doesn’t exist or that unfettered market forces will ultimately solve the issue by removing the impediment to competitiveness made by public welfare spending (Harvey, 1989, 7-16).

The inability and will to develop a holistic definition of homelessness – coerced by public and political leanings bent toward neo-liberalist ideals – leads to a statistic that is immeasurable and thus impossible to develop an overarching policy (Hulchanski, 2000). Houselessness helps define a broader view of the issues that are staging grounds for more transparent definitions including those who are inadequately housed. These are families or individuals that are without long-term legal tenure to ensure security; removed from required social and natural resources that affect health, safety and community; lack affordable housing – not only at the offset but over time – where less than 50% of their income is required for proper shelter; or bee made available a space which provides adequate privacy, sound living conditions and accessibility for those with special needs. A home should encompass not only the bare minimum standards of outlined by the United Nation Declaration of Human Rights (1948) but be resilient against social, environmental and economic shifts that – with globalization and an ever-changing environment – occur at a more frequent scale (Springer, 2000).


Annually, 22,000 make use of the 3,800 shelter beds available in Toronto, 68,000 remain in line for affordable housing, 150,000 pay more than 50% of their income towards rent (StatsCan, 2006) and 260,000 pay more than 30% – an amount that encompasses approximately 20% of all households (QuickFacts, 2011). The issue of homelessness under the auspices of houselessness attempts to capture a much greater group than the official count of 5,000 under the absolute definition (QuickFacts, 2011) and shows how close many are to being At Risk (Hulchanski, 2000). But even this number leaves out the number of hidden homeless – those who have lost their homes only to be taken in by friends or family, commonly referred to as “couch-surfers” – and should be considered too for inclusion in the At Risk category (Hwang, 2000). It is estimated that mitigating the needs of the homeless through programs and shelters on a interim basis costs taxpayers an estimated ten times that it would cost to house them properly in the long-term facilities (Blueprint, 2007) – not including the effects of stress that physical and mental health will have on our social and health infrastructure budgets (Hwang, 2000) – a amount that, if acted upon pre-emptively, can atone neo-conservative ideals of shrinking government expenditures if the initial capital outlay is made to mitigate the At Risk population.


Public policy is driven by clear and balance declaration and said definition may be based on bias – particularly when discussing an emotionally-charged issue such as homelessness (Cassavant, 1999). Major educational and economic players – including Finance Ministers, Bank Governors and Professors – have recently contributed their concern over continuing global economic turmoil (Whittington, 2011) a city becoming increasing divided by income disparity (Hulchanski, 2007) and activism reflecting the public disdain for inaction (Torobin, 2011). With continued policies that hinder our cities ability to solve the issue – such as the recent decision to sell TCHC units (Vincent, 2011) – we are shown the direct result of not having a clear, cohesive definition to provide concrete quantitative measures needed to define policy that can lead public discourse toward a viable, fiscally and socially responsible solution (Cassavant, 1999).


 “No one chooses to be hungry, dirty, sleepless and afraid” (Hector, homeless youth, 1999). Discuss this statement critically with specific reference to the health, morbidity, social stigma and legal issues facing street youth.

Out of all the sub-groups in the homeless population, adolescents experience the most extreme of conditions – with increased health concerns and higher morbidity and morality rates than all other groups.  It is also the group with the highest rate of increase (Report Card, 2003) and faces greater social and economical resistance while being exposed to more instances of physical and sexual assaults on the street, alcohol and drug abuse and disproportionate amount of conflicts with the law (CMHC, 2001). No one chooses this life to be “hungry, dirty, sleepless and afraid” (Hector, 1999) but often the opportunities they have to avoid or escape are limited and they have either fled worse conditions at home or have never known a home in the first place (Rokach, 2003).


Many homeless youth identify a problematic childhood as a driving force (Kidd, 2003) with physical, mental and sexual abuse being the catalyst to them leaving home (CHMC, 2001). Stability at home or within the child welfare system also plays a major factor where neglect, family continuity or domestic violence (Kidd, 2003) pushes adolescents to the street – while pull factors, such as a desire for independence, resistance to rules or authority and desire for experimentation also play a deciding factor (Miller, et al., 2004). Differing sexual orientation is disproportionately higher in street youth then their counterparts and has been on the rise in recent years – specifically from those who traveled from smaller communities –  (McCreary, 2007) and can be attributed to lack of acceptance by family members or social problems at school (Higgitt, et al. 2003).


Half of street youth start to become involved between the ages of 11-14 years old (McCreary, 2007) with many having left school prior to completing a basic level of education due to alienation, poor achievement (Higgitt, et al. 2003) or have been expelled for reasons spawning from their troubled lives (McCreary, 2007). As a result, they have trouble obtaining employment or suffer from low wages which along with the lack of affordable housing have driven them to the street (CMHC, 2001). Welfare assistance programs in many provinces are not available to those between the ages of 16 and 19 where they are outside the catchments of child welfare policy and below the cut-off for social assistance (Kelly & Caputo, 2007) driving many to seek less mainstream employment and become relegated to more marginal sources of income such as panhandling, “squeegeeing”, selling drug and prostitution (Baron, 2001). This requires adolescents to form bonds with other disenfranchised youth – often described as their street family – and further perpetuates their reliance on street lifestyle (Higgitt, et al. 2003).


Youth are at higher risk of being exposed to violent crime (Kufeldt & Burrows, 1994) which makes them adverse to shelters leading to more time being spent on the street where a condition that Higgitt et al. describe as ‘street sickness’ occurs (2003). Poor hygiene, exposure to the elements and a substandard diet exacerbates existing conditions, specifically those who encounter a laissez-faire attitude to sexual encounters (Dachner & Tarasuk, 2002) – either by choice, lack of means or requested or forced in-trade (AHS, 2003). Drug abuse is common as a part of sexual encounters (McCreary, 2007) or to combat or subdue mental health issues (Kidd, 2003) which can lead to increased violence and injury (Kelly & Caputo, 2007). This high-risk lifestyle coupled with poor living conditions (Dachner & Tarasuk, 2002) and lack of funds for medication (Caputo, 1996) or ability to store or regulate those provided for free (Kelly & Caputo, 2007) leads to a higher morbidity rate than other homeless people for similar and preventable ailments.


