Eleanor Clitheroe was the former President and CEO of Hydro One under the Mike Harris government recently had her appeal over increased pension entitlements rejected by the Supreme Court of Canada. The Court dismissed her leave to appeal and awarded costs to the Ontario Government for the litigation; furthermore, Ms. Clitheroe also lost a wrongful termination and slander action which she launched in the wake having her employment terminated from Hydro One. For a history of the litigation over her pension entitlements, take a look at this article. This whole situation reminded me of this.
Monday, December 27, 2010
Friday, December 24, 2010
Last Christmas Eve four workers were killed when the scaffolding they were working on collapsed, their names were: Aleksey Blumberg, Fayzullo Fazilov, Vladimir Korostin, and Aleksanders Bondarevs. These four men were immigrants who were working in unsafe conditions without the protection of standard safety precautions. This was one of the worst industrial accidents in Ontario in recent memory. A vigil this afternoon will remember these workers and recognize that as a society we still have a long ways to go in protecting migrant workers in precarious employment.
The Clawbies are the Academy Awards of Canadian legal blogosphere and provide recognition to the vast amount of talent that exists in the online community blogging lawyers in Canada. Here are my nominations for 2010:
Law Professor Blog: Doorey's Workplace Law Blog was an inspiration for me to start blogging and continues to be one of the best legal blogs covering developments in labour and employment law in Canada. Lorne Sossin's blog should be mentioned as well, the aptly titled Dean Sossin's Blog is a good example of what university administrators should be doing to increase transparency, provide insight, and engage with their students. Dean Sossin is also on Twitter which is another good social media tool.
Practitioner Blog: Donna Seale's Human Rights in the Workplace Blog was another large inspiration for me to start blogging and I really like her value added additions like providing e-books to readers and being on Twitter, both are great developments. The Quebec Labour Law Blog is also excellent, Gabriel Granatstein provides great analysis about legal developments in Quebec which often don't get a lot of coverage in the rest of Canada.
Law Culture Blog: Jordan Furlong's Law21 Blog is insightful, brilliant, and should be required reading for all Canadian lawyers. Cutting edge stuff and it comes highly recommended.
Best Legal Technology Blog: Michael Geist's blog is the gold standard for legal blogs and uniformly excellent in all facets. His coverage of copyright issues, intellectual property, and technology provides everyone that reads it with an education on emerging issues and developments.
Those are all my nominations and a big thanks to David Doorey for nominating this blog for a Clawbie. In the coming week I'll be posting a year in review article that will survey the developments from 2010 and make some predictions for 2011.
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Citizenship and Immigration Canada is playing the Grinch's role in a late year announcement of targeted cuts aimed at decimating the capacity of social service agencies that serve new immigrants and specific ethnic communities. These cuts target agencies operating in the Greater Toronto Area and across Ontario, the type of programming affected is language education, employment assistance, and other initiatives that assist in successfully settlement of new immigrants.
Over the last two decades government in Canada has approached immigration policy in a manner that can only be described as haphazard, arbitrary, and bordering on incompetence. At present: there is no national comprehensive immigration policy; Citizenship and Immigration Canada possesses an internal culture that is archaic and resists any form of systemic change; settlement programming has been downloaded onto private agencies which operate without long-term funding; and immigrants who are lured here often can gain the supports necessary to transition into Canadian society.
It's astounding that this sort of public policy is being pursued given the ever increasing income inequality that new immigrants face and the fact that due to long-term demographic trends we're unable to sustain current population levels without immigration. The correct approach would be to put in place long-term secure funding for these social service agencies that do incredibly vital work and realize that settlement programming is an important part of work that government does rather than area open to partisan attacks of the worse sort.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Liberty Assisted Living is a Toronto based corporation with interests in retirement homes across Ontario. Employees at the La Chaumiere retirement home in Puce, Ontario are facing a desperate situation as the company was allegedly violating employment standards by refusing to pay wages and refusing to forward on employee contributions to pension and health benefits plans. The company has a long history of ignoring Orders from the Ministry of Labour and owes hundred of thousands in back taxes to the municipal government.
