The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives is an independent, non-partisan research institute concerned with issues of social and economic justice. Behind the Numbers delivers timely, progressive commentary on issues that affect Canadians, including the economy, poverty, inequality, climate change, budgets, taxes, public services, employment and much more.
I was recently invited to give a presentation at a two-day event discussing the overdose crisis and First Nations, with a focus on southern Alberta. My presentation (slide deck available here) focused on homelessness, substance use, harm reduction and Housing First.
With this in mind, here are 10 things to know:
Indigenous peoples are overrepresented among persons experiencing absolute homelessness in Alberta. According to results of the last province-wide Point-in-Time homelessness count, Indigenous peoples represent 7% of Alberta’s total population, but 26% of persons experiencing absolute homelessness in the province’s seven largest cities. A similar phenomenon exists right across Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
To truly understand homelessness among Indigenous peoples, it is important to understand flow between communities. Most Indigenous peoples experiencing absolute homelessness in Alberta’s major cities report not being from the community in question. In Calgary, for example, just 11% of Indigenous peoples experiencing absolute homelessness report always having lived in Calgary.
Traumatic events are an important factor leading a homeless person to use drugs. A 2015 Winnipeg study asked what factors made a homeless person more likely to be a person who uses drugs (PWUD). Traumatic events, especially residential school history, were found to be one of the most important factors. Other factors identified in the study as leading a person to use drugs included mental and physical health problems (i.e., people self-medicate). What’s more, a recent First Nations Health Authority report from British Columbia identifies factors that lead to substance use. They include: racism; intergenerational trauma (e.g., residential schools); and limited access to mental health and addiction treatment (which is often reported by members of First Nations).
Homeless shelters do not and cannot adequately respond to the overdose crisis. A 2014 study looked at the use of homeless shelters in Atlantic Canada (it looked at all four Atlantic provinces). It found that shelters focus on providing shelter and do not have a strong mandate to fully support PWUDs. A 2018 report went further, identifying the following barriers in some homeless shelters in Canada: clients having to ask staff to access harm reduction supplies (to be discussed below); shelters refusing services to people under the influence; and rigid entry process (e.g., extensive paperwork, the need for multiple pieces of documentation).
It is very challenging for staff in homeless shelters to properly engage with people who use drugs, largely because on-site use of illicit substances is prohibited. To put it bluntly, staff give out supplies but forbid the on-site use of drugs. Shelter washrooms can therefore become “de facto unsupervised consumption sites” (p. 87).
Harm reduction focuses on reducing harm caused by drug use without requiring total abstinence. Harm reduction approaches include the distribution of condoms, clean syringes and safe inhalation kits. There is solid evidence supporting the view that harm reduction approaches: reduce risk-taking behaviour; reduce the risk of transmission of blood-borne diseases; prevent overdoses; reduce crime; and increase contact with other supports (including healthcare supports).
Supervised consumption services are one form of harm reduction. According to this report, they “consist of providing a safe, hygienic environment in which people can use drugs with sterile equipment under the supervision of trained staff or volunteers” (p. 2). As of February 2019, 28 supervised consumption services sites were operating under an exemption from Canada’s federal government.
Supervised consumption services have proven to be very effective in southern Alberta.During 2018 alone, Calgary’s supervised consumption site saw nearly 52,000 visits, resulting in more than 700 overdose reversals. Also during 2018 alone, Lethbridge’s site saw nearly 128,000 site visits, resulting in more than 1,300 overdose reversals.
Housing First is an approach whereby people in need of affordable housing receive housing without having to first prove their ‘housing readiness.’ According to this study: “Harm reduction is a key principle of Housing First, where individuals are not required or expected to undergo treatment for substance use or to abstain in order to access and keep permanent housing” (p. 1). However, Housing First does not mean housing only. That is, other social supports—including drug and alcohol treatment, which may lead to reduced substance use—are crucial to the success of Housing First.
In Sum. To understand high rates of homelessness and substance use among Indigenous peoples, it is important to consider the roles played by trauma and racism. It is also important to understand flow between communities, as well as the inadequacies of homeless shelters. Harm reduction and Housing First remain important policy responses to the overdose crisis.
I wish to thank the following individuals for invaluable assistance with this blog post: Lorraine Barnaby, Shannon Beavis, Jodi Bruhn, Julia Christensen, Arlene Haché, Leslie Hill, Diana Krecsy, Bren Little Light, Katelyn Lucas, Adam Melnyk, Susan McGee, Katrina Milaney, Gautam Mukherjee, Bernie Pauly, Steven Richardson, Chris Sarin, Quentin Sinclair, Lorie Steer, Vincent St-Martin and Alina Turner. Any errors are mine.
Nick Falvo is a Calgary-based research consultant, a research associate at the Carleton University Centre for Community Innovation, and a CCPA research associate. Follow him on twitter at @nicholas_falvo
That 55-cent increase to the minimum wage on April 1st undoubtedly felt like an April fools’ joke to some of the province’s lowest paid workers. Nova Scotia still has the lowest minimum wage in the country for inexperienced workers, and for experienced workers it has only just slightly surpassed its 1977 inflation-adjusted peak.
The economic and social consequences of declining real wages, increased cost of living, decline in purchasing power, rising household debt must be considered against the backdrop of increasing productivity in Nova Scotia, and an economy that continues to expand. We live in one of the richest countries in the world and our province produces billions in economic growth per year.
