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Archive for December, 2015

PEACE IN THE NEW YEAR

Posted by strattof on December 31, 2015

Tomorrow will be 2016. A new year is a time for new beginnings.

Canada did not work for peace in 2015. Indeed, our governments, both federal and provincial, continue to demonstrate an enthusiasm for war.

  • Canada’s military commitment in Iraq and Syria keeps on escalating.
  • Closer to home, Regina high schools, both Public and Catholic, are again offering a program in military training.

Let’s all work for peace in 2016!

IRAQ & SYRIA

WAGING WAR

  • In April, the Harper government extended Canada’s military mission in Iraq for a year and expanded it into Syria.
  • During the election campaign, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to end Canada’s bombing mission in Iraq and Syria. As of December 31, Canadian war planes are still flying bombing missions.
  • Prime Minister Trudeau also pledged to enhance Canada’s training mission in Iraq. While there has been no increase in the number of special forces trainers, their role has expanded to include ground warfare, as well as training.

In other words, Canada’s mission in Iraq and Syria keeps on expanding—even after the election. 

DISASTERS OF WAR

  • Civilians are always the main casualties of air strikes.
  • Bombs also destroy a nation’s infrastructure.
  • War creates refugees. Syria is the world’s top source country for refugees. 4 million Syrians have already fled their country.
  • War is traumatic for both civilians and soldiers.

FUTILITY OF WAR

Western military operations against ISIS will not have a good outcome if the first 13 years of the so-called “war on terror” are anything to go by:

  • Descent into murderous chaos in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya: Where is the promised freedom and democracy?
  • The emergence of ISIS in Iraq, a direct result of the 2003 US-led occupation of Iraq.
  • More violence, more death, more suffering, more refugees.

WAGING PEACE

  • No bombing! No training! No boots on the ground!
  • Work actively for peace in Iraq and Syria: a non-violent negotiated resolution to the conflict.

MILITARY TRAINING IN REGINA HIGH SCHOOLS 

6 KEY FACTS

  1. In February 2015, Regina high schools, both Public and Catholic, began offering a military training program to grade 11 and 12 students. The program is set to run again in 2016.
  2. The program is offered during regular school hours.
  3. It has two components: a) Canadian Studies 30, a required course for graduation; and b) Basic Military Qualifications 30L, an elective. Both components are taught at the Regina Armouries.
  4. Instruction in weapons handling is part of the program.
  5. Students earn 2 credits for taking the program. They are also paid $2,000.
  6. The military training program has the support of the governing Saskatchewan Party and the opposition NDP.

6 KEY QUESTIONS

  1. Should we be educating students for war? How about encouraging them to resolve conflicts non-violently?
  2. Should we be turning our schools into military recruitment centres?
  3. Is weapons handling something we want young people to learn in school?
  4. Is the program targeting students from low-income families?
  5. Wouldn’t it be better for society if students were paid $2,000 to take Math or English or Biology?
  6. How about a high school course for credit in Peace Studies? 

STUDY WAR NO MORE!

“I would no more teach children military training than teach them arson, robbery, or assassination.”—Eugene Debs (1855-1926), founder of the Socialist Party of America

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NO ROOM AT THE INN: REGINA’S HOUSING CRISIS

Posted by strattof on December 17, 2015

The Christmas story is quite well-known: Mary and Joseph arrive in Bethlehem and find there is no room at the inn.

But how familiar are we with the current accommodation crisis in Regina. 2000 years later, there is still no room at the inn.

  • The average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Regina is $915, hardly affordable for a full-time minimum wage worker earning $1,830 per month. The commonly accepted definition of “affordable housing” is housing that costs a household 30% or less of its income.
  • In May, Regina conducted a homeless count, finding 232 people were homeless in our city.
  • 63 (or 37%) of the people counted were children.
  • Many more Regina citizens double-bunk, couch-surf, or live in over-crowded unhealthy conditions. Some even live in cars.
  • A significant amount of rental housing in Regina is below acceptable standards.

REGINA’S RENTAL HOUSING CRISIS

BACKGROUND

Regina’s affordable rental housing crisis began in the early 2000s. That’s when

  • Rents began to increase sharply, rising from an average of $539 in 2006 to $732 in 2009, a 40% increase in three years.
  • The rental apartment vacancy rate began to fall sharply, dropping below 1% in 2008, with little improvement until 2013. A healthy vacancy rate is 3%.

