To Danya Scime, Toby Yull and Rick Court

Thank you for your meaningful replies. I must admit that Rick has surprised me with his positive response to my harsh criticism. I judged him by the way he came across on his website. I sincerely hope that I was wrong.

In response to Danya and Toby – you are right, we could write a novel on this topic. With respect to seniors, the numbers simply don’t add up.

The needs of Seniors

The issues that affect daily lives of our seniors are complex and not easy to solve. They often live alone. At some point, they are no longer able or allowed to drive but they still need to buy food, visit a doctor, and do their banking. This means that they need to be close to these destinations, literally within a short and easy walking distance.

The real market value of their pensions is shrinking, while food, medication, rent and transportation prices keep skyrocketing with no end in view.

Organizing an army of volunteers, who would help seniors survive in exchange for some benefits (living together, an extra pay, etc.) is a good idea but it will not work for everybody. Many seniors live in small apartments and their income is so low that they cannot afford good food, let alone paying other people for their company and daily help. It’s a good starting point but deeper changes are needed to address this issue.

Affordable food

Bringing in “cheap” food stores is also a partial solution. Have you been to one of these stores lately? It looks like they are selling food that had already been on shelves in the “better” stores for a while and is now approaching (or even past) the expiration date. I wouldn’t feed my dog with some of the stuff that is being sold in these stores. Times are changing and these stores are changing, too.

We used to have Basics at University Plaza, remember? It was located where the Shoppers Drug Mart now is. There were different supermarkets in the area – IGA, Loblaws, and other. Some degree of competition existed and kept the prices down. Then, our anti-monopoly law stopped working – a huge Metro chain took over the food market in Dundas. Some of the other chains seem to be owned by the same investors. Just like with the gas stations, there is no competition anymore, therefore, there is no market driven economy. It’s a mafia-style extortion and a mafia-style cabal.

With competition removed from the market, it didn’t take a long time for the food prices to start moving up. This trend has been continuing for at least eight years. Since 2006, the food prices have doubled, in some cases tripled. This phenomenon takes different forms – regular price increases as well as hidden price increases achieved by new packaging, diluted products, products pumped with air to artificially increase volume (e.g., toilet paper, bread), reducing the amount while first keeping and later increasing the price, replacing labels and brand names, replacing good products with products of lower quality sold at the same prices, … and the list goes on. These people are very creative and they think that the rest of us are stupid. But often, the rest of us don’t have an alternative, so we don’t have a choice. Especially the seniors who cannot travel to other parts of the city in search of a better deal.

We often hear that rising food prices are the result of an economic crisis. Some people believe that in Canada, one of the largest countries in the world, with one of the richest natural resources, one of the best farming technology and agricultural lands, with ample reserves of oil, and with a tiny population of merely 35 million inhabitants, there actually is a food market crisis. I find it hard to believe because it is laughable. There is a crisis, but it runs on greed and lack of regulations protecting the consumers. It’s a systemic crisis, not a market crisis. There is too much deregulation, too much speculation and too little honesty.

Another problem is the quality of food products offered. Old meat is frequently being sold and various tricks are being used to make it look fresh on the surface. Meat which passed expiry date is frequently not removed from the shelves on time. There were carts with fruits and veggies at discounted prices that were nearing expiry dates. These products were ripe but were still good and safe for consumption. Seniors often shopped there, as this was the only way they could afford to maintain a balanced nutrition. Today, the fruits and veggies that are being offered on the same carts are often rotten. They are garbage, they are not worth one penny. This would have never happened in the past, as in the past, competition was forcing food stores to care about their reputation. Today, they just care about maximizing their profits. The standards are gone.

Housing

Let’s talk about the apartments. In 1984-85, you could rent a nice 2-bedroom apartment in Toronto for $350 – $450 per month (all-incluseve and with decoded TV cable included). Today, the same apartments go for $1200 – $2500, depending on location. Ten years ago, a rent for a 2-bedroom apartment at Governors Green in Dundas was around $850. Today, it is approaching $1200 (as a result of regular annual increases). But when you just move in, your rent will be between $1300 and $1400, as “new” rent is not limited by government imposed limitations. Six years ago, when a 2-bdr apartment at Governor’s Green costed around $1050, poorer tenants from this building were moving to other buildings around Dundas. One of them was the Centurion at the intersection of Main and Dundas. A 2-bdr apartment there costed around $650. Today, it costs over $1400 for “new” tenants. Now, the cheaper options: The apartment complex at the intersection of Osler and Main – rent of a 2-bdr apartment in 2002 was about $600 (all-inclusive). Today it is $850 plus electricity that averages between $100 and 150, depending on the season. There are no underground garages, there are no storage rooms, and the building is known to have resident bugs.

As a result, people in general, but especially seniors, are trapped in constantly increasing rents. Due to much higher rent for “new” tenants, it is almost impossible to find an alternative, unless you drastically reduce the standard of your residence.

Research indicates that many previously competing apartment buildings in the Dundas area have been amalgamated and are now operated by a few major corporations. Again, monopolization destroyed competition but the real victims are the people who either live in apartments or are looking for one.

Car insurance

During the same period of time, similar price increases occurred in the car insurance market. In 1985, as a “young man” of 35, and a beginning driver in Canada, I bought a good insurance for $400 per year. At that time, I was told that, as I get older, the cost of my insurance would gradually decrease, because older drivers pose less of a risk to drive carelessly and to cause accidents. Guess if it did? Today, at retirement age, I am topping the scale at about $2000 per year and this is a “good price” compared to what some younger drivers are paying. Since I don’t have driving accidents, all this money is just a free gift to my insurance company.

Conclusions

Back to seniors, whose pensions are not increasing proportionally to their cost of living: – It is easy to understand why we are approaching a crisis in this area. As time passes by, seniors find themselves squeezed out of driving and trapped in  apartments they can no longer afford or replace. Consequently, they buy less and cheaper food. For many, a time when they will find themselves on the street is a realistic perspective.

As you can see, a systemic change is needed to solve these problems. Local politicians have an important role to play in this struggle but they have to start thinking outside of the box. Progress was never achieved by thinking and acting “inside the box.”

The most pressing need is the elimination of the price gouging phenomenon and a strict application of anti-trust (anti-monopoly) law. Consumer protection must be restored, market deregulation reversed. Can we, at the local level, facilitate such changes? Do we have efficient legal and political tools to do the job? This will not be easy, but we have to try. If we don’t have the tools, we have to create them.

In closing, I want to wish all the candidates good luck on October 27th. Wouldn’t it be great, if all of you could be elected and could serve Dundas with your unique talents, skills, experiences, and ideas? I hope that, regardless of the outcome of the election, y’all will continue to work for our town in one capacity or another.

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