In 2002, Stephen Harper, the leader of the then-Canadian Alliance Party, suggested that bad attitudes were to blame for our region’s economic stagnation. Though, his statement, “there is a dependence…that breeds a culture of defeatism,” was publicly disputed, scores of Maritimers have internalized the sentiment.
Fourteen years after Harper’s infamous comments, the release of the report of The Nova Scotia Commission on Building Our New Economy repeated this concern about Maritimers’ attitudes. The report, entitled (rather alarmingly) Now or Never, diagnosed Nova Scotia with a severe case of economic decline, to be solved only through ending the province’s reliance on the public sector, cutting the debt-to-GDP ratio to 30 percent by 2024 (a target not substantiated by any evidence in the report itself), and reorganizing our economy around start-ups and export development.
Maritimers are intimately familiar with the rhetoric that unites Harper’s 2002 comments and the One Nova Scotia report of 2014; they have been on the receiving end of it for decades, and it continues unabated. As one columnist wrote in 2018, we are “too entitled to be truly innovative”. The recent NS budget — with its funding for “incubators, accelerators and sandboxes” to build that entrepreneurial culture — reinforced this same “innovation” rhetoric that has successfully distracted Maritimers from the entrenched structural inequalities that shape their lives and the region.
A living wage has been calculated to be $19 in Halifax, and $17.75 in Antigonish, and $18.18 in Saint John, New Brunswick. The chasm between working for a living and living to work in the Maritimes underscores the gross inadequacy of the wages earned by a significant chunk of our population, while highlighting of the importance of expanding universal public services to include things like pharmacare and childcare. The attitude that should be of concern is one that has fostered such a low expectation of the government and the private sector by workers and their families in our province.
It is in our best interest to shift to a bottom-up inclusive and green economic growth strategy that includes paying workers a living wage. Businesses that continue to pay poverty wages externalize the costs of a business model that takes a negative toll on worker’s health and ability to contribute to their potential. Collectively, we must refuse to continue to pay the price.
Businesses must realize that a tried and true method to attract and retain workers is to pay them a living wage. Raising the minimum wage to $15 is one step forward, but it isn’t enough. We need to strengthen labour standards and workers’ rights, including for migrant workers. Businesses are also supported when we collectively invest in public infrastructure and quality public services, and ensure everyone pays their fair share through a progressive tax system.
This blog post is drawn from the introduction of a chapter written by Mary-Dan Johnston and Christine Saulnier in Living Wage Movements in Canada: Comparative Perspectives on Resistance and Alternatives to Low-Waged Work, a forthcoming edited book from University of British Columbia Press.
There is an interesting anomaly in this year’s The Best and Worst Places to be a Women in Canada report: health outcomes.
It shows that women are paid less than men, fewer women are in political leadership, and women are more likely to be victims of sexual assault. Here’s the anomaly: women outscore men, on average, when it comes to mortality; they outlive men by about five years.
As humans, we aspire to longevity. But what if you live a long life, not your best life?
That’s the case for many women who are more likely to report high levels of stress.
Why would that be the case? Looking at women’s health experiences through the lens of social determinants of health can be telling: we’re talking life circumstances that impact your health, such as how much you earn.
Living in poverty is a full-time job. The daily stresses of being able to feed your children nutritional food, keep them adequately clothed, and pay the rent can take a toll on a person’s health and mental health.
Women, especially single mothers, are more likely to live in poverty in Canada. Racialized, Indigenous, and immigrant women also tend to be disproportionately represented among Canada’s poorest and most marginalized groups.
That intersection between gender and race can shape women’s health outcomes on so many levels.
Something as basic as screening for cervical cancer be harder for women living in poverty, who may not be able to afford child care or transportation to get to a medical appointment.
Or women might be forced to go without medication because they can’t afford it.
So if The Best and Worst Places to be a Women in Canada is telling you that your city scores lower than other Canadian cities on the health score, it’s worthwhile to consider the relationship between women’s economic standing, their level of education, their ability to access community resources, and their health outcomes.
Where we live and whether we have access to educational opportunities and good paying jobs can shape our life’s chances—and our health.
Here are questions to ask about your city:
If your city is has high levels of income inequality, and a labour market that limits women’s opportunities, is that having a ripple effect on women’s health?
Does your city value the importance of education along the full age spectrum?
Does your city offer affordable early learning and child care options for all children, regardless of how much money their parents make?
Does your city value decent work? Do you have a vibrant movement of employers promoting and paying a living wage?
Does your city offer affordable transportation and housing?
Now flip these questions around and ask yourself: what if my city made it our mission to promote women’s health and equality?
It would mean your city would spend less money on treating the symptoms of poverty and inequality—such as homelessness, addiction, mental health and health issues—and wisely invest, up front, in programs and supports that help people thrive, not just survive.
One of the encouraging things in the Best and Worst Cities for Women report is that, for many indicators, the distance between the best city and the worst isn’t insurmountable; changing where your city scores on this annual ranking exercise is within reach.
Make this the year your city works on becoming the best place in Canada for women; it will increase the health and well-being of your fellow residents.
Trish Hennessy is executive director of Upstream, an institute for a healthy society. She is the former director of the CCPA’s Ontario office and its income inequality project.
Statistics Canada (2016), Census of Population – selected publications. Employment rates are calculated for adults aged 25-64 years.