Unchecked mental health (Kidd, 2003) driven by the malaise of poor health (Higgitt, et al, 2003) coupled with feelings of inadequacy, loneliness through ostracism and anxiety over the future (Rokach, 2003) can lead to a higher rate of drug and alcohol abuse – compounding the problem – as well as increased violence and suicide rates among street youth. Increased violence not only leads to a higher rate for murder (Roy, et al., 2004) but more theft and drug arrests and convictions among adolescents on the street (McCreary, 2007). This causes a social backlash against street youth and forces governments to enforce laws that limit the remaining “legal” sources of income that are less prone to health or safety issues – such as panhandling or “squeegeeing” (Layton, 2008).


While it is the combination of physical and mental health issues that contribute to the lessened life expectancy of adolescents on the street, many of the factors that drive these conditions are often unavoidable and seen as a better alternative to that which they escaped. Without recourse to elevate from their current position and the “comfort” that is provided by the street community, many are stuck in a vicious cycle of depression and abuse that makes them easy prey for exploitation. Street youth are, by far, the most marginalised of the homeless population – but by no means is it a construct of choice. It is the negative and misinformed perception from society that has directed policy against this group that has limited the means for survival and caused many to live in conditions fraught with repetitive, life-threatening choices.



[AHS] Adolescent Health Survey (2003) McCreary Centre Society, Vancouver.

Baron, S. (2001) Street Youth labour market experience and crime. Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology, 38. 189-215.

[Blueprint] Framework for the Blueprint to End Homelessness in Toronto (2006) Wellesley Institute, Toronto. Retrieved from

Cassavant, L. (1999, Jan.) Definition of Homelessness (PRB 99-1E). Political and Social Affairs Division of the Parliamentary Research Branch, Government of Canada.

Chapman, D (1990) “Conclusions” Homelessness: Public Policies and Private Troubles. Cassell, New York. 232.

CHMC (2001, July) Environmental Scan of Youth Homelessness. Research Highlights: Socio-economic Series, 86;

Dachner, N. & Tarasuk, V. (2002) Homeless ‘squeegee kids’: Food insecurity and daily survival. Social Science & Medicine, 54. 1039-1049.

Echenberg, H. & Jensen, H. (2008) Defining and Enumerating Homelessness in Canada. Library of Parliament, Ottawa.

Farris, G. & Murray A. eds. (1990) Housing the Homeless and Poor: New Partnerships among the Private, Public and Third Sectors. University of Toronto Press, Toronto. 3.

Girard, M. (2006) Determining the Extend of the Problem: The Values and Challenges of Enumeration. Canadian Review of Social Policy (58). 104.

Harvey, D. (1989) From managerialism to entrepreneurialism: The Transformation in Urban Governance in Late Capitalism. Geografiska Annaler 71B(1). Wiley-Blackwell, Sockholm. 3-17.

Higgitt, N., Wingert, S. & Ristock, J (2003) Voices from the margins: Experiences of street-involved youth in Winnipeg. University of Winnipeg.

Hulchanski, D. (2000, Dec.) Categorizing Houselessness for Research and Policy Purposes: Absolute, Concealed and At Risk. University of Toronto Press, Toronto.

Hulchanski, D. (2007) The Three Cities within Toronto. Cities Centre Press, Toronto.

Hwang, S. (2000) Homelessness and Health. Canadian Medical Journal, 164(2). 229-233.

Kelly, K. & Caputo, T. (2007) Health and Street/Homeless Youth. Journal of Health Psychology, 12(5). 726-736.

Kidd, S. A. (2003) Street Youth: Coping and Interventions. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 20. 235-261.

Layton, J. (2008) Homelessness: How to End the National Crisis. Penguin Books, Toronto.

McCreary Centre Society (2007) Against the Odds: A profile of marginalized and street-involved youth in BC. Vancouver.

Miller, P., Donahue, P. Este, D. & Hofer, M. (2004) Experiences of being Homeless or At Risk of being Homeless among Canadian Youth. Adolescence, 39. 736-755.

QuickFacts (2011, May) Toronto Shelter, Support & Housing Administration. City of Toronto. Retrieved from

[Report Card] Toronto Report Card on Housing and Homelessness (2003) City of Toronto.

Rokach, A. (2003) The Lonely and Homeless: Causes and Consequences. The Institute for the Study and Treatment of Psychosocial Stress, Toronto.

Roy, E., Haley, N. Leclerc, P., Sochanski, B., Boudreau, J. & Boivin, J. (2004) Mortality in a cohort of street youth in Montreal. Journal of the American Medical Association, 292(5). 569-574.

Springer, J. (2011) Defining Homelessness: PLE845 [In-Class Lecture].  RyersonUniversity, Toronto. September 21st, 2011.

Springer, S. (2000) Homelessness: A Proposal for a Global Definition and Classification. Habitat International, 24. 475-484.

Torobin, J. (2011, Oct. 14) Bank of Canada head calls Occupy protests ‘entirely constructive’. The Globe and Mail.

United Nations (1948) The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25.1.

Vincent, D. (2011, Oct. 21) Toronto Community Housing approves sale of 706 houses. The Toronto Star. Retrieved from–toronto-community-housing-approves-sale-of-706-houses

Whittington, L. (2011, Oct. 21) European debt crisis has Flaherty worried. The Toronto Star. Retrieved from


Rob Ford vs Filion

Rob Ford vs Filion

Rob Ford vs Filion

Rob Ford vs Filion (Source: Toronto Life, Oct. 2011)

Late Monday, after the kerfuffle at City Hall over the Rob Ford scandal, I wrote to members of council a thank you note which received a number of positive responses, including those from members, staff and high-profile members in the #topoli twittersphere. While I am still new to posting on this site and through Twitter — and my active participation in municipal politics — I must say I am very impressed with the responses thus far. This includes this very well-written response to my letter from Councillor John Filion of Ward 23 Willowdale.

Councillor Filion is no fan Mayor Rob Ford. His Ford Nation Voting Score is a mere 11.32% according to Matt Elliott and once wanted to limit  the Mayor’s powers during the contract-outsourcing of residential garbage pick-up worried about the mayor might be planning to do something impulsive” – but he writes back in the following letter, which picks up on a number of my points quite well as well as introducing some interesting new ones I’ve always suspected, but never confirmed. His summary of the acts and actions required was so well summarized that I felt impelled to share it with the rest of Toronto — and the world (I’ve highlighted some of the more impressive parts)


Hi Christopher,


Thanks for your e-mail.  The past few weeks have been without precedent in many ways: the amount of international, national and local attention focussed on City Hall; ongoing appalling behaviour by the Mayor of this city; new revelations, allegations and admissions regarding Mayor Ford’s conduct, with no end in sight; and finally the overwhelming vote to strip the Mayor of most of his powers.


