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Another report card, another stagnant rate. One in five children still lives in poverty in BC, as reported in  First Call’s 2019 Child Poverty Report Card.  However, despite BC seeing 18 years in a row with higher than national average child poverty rates, there has been progress and advocates insist there are solutions.


First Call’s 23rd Annual Child Poverty Report Card was released on January 14, 2020.  They report that the overall poverty rate across Canada is shrinking and credit the federal Canada Child Benefit (launched in July 2016); and the increase in household incomes for families receiving welfare and disability payments.  It is anticipated that further poverty reductions will be achieved when BC’s new Child Opportunity Benefit comes into effect this fall. 


There have been successes, however, First Call also says that “For the first time since 2009, we see an increase in lone-parent families to make up over half of BC’s poor children”. In addition, the data shows that nearly half (44.9%) of the kids living in poverty identify as recent immigrant children, one-third (30.9%) as Indigenous children living outside of First Nations communities and one-quarter (23%) as racialized (2016 census). 


There is more work to be done. Next month, the BC Budget will be released. What would the poverty reduction advocates like to see supported by the government?  The list includes increasing the number of $10-a-day child care centres, offering No-Fee Childcare spaces for those families earning $45k or less, increasing income supports and providing affordable housing, targeting efforts to help those who have a higher risk of living in poverty, increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour, raising income and disability assistance rates in line with actual living expenses (up to 75 per cent of the Market Basket Measure) and indexing them to inflation. The BC Poverty Reduction Coalition also says that the province’s poverty reduction strategy must adopt a gender-based lens to analyze how men, women, and non-binary people experience poverty differently.  


BC now has a poverty reduction strategy called, TogetherBC. We’ve seen positive impacts from the strategies that have been implemented so far.  And, yes, we can improve. If we want to live in an equitable and just society, we need to find solutions to address the systemic barriers facing those living in poverty. 


For more information:


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At this time of year, we are encouraged to “Create Memories Not Garbage”.  We are reminded that we all should be doing our part to make less waste. Our awareness level  has increased about food waste, single use plastics and taking our own bags when we go shopping. However, we need to be doing much more.  

We need to adopt an economy that operates within planetary boundaries and focuses on keeping materials in circulation (and out of the landfill). We need to be designing products that can be 'made to be made again' and powering the system with renewable energy. This is the circular economy.  

A circular economy “offers a solution to the growing problem of waste, generates economic growth, increases the number of local green jobs, and encourages  innovation.” The BC Minister for the Environment and Climate Change at #COP25Madrid discussed the circular economy and how the way we use waste and resources impacts climate change. 

The circular economy is also about sharing, focusing on positive society-wide benefits. As we welcome 2020, let’s do our part to support a circular economy and community economic development.

So, if you could do just one thing differently to create memories and reduce waste, what would it be? Visit the Metro Vancouver website for ideas! 

Learn more about how to accelerate the transition to a circular economy with best practices, case studies and worksheets from these websites: 

https://ceaccelerator.zerowastescotland.org.uk/ - exists to create a society where resources are valued and nothing is wasted; to influence and enable change. 

https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/circular-economy/concept - works with business, government and academia to build a framework for an economy that is restorative and regenerative by design.
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We need public development of non-market rental stock and social/supportive housing, including temporary modular housing. Our greatest housing need is for rental stock for low-to moderate-income households that is unprofitable for private-sector developers.  We need to change the assumption that private-sector developers should take the lead on building the housing that we need for people and community.  


Housing is for community not developers. Let’s look at the Little Mountain Housing site. Ten years ago the residents were removed and the buildings demolished on what was Vancouver’s first social housing site (built in 1954). The 15 acre site continues to be vacant. The community is calling on the government to #Take Back the Mountain (sign their petition) into public hands and “to build the kind of housing that people need and deserve in Vancouver.”


The City is taking a more planned approach toward approving new affordable housing (2018 Housing Strategy), including financial incentives for developers to build rental housing instead of condos. However, the construction of affordable housing is inadequate for the current needs let alone the anticipated future needs. There’s a case to be made for a more public planning model, including public land assembly, project financing and rental housing development for the large build-out we need.


