Sooner or Loiter

By Ryan McGreal
Published October 03, 2008

An article in today's Spectator about the city's plan to revitalize Gore Park confused me:

Vendors. Entertainment. A peace memorial. Less loitering. A friendlier climate.

Vendors, check. Get some commercial activity going on the street. Entertainment, check. Everyone loves a live band downtown. Peace memorial, check. It's important to commemorate our noble legacy of sacrifice. Less loitering.

Wait, what?

Less loitering? To loiter is to stand idly about, to linger aimlessly, to proceed slowly or with many stops.

Isn't that exactly what we would want to encourage in an urban pedestrian plaza?

Or is the issue not the loitering per se but the particular people who presently happen to enjoy loitering at the Gore?

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.


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By JH (anonymous) | Posted October 03, 2008 at 12:42:59

Loitering=when youth, visibly disabled people, and the working class enjoy public space


Looting=when black residents of New Orleans try to obtain goods neccessary for survival

Basically, the city's revitalization plan is rife with Victorian thinking about "underclass"-and trying oh so hard to remove the people who actually comprise the pubic from the public sphere....
The addition of vendors, if anything, does not fundementally add to the public accessibility of Gore Park. It makes it a private-enterprise driven space---municipal capitalism---that can selectively exclude those who are not consumers from enjoying the very public space that the city is allegedly trying to promote.

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 03, 2008 at 13:55:51

yea, I was a little perplexed when I read that too. I regularly 'loiter' in Gore Park with a book, a coffee, my camera etc.... What do they expect will happen if we turn it into a truly vibrant public plaza where there's actually something to do? Are we all supposed to speed-walk through the park and catch a fleeting glimpse of the vendors and music groups?? More people chilling downtown is exactly what we need...not less.

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By geoff's two cents (anonymous) | Posted October 03, 2008 at 13:56:56

It's funny you should point out that discrepancy; I had a similar thought when I read the article.

Having said that (and I'm addressing JH's comment here), I myself have been a little put off the Gore in the past by the occasional visible drug use, and/or loud, boisterous activity in the Gore. Nor do I think is the prejudice you mention entirely class or race-based; there's a somewhat justifiable concern for personal safety out there. My girlfriend, for instance, was propositioned by a pimp and three of his friends in Jackson Square only a few feet from me while I was turned around and taking money out from an ATM. The fellow was dressed expensively enough that I don't think his survival was at stake in the encounter. Needless to say, when we are together and there are large groups of similarly dressed people about in the Gore or elsewhere, we tend to steer clear. It's instinct.

In my view, it's not so much that there are people loitering at Gore, but rather that the place is usually avoided almost entirely by non-"underclass" types. In an ideal world, the businesses that surround the Gore and the general ambiance will do something to attract a greater diversity of people there to enjoy it - whether it's business people, youth, the working class, or whatever.

I would hope that the addition of vendors to the Gore does not mean they'd kick people out who don't want to spend money - At least, this is how it works at beaches and other parks with vendors, where anybody who likes to can enjoy the public realm.
Maybe this is just my rebellious side, but I've spent lots of time in parks with vendors in my day without spending a dime (or wearing a suit).

I imagine the "less loitering" part of the spec article is something of an editorial oversight. Obviously, the more people, and different types of people "loitering" in the Gore, the better.

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted October 03, 2008 at 16:00:38

Not sure what the problem here is. 'Loitering' is a specific term to describe specific behaviour. It generally means 'the idle activity of those with nowhere better to go, with nothing better to do.'

I catch the bus at Gore. I have no desire to go in there, no desire to even transect the property. The number of 'non-desirables' there is almost always been greater than 'others', and quite frankly is a turn-off.

Is this elitist? Absolutely. Do I have sympathy for those whose lives have thus far been constructed in such a way as to be categorized as I've suggested? an extent.

Look, development of the downtown is not going to include great gestures of egalitarianism. That's not what vibrant inner cities have. You don't get businesses investing, you don't get shoppers shopping, and you sure don't get people getting excited about living in places where there are people 'loitering' about, hanging around because they simply don't have anything better to do, anywhere better to go.

I'm a big guy, 6'3", 240 lbs, but I wouldn't consider spending any time in or even around Gore as it is. The downtown has become a shit-pit and as such, flies have settled. No apologies for my analogy; there's a segment of this city that's hardly the stuff of pride and boosterism...I know, I regularly ride the buses with them.