Incredibly Gregory Goutis, a company official, claimed today that the underlying issue is the profitability of the residence, stating that "La Chaumiere does have profitability issues" and that the company is in discussions with the Canadian Auto Workers Local 2458 to address ways "to allow us to get through these tough times". Essentially, Mr. Goutis is blaming the workers and their union for the situation at La Chaumiere; however, if one digs deeper it becomes apparent that the vast majority of employees are low-wage healthcare workers struggling to make ends meet. Long time employee Lynne Pelletier remarked that "We have families and girls that are single parents that can't even buy their kids Christmas gifts...We come to work every day, we're human beings, just pay us."
Luckily in this case the employees are represented by a union that has the resources to seek recourse through the Courts, but in thousands of cases every year employees are left high and dry while their employers make off with wages, money for benefits, and other entitlements. The situation at La Chaumiere is a good example of how the regulatory efforts of government are simply not responsive to the realities facing today's workers and how the current statutory regime governing workplaces simply fails to protect the interests of employees in many cases. It's incumbent on public policy makers to begin to address and remedy this situation or I'm afraid that cases like La Chaumiere will become the norm rather then the exception.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Canadian Finance Ministers have wrapped up a meeting in Kananaskis, Alberta where they were discussing the state of Canada's publicly funded pension plan and how to reform it. Some interesting developments occurred: Federal Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty surprised many by announcing the creation of a Pooled Registered Pension Plan, which essentially creates a privately administered pension system, while the larger problem of how to address reform of the Canada Pension Plan has been delayed till June 2011, which will probably be after a contentious Federal election has been held - this avoids a nasty Federal-Provincial fight. For more commentary, see: here, here, and here.
As of late there has been a growing discontent about the state of affairs that the baby boomer generation has created, be it the: process of globalization erasing hard won victories related to the social contract, the continuing problem of youth unemployment, the rising cost of advanced degrees necessary to compete in the business world, or the retreat of government in the age of austerity. These developments don't bode well in the challenge to address the coming demographics realities related to a falling birth rate, aging population, and shrinking tax base.
There have numerous protest from youth in the Western world related to the failure of government to respond to the needs of youth and privilege short-term interests over the long-term - from the anti-austerity protests related to cuts to the post-secondary educational system in the United Kingdom to the unrest in France over pension reforms to the G20 protests on the streets of Toronto - young people are responding to an increasingly desperate situation that is historically unprecedented. Keep in mind that due to current economic conditions many young people are unable to find permanent employment, have been forced to delay starting families, can't secure mortgages to buy a first home - essentially the entire process of life has been delayed due to a financial crisis that they did not create.
So what can be done? Well, from a holistic perspective what needs to be done is to shift public policy priorities away from current model of inequitably privileging the interests of the baby boomers and towards a model that is more balance in its approach and uses long-term, sustainable planning as a basis to develop solutions to the complex problems that are looming on the horizon. Some ideas would include re-introducing some form of mandatory retirement, re-engineering the taxation system to support home ownership in young people, comprehensive labour law reforms, and easing the costs of post-secondary education which in many situations cripples a young person's economic development for years.
Picking up on a theme that I raised yesterday in my post, it'd be refreshing to hear politicians actually discuss long-term issues that are forefront of many peoples' minds - certainly young people would be interested in hearing about how government proposes to address the current inter-generational malaise that is upon us.
Monday, December 20, 2010
Former Chief Justice Brian Dickson of the Supreme Court of Canada once made the observation that "Work is one of the most fundamental aspects in a person's life, providing the individual with a means of financial support, and, as importantly, a contributory role in society. A person's employment is an essential component of his or her sense of identity, self-worth and emotional well-being. Accordingly, the conditions in which a person works are highly significant in shaping the whole compendium of psychological, emotional and physical elements of a person's dignity and self respect." Although these words were written close to twenty-five years ago they fully capture the scope and importance of employment in Canadian society.
A lot has happened at Ontario's Ministry of Labour over the last week that offers an opportunity to explore some issues related to political will, governance, and the prevailing attitudes towards the regulation of employment in the political class in Ontario. Peter Fonseca, the former Provincial Minister of Labour, was replaced by Charles Sousa, in a rapid turn of events that took place in the hours leading up to the release of the Report and Recommendations to the Minister of Labour from the Expert Advisory Panel on Occupational Health and Safety.
