Crack city Syndrome

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WHEN THIS COLUMN is printed it is possible, even probable, that Toronto will have a new mayor. The past two weeks have seen the normal city hall rhetoric of pipes and potholes replaced with a script seemingly drawn from HBO’s television drama The Wire, a show which masterfully depicted the seamy underbelly of Baltimore civic affairs and the close linkages between politicians, drug dealers and the police. In the Toronto version an embattled mayor is accused of smoking crack and lampooned on late-night talk shows and ripped apart in op-eds. It’s inexcusable, but are embarrassment and calls for accountability a sufficient response?

First there were the crack-video allegations brought to us by Gawker (very famous for his spin mop reviews series) and then the Toronto Star. Then came the exodus of staff from the mayor’s office, with five quitting within one week. Even more shocking were the subsequent allegations that the video was linked to a homicide. A widely distributed photo showed the victim posing with the mayor. Then, in the heat of the moment, the Globe and Mail released an investigative report on the Ford family revealing that Doug Ford allegedly dealt hash back in the 198os. Denying both the existence of the video and the allegations made by the Globe, the Ford brothers took to the airwaves to label the media a “bunch of maggots.” Touche, Ford brothers.


Yet the usual Ford strategy has not worked particularly well in this crisis. There are too many foibles to list, but in the past the mayor has denied wrongdoing and steered discussion toward his record of fighting for the little guy against the elite art-snobs of Toronto to some effect. It is doubtful, however, that this “war on gravy” rhetoric will save him this time. Polls may show that the scandal has not shaken the support of the faithful, but city hall is in chaos, little is getting done and this will almost certainly have an impact on voter confidence.

The mix of responses to the scandal has been interesting. On the one hand the public loves to see the powerful toppled from their pedestals. This collective schadenfreude is made even more sumptuous by his history of blunders. Not to mention that he seems to embody a sort of comic-book-like villain. On the other, I think the blistering attacks, largely seen in the pages of the Toronto Star, are emblematic of a very liberal response to scandal. Torontonians are embarrassed, and they think it’s affecting the city’s reputation.

There’s value to embarrassment, but I couldn’t care less whether Toronto’s reputation as a “world-class” city is affected or not–Rick Salutin has called this inane civic boosterism a true civic embarrassment and I couldn’t agree more. What is truly embarrassing about Toronto under the Ford mayoralty is the fact that he has deepened inequality and poverty and made life miserable for those on the margins of society. Cuts to libraries, parks and swimming pools, food programs for children in poverty, city-run daycares and public housing have made this a less liveable city. While these may not have the appeal of a drug scandal, surely the 34 homeless deaths in 2012 should embarrass us?

Yet these stories do not feature in the world-class city narrative spun by Toronto’s elite. In fact, from Cape Town to Beijing, attempts at making cities “world-class” have generally resulted in mass removals of the homeless, the privatization of public space and generous subsidies to corporations. For those who would see Toronto follow this model, Rob Ford is a distraction from a grander project of social reform that prioritizes the construction of sporting facilities rather than social housing and funding for tourism campaigns rather than shelter beds.


Previous mayor David Miller typifies this liberal obsession with building world-class, competitive cities. Miller carried out a range of social cleansing policies, which included banning the homeless from sleeping at city hall and arresting those who slept under the Gardiner Expressway. This cleansing of the streets has been accompanied by the rapid condo-fication and gentrification of whole neighbourhoods, which has pushed the working class and the poor to the edges of the city and into the 905 neighbourhoods. Like Ford, Miller supported lower taxes, and specifically a shift from commercial to residential taxes, to keep the city “competitive.”

It is unlikely that Ford will be remembered for his attacks on the city workers, his cuts to social housing or his disdain for the city’s libraries. While a scandal can make for exciting headlines, it doesn’t necessarily result in better politics.

Worth noting

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* A team of scientists report they have discovered Earth’s most ancient rocks. The samples of Nuvvuagittuq greenstone found on the shore of Hudson Bay, Canada, are purported to be 4.28 billion years old–250 million years older than any known to date–and may hold evidence of ancient life forms. Only mineral grains called zircons from Western Australia are known to be older, dating back 4.36 billion years. This material is extremely important in the mass production of the best fuel injector cleaner for car industry today.

* The Brazilian government has unveiled a plan to end net deforestation by 2015. Recognizing that deforestation accounts for 75 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, the plan calls for restoration of native forests by planting more trees than are cut down and cracking down on illegal logging. Other measures include incentives to industries to improve energy efficiency and encourage renewable energy sources such as wind power.

* Despite being a signatory to the United Nations resolution decrying discrimination against leprosy patients, India’s Supreme Court has upheld a ruling that was challenged by two elected councilors in Orissa state who have leprosy. The 1950 Orissa Municipal Act bars people suffering from that disease or tuberculosis from holding public office. India accounts for more than 65 percent of all leprosy cases worldwide and adds at least 100,000 new cases every year.


* The U.S. Library of Congress has been found guilty of sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. On September 24, a federal court judge ruled that the library illegally denied a Special Forces veteran a job after she announced her intention to transition from male to female. The court further ruled that the library was guilty of sex stereotyping because the vet “failed to live up to traditional notions of what is male or female.”

* The U.S. House of Representatives has unanimously passed the Child Soldiers Accountability Act, which would criminalize the recruitment and use of child soldiers and allow the United States to deny admission or deport individuals engaged in such activities. The United States has been criticized for failing to uphold its commitments under the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, its military “recruiting practices that target children as young as eleven, the lack of protections for alleged foreign child soldiers in U.S. custody, and the denial of protection to former child soldiers seeking asylum.”