As a final comment, I love the Hamilton Ambassador Flash Drives being used to promote the city. Do you think photos of Gore Park with all its current 'visitors' would be a good way to show outsiders what the city's like...?

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By JH (anonymous) | Posted October 03, 2008 at 16:46:42

Geoff, I appreciate the optimism in your comments-that the development of increased commerce would hopefully not create a situation whereby non-consumers are kicked out...
What I mean to point out is that "inherent" in this plan, is no protection for the space as a public good. And the greatest test of our commitment to the public good is what happens to those who have the least. As a municipal project, the city's responsibility is primarily a civic one, not a commercial one. At least that's something I happen to believe as a citizen. So there needs to be more robust debate around what we mean by terms like loitering, but also about the kinds of policy that will include the promotion of a civic space for everyone-for not only those who are visibly poor, disabled, working class, etc., but for things like civic action-protests, rallies, and the like. I'm sure you can see what I mean here.
Social mixing is not a bad thing in itself, however if the thinking goes that "we" want greater social mixing, that there needs to be inherently a recognition that you can't just remove people from a space through the heavy hand of industry-interested state (or city) power. 89,000 people in Hamilton are techincally "poor" = below the poverty line.
People who are poor are regularly harassed and exlcluded from all other types of spaces that are considered consumer spaces- it is a pity that we have a big, fat, giant mall as our city centre. In fact, the homeless in Toronto, for example, are regularly denied access to fast food outlet restrooms even when they do have a dollar or two to spend. What I am arguing for here is not that cities should be rife with illicit activity, as you describe in your post, but that we take a structural view at what we mean by "public space" and defend a more complete view of what is meant by the concept of development.
As to the comments posted by Shmadrian-your use of terms like "undesirables" (undesirable to whom?) and the allusion of such people to be "flies" (to shit) are just plain ignorant-if not definable as hate speech.

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By geoff's two cents (anonymous) | Posted October 03, 2008 at 22:05:04

JH - I agree with your second post. I wouldn't want a sanitized, sterile park at the centre of this city. The unabashed working class character of the city - its grit - gives it a certain charm (I know how silly that can sound, given that the "grit" stems from serious structural issues with poverty, but I'm sure you know what I mean). Let's hope that as investment in the core improves, the city doesn't turn its back on this heritage.

I was downtown tonight, and the park was particularly pleasant - especially with the lights. It may have been my imagination, but there was quite a mix of people enjoying the city. Nice to see.

And, to be fair, even though I'm a Vancouverite at heart, I have to say that I feel safer in downtown Hamilton than in many parts of my home town - to say nothing of the DTES centred at Hastings and Main. The drug problem does not seem to be quite as severe here, and the people who "ask" for change aren't quite as aggressive.

I have to say, schadrian, although I understand what you're trying to say, your language is a little strong considering that you profess to have sympathy for the people you're describing.

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted October 04, 2008 at 09:11:25

For the sake of expediency, not out of some degree of defensiveness, I'll lay out my cards: I'm a left-leaning liberal. I'm pro-choice, anti-capital punishment. I believe in a free-market, capitalist system...with restraints and limitations. (Interesting how there's a dearth of real examination going on in the US at the mainstream media level as to the real causes of this 'crisis'. Yes, we've been given an overview. But nobody wants to take a look at what motivates people to create loopholes and shortcuts and such stuff in the first place. But I guess that would be too painful an examination, and let's face it, it goes to the heart of the American value system. I bring this up because there's always been a contrast between the US and the Canadian approach to business and to Life; ours has an entirely different core, one that Americans often align with 'socialism'. LOL) I believe in a properly-funded state medical system, I'm pro-education, pro-community, and am for the enfranchisement of people, not their marginalization.

It's quite easy to see how my comments could be taken in the ways they seemingly have. No matter. This is not a 'group hug' issue. I am not addressing those people who I have terms 'undesirable' (itself a quite open-ended term, ranging from 'deportable' to 'not appropriate to the occasion or circumstances'), I'm addressing the ridiculous notion –granted, by extension– of essentially providing a more upscale playground/meeting place for them. The truth is that if Hamilton's core undergoes a successful transformation, if Jackson Square is revitalized, if the business community somehow resurrects itself, if people actually move into 'the downtown', into the parts of 'the downtown' that have been on the downturn now for the better part of two decades, I guarantee that those people who are currently loitering in Gore Park, those people who would absolutely, definitely, positively prevent me from bringing my family, my children down there to frequent 'the downtown'...they simply will not be there once these changes have been effected.

