Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Battle Over Tornado-Ravaged Goderich, Ontario, Formerly "Canada's Prettiest Town" (Slideshow & Video)

from TreeHugger.com
by Lloyd Alter, Toronto

Goderich, Ontario was billed as "Canada's Prettiest Town" and it truly was. It had one of the country's most beautiful town squares, (actually, a town octagon) filled with trees, and surrounded by a great collection of Victorian commercial buildings. The entire area was designated as historically significant under the Heritage Act.

On August 21, a force 3 tornado ripped through the town, and in twelve seconds almost destroyed it. Now, the debate is on: speedy construction or careful planning?

On Saturday I joined heritage professionals and activists from all over Ontario at a council meeting of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario in Goderich, organized to gather support and help, be it fundraising, professional services, ideas, competitions, whatever.

I thought it might be like a heritage version of Greensburg, where people from all over America have helped rebuild a better, greener town.

While there was a lot of damage from the tornado itself, there are some questions about how the authorities responded to the damage.

Certainly heritage was not the first thing on their minds; health and safety people kept everyone away until they checked for dead and injured, (miraculously, only one person was killed), then for health and safety reasons like asbestos, (one person of authority had heard there was asbestos in the bricks and mortar and kept heritage architects out unless they were fitted for respirators; however, there is no asbestos in Ontario bricks.)

Building owners were not allowed in to tarp their buildings and the subsequent rain did as much damage as the tornado.

But in other cases, it is still not certain what is going to happen.

The store owners and businesses want to get back in business as soon as possible, and nobody is much interested in standing around doing visioning studies and careful historic reconstructions, they have to put food on the table. The Deputy Mayor told us that he wants the town rebuilt within two years.

The business of Goderich was heritage. One might try and point out that the reason people came there was because it was so pretty, and that it won't be quite the same thing if they put up a lot of crap in a hurry.

This video was taken the day after the tornado. Almost every tree is gone, as are most of the roofs and quite a few buildings.
Image Credit: Anews London

...see slideshow and read more story at TreeHugger.com

Monday, September 19, 2011

Bishops to invite thousands of GTA commuters 'Back to Church'

TORONTO, September 19, 2011 /Canada NewsWire/ - On the morning of Thursday, September 22nd, Bishops from the Anglican and Evangelical Lutheran Churches, dressed in their ecclesiastical vestments and mitres, will reach out to thousands of commuters across the greater Toronto area to invite them 'Back to Church'.

The outreach is part of an international Christian initiative, which has designated Sunday, September 25th as 'Back to Church' Sunday. On that day, thousands of Anglicans, Evangelical Lutherans and other Christians throughout the world will be accompanying their friends and relatives back to church.

"The Church is an integral part of society, woven into its history and fabric," says Bishop Philip Poole of the Anglican Diocese of Toronto. "Anglican and Evangelical Lutheran bishops look forward to meeting and chatting with commuters even for a few moments to invite people to return to church or to try us out for the first time. You'll be most welcomed at church or your place of worship this or any weekend."

The Bishops will be handing out a simple invitation to all who will accept one. They will be visiting GO stations in Ajax, Brampton, Agincourt and Barrie.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Wanted: An Affordable Home

photo credit: fadedgenes via Flickr

More progress needed to help households in housing need

TORONTO, September 15, 2011 /Canada NewsWire/ - Authors of a newly released report on housing issues are calling on provincial candidates to focus on creating affordable homes for more than 152,000 households on community housing wait lists across Ontario.

The 2011 edition of Where's Home?, authored by the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association (ONPHA) and the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada Ontario Region (CHF Canada Ontario Region), analyzes 22 separate housing markets and highlights the need for more affordable rental housing across the Province.

This year's report shows that it is increasingly difficult for low and modest income people in Ontario to find safe, affordable rental housing options that are appropriate for their families. This daily reality is highlighted by data that indicates overall vacancy rates across the province continue to tighten - dropping to 2.9% between 2009 and 2010.