CAUSES

The causes of Regina’s affordable rental housing crisis are many, including a booming economy, probably short-lived, and a growing population. However, City of Regina policy decisions also played a key role.

CONDO CONVERSIONS & DEMOLITIONS

  • Until 2012, the City of Regina permitted apartments to be converted into condos. The result was the loss of over 500 apartments between 2006 and 2011.
  • In 2012, City Council allowed the demolition of two low-rent apartment buildings which together provided 56 apartments.

ENRICHING DEVELOPERS

  • From 2013 – 2015, the City of Regina offered developers a grant of $15,000 per unit to build market rate rental housing. As well as enriching developers, this policy helped raise the vacancy rate (it’s now 5.3%). It did not increase the number of affordable rental units.

BUDGET & POLICY PRIORITIES

  • Mayor Fougere cancelled the 2015 Housing Summit, saying “we’ve met a lot of benchmarks.” Clearly affordability is not a benchmark. Rents continue to rise.
  • In 2015, the $3.6 million increase allocated to the Regina Police Service budget was more than two times the amount allocated to the entire affordable rental housing budget.

CRIMINALIZING HOMELESSNESS

Rather than working to solve Regina’s affordable rental housing crisis, city officials have put considerable effort into criminalizing poverty and homelessness.

  • 2008: City Council amended its Tag Day bylaw, intended to be used to regulate charities, to make panhandling illegal. In 2009, the Tag Day bylaw was repealed. Courts had found municipal bans against panhandling unconstitutional.
  • 2009: City Council passed the Parks and Open Space bylaw, which prohibits people from sleeping in parks. A 2015 Supreme Court ruling found that such bylaws are unconstitutional. Regina has yet to repeal its bylaw.
  • 2015: Regina Police Service launched its Unwanted Guest Initiative, as a replacement for the Tag Day bylaw. Its purpose is to allow businesses to ban individuals from their property. People who panhandle are its main target.

 SOLVING REGINA’S HOUSING CRISIS

The City of Regina cannot solve all Regina’s housing problems. There are, however, measures the city can take which will go some way to addressing our city’s housing crisis. Here are four of them:

  1. Require developers to include affordable housing in their plans or pay a fee into an affordable housing account.
  2. Identify empty buildings that can be converted into affordable housing and work with the business community to fund their renovation. Sears Warehouse would be a good place to start.
  3. Develop a program to build 100 new units of affordable rental housing a year, with matching funding from the province.
  4. Implement rental unit licensing to ensure housing is safe and secure, and also meets health standards.

MAKING ROOM AT THE INN

During the holiday festivities, take the time to advocate for affordable rental housing. Let Mayor Fougere and your City Councillor know you want the City of Regina to take concrete action to address Regina’s affordable rental housing crisis.

Mayor Michael Fougere          777-7339 or mayor@regina.ca

Ward 1: Barbara Young          539-4081 or byoung@regina.ca

Ward 2: Bob Hawkins            789-2888 or bhawkins@regina.ca

Ward 3: Shawn Fraser           551-5030 or sfraser@regina.ca

Ward 4: Bryon Burnett          737-3347 or bburnett@regina.ca

Ward 5: John Findura           536-4250 or jfindura@regina.ca

Ward 6: Wade Murray           596-1035 or wmurray@regina.ca

Ward 7: Sharron Bryce         949-5025 or sbryce@regina.ca

Ward 8: Mike O’Donnell      545-7300 or modonnell@regina.ca

Ward 9: Terry Hincks           949-9690 or thincks@regina.ca

Ward 10:Jerry Flegel            537-9888 or jflegel@regina.ca

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THE HUNGER GAMES: CANADA 2015

Posted by strattof on December 5, 2015

Mockingjay‒Part II, the fourth and final installment of The Hunger Games series of films, is now playing in cinemas. Based on Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games trilogy, the movies, like the novels, have been enormously successful. Set in the near future, the story takes place in a country known as Panem, a post-apocalyptic totalitarian society established in North America following the destruction of our civilization.

At the centre of the story is Katniss Everdeen, a mere 16 years old at the beginning of the series. We learn of her struggles, first to provide for her mother and beloved younger sister after their father’s death, and then to survive the Hunger Games, a nationally televised event in which children between the ages of 12 and 18 are required to fight to the death until there is only one remaining.