My office has been flooded with phone calls and emails, partly due to the high level of awareness and concern but also due to my role in the calling of three Special Meetings of Council to deal with my motions to remove much of Mayor Ford’s powers.


Some calls were from angry Ford supporters, from as far away as Saskatchewan. But by far the majority of calls and emails from constituents indicated strong support for my position that the situation had deteriorated to such an extent that something had to be done.


The actions I took in writing the motions, and in initiating the Special meetings to deal with them, were taken after much careful thought, many conversations with my colleagues on Council, and a considerable amount of personal sadness that the Mayor had, by his choices, left us with no viable alternative than to separate and protect the decision-making process from his highly destabilizing influence.


I will not attempt to chronicle Mayor Ford’s misdeeds, some of which he has admitted to, and others which remain as allegations at this point.


Council’s Actions:


On Wednesday of last week, 30 Councillors signed a letter asking the Mayor to please step aside, for a period of time, to deal with his problems. I was one of the Councillors who initiated that letter. Before this, virtually all of the Mayor’s allies on Council, with the likely exception of his brother, had attempted to give this advice to Mayor Ford privately. When the informal approach was unsuccessful, Council, also on Wednesday, overwhelmingly supported a motion formally asking him to step aside and seek help. Again, the Mayor adamantly denied he had any serious problems and refused to take a break from his duties.


At this point, I asked Councillors to sign a petition for a Special Meeting on Friday to deal with my motion to remove the Mayor’s ability to hire and fire the Chairs of Committees and the Deputy Mayor. For more on the reasons for that motion, you can read the opinion piece I wrote for the Toronto Star.




On Thursday, the Mayor began the day with a public statement so grossly inappropriate that it cannot even be paraphrased. This was rapidly followed by the release of police documents including police interviews with several former members of his staff. If these statements are to be believed – the Mayor admitted to excessive drinking, and drinking and driving, but denied the rest – the  pattern of misconduct, was not only on his personal time but crossed over into his role as Mayor.


By Friday, Council was so shocked, alarmed and fed up that it approved (by votes of 41-3 and 42-2) my motions to remove his power over appointments, and to transfer, to the Deputy Mayor, his authority to deal with emergencies.


Still, the Mayor rejected many personal pleas from friends and allies to step aside to seek help. Members of Council became so concerned about the rapidly deteriorating situation that they supported my petition for a third Special Meeting, on Monday, to remove any other powers Council had conferred on the Mayor.


On Monday, all of my motions received the required two thirds vote of Council. Among other measures, many of the Mayor’s duties, including chairing the Executive Committee, are transferred to the Deputy Mayor.


Was the decision democratic?


All Councillors – and me in particular as the author of the motion – agonized over this point. Mayor Ford was duly elected and there are 11 months left until the next election.


To begin with, it is extremely important to note that all of my motions kept in place all of the councillors Mayor Ford had appointed to positions of authority. All of these councillors have supported his approach to government spending, in accordance with the mandate received by the Mayor in the 2010 election.  By ensuring that the Mayor’s team remained in place, Council made it clear that the decision to reduce the Mayor’s powers was not politically-motivated; we were driven to it solely by his terribly bad behaviour and the need to protect the functioning of city government from a Mayor who was clearly spiralling out of control.


Secondly, the motions were overwhelmingly supported by the Mayor’s ideological allies on Council, as well as by Councillors from all parts of the City. In response to the Mayor’s suggestion that it was “a coup d’etat,” one commentator replied: “I’ve never seen a coup d’etat with so much voting.”


The Mayor noted the 383,501 votes he received in the 2010 election. But, at the same time, voters in the same area collectively gave the members of Council 415,546 votes. Individual councillors have limited authority, but Council as a whole has tremendous power, including deciding what powers it wishes to bestow upon the Mayor in addition to those granted him by provincial statute. What Council has the legal authority to give, it also has the legal and moral authority to take away if it believes that such action is in the best in interests of the City and its residents.


What next?


A positive by-product of the drama at City Hall is that it has brought together councillors who have, unfortunately in recent years, grown accustomed to working in ideological and geographical pockets. I am very hopeful that Council will actually function better over the next year than it has in the past three.


I believe that Deputy Mayor Kelly, with his greatly increased powers, will encourage this.


Will the Rob Ford sideshow continue? Only he can decide that. Based on his behaviour during Monday’s Council debate – mimicking drunk driving, bowling over a female councillor, leaving his seat to incite the audience in the Council chamber, and vowing to wage war on members of Council, like George Bush did on Saddam Hussein – it’s not going to be pretty.


But – please – feel confident that, no matter how dysfunctional it may look at times – Council is made up members who are, for the  most part, rational, calm, intelligent, capable, hard working, and extremely mindful of the responsibility we have towards our constituents.


Best wishes,




The most shocking information was that of angry calls to his office regarding the decision coming from parts of the country nowhere close to our fine city. This should be a reminder to all of us that Ford Nation should not be dismissed as a subset of voters within our populous that are disenfranchised Toronto Sun readers living within the inner-suburbs. Ford Nation is more than just a grassroots municipal political movement — but that of a political ideology, one akin to that of the American Tea Party movement. While they state they are for democracy, transparency and fighting for the common-man — this couldn’t be further from the truth.  They are well-organised, well-funded, indifferent, irrational, disillusioned and ill-informed simultaneously — which is downright dangerous.

This should also be a reminder, to all of us, that we must be more involved in our local politics. While recent demonstrations and talk in bars and coffee shops (over lattes, perhaps, no less)  has been refreshing — the fact remains that political involvement during elections and voter turnout remain at all-time lows. Many I have talked to about the situation have either indicated that they never did vote in the previous election — or more worrisome — voted for Ford but did not understand how bad he would be. Sadly, I’d rather have inaction over ignorance — but ultimately, I’d rather have neither.

So visit, mail, call or tweet your councillor. Get involved!


*** On a side note. Doesn’t John Filion look a lot like Boris Johnson??? ***

Boris Johnson - Mayor of London

Boris Johnson – Mayor of London


Sidelining Rob Ford

Sidelining Rob Ford

Rob Ford bowling over fellow council member in chambers.