Is this somehow an outrage? Is this akin to Olympics-hosting cities shipping their 'undesirables' out of sight's way during the two weeks? No. Because we're talking about a natural progression, something that happens organically in our free-market, capitalistic world: when there's an influx of change, of money, of business, of new tenants, new home owners, new resident...the profile of the area changes. 'Gentrification'? Maybe. But let's not play emotion-based semantical gymnastics here. I am all for affordable housing initiatives. I'm all for the concept of a greater alliance between low-income needs and government investment. I'm all for those who, due to circumstances, and even choice have found themselves at a very young age of staring into the face of their future, an extraordinarily low-ceilinged future at that, being assisted in rising up out of these circumstances. This is what is at the heart of being a Canadian, a far less 'you're on you're own' approach than of our neighbours to the south. But I am not so much a social fantasist as to entertain for one second that in looking at the reinvention of a city's core must accommodate the needs (!!!) of those who loiter.

Hamilton's core will, hopefully, change. I'm old enough to remember it before Jackson Square. I remember 'old' Gore Park. And I remember when it went through its first transformation. And I'll tell ya; there were no such levels of 'undesirables' then. I remember sitting in Gore Park, under the mammoth trees. Back then it was somewhere to take your kids if you were downtown. It was safe. Where were these 'undesirables' back then, the ones who currently congregate in Gore and on the steps of Jackson Square and up on the terrace? Elsewhere. (I'll leave it to you to name a wealth of possibilities.) And when things shift, they'll go back to those places. Is this some kind of hard-hearted displacement? Nope. It's the way of the world. (How come, I need to ask, that these 'undesirables' don't loiter down at Pier Four? Surely they can do down there what they currently do in Gore. The reason? It's not as convenient. And when Gore is returned to something that's not as 'comfortable' to them as it currently is...and truly, they own it right now, a patchy, gruff, hardscrabble kingdom that consistently makes me turn my head...they're find somewhere else to go.

Or, maybe, just maybe, they'll have had the opportunity to change their circumstances and are no longer needing, or no longer have the free time to spend hanging around. My best wishes go in that direction.

In the meantime, I'm for Gore Park and the rest of Hamilton's core being returned to those whose intent while there far exceeds a simple need to loiter. And ya know what? I bet I'm not alone in this.

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By Grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted October 05, 2008 at 14:11:48

Schmadrian: I wonder if you have ever stopped and talked to some of the people who you deem as undesirables? To be honest, I wonder if think about the lesson or message you are giving your children, when one teaches them to be "elitest".

You deem yourself as a left leaning liberal but then what action have we seen from this so-called liberal government in regards to helping those who are less fortunate? One can look at the current Ontario Child Benefits, which leaves people who struggle, the working poor with less.

Or what about the growth of the temp agencies where those that struggle are denied a living wage or even benefits.

The answer is inclusion of all the voices, that would include those that struggle in the negotiating process and many of you in the middle class have failed to acknowledge that those that struggle have a right to participate.

You want to blame those at the bottom but I do not see no blame on our leaders who over the years have spend endless dollars on comestic revamps which have done nothing with the underlying problems, that is the loss of good paying jobs, the cutbacks in all the social services, the rise in property taxes which does affect the business community. Also there should be blame of the "capitalist model", which has killed many small businesses all across this city.

Please think before you speak!!!!

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By geoff's two cents (anonymous) | Posted October 05, 2008 at 21:40:00

Grassroots are the way forward, I agree with much of what you say, but would question how the government is chiefly responsible for the problems you mention in your last paragraph. What are the cosmetic revamps you're referring to? How is the government responsible for the loss of good paying jobs? - Couldn't we attribute this equally to the rise of countries like China and India? Aren't the social services cutbacks the product of an aging population (and the stretching of public resources that goes along with this) as much as anything else?

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By Grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted October 06, 2008 at 07:34:22

The comestic rrevamps I am referring to is the numerous attempts to revtitalize the downtown area over the years around Gore Park. Like the fancy slate sidewalks and so on.

What about NAFTA, the free trade agreements, is not the government responsible for the implementation of the policies? Does it make sense to loss good paying jobs here when companies move to exploit labout over there in China or India? What about Elect to Work or workfare, please explain how these policies are for the good of the people? There has been a marked decrease in worker's rights all across the board, yet we have the explosion the the CEO's and so earn, at the expense of those who struggle.