How do we define “social housing” and “affordability”?  Recent Canadian Centre for Policy Alternative (CCPA) research considers affordability by looking at the hourly wage that would be required to afford an apartment and allocating no more than 30 per cent of pre-tax earnings to be spent on rent. In Metro Vancouver, a household needs a wage of $26.72 per hour to afford a one-bedroom and $35.43 per hour for a two-bedroom apartment. A person in a minimum wage job, on disability or social assistance cannot afford the current rents. 


We need a building program where priority is given to households in extreme housing

need. We need a range of housing options that work for people with different incomes and at different stages in their lives that include larger, family-sized units. The top 3 needs for public housing investment include the following:

  • Housing people who are homeless

  • Non-market rental housing that is locked in as affordable

  • Housing for seniors.


We can pay for this! CCPA has crunched the numbers.  We can move forward with a build-out program that would see the construction of 10,000 new units of non-market rentals, public housing and co-op housing per year. As an example, City Council just approved the first projects under the Moderate Income Rental Housing Pilot Program, which they approved in November 2017 to create more affordable housing. The pilot allows for up to 20 buildings where at least 20 per cent of the residential units must be set aside for "moderate income households," defined as households earning between $30,000 and $80,000 per year. It’s a start! 


Read the CCPA report, “Planning for a build-out of affordable rental housing in Metro Vancouver”.

 
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STILL FROM MENSAKAS YOUTUBE VIDEO FOR ITS FUNDRAISING CAMPAIGN. IMAGE: RIDERSXDERECHOS BCN/YOUTUBE

This recent article in VICE provides a great overview on how the digital economy can be re-oriented to promote worker co-ops, and other forms of social enterprise.  In particular, we have to consider people-based alternatives to the exploitative trends in the 'gig economy'. 

Worker co-ops are a model of worker ownership that can be a real alternative to transnational capitalism. Employee ownership, with one-member one-vote, emphasises the importance of the work, the worker, and the workplace; while it downplays the return to be paid to outside investors.  Growing tech companies now prosper by squeezing workers; Amazon, UBER, Facebook, and others create two classes - the very rich and the precarious poor. 

Many software and technology firms are worker owned at the start but 'sell out' as they grow.  However, some are committed to a co-op model long term. This is likely the future for co-ops in the Internet Age.  One in BC is Affinity Bridge.  In addition, one of the Affinity Bridge principals, Robin Puga, hosts Each For All on Vancouver Co-op Radio

In Montreal, an option to UBER has been created, called EVA; it is a novel hybrid of a worker and consumer co-op.  EVA now has over 18,000 members.  In BC MODO the car co-op is a great consumer co-op with a good core technology platform. 

Open-source software may give local projects the means to create their own apps and build their own successful co-op business, adapted to our device driven reality.  Such projects have a potential privacy side benefit if the user's personal data is not being aggregated and sold to the Big Data marketing machine.    

 

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BC is the first province in Canada to introduce legislation to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, mandating the government to bring its laws and policies into harmony with the principles of the declaration.

The Minister of Indigenous relations and reconciliation said the bill “is about ending discrimination and conflict in our province, and instead ensuring more economic justice and fairness.”

The declaration requires governments to obtain “free and informed consent” from Indigenous groups before approving any project affecting their lands or resources, but Fraser said neither the legislation nor the declaration includes wording that grants a veto over resource development projects.

The province also said it does not create any new rights for Indigenous Peoples but rather upholds those established in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights signed by Canada in 1948.

The BC Poverty Reduction Coalition, of which CCEC is a member, says, “The BC government introduced a law to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This legislation makes sure Indigenous people in BC enjoy the same rights and protections as everyone else in the province! B.C. will be the first province to put implement the Declaration into a legislative framework.”

National Chief Perry Bellegarde said in a statement, “Implementing the UN Declaration through legislation is a positive step for peace, progress and prosperity. This will create greater economic stability and prosperity, because it’s clear that ignoring First Nations rights is the cause of instability and uncertainty.”

Click here to learn more about the UN Declaration.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples delineates and defines the individual and collective rights of Indigenous peoples, including their ownership rights to cultural and ceremonial expression, identity, language, employment, health, education and other issues.