What followed were a series of articles in the media that explored the internal machinations within the provincial Liberal Party that led up Mr. Fonseca's forced resignation. It was reported that Mr. Fonseca had been unhappy with the labour file and was looking for a new position, but a move was thwarted when a backbencher turned down the Minister of Labour position. Premier Dalton McGuinty offered up the following quote about the accomplishments of the Ministry of Labour under Mr. Fonseca, stating "He has helped to double the number of workplace inspector, reduce the number of lost-time injuries in the workplace and increase the minimum wage" - just three minor accomplishments over the course of two years, it's no wonder that Mr. Fonseca would want out.
What this whole exercise highlights is the stagnation on the part of government in relation to the statutory regime governing workplaces in Ontario. There simply is no political will to address the rapidly shifting economic and social conditions relating to work arising out of the process of Globalization in any meaningful way beyond minor alterations to the window dressing. And while Minister Sousa seems highly capable and an accomplished individual, he's not the person one would pick if a government were considering actually addressing the myriad of outstanding issues relating to employment facing workers in this province.
With the Wagner model being outdated and unresponsive to the current realities of workplaces in Ontario and the statutory/common law mechanisms covering non-unionized workers being difficult to access for large segments of the population what we're facing in Ontario is widespread disenfranchisement and marginalization. You can see the spillover effects in other areas: income inequality is on the rise, a stunning increase in precarious employment, food bank usage soaring, and a palatable anger at the retreat of government from addressing difficult issues relating to public policy.
What I find most disturbing is the lack of engagement from politicians on these difficult issues, this cuts across party lines and the various levels of government. Not once have I heard a peep about income inequality, difficulties facing youth in today's economy, or the middle class is disappearing in Ontario. These are very real problems, but there has been an utter absence of dialogue on these and other terribly vital issues. This needs to change and soon.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
Sean Pierson, like many young men in Canadian society, has developed a love for mixed martial arts and pursued it as a career for a number of years under the trade name of "Pimp Daddy". However, being a fighter doesn't necessarily pay the bills and Mr. Pierson applied to become a Constable with the Toronto Police Service. He received a conditional offer of employment back in October and was supposed to start as a Cadet-in-Training this past Tuesday, this didn't happen as the TPS pulled the offer at the last moment. Police spokesperson Mark Pugash indicated that: "In this case, it wasn't what he was doing. It's that you have a name that I think most people would agree is not appropriate for a police officer" and that "We raised 'Pimp Daddy' with him more than a year ago...those concerns have not been satisfactorily addressed." This is no doubt a cautionary tale that young people should take to heart in the age where prospective employers can and do run background checks and conduct google searches prior to offering employment.
Back in the heady days of 2007 the Centre for Urban & Community Studies at U of T released a groundbreaking report entitled: "The Three Cities within Toronto: Income polarization among Toronto's neighbourhoods, 1970 - 2000", it traced the growing disparities over a long period in Canada's first city and the results weren't encouraging. Among many things it found that there had been a stark decline in the middle class, a growing divide between the wealthiest and poorest neighbourhoods, and racialization of poverty.
This report came after decades of government inaction on poverty. Previous reports (see: Metro's Suburbs in Transition from 1979 and Poverty by Postal Code from 2004) had warned of the widening divide and growing inequity but for a variety of reasons policy makers made the choice to not address these issues in any substantive way, rather the long-term trend has been towards a rollback on parts of the social welfare system.
This week brought an affirmation and update of sorts with the release of "The Three Cities Within Toronto: Income Polarization Among Toronto's Neighbourhoods, 1970 - 2005", which is essentially a reboot of the 2007 study that included the 2006 census data. What this study found was that Toronto is increasing a city with two classes: a wealthy elite in the core ringed by the impoverished outer suburbs of metropolitan Toronto.
The reasons for this trend are complex and can be seen all around the Western world. Arguably it's root causes is the process of globalization and the impact of the implementation of neo-liberal policies. Deindustrialization and the continuing rise of the knowledge economy are causing major upheavals within society and tracing the disparate impacts together isn't often done, this is why reports exploring the socio-economic dimensions of these problematic trends are so important.