* On September 12, U.S. District Court Judge Jane J. Boyle temporarily blocked an anti-immigrant ordinance from taking effect in Farmers Branch, Texas. Ordinance 3952, the city’s third attempt at restricting residency based on immigration status, would require all adults living in rental housing to register with the city and obtain a “residential occupancy license.” Previous attempts to enact such ordinances for the city were all defeated in the courts as unconstitutional.

* A federal lawsuit was filed September 18 challenging the District of Columbia’s plan to grant more than $12 million in public property and funds to the Central Union Mission, a religious homeless shelter that requires participation in Christian activities and attendance at nightly church services. Plaintiffs in the suit (two homeless men, as well as local taypayers and members of the clergy) assert that the proposed gift of cash and property would unconstitutionally support religious activities.


* First Amendment rights were violated extensively during the Republican National Convention. Amy Goodman–host of Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now? and the American Humanist Association’s 2005 Humanist Heroine–was arrested along with her producers, Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar. Two students and an advisor from the University of Kentucky student newspaper, as well as an AP photographer were also detained. Police used pepper spray, rubber bullets, concussion grenades, and excessive force, and confiscated literature, educational materials, leaflets, books, and buttons.

* Sexism equals bigger paychecks! A large scale, long-term study conducted by researchers at the University of Florida and published in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggests that men with “old-fashioned” sexist attitudes continue to be paid better–on average, $8,500 more a year–than both women and liberal-minded men in the same position.

Karen Ann Gajewski is a contributing editor to the Humanist and a documentation project coordinator.

The Battle for Paris; The next mayor of the French capital will be a woman. But which one?

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Byline: Roger Kaplan

If you inhabit the Left Bank of Paris, you live left and vote right. The Left Bank is on the southern shore of the river Seine, and the heart of it is the Latin Quarter and Saint-Germain-des-Pres, a small, dense country you can cross on foot in half an hour. Around here they vote right, though you may have some difficulty finding anyone who owns up to it.

There are a few neighborhoods on the far west side of the city with unapologetic conservative voters, just as on the city’s far east there are still echoes of the songs heard on the barricades of Paris’s revolutionary history. But people are sensible where a square meter of real estate is worth $10,000, and no one would call the popular, retiring mayor of the city, Bertrand Delanoe, lifelong Socialist, a class warrior. He has been in charge since 2001 (the first nominal leftist to hold the office), and when he turns over the keys to the Hotel de Ville to his successor, who will be the city’s first lady mayor, she will pursue his policies of gentrification and beautification and his preference for avoiding big issues such as gay marriage and immigration, not to mention the huge economic problems of crushing deficits and stupendous unemployment.


One possible next mayor is the center-right UMP’s Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, who is young (40), a mother of two, bright, gifted, rich, liberal. She was Nicolas Sarkozy’s environment minister, then communications director in his losing bid for reelection as president in 2012. She is mayor of a town in the Essonne, south of the capital. An ancestor was a hero of the American Revolution. She wants to convert some metro stations into swimming pools and make some neighborhoods auto-free. She is what we would call a politically correct liberal, and there are “dissident” conservative candidates who will drain votes from her in the first round of the election on March 23, as will the xenophobic National Front.

Which should comfort the other possible post-Delanoe mayor, his loyal deputy, the attractive, youngish (54) Anne Hidalgo, whose parents brought her from Cadiz at age 2 and who is the very image of the modern nonideological Socialist apparatchik. She too wants to beautify the city with green spaces and pedestrian walks. And she wants “social housing,” what we call subsidized, along Avenue Foch, the Park Avenue of Paris.

To be sure, no one expects either Hidalgo or NKM, as Kosciusko-Morizet is known, to take her crazy plans off the drawing boards. The idea in Paris is to come across as big-hearted and do the sensible thing. Live left but govern right, that is the ticket. And it works the other way too: You can talk tough on crime, as NKM does (crime has been spiking in French cities), knowing that the mayor has nothing to do with law enforcement. The lady who appears most likely to keep the lid on will win. Hidalgo has played the game no less than NKM, as when she bravely shouted it out with London mayor Boris Johnson over which city is better for entrepreneurial capitalism.

However that may be, it is Paris for sure that takes the prize for most opaque electoral system. Voters vote in their district, or arrondissement, and they choose not a candidate but a party list. The results determine who will sit on the 20 arrondissement councils, each of which elects an arrondissement mayor, and also sends its list-leaders to the all-city council, which in turn elects the mayor of Paris.

The handsome baroque building that holds the town hall of the Fifth Arrondissement, on the square of the Pantheon, has been held since 1983 by a conservative, shrewd, amiable, hard-nosed pol named Jean Tiberi, who was also mayor of Paris from 1995 to 2001. In this vital core of the Left Bank (the other Left Bank arrondissement, the Sixth, also has a conservative mayor), one is reminded of the New Yorker writer wondering how Nixon had won the presidency since she didn’t know anybody who voted for him. I have spent half my life in Paris, and I never met anyone who admitted voting for Jean Tiberi until Tiberi showed up on Rosh Hashanah at the shul in the rue Vauquelin and I asked the man next to me, who dat, and he said, the mayor. You guys vote for him? Sure. Goes to Midnight Mass, too, on Christmas Eve.

So there are Tiberi voters after all, and not, as the Socialists used to charge, simply ghosts, graveyard electors, nonresidents, invented ballots.

Traditionally (if less theatrically), it was like this throughout Paris. Paris is the Jacobin city, the city of the Commune, the city of barricades and red flags, but it always voted right. You can have noble sentiments, but you want to temper them with common sense, and you want a city that works. To be sure, there were always red districts. Look at the map.