Rob Ford bowling over fellow council member in chambers. November 18th, 2013. Source: The National Post

On Friday November 15th and Monday November 18th 2013, two special meetings of Toronto City Council were held in order to strip the powers conferred by the chamber to the sitting mayor. These are powers that are not statutory as laid out by the Municipal Act of Ontario or the City of Toronto Act, 2006 and their removal would not contravene any law or negate the responsibilities laid out in the Acts — regardless of what Mayor Rob Ford, his brother Councillor Doug Ford and their lawyer George Rust D’eye may say.

But, under the threat of lawsuits both to the City, Council and perhaps individual councillors by Rob Ford and his newly obtained municipal lawyer, debate along with speeches throughout the day were wrought with worry over litigation, legality and the unknown and unfortunate precedent that the proposed motions would enact or establish. The decisions made by individual councillors were tough, formed under immense pressure and fear of retaliation.

Thankfully, the Mayor and his brother continued their rambunctious acts, insolent attitudes and thinly-veiled threats to their fellow colleagues, former-allies and friends — including an attack of intimidation of the members of the public that packed the chambers to express their interest in municipal politics and observe one of the most important and contentious political meetings held in Toronto since the Upper Canada Rebellion.

While these actions may have influenced those remaining on the fence, the ability to respond and act in defiance of those who manipulate and bully without concept of recourse — and to those who possess not only a boisterous and stubborn constituent but perhaps ties to dangerous drug and gun running gangs or organised crime — took amazing courage. It is these actions in voting for the motions, whether in-part or in-parcel, that our elected officials and our fellow citizens should be commended, appreciated and thanked.

Often correspondence to our elected officials is only in anger — venomous letters or response to single acts or votes that have upset us or continued protest to their political leanings or association. I, myself, have gone against leaders, representatives and legislative member — even when fundamentally I believe them to be excellent leaders and upstanding citizens — because of a stance or alignment that irked myself personally or professionally. But whether you are left or right aligned, light or heavy rail, socially or fiscally responsible — there comes a time when all political strips must align.

Council demonstrated this at both of these special meetings.

United against Mayor Rob Ford, his actions and his past — including his inability to show any legitimate remorse — the mass majority of Toronto Council voted to strip the powers they were legally allowed. In response, Mayor Rob Ford and his brother Doug Ford declared ‘war’ — equating himself to Kuwait and the remainder of council to Saddam Hussein — threatening to unleash the rabid Ford Nation on each and every one of them.

So, for a change, I took it upon myself to respond in kind — by writing a thank you letter to each member who voted, regardless of my previous experience with them or their political leanings. Each member who voted for the motions limiting Mayor Rob Ford deserves our support and kudos — because it was this that separates the real politicians from those hailing from Ford Nation.


And I encourage everyone else to do the same.


Here is the boiler plate for the letter I written. Please feel free to work off of it.


Subject: Thank you for your votes regarding Mr. Ford


Dear Councillor,


I would like to take this time to thank you – both personally and on behalf of all citizens of this great city – for voting to limit the powers of our absent, abrasive and often abhorrent mayor.


While I understand it was very difficult for some members to vote on all motions or specific line-items, the act of council as a whole demonstrated a common front that shows the public – and the world – that his recent activities, associations and abuses will not be tolerated by the good people of Toronto. This not only cements our faith in the operation of City Hall, but our faith in the political system as a whole.


I would also like to reassure you given the thinly-veiled threats – prior, during and after through the media by the Ford family, their supporters and their colleagues – that myself, my acquaintances and the people of Toronto stand by your decision now and that during upcoming election and campaign you will have our full support to denounce any opportunist or illicit acts that they may commit in the name of their so-called ‘war’. To paraphrase: You have a solid ally in the coming battle.


I truly believe in our political system when the fight is fair and those participating are forthright. What the City has observed and has been subjected to was beyond the extraordinary – and required the extraordinary measures that you have taken in the past few council meetings in order to restore belief, balance – and sanity.


Again, thank you. And keep up your excellent work and passion for our city.




Christopher Evan Jones, B.U.R.Pl




No more than 24 hours after sending the e-mails, I have had positive and heart-felt responses from quite a number of council members! I wish to thank the following members for their replies and proving that civil, community-oriented politics is not dead in Toronto:


Councillor Josh Matlow (Ward 22, St.Paul’s)

Councillor Michelle Berardinetti (Ward 35 Scarborough Southwest)

Councillor Raymond Cho (Ward 42 Scarborough-Rouge River)

Councillor Josh Colle (Ward 15 Eglinton-Lawrence)

Councillor Gord Perks (Ward 14 Parkdale-High Park)

Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon (Ward 32 Beaches-East York)

Councillor Mark Grimes (Ward 6 Etobicoke-Lakeshore)

Councillor Mike Layton (Ward 19 Trinity-Spadina)

Councillor Sarah Doucette (Ward 13 Parkdale-High Park)

Councillor John Filion (Ward 23 Willowdale) – See his full response here!

Councillor Jaye Robinson  (Ward 25 Don Valley West)

Councillor Janet Davis (Ward 31 Beaches-East York)


*** And I should note that none of these councillors have a staff of 20 apparently required to respond so promptly  :) ***


The Pickering International Airport: 40 Years of Regional Planning

Sample of the report

Sample of the report

Submitted: November 10th, 2010

Group assignment on the policies reflecting land-use and the controversial Pickering Airport plans.


Abby Besharah
Daniel Gordon
Christopher Evan Jones
Brandon Langille

Personal Contribution:

Layout / Design

Timeline Graphic

History, Analysis & Conclusion


Since 1972, a number of attempts have been made to create a second international airport to service the growing GTA region. While the first attempt to establish a multi-nodal air transportation system within the region failed in 1975 due to failing political support and the changing socio-economic atmosphere of Canada. The need to alleviate future air capacity issues has become critical to the local and national economy. Local municipal airports are experiencing pressure for redevelopment, and limited operational capacity is advancing their eventual closure. Final attempts to maximize capacity at Pearson International are soon to be completed, so that action on the Pickering Airport Lands – an area north-east of Toronto under federal control for 38 years – has become a front-burner issue for planners and aviation policy makers in recent years.
It is important that remnants from the past do not go unheeded. Planning around four levels of government, some spanning multiple territories directly from land implications or indirectly through noise and air pollution can be an overwhelming and daunting task. Not taking lessons from history and understanding the full implications of externalities, this initiative could once again fail for the same reasons as 35 years ago. It risks becoming detrimental to the development and strength of local, regional, provincial and national economic engines implicating many industries including trade, tourism and housing.
Complicating this process is the exponential development of surrounding towns that once made this airport location so desirable. Developing business clusters, such as the high-tech industries in the westerly Markham region and the automotive industry to the east in Oshawa both require new support structures to continue growth or maintain their current trajectory. The introduction of environmental conservation policies and smart growth initiatives monetizes the surrounding lands rapidly, and places pressure on municipalities to continue with the current plan or declare it a finally dead proposal.


