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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Pearls and Perils of Morning Radio

Half-asleep, I was expecting to hear Matt again this a.m., the do-gooder of Metro Morning. But no, I’d turned the radio on late and was startled to hear Karen Horsman acting as guest host.
             As mentioned in a previous post, I only use the CBC to catch news, but with Radio One, they’d be random bits – the weather or taxes – that bookended the social activism. 
             Surprised to hear Ms Horsman, I thought, be grateful for small mercies; at least she has a neutral radio voice –not quite the re-genderized undergrad from Advocacy Studies that Matt projects.
             But oh, I had spoken, or rather wished, too soon. Matt's spirit was still around, so here was the Advocacy that Karen had lined up:
  • An increase in traffic at the Women’s Shelter
  • A story about “The Non-profit Sector” and the Ontario Minister that supports it               
First up was a woman from the Toronto Women’s Shelter. Her topic was “feeding women at the shelter.” She claimed that traffic had doubled recently; she was feeding twice as many mouths as usual. Not only that, her traditional clientele had expanded into new demographics.
             How so? Well, the Aboriginal core was being reinforced by non-Aboriginals. This must be significant, and proved what a hell of an economy we had.  She claimed she fed “125 women a day.”
             While I paused in silent tribute to this social carnage, I did some heavy thinking. Was this truly about the economy? The speaker claimed it was; because it was "the economy," she was empowered to claim more funding from the government.
             And yet, thought I, perhaps this index of the economy – 125 women getting breakfast in Toronto shelters – might not be significant. These women could be poverty cases, but not ones related to the ongoing economy.
             The Aboriginals, for example, how did they normally get by? Mightn’t we assume they were all on Welfare in the first place, and never off it? If so, that was their share of the economy. Also, didn’t they supplement their incomes in non-traditional (i.e. non-taxable) ways, ways that circumvent the Welfare rules on declaring income?
             Based on personal observation (I live in a VERY poor neighborhood), this means prostitution. If the Native women were going hungry, I thought, why then, prostitution was drying up.
             This could be an index of a poor economy, I suppose, or it could be the opposite. Either randy males had less discretionary income at hand, less lubrication for booze and hookers; or, the men were occupied elsewhere, as for example, going to a new job. Or, possibly, the pimps had gone off, but hadn’t they too migrated to other jobs?
             Also, where were these women from? Were they themselves migrants? If so, then poverty was located elsewhere, not in Toronto, where the sample was supposed to have been taken. And then, so far from indicating Toronto poverty, it would point to prosperity, the attractor of new migrants. Well, the speaker did not speak of such things, she just trashed the economy and had clients to feed.
            As Karen listened, she lobbed soft questions at her guest, ones that prompt politically desirable answers: “What do you feel you need from government?” was typical, and responses were predictable. It was a very cozy chat indeed. But there was one set of questions that was never asked: anything to do with the fate of men, not women.
             As in, “How many men are hungry?” “Who is sheltering them?” “What rate of violence do they suffer?” “How many grieve the loss of children in a divorce settlement?” “How many have been ruined by a divorce lawyer?” “Who provides them counselling, medications, and especially, public-relations support?”
             That would be left to a different radio station, I suppose.
             What was Karen’s next topic? More Welfare Policy. Next on the agenda was a session featuring the Ontario Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Eric Hoskins, and Helen Burstyn, Chair of the Ontario Trillium Foundation. The latter is the umbrella agency for funding public-policy outreach; in other words, it's the grand dispensary of the Grand Welfare Republic of Ontario.
             The patter, whose theme was the "not-for-profit sector,” was remarkably amiable. The minister congratulated his ministry, and praised Trillium for all their good work. The Trillium official thanked and praised the minister and requested a lot more money. The minister – presumably facing re-election – thought this not unreasonable: we had the sense that money was there.
             Despite this, the Trillium chair focused on “economics.” Not that the economy was bad, mind you (shelter lady, are you listening?) but that “non-profit” was an “industry,” as she put it, a generator of employment, and it was fiscally important to keep it going. All sorts of people were working at social-welfare agencies, she stressed, and so pumping tax-money into their payroll was a good thing for Ontario.
             To be inclusive, she touched upon “cultural industries,” dance troupes, that sort of thing, which she lumped with all that Diversity, Divorce Lawyers, and Soup Kitchens. On the matter of high-culture, Ms Burstyn was on reasoned turf: there is evidence that high culture requires State help and that a society benefits from such intervention. However, the lady’s heart was clearly not in the theatre district, it was down at Queen and Sherbourne.  No further mention was made of culture.
             Ah, but, this was not about “doing the right thing,” it was about proving how valuable Trillium’s work was for the economy. Notwithstanding that her groups help defaulting tenants destroy your mother's duplex, or alcoholic wives battle husbands for the kids, this was not about social issues, it was about providing employment in the bureaucracy. Remarkably, the minister did not disagree.
             There were allusions to all sorts of groups and causes. However, in that long list, some notable omissions were made, both by the Trillium chair and by the minister:
  •  Males. Not a single example of helping (or employing) men was offered. Not one.
  •  Self-generated funds. Trillium’s agencies are supposed to be out there, raising money from the public. Trillium’s groups call themselves “charitable,” and provide a Revenue receipt for donations. And yet, not a word was heard about charity or about raising donations. All we heard was the cozy relationship between Ministry budgets and the Trillium, its big beneficiary.
Also absent, in this broadcast, was discussion of Trillium’s links to the “Green economy,” one of Trillium’s pet concerns, and one shared by this minister’s government. Just the night before, news had leaked of Trillium’s connection to wind-energy developers.
             How did this happen? Through government funding, of course: funding of a pro-wind umbrella called “,” to the tune of $3,297,900. Money had been forwarded to enterprises promoting “green” energy – and the forwarding agency had been the Trillium Foundation.
             There is a biggish issue with that: Trillium is supposed to be about charity, the “non-profit” sector; Trillium is supposed to be about “volunteers,” not commercial interests. Yet it is now sheltering lobbies that push business start-ups, the so-called wind industry.
 Neither the minister, nor the Trillium person, nor Karen raised that contradiction. I need to keep spinning the radio dial.

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