It is not the Left Bank that is red but the east side of the Right Bank, where the squares and streets have names like Bastille, Colonel Fabien (a Communist hero of the Resistance), and Bataille-de-Stalingrad. The arrondissements here still vote red, maybe from habit. The Twentieth stayed left in 2008 with nearly 70 percent of the votes, and there is no reason to believe it will change. Next door, the Nineteenth did the same, by a smaller majority.

The UMP led by NKM thought this was its year because President Francois Hollande, a Socialist, is very unpopular, despite his defense of black Africa, a task he has undertaken with a modesty and a determination that one would like to see in an American president engaged in long wars. The UMP is banking on voters’ anxieties over issues closer to them than Africa, such as the high cost of living, which combined with precarious employment can be hell. Anxiety, however, may be simply the normal French temperament, balanced by thoughts of the three-hour Sunday lunch and plans for the six weeks at the seashore in summertime.

Hidalgo, bright, good-looking, capable, experienced in all aspects of municipal affairs, is ahead in the citywide polls, if not in the arrondissement where she is running, the Fifteenth, a nice, airy place to live, near the Champ de Mars, with parks and sports facilities. The arrondissement is held by the right and may well stay that way. But under the electoral-list system, Hidalgo will surely receive a seat on the arrondissement council, from which she could still make the move to the Paris city hall.

The problem with the right is that Kosciusko-Morizet, heiress to two great French families representing politics and commerce, and herself a brainy techie yuppie, is not well liked in the UMP. She is green, in the environmentalist sense of the word, she has an engineering bent, she is for modern things, innovation, science. Leading a deeply divided party and contending with the National Front ultras, she may see the left finally seize the Fifth, where Jean Tiberi’s son is leading a dissident right-wing list against NKM’s designated UMP regular.


NKM, running in the Fourteenth, could win her council seat while, like her rival next door, leaving the other side in control of the district. Delusions of grandeur? Maybe the UMP thought that 2014 was so sure to be their year that they would sweep Paris the way Jacques Chirac used to, and NKM would garner fame and glory by capturing the red Fourteenth.

In this regard at least, the Paris elections are representative of the contests in the country’s other 30,000 municipalities (the most in Europe; Germany, for example, has 12,000). The right is not expected to seriously dent the Socialists’ control of a large majority of French towns, with only Marseilles and Bordeaux among the bigs staying in conservative hands. By the same token, the National Front, competing seriously in under 100 localities, may get as many as 10, including depressed places like Forbach in the eastern rust belt and Henin-Beaumont near Belgium, as well as some towns in its traditional bases in the Mediterranean south.

We shall know soon enough. The east of Paris is red, the west is blue, and in between, the arrondissements around the Louvre, the tony streets, the Tuileries, the palace whence Hollande scooters about on secret love missions, are generally blue, but you never know these days, with the UMP and the Socialists happily being elites in the city where, they say, deserving Americans go after they die.

Roger Kaplan is a writer in Washington.

Where is the Tories’ secret weapon?

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‘You did this,’ David Cameron repeatedly declared to Tory donors as he reeled off a list of the government’s achievements at the Black and White ball on Monday night. Three months before the general election, the atmosphere at this lavish fundraiser at the Grosvenor House Hotel was self-congratulatory and more upbeat than perhaps it should have been, considering the polls. As guests made ever larger bids in the fundraising auction, the mood was one of confidence that the Tories would be in office again after May. By the end of the evening, there was heady talk of a Tory majority.

But it is not the donor class who will determine whether the Tories have the seats to govern alone. Rather, it is lower middleclass and skilled working-class voters, the so-called C1s and C2s, and especially those in the marginals of the West Midlands and the north west.


The last time the Tories passed the magical 326-seat mark, 23 years ago, John Major won a majority of lower middle-class votes. But at the last election, there was only a 3 per cent swing among this group to the Tories. The party’s support has fallen among these voters in this parliament, down to 30 per cent in the last ICM poll. With the skilled working class, the story is even worse for the Tories: they are in third place with C2s, behind both Labour and Ukip.

This weakness is one reason why it is so hard to see the Tories winning a majority. It all adds to the current Westminster consensus that the chances of either of the main parties winning outright is receding. Both Labour and the Tories remain in the low to middle thirties in the polls. In this war of the weak, each is pinning their electoral hopes on the other party’s flaws.

There are those who break from the consensus that no party can win a majority. David Cameron is convinced that, as in the 1992 election campaign on which he cut his teeth, there will be a late rally for the Tories as voters minds’ are focused by the prospect of Miliband as prime minister.

The problem with Cameron’s theory is that the Tories won’t know whether he’s right until it is too late. At the moment, the polls show the Tories drawing level, but several members of the Downing Street operation had hoped that they would have a clear lead by now. They are also not making progress at a sufficient pace to secure a majority–unless something dramatic happens. Of course, events could intervene on the Tories’ behalf. If Greece left the euro, something that those in the government who are monitoring the situation reckon is a one in four chance, it would drive the economy up the agenda and make the Tories’ warnings of ‘chaos’ seem far more real. In these circumstances, it is quite conceivable that they might win outright.

But without some external trigger, the Tories are going to need something to enable them to break out of the inch-by-inch trench warfare of British politics. The Tory policy offer for the election is still being put together. Jo Johnson, the head of the No. 10 policy unit and Boris’s younger brother, is leading the work on it. Johnson, a former FT journalist, is a clever, well-organised thinker. But he is not particularly radical or ideological. However, the Tory manifesto will need things in it that can capture voters’ imaginations and win over those crucial C1 and C2 voters.