Download the Pickering International Airport assignment


Winning Hearts and Minds: How New Media has changed the Face of Democracy

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011


I.         Existential Democracy

Technology has the intrinsic ability to alter and transform society – from the advent of the written word, public discourse, en masse publications, industrialisation and digitisation; each has demanded dramatic shifts in how we both commune and develop (Burns, 2010). Control of knowledge has become a valued and intangible commodity and has the ability to educate, influence and sequester public sentiment (Pink, 2005). New Media through the Internet has removed the temporal and spatial limitations on knowledge that once allowed for direction, control and sober aforethought once privileged to the leaders of state and industry – and has become a formidable weapon in the hands of proponents for change (Negroponte, 1995). Ignoring or discounting the power of the collective individual’s capacity for change has recently toppled long-standing regimes and stifled engrained organizations and reshaped the public eye in manners and speeds never seen before. It is up for governments to no longer attempt mitigation but adapt policies and function to meet the heavy demands of the common while preparing for an ever-dynamic public opinion. The failure to do so can lead to the dramatic collapse within the global social fabric and allow for societal shifts and abnormalities spawned from once fringe groups that have entered under the spectre of libertarianism to hide their true agenda or leave dangerous power vacuums in its wake (Howlett, Ramesh & Perl, 2009).


II.        Redefining Socialisation

Previous to the digital revolution, social development was moulded by four major proponents of society: Family, Peers, School and Media (Brym & Lie, 2009). While Arnett (1995) once argued the value of Self-Socialisation through self-reflection of media selection, the concept fell short as under conventional media since the self-selection was based between controlled information sources that upheld common morals and mores and designed to generate a solid audience in the hopes to maintain consensus or a return on investment (Crust, 2010). The Internet has changed the capital expenditure for knowledge and information dissemination by removing the requirements for physical real-estate, academic prowess and governmental regulations that are demanded from other forms of media – such as print, radio or television (Weinberger, 2002). Also, without direct appeal from advertisers to maintain a well-grounded and holistic audience in which to portray a given message, more individuals are able to provide their own specific brand of opinion without social warrant or monetary backlash (Robinson & Martin, 2010). Web search engines are used to source material-based knowledge not on relevance, but relation – how many people link to the information regardless whether in an a negative or positive light (Wakeford, 2004) – and because opinion is now relational and not rational, once rare or limited voices can have as much weight on the Internet then that of well-established institutions (Weinberger, 2002). This, however, also leads to questions of the quality, if not validity of said information. Without the requirement to maintain respect or authority, more biased or manipulative information is readily available and anonymity allows for competing views or usurpation of knowledge that can hoodwink the observer for personal gain or malicious mean (Weinberger, 2002).


More than ever, the Internet has become our sole source for sharing knowledge, far outweighing other social actors. This is attributed to its ability to be bi-directional, non-exclusive and global with utmost immediacy (DiMaggio, et al., 1996). Many young adults today have only known a world where information was conveyed in a manner not construed by states or corporations and were rarely exposed to well-rounded, unbiased mass media that sought to encourage public discourse through balanced reporting and considered all points-of-view (Machi and George, 2009). There are less restrictions to participation and inclusion in the development of dialog from a broad-base cohort of society; that changes the direction and quantity of ideas – but quality may indiscriminately alter the direction of policy through fallacy or mob-mentality (Calhoun, 1998); As well, the sheer amount of information, both personal, collective and available with such immediacy has led many to focus limited attention to sources that are more akin to our like-mindedness, stifling the ability to seek out alternate opinion and thus harming personal objectivity; and finally the speed in which ideas and discourse develops and may be shared undermines our ability to absorb and relate information in a meaningful, self-constructed manner – a privilege once obtained through written word and thoughtful well-structured education. The speed and range of information to envelop the world has led to a modern, digital agora that has allowed individual voice and opinion and redefined social attitudes (Robinson & Martin, 2010).


III.      The Global Village

Increased globalisation along with adapted technology has rendered the physical borders between nations inconsequential – or fuzzy at best – with the economy being the driving force behind the success of states and their governments integrated by trans-national corporations and ostensive trade (Howlett, Ramesh & Perl, 2009). First, with the riots that started in the Middle East against longstanding authorities began not only over oppression and limited civic liberties but driven by the disillusionment of highly-educated and underemployed generation marginalised by increasing costs of commodities controlled by global consumption and financial speculation (Homer-Dixon, 2011). Food, a basic necessity for life and economically private good is tied to the overall capacity of the world to produce, deliver and provide effectively – making it extremely elastic to changes in the price of oil or the effects of climate change in other nations (Tenenbaum, 2008) – even if on the other side of the world. Without stability and capacity to excel fiscally, many are felt to feel socially trapped and looking for somewhere to place the blame. Second, as the world became more connected, knowledge and information have become powerful commodities – propelling demand for hackers and terrorists to use information garnered on the Internet to corrupt, defraud or instil fear. Governments are not immune to the effects of open access to information, as seen in the example of the recent Wikileaks scandals and discourse over transparency verses national security.


Finally, one of the major issues of globalisation and the potential of new technology is the Digital Divide (Guillén & Suárez, 2005). While as such technologies as film and radio leveraged social engagement during the World Wars and television was the backbone for anti-war sentiment during the Vietnam conflict, they remained property of a well-established estate. The Internet is no exception for the capacity it possesses for change, but more potently so as the message becomes more independent, expedient and holistic (Weinberger, 2002).  It has allowed for once geographically-divided groups and individuals to coalesce and alter social policy and has greatly increased exposure and communication. At first, however, the outlay for Internet connection to was limited to available physical and fiscal capital (Norris, 2001, Couldry, 2004) and while governments are usually elected by the whole; digitally, a divided opinion may appear with only the elite holding the ability to purchase and maintain access. Through leapfrogging technology, once marginalised citizens in countries can now afford access and are not only connecting with new or similar voices within a the nation that conventional media may not have the ability (Falk, 1999) – or was disallowed to – and it has opened new windows to expatriates in other nations who may have more exposure to quality and accurate information. The immediacy of exposure to information has been transformative and traditional media has attempted to catch-up and compete with the growing popularity of new media. Unfortunately, they are also working with less capital from more spread advertisers – cutting analytical research and eroding their objectivity in exchange for an increased and more captive audiences (Weinberger, 2002).


