Ornstein Report : Ethno-Racial Groups in Toronto, 1971-2001: A Demographic and Socio-Economic Profile–Laidlaw Panel Discussion April 25,2006

On April 25, 2006 the Laidlaw Foundation presented a forum at Innis Town Hall focusing on the findings of Dr. Michael Ornstein published in his report: Ethno-Racial Groups in Toronto, 1971-2001: A Demographic and Socio-Economic Profile, conducted and published by the Institute for Social Research at York University.

I really appreciated the way Ornstein addressed various myths and surmises that even people of great good will might have about the difficulties faced by both visible minorities and immigrants in Toronto. And it was great to hear the distinction made by panel participants between the problems of immigrants and the problems faced by visible minorities–where those problems are shared and where they are separate issues. Commentators were correct that the waters get muddied where these issues are confused.

Dr. Ornstein’s report is available for download on the Institute for Social Research web site: . Panelists discussing Dr. Ornstein’s findings and responding to audience questions were: Rick Eagan (St. Christopher House and the MISSWA project), Debbie Douglas (Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants) and Amanuel Melles (United Way of Greater Toronto).

Ornstein remarked that the role of social research statistics are to “provoke, intimidate and encourage” which he elaborated to suggest that such research provokes discussion of solutions, intimidates those who would promulgate myths and undermine positive initiatives and encourages community-builders.

For the most part the report and panel presentations were well-received by audience members, although one member of the audience criticized the report and presentation in not examining the roots of white privilege sufficiently and suggested that certain initiatives were racist in their intention and/or results. In this regard the audience member named the Safe Schools Initiative as unfairly excluding black students from school. Hmm. Since all students have an equal right to be free from bullying in their schools, this lone commentator’s remarks seemed rather off-base and out of step with the positive community-building spirit of the forum and subsequent efforts likely to gain momentum through the Ornstein report. Other commentators congratulated Ornstein on exposing the myth that the difficulties faced by visible minorities in Toronto were solely those of settlement due to recent immigration.

Congratulations to the Laidlaw Foundation on funding this research and making the public panel discussion possible.

Bread and Roses Life, L. Rogers

Spirituality and Politics of the Left


I was a bit boggled by some comments in a recent article in The Toronto Star Faith in the Left . The Star reported that some New Democrats such as Tarek Fatah were suggesting that they might leave the party over recent initiatives to reconcile the party with those of us in the religious Left.

One is left wondering if Fatah, or others disturbed by recent initiatives in the NDP to reach out to the Religious Left have ever read the famous “New Jerusalem” speech of Tommy Douglas or understand the deep underpinnings of faith that were at the roots of democratic socialism in Canada? Does the term “Social Gospel” ring any bells of memory in the Party these days?

Beyond this particular issue, I was saddened by the all-too-typical narrowness of vision. For a party that espouses inclusivity, equality, and tolerance, the NDP can be remarkably intolerant a lot of the time. It seems to this New Democrat that if we keep throwing people out because they are “Too Left” like the Waffle or more recently, Barry Wiesleder& friends, or because they advocated strategic voting like Buzz Hargrove, . . . or whatever sin of the month. . . and God (if you’ll excuse the expression) help us if you seem like could win an election because that probably means that you smell like a Liberal. . .so you should certainly be thrown out. AND in addition to this habit of throwing people out, other New Democrats keep storming out of the party voluntarily because they don’t agree with all policy directions, we’ll be left with a mighty small party.

Save on conventions, hold them in a phone booth.

Maybe that’s alright. Maybe the Left needs a new beginning.

What is it with the current state of Left Wing politics in Canada that we can’t establish one big tent that we can all feel comfortable under?

I’m reminded of the advertisement from the United Church of Christ that showed people being ejected from traditional churches. Are there those in the NDP that would similarly like to exclude people on the basis of religious faith? Is there a finger on the ejector button? Or are we only to be allowed in as second-class citizens and asked to park our religion at the door? That would be too bad, because leaders like Tommy Douglas and Martin Luther King arose BECAUSE of their faith and not despite it.

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Bread and Roses Life, L. Rogers

Ageism

Maybe because yesterday was my birthday I’m thinking about the ageism that I’ve been encountering in recent years.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission asks the following:

Have you ever encountered questions, such as…

“Do you really think you could handle this job? You know it takes a lot of energy and enthusiasm. Besides, we are looking for someone with career potential.”