"Vacancy rates are tightening up and rental demand is expanding," says Sharad Kerur, ONPHA's Executive Director. "An aging population, increased levels of immigration and future economic conditions will all play a role in determining rental housing needs in the years ahead - and it will be up to local communities and senior governments to help meet those needs."

"This year's findings clearly demonstrate that the gap between homeowners and tenants' incomes is growing ever wider and many Ontarians of low and modest means are struggling to find a home that they can afford," said Harvey Cooper, Manager of Government Relations at CHF Canada Ontario Region. "I worry about families being forced to choose between paying for the necessities of life, putting food on the table and paying the rent."

In addition to inadequate supply, high energy costs are compounding affordability problems for low and moderate income renter households - making it even harder for them to make ends meet.

While this year's report brings attention to a number of troubling trends, there are bright spots that show progress can be made if communities have access to innovative ideas, government support, and sufficient levels of funding.

"While the number of new rental units being produced is not nearly enough to meet the growing demand, recent initiatives - particularly the Canada-Ontario Affordable Housing Program (AHP) - have helped create more affordable and supportive housing for those in need," said Kerur. "Since 2005, over 8,500 of these units were created by non-profit and, to a lesser extent, co-operative housing organizations - showing that with government funding and support, communities can create more affordable homes."

In order to meet increasing rental housing demand, over 10,000 new rental units would need to be built each and every year for the next ten years. While the need is big, so is the commitment of the organizations that make up the membership of ONPHA and CHF Canada Ontario Region.

"We know that housing is a fundamental building block of people's lives," says Cooper. "Our members want to see senior governments take a balanced approach to the creation of more affordable housing for people across the income spectrum. By combining permanently affordable co-op and non-profit housing, private sector rental, renovation programs for existing housing stock and financial tools like rent supplements to fill vacant units, we can move people off housing waiting lists and into affordable homes."

"Where's Home?" can be found at www.onpha.on.ca or www.chfcanada.coop.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Lack of affordable housing and efficient transit barriers to success of immigrants and the economy

OTTAWA, September 14, 2011 /Canada NewsWire/ - The lack of affordable housing and access to efficient public transit and community services are significant barriers to the success of new immigrants and the Canadian economy, says the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) in a report on Canada's immigration system.

"To keep its economy strong, Canada needs an immigration strategy that meets growing on-the-ground challenges and gives cities and communities a seat at the table," said FCM president Berry Vrbanovic. ''Without a decent place to live, an affordable and reliable way to get to and from work, and access to front-line community services immigrants will continue to fall behind and Canada will not meet its economic and social objectives."

According to FCM's report, new immigrants are falling behind other Canadians in their income and job opportunities. Overcrowded road and public transit systems are crumbling and a growing shortage of affordable housing threatens to price more immigrants out of the regional labour markets where they are needed most. Ottawa's language and job-training programs are falling behind changing settlement patterns, leaving communities big and small without the resources to meet changing local needs.

"Municipalities are the front-line, first-responders for many immigrants' needs, yet we collect just eight cents of every tax-dollar paid in Canada and have been given no formal role in developing federal immigration policies and programs," said FCM vice-president Claude Dauphin. "The federal government must recognize municipalities as key partners in immigrant settlement and work with us to tailor solutions to local needs."

FCM called on the federal government to protect long-term investments in communities, including more than $500 million in annual housing investments scheduled to expire during the next decade; protect and build on recent investments in Canada's infrastructure and public transit; work with municipalities, provinces and territories to design longer-term settlement programs that respond better to changing local needs; and collect data on immigrants' needs and report back to Canadians on the results.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) has been the national voice of municipal government since 1901. FCM represents with close to 90 per cent of the Canadian population - close to 2000 municipal governments across the country.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Spirit, Science, Art, Reverence Combined Will Build a Better Green Movement

photo: James Jordan/CC BY-ND

from TreeHugger.com
by Matthew McDermott, New York, NY

After reviewing the major religions of the world's stances on the environment, it seems pretty clear to me that there are more commonalities than differences. In the realm of metaphysics there are genuine and significant splits between Dharmic faiths ( Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism) and the Abrahamic faiths ( Judaism, Christianity, Islam), but in the realm of practical action to protect our shared environment, there is a great common ground.