The Best and Worst Places to be a Woman in Canada report, now in its fifth update, provides a snapshot of the gaps that exist between women and men in Canada’s largest cities. It attempts to look beneath the national figures that dominate headlines to see at how women are doing in communities across the country on key issues such as the wage gap, intimate partner violence and their place at leadership tables.
The centrepiece of the project is a Gender Gap Index that combines 18 gender equality indicators and is calculated for 26 cities. It helps point to broader trends and inequalities that impact lives across the country. But much is missing from the local pictures presented.
No single measure or index can hope to capture the complexity of women’s lives or provide a definitive accounting of a city’s strengths and weaknesses with respect to gender equality. More fundamentally, there are significant data gaps in what we know about the experiences of different groups of women, differences that because of this lack of data cannot be factored into the Index—differences that end up being overlooked or ignored.
Not all women are the same, or experience the same things
But we don’t have a good sense of what is happening at the community level because—with the exception of the Census—there are few reliable, consistent or public data sources available for neighbourhoods or municipalities which disaggregate the population by gender identity, disability, racialized group or Indigenous status.
And in many instances, we simply don’t have any information at all. A recent series by The Globe and Mail provides a stark accounting of gaps in data on everything from the health outcomes of different racialized groups; to the housing needs of First Nation peoples living in urban centres; to the number of women who stay in violent relationships because they don’t have the means to leave.
All things being equal …
Our Gender Gap Index uses a limited number of statistics to point to broader social and economic trends and disparities that shape the lives of women and men.
All things being equal, we would expect that men and women would be employed in roughly the same numbers and earn approximately the same wages, that men and women would occupy an equal share of management jobs, that the same proportion of women and men would report high levels of stress in their daily lives.
But things are not equal – which is why tracking these key indicators is necessary, and especially so, for marginalized groups that experience the most significant barriers.
The 2016 Census gives us a sense of the scale of these disparities at the national level.
“We like to pretend we’re colourblind, which is very problematic, because we’re not colourblind and we’re not gender blind—we’re just blind at realizing that there is a problem and doing something about it.”
Dr. Onyenyechukwu Nnorom, University of Toronto
The Employment Gap
Immigrant women’s employment lags 5.1 percentage points behind Canadian-born women and 12.2 percentage points behind that of immigrant men – all figures for the population aged 15-64 years. The gap was even larger among recent immigrants: just over half of the women (53.7%) who immigrated to Canada between 2011 and 2016 were employed in 2016 compared to 70% of Canadian-born women and 71.5% of new immigrant men.
The employment gap between Indigenous women (55.5%) and Indigenous men (57%) is quite narrow, but the gap between Indigenous women and non-Indigenous women (69%) and men (74.7%) is considerably higher. This is also true among women with disabilities who report very low levels of employment (57.4%) compared to abled women(76.3%) and men(84.0%).
Statistics Canada (2016), Census of Population – selected publications
The Wage Gap
Gaps in pay for women and racialized groups persist. On average, racialized men make only three-quarters (77.6%) of what non-racialized men make ($32,600 vs. $42,000), and racialized women make even less at $25,000 (59.5% of non-racialized men). My colleague, Sheila Block’s new study with Ryerson University’s Grace-Edward Galabuzi shows that for Ontario the wage gaps are deepest for women who identify as West Asian, Arab, Latin American and Southeast Asian.
The size of the wage gap is also significant for Indigenous peoples. Average wages of Indigenous men are $9,400 less compared to non-Indigenous men. Indigenous women bring home $17,000 less than non-Indigenous men, and $7,800 less than Indigenous men.
If those same Indigenous and racialized women had been making the same salaries as their white male peers, they would have added $43 billion more to Canada’s economy and their own bank accounts in 2015.
These gaps aren’t just about hours worked or levels of education or the presence of children. Taking all of these variables into account, we still see large gender and racial gaps across most occupations.
A female dentist, physician or veterinarian with a university degree, working full-time full year, still earns only 74 cents for every dollar their male colleague earns. Women make less than men (working full time, full year) in 471 out of the 500 occupations tracked by the Census. The gap is even larger, as we have seen, for women facing discrimination and other barriers to employment.
The Leadership Gap
It is interesting to look at the different patterns of education as well. Women tend to have higher rates of participation in university education across the board. The gender gap in women’s favour is minimal between racialized women and men (compared to the gap between non-racialized women and men), but much larger among Indigenous people and those with disabilities. Indigenous women and women with disabilities are much more likely to be university grads compared to their male counterparts.
These women are putting in the hours at school – but the wage gap remains, and so does the glass ceiling. Racialized and Indigenous women’s share of management jobs is roughly half the share of non-racialized and non-Indigenous men, respectively.
Pushing for better data
One of our goal with The Best and Worst Places to be a Women in Canada is to help spur a national conversation about the challenges many women face and the solutions that are working at the local level – an essential step towards making every community the best place to be a woman in Canada.
In this process, we need to push for better data and information that can illuminate the scope of gender inequality in all of its diversity—to tackle the data gaps that silence and render invisible too many women in our communities.
The most obvious problem with our data deficit is that we don’t have the evidence to flag important issues, to make good decisions, to evaluate the impact of different policies and programs, or to take action to eliminate life damaging disparities.
Reinstating the long form Census was a critical first step, but the challenge is much greater and demands concerted effort and funding from all levels of government. This includes supporting efforts to assert “data sovereignty” among Indigenous peoples through the work of organizations such as the First Nations Information Governance Centre, as well as actively engaging historically marginalized communities in the production and use of information.