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BC ACORN's new study: "Barriers to Digital Equality in Canada” shows how home internet is used for vital life activities and at the same time remains unaffordable.  Read the report then send a message to your MP, the Prime Minister, and the Minister responsible that all people in Canada need to access affordable internet.

High speed Internet access has become increasingly important for participation in essential facets of life, from job searching, homework to accessing government services and seeking information.  However, in Canada, thousands of low income families cannot afford high speed internet at home.  Cost is a major barrier to digital equity.  In a recent survey of ACORN members, over 35% of the 500 respondents had to make sacrifices such as food, clothing or transit, to afford the internet. Further, only 76% of respondents with household incomes below $10,000 have home internet access.

This "digital divide" excludes low-income individuals and families from what the United Nations now considers to be a human right, comparable with freedom of speech.

ACORN Canada is leading the fight for affordable home access to high speed internet for all residents of Canada!

Take Action Today.  Click here for more information and to Add Your Voice to support the campaign.

Click here to access the full report.     

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Raise the Rates says that the BC Government $2million grant for “food rescue” operations will not solve the problem of food insecurity in BC as the root cause is income poverty.  

They say, “Distributing surplus food has won out over raising welfare rates to enable the hungry and homeless to afford to feed themselves and their families. The year’s humiliating $50 monthly benefit increase keeps them with incomes 50 per cent below the poverty line.” Cash is needed to shop for food in normal and customary ways: a living wage, adequate income benefits, real rent control.

Click here to read the article as it appeared in the Tyee.

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My book, The Co-op Revolution (Caitlin Press), talks about Roger Inman, CCEC and 1970's co-ops.  It is an account of my time with the co-op movement in Vancouver’s activist years of the 1970s. I was a founder and member of CRS Workers’ Co-op, an organization that was owned and managed by us. We started four projects in Vancouver, all to do with food production and distribution: a cannery that preserved BC fruit in honey, a beekeeping co-op, a bakery and a food wholesaler. As well, we helped other small food co-ops get started.

Sometime in the autumn of 1975 Michael Goldstein showed up at the Pandora Street office of CRS Workers’ Co-op with a sheaf of documents in hand. We knew that the co-op movement possessed its own form of financial institution founded by the people, for the people’s well-being. So when Michael told our group that he and others were trying to organize just such a credit union to be called CCEC, we were happy to sign up. Several of us signed on a charter document that night and some of us expressed interest on serving on the new credit union’s committees when it received its charter in 1976. Right on!—as we said in those days. This was what co-operatives needed—access to funds that were not governed by the big business of Canada's banks or subject to the day’s political whims. The credit union movement would be a big boon to women in business as well, recognizing their abilities to manage a loan without requiring a man at the helm.

From The Co-op Revolution: “Most of us opened our personal share/saving accounts at CCEC when it moved to its first real office at 205 E. 6th Avenue. I was member number 32 and my deposit card reports that on March 4, 1976, I deposited $4 to open my account, after which the deposits and withdrawals continued sporadically until 1981. That first transaction was initialed by K, which probably stood for Katherine Ruffen, the first manager.

The best thing about this credit union was its personal service in the days before ATM machines. If I had neglected to withdraw cash on a Friday for the weekend’s activities, I could call Katherine at work and tell her I was on my way. “Please don’t leave until I get there,” I would say, and I would arrive minutes before closing time.  It’s doubtful whether any bank or credit union today would be concerned about my lack of cash for the weekend.” 

One member of our co-op, Roger Inman, served CCEC Credit Union loyally and after his death in 1989 a memorial award commemorated his work. The award is given by CCEC annually in recognition of a project that has made a significant contribution to the economic development of the community. And that’s how Roger would have wanted it.  

I first met Roger in 1975 when I moved to Vancouver from Ontario. He had moved from Winnipeg around the same time with his tent in his backpack and had heard about CRS starting the Tunnel Canary cannery. He didn’t know much about co-ops or canning at the time but he was most enthusiastic about the project and his sense of humour helped us to get through some of the hot, labour intensive work of processing fruit and jam. Roger continued to work with the cannery collective until its demise when he turned to another CRS project, Uprising Breads Bakery.