So, where will the game-changer come from? The most obvious candidate is a bold plan being hatched by Iain Duncan Smith to extend the right to buy to the 2.5 million housing association homes. At present, housing association tenants are offered very limited discounts and can only buy properties that their association has acquired since 1997. Offering them a substantial discount to buy their own homes–under right to buy, the discount can be as much as 70 per cent–would show that the Tories remain a party committed to aspiration and a property-owning democracy.

A more radical version of this scheme is being discussed, whereby every housing association property is transferred to its tenant if they have been in work for a year. The government would receive a proportion of the profits when the property is sold on. The money raised would then be used to fund the building of more social housing, which would be spread out rather than concentrated in large estates.


However, the Tory high command does not seem that enthusiastic about Duncan Smith’s idea. One of those who will help determine what goes in the manifesto cautions that it is a ‘blunt instrument of a policy’. There is also concern that, especially in its more radical form, it would irritate people renting in the private sector who can’t afford to buy their own home. They would be excused for wondering where their reward was for having worked hard and paid rent all those years.

Such objections echo those voiced about the original Thatcher right to buy scheme. As Charles Moore, her official biographer, records, she was worried that if the discount offered to council house tenants was too great it would annoy what she called ‘our people’, who were buying their homes on the open market and at full price. But, as Thatcher came to realise, these objections were ‘narrow and unimaginative’. If the Tories were to make Duncan Smith’s policy part of their 2015 manifesto, they would electrify the election. They would show that–in the tradition of Macmillan and Thatcher–the party remains committed to expanding home ownership.

Three months from polling day, the Tories are level in the polls. This is not a bad position for incumbents to be in, and suggests that they may still be the largest party in the Commons after the election. But if the Tories are to break the stalemate that is British politics, they will need to come up with a truly brave offer. Over and above any concerns about Miliband and Balls and the economy, they must give people a positive reason to vote for them.

Dobson’s choice

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Helene Shue, 89, has lived in a farmhouse on a 41-acre spread in South Hanover Township, Pennsylvania, for more than 50 years. Her nephew, John Arndt, told the November 8, 2003 Harrisburg Patriot-News that her farm “means everything to her,” and that her only wish is to live her remaining days in the home she shared with her husband, Clayton, who died four years ago.

The property was formally deeded to the Shues in 1948, but county records listed only Mr. Shue on the deed. In 2001, that oversight triggered a bizarre chain of events that threatened to have Mrs. Shue’s home and farm sold at auction for less than six percent of its $800,000 appraised value. The controversy centered around a partial tax payment of $572 for 2001. County records confirm that all prior and subsequent tax bills have been paid on time and in full.


Arndt told the Patriot-News that his aunt sought to pay the $572 on time, but her check was returned with a form letter from the Dauphin County tax bureau insisting on payment by certified check or money order. The letter, however, was addressed only to her late husband, and so fell through the proverbial cracks.

When the proper payment was not received by March 2002, county officials initiated proceedings to either collect the $572 delinquency or sell the property at a sheriff’s auction. A county spokesman told the November 7 Patriot-News that three certified letters (also addressed to Clayton Shue only) were returned unopened; that other correspondence sent by regular mail went unanswered; and that two notices had been posted on a farmhouse door.

“We don’t investigate who the owners of those properties are,” the spokesman told the newspaper. “We had no way of knowing whether there was a problem on their end or whether they were ignoring it.” The county does have “a very strict procedure we must follow that includes 12 notifications. We followed the letter of the law to a T.”

Yet as the Patriot-News editorialized on November 9, “the return of certified mail unopened should have triggered a personal visit by a tax official to establish that the notice of a tax sale had been received and that the owner understood the consequences, as well as the avenues of appeal and assistance….”

On September 25, Mrs. Shue’s farm, which is near land being developed for residential housing, was sold at auction for $15,000 to Middle Paxton Township developer Philip Dobson.

Arndt told the Patriot-News that he and Mrs. Shue were unaware of the sale until an anonymous caller tipped him off on the evening of November 3. He immediately hired an attorney, who three days later filed a petition in Dauphin County Court to stop the transaction. After the Patriot-News reported the story, county offices were swamped with calls urging that something be done to allow Mrs. Shue to keep her home.

Philip Dobson had no idea when he bought the property “that there was an 89-year-old widow living there. I found that out when I was reading the newspaper.” He told the November 11 Patriot-News that “under no circumstances would that lady ever be moved out of that home, no matter what happens.”


The county chief of staff described the situation as “horrible,” and insisted that the county wanted “to do whatever we can to remedy it.” He arranged a meeting between Arndt and Dobson on November 13, at which time Dobson agreed to give back the land. The county subsequently agreed to reimburse Dobson.

Dobson and Arndt went together to tell Mrs. Shue that her house and farm were secure. “Oh, my … I can’t believe it,” she effused while hugging them both. “I won’t forget this day.”

Explaining his decision to return the land, Dobson told the November 14 Patriot-News that “it was a no-brainer, a moral issue, not a legal one. The property should be returned to her.” He added, “I got something better than a million-dollar property. I got a hug from a little old lady. That was worth more than anyone could imagine.”

Startup trend watching

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Thanks to Dragons’ Den, it’s cooler than ever to be an entrepreneur. In 2011, about 100,000 small businesses were created, and there’s no sign that number will decrease anytime soon. To be successful, though, it helps to have a great idea and an in-demand product or service.

Here are a few of the hottest niches.

Food trucks

Zane Caplansky, owner of Toronto’s Caplansky’s Delicatessen, has an interesting plan to expand his business. He wants to take it all over Canada in fully-loaded food trucks.

