Importance of Community and Social Cohesion

>> So our next speaker is Kristyn Wong‑Tam. Kristyn is a city councillor in Toronto and is a tireless community advocate and has a distinguished track record in human rights advocacy.

She has led efforts to defend the rights of tenants to obtain affordable and decent standards in housing. And helped create neighbourhood associations and many other things. All you have to do is google her name and she is one of the first that comes up when you google councillor and advocacy. And so I would like to invite her to come up to the podium.

[ Applause ]

>>Kristyn Wong-Tam: Thank you very much. Thank you very much. It’s a real thrill and delight to be here with you this morning.

I have to say that the presentations have been illuminating. I have learned quite a bit just because very often the topic of accessibility comes up in City Hall.

How does it result in action and what is the impact to people’s lives? That is something that we still need to do a better job at and especially when it comes to measurement.

And I’m not sure if I always want to speak about equity in relationship to the rate of return.

I just don’t think that is a viable measurement for us if we’re going to build an equitable civil society.

My topic today is community and social inclusion and how do we really do a better job at democratizing innovation. And this is more heady words. And the lexicon we use at OCAD University may not be the same one used at City Hall or the one that is bantered around neighbourhoods.

And how do we break through that and make it accessible? So I will focus largely on city-building and neighbourhood-building initiatives — that is the place that I can speak to especially as a new city councillor; I was elected a mere 18 months ago.

So prior to that I could not find myself on Google. And so much of my experience is still very much informed from my involvement in advocacy in civil society as someone who is a private citizen who has become an elected official.

Now, the concept of social innovation and social inclusion, social cohesivity are ones that need to be unpacked. Because we can get caught up in language. And what does that language look like and how does that sound and who uses it and who doesn’t is all part of those discussions of access and equity.

And so I’m going to perhaps provide a few illustrative examples where I think that we can do a better job from City Hall. And also how do we ensure that we are actively engaged in city and community building initiatives. So we are not elected officials and handing over all of the power to them. I am interested in giving the power back to the people.

I don’t think that the power sits with very well with 44 people when we have a city with millions of people living and talking in different languages. In my case Ward 23 right down to soot [?] neighbourhood that I represent which is Moss Park that is one of the most impoverished neighbourhoods not just in Toronto but across the country. And of course the other neighbourhood on the other end to the social economic [stratus] is Rosedale, that happens to be one of the most established and wealthy neighbourhoods in the country. How do we bridge those communities?

And this are some things that divide us. But there are far more that can connect us.

So I’ll break it down to a couple of examples. Recently there was a debate on transit. And it was so simplified it was almost insulting. And we brought it down to are you pro-subway or pro-streetcars. So that became the polarized method of discussion. You are either pro-LRT or pro-subway. There was no discussion of how do we use transit, how do we build prosperity and connectivity in the city, and who is going to be using the transit and how do they use the transit. And oftentimes we talk and ask companies for surveys and they produce the surveys of who their customer base is. And what I found to be so much as a struggle as an advocate, a new advocate to City Hall is: it was way too simplified.

So in other cities around the world they have actually started to rethink how they build social infrastructure. They have to build it for those that are using the infrastructure. And this infrastructure that is currently being bantered around that we need are itemed such as housing, such as transit.

But we didn’t really ask the questions to get the right answers. Because right away we’re polarized into two ideological camps. So those living in the suburbs wanted subways and those living downtown wanted the LRT’s.

Instead of break down the walls and bringing neighbourhoods together we did a very effective job of dividing the city, dividing the city along neighbourhoods and also dividing the city around ethno-cultural lines.

Because the movement about — the movement afoot in Scarborough was driven by an ethno‑cultural population that I belong to — the Chinese‑Canadian, South Asian groups — because that is what they told were their choices.

So how do we rephrase the discussions and have the innovation and technology that we need to have to ensure that it’s accessible to all?

What we found out through the transit debate is that communities who are not wired and fully connected were not necessarily getting all of the information.

I actually ended up hiring someone in my office to provide translation services for the LRT group largely because the Mandarin[-] /Chinese-speaking population in Scarborough was only getting information from one side. So because they were only getting information from one side they were making their decisions based on the data available to them.

So once I started and understand that I represent one of the busiest wards in downtown Toronto with a lot of complexities. It is Toronto Centre–Rosedale, Ward 27. It is the second most populous ward in the city. And I am concerned about what is happening [in] Scarborough. I was concerned about what was happening in Scarborough because I didn’t think we were having an honest conversation. So I hired somebody to trans— to translate some of the technical data coming forward from the special advisory panel on the Scarborough LRT debate because they were only getting half the story.

With that simple move from my office I then started a campaign that engaged — that engaged the Chinese media and I started to give them to technical data they were not necessarily getting.

That really in the last week of the debate shifted the conversation ever so little bit in Scarborough because I had people who were then contacting my office saying, “No one has actually framed the debate for us in such a manner.” And all they needed was information.