This is a challenge for the entire research community to always ask: who’s missing and what can be done to make sure that everyone is in the picture.
Gender disparities exist across the country.
The fifth edition of The Best and Worst Place to be a Women in Canada reports on gender disparities in 26 Canadian big cities1 across a range of areas related to women’s basic rights. This year’s report includes five fact sheets that look at some of the local trends in economic security, health, educational attainment, leadership and personal security.
Women are more likely to vote in local elections, but in large cities they make up only one-third of city councillors and only one-in-five of mayors. One-third of managers are women—most concentrated in middle management—a share that hasn’t changed in the past five years.
Women earn less than men, even when they have the same education, experience and work in the same field. Reports of sexual assault have been trending up—the result in part of increased attention generated in the wake of the #MeToo movement. These national challenges play out at the local level in different ways.
The fifth edition of The Best and Worst Place to be a Women in Canada reports on gender disparities in 26 Canadian big cities1 across a range of areas related to women’s basic rights. This year’s report includes five fact sheets that look at some of the local trends in economic security, health, educational attainment, leadership and personal security.
Economic Participation and Security
Women’s financial vulnerability is evident in lower rates of employment, lower rates of pay, lack of access to financial resources, and their disproportionate share of housework, childcare and eldercare.
These challenges are more acute for women who face additional barriers because of race, disability, Indigenous status, age, sexuality, gender identity and expression.
Among large cities, those in Ontario and Western Canada had some of the largest gender employment gaps, led by Abbotsford-Mission, Barrie, Toronto and Edmonton, while those in Eastern Canada and Quebec were much smaller.
In Gatineau, St. John’s, Sudbury and Sherbrooke, the proportion of women aged 15-64 engaged in paid employment is now greater than the proportion of men.
Overall, there was a modest increase in women’s employment across large cities over the 2013-2017 period (+0.9%). Sherbrooke (+7.1%), Kelowna (+4.9%) and Vancouver (+4.1%) all experienced significant gains, while women in Saskatoon (-3.1%), Barrie (-3.0%), Edmonton and Regina (-2.4%) lost ground.
The largest wage gaps are in Western Canada (e.g., Abbotsford-Mission, Edmonton, Kelowna and Saskatoon) as well as in Barrie (24th) and Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge (21st). There is a 30 point spread between Abbotsford-Mission and top-ranked Gatineau.
Quebec cities fare well in the economic domain, with some of the smallest wage gaps. They do well in part because of progressive family policies that help women balance work and family life, including low-fee child care.2
Large cities in Canada have historically reported some of the highest levels of poverty in Canada. This was true in 2016. Women’s poverty was highest in Vancouver (21.4%) and Toronto (20.8%), almost twice the rate of poverty in Quebec City (11.8%).
Source: Statistics Canada, Table 111-0024 – Labour income profile of taxfilers, by sex, annual, CANSIM (database).
Source: Statistics Canada, Table 111-0024 – Labour income profile of taxfilers, by sex, annual, CANSIM (database).
At the start of January we released two reports looking at corporate executive pay. The first, our annual report on the 100 richest Canadian CEOs, calculated that by 11:33 a.m. on Jan 2, Canada’s richest CEOs had already made $50,759—the amount the average worker will make in a year. The same day, we also released a report looking at the gender pay gap among top executives, which found that female top execs make $0.68 for every dollar their male colleagues take home.
The pushback I get every year from corporate Canada is that these outrageous pay levels, and now the outrageous gender pay gap, are based on merit. These execs are incredibly talented, we’re told; they earn every nickel filling the gulf between your pay and theirs.
The gender pay gap alone makes the merit argument seem pretty weak, since it implies that women are not in the C-suite because they just aren’t good enough. When there are 10 million working women in Canada, the idea that there are not 124 of them to fill top CEO jobs—and erase the gender gap—strains credibility.
It’s far more likely that, like so many traditions, old boys’ clubs die hard. Evidence that higher numbers of female executives produce better corporate results are just not sinking in.
Well, it turns out the same can be said for the evidence about excessive pay for CEOs, whatever their gender. Paying your CEO more has no relation to your company’s stock market performance. In fact, it could be worsening it.
Remember, with over 80% of executive pay being in bonuses related to the stock price, there should be a strong incentive for executives to try and drive up the stock price if they can. Incidentally, these bonuses are what’s driving both extreme rates of CEO pay and the gender pay gap.
The chart below has every one of Canada’s top executive as a single point with their pay on the vertical axis and the change in their company’s share price on the horizontal axis. This includes CEOs, but also all the other top executives like CFOs, COOs, etc. from the 250-odd companies on the TSX composite.
See an upward sloping trend line in that blob of dots? I certainly don’t. If you plot the line of best fit, the relationship is slightly negative. For every $116,000 decrease in pay, you get a 1% boost in share price. In one extreme case, the best paid CEO in 2017, receiving $54.8 million, oversaw a fall in Hudson’s Bay’s share price of 35% since January 2016.
More important than the line in the graph is what it explains, known in statistics terminology as the R2. At 0.002, that number tells us there is statistically no relationship between executive pay and company stock price in Canada over this period. Put another way, other factors explain 99.8% of variations in executive pay. So, you can pay your execs more, but this will either have no effect on your share price or possibly it will drive the price down, not up.
Source: Company proxy circulars, Yahoo Investor and author’s calculations. Each dot is one executive. Change in stock price is from Jan 2016 to Dec 2017 to pick up previous stock performance that might influence 2017 pay. Compensation is for 2017.