The cutbacks are definitely the cause of government policies, social assistance was cut but 21% in 1998, the amounts people receive are subsistant to live on. Yet we have seen our provincial government give themselves 27% raises for what? What about many workers being denied access to EI benefits? I could go on.

If you cannot see what has been going on, then I feel sorry for you. But then maybe you are part of the problem and not part of the solution.

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By geoff's two cents (anonymous) | Posted October 06, 2008 at 09:00:12

"If you cannot see what has been going on, then I feel sorry for you. But then maybe you are part of the problem and not part of the solution."

Not terribly diplomatic, are you? Blog sites like this one are forums for constructive debate; they're usually not meant to be places where people have to agree - in fact, disagreement is encouraged. Your "if you don't agree with every aspect of my post, you're obviously blind" attitude won't likely help you convince anybody that you have anything worthwhile to say. I'd recommend a more respectful approach, particularly when others such as myself actually voice their agreement with much of what you say, and merely ask for clarification and/or commentary on other parts.

I agree that we're seeing a crisis in the welfare state, and hope for the sake of my future and my children's that the storm can we weathered without resorting to 19th century levels of class disparity and mass poverty. If my brother with Down syndrome had been born to a poorer family, moreover, I'm not sure how the poor guy would be dealing with the massive cutbacks in funding to people with disabilities (this is what happened in BC a few years ago, at any rate).

The mobility of companies across the globe has had somewhat mixed results. I'd add to your take on the issue above the fact that what we call "exploitation" people in these other countries most often call "opportunity."

I'd also add that the "government" is not some universal, monolithic entity in space and time - It changes after every election. At these junctures, citizens have the opportunity to voice their discontent at current policies.

NAFTA has also had mixed results - the softwood lumber and mad cow conundrums are examples of how the system does not always work the way it should when a more powerful economic partner is involved.

All-out protectionism hasn't worked that well either though. The branch plant economy is a legacy in large part of protectionist Canadian economic policies from the late nineteenth century forward. Subsidized agriculture in France, another way of isolating workers from the world economy, has resulted in a vast overproduction of goods - funded by the taxpayer, to boot. For the most preeminent example of a protectionist, isolationist state, see North Korea.

I've done some temping myself, and saw the experience primarily as an opportunity - It was great to have a short term job without having to jump through the usual hoops. I wasn't too embittered at the prospect of losing my holiday pay because of this. I agree that the temp model is becoming as prominent as it is, but doesn't it also act as a spur for people to acquire more useful skills, so as to eventually be their own bosses or accede to a job that takes better care of their employees?

As for workfare, it's a controversial issue. Given that the money ultimately comes from taxpayers, many of whom work quite hard for it, I'm not sure they'd take too kindly to knowing that citizens could collect welfare for as long as they like, no questions asked. I'm sure there are a lot of people out there who cannot work for some legitimate reason, and who have had great difficulty getting government help with this. In my own experience, I know a fellow who has been collecting welfare for some time due to a leg injury - It's not that severe though, and he squanders his assistance money on beer and cigarettes, and he's gained an enormous amount of weight from a bad diet. He's effectively using the system. I like him personally, but have never quite got used to the idea that it's partly my tax dollars that are supporting this (together with the company he worked for, who is also, I believe, funding his absence from work).

On one hand, you can't leave people who aren't working to rot - on the other, you can't give them carte blanche, or many among them will use the system as much as possible to their own advantage. This is one fellow who is definitely "part of the problem and not part of the solution," as you put it.

I agree that CEOs are generally making too much, across the board. McMaster is a case in point. There was some commentary in the Economist awhile back to the effect that CEO pay should be tied to a large extent to what shareholders believe he or she is worth.

I still say that an aging population is presenting multiple problems for our aging welfare-state model. You haven't yet disproven this point of mine. More people are retiring now and needing hospital care (because of their advanced age) than ever before, and this puts strain on government as well as private pension coffers. The model was always somewhat shortsighted, of course, and didn't account for the fact that boomers would be having less children who would have to shoulder a disproportion of the welfare/pension burden. It also did not account for the fact that boomers would develop a sense of profound entitlement because of the resources available to them, and would therefore take less measures to safeguard their retirement standard of living on their own.

There's no question that "government" is making policies in response to this, but, frankly, what would you have them do? Where would you have them get the money from?