So although there was a huge movement afoot to bring out data through Twitter, through social media, we were not doing it in ways that were always going to be accessible to those who don’t speak English. And that is a component of accessibility and we’re living in a diverse society such as Toronto. How do we ensure that those who are not in the room have the same access to information as those who are?

And when I have gone into socially forward thinking, you know, social innovation clusters, just about every single person that steps forward looks a particular way.

And so we need to do a better job of breaking down those cultural and linguistic barriers. And I think that the responsibility sits on both sides of the fence. We do a better job of reaching out and there has to be a better job of reaching in. Otherwise the talk about social inclusion and community building is only a talk that will affect a certain population and not everyone.

Other things that have happened at City Hall recently is the talk about, you know, transformation of TCHC and affordable housing.

And as we move towards building affordable housing for certain populations how do we build those communities for people living there.

If we have communities designed and built by architects and urban designers and not people who live in those communities, we are not going to have an urban built form that is going to be as responsive as it would be if we engaged the population we’re designing. So a very good example is if we are going to rebuild housing for communities, how engaged are they? Are we coming to those communities with master plans already in place? Or do we go to them before we put anything on paper or before with we open up the iPad and ask them the question of how do you live?

What would make an ideal neighbourhood for you? What would it take to build a healthy and inclusive community? And how do you serve dinner? Where do you cook dinner? Where do the kids study and play? And if you ask those questions at the very beginning of the design process, this is the consultation piece, and not necessarily go to communities with, you know, half-cooked, half baked templated ready to plug in some extra feedback. I think that we would be building social housing that will look very different to what is — what has been built 40 or 50 years ago and what could be built in the future.

And some of the learnings from other cities is that if we’re able to go out early and ask those questions without, you know, leading them to an answer, you will find and what has been found is that women who lead those households often will tell you that the most important space in the home is the kitchen. So they start designing their entire home, their apartment from the kitchen outward. And that was a very interesting learning because if you had not asked the families how they wanted to live, what would it take to build an ideal, safe and inclusive neighbourhood? Those answers would not have come about.

There are times where and many occasions where City Hall needs the help of you. And I would tell you a most interesting concept that I have floated forward and it is one that involves revenue tools and financing.

Now if we were to change the culture of Toronto’s, you know, political climate at the local level especially as it pertains to financing you will hear right now that every single level of government is speak about austerity measures. And if we save enough money and cut our civil service by a quarter or a half or a third we’ll save ourselves in prosperity. We’ll — that is the message coming from all 3 levels of government. If we reduce governments and all of the costs of the services delivered to you and your family that make life meaningful and give you quality of life in Toronto we will be a more prosperous city, province and country.

The challenge before us of course is that we know we cannot save ourselves or reduce ourselves into a prosperous inclusive economy.

That simply doesn’t work. And in Europe there are big conversations that are taking place around austerity. And there are massive conversations that are taking place about who has access to finances and who doesn’t. Who actually has access to credit product and who doesn’t.

And how does government function now for the people? And these are big conversations to be had. We have not had the political courage at City Hall to have that conversation. We have not been innovative at City Hall that have said to the people, how can we solve this problem together? The questions we have come out to the community with include, well, what services can you live without? Is it daycare? Can we privatize daycare? Can we reduce the number of litter pickers top street? What are the things you don’t really need? What is a core service and what is gravy?

It is extremely frustrating to have that conversation because we know that the infrastructure that has been built in the city, the social infrastructure from our parks to our long‑term care facilities it’s taken a number of years to build. And once we start to dismantle those pieces, it is very difficult to bring them back.

So I propose that an idea that is not really quite new, it is centuries old, this idea is public banking.

So the concept of public banking is new to Toronto but not necessarily new to other parts of the world.

Why did I bring forward an idea about public banking? I bought forward an idea of public banking because we needed new ideas. It is simply the repurposes of money and credit for the public good. I don’t know if you are aware of this but the City of Toronto has the power to create its own municipally owned bank. And if you think of where the City is depositing its money presently we have an operating budget of $10 million. All that money is being put into the hands of private banks so we are capitalizing those banks to create reserves and what do we do when we need money? We go to private banks to borrow money so that we can fund infrastructure projects so we can build roads and highways and the services and the sewer systems we need to run a city. Why do that when we have the ability to repurpose credit and money for the city. So we can actually then control the city’s finances without having to go to private banks to then borrow the same funds that we’ve deposit[ed] at compounded interest payments that are rather unproductive to build our city? To build those services that you and I need.

That is a big topic. And by any measurement and by any standard I’m asking for help and this help has to come from the people because I can assure you that it may not necessarily come from City Hall.

If you are interested in working on this project, this is where you and I get to work together. I don’t come out and tell the community what to do. But how do we have that conversation. Rogers Communication has applied for a bank license. Last summer Walmart Canada was issued a bank license. I am simply asking the question, can we use the same legal mechanisms afforded to private, for-profit companies to do the same thing we would like to do.