And yet executive pay has been rising far faster than worker wages for decades, partly to buy the better stock performance that it clearly doesn’t buy. Moreover, all this bonus pay seems to flow to male and not female executives, driving the key component of the executive gender pay gap.
Power, not merit, is driving income and gender pay gaps.
David Macdonald is a senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
Wait—a 10% tuition fee reduction, followed by a freeze. In [checks notes] Doug Ford’s Ontario?
If you didn’t hear the record scratch after Tuesday’s sneak peek announcement, you weren’t paying close enough attention. Since assuming office, Doug Ford’s conservative government has made public funding for universities contingent on institutions adopting free speech policies; cancelled funding for three satellite campuses (which could very well open the door to public-private partnerships as the three affected universities say they are looking for “other ways” to build the campuses); and scrapped plans to provide further funding to support development of a French-language university in the province.
So, given that history, what could possibly be coupled with Tuesday’s rumour about a significant cut to some of the highest tuition fees in the country?
Thursday’s announcement saw the other shoe drop like a hammer, squarely on low-income Ontarians, middle-income Ontarians, and student unions.
Let’s be clear: loans are not a student assistance program. They’re a debt delay program. So it’s somewhat duplicitous that the replacement of “zero tuition” (which, while a significant reduction for low income students, wasn’t actually free) for low income families with a combination of grants and loans — though the details about who qualifies for grants and how much are a bit foggy, probably because it’s hard to fit them on a podium sign emblazoned with “For the Students” in 400 point font—be promoted as a commitment to assisting low-income families. That “whopping” $660 savings in reduced tuition fees for university students and $340 for college students in 2019-2020 will be eclipsed by the higher debt loads that students will bear—further compounded by the government’s decision to cancel the six-month interest-free grace period on loans—at a time when a number of provinces have eliminated interest on provincial student loans altogether.
In addition to the burden they place on students and their families, the sad truth about tuition fees is the degree to which post-secondary institutions rely on them and other ancillary fees as income in the face of insufficient federal and provincial funding—a reliance that varies from province to province. So, does Ontario have a plan to compensate for the $360 million and $80 million less that universities and colleges (respectively) will receive?
Why, yes! “They will make choices in terms of what they need to do,” explains Training, Colleges and Universities Minister Merrliee Fullerton. “They will be able to determine what they need to do to change, to adapt and innovate.” No doubt this “juggle your plates” vote of confidence will serve as cold comfort in the face of already insufficient operating grant funding. (It’s currently unclear whether Minister Fullerton is rearranging the name of her department to Colleges, Universities and Training—CUT for short.)
One of the most insidious aspects of this announcement is the decision to make student fees—with the exception of those for health and wellness—optional. This is a direct attack on student unions which have been vocal opponents of regressive policies including downloading the costs of higher education onto students, privatization, and insufficient public support for universities and colleges.
Student unions have been at the forefront of debates for safe and harassment-free campuses, electoral initiatives and a number of progressive causes including just transition, gender equity, Indigenous reconciliation and academic freedom. For dues of $100 per year on average (according to the Canadian Federation of Students), they provide academic support and a number of advocacy services and support including equity centres, refugee support centres and food banks, and in other cases provide non-profit commercial services like bookstores and campus cafes.
They also—and here’s the bigger thing—ensure students have the opportunity, the established infrastructure, and the training to become engaged in politics, campaigning and organizing in the long term. And student unions have proven extremely effective in pushing for progressive change on their campuses, across the country, and internationally. Anyone recall Quebec’s Maple Spring in 2012 and the 400,000 people in the streets protesting the Charest government’s anti-democratic legislation? That action—one that ultimately brought down a government—was initiated, led and sustained by student unions, several of whose representatives and participants have gone on to affect change in the legislature.
So yes, this is a “make fees voluntary” trial balloon—or, rather, lead [sic] zeppelin—being dropped on one key element of progressive movements and other formal mechanisms for collective action. But it’s more than that. It’s a direct blow to some of the most vocal opponents of neoliberal, slash-and-burn governments of all political stripes, whose policies reinforce socioeconomic inequities that hurt us all—but especially the most marginalized. Other unions and union members, take note.
When student unions call for affordable education and safer campuses, they’re not doing it for themselves—they’re already dealing with debt, high rates of sexual assault and insufficient student services. They’re doing it for everyone else’s kids. And at this moment when they’re being targeted—for critiquing and resisting some of the ways this current (or a previous) government is making higher education less accessible and less publicly funded which has implications for all of us—we need to stand with them.
Erika Shaker is the editor of Our Schools / Our Selves and the Senior Education Researcher at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. You can find her on Twitter at @ErikaShaker.
Rent control changes proposed by the Progressive Conservative government do not better protect current tenants and take away protections for future tenants. Contrary to government statements, the re-introduction of the rent control exemption for new units will not increase the supply of units affordable to most tenants. Theses changes merely make a less-than-ideal situation worse.
Ontario’s rent controls have been minimal for more than a generation. Even before these PC reforms, Ontario did not regulate the initial rent for new units and sets only a guideline maximum allowable rent increase for existing tenants. Further, since 1998 when “vacancy control” was eliminated, rents in units that change tenants can increase by more than the guideline when vacancy rates are low.. For example, the guideline for 2018 was 1.8%, yet the actual average rent increase was 5.0% (that is, the 3.2% “above guideline” increase in Figure 1). It is this lack of vacancy control that allowed “landlords to charge 18 per cent more on average when new vacancies become available.”