No Religious Path Advocates Environmental Destruction

In other words, while there are differences in motivation for environmental protection between a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Jew, and a Christian--the first two generally seeing humanity as a integral part of nature, the latter two likely seeing the man's relationship to the natural world through the eyes of a caretaker--none of that matters when it comes to the need to preserve our water, our air, our land in an unpolluted state, in growing healthy food in a way that doesn't harm the land, et cetera.

Even more bluntly, there is not a religious path that says environmental destruction is a good thing, that pollution is a good thing, that dirty water are good. Such a belief system doesn't exist--unless you count some of the musings of industrialists looking at billowing smokestacks in the 19th century as a belief system. Maybe it is.

As I've said throughout this series, brief as each exploration is, environmental protection is an intrinsic theme in every world faith--even if there has always been vary degrees of appreciation and application of those beliefs. Which is also true of every non-theistic belief system, it should be said.

Why Are Greens Afraid To Talk About Spirituality?

If there is such a large common ground in support of environmental protection amongst the world's religions, why does it often seem then that religion and spiritual beliefs get sidelined in public discussion of going green?

Why is the ethical, the moral, the spiritual component of our efforts to tread more lightly on the planet not discussed more?

After all, the polluting class, who stubbornly refuse to bend from business-as-usual methods of production and attitudes towards environmental protection, regularly invoke beliefs in the superiority of the unfettered free market, when they are asked to not make such a mess of the world.

So why do environmentalists all too often shy away from talking about the deeper aspects of their beliefs? Why do we favor talking about rational self-interest when discussing more wind power, or clean air, or green jobs? Why not instead talk about enthusiastic love of life, compassion for all beings, the sacred imperative to live in balance, in an ecological sustainable way?

I've gone into this more recently, talking about the need to cultivate love of life, love of nature, and how this will bring about the external aspects of living a green life in a green society - so need to rehash that any more than I have.

Cultivate Holism to Develop A New Paradigm

I will say though that without holistically incorporating, and publicly talking about, a spiritual element to the modern environmental movement I am convinced we will fail to bring about the change we seek, at least in any sort of lasting way.

In the editor's message in the newest issue of Resurgence, Satish Kumar makes the case more eloquently than I, so I'll just quote part of it (apologies to Kumar for grabbing a great deal of his wonderful words here):

If the green movement wishes to be radical and effective and wants to embrace a new paradigm of the future, then our work has to based in harmony and wholeness incorporating spiritual wellbeing, artistic imagination, social cohesion and reverence for the whole of life.

Through the observation and analysis, experiment and evidence, reason and logic of our great scientists, we know the truth of harmony and the laws of Nature such as gravity, Gaia, relativity and evolution.

Through words, colors or images, music, movement, poetry and stories we communicate and express our experience of the universal harmony. And through reverence and restraint, through simplicity and frugality, reflection and meditation, synthesis and spirituality, dialogue and philosophy we learn to live in harmony with the universe and with ourselves.

But much of the environmental movement is missing out on this holistic approach.

Limiting itself to working within the partial parameters of secular rationalism, facts, figures and pragmatic arguments, the green movement has failed to make an impact on changing the direction of politics, business, academia and media. The culture of consumerism and materialism continues to intensify and there is little prospect of real change if we confine ourselves to green growth, renewable energy and very few other areas of policy.

We need to develop a bigger vision and to present a bigger picture to the world.


So what I charge you all with is going deeper within both yourself and your tradition. There's no need to change your path if that path is working for you; I hope this series has shown that. Go deeper to develop that holism, that bridging of spirit, science, and society. Develop your wonder and willpower, your conscience, compassion and consciousness. Develop a greener spirit, if you will.