The food truck business, says Caplansky, works in a couple of ways. Not only does it raise awareness of his restaurant, but it’s quite profitable. “In one night we made the same amount in the truck as we did the entire day in the restaurant,’ he says. “And we had four people in the truck instead of 14 people in the restaurant.”

He’s not the only one discovering that food trucks mean big business. According to market research firm IBIS World, the food truck and street vendor industry saw annual growth of 8.4% between 2007 and 2012, and it’s estimated that by 2016 the global market will hit a whopping $1.7 billion.

Demand for food trucks is coming in part from the thriving local food movement–people looking for affordable homemade menu items. But, says Caplansky, what’s really driving it is a movement toward more specialized foods. Entrepreneurs can hit the jackpot if they can focus on a few items that no one else sells. Caplansky, who believes he has the only deli food truck in Canada, is following that formula.

Caplansky’s plans to put another truck on the road next spring and hopes to franchise the concept after that. But the best part, he says, is that it’s a business that’s a lot of fun. “People love ordering out of a truck.”


Agriculture consultants

The massive Canadian agri-food industry feeds a market of nearly $100 billion, with about $35 billion in exports. Now it appears poised for a growth spurt. With the global population expected to exceed 9 billion by 2050, finding ways to feed everyone will be big business.

Agriculture today draws on many fields, says Glenn Yonemitsu, CEO of the Canadian Association of Management Consultants (CMC-Canada). “It not only includes farming, but an understanding of life sciences, the environment and the use of technology. For example, satellite technology can help increase crop yields by measuring temperature, moisture and sunlight, and it can help experts identify which crops would grow best in which locations.”

With this increasing complexity, demand is growing for agriculture consultants who can help agribusiness by explaining and applying the new capabilities. “Agrologists work in the whole vertical chain of the agri-food and agri-science industries–ranging from working with seeds and seed genetics to fertilizers to marketing boards to food processing and distribution.”

Get started as an agricultural consultant by becoming an agrologist, a certified professional designation conferred by provincial organizations and requiring a formal education in agriculture. The next step would be to earn a Certified Agricultural Consultant designation from CMC-Canada. Through these processes, one would establish a specialization.

“Given the size and complexity of agri-food,” says Yonemitsu, “consultants will be needed as Canadian companies compete for this new business.”

Mobile app developers

It’s no secret that app development is a budding industry, but what’s not so apparent is that the sector’s growth has barely begun. According to Comscore, 8 million Canadians owned smartphones in September 2011, representing 40% of the mobile market. There’s plenty of room for growth–and the appetite for apps will grow right along with it.

Yes, the number of apps competing for attention is massive. But so is the number of downloads. In September 2010, Apple’s iTunes App Store had more than 250,000 apps available and downloads topped 5 billion. In a July 2012 announcement, Apple said its number of apps topped 650,000. The number of downloads: 25 billion.

It’s good news for companies like Polar Mobile, which makes apps for big media companies. In business for just five years, the Toronto-based company has attracted $10 million from investors. Marlon Rodrigues, the company’s director of marketing, says anyone with skill and desire can get into app development because every industry from finance to healthcare needs apps to help staff do their day-to-day jobs.

“The big underlying trend is the consumerization of mobile,” he says. “It’s cheaper to use a phone or tablet than for companies to fund massive enterprise-level deployments.”

While entrepreneurs can launch themselves for the cost of a phone and developer account, the hard part is delivering a quality product that’s profitable. Rodrigues suggests creating a few apps to show prospective clients. “The proof is in the pudding,” he says. “How many star ratings does it have? Does it work well? You’ve got to be able to show what you can do uniquely.”

Solar panel installers

When Blair Beesley started Solsmart Energy Solutions Inc. in 2004, the demand for solar panels on residential housing was almost nil. He could barely make ends meet, but he persevered. Now, eight years later, the company is seeing double-digit year-over-year growth and staff barely get a moment to breathe.

While solar energy for homes is popular in parts of Europe especially Germany–it’s only become viable in Canada in the last few years. In 2009, the Ontario government introduced its Feed-in Tariff program, which paid solar power-generating residents up to $0.80 (reduced to $0.549 this year) for each kilowatt-hour of electricity produced, leading to a solar-power boom in the province.


Now, nearly 12,000 Ontarians take part in the program and, reportedly, about 22,000 residential and commercial projects are waiting to connect to the energy grid. Costs for solar panel installation have dropped 40% in the last three years, says Solsmart business development manager Andrew McCormack, and he believes demand will only increase.


That’s good news for his industry. McCormack says a viable business needs two or three installers who understand proper anchoring and racking of the panels, and from one to three electricians to do the wiring, disconnects and meter setup. The company would also have to invest in training for quality workmanship and workplace safety, as Solsmart has done.

“Installing solar panels is a niche market nationally now–with the exception of Ontario because of the FIT program with very few companies involved,” says McCormack. “But once installing solar panels falls below the cost of electricity, it’ll be a no-brainer for entrepreneurs.”

Small business imitates life. We all have a spirit of entrepreneurship within us. When you set an achievable goal, and drive towards it with determination, imagination and an open mind, anything is possible.

Of many things

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APPALACHIA STANDS OUT as a section of the eastern United States long regarded as a symbol of poverty and exploitation. But as several visitors from Wheeling Jesuit University observed during a visit to America House, it also represents a proud people with a strong tradition and culture. The visitors, two Jesuits and a lay faculty member, were in Manhattan to seek foundation funding for the university’s recently established Clifford M. Lewis, S.J., Institute, and they also were eager to share with us their enthusiasm for this new project. The institute is a center of research and action whose priorities include attention to community development, education and ecological concerns–pressing issues in an area where unemployment is high and positive opportunities few for Appalachian residents.