Clearly, to provide real additional protection to tenants the government must re-introduce vacancy control across the board.
Sources: CMHC, Ontario Landlord and Tenant Board, Author’s calculations
Ontario’s rental stock is made up mostly of private, purpose-built “primary” units supplemented by private condo rentals and “other” private rentals (e.g., houses, basement units, etc.) and subsidized public units. Primary and condo rental units account for about 80% of the private rental stock and are the focus of this article.
Private investment has been shifting toward condos and away from primary rentals since condos were first legally-created in Ontario in the late 1960’s. Figure 2 compares the trend in primary investment and the broader universe of condo units (owner-occupied and rental).
Figure 2 | Number of Primary & Condo Units (Ontario, by year of construction, includes all sizes of units)
Sources: CMHC, Urbanation, Author’s calculation
In 1990, there were three-and-half times as many primary rentals as condo units. In the intervening three decades, private investment has produced only about 50,000 new rental units, but a total of more than 350,000 condo units. This confirms that the prior exemption from rent controls for buildings occupied after 1991 did not increase the construction of primary units, but rather further facilitated the building of new condos.
Figure 3 shows the total number of primary and condo units and the number of condo rental units between 1990 and 2018. Based on current trends, the number of condos units will surpass primary units in the middle of the next decade. A total of about 180,000 new condo rentals have been introduced since 1990, more than three times the number of new rental units. Currently half of new condo units entering the market in Ontario are condo rentals.
Figure 3 | Number Primary & Condo Rental Units (Ontario, includes all sizes of rental units)
Sources: CMHC, Urbanation, Author’s calculations
There is also significant variation in rents within and between primary and condo rentals. Figure 4 shows that the average rent for condo rentals of all sizes (over $2,150) are about 30% higher than more recent primary units ($1,700) and 75% higher than older primary units (1,200).
Higher rents reflect higher construction and land costs for all newer units and greater amenities in condos. As summarized in Figure 4, about 70% of tenants are in older primary rental units paying average rents of about $1,200, with the remaining 30% in condo rentals and newer primary rentals paying between $1,700 and $2,150.
Figure 4 | Average Rents for Primary & Condo Rentals (Ontario, monthly, by year of construction, includes all sizes of rental units)
Sources: CMHC, Urbanation, Author’s calculations
Regulation of public goods such as housing is desirable when there is a public interest to be protected, and when there is evidence that the market does not deliver. This is particularly the case of moderately-priced rental units averaging around $1,200 on which the vast majority (70%) of tenants rely.
The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) estimates that only about 30% of tenants have sufficient household incomes (more than $65,000) to be able to access either condo rentals or newer primary rentals. That means that the rest of the tenants (70%) with incomes below $65,000 can only afford older primary rental units.
The Ontario government’s proposed rent control exemption will not benefit the households that live in these older, moderately priced primary units, who would continue to face higher rents due to lack of vacancy control and will not benefit from new supply.
In contrast, private investment has shown that it can supply new higher-priced units, so lighter regulation is appropriate in the form of a higher (double the standard) guideline increase for new construction. The relatively higher-income households that will live in such units could afford the possibly higher rent increases and also may actually benefit from having credible new supply of condo and primary rentals.
To be clear, even if the government re-introduced rent controls for all existing and new units, nothing in the government’s existing or proposed tenant protection measures will increase the market supply of moderately priced rental units affordable to the vast majority of tenants. That ship has sailed: a market-based solution for increasing that affordable rental stock is now only possible with targeted public incentives and other forms of subsidies and/or much stricter forms of rent regulation, including the regulation of the initial rent for new units as is done in some jurisdictions. Further, as part of a comprehensive housing strategy, the government should also commit public funds/lands to increase not for profit subsidized public housing.
However, the government could consider a more balanced approach for now in which the guideline rent increase for new units only is set at twice the current rate. The costs to administer this alternative proposal (keeping the current guideline for existing units, re-introducing vacancy control across the board and introducing a higher guideline for new units) would be modest compared to the size of the residential rental sector (over $20 billion a year) and could be kept to a minimum by taking advantage of new technologies.
This alternative rent control proposal includes additional, badly needed protection for all current and future tenants while ensuring there is sufficient incentive for private investment to continue to supply new higher-priced units.
Edgardo Sepulveda is an independent consulting economist with more than two decades of utility (telecommunications) policy and regulatory experience. He writes about electricity, inequality and other economic policy issues at the Progressive Economics Forum. You can find him on twitter at @E_R_Sepulveda.
On November 16, I participated in a workshop organized by the Alberta Alternative Budget Working Group. Held at the University of Alberta’s main campus, speakers discussed macroeconomic, health care and social policy considerations for the next Alberta budget.
Here are 10 things to know:
1) Alberta’s still recovering from a nasty recession, triggered by a drop in world oil prices. Edmonton-based economist Garry Sran noted that the recent recession was Alberta’s worst in over 30 years. Alberta’s real GDP contracted by 3.7% in 2015 and by another 4.2% in 2016. The good news is that Alberta’s economy grew by 4.4% (in real terms) in 2017 and is estimated to grow by 2.7% (in real terms) in 2018.¹
2) Alberta still has the lowest debt-to-GDP ratio of any province—though that’s growing quickly. This was one of the points made by Edmonton-based researcher Alejandro Pachon. This phenomenon is illustrated in the visual below.
