#194: The Boreal Failure – Northern Ontario

The time has come to start chipping away at Canada’s largest province, Ontario. A land of scholastic mystery, the engine room of this sadsack state hides too many malevolent folds to be covered in one go. Because of its sheer size and shittiness our tour of Onterrible begins up north, to a post-extractive hellscape that makes the Soviet Union’s old industrial yards look pleasant. How bad is Northern Ontario? How about we begin with a piece from the Toronto Star with the by-line “Survival in Ontario’s north requires ingenuity, endurance and a trace of subversion”, which includes stories of pitiable want and active avoidance of the stew of ineptitude that is Queen’s Park.

From the same piece:

Northern towns have one small food outlet if they’re lucky. If not, residents go to the next town. No matter where they shop, they won’t see cantaloupes, fresh pears, bunches of raw broccoli, inside round steak or 200 gram blocks of partially skim mozzarella cheese. At least half of the items on the province’s [nutritous food basket] checklist aren’t available in the north.

That’s fucked up. Northern Ontario is one of Canada’s most neglected regions. Governed from Toronto by people who consider Northern Ontario to be nifty map-filler, the area’s chronic neglect and desperation takes so many forms that this entire piece will consist of ringing them off and asking you, the reader, if this is the kind of stuff you expect in a “rich country”.

(S) Soviet mining camp or Canadian town? You decide!

The first shit-shaped tee-ball to get smashed by yours truly is the staggering cost of transportation. Those people of Manitoulin Island who don’t own vehicles get to spend a staggering $35-60 on cab fare to get to the nearest grocery store. Imagine if every grocery trip you made involved you purchasing several t-bone steaks only to throw them into the street. Speaking of transportation, Northern Ontario is a classic case of “free”** Canadian healthcare. Take the town of Timiskaming, where nearly 1 in 5 men have diabetes. If a denizen of Northern Ontario dares to need specialized medical help that they can’t find locally they can expect a $100 grant from the government…but only for one-way travel. Better get ready to hitchhike home, sucker! People in Northern Ontario are, to be frank about it, unable to take care of themselves because of the sheer costs associated with transportation. And even assuming that you’re picked up by someone who isn’t going to rape you and chuck your corpse in the snow good luck traversing Northern Ontario’s roads in the winter. Come to town to get one health problem examined, go home with two. Now that’s some Canadian mathematics for you!

How about telehealth services, asks the hypothetical caker apologist? Treating Northern Ontarians as though they have a right to get around is expensive and icky, after all. Why see a doctor physically when you can go online?…Except the Internet access in Northern Ontario is fucking terrible. Are you surprised? And before you ask about Northern Ontario “getting a job”, why don’t you read some labor stats? Like these, which put Northern Ontario’s employment rates at 54.5% and 58%, respectively?

We certainly can’t forget the crown jewel of Northern Ontarian shittiness – atrocious housing. We’re talking fucking shacks here, folks.

(S) Totally legit house! For a lawnmower, perhaps.

Living in such dire poverty, surounded by joblessness and want with nowhere to go and no way to get out, lead lives of stunning want. Appendix B of this report speaks to some of the difficulties associated with combatting homelessness and so-called “invisible homelessness” (which basically means couch-surfing and bumming at friends’ places). Words like “skeletal infrastructure”, “no infrastructure”, “using informal networks”, and “lack of data”. Lacking basic information and having no real means to handle the basic needs incumbent to capitalist civilization suggests to me that these areas are effectively without governance. And that’s not just me saying this, either.

That’s a good way to end our brief trip through Northern Ontario. The area lives with infrastructure deliberately designed to bypass inadequate and poorly thought-out governance from Toronto. People can basically afford to slowly become more ill, trapped by insane transit costs and a live of grinding dependence on piss-poor social security. And if there’s anything worse than being governed by cakers, it’s being forgotten by cakers.

#60 – The Job Fairy, Part Three: A Poverty of Sense

We’ve touched before on how shitty Canada is at collecting statistics. Now we’re going to talk about one facet of this problem: namely, the fact that Canada has no official definition of poverty. Instead, what it has are three obsolete, obfuscating measures, two of which are used in Canada and nowhere else. One of these metrics, the Low Income Meaure (LIM), wasn’t even designed to catch the poverty rate and relies on ten-year old data. Other metrics like the Market Basket Metric (MBM) has been developed almost entirely without public input and thus can be used to artificially lower the stated poverty rate in Canada. And the old stalwart, the Low Income Cut-Off (LICO) doesn’t account for differences in rent between major centers and rural communities. Spoilers – it’s a bit more expensive to live in Toronto than it is to live in Bumfuk Falls, Alskatchetobador.

I’ve got a super-handy chart of the types of poverty metrics that Canada collects instead of following the Irish lead and just…having a poverty rate that makes sense. Fuck sense, am I right?