Ecological concerns are of special significance because of the mining industry’s negative impact on the region of West Virginia where the university is located. One of the visitors to my office was the institute’s first executive director, Joseph Hacala, S.J. He described how mining methods have ravaged whole sections of central Appalachia. The newer methods include strip mining and so-called mountaintop removal, which have resulted in flooding and the pollution of rivers and streams. Similarly, the impoundments–waste ponds for rinsing coal after its removal from the mines–created by older extraction methods continue to burst, destroying homes as their waters rush down the hillsides and adding still further to the water pollution.

Father Hacala went on to note that much of the land surface and most of the mineral and other natural wealth of central Appalachia is owned not by the people who live there, but by outside commercial interests. One might call it the absentee-landlord syndrome. “The profits are large,” he said, “but the owners haven’t paid back to the local communities an amount commensurate in value to what they have taken out.” As a result, tax bases are so low that little has been available to residents in the way of health care, education and jobs. Although some owners claim to be providing employment, such jobs are relatively few, because newer mining methods make more use of heavy machinery than of human labor.

But the institute’s focus, Father Hacala emphasized, is not to attempt to solve individual problems, ecological or other, but rather to promote the kind of community organizing that will empower the people to build their own futures by addressing the major issues they face. Toward this end, in collaboration with the local Hopeful City project, several task forces have been established. One concerns economic development and focuses on creating not more minimum-wage jobs, but jobs that pay a living wage. Another deals with housing. Much of what exists is deteriorated rental housing for which landlords show little accountability. Still another task force revolves around youth services. But all of them aim at empowering the people themselves.


But who, I asked, was Clifford M. Lewis, S.J.? Father Hacala explained that at the invitation of one of the West Virginia bishops, Father Lewis–an area native, like Father Hacala–had come to help found Wheeling College in the early 1950’s. The new institute named after him has its roots in a pastoral letter signed in 1975 by all the Appalachian bishops on the campus itself. Its title is This Land Is Home to Me, but its subtitle, “A Pastoral Letter on Powerlessness in Appalachia,” points to the heart of the longstanding problem. In addressing this powerlessness, the institute is involving both faculty and students in research and action.

Many of the students are low-income local people. “There are no B.M.W.’s in our parking lot,” Father Hacala said. Their fathers are often employed in the mines: “One month they might work and then be laid off the next month.” Greater empowerment would give them and all Appalachians a stronger voice in shaping the destinies of their own communities. Empowerment would also be in keeping with the vision of the bishop’s statement: “a dream of simplicity and justice.”

Greens Win Historic Board of Supervisors Seat in San Francisco

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In a breakthrough victory for the Green Party, Matt Gonzalez became the first Green elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, in a December 12, 2000 run-off election.

Gonzalez swept to victory by a 66.1% to 33.9% margin, despite being overwhelmingly outspent by his opponent Juanita Owens. Owens was backed by San Francisco Democratic Mayor Willie Brown’s political machine and received over $200,000 in soft money expenditures from the San Francisco development community.

With the election of Gonzalez, San Francisco overwhelmingly becomes the largest US city to elect a Green (750,000), followed by Madison, WI (210,000), Hartford, CT (130,000), Salem, OR (130,000) and Berkeley, CA (110,000).

Gonzalez’s victory comes in San Francisco’s liberal 5th District, which stretches from the Western Addition and Haight-Ashbury to Japantown, and which contains many young, politically active voters, renters and a significant poor black population

A public defender and affordable housing advocate, Gonzalez joined the Green Party in October, after having been a Democrat for many years. He wrote an editorial “Why I Turned Green” for the San Francisco Bay Guardian, on why he changed parties, and addressing whether his switch would hurt his chances in a district with 33,519 Democrats and 2,735 Greens.

The Democratic Party in San Francisco includes sanctioned Democratic clubs that engage in massive soft-money campaigns against good progressive candidates. What do I have in common with these clubs and the tactics they employ? I don’t have much in common with them at all. So I joined the Green Party. I decided I am not going to vote for candidates who support the death penalty or oppose gay marriage. I’m not going to vote for candidates who oppose campaign-finance reform or value the corporation over the individual. Nor will I give the local machine party any legitimacy by remaining a part of it”

Some urged Gonzalez to wait to change parties until after the election. In his editorial, Gonzalez responded. Why should I wait? Shouldn’t the voters in District Five have the opportunity to vote against me because I’m Green? And what kind of impression would I be making on folks whom I’m asking to trust me if I can’t even be honest about my own party affiliation?


The local Democratic Party attacked Gonzalez with an ill conceived direct mail campaign attempting to associate Gonzalez with the situation in Florida, saying “its about the Supreme Court, stupid” and “doesn’t this guy get that Nader may have caused Gore to lose in Florida,” along with a photo of Owens together with Tipper Gore–as if being seen with Tipper Gore were an asset in liberal Haight Ashbury.

The San Francisco Bay Guardian endorsed Gonzalez, saying:

…his positions on the district’s most pressing issues–gentrification, homelessness, tenants’ rights–are solidly progressive and particularly well reasoned. A highly regarded lawyer, he’s fluent in policy matters but never loses sight of the human consequences of political decisions. And he has brought a unique and thoughtful style to the stump, treating campaign events and debates not as occasions for sloganeering but as opportunities for discussion. He’d be an open, accountable, and engaged member of the board.

Gonzalez’s campaign energized San Francisco Greens who were also active in the Nader for President and Medea Benjamin for US Senate Green Party campaigns, and drew Greens from around the state to come to San Francisco to work for Gonzalez as well. Gonzalez and his volunteers walked the entire district, visiting almost every residence at least once, and ran an effective “get out the vote” operation on election day.