“You don’t need this training program. At your age, what would the benefit be?”

“Well, you are getting on. What do you expect at your age?”

When I read this I had to say, “Oh wow, have I!” About as soon as I turned 50 I began to hear exactly those remarks from some employers.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission tells us that “Such comments reflect ageism — an attitude that makes assumptions about older persons and their abilities and puts labels on them. Ageism is also a tendency to view and design society on the basis that everyone is young. Age discrimination is a consequence of ageist attitudes.”

I love the language about a tendency to design society on the basis that everyone is young. I remember a conversation that I had once with a younger co-worker who was asserting quite vehemently that a particular activity she was coordinating would suffer if older adults were included with younger adults–because it would be “less fun”, the older adults would “feel uncomfortable” and be “less adaptable” and other generalizations. Boy, does that run contrary to my own real life experience. From the time I was a teen myself, some of my best times and growthful experiences have been obtained participating in groups with a healthy mix of ages. No generation is without its fun and adaptable members and no generation has cornered the market on sourpusses either!

It’s worth repeating, “Ageism is also a tendency to view and design society on the basis that everyone is young”. Oh, that makes me feel so sad, because I’ve always loved the company of the very young and the very old in my life. Yet I recognize that in the media, in advertising, in the structure of many activities we create this false generational rift. And the less time we spend with people of other age groups the vaster our ignorance and prejudice becomes.

One of the places where I most run into ageist assumptions is in the area of technological literacy. I often find employers and others making inaccurate assumptions about my computer savey. When they become aware that I am very computer literate, surprise is expressed. I’ve been complimented on being a “life-long learner” as though normal computer literacy in the workplace is unusual for a 50-something worker.

Again, my own experience is just the opposite. Those of us that came into the workforce around the same time as computers or just before, had to struggle with DOS, write batch files, work in word processing programs using on-screen codes that were the pre-cursors of html, and have a hands-on knowledge of our computer’s system configuration. With this experience, we are well-positioned to trouble-shoot problems, learn and understand html code, and design and work with databases. By contrast I have trained a number of young workers whose sole computer experience has been gameplaying, surfing the Internet, and email. While those young workers who have specific business training generally come to the workplace well prepared to use business applications, many employers hire young workers from other programs of study assuming computer knowledge that is simply not there. Often it is those of us who have been in the workplace for some time who train these workers to mailmerge, make mailing labels and to use desktop publishing programs.

I have been told that mature students entering the community college system in Ontario, are more likely to be exempted from an intro computer course on the basis of their scores on a test of computer knowledge than students coming to community college directly from high school. This does not surprise me although it flies in the face of the myth that any given 12 year old is more computer literate than any given 50 year old.

So I found it thought-provoking to read the information sheet located on the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s website. There’s a printable pdf version of the sheet available–suitable for posting in any workplace. Worried that posting such a sheet might be unwelcome in your workplace? Do you really want to work for an employer who discriminates on the basis of age and is blind to the strengths of older workers?

Let’s post this sheet broadly about the land and make sure that everyone knows that ageist remarks aren’t just tasteless and baseless–they are a violation of Ontario’s Human Rights Code.

Bread and Roses Life, L. Rogers

Employed or self-employed? False-self employment is a growing poverty and equity issue for women workers.


Asked recently by the LEAF National Committee to complete a survey that included a recommendation of an issue warranting study by this national organization working in the area of women’s legal issues, I suggested the issue of false self-employment. This is a growing issue for workers, affecting far more women workers than men, and one where women have found it difficult to obtain reliable information.

In Social Determinants Of Health: Canadian Perspectives, published by Canadian Scholars’ Press in 2004, Dianne-Gabrielle Tremblay’s analysed the effect of globalization upon employment security.

She looks at the “new boundaryless careers” — no longer based on a vertical promotion ladder but instead nomadic with horizontal movement and new forms of organization and collaboration: team work, networks and virtual communities.

While this flexibility may be positive for certain sectors, she writes, it entails “precariousness, lack of stability and the lack of a career for others” as well as “`false’ self-employment, that is those who are dependent on one or more order-givers.”

The whole concept of “job security” is in doubt, she suggests, and this is a major factor in health and well-being. Furthermore, she notes, “This is especially the case among Canadian women.”