Within Toronto, this trend is bound to get more pronounced as ameliorative programs designed to combat inequities continue to cut, which can be seen in Rob Ford moving to decimate the initiative aimed at securing better social conditions in Toronto's poorest neighbourhoods. Until policy makers occupy themselves with answering the tough questions that the new economy has forced on a large segment of our citizens, social ills like marginalization, alienation, instability, and a rapid growth in income inequality are going to be our constant companions as we go forward into an unknown future.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
Having attended a prestigious and highly competitive high school I know a thing or two about expectations and the pressures that students face on a daily basis in today's world. In a globalized economy that demands advanced credentials even for entry-level positions parents are pushing their children into a grueling cycle of homework, sports, extra-curricular activities, and schooling to give them an edge in life. It's not a pleasant situation and it hasn't been addressed in any meaningful way by politicians, academics, corporate leaders, or academics - out of this environment a cutting edge documentary has appeared that directly confronts these deep seated problems in a engaging and thoughtful manner.
The "Race to Nowhere" documents our cultural obsession with achievement and constructing the 'perfect' child. It covers trends like cheating, standardized testing, how students are unprepared for post-secondary education and workplaces, mental health issues, and the rise in youth disengagement from the political, culture, and social spheres of society. It's essentially a call to arms for parents to address the bizarre, ridiculous, and tragic miasma that has taken hold of the North American education system. See the trailer here and for more information, see: here and here.
Auditor General Sheila Fraser released a report today detailing a myriad of alleged abuses of authority during the tenure of former Public Sector Integrity Commissioner of Canada Christiane Ouimet. The allegations include: carrying out reprisals against employees who she believed had made complaints against her and breached relevant privacy legislation; failing in her mandate to "establish a safe, confidential and independent mechanism for public servants or members of the public to disclose potential wrongdoing in the federal public sector"; engaging a pattern of harassment against her staff; liberally using constructive dismissal as a management tool; and, making decisions regarding complaints that weren't supported by the evidence and documentation.
Given the oversight role of the office that Ms. Ouimet held these allegations are extremely troubling and problematic. Essentially, her job was to protect internal and external whistleblowers from reprisals. If the allegations are true it's difficult to see how she was anything other than the worst sort of paper tiger and an extremely poor fit for the office she held. For more coverage, see: here, here, and here.
Thursday, December 2, 2010
A new report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives entitled "The Rise of Canada's Richest 1%" is highlighting the continuing growth of income inequality in Canada. The disparity has been been growing since the beginning of the 1980s when neoliberal policies started to be enacted in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States; however, the enactment of these policies don't paint a complete picture, one needs to look to the wider social and policy trends that have seen the gradual erosion of the social safety net, stagnation in taxation policy, the process of globalization being imposed on an unwilling population, and the rise of transnational corporations.
The last three decades has also seen the shrinking of the middle class in Canada as wages stagnated and were unable to keep up with inflation. The biggest losers in this equation have been: young people, recent immigrants, high-school dropouts, single parents, single people between 45 and 64, Aboriginals, and the disabled - these groups have borne the brunt of the continue shift away from a manufacturing economy to one relying on knowledge and resource extraction. It seems that factors like class, race, and educational achievement that rarely get discussed explicitly within the political class are becoming areas of growing concern, one simply cannot have strong economy growth when large swathes of the population are excluded from the economic mainstream.
Income inequality is one of the great challenges of our age and its effects are impacting all spheres of social, cultural, and political life. This rise in income inequality has been paralleled by an explosion in the prison population, the rapid ascendancy of high levels of student debt, and a crumbling infrastructure - in a world that's growing smaller all these phenomena are closely linked. Charting a path towards resolving these issues and enacting solution may be difficult, but it's one that will become necessary in the medium to long term. Environments like the one we're currently experiencing don't have a tendency to last.
Two reports yesterday indicate that the economic situation in Windsor, Ontario may be improving. First, electronics giant Samsung announced that it would be creating 300 new jobs in the city by opening a new wind turbine plant. Second, auto giant Chrysler announced that it would be hiring new workers for the first time in ten years for its Windsor operations.