Tax the corporate bigwigs to the hilt, maybe, because they have more than enough to live on? What's to stop said bigwig from taking his investment capital and expertise elsewhere?

As for the fancy sidewalks downtown, this might seem to be mere superficiality. It's an attempt to attract quality tenants to the core - I'm sure you'd agree that the current lot of adult stores/theatres, a bingo hall, and "fast cash" joints aren't doing much to encourage positive life choices or to foster the development of a more upbeat public space. Rather, they're playing a significant role in the perpetuation of something of a ghetto mentality downtown.

It is not just the wealthy capitalist who would benefit from a nicer urban environment - the people who rely on social assistance and live near the downtown would also appreciate it, I'm sure.

To be sure, the sidewalks, combined with other ways the city tries to raise the core's profile, might seem like mere superficialities - but there's no rule-book out there on how to improve city cores, particularly for cities like Hamilton who have such deep-seeded structural economic difficulties. Other ways to make the core a more positive space might include tax incentives, better transportation, a general civic environment of open-mindedness and innovation - all things, to my way of understanding, that the city of Hamilton has had some dealings in.

What are your ideas? How would you improve the core?

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By Grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted October 06, 2008 at 22:14:58

Geoff: You are right, sometimes I am very headstrong and at times I can be undiplomatic. But I am very passioniate about my views.

Actually, as a member of a local grassroots group, I had the opportunity to discuss the mayor's election promise on the re-development of the brownfields. I am not an expert in this field but with the little research I did, I think it is essential to move forward on this issue. Many cities in US who have moved forward have seen positive results. It would help change the image of the city from one of indstrial toward soemthing more progressive. What about jobs that are green technology, why can't we get companies here that are into this? Personally I do not like the idea that we are losing more and more green space and farm land, I find it very sad to see the rural aspect of this community going away.

I guess what I am trying to say is, if the people do not have jobs that will pay living wages, that will provide benefits, which into turn would allow for those to spend the money back into the local economy, as the small businesses would expand, such as restaurants, cafes, gallery's, markets and so on.

Our society really has turned to one that is very uncaring. If we do not take care of those who cannot take care of themselves, what does that tell us about ourselves? Money is not the end all to be all.

I have taken some courses in labour studies and I watched a film on the stelco strike of 1946 and what amazed me the most was how the people, local businesses stood together for the betterment of the city. Why is it that we cannot find that spark and caring in this city? Really there is too much divison, when we need to pull together but in order to pull together, we must not lay blame or shame on others that do not match our own expectations. No matter what, a person is a person, and deserves to be treated as such.

As the saying goes, one must walk a mile in another's shoes, to really know their path!!!!

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted October 08, 2008 at 15:51:18

Grassroots, your efforts to help people is only doing them harm. What poor people really need is more responsibility, not more handouts.

Poor people need to start paying more in taxes and the tax burden has to stop being carried by the rich.

If this happened, you would see the return of well paying jobs to the average worker, since rewards are always given to those who work for them.

Failure to put in the effort and the universe will always give you the same result, zero.

It all comes down to a simple equation, work = reward. Therefore, if the rich do all the work and pay all the taxes, they get all the rewards.

Failure to see the truth in this statement and you doom yourself to frustration and limited prospects.

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By Rusty (registered) - website | Posted October 08, 2008 at 16:28:43

A Smith, I haven't been following the whole discussion here, but I wanted to respond to your last comment.

Although I agree with you in principal it doesn't, of course, always follow that rich people work the hardest, or even that they 'deserve' all their money :) In our current system of government many tax breaks are given to the folks who demand it the most. And the monetary rewards for the super rich are sometimes based on out-of-whack principals that provide obscene amounts of money for very little work (or talent).

In an ideal world our tax and reward system would be directly related to an individuals work effort and skill set, but sadly, this is not always so. If it were then the guy working three jobs would pay minimal taxes and the CEO who plays golf every Friday would pay ++$.

I agree with your central point though - people need to be enabled. Folks who need a leg up should get just that - a leg up - not a crutch to lean on. But at the same time we have to recognize that when we have an increasing divide between the richest and the poorest in this country, this distorts our whole world order. Put simply, whether you evaluate the current distribution of wealth by hard work or talent or whatever - it just isn't fair!