IV.      Mitigation or Adaptation

So where do agents of the state turn for resolution? Egypt, with the removal of access to the specific uses of the Internet site only propelled sentiment against the ruling party and by example of technological capacity, innovation quickly adapted to the lack of communication by usurping older and more established media – through the telephone – to reconnect the people. Libya’s staunch control over media focused more attention on activities there because of such secrecy, but also resulted in misreporting that elevated world concern and might have turned initial reaction erratically negative in the first weeks of protest. Both nations, however, through there actions lost key and burgeoning Western diplomatic ties to the Americas and Europe almost immediately, flip-flopping international policies in many states within a staggering short period of time (Klapper & Lee, 2011). Blocking other forms of media and specifically arresting those who attempt to report on the situation only encouraged further world interest and disdain (Weinberger, 2002). Long utilized methods of controlling and limiting democratic discourse to maintain the power of the state worked on in the opposite, eroding power further, faster and harder as hard powers are now competing with more versatile and encompassing soft powers (Schiller, 1996).


Conventional media outlets, such as television and newsprint have evolved to include tools of social media, from reliance on individual citizens or freelance reporters and blog postings to twitter feeds to provide breaking news from locations with expedience and without spatial limitations (Machi and George, 2009). With advertisement revenues dropping, choice and attention spans rapidly inversing, and viewer- and readership coming a rare commodity; media outlets look towards convergence as a method to balance travel and human resource budgets and still keep an edge over growing competition (Miller, 2004). But the cost of expedience is experience and reflective aforethought on what and who to report on – and why. Politicians rely on the media to provide the social breadth of opinion in order to drive policy. If the resources at their disposal are unsubstantiated, weak in objectivity or wrought with bias, can leaders of nations accurately reflect what the common sentiment may be or make decisions that understand the minority position or reflect the greater good of society? (Sens & Stoett, 2002)



VI.      Neo-Liberalism and Hyper-Pluralism

Recently, movements in both North America and Europe have captured the new individualism people have obtained from the Internet along with disaffection due to economic wasting through the recent recession to leverage growing idealism or toward far-right policies. From Obama to the Tea Party movements in the United States, Neo-Conservatism in the United Kingdom and Harper Government and Ford Nation movements here in Canada, once fringe political movements have captured sentiment to curry their own favour, capitalising on the perception of self-control and using the very tool that provided that capacity to communicate their message (Rohlinger & Brown, 2009). Latching on new found freedoms of expression, these movements have placated individual concerns through directional messaging via new media, garnering support from fringe groups and convey a mushy-middle of policy development that feels inclusive but is rather, in fact, deceptive in design. The notions and draw of power have not changed – but capturing and maintaining it have – diminishing concrete action and transformative measure in lieu of populous ideals and voter manipulation (Sens & Stoett, 2002).


New Media has opened a window of opportunity for marginalised groups and the ability to wield its power effectively can make-or-break a campaign.  Focusing on individuals or groups of individual concerns directly to the media sources they more commonly connect can create a custom policy platform which plays on a self-centred narcissism and draws more support. This has removed the traditional method of election where representatives of a localised area are elevated by those citizens to champion for their specific needs and values. This does not only draw on national ideologue, but globalisation has also allowed for supranational paradigms to develop and influence local campaigns regardless or originating state (Unger & Waarden, 1995). The danger of this is the creation of an epistemic culture that can greatly erode the ability of people to respond to dramatic social, economic and environmental issues with creative or innovative ways (Hearn & Rooney, 2002).


VII.     The Faceless Voice

In the new eDemocracy, special interest groups and even individual voices have a level playing field to provide discourse once awarded to the social, political and academic elite (Machi and George, 2009). New forms of socialisation which has allowed for true self-socialisation and option to select and voice personal opinion have designed a society with an inwardly-facing mentality that demands satisfaction at a micro-scale and the power to achieve it. Policy makers and statesmen will have to adapt and integrate new technologies (Robinson, 2011) into longstanding institutions in order to maintain the liberal-democracy that has propelled economic and social development and cope with the adverse effects of globalisation. Public opinion and perception has become exceptionally fluid and occurs almost immediately while disseminated over a more broad and vast audience than ever before. The Internet has allowed new voices to crowd out the prior agents that drove social policy and, in effect, socialisation – with little indication to state agents to fully understand or comprehend the direction of will or intent. Nations, politicians, corporations and institutions now are at the very whim of a connective, but not necessarily collective, social conscious changing forever how local, national and international politics is conducted and won (Falk, 1999). While this may lead to a more democratic world in the truest sense of the word, it will leave government ineffective and unable to function within a politically-, socially-, economically- and environmentally-changing world (Sens & Stoett, 2002).



A.        References

Arnett, J. (1995). Adolescents’ Uses of Media for Self-Socialization. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 24. 519-533.


Burns, C. (2010) History of Science and Technology. RyersonUniversity. In-class Lectures


Brym, R. & Lie, J. (2009). Sociology: The Points of the Compass. Nelson Education. Toronto.

Calhoun C. (1998). Community Without Propinquity Revisited: Communication Technology and the Transformation of the Urban Public Sphere. Journal of Social Inquiry, 68. 373–397.


Couldry, N. (2004) The Digital Divide. In Web.Studies, 2nd Edition, Ed. Gauntlett, D. & Horsley, R. OxfordUniversity Press. New York. 185-194.


Crust, L. (2010) Mass Media and Self-Socialization. In SOC 104 Understanding Society: Chapter 3 – Socialization [PowerPoint]. RyersonUniversity. Retrieve on 2010-03-21.


Diamond, J. (2005) Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Penguin Books. London.


DiMaggio, P., Hargittai, E., Russell, N. W. & Robinson, J. P. (2001) Social Implication of the Internet. Annual Review of Sociology, 27. 307-336.


Falk, R. (1999) Policy options for social integration. International Social Science Journal, 162. 559-566.


Guillén, M. & Suárez, S. (2005, December). Explaining the Global Digital Divide: Economic, Political and Sociological Drivers of Cross-National Internet Use. Social Forces, 84(2). 691-708.


Hearn, G. & Rooney, D. (2002). The Future Role of Government in Knowledge-Based Economies. Foresight, 4(6). 23-32.


Homer-Dixon, T. (2011) Guest Lecture at Canadian Association of Student Planners. Centre for International Governance Innovation. Waterloo.