Shit About Canada Poverty Metrics.png

Check out the variations in play here! Anywhere from 9-14% of Canadians by these measures are living in poverty, though every metric we used stands accused of understating poverty in some way or another. Despite Statistics Canada warning that LICO should not be used as a “poverty rate”, that’s exactly what we’ve been doing for decades. Genius! Oh, and did I mention that the practically-useless LICO is the only consistently-collected metric of poverty in Canada? Gotta keep that useless, antiquated statistic running. Then again, it’s not like Statscan is prepared to accept any other metric that it produces as an actual indicator of poverty. It’s like watching a shitty golfer constantly call mulligans after slicing a ball into the water hazard again.

With such spotty data collection and a lack of ways by which Canadian figures can be compared to global ones, there’s no real way to tell if Canada is meeting domestic or international obligations regarding poverty reduction. Our data collection is designed to create a situation where comparison is impossible. The one metric that we do have that we can use to compare with the rest of the world, the LIM, can produce counterintuitive results because it is pegged to average income. If average income falls, the threshhold for poverty does too, reducing the stated number of impoverished people. And as for the MBM, Statscan consistently whinges about how expensive it is to produce.

The upshot of all of this bullshit regarding statistics is that Canada flies blind in terms of poverty reduction strategies and that our governments can arbitrarily declare success by lying with numbers. Just like with the Quadriptych of Death, poverty lines and metrics can be bent to bury practical realities under political spin. We also don’t account for poverty relative to assets held. If you own a house outright, your required income is different than if you rent. Even if you do have a mortgage, a house can in theory be liquidated in a way that rent can’t. But nuance and careful consideration of societal needs is too complicated and expensive in Canada, so the timeless strategy of declaring endless victories while stressing that “more must be done” (while, of course, nothing is done because we have no yardsticks to work with) continues apace. As we continue to ignore serious catastrophes that loom in Canada’s future, the entire country is allowed to drift on with vague platitudes and do-nothing make-believe.

Clearly, hoboes and the underemployed just need to be dynamic team players and they too could ride the Job Fairy’s Magic Job Carpet to Jobland and out of poverty…however that’s defined.

#55 – The Quadriptych of Death, Part Four: Skeleton Shift

One of the ads that fucking haunts me to this day is a PSA that played on Canadian television back in the 1990s. It featured a woman carrying a pot of boiling oh-shit and slipping, pouring the oh-shit all over herself and subsequently screaming as her skin boils. Stay safe, kids! Speaking of safety, Canada has a bit of a problem with workplace safety. There are approximately 1000 reported deaths on the job every year in Canada, with the word “reported” being very important because the actual number of workplace fatalities could be much, much higher. Indeed, employers are known to suppress workplace injury claims; the numbers could be as much as 50% off because caker business would rather ignore problems than deal with them. Never mind the suppression of evidence though, because in Cakerstan if you can’t see things it means they aren’t real!

The last sentence there is literally true of some of Canada’s most dangerous jobs. Take logging, the most dangerous job in Canada according to the Globe and Mail. It may come as a surprise to the caker meme factory, but most Canadians do not experience any facet of the logging industry directly on a day-to-day basis. Same for the fishing industry. The human truck driver behind the machine isn’t often seen by those driving by (who are hopefully focusing on the road, and the same applies for garbage collection and power line installers. Because these jobs aren’t seen, mitigating the dangers incumbent to the task is left up to caker business.

(S) Pretty much

And how reliable, pray tell, is caker business? Well, here’s an oilsands giant getting fined $10,000(!!!) for failing to use appropriate contractors on their construction projects. What’s that? You think I was missing a few zeroes on that fine? Nope! $10k is apparently good enough recompense for killing two and injuring five!! And who knows what kind of justice came for the people on this list, whose deaths often sound truly horrific. And of course you’ve got a higher chance of injury as a temp worker. Really puts Bill Morneau’s “get used to it” comment into focus, no?

At the very least Canada has decided to do the bare minimum in terms of data collection on labor safety! In 2017! Reading that article reveals the amazing extent to which the federal government has absolved itself of responsibility for Canadian workers. Which leads to amazing efforts like the caker businesses currently over-building Saskatoon failing to enforce proper safety equipment on nearly 50% of construction sites. Manitoba’s punishment for six incidents of workplace danger, including a guy being lit on fire because his employer didn’t bother with basic safety, was a collective $111,000 fine. And speaking of not wanting to take this problem seriously, here’s Newfoundland referring to the worker death probe for a man who fell through a skylight as “completely inadequate“. Across the entire country, only five employers have even gone to prison for their role in destroying lives and families. When your major safety accomplishments include not using a lift that previously killed workers you probably need some kind of intervention. Golly, maybe we could have caught that one sooner?

Even though the 1000/year figure sounds reasonable for a country of 35,000,000, it’s pretty clear that the deaths happen away from public eyes, with limited oversight or even basic care from employers and a governmental system that fails at every turn. With data so unreliable, employers who can bully people into skewing what limited data exists in ways more favorable to the company, a predisposition to treating the most vulnerable workers in Canada with the greatest contempt, and a population that hides problems behind numbers, the story behind showcases a culture of disregard and despair.