I think many of us have a curious affinity for the multi-millionaire CEO's of this world. We somehow feel that their 1000% more income is deserved because they work harder than we do, take more risk, have more talent, whatever. And, by the same token, we feel that the tax breaks offered to them and their corporations (where a lot of their wealth is channeled) are deserved because they are providing jobs.

It's true we need to reward risk takers, entrepreneurs, hard workers and folks with in demand skills, but these rewards also have to be according to some kind of scale and, of course, affordable to tax payers and shareholders.

Going back to these 'poor people' (I hate that expression...) I would agree that yes, we do need to 'enable' people in difficulty and not coddle them. We should not be offering any programs or incentives unless there is a clear link between the money invested and a potential return. Those returns won't always be in $'s of course (for instance in the case of long-term healthcare/disabled support) - it will be a moral 'return' in some cases which is fine because we are a compassionate country - but in simplistic terms, every dollar spent should be regarded as an investment so that I, as a tax payer can ask, 'what do I get out of it?' This is no less than I do when spending my own money and it should be the same principal that is applied when spending my tax dollars.

Hope I didn't digress too much from the thread.


Ben Ben

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted October 08, 2008 at 20:45:18

Rusty, rich people might not work the hardest, but they pay more in taxes than other people.

Ever since governments in North America have reduced top marginal tax rates, the amount of taxes paid by the top 1% has steadily increased.

This has happened because rich people now find it easier to simply pay their taxes, rather than hiring accountants to find loopholes and tax havens.

However, now that rich people pay more in taxes to the government, the proportion paid by average earners has gone down.

Since benefits still tend to go to average earners, the effect is that rich people pay more but get less in benefits.

Curiously enough, the gap between the rich and the poor has also been climbing, as the rich have taken a larger role in helping poor people.

That is why I believe the best way to bring back well paying jobs for the average citizen, is to either decrease benefits or ask beneficiaries to pay more in taxes.

The first scenario has been proven to work, as median incomes rose steadily in the 90's as governments cut back on spending.

Under George W Bush, however, median incomes have stalled as social spending has hit an all time high.

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By Grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted October 09, 2008 at 20:18:02

A Smith: What do you think it is wrong to stand up and fight for worker's rights? Do you think it s wrong to stand up and fight for a voice? Do you think it is wrong to empower people? Do you think it is wrong to fight for living wages? Or do you believe that the people should bow down to the elites in awe?

As the song goes"

I will stand my ground No, I won't back down You can stand me up at the gates of hell But I won't back down!!!!

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted October 10, 2008 at 00:48:36

Grassroots, there is nothing wrong with wanting people to have a great job, that pays a generous wage.

But how do we get good paying jobs?

I think it takes a little bit of suffering. I don't mean terrible suffering, but a willingness to give something up, in order to get something greater in return.

In previous decades, average income people paid a larger proportion of total taxes than they do today. They also had better paying jobs and I think the two things go together.

Since the universe tends to work on principles of balance, I believe that rewards flow proportionately from the amount of work that is done.

Therefore, if government started asking more from lower income people, I believe this would be balanced by greater opportunities for these same people.

I point to periods of recent history where government has done this very thing, namely reducing benefits, where median wages grew much faster than today.

However, when money is simply given to people, without asking anything in return, I don't think it actually helps people over the long run.

Furthermore, all human beings feel good about themselves when they can contribute to others and this includes those with very little to give.

Even if we simply asked people with little income to donate some of their time, I believe that would have great benefits to their life and future job prospects.

I guess everything to me boils down to balance and as such, I tend to see rewards following work. I don't believe in free lunches, but i do believe in fairness.

If you try your best and contribute what you can, the universe will reward your efforts.

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By Grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted October 10, 2008 at 07:36:08

A Smith: As a community activist on poverty issues, that are a many people who are low income that donate their time and energy on many projects. For example look at the Campaign for Adequate Welfare And Disability Benefits, Income Security Working Group, Living Wage and Fair Employment Coalition, the numerous neighbourhood groups that are made up of people that struggle, in an effort to bring their voices to the table. These are all grassroots groups.

The goal is to empower people, to fight for what is right and not to follow the corporate, propagagnda, that everything is to be blame on those that struggle.

What you are not understanding is that the current social safety net does little to help people to achieve a goal that would actually help them, it does not give people a hand up, it gives people a hand out, which at the present time contributes greatly to the growing number of people living in poverty.