Howlett, M., Ramesh, M. & Perl, A. (2009) Studying Public Policy: Policy Cycles & Policy Subsystems. Third Edition. OxfordUniversity Press. Toronto. 50-89.


Kappler, B, & Lee, M. (2011-02-25) U.S. Freezes Assets Belonging to Gadhafi, Four Children. The Toronto Star. <<Retrieved from–u-s-freezes-assets-belonging-to-gadhafi-four-children>>
Maich, S. & George, L. (2009) The Ego Boom: Why the World Really Does Revolve Around You. Key Porter Books. Toronto.


Miller, V. (2004) Stitching the Web into Global Capitalism: Two Stories. In Web.Studies, 2nd Edition, Ed. Gauntlett, D. & Horsley, R. OxfordUniversity Press. New York. 171-184.


Negroponte, N. (1995). Being Digital. Knopf. New York. 229.


Norris, P. (2001). Digital Divide: Civic Engagement, Information Poverty, and the Internet Worldwide. CambridgeUniversity Press. Cambridge, MA.


Robinson, J. & Martin, S. (2010, February). IT Use and Declining Social Capital?: More Cold Water From the General Social Survey (GSS) and the American Time-Use Survey (ATUS). Social Science Computer Review, 28(1). 45-63.
Robinson, P. (2011) New Media in Planning Policy. From Lecture at University of Toronto Mississauga.

Rohlinger, D. & Brown, J. (2009, September) Democracy, Action, and the Internet After 9/11. American Behavioural Scientist, 53(1). 133-150.


Sens, A. & Stoett P. (2008) “The Net Generation and Democracy”. Grown Up Digital. Toronto. McGraw Hill. 243-267.


Schiller, H. (1996). Information Inequality: The Deepening Social Crisis in America. Routledge. New York.


Tenenbaum, D. (2008). Food vs. Fuel: Diversion of Crops Could Cause More Hunger. Environmental Health Perspectives, 116(4). A254-A257.


Unger, B. & Waarden, F. (1995) “Introduction: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Convergence” in Unger and van Waarden, eds, Convergence or Diversity? Internationalization and Economic Policy Response. Altershot: Avebury, 1-35.


Wakeford, N. (2004) Developing Methodological Frameworks for Studying the World Wide Web. In Web.Studies, 2nd Edition, Ed. Gauntlett, D. & Horsley, R. OxfordUniversity Press. New York. 34-48.


Weinberger, D. (2002) Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory of the Web. Perseus Publishing. Cambridge, MA.

Towards Inclusion : The Fight for Universal Suffrage

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

I.         Sitting on Guard

Alberto Reynoso is employed by sub-contractor to replace the aging water mains in his neighbourhood. His 10-year-old daughter attends the local TorontoCatholicSchool.  His paycheque comes from the city and he pays property, income and consumption taxes religiously, but as a landed immigrant, he has no voice in how the city will function or how his child’s education will be structured. Back in his native city of Buenos Aries, a Canadian under similar circumstances would be afforded this by law (Const. Buenos Aries, 1996, § 61).


An intrinsic component of democracy is the right to vote and that individual voice envelopes a sense of recognition, self-worth and confidence (Taylor, 1994). This invaluable weight encourages educated opinion, proper discourse and introspection while being the foundation of a strong, equitable community where its members feel equally effective and empowered.


But it is this extraordinary value that also restricts it, with those in already in its possession unwilling to its dilute power. Without fresh voices, the political spectrum remains stagnant, causing disdain and voter-fatigue amongst the electorate, leading to falling participation. As civic responsibility wanes, the disenfranchised become more isolated, disconnecting from the cultural web and the damaging spirit of democracy (Jacobs, 2004). While broadening the municipal electoral base is not a sufficient approach to diminishing engagement, it is a vital first step in returning political and social equity (Siemiatycki, 2006) and is the essence of an informed and creative populous.


II.        The Need for Franchise

There are 250,000 residents in the City of Toronto without suffrage (Munro, 2008a) comparable to 15% of all eligible voters. When related to the voter turnout of just over half a million in the 2006 municipal election (CBC, 2006), this percentile jumps to a staggering 50% – and even further if you were to include the estimated 100,000 non-status citizens living under the radar (Siemiatycki, 2006). These numbers are reflected in the Toronto District School Board, where 31% of students are born abroad and 50% have English as their second language (TDSB Facts, 2009) and encouraged an “Access without Fear” clause in its policies.


Those who arrive possess their culture, language and tradition but leave behind one important right: Suffrage. Globalization has created a nomadic, border-permeating nation comprised of highly-educated citizens – a hefty requirement of our point-based entry system – with a strong history of participating in the democratic process (Munro, 2008a).   But once settled and given franchise, areas with large immigrant populations see the lowest in voter turnout, half that of areas with the highest turnout and long-standing citizenry (Siemiatycki, 2006). This void of participation between statuses fostered indifference and ambiguity toward the electoral process that carries past naturalization. It’s argued by Aleinikoff & Klusmeyer that the act of engagement instils a sense of belonging within the community and it is required training to better aid integration (2002) and creating a stable democracy (Munro, 2008b).


III.      Understanding the Status Quo

Local political will is not sufficient to mandate change as cities are constitutionally ‘Creatures of the Province’. The City of Toronto Act (2005: ii) declares “The City is authorized to make changes to its governance structure” which broadly interpreted could allow council to alter inclusion autonomously (Siemiatycki, 2006). But the superseding Municipal Elections Act states a qualified voter must be a Canadian citizen (1996). With notable councillors and mayors, current or former, including a former provincial cabinet minister vocally denounced the idea – Holiday (National Post, 2009), Walker (Spears, 2009), Hazel (Munro, 2008b) Chong and Chambers (Chong & Chambers, 2009) – the province remains unconvinced enough interest for an amendment exists, observing the issue as a contentious, slippery slope. Allowing Toronto to open the vote will set precedent for other jurisdictions and may lead to lengthy legal battles for Ontario and other provinces. Moreover, eliminating the citizen-restriction of suffrage argues the right for candidacy where under current Ontario law a person running for election must be a resident of the province for at least six months and a Canadian citizen (Election Act, 1990).


Civic arguments against extending enfranchisement resonate from both sides of the political spectrum. Right-leaning members see citizenship as a privilege that must be earned and the vote intrinsically intertwined (Chong & Chambers, 2009). They argue by unceremoniously providing the right would undermine the importance of enfranchisement and encouraging the current non-participative electorate to engage more frequently will assert pressure on non-citizens to achieve status. Members of the radical-left possess an errant belief that Asian minority groups, primarily from India and China, are more traditionally conservative (Sobolewka, 2005) and their influence would undermine long-established liberalism, unwinding progressive efforts – such as same-sex marriage, social assistance and universal health care – causing a dangerous clash of cultures.