3) Relative to the size of its economy, Alberta’s provincial government spends less than any other province. Many would argue that a provincial government should spend according to its means, and that jurisdictions with greater means should invest more in public spending.² Using this logic, Alberta has considerable opportunity to invest more in public services.
4) Alberta still has a revenue problem. Just as a province should spend according to its means, it should also derive revenue accordingly (including through taxes). Tax rates are still low in Alberta, contributing to a revenue problem illustrated below.
5) There are important health care initiatives that could benefit Albertans. Trevor Zimmerman, discussing health care, noted that federal action on pharmacare is “slow moving.” He therefore expressed support for the idea of the Alberta government introducing universal pharmacare, which he estimates would cost the provincial treasury approximately $400M annually.
6) The Notley government has done important work on the Indigenous file. In her presentation, Angele Alook acknowledged that Alberta’s provincial government has undertaken important initiatives with Indigenous peoples. Last year it made a $100 million commitment towards safe drinking water. Earlier this year, it implemented training for public servants to better understand Indigenous cultural identities and the history of colonialism. More recently, Alberta became the only Canadian province to fully implement Jordan’s Principle. However, she also noted that some Indigenous peoples in the province feel they are a “bureaucratic check mark” on a list of things to do when industry is proposing new development, and that all Albertans must remain vigilant in holding government and industry to account over their duty to consult.
7) Alberta remains the only Canadian province without pay equity legislation. As noted by Kathleen Lahey in a 2016 report: “The purpose of pay equity laws is to equalize women’s wages to levels equivalent to men’s all across the wage scale…” (p. 1). Yet, the Notley government does not appear to be currently considering the introduction of such legislation. In her workshop presentation, Hitomi Suzuta noted that many view pay equity as a ‘women’s issue,’ when in fact, it’s not just women who benefit from such legislation.
8) Schools in Alberta’s K-12 education system face more than $2 billion in deferred maintenance. This can mean some schools may lack wheelchair accessibility, while children at others avoid unsanitary washrooms in disrepair. Almost two-thirds of buildings in Edmonton Public School system are now at least 50 years old. A 2016 news story on the Edmonton context can be found here, while a recent news story on this situation as it relates to Calgary can be found here.
9) There’s considerable need for more affordable housing in Alberta. Admittedly, the Notley government has roughly doubled annual provincial spending on housing; and homeless-serving systems of care have developed sophisticated databases, triage techniques and performance indicators. However, as a percentage of their total household expenditures, low-income Albertans spend considerably more on housing today than pre-recession—we know this thanks to some great analysis recently done by Margarita Wilkins and Ron Kneebone (see visual below).
Chart 4 | Alberta 2010 versus 2016
Source. Kneebone, R., & Wilkins, M. G. (2018). Social Policy Trends: Paying for the Essentials: Shelter, Food and Energy Consumption by Household Income Quintile for 2010 and 2016. The School of Public Policy Publications, 11. Retrieved from Policy School’s website
10) Alberta’s population is aging. Due mostly to Baby Boomers getting older, this same aging phenomenon is happening throughout the OECD; it’s projected to continue for approximately the next three decades. With this so-called Silver Tsunami comes increased demand for health care services, including long-term care. Trevor Zimmerman noted that, between 2001 and 2017, Alberta’s population aged 85 and above increased by 96%. During this same period, the total number of beds in long-term care facilities in the province increased by less than 14%.
In sum. The November workshop, now an annual event, provides a ‘sneak peak’ at the kinds of analysis and proposals we can expect to see in the next Alberta Alternative Budget (which we expect to release shortly before the next provincial budget is tabled). More information on last year’s project can be found here.
¹ Figures for 2015, 2016 and 2017 are from Statistics Canada. Figure for 2018 is an Alberta Treasury and Finance projection.
² Rather than looking at interprovincial spending comparisons in relation to each province’s respective GDP, Mel McMillan prefers to consider interprovincial spending comparisons in relation to each province’s level of household
spending. This essentially controls for the fact that Alberta’s per-capita GDP is considerably higher than that in any other province due largely to the high level of capital investment in Alberta characteristic of the oil and gas sector.
Interprovincial spending comparisons in relation to each province’s level of household spending find Alberta’s per-capita provincial spending to be considerably below the provincial average for Canada as a whole.
Author’s Note: I wish to thank Lauren Montgomery and Garry Sran for organizing this year’s workshop. I also wish to thank Angele Alook, Ian Hussey, Mel McMillan, Ron Kneebone, Alejandro Pachon, Hitomi Sizuta, Trevor Tombe, Dan Wallbank and Barret Weber for invaluable assistance with this blog post. Any errors are mine.
Nick Falvo is Director of Research and Data at the Calgary Homeless Foundation. You can follow him on Twitter at @nicholas_falvo.
The Ontario PC government has announced the first cues about its plans for social assistance reform. Given that the previous PC government axed social assistance rates by 21.6%, there’s been widespread fear that rate cuts from the Ford government were on the horizon.
But last week’s announcement included no immediate rate cuts. It appears that the current government’s plan is more sophisticated but equally perverse to that of the previous Harris government: it aims to push social assistance recipients with disabilities into a cheaper program with fewer supports. If this happens, a considerable portion of the people who will be affected are 55 years of age and older.