Lets say you get sick, an illness in which you cannot work. Your current employer may have benefit coverage but if the illness is long term, the employer will try to get rid of you. I know, I have seen this happen. The current system will allow you to lose your home, assets, which leaves you with nothing. Then you must wallow on OW for three years before you can access ODSP, which is a little better then OW.

If you had read the report by the Ombudsman of Ontario in regards to the ODSP system, you would be shocked as to what goes on. In the report it focused on one individual who had been disabled from birth. The system says for children like this it is suppose to be easy for the transition once the child reaches the age of 18. The child was clearly disabled but the ODSP wanted report after report, they kept saying the child was not disabled, as most of the people running this area of the government are not medically trained but bureaucrats. This particular family fought for over 18 months, to get access to ODSP for their child, actually the family resorted to writing the Ombudsman's office in order to get action. These are not rich people but working people.

Take a look at the current OW system, where one could lose their job due to factors beyond their control, they may not find work before EI benefits run out. If one goes the City of Hamilton Economic and Development website and look under OW/ODSP recipients, you will see that most of the work for those trying to make the transition is temp work. Temp work is usually low paying, one does not have access to any benefits, forget pensions. Under Employment Standards Act, those in workfare programs are not protected, those working in the temp industry see violations of legislated law go on daily. People working in this industry are being denied access to EI benefits.

If one who is on the system who has children that are going to post secondary education are limited to the amount of money they can earn to support and/or pay their tuition, so they do not incur a large debt load while going to school, I believe it is around $100 per month they can earn, anything above that is taken off the parents ODSP or OW cheques.

The have created a system, which has layer upon layer of not for profit corporations in order to access programs, which in turn do very little to help people. Your tax dollars are paying for this, yet you seem to not really know what the system is all about.

I went to a so called networking workshop but is was not networking in the sense that to me networking means the ability to meet and mingle with others in order to exchange information that would actually help and /or empower people, like directing them to groups as in the first paragraph. The agenda of this workshop was to promote very low paying jobs, to listen to the facilator, who had no real knowledge of the job market, giving out information that is false. In fact when I mentioned that the work was not a living wage, I was attacked verbally by the facilator who said it is a living wage to someone, no it was not a living wage to anybody, who is trying to break the reins of poverty. I mean really does someone who worked as a receptionist really have knowledge? Do any of these not for profits really look at issues such as globization, NAFTA, de-industrialization, workplace bullying, the violations of legislated law within the Employment Standards Act. No they do not, the object is to get them off the system period, and they do not care if people's rights are being violated.

The current system puts people into a matrix of endless poverty, while people like you defend the system without really knowing what it is about. There is no fairness in our system but you can go on and keep believing the corporate message, the sound bits.

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By Rusty (registered) - website | Posted October 10, 2008 at 10:47:09

Good points Grassroots. I don’t have the insight of having lived with poverty. My own low-income experience has been limited to short stints in between college courses or career changes. The difference – I’m assuming – for me, as opposed to many folks below the poverty line, is that I have a few qualifications and I’ve been brought up with a sense that I can, and will, always be successful. I’m sure that for many people who are struggling, this sense of hope is waning (if it was ever there in the first place).

In Britain you have generations of people in the same family who have never worked. For them, getting a job is not just about getting a ‘leg up’ it’s about believing such a thing is possible.

I think A Smith is arguing from a point of principal, where as you are arguing from the inside, from a point of understanding. I agree with A Smith’s principal (and he has some solid looking analysis to back it up) that hand-outs are not the way to enable people, and I think you agree with that too. The reality check you are providing is that many folks are not even getting a decent hand out, never mind a hand up.

To your point about the ‘poverty cycle’ – a friend of mine told me about his experiences growing up in Toronto’s Regents Park neighbourhood. He said that every time his Dad got a pay rise, the rent went up accordingly. They couldn’t save up any money to get themselves out of their hopeless environment. So his Dad had to lie, and hide the extra money, until they could afford to move somewhere else. It seems that our current system of funding poverty is doing nothing more than creating a cycle.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted October 10, 2008 at 22:12:05

Grassroots, the people you mention are not donating their time to help others, they are donating their time to get more money from the government.

What I would recommend is donating some time to help a local business. By doing this, you would help the business grow and you would learn some skills in the process.

Perhaps as the business grew, the owner would find that your efforts were invaluable to the business and decide to hire you for your valuable work.

By not doing this, you are putting the onus on other people to solve your problems, which is a really stupid way to live.