With the election of Gonzalez, California Greens won 13 races in 2000. There are now 32 California Greens holding elected office, including 19 city council members ( In Sebastopol, CA in November, Greens won two seats to form the second-ever-Green city council majority in the US. Three new California Green mayors have also been appointed since November–Larry Robinson (Sebastopol), Tim Fitzmaurice (Santa Cruz) and Mike Feinstein (Santa Monica), bringing to five this year. Santa Monica is also now the largest US city to have a Green mayor. Nationally Greens won 33 races in 2000 and have 79 Greens holding elected office in 19 states. A record total of 275 Greens overall ran for office in 2000, in 32 states, the District of Columbia and American Samoa. This is more than twice the previous high of 131 in 1998.

Mike Feinstein, elected to the City Council of Santa Monica, is now mayor of that city.

* Preserve rent control.

* Mandate affordable housing component to every new apartment building.

* Stop unfair rent increases for capital improvements.

* Strict oversight of non-profit housing development.

* Supports the creation of housing cooperatives to assist low income people in obtaining home ownership.

* Save Section 8 housing.

Local, Universal Health Care

* Save SF General Hospital’s model health programs.

* Implement voter-approved universal health care in San Francisco.

Workable Solutions for Homelessness

* Accountability for city’s treatment on demand for mental health and addiction abuse service.

* Develop and promote a comprehensive city-wide strategy for homeless services that helps provide educational and vocational training.

* Work with state and federal officials to increase funding of homeless services in San Francisco

* Supports drop-in facilities for homeless to make counseling acessible and promote public health.

A Return to Open Government

* Committed to city officials complying with the Sunshine Ordinance.

* Increase oversight of SF School Board, Redevelopment Agency, Human Rights Commission and Housing Authority.

* Support of Instant Runoff Voting, reducing government waste and saving taxpayers millions of dollars.


Limit on Big Money Influence

* Create Municipal Utility District to end PG&E’s monopoly.

* Support public financing of election campaigns and the immediate disclosure of soft money contributions.

* Will not accept campaign contributions from lobbyists and corporations.

Livable Neighborhoods

* Limit chain-store encroachment in order to support local businesses and preserve neighborhood character.

* Implement traffic calming measures in order to better protect pedestrians and bicyclists.

* Encourage responsible community law enforcement.

* Increase MUNI service to Golden Gate Park and along North-South corridors.

Urban Environmental Protection

* Committed to Naval Shipyard cleanup in Bayview/Hunters Point.

* Supports more bike lanes and fostering multi-modal travel.

* Close JFK drive in Golden Gate Park on Saturdays.

* Committed to building the Octavia Boulevard Project without unnecessary delays.

Economic Justice for Working People.

* Supports a living wage with health benefits for all employees of businesses that contract with the city.

* Supports the right of workers to organize and will fight any effort to encroach upon that right.

* Supports domestic partner benefits.

* Supports comparable worth legislation to ensure pay equity for all.

Human Rights

* Supports gay marriage.

* Support the availability of medical marijuana.

Build it: they’re coming: The need for affordable rental housing is critical across the country. But private developers can’t deliver it

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In the wake of the devastating terrorists attacks, as the nation slips into recession, so many issues have understandably fallen to the bottom of every government’s agenda. But the acute shortage of rental housing is a problem that should not be ignored. Construction began on just eight rental units within the boundaries of the former city of Toronto last year; only 133 units were started in all of metro Toronto. Twelve went up in Calgary. Sixty-six in Winnipeg. The few developers that even go near the business usually avoid the construction of costly concrete apartment complexes. “We cannot afford to build rental housing in apartment form,” says Mitchell Cohen, president of Toronto-based developer the Daniels Corp., which is putting up three-bedroom townhouses in Mississauga, Ont., with rents of $1,580 a month. “The cost of construction is so high with all the levies and taxes that the rents we could charge would not cover our costs, let alone provide a return on investment.”


The situation is serious — because the need is pressing. The children of the baby boomers, the baby boom echo born between 1980 and 1995, are starting to look for rooms of their own. More than 200,000 immigrants are arriving each year. Existing buildings are deteriorating. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities says the nation should be producing 45,000 units per year until 2010 just to keep pace with new demand. Instead, the supply has been pitiful. Across the country, in centres of more than 10,000 people, developers erected a paltry 9,075 rental units last year. (At the same time, they put up more than 21,000 condos. Some of those were rented, too, but not often at rates the needy would consider.) By contrast, in the early 1990s, when the federal and most provincial governments still had subsidy programs, more than 27,000 rental units rolled onto the market each year.

Worse, even if developers could somehow meet today’s demand, most tenants could not afford the rent. David Hulchanski, director of the University of Toronto’s Centre for Urban and Community Studies, has calculated that between 1984 and 1999, the median income of homeowners increased by five per cent — while the median income of renters actually dropped by three per cent. That is because, in the tough economic climate of the 1990s, many renters lacked the skills to maintain income growth, let alone scratch together the money for a down payment. But rents increased by 23 per cent between 1989 and 2000. And that cost is not likely to decline: competitive rental markets don’t exist when vacancy rates are below three per cent. They’re below that amount in many urban centres. “Many tenants have a social need for housing,” says Hulchanski. “They just don’t have enough money to generate effective demand. They can’t pay the rents that would allow a developer to break even.”