More on Religion & The Environment

All of Existence Should Be Revered: Hinduism & The Environment

A Responsibility To Defend A Fragile & Glorious World: Judaism & The Environment

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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Global Conference on World's Religions - Promoting dialogue to build a peaceful world after 9/11

MONTREAL, September 7, 2011 /Canada NewsWire Telbec/ - Today is the opening of the Second Global Conference on World's Religions after 9/11, where His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, Deepak Chopra, Robert Thurman, Tariq Ramadan, Gregory Baum and Steven T. Katz will meet. Organized by McGill University in cooperation with the Université de Montréal, this Conference has invited representatives of many of the world's best known religions as well as the general public to discuss the involvement of religion in the building of peace.

"It has been said that there can be no peace among nations without peace among religions. Moreover, the profile of religion in the public square has been rising all over the world and predictions of its demise have turned out to be grossly exaggerated. Thus, the real question is not whether religions should exist or not, but rather, how can they contribute to peace in the world. If they are part of the problem, then they can also become part of the solution," says Professor Arvind Sharma, Birks Professor of Comparative Religion in the Faculty of Religious Studies, McGill University, and convenor of the Conference.

The Conference which will be taking place at the Montréal Palais des congrès will start at 9:00 am on Wednesday with a word of welcome from Professor Arvind Sharma, at 10:00 am His Holiness the Dalai Lama will give an hour and a half elocution entitled "Peace through Ethics" which will be introduced by Professor Robert A. Thurman, first American to be ordained monk in conformity with the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

At 1:00 pm the world renowned author and physician Deepak Chopra will give a one hour presentation on "Peace through Spirituality". At 2:00 pm a panel discussion will be moderated by Professor Patricia G. Kirkpatrick from McGill University. This panel will discuss the major factors relating to religion and peace. Panelists include: Tariq Ramadan, Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford University; Robert A. Thurman, Professor in Indo-Tibetan Studies, Columbia University; Steven T. Katz, Director of the Elie Wiesel Centre for Judaic Studies and Professor of Religion at Boston University; and Gregory Baum, Professor at the Faculty of Religious Studies, McGill University.

At the end of the day, the participants will debate three resolutions linked with religious teachings, the respect of religious texts and an eventual Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the World's Religions. The objective of this Declaration is to improve the actual Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to extend its influence.

For more information, visit the Conference web site, www.gcwr2011.org

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Ontario's doctors kick into high gear as provincial election begins

TORONTO, September 4, 2011 /Canada NewsWire/ - With the official start of the provincial election set to begin on September 7th, Ontario's doctors are ramping up efforts to ensure that health care is a priority. Doctors from across the province are sending letters to their local candidates and engaging local media to remind them that health care is the number one issue for voters.

"Health care is an issue that affects each and every Ontarian. As front line health care providers, Ontario's doctors know what is needed to improve our health care system for our patients and to make it viable for the future." - Stewart Kennedy, MD, President of the Ontario Medical Association

Polling conducted on behalf of the OMA revealed that 9 in 10 Ontarians believe that health care is the most important issue. At the recent annual conference held by the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, municipal leaders from across Ontario also chose health care as the number one issue that political parties should focus on.

Ontario's doctors have been very active in the lead up to the election by promoting a number of key issues in their platform, "Better care. Healthier patients. A stronger Ontario." Ontario's doctors have called for improvements to health care services for patients and their families dealing with mental illness and addiction, the expansion of electronic medical records to 5,000 more physicians by 2015, and to fight childhood obesity by requiring fast food chains to list calorie contents on menu boards and by mandating physical activity in our high schools.

"Local doctors have solutions to local health care challenges and should be included in health care discussions. We hope that political parties and local candidates commit to work with Ontario's doctors to improve patient care." - Stewart Kennedy, MD, President of the Ontario Medical Association

To learn more about what Ontario's doctors are recommending, please visit www.oma.org