Stop relying on government to solve your problems, contribute to others success and you will find others willing to do the same for you.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted October 10, 2008 at 23:20:44

Grassroots, I have a challenge for you. Go out one day and hand five people one dollar each. Don't tell them why you are doing this, just watch how they react to this gesture.

In the following days, tell me if you notice anything
different in your life.

If you don't notice anything special coming from this, I will reimburse you the five dollars.

Willing to try?

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By Grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted October 11, 2008 at 00:26:45

A Smith: Your words show who and what you represent. I don't get you, you want those who are on the system to contribute, yet when they do, you belittle them. You see, you want to catagorize all people into one catagory, into the perception you have of those who are on some sort of social assistance.

You see, you assume I am on the system, which shows you're blindness. The one business I would advocate for is a Worker's Center, one that is run by the people, you know grassroots, to help those workers fight for their rights under legislated law, as it is. Many of those who are marginalized, have no one to speak for them or challenge the system.

The system is not there to help people, who need help, yes there are some, a percentage that soak the system, but that does not include all. You would actually have to listen to the stories, of the individuals, to get a true perspective. You fail to see the forest because of the trees.

Let me ask you: Do know the percentage of the actual budget which goes to the people vs the amount that goes to the bureaucracy in the form of wages, benefits, pensions? The bureaucracy stretches far and wide.

You want people to be self sufficient, yet you seem to have an issue when people actually have to stand and fight for self sufficiently.

As to your challenge, I could go out and give $5.00 out in $1.00 increments. It may not change my life but you never know, it might change another's life.

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By geoff's two cents (anonymous) | Posted October 11, 2008 at 03:33:14

Rusty, some good moderating here. I agree wholeheartedly. I sympathize with Grassroots, and applaud him for his grassroots activism. I have also come to appreciate A. Smith's point of view, though I certainly do not agree with much of what he/she says. A previous post making reference to firearms ownership is a case in point. If I were an idealist, I'd be interested to see a synthesis of sorts between these opposing views. Part of me thinks that we're arguing in favor of similar ideals, though we see different ways of accomplishing them. I think we all have a degree of sympathy for those who have fallen through the safety net, and who are trying to pull themselves back up, and that we resent the fact that so many are at the same time milking the system and making it difficult for administrators, activists, and bureaucrats alike. Generational poverty is also a concern of both - generally speaking - leftist and rightist sides in the debate. I don't have time to contribute the way I'd like, but I think this discussion is constructive and informative. Given that these are problems that have been grappled with from the nineteenth century forward (my own intellectual background is in nineteenth century British liberalism), there are no easy, sound-bite answers, but we can do no worse than explore possibilities. I look forward to future posts. . .

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By highwater (registered) | Posted October 11, 2008 at 10:46:14

I sympathize with Grassroots, and applaud him for his grassroots activism.

I'm pretty sure grassroots is female. ;-)

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By Grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted October 11, 2008 at 11:01:01

By Geoff's Two Cents: Yes you are right, that it is not a right/left problem, it is a people problem. Right now , the world is changing quickly, as in recent days, we can see the panic mode setting in.

Collectively, I do not think people can just sit in their individual boxes for lack of better words and ignore what is going on.

In the 19th century they had the workhouses, which to me were horrible places. Even though the workhouses do not exist anymore, the mentality of the social safety net is akin to those days. We are seeing people going backward, instead of forward.

I was at a forum in which an educator told a story about children and poverty and the mentality of the school system. An educator was called back into duty to teach a class of children in a low income neighbourhood. The educator was trying to grasp what the problem was, as to why the children were failing. After some searching the educator found what was thought to be IQ scores. The educator revamped the way the children were being taught and actually got positive results. The children were engaged and actually starting to make headway in the learning process. It was after, the educator found out that the IQ scores were actually locker numbers.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted October 12, 2008 at 22:48:33

Grassroots, my comments were aimed at everyone who relies on the government to pay the bills, so I apologize for the confusion.

My point is that all rewards come from effort and all efforts are rewarded.

If you want a better job, go out and get it, don't wait for employers to call you up. The universe only gives you back what you put in, but it also never gives you less than you put in.

Therefore, the choice is for every individual to make, work hard, or allow others to work for you. Either way, you will only be rewarded for the efforts that you personally undertake.

Also, try my experiment out, even though it sounds stupid, I know you will reap some interesting benefits.

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