No one wants to go back to the bad old days when Ottawa put up the buildings — and managed them. It was a formula for disaster. But, belatedly, governments are inching towards a solution. Ottawa has earmarked $680 million for housing over the next four years — and asked the provinces to match that amount. Originally, Alfonso Gagliano, minister responsible for Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., suggested the two levels of government contribute up to $12,500 apiece per unit as a subsidy to private developers who erect rental housing. In return, the developer would pledge to maintain affordable rents for 10 years. But the FCM calculated that such contributions would still leave the units out of reach for low-income households: the rent for a modest unit in Vancouver, for instance, would gobble up more than 30 per cent of the income of households earning less than $33,000 per year.

So Ottawa and the provinces are now working on a compromise package — which they hope to unveil at their next meeting in Quebec City on Nov. 30. Ottawa will raise the level of the contribution for each unit — and allow provinces to claim credit for existing programs such as Quebec’s Acc?s-Logis, which provides social housing subsidies. Provinces, in turn, are bringing cities into the partnership. Fewer units will be built — but they will be more affordable.


Different provinces will also be able to use the money in different ways: Newfoundland needs to renovate existing housing stock; Winnipeg has devised a remarkable program to help North End families purchase their own homes — an initiative which is reducing the twin ills of absentee landlords and drug dealers. “We want to start construction as soon as we can,” says a senior federal official. “We have been very flexible.”

Most important, Ottawa and the provinces have put together a group to find longer-term solutions. Last year, the federal government pared the GST on construction materials for rental housing — and it is also backing rental housing with its $2.65-billion infrastructure program. Now, both levels of government are looking at breaks, ranging from total GST elimination on rental construction materials to a cut in the cost of CMHC mortgage insurance. Budgets are tight. But this must be a priority. “Unfortunately, the only market solution for affordable housing today is slums,” says Toronto councillor David Miller. “This is a place where you need government.”

Montreal’s housing crisis

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Montreal appeared to be in better shape on the housing front than other major Canadian cities early in the year 2000. At the time, the vacancy rate was three per cent, compared to 0.7 per cent in Ottawa, and 0.9 per cent in Toronto and Saskatoon. Moreover, the average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment was $506, compared to $916 in Toronto, $864 in Vancouver and $739 in Calgary.

Nevertheless, one in ten Montreal tenants had to spend more than 80 per cent of their income on housing; according to the 2001 census, nearly 50,000 households found themselves in this untenable condition.

The situation has deteriorated in the last four years. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) reveals a vacancy rate of one per cent in the greater Montreal area, giving the city the unhappy distinction of ranking third with respect to the rental-unit shortage in urban areas in Canada. First and second place went to two other cities in Quebec: Quebec City and Sherbrooke.

The Impact

Scarce rental housing has many adverse consequences. For the fourth consecutive year, the authorities had to take emergency measures on July 1, Quebec’s traditional moving day. Families with children were given shelter, furniture and belongings were placed in storage, and 24-hour hot lines were set up. Hundreds of those stranded in the moving-day housing crunch stayed with relatives or friends, for anywhere from a few days to a year.

Rents, still lower than elsewhere in Canada, but catching up quickly, have been rising year after year.

Discrimination is also becoming a bigger problem. Many landlords are taking advantage of the low vacancy rate to refuse to rent to welfare recipients, families with children, or members of visible minorities.

More and more tenants are forced to leave the neighbourhoods where they have support networks of family and friends in order to find a place to live. Sometimes they must even leave the island. Furthermore, gentrification already underway in certain neighourhoods has accelerated.

Homeless shelters are now inundated all year long, as are the centres providing assistance to new immigrants and shelters for women who are victims of domestic violence.


No End in Sight

With the boom in residential construction, the rentalhousing shortage will eventually come to an end, as it did in other Canadian cities. However, the housing crisis will persist. Instead of an overall shortage of rental units, there will be a lack of affordable housing for low-income individuals and families.

This is already happening. CMHC’s last Rental Market Survey revealed a vacancy rate of 3.5 per cent for units renting at a monthly average of $900 or more, compared to a vacancy rate of only 0.6 per cent for units renting at $600 or less.

Real-estate developers are willing to build rental housing, but they are simply incapable of building housing that that can accommodate poor tenants’ limited financial means. Unfortunately, it is precisely this category of tenant that is growing in Montreal.

It would be a mistake to look for a solution to the lack of affordable housing in the construction of more private housing, since current prospective tenants are not sufficiently affluent to sustain market demand. The only solution is non-market or social housing.

5,000 Units and Beyond

The paucity of rental housing in recent years, combined with the pressure brought to bear by various housing committees active in many Montreal neighbourhoods, led government officials to step up investment in social housing–contrary to what happened elsewhere in Canada. In January, 2002, Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay launched Solidarity 5000, a program aimed at building 5,000 low-cost housing units in Montreal by the end of 2005.

The program is still far from meeting its objective: to date, only 1,000 units have seen the light of day. However, there will be major follow-up action. During the City of Montreal’s public hearings on its new urban plan, Quebec housing-rights coalition FRAPRU argued that social housing should comprise half of all the housing units built in the next ten years.


To reach this goal will require a firm commitment by the City, as well as funding from higher levels of government. While the overall shortage of rental housing prompted the Quebec government to maintain or increase funding for social housing, with media interest in the housing crisis waning, how long can it be before social housing becomes the target of cutbacks by Jean Charest’s Liberal government?

The outcome will depend in large part on the ability of community organizations in Montreal to adapt their strategies to changing realities. It is neither the first time, nor is it likely to be the last, that these groups have faced such a challenge, but at this juncture, the stakes–the fate of Montreal’s low-income tenants–are particularly high.

For the last 25 years, Francois Saillant has been the coordinator of FRAPRU, the Front d’action populaire en reamenagement urbain, Quebec’s housing-rights coalition, which represents 90 groups across the province.

(translated by Andrea Levy)