In the same year, 2004, Dr. Karen Hughes, author of Female Enterprise in the New Economy published by University of Toronto Press presented to the Canadian Standing Committee on the Status of Women. She identified false self-employment as a growing problem in which workers had neither the flexibility and empowerment of true self-employment nor the security and benefits of an employee entitled to the protection of Employment Insurance and CPP contributions. And when women have worked under a false self-employment arrangement and lose their jobs or retire, they are poorer than those women who had an employer who contributed to EI and CPP as required. So this really is an issue affecting women’s economic health and equity in our society.

I’m surprised that two years later, it is hard to find a lot of information about false self-employment while it is a practice that continues to grow in an increasingly globalized marketplace.

While more than half of self-employed workers report that they are involuntarily self-employed and would prefer employment, it’s fair to note that true self-employment works well for a lot of women. They are able to set their own hours, accept as many or as few jobs as they like, work flextime, work from home in some cases, while they are able to take appropriate tax deductions for their business expenses: tools, office, car and travel costs. Taking these deductions, they can invest in their own RRSP plan and also build savings to offset periods of shortage of work. This is a viable work choice for these workers.

How does false self-employment differ from this scenario? False self-employment occurs when the employee answers a job ad and the employer says, “you understand this is contract work?”. This can be confusing. Many prospective employees might think that this only refers to the time period of the contract. That this is shortterm work. However the employer will then use meaningless codewords like “service agreement”. What the employee is being told–whether they understand it or not–is that if hired they will be expected to perform like an employee (work regular hours in the employer’s place of business, use company equipment, not accept work from other employers, be subject to company rules and evaluation procedures, etc.) BUT they will not have income tax deducted from their paycheque, no EI benefits will be paid on their behalf, and no CPP contributions will be made.

The worker may be misinformed that this is a legal practice or convinced that “everyone is doing it” in a particular business sector. The worker may be misinformed by the employer about the way that a lack of employee status could be of benefit to the worker–strategies that actually involve tax fraud and liability for the worker.

The employer engaging in this employment practice is breaking Canadian tax law, plain and simple.

The pamphlet that outlines the difference between an employee and the self-employed is available for download here. In brief summary: if you work more than 50% of your paid work hours in the employers’ premises, if you use their tools, if you report to a boss, if you can’t accept other contracts, if you can’t determine your own hours of work, if you are paid a wage rather than taking profits from your business, if you can’t hire someone else to do your job for you (sub-contract) then–you are most-likely an employee under law. If you are a Canadian worker and believe that you are an employee but your employer is classifying you as self-employed to avoid paying benefits you can file a form to request that Canada Revenue conduct an investigation to determine your employment status.

Who are the employers who are engaging in this shoddy practice–dodging paying their fair share towards the social safety net in our society? It’s surprising but a number of non-profits and arts organizations supported in a large part by government grants are among the worst offenders. There seems to be a mindset there that because their cause is so important, it’s okay to treat workers in a cavalier fashion, and that any worker who wants even the minimal protection afforded Canadian workers is somehow selfish and less-dedicated to whatever “cause” the organization supports. Or, in some cases, the organization’s Board of Directors has a misguided notion that they will be less financially responsible if they avoid having an employer relationship with a lone administrator or general manager of a small non-profit. Boards may believe that they have less financial risk by mis-representing the employment relationship. Sometimes there is a belief that it will be easier to terminate a worker if unsatisfactory or if a grant ends.

But what’s the truth?

First, organizations who espouse high ethical principles should start with their own workers and contribute to the overall health of society just on principal. But pragmatically, when organizations or companies misrepresent the employment status of workers they are not helping themselves but rather exposing themselves to financial risks. If it is found that a worker’s status has been represented, the employer can be forced to pay both the employee and employer’s share of all remittances owed to the Receiver General for the employment period in dispute. Rather than skinting the government and saving money, the employer may have to pay double. In addition, any action the employer takes that may be in violation of provincial labour law can be liable to penalty if the Employment Standards branch rules that the worker’s status was that of an employee under law. Companies have to ask themselves whether fooling some workers some of the time into believing that they have no rights if they sign a self-employed contract (while working as employees) is worth the financial risks, potential bad publicity and plain bad karma.

But what if the worker wants to represent their work as self-employed?