The Hunger Games trilogy is categorized as “young adult fiction.” However, its multitude of fans represents a broad demographic, extending from pre-teens to senior citizens. As many of us know, it tackles serious issues and offers a critique of contemporary society. 

What can The Hunger Games tell us about present-day Canadian society?

CLIMATE CHANGE

In The Hunger Games, climate change is responsible for the demise of North America: The Mayor of District 12 tells the history of Panem, the country that rose up out of the ashes of a place that was once called North America. He lists the disasters, the droughts, the storms, the fires, the encroaching seas that swallowed up so much of the land, the brutal war for what little sustenance remained.”

Canada is known internationally as a climate laggard. On the 2015 Climate Change Performance Index, we rank 58th out of 61. Tar sands development is the single biggest contributor to the growth of carbon emissions in Canada. Will our new Liberal government act to avoid catastrophic climate change? 

ECONOMIC INEQUALITY

Panem is an extremely unequal society, with a disposable periphery where Katniss and her family struggle to survive, being exploited to feed the glittering capital where people live in unimaginable luxury. It is a classic case of what the Occupy Movement calls the 1% and the 99%.

Since the 1980s, inequality has been rapidly increasing in Canada, reversing the trend since the 1930s that saw increasing equality.

Today in Canada

  • The richest 1% earn 13% of income, up from 7% in 1982.
  • The highest paid 100 CEOs earn 171 times more than the average worker, up from a ratio of 105 – 1 in 1998.
  • 900,000 people use food banks every month.
  • 1 in 5 children live in poverty. 

Reducing Income Inequality: 4 Measures  

  1. Increase tax rates on high incomes. Reverse corporate tax cuts.
  2. Raise the minimum wage to $17 an hour and index it to inflation.
  3. Invest in social housing.
  4. Introduce high quality universal early childhood education.

BREAD AND CIRCUSES

Panem, the name of Katniss’s country, refers to the phrase “Bread and Circuses.” Coined by a first century Roman writer, it describes how ruling classes pacify commoners by providing entertainment that serves as a distraction from their exploitation and subjugation.

In ancient Rome, it was gladiatorial contests that provided the deadly distraction. In Panem, it is the Hunger Games. What is it in our society?  

WAR AND PEACE

The Hunger Games are a metaphor for war. We too send our young people off to kill other young people–in our case in other countries, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. As Collins indicates, even the most brutal of the young fighters in her novels are creations of the adult world which programs them, almost from birth, to fight and kill.

The anti-war stance of The Hunger Games is also evident in the portrayal of the impact of violence on the young characters. Like many soldiers who fought in Afghanistan, Katniss suffers from PTSD, experiencing flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, and guilt. 

Spoiler alert: Another indication of the novels’ attitude to war is the resolution of the Gale-Katniss-Peeta love triangle in favour of Peeta, “the boy with the bread,” and not Gale, Katniss’s childhood hunting partner. A man so consumed with “rage and hatred,” Gale sees violence, no matter the cost, as the only way forward.

The ultimate futility of armed resistance is, however, most clearly apparent when Coin, the president of District 13, the centre of the armed rebellion, begins to replicate the power plays of the Capital, dropping bombs on children and planning to reinstate the Hunger Games. Violence begets violence is Collins’s message.

If armed resistance is not the way to respond to brutal, unjust power, what is? Collins’s answer seems to be a fostering of certain values – community, resourcefulness, self-sacrifice, love – combined with a strategy of revolutionary non-violence.

THREE-FINGERED SALUTE

In The Hunger Games, the three-fingered salute is a symbol of resistance to unjust and corrupt power. Let’s do the three-fingered salute in Regina!

  • IT’S THE ONLY PLANET WE’VE GOT! The world’s biggest climate conference has opened in Paris. To avoid catastrophic climate change, world leaders will have to set severe limits on carbon emissions. ►Let Prime Minister Trudeau know that real climate leadership means not supporting tar sands pipelines or the expansion of the tar sands: trudeau@parl.gc.ca or 613-992-4211.  
  • STUDY WAR NO MORE! Regina high schools, public and Catholic, offer a military training program to grade 11 and 12 students. Students earn 2 credits for taking the course. They are also paid $2,000. ►Let Premier Brad Wall know we do not want the youth of our city educated for war: premier@gov.sk.ca or 306-787-9433.

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