There’s more about Roger and other CRS workers in my book, The Co-op Revolution. I’ll be reading from it at the Vancouver Public Library main branch on Tuesday, April 23 at 7 p.m. All are welcome to attend and books will be for sale. (For more, see: jandegrass.com).

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Read about the history of the co-op movement in the '70's including CCEC!  Jan DeGrass is one of the first 25 members of CCEC.

From Jan on her new book: 
I’m excited to tell you that The Co-op Revolution has just been published by Caitlin Press. My latest book gives an account of my time with CRS Workers’ Co-op in Vancouver during the heady, activist years of the 1970s. Hope you can make it to my book launch in Vancouver. 
Visit the publisher or Jan's website for more information. 
Vancouver Book Launch: VPL Main Branch Tuesday, April 23 at 7 p.m

Excerpt from the book: “We were undercapitalized, inexperienced, practiced democratic decision-making and some of us smoked dope occasionally. All elements that would make us grow as human beings and as business people. We ran a helluva show.”

In the spring of 1975, a free-spirited Jan DeGrass backpacked across Canada in search of adventure and greater meaning in life. When she arrived in Vancouver, she met a group of people committed to social change; together they reimagined the food industry in BC.

In The Co-op Revolution: Vancouver’s Search for Food Alternatives, author and journalist DeGrass writes about her journey as a founding member of the Collective Resource and Services Workers’ Co-op. Bounding to life during the heady, activist, grant-funded years of 1974–1980, the CRS Co-op became one of the most successful co-ops in BC and was committed to co-operation and worker ownership. While the decade of the seventies is remembered for its new wave of co-ops—usually organized by a “free-flowing” collection of women and men in their twenties—CRS was unique in its success. Among its many accolades, it created the Tunnel Canary cannery, the Queenright Co-operative Beekeepers, Vancouver’s popular Uprising Breads Bakery and a food wholesaler, which later became Horizon Distributors. The economic, political and social skyline of Vancouver was changing. For some, the co-op movement was about crushing capitalism; for others it was simply about buying cheap, wholesome food from people they trusted, and living in communal camaraderie. No matter the pursuit, co-operation was the answer.

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Wild Salmon Caravan (WSC) is a project led by the Working Group on Indigenous Food Sovereignty (WGIFS) in collaboration with the Wild Salmon Defenders Alliance. The project engages multiple Indigenous and non-Indigenous Elders, activists, researchers and lawyers.  2019 will be the 5th annual WSC.  Dawn Morrison, Co-Founder/Chair of the WGIFS says, “The strength of our work lies in our networks and our ability to link with over 100+ organizations to leverage support, access funding, and co-develop programs, promotion, and public education materials, as well as plan logistics, and host community arts build workshops, feasts, ceremonies and visual and performing arts events.”  

The WSC, with guidance and direction from the Salish Council of Matriarchs, raises awareness of the issues surrounding the declining health and abundance of our most important Indigenous food, wild salmon. They organize community arts and cultural engagement activities that brings together Rainbow Peoples (peoples of all creeds and cultures) in their public education campaign and celebrations of the spirit of wild salmon.

The WSC mobilizes traditional ecological knowledge, values, strategies, practices and protocols that have persisted throughout the process of colonization. The WSC media highlights  teachings on sustainability of wild salmon fisheries and how it can be applied in the present day reality.  Sustainability of our efforts ultimately lies in the extended networks where Indigenous food, social and ceremonial fisheries knowledge lives, and the large volunteer basis on which the WGIFS and WSC planning teams work. We activate sharing and trading of knowledge and food and revitalize inter-tribal networks, and we promote and generate awareness of how to increase the communities’ ability to respond to their own needs for food in a way that affirms the regenerative paradigm that underlies Indigenous cosmologies and worldviews. 

In 2018, the eight-day caravan started in Vancouver with a parade on September 22 and finished in Chase at Adams Lake on September 29.  For more information and to get involved in the 2019 WSC visit their website  Like and Follow them on Facebook 
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