Certainly it might be very tempting for low-income earners to want to avoid paying their share of income tax and benefit contributions. But is it fair of employers to lure gullible, cash-strapped and ill-informed workers into a dangerous deception? If these workers fail to pay taxes at all, hoping to slip under the radar, they are liable to huge fines and back taxes at a future time. If t
he worker misrepresents themselves as self-employed and claims self-employed deductions such as computer, office supplies, home office and car expenses, they will have a huge problem supporting these deductions when it becomes clear that they spent their full work day in the employer’s premises, using the employer’s equipment. The worker is forced to lie through their teeth and take all the risks of that in order to gain the benefits of the self-employed status that the employer has falsely assigned to them. Not only is the employer lying but the worker is tempted, even coached by some employers, to lie in order to avoid a crushing tax bill. Should the worker refuse to lie, pay their taxes as the employed person that they were under the definition of Revenue Canada–while being unable to produce a T-4 slip as required–alarm bells will ring and once again the employers who thought to avoid responsibility, cost and make their lives simpler–will find their lives suddenly very complicated.

I’d like to see LEAF and other women’s and workers’ rights organization make more information available on this subject and where warranted take employers to court. I see education as key because I believe that both employers and workers are very misinformed on this issue. When government-supported non-profits engage in this practice it seems doubly wrong. It’s a case of biting the hand that feeds you. Provincial and federal governments are losing money for social programs when workers are forced into false self-employment. I’d like to see policies in place that require the re-payment of government grants by organizations who avoid their financial responsibilities to workers. I’d also like to see clear employment protections in place for workers who whistle-blow on employers engaged in employing workers while not affording them their legally required employment benefits.

I’d welcome emails from anyone facing this situation and I am considering ways of taking this issue forward politically. If there is any group out there already doing this, I’d like to know about it!

Bread and Roses Life, L. Rogers

Rabbi Michael Lerner speaks in Toronto

Last night, April 4, at Innis Town Hall at the University of Toronto, Rabbi Michael Lerner–author of The Left Hand of God: taking back our country from the religious Right—tackled a question a lot of us on the political Left ask from time to time. Why do working class people so often vote against their own self-interest? But being American, Lerner no longer speaks of the working class and so he asked the question about an ill-defined “middle class”.

It was an opening that set the tone for the evening. The questions that Lerner tackled in his well-reasoned lecture were of global perspective, but his particular focus and experience were clearly American.

At the root of political dissatisfaction, he argued, is a spiritual crisis that affect our whole western society. One of the symptons is that people feel their friendships and relationships are becoming “thinner” and more selfish. People are taught to “network” instead of forming real friendships– to only give what they can expect to get back. The broad acceptance that this is the way the world works leads to individual cynicism about the quality of friendship and to great loneliness. Lerner’s research shows that people yearn to be valued and loved for themselves and their deeper qualities.

Meanwhile romantic relationships exist in what Lerner refers to as the “dating Supermarket” in which individuals taste new partners for what adventures in experience they might bring. Marriage commitments are based, he says, on a judgment call about who will meet the most needs out of the pool of all possibly obtainable partners. Both partners realize they could be beat out by future competition. This leads to huge insecurity and the older, poorer, and less attractive the individual the higher the insecurity factor.

In the work world, employees feel that they are disposable cogs in the wheel. While people long for more meaningful work, the unions tend to only see and hear the demand for higher wages. When working people cannot find an intrinsic sense of value in their work, they can only push for higher wages to try to buy some time in the future to explore more meaningful things in life.

The Religious Right, Lerner argues, has sensed this spiritual hunger and spoken directly to those that feel de-valued in our society. Lerner finds a surprising similarity in their message to that of the Women’s Movement of the 60’s. The Women’s Movement in speaking to women’s anger about being de-valued told women, “you’re not the problem. It is Society that is lacking the proper values and attitudes.” In like fashion, the Religious Right is saying to the over-worked and under-valued working class, “you’re not the problem. You’re not a failure. It is society that has the wrong values.” And while the Left would agree that working people are not the problem and society has the wrong values, the Religious Right goes on to blame this lack of human values on various scapegoats–an “other” that they can de-mean. In the USA, the “demeaned other” has included: blacks, gays, feminists and, with growing support and confidence has now expanded to “all liberals.” All that it takes is to pin the “selfish” label on the demeaned group, to make them appear to be a part of the “me-first” spiritual crisis that has led so many individuals to feel rootless and invisible. At the same time the Right is supporting supremely selfish actions domestically and internationally.

How do they keep getting away with this clear contradiction?

