News in Brief (Nov/Dec 2023)A round-up of recent news, in bite-sized form
Nov. 17, 2023
Ontario Leaving Public Hospitals Unused, Shifting Funds to Private Clinics
Earlier this year, Doug Ford’s Conservatives passed legislation allowing private clinics to conduct more OHIP-covered surgeries. Critics said this will create a two-tiered system with higher fees, wealthy patients jumping the line, and private clinics poaching health-care workers from the crumbling public system.
In August, Ontario’s independent Financial Accountability Office reported that the Conservatives spent $1.7 billion less than planned on health care in 2022-23. Hundreds of rural and small-town emergency departments have temporarily or permanently closed.
Reinvesting in dormant hospital spaces could go a long way to clearing surgery backlogs in the province, according to a report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released in October. The report reaffirms that it is not lack of infrastructure, but lack of operational funding that is worsening patient care. Shifting funds to private clinics will only make this worse, they predict.
There have been a number of rallies, but whether health-care workers or the wider public will escalate their tactics to pressure the government remains to be seen.
There is a history of workers in Canada defying the law — or nearly defying it — to fight for a robust health-care system, as Hamilton-based nurse Rajbeer Grewal recently wrote about in Briarpatch Magazine. This includes going on strike and refusing to work in Alberta in 1988 and 2020, Saskatchewan in 1998, and Nova Scotia in 2001.
In Quebec, in 1999, after being legislated back to work, union leader Chantal Boivin tells Briarpatch that, “for more than a year, there was real guerrilla [activity] locally: overtime ban, right of refusal, days of recuperation, illegal work stoppage, not to mention all the spontaneous actions that were organized in many centres.”
In October 2021, Quebec nurses refused to work their “legally mandated overtime” of dangerously long extra shifts, which eventually won them some improvements.
Ontario Place in Limbo
Existing water and sewage infrastructure at Ontario Place is entirely unsuited to support the mega-spa proposed by Therme, the Austrian luxury developer. That’s according to a recent Spacing Magazine investigation.
Ontario has earmarked $200 million for site remediation and other upgrades, but documents suggest far more money will be needed. Toronto residents could be forced to foot that bill, or Ford could reach into the provincial treasury again, or both.
The province seemed to be rushing to subcontract a company to begin cutting down over 1,500 trees at Ontario Place this fall to make way for construction. Grassroots group Ontario Place for All was signing up volunteers who are ready to take direct action to stop the urban forest from being felled. In late October, a wooden barrier was put up around much of the area.
In November, the provincial auditor general’s office announced it will investigate the Ontario Place redevelopment process. The NDP uncovered documents it says show the redevelopment bidding process was rigged in Therme’s favour.
Trans Rights Protests
This fall, rallies against “gender ideology in schools” were organized in at least 80 cities and towns in Ontario by the group “1MillionMarch4Children.”
The group is advocating to eliminate Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) curriculums in Canada, suppressing students’ access to potentially life-saving information about LGBTQ2S+ identity, community, and health. Information about cisgender and heterosexual (or “straight”) identities remains abundantly available.
The rallies were often met by counter-protests defending trans rights, with the counter-protests sometimes larger, sometimes smaller, and other times roughly equal.
Ontario public elementary and Catholic school teachers say they will go on strike if the province doesn’t deliver what students and teachers need.
Teachers in three unions, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA), and the Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO), voted almost unanimously in favour of strike mandates, should negotiations stall.
“Our members have been working for over a year without a contract, and their patience has run out,” ETFO president Karen Brown said in a press release. According to Brown, members’ priorities include “more supports for students with special needs, acknowledging the staffing crisis in education, putting a fair compensation offer on the table, and addressing violence in schools.”
Stopping Deportations and Wage Theft
In June, community members in Malton (northeast Mississauga) successfully stopped the deportations of dozens of Indian international students who were victims of immigration fraud.
The group behind the effort, Naujawan Support Network (NSN), organizes people in the area to resist the exploitation of international students and immigrant workers.
In September, the group recovered $185,000 in wages stolen from bakery workers after protesting for 33 days straight outside Live Freely Foods. In two years, the group has recovered over $650,000 in stolen wages and gotten the workers paid.
Grocery Price Tracker Launched by The Hoser
This fall, The Hoser launched its Grocery Tracker initiative. The tracker scrapes publicly available pricing data from independent grocers and larger grocery chains. It provides easily accessible info on the fluctuating prices of food items across the GTA, with particular attention on common staples like bread and milk. The Hoser, an independent media company with ties to The Grind, publishes bi-weekly reports and newsletters on key findings curated by its editors and journalists. The project is live at hosergrocerytracker.ca.
Scarborough Southwest By-election Nov. 30
A new city councillor will be elected in Scarborough Southwest on Nov. 30.
The seat became empty after Gary Crawford, elected in 2022, left his position to run unsuccessfully for provincial office with Doug Ford’s Conservatives this summer.
In the 2022 municipal race, Parthi Kandavel, who has ties to the Liberal Party, came second behind Crawford, and Kevin Rupasinghe, who has ties to the NDP, came third. Both are running again this time, along with 21 other candidates. The Toronto and York Region Labour Council has endorsed Rupasinghe.
A candidates forum is being held Nov. 23 at the Oakridge Community Centre, 63 Pharmacy Ave., from 7 to 9 p.m.
TPL Website Down, Affecting Access to Services
The Toronto Public Library website and other tech services went down on Oct. 27 due to ransomware attacks and remained down for weeks, the library says.
This has affected access to important services for thousands of Torontonians who rely on the public library. This includes the ability to use computers at branches, accessing the website to search for books and events and services, using online accounts, and more.
A makeshift site with links to some online services was posted while the main site was down.
Artscape Becoming Two New Non-profits, Losing Some Properties
According to a letter sent by Artscape to its “tenants and owners” on Nov. 2, a portion of the arts organization will be taken over by two new non-profits, Artscape Non-profit Homes Inc. and Arthubs Toronto Inc. Other pieces will be sold off.
Artscape is an important cultural institution in Toronto, with nearly 400 artists living or working in spaces owned or managed by the organization.
In August, Artscape announced that it would be placed in receivership, meaning its assets would be sold off because it was effectively bankrupt and unable to pay its debts. After public outcry, the city and Artscape announced they would try to find a way to keep operations going.
While most of its programs and properties will continue operating under the two new non-profits, Artscape Daniels Launchpad (130 Queens Quay E, 4th Floor), Artscape Triangle Lofts (38 Abell St., off Queen W), Artscape Youngplace (180 Shaw St.), and Artscape Lofts (210 Simcoe) will be sold off to other owners, leaving tenants uncertain about their future.
The City of Toronto told The Grind in a statement that “the City provided $250,000 to the Toronto Artscape Foundation in September 2023 to ensure continuity of services and tenancies during the forbearance period prior to Artscape entering into the Receivership. The City is currently looking into additional funding, to complement a larger sum of privately-raised philanthropic donations, that could be provided to ArtHubs Toronto to support continued work towards a sustainable solution to protect the needs of tenants, preserve services, and manage City assets.”
Artscape Workers United represents 25 workers who were laid off in August without severance and, in many cases, notice. The group successfully advocated to be paid vacation pay they were owed. But the city excluded them from the planning process about Artscape’s future. City staff and leaders from the philanthropic, business, and community sectors were invited to the discussions.
These articles appear in the Nov/Dec 2023 issue.