In the City of New York they deposit their fund into, uh, 31 individual charter and private banks, and what the City of New York has now decided to do, they have moved a motion to the floor of council and asked this question: What are those banks doing for the local community? How are you reinvesting those funding loosening the credit lines so that we can build our neighbourhoods better. And those private banks, believe it or [not], they are throwing up massive resistance. They are not wanting to tell you where they are taking the revenues and reinvesting it. So this is a conversation that involves civil society.

This is a conversation that needs your participation. And this is a conversation that is clearly about innovation because we’re now asking you to think outside the box to refinance the municipal finance programs and this is a conversation that can actually in many ways revolutionize how we build our neighbourhoods and our cities and I’m available for questions and I’m happy to give you any other information you like. Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak to you, it is an absolute honour to be here.

[ Applause ]

>> We have time for one or two questions. So Vanessa and Richard.

>> Thank you so much for your topic. Are you running in the next election?

>> A couple of things I have discovered about City Hall is that it takes a long time to get things done. I have planted a couple of seeds and I do plan to run [in] the next election.

>> Just curious have any projected savings if Toronto were to go with a public banking system?

>> Yes I do. The City of Toronto currently pays 250.$14 [?] million in compound interest to banks. We happen to be the financial bank heart of Canada. If there is any city that can do this it would be the City of Toronto.

And one of the things that has happened. Actually several things have happened since I floated the idea of financial reforms. A number of thinkers have contacted me privately. They do have contracts with banks and they are consultants to banks. And they have said, “Councillor, you are on the right track and perhaps involve the pension funds and work with other municipalities around Toronto that would like to piggyback on this particular proposal.” The reason why say I need your support because often times change comes from the people.

And we know that if you don’t demand and ask for the change it may not necessarily come.

As much as, you know, crowdsourcing, you can’t crowdsource to build a bridge. You can have all of the people to show up to build the bridge, you still need government, by government means civil society to move this particular project forward.

>> Thank you.

>>Jutta Treviranus: One more question.

>> So the federal government has a number of programs to sponsor innovation with scientific research and experimental development fund for the tax credits for corporations or companies or organizations that are incorporated to take risks and develop new ways of doing things.

And very substantial amounts of tax money can and given back to those corporations. And there has been costs in other areas of creating bonds to front them. To spend the money. I’m just talking about the federal program or the scientific research and interim development fund that the trick is that you have to spend money in order to get money back.

Would you imagine this bank issuing bonds to social innovation and enable these type of corporations to emortgage?

>> It is a great question and I will not rely on the federal government for this type of support. We have a public bank in Canada called the Bank of Canada and it has abdicated the responsibility to produce low credit or nominal interest loans for provinces and cities. And currently there is a lawsuit that has been filed against the bank of canada named in that lawsuit is also the minister of finance for abdicating their role and responsibility.

In 1918 [?], Mayor Mel Lastman wrote to the Bank of Canada, the Finance Minister asking for assistance to fund the, here we go again, the Sheppard Subway; they wrote back and said, “No, you’re on your own.” So fasttrack this conversation literally 22 years later. We’re back in exactly the same spot asking for help to fund the Sheppard Subway system when we actually have a national bank, [the] Bank of Canada that won’t do its job.

So this is why I’m saying, I don’t believe that this the solution to Toronto’s financial crisis is going to necessarily come from government.

I believe that the solution to the Canadian economy that provincial economy, the Toronto treasuries and the revenues that we receive will actually be a conversation that will be started on the streets, in the cafes and in our liv— living rooms.

In the United States the Occupy movement has taken root in many different jurisdictions and there are 18 units— states that are actively exploring legislation to create a [state]‑owned bank. And this [ran] the gamut from Hawaii to Iowa to, you know, to California.

So when the 12— when the eight financial markets collapsed we had a consolidation of the banks and they are coming back those banks bigger than ever.

>> JP Morgan lost billions in derivative trading. They are doing the same thing now. So I don’t believe that the conversation will be solved at only with the government.

I really — I really believe that we need people involved with this one. Thank you.

>> We have overshot but one more question.

>>Jutta Treviranus: Go ahead.

>> Just a quick question, in your proposal, are you also going to include an innovative way of how to include the community in spending the funding as well, which includes people with disabilities?

>> Yes, absolutely, I think that the mandate of publically owned Toronto bank would be set by the people. Like literally people.

I am actually going to be producing a documentary because it is such a large topic. And the documentary will focus on austerity and the public banking as a possible innovative tool to counter the talk of austerity because it is also tied into the talk of privatization and I don’t have a lot of money, but I firmly believe that this is going to be larger than health care and the environment. It affects each and every single up with of us and can actually change the direction of our country. Thank you very much.

>>Jutta Treviranus: So much fodder for additional conversations. Now it’s time for you all to get back to work again. If you look at the back of your name tags, you will see where your breakout group is. We have one room change.

>> So just a reminder that CRPD Policies and Levers is in the Auditorium. And Economic Levers, Demographics and Market Forces is in Room 550. And please go ahead now and get your coffee, get a treat and we’ll push you to your rooms.

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