In large part, Lerner argues, because the Left does not see the pain of the spiritual crisis. And the Right steps into that void. Here, Lerner’s arguments resonated with the view articulated in the 2004 bestselling book, What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America by Thomas Frank . But in addition to not reaching out to the spiritual crisis in America, Lerner, states that the Left compounds their error by turning off people of faith. Any spiritual talk turns a lot of Left-wingers off. They hear it as some sort of New Age mush without intellectual rigor, or they mistake it for a form of Right Wing fundamentalism. And on top of the Left’s misunderstanding of individuals with a spiritual mindset, Lerner notes that the Left has a tendency to be religiophobic to the point of conveying to religious people that they can only be accepted into Left-wing political organization if they “park their spirituality at the door.” And it would appear that he hit a nerve of common experience in the Toronto audience as there was an exclamation of recognition and an outburst of “yes(!!)” as he made this observation.

Lerner is involved in organizing a political movementsThe Network of Spiritual Progressives and was partly in town hoping to recruit more members into this fold. He saw the goal of his organization as focused on two issues: 1) Calling and exposing the misuse of God by the religious Right to justify their war-mongering and selfish agenda, and 2) Challenging the religiophobic views of the traditional Left.

On the last point, Lerner suggested that even self-interest ought to lead the Left to moderate its critical and belittling attitude towards individuals with religious beliefs as he noted that the majority of Americans are believers. But, in turning once again to the model of the Women’s Movement, he suggested that it is not going to be enough for religious people to be merely “tolerated” in Left political organizations. Just as women educated those political movements that they brought skills and a perspective that was unique and valuable to the Left, so religious individuals bring a valuable perspective. Lerner remarked that the Left was never stronger in the US than when it had great religious leaders like Martin Luther King, jr. as key spokespeople. I wanted to yell out, “Tommy Douglas in Canada!” And I wish I had because in the midst of a great, thought-provoking speech I kept wishing for more of an informed nod to the Canadian experience and–as a member of the traditional religious Left—more of an informed look at the experience of existing religious Left organizations such as the Catholic Worker Movement, Christian Peacekeepers, the Society of Friends (Quakers), or as one young women in the audience requested, a look at the Unitarian experience. The response to this question, that involved some very specific US experience with the leadership of some Protestant religions seemed hugely off-base to much of the puzzled Canadian audience. Not only did Lerner not address the question about what the Unitarians could do differently to communicate their political message better, he seemed unaware of their strong political stand in Canada—and the fact that Unitarians are neither Protestant or Christian in any narrow sense.

In all a useful and thought-provoking lecture and I left with the book in hand. However, on the basis of this lecture, I feel that if Lerner’s movement is to travel outside of the USA, there is going to have to be more informed understanding of the history, political challenges and strengths of the international community. But perhaps even more, Lerner and his movement, need to understand, include and ally themselves with those of us in the religious Left who are part of existing movements with long traditions—some stretching back to post-Reformation traditions. But certainly his main message was in harmony with a lot of us in attendance, a lot of pamphlets giving information on joining the Network of Spiritual Progressives were picked up at the event. Perhaps Toronto will give its own multi-cultural, multi-faith perspective to what is–at core–a great idea whose time is past-due.

Bread and Roses Life, L. Rogers

In the Company of Women

This past week I actually managed to get myself to a LEAF (Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund) Toronto meeting after months of schedule conflicts that have prevented me from getting there and helping push along the work of this organization that has been key to so many important court decisions and educational initiatives impacting on the rights of Canadian women.

It was phenomenal to be once again in the company of a group of social-activist, intelligent and yes despite the popular misconception that feminists have no sense of humour. . . funny women.

Ideas flew fast and furious. (And NO, right-wing, anti-equity readers I’m not going to tell you what those ideas were, so you can leave now.)

I probably was perceived as a bit of a babble-head but it had just been SO LONG since I’d been in the midst of like-minded women. (Apologies for babbling to all you LEAFERS reading this.)

Our chairperson had a small baby so I’m sure that babykins thought that this group of women surrounded him with the sole purpose of a baby-admiration society. He was more interested in peek-a-boo and party than nursing, that’s for sure! It was a multi-tasking women’s ballet of baby play, supper assembly, serious social action and occasional cat-herding (real cats) as family cats stalked the buffet table lasagne.

Ah, it was an organizing meeting such as only feminists cook up. It was productive, it was fun and I felt like.. . . “I’m HOME!!”

Bread and Roses Life, L. Rogers