While the Income Security Advocacy Centre’s (ISAC) analysis explains the potential implications of the announced changes, and Nick Saul’s op-ed offers a trenchant rebuttal of the government’s rhetoric, this blog provides data that contextualizes the likely motivation and potential impact of the forthcoming reform.
The context in numbers
Ontario’s social assistance system comprises two programs: Ontario Works (OW), which provides financial and employment support to people not in receipt of employment insurance; and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), which provides financial and employment support to people with disabilities.
In July 2018, OW had 245,322 cases with 451,827 total beneficiaries (including spouses and dependant children). Caseload sizes have oscillated up and down by 4.5% in the past three years, with a 3% decline in the past 12 months.¹ The OW maximum monthly benefit is $733 for a single person and $1,484 for a couple with two children.²
In July 2018, ODSP had 368,614 cases with and 508,459 total beneficiaries. Caseload size has been on the rise, with an accumulated 10% increase in the past three years.³ The ODSP maximum monthly benefit is $1,169 for a single person and $2,121 for a couple with two children.⁴
The ODSP program cost ($5.6 billion) is almost twice as much as the OW’s program cost ($3 billion).⁵
In its pursuit of an austerity agenda, the PC government already cut by half a scheduled 3% rate increase. Next, it seems the government plans to push ODSP clients onto OW.
New disability definition
The Reforming Social Assistance Backgrounder states the Ontario government is working on a new definition of disability—which will more closely align with federal government guidelines. A likely definition is the one used to determine eligibility for Canadian Pension Plan (CPP) disability benefits.
We estimate that 149,000 Ontarians received the CPP disability benefit in 2016, whereas 795,000 received provincial social assistance income.⁶ Ontario government data shows that only 9% of ODSP recipients and 0.1% of OW recipients received both social assistance and CPP benefits in the same year.⁷
The small overlap between CCP disability and ODSP is not due only to different disability definitions.
Since CPP is a contributory program, eligibility for disability benefits depends on both contributions and the definition of disability. The contribution requirement likely bars many ODSP recipients from receiving the federal benefit. Moreover, CPP disability benefits are deducted dollar-for-dollar from ODSP benefits, which is a disincentive for applying to both programs.
Notwithstanding these caveats, these figures suggest that alignment with federal guidelines means less people will qualify for ODSP.
“Moving People to Employment”
The backgrounder document states that “only 1% of people on Ontario Works leave the program for a job in any given month” and that the “number of people receiving [ODSP] support has been growing by 3.5% each year, significantly outpacing Ontario’s population growth.” The proposed solution to “make social assistance sustainable” is largely focused on “moving people to employment.”
Between 2012 and 2016, the number of Ontarians receiving social assistance income grew by an annual average of 3.8%. As Chart 1 shows, the average annual growth for recipients between 16 and 24 years of age is negative (-0.8%); and the average growth for the 25 to 54 years age group (+0.4%) is well below the overall average. Growth is above the average only for the age groups between 55 and 64 (+13.6%) and 65 and over (+15.1%).⁸
Chart 1| Average Annual Growth of Social Assistance Recipients by Age Group, 2012-2016
As a result, the size of older age groups as a share of social assistance caseloads is rapidly increasing. In the same five-year period, the share of social assistance recipients between 25 and 54 years of age dropped from 65% to 55%, whereas the share of individuals 55 to 64 years of age went up from 17% to 24%, and the share of the group 65 years and over increased from 9% to 13%.
While older age is not in an impediment to work, adults approaching retirement age face considerable employment barriers. Ontario Works requires recipients to continually look for work or undertake work-related training to be eligible for support. Older adults with disabilities no longer eligible for ODSP may not be able live up to these requirements; there is a risk they may lose all income supports.
Low-Income tax credit
In her announcement of the social assistance changes, Minister Lisa MacLeod touted the new low-income tax credit as an aid to individuals and families on social assistance. In an earlier blog post, we compared the impact of the low-income tax break and the axed minimum wage increase.
Here, it is important to note that only 17% of social assistance recipients will have provincial taxes payable in 2018. The tax rate applicable to their income bracket is 5.05%, with many individuals paying a lower effective tax rate due to other tax credits and deductions.
For social assistance recipients, real taxation comes in the form of benefit clawbacks due to employment income.
Earning exemptions and clawback rates
The Ontario government is increasing the employment earnings exemptions for both programs. From $200 to $300 a month for OW and from $200 monthly to $6,000 annually for ODSP. This measure would have been a positive change, if the government had not raised clawback rates on earnings above these amounts from 50% to 75%. As Graph 2 clearly shows, social assistance recipients will be taxed more on their employment incomes as a result of these changes.
Chart 2| Earnings Exceptions and Clawback Rates Compared
Pressed by a reporter on whether the new disability definition will limit access to ODSP, Minister Lisa MacLeod said, “everybody who is on ODSP today will be grandfathered, on a go forward basis, they may end up on Ontario Works, and they will be provided with those wrap around supports at the local level.”
The figures discussed above and this remark by Minister MacLeod suggest the PC government social assistance reform will limit access to ODSP and push the responsibility for Ontarians’ health and wellbeing onto municipal governments—tasked with the delivery of Ontario Works and other crucial supports—and community organizations that pick up the tab whenever governments fail.
⁶ This analysis is based on Statistics Canada’s Social Policy Simulation Database and Model (SPSD-M). The assumptions and calculations underlying the simulation results were prepared by Ricardo Tranjan and the responsibility for the use and interpretation of these data is entirely that of the author.