It has been a very busy last few weeks as we prepared for and welcomed over two hundred sector leaders to our biennial Executive leadership conference; and marked forty years of OCASI’s policy advocacy, activism and sector development with a successful gala. It was a time of celebration, of congratulatory remarks, and acknowledgement of the resiliency of the sector and the impact it has had on the lives of tens of thousands of refugees, (im)migrants and Canadians. We laughed, we danced and we debated and we learned.
The three days of the conference were electric with new challenges to the Council and the Sector to become champions of decent work; to commit to reconciliation with First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples; and to stand up and be counted in the resistance against the rising fascism all around us.
I left the OCASI gathering and headed south of the border to the Facing Race national conference by Race Forward where I was once again immersed in discussions of confronting discrimination and hate in all its forms; where I fellowshipped with my colleagues from Canada and met new US allies all committed to building communities, cities and towns that are inclusive and are welcoming of all regardless of immigration status or citizenship, gender identity, race, (dis)ability, sexual orientation and/or socio-economic position. I came home at the end of the weekend energized, hopeful in the reminder that the arc of history always bends towards justice.
But as I write this, less than a week later, it feels heavy. The cloudy skies and smell of snow in the air outside my office window notwithstanding, there is a sense of foreboding, a fear that we are losing out to regressive political forces across North America and in fact, the whole world. Our sense of Canada as a beacon of light and progressiveness is somewhat dimmed, as poll after poll show an increasing belief among polled Canadians (including those who arrived not too long ago as immigrants) that our borders are out of control. They are not. That we should reject those who seek our protection and that we should turn inward, dividing people into “us” and “them”. We should not.
There has been much media talk about the results of the US mid-term elections which certainly have implications for us as a country - from trade to immigration; but it’s the issues closer to home that is worrying.
In a few days from this writing, we will find out what the Ontario government has planned for Social Assistance as they release the findings from their one hundred day review. Those of us who spent eighteen months (2016 to mid-2017) crafting a well thought out, comprehensive plan that centred people - integrating the unique experiences of First Nations and other urban indigenous communities, people with disabilities and the working poor- are hoping and praying that the government will remember its slogan “for the people”. Those who are most marginalized amongst us, those who rely on our social assistance programs are the people we – government and residents - should be for.
We are hopeful that a sense of decency will prevail as the government dominated Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs deliberates on Bill 47 and considers deputations and submissions in support of Bill 148 which brought long-time coming critical reforms to our labour laws and practices. Reforms such as: All Ontarians deserve at least two days of paid sick time; In a an increasingly precarious labour market, those who work part-time should be paid at par for the same work as those who have been able to maintain full-time employment; Shift workers deserve to have some guarantee of work and not have shifts canceled at the last minute with no compensation. $15 and Fairness is more than a slogan and a hashtag. It is the choice between food and rent for many single parent households headed up by women – especially Indigenous and racialized women, and women with disability.
I challenge all OCASI member agencies to reach out to your MPPs regardless of political stripe and voice your support for decent work, for fair wages and good labour practices.
As important, I challenge us – the Council included - to become decent work employers. To commit to paying a living wage to all our employees, to negotiate and advocate on behalf of workers in the sector, to ensure that our commitments are not only to the clients and program participants with whom we work but also to the people who do the work on the frontlines, in management, in policy and research and advocacy. To remember that a healthy ecosystem includes the health of those building that system.
One last comment before I sign off. Our sector is also experiencing ageing in leadership. As a female-dominated sector we know that the majority of us have been underpaid over the years often working with limited or no financial plans for retirement. The Ontario Non-profit Network (ONN) rightfully identified this as policy priority and pulled together a group of foundations working with a pension provider to customize a plan for the non-profit sector. This is an idea whose time has come. The ONN recommends the OPTrust Select Pension Plan – which is a defined benefit plan allowing joint contributions by employers and employees. At OCASI we plan to hold an information session with our colleagues to see how the Council can move forward to bring on this plan. This requires a joint commitment from management and employees. We are hoping to have a pension plan in place for 2019. What about you?