Notwithstanding, inclusion is neither a novel nor unproven approach. At least 26 nations, either long-standing or bourgeoning democracies, embrace this holistic policy. (Siemiatycki, 2006) The United Kingdom maintains its cultural ties by providing franchise to all subjects of the Queen in the Commonwealth nationally and EU members at the municipal and supranational levels (Representation of the People Act, 2000), while other nations throughout Europe seek solidarity by extending this right to other EU members (LIBE, 2008). New Zealand extends universal suffrage after six months of residency and Switzerland extends rights to people from any nation that reciprocates in kind for their own citizens. Although exemplarity, income and property taxes in many of these states are much higher than in Toronto (OECD, 2006). In Manchester, England, taxes are paid directly by renters to the council causing a transparency that compels the want of one to be active in directing how finances are spent.


While uncommon, reversal of rights can occur. Politically, it is easier to take than it is to give, particularly when the majority is unaffected and the minority is indifferent. This occurred in 1985 with an amendment to the Equal Rights Statute of Ontario to repeal the right of British subjects to vote in municipal or school board elections (Official Report of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, 1985). Although by removing suffrage from British nationals – in exchange for a timed leeway on citizenship entrance – inequities in voting regulation were resolved, it was also a missed opportunity to review franchise for other members of society.


IV.      Defining Our Options

The conservative course is leaving the status quo. Those already with voting power have little interest to change something that does not affect them and creating a platform around the issue worries politicians about potential loss of support. While not overt, Canadians tend shift political spectrums implicitly rather than voicing their distaste explicitly. But, the issue with retaining the norm is that it spawns disaffection and radicalism (Siemiatycki, 2006) and as debate continues, those on the non-citizen side will eventually earn franchise through status, influencing political will. Many immigrants have come from nations where reversals of suffrage or ongoing oppression have been key deciding factors in their upheaval and move to Canada and their current exclusion is perceived as abhorrent.


The more progressive approach is inclusion; weighing opinions and perceived rights of citizens and non-citizens to achieve a widely acceptable resolution. This can be committed by a top-down approach within the Federal Election Act, pushed forward by a majority ruling party who is sympathetic to the cause. But if even cities represented by a large immigrant population cannot find consensus, broadening the scope could be politically precarious. Inclusion can also refer to many subgroups and debate over whom would be granted rights – Permanent Residents, Landed Immigrants, etc. – vary greatly. If such an argument can be made, suffrage could be included in encompassing legislation, such as implementing proportional representation.


A more controversial option would be to redefine franchise. A reincarnation of censitary suffrage, where each individual vote would possess variable capacities of leverage, may appease those who value full citizenship rights over simple residence. Though census was historically usurped to limit participation based on wealth, race or religion and is regarded as a misuse of democracy, it’s not uncommon today: Canadian Parliament’s current level of representation is disproportionate both within the Senate and House of Commons. P.E.I. holds 35,000 per Senate seat while Ontario holds 550,000 per seat and yet many don’t consider Ontarians to be only one fifteenth the weight of an Islander. Alternatively, equal suffrage, by providing different quantity of votes to subgroups of society may encourage people to rise above their current status making the vote a form of currency. Compulsary suffrage, where participatory inclusion is required by law, may also stem the downward spiral of voter turnout, but rarely adjuncts democracy.


V.        The Path Forward

The major barriers any political change are fear, apathy and ignorance – each a by-product of poor interpretation and ideologue. To alleviate concerns, a multi-prong approach of inclusion and placation of misconstrued anxiety can be constructed. By inching toward universal franchise with municipal rights for permanent residence in coordination with a localized campaign regarding electoral responsibilities, we not only provide additional voices but perhaps quiet ones others that object. If worries about misunderstanding our system and the lack of participation by current and new citizens are the roadblocks to change, education should resolve this. Once a strong politically-experienced and -motivated base is established, expansion to other tiers of government would be a less arduous task. Only when success can be quantified, can an extension to landed immigrants be the next logical step and, if palatable by the public, comprehend the inclusion of non-status citizens.


Over history, acts of civil upheaval and disobedience along with sociably conscience political leaders and grass-root action have propelled the inclusion of many in to the act of franchise. Forgotten are the times when individuals without property or of certain creed or sex were not considered equal under the law. I, myself, have had the luxury to live on three continents where I was enabled to vote despite my lack of citizenship. It’s not uncommon for nations and attitudes to change, but society must first embrace the true nature of democracy – through education and reflection – and move forward the notion of universal suffrage. Globalization evened the playing field economically, culturally and physically but politically struggles from equilibrium. The majority can be the largest and most powerful voice for the minority and our purpose is to recognise this and act on it before others demand it.


A.        References


Aleinikoff, A. & Klusmeyer, D. (2002). Citizenship Policies for an Age of Migration. Washington: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 43.


Chong, G. & Chambers, M.A. (2009, June 11). Should non-citizens have right to vote in municipal elections?: No, Toronto Star. Retrieved from


Constitución de la Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires (1996) [in Spanish]. Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires. Retrieved from


Election Act, R.S.O. 1990, c.E.6, s.26(1)


Jacobs, J. (2004). Dark Age Ahead. Toronto: Random House. 121.


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Municipal Elections Act, R.S.O. 1996, c.32, s.17(2)


Munro, D. (2008a). Extending the Franchise to Non-Citizen Residents. Ottawa: The Conference Board of Canada.


Munro, D. (2008b). Enfranchising immigrants: should non-citizen residents have the right to vote?, Inroads: A Journal of Opinion, 23(May).


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Meeting Briefing Note

briefing noteSubmitted: October 17th, 2009

The briefing note assignment is intended to expose new students at Ryerson to the municipal political process by attending a council or executive meeting within the Greater Toronto Area. The only limitation to the meeting was that a decision must be made — for example, a community information session would not have been valid.

The purpose of the assignment was to design, develop and deploy a briefing note — or a summary — of the proceedings to a “person of interest” that could not attend the specified meeting, but must know the proceedings and the outcomes in order to conduct their job.

I took some liberties with the writing — assuming that the recipient was well known to me professionally.



Download the Meeting Briefing Note

Download the